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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."

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

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