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Botany 101- A Nice Trip to the Forest

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Fox Mulder, known to everyone as Mulder as he hated his first name, shifted his backpack for what felt like the twentieth time in the last half hour. It had not been problematic when he had worn it at home and around town, as he had gotten used to the weight of the things he would need for this weekend away, but now it felt as though his items had been replaced with rocks. 

He had been looking forward to this trip since the class began. It was one of the main reasons he had signed up for a botany class in the first place - the eventual excursion into the forest it had promised. 

School had been keeping him busy and unable to escape the noise and the fast pace of the city. Since he had transferred to the University of Maryland, he had been working harder and buckling down. He had saved enough in the past two years of working to not have to worry about anything but his studies. 

Torn between which electives to take for the year, he had settled on botany. He had always enjoyed nature and discovering new things within, so it seemed perfect. The class was not too full from the offset, and it had dwindled down to even less soon thereafter. Mulder however, found the class intriguing and enjoyed the lectures. The professor was funny and kept the class entertained. 

There was also, though Mulder would not freely admit it, a woman in the class he found very beautiful. He had not spoken to her, save the occasional hello as they passed each other, but she captivated him. This was actually the second course they shared, and though he enjoyed the more intimate class size, he knew he would appear a fool if he spoke to her. His words got tripped up by his tongue when he was around her. 

“Hey, Mulder,” said a voice, and he sighed as he saw Kyle Dale walk up beside him. He really did not care for Kyle. He was very rich and made sure to let everyone know it. “You know there’s only the two girls here, and there are us six guys. We need to be the ones to make a move, the other guys are losers.” Kyle nudged him as he raised his eyebrows, and Mulder adjusted his backpack yet again. 

“I’d recommend you don’t let the women hear you say that, Kyle, not girls. In fact, maybe don’t say that at all. This isn’t some bar, it’s a college course. We’re all here to learn and you know, I haven’t seen either of them show any interest in you at school, I can’t imagine the woods will change their opinions,” Mulder said, glancing at the two women and then back to Kyle. “Just, let them be.”

“Jesus, you’re such a fucking downer, man. Do you ever get laid?” Kyle shook his head and walked away, catching up to Brian Harding and glancing back at Mulder as they both laughed loudly. 

Assholes, he thought, shaking his head. He looked back at the women again and watched the one he found attractive, hoping he was not being too obvious. 

She laughed at something her friend Hannah said, tossing her long red braid over her shoulder. God, he was such a sucker for redheaded women. He had been since third grade, when Jenny Lipton had moved into town halfway through the year. She was introduced by his teacher, and when she smiled at the class, his hands got sweaty . He shyly brought her dandelions at recess, and she took his hand, pulling him to the swings. He pushed her for as long as she wanted, not caring that he never even had a turn. 

This woman though, she was on another level. Her smile made his heart race and when he heard her laugh, he always wanted to hear it again. She also smelled amazing. She sat across from him in class, and every time she moved her hair, he caught a whiff of flowers and clean soap. It drove him wild and sometimes caused his attention to wander from the lecture. 

Yes, Jenny Lipton had been his first real crush, but she could not hold a candle to Dana Scully. 

“Class, we’re going to stop here for a bit. I want each of you to take out the journals you were to bring and identify the plants of the area. You should have your guide pages with you as well. We’ll be here for about forty five minutes and then we’ll be moving on to the campground,” Professor Morrow said, taking his pack off and setting it on a rock. He was about forty, a hippie with long blond hair and a full beard. He was a kind teacher and cared deeply for the subject he taught. “Break into teams or on your own, whichever you prefer.” 

Mulder glanced quickly over at Dana and saw her and Hannah, slip off their backpacks and take out their journals and guide pages. She stretched and rolled her neck as she picked up her things and walked with Hannah into the woods. He took off his backpack, took out his own journal, and headed into the woods behind them. 

An hour later, they all met up to collect their packs and move on. Mulder put his things away and put his pack back on, adjusting the straps so it sat better this time. They trudged on for another hour, before arriving at the campsite. A round fire pit sat in the middle of a clearing, thick round tree stumps encircling it. 

Everyone sat their bags down and Kyle loudly announced he would make a fire. He walked away to gather some wood and the others began to set up their tents. Mulder had a one man tent, as he had no intention to share one with anyone. He had it set up quickly, and as he pounded the stakes in to secure it, he heard Dana laughing. He looked up to see her and Hannah struggling to get their tent up, laughing as they did. Dana was bent over, clutching her side, and then her head was thrown back as she laughed. Watching her, he missed the stake, and hit his thumb. 

Fuck,” he seethed under his breath, sticking his thumb in his mouth, the pain sharp and throbbing. He glanced up quickly to see if Dana noticed, but she and Hannah were still struggling with their tent and laughing. 

Finished with securing his tent, he tossed his backpack inside, intent on setting out his sleeping bag later. He stood up and brushed off his hands, swallowing hard, as he walked closer to the women and cleared his throat. As Dana turned around and looked at him, he was struck again by the blue of her eyes. 

“Uhh … would you … do you need a hand?” he stammered, and she smiled at him, making his heart race. 

“I think we got it, but thanks, Fox,” she said with another smile. 

“Mulder,” he said without thinking, realizing he would not mind his hated name being said by her. She tilted her head and stared at him. 

“Really? You go by your last name with everyone? It’s not just a guy thing?” she asked. “Do you really not go by Fox? No one calls you Fox?” Her eyes twinkled and he felt he would let her call him anything, if she kept smiling and looking at him that way. 

“Uh … my  family, but not really anyone else,” he said, even as his brain screamed at him to shut up and walk away. “Whatever you … either is fine.” He turned and walked away, exceedingly embarrassed, wishing he could disappear. 

“Thanks for the offer of help … Mulder,” she called after him, and he turned quickly, her dancing eyes on him, her red hair shining in the sunlight. He nodded and turned around again, walking aimlessly away from them, shaking his head at his idiocy. 

He walked around for a while prior to heading back to the campsite, needing time to recover from his own stupidity. He headed over to the fire pit and watched Kyle trying to build a fire. He was doing it all wrong, laying the wood haphazardly as he added kindling under it. Mulder shook his head, stepping closer to show him how to do it correctly, when he heard a voice behind him. 

“You’re not doing that properly.” He turned and saw Dana standing there, her hair down and wavy from the braid. She was looking at the fire pit, but cut her eyes at Mulder, causing him to smile slightly. “You need to build it like a chimney so the oxygen can feed through the kindling and the wood -”

“Excuse me, sweetheart,” Kyle said, looking up at her with a sneer. “I don’t need help from you on how to build a fire, okay?” He went back to trying to get the fire burning and Dana stepped closer to him. 

“If our warmth and the ability to eat tonight is dependent on you, sweetheart, then I’m going to have to insist that you either build the fire properly, or get out of the way so I can do it,” she said, in a low controlled tone that made Mulder both afraid and highly aroused. Kyle stared up at her and then stood up, towering over her. She did not back down or show any fear, and soon Kyle stormed away, claiming he needed more wood. 

Dana glanced over at Mulder and rolled her eyes as she pushed up her sleeves and restructured the fire. She had it lit within minutes, stood up and brushed off her hands. She looked at Mulder with a grin, and he smiled back, nodding at her appreciatively. 

“Make sure he doesn’t overload it with wood, okay? I’m going to find Hannah. I wasn’t going to stop and help, but he was being an idiot about it,” she said as she walked away. He grinned and watched her before turning his eyes back to the fire. 

Hours later, after everyone had eaten, they were discussing the plant life they had found that day. Kyle sat quietly, still stinging over the fact that a woman, a younger woman at that, had shown him up, The other guys kept razzing him, which he was not taking well. 

Mulder sat to the left of Dana, with Hannah on her right. As the others discussed the plant life, he knew they were mistaken with their findings. Not only did he know, but he heard Dana repeatedly muttering, wrong under her breath. He huffed and she looked at him with a grin. 

“Well, they are wrong,” she whispered, and he smiled. “We had the guide papers, I don’t know how they could be so mistaken.” She shrugged and he coughed to cover up a laugh as she turned around and watched the fire. 

Not long later, everyone headed off to bed, the fire dying, but not out completely. Mulder watched Dana and Hannah walk into their tent as going into his own. Laying his sleeping bag out, he changed his clothes, adding an extra zip up hooded sweatshirt to take away the chill. 

Getting inside the sleeping bag, he rested his head on his backpack but quickly pushed it aside, finding it too bulky to be used as a pillow. Putting his arms behind his head, he wished the tent had a mesh top so he could see the stars, but he would make do with the sound of the crickets and owls in the trees. 

After the day’s activities, he should be tired, exhausted even, but he was wide awake. Sighing, he decided to go sit by the fire for a little while. Putting his boots back on, he opened his tent, stepped out, and zipped it up again, to avoid allowing in any unwanted critters. Hands in his sweatshirt pockets, his head down, he did not notice that he was not the only one with the idea to sit by the fire. 

“Oh!” he heard and looked up in surprise. Dana was standing there, poking at the fire with a long stick. “I didn’t wake you, did I? I wasn’t too loud?” 

“No, not at all. I … uh … I wasn’t tired, surprisingly, and thought I’d check on the fire. Guess you beat me to it,” he said and she smiled. He walked closer and stood beside her, the fire still burning low and giving off heat. 

She added another few small pieces of firewood and stirred at the fire as she sat down on a stump. Mulder sat beside her and they quietly stared at the fire as it began to slightly grow. He glanced at her and then back at the fire. 

“So, did the fact that we all went to bed, in the middle of a forest with a fire smoldering, bother you a bit, too?” she asked him quietly, and he laughed softly. “Or were you also a dumb idiot, who forgot to pack an extra sweatshirt, thus needing to seek out the warmth of said fire?” 

He turned his head to look at her and realized she was definitely not dressed for the cold night air. She had a long flannel on, but it was absolutely not enough to keep her small body warm. He watched her wrap her arms around herself, and he stood up, already unzipping his sweatshirt. 

“Oh no,” she said, putting up her hands. “Please don’t think I was implying I expected you to do that, I was just making conversation. I can’t take your sweatshirt from you. It’s my own fault for forgetting an extra shirt. Please … no.” She shook her head and pushed at the item he offered her. “I can’t.” 

“You can,” he said, holding it out to her and staring at her. “It’s an extra. Well, I mean I have two shirts and this long sleeved one as well. I’ll be okay without the sweatshirt. That flannel won’t keep you warm enough. Take it. Please.” He held it out and she finally accepted it, standing up to put it on and zip it up. It was big on her of course, but wearing the flannel under helped it to fit better. 

As she pulled her hair from inside it and tossed it back, he was treated to the most wonderful scent of flowers. She kept her head down for a second before raising her eyes to his. “Thank you,” she said quietly, and he nodded at her, seeing the flames from the fire reflecting in her eyes. He smiled and sat back down, as she sighed and did the same. 

They sat in silence for a few minutes and watched the fire, when she suddenly stood quietly, and walked to her tent. She did not look back, but stepped inside and zipped it shut. He was left wondering if he had done something wrong, but then he smiled slowly, as he realized she was still wearing his sweatshirt. 

He sat by the fire until it burned down low enough to not be a hazard, and then headed to his own tent. Laying down inside the bag once again, he smiled, imagining her sleeping comfortably because of the warmth his sweatshirt provided her. Closing his eyes, he was asleep in minutes. 

_______________________

The next morning, Mulder woke with the dawn, dressed, and rebuilt the fire. He shivered as he waited for it to warm up, his eyes flicking towards Dana’s tent, hoping she had been warm enough last night. Stirring the fire, he stood with his hands extended, feeling the warmth beginning to build. 

Not long after the fire was burning steadily, others began to emerge from their tents, happily seeking the warmth of the fire. Each person thanked him as they stood around it, warming their hands and backs in turn. A few of the guys started to prepare some peanut butter sandwiches for the group. Brian handed one to Mulder, who took it with a nod. 

After nearly everyone had gotten up, Dana and Hannah finally came from their tent, ready for the day. Dana glanced his way and then looked down, walking over to grab a sandwich from Brian. Hannah continued on to speak to Craig, a quiet guy who Mulder actually got along with. Dana stood on the fringe and then came closer to him. 

“Your sweatshirt is in the tent. I didn’t want to bring it out in front of everyone,” she said, glancing up at him, her eyes begging him to understand. 

“You keep it for tonight, just in case,” he shrugged, and she shook her head. “You can.” He repeated his words from last night to her again and she sighed with a nod.  

“Thank you,” she whispered, and then walked away. 

The tents were taken down and packed up as the sun began to rise higher in the sky. They left on a trail and Mulder followed behind Hannah and Dana, listening to their conversation while trying not to appear too creepy. They discussed dating and Dana admitted to Hannah that the last couple of dates she went on was a while ago, with one of the men standing her up. 

Mulder scoffed at the stupidity of whoever that man was, and Dana turned around quickly and looked at him. He stopped walking abruptly and stared at her, embarrassed beyond belief. He saw her lips twitch as she turned around and began to walk again. He fell back a few paces, intent on that not happening again. 

An hour or so later, they came to a shallow but wide stream they needed to cross. A log had fallen, creating a natural bridge, and they took turns walking across it carefully. Mulder had almost neared the end when his foot slipped and he fell into the stream. He luckily had not broken or sprained anything, but everything he was wearing was thoroughly soaked. 

Everyone laughed, including Dana, but she was the only one to come over and help him, as he spluttered and tried to stand up. She reached for his backpack, and he handed it to her, rising to his knees and then his feet. 

“Shit,” he muttered, unbuttoning his flannel shirt. He took it off and the one underneath, leaving him in a very wet tank top, cargo shorts, socks, and boots. He glanced up and found that Dana had turned her head, his backpack held in her hand, as it dripped steadily into the stream. 

“I’ll take that back now,” he said softly, and she nodded, glancing at him as her eyes quickly moved up and down his body, before she turned and walked away, running her fingers through her long ponytail. He smiled as he watched her, not seeming to notice how wet he truly was. 

Up another hill, they came to their camping site. A large fire pit was surrounded by small, single occupancy cabins. Everyone exclaimed at the sight of them, each of them going to check them out. Mulder set his wet pack on the step and walked inside. There was a cot, a small table made of logs, a lantern, and an oval hooked rug on the floor. It would be warmer than the tent, and for that he was relieved. 

Stepping out of the room, he began to unpack his bag, shaking his head at the sheer wetness of everything. His clothes inside were soaked, but they would hopefully dry soon. It was warm out and there was still a few hours of sunlight left. He laid out his clothes and reached for his sleeping bag, thankfully finding it still dry. 

He put it on the cot and checked the rest of his things. His snacks and other first aid items were okay, but his notebook was wet, his inked words running together. Shaking his head, he set it down. It would be easy to redo the work, he had it memorized. Taking out his spare shoes, a pair of old flip flops, he took off his wet boots and socks, again shaking his head. 

Picking up his clothes, he went to find a place to hang them to dry while the sun was still shining. His shoes … well they would hopefully dry, but he doubted it would happen by the time they journeyed back to their cars tomorrow morning. 

Clothes laid out in the sun on a bush, he walked back to the fire pit where everyone had gathered. He glanced down at the empty pit, and then looked up, catching Dana’s eye, as he raised his eyebrows. She smiled and covered her mouth as she laughed softly. He grinned as he looked toward Professor Morrow. 

“All right! Congratulations on making it here unscathed, well, most of us anyway,” he said, with a glance toward Mulder and everyone laughed. He shook his head and smiled. “Tonight, as well as food that we’ve brought, we’ll be gathering edible plants to add to our meal. Berries, plants, whatever you find that you’re sure is edible. So be double, even triple sure that you’re correct. We don’t want to poison our friends.” Everyone laughed again and soon headed off, each one with a container to collect items. 

Mulder found himself near Dana as they walked into the woods. He could hear her humming and he smiled, happy she was enjoying herself. They spread out, foraging the bushes for food. 

How can you just walk away from me? When all I can do is watch you leave? ” he heard, and turned his head to see Dana singing quietly as she cleaned a bush of its berries. “So take a look at me now, well there's just an empty space. And there's nothing left here to remind me, just the memory of your face …” She looked up and saw him watching her and she grinned. 

“I’m a little obsessed with Phil Collins right now. Sorry to expose you to my horrible singing voice,” she said, with a laugh. He shook his head and continued gathering items. 

“It’s not horrible,” he told her, his eyes downcast. 

“Liar,” she called, and he looked up to see her smiling. He looked back down, smiling as he continued his work. 

Fire warm and food eaten, even the items they had all collected, of which Mulder and Dana had brought in the most, everyone sat around that night laughing and talking about many things. Mulder saw Hannah speaking to Craig once again, a huge smile on his face. 

Mulder glanced at Dana as she put another log onto the fire, debating whether to speak to her. As he was contemplating it, she walked over to him, standing close and crossing her arms. She glanced at him and smiled and he smiled back. 

“So, we’re obviously the smartest ones in class, we definitely need to stick together from now on.” She shrugged and he laughed. They both looked at the fire and were quiet, Mulder constantly feeling tongue tied around her. 

“So you —” he started to say, but was cut off by the professor telling them all to head to bed, warning of rising early in the morning. Mulder glanced at Dana again, but she was busy smothering tonight’s fire, the area they were in more heavily wooded. 

“Can’t take any chances,” she said, and he began to help her. Nodding her thanks, she caught his eye, and headed to her little cabin. 

Making sure the fire was completely out, he took out his flashlight, and gathered all his items from the nearby bushes he had laid them on earlier. Finding them to be relatively dry, he walked into his cabin, took off his shoes, and changed his clothes. He lit the lantern on the small table and laid down on his cot. 

Sighing, he closed his eyes and took a deep breath. A knock sounded at his door and he sat up in surprise, his brow furrowing. Standing up and crossing to the door, he opened it to find Dana standing there, a flashlight in her hand, her long hair down, his borrowed sweatshirt pulled tightly around her, and a worried expression on her face. 

“Hi,” he said simply, his surprise undoubtedly evident. 

“I need you to look at something. Please,” her voice shaky and scared. 

“Uhh … come in,” he told her, stepping aside to let her inside before he closed the door. She hurried past him and stood in the middle of the small room in his large sweatshirt, a pair of shorts, and her boots. 

“I was changing my clothes and … I felt something, on my back. It was itchy earlier, but now it feels worse. I can’t see it and I need to know what it is. Can you look at it, please?” she stared at him and he nodded. She turned around, moved her hair, and dropped his sweatshirt down past her butt. His breath caught and he froze in place. 

She was not wearing anything under the sweatshirt, clearly whatever she found, had scared her badly enough to forego extra clothing as she hurried to his room. 

“Mulder? Fox? What is it?” Her worried voice snapped him into action, and he reached for the lantern, turning it up to see her back better. Stepping closer to her, he held the lantern as he knelt down. “It’s down on my lower back.” 

As soon as he was close enough, he saw it- an angry looking rash covering a good sized area of her lower back. He touched it gently and she hissed and then she groaned. 

“Sorry,” he said, feeling the heat even without touching it again. “Stay like that for a second.” He turned around and grabbed his backpack, rummaging around until he found the container of salve he had brought with him. “Okay, this might hurt a little bit.” 

“What?” she asked, but he did not reply, instead taking two fingerfuls of the salve, and gently rubbing it across her back. “Oh my God, what is that? Mmmm, oh Mulder, that stings … ohhhh … no it feels good. What is it?” He rubbed in the salve and smiled as he listened to her finding relief from the comfort it provided. 

Wiping his hands, he put the lid on the salve and stood up. He brought his sweatshirt back up her body and placed it on her shoulders. She grabbed at it and zipped it up. Letting her hair fall, she put her hands in the pockets of the sweatshirt and turned around, looking up at him. 

“Seriously, what is that? And what’s on my back?” she asked, reaching for the container in his hands. 

“It’s a rash, probably from a plant you touched unknowingly,” he told her, reaching in his bag again, taking out a bottle of aspirin and handing two of them to her. “It’s pretty hot and inflamed; this will help it feel better.” He handed her water from a canteen bottle he had and she took the medicine, handing him back the container of salve, just as a huge crack of thunder sounded, causing her to jump. A second later, rain began to fall, hard, on the tiny cabin. 

“Whoa,” they said simultaneously, looking up as the rain pelted the roof from above. He looked back down at her and turned to the door, opening it and looking outside. She stepped closer to him and they watched as the rain obscured their vision beyond anything not directly in front of them. 

“I … “ she started, and then stopped. 

“No, you can’t,” he finished for her, knowing she was going to suggest she make a run for it. “You’d be soaked through, that salve would wash off, and you’d be in pain. Best to stay here, at least until it lets up a bit.” He closed the door and turned to find her right behind him, and his mouth went dry. The one person who seemed to short circuit his brain was now going to be sitting alone with him in a small room during a rainstorm, for the night possibly. 

Her expression was unreadable as her eyes seemed to search his face. He waited until she nodded in agreement and stepped over to the bed, sat down, and took off her boots. She looked at him and he gave her a small smile as he picked up the lantern off the floor, set it on the little table after turning it down a bit, and then sat on the floor facing her, his back against the wall. They were both quiet as they listened to the heavy fall of the rain on the roof, thunder rumbling and then cracking loudly. He saw her jump again and he smiled slightly. She obviously didn't like thunder. 

“Tell me a story,” she said, just loud enough for him to hear her above the deluge of rain, as though she was not sure if she should be asking for something like that. 

“A story?  About what?” he asked, looking at her in surprise. She shrugged, looking a little embarrassed. 

“I don’t know, anything, I’m not picky,” she said. “I don’t really like thunder and I thought maybe a story might take my mind off it. You don’t have to, if you don’t want to.” She shrugged again, looking down and touching at her back lightly over his sweatshirt. She hissed and closed her eyes. 

He watched her for a second, thinking of stories that would not only interest her, but help to loosen his tongue. Leaning his head back, he knew she would not be looking for some silly fairy tale to be retold to her, and so he thought back to the science fiction and weird stories he loved to read and know more about, until he had a perfect one. 

“Have you ever heard the story of the star-crossed lovers, Maurice and Lyda?” he asked, lifting his head and watching her, hoping she would say no, as he knew this story by heart. He could recite it from memory, thus making it easier to speak to her. 

“The only star-crossed lovers I know of are Romeo and Juliet,” she said, shifting on the cot. He smiled and nodded as that was the case with most people. 

Clearing his throat, he began his story. “Christmas, 1917, was a time of dark, dark despair. American soldiers were dying at an ungodly rate in a war-torn Europe, while at home, a deadly strain of the flu virus attacked young and old alike,” he began, and then he forgot about her as he closed his eyes, lost in his own story. “Tragedy was a visitor on every doorstep while a creeping hopelessness set in with every man, woman. and child. It was a time of dark, dark despair.” 

“You said that already,” she said, with a smirk, and he opened his eyes to find her now lying on her side facing him, leaning on her elbow, one eyebrow raised. He grinned and then chuckled. 

“But,” he continued, “at 1501 Larkspur Lane, for a pair of star-crossed lovers, tragedy came not from war or pestilence, not by the boot heel or the bombardier, but by their own innocent hand.” He stared at her and waited, seeing if he could get that skeptical eyebrow to go down. 

“Go on,” she said, both eyebrows going up, and he knew he had piqued her interest. 

“His name was Maurice. He was a ... a brooding, but heroic young man beloved of Lyda, a sublime beauty with a light that seemed to follow her wherever she went,” he said, waving his hands around slowly, and she laughed softly. “They were likened to two angels descended from heaven whom the gods could not protect from the horrors being visited upon this cold, grey earth.” Again he paused and stared at her, waiting to see what she would say. 

“And what happened to them?” 

“Well, according to legend, driven by a tragic fear of separation, they forged a lovers' pact so that they might spend eternity together and not spend one precious Christmas apart,” he said with a shrug and a half smile, his tongue loosened now from a story he had always enjoyed. 

“Wait. They killed themselves?” she asked, frowning as she stared at him. 

“Yeah, and supposedly their ghosts return to haunt that house every Christmas Eve,” he said, and then shivered. “I just gave myself the chills.” He stared at her with a grin and she frowned with a smile. “What?” 

“Do you really believe that story?” 

“I don’t know. Yeah. I mean, it’s kind of hard not to believe it when it —”

“Sounds so believable?” she cut across him, with a tone of disbelief. 

“You don’t believe in ghosts?” 

“Does that surprise you?” 

“Well … yeah, a little. I thought everybody believed in ghosts,” he said, with a shrug of his shoulders. 

“Like that slimy one in Ghostbusters ?” she teased him and he shook his head. 

“No, not like Ghostbusters. What a joke that movie was at portraying ghosts. They are benevolent entities … well, mostly. I have read stories of places where ghosts have done horrible things and people —” He stopped talking as he looked at the barely contained grin on her face. It spread as she tried to stop it and he once again saw the dimple in her cheek. 

God, he was in so much trouble …  

“You believe it all, don’t you?” she asked, with a huge grin. 

“Why wouldn’t I?” he asked back, shrugging his shoulders. “I haven’t seen it disproven, so …” He shrugged again and she laughed as she shook her head. She laid down on her back, and he looked at her profile. 

So much trouble … 

“Umm … I should check your back again, just to be sure the salve is helping,” he said, getting up and picking up the container again as he knelt down beside the bed. She looked up at him, her eyes so blue, he knew that if she asked him to do anything, no matter how questionable, he would. “You need to turn over.” 

She nodded and did as he asked. He lifted his sweatshirt over her butt and up just enough to expose her back. It was looking better already and felt cooler than earlier. Still, he would apply another layer and have her lay on her stomach for a while, let it soak in better. 

“It looks better, not completely gone of course, but better than earlier. I’d say you had an allergic reaction to something. Obviously not poison oak, you would’ve been smart enough to avoid that, but at least it’s topical and nothing serious,” he said as he slowly put more salve on, both to make sure it was applied well, and because her skin was so soft, he wanted to touch it forever. She had a freckle just above the rash and he had an overwhelming desire to bend forward and kiss it. 

“What is that stuff?” she asked again, her voice muffled in her arms, hissing and then moaning, as he applied it. 

“It’s a homemade salve my mom has made for years. My sister and I were always getting scrapes and rashes as children and so she made this natural stuff because my sister cried with the stuff from the pharmacy,” he told her, rubbing slow circles across her back. 

“What were you two doing to meet such catastrophes?” 

“Well, we grew up in Chilmark, and spent a lot of time outdoors. Climbing trees, baseball games, races, playing widespread games of hide-and-seek. Inevitably, one of us would come down with some ailment and so my mother kept this on hand at all times. She called it the “Super Salve,” as we were both into superheroes then. Plus, it works really well, so …” He smiled as he thought of those days spent outside, no care for anything but being home on time for dinner. He finished applying the salve and closed the container. “Stay like that for a few minutes and let it really set in, it will help a lot.” He wiped his hands on the shirt he had worn earlier and leaned against the bed. 

He heard her turn her head and he looked at her over his shoulder. “You’re a Vineyard boy, huh? And here I thought you were all right,” she said, with a twinkle in her eye and a smile on her face. 

He laughed and she turned her head back, sighing as she did. “Well, whatever she puts in that, it’s like magic. Please tell your mother that I can't thank her enough. It stings for a second, but then … ohhhh …” she said in a low voice, and he was glad she had turned her head away. Her moan shot straight to his groin and he was horrified at its betrayal in such tight quarters as the rain fell down, preventing any chance of escape. 

“Tell me more about your family,” she said and he smiled, thankful for the distraction. 

“I have a sister, she’s twenty-one. Parents still married, still live in Chilmark. My sister is living in Europe with some friends right now, for “life experience” as she calls it,” he said, looking down at the floor. 

“A single trip to Amsterdam ought to take care of that for her,” she said, and he laughed. 

“You seem awfully ... normal for growing up on the Vineyard, if you don’t mind me saying,” she said, once again turning to look at him. He raised his eyebrows at her and she smiled. 

“What exactly are you implying, Dana?” he asked with a smile. She stared at him, her face serious and then she smiled softly. 

“I think that’s the first time I've ever heard you say my name,” she said quietly. “In this class or the last one we had together.” He stared at her and he knew she was correct. He had been nervous to speak to her, in both classes, and now he was seeing how ridiculous that was to do. Besides being smart and beautiful, she was easy to talk to, and funny. 

“Yeah, I … uh … I’m not really a … I don’t hang out with many people and I don’t really engage in many conversations,” he said, and she nodded. 

“I don’t like it.” She shook her head and he frowned. “You saying that name, I mean. I just think that if you insist on being called Mulder, you should call me … Scully.” She shrugged and he stared at her, trying to decide if she was teasing him. She smiled and he knew she meant it. 

“Okay … Scully,” he said, and she grinned wider. He smiled back and she nodded. 

“Scully. I like it.” She smiled, and he cleared his throat, looking down at the floor. “And to answer your question, Mulder, I wasn’t really implying anything about Vineyard people. I was just teasing.” 

“I know … Scully,” he said, looking up at her and she smiled at him again. “I know what people think about those of us on the Vineyard and I understand. My family does belong to a country club, I went to cotillions when I was younger, and my sister was even a debutant, but only because my mother insisted on it. My sister didn’t want to do it, and in fact, the night of the ball, she left about halfway through, changed out of her ridiculous dress and gloves, and came back in jeans, a Rolling Stones t-shirt, and black Converse high tops. My mother was nearly apoplectic, but my sister just shrugged and kept dancing.” 

“I like her. She sounds like someone I’d like to know,” Dana laughed, and he nodded and smiled. Samantha was definitely someone he could see her befriending. 

“What about your family?” he asked, and she shook her head, moving to lay on her side, facing him, but keeping his sweatshirt up above her rash. 

“I’m not terribly interesting,” she said, waving him away. He stared at her as she licked her lips, biting the bottom one, and he wished he could taste them. “My parents are married, my father is in the Navy. We’ve lived in a lot of places, but have been here for the longest length of time. My older brother is also in the Navy and he’s stationed in Germany. My younger brother is starting college this coming year. I have an older sister, but I don’t really know where she is right now. She’s kind of flighty and the last time I heard from her, she was in Colorado. I think she was anyway. She’s always on the move, ‘ following the wind and the sun,’ she says.” She paused and sighed. He looked at her again and she shook her head. 

“What?” 

“I don’t know,” she sighed, looking down. “I’m still not completely sure what I want to do with my life. I have always loved science and pursuing answers that are not readily available. But I know that’s not a field most women enter into, as if it’s odd a woman would find science interesting.”

“Pssh!” Mulder said forcefully. “It’s incredibly hot and sexy when women are interested in science.” Realizing what he said, his face became flushed, and he fell silent as he chanced a glance at her. She smiled, her own cheeks pink, as she looked down. Thunder cracked again and this time he jumped. 

They were quiet for a few minutes and she sighed again. “I just wish that I was more like my sister sometimes. She’s not afraid to do anything. To just up and leave, follow her passion, live in a cabin with some guy she just met and make jewelry to sell at swap meets. She’s flighty, yes, but she’s also passionate and caring, and doesn’t care how she’s perceived. She’s ballsy and tough, despite her hippie outward appearance.” She fell silent and he looked at her, wanting to tell her she was all of that and more, but he worried it would scare her, so he tried a different tactic. 

“Every person is given the personality that’s right for them,” he said, looking at the wall across the room. “We see in others what we imagine we are lacking, and yet it’s there, just perhaps not right at the surface. Every person is exactly who they are meant to be.” 

“Wow, you and my sister would get along really well,” she told him with a quiet laugh. “Dare I say, even make a good couple.” 

“Hmm, what’s her stance on science?” he asked, watching her out of the corner of his eye. 

“The whole idea of it?” she laughed. “I wouldn’t say she’s against it, but she’s more prone to believe in the healing power of crystals than modern medicine.” 

“Oh, well, then I'm sorry, I’m gonna have to pass. A firm grasp in the belief of science is high on my list. I’d put it at top five, easily,” he said, turning his head to find her staring at him. She did not blink for a few seconds, holding his stare, until thunder cracked again, and she jumped. 

“It’s late,” he said quietly. “You should try to get some sleep. Is your back feeling better?” She nodded, staring at him again, as she pulled his sweatshirt down and covered her back. She got inside the sleeping bag, glanced at him once more, and then turned toward the wall. 

“Good night, Mulder,” she said softly. 

“Good night … Scully,” he replied with a smile, shifting until he was lying on his back on the floor, his arm behind his head, listening to the rain falling unrelentingly on the roof. A few minutes later, he heard her soft breathing and he smiled again, as he himself fell asleep. 

________________

Mulder woke early, wanting to be sure Dana was out of his cabin and back in her own, before anyone else was up and about. No need for anyone to suspect anything, especially as it pertained to her. 

She walked to her cabin, slipping in the mud a bit, as she arrived at her door. She turned and looked at him as she walked inside, an odd expression on her face. He hoped it was not one of regret or worry over what they had shared last night. Then just as the door was about to close, she poked her head out and smiled at him, and his heart pounded wildly against his rib cage. 

The campsite was a muddy wet mess the next morning. No chance for the warmth of a fire, as the fire pit was full of water, and every piece of wood in the forest was wet regardless. 

Once everyone was up, and that discovery was made, the grumbling began. Foul moods abounded, but Mulder was not fazed by any of them. He could not stop grinning, remembering Dana’s laugh and the beautiful blue of her eyes. 

He saw her speaking to Professor Morrow, showing him her back, though not in the same manner she had to him last night. He could not hear them speaking, but the professor glanced his way and nodded, telling him without words that he had done the right thing. 

Bags packed and everything ready, they began the long hike back down. The weather made it harder, but they were meant to be back that day, so everyone kept a steady pace. As the car park came into view, Kyle slipped and fell, much to everyone’s amusement. Covered in mud, he swore and yelled, trying to wipe himself clean, and failing. 

Gathering by all the cars, Professor Morrow reminded them to finish their workbooks and to write a 2,000 word essay about the weekend and what they experienced. Some groaned and others grinned. Mulder saw Dana smile softly and he wondered what she was thinking about. 

People began to leave and soon it was just a few of them. Dana walked over to him, his sweatshirt in her hands, and a smile on her face. He stared at her, feeling Hannah’s eyes on them, making him feel awkward. 

“Thank you for the use of your sweatshirt, Fox … Mulder.” She handed it to him and he took it, laying it over his arm. 

“You’re welcome, Dana … Scully,” he said and she grinned. They stared at each other, and the desire to kiss her was stronger than anything he had ever felt. Her eyes flicked to his lips and his mouth went dry. Looking back into his eyes, they continued to stand there, staring at one another. 

“Dana! Come on, let’s go!” Hannah called from across the car park, causing Mulder to jump, and Dana to sigh. 

“Okay,” she called back, looking at her over her shoulder. She looked back at Mulder and smiled sadly. “See you in class.” 

“Yeah,” he said quietly, feeling deflated and low. “See you in class.” She stared at him, waiting, and he stepped back with his head down. He heard her sigh again and then the crunch of her boots on the gravel of the car park. 

Looking up, he watched them drive away and felt like a complete fool. “You are such an idiot. So stupid.” He threw his backpack in the backseat and then got in the car, heading for his little apartment off campus, berating himself the whole way, knowing he had completely missed his chance. 

Arriving home, he went around back and sat on his porch, dumping out his backpack, making sure no little creatures had hitched a ride home. He looked through everything, made piles of things to put away and to be washed. He looked at his sweatshirt and shook his head. Dana’s naked body had been inside it, but he still needed to wash it. 

Taking off everything but his undershirt and shorts, he walked barefoot to the front door and unlocked it. Coming through his small one bedroom apartment, he opened the backdoor and began to bring things inside. Once that was done, he stripped, tossing his clothes outside, and took a shower. 

Changed and feeling better physically, but still like an idiot, he scooped up his pile of clothes from outside, grabbed the laundry soap and some quarters, and headed to the laundry room. He opened the lid, added the quarters, and started to put his clothes inside. Taking the time to go through his pockets, he found a rock and some small pieces of dried leaves, which he threw away. 

His sweatshirt was last, and he sighed as he reached inside the pockets, and frowned as he touched something. Taking it out, he saw it was a folded piece of paper. Opening it, he grinned and then laughed as he read the words written on the page. 

How could you just let me walk away? Just let me leave without a trace?

Scully 

(301) 555-0134

P.S. I’m working on those hidden personality traits. 

He threw the sweatshirt in the wash, dumped in the soap, closed the lid, pushed in the quarter tray, and ran upstairs. Slamming the door, he grabbed the phone and dialed her number. His heart pounding, breath ragged, he waited. Two rings and then her voice made him stop moving. 

“Scully.” 

“Hey, Scully, it’s me.” He grinned as he moved again and walked to the couch, flopping down on it. 

“Well, it’s about damn time, Mulder,” she teased. 

“I’m inclined to agree.” He laughed, sitting forward and shaking his head. She joined his laughter and then they fell silent. His heart began pounding, but if she had been braver than usual, then he could be too. “I … I wanted to kiss you.” 

“I know,” she said quietly. “Me, too.” The honesty they expressed, left him tongue tied once again. Just hearing her voice in his ear, made his body feel warm. 

“So, Mulder … do you suppose that house on Larkspur Lane is haunted only on Christmas? Surely it could do with a scientific investigation, just to see,” she said, and he could hear her smile. He sat back with a grin, ready to discuss haunted houses, or any other damn thing she wanted. 

For the next ten minutes, an hour, or for the rest of his life.