by Deslea R. Judd

NEW: Restitution
Deslea R. Judd

ARCHIVE: Sure, just keep my name and headers. DISCLAIMER: Characters not mine. Interpretation mine. RATING: R for adult concepts.
CONTENT WARNING: References to rape.
CATEGORIES/KEYWORDS: Angst, romance, mythfic, Krycek/Marita, Skamperfic, resfic (not AU). SPOILERS/TIMEFRAME: Spans the mytharc from Herrenvolk to The Truth.
SUMMARY: Sometimes, to face the future, you have to face the past.
FEEDBACK: Love the stuff.


Marita Covarrubias is a beautiful woman.

That wasn't always a noteworthy statement. For a long time, she had counted her beauty among her natural strengths, along with her talent for numbers and her eye for detail. It was never something she worked at, nor something she particularly prized. It was just there, one more weapon in her arsenal. No more important than any other, and often a good deal less.

That was before the tests. Since then, however, her beauty has become her badge of honour. They took it from her; she took it back with good old-fashioned hard work. She accepts the appreciative gazes of the people around her with pride, where once she had dismissed them as irrelevant. When they look at her, she feels tall and strong. Yes, she thinks, drawing herself up, chin held firm and high. I was gone, but now I'm back. You better believe it.

That's out there in the real world, of course, with people who only knew her when she was strong. People who saw her weak still have the power to make her feel small, curled up tight and scared inside, and she hates herself for it. People like the Smoking Man. People like Mulder, even, who she very nearly walked into in the shopping mall, of all places. She physically recoiled, and drew back into a coffee shop before he could see her, and then after he passed her by, she sank down into a seat, horrified by her own reaction.

That was months ago, and since then, she has trained herself to tolerate the proximity of the people who hurt her. She has to see that cigarette smoking son of a bitch all too often, and the only thing that makes that bearable is that fact that he is weak now, too. She wears staid suits and pulls her hair back until it hurts whenever she has to tolerate his presence. Anything, anything that will make her hard and unapproachable. Anything to give her the appearance of force and power, so that he won't know that it all drains out of her on the strength of hearing him utter her name.

But all that is back in America, thousands of miles behind her.

It's almost far enough.

She feels freer here. She's been aware of it ever since she stepped off the plane at Djerba International the night before. She felt it sweep over her in the hot balmy air, standing on the balcony at her hotel. She feels it wash over her in the running water now. She breathes in. Smells soap and shampoo and the cloying, lingering steam.

She sighs. Revelling in sensation.

She runs her hands down her body. She finds firm, muscular planes where once there were hollows. They're not as fleshy as Alex likes, but they're still good and strong. Her suspicion that Alex will travel these planes himself before the day is through only improves her mood.

She emerges from her shower, exhilarated. She picks a cool white cotton suit and leaves her hair down. She walks with a buoyant step. She is beautiful and strong and free, and far from those who hurt her. Soon she will be reunited with the one man who will understand what she survived, and honour her survival, whatever else may have passed between them.

She feels good. Really good.

She recognises her mistake when she is escorted into the penal colony where Alex is being held. A hellhole of sound. Horribly overcrowded cells. Men banging and calling out obscenities about what she is and what they would like to do to her. Her skin crawls and bile rises in her throat, but grimly, she makes herself ignore them. Walks past them with as much strength and calm she can muster.

The guard pauses. She looks past hordes of men, fluidly passing her gaze over them without meeting any of their gazes. Not allowing herself to be stared down. Dismissing them as irrelevant.

"Your release has been arranged," she says. She likes the way it comes out. Loud. Firm. Controlled. It draws him in a way that the rabble had not, and that pleases her. He pushes his way through the crowd, casting them aside, and they stare at one another.

Obscenities ring in her ears. Both their ears.

Please don't show me off like your whore, she thinks. Anything else. Not that.

He was never like that, but then, a lot has happened. Not least of them him being caged up with these animals for a year. And it would take only one bilingual prisoner to pass on to the others that the one-armed guy had screwed her, and she doesn't think she can stand the humiliation of that. She did those things because she loved him, and maybe she was wrong to do them, but she did them. She wasn't won or conquered. She isn't his prize.

"Marita Covarrubias," he says at last. "Last time I saw you, I left you for dead."

The noise of the crowd changes a little. She feels the shift. They're still looking at her, but some of the voyeurism has been replaced with curiosity. She isn't his chick or his babe or his sidekick, come to do his bidding. She is his adversary, and she has the upper hand.

She feels her excruciating humiliation fall away.

"Alex," she says, "if it was strictly up to me, I'd leave you here to rot, too."

She sees the tangled reactions in his expression. Shock. Anger. Hope. Caution. Those things don't surprise her. She had expected them all. But she sees something else, too, and it puzzles her. It isn't until somewhere along the long, hot drive back to the hotel that understanding comes to her.

Underneath it all, he's proud of her.

They make it until nightfall before they screw. All things considered, Marita thinks they did pretty well.

It wasn't exactly hard to predict. That was always their way of escaping their problems, either individual ones or relationship ones. And this night has plenty of both. The paths that brought them to this moment are not discussed. Once they'd left Forj Sidi Toui, the subject had been completely dropped. But that will have to be thrashed out sooner or later.

Neither of them wants to do it tonight, though. So they fuck instead.

It's animalistic to start with. Floor, couch, coffee table, against the wall. They roll around everywhere. Unable to bear to be parted for just those couple of moments it would take them to get to the bed. She stretches out beneath him, sighing out his name as he kisses her everywhere.

"You have to - gentle -" she manages when he unzips his jeans.

He pauses. Hand still on his waistband. Puzzled.


"It's been - it's been a while. Not since the ship." She looks away a little, and closes her eyes. She doesn't think she can bear his sympathy right now.

She feels his warmth covering her. Feels the slight hitch of his breath before he says matter-of-factly into her hair, "We should take it slow then, yeah?"

The relief is sweet. It crashes over her in waves. "Yeah," she says as his mouth closes over hers. She holds him around his shoulders and forces herself relax when he touches her down there. She's spent so long warding off intrusion that her instinct is to fight it.

But she wants him, too. So much.

She shivers when he enters her. Vibrations of desire and need, harder than she remembered. She remembered the sweet, suffocating warmth of having him deep inside her, but she'd forgotten the shocking tremors he arouses in her. It disturbs her, jolts her from her carefully-crafted illusion of control, and humbles her.

"So strong," he murmurs into her hair when she seizes around him. "So beautiful and strong, Marita."

She wonders if he knows what that means to her. Then he pulls back to look at her, and she sees that he does. Of course he does.

No-one else ever could.

"Alex," she whispers. Wraps her arms around his shoulders. Tugs him down and holds him as tight as she can. They lie there. Perfectly joined. Perfectly still.

"Stronger than you've ever been," he murmurs against her temple. "No-one's ever going to hurt you that way again."

She doesn't cry, but shudders rip through her, violent, grieving. She clings to him, and he holds her, fills her, shields her. Rocks her, just a little. Murmuring her name into her hair until it passes.

Finally, it does.

She kisses him when it falls away. Slow. Tender. A lifetime of understanding between them. He begins to move within her once more. She meets him, stroke for stroke, teasing adoring fingers through his hair until he has his release.

They cling together long after the tremors fade.

"You know I couldn't have gotten you out, don't you?"

Alex is sitting on the lounge when she joins him on the balcony. He is hunched over his drink. He doesn't look at her.

She sits down beside him. "Yeah." She tries for nonchalance, but it feels like a bad imitation.

"Scientists had been killed. The whole place was in lockdown. They'd have shot us."

"I know that, Alex." And she does. But in her nightmares, she remembers him turning his back on her, and when she wakes, her cheeks are wet, and her body aches from wrenching sobs she can't remember.

"Besides. If colonisation had gone ahead that day, you'd have been safer in there than outside. They'd have protected you. You'd have been valuable to them."

This strikes her as a hefty dose of rationalisation - after all, she was already immune. And the very idea of being trapped in there with desperate people who would want her immunity at any cost gives her chills. But she can't begrudge him whatever flimsy illusions he needs in order to live with what was done to them. Not really.

"I never thought of it like that," she says, quite truthfully.

He glances at her, then away again. "I'm sorry, Marita."

"It's all right," she fibs, staring out over the city.

"No, it's not," he mutters into his drink.

She suddenly wishes she'd put something on. She feels naked. More naked.

"They tore us apart, Alex," she says finally.

He swallows hard on his drink.

"It's only fitting that we should bring them down," she goes on. "Together."

He stares at her. "Defy the old man?" She nods. "But then why go back to him at all?"

"He has vaccine. I told him that you should be allowed to have some." She bites the inside of her cheek. Unsure how to broach the rest of it.

"And he agreed to that?"

"When I said it was the only way I could be sure you'd come back, yeah."

He frowns. Thinking on this. "And after that?"

"We give whatever we can to Mulder, take the Smoking Man down, and get the hell out." She focuses deliberately on the skyline.

There is a long pause. He straightens. She feels his eyes on her. "Get out?" he echoes. Unbelieving.

Nervously, she nods.

"There's something you're not telling me."

She picks at threads on the lounge. Not looking at him.

"You've become a liability, Alex," she says finally. "To the resistance, I mean."

He looks offended, and that strikes her as oddly funny. "How?" he demands. Aghast.

"The new-look conspiracy is focusing on the super soldiers," she says. "Spender doesn't know, but Jeffrey's been looking into it."

"Jeffrey's alive?"

"Yeah. Not in great shape, but yeah." She shudders at the memory of what they did to Jeffrey. It could have been her, so easily. "Alex, they've made one like you."

Alex pales. "What do you mean, like me?"

"I mean just like you. He - it looks just like you. As far as we know, it can't be killed." She sees him tick over the implications in his mind. The possibility of infiltration. "The only way to nullify the threat is to get out, and make it known that we intend to stay out," she says. "We paid our dues, many times over. And now's the time to walk away." She feels the heat rise up in her face. "Please."

He chews on that. Frowning. "That covers infiltration of the work. But what about the outsiders?" he wonders after a moment. "Mulder and Scully, for instance?"

She looks away again, back at the skyline. Says coldly, "They can assume their own risks."

He stares at her. Again. She feels like saying his face will stay that way if the wind changes, but she suspects it won't be appreciated.

"That's not like you," he says at last.

"The last time I tried to help Mulder, I lost two years of my life for it," she snaps. "Did you know, he found me there? Just before El Rico?" Alex draws back. Pale. "He didn't even try to get me out."

"God," he says, appalled.

"And the time before-" she breaks off. She doesn't need to say it, after all. He was there.

He looks down at his glass. "I know."

"Alex, please," she says. Looks away quickly when her voice breaks. "Please."

That seems to decide him. He draws her close. "All right, Marita," he says. "We'll walk away."

It's easy to say you'll walk away in the heat of the moment. Actually doing it is a little harder, she thinks when he rises off her to shower, and she isn't convinced he is capable of letting go. How can she be, when she isn't completely sure she can do it herself?

She shivers a little, despite the heat.

For all the privacy the balcony affords, she feels exposed. Her flesh tingles with the night air, her thighs are still a little way apart for him, and she feels cold without him to cover her.

A few months ago, she would have risen to escape the feeling, but she is stronger now, so she stays there, thinking it over. Is it that she feels exposed without him? That's ridiculous, for God knows, she was just as exposed with him. If anything, his presence exposes her more. In every possible way.

Maybe it's just the way he strips her back to raw longing and need. Strips away the things she contrives to hold herself together, and leaves her with the most basic desires of her soul. Her...moment, whatever it was, is a case in point. She thinks that a therapist could spend years trying to draw that from her, assuming that she could ever trust one to begin with. Alex got it from her with a few words and a gentle touch. She's not sure whether that's a good thing or not.

Dimly, she is aware of the shower stopping. She rises, sighing, and she meets him on the way in to the bathroom, but he spares her only an absent nod and a touch on the arm as he passes her. Clearly lost in thought. She watches him over her shoulder as he gets into bed, frowning.

Frowning herself, she washes as quickly as she can.

He's waiting for her when she comes out. Still thoughtful, but present to her again. "It wouldn't be so bad," he says when she slips into bed beside him. As though there had been no gap in the conversation at all.

"Yeah," she says. "We could retire to Switzerland or something."

"Do people still retire to Switzerland?" he wonders.

"I think so," she says. "And our money's already there."

"The idea has a certain appeal," he concedes. "I could write a book about a dashing one-armed spy and his beautiful blonde sidekick."

Her arched eyebrow speaks volumes.

"His beautiful blonde absolutely equal life partner," he amends. Coughs.

"Uh-huh." She maintains her poker face with difficulty.

"What about you?" he says hurriedly. "Any lifelong ambitions you'd like to fulfil?"

She lets him off the hook, biting back a grin. "No idea. I like numbers. I could set up a little bookkeeping business." She laughs suddenly. "I don't even know if people hire bookkeepers anymore. Maybe they all just use Quickbooks."

He smiles a little. "I just can't picture us being ordinary, Marita."

"Me neither."

She wonders what life would be like for Alex and Marita, the Revised Standard Version. She imagines a Barbie and Ken doll with the perfect house and the perfect pool and the perfect life, and somehow she can't find either of them in that image.

She wonders whether their bond will be as strong. Whether they'll still want each other as desperately when they could have anyone. The very wondering makes her sad.

He says, "We could get married."

She wonders whether he's always wanted to ask her, or whether he's just trying to work out how to make the Barbies fit the picture.

Does it matter?

"I'd like that," she says, and she strokes his cheek with the back of her hand. By natural association of ideas, she says, "What about kids?"

He draws away a little. "Marita," he says in a low voice, "I - the silo. When I was infected. The radiation. I can't-" and he breaks off then, shaking his head. Visibly withdrawing from her.

It hits her hard.

She swallows the tears, but they taste bitter in her throat. "They took so much," she whispers. He looks at her, then away. "It's not fair."

"Marita," he begins, but then he breaks off, sighing.

"How did you survive it, Alex? After the oil, I mean?"

He shrugs a little. "I found you," he says lamely. Without conviction. After a moment, he admits, "I don't know. I just - learned to live with it." Her chest grows tight, because that isn't what she wants to hear.

"But do we heal?" she says desperately.

"I don't think we do. I think we just learn to keep on going anyway."

Despair washes over her. "I don't know if that's enough," she whispers.

"It is," he says. "We're going to make it, Marita."

She isn't convinced, but she nods. Manages a weak smile.

He leans over and switches off the lamp. "Let's get some sleep."

They hold on to each other in the dark.


The following day is business as usual. Marita isn't surprised. There is a limit to the amount of soulsearching that either of them can stomach. There's love first, though, sleepy and slow, and it feels like a new beginning.

They don't talk much on the flight to D.C. It is a comfortable silence, but just the same, she is conscious of a kind of waiting. Waiting for the next stage to begin. These last, loose ends are just the coda to what has gone before.

She wonders what they will do when it ends.

Screw, undoubtedly, at first. Days of it. Maybe even weeks. Partly in celebration, and partly because they won't know what the hell else to do. But sooner or later, the future will have to be dealt with, or else it will never happen.

They probably will go to Switzerland, at least at first. His book and her bookkeeping business are unlikely in the extreme, and for the sake of readers and small businesses the world over, that may be just as well. But they'll go to Switzerland, pick out a house. Probably get married. And then they'll settle down and start to heal.

The thought terrifies her.

She knows how to pretend to be normal. She's rather good at it, in fact. Actually doing it, though...that's a whole different ballgame. She doesn't know if she can adjust her focus from engineering the future to planning a garden. And she isn't certain that he can do it, either.

She wonders who she could ask for advice. Realises that she doesn't know anyone who made it out alive.

"Do you remember Nelson?" she says abruptly.

Alex looks up from his book. Nods. "What about him?"

"He chose his alias for Nelson Mandela - did I ever tell you that?"

He shakes his head. Wondering where she's going with this.

"He was so normal when he was off the clock. Went home to South Africa every Christmas. Took his nephews to watch cricket matches. I always wondered how he managed it. How he avoided it. The - shadow of it all."

"But he didn't," he says. Gently.

She remembers the photos. Half-moons of blood beneath his fingernails. SRSG scrawled in red-

"No," she says. Blinks against the sudden blur of light. "I suppose he didn't."

Alex looks away. Out the window at the clouds. "I've always wished he'd died sooner. Before he could write...what he wrote."

She feels the need to defend him, her old mentor. "It needed to be done. There was no-one else he could give to Mulder. Not without exposing the resistance."

He harumphs through his nose. "You paid a hefty price for it."

"I wouldn't have met you if he hadn't," she points out.

He looks at her. "Am I really such a prize, Marita? Would you really go through it all again, just to be with me?"

She thinks, deep down, that maybe she wouldn't. She has chosen to spare herself before. There is no shortage of love between them, but if she could do it over, and be spared? What would she choose?

She doesn't know. Looking at him, she is glad the choice is not hers to make.

"I don't know. But I don't want to be anywhere else," she says. Oddly, this seems to please him.

They hold hands for the rest of the flight.

They met four years ago. It doesn't feel like it. On good days, it feels like a lifetime ago. On bad days, it feels like yesterday.

She's blocked out a lot of that night. She remembers being slammed against the front door of her apartment. Remembers the man she thinks of as the Puerto Rican. She thinks he was probably American, but she called him that on the strength of his resemblance to Luis Cardinale. She remembers him hissing against her cheek, "You did a bad, bad thing, pretty lady." Remembers being half out of her mind with terror. Sure that they would kill her when they were done.

"I don't - I don't know -"

"You gave Mulder photographs. Photographs he was never meant to see."

"I didn't think it would do any harm-"

"You're not paid to think," the Other Guy snapped, unbuckling his belt. "You give him what the old man says you can give him, you got that?"

She stared at the picture on her wall when they did it to her. Wondered whether it was done on Spender's orders, or whether it was a fringe benefit. Kept telling herself it was just rape, there were worse things that they could do to her, and subsequent experience would prove that, at least, to be absolutely right.

She must have blacked out in shock at some point, because she remembers becoming dimly aware that they'd swapped places. A dull ache between her thighs. Sticky wetness that was too thin and cool to be from either of them. Vibrations and bruising at the base of her spine where they'd slammed her against the door, over and over again. She could hear the dull thud of every thrust. Dazed beyond trauma. Just wanting it to end so she could surrender to the pain.

She remembers footsteps outside her door. The Puerto Rican didn't hear them. His face was a rictus - a parody of passion, brutally twisted by hate. But she did. She heard, and she banged the door with her heel. Gave a single muffled cry before he could get his hand over her mouth.

It was enough.

She felt the door give. Felt sudden, brutal pressure on her spine, exquisitely painful, shoving her forwards. Agony when she collided with the Puerto Rican. He staggered backwards, pulling out of her. She cried out in pain. The door exploded into the apartment. She landed on her knees.

The stranger in the doorway stared at her. She heard a small sound come from the back of his throat. She looked down at herself. Saw her crumpled skirt. The streaks of blood down her legs.

The shock started to break. The horror set in.

She doesn't remember much of the fistfight. She sat there, hugging herself, shivering uncontrollably. She remembers noise, and lights going out when one of them knocked over her favourite lamp. She remembers colour. The Puerto Rican's red shirt mixed with the stranger's black leather. She remembers staring at a stain of red on her carpet and wondering whose blood it was, because it was too far away from the door to be hers.

She remembers that somewhere along the line, the noise stopped, and only she and the stranger were left. She remembers thinking vaguely that he must have killed them, but when she looked around her, there were no bodies. Later, when she could think clearly, she realised that they must have fled.

He dropped down into a crouch in front of her.

"Miss Covarrubias?"

Looking back on it, she loves him for giving her that dignity when she was beaten and broken. But back then, all she could do was stare dully at him. At his leather jacket. She didn't look at his face.

After a while, it occurred to her that he was waiting for an answer.

"Marita," she said at last.

"Marita," he repeated. "I'm not going to hurt you. Do you believe me?"

She didn't, not really, but she nodded.

"Do you want to report it?"

She shook her head. "I can't."

He nodded. He didn't ask her why not.

"I want to get you out of this room. I want to clean you up and see whether you need medical help. Will you let me do that, Marita?"

"Are you a doctor?" she wondered vaguely. Fumbling for logic, but it was still there in the periphery of her mind. That comforted her.

"No. I used to be FBI. Violent Crimes Unit."

She met his gaze for the first time. "You're Alex Krycek," she said. "Nelson told me about you."

He nodded. "He told me about you, too."

"He died," she said. Like a little girl. "Did you know? They killed him." She felt her face crumple. "He was my friend."

"Oh, Jesus," he said, and he held her, and while he was holding her, she blacked out.

When she woke, it was daylight.

She was naked and clean, and covered with crisp, cool sheets. Alex was sitting by the window, reading. There was a glass on the table beside him, and a bottle of brandy she recognised as hers. He'd made a good dent in it, by the looks of it.

She took her time studying him, and herself. Gingerly, she ran her fingertips over her face, finding sore places that made her wince. There was a dressing on her forehead. She hadn't even realised she was cut there. She grappled with conflicting feelings about this stranger who had undressed her and cared for her. A nagging sense of intrusion. A gentle brand of relief, too, because how could she have done it alone?

"Why are you here?" she wondered at last.

He looked up from his book. Her book, actually. "I had to run from the Syndicate a year ago. Nelson was my only contact in the resistance after that. I knew he had a successor, but I only knew a first name and a description. I got the rest from Mulder's report."

"Is there anyone who doesn't have access to Mulder's files?" she said bitterly.

"No-one that counts, I don't think," he said. Nodded to her bruised form. "Is that what this was about?"

She looked away. Nodded.

"How do you feel?"

She looked at him again. Tempted to lie. But he looked so grave. Had he looked at her like that when he undressed her? When he washed her? Had he grappled with it, weighing up the invasions already inflicted on her and the need to do what he could for her?

"Awful," she said finally. He didn't flinch away from her bluntness, or offer platitudes or try to make it better. He just nodded. Accepting this. Tentatively, she asked him, "How bad is it?"

"Bruises, contusions, some cuts and scratches," he said. "No broken bones or fractures that I could see, but I'm not a doctor. If anything's broken, the pain will tell you soon enough." He swallowed a little. Looked away for a moment before facing her once more. "Marita, you tore. Pretty badly. I didn't look any closer than I had to, but it's a second degree tear."

She fought an urge to throw up.

"What do I do?"

"Wait," he said. "You won't be able to move much while the soft tissues are healing. It'll hurt too much, even if you wanted to." He said gently, "Marita, I know a bit about the forensics, but I don't know much about what to do for you. You really ought to be examined by a doctor."

She shook her head. Shrank back into the pillows.

Alex sighed. "Are you on the Pill?"

She closed her eyes. "No."

"If I get you pills, will you take them?"

Misery washed over her. She nodded.

He got to his feet. Patted down pockets. Found his wallet and tucked it into his jacket.

She watched him. Curious. Said finally, "Why are you helping me?"

He shrugged. "Sucker for a damsel in distress, I guess. That, and I need some favours to cash in."

The answer pleased her. It reminded her that beneath the bruises, she was still a powerful woman.

"I'll make you work for it," she warned him. Her smile was weak, but it was there.

"I wouldn't expect anything less." He shot her a crooked grin. "Back soon."


Her smile faded as soon as he closed the door. But it was still a smile, and she thought that was as good a start as any.

He stayed for six weeks.

It's tempting, now that she loves him, to embellish the memory. To imagine hints of what was to come. But it wasn't really like that. She was still too battered. Too raw. She trusted him precisely because there was no hint of romance there. If he had any feelings for her beyond companionable benevolence, he wisely kept them to himself.

They exchanged stories during those long days while her body healed, and found them alike. Both were approached by the Smoking Man, who claimed an affiliation with the NSA, on what he called a matter of national security. Both were lured by an irresistible combination of national pride, a dose of conceit, and money. Both learned of the deception too late - that their cigarette smoking friend was indeed with the NSA (and the CIA, and the DOD) but that his intentions were anything but noble. Both learned of the existence of the alien bio-threat and of the Syndicate, and then of the resistance. It was a story Marita had heard many times before.

"What do you want to do?" she asked him one evening. "For the future, I mean."

It was maybe two weeks since their first meeting, if you could call it that, and she was pretty much back to normal. The visible wounds had healed. She was back at work (she told them she was in a car wreck), and by all outward appearances she had put her ordeal behind her. Alex recognised her facade for what it was, she thought, but he didn't speak of it, and that was just as good.

He poured out the dregs of the wine into her glass. "I want to be working on a vaccine. I was selling intelligence off the digital tape earlier this year, trying to trade my way in, but I never really got my foot in the door."

His expression darkened a little, and she had a flash of memory - a resistance rumour that he had been captured and infected with the oil, and somehow survived. She hadn't believed it, but now, she wasn't so sure.

"The vaccine's dirty work," she said after a moment. "A lot of casualties. Innocent casualties, sometimes."

He swallowed a little. "I know. I'll live with it."

"Nelson never tried to get you into Bonita's work?"

He shook his head. "He didn't trust her. She's too close to the Duke."

She grinned. "He's not really a Duke, you know. We did some digging. His father was a Duke, but his mother was one of King George's maids."

Alex snorted laughter through his nose. "He's illegitimate? That's priceless!"

"Isn't it?" she said. Laughing too. She finished off her wine and sat back on the couch, tucking her feet beneath her.

He was watching her. Smiling that gently proud smile she would come to recognise in the years to come. "It's good to see you laugh."

She smiled with him. "It's good to be laughing."

He sat back alongside her. "So. Any bright ideas?"

She frowned. Thought a little, brow furrowed. "Do you know any languages?"

"Russian," he said. "A bit of Arabic. My parents were immigrants."

"From the south, then."

He nodded. "Uzbekistan. Near the Afghani border."

"I know someone," she said after a moment. "He's a retired KGB hitter. He could make the necessary introductions to get you into the Russian operation. Name's Peskow."

"How do you know him?"

"I did a tour of duty with the UN in Chechnya a few years ago. We caught him attempting a hit - he still freelances now and then. I let him go in exchange for some names. He owes me."

"They're not going to take me just on his say-so, though."

She shook her head. "No. You'll have to give them something."

"Like what?"

She shrugged. "Not sure. Maybe information off the tape, or from Mulder's files." A new thought occurred to her. "Maybe even Mulder himself. He was infected with some alien virus a year or two ago, wasn't he?"

"The Arctic thing. Yeah, that's a thought."

"It would be really easy," she said. "He's very suggestible. Feed him the right set of clues, and he'd come to you."

Alex shot her a shrewd look. "You sure there's not just a bit of revenge in that? For what they did to you for helping him?"

She faltered. Remembered Mulder ambushing her outside her office earlier that evening, wanting information about some case or other. He scared the hell out of her.

"I - I don't know," she said after a moment. "I don't know how to answer that."

He watched her thoughtfully. "Well, maybe I shouldn't have asked. It's a good idea, though."

She suddenly felt very guilty.

Perhaps he saw it in her face, because he went on hastily, "How soon do you think we can make it happen?"

She shrugged. "A few weeks. Know any thugs? People you don't mind throwing to the wolves?"

He laughed. It was a mirthless laugh, tinged with distaste. Sympathy washed over her. "Just a few."

"Easy, then. Give him a bust as a hook, and then reel him in. The Russians will help with the bait, and Peskow will help with the cleanup."

He looked at her with admiration. "You're good."

She smiled a little. "Yeah." Sighed. "I'm going to miss you when we get you in there, you know, Alex."

"Me too," he grinned. "I never had a roomie before."

"Me neither," she said. "S'nice."


A silence fell then, a heavy one, and she thinks that if it hadn't been so soon, if Mulder hadn't reawakened all her fears that night, she might have made an overture then. She wasn't conscious of wanting him, but she was conscious of something. A kind of expectancy between them.

They didn't speak again that night.


They arrive at Marita's apartment in Maryland that evening.

"Why do you keep this place?" he wonders, glancing around while she locks and chains the door. "Doesn't look like you've been here in years."

"I don't use it often," she concedes, throwing her keys and wallet on the hall table. "The odd night here and there, when I have to see Spender. That's all. I haven't really lived in since you were here." She walks past him, into the lounge room. "Your weights are still here, if you want them."

"Am I that out of condition?" he wonders.

"You know what I mean. I've made an appointment with your specialist. You'll need a new socket, at least. He can see you tomorrow. The orthotist has cleared his schedule. He thinks he can give us twenty-four hour turnaround."

He follows her in. Makes a grunting sound that she thinks is his version of thanks.

She drags a drop-sheet off the lounge and folds it up. Dumps it unceremoniously on the floor. He follows suit with the chairs and table. He drops down onto the lounge, watching her throw open the windows. She stands there, breathing the cool night air.

"This place isn't all that secure," he says. "Mulder has the address."

"Does he?" she says. Frowns.

"Yeah. He got it from the Federal Employee Database. Same time as he got the New York one. I saw him write it down."

She shrugs. "By the time he knows we're on the scene again, we'll be gone. It'll be fine."


"You didn't tell me that when we were here last time."

"Didn't have the heart, after the trouble you went to. And I didn't care too much anyway."

Well, that makes sense. She turns away from the window to face him. "Do you want to get some dinner?"

He shakes his head. "I'll pass. You eat, though."


A loose thread on his jacket seems to capture his attention. "It's just going to take a while to get used to food again."

"I shopped before I flew out. There are protein shakes in the refrigerator."

He grimaces. "You think of everything."

"You make that sound like a bad thing."

"Sorry," he says. "It's this place. Mixed feelings."

She swallows down the hurt that rises in her throat. She tries to convince herself that he can't be expected to feel the way she does about that time, but she's only partly successful.

Perhaps he sees her conflict in her face, because he says, "Marita, I didn't mean it like that."

"I knew what you meant. It's okay."

"It was hard for me. Even with you here."

"I know."

"It doesn't mean it wasn't special."

She hates hearing him defend himself to her. "Alex, can we stop talking about this?"

"All right. Are you going to eat?" He sounds mildly annoyed.

She shakes her head. Thinks about arguing with him, but lets it pass.

"Do you want to get an early night, then?"

She shrugs. "Fine."

They go to her bedroom, neither of them in particularly good temper, but the ripple of tension fades as they undress. They undress matter-of-factly, and separately. Not like lovers. Like long-married spouses.

They get into bed in silence, and he puts his head on her shoulder, his arm across her body. It comes to an abrupt end near her navel. She strokes it, tracing her palm over it, listening to the rain on the window. Feels slight pressure beneath her breast when he instinctively tries to draw her closer with the limb he no longer possesses.

"Why did you do it?" he murmurs against her neck.

"Do what?"

"Come and get me. Back then, I mean."

"Don't know. I just needed to."

She doesn't know, but she can guess. She loved him, even then. Of course she did.

"How did you know?" he wonders. "I never did ask you."

"Peskow told me." The shock, the terrible anguish of that night has eased with the passage of time, and she smiles a little in the dark. "He called you my young man."

She can hear the smirk in his voice. "Thank God for ageing assassins with a soft spot for young love."

"You're glad I came, then? Despite everything?"

"God, Marita. Do you need to ask?"

She shrugs. Doesn't answer.

Neither does he. But he presses her again, and she knows the answer anyway.

Peskow scared the hell out of her.

She never felt completely safe in the New York apartment after what they did to her there, and she would have moved if she'd thought it would help. But they would still have known where she was, and she gained a certain grim satisfaction from knowing they hadn't driven her from her home.

But still, she was easily shaken. She was sensitive to the comings and goings of her neighbours. She learned to identify them by their paces. Variations in their movements or their routine could leave her held tight and trembling by the door until she was sure the intruder had moved on. Her occasional, unwelcome visitors did nothing to alleviate her brittle nerves.

Fox Mulder came a few days before Peskow. She's proud of the way she handled herself. She believes even now that he had no idea how badly he scared her. She even touched him when she had to wake him, and forced herself not to draw back when he jolted awake. She took her time moving away from him, hoping she looked calm and imposing. She flaunted her power, the speed with which she could get him the documents he needed, and she told him never to call on her at home again. And he never did.

So she was already on edge when Peskow knocked at her door. For a long moment, she held his gaze through the gap in the door. Wondering if she, too, was to be part of the Russian cleanup. She didn't think so, but why else would he be here?

Perhaps he saw something of her fear in her features. "Marita, please."

She sighed. Nodded. She closed the door and grabbed her gun from the hallstand. Put it in her pocket. Its weight was comforting against her hip.

She unchained the door, opened it, and let him pass.

He sat down on her couch without asking. Normally, she would have been affronted, but it was a relief, not having to deal with the social niceties. He looked up at her. His old, lined face was kind.

"Please come and sit with me, Marita."

She stood there, hugging herself and frowning for a moment before she complied. "What is it, Vassily?"

"It is about your young man."

"You mean Alex?" she said. "What is it?"

"I try to talk to him on the telephone. They tell me there was an accident," he said. She looked down at his wrinkled hand on hers. She barely registered his words. This man she'd thought was here to kill her was patting her as though she were a frightened child. It was surreal.

"An accident?" she said. Her first, nightmarish thought was that Alex was dead, but she didn't really believe it. Not Alex. "He isn't-"

"No. But he is badly hurt. I thought you would want to know."

"Why, yes," she said vaguely, "yes." A little shaken by how strongly it affected her. Her first instinct was to go to him, to be with him, but that was absurd. Yes, he had helped her, but still. Hell, he would probably be well before she even got there. "How bad is he?"

"Marita, his arm is gone. It's - I do not know the word -"

"Gone?" she echoed. "I don't-" and then she broke off. Horrified. She had heard of this in the resistance, but she hadn't believed it. No-one could be driven to that - could they?

She stared at him. Breathing hard and fast. Shivering all over.

"Amputirovano?" she whispered. "Amputated?"

"Yes," he said. "I am sorry."

She sat forward. Hands over her mouth. Fighting down - something. Something hard and fierce. Not tears, exactly.

Maybe screams of rage.

"They take so much," she whispered. "So much."

She felt paper. Felt it being pressed into her hand. She took it mechanically.

"His coordinates, Marita."

She stared down at it. "I should go there," she said. "Shouldn't I." It wasn't a question.

His hand closed on her shoulder. "Good luck, Marita."

She nodded. "Thank you," she said. Halting. Numb.

She was still staring at the piece of paper when he let himself out.

She wept a lot on the flight to Krasnoyarsk.

She drew stares, clearly Western woman with her fashionable clothes and her tear-streaked face. The flight from there to Tunguska was easier; she pulled some strings and took a charter helicopter. She landed in the grounds of the gulag unannounced, and it was only later that it occurred to her that she was lucky not to be shot on sight.

As it happened, however, someone knew she was coming. That was Peskow's handiwork, she supposed. Her demands to see Alex were met with cooperation, and if she offended them with her fierce desperation, they didn't show it. They were kind to her, at least by the standards they lived with.

"He is delirious," one of the guards told her in stilted English, leading her to the infirmary. "The stump, it is infected."

"What happened?" she demanded in his own language.

"There was a fight with the American he brought here," he said, pausing to search through his keys. "The American stole a truck and got away. He took Comrade Krycek with him. We found him in the woods like this the next day." He glanced over his shoulder, as though fearing being overheard. "There are peasants, you see. They do not understand. We only test the criminal, but they are afraid. So they cut off their arm." He said regretfully, "We think they meant to help him."

She held her head in her hand for a long moment. Swallowing tears. "Mulder," she said bitterly, looking back up at him. "It's always Mulder, one way or another."

He unlocked the door, opened it, and let her pass. "I do not understand."

"The American you speak of," she said as he locked it again behind them. "He leaves a lot of bodies behind him, that's all." She wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. "I want to take Comrade Krycek back to America for treatment. Will your superiors object?"

"Nyet. They would prefer it. We do not have the facilities to care for him."

"But he'll still have a place here when he returns?"

"Yes. We are not like the people you work for. We keep our word," he said severely. She flushed, accepting the rebuke. He nodded to a pair of double doors up ahead. "Would you like to see him now?"

Marita indicated that she would, and the guard took his leave of her. She took a deep breath, and then she went through the doors into the makeshift infirmary.

The sound of her footsteps reverberated in her ears.

She had walked through Chechen battlefields at twentyone, through the bodies of the fallen. Some of them were people in her own corps. She hadn't cried then, nor for a long time after coming home. She told herself she wouldn't cry now. And she didn't, but when she drew aside the sheet to reveal his butchered stump, she sank down shaking onto the bed.

"Oh, Alex," she whispered.

He opened his eyes. Unbelievably, he smiled.

"You're sitting on my arm," he said. He sounded dazed.

"I'm not-" she glanced down. She was sitting where his arm should have been. Looked back up at his vacant face. Wondered whether it was delirium, or phantom pain, or both. "Sorry."

"S'okay. They took it, you know."

"Yeah," she whispered. "I know."

He closed his eyes once more.

She swallowed hard. "Alex?" she said, passing her hand over his forehead. It was hot. Too hot.


"I'm going to take you back to America. You can still come here when you're better," she said, stroking his cheek with the back of her hand.

"I've missed you, Marita," he mumbled.

She smiled in spite of herself. Kissed his forehead. And then she brought him home.

He cried when they wheeled him off to surgery.

She's seen him shed tears, but the surgery was the only time she saw him really cry. But his residual limb was too scarred, too misshapen, too deprived of a blood supply to heal. If he ever hoped for a prosthetic, a second amputation was the only way.

For three days, he didn't speak to her. Just sat there, staring dully at the wall. She didn't try to draw him out. She just stayed by his side, reading and sleeping and watching TV, ready to be there when he wanted her.

Finally, he did.


She was nearly asleep on the little fold-out bed, but she blinked against the dim fluorescent light and sat up.


He watched her. Didn't speak. Finally leaned over and took a lock of her hair between his fingertips.

"Nothing," he said at last. "Get some sleep."

She didn't press him. Just sank back down on her bed.

They watched each other, eyes grave. But sleep was a long time coming.

He came home six days later.

He didn't want her to strap his stump. He didn't want her to do anything for him, in fact, and he argued about it bitterly. Finally, she spat that he'd seen her goddamn cunt when it was butchered, so she could see his stump. He sank back in his chair, and he stared at her, pale and silent while she did what needed to be done.

"I'm being a prick, aren't I?" he wondered when he found his voice.

She went on strapping. "Pretty much."

"Would it help if I apologised?"

"Not particularly."

That crooked grin rose in his features. "Would it help if I did my rehab exercises like a good little boy?"

She looked at him. Still fastening his bandage. Bit back a grin. "Maybe."

He looked over the side of the chair, down at her calves. "Got any legwarmers?"

She arched an eyebrow. "Pardon?"

"Well, if I have to exercise, so do you. Unless you object," he challenged.

"Not at all," she said primly. She got to her feet, dropped a kiss on his head, and walked to the door.

He stared after her. "What the hell was that for?"

She said over her shoulder, "Because I'm going to work you into the ground." Sweetly.

He laughed, and she smiled, and then she fled, because she was trembling with relief, and she didn't want him to see her cry.

It was five more weeks before he admitted, haltingly, to his fear that no woman would want him any more. The irony was that by then, she knew that she loved him, and she wanted him badly.

"You're wrong, Alex," she said. She didn't say any more than that, but her hands slowed on his stump. Grew gentle. Her heart felt heavy and weighted in her chest.

He turned his head. Stared at her. She fastened the bandage. She didn't look at him.

He pulled away from her when she was done. "I don't want your pity, Marita," he said in a low voice. "Or your obligation."

Anger flared within her. "You take that back, you son of a bitch. I thought I'd never feel this way about anyone again." He frowned. Clearly perplexed. "How dare you try and take that away from me."

He looked at her for a long, long moment. Tangled confusion and anger in his features. Finally, seemingly at a loss, he got to his feet and walked out.

She flinched when the door banged shut behind him.

She wakes to his hand in her hair and mumbled, fragmentary words of love in her ears. She's tired, but it's been a long time since they made love in this room, and she can't bring herself to mind. His tenderness is slow and heavy, and she can tell that he's half-asleep himself. She returns his kisses, awkward misdirected things that they are, and suspects they'll probably fall asleep again before he can make love to her.

"Want you, Marita," he mumbles.

In his sleepy, docile state, it sounds like an endearment. She laughs. Ruffles his hair. "How is that different from any other time?"

He groans. "Don't. I'm half-asleep here."

She laughs again. Runs her hand down his arm. It glides smoothly past the end of his stump and down his side.

He catches her hand with his. Looks at it, brow furrowed in a clear effort to concentrate. "Why didn't you mind, Marita?"

So he's been thinking about it too.

"I don't know," she says. "I just loved you. I thought you were beautiful. I still do." Her eyes mist over in that sleepy-emotional way she has. She thinks that he springs these things on her late at night because he knows her defences are down.

"I think you liked it. Because they hurt me too."

She doesn't want to believe that. She wants to believe that she loved him for more than that. She starts to pull her hand away.

He pulls her back. Kisses her, slow and tender. Without reproach.

She realises that even if that was the truth of it, it doesn't matter any more.

They're still sleepy, but they make love after all.

It was nightfall when she found him.

He stood there waiting for her in her bedroom in the dark, a silhouette in the light of the moon. Watching rain drizzle down the windowpane. He didn't look at her when she came into the room.

"Are you mad at me?" he wondered.

"No," she said dully. And she wasn't. She just felt overwhelmingly sad.

"I'm not trying to hurt you," he said. "I'm just trying to - to -"

"Please don't." She didn't even know what he wanted to say, but she was pretty sure she didn't want to hear it. She went and put her arms around his shoulders from behind. Rested her cheek against his shoulder. "Alex, it isn't either of those things. Pity or obligation."

"Isn't it?" he asked, turning his head to look at her.

She shook her head. Ran her fingers through his hair. "I just wish you could accept that."

He hunched his shoulders and didn't answer. But he didn't pull away.

"Alex, do you remember how you found me that night? What they did to me?" He didn't answer, but his hand found hers. Squeezed her compulsively. "Is that what you see when you look at me?"

He turned around in her arms. "No," he said. Stroked her hair. "God, no."

"Then why, why would this -" she cradled his stump in her hand through his sleeve "- be all I see in you?"

"I don't-" He broke off, shaking his head. Swallowing hard. He didn't argue when she took his face between her palms and kissed him, and soon his lips were as insistent as hers.

He touched his forehead to hers, looking down between them when she unbuttoned his shirt. "Have you - since -"

She shook her head.

"We don't have to."

She held his gaze in the dark. "I want to."

It wasn't as easy as that, of course. Her body had a memory of its own, it seemed, and she seized up when he tried to touch her, even while she ached for him to do it.

He was patient with her. There were a few false starts that night, and a few frustrated tears. Finally, though, he was between her thighs, he was inside her, and it was okay. Then, as arousal outstripped fear, it was good. Then glorious. She cried out his name in sheer relief when she came.

She felt selfish afterwards. It was a first for him, too, and that fact went largely unacknowledged by her. But she thinks now that her unwitting self-absorption salvaged what might have been a disaster. He was so concerned for her fears that night that he forgot about his own.

She loves him for that.

There were more firsts to come. He was so gentle with her, and she pressed him to go harder on her. She hated the idea that those bastards could dictate how they made love. Finally, he loosened up, and sometimes it was harder than she really liked, but it exhilarated her, too. Like a celebration of freedom. A reclaiming.

Not that the instinct to fear would ever entirely leave her. There was still a moment of reflexive seizing up when he pushed her against a wall, even now. But then hunger would wash over her, because it was Alex, and he only ever touched her on her terms, and she wanted him so much.

They were parted all too soon.

Once he had his prosthesis, they really couldn't justify his continued absence from the Russian project. And Marita's own excuses for her absence from her professional duties, both legitimate and otherwise, were wearing thin.

So they left the Maryland apartment, and until now they had never been here together again. She volunteered for United Nations projects in the former Soviet Union, and a sympathetic Peskow pulled some strings to get Alex onto courier detail for all-toorare trips to the States. They conspired to be together whenever they could.

It wasn't nearly enough, but it was the best they could do.


Their trip to Alex's specialist is brief. A new cast is made of his stump - it changed along with the rest of his body during his imprisonment - and then they have the rest of the day to kill. As Marita had predicted, a new socket is needed, and it won't be ready until the following morning.

They return to the apartment and screw until lunchtime - partly desire and partly sheer lack of options. He is used to having the use of his arm, and while he is able to function without it, it pisses him off. And she has no wish to spend the day with a fractious Alex.

"So what's on the agenda?" he asks her over take-out at lunchtime. If he notices her careful choice of food, he doesn't mention it. Just sits there with his chopsticks, dipping his dumplings. He eats lightly, which she supposes is to be expected, but she hopes his appetite will improve. She'd felt bones on him that she'd never been able to feel before, and that somehow feels like more of a maiming than the loss of his arm.

"Shopping," she informs him. "You need some clothes." In fact, she bought him some before she went to Tunisia, but she thinks now that they might be too big.

"Okay. What then?"

"Nothing today," she says. "Tomorrow we get your arm, then head over to the Watergate."

"He's still living there?" he says. "I figured he'd move out once he offed Diana."

She shakes her head. "He moved his nurse into her apartment, and he still lives down the hall. Guess his name is still on her lease."

Alex snorts, a sound of distaste. "I suppose one sidekick is as good as another in his mind."

"We're all expendable," she says. "Spender included, these days."

"He's really that out of the loop, then?"

She nods. "They're sending him on wild goose chases to keep him out of their hair. The latest is some crashed UFO. He doesn't think I know about it."

"So what do we do?"

"Follow the trail of breadcrumbs until he gives us your dose of the vaccine. Then we give what we have to Mulder and Scully, and get the hell out." She could live without even doing that much, but giving the information to Mulder would piss the old man off, and that alone is reason enough to do it. And she still feels a sense of obligation to Mulder, despite everything. It's the one thing she can still do for Nelson. Probably the last thing she will ever be able to do for him, in fact.

Alex nods. Thinks it over. "How will we verify the vaccine's authenticity?"

"We'll get it by requisition order." She doesn't look at him.

He stares at her. "From Fort Marlene?"

She nods. Looks down into her food.

"Have you ever been back there?" he asks at last.

"Once. The resistance freed Jeffrey. I drove the van, told them where to go. That sort of thing." He nods. "I haven't been inside." She remembers the last time they were there together, and swallows hard. There's a haunted look on his face when she finally meets his gaze again. He's very pale.

"Well," he says at last. Coughs into his hand. "Shopping?"

She rises. Gets rid of their take-out. "Yeah."

"Nice threads."

"Hope you're buying them," he parries. He looks pleased anyway.

"As long as I get to take them off you when we get home." She kisses him while the shop assistant rings up their purchases. The assistant smiles to herself.

"Thank you, Ma'am," the girl says, handing back her VISA card.

Marita smiles her thanks and tucks it into her pocketbook. She pulls out three other cards and hands them to Alex. "I had the banks cancel your old ones."

"Is there anything left on them?" he wonders. "I thought the prison guards would have cleaned them out, for sure."

"They made a good dent, but there's still some in there, and I transferred some more from the Swiss account. You won't need me to keep you for a while yet."

"Thanks." He puts them into his jeans pocket. "All I need now is a wallet, and I'll feel like a reputable member of society again."

"We'll make that the next stop, then," she says. "I only want you being disreputable with me."

Shopping for a wallet is quicker than for clothes. He's not so fussy about that. He chooses a plain black leather wallet similar to the one taken from him in Tunisia, and, to her great amusement, insists on a trip to a photo booth to get a picture of the two of them to put inside. It's all the funnier for his lack of appreciation for the humour of it.

"I wish they'd left my wallet," he says afterwards, tucking their picture inside. "Your letter was in there. I wish they'd left that."

Her good humour fades.

"Oh," she says. Swallowing hurt. Sees it in his face, too.

"Well," she says after a moment. "Some things are probably best forgotten anyway."

His eyes are grave. "It meant a lot to me, Marita. Especially back then."

She feels the heat of shame rise up in her face. "I don't want to talk about it."

He stares at her. "You're not still beating yourself up over that, are you? You don't really think you had any choice?"

She hunches her shoulders. "Can we not talk about this? Please?"

He sighs. Watches her for a long moment, then takes her by the hand. Tugs her back into the photo booth. "Look. Whatever it is that you're doing to yourself in that head of yours, will you stop it? For me?"

She forces a smile. Grasps for something to say. Her gaze falls on the little vanity mirror on the wall. "You made me get a photo when my hair was a mess, you bastard."

He snorts laughter through his nose. "Then we're even. Come on." He strokes her hair and kisses her. And then he takes her home.

Of course, letting go is never really so simple, no matter how neatly they put the lid on the fallout. She has never completely forgiven herself, and she doubts she ever will. The ugly truth is that she wasn't strong enough. She didn't love enough. And that truth will haunt her until the end of her days.

She had never really accepted the inevitability that the Syndicate would learn of her involvement with Alex. They had been together for close to a year, and she was lulled by their apparent failure to register on Spender's radar. Incredibly, she worried more about the daily trials of a long distance relationship than what would happen if they were ever found out. In retrospect, she is horrified by her own naivete.

She underestimated the toll their separation took on Alex, though. That last day in Kazakhstan, she had no inkling of his plans. If his kisses were more urgent, she wrote it off to pent-up need after months apart.

"I missed you," he gasped into her hair as she pulled at his clothes. It was such a stupid thing for them to do, so close to the burn site. She could still smell the bodies, and she hated herself for wanting him, but she needed him so much. Especially now.

"We can't," she managed between kisses. "It isn't safe. It isn't right." Still tugging at his shirt a little.

He nodded. Pulled back a little. Flushed. He took her hand and held it still. "I know. I just-"

"Yeah." Reluctantly, she loosened her grip on the fabric. Smoothed it back into place. Hands trembling with arrested need. "I hate being so far away."

He stroked her hair. "Same." He looked over his shoulder, out at the clearing through the trees.

She followed his gaze. Her men were still working, writing notes and taking pictures. She hadn't been missed. His were more concerned with the teenaged boy they'd found at the scene.

"What does he know?" she said. Nervous. This whole thing frightened her. Who had rounded up the abductees to begin with? And why had they been killed?

He shook his head. "I don't know. But I'm going to find out."

"Be careful, Alex. He could be valuable, depending on what he knows."

"You think someone might try to steal him?"

"They're going to want to know what he saw. Any one of my men could be Syndicate people checking up on me. I can't afford to suppress the information - it could expose us."

"You're right," he said. Looking over his shoulder at the men again. Said absently, "They'd want him. Maybe enough to risk it."

"Yes," she said. "And there's not really any risk to them in trying, is there?"

He looked at her once more. Frowning. Almost as though he didn't know what she was talking about. Then, the lines in his brow cleared. "No," he said after a moment. "You're absolutely right."

"We should get back," she said. "Before they miss us."

"You need to fix your make-up first," he grinned.

She smiled a little, and she pulled out her compact and did as he said. Wiped a smear of lipstick from his mouth, as well.


"Yes?" she said, tucking her compact back into her pocket.

"I want you to get out of Kazakhstan. Today."

She stared at him. "Why?"

"I just - I have a bad feeling about all this. It's probably nothing, but it would make me feel better. Will you?"

She thought about it. She didn't really need to stay. "I'm sure it's fine, but if it will make you feel better -"

He nodded. "It really would."

She shrugged. "Okay, then."

He drew her close. "We'll be together again soon, Marita. I promise."

She held onto him, and hoped that it was true.

In the end, she wasn't fast enough.

She was politely detained at the airport in Astana, and driven to the Russian Federation consulate nearby. She was given a tastefully-appointed apartment there, but there was a guard outside the door. She wasn't given a reason for her detainment, but she could guess. They suspected her of reporting to the Syndicate.

"We do not want any unpleasantness," the man said, sitting casually on the fourteenth-century writing table. He had introduced himself as Anatoly Melnikov, but she didn't believe he was Russian-born any more than she was. No, Melnikov was something worse: a Russian loyalist by belief. There would be no understanding or mercy for her from this man. He would condemn her, she sensed, for her alliance with the American project. And she couldn't really blame him.

"Nor do I," she said. "But you must understand, my men will report that I have been apprehended. It is in everybody's best interests for this to be resolved as quickly as possible. The United Nations does not take kindly to the detainment of its peacekeepers."

"You have not been mistreated, Miss Covarrubias, have you?"

She was forced to concede that this was the case.

"You cared for Alex Krycek after he was wounded last year. We understand that you are on terms of intimacy with him," he said. "Is that the case?"

She stared at him. Alex? It was about Alex?

"Yes," she said. It was pointless to deny it.

"Are you aware, Miss Covarrubias, that Alex Krycek absconded from Tunguska Gulag this afternoon with the boy he apprehended from the site?"

She sat back in her seat. Stupefied. "He what?" She brought her hand to her mouth. Genuinely appalled. "I - I had no idea."

"And you don't know whether he had vaccine in his possession?"

She searched Melnikov's face for guidance. Admitting to knowledge of the vaccine might save her, if she was already suspected of helping Alex. But if she wasn't - if they were just going through the motions - it might be a very efficient way of getting herself killed.

"I don't know anything," she said truthfully. "I haven't spoken with him. I don't know what he was doing or what he was planning."

"You were both noted missing from the crime scene for a time, Miss Covarrubias. Clearly you spoke to him. You don't honestly expect me to believe he didn't confide in you."

"No," she said. "We didn't speak."

"Then what were you doing?"

"We had sex," she lied, doing her best to look embarrassed. "I was so relieved to see him. We just- "

"All right, all right, I don't need to know." He looked mildly disgusted. "Where would he have gone? Back to the States, to be with you?"

Of course he would, she realised. Why else would he have done it? But if she said so, they would wait for him. It occurred to her that they might hold her in hopes of exchanging her for the boy.

"No," she said. "Not to be with me, anyway." She injected as much misery into her voice as she could. In the circumstances, it wasn't difficult. "He doesn't love me, you see." She broke into sudden tears. They weren't what he thought they were, but they were real, just the same.

Melnikov made a sound of annoyance, sighed, and left her there.

They believed her.

It seemed that they took into account Alex's history of selling intelligence, combined with her respectable position, and decided that he was working on his own. Either that, or her detainment was not worth the possibility of United Nations intervention. After twelve days, she was released from her tastefullyappointed room with the apologies of the Kazakhstani government.

Melnikov was not pleased.

"We believe the boy carries the oil-borne virus, Miss Covarrubias," he said as they drove to the airport. "If you see Alex, please remember that you have a higher duty here. You have a distinguished humanitarian service record. I know I can count on you to make the right decision."

Marita let him go through the motions. Clearly, he'd argued for them to hold her, and lost. This was his last-ditch effort to use her, or convert her, or something. She made agreeable noises in all the right places. But it was his parting words that chilled her.

"He could infect Alex, too, you know."

She stared at his departing form, and she was still white and trembling when her plane took off.

There was an arrangement of wisteria waiting for her when she got home.

It came from a local florist. There was no note. She didn't need one. They weren't her favourite flowers, but she did like them, and Alex knew it. It was enough to make her let out a long, low sigh of relief.

She discounted the possibility that he had travelled by air. That would be impossible if he really had the boy with him. She made a shortlist of marine arrivals in New York from the Russian Federation, and zeroed in on one in particular, a commercial freighter that had left Vladivostok three days after she was detained, due to arrive in New York Harbor late that night. There was just enough time, if he'd driven nearly nonstop, and his cellphone would be in range by now - hence the flowers.

It was all she could do not to go to the terminal. But it was nightfall, and she was afraid of being followed. Afraid she was watched, even now, by Melnikov's men. She passed a sleepless night, but there was dawning hope, too. She believed in Alex. She believed that if anyone could make it all work out, he could.

She checked in with the Syndicate the following morning. She joined them in their stuffy, smokefilled room on East 46th Street and made her report. Longing for it to be over so she could go to him. She wasn't sure what she wanted more - to chew him out for scaring her like that, or to kiss him over and over again. She suspected she would find a way of doing both.

Alex telephoned with his demands while she was there. Marita never knew exactly what they were, but she could guess. Either he demanded to be allowed to work on the Syndicate's vaccine, or he demanded the vaccine data, in order to trade his way into the resistance. Either way, the Duke wasn't happy. He stared her down when Alex rang off, and she shrank back. Sensing the danger.

He adjourned the meeting minutes later.

"Miss Covarrubias," he said as the men prepared to leave. "I'd like a word with you."

A gnawing feeling sprang up in the pit of her stomach. "What is it, Sir?" she said, working hard to keep the alarm from her voice. Watching as the other men filed out of the room. He waited until the last of them had gone, and that only served to frighten her more.

"I understand that you were detained in Kazakhstan," he said when they were alone.

Her eyelids flickered. "There was a misunderstanding. It's been resolved."

"In fact, you were under suspicion of collusion with Alex Krycek, were you not?"

"That's correct. Our troops arrived at the burn site at the same time. We were seen together." Her throat felt very dry.

"That may be," the Duke said, pouring brandy from a decanter. "Would you like one?"

She doubted she could have gotten it down, let alone kept it there. "No, thank you."

He set the decanter down again and drank. "But it prompted me to make some enquiries. You and this Krycek have been on personal terms for some time, it seems." He watched her, frowning. "I'd have thought you might have reconsidered the consequences of working against the interests of the group, Miss Covarrubias. Especially after what happened the last time."

Did he know that they raped her? She thinks, in retrospect, that he probably didn't. The Duke would never have agreed to that.

But she wasn't thinking clearly back then. Terror washed over her. She stood there, breathing shallow, hitching breaths.

"What do you want from me?" she whispered.

He looked at her, irritated, as though mildly surprised by her stupidity. "I would have thought it was obvious. I want the boy."

Hand the hostage over to them? God. She couldn't. Her mind raced for alternatives. "I could give him to Mulder," she said rashly. "Then you could get him from Mulder instead."

"Miss Covarrubias, you're not in a position to make counter-offers."

The horrible part was, he was absolutely right. She groped for something. Anything. "But then - then you'd be the only one to know what he knows. Before the others."

The Duke's drink paused midway to his mouth. She'd hit a nerve she hadn't known was there.

"How does that benefit you?"

She flushed. Haltingly, she said, "I think he could forgive that."

He frowned. Finished his drink. "I must say, Miss Covarrubias, there's no accounting for taste. But your suggestion is an intriguing one. I accept."

She let out a long, shaky sigh of relief.

"But you will be followed," he warned. "Don't consider double-crossing me, young lady. You will pay dearly for it. And so will he."

God, hadn't they suffered enough?

"No, Sir." She had to get out of there. She had to.

"Very well. You may go."

She made to the bathroom before she threw up. She retched until her stomach was empty, and she stayed there, kneeling before the elegant old-fashioned toilet, leaning her head against the ceramic. Weeping hysterically. Tears she had been holding in for over a year left her in a flood.

She couldn't go through that again. She just couldn't. Not even for Alex.

She just couldn't. She just-

She wept. And wept. And wept.

"You're tense."

Her thighs were clenched. Harder than they'd been since their very first time. She willed herself to relax, but she was too tight. She could see the taut lines of her tendon beneath his hand.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. Staring out the little porthole window of the captain's quarters. She'd wanted him down in the bowels of the ship, but the search for more comfortable surroundings had given her time to think about what they'd done to her, and what she had to do in order to stop it from happening again.

"Don't be." He kissed her hair. Gentle. Concerned. "Please tell me what's wrong."

"Nothing," she said. "I don't know. I'm sorry."

He closed his arm around her. "We shouldn't do this, Marita. Not when you're like this. You're too dry. I don't want to hurt you."

His words made her grow cold. She was under no illusions about the gravity of her betrayal. He might never forgive her. This could be the last time she would be able to touch him this way. "Oh, Alex, please-" she burst out, and then she broke into sudden tears.

He drew back a little. "They didn't do something to you, did they?"

She held her head in her hands. "It's just all hit me. I'm sorry."

He was perplexed, but he held her until the sobs had been and gone. When she was calm again, she kissed him, and they made slow, diffident love, and he fell asleep with his head on her breast.

She extricated herself, easing him back onto the pillows. Smiled through tears when he mumbled her name. She went to the captain's little desk.

She wrote it all out for him on sheets of paper with the shipping company's letterhead. She left the letter in his jacket, where he would find it when it was too late for him to do anything about it. The letter was streaked with tears.

She kissed his sleeping form when she left him.


"Do you ever think about the oil?" she asks him over dinner.

He doesn't look at her. "I work very hard not to think about the oil."

"It's a lot like rape," she tells him.

He nods. Doesn't answer.

"Being entered by another. Being consumed. Against your will."

He drops his chopsticks with a clatter and pushes back from the table. "Marita, if you need to talk about this, you're going to have to journal it or something. Because I just can't. I'm sorry."

She fights down hurt. "Okay," she forces out. Her eyes sting with tears. She stares down at her food and picks at it with her chopsticks. Feels fleeting resentment for it, although truthfully, that's mostly knee-jerk malice. It's not like he ever asked her to take his limitations and make them hers, anyway.

They eat in sullen silence.

"You know how you used to seize up?" he says abruptly. "In your legs? And - you know - inside?"

She looks up at him. Nods.

"I do that. Even now, sometimes, when I think about it. In my nostrils. And behind my eyes."

"I get sinus headaches sometimes," she says. "And my vision gets dark when it happens. Like the oil film on my eyes when I was infected, but not as dark."

He nods. Eager. "Like an old fracture that still gives you trouble when the weather's damp."

Her eyes are grave. "It never totally leaves us, does it?"

He shakes his head. "Maybe it's just as well we can't have children, Marita. Maybe it's better if it dies with us."

She swallows hard. "Maybe." They fall silent.

"There's adoption," he says after a while.

He never struck her as the type to want kids badly enough to adopt. She wonders if the suggestion is for her benefit. "I guess."

"Some kid who lost an arm from a landmine or something," he says conversationally. "Some kid who needs someone who knows."

She stares at him. Completely stunned. He reminds her of one of her fellow peacekeepers, talking about starting an orphanage back in their Chechen days. Equal parts conviction and longing.

He can still amaze her. Even now.

"I'd like that," she says when she finds her voice. "We could do that."

"Really?" he says. "You don't think it's projecting?"

She shrugs. "Maybe it is. But it would be a good thing to do, Alex. And I want to spend whatever time we have doing good things. I think we owe that."

"Me, too." His smile fades. "It's gonna be hard to let go of the fight, Marita."

She sighs. "We were only ever cogs in the wheel. There's more hope now than there ever was - and some of it because of us. I think we're going to have to trust that that's enough."

"It's coming along that well, then?"

"I think so. Jeffrey's told me a bit. They've rounded up some of the people from the old operation. There are plans to get the vaccine into the water supply over the next five years. It's all coming together."

She knows more than this, but she keeps that fact to herself. No need to make it any harder for him to be out of the loop than it already is. The resistance, in fact, is in its prime. Aside from the Kurts working the vaccine, there is a core of good people in the FBI, and plans to get them in place on the X Files in the year to come. She knows, too, that their opposite numbers have similar plans.

It will be exciting times for the people doing the work, but Marita has accepted that they will not be among them. The infiltration problem has forced the issue, but even before that, there were some who felt that their hands - Alex's in particular - were too dirty with the Syndicate's work for them to be completely trusted. It hurts, but she can't really blame them.

He nods. "I think I can let go," he says. "Knowing that."

Relief washes over her.

"I love you, Alex," she says abruptly. Something always understood between them, and rarely said.

He gets to his feet. "Love you too," he says matterof -factly, picking up her plate and stacking it on top of his. Voice neutral. He takes them to the sink and rinses them.

She smiles to herself, and she leaves him there.

They get up late the next morning. They stay in bed for a long time, just looking at one another. Spender will send Alex on his latest wild goose chase in a few hours, and that will mean separation. After so long apart, the thought makes her stomach tight and hard. She thinks it will be a long time before she can accept that they won't be parted that way again.

Finally, however, they rise. She dresses in her heavy suit with its stiff, tailored lines, and pulls back her hair and pins it up. The harsh hair and make-up add ten years to her appearance. She thinks of Diana Fowley, with her exaggerated eyeliner and her heavy lipstick, and she thinks she understands her better now than she ever did in life.

Alex watches her, sitting on the vanity while she does it. His eyes are grave. Does he understand what goes through her mind when she does it? The need to cover up everything vulnerable in the presence of that man? She thinks he probably does, but he doesn't say anything. Just watches her with that solemn look on his face, and lets her fuss with her appearance until she feels ready to go.

They pick up Alex's new socket on the way, and a new prosthetic to go with it. Its capabilities are more versatile than the old one, and he plays with it in the cab like a little kid, opening and closing the artificial hand. Marita laughs at him. Delighted by him, despite her worry about what is to come. Her tension eases, just a little.

Her good humour fades when they enter Spender's apartment building. Much of the meeting, in fact, washes over her. She retains the salient facts, but she can never remember the details of how they are conveyed. One image does stay with her, though - the old man's nurse, Greta, pumping him full of that green shit he needs these days to stay alive. He'd tried some experiment on himself a year ago, and it backfired, and now he needs daily transfusions of alien blood to keep on going. Some days she dreams of going to Greta's apartment and setting his stockpile of the stuff alight.

She is quiet on the way to Reagan National.

"You okay?" he wonders when they walk into the terminal.

"Yeah," she says. "Those needles he has give me the creeps."

He reaches out. Draws her into the crook of his arm. "The tests?"


They hold each other until his final boarding call.

She regained consciousness eleven days after she was infected.

She doesn't remember the boy infecting her, and that may be just as well. She has a vague idea that it hurt, like a blow to the face, but that may just be her mind filling in the blanks, based on the agony in her sinuses in the aftermath. What she does remember is the dark, filmy curtain that fell over her vision in those final moments before she blacked out.

The first thing she saw was a red...patch. Just a blob of red in a sea of green. Gradually, she managed to fix her focus on a red-haired woman in a green surgical gown.

"You're awake," the woman said. "How do you feel?"

"Hurts," she said. "Behind my eyes." Her voice sounded thin and shaky. "Where am I?"

"You're in a quarantine unit at a military installation in Maryland. You're being treated here under CDC guidelines-"

"I'm at Fort Marlene?"


"The oil?"

"Yes. You were infected."

Her head hurt. "Want to talk to the Duke."

The red-haired woman frowned a little, but she nodded readily enough. "All right."

Marita was asleep before she left the room.

It was fourteen weeks before she spoke to the Duke.

Her early lucidity was fleeting, and much of the intervening time was spent in a blood-red fog of agony. Every cell in her body hurt. Her nerves jangled a constant, discordant symphony of pain. She felt every pulse in her wrists, like tiny particles of glass being forced through a funnel. Her bones felt as though their marrow had been replaced with hot, molten lead. Her eyes and nose streamed constantly. Her menstrual blood was tinged with black, and it seared when it left her. Her flesh was acutely sensitive to touch. She spent much of the time incoherent with pain. When she spoke at all, it was to cry out for God, or for Alex.

She gropes for metaphors, but none of them really describe what it was like. Her sense of invasion was acute. Her body was not entirely hers. She was ravaged - assaulted from within by a predator. The vaccine killed it, but it was a long, hard battle. Now and then, she wakes in the night in a cold sweat thinking about it.

Finally, the worst of it was over. There came a day when sleep was just sleep, and not pain-induced unconsciousness. She slept for twenty-six hours. When she woke, she felt better. Not great, but...better. And the Duke was at her side.

"You've done well, young lady."

"How did you..." she trailed off. Her chest was still tight; her breathing was laboured. She still had a long way to go.

"You were given vaccine."


He nodded. "He gave it to me, yes. He wanted to be here, if that matters to you, but I'm sure you understand that wasn't possible."

She closed her eyes. "Did you kill him?"

"No. On the contrary, he works for me now." She would have laughed at that, if she'd had the strength. That would piss him off beyond words. "But enough about Alex. Let's talk about the future."

"What are you going to do with me?"

The Duke made a non-committal noise. "Clearly, the vaccine is in need of refinement. Your ordeal is not to be wished on anyone. For the record, I commend you for withstanding it."

She blinked back sudden tears.

If he noticed, he didn't mention it. "More testing is needed, and more development. I have few people I can trust. I would like your assistance."

She stared at him. "You're asking me to work for you?"

He nodded. "You and Alex both. The group is unaware of your recovery, Miss Covarrubias. They believe you're still infected."

"And do what with it, if not give it to the group?" she demanded.

The Duke looked away. "I intend to share the refined vaccine with the resistance. I trust you have no objections?"

"N-no," she said. Still staring at him. "None."

"Very well," he said. "Get some sleep. You're going to need your strength."

"Yes, Sir."

It was too good to be true.

Looking back on that conversation, it has a dream-like quality. Sometimes she thinks that perhaps she imagined the whole thing. She hopes she didn't. It was a moment of kindness in a horrible time, and she wants to believe that it was real.

In any event, it didn't come to pass. Four days later, she woke to find herself being strapped down on her bed. It was so fast that she didn't have time to panic until it was done. There was no sign of the red-haired doctor who had been treating her.

Spender came into view, smoking the inevitable cigarette. Marita stared at him, wondering whether this was all a particularly vivid nightmare. Spender was dead, last she'd heard. He was shot - wasn't he?

"Where's the Duke?"

"The Duke is dead," he said. "Car bombing. Most unfortunate."

The rest of the conversation - indeed, much of the next eight months passed in a blur. Her ordeal of infection and healing was repeated, over and over again. Pain was a constant companion. Sometimes she was lucky, and the newest version of the vaccine improved her recovery time. Twice, a bad version slowed her recovery to a crawl. She learned later that the red-haired doctor had objected to Spender's plans, and been summarily shot for it.

And what of Alex in this time? She knows that he worked for the group, and rose up in the ranks, and that he knew little of what they did to her. She knows he was told that she was still recovering from the original infection. She wonders, sometimes, whether he asked Spender for updates on her condition. Whether he got drunk in bars at night, or hired women for quick, soulless fucks in alleyways when the bar closed up for the night. She has never asked, and she doubts she ever will. She can't bear to hear how he coped, or didn't cope with the pain in those awful months.

It's all she can do to live with her own.


She spends the night at home alone.

She considers and then discards the idea of going out for dinner. She's become more insular since her ordeal. She likes to stay close to home.

Not that this is really home. It never was, except when Alex was here with her. It's a way station, nothing more. She doesn't even have any books here.

She pulls out her laptop and goes online. Surfs a few Swiss real estate sites. Checks her email. There's one from Alex - just a brief one, completely unsentimental, but it makes her smile anyway.

She shuts down her computer after twenty minutes. She feels restless. At a loose end.

The truth is, she's been shying away from the way they left things after the night of El Rico. About the way he left her at Fort Marlene when he found her. But he will be home tomorrow, and they'll need to go back there. The idea of it scares the hell out of her. She doesn't know if she can go through with it. If she can walk through those doors. And what will it do to them if she does?

They've never talked about it, just like they've never really talked about the way she took the boy from him. She wonders if this is how married couples deal with infidelity. The hurts they've inflicted on one another are so great.

Can they still pretend it never happened, once they go back there?

She tosses and turns in her cold, empty bed, and when dawning light seeps through the darkness, she still doesn't have an answer.

"We need a car."

He shoots her a glance. "To get to Fort Marlene."

She looks straight ahead at the hire car desk. "That's right. It's too far for a cab." That, and she wants to be able to get away when it's done.

"You got the requisition order, then."

He doesn't sound all that enthused, considering the fact that it will ensure his survival.

She nods. "He signed it this morning."

"After the standard bullshit, I suppose."

"Yeah. Human creation, alien ancestry, the works." In fact, Spender managed to completely unnerve her with his conviction, but she doesn't say so. Once they have the vaccine, they need never see the old man again.

She fills out the forms for the car and hands over her credit card. Alex stands there, leaning against the desk, fidgeting. He shifts his weight from one leg to the other. Looking around. It annoys her.

The drive is quiet and desultory. She drives, and she thinks he wants to pick a fight with her about it, but he lets it pass.

"I missed you last night," he says nervously when she takes the turnoff.


"I thought about calling you."


"Figured you might be asleep."

"Alex, just...don't."

She feels his gaze on her as she stares at the road.

They are perhaps ten minutes from the compound when he says abruptly, "Pull over."

She makes a frustrated sound. "Oh, God, why?"

Damn him, can't he just let her get through it?

"Just do it. Please."

Frowning, she does as she's asked. Drives over onto the gravel shoulder. Pulls the brake and switches off the ignition.

He leans back in his seat. "I can't do this, Marita," he says. Eyes closed. "I can't have the vaccine."

She stares at him. Wondering if he's taken leave of his senses. "You what?"

"It just - it feels like profiteering," he mutters.

"What?" she bursts out. Incredulous. "Since when has that stopped you?"

"Not off them. Off you. Off what they did to you."

She hears the unspoken part, that he let them do it. She lets out a shaky sigh.


"Yeah." He looks out the window. Cars rush by.

"You did the right thing, you know," she says after a while. She doesn't really know if that's true, but he has to have that vaccine. He has to.

The utter loathing in his look chills her. It chills her a second time when she understands it is for himself. He doesn't answer.

"Mulder wouldn't have done it," she says. "He would have let the world rot to save Scully. Don't you remember? We said we wouldn't do that. We said we were better than that."

He looks out the window again. "I didn't know..." He sighs, a low, tired sound. "I didn't know what it would cost."

"Would you do it any differently, Alex? If you had to do it over?"

"I don't know." He sounds tired. Terribly, heartrendingly tired.

She doesn't think he's going to do it. The realisation terrifies her.

"Alex, I'm immune," she says. Trembling. "I'm going to survive it now, and I can't do it on my own. I'm alone in a dying world here. You can't do that to me, you can't leave me here." Heat and salt rise up in her face. "For God's sake, let it be worth something."

He stares at her. Pale. Remorseful.

At last, he nods.

"All right," he says, no louder than a whisper.

Hot tears of relief slip down her cheeks, and she switches on the ignition once more.


That's what she remembers most about this place, the cold. She walks down the hallways, Alex at her side, the sound of her tapping heels reverberating in her ears. She tries to summon the warmest memories she can muster. Saunas. Hot tubs. The balmy air in Tunisia. None of it helps.

Alex walks beside her, moving in long strides. His hand is shoved into his pocket. His face is pale.

"Name?" the guard says when they leave the elevators on Level Six.

"Marita Covarrubias and Alex Krycek."

He recognises her name. Looks up at her in surprise.

She feels herself drawing inwards. Her shoulders hunching over, like they did when she was in here. She feels dirty and ugly and naked. Used. More used than she felt when they raped her. That was nothing compared to what they did to her here.

"You look good," he says finally. There's respect in his voice. When she forces herself to meet his gaze, she sees it there, as well.

The moment is broken. She feels her shame fall away.

She draws her shoulders back. Takes comfort in her heels and the feel of her pantyhose, snug around her hips. Her crisp linen suit. Things that cover her and warm her.

"Thank you."

He clears his throat. "Well. Company or institution?"

"Federal government," Alex says, but he says it looking at her. He has that same, gently proud smile he had for her in Tunisia.

"Project password?"

She smiles back. "Purity control."

The guard holds out a pen. "Sign in, please."

They pass through the checkpoint and make their way to virology. They round a corner, and she nods to a door on their right. The entrance to the fire stairs.

"You came down those the night of El Rico, didn't you?" she says. "To avoid the lockdown in cryology. That's why you were here."

A nerve in his jaw twitches. "That's right."

She decides not to press him further.

She remembers Jeffrey's coat.

Poor Jeffrey. Hopelessly naive, even then. Even as he came to understand the monster his father was, and the terrible things the old man had done to the people he encountered along the way, he didn't comprehend the bigger picture. The ways his discoveries changed the world. The universe.

Jeffrey would learn, even harder than she had.

But back then he was young and fresh and handsome, and even kind, in his clumsy, bumbling way. He put his coat around her, over her dirty, tattered gown, and tried not to let her see how much he hated touching her to do it. Marita had to force herself not to flinch when he did it, so she supposed they were about even.

And then Alex. Alex, who saw her broken and dirty and - and exposed.


And this time he couldn't help her.

She thought he was going to punch Jeffrey. He was that hurt, that angry, that tightly wired. Poised. Ready to kill or be killed. That told her that something was terribly wrong. Something even more than seeing her like that. This wasn't the man who nursed her when he found her, raped and beaten. This was...something else.

The shock when he told them swept even her anguish, her desperation aside.

"They took it?" Jeffrey demanded when Alex turned on his heel and left them. "What did he mean? What does that mean?"

"It means it's over," she said, shrugging off his coat, and she turned and shuffled away.

They pass Jeffrey's mother's room, the room where he left her that night. Oddly, it is Alex who flinches. She's surprised he remembers which room it was at all.

They pass her old room a few minutes later, and at that, she does flinch. Her steps grow faster, and Alex has to hurry to keep pace with her.

Finally, they arrive.

The procedure is brief. They present their credentials and the requisition order. A bored lab assistant fetches the vaccine and injects it into Alex's shoulder. The assistant is matter-of-fact - even casual. It relieves her. Clearly, he has no idea what he's dealing with.

"Where we do go now?" Alex wonders when it's done.

She doesn't know. But she knows where to begin.

"Anywhere but here."

When she woke, dawn was breaking. Light seeped through the little barred window of her room. Jeffrey's coat was draped over her, and Alex was sitting on her bed beside her.

"He wanted you to have it," he said, smoothing back her hair. Breaths hitching. Face working. He swallowed hard.

She sat up. Put her arms around him. "Alex," she whispered. Tears came, and she wept against him in silence. Shaking. His arm held her close, hand in her hair. Somewhere along the line, she realised that he was weeping, too.

Finally, she pulled away. "What happened?"

"There was a firestorm. Like Kazakhstan." He was still stroking her hair. Fingers shaking. She thought, oddly, that he was more upset than she was. "It was at El Rico Air Force Base."

She stared up at him.

"They got the Syndicate? All of them?"

"All but the old man." His voice was low. Raw. "It's over, Marita. The deal is off. There won't be any hybrids, or any drones. They'll just invade and destroy."

Her chest grew tight with fear; her stomach ached with it. "What about the vaccine?"

He wiped her tears with trembling fingertips. Ran them over her face. More tender than he'd ever touched her before. "The rebels got the samples. There's nothing left. Just whatever's in you. That's all there is."

Suddenly she understood. She grabbed his shirt with her fists. Breathing hard. Terrified. "You're going to leave me here, aren't you?"

His face was red. Eyes haunted. "Marita-"

"You can't leave me here! They'll just keep going until I'm dead, Alex, can't you see that?" She twisted his shirt in her hands.

"Just 'til there's a useable vaccine, Marita," he said urgently. "I'll get a sample for the resistance. We'll get you out, I swear I will."

"I'll submit to tests with the resistance," she argued. "I will! Just not here. Not him!"

"They don't know enough! They can't synthesise it!"

She felt terribly, terribly cold. "Alex, even if he gets it, he'll never give it to you. It's hopeless. We should just go away and take whatever time's left."

"I would if I could," he said. He cradled her face with his palm. "You don't know much I wish I could."

"Alex, we'll find someone who knows. We'll bribe one of the scientists here to come with us. Anything. I just - I can't go through this any more, Alex, please- "

He grabbed her hands with his. He stared down at how thin they were, at the way they both fit in his one, and that seemed to break him somehow. He said wretchedly, "The place is in lockdown. I couldn't get you out now anyway."

"Is that why you came now? So you couldn't?"

"I came because I had to see you. No-one else understands." His eyes were unnaturally bright. "I miss you so much."

"Alex," she wept. Holding his hand with hers. "Alex, please-"

"Marita, I can't, Jesus, I can't."

"Yes, you can." He really wasn't going to help her. Her chest ached with the realisation.

He tugged his hand, but she held on tight. "I can't. I can't." He got up. Dragged it out of her grasp. "I'm sorry."


He looked down at her. His face was a ghastly, pasty white.

"I love you, Marita. You don't know how much."

She realised that he didn't expect to see her alive again.


They are silent on the way home from Fort Marlene. It should be a time of celebration, but the holocaust is a long way off, and right now the memories are closer.

They cook. She stands there in the kitchen, chopping tomatoes while Alex chops onions. He's adapted to his new prosthetic remarkably well.

"I turned up some interesting stuff in Oregon," he says.

Marita makes a noncommittal sound.

"It's in Bellefleur, you know. Where Mulder and Scully had their first case."

She nods. Makes another, equally neutral noise.

"I don't think this is just a wild goose chase, Marita."

She turns to him. "Give it to Mulder and walk away."

"I really think there's something worth looking into there."

"I said, give it to Mulder. We are out of this now."

"Marita, I can't just walk away-"

"Yes, you can!" she shouts at him. "You have to!"

He stands there, chopping hard. Quietly angry.

Her own anger ebbs as quickly as it had risen. "Alex," she says. Gently. "This time it's all right to walk away."

He looks up at her. Agonised. His eyes are suddenly wet. She doesn't think it's the onions.

She turns away from him. Washes her hands. She does it slowly. Wipes them on a dish towel. Not looking at him.

He says in a strangled voice, "I'm gonna go for a walk, Marita."

She nods. Still looking down at the dish towel. "I'll be here. When you're ready."

Hot tears rise up in her face when he flees. She tells herself it's the onions.

She hears the door when he finally comes back.

She lies there in the dark, waiting for him. She hears small rustling sounds as he removes his clothes, then his arm. Feels the dip of the mattress when he climbs into bed behind her.

He tugs her hard against him and buries his face in her hair. "I'm so fucking sorry, Marita," he whispers. Breaths hitching.

She kisses his hand. "I know."

What else is there? That's all right? It isn't, and they both know it. I understand? I forgive you? She does, and she has, and yet it seems so cheap, so meaningless to say those things about something so cataclysmic. And saying them will only shame him more.

There's nothing she can say.

She holds his hand, and lets him cling to her, and waits while he rides out the storm.

Somewhere along the line, his mouth finds her shoulder. Kissing. Sucking. There is a shift, from grief to wanting. She feels a flare of righteous anger. How dare he want her to comfort him? How fucking dare he?

But God. She was so afraid of losing him again, when this finally came up. God.

She thinks, after all that's happened, they're lucky to have any love left at all.

She swallows her irritation, and she turns to him, and soon she wants him too.

Spender freed her ten months later.

He brought her to Diana's old apartment at the Watergate. A nurse lived there with her - Greta, the same nurse who now nursed Spender himself - and after four weeks, she was declared as good as new. In fact, she was aware of residual weakness in her bones and teeth, and she doubted she would ever be completely as she had been, but she kept that information to herself.

But she was well enough to re-establish contacts and make enquiries. It seemed that Spender had been behaving erratically since the night of El Rico. He had been physically well at that time, but his actions pointed to a gradual loss of judgement. The last straw was when he allowed Dana Scully into the building that had taken the place of East 46th Street as the centre of operations. That had been an expensive breach, and he was summarily dismissed for it.

It had taken them a while to get all his security clearances pulled from the system, though, and there had been enough time for him to free Marita. His reasons, of course, were not altruistic. He wanted a lackey, someone who still had knowledge and access, and she was the only one desperate enough to take the job. He held Alex's location over her head for months, until finally, he needed Alex, too.

Spender had not been forthcoming about the reasons for Alex's imprisonment. She knew only that Alex had been set up, that he had been caught selling intelligence in the Middle East, and that he had been sentenced to life imprisonment in a penal colony. Others in the resistance told her more: that Spender was afraid of Alex; that after El Rico Alex turned feral. Gone were the clean, painless kills that had once set him apart from his fellow operatives. He embarked on a campaign of brutality - one hit was found decapitated, another burnt to death. He was louder. More confrontational.

"He never got over leaving you there, Marita," Jeffrey warned her in hushed, confidential tones just before she flew out for Tunisia. "He changed. The old man was scared to death of him." Jeffrey had thrown himself into vaccine research since his rescue, and, oddly enough, seemed very happy despite his injuries. In the resistance, peopled by failed experiments of every kind, he had found acceptance and warmth. It was she who was an outsider here.

She tried to imagine Alex like that, and couldn't. "Do you think he'll still be like that?"

"Not necessarily. Nine months of hard labour might have burnt it out of him. Especially now that you're back in the picture."

"But how will I know?" she wondered. Thinking of the hotel and the flight and the hire car. The supplies she'd bought for the apartment, the appointments she'd made with his specialists. Suddenly she felt horribly naive. What if she'd worked so hard to get him back, but the man she knew was no longer there?

Jeffrey placed a hand over hers. His flesh felt withered and old. "You'll know."

She wakes to sunlight streaming through the windows, and Alex at her side.

"Hey," he says, stroking back her hair with tender fingers.

She smiles. "Hey."

"What do you think our chances are of getting a flight out to Zurich this afternoon?"

She'll fly the plane herself if she has to. "I'd say they're pretty good." She strokes his cheek with the back of her hand. "You're sure?"

He nods. "You're right, Marita. It's time to walk away. I'm ready - at least as ready as I'll ever be."

She smiles. Draws him close. Laughs out loud. "Thank God," she says.

They make love. Smiling. Laughing. Teasing. A celebration.

They dress and pack, and leave the apartment for the final time.

The best that can be said of their meeting at the Hoover is that the food is good.

It makes her nervous, being in that building. So many people there would love to arrest Alex and put him away. It would be painfully ironic if, after all they'd endured, he were to be caught by some rookie right there in the FBI.

She takes his hand compulsively when they walk into Skinner's office. He doesn't pull away.

They stay there through lunchtime, telling what they know. They don't tell of the resistance work or their plans to walk, but they tell everything else. The collapse of the project. The rise of new people to power. The old man's pathetic manipulations. That the cloning experiments continue, even now. She recounts as much as she can bear to tell of the tests, in conversational tones while they eat. She looks studiously at her food while she does it, and she can feel his eyes on her. Sees that gently proud smile again from the corner of her eye.

She feels lighter when they leave.

"I want to go to the Watergate," he says when she pulls out into traffic.

The breath catches in her chest. "Alex, it's over. Let's just go."

"We'll still make our flight. It won't take long."

So she drives to the Watergate, against her better judgement. Jeffrey's warning is fresh in her mind when they knock on Spender's door.

There are no preliminaries. Alex advances on him. Takes the handles of his wheelchair, over Greta's protests. Marita watches. She pushes Greta back when she tries to follow.

"Don't," she hisses. "I don't know what he's going to do."

She will never know what it is that makes Greta obey. Perhaps she believes Marita is afraid of Alex. Who knows? She is afraid, it's true, but her fear is for him, not of him.

She follows Alex out of the apartment. Stands by him when he pushes the old man down the stairs. She draws grim satisfaction from the clattering sound of his tangled body and wheelchair tumbling down the stairs. She didn't want this - but then, part of her did, as well.

She stares down at Spender's crumpled body at the foot of the stairs. She thinks it isn't enough. Not nearly enough for what he put them through.

Alex begins to walk, and she does the same. Keeping pace with him. Suddenly sounds are sharper. Colours are more vibrant. She can hear their footsteps thudding in her ears. Can sense the primitive blood thirst coming off him in waves.

They pause when they reach the old man's crumpled form.

She waits. She can feel him, deliberating. She feels him poised. Watches, heartsick, waiting for the first kick. The first punch. Braces herself for his fury and his pain.

The moment fades.

He steps over the body. Walks on without looking back.

Thank God, she thinks. Thank God.

"Should we make sure he's dead?" she wonders when she catches up with him.

He shakes his head. "It doesn't matter any more."

Warmth washes over her. Relief, strong and sweet. "It's over, isn't it?"

He takes her hand and squeezes it. "Yeah. It's over."


The call comes on a rainy day.

Marita and Grisha are looking at photographs of Grozny. They are the Grozny of yesteryear, a more peaceful, less bloodied Grozny. Grisha points excitedly at landmarks. He shares memories in a garbled mix of English, Chechen, and Russian. He points with his hand and his prosthetic, each one as clumsy as the other. Marita looks down at him, smiling, and then up again when Alex comes into the room.

"Is there anything we can do?" he says into the phone. Holding her gaze. Frowning. "No, I know. Yeah. I'll tell her."

"Alex?" she says when he rings off. "What is it?"

"Talk about your blasts from the past. That was Jeffrey," he tells her in Arabic.

Worry rises up in her, and not only because of the identity of the caller. Arabic is the only language they share with one another, and not with Grisha.

"Jeffrey Spender?" she says. "You're sure?"

He nods. "He had the right pass codes, and he checked mine. It was him. Seems our old friend Mulder broke into a military installation. They're saying he killed a man - a man Jeffrey says is one of the alien replacements."

She frowns. Bewildered. "It has to be a frame-up. The replacements can't be killed."

"That was what I said, but Jeffrey thinks there is a way now. But that's not what happened here."

"So he's standing trial?"

"Of sorts," Alex says mirthlessly. "He's been courtmartialled by the military."

She stares at him. "What? But they have no jurisdiction!" Her diplomatic sensibilities are outraged.

"They have documents saying he enlisted. Forged, I imagine. Jeffrey's going to testify for Mulder, but he doesn't think it will be enough."

Suddenly, she understands. She goes pale. Tense. Grisha looks up at her curiously. "He wants me to testify for Mulder, doesn't he?"

Alex shrugs. "He's desperate. Mulder's his brother."

She looks down at Grisha's upturned face. Ruffles his hair. "Alex, if I tell even one-tenth of what I know, they'll kill me."

He passes his hand over his face. "Well, it's up to you. You don't have to. You certainly don't owe Mulder anything." He sighs. "If you want to do this, Marita, we'll find a way. We'll go somewhere else. Somewhere safer."

"I don't think anywhere will be safe enough." She looks up at him once more. "Do you think I should?"

His voice is kind. "You know I can't answer that."

She thinks about it. About all the choices she made. Obeying the Syndicate. Taking the boy. About all the times she chose safety over what was good or right. She thinks about the way she hates herself for that now.

"We'll need to charter a flight," she says at last.

"In that much of a hurry?" he says. A little taken aback.

"Let's just get there before I change my mind."

Night is falling when they arrive at the apartment in Maryland.

Alex takes Grisha from her arms and puts him to bed. She barely notices. Stands there at the window, looking out. Thinking.

"Do you want me to go track Skinner down?" Alex asks, coming down the stairs. "Let him know you want to testify?"

She looks out. Sighs. "I suppose."

He comes and puts his arm around her shoulders. "You really don't want to do this, do you?" he murmurs.

She shakes her head. "No," she says. "I don't." She wants to be home in Lausanne with her husband and her son and the life they've made together. She never wanted to come here again.

"Then why are we here?" His voice is gentle.

"Because I keep thinking about what I did. The way I gave in. The way I gave up." She looks at him. "I should have fought for us, Alex. I was weak and scared, and I cost us everything."

His arm tightens around her. She sinks back against him, into his warmth, and tears spill over her cheeks. "You have nothing to be sorry for, Marita." He kisses her temple.

She nods. Sniffles. "I still need to do this, Alex."

He holds her, warm and still. "Okay."

They are interrupted by a knock at the door. They look at each other in alarm, breaking apart. Alex draws his gun when she goes to the door.

"It's Skinner," she says, unbelieving, when she looks through the peephole.

He relaxes a little, but he doesn't put down the gun. "What the hell is he doing here?"

She shrugs. "Only one way to find out." She steels herself, then she opens the door.

"Miss Covarrubias," Skinner begins, cordially enough, but then he sees Alex behind her. His face turns dead white. "You son of a bitch!" he says, pushing past her. "How the hell did you do it?"

Alex's expression darkens. "Keep the noise down, Walt. My kid's asleep upstairs."

"Yeah, and I'm Flukeman. How did you get out of that garage?"

She steps forward, between the men. Alarmed. "Mr Skinner, our son is a Chechen refugee. He's very traumatised, and he is afraid of loud noises. Now, either lower your voice, or leave."

Skinner looks at her. Clearly waging some inner battle. Finally, he breathes out through his nose. "Fine," he says in a low voice. "But I want some answers from you," he says over her shoulder, "starting with how you saved your sorry ass."

Alex's voice is gravelly with irritation. "Look, I haven't seen you since that day in Mulder's office two years ago. I have no idea what you're talking about."

Skinner goes pale all over again. "A super soldier," he says in recognition. "It was a super soldier."

"You mean an alien replacement?" she says. "It's possible. We know they have one of Alex. That was why we had to get out to begin with. So it couldn't pose as Alex to infiltrate the work on a vaccine."

Skinner looks at them in confusion. Recovering a little. "It had the controller," he argues. Marita looks at Alex in query.

Alex shifts uncomfortably. "It's not important. I'll tell you later," he tells her. To Skinner, he says, "The controller was seized by the Tunisian authorities three years ago. I don't have it." Skinner grimaces. Clearly dismayed.

"Mr Skinner," she says, bypassing the curious matter of the controller for the moment, "why are you here?"

He blinks. Shakes his head a little. As though remembering something he'd forgotten. At last, he says, "I came to ask you to testify before a military tribunal. About what you know about the conspiracy."

"The conspiracy," she says. Aghast. "That's not his defence, is it?"

"This is Mulder we're talking about," Alex says mirthlessly.

Skinner looks from one to the other. "You know about it then?"

"I know a little," she says. "How did you get this address? It disappeared from the database years ago, when I left the United Nations." Not that she really left, so much as vanished.

"Mulder gave it to me," he says. "I don't know where he got it."

"He got it years ago," Alex supplies. "I saw him write it down."

"Would he remember?" she wonders.

"He might," Skinner says. "He has a photographic memory. And I don't see how else he could have gotten it from in the brig."

"Well, it hardly matters at this point." She turns to Skinner. "How is he, anyway?"

"Drained. They've been beating him. Trying to brainwash him. He's pretty lucid, considering."

Marita nods. "You didn't answer my question. The conspiracy isn't his defence, is it? Is he trying to be executed?"

Skinner shakes his head helplessly. "The whole thing's a farce. He's not going to get off. I think he wants to go out with a bang."

Alex turns on him. Angered. "Why should she help him do that?"

"Because you know. You know the truth, and it deserves to be heard. Even if we're the only ones who are willing to believe." He looks at each of them in turn. "Please tell me you acquired some decency along with this son of yours."

"You don't know anything about us," she says in a low voice. "You never did."

He doesn't look convinced, but he doesn't debate the matter of their decency or lack thereof. "So does that mean you'll testify?"

She narrows her eyes at him. "Maybe," she says. "Goodnight, Mr Skinner."

She testifies.

She has no idea what good it will do, for Mulder or anything else, but she does it.

She falters when Skinner pushes her, and Mulder intervenes and stops him. A little part of her feels white-hot resentment when he does it. Is she supposed to be grateful to him now? After all he did, all he failed to do? All he cost them with his worthless, pointless quest? Does this make up for the rape, and the tests, and Alex's arm?

But then she thinks of Jeffrey. Her friend Jeffrey, who asked this of her. She thinks of Alex and Grisha, and how Mulder's intervention might - might - allow them safety for a little while longer.

She thinks that she has no business passing judgement on him, any more than he does on her. They all wound up in a hell of someone else's making, and they all walked in the flames as best they could.

She allows him a single nod of thanks, and he gives one to her. She feels a door within her close.

She leaves the tribunal easier in mind.

When she walks out of the gates of Mount Weather, Alex is standing there, leaning against the car by the side of the road. Picking at a long stem of wild grass, throwing seeds at the barbed wire fence. He looks peaceful, and for so long, she hadn't dared believe she would see him like that. She realises that she isn't the only one to come out the other side here, and the knowledge makes the breath catch in her throat and her eyes fill with tears of joy. She feels silly for it, and she wipes them with the back of her hand.

She remembers the night he found her. She remembers him in a makeshift infirmary in Tunguska. Remembers making love with him on a ship. A quarantine ward. A prison. A thousand other moments along the way. Some are important, some are not. But realisation sweeps over her, that every one of those moments has led them to this one now.

As epiphanies go, it's pretty much a no-brainer.

But it carries new weight - that's the thing. New force. She feels a clarity she's never felt before.

She is ready to face the future with him at her side.

She goes to him. The gravel crunches beneath her heel. "Hey," she says. She can't stop smiling.

"Hey," he says. He waits for her, and he holds out his arm for her when she comes into reach.

They hold each other in the morning sun.

"How'd it go?" he says when she finally draws back to look at him.

"Okay," she says, and she means it.

"What do you think will happen to Mulder?" he wonders.

"I don't know," she says. "I don't want to know. It's over."

"We've said it was over before," he reminds her. Gently.

"It was over for you," she says. "But it wasn't over for me. It took this -" she waves a hand back at the installation "- to make me see it."

"But now...?"

"I've given back...what I needed to give back. Or gotten it. Or both." She doesn't know how to explain it any better than that.

He holds her. Smooths back the hair from her face. Eyes grave. "Doesn't seem right, you know. Just walking away like that."

She knows what he means. She feels it too. "We wanted to save the world, Alex, but we were only ever cogs in the wheel. We did what we could. That's all anyone can ask." She touches his cheek. "Even Mulder realised that in the end."

He nods. Sighing a little.

She nods in the direction of Grisha's sleeping form, inside the car. "How's he doing?"

"Not bad," Alex says. "Good, actually." She looks at him in query. He explains, "A couple of military vehicles went by. He didn't get upset. I was sure he would."

"He's healing," she says.

He kisses her forehead. "I think we all are."

They hold one another. Eyes tender. Things unspoken, yet understood, just the same.

"It's time to go," she says at last.

He shines her that crooked grin, the one that makes her melt.

"In a minute."

He kisses her. Slow and tender. Just an interlude. A few stolen moments along the way. They break apart reluctantly. Linked hands promise a lifetime of moments to come.

"Home?" he says.

She nods. "Yeah."

They get into the car, and drive off into the morning sun.



Well, it's good to be back.

I've been pretty stuck with writing Krycek and Marita since Existence, and particularly since The Truth. I've written the two of them, yes, but it's tended to be short pieces set in the past (Trace A Random Star, The Anointed), angsty pieces told from an external POV (Strange Bedfellows, Signs Of Life), or little throwaway pieces written mostly as a self-imposed challenge (Arrested Momentum). I've had lots of things I've wanted to write, but none of them really came together. And that's despite being firmly of the belief that a plausible case can be made that Alex didn't die. I've written dead characters before - that's not usually a stumbling block for me - but his position in the Season 8 arc is problematic in a number of ways, and it's taken a while for me to fit them together with what went on up to Requiem.

What finally broke it was a Mulder/Diana post-col I'm working on, Metanoia. (It's been on the backburner while I write this, but I want to finish it). Metanoia has Alex and Marita in the background, with a backstory that explains Alex's survival. Much to my surprise, this seemed to resolve my long-standing writer's block for these two. I think I needed to actually write a scenario that still made sense in light of The Truth, not just think one up.

This one started out without a plan, unlike most of my work, but I got one fast. It pulls in a lot of threads I've wanted to work with and haven't had a chance. In some ways, I think it revisits what I tried to do three years ago with my first Krycek/Marita work, Not My Lover. That story ran side-by-side with canon, exploring their past until Requiem, and closed on them after the work was over. This one does the same to The Truth.

But there are differences, too. In NML, they were the movers and shakers, who brought about the end of the colonist threat. They had to accept that their work was done and let go of their need to take responsibility for the path the world took afterwards. Conversely, in Restitution, they are cogs in the wheel. They must accept that they have done everything they could, and that their part in the work is done, and trust others to continue it after them. In NML, their actions were reinterpreted and almost always noble. In Restitution, they still have that noble spirit I see in them both, but their actions are more flawed - more human. The stories are two sides of the one coin, but I think, overall, that this story is a more mature treatment of the same basic idea. They each have their merits, and NML will always have a very special place in my heart, but I think Restitution addresses a lot of the flaws I've perceived in NML with the passage of time.

It would be poetic, then, if Restitution were to be my swan song as an author in XF. But somehow I don't think that's going to happen. I've got too many stories to tell for you to be able to get rid of me just yet. So let's say I'm reinventing myself in light of the end of the show, instead.

Big thanks to my LiveJournal friends. This is the first long story I've completed "live", so to speak - sharing installments in first-draft form. It was a scary thing to do, because first drafts are sketchy and unimpressive, and I did fear that people would not bother to read the story in its final form because they already got the main gist of it. But it worked out really well.

Thanks to others of you who quietly support me along the way as well, whether close friend or reader-froma -distance. I've been a total ingrate the last year or so. It's been a hard twelve months, and a lot of people who deserved thanks and time didn't get them. But it was never for lack of love on my part - only for lack of equipment.

Thanks finally to an LJ friend for the Russian help - Maria (Alita), whose name I will probably always mistype as Marita. grin

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Deslea R. Judd