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Title: Warm Touches in the Cold Shadows
Archive Date: 2016-01-13
Author: SyndicateGirl

Description: Marita, Mr. X, and all that could have been. "Even cloaked in death, Xavier brought her warmth and light, feelings that were a rarity in this awful business. She craved them, and she craved him."
Relationships: Marita/X, implied Teena/CSM
Spoilers: Pretty much the entire first four seasons.
Keywords: Mr. X, Marita Covarrubias, Alex Krycek, CSM, Smoking Man, alternate endings, Marita/X.
Rating: Mostly R

***** Includes Alternate Ending, because I'm sappy like that Wink *****

********************

Marita stuffed the last of the paperwork into her briefcase and snapped it closed.  Maps, translations, policies, sanctions, plots...she just wanted to head home to some Greek takeout and a hot bath.

Marita looked at her watch.  9:15.  "Damn it," she muttered under her breath.  The Greek place closed at 9.  Meaning that she'd be walking the extra block down to the Moroccan place instead.  She slipped on her black pumps, and headed out the door.

It had been a long day.  When she hadn't been trapped in U.N. meetings, she had been trapped in the stuffy green offices of the Syndicate, handing evidence over to old men with no names.  She wondered what kind of lives those men went home to every night. Sometimes it was the only way to pass the time, and the only thing keeping her sane, as some of the men's overprivileged eyes slid over her slim frame.  

Marita rounded the corner, and made her way out the front doors of the building, and into the night.  The fierce breeze blew her coat open, and she shivered, pulling her coat closed with one hand.

New York weather could be unpredictably brutal, and now it seemed as though Mother Nature was orchestrating a furious storm.

Marita had loved stormy weather since she was a little girl. The powerful crashes of thunder, the lightning illuminating the sky, the life giving rain that poured down from the sky. It was fascinating to her as a child. Now, as a grown woman, she pondered the similarities between storms and her own life.

Power beyond her control, unpredictable brutality, destruction...Marita looked up at the dark swirling clouds, and her hand tightened around the briefcase.

She made her way around the corner, already planning the Moroccan feast that she would order.  Thank goodness for the places that stayed open late to accommodate the theatre goers.  

Maybe someday she would have time to see a show instead of working until all hours of the night.

*****************

By the time Marita made it home it was nearly 10pm, and she was famished.

She juggled the briefcase, take out boxes, and her keys, nearly dropping the saffron seasoned vegetables in the process.  

She finally fell against the door, and it swung open on its hinges. She nudged it shut with her foot, kicked off her shoes, and breathed an exhausted sigh of relief as she unloaded her arm loads onto the nearby table.  

"You need to remember to survey your surroundings upon entry, Marita."

The deep voice made her jump, and she let out a gasp as she squinted into the shadows. She didn't need to, though. She already knew who it was.

"What are you doing here?"

Mr. X moved from where he sat at the window, watching the storm as it rolled in across the sky.  He made his way towards Marita, and looked down for a minute.

Marita knew something was wrong. "What? What is it?"

He paused, and let out a long sigh. Something was definitely wrong. "Ronald is dead, Mare..." His voice trailed off.

Marita's eyes shot up to meet his, and she shook her head slowly.

"When?" her voice sounded quiet, even in her own head, and she hoped that it didn't sound as shaky as it felt.

X set a reassuring hand on her arm, "Recently. Very recently, in fact."

Marita's eyes gazed down hard at the wooden floor, and X's gaze soon followed. It was the closest thing to reverence and mourning that the two of them were allowed. Wordlessly she made her way to the kitchen, returning minutes later with two icy glasses filled with amber liquid.

X nodded his appreciation, and took one of the glasses. He downed it in one gulp.

Marita took a long sip of her drink, and stared into the hypnotic swirls of the alcohol.

"How?"

X paused for a minute, considering, then let out a long, slow breath, "Helping an FBI woman and her partner find answers. Crew Cut Man did the job. He was gunned down on the highway."

Marita gulped back the rest of her drink in one swallow, tears prickling at the backs of her eyes.

She wasn't one for emotion, but Deep Throat had trained both her and X many years ago, and his loss was felt deeply. He had been a surprisingly sweet and patient man.  The eccentric, wise old uncle that Marita had never had.

X could see Marita struggling to hold back tears, and reached over to pull her closer, "I know..." he said quietly into her hair.

Marita leaned into X's broad shoulder, taking in the luxury of comfort, even if only for a brief moment.

"Another?" she said, motioning to his empty glass.  

He nodded, "I got it."

X made his way into the kitchen, and opened the pantry door.  For such a cosmopolitan woman, Marita had the homiest, most comforting kitchen he had ever seen. It faintly reminded him of his mother's kitchen, and it never ceased to surprise him.

He made his way back to the living room, bottle in hand, and held it up, "I see you got the good stuff, Miss fancy UN woman."

A small smile touched Marita's lips, and she set her glass down on the table, "Thanks, Xavier."

Xavier was the name they had agreed upon years ago. His middle name. She remembered him appreciating the irony of it starting with an "X." She also remembered him adamantly refusing to tell her his first name.  It was "humiliating" by his own admission, and Marita had never really pressed him on the matter.

That didn't stop her from hazarding a guess every so often, though.

It was always the same. She'd throw out a name, her best guess. He'd always respond with a wink, and a "Not even close."

Hell, she wasn't even sure that Xavier was his real middle name. But it was a name. And better than calling him by a letter.

Xavier poured two more drinks, handing one to Marita, and holding the other high in the air, "To fallen friends, and all that they've taught us..."

"To our fallen friends..." she echoed, taking another drink.

He broke the long silence that followed, "You should eat."

She looked at the take out boxes on the table, "Not very hungry any more. Share some with me?"

He hesitated, "I wouldn't mind a bite."

She stood, already a bit unstable on her feet. Marita never could handle much alcohol. Alex had recently told her it was because she was "too damn skinny." But right now Marita didn't care if she was tipsy.  She welcomed it, in fact.

She had always liked Ronald, and now he was dead. Gunned down for his years of loyalty to the group and their project.

Who would take over for him now? Who would manage his contacts? It would likely be X, and the thought made her stomach somersault a bit. She didn't want him meeting the same fate as Ronald.

Marita set down a few place settings, and the two of them dished some food onto the small plates.  Marita asked more about what led to Deep Throat's murder as she picked at her breka, and X answered as tactfully as he could given the circumstances.

X spoke of an alien fetus while Marita sipped mint tea, and the ginger in the couscous quelled her threatening nausea as X talked about the details of how Deep Throat met his end.  

X shook his head, "We shouldn't talk about this now."

Marita set down her fork, half of her meal still untouched, and leveled her gaze at him, "So who will it be now?"

X looked confused for a moment, but understanding set in quickly, "I'll be taking his contacts. You're still wet behind the ears, kid."

Marita shot him a sidelong glance, and allowed herself a small smile, "He had a lot of contacts, and you're already busy. You sure about this?"

"When the time comes, I'll be calling on you for help. You and the Russian."

"He's almost as busy as you."

"He could handle more. And he wants to. You'd do well to keep an eye on him - his ambition might be a detriment to your survival someday."

Marita considered his words carefully.

She had been wary of Krycek since the first day she met him. His green eyes pierced into her like a wolf eyeing its prey, and it left her feeling stripped bare and uneasy. His often wild and reckless zeal both frightened her and excited her. Krycek could be trouble, but he was also a good man to have on their side.

Still, Marita knew all too well that ambition and passion could have a dark side. She also knew that there was only so much room at the top of the Syndicate food chain, and she didn't want Krycek endangering her placement there.

Her being a woman was already one strike against her in that boy's club.

Marita said nothing in response to X, instead opting to push away her plate.

She topped up the small glasses in front of her with more mint tea, and took a sip, "Just don't take on so much that you become a detriment to your own survival."

A small grin touched his lips, a flash of white teeth, "Why, Marita, are you worried about your illustrious mentor?"

Marita snorted, "Your head contains information I still need, Mr. Invincible. Don't go getting yourself killed."

He chuckled, picking up his plate to clear it away.

"So tomorrow we go over the lab maps, and you assist me in handling Ronald's contact transfers."  His voice hitched on Deep Throat's name, and Marita felt a stab of pain. Along with a general sense of panic. If they would so easily have Ronald killed, were any of them safe?

She had always suspected not, but now to see it happen so suddenly to Ronald...

It wasn't long ago that Marita herself had gotten sucked into the power and mystique of the Syndicate's work.  A shadow group that had the power to save the world was irresistible to Marita. She had been so young, so naive to not fully consider the price she'd have to pay. There were promises of helping the world, saving all of humanity from a cruel fate. There had been talk of power and influence.

By the time Marita had realized the high price of admission into the group, it was far too late to walk away from them. No one ever left alive.

"Penny for your thoughts."

She focused on him, "No pennies, but I would take some more whiskey."

He topped up her glass, "Whiskey for your thoughts."

"Just..." she sipped the alcohol, "life's so short.  Especially in this job."

"We do our job because if we don't, who else will?  Humanity needs us, and we are entitled to a little benefit for the sacrifices we make and the risks we are forced to live with."

"What benefit do you take?"

"For me, it's the money.  I like what I can do with it.  And I have a good idea of how long I have to spend it."

She nodded, "And my benefit?  Influence?  Career enhancement?"

X shrugged and tossed back the few remaining drops of whiskey, "That's something you'll have to find out for yourself.   One thing, though, Marita."  She looked at him questioningly as he sat back, "Make it worth your while.  Life's too short not to."

Marita looked contemplative before a small smile touched her lips, "And Alex?  What about him?"

X let out a low, throaty chuckle.  This was an old game.  One the two of them would often use to pass the time during the long waits that came with information drops or stakeouts.  X thought for a minute, "Sometimes I think that boy's addicted to the danger of the work."

Marita nodded, instantly rethinking the motion.  Her head spun, and she set down the glass.  No more for her.

"All right," X started, leaning forward, "Smoking Man?"

Marita arched an eyebrow, "That's entirely too easy, Xavier.  It's the power that comes with the job."

X nodded appreciatively before casting a quick glance at the clock in the dining room, "It's after 1 am.  I should go."

She shook her head, "Not yet.  Keep me company for a while.  The loss..."

"I can stay a while longer," he eyed his empty glass, "I don't know that I'm fit to hail a cab, yet, so maybe it's best."

She smiled a little, "Thank you."

He leaned back in the chair, "What about Well-Manicured Man?"

"He wants to ensure the future of his brood, of course."

"The future is a thing of uncertainty.  And I'm not sure I would want my children to see the future we anticipate."

"You have children?" she asked.

"No.  I'm speaking metaphorically.  What about Quiet Willy?"

She chuckled more loudly than intended, and clamped her hand over her mouth, "I'm sorry, I just.  It's such a suggestive name for someone so..."

"Un-suggestive?" he offered.

She laughed softly, "Exactly.  I think he gets off on it."  

X laughed, "Nice choice of words, Covarrubias."

She shook her head, still grinning, "So, what about First Elder?"

"Definitely the power. He likes controlling us like puppets."

She looked at her glass, "I'm going to get some water."  She stood, wavered, and his hand was at her waist to steady her.

Marita straightened back up, distancing herself from X.  It had been a long time since she felt the stirrings of desire, and the overwhelming emotion made her nervous. She hated feeling vulnerable.

Still, there was something appealing about the idea. Two people, alone in the world. Working for the greater good of humanity. Both eager to quell the pain of loss.  Before she had time to think, her lips were on his. His beard scratching into the delicate flesh of her face.  

His lips were warm against hers, and she closed her eyes, fully immersing herself in the long forgotten feelings of lust and comfort. She wondered if Xavier felt anything similar.

When the two of them finally parted, X shook his head, and said with a small smile, "C'mon, Marita, you're drunk, and I don't want to take advantage of you."

He guided her towards the sofa, and pulled her down to sit beside him.  Minutes later she was sleeping peacefully, her chest slowly rising and falling beneath her silk blouse.

X stepped back, and grabbed the nearby throw from the back of the chair. He paused, taking in the creamy slope of her breasts, blouse buttons open just far enough to give him a decent view of her curves.  

Wordlessly he covered her, and she stirred slightly before going back to sleep.  He wondered if she felt as restless and lonely as he did, wondered what she dreamt of while she slept.

He made his way towards the window, and looked down at the few people walking hand in hand on the sidewalk below.

Did she dream of a simple life? A spouse, a cottage, maybe a puppy running in the yard...maybe a place in the country somewhere? A life that she could have had if it were not for this wretched job? X admitted freely to himself that he had enjoyed that normal life once upon a time. A wife to come home to, a respectable job with the government, a house, picket fence, the whole nine yards.  That was before this job, though. Before all the lies and tangled conspiracies.  Before the hiding in the shadows and the cryptic secrecy.

Sure, he knew that humanity was an important commodity to preserve and protect, but sometimes he wondered if his life had taken the right path. He looked down at Marita's sleeping form again, "Good night, Mare."

He propped two playing cards against the lamp near the sofa, and slipped out unseen into the night.

**********

Marita awoke with a start as the alarm blared in the other room. Glaring eyes scanned the room, and she quickly realized that she was in her living room, still dressed in the dark Chanel suit that she had been wearing the previous day.

She pushed herself up to a sitting position, and instantly regretted the 5th Pogue she'd had during their makeshift wake for Deep Throat.

When she finally hoisted herself onto her feet, her eyes caught on the cards that had been left by her mentor.  Marita plucked the cards from where they leaned before heading for the bathroom to change.

Ace of spades and a 7 of clubs. "Guess there's a meeting tonight." She muttered to herself. She was always one of the last to know.

Marita had questioned X once on his use of the Ace of spades card to indicate the Syndicate.

"What better card for the Syndicate than the death card?"

X had a point.

And so it stuck. One of many cards that served as their communication. Pedestrian little pieces of paper that held meaning only to them.

X had once laughingly vowed that one day he would play informant to someone who could decipher the messages hidden in the playing cards. So far his luck in that arena was nil.

She had once teased him that he must walk around like a Vegas dealer, carrying pack after pack of cards just to get a point across.  He just chuckled quietly, and didn't say another word about it.

Marita always wondered to herself if he liked the mysterious, secret agent way of communication.  She was pretty sure he did.  She figured that it was his one small amusement in exchange for years of personal sacrifice for the job.

With a click of the light switch, Marita peered into the bathroom mirror.  Her nose wrinkled at the sight of her disheveled appearance, and she twisted the faucet knobs of the shower to get the water heating. Within minutes she was standing beneath the streams of hot liquid, letting her grief over Ronald, and her confusion over the kiss with X, wash away.

What the hell had she been thinking? And what the hell did that kiss mean?

Marita knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that theirs was not a business that afforded many standard human luxuries. Relationships meant collateral, something to be used against a person during a time of weakness. Some of the more imposing Syndicate members were outright honest about it.

Cancerman had once told her as much. "Be careful who you love, Marita. It could get you killed. Just as easily as it can get them taken from you."   He had sounded melancholy, angry even, before taking a long, slow drag of his Morley.  And she had asked no more about what he meant. Marita had simply nodded her head, and filed the information away for later use.

So why, against her better judgement, did she do it?

And why hadn't X stopped her?

Something in his deep brown eyes made her crave his touch last night. Marita wasn't sure if it was her mind's response to the danger, or if it was an act that allowed momentary escape from it. She just silently hoped that it wouldn't be awkward between the two of them later. There was still a lot to discuss before the Syndicate meeting.

They had a tradition of meeting at a nearby deli half an hour before Syndicate meetings. It gave them a chance to formulate, plan, discuss...they always had their stories straight and their plans cemented before heading up to the smoke-filled NY offices. She didn't need some syrupy schoolgirl angst getting in the way of their working relationship with her mentor.  

Marita turned off the flow of water, and grabbed the Egyptian cotton towel off of the towel warmer. If she hurried, she would still have time to stop to get a breve latte and a croissant on the way to the office.

********************************

"Gentleman, " the First Elder began, "we have a problem. Agent Mulder is becoming an issue."

Smoking Man lit his cigarette before speaking, "We've eliminated his information source."

"We have.  It's not enough.  He needs to be monitored."

Smoking Man inhaled deeply, "We've been discussing the Mulder problem for too long.  I've assigned an operative to the task of keeping him distracted."

"The last operative you assigned failed."

"Agent Scully was not an operative.  She was an unknowing tool I hoped to leverage into something to drown his curiosity.  Unfortunately, she only provided a scientific counterpoint to his theorizing, rather than proving herself a deterrent.  My operative understands his assignment, and he is uniquely qualified to carry out his task."

"Excellent.  We want to ensure that Agent Mulder's interference is neutralized."

"It will be."  Smoking Man took a long draw on his cigarette before continuing, "After the meeting tonight, I will be discussing further measures with a number of my best operatives."

********************************

"Thank you," Marita murmured as X set a cup of coffee down in front of her.

"You're welcome," he answered.  He sat across from her at the small table, turning his attention to the sidewalk.  The decision to sit outside, away from prying ears, had been an easy one, in spite of the bitter winds. She wrapped her chilled hands around the hot cardboard cup, "Any special notes for tonight?"

"We would both do well to stay mute on the loss of our colleague until it's mentioned.  And Smoking Man will be detaining us after the meeting."

She felt relieved that he didn't mention last night.  But the fact that Smoking Man would be keeping them late was an indication that something was going on.  "Why?"

"I assume it's to talk about reassignments."

He lifted the coffee cup to his lips, "I suspect he wants to lay out our next steps, chain of command, that sort of thing."

Marita nodded, but she still felt nervous about the whole thing. CSM was an intimidating figure.

She still remembered her first meeting with him as he put presidents on hold, and talked about controlling media outlets.  She had to admit that she was impressed. And more than a little flattered to be hand picked to carry on such important work.  Still, with all of the awe and respect came a healthy dose of fear.

"Do you ever..." she shook her head, not wanting to say anything else.

He tipped his head forward, curiosity peaked, "Go on. Speak your mind."

Marita took another sip of coffee pondering her words, "Do you ever wish for something else? Something more? A few days without all of the secrets and conspiracies. Just a house somewhere safe, maybe a pet and a small vegetable garden..."

X leaned back in his chair, eyebrows raised, "You mean a normal life?"  

Marita looked away, feeling ashamed at her sudden lack of career ambition. Her eyes caught on a young couple walking down the street, hand in hand, as they undoubtedly spoke of their future together.  The wind tousled the girl's hair as she laughed, and Marita shifted her gaze back to X.

"I know, I know, we're in this for something more. It's just sometimes..."

"Sometimes," he interjected, "You want something more tangible in your life. I understand completely. Now," he took another drink of the coffee, and leaned forward, "let's get back to work so that the world will be around for that vegetable garden of yours someday."

********************************

The Elder Spender motioned to the two chairs at the long conference table.  The curls of smoke rising up from the nearby ashtray played and danced along the streams of moonlight that filtered in through the window.  It was just after 8:30, and the rest of the Syndicate members had gone for the evening, leaving the three of them alone.

"I trust that you are both well, so let us get right to business. Agent Mulder is becoming a problem. As you probably know, Alex just became an official member of the F.B.I.  I've assigned him to be our eyes in that community, and he is going to attempt to get in touch with Agent Mulder.  X, I want you to help us with that."

X waited patiently.  Trying to rush Smoking Man was not a task that paid off.  "Our recently lost operative, whom you both knew, had been leaking information to Agent Mulder for quite some time.  That leaves Agent Mulder lacking an informant.  I want you to fill that void, and make sure he takes an interest in the first case that Alex will be taking up."

"I can get in touch with him, and let him know that he has a new informant," X spoke without hesitation.

"Excellent.  Once Alex verifies the case, I'll get the necessary information to you.  I don't need to tell you that we need him to trust you.  He's smart.  If you give him too much, or you're too helpful, he'll start to mistrust."

"I'll play hard to get."

Smoking Man turned his attention to Marita, "I have an assignment for you, as well.  One of your colleagues at the United Nations is asking all the wrong questions.  I need you misguide him - to send him off on the different trail."

She nodded, "Anything else, Sir?"

"I've instructed Alex to rely on you for any help he may need in changing his life from one of freelance to regular work hours.  He’s not accustomed to such trials of tedium."

He ground out his cigarette, and did not light a new one.  A sure sign their meeting was coming to an end.  "Our fallen comrade's other duties will be reassigned, and some of them may fall to the two of you.  As I review his duties and contacts, I'll be in touch with you both."

He stood, and left the room without saying another word, leaving only the faint scent of Morleys behind in his wake.

**********************

By the time X and Marita finally had a chance to reunite at length after their pithy meeting with the Smoking Man, it was November.  They had met up a few times in between to exchange work details, but Marita had to admit to herself that she missed the long lunches and lengthy coffee discussions that she and X used to share more frequently.  He had become more than a mentor to her. He was a friend.  And she missed spending time with him.  That was part of why she was so happy to have heard from him on this bone chilling Saturday afternoon.  

X brought out two paper cups, and Marita took the one he held out for her, "Thanks."

He nodded and sat down across from her at the small, metal table.  The table chilled Marita's arms through her coat, but she didn't mind. It was better than being crammed inside with the loud whirring of the espresso machines and the inane chatter of the other patrons.  

"So, how have you been? How's your new assignment treating you?"

X's expression was one that could only be described as a mixture of pained, annoyed, and exasperated, "That man is a lunatic, and he can be downright infuriating on top of it."

Marita smirked, "Don't tell me a notorious Man in Black can't handle a fed..."

X let out a low chuckle as he slipped off the lid of his cup. Marita watched as the stream swirled its way into the cold air.  "He was at the hospital the other day with his partner, Scully." X took a sip of his latte, and Marita watched his brow furrow. Something was bothering him, something he wasn't saying.

She leaned in a bit, closing the gap between them for the sake of privacy, "What? What happened? Was it the sample?" she asked in a hushed tone.

X nodded, "The operative was able to obtain Scully's blood sample. Mulder tracked him down, went off on me about it." Another sip of latte. "I shot the operative. Mulder saw the whole thing."  He shook his head, looking annoyed, and Marita waited for him to continue. She learned long ago to wait for "the look" that told her X was finished speaking.

After a few moments of silence he continued, still in a low tone, "I told him to wait in his apartment. That the men he wanted would be there, but he left."

Marita looked down at her gloved hands, wrapped around the paper cup for warmth. "Why? Why did he leave?"   

"If I'm not mistaken, he went to see Scully at the hospital," a look of annoyance flashed in his eyes, "They got everything they needed from his apartment. I mean, why ask for the information if you are not willing to listen to your informant? I'm amazed Ronald stuck it out as long as he did, having to work like this."

X shook his head again, feeling a pang of guilt for bringing up Ronald's name in such a way.  "I believe that Agent Mulder is confused about our chain of command in this little arrangement. I don't think he understands that I come to him when I choose."

Marita looked up at him, a look of understanding clearly painted across her face.  "Is this what the Smoking Man wants you to be doing? Or is this something you're doing on your own, now?"

"Smoking Man is cryptic with his orders.  He wants to to string along Agent Mulder, so I can supply him with false information when we really need it, but he hasn't given me any guidance on what I can use to string him along."

Her voice lowered even further, "What about Alex?  I heard his position with the F.B.I. was compromised."

"After all the hard work he did to get into the F.B.I., it's a shame it was wasted. I feel that was a mistake, to not provide him with the protection he needed to continue with his position.  But our wise elders felt the situation called for extreme measures."

"Have you seen him since then?"

"No.  I hear he's been assigned to field work, and told to increase his utility by making more contacts outside the normal circles in which we typically move."

She shook her head.  It was easy to imagine how easily the same thing could happen to her.  Her stomach churned at the thought of what her own "field work" could be.

The feel of his leather glove on her wrist brought her out of her thoughts, "It's easy to get a man into the F.B.I.  It's very hard to get someone with diplomatic immunity.  They'll be a lot more careful not to compromise your position."

He seemed to know what she was thinking so often.  She smiled, and patted his hand.  "What else have you been doing?"

"What, you mean besides trying to stay alive and sane?"

Marita lifted the paper cup to her lips, "Well, at least you've managed 'alive' well."

"Funny." His irritated tone didn't match the smile on his mustached face. "Besides that, I've been hiding in the shadows, catching up on some books when I get the opportunity."

A hard wind whipped Marita's hair across her face, and she shivered, "Read anything good?"

X wrinkled his nose, "Popular fiction is, on the whole, terrible. So much of it is nonsense about government conspiracies and deeply hidden secrets. It's all so inaccurate. Who would read that crap?"

Marita let out a small laugh, and she shook her head, "Tell me about it."

X's face grew serious, and he scratched briefly at his low grown beard, "I have been doing some thinking, too, though. As you may have noticed, things at the Syndicate have been changing." His voice lowered almost inaudibly at the word "Syndicate," as if the word itself was a secret not to be revealed in a public setting.

Marita couldn't help but notice that X had been increasingly anxious about it all lately, so she was eager to hear the remainder of his thoughts.  

"There's a tension that seems to be signaling big changes. I don't quite know what they are yet, but I think that it would serve us well to get in contact with Alex Krycek, and attempt to form an uneasy alliance. A makeshift network of people with similar interests, and common paranoia."

"I think that's a good idea.  He could be a good ally to have, especially if he is making a lot of contacts outside our own circles."

"I'm glad you agree.  I'll try to get in touch with him, and if you have the opportunity before I do, I would suggest you do the same."

"I will," she sipped her coffee.  It had cooled to warm.  "It's a cold winter already," she commented.

"It is.  We could go back to my place to talk - I just got a new espresso machine."

It sounded good.  The cold wind was picking up, and more espresso sounded good to her.  But memories of the kiss they had shared came unbidden to her mind.  "Raincheck? I have a stack of documents I still need to translate before Monday."

X's eyes searched hers, and for a brief moment, she was afraid that he would uncover her thoughts. So often he knew what she was thinking before she knew herself.  Marita did have documents to search through, it wasn't a mistruth. And yet she felt naked under his gaze, as if he had just caught her in a lie.

Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, a small smile touched his lips, and he nodded, "Of course, Marita. Raincheck."

Damn it. He knew her too well.  She stood, wrapping her thick wool coat around herself.

"There are worse things, you know?"

Marita looked puzzled.

"Worse fates than being kissed by a beautiful blonde who's had a bit too much whisky. Don't give it another thought, Mare. Regrets weaken the mind, and that is something you cannot afford."

Marita hoped that the hot flush spreading across her face wasn't noticeable, "Thank you." She was both humiliated and relieved.  

X nodded, and stood. Without saying another word he made his way down the street, the cold wind making the bottom of his long coat flutter. She couldn't be sure, but Marita could have sworn there was a hint of sadness to his voice.  She shook her head, forcing her mind back to work, and made her way home through the lonely city streets.  

*******************************

"Marita, I'd like to ask you a favor.  I've got the chance to make my ex-wife a little jealous, and I need your help."

"Your ex-wife?  I didn't know you were married."

"My marriage deteriorated rapidly long ago when I decided to change careers.  She didn't like the pay cut from businessman to F.B.I. grunt."

She looked at him, thinking about how much he enjoyed spending money on the luxuries in life, thanks to his second job with the Syndicate.  His wife had missed out, and not just because of the money.  

"So where does my help come into the picture?"  Marita had to admit, she was intrigued. She hadn't seen this side of him before, and it amused her.

X dropped a folded newspaper onto her desk, and she picked it up, scanning the story.  Her eyes raised, and she couldn't help but look a bit confused, "The opera? I didn't know you were a patron of the vocal arts, Xavier."  

"I'm not. I find the opera unbearably boring, but, like I said...Joyce will be there, and I want her to see what she's been missing out on since trading me in for a string of rich boyfriends. Figured having a gorgeous blonde on my arm would do it."

Marita couldn't help but grin.  She had never figured him the type to do this, not at all. And the fact that he was so straightforward with a compliment...She shook her head with a sigh, "What time do you want to pick me up?"

She had never seen him smile so broadly, "1:00pm, your place.  It's a little over 4 and a half hours to get to the Kennedy Center, so I'll be hiring a limo for us."

"Wonderful.  I know just what to wear."

"I knew I asked the right girl for the job.  On another topic, I got in touch with Alex.  He would like to meet us for dinner at a busy restaurant of our choice this next Wednesday night.  He said we'll go dutch."

"Why would he mention that?"

"I think he likes being confusing.  Or maybe he’s a tightwad.  Do you have a particular restaurant you want to go to, since apparently we're not paying for his meal?"

"Somewhere with good options for privacy.  What about the Hungarian place on 39th?"

"Will seven o'clock be okay?"

She nodded, "So, the opera on Saturday, and dinner with Alex next Wednesday."

"Correct." a pause, the upturn of one side of X's mustache, "I'm looking forward to Saturday."

A smile crossed Marita's face again, and she quickly forced her face back into a more serious expression. She didn't want to look like an anxious schoolgirl, but she was admittedly excited about the weekend's arrival. She hadn't been out for a non-working night on the town in years.  And she was happy that her "date" for the evening would be Xavier. She knew that it would be fun.

When Saturday finally arrived, Marita could hardly contain her enthusiasm for the evening.  It surprised even her. Marita kept telling herself that she had a "job" to do for Xavier, but the feeling of excitement wouldn't leave, and part of her was disgusted that she was giving in to it so easily.

She made it home from some impromptu overtime UN work right after noon, and took a quick shower before smoothing on sandalwood-rose lotion, and slipping into her long, emerald green gown. The fabric draped luxuriantly over her slender frame, and the cut of the dress modestly showcased cleavage that rarely saw the light of day under her typical staunch business attire.  

She swept her hair up into a low chignon, and was just smoothing on her lipstick when the doorbell rang. Perfect timing, as usual.

She grabbed her coat, and opened the door to see X standing there in a tuxedo.  Marita smiled, "Afternoon, 007..."

He chuckled, and motioned to the tuxedo, "Every once in awhile it pays to play the part of a mysterious opera-going secret agent," he said with a wink. "And you look absolutely stunning. Breathtaking."

Marita blushed and tried to recover, "Thank you, Xavier. Your ex-wife won't know what hit her tonight."

For a brief moment, X looked confused before speaking, "Yes, my ex-wife. Exactly."

He took the coat from her arms, and helped her on with it.  All the while Marita wondered if her mission tonight truly was to incite jealousy in his ex-wife, or if there was more to this evening than petty revenge.  As usual with X, his motives were often shrouded in secrecy.

"Come on - the limo driver will charge me extra if he gets a ticket for being longer than 20 minutes."

She slipped her arm into his, "Then I won't keep you waiting."  She picked up her tiny satin purse on the way past the foyer table, and locked the heavy deadbolt on the way out.  The doorman in her building didn't mean anything to the type of intruders who might want to break into her apartment.

Traffic was at its usual.  Xavier watched out the window as the streets went by slowly.  "Something wrong?" she asked.

"Just thinking about tonight.  Thinking about how nice it is to have someone to spend my money with."  With that, he turned his attention to the mini-fridge, and showed her the split of champagne, "Would you like a glass?  It'll make the opera much more enjoyable."

"After the week I've had at work, I could use a glass."  Marita watched as the bubbles rose to the surface of the golden hued liquid. They seemed to dance on the surface, catching the lights of the limo's interior.

"Thank you," she reached out and took the crystal flute from his hand, and sipped. Her eyebrows raised, "This is a nice champagne, Mr. Fancy Man in Black."  

He leaned back on the seat beside her, "Nothing but the finest for my Syndicate beauty. You really do look gorgeous."  

Marita turned her head to speak, but the words stuck in her throat, and silence filled the limo.  She drank down the rest of her champagne, and set the glass off to the side.  

"It's been awhile since..."

X cut her off, setting his now empty glass to the side as well, "Since you've been given the respect you deserve. You are an amazing woman, Mare. Beautiful, intelligent..."

He leaned in, and Marita's resolve melted as her lips pressed into his. This time she savoured the feel of him against her, forcing her mind to remain unashamed. He tasted of exquisitely crafted grapes, and his arms wrapped around her waist, pulling her closer to his muscular frame.  He was so warm against her, his arms strong as he pulled her closer.  The kiss deepened as his hands moved up to her shoulders, his fingers stroking her skin.  Her hands crept behind his neck so he could not escape.

Lost in gentle touches and hungry kisses, time slipped away.  It was only the sounds of the heavy limo door and the driver's voice that brought Marita and X back to themselves. "We've arrived," the driver's voice rang through the car.  She looked up, blushing deeply.  A quick glance at her reflection in the window showed tousled hair, a dress pushed low off her shoulders, and smeared lipstick.  The limo driver was grinning from ear to ear - apparently he'd seen this thing plenty of times before, and it clearly still amused him.  

X stepped out of the limo to block the driver's view, all under the guise of tipping him, as Marita straightened her clothing, and smoothed her hair and makeup.  When Marita moved to step out of the limo, X offered a hand which she took easily.  It disturbed her how comfortable she was accepting his offers of affection. Marita had had never thought herself the type to be entirely comfortable with chivalry.  But now here she was at the opera, arm in arm with a man who could be very much the gentleman when given the chance.  The most unsettling part was that she was enjoying it.

By the time they got to the lobby, their hands were clasped tightly around one another.  As they stood near the windows, X pointed out his ex-wife. She was glaring in their general direction, and looked irritated. When her gaze shifted to Marita, her eyes narrowed further into a hateful glower.

By the time Marita's gaze shifted back to X, he was grinning sadistically as he gave Joyce a quick wave. Joyce's lips pursed in annoyance, and she looked away. A low throaty chuckle escaped X's lips, and he squeezed Marita's hand.

"Happy?" Marita asked in a low tone.

He looked at her, "Very." He leaned down to press his lips to her cheek, "Not because of her, though."

She smiled, taking his hand, "Let's go find our seats." He looked down at the ticket in his hand, and they made their way towards the nearby set of doors that led into the main area of the opera house. Once they were settled in their seats, he chuckled, "So, what do you think?"

Marita smirked, "Not bad. She seems a little," Marita paused while considering her words, "bitter for you, but she is beautiful."

X shrugged, "I suppose she's okay..." His voice trailed off, and he reached over to take her hand, giving it a little squeeze. She knew what he wanted to say, but he didn't want to feed her any cheesy lines, and he knew that she wasn't the type to appreciate them.  Instead, neither of them said a word, opting instead to sit together in comfortable silence. When the lights dimmed, Marita leaned closer, savouring the warmth of his arm against hers.

After about an hour his touch was her primary focus. Partly due to the feel of his thumb stroking her hand gently, and partly because (much to her surprise) the opera was not holding her interest nearly as much as she had anticipated.

Marita wondered if it was because her thoughts were on the passionate kisses and touches of the limo ride, or if it was because the story unfolding on the stage was pedestrian and boring by comparison. When she looked over at X, his eyes met hers.  A look of exasperation and sleepiness showed across his face.

A small smile formed at the corner of Marita's mouth, and she leaned over, already reading his thoughts. "Yes. I'm bored, as well," she whispered. X smiled, and his chest moved a bit under the tux, as though a silent laugh was escaping him.  When his phone buzzed soundlessly against his pocket it made them both jump. Marita suddenly realized the toll that the job was taking on their nerves.

X glanced discreetly down at the dark screen of the phone, and leaned in to whisper, "Mulder. I'll head out after the fat lady sings."  Marita nodded, trying not to laugh.

Outside the Kennedy Center; Washington, D.C.

Xavier walked around the side of the building and approached Mulder.  His mind was elsewhere, but his job was here.  "You wanted to see me?"

Mulder had been waiting for a while, but he seemed amused.  "How was the opera?"

"Wonderful, I've never slept better."  Almost asleep next to a beautiful woman.  It felt good.  Life was good in there. He wanted to get back to it, "but I don't like these hasty public meetings, Agent Mulder."

"I'm sorry," he might have been.  But only marginally.  "I need your help."

"It's over. The fat lady is singing."

"I need to know what you know."

Need was such a strong word.  But he wanted it.  Maybe it was time to find out what Agent Mulder could deal with.  How far he was willing to go. "Okay. They're all dead."

"No. One of them is alive, the one who was sent to kill them. Where is he?"

"A nuclear submarine located his craft in the Beaufort Sea five days ago. They were ordered to destroy it but they were disabled. An attack fleet left port from Anchorage this morning to make sure this man does not leave."

"I got to get up there."

He was willing to go too far.  He hadn't learned yet how powerful the Syndicate was, or how impossible it was to escape their tendrils.  "You'll only win the war if you pick the right battles, Agent Mulder. This is a battle you can't win."

X watched Mulder walk off, disappearing into the dark of night. He shook his head, "Poor bastard," he muttered under his breath, turning to return to Marita.

When he reached the lobby of the Kennedy Center, he found her reading over a pamphlet of upcoming opera offerings. Her eyes lifted to meet his when he returned.

"Looking for more ways to assist my insomnia?" he asked, motioning to the opera schedule she held.

Marita shot him an amused look, "What did he want?"  

X started to speak, but shook his head, "The usual. I'll tell you more later." He eyed a group of opera patrons suspiciously as they moved past the two of them.  Marita's eyes slid over his frame. He looked good in his tuxedo — large frame neatly tucked into a well tailored jacket.  When he moved his arm, she could see the muscles of his hand flex, and she wondered what exactly those large hands were capable of that didn't involve death.  

That was the terrible truth about this job, after all. Despite all of the power and money, behind it all was just the cold, hard reality of death and destruction. Her feelings about Xavier, on the other hand, were a stark contrast. Even cloaked in death, Xavier brought her warmth and light, feelings that were a rarity in this awful business. She craved them, and she craved him.

"We should get some dinner before we head back," he said, interrupting her thoughts. X slipped his hand in hers as they walked out into the cold night, and Marita flushed, mind flashing back to the limo for the hundredth time that night.  His hands and lips moving in ways that brought pleasure she had long since forgotten.

She felt a warmth seize her most sensitive parts, and dampness made the silk fabric of her panties cling to her delicate skin. The effect wasn't entirely unexpected, but it caught her off guard, nonetheless.

"No," she breathed, "Not hungry."

X cast a glance in her direction, "Feeling all right?"

She stopped in her tracks as they passed alongside a secluded patch of garden near the water. The tug on his hand told him that they had stopped. X looked surprised and a little worried, "What's wrong?"

Marita sucked in a breath. She felt as though the fire that seemed to be brimming from her core might engulf both of them as she leaned forward. Hot, sticky, ready for him. She wanted him to take her now. Bend her over the cold metal railing, and fuck her brains out right here in front of the opera house.

Now that would be a show worth staying awake for.

She pressed her lips against his, crushing them with her fervent desire for his touch. "Let's find a hotel," she breathed in his ear, voice husky with desire.  X looked more than a little shocked, but he was already feeling the familiar tightening in his groin, as he pulled her close.  Pressing her body to his, he kissed her again, savouring the feel and taste of her soft lips.

He wasn't going to argue.

Finding a hotel didn't take long.  Checking in didn't either, but it seemed to both of them that it was impossibly slow. The elevator ride to the 15th floor took even longer, and the key-card was stubborn in the lock.

Once inside the room, Marita felt a chill of uncertainty.  She walked into the room, leaving the lights off.  She set her purse on the table beside the television, and listened to the sound of X locking the door behind him. His hand on her waist brought back the fire, and her doubts vanished.

Marita let out a small moan as X pulled her closer, and the two of them tumbled back onto the bed. The plush ivory fabric gave way under their combined weight, and it felt smooth and cool on the backs of Marita's thighs.

"This is a bad idea," he murmured into her flesh as he nibbled at her earlobe, planting small kisses down her neck.

"I know," Marita breathed, her hands loosening his tie.

But she didn't care. Not right now.  Not while X pushed her gown down around her waist, and hungrily sucked at her nipple.  With his other hand he circled the other nipple, only to quickly shift his hand downward. He pulled her silk panties to the side, and moved a coarse thumb gently over her, and she let out a gasp.

He grinned. It was the response he needed to hear, and it made him feel more alive than he'd felt in years. She fumbled with the buttons of his shirt, exposing his muscular chest to her explorative hands.

His fingers reached into her slickness, as his thumb continued on relentlessly. She was wet. So wet, and she let out a sharp moan as he slipped his fingers into her. Her body clenched around his finger, and her hips bucked up and down as he curled his fingers upwards.

He bent his head down, his warm tongue flicking against her.  She smelled sweet and ready, and he lapped at her with a desperation he hadn't felt in decades. Her back arched instinctively as her innermost core twitched against his fingers. His tongue was firm, and swirled around her, leaving her gasping for air.

"Xavier, " she said, clutching the bed sheets, "I need you..."

His hand pumped back and forth a few times, before he withdrew his hand from her.  She let out a small, pitiful cry, left longing to again feel the dexterous ministrations of her mentor's hands. X maneuvered the emerald green gown off of her, leaving Marita to wonder how the hell he had unzipped it without her knowledge. He truly was a man of mystery after all.  

When he pulled off the silk fabric that shrouded her, she felt ready to explode, and sat up to unzip the tuxedo trousers that stood between her and ecstasy.  She pushed them down to his knees, taking his boxers with them, and the corner of her mouth twitched into a smile. He was hard as a rock.

She leaned forward, planting a kiss on the tip of him, and his head tilted back as he let out a low moan. Encouraged, she enveloped him with her lips, letting her tongue stroke across his skin.

"Mare," he breathed.  He repeated her name, louder, "Mare, I can't wait."

Marita smiled, and pulled him down with her as she lay back in bed.  She wrapped her legs around him, and gasped as he pushed into her, her arms pulling him closer.  She was so hot, so wet, and her hips responded instinctively to his rhythm.

He took a deep, ragged breath before his lips met hers hungrily.  He managed to speak, "Perfect."

Marita's legs tightened around X's waist, as he pushed in deeper, inch by painfully glorious inch. She moaned loudly. X was a large man, and she could feel herself stretch around him.  She was bucking wildly beneath him as he pounded into her, both of them reveling in their perfectly matched rhythms.

Tongues intertwined, as the two of them rocked back and forth against each other. Marita's nails dug into his back as the blood pounded in her ears.  Her back arched up, pressing her completely against his large frame.  Her head fell back, and blinding lights flashed before closed eyelids, "Oh God, Xavier..."

He quickened the pace, happy to see her so close. He couldn't hold on much longer.  His hand moved under the arch of her back, pulling her body close to his.  He could feel her throbbing around him as she gasped, then let out a scream.  Ecstasy coursed through them both, and he collapsed on the bed beside her.

His arm snaked around her waist, pulling her close.  As they lay there breathing heavily he murmured, "You are fantastic.  Just, absolutely, amazingly fantastic."  His eyes opened wide, "I suppose this is a terrible time to realize we forgot to use any birth control."

Marita's head turned, and she smiled, "Taken care of." She didn't mention why.  He didn't ask.  She loved him for it, and assumed he probably already knew.  Anyway, now was not the time to reveal her need for birth control as it related to the less savoury parts of her job.

"You are incredible. All that fire and passion hidden under dark suits and trench coats."

He chuckled, "I could say the same about you."

Silence followed. Comfortable silence as they lay tangled in the sheets. His hand traced up and down her arm, and she dropped her other arm across his muscled torso. She felt cherished. Comfortable. It had been a long time, and it felt good.

After a few more minutes Marita looked back over at him, "Maximus?"

X laughed, "You, woman, do not give up. Still trying to guess my name?"

She shrugged, "Won't stop until I get it right."

He brushed his lips across her head, "And that is why you make a good operative." He sighed, "All considered, I suppose it would be fitting for you to know my first name. But it goes no further than this room, Marita."

Marita nodded, holding her hand up in mock oath, "I swear...Octavian?"

He snickered, hand still moving up and down her arm, caressing the warm skin, "Not even close," a pause, followed by another sigh, "It's Francis."

Marita let out a laugh, and propped herself up on arm.  Her other hand ran across the velvety ebony skin of his muscular chest.

"Francis?!" she asked incredulously, trying to stifle more laughter.  

"And now, Marita, you know why I go by "X."

Marita lowered herself to lay with her head on his chest, "I have to admit, Xavier does have a more mysterious feel to it...Francie..."

"Funny, Marita Olga Covarrubias."

She playfully punched at his arm, "Point taken."

He chuckled, beginning to stroke her hair, "I'm sorry the opera was so boring."

"The after-party made it worthwhile."

He laughed, "I like the way you put things."

"I like to hear you laugh.  It's a good sound." She wished that she heard it more often.

Silence followed.  In response, he leaned over to kiss her, placing gentle kisses along her neck.  Marita's head tilted back, and a smile touched her lips. She felt safe, happy in X's arms. After so many years of working late nights on projects, whispered secrets, covert flirting, it was almost impossible to believe that they were now intertwined together in 800 thread count sheets after a night of intense passion.  

Marita rolled over onto her elbows, and ran her tongue along his pectoral muscle, heading southward.  X let out a moan, and Marita looked up to see a look of pure contentment on his bearded face.  She was suddenly happy that she wasn't due at work until Monday.

************************

Wednesday

6:00pm
46th Street Offices, New York

"I have the files, translated here, Gentlemen, along with the maps showing the Krasnoyarsk coordinates."

The Smoker held out his hand, taking the files from her.  He took his time reading through them before handing them to the First Elder, "This is intelligence of the most important order.  We cannot allow the Russians to attain a vaccine before we do."

"Yes, sir.  I agree."

"We will have to discuss countermeasures.  I expect to be in touch with you to make a diplomatic pouch available in order to get a sample into the country for analysis."

"Yes, sir.  I'll make arrangements in advance."

"Excellent.  While you're here, there's another matter to discuss."

"Yes, sir?" she hoped her voice did not betray her.  She did not want her relationship with X to become an item of discussion.

"We believe that you've had enough experience with us now that we would like you to begin looking for possible recruits."

She hesitated thoughtfully, "And these recruits - would they serve any particular function?"

The First Elder spoke, "Having an ally at your side when you travel would be conducive to your own work.  Perhaps one of the U.N.'s soldiers might be of particular use, but many individuals present their own unique access and talents."

Marita nodded.  In other words, recruit someone useful. "I'll take it under advisement, Sir." Silence followed, as some of the other men reviewed the files. One would occasionally look up at her as he scanned the maps, sizing her up. Wondering how it was that a woman managed to get her hands on the information before any of them had.  

The First Elder looked at her squarely, "And your mentor. You two are working closely on things," a pause that seemed to last for hours, "He knows what to tell Agent Mulder?"

Marita's breath caught in her throat, and she swallowed hard. "What did he really mean by that? Did he know something? Why was the Smoking Man staring at her now, as well? Marita had anticipated a bit of anxiety this week, but the sudden onset of near panic caught her off guard. She swallowed again, and nodded, working hard to steady her voice, "Yes, sir. He knows what to tell him."

Marita forced herself to stare back at the First Elder, eventually shifting her gaze to the Smoking Man who was taking a long drag of his Morley.  Marita steadied her voice, "We know what pawns to play for now. We have our respective situations under control."  Scrutiny. Piercing eyes that stole confidence, destroyed spirits, and hid an eternity of dark secrets. Eyes drilling into her, attempting to extract the secrets that she held within. After a long pause, the First Elder nodded, and Marita could finally breathe again.  

By the time she arrived at the Hungarian restaurant, X was already seated at a small table towards the back of the place. He was alone, but 3 waters sat on the table, dampening the tablecloth with the condensation that ran along the outsides of the glasses. She made her way through the people who were crowded into the small space, and took a seat at the round table.

"Marita, just in time. No sign of him yet." He took a drink, and Marita's eyes hitched on his lips. "Focus." she thought to herself. Marita tried to appear casual and shrugged, "He'll show. I'm sure of that. He seems as concerned with the instability of the group these days as we do."

X sat down the glass, "Perhaps more so. On the rare occasions that we've spoken, he's indicated to me a strong sense of distrust. I think it is advantageous timing for us to get him on our side."

Marita nodded, eyes scanning the crowd. As if on cue, Alex Krycek made his way through the lobby, garnering a few annoyed glances from the people who had been waiting for a table. He didn't care. He never looked like he cared, in fact, about anything. He was clad in dark jeans and a black leather jacket. Hair unruly, and a dark look ever present in his eyes. A few people looked away as this portrait of a thug made his way towards the back of the restaurant.

He slid into a chair and met their gazes, "Evening, cohorts." Before either of them could respond, he snagged the waitress as she whisked past the table. A wink and a leer later, he had a chilled top shelf vodka in his hand, and a look of happiness momentarily lit up his fierce green eyes. He took a sip, leaning back in his chair to savour the taste on his tongue, "Ah, вкусно! Life is too short for bad vodka."

X glanced at Marita, suppressing a smirk, "Nice of you to make it."

Alex nodded, "Wouldn't miss it.  And look at you two - no drinks yet?  No appetizers?"

Marita shook her head, "I just got here."

"No excuse."  He gave the menu a perfunctory glance before motioning for the waitress.  To Marita's dismay, she came straight over with a coy smile.  "Teresa, we'd like an order of hummus, and an order of the spinach borak.  And for drinks..."

Marita ordered an iced tea, and X ordered an Arnold Palmer.  Alex looked at X, held him in his gaze for a long moment, then glanced at Marita, "I suppose I'm the only one celebrating, tonight.  Thank you, Teresa."

He took another sip of his vodka, then leaned forward to speak in a low tone, "We all know why we're here.  I need someone to watch my back, and so do you."

His brazen speech took her aback.  But then, he had a way of doing that to a lot of people.

X responded before she could decide what to say, "Exactly.  We're not asking anything our superiors wouldn't approve of, just - that we look out for one another."

Alex leveled a gaze at him, then shifted the focus to Marita.  She was afraid for a moment that he was going to call them out on the proposition.  They all knew these side-alliances would not be looked upon kindly.  Finally, he nodded, "We should look out for one another."

X lowered his voice a little more, "With that may come certain expected provisions and favours when called upon for assistance."  

Krycek shot X a glance, taking a slow sip of his vodka, "I can get you access to a lot of labs, here and in Russia.  And I can get you a lot of FBI files. I do have a badge, after all..." he pulled it out from his pocket, and dropped it onto the table, "A respectable fucking member of society. A pillar of the community."

Another sip of vodka, condensation dripping across his fingers, "What about you, Blondie?"

Marita froze for a moment, unsettled. She hadn't expected the question, particularly not so directly. She hated being caught off guard.  But, then, Alex had a way of doing that to her.  "I have diplomatic immunity," she stated flatly, hoping that the pause hadn't been too long, "which means that lot of places are open to me as well, no questions asked. I can also provide diplomatic contacts, pouches, and visas when needed."

Alex nodded, setting the now empty glass on the table. He didn't throw the question at X the way Marita had anticipated. Hadn't put X on the spot, forcing him to prove his utility to the small band of Syndicate fringe members. Maybe he respected X too much to ask. Maybe he didn't. Or maybe he just wanted to test her own ability to think on her feet.

He seemed to like unsettling her, and she hated him for it. Still, he was a good shot, and had a surprisingly high level of intelligence. Beyond that, she trusted X to know what would work for their alliances. He had never steered them wrong in the past.

The appetizers arrived, and brief silence followed. Alex was the first to speak, "An alliance will be good. This business is so unstable, never know when your time's up. Never hurts to have someone there in the shadows when you need protection." Marita watched as he scooped up some hummus, and popped it into his mouth. So casual. As if he had just mentioned the nice weather outside. This was a man who had trained himself to embrace betrayal and death as common occurrences.

A small shudder passed through Marita's body, and she wondered if she was catching a reflection of what she or Xavier might become. Was this their fate, too? Alex's voice broke into her thoughts, "I was sorry to hear about Ronald. He was a helluva man."

Clouded green eyes, staring down briefly into his recently refreshed vodka. "It's a bitch that it had to happen to him. Could have been any of us." So Alex Krycek did have a heart and soul after all. He took a swig of vodka. An impromptu motion that could be interpreted as an homage.  

Then, just as quickly as sadness had injected itself into his tone, it vanished, "Which is why this alliance is key to our survival. So..." he leaned back, and put his hands behind his head, "interested in hearing what life on the inside of the FBI was like?"

X shook his head, a smile turning the corner of his mouth upward, "Been there before."

Alex laughed, "Yes, comrade, but you never had the privilege of working with the world's biggest pain in the ass."  

Alex proceeded to relay the details of his most recent case with Agent Mulder. Acting out scenes, and doing a remarkably good impersonation of the man by all accounts.  When X asked Alex to do his infamous Smoking Man impersonation, Marita and X couldn't help but laugh.

Two hours later, the three of them sat at a table littered with empty glassware. Alex had paid Teresa to leave the vodka at the table, paying out of pocket for the bottle, and the three spent the evening laughing at Alex's remarkably accurate impersonations of other Syndicate members.

In between impersonations the three of them talked about childhood dreams, and hopes for retirement if the day ever came.

"So, what did you want to be when you grew up?" Alex asked X before interrupting, "Wait, don't tell me...Legitimate businessman?"

Marita laughed, "Not even close. I'm guessing...Pilot."

X chuckled, shaking his head, "You are both way off. I was planning on taking over the family business. We owned a small candy shop on the California Central Coast. Mostly saltwater taffy."

Alex threw his head back, laughing loudly. "A candy shop? I didn't see that one coming, Candyman!"

X shook his head again, and with a wry smile, "All right, FBI, you're up next."  Krycek flashed a grin, "You two will never guess this."

"Farmer?" X called out. Marita shook her head, "No, no. Toymaker. That's about as 'not you' as it gets."

A smug looked crossed Alex's face, "And you two need to learn to recognize sarcasm in a man's voice." Krycek stood, and put on his best Russian accent, "I was going to be, how you say in English, the KGB agent."

He plopped himself back in his chair with a small salute, and turned his attention to Marita, "All right, Blondie. Ballerina."

She smirked, "Do I scream ballerina to you?"

He shrugged, still with a grin plastered on his face, "Okay, doctor."

"Lawyer?" X guessed, unsure.

She shook her head, "World famous Egyptologist, thank you very much."

"Well, at least you get the travel part of your childhood aspirations."

"Oh, yeah, living the dream," she said with a small laugh.  

Marita looked across the table and saw the smile on X's face. He had been smiling a lot lately, and it made her happy. Years of stressful jobs and covert meetings that could get him killed had left him understandably edgy, and it was nice to see him relax.  And after a few hours, nestled back in the corner of a busy Hungarian restaurant, she felt safe in her newfound alliance.

Marita wasn't stupid, she knew that nothing about her work would ever truly be safe. But knowing that she wasn't alone, and that there was someone — 2 someones — for her to turn to in a time of crisis made her feel a bit better.

After another hour, Alex stood, "Well, comrades, I'd best be on my way, I have to be at a rendezvous at 7am sharp tomorrow." He groaned, and slipped on his jacket, throwing an unashamed wink at Marita, "Let's do this again. Next time, I got it," he tossed a handful of cash onto the table, "It's the least my measly FBI salary can do.  And my next paycheck is not forthcoming."

He made his way back towards the front of the restaurant, and Marita wasn't surprised to see the busty waitress, Teresa, hand him a small slip of paper. Her phone number, undoubtedly.  She silently wondered how often that happened to him.  Marita was also happy that he had been the first to leave for the evening, and she turned to X, "My place?"

He nodded, "Most definitely."

*********************************

Months passed, and soon Marita found herself with a new situation that required a quick decision. Only this one had nothing to do with charred corpses, black oil, or UN sanctions. No, this time Marita's difficult choices took the form of brightly colored packages that lined the shelves of Bloomingdale's.

She had discovered that it was X's birthday today.

He hadn't told her, despite their spending most nights together over the past 7 months, and now she was spending her lunch hour mulling over possibilities.

Tie? No.

Shirt? No.

Cologne? No.

Marita looked down at her watch. Lunch would be over soon, and she was getting desperate. After searching through bookstores, department stores, and shops filled with modern gadgetry, Marita still stood there empty handed.

Just what the hell do you get for a Syndicate operative who has everything? His love of spy gadgets certainly wasn't going to be found here, and it definitely wasn't located at the Sharper Image a few doors up. X didn't seem like the massage chair or RC car type.

She sighed, put back the silk boxers that she held, and made her way towards the exit, dodging perfume snipers along the way.

What could she possibly get for him.  What would he want? She couldn't think of anything she could get for him that he didn't already have.  Lost in thought, she found herself in SoHo.  'Why not?" she asked herself, turning to walk into a gallery.

One gallery visit turned to five, and she was starting to think this was a waste of time.  And then, there it was - a stunning painting of the Kennedy Center, fit neatly on the face of a tie pin.  She smiled.

The girl behind the counter wrapped the gift in thick paper covered in blue tonal swirls, topped with a navy blue ribbon, and soon Marita was headed back to work with renewed enthusiasm.  She had asked X to meet her at her apartment after work, around 8, to go over some maps and assorted paperwork.

Marita wasn't sure if he suspected anything. It had been years since anyone had remembered or celebrated his birthday, and he had not said one word about it. Marita wondered if it was because he didn’t want a celebration, or if he simply hadn't remembered it himself. Either way, she wasn't going to let the evening slip past them without some sort of birthday celebration.

When 6 o'clock rolled around, Marita headed out of her office, the small gift tucked neatly inside her Burberry bag right beside a small stack of paperwork for tomorrow's meeting.  As she rode down the elevator, Marita briefly considered baking a small cake for X once she arrived back at her apartment. After a quick mental inventory of her pantry, though, Marita instead made a turn up the street and headed for the bakery. She had to admit, she knew little about baking, had a shortage of ingredients, and didn't want X's first birthday dessert in years turning into a disaster.

She made her way through the crowd of the small corner bakery. Old women yelled orders to the harried man behind the counter, and the cloying scent of buttercream frosting wafted through the air.  The crowds at this place could be hellish, but the cakes and pastries were phenomenal.  She wanted the best.  Leaning down to peer into the glass, Marita's eyes scanned the shelves in search of the perfect dessert.

When her eyes settled on it, she smiled widely, and worked her voice to compete with the old women who called out their orders. Minutes later, she was on her way home, baked treasure in hand.  

********************

X nodded at the doorman of Marita's apartment, musing how easy it was to slip past him now. When X had first started visiting Marita here during their off hours, he had met with a bit of resistance from the night doorman. He wanted to know what X wanted with "Ms. Covarrubias," and was very forthcoming with the fact that she never had any visitors.

But now, after several months of constant visits, the doorman always gave him a small wave and a knowing wink as he made his way past the front desk. The night doorman had even told Marita all about what a "nice young man" X was. X couldn't help but laugh when she told him that one.

The elevator arrived with a soft "ding," and X stepped inside. As he rode up he wondered what they would be going over together. Marita had told him not to bother stopping for dinner, that she would pick something up so that they could get to work right away ate. It must have been one hell of a stack of paperwork, too, because she said that it may take the better part of the night.

Always working. He wondered when it might all wind down. When he could start thinking about retirement. Maybe even starting a normal life again with weekends, gardening, a wife...He shook his head, and made his way down the hall.

"It's open," Marita's voice called from inside when X knocked.

He shook his head, and opened the door, "Mare, what have I told you about..." X's voice trailed off when he saw the scene in front of him. Candles lit the living room and dining area. A small feast laid out on the table was illuminated by small, flickering flames, and two champagne glasses sparkled against the shadows. Heady jazz flowed quietly through the room.

Marita was all smiles as she stepped forward, "Happy Birthday, Xavier." She held his face in her hands, and planted a kiss against his lips. Her hands bristled against the scratchy beard on his bewildered face.

He grinned, "How did you know?"

Marita shrugged, "You taught me how to spy, you tell me."  

He pulled her close, and kissed her, "Thank you, Mare." She wasn't sure if he meant thank you for the dinner, or thank you for remembering, but she didn't care. He was happy. That was what she wanted for him on his birthday more than anything else.

"But wait," she moved out of his arms. "I have dessert here, too!" she called out from the kitchen.

"Since when did you get to be so domestic?" X hung his coat on the hook near the door, and smiled when Marita laughed. He would do anything to hear that laugh, and he seldom heard it. "Not domestic, just celebratory."

She emerged from the kitchen holding up a small, 6" round cake. "Voíla!"

X moved in, staring down at the cake, and burst out laughing.  It was a ridiculous, rainbow colored thing decorated with icing in the shape of taffy and other candies. The top of the cake read: Happy B'Day, Candyman!

The rest of the evening was a blur of the senses. Champagne flowed, food was eaten lazily through conversation, and the ridiculous cake was practically gone.  The remainder of it sat on the nightstand where the two lay in bed listening to Coltrane play exquisite jazz in the background.

Marita's leg was strewn across X's thigh, and she dozed peacefully making little snoring noises. X loved that part of her. It made her human, he had once told her.  It was humanity that he most missed since starting this godforsaken job, and she brought a touch of it back to him. X reached down to push an errant strand of blond hair from her face, and she stirred, looking up at him through heavy eyelids.

He smiled down at her, and planted a kiss on the top of her head, "Thank you for an unforgettable birthday, Mare."

She stretched up to kiss his lips, and a strange look crossed her face, "I almost forgot." She pushed away the covers and got out of bed.

X frowned, wondering where she was off to, but when he saw her porcelain silhouette illuminated by the moonlight, a smile returned to him once again.

But it wasn't necessarily the beautiful nude who stood in front of him, rifling through her purse. It was the familiarity. The ease at which she disrobed in front of him. Like old lovers, familiar through countless hours spent together in the bedroom.  It was comfortable, attractive, warm. He almost found himself basking in it.

A voice broke through his thoughts, "Aha" Marita exclaimed, making her way back to bed. She was holding a small box that she held out to him wordlessly.  He looked up at her, then took the box in his hands, "If this is taffy, so help me..."

Marita grinned, and shook her head, "Just open it, Xavier."

He pulled her down into bed beside him, pressed a kiss to her lips, and rolled onto his stomach.  His fingers tugged at the navy ribbons, and the lush fabric fell away from the box easily.  The wrapping paper came away just as easily.  He glanced at her briefly before lifting the lid of the small box.  A grin spread across his face, "My favorite place to meet a woman - we should go back some time, to the concert hall.  Thank you, Marita - this is wonderful," he kissed her, again, before gazing at the delicate design.

The place would always hold memories for him. Happy memories. Not something he was entirely used to since taking on his current role with the Syndicate. He ran a thumb over the design, and pulled her closer to him.  He wanted to say something as he felt her turn, and press her back into him. But he didn't have the words, and opted instead to bask in the warmth of Marita's skin. Such warm skin for a woman who could be icy in the boardroom.

He practically wrapped himself around her, and the lay pressed together, his hand outstretched and still holding the gift.  X studied the design of the Kennedy Center, moonlight streaming through the window to illuminate the peaks of white and blue that stood out against the dark background of the piece.

X let out a slow breath, allowing his senses to be be overtaken. Coltrane continued to play softly from the living room. In their rush to get to bed, neither of them had remembered to turn it off. The delicate scent of sandalwood and flowers filled his nostrils, and he nuzzled his face into Marita's blonde hair to breathe in as much of the scent that he could. For the first time in a long time, the world felt peaceful. Right. So long had it been since he felt true human comfort, he found himself practically intoxicated by it. The last thing he remembered before drifting off was wanting to to tell her all these things. Instead he drifted off, hoping she knew how he felt.

When the alarm finally sounded the next morning, X was the first up. He slapped the clock's "off" button, and looked back to see Marita squinting at the nightstand. He planted a kiss on her forehead, and started to head into the bathroom, "Morning, Mare. Time to get up, it is nearly 7:30 already. Must have hit snooze one too many times this morning."

Marita groaned in response, and X laughed as he grabbed his toothbrush. "I am supposed to be meeting with a contact this morning, but I should be home in time for dinner."

"Anyone I know?" the groggy voice drifted in from the bedroom.

"No."

Just like X. No extraneous words when not needed. He had taught her that years ago.

A few minutes later, Marita made her way into the bathroom, and started up the shower, glancing at her groggy reflection. A shower was just the thing to take the edge off of the sleepiness that lingered after having been jolted out of a wonderfully peaceful slumber.

After holding a hand under the water to test the temperature she turned to see X still brushing his teeth. The feeling of domesticity was unmistakable, and it suddenly dawned on her that they were both standing in the bathroom completely nude. No pretense, no apprehension, no shame. Just a pair of people that, right now, could pass for a married couple, accustomed to the comforts of being well acquainted with every inch of the other person's body.

There was so much she wanted to tell X right now. So many feelings that were thick in the air without having had the luxury of being spoken.  Then again, expressing emotions and being candid and demonstrative had never been Marita's strong suits.  Maybe X knew how she felt. After all, theirs was a world of secrets and hidden meanings. Her eyes slid across his wide shoulders, and she wished that they were back in bed already.

"Like what you see?" he asked, words slightly garbled from a mouth full of toothpaste.

Marita rolled her eyes, but she couldn't help but smile. "I'm going to shower. I'd ask you to join me, but I need to be out the door in 25 minutes."

She heard him chuckle as she got into the shower, and was surprised to feel hands on her wet hips moments later, "Just in here to shower," he said, sounding sincere, "I have to be out of here by 8, as well."

A small kiss on the lips, and he was spreading soap across his well defined chest. Marita felt a warmth flush over her, but she quickly squelched it, and kept her mind on the deadlines for the day.

********************

Quonochautaug, RI

X moved behind the overgrown white meadowsweet, eventually ducking behind a small clump of grey birch trees.  It was far enough from the house, enough to escape the attention of the wandering parties who moved around the property.

He watched as the older woman made her way through the doors of the small beachside home, and wondered what kind of a life she used to live here.  Thoughts flashed through his head.  Thoughts of a young, vibrant brunette, eager and hopeful, laughing with friends, sipping cocktails under the stars.  Another thought emerged, this one of a smiling young woman who was watching her children play on the beach as her husband and his best friend water skied the afternoon away.  What a different world this poor older woman was in now.  A dark world of shadows and secrets, one in which she knew too much and could never breathe a word of it. She moved cautiously, as if she were being hunted.  In a way she was.  

A few tendrils of smoke preceded the tall man in the dark coat as he wound around a bank of shrubs and fruit trees. From his vantage point, X could see the Smoking Man's eyes narrow as he looked towards the house. For the briefest of moments, X could swear that he saw a smile touch the older man's lips.

But pleasure was, as he would say, fleeting.  He greeted her from a distance. She didn't look happy to see him.  

They spoke briefly, and things seemed to escalate quickly.

X could just make out the occasional phrase.

"How dare you!" Teena was visibly upset.  

X watched them.  He'd never seen the Smoking Man so riled up before, and he couldn't help but marvel at the potential power this woman had over her old flame.  More words exchanged before the wind brought him a bit more of the conversation.

"I gave you everything you said you wanted."

"You gave me everything you thought I wanted.  Everything except my daughter."

X frowned.  That got ugly fast.  He watched them argue, wondering why he was there.  "I need it," he heard.  X doubted the Smoking Man was demanding sex.

The next thing he heard was, "You'll never…"

Teena turned around, and stormed off.  And the Smoking Man followed her, shaking his finger at her, yelling at her.

Teena responded, turned on her heel, elegant in the way only she could be, and went back to her home, ignoring the man ranting behind her.  The door slammed, and he stood, alone.  After a few moments, he walked off.  But from where he stood, X could see Teena Mulder pacing the living room.  And he saw her reel, and then she dropped, disappearing from view.

X's footsteps were quick, and soon he had made his way through the previously locked door, and was kneeling beside the elder woman. She looked so peaceful, so patrician, even while lying unconscious on the wood floor of her summer home.  He put a few fingers to her neck -- she still had a pulse.  In an instant he was on the phone with emergency services, and it couldn't have been more than a few minutes later that he heard the wailing sirens approaching the house.  

By the time the flashing lights could be seen through the living room windows, X had slipped out the back door and was off to talk to this poor woman's son.   The agent may not like what X had to say, but he needed to hear it.  

********************

Marita pinched the bridge of her nose and took a deep breath. The last page of the hellishly long document she had been working on all day was finally finished. She clicked off the desk lamp, and shuffled the pages back into order, all the while her mind on Xavier. He had called her not too long ago, letting her know of the day's events, and telling her about Mrs. Mulder's ordeal. Marita couldn't help but feel sorry for the woman, knowing that Teena was, in many ways, just as trapped as she and Xavier were.

She also couldn't help but worry about Xavier. He had planned to meet in the shadows with Agent Mulder, betraying his superiors, telling Mulder things that were forbidden from being spoken outside of the Syndicate walls. It made her nervous, she could admit that much to herself.

After a fairly brief conversation, she and Xavier planned to meet that evening.  Xavier promised to tell Marita all about what had happened, including what steps were necessary at this point in the game. Marita slipped on her shoes, gathered up her things, and made her way down the hallway.  Hopefully she could get home in time to have drinks with Xavier, maybe even a quick bite to eat if she was lucky.

Over the past few months X and Marita both working 15 hour days, and trying to squeeze in time together when schedules permitted. Travel, tension within the Syndicate, and talk of "changing plans" kept them both busy most of the time. On the occasions that Xavier did manage to stop by Marita's apartment, their time together was a fury of passion that consumed them both. Hours blurred together as they explored one another's bodies, and whispered words that would never be spoken once they left the apartment building.

Still, sometimes as they lay twisted in Marita's crisp cotton sheets, she couldn't help but notice a darkness in his eyes. Something was happening within the group. Something big. And the tension and uneasiness of the situation lurked just below the surface, waiting to pounce. Problem is, neither of them knew exactly what "it" was.

Marita absentmindedly thanked the taxi driver who smiled at the sizable tip she left behind, and made her way into the apartment building she called home. After a quick "hello" to the doorman Henry, her mind began to drift again.  It drifted to Xavier's deep brown eyes, to her body writhing under his, to their future together, and finally to their roles at work.

They were both on the outskirts of the Syndicate organization. Fringe members for now. Pawns to be used until they fully proved their worth, or died trying. Marita could feel it, too. She could also feel herself changing inside. Growing hard and colder with every job that needed to be done. Xavier had once said that the group slowly froze a person's heart until there was little else left but ice. She believed him.

She just hoped that was all the Syndicate took. A chill ran up her spine, and she wrapped her arms around herself, glancing out of the window of her apartment. It was a fairly quiet night out there in the Upper West Side.  A light rain drifted down from the sky, dancing against the orange hued streetlights as it fell.

Time passed, and Marita looked at the mantle clock. Where the hell was Xavier? He should have been here hours ago. Something was wrong. She fought back the panic that knotted her stomach, and tried not to think about how close she had let herself get to a man who was as disposable to the Syndicate as she was. A queen and a bishop on the Syndicate chess board, as X once said. So easy to wipe off of the playing field.

And that was why she had been so against X going to talk to Agent Mulder. After everything that had happened, Mulder would be like a caged animal. He wouldn't be thinking rationally, and would likely be hostile to anyone he perceived as a threat to his mother's deteriorating health.

But X had stood firm in his decision. And while Marita admired his strength and conviction, she now sat alone in her apartment, fearful for his safe return. The shadow men of the Syndicate were everywhere, and it was patently unwise to betray them.  

Another shiver overtook her slender frame, and she got up to close the window, even though she knew logically that the shuddering did not come from the cold air breezing in past the sheer curtains.  

When the lock clicked behind her, it made her jump, and she whirled to face the door.

"Xavier? My god, what happened to you?"

She moved forward to see X bloodied and pained, obviously injured from punches. Thoughts raced through her head as he staggered in, slammed the door behind him, and shook off his overcoat. Had the Smoking Man found out about his betrayal in helping Mulder? Was it the First Elder teaching him a lesson in loyalty?

What X said next made Marita's mouth drop open. "Mulder and I had an...altercation in the parking garage. Things did not go as planned.  I wanted to stop home and get cleaned up before coming here, but I didn't want to keep you waiting any longer.  I was already late."

She helped him remove his coat, jacket, and tie, "Let's get you into a nice bath, and you can soak.  It'll help you feel better."

He nodded, "That sounds nice."  He moved close for a kiss, "It's good to see you."

She led him into the bathroom, "It's good to see you, too.  I was getting worried about you, and apparently I had good reason.  Are you all right?"

He removed the rest of his clothes as she started the water for the bath, "I'm okay.  I've been beat up a lot worse than this - and I've done even worse than that to others."

She turned to look at him, "He owes you better than this."

"He does.  And I returned the favor - he'll be wanting a nice soak, too.  And he doesn't have anyone to prepare it for him.  Or enjoy it with him."

She turned to smile at him, but couldn't hide her expression at the bruises showing on his dark skin.  "Xavier, I'm so sorry..."

He kissed her, "Don't be sorry.  This is an ugly business sometimes.  He's frustrated by what's happened to his sister, and his mother, and he doesn't want to let go of what little hope he has for her."

"How can you forgive him so easily?"

"I've been hurt much worse than this, Marita.  It's okay.  I'm okay.  Why don't you get in the bath with me?"

Steam swirled in the cool air of the bathroom, and a smirk touched Marita's lips, "And you really think *that* is going to make you feel better?"

He stepped into the deep, clawfoot tub, nodding, "Much, much better." He grabbed her hand, and Marita couldn't help but think of the affection of the touch.  She could sense it just beneath the skin. In answer to his comment, Marita squeezed his hand before releasing it.

X sank into the tub, as Marita lit a few candles and flicked off the harsh glow from the incandescent bulb overhead.  She tried to tell herself that it was more romantic this way, but it was a lie. She couldn't stand to see the bruises.

After slipping off the day's clothing, she slid into the tub in front of X. Her slight frame barely changed the water level, and he found himself wondering if she ate when they weren't together.  She never talked about a particularly good meal that she had when they were apart.  

His mind wandered from concern over her dietary habits, to stirring desire upon feeling the curve of her lower back as her slender form pressed lightly into his chest.  It felt good to be with her, and he knew how close he came tonight to being shot.  X closed his eyes to allow himself to take in all of the sensory stimuli around him. Lavender steam wafted into his nostrils, and warm water washed the ache from his muscles.  X moved his hand through the warm water, and ran it along Marita's arm.

When she caught his hand in hers, and grazed the palm with a kiss, he couldn't help but smile. Despite his comments to the contrary, he was shaken.  Not so much from the fight. Hell, he'd had his ass kicked worse than that.  No, he was shaken in a way that he hadn't been in years. Not for himself, but for her. He hated coming here, making her worry. He hated the thoughts of what could have happened in that parking garage.  Of potentially leaving her all too early because a fed lost his temper.

X placed an arm around her waist, and pulled her closer to him, wanting every inch of her in contact with his body.  Marita shifted and lay her head against his chest, "I'm glad you're alright," she murmured into his warm skin.

"Me too."

Nothing more was said as they sat together in the warm bath, watching the candlelight bounce off the walls.  Nothing more needed to be said. They both knew what this job was like. What could have been taken away from both of them.  Neither of them wanted to ponder the dark possibilities.  Instead, she showed her relief with fluttering kisses across his body, and he showed his appreciation with gentle touches.  It was a language they were both comfortable with, and the only one that seemed right under the circumstances.

When they finally went to bed, the kisses deepened, and the touches were like fire against her skin.  There was an urgency to his movements that were almost unrecognizable, an urgency that she could only attribute to the adrenaline that was still coursing through his veins. She rocked back and forth against him, one leg on either side of his hips, arching her back as his hands squeezed at her breasts.  

A pleasured yelp escaped Marita's lips as X's thrusts intensified, and she wondered if he was erasing his anger or pain with every movement.  The sound only served to encourage X.  With another few hard thrusts, sweet pain erupted within her core, and warmth spread over her entire body.

X followed shortly thereafter, and the two lay together panting, sweat still beaded on their skin.  Marita looked over, and in between breaths, "You know, until you, I never," she felt suddenly self-conscious and couldn't continue. X didn't need her to.

Eyebrows raised, and his deep voice sounded mildly amused, "You're kidding. Really?"  She moved closer, draping a leg over his thigh, "Really. Well, not with anyone. I mean, sure, alone, in a hotel in Russia or Morocco or Afghanistan..."

"And now I know why your battery budget was so high."

Marita playfully slapped one of the few non-injured areas of his arm, "Funny, Francie."

"Hey," he warned, but smiled, "Why not, anyway?"

Marita's eyebrows raised in confusion, but lowered again once the question became clear, "Too much vulnerability in those few moments. In case you didn't notice, I'm not the trusting type."

"You're kidding?" X feigned shock, but understanding soon covered his features. He obviously wasn't the trusting type either.

He thought about the first time he stayed over at her apartment.  She looked nervous making the offer, and he looked apprehensive accepting.  It was one thing to trust a person with your life during your waking hours, it was something else entirely to sleep beside them.

 

He stroked her hair absentmindedly, lost in thought.  He kissed her head, "I suppose I understand.  And I'm honored by your trust."

She moved closer to him, "As I am honored by yours."

He sighed, "I'm afraid I've gotten accustomed to spending lots of time with you."

"Is that a bad thing?"

He chuckled, "Yes and no.  It's very habit forming."  He kissed her head, "What do we have for dinner, anyway?  I'm so hungry tonight."

********************

"We have a train car problem," the Smoking Man stated.

Marita waited patiently.

Smoke was exhaled slowly, "Someone leaked video of an autopsy from one of the boxcar clinics.  Agent Mulder is starting to ask questions.  Marita, I would like you to investigate the leak."

"Me, Sir?  I'm not familiar with the boxcar employees."

"That's exactly why I want you to investigate.  Someone familiar with the employees, and the operation, may miss something.  You'll be new to it, and you'll be more likely to spot any problems and clues."

"Yes, Sir."

"I'm going to ask X to put you in touch with one of my lead agents on Project Treehouse.  Remember, everyone is suspect, including the project managers."

"I will, Sir."

"That is all.  Come back to me with your findings - even if your investigation is not conclusive, any direction for my own investigation will be appreciated."

And the unspoken instruction - if she could find out exactly who was responsible, it would be a feather in her cap.  "Is that all, Sir?"

"Yes.  X should be in touch with you early this afternoon."

"Thank you, Sir."

********************

"What do you know about the boxcar project?"

"The Syndicate conducts medical experiments in the traincars.  Sometimes on humans, sometimes on colonists, sometimes on the abominations we've created with our own meddling in God's domain.  It's an unpleasant business I've never had any reason to learn more about, and never wanted to." X's face seemed harder than usual. Angry, sad, disgusted. She couldn't quite make out which.

Marita considered his words for a minute, "Have you ever been in one of them? A traincar, I mean. Have you ever seen any of the "abominations”?"

X frowned, "I've seen things that haunt my dreams. Things I don't want to see, or think about, ever again."

Marita got the hint woven not so subtly through his tone, and let the topic of abominations drop.  Judging by the look on his face, the things they did were horrific, and she didn't feel the need to press him for more information. Chances are, she wouldn't get any more out of him anyway.  

X seemed so much more tense these days.  Things were again heating up again at the Syndicate.  Small fissures were starting to show in the Elders' solidarity as tempers bubbled over into full verbal assaults.  Long held secrets were unshrouded, and work unraveled by curious agents and people who wanted "the truth" (whatever that was now) was uncovered for the public to see.  

Sometimes Marita wondered who the real villains were in all of this. Would complete disclosure, and potential panic of the world's population, really be a good thing? Maybe some secrets were destined to remain hidden.  Maybe not. One thing was certain, though: It was taking its toll on her, and X was starting to look as tired as she felt.

X set his hand on her leg, "Sort of on that same topic, I've had an idea."

"What's that?"

"Agent Mulder is an undeniable pain the the ass.  But he's also undeniably stubborn.  I think we can use him for our own purposes."

"How so?"

"Well, there are things we don't like going on..."

"Right..." Comprehension flashed in her eyes, and she nodded, "Oh, I see.  We can use him to make the Syndicate back off of our least favorite projects."

He nodded, "And we can use him to drive interest in our own favorites.  Really, I got the idea from Krycek - last time I saw him, he mentioned that anything can be made into a resource, if you think about it the right way."

"So...what are you thinking?"

"He's already onto the boxcar project, he just doesn't know it yet.  I think we should drive him to pursue it, and heat things up even more."

Marita was silent for a minute, and he could tell that she was pondering all possible outcomes. Detailed and thorough to the brink of neurotic paranoia - she had learned at the knee of the master.  He also knew that she felt the same way he did -- that some truths needed to be protected, while others begged to be exposed to all the right people.  

The Syndicate had become something that Ronald had begun to loathe.  Too much power in too few hands, he had once said. And his selfless quest to expose some of the inner-mechanisms of the shadow group was ultimately what caused his brutal end.  

X was eager to have some Syndicate truths exposed, not so willing to wind up like Ronald because of it.  No, the two of them, him and Marita...hell, even Krycek...would have to be cunning about this. Shrewd masterminds that merely worked the right puppet strings.  He too had learned from his mentor.

Finally, Marita spoke, although her voice was much softer than her usual tone.  This told X that she wasn't entirely convinced. "With some precautions, and a healthy amount of luck, I think we can make it work."

X scratched his head, "I know just how to confirm for him that he's onto something big."

"How do you plan to do that?"

"How else?  I'll ransack his apartment.  It won't take long, and it'll convince him to keep looking.  I can find time for that after I see you to the current center of operations."

She smiled a little, "How do you find time for it all?"

With a quick wink, X turned, and Marita watched him walk out the door.

He moved through alleyways and shadows until he finally reached Mulder's apartment. The lights were off, so it was a pretty safe assumption that he wasn't home.  With a deep breath he made his way up the back stairwell of the building.

Sometimes X really had to wonder why he hadn't gone into the gloriously peaceful candy making business like his family.  

********************

Time passed. Tense time. Time that left Marita and X feeling on edge. Some mornings, most mornings, she awoke to feel the weight of the world on her shoulders. She wondered if X felt the same. Her heels clicked in time with her heart's pounds as she made her way down the hallway.

As she rounded the corner, still at a brisk pace, she stopped short nearly running into Xavier.  "Come with me," she said tersely, ducking into the room next to them - a storage closet.

He followed, his bulk blocking the doorway, "What is it, Ms. Covarrubias?"

"This investigation is not making me a happy woman.  Apparently the boys in the boxcar division have been at war with one another.  Trying to steal one another's work.  But there's a bigger problem."

"What's that?"

"Agent Mulder's trying to track down one of the boxcars.  But my review of the security footage shows me that Rival A planted a bomb on it."

"It would be a shame to lose all that work if Agent Mulder were to set it off."

"It would.  But it gets worse.  Rival B exposed the patient to the Ebola virus. To make sure that the good doctor won't be a rival anymore.  But he also planted strains of it in the medical equipment.  The breathing masks.  The gloves.  The surgical ventilation system."

"What are you telling me?"

"If that bomb goes off, the surgical ventilation system might not burn thoroughly enough to kill the virus.  An entire population could be infected if the powder that contains the virus were to be spread on the wind."

X's jaw set, "We have quarantine that boxcar."

"If no one enters the boxcar, it should remain safe until we can take custody of it."

"I'll get a message to Agent Mulder immediately."

********************

In the poorly lit hallway outside of Mulder's apartment, Scully shuffled through her keys, finally wrapping her fingers around the one she wanted. She made her way down the hallway, when a voice stopped her in her tracks.

"Agent Scully." A deep voice coming from the shadows. It was familiar, smooth, commanding. She whirled on her heel to see X standing down the hallway. He started to walk towards her.

"What are you doing here?" She tried to keep her voice steady, but something about this man jostled her - made the hairs on her arms stand on end.

"Have you spoken to Agent Mulder?" The cagey look on Scully's face was something he hadn't noticed until now. It wasn't anything like the calm, poised look that Marita often wore.

"No, why?" Scully practically spat.


X lowered his voice the slightest hint, "He's in danger."

Her brow furrowed for a fraction of a second, "How do you know?"

X moved closer, "He's tracking a train. You can't let him get on it."

"I don't know what you're talking about." The words came out harsh, almost panicked, as she flung the door to Mulder's apartment open. She rushed inside, and began to shut the door in his face. Damn, this little redhead could be a pain in the ass.

X's hand shot out and slammed against the door, forcing it open. "You've got to get word to him."


She was frowning now, but at least she wasn't trying to shut the door on his face again. "Why should I trust you? You've lied to us before."

X fought back an eye roll that would make a pre-teen jealous, and tried not to sigh. Why the hell didn't she understand the urgency of the situation? He was suddenly thankful for Marita's trust and knowledge of the Syndicate's inner workings. "You're wasting time. Do you understand?"

Scully stared at him.

"You know how to get in touch with him.  Do it."

There was an urgency in his voice that made Scully act.  She reached for her cell phone, hitting 3 buttons in quick succession.

X could hear the phone ringing.  He heard the beep as Mulder answered his phone.  He could barely hear Mulder's voice on the other end of the line, "Mulder."

There were no niceties exchanged - she got right to business. "Mulder, don't get on the train."

"Why not?"


"Because they know where you are," Scully paused as the connection cut out, "and they know what you're doing."

"Who told you that?"

"Look, Mulder, it's just too dangerous."

"Who told you, Scully?"

"It's coming, Scully."

"Let it go."

"I can't."

"Mulder, don't get on the train." Scully repeated imperatively.  She and X both heard rumbling through the phone's tiny speaker.  

"Mulder. Mulder!" the redhead did know how to up the volume.  X was a little surprised.

Mulder landed with a loud thump, and suppressed a yelp of pain as his legs compressed under the jarring drop of his body weight. The phone slipped out of his hand on impact, and he struggled to reach it as it slid over the side of the traincar. Aw, Damn it.

Arms outstretched, he began to make his way towards the other end of the car. His attempts to steady himself were not going as well as he had hoped, and his legs felt like jelly. It reminded him of the time his parents had taken him and Sam to the carnival, and they had let them both ride the Scrambler nine times in a row. It's funny how memories will crop up in your mind at the strangest times.

With small steps he inched forward, not knowing whether to be thrilled or terrified. He settled for both.

Back in Mulder's apartment, X knew with a sinking feeling that the agent had just made his life immensely more difficult.

"Mulder? Answer me!" Scully was sounding frazzled, but finally gave up, hitting the button on her phone. She turned a glare towards X, "I want to know what's on that train."

"It doesn't matter now."

"Our government is operating a secret railroad. They put something on that train in West Virginia, something living."

For a brief second X found her naivete charming. It must be nice to operate in the confines of society, knowing so little of the dark underbelly of the government, "What more is there to know?"

Scully was getting annoyed, he could see it on her face, "What the Japanese have to do with it. How a man named Ishimaru is involved."

There was only so much the FBI agent should know. Not everything could be up for discussion, "That I don't know."  X turned to leave, but found himself staring at a gun.

"Don't tell me you don't know, you smug son of a b..."  In one quick motion X's hand shot forward, snatching the gun from her grip. He had spent too long in the shadowy underworld to be caught off guard by a brandished gun held by a slightly hysterical federal agent. She stared at him in shock.

When he spoke, his voice was deadly calm, and full of warning, "There are limits to my knowledge." She didn't need to know that right now those limits were self-imposed.

"I don't have time for your convenient ignorance."

"What were you going to do? Shoot me? Just like the men that shot your sister?"

"You know them too?"

"You want to know what's on that train? Who killed your sister? You find out what they put in your neck."

"The implant," her voice held a wondrous quality, as though she hadn’t thought of evidence being under her own skin.  Perhaps she hadn’t.

X held her in his gaze for a few seconds before responding, "It holds more than I could ever tell you. Maybe everything you need to know."  With a turn of his wrist he faced the gun handle towards Scully, and handed her weapon back to her.  Scully took it gingerly from his hand, and he walked out, leaving her speechless.  

*****
TRAINYARD

********

Marita hung up her phone, turning to face the Syndicate members present - The Second Elder.  The one who had given her this investigation.

"What's going on?" he asked.

Marita took a deep breath - this had to be done just right.  "Agent Mulder is on the train."

The Second Elder stood silently.  Time stretched into an eternity before he spoke, "Find out if our dueling doctors had an operative on the train, as protocol dictates.  Find out who it is, and tell me your plan.  We can't let mass infection be the result of this foolishness."

"Yes, Sir," Marita answered.  She didn't dare disappoint him.  She turned on her heel and stalked out of the room, heading toward the hallway where she had the rivals isolated in two different rooms.

********************

A key clinked in the lock of Marita's door before it swung open revealing an exhausted, and fairly pissed, Xavier.  Before Marita had a chance to say a word, X's deep voice cut through the room, "That man is a pain in the ass."

He shrugged off his long overcoat, and dropped it onto the nearby chair with a sigh. Marita stood and walked to where he stood, "How did it go?"

He shook his head, paused for a few minutes, then spoke, "I had to haul his dead weight over my shoulder to get us out of there before the damn thing exploded. So...it went better than it could have. Thank God it's Friday..." The corner of her mouth turned upward at the understated cliche typically reserved for office workers.

He leaned forward to plant a kiss on Marita's lips, and savored the fleeting moment. She was the one thing normal in his life, something oddly pure in an otherwise contorted, dark world.

She cocked her head to the side, thinking for a moment, "We should get out of town."

X raised an eyebrow, surprised at the sudden, flatly stated comment.  "What did you have in mind?"

Marita smiled, shrugging, and reaching for her phone, "Give me a minute."

He nodded, and moved into the bathroom to clean himself up a bit. As X splashed water on his face, he could hear Marita's soft, cool tone drifting through the other room. It was only a few minutes later that she appeared in the bathroom mirror.  "Pack your bag, Xav."

"Kicking me out already, Covarrubias?"

She shot him a look as he dried his face, "We are spending the weekend in the Virgin Islands. She turned, calling out over her shoulder, "Pack fast, our flight is in an hour."

X couldn't help but smile to himself. He didn't know if it was in anticipation of a tropical vacation, if it was watching Marita's unapologetic, take charge way of handling things, or if it was the way the two of them shared one large suitcase like a long married couple. Whatever it was, he was happy. A happy man who had forgotten his otherwise atrocious day saving Mulder from himself.

An hour later the two of them were on a small plane as it flew over the ocean.  X was wearing a lightweight, button up shirt and a pair of jeans. The casual look was a strange thing to see on him, and it made her smile. Her small hand squeezed his as she looked out the window. The water below, miles of distance between them and work. She felt like a bird being let out of a gilded cage.  

*******************

X walked behind Marita as she made her way up the sand covered walkway. The sand below her feet crunched when she walked, and she noticed how very pink the brick path looked in the moonlight. She cast a glance back to X. It had been like torture on the plane, watching his warm lips sip champagne, enjoying the feel of his large fingers caressing her hand. By the time they had landed on the island she was practically throbbing with desire.

She shifted her gaze forward, "Well, this is us."  She made her way up the painted wood steps of a little white cottage that sat perched above a private beach.  Somehow, unbeknownst to him, the woman had rented a cottage right on the water. The breeze felt invigorating against his skin, and the palm trees that swayed reminded him of a long ago family trip to Hawaii when he was a little boy. His eyes caught on the bright teal fabric of the lounge chairs on the large wooden balcony as Marita opened up the door to the cottage.

Taking his hand, she pulled him inside, making her way to the window.  She surveyed the view of the waves, opening the window to allow the cool sea breeze to drift into the room. She heard X drop the luggage, before feeling his arms wrap around her waist. "It's beautiful, Mare. Thank you."  He kissed the back of her neck, breathing in the scent of flowers growing just outside.

She turned to face him, and planted a kiss on his lips, "I'm happy we're here. I didn't think that flight would ever end..." He grinned, his white teeth flashing in the darkness of the room.  She pushed him back towards the bed, feeling a desperate hunger washing over her.  It was only seconds later she was straddling him, stripping of her silk blouse, pressing her lips against his.  He tasted of champagne and sea air, his skin warm to the touch, and she vowed to never forget the sweet sensations of this exact moment.

She liked to think that this was just animal lust, but she knew that is was more than that. Traincars, viruses,  contaminants, explosions, threats, death...it wasn't just that she wanted him. Right now she needed him. He was hers to claim. Hers to protect. Both of them away from the eyes and claws of the Syndicate, if only for a few blissful days.

She nipped at his neck, and he let out a throaty laugh, pushing her skirt up around her hips so that he could slip a hand into her panties. She was so wet.  The pooled warmth against his hand made him hard.  The lace of her panties brushed against the back of his hand as he swirled his fingers around her most sensitive spot. Marita's head dropped back, and she let out a gasp, grinding herself against the hardness between her legs.

He shifted his arms, positioning a hand on each of her hips, and guided her forward until she was straddling his face. A quick tug, and her panties were torn from her, discarded on the cottage floor. She never liked them anyway. The lace had always been too scratchy.

His tongue circled expertly, and she gripped the headboard for support.  Teeth gently nibbled at her before she was sucked into his mouth, each tongue flicker sending her closer to the edge of ecstasy.  Another gasp as she rocked back and forth against his face. Her body had a mind of its own now, and it was everything she could do not to let out a scream as she came.  Her body shook and trembled, and before long she lay in a heap beside him, still panting.

"I could do that all day," he said into her hair, as he pulled her closer.  

"No arguments here," Marita said before kissing him.  She moved to push away his pants and boxers.  A hand moved along his shaft, squeezing, sliding up and down rhythmically. He was rock hard, and she ran her tongue against his tip a few times before he started thrusting against her lips. He was close, she could tell.

Marita moved a leg over him, and soon she was lowering herself onto him slowly, gasping as she moved.  She straddled him, now, and began moving her hips in a circle 8, tightening with each turn.  He let out a low groan, thrusting upwards as she gyrated. Soon enough, he was pumping harder, and Marita was bouncing up and down against him.

"So...close..." she grunted out, as he ground into her. A few more thrusts, and X let out a low growl as he shot into her. Her own body tightened around him, and her waves of pleasure only served to fuel his own orgasm.

Minutes later the two of them lay intertwined, listening to the waves crashing against the shoreline as they drifted off to sleep.

The next morning, Marita and X woke up late, a rare luxury after years of setting the alarm seven days a week.  The two of them eventually set off to get breakfast before lounging on the beach all morning.  They had talked about going shopping, seeing the sights, maybe making some cultural stops...but when all was said and done, they didn't move from the beach until the afternoon. The warm sun and cool breeze, all while spending uninterrupted time together, was too much to give up for some paltry activities. The siren's call of peace and simplicity was too powerful for either of them to resist.

Occasionally they would leave the shade of the umbrellas to splash and play in the waves, swimming out a ways before heading back to the beach. X surprised her by suggesting they put together a sand castle that turned out remarkably bad. She wondered if it was because it had been so long since either of them had built one, or maybe they were just artistically challenged.  Still, she had to admit that it was nice to have some childish fun for a while. No pretentious DC galas, or clandestine NY meetings with the Syndicate. Just the simplicity of happiness. Something both of them had far too little of in their daily lives.

By the time the late afternoon arrived they were famished.  A day of tropical drinks and beach hors d'oeuvres only went so far.  They went back to shower and dress before heading out in search of an early dinner.  The sun was already starting to sink low in the sky, and it cast a rich orange glow across the brilliant blue water.  The wandered down a cobblestone street, stopping in front of an adorable old woman who was selling flowers.  Vibrant reds clashed beautifully against the deep greens and sunny yellows. It was a chaotic web of colour.  X picked up a small bundle of brightly coloured blooms, and paid the woman more than she was asking. Marita smiled when she took the flowers from X, and the two of them continued on hand in hand.

The sun's gentle rays were fading now as they rounded the corner onto a new path. This one stretched out past sand and bushes, finally ending at a restaurant. A small local place with whitewashed furniture and a brightly painted deck. The food smelled amazing, and it wasn't yet crowded.  They had both grown a bit wary of crowds, so eating at a less populated place was always a treat.  

As they sat across from one another over a candlelit table, Marita couldn't help but ponder if this was what it was like for "normal" couples. If everyday was like a holiday for them.  Sure they likely had their problems, but there were probably no government cover-ups or conspiracies, no smallpox schemes or bullets, no alien invasions that would destroy life on earth...just the two of them having a normal dinner, and talking about their normal days at work...X looked at her over his water glass, "Everything all right, Mare?"

She smiled, nodding, "Just happy. This was nice. This is nice. I wish we could just move here and forget all about work."  


X let out a small chuckle, and shook his head, "The problem is work wouldn't forget about us. Not yet anyway. Someday, Mare. Someday, we retire, maybe right here. Old and grey, but free."

A small frown touched her lips as she thought of the working years at the Syndicate that still stretched out before her.  X leaned down to meet her eyes, "We have time. We'll retire someday. And nothing wrong with being old and grey. Consider the alternative."

She smiled, raising her rum punch, "To freedom, no matter how old we may be."

*******************

Krycek sat in the outer lounge of the Syndicate offices, drinking something clear from a highball glass.  He stood as she walked out of the boardroom, “Covarrubias.”

She hesitated, “Krycek.”

“Got a job for you.”

She stared at him, “What’s that?”

“I’ve gotta get something to Russia. I heard that you’re headed over there, soon.”

“What is it?”

“A small vial. Sealed glass cushioned inside a metal case, about the size of a pack of cigarettes.”

She glanced around, “I can do that, but...”

He flashed an unnerving smile, “So suspicious.  Everything’s on the up and up - this is sanctioned by the Elders.”

She looked relieved, “I never doubted you.”

“When are you leaving?”

“Tomorrow, in the afternoon.”

“I’ll meet you with the vial late tonight. Your place?”

“Someone might see you.  Sally’s Cafe.”

“11?”

“Sure.”

With a nod, she turned on her heel and walked out the door. Alex watched her ass sway as she walked. If only he could get a piece of that. But she was very clearly with X, and he didn't feel like creating any tension between the three of them. Not now when they still had much to do.

Marita walked around the corner of the hallway, and saw X heading into the elevator. She quickened her pace, "Hold the door!" she called out as the doors to the lift started to close. He grinned at the sound of her voice, and pushed the "Doors Open" button just long enough for her to join him. She smiled, "Thanks."

She craved the feel of his skin under her fingertips, but they didn't dare touch one another in this lift. There were cameras covering every square inch of the Syndicate offices -- the hallway, the boardroom, probably even the bathrooms. No, it would have to wait.

Xavier pushed the P1 button, and the machine dinged to life. "So, any thrilling jobs coming up that you can talk about, Covarrubias?"

"Just a vial drop off in Russia. Elder sanctioned, so Krycek tells me. You?"

“The usual. Keeping up with my F.B.I. job, and trying to keep up with all my contacts. Information gathering is almost a full-time job.”

“I’ll agree with that.”

The elevator arrived at the ground floor, and they went their separate ways.

She took a cab to work, and when she went to pay, found a note in her purse.  “Forget whatever we agreed to.  Meet me at Percival’s at midnight - bring the Candyman, if possible. Tell the doorman you’re with Sandy Stevens.”

Marita frowned.  Then she remembered where she was, paid the cab driver, and got out.

She and X arrived at Percival’s, a high-class nightclub, just before midnight.  She wasn’t surprised that dropping the name Sandy Stevens got them past the bouncer instantly.  They found Alex at the bar, surrounded by a throng of women.  He smirked when he saw X and Marita - “Hit the road, ladies.  Sandy has business to attend to.”  He spoke in a thick Irish accent.

“Secret spy stuff?” one of the girls asked.

He nodded, “Yep.  Secret spy stuff. And we need privacy. The I.R.A. never rests, and neither can we.”

The women left, and he flagged down the bartender, “Another vodka for me, and what for my guests?”

X was chuckling softly, and motioned to Marita, "Ladies first."

"Well, obviously, I'll have an Irish Coffee in honour of Sandy, here."

"Excellent!" Krycek looked to X, "Candyman?"

"Sidecar, please, Mr. Stevens."

Alex waved away the bartender, then turned to X and Marita," C'mon, I have a private booth reserved in back. We have things we need to discuss."  

The three of them found their way through the crowd to a small booth towards the far side of the club. It was private -- secluded, despite the fact that there were people moving about the area.  In a way, that made it even more private. The three of them weren't so far removed that they seemed shady or secretive. Just three friends enjoying a drink together after a long day at work.  Krycek had once said that blending in was the best way to wrestle privacy from society. He was right.

"So," Marita began as the waitress set their drinks down on the table. Krycek winked, and slipped her a $50. "Why did you bring us here at midnight? What's going on?"

“We all work long hours.  Midnight was my best chance to see both of you.”  He sipped his vodka, and munched on some of the nut mix on the table, “You both probably know that the Syndicate hasn’t been kind to me lately.  After the Smoking Man tried to have me killed a few months ago, especially.  It’s been a little rough - and in a few days, I’m going to go rogue. Again.  The Smoking Man is going to be seriously pissed off, in particular.  But I want you to know that I’m still with you.”

Marita frowned but nodded, "Sounds like a good reason to go rogue, and your secret is safe with us. Is there anything you need?"

Alex shook his head, "Nothing that I know of yet. I'm thinking of heading to...somewhere in Asia for a while.  Maybe Hong Kong, Singapore...I'll be in touch when I can."

"Thanks for keeping us apprised of the situation," X's smooth voice cut in, "You know we can help with whatever you need. Maybe someday you'll be returning the favour if I am ever lucky enough to be on the run."

Alex nodded, “I appreciate the offer.  I’ve got someone who can get a message to me, if needed.  Call this number, and leave a callback for Professor Rook. I won’t involve either of you in my plans - the Syndicate doesn’t play nice, and I wouldn’t want this to reflect on you.”

X nodded, sipping his drink, “So...what are you hoping to accomplish?”

Alex shrugged, “I’m looking to increase my bankroll, and my reputation as a man bold enough to do anything. If the Syndicate knows I can be that man, I think it’ll place me in a position to rise in the ranks much faster.  Even if they do respect me less for it.”

Alex glanced over his shoulder, surveying the room. When he turned back to face the two of them his green eyes had a sharp look behind them, "You know how those Syndicate pricks are. It may be the twentieth century, but in a lot of their eyes I'm still," his voice took on a thick Russian accent, "I am, how you say, the dirty commie."  

With a wry grin he tossed back the rest of his drink, "I can't stay," he got up with a nod, "I'll be in touch." And with that he disappeared into the small crowd, leaving only a faint smell of leather behind.

Marita and X glanced at each other. The sense of tension still hung thick in the air, and X took another sip of his drink, wondering when he and Mare would have a chance to be finished with this tangled web.

****************************************************************************

October 1996

"I don't like it," Marita said, brushing a piece of stray lint from his wool coat.

"What could go wrong?" he asked, forcing a smile. She knew he was nervous about this, too.

He reached over to the dresser, and plucked something up into his large hand.  Seconds later, he was fastening the tie pin — the one given to him months ago by Marita — to his tie. "After all, I am wearing my lucky tie tack."

She smiled, looking down at the delicately painted Kennedy Center that graced the front of the pin.

"Reminds you of happier times, too, I'd say. Judging by the look on your face." She looked up in time to catch a smile and a wink.

"Just be careful, Xavier."  

A nod. Two actually. It made Marita wonder if he was trying to convince himself, "Always." He looked at his watch, "We'd better get going if I am going to get there in time. Are you sure you want to come with me?"

Marita thought for a moment. She didn't honestly know why she wanted to go. It's not as though she would be going with him to the apartment, and he certainly didn't need a lookout or anything.

Still, there was something dark and uneasy hovering over them both today. She couldn't put her finger on what it was, but it was there. A sense of foreboding. Danger. It made her uncomfortable, and in some small and strange way, being there would ease her mind. She would know instantly that he was all right, and the two of them could enjoy a nice long drive back home together in the cold night air.

Marita nodded, "Yes, I'm sure. You never know. You may need me."

X nodded, grabbing her coat, and holding it out for her, "Well, how can I argue with that. Let's go. The sooner we leave, the sooner we can get home to a nice, hot bath and a fire in the fireplace."

She smiled, and hoped that it would all work out as peacefully as it sounded when X said it.

As they drove through the streets, Marita couldn't shake her fears. Thoughts whirled in her head, and faces of men she didn't trust hid in the corners of her mind.  She told herself she was being foolish about the whole thing, that they had done more than a few of these jobs together, and they all turned out fine. Still...

"Penny for your thoughts, Marita?"

Marita moved her gaze from the trees outside to X's strong profile. "How could you tell I was thinking anything at all?"

X let out what sounded like a small chuckle, "Because when you are thinking, particularly when you are concerned, you get this cute little line that crinkles right above the bridge of your nose."

Marita's hand went up to feel her upper nose. She felt nothing, and shook her head. "You, Francis, watch me too closely," she said with a smile.

"And you, Marita OLGA Covarrubias, are always thinking. I have plenty of opportunities to see it in action."

She looked out the window again.  Houses went past the windows. Beautiful little homes with picket fences, flower gardens, vegetable patches. She wondered if she would ever have a normal life. She also wondered if she was merely lamenting the road unexplored and not taken.  Truth be told, Marita knew no other life. The idea of being a bored housewife in the suburbs didn't much appeal to her the more she thought about it.

"Are you sure you have all your bases covered, X?"

He glanced over at her, then back to the road, "As much as we ever can in this job. Things should go well..."

He paused, and took a breath, "But, Mare, if they don't for some reason..."

"No," Marita interrupted, catching X off guard. "Things will go fine."  She reached for the radio dial. Enough talking. She didn't want to hear what he would say next. "How about some music?"

He nodded, but he couldn't let the thought go. She needed to know, just in case. "You're ready, Mare. You've learned everything I ever knew. Hell, probably quite a bit more."

Marita tried to let the sounds of Artie Shaw drown out her thoughts, and the remainder of the trip was filled with a melancholy tension.

They both felt a sense of relief when they pulled up near Mulder's building.  She squeezed his hand once, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. "Until later?"

He smiled at her, running a hand along her hair, "Until later."

And with that, X got out of the car, and made his way towards the building's side entrance.  She watched his large frame disappear into the shadows, and sat back in her seat, trying to relax.  

A few minutes later, Marita was getting fidgety and tense, just like before.  She flicked on the radio, and set the volume to low.  Frank Sinatra's Strangers in the Night filled the car, and Marita finally took a deep breath. Maybe things would be all right after all.

She sank further into the chair, already looking forward to a hot bath and a roaring fire.

That's when she heard the gunshot.  

The click clack of her shoes sounded like bullets exploding to Marita's own ears. She raced up the stairs, stopping on Mulder's floor. Her hand trembled as she reached for the doorknob that led out to the hallway.  Maybe he was fine.

Maybe Xavier was in Mulder's apartment right now, telling him all about the case. Or telling him to go fuck himself. She'd be happy with either because it meant that he was safe.

Marita had also done this work long enough to know that she was lying to herself. She knew something was wrong.

Trembling fingers gripped the doorknob, and she turned it slowly. It squeaked as the door gave way.  She stepped out into the hallway, and a sob hitched in her throat. Xavier lay motionless in a rapidly growing pool of blood. She dropped to her knees beside him, and touched two fingers to his neck, feeling for a pulse.

Nothing.

She pulled her fingers back, now sticky with blood. She wanted to scream or cry. Instead she shook silently, her body racked with quiet sobs. Her eyes drifted down over his form.

In one hand he held onto the tie tack.  The one that she had given him. Why had he been clutching it in his last moments? A thought flashed through her brain. He was seeking comfort. A happy memory as his soul was ushered away from terra firma. The thought turned her sobs into full on weeping.  

Tears hit the ground below. Why the hell didn't someone call the police yet? An ambulance? Something? There should be people swarming this building by now. But there was only silence. Broken occasionally by the sound of her breath hitching in her throat.

Her eyes cast down, tears splashing against the sleeve of his dark coat. He loved that coat. Her hands tightened around the tie tack, and she vowed silently to keep it safe for him. Tucked away where no one could hurt it. She wished that she could have done the same for him.

Marita's eyes drifted back to the floor, and that was when she noticed the SRSG. Written in his own blood. A sickening last message to some, but to Marita it was much more.

He was telling her that she was ready. Passing along the reins to his predecessor. Ronald had not had the time or strength to leave a similar message urging Xavier to take over for him.  Then again, X was always more organized, more prepared.  She remembered lying in bed with him one rainy afternoon.

He told her that if he were to be killed by the far reaching tentacles of the Syndicate, he would find a way to let her know if she was ready to carry on his legacy of the truth.

She had rolled over onto one arm, frowning at him. Telling him not to say things like that. Marita wouldn't even let them say "Goodbye" to one another when they parted company at work or home.  

"Too much finality in that phrase," she said, kissing his lips, his scratchy beard rubbing against her chin. From that day on, it was always, "Until later."

Now, as Marita stood here in this lonely hallway, she wished that later had never come. Not like this anyway. She had almost convinced herself that the very scene before her would never happen. But it had.

She kissed her fingertips, brushing them against his cool lips. "I love you, Francis," she whispered, hoping that he would open his eyes and chastise her playfully for using his real name. But he didn't.    

Marita heard the low hum of sirens from off in the distance. So someone had heard a shot.

When she felt a hand on her shoulder, she jumped, and spun to face whoever lurked behind her in the shadows.

"Mare..." Krycek started, running a nervous hand through his hair, "I'm sorry...I heard what happened..."

He put an arm around her, and helped her steady herself on her feet. His mouth turned down into a frown as he surveyed Xavier, and the tears falling from Marita's cheeks.

As gently as his gruff voice could manage, "C'mon, Mare. The cops are on their way. We'll make sure he gets a proper funeral after everything is taken care of tonight."

Marita closed her eyes, thought for a moment or two, and then nodded.  The two of them walked back towards the stairs, but not before Marita glanced back, "Until later, Xavier."

It was a quiet ride back to Marita's apartment.  She was staring steadfastly out the window, watching the dark scenery fly past them.  Krycek sat in silence - mainly because he didn't know what to say.  He wasn't exactly the warm and fuzzy type, and he had no clue what to tell a woman who had just seen her gunned down lover in the hallway of a generic apartment block.  At one point he started to speak, but the words caught in his throat, and before he could try again, the thoughts had passed.

"Do..." Marita started, gathering her thoughts for a moment before continuing. Her voice was thick with grief, "Do you think he suffered?"

"Shit," Krycek thought. "How the hell do you answer that? The man was gunned down, and still had time to write a note in his own body fluids. It couldn't have been that quick for him..."

Marita's red rimmed eyes fixed on Krycek, and he swallowed hard. "I'm sure he went quick. He wasn't in pain long, if at all."

Marita knew he was lying, but she appreciated him trying to comfort her in some way. "Thank you, Alex."

He reached over and took her hand, giving it a squeeze,"Welcome, Mare. What do you say we head back to your place, get drunk off our asses, and toast to our fallen comrade?" Marita nodded, forcing a tiny smile to appear on her face. It all seemed so familiar.

"I'm staying with you tonight. You don't need to be alone on a night like this."  

Marita gave Krycek's hand a small squeeze, "Thank you."

Krycek nodded, swerving the car to the fast lane, "Don't mention it."  His voice was thick, and she swore she saw a tear in the corner of those wolf-like green eyes, but she keep quiet.

Now wasn't the time. Tonight, they would drink to X's memory. Drink until the pain of loss was dulled. Tomorrow, she would plan the funeral. Something tasteful. Something he would want to attend if he were still alive. And in the months following that, she would be contacted by Agent Mulder. A man that she currently blamed, at least in part, for the death of Xavier. But what could she do? This was all part of the Syndicate chess board, and the queen must play on until the end.

********************

February 1995 End Game
May 1996 Talitha Cumi

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~* REFERENCE: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X_%28The_X-Files%29 *~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~

 

***** ALTERNATE (HAPPIER) ENDING ***** Laughing

October 1996

"I don't like it," Marita said, brushing a piece of stray lint from his wool coat.

"What could go wrong?" he asked, forcing a smile. She knew he was nervous about this, too.

He reached over to the dresser, and plucked something up into his large hand.  Seconds later, he was fastening the tie pin -- the one given to him months ago by Marita -- to his tie. "After all, I am wearing my lucky tie tack."

She smiled, looking down at the delicately painted Kennedy Center that graced the front of the pin.

"Reminds you of happier times, too, I'd say. Judging by the look on your face." She looked up in time to catch a smile and a wink.

"Just be careful, Xavier."  

A nod. Two actually. It made Marita wonder if he was trying to convince himself, "Always." He looked at his watch, "We'd better get going if I am going to get there in time. Are you sure you want to come with me?"

Marita thought for a moment. She didn't honestly know why she wanted to go. It's not as though she would be going with him to the apartment, and he certainly didn't need a lookout or anything.

Still, there was something dark and uneasy hovering over them both today. She couldn't put her finger on what it was, but it was there. A sense of foreboding. Danger. It made her uncomfortable, and in some small and strange way, being there would ease her mind. She would know instantly that he was all right, and the two of them could enjoy a nice long drive back home together in the cold night air.

Marita nodded, "Yes, I'm sure. You never know. You may need me."

X nodded, grabbing her coat, and holding it out for her, "Well, how can I argue with that. Let's go. The sooner we leave, the sooner we can get home to a nice, hot bath and a fire in the fireplace."

She smiled, and hoped that it would all work out as peacefully as it sounded when X said it.

As they drove through the streets, Marita couldn't shake her fears. Thoughts whirled in her head, and faces of men she didn't trust hid in the corners of her mind.  She told herself she was being foolish about the whole thing, that they had done more than a few of these jobs together, and they all turned out fine. Still...

"Penny for your thoughts, Marita?"

Marita moved her gaze from the trees outside to X's strong profile. "How could you tell I was thinking anything at all?"

X let out what sounded like a small chuckle, "Because when you are thinking, particularly when you are concerned, you get this cute little line that crinkles right above the bridge of your nose."

Marita's hand went up to feel her upper nose. She felt nothing, and shook her head. "You, Francis, watch me too closely," she said with a smile.

"And you, Marita OLGA Covarrubias, are always thinking. I have plenty of opportunities to see it in action."

She looked out the window again.  Houses went past the windows. Beautiful little homes with picket fences, flower gardens, vegetable patches. She wondered if she would ever have a normal life. She also wondered if she was merely lamenting the road unexplored and not taken.  Truth be told, Marita knew no other life. The idea of being a bored housewife in the suburbs didn't much appeal to her the more she thought about it.

"Are you sure you have all your bases covered, X?"

He glanced over at her, then back to the road, "As much as we ever can in this job. Things should go well..."

He paused, and took a breath, "But, Mare, if they don't for some reason..."

"No," Marita interrupted, catching X off guard. "Things will go fine."  She reached for the radio dial. Enough talking. She didn't want to hear what he would say next. "How about some music?"

He nodded, but he couldn't let the thought go. She needed to know, just in case. "You're ready, Mare. You've learned everything I ever knew. Hell, probably quite a bit more."

Marita tried to let the sounds of Artie Shaw drown out her thoughts, and the remainder of the trip was filled with a melancholy tension.

They both felt a sense of relief when they pulled up near Mulder's building.  She squeezed his hand once, giving him a quick kiss on the lips. "Until later?"

He smiled at her, running a hand along her hair, "Until later."

And with that, X got out of the car, and made his way towards the building's side entrance.  She watched his large frame disappear into the shadows, and sat back in her seat, trying to relax.  

A few minutes later, Marita was getting fidgety and tense, just like before.  She flicked on the radio, and set the volume to low.  Frank Sinatra's Strangers in the Night filled the car, and Marita finally took a deep breath. Maybe things would be alright after all.

She sank further into the chair, already looking forward to a hot bath and a roaring fire.

That's when she heard the gunshot.  

The click clack of her shoes sounded like bullets exploding to Marita's own ears. She raced up the stairs, stopping on Mulder's floor. Her hand trembled as she reached for the doorknob that led out to the hallway.  Maybe he was fine.

Maybe Xavier was in Mulder's apartment right now, telling him all about the case. Or telling him to go fuck himself. She'd be happy with either because it meant that he was safe.

Marita had also done this work long enough to know that she was lying to herself. She knew something was wrong.

Trembling fingers gripped the doorknob, and she turned it slowly. It squeaked as the door gave way.  She stepped out into the hallway, and a sob hitched in her throat. Xavier lay motionless in a rapidly growing pool of blood. She dropped to her knees beside him, and touched two fingers to his neck, feeling for a pulse.

It was faint, but it was there.

She pulled her fingers back, now sticky with blood. She wanted to scream or cry. Instead she shook silently, her body racked with quiet sobs, as shaking fingers dialed the only other person she trusted in this world.

"Alex...I need help...Xavier…"

A gruff voice sounded on the other end, "I'll be there, Mare. Stay safe."

The beep of the disconnected call rang in her ears as she dropped her phone. Her eyes drifted down over his form.

In one hand he held onto the tie tack.  The one that she had given him. Why had he been clutching it so tightly? A thought flashed through her brain. He was seeking comfort. A happy memory as his soul was potentially being ushered away from terra firma. The thought turned her sobs into unbridled weeping.  

Tears hit the ground below. Why the hell didn't someone call the police yet? An ambulance? Something? There should be people swarming this building by now. But there was only silence. Broken occasionally by the sound of her breath hitching in her throat.

Her eyes cast down, tears splashing against the sleeve of his dark coat. He loved that coat. Her hands tightened around the tie tack, and she vowed silently to keep it safe for him. Tucked away where no one could hurt it. She wished that she could have done the same for him.

Marita's eyes drifted back to the floor, and that was when she noticed the SRSG. Written in his own blood. A sickening enigma of a message to some, but to Marita it was much more.

He was telling her that she was ready. Passing along the reins to his predecessor should the worst happen in this dimly lit hallway. Ronald had not had the time or strength to leave a similar message urging Xavier to take over for him.  Then again, X was always more organized, more prepared.  She remembered lying in bed with him one rainy afternoon.

He told her that if he were to be killed by the far reaching tentacles of the Syndicate, he would find a way to let her know if she was ready to carry on his legacy of the truth.

She had rolled over onto one arm, frowning at him. Telling him not to say things like that.  Marita wouldn't even let them say "Goodbye" to one another when they parted company at work or home.  

"Too much finality in that phrase," she said, kissing his lips, his scratchy beard rubbing against her chin. From that day on, it was always, "Until later."

Now, as Marita stood here in this lonely hallway, she wished that later had never come. Not like this anyway. She had almost convinced herself that the very scene before her would never happen. But it had.

She kissed her fingertips, brushing them against his cool lips. "I love you, Francis," she whispered, hoping that he would open his eyes and chastise her playfully for using his real name. But he didn't.   Just ragged breaths and a barely detectable pulse.

Marita heard the low hum of sirens from off in the distance. So someone had heard a shot.

When she felt a hand on her shoulder, she jumped, and spun to face whoever lurked behind her in the shadows.  

"Mare..." Krycek started, running a nervous hand through his hair, "Shit. I'm sorry." He looked around, then down at the pitiful blonde clinging to Xavier. "I'm parked around back. Grab his legs."

Marita looked stunned, squinting a bit through her tears. "Dammit, Mare, grab his legs. We don't have time." His voice was a harsh growl, but his arm was already around her, steadying her on her feet. Soon she she found herself grabbing Xavier's legs, lifting on Alex's count of three.  They were hauling X's near lifeless body through the back door of the building within seconds.

Sirens wailed to a stop near the front of the building as she and Alex loaded Xavier into the backseat of Alex's beat up old black car. With a grunt, Alex shoved Xavier the rest of the way into the car, and Marita winced, hoping X hadn't felt the shove.  Alex was doing something with Xavier, tying off tourniquets and packing the wound with torn up cloth. Marita, even through her impending panic and tears, was impressed.  

Alex finished quickly, croaking out a gruff, "Get in. I know a place we can go." With that, they were in the car, and Alex was speeding wordlessly down rainslicked streets and darkened alleyways. What felt like an eternity later the car rumbled up a long, winding driveway. Tree branches scraped at the car as the tires crunched the gravel below. In the far distance a cabin came into view, bushes and pines shrouding it from street view.

Alex parked around back, and he and Marita hauled Xavier from the car into the house.  Alex led them to the bedroom, and Marita was happy for the moonlight that streamed in and illuminated some of the room. She had never been here before, and the small slivers of light kept her from falling over furniture and a few stray boxes.

"Here," Alex said, lifting Xavier slightly so that he and Marita could lay Xavier on the bed.  Alex then flicked on a dim lamp on the nightstand while Marita busied herself with covering Xavier's form. She still had tears streaming down her face, and bloodied hands shook as she pulled the blanket up over Xavier's shoulders.

"Mare, you can cry later. Right now I need your help. Go in the bathroom and get me the medical box. I'm going to work on slowing this bleeding.” Alex pulled off the wad of blood soaked cloth that had been in the wound, and Marita was surprised to feel her stomach do a quick flip flop. She hurried to the bathroom and rounded up the medical box, grabbing a towel off the nearby shelf on her way.

By the time she got back, Alex had already changed the cloth, and motioned for the medical box.  He tied up a bandage to hold the gauze and cloth in place, and looked at Marita, "Get me one of those needles in there. I need to stitch this up, and get some antibiotics into him."

Marita's brow furrowed, and she looked uncertain, but Alex snapped, "C'mon, Mare, I need to do this fast. No time to doubt my expertise." Her hands fumbled with the needle, and Alex threaded it as she rummaged through the box for antibiotics.  

Alex worked on the wound while Mare held Xavier's hand and spoke softly to him. She couldn't force her eyes near the wound, not wanting to see it or what Alex was doing, but she didn't want to leave Xavier's side; this seemed, to her, like a good compromise.

With a snapping sound, and a quick injection of antibiotics, Alex stood, "All right, Mare, I'm heading out to get supplies."  She let go of Xavier's hand and stood, panic fighting to make itself into her brain, "You're leaving us here? What if? What if something happens? I can't…"  

Alex smile was sympathetic, but the look in his eyes let her know that he didn't want to hear any arguments, "You two will be fine, and I will be quick. I promise. Thirty minutes at most. He is stable, and you're strong, Mare."

She blinked back tears, but nodded wordlessly.  Alex disappeared from view, leaving her and a seemingly lifeless Xavier alone in the low lighting of the bedroom. In the distance she could hear Alex's car roar to life and make its way down the gravel driveway.

She turned her attention to Xavier, his breathing less ragged and deeper now.  He was shirtless, covered up to his chest with a blanket. His coat, still covered in blood, was strewn over a box on the floor.  Marita briefly considered taking the coat to the bathroom to wash away the blood, but she didn't want to leave Xavier here alone. Instead she kicked off her shoes and crawled into bed beside him.

She lay her head on his arm, snuggling as close as she could without disturbing any of the bandages, and closed her eyes. Her eyes were hot and swollen from the tears and it felt good to let them rest for a few minutes now that Xavier was tucked safely in bed. She tried to stop the scene of him lying in a pool of blood from replaying in her mind by remembering happier times.  Quiet jokes shared between them, hot showers, walking together in the cold December rain. Finally, she drifted off to sleep.

The heavy front door swinging on its hinges and slamming into the wall jolted her awake nearly half an hour later.  She sat bolt upright in bed, reaching momentarily for a weapon, before she spied Alex's form coming into view.

"I have blood," he said matter-of-factly, tossing a few pint bags onto the bed along with some needles, medical tubing, and other random medical supplies. There were also a few bottles of pills that Marita picked up and read. Antibiotics, prescription pain killers -- she wondered how Alex had secured these at all, let alone this quickly, but she thought it best not to ask. By now she was accustomed to the idea that Alex had his ways.  

He saw her reading the bottles, "For when he wakes up. He'll need to keep away infection, and he'll probably be in a shitload of pain for a while."  Alex was hooking up an IV bag, and pulled off the plastic needle tip cover with his teeth. He spat it out, and quickly found a vein, starting the flow of blood to Xavier in record time.

"How do you know how to do all of this?"

Krycek shrugged, "Field medic training, among other things."

He double checked the IV bag, and sat beside Marita.  She was frowning, her eyebrows low, and she was tapping her fingers the way she did when she got nervous.  Alex took her hand, "He's going to be okay, Mare."  

Marita smiled a small smile, and squeezed Alex's hand, "Thanks, Sasha."

The next few days were a blur.  Antibiotics, bandages, checking the stitches that held together torn flesh, IV nutrition to keep Xavier hydrated and relatively nourished.

With every passing day, Xavier was looking a little more like his old self, and his vital signs were strengthening. Blood transfusions from the pints supplied by Alex's contact had run low, but Marita donated a few pints to the cause. While handling the transfusion, Alex had made a comment about how morbidly romantic it all was, and he even managed to get a laugh (albeit a small one) from Marita. It was easier to laugh now that Xavier was looking as though he was going to pull through all of this.

Marita had been in touch with the Smoking Man, making up some story about being busy with UN work.  Since there was nothing needed of her for the time being, he bought the story without question. In reality she had taken time off from work at the UN, hastily telling them that she had a sick relative to attend to for a while.

It was a Thursday, nearly a week after he had been brought to the safe house, that Xavier finally started to stir. Alex had gone out on a food and supplies run, and Marita was sleeping soundly beside X. When Xavier opened his eyes, it took him a minute to realize that he wasn't dead.

He blinked a few times against the early morning light, and surveyed his surroundings. He had never been here before, but his chest hurt like hell. So he was alive after all. He had to be. Death wouldn't hurt like this.  

He shifted a bit, and felt a weight against him. When he looked down at a sleeping Marita, a smile touched his lips. Her blonde hair was splayed across his upper arm, and she was holding tight to him. The familiar feel of her body against his, and the scent of her musky perfume, brought him back to the present in the most pleasant of ways.  He was careful not to wake her just yet, wanting to let her sleep, and needing to savour this moment.

Yes, his wrecked body hurt like hell, and he had no idea what the future held, but he had never been happier to be alive.

CSM: Nothing vanishes without a trace...burn it!

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