text file (19k)
On another nice trip to the forest,
Mulder runs into a little problem.
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; the X-Files belong to CC, FOX, etc.
Notes: This story was inspired by O8, Pgh, B.J., Mims, and Stephen King (if you want an explanation, you'll have to read the notes at the end).
Thanks to my beta, UnderMySkinner (X-PhileChick#35), and to Obfusc8er for her helpful suggestions.
"I swear, the next time you invite me on a 'nice trip to the forest,' I'm not going."
"That's what you said the last time, Scully."
"Yeah, well, I would've followed through with it if I didn't think I'd have to come rescue your sorry ass after you got lost out here on your own."
"I would've been perfectly fine--"
"Don't even try, Mulder. We're lost, aren't we?"
"What kind of an Indian Guide goes into the forest without a compass? Whatever happened to being prepared?"
"I was an Indian Guide, not a Boy Scout."
"Yeah, I'll say," she muttered. "Move over a little. I'm laying on a root or something. There, that's better."
"Now I'm laying on it."
"Better you than me."
"You have no grounds to complain about being uncomfortable. You're the one with the nice, soft pillow."
"Mulder, your chest isn't that comfortable."
"You want soft, you can use my ass," he offered.
"I'd rather kick your ass."
"You're never going to forgive me for this one, are you, Scully?"
"You mean for dragging me out here on a weekend in order to hunt Sasquatch, and then getting lost in the woods? No, Mulder, I don't think I'll be forgiving you anytime soon."
"It's not like we haven't spent a night in the woods before. As soon as the sun comes up and the fog lifts, we'll be able to spot the trail again."
"I don't understand why we had to leave the trail in the first place. If we hadn't, we wouldn't have gotten lost."
"You think Sasquatch stick to the trails?"
"Of course they don't, Mulder, because they don't exist!"
"Then what were those tracks?"
"With our luck? They were probably a bear, who's going to come eat us in our sleep."
"There aren't any bears out here. The only indigenous creature large enough to leave those tracks is a Sasquatch."
"There have been numerous sightings--"
"It'd be a lot easier for me to sleep if you'd shut up."
* * *
By the time Mulder blinked open his eyes, bright beams of sunlight were streaming through the trees. His watch told him it was a little after 8:00 am, but his partner was still sound asleep. His chest had apparently become too uncomfortable for her during the night since she was now curled up on her side facing away from him, pillowing her head on her own arm.
Sitting up slowly, Mulder stifled a groan at the aches from sleeping on the cold, hard ground. After this, he vowed, he would never complain about a motel bed again. But his greatest discomfort emanated from a different source: nature called--and it had nothing to do with the birds chirping overhead.
Damn Scully and her insistence on getting enough fiber!
The fact was, Mulder really needed to take a dump, and there wasn't an outhouse in sight. He had no idea how far away from civilization they might be or how long it would take to find their way back. He had to drain the lizard anyway, so he figured that he might as well take care of both problems at once.
Scully made no sign of stirring as he rose to his feet, so he quietly slipped away and marched far enough into the foliage to afford him some privacy. A fallen log provided a nice resting place, so he dropped his drawers and took a seat, trying to relax enough to do his business.
Mulder took the moment to soak in his surroundings and truly appreciate the beauty of it all. The air was clean and crisp, permeated with a fresh, earthy smell that was so foreign to the grunge of the city. There were no cars to be heard, just the twitters and chirps of the birds calling to one another, and a chattering that sounded like...
In that moment, Mulder realized two things. One, the arrival of other people meant they could find their way out of there. And two, the voices were rapidly getting closer, and he didn't really want to be caught with his pants down.
Mere seconds later, the colorful movements in the distance hailed the approach of his would-be saviors or voyeurs. Eager to cover himself and find out just where this group was headed, he reached down hastily and grabbed a handful of leaves to wipe himself clean. He had just zipped closed his jeans when the party got close enough for him to recognize them. It was a troop of Girl Scouts and their leader.
The small group seemed to be headed straight for him, so Mulder made the quick decision to take cover behind a tree. He wasn't sure how they would react to finding a lone man out in the woods, and he figured that once they passed, he could follow at a distance or retrace the way they came. But as he took position behind the trunk and stealthily watched their approach, for the first time he recognized one more detail: the Girl Scouts were still on the trail. He and Scully had slept only a few yards away from it last night.
"Girls, let's stop here for a moment! Do you see this plant here? Who can tell me what this is?"
"That's poison ivy!"
"Very good. Gather closer, girls. Do you see these shiny, green leaves growing in clusters of three? No, don't touch it! There's a rhyme you can learn to help you remember: 'Leaves of three, let it be.' Now, say it with me."
While the chorus of voices chanted the rhyme and then the troop leader ushered her pupils onward down the path, Mulder looked down at the bunch of leaves that had served as his impromptu toilet paper only moments before.
They were shiny, green leaves, in clusters of three.
* * *
Mulder knew that if there was a God, he must've really done something to piss him or her off because fate seemed to be conspiring against him that day. The two-hour drive back to the airport had turned into a six-hour drive due to a major accident on the only route from the state forest to the city. By the time they had finally arrived, they had of course missed their flight, and being a Sunday, there were no other direct flights to DC departing that day.
Now, on any other occasion, they would simply get a hotel room and catch the first flight out in the morning. However, as Scully continually reminded him, more impatiently with each iteration: "Skinner's going to kill us if we miss that budget meeting tomorrow. Don't look to me to cover your ass this time."
Therefore, their only option was to take a later flight into Chicago and catch the red-eye connection that would get them back in just enough time to make a quick trip home to change before rushing in to work. Unfortunately, the long trip, punctuated by long waits, meant a lot of sitting...and Mulder's misery mounted with each passing moment.
* * *
After another impatient glance at his watch, Mulder shifted in the airplane seat, searching for a more comfortable position. They still had another hour before touching down in DC, and only five minutes had passed since his last restless journey to the lavatory, the only excuse he could find for getting up and wandering the aisle.
"Mulder, I have some Immodium in my bag if you think it'll help."
This had been at least her fifth attempt at diagnosis throughout the day. Scully had mistaken his restlessness for any number of things, and while at first she was just annoyed that he couldn't sit still, she eventually seemed to realize that he was experiencing some genuine discomfort. But he just couldn't bring himself to tell her what really ailed him.
Scully sighed and glanced up at him before returning her attention to her magazine, but not without adding her muttered commentary: "If you'd just get more fiber in your diet, you wouldn't have these problems."
Mulder bit his tongue and shifted in his seat again. He really wanted to lash out at her for that comment, but then he'd have to explain his predicament to her. And the last thing he needed was to have this conversation on a plane, where other people could overhear. His discomfort was bad enough without having people stare at him in curiosity or pity.
But even if he did tell Scully, he knew there wasn't really anything she could do for him right now. Not surprisingly, the airport shops didn't carry any products to treat allergic reactions to poison ivy, and he wouldn't have time to stop and get anything on the way to work. His only option was to try to ignore the burning itch that had spread to both buttocks and forward to more sensitive regions, not to mention the palm of his right hand.
He could only hope that the budget meeting would be short and sweet, and maybe he could go home early that day.
* * *
The budget meeting was the longest in FBI history. Or so it seemed to Mulder. At any rate, when they finally broke for coffee after two tedious hours, fewer than half of the divisions had presented their annual projections. And since they were going alphabetically, the X-Files was slated to go last.
As soon as they were released for the brief respite, Mulder made a beeline for his office. He had spent the last 24 hours growing increasingly miserable and struggling to hide it from everyone around him. His squirming had only earned glares from Scully, and concealing his right hand in his lap all morning had invited glances from Agent Bill Mehaffie that he really didn't want to interpret. After all this, Mulder desired nothing more than a chance to suffer in private, if only for a few minutes.
No such luck. As he should have expected, his partner quickly sought him out and cornered him.
"Mulder, you haven't been able to sit still ever since that traffic jam yesterday morning. This is obviously something more than just a little restlessness. When are you going to tell me what's going on?"
"There's nothing for you to worry about, Scully. I just need to go home and get a good night's sleep."
"I am a doctor, you know. If you'll just be honest about your symptoms, then maybe I can give you something to help."
"I don't have any symptoms. I'm just tired and irritable. Now, can we drop this?"
"I've seen you tired and irritable before, so I know this is something different. If you don't improve by the end of the day, I'm taking you to the hospital."
"Damn it, Scully! I don't need to go to the hospital! I'm fine."
"You're obviously not fine, and if you'll just--"
"I wiped my ass with poison ivy and it itches like hell! There, are you happy now?"
The end of his tirade coincided with the click of heels coming to rest in the open doorway, and an embarrassed Mulder looked over to see the ill-timed arrival of an equally embarrassed Kim.
"I, um--Assistant Director Skinner just sent me down here to call you back to the meeting."
Having nothing further to say at this moment, Mulder took the interruption as his opportunity to escape his now stunned partner, and the office assistant swiftly stepped out of his way as he hastened toward the elevator.
The two women were left blinking at each other in the ensuing silence.
Not sure what else there was to say, Kim turned to depart, but Scully stopped her.
"Wait a minute. Can you do me a huge favor?"
Kim stepped inside the doorway and watched the agent rummage through her wallet and withdraw a few bills.
"Can you run to the drugstore down the street and pick up some calamine lotion? I'd really appreciate it."
The other woman nodded her assent, and with obvious alleviation, Scully replied: "Thank you."
* * *
By lunchtime, they had only reached "T." Who knew there were so many divisions in the FBI? More importantly, who really cared?
Certainly not Mulder. By noon, he cared about nothing other than the moment when he could finally get home, sprawl out on his stomach in the first convenient location, and never move again. Hopefully with a bottle of vodka in his hand.
So preoccupied was he with such fantasies of relief that he failed to notice the handoff that occurred between Skinner's assistant and his partner when the other agents were filing out of the conference room. The contraband was concealed in a brown paper bag, so no one else was privy to its contents.
When Scully finally arrived in the basement with the brown bag in one hand and two sandwiches in the other, she found Mulder bent over his desk with his face buried in the crook of his arm, which was supporting his weight in lieu of his lower half. He didn't bother to look up when she entered.
"Just let me die in peace."
"You know, Mulder, if you'd just told me about this when it first happened, we could've done something about it hours ago."
"It's too late. Just shoot me now and put me out of my misery."
"It can't be that bad. Besides, I've got something to ease the pain."
Now he lifted his head to look at her. "Drugs?" he asked hopefully.
"Nope. Calamine lotion." She brandished the bottle at him.
He reached out a hand for it, but she pulled it back. "Let me inspect the damage first. If you've aggravated the infection, you may need something stronger. C'mon, Mulder. Drop 'em."
He responded with a look of mortification. "I'm not going to let you see this."
Scully sighed in exasperation. "I'm a doctor. I've seen far worse. This would be a lot easier if you'd just stop fighting me on it."
He didn't reply right away but seemed to consider his options. "Not in the office."
"We can lock the door."
"No. Not here." They both knew the office had been bugged on previous occasions, so it was understandable that he should desire a more private location.
"Fine. The bathroom, then. Let's go."
* * *
It had not escaped Skinner's notice that his most troublesome agent had been particularly restless all morning. He knew that Mulder had difficulty sitting through meetings, but he suspected that something else was up. He feared that whatever was preoccupying the agent may have something to do with his budget report this afternoon, and Skinner didn't want to find out what that problem was along with a room full of his peers and subordinates. He hoped that a trip to the basement might finally clarify for him what was going on.
But his approach to the X-Files office was brought up short by a moan emanating from the locked unisex bathroom down the hall.
"Oh God, Scully."
"I told you this would make you feel better. Can you spread your legs just a little more?"
"Ohhh yeah, right there. Oh God. We should've done this earlier. My balls were aching so bad this morning I thought they were going to fall off."
"This would be easier if you'd stop moving.... Thank you."
"There you go. All done. Better?"
"Much. Thank you."
"You're welcome. Next time, don't let it go so long before coming to me."
After a few shuffling and rinsing noises, the door opened and two startled agents found themselves face to face with a seething Assistant Director.
"Sir, we can explain--"
"This isn't what it looks like--"
"My office! Now!" Skinner managed to grind out behind clenched teeth.
But his retreat was halted by Scully's appeal: "Mulder wiped his ass with poison ivy!"
Skinner turned back toward his agents to see Mulder turning red and Scully holding up a bottle of calamine lotion. He honestly didn't know how to respond to that, so the three of them just stood there blinking at each other, speechless. Finally Mulder raised his right hand to give evidence of the damage.
Skinner sighed. Nothing was ever simple with these two. "So that's why you haven't been able to sit still all morning?"
Mulder grimaced and nodded.
"This meeting is enough of a pain in the ass without being so literally. I can't believe you've put up with it this long. Go home, Mulder. And don't come in tomorrow unless your condition has improved."
Having made his pronouncement, their boss turned and retraced his steps to the elevator, muttering something about what lengths some people will go to just to get out of a budget meeting.
Scully turned to her partner. "When you get home, wash everything you've worn since exposure, and anything else you may have come into contact with. Here." She extended her hand to offer him the lotion. "You should re-administer this in a few hours. I'll call you after work to see how you're doing."
Not yet reaching for the bottle, Mulder put on his best pouty face, augmented by a whiny tone. "You mean you're not going to come over and do it for me?"
She graced him with the requisite eye-roll, but when he reached out to take the container from her, she withdrew her hand. He looked at her in question.
"Only if you promise to feed me dinner."
He waggled his eyebrows at her, and the corner of her mouth twitched upward in spite of her efforts to remain impassive.
"Go home, Mulder. I've got a meeting to go to. You owe me one, you know."
"Oh, Scully, I'm sure I'll find some way to make it up to you."
Her response trailed over her shoulder as she made her way to the elevator. "Promises, promises."
Notes: It is not in my nature to torture Mulder (well, at least not physically), but O8, Pgh, and B.J. wanted Mulder Torture, so I obliged. This is as close as I get, so I hope it's acceptable. He had to be injured but not sick, capable of a full recovery, and proving his mettle by his bravery and endurance. Scully Comfort was also a plus.
The same morning we discussed this, Mims' account of removing poison ivy from her yard called to my mind the autobiographical account I'd heard Stephen King share (in the audiobook of _On Writing_) earlier that week. [Yes, he really did use poison ivy for toilet paper once (as a child).] If coincidences are truly not coincidences, then it seems that fate has determined what would befall Mulder in this tale. Thus, it really isn't my fault.
The title is from Emily Dickinson's poem, "They Say That Time" (below). Obfusc8er helpfully suggested an alternate title: "Time Assuages, Ass Rash Rages."
They say that 'time assuages,'--
Time never did assuage;
An actual suffering strengthens,
As sinews do, with age.
Time is a test of trouble,
But not a remedy.
If such it prove, it prove too
There was no malady.