Title: Family Business Series: 01. The Looking Glass Wars
Summary: This is not a post-ep, but it does call on events of seasons 1-7 plus the finale of Season 8. The story takes place when William is 7 years old and his parents are married. Neither of them works for the FBI and the X-Files no longer exists as part of the FBI, since the agents who succeeded Mulder and Scully were killed on their first solo XF case. Because of that and the expense involved in the division, Kersh successfully managed to close it down.
High Note Guitars
Leaning forward on her guitar case, Ellie watched as a rusty-colored Ford pickup pulled up in front of the worn- but-sturdy shop. Originally from a small town in Kentucky, a few days after driving her beloved Ranger into town with plans for eventually hitting the big-time in country music, she had been informed that if there was a place to go for what she needed to make it big as the next Shania Twain, this was definitely it. This place had made and serviced guitars for a number of celebrities from Elvis Presley shortly before his heyday to Dwight Yoakum. She had also been informed that the original owner, though deceased, had left the shop in the care of his son.
Whom she presumed was this tall, lanky man with a reddish beard that nearly matched his pickup, and also reminded her a great deal of Chuck Norris, the more she thought of it.
Oblivious to the young girl's presence, Jim Taeger quietly thrust his key into the lock of the steel net meant to seal the store overnight from potential burglars (not that it was much of a problem, by and large), shoving it up with his muscular arms as he had every morning for the past three months since his father had left him this shop in his will. Aside from the standard faded photographs of childhood and his most prized possession, a priceless guitar autographed by Willie Nelson, it was all Jim, his mother, brother and sister had left of their father. Besides being a historical landmark, making up in historical ambience for what it lacked in pristineness in this chain of businesses in this area that was seemingly being "renovated" every second of the day, this was more to Jim than a mere business. It was a way not only of preserving *national* history as he knew it, but family history as well. Jim was 42 with no intention anytime of remarrying anytime soon -- the burn he'd got the first time was quite sufficient. His wife had custody of their young son and lived in California. He hardly ever got to see the boy, so this *was* his family now.
Jim had barely walked in the door and pulled out the money- box from its little hiding place in the counter, since he *still* hadn't found time to shop for a computerized cash register (a convenient little excuse to avoid having to learn how to use one, as he trusted the things even less than his father did, if it were humanly possible). The tinkling of the bell on the front door signalled the arrival of an attractive young (albeit not exactly natural) blonde in her mid-20s, lugging in a guitar case. He yanked his head up from his ritual. "Help ya, ma'am?" he inquired with a good- natured grin.
"Yes, I was wondering if you could help me out with this baby -- it's from 1970, been in the family since my daddy married my momma, and it doesn't seem to be playing as well as it used to," Ellie replied as she set the case down on the counter, opening it up and demonstrating with a few strums to emphasize her point. "They said if anyone could fix her up right, it would be you. She sounds definitely off."
Jim handed the guitar to his craftsman, Joey, who had just walked in, himself. Joey peered at it carefully from all angles as he searched thoroughly for the root of his potential customer's dilemma. "Well, it looks like your problem is with the wood. The neck is warped. Looks like we're going to need to replace it."
"Um...will that cost very much to fix? I'm not sure if I really have... I mean, I just got into town a few days back..." Ellie nervously shifted from one foot to the next, shoving her hair out of her face as she stammered on before being cut off by his reassurance.
"Sure do, and don't worry so much about that -- this is your baby, right? just like this place here," he added, surveying the surrounding guitars and pictures on the wall of his father standing next to Elvis and other various stars that had entered the sacred shop over the years. "Hey, if this place can hang in there as long as it has, there's no reason your baby shouldn't either, right? And I'll let you know how much it costs when I get it back to you -- whatever you can't afford right now, just pay it when you become a big star with that baby!"
At her bright, delighted gleam of a smile, he added with a wink, "Just leave her with me for a few days and we'll fix her up. I'll just get your phone number and get it to ya when we're done, 'kay?"
"Okay...thanks a lot!" Ellie responded gratefully as she handed over the case. Shortly after jotting down her name and phone number and watching her head out, Jim grabbed the case and headed for the workshop with Joey, who was teaching him how to repair guitars.
They opened up the closet where they kept the wood. Two days ago, Jim had received a nice supply of maple and spruce. But now, the maple that they needed to make the new neck was completely missing.
"What the hell?" Joey exclaimed. "Now I know damn well we didn't use all that maple in two days."
Before Jim had realized it, his jaw had plummeted nearly to the floor, and his heart was well on its way to joining it. The place had been locked up tighter than a drum the night before -- how the hell could this have possibly happened? This was getting ridiculous. This was the fourth time something had gone missing around here. At first it was just tools -- a knife here, a brace there, and everyone figured they'd just been misplaced and would turn up later. But this was a whole shipment of maple they had put in stock for several custom guitar jobs they'd recently received. The stuff may have grown on trees, but it was definitely not cheap for high-quality maple.
Realizing that poor Ellie was only one of many customers that would be the end of his business if he didn't get to the bottom of this, Jim had very firmly and deliberately called the police, an action that had taken up the entire business day in an ultimately futile search, though they *had* promised to notify him if any leads turned up. Feeling understandably less than encouraged, later than evening, Jim grabbed the yellow pages and flipped back to that one ad that under normal circumstances he would have chuckled at regarding the rather unusual name for the business. But at this point, hell, with the prospect of losing his business to these weird incidents, he was willing to try anything, even a fortune-teller if someone had told him it would work. Dusting off the laptop his brother had given him for his birthday (he'd remembered at least to keep it charged, so considering how little use it got on a regular basis he figured it would work fairly well), he tried to remember the finer points of web surfing that his 10-year-old son had taught him, and entered the website address for the company.
Even a company with a weird name like Mulder & Scully Paranormal Investigations had to be worth a shot, though he wasn't so sure he was ready to believe he was being robbed by, say, a bunch of aliens or ghosts. But it wasn't as if he had a choice. Perusing the website, Jim first laughed at the slogan, "Monsters R Us!" then noted that the two had several years experience in law enforcement, working for the FBI and investigating the paranormal for many of those years.
Mulder and Scully home
Seven-year-old William Fox Scully-Mulder was playing yet another round of Space Zombies III on the computer, pausing only to swipe his light brown hair out of his eyes, or take a swig of root beer.
"Hey, Will," his father called to him from the other side of the room where he was watching TV -- the latest stand- off between the Yankees and the Cardinals. "Check the email, huh?"
"OK, Dad, let me just zap this one last monster."
"Save your game and go look, please," Mulder replied with the air of authority acquired with years of parenting
"OK, OK," the boy replied, and did as his father asked.
He deleted the spam and ignored the personal messages for his parents, but opened the one sent to M&S PI.
"Hey, Dad! Looks like we might have a case! Come look!"
Mulder paused the game and walked over to the computer. Putting one hand on his son's shoulder, he peered at the screen to read the email from Jim Taeger in Nashville.
"See, Dad, he said he looked us up on the Web! That website was a good idea, huh?"
Mulder smiled at him and answered, "Yes, Will, you did good. How many cases is that now that we got from the website?"
"Four! Hey, can I go with you guys on this one?" Mulder and Scully home-schooled Will. They had quickly found that regular school couldn't keep up with his intellect, not even the gifted classes. Additionally, it allowed him to travel with them on their cases from time to time.
"We'll see. Let your mother and I talk to the client, first, and make sure it's not going to be dangerous. Scully! Come here, please."
"Just a minute, Mulder!" she called from the bathroom. "Will, come here and finish bathing your dog."
Will scrunched his nose up, but obeyed. The two cats, Reticula and Fluky, who had been curled up on the computer desk while he did battle against the minions of darkness, jumped down and followed the boy into the bathroom. But once they saw what was happening to their canine friend, they quickly made themselves scarce.
Ghostrider, looking more like a large drowned rat than a border collie mix, whined and wagged his tail when he saw Will, no doubt hoping for a reprieve. The front of Scully's T-shirt was soaked and the water coming off Ghostrider's rapidly-moving tail didn't help. The dog at once settled down when Will knelt beside the tub.
"We've got a case, Mom! Dad said I could go if it was all right with you!" Will said over his shoulder as Scully dried herself with a towel.
"Did he now?" she asked, eyebrow raised.
Her son's eyes were wide, blue and innocent. "Well, sorta. Please can I go?"
She smiled at the expression which was so like Mulder's when he wanted something. "We'll see. Did you finish your algebra homework, yet?"
"Well... almost. I just have another 10 problems to do, but it won't take me long. I'll do them before we go."
"Okay, hop to it, then!" she chirped before heading into the den where Mulder sat in front of the house's main computer he had dubbed as their "mother ship" as he glanced over the note. "Okay, Mulder, what great adventures am I missing out on here?"
Mulder, too engrossed in the activity in question to notice his wife's demeanor, absent-mindedly replied, "Well, it seems that this Jim Taeger in Nashville, Tennessee has had a succession of bizarre disappearances in the High Note Guitar Shop, despite taking decidedly significant security precautions. For the past week or so he's locked the shop up tighter than a drum and even installed burglar alarms -- to no avail. His supplies and tools keep dwindling one by one."
"So don't tell me, let me guess." Scully leaned forward, placing her arms around his neck in an affectionate gesture, one that no doubt would have taken him quite by surprise during their "basement-days" back at the FBI. But now after all these years together, it was as natural as his flipping the remote for the latest Knicks game. "You're beginning to think that these robberies are the results of objects being 'beamed up' by aliens?"
He snorted a bit at that. "Well I wouldn't exactly say 'aliens' per se, but I would definitely think this is something worth checking out -- those objects obviously didn't exactly 'walk out' by themselves, after all. Besides, this Jim Taeger seems rather desperate to get to the bottom of this, from the looks of it -- this store is the last thing he has, and these thefts could very well affect his business. Apparently, his father started the store after returning home from the second World War back in 1946, and built quite a reputation--" he suddenly stopped at the chilly, damp sensation around his shoulders and for the first time since her arrival took in Scully's soaked, clinging T-shirt. His eyes gleamed at the sight. He startled and surprised her by standing and swooping her up in his arms as he added with a lecherous grin, "--as apparently have you!"
"Reputation? I have a reputation? Mul-der!" she laughed with a swipe at his arm before any attempt at a clever retort was smothered by a kiss. She was in the midst of combating him with her own series of kisses in return when their impromptu rendezvous was interrupted by the clacking of Ghostrider's claws on the tile floor and Will's "Aw, man, not *again*!" as his eyes rolled in what his father had dubbed "The Walter Skinner Roll."
"Did you dry him thoroughly, Will?" Scully asked as parentally as she could under the circumstances, still focused on Mulder as he lowered his kisses to her neck after making his intentions *very* clear with that all-too- familiar look in his eyes.
"Then finish up your homework if you want to go with us to Nashville," Mulder interjected, leading Scully up the stairs in the direction of their bedroom. "Your mother and I will be busy with some *very* important work, so that should give you *just* enough time before lights out."
Judging by his mother's giggle in response to that, Will could safely guess they would *not* be busy *packing*. Grown-ups...
High Note Guitars Nashville, Tennessee
And how long have these disappearances been occurring, Mr. Taeger?" Mulder leaned against the counter as he and Scully talked to the shop owner. Will listened with interest but his eyes were scanning the store, looking at all the guitars. He had been thinking about asking his parents for one. Will had inherited his father's smooth melodious voice. His mother joked it was a good thing he hadn't inherited her singing voice.
As he looked at a particularly beautiful guitar, he saw something move. A rat? Will looked closer and his jaw dropped as he saw a tiny little man dressed in brown peeking out at him from behind the guitar.
He tugged on his mother's blouse. "Look, Mom! Over there!"
Scully looked over to where Will was pointing, but saw only the musical instrument. "Yes, that's a very nice guitar. Now let your father and I finish talking to Mr. Taeger."
"But Mom!" Will could clearly see the little man grinning at him with a twinkle in his eye and a smirk on his face.
McDonald's Nashville, Tennessee
Will idly drummed the table with a fry in either hand, eyes focused on the food contents-turned-would-be musical instruments as the Chicken McNuggets he had ordered sat neglected in front of him. From time to time, a worried set of eyes would lock on him, sometimes that of his mother fretting about his health as she every-so-often did (occupational hazard, being a doctor and all), sometimes that of his father. For the most part, however, he spent an uncomfortable silence between all three still fuming as his 7-year-old mind flew back towards the heated debate in the car the entire trip over here over what exactly he had seen. It probably hadn't been such a smart move on his part that he had actually insisted not only that he had in fact seen the creature, but also had mentioned his suspicions on what he actually believed the little man in question to be, with his strange garb.
"Fairy tales, Will, *that's* the key phrase here -- *fairy tales*!" his mother had insisted, punctuating each word for emphasis. "Don't you see? what you're saying is nothing more than make-believe, and there is *no* way that man could *possibly* believe that a *make-believe* character--"
"It *wasn't* make-believe, Mom -- I saw it! I swear!" Will's voice had risen a bit in frustration at his mother, who was considerably harder to persuade than his father. The latter, by this point, had given Will the option of either lowering his voice or speaking to his mother in a more civil manner -- in other words, not much of a choice, which of course annoyed Will to no end. At that moment, however, Will had decided to attempt to gain an ally in his father rather than to challenge his order and make yet another opponent.
"*You* believe me, don't you, Dad? You've *gotta* believe me! I *know* what I saw!"
He heard his father heave a heavy sigh that sounded for all the world as though he was carrying the weight of the world upon his shoulders and was silent for what seemed like an eternity before finally saying, "I'm sure you know what you saw back there, buddy. And I'm sure it's *exactly* what you said it is. But now here's the problem: you were the *only* one who saw it -- unless one of us sees it or can actually *prove* that what you said is true, then people are going to look at you and say you're just making up some sort of a story to get attention. I know that sounds cruel, but it's how the world works -- not everyone goes around seeing elves on a regular basis, so it's sort of a hard thing to prove."
"Mulder, don't encourage h--" Scully had started when Mulder cut her off with "After all, I seem to recall a certain theory about a certain *artifact* some years back that a certain someone I know of dismissed as 'science fiction?'"
Scully suddenly turned a shade of red that almost made her red hair look blond by comparison and narrowed her lips into a line as tight as Will had ever seen it turn. He wasn't exactly sure what his father was referring to, but had a feeling it had something to do with something that had happened before he was born, something very serious.
Something he got the impression his mother *really* didn't want him to know about, at least not for a few more years.
As if poor Will hadn't enough to be startled about, he suddenly saw a single tear trickle down his mother's cheek. His father, who had secretly caught the sight via the rear- view mirror, suddenly looked extremely pained at the results of his choice of words. Whatever had happened before had been *serious.* And at that point, Will *also* got the *very* distinct impression that perhaps he had gone a bit too far this time in his quest for making his father an ally against his mother.
Will, of course, had no way of knowing that the matter that eluded him was his father's insistence that a certain African artifact his parents had been called on to investigate at the FBI so many years earlier had alien origin. It wasn't the first time and, as it turned out, wouldn't be the last, but that one time in particular had stood out in Scully's mind as perhaps the most significant time that her stubbornness had very nearly cost her the man she loved, even though she was unable to admit it at the time.
The guilt of the past was still there, as was the fear of the future. But damn the man for using that guilt against her like that --and right in front of their child! She'd hoped he'd have been a bit older when she could explain the whole situation to him, at *least* in his teens or so, when he would better understand it -- hell, even to this day she had problems wrapping her brain around the whole ordeal and the ramifications thereof.
Thankfully for Scully, however, Will had kept silent, as had Mulder, as she fumed silently to herself the whole trip to McDonald's.
And so now, seated at a booth with Will sitting near the window, as he loved to watch the activity outside, they sat in the uncomfortable silence, Will with his McNuggets, small fries and small root beer, Mulder with his Big Mac, large fries and large Coke, and Scully with her salad and bottled water. For what seemed to be the longest time, Mulder and Scully would nibble a bit here and there, trying to avoid eye contact as much as possible -- strike that, *Scully* tried to avoid eye contact with *Mulder* as much as possible, who was trying as best he could to earn her forgiveness by looks alone, or at least get the conversation going by virtue of a silent plea -- as Will would nibble a bit himself any time a worried glance flew in his direction.
Finally one of Mulder's looks had an effect on Scully, albeit not necessarily a desired one, as she simply spoke three words that made up for their quantity in emotional impact, in a voice low for the sake of their being in a public place -- had this been the privacy of their own dining room, it would have been decidedly shriller and sharper than it was under the circumstances. "That hurt me."
In an equally low voice, Mulder's hazel eyes, brimming with their own hurt and pleading for forgiveness, met with Scully's deep blues as he replied "I know it did."
"Of course you do -- you wouldn't have bothered to say it, then, right?" she retorted with a bitter chuckle.
At this point, a very uncomfortable Will, believing himself the key source of his parents' feud, stared at his McNuggets with such an intensity one would have thought he was to be tested on them afterwards, as his father visibly winced at the obvious misstep he had taken in his effort to appease and apologize to his wife.
"Scully, all I was trying to say is that *maybe* you shouldn't be so quick to dismiss what Will says he saw because..."
"...someone might get killed because of my closed- mindedness this time, right?" At that point, one of the tears she had desperately been fighting slid down one cheek, despite her self-chastisement over such a childish gesture. Will, meanwhile, found himself fighting his own batch of tears over his mother's suggestion -- as little of it as he understood, the finality of it was too difficult to bear, and the concept too hard to grasp.
Mulder reached over and brushed the intrusive tear away with a long, gentle finger, as he softly corrected her, "...because there's the distinct possibility that what he says might in fact be the truth. *And* it might actually be the key to solving this case."
Scully sniffed and sighed, and from the tiny smile beginning to form on her face, his gesture was finally beginning to melt the anger of his jab, though it wasn't *quite* enough to convert her to the men's way of thinking just yet. "Well, Jim said there was a problem with rodents for quite some time--"
"Scully, how many rodents do you know that could steal *whole tools* and an entire pile of wood? This was obviously an in-house theft of some sort. Now I think we should at least talk Jim into letting us do a stake-out there for a couple of nights or so, starting tonight, to see if whoever's doing this will come back. And yes, you too," he added at Will's suddenly eager, inquiring expression, before he could say anything. "After all, you're a key witness in this -- hopefully with a couple of other faces there, we'll be able to see whatever you see at the same time!" He punctuated his statement with a wink, which Will returned while finally scooping up a McNuggett, much to his parents' delight.
With a sigh, Scully finally replied, "Well, it's a good thing I remembered to pack the sleeping bags this time, isn't it? But don't think that I'm going to just roll over and accept the theory that there are little men in the store just lying in wait for us! And besides, what makes you think that they'll go ahead and 'perform' for an audience, even if Will *did* see a little man?"
"Jeez, Scully, you'd swear Will said he saw a little *green* man!" Mulder said through a bite of Big Mac, to which Scully laughed, as did Will, to one of his father's many alien jokes. Then he turned towards Will with a smirk and added, "It *wasn't* green, was it, Will?"
"DAD!" Already laughing from his father's first round of alien jokes, it was all Will could do to keep from snorting a mouthful of root beer and chicken in the new round of laughter. In an apologetic gesture, Mulder pounded his back gently yet firmly until Will's near-choke came to an end and he was finally able to reply "I'm fine" to his father's inquiries. Scully looked at Mulder innocently as he shot her a look and asked, "Gee, I wonder who he got *that* from?"
As a rather convenient change of subject, Scully hurriedly placed down her fork and reached for the lid to her McSalad container as she said, "Well, it's getting dark soon -- we better get a move on if we can get into the High Note in time. We can just nibble all this on the road." By this point, Mulder's Big Mac was pretty much history, so it was no longer an issue.
Excitedly, Will packed up his McNuggetts, throwing his leftover fries into the box, when his father nudged him and whispered, "And just in case you see this guy again and we don't, be sure and tell me, OK, buddy?"
"Sure, Dad," he whispered back and winked.
"That's my boy," his father beamed as he returned the wink.
High Note Guitars
Scully and Will spread out the sleeping bags in the workshop as Mulder saw Jim to the door. The latter cast something of a wistful look behind him at Will, a part of him remembering a certain someone in his life not too long ago, now too far away to reach. "How old's your boy, Mr. Mulder?"
Mulder, clearly taken by surprise by the inquiry that seemed to come out of the blue, caught himself in time when replying "He just turned 7 this past February."
"Seven...not that long ago..." Catching Mulder's curious glance as he returned to reality, he nervously cleared his throat and explained in a low voice, "Normally I don't stare so much, but I was just thinkin' -- my Matt looked a lot like that at his age just three years ago. He took after his mother a lot, which at the time seemed like a good thing -- now it makes me wonder if it was or not. I haven't seen him for..."
He suddenly stopped when he noticed not only Mulder's but Scully's eyes lining up in astonishment. "That would make him 10 now, right?" Mulder asked as seriously as he could.
"Yeah, why?" asked Jim with a hint of suspicion in his voice.
Turning with a slight smirk to Jim, Mulder replied, "Well it seems that Will has a 10-year-old cousin *also* by the name of Matthew -- my wife's brother's child, as a matter of fact!"
"No kiddin'?" chuckled Jim with a sudden 180-degree shift in expression, a grin that now spread from ear to ear. As Mulder nodded in confirmation, Jim idly scratched at the hair beneath his hat as he continued, "Well, now, ain't that the coincidence of all coincidences."
The smile slowly faded from Mulder's face into seriousness. "Well, normally, Mr. Taeger, I'd be inclined to agree with you, save for one thing: I don't believe in coincidences." Though his back was turned, he knew full well Scully was doing her patented "Walter Skinner eye roll" at *that* little comment, partially from instinct and partially from Will's whine of "Mo-OM!" Feigning oblivion of the events behind his back, he added, "That's part of the reason we're here, part of the reason we have to keep watch tonight, just to keep an eye out for anything unusual. We might have to do this for a few days before we catch your thief. Just be sure not to say anything to your workers about us staying here. We'll be out of here by 7 a.m., before you open."
"I trust my employees completely. They've all been with the company for years," Taeger said.
"I know, but let's just play it this way for now," Mulder told him.
Jim nodded glumly and let himself out the front door, locking it behind him. However, since the shop was occupied, he didn't set the alarm system.
After making Will read a chapter in the history textbook she had loaded into the palmtop computer, Scully joined Mulder in taking a look around the shop, peering into corners and opening cupboards. After awhile, she began to notice Mulder sometimes giving the wall at the very end of the cupboards a slight shove, as though expecting to find a secret passageway of some kind. Try as she might, she couldn't seem to control the involuntary eye-roll. While she admired, respected, and yes, loved the man for his "leave no stone unturned" methods, sometimes she felt he seemed to take them just a bit too far, as though he almost expected to find something akin to a revolving bookshelf straight out of a old movie thriller.
Finally drawing himself up from his activity, feeling her intrusive stare upon his back, he answered the question that hardly needed to be articulated after nearly seven years of marriage. "Well, Scully, even you wouldn't expect little men to hide behind a cupboard all day where almost anyone could find them, could you? I mean, if I were a little elf of a man, where would I hide?"
"And just what are you implying, Mulder?" asked Scully as she crossed her arms and straightened herself to her full height...on her usual two-inch heels, at least.
Mulder nervously cleared his throat as he went back to his business. "Anyway, I was just thinking that..."
Half-listening to the droning of his father and half-engrossed in the finer points of the French-and-Indian War, Will found himself pried from both when he heard a rustling sound and a giggle. Looking up from the palmtop screen, Will was astonished to spy two brownie elves dragging a rubber hammer behind them.
"Hey! What are you doing! Dad! Mom! In here!"
The tallest of the brownies shot Will a dirty look as he and his cohort ran off. Will followed them around the corner, only to find no sign of anyone, despite what he had seen earlier.
Mulder and Scully quickly arrived on the scene.
"What is it, Will? Was someone here?" Scully asked breathlessly.
"Yeah! It was the brownie again, and this time there were two of them!"
"Will, you'd better not be making this up," Scully scolded him.
"Mom! I'm telling the truth!"
"Where were they, son?" Mulder asked.
Will led them back to where he had seen the two elves. "Right here! They were stealing this hammer."
"One of the workers probably dropped it and left it lying there," Scully theorized.
"Well, Scully, we didn't see it in that exact position before -- a lot of things may be possible, but a hammer that literally walks over to a space by itself is hardly one of them!" Mulder smirked at her. As Scully narrowed her eyes at him, he continued, "Come on, Scully -- why not at least dust the hammer for fingerprints? It's worth a shot at this point!"
"And who is going to have elves' fingerprints in their database?" Scully retorted.
"Remember Tooms' fingerprints? How they were elongated? There are things we might be able to find out from the fingerprints other than identification of a suspect."
Scully sighed and nodded and went to dig the fingerprint kit out of their tool case.
"They ran around that corner there," Will told Mulder. "I followed them, but when I reached the corner, they'd disappeared."
"Well, they're very small, so it wouldn't be hard for them to hide. Get your flashlight and let's look around."
Mulder and Will thoroughly searched under tool benches and behind furniture, but turned up nothing. As they exchanged a sigh of dejection, father and son made their way back to Scully who was examining the fingerprints she'd collected from the hammer.
"What'd you find?" Mulder asked as he and Will plopped down on their sleeping bags.
"Two sets of normal sized fingerprints and two sets so tiny, you can barely tell what they are." She handed Mulder the results, along with a magnifying glass.
"YES!" Will exclaimed, pumping the air with his fist.
"Whoa! Not so fast, sonny boy!" Scully retorted at Will's sudden jubilation. "There's bound to be a logical explanation."
"Like what?" Mulder asked with a challenging grin.
It was all he could do to keep the smirk off his face as Mulder watched Scully go from complete confidence to bamboozled in a manner of seconds, in very much the same manner it would for so many years on the job when her quests for "logical explanations" were put to the test. "I uh... I don't know. Maybe rats were carrying it off."
"RATS? *Again*? Scully, somehow I'd think you'd come up with a more 'logical explanation' than rats!" Mulder couldn't resist saying, though the glare Scully shot him was enough to make him wish he at least had made an effort to resist.
"Mom, humans have fingers and opposable thumbs," Will pointed out, looking at the fingerprints. "Rats don't."
"Elves aren't human, but apparently, they're very human- like," Mulder added.
"Okay, okay...so since you two are apparently the 'elf- authorities' here, if you will, where do you suppose an elf would hide, anyway?" Scully asked, rising to her full height (plus heels, of course) and planting her hands on her hips.
She gloated throughout the stuttering and stammering of her "elf-authorities," unaware that two pairs of eyes were watching them, well-concealed by a large guitar sitting next to the wood supplies closet. One of the voyeurs scurried into a hole in the door of the closet, vowing to return at a decidedly later hour, when it wouldn't be so noisy, or at least when the new intruders would hopefully be at rest for the evening. The other carefully positioned the guitar strategically to block the entry and view of the hole, and thus the perpetrators escaped what had *definitely* been a close call with the human world.
It was definitely getting past Will's bedtime so his parents tucked him in his sleeping bag. When he was asleep, Scully joined Mulder, sitting atop his bedroll and looking up information on the Net about elves.
"Hey, Scully," Mulder whispered so as not to wake their son, "says here that according to legend, brownies frequently helped out in craft shops, often doing the work for the craftsmen."
Scully chuckled. "And you're now going to tell me it was little elves making the guitars? What is this, a Keebler factory?"
Mulder had to grin at her joke. "Just relating what it says here."
"Well, how about relating to your wife for awhile?" she replied, nuzzling Mulder's ear.
His answer was a groan as he put aside the palmtop and took Scully in his arms, laying her back on the sleeping bag. With Will sleeping nearby, they couldn't do as much as they would have liked, but necking was quite enjoyable.
Busy as they were, they didn't see the elves who came out to sit beside the hole and watch the humans.
"Randy bunch, aren't they?" noted Coroth.
"Rather sweet, if you ask me," Aliel replied to her mate. "When was the last time we did that? I can't remember."
"You can't remember? I'm insulted," Coroth retorted, pouting.
"Maybe you could refresh my memory?" Aliel hinted to him.
Coroth laughed and stood, taking his mate by the hand and leading her back through the hole. Once inside the closet, he chanted a few words and waved his hand. A portal opened to reveal a forest glade on the other side. Coroth murmured something to his wife and she giggled as the two of them strolled through to the other side. Within two minutes, the portal automatically closed behind them, since Coroth hadn't commanded it to remain open.
High Note Guitars
Yawning, Mulder shook Scully awake to take the next watch. His own watch had been uneventful. After a quick kiss, he lay down next to his son to catch a few hours of sleep. He knew if anything happened, his wife would wake him.
About an hour later, Will awoke, thirsty. "Mom, can I have a glass of water?" he asked sleepily.
"OK, just stay put and I'll go get some from the break room."
She rose and stretched, then walked off to get her son the water.
Scully hadn't been gone long when Will spotted a brownie again, sticking his head out the hole in the bottom of the closet door. This time, feigning sleep, he watched in fascination as the elf, followed by a second one, crept over to a workbench on the other side of the shop.
Will reached over and shook his father's shoulder. "Dad!" he hissed. "They're back."
"Hmmm?" Mulder mumbled sleepily and opened his eyes to see Will getting up and walking as quietly as he could across the room. Mulder was getting up himself when he saw two small figures scurry back toward the closet, pursued by Will. The elves disappeared through the hole, but Will wrestled the closet door open and saw them step through the portal. "Dad, come on!" he called, and with only a moment's hesitation, went though the portal himself and vanished before Mulder's eyes.
"What the hell? Scully, get in here, now!" Mulder called and dove through the portal just as it started to close.
Scully ran into the room and saw Mulder diving through the opening. She rushed over to the closet, but there was no sign of either Mulder or Will. The portal had closed, so she couldn't see to the other side and had no idea what had happened to her husband and son.
"Scullyyyy!" came Mulder's faint reply.
"Mulder, where are you?!"
"Will! Look out!" she heard Mulder say, then her heart constricted as she heard a cry of pain that she was certain came from Mulder. A surge of panic ran through her that once again, her worst fear had come true, and that her unwillingness to believe had once again put those she loved in mortal danger. She couldn't see it with her own eyes, but somehow she just knew.
The Realm of Faerie
Mulder tumbled from the portal, right on the heels of his son, into a clearing in an old growth forest.
He climbed to his feet and the two of them looked around in wonder at where they had ended up. He heard, as from a distance, Scully calling their names, a sound that bore an eerie resemblance to the moment he had entered yet another unforseen dimension that fateful evening in Oregon, hearing Skinner's voice calling from a distance. Only this time, he wondered exactly how perceptible this distance was exactly -- unlike that other time, when Scully was to learn she was pregnant with Will and that Mulder wouldn't know until his return from that other realm. This was hardly the same thing. That night had been a matter of imposing wills beckoning him to their trap, as though he were merely a mouse. This seemed a bit more like something out of a child's novel, more the likes of Oz, Wonderland or Narnia. Or for that matter, the legendary Queen Anne of the Bermuda Triangle, at least, where the realm of an apparent parallel universe was concerned, if nothing else. In short, the sort of thing Scully wouldn't believe for one minute under normal circumstances.
Perhaps this was the reason he was able to follow Will, but Scully wasn't -- disbelief. But he was grateful that he could hear her, that he at least had that much of a connection with her here.
He called back to her, but his eyes widened when he saw a slim figure easily as tall as him, but with pointed ears and red eyes. The elf was taking aim with a bow at Will, who was kneeling on the ground, looking into a hollow in a tree trunk. Mulder reached for his gun and aimed it at the elf.
"Freeze! Don't do it or I'll shoot!"
The elf turned its attention to Mulder and smiled, then turned the bow on him. Mulder didn't hesitate to pull the trigger, but the gun wouldn't fire. He tried again, but it was no use. With his free hand, he scooped up Will and took off running in the opposite direction.
The bowman let his arrow fly, however, and it struck Mulder in the back of the shoulder. He fell, but rolled to the side to keep from crushing Will. Wincing in pain, he got to his feet and picked up the boy again and they managed to get into a thicker part of the woods. Mulder kept going as long as he could, though he could feel blood running down his back. Finally, spent and hurting, he set Will down and dropped to his knees.
"Dad! What's wrong?" Will said, frightened. "Did he get you?"
Mulder nodded, but breathless, did not speak.
Several brownies emerged from their homes and surrounded the two. Coroth and Aliel pushed their way to the front.
Mulder watched them warily and tried to push Will behind him.
"Well, frell it!" said Coroth. "Looks like Mithil got him. He takes his job of king's warden far too seriously. He assumes any stranger is a poacher."
Will turned to them. "Please, you've got to help my dad. He's hurt."
"Why should we?" called a brownie from the crowd surrounding them. "What have humans done for us lately?"
"You've got a point," said Aliel, "but we should take this up with the council and let them decide."
"We haven't done anything to you," Mulder muttered through the haze of pain now spreading throughout his body. "You're the ones who were stealing." He stifled a groan as he sat completely down.
"Why did you come over here? You don't belong here," Coroth said angrily, ignoring Mulder's accusation.
"The guy that owns the shop hired my mom and dad to find out who was taking his stuff," Will retorted. "We saw you two go through that... hole, so we followed. We haven't done anything to hurt you. Help us get back home."
"It's not safe to go back to the portal, now, with Mithil hanging about," Aliel told him. She pointed at Will. "Coroth, he's just a cub. Surely we can do something? At least get them someplace safe for now?"
"All right," Coroth agreed, and addressed Mulder. "Can you walk? I know a place not far from here where you can hide."
Mulder nodded, carefully easing himself to his feet, vainly trying to ignore the stabbing pain in his back as Will took his hand to help him across the forest. Considering the way he was feeling, believer that he normally was, he would have dismissed the presence of "a bunch of little people" as a feverish hallucination. But his keen awareness of his son's very real and very worried presence made it quite clear that this was indeed reality, such as it was. He suddenly realized the importance of downplaying the situation a bit for the benefit of Will, and thankfully, he wasn't *quite* as bad just yet as he knew he could be. Somewhere in his gut, however, pun intended, something told him this overall situation was bound to get worse before it got better.
"Hey," he whispered to Will, and attempted a smile that seemed to end in more of a grimace. "Think there's any chance we'll run into Goldilocks on the way there?"
"Careful, Dad -- they'll think you're makin' fun of them," Will retorted as he fought a chuckle, but noticed how deathly pale his father had turned in such a short time, and how he was trying so hard to fight the grimaces of pain that were obviously intensifying with every labored step. He was all too aware his father was trying to put on a show to cover how badly he really *was* feeling, and desperately hoped for his father's sake that this place they were being taken wouldn't be that much further, and that they would know how to cure him. Yet at the same time he was divided between the concern for his father and his fascination with this new place, which seemed to have the greenest grass, the brightest flowers and the biggest trees he had ever seen in his life. It was straight...
...out of a fairy tale. Like nothing he had ever seen before.
After a few minutes that certainly felt like an eternity to the agonized Mulder and fretting Will, the group finally came upon a bunch of tree branches. Mulder collapsed to his knees at that point. Aliel gently parted the branches and revealed an opening through which she encouraged Mulder to crawl through what appeared to be a slight cave that, to Mulder and Will, appeared to be nothing more than a hole in the ground.
Briefly in his slightly fevered brain, Mulder remembered encountering a certain "hole-in-the-wall cave" in Brown Mountain, North Carolina, that had turned into a spacious cavern that seemed to grow entrances and exits from thin air practically every second. The suspicious part of him wondered if all of this wasn't some sort of similar trap, if these people weren't administering some sort of elaborate hallucination to prey on either him or Will when they least expected it.
"It's not as small as it looks, dears," Aliel insisted gently to Mulder and Will's dubious expressions as they gazed at the small hole. "Just try to get through it, and you'll find it gives quite easily indeed. You'll see what I mean -- humans first!" she added cheerfully pushing Mulder gently towards the cave-like hole.
"For you, maybe," Mulder gasped out, as talking was becoming more of a chore, but eased himself head first into the hole. Much to his surprise, it turned out to be just as Aliel had said -- the seemingly small and rigid-looking hole seemed to curve around his frame, as though made of rubber or elastic, and allowed him to pass through the opening into a very dark yet surprisingly copious space, that almost seemed to divide itself into makeshift stone rooms in a manner of speaking. Will tentatively crawled in after him, followed by Aliel and Coroth, who grabbed and lit a nearby lantern. As the light began to spill throughout the cave, Will gave out a sudden gasp, and Mulder, who was being eased onto a fortunately soft straw pallet (which was obviously not made for tiny brownies) by Aliel, looked in his direction, and were he not on the floor already, what he saw would have knocked him breathlessly the rest of the way down in shock.
Not three feet away from them lay a pile of the maple Taeger had reported missing, not to mention a pile of tools, including hammers, knives, and other assorted goods taken from the High Note. Whether or not it had been intentional, they had been led directly to the loot.
Coroth's expression, when he saw what engrossed his human charges, shifted from anger to sheepishness when he realized they had been caught red-handed. "We use this place as something of what you humans may call a storage facility," he offered to Mulder, who was silently demanding an explanation with his gentle hazel eyes. "...and we had needs for renovation. You see, the village is starting to fall down a bit, and we can't seem to afford supplies, at least in this place. So the passage to your world..."
"...enabled you to retrieve the supplies you would need for renovation of your homes," Mulder softly finished. "But what about the tools? They're much too large for you to use."
Taken a bit aback by this human's lack of malice under the circumstances, to say nothing of a sense of understanding he hardly expected from a human, Coroth slowly nodded. "It was the nearest place we could come to for what we needed. There always seemed to be something available, but we were afraid you humans wouldn't take too kindly to our being there. We didn't think you would understand. As for the tools, that was just a bit of a prank. We would have returned them later on."
Will tentatively entered into the conversation. "Well, why didn't you just *ask* Mr. Taeger if you could have whatever you needed if you promised to do something for them in return? He seemed pretty nice to me."
Coroth chuckled a bit at the gentle and simplistic nature of this cub. "Well, lad, we look a bit strange in your world, wouldn't you say? We have our world down here, as you have your world up there. That's as it should be -- generally speaking, there should be as little contact with the human world as possible. You saw what our kind did to your poor father here, and we pride ourselves on being a peaceful bunch -- what if something like that were to happen to one of us, if anyone were to catch us up there? Though old Mr. Taeger was quite open-minded and generous, his son is neither."
Before Will could respond, his father suddenly cried out in pain as the arrow shaft in his shoulder brushed against the bedding. Aliel sprang to his aid, peeling off the white shirt, breaking off the shaft of the arrow still jutting out of his back, and using her knife to cut the shirt into strips that she instructed Will to tie around Mulder's shoulder and rib cage as a makeshift bandage. "I'm afraid we don't have any proper medicine here, my boy, but this will have to do for now. I do wish we had the proper stuff here," she added as she shook her head sadly at him.
"It's bad, isn't it?" Will asked Aliel with wide, sad eyes.
Her demeanor very quickly changed to that of encouragement and cheerfulness as she addressed Will. "Now did I say it was bad, young lad? Until you and your father can get back home, we've got you both in a place that's safe...haven't we, Coroth?" she added, shooting her husband a sharp look. Taking the hint, Coroth went to the mouth of the cave and put a glamor at the foot of the cave, so as to hide the presence of the two offending humans from Mithil.
The cave was dark, but for the flickering of a candle. Will could see that his father was hurting. Mulder's face was beaded with sweat and his eyes were tightly closed. Will sniffed and tears began to roll down his cheeks. He crawled over to his father and lay down beside him. Mulder reached out with his good arm and cradled the boy to him, comforting both of them.
"Shhhh. It's going to be all right," Mulder whispered, hoping that was indeed the truth.
Realm of Faerie
Will sat up as he heard someone outside the cave. He was relieved to see the tiny figures of Coroth and Aliel. "Are you going to take us home, now?"
"Well, that's a problem," Coroth said, indicating Mulder. "Your da is in no condition to walk, I'm sure."
Mulder had woke at the voices, and spoke up now. "I can walk." He tried to rise, but the pain and weakness were too great and he sank back down to the ground. "Well, maybe not."
"The brownie council is meeting now to decide whether we should help you," Coroth told them.
"And if they say no?" Mulder asked pointedly. "Will they hand us over to that guy who shot me?"
"It is possible," Coroth conceded. "We try to avoid conflict with our larger cousins, for obvious reasons. They tolerate our presence in the forest, for we are very small."
"You can't do that!" shouted Will. "We didn't hurt you. We weren't going to hurt you."
"Hush a minute, Will. Coroth why are you here and not at the council meeting?" Mulder inquired.
"Because we feel responsible for your coming here and getting injured. We're going to try to help you." Coroth turned to his wife. "Aliel, is Dorgo here yet?"
She stuck her head out of the cave. "I see him coming. Let me go talk to him." Aliel exited the cave.
"Coroth, you were saying something about Jim Taeger, how he isn't open-minded and generous like his father," Will said.
"That is correct, young one. For many years, we had an agreement with the elder Mr. Taeger. He would give us lumber and leave a bowl of cream and some fresh-baked bread each night. In return, we used our magical powers and our skills to make his instruments the finest in the land."
"And when old man Taeger died, all that changed," Mulder murmured, his voice weakening.
"Aye. Old Mr. Taeger was a fine human as humans go. No offense to present company, of course," Coroth replied, pacing back and forth.
"Well how about a deal, then?" said Will. "Your people help us get back home and we'll get Jim Taeger to live up to his father's agreement. I'm pretty sure he didn't know about it."
"Very well. I think the council would agree to that. But just in case, why don't we get you two back home?" He called to his wife. "Aliel!"
She returned with one of the large elves following her. Will scrambled over by his father and picked up a large stone he prepared to throw at the elf.
"No, no, my boy," Coroth said, waving his arms. "It's quite all right. This isn't Mithil. This is Dorgo, he's a friend. He's an outcast because he's a simpleton. But he's a very gentle soul and our friend. We help one another out from time to time. Your da is too big for us to lift, but Dorgo is very strong."
"Dorgo wouldn't hurt anyone," Aliel assured the boy. "He's going to carry your father to the portal, but he won't go through. Your da will have to go through with your help."
Will and Mulder agreed and Dorgo dragged Mulder out of the cave on the pallet, then gently picked him up. Mulder's teeth were clinched tightly, biting back a scream as the bit of arrow shaft moved in his back. His pallor was marked and Aliel was quite concerned, but put on a cheerful face to reassure Will.
The journey was difficult as they sometimes had to hide to escape the notice of other elves, but at last they reached the portal. Dorgo settled Mulder on the grass, then gave him a drink of water from the skein he carried.
Suddenly Aliel turned to Dorgo and simply held out her hand, and the poor simple elf looked as though he was about to lose everything he had before taking out of the purse at his belt what was, in his hand, a rather sizable hollow piece of wood, carved with beautiful etchings, and placing it in Will's hand. The poor guy looked as though he was about to cry as Coroth gently placed a hand on his leg, saying, "Easy, there, lad -- we'll find you another. The larger ones will have some lyin' about, I'm sure..."
Mulder weakly peered over at the object as did Will, both in curiosity and wonder. It was obviously a whistle.
"A whistle?" Will asked, looking at Dorgo in puzzlement and amazement, to which Dorgo nodded sadly.
"It can't be heard by your kind, but it makes the loudest sound to us wee folk," Coroth explained. "If there's anything you need, you just blow on that, and we'll open up the passage to find you."
"Thank you," Mulder nodded faintly with the remains of his strength.
Coroth chanted a spell and the portal window opened. Thanks to Coroth's magic, they could see the shop closet on the other side and its door was open. Will and Mulder saw Scully standing there, talking anxiously to Jim.
She turned to their voices, but apparently could not see them. "Will? Is that you?"
Coroth nodded to Will and his father. "All right, then, back you go. The portal will stay open until you get through."
Will helped Mulder get to his hands and knees and crawl through the portal. As soon as they were on the other side, Mulder collapsed, face down.
Will threw himself into his mother's arms and began crying. "Mom! Mom! You've got to help Dad. An elf shot him!"
"What?!" Scully replied, completely confused, but then noted that her husband was lying very still and not moving. As she moved to his side, she saw that blood was oozing through a bandage wrapped around his shoulder and chest.
"Will! Go get my medical bag out of the car! Jim, call 911 and get an ambulance here right away."
She put two fingers to Mulder's carotid artery and was relieved to find a pulse, albeit thready. Will soon returned with her medical bag and she applied a pressure bandage on top of the bandage already over Mulder's wound. He moaned at the pressure, but did not regain consciousness. Sticking a thermometer in his ear, she was alarmed to see he had a fever of 103 degrees.
When the paramedics arrived, she directed them as they loaded him stomach down on the stretcher and then rolled him to the ambulance. Scully insisted on going along and she asked Jim to drive Will to the hospital to be with them.
Vanderbilt University Hospital
Years from this point, perhaps around the time Will would either seriously be contemplating college or saving the world, whichever came first, the irony of how similarly guilt seemed to work on Scully and Will regarding Mulder's condition would finally hit her, and how they seemed to reflect on the positions they now found themselves.
A series of X-rays and ultrasound had revealed the offensive object embedded in Mulder's back, and even now, so many hours later, her hand throbbed ever-so-slightly where Mulder had squeezed it as the ultrasound device reached the point of entry. Considering his tendency to conceal pain for her benefit, she knew for a fact that it was beyond excruciating. At least Will had been good enough to stay with Jim in the waiting room during the examination the whole time, despite his worry. That spared poor Mulder the further effort of keeping up an act of bravery in front of his son. And yet, after four hours of surgery that had finally culminated about two hours ago to remove the object from Mulder's back, he seemed to be no better than before -- his body temperature was fluctuating between 104 and 105, yet there seemed to be no visible sign of infection otherwise. But the wound still refused to begin healing and the standard antibiotics were having little if any effect.
But there was certain indication that his body was attempting to fight off something -- at one point, it seemed to be similar to the reaction of the body fighting off the effects of snake venom. So an antivenin had at one point been tried -- to no avail, Scully supposed that was because his body had developed some sort of resistance in that nasty snakebite incident with "The Honorable Rev. Mackey" some eight or nine years earlier. It certainly seemed to be a poison of *some* kind...
In any event, for the last hour or so, she had gone from holding his hand as he thrashed about deliriously in the midst of fevered dreams, to holding him down as the doctor applied a cooling blanket and debated immersing his body in water to bring the fever down. During Mulder's few restful moments, she desperately reassured Will that his father would be just fine once they could find the right medication. She and the doctors searched for a cocktail of the magical antibiotics (*magical*? Jeez, she'd either been on this case *entirely* too long or hadn't gotten enough rest...or both).
She tried desperately not to dismiss Mulder's ramblings as anything terribly odd and nothing more than fevered delirium. Her mistakes over the years, *particularly* the infamous "artifact incident" and his first declaration of love from a hospital bed, had taught her, if nothing else, not to take anything lightly or be so quick to dismiss anything. Even something seemingly unimportant that her husband might say in these sorts of situations might well be important in saving his life.
She felt it was her initial disbelief that got him into this latest hospital bed in the first place. And she was damned if she would allow her disbelief to finally kill him this time. She would never be able to forgive herself, and she wasn't sure if she could live life or raise her son without him.
Who could have possibly known it could be so difficult to balance with motherhood the usual guilt over the ramifications of initial disbelief?
Of course, Scully was operating the only way she knew how: trying to look for the most obvious solution science could possibly offer. And it had very seldom let her down in the past. But she plunged on, ignoring that little voice in her head trying to tell her that if she was truly that desperate to find the cure, perhaps she should look via less scientific means.
Passing Mulder's room en route to what would most likely be one more collaboration with the doctor for the serum in question, she checked on Will for the umpteenth time, who this time around appeared to be engrossed in an activity via the palm pilot -- homework, or so she thought, keeping his poor ill dad company in the meantime for his "in- periods." What she didn't realize was that Will was venturing on the very same quest she was on, finding a cure for his father...and going about it in the *non*-scientific way. At the moment, he had just entered the words "brownie," "elf," "fairy" and "arrow."
Going through the list of links, he finally ran across one article that filled his young heart with dread and confirmed the worst of his suspicions. The arrows used by the elves contained a substance that was considered fatal to humans within the course of 48-56 hours. The good news was, there was indeed a cure available...
...*according to the legends.*
In other words, somehow Will was going to have to go back through the portal in search of the cure. But how could he convince his mother to take him back? or should he try somehow to convince Mr. Taeger, since he was pretty sure his mother wouldn't believe anyway and was too engrossed in doing what she felt was the right thing? Then Aliel's words came back to him.
"I'm afraid we don't have any proper medicine here, my boy, but this will have to do for now. I do wish we had the proper stuff here."
Could it be possible that Aliel either had the "proper stuff," as she called it, or knew someone who had it in that realm? And after the deal they had already struck with the brownies, how could he ask for this one last favor on top of this? What could he possibly offer to them?
He looked down at the Palm Pilot in his hand. Could he possibly? And what use would the brownies have of it in their realm? Besides, his mother would kill him, considering how much it cost -- that was practically his classroom!
Finally, he stood up, having made a decision. His father's life depended on it. He went to talk to his mother.
He found her in his father's hospital room, holding his hand and scanning the various medical instruments from time to time.
Will sat down next to her. "Mom, I know why Dad isn't getting better."
"He's going to be all right, Will, you'll see."
"No, he's not. Unless he gets the proper treatment. And the doctors here don't have it. But I know who does."
"Honey, I know you mean well, but this is not the time for fantasies."
"Mom, get real! How do you think he got an arrow in him in a closet? We were in another world -- one with elves and fairies. Dad was elf-shot and that's poisonous to humans. It will kill him! You *have* to listen to me!"
Scully scrubbed her face with both hands and took a deep breath. She thought of all the strange things she and Mulder had encountered over the years.
"OK. I'm listening."
"Coroth and Aliel mentioned something about a medicine when we were there. But they didn't have it with them at the time. If I can get in touch with them, I'm sure I can talk them into a potion to cure Dad."
Scully sighed. "All right, I guess it's worth a try. Nothing we're doing here is helping. What do we do?"
"Take me back to the shop and I'll try to call to them. And Mom, we need to stop at the grocery and get some cream and fresh-baked bread."
"This is not happening, this is not happening..." Scully muttered. She recalled the fairy tales her mother read to her when she was a little girl. "I presume the cream and bread is for your friends?"
"Right. I promised I would fix things up for them with Mr. Taeger if they would help us get back home."
"In that case, I guess we'd better tell Mr. Taeger. I gather you'll have to trade something for the potion. Will they take cash?"
"I don't think our money is any good in their world," said Will. "I think they want some sort of merchandise. I was thinking we could offer them the palmtop. It's not like it's the latest model, anyway."
"That was a present from your Uncles Byers, Frohike and Langly," Scully pointed out.
"They'd understand, you know they would."
Scully picked up the phone, dialed High Note Guitars and told Taeger they would be arriving soon to talk to him about a solution to his problem.
August 11 High Note Guitars
"You're kidding, right?" Taeger said to Scully.
"We're very serious," Scully replied. "The brownies told Will and Mulder that if you would leave them the food nightly and scrap lumber once a week, they'd stop taking your things and in fact would help you with the guitars again."
"Y'know, it's funny," said Taeger, scratching his head, "but I've had some long time customers say our guitars aren't quite as good as when my Dad was alive. But Dad had arthritis and hadn't worked on the guitars himself in years. Joey and Doug have been doing the work."
Will handed him a sack with the bread and cream. "Here, we stopped at the store and got you some. You can set it out now. I'd like to go over to the closet and see if I can contact them. But they won't come out if all your workers are there."
"Well, it's just about lunch time. We usually close up for an hour. I'll tell everyone to go on to lunch early," Taeger said, and walked into the workshop to do just that.
Once his workers had left, Taeger locked the shop door, then walked with Scully and Will to the workshop closet. They sat down on the other side of the room as Will set down the bread and cream and took out the whistle Dorgo had ever-so-reluctantly given him. He blew on it as hard as he could, as Scully and Taeger looked around in puzzlement, wondering if Will had somehow acquired some sort of fancy dog-whistle, and how this was ever going to help Mulder. The boy blew the whistle steadily for about 10 minutes and was about to lose hope when Coroth opened the portal and jumped through. "Hello, me lad. How's your da?" He spotted the cream and bread. "Ahh, you remembered!" The brownie looked around warily and saw Scully and Jim looking at him wide-eyed. "So they've become believers, have they? Good job, boy!"
"Yep, and Mr. Taeger said he'd start leaving you lumber once a week. But I need your help again. My dad is very sick from the elf-shot and our doctors can't help him. Please tell me you have something that will cure him."
Coroth grew thoughtful. "Elf-shot! In all the excitement, I'd rather forgotten about that effect on humans. Yes, I believe we can whip something up, but the ingredients are very dear."
"Well, I know our money wouldn't be of any use to you, but what about this computer? It's small enough for you to work and it's got some cool games on there and you can even get on the Internet with it! It does math, word-processing and if you get on the Net, you can find out all sorts of things."
"Well, your machines don't work in Faerie, y'know."
"I guess that's why Dad's gun wouldn't fire. But you could leave it over on this side in a special hiding place and use it whenever you come over."
Coroth nodded and Will set the palmtop down on the floor and gave the brownie a very quick instruction in how to use it. "What do you think?"
"You have a deal. I'll be back before long. Time passes more quickly in Faerie, so you won't have long to wait."
The elf disappeared back through the portal. While he was gone, Will showed Taeger how to use the palmtop so he could help the elves with it.
Taeger promised to make a secret compartment in the closet where the elves could go to use the palmtop. Until then, he would just put it out at night with the bread and cream and pick it up early the next morning.
About half an hour later, Coroth, Aliel and another, older brownie, returned dragging a small bottle almost as big as them.
"Our healer here says this ought to do the trick. Give your father half of it now and the other half when the fever breaks. It will counteract the poison and he will be able to heal normally," Coroth told Will.
Will set the palmtop down on the closet floor and beckoned to Jim, who approached cautiously.
"Coroth, Aliel, this is Jim Taeger. He's a good guy and he'll work with you. My mom and I have to leave now and get back to the hospital. Why don't you talk to Mr. Taeger and get to know each other?"
"Very well, Will me boy. If we ne'er meet again, it was an honor to know a fine young man like yourself," the elf said and extended his tiny hand.
Will shook Coroth's hand gently and picked up the potion, carrying it to his mother, who was still sitting quietly with her mouth open in wonder.
He tugged on her hand. "C'mon, Mom, let's get going!"
Vanderbilt University Hospital
Scully and Will entered Mulder's ICU unit. She waited until the nurses' attention was on another patient, then roused Mulder enough to sip the potion. When he'd drunk half, she pulled it back and put the stopper back in before secreting it in her pocket.
She and Will sat down to wait. About three hours later, when Will was asleep on a sofa in the room, the nurse taking Mulder's vitals reported a definite drop in his fever. Instead of 105, it was down to 100. The fever was breaking and Mulder's face was covered with sweat. Scully sighed in relief and got a pan of water and a cloth to bathe the sweat from his face and chest. The relatively cool cloth seemed to soothe Mulder and his eyes fluttered open.
"Thirsty..." he mumbled.
Scully reached for some ice chips beside the bed and called out to Will to wake up.
Mulder's eyes focused on his wife. "Either I've had the weirdest dream of my life, or one of the weirdest experiences."
Will was now standing beside Mulder's bed, shifting from one foot to another.
Mulder saw him and smiled. "C'mere and give me a hug, buddy."
Will didn't wait to be asked twice and put his head down on his father's chest and embraced him. Scully allowed them a moment together, then hugged and kissed both of them.
"Will saved your life, Mulder."
"I'm remembering some of it now, though a lot of it seems like a dream."
"It was real, Dad, you were badly hurt and very sick. But the brownies helped us," Will reminded him.
"Thanks to you, as I recall. You did good, Will. Thank you."
Scully and Will informed him of the deal they had made for the potion.
When they saw him yawning, Scully encouraged him to rest, then retired with Will to the couch in the room. She asked the nurse to wake them when Mulder's fever had completely broken.
By evening, Mulder's temperature was completely normal and Scully made him drink the last of the potion.
The next day, Mulder was feeling considerably better and the doctor was talking of releasing him in a few more days, provided there were no more complications.
"I guess it was just a matter of finding the right antibiotic cocktail," the doctor told Scully.
She smiled and replied, "Or something like that."
Mulder, Scully and Will were sitting in the den, visiting with the Lone Gunmen. Will regaled them with their adventures in Faerie and how he'd had to trade the palmtop for the potion.
Frohike called Will over to him and pulled a box out of his coat pocket.
"Your mother told us how you had to give up your handheld, though she didn't fully explain why," said Frohike.
"He's a real hero," Mulder said. "I'm really proud of him."
"Definitely a chip off the old block," Byers noted.
"Or blocks," Langly added.
Will was eyeing the box in Frohike's hand. "Is that for me?" he asked, his eyes shining with excitement.
"Yup! Look here." Frohike opened the box and took out the latest Palm Pilot.
"Wow! Palm Pilot 10! Cool!"
Byers spoke up. "Show him the book we put on there, Melvin."
"It was my idea," Langly informed Will and his parents.
Frohike used the stylus to call up the book. It was "Alice in Wonderland: Through the Looking Glass."
Will had never read the book, though he'd seen the old cartoon movie on TV.
He chuckled. "Hey, y'know, I wonder just how much of this was fiction and how much was really something that happened?'
"I don't know," said Mulder, "but the elven bowman was quite enough. I wouldn't want to meet up with the Red Queen when she was on a tear. I'm much too fond of my head."
Will began giggling and soon everyone was roaring with laughter.