Chapter Fifteen: Grand Pause
Having sent Flamel's owl back with the specifics for their Sunday brunch, Mulder and Scully discussed their experiences of the previous night. They couldn't have been more different. Scully provided detailed descriptions of her experiences of Diagon Alley, and made some insightful comparisons between Magical and early Nineteenth Century societies. Mulder shook his head. He could only imagine his fiercely independent partner dealing with the social constraints. Sure, she probably pulled it off with grace and style, but it probably drove her nuts.
When his turn came to relate his evening, he glossed over his own contributions to the conversation, choosing to focus on the conclusions that he, Flamel and Dumbledore had drawn. Specifically, that the extraterrestrials were probably playing Wizards and Muggles against one another to destroy the global protections left by the Alephi. Scully offered a few insightful questions, but was eventually satisfied with their conclusions.
"There are still a few things I don't understand," she remarked after a thoughtful silence. "Foremost, their reasons for trying to colonize our planet in the first place. We've seen the caustic reaction of their blood to our atmosphere. They've already lost ships to the Alephi's wards, lost individuals in reconnaissance, and they're likely to suffer immense casualties in the event of war. What's in it for them?"
"No idea. Maybe humanity hasn't cornered the market on pigheadedness."
"What do you want me to say? They're obviously an intelligent race that places a great deal of importance on subtlety and observation. They're cautious and stick to protocol. They obviously have something important invested in our planet. Something important enough for them to bother with the both the natives and ancient extraterrestrial protection. Aside from that, there are too many other variables to say anything definite."
"So it could be anything."
"They could be running out of energy sources or space on their home planet. Or maybe they're on some kind of religious crusade to drive the infidel humans from their sacred planet." He noticed an odd look on Scully's face. "Sorry, no offense intended. Unless Nicholas has some particularly telling information, we're only marginally better off than we were before discovering magic. At least then we felt we were able to do things." The odd look was still on Scully's face. "What is it?"
"Mulder, what you said about a crusade to drive the humans from the holy land--"
"I meant as a metaphor. As in they prized something about our planet that wasn't quantifiable in material terms."
"That's not the aspect of the metaphor I meant. I mean, what if they came here first? Before the Alephi, I mean. And before human civilization."
Mulder shrugged. "It's a possibility. We can talk to Albus and Nicholas about it tomorrow at tea. Today I just want my head to stop pounding and maybe get some more reading done. How close are you to the end of My Friend Harry?"
"I was about two-thirds of the way through."
"I see. And will you be trying any spells with your new wand today?"
"That's what I probably should be doing now, but-"
"In that case, I'll be a good partner and remove your distraction." Mulder grabbed My Friend Harry and ducked into his room, before Scully had the chance to protest.
As exasperating as it was to have her reading interrupted, Mulder was probably right. She should be working with her new wand. Fortunately, Mulder's officiousness had presented her with her first attempt at magical problem solving. She consulted volume one of the Goshawk book of spells for an unlocking spell before settling on a likely candidate. After practicing the pronunciation a few times, she took her wand out of its box. It greeted with a pleasant wave of warmth. She warmed up with a few quick swish-and-flicks, and practiced the new charm. Having practiced on the bathroom door and her own window, she decided to see if the waterproofing spells on magical books were worth their salt. She stuck her head out the window. The rain hitting her face was a bit distracting, and she had to work a little harder to bring the image of her book into her mind before flicking her wand at the next-door window and whispering the spells in rapid succession. "Alohamora! Accio!"
The window unlocked and flung itself open. She was rewarded with an indignant "Hey!" as My Friend Harry zipped into her outstretched hand. That felt. different. It was much easier to summon objects with her own wand. Not surprising, really. There was none of the resistance that she'd felt from Severus's wand. Some things were the same, like the warm rush of power from her mind to her wand, but overall, she felt connected to the wand in a way she couldn't explain. It felt as if it should have been there all along.
Now, now. A wand is a magical tool. An implement. Nothing more. But if that was true, why was there a lump in her throat?
She had just enough time to close the window quickly and wipe the lingering raidrops off her cheeks before the door between their rooms opened. She clasped the book behind her back and affected boredom. Mulder had on his bad-cop face, and she successfully suppressed a giggle. She cleared her throat and lifted an eyebrow questioningly.
"Did you need something, Mulder?"
"Hand it over."
She held out her wand, handle first. "Certainly, though I have no idea what you'll be able to do with it."
He didn't take it. "The book, Scully."
She put on a mock-confused look, then grabbed a red and gold bound book from the pile on her nightstand. "I tried to give this to you last night, but you were out cold."
Mulder's eyes lit up. "You found Fantastic Beasts!" He turned down the corners of his mouth again, though there was a definite gleam in his eye. "But that's not what I mean, Scully."
"I don't understand, Mulder." She sidled over to the bed, hoping to hide the book under the pillows. "Exactly what are you accusing me of?"
"It is most provoking," Mulder pronounced solemnly, "when one's partner does exactly what you tell her to."
She managed to shove the book under the pillows and stretch herself over them in what she hoped was a casual way. "Yes, I've been working on an unlocking charm. I thought it would prove useful in the field."
Mulder sat down beside her on the bed. "Have you learned any self-defense charms?"
"Other than the summoning charm and the full body bind, not really."
"Then you'd have no magical way to defend yourself against insidious tickle attacks?" He began moving toward her slowly, insinuatingly.
"Tickle attack? No. No! Mulder, don't you dare!" She scrambled away from him and slid off the end of the bed. "You know I hate being tickled!"
He advanced toward her, his fingers wiggling ominously.
Scully felt her face flush. As the youngest girl and extremely ticklish, she'd been tickled into submission more times than she'd care to admit. Bill wasn't even ticklish at all. It was an advantage she'd never forgiven him for pressing. She brandished her wand at her partner and planted her feet resolutely. "Mulder, if you try to tickle me, you'll be very, very sorry."
This seemed to encourage him more. He took two quick steps to close the distance between them and was about to launch a full-scale assault on her stomach when she flicked her wand at him. Petrificus totalus!"
Mulder froze. At first Scully thought it was because he was shocked to see her cast magic. When he fell woodenly to the floor, she belatedly realized that it was because the spell had worked. Mulder's eyes were rolling around in panic and he was making strange noises in his throat. Her first impulse was to take the spell off, but a nasty voice in the back of her head said that he deserved to know what it was like. It couldn't possible be worse than painful paroxysms of tickle-induced laughter. At least he could breathe.
She shook herself out of her amazement at the results of her spell and put her hands on her hips. "Mulder, just relax. I'll take the body bind off you in a minute, but I want to see what it did to you."
The panicked look was quickly replaced by one of outrage.
Scully glared at him. "For goodness sakes, Mulder! Do you really think I'd put a dangerous spell on you? This is a spell that they teach to eleven- year-olds. The purpose of my putting it on you was solely to keep you from tickling me. Now I want to see, from a medical doctor's perspective, what this spell did to you. Blink once for yes, two for no." He exhaled loudly through his nose and closed his eyes. Good. He wasn't fighting it. The Goshawk book said that if the victim tried to fight the curse, he or she would be in for sore muscles when the spell was removed.
She knelt down beside him and began feeling his muscles and taking inventory of which were locked and which were still able to move. He was unable to speak, but he still had full control of the muscles around his larynx, eyes and forehead. The shoulders, neck, back and arms were completely stiff, but his heart was still obviously beating. On an impulse, she pressed her ear to his stomach to listen for activity. His stomach greeted her with a loud gurgle. So the digestive track was still running smoothly, or as smoothly as could be expected after a night of debauchery and a morning with no breakfast. She wondered if the external terminus of the alimentary canal was paralyzed or not, but Mulder would be embarassed, so the question remained unasked. When Scully pressed her ear just below his navel to check his abdominal muscles and to listen for bowel noises, she noticed another cause for concern. It seemed that the Petrificus wasn't such an innocent little spell after all. With that particular set of muscles locked in place for an extended period of time, there was danger of bladder and kidney damage, not to mention the possibility of infection. Or maybe that particular muscle contraction had another cause entirely. She wasn't about to ask. Well, onward and downwards. After attempting to palpitate his quadriceps, which were as unnaturally stiff as the rest of his external muscles, she decided there was little else to be gleaned without being overly intrusive.
She stood briskly and waved her wand over him. "Finite incantem."
Mulder's entire body seemed to sag further into the floor. He took a few deep breaths before hoisting himself dramatically into a sitting position against the end of the bed.
Scully held out her hands to help him stand up, but he waved them away and staggered dramatically to his feet. She managed to keep from rolling her eyes. If he didn't stop the invalid act, he was going to earn himself a pillow upside the noggin. She began to suspect something was really wrong when he grabbed Fantastic Beasts and made a beeline for the next room without even looking at her.
He spun to look at her with a venomous glare. "What, do you want to use me as a lab rat for more of your spells?"
"Mulder, I told you, I didn't want to be tickled, I waved my wand in your face, and you still came at me. What did you expect me to do?"
"You should never cast magic on me without my permission."
"You should never tickle me without my permission."
"That's not the same thing."
"How can you say that? It's exactly the same thing!"
"You can't equate a petrifying curse to tickling."
"Tickling is bullying, Mulder."
"Tickling is harmless! What are you so upset about?"
"Tickling is NOT harmless! It's horrible! It's like having a plastic bag over your head, you can't inhale, you can't scream, your spasming diaphragm and abdominal muscles are working against every voluntary order your brain sends to breathe. Your sides hurt, you can't stand, and if the tickling continues, you pass out." Scully was vaguely aware that she was raising her voice. "You had to be frozen in place for thirty seconds, and you somehow think that's worse?"
"Scully, it's not about which is worse physically!" Mulder's cheeks were starting to get red. "It's about taking an unfair advantage over someone else."
Was he trying to be dense? "That's exactly what I'm upset about, Mulder! You don't see being nearly a foot taller, 60 pounds heavier and unticklish as having an 'unfair advantage' over me?"
"But there are ways that you can defend yourself against a much larger person. You took those extra self-defense classes for Christ's sake--"
"--so you'd rather be kicked in the shin and punched in the stomach than petrified?"
"That's not the point Scully, and you know it!"
Scully threw up her hands in exasperation. "Do I? I didn't realize that temper tantrums had points? Enlighten me, Mulder. What is your point?"
"The point is that I can't possibly defend myself against magic, that's what!"
"Mulder, you're not being rational. We don't know how to defend ourselves against any half the unexplained phenomena we encounter. And there's only so much self-defense can accomplish. Magic has been in the world a long time, and won't just stop because we can't defend ourselves against it."
"But it's different for you! You can do something about it!"
Scully snorted. "I can do four spells. That's not much defense against a fully-trained witch or wizard. And what if we're facing off with someone dangerous? You'll never have the possibility of doing magic interfering with your split-second decisions. You'll have your gun. You won't have to decide between paralyzing them or knocking them out."
"I can't carry a gun in this country. You can't possibly understand how helpless I feel."
She didn't dignify that with a response. "Well, I guess you're just going to have to depend on me to cover your back, the same way I've had to depend on you for the past five years."
"That's not fair, Scully. I'm the senior agent. I'm the one with the field experience--"
He cut off abruptly at the look on her face.
"So I've learned nothing about field work in the past five years?"
He flushed. "That's not what I said. Don't put words into my mouth. But in the established dynamics of our partnership, you lead in the lab, and I lead in the field."
She was silent a moment. "I never realized how little you depend on me in the field."
Shit. That wasn't what he meant to say. "Scully-"
She waved her hand dismissively and continued in an irritatingly brisk manner. "Then isn't it about time that I started pulling my weight in the back-watching department?"
"Scully, I didn't mean that. What I meant was-"
"It's perfectly evident what you meant, Mulder." A flare of anger broke through her façade, but vanished as quickly as it had appeared. "I think this conversation is over." She handed him My Friend Harry in what otherwise would have been a conciliatory gesture. In this case, it was a dismissal. She threw on her coat and shoved her wand into the pocket with a little more force than was strictly necessary.
He was quickly running out of chances to rectify the situation. "Scully, I'm sorry."
She gave him a bland look. "Really? And would this be an apology for attacking me, being grossly insensitive, or insinuating that I'm an incompetent field agent?"
He was starting to get angry again. "What do you want me to say, Scully?"
"I don't want you to say anything."
"You've overreacted, put words into my mouth, and now you expect me to read your mind? Divination is your department, not mine."
"Mulder, this isn't about reading my mind."
"What is it about, then? Asserting your independence?"
She ignored the bait. "It's about our partnership, Mulder." She shook her head. "But you're obviously in no fit state to discuss it, and frankly, neither am I." Scully grabbed her briefcase and umbrella. "I'm going to the lab for a while."
"But it's Saturday!"
"I'm well aware of that, Mulder."
He blinked at the coldness in her tone, and gave a one-armed shrug. "I had hoped we could try the British Museum again today and maybe find out a little more about the items that were stolen in the process."
"That sounds like field work to me, Mulder, and therefore your department. I would have thought you'd appreciate my reverting to 'lab mouse' type, especially after the trauma you suffered at my hands this morning." She swept out the door with an air of scorn that would have done Severus proud.
Mulder was at a complete loss for words. He settled for an exasperated sigh. Stupid. He was officially stupid. An inappropriate image of the old "I've fallen and I can't get up" commercial sprang to mind unbidden, only this time, the old lady on the floor exclaimed proudly to him, "You're talking and you can't shut up!"
He did depend on her in the field. He did. And he more than depended on her in the lab, as much as dead weight can depend on anything keeping it afloat. She knew that! So he didn't always say it, but it was a given. She had willfully misunderstood him today. That was what had happened. And her little snit wasn't going to stop him from enjoying himself at the museum.
He knew he was being unfair as soon as the words entered his mind. Scully didn't have snits. Hell, before this trip he couldn't remember the last time she had showed visible emotion. But already she'd blown up a vase of flowers when he teased her and petrified him when he tickled her. Being a witch didn't agree with her temper, that's for sure. But she'd looked so proud, downright mischievous when she'd managed to steal back her book. She hadn't looked that carefree since before her sister died. And, of course, Emily.
He instantly regretted making a big deal out of being petrified. Of course, as the little psychologist in his brain pointed out, it was probably good for her to vent her frustrations. Lord knows she'd had more than her share this trip.
He glanced at the book she'd put into his hand. What better way to understand what she was going through than by better understanding the world into which they'd both been thrust? He lay down on Scully's bed and began to read.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Scully was still seething when she arrived at the Brisbin Institute. The rain wasn't helping her mood at all, especially when the cabbie managed to soak her trousers from the knees down as he sped off through a deep puddle. She was glad she hadn't bothered with a suit today. It would have been ruined. She glanced at the sky for any sign of the rain letting up and encountered a uniformly dark sky. It reflected her mood perfectly.
She squelched through the cavernous lobby in her sodden shoes and had the security guard page Cho. It was then that an unwelcome thought hit her. If Cho was anything like the lab assistants that she'd worked with in med school, weekends were sacrosanct. She had no idea how to find the freezer where Cho had stored the samples. Mentally cursing her own hastiness and loss of temper, she was about to leave when the phone rang at the security desk and the guard handed it to her.
"Hello, Cho? It's Dana."
"Dana? What on earth is wrong with you, coming in to work on a Saturday! And you call yourself a consultant?"
"You should talk!"
"Okay, okay. I normally spend Saturdays reading, but I'm intrigued by this investigation and wanted to have a nice surprise for you on Monday. Technically, this isn't work for me; it's a diversion. What's your excuse?"
"The rosy walls were closing in on me. Am I interrupting anything?"
"Nah. I've been purifying the corrosive compound all morning and I was about to run a mass spec on it. Have you ever done chromatography?"
"No, but I'm familiar with the process."
"Good. We'll probably be doing that this afternoon. I've got no idea what we'll find, so I figured those methods would be the best for narrowing down what kind of compounds were used."
"And possibly, what kind of organism is the culprit."
"Do you really think an animal could have done it?"
"Well, let's just say I've seen stranger things. If anything, gas chromatography will be the most efficient way to directly analyze anything organic. We won't even need a solvent."
"Yes, but I still want to run mass spec at least on whatever caused those eaten away bits."
"I wouldn't dream of stopping you. Where should I meet you?"
"Take the elevator to the fifth floor. Take a right, and go to the end of the hall. Go through the glass doors on your right. I'm in lab 560. Ring the bell and I'll let you in. Your badge doesn't exactly give you access to the area, but there's hardly anyone in today. If anyone gives you a hard time, have them find me."
"I'll be up shortly."
"See you soon!"
Scully smiled to herself as she handed the receiver back to the guard. Cho was working in one of the high-security labs. She had taken the initiative on the investigation, hadn't she? This was going to be a great deal more pleasant, not to mention educational, than her experiences with forensics labs at home. In her experience, forensics labs, like law enforcement officials, were not all created equal. More often than not, she'd end up banned from the lab for grilling the lab supervisor on little things dismissed as 'natural variation' or 'incidental damage.' She knew, intellectually at least, that not every town had the resources that the Bureau did, she just didn't particularly care to be reminded of the fact when people's lives depended on haste and accuracy. But to be personally involved in the forensics investigation under the watchful eye of the knowledgable Dr. Wei in a state-of-the-art facility; that was a different story.
She also hoped for a fair amount of girl-talk over lunch.
<*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*> <*>
Mulder had a feeling that the bad karma he accrued over the past few days was coming back to haunt him with a vengeance when the phone rang at a particularly dramatic juncture in My Friend Harry. With a groan, he dog- eared his page in My Friend Harry and answered the phone.
"Mulder, it's Skinner. Where the hell have you been? I've been trying to get hold for you for the last three days."
Oops. He knew there was something he'd forgotten to do. Well, he thought with a smirk, he and Scully were as good as on vacation from the Bureau; it's not as if they were required to check in. "Is anything the matter, sir?"
"No, everything's fine. I was just wondering how your case was going."
Mulder immediately knew something was up. Skinner wouldn't call him on a weekend just to make small talk. "Nothing out of the ordinary sir, at least for one of our cases. Scully's gone in today to finish up the forensic investigation with Dr. Wei, and I'm doing some research."
"I thought the Bristbin Institute had its own forensics experts. Why is Scully doing it herself?"
Mulder didn't give voice to his private thought that something was rotten at the Brisbin Institute, and settled for a noncommittal answer. "She's found a kindred spirit and an apt pupil in Dr. Wei. She even volunteered to assist Scully on the autopsy."
"Since when do you two bring in outside help on a top secret investigation?" Skinner's voice had a hard edge.
"Well, sir," he began in a reasonable tone of voice, "Dr. Wei isn't exactly 'outside' help. Her father is Liangru Chang, the man who requested our help, and she does work at the Institute. Besides, she and Scully have a lot in common." You have no idea how much, he added mentally.
"What's the real reason, Mulder?"
"Well, sir, it's not like there's any kind of protocol for this investigation, since we're not officially representing the Bureau. Besides, having an entertainment budget has allowed us to explore our own interests and take the investigation at a more leisurely pace."
"Which is why you're sitting around in the hotel room and your partner is in the lab."
That was a little too close to home. "For your information, sir, I was just on my way out the door to do some research at the British Museum."
"What does the British Museum have to do with your murder investigation?"
Two, four, six, eight, time to quickly obfuscate. "There's an excellent library. I needed to do some research on-" he thought of the pictures from the file-- "spider cults of South America."
"Is that so?" Good. Skinner sounded bored. "Well don't let me keep you."
"Is there anything else you wanted, sir?" After a pregnant pause, Skinner spoke. "You haven't noticed anything strange about the Brisbin Institute, have you?"
"Well, you can get blood pudding in the cafeteria."
"For Christ's sake, I'm being serious, Mulder!"
"So am I. Have you ever seen commercially produced spotted dick?"
"Mulder, just promise me you'll be careful. I don't want you tilting at windmills--"
"Too late for that, sir."
"--but don't cross anyone there. You never know who's standing in the shadows behind them."
The line went dead.
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