Title: Nightwatch
Author: Alysswolf

Summary: Mulder does a favor for an old friend with a problem -- the pirate ship the friend dug up from the ocean floor may have come with a ghost.

Notes: I don't own anyone you recognize. I've just borrowed them for a time.
Written for the Crossover 100 Community. Prompt - drink.

The recessed security lights reflecting off the glass exhibit cases created haloes of light and shadow. As Mulder moved quietly through the various rooms, he felt as if he were walking with the ghosts of the resurrected pieces of the past. It wouldn't take a leap of imagination to transform shadows into ghosts and the soft echoes of his own footsteps into whispers from the grave. As evening turned into night and the last museum employee locked the door behind him, Mulder felt the silence close in around him and waited for what might come out of those shadows.

Dr. Pflum's request had come at a most fortuitous moment. Scully was off visiting her family and Mulder was bored with paperwork. Joshua was an old Oxford buddy and Mulder owed him a favor. The favor appeared simple enough, but Mulder knew Joshua well enough to know that he was worried. An experienced security guard had been found muttering to himself in a closet. Despite the heavy odor of rum pervading the air, the guard's blood alcohol level indicated that he hadn't had a drink. The guard had been unable to give a coherent explanation except to mutter over and over that he didn't know where the rum was or why it was gone. Three nights later, the man's replacement had emptied his revolver into the wall and fled. By this time, rumors that the museum was haunted had grown from a few amused speculations to a generally-held belief by the staff. Even Dr. Pflum's offer to spend the night in the museum to dispel the rumor had no effect on his nervous staff. Mulder got the distinct impression that he was Joshua's last desperate hope of preventing a mass resignation.

Joshua believed the incidents were sabotage carried out by a rival nautical museum. Joshua's museum had won a hotly contested bidding war for artifacts found on the remains of a ship that had been uncovered when the ocean floor was disturbed by a series of violent storms in the Caribbean. Mulder hadn't realized that the museum business was that cut-throat, but it wouldn't surprise him. Despite Scully's belief that he swallowed whole every tale of the supernatural, Mulder usually approached alleged hauntings with an open mind. Over-active imaginations were at the root of most ghost stories, but Mulder knew of half a dozen ghosts that didn't have a conveniently mundane explanation. If this one proved true, then he could up the number to seven out of the one hundred cases he'd looked into. If not, then hopefully the appearance of an armed federal agent would make the saboteurs consider a less aggressive form of competition.

Something lives only as long as the last person who remembers it.

Mulder recalled Albert's words as he walked among the cases holding the artifacts of people whose cultures had faded into myth and legend. The newest exhibit was the culmination of Joshua's efforts to launch a new early-Americas wing in the museum. Joshua had an exact replica of a ship found off the coast of Puerto Rico built inside the museum to house the artifacts, in situ, as he proudly declared. Looking up at the ship bathed in shimmering lights that simulated wind and sea motion, Mulder had to admit that it was an impressive sight. No one had been able to identify the ship, but Mulder knew that Joshua harbored a secret fantasy that it had been a pirate ship.

The reports of the archaeologists who had excavated the ship were refreshingly precise and detailed: an investigator's dream. Looking at the daily reports in the light of the current mystery, Mulder could begin to see a pattern emerging. Odd accidents, easily explained by normal means, stalled the excavations but never completely halted them. To his disappointment, there had been no reports of a legendary curse attached to the wreck. In fact, as far as the researcher attached to the team could determine, there were no records of the shipwreck at all. A mystery shrouded in a mystery -- appealing to the investigator, but frustrating to scientists who wanted answers, not more questions.

The artifacts were typical of many ships in the age of pirates so perhaps Joshua's fantasy wasn't that farfetched. An anchor, three cannons, pewter plates, and a cutlass were carefully placed about the replica. The storms that had buried this ship under several feet of sand had done a remarkable job of preserving it. The keel was intact and formed the backbone of the replica. The great wheel had required extensive repairs, but it too had survived. A carefully restored compass was displayed in a small glass case next to the wheel. To Joshua's disappointment, the sea and the years had rendered it useless, but it was a beautiful example of the navigational tools of the era.

Mulder recalled how sheepish Joshua had looked when he explained that the compass seemed to belong next to the wheel. Whenever it was moved, it somehow always ended up back beside the wheel. Mulder found that intriguing, but not exactly conclusive proof that the exhibit was haunted. Staff had been known to play games before, as Joshua admitted.

Despite his various unpleasant experiences with ships, Mulder felt drawn to this replica. Most of it was a modern reproduction, but enough survived to give the impression that if there was a ghost here, it was the ghost of a ship stranded far from the sea.

In the eerie light, the figurehead looked sternly ahead as if searching for the feel of salt spray and wind again. Ships were chancy things, in Mulder's opinion and legends often spoke of ships as if they were alive. Looking up at this replica cobbled together from the bones of a living ship, he felt the hairs rise on the back of his neck.

This ship had been buried at sea for two hundred years; what ghosts were awakened when men had rudely raised her, he wondered. The large broken-winged woman held aloft a bird as if caught in the act of releasing it into the wind; her eyes looked forward towards the horizon. Mulder felt an odd twinge of sympathy for this poor landlocked sea sprite.

Deciding to tempt fate, Mulder carefully walked up the plank to the main deck and waited. As he stared at the light playing across the white canvas sails, he felt the queasy stirrings of his old nemesis, sea-sickness. The special effects were so well done he could swear the floor was rolling under his feet.

"The sails are wrong, you know. They really should be black."

Mulder jumped at the sound of a very nonchalant voice at his shoulder. Spinning around, his hand half-reaching for his gun, he saw a figure that could have stepped out of the pages of a pirate story, providing the story had been written by someone on a prolonged acid trip. The spokes on the wheel prodded him in the ribs. It had to be his imagination, but he thought he felt the ship dip as if she was running ahead of the wind. The special effects were just a little too special, Mulder decided as his mind struggled to come to terms with the fact that he was face-t0-face with a ghost. He believed, but it was always disconcerting when belief became reality.

The figure gave him a reassuring smile that did little to reassure him. Mulder stepped back and tried to remember that guns were absolutely useless against ghosts. Apparently the second security guard had believed in testing the theory.

The ghost smiled again; a lopsided, odd grin that suggested the mind behind the grin wasn't all there. The figure spread his arms wide as if to indicate that he was perfectly harmless and a genial fellow to boot. Mulder gave the ghost a tentative smile in return.

Mulder was willing to concede that he had a very vivid and often over-active imagination, but this ghost, if ghost he was, was unlike any pirate he had ever imagined. He was a small man with a decidedly foppish air. His dreadlocks were adorned with beads and ribbons and what looked like a long piece of bone hanging from a red head-scarf, his beard was braided and Mulder could swear it looked like he was wearing eye-shadow.

A gay ghost? Mulder squelched that thought. No need to upset the ghost, or give it any suggestions. This ghost was armed, even if he didn't look dangerous. A cutlass and a flintlock, both matches to relics displayed in the exhibit cases, hung off his belt. The belt buckle also had a twin in one of the display cases. Apparently, the archaeologists had raised more than just the decaying wreck of a ship.

The ghost smiled and glided towards the wheel. Mulder hastily moved out of the way. As the ghost stroked the wheel, he stared out over the figurehead with a forlorn expression.

"Where's my horizon?"

"About a thousand miles southeast of here," Mulder found himself replying.

"They took the rum." The ghost walked over to a large chest. With a strangely sad pout, he picked up one of the bottles recovered with the ship and shook it. "Why did they take the rum?" the ghost asked plaintively.

"Do you realize that you're dead?" Mulder asked cautiously. Sometimes the dead needed a gentle nudge to cross over. Somehow, he didn't think this particular ghost was going to be that easy to shoo away. It was obvious to Mulder that there was a powerful bond between this spirit and the ghostly remnants of his ship.

"Well that explains a lot," the ghost agreed nonchalantly. "You don't look like an angel and I thought hell would be . . . well, more hellish." The ghost smiled engagingly. "Do you have any rum?"

Mulder's mind boggled. As a psychologist, Mulder knew perfectly well that minds don't boggle. They might take a brief hiatus from reality, but they don't boggle. However, he really couldn't come up with a better way to describe the feeling that he just took a sharp left turn at Albuquerque while reality hung a right.

Making an effort, Mulder rallied his thoughts. "I might."

Mulder may not have been a Boy Scout, but he liked to be prepared. The first security guard had rambled on about rum, so Mulder thought it prudent to have some handy, as a negotiating point if nothing else.

"Then bring it out. Captain Jack Sparrow at your service," the ghost said with a gracious bow that was only a little unsteady. "You can call me Jack, he said with a conspiratorial grin. "We'll drink some and you can explain why my ship is here instead of out to sea."

Jack leaned closer and raised one finger as if making a point. "You strike me as an intelligent man. Noticed that the moment I saw you. Can you tell me why I'm staring at four walls instead of the horizon?"

Jack looked puzzled, and if Mulder was any judge of facial expressions, aggrieved. No wonder. Explaining the concept of a museum and historical replicas might take more rum than he brought. Would Joshua consider an intoxicated ghost an improvement?

"I'll be right back," Mulder promised as he walked rapidly back to the security office where he had stashed a backpack with six bottles of rum.

"I'll come with you," Jack exclaimed expansively.

He sauntered towards the edge of the ship with a smile and a grand wave of one arm. Mulder turned to tell him to stay put and saw Jack halt abruptly and bounce back a few paces. Jack cocked his head to one side and stared at the plank, as if looking at it sideways would reveal what had hit him. He tried again with no better luck. Mulder heard him muttering to himself about curses.

"That's odd." Jack sounded very put out. With a surprising turn of speed, Jack spun around and attempted to vault over the prow of the ship. Mulder smothered a laugh as Jack ran smack into the invisible barrier in mid-leap and fell back onto the deck.

"Stay there. I'll get the rum." Mulder sprinted for his backpack. Behind him he heard several thumps. He and Jack apparently shared one quality at least -- sheer stubborn refusal to accept no as an answer.

When he got back, Jack had clambered onto the bowsprit and was leaning sideways. Whatever force was keeping him locked on board was holding him up. Jack gave Mulder a wave of his hat and a maniacal grin before sliding back down the bowsprit, past the figurehead, and back onto the prow of the ship.

Mulder strode up the plank, pulling out a bottle of dark rum, and handed it to Jack. After a moment or two of fumbling with the cap, Jack finally latched onto the idea that it screwed into place. With a happy grin he chugged a good third of the rum without stopping.

"That's better." Jack motioned for Mulder to join him. Reluctantly, Mulder took a swig and tried not to cough. The liquor store owner had assured him that his was as close as you could get to the real rum of the wild and wooly days of the Caribbean pirates.

Two hours later, a happily drunk Jack was busy trying to teach Mulder to sing pirate songs. Mulder was just sober enough to know that he was well on his way to getting thoroughly drunk. Jack had resisted all suggestions that he pass on. As near as Mulder could make out, Jack couldn't leave the ship and without the ship, he wouldn't go anywhere. Jack and his ship were conjoined spirits. There was just enough of Jack's "Pearl" in this replica to anchor him to this reality.

"A bargain, then," Mulder offered. He spoke slowly and carefully to avoid slurring his words together. His mind was working fine, but his tongue was definitely three sheets to the wind.

Jack cocked his head to one side and waggled his fingers to indicate that he was listening.

"We'll provide the rum and you'll leave the guards alone." Mulder wondered what Joshua would think about having to justify a rum allowance in his monthly budget? Short of rebuilding The Pearl and setting it adrift in the Caribbean, rum seemed to be the only viable bribe.

"But you'll see about rebuilding The Pearl?" Jack asked anxiously. "There are no horizons in here."

"I'll let you talk to Joshua. He's the man in charge of this museum. Tell him stories about pirates. You never know," Mulder suggested with a wide grin that matched Jack's.

Jack gave a solemn nod as he spat on his hand and offered it to seal the deal. Mulder reached out to shake it and jumped when his hand passed through Jack's. Jack reared back and stared wide-eyed at his hand.

Mulder shook his head to clear it. Jack seemed so real that he'd forgotten he was dealing with a ghost. Later, when he'd sobered up, he would have to ponder how a ghost could consume rum. Mulder knew he hadn't drunk the better part of three quarts of rum so it had to have gone somewhere.

"Deal?" Jack said as he focused on his hand as if by sheer willpower he could make it solid. The hand he offered did seem a bit more substantial so Mulder was willing to try again. This time their hands touched for just an instant. That instant was enough to freeze Mulder's hand to the bone, but it appeared to satisfy Jack.

Once the deal was officially sealed, Mulder carefully recorded the details on a piece of paper snitched from the copier in the main office. Jack nodded approvingly as Mulder explained that a written contract would carry more weight.

Mulder signed, then realized that Jack had no way of holding a pen, much less writing his name. After a few moments pondering the problem, Jack carefully dribbled rum on the paper in the shape of an X. With a wide grin, Jack stood up, bowed unsteadily, and then faded away. Mulder stared at the empty spot where Jack had been and wondered if he had dreamed the entire exchange.

By the time Joshua showed up at 7 the next morning, Mulder had disposed of the empty rum bottles and had achieved a measure of dignified sobriety, helped by a thermos of coffee.

"Well?" Joshua asked anxiously, sniffing the air suspiciously and giving Mulder a strange look.

"The good news is that you have a real pirate ship complete with a real pirate ghost. The bad news is that you're going to need lots and lots of rum." Mulder grinned at Joshua's dumbfounded look and handed him the agreement he'd worked out with Jack.

Joshua stared at the contract and then at Mulder's retreating back. He wasn't sure whether to be excited or dismayed that their ghost was real. As he struggled to read Mulder's handwriting, he thought he could hear Mulder whistling, then very softly saying something in a very off-key, sing-song voice that sounded like "a pirate's life for me" as he left the building.

Joshua stared up at the replica and wondered if he dared stick around this evening to see what, or who, would come out of the shadows.


The end

Please drop by the archive and comment to let the author know if you enjoyed their work!

Return to Bump In The Night