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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.


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.

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

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