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Old Chem

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1. It was a weird thing to think, but it was odd that they'd put the new chemistry professor in Old Chem. The building -- cramped and dusty with an unreliable heating system -- hadn't actually housed the chemistry department in 35 years. It was now filled mainly with graduate students who either didn't mind that the clanking basement furnace would give up the ghost thrice every February, or just felt lucky to have office space and didn't complain. Dr. Fox Mulder, a tenured and often traveling research professor liked Old Chem, for what it was worth. Its bricks were the same orangey-red of the hoodoos of Bryce Canyon and it sat stalwart and proud on a rise above the river that purled through campus. The offices were small, and they lent everything in them -- from papers written in '82 to the newest state-of-the-art computers -- an aged patina that made you want to smoke a pipe and contemplate philosophy.

In any event, he never seemed to run into the new chemistry professor, even though his office was right next door.

2. One of the kids that rode on the same school bus route on the Vineyard had been a guy named Dana Dupree. He was five years older and a baseball star, and while Mulder hadn’t thought the kid was all that bright, he still worshipped him anyway, until the day Dupree graduated and Mulder never thought about him again.

He supposed that was why he thought the new professor was a man until she showed up at his door with a sheepish looking undergraduate he vaguely recognized from his Tuesday/Thursday lecture.

"I believe this may belong to you," said a caramel-soft voice from his doorway.

He looked up to see a short statured titch of a woman looking at him expectantly. Next to her was said undergraduate, who was hitching his backpack on his shoulder uncomfortably and looking anywhere but Mulder's face.

"Does it?" Mulder asked without standing.

"These are office hours, right?" the kid said, looking up through a thick hatch of shaggy hair.

Mulder looked at his watch. "Indeed they are," he said, and motioned for the boy to sit in one of the chairs opposite his desk -- the only one not covered in sheaves of paper and books. The kid slid into it and the woman in the doorway raised a hand and started to retreat into the hallway when Mulder said:

"And who do I have to thank for the saving of wayward students?"

The woman gave him a small, closed mouth smile that nevertheless reached all the way to her eyes.

"Dr. Dana Scully," she said, nodding at him and taking another step back. "Your new neighbor." With that she was gone.

3. He didn't see her again for almost a month. He was heading down the narrow back stairway that led from Old Chem's parking lot to the third floor hall of offices when he heard a forceful expletive followed by the sound of several light things hitting the floor. When he rounded the next landing, Dr. Scully was carrying an overfilled and close-to-disintegrating cardboard box and looking helplessly down at a wash of manila folders and dot-matrix printouts that were scattered across the floor and accordioning down three steps.

She was bending to put the box down when Mulder came trotting down the last few stairs.

"Let me get that," he said, bending down to pick up the sheety detritus which he tapped into a neat stack.

"Thanks," she said, sounding reluctant to accept the help.

When he stood holding the papers out a little awkwardly, she gave him a grudging smile and he tucked the stack carefully into the box she now had balanced on her hip.

"Would you like help carrying all this up?" he asked, "I can get the box?"

"I can manage," she said, and Mulder thought she probably could -- she only had one more flight to go.

"Then at least let me get the doors," he said, bounding back up from the way he came, and seeing her safely to her office.

She gave him a small sideways glance as she unlocked the old Schlage, and when she fumbled with the keys, he reached out and wordlessly took the box from her hands so she could open the door. She gave a last hard shove with her shoulder and she was in, and he entered and put the box gingerly on her desk.

"Wow," he said, taking a look around the room. It was spotless and bright, airy in an effortless sort of way that was near impossible to find in the stuffy confines of Old Chem. "If Professor Abernathy saw this place, I think he'd want to move back in."

She smiled at him and he noticed for the first time that her eyes were a bright liquidly aqua, as cobalt as the Caribbean. His heart beat once, hard, then returned to its normal cadence.

"Then where would I go?" she asked, and he thought he detected maybe a hint of flirt.

"Next door," he offered, "it would be tight and wouldn't be good for much beyond a good game of Battleship, but wayward undergrads wouldn't get lost."

She laughed, a sheath of hair falling into her face, her locks the same color as the sandstone in Utah -- the same color as the bricks of Old Chem.

He felt something in his chest he hadn’t felt in a long time.

4. He normally didn't stay this late, but his TA was out sick and he needed to get the grades turned in by noon the next day.

The moonlight coming through the single window in his office was pale and diaphanous, and it shone in a small rectangle on the grungy berber of his floor, the small desktop lamp illuminating only the papers in front of him.

There was a sharp knock on his door.

"It's open!"

It swung in to reveal Dr. Scully, holding a couple cartons of what looked like Chinese food and two paper-wrapped chopsticks packs, her face looking hesitant but hopeful, her hair a muzzy halo backlit by the fluorescents in the hallway.

"Your light is on a lot later than normal," she said, holding up the cartons, from which drifted the tangy waft of Pad Thai. "Thought you might need some sustenance."

His stomach gurgled in response.

“Partay,” he said, gesturing her in.

She smiled and shuffled in, setting a carton in front of him and the chopsticks on top.

“Apologies for the dimness, the overheads were giving me a headache,” he said, reaching behind him for the large pillar candles he kept in his office -- the building was notorious for losing power in the summer months, and he’d learned to be prepared. “Too weird to eat by candlelight?” he asked, fingering a lighter.

She shrugged and plopped down into the free chair across from his desk and folded her feet under herself, somehow looking cozy in the notoriously uncomfortable chair. He lit the candles and placed one on the desktop between them, unwrapping the chopsticks and rubbing the handles together. He considered her for a moment and she seemed to do the same.

“Do you always order for two?” he finally asked, opening the top of his container and letting the steam puff up gently around his face. He closed his eyes and inhaled dreamily. It smelled wonderful. She opened her own, deftly spearing a bean sprout and delicately nipping it in half. “It makes great leftovers,” she said, then expertly twirled a small bundle of noodles onto her own utensil and took a happy bite. “And I’ve been curious about you,” she finished around a mouthful of food.

“Me?” he asked, surprised. He shoveled in a mouthful with far less finesse and she chuckled at him.

“Yes,” she said, “you. The enigmatic Dr. Mulder. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Normally, he probably would have said something like oh really? and then made a smartass comment about her spying on him, but something held him back. Instead he said, “...what do you want to know?”

She looked at him, chewing thoughtfully. The candlelight gave her a fresh-faced look, her skin dewy and glowing. She had cupid’s bow lips, the color of overripe raspberries. A thought flashed through his head that they would probably taste as good as they looked.

“How long have you been tenured?”

“Five years.”

“Undergrad?”

“Oxford.” She raised an impressed eyebrow.

“Married?”

He choked and covered for it by coughing. She was still looking at him earnestly, expecting an answer.

“Ah,” he said, then cleared his throat. “Almost.”

“Narrowly avoided the institution?” He felt like he was being interviewed by a seasoned criminologist. She was unruffled and laser focused. Normally he would have had sirens going off in his head by now, abort! abort! but he was into it. Really into it.

“Narrowly avoided the spouse .” She grinned and took another bite and he decided to lob one back at her. “Why, you in the market?”

She looked at him levely, chewing no faster or slower than before. When she swallowed, he kept his eyes on the elegant column of her neck, watching her throat work.

“I’m a professor of chemistry, Dr. Mulder,” she said, quirking one eyebrow in a way that charmed him even more. “I’d never rule out adhesion.”

5. It was a tempest. A Goddamn tempest, and it had come rushing off the plains and, propelled by the jet stream, roaring into campus with the force of a freight train. He was halfway to the building that held his evening lecture when the wind picked up, and he was just passing Old Chem when the rain came. A torrential downpour that would have felled even the strongest umbrella. A streak of lighting followed immediately by the crash of thunder and he darted into the Old Chemistry building just to escape it. He was standing in the small foyer looking out the small beaded window panes in the old oak doors -- there were still a few students darting haphazardly into random buildings -- when his phone dinged. He pulled it out of his pocket.

UNIVERSITY EMERGENCY ALERT -- STORM WARNING -- STAY INDOORS -- ALL EVENING CLASSES CANCELLED

Sighing, he turned to head into his office to wait out the storm. He was thinking he had lab results in his briefcase he could probably go over when the power suddenly -- though perhaps not surprisingly -- went out. He drifted up the stairs to his office in the uncomfortable beam of the stairwell’s emergency light box, the bulbs shining brightly in two different directions like some kind of demented wall-eyed robot.

When he got to his door, he saw a small light flitting about the office next to his, then heard a thud and a muffled curse. He knocked lightly.

“Everything all right in there?” he called out.

The door was flung open and a frazzled-looking Dr. Scully stood before him, the too-bright glow of her cell phone flashlight pointing somewhere around his belt buckle.

“Hi,” she said, then rather needlessly added, “the power is out.”

“Welcome to Old Chem,” Mulder said with a trace of sarcasm, just as another flare of lightning highlighted her dressed-down outfit. Unusually, she was wearing jeans, a white tank top that rather nicely showcased the twin pillows of her decolletage and an old chambray shirt, shirtsleeves rolled to her elbows, unbuttoned in the front.

“My phone is about to die and I can’t find my portable charger,” she went on, a bit flustered, “and I also can’t see a god damned thing. If I was near my lab I could probably improvise some kind of glow stick, but I’m… not,” she finished lamely.

“You want some help?” he offered, setting down his briefcase in the hallway. There was an emergency light at the far end, but its light barely reached them. They were mainly highlighted in the red glow of the Exit sign that hung from the ceiling just to their left.

“I was actually on my way out. I give up. I can charge it in my car.”

He’d just noticed that her laptop bag was slung over one shoulder. A crash of deafening thunder shook the building.

“I, uh, wouldn’t go out right now,” he said, holding up the emergency alert on his phone, “it’s biblical out there.” Her shoulders slumped. “Come into my office,” he went on, digging his keys out of his pocket, “I don’t have Pad Thai, but I still have those candles.”

She smiled and he flushed a bit at the memory. It had only been a week and a half ago. She’d been pretty forward, and he’d been about to ask her out when the janitorial crew came rolling down the hallway. They’d quickly emptied the trashcans in the various offices on the floor, but when they kick-started the industrial floor polisher out in the hallway, Mulder had been fairly sure his window had closed.

She passed by him while he held open the door, and was forced to back herself up to the wall so he could squeeze by a moment later to get to the pillar candles and lighter he kept on top of his file cabinet. Their hips grazed ever so slightly as he brushed by her and he caught a heady whiff of her perfume, a spicy, floral scent studded with hints of white musk and bergamot. He had to keep himself from leaning into her to get another sniff.

“You want to have a seat?” he asked, indicating the guest chair.

“Not on your life,” she laughed, “it took three Pilates classes to work out the kink in my back from the last time.”

“Take mine,” he said, and settled himself into the chair across the desk, shifting to try to get comfortable.

After several moments she let out an undignified guffaw and stood.

“Come on,” she said, still chuckling as she rose from his office chair, “let’s go into my office. We’ll be a lot more comfortable.

Slightly chagrined, he grabbed the candles and followed her obediently. She had two nice looking chairs sitting side by side with a small, tasteful side table in between them, and they both settled in.

“Well,” she said, looking at the candles, “this is romantic.”

He chuckled.

“Any idea how long this is supposed to last?” she asked, nodding toward the small window. The sun hadn’t quite set, but the sky was a frightening velvety grey and the branches on the ancient maples outside Old Chem were bending sideways in the thrash.

Mulder pulled up a NOAA app on his phone.

“Radar shows three cells coming through,” he said, pinching the screen to get a bigger picture. “One on top of the other.”

She smirked at the innuendo, but made no move to do or say anything. He tossed the phone on the desktop next to a candle.

“Well,” she said, “any chance you’re up for a game of Battleship?”

XxXxXxXxXxX

She’d actually bought one. He was delighted when, from under her desk, she pulled out a brand new, still-in-the-cellophane, honest-to-god game of Battleship. They were twenty minutes into their second game and she was absolutely handing him his ass.

“How are you so good at this?” he asked her, after he put the last red peg into his submarine.

She studied her board.

“My father was a naval officer,” she said, not looking up, “a Captain when he retired. He was gone a lot. As a kid I would play this game with anyone who would play with me. Even the old lady next door. It made me feel closer to him.”

“Where does he live now?” Mulder asked, then, “C8.”

“Miss,” she said, “He and Mom are in Maryland. B12.”

“Hit. Any siblings?”

“Three.”

“E1?”

“Miss. You?” she asked. “B11.”

“A sister,” he answered, then leaned back and sighed. “You sunk my battleship.”

She smiled victoriously. “You giving up?”

“I know when I’ve been bested,” he said.

He looked out the window at the storm as he helped her pack up the game. There was a brief lull in the weather while one cell moved off and another moved in. One of the trees in the diag out her window had been uprooted by the wind and was leaning into one of its compatriots like a soldier limping off the battlefield.

“It’s been nice being stuck here with you,” she said, finally leaning back.

“I’m glad,” Mulder said, nodding to the window, “because we may end up being stuck here all night.”

She put her thumbnail in her mouth and tilted her head. “I can think of worse things.”

“Oh yeah?” he said, swallowing hard.

“Yeah,” she said. “I think you should ask me out.”

He felt himself flush. Again. “If I asked, what would we do?”

“Drinks,” she said, “dancing. Maybe see where the night takes us.”

He nodded at her, considering. He briefly bit the inside of his cheek. “Will you go out with me?” he finally said.

“Yes,” she said, smiling. “When?”

He stood. “Right now,” he said, getting a flash of inspiration, a jagged line of lightning streaking outside the window. “Stay right there.”

The candles sputtered as he swung open her office door. The dim red from the Exit sign gave just enough illumination for him to go into his own office and pull out the bottom drawer of his desk. When he returned, she was sitting up, intrigued. On her desk he deposited a bottle of Lagavulin and two small rocks glasses.

“You like Scotch?” he asked.

She nodded, smiling. He returned her smile and poured her a finger. He did the same and held it up in salute.

“To our first date,” he said.

“Slainte,” she said, tapping her glass into his own and then taking a slow sip, her eyes never leaving his.

The spirit was as smooth as middle C, but burned its way down his esophagus, filling his belly with the warm haze of nerve.

He reached for his phone, which was still sitting on top of her desk, swiping and tapping until the soulful purl of Nina Simone’s Feeling Good began to leak through the tiny speakers. He upped the volume so that the sound of the singer’s velvet voice swelled over the roar of the rain outside, set down his glass and held out his hand to her. She took a large swallow, almost finishing what was in her glass, and set it down next to his, taking his hand. He pulled her to him.

“Is this okay?” he whispered, pressing his hand into the amati curve of her back. There wasn’t much room in the small office, certainly not enough for a good dance, but if they swayed, turning in place like a couple of kids at an eighth grade dance, it would get the job done.

She canted her face up to his, blinking slowly. “Yes,” she said in a voice as low as his had been, and then pressed her head to his chest. He pulled her in even more, pulling their clasped hands in close.

She fit perfectly into the lee of him, and something just felt right about it as she settled in, sighing contentedly. It was like a key sliding into the right lock. Click .

The song was over before either of them were ready for it to be. Mulder didn’t move as the brassy sound of the big band faded into silence. He scarcely even breathed. Dr. Scully shifted in his arms, but made no move to step away. After a moment, he worked up the nerve to look down at her and found her looking right back.

“What happens next?” he muttered, tongue feeling thick in his mouth.

“Next?” she said, voice barely a whisper. “We see where the night takes us.”