Mulder looked back at the portal. Quinn gave him a helpless shrug to indicate that he could wait no longer, then made a grand leap into the vortex. Mulder faced Scully once more. With tears flooding her eyes, she mouthed the word, "Go."
With both deep regret and ardent determination, Mulder turned, made a mad dash and dived headlong into the vortex a split second before it closed. Scully gasped at the sight. She had wanted him to go. She had even begged him to go, but now that he had vanished into the unknown, she found herself unprepared for the reality of losing him. Perhaps it was that or the loss of blood from her wound that caused the swimming in her head. Suddenly, her legs could no longer support her weight and she sank to the ground and fell into unconsciousness.
Butts County General Hospital Oct. 19 7:47 p.m.
Scully awoke in a dimly lit room. She could tell what kind of room she was in by the sound of beeping monitors and the IV taped to the back of her hand. She couldn't recall how she had gotten there. She didn't remember calling for help before passing out. She figured that perhaps one of the locals had come by to dump more of their garbage and discovered her among the debris.
Then, she thought of him, and there was a sudden emptiness in her soul. As many times as she had come in the past to losing him to gunshot wounds, viral illnesses and a host of inexplicable phenomenon, she had never given up hope that he would recover, that he would somehow return to her intact. But all those times, he had at least been in the same universe as she. Even when he took off someplace without telling her where he was headed, she could always conduct a search for him, because she knew he had to be on the planet somewhere. But not this time.
Tears formed in her eyes as she softly spoke his name. "Mulder."
"I'm here," she heard something that sounded like his voice reply. She was imagining it, she knew, but she smiled bitterly at the sound of it. "Mulder, please, come back," she cried.
"I'm right here, Scully," the voice spoke again. This time it was accompanied by a hand caressing her forehead.
Scully turned her head in order to follow the hand back to its owner. A stubbly face with tired eyes loomed in close to her. "Mulder?"
"It's all right," he cooed. "You're in a hospital, Scully. You've been shot, but you're going to be all right."
"What are you doing here? Did you find your sister already?"
"No, that trip was canceled."
"But... I saw you go. I saw you leap into the vortex."
"You must have been dreaming."
"You stayed because of me, didn't you? I'm so sorry, Mulder," Scully began to cry again.
"There's nothing to be sorry about."
"I know how much you wanted to go with them. You threw away your only opportunity because of me," she sniffed.
"I chose to stay and help save my best friend's life rather than follow a dream. You're really not going to fault me for that, are you?"
"I just don't want you looking at me and thinking about what could have been. That perfect evening with your sister. You may never get another chance."
"Scully... it's okay, really. Now do you mind if we just worry about you for a change?"
"It seemed so real."
"I watched you go through the portal with the others. You actually ran and took a flying leap. And it swallowed you up just before vanishing into thin air."
Mulder mused over her IV. "That must be some good stuff they're giving you here. But I don't know how you could even dream that I'd abandon you like that."
"You've ditched me plenty of times before, Mulder."
"Ditching you, Scully, is my round-about-way of saying, 'Give me a little room to breathe,' or either, 'I feel you're safer staying behind.' Abandonment is leaving for purely selfish reasons when someone needs you. I may ditch you on occasion, Scully, but I would never abandon you. And I will never blame you for my not sliding. That was my decision. I chose to stay. End of story. So don't... just don't even think about it anymore. Okay?"
She was able to give a minor nod just before drifting off to sleep. Mulder remained at her bedside, holding her delicate hand in his. Even though he had told her not to think about it anymore, he couldn't help but conjure up the events of yesterday morning when everything that could go wrong did. What was to have been the moment he had waited for all of his adult life turned into a total fiasco.
Off-Road Dump Site Oct. 18 9:39 a.m.
While checking to make sure that the gunman Scully had shot was no longer a threat to them, Mulder was shaken by Wade's screaming of his name. When he looked in her direction, he saw her kneeling on the ground and cradling Scully in her arms. He didn't remember running to them, but somehow he was there on his knees and looking for signs of life. He gasped in relief at finding a pulse.
"Let's lay her down," said Mulder as he helped Wade to ease his partner to the ground. Mulder took off his overcoat, then his suit jacket which he balled up and placed beneath her head. He opened up her coat to expose what he thought was a chest wound at first because of the blood, then pinpointed it to a shoulder wound. He hastily ripped off his shirt and used it to cover her wound and apply pressure.
"We need to call for help," said Wade.
Mulder indicated for her to take over the first aid duties, then he rummaged through his coat pockets for his cell phone. He dialed 911, praying that this small town had the emergency system in operation. All he got was static. Thinking his phone was damaged, he retrieved Scully's and tried again.
"Dammit!" he cursed. "The signal's not getting out. Too many trees. We'll have to put her in the car and take her to the hospital ourselves."
"Mulder, I'm afraid we've only got about five minutes left," said Quinn.
Mulder stared at him for a moment, allowing that information to sink in along with the realization of what it meant. He shifted his gaze to his partner's unconscious form on the ground. It wasn't fair, was all he could think. To be this close to that ocean and unable to go swimming in it because it would mean his best friend would be left behind to die on the shore.
"I can't leave her," he murmured.
"I know," said Quinn. "And we can't take her with us because there's no guarantee we'll be able to get her medical help where we're going. I'm sorry."
"Perhaps it wasn't meant to be," said Arturo philosophically.
Seeing his bare arms covered with goose bumps, Rembrant picked up Mulder's coat from the ground and covered him with it. "It won't help matters if you go catching a cold," he said with an added sympathetic pat on the back.
"We'll help you get her into the car," said Wade.
Rembrant moved the black sedan out of the way as Wade and Quinn helped Mulder gently ease Scully into the back seat of the rental car. Then they all stood in front of the opened driver's door to say good-bye. Wade presented Mulder with a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Rembrant and the professor each gave him a heartfelt handshake.
"Maybe you weren't sent here to help me after all," Mulder said to Quinn as he shook his hand good-bye.
"I wouldn't say that. Just because you can't go with us, doesn't mean we can't conduct the search for you. We'll look for your sister, Mulder," Quinn promised. "On every world we slide to, we'll search for her."
A new hope flooded through Mulder's veins. His hands trembled as he took out his wallet and pulled from it two photographs. As he handed them over to Quinn, he told him, "The first was taken when she was seven. The other picture is a computer composite of how she might look now. There's some personal information on the back that might help."
Quinn took a quick glance at the photos, then carefully stashed them in the back pocket of his jeans. There was a silent nod between both parties, then Mulder got behind the wheel and started the car. He drove slowly and watched in his review mirror as Quinn pushed a button on the timer and opened the portal. The Sliders each waved at him right before taking that fateful leap into a new dimension. The gateway remained open a few seconds longer, almost tauntingly, after they had cleared it. When it shrank away into nothingness, Mulder focused on the road ahead and pressed his foot down on the gas pedal.
FBI Headquarters November 20 11:21 a.m.
"Mulder, why do you insist on ignoring the obvious?" Scully sighed as she sat across from her partner going over their latest case. "The evidence clearly substantiates the theory of a second suspect."
"Scully, haven't you ever seen cases where the obvious is conveniently too obvious? There's something deeper to this case which we've either overlooked or simply accepted at face value."
A knock at the door brought the debate to an abrupt end. The agents exchanged a quick look of surprise, then Mulder strolled to the door and swung it open. A young woman stood there, dressed as though she was ready for a safari, wearing khaki trousers and shirt, topped with a suede jacket and carrying a canvas handbag.
"Yes? Can I help you?"
"Hello, Fox," was her bubbly reply.
Mulder's head cocked slightly to the side like that of a puppy confronted with something new. "I'm sorry. Do I know you?"
"You used to. It's been a while though."
Mulder was instantly intrigued. He possessed a perfect memory for faces and names and although this woman seemed familiar, he couldn't quite place her. "Please, come in," he said, stepping to the side and allowing her entry. She had piqued his curiosity and he needed time to sift through his memory bank of childhood acquaintances who could have grown up to become this mystery woman.
"That's my partner, Dana Scully," he introduced her with a wave of his hand in her direction. The two women nodded a hello to each other, then the mystery woman turned back to Mulder.
"Still haven't figured it out, have you?" she said in a playful manner.
"Do I get any hints?"
"Well, you used to walk me to and from school everyday when we were kids."
Mulder studied her face intently. The large, brown eyes with the puffiness underneath were very much like his father's had been; and her dark brown hair, full lips and small chin were very much like his own. But it was impossible. It couldn't be her. He shook his head for even thinking that.
"It's been a long time, I know," she said when she detected in his eyes that he had deduced her identity. "I had been told that I could never come back here again. I was told to forget all about you, which I never did, but I had given up on ever seeing you again. Then I ran in to some friends of yours."
"Friends of mine?" Mulder questioned with an air of suspicion. He could count what few friends he had on one hand, and none of them would have encouraged this impostor to attempt whatever sick game she was playing.
"Yes. Actually, they sought me out. They told me a friend of theirs had been looking for me."
"These friends of mine; would they be as mysterious as you or would they happen to have names?"
"Of course they have names. Rather interesting ones at that. Let's see, there was... Quinn, Wade, Professor Arturo and... I couldn't believe it, Rembrant 'Crying Man' Brown! I don't know about here but he's pretty hot stuff where I come from."
At last, he believed. He glanced at Scully and saw her wide-eyed and amazed as well. "Samantha," he whispered.