Author’s Note: This is where the series veers slightly AU because it took both Miranda’s apartment and her relationship with Declan in a very different direction than the show did. *g*
The phone rang, startling Declan out of a sound sleep. He lunged for the phone, struck the corner of it, sending both receiver and cradle to the floor, then his own momentum carried him out of bed to land beside it with a solid crash.
Fumbling to get at least one hand untangled from the blankets, he grabbed the phone, hoping it hadn’t been accidentally hung up when he landed on it. “Hello?”
“Declan? Are you okay?” Miranda’s worried voice echoed in his ear.
“Oh, hey, Miranda! Yeah, I’m fine, just fell out of bed. What’s up?”
There was a long pause. He could almost see her mind constructing an image of his current state, then deciding not to ask. “I was just wondering if you, uh, were busy.”
“Mmm…not today. Why?” He squinted at the clock. Nine AM. Figures–Miranda would be an early riser, even on a Saturday.
“Well, um, would you like to…come over?”
That got his attention. “To your place?”
“Yeah. Just to hang out.”
He sat up and wrestled his other hand out of the bedclothes, intrigued. He knew now that Miranda had an apartment, but he’d never seen it. “Sure! Sure, I’d love to, Miranda. When?”
“Oh…come any time.” She sounded nervous. “And, um…could you bring Peggy?”
He blinked at the phone in shock. “Peggy?”
“Well, yeah, Declan, it’s a little difficult to play a board game with only two people.”
“Oh! Okay, sure. I’ll ask her.”
The door to apartment 229 opened a second after Declan knocked on it and Miranda smiled sheepishly at him and Peggy. “Hey. Come on in. Just don’t let the cats out.”
“Cats?” he echoed, incredulously. “You have cats??”
The grad student shot him a look. She stepped back to let them enter and he eagerly studied the room on the other side of the threshold, hoping to gain a new insight into his enigmatic friend. Against the wall was a black leather sofa with a very comfortable looking knit afghan thrown over the back of it. A black cat was curled on one cushion, blinking sleepy golden eyes at the two visitors, but otherwise almost invisible against the matching couch.
“This is Rascal,” Miranda pointed to the cat, “Mischief is probably hiding in the bedroom.”
Over the sofa hung a large, yellowed ‘Casablanca’ poster, with Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman staring forlornly into the corners of the room. On either side of it were smaller pen-and-ink sketches of characters from Neil Gaiman’s popular “Sandman” series of comics. Death was on the left, the Sandman himself on the right.
In front of the couch sat a simple glass-topped coffee table with iron legs. The Clue board was already open on top of it, next to a remote made of transparent teal and white plastic, revealing an artistic web of circuitry beneath its shell. On the other side of the remote was a short stack of simple glass coasters.
While Declan studied the rest of the room with the same curiosity he applied to his fascination with miracles, Peggy’s eye was drawn to the first of three bookshelves in the room, this one against the wall perpendicular to the couch. She tilted her head to one side, scanning the titles and noticing which authors seemed most predominant. “Edgar Allen Poe, Rex Stout, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Franz Kafka, Dorothy Sayers, Albert Einstein, Georges LeMaitre, William Gibson…wow, that’s quite a collection you’ve got there, Miranda.”
“Thanks,” Miranda replied simply with a little shrug. “I like mysteries. And science.”
The psychiatrist nodded. That fit with what little she knew of the younger woman, and helped her understand even better why she would’ve been drawn to Declan’s little quest.
“What kind of movies do you like?” she asked, noticing the large but old television set and the brand new VCR hot-wired to it. If Miranda had gone to that much trouble to make the two compatible, she must like to watch videos.
“Old black and whites, mostly,” she admitted, looking a little uncomfortable. As Declan had observed once, Miranda didn’t like to talk about herself. But she seemed to have acknowledged, however reluctantly, that letting the other two into her sanctuary made the questions inevitable. “Although I did enjoy ‘The Matrix,'” she added as an afterthought.
“WHOAH!” Declan’s awed exclamation drew both their eyes back to him. “Miranda…is that real? Is that for real?” He was gesturing at the Casablanca poster.
Her lips quirking upward a little into the most common type of Miranda-smile, his assistant nodded. “Yeah, they’re real.”
“HOW…Miranda, HOW did you get Humphrey Bogart’s freakin’ autograph??”
“It’s autographed?” Peggy echoed, equally astonished.
“It was a gift. From my parents. They sent it to me from Morocco for my sixteenth birthday.”
The other woman looked at her, noticing that she’d said ‘sent,’ not ‘given.’ What were her parents doing in Morocco on her sixteenth birthday?
The same thing they were doing in South America when she was dying, a more cynical part of her mind piped up.
“That is so cool! Think your parents’d get one of these for me?” Declan enthused, grinning. “Like from ‘Joe Versus the Volcano’ or ‘George of the Jungle’? Or maybe ‘Ben Hur,’ with Charlton Heston’s signature–now that would be awesome.”
Miranda’s smile widened almost imperceptibly. “Somehow I doubt it, Declan.” She glanced from him to Peggy and back. “Um…why don’t you two have a seat? We’ll start the game as soon as Warren gets here.”
One of Declan’s eyebrows shot up and his hackles followed at lighting speed. “Warren? You called Warren?”
“If you’d ever played Clue, Declan, you’d know that it works better the more people there are.”
“I’ve played Clue!” he protested.
He scrunched his face up in embarrassment. “Ah…when I was seven, I think.”
Miranda just snorted and Peggy stifled a chuckle.
“You’re not dating him, are you?” was Declan’s next suspicious question.
She shook her head. “No. We’re friends.”
He visibly relaxed. “Okay. He just seems…a little too ‘duuuude’ for you. You know? Too ‘Bill and Ted.'”
“You can have any piece on the board except Miss Scarlet,” Miranda instructed them as she handed around steaming cups of Green Tea. “I’ve played her every game since I was a kid.”
Declan nodded, his fingers snatching the purple playing piece off the board. He shrugged at the other two’s knowing looks. “So it seemed appropriate, so what?”
Still smiling subtly, Miranda picked up her own piece. “Okay, so Declan’s Professor Plum. Peggy?”
Peggy considered the board, and the box cover, which showed the various characters in the game. “I think I’ll go with Mrs. Peacock.”
He twirled the yellow piece between his fingers. “Colonel Mustard, dude. Did you know in the movie he’s like this big hotshot government guy? Way cool.”
“There’s a movie?” Declan asked.
Miranda nodded. “Yeah. It has three different endings–when it came out in 1985, which one you saw depended on what theater you went to.” She almost followed it with, And you thought my education in pop culture was lacking, but couldn’t find the nerve to voice the thought in front of Peggy and Warren.
“My roommate and I watched it, like, during finals week last semester. It’s so seriously funny, dude, even if it is old.”
“Mmph,” was the anthropologist’s delightfully inarticulate response.
“Okay. Now we deal the cards, then we roll to see who goes first,” Miranda directed, arching the small deck into a bridge in her hands. She’d already selected the murderer, weapon, and room before mixing the cards together. “Declan, no peeking.”
He snatched his hand back from where it had been creeping towards the confidential file in the center of the board. “Who, me?”
She ignored him. “Now, remember, if you can disprove something, you have to show your card. But you only have to show one card if you have, say, the room and the weapon…”
“Hey! What’d you do that for?” Declan exclaimed in protest as Miranda snatched his piece off the board and set it down in the lounge, where she had just suspected ‘Professor Plum in the lounge with the candlestick.’
She looked at him. “That’s the way the game is played, Declan. Or at least the way I’ve always played it. When you suspect someone of the crime, you move their piece into the room. Why do you think we left all the pieces on the board, even the ones no one was using?”
For a moment, Declan’s expression bore a striking resemblance to how Mole looked when he’d just been scolded–chastised and defiant all at once. “Oh.”
A rare, sly smile crept onto his assistant’s face. “If it makes you feel any better, I just saved you a couple of turns. Since you’re already in the lounge, you can suspect someone as soon as you’re up again.”
That piqued his interest. “Oh yeah?”
“Yeah, Declan,” Peggy interjected, using what he always thought of as her “shrink voice.” “Try to look on the bright side, and ignore the fact that Miranda thinks you’re capable of murder.”
The two women exchanged a wickedly conspiratorial glance and he tried to glare at both of them. He punctuated his words with a scolding finger. “‘S’not funny.”
Suppressed sniggers turned into giggles, proving just how wrong he was.
Declan grumbled to himself through Warren and Peggy’s turns, and shot another irritated look at the two conspirators as Peggy passed him the dice. “Murder, huh?” he muttered. “I’ll show you capable of murder.”
Sitting up straighter, Declan announced: “Okay. I suspect…”
He reached across the board and plucked the yellow piece from in front of Warren, shooting the kid a triumphant look as he did so. “Colonel Mustard in the lounge…”
“…with the revolver.”
“Declan!” Miranda hissed through teeth that never parted.
The game had been going for an hour, and Declan seemed to be stalking Colonel Mustard. Every turn that allowed him to raise a suspicion, it was always Colonel Mustard. Only the room and the weapon varied. Right now he was in the library.
“What?” He looked innocent, but the other three sitting around the coffee table knew better. “Can you prove me wrong?”
Miranda just looked away, frustrated.
Peggy sighed with a glance at the younger woman and shook her head.
“Waaarren?” Declan drew the name out in a smug challenge.
“Dude, you got me,” Warren sighed, dropping his cards back on the board.
“Aha! What do I do if I think I know the answer?”
Still looking irked, Miranda reached for the “Confidential” file and handed it to him. “You make an accusation, then check the cards. If you’re right, you lay them out for everyone to see and the game is over. If you’re wrong, you put them back and you’re out of the game while we finish.”
“Great! I accuse Colonel Mustard in the library with the candlestick!” The anthropologist pounced on the tiny manilla-envelope-shaped sleeve that held the solution to the mystery. He drew them out with melodramatic sneakiness, then laughed triumphantly and threw the cards down on the board. Colonel Mustard. The Library. The Candlestick.
“Ha! What did I tell you?”
“You know,” Peggy remarked as she circled around to the passenger side of the truck where it was parked in front of Miranda’s building. “When you told me about your initial reaction to Warren, I thought you were acting like an overprotective big brother. But in there today it seemed more like you were jealous.”
Declan blinked, then let out a dismissive little “pfft.” “Jealous? That’s ridiculous.”
“No, Declan, what’s ridiculous is your behavior in there. You embarrassed Miranda, you embarrassed me, and you should have embarrassed yourself.”
“But I was right, wasn’t I? It was Colonel Mustard.”
Peggy just looked at him.
His face crumpled a little. “You really think I embarrassed her?”
“Yes, I do. And what’s more, I think you hurt her. She invited us over to spend some time together doing something fun–something you know she doesn’t do often–and you had to go and ruin it by attacking Warren every chance you got.”
His smugness now totally gone, Declan cast a dismayed glance back towards the building. “Peggy, can you, uh…give me a minute?”
The psychiatrist smiled. “Of course.”
He was back. Groaning silently, Miranda let her head fall against the inside of her door. Declan was standing on the other side, trying his best to look through the wrong side of the peephole.
“Declan, please…just go away.”
“Come on, Miranda, open the door,” he pleaded.
The knob turned and the door opened a crack.
“Can I…come in? Please?”
Still dubious, she opened the door all the way. “What do you want?”
“I…uh…actually wanted to apologize.”
Miranda blinked in surprise. “Apologize?”
“Yeah, I…” Declan looked surprisingly shamefaced. “I, uh…I had no right to act the way I did towards Warren. I mean, it’s none of my business who your friends are, or even who you…” he swallowed, as if forcing out the words. “…go out with.”
Miranda regarded him critically, folding her arms across her chest. “You’re right, it isn’t. But that’s never stopped you before.”
He had the courtesy to look even more embarrassed, shoving both hands deep into his pockets. “I guess Peggy was right. I was jealous.”
Nothing he could’ve said would’ve surprised her more. “You were jealous,” she repeated in disbelief.
“Because…you mean a lot to me, Miranda…” He forced himself to look her in the eyes. Aw, man, Peggy was right. I did hurt her. “…and not just as a friend.”
Even as he spoke the words, they fell into place in his mind. He had been jealous. For a very long time, he’d been jealous of any other man who looked at her. Or any man she looked at who could make her cast off for a few minutes that disinterested demeanor she affected.
Miranda realized her hands were shaking. “What do you mean?”
He looked back up at her from where his eyes had dropped to his hands again. Wow. It was almost as if he’d been given new eyes. She really was beautiful, inside and out. He’d always known that, but never had he been so keenly aware of it.
“I mean…I think I’m in love with you.”