Echo Lane, by Louise Wu
For previous parts and beautiful cover art: http://slashfactory.com/Stories/EL/EchoLane.html


** Part 2 **

Chapter 8
Friday, January 21, 2000


I got lucky at the Bureau library, finding the book on Celtic history. Now I can get home at a reasonable hour. Won't Alex be surprised?

Putting on my coat, I step around Scully's desk to turn off my PC.

Suddenly, I find myself jogging down a very long balance beam. At the far end of the beam, in the distance I can see Alex. He's waiting for me, coaxing me to come to him.

But behind me--and I know this without looking--is Samantha. Glancing back over my shoulder, I see that she appears exactly the way she did on the day she was taken. But I can't go to her, because if I try to turn around, I'll fall off the beam.

The beam is surrounded by empty blue sky. Maybe dangerous. Maybe not. But Alex won't be there. I keep my pace steady and make my way to him.

But as I get closer, a white cloud envelops the beam. I slow down and finally stop completely when I can no longer see the beam.

I sense that the beam isn't there any more. Then I see a patch of brown blur in front of me. It slowly resolves into a tree. I realize I'm standing in front of my old apartment building.

That had to be a dream, because I was in my office. And then on the beam. And then here. Why here? What just happened to me?

I look down at myself. Still dressed in my suit. I check my SIG Sauer... the safety is on. My wallet, my keys... everything seems to be as it was when I was in the office. Except... I never turned off the PC. And I don't think I even left the basement... at least not in any normal way.

Nothing around me looks unusual or provides any clues to what happened.

My car's probably still at the Hoover Building. I walk down Hegal Place, cutting over to the busier streets and hail a cab. I tell the driver to take me to the Bureau.

Pulling out my cell phone, I press the first preset.

The phone answers too quickly... giving me a recording. An unfamiliar voice says, "Mathew Jameson. Please leave a message." Weird. Preset one is Alex's cell phone.

I dial the number manually and get the same message. Even weirder.

Maybe there's a problem with our cell phone provider, but my intuition is pinging me. Two unusual experiences in the past five minutes are bound to be connected.

Pressing out our home number, I listen to the rings. A child answers, "Hello?"

"I'm phoning the Mulder and Krycek residence. Who am I speaking to?"

"Judy Mitchell."

I could imagine Alex inviting one of the neighbor kids over to play with the dogs, but he would not let her answer the phone. "Do you know where Alex is?"

"Who's Alex?"

"The man with the two big dogs."

"We have a wiener dog."

"Is there an adult I can speak with?"

"Okay. Jus' a minute."

"Hello?" says a slightly more mature voice.

"My name is Fox Mulder. I'm trying to reach Alex Krycek."

"I've never heard of him, Mr., um, whatever."

"I dialed 555-1890. Is that this number?"

"Yes, but this is the Kopeckne residence."

Fuck.

"Are you at 17 Echo Lane?"

"No, sir. This is 1829 Broad Street." Don't tell strange men your address, kid.

"I see. Thank you."

Now my intuition is screaming.

I tap the cabbie on the shoulder. "I changed my mind. Please take me to 17 Echo Lane in Alexandria."

"Sure, whatever. It's your nickel."

I'm positive something is terribly wrong the instant he parks at the curb. Our shutters are blue, not green. I hesitate at the cab driver's window. Passing him a twenty, I ask him to wait.

The two steps up to our front door are bordered by a matched set of rectangular planters. I reach automatically for my keys but, wary, I ring the doorbell instead. It makes the obnoxious clang that always reminded me of discordant tones from the 1812 Overture.

The sound chills me to the bone.

I remember that horrid sound only too well from when Alex and I first bought the house. It was the first thing he changed... before we even moved in.

This is not my house.

If it isn't, where is my house? And where I am?

The door is opened by a skinny, unshaven man in a dirty T-shirt. "Yeah?"

The living room behind him is so obviously not our immaculately maintained home that I can't even think what to say to him. "Um..." I whip out my shield. "I'm Fox Mulder with the Federal Bureau of Investigation. I'd like to ask you a few questions."

He looks impressed. "Yeah, sure."

Pocketing my shield, I extract my wallet and flip it open to a picture of Alex. "Have you ever seen this man before?"

He squints at it without recognition. "No, I don't think so."

I'm fighting the urge to shove him out of my way and go hunting for Alex myself. "Do you own this house?"

"Yeah, well me an' the bank. I gotta tell you those mortgage payments really hurt, so it's still touch and go, you know what I mean?" His pupils are dilated and I can smell the pot through the open door.

"When did you buy the house?"

"Uh, summer of 1997."

That's when Alex and I bought it.

Logic tells me Alex isn't here, but I have to see for myself. "I need to search the house."

Suddenly, his posture changes and he seems to be defending the door.

"Look if you're smoking pot, it's not going to bother me. I'm not interested in that and I'm not going to tell anyone about it. Okay?"

"I guess so." He just stares at me, not budging.

"If you make me get a search warrant, I'm going to have to involve other law enforcement agencies and they may be more interested in your drugs."

He nods and moves out of the way. There's a young woman stretched out on his sofa smoking a joint. "Who is it, Barry?"

"Um, nobody." He gives me a sheepish grin. "Don't scare off my date, okay?"

I'm already in the kitchen, searching and scanning. It's a mess. Looks worse than mine had in my bachelor days. This is not our house.

Quickly, I narrow the search down to places large enough to conceal a body. I know I won't find him, but I have to look. The yard is empty. No Chip and Sashi giving me the official doggy greeting. The rest of the house is the same... messy. It bears almost no resemblance to the home Alex and I bought together.

The garage contains only a battered pickup truck.

After thanking the stoned man, I stand in front of the house, trying to put the pieces together. Where am I?

I pull out my cell phone and dial the second preset.

"Scully."

Christ, I've never been so fucking relieved. "Scully, it's really you?"

"Yeah, Mulder. I just got back from the seminar."

I just saw her a little over an hour ago. "What seminar?"

"The pathologists meeting at Quantico."

"Wasn't that two weeks ago?"

"Uh, no, Mulder. This week."

"But you rode with me to work this morning."

"No, I didn't. I spent the night at Quantico." I find myself fidgeting during the lengthy pause. "Mulder, are you all right?"

"I'm not sure, Scully. Do you know where Alex is?"

"Alex who?"

I'm stunned speechless.

"Mulder, what's wrong?"

"Um, I need to talk to you. As soon as possible. Can you meet me somewhere?"

"Where are you?"

"Alexandria."

"I'll meet you at your place."

"Uh, Scully, where exactly is that?"

It's her turn to be confused, but she replies, "2630 Hegal Place #42."

"Do you still have a key?"

"Yes."

Good, because I don't. "I'll be there in fifteen minutes."

At the curb, I give the cabbie another twenty and the address. He can give me some information. "Um, what day is it?"

"The twenty first. Friday."

"Of January?"

"Yeah."

"What year?"

"You gotta be kidding, right? Man after all that hoopla, who could forget it's 2000?"

"Yeah, I'm kidding," I reply woodenly.

After he drops me off, back where I started, I stand outside the building pondering my circumstances.

I was in the office, nothing unusual, getting ready to go home. Then I'm in the middle of a dream about Alex and Samantha. Then I'm on Hegal. Alex's cell number is gone. Our home number is gone. Someone else lives in our house. And Scully doesn't know who I mean when I say 'Alex.'

Scully seems to be the only thing that's right in this mess. When she gets here, I'm probably going to grab her and hold on tight.

Alex, wherever you are, please be okay. I love you. I need you. I can deal with anything else--the wonky vagaries of this place--but not losing you. I just can't.

Wherever he is, I'm going there tonight. I have to see him, touch him, to know everything is okay.

A blue Taurus parks in front of the building. I can see Scully's inside, but it's not her car. She gets out and comes at me, clutching her medical bag. "Are you all right?"

"Something unusual has happened, but I'm not ill or injured, Scully."

"What is it then?" She looks really tired. I can see lines on her face I never noticed before.

"Let's go inside and I'll explain."

Scully follows me up the stairs. When we get to the door of #42, I gesture at it. "Use your key."

Retrieving the key, she unlocks the door and pushes it open.

Fuck. It's my old apartment all right. My stuff is still here. The coat rack. My leather couch. The TV isn't mine, though. A worn pair of running shoes is sitting in the hallway. They're not the pair Alex bought me.

"Mulder, what is it?"

"Scully, what would you say if I told you I don't live here anymore? That I moved out in 1997."

"I'd ask you what you're smoking." She sniffs at my coat. "You do smell like pot, Mulder."

I sit down heavily into the embrace of my old leather sofa. It feels right. Reassuring. If Alex were here, I could deal with this.

She sits down next to me, concerned eyes looking up at my face.

"Scully, I think I'm in an alternate universe."

That eyebrow of hers rises. "Mulder, we're not in an episode of Star Trek."

"You have to believe me, Scully, because I'm not sure I can prove it. Will you listen to me at least?"

"You know I'll always listen."

"I was at the office, getting ready to go home, when I found myself in a dream... jogging on a balance beam... and then I was surrounded by white fog and I found myself here. Standing on the street outside this building." I stop for a minute... "Or maybe I'm still in the dream..."

Scully eyes me suspiciously. "You can't be in a dream, because I'm really here. Not part of your dream."

"Of course, you might say that to me in a dream." It's almost funny. I could laugh but Alex's absence makes it impossible.

Her hand reaches out and feels my forehead. "Seems real to me."

"Yeah, me, too," I reply numbly. "Let me ask you some questions... some of them will seem idiotic, but they'll help me sort it out. 'Kay?"

"Are you sure you didn't get injured?"

"I'm positive, Scully."

"Okay, ask away."

"You're my partner, right? Special Agent Dana Katherine Scully?"

"Yeah."

"And we share the basement office, working on the X-Files?"

"Mm hmm."

"Did I drive you to work today?"

"No. I spent the night at Quantico."

"And you live at 911 Chestnut St, in Georgetown?"

"Yes."

"And Rubin lives at-"

"Who's Rubin?"

Fuck. "Are you single, Scully? Or seeing someone?"

"I'm single."

"For how long?"

She looks confused. "Well, I haven't really dated anyone more than a few times since before I joined the X-Files."

"When was that?"

"1993."

I'm afraid to ask about Alex. "What was our first case together?"

"A couple of kids who'd been murdered in Northwest Oregon."

"Who killed them?"

"Billy Miles."

"What was unusual about that?"

"He'd spent the last four years comatose in a hospital."

That checks out.

"Mulder, what is this all about?"

"Just hang in here for a little longer, Scully." I take a deep breath. "Have you always been my partner, since 1993, I mean? Or was there somebody else?"

"They broke us up in 1994. I taught at Quantico and, for a while, you worked with Alex Krycek."

Suddenly, I feel like I can breathe again. "Where is he now, Scully?"

"I have no idea."

"Does he live here, too?"

She gapes at me. "What!?"

Uh-oh. "What's my relationship with Alex Krycek?"

Shaking her head in dismay, she replies, "He's a wanted man, Mulder. A suspect in the killing of your father among oth-"

"My father's dead?"

"He was murdered in 1995, Mulder." Her voice is starting to reveal her anxiety. "What the hell is going on?"

Shit.

She thinks Alex killed my father. "Alex couldn't. He wouldn't."

"Mulder, I have no proof he killed your father. You're the one who insisted that he did it. In any case, he's clearly a criminal who's been working with the Consortium."

"What's the Consortium?"

"What the hell is going on here, Mulder?"

I wish I fucking knew. "I'm in an alternate universe, Scully. These questions... the world you're describing is not the one I know."

"Assuming I could believe such a thing, how exactly did this happen?"

"I don't know. I haven't any idea. I wasn't doing anything unusual. Just getting ready to go home." My stomach growls loudly, reminding me that I should be eating home cooking right now. With Alex. "To a home I don't seem to have any more."

We sit in silence for a while.

How the fuck am I going to sort this out? I don't have any clues. Maybe there's something at the office. "Scully, let's go back to the Bureau. That's the last place where things seemed normal. Maybe we can find some sort of evidence."

She drives the blue Taurus.

"Whose car is this, Scully?"

"Mine. I bought it last year. To replace the old Taurus."

"Your car is more fun where I come from."

"Tell me about... where you come from."

"I live in a house in Alexandria with... with my lover."

"You have a lover?" Her question seems open to my explanations, but the tone in her voice gives her away. She's still doubtful. Oddly, it makes me warm to her. My doubting Scully is so familiar, so comfortable.

"Yeah, uh, a male lover."

She gives me a leery glance out of the corner of her eyes. "Are you making this up?"

"No, Scully. We've been together since 1995."

"Mulder, you have trouble getting along with your fish."

"Al--uh, he's calmed me down quite a bit. I think he's a really good influence on me."

"What's his name?"

"Alex."

Dead silence.

"Alex Krycek."

Her hands are clenching the steering wheel and she won't look at me. She pulls the car over to the side of the road. "I think you're delusional, Mulder. The man is a paid assassin. He betrayed you. The last time I saw the two of you together, you were almost compulsively abusive toward him. If I hadn't been there, I think you'd have beaten him up."

"No way, Scully. I love him. He's not a paid assassin. He may have gotten into a little trouble when he first arrived at the Bureau, but he came clean and he's a good citizen today."

Her voice climbs to a shrill tone. "A good citizen? He helped the men who abducted me!"

"Abducted you? What are you talking about?"

"Skyland Mountain, Mulder."

"Isn't that a ski resort?"

She shakes her head furiously, speechless.

"Scully, do you believe me now? This isn't my world."

We sit silently at the side of the highway for a long time. "I don't know what to think, Mulder. You seem lucid, but the life you've just described is a fantasy."

"Not to me it isn't." If I don't argue with her, it feels like Alex will slip away and become just a dream. And I'll be stuck here. Alone. "Scully, what if there are alternate universes? Other similar places where things turned out differently... if different choices were made. Isn't it believable that Alex Krycek could be my lover?"

"He's a criminal," she replies angrily, but something on her face shifts. Eventually, she adds, almost unwillingly, "You know the tension between the two of you... it's always been sort of... sexual."

I take her hand in mine. She's all I have now. "Let's go to the office and have a look around."

Chapter 9

My entry card scans without a problem. But when we get to the basement office, it's different. I was never here today. So what did I expect to find? More things that aren't right? How's that going to help? But it's all I've got to go on.

"Does anything look different, or unusual, Scully?"

"No." She picks up a stack of mail and flips through it. "This is the only thing I see that wasn't here last Friday."

I pick up the phone and dial security. Reeling off my name and badge number to the bored officer, I ask him to run an entry and exit report on me. He puts me on hold and comes back about fifteen minutes later. "You just carded in at the first floor gate about twenty minutes ago. That's the only log entry for your card today."

Why am I not surprised?

Hanging up, I ball my hands into fists. I'm in the fucking twilight zone. I can't even go to the scene of the 'crime.' So I have no place to look for evidence. I'm screwed.

I glance around the room and my eyes fall on the file cabinets. The X-Files. "Scully, we'll look in the files for clues. Starting with the 1993 cases--before Alex was my lover."

She shakes her head sadly. "Mulder, the files were destroyed by the fire in 1998."

"Fire? What fire?" Oh, shit.

So, instead, we pick up Chinese take out and head back to my place. If you can call it that. As we step into the dark apartment, I miss the dogs. If Alex was home and he'd let them in, they'd be all over me. Chip wouldn't rest until I stood still to receive his affections.

Is Chip missing me somewhere? Alex, too? I can imagine him sprawled on the floor of the living room, arm wrapped over Sashi's rotund body.

I glance over at my fish, but it just isn't the same. You can't cuddle a fish.

"Scully, if we needed to find Alex Krycek, how would we do it?"

"He's a wanted criminal, Mulder. And we're federal agents. It's not like we'd just send him an email and he'd drop by."

"There must be some way to find him."

"Mulder," her voice takes a tone I recognize--it means bad news, "Krycek isn't your lover. Even if you find him, he's not going to run into your arms and go buy a house with you."

She's right. But I still have to find him. "Can you think of anyone who knows him who might have a lead? Or be able to get a message to him? Any known associates?"

"Well, Cancerman, I suppose, not that he'd help us."

"Cancerman?" I have no idea who she's talking about.

"C.G.B. Spender?"

"He's dead, Scully."

"I don't think so. Skinner got a message to him once. We could ask him again."

"Cancerman's alive? Skinner's alive?"

"Yes," she replies plainly.

"Fuck. That's very bad news and very good news."

"Skinner's dead in your...?" She trails off. I don't think she wants to know.

"Yeah. I miss the bastard, too." The one good thing about this place... the Modell/Bowman case didn't cost Skinner his life. "Scully, would you call him? See if he can get a message to Krycek?"

"I don't think-"

"We have to try."

"Okay, Mulder."

She reaches Skinner at home and, with me kibitzing in the background, manages to convince him to call anyone he knows who might have anything to do with this consortium to send our message.

The message? Mulder needs to see Krycek. Wants to exchange information. Won't arrest him.

It doesn't exactly sum up my heartfelt longing for the man.

Scully and I stay up half the night reviewing old cases. I'm trying to find a nexus of divergence... where this world started to be different from mine. There's nothing she knows about my life before 1993 that differs from what I know. Samantha was abducted. I felt guilty. Went to Oxford. Traveled around Europe. Went to Quantico. Joined the Behavioral Science Unit. Started on the X-Files. It all fits.

Our first year together, the cases seem to match. But things fall apart rapidly when Alex enters the picture. Scully's explaining about the Duane Barry case, which I never heard of, when suddenly she grabs my arm and says, "Mulder, take off your shirt."

"What?"

"Take off your shirt. You have a bullet scar... that I gave you... Krycek was there."

It makes no sense, but I tear off my tie and unbutton my shirt. Scully's fingers search the skin of my left shoulder. "It's not there."

"What's not there?"

She takes a deep breath and says, "The night your father was killed, you found Krycek skulking around your apartment building." The tone of her voice has shifted. She's starting to believe me. "The two of you got into a fight and you were going to shoot him. I shot you in the shoulder to prevent it."

"You shot me to save Krycek?"

"I was afraid you'd end up killing him with the same gun used to kill your father. I was trying to protect you."

"Thanks," I reply dryly.

"It's a long story, but what matters is we have objective evidence that you're different."

I grin at her lovingly. "Now, she believes me."

"Maybe I do, Mulder." She shifts uncomfortably as I continue to smile at her. "So what are we going to do about it?"

That's the crux of the matter. There's nothing to do.

It's late, so we agree to meet in the morning, and Scully heads home.

It's depressing to be alone in my old apartment. I worked hard to build my relationship with Alex. And now it's just gone.

I get up at the crack of dawn and drive to Georgetown. My relief is gigantic when Corrine answers her doorbell. Even in her flannel jammies and robe, she looks damned good. Her high cheekbones and curvy lips could make me weep. Two features she shares with her brother.

"Yes?"

She doesn't recognize me. If she did, she'd be chiding me for dropping in this early.

"My name is Fox Mulder. I'm... a friend of your brother. Do you know where I can find him?"

Corrine gives me a shrewd glare. "Not a very good friend, are you?"

If you only knew. "Why?"

"He's been dead since 1994."

"Oh." For a moment, I'm paralyzed with fear that he is dead. I don't know what to say to her. "I'm sorry I bothered you."

Before the door clicks shut, I've run the parameters in my head. Based on what Scully told me, Krycek's not dead. I'll bet he wrote off his family when he went AWOL from the Bureau. That's really sad. No family? No lover? No Chip and Sashi? Mulder, you really fucked up in this world.

And it's another dead end. How am I going to find him?

Back at Mulder's apartment, I log onto his PC. It's easy to guess the password.

He spends an inordinate amount of time on the smut web sites. How sad... that could have been me, but for Alex. And it may yet become me again, if I can't go home.

There's not much about his cases, but I read everything I can find. There's a draft copy of a report about a fast food case in California. I enjoyed that one. Brain sucker indeed.

I scour his Quicken data for credit card numbers. Some are the same as mine. Phoning the providers, I'm able to sketch out his travels over the past week. His final destination was Raleigh/Durham International.

This raises the question of whether or not I might find him there. What if he's somewhere else, too? If he's with my Alex, I can't quite figure out what I'm going to feel about that. He believes Alex is the worst kind of criminal. He'd better not give my lover any shit or I'll... I'll what?

Alex could never be a major criminal. I know he got started off wrong, working for Spender, but he's not really a violent man. Even if he hadn't come clean with Skinner and me, he wouldn't be capable of the things Scully accused him of. He's just not evil. In fact, he's very sweet.

Scully and I drive to Durham, but the only trace of Mulder we can find is at the local Bureau office. An Agent Lukowsky tells us his partner helped "me" trace some phone numbers.

We step outside the Bureau facility. I'm hungry.

"Scully, let's get a restaurant recommendation before we-" Shit.

"What is it, Mulder?"

He might have done the same thing.

I hold the door for Scully. Standing in the lobby, I try to imagine the office on a busy workday. My eyes fall to the reception desk.

Lukowsky steps out of his cubicle with a coffee mug.

"Agent Lukowsky?"

"Yeah, something else?"

"Your receptionist? Female?"

"Yeah," he asks giving me an obtuse look.

"Young and pretty?"

"Yeah."

"Can you reach her at home?"

"Why?"

"Because I would have flirted with her and asked her where to go for dinner."

Lukowsky shakes his head disparagingly. "I thought you profiled the nut jobs, Agent Mulder, but you sound like one of them."

"Look, I know what this sounds like, but it's important. I promise I'm not trying to get the girl's number for a date."

He shrugs and returns to his cube to find her number.

Marcia sounds cute. I definitely would have flirted with her. She sent the other Mulder to Miguel's on Fourth Street.

As we walk into Miguel's, we're immediately approached by a tough looking teenaged boy wearing an apron. "Hey, you feelin' better today?"

"Yeah, I am, but my memory's a bit off. When was I here before?"

"Yesterday a little after five. You were the first customer of the night."

"Did I come by myself?"

"Uh, yeah, but your friend joined you later."

Scully asks, "Can you describe the friend?"

"Um, I'm not very good with faces. He was about the same size as you are," he replies, gesturing at me, "had a moustache."

"How old?"

"About the same as you--you know 40 or 50."

Gee, thanks. "Try to remember anything else about him. What was he wearing?"

The kid shrugs. "I don't remember."

"What happened when he arrived?"

"You were already eating. He sat down at your table. I brought a menu and a glass of water."

"Did I look like I was happy to see him?"

"Hey, man, I don't know when you're happy, you know what I mean?"

Scully says, "Show me where they sat."

The kid walks over to a table at the side of the restaurant. I sit where he tells me I sat and Scully where the visitor sat.

"Then what happened?"

"I didn't see nothing for a while, but then your friend was carrying you out, like you were drunk or something."

"How'd he carry me?"

"You know, with your arm over his shoulder." He mimes the move.

"Did he say anything?"

"Said, 'My friend's having a seizure. It happens all the time.'"

"Did you see anything else that would help us understand what happened?"

"No, man. That's it."

Scully asks, "Did he pay the check?"

"No, ma'am."

I pull a couple of twenties out of my wallet and a business card. "Would you call me if you remember anything else?"

"FBI... oh, wow. Are we part of a case?"

I give him a wan smile. "Probably not."

On the sidewalk, Scully and I compare notes. Whatever it was, it happened to me around 6:30 or 7:00, so if the times sync, it didn't happen when Mulder was still at the restaurant. So where was he taken?

We spend six hours scouring the neighborhood and find only two people who saw a shaky man being led out. Helped into the backseat of a black or dark blue sedan. One witness describes an adolescent boy, with light brown hair and glasses. He was in the backseat, too.

I don't recognize the description of the boy, but Scully says it could be someone named Gibson Praise.

We visit the police station and the local hospitals, but don't turn up any new leads. We can't exactly put out an APB on myself, but we download copies of my ID photo and leave them at the police station and the local Bureau office.

On the drive back to Alexandria, she tells me all about Gibson Praise. And his suspected abilities. It tweaks my funny bone... Somehow I know the boy is the key to what happened, but I can't divine how it all adds up.

After Scully drops me off at Mulder's apartment, I sit at his computer and write a detailed report of everything I've learned. If the other Mulder comes back and I'm not here, it will help him put the pieces back together. I save the report in a desktop folder called HOT_BABES. He won't miss it.

Sunday morning, Scully and I meet at the Bureau. We spend the day trying to find leads related to Gibson Praise, but none of the limited information in the X-Files is of any use in finding the boy or figuring out how this happened.

On Monday, I'm forced to concede that I have no usable leads. The only thing I can think of to do is go into the office and work on cases... as if nothing has happened. Don't I wish it was true?

There's not much in the X-Files about Krycek. Most of it was destroyed in the fire. I review his Bureau record, which indicates he went AWOL a few weeks after killing Augustus Cole. Did we still fuck that night? Scully, apparently, has no knowledge of he and I being lovers, so I can't ask her. I wish I could ask Alex.

Tuesday, I start to worry about my Alex. If I never make it back, he'll be all alone... probably with no idea of what happened to me. It hurts so badly to think this is the end of us, and he'll never even know why.

After lunch, I see Skinner in the hall. My entire body tenses and my bones feel cold. It's a good thing Scully told me, or it would have been worse.

Gesturing with my hand, I say, "Sir?"

He stops and turns toward me, "Yes, Agent Mulder?"

"Sir, I uh..." Suddenly, I have nothing to say to him... and everything to say.

Skinner squeezes the bridge of his nose between two strong fingers. "Mulder, what is it?"

"I, um, just wanted to say thank you."

"For what?" He eyes me suspiciously. I've missed his soulful brown eyes. "Mulder?"

"I know I'm a bit of a management headache..."

His eyes narrow.

"But, uh, well you've always supported us as best as you can. I wanted you to know I appreciate it."

"Are you on drugs again, Mulder?"

Again? One more thing to ask Scully. "No, sir. I'm trying to be sincere. So, um, thanks."

Skinner gives me a look that clearly says humor-him-he'll-go-away. "Sure." He strides down the hall and around the corner.

Well, that went well. I almost feel sorry for the real Mulder when he comes back. God, I really hope he's not in my world. Speaking of management headaches, what little messes will he leave me?

I drop by the Bureau library and find the book I checked out before all of this happened. A quick read-through answers my questions, so I phone the New Hampshire Sheriff's Department to tell them who's killing the college students and why. They're predictably dubious, having never discussed the case with 'me' at all, but pretty desperate on the case, so I think they'll follow up on my information.

On Wednesday, I track down Rubin. He doesn't live where he should. I visit him on the pretense that I'm eliminating him as a suspect in a (non-existent) case. He invites me into his home. And shows me his paintings. I keep looking for Scully's favorite, the couple on the beach, but it's not there.

She's the inspiration and he hasn't met her yet.

Rubin seems much the same man, but it doesn't appear that he's selling any of his work. There must be something about the stability of a relationship that helps you succeed. At the door, I ask him. "I don't mean to be pushy, but I have a friend who might enjoy meeting you."

He cocks his head at me curiously.

"She's my partner, another FBI agent. Very smart and very beautiful. You two would definitely hit it off."

His dubious expression doesn't dash my hopes. He doesn't know what I know.

"Do you mind if I give her your name and number?"

"Sure," he replies with a disinterested shrug.

A couple hours later, I approach Scully. "There's someone I'd like you to meet."

"Who?"

"A screenwriter and artist. He's..." What to say to her? She must meet him. I run through a list of possible ways to manipulate her and then just say, "Would you call him and ask him out to dinner? As a favor to me."

Scully looks at me as if for the first time really understanding that I'm not her Mulder. I'm already preparing counter arguments, when she says, "All right, Mulder."

As she takes his card from my hand, I feel so good. Giving her something to brighten up her drab all-work-no-play life. A gift I already know she'll love.

On Thursday, I phone the facilities department and order a desk for her.

Friday night, I'm hanging around the basement office, trying not to think about going home to an empty apartment. I'm trying desperately to deny that I'm stuck here, and I'm just not ready to face the weekend.

Before Scully went home, she asked me if I wanted to see a movie or something. But being morose around her isn't much better than being morose alone. I guess I'll watch a couple of videos.

I slip on my coat and go back to my desk to turn off the PC. I wonder why Scully doesn't have a desk? My Scully would resent that. Turning off the lights, I step into the hall and push the elevator button.

As usual, it takes half an eternity for the elevator to open. It's not empty, which is unusual, since no one generally seeks out a free ride to the basement. It's an agent from White Collar Crime. And boy, does she look peeved. Well, it's not my fault she got on an elevator going the wrong direction.

I give her a bemused smile.

She rolls her eyes.

Then she starts to fade out. The fog is back.

Ah, Christ, I'm going home. Please let it be so.

I wish I could see the look on the White Collar agent's face now.


** End Part 2 **

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