Title: Furtive Attraction (or, Bump in the Night)
Author's note: Yes, another Bump in the Night story, somewhat revised from the Scullyfic version. Required elements are the opening paragraph, a mention of Halloween, and an original character named Pogo. For the setting, cast your mind waaay back, to those long ago days -- the first time the X-Files Division was shut down.
She felt as if she'd stumbled into an old horror movie. Dust shrouded the neglected furniture, there was a cobweb veil across every doorway, dark stains of long-ago violence splattered over the walls and tattered drapes. Only the haunting rumble of organ music was missing from the scene and she would have welcomed it to mask the hollow sound of her footsteps. The lonely echo reminded her that she had come to this place alone.
She found herself wishing Mulder was here, that she had given him an explicit invitation on the phone, and not just a vague description of her plight. Not because she was afraid, of course, but because this place was a natural for him. And because... she missed him at times like this.
Though the degree to which she missed him, his actual physical presence, the one connected to the smoky voice she heard during their nightly phone calls, shocked and frightened her a little, as did the unwelcome discovery that she was capable of jealousy -- jealousy of anyone who had a more legitimate claim on his attention. Not just that spit-shined apple polisher with the weak stomach who had the temerity to call himself Mulder's new partner, but even little green men in Puerto Rico and big fat sewer worms in New Jersey were getting her competitive juices flowing.
Too bad they weren't flowing vigorously enough to have dragged him along on this search of the dreary remains of a once fine home, the pride of her mother's neighborhood. And so here she was, alone. Or so she thought, until something brushed against her shoulder.
"Hey, Scully, I got here as fast as I could."
"Jesus, Mulder," she exclaimed, whirling to face him, "unless you want an elbow in the ribs, don't sneak up on me like that."
"Spooked?" He grinned and pointed his flashlight under his chin, casting his features into eerie shadow. "So, tell me Scully, do you believe in the existence of spooks?"
Her answer was automatic. "Has anything I've ever said or done ever made you think I would?"
While he stood there, beaming like a delighted jack-o'-lantern, she pulled her coat protectively around her, wishing she was wearing something other than an old sweat shirt and her new 'easy fit' jeans. "Mulder, why are you here?"
"You need my help, right?" He swung the flashlight into the neglected room and whistled. "For someone who doesn't believe in spooks, Scully, you sure picked the right place to find some."
Defensive, she asked, "When did I say I needed your help?" She turned to follow her flashlight beam into the dingy room, squinting as it flashed across a broken window. She'd have to tell her mother to alert the leasing agency.
"On the phone. You said, 'She's missing, and my mother will be so disappointed if I don't find her,'" Mulder answered. "I took it as a request for help. That is my area of expertise, after all."
"Finding the missing?" Scully almost bit her tongue, but the flippant remark was already floating free in the dusty air.
He smiled gently and said, "No, disappointing parents."
Forestalling one of those long, uncertain silences that had been a regular feature of their recent conversations, Scully smiled back at him. "Thank you for coming to help me, Mulder. I really do need to find her."
"I thought she liked living at your mother's house." His flashlight beam joined with hers, lighting up the room's dim corners.
"She seems to, but you can't blame her for wanting to visit her old home. She did live here for sixty-three years, after all." Scully's flashlight wavered over the dark purple stains on the wall. "Although I guess she was quite a handful by the time Mrs. Curry died last year."
"I still don't understand how this happened. I thought she liked you, too. At least, she didn't leave any marks on your walls or drapes." Mulder brushed past her as they moved out of the east wing hallway, shining his flashlight over the elegant oak staircase and the grimy chandelier hanging in the central foyer.
"She did. She does," Scully protested.
"Are you trying to hide that you're hard to live with, Scully?" His back to her, he continued toward the west wing. "And here I've been thinking you're hard to live without."
The sound of their footsteps across the gritty floor almost obscured his soft words, but she still felt their impact in the wash of heat that prickled across the back of her neck. Several weeks of maintaining contact mainly down a telephone line had sharpened her verbal jousting skills, but they still weren't sharp enough to respond to this. She had never had a working relationship like this one, in which almost every interaction was a mixture of personal innuendo and professional respect. She not only couldn't decide where to draw the line, she was unsure whether a line was what she wanted.
She cleared her throat. "Um, we got along fine when-- while she was staying with me," she stammered, flashing her light up the stairway. "But I guess she saw her chance when I brought her back to my mother's and she just took off when I opened the car door."
"Good thing she had a nearby target," he said, moving further into the shadows. "Otherwise she might be on her way to Venezuela by now."
"She's sixty-four, Mulder," she objected. "I think Venezuela is a little beyond her capabilities at this point."
"Sixty-four isn't dead, Scully. I hope Venezuela isn't beyond me when I'm sixty-four."
"I don't think Mars will be beyond you when you're sixty-four," Scully muttered, far enough behind him that she could risk making the comment out loud.
"What about you?" Mulder asked. His smile as he turned to face her was warning enough that he had heard her. "I mean, when I'm sixty-four. Will you still--"
A loud rhythmic thump, followed by what sounded like the rustling of a dozen hungry rats interrupted his question. Scully spun around to face whatever threat might be heading their way, but the foyer was empty. She took a deep breath. "Nothing like a bump in the night to get your heart started."
"I've been trying to tell you that for a while now."
A long, groaning creak that seemed to come from down the dark, east wing hallway suspended Scully's reply. She took an involuntary step back toward Mulder, and they both pointed their flashlights toward the closed kitchen door.
"You didn't tell me when you called that this place was haunted, Scully." Mulder's elated whisper filled her ear. "This is the best Halloween present anyone's ever given me."
"It is not haunted," she said firmly, almost convincing herself. "And nobody gives presents for Halloween, Mulder."
"Halloween treat then," he murmured over her shoulder. He reached to lower her arm, plunging the hallway back into darkness. "Don't want to alert the ghost that we're here."
Feeling silly, Scully nevertheless stayed still as his warm grasp on her arm communicated his excitement. They held their poses for a breathless minute, then jumped in unison as a regular, rapid clicking sound came toward them out of the gloom.
"This is it!" Mulder tightened his grip. "Why didn't you tell me, Scully? I could've brought a camera." The clicking came closer and closer, punctuated by an oddly congested snuffling noise. Just as suddenly as it started, it ceased.
"Why can't we see anything?" Scully asked, breaking the tense silence. As if on cue, the clicking sound made an abrupt return, though this time it seemed to be moving away.
"You scared it," accused Mulder, releasing her arm.
"I scared it?" Scully was indignant. "Isn't it supposed to work the other way around?"
Mulder huffed in disgust and swept his flashlight down the empty hallway.
"Anyway," she said, "that hardly sounded like a ghost."
"Is that a new area of expertise for you, Scully? Funny, I didn't see you at the Advanced Ectoplasm Management Seminar this year."
"My paper was rejected," she replied. "Too advanced even for them, I guess." She blinked and squinted as Mulder swung his flashlight around to her face.
"Didn't you tell me Mrs. Curry had a dog?" Eagerness colored his voice again.
"Yes, but it died years ago." She pushed the light out of her face. "Mulder, I am not going to let you distract me with a hunt for the spirit of a dead Chihuahua."
"You heard it, Scully," he said. "What else would make that noise?"
"Pogo," she said firmly. "She's hiding and trying to scare us."
"You're giving her a lot of credit, aren't you?"
"She lived in this house for a long time, Mulder. I bet she knows hiding places the builder didn't even know about."
"She may be old, Scully, but she's got the mind of a three year-old. Do you really think--" He paused as Scully shot him a pointed look. "Yeah, I guess this could be the kind of thing she'd enjoy."
That they'd failed to locate the object of their search was the only thing that prevented Scully from celebrating that rarest of phenomena -- an acknowledged win for her in an argument with Mulder. She turned away from him and started back up the hall. "Pogo," she called, peering into another dark room, shining her flashlight floor to ceiling.
"Pogo," echoed Mulder half-heartedly. "I've got to tell you Scully, that is a really lame name."
"It's a pet name, Mulder," she said. "And it's what she answers to. Keep calling."
The rhythm of their steps down the murky hallway faltered as a ghostly scream echoed through the air, followed by a deep, dark chuckle. The floorboards above their heads began to creak.
"Another ghost!" Mulder exclaimed, starting up the stairs.
"Mulder, it's just the wind, and the house shifting!" She shook her head as he disappeared into the thick shadows, then listened as the floorboards protested his rapid steps. "If you think I'm following you up there, you're nuts," she muttered, turning to the back of the house. The way Pogo looked forward to mealtime, she was sure their best chance of finding her was somewhere in the cavernous old kitchen.
"Scully!" Mulder's panicked call came from above. "I found her, get up here!"
Scully turned and raced up the stairs, doubling her speed at the sound of an agonized yelp from Mulder.
"She's gonna kill me, Scully, hurry!"
She sped down the creaking hallway, following the sound of his voice. Skidding on the dirty wooden floor outside the bathroom, her flashlight revealed Mulder, his face contorted with pain. He stood stock still as the large gray and red parrot clinging to his shoulder ruffled his hair with her beak.
"Such a pretty bird," cooed the parrot, nuzzling Mulder's ear.
"Get her off me, Scully," Mulder muttered through clenched teeth, hand hovering over the parrot's neck, "or your mother is going to have an extra course for Thanksgiving dinner this year."
"Pogo," Scully said, in her sternest voice, "come here."
Perfect, she thought. Even a bird can figure out how to get closer to him than I can. She took a cautious step forward, and handed Mulder her keys and flashlight.
The parrot eyed her suspiciously, then snapped, "Bad dog." Using beak and claws, she moved daintily around the back of Mulder's neck, the maneuver accompanied by a distinct whimper from him. She peeked around Mulder's ear, then visibly relaxed as Scully reached toward her with a handful of grapes.
"Good girl," Scully said as she lifted the parrot off Mulder's shoulder, disengaging the sharp claws.
"Good girl," agreed Pogo, with her mouth full.
"Let's go, Mulder." Scully placed the parrot in a protective embrace and walked back down the hallway.
"Scully, I'm wounded," he complained, lighting her way as she hurried down the stairs. "That thing practically took my ear off."
"Mulder, please just get the car," she said, standing by the front door. "I promise I'll look at your wounds later. We've got to get her home before my mother gets back."
Mulder heaved a put-upon sigh, locked the front door, and walked past her down the steps. The gray and red bundle of feathers in Scully's arms shifted suddenly, and she tightened her grip as a large beak poked over her arm.
Pogo gave Mulder's retreating back a mournful look. "Mulder, it's me," she said.
Scully almost dropped the bird.
Her adventure over, Pogo allowed Maggie to settle her into her nest area. She watched through the bars as the three humans stood outside, chattering. She had thoroughly enjoyed her trip back to Mrs. Curry's part of the jungle, and scare-the-humans with Mulder and Scully had been one of the best ever. For novices, these two played the game pretty well.
She peered at Mulder, who was smiling down at Maggie while rubbing his hand lightly across Scully's back. The past week with Scully had been interesting, but to have it capped with the appearance of this particular human male made it truly memorable. Now she knew why Scully spent so much time talking to him on the telephone. Ah, but Mulder had a glorious beak, as glorious as a human could have, despite the fact that it was such a boring color. To be fair, Scully had a pleasing beak also, refined, as it should be, for a female, but nicely prominent. And unlike Mulder, her top feathers were quite colorful, though they were a rather woeful shade of red.
Humans were so odd, it was a wonder there were any of them at all. Males that didn't display, females that did, but in all the wrong colors -- how did they ever understand each other's intentions? Pogo had a theory, refined while she and Mrs. Curry watched MTV, that human males turned color only on special occasions, to call attention to their beauty. She couldn't be sure, but thought perhaps it happened when they were mating. Poor Mulder. By the looks of his top feathers, he hadn't done any mating for some time.
Feeling sleepy after her wonderful game, Pogo pulled herself up to the highest perch in her nest area, and watched the humans move to the door. "Ice, Ice, Baby," she murmured softly to herself, in memory of Mrs. Curry. When the humans turned back to look at her, she added, tunefully, "My love is waiting for me," so Maggie wouldn't feel left out. Maggie's part of the jungle was starting to feel like home, after all, and Pogo wanted her to know she liked it here. Maggie had good grapes.
The humans were still looking back at her, and she realized with a start that she'd forgotten something. She roused herself and cocked her head to catch Mulder's eye. "Goodnight, Mulder," she said softly, in Scully's voice. She let out an indignant squawk as Scully rushed toward her with the nighttime cover.
From under her shroud, she heard Maggie laughing, and let loose another squawk to get everyone's attention back on her, where it belonged. "Good night, Mulder," she repeated into the ensuing silence. She made the appropriate beep, and clicking sound of the telephone hanging up, then added, "Sweet dreams."
Happy Halloween, everyone!
Thanks: To Jill Selby, for a fun jumping off paragraph, and haphazard method and Paula Graves, for insightful and speedy beta. Thanks to marguerite, who has redesigned the sight, there ar no pop-up adds at the place where this story and others can be found: http://www.reocities.com/Area51/Capsule/4554/index.html