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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.

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

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