Intense gratitude to Ned & leny (Theban Band) for the beautiful cover art. Check it out: http://slashfactory.com/Stories/EL/EchoLane.html

Echo Lane, by Louise Wu
Fandom: X-Files
Pairing: M/K
Summary: Mulder discovers that his life could have been very different.
Rating: NC-17 for male/male sex.
Warnings: Some kink.
Archive: Yes to: Basement, RatB, SlashingMulder and CkoS. All others please ask.
Spoilers: Through Season 7, Amor Fati, plus weak hints for Closure and Requiem.
Note: This is a work of fiction. No one should ever take safer sex and HIV as cavalierly as I do in this story. Fictional characters don't die from those mistakes.
Beta Thanks: Loren Q, Zoe Takashi, Jennie, Quinn, Susan Reynolds, Alex Wood.
Special Thanks: to Josan for help with Canadian geography and weather.
Disclaimer: Chris Carter and 1013 Productions own the X-Files series characters. The rest are mine. No infringement of rights is intended.


I dedicate this story to a lonely Louise, in another place, who doesn't have Loren to make her smile.


Echo Lane

** Part 1 **

Chapter 1
Friday, January 21, 2000


I should've told Scully where I was going.

Two rapidly fired shots go off near my head.

I'm unarmed--no gun, no cell phone, no car keys--and running from Alex Krycek. If I ever find my way outside this labyrinthine laboratory, I won't get far in the desert on foot. It's at least forty miles to Phoenix.

Jogging down the hall, I spot a few places to hide, but Krycek has time on his side. He can search the entire building in a couple of hours. It would help if I knew who the scum sucker was working for these days. Perhaps he's not even a threat. The bastard never shot at me before. Did he miss intentionally or was it just poor aim? Understanding the rat seems more daunting than putting Cancerman on a stop-smoking program.

The solid sound of Krycek's boot heels on the hard floor keeps me moving.

The facility contains radioactive materials. Fortunately, the reactor is behind me. Radioactive warning signs steer me away from close encounters with toxic substances. It crosses my mind to enter one of the so-labeled rooms and hope Krycek won't look for me there, but I'm not ready to bet my life, or future ability to reproduce, on that traitor's instinct for self-preservation.

Taking a turn to the left, I hit a dead end.

A high security entrance stands ahead but, weirdly, the door is propped open with a chair. Surely a bad omen. A flashing neon DO NOT ENTER sign burns my irises. Neon?

I step though the doorway, wondering briefly if I am a mouse in somebody's maze.

Inside, I find a high-ceilinged room that looks like the spacious lobby of a 1930's government building constructed by the WPA. Marble floors. A huge reception desk. Past the desk is an entryway shaped like an inverted U, of stark white marble, but it seems to go nowhere. Five feet through the arch is a blank wall. A computer workstation sits quietly next to the marble U. On the screen are the words 'Gateway Activated' in eerie blue letters. It's oddly quiet.

I hear footsteps behind me in the hall. My choices seem to be a gateway to nothing or an armed and possibly homicidal Krycek. I dart through the arch.

I'm standing on the other side when the room blurs to white. A pool of bright white engulfs me. There are no objects in my field of vision. I stand unmoving in this silent white limbo. I can feel my body, but there doesn't seem to be anything around me, not even a floor underneath my feet.

After a moment, A hint of color invades the whiteness. Gradually more colors came into focus. I find myself on a quiet residential street, facing an attractive gray house. It looks like Alexandria. Although grateful for the fast ride home, I wonder why I've been plunked down here. The house number is 17.

Movement at the window resolves itself into a man's face. I note his curious smile before I realize it's Krycek.

My feet won't move. I gape at the house. The porch light goes on. The door opens.

"Where's your car? Did you walk home?" His smile looks almost genuine. What kind of game is the little fucker playing? At least I'm not looking down the barrel of a gun.

"What d'you want, Krycek?" I hiss at the man.

The smile dies. He comes toward me solicitously, the way one approaches a psychotic mental patient. "Are you all right?" As always, the son of a bitch stands too close. His hand touches my shoulder, and he tries to guide me inside.

Krycek has changed clothes. No leather jacket. His T-shirt and jeans look cleaner. His hair is different... longer than it was just a few minutes ago.

I jerk out of his clutches and stalk down the sidewalk. Oddly, I don't feel exactly unsafe, but getting away from him seems like the right idea.

"Where are you going?" He follows me down the sidewalk.

"Home."

"This is your home, Fox. What's wrong?"

My feet stop working. There's an empty place in my intestines. So empty it feels cold. I get this queer feeling I might actually live in this house, even though I know I don't.

Krycek comes toward me. "Come inside, sweetie. I think you're ill."

Sweetie? I'm gonna barf.

"We'll call Scully." On any other face, I would have called his expression concern.

"Sweetie?! Don't fuck with me, you miserable low life."

A flash of hurt passes across his features, as he shakes his head slowly. "Just call Scully, okay?"

Something is definitely not right. But calling my partner actually seems like a good idea. "I lost my cell phone."

Krycek removes his own from a pocket and hands it to me.

As my stiff fingers grip the plastic, I realize I'm very cold. I dial the familiar number.

"Scully."

"Hey, it's me."

"I already told you, I'm not going to spend my weekend at the Library of Congress. If you-"

"Scully, I think... I need you."

Her tone shifts instantly. "What's wrong?"

"Not sure. Can you meet me at... home?"

Krycek is watching intently.

"Sure, Mulder. I'm on my way."

"Wait. Uh, where do I live?"

A few feet away, shocked green eyes open wide.

Scully's voice is shrill. "What!?"

"Just tell me my address, Scully."

"17 Echo Lane, Alexandria."

Shit. I don't know what to say. No way Scully would cooperate with Krycek on some sort of scam.

"Mulder, are you okay?"

"I'm not sure. Jus' meet me in front of the house, 'kay?"

"I'll be there in 15 minutes."

Krycek trails me at a safe distance, as I walk cautiously toward the house. I sit on the front steps, completely unwilling to go inside, even though I'm freezing my ass off.

He gazes at me uneasily. After a lengthy silence, he says, "You want to talk?"

"No." I turn away, so I don't even have to look at him. "Not 'til she gets here."

The hired killer with the gentle concerned face nods. Opening the door, he disappears momentarily and returns with a long coat. "Put it on," he says tersely.

I bristle. I am not taking orders from him. But it is fucking cold out here. I lay the coat over my lap.

He steps back and leans against a tree, green eyes fixed on me, searchingly.

What the fuck is going on? Is Krycek jerking my chain? Scully wouldn't lie to me. She sounded genuinely worried. That gateway I went through was... well, I don't know what the hell it was. It didn't look like much. Could it have altered reality in some way? If so, this place is more hellish than the one I left.

About fifteen minutes later, a sporty red car tears down the street and deposits itself haphazardly in the driveway. Not Scully's car, but she gets out of it and runs over, medical bag in hand. Scully and Krycek exchange worried glances.

It's what she doesn't do that bothers me the most. Doesn't act shocked by his presence. Doesn't draw her gun. Doesn't ask what the rat bastard is doing here.

Instead, she sits down next to me. "Are you sick, Mulder? Or injured?"

"No, Scully." I shift closer to her, away from him. "What's the date?"

"January 21."

"Uh, the year?"

"2000." Her hand squeezes my shoulder. "Why don't we go inside?"

"No."

"Why not?"

Because I don't live here, but I don't want to say it. Because I'm afraid I'm wrong.

"Mulder, please. Let's just go inside."

I'm starting to shiver, so I relent.

Soon, we're seated in a handsomely appointed living room. A frightened-looking Krycek sits in an easy chair at a safe distance. Scully takes a seat next to me on the couch.

I've never been here but the aquarium catches my eye. I've seen it before. I had thought to purchase one like it if I ever had a larger place.

My intuition is screaming. "I don't live here, Scully. I've never seen this house before."

Krycek's face dissolves into despair.

'Sweetie?' Oh, fuck.

Scully appears completely baffled. "Is this some kind of a joke?"

"I live in an apartment on Hegal. #42."

The assassin-cum-homemaker approaches slowly and sits on the floor in front of me. "Swe--Uh, don't you remember? We moved here three years ago?"

We?

I look at Scully--this can't be true--and she just nods.

Fuck!

"Then I'm in the wrong place." I look him straight in the eye. "Because I'd never live anywhere with you."

I'd gotten a less dramatic response from slugging the man. His features contort for an instant before a mask drops, concealing his pain. He rises and exits the room, without looking at anyone.

"Mulder, what's going on? You're really hurting him, you know."

That my words are hurting the suddenly sensitive bastard is inexplicable. And why should Scully care? "Alex Krycek's a murderer and a traitor. I'd never have any kind of relationship with that immoral dirt ball." She starts to speak, but I cut her off. "I went through some kind of a gateway. This must be an artificial reality or a parallel universe."

"It seems far more probable that you hit your head on the way home from work."

I shake my maligned head. "It didn't happen. I didn't even go to work today."

"Yes, you did, Mulder. I rode with you. Don't you remember?"

Still shaking my head, I tune her out, trying to solve the mystery on my own, since she won't believe me. As per usual.

Krycek reappears with a manila folder. He sits on the coffee table and extracts a document, which he passes to me. The title to the house. In the names of Bank of Virginia, Alexander Krycek and Fox Mulder.

"Is that your signature?" he queries me, his voice shaky.

It is unmistakably my hand. I nod curtly.

Scully answers the unspoken question. "He thinks he's in an artificial reality."

Krycek's eyes seek out Scully's. "Did you notice his hair? It's different. More fluffy on top. And his sideburns are longer."

Scully puzzles over my appearance for a moment, then says, "Let's not allow our imaginations to get the better of us here."

"It's not my imagination, Dana. We get our haircuts together and I'm the one who tells Gina what to do with his hair."

The image of this bottom feeder telling anyone how to cut my hair just makes my brain go tilt. And he called her 'Dana.'

Fuck, I want to go home.

I scan Scully for differences. Her hair is longer than I remember and styled differently, but it's been almost a week since I've seen her. There's something subtly different about her face, though. She looks... a little... younger. I guess a week without me around might do that.

Krycek looks substantially younger, perversely like the fresh-faced innocent he once appeared to be. His body is more filled out, giving him a healthier appearance. Only then do I notice the obvious. He has two living arms.

I stand and reach across to him, tugging his arm. Flesh and blood.

Definitely not the Krycek I know and hate.

Krycek yanks his arm out of my grasp.

Scully says, "Mulder, take off your clothes."

"Huh?" I tilt my head, confused, until it dawns on me. "'Kay." I agree, starting to unbutton my shirt, then I stop abruptly. "Not in front of him."

She puts a hand on my shoulder. "If you want answers, Mulder, this is the best way. He knows your body better than I do."

Fuck. There it is, right in my face, the thing I'd been avoiding. They think I'm Krycek's lover. The ghastly thought makes me shiver.

Krycek steps back a few feet, apparently aware of my trepidation.

I allow my shirt to fall onto the sofa.

"It's not him. You don't have to go any further." Krycek's voice is cold as he comes toward me. "What have you done with my lover, you bastard?"

I lean forward. If he wants a fight I'm more than willing.

Scully puts a firm hand on my chest. "Hold on you two. Just a minute." She glares at Krycek and he backs off. "Alex, how do you know it's not him?"

"The scar on his left shoulder. Fox--my Fox--doesn't have it."

She turns to me, one questioning eyebrow raised.

"Funny you should ask about that, since the two people responsible are both in the room."

They exchange a glance. It's weird as hell to feel on the outside, as if Scully and Krycek are friends.

Scully frowns at me and says, "I suppose you're going to tell me Alex shot you."

"No. You did, Scully."

"Why would either of us shoot you, Mulder?" She looks away into nothing as if waiting for an invisible attendant to bring her a straitjacket for her delusional partner.

"I was about to shoot him," I reply, pointing accusingly at Krycek, "and you thought it would be better for me if I didn't."

The look of utter hostility on Krycek's face is much more comfortable to me than his false affection. "Could he be a clone?" he asks, as if I'm not even in the room.

"I am NOT a clone!" I briefly consider pounding the crap out of Krycek, but I pull my shirt back on and sit down.

Both of them regard me as if I'm hysterical. I'm used to it.

Three brains go to work separately and silently on the problem. After a few minutes, Krycek departs, returning with a bottle of Henry Weinhardt's, my preferred brand, and two Cokes. He hands me the beer and Scully a Coke.

I wait for her to demand a Diet Coke, but she just absently says, "Thanks, Alex."

He sits at the far end of the room, by a sliding glass door facing the backyard. There is some sort of light out there. I can see lots of neatly mowed green grass and a large furry black dog.

Inspiration... "Let the dog in."

"What?"

"Let him in."

"Her," he replies brusquely as he rises to unlock the door.

What has to be 120 pounds of dog launches itself into the room. It embraces Krycek leaving a pool of slobber on his shirt. He rubs her fur enthusiastically and mutters, "Hi, you big girl. You still love me, don't you?"

My hackles rise.

The dog greets Scully next. It seems to know her, but their relationship is clearly less close. Scully pats the dog's head. The dog wags its tail and drools on her knee, before passing quickly to me.

It approaches cautiously, giving a soft growl. Sniffing the air around me, she slowly moves in closer.

A second dog appears at the door. This one has approximately the same big furry shape, but it's mostly white with some black patches. It bypasses Krycek, who watches intently, and bounds straight for me. As it gets close, it slows down and begins to whimper.

The black dog is watching the newcomer. As it gets closer, black dog licks the white's face.

White puts two paws carefully into my lap. It emits a pitiful whine and tries to lick my face. It seems like a nice enough dog, but I don't know it well enough for kisses. I pull away and slide down the couch away from the wet tongue. It follows me, but this time sits quietly at my feet. I can sense the animal's worry.

"Now, are we all in agreement that I'm not the Fox Mulder you know?"

As if on cue, the white sings a sad howl. The black dog returns the howl and comes to lie down next to the white. Krycek even imitates the howl and comes to join the pack. He strokes the white. "It's okay, Chip. Something's wrong with Fox. We'll try to figure it out, okay?" The black dog shakes her head, spraying us all with doggie spit.

"Why does it have to be me? Maybe something's wrong with you and Scully."

Scully replies, "Alex and I--and even the dogs--are in agreement here. You're the odd man out."

I sigh, already knowing it's the truth.

Scully continues, "I know you don't think anything is wrong with you, but I'd like to do a physical. Let's at least rule out an injury or illness. Maybe we'll get some additional data that will be helpful."

I don't anticipate useful information from a physical exam, but I'll never talk her out of it, so I nod my agreement.

"Let's go to the hospital for a CT scan. I'll process the blood tests at the Bureau so we can get the results back quickly."

I'm on my feet, stepping around the giant lumps of fur and heading for the door. I can't get out of this place fast enough.

Scully goes to Krycek. She embraces him with more affection than I've seen her show her brothers or even me. I can barely make out her whispered words, "...worry, Alex. We'll figure..." She kisses him gently on the cheek.

It makes me want to smack him.

Chapter 2

On the drive to the hospital, Scully and I don't talk much. I'm still sorting out the situation in my head. I went through some kind of gateway. Now the world doesn't seem like the one I know. I reject the notion of virtual reality, because I am certain I have real dog drool on my pants.

If not virtual reality, it has to be an alternate universe. Just my luck to end up in a world where Alex Krycek is my god damned lover. When I think of all the delightful possible worlds I could have ended up in... How about one where humans live in peace with alien visitors? Samantha was never abducted? Instead I get domestic bliss with a vile criminal.

At least the dogs are nice.

After a quick CT scan, which Scully had to lie to obtain without an appointment, we drive to the Bureau. It is, thankfully, right where I think it should be. I have my wallet and my badge. My keycard opens the after-hours door without incident.

A bored first floor guard nods at me.

The medical lab is right where it should be. Agent Pendrell, however, is notably NOT deceased. He seems substantially more bored by my presence than I am by his.

Pendrell unlocks an exam room for us.

During the exam, Scully asks about the two drill marks on my forehead under the hairline. I tell her it was a mistake, not feeling like elaborating on one of the stupidest episodes in my life. I also parry her question about the scar on the back of my head, from my recent surgery, attempting to convince her it has nothing to do with my current predicament. At least I don't think it does.

Otherwise, she doesn't find anything abnormal, but seems confident the lab work will reveal something.

Back in her red Saturn, Scully heads toward Alexandria.

"Where are you taking me?"

"Your house, Mulder. You can sleep in your den, if you have to."

"No. No way."

"It's the only home you have, Mulder. Where else would you suggest?"

"Can I stay with you, Scully? Please?"

"Okay, but I have to ask Rubin."

"Who's Rubin?"

"Rubin is my lover, Mulder."

"Lover? Since when?"

She smiles as if remembering. "Since December 7, 1997."

"Well, at least you're not gay. Everyone else seems to be."

"No, Mulder. Alex is gay. You're bisexual." There's a certain snideness in the way she says it. Perhaps a private joke? Or some well-worn dialogue between her and her version of Fox Mulder?

In my world, none of us are gay. I'm bisexual. Well, maybe just a frustrated-but-open-minded heterosexual. Women like Phoebe and Diana could do that to a man. Scully is straight. Definitely straight. Isn't she? I think so. I don't really have a lot of data on her nearly nonexistent sex life. There was that hick sheriff she seemed to find attractive. That guy from the Kindred, but he had those pheromones, so I guess he doesn't count. She'd gone on a few dates. Hell, I don't really know, do I?

I have even less data regarding Alex Krycek.

It's painfully true, however, that both of us had erections when I was beating him in Hong Kong. The man kissed me one night in my apartment. Maybe this explains the weird chemistry between the two of us.

Considering Krycek as a potential lover is a ghastly thought. But this trip to wherever the hell I am isn't the first time I'd considered it. As much as I hate to admit it, I am attracted to the bastard. Have been for a long time.

Of course, I'd die before admitting it to anyone.

"Is this Rubin's car?"

"No. It's all mine. I bought it for my birthday." I can't see my austere Scully buying herself a Saturn sports car. We both drive boring Tauruses in my world.

Scully's apartment is where I remembered it. How comforted I am by this simple fact. The décor is mostly the same. One notable exception is a painting hanging over her couch. In vivid colors on black, it depicts a man and a woman walking along the beach at night, silver stars shining brightly over the inky ocean. The glare of the full moon casts a reflection on the water, but the reflection appears to be a loop, like a snake eating its own tail. An ouroborus. The artwork doesn't quite fit with Scully's homey furnishings, but it's been given a place of honor, so I expect it holds some importance for her.

"I'm going to pop over to Rubin's for a minute. I'll be right back."

I nod dumbly, following her to the door. She exits the apartment, crosses the street, walks a few buildings down and disappears into a cluster of condos.

Making myself at home in Scully's abode, I use the restroom and find a blanket for the couch. I switch on the TV, instantly ignoring it, and make myself comfortable. To contemplate this baffling... situation.

This place I'd found by walking through the gateway was not exactly random. Considering all the possible worlds I could have ended up in, this one is surprisingly similar to the one I'd left. There must be uncountable worlds where Mulder, Scully or Krycek had never been born. And even though I don't want Krycek as my lover, the attraction is real. But if it wasn't random, then what or who sent me here?

Scully returns fifteen minutes later. "Rubin's working, so I'm going to stay here with you tonight."

"So, what does Rubin do?"

"He's a screenwriter and an artist."

"Why does he live across the street?"

Scully nods patiently as she formulates her reply. "Rubin's a bit out there. We agreed to keep two places so we could each do our own thing without interfering too much in each other's lives."

But Alex and his substantially better half live together. "Am I... Is Mulder in the closet?"

"Not exactly. You two didn't broadcast it, but I think most people have figured it out. It hasn't been much of a problem for you. Jackson doesn't care and most of the rest consider your queerness less interesting than your spookiness."

"Who's Jackson?"

"David Jackson. Our A.D."

I consider asking what stunt we--I--pulled to get banished from Skinnerland.

"Alex takes a lot of grief in his unit for being gay. I was rather grateful to lose the title of Mrs. Spooky, but he was less happy to receive it. The homophobia and snide remarks frustrate him, but his work is outstanding. I don't think it has hurt his career very much. His partner, Jimmy O'Neal, is a good catholic boy with a wife and five kids. And he thinks the world of Alex. That helps a lot."

Too weird. Respected openly gay agent. Alex Krycek?

As usual, I don't sleep much. By Saturday morning I have a plan, which I outline to Scully over coffee.

We arrive back at Krycek's house around nine. The garage door is open. Krycek is leaning into the back seat of a black Taurus, holding an evidence bag containing a crushed Burger King sack.

"I retrieved your car last night from Hoover." He holds out the bag. Evidence that my nutritional needs aren't being met in either world. "There's nothing suspicious, just the usual trash. Scully, would you take a look? You rode in with him yesterday morning. Maybe you'll see something I missed."

"Sure, Alex."

Krycek tosses her a pair of gloves. Glancing at me nervously, he runs a hand through the side of his hair. "How are you this morning?"

I glare at him. "The same."

He nods and enters the house through the garage.

I don't think the car is worth looking at. It isn't my car. However, I open the passenger door and locate the registration in the glove compartment. It lists my name at 17 Echo Lane.

Twenty minutes later, we're seated around the living room. Krycek provides more coffee and a plate of homemade cranberry muffins. The idea of the killer making fresh muffins for us just won't compute in my brain.

Really tasty muffins.

I nudge the white dog off my knee so I can shift my position. "Hey, you. I need some room here, 'kay?"

"His name is Chip." Krycek's voice is frigid, as if it's somehow my fault I'm not his Fox Mulder. And don't know the damned dogs' names. "And hers is Sashi."

I pet Chip and turn my mind to the matter at hand. "I've been thinking about this all night. Scully, during the physical, did you find any evidence of injury or illness that could shed light on this situation?"

"Not really, except for those scars on your head."

"What scars?" Krycek asks.

"He has two round scars on his forehead under his hair. It looks like someone took an ice pick to his head. And a surgical scar on the back of his skull."

His face radiates concern before he covers it with a grimace.

Turning back to me, she says, "You still haven't explained those."

"Scully, that doesn't have anything to do with this. Surely you don't believe I had holes punched in my skull yesterday and they healed last night?"

"No, that doesn't make any sense. But we don't have the results of the blood work yet. Maybe someone drugged you."

"It's possible," I concede. "I'll consider it when we have the results. In the meantime, I want to determine when this world diverged from mine."

They both look at me, rapt.

"I'm certain this is not my reality. But it's just similar enough to make me very curious. Let's spend this morning comparing my concept of reality to yours. If we go backward through the histories, we should find some clues about what happened."

"Okay, where do we start?" Krycek seems highly motivated. Impatient even. I guess it makes sense. As far as he's concerned, he's lost his lover.

"Where was I born?"

Scully defers to Krycek who answers, "Chilmark, October 13, 1961."

"Correct. Where'd I go to college?"

"Oxford." Krycek's face hints of a smile. "You lost your virginity--to a boy--during your first year there. His name was John and you did it in his dorm room, desperately trying to be quiet so as not to wake up his roommate. For Dana's benefit, I'll skip the details of who did what to who."

It's true. Exactly as he told it. I'd tried to give John a blow job, but I kept choking. Finally we just jacked each other off.

Ignoring Scully's amused expression, I clear my throat and continue, "When did I graduate?"

"Was I right about John?"

I don't like him knowing such personal details about my life, but it's not like he doesn't already know. "Yeah. When did I graduate?"

"1986."

Scully asks, "What did you do after graduation?"

"I took four months off to tour Europe before I went to the academy."

"That's what you told me." I can see the wheels turning in Scully's mind.

I tense a little considering my next line of questioning. "Do I have any brothers or sisters?"

Krycek answers. "One sister. She was abducted when you were 12."

I nod. "Samantha?"

He nods.

"When did my father die?"

Krycek gives Scully a who's-been-spiking-his-punch look. "Your father's not dead, Fox."

I should have expected it, since it seems unlikely any version of me would sleep with the man who killed my father. But I'm so stunned I almost ask 'when didn't he die?' Instead I spit out, "In my universe, he died in 1995. You shot him, Krycek."

Now it's his turn to look stunned. "Fox-"

"Don't call me that! I hate it."

"I didn't shoot your father!"

I'd heard him say it so many times before that it's almost a joke by now.

Krycek goes on, "I know he was a criminal and he wasn't the greatest father, but I could never do anything to hurt you, F... whatever."

"Krycek, you scum-sucking rat, are you calling my father a criminal?" I rise and head toward him, fist raised.

He stands and faces me. Arms held at his sides, he meets my gaze directly. It's a macho invitation.

Scully intervenes and steps between us. "Calm down, Mulder."

I let it go. Only because this is not the man who killed my father.

Sitting again, I take a moment to compose myself. Chip's head falls back in my lap and I pet him before I continue. "Scully, when did you become my partner? You are my partner, aren't you?"

"Yes. I joined the X-Files in 1994."

"Were you sent to spy on me?"

"I believe I was, but I never really did. I just presented reports on our work and let Blevins interpret them however he wanted to."

"What was our first case together?"

"Bellefleur, Oregon. Some high school students had been killed. We exhumed one of the bodies, but it turned out to be the body of an orangutan."

I add details. "The comatose kid had been leaving his room and somehow killing the others, but we saved one girl and the boy came out of the coma."

"That's right."

"Your father died that year."

She nodded.

"You wouldn't take time off. We were on a case right afterward. A kidnapping."

"Luther Lee Boggs."

"Yeah. I got shot in the leg, but you rescued the kidnapped man. The perp was killed trying to escape."

Scully continues, "You were still in the hospital when Boggs was executed. We had a long talk that night and it was the first time I really accepted that my father was gone."

"No discrepancies there."

Krycek asks, "So when did I become your partner?"

"1995. Scully was teaching at Quantico. I filled out a 302 for a case, but you got it first."

"Augustus Cole. You wouldn't shake my hand when I first introduced myself. You told me to get a pool car and ditched me to work the case alone." The gently reproachful tone of his voice speaks volumes about his feelings for the missing man.

"But you caught up with me. Said you didn't appreciate being ditched like somebody's bad date. Stuck to me like a barnacle for the rest of the case."

He smiles sadly. "Yeah, I did."

"Tell me how Cole died."

"You told me to put down my weapon, but he had a gun. I was confused, but your life was in danger. I shot him."

"Correct. A few weeks later, I was swimming in the pool at Hoover. You came to get me for a hostage situation."

"Wait! That never happened."

"What?"

Shaking his head, he replies, "I never went to get you at the pool. I don't remember any hostage situation."

"Duane Barry?"

"I don't know the name."

"Scully's abduction?"

"My what?" Her voice is piercing.

I ignore her question. We're narrowing in on something here. "The two histories seem much the same until 1995. Let's go back to 94/95 and look more closely."

"Tell me about my abduction, Mulder."

"It's not important," I bark at her. "It didn't happen to you."

Taking a deep breath, I allow myself to feel it. It's almost... relief. My actions didn't lead to her abduction. It's so wonderful, but at the same time, I hurt for my Scully. I'm so sorry, Scully. I never wanted that to happen to you.

In this world, Scully's obviously frustrated, but she says nothing.

"Let's see if we can find anything different in our first year as partners."

Krycek makes sandwiches while she and I review 1994. Not surprisingly, my memory is better than hers, but we can't find any discrepancies. We review case after case. I recall lots of personal details and trivia, but we match on everything she can remember. There are minor disagreements on what really occurred in some of the cases, but nothing that can't be explained by the difference in our perspectives.

"Mulder, we've been over every 1994 case before the X-Files were closed. And some of the cases after. Maybe it's something between you and Alex."

"No." That bastard could not be an important turning point in my life. "Let's forget the cases and try personal stuff."

A half hour later, we have to give up. We haven't found a single discrepancy before Krycek became my partner on the Augustus Cole case.

Nudging Chip away from my lunch, I give a heavy sigh and begin the line of questioning I'd most wanted to avoid. "Krycek, you said we bought this house three years ago. When did we... become... lovers?"

"The night I killed Cole."

I hadn't expected that, but at the same time it seems oddly right. "Tell me about that night. After you shot Cole."

He closes his eyes for a moment before he begins. "I went to Cole to retrieve the gun, but I couldn't find it. Cole was dead. There was a bible near his body, but no gun. You helped me look for a weapon, but I didn't think you believed me. Finally, you told me I'd done the right thing. I knew you hadn't seen a gun, but you said it anyway."

Krycek sips his Coke. "We were both interviewed for hours--separately--by the local Bureau and NYPD. You later told me you backed up my story, said Cole was pointing the bible at you, and in the dim light, it could have easily appeared to be a gun."

He stops to eat a sandwich crust, as if reluctant to continue. Finally, he speaks again, his voice heavy with guilt. "I took a bathroom break and went to the rental car. I retrieved the folder about the sleep eradication experiments from under the floor mat and put it in my suitcase. Later, at the hotel, I read all of it. I didn't want to believe it, but everything was documented so believably. It bothered me what had been done to those people. By our own government. After the day I'd had, I was too keyed up to sit still, so I went for a walk. I drank a cherry Icee and watched the people on the street. I felt so... apart from it all.

"As I walked back to the hotel, I felt worse about taking the file than about killing Cole. I don't mean to be callous, but I thought he was pointing a gun at you. That we couldn't find a gun afterward made me very uncomfortable, but Cole clearly wanted to die. Stealing evidence from you was different. I betrayed you.

"You hadn't exactly been a friend to me--more like a cross to bear--but, since I was really working for Charles Spender, I couldn't blame you. You were decent to me after I'd killed Cole, when you could have easily gotten me kicked out of the Bureau or maybe even brought up on wrongful death charges. I sat in my hotel room feeling guilty and thinking about my future. It looked bad. Real bad. I hadn't seen Spender commit any major crimes, but I knew what kind of person he was. The Machiavellian way he talked about fixing 'the Mulder problem' told me all I needed to know. He was dangerous. Part of me wanted to be dangerous, too, to prove myself. But another part just wanted something more... human.

"Then you knocked on my door."

I shake my head. "I didn't. I never knocked on your door." I'd thought about it though. I'd wondered if he needed comfort, but I was more than a little suspicious about that missing file. My anger held me back.

Fuck, it couldn't be that. It just couldn't be. "This can't be it. Scully, what else did I tell you about college?"

She shakes her head at me, scolding. "Mulder, I think you need to-"

"Scully, dammit!" I gesture at Krycek. "This bastard. I didn't... He isn't... this can't be the point of divergence."

"I know it's not what you want to hear, Mul-"

"No!" I jump up. "I will not accept-"

They both stand and face me, but he's the one who says it. "The truth?" His beautiful green eyes are all confrontation, but his tone is gentler. "We've been looking for this all day and you don't even want to hear it?"

It would be a lot easier to take from Scully.

Every atom in my body wants to run out that door. And if I knew a way to get back to my world, I would.

Glaring at him, I reply, "I never would've gone to you that night. I didn't trust you."

"Well, in this universe--my universe--you did. You brought pizza."

Pepperoni with double onions. "What kind?" I inquire in a defeated tone, cursing my eidetic memory.

"Pepperoni with lots of onions."

I offer only a grim nod.

Doubting green eyes flash at me, "How could you know that if you weren't there?"

I sit down, not wanting to answer. Finally the words just come. "That's what I ordered. I remember being on the phone with the pizza place. For a moment, I hesitated--should I order a large to share? But I was angry, so I didn't. I figured you could get your own damned dinner."

"I like my Mulder better," he replies bitterly.

Sitting down again, Krycek picks at his sandwich. "You were shirtless when you came to my room. You have a beautiful chest--not lumpy like a bodybuilder, but very masculine."

Scully interrupts. "Excuse me, boys. I don't need to hear this part. If you two think you can have this conversation without killing each other, I'll take the dogs for a walk."

Krycek nods. "Sure. You know where the leashes are."

She meets my eyes and I shrug. I won't promise not to kill him.

Scully leaves via the garage. 110 lbs of woman with what looks like 250 pounds of eager dog. I hope they're well trained.

Chapter 3

Not completely sure I want to hear about Alex Krycek seducing me, I gesture at him to continue.

"You looked good to me--really good. I wanted you. I wanted to forget what was happening to me. I wanted you to fuck me into oblivion. The report on you Spender gave me said you were bisexual, but-"

"What?"

"The report said you were bi."

"How'd they know that?"

"I have no idea. Are you bi?"

"Yeah, but I don't see how they could have known."

"They did." He waits for me, but when I raise no further objections he starts again. "I could tell you didn't think much of me. I had no plans to seduce you, because I was certain you'd reject me.

"You took the desk chair and I sat on the armchair. I watched you watching me. I was shirtless, too, and you checked out my body, but I still couldn't read it as interest."

Simultaneously horrified and fascinated, I watch the emotions cross his face. His expression reveals a great deal, so unlike the Krycek I know.

"You asked if I was feeling okay about Cole. I said that I was. So we talked about nothing--sports, hockey, I think. Then you got this look on your face--embarrassed like a kid. It was so cute. You had pizza cheese on your chest. I stopped breathing as you reached down to scrape it off. You caught my eyes and I realized I'd given myself away. I looked away for an instant, but when I looked back you were licking the cheese off your fingers. In a very sensual way."

Part of me wants to tell him to shut up and give me a quick summary. But another part of me is rapt. I want to hear every gory detail.

"You were deliberately teasing me... aware of my attraction and using it to harass me. The way you'd treated me, I just couldn't believe it was mutual. I was so hard it hurt, but I tried to stay cool. I told you you'd missed a spot. Your eyes dropped to your belly, then flashed back up at me. You said, 'Why don't you get it?'

"In a millisecond, I was kneeling on the floor lapping at cheese on your chest. Your hands found my hair, just stroking me. I straightened up and you kissed me." His eyes get dreamy with the remembrance.

I think I'm going to be sick.

"It took us about a minute to get to the bed. We groped and bit and kissed each other in a frenzy, until you whispered in my ear, 'Got any lube?' I found something in my travel kit and asked, 'How do you want me?' You said, 'On all fours.'

"In those days, I still bottomed to you..."

What the fuck?!

Krycek gives me a smug smile. I'm too stunned to speak. I'd like to pound that smile of his into his carpet. D'ya think Scully would let me get away with it?

"At my coaxing you gave it to me rough and hard. It was just what I needed to get me out of my brain. Afterward, we collapsed on the bed. I didn't want you to leave. Those same dark thoughts were coming back, and I just wanted to hold you. Maybe you didn't respect me, but you liked me enough to fuck me.

"I thought it was over when you rolled off me. Then I felt your arm wrap around my waist. You pulled me close and spooned in behind me. You kissed the back of my neck and whispered, 'Sssh. It's okay.' Later you told me you thought I was still upset about Cole.

"I didn't sleep that night, thinking about what I'd been assigned to do. To you. I didn't want to do it anymore. But if I didn't report to Spender, he'd come after me. The best case scenario was that I'd lose my job. I wondered if he'd kill me. The straightforward way to get out of something that's corrupting you is to stop and come clean before it gets any worse. I imagined doing that, but I couldn't imagine you forgiving me or wanting to have anything to do with me again.

"You woke during the night. You kissed my shoulders and stroked my belly. It was the most incredible affection. I'd never experienced anything like it that wasn't a prelude to sex. You asked me if I wanted to talk. I said, 'No. Just keep touching me.' And you did.

"Until that night, I thought all I needed was respect.

"In the morning, on the drive back to Washington, I asked you to pull over at a noisy onramp and we stood at the side of the road. I confessed everything, how the bastards had recruited me in college, helped me to get into the academy and how I was assigned to watch you. I told you everything I'd told them about you and the case. I saw the warmth fade away in your face and I was so sure it was over between us.

"We drove to the Bureau and hijacked A.D. Skinner. You were aggressive with him--told him we had to talk away from Hoover. So we found a park. And I told my story again. Skinner was furious. He reamed me up and down at least three times. You were all business. It was just a case to you. If you'd had any feelings for me, they were gone.

"Skinner wanted to turn me so I could spy on Spender and his cronies. I knew I should do it. I owed it to you and the Bureau. But I just couldn't. I felt this urgent need to break away from Spender. It felt like if I didn't sever the tie then--and completely--I would become one of them. If I refused to be a mole, Skinner might fire me and you'd probably hate me even more, but I had to do it for myself. I apologized profusely, but said no. It was hard to tell who was more angry, you or Skinner.

"I couldn't face Spender again, so I sent a telegram to our planned meeting. It basically said our arrangement was over and that I'd keep what I knew to myself as long as he left me alone. I'm sure that riled the old man, but at least I didn't have to hear about it.

"The next night as I was unlocking my apartment door, a man stepped out of the shadows and shot me in the thigh. I almost bled to death waiting for the ambulance, but I knew it was just a warning. I didn't know enough to be a threat to them. I was grateful for that bullet.

"I gave you back the sleep eradication file. You assembled an obstruction of justice case against Spender. Skinner met privately with him to discuss it. After the meeting, Skinner wouldn't tell us what happened. He made some sort of deal and ordered you to drop the case against Spender. You were livid. We later concluded Skinner negotiated to keep me alive and free of criminal charges. It also got Spender off his back.

"Skinner gave me an indefinite assignment as an evidence clerk, but at least I still had my badge. You spoke to me only twice in the next few weeks, both times just business, tying up some loose ends on the Cole case.

"I knew I'd made the right choice, though. But it was hard not to wonder if you'd have even been in my life if I hadn't been working with Spender. Maybe I was just a one-night stand, but maybe I wasn't. That was the worst punishment.

"Five weeks after I killed Cole, you showed up at my apartment in the middle of the night. You wouldn't even come in, just stood at the door. You told me I'd done the right thing. That I deserved to be forgiven for my mistakes, because I'd confessed and made it right. Then you turned and left.

"It took me a few weeks to get up my nerve, but I finally sent you an email. An email? Wasn't I brave? I asked you to dinner. I still have your emailed reply."

We both sit quietly for a long time.

He doesn't seem like the Krycek from my universe any longer. Just a hurt young man.

I finally manage to speak. "It could have happened like that. I was attracted to you." It's painful to say, but he deserves to hear it.

He turns away, but I can see his eyes are moist. After a time, his face goes calm and he asks, "So where's my Fox?"

"He lets you call him that?"

"Yeah and I'm not going to tell you the other things I call him." He gives a mild smirk. "So where is he?"

"If I had to guess, I'd say he's in my world."

"With your Alex?"

"He's not MY ALEX."

"You know what I mean, dammit."

"Well, he's probably not with Krycek. We're enemies. You never came forward in my world."

"But Fox doesn't know that, does he?"

I don't know how to answer that. I couldn't really visualize a version of myself seeking out Krycek for love and affection, but his Fox might do just that.

"Is he at least safe? I mean your--the Alex in your world, he wouldn't hurt Fox would he?"

"Krycek is a violent man, but on the other hand I can handle him. I've beat him up quite a few times and he hardly fought back."

"If he wasn't fighting back," his tone turned icy, "why were you beating him?"

"Because he's a liar, a traitor and a murderer. You'd have to be there to really understand."

"I'm grateful I'm not. It sounds like you use him as a punching bag."

The garage door opens and in bounds Chip and Sashi. Scully follows behind, not looking any worse for wear. "Can I rejoin the party?"

"Sure, Dana," replies Krycek, giving me a look of distaste.

Sashi settles down next to him, head in his lap. Chip nuzzles my foot.

Dana sits near me on the couch. "So, carefully leaving out the X-rated content, can you bring me up to date? What did you learn?"

Krycek defers to me with a gesture.

"The night Krycek killed Cole, I was in my hotel room ordering a pizza. I considered getting a large and sharing it with him, but I didn't. I stayed in my room all night. In your world, I did share my pizza. He and I ended up in bed together. The next day, he confessed that he'd been working for Cancerman."

Krycek's eyebrows go up. "Cancerman?"

"It fits, doesn't it?"

"Oh, yeah. It killed him."

"He's dead?"

"Yes. He died of lung cancer in 1998."

"It's hard to see how a pizza could cause that." Damn. Share a pizza, get laid and that fucker dies? Sounds like the biggest mistake I ever made.

Scully picks up the conversation. "So what happened to Alex in your world?"

I meet Alex's eyes. "It's not a pretty story. You sure you want to hear it?"

He considers it for a minute, while stroking the dog. When he speaks again, he's looking at his hands. "I know where I was headed. It's going to be violent. They were worried about Scully's influence on you. I was afraid they'd ask me to hurt her." Eyes closed, his voice is weak when he continues, "Go ahead. I should probably hear this."

"The day you found me at the Hoover pool... Duane Barry, an escaped mental patient, had taken hostages in a travel agency. They called me because he claimed to have been abducted by aliens. Barry got shot and was in custody at the hospital. The next night, he escaped and kidnapped Scully. I think you, Krycek, told your bosses where to find Scully and they had Barry kidnap her."

Krycek bristles at the accusation. "They didn't need me to tell them where to find Scully. Her home address, home phone, cell phone, social security number and car license plate were all in the bio they gave me."

"'Kay. I buy that." I shrug. There's no way to make this more palatable. "I figured out they were taking her to Skyland Mountain, so you and I drove there. The mountain was mostly deserted in the off-season, but we found a maintenance man. The tram was the quickest way to the top. Unfortunately, it hadn't passed safety inspection. I pressured the guy to send me up in it. You stayed with him and I got on the tram. Near the top, the tram stopped. When I climbed onto the roof, it started again, nearly tossing me off. I was jerked back and forth for a few seconds before it calmed down. By the time I reached the peak, Scully was gone. Barry told me she'd been taken by the aliens in his place.

"I interrogated Barry, but he was less than helpful. You and I were the only people I allowed to see him. So when he suddenly died of no obvious cause, I guessed that you'd killed him--probably using some kind of poison."

Krycek braces himself in his chair.

"The tram operator was never seen again. You probably killed him and nearly killed me by monkeying with the tram controls. By the time I figured it out, your apartment was empty and your telephone disconnected."

Scully's face is ashen.

Krycek seems to be trying to breathe. Finally, he opens his eyes and looks at me. "So you never saw him again?"

"Oh, I wish. The next time..."

"Wait." He gave Scully a meaningful glance. "Tell us what happened to Dana first."

"She was missing for three months and turned up at a hospital in a coma. No clue where she'd been taken or why. We subsequently determined that she'd been experimented on, had all her ova removed and a microchip implanted in her neck. A couple of years later, removal of that chip caused brain cancer, which was nearly fatal."

Krycek squints a pained apology to Scully.

She reaches out and puts a hand on his knee. "It didn't happen to me, Alex. You haven't done anything to hurt me."

He gives her a weak nod.

"Do you want me to continue?"

"Yeah," he replies tonelessly.

Scully interjects, "Alex, are you sure? This is upsetting you, but you didn't do any of it. Mulder's not even certain his Alex did these things."

"He's not my Alex!"

Shaking his head, Krycek insists, "Tell me the rest."

I give him the condensed version, because it does seem unfair to burden him with guilt for crimes he never committed. "You turned up almost a year later. You shot my father, then I caught you snooping around my place. I tried to beat a confession out of you and, when that didn't work, I threatened to shoot you. That's when Scully shot me in the shoulder. She thought I was going to kill you and it would end up looking like I'd shot both you and my father. You ran away while she was taking care of me.

"I thought you also killed Scully's sister, but-"

Krycek interrupts, his face alarmed, "Melissa?"

Scully's eyes open wide.

"Yeah, but DNA evidence linked the crime to another man, Luis Cardinal."

"Hispanic guy, about six feet, forty-something?"

"Yeah, did you know him?"

He nods. "The man who shot me."

"You and some other friends of yours beat up A.D. Skinner and stole a DAT tape from him. A lot of people died for that tape. It contained information about a planned alien invasion and human collaboration with the aliens."

Scully's too familiar doubting look passes across her face. Matched by a mirror image from Krycek.

I shrug. This is not the time to explain that. "The next time I ran into you, a few months later, you were selling information from the DAT tape. Using that information, someone unleashed an alien life form suspended in black oil. I captured you in the Hong Kong airport and you agreed to take me to the tape. You were infected with the black oil, but I didn't realize until you'd slipped away again. I tracked you down to a missile silo in North Dakota, but Cancerman hauled us out of there. I don't know how you escaped."

Krycek's starting to look a bit dazed.

"You reappeared working with a right wing militia, making bombs. You were the passenger in an escaping truck, but you shot the driver and allowed yourself to be caught. Then you sent me on a wild goose chase that ended in Tunguska, Siberia. We were captured and imprisoned. They used me as a test subject, probably developing a vaccine against the black oil."

The accused rises abruptly and goes to the fireplace.

For some reason I can't stop. I have to tell it all. "They bound me under a grid of chicken wire and drizzled the stuff on my face. The oil oozed into me through my mouth, nose and eyes. You were probably dining with the camp commandant at the time." When did I start sounding so angry?

Krycek is standing at the fireplace, looking at the wall over the mantel.

"I managed to escape, but Tunguskan peasants wanted to protect me from the tests by chopping off my arm. Seems the left arm--the smallpox vaccination site--is important to the testing. The next time I saw you, your left arm was fake. It's the only time I've ever seen you get what you deserved."

"Mulder!" shrieks Scully. "You're hurting Alex. And apparently taking a great deal of pleasure doing it. He's done nothing to you."

She goes to stand beside him. "I'm sorry, Alex. This isn't about you. Please try to remember that."

"I could have done those things, Dana."

"But you didn't, Alex."

"I appreciate what you're trying to do, but there's only one person who could make me feel better right now and he's not here." He turns away and seems to slip into his own little world.

"Do you want me to finish? There's not much more."

Without looking away from the wall, he nods.

"In 1998, you came to my apartment. That's when I noticed the prosthetic arm. You claimed to be trying to stop the alien invasion and wanted me to go rescue a captured rebel alien. You gave a speech, kissed me on the cheek, returned my gun and walked out muttering something in Russian. Sounded like: Eetoshiti bien toverish."

He spoke without turning, "Oodachi tybie, tovarisch," as if imparting the translation to the wall. "Good luck to you my friend... or comrade."

"That's it. There isn't any more."

Krycek's staring off into space.

I don't quite believe what I'm seeing. He's feeling guilty for something he never did, when the Krycek in my world doesn't feel any guilt for any of it.

They simply cannot be the same man.

On the day Cole was killed I didn't go to his hotel room. But, if I had, a different Krycek would have been waiting there. One who wouldn't have come clean. I have to believe it. Or else... I can't let myself even think it. "Krycek, are you still with us?"

Scully gives me a dirty look, but Krycek nods grimly and takes his seat. When he speaks his voice is low, almost inaudible. "Why didn't you just shoot me? If you'd done that early on, it would have saved us both a lot of misery to say nothing of the lives I took."

"I don't just shoot people because I don't like them. I'm in law enforcement, you know."

"You should have, Mulder," he says, his voice trailing off.

Scully jumps in, "Mulder, why didn't you arrest him and prosecute the cases?"

"He's a slippery fellow. I captured him a few times, but never managed to hold on to him long enough to put him in jail."

She eyes me suspiciously. "How many of these crimes could you have convicted him for?"

"Not many," I reply. It was my turn to look away.

"Okay, how do you know he killed your father?"

"He turned up at my apartment that night..."

"And that's your evidence? For that you tried to kill him?"

"I was under the influence of hallucinogenic drugs."

"This is supposed to improve your case against Alex?"

"No, Scully. Dammit, I know he killed my father."

"Tell it to the judge, Mulder!"

I can't explain it to her. Why do I feel like I'm the one who's on trial?

"So did you have more evidence on the other cases?"

"We were both chasing the truck when he shot the militia man. There was no one else in the vehicle and the gun he tossed out the window matched the bullet."

"So he killed a militia bomb maker, so you could capture him?"

I nod.

"Hell, I'd have done that myself to prevent their escape. You know, Mulder, none of this sounds like real detective work. It sounds like you have private reasons for hating him and you've linked him to any crime you can, to justify your own feelings."

Impossible not to resent Scully defending him against me.

I'm formulating an angry retort when he says, "Dana." His sad eyes watch her calmly. "Ease up on him. I asked to hear the story. He told it. Let it go."

I can see objections forming on her face but, after a brief hesitation, she nods.

We sit silently for a while. Scully's right in a way. Something about Krycek infuriates me, drives me past the point of reason. But he did commit those crimes, or at least most of them. I'm certain of it. In this world, even Alex believes me. And he ought to know. If he is the same person. I still don't want to think about that.

Scully breaks the silence. "I could use some dinner."

Alex replies, "You two go. I'm not hungry."

I nod and head for the door.

"Fox, uh, Mulder."

I turn back to face him.

His voice is tinged with hurt. "Do you know how to get my lover back? Is that something we can do tonight?"

I'm really not sure about that pesky problem. If we have to go back to the laboratory, it can't be done immediately. "Not tonight."

He gives me a curt nod. "Tomorrow then. We'll continue tomorrow. I've had enough."

Scully and I are at the door, when he speaks again. "Wait." He pulls an overnight bag out of a coat closet and tosses it to me. "Why don't you get some clothes? The bedroom's up the stairs, third door on the left."

I'm curious about the house. The hardwood steps are immaculate, as if they'd been installed yesterday. I pass a tidy bathroom and a closet before I reached the bedroom. It's a huge room, with a queen-sized bed. Maybe a little small for two big guys, but maybe they like to cuddle. A truly frightening thought, but it seems to fit this little happily-married-in-the-suburbs existence.

The carpet is flattened in a big area on one side of the bed. The dogs spent the night here. The bed frame is heavy shaker oak. I notice a chain draped around one post on the headboard. My fingertips follow the chain to a leather cuff tucked out of sight in the bed frame. Remembering what he'd said, 'In those days, I still bottomed to you,' I try to imagine myself in bondage on this bed...spread-eagled, Krycek kneeling over me. It doesn't compute, but my cock gets hard anyway.

I find the closet and a chest of drawers next to the en suite bathroom. Opening a drawer at random, I select a couple of T-shirts. So whose clothes are whose? The closet presents the same problem. A lot of beautiful suits. Hand tailored for his body or mine?

None of the crappy suits he used to wear to work. Had that been a disguise?

Returning to the top of the stairs, I call down to him. "Krycek, I need your help."

He takes the stairs two at a time. "What is it?"

"I can't figure out which clothes are mine."

"It doesn't really matter. You can take whatever you want." He shrugs and leads the way back to the bedroom. "A couple pairs of jeans and shirts? Maybe a suit?"

"Sure."

Krycek opens a drawer and starts tossing underwear and socks at me. I sit on the bed, packing and watching him. He looks good, damned good. This man has never done anything to hurt me. Or the people I love. In this world, I love him.

Maybe I could let him tie me up and have his way with me.

He hands me a bagged suit. I peek under the opaque plastic. Charcoal gray Armani. "This can't be mine. I never wear this color."

"I know. I had to bribe you to buy it."

Our eyes meet and he flushes a little. "I gave you a blow job in the men's dressing room, but I got my way. It looks great on you." He goes to the bathroom and returns with a travel kit.

Chapter 4

At dinner, Scully and I review cases after the night Krycek shot Cole. Some are the same, but others aren't. Some of the cases ended differently. None of it seems like obvious consequences of my relationship with Krycek, but things are just different. Less violent, too, as if the cases had been gentler on us.

After a long discussion, a pattern begins to emerge.

I'm forced to admit that Scully is lighter, happier, less haunted than she is in my universe. Fewer of the awful things that occurred in my Scully's life had happened to this Scully. No abduction. Melissa still alive. No cancer. No Emily.

Fuck. A gnawing unease is turning in my intestines. If I had--don't go there, Mulder. Just don't.

Her Mulder is different, too. More grounded and less likely to charge off with a half-baked plan. As much as I don't want to, I have to give Alex some credit for that. In my world I'm still lonely, but here I have a beautiful home, an affectionate lover and two great dogs. I can't be quite sure how having those things would improve me, but they had to. Somehow.

As we talk about the work, I try to follow the thread of the Consortium, but it doesn't seem to be there. Scully indicates we had seen Cancerman a few times around the Bureau before he died, but hadn't had much to do with him. We never investigated a bomb threat in Texas, nor had we gone to Antarctica. There was a DAT tape, but it was stolen quietly from my apartment. We never met Albert Hosteen.

During a lapse in the conversation, I try to sort out the scariest part of all this.

Are the aliens quietly planning colonization here, undetected by this world's version of me? Or somehow could they have been stopped or never arrived in the first place? This could be great news or impending doom. The happier Mulder might never learn enough to prevent colonization here.

Surely a pizza and a fuck in Mulder and Krycek's miserable lives wouldn't make the difference on the alien invasion. It makes my brain go tilt.

Still trying to slog my way through this, I inquire about Skinner. "So what did we do to get transferred out of Skinner's division again?"

Scully looks confused. "We didn't get transferred out, Mulder."

"Then why are we reporting to Jackson?"

She puts down her fork and takes a deep breath. "Because Skinner was killed in 1997."

Skinner dead? "What happened?"

"He was shot by Agent Voii."

I gape at her... Voii?

With a grim shake of her head, Scully replies, "She was guarding Modell's sister, Linda Bowman, at a safe house. Bowman must have pushed her."

"Shit."

"Voii, um, retired from the Bureau. She's a computer programmer now."

Scully's guilt couldn't be more obvious. Irrationally, I feel guilty, too. I didn't cause his death. I wasn't even there. Nevertheless I'm certain it's my fault and, oddly, I miss the man. A man I was annoyed with during nearly every encounter in my own world.

Sunday morning, after I shower and dress, I find Scully seated at the breakfast table with Krycek and a pretty Hispanic man.

"Rubin, this is Mulder."

"Honey, I know Mulder."

"Remember what I told you? This isn't really Mulder, not our Mulder anyway."

Confused, cola brown eyes meet mine, and he shakes my hand. "Mulder, I'm Rubin, Dana's lover."

"Nice to meet you."

I join them at the table, with coffee and a bagel. He's a very pretty man... almost more feminine in appearance than Dana. I suppress a smirk.

In a business-like tone, which seems abrasive at breakfast, Krycek says, "So how are we going to get rid of you and get my Fox back?"

Sneering exaggeratedly, I reply, "Don't hold back, Krycek. Tell us how you really feel."

"Look, I don't have anything against you, Mulder. You may be enjoying this fascinating little X-File, but my lover is missing and possibly in danger. I want him back. ASAP. How're we going to accomplish this?"

"I'd like to spend a few days here, learning what I can before I go back."

"Not acceptable. My lover's life is on the line."

"Look, I just want a day or two at the most."

"Do you even know how to go back?"

"I think so."

Looking at me, Scully puts a soothing hand on Krycek's forearm. "Mulder, tell us how you got here."

I pour another cup of coffee and sift through my thoughts. "Yesterday afternoon, I was in a laboratory in the desert. You--or the other Krycek, whatever--fired at me while chasing me through the lab. I ended up in this room with some kind of marble gateway. I went through it, hoping for escape. And then I was in a white place for a while and, when the fog started to fade, I found myself standing in front of your house."

Krycek gapes at me as if I just told him his dogs were dead.

"So, I suppose, to go back, I go back through the gateway."

"What if the damned gateway doesn't exist in this world?" His voice is almost shrill.

"I don't know, Krycek."

"What if it sends you to some third world and gives me some other Mulder?"

"I can't answer that. It's a possibility."

He slams his coffee mug onto the table. "So you have no coherent plan?"

"If we can find the gateway-"

"If?"

I ignore his accusing glare. "When we find the gateway, the men who built it can tell us how to reverse it."

A tiny hope flares in his eyes. "So, where is it exactly?"

"A couple of hours out of Phoenix." Even as I say it, something doesn't feel right. It is in Arizona, isn't it? I can see it so clearly in my mind's eye, but the memory has a vague quality to it. Weird.

For now, my main objective is to stall, so I can spend some time exploring this place. Chat with Scully about cases. Find out what else is different here. Maybe see my dad. Krycek wants his Fox, so I'll use that to slow him down. "Why don't we spend today and tomorrow trying to trace your Fox? Then, if we don't locate him, we can fly to Phoenix on Tuesday."

He glowers at me. "I've already done most of what I can think to do. Friday night after you left I drove straight to Hoover. His car was parked in the usual area on G-3. The engine was cold. Your office was empty, though the light was on and the door unlocked. Not how he'd leave it."

"Never," concurs Scully.

"I went to Security and reviewed the passcard logs. Fox entered on Friday at 08:21, 13:32 and 22:17. He exited at 12:04 and 23:56. You and Scully went there Friday night, didn't you?"

"Yeah."

"Did you use your passcard or just follow Scully in?"

"My passcard."

"So that's the 22:17 entry and the 23:35 exit. By now some security geek has probably gotten a report that shows you entering twice without any exit." He gives me a wry glance. "I walked the halls in the basement, the coffee room, near A.D. Jackson's office, the library, the gym and any other place I could think of. I asked everyone I saw if they'd seen you. Agent Davidson said you left the library at around 6:00. That was after Dana and I left."

"You left together?"

Scully replies, "I rode in with you, expecting to return the same way, but you got on this quest trying to relate Celtic folklore to those killings in New Hampshire. I asked Alex to drive me home. We left at about 5:30."

Krycek nods. "Security log says we left at 17:34. I gave Fox a kiss in his office before we exited, so we probably last saw him around 17:30."

Glancing away from the table, picturing it in her mind, Scully offers, "My guess is Mulder went to the Bureau library hoping to avoid the trip to the Library of Congress. But Celtic folklore isn't a big law enforcement topic so he probably gave up. That would fit with him leaving the library around 6:00."

Rubin is watching us silently, bemused. Maybe he's seen us like this before.

"I couldn't find anyone else who saw him that night," Krycek says in a tone of finality. "He, or rather you, turned up at our house around 18:45. So whatever happened must have occurred between 18:00 and 18:45. Since the door was unlocked, I'd guess it happened in your office."

I ask, "Did you see anything out of the ordinary?"

"No, but it's probably worth having Scully take a look. Even you might notice something I didn't." He blots with a napkin at a spot of coffee on his upper lip before he continues, "We should also take a look at the security videos. I printed a list of the camera locations. He should have passed some of them."

"Let's do it," says Scully.

"There is one minor problem. I need to tell Security what I'm looking for on those tapes. I can't exactly tell them he's missing..."

Good point.

Scully provides the answer. "Tell them he has amnesia and we're trying to find out what happened to him. This will also give you a reason not to be at your desk next week."

Krycek nods. "We'll stay as close as possible to the truth. He turned up in front of the house at 18:45. We don't know how he got there."

So we agree to go to the Bureau. Scully will go ahead and report my 'amnesia.' Alex and I will pick up lunch and meet her at Security. I'm mildly curious about any traces left by the other Mulder, but doubtful we'll learn anything useful. But I do want a chance to wander around the Bureau, especially the X-Files.

We take Alex's car, an old white sport-utility vehicle. The front two seats are clean and tidy, but the back is coated with black and white dog hairs. The car smells a little doggy, but not too bad and he doesn't seem to mind.

He stops at a Jewish Deli. My favorite sandwich shop. It seems unchanged. The same 30-something woman greets us at the counter with a smile. "How you doing, guys?"

"Not bad, Margie," Krycek lies, "How're you?"

"Could be better," she replies, batting her eyelashes at him.

Alex doesn't seem embarrassed by the attention. "How about smoked turkey on dark rye?"

"Sure." She looks up at me for the first time, "The usual for you?"

There's nothing usual in my life today. I nod, betting I'll get corned beef on light rye.

Krycek asks, "What about Scully? Probably turkey, but what kind of bread?"

"Sourdough, I think."

"Okay, Margie, add a turkey on sourdough. And three sodas."

"You got it, cutie," she replies with a wink.

He stays to pay. I go to the cooler, dodging a running child, returning with two Cokes for us and a Diet Coke for Scully.

Krycek tucks his wallet in his back pocket, shaking his head at me as I approach. "You better be the one on the diet. Scully'll kill you if you bring her that."

"My Scully always drinks Diet Coke."

"Well, your Scully isn't here. Mine drinks regular Coke."

I shrug and turn to go back to the cooler.

At just that moment, I hear a click sound from the front door, which my brain instantly identifies as the safety being snapped off a handgun. Shit! I'm not even armed. I freeze as Krycek takes two steps, so that his body is between the door and mine. As he moves his elbow swings out. He's reaching for his gun.

Bastard. I can't see what's happening. And I have no weapon.

In a moment, I watch his shoulders relax and he steps aside. His right hand slips unobtrusively out of his coat. "Shit! Just a kid abusing the lever on the candy machine." He gives me a wry glance. "At least I didn't shoot him..."

It dawns on me that this man I thought I hated was instinctively protecting me.

I hold his eyes for a moment trying to understand how he can be so different from the Krycek I know. His green eyes sear into me passionately. I feel a twinge in my dick. Then he turns to the counter.

Margie is watching us, aware something just happened and trying to understand what. Alex takes the bag from the counter. "Thanks, Margie."

We spend the afternoon in Security reviewing the tapes. The only facts we're able to establish are the ones we already know. A camera caught me--even I would have thought it was me, if I hadn't known--entering the library at 17:42, departing at 18:19. The basement camera, near the elevator, showed me walking toward my office at 18:22. No departure. We check the tapes twice, between 18:00 and 19:00. There's only one way out of the basement, past the camera by the elevator, so unless he'd deliberately pressed himself against the wall under the camera, he hadn't left in any ordinary way.

We go to the basement. Alex and I check out the men's room, but don't see anything out of the ordinary. Both of us use the facilities and not very subtly check out each other's equipment. I am tempted to ask if I have the same dick as his Mulder, but I just can't go there. Not with him.

He's circumcised and well endowed. I wonder what it looks like erect. I have a feeling if we stood there very long, I'd get to see. I nervously zip up and wash my hands.

We find Scully in the office. It's different, but the same. The furniture has been rearranged and Scully has a desk. Had to be her doing, I'd have never arranged it like that. My 'I Want to Believe' poster is the original, not the replacement given to me after the fire.

The instant I realize what that means, I rush to the file cabinets. "Scully, was there ever a fire that destroyed our files?"

"No, Mulder."

"My X-Files were destroyed in a fire in 1998. But your early files should be the same." I pick up the fake rock where we conceal the cabinet key.

Scully interrupts me. "Stop, Mulder. We need to discuss this."

"What?"

"Those files have restricted access. You're not the man who's on the access list."

"Oh, c'mon, Scully. I'm at least a reasonable facsimile." I flash her a smile.

Alex mutters under his breath, "More like an unreasonable facsimile."

I didn't think I was being unreasonable, but maybe he's just acting out his angst over his missing boyfriend.

Scully takes the key from my hand. "We came here to look for evidence in the disappearance of our Mulder. Those files will still be there tomorrow. We can talk about it tonight."

Objections are ready to come out of my mouth. Instead, I decide to go along with her. I know I can talk her into it, but it'll be easier if she gets her way now.

Alex sits on our dusty visitor's chair while Scully and I inventory the room. I find lots of odd things, but Scully keeps telling me it had been that way for weeks, or months, or years. No sign of a suit coat, so he had it on, which meant he must have been ready to depart. I notice his PC is a better model than mine. And it's on.

"Scully, does he leave the PC on all the time?"

"No. That's the last thing he does when leaves." She closes her eyes to visualize it. "He puts his coat on. Switches off the PC. Turns off the lights and picks up his-" She stops abruptly and goes to the table by the door. She holds up a book with a couple of files tucked into it. "He was taking this home."

It feels almost right. I put the take-home files on the corner of my desk, but the way this room is arranged, the table by the door makes more sense. "So I put those files on that table before I put my coat on, right?"

"Yes. So you were walking to the PC when you disappeared."

I flip through the files, while Scully reads over my shoulder. She explains, "Those three killings are the case we're working on. Three college students killed in New Hampshire. One at a time during some kind of ritual in the state park."

I pull out a crime scene photo. There's a burnt pattern in the grass forming what I think is a Druid symbol. "This is the Celtic connection I was researching in the library." I look at the spine of the book, "History of the Celts."

She eyes me curiously. "Do you know about this case? Did it happen in your world?"

"Not to my knowledge."

Alex appears at my side, takes the materials from my hands and tosses them on the table. "Look guys, I know this is fascinating. I've indulged you a thousand times on the X-Files, but this time I just want my lover back. How are we going to do that?"

It's easy for me to forget there's an urgent problem at hand. I pace the floor a few times before I speak. I want to say this carefully. "I'm not completely certain there's a way back."

Now that I'd spoken his worst fear, his eyes drop closed and he turns away, muttering, "What about the lab in Arizona?"

That's been bothering me. A lot. "The details on how I got there are a little vague in my mind."

He spins around, and I'm caught in the acid glare of those beautiful green eyes. "What?!"

Scully's face shows concern and disbelief. "Mulder, you don't just forget things."

I back away from both of them, putting my hands in the air to fend them off. "I know. I don't understand it."

Alex turns away again, his foot giving a hard kick to an innocent bookcase. "Jesus fucking Christ!"

When he comes at me, I wonder dimly if he's going to hit me. Oddly, I feel no need to strike out at him.

He grabs me by the shoulders and shakes. "God dammit! You got us into this mess, you're going to get him back. He was just getting ready to come home for the night. You were the one who walked through the damned gateway."

Scully says, "C'mon Alex, let's talk about this rationally."

He isn't hearing it. "I don't care what you have to do, you're going to do it. I won't let you rest as long as you're here and he's not. Is that clear, Mulder?"

Just 48 hours ago, I wouldn't have taken that kind of abuse from this man. But he's right. I have fucked him over. This Krycek hasn't done anything but try to help me. I realize I don't want to hurt him.

How completely different this world is from my own...

He releases me and kicks the bookcase again. "I'll be in the car. Come get me when you're ready."

Scully and I sit down. I roll my office chair over to her desk. "Well, what now?" I ask.

"The memory lapse is very suspicious. Maybe it's a clue. Let's talk through what you remember of the last few days and see if we can piece it together."

"Good idea." Then I hesitate, an uncomfortable feeling gnawing at me. "I don't want to leave Alex alone in the car. Let's go back to his house. You ride with him. I'll drive your car."

In the garage, I keep my distance as she explains the plan to a more subdued Alex.

Back at Krycek's house, we greet the dogs. Alex gets down on his knees and lets them slobber all over him while he rubs their fur. He seems to take comfort from the contact. "I'm going to take Chip and Sashi for a walk. Make yourselves at home. Dana, you know where everything is."

"Sure, Alex. No problem."

The garage door clicks shut behind him.

Chapter 5

"Scully, I'm going to look around the house. I'm curious."

"I don't think he'd mind. Should I tag along?"

"Sure."

The kitchen is remarkably well stocked with items I'd never need. A food processor. A mixer. A top-of-the-line set of pans.

"I guess Alex cooks?"

"Like a pro. You're skinnier than our Mulder."

"Yeah. His clothes are a little loose on me."

The fridge is loaded. The beer is all Weinhardt's. My brand. Alex probably just drinks what I like. Lots of cans of Coke. A few Diet 7-up. I hold one up. "Who's this for?"

"Corrine." Catching my gaze, she adds, "Alex's sister."

"He has a sister?"

"Yeah, she's in her mid twenties. A grad student at Georgetown. A real beauty, too. Alex teases you about her, says it's a good thing he met you first." She grins, slightly embarrassed. "I heard him tell you Corrine got the looks, the charm and the brains in the family. You asked what he got. He replied, with a wicked smile, 'Sexual prowess.'"

"How'd I respond to that?"

"You pushed yourself into his arms and said, 'I believe it... Mr. Alex.'"

"I did NOT call him that."

She gives me a smug look. "You did, Mulder."

Of course, we both know I hadn't, but I have to wonder if I would have.

Upstairs, the first room on the right is a study. As soon as the light goes on, I spot my beloved leather sofa. I flop down on it and it feels wonderfully familiar. The worn black leather even smells right.

Scully grins at me. "Alex wanted to get rid of it, but you wouldn't let him."

The TV is right across from the couch, where it should be. The remote is on an end table I don't recognize, but there's a ring in the wood right where I would have put my beer. It's the first time I feel at home in this place.

The desk has only one PC. "Is this my room? Does Alex have an office?"

"His is downstairs, behind the living room."

She walks to the cabinet under the TV and pulls open the top drawer.

I join her and discover my videos. Most of them are really old. My old favorites. At first, I can't figure out why I hadn't bought many new ones. But of course, here I was getting laid. I take a look at three that look foreign to me. 'Daddy's Boy,' has a buff leatherman standing before a kneeling blonde. I might have bought that. Or maybe it was a gift from Alex. 'Spring Break,' with two hunky college boys on the cover. 'My Lesbian Friends,' features a bland guy in bed surrounded by two barely legal girly girls. I'd seen that one in the store, but I never bought it.

I flip back through them, something pinging my sub-conscious. I stop at 'Spring Break.' My jaw falls open. "Scully, you gotta see this." I hand her the box. "Check out the brunette."

She almost squeals. "Oh, my god. It's Alex."

It is indeed a much younger version of Alex Krycek. I didn't recognize him at first with the gayboy haircut. His bare chest is beautiful, shoulders narrower than today, but he's lean and the lines of his pecs are... very nice.

Scully's eyes are wide. "I can't believe it. I have to pretend I haven't seen this or he'll kill me." She hands me the box, pointing to the text on the back, which she reads out loud. "Starring Alex Arntzen as Jake, a horny college boy seeking a vacation spot for his rebellious nine inches."

Suddenly, we're both laughing so hard that breathing is a chore. She puts her hand on my shoulder and I slip an arm around her waist to keep us both standing.

"What d'you bet this is my favorite?" I extract the tape and pull up the plastic housing. Sure enough, the tape is rippled as if it has been played many times. I simply have to watch it.

Her tone takes on a note of authority. "No, Mulder. Don't even think about it."

"C'mon, Scully. You don't have to watch... if you don't want to." My tone suggests that she does want to see it. I wonder if it's true...

"He'll be back any minute, Mulder. This won't be as funny to him as it is to you and me."

Damn her, she's right. I'm determined to watch the tape later, but for now I tuck it into its sleeve. I scan the back for a copyright date. 1991. Probably a college caper. Which means the Krycek in my world had probably starred in this video, too. Fascinating.

The next room is a guest room. Neatly made bed. Linens in bright colors. Not feminine, but not masculine either. A bookcase with most of my Sci-Fi paperbacks and some other paperbacks that have to be Alex's. Classic fiction, mysteries and a few worn titles in Cyrillic.

A small room at the end of the hall seems to be a catch-all. I recognize my skis in brackets mounted on the wall. My deflated-but-signed ball from the 1993 Knicks championship sits on a table. A weight bench with a heavy rack. Has to be his.

On the other side of the hall is the bedroom I'd already been in. I'm drawn back, though. The large windows overlooking the back yard are double blinded--a thin curtain that would let in the light, with a heavier, opaque blind over that. A wooden chest sits at the foot of the bed. Probably for blankets, I think, opening it.

Scully takes a step back. "I wasn't meant to see that."

Sex toy heaven. A very large box of condoms, bottles of lube, leather toys, an assortment of latex dildos--ouch--nipple clamps and a complicated tangle of bondage gear. Even I'm shocked. Maybe it's his outlet for his violent urges. "Fuck, he's a pervert, Scully."

"Gee, Mulder, you're making a questionable assumption."

"You'd be lucky to find so much as one condom from the Jurassic period in my apartment."

"Do you have a lover?"

"No."

"When was the last time you had sex with someone besides yourself?"

"Kristin, the Vampire girl, in 1995." Somebody shut me up. This is getting embarrassing.

"Jeez, no wonder you're so testy."

"I am NOT-"

She interrupts, "No, let me guess. You have about three times as many videos?"

I turn my nose up at her, completely unwilling to acknowledge that she's right.

And the look she gives me tells me she knows it, too.

In the bathroom, there are two sinks and separate cabinets over them. Mine has to be the messy one. I find a bottle of the same after-shave that was in the travel bag. Acqua Di Gio. I've never used it, but it smells very sexy. Scully watches patiently while I dab a little along my jaw line.

Downstairs behind the garage, we find a laundry room. Very neat. Alex must do the laundry, too. I'm starting to wonder if I do anything useful at all in our little suburban love nest.

His office is much smaller than mine. Just a desk, a PC and another bookcase. A couple of photos on the wall. Alex and me at the beach, having a sand fight over the remains of an impressive sand castle. We look good together.

"Rubin took that one. We rented a house at Virginia Beach last spring."

"Wow. My Scully wouldn't take a vacation with me. No way."

"Rubin and I wouldn't either, until Alex promised to keep you from talking about work or anything paranormal."

"Hmphf."

The other photo is just me. It looks like it was taken in the back yard. I'm shirtless in a pair of black 501s, smirking at the cameraman, a lock of hair fallen over one eye. I look good. Not so skinny. More muscular. Even sexy. In a way I'd never imagined myself.

That's how he sees me.

I stare at the photo... something stirs deep inside me.

On his desk is a smaller photo in a sleek black frame. Me again, in a tux with a blue bow tie. He really loves me... or rather his Mulder.

Trying to imagine what this life is like, I almost trip over two giant dog beds in the corner of the room.

Scully follows me back up the stairs into my study. My desk has two frames. My picture of Samantha. And one of those duo frames. One picture is Alex with a towel around his waist. The look on his face is smoldering. No doubt we'd just fucked or were about to. What a sexy man.

The other photo is the two of us seated on the sofa in the living room. I was in the same tux. Alex wore a matching one, with a green tie hanging loose around his neck. Taken after the party. His head's thrown back and mine is resting on his shoulder. His arm is wrapped around my waist.

I want him. I want what this Mulder has.

Scully's peering over my shoulder. "I took that one."

"What was the event?"

"Dinner at the White House. Alex helped the Secret Service catch an ex-con who'd been threatening the Vice President's wife. She invited him." Scully smiles in remembrance. "You were hesitant to go that public with your gay lover, but when I told Alex I'd go with him, you suddenly had a change of heart. Rubin's sister runs a limo service, so he borrowed a silver blue limo. We dressed him up like a chauffeur and he drove you there in style."

I look back at the picture. Here I have a life. A good one. Someone who loves me.

My chest aches with a sense of loss, but I haven't lost anything. Have I? I guess I'm just sad that I don't have anyone in my world.

And then I realize exactly what I've taken away from Alex.

I hear the garage door slide open, so we head downstairs to receive another doggie greeting. Alex appears a minute later. He seems refreshed, but still moody. I hold back the urge to take him in my arms and offer comfort. I'm not what he needs right now. And I could never be his Mulder.

Feeling totally inadequate, I say, "We looked around the house. I hope that's okay."

Alex shrugs. "Sure. No problem." He puts his jacket in the coat closet. "Why don't we talk in the kitchen? I'll make spaghetti."

As he passes by me, he pauses and cocks his head in my direction. Does he even realize he's smelling his lover's cologne? Shaking his head and frowning, he says nothing, but I can read his thoughts. 'Why can't you be him?'

I'm starting to wonder the same thing myself.

Scully offers to help with the cooking, but he shoos her away. She gives in so easily that I'm certain it's a ritual. She always offers. He always declines. The kitchen is his territory.

We sit at the breakfast table while he does all the work. I'm more than a little surprised when he starts with fresh tomatoes. I thought spaghetti came out of a can, or a pound of meat and a jar of sauce for the more adventurous.

Scully begins, "So, Mulder. Why don't you tell us about your week? Pick a day you remember clearly and talk us through it."

Alex passes us a beer and a Coke.

I have to remember to ask Scully why she drinks regular Coke. Or maybe I don't have to ask. The car, the Coke, Rubin... Scully just has more fun in this world.

Fuck. I did that. I'm starting to feel like the flying Dutchman.

"Mulder?"

I shake my head sadly. "Okay. Thursday. I was at the office, alone, because you were spending the week at Quantico--some Bureau pathologist's meeting. Sit with the other corpse lovers and share trade secrets, I guess."

"I went to that meeting two weeks ago."

"Did you have anything to do with setting it up?"

She looks bemused. "No. Hmm... that's an unexpected difference."

"I'm rather surprised there aren't more. Little things can create large changes. For example, how'd you meet Rubin?"

"At a Georgetown party Corrine invited us to."

"Corrine's my sister," offers the chef, scraping precisely chopped onions from a cutting board into a large pot on the stove.

"Yeah, I know. So you met Rubin because of Alex. That wouldn't have happened if he and I hadn't gotten together. Think how different your life would be if you'd never met him."

"But that's a big thing. Let's say you guys brought me a tuna sandwich today instead of turkey. We wouldn't expect to see big changes caused by that."

"Probably not, but it's possible. Suppose you didn't care for the tuna, so you start avoiding that deli. Maybe you never encounter a man there who turns out to be a stalker. It could save your life." It's impossible not to be fascinated. "Alex, what would you have made for dinner tonight if the tomatoes had gone bad?"

"Turkey burgers," he replies over his shoulder.

"No telling where that would have led."

She smirks at me, that warmly familiar Scully disbelief. "So let's get back to your Thursday."

"Skinner was holding my 302s until I finished an overdue report on a case--a brain sucking kid who worked at a fast food place in California."

"That's weird even for you, Mulder."

"Well, keep it in mind if you get a call from Lucky Boy Burgers in Costa Mesa. Rob Roberts did it."

Alex looks up from the vegetable bin. "Talk about small things affecting the future. I thought you believed in the what-do-they-call-it? That no-interference rule on Star Trek?"

"The prime directive. I haven't really thought about that, since I didn't travel in time."

"Well, think about it," he says in a stern voice, "before Scully lets you look at those files."

"Will do." I salute him with my beer bottle. For a moment, it feels like he is my lover. Like this is one of our familiar rituals. The slightly distressed look on his face suggests the same thing.

"So I worked on my report, dutifully and diligently, as I always do."

Scully raises an eyebrow, confirming another common aspect between the two worlds.

"I was getting really bored around lunchtime, so I got on the Internet. Had a list of doctors I wanted to track down." I hesitate before continuing, "I don't suppose I had brain surgery recently in your world?"

Alex shakes his head at me over a cutting board of cucumber slices.

"No Mulder, no brain surgery. What type of surgery did you have and why?"

"We don't exactly know, Scully. It's a long story. Did we find an artifact from Africa this year?"

"Uh, no."

"Let's not digress on that. It could take a long time. Suffice it to say that Cancerman kidnapped me and had his cronies do some type of brain surgery. Diana Fowley helped me to escape."

Scully makes a face and Alex grimaces, muttering, "Oh, man. Her?"

"What about her?"

"Your little dominatrix ex-wife. She was in quite a tizzy when she found out we were a couple. Called me a few not-very-nice names. In my office, with an audience, no less." He starts to smile. "Skinner walked by and caught the whole scene. He dragged her to his office for a private talk. She was suspended without pay for a week."

"No one but me ever liked her," I say.

Scully nods her agreement.

I feel obligated to mention, "You guys were right, though. She was in it with Cancerman."

Two jaws fall open. Oops.

"Anyway, before they operated on me, I overheard a few names. One was the doctor who did the surgery. The others were discussed like they weren't present. I went searching on the Internet to see if I could trace them. The only one I got a lead on was an Ernest Rabinowsky. A neurologist. He'd done a paper with another doctor at Vanderbilt. I called around the med school. Somebody thought he'd moved on to Columbia, so I called there and confirmed that he was on the faculty. So I decided to go there. Almost got caught by Skinner on the way out, but I ducked into the men's room.

"I packed a few days' clothes and caught a flight to JFK. The traffic was so bad I didn't get to Manhattan until almost 7:00, so I booked a room at the Penta and wandered out for dinner. I took a cab to this bistro in the village. I had the Boeuf Bourguignon, a glass of Shiraz and this giant fruit custard for dessert. I went back to my room. There was no Playboy channel, so I watched Ladyhawke. I enjoyed the movie, but Michelle Pfeiffer was just too femme fatale for my taste."

Alex snorts and brings us an antipasto plate.

"Hey, no olives? Who makes antipasto without olives?"

The chef doesn't appreciate my critique. "I do. I loathe olives. You want olives you eat 'em somewhere else."

"Yes, Mr. Alex." I shudder to think what this world would be like if that pizza I'd brought him had had olives on it.

Alex almost doesn't notice what I've called him, but when he does he looks more ill than pissed off.

Scully helps herself to a piece of salami. My Scully wouldn't have touched that. "So, Mulder, I think we've established that you remember Thursday. Did you sleep in your room that night? What happened on Friday?"

"Yeah, I slept in my room. Friday morning seems clear. Showered. Dressed. Had coffee and a garlic bagel in the hotel dining room. New York bagels are so much better." I see Scully's eyes starting to roll, so I pick up the pace. "I drove to Columbia and paid about half my hotel bill to park. And you gotta wonder if you'll ever see the damned car again.

"The med school administrative office told me Rabinowsky was on sabbatical. No one seemed to know where, so I went to the professors' offices and asked anyone I could find. A Dr. Taylor said he'd gone to some think tank in North Carolina. He didn't know the name of the company, but he thought Rabinowsky was living in Durham."

I chomp on a piece of pepperoncini before continuing, "Durham was interesting, because that's where you'd found me after my surgery. Of course, the lab had been abandoned and cleaned, so I didn't go there. I called information in Durham and a few of the surrounding areas, but didn't turn up anyone except a Judith Rabinowsky in Raleigh.

"I caught a plane and made it to Judith's house around 4:30 in the afternoon. Nobody home, so I sat in my rental car outside her place and called the local hospitals. Rabinowsky had privileges at one of them, but he hadn't done anything there recently and didn't maintain an office.

"A large older woman turned up and entered the house. Sort of a Julia Childs type with lots of facial hair, wearing a nurse's uniform. She was polite and cooperative until I asked about Dr. Rabinoswky. Admitted he was her cousin, but it didn't seem like she wanted to claim him. She hadn't seen him in almost a year. He showed up on her doorstep trying to recruit her for some cutting edge research at a mysterious lab she'd never heard of. She couldn't recall the name of the facility. Nor did she know where he lived. She told him to buzz off and hasn't seen him since. Said good riddance, because his side of the family were all psychos."

Scully says, "Your story still sounds clear and coherent to me. Does it feel that way to you, Mulder?"

"Yeah, it does."

She passes Alex the plate, "Would you make this go away, before I overdo it?"

I grab a couple pieces of cheese before he absconds with the platter. He gives me an affectionate glance. I can see the satisfaction he gets from feeding his mate--even his stand in.

"I went to the local Bureau office and got their help to get me access to the phone records, but even in the unlisteds and cells there weren't any Rabinowskys. We used the reverse directory to find the facility where the surgery was done to me. The James Heart Research Center. No one at the Bureau office had even heard of it, before I was found there. They had a couple dozen phone lines going in and twenty cell phones. I tried calling all the cell numbers, but only two were still activated and both required a key sequence to get past a recording. The phone company refused to give me the sequences--said the customer set them and they were private. Told me I'd need a court order.

"I had dinner at a Mexican place near the Bureau office. I remember ordering a chile relleno platter..." I gaze off across the room, trying to visualize the restaurant, but it's a little fuzzy. "... and a Dos Equis."

"What's wrong, Mulder?"

"I think this was where things start to fall apart in my memory."

"But you're not even in Arizona yet."

"Yeah. Huh." That doesn't make sense. "I, uh, started eating at the tip of the chile, wanting to avoid the stem. The relleno was decent--about what you'd expect from East coast Mexican food--but I don't recall ever getting to the stem."

Alex spreads butter neatly on half a loaf of bread. "Do you remember paying the bill?"

"No, I don't." I reach for my wallet and go through the receipts. "Here's the Penta hotel, dinner in New York, bagel, airline stub for the flight to Durham, JFK stub, uh a receipt for a magazine I bought in New York-"

Scully raises one eyebrow and reads it upside down, "The Pleasure Chest?"

I blow her off with a self-effacing grin. "No receipt from Miguel's."

Serious again, Scully asks, "Where did you go after the restaurant?"

"I don't remember." I try to make my brain cough up the answers, but it refuses. "The next thing I do remember is running through the building in Arizona. And it feels so coherent, as if there wasn't any missing time. I didn't even realize there was a problem with my memory until I tried to recall where the laboratory was."

"Sounds like you were drugged at the restaurant, Mulder."

"But why can't I remember waking up? I don't see how I could go directly from being drugged to running through a building."

"Some narcotics block the storage of short term memory. You probably did wake up, but your brain didn't start storing the memories until later."

Alex puts pasta in a pot of boiling water. "Is it worth going back over the Mexican restaurant? Do you recall anything unusual? Someone following you? Talking to you? Distracting you from your meal?"

"I don't remember anyone. That's odd. Someone must have distracted me to put something in my food or inject me, unless the food was tampered with in the kitchen."

Scully adds, "I didn't find any needle marks during the exam on Friday night, but a very fine needle wouldn't leave much of a mark. Also the same memory lapse could have happened at the front end. Maybe you were distracted while someone doped your food, but you lost the memory."

I imagine the scene in my head. "But someone would have seen a doped-up man being led out of the restaurant..."

Alex brings me a Coke. He seems to know just what I need and when. "Well, it's not as if we can go to the restaurant and ask them."

My head is starting to ache.

Scully leads us to the next step. "For now, let's assume you were drugged and removed from the restaurant. Tell us what you remember next."

"It's cold. I'm running down the hall of a building. An old building with wide halls, hard gray linoleum floor that looks like it hasn't been cleaned since 1942. Old fashioned fixtures."

"Give me more detail about what you experienced. Close your eyes," she orders. "And pay attention to your senses."

I do as instructed and recall the incident. "I'm a little bit groggy. It's harder than usual to run. I feel uncoordinated, like I have to think about moving my feet. I hear a couple of shots behind me, but no hits. I look back and see Krycek. He's holding a semi-automatic pistol. He looks like he normally does--leather jacket, hair shorter than his." I gesture at Alex before continuing. "He's yelling something at me, but I can't resolve the sounds into words. I dart down a flight of stairs. They're marble and a bit slippery. I have to slow down."

"Why didn't you draw your weapon?" Scully asks.

"I didn't have it anymore."

"Do you remember looking for it?"

"No."

"Then how did you know you didn't have it?"

"I'm not sure."

Alex takes a chair next to mine at the table. "How did you know you were in Arizona?"

"I just knew. I didn't have my cell phone either. Or my car keys. But I don't remember checking my pockets for any of them."

I open my eyes and see sympathetic green eyes gazing at me. "What car keys? A rental? Your car?"

"I don't know." It doesn't make sense. I couldn't have rented a car in a drugged out fugue. "When I reached the first floor, I knew he was still chasing me... I could hear his footsteps... boots on the floor.

"I passed a lot of doors going down the hall, but I couldn't find any leading outside. Not that I knew what I'd do when I got out. Try to hotwire a car, maybe?"

Listening thoughtfully, Alex gets up to set the table. Each plate, fork and napkin is placed neatly on fresh cloth placemats. I realize that going through the motions of preparing the meal is keeping him calm.

"There were radioactive signs on some of the doors. I don't know how I knew it, but there was a reactor behind me, and I was running away from it. When I got to the end of the hallway, there was a security entrance with keycards and a touch pad, but the door was propped open with a chair."

Scully and Alex exchange a doubtful look. She says, "There was no one there, but you and Alex?"

I nod reluctantly. That's what I recall, however dubious. "Not exactly high security." Instinct is telling me something is very wrong. I continue the story in a halting voice, doubting each word as I speak it. "There was a neon sign that said, 'DO NOT ENTER.'"

"Neon?" inquired Alex.

I nod. "I know. It sounds ludicrous, doesn't it?"

"Keep going," Scully encourages.

"I entered and found myself in a huge room. Marble floors. Reception desk. A huge white marble archway stood in the center of the room, but it seemed to go nowhere. A computer sat next to it. The screen said "Gateway Activated." I went through the arch-"

Scully interrupts again. "Hold on. Close your eyes. Just before you went through the arch, tell me what you heard in the room."

I obey her instructions, but I hear nothing. "Not a thing, Scully. The room was silent."

"What type of computer was it, Mulder?"

Opening my eyes, I start to speak before the absurdity of my reply becomes apparent to me. "It was a VT100 dumb terminal. Like the kind I used my first year at Oxford."

Alex's face holds a grimace of disbelief, but Scully is suppressing a laugh. "It was a dream, Mulder."

I knew she was right before she finished saying it. "But how could a dream bring me here?"

No one has any answers.

Eventually, I continue my tale. "I went through the arch into a white place--like being inside a cloud. Gradually, I saw a gray shape begin to take form and I found myself standing in front of this house. Then I saw Alex inside the window. He smiled and turned on the porch light."

Krycek says, "We know that part's not a dream, because I saw you."

"Unless you and Scully are both still part of the dream," I offer in a flip voice.

That earned me a pair of smirks.

Chapter 6

Scully sums up the conversation over really good, garlic-laden spaghetti. "I believe we've just gone to great lengths to establish that we have no idea how you got here."

Alex doesn't say a word while we finish eating. His pained expression forms a crease on his brow. It's... sort of cute.

After dinner, he serves coffee and washes the dishes. That must be really hard with one hand. I wonder how my Krycek does it? Maybe he uses paper plates?

"So, Mulder, what now?" asks Scully. "How can we undo what's been done?"

"Finding the lab seems daunting, since a couple of hours out of Phoenix isn't much to go on. Maybe the Lone Gunmen could help. Do I know them here?"

Scully nods. "Yeah. They might be able to help. Although that lab may not even exist."

Alex wipes his hands on a towel and passes me a phone. "It's worth a try."

When I dial the Gunmen, a woman answers. Turns out to be Langley's wife. Wow. She passes me to Byers. I describe the building as well as I can... hoping that some of my impressions about it actually have meaning. He agrees to try to chase down anything in Arizona that might match the description.

As soon as I hang up, Krycek asks, "Other options?"

"I could go to that Mexican place in Durham. But none of what happened to me actually happened there--in the restaurant in your world--so I don't know-"

He puts a hand on my shoulder. "You have to try everything. We haven't got any great options, so we'll do whatever we can. I will not allow you to just stay here. And I will not abandon my lover to your fucked up world."

"Sure. Fine. Whatever." Rising from the table, I stomp into the living room.

I didn't need his little reminder. It does seem that my world, where I didn't fuck Krycek the night he killed Cole, is not as pleasant as this one. Which leaves me feeling like I caused everything awful that has happened since. Scully's abduction. My father's death. Melissa's death.

Fuck! This can't all be my fault, can it?

And I've been blaming Krycek in my world, when we were only a fuck away from preventing everything.

I pace the living room. The dogs eagerly run to the sliding glass door when they see me, hoping for admittance.

But if the alien invasion is really happening and they don't know about it, it could be worse in this world. Perversely, I wonder if it's better not to know. It's not clear in either world that it can be prevented.

Fuck.

If we do switch back, I've got to find a way to leave a message for the other Mulder. He's the only one who will really believe me.

I'll leave him a letter. Conceal it somewhere he'll find it.

I return to the kitchen. "Alex, I need to stay here tonight. I'll sleep on the sofa."

"Only if you agree to go to Durham tomorrow."

"'Kay."

He brings me pillows, blankets and a bottle of water. Alex Krycek: assassin, traitor and good host. Oh, and mustn't forget his most fabulous role: boyfriend.

Leaning against the doorjamb, he gives me a sad smile and says, "'Night."

"Good night, Alex."

Soon I hear the heavy sounds of dogs coming up the stairs. They don't usually sleep by the bed. He's keeping them close because he's lonely. Lonely for me. Or at least the me that I might have been if I'd brought him that pizza.

And, for a moment, going to him seems like the right thing to do. He's hurting and he needs me... but it isn't really me he needs. So for the second time in my life, for better or worse, I decide not to go to him.

I sit at the PC to compose my letter to the other Mulder, but it occurs to me that it will be more believable if he recognizes the handwriting. I don't want him to think it's some sort of trick. Maybe I'm just trying to out-paranoia myself. Regardless, I locate a legal pad and start writing everything I know about the alien invasion and the Consortium.

A couple of hours later, I'm exhausted. I tuck eight sheets of paper into an envelope and look for a place to stow it. I start to place it under the photo of Samantha, but something stops me. Somehow, totally clear that this Mulder holds Alex closest to his heart, I put the envelope under the duo frame with his photos instead.

I look at Samantha and silently apologize.

My body is stiff when I rise from the chair and make my way to the sofa. I'll need the TV to sleep, so I wander to the cabinet and open the drawer, retrieving the tape. Spring Break.

I will not jerk off to this. I'm just going to watch to satisfy my curiosity.

Alex looks about 19 years old. What a baby!

By the time he's seduced the blonde kid, my cock is tenting my boxers. I'd never realized how incredibly sexy his voice is.

I will not jerk off. It doesn't seem right somehow.

As he peels off his jeans, he reveals a beautiful, thick cock. It's perfectly proportioned. Bigger than mine when erect. God damn, I can almost taste it.

And then I realize this sexy man is 30 feet away from me. Probably at this very moment missing me--or him--and jerking off.

I'm not going to jerk off, but my hand slides into my boxers. I'll just touch it a little.

The video Alex is penetrating the blonde. Oh, god. I wish that was me. Alex fucks him vigorously, pounding into the kid's ass like he's trying to batter their bodies. I close my eyes and listen to the sounds... imaging that's my ass he's fucking.

Until I'm groaning like a dying man... warm semen splattering onto my hand and into my shorts.

Fuck.

In the morning, Alex, Scully and I drive to Durham. The restaurant looks the same, but it doesn't spark any memories. Unsurprisingly, no one there remembers seeing me recently.

Judith Rabinowsky doesn't recognize me either. She tells exactly the same story about her cousin, though. It reconfirms my belief that the alien invasion is happening here, too, but my Mulder doesn't know very much. The information I've given him will help. But at what price? If I came to this world again, would I then learn that terrible things had happened to Scully and her family? And mine?

Dr. Ernest Rabinowsky is as elusive as before. But Krycek insists we try to locate him. We manage to trump up enough of an excuse to file an APB. Wanted for questioning. Scully'll get it signed off by A.D. Jackson tomorrow.

I'm forced to consider the possibility that I may never go back where I belong. What then? I somehow doubt Krycek's going to want me to just hop into the sweet little life his lover left behind.

After we return from Durham, I call the Gunmen. They fax us a list of possible buildings in Arizona. Nothing feels right. It's probably a dead end. It's the kind of lead I'd follow up as a last resort, but we don't have any other leads.

The three of us are seated around Alex's living room. I'm on the floor, with Chip's head in my lap. Alex is playing tug of war with Sashi over a chew toy, but he doesn't look like he's having a good time. Scully's reviewing my blood tests... predictably, they're all normal. But the tox screen isn't in yet.

Alex says, "I guess I should make travel plans for Arizona... ?"

"Alex, I want to visit my father first. I'll go tomorrow. And we can go to Arizona on Wednesday." If I can't think of anything better.

"Okay," he replies in a flat tone. I expected an argument. He's giving up, too. I'm surprised by how much I feel for him. I really want to produce his Mulder so he can be happy again.

Maybe both Mulders could live here? I could stay with Alex whenever his Mulder is out of town. We'd have twice the odds of stopping the invasion. But if I found Samantha it wouldn't really be my Samantha, would it?

And I'd be abandoning my Scully. After everything that's happened to her... I couldn't live with myself.

Since I don't seem to have any ability to do anything except stay here, it's not worth feeling guilty over.

"Alex, you called my father a 'criminal.' What did you mean by that?"

He stares at me for a long time before speaking... weighing what he intends to say. "He was part of that group... with Charles Spender."

"And?"

Alex shakes his head. "I never told Fox everything I know. I didn't want to hurt him."

"So tell me."

Scully raises her eyebrow at me, a non-verbal chastisement.

Hesitating, Alex says, "You promise not to tell my Fox?"

"When am I going to have a chance to tell him anything?"

Glaring icily, he replies, "I don't fucking know! This situation is so... fucked up. I don't know what to expect. Except the obvious... that I'm stuck with you."

I open my mouth to speak, but Scully says, "Mulder, you need to appreciate Alex's situation. He's the only one who's getting a raw deal here. I've still got my partner, more or less, so it's not exactly a crisis in my life. And it sounds like you're better off here. But Alex has lost so much. Can't you just try to be kind?"

"I thought I was being kind." She frowns, and I concede, "Yeah. I'll try. And, Alex, I won't tell your Fox."

He's silent for such a long time I think he's changed his mind about telling me anything. Finally, he says, "I don't know where Samantha is or what happened to her. But I do know your father arranged the whole thing... Samantha's abduction. He had choices about whether you'd be there or not when she was taken." His eyes flick to mine, waiting for me to get it.

My father sold us both. Gave them Samantha. And made me watch it.

For a moment, I'm glad he's dead in my world.

Lifting Chip off my lap, I stalk around the living room. "Did my mother know?"

Alex nods.

I want to hate them both, but... I can't. It still feels like it's my fault. Everything is my damned fault.

The clock on the mantel tells me it's 9:45. Too late to drive to Martha's Vineyard. I want to demand the answers. If he did this, he can explain it to me. Dammit, he has to tell me. He owes me that.

Standing over Alex, I ask, "Is there more?"

"I don't have the details on what he did with Spender. Or when he resigned. I was never an insider. The only information they shared was a report on you, since you were my... assignment."

"What else was in that report?"

Closing his eyes for a moment, he appears to be recalling it. "It said you were dangerously obsessed and that it would be easy to push you over the edge into madness."

"They underestimated me."

"I agree, Fox."

"Why didn't your Fox ever go to my father and demand answers?"

He sighs and rubs his forehead. "You went several times... I went with you once. You tried to get the information, but... I don't want to say this, but your father has you cowed. He makes you feel like you're not good enough and you always come back depressed after seeing him."

Well, there's a universal constant.

I take a seat on the coffee table right across from Alex. "Did you... do you have any reason to believe that Bill Mulder's not my father?"

His eyes open wide. "No, why would you think that?"

"Nothing. I just wondered." It's a lie, but I don't want to be the one to pass this nasty tidbit to the other Mulder.

Krycek's face tells me he knows I'm lying, but he says nothing. Also protecting his Mulder.

Tuesday morning, Alex and I drive to Martha's Vineyard. Scully stays behind to check in at the office, process the APB and see if she can find any more information on those sites in Arizona.

I stayed up half the night reviewing what I'm going to say to him. What I'm going to demand he tell me.

Sensing my tension, Alex finds radio stations during the drive up. He knows just what I like. Certain he's picking my favorites, I'm still amazed by his solicitousness. He's really a... nice guy.

My father doesn't seem surprised by our unscheduled visit. His eyes flick to Alex and I realize I forgot to ask if he knows we're lovers. The disparaging glance tells me he already knows.

I feel a pang of pain for disappointing him again. Fuck!

He looks older. More than he should since it's only been a few years. It's only midmorning, but he's already into the Scotch. As we all sit around his living room, he doesn't even offer us a beverage. What a pathetic old man.

I wonder if he could guess that I'm not really the Fox he knows. Given the amount of attention he pays me, I doubt it. Even if I showed up with two heads.

"Dad, I need to ask you some questions. And I need answers this time."

"Fox, you know I can't talk about my work. It's classified government business."

"Oh, really? I happen to know that much of what you and Spender did was illegal. So I find it hard to imagine someone documented it and classified it."

He eyes me warily, guzzling the last of the amber liquid in his glass.

"And I know the truth about Samantha. You let them take her." My voice cracks. "Why, dad?"

"Fox, I'm not going to listen to these lies. I worked hard so you and your sister could have a better life... I devoted my life to the future of this..."

I'm completely certain he wants to say 'planet.'

"... country. I won't have you making crazy accusations just because you wish you had done more to save your sister."

"You son of a bitch!" Alex hollers. "You keep picking that scab because you know it hurts him. How can you sit there so blithely and blame your son--who was just a kid--when it was your crime?"

Bill Mulder mutters under his voice, "You little faggot," and pours himself another full glass. Turning to me, he says, "You know he was part of it. Working for Spender."

"Yeah, I know, dad." That's how I know the truth about Samantha, you son of a bitch. "Look me in the eye, dad, and tell me you had nothing to do with what happened to my sister."

He eyes me with bland distaste and says, "I had nothing to do with that." Rising he retrieves a second bottle of Scotch from the bar.

I stand to confront him, blocking his path. "You know, I expected you to have a little more difficulty lying to me."

Alex rises, ready to intervene.

My father offers me a stony glare. He rarely shows any emotion... and when he does it's always carefully controlled anger. "This conversation is over, Fox."

He shifts to move around me, but I grab his shoulders. "No it's not, dad. Not until you tell me what happened to my sister." I'll beat it out of him if I have to.

Under Alex's watchful eye, I push my father until his back is against the wall. "Tell. Me. Dammit."

His brown eyes gaze at me, devoid of feeling. He says nothing. Doesn't even appear threatened. And suddenly I realize I can't hit him. I just can't. The bastard knows it, too.

Fuck. I've never been closer to knowing. And so far away at the same time.

I release him and bolt out of the house.

I'm sitting on the front porch when Alex finds me. He puts a hand on my shoulder. "Fox, if you want me to, I'll go back in there and make him talk."

Gazing up into his beautiful eyes, I realize he's offering me his integrity, and possibly his life, to get this information for me. The information I've sought all my life. And I'm not even his Mulder.

His devotion stuns me.

Suddenly, I know why his Fox Mulder hasn't gotten as far into investigating the alien invasion. Somewhere along the way, lives were at stake. And he chose to protect the man he loves.

I have to make that same choice for his Alex. "No, Alex. Let him be."

I'm sorry, Samantha.

A disturbing thought floats in the back of my brain. I, too, made choices when lives were at stake. And Scully and Melissa paid the price.

When we get back to Alex's house, he retrieves a pair of running shoes from the hall closet, dropping them on the floor at my feet. "Chip's missing his runs."

I almost object to being told what to do, but it is exactly what I need. Mr. Alex knows it, too. Giving him a mock glare, I take the shoes. "Uh, Alex?"

"Hmm?"

"Do we do this off leash?"

"Usually, but it's your first time, so that's probably not a good idea. The leashes are hanging in the garage." He heads toward his office, stopping to turn back. "And be careful at the big red house at the end of the street, Chip likes to run to the back yard to harass the Great Dane."

Chip shows me the route. It's easy to run with him. Another simple ritual in the life that isn't mine.

My life is so fucked up.

I'm despairing of ever figuring out how or why I was sent here. And my only hope of returning is subject to the same mysterious forces.

Alex might be stuck with me. I wonder if he'd ever like me... or if I'd always be a poor imitation of his Mulder.

Suddenly, 130 pounds of dog are headed in a different direction than I am. I think my arm is out of its socket. Low barking from behind the red house only gets Chip more excited. I weigh enough to keep him from going to meet his Great Dane pal, but I'm not strong enough to drag him back. At least, not without hurting his paws on the sidewalk.

So I try persuasion. "Chip, let's keep running. C'mon, boy." I discover I'm unable to coax Chip back in the direction I want to go. He's very determined.

Am I going to have to stand here all night?

"C'mon, Chip. I'll feed you a nice bowl of Alex's meat balls."

Chip barks enthusiastically and tugs harder on the leash.

Fuck.

I hear laughter from behind me. A hearty male laugh and a softer laugh. I twist to see who's enjoying themselves at my expense.

Alex is the hearty laugh. He's got Sashi on a leash, sitting calmly at his right side. An elderly Asian woman is the soft laugh. She smiles at me. "Having a problem, Mr. Mulder?"

"Um, no."

"Sashi, heel," Alex calls out and they cruise over to me, in perfect unison. He whispers in my ear, "Mrs. Tanaka."

I raise my voice to be heard over the barking from the unseen Great Dane. "No, Mrs. Tanaka. Chip and I are just working on an obedience problem."

Alex mutters, "Yeah, yours."

Mrs. Tanaka makes a dismissive hand gesture. Not falling for my cover story, she smiles indulgently and goes back inside her house.

He grins at me. "It occurred to me you might have missed obedience training."

"Yeah, Scully wanted to take me, but the instructor said I didn't meet the entrance requirements."

"Sashi, sit," he says in a low command tone.

Sexy, that.

"Now take her leash. And just stand there."

Smirking, I reply, "I think I can manage that."

Alex takes Chip's leash. "Chip, leave it." His voice is very low, very loud and very 'I'm the boss.'

Very sexy, that.

I think I'm getting jealous of Chip.

Chip emits a muffled whimper... getting in his last complaint.

I mimic the whimper.

Alex shakes his head at me. "I can't walk all three of you, Fox."

Blinking at him, I retort, "You forgot my leash anyway."

He tosses me a mildly disapproving glance before turning toward the sidewalk, "Chip, heel."

The damned dog seems perfectly happy to trot along next to Alex. How quickly they forget their Great Dane obsessions.

"Sashi, heel?" Will she do it?

She looks at me quizzically, then glances over at Chip and Alex and decides to follow. I follow, along at her side.

When we catch up to Alex, I toss off, "I'm cuter than they are."

"Don't kid yourself, Fox."

I gasp exuberantly, then add, "I don't drool."

"Often."

"You're a hard man. I must have some redeeming qualities."

He shakes his head sadly and doesn't speak until we're almost back at the house. "I miss him so badly."

"I'm sorry, Alex."

With a nod, he opens the garage door, and we step inside.

I phone Scully. She's narrowed our list of Arizona facilities down to four. Plus she's gathered everything she can find on Dr. Ernest Rabinowsky. We can read it on the plane tomorrow.

Scully goes home to Rubin. Alex fixes me turkey burgers. I wondered if he had to browbeat his Mulder to get him to eat them, but they actually taste good. The man takes good care of me.

Fidgeting around my office keeps me entertained for an hour or so. Then I put in the video. This time I'm rock hard at the opening credits.

Fuck! And he's all alone in his room.

I am not going to go there.

He's seducing the blonde again. His voice is like the audio equivalent of a hand on my cock. I tug my jeans loose and get my fingers around it.

When Alex peels off his jeans, and I see that cock again, I just have to touch it.

Oh, Christ.

I tear my hand away from my dick and pull up my pants.

Before I can stop myself, I'm padding down the hall to his room. Their room.

The door is open. He's sitting on the bed, looking out the window. No sign of the dogs.

Chapter 7

Tapping on the wood, I get his attention. "What is it, Fox?"

"I, um..." I step inside the room, feeling as if I'm entering a forbidden zone.

Alex is wearing only his shorts. His body's even better than in the video. Shoulders have broadened. Muscles are more developed.

I struggle to swallow. "Thought you might want some company."

His eyes fall to my bare chest and nervously dart back up to my face. He stands and comes toward me. "You, uh, want to talk or something. We can go downstairs."

Oh, god. I can smell him. A musky scent that goes straight to my crotch. My shaking hand reaches out to touch his cheek. I remember the other Alex kissing me... in just that spot.

He backs away abruptly. "Uh, Fo--Mulder, this is not a good idea."

Surprising both of us, I step closer. "Please, Alex." I meet his turbulent eyes. "Do it to me the way you do it to him."

Alex seems to wilt with barely leashed desire. Unmoving, unbreathing, he shakes his head.

I step closer, sensing intuitively, that if I touch him he won't be able to say no. He looks hurt, as my fingers find the back of his neck. I press my body to his and brush my denim-trapped hard-on across his groin.

"Please. I want to feel what he feels."

He groans despairingly. I can feel his erection. He wants me.

"Just once, Alex."

Alex wraps his arms around my waist and his lips find mine.

His kiss is possessive and even a little angry. I'm melting under the assault. I try to imagine how his Mulder would respond, but then I weaken and just give myself over to him.

Crushing me to his body, he explores my mouth, nipping at my lips and kissing a path down my face to my neck. His teeth sink into my flesh.

It hurts, but I want him to hurt me. Mark me. Make me his. It feels so perfect.

Alex groans around the bite, going right to the edge of where it would draw blood, and I cry out as if I'm orgasming. When he breaks away, my limbs seem unable to hold me. Only his hand at my back keeps me on my feet.

He guides me gently toward the bed and lowers me onto it. When I catch his gaze, he's looking a bit guilty, but he doesn't stop. He slides onto the bed next to me, then crawls on top of me. I wrap my arms around his neck. The pressure of his body on mine is so good. My hips thrust upward, telling him what I need.

He kneels over me and slides down so he's straddling my thighs. My hand reaches automatically for the waistband of his shorts. A curt nod is his... permission? Oh, god, that's exactly what it is.

Aw, fuck. I really belong to this man. I have to ask for what I want. I hate it, but I couldn't be more turned on.

He stands next to the bed and tugs down the shorts, revealing his beautiful cock. I can't help licking my lips. I've never wanted anyone like this. It feels like my body is going to spontaneously combust.

"You want it?" he says in that gravelly voice, looking down at me like I exist only to serve his pleasure.

"Fuck, yeah."

Straddling my legs again, he whispers, "Ask for it, Fox."

Groaning piteously--somehow, I knew this wasn't going to be easy--I try to speak, "Please, let..." oh, fuck, I'm not getting any air into my lungs. "Uh, puh-lease, let me suck you."

He leans forward. "Not until I say." Taking his fat cock in his fingers, he brushes the tip of it across my chest, teasing each nipple. Then he shifts and brings it to my lips. "Not yet." The soft tip of his cock glides across my lips. I've never in my life needed to lick something like I need to lick his cock right now. My tongue is twitching. But I find myself under his spell.

Would his Mulder break and lick it?

"Just the tip," he whispers.

I cry out, as my mouth gloms on to the head of his cock. The bland, salty taste makes my dick throb. The sensation of my tongue on his smooth cock is complete bliss. I moan as I suck it... needing more of him.

And then he draws it away.

"Alex," I whine.

He smiles down at me, his cheeks flushed red and his eyelids heavy. Those bright eyes are so fucking sexy. He moves off, lying on his side next to me. "Scoot down the bed."

I comply, slipping down on my side until my face is again at his crotch. Fuck, he smells so good. Living proof of the power of pheromones.

"Do it. Suck me."

I take him down in an instant. His cock fills my throat. I work back and forth on his beautiful cock, tonguing the shaft with each motion. I've never told anyone why I like this so much... the oxygen deprivation makes me high. Well, maybe Clyde Bruckman knew.

Alex's fingers find the back of my head.

Yes. Yes! Do it. Control it, Alex. Mr. Alex.

He grips my hair.

Yes! Please...

Suddenly a very strong force is holding my head still. And his hips begin to thrust.

Oh, Christ. I'm going to come in my pants.

His impassioned gasping breaths tell me he's close, too.

The feel of his satiny cock invading my throat. My own helplessness. That delicious buzz in my brain.

He fucks my mouth hard. Harder than anyone ever has.

I'm delirious with pleasure.

I feel his body tense, and just as I anticipate his orgasm, he yanks free of my mouth.

"No!" I cry out pathetically.

Grunting and struggling for air himself, he holds his body away from mine, attempting to regain his shattered control.

The sight of him, panting with need, is too much. My hand reaches to rub my cock through my jeans.

He smacks the hand away. "Uh-uh," he says sternly. It's the same voice he uses with the damned dogs.

I am completely mortified.

I withdraw the offending hand, gaping at him, testily.

Alex gives me a breathless chuckle. "I'm going," breath, "to fuck," breath, "you."

Well, that seems like a damned good idea.

Slowly, so he can see what I'm doing, I reach for my fly, not my cock. And open my pants. I stand for a moment to kick them and my shorts onto the floor.

His eyes soften as they caress my erection. Whatever he sees, he approves.

The way he looks at me is so filled with animal desire. I've never had sex at this level of abandon before. It's a whole new experience.

Drawing himself together, he stands and walks unsteadily to the toy chest. I follow and watch as he selects a pair of leather cuffs, a heavy steel clip, a bottle of lube and a condom. He tosses the items on the bed and gestures to me. "On your knees."

No problemo. I hit the bed in a split second, kneeling facing the headboard.

He slips in behind me, draws my wrists behind my back and cuffs them together.

I'm going to like this.

Pushing me forward, gently, he positions me so I'm face down on the mattress, shoulders supporting my weight with my ass up in the air.

I'm definitely going to like this.

God, he knows everything that turns me on. It's like he's reading my mind.

"Spread your legs."

And I obey. Clumsily offering him my ass. My helplessness. My need.

"Beautiful," he says reverently.

His warm hands begin to caress my thighs and ass. It feels so good to have him touching me. How did I ever live without this?

Then a cool wet finger teases my anus. He draws circles around it until I think I'll scream, before he pushes it inside. Then another finger. He fucks me lightly and scissors the fingers to open me up. I haven't been fucked in a long, long time and he seems to sense it, taking his time and patiently getting me to relax.

When he brushes across my prostrate, I whimper like an animal.

I have never needed to be fucked like I need to be fucked by him now. "Please, Alex. Take me."

He groans at the sound of my voice and withdraws the fingers. I presume he's putting on a condom, because it takes a long time before he's over my body.

The head of his cock is pressed against my anus. I try to push backward to hurry him along, but I can't move very effectively.

I wail as he shoves it into me. So fucking good. I was meant to be fucked by this man. Just like this.

Alex draws back and begins to fuck me. His thick cock slides into me, filling me so perfectly. I am certain that I belong to him.

"Oh, god, Alex," I whimper.

He moans and thrusts harder. So deep inside my helpless body. I can do nothing but let him use me and there's nothing I want more than this.

My entire body is sensitized. It feels like one giant prostate gland... every sensation is extreme pleasure. It's so damned good to have his cock in my ass.

Alex shifts his position slightly and his forearm slips under me. He pulls me up so I'm kneeling in front of him... my arms pinned between us. His chest is against my back.

Then that forearm slides up a few inches.

Oh, god. He knows.

Without a pause in the fucking, he shifts the forearm, so it's across my throat. My brain explodes with a lust-filled rush.

Yes!

Still fucking me, his cock brutalizing my ass, he reaches for my cock. And begins to stroke me.

I feel a sudden calm as if at the center of a hurricane. Do it, Alex. Please. Make it perfect.

And he begins to come. His cock pulsing deep inside me.

I think perfection has slipped away until his hand tightens around my throat.

God, yes. I will die for you.

My own orgasm comes so hard I feel as if my body is exploding, to splatter the room with what's left of me. And I don't care. My death is perfect pleasure.

A scream fills the room.

And then I'm a body on a bed. Another warm body near me. "Shhh, I'll take care of you," he whispers.

I nod mindlessly.

His cock abandons my rectum. Hands I didn't know were bound are unbound. Firm massage on my arms. A warm wet towel at my ass. Then his body wrapped around mine.

I push into his embrace. Yes. Exactly what I need.

Perfect.

When I awaken, it's light outside. I'm alone in the bed, but Alex is standing naked at the window, looking down into the yard. Probably watching the dogs.

"Why didn't you bring them in last night?"

He doesn't turn, but he replies, "Because I wanted to fuck you."

I feel the distortion of a giant smile on my face. "Then why'd I have to talk you into it?"

Still unmoving, he says, "Because I knew I would hate you in the morning."

"Why?"

"You made me cheat on him."

I guess the two lovebirds are monogamous. "It wasn't exactly cheating."

Alex turns to me, his face deadly serious. I notice the neat round scar on his thigh. Cancerman's warning shot. A small price to pay for this life.

I rise and go to him, approaching cautiously because I can see he's tense. I put a hand on his chest. "Last night was incredible. I don't want you to feel guilty about it."

He looks like he doesn't want to touch me, but his fingers reach out and toy with a lock of my hair. "It won't happen again," he says in a hard voice. Then he slips out from under my hand, enters the bathroom and slams the door.

That wasn't quite the way I'd envisioned our first morning after.

I glance at the clock. Twice. Not believing I slept for eight and a half hours.

Alex barely says a word to me as we eat a quick breakfast. I've decided not to give him any grief. He's already got plenty. So I just ignore him.

It's a shame to waste so much guilt over such a great fuck.

We stop at Scully's house to pick her up on the way to the airport. She takes one look at Alex and then scrutinizes me, trying to figure out what's wrong. Between the funereal look on his face and the glow on mine, she can probably guess.

The flight is boring. Scully makes me sit next to Alex, but he's barely talking to me. I don't know what to say. Maybe this is my fault, too, but what can I do about it? About any of it?

The information on Dr. Ernest Rabinowsky is useless to help us find him. I have a feeling he's dead. Just seems like another loose end the Consortium would have tied up.

Just before we land, I lean over toward Alex and say, "Tell me something only you would know. That you've never told anyone."

He gives me a curious look and thinks about it for a while. "When I was six years old, I wanted to be Little Joe. On Bonanza."

I try really hard not to laugh.

Alex gives me an embarrassed grin. It's the first moment of levity since last night.

Arizona is a complete waste of time. None of the four buildings are even remotely like the one I was in... or dreamt I was in. I review the master list from the Gunmen, but don't see any other reasonable prospects.

Alex refuses to share a room with me, so we get three hotel rooms.

On the return flight, I talk Scully into letting me review the X-Files on Saturday. I can't wait to compare the differences. And if they haven't been working as much on consortium-related cases, there should be some juicy paranormal cases.

By the time we get back to Washington on Friday, Alex looks numb. After we drop Scully off, I put a hand on Alex's forearm so he won't start the car again. "Alex, if I'm bothering you, I can stay with Scully."

He shakes his head. "It's not you. It's the situation." Shrugging, he adds, "I just want my lover back."

I meet his eye. "If I knew how, I'd go back."

"I know." He slips his hand out from under my grip and starts the car.

"I'm not going to give up, Alex. You know me--I don't give up. I'll find a way to make it right."

He nods, believing in my commitment, if not the probability of my success.

Alex spends the cold afternoon sitting in the yard with the dogs. I'm on the phone with Frohike, trying to find creative ways to trace Dr. Rabinowsky. Once the Gunmen have a few ideas, I redial to order takeout. I don't think Alex will want to cook. I'm dialing Schezuan Gardens when the room starts to fade to white.

It's been exactly one week.

I'm in the cloud again.

Please let Alex get his lover back. Please let Alex get his lover back. It's almost a prayer, but I don't believe in god.

I never got to say goodbye to him. Or say thanks. Or tell him what he means to me. If I could figure it out.

Maybe he knows.


** End Part 1 **

Go to Part 2


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