The Gates of Ivory

by Vanzetti

Aeneas and the Sibyl leave the Underworld (Virgil, Aeneid 6.893-899)

There are two gates for dreams; the first, they say,
Of horn, gives easy exit to true spirits.
The other gleams perfect, carved of white ivory,
But sends false dreams from the dead to the world above.
To these, then, Anchises led his son and the Sibyl,
And sent them out through the ivory gate.

In her dream he was staring at her as she gave her testimony, standing just by Mulder's side. When she woke, the book Marita Covarrubias had fallen asleep reading had been laid neatly next to the bed, her place marked by a bookmark she didn't recognize. Still half-asleep, she opened the book to look at it.

And threw them both, book and bookmark, across the room. The book slammed against the far wall, the bookmark fluttering to the floor after it. She sat curled up on the bed, one hand pressed over her mouth and the other pulling the sheet and blanket up over her knees to her neck. She would not cry. She would not. She would not.

She had walked into that bare courtroom unwillingly. I'm not a bad person, she told herself. She didn't actively want Agent Mulder to be killed, and in some other situation she might have told everything she knew, put her own life on the line in one last gamble that maybe this time it would do some good. But not for Walter Skinner. She had her pride. Very little else, but she had her pride.

Staring at the judges, though, she'd thought, oh, what does it matter, they'll kill me anyway sooner or later. Maybe someone in the room would care enough to do something with what she knew, that with the Syndicate gone the aliens had taken over the colonization plans for themselves. Maybe it would do some good. Once upon a time, she had trusted Mulder.

Alex never had. He'd liked him, in his own strange way, but he'd never trusted him except to comment, once, that if he wanted Mulder to go north all he had to do was tell him south. "That man," he'd said, whispering it into her hair, "that man will be the death of me." She'd brushed her palm against the bones of his hip and asked, "What's Agent Mulder doing in bed with us?"

Alex had been right. So when she heard Mulder tell Skinner to let her go she hadn't said, "No, let me help you. You need to know this." She'd picked up her purse and walked out of the room. The other agent-- Doggett, his name was, Alex had pointed him out to her once--tried to persuade her to talk to him off the record, making all kinds of promises about safe houses and witness protection. She'd smiled at him, let him hand her into her car, and driven away.

So here she was, two days later, alone in a motel room in St. Louis. She had two changes of clothes, three passports, five credit cards she might be able to use once each and almost seven thousand dollars cash. And now, a note on a white card in his handwriting lying on the brown carpet. She sighed in defeat and got up to look at it again. It really was his handwriting, on a plain three by five card, and it said only 'Tunguska.'

Tunguska. It might as well have said 'Hell.' Tunguska was at the heart of everything that had gone wrong, everything that was wrong: she should have known from the first that saving the world couldn't involve such horrors, that she couldn't accept them without them becoming part of her. And of Alex: Tunguska was at the heart of everything that had gone wrong with Alex, as well.

Marita used one of the credit cards to buy a ticket for Mexico City and hid there for a week in her great-grandmother's apartment where two old aunts cooed over her as if she was an infant and she wondered whether she was going insane. Alex was dead, and whatever was waiting for her in Tunguska, it wouldn't be Alex. No matter what the card in her pocket promised. She took it out and looked at it again; it was getting soft from all the times she'd run her fingers over it.

Since receiving it, she hadn't dreamed about Alex at all. Before then she'd dreamed about him almost every night. He never said anything, but that was all right because he'd never said much when he was alive. Sometimes he would lie down next to her and wrap both arms around her, so that she knew it was a dream. Sometimes when she woke she could still feel the warmth and weight of him. Now she woke up alone in a narrow wrought-iron bed like her aunts' narrow wrought-iron beds, in a room with lace on the dresser and a lace bedspread and a little portrait of her great-grandmother staring down at her from the wall.

She could stay here forever, if she wanted to. Marita shuddered. Tunguska. It was a death sentence. Nothing good had ever come out of Tunguska.

She flew to Moscow and then to Krasnoyarsk. In Krasnoyarsk a truck and a gun were all she needed: she drove out of town and kept going until it was dark and she was too tired to go any further. Lying in the back of the truck she shifted her shoulders against the metal ridges of its surface and stared up at the stars. They stared back down, as if innocent, on herself and on the camp she was heading for, until she had to turn away from them. There would be nothing but death waiting for her in Tunguska; there had never been anything in Tunguska but death.

She woke on her side, her hand resting on the gun. At dawn the forest looked harmless: the pine trees reached straight up to the sky and the fresh green of the plants growing between them shone in the light slanting down on them. She could hear a bird singing nearby; a crow called out and another responded. There was an engine in the distance; it got closer and resolved itself into the clatter of some kind of truck bouncing along the road. It passed her and faded away again.

Breakfast was a little brown bread and dried cheese she'd bought in Krasnoyarsk. She splashed some water onto her face and tied a scarf over her hair. Then she climbed back into the truck to drive up the hill and back onto the road. The steady beat of the engine displaced the sense of calm she'd felt before and sent a vibration traveling through her arms and up to her teeth. This was a fool's errand for a dead man. Fool, fool, fool, fool, the truck said back to her. Dead, dead, dead, dead.

She kept driving. In the middle of the afternoon she found a rutted dirt road she thought would lead to the camp. A little way down it she pulled over and inspected the track: in use, but not in frequent use, she thought. She kept going, slowly and stopping frequently to listen for the noises her engine would drown out. When the sun began to set she stopped and hid the truck. She could sleep here, she imagined. Or she could turn around and go back. If she went in she might not come out. Would not come out. If she was lucky, they would kill her outright. If not, she might survive for years in their labs.

No, she would go on. She took a drink of water, determined to ignore the way the canteen shook in her hand. Her stomach clenched against the food she tried to choke down. Oh God, it was easier to think about dying than to face it, now, when she was still shaking and her whole body ached. And for what? She forced herself away from the truck, one foot after another, the straps from her cheap backpack digging into her shoulders. A fool's errand, a dead man, and at the end of the road, Tunguska.

As the forest became darker, though, everything seemed clearer. So what if death was waiting in the camp for her? Sooner or later it would find her, whatever she did. Whatever she did, wherever she hid, the limping rhythm carried her forward.

At first she hardly noticed the light growing in front of her. She blinked her eyes at it and it was still there, far too soon for sunrise. And now she could hear the faintest sound of machinery. She went on more cautiously from one tree to another, under a fence and on and on through the trees, her eyes fixed on the glow before her as it grew stronger, and as the scattered noise became the steady hum and crash of machinery.

The light saved her. Without it she would have stumbled over the edge and fallen into the pit below; the light and noise guided her to the edge of the cliff and let her stop there, hidden in the upthrown shadows.

It was like looking down into Hell: the glare of lights, the small shapes of the men below her dwarfed by the three-footed structure shuddering up and down at the very foot of the cliff.

The scene resolved itself: she was lying on the edge of the rockface where the prisoners had once mined and broken open the Oil- bearing rocks. Now there were only a few men there, observing the rhythmic motion of the machine they were tending. A pump? A drill? At a sign she didn't see they sprang into motion: the machine was lifted even further on its legs and tilted back, away from the cliff. A metal cylinder, about three feet long and half as wide, was carefully dragged out of it and carried by four men to a waiting truck; it only took two to carry a new cylinder back and insert it. The machine straightened up and settled back down in its original position as the truck began to drive up out of the quarry.

They were mining something at the site, and Marita thought she knew what it was. The same thing the Russians had wanted: the Oil.

Her shudder took her by surprise. Directly below, it was waiting for her, hidden in the stones, eager to creep out and catch the unwary, to take a life which thought it knew itself, thought it had a purpose and give it a new self, a new purpose. A new life, even, as the new body destroyed the old. She'd seen it. She'd felt it.

Now she understood: this had to be destroyed. Had Alex somehow sent her the message that led her here, knowing that she would recognize that necessity? The Oil was something they shared, although they'd never spoken of it. It was probably something he had tried not to remember. It was for her.

She would have to destroy the pump, or whatever it was working away down in the pit. Not with the men around it: even if they weren't replicants, she could never succeed against them all. And she was almost certain that they were replicants, and indestructible. No need for rest, so they'd never stop working.

She needed a distraction, she thought, as she watched the truck carry its load to the top of the pit and drive away from her. At the end of that road lay the rest of the camp. The end of the road. She smiled for what felt like the first time in a year.

Careful to stay outside the circle of the lights she made her way around the quarry to the road at the other side of it. The camp would be the best place to make her distraction. She reached it in time to see three men leaving one of its large wooden buildings. One got into the truck and drove back down the road; she had to flatten herself to avoid its lights. When she lifted her head she saw the other two entering another building, where a light was shining, two down from the first. In the whole camp, that was the only light she could see. The barracks, which had once housed the prisoners and the soldiers who guarded them, lay empty.

She checked a couple, to be sure, and stared at the empty iron frames in the barracks she found before closing the door behind her and leaving. The second building she checked included some empty offices and a storeroom which still had a rack of folded sheets. She put a few of them into her backpack; she might find a use for them.

At the far edge of the camp she found an open hangar, now used as a garage. Should she steal a truck? Too hard to get it back through the camp, although they were tempting, six big trucks in a row and a row of keys handing on the wall behind them. Of course, no one in Russia would break into a gulag, even to steal a truck. And certainly, not this gulag.

The gasoline, stacked in two-gallon jugs along the far wall, gave her an idea. A fire--a big fire, a whole building going up in flames--would be a perfect distraction. And she knew just the building. She put two of the jugs into her backpack, wincing, and picked up one more. That first building she'd seen, the one the three men-- replicants, she corrected herself--had left, was ideal. A big, old wooden building, and near to the road leading back to the mine.

It was only because the camp itself was so quiet that she heard a door closing. A couple buildings away, her mind told her as she froze against the nearest wall. She put the gas can on the ground and pushed it and then herself into the empty space under the building. The smell of the gasoline was overpowering: surely the patroller would notice. She saw the light of his flashlight as he walked along the other side of the building. Or the gas smell would gag her, and she would make a noise to betray herself. She stuffed the sleeve of her jacket into her mouth and bit down as her eyes watered so much that she could hardly see the light and the blood roared in her ears so loudly that she couldn't hear anything else.

After an eternity she relaxed her jaw and wiped her eyes. She couldn't hear or see anyone, but she would crawl the rest of the way under the buildings. Slower and harder, but safer.

When she got to the warehouse her knees and elbows felt raw and her palms were scratched and bleeding. She sat crouched by the stairs and rubbed them on her filthy jeans. Who among her old acquaintance would recognize Marita Covarrubias now, she of the tailored suits and two inch heels? Even in the field she'd never had a hair out of place. She smiled at the thought of her old colleagues' faces. Only Alex might have known her.

Alex would never recognize her again. Unless they met in Hell, and even that seemed too easy. With that thought she pushed herself up from under the stairs and tried the door. The latch gave under her hand.

This building didn't have the same air of neglect as the others. No dust on the floor, and she bet that if she tried the switch by the door the lights would go on. Here at the back was a set of rooms, offices or storerooms, she guessed. She ignored them and headed for the main room of the warehouse. When she got to it, she stood amazed.

It was full of cylinders like the one she'd seen before, stacked one above another in row upon row. There must be a hundred of them. Almost despite herself--knowing what was in them all she really wanted was to run away--she went to the nearest and placed her palm on it. It was warm to the touch and she imagined could hear the quiet rush of the substance in it against the metal, trying to get through it to her. She snatched her hand away and jumped back. This wasn't going to be just a distraction. This fire would have to be very hot, to ensure that all this Oil was destroyed.

She laid her backpack on the ground and went back to the other rooms to see if they held anything flammable. It was an old wooden building--it shouldn't be that hard to burn, once it got going.

The first room was an unused office. It held a metal desk and there were still some old papers in the filing cabinet. In the second, someone had hidden two empty vodka bottles in the desk. She grabbed them and kept going.

The third door was locked. She stopped in surprise--the first locked door she'd found in the whole camp--and tried it again. Still locked. Then, staring at it, she realized that it was locked from the outside: the bolt was right in front of her.

How strange. She put down the bottles and opened that bolt, and the two others, one at the top and one at the bottom. They gave easily enough. She pushed the door open, the gun in her hand.

At first she thought that the room was empty. It was so dark, and she couldn't see any furniture. But when her eyes adjusted, she saw a shape huddled on the floor.

A prisoner? She took a few careful steps into the room, knelt down to roll the person over and nearly lost her balance.

It couldn't be. He was dead. Dead and buried thousands of miles away. She ran her hands over the familiar shape of his face, now thin and covered in the growth of a beard, then down his neck and chest. His heartbeat was faint, but present.

He was missing one arm. Surely a replicant would have two. She raised his head. "Alex," she whispered. "Alex, can you hear me?"

There was no response. She shook him slightly and spoke more loudly. "Alex? Wake up!" Had his eyelids flickered? It was so hard to see. "Damn it, Alex, what's wrong with you?" She ran her fingers over the back of his neck. Smooth. Could it really be him? "Give me some kind of sign, here, Alex," she muttered, taking his hand and rubbing it.

It looked like his head had moved. She dropped his hand and bent over him. "Come on, wake up. I can't carry you out of here. I need you to wake up. I need you, Alex, I- -" Oh, God. The sob caught in her throat and she squeezed her eyes shut. This was not the time. Her tears seemed to have other ideas, and pushed out past her eyelids. The deep breath she took to calm herself turned into another sob, and then another.

Something other than her own tears brushed her cheek, and she opened her eyes. He was staring up at her, his eyes open. "Mar..." His voice was hoarse.

"It's me, it's Marita," she said.

His hand was still resting on her cheek. "You came," he said. His eyelids drifted closed.

"Wait," she said. "Stay with me, Alex. We need to get out of here." She wrapped his arm around her shoulder and tried to stand. They stumbled out of the room together.

Despite the weight he'd lost, Alex was still too heavy for her to carry. She left him by the door. "I'll be right back," she muttered at him, and grabbed the vodka bottles.

She did what she could, but destroying the Oil didn't seem as important as it had. She poured some of the gas along the front wall and some more at the center of the warehouse, then used the vodka bottles as homemade firebombs. The flames roared up as she ran back to Alex.

He was lying very still. She stared at him, uncertain. Had she hurt him when she moved him? "Come on, Alex," she said as she lifted him again. "We have to move now." He mumbled something she didn't catch but managed to keep his feet moving alongside hers, and that was enough for Marita.

It was a little late for stealth, considering how loud the fire was. She ran, half-dragging Alex along with her, stumbling every few paces. The hangar. They needed to make it to the trucks.


She didn't turn around at the voice. Alex was so heavy. She stumbled. There was a shot, but she didn't feel it. Had he missed? Had he hit Alex?

"Hey!" the soldier shouted again. One more step, then another, she thought. He shouted a third time but his voice was drowned out by a crash and great howl from the flames behind them. The fire roared even more loudly; she half-turned to look back she saw the roof blazing as a great blast shook the walls and the air around her. The heat burned her cheeks and the wind blew at her. The soldier opened his mouth again but not to shout at her. He let out a great high- pitched wail, and echoes of the same wail came back from all over the camp. As it faded he turned away from her and ran back to the burning warehouse.

She turned and kept running, stumbling and almost falling and catching herself with her one free hand, the hand that wasn't keeping Alex next to her. Or stumbling and being kept upright as Alex fell against one of the buildings. He grunted at that; she had never been so relieved to hear him in pain. There were more explosions from the warehouse.

At the hanger she pushed him into the first truck they came to and ran to grab the keys. The third set she tried started the engine; she let the others fall down by her feet. Thank God the tank was full because they had no time. She glanced over at Alex just for reassurance and then floored it and drove right out of the hangar and straight through the rusty fence of the prison camp in a shriek of metal.

They bounced down the road. Alex was slumped against the door on his side. Could he have passed out? He started to slide down but his eyes flew open and he pushed himself back up, grabbing the door for leverage. "What--"

"I set the warehouse on fire," she said. "The one with the Oil."

He turned to look through the back window. "They won't come. There's some kind of link--"

"Between the Oil and the replicants?" she asked. That would explain the way the soldier had let her go. They bounced over something in the road; she clutched the wheel and hissed in pain as one of the scratches on her hand opened up. "But they'll come after us?"

"Eventually." He shrugged and slumped back into the chair, white-faced and tired looking. She kept driving; when she looked over at him he had passed out again.

In the middle of the morning they stopped at a nameless little town to buy gasoline and whatever food and water they could. The people there looked at her suspiciously and she wondered what they saw: a crazy woman covered with dirt and smelling of gas, her hands and clothes filthy and torn. She washed in a sink behind the town's only store. When she got back to the truck she found Alex sitting up in it and glowering threateningly at the idle men who'd gathered to look at them.

"Let's go," she said as she climbed back in.

"I need a gun," he answered. "Next time we stop, I'll have to buy one."

They settled into silence as the town disappeared behind them. It wasn't comfortable, not like the silence in the dreams she'd had of him. Alex was awake now, and edgy. "How did you find me?" he asked. "Who sent you?"

'You did,' she almost said, but bit the words back. "Don't you remember?" she asked.

"Remember what?" His voice was sharp.

"Alex, I... that is, you..." It couldn't hurt, to tell him, could it? "You sent me a message." She looked over, and saw him staring at her, but at least he looked more confused than angry. "I thought you were dead, but one morning there was a card, and I didn't know what to do. I thought you were dead."

"A card? Like, a postcard?"

She reached into her pocket and handed it to him. "It was in my book one morning."

"I didn't write this."

"Well, you wanted to know how I found you. That's how." She risked another glance over at him. He was holding the card between his fingers and his thumb, rubbing at it.

"You decided to come to Tunguska because of this? Seriously, Marita, who sent you? Did Spender track you down?"

"Spender is still missing." Damn it, he'd barely been awake three minutes and she was already telling him everything she knew. "Nobody sent me."

"Or whoever wrote this card did." He flipped it between two fingers.

"Give that back to me," she said.

"Why?" he mocked her. "Does it have sentimental value?"

She blushed, and cursed her pale skin. Only Alex could make her blush. "You didn't write it, so what do you care?"

"It is my handwriting."

"Easily faked."

"Which makes you easily misled." He folded it in half and put it in the pocket of the army jacket he was wearing.

"Something you should be grateful for," she shot back.

"I'd have escaped sooner or later."

"Later, then," she said. "It's been almost a year."

When he didn't respond, she glanced at him. He was staring at her, his face pale and his mouth slightly ajar. "A year?"

She struggled to hold onto her irritation. "Eleven months."

"It can't be," he said, more to himself than to her. "It can't be a year."

"Didn't you at least notice the seasons?" she asked. He was still very pale. "You don't remember," she said softly. "Alex, what happened to you in Tunguska?"

"I don't want to talk about it." He was breathing unevenly.

"Do you even know?"

"I said I didn't want to talk about it. Let me drive."

She was tempted to let him, if only to give him the illusion of control. "Why?" she asked instead. It was enough to let him change the subject.

"Do you know where you're going?"

She was damned if she would admit that she'd been choosing her roads at random. "Do you?"

He muttered something she didn't catch. "Yes," he growled. "Let me drive, Marita."

She'd been awake a long time, she reminded herself. Since the day before. "Fine," she muttered, and braked hard, bracing herself against the wheel.

The bumps in the road and the truck's uneven grinding should have kept her awake, but when she opened her eyes again the sun was setting and Alex was staring at her, his face expressionless. They weren't moving. "Where are we?" she asked, rubbing her eyes.

"An abandoned house. Should be safe."

She looked out the window and stared. It looked like something out of a fairy tale: the sunset light colored the weathered gray boards of the little house, highlighted the trim carved under the eves and gave a magical air to the clearing they were parked in. She looked behind them and could barely make out the track Alex had driven down.

"How did you find it?" she asked, as she followed Alex out of the truck and up the stairs to the enclosed porch.

"There's an abandoned factory and village not too far from here. We used it for target practice and training." When he'd been in charge of the soldiers at the camp, she guessed.

The house was tiny; just the porch and a single room to be bedroom, kitchen and living room. But whoever had lived here had intended to come back: they'd left the blankets folded on the bed and the plates and cups on a shelf above the table. The stove must have served for cooking and heating, and the pump outside for water; there was no sink.

Alex was staring at her again. For a moment she had the ridiculous notion that he was going to ask her how she liked the house. She busied herself taking the food she'd managed to buy out of her backpack and then stared at the sheets which lay at the bottom. Two could go on the bed but the third... she was sure she'd seen a metal tub by the wood stacked out on the porch. "Help yourself," she said. "I'm going to take a bath." Too bad she didn't have any clean clothes.

She rinsed the tub and filled the tub with buckets of cold water from the pump, stripped off and stepped into it. It was refreshing, she decided, and sat down before she could change her mind.

The door banged closed and she twisted around in the tub, splashing water on the boards around her and grabbing for the sheet. "Alex!"

He stood just inside the porch. "I found these in the house," he said. "I thought you'd like something clean." He laid some folded clothes--white and drab olive--on the bench next to the tub, not really looking at her. "And this." He reached into his pocket and pulled out a bar of soap.

It was old and cracked. He met her eyes as he passed it to her and she felt herself blushing. "Thank you." She cleared her throat. "I'll fill the tub for you when I'm done. If you like." The soap smelled faintly floral.

She scrubbed at herself, aware of him sitting behind her on the bench. Nothing he hasn't seen before, she reminded herself. "So you got that card and decided to come looking for me," he commented.

It was really a question. "I don't know. I didn't really think it was you. I mean, I thought you were dead. I only found you because I was looking for something that would burn."

"What were you going to do, burn the warehouse and then rush back to the mine to sabotage it too?"

"If I could."

"They'd have killed you." He sounded dismissive.

"At least I destroyed the warehouse. That was more than you managed." She made herself stand up and reached for the sheet, wrapping it around herself. She picked up the clean clothes and stalked into the house to dress.

When she came back out he had dragged the tub outside and emptied it, and was filing the bucket at the pump. She stood on the steps and threaded her belt through the clean trousers to keep them up. His arm on the pump handle went up and down smoothly. He didn't seem to have noticed her, but this was Alex. He would know exactly where she was.

"Do you want help?" she asked. She knew how much he hated that question.

"No." He looked up at her without changing the rhythm of his arm. "Not your usual style," he commented.

"No," she agreed. They were boxy, Soviet- style workpants and a man's shirt, many sizes to big for her. "But they're clean." She left the sheet on the porch and went back into the house to make the bed and light the storm lantern Alex had left on the table.

The clothes were too big on Alex as well. He came back inside after his bath, rubbing his hair irritably with his old shirt, and stared at the food on the table. It didn't look any more appetizing: some day-old bread and a tin of mystery meat. "I hate Siberia," he muttered.

"What were they doing in Tunguska?" she asked again.

It didn't catch him off-guard. His head snapped up and he glared at her. "You saw for yourself. Figure it out."

"Mining at the old crash site," she said. "I saw that. Why?"

He stared at her as he chewed, swallowed, and stuffed another bite into his mouth.

She sighed to herself. "There's a connection between the Oil and the replicants."

He nodded slowly, like a teacher pleased that a dense student had managed a problem. The blood rushed to her cheeks again. "For God's sake, Alex, this isn't a game! It's not twenty questions! We're in this together. Give me some help here!"

He crashed to his feet. "Together? What the fuck do you mean by that? I was on my own in that camp for nearly a year! What were you doing?" He got his breathing back under control. "Admit it, Marita. You hardly thought of me."

"Jesus, Alex, I thought you were dead. And you... you let me believe that you were dead for a whole goddamn year! I wish I hadn't--" She choked off the words.

"Hadn't what, Marita?" His voice was rough.

"Forget it." She should have realized that the Alex she'd been dreaming about wasn't real. "I'm going back outside."

From her seat on the porch steps she could see a patch of sky full of stars. They weren't all unfriendly; just the ones that counted. They blurred as she stared up at them, and she blinked to clear her eyes. Blur and blink, blur and blink. Damn Alex, anyway. All he'd ever known how to do was fight.

Memories rose up to contradict her: moments of peace snatched in the hectic days of the last two years, even as the web around them grew tighter and as one attempt after another to find a weakness in the replicants or to understand their agenda failed. That was the problem with aliens, Alex had joked with her one day when she'd returned dispirited from another wild goose chase. They thought like aliens. "We'd have an easier time understanding them if we were aliens too." Or the time he'd come back, even more discouraged, from a meeting with a former KGB agent assigned to Lebanon in the mid-eighties. "We'll fight them anyway," she said prosaically. "I don't have anything planned for the next ten years. Do you?" The tension in his face had eased and he had reached for her.

The screen door closed softly and Alex sat down at her left side. "The replicants are dependent on the Oil. They need it to be created, but they need the consciousness in it, too, to direct them. It's a hive mind. So the Oil needs a host. A human host."

"Oh my God," she said. She knew better than to say, 'Oh, Alex.' "You were the host."

"Because they couldn't make me... like them. A replicant. Because the Oil had had me before. Small favors, right? I was conscious at first, while it had me. I could sit in the back of my mind watching it..." His breath hitched. "But after a while I learned how to shut myself off from it. So when the Oil took me, I would black out, like I was asleep and dreaming."

She cleared her throat. "Do you remember anything?"

"Crazy stuff. Talking to Mulder. You." She glanced at him, but he was staring straight ahead. "Just an image here and there. Probably hallucinations."

"Last year," she said, more to the air around her than to the man next to her, "I used to dream about you. When I thought you were dead, I mean. The dreams seemed very real, as if I could still feel them when I woke up. I suppose that was why I came to Tunguska. If the card was real, it would be a sign that the dreams were real as well. It would give me something to believe in."

"Guess you were hallucinating too," he said.

She gasped at his words. "Alex, if I had known-- But I saw the tape. It was genuine. I had every test I could think of run on it. Skinner shot you, and you died."

"Don't kid yourself, Marita," he said, although his tone was gentle enough. "Anyway, who do we know who's been staying dead these days?"

She wasn't willing to give up yet. "Then how do you explain the card?" she demanded. "And when I found you in the camp, the first thing you said was, 'You came.' As if you expected me."

He stared up at the stars for what seemed to her a long time. "It doesn't seem very likely."

"That you would call me or that I would come?"

"Marita, don't." His voice was rough again.

"Alex, I believed you were dead. It was... It wasn't like before, when I knew you were out there somewhere. This last year was different."

"Our choices are still the same. Fight or die. Not much room for anything else."

"I know that. I just wish..."

"I wish it too."

They sat in companionable silence, staring up at the sky. The thought, when it came to her, made her laugh softly; he looked at her, one eyebrow raised. "Star-crossed lovers," she explained.

He grinned, his teeth flashing. "Good thing neither of us is the suicidal type." Then, more seriously, he continued, "I don't understand how you found me, Marita, what kind of crazy thing made you go to Tunguska, but I'm not sorry... I mean, I'm glad..."

"You're welcome," she said. He scowled and she smiled back.

"A whole year, though," he said.

She wished that she could offer him a platitude: it doesn't matter, it will be all right. But Alex had never been one to take comfort from falsehood. She leaned her head against his shoulder; after a moment he wrapped his arm around her. They sat a few minutes more before going in to bed.

In the morning his one arm around her was better than any dream.




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The X-Files are the property of Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Television. All original elements are my own. No infringement of copyright is intended.
Dedicated to my PhD committee. If only you knew.
Thanks to Bardsmaid for beta-reading