DISCLAIMER: "The X Files" and all the characters etc. associated with it are the property of 20th Century Fox and 1013 Productions. I am not making any profit from this story, and no infringement is intended.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: For Danielle Culverson and Gerry Hill. I know it's not "Prelude II", but I am working on it, honest!
NOTES: When I see fanfic challenges posted, I always like the idea of them, but never actually do anything about it. So I thought I'd have a go for a change. I apologise in advance for the fact that the so-called 'plot' is sappy and fairly obvious.
Comments would be welcome, as always.
"Are you sure this is the only one you have?" Mulder asked dubiously.
"'Fraid so," the shopkeeper apologised, "unless you prefer one of these - " He waved a hand toward a cut-down crate in the corner, and Mulder shuddered at the sight of a heap of snoring orange fluff.
"No - thanks, but no. We've been down that route already, and I don't think I could handle another one." He peered inside the more modest cardboard box on the counter, and had to grin in spite of himself. "The timing makes it kind of symbolic, though. I hope she won't take it the wrong way."
The shopkeeper snorted. "Man, if you're that worried about it, why not play safe and buy her chocolates?"
Mulder almost shuddered again. He'd tried that tactic. The drycleaners said his trenchcoat would never be the same again, do what they would. The one thing that you could safely say about Scully was that she was never predictable - any other woman, in Mulder's experience, would have accepted chocolates and flowers as an apology, but the flowers had caused most of the problem with his trenchcoat.
At least this way, violence was unlikely. Or, Mulder revised the statement gloomily, violence against the peace-offering itself was unlikely. His own skin was probably still under threat.
He touched the side of the box nervously. This was definitely taking a chance, but he couldn't stand the itchy atmosphere, and look of dignified injury on his partner's face, any more. It was Hallowe'en and he knew she would be in, waiting for trick-or-treaters, because he'd seen the big bag of candy on her desk. Hopefully he could take her by surprise and call a truce at least.
Gathering up the vast quantity of goods that seemed to go hand in hand with his gift, he trudged out to his car and wedged the box securely on the back seat. He stopped off quickly at his own apartment to change then, deciding to carpe the diem, he went over to Scully's.
There was no light in her window, although he could see a flickering pumpkin lantern in one window. Well, that was promising. Mulder carefully rescued the box from the back seat, eyed the other materials, and decided to leave them for now, and went to knock on her door.
Mulder had developed a sixth sense to Scully's presence some time during the early days of their partnership, and it only took a couple of unanswered knocks for him to get the idea that she wasn't in.
He debated using the spare key she had given him to let himself in, but something told him that in her present mood this would be a bad idea. So in the end, he decided to sit down and wait. Surely she couldn't be long ....
He must have nodded off, for he was suddenly jolted into awareness by the sound of two sets of footsteps and laughter. Mulder blinked woozily, and looked around him. Where ...? Oh yeah .... He looked up and his eyes met Scully's. She was peering down at him in astonishment.
And over her shoulder, also peering down at him curiously, was some tall, blond, muscular guy Mulder didn't know.
It was always a bad idea, Mulder reflected, to fall asleep on stakeout; the situation invariably ended up out of your control, leading to one or two nasty surprises. This one, however, was nastier than most. He scrambled to his feet, feeling scruffy and insignificant next to the other man's superior height. Jeez! This guy had to be a basketball player - he was six foot six if he was an inch. Scully looked tiny beside him.
She didn't look as though it bothered her. Rather the contrary. Mulder began to feel like a third wheel, and nothing had even been said yet.
Scully dealt with that deficit in short order. "Mulder, what are you doing here?" She didn't sound particularly pleased to see him.
Well, *that* was nothing new.
"I - uh - " Mulder ran his hand through his hair, in the hopes that it would sort out his wits at the same time. "There was something I wanted to talk to you about, and I thought maybe you'd only gone out briefly, so I waited ...." His voice trailed off.
"It's nearly midnight," Scully pointed out dryly.
Mulder nearly fell through the floor. He couldn't have been asleep that long - could he? He checked his watch. He could. Then he registered the long slinky blue dress Scully was wearing under her coat and the tux Mr. Muscles was modelling. Something inside Mulder knotted up.
Whatever else this was, it was decidedly not a good moment to present Scully with a token on his affections, be they never so platonic. Mulder tried to gather the tattered rags of his dignity and make restrained exit.
"It doesn't matter. I'll ... call you or something." He snatched up the box, and headed for the nearest exit, feeling rather bruised and unexpectedly hurt.
By the time he got home, it was past midnight. Any trick-or- treaters who might have been prowling his apartment block had long since quit, and he was left with a meagre collection of sherbet dips for company and ... a medium sized box, the contents of which was demanding attention in a rather plaintive voice.
Mulder sighed, opened the flaps, and lifted out a small handful of black fur with enquiring green eyes. "Some lucky charm you are," he told it, and fished around in one of the bags of cat paraphernalia with his free hand until he found a tin of kitten food.
"Still," he conceded, watching the little cat eat daintily from a saucer on his kitchen table, "I guess you're only small." He stroked the tiny wiry body gently, and the kitten expressed appreciation.
Mulder waited until the saucer was licked clean, then picked the kitten up and carried it through to his living room. "Fancy the late-night monster double bill on cable?" he asked it, with half-hearted cheer. He flicked on the TV to reveal Jeff Goldblum in the process of turning into a fly, and lay back on his couch with his new lodger curled up in his lap.
Ten minutes later, there was an impatient knock on his door. Mulder groaned. The cat had gone to sleep, so he carefully scooped it up and deposited it on a cushion, then went to see who it was.
Scully stood outside, her slinky dress replaced by jeans and an outsized check shirt, and her make-up mostly washed off. She was looking more than a little pissed off, but Mulder was getting used to it and he let her in without comment. The dress, he thought irrelevantly, had been nice, but he liked this more down-to-earth Scully better. It probably had something to do with the lack of a muscular male accessory, although why that should have anything to do with it, he didn't know.
For a tense moment or two they stared at each other, then Scully sighed impatiently. "Okay, Mulder, what do you want?"
He blinked at her, surprised. "Isn't that my line?"
She began to look distinctly annoyed. "Cut the crap! You were waiting outside my apartment tonight long enough to fall asleep, so it must have been something important!"
Explaining to Scully what he'd wanted seemed even less like a good idea now than it had outside her apartment earlier. "No, really Scully, it's not important, it can wait - "
Scully actually ground her teeth. "Mulder," she gritted, "I was having a really great time tonight with a good-looking, interesting man, when I arrived home to find *you* sleeping on my doorstep like an abandoned husband. No amount of quick talking would convince Daniel that it wasn't what it looked like, so you'll excuse me if I'm *unnaturally* interested in what you wanted."
Mulder suspected that he should be feeling guilty and apologetic at this point for ruining her evening, but despite his best efforts, he couldn't summon up anything stronger than an sense of relief. The idea of Scully in a sweaty tangle with Muscle Man did horrible things to the acid balance of his stomach. "I thought you'd be trick-or-treating," he replied. "I saw the candy on your desk, and ...."
"It's possible that I eat candy myself," she retorted, "and the kids were around before I went out. That still doesn't explain what *you* were there for."
He began to feel a little aggrieved. He had gone to a lot of effort to find something which might heal the breach between them a little, and as usual the attempt had backfired on him. And on top of that, he was missing "The Fly". "Forget it, Scully. Under the circumstances, it really doesn't matter."
"And what's *that* supposed to mean?"
Mulder's temper began to heat a trifle. "It means that in your current mood, nothing I say can possibly be right, so why don't we just drop it, okay?"
Scully's eyes flashed. "Actually, Mulder, I don't feel like dropping it, and your attitude is really beginning to piss me off. I mean, excuse me for having a personal life and for being annoyed when a promising evening is ruined by my partner who has no life and consequently doesn't know when to switch off and go home!"
"What makes you so certain it's about work?" he demanded, stung by the unfortunately accurate accusation of "no life".
Scully folded her arms. "Isn't it?"
"Okay, then what *is* it about?"
"Nothing that can possibly be of any importance anymore!" he snarled, and stalked back into his living room, wishing that she would just go away and let him nurse his injuries from this latest skirmish between them.
Scully, however, was not yet ready to retreat, and followed him into the living room, where a rather startling sight brought her up short. "Mulder, what is *that*?"
She was pointing at the kitten where it still lay sleeping, and abruptly all the anger went out of Mulder, leaving him feeling rather depressed instead. "*That* is yours," he stated flatly.
Scully blinked. "Huh?"
Mulder slumped onto the couch and scooped the kitten up pensively. "I bought him to replace Queequeg," he explained, "though thinking about it, it was a stupid thing to do, because I don't even know if you like cats."
Scully was knocked speechless by this confession. After a moment, she sat down rather bonelessly in a battered chair opposite the couch and stared at her partner, bemused. "Mulder," she said finally, in a much quieter tone, "why did you do that?"
He gave her a weary smile. "Because I couldn't face another dog like Queequeg. He reminded me of a fur tippet my grandmother used to wear on special occasions."
Scully smiled in spite of herself. "No, I mean - why buy me it at all?"
Mulder shrugged, beginning to feel a little embarrassed. "Well ... I know you miss the little rat, and I feel kind of responsible for what happened to him, and besides .... I guess I could have been a little more sympathetic." He looked up at her almost nervously, and saw her bemused expression. "Look, Scully, I hate this - this *war* that seems to be going on between us, and I just ... wanted to talk. I'm sorry if I picked a bad moment, but I didn't know you had a date."
Scully sat back and looked up at the ceiling for a moment. Then she looked at him again and saw the apprehension in his face. A reluctant smile dawned. "No, Mulder, it's okay," she sighed. "He wasn't a date. Not a real one."
Mulder's brow furrowed. "Huh?"
She groaned. "He's friend of Charlie's, and his father served with mine in the Navy. My mother coerced me into going to a Hallowe'en party with him, because he was in town unexpectedly and didn't have anyone to go with." She saw Mulder's expression, and became a little defensive. "I know! I shouldn't have fallen for it, but you know what my mother's like."
"So why'd you get so mad at me, if you were set up in the first place?" Mulder demanded, without thinking.
Scully glowered. "Perhaps because he's a perfectly nice, decent, good-looking guy I happened to get on with really well, and wouldn't have minded getting to know better. Perhaps because he was a *rare* opportunity, Mulder - it's not like I often get the time for dating these days, and *I* don't have an extensive video collection to keep me company."
Mulder flushed. "Hey, what's mine is yours, you know!" he joked feebly.
Her eyes narrowed. "What - even the videos that *aren't* yours?" she asked sweetly. Much to her amusement, the blush deepened. "Mulder, how can you possibly be a prude with all the magazines and videos you collect?"
He grinned, despite his embarrassment. "There's a complex psychological explanation, Scully, but it escapes me at the moment."
She rolled her eyes. "Thank God for that! Sooooooo ... you bought me a cat. Did it occur to you that I don't have anything prepared for a kitten? No food, no basket, no litter tray."
"They didn't let me into Oxford for nothing; all the stuff for him is in the kitchen, and he's had one meal tonight," Mulder replied, justifiably pleased with himself.
Scully was touched; this was unusual foresight for Mulder, who usually acted first and cleaned up the messy details later. Or left them to her. "What's his name? Is it a he?"
"I honestly don't know," Mulder admitted, "and no, 'he' doesn't have a name. More to the point, why am I still holding him?" He nodded towards the other end of the couch, and smiled. "Come on, it's time you two got acquainted, before he gets the idea he's moving in with me."
"Can't have that." Scully curled up on the opposite end of the couch and accepted the small, warm and protesting handful of fluff from him. She snuggled the cat close to her chest, and gave Mulder a smile and raised brow. "Giving me a witch's familiar, Mulder? How do I take that?"
"Actually, I like to think of him as being more of a lucky charm, Scully."
"And has he brought *you* any luck so far, Mulder?" Her tone was teasing.
"He got rid of whatsisname, didn't he?" Mulder said, without thinking.
He didn't get the response he braced himself for. Instead, Scully gave him an oddly searching look. "Daniel, you mean? Yeah, I suppose he did." She planted a kiss between the kitten's ears. "Clever kitty." A smile began to form. "Was he in that box all along?"
"Yeah," Mulder muttered, unsure how to take this change of mood.
The smile widened. "I've got to admit, Mulder - I'm not saying I wasn't mad as hell when I came over here, because I was, but I was also *desperate* to know what you had in the box. When I saw you sat outside my door, I was half convinced it was something case-related, but when you shot off like that, and you were so careful how you handled it ...."
He relaxed and grinned. "Well, I hate to disappoint you, and you can do research into lucky charms if you want, Scully, but I have to tell you - "
Whatever he had to say was lost when Scully suddenly leaned forward, grabbed him around the neck with her free hand and pulled him to her for a kiss. Mulder, stunned but elated, did not put up any resistance.
The moment might have been more successful if they both hadn't forgotten the kitten, who let out a sudden muffled squawk at being squashed between them. A small but needle-sharp set of claws dug into Mulder's stomach, and he jumped back with a squawk of his own, glowering at the cat.
"Scratching the hand that feeds you now, huh?" He grabbed a cushion off the couch and threw it the floor, then gently scooped up the indignant kitten and put him on the cushion. "Behave yourself for a while," he told it mock-sternly, and turned back to a smiling Scully. "Can we try that again, without the anti-harassment device?"
Some time later, a small detail re-surfaced in Mulder's brain. "I take it back," he murmured. "Maybe you should call him Lucky after all."