When they made it back to the house, they saw Cleatus about to get into his station wagon. He stopped and walked up to the driver's side of the rental car.
"There were some men here just a little while ago looking for y'all," he spoke to Mulder. "They said they were with the government, but they looked like hoodlums up to no good."
"I think you might be right. They didn't hurt you, did they?"
"No. They shoved me around a little, but they ain't hurt me none."
"I'm sorry we brought trouble to your doorstep, Mr. Brown. But I don't think you'll have any further problems with those men. Unfortunately, we left something behind --"
"Oh, I lied about finding your fountain pen," he said to Scully. "They told me to say that to get you to come back. But I didn't really find it."
"It's okay, Mr. Brown. But do you mind if Quinn and I go in and take a look around?"
"Oh, go right ahead. Here's the door key," he said as he handed it over to Scully. "I was getting ready to leave in case they came back."
Scully and Quinn got out of the car and went inside to look for the timer. Cleatus looked into the back seat at Rembrant.
"You don't owe them money, do you? They looked like the money collecting type. I could tell one of them had a gun on him."
"Well, I guess you could say I have something they want."
"Well, I'm sorry, I can't help you out with that. You know, I'm on a pension. But you need to leave those types alone. You could look at 'em and tell they're bad news."
"Yes sir, I know. But don't worry, after today, they won't be a problem."
"That's good." Cleatus casually stuffed his hands into his coat pocket and seemed surprised at something he discovered in one. "What's this?"
"What?" asked Mulder.
Cleatus pulled out a fountain pen. "Oh, well what do you know. This must be the little lady's ink pen. How'd that get in there?"
Mulder took the pen that Cleatus offered him. Instantly suspicious of it, he carefully twisted off the top portion to reveal a listening device. He held a finger up to silence Cleatus who was confused by the pen's innards. Mulder blew the horn loud and long to give whoever was listening an earful, then he opened the door and crushed the device to pieces as he slammed it shut.
Scully came to the front door to see what was going on. Mulder yelled at her through the car door window. "We've got to move, Scully! They're on to us!"
"Quinn still can't find it," she yelled back. "It's not in or around the sofa bed."
"Are they looking for that remote?" Cleatus asked.
"You've seen it?"
"I picked one up off the living room floor early this morning and stuck it in the utility drawer in the kitchen with all the rest."
"Scully! Try the kitchen drawers!" Mulder yelled.
"The one next to the refrigerator," said Cleatus.
"Next to the refrigerator!"
"I collect those things," said Cleatus. "People toss 'em out all the time. I got about thirty in there. I never know when I might lose the one that comes with my TV or VCR, but I won't have no problem finding a replacement. One of those is bound to work."
"Smart thinking," Mulder grinned.
Quinn came running out of the house excitedly. "Got it!" he shouted triumphantly. Scully took the extra seconds needed to lock the door, then she ran to give Cleatus back his keys. Once everyone had piled back into the car again, Mulder gave a warning to Cleatus.
"The men in black are coming back this way. I suggest you make yourself scarce for a while. Agent Scully or I will leave a message for you at the Day & Night Diner and let you know when it's safe for you to return home."
The old man nodded and moved spryly to his vehicle. Mulder pulled out of the driveway, then waited until he saw that the station wagon was on its way to safety before tearing off in the direction they had originally come from.
"How do we know they're coming back?" asked Scully.
"They planted a bug on Cleatus. Let's just hope we can make it back to our little hiding place in time."
Mulder floored the gas pedal and in a couple of minutes found himself back at the little side road. Instead of taking the time to back in as he did before, he drove straight into it, kicking up a cloud of dust and rubble.
"I think I saw that black sedan headed down the road just as we turned in here," said Rembrant.
"You think he saw us?" asked Scully.
"Don't know. But I sure hope that dust cloud we kicked up dies down quick."
Mulder slowed the car to a stop when he came to a clearing filled with several abandoned vehicles and discarded furniture and household items. There was no road beyond the dumping ground, only room to turn around and go back the way they came. Mulder turned the car around, then cursed aloud when he saw what faced them.
"Dammit!" he growled when he saw the black sedan a hundred yards away and closing in fast. "Everybody out!" he shouted as he hit the brakes. "Scatter! They can't chase after all of us."
The doors flew open and everyone scampered out in different directions. When the black sedan came to a stop, three sinister- looking men in black exited with guns drawn.
"The agents you can kill," the leader was heard to say, "but the Sliders, we take back alive."
The men split up to hunt their quarry hiding among the trees and discarded junk. The man that had gone to the left heard a rustling of leaves coming from the far side of a rusted pickup truck. He stepped as softly as he could through the noisy leaves on the ground and rounded the rear of the truck. He smiled wickedly to himself when he saw a pair of petite, denim-covered legs attempting to disappear underneath the truck near the right front axle. He hurried to them and grabbed an ankle before it was moved out of reach.
Wade yelped and kicked as the man tried to pull her out into the open. While the man was preoccupied with her capture, he didn't notice a figure approaching from the front of the truck. By the time he noticed a shadow falling over his arm, it was too late. A three-foot stretch of a lead drainage pipe crashed against the back of his skull. He dropped his gun and collapsed to the ground out cold.
Rembrant picked up the man's gun, then patted him down for more weapons. He came up with a derringer, a switchblade and a pair of handcuffs. Wade pulled herself from underneath the truck as Rembrant secured the man's hands behind him with the handcuffs. Afterwards, he held up the two guns and switchblade, giving Wade her choice.
"Which would you like?" he asked, keeping his voice low.
Wade deliberated between the three, then after a quick glance at the unconscious man in front of them, she pointed to the lead pipe on the ground.
The professor had taken refuge behind a washing machine. He had heard the footsteps approaching but was unsuccessful in finding a feasible means of self-defense. He was completely helpless when the second gunman discovered him squatting behind the useless appliance.
"Well, well, look what we have here."
He motioned with his gun for Arturo to stand up. As the professor did so, the gunman grabbed him by his lapel and stuck the barrel of his gun against his temple.
"You wanna live to see tomorrow, fat boy?"
"There's no need for name calling."
"Why don't you do yourself a favor and tell your little friends to come out of hiding?"
"If you think those selfish bastards will sacrifice themselves in order to save my life, I'm afraid you're sadly mistaken."
"Why is it I don't believe you?" The gunman pulled him out into the open, then yelled out, "Agent Mulder, I've got the professor here! If you want him to keep breathing, you'd better convince the others to come forward! You've got ten seconds."
"If I'm your bargaining chip, killing me in ten seconds would be useless, don't you agree?" said Arturo.
There was a loud rustling of leaves as Quinn came forward, his hands in the air. "Don't hurt him," he told the gunman.
"Mr. Mallory," Arturo sighed, "you shouldn't have. This buffoon was only bluffing."
"Well, I didn't want to take that chance. Look," Quinn spoke to the man in black, "why don't you just let all the others go. I'm the only one you really need. I have the device that makes sliding possible and I'm the only one who knows how to operate it."
"Mr. Mallory, no," Arturo pleaded.
"Shut up!" The gunman pushed the professor down to his knees and signaled for Quinn to come closer.
Quinn slowly stepped forward. "Listen, I've hidden the sliding device. If you let everyone go, I'll lead you to it and I'll go with you without a fuss. You don't need any of them. Just let them go."
"Those aren't my orders."
"Your orders are to bring us back alive," said Arturo.
"Perhaps, but accidents can happen. So, you lead me to the device, or an accident might just befall your big mouth buddy here."
"Okay, okay," said Quinn. "I'll cooperate. Just don't hurt anyone. I hid it under the front seat of that old Pinto down there."
The gunman yanked the collar of Arturo's jacket, urging him to his feet. "Lead the way," he told Quinn while keeping the barrel of his gun pressed against the back of the professor's head.
As they walked the twenty feet to the burnt out Pinto, Quinn urged their captor to be careful with the gun. "Do you have to keep that thing pointed at his head like that? It might go off."
The man didn't seem to be particularly bothered by that possibility, but seeing how he had everything under control, he politely pointed the barrel skyward and smiled rather wickedly at his younger victim.
"Thank you," said Quinn, letting go a deep, worried breath. As they neared the broken down vehicle and the remains of a doorless refrigerator, Quinn spoke to Arturo. "Hey, Professor, I've got a good "Knock, knock" joke for you."
Arturo was certainly not in the mood for jokes until he saw the mischievous look in Quinn's eyes. He nodded almost imperceptibly to signify his understanding of the situation. "I'm listening."
The two men simultaneously dropped to the ground just in time to avoid colliding with a rusty muffler. The man behind them, however was not so lucky. The hollow piece of iron smashed solidly into his face. It wasn't enough to knock him out, but it did stun him, giving Mulder the upper hand as he jumped from behind the refrigerator and continued the attack. A karate chop to the wrist, relieved the man of his weapon, a well-placed knee to the groin worked wonders, followed by a driving elbow to the back of his neck. As the man crumbled to the ground unconscious, Mulder took out his handcuffs and used them accordingly.
"Very impressive, Agent Mulder," said Arturo, still seated on the ground next to Quinn.
"You guys okay?" asked Mulder as he stood up from securing the gunman.
"Mulder, look out!"
At the sound of Scully's warning, Mulder looked in her direction, puzzled over seeing her poised with her gun aimed right at him. Quinn, however saw the real danger and rushed to throw himself at Mulder and knock him out of the line of fire. The two fell to the ground as three gunshots rang out.
Mulder quickly rolled Quinn off him and reached for his gun. When he looked for someone to aim it at, he saw a man in black sprawled on the ground about thirty feet away. "Stay down," he told Quinn as he cautiously went to check out the gunman.
He held his gun trained on the still body on the ground. When he reached the man in black, he kicked the gun from his hand, and keeping the barrel of his revolver pressed against the man's head, he felt his neck for a pulse. He allowed himself to relax when none could be located.
Mulder picked up the loose gun, turned the safety on and placed it in his coat pocket. He smiled lightly at Scully when she approached. "Pretty nice shooting, partner," he told her as he reholstered his own weapon.
"Okay, guys," Quinn announced as he checked the timer, "we're down to five minutes. Mulder, when the portal opens, we only have about one minute before it closes again. If you're having any second thoughts --"
"None," said Mulder. His eyes were on Scully, but she pretended not to notice. Instead, she focused her attention on the Sliders. She exchanged handshakes with each and received a quick kiss on the cheek from Quinn.
"Good-bye, Dana. I wish we'd had more time." He glanced at Mulder and added softly, "Don't worry. We'll look after him."
She could only nod her response. The Sliders finally all moved several yards away to give the FBI agents a semblance of privacy. Mulder approached Scully, his left hand went out to rub her right arm up and down.
"You know, you could still be right," he began. "Maybe nothing will happen. Maybe there really isn't a portal. Maybe --"
"Bluebirds will fly out my butt," Scully scoffed.
Mulder chuckled. "Why, Agent Scully, developing a belief in the absurd and a sense of humor all at once. You do believe now, don't you?"
"I didn't just kill a man for nothing. I'm sure I could probably think of a logical reason why they were after us to begin with, but --"
"You'd be eating into the time we have left to bid each other a fond farewell."
Scully smiled unhappily. "I've always wondered just how far I'd follow you on your personal quest." With the toe of her right shoe, she drew a boundary line across her path.
Mulder glanced down at the crude line which slashed between the leaves in front of him. "Thanks for coming this far."
"You really believe you'll be coming back?"
"If I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be going."
"The things you believe in aren't always realistic."
"They are to me."
She had no comeback for that. Her eyes landed on the multi-colored striped tie she had bought for him last Christmas. A tie she felt she'd never see again. "I'll miss you," she told the silken neckwear.
Mulder watched her sadly as she avoided eye contact with him. With his index finger, he tilted her chin upwards and forced her to look at him. He had told his sister after she had been taken away from him and often in his dreams; he had told his father, as he stood over his grave; and he had told his mother now that she's comatose and his words make no sense to her. He didn't want to tell Scully once he was a whole universe away.
"I love you," he told her, not in a romantic or passionate fashion, but rather stated as a simple matter of fact.
As the tears rolled down her cheeks, Mulder swooped his arms about her and pulled her close to his body, feeling her trembling against his chest.
"I'll be back, Scully."
"Shut up, Mulder," she sobbed. "Just shut up."
He did what he was told and just held her as tightly as she held him. When they heard Quinn announce a one-minute warning, they gradually loosened their embrace. Mulder lifted her chin and wiped the dampness from her face with his thumb, which then brushed against her mouth. He thought hard about kissing those soft, red lips. On one hand, he was afraid he'd never get the chance to again; and on the other hand he was afraid that if he did kiss them, he'd never be able to walk away from her. Either she must have been reading his mind or she was experiencing the same dilemma because she made it easier for him. She raised up on tiptoes and pressed her lips sweetly against his cheek.
"See you soon, Mulder," she said and pulled away quickly.
He returned her peck on the cheek. "See you... Dana," he said, then began walking backwards away from her. "Sorry to leave you with this big mess," he spoke of the men in black. "What are you going to tell Skinner about this?"
Scully shrugged slightly. "Simple. I'll tell him the truth."
Mulder nodded. "I sure hope these guys aren't pulling my leg with this thing. Because I'm going to feel really foolish if I'm still standing here in two minutes."
"Well, compared to some of the places and situations we've ended up in," said Arturo, "feeling foolish in front of a beautiful woman is not so bad."
Scully smiled weakly as she stood there looking like a lost little girl. A trickle of red on her wrist watch caught Mulder's eye. It couldn't possibly be what he thought it was. He walked back towards her slowly to get a better look. As he approached, his eyes grew wide when he saw that the small spot on the left sleeve of her coat was actually a bullet hole.
"Scully, you've been shot," he told her. She was either in too much shock to notice or the pain hadn't had time to catch up with her yet. When he tried to open up her coat to examine her, she pushed his hand away weakly.
"It's nothing," she told him. "Just a scratch."
"You knew? What; were you trying to hide it from me?"
"It's time!" Quinn announced. He pressed a button on the timer and the gateway opened. A whirling sea of blue and white light caused the air and leaves to gust around them. Mulder was almost fearful of it. It looked the same as he remembered from so many years ago and so many countless nightmares. Quinn was ushering his friends into it and they leapt in without hesitation, treating it as though it was a marvelous ride.
"Mulder, are you coming?" Quinn raised his voice to be heard above the roar of the wind.
"Scully's been hurt! I can't leave her."
"I'll be fine, Mulder. I have my cell phone. I'll call for help."
"Are you sure?"
"Mulder!" Quinn shouted. "It's now or never!"
"You have to go, Mulder," said Scully, growing paler by the second.
Still he hesitated, his eyes zeroing in on the blood dripping down her left hand as it hung numbly by her side. His debilitating concern for her caused a wrath to stir in Scully.
"Dammit, Mulder, I do not want to be what stands between you and your lifelong dream. Now will you get the hell out of here before it's too late?"