Title: The Witching Hour
Series: TF2
Character/pairing: Scout/Miss Pauling, Scary Hat, Ensemble
Rating: PG-13
Summary: Blutarch and Redmond are buried, Scout's got himself an awesome scary hat, and Halloween is just about over. Obviously, it's a great time to go run for more candies with Miss Pauling. Surely nothing is going to go wrong by stopping in a ghost town on the way.
Author's note: Scout's Haunted hat lines were ridiculously adorable. This was supposed to be finished by Halloween, but Valve time happened to me.

TF2promptfest: Scout/Miss Pauling - he admired strong women

And yes, I couldn't get out of this without making a Mana Fate/Stay Night joke.

For and betaed by Multiversecafe.

.

He'd found the hat in the pits of hell, when he was taking the other old fossil to the cleaners, and he'd kept it as a good luck charm ever since. So, next time somebody told him to go to hell, he'd have a great comeback. Been there, done that, did the fabulous dance number, brought a hat back, came back awesomer than ever.

He was too poor for a pet, and most of his friends were lost to Southie's harshness, or in the war overseas. But Scary Hat, he was a real champ. He floated above, giving all the girls a shot of the goods of his super handsome head, and whenever Scout told a joke, Scary Hat was grinning like he told the best knee-slapper around. He was sure that Scary Hat would be a great wingman. After all, what better opener was there than check out my awesome Scary Hat on my damn handsome head?

In fact, he found Miss Pauling in her office and leaned against the wall, giving her a good long view of his killer body. He'd been training with Soldier in hopes she'd walk by and see him all sweaty and shirtless and suddenly feel the need to drag him off and screw him senseless in the bushes.

As of yet, it hadn't happened, but he kept hoping with every push up.

Usually he'd say you can't improve on perfection but when it came to getting the attention of a girl like that, he could do crunches.

"Heeeyy, Miss P! Did you see my Scary Hat? Scary from how much money it cost, yeah, I'm rich." He said the last part casually, leaning against the wall in the way he was sure was super handsome and sexy and stuff.

She looked up from her papers. "I know. I manage your payments. Not only do I make 25% more than you do annually, I also help manage the Administrator's finances related to the bases. She spends more on her cigarettes and nails than she pays you. If she actually put any effort into it, she could buy out any country—any at all."

The papers rustled. Talk about being shot down. He was frigging deflated like she'd taken a sniper rifle to a big balloon. Full of hot air, and stuff like that. Even Scary Hat was drooping from a shot like that. Still, he had to admire a girl that could dismantle anything anybody said so quickly. She'd completely knocked him speechless, like a beanball to the face. She didn't miss a beat, and she didn't take shit from nobody—except maybe the dragon lady, but everybody in the world was at her whims.

"So, you'll have to try harder than that," she said. She said it more softly, so much that he almost didn't catch it. She didn't say goodbye or anything, just walked on out with her arms holding papers tight to her chest.

Scout hung around, not just because the view was great, but because he seriously had to recoup after being shot down like that. Again.

"Man, I got burned harder than face first into a Pyro. Burned harder than falling in a pit of hell, burned harder than..."

Something was niggling at him. He scratched at his head, running his hands through the cold haze of the scary hat. She hadn't told him to get away, told him to get out of her face, she'd said try harder.

"Hey, Scary Hat, you thinkin' what I'm thinkin'?"

Scary Hat didn't talk too much, but Scout always talked enough for both of them.

"She didn't send me away. You know, I gotta pull it out all the stops."

He scratched at his cheek, hairless and way too soft. "Just don't know how. I mean, she's gotta be one hell of a girl to not be impressed over ithis,/i you know what I mean?"

Scary Hat didn't reply, but he'd like to think he was one-hundred percent on his side.

.

There were little black and orange bats streamers that Scout had bought and put up himself. So what if everyone else was determined to not get into the spirit. He loved holidays, and an excuse for free candies and to dress like monsters was one of the best around–though Christmas was pretty good too, except when he got dragged to Mass by his Aunt Ann Marie.

He was skipping the fake spiders and crap, because last time one of the guys had thought it was an actual spider and about destroyed the base in the process of trying to kill it.

Most of them were in the common room, though he hadn't a clue where Sniper went off to. Maybe he had a girl–if so, then good for him.

Demoman had opened up a bunch of candy from one of those little pumpkin containers and dumped it into his drink, his wolf ears drooping. He'd put on some fake vampire teeth to go with it, going as a Werevampire apparently. Scout read that issue in the last iMann's Man Thrilling Horror Science Fiction Tales./i Somehow, they all ended with Saxton Hale rushing in and batting heads together.

Pyro fed another bit of lumber to the fireplace, and stared as the fire burned higher. Scout hadn't bothered giving him a costume—considering that Pyro pretty much wore his costume twenty-four-seven. Well, and that the freak would burn his balls off for any old reason, so Scout gave him a wide berth.

Plenty of them weren't even in the spirit of the day, so Scout had gone out and given them some costume hats–he couldn't exactly hold them down and rip off their clothes, but hey, he could help out. He even ran out and painted his teammate's clothes lime green when they weren't looking every Saint Patty's Day—he wouldn't want them to get pinched.

The common room door opened, and the prettiest girl around stepped in. She had a fancy witch hat to match her purple one-piece dress, with black lace around the rim and golden cat's eyes peeking out from the middle. She'd made some adjustments to his favorite dress, with a belt of black lace and two buttons down, so that her creamy white neck was exposed down to the collar bone. Her black heels were so sharp that they looked like she could use them to kill a guy with, and edged with more black lace. Candies dropped from his hands as he had to just take a second to take her in. Medic didn't even look up from his newspaper, and Heavy continued to suck on a hard candy, his mouse ears bobbing as he did.

"Hey, black magic woman," Scout said.

She didn't reply. Instead, she gave a stern look around the group. " We've had a record-breaking amount of children asking for treats this your. For the last time, It isn't a secret base if you keep telling everyone where it is," Miss Pauling said.

"Hey, it wasn't me! I don't wanna share my candy with the little bastards!" Scout said.

She had a rolled up newspaper, and more than one of the guys flinched in a knee-jerk response. She'd already seen Soldier hit with the rolled up newspaper three times today, though Scout managed to miss it, somehow. Scout figured it had to be because she liked him best of all.

But it wasn't him she was looking at, it was Soldier. Candy dropped from out of his oversized sleeves. He'd worn the robot costume for the third year in a row.

"Regardless, I need to buy more candy. Someone keeps eating it," she said. "I'm going to someone to ride—"

"Dibsdibsdibsdibs–!"

Scout crossed the distance fast enough to knock Heavy's mouse ears right off his big bald head.

"Dibs! Dibsy dibs!"

"Pick up some whiskey on the way, we grown ups need our candy, too," Demoman said, grinning toothily.

"You've all been having too much candy already," she said.

"Nay, no such thing, lassie," he said.

"I'll do it!" Scout said.

"Make sure to bring your identification. They'll never believe you're twenty-three," Spy said, peering around the corner into the room.

"You wanna say that to my face, asshole?"

"No, I've had to look at your chocolate-covered maw entirely too much today," Spy said.

"Yeah, well, you stink!"

"Don't make me get the get along shirt," Miss Pauling said.

Spy grimaced. He drew back, looking like he might start hissing. He hadn't seen the old asshole react like this since Sniper discovered Jarate, and shared it with him for the first time.

Scout stuck his tongue out. "I totally won last one, asswipe! How you like bein' out of your fancy clothes now, huh? Booom!"

"She's leaving without you," Heavy said. He bent to pick up his mouse ears, and put them back on.

"Aw, shii—"

Scout rushed down the hall. Was that the sound of the car starting? Was she going without him?

Demoman had broken one of the windows in one of his friendly drunken brawls with Soldier, and Scout took the shortcut, hopping down the sloped roof, and leaping off into the night. The fall was hard, but he'd had harder. A little blood was totally worth it to spend some time with Miss Pauling.

He looked around for her, and all he could see was a big fat nothing. He looked at his watch. Had she left him behind? Scout looked up and caught sight of her, lit up in the second floor, still walking.

Oh, yeah. He forgot that not everybody had superhuman speed. He took the time to arrange himself in the most badass, sexiest pose possible, leaning against the door of the car like he owned the place. Scary Hat floated up and around her head. For a second, one of his eyes faded into the mist, almost like he was winking.

"Hey, pally, I saw her first!"

The hat floated over near her. How could his best friend be stiffing him like this? And the worst part was, they were a team, and Scary Hat had way more game than he did. If the hat really tried, Scout would just have to watch as Scary Hat lead Miss Pauling and probably ten other girls on his arm. If he had arms, that was.

"Sorry, I don't date objects, inanimate or not," she said. "Funny enough, that's the second time this week I've had to say that."

She took off her hat and handed it to Scout as she ducked in the door. Scary hat followed Scout, seemingly grinning even wider. But all Scout had eyes for was pretty Miss P, badass queen of the badlands and his heart. Wait, that was cheesy even for him.

As usual, she wasn't talkative to him, but she also wasn't kicking him out of a moving truck with a gun aimed at his dick, or hitting him over the head with a rolled newspaper, so he figured it was a win.

"I drive," she said.

"Fine with me. Y'know, I never learned. Snipes tried to teach me, but it was just itoo frickin' slow/i. I'd rather just run, because in case you didn't notice, I am frickin' fast."

Well, that and he'd destroyed half the base and sent most of his team to Respawn.

"Whoa, you drive nice. You ain't even killed nobody yet," Scout said.

"That's how you're supposed to drive," she said.

"I just drive specially," Scout said.

She said nothing. And in fact, she kept saying nothing, so Scout filled the silence. He was just a great guy like that—never letting any awkward silence ever fall. Especially with her around—he always had plenty to say to her.

So, he'd been to town plenty of times. Hit on some waitresses, gotten drinks thrown in his face. One of them even tossed him out and preformed some hardcore wrestling moves on him, which was sadly the closest he'd ever gotten to getting laid ever.

He didn't hit on Australian girls anymore. Mostly they just mocked his lack of facial hair. He'd once gotten a group to listen when he told tales about old man Hale, but then he'd been seriously blocked when old man Hale appeared and took every last one home with him.

These days, he wasn't out looking for girls much, anymore. Not with Miss Pauling around. Now, it wasn't like he was just hanging up his gloves and giving it up because it was easier with Miss P actually working here. She was the boss level, archenemy final stage of girls, harder and stronger and more awesome than any-frickin'-body ever.

But once a guy had been ignored by Miss Pauling, he couldn't just go back and be ignored by some waitress.

.

She took a side road, out past Teufort to Goldwood. He'd gotten Miss Pauling to tell him the story once, just to listen to her voice. He still remembered a few details here and there, though he'd been distracted by how her mouth moved, the little bit of lipstick on her teeth.

Something about it being an old mining town back in the gravel days. Now there were just empty mines and a lonely little gas station and post office, along with a few stragglers that refused to give up. Badlands folk were good for that, even when their buildings kept getting blown up with stray rockets.

She stopped the car and let it idle for a minute as they both registered the blood smeared on the road. At first he thought it was a deer, but as he leaned out the window, he recognized it for what it really was: a body. Red stained his blue plaid shirt, his arms splayed out and too loose, skin pulled back to reveal muscle and broken, exposed bone. As they got closer, the truck lights revealed that the poor bastard wasn't the only one.

He dug into his bag for his gun. There was a sound in the night, a low hiss. He jerked towards the noise, firing off a round into the dark through the open window.

"Don't waste too much ammo. We can't just restock here," she said in an undertone.

"Yeah, I'm thinkin' we should just get the hell out of dodge," he said.

"Whatever did this isn't going to just let us go," she said.

She shone her flashlight over to a hunk of metal, formerly a car. The door had been ripped clean off, and the guy who had been driving it was terribly twisted, like whatever creature had tried to bend him into a pretzel.

She stepped out into the dark.

"Well, at least we got those shoes of yours, they'd totally stake through a vampire's heart if we see one!"

"That's exactly why I picked them," she said.

A man strode out of the shadows, easily as tall as Heavy, and nearly as big around. His skin was very pale, dark hair slicked back with his face almost completely obscured by his massive dark bloodstained beard. But that wasn't what Scout couldn't tear his gaze away from: It was the eyes.
They were pure red, and slitted like a reptile's. He licked blood from his lips, revealing a mouthful of sharp fangs.

"Welcome to the party," he said, in a voice like flesh being torn off.

"Hey, you son of a bitch. I beat a wizard wizard's ass, I kicked that Horseless asshole right back to hell, I sent Blutarch Mann to back where he came from—I ain't frickin' afraid of you!"

"You should be," he said.

"Abraham Mann," Miss Pauling said fiercely.

"Wait, Mann? ANOTHER one of them? God, does the whole frickin' clan want us dead? Next thing I know, Old man Hale is goin' to be gunnin' for me!"

"Like he already hasn't? He killed you three times last week," she said, turning towards him with a frown.

"That was just horsin' around," Scout said. "It's what us guys do. Heavy rips my head off, Soldier breaks my arms. Guy stuff."

"I see," she said.

"Now, which one first? Do I rip her arms off while you watch?"

He stepped in front of Miss Pauling. "I'm goin' to frickin' kill you and shove your frickin' fingers down your throat—you're frickin' dead—you, you don't dare touch her!"

Abraham chuckled. He stepped back into the shadows with a whisper of Barpo invisium. The very last trace of him disappeared.

"Shit," Scout muttered. He cleared out the empty shells of his Force-a-Nature just to give his hands something to do. He'd taken on big freaking monsters before, but she'd been safe.

He had one chance to do this, and he was going to do it right.

"Do you still have the spellbook from the burial mission?" Miss Pauling said in an undertone.

"Yeah, I packed it." He pulled out the old mag from his bag. He'd taken a pen to the girl on the front and given her a pair of glasses and a dark bun. He'd inked in a bunch of hearts around the Pauling girl, with best girl ever, prettiest girl ever, dynamite gal written in the margins.

She opened up her spellbook. It was far more professional, a heavy-duty book bound in leather and metal. The pages were edged in gold, and fluttered in the wind of her rising power.

"We've got to immobilize him," she said.

"You know how to kill vampires?!" He was sputtering, but somehow, she still surprised him.

"It's all part of the TF Industries training," she said.

Scout let out a low whistle. "Girl, you are too awesome. Wait, there's no such thing, 'cause you broke it. Actually, we broke it together, broke it like I broke the sound barrier, heheheh—!"

He quickly opened up his book, and tried to reach the right page. Abraham appeared before him again, and licked his cracked, bloody lips."Got it. Capatus crepitus!"

His hands tingled, and fire flew from them. The flames missed, burning out on the ground, as Abraham crouched and sprung up in a huge jump. Scout fired off three shots with his pistol, straight into his chest, but the skin hadn't broken for more than a few seconds before it healed right back over, without even a scar to mark it.

Abraham laughed, a deep sound which echoed as his eyes glowed, like he'd been ubered.

"My turn," he said.

He charged straight at Scout, so fast that even Scout felt outmatched, and that didn't happen often.

"You'll be a tasty little snack," Abraham said.

"Little? I don't think so, asshole!" Scout kicked at him, his blows doing nothing as the creep hung on with iron hands.

"Drop him." Her voice was commanding, and damn hot as she lifting up her hand. She glowed in green for a moment, not just her hands, but her whole body as the energy shook through her.

"Imputum fulmenus!"

Lightning shone through the sky, a bolt circling around them and inching closer by the second. Scout used all his might to push himself away from Abraham, whose grip had let go just enough for him the slip out of his iron grasp.

The energy stayed, longer and with more control than any spell he'd done. Abraham shuddered as more and more energy shot through his dead veins.

"Capatus crepitus!"

Her hair came unbound from the force of the flames. He felt the heat paces away, a huge fireball flying straight into the vortex of electricity. Now, he might diddle with a few pages and call magic, but what she did was frigging art. It was controlled and stronger than anything he'd ever done, stronger than some of the stuff even Merasmus had thrown at him.

Out from a holster at her thigh, she pulled out a wooden stake. She pushed past the magic barrier of electricity unharmed and hammered the stake in his chest. As much as Abraham fought, the electric circle held him in.

"Push harder!"

His chest was like beating against a rock. Actually, he'd come across rocks which came apart easier than this. No matter how hard they pushed together past the magic barrier, Abraham's skin would just heal seconds later.

"Another push," she said. And together they pushed hard against the stake. This was supposed to be the moment of triumph, and maybe the moment where she grabbed him and made out with him over the dead body of mister butt-ugly over there, but it just was not happening.

The stake nearly fell out of his body entirely, but she caught it just in time. She was panting now, looking hella pissed. Also they'd technically been holding hands a minute ago, or at least his hand was over hers.

To say that his head was spinning and he was having a hard time focusing would be an understatement.

She bent down and pulled out one of her shoes. She bent back and slammed it into his chest, and the skin began to crack.

"Daaaamn," he said.

She lifted up her hand as she began to speak. The moonlight had caught her hair in a silvery light, and she looked like some avenging goddess of a superhero, enough to make him forget all the other pretty girls who ever existed right with one blow.

"Invokum MONOCULUS!"

The big eye himself formed right out of the air, glowing a hue of bright purple and bigger that Scout remembered. He had major beef with this Abraham guy. Plasma arced out, fired straight towards the electric cage.

Abraham stared up at the carnage around him. Blood trickled from his cracked mouth. His pale skin was turning a sickly gray color by degrees, skin flaking off and falling to the ground like ashes.

"...Do you think you're the only one with magic? Mortis animataris..."

Skeletons clawed up from the ground, shuddering to life. They were way bigger than the ones he was used to back down near hell.

"Oh, crap—"

All she had on her was a slow firing pistol—he knew because he'd been trying to get her to pack more heat for a while, it was just he didn't know the perfect pocket canon for a girl like that. But, fuck it, they were definitely going to a gun show once this was all over.

He pulled out his pistol and took several shots off at the skeletons, but more soon replaced the ones which had fallen. She reached down, pulled off her other shew and threw it. The heel hit a skeleton right between the eye-sockets. The skull cracked and slowly teetered, and with it the whole line behind it fell down and crumbled.

"Hot dog, that was frickin' awesome!"

"I liked those shoes," Miss Pauling said with a sigh.

"I'll buy you enough of them that you can become a shoe-throwing ninja assassin," Scout said.

Out from a crack in the ground came even more of the yellowish skeletons. He fired, only to hear the click of an empty chamber.

They took off at a run together, the skeletons dogging their every step as the meteors kept coming down like she'd got the next apocalypse on sale for buy one get one free. Abraham had to be a goner by now, but he skeletons weren't all wiped out. Even as many fell from the attack of Monoculus, far more slipped away and stalked after them, giggling maniacally all the way.

"If you ain't out of spells, you better be throwin' them!"

"I don't have much mana left," she said.

"What-a? Can't you just reload?" Scout said.

"I-It's complicated, and I don't have time to do the, ah, necessary requirements to replenish it. To be honest, I haven't had the chance to do that in a while—" She was blushing furiously, and for once her composure was blown to pieces.

It just had to be something juicy.

"I could probably help you with that," Scout said. If he wasn't on the run from evil skeletons from hell, he would've totally made a seductive pose, giving her a great look at his body.

As it was, he made do was a suggestive smile to get his point across.

"This isn't the time—besides, you've made it very clear that you would...help me, ah, with that predicament."

"My offer always stands, I'd be happy to help you mann up with that man-a," Scout said with a chuckle. Now that was a quality line.

She turned one the skeletons, and flipped open to one certain page. The wind picked up as she began to speak, blowing her messy hair into her face.

"Seismela tremoro!"

The ground shook as the impact neared. Meteors fell from the sky, decimating the buildings and skeletons around them. These were some big-ass meteors. Scout made a mental note to never, ever do her wrong, because she'd burn his frigging balls off and hide the body in a shallow grave.

Several bags of candy flew out from one of the buildings as it exploded. They weren't even seared or worse for the wear. Scout skidded to a halt and picked them up, shoving them into his bag.

"There's no time—"

"Hey, I nearly got my ass bit off. I am goin' to go home with candy for the men, and a damn fine story!"

And a damn fine girl, of course, but that was a given.

One last skeleton, the biggest and the ugliest of the bunch reached out. It was for his head the bony hands reached, his big, gorgeous damn head. And he would've gotten it, too, if his hat hadn't floated right up right then.

"No, Scary Hat!" Scout cried out.

The Skeleton picked it up between bony fingers and pulled. All he could do was let out a long shriek of Nooo! as the hat dissipated into nothing.

He wasn't gonna lose it in front of her. He wiped at his face with the back of his hand, not caring how rough the bandages were against his skin. "I got smoke in my eyes, is all," he said. His voice was telling all, about what a big frigging crybaby he was, but for once, he hoped she believed his bullshit stories.

"I-I'll avenge you," he said, low and fierce as he pulled out his scattergun.

"Hey, Miss P, you go on. I'll get the rest of them. And if not, then you'll be long gone and I'll meet you there."

Just as he said that, the biggest skeleton yet, the king of skeletons stomped on in, cutting off her exit.

So much for that. Even if he went down, he wasn't going without a fight. He felt the wind in his hair, and it felt like a blow to the chest. There was no whistling sound as it went through Scary Hat's grin.

Her hat fell into her face. Just enough that she didn't see the skeletal claw swiping her way. He grabbed at her wrist, fast enough to jerk her away. Her hat fell to the ground, trampled to pieces.

He pulled her into the one remaining building, the local store, and slammed the rusty door behind them. There would be the defense of a counter, and all towns around here had ammo. It was like, Badlands law, or something.

"Catty Hat..." She said.

"–Catty Hat? You named yours too?"

"Well, it seems appropriate," Miss Pauling said. "Besides, she reminds me of my cats, Bratty, Yum Yum and Sweets."

"You named your cats that—That's friggin' adorable. That's—" Scout said.

Scary Hat would've loved that. He bit his lip, because otherwise, he'd be bawling.

"I'm sorry about your hat," she said. She reached out, and he felt her hand light on his shoulder. He couldn't even be truly happy about her touching him, not without Scary Hat to tell it to.

"He was my best friend," Scout said. He was glad that she hadn't said the old you'll get another one.

Even if he found Scary Hat's brother, it wouldn't be the same. He'd still remember watching his best friend being ripped to smoke.

"Sorry about your hat."

"Thank you," she replied.

He pulled down as much as he could from the shelves into his bag, from Beef jerky, ammo, some more sweets to a couple other things that caught his eye. It wasn't like any of these poor bastards would be using it anymore.

Outside, the last skeleton beat on the door.

He threw her his newly reloaded pistol.

"I'd tell you not to hit me, but there's no chance of you ever hittin' me, I'm just too fast," Scout said.

But it was hollow, without the grinning Scary Hat above him. He forced a smile for her sake. Here was his last stand. Scattergun at ready, he burst out and strafed the skeleton, firing up.

Rib bones scattered. He heard more gun fire from inside the building. The Skeleton looked that way, just starting to move towards the door. Scout struck with several shots, hitting bone each time.

"Hey, ugly! I'm glad I didn't just eat, 'cause I'd want to be throwin' it up lookin' at your face!"

Purple smoke rose. Green smoke rose with it. Swirling together, they covered the skeleton in unearthly light. The skeleton began to shudder, and the bones rained down, back to nothingness.

He saw the pieces of Miss Pauling's hat, and picked them up. Maybe it could be sewn back together—his ma was good at stuff like that. But the hat began to glow and float away, turning to purple smoke. Slowly, it became less and less visible, until it was more a faint smokey outline than a hat. Her hat began float above her head, the golden eyes blinking. It made a faint mewing sound.

"Well, I'll be," Miss Pauling said.

And Scary Hat, he sidled right up, like he hadn't died or nothing. He floated in a circle around Catty Hat. The ghost winking was going on so strong that he looked like he was having a sexy seizure.

Of course he came back from the dead just to hit on girls. Er, hats. Scout had never felt prouder of his pal.

"Whoa, I didn't know you had it in you, Scary Hat. Don't blame you, those. She's awful cute—you know, for a hat."

"Once we leave the base, they won't be strong enough to stay. They'll disappear," Miss Pauling said.

"What? No! I just got him back, and now I gotta say goodbye all over again?"

The silvery moon was steadily getting covered up by clouds, and the hats were beginning to flicker. He couldn't punch or beat or shoot this problem away.

"I'm sorry, pal. You were my best friend. I-I'll always remember you!"

Miss Pauling pulled out her spellbook and quickly flipped through the pages. She held her finger on a point, and began to say these Latin words, way more carefully than he ever could. She really made this magic thing look like a fine art. A purple haze formed about her fingers. Light shone up beyond her clear, strong voice as she really commanded that spell like she was the head magic honcho here. By comparison, he thought Merasmus looked like some dime store wannabe doing tricks with a fake coin. A wind rose up, blown back by the force of the magic, her face lit in the glow.

She released the force, and it hit both the hats, trapping them in this purple orb of light that got brighter and brighter until it burst out into nothing. Scary Hat flickered above him a moment, before a top hat and a witch's hat fell to the ground. The material still shimmered. She began to speak again, and with the purple haze that she called up, she blew the smokey magic over them until they shone.

Scary Hat and Catty hat floated back up. Scary Hat did a little spin, because he had all the moves. They had that in common. Really, they were so alike, people would probably mistake them for brothers if he didn't set them straight.

"There...I contained them to the hats. They'll only be able to be strong enough to come out during a full moon, but you'll be able to see your hat again after tonight."

"You—you did that for me? Really? But, your mana was low–"

She nodded. "I used what little I had left, and it was enough." He thought he noticed a faint slowness, a stoop in her shoulders.

"Wait–You didn't overwork yourself or nothin', did you?"

"Well, vampire hunting is pretty hard on the back. But with some aspirin and a hot bath, I'll be as good as new," Miss Pauling said.

"Miss Pauling, you shouldn't be wearin' a Scary Hat, you should be wearin' a crown–!"

She smiled. Just a little, but he could barely believe his eyes. No looking away, no soft sigh and talking on about data and whatever else. She was paying attention to him, happy because of him.

"That one's much better, for a cheap line used simply to get into a girl's pants, anyways."

"—I ain't never used that one on anyone else. Can't see myself ever sayin' it to anyone but you, cause no one else is gonna deserve it like you do."

"...For the record, I'm far more receptive to advances not made in front of coworkers and cameras, all quite willing to put both of us in the firing line."

Was he even hearing her right?

"–Wait, wait wait, so, you're sayin' you'll go out with me?"

"What do you think this is?" she said.

"Wait, this is a date? Seriously?"

She nodded. "I suppose you could call it a trial run. You see, If you want to date me, this is what you're going to get. Me ignoring you most of the day, and sneaking out for a couple hours, or taking you along on missions. You don't get to take me home, or tell your teammates about me. You'll have to be as secretive and stealthy as Spy. You have to give up the other girls. I'm a jealous person, and I won't tolerate that in the least. If you aren't up to it, then you can stop flirting with me immediately."

He'd be lying if it didn't sound hard, but he liked to think of it as a challenge. She turned to him, looking so damn confident and gorgeous.

"So, are you going to step up to the plate?"

Oh, damn. She was using baseball metaphors. Just when he thought he couldn't possibly like her anymore than he already did, she had to bring baseball into this.

"I get off at between two and four AM every day. During the night hours, the cameras are easier to manipulate and more employees are asleep."

"—We're on a date! We're a thing, we're really a thing!"

"...I didn't say we were a couple. I said I'd let you take a try. You never trust anything that comes easily. If I'd said yes back then, you would've made me a notch in your belt and moved on to whatever other pretty thing in a skirt that walked by."

And there it was, all laid bare before him. His ma said he was a roamer like his father, which was about the only time she ever had anything good to say about him.

"...You know me better than I know myself," he said.

"Well, it's what I'm paid to do," she said.

"Yeah, but you know me more special than the other guys," Scout said. She didn't reply to this.

"Right? Right?"

"You wouldn't be here if I didn't," Miss Pauling said.

Not that he'd call anything about her easily won; he'd been trying years just to get a glance his way. His head was still reeling. Miss Pauling really did like him! But that meant no more going on the town and flirting with girls. No more carousing or no more stud king Scout. He was really going to have to get his shit together if he wanted to keep a girl like Miss Pauling.

No more lonely nights with every girl in the town rejecting him, calling him a skinny hairless loser. Even if he had to sleep alone in his own room because she had some big stuff, he'd still get to see her and smell her and know that someone out there was waiting for him, wanting him.

He could deal with that compromise.

"You really were waitin' for me all those years?" he said with a big grin.

"Not precisely. Let's just say I remembered it quite clearly, and there were some very cold nights I considered taking you up on your offers. But my work, your skirtchasing nature..." She trailed off and shrugged. "I never forgot, and lately, you've begun to change."

"You waited for me," he said again. "Yeah, I can take it. I mean, I can't even look at other girls now–you totally ruined me!" he said.

"We'll see about that," she said.

They sat on the edge, the shifting ghosts floating beneath them. Scout unpeeled the candy off of a peanut butter cup.

"I saved these for you, you always liked them best," he said.

She slipped it in her mouth, her eyes closed with pleasure as she sucked.

Miss Pauling leaned in and he could taste chocolate on her mouth, taste her.

Scary Hat was chasing around Catty Hat over the ghost town.

"Poor guy can't catch a break," Scout said.

"I think she likes being chased," Miss Pauling said.

And Miss P was right, just as usual. Catty Hat did a little spin, with Scary Hat floating after her, ghost winking so hard it was like he was on Bonk. As they hovered above them, Scout could hear that Catty Hat was purring. Scout gave Scary Hat a thumbs up. He had to admit, the guy had game.

She leaned against him, her glasses going sideways as she rested her head against his arm. He had to catch his breath for a second from the sheer amazement, the feeling of a girl leaning against him. Even more, a Miss Pauling leaning against him.

He put his arm over her shoulder–and he didn't even have to fake a yawn to do so. And she didn't punch him in the arm to get rid of him, either. The moon was high in the sky, sort of like that one Italian song, and best of all, no evil creepy monsters trying to kill them.

.

On the way back to the car, he rushed ahead, just to double back and catch her, kiss her quick only to pull back and kiss her again. He still could hardly believe this was all real. Her chest pushed up against him, hands about his waist as she aggressively kissed him back. Everything about her was soft and great smelling and tiny and—he honestly was having an overload here, but he loved every minute.

"Once we get back, you'll have to dial it down," she said.

"The guys aren't goin' to tell," Scout said.

"Three can keep a secret if two are dead," she said.

"So...you're sayin' the next date is goin' to be buryin' the guys?" Scout said. He looked back at her with a worried expression.

"I'd rather it not come to that," she said. She came closer and cupped his chin. She was looking at his mouth, her thumb running down the line of his jaw.

"Which is why we have to be quiet about this. Then no one has to die, least of all us."

"...Can I at least tell my ma?" he said. "You know I hate keepin' too many secrets from her—besides, she's goin' to be pissed when at like when I tell her we got engaged and she finds out I never told her I was even datin' you."

"That's a bit of a ways off," she said dryly.

"–It kind of slipped out," he said sheepishly.

"You really are serious about me," she said.

"Don't get any more serious than this," Scout said.

"All right, you can tell your mother—but not over the phone. And I better not be getting baby socks in the mail with suggestions about grandchildren. At least, not yet," she said.

"I'd say deal, but this is my ma we're talkin' about, she's probably already got the weddin' planned," Scout said.

That'd slipped out again.

"Don't tell me she's just like you? If so, then I'm doomed," she said wryly.

"Sorry, babe," he said with a grin. "She talks even more than I do."

.

The engine rumbled down as they came to a stop outside the base. In the reflection of the big street lamp in the base, Miss Pauling began to fix her lipstick.

Scout stepped out. Swaggered, really. It was the kind of walk that showed he the frigging king of the world—or at least, the king of Miss Pauling's world, and that was the only one he cared about right now.

He smelled cigarette smoke, and out from the moonlit shadows, he saw Spy toss away his cigarette.

"You look like the cat who's gotten the cream," Spy said.

"Just smilin' 'cause I'm so awesome. Sometimes I just sit back and think who's goin' to save the day today? And I think Oh, yeah, that'd be me," Scout said.

Spy leaned in, and ran his gloved hand along the line of Scout's neck. "You have lipstick on your collar."

"Yeah, it's a free country. I can fuck whoever I want, got it?"

"It's Plum," Spy said. He circled about Scout, studying him closely. "Precisely the color she wears."

"Yeah," Scout said, with a smile at the memory. He jerked out of his reverie, with a sudden memory of how secret

"I mean, yeah. It'd be great if she was kissin' on me, but she wasn't. Women, you know. Ain't never know what they're thinkin'–"

"You smell like her perfume," Spy said. "Be careful of a lady's lipstick and perfume. It's revealed many affairs. Even more are revealed by a smile, though that's for her to remember. You'll probably scream it from the hills."

"I don't have a frickin' clue what you mean, I mean, really—Miss P and me, she's been turnin' me down forever, ain't like she suddenly decided to change tonight. Tonight when we certainly weren't fightin' skeletons and vampires," Scout said. He laughed too loud, not convincing at all, but he couldn't stop babbling.

Spy pulled out a handkerchief from his pocket and began to dab at the lipstick mark on his shirt.

"There," Spy said.

"Oh, that, we were, uh, I caught her, and—"

"Hush. I do not care, but others do, so you should be more careful." Out of his case he pulled out a bottle of something and sprayed it straight on Scout's shirt, filling him with that fancypants Frenchy perfume.

It only took a second to realize that this was the new perfume he'd been smelling on his ma.

"You—"

Spy stepped out, and them Scout realized the asshole was humming the James Bond theme as he faded into invisibility.

"What a douche," Scout muttered under his breath. "Great, now I smell like a French whore."

"Did ye bring the whiskey?" Demoman called from the other room. Somewhere along the way, he'd also gotten a pair of cat ears to go with his werevampire getup.

"Sorry, too busy fighting abominations from beyond the grave," Miss Pauling said.

"Ach, them. Always ruinin' our holidays," Demoman. "Can't get through one reunion or Smissmass without them. Good to know you sent them back to the hell where they came from," Demoman said. He raised his glass to her, and every man did.

Scout rushed in. He didn't have a cup to raise, but he tipped his hat to her.

"Scout got more candy, though," she said.

"God bless ye dandy little sweet tooth, laddie!"

Scout poured out the candy, and even catty hat fell over on the sweets. Several Reeses pieces floated up under the pink haze of Catty hat and disappeared.

"It's okay, I got this. I got extra," Scout said.

"Merry frickin' Abomination-ween," Scout said. He tossed up handfuls of candies, and the men reached out in the.

"I have paperwork to do. So much, in fact, that I don't think I'll get off until at least three AM," Miss Pauling said.

"Sleep well, Miss Pauling!" Scout called. She nodded towards him, with just the hint of a smile.

"To caffeine and pretty girls," Scout said.

He made it rain candy again, as the rest of the guys scooped it up in their scarred and calloused hands. Even if he had to fight old guys, floating eyes, skeletons or Merasmus again, it was probably his favorite holiday of all.