Bedtime for Fox

by Ellie and Tiriel (

Fandom: X-Files

Rating: R for increasingly slashy and adult humor

Back by popular demand...

Okay, fine, mostly by the demand of Our First Fan, Russianrat, (who has now, perhaps, learned to be careful what he wishes for... oh, and thanks from both of us, dear!) it's the return of the Amazon Goddesses, Ellie and Tiriel. We decided that we didn't need to wait for the new season to start. We can spoof it sight unseen. Tiriel sends a public apology to Aithine, who will never be able to watch a certain film with a straight face again. Again, there're a couple of extra jokes for those who've read our previous two efforts. And as always, as if we needed to say it, they aren't ours, and this is all in the spirit of good, clean fun. Okay, maybe not clean...

Oh, yeah, and they aren't ours, it's humor, so don't go getting all offended or anything 'cause we'll just laugh at you, and we blame any continuity errors/liberties taken with reality on Chris Carter. That's our story and we're stickin' to it.

Bedtime for Fox

....In which Tiriel exorcises all of her Mulder pet peeves, indulges in some self-referential humor, and takes a poke or two (again) at her co-author, and Ellie has entirely too much fun writing about naked people. I bet you can guess which of us writes these introductions, huh?

"Yeah Scully...I'm your wonder pony...oh yeah..." Fox Mulder moaned in his sleep, happily ensconced in his favorite dream. Just before his delicious partner was transformed from her usual three-piece business-suited self into an incredibly kinky urban cowgirl, he awoke with a start. "Wha--? Huh?" His mind was still fuzzy, but his senses were beginning to give him a few familiar cues. Industrial cleaning fluid, coarse, starchy sheets, cracked beige ceiling, air conditioner wheezing like an asthmatic...had to be a hotel room.

It hit him a few seconds later that he must still be in Oregon working on the disappearance of those abductees. And galloping fast on the heels of that was the realization that he was currently in bed...with a man. But not just any man. His boss, Walter Skinner.

Now Mulder wasn't the type to panic, but there was a little gibbering voice in the back of his mind that was reminding him that ex-Marines didn't tend to be the cuddling type. Particularly not with other men. Of course there had been rumors about the AD and a certain restaurant chain's restrooms, but he'd chalked most of that up to jealousy and a rather libelous campaign put forth by the Consortium to undermine his authority. They were both lovely rationalizations, and under any other circumstances he would've been happy to parade them through his conscious mind complete with ticker tape. However, the only thing going through his mind at the moment was a rather dark funerary procession--his own--if he couldn't figure out a way to get up and scamper off to his own room before the boss actually woke up.

In his terrified state it is at least partially understandable that he hadn't yet noticed that he was still fully clothed. Indeed, he didn't stumble over this fact until he'd managed to work one shoe-clad foot onto the hideous olive and orange carpeting. That stopped him dead for a long moment. Okay, so he was in bed with Skinner...dressed, right down to his shoes and tie. Reaching down tentatively, he noticed that he also had his gun snugly secured in his side holster. So, to reiterate, he was fully dressed and armed...and sleeping with the boss.

"Ooo-kay" he whispered, and attempted to access his eidetic memory. As per usual whenever he woke up under odd circumstances, it was completely useless. Perhaps he'd just had one too many holes drilled in his skull, or sharp blows to the head. Regardless, the game plan remained the same, get the hell out of Dodge before he ended up a greasy paste adding one or two more incongruous hues to the flooring.

Calling forth every iota of stealth his body possessed, the agent managed to slide his other foot out from under Skinner's rather heavy thigh. By the time he'd managed it he was gasping like a marathon runner coming up on the finish line. Silently he prayed to every obscure god he could remember to just let him make it to the door. He figured he'd sent pleas to all the better-known ones on a hundred occasions before and they must be getting a bit tired of interceding on his behalf all the time. Maybe a deity like Wotan, someone with a little more time on their hands this century, would appreciate the opportunity.

Apparently not, because he'd no sooner managed to get to his feet than he heard the telltale signs of his boss awakening. He somehow managed to keep his scream silent and double-timed his tiptoeing to the door. Alas the Fates were apparently doubled over laughing at him yet again as Walter Skinner's dark eyes blinked open and landed right on him.

The agent froze in his tracks, his fear-addled brain assuring him that if he just stood still enough long enough Skinner wouldn't see him. For a few seconds it actually seemed like it might be working, but then the AD sat up, his face downright stormy. At that point Mulder did what he did best in these kinds of situations, he babbled. "Sir, um, you're awake, that's great...really...I just, uh, I just came, I mean I just got here...from...from my own room... Away from here. My room way down the hall. Yes. And the uh...the door wasn't locked so I, well naturally I got worried...and I just opened the door. I closed it just...not one second ago, literally and I was about to come over and check you mean make sure you were okay and..."

Before his rambling train of thought could make its way to some form of destination, he was startled to see Skinner bury his face in his hands and begin to sob brokenly. Mulder was quite literally flummoxed. "-- the hell?" Then it hit him. "Oh, um, look, I have absolutely no idea what happened last night but I'm sure if I had been completely in control of my faculties that I would've really enjoyed it and...and I want you to know that I do still respect you, sir. But...well, I'm just not a cuddler per-se..."

Skinner appeared to be too lost in his grief to notice anything the other man was saying. Instead he threw the covers off the bed and staggered to his feet. Mulder was both astonished and horrified to note that the man slept in the nude...completely in the nude. But what was truly horrifying was that the man had a body that would've made a grown bodybuilder weep. For a brief instant the agent couldn't help thinking that he'd really hit the jackpot the night before. Then the rational part of his brain gut-punched that voice and told him to get back on the straight side of the fence. He quickly summoned up an image of Scully in a thong and a smile. It really didn't help as much as he'd hoped.

"Um, sir, I realize that this was probably something that really shouldn't have happened and I think I can safely say that, well, we've both been under a lot of stress lately. And while I don't remember actually going to a bar and getting drunk last night I think it's pretty clear that we were both blitzed. So if we can just move past this I'm sure we can continue to have a long and fulfilling professional relationship. And, well, you know, the occasional quickie in the office isn't totally out of the question..."

Skinner continued to ignore him. Instead he began to wail and sob even more bitterly.

"Oh damn. Look, sir, I had no idea you felt like this. I'm flattered, I promise...but, well let's face it, we just don't have that much chemistry. I mean me and Scully, definitely, me and Krycek?well sure, I can see it, but me and you? I just don't see us in terms of some sort of committed relationship. A mild S&M relationship where you're my Daddy and I'm your best Boy is a possibility, but..."

"Mulder!" the other man moaned, and continued to weep.

"Yes, sir?"

"Oh, Mulder!"

"Right here, sir." He paused then added, "Would a hug help? Because I have absolutely nothing against a degree of intimacy, particularly in light of last night..."

"Mulder where are you?"

The agent blinked then asked, "Um, sir, I'm here...right here by the door."

"Scully's going to kill me," the large, buff, naked, inconsolable assistant director sniffled.

"You know I really don't think we need to tell her about all this, I mean not that I'm embarrassed, because I'm not. I just don't think she really wants to know. She's open-minded, I don't want you to think she isn''s just that I don't think..."

"What have I done?" Skinner threw back his head and cried out.

Mulder looked around the room carefully and hastened to say, "Look, sir, unless you want the entire state to know what we did last night, I really think you should keep it down just a little."

"I'm useless! Useless! I can't believe I let this happen."

"I think you're being way too hard on yourself, sir. And like I said we've both been under a lot of stress so..."

"He's gone, he's gone and it's all my fault."

"I'm sorry, Skinner I'm just not following you here."

"Mulder's gone...he's gone..."

"But I'm right..." he paused and took a hesitant step towards his boss. Then, waving a hand in the big man's face, he was astonished to receive no reaction whatsoever. "Sir, what would you think if I told you I thought all Marines were a bunch of limp-wristed fairies with militaristic fetishes?" When there was no reaction to that either he straightened with a start. "What the hell happened last night?"

Try as he might, he couldn't think of anything that would explain the current situation. He had a vague impression of someone shouting, "Don't go into the light, Mulder! Don't go into the light!" at him, but other than that, everything after his return to Oregon was a blank. Then an idea struck.

"Okay, everybody, very funny. You can come out now. I know you're pissed at me for making you stay behind, Scully, but this isn't funny." He looked around. Under the bed? No. In the closet? No. There was nobody in the room except for his naked superior. And the list of ways in which Skinner was his superior had just gotten a bit...larger. "Guys? Anybody?" After checking behind the curtains, under the chair, and even underneath the nightstand, he sat down on the edge of the bed in disgust. All he'd found was a Gideon's Bible, which someone had apparently shoved underneath the corner of the table to keep it from wobbling, and some dustbunnies. And he hadn't even caught a hint that Skinner had noticed him as he searched. That kind of blew the "sick, twisted joke" theory. So, he had to face facts. He was invisible.

Or dead. As an aficionado of all things paranormal, he had to face that possibility as well. He might be a ghost. And wouldn't Scully flip when she heard that? She'd have to give up that skepticism of hers entirely when she learned that her very own partner was now wandering the earth as a ghost. Oh, dear. He ran a hand over his face.

The sound of the shower turning on in the bathroom brought him out of his moment of self-pity. He resisted the impulse to follow the AD into the shower, just to test the limits of this invisibility/ghost thing, of course. Ghosts don't get wet, right? He had been lying on the bed when he woke up, and Skinner's leg had felt very...real against his. So he could touch solid objects. Could he move them? He walked back over to the table and tried to shove Skinner's suitcase off. No luck. He sighed heavily. If he was dead, this was going to be a very long afterlife.

Skinner continued to bawl in the shower as Mulder prowled the hotel room like a penned wolf. "Okay, okay, now wait a minute I've been dead...or... at least mostly dead before. Now think, was it like this?" He paused and seriously considered that time he'd nearly been burned alive in a buried tanker car in the middle of the desert. Hip-deep in alien bodies, or at the very least humans mutated with alien DNA, he'd burrowed away from the flames and was pretty much vulture bait when the Native Americans had discovered him. "I remember lots of stars. And Deep Throat was there... yeah I remember that. Dad too. So theoretically if I were dead I'd have at least talked to them again, right? I mean surely someone would have been there waiting for me." That made sense, perfect sense. Add to that the fact that the last time it had happened he'd awakened to find himself bare-assed under a heap of shrubbery. Not, and he couldn't emphasize this enough, dressed and in bed with his superior.

"But, if it's not the afterlife, then where?" Usually Mulder would've had at least thirty equally implausible but highly probable theories worked out to explain his current situation. However, his mental faculties weren't quite up to par this morning, and, to be honest, it wasn't as much fun to come up with them without Scully around. Just watching her lips get thinner and thinner with each pronouncement had become something of a hobby for the agent.

"Yeah well if you ever want to see Scully again you'd better start thinkin', Spooky," he muttered dejectedly. Before he could spiral further into depression Skinner slumped out of the bathroom with the occasional sniffle and half-choked sob. "Oh get over it already."

The AD reached into his suitcase and grabbed a pair of briefs. Mulder was a little astonished to note that they were a sort of pastel blue color. Not exactly what he would've imagined his boss would have chosen. After the big man slid into them, his agent noticed they seemed to have something on the back. Moving closer, he read, in flowing embroidery, "Property of Alex Krycek."

Suddenly, the "sick, twisted joke" theory looked more attractive once again. He closed his eyes and clicked his heels together. "There's no place like home. There's no place like home. There's no place like home." That old standby failing him, he began to search for hidden cameras, an exercise that proved futile, as he was unable to look properly in the usual places--smoke alarm, shower head, light fixtures--without the ability to manipulate objects. And of course, the great big hole that let all the air out of that theory was that even if Scully and Skinner and goodness only knows, probably the Lone Gunmen as well, even if all of them were in cahoots to pull this elaborate prank, there was no conceivable way in which they'd be able to affect his ability to move solid objects. So invisible it was, although invisible with some kind of twist that kept him from affecting his environment. Time to face facts. He was invisible, and his boss was Alex Krycek's bitch. Better and better.

Skinner had finished dressing by now, and Mulder followed him as he checked out of the motel. The obligatory attempts to get the desk clerk to notice him were of course also a failure, although that in and of itself wasn't conclusive proof of his invisibility.

As Skinner paused before getting into his rental car, standing there with the door open, staring around him bleakly as if Mulder would suddenly appear from thin air, Mulder took the opportunity to quickly get into the back seat of the sedan. With a final sigh, Skinner got into the car and drove to the airport.

On the way, Mulder attempted another classic solution to his dilemma. "I am visible. I am visible. I will be seen." He squeezed his eyes shut, focusing all of his willpower on visibility. He opened one eye just enough to peek. "Sir? Can you see me now?" No reaction. He settled back into his seat, watching the evergreens pass by as they approached the airport.

Mulder would have happily leapt out of the window had it been rolled down, but unfortunately for him it wasn't. He'd never been so happy to see an airport in his entire life. Of course the fact that Skinner had insisted on not only listening to Celine Dion's "My Heart Will Go On", but also performing his own heartbroken rendition along with her wasn't helping. While on one level it was kind of touching that his boss was so devastated at his "loss," this was going a bit far.

Skinner wiped his nose roughly and clambered out of the car. His invisible, insubstantial agent was forced to practically leap out on his heels. That, or wait until some rental agency guy came along to clean it, and frankly he didn't like his chances of making it back across the country without so much as a visible thumb to stick in the air.

He watched his boss slog through the tiny airport like the weight of the world was riding on his shoulders. Well, truth be told, if he'd been in his place he might well have headed down to Argentina and started life with a new identity rather than face Scully. But not Skinner, nope, he was too upstanding, too honorable to do anything like that. Not to mention, apparently too subservient to a certain rat-like double agent.

The big man clambered onto the tiny aircraft and stuffed himself into a window seat with some difficulty. The other seats were filling up quickly, and he had to jump out of the seat beside his boss when a lovely young woman settled neatly into it. Standing forlornly in the middle of the aisle, he contemplated his choices. Either he could stand here and suffer the indignities of having the stewardesses pass through him as they moved back and forth, or... He heaved a very heartfelt sigh and gave in to the inevitable.

Surprisingly Mulder found that his boss' lap was downright comfortable. And the view of the blonde in the next seat wasn't too bad either. She, of course, stared right through him, but seemed at least marginally interested in Skinner. The AD was slumping, the very picture of angst, and occasionally emitting a rather forlorn whimper.

Leaning closer the woman asked softly, "Are you okay?"

That was apparently all it took to start the waterworks again, and Mulder rolled his eyes with disgust. He would never have pegged the man for the weepy type. Maybe he could chalk it up to those nanocytes.

"N-no," the man blubbered, accepting the tissue his neighbor passed him.

"Did you lose someone recently?"

"Y-yes, I lost him...I lost him...Oh god..."

She patted his shoulder in a comforting manner and managed to settle into the seat in such a manner as to put her rather impressive cleavage in plain view. "You poor thing, was he a friend of yours?"

"He...he was my e-employee!"

The woman's head tilted slightly to the side and she blinked wide eyes at him. "Oh. Um, you two were close then?"

He sniffed and nodded. "Y-yes. He was the only one I could t-trust."

She nodded and made soothing noises. "Aww, if you don't mind me asking, what happened?"

"We...we were in the w-woods investigating a case." He paused to blow his nose rather loudly before continuing, "And then he j-just disappeared...and then I saw this spaceship fly off and..."

"This what?"

Mulder smacked his insubstantial forehead and suddenly understood in startling clarity why the man had remained single for so long. "Spaceship. I'm sure he was abducted by it. Last time they took his partner, now h-him...and...and I have to t-tell Scully. And she's going to be s-so pissed!"

"Uh-huh." Mulder watched the ample cleavage disappear as she rearranged herself as far away from Skinner as the seats would allow.

Just then the stewardess came by and chirped, "We'll be taking off momentarily, but I'm taking advance orders for beverages. Would you care for a drink?"

"Vodka...straight." the blonde muttered in utter disgust.

The stewardess glanced over at Skinner and asked, "And you sir?"

"I don't deserve a drink," he moaned, "I don't deserve to live!"

"I'll just bring you some peanuts then."

"Okay," Skinner sniffled. Thankfully, it was a short flight to Portland International, and Mulder was pleased to note that the airport construction that had been going on practically since his first visit to Oregon related to this particular X-File was finally starting to wrap up. They boarded another flight, this one to O'Hare. During that leg of the trip, Skinner seemed to resign himself to his fate. Meanwhile, Mulder was enjoying the benefits of being free to heckle the terminally perky flight attendants without fear of receiving filthy looks or drinks contaminated by who-knows-what.

Eventually, the joys of dancing in the aisles and saying things like, "Yeah, buckle this low and tight across your lap, you ex-cheerleader!" wore off, and Mulder settled back into Skinner's lap, only making the occasional comment as an attendant passed.

"Yeah, that's right, you. Stop drooling over my boss and go back to beauty school. But if that dye job is any indication, you weren't cut out for that, either. Yeah, thank you and buh-bye."

Even the exceptional number of baseball fields visible from the air on their approach to O'Hare did little to cheer him up. "Invisibility sucks." He continued to pout as they made their way to their next flight, and all the way from Chicago to Washington. "Could this get any worse?"

To be honest, it could've gotten much worse, in fact this was one of the smoothest trips he'd ever had through O'Hare. Indeed he knew from experience just how uncomfortable those divided seats could be to sleep on. And while most nights he preferred to leave the TV on as he dozed, a continual half-hour loop on CNN being broadcast from every TV in every waiting area could really start to grate on the nerves around three a.m..

But, miracle of miracles, their flight actually left on time, no delays, it was almost enough to make him believe in a higher power. Almost. After all, he was still in some weird kind of limbo, and nobody on any plane of existence was currently offering him answers, guidance, or even a heartfelt pat on his invisible shoulder.

His mood remained pretty grim throughout the flight, despite the fact that he spent a good deal of it perched on the sink of the women's restroom. It was entertaining the first hour or so, mildly informative for a few minutes more, then just depressing. On the other hand it was nice to know that not even women fit comfortably into those tiny, cabinet sized bathrooms. However, watching them try desperately to rearrange their nylons and skirts without dislocating a shoulder or hip got old surprisingly fast.

Mulder sighed again as the wheels touched down, and he was finally able to slink out of the tiny space when a stewardess decided to take a much-needed pit stop. He had no trouble finding his moping boss, who was shuffling slowly down the center aisle. By this point a certain sense of urgency was beginning to take over. He had to get to Scully. If anyone in this entire world would be able to sense him it was her. Sure she hadn't exactly had a stellar record where that sort of thing was concerned, but there was always a first time. And even if she didn't just feel he was there, as soon as Skinner blurted out the whole story she'd fly into action, deploy search parties, gather evidence, work tirelessly to find him.

That thought almost put a smile back on his face. Yes, Scully would save the day.

Except, apparently, they weren't going to see Scully right away. Skinner got into a cab, and Mulder followed, again thankful for the slow pace his boss was setting.

"Where to?" At least that was what Mulder thought the cabbie said. It was hard to be sure, considering the man's accent, which was unlike any he'd ever heard in all of his international travels.

"Hell," whimpered Skinner. Then he looked around, straightened up, and barked out orders in his usual tone of voice. They were going to Skinner's apartment.

"I know you're not exactly looking forward to this, but we might as well get it over with. Go see Scully. Damn it, sir, I know you're afraid she'll kill you with a glance for this one, but she's the only chance I've got!"

Apparently Skinner had the same thought. "Driver, I've changed my mind." The closer the cab drew to downtown DC, the more like himself Skinner seemed to become. He ordered the cabbie to take him to the hospital where Scully was awaiting the results of her latest medical tests. Mulder had forgotten about that, too, if he'd known in the first place, and sent up a silent prayer to whatever saint watches over beautiful, red-haired, mostly Catholic FBI agents that it wasn't the cancer coming back.

With a glance at the driver to make sure that he wasn't listening, Skinner pulled out his cell phone and hit a speed dial number.

"Dr. Nichol, please. Walter Skinner, and it's important. Yes, I'll hold."

Mulder leaned close, but couldn't hear anything from the earpiece of the phone, which was pressed tight against Skinner's ear. Was this Nichol one of Scully's doctors?

"Yes, Dr. Nichol, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Something terrible has happened, and I'm afraid I'm not coping with it very well. Yes, it has to do with that subordinate of mine we've discussed."

There was a pause as Skinner looked down and fiddled with a button on his shirt.

"Yes, I know we've talked about that. But he was abducted by aliens. I saw it myself. And now I have to tell his partner about it."

Another pause, this one fairly lengthy.

"No, not that kind of partner. She's a woman, and he's straight, and they're not doing it, I don't think. No, I am not obsessed with him. I have thought about it. There are aliens, he's been abducted by them, and I don't think medication would change that. Yes, I'm still being controlled by the man with the handheld computer. He's really not--so what do I do about telling his partner he's gone? No, I can't talk to you about it during our regular Wednesday appointment, I'm on my way there now! Yes, yes, I'm sorry. Your next client has arrived. Of course. I understand completely. I'll see you on Wednesday, Dr. Nichol." Skinner clicked the phone shut with a heavy sigh. "I don't know why I bother."

So Skinner had a therapist. Mulder filed that information away for later use, although after all he'd seen, he wondered if his conscience would allow him to use it.

They pulled up in front of the hospital, and Mulder hurried to follow Skinner, who after hanging up the phone had settled into his usual mask of AD-ness. Finally, they'd get to Scully.

Mulder sang quietly along with "Girl From Ipanema" as the elevator steadily rose to the fourth floor. He tried to mentally prepare himself for the scene he was about to witness. Poor Scully, she'd undoubtedly be reduced to an emotional trainwreck of epic proportions. It'd put Skinner's display to absolute shame, no doubt about it. She wouldn't eat, wouldn't sleep, in fact, she'd probably grab her clothing and dash from the hospital (regardless of her physical condition) to run back to Oregon to look for him. He'd be moved, he'd be touched, hell, he'd be highly entertained.

However, before they could enter Room 405, they found the Gunmen lined up just outside the door as if waiting to be pointed out by a witness...or offered a blindfold and their last rites. When they saw the AD each shifted a half step closer to the others until they were so close it was difficult to tell where one started and the next ended. "It wasn't us!" Langly cried out, clinging to Frohike and twitching violently.


Byers clutched at his tie as if it were a noose. "We had absolutely nothing to do with it, we just brought her here."

"Yeah," Frohike added, eyes nervously scanning the corridor behind Skinner. "You just remember to tell Mulder that it wasn't us, got it? It wasn't us!"

Skinner wilted slightly. "You've heard, then?"

All three nodded vigorously. "We had nothing to do with it, absolutely nothing."

"Of course you didn't." Skinner moaned dramatically. "It was my fault, mine and no one else's."

"No way." Langly's jaw dropped and he chanced a quick sideways glance at Frohike, who looked positively apoplectic.

"You?" the little man barked, righteous indignation momentarily overwhelming his self-preservation instincts. "But...but...what about Mulder?"

Mulder perked up at the mention of his name, "Yeah, precisely, what about me?"

"I know! Don't you think I know?" Skinner's carefully reconstructed professional mask was beginning to crack like the San Andreas Fault. "What am I going to do?"

"I dunno, man, you might want to consider moving to Bolivia or something." Langly offered helpfully. "We could offer you a new identity or two."

"Yeah, and a sex change." Frohike grumbled.

The AD looked a bit puzzled at that suggestion. "I suppose I'd deserve that...Hell, I don't deserve to live..."

"Damn right."

"Frohike!" Byers reprimanded him with one of his sternest looks. "This is not the time or the place for this. Mr. Skinner and Agent Scully need us now, we have to be supportive."

"Speaking of which," Langly interjected, "Don't you think you'd better go talk to her?"

Skinner paled instantly and looked like he might bolt. Meanwhile, Mulder was trying to use some latent telekinetic abilities to get into the room. "Will somebody just open the door, please?"

"I...I...maybe I should talk to her later. I mean there's no rush, right?"

Byers frowned and took him by the arm. "Now, Assistant Director, there's nothing to be afraid of, just go in there and do the right thing."

"Yeah, man, take responsibility," Frohike added, with a gentle push towards the door.

"And don't forget to invite us to the wedding!" Langly added with a little wave as the man was propelled through the door.

"Wedding?" Skinner and Mulder chorused curiously.

Mulder squeezed through the door as Skinner, looking marginally composed, began to speak. "Agent Scully."

"Scully! Scully, can you see me? Hellooo?" Mulder waved his arms frantically at the foot of her bed.

Scully didn't seem to notice him. Her attention was focused on Skinner. And she looked upset. "Hi."

"Screw the pleasantries, what's wrong with you, Scully? And please see me, I'm right here!"

Skinner closed the door behind himself. "Hi. How you feeling?"

"I'm feeling fine. They're just running some tests on me."

"Tests, Scully? What kind of tests? Are you okay? And why the hell can't you see me? I'm RIGHT HERE!" Mulder jumped up and down for good measure. No reaction. He tried making funny faces, no reaction. Clucking like a chicken didn't work, either. Meanwhile, his boss was tearing up. Again.

"Well, um..." Skinner trailed off, fighting back the tears.

"I already heard."

"Oh, they look so sad. They're worried about me. I'm touched, really, guys, but I'm here. You don't have to worry, you just have to see me!" Mulder was beginning to feel desperate. He ran his fingers through his hair and paced at the foot of Scully's bed. The despondent AD continued his narrative.

"I lost him. I don't know what else I can say. I lost him. I'll be asked what I saw. And what I saw, I can't deny. I won't."

"Well, it's about damn time," Mulder said. "I've been sending you reports on this stuff for years, and what does a man have to do to get some believers? Turn invisible!"

"We will find him. I have to." Scully's voice held the quiet determination Mulder had expected.

"Now that's more like it. You can start now. I'm here." Skinner turned to leave. "What, that's it? She says you'll find me and you're leaving?" Then Scully spoke up, getting the attention of both men.

"Sir, um. There's something else I need to tell you. Something that I need for you to keep to yourself. I'm having a hard time explaining it or believing it. But, um, I'm pregnant." A smile spread across her face.

Mulder half-expected that his jaw would drop to the floor like a cartoon character's, his tongue following with it. There'd been enough other impossible things about this day that it didn't seem too far outside the realm of possibility. But it didn't. He stood there, silent, simultaneously relieved to know that it wasn't the cancer coming back and shocked to realize that something they hadn't believed possible had actually happened. "Look out world, here come the uber-Scullys," he said in quiet awe.

"So that's what the Freaky Trio meant." Skinner blushed bright red, the shock apparently clearing up the tears for the moment. "How--I mean, if you don't mind my asking..."

"Yeah, what he said," Mulder said somewhat indignantly. "You're supposed to be infertile. Not that I'm not happy that you were misinformed...but, oh, what the hell, you can't even hear me. Just answer him."

"I think it's too early to answer that question, sir."

"What the hell kind of answer is that, Scully?" Mulder stood up from the chair he'd just settled into.

"What the hell kind of answer is that, Scully?" Skinner's eyebrows squeezed together.

"An honest one. Now, tell me what you saw in Oregon. We'll need to have all the facts if we're going to find Mulder."

"I'm not really sure what I can tell you, Scully, one minute he was there crouching in the ferns with me, then he wandered off and...well..."

Scully perked up momentarily, "He wandered off? That's it? Oh sir I was actually worried for a minute there, why didn't you just say so? He's undoubtedly injured but otherwise intact at the bottom of a hole being menaced by a prehistoric wild woman or a pair of camouflaged, immortal former Spanish explorers."

Skinner frowned and shook his head. "Wrong state and coast, remember that Oregon is the alien abduction capital of the US."

His agent paused to do a mental review of the latest statistics from the National Enquirer. "I suppose you're right, sir, but I still don't see how you can leap to the conclusion that..."

"There was absolutely no leaping, Scully." he intoned, "Not even a hop. I...I saw this bright light fly away from the spot Mulder disappeared. was kind of cool...I mean that was my first experience with aliens." He sighed and looked a bit wistful. "I mean, it's not like I could just take off for Africa and find a big buried spaceship in the ocean. Oh no, not AD Skinner, no, he's got to stay behind and fill out the paperwork, fetch Diana's dry cleaning, and play man-bitch to Krycek...Life is so unfair."

Scully appeared lost in thought as Mulder settled onto the edge of her bed. Any minute now she was going to come up with some brilliant plan to get him back. Something so stunningly logical and at the same time so elegantly creative that the sheer genius of it would stun both men silent. Yep, any minute now.

Skinner seemed content to wait for her next proclamation, and in the meantime he checked his pager. It wouldn't do to have Krycek's WebVan delivery kept waiting. The double agent became absolutely impossible to live with if he came home to discover he was out of strawberry Pop-Tarts.

When Scully did open her mouth to speak, there was an almost palpable sense of breathless expectancy in the air. Mulder's heart did a little fluttery skip and his hands clenched reflexively. "Sir," the paragon of feminine rationality began, "do you think it's too early to start planning the nursery?"

"Huh?" both men chorused.

"I know I just found out and I don't even know the sex yet, but I was thinking I could go with a neutral color. You know, a green or yellow maybe, even beige could work I suppose..."

"But...but..." the AD began weakly.

"...what about me?!" Mulder finished, his voice rising right along with his impending sense of doom.

"Blankets and clothes are no problem, of course, I'll just buy all of that in white for the time being. Furniture...oh god, I didn't even think about that, babies need all kinds of things like cribs and changing tables. Sir," her eyes had widened slightly and she was beginning to look a little panicked, "where am I going to fit a crib and changing table in my apartment? I've got a one-year lease and it's impossible to find housing in Georgetown right now. What am I going to do?"

"Um...Scully...what about Mulder? Don't you think we should..."

"Oh, right, Mulder. See, the thing is, if he was abducted by aliens there's really not that much I can do about it. I mean, in all probability he'll be returned, half dead, in about three months anyway, right? And I know Mulder would want me to go on with my life."

"No he wouldn't!" their invisible companion growled indignantly. "I can't believe I'm hearing this. Scully gets abducted and I drive myself bug-nuts trying to find her. I don't eat, I don't sleep, I have sex with a friggin' vampire, I went through hell for her!"

"So when do I get a new partner? And don't even joke about giving me Krycek. You know how well that worked for Mulder. I want someone sensible. Someone grounded. Someone tall." Scully looked up at Skinner.

"New partner?" Skinner now looked like his jaw would drop to the floor.

"New PARTNER!" Mulder shouted. "Okay, that is absolutely the last straw. I demand that you listen to me. Now. You are not getting a new partner. You can't. I am not that easily replaced."

"Temporary replacement partner, of course, just until Mulder comes back, but I've got to have someone to watch my back. I've got the baby to consider now."

"Well," Skinner said, "I suppose I could have someone lined up within a couple of days."

"Make it tomorrow. I've got a hot tip on a Sasquatch sighting in Washington State. I'd like to leave day after tomorrow at the latest."

"Sasquatch? Scully, are you sure you're fit to leave the hospital?" Skinner's expression of abject misery seemed to have been replaced by one of nonstop amazement.

"Absolutely. I've seen too much. I'm a believer now." With that, Scully hopped out of the hospital bed, pulled on a bathrobe, and walked out of the room. Skinner followed, shaking his head.

Mulder, too stunned to do anything other than gape after them, tears of frustration, rage, self-pity, and sadness filling his eyes, was left behind in the hospital room, with a Monkees song stuck in his head. "I really am dead, because this has to be hell," he whispered.

It took him several long seconds to realize that his trembling lower lip and puppy-dog eyes were completely useless without an audience. And a few seconds later it hit him that he was stuck in the hospital room. Mere milliseconds after that the depression train left the station, taking him on a one-way trip to Gloomville.

He considered just ending it all, maybe eating his gun after an hour-long tirade to the powers that be. The question was, if he was dead already, would it make the slightest difference? On the other hand, if he weren't dead, would an invisible gun actually work, or would the bullet zip harmlessly through his now insubstantial skull? This was getting way too complicated. All he wanted was a bottle of Scotch, the latest issue of Penthouse, and a copy of "Automatic for the People"...or maybe "O.K. Computer."

Finally Scully bustled back into the room looking chipper and perky enough to make her former partner nauseated. She carried her paperwork, apparently finding it much easier to check herself out of a hospital than Mulder ever did. Skinner followed obediently, deep in discussion with someone on his cell. "Yes, I know you're on a schedule, but I'm in the middle of something. No, I don't want to be responsible for a truck full of decomposing swordfish steaks and melted Haagen-Dazs, but...Don't give me that, your vehicles are refrigerated, I've heard the radio ads. Well, according to the customer service rep there's a three hour delivery window and I...Look, I'll be there as soon as I can, I promise." He snapped the phone shut and couldn't help thinking that he'd preferred being Cancer Man's toady. At least he was prominent enough in the Consortium to have his own personal assistant.

Scully was humming softly to herself as she grabbed her clothes and headed for the bathroom. Now, even under the most dire of circumstances Mulder had never been known to pass up the opportunity to see Scully in the altogether, so he trotted after her. He supposed, on some level, he should really feel a little guilty about this deviant voyeuristic groove he'd gotten into since his little "accident" in Oregon. For some reason he just couldn't seem to work up a decent amount of the emotion, particularly where Scully was concerned. She owed him at least this much, and he was beginning to think he'd used up his lifetime's worth of guilt about three years before.

In retrospect he wasn't quite sure whether following her into the bathroom was a good idea. At first it certainly seemed like one, particularly when that hideous hospital gown hit the floor and he got a nice long look at the object of his affection in the buff. However, when she shimmied into a pair of black lace panties (a thong, no less) and a matching push-up bra, he began to think that maybe he'd crossed the border into "too much information" land. Not that he hadn't pictured her in similar attire in his mind's eye at least twenty to thirty times a day since they'd met. Well, what hot-blooded American male wouldn't?

No, what really started to twist the figurative knife in his gut was the notion that she wasn't wearing either of Victoria's best secrets for him. In fact, every time he'd gotten to glimpse her...assets, they'd been well-concealed behind cotton and elastic. So what was up with this Mustang Ranch version of Dana Katherine Scully, MD? Did she have...a sex life?

Mulder whimpered softly and tried to shake off the notion. No, no, she was a broken, wounded loner like himself now. The Consortium, her abduction, and all they'd been through together had cut her off from normal society. The only guys who would even give her the time of day for at least the past five years were generally more interested in her internal organs or keeping various body parts in their freezers as momentos.

He polished that particular rationalization until it sparkled and then cherished it with all the conviction of the truly desperate. That is, until Scully turned this way and that, eyeing herself speculatively in the mirror and giving her breasts a bit of an adjustment. "Oh yeah, Dana, you've still got it." She fluffed her hair until it fell seductively around her lovely face like an auburn frame. Pausing, she called out to Skinner, "How're you doing on that partner thing?"

His voice returned, a bit muffled, "I think I have someone lined up, he's a pretty down to earth agent. Bit of a ladder climber but real serious and..."


Skinner cleared his throat. "Uh, yeah, he's tall."

"Good looking?" Scully asked, practicing a smolderingly sexy pout in the mirror.

"I guess..."

"Good, I've got a reputation to maintain...and I'm not getting any younger." She leaned forward to make sure her breasts would fall quite fetchingly and continued under her breath, "And a baby needs a father."

"Scully!" Mulder exclaimed, horrified beyond the point of rational thought.

"Okay this time I make sure we get adjoining rooms and run into his 'conveniently forgetting' that I'm undressed. Then offer to show him a mark on my back that I'm just convinced was left on me by the Sasquatch we're tracking. 'Oh I'm so glad you're here, I was so scared,'" she cooed breathlessly, making sure she jiggled in a decidedly distracting manner. "And if he gives me a platonic hug, I swear to God I'm becoming a lesbian."

Mulder stammered as the misconception he'd apparently been working under for the last seven years came crashing down, right on top of his head. "You-you mean, you wanted me to make a move on you? But I thought the whole point of our relationship was-was the whole unresolved sexual tension thing. Sparks but no fire. Like Remington Steele or Moonlighting. You know how things turned out there when the detectives finally got it on! And speaking of, you are not going to make a pass at this new guy, whoever he is." His voice rose into a plaintive wail as his tirade drew to a close. "How can you be planning this when you haven't even met him yet?"

Scully's failure to respond was by now not a surprise to him. Having covered the lingerie with some of her usual stylish office wear, she no longer looked like every fourteen-year-old boy's favorite fantasy. She looked surprisingly normal. No dark circles of worry under her eyes, no disheveled appearance, no hint of uncried tears in her eyes. Not a single sign that her partner, the man she'd shared seven years of aliens and conspiracies with, was missing, presumed abducted.

As she gave herself one last once-over in the mirror, Mulder snapped. Again. By now, his mental rubber band must be so full of those little knots, the ones you make to repair a rubber band when you don't have another one handy, that, if visible to, well, anyone, it would look like a macrame' plant hanger. "I could be dead! I could be halfway to Reticulum by now! They could be performing perverse experiments on me! What kind of partner are you? For all you know, right now, I could be on the receiving end of an alien anal probe, and all you can think about is seducing some man you've never even met?" Mulder began to sniffle. Apparently Skinner's misery was contagious. "'Is he tall?' Tall! What kind of qualification for a partner is that, anyway?"

He followed Scully dejectedly. Skinner was just hanging up his phone in the next room.

"Your new partner is quite the eager beaver, Scully. Seems he's already waiting for us downstairs. Which is good, because I've got to stop off at home very soon or Krycek will be furious. When he's furious, there's only one way to make him feel better. And I don't feel up to playing Horny Fugitive tonight." Skinner shook his head. "Those shoes are murder."

"Sir?" Scully looked up into the face of her supervisor. "Sir, perhaps we should go downstairs and meet my new partner."

"Yes, yes of course. Dog-something. He's downstairs. Let's go."

Mulder followed Skinner and Scully into the hallway. He attempted to cheer himself up by picturing them naked. He did, after all, have a fairly recent memory of each of their asses to refer to. When he found himself staring at Skinner's more than Scully's, however, he found himself even more depressed. He began to sing, but unfortunately, it wasn't loud enough to drown out the Lone Gunmen, who were still standing vigil in the hallway.

"Everybody hurts..." Mulder sang.

"Here's the happy couple now," Byers said. "Agent Scully, let me be the first to congratulate you." Frohike was frowning in the background, and Langly was writing furiously on a notepad.

"Happy couple?" Scully asked.

"Sometimes. Everybody cries..." Mulder kept singing.

Byers straightened his tie. "Well, Assistant Director Skinner did say he was responsible, so we thought..."

"Responsible for Mulder's disappearance, is what I meant," Skinner growled.

"Oh," said Frohike, his face brightening considerably.

"Oh," said Byers, looking chastened. "Excuse the error."

"What?" said Langly, "I was just working on a great idea I just had for an article--The Ugly Truth About Denny's. Did I miss something?"

Mulder decided that maybe he'd picked the wrong R.E.M. song. "It's the end of the world as we know it," he sang.

"So you thought Skinner was the father of my baby?" Scully chuckled, then turned to size up the man standing next to her. "Well, he is tall, and he'd be a good provider, and you know what they say about bald men, but I really don't think Krycek would approve." With that, she strode purposefully toward the elevators, her heels clicking loudly on the institutional hallway floor. The men behind her were too embarrassed (Skinner), shocked (The Lone Gunmen), and depressed (Mulder) to notice when the floor wiggled a little and then sort of slithered under the door into the stairwell as she entered the elevator. "Sir? We shouldn't keep him waiting."

Scully held the elevator door long enough for Skinner, blushing furiously under the stares of the Lone Gunmen, to follow. Mulder also followed, having given up on singing as a way of counteracting depression and moved on to speculation as to what a game called "Horny Fugitive" might entail. He found the visual that had formed in his mind of Krycek ordering Skinner around oddly appealing. He had just begun to ponder what it would be like to have Krycek order him around, or Skinner order him around, or maybe Krycek and Skinner order him around, when the elevator stopped at the lobby with a small lurch. The two visible members of the FBI exited, followed by the invisible one.

"So, where is he?" Scully said, smoothing the line of her jacket.

"Yeah where are you, you partner-stealing son of a bitch!" Mulder muttered, hands clenched into fists. Not that he'd be able to actually hit the guy, but he could at least swing in the jerk's general direction. Something caught his eye and he swung around to notice a strange shimmering liquid-like substance oozing out from under the emergency staircase door. His jaw literally dropped when it began to grown into a pillar of silver. "Sc-Scully, look!"

His former partner gazed around the hospital lobby like a kid in a candy store, her bright eyes sweeping over every well-dressed man over six feet in height. As each one passed or left the building she sighed wistfully. "Are you sure he said he'd meet us down here?"

"That's what he said," Skinner muttered, glancing at his watch for about the hundredth time in the past ten minutes.

"Scully!" Mulder squeaked and pointed at the mysterious organism as it began to take on an almost human appearance. The metallic figure's gleaming body underwent a dramatic change as his skin, hair, and Armani suit filled in like a paint-by-numbers. Soon he looked like everyone else milling around the area. "Oh my god, oh my god, Scully it's an alien!" Mulder bolted in front of her and gesticulated wildly toward the 'alien' in a vain attempt to communicate. "Scully, there is a shapeshifting alien standing right behind you!" And the ghost/astral projection of your partner standing right in front of you, he added silently. Not that he really expected her to see either. She never had before.

The creature turned its head in a rather mechanical manner and stared right at Mulder. The ghostly FBI agent nearly jumped out of his skin. "Can...can you see me?"

When its lips stretched into a grim smile Mulder could only whimper, "Oh fuck."

Scully glanced at her watch and frowned. "He's late. I don't like tardiness, I've had that for the past seven years."

"I'm sure he'll be here soon." Skinner added in a conciliatory manner.

"He'd better be. Oh, and I'm now technically senior agent in the X-Files division, right?" At her superior's nod she continued, "Good. First thing I'm doing is putting my name on the door. And the desk is mine, this Dog-guy can have that little card table I've been using. Those damn pencils are coming down from the ceiling too." She paused to check her makeup in her compact. "I'd like a secretary too, preferably 18-25, male, snappy dresser and please be sure he knows how to make a decent pot of coffee."

"Sure, sure." Skinner's thoughts were currently centered on how many traffic tickets he was going to have to incur to make it to Krycek's place before the WebVan delivery people left. Maybe he could convince DC's finest that he was on official business. Of course, he was going to have all of about thirty seconds to change into his French maid's costume before his one-armed love god breezed through the door.

"Agent Scully? Special Agent John Doggett." The whatever-he-was behind Scully was apparently capable of speech. Mulder sank to his knees. His worst nightmare was coming true. He'd been replaced, and his partner--his ex-partner's new partner was some kind of alien freak. Even if Scully hadn't already planned to seduce him, that fact alone would have made her fall in love with him on sight, something that was confirmed in fairly short order.

Scully jumped a little. "Rule number one on the X-Files, Agent Dogboy, is don't sneak up on people. That's the kind of thing that can get a man," she turned around then, and sized up the all-too-handsomely formed body in front of her, "...shot." She extended a hand limply in greeting. Scully's handshake was never limp or feminine. At least Mulder had never seen it that way.

As Mulder wailed on the floor, Doggett gave a faint smile that was just a little too practiced. "Shall we get down to work, Agent Scully? I've got a mission to accomplish."

Skinner stepped forward to introduce himself. "Assistant Director Walter Skinner. Thank you for getting here so soon. There is one thing I need to let you two know before you leave for Washington." Just then, his phone rang. "Excuse me for a second. Why don't you two get acquainted while I take this call? It should only take a minute."

Doggett seemed vaguely disinterested in Scully, but Scully was far too interested in him for Mulder's liking. Then Mulder heard something that distracted him from his jealous and paranoid musings for a few minutes.

"You're breaking up with me?" Skinner cried. "But why?"

Mulder moved closer to listen in. The voice on the other end of the line was that of Alex Krycek. Ignoring the lust--er, bloodlust, that the Russian double agent always brought to the front of Mulder's...skull, he leaned even closer to hear all of the conversation.

"That's right, Walter. You've been unreliable lately. You missed my delivery and there's too much starch in my shoulder holster again. You've screwed up for the last time."

"You don't mean--" Skinner shifted from despondent to terrified in about half a second flat.

"No, you sniveling wretch, I'm not going to activate the nanocytes. I might get bored with my new toy and want you back later."

"New toy? You don't mean--" Terrified to jealous in about a quarter of a second flat.

"That's right. You've been replaced."

"But-- Who?" Jealous to puzzled in about an eighth of a second flat.

"Who better to replace you than your replacement, Walter? AD Kersh, of course. Not much to look at, I know, but he does have certain charms. Why don't you have a little fun with Mulder in the meantime, maybe train him for me, if you can find him, that is, and I'll be in touch. Now say it for me one more time, Wally."

"I can't," Skinner hissed. "There are people here. Scully and her new partner."

"You know what could happen if you don't..." Krycek's voice held dry amusement and the taunt of a man who held another man's life in the palm of his hand, or the palmtop computer of his hand, as the case may be.

"All right, all right," Skinner said, then, turning away from the oblivious Scully (too interested in her new partner) and creepy Doggett, he spoke quietly into the phone. "I hear and obey my master, the most dangerous, hunky, and well-endowed man I know."

"That's my boy," Krycek cooed. "Later." As Skinner moved the phone away from his ear, Mulder could hear a wail in the background that could only be that of AD Kersh. It took him a full minute to shake those images out of his head, and when he did, he noticed that Scully, Doggett, and Skinner were headed for the front doors of the hospital.

"'John,' huh?" Scully pondered aloud, "That's so...normal."

Doggett smiled insincerely and replied, "Yes I suppose it is." Under his breath he muttered darkly, "Note to self, on next assignment request the identity 'Ezekiel Doggett.'"

"I like normal," his new partner purred and allowed one hand to brush 'accidentally' against his thigh. As she'd suspected, he was all muscle. She shivered with delight and anticipation. Getting up at seven to make it to the office on time every day suddenly seemed like less of a chore.

"Kersh?" Skinner whined. "What's he got that I haven't got?"

"You know what? I hope this guy is the brain-sucking variety of Reticulan." Mulder growled, keeping close to Skinner as the burly AD walked through the automatic doors.

"Dana Katherine Doggett..." Scully murmured with a gleeful smile on her face.

"I'm sorry, what did you say?" her new partner asked curiously.

"Nothing. Listen, there are certain things I've become accustomed to over the past seven years in the X-Files department. First, my partner will be required to place his hand in the small of my back to guide me through doors and such." She stopped and gazed up at her new partner adoringly. "Why don't you give it a try?"

Doggett shrugged amiably and slid his hand down her back, letting it settle comfortably just above her hips. "Like this?"

"Oh yeah, just like that. Um, next we exchange spare keys."

"That's my trademark move!" Mulder squawked indignantly. "I invented the hand on the back thing, it's mine, mine, mine!"

"Sure Kersh has hair," Skinner grumbled, "but he's at least thirty pounds overweight and short too. And if Krycek thinks that jerk is going to fit into my SS matron costume he is sadly mistaken."

"Spare keys?"

Scully smiled and nodded, offering him her apartment key... on the NASA keychain Mulder had given her years before. "Yes, you see X-Files cases don't always occur during normal business hours. Often you'll find that the mutants, psychos, and aliens will follow you home. Or, at least, they follow me home. We found it was much easier to just exchange keys than to kick each other's doors open every other week. It'll also be useful should either of us be abducted by government conspiracy groups or extraterrestrials. And of course there are the mandatory 10-20 hospital stays per year, so someone will always be fetching a change of clothes for whomever's laid up."

"I guess that makes sense," he returned. "Though I doubt I'm going to be in the hospital any time soon. I'm very...healthy."

"Well, that's an excellent quality to have in a...partner," Scully cooed. "Since you were so prompt, why don't we see if we can catch a late flight to Washington? I'll just need to stop off at home and pack. Why don't you come with me? That way you can see the layout for future reference. From there we can make a quick stop at the office and then head to the airport. And, sir?" She turned to Skinner, who was standing on the sidewalk looking lost. "Don't you have something to take care of at home?"

"No," he said dejectedly. "There's nothing there for me except a big empty bed."

Mulder felt like he was watching a fast and furious tennis match. On one side of him, he had his partner throwing herself at an alien, a sight as painful as it was fascinating, and on the other he had his superior, who was muttering under his breath a long and rather interesting list of things he'd miss about Alex Krycek. At this rate, he'd have whiplash to add to the list of indignities he'd suffered in the last 24 hours.

Scully was just looking around for a cab when the Lone Gunmen exited the hospital. "You need a ride, Agent Scully?"

"Yes, actually, we do. Thank you, Byers. John and I are going to my place so I can pick up some things, and AD Skinner is going home."

"No, Agent Scully, I'm not. I was going to tell you something about your trip? Well, this is it. I'm coming along with you. I've already lost one agent, and I'm not going to lose any more. We all know that the Pacific Northwest is a hotbed of unexplained phenomena. You're not going in alone." Skinner showed another momentary flash of his usual commanding self.

Scully, looking extremely frustrated at that pronouncement, climbed into the white van that Langly had just pulled to a stop in front of the agents with a screech. She took a deep breath, wiped the frown from her face, and sat down, saying sweetly, "Why don't you sit here next to me, John?"

The alien slid into the spot with an almost supernatural grace that made Mulder fume in impotent silence. He was forced to practically dive into the vehicle just before Skinner slammed the door shut. Without a word the AD assumed the "shotgun" position, with a glare at Frohike and Byers, neither of whom felt particularly motivated to fight him for it. Mulder moved up front to take his usual position on his superior's lap. There was something downright comforting about the man's presence. "At least you still care about me," he sniffled.

When Byers and Frohike had found enough room to squat in the rear amongst piles of computer equipment, Langly peeled out of the hospital parking lot like Mario Andretti on speed. Scully, never one to pass up an opportunity when it leapt up in front of her singing, "Opportunities are here again!" allowed herself to fall into her new partner. He immediately moved to right her and she batted her eyes coquettishly at him. "Thank you so much."

"I'm going to be sick," Mulder and Frohike moaned simultaneously.

Meanwhile, Skinner had removed a postcard mailer from one of his pockets and was staring at it intently. Mulder was relieved for the distraction from Scully's shameless performance in the backseat and glanced down to read it. It was for a Soloflex machine and featured a well-muscled man grinning and glistening as he leaned insolently against the exercise device. Skinner chewed his bottom lip for a minute longer, then reached decisively for his cell phone. After punching in the number he stared out the window and clutched the postcard to his chest. "Yes, hello. I'd like to order one of your machines...I...I need to make my body a work of art. Yes. Uh-huh. Oh really? Yes that does sound like a good deal. Three easy payments, huh?"

Mulder shook his head sadly and said quite sincerely, "It's not going to work, sir, Krycek is a slut, always has been. Look, you don't need to change yourself for him. Just go have lunch with Marita, get sauced on margaritas and bitch about the little rat and you'll feel much better, I promise. He never appreciated you anyway, I mean, if I had a guy like you in my life I'd..." The agent paused. Where in the name of god had that come from?

"Uh yes I do have a credit card with me, just a sec." He reached into his wallet and withdrew a "Species Survival" Discover card in festive greens and blues with pictures of wild animals all over it. He looked around warily and growled, "I'm about to make a credit card purchase. If my next statement includes any odd charges, particularly to online porn sites, I'm going to personally hunt each one of you unwashed geeks down and emasculate you with my Leatherman. Am I making myself quite clear?"

Langly cringed away from him and nearly drove off the road, while Byers and Frohike nodded vigorously. Satisfied, he proceeded to repeat the card number over the phone, along with his name and address.

Meanwhile Scully stretched her arms above her head as if working a kink out of her back then allowed one to drape along the back of the seat. And of course when gravity naturally drew it down onto Doggett's shoulders she watched for a reaction. The other agent just smiled amiably back at her. "First base, yes!" she whispered.

"I'm sorry, Agent Scully, what did you say?"

"I...I said, um, our first case, yes! I'm very excited to be working with you John...may I call you John?"

"Of course."

The mere notion of referring to her partner by his first name was enough to make her positively giddy. "Well, John, it's been a very long time since I've been able to...interact...with another agent. A long, long time."

"Uh-huh. Um, well I'm very excited to be working with you as well. I'm sure we'll have a very productive relationship."

"My thoughts exactly," she purred seductively. "Tell me, how do you feel about a little trip to the woods?"

"I've always liked the woods, you know, hiking, camping, that sort of thing."

"Perfect. Do you have any camping equipment?"

"Not at the moment..."

She hurriedly interrupted him, "That's quite all right, I have everything we'll need. Have you ever heard the best way to stay warm in a sleeping bag?"

"I...don't think so."

"Well then I'll be happy to demonstrate for you when we arrive at our destination. I think this case is going to be rather time intensive, you don't have any family or...or you? I mean it's very hard in a division like the X-Files to maintain healthy outside relationships. We work a lot of long hours in...close proximity."

Doggett cleared his throat and replied, "No, no family or girlfriend, just me. And I'm not afraid of hard work, Agent Scully, and I always give 110% to any endeavor."

"That's just what I wanted to hear, John." She leaned in a bit closer and asked, "Don't you think it's a little warm in here?"

He shook his head slowly. "I'm...I'm comfortable."

Unbuttoning her blouse enough to put her cleavage to the best possible advantage she murmured, "Really? I'm positively stifling."

"Must be the hormones. I hear that pregnant women have all kinds of problems with hormones. You did know she was pregnant, didn't you, John?" Mulder growled, hoping that the whatever-he-was could hear him as well as see him.

Langly's NASCAR-ready driving style blended neatly in with that of the other drivers on the road as they sped toward Scully's place. Meanwhile, Mulder and Frohike glowered, Scully leaned ever closer to Doggett, Byers frowned in prim disapproval, and Skinner ran a wistful finger over the chiseled torso of the man in the Soloflex ad, covering up one of the man's arms with his thumb. He was dragged from a pleasant memory of the TV commercial with the shirtless guy playing football in front of some Ivy-League-ish buildings, an ad that had actually been filmed at a small private liberal arts school in Oregon, now that he thought of it, when the van screeched to a halt in front of Scully's place.

"Sir? Why don't you wait here. I'll just be a minute. John, you'd better come in. And, please, if I haven't mentioned it, call me Dana."

Skinner and the Lone Gunmen remained in their seats as Scully and her new partner practically slithered out of the van. Mulder found himself oddly torn between following them and staying put on his boss' lap. He decided just in time to hop out the door of the van and trail along.

"Did you see that?" Byers said disapprovingly, "Mulder hasn't even been gone a day! It's disgraceful!"

"You can say that again," Frohike said mournfully.

"At least somebody notices," Mulder said, and followed Scully and Doggett through the door. "Oh, Scully and Doggett. And I'm a baseball fan. I get it. Ha ha very funny." His voice indicated the extreme sarcasm of the remark. "Whoever's done this to me has a really warped sense of humor."

Fox Mulder had made the trip up to his partner's posh Georgetown apartment more times than he cared to think about. Indeed if he were forced to find his way blindfolded he could've done so quite easily, with one hand tied behind his back even. However, in all the years he had either run, limped, or sauntered up to her place, he'd never been as filled with dread as he was on this occasion.

"Don't do this, Scully...please. Think of your self-respect. Think of the baby. Think of me!"

The object of his angst and affection breezed along the hallway completely oblivious to his plea. "Thank you so much for coming up, I really do want you to be familiar...with my apartment." She smiled with every iota of seductive charm she could muster on fairly short notice.

"It's a pleasure, Agent Scully."

"Oh the pleasure is all mine," she sighed, then with a move so blatantly obvious that Mulder groaned and covered his face with his hands, she dropped her keys in front of her door. "Oops!"

"Allow me." Doggett offered, bending over to pick them up.

She leered openly at his exposed rear and cooed, "Nice ass."


"I said...nice bass."

"Or how about 'low class?'" Mulder spat.

"There are some really the northwest...I hear."

Doggett gave her an openly puzzled look before shrugging and turning to unlock her door. He opened it with a flourish and said, "After you."

"A gentleman too..." her voice had such a girlishly dreamy sound that Mulder could barely keep himself from retching.

Doggett paused to smirk at Mulder, who scowled in return, before following her inside. He attempted to slam the door right in the invisible agent's face, but Mulder had spent a lifetime getting into places he wasn't supposed to and managed to slither inside.

Scully gestured to the sofa. "Please have a seat, it'll only take me a minute. I've got packing down to a science." Under her breath she added, "Not that I've had much choice."

"Yeah well remind me to throw you one wing-ding of a pity party. Oh wait, you can't remind me because you haven't heard a word I've said!" Mulder ranted, trailing behind his former partner.

Hustling into her bedroom, she kicked off the ugly, practical shoes she'd been wearing at the hospital and grabbed the overnight bag she usually used on their trips. Without hesitation she dumped the contents, mostly black blazers, white silk blouses, sensible underwear and a pair of thermals; onto the floor. "Won't be needing you guys anymore!" she giggled, and then started rummaging through her drawers. Soon a pile of frilly lingerie was starting to teeter dangerously on the top of her Martha Stewart brand comforter.

Mulder watched this with open-mouthed horror. "Wha--? You, you mean to tell me you've got..." he scrutinized the pile with some care, "...Wonderbras, thongs, garter belts, fishnet stockings and a freaking corset? This...this can't be happening, it just can't be happening." He looked skyward, though whether to communicate his frustration and disappointment with some metaphysical being or EBEs was debatable. "Why have you forsaken me?"

Scully was humming "I Enjoy Being a Girl" entirely off key as she practically skipped over to her closet. She brushed hanger upon hanger of Bureau-approved two-piece suits aside with relish. Hidden in the recesses of her walk-in closet were a row of dresses that would've made the entire cast of "Striptease" blush. Pulling out a gold lame' number that could barely be considered a halter top, let alone a dress, she held it up in front of herself experimentally. "Okay, if this doesn't say 'Come fuck me,' nothing does," she murmured. "Better wear these while I can, it'll be muumuus and sweats in a few months."

There she was, the love of his life, the center of his universe, the winner of the Fox William Mulder award for best performance in a series of sexual fantasies, six years running; gleefully chucking aside their entire relationship for some gooey alien with a nice ass. But that wasn't the worst part, no, not by a long shot. The thing that really made him want to commit seppuku right in the middle of her bedroom was that it could've been him all along. She had the tools, and apparently the talent, but not the incentive to use them.

She paused in her preparations and looked up at the ceiling. "Uh, Mulder, if you can hear me I just want to let you know that I will continue your work, and of course I'll search for you...when I can. I mean nights and weekends definitely. Well...some nights...and maybe not both days on the weekend, but I'll definitely do it one of the two days." She contemplated her reflection for a moment before continuing. "You know it's too bad you didn't really go for girls..."

Mulder stopped beating his insubstantial skull against the doorframe long enough to blurt out, "Huh?"

"...because you really would've been my first choice. But it's not like I haven't given you enough opportunities to make a move on me, hell I practically rolled out a red carpet on at least ten different occasions..."

"What ten?" he howled desperately, "What ten?"

"And all that porno stuff was so over the top. I mean we're talking major repression here. Not to mention the way you used to ogle Skinner every time we walked into his office."

"She thinks I'm gay...oh god..."

"As soon as you come back we'll be partners again, and now that Skinner's free we can double date! Me and John, you and Walter, it'll be so sweet!"

"Hey, just because we went to Oregon together--oh, never mind." Giving in for the moment, knowing that he wouldn't be heard anyway, Mulder fell onto Scully's bed in a heap. At least that was the plan. What actually happened was that he fell through her bed and landed on the floor in a heap. Apparently the rules of this invisibility thing weren't all that fixed. "I wish I'd never gone back to Oregon. I wish I'd never gone there in the first place. I wish I'd never heard of aliens. OUCH!" The last was the sound of Mulder's screech as Scully stepped on his ankle, which was sticking out from under the edge of the bed, in shoes with a heel that was probably not approved by Dr. Scholl, and he hit his head on the bottom of her bedframe as he tried to sit up in pain and shock.

As Mulder cursed and slid gingerly out from under the bed, not sure whether to cradle his ankle or put his hands to his aching forehead, Scully walked briskly out of the room, now packed and ready to leave. He followed, hobbling and thanking his lucky stars that she hadn't closed her bedroom door behind herself.

"So, John, you ready to go? I'd offer you some coffee or...something, but the Gunmen are waiting downstairs. They're a little odd, but they mean well."

"Yes, they are odd. I have to say, Agent Scully--"

"Dana, please."

"--Dana, that I really don't believe in this X-Files thing. I find it particularly hard to believe that your partner was abducted by aliens. Has it occurred to you that he might have faked the whole thing? Or that what AD Skinner saw was a weather balloon? Mulder might be wandering in the woods somewhere, or maybe he was attacked by a wild animal."

"You don't know Mulder. Trust me. In seven or so years, that skepticism of yours will go the way of the dodo. Now let's go. We've got a Sasquatch to find, and a few other things to accomplish. Could you get my bag?"

"Of course."

Mulder watched in sullen silence. But the second Scully's back was turned, Doggett's hand wriggled and reformed more comfortably around the handle of her bag. "Scully! Did you see that? Scully, turn around! Come on!" Mulder shouted frantically. She remained oblivious.

He trailed along silently and re-entered the Lone Gunmen's van. Settling in on Skinner's lap, he did his best to ignore the two new partners and focus on the surroundings. Again he was convinced that he had to be in hell. He was invisible, stuck in traffic in a van with broken AC with Langly leaning on the horn, in officewear in summer DC weather--and hadn't he been dressed in something more casual when he vanished?--which felt like the air had turned into water, and he was sitting on his boss' lap. That last one actually wasn't so bad, once he'd gotten used to it. And the heat brought out a lovely sheen of sweat on Walter's forehead. But he was beginning to be very tired. He had no idea what time it was, but knew that they must have left Oregon entirely too early to be civilized, since they'd had time to fly cross-country and make it to the hospital before the close of visiting hours all in one day. It was beginning to take its toll. He drifted off to sleep and woke up as they screeched to a halt in front of the Hoover Building.

Langly was leaning as far back in his seat as possible, and had grabbed a pair of dark sunglasses from the dash and traded them for his usual spectacles. Skinner looked at him oddly, and the other man replied, "Surveillance cameras all over the place...I can't be too careful."

The AD didn't have the heart to tell him that he and his cronies were not exactly at the top of anyone's Most Wanted list. "Sure. Um, okay, people, I need to collect a few things from my office, and Scully, you may want to check your office for mysterious unlabeled packages, envelopes containing magnetic key cards, strange post-it notes, whatever. It's about time for one of the Consortium to turn stoolie and start helping us out with information regarding Agent Mulder's whereabouts."

Scully blinked wordlessly for a moment, then replied, "Oh, yeah, Mulder, right. I'll get on that, sir."

Meanwhile Mulder had awakened from his pleasant nap stretched his arms up, not even noticing that they passed easily through the roof of the vehicle. After a second or two of reorientation he noticed they'd arrived at the Hoover building. Home sweet home. Only it didn't feel like his home anymore.

Doggett and Scully climbed out of the van and proceeded to head for the X-Files department while Skinner made his way up to his office. Mulder decided, in a moment of clarity, that following Scully just now would probably be a "bad" thing so he tagged along with his boss. The man fidgeted uncomfortably in the elevator, his thoughts clearly elsewhere. When he bolted into his office he startled Kim, who'd been busily filing her newly manicured nails. "Oh, you're back, sir, I didn't expect you for another day or so."

"It didn't go well. I," he paused to take a deep breath. "I lost Agent Mulder."

Kim didn't even blink. "That's too bad, but I'm sure he'll turn up, he always does."

Mulder glowered at her and mentally checked the secretary off of his Christmas card list.

"I suppose," her superior sighed sadly. "But, um...did I...I mean did I have any messages while I was out?"

"Not a one, sir."

"Are you sure? I mean I didn't have one in, say, the last ten minutes did I?"

"No, sir."

"So no one called for me?"

"No one, sir."

"No notes under my door?"


"And my office...?"

"Just like you left it, sir."

"So nobody ransacked it while I was gone? Nothing moved? No incriminating evidence left in it?"

"Nothing, sir."

He sniffled miserably. "It's true, he really doesn't love me anymore..."

"Little spat with Mr. Krycek, sir?"

Skinner stiffened immediately. "What? I mean, what are you talking about? Are you implying that Alex and...I mean Mr. Krycek and I are..."

"Sir," Kim replied, totally deadpan, "I'd have to be deaf, dumb and blind not to have realized that. And I hate to tell you this, but your office isn't soundproofed." She went back to filing her nails without the slightest hint of concern. "Hell, half the department could hear you two going at it like weasels. The VCU's bullpen takes weekly bets on how long it'll take you to get off. Kersh won the last two in a row as a matter of fact."

"Don't," he growled menacingly, "ever mention that man's name around me again, got it?"

"Sure, sure." She held up both hands in a conciliatory manner. "I understand completely. Breakups can be so messy."

"You know about that too?" Skinner was mortified beyond words.

"I'm a secretary, sir, I know all, see all...Particularly when it comes to good gossip material."

"So, anybody who happens to get involved with Skinner should keep it out of the office," Mulder muttered thoughtfully. "Good to know. Not that I would...of course. I think I'd better check on Scully and the Dog."

"Well, since there are no messages," Skinner said, trying to salvage some shred of dignity, "I'd better go get Scully and Doggett and head for the airport. I'm going with them to Washington."

"Ah, yes," she said, "a little trip always makes me feel better after a breakup. Enjoy, sir, and if there are any...important messages, I'll direct that caller to your cell number."

"Thank you," Skinner squeaked, and bolted for the elevator. Mulder followed. Once they reached the familiar basement hallway that led to the X-Files office, Mulder breathed a sigh of relief. He almost felt normal here. Then he heard his partner's voice.

"No, that corner needs to be a little higher. That's almost perfect. Now put the vase of flowers over there..."

Mulder stopped dead in his tracks, just outside the office door. Scully was...redecorating. His--okay, fine, their office. With flowers. He was just about to brave the horror and take a look at his home away from home (more often just plain home) when he heard the worst thing yet.

"Agent Scully, what in the world have you done to this office? Where are all of Agent Mulder's things?" Skinner seemed to have forgotten his Krycek-induced depression in his shock. "Is that a Monet print?"

"Oh, we'll unpack his things from storage if--I mean, when he returns. In the meantime, it couldn't hurt to brighten the place up a bit. Maybe a nice coat of pastel pink paint."

Mulder hesitated, but decided that there were some truths that were just too horrible to bear, and from the sound of things, his office in its current state was a truth that was better off remaining unexposed. He waited patiently in the hallway until Scully, Doggett, and Skinner emerged.

"I'll lock up," Doggett volunteered, and Mulder looked on in horror as Doggett's index finger morphed into a key, which he used to smoothly lock the door as Skinner stared down obliviously at his cellular phone and Scully stared up obliviously into Doggett's eyes.

"Damn it, Scully, the man's a cyborg or an alien or something. You can't possibly trust him. You can't possibly want him to be the father of your baby. He just got here." Mulder's protests were beginning to sound routine. This invisibility stuff really wasn't all it was cracked up to be. Not like the stuff of some childhood fantasy where it was all watching cute girls undress and getting away with pranks. "Invisibility sucks."

Mulder followed the trio of visible FBI personnel outside, where they sidestepped several tourists, who clearly watched too much television, having their pictures taken in front of the Hoover Building. "Come on, people," Mulder muttered. "It's not even that nice of a building. Kind of drab. And much dirtier than it looks on TV. You want to take your picture in front of something, at least pick something attractive." But even random tirades against total strangers had lost their appeal, and he filed quietly into the van for the trip to Ronald Reagan International. He didn't even have the heart to launch into his usual rant about the airport's namesake. Something had to happen soon, or he was going to lose it. There was a more technical term for that, he knew, but he couldn't recall it. Eidetic memory aside, he'd forgotten basically everything he'd learned while achieving his psychology degree. But Scully knew it all anyway, so that was okay.

Three FBI agents and a rather depressed and ghostly former agent made their way to the check-in counter and from there onboard a rather empty 747. With plenty of available seats Mulder decided to forego sitting on Skinner's lap for this trip. It was much easier to mope properly without his boss' beefy body to lean on. Of course the fact that the man was currently in a rather intense discussion with Marita Covarrubias might have affected his decision a bit.

"Alex called me up to tell me he was seeing somebody else. What? No. No, not him either. No. No, Mulder's disappeared...spaceship...uh-huh. Well I don't really know if he's being 'probed', but...Huh? Oh no, not her either. You're not going to believe who. Kersh. Yeah, I know, it totally blew me away too." He leaned back and settled more comfortably into his window seat and loosened his tie. "I know, he's totally gross. All flab."

Across the aisle Scully was showing her new partner several grainy photographs of a black blur that might, or might not, resemble some sort of bipedal creature. "Okay, now if you look at these in the right light and from the correct angle you'll see..."

"A black blob?"

"Well." Scully stopped to look at the images again. "Hmm, see right here? This could be an arm..."

"Or a shadow."

"Yes, it could be a shadow, but in all probability it's actually the arm of a creature unknown to modern science, remaining hidden for centuries despite the encroachment of human society, our only evidence of its existence a few grainy photos and footprint casts."

"Or it could be a blob on improperly developed film." Doggett replied, clearly unimpressed. "I mean, what the hell kind of a camera was this person using anyway? Even one of those little one-time-use-only things you can pick up at Walgreens could do a better job than this. And can you explain to me why it always seems that people who manage to catch these 'fantastic' and 'unknown' creatures on film always take such crappy photos? I mean do the creatures make sure only to pass within sight of people using substandard photographic equipment?"

Scully paused abruptly then sighed and smiled. "Sorry, John, I'm not used to being on this side of the debate, it may take me a little while to get used to being a 'Believer'." Then, waving the photos under his nose, she exclaimed, "How can you not see a Sasquatch here? It's so obvious! And while I respect and value your skeptical nature and your opinions, you're wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong."

Doggett stared at her for a moment longer and then said, "I'm just going to look out the window for a while, okay?"

Scully slumped and nodded weakly. "Sure, fine, whatever."

"No way!" Skinner exclaimed as the stewardess offered him a double Scotch. He was giggling like a schoolgirl as Marita apparently filled him in on some undoubtedly private and humiliating aspect of her relationship with Krycek. "He does? With a rubber ducky? Is that even physically possible? Wow."

After observing these exchanges, Mulder walked away from the part of the plane holding his former boss and former partner and seated himself next to a screaming infant. The pain of enduring the child's tireless cries had to be less than that of hearing any more of either conversation. If not less painful, then at least it was a dead heat as to which was worse. He wallowed in self-pity as the baby screamed in his ear like an air raid siren all the way to their connecting flight. Mercifully, he slept through most of the flight into Sea-Tac. Who knew that invisibility made a guy so tired? However, on the tiny plane that was taking them to a small town in southwest Washington, it was impossible to avoid his co-workers.

Skinner, looking much cheerier, was smiling to himself and occasionally muttering Mulder's name. There was also a shopping list in his hand of items that Mulder was pretty sure weren't sold in the kind of small town they were going to. Items that were probably illegal in several states. Items that Mulder hadn't experienced the use of personally (yet) but had seen in videos.

Scully was pretending to sleep, slumped against Doggett's shoulder, which shifted shape to fit the contours of her head. "Shh," Doggett mouthed at Mulder, holding a finger to his lips and smiling wickedly.

"Shh, my ass. You're the only one who can hear me, you sadistic shapeshifting cyborg alien freak! And if I'm ever substantial again, I'll kick your metallic ass up and down the Hoover. Hell, up and down the whole District of Columbia. You won't be able to hide from me."

Doggett raised an eyebrow at that, looked around quickly to make sure no one was looking, and grinned. Then with a shimmer and a wriggle, his face morphed from his own into one that was far more familiar. Wearing Mulder's face, Doggett whispered, "I think I'll be able to hide just fine, Spooky." Then his face reshaped into its usual contours.

Mulder shook his head in disbelief. "No. Noooooooo!" He spent the rest of the flight cowering on Skinner's lap. He didn't leave his boss' side as they made their way from the airstrip to the motel. While Skinner didn't know that Doggett was a shapeshifting alien, somehow the man's presence made Mulder feel safe. He followed Skinner into his room and sat down on the bed. "I don't know why this is happening. What have I done to rack up enough bad karma to deserve this? My partner is in the clutches of a bad bad man and nobody cares that I'm gone. This has been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day." He was settling in on the bed when Scully burst into the room wearing the lingerie Mulder had drooled over in the hospital.

She ran over to Skinner, who was unpacking, and threw herself into his arms.

The AD took one look at her and sputtered. "Scully? What are you doing in my room? Wearing...that?"

"Agent Doggett lied. He does have a girlfriend." Scully sighed. "I was all ready to do my 'would you please look at this strange thing on my back' routine and I overheard him on the phone. Couldn't catch much, but it was something about a woman named Sarah Connor. He sounded really anxious to find her."

"Well," Skinner said, stepping back and extricating himself from Scully's embrace, "you can't be sure she's his girlfriend. She could be his sister."

"No, no, I'm sure. I mean, what are the odds of drawing a second sibling-obsessed partner? And he hung up so quickly and looked so guilty when I came into his room. It's hopeless. I'm doomed to raise this child alone. What will my mother say?"

"Nonsense," Skinner said, "I'm sure you can find someone."

"If you're that desperate, Scully, there's always Frohike. He adores you." Mulder lay down on the bed and waved an arm in the air above him. "Unless you think he's gay, too."

"Well," Scully said, "Krycek is out, for obvious reasons, as is Mulder, and you, too, sir, no offense. Byers is kind of cute, but I'm not sure if the Gunmen are involved in a polyamorous thing where it's all three of them, or if it's just two of them who are doing it. I'll have to find out. Maybe if Byers is available...ooh, and he could feed me tips on the latest conspiracies that I should be investigating fruitlessly. That's not a bad idea."

"Yes, of course, you should consider that. In your own room." Skinner grasped desperately at the opening she'd given him to get her out of his room. "Now, we'd all better get some sleep. We're crossing over into Washington tomorrow to investigate that's a pity that the town where the sighting took place was too small to have a motel, we wouldn't have to be up as early, but that can't be helped. We all need some sleep." He guided her toward the door and shut it firmly behind her.

"Crossing over into Washington? I thought we were already there." Mulder sat up and searched for something that would tell him where he was. Ah, there. One of those cheesy motel maps of local attractions. And someone had left it out on the table where he could see it. The invisible agent walked over to scrutinize it carefully. What he saw made his spirits fall. He wasn't in Washington at all. He was in a small town in Oregon, very close to the border.

"I'm back in Oregon? But that's not fair! I was just here. I hate Oregon!"

His eyes were filled with a blinding light and a booming female voice sounded in his ears. "STOP!"

"What?" He looked around. Skinner was frozen in place, folding a pair of those "Property of Alex Krycek" briefs. Time had apparently stopped, or something. The source of the voice was not visible.

"Stop saying that. You hate Oregon, Agent Mulder? Well, Oregon hates you, too."

"What? How can an entire state hate me? That's ridiculous."

"No more ridiculous than invisible FBI men, shapechanging cyborgs, or your boss' love life," the voice responded.

"Well, I guess that's true, but who the hell are you?" Mulder spun around, looking for a hidden speaker system.

"I am the guardian spirit of the state. And you are being punished for your crimes."

"What kind of crimes? I haven't done anything wrong," Mulder whined, "certainly nothing bad enough to deserve this."

"Not true. How many times have you been to Oregon?"

"Several. I'd have to check the files to be certain."

"And how many times have you been to Washington or Idaho?"

"Well, the Pacific Northwest as a whole is rife with unexplained phenomena, so I'd have to say--"

"Enough times to know better," the voice boomed.

"Better than what? Look, I have no idea what's going on here, but this isn't funny." Mulder stood defiantly, wishing he knew where the voice was so he could face it.

"Special Agent Fox Mulder, for the crime of grossly mispronouncing the name of this state, when you've been here far too many times not to know better, I am here to pronounce your sentence."

"Wait, mispronouncing? What's wrong with the way I say Oregon?"

The voice shrieked in apparent pain. "That's what's wrong. Listen to me, Mulder. Oregon. Oregon. Oregon. Not 'or-ee-gone' -- it's more like 'gun' at the end. How could you not notice that everyone around you says it differently from you? After all this time? You arrogant visitors and immigrants who are too self-important to notice or care that you're saying it wrong keep me busy 24/7. Do you have any idea how many visits I have left to make tonight? So let's wrap this up. Try it again."

"What, Oregon?"

"No, no, that's still wrong. You're one of those incurable cases. I guess you'll have to have the maximum sentence. This day of invisibility was part of it. The rest is that you really were abducted, and because of that you'll only be in 11 episodes this season. But don't worry, Fox. Scully and Doggett will be looking for you." The voice turned mocking on that last sentence.

"No. Please? Anything but that." Mulder staggered backwards. "Please. No. I'll be better, I promise. Nooooooooooooooo!" With that wail, the light got brighter and he fell onto the bed and into darkness.

Mulder woke up to the familiar sounds and sensations of a motel room. Bad sheets, worse mattress, etc. He was fully dressed, and alone in the bed. "Oh, thank goodness, it was all just a terrible dream. Got to lay off of the midnight snacks. I'd better get Skinner and get back to work on those abductions." He sat up in bed and looked around. This didn't look like the hotel room in Bellefleur. The color scheme, while equally awful, was distinctly different. It looked like the hotel room he'd been in at the end of that dream. He stood, looking around in horror. Then Skinner, naked and sniffling, emerged from the bathroom.

"Being back in Oregon is so hard. It's all my fault that Mulder is gone," the red-eyed AD said softly.

Mulder's scream, had he been visible and therefore audible, would have been heard throughout the state of Oregon.