By Jeannine Ackerson
Oct 20, 1996
Disclaimer: The X-Files and the characters portrayed therein are property of C. Carter, Fox Broadcasting, 1013 Prod., etc. The Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C. and Phantom of the Opera don't belong to me either, and as always: No copyright infringements are intended.
Spoiler warning: References to some episodes up through third season finale.
Relationship: Some UST, and maybe more? (Depends on your point of view, I guess)
Summary: A Halloween party at the Smithsonian takes a bizarre twist, leading Mulder and Scully to do some reminiscing and introspection.
Hi everybody! I, for one, have never been able to turn my back on a challenge, so this is my "MASKS" contribution. This was supposed to be a straight X-File, but somehow took on a life of its own, and became this UST and self-examination tale you see before you. And before any of you start thinking that I didn't follow the rules, the masks are in here, but it takes a little while for them to come into play. But rest assured, they're here, and play an important part. And now, on with our story . . .
October 31; 9 p.m.
"Well Scully, isn't this better than chasing psychic serial killers across Kansas?" Mulder said, sitting back in his uncomfortable steel folding chair. Even if the party was boring, it was better than being on a case on Halloween night.
Their invitation to the Mayor's party had been last minute. Skinner had offered Mulder the chance to go as representatives of the Bureau, and for some crazy reason he'd taken it. Mulder had gotten it in his head that perhaps there was something more to the request than met the eye. Why else would Skinner have bothered to ask "The Spooky Patrol" to go, he had wondered. But nothing had happened to indicate that the evening was anything but a boring exercise in patience.
"Infinitely better Mulder. Except for the fact that this party is about as exciting as watching grass grow," she complained, her foot toeing the plastic tommy-gun that she'd laid on the floor. "Anyhow, whatever possessed you to accept this unofficial 'public profile' assignment anyway? There's no X-File here, and I somehow doubt that the lackluster buffet or the cream of Washington society drew you here."
"It doesn't have anything to do with the party Scully. Although, if pressed, I'd have to say that any excuse to get the two of us dressed up like the most infamous criminal couple of the twentieth century was worth being bored to death," he joked, pointing at their attire.
Scully had almost shot down his suggestion to go as Bonnie and Clyde to the party. Yet, it wasn't too much different than wearing her regular suits at the office. Except for the longer skirt and the gray and white pinstripe material. And she still had a place to hide her service weapon at her back. If he'd suggested Cleopatra however, she would have been unarmed. Plus she would have decked him.
But, if pressed herself, she'd have to say that Mulder wore pinstripe suits better than she did. Sporting the navy double breasted pinstriped suit, and the dark colored fedora low on his forehead, he looked the part. He would have made an excellent looking gangster in the roaring twenties. The only dead giveaway that it was truly Fox Mulder sitting in front of her rather than a ghost of Clyde Barrows was the god awful tie.
One of these days, she thought to herself, I'm going to steal all his ties and replace them with something I can actually stand to look at for more than two minutes at a time.
"Actually, I thought that we could slip off and take a look around. You know, explore all the exhibits in the dark. Should be really fun Scully. Unless you're afraid," he quipped, teasing her with a eerie gesture of his fingers, wiggling them in front of his face as if putting a spell on her.
"Yeah, right. So is there an 'Unexplained Phenomena' exhibit on display Mulder? It would be just like you to accept the invitation because you knew there would be something here to attract your attention," she sighed, rolling her eyes.
"Very funny Scully," he smirked, giving her his lopsided grin. He was glad she'd gone with him. At least the night wasn't a total waste, since she was there to keep him company. And, on top of it all, she gone along with his costume suggestion. It was the best of both worlds... the professional Agent Dana Scully mixed with the far more dangerous side of her that seemed suited in the visage of Bonnie Parker.
Of course, the fact that she was his "accomplice in crime" seemed very apropos. But he still wished he'd gotten up the nerve to suggest Cleopatra and Mark Anthony. The only thing that had stopped him was that he knew she'd have killed him on the spot.
"Well babe, let's blow this pop stand," Mulder drawled with a pseudo Southern accent, tipping his hat at her as he got up.
"God Mulder, you sound like a bad Elvis impersonator," Scully complained, but let him take her hand and pull her up from her seat.
After making a circuit of the room, they slipped out a side door, leading into the main gallery of the institution. Although it was dark, there was enough light to see the displays along the walls, as well as where they were going.
Two rooms and a few hallways later, they hit a split in the pathway, and had to make a decision. Left or right.
"Ok Mulder, since this seems to be your idea of a good time, you chose which way," Scully remarked, one hand on her arched hip as she leaned back to regard him with curiosity.
"Alright, right then," he said, and then impulsively reached over to grab her hand, leading her on into the semi-darkness. "You're right you know. I always wanted to do this when I was a kid."
"Wander around the museum after dark. Alone. When it was quiet. But I have to say I like this better."
"How's this different? It's still dark and quiet."
"Yeah, but I've got you with me, so that makes it more fun. Just like always, skeptic Dana Scully follows 'Spooky' Mulder where no sane person would go," he joked, although she could tell it was only half-hearted.
Before she could say anything, they found themselves in a new room, this one lined with masks of all types. Some were in glass cases mounted on the walls. Some more were propped on metal posts, and others displayed in glass boxes on top of tall pedestals. Struck by the odd significance of finding the room on Halloween, Mulder's hand suddenly went slack, and the partners moved away from each other to explore the room separately.
Someone had left on the spotlights on the displays, so there was more than enough light to see by. Scully wandered past a few African tribal masks, ranging from the southern to mid western regions. Some she noted were made out of wood, while one had been crafted from a home made pottery, and all were brightly painted with odd geometrical designs.
"Hey Mulder, Are you sure your family doesn't have any tribal roots in Africa? It sure would explain your taste in ties," she commented, smiling to herself.
"You know Scully, one of these days, you're going to admit that you actually like one of my ties," he joked back, returning his attention to the Greek play mask depicting Athena. It was in poor shape, but he could just envision what it must have been like when it was new.
"I do like one of your ties. The one I gave you for your birthday last year," she shot back, moving along the wall to stare at a Japanese Kabuki mask, obviously made over a hundred yeas ago by the workmanship. Beside it was a china mask from Beijing, before the Communist takeover. With a sigh, she realized such careful craftsmanship had been lost for the drive for scientific and technological advancement. Just like she'd traded her beliefs in the unknown for the logic of science.
"Besides that one Scully. You bought it, so you're unfairly biased towards it," he replied, taking note of the replica of King Tutankhamen's burial mask. The gold and enamel shone brightly in the light, but that didn't make him shy away from it more than the images it brought to mind. Dark ones of the past which he didn't want to relive. The memories of death pain the likes of which no one should suffer.
Slowly they found themselves at the center of the room at the same time, looking at a series of American masks, ranging in age and design.
The first one that caught their attention was a paper mâché mask, the strips still visible from the back. Without saying anything, their memories simultaneously went back to Eugene Tooms. Those early cases, where so much had been endured, and their relationship really cemented with the mutual concern and respect they felt.
The second was a mask of a shaman, made by the Navajo Indians. Scully had to suppress a shudder as she recalled Mulder's brush with death on the reservation. When her lack of dedication to him had resulted in him going out there alone. Mulder too remembered that time, but instead his thoughts drifted to the images he had seen on the Blessing Way, and the dream he barely remembered. The one where he was speaking to Dana, trying to tell her that he was alive.
The third one in the case was a crudely made clay mask, which seemed recent. But the shape... it looked like the gargoyles that they had found on the other side of the wall in Mostow's apartment.
That had been a dark case, and more than once Mulder had been on the edge of falling over into the abyss of his abilities. Except, unlike all the years he'd spent profiling for the VCS, he'd had Scully at his side. And she'd pulled him back just before he slipped too far over. He knew there were days that he was more than a little grateful for whomever had sent her to debunk the X-Files.
The last ones in the case sat next to each other. One was the white acrylic half mask from Phantom of the Opera. The note beside it mentioned it had been worn by Michael Crawford on Broadway. Beside it rested a porcelain mask from New Orleans Mardi Gras. It had been decorated with red and yellow feathers, and the woman's features were painted in; lips, blush, eye shadow.
And as they looked at them, They suddenly realized they were looking at themselves. Her and him. Caught in the faces of the masks.
The fiery feathers like her passions; the features impassive. It's beauty belying it strength.
The obsessive behavior; the self imposed seclusion. Darkness mixed with tenderness.
And they knew that the other had realized the same.
"I've never understood," Mulder began quietly, turning his eyes to Scully, "how anyone could believe that you were 'The Ice Queen." Because there's just no basis for that. You're the most passionate Agent I know. Probably more than myself. And the strength of your dedication goes beyond professionalism. It's inspired."
"And I've never known who could have saddled you with 'Spooky'," Scully remarked, keeping her voice low. "Because you're anything but. You may make lightning quick connections between clues, but that's what makes you so talented. The intensity with which you pursue the truth with is enviable, and in a sense, your dedication to it has made everyone envious. Including myself on occasion."
At that they both smiled. And in that moment, there stood only two friends, bonded by the likes of which no person should have to go through. And they were stronger for it. Because they had shared it. As long as they were together, they could get through anything. Their strengths and dedication matched, and their destinies seemed to be aligned the same road. So it just made sense to go together.
"So Bonnie, whatta say we get outta here?" he remarked, using his Elvis voice again, and putting out his hand.
"Sure Clyde. But on one condition," she replied, laying her hand in his.
"Don't stop the car when the cops show up. I don't want to end up riddled full of lead like last time."
With a chuckle, they tightened their hold on each other's hands, and headed towards the opening of the exhibit. And as they exited the room, the spotlights started to wink out, except for the one lighting the last two masks in the long glass case.
The Phantom and the Porcelain Lady.
click the X to go to STORIES