Other Night

It's Halloween! It's Halloween!
The moon is full and bright
And we shall see what can't be seen
On any other night...
      -Jack Prelutsky

Mulder was watching her.

His eyes had been on her since the moment she stepped through the office door. He'd watched as she took off her coat, as she dropped her pen, as she ate her lunch, a lunch that remained only half-eaten, as she had been unwilling to peel and eat an orange under his strange scrutiny.

Now she typed a report, trying to ignore how his gaze catalogued and recorded her, his concentration so intense she felt he must know every word beneath her fingers.

She stopped to delete a mistake, and while she tapped at the backspace key, a pencil ricocheted off the ceiling and into her lap. Looking up, she found Mulder staring at her with heavy eyes. He was leaning back in his chair, a bundle of sharpened pencils in one hand. They resembled tiny yellow arrows, and she watched as he placed them in the quiver of his pencil cup and then leaned back even further, putting his feet up on his desk blotter. She frowned at him.

Lacing his fingers behind his head, he crossed his legs at the ankle, his slacks riding up to expose black socks with smiling orange jack-o'-lanterns on them. She glanced at his socks, then at the straining mechanism of his chair. One day he was going to fall backwards and crack his head open on the concrete floor, spilling his crazy brains all over the place.

"You dropped your pencil," Scully said, picking it up from her lap and putting it in her desk drawer. The desk was ancient, possibly an artifact from the days of J. Edgar himself. Scully had found it shoved in the corner of the janitor's closet and had accidentally inherited the wooden hulk after asking if anyone was using it. Mulder hadn't said a word about it, possibly still wary from the last time she'd brought the subject up.

Only the day before, he'd had a run-in with one of the corners of the new desk, and while he hadn't managed to stifle his vicious curse, he'd said nothing about their cramped working quarters, only limped away to suffer in not-quite silence behind his own desk. She'd been impressed by his resolve. It appeared he was learning.

She gave the top drawer an extra shove, but the warped runners prevented it from closing all the way. The pencil made a hollow noise as it rolled to the back of the empty drawer and hit against the side. Now that she finally had a desk, she'd have to find something to put in it. Turning back to her laptop, Scully tried to remember what she had been doing before Mulder had launched a pencil at her.

"It's Halloween," Mulder announced, as if she could have somehow missed the wave of candy corn and fake spiders that had been steadily taking over every office in the building.

She nodded, unimpressed.

"Are you doing anything tonight, Scully?" Mulder asked her this on occasion, and it always gave her the impression he was measuring his lack of a social life against her own. She was unsure what her answers meant to him, but there was usually no visible change in him upon hearing her reply.

"No," she told him, and for once he seemed cheered by her response.

"Would you have dinner with me?" he asked.

"Dinner?" she repeated, feeling like the word had a different meaning now, one she'd never understood before.

"Yeah, you know, dinner? It comes on a plate--"

She interrupted him before he grew too cocky. "Will you change your socks?"

He stopped abruptly and focused on his exposed socks. "You don't like my socks?"

She smiled at him, suddenly seduced by his weirdness. "I'll have dinner with you, Mulder. Pick you up at seven?"

He straightened, taking his feet down from his desk. He seemed disoriented, like he had just woken up and was unsure of where he was.

"Is that okay, Mulder?" she prodded him.

"Sure, that's fine," he said. He sat for a moment longer, staring at the space behind her, then started shuffling through the papers on his desk.

Scully returned to her report. Mulder was no longer watching her, and for the rest of the day he would only sneak glances at her when he thought she wasn't looking.

A date on Halloween. It seemed appropriate. A night of lies and masks, kids begging at the doors of strangers, free candy, bad surprises, a night where nothing was real and everything would be back to normal in the morning.

The moon had a dark skin of fog over its eye, and the streets were crawling with little nightmares. Her car passed through the night slowly, more like a ship than any automobile. She did not want any of the nightmares to throw themselves across her windshield, to jump in front of her tires.

Halloween was a time to sweep the demons from the township, to scare them with faces usually kept hidden: witch, goblin, spook. A Teletubby waddled by, its disturbingly plump stomach fitted with a patch of grey reflective material. Scully found she could only look at it so long before becoming uncomfortable with its childlike androgyny.

Mulder's apartment building was normally dark and hidden, but now the fake cobwebs strung across the entranceway made it look completely abandoned, the mailboxes dusty and forgotten, the wilted flowerbeds trampled by curious, ghost-hunting teenagers.

The fourth-floor hallway was deserted, but some of the apartments had cardboard decorations on their doors. Mulder's only had a sad dented look from too many people kicking it in and making themselves at home. The brass 42 was dull and unpolished, but at least both numbers were there. Mulder had always been boyishly proud of his apartment number, as if something bigger than fate, Douglas Adams himself perhaps, had decreed all the big answers to be behind his door.

She tapped at apartment 42, knowing nothing but Mulder was there. She would find no answers behind his door. No mysteries of the universe would be solved tonight. Still, she smoothed her black dress and glanced down at her heels to make sure they weren't overly scuffed.

Mulder's door creaked open in a suitably spooky way, and Scully wondered if he'd bought the noise at the hardware store. Something in a little metal can that promised to creak up hinges in a jiffy.

Mulder was wearing a suit, tie, and dress shirt that she'd all seen before, but never in this combination. Dark suit, dark shirt, and a blood maroon tie he was still struggling to knot. He looked like he needed a martini and a haughty smile. Instead he had a somber frown, as if he were on his way to a funeral, not a date, as if this were something she'd talked him into and not his idea at all.

"Scully!" he yelped, face cracking into a nervous smile she'd never seen on him either.

"I won't ask who you were expecting," she said stiffly, pushing past him into his apartment.

"I wasn't--" he started, stopped, started again. "This is weird." It sounded like an apology.

"It was your idea," Scully said, settling down on his couch, crossing her legs, implying all his ideas were weird. There was an empty beer bottle on the coffee table.

Mulder came to stand before her. "But you said yes," he accused.

Scully shrugged. As far as she was concerned, this was all his doing. She was merely an innocent bystander caught up in his whirlwind. But not so innocent perhaps. Curious too, Mulder's favorite deadly sin.

"Still weird though?" Mulder offered, trying to excuse his behavior.

The fog had made her hair curl. She smoothed it down. "Not weird, Mulder. Normal."

Belief and disbelief twisted across his face, wonder and fear. He was looking at her as if he'd never quite allowed himself to believe in her existence until that moment.

She had been speaking in a general way. She'd never tell him how it felt to be going out on a date with him. She wasn't sure herself. "This is what people do, Mulder."

He was still stunned. "Go out with their partners?"

"Sure. Date coworkers. Break up. Call in sick. Get fired. Quit. It happens. Very normal."

"But not normal for us," Mulder insisted.

Scully uncrossed her legs and stood up. One electric inch of air separated them. "You asked me out to dinner, Mulder. It's Halloween. I'm all dressed up."

Mulder tilted his head. "So you're saying we should pretend...?"

"Pretend?" she echoed. She played at innocence well. She reached up to straighten his tie.

"Or are we not pretending?" His hands followed hers; hers slid away.

"I thought we were going out to dinner," she said.

So close to her own face, he looked smug, though it could have been surprise again.

"Trick or treat," he said.

She smiled. "I haven't decided yet."

He blinked, then stuttered. "And, and what are you dressed as, little girl?"

She was already walking toward the door. "Your date."

The look on his face was either fear or elation. On Mulder, it was hard to tell.

The clouds had cleared away, and the moon was full and bright; Scully was too.

She walked Mulder to his door. He was sleepy with dinner and the mousse pie they'd shared, and his gait had slowed. It was late, but the coffee she'd drunk was making her eyes wide and her heart race. She felt electric.

Mulder's smile was slow and lazy, and she stepped closer to him, thinking he deserved a good-night kiss, maybe a soft press of lips to his cheek, something friendly to keep away the goblins.

She smiled back and lifted up onto her tiptoes. He was too tall, and even her heels brought her nowhere near his height. She wobbled a bit, and Mulder steadied her with a hand on her hip.

"Thanks for dinner," she said, poised on her toes, ready to fly off on a cardboard broomstick. This was happiness, she realized. She thought she should somehow memorize this moment, so that next time it would be easier for her to recognize.

Mulder was still smiling so she stretched through the last inches that separated them and brought her smile to his. It was a friendly kiss, a warm good-night kiss, but there was a moment when it almost became something different.

Her hands moved up to anchor herself at his arms, and they stood there together, close to midnight, at the edge of Halloween. Still smiling, she backed away and his fingers trailed across her hip like a cobweb, clingy, delicate. She would feel his touch there for the rest of the night, and in the morning, she would roll over in bed, almost surprised to find he wasn't there with her.