TITLE: The Fright House
SUMMARY: When the legendary White House spectres start acting up, who ya gonna call?
THANKS: Nick and Sheri for pointing out everything from typos to inconsistencies and telling me what needed work. And a special thanks to Mish for all of the above, plus a fabulous paragraph here and there, which, in a couple of cases, I've used almost verbatim.
AUTHOR'S NOTES, including some background on "The West Wing," follow the story. Try reading without skipping to the end, just to see if you can tell what in the hell is going on...then let me know how it worked?
It was a dark and stormy morning.
The Beltway was suffering from arterial sclerosis, and more than one commuter would surely experience myocardial infarction before reaching his destination. Doing her best to breathe evenly and keep her own blood pressure from rising, an unusually late Dana Scully trawled along in the middle lane. Rain pounded against the roof so loudly that she barely heard the familiar tweedling of her phone, and nearly had to shout to be heard by the party on the other end.
"Scully," she grunted.
"How close are you to the Hoover?"
"Measuring in time or distance?" she replied acidly.
"Jesus, Scully, I know you've had your coffee this morning - I made a fresh pot before I left."
"You also left knowing I was still asleep, a state I maintained until about 25 minutes ago."
Meow, Mulder mouthed silently, then grinned despite his partner's ill humor. Truth be told, getting to know Dana Scully as he had begun to recently meant learning that Unsullied Scully (as he had once heard her called) had personal traits she would prefer the world didn't know about. Still, he supposed he should take at least some of the blame for her oversleeping, as they spent half of last night finding new and fascinating ways to deprive each other of slumber. And at that memory, Mulder's grin widened.
"I tried to get you into the shower...," Mulder prodded.
Scully sighed, her irritation abating as traffic finally began to loosen a bit. "Be that as it may...were you calling for any other reason than to determine my coordinates?"
Mulder's voice dropped into Barry White territory. "I got a pretty good read on your coordinates last night..."
Scully blushed. /Coordinates./ Yeah...Mulder had sunk her battleship, big time. She struggled back toward the surface.
"...but I wanted to identify your position this morning," he continued, and Scully felt the goofy grin sneaking back onto her face, "because we've been asked to look into something."
Ass kicked vigorously back into reality gear, she muttered, "Crap. What did I miss by sleeping through this morning's briefing with Skinner?"
"Actually, this didn't come from Skinner. It, uh - it came from higher up."
Scully's brow arched involuntarily. When an assignment came from above Skinner's shiny head, things tended to get...well...weird. Today - Halloween - could only mean that the weirdness factor would exceed usual proportions.
"How much higher up? End the suspense, Mulder. Spill."
Mulder was silent for a fraction of a millisecond too long - just long enough for Scully to conclude she wasn't going to like it, whatever it turned out to be.
Amazingly enough, the case *had* been assigned to them, rather than being an interesting item he'd found in the Weekly World News and parlayed into a 302. "The case file so far describes unexplained disturbances at an historical building here in the District." He could practically hear those round blue orbs roll back in their sockets.
"Okay Monster Boy." They were distanced enough now from the time Mulder had given himself the ironic appellation that she could now use it with affection. "Got some seasonal tumult for us, hmm? What is it this time? Goblins in the DC sewers? Vampires attacking virginal Senate pages?" The rich macadamia kona blend was finally working its magic and Scully was on a roll. "Headless horsemen galloping through Georgetown, maybe? Hell, if you really want to get into the spirit, so to speak, why don't we just buy a tent and head down to Burkittsville -"
"Ha ha, Scully," he grimaced, cutting her off mid-rant, "I had to sleep with the lights on for a week after we saw that movie."
Scully sighed again, but this time a smile tipped the corners of her mouth. "Fine," she said, her tone more relaxed as she approached the off-ramp. "Where am I meeting you?"
/I will not think about Maddy today. I will not think about Maddy. Not Maddy. Maddy no./
Josh Lyman leaned against the smooth white pillar, watching the rain sheet down. He awaited his boss' daily emergence from the private rooms at this end of the building so that he might get a moment of the man's time before the press conference began, and, more importantly, before Madeline could twist his thinking around.
An Air Force jet had crashed during a training mission last evening. Two young men and a young woman with promising futures would never have the opportunity to use their training for real. And now, their families and the nation were in need of comfort. His boss would provide that consolation. He was damn good at it, too, in Josh's humble Harvard opinion. But the soothing compassion the man was so good at dispensing could easily be shattered by a few renegade words. Josiah Bartlet's career was a testament to the genius - and the foolhardiness - of expressing whatever his thoughts were, whenever he thought them.
And if Maddy - yes, he was thinking of Maddy, but not in *that* way, so it was okay - if she managed to sow a seed in that all-too-fertile ground this morning...he didn't even want to think about the bitter harvest that would surely follow.
Josh hated to break his own resolutions, especially so early in the day, but okay, he was definitely thinking of Maddy, and starting to feel things he shouldn't be feeling. The perpetual tape loop in his brain was spinning out the memory of last night's dispute, which stretched into the wee hours.
Josh had snapped at her, and unintentionally let personal issues seep into debate. "I'm telling you, it's premature for the incumbent to fire up the campaign engine. We're still over a year out, Maddy. New Hampshire is four months away and there hasn't been even a speculative challenge for the nomination since your good buddy *Lloyd* dumped his delusions of grandeur." /And you./ He added that last part silently, though Madeline surely caught his implication.
"Premature? Then why the hell was I hired?" Maddy retorted, crossing her arms defensively. "Nice dig at Lloyd, by the way. Feel better now?" she asked with an imperious toss of the head.
"Damn it, Maddy, we can't turn this tragedy into a campaign soundbite. Look at the shit it got Feinstein into in California when she ran those revolting Harvey Milk ads!"
Josh's stomach turned, remembering how the candidate's TV commercials exploited the assassination of her fellow San Francisco city official, using that tragedy to tout her grit in a time of crisis.
Unthinkingly, Josh stepped closer to Maddy, leaving just inches between them. The heat radiating out from her body triggered a wash of memories. Memories he thought he'd torched, spreading the ashes over every dive bar in the District.
Not letting herself be intimidated by Josh's posturing, Maddy launched her return strike. "Dianne Feinstein was the first woman to sit on the Senate Judiciary Committee, and she was on the short list last time around, if I recall, so I think she's doing pretty well."
Maddy, too, sensed the familiar energy crackling between them, and she let herself enjoy it for a moment. Until Josh decided to pull rank on her. He was the Deputy Chief of Staff. She was the hired gun - a lowly consultant. Never mind that they had worked side by side to get their boss where he was in the first place.
Armament. Escalation. War. The endless cycle that was so familiar to these walls had been reborn, nearly pressing the combatants into physical confrontation. *Physical* was an increasingly appropriate term to describe Josh's response to Maddy's proximity as they reestablished their positions in an age-old war.
They had argued for an hour-and-a-half over a speech that would top out at ten minutes, neither of them willing to let the matter go. But they were both fully aware that they weren't yelling themselves hoarse over a strategy disagreement.
The electricity was thick between them, and he could practically see green and blue colored streaks of it in the air around them. He realized he was overwrought when the lights in various offices and cubicles seemed to be flicking on and off at random in quick succession. By the time he got the hell out of there, Josh had been so aroused he could hardly drive himself home.
His boss' approach pulled Josh away from last night's clash and back to the matter at hand. Flanked by Toby and Leo, the Commander-in-Chief neared the briefing room; the three men's faces were appropriately solemn. Moving forward to meet them, Josh extended a hand and laid it on his boss' shoulder. "Mr. President," he said, "may I have a word?"
Rolling up to the guard shack, Scully lowered her window and turned off the radio. The rain pelted in sideways at her during a brief exchange with the Treasury agent on duty.
With a practiced snap of the wrist, she produced her identification. "Special Agent Dana Scully." As if she had intoned a secret incantation, the gate swung open immediately, and she was directed to a narrow out-of-the-way entrance.
A young man dressed like a conservative college student and holding a large umbrella greeted her outside the door. "Agent Scully?" He held out one hand in introduction. "My name is Charlie. I'm President Bartlet's personal aide. He asked me to thank you for coming and to apologize that he's not able to greet you himself."
"Thank you. I assumed he'd be occupied. In fact, I was just listening to his address on the radio." She shook her head. "It's tragic." Scully had witnessed the unfathomable, experienced the unthinkable, and lived to try to make sense of it all. But sudden, random misfortune still had the power to mystify her.
Charlie ushered her inside, taking her coat and handing it and his umbrella to a member of the household staff. "Your partner arrived just a few minutes ago," the aide informed her, gesturing toward the far end of the entry hall.
Catching sight of Scully and the aide, Mulder strode over to meet them.
"Agents - if you'll wait here a moment, some of the staff would like to have a word with you," said Charlie. "Excuse me while I let them know you're here."
They nodded, watching for a moment as the young man deftly wove through the knots of bustling staffers.
Turning back to Mulder and his rainslick grin, Scully bit back a smile of her own. Was there anything sexier on the planet than Mulder in full seeker mode? Except, perhaps, Mulder naked and peering up at her from...well, no point in ranking them. Each was equally appealing in his own way. Besides, the west wing of the White House was hardly the place to start running such a mental tally.
Mulder's voice broke into her musings, and all-pro Scully was back in control. "Quite the tempest outside, huh partner?"
She nodded. "There's a hurricane off shore, but it'll probably blow out to sea tonight."
"I see you've managed to squeeze a passion for meteorology into your busy schedule."
Mulder considered his unconscious use of the word 'passion,' wondering if he ought not take another look at Mr. Freud's opinions after all. He let himself sink momentarily into Scully's affectionate gaze, wondering what her response would be if he leaned down to kiss away a few raindrops that clung to her brow. A vision of her knee connecting with his crotch propelled him from wet daydreaming to dry professionalism in an instant.
"No, I just believe in staying informed," she replied evenly. "So. Inform me. What in the hell are we doing at the White House, Mulder?"
Mulder leaned in as if to impart classified secrets. "I was told Chief of Staff Leo McGarry placed a call to the Director early this morning, requesting a particular team of agents who specialized in this sort of thing." Gratifyingly, Scully's brow shot up immediately.
"And how did the President's Chief of Staff know that the FBI even has a team of agents specializing in paranormal phenomena?" she queried.
"Damned if I know...and damned if I care. Scully," he added with a smirk, "we're in America's most famous haunted house on Halloween. All Hallow's Eve. Samhain. It doesn't get any better than this."
As it often did, the child-like zeal in Mulder's eyes threatened to overwhelm her level-headed nature. Stepping back slightly, she held a hand up. "Putting aside that assertion for the moment, something still doesn't add up here. Tales of ghostly ghouls and apparitions have been the stuff of White House legend for years. Why are they calling us in now?"
"I think I can clear up any questions you might have, Agent Scully," said a voice behind her.
The agents turned to face two vaguely familiar-looking men. The middle-aged, bearded one introduced himself as Tobias Ziegler, the President's Communications Director. His colleague's beige suit jacket looked a bit rumpled, and there were dark circles under his eyes. Toby nodded toward the younger man at his left. "This is Chief McGarry's deputy, Josh Lyman."
Lyman held out an arm. "Let's walk," he suggested.
The four clustered together, Ziegler leading the way through a labyrinth of cubicles and tiny offices, making small conversational pleasantries until they reached a thick mahogany door with the deputy's nameplate affixed to it.
Lyman welcomed them into his small workspace. "What it lacks in square footage, it makes up for by being cramped," he joked.
That line usually got him at least a polite grin. He motioned for them to sit while he and Toby leaned back against his desk.
"You may have heard in the media that Mrs. Bartlet is...unusually open to...non-mainstream spiritual practices," began Ziegler.
"Does she really wear a pyramid hat around the house?" Mulder couldn't help but ask. The looks on the men's faces were worth Scully's sharp kick to his shin.
Lyman smiled wanly. "That kind of rumor is exactly why we wanted to speak with you, Agent Mulder."
"I'm sure you can appreciate the need for absolute confidentiality in this situation." Ziegler said.
"Of course," Scully agreed. "But I still don't understand - why the FBI? Why us?"
Lyman and Ziegler exchanged uncomfortable glances, wordlessly debating how much to reveal.
Lyman chewed his lip for a moment before answering. "While Mrs. Bartlet was the First Lady of New Hampshire, she regularly sought spiritual services with a...uh..."
"With an advisor," continued Ziegler. "This advisor was based in a small town not far from Concord, called Comity."
It was Mulder and Scully's turn to share a stressful moment. In the nearly four years since the bizarre case that took them there, neither agent had spoken the name of the town, and each cringed inwardly hearing it now.
Eagerly repressing the feelings of humiliation that arose whenever certain memories of that case crossed her mind, Scully drew the obvious conclusion. "And this astrologer - excuse me, *advisor* - happened to mention to the First Lady some local crimes committed by a pair of high school students. Crimes with supernatural overtones, which were investigated by a specialized division of the FBI."
"It *is* a small world after all," Mulder observed dryly. "But why now?"
Ziegler sighed. "It's a bit unclear, but last night, Mrs. Bartlet reported hearing knocking or rapping sounds, as well as lights going on and off - that sort of thing."
A sharp, unexpected knock on Sam's door at that very moment startled them into a thick, sharp silence. Palpable relief, then chagrin flowed over the four at the completely mortal appearance of Sam Seaborn. If Sam noticed the odd expressions on the faces of the small office's four occupants, he decided to pass on mentioning it.
"Hey Josh, when we were talking before about -" seeing the agents, Sam faltered, "-that thing we were talking about before...Excuse me, I'm sorry," he offered a round of apologies. His glance returned to Mulder.
"Mister, excuse me - *Agent* - Mulder, isn't it?" Sam inquired.
"Mr. Seaborn, nice to see you again," Mulder rose and offered his hand.
"Did I hear you say something about it being a small world?" Scully mumbled, sounding thoroughly confused.
"So!" Mulder said with renewed enthusiasm, addressing Ziegler and Lyman, and pretending he hadn't heard his partner's musing, "if you'll show us where Mrs. Bartlet heard and saw these events, we'll get started."
Toby and Josh nodded in agreement. Josh leaned backward across his desk and picked up the phone to arrange for security to escort the agents as they conducted their investigation.
"Let me buy you a cup of coffee," Josh offered Sam, striding out of his office in search of life-giving caffeine.
Streams of humanity flowed around them as they made their way to the kitchen.
"So, what was with the MIBs in there," asked Sam, dodging a messenger on a mission.
"The...the *what*?" asked Josh distractedly.
His assistant slapped a video cassette into Josh's ribs as they passed her desk. "This morning's conference, have a look," she called after him.
He wasn't in the mood to have a look, but he'd had to duck out early, when the ghostbusters arrived, and so hadn't seen the last few minutes of the President's address.
"MIBs," Sam repeated. "Men in Black."
"One of them was a woman."
"You sure about that?"
"You know, Sam, just because someone doesn't jump your all-American, guileless good-looks the minute she lays eyes on you, doesn't mean she's not a woman." Josh reached for the coffee gratefully and filled his commuter mug, fortifying himself for another long day.
"Oh, I know," nodded Sam in mock-seriousness, and pulled a small carton of juice from the fridge. "Men come on to me all the time."
"That how you know Agent Mulder?"
"No! No...nothing like that. He showed up on one of Leo's Big Cheese days," he explained, referring to the Chief's decision to open up the White House one day a month so that regular people could discuss their concerns with the staff.
The policy was supposedly modeled after Andrew Jackson's practice of keeping an enormous block of cheese in the White House foyer so that hungry people would have a place to get food when they needed it. Usually, it attracted an assortment of nut-jobs and earnest do-gooders who had absolutely no concept of how the government actually worked.
"Must've been...I don't know, July or August last year." Sam chuckled. "Mr. Mulder and a trio of computer geeks practically held me hostage in my office, demanding we inform the American people of the impending colonization of the planet by an alien race."
She had to hand it to her partner. Vanity case or no, he flung himself into it whole-heartedly.
On instruction from Lyman, a member of the maintenance crew accompanied them. He led them to the area of the building where the First Lady had allegedly heard the unexplained knocking and seen the flickering lights.
Mulder tried a couple of doors until he found one that opened. His face lit up the minute they stepped inside the room. "Feel how cold it is in here, Scully?"
"Mulder, this room is filled with historical objects which, I'm sure, need to be kept at a regulated minimum temperature for purposes of preservation," Scully replied in a bored tone.
Her eyes tracked along the ceiling until she spotted the telltale vent, and pointed it out to her partner.
Mulder huffed. "Didn't know they had central air in the 19th century...the architect was way ahead of his time."
Casting a sidelong glance at her partner, Scully replied, "Mulder this is the White House. I'm sure they've made a few improvements over the years. They have heated sidewalks, for god's sake."
"Your tax dollars at work," he smirked.
The pair strolled slowly around the room, Scully, as usual, on the lookout for physical conditions which would show a rational cause for the phenomena. Mulder, predictably, searched for signs of other-worldly interference.
"Oh, Scully..." he sing-songed, wagging her over.
"Find some ectoplasm?" she teased.
Wordlessly, Mulder tapped a finger against the wall thermostat. It read 78 degrees.
Scully frowned. "So...the gauge must be broken." She did her best to ignore this inconsistency, surprised that Mulder seemed to let it slide for the moment.
They continued pacing the room's perimeter, and soon encountered an oil portrait of Mary Todd Lincoln hanging near the fireplace. Taking in the woman's clear blue eyes, creamy skin, delicate bone structure, and bronze-lit hair, both were a bit unsettled by the resemblance.
Each agent was aware of the tragedies the woman had endured. Before burying her husband, she had already survived two sons. One died in infancy and the other at the age of twelve, during Lincoln's administration. The youngest son followed his father and brothers in 1871. Neither Mulder nor Scully was comfortable bringing up these facts, and so they remained silent for sometime, the air around them heavy with unspoken thoughts.
They continued on in opposite directions, Mulder perusing the bookshelves (probably looking for a secret passage way), and Scully peering distractedly out the windows at the unrelenting storm. She hated to admit it, even to herself - and she certainly would never admit this to Mulder - but there *was* a strange vibe in this room.
Scully felt Mulder's presence behind her, though she hadn't heard his approaching footsteps. She turned to say something to him, only to find him across the room, squinting up into the fireplace flue. Confused, she faced the windows again, seeing in the reflection another woman, just her height, standing beside her. Scully swallowed hard and shook her head. Sighing, she realized the pane was merely casting a shadow reflection of herself. Nonetheless, her unease propelled her over to Mulder. "Ziegler said this area of the house is rarely used for public tours or private guests," Mulder spoke up. "How do you explain the and rustling and knocking noises?"
Still a bit discombobulated, Scully paused a moment before offering, "As you said, Mulder, it's an old house. I wouldn't be surprised if there were generations of rodents housed within these very walls."
Unconvinced, but not yet willing to press the issue, he wise cracked, "Let's not turn this into a political thing, okay?"
Scully chuckled appreciatively, feeling she had won the point, for the moment anyway. Moreover, the quick, simple explanation gave her a renewed and much-needed sense control and rationalism.
"And I suppose the mice stay up late reading and need the light?" Mulder posited.
"Actually, I have an idea about that, too." She led Mulder out of the room and walked to the end of the hall, stopping in front of a large door. "I've noticed that each hallway we've seen so far has what looks like an electrical utility closet." She motioned for the maintenance employee to unlock it. Once she had access to the closet, it took Scully less than a minute to find what she was looking for.
Along the wall of the deep, narrow space, there were various panels with switches and clocks and controls.
"Excuse me," she asked to the custodian, gesturing at group of panels with clock faces. "Would these control the room we were just in?"
Slipping his glasses down his nose for a better look, the maintenance man perused the panels. He pointed to the top row. "These here control the whole hallway on this floor."
Scully laid her hand on the wall above the switches. "Mulder - this wall is damp." She turned to the custodian again. "Could water be seeping down from an upper floor?"
He craned his neck up to look at the intersection of the wall and ceiling. "Yup - that's sure what it looks like," he agreed. Scully nodded her thanks.
Now to break the diagnosis. "Mulder, these gadgets are electronic appliance timers. A good number of lights in this building are most likely set according to these timers to go on and off automatically. There is water dripping down onto the panels, probably short-circuiting the clocks, resulting in lights flicking on and off without warning or pattern."
Dejected, but unable to argue with Scully's completely logical, mundane solution, Mulder shuffled out of the closet while the maintenance man went to investigate the source of the seeping moisture. Though Scully's other dismissals of supernatural causes hadn't satisfied him, this very sensible, boring evidence cast a long shadow of doubt over his paranormal conclusions.
The disappointment on her partner's face was terrible. Scully longed to soothe it away, feeling like she had just told a six year old that Santa Claus didn't exist.
Her partner's frustration exploded on a sigh. Scully winced as he dropped his six-foot frame into an antique chair. "This sucks," he declared.
Tilting her head, Scully tried to lighten the mood. "It could have been worse, Mulder." He gazed up at her, waiting for the usual words of support and consolation.
"Oh yeah - how's that?"
She shrugged slightly. "It could have been a Clapper."
A little while later, when Mulder and Scully were debriefing Lyman and Ziegler, they learned there was one more surprise in store for them.
"I'm sorry to have wasted your time, agents," Lyman told them. "I don't suppose anyone will ever be able to absolutely explain away the various spooky goings-on in this place, but that's kind of the attraction, y'know?" Scully smiled politely, filing the strangeness of the morning away into the "do not examine too closely" folder and slamming the drawer shut.
As the agents were about to turn to leave, Lyman added, "Oh - I almost forgot. Mrs. Bartlet asked me to extend an invitation to tonight's All Hallow's gathering in the Residence. Nothing fancy, you understand, but costumes are required."
"That's very kind..." Scully began, shaking her head.
Nodding, Mulder concluded, "We'll be there."
She shot Mulder a /you'll pay for this/ look, which he answered with his best /lighten up/ jack-o-lantern grin.
On the way out to their cars, the agents flipped a coin to decide who would go in search of costumes and who would close out the paperwork back at the Bureau. Scully sighed when the quarter landed heads up in Mulder's palm. She had chosen tails.
Scully was just hitting the print command to send the report to her printer when the phone rang.
"Scully, I think I found something."
She held her breath, waiting for the bad news that was certain to follow. "I'm waiting." She tried to sound disinterested. What would it be? Elvis and Priscilla? Gomez and Morticia? Bert and Ernie?
"How would you feel about a literary theme?"
"Define 'literary,'" she demanded wryly.
"Remember that movie 'Shakespeare in Love?'"
"Oh. Yeah. That was pretty good," Scully answered tonelessly.
Mulder suppressed a chuckle, knowing that she owned the video, the soundtrack and the engagement calendar. "So Will and Viola - that's okay with you? 'Cause, Scully, I've gotta tell you, the other options are a big step down. I'm talking theme park characters with heads the size of minivans."
"Yeah - yeah, Mulder. That sounds fine. Meet me at my place in an hour."
The shop manager held up the costume accessories for Mulder's approval. "Will you be wanting these?" he asked, holding up the tall suede boots.
Mulder curved his fingers around the heel and ran his hand over the curved calf. Eyes glittering, he nodded in the affirmative.
Resplendent in their Renaissance finery, Mulder and Scully gave their names to the Secret Service agent assigned to the party's entryway. Much to Scully's discomfort, the agent gave them an excruciatingly thorough once-over before stepping aside to let them through.
"He's just jealous of your manly mustache," Mulder whispered to his partner, nearly tripping over his voluminous skirt. At least he had eschewed the brocade pumps which came with his outfit in favor of his most comfortable running shoes.
"He can have it," she replied dryly, "it's starting to itch." Scully twitched her lip in a way Mulder found both irresistibly fetching and understandably disturbing. Shoving aside the obvious implications, he decided that later, the two of them would play out their own version of the film's "unwrapping" scene.
"How does Byers stand it?" she mused.
The juxtaposition of those two images coiled Mulder's internal organs. Without casting a glance at Scully, he deadpanned, "That's the sound of my testicles shriveling."
"Is that what that was? All this time, I just thought you carried a bag of sunflower seeds in your pocket."
"Hey CJ, didn't you come as Maid Marian last year?" Mulder sensed the voice was coming from directly behind him and turned to see who had spoken, wondering who in the hell 'CJ' was.
"Oh...Agent Mulder, excuse me..." Sam blushed slightly, fervently hoping the real CJ hadn't witnessed his faux pas, but knowing it would get back to her from anyone who did. Based on his lingering first impression of Mulder, Sam was surprised only that this wacko wasn't in full USS Enterprise regalia.
Scully's attention was drawn to Josiah Bartlet on the far side of the room, near the fireplace, his arms filled with a wriggling goblin toddler. She and Mulder were being granted a glimpse at the man few of their fellow Americans ever got to see.
She was distracted from her musing by the sight of Mrs. Bartlet, dressed in an expensive-looking caftan. The pattern of the fabric looked to be a celestial chart of some sort. She also wore necklaces and bracelets and rings studded with various crystals. Scully thought affectionately of Melissa, remembering how people occasionally assumed that her street clothes were a costume of some kind. The First Lady found them soon after they arrived and - much to Scully's relief - proved to be a perfectly down-to-earth and charming host.
After Mrs. Bartlet had wandered off to greet new arrivals, Mulder and Scully stumbled through the Monster Mash on the makeshift dance floor, and were mostly ignored by the high-powered crowd surrounding them. Scully chuckled at her partner's awkward movements, constricted as he was by a corset and wrapped under yards and yards of satin and brocade. "Gee, Mulder, I would have thought the Monster Mash would somehow be 'our song'."
A slower, country-tinged tune came up next. Debating briefly who should lead, they agreed that the best solution was just to hold each other close and sway gently.
Mulder pressed his rouged cheek into Scully's bristled jaw, and whispered, "This should be our song, Scully." Softly, he sang along on the chorus, "...how someone like you...could love someone like me..."
Warmth began to trickle over her like melted caramel coating an apple. But then she pulled back suddenly, looking into Mulder's eyes. "Isn't this the song from the prom scene in 'Carrie'?"
Mulder grinned guiltily, his brain clearing itself of cobwebs as he searched for a gesture that would soothe her irritation. Mulder placed his lips next to Scully's ear and whispered, "Hey, Scully. You ever kissed a girl?"
A slow, wicked grin stretched itself across her face. "Not one as pretty as you," she teased.
Before he could ponder the significance of that statement, he found himself being hauled away from the clusters of All Hallow's guests.
Maddy was storming down the hall, away from the groups of witches and vampires and dead movie stars, trying to lose Josh in the process. "You won, Josh, isn't that what you wanted?"
Josh grasped her by the shoulder and she turned with huff. "The President hated my idea...Toby hated the idea...Sam hated my idea. So all you boys hung together and proved me wrong. I swear, it's not even a strategy disagreement anymore, it's just a pile of macho bullshit!"
"It is *not* macho bullshit!" Josh insisted.
She stared at him wordlessly, her dark eyes unblinking.
"Okay, maybe it's a little macho bullshit," he conceded.
She exhaled sharply, preparing a counterattack.
"But Jesus," Josh continued before she could engage her mouth, "is it so hard to at least maintain the illusion of hierarchy?"
"Hierarchy?" she chuffed. "I think you mean *control*"
"Okay - control," Josh fired the word back at her. "And what exactly is wrong with that? People rely on me - Josiah Bartlet relies on *me* - to keep things under control so he can go about the business of leading this nation. Control is my middle name and it should be part of my title."
"I told you six weeks ago, the night I took this job, that wasn't how it was going to be," she reminded him quietly in low, unwavering tones.
"Yeah." He half-grinned, their exchange ringing in his ears. /"You answer to Toby and you answer to me!"/ /"Sure...sure, Josh...In your dreams."/
If she only knew.
Josh glanced her way, wondering if she was lost in the same memory. She raised her head and held his gaze like a ten year-old goblin hangs onto his sack of treats. The familiar, jolting energy was in the air.
"Look, we knew this wasn't going to be easy -" Maddy began.
"Easy's overrated," he quipped.
Before the zinger in her head could reach her tongue, the hall lights flickered slightly. Once. Twice. The third time, they died completely, then zoomed back to full brightness.
"The witching hour," Maddy whispered, eyes bright and mischievous.
Josh's grin broadened. "The timer for the lights is broken."
They giggled conspiratorially, the harsh strain between them relieved, but the waves of mutual attraction continuing to crash around them.
"Maddy, I...I've been dying to...to ask you all night," Josh stammered between giggles, "what the hell is your costume, anyway?"
She poked at his ribs with her ebony cigarette holder and stomped her foot. "I'm Dorothy Parker, you idiot! If you'd been paying attention, you would have heard me quoting her..."
"I'm always paying attention, Madeline." Josh's tone turned serious. "Even when it doesn't seem like it, I am." He reached out to grasp one of her small, lovely hands.
She tightened her fingers around Josh's, nodding. "I know," she said softly, offering him a warm grin, "you are."
Meanwhile, Mulder and Scully, creeping quietly through the maze of hallways and secret alcoves in search of the perfect make-out spot, heard muted laughter. A small woman in an old-fashioned looking suit and hat leaned against a wall, talking to a man Mulder recognized as Josh Lyman. Lyman was wearing some sort of animal costume, sans head. Mulder sensed an itchy kind of tension between them, and wondered if they had snuck away from the gathering for the same reason he and Scully had. He noticed that the couple had also captured his partner's attention.
"They seem familiar somehow, don't they?" Mulder whispered next to Scully's ear. He saw her cheeks flush slightly under the brown wiry paste-on beard.
Suddenly uncomfortable, Scully tugged on his sleeve. "Come on, I feel like a voyeur."
"That's my Scully," he murmured, as he pulled her around the corner into another alcove, "never content to watch..."
"Why view when you can do, as I always say," reasoned Scully in a vixen voice that reduced him to pre-Cro Magnon thought processes.
Mulder backed her into a corner, carefully kissing inside the borders of her facial hair. Scully found the hunt and peck method extremely dissatisfying, however, and was forced to yank on Mulder's pearl choker to draw his mouth fully onto hers. Their lips and tongues tangled only briefly before Scully broke the kiss, a sour expression crinkling her nose.
"Your lipstick tastes terrible, Mulder," she complained.
"But the saleslady said my man would go wild for it," Mulder deadpanned, picking a synthetic hair off of his tongue.
"And the - the dress!" Scully sputtered in annoyance. "Maybe I'm just not woman enough to appreciate making out with a man in a hoop skirt."
Mulder bobbed his head up and down, sharing her frustration. "I don't mean to sound like a pig here, but in that outfit -" he waved a hand in the direction of Scully's flattened chest, "- I mean, where am I supposed to put my hands, for chrissakes?"
"It's not like I can feel it, anyway," she grumbled.
"Not to mention the fact I've had two beers and an iced tea since we got here, but haven't peed once." Scully's hand flew up to muffle a giggle. "How am I supposed to work around *this*?" he demanded, grabbing handfuls of skirt and waving them around.
Uh-oh. Something told Mulder that waiting one more minute would be one minute too long. Backing out of the corner and looking around frantically, he took off trotting down the hall.
"I think there's one around here somewhere..."
"Mulder," she called after him.
"Not now, Scully," he pleaded.
"How is it you're so familiar with the layout of the White House?"
Just outside the entrance to the promised land, Mulder paused and looked back up the corridor. "Scully, did you know that while Andrew Jackson was president, he kept a huge block of cheese in the main entry hall?"
Baffled, she could only cock her head, sure she had heard something wrong.
"Remind me to tell you about that when I come back."
While Mulder used the facilities, Scully wandered the hallway, glancing at priceless bric-a-brac and photographs. Unconsciously, she turned a corner and kept strolling. She didn't think she had stepped far very far away from their nook, until she found herself in front of the room they had checked out this morning.
The same unease that had gnawed at he edges of her mind earlier returned. Determined to exterminate any irrational fear before it could take up permanent residence in her psyche, she cracked open the door and let herself in.
Strangely, the room was already lit when she entered. It *was* unusually cold, Scully admitted. She rubbed her arms stiffly to keep warm. Why did she come in?
The thermostat control caught her eye and she walked over to have another look. It was still set at 78, though the temperature in the room couldn't have been more than 65 degrees. As she reached out to inspect it more closely, the same awareness of another's presence seeped into her bones, and the tiny hairs along her spine stood on end.
Facing down her fear, she cast her eyes over to the windows. Darkened now, the reflection of the other woman was more definite than before. Scully shivered anew at the eerie resemblance, even as she compared her own cross-dressed image to that of the slight figure in a black silk Civil War-era gown.
The apparition stared back at Scully's reflection and, after long moments, spoke in a softly lilting southern twang. "I knew when I first glimpsed you this morning that you understood the anguish of losing a child."
Despite her resolve, Scully gasped. /This is not happening. This is *not* happening./
"Cat got your tongue, my dear?" the shade inquired gently.
"N-no," Scully whispered.
"You may take satisfaction in knowing that you correctly identified the sources of Mrs. Bartlet's distress."
/*I* was correct?/ Scully couldn't square that notion while the evidence of Mulder's assumptions stood before her.
"I would never take part in such foolish game playing," the ghost continued, frowning at such undignified behavior, "as some of the other spirits in this house are wont to do...No, you were absolutely right about the temperature control. I saw one of the household staff disable it. And the mice! My goodness, we kept an army of cats while I resided here, for just the very purpose of keeping them under control. Of course, you already know about the difficulty with the lights. It's a shame they replaced all of the gas lamps - their glow is ever so much more flattering."
"B-but...then...why...?" Scully stammered, embarrassed by her inarticulacy.
Mrs. Lincoln smiled sadly. "I feel it my duty to keep the current mistress of the house company. She is also a member of our sisterhood, you see, having miscarried her eldest daughter some thirty years ago."
A lump rose in Scully's throat, and she felt as if she were about to burst into tears and laughter simultaneously. Still unable to form a coherent sentence, she merely breathed a ragged sigh.
The spirit gazed at Scully sympathetically. "But I see I've upset you, and the hour is late, my dear. I bid you good evening...and happy haunting..."
There was a soft ripple of laughter, and suddenly Scully found herself on the other side of the closed door, without having crossed the threshold. She twisted the knob in vain. Glancing down at the lock to see if it might be picked, she found there was none.
The sound of her name echoing down the hallway made her tremble in her tights. Mulder - so graceful as man, so oafish as a woman - was approaching, a puzzled look on his features.
"How did you get all the way down here?" he wanted to know. Scully seemed preoccupied, nervous, and he didn't like the glassy look of her eyes
"I was just...looking around and..." she faltered. Should she tell him about her private audience with a woman who had been dead for more than a century? "I got lost, I guess." Scully shrugged.
They followed the sounds of dwindling revelry back to the party. Looking at her watch, Scully was astonished to discover they'd been gone for nearly two hours. That couldn't be right. She tapped a fingernail on the watch face, but it's battery-powered pulsing belied no defect.
The strains of 'That Ol' Black Magic' became stronger to their ears as they approached the party. Mulder shrugged his shoulders as if to say, why not? - and took Scully into his arms again. She seemed distracted, though, and he decided that if she wasn't game for more dancing, they may as well call it a night. Since the day's tricks had proven disappointing, he was more than ready to go home and nibble on his treat.
They thanked the Bartlets for their hospitality and set out into the yellow moonlight. On the drive home, Mulder's eyes often strayed to his partner, who had grown quiet since their departure. Mulder didn't quite buy her story about getting lost earlier, and couldn't help wondering what had transpired when he went off to take a leak.
The image of Mary Todd Lincoln flashed before him, but not the one from the painting they'd seen this morning. He recalled a picture he'd seen once in a book on 19th-century spiritualism, showing Lincoln's widow at a séance, trying to contact the spirits of her lost boys. Mulder considered saying something about what they had both politely refused to mention this morning. He decided against it, coming up with a blander, safer question to break the silence.
"So did you have a good time tonight, Scully?"
"I am glad we came after all, Mulder. Our costumes were certainly a hit," she replied distantly.
"I already know who I'm going to dress up as next year...if we get invited back," he said.
Her brow rose in response, tacitly begging the question.
Mulder grinned. "CJ Gregg."
Well, he'd gotten a small laugh out of her, anyway. That was something. Aware that a deeper mystery worried at her, he resolved to give her the space to work it out, more confident than he'd ever been that she would come to him with it when she was ready. Perhaps she'd tell him in the morning, on All Saints', in the unnamable protection of daylight.
End notes: First of all, as you surely deduced by now, I decided that Halloween occurred on a weekday this year, instead of on Sunday.
For those of you who haven't seen "The West Wing," it's an ensemble drama centered around key staff at the White House. Here's a list of the pertinent characters:
President Josiah Bartlet
And you should know that Lyman Hampton worked together previously and were once an item, but broke up over the summer. She had been hired to run the campaign of a Senator who was going to challenge Bartlet for the re-nomination (and was romantically involved with him), but he bailed on the run and Maddy; in convenient TV fashion, Josh's boss hired her back.