Disclaimer :: The characters herein are the property of their creators. I make no profit from their use.


:: A Rose in the Deeps ::

written by Starlet2367 { e-mail // livejournal }


The young man stood against the dryer, feeling the jiggle of the machine  as it whirled his clothes.  Last load, thank God.  He pulled his T-shirt  away from his sticky body and began to fan himself with it.  Man, it  was hot, he thought, and stopped fanning.  It was only making things  worse.

He glanced out the laundromat's glass door.   The sun was just starting to slip below the top of the building across the street.  Great. Nearly 9:00 at night and it was still ninety degrees outside.  To top it off, the ancient air conditioning system in the laundromat was barely working, making it nearly as hot in the laundromat as it was outside.

The only good thing to come from the heat was the fact that he was alone.  Well, except for the withered old dame behind the desk. What was she reading?  He squinted toward the book: a romance novel?  He snorted and wiped the sweat bead that was dribbling over his eyebrow.

Most Friday nights he had to fight for a washer and dryer, spend hours waiting while the clothes finished drying, one excruciating load at a time. But tonight he was the only one willing to brave the lethal combination of the hot dryers and the sauna-like weather that held the whole Eastern seaboard hostage. You had to love DC in the summertime.

What was he thinking, staying here when the other guys had gone to the beach?  He shook his head at the injustice of it all. Here it was, summer, and he was stuck with a full course load.  At this moment he couldn't figure out just why he'd thought it was so important to take the extra classes.  Who cared if he graduated a semester early. He was missing one of the last summer breaks he'd ever have.  He heaved a sigh, scratched at the itch on his elbow.

He didn't know what depressed him more, the fact that he hadn't gone to the beach, or the fact that he had an American History test on Monday.  But he knew how the guys were when they got together.  Sex, drugs, and rock & roll, not necessarily in that order. He could see it now, and a very tempting vision it was: a beer in one hand, a bikini-clad girl in the other, with the beach fire roaring against the sea breeze.

Unfortunately, he could just as easily envision his textbook lying under the bed in the rental house.  He knew that if he went out with the guys, it wouldn't get cracked open all weekend-unlike the keg whose load of beer he was sure they were already consuming. But no studying meant lousy grades, and if he didn't ace this test, he could kiss his A-average good-bye.

Of course, the guys gave him hell about that-both the A-average and the fact that he'd decided not to go to the beach.  But A's made his parents very happy.  Since they were paying for this little sojourn, he figured the least he could do was make them happy. Even if he wasn't.

So, here he was, stuck in the laundromat on a hotter-than-hell Friday night, with his books and his whirling whites.

At least there was a TV. It sat on one of those shelves that held it suspended from the ceiling. He took a quick glance to see what the old lady had on.  South Park.  He wondered if she understood half of what the kids on the show were saying.

As he thought that, one of the TV characters came out with something truly, horrifically foul, and he wondered, not for the first time, why everyone thought this was so funny. If you wanted to see little kids talk like that, go hang out at a public school yard. He snorted, and fished around in his textbook for the set of notes one of his classmates had loaned him.

The laundromat the door opened and the bell over it jangled loudly. The young man jumped a little at the unexpected noise, and dropped the notes back onto the table as he watched a small redhead lumber in, clearly overburdened with laundry.  She had a trio of laundry bags on one shoulder, a couple of smaller bags on the other, and two huge bottles-one of detergent and the other of bleach-clutched precariously in front of her.

Damn, how is she carrying all that, he wondered.  His ingrained manners took over, and he stepped forward to help her with the bags.  Then he stopped, his shoes squeaking on the hard tile floor. Jee-sus.  Those legs.  He huffed out a soft whistle.

The legs in question were-barely-encased in the tiniest pair of cutoffs he'd ever seen.  They led up to a lean torso, which was covered with an equally tiny tank top, white and sweat soaked and absolutely, terminally lethal.  He could just see the outline of her nipples through the damp fabric. The temperature of the laundromat shot up a couple of dozen degrees, and his mouth went bone-dry. Reflexively he wiped his chin.

A bead of sweat trickled down the side of the redhead's temple and she brushed it away with a swipe of her forehead against her shoulder.  This pulled the tank top tightly over her chest and lengthened the exposed side of her neck, where another drop of sweat traveled languorously toward her shoulder. The young man raised his eyes heavenward and hailed the gods of summer.

Maybe staying home wasn't such a bad idea, after all.


Dana Scully glanced at the kid as she shoved the bottles on the nearest washer.  She noticed how his eyes traveled over her while he thought she wasn't looking, but she was too busy trying not to drop anything to be overly concerned. Sighing, she slid the laundry to the floor with a plop.  She rotated her shoulder, feeling the tense muscles pull painfully, and let the smaller bag, holding a month's worth of mail and the latest Patricia Cornwell novel, follow the laundry on its graceless journey to the floor.

Sweat inched its way down her temple.  She swiped at it, raised her eyes and cursed the gods of summer. It was so damned hot that the politicians were heading back to hell to cool off.  And she'd pulled her usual stunt and carried too much in one load.  She could feel the moisture V down her back and crawl under the waistband of her cutoffs. Goddamn the apartment complex for deciding to paint the laundry room this weekend, anyway.

She looked at the young man again as she shoved one of the bags under the table in front of the washers.  Nearly six feet tall, she figured, as she began to dig in her pocket for quarters.  Not quite as tall as Mulder, she thought, as she slapped the roll on the table next to her, but she still had to look way, way up to catch his eye-which was difficult since he wasn't precisely trying to make eye contact. He caught her gaze and immediately dropped his.

She noticed the long, gangly limbs, the oversized hands and feet. Longish blond hair.  Faded REM T-shirt-ah, good taste in music, but didn't that album come out in the 80s?  He would've been, what, 4 years old?  She nearly grimaced.  Loose khaki shorts, Birkenstocks.  Damn cute, if borderline illegal, she mused.

Looks like a college student.  And with GWU right around the corner, it was a good bet he was one.  She wondered what he studied.  Pre-law?  Pre-med?  It'd have to be 'pre' something, because he barely looked old enough to tie his own shoes.

She felt her heart soften as she watched him stare at his feet. Probably shy, especially after she'd caught him studying her like she was his very own ice cream cone.  One he wanted to lick from top to bottom and take his time doing it.  Fifteen years ago, she might have taken him up on it.

Obviously not a threat, she reminded herself, though she felt reflexively for her handbag.  The solid weight of the SIG comforted her.  On some level she realized just how truly screwed up that was. Normal people didn't feel comforted by guns; they certainly didn't carry them to the laundromat.

But who defined normal, anyway?  She supposed it was the everyday routines of one's life; maybe "normal" meant something different to everyone.  If that was the case, then she supposed it could be considered normal that she carried a gun with her when she did laundry.  The real question was, when had that become her version of normal?  She nearly sighed.  Now that she thought about it, she couldn't remember the last time she'd left home without slipping her gun in her handbag.  It made a twisted sort of sense, if your motto was '"Trust No One."   Trust no one.  Not even your own instincts-unless you have a gun to back them up.

Still, she felt comfortable enough to slip her purse under the table next to the canvas tote.  Just out of reach, yet still close enough for quick and easy access if she needed it.  Hedging her bets, she figured.  What had the last year taught her, if not to expect the worst at any moment?

Jesus, Scully, she thought, you're getting as cynical and as paranoid as Mulder.  She did sigh, then, and she brushed her hand over her face.  Glancing up, Scully smiled at the young man.

"Hi," she offered.  He flushed and looked quickly back at his feet, crossed in front of him as he leaned against the dryer.  She felt a pang of sympathy as she remembered how miserable it was to be shy.

"Hot day, hmm?" she continued as she unlooped the knot on the first bag. The guy's Adam's apple bobbed-she actually heard him gulp-and she smiled again.  He /was/ cute, she thought. And really, really young, said that pesky little voice in her head.

A quick glance at the table next to him confirmed her earlier suspicions.  An American History textbook.  A ratty notebook. Must be summer term.  But it was Friday night.  Why wasn't he out somewhere, with friends?  At a beach party? Having a life?

But then again, she was a fine one to talk. She smiled wistfully as she realized that, for her, those hadn't been options for a long time. The last time she'd tried for a regular Friday night, she'd damn near ended up incinerated-and that was AFTER she'd slept with a guy whose tattoo talked to him.

At least her tattoo hadn't said anything.  Yet.

All in all, she reminded herself, laundry was much, much safer, even if it was a pathetic statement about her life.  She plucked the tank top away from the sweat that pooled between her breasts, and sighed.  It was too damn hot to be doing laundry.

"Too hot for laundry," the guy muttered, as if he'd heard her thoughts.  She smiled in agreement.  He smiled back, and she was struck by the greenness of his eyes as he looked fully at her for the first time.  He had a nice smile. A face on its way from cute to handsome.  Lashes like women were supposed to have, but never did.

She watched as those lashes drifted downward, and then back up as they perused her body from the bottom of her ancient black clogs to her now-quirked eyebrow.  He flinched when he realized he'd been caught. A slow flush that had little to do with the weather suffused his face, and Scully found herself charmed.

She was used to being appraised openly by men.  It was a hazard of her job, a byproduct of the old boys' network, and one she'd learned to deal with early on.  She found it distasteful most times, but this kid seemed so young and innocent, it was kind of flattering.  She decided not to raise hell with the poor guy about the proper treatment of women.

Besides, it was Friday night-a long, summer Friday night. A time to shuck the G-woman attire, forget her forensics reports for a few hours and, maybe later, get some ice cream.  Something sinful and fattening and not even remotely sensible.  A day to put Scully away and become Dana again.

If she could just remember who Dana was.

The young man shuffled his feet and shook her from her reverie, and she realized she was staring at the top of the bag of laundry.  She laughed softly at herself and began pulling laundry out of the bag. From the  corner of her eye, she noticed that the he looked like he was trying to  get the courage to say something to her, and as he concentrated, a  lock of hair fell over his forehead.  For a moment he reminded her  of Mulder.  With a pang, she wondered what her partner was up to.

"Do you come here often?" the boy blurted suddenly, with a startling lack of guile.  She laughed before she could catch herself.  Didn't he know it was one of the oldest pick-up lines in the book? She remembered the blush, and realized that he probably didn't.

"Not often enough, apparently," she said, gesturing at her laundry, with a smile that invited him to join in on the joke.

Her gesture seemed to give him courage, for he smiled again and said, "Man, that's a lot of laundry.  Do you travel a lot for work, or something?"

"Something like that," she replied with a small grin.  She wondered if the green goo she'd gotten all over Mulder's polypropylene-lined pants would ever come out. Ah, Antarctica, vacation spot of the 90s. All the comforts of Nome. She stifled a giggle, not wanting to startle the guy any more than she already had.

Scully turned to the washer closest to her and plugged in her quarters.  Just dump it in, mash it down, and wait for the timer to buzz. It was like a meditation exercise, a mantra of normality.

The young man's load buzzed insistently even as she heard the whoosh and fill of her own machines.  He glanced over at the dryer ruefully-as if he was afraid that if he lost the thread of the conversation he might not be able to pick it up again-and began to unload his underwear, socks and T-shirts into the waiting basket.


Man, of all the times for laundry to finish quickly!  And it would have to be his underwear, too. So not cool to talk to some chick when folding your tighty-whiteys.  He looked over at Scully, a little embarrassed that she might see his underwear, but she was too busy wrestling something that looked like...ski pants?*into the machine.

"Hey," he said, "need any help there?"  This time he met her gaze again, albeit somewhat hesitantly.

"Nah, I got it," she replied, and closed the lid.  She moved down to the next washer.

"How many loads have you got, anyway?" he asked as he began to fold his T-shirts.

"Hmmm, looks like it's probably going to be six," she laughed, continuing down the line of machines she had staked out.

He smiled and kept working through his pile of underwear, folding one piece at a time as she loaded the next washer.  He stopped folding for a moment and stared. Looked like she had the entire Victoria's Secret catalogue in there.  His mouth actually watered.

She shifted, shook out the items before putting them in lingerie bags. In a heartbeat his mouth went from waterfall to Sahara. Oh. My. God.  That blue thingie. He realized he was staring, and hastily got back to his own folding. "So," he asked, and winced at the sound of his voice cracking, "just how long has it been since you DID do laundry?" Lord of Pick-ups, hear my prayer.


Scully tried, she really tried, but between the open-mouthed panting and the voice-crack, she was on the edge of bursting out laughing. With severe will she tamped down the urge, and tried to answer his question. She arched an eyebrow, considering. With the stress of the last case, then the office burning down, and then her unexpected trip to the bottom of the world, it had probably been, ahhhh....

"A couple of months, I think," she answered at last. Maybe longer, actually, since right after the office burned, she'd gone out and bought new underwear.  At the time it had seemed quicker and easier than hauling her clothes to the laundry room.  Besides, she'd needed the boost. Inanely, "I Feel Pretty" drifted through her head. But now, looking at the mountains of washing before her, she wished she'd taken the time to do laundry, at least once.  She was going to be here all damn night and half of tomorrow, she thought, as she moved to the next washer and prepared it for the first of the three loads of whites.

She grimaced.  Whatever possessed her to buy white sheets and towels, anyway?   Damned Pottery Barn ad had made everything look so pristine, so refreshing. So untouched.  Just what she'd thought she needed to make the dark and frightening world outside her apartment go away. She frowned fiercely. She should sue them for false advertising, she thought.  It didn't work at all, and now she had three times the whites to wash.

She heard the kid shift behind her and stiffened, until she realized he was merely piling some jeans onto the table to fold. Wonderful, Scully, she thought, get a grip. Next you'll be asking him to assume the position.  What're you going to do, arrest him for improper folding techniques? She bent down to reach for the last of her clothes, and for a brief moment rested her forehead against the metal coolness of the machine. This time "Living on the Edge" was the background music supplied by her over-tired brain. No more letting Mulder pick the radio stations.

She loaded the final bunch of clothes into the machine.  As she closed the lid, she heard the water begin to pour over the clothes. Once she was certain all was in order, she glanced up at the young man.  He seemed preternaturally intent upon untangling a wad of jeans.  Scully walked over to him.

"Mind if I join you?" she asked. He actually blushed again, and once again Scully was charmed.

"Uh, n-no," he said.  He took a deep breath.  Even over the smells of detergent and bleach he could smell her.  Soap, shampoo, a powdery smell that reminded him of fresh peaches.

He made her feel tiny, but in a nice way.  Despite the old black clogs she wore, she didn't even come up to his chin. She watched as he let his eyes travel up her legs again, could almost see him imagining running his hands up their pale, silky length.  He licked his lips and she was fascinated by the hummingbird-pulse of his carotid. This time he met her gaze, but didn't look away. Instead, he shifted behind the basket and she suspected it was so she wouldn't see the beginning of his hard-on.

She grinned, knowing exactly what he was thinking, and, frankly, not caring.  She accepted the young man's stares and even enjoyed them. They made her feel*alive. It had been a long time since anyone had looked at her that way, innocent yet openly sexual. It was refreshing.  In fact, it reminded her a little bit of how Pendrell used to look at her.



A bead of sweat trickled down her neck and a sudden chill clawed at her spine. Air conditioning, she thought desperately, though she knew it wasn't true.  Her world tilted crazily as she tried to beat back the memories, to keep this moment and this man from getting tangled up with the bloodstained memory of the young agent.

She found herself looking at her hands, looking at his laundry, looking anywhere but his eyes.  The darkness couldn't follow her everywhere, could it?

Could it?

She felt her breath climb up in her chest.

Calm down, she thought, pulling out one of the hideous orange plastic chairs and easing herself into it.  Do something simple, something easy, her inner voice commanded, and now it was her turn to focus preternaturally, her turn to make a meditation out of a simple act.  She reached down and slowly pulled the canvas tote from under the table; the mail shifted inside as her trembling hands pulled the bag to her lap.

Breathe in.  Breathe out.

Just breathe.

By the time she had the demons almost under control again, the young man had gotten his folded jeans settled in the basket.  He hadn't seemed to notice her distress.  She was grateful.  What could she have said to explain it?  /There was this young agent, you see, and he was going to buy me a birthday drink, but before he could order he was gunned down in cold blood./ She clawed her hands in her lap, thinking of everything in the world but the hot chill of Pendrell's blood on them.

It was too much, beyond bearing.  Nothing could ever explain why someone as eager and sweet as Pendrell would take a bullet.  She shuddered, ashamed. In her short life, two people had died in her place. She closed her eyes and willed herself calm. For now, the memories of Pendrell had to go back to their dungeon, where she could lock the door behind them safely one more time.  For now. The horror receded gradually; her breathing evened out. Her shoulders slumped in relief and she glanced upward.  She wondered if the demons would always go back so easily.

Somehow, she doubted it.

"So, what's your name?" the guy asked.

"Scully," she said, without thinking.  He looked at her strangely.

"Scully?"  He asked.  "Is that your first name?"  She realized what she'd done.

"No, it's my last name.  I go by it at work.  My first name's Dana," she said, extending her hand across the table.  The young man shook it.  He felt strong and sure under her fingers.  He felt...real.

"Steven," he said.  "Or Steve.  Whichever."

"Hi, Steve Whichever," she smiled slowly.  "Nice to meet you."

"So, why do they call you by your last name?" he asked.

"Ahhhh..." she faltered. "They don't want to get me mixed up with another Dana," she said, an easy lie. Far easier than telling the truth.

"So, what do you do, Steve?" she asked, turning the talk away from herself.

"Pre-law," he said.

"Good for you."  Nice, she thought.  Safe.  "Do you like it?"

"It's okay," he mumbled, and glanced at the shirts he was stacking in the basket.

"Just okay?" Scully asked, tilting her head inquiringly. Apparently she remembered the basics of flirting. That was good.

"Well, my parents really want me to be a lawyer...." He trailed off.

Scully nodded sagely, recognizing the tone. "And what do YOU want to do?" she asked.  He glanced down, flushed, as if embarrassed to tell her.

"It's okay," she prompted. "Your secret's safe with me."  He looked at her quickly, then back at his jeans.

"Poetry."  It was said softly, as though asking her to be gentle.

Scully's eyes widened.  It wasn't what she expected, but now that she knew it, it made sense.  The long artist's fingers.  The dreamy eyes. The way he took in everything around him, down to the tiniest detail. She reached out, touched his arm lightly.

"I can see that," she said, nodding.  Steven looked at her, startled. As if she was the first person to confirm what he saw in himself.

"You can?" he asked, voice wavering.  He cleared his throat in obvious chagrin.

She patted his arm again, sympathy and understanding, and oh-so- precious human contact. "Yeah.  You just look like someone who'd do that," she shrugged, unable to put what she saw in him to words, not being a poet herself. "So who's your favorite poet?" she asked. He didn't hesitate.


She nodded. "Yeah, I like him, too.  How about modern poets?  Do you like David Whyte?"  She laughed aloud as he nearly goggled.

"You know who David Whyte is?" he asked.

"I've read some of his work.  He's pretty good.  For a modern writer."  She grinned at him.

"Yeah, he's okay," Steven replied.  "So what do you do?" he asked. She hesitated a moment.

"Law enforcement," she said, finally.  His eyes widened.

"Really?" he asked.  "Like on that Homicide show?".

She smiled. "Kind of."

"A long way from poetry," he said at last.

She nodded in quiet agreement. "A very long way."

By now Steven had everything in the baskets. His eyes held hers, lingered. He seemed to have a hard time pulling away, moving on. She felt a quiet sympathy, knowing what he was feeling despite the difference in their ages and experience, understanding because she'd been there, too.  Understanding because, sometimes, even now, she felt the same need to hold on to possibilities.

"Well," he finally said softly, stacking one basket on top of the other.  He secured both with his chin, shoved his books under his left arm.  "Nice talking with you."

"You too, Steven," she replied.  She watched him make his way to the door.  Looks like I'm not the only one who wants to get everything in one trip, she thought wryly.

"Here," she called, "Let me help you with the door." She pushed the chair back and went toward him, putting her hand on the door handle and angling the door open wide enough for him to pass.

"Thanks," he said, the word muttered, a little breathless.

"No problem," she replied as he began to slip out into the sultry summer evening. Between his load and her need to lean out against the door to keep it open wide, their bodies brushed gently, innocently.  "Bye, Steven," she offered softly, kindly.

"Bye, Dana," he replied. "Nice to meet you."  She nodded. Suddenly, he turned back to her, face flushed again; whether it was from the heat outside the door or from shyness she couldn't tell.

"Hey, ummm..." he began, and then took a really deep breath, "Would you like to go and, um, get a coffee or something, sometime?"  The last half of the sentence came out in a rush, even as Steven's face crimsoned further.

Definitely not the heat, Scully thought.  Poor guy.  He was struggling to hold onto his laundry baskets, trying not to drop his books, and asking her out for coffee all at the same time.  Oh, god. He was so cute, and he was so YOUNG, and his poet's eyes were looking clear through to her soul. She felt more naked than when he'd scoped her out.

Then her eyes widened as the reality of it hit her with the force of a fist.  Steven was asking her for a date.


Men her own age didn't ask her for a date, and here was this shy young man, clutching his American History textbook in one hand and his basketful of BVDs in the other, asking her out on a date. The sheer impossibility of it set in, throwing her mind into an almost frantic whirl. She closed her eyes.

Oh, God, what do I do now?  If I say yes, where will we go*the Student Union? The Hoover Building cafeteria?  Me, a federal agent down to the SIG in the waistband of my tailored suit, going out for coffee with this kid and his textbooks?  Holy Mary, Mother of God. What would we talk about?  EBEs?  Moth Men?  The war of 1812? No, I know! Maybe I could tutor him in Biology! She wanted to laugh and cry and maybe even scream. The sheer bizarreness of her life was utterly staggering.

Then her thoughts skidded in the opposite direction....   But what if I say no?  I mean, here this nice kid's gotten up the courage to ask me out, and if I turn him down, I know he'll be hurt.

Hey, Dana, a little voice whispered, remember that Sadie Hawkins dance in 8th grade, when you asked Michael Callahan, the cutest football player at school, and he turned you down for a cheerleader? Scully swallowed.  God, she remembered it so well.  The burning hands, the red face, the cold ache in her stomach after the fact.... She opened her eyes, but he was already moving out the door and into the crowded evening street.

"OhIwellIthat'sokay," she heard him whisper out over his shoulder. A slight wind ruffled his hair and picked up the sleeve of a T-shirt, turning it into a small kite.  He grabbed for it, trying not to overbalance as he hurried down the sidewalk.  Scully's eyes widened. Had he taken her silence as a "no"?  Shit, shit, shit!

"No, wait!" she called.  He kept moving.

"Steven!  Wait!" she called again, but he had already disappeared into the deepening shade and evening crowds.  Scully stood, leaning into the door, feeling a familiar, chill ache deep in her belly.

This was worse than being turned down for that dance, she thought. A million times worse-not because she'd been hurt, but because she'd hurt someone else.

Scully rubbed her hands over her arms, and suddenly realized that there were a lot of people on the sidewalk, and one couple was eyeing her strangely over their iced coffee.  She sighed, stepped back into the hot, humid building and returned to the table where she'd stored her gear.

Her shoulders sagged like they did when she had faced her father in his office, knowing that his disapproval would be a worse punishment than whatever else he doled out.  Now it was self- castigation, but no less damning. Her little voice had a way of getting the tone just right.

How could you be so rude, Dana?  That poor kid....

What would it have hurt, just for ONCE in your life, to act first and think later? the relentless little voice continued.

Another voice came to her then, a voice from long ago, "Dana," the old woman had said, "life doesn't always give you a second chance."

A slow tremor coursed through her, almost buckling her knees.  She threw her hands over her ears as if that could block out the voices hammering at her from inside her head.

I can't handle it, she thought.  I can't take it tonight.  I didn't mean to hurt him.  I didn't mean to hurt anyone.  I'm a doctor, I promised not to hurt people.  She felt her eyes sting, and the ache in her belly threatened to swallow her whole. She collapsed into the chair and put her head on her arms.  I can't take it, she thought.  It hurts too much.

And I'm so tired.  So tired from the last few months of inhuman stress, from trying simultaneously to keep up with Mulder, and keep him from getting killed.  From the abduction, the violation, the damn frostbite.  From never getting a full night's sleep anymore.  From trusting my fucking gun more than I trust myself.

Stop it.  Just stop it, the voice ordered loudly.  She pressed her fingertips into her eyes until she saw stars, hoping the tears would go away.

If I don't stop this now, I'll probably have a breakdown, right here in the laundromat in front of the old woman behind the counter, while the last of the South Park credits roll.  What a way to go. Oh my God, they killed Scully. You bastards.

The laughter hitched in her chest as she wiped her eyes.  Jesus, I'm a basket case.  This won't do.  I can NOT do this.

So she pushed away the longing and the sadness and the guilt.  She tamped them down as ruthlessly she'd mashed down the laundry in her bags.  Then she squared her shoulders, took a deep breath, and tried to accept that there was nothing more she could do.  Steven was long gone, and running after him would only make it worse, she reasoned.  The only option remaining, the most sensible option, was to continue with her solitary plans for the evening. Sensible, she could do sensible.

She reached for her canvas tote, upending the bag and dumping the contents onto the table, steadfastly ignoring the lingering pang in her belly.

A month's worth of mail slid out, along with the Cornwell book. Her whole life in a shower of envelopes and mailer cards. She put the book aside for later-work before pleasure, Mom always said-and began to sort her mail.

Bills in one pile.  Junk mail in the garbage, once she'd torn it down the middle so no one could read the address.  Letters from friends or family next to the bills. Packages, magazines and catalogues on her lap. She took a deep breath and felt the ache begin to recede.

Okay, let's see.  Phone bill, electric bill, dry cleaning bill.  "Have you seen these children?" flyer. A note from the public television station thanking her for her pledge.  The latest from the Lone Gunmen. A quick flip through that brought a chuckle.

A letter from her old college pal, Jackie, who preferred the old fashioned art of writing letters to phone calls or e-mails.  Scully admired her dedication, and envied her the time. Somewhere under a sheaf of forensic reports she had a lovely stationary set, gathering dust, if not moss.

An envelope full of coupons for local stores.  A Victoria's Secret catalogue.  She smirked a little at this, almost sorry Mulder wasn't there to tease her about it, and at the same time glad. There was always that uncertainty between them, a constant fluctuation of boundary lines. She wasn't sure yet how they were going to settle out. She touched the cover, smiled thoughtfully, and moved on.

The bill for her cell phone. She hefted it, guessing at the number of pages. Too many, judging by the weight. She didn't open it. She was depressed enough.

She set aside a package from Land's End, probably containing the shorts she'd ordered. Khaki, tailored and stylish, and more in keeping with her professional image than her current cutoffs. She wondered if Steven would have looked as long and hard if she had worn the new shorts instead of these threadbare ones. She wondered if it would have been wiser.

She wondered if she wanted to be wiser.

She gave small sigh, and set the package aside.

There was a second parcel.  She glanced at the return address.  It belonged to her cousin, Karen, in Fredericksburg.  That one stopped the quick sorting process.  She hadn't heard from Karen in, what, ten years? Not since the birth of her cousin's youngest daughter, Emma.

Christ, Scully thought as she rubbed her fingers over the crease between her eyebrows.  Was that child ten years old already? Then that would make the oldest daughter...seventeen?  Good god, she would be starting college this time next year.

Where had the years gone?  She thought sadly of Steven again, not so much older than her cousin's daughter, yet already an adult. When did he cross the line from child to grown-up, she wondered? When did anyone?  Time was such a funny thing.

As the thoughts whirred, she turned the package over in her hands. She and Karen weren't especially close, despite the fact that they only lived about an hour's drive away from each other.  Yet the few times they did get together, they had enjoyed each other's company.

Why weren't they closer?  Part of it was the age difference, she decided.  Karen was about eight years older than she was, which had made her seem like an adult in the world of Scully's childhood. Perhaps it was also due to Scully's peripatetic life, first as part of Ahab's family, living so many different places as his assignments changed, and now always travelling with her casework.  She'd never had the benefit of regular family get-togethers to get to know her cousin well.  Yet Karen had always made time for Dana when they did see each other.  Even when she had been young, Karen had seemed to enjoy playing hide and seek or climbing trees with her, though she probably had been years beyond such childish pleasures.

Karen had never seemed to wish away the time they spent together; looking back, Dana had never sensed resentment or even condescension. In many ways, Karen had seemed like the perfect older sister: exotic and glamorous with her long, blond hair and pale blue eye shadow, yet utterly approachable.  She'd tagged along behind her, and Karen had allowed it-even seemed to enjoy Dana's company-something her own siblings vigorously protested.

Even as she remembered, Scully continued to worry at the package in her hands, cataloging its features in the back of her mind as if she were surveying a piece of evidence.  The package was a bulky, padded, standard brown mailer.  Karen had hand-written Scully's address and her own return address on the front of the envelope in her flowing loops.  The stamps were large, with a white background and pictures of magnolia flowers on them.  Below the flower, a tiny script said, "Southern Magnolia."

From the feel of it, its contents were flat-a book?  A CD?  She couldn't tell.  She shook it tentatively, but heard no rattles. She took pleasure in the childish thrill of the guessing game for a few moments longer until at last she shrugged, unable to intuit the contents of package.  Only one way to find out, she thought.  With a swift, efficient slice, she gutted the mailer, and carefully laid out the contents.

The first was a small, thick book, about the size of a trade paperback, worn and thinned with age and use.  Her glance lingered over it even as she noted a handwritten letter.  Curiosity piqued, she shoved the rest of the mail over, bills and missives forgotten, and touched the leather-bound volume.

It felt old beneath her fingers, papery and cool and soft, like worn velvet.  Its rich, rose-colored cover was carefully tied with a faded blue ribbon; she wondered if the old ribbon could somehow hold all the secrets the small book contained. It called to her, and she drew the soft loop of ribbon between her fingers repeatedly, about to untie it until she remembered the note.

She unfolded the pale, creamy paper, recognizing Karen's feminine handwriting underneath the fluorescent glow of the lights.  She could almost hear her cousin's softly Southern voice as she read the words:

//Dear Dana,

Hey, there G-Girl!  Long time no see!  I just have a moment, so this will be quick....

Do you remember your Great-Aunt Katherine, my grandmother? We used to go to her house for barbecues in the summer?  Well, since she died last year, we've been taking care of her house just outside of Fredericksburg.  I'm sure you remember her house-the big old Victorian a few miles from town?

Well, last week, a young family approached us-it seems they've fallen in love with the house and want to buy it and fix it up.  But there's a problem.  There have been some weird things going on there, things we can't explain.  In fact, we're beginning to think the house may be haunted.

Your mother mentioned that you and your partner have some experience with the unusual, and I wondered if maybe I could call upon your expertise?  We're not even sure we want to sell the house, but if we do, we surely don't want to include a ghost in the bargain! And it would mean so much to us to see you again.

I suppose this is a little odd, but I'm enclosing the first of Katherine's journals in the hope that her story will convince you to come, if the lure of ghosts isn't enough.  I think you'll find our quiet Katherine was a woman of greater substance and mystery than any of us suspected...!

Take good care, and you just come whenever!  We don't need much notice to put some sheets on the bed and pull together a meal.

Looking forward to seeing you soon, and maybe that partner of yours, too.



By the time she finished the note, Scully was smiling openly. Karen's easy warmth permeated the letter.  After the long, dark hours of the last few weeks, it was a breath of fresh air, with a hint of Southern charm and hospitality that warmed Scully. The ache inside eased a little; the emptiness receded.

She focused on what Karen had written and her smile faded.  Aunt Katherine.  The image the name conjured was one of warmth*and sadness.  She had loved Katherine, had admired her.  She had been sorry to miss the funeral. One of the few times she could remember resenting her work, as it kept her from being with Katherine when they lowered her into the ground.  She felt a twinge of sadness again, and turned her thoughts to the rest of the note.

So Karen thought Katherine's house was haunted?  She closed her eyes, rebuilding the house in her memory with surprising ease, even though she'd only been there a few times. The image formed: a rambling Victorian built in the late 1800's, painted the palest yellow.

It had a blue-ceilinged porch that wrapped around three sides, home to a deep, pillow-strewn hammock and several rocking chairs. It was a tall, proud building, but welcoming all the same. She remembered climbing the staircase, wide and curving. She had ventured all the way to the attic, four stories up and worlds away for a young girl seeking adventure. As she sifted through her memories of her childhood exploration, she remembered the turret room.

Best-loved, the fairytale room gave a view of the gardens and the fields beyond.  As an adult, she understood that they had been fields of battle, where hundreds of thousands of men had died, not so many years before the house was built. But as a child, she had only pictured brave knights, storming the castle of her imprisonment, or pirates dancing along the bow of their ship.

She also remembered the study on the ground floor, a charming jumble of faded old books and the new paperbacks her great-aunt continued to buy. She remembered best the shelves of poetry, from university texts to small-press chapbooks. Dana had spent hours there reading, escaping the noise and confusion of the house full of people.  She smiled sadly and thought of Steven again.  It was his kind of room, she imagined, filled with the words of the poets he loved, surrounded by books, the ultimate comfort-the ultimate escape.

But what she remembered the most clearly were the roses. Thousands of roses, all different colors, laid out in a beautiful English garden, complete with a white gingerbread gazebo just behind the house. Katherine had loved the roses, and she had tended them like others tended children. Even now, in the stagnant wet heat of the laundromat, Scully could remember the smell of roses like a warm, sweet tide.

Once, Scully's mother had told her that she got her middle name from Aunt Katherine.  A strong, courageous woman, her mother had said at the time. Dana hadn't thought to ask what that meant-she had been too young to wonder why Maggie thought that Katherine was any stronger or more courageous than anyone else was.  Now, after reading Karen's note, Scully found herself very, very curious about this woman who shared her name.

She picked up the journal once again and ran her fingers across the smooth surface, careful not to tear the delicate ribbon.  She started to tug at one slightly fringed end, but something stayed her hand for a moment; there was a stillness to the air, and an odd chiming within her head.  It felt, for all the world, like a warning not to cross this line unless she was ready for what it would unleash in her life.  Not a sense of foreboding, really, but more a prescient sense of excitement, of possibility, tinged with caution: tread lightly, she thought, for herein lies the possibility of both deepest love and deepest loss.

It was a breath held.

She shook off the fancy.  Of course she would feel that, she rationalized. Here she sat, holding a beautiful old book that was filled with the life story of her namesake. It was like something out of a gothic fiction. The very scent of the book was filled with romantic promise, all old leather and yesterday.

Then there was the matter of the haunted house.  Idly, she tapped the book against her palm.  Now that was something that might pique Mulder's interest.  She had been worried about him lately, about his frustration with their assignments, the random anger that punctuated their interactions.

He had lashed out at her repeatedly, like an animal wounded. Which he was, really, for he'd been shot, straight through his faith, the only thing that had sustained him through his life. It hurt her to watch it, and it seemed as though nothing she did made it better.  Unable to help him, she had lost faith herself-had lost faith IN herself, and withdrawn. She hadn't expected the naked anguish, the lost look in his eye.

He hadn't even looked at her like that when she had shot him.

And now, even as they made their slow way back to trust, she sensed a lingering guilt in him over her latest abduction. She caught it when she would look at him suddenly, and his eyes would slide sideways, unable to meet her glance. She wanted to shake him, remind him that she was here and breathing because of him. Why did he never see the happy ending? she wondered.  Why did he never see that he had saved her one more time, see that they were both whole and alive again?  Home in once piece...or at least, two pieces of one whole.

She was finally beginning to understand that, herself.

Maybe, just maybe, this would give him something to get excited about, something new to focus on.  A good haunting, she thought, would pique anybody's interest, but she knew it would prove irresistible to her partner. If nothing else, it would give him a chance to dust off that encyclopedia of the odd and unusual that he carried around between his ears. If he really got worked up, he might bring slides.  She smiled at the thought of Mulder stringing up a bed sheet in the parlor, showing her cousins photographic evidence of poltergeists and assorted hauntings.

But as much as she was hoping for Mulder's healing, she was also hoping for her own.  There was something blessedly sane about going to see her cousin.  Something right about trying to reforge an old link, build something that would let that dark, cold place in her belly melt away completely. She thought of her family, and wondered if perhaps they could even replace the darkness, by helping her remember that there was something to live for, something besides the bleak present and daunting future she'd seen too much of in the last few years.

Perhaps this was a chance to reintroduce Dana to Scully, and to finally meet Katherine.  Until recently, she hadn't consciously realized just how separated from herself she'd become.

Still trying to sort it all out, she untied the ribbon, slipped it from under the journal, and folded it carefully before putting it back into the mailer. She held the book up to her nose and breathed the scent a little deeper.  Dusty, a bit musty, but she could still smell the warm odor of the leather, and once again she returned to that study in the old house, dust motes dancing through the shutters, and slanting sunlight illuminating the pages of the book she held in her hand. Nostalgia washed over her, and she suddenly felt an odd, aching combination of longing and perfect safety.

Scully set the book down on the table and opened it to the flyleaf. The inscription read, simply, Katherine Louise O'Donnelly, June 1915,  in faded blue ink, made with the soft flares and flourishes of a fountain  pen. The copperplate script was like something out of a textbook,  and it took her breath away.

Old-fashioned and lovely. History in her hands.

Scully traced the name lightly.  O'Donnelly.  A good Irish name, she mused.  She wondered what the young Katherine had looked like. The Katherine she remembered had been a small woman, only a little smaller than Scully was now.  Her hair, as long as she had known her, had been white, worn in softly marcelled waves.

What color would it have been then, when she penned this book? Blond?  Brown?  Red?  Yes, red.  She was almost sure of it as she fingered a strand of her own hair. Red hair ran strongly in the family on both sides and Katherine was, after all, the daughter of an Irishman.

And were her eyes blue or green?  Scully strained to remember, and, frustratingly, couldn't see the exact color.  She only remembered that they were heavy lidded, a little distant, tinged with sadness. Yet they still managed to crackle with a strength of will that was startling. They had looked not only into a person, but right through as well. Sometimes, Scully had wondered what she was really seeing.

Then a vision moved strongly through her mind, a tableau she'd forgotten years ago but which unfolded perfectly before her tonight, so vividly could she taste and touch it.

A warm summer evening, curled up in a porch rocker and listening to crickets.  A sky on the verge of twilight, purpled and sweet with the last rays of sunset. A magical time, neither night nor day, and oddly still. It was the last time she'd seen Katherine. She'd been sixteen years old, on the verge of womanhood herself, and newly aware of the secret landscapes that entailed.

While never hopelessly sentimental or romantic like other girls her age, she still remembered the strong pull she felt to what she saw in those eyes.  Mysteries, hopes, an aching sadness...she saw them all in the sapient gaze, and wondered at them. She remembered, too, Katherine's skin, pale and creamy still, but with lines etched deeply in.  Like a piece of paper that had been crumpled and then smoothed out, she mused.  A little blurred by the stories life had written and rubbed away.

She remembered a conversation, surprisingly deep and rich for two people so far apart in time. Looking back, she wondered if Aunt Katherine had somehow sensed they would not meet again, prompting her to say things she might not have, otherwise.

They'd been sitting on the porch in the rocking chairs, watching night creep up through the lilac trees on the border of the road.  The younger kids were catching lightning bugs in the yard, the older kids were watching TV and the adults were cleaning up the kitchen. All noise was muted, hushed, and there was that feeling, like the one when she had first unbound the book: a breath held.

It was finally cooling off some, and Dana, a little tired and full from dinner, had sought out the quiet of the porch.  They'd had a truly wonderful day, filled with games of tag or croquet on the lawn before lunch, a trip to town for ice cream in the afternoon, and a soul-satisfying dinner as the day waned.

Aunt Katherine had gotten the boys to set up long tables on the lawn, and Missy and Karen had covered them with checked tablecloths.  Then Dana's mom and her aunts had loaded them with barbecued chicken and corn on the cob, fresh tomatoes from the garden, coleslaw.   The huge jugs of iced tea Dana brought out to the table were tinged perfectly with lemon and sugar.

Dana missed Southern cooking now that her family had moved so far North, so she'd eaten well, basking in the late summer sunshine and the companionship of her large family.  But, as usual, she'd tired of the crowd, and was glad, now, to be alone on the porch with Katherine.

As she had done during the day, Dana had sought out her great aunt, drawn to her if only for the mysteries she saw behind the older woman's eyes. They sat together comfortably; two people who understood the value of silence, of sharing their solitude.  The affinity hummed between them then, and they watched the last light fade in a kindred connection.  She heard the screen door squeak open on its hinges.

"Hey, y'all," Karen said.  "Want some peach pie?"  Dana peered through the twilight to the door where Karen was silhouetted.

"None for me, thanks," she said.  "Aunt Katherine?"  Her aunt shifted slightly in her rocking chair.

"No, thank you dear, I'm still full from dinner."

"There's ice cream, Dana," Karen teased.  Dana snorted.

"Maybe later," she replied.

"All right," Karen said as she stepped back into the house.  The screen door closed with a thwack.

Dana heard the women in the kitchen laugh raucously.  She wondered what was so funny, but was too satisfied with the quiet porch to go in and find out.  She was reminded of the conversation that she'd overheard earlier that day between her mom and her aunts.  They'd thought no one was listening, but Dana had been just outside the kitchen door, going in for a glass of tea, when she'd heard them mention Katherine.  She'd stopped, stood quietly outside, and listened as the women spoke.

"I don't know," her mom had said.  "She's always been that way, as long as I can remember."

Elizabeth, her mom's cousin, spoke next.  "Well, I heard my grandmother, Jenny, talk about mama being real energetic when she was young.  Sassy and funny, too.  But then something happened before I was born.  No one ever said what.  And mama just*got real sad and quiet.  I asked Mama's friend, Sarah, about it once.  She knew Mama when they were young.  But she just said that Mama'd been called on to be strong more times than any woman should. That's the most I could ever get out of anybody."

Dana had stepped into the kitchen, then, and the women had stopped talking.  But she hadn't forgotten, and was still wondering about it hours later.  Wondering if she had the courage to ask her aunt what they'd meant.

It had startled her a little, then, when her aunt spoke to her after long minutes of shared silence.  The soft voice barely ruffled the gathering darkness, asking her about her studies and her plans for the future and the boys in her life. Dana remembered replying something worldly and sophisticated and utterly feminist. Katherine had laughed, a rich sound, completely untainted by mockery.

"Dana, loving someone deeply doesn't have to mean losing your independence," she said softly.  Her voice trailed away, her eyes turned towards the rose garden. Dana had the oddest sensation that her aunt had somehow come unfixed in time; her body was there, but her mind was far and away.

She had stood then, and moved closer to Katherine. She put her hand on her aunt's slightly gnarled fingers, as if to pull her back into the present. "Aunt Katherine, are you okay?"  The old woman had shaken herself from her reverie and turned to Dana with a small, rueful smile on her face.  She ran her hand down Dana's soft, red hair.

"Dana," she said, her voice suddenly and surprisingly strong with the truth of the statement, "when he comes, you'll know."

"But how, Aunt Katherine?" she asked, her literal nature craving a finite answer, something she could measure, touch.  Katherine laughed and squeezed Dana's hand.

"Oh, Dana.  You'll just know."  And then she'd sighed and smiled wistfully.

"When I fell in love, I knew at the first glance.  Everything seemed...brighter somehow."  Dana looked at her aunt, feeling a funny twist in her gut.  She was too young, too inexperienced to know it was longing.  She turned and looked at the garden as Katherine's next words rolled over her.

"He was my true companion, Dana.  My best friend.  We became so close I didn't know where I stopped and he started.  Even now I feel him, child, even though I lost him years ago," Katherine said, as her glance followed Dana's to the garden.

"It will be different for every woman, for every man.  But when it happens, you'll know.  And when you know, dear, let him in.  It doesn't mean you've lost yourself.  It means you've found yourself."

Dana's mouth opened, shut again with a dozen questions unasked.

"And Dana," Katherine whispered, clutching Dana's hand sharply, meeting her gaze with glittering eyes, "when you feel that, listen to your heart.  Do what your heart says, child, and don't listen to other people, no matter how well meaning they may be.  Sometimes," she said, as her eyes drifted back to the garden, "life doesn't give you a second chance."

There was a pause that said something more, something Dana couldn't interpret, broken only when her aunt shifted and made as if to stand.

"Well, my dear, enough chatter from an old lady for one night.  It is, as always, a joy to have you here.  I hope you sleep well."  She dropped a soft kiss on the top of Dana's head and moved quietly into the house.

She could almost feel the gentle press of those lips again, years later and a lifetime away. With a start Scully recognized that it had been Katherine's words that had come to her earlier, after Steven had slipped off into the night.

Sometimes life doesn't give you a second chance.

She thought of the boy's guileless gaze, and the sweetness it had conjured in her.  She allowed herself a moment of longing, of wishing, of wondering if she'd ever feel her world brighten. Mulder's face crowded into her mind.  She remembered the day she'd walked into his office, how her heart had sped up, how her mind had followed.  How much brighter her life seemed in that instant.  She shook her head.  She couldn't afford to think that way. It could ruin everything.

Couldn't it?

With careful fingers she turned to the first page of Katherine's journal, noted the date of nearly a century ago, and slowly sank into the quicksilver words. It was the journal of a girl, far younger than Scully was now, far more alive than Scully could remember ever being. A word, a sentence slipped by and she was lost.


//June 16, 1915 Today is my 17th birthday!  I can hardly believe that I'm already grown...already a woman.  It seems I've been longing for this day my whole life.  Longing for the time that I can be the master of my own thoughts, my own feelings, my own wishes and desires.  Oh, I would never willfully disobey Mama or Papa, even now, but to be an adult...to be my own person....

And the day could not have started more beautifully.  There was a sunrise such as I have never seen, all pinks and peaches and green- blues rising up through the trees.  It was as if God were smiling on me.  I watched from my window as I rose from the bed; I went and stood at the sill and thought, today is my birthday and I am a woman.  A thrill ran through me, a thrill that still hasn't stopped!

Just as I was pulling my dress on, Mama knocked on the door.  "Do you need any help with your hair?" she asked.  Of course I don't on a regular day like today; I just brush it and braid it and pin it up.  But I accepted anyway, squelching down a feeling that I was being selfish. It is my birthday, after all, and I do love it when Mama brushes my hair.  Her hands are so soft and gentle, like the little gray doves that coo in the magnolia tree of an evening.

So we sat on the bed and talked of many things-what poems we'd read, the beauty of the sunrise, and how quickly time passes.  Mama told me she could hardly believe I was 17-that I'd become a woman right before her eyes.  Then she pulled a beautiful new ribbon from the pocket of her old flowered work apron and put it in my hair.

"A little gift," she said, "so you remember how special and beautiful you are."  I felt the tears come to my eyes; Mama is not usually so free with flattery and it surprised me a little bit.  But then, what she did next was even more surprising.  For she pulled from behind her on the bed a small muslin bag, with what appeared to be a book inside.

"Katherine," she said, "When I turned 17, I was already married and had a baby on the way," and she stroked my hair as she said this.  "I loved your Papa, but I was so lonely and frightened.  We were far away from my family and friends, far away from my life in Ireland. We had just come to America, and I missed my people so." I think there were tears, in her voice if not her eyes.

"What I wanted more than anything in the world was a friend to talk to, but we were so new here, and so busy with building the house and getting settled in that I had little time to make friends.  Your Papa knew this, and he worried terribly for me.  But he is a very wise and kind man, for he gave me a book much like this one. 'Jenny,' he said, 'until you make some friends, maybe writing your dreams in this little book will help ease your pain.' "

"So I started writing my thoughts down each night before bed, and even after I made real friends here in town, I never stopped writing in my journal."  She handed me the bag and I untied the pale blue satin ribbon that held it closed.   The book fell out into my hands, the most beautiful book I've ever seen!  The leather was so smooth it felt nearly like satin or silk, and it was the color of the wild roses in the crystal vase on my desk.  I touched it reverently and looked back up at Mama.

"Every woman needs someplace to tell her stories, a place that no one else can see," she continued, laying her soft, warm hand on my shoulder. "You keep it someplace special that only you know about, Katherine, and you write in it every day, and you'll see; you'll never be lonely."  She smiled at me then, and the smile seemed a little wistful, but I was so taken by the beauty of the book that I didn't have time to wonder at it.

After reminding me to come to breakfast soon, Mama left me with my treasures. As I looked in the mirror, I fingered the ribbon in my hair, a sapphire blue grosgrain the same shade as my eyes, and I found myself glad at the way it brought my coloring out.  I surprise myself when I think this way, for I have never before been concerned with my appearance.  Maybe this is what becoming a woman means....

I brought my little book to my writing desk under the window and thought, "This is the beginning of something wonderful," and I penned my name in the front cover.  Katherine Louise O'Donnelly, June 1915, I wrote, in my best handwriting, just as I had been taught in school.  And I blew the words dry, closed the cover, and returned the book to its soft muslin bag, pulling the pale blue ribbon tight. Where to put it, I wondered?  My eyes searched the room.

It would have to be some place that Colleen and Mary Margaret wouldn't find it....   Ah!  The perfect place!  I slid out the small drawer that held the key to the box my father gave me for Christmas last year.  The beautiful enameled box from England, brought on the great ships to the Bay and then down the tidewaters to us here in Fredericksburg.

I slipped the key into the lock and dropped the book into the enameled interior.  Perfect!  A perfect fit!  I locked the lid and put the key back into the drawer.  The box was returned to my bedside table, my Bible on top, just like normal.  My little sisters won't ever know it's there!

And now, here it is, nearly bedtime, and I've written my first journal entry.  Oh, Mama was right!  It is wonderful to have a place to write down my secrets.  I hope all my days are as thrilling as today was! If this is what it's like to be a grown-up, I think I'll love it!//

It took the buzzers on all six washers ringing almost simultaneously to pull Scully back to the present.

With quiet efficiency she transferred her loads to the dryers and started the machines in motion, all the while her mind back in time with the journal.

When at last everything was settled in for the half-hour dry time, she returned to her odd package. Scully fingered the soft leather, then nodded decisively.

Her cell phone was out and dialing before she realized she'd punched the buttons. One ring, two, since when did he have a life*? "Mulder, it's me," she said, and then plunged on before he could somehow sidetrack her. "So, what would you say if I dared you to spend the night in a haunted house?"

There was a pause, a snort, and a dozen questions.  As she hung up, Scully smiled, and thought that perhaps the weekend was going to be better than she had imagined.  Laying the phone on the table next to her, she turned back to the journal, the mail and the Cornwell book and the whirling laundry forgotten.

An hour and a half later, Scully pushed the apartment door open with her shoulder, the bags and bottles balanced precariously against the Baskin Robbins bag.   She only hoped the ice cream hadn't melted completely on the ride home, and was grateful for the air conditioning that blew out the door as she opened it.  She tumbled the bags on the floor, closed the front door, and ran straight to the freezer, shoving the bag on top of the ice cube trays.  Her doorbell buzzed.

"Candygram." The muffled voice was impatient, amused, and vintage Mulder.

Ah, hell, she thought. All she wanted to do was put away her laundry and get back to the journal.  But of course, she had called him earlier, and the way he bulldogged things, he'd probably already figured out all the possible theories and ghostbusting methods they could use if they went.

And, really, if he was here at-she checked the kitchen clock- eleven at night, that meant he was excited about staying at the house-so maybe her plan was working.  Maybe this really COULD help him get back some of his excitement for their work....

"Coming!" she called, and made her way back to the front door.  She pulled it open.

"Hey," she said.  Mulder stood in the hallway, and for a brief moment did a rather inspired impression of a fish. She followed his gaze and glanced down at her clothes, as if only just seeing the sweat-soaked tank, the cutoffs, the old clogs from med school. She thought the reaction a little much, considering the fact he'd just recently seen her naked. Mind you, she'd been comatose and covered in slime, but naked was naked.  She let him gape a moment longer, cutting it off just as it began to slide into a leer.  "Hello?" she repeated, waving her hand in front of his eyes.

"Uh, hi," he said, swallowing gamely. His mouth felt like cotton all of a sudden, and he was sincerely afraid that he was making an ass of himself; or, at least, a bigger ass than usual. But Scully-in cutoffs and that little top-he shook his head briefly, and ran his hand over his face to try and redirect his thoughts. Maybe if he looked up, made eye contact. Eye contact was a good thing. Women liked eye contact.  Especially women who carried a gun.

"So, what took you so long?" he asked.  "I've been driving around for half an hour."

She tossed a look over her shoulder as she dragged the laundry bags to the bedroom. "Some of us have lives, Mulder."

He thought it prudent not to mention that for most people, Friday night doing laundry didn't qualify as a life. Instead, he simply trailed after her towards the bedroom.

He had to admit he was a little baffled at her call. It wasn't the sort of call she usually made. A haunted house just wasn't Scully's style. Then again, time and long experience had taught him that he was the last person to judge exactly what Scully's style was.  The tattoo, faintly visible under her damp white tank, was a case in point.

It was just that he had thought they were on the same page again. He thought he had finally decoded the little dance steps that she led him through, the push-pull of their relationship.  Best friends who never talked about the things other people took for granted. Midnight confessions that alternated with cold silences. An almost-kiss that rocked his world, and then washed into the background, never to be mentioned again. The basics, the essentials. The norm, for them.

As far as he could have guessed, they were in the turn away part of the dance, where she kept him at bay with meaningful pauses and quiet evasions. He was prepared for her silence, for her withdrawal. And then she called him tonight, sounding for all the world like a little girl when she dared him to spend the night in a haunted house; he didn't understand /what/ she wanted from him, felt disjointed and out of synch, as if he were a measure off the mark. Nevertheless, he'd jumped at the chance.

Scully offered few bridges from his world to hers. He would take what he could get.

He shook his head, focusing on the gentle sway of her slender form beneath the weight of the laundry bags that she was dragging. The outfit was a definite distraction, and one more piece to the Scully puzzle. He wasn't sure if it fit into the push or the pull part of their relationship. He wasn't sure if he was ready to find out.

"It's been way too long since I had time to do laundry," she said by way of explanation, pulling him back to the subject. He allowed his glance to linger on the worn cutoffs a moment longer before shrugging and lifting his eyes.

"Why didn't you do it here?" he asked, stalling a bit to let his brain reengage. "I thought this swanky place came with a laundry room?"

She heaved the bags up onto the bed and untied the first of the three. "It does," she huffed, "they're painting it."  He nodded and started wandering around her bedroom.

Then it hit him.  If she'd been doing laundry, and if her laundry room here was being painted, then she'd been out in public.

In that outfit.

In plain view.

Something nasty and brutish reared its ugly head.  While still unsure of how he felt about seeing her in the cutoffs and tank, he felt no such ambivalence about other men seeing her in it. He growled softly, coughed to cover it.

She heard the noise, and turned to face him. "You okay, Mulder?" she asked.

He started.  Shoved his fingers through his rumpled hair.  Willed the surge of possessiveness to slide back down into its hole.  He remembered the Tooms case, remembered flicking her necklace, feeling the soft rise of her breasts under his fingertips.  He also remembered the way she'd challenged him for being territorial.

"Yeah, just a, uh, frog in my throat," he said quickly.  She arched an eyebrow, as eloquent as a verbal "Whatever you say," would have been, and returned to the hallway to finish unloading towels and sheets into the linen closet.

"So," he asked, "what's the deal with this house?"

She started back into the bedroom for the next pile of towels. Mulder was poking through the jewelry box that sat open on her dresser.  She had to brush past him to get to the bed, and as her hip met his, he jumped slightly and dropped a pearl earring back into the box.

"Are you sure you're okay, Mulder?" she asked again.

"Uh, yeah.  Just a little jumpy for some reason," he said.

"Well, go sit down or something.  You're making me nervous." She motioned him towards the chair in the corner of the room, the one he'd sat in once before when he'd visited her from the "dead." He settled into it, far more comfortably than he had the last time. It was easier to relax when you didn't have a corpse waiting for you at home. He peered briefly up at her ceiling, wondering idly if there were any spy-cameras there.

"So, the house?" he prompted.

"Oh, yeah," she said.  By this time, she was buried in the closet hanging up pants and shirts.  Her voice was muffled by the open door and the clatter of wooden hangers, so he had to lean forward in the chair to hear her.

"Well, while I was at the laundromat, I was going through some mail, and I came across a...note...that my cousin, Karen, sent me." For some reason, Scully felt a reluctant to tell Mulder about the journal.  Maybe it was the kinship she felt with Katherine, but she wanted to keep it a secret for a little while.  She figured the haunted house was enough to entice Mulder, anyway.

"She mentioned my great-aunt, Katherine, who died about a year ago.  Katherine had one of those big old houses just outside of Fredericksburg," she said, coming out of the closet.  Mulder leaned back in the chair and watched her make her way to the bed.  An empty laundry bag slid to the floor and she bent to retrieve it. The faded denim hitched further up her thighs, and Mulder looked away. He was in serious danger of forgetting the Eleventh Commandment: thou shall not scope out thy partner.  Especially when she's a better shot than you are.

"When she died," Scully continued, oblivious to Mulder's inner battles, "she left the house to Karen and her family, and they've been tending to it ever since." Scully upended the second bag and spilled its contents into the bed.  She heard Mulder shift in the chair and looked over at him.  He was crossing his legs.  She went back to sorting her underwear.

"So, last week, this young family approached them about buying the house.  It seems they fell in love with it and want to fix it up.  But Karen's hesitant to sell it to them."

"Because it's haunted." Mulder's voice was clipped, a little rough. Scully glanced up at him.  His face flushed and then paled under her scrutiny. She wondered if he had a touch of heat exhaustion. She thought about checking him over, but Mulder was a grown-up. If he didn't feel well, he could tell her.  Instead, she carefully folded the tap pants, camisoles and bras.  Then she gently slipped the jeweled silks onto the scented paper that lined the top drawer of her dresser.

"Yeah," she said, sliding the drawer closed.

"So, how'd you get involved?" Mulder asked, blinking owlishly, shifting again in the chair. Funny, he'd always thought she'd be a 'Jockey for Her' kind of girl.

"Well, evidently my mother told Karen a little about what we do; at least, enough so that she asked us to come and check it out," she replied, bending down to store the T-shirts in the dresser.  Mulder hopped out of the chair and began pacing again, wirespring and whipcord in motion.  She sighed.  Great.  An antsy Mulder...just what she needed.  Even with the air conditioning, his pacing raised the temperature in the room ten degrees.

"What makes her think it's haunted?"  he asked.

"I'm not sure," she admitted.  "I thought maybe we'd get up early tomorrow and drive down, just to check things out.  We can call Karen on the way.  I'm sure she can get the house ready for us pretty quickly.  She said she could in her note, anyway.  You up for it?"

Mulder lifted an eyebrow and leered with all the aplomb of a Victorian villain. "Aren't I always?"

Scully made a noise suspiciously like a snort. "Yeah, right." she replied. She grabbed his hand as she walked by. "Hey," she said, and he wasn't sure which unbalanced him more: the sudden smile she shot him, the tiny shorts, or her warm hand clasping his.  "You want some ice cream?"

Scully?  Sharing ice cream?  Hell, that topped them all.

Mulder followed her into the kitchen, shaking his head and hoping she'd explain the dance steps to him soon.  He was afraid he'd step on her toes.  Badly.


//August 2, 1915 Tomatoes, tomatoes and more tomatoes!  If I never SEE another tomato it will be soon enough!  Mama had all us girls AND my friend, Susan, in the kitchen today canning the things! I think I must be turning into a giant tomato!  And tomorrow, we're all going to Susan's house to help her mother!  I'll be BATHING in tomatoes by then!  But, as mama reminds me, it will be nice in December to be able to pull a jar out of the larder and enjoy them with our winter meals.

At least we have another week before we start picking blackberries in earnest.  Maybe it'll cool down a little by then.  It's so hot outside, and it's only worse with the stove going full blast and all that boiling water.  I have to admit, though, I like blackberries better than tomatoes.  They're so warm and juicy and fragrant, and they leave little purple stains on the towel in the bottom of my basket when I drop them in.  Their juice gets on my fingers and on my dress...I wonder if anyone ever wrote a poem about blackberries?

Oh, speaking of poetry.  I've discovered more poetry in Papa's library.  I find myself drawn, particularly, to the work of Mr. Yeats. Then again, I freely admit I have found myself sinking into the chair by the fireplace with a book of Christina Rossetti's work in hand, as well.  She is so full of sorrow, is Miss Rossetti.  Even when she is the deepest in love, she is thinking only of her imminent death.  I am not sure how I feel about that, and yet, I am so moved by her poetry.*  The lines from "Remember" play through my head, even now:

Yet if you should forget me for awhile And afterwards remember, do not grieve For if the darkness and corruption leave A vestige of the thoughts that I once had, Better by far you should forget and smile Than that you should remember and be sad.

I guess she wouldn't mind being forgotten after death, if the alternative is to be remembered with sadness...maybe, as strange as it sounds, that is the best way.  Although at 17, I admit, death is not something I think often of!  Even with this horrible war on!//

Here, Scully marked the page with her finger and closed the book. "Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad."  The words twined in her head, a never- ending chant.  At the time she wrote this journal, Katherine hadn't faced death like Scully had.  She didn't know how true it was that the darkness of death seemed to eclipse everything, even love, and that the best you could hope for was to be remembered fondly.

Scully shifted in the bed, and her white cotton nightgown slipped above her knees.  She pulled it back down, scooted up against the headboard and stared out the window, blinking back unwelcome tears.  She fingered the phone, then glanced at the clock.  1:18.  Too late to call him, even though she knew he wasn't sleeping; what could he do, anyway? Everything that could be said had been said. The rest was altogether too fragile to risk. She wiped her eyes with her fingertips and opened the journal again.

//In fact, it's been life that I've been thinking of this week.  About life and what it means to be 17, what it means to be a woman.  Do other people my age think of these things, I wonder?  Or are their heads all filled with dresses and young men and parties, like my friend Susan's?  I think it must be odd to be happier picking blackberries and watching the sky and asking questions like those, than to be picking out ribbons or dressing for a party.  Ah well, I am who I am, and there's nothing I can do about it!//

Scully laughed softly.  She wished she'd had that kind of confidence as a young woman.  Hell, she wished she had it now.  She glanced at the page and realized that she was at the end of an entry. Remembering the time, she decided to put the book aside for the evening.  If she wanted to get up early tomorrow, she'd need the sleep.

She marked the book with the faded ribbon, set it on the bedside table, clicked off the light, and settled into the cool embrace of the sheets. When she dreamed, it was of sapphire colored ribbons and sunrises and doves in the magnolia trees outside her window.


"Hey, Karen, it's Dana," Scully said into the phone as they made their way down I-95.

"DANA!" Karen squealed, loud enough for Mulder to hear from the driver's seat.  He glanced at Scully over the steaming mist of his coffee and smiled as he saw his partner's face light up with laughter. It was so rare to see her smile like that; even rarer to hear her laugh. Maybe this trip had been a good idea, after all.

He admitted ruefully that he was both relieved and disappointed that her shorts, today, were a circumspect, mid-thigh-length khaki.  It made the trip easier, but hell, he missed the way the cut-offs clung to her, the way they gave him a peek at her tattoo when she turned or bent,  even if it meant breaking the Eleventh Commandment.

"KAREN!" she yelled back, causing Mulder to wince a little. "How are you?"  Her voice was light and high like a girl's. Mulder was suddenly reminded of high school hallways on the first day of classes.

"Oh, I'm wonderful!  We're all wonderful!  Does this mean you got my letter?" Karen's voice chimed crystal over the line, her soft Southern drawl full of excitement.

"You bet! And guess where we are!" Scully took a sip of her own coffee as she waited for her cousin to respond.

"Ummm, Antarctica?" Karen teased.

"Not this week," Mulder replied, loud enough to make Scully grimace and shush him.

"Actually, a little farther north," she replied.  "On I-95 on our way to Fredericksburg.  I seem to remember receiving an invitation to stay in a haunted house...?"

"Really? You're really coming?" Her cousin's voice rose steadily in pitch.  "TODAY?"

Scully laughed again. Mulder considered taking her on a tour of all the haunted homes on the Eastern seaboard, if it meant hearing her laugh like that.

"It's not too short notice, is it?" Scully asked earnestly.

"No!" Karen's voice was emphatic.  "Where do you think Southern hospitality earned its reputation?"

"Probably at your house." Scully turned slightly to catch Mulder's gaze, and waved to the bag of bagels between her knees. At his nod, she fished out a poppy seed roll and handed it to him.

"Oh, Dana, I'm so excited! I can't wait to see you, and I've heard so much about your partner!" Mulder heard the comment, and shot a speculative glance toward Scully.

Probably heard it from Bill, he mused, munching on the bagel, and turning his head slightly so Scully might pull him into the discussion.

"I'll bet you have," Scully said, arching a brow.  "And none of it good!" He pointed to himself and grinned when she nodded.  That confirmed it.  Bill.  His lip curled up in a sneer, which turned quickly to a speculative glance at his partner as he heard Karen reply with something that sounded low and throaty and distinctly provocative. Scully nodded as she listened, and sent a wicked smile his way that lit fire to his nerve endings.  Where was a speakerphone when you needed one?

"So, when can we expect you here?" Karen's voice was back to normal pitch.

"I don't know for certain. Let me check." He watched as she leaned forward and began foraging for the map. He waited until her fingers almost touched the spot that corresponded to their place on the road before he supplied the answer.  It was a small and petty and payback for that wicked smile.

"About 40 minutes outside of Fredericksburg," he said, "just past the Quantico exit."

"About 40 minutes," Scully said into the phone and arched an eyebrow at him when she realized he'd made her dig for the map while trying to balance her coffee and bagel.

"Wonderful!  Come straight to our house...you remember how to get here?" At Scully's affirmative, she rushed on. "And have you had breakfast?  Meg's out overnight with friends, but Emma's here, and Charles and I, and we were going to have French toast...."

"Hey, Mulder, you want some French toast?" Scully asked.  Since his stomach had already rumbled when he'd heard Karen mention it, he merely glanced at her and grinned.

"Yeah, we'd love to join you for breakfast," she said, smirking at him. "Anything we can pick up on the way?"

"Nah, it's pretty simple.  I think we have everything.  Y'all just show up, and we'll eat and then head over to Aunt Katherine's house." Karen's voice pitched low again, and Mulder lost the thread of the conversation. He shrugged imperceptibly. Girl talk.  Better just to drive.


Scully listened as Karen began asking her about the journal, and she glanced to see if Mulder could hear this as well. Finding his attention firmly on the road, she allowed herself a cautious response.

"Ummm, yeah," she said.  "Interesting."

"You said it!" Karen replied.  "We'll have to talk more about it when you get here!"

"Okay," she answered hesitantly, unsure of how to keep Karen from bubbling about the book in front of Mulder, still hesitating to tell him of its existence.

"We'll see you in a bit."

"So," Mulder said, looking over at her, "that was your cousin? Karen?"

"Yeah," she replied.  "She's making us French toast for breakfast."

"I think I love her," Mulder said.

"Wait," Scully said, amusement apparent in her voice, "I thought it was iced tea that did it for you."  She sighed theatrically.  "Mulder, I wish you'd make up your mind.  Just when I think I know the rules, you decide to change them!"

Mulder choked on the sip of coffee he'd just taken, glancing sidewards at her as he remembered that conversation in the car at Tooms's house so long ago. Scully lifted her eyebrow, warmed by the intimacy of the inside joke, and handed him a napkin, not bothering to keep her smirk in check.

"Sure, Scully, make fun of me," he said, but the pout on his mouth didn't match the smile in his eyes.


True to their word, they arrived at Karen's house in about 40 minutes. They pulled up into the driveway of the beautifully restored Colonial home in the historic district. Karen's family had lived there long before it had been hip, and the love they'd lavished on the house showed in the tidy paint, the manicured lawn, flowers flanking the symmetrical columns on the front of the house.

Scully sighed as she opened the car door.  What would it be like to have a life so*normal?  She glanced at Mulder.  Hmph, she thought.  Mulder and normal.  Matter and antimatter.  Get them together and the explosion's bound to be cataclysmic.

The front door opened, drawing her attention toward a smiling and rather noisy welcoming party comprised of a dog, a small girl and two adults.

"Dana!" Scully found herself looking slightly up at a woman in sturdy cotton shorts and a floral blouse, with long blonde hair pulled back in a neat French braid.  "Let me look at you!"  Karen held both of Scully's hands as she stood back from her to study the younger woman's face and form.  Scully suddenly felt, overwhelmingly, as if she were 10 years old, all scraped knees and freckles.  She pulled a hand free and smoothed her hair reflexively, wishing she'd checked her make-up before she left the car.

Karen's quick, "You look wonderful, I can't believe how wonderful you look," might have been easier to believe if Scully's 10-year-old self weren't in attendance.  But she grinned despite that as Karen pulled her into her arms for another brief hug.  There weren't many people in the world who knew her so well.  She wasn't sure whether to feel daunted or comforted.

Karen turned to Mulder and gave him and appraising but not unfriendly look. "So this is the partner, Dana?"

Mulder flashed her with one of his rare heart-stopping smiles, the one he used to charm little girls and elderly ladies.  Scully knew from experience that it worked on women in between, too.

"I heard a rumor of French toast,"  he said hopefully, mouth still quirked in that lethal smile.  Scully heard Karen sigh gustily, saw Emma slip her hand into Mulder's and start pulling him toward the porch.  Charles rolled his eyes at Scully.  Two more down for the count, she thought wryly.

Somehow, in the flurry of introductions and a tour of the house, Scully managed to keep Karen from mentioning the journal to Mulder.  She caught her cousin in the kitchen, preparing breakfast, while Mulder sat on the floor in the family room with Emma and Charles watching reruns of Bugs Bunny.

She could hear them in the cozy room singing, "Kill the wabbit, kill the wabbit!"  Mulder's voice was a little scratchy and very warm, and oddly suited to Elmer Fudd show tunes. She reminded herself to tell him that some time

"Hey, there."  Karen smiled at her cousin and cracked an egg into a bowl.  Scully began laying the table with the plates and cutlery Karen had set out.

"I thought I should mention that I haven't told Mulder about the journal yet. I was hoping you could keep it quiet for awhile yet, too." She kept her head down as she touched the heavy, cream-colored stoneware plates, tracing the soft swirl of pale blue flowers that graced the edges.

Karen paused in her whisking, dumped a teaspoon of cinnamon and some milk in the bowl, and shot the younger woman a confused glance. "Why not?  It seems to me it might be an important piece of the puzzle."

Scully shrugged. "Just a gut feeling, if I'm honest. And that gut feeling tells me it's a good idea to let Mulder go in without any preconceived notions. It'll be a truer experience, if he has nothing to build up in his imagination first.  He's got a heck of an imagination, Karen, and it's gotten us in trouble a lot of times," she grimaced. "This way, he'll be forced to examine objectively, perhaps even scientifically, from the beginning. Gather supportable data. Does that make sense?"  She knew it sounded weak, but she couldn't tell her the truth: that she wanted to keep the book to herself.  So she hid behind science, and began to slice the bread her cousin had out, a thick homemade loaf of white.

Karen let her glance linger a moment longer, than sighed. "Well, if enameled boxes floating around the room can be scientifically explained, more power to you both."  But she let the subject drop, and assured Scully she would ask Emma and Charles to abide by her wishes.


After breakfast, Karen and Emma piled into the minivan with instructions for Scully and Mulder to follow.

Scully took in the scenery of the drive with a soft sigh; she had forgotten how picturesque Fredericksburg was.  It had grown even lovelier in the last few years as the historic district was renovated by young couples from DC and Richmond seeking a quieter life, away from the crime and constant noise of the city.

A quick stop at the store allowed them to pick up some basic groceries. Once adequately provisioned, it was only a short distance to Katherine's house.  As they walked up the steps, Scully was suffused with memories.  The summer barbecues had imprinted deeper in her mind than she'd realized, and the old porch felt familiar.  Almost like home.  She found herself pausing on one of the broad old steps, and tilting her head back and side to side in order to take it all in.

"Hey, Mulder," Emma said, "Wanna know something cool?"  He looked at the little girl and nodded, his face somehow both smiling and serious.

"When the Gullahs were brought here as slaves," she said studiously, "they brought a lot of their tr'ditions with them."  She stumbled a little on the big word, then continued. "One of them was painting porch ceilings blue to keep the ghosts away!" Mulder leaned in closer to the little girl, not even having to feign interest.

"What, were they allergic to the color, or something?" he asked, making Emma giggle at his teasing tone.  Scully smiled at the back of his head. She had a sneaking suspicion he already had the answer, his steel-trap brain being home to all sorts of oddities.

"No, silly," the young girl managed at last, through a fit of giggles. "It's because GHOSTS only come out at NIGHT and if they see the paint, they think the sun's out, making the sky blue, and that it's DAYTIME."

Emma was nearly out of breath from her potentially confusing explanation. Mulder, however, seemed to understand, because he nodded and said, "You're right, Emma, that's very cool.  But isn't this house haunted?"  Emma nodded and giggled again.

"Guess it doesn't always work," she said, then went into the house at her mother's summons to come and help make up the beds.

"You need some help, Karen?" Scully shouted from the foyer, carefully setting the heavier of the bags on the floor and removing her dusty sandals in deference to the wood floors and faded antique rugs.

"Nah, we got it!  Y'all just put up your groceries and take a walk around," Karen's voice floated down, muffled by distance and the continued laughter of her daughter.

Scully turned to Mulder, who was in the process of slipping off his own shoes. "You heard the woman. Lug this stuff into the kitchen. We'll unpack it and then take a look around."

He picked up the packages obligingly, trying not to feel overwhelmed by the strangeness of being barefoot with Scully. He let an old joke slip past his lips to cover up the odd feeling in his belly.

"One question. What's a kitchen?" It was a joke they'd shared for years, ever since Scully had figured out just what the inside of his refrigerator looked like.

Scully grabbed a bag as well. "It's the place where your take-out goes to die," she replied dryly, as she always did.  The uncomfortable feeling was replaced with a more familiar one. "Let's go, before the ice-cream melts."


Half an hour later, Karen found them in the gazebo talking quietly. She noticed the way they leaned into one another, as if pulled by some inner gravity. She smiled at the sight of them, at how his lanky frame unconsciously arranged itself in a protective posture around her cousin. It was sweet, really.  Endearing.  Oddly private. She felt a little like a voyeur, and so cleared her throat.

"Hey," she said.  They turned, returned her wave and then looked back over her shoulder. Karen turned to see Emma running down the steps, clutching an ice cream bar.

"Hey, Dana, can I have one of these?" she asked, stripping the wrapper away and putting it in her mouth with the practiced ease of childhood.

Karen rolled her eyes and sighed. "Looks to me as if you already are," she said, her voice a mixture of amusement and embarrassment.

Scully rose and joined them. With a mock growl she grabbed Emma in a headlock.  Emma squealed and giggled.  "You know what the punishment is for stealing my ice cream is, don't you?" She made a fierce face at the child. Emma squealed again, tried to speak through around the mouthful of cold ice cream and warm laughter, but couldn't. At last she managed to shake her head. Scully leaned over and took a bite out of the ice cream bar.

"That," she said, licking away a sliver of chocolate that threatened to spill down her chin, and Emma giggled again.

Karen laughed at both of them and winked at Mulder.  "Dana and ice cream," she said.  "True love.  We had to fight her for it when we were kids."

Mulder looked at Scully, his mouth quirking in a wicked little smile. "She's no different now."

"Hey! That's not true!" She arched an accusatory eyebrow at him.  "I shared mine with you last night." She said it with an air of virtuous indignation.

"Only because I held you down and stole your spoon. And you'd already eaten all the fudge off," he retorted. His gaze returned to Karen. "You can add chocolate to the love affair. It's a sordid little menage a trois, really."

Scully grumbled something and maneuvered the conversation back to the matter at hand. "So, Karen, anything we should be on the lookout for while we're here?"  she asked.  Karen and Emma looked at each other.

"We've heard crying in the gazebo," Emma said, glancing again at her mom for confirmation.

Karen nodded.  "Sounds like a woman.  And we've found a book of poetry out here a couple of times."

"Always the same one?" Mulder asked.  Karen nodded.

"Yeats," Karen said.  Scully quirked an eyebrow, feeling a twist in her gut as her thoughts flew back to Steven.  Get over it, G-girl, she thought.

"Why Yeats?" she asked.

"I have no idea," her cousin shrugged. "But it's an elderly copy, turn of the century."

"Oh, and there's an old enamel box that moves around sometimes," Emma said.  "And old books, like diaries, keep appearing."  Mulder nodded.  Scully could feel his energy level rise. She glanced at him, saw the familiar gleam in his eye. If he were a dog, his nose would be twitching with the scent of prey. She hid a smile, turned back to her cousin.

"Anything else?" she asked.

Karen shook her head, glanced at Emma. "Can you think of anything?"

"Nope." The ten-year-old shook her head so emphatically it looked painful.

"Thanks," said Mulder.  "Let us know if you think of anything else." Scully nodded in concurrence.

"We should thank you," Karen replied.  "We're totally baffled by it all."  She looped her arm through Emma's, and gave a gentle tug. "We'd best be getting on. Come on, darlin'.  Let's go pick up your sister."   With a wave and a promise to call the next morning, Karen and Emma disappeared into the van and drove back toward town, leaving the two agents standing alone in the old gazebo. For a moment there was only silence, comfortable and warm as morning sun. Then Mulder reached up and wiped the corner of Scully's mouth with his thumb.

"Missed some," he said, and licked it off.  Scully felt her breath catch in her throat. It was a playful gesture, a mocking gesture, and an incredibly sensual gesture.

God only knew what Mulder meant by it.

She filed it under the heading of "More Mulder Stuff To Be Dealt With Later" and took a deep breath. The damp, hot air reminded her of a sauna, making her conscious of the growing heavy heat of the day.

"Come on, Mulder, let's go check out the house again."

She could still feel his touch on her mouth. She wondered if he could still taste her.


They passed the day and the evening together in the house without incident.  They decided early on that, since this wasn't really an X - Files case, they wouldn't do any of the normal stakeout routine. Instead, they'd merely noted the position of furniture and knickknacks-Karen hadn't changed much since Katherine died- and poked in all the rooms a couple more times just to get a feel for the place.

By around seven o'clock they agreed it was finally cool enough to eat and decided to make dinner.  They had so little time at the house as it was, that it seemed better to stay there than go out to a restaurant.  They knocked companionably around the kitchen, preparing a simple meal together, and took it out on to the porch in the fading light of the evening.

"So, what do you think?" Mulder asked at last, gesturing toward the rose garden with his soda can; his plate rested empty on the floor beside the rocker he had taken, the only evidence of dinner left on it a scrap of French bread and a small smear of tomato sauce.  He rocked slowly, waiting for an answer, as he sipped the last of his soda.

Scully lifted her hands questioningly. "Think about what, exactly? The roses?  The house?"

Mulder took another swig of his drink, head tilted back so he could drain the can. Scully watched his Adam's apple bob as he swallowed.

"Any, either, all of it," he said at last.  Then, quickly, "Do you think the house is haunted?"

Scully tapped her nail against her lip and propped her feet up on the porch rail.  "I haven't seen any evidence of it being haunted so far, but Karen seems convinced...." she trailed off, remembering the way her aunt had looked at the roses, and a sense of longing came over her so strongly it was almost palpable.

"Scully, you okay?" Mulder asked, concerned at her sudden stillness, the way her eyes had gone vacant.  She started.

"What?  Oh, I'm fine," she said, but carefully avoided his eyes. "Must be a little tired or something." But she couldn't shake the yearning that coiled inside her. With a small start, she realized she'd been feeling it for quite some time, ever since they'd walked up on the porch for the first time.  She felt reluctant to analyze it too closely, afraid of what it might mean.

"You know," Mulder said, filling the silence she had let grow between them. "I don't think I've hung out like this in a long time. It's kind of nice."  As he rocked, the sun's final rays touched the lilac trees near the road, taller now than Scully remembered, and a shadowed hush fell over the garden.

"Beats Celebrity Skin, hmmm?" she asked.

Mulder glanced sharply at her. "You wound me, Scully." His tone belied the words, but only just.

She yawned and rose from her seat. "Mulder, you're not going to believe this, but I am dead tired.  I think I'm going to head up to bed."  She really was tired, a little bit, but more than that she wanted to get away, out from under Mulder's too-watchful gaze. She longed to explore her bedroom, Katherine's room.  She wanted to read more of the journal. She could almost feel the worn binding beneath her fingers.


He watched her move towards the house, and sensed the edginess in her. Perhaps it was the fact that they were alone without the distractions of a case. Perhaps she was uncomfortable with his company in such an intimate setting. Or, he reasoned, she might just have to pee.

"It's not even ten, Scully; the night's young!" Mulder said, with a sweeping gesture of his arm.  She laughed at the grandiose movement and patted his shoulder as she walked by.

"Some of us aren't insomniacs," she teased.

 Mulder made a small, chuffing noise of protest. "I'm not an insomniac. I just work more efficiently than you lesser mortals."

Scully was lost in the deepening shadows as she moved towards the door, but he could picture her face as she paused and looked at him. Slightly pursed lips, raised brow, that odd mix of scorn and amusement that somehow only she could manage without crushing him utterly. "Whatever you say, Mulder." Her voice was dry but not unkind.

He was actually glad to see Scully going to bed, relieved that she was getting some rest.  He wondered if she'd ever made up for the sleep she lost during the cancer. She was fuller, stronger than she had been even just weeks ago, but sometimes the weariness seemed bone deep.

His eyes drifted out over the trees to where the moon was coming up.  The fragrance from the gardens wafted over him and he felt overwhelmed for a moment by something. An ache, an emptiness, a calling. A longing.

He was hard pressed not to get up, reach out to Scully, and pull her back into the quiet circle of his arms.  The night was calling, he thought fancifully, lulled by the evening and the stars and the heavy, rose-laden air. He was hard pressed not to draw her into his arms, hold her close to his chest-just to hold her for a moment, to make sure she was real after all those times he thought he'd lost her.

He remembered the quiet intimacy of her deathbed, one of the few times she'd allowed him to get that close. He yearned for it now, without the threat of loss hanging over them both. But she was already gone, already slipping up the stairs, already leaving him alone on the porch in the slowly cooling air of the evening.

Mulder sighed, and waited for his own ghosts to pass.


Scully heard the cicadas start their nightly drone as she walked down the hall to the bathroom.  How long has it been since I heard that sound, she wondered, switching on the light and beginning the quiet ritual of drawing a bath.

The sound brought back memories from her childhood, memories etched as finely in her mind as the lace panels over the bathroom windows.  She could see those kick-the-can games that lasted way beyond sunset.  Hear her mother's voice free-floating on the air to call them home for their baths.  Feel the cool of her nightgown floating down her legs as she slid beneath the sheets, waiting for Ahab to come and tuck her in.

The bath filled gradually, and she scooped some of her aunt's bath salts out of the jar on the cabinet next to the old claw-foot tub. Lavender, she thought, how wonderful.  She stripped off her clothes and sank into the fragrant water.  The tension of the last few days began to wash away in the lukewarm bath, and the smell of the salts tumbled over her, hazing her mind and letting her slip into a light doze.  It was so good to relax....

"Katherine, open up!" she heard someone call, and a pounding came on the door.  "Katherine!  You ALWAYS take too long in there! Mama!  Katherine's hogging the bath, again," the little girl yelled, as her footsteps receded down the hall.

Emma, Scully thought, what's Emma doing here, and why is she calling me Katherine?  She shifted and the water splashed against the side of the tub.  The cicadas droned on.

A little while later, she woke with a start and looked around.  It took her a moment to realize whose bathroom she was in, and why she was there.  She remembered the voice of the girl...Emma?  Surely not.  Emma was at home, curled up in bed, waiting for her own father to tuck her in.

It must have been a dream, her mind mixing up old stories and new memories.  She smiled to herself as she recollected the journal, and felt the strange, sad longing all over again.

She pulled the plug with a nimble toe, looping the long chain back up into its position over the edge of the tub.  She stood, the night air half-drying her even before she had a chance to reach for her towel. The lavender clung to her skin, wove around her gently as she began toweling off what little excess water remained.  Seemed her aunt had liked white towels, too, she grinned, and began to smooth lotion on her still-damp body.

She sublimated the call of the journal to the rites of dental hygiene. Careful flossing, thorough brushing, her hands moved by rote.  Next she washed her face with the blue cleansing oil she used, and dabbed on an herbal wash.  It reminded her of one Katherine had used, a strong infusion of chamomile, lavender and rose.  Katherine had showed her how to make it once, but Scully had never gotten into the habit of using it.  It was so much easier to buy a premade brand. But here, she could see herself brewing that tea, dabbing it on her face each night before bed.

It was if she had stepped into another world.

She wondered at that, at how different her normal routine felt tonight.  Despite the fact that she'd done the same thing every night for years, in hundreds of motel rooms across the country, tonight it felt different, almost sacred.  Was it the fact that she was in Katherine's house?  Or was it that Mulder sat on the porch below watching the night creep up through the gardens, keeping watch against ghosts?

Whatever the cause, it felt as right as it felt strange.  Everything seemed intensified, more vivid, enhanced.  Scully pulled her long cotton nightgown over her head and slipped on the matching robe. More white, she thought.  Untouched.  Unsullied.  She almost laughed when that word popped into her mind.  Such an old- fashioned word, she thought, as she walked down the hall to Katherine's room.

She turned the crystal doorknob and walked in.  The feeling she'd had since she arrived today was even stronger here, a palpable wave. It wrapped around her, like an embrace from a waiting friend.  Once again, she had the oddest sensation, like a breath held.

She didn't fear it, though.  Nor did she feel surprised.  This was Katherine's room.  The room she had spent her whole childhood in, and then the room she had moved back into after her husband died. She had given birth to her children in this bed and had died in it as well.  Of course the room would be steeped with her presence, her thoughts and dreams caught in the wood and plaster. She never really believed in ghosts, past experiences very much aside, but tonight, tonight she could believe that bits lingered on, memories that never really shook free.  It was, for the most part, comforting.

As she moved from the doorway, she passed the dresser where her aunt's silver backed brush and mirror lay.  She'd noticed them earlier when she brought her luggage in.  She slipped off the robe, laid it over the quilt rack at the foot of the bed, the sheer white fabric luminescent and tinged golden in the light of the bedside lamp.  She moved back to the dresser, picked up the brush and turned it over and over in her hands.

Katherine's initials were on the back.  KOS.  Katherine O'Donnelly Spencer.  She wondered idly if these had been a birthday gift or an anniversary gift.  She drew the bristles across the palm of her hand, testing their stiffness.  There were still strands of silver hair caught in them, traces of the woman who had so fully inhabited this room. She started as she heard footsteps on the stairs.  Must be Mulder, she thought, and heard him tap on the door.


He went into the house not long after she had, seeking a retreat from evening bugs. For some reason they liked his nose. More specifically, they liked flying up his nose.

He puttered quietly in the kitchen, stowing dishes and scraping plates and listening to Scully's quiet movements above. She made surprisingly little noise, although he heard the little splashes of her bath. It was comforting, in a strange way.  Human.  Normal, he mused, wryly acknowledging that he only had a passing acquaintance with that particular state.

He heard the bath drain, and a little while later the opening and closing of doors. He grabbed a last drink of water from the bottle in the fridge, then went around and checked the doors and windows. Satisfied that all was secured, he headed up for bed himself, to read until sleep claimed him, or until objects started floating across the room.

He was surprised to see the light on under her door. He paused, hesitating, then tapped gently. "You okay?" he asked, pushing the door open and sticking his head in.

"Yeah," she said, and smiled at him.  The light from the bedside table glowed golden, touching the antique desk, the dresser, and the four-poster bed covered with rose damask. He saw the white robe on the quilt rack.  He noticed the soft light as it turned her damp hair titian, like the old paintings, and backlit her body through the nightgown.

He could see the angles, the curves through the white cotton, and he watched as she played with the silver-backed brush.  He nearly sighed.  She looked at peace. Content.  She smiled at him, head tilted inquiringly, and his heart bent a little in his chest.

"Sleep well," was all he managed, his mouth awkward around the words, before he backed out of the room.


She watched him disappear into the hallway, unsure of why he had come in at all, but oddly comforted by the small gesture. She wondered if he would sleep tonight, if the old house would, for once, offer a cure for his insomnia.  She doubted it.  He'd be more likely to stay up all night looking for ghosts.

Scully looked at the brush again and then lifted it and began to pull it through her hair.  One hundred strokes, wasn't that what Katherine had said she did each night before bed?  An ancient female ritual, and one that she had never found the time to try in her busy life.  But tonight she wasn't busy, and as she brushed, she looked out the window, over the back yard, and into the rose garden.

It was meditative, the heavy drag of the ornate brush, the weight of it through her hair, the soft hush of bristles as they smoothed and silked each strand. Time grew vague and blurry as she lost herself in the rhythm of brushing, with no sense of anything but the feel of it.

The magnolia trees broke the shadow of the moonlight into a million pieces and painted a silver patchwork quilt on the gazebo.  She  wondered at the cool, fragrant air and at the silence.  The town of  Fredericksburg was only about 50 miles from DC, but it felt like  she was deep in the country here, despite being only just a little  off the main road.  The silence and darkness assailed her senses.

She didn't realize how accustomed she'd grown to the constant hum of the city.  Now in the quiet old house she felt a part of her grow warm and languid even as the longing she'd felt all day worked its way to her belly.

She laid down the brush and picked up the mirror.  Who will I see if I look here? she wondered, her mouth quirking at the fanciful thought.  Who am I now? she questioned silently, more seriously. Who am I after the abductions, after the cancer?  She looked at her reflection in the soft golden glow of the old globe lamp.

There I am, she mused, Dana Katherine Scully, an Irish woman through and through.  Red hair, blue eyes, white skin, small body. She realized with a small shock of recognition that she could almost have been Katherine, had she been able to step back in time, so true were the genes she'd received.

But only almost, for she also looked different.  There was Maggie in her, and Ahab.  And gravity.  She groaned a little.  Despite the weight she'd lost and her daily workouts, gravity was starting to get her. She knew that, compared to most, she still looked firm, but that twenty-year-old body she'd never really appreciated had deserted her somewhere along the way.  All that seemed to be left was a too-thin, starting-to-sag shell of herself.

She ran her hands over her the planes of her stomach, a soft, sorrowful gesture. She used to wonder if she would ever carry a child there. The uncertainty, the depth of possibility had always astounded her. Now she had her answer, and she longed for the uncertainty again.

She forced her hands up to skim over her breasts.  At least they were still sort of perky, she thought, as her nipples peaked below her hands.  She felt a quiver of physical longing arrow through her, more memory than anything else, and sighed. The loneliness of her flesh haunted her sometimes.

Her skin wasn't so fine as it once was.  She ran her fingertips over the line between her eyebrows, the small web of lines fanning out from her eyes.  Were these already permanent fixtures?  She remembered Katherine's face, full of the lines of a life well lived, and how she'd admired them. Why, then, couldn't she admire them on her own face, instead of seeing them only as a sign of advancing age, a harbinger of death?

She put the mirror down, suddenly chilled, and walked to the high four poster bed.  She used the stool on the floor to climb up onto the mattress, then slid under the covers, pulling them tightly up around her. They felt almost like an embrace, and they eased out the sudden chill. She sighed.

There.  Warmer.  Her heart thudded with longing for the journal.

She reached over onto the bedside table, slid her glasses out of their padded case and adjusted them on her nose.  The journal came neatly out of its hiding place under the pillow, where she'd put it when she came into the room earlier.  She opened it to the page marked by the faded ribbon.  She sank, again, into the quicksilver words.

//August 22, 1915 I saw him, today, the man I'm going to marry.  Of course, Papa doesn't know it yet, but I suspect Mama might.  She saw me looking at him across the aisle in church during the first hymn.  He'd come in late, caused a commotion.  Our whole family turned in the pew to stare, but after everyone else had sat forward again, I kept looking.  I saw my friend, Susan, with her family, quirk her eyebrow at my odd behavior.  But I didn't care.  Even after we sat down, I kept looking at him from under my hat.  Mama caught on and gave my leg a little pinch.  But I couldn't take my eyes off of him.

Oh, I couldn't.  He was so...beautiful.  I hesitate to use that word, lest it conjure up a feminine image.  No!  He is certainly not that...never that.  But he IS beautiful.  The way a horse at full gallop is beautiful, long and lean and muscular.  And tall!  He must be a foot taller than I am!  And his hands were so large, I'm sure they could span my waist.

I think this and a shiver runs through me.  I'm sure this is sinning, to think this about a man I don't even know; maybe it would even be sinning to think this about my husband!  But how can I not think about him this way?  For God is surely tempting me...he is more beautiful than I ever imagined, and the light of intelligence danced in his eyes.  Perfect mind, perfect heart, and perfect body.  There!  I said it!  May God have mercy on me!

And my heart, my goodness, my heart!  I felt like I was standing on the front porch watching a storm blow in.  The wind, the flicker of lightning, the growing power of the clouds.  The sting of the air against my face.  All from one look at him.  Oh, I wonder who he is!

Oh, bother!  There's Mama calling me to help with supper.  I must stop for now....//

Curious now, Scully turned the pages until she found the next mention of the young man.

//September 14, 1915

I found out today that his name is Daniel.  Like Daniel in the lion's den, I thought.  Strong and faithful and courageous.  Good qualities for a husband to have, dear journal, don't you agree?//

As Scully read, her eyes drifted shut, and the faded leather book slipped out of her grasp to fall softly to the bed beside her.  The light puddled golden over her body as she slid unknowingly into sleep, her breathing growing deep as she drifted down.  From the window, the scent of magnolia blossoms twined with roses and permeated the air.


It was a lovely day, she thought, hands nimble as she tied the sash on her dress.  "Katherine!  Kath-er-ine!" her sister Colleen called. "Breakfast!"

"Coming," she called back, glad that it had been Colleen's day to gather the eggs and help prepare the morning meal.  She loved the morning time, but getting up before dawn to go to the chicken coop wasn't her favorite chore.  She sighed and finished tucking her hair up into its workday style, the simple braids turning her deep red hair into an auburn coronet. Mama had let her start wearing it up just a few weeks before, and her neck felt oddly naked at times. Another step to womanhood.

She gazed in the slightly wavery mirror, and sighed. Why was she cursed with this blasted red hair, anyway?  Between that and her fair skin that was more likely to freckle and burn in the hot summer sun, she had to always be careful to take her hat and gloves with her everywhere she went.  It was such a bother to be so...Irish.

Of course, she couldn't say that to Mama, who was proud of their pale creamy complexions, their fiery red tresses.  And Papa, too, she thought fondly.  Her papa loved having the reminder of his homeland with him every day in their coloring.  She sighed.  Oh, but, to be like Susan, with her bright gold curls and honey colored skin.

Hair tucked up, sash tied, and shoes buckled, Katherine checked one last time to make sure the journal was tucked away in its hiding place.  A quick touch assured her that the enameled box was locked tightly and stored in its usual place, under her Bible. Her secret thoughts watched over by Him. She smiled a little at the thought.

When she'd gotten the box, the little girls had oohed and aahed and begged her, repeatedly, to show them how to lock and unlock it. "What's in the box, Katherine?" they'd wheedled, until finally, she'd opened it and showed them that it contained nothing, which had assuaged their curiosity.  She told them it was just a pretty box, for sitting out on the dresser, and she was glad it had been the truth at the time, for now they didn't even look twice at it when they came into the room.  Besides, she'd hidden the key in her desk drawer under the false bottom she'd carved out there as the journal entries grew. If they couldn't find the key, they couldn't unlock the box. And if they couldn't unlock the box....

Katherine turned and walked downstairs to join her family for breakfast.

on to part two