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Now You See Him by Mimic117
From: mimic117 <>
Date: Sun, 3 Jun 2007 22:45:04 -0700 (PDT)
Subject: Now You See Him by mimic117 Source: revision
Title: Now You See Him
Rating: PG-13 to R for Anglo-Saxon invectives
Setting: Season 7-ish, but before Je Souhaite
Summary: Be careful what you wish for—you might get it.
Archive: If you want to. I’ll do Gossamer and Ephemeral myself, thanks.
Disclaimer: Sheee yeah, right! Not EVEN in my dreams.
Enormous beta thanks on the original version goes to xdksfan and Dan Walker for jumping into the eleventh-hour chaos which is my idea of a deadline. Every tiny snicker and comment is greatly appreciated, even the snarky ones from Dan. Thanks for beta on the revised version goes to bellefleur and Cin, two of the deepest thinkers it’s ever been my pleasure to work with. belle is especially deserving of co-author credit seeing how she did a great deal more thinking about this story than I apparently did.
Special Thanks: To Clarissa for information about subways, buses and the Potomac River that kept this story from going in the wrong direction. And to Dan Walker, for the initial idea. This isn’t anything like what he had in mind, but that’s tough. If he wants to see his own vision in print, let him write it himself.
Dedicated to banlu and Obfusc8er on their almost-shared birthday. Why they couldn’t have just been born on the same day, I don’t know, but maybe the universe wasn’t ready for that.
Now You See Him by mimic117
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Tuesday 4:33 PM
“Hey, Spooky. You seen ET lately?”
“Yeah, Vertense, I had lunch with him today. He’s looking for you. Says he’s got an anal probe with your name on it.”
As the elevator doors closed out the laughing faces of his fellow agents, Mulder leaned back against the metal compartment walls, clutching the small box in his hand to avoid throwing it. He was the only one headed for the basement, and he was damned glad of it. For once he’d left people laughing at someone other than their favorite whipping boy, but Mulder was still sick of the laughter. There’d been far too much of it recently and he’d had just about enough.
When the elevator doors opened on the lowest floor, he strode toward his office. Thankfully, the door was open or he would have been tempted to kick it.
Scully looked up from her laptop as he entered the room. “What did security have for us?”
He’d almost forgotten why he’d left the sanctuary of the basement. Now that he remembered, his previous sense of loathing returned, augmented by the memory of mocking laughter.
He opened the box and dumped the contents out onto his desk. “We got a rock.”
Rising from her chair, Scully walked over and picked up the object, turning it around in her hand. It was transparent in places, streaked brown in others, smooth-faceted on six sides rather than spherical. Slightly longer than her palm was wide, it was as thick as three of her fingers. “This isn’t a rock. It’s a crystal.”
Mulder tossed the empty box on his desk. “Yeah? Well it looks like a rock to me.”
Scully tsked. “Didn’t you ever have a rock collection as a kid, Mulder?” She held it out to him, centered in her palm. “This is a smoky quartz crystal. A pretty good-sized one, too.”
He took it from her, rolled it around in his hand. “Quartz is a stone. Right?”
“Then it’s a rock.”
She gave him an aggrieved look before she picked up the empty box, peered inside, checked the flaps and flipped it over. “Who sent it?”
Mulder sat down in his chair and palmed the piece of stone. He cocked his wrist and made a pitching motion as he replied, “There’s no address. Nothing at all written on the box. It was found at the front desk around lunchtime. A note with my name on it was stuck to the box. No one saw who left it. No message, no explanation, no damned clue at all. Security spent the last few hours checking it out, making sure it wasn’t dangerous. They were highly amused when they opened the package and saw what was in it.”
Scully waved her hand at a shelf lined with an eclectic assortment of objects whose alleged paranormal histories were as varied as the items themselves. “We can add it to the collection.”
He contemplated the contents of the shelf. “So where do you think it belongs? Next to the ‘special’ wad of tinfoil that’s supposed to be the best kind for making hats to block mind rays?”
“How about with the gold fillings that were picking up alien space transmissions?”
“It might make a nice artistic statement sitting on top of the Bigfoot ‘cow patty.’”
“I’ve always thought that really was a cow patty, Mulder. I’ll never understand why you deemed it worthy of being added to the collection.”
“For the same reason you added the anal vibrator in the shape of Elvis that someone thought was really an alien probe.”
Mulder snorted. “Why does every nutcase in a five-state radius feel the need to mail us junk? Isn’t it bad enough that we’re the butt of so many jokes? Do we have to be the Bureau garbage dump, too?”
She set the box back down and turned to him. Leaning one hip against the edge of his desk, she folded her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow.
“What gives, Mulder?” Her tone of voice was enquiring, though not without a trace of exasperated affection.
“Same old shit, huh?” Scully’s voice also held sympathy.
“I swear, if I hear one more ET joke this week, I’m gonna hurl. Don’t those low-brows have anything better to do than pick on me?”
“I guess it was your bad luck that the movie was re-released last weekend. A whole new generation of people are just waiting to say ‘ET, phone home.’”
He huffed in annoyance. “Well, I think I’ve reached saturation point. I’ve got half a mind to take the rest of the week off and stay home with my fish. At least they only blow bubbles at me.”
Pushing away from the desk, she reached over and patted him on the shoulder.
“It’s almost quitting time,” she observed. “Why don’t we take off a little early tonight?”
A grin tugged at the corners of his mouth. “Why, Agent Scully. Are you suggesting we cut class?”
She smiled at him over her shoulder while she shoved papers into her briefcase. “I don’t think the principal will catch us if we’re quick. And I’ll help you sneak past the playground bullies on our way out.”
He squinted at a picture of Flukeman on his bulletin board and reared his arm back as if to lob the crystal at it. “Sometimes I just wish I could disappear.” He turned and underhanded the rock to her.
She caught it and juggled it from hand to hand. “I don’t want you to.”
“Nope. Skinner would expect me to write up a report on how, why, and when you vanished, complete with trace evidence, lab results, and eyewitness statements. In triplicate. You’re not leaving me with all that paperwork.”
“You’re all heart, Scully. I knew I could count on you.”
She tossed the crystal back, zipped her briefcase shut, then picked up her purse. “I’m helping you play hooky, aren’t I?”
Mulder took one more look at the featureless stone. “So, do we add it to the collection?”
Scully pursed her lips and squinted in mock concentration. “Hmm… I’ll hold my final vote, but I suspect it’s going to make a nice paperweight.”
“Good thinking.” He set the stone in the middle of a pile of papers and shook his finger at it. “Now don’t go anywhere and behave yourself.” Grabbing a couple of folders, he walked to the door, where he waited for her to join him. She flipped the light switches as she went out, plunging the office into artificial twilight.
“So, where would you disappear to?” she asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe the mountains. I could live like a survivalist—hunting for food, going into town once a year for supplies. I grow a great scraggly beard. I hear Ted Kaczinski’s cabin is available.”
He pulled the door closed behind him. The sound of the lock clicking into place echoed through the empty office.
On Mulder’s desk, a pool of light spread out from where the smoky crystal lay. Slowly, the light intensified, pulsing until the entire stone glowed a bright, clear, rose pink. Small symbols appeared on its surface, invisible until illuminated from within. The light lasted for a couple minutes, casting strobing shadows over the pictures, books, and cabinets in the room, shining brighter than the limited light filtering through the high-set windows. One last incandescent flash, then the light winked out.
In the middle of Mulder’s desk, sat a smooth piece of quartz.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Wednesday 9:27 AM
Mulder was late.
Murphy’s Law had him by the nugs like a pit bull. First, the power must have gone off during the night. Then his alarm’s battery back-up should have kicked in, but it didn’t. He’d jerked awake with that feeling of panic you get when you know something is wrong. One look at his watch and he was running to the bathroom. He turned on the shower to heat up while he took the fastest leak of his life. He washed and was out of the bathroom, dressed and into the car in under ten minutes. No time to shave, make coffee, eat, or read the paper. He hated mornings like this.
Now, to top it all off, people were behaving like morons. Rain always seemed to bring out the worst drivers. The downpour was bad enough all by itself. His wipers could hardly keep up with the water sluicing off the windshield and visibility was rotten. He really didn’t need to deal with horns blowing and cars swerving all over the place, too.
It wasn’t until he got out of the car that he remembered the files sitting on his coffee table. The ones he’d taken home to study so he could submit a 302 to Skinner.
He nearly collided with Scully in the doorway as she was leaving the office.
“Don’t even bother, Mulder. Skinner wants us upstairs.”
He did an about-face and followed her to the elevator.
“Dammit. I really could have used some coffee,” he griped.
“Didn’t you get any at home?”
“I barely had time to shower this morning. I was running too late already.”
She backed up a step and gave him the once-over. He shot her an offended glare. “I said I showered, so don’t look at me like that.”
Her reply was cut off by the arrival of the elevator. They entered and Mulder pushed the button for the fourth floor. He idly glanced around at the interior while the numbers blinked on and off as they passed the floors.
He admired Scully’s reflection in the polished metal of the elevator’s walls. That particular shade of blue always made her eyes seem more vivid. Her suit was almost exactly the same color as the shirt he’d chosen that morning. In fact, that was one reason why he’d bought it. They’d never worn the suit and shirt at the same time before, though. His eyes shifted to his own reflection so he could enjoy their matching outfits.
Only his reflection wasn’t there. Mulder blinked. Still no reflection. He rubbed his eyes, then looked down. He was wearing a light brown suit with a blue shirt and a brown and blue tie. But not when he looked at the metal wall. Where he should have seen his own reflection, there was nothing.
He glanced at Scully out of the corner of his eye. Her suit was a shade darker than his shirt, and she was wearing a silky white blouse under her jacket. He lifted a hand to his tie, nonchalantly brushing against her coat sleeve.
She was solid. The tie was solid under his fingers when he adjusted it. His hips were solid when he lowered his hands into his pockets. His feet were solid when he shifted from one to the other.
So why couldn’t he see himself on the wall?
The question became moot when the doors opened at the fourth floor. They exited through a crowd of fellow agents, several of whom greeted Scully briefly. Mulder stared at the people who had turned toward the closing doors, but not a single one made eye contact.
One of the mail room clerks was coming out of Skinner’s office when they got to the door. Kevin and Mulder had a running bet going about the current World Series hopefuls, so they never lost an opportunity to talk baseball when they happened to meet. This time, though, Kevin simply nodded a greeting at Scully and pushed his mail cart down the hall. It was as if Mulder wasn’t standing there.
Kim looked up as they entered the office and said, “He’s waiting for you, Agent Scully. Go right in.”
Mulder waved at Kim, but she’d already returned to her work. She’d addressed Scully, but not him. There was something extremely funky going on. He looked over at the windows, darkened by the pouring rain outside. He could see the reflection of Scully walking toward Skinner’s office. Alone, in spite of the fact that he was right on her heels. First the elevator wall, now the window. The people getting on the elevator, Kevin, Kim… Was it possible?
He leaned down as Scully reached for the doorknob and whispered in her ear. “Pretend like I’m not here.” She opened her mouth. “Trust me. Don’t say anything to me. Don’t let on that you can see me. I’ll explain later.”
Scully gave him a peeved look before she yanked the door open. She walked over to the chairs in front of Skinner’s desk and sat down in the one on the right. Mulder stood behind the chair closest to the door and waited. Skinner looked at Scully, then the open door, then back to Scully, and said, “Where’s Agent Mulder?”
That’s a really good question, Mulder thought. Scully appeared to follow Skinner’s glance toward the door, but Mulder could tell that she was really looking at him out of the corner of her eye. He could read confusion on her face, yet she reluctantly did as he’d asked anyway.
“He’s umm… held up. In—in traffic.” She looked from Skinner to the doorway again, as if she expected Mulder to suddenly appear there. “He should be here. Any minute.”
“Well I’ve got a meeting with the Director in ten minutes so you’ll have to brief him.” He pushed a folder across the desk. Scully picked it up. “The Columbus, Ohio, field office has requested your help on a series of bank robberies. Someone there knows your work and asked for you two specifically. There was some mention of paranormal activity at the last crime scene. You’ll find all the information you need in the file.”
Scully sat with the folder in her hands. She stared at Skinner for a moment, then turned slightly, like she was waiting for someone. She glanced over her shoulder far enough to catch Mulder’s gaze. He could see bewilderment and a large amount of irritation in her eyes. She didn’t know what was going on and she didn’t like it at all. He couldn’t blame her. Neither did he.
Skinner leaned forward with eyebrows raised. “Was there something else you needed, Agent Scully?”
Mulder saw her lips tighten into a straight line before turning back to Skinner. She tucked the file under her arm, then stood. “No. No, Sir. We’ll leave as soon as Mulder gets here.”
Skinner began gathering papers together in obvious dismissal. Scully walked to the door with wide eyes. She’d apparently caught on to the fact that not once had Skinner acknowledged Mulder’s presence. Mulder could see Scully and Skinner reflected in the window behind the desk, but his own image was still very much missing. He was starting to get an inkling about why, but this wasn’t the place to discuss it. He placed his hand on Scully’s back and steered her out of the office.
As they walked through the waiting room, Mulder decided to perform a small test. He whispered in Scully’s ear, “Say something to Kim. Anything at all.”
Scully glanced at him over her shoulder. “Um, goodbye, Kim,” she said, waving the file folder. “We’re headed out of town again.”
Kim shook her head and smiled. “Have a safe trip, Agent Scully. See you when you get back.”
Mulder’s inkling was becoming a full-blown theory. They needed to get back downstairs to talk. He took the stairs, to avoid other agents and the enigma of the blank elevator wall. He could tell Scully wanted some answers but he stalled her questions with a quiet, “In a minute.”
Once they reached their office, he bypassed it and headed straight for the restroom. He gestured at the door. “Ladies first.”
Scully balked. “But this is the men’s room.”
Mulder made an exaggerated scan of the hallway, leaning around his partner to peer in both directions. “I don’t see any hordes with crossed legs pushing to get in. After you.”
She scowled at him as she pulled the door open and entered. “I don’t remember you needing help in the bathroom before, so why am I here?”
He walked to the sinks along the wall and waved her over. “Check it out.”
Scully stopped beside him, then looked in the mirror—and did a double-take. Mulder had never seen anyone actually do that before. It would have been comical if they were in a cartoon. But they weren’t, and Scully’s reflection was the only one visible, in spite of his otherwise-solid presence next to her.
Wide-eyed, she look at Mulder, then back to her solitary image, and back to Mulder, and back to the mirror. Finally, she shook her head. “No. This is— It’s impossible!”
“Yes, it’s impossible. However…” Mulder snatched a piece of paper towel from the dispenser on the wall. He gestured between himself and the mirror, where the scrap of paper seemed to flutter in midair until he let go of it. “How do you explain this?”
“Something must be wrong with the mirror.”
Mulder barked a laugh.
“Or my eyes,” she said. “Something’s wrong with my eyes. I stayed up late last night—”
“And Skinner’s eyes? And Kim’s? Skinner might wish to ignore my existence at times, but Kim would never be that rude. And how about everyone else we encountered just now who acted as if I wasn’t there? Even Kevin. I’ll bet this explains the crazy drivers this morning. I’m invisible, so it looked like my car was driving itself.” A thought suddenly occurred to him. If he really was invisible, did that mean…?
Mulder turned and ran toward the restroom door. He collided with it face first. The force of the rebound knocked him to the floor.
He heard her footsteps clatter to his side but he was too busy clutching his throbbing nose to look up. “Okay. So I’m invisible but not incorporeal. I need to remember that.”
Scully dropped to her knees next to him and pulled his hands away from his face. “What the hell were you doing?”
“Testing a theory.” He winced as she probed his tender proboscis none too gently. “Is it broken?”
She sat back on her heels. “No, just bruised. Not that you don’t deserve a broken nose after a stunt like that. What theory were you testing? The solidity of restroom doors in the Hoover building?”
“MY solidity. I’m invisible. I wanted to find out if I’m also insubstantial.”
Scully snorted. “Well you didn’t need to run full-tilt at a door to find out. You drove here, didn’t you?”
Mulder frowned. “Yeah.”
“Did you fall through the seat? Pass your hands through the steering wheel? I assume you were able to open the door since you got into and out of the car.”
“Ah. So you’re saying I’ve already proven my own solidity in a less painful manner.” He felt stupid for not seeing it on his own. After all, he’d touched Scully in the elevator and while leaving Skinner’s office, and he hadn’t passed through her body. “I guess I just wasn’t thinking.”
She stood and brushed the knees of her pants. “Looks like your brain is invisible, too.”
He pushed himself off the floor and stood beside her in front of the sinks. “Does this mean you accept that I’m not visible?”
She looked from him to the mirror again. “Yes. NO! I mean…” Her shoulders sagged. “I suppose I have to unless I’m dreaming. The evidence is pretty overwhelming.”
“All right!” He didn’t respond to his partner’s glare but he did refrain from pumping his fist in the air. “Do you know what this means?”
“It means you’re defying the laws of nature and, for some unknown reason, I may be the only person in the world who can see you. It means we need to take blood, run tests and find out how this happened.”
“It also means we have proof of a paranormal phenomenon. But you have a good point. Let’s do another test.”
He shoved the restroom door open, barely catching it on the back-swing before it whacked Scully in the face. He sprinted down the hall, digging out his key ring in his rush to the office. Fumbling the key into the lock, Mulder wondered whether they would appear to be hanging in midair if anyone but Scully was around to observe. The office door flew back against the wall as he unlocked and pushed at the same time. Now where had he put that camera…?
Scully’s footfalls tapped into the room behind him. “Mulder, what—?”
He pulled a Polaroid Instamatic out of his bottom desk drawer with a flourish. “Ta-da! Here, Scully. Pretend you’re Ansel Adams.”
She took the camera with a puzzled frown. “What am I taking pictures of?”
“ME!” Mulder cocked one arm behind his head and stuck out his hip. “Be sure to get my best side.”
He heard her mumble, “I’d have to be standing in back of you.” but he let it go. The camera clicked, flashed, whirred, and spit out a thick, blank photo sheet. Mulder snatched the picture from the camera’s slot and waved it back and forth. Then he held up his keys.
“Now take another one like this. Be sure to get my keys in the shot.”
The camera flashed and spit out another black sheet. Scully pulled that one out of the slot and absently waved it in the air. “Now what?”
“Now, I make a phone call while we wait for the results.” He tossed his keys onto the desk and picked up the phone receiver with his free hand. He tucked it under his chin and punched the buttons. The other end rang twice before it was picked up.
“Lone Gunman. What can we do ya for?”
“Hey, Langly,” Mulder said. Gesturing for Scully to join him, he pushed the speakerphone button.
“Hey, Mulder-man! What’s shakin’?”
Mulder gave Scully a thumbs-up. “Have you seen my…” —he glanced quickly around the room and spotted the key ring on his desk— “keys over there?”
“How did you get home if you don’t have your keys?”
“It was a spare set. I just had it made and then left it somewhere.”
Langly guffawed. “Well they’re not gonna do you any good that way! Sounds like you need a spare set of your spare set.”
“Yeah yeah. Save it for your stand-up routine. Are they there or not?”
“Nope. Haven’t seen ‘em. We’ll give you a call if they turn up. Did you look in your couch cushions? That’s where Frohike’s always end up.”
They heard Frohike’s voice in the background. “What always ends up in the couch?”
“Never mind,” Langly hollered back. “This is a private conversation, so butt out. Anyway, Mulder-dude, when you coming over? I’ve got this great new video game you’re gonna love. It’s not on the market yet, but the graphics are so—”
“Next week sometime. We’re headed out of town so I’ll give you a call when we get back.”
“Awesome, dude! See ya then.”
“Yeah.” The connection broke and Mulder grimaced. “I sure as hell hope you’ll see me.”
“They can hear you,” Scully said. “Or at least Langly could.”
“I suspect all of them would have heard me if they’d been on speakerphone, too. I’ll bet everyone can hear me. They just can’t see me.” He looked at the Polaroid photo in his hand. “Or can they?”
Scully laid her photo on the desk and Mulder set his beside it. One of them showed nothing except the normal contents of the office. The other included a set of keys hanging in midair with a partially-developed Polaroid print suspended next to it.
Mulder turned to his partner, reality sinking in. “Wow.” He couldn’t stop the grin that stretched from ear to ear.
“So it’s true.” Scully’s hushed voice held equal traces of awe and consternation. “You’re solid and audible, but invisible. Where does that leave us?”
He pointed at the file Skinner had given her. “It leaves us on special request for a series of bank robberies in Ohio. We still have a case to deal with.”
She looked at the Polaroids on the desk. “How? You can’t work a case if you can’t be seen.”
“Why not?” He held up a finger as she spluttered in protest. “I’m invisible. Right? All I need to do is keep quiet. I can still help with the investigation. It may take some creativity, but we can do this. And if it starts getting too hairy, we’ll come up with an excuse to leave. Sound like a plan?”
“Yeah. A bad one. Mulder, you have to call Skinner and tell him we can’t take the assignment. We need time to figure out what’s happened to you, to find a way to fix it. We can’t do that while we’re trying to focus on a case.”
“How do you suggest I explain it to Skinner? ‘I’m sorry, Sir. I’m invisible so I can’t take the assignment you’ve given us.’ I’ll bet I couldn’t convince him even if I was breathing in his face.”
He could see that he wasn’t going to convince her. The chances of Skinner letting them off were pretty slim, but they still existed. Mulder figured he could play the odds for once. He picked up the phone again and dialed.
“Kim, I need to speak to Skinner. Yeah, I know, but this is urgent. No, it can’t wait until tomorrow. We’re going out of town. When is he going to be done? Damn. No, that’s okay. I guess we’ll have to figure it out on our own. Thanks.”
He replaced the receiver gently and turned to his partner. “Skinner’s going straight from his meeting with the Director to some big conference. He won’t be back for two days. His emergency instructions to Kim only covered death, dismemberment or treason. I don’t think invisible agents were considered important enough. We’ll have to go. We can’t blow off a case for that long without a visible reason.”
Scully stomped over to her desk and snatched up her purse. “Fine. But first, you’re going to the hospital.”
Mulder let out a frustrated groan at the sheer absurdity of her words. “And then what? How is anyone going to take my blood or x-rays? Those probably wouldn’t be visible either. Sure, I could make myself heard and felt, but I’ll bet they wouldn’t want to believe it any more than you did, and YOU can actually see me! How are you gonna convince anyone that you have a suddenly invisible partner?” He gestured dramatically. “‘But he’s right there, doctor! We need to do tests to find out what’s wrong with him!’ They’d give you a one-way elevator ride to a rubber room and a nice strap-covered jacket that you wear backwards.”
Scully tossed her purse back on the desk. “I’m not going to talk you out of this, am I? Let’s find the first plane going to Columbus and get it over with.” She picked up the phone but Mulder pushed down the receiver button.
“We can’t fly,” he said.
“What are you talking about?”
“I can’t get on a plane.”
“You most certainly—” Her mouth dropped open. “Oh. That could be a problem.”
Mulder grinned. “Could be fun, too. Watching security scratch their heads when I set off the metal detector. Trying to explain why you need two seats. It might be a bit of a squeeze with both of us in the bathroom at the same time.”
“Why would we both have to go at the same time?”
“Doors opening and closing on their own. Or you opening the door for me and then standing in the hall. Neither one would be easy to explain, but it could be entertaining.”
“No.” Scully set the phone back down. “You’re right. We’ll have to drive. How far is it to Columbus?”
Mulder switched on his computer monitor to find out. “We’ll have to swing by both apartments and pack. I can’t very well drive there on my own.”
“We’ll take my car. Leave yours here until we figure out what the hell is going on.”
“Because I’ll be doing all the driving and I won’t have to adjust the seat.”
Mulder smirked. “Right. I almost forgot about your little legs.”
Scully sighed. “You’re suddenly getting a lot of enjoyment out of this, Mulder.”
“How many times do I get to be in my own X-file, Scully?” He threw his arms wide. “Let me savor it for a while.”
“Trust me,” she mumbled, “it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”
Mulder was tired of many things in his life, but at the moment, invisibility was at the top of his list. He was tired of eating in the car so people wouldn’t freak out over food hanging in midair. He was really tired of goosing himself on the gear shift every time he crawled over the car’s console to get out the driver’s door. He certainly couldn’t open his own door and it just figured that neither of them would own a car with a bench seat. They were both tired of him following Scully into the ladies’ room to take a leak. The hilarity of it wore off after the second time and left him feeling like a seven-year-old who isn’t “big-boy” enough to go into the men’s room on his own. He had to be careful not to brush against other people, not to walk too loudly, not to cough, sneeze or fart without first checking to see who might be around. He’d nearly given a lady at a convenience store a stroke when he said something to Scully in a normal tone of voice. He was going to be stuck in permanent whisper soon. Every stop along their route presented new adventures and hazards, most of which were a total surprise.
By the time they’d both been packed and ready to go, it was well past noon. After his whirlwind morning, Mulder never had the chance to grab any coffee or breakfast. He’d insisted on stopping for lunch almost as soon as they left, at which time he discovered the first problem with invisibility: you can’t be seen, but your food can.
They pulled into the drive-thru of a fast food joint to speed things up. Ordering was easy enough, but when Scully got the bag of food, she automatically handed it to Mulder and he took it in the same thoughtless manner. He realized his mistake in the instant it took for the cashier’s mouth to drop open, her eyes the size of silver dollars. Mulder dropped the bag on the floor.
Scully swiveled toward him, an obvious rebuke on her lips, until she saw the expression on his face. He whispered, “Tell her it slipped.” It took a few seconds but she finally got it.
“Oh my goodness!” Scully yelped toward the payment window. “That bag just shot out of my hand, didn’t it? Good thing the drinks weren’t in there.”
Mulder muttered out the corner of his mouth, “Nice save.”
The cashier cautiously took the money from Scully’s hand, returned her change, then slammed the window. Scully lost no time burning rubber out of the parking lot.
They were forced to stop after all, to find a secluded place to eat. Scully felt he could simply bend over his lap in order to keep the magically-vanishing food out of sight of other cars, but Mulder firmly vetoed that idea. They’d be bound to end up on the evening news because someone with a digital camera sent in photos of levitating food. Stopping set them back about twenty minutes, but it had been worth the loss of time. He couldn’t wait until they reached the motel. Dining in the car wasn’t nearly as much fun as he remembered from his childhood.
They’d talked about nothing except his “situation,” as Scully called it, on the what-should-have-been-six-but-was-looking more-like-eight-hours drive. They still hadn’t figured out why he and his clothes were invisible, yet anything he picked up wasn’t. The closest they had come was that maybe he needed to be in contact with an object for a certain length of time before it was affected by his personal cloaking device. Mulder didn’t care anymore. He was tired of talking about it, he was tired of thinking about it, and he was tired of being invisible. He’d quit savoring hours ago.
The inevitable aftermath of drinking a giant cup of soda reared its urgent head after supper, at a time when pulling over to the side of the road wasn’t feasible. They were hurtling down a rush-hour-packed freeway, smack in the middle of a metropolitan area, with nary a bush for cover. Not that cover would have helped much. The first time they’d stopped for a rest break, he elected to whiz against a wall rather than use the ladies’ room. That was when they discovered he was wrong about his blood being invisible. At least, he assumed the shouted “What the FUCK” coming from a man walking down a nearby sidewalk indicated that his bodily emissions were visible, even if his body wasn’t. No more peeing against walls or behind bushes. They needed to find a bathroom, and soon.
Mulder tried not to squirm while Scully carefully weighed the pros and cons of various establishments, finally settling on an outlet mall under the assumption that it would have larger restrooms and be less crowded. It was just their luck to wind up there during a major sale event. The place was packed. Scully pushed for finding somewhere else, but Mulder’s bladder was in charge. It was all he could do not to hop about with his legs crossed by the time they found a place to park near the restrooms.
It appeared their luck was changing when Scully opened the bathroom door to an almost-empty room. There was only one woman at the sinks, washing her hands. She was large, possessing what they referred to as “good size” when applied to field agents. Unfortunately, another woman with a small boy entered about five seconds later. It suddenly felt like a crowd. Scully headed for the largest handicapped stall at the far end, ignoring the glares Mulder saw being directed at them by the mother. Sorry lady, Mulder thought. We need the space more.
His thought proved ironic as he tried to follow Scully without brushing against the woman moving away from the sink. He was doing okay until she unexpectedly veered straight for him. In his rush to get out of the way, Mulder rammed into the side of a metal box hanging on the wall. The front of it popped open with an echoing clang. Stubby, plastic-wrapped packages rained onto the floor at his feet. He danced through the skittering objects, praying he wouldn’t slip and end up on his ass. Mulder instinctively bent to pick them up, but stopped when he realized how that would look. He finally opted for kicking them out of the way, hoping they would appear to be bouncing.
The little boy squealed “Popsicles!” and tried to gather up the slim tubes while his harassed mother chased close behind, snatching them out of small, excited hands. Mulder realized if he didn’t move, someone’s head would be having a close encounter with his crotch in a minute. He quietly scooted into the stall past Scully, who was trying to look like she’d been shocked into immobility instead of deliberately holding the door open.
Mulder gratefully sidled up to the commode, unzipped, and waited for the pressure to ease. Something bumped him in the ass. Checking over his shoulder, he saw Scully facing away from him, but standing as close against his back as she could without knocking him over.
“What are you doing?” he whispered.
She whispered back, “I’m trying to make it seem like I’m the one peeing. If I stand in the corner, someone might notice the lack of feet near the toilet.”
Jesus, he hadn’t even thought of that. The two other ladies’ rooms they’d been in so far were empty. He’d used his own stall without a second thought about mysteriously opening doors and strange noises. Trust Scully to be on top of things.
When he was done, he shook, then zipped as quietly as he could. “Done,” he hissed over his shoulder.
“Scoot to one side and face the wall. I’m going, too.”
Mulder was familiar with the rustling noises behind him. This certainly wasn’t the first time they’d been in close proximity when privacy was a better idea. He did what he always did at such times—he whistled softly to block out the sounds.
Scully tapped him on the shoulder. He was surprised by the scowl on her face when he turned around.
“Quit the whistling,” she murmured. “I look suspicious enough as it is.”
Damn. He’d forgotten again.
Scully pulled the stall door open and stepped back as though she was just creating room to walk out. It didn’t look very natural but it was the only way Mulder could exit.
Shit. The restroom was really crowded. Mulder had to smash himself up against the wall to avoid bumping into the woman who squeezed past Scully before she was completely out of the stall. When you gotta go…
Mulder would have liked to wash his hands, but that wouldn’t be a good idea under the circumstances. He knew Scully had disinfecting wipes in the car, so he carefully zig-zagged his way toward the door, tip-toeing around a few scattered tampons as he tried to find an empty space to stand in. No such luck. There was actually a line! He’d never seen a line in a public bathroom before.
It seemed to take Scully an awfully long time to wash her hands. In the meantime, Mulder was doing some fancy two- stepping to stay out of everyone’s way. Getting out the door was nearly a disaster. He had his toes tromped on. Twice. The second time, he overbalanced into one of the women waiting in line. He tried not to touch her, but he couldn’t help it. His hand landed on her ass with a loud slap.
All hell broke loose. The slapped woman turned to hit the woman behind her and walloped Mulder in the face instead. He let out a yelp and grabbed his nose, which was still tender from earlier in the day. Neither woman appeared to notice his cry, or the fact that the blow hadn’t landed. The two of them started screaming filthy names at each other while the other women in the restroom gathered around. Mulder didn’t know what to do. This was his fault, but he couldn’t think of any way to explain what had happened. Scully took advantage of the ensuing chaos to shove him out the door.
Mulder peered over his shoulder as the closing door cut off the sound of shouting. “Don’t you think we should—”
“No.” Scully pushed him toward the car. “Shut up and get in.”
For once, he did as he was told. He hated to leave, even though he knew they couldn’t have done anything to help the situation, and his continued presence probably would have just made it worse. There was a good chance Scully had already attracted attention trying to get him out of the restroom.
He scrambled over the center console in record time, rapping his shin on the gearshift in his hurry. Their departure was quick but dignified, solely due to Scully’s desire not to attract more notice than they already had. As they turned down the exit drive, security vehicles pulled up outside the restroom.
Mulder cringed. Being an X-file wasn’t nearly as much fun as he’d expected.
They arrived in Columbus later than planned and started looking for a motel. They’d both realized that Scully would have to be the one to carry all the luggage into both rooms, which was a big deciding factor as to what motel they picked. It needed to be one story, with rooms facing away from the road. Finding one took longer than Mulder thought possible, but it seemed everything near the highway was four floors or higher. Finally, they located a small, single-story motel in an older residential area being overrun by gas stations and strip malls. Scully checked in while Mulder sat in the car, trying not to fidget enough to make the car bounce.
They pulled around to a room at the back, relatively sheltered from prying eyes. While Mulder checked for stragglers and window peepers before he climbed out of the car, Scully unlocked the door to his room and set his bags inside. He waited until she’d closed the door behind him, then let out an enormous sigh of relief. After hours of watching every tiny motion, noise and air current he created, at last he was able to move around without worrying. He carefully avoided looking in the mirror as he stowed his bathroom supplies on the long vanity in the sink alcove and hung his suit jacket on the clothes rod.
He checked the time and decided to phone the field office. They were closed, of course, but he left a message that they’d report in at nine the next morning: proof that he was actually there without having to put in an appearance. He was glad nobody was around to ask why they were arriving so late. He didn’t think “We found out I’m invisible so we drove instead of flying” would win him any brownie points, although it might not be a huge surprise, considering the type of rumors that were always circulating about him.
Mulder stretched, trying to work out the stiffness in his back and legs. Taking a run would have been nice after a long day spent in the car, but that was out of the question. Scully had kept his room key, since she didn’t want to take the risk of him opening the door when someone was watching. Which meant that he was a prisoner, inside or outside his room, unless his partner was around to handle the door for him. It reminded him too much of the restroom stops on the way down. He’d actually called the front desk and asked if they had any rooms with connecting doors. The clerk laughed. The good old days were gone, it would seem.
He was going to be spending a lot of time in this room. They’d better have HBO, at the very least.
By Mulder’s standards, it was still early. He figured he might as well take a look at the file on the bank robberies, except…
A quick search of his luggage confirmed his suspicion. Scully still had it. She’d carried the file out of the office but they’d never gotten a chance to talk about it, busy as they were trying to deal with his “situation.” Apparently she hadn’t thought to leave it when she carried his suitcase inside, either. He checked the time again. Well, it was getting late, but if he knew Scully…
She picked up the phone on the second ring. “What do you want, Mulder?”
He grinned. Yep. Not asleep just yet. “What makes you think it’s me?”
“You’ve been alone for twenty minutes. You’re 5 minutes late. So what do you want?”
“I want the case file you’re selfishly keeping for yourself. Could you bring it over? Then I’ll let you get some sleep.” He kicked off his shoes in front of the dresser and wiggled his toes into the carpet.
“Are you decent?”
“I’ve been told I’m more than decent, but you should judge for yourself.”
“Not tonight, Mulder. I have a headache.”
“Then you’re in luck, because tonight I only want you for your case file.”
“Well, that’s good. I don’t think I could deal with any more excitement today. I’ll be there in a few minutes. Don’t stand near the door.”
“What does it matter, Scully? I’m invisible.”
She hung up without bothering to answer. Mulder’s grin grew wider. Tired and headachy, she still wouldn’t stand any of his lip.
Taking advantage of the time he had before she joined him, Mulder decided to make himself more comfortable. He moved over to his suitcase, stripping off his wrinkled shirt as he walked. It was swiftly transformed into a basketball and launched squarely into the open suitcase. A brief victory dance was in order as he hopped out of his suit pants. They were gently draped over a nearby chair, to be sent to the cleaners with the jacket when he got home. That thought brought him up short. Did one wash invisible clothing, or have them dry cleaned? And how did one tell if they were clean? So many things he took for granted were getting complicated.
He fished out a laundry bag, then stuffed the shirt inside. Boxers and socks were peeled off next and followed the shirt into the laundry bag. He would have liked to take a shower, but that could wait until morning. Other than dancing around spilled “Popsicles,” he hadn’t exactly been exerting a lot of energy. A fresh T-shirt over his head, clean shorts covering his ass, and he almost felt like a new man. An invisible man, but a new one all the same. Mulder walked back across the room to hang his suit pants with the jacket. He glanced in the mirror over the dresser and dropped the pants in shock. His anatomically sculpted T-shirt hung in mid-air, no head or arms projecting from the openings. Holy shit! Mirrors were bad enough with no reflection at all, but this! When he stepped back, his boxers came into view, hovering directly below the edge of his shirt, no visible legs to hold them up. He turned, watching the creepily empty garments turn with him.
He was so engrossed in his Invisible Man impression, the room door was open before he realized Scully had entered. He excitedly waved her closer. “Come here! You gotta see this!”
She glanced toward the dark parking lot before quickly shutting the door and setting the file she’d brought on the dresser. “I’ve seen you in your underwear before, Mulder.”
“Not like this you haven’t.” He pointed at the mirror. “Look!”
For the second time in one day, Mulder was treated to the sight of Scully doing a double-take. Once again, she looked from him to the mirror and back again before she exclaimed, “You’re reappearing!”
“No, not me. Only my clothes.” He waved his arms over his head and the T-shirt reflection waved back. “My body isn’t visible at all, just the clothing I changed into.”
“Oh God…” She rubbed her forehead. Mulder figured her headache wasn’t going to improve anytime soon.
He gestured at the mirror again. “So what do you think?”
She sat down on the bed with a thump. “I think I need a drink. Or to wake up. Maybe we’re still inside that mushroom on Brown Mountain.”
“No, seriously, Scully.”
“Seriously?” She sighed. “I think you’ll have to wear the same clothes for the rest of your life if we can’t find a way to make you visible again. You can’t very well waltz around in disembodied clothing. Are you sure you’re not reappearing?”
The hopeful tone of her voice was heartrending. He sat down beside her. “Pretty sure. I suppose we could always wait for a while and see if I come back. But how long do we wait? Fifteen minutes? Until tomorrow morning? A week from now? I’ve been invisible for at least twelve hours now. I don’t think I’m coming back, Scully. Not yet. I don’t think it’s going to be that easy.”
Shoulders touching, they fell silent. The prospect of wearing the same clothes every day didn’t appeal to Mulder at all. His shirt and pants could be washed as needed, but the jacket needed to be dry cleaned. How was he supposed to do that? And even if he did find a way, eventually his clothes would deteriorate from use.
He bumped her shoulder as a thought occurred to him. “Since no one except you can see me, maybe I should walk around naked. Why bother with clothes if I’m invisible?”
Scully looked at him thoughtfully. “Not that I’d stop you, but before you start streaking, don’t forget that you’re still corporeal. It might get a little chilly in winter, not to mention that you’d be subject to the cuts and scrapes of visible flesh. How much skin do you want to expose to possible damage?”
Mulder cringed at the potential for injury to delicate bits of his anatomy and immediately dropped the idea. He tapped his lower lip for a moment, eyes roaming as he thought. His wandering gaze stopped on his suit pants, still lying on the floor. The pants were invisible. The suit jacket was invisible. His clean T-shirt and boxers weren’t. What if…
He crawled over the bed, then sprawled across the other one to snag the laundry bag. The dirty dress shirt was quickly located and shrugged on. When he walked back to the mirror, Mulder was pleased to see his suspicion confirmed. He could see a wedge of the T-shirt at his neck, and the boxers peeked out from the side vents of the longer dress shirt, but everything else had vanished. His used clothing apparently acted like a cloak of invisibility.
He saw Scully’s reflection studying him from the bed. “Looks like you’ll at least be able to wear clean underpants. As long as they’re inside your clothes, they should be invisible, too. What about your shoes?”
“Well, no one has reported them walking on their own, so I assume they’re invisible. But let’s find out.” Mulder picked up a shoe in one hand, then flipped the empty ice bucket over on the dresser with the other. He set the shoe on the ice bucket and stepped back. The mirror showed an overturned plastic bucket and nothing else.
“Better rinse your socks out before you go to bed, Mulder. Clean ones will be noticeable between your pants hem and shoes.”
“Eww! I have to wear the same socks every day, too?”
“Looks that way.” Scully glanced at the night stand. “What about your gun? Is that invisible? You had it on all day and nobody screamed for the cops.”
“Good point.” He retrieved his weapon and holster from the night stand and switched them with the shoe. This time, the mirror reflected back a holstered gun sitting on a plastic ice bucket.
Scully blinked. “Huh. Why are your clothes invisible, but your gun isn’t?”
Mulder scratched his head. “Beats me. Unless it’s because I didn’t put it on until I got to the office.”
“What difference would that make?”
“Maybe whatever happened to me kicked in this morning, only affecting the clothes I was wearing. I put my gun in my briefcase because I didn’t have time to put it on until I was packing to leave. It’s been covered by my suit jacket ever since.”
“Yeah, I guess that makes as much sense as anything else right now.” Scully yawned. “Okay. That’s enough thinking for tonight. Don’t forget to wash your socks. Hang your shirt up to air, too. Other people may not be able to see you, but they’ll still smell your dirty clothes.”
Mulder helped her stand and steered her toward the door. “Yes, mother hen. I’ll even brush my teeth and blow my nose. You get some sleep. We’re meeting the SAC at nine in the morning.”
“We? Don’t you mean me and my new imaginary friend?”
He knew she was just tired and cranky, so he let the comment pass. Once he realized she was waiting for him to get behind the door before she opened it, he stepped back.
He locked up, then went back to the dirty laundry bag for his socks. Invisibility had seemed like such a cool idea not so long ago. Now he wouldn’t wish it on his worst enemy. He filled the sink with warm water and shampoo, then dropped his socks in to soak. Could things possibly get any worse?
FBI Field Office
Thursday 8:53 AM
Mulder strode carefully behind Scully into the field office lobby, one of them visible, the other possibly a figment of her imagination. That was Scully’s latest suggestion, as her hypotheses grew ever more desperate. Mulder honestly didn’t want to consider it. How do you live life as a figment?
Scully flipped open her ID wallet for the receptionist. “Agents Mulder and Scully, reporting for the bank robbery detail.”
The woman at the desk peered around the diminutive agent. “Um, I only see one of you. Did you lose something?”
The wallet snapped shut with an irritated clap. “I’m reporting in for both of us. Agent Mulder is at the motel, reading over the file. Kindly direct me to the special agent in charge.”
The receptionist hooked a thumb over her shoulder. “Fifth floor, main aisle, number thirteen. Elevator’s over there.”
Mulder followed his partner in the direction indicated, trying very hard to walk softly and match his long steps with her shorter ones. There was still an unusual echo, though. Why couldn’t they have splurged on a little carpeting?
The elevator doors opened on Cubicle City. Mulder barely managed to stop himself from whistling. The whole thing was partitioned off by short walls, the hum of voices drifting over the tops. The cubicles were fairly large but obviously still roofless offices without doors. How quaintly impersonal.
“Number thirteen, straight ahead,” Scully muttered.
Mulder silently counted off odd numbers on the left, even numbers on the right, as they made their way down the aisle. Lucky number thirteen was at the end of the row, bathed in sunlight from the full-wall windows. He peered over Scully’s shoulder as she stopped in the entry to announce herself. He swallowed a gasp and nearly turned tail when he recognized Special Agent Gloria Lukas sitting at the desk.
Glorious Gloria, otherwise known as Agent Barracuda. She’d cut a swath a mile wide through the Hoover bullpen a few years back. The stories about her were the stuff of legend. Mulder might have been tempted at one time, but he wasn’t interested in use-‘em-up, wear-‘em-out flings anymore. He tried to steer clear of her as much as he could and used Scully to run interference whenever he couldn’t. They’d worked a case together a couple months before Lukas was transferred to the field office. She was a shark, a real man-eater, and she’d been chomping after Mulder’s manly bits throughout the investigation. She was so relentless he’d thought about starting rumors that he was gay, but Scully pointed out that would cause a whole new set of problems. At the moment, he was feeling inclined to look on his “situation” as a fortuitous gift from Heaven rather than a pain in his invisible ass.
Agent Lukas stood and offered her hand while trying to nonchalantly check the seemingly empty corridor. “It’s good to see you again, Agent Scully. Glad you could come. So where’s Agent Mulder?”
Scully threw out a variation of a cover story they’d concocted on the drive up to explain his apparent absence. “He decided to visit a few of the crime scenes first thing, get a feel for the area.”
Lukas looked peeved. “We could have done that later. I have more information he needs on the last hold-up. That’s the reason why I called you in to help.”
Scully held out a hand. “I can give him the information when he gets back. I’m meeting him at the motel. He wanted to start going over the profile you already have. See if he can add anything.”
The SAC picked up a folder then hesitated, tapping it against her palm while she studied the woman in front of her through narrowed eyes. The silence stretched out for several seconds before she slapped the file into Scully’s still-outstretched hand. “Fine. But I want a report on this by the end of the day. A witness claims she saw one of the bank robbers walk into the building through a wall. That sounds like your territory, so you two get to handle it. Are you and Agent Mulder sleeping together?”
Mulder was proud of Scully for not immediately decking their colleague. Other people had speculated, in front of them and behind their backs, but no one had ever simply blurted it out that way. Scully blinked several times but didn’t reply.
Agent Lukas held up a hand as if she expected a protest. “I’m not asking out of nosiness. Being the SAC on this case, I need to know if anything outside the office is likely to affect your work. An intimate relationship with your partner could be considered a safety hazard, under dangerous circumstances. You understand, I’m sure.” Her smile was obviously supposed to be sincere and “just between us girls” but it looked downright predatory to Mulder. He wouldn’t be surprised to see a triangular fin crest the top of the cubicle wall.
Scully squared her shoulders. “I don’t see where that’s any of your business, Agent Lukas. Nor do I believe there’s any ‘need to know’ involved. However, since you were rude enough to ask, no, we’re not a couple.”
That was an opening Mulder couldn’t resist. He leaned over her shoulder and murmured, “We only play one on TV.”
Scully took half a step back—right on top of Mulder’s foot. It was all he could do not to scream into her ear but he couldn’t prevent several pained squeaks leaking out around the hand he had clamped over his mouth. She shifted her stance and applied all her weight to his instep for an interminable second. Mulder gritted his teeth until they creaked. Who knew chunky heels could hurt so much?
Scully held up the folder and returned a steely-eyed “I know exactly what you’re up to” smile that was very familiar. “We’ll get started on our angle right away. Mulder will be in touch.”
He couldn’t tell if that was a threat aimed at him or rote response on Scully’s part. He didn’t try to analyze it, limping off behind his partner as quietly as he could, back to the elevator.
There was absolutely no way he’d put himself into the clutches of Glorious Gloria, invisible or not. He’d call in his reports and fax anything he could think of for the profile. He wasn’t even sure he should visit the field office with Scully anymore, just in case Agent Lukas had some shark-like way of smelling fear. If she ever got her teeth into him, he wouldn’t stand a chance.
The elevator ride down was silent. Or nearly so. How odd. There was a soft hum, almost a faint, rhythmic thump. The sound got louder, bit by bit, but it didn’t seem to be coming out of a speaker system. So where the hell…?
He finally tracked the noise to somewhere near shoulder height and looked down. Scully was staring straight ahead, the file folder clasped behind her back. Rocking on the balls of her feet, she was quietly humming the theme song to “Jaws.”
Friday 5:27 PM
Mulder ground the heels of his hands harshly into his eye sockets and seriously considered keeping it up until his eyeballs exploded. The resulting pop might be satisfying, but the long term consequences probably wouldn’t be worth the momentary relief. Apparently, being invisible didn’t mean a break from physical discomfort or exhaustion.
He’d spent the previous day trying to track down their new witness via phone, with very limited success. Most people assumed that an FBI badge conferred a certain amount of authority on the bearer, but Mulder always found it amusing how many ways people came up with to stonewall when they didn’t want to share information. She was taking time off from work. They didn’t know where she was. Bank policy prohibited giving out her home address. Couldn’t give out her phone number either. When he finally threw his weight around and got both, no one was home.
That worthless hunt had taken up most of the day, punctuated by alternately irate and seductive calls from Agent Lukas. Mulder suspected he’d headed off a visit to the motel by phoning in his report, such as it was. He’d have to remember not to open the door if someone knocked. Scully had the key, so she wouldn’t be the one knocking.
They were running out of excuses for why he was avoiding the SAC. So far they’d used working on the profile, out running, in the shower, on the phone, the profile again, checking out crime scenes and a couple that even HE wouldn’t have believed. He’d suggested to Scully that she simply tell Lukas he was invisible and she wouldn’t be able to see him anyway, but all that earned him was a dirty look.
He’d finally settled down late yesterday evening to check out the profile the bank robbery spree had generated. One thing led to another and before he knew it, the early morning sun was blasting through a crack in the curtain, smack into his eyes. Another night spent at a table with his head pillowed on his arms. He was going to be walking like Quasimodo if he couldn’t get the cricks out of his neck.
A shower, a lot of coffee and enough grease to gag a maggot had done wonders for his outlook on life—until he’d finally tracked down their witness about three hours ago. Apparently she was in a local hospital. In the psych ward, to be exact. Once he unraveled the story from various staff and family members, it turned out that she’d been acting a bit strange lately, seeing and hearing things that were improbable, to say the least. Like bank robbers walking through walls. After the hold-up, the teller’s family had finally convinced her to check into the hospital for evaluation. So it looked like that was that for their witness to a paranormal event. Mulder couldn’t help but appreciate the irony. He would cause riots in a psych ward in his present condition.
He’d spent the last couple hours going over the profile again, which really didn’t need another going-over, but it gave him something to do besides stew. Everything the previous agent had come up with about the bank robbers appeared good and stable. There really wasn’t much he could add. And now it looked like they didn’t actually need to stay, either. He really wanted to head home, but he hated to ask Scully to get behind the wheel for another long drive when they wouldn’t make it home until after midnight. They could leave in the morning.
Mulder stood and stretched his back. Enough work. He still had a nasty kink in his neck from last night. Time to see if the room’s pitiful excuse for a shower would take care of it.
He stripped and threw his grimy clothes on a chair in the corner. Invisibility didn’t seem to keep you any cleaner, he mused. He still attracted dirt, but that became invisible, too, once it was absorbed into the cloth. Now if he could invent dirt that became invisible on visible clothing, he could quit his day job. What good was invisibility if you couldn’t market it?
He shut the bathroom door in case Scully showed up, then pulled back the shower curtain and stepped into the tub. When he turned around to shut the sheet of plastic, the mirror on the back of the door caught his eye. Reflected at him was the shower curtain, gathered up at a steep angle, presumably all by itself, if the image in front of him could be believed. The lines of a poem he’d enjoyed as a child ran through his mind.
As I was going up the stair I met a man who wasn’t there; He wasn’t there again today — I wish, I wish he’d stay away.
Mulder had become Hughes Mearnes’ “Little Man Who Wasn’t There.” Visible only to Scully. Maybe he was her personal delusion. A hallucination. A vampire? Supposedly, vampires couldn’t be seen in a mirror. He didn’t remember any bite wounds, but he felt his neck anyway. Except vampires were visible to people and he wasn’t. No, better scratch vampire. A ghost. Could he have died and not realized it? But that wouldn’t explain his ability to affect objects or the fact that other people could hear him. So he was back to delusion or hallucination. None of his choices were terribly appealing.
The rings rattled as he pulled the shower curtain shut a bit forcefully and turned on the water. The initial shot of cold felt good. It reminded him that he was alive, substantial, flesh and blood, albeit invisible flesh and blood. He tried not to think about what the future held for him, but the longer he remained in an unseeable state, the worse his prospects appeared. Would he have to quit the FBI? How was he supposed to do that if they couldn’t see him? Call in his resignation? That throbbing vein in Skinner’s temple would finally rupture. If he quit, he wouldn’t be able to work with Scully, the only person in the world who could see him. But if they did continue to work together somehow, he might end up being a danger to her. He could forget himself at a crucial moment and cause a distraction. Hell, his mere presence might be a distraction to HER because she’d be the only one who knew he was there. If they couldn’t find a way to undo whatever had happened, he could foresee a solitary, lonely existence as the only way to avoid causing inadvertent harm to others. He’d have to move out into the wilderness somewhere and become a hermit.
Or better yet, he’d scavenge in the restaurants of downtown DC, spiriting away food from under the noses of the chefs. He could start his own urban legend. The Hungry Ghost of Capitol Hill. Would wearing chains to rattle be overkill? It might be a good chance for him to get back at some of the agents who were always picking on him. Hide files, spill coffee on expense reports, goose the Director and let someone else take the blame. He’d start with Vertense. All those damned ET jokes had earned him the top spot on Mulder’s hit list. There were rumors of snacks missing from desks in the bullpen. Wouldn’t Vertense look foolish if they all turned up in his desk drawer?
Mulder inhaled a noseful of water and started coughing. He’d finished washing so he might as well get out. He was only stalling because there really wasn’t anything else he could do on the case. Chances were good they’d be heading back home tomorrow. He’d fax his input on the profile in the morning, so they weren’t officially needed anymore. Agent Man-Eater might disagree, but fortunately she couldn’t see Mulder to take a bite out of him. Thank goodness for invisibility!
He shut off the water and drew back the shower curtain, carefully keeping his gaze off the mirror this time. Grabbing a towel, he swiped at the water on his skin, then flung the door open. Mulder jumped back behind it when he saw Scully watching him from the table. He quickly wrapped the towel around his hips before venturing out again. He saw a smile twitching at the corners of her mouth as she distributed fast food packages from a bag.
“You’re invisible, Mulder,” she said. “There’s nothing to see.”
“Ouch! You emasculate me, Scully.”
“My point exactly.”
He huffed a sarcastic “ha ha ha” as he headed across the room for a pair of sweatpants and T-shirt from his luggage. She could have her little dig after the last two days. In spite of the cheeky grin, she looked worn out. She’d spent all her time running back and forth to the field office at the whim of SAC Lukas, who would then proceed to grill her on where Mulder was, what time he’d be back and probably a number of other things Scully hadn’t told him about. She’d visited crime scenes, interviewed bank tellers and done all the legwork, leaving him secluded in the room to minimize his chances of ending up on the front page of the National Enquirer.
A knock on the door was followed by the sound of a key turning in the lock. Scully’s wide eyes met Mulder’s as the knob began to turn. She reached for her gun but it wasn’t on her hip. Mulder pointed to his own weapon on the night stand between the beds. “Who’s there?” Scully shouted toward the door, then hissed at Mulder, “Get back in the bathroom.” She scrambled around the bed and grabbed his holster. There was no answer from outside as she drew the gun and released the safety. She crept closer to the door as it creaked slowly open.
Mulder knew he wasn’t going to make it back to the bathroom. Two queen-sized beds and the length of the room were now between him and safety. If he tried to crawl over the beds, it would make noise. If he tried to run to the other end of the room and shut the bathroom door, he wouldn’t make it before their intruder was inside. He couldn’t get dressed—his invisible clothing was near the bathroom and anything else would be visible even though he wasn’t. In fact, anyone entering the room at that moment would see a towel hanging in midair. Mulder decided to do the best he could under the circumstances: he tossed the clothes in his hand back at his suitcase, then whipped the towel off and dropped it on the floor next to the bed. Naked, he watched as the door swung all the way open and Gloria Lukas peered around the edge.
Scully glowered at the intruder. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” She didn’t shoot, but Mulder noticed she didn’t lower his gun, either.
“I could ask you the same thing.” Agent Lukas entered, blatantly checking out the room. Mulder held his breath as her glance skimmed right over his nude body without registering his presence. He carefully exhaled in relief.
“This is my partner’s room and I have his spare key.” Scully reset the gun’s safety and slammed it back into the holster. “I’ll ask one more time: what the hell are you doing, breaking into Mulder’s room?”
The other woman dismissed the question with a wave of her hand. “I didn’t break in. I got the key from the manager.” She pushed past Scully and headed toward the bathroom. “I could have sworn I heard Mulder’s voice just now. Where is he?”
“He” was standing next to his open luggage, stark naked and cursing himself for not engaging the night latch. Since Scully needed to come and go at all hours, he’d been leaving the security bar unlocked except when he was sleeping. He assumed it would be too much trouble to keep opening the door for her. He’d never considered the possibility of Agent Lukas letting herself in with the manager’s emergency key. Mulder had a very clear mental picture of Glorious Gloria with her ear pressed to his door, trying to hear if he was inside. He knew she was after him, but he thought he was safe in his own room. Boy, when he got it wrong…
Mulder watched incredulously as their uninvited guest entered the bathroom. He didn’t want to think about what she might have done if he’d been in the shower. Scully walked to the room door and shut it a bit more forcefully than necessary. Hands on hips, she turned to him, exasperation plastered all over her face. Suddenly, her brows shot toward her hairline. Startled, he questioned her with a look. Her answer was a downward flick of the eyes.
Oops. He’d forgotten she could actually see him. Mulder hurriedly clamped his hands over his exposed genitals and shrugged in apology. It wasn’t like she hadn’t seen it all before, but there was no point in flashing the goods at someone who isn’t buying. He was even more thankful for invisibility when Agent Lukas emerged from the bathroom looking peeved.
“So where is he this time?” she demanded.
“He’s working the case YOU called us to help with.”
Lukas gestured at the table. “Then why is there so much food? Looks like you’re expecting him back soon. Or are you eating for two?”
Mulder flinched. That was a low blow, even if Gloria hadn’t meant it that way. Scully’s expression hardened and he knew it could get ugly. He felt like a coward, but he was glad someone other than him had put that look on her face.
Scully’s reply squeezed out through thinned lips. “Mulder works a case his own way. Sometimes that means having to eat cold food. Maybe you should stop worrying so much about his eating habits and concentrate on the bank robberies. You need a geographic profiler to tell you where they’ll hit next, not a psychological profiler. Mulder told you as much in his last report.”
Lukas smirked. “I read that and figured I’d stop on my way home to discuss it with him. I never expected to find you sharing his room.”
Scully crossed her arms and glared. “Knocking and asking to be invited in is one thing. What you did is totally out of line. I assume you gave the manager some kind of hush-hush secret agent story so he’d let you have the key.”
The other woman scowled. “That’s none of your business.”
“And why I’m in Mulder’s room is none of yours. Neither are his sleeping habits, his relationship with me, his underwear size OR any of the other extremely personal bits of information you’ve asked me for ever since we arrived.”
Lukas rolled her eyes and shouldered past Scully again, back the way she’d come. Mulder wondered if Gloria knew how close she was to getting a fist in the nose. She stopped near the bed closest to the door and spied the towel Mulder had dropped by his feet. Hands clamped over his nether regions, he barely managed to back out of her way as Agent Lukas bent to retrieve the nubby piece of cloth. She shook the towel at Scully. “When I’m the SAC on a case, the location of the people working for me is my business. This towel is still damp. He was here not that long ago.” She flung the towel right into Mulder’s stomach, barely missing his crotch with her hand. “For some unknown reason you’re covering for him and I won’t stand for it. I’m going to report you to your superior for being uncooperative and insubordinate.”
Scully marched right up to the SAC and leaned into her personal space, noses almost touching. “Please do. And I’ll let him know exactly why you called us out at the Bureau’s expense. We’re supposed to be here for one reason only—to help find your banker robbers. Mulder could have done just as much from his office in DC. I’m sure AD Skinner would be thrilled to hear all about it.” She straightened and walked to the door. Throwing it open, Scully favored her colleague with a patently false smile. “So sorry you have to leave now.”
Lukas sniffed. “I only asked for Mulder, you know, not you.” She tried to bull her way out the door, but Scully blocked her path with an outstretched hand.
“The emergency key, please. I’ll return it to the manager for you.”
The slap of key meeting hand sounded painful, but Scully didn’t flinch. She watched Agent Lukas flounce out of the room, then she stood at the door, staring into the parking lot. Mulder heard a car door slam, followed by an engine revving and then the crunch of gravel. When the sound of squealing tires on pavement reached his ears, Scully finally shut the door with exaggerated care. She turned to look at him and leaned against the door.
Mulder cleared his throat. “So, is it my imagination, or did you just engage in a catfight with Gloria Lukas?”
Scully snatched her copy of his room key off the dresser and opened the door again. “For God’s sake, Mulder, put some clothes on. I’m going to return the emergency key and give the manager a piece of my mind. You don’t want to still be naked when I get back.”
She shot him a glare for good measure before she left. This time, she didn’t use any care at all when she closed the door. Mulder watched the dresser mirror quiver from the impact. Well, he really couldn’t blame her. His question was rather juvenile, but it was the first thing that occurred to him.
He lost no time pulling on his well-worn pants and dress shirt. The clean clothes he’d pulled from his suitcase where still lying out, but he wasn’t going to take chances anymore. The entire incident had thrown him for a loop. On the one hand, he was relieved that he didn’t have to deal with the libidinous SAC on his own, but on the other hand, he wasn’t used to someone else fighting his battles for him. It felt wrong, especially when he was right in the same room, although invisible. Scully shouldn’t have needed to defend him, but he didn’t exactly have much choice. He’d felt exposed, vulnerable, and not simply because he was naked.
Mulder tensed when he heard a key turn in the lock again, but thankfully it was just Scully letting herself back into the room. God, she looked even more tired than she had when he came out of the bathroom earlier. She plopped down into one of the chairs next to the table. He squatted by her knees and peered into her eyes.
“Is the motel manager still in one piece?”
She smirked. “He couldn’t apologize enough. I guarantee he won’t be buying any more of Agent Lukas’ fairy tales, so at least you don’t have to worry about her showing up unannounced again.”
Mulder grinned. “My hero.” He hoped she could hear how sincerely he meant those words. Not once had she thrown it in his face that she was right about not taking the case. She’d never said “I told you so” even though she had every right to. He should have listened to her voice of reason but he’d been so sure it would be easy to hide in plain sight. Time and again he was proven wrong, but she didn’t gloat or rub it in. She was his hero in so many ways.
Scully looked at the packets of food she’d set out on the table seemingly hours ago, and made a face. “How do you feel about cold burritos?”
He wasn’t especially hungry anymore, but she’d been nice enough to buy him supper. They might as well eat it. Mulder pointed toward the tiny microwave on the sink vanity across the room. “Nothing a quick nuking won’t cure.”
Supper over, Mulder grabbed the TV remote, stretched out on the bed and started channel surfing while Scully picked up a magazine she’d brought with her and stayed at the table to read. Mulder stopped surfing when he found a Discovery Channel physics program on string theory. He wasn’t terribly interested in it, but almost anything was better than listening to himself think and coming up empty.
He was dozing, barely aware of the TV program, when he heard Scully gasp. He opened his eyes and scanned the room for her. She was still sitting at the tiny table with a stunned expression on her face.
“What’s the matter?” He yawned. “Did I belch in my sleep? You know what happens when I eat Mexican.”
“You’re invisible.” Her voice was nearly a whisper, so low he almost missed her words.
When he realized what she’d said, he tsked. “Scully, we’ve known that for three days. Don’t tell me you just now got it.”
“NO. I mean I know why you’re invisible.”
That made him sit up straight. “You do? So tell me!”
“It’s physics, Mulder. Basic physics.”
He flopped flat on his back again. “Oh. Is that all?”
Mulder propped himself up on one elbow to watch. She lifted a file folder from the table and shook it at him.
“I can affect objects. Therefore, I have mass. Correct?”
She pointed to the dresser. “Go pick up the newspaper.”
He raised his eyebrows at her, but she just pointed again. He groaned melodramatically as he levered himself off the bed, then trudged the short distance to the dresser. Picking up the paper, he held it out to her. “Now what?”
“Look in the mirror.”
Reflected back at him was a newspaper floating in mid air. He moved his arm and the image moved opposite to him. He let go of the paper and it plummeted to the dresser top.
“Okay. I see your point. But that doesn’t explain why I’m invisible.”
“That was just Exhibit A. So we’ve established that you still have mass. You also continue to affect the air around you.”
He sniffed his armpit. “Are you implying that I’m no longer as fresh as an Irish spring?”
He was hoping for a small smile, but her scientist’s face was firmly in place.
“I’m sure if you went for a run and then walked into a room full of people they’d be able to smell you, but that’s not what I meant. I mean you’re still audible. Langly heard you on the phone. People have reacted to your comments when you didn’t keep your voice low enough. You’re still creating spoken sound waves. That’s Exhibit B.”
“Oh. Right. So I’m able to affect things by touch, people can hear me and I probably smell bad. Which proves?”
“Which proves that you still exist in a physical sense.”
“So why can’t anyone see me except you?”
“Because you’re not refractive anymore.”
He frowned. “I think I’ve just been insulted.”
“When I insult you Mulder, you’ll know. I mean light isn’t refracting off your surface.”
“I’m not reflecting light like a mirror?”
“No, I said ‘refracting,’ not ‘reflecting.’ Don’t you know the basic principles of light? They teach this kind of thing in high school.”
“I must have gone to the wrong high school, then. Lay it on me, Bill Nye.”
Scully began to pace and Mulder settled back to listen. “Okay. The basic principle behind how we see involves light bouncing back off of objects at various wavelengths. Different frequencies of light disperse at different speeds, causing us to see them as different colors. That’s ‘refraction.’ You with me so far?”
Mulder made an expansive gesture that urged her to continue.
“Visible wavelengths are either reflected, scattered or absorbed. Opaque objects with a rough surface don’t reflect like a mirror, so their color is determined by which wavelengths they scatter and which they absorb. When we see an object, what we’re really seeing is the light that isn’t being absorbed. We see a blue coat because all the light is absorbed by the cloth except the scattered wavelengths that create blue. Those refract back at us and our eyes interpret that wavelength as blue. It’s the same with all the other colors, too. If you’re colorblind, your eyes don’t have the tools needed to interpret the colors properly, so you see shades of gray or brown. But you do still see some color at those particular wavelengths. Did that make sense?”
“Yeah, it did. So how do you think that applies to me suddenly becoming The Phantom of the FBI?”
“Like I said before, Mulder, you’re not refracting. Light isn’t scattering when it hits you, it’s being absorbed. All of it. Every wavelength there is. No refraction, no colors to see, no visible object.”
That made a lot of sense. “But what about my clothes? Why aren’t they walking around like the pale-green-pants-with- nobody-inside-them?”
“Like what kind of pants?”
“Dr. Seuss, Scully. The guy who kept going to the Snide fields and bumping into a pair of empty pants hanging in the air. It was one of Samantha’s favorite stories.” The puzzled expression in her eyes didn’t change. “Never mind. Just answer the question. What about my clothes?”
“If I had to guess, I’d say you got it right before. Whatever caused you to disappear also affected whatever you were wearing at that time, but nothing else. You can’t just touch something and make it vanish. That would explain why your keys in the Polaroid and the newspaper just now were still visible.”
“So if I took off my clothes right now…?”
“No one else would be able to see it, but I’d get a repeat performance of what Agent Lukas missed.”
Mulder reached for the waistband of his sweats.
Scully held up a hand. “Stop right there, Gypsy Rose Lee. Now that we might have some idea why this happened, we need to figure out not only how you disappeared, but how to get you un-disappeared again.”
The ringing of Mulder’s cell phone interrupted any discussion they might have had on the subject of un-disappearing him. It was Gloria Lukas and she was in SAC mode.
“Another bank was hit as they were closing,” she snapped. “It’s right around the corner from you and the suspect is on foot. Security caught the get-away driver, but the robber escaped with the money. Blond, black T-shirt, jeans, sneakers. He’ll be carrying a bag or something. Get outside and see if you can catch him. I’ve got squad cars on the way, but you’re closer.” She hung up without waiting for him to speak.
Mulder tossed the phone on the bed and started hunting for his shoes while he filled Scully in. Shoes on, he snatched up the room key and his gun on his way to the door.
Scully stopped him with a hand to his chest. “Give me the gun. Mine’s in my room.”
He blinked in surprise. “And what will I use?”
“You won’t,” she replied. “Look in the mirror.”
There was the reflection of a handgun, apparently floating by itself.
“Shit!” Mulder thrust the weapon into his partner’s hand and yanked the door open. “Fine. You take the gun but I’m still watching your back.”
Scully nodded and dashed out the door. Mulder followed, automatically searching for their suspect. The area was mostly strip plazas and motels, restaurants and fast-food joints. It was a warm evening, so there were plenty of people around, but not that many just aimlessly walking. Most were going from their cars to a particular destination. Except for one guy headed their way with a duffle bag in his hand. Mulder squinted into the distance. Black T-shirt, jeans, blond. Bingo.
“Hey Scully,” he called, “crook ahoy.”
She caught sight of the suspect at almost the same time that he saw her. “Freeze!” Scully yelled, swinging the gun into view. “Federal Agent!”
The robber turned and took off into the street. Scully swore and followed. Cars swerved as she and Mulder dodged in and out of traffic, which was mercifully slow due to rush-hour congestion. He pounded along right on Scully’s heels, but he had to keep reminding himself that he wasn’t visible. He had a narrow miss with a minivan that slowed down to avoid Scully, not knowing there was someone equally as solid behind her. Cars weren’t going to stop if they couldn’t see him.
The suspect made a hard right turn behind a grocery store with Scully tearing in his wake. But Mulder had read the case reports and profile. If this was the same guy who’d pulled all the other robberies, he knew the area. The get-away cars were abandoned in residential neighborhoods a couple blocks from the bank, discarded clothing nearby. Storefronts were such blank canvases, perfect for making things stand out against them. It was easier to hide in the trees and shrubs around houses. This guy was going to double back somehow and try to stick to the MO.
Mulder decided to play a hunch. Instead of following Scully, he ran past the building and looked for the nearest houses. Down a side street, sprinklers pulsed out fountains of water in the middle of many a neatly-trimmed yard. Back by the grocery, he saw Scully come around the other end of the building. She looked back and forth, obviously bewildered by the disappearance of her fugitive. Just as Mulder thought, he’d given her the slip, but as he’d also thought, the criminal never strays far from his familiar routines. A shirtless man in jeans, carrying a gym bag over his shoulder, had walked out from behind a garage and was aimlessly strolling toward the shopping district.
Mulder waved to Scully, jumping up and down to get her attention, pointing at the approaching suspect. She had the gun, the authority and the visibility to arrest this guy. Mulder had to get her closer or he’d escape again. She saw him and took off at a run. Unfortunately the robber also saw her and turned to flee.
That’s when Mulder decided he’d had enough running for one day. He dove through the nearest sprinkler with his arms over his head. Water splashed off his face and body, drenched his clothes and chilled his skin. He imagined he must look like some sort of liquid spirit with the spray vaguely outlining a massive form rising from the water.
It was worth a soaking. The robber yelped and lost his footing, his sneakers skidding on the wet grass. He went down, too startled by the apparition in front of him to regain his feet. The distraction was just long enough for Scully to catch up with them and get the cuffs on. Mulder felt a sense of satisfaction he’d been missing the last few days. He’d watched his partner’s back and helped catch the bad guy. Maybe his situation wasn’t hopeless after all.
Scully hauled their suspect to his feet, then marched him over to the curb to sit. She looked at Mulder and her eyes grew wide.
“Mulder!” she hissed. “Get under an overhang.”
“The water drops on you are sparkling in the light. Find some shade. Or better yet, go back to the motel and wait for me.”
He didn’t like the idea of leaving her alone with the suspect, but sirens were coming closer by the second and every extra pair of eyes meant an increased chance of someone finding out about him. He nodded to let her know he’d heard, then trotted toward the grocery store, wiping streams of water out of his hair and eyes.
He wouldn’t go back to the motel just yet. He could stay in the shadows, keep an eye on the scene, just in case anything went wrong. Being invisible might be a liability, but it could also be an asset. If Scully needed his help, he’d be there as fast as his legs could take him. He wasn’t about to abandon her, National Enquirer or no National Enquirer.
J. Edgar Hoover Building
Saturday 2:46 PM
Mulder unlocked the office door and flipped on the lights. The drive back from Ohio had been even less fun than the one going there because he knew what to expect. Without really discussing it, they’d both agreed to stop at the office and work on their report before going home. Wherever home was for Mulder. Was he going to have to spend the rest of his life living with Scully? He couldn’t drive to his own apartment and he suspected Scully was already sick of driving him around. In fact, he might never be able to drive again. His car could end up turning into a pile of rust in the Hoover Building garage. His frustration level had increased exponentially with every mile closer to home.
Scully opened her laptop and settled in to work like a good little agent. Mulder flopped down in his desk chair, feeling restless and edgy. With the pressure of the case behind them, he’d done a lot more thinking about his “situation” during the drive back, trying to come up with a plausible explanation for why he suddenly stopped being visible. Scully had come up with a theory as to why, but neither of them could figure out how. His personal choices for a catalyst were getting weirder the longer he thought, but he wasn’t about to mention anything to his partner until he actually had something convincing.
Invisibility solution, ingested or coated on, was out. He hadn’t eaten, drunk or dipped himself in anything unusual over the past week. As far as he knew, he hadn’t pissed off any evil wizards, provided winning a bundle from Frohike at poker two weeks ago didn’t count. Besides, he also thought of Frohike as more of a troll than a wizard, and trolls couldn’t make people invisible. He hadn’t received a cloak of invisibility in the mail recently. However…
Mulder picked up the crystal he’d left on the desk before their trip. Could this be the smoking gun? It was the only unusual thing which had come into his possession around the time he disappeared. It mysteriously arrived at the security desk one day, he became invisible the next. He turned it around in his fingers. It was a rock. A smoky quartz crystal, Scully said. Was there something about this one that made it different from other crystals? It certainly didn’t seem so, at first glance, but maybe there was something special about it which made someone else send it to him. A note of warning would have been nice, though. “Careful what you wish for.”
He sat and contemplated the stone while Scully diligently typed away. He looked from her to the crystal and back again a couple times, trying to generate an interest in doing legitimate work. Then he decided “to hell with it,” booted up his computer and logged onto the Internet.
It didn’t take him long to find a site with plenty of links and information about quartz. At first glance, there was nothing especially remarkable about it. One of the most common minerals, found in many colors created by artificial treatment of the crystals, some even considered semi-precious stones, but most often found clear. He looked at the brown prism on his desk. What about smoky quartz?
He clicked on a link within the site. Huh. The brown or gray color is created by natural or artificial decay of radioactive trace elements. He brought the rock so close to his face, his eyes crossed. Could the radioactivity have something to do with him becoming invisible? But how? There were lots of naturally radioactive objects in the world, yet people didn’t simply lose their ability to be seen. Well, not that he’d heard, anyway, even in the tabloids. It appeared the crystal was a dead end.
Mulder opened his mouth to tell Scully what he’d found, but she wasn’t there. He looked around, wondering how he’d missed her leaving the office. For one panicky moment, he thought she’d become invisible, too. Then he heard movement in the other room.
“Hey, Scully,” he called.
She walked out of the back room with the coffee pot in her hand. “What?”
“If I stay invisible, maybe we could get a book deal out of this. I can be the ghostwriter.” He smiled at his own joke, but as usual, she didn’t.
“As long as I get to take the credit.” She headed toward the door. “You can do your striptease act on Oprah. Not that anyone except me will see it, of course.” She held up the coffee pot. “I’m going for water. Don’t practice your routine until I get back.”
Geez, now Scully was even making jokes at his expense. Had she been dating Vertense behind his back? He chucked the stone in the air and caught it again. “I’m tired of being invisible already,” he mumbled.
“What did you say?” Scully called from the hallway.
He hollered back, “I said I wish I wasn’t invisible anymore.”
“That makes two of us.”
He tossed the piece of rock back and forth for a few minutes, staring off into space while he wondered where they should start looking for a way to make him visible again. Suddenly, the crystal in Mulder’s hand started to grow warm. Then warmer. It felt like the rock was being heated from the inside. He brought it up near his face. It was glowing! A pink light shone through symbols all over the stone. Mulder turned it over and around as the light grew in intensity, silently pulsing in a regular rhythm. It flashed brighter and brighter, the symbols winking on and off with every beat. One last eye-blinding flash, and Mulder was left holding a smooth, faceted crystal again.
She skidded around the doorframe, water splashing out of the coffee pot. “What’s wrong, Mulder? What happened?”
“Did you see that?” He knew his mouth was hanging open but he couldn’t help it.
“See what? I didn’t see anything.”
“This rock.” He held it up like an offering. “It was glowing and warm and there was something carved into it, lit from inside by the glow, and the light pulsed and pulsed and then it just winked out! Look!”
Scully peered down at the smooth lump in his hand. “Hang on. I need coffee before I can get into this.” She retreated to the back room, leaving Mulder with his arm extended.
“What do you think it means?” he asked.
“I don’t know.” Water gurgled into the coffee maker. “It didn’t do that when you brought it into the office, did it?”
“No. I’ve never seen it do anything like that before. Granted, it’s been here since last week and we haven’t. Who knows what it might have done while we were gone.”
Scully walked back to his desk and took the crystal from his hand. She spun it around and studied all sides of it. “Well it’s not doing anything now. I say we finish the report before we have to figure out how to get you home.”
She set the stone on his desk and walked over to her briefcase. Mulder stared at it, waiting for it to do something else. He couldn’t believe she’d just let it go like that.
Mulder ran one finger over the flat sides of the stone. He couldn’t feel anything on the surface, yet he’d distinctly seen strange figures all over it while the pink light lasted. And in spite of being brown, it was transparent enough in places that he could see right through it. There wasn’t anywhere for a mechanism to make it glow and probably not enough radioactivity to account for the light and symbols he’d seen. So what the devil had caused it?
The elevator chimed in the distance followed by footsteps in the hallway. Mulder looked up from his study of the rock as a mail cart stopped outside the door.
Kevin, the mail clerk, stepped into the office, envelopes in hand. “Mulder, don’t you ever go home?”
He automatically answered, “One might ask the same of you,” before the other man’s words registered. Kevin had called him by name. Mulder looked over at Scully and saw the same stunned realization on her face that must be on his. Kevin could see Mulder!
“Yeah, you know what they say,” the clerk replied. “Neither rain nor snow nor sleet nor weekends off.”
“That’s the post office,” Mulder mumbled distractedly. He had to get this guy out of here!
“Well they seem to think it works for mail-room clerks, too.” Kevin jabbed a finger in Mulder’s face. “Cubs in a five-game sweep against the Yankees. Double or nothing.”
Mulder shook his head. “You’re crazy. The Cubs got nothing. Yankees all the way. Six games just to make the Cubbies feel less like losers.”
Kevin waved him off. “You’re the one who’s crazy. This is the year of the Cubs! Don’t stay too late. See you next week, Agent Scully.”
He pushed the mail cart back down the hall. Mulder could barely contain himself until the elevator dinged. The minute he heard the doors close, he jumped out of his seat.
“Mirror! Scully, give me a mirror!”
She was already rooting through her purse but he was practically hopping in his excitement. After what seemed like forever, she pulled out a tiny pocket mirror.
Mulder snatched it from her hand, then hesitated.
Scully pushed his arm. “Go on! What are you waiting for?”
He didn’t move. “What if I’m wrong?”
“Wrong?” She sounded confused.
“About being visible again. What if I’m not? What if the mirror is still empty?”
She looked to the door and then back at Mulder. “You just talked to Kevin, didn’t you?”
“How many other people have even acknowledged your presence in the last four days? Skinner? Kim? The women in every restroom we’ve visited? Did Agent Lukas react to you standing naked right next to her?”
Scully was right. They hadn’t. NO ONE had. Not one person other than Scully had even hinted they knew he was there. Except Kevin, just now. He HAD to be right.
“I guess there’s only one way to be sure.” He brought the mirror slowly toward his face—and smiled at his happy reflection. He was visible again! “Check it out.” He handed Scully the mirror, then leaned over so his face was reflected back at her.
“I can see you!” She looked from him to the mirror and back again. “I mean I can see you in the mirror! How?”
“You got me. Unless…” Mulder pointed at the lump of quartz on his desk. “It’s this rock, Scully. It has to be.”
“We don’t know that.”
“I think we do. I’d just brought it down from security and was holding it when I said I wanted to disappear. I made a wish and it must have granted my wish. I was holding it earlier when I said I didn’t want to be invisible anymore. Then it glowed and now I’m visible again. Don’t you remember? You were holding it when you said you didn’t want me to disappear. Maybe that’s why you could see me even though no one else could. It has to be the catalyst.”
“Wait a minute. Why did you reappear so fast this time? I mean, when you disappeared, it must have happened the day after we got the rock. Those were the clothes which became invisible, not the ones you were wearing the day the rock arrived. So why did you become visible the same day?”
“I’m only guessing here…” Mulder poked the stone with one finger, “but I was holding it just now, when it started to glow. Maybe being in close proximity makes it work faster. Does that make sense?”
“About as much sense as anything that’s happened since that lump of trouble got here. But what is it?”
“I don’t know. I’m not sure we’ll ever be able to find out without putting someone’s life in danger.”
“What do you mean?”
“Think about what could happen if one of the lab techs was examining this thing and wished for— Never mind. As much as I hate to say it, I think it would be safer to let this one go back into the unknown mists from whence it came.”
“No.” It was the opportunity of a lifetime! How could he contemplate letting it go? The potential to advance knowledge about the paranormal was HUGE! But at what cost? Did he have the right to take chances with possibly innocent lives?
Mulder took a deep breath. “Yes! Yes, I’m sure. Simply keeping it around is a risk we can’t take. We have no clue what other powers it might have and the temptation to find out would be almost overwhelming. I don’t know whether it was sent by a friend or an enemy, but we have to put it out of everyone’s reach, permanently. And I know exactly what to do with it.”
He gingerly picked up the crystal between his thumb and forefinger, then dropped it into the box in which it had arrived. He quickly shut the box, tucked it under his arm, and walked to the door.
“Mulder, where are you going?”
“To the Potomac to hire a boat. Then I’m going out to Chesapeake Bay where I’ll drop this thing into the deepest hole I can find.”
She grabbed her purse. “Wait. I’ll go with you.”
“Thanks.” He paused with his hand on the knob. “Oh, and Scully….”
He looked her right in the eye. “If you have any wishes on your mind, keep them to yourself. Just in case.”
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