Title: The Ladies of the Lake
Author: Myriss
Feedback myriss1013@yahoo.com
Archive Gossamer and Ephemeral Okay. Okay for others please go ahead but let me know. And keep my name and header.
RatingS Warning: PG-13
Classification: V
Keywords: Williamfic, future fic, post-col (sorta)
Spoilers: Nothing really.
THE Disclaimer: Any character you recognize from the TV series belongs to 1013 and Fox (except for Scully and Mulder who belong to each other). I am just borrowing them.

Summary: "Why would anyone give up their own kid?"

Author's Note - Just a word of warning: although, Mulder and Scully are in the story, they come into the story very late. This story is about Will.


Will was digging into the dirt with the end of a stick.

"Why would anyone give up their own kid?" he asked. He didn't really expect an answer. He was too busy brooding about what happened last Saturday.

While digging through his parents' closet looking for his lost baseball glove, Will had accidentally knocked over a ratty shoe box stuffed full of yellowed papers. As he gathered up the papers, he had stumbled onto the fact that he had been adopted when he was nine months old.

"It wasn't like I didn't kinda know, you know," he continued glumly. "I never did fit in, but still--I don't know why they didn't tell me..."

He scowled fiercely at his feet, his long red hair flopping around his thin, slightly freckled face. "I just don't understand, Mouse," he muttered unhappily.

I nodded sympathetically. Will was my best friend. Wait a minute. Let me amend that statement. Will was my *only friend.*

I had the dubious honor of being born a "Lady of the Lake."

It was not an honorable thing really.

According to the town legends, the Lakes had lived for generations in the looming, three story house with its high stone walls that were lined with sharp black iron spikes, its heavy black gates, its rambling gardens, its fishpond, and its fruit and nut trees.

The Lake House residents were mostly women. The Lake family line ran to females. And the males who came--well, the stories say--they did not last long. They either went mad or died young.

You would think knowing this that men would steer clear of the Lake House and its inhabitants, but it was not so. Men, past and present, had tried to scale the high walls to woo the women within, only to receive various broken limbs for their pain.

The Lake ladies were known for their ethereal beauty and seemingly coldness of the heart, none of which I seemed to have inherited. I had yet to find out whether this was a gift or a curse.

Will and I were standing outside the Lake House front gate, under the oak tree. Beneath the tree was a bench that the Aunties had put out because Will, under the threat of a fate worse than death, was not allowed to go past the gates.

His parents--although well known for their firm religious conviction--were still superstitious enough to believe the Lake House stories that any male that went past it would die a horrific death.

The last male that came through the gate was my father.

My father had met my mother, Summer Lake, while she was attending the local college. He was from out of town so he didn't put too much stock in the stories about the Lake House. When she wanted to remain at the Lake House, he agreed.

For a while it went well. My sister, Autumn, was born seven months after they were married, a true Lake lady with her fall-colored hair down to her graceful feet. When she moved, my sister made you want to weep from the grace of it.

Seven years later, I was born--a small brown baby with dark downy hair and dark brown eyes. I was a throwback from somewhere in my father's family. My sister, seeing me for the first time, had exclaimed happily, "Look! She looks like Tattling!"

Tattling was, at that time, Autumn's pet mouse. It was how I got my nickname.

Two month later, my father, suffering from some mysterious aliment, quietly expired in his sleep.

My mother did not remarry. Instead she withered away. One day, in the dead of night, she dressed herself in her wedding gown, laid face down in the fish pond in our backyard, and drowned herself in three feet of water.

It was up to the Aunties, my mother's sister May, and Great Aunt Winters to raise my sister and I.


Even at a young age, I never fit in. Local kids and their parents eyed me with suspicion. It was well known that the Lake Ladies were witches, after all.

Nor did I feel I quite belonged to my family. They were too beautiful, too graceful, for an ugly duckling like me.

Although, the Aunties had never shown any preference by word or deed, I could not help wondering if they perhaps loved Autumn more because she was so beautiful.

So I could empathize with Will's alienation at not belonging. I did not belong either. But together, we belonged to each other.

His hazel eyes was dark with pain. "Why would someone give up their baby, Mouse? Why didn't they want to keep me?"

I crouched beside him and drew a picture of a boy drawing a sword out of the stone in the dirt.

"Queen Igraine gave up King Arthur," I said to him. "To protect him from King Arthur's enemies."

Will bit his lower lip. His face brightened. "She did, didn't she?"

"Maybe that's the case with you."

He grinned. "Maybe. Maybe I'm a prince or something and hidden away so I would be protected."

"Something like that," I grinned back.

"You're the best, Mouse," he said, clasping a hand on my shoulder. He dug his hand into his pocket, pulled out a bill, and waved it in the air.

"Got my allowance," he said, grinning. "You want to get some peanut butter ice cream?"

Who wouldn't?

Peanut butter ice cream. The cure for all ills.


Will and I spent the day gorging on peanut butter ice cream at the Silver Scoop Ice Cream Shoppe before we headed out to the local park to play baseball. Once there, we ran into a couple of kids from school.

They sneered at my presence.

"What are you doing with her?" Randy Johnson demanded to Will. "She's a witch, you know. If you're not careful, she'll put a curse on you, Van de Kampf." Then he made a face. "Or maybe she already did. Maybe she put a love spell on you!" he snickered. "And that's why you are hanging around her!"

"Shut up, Johnson!" Will snapped, his face almost as red as his hair.

"Why don't you come and make me, shrimp!"

Will stepped forward, all ready to defend my honor . It was flattering in a way, of course. I knew some girls who would have loved the thought of boys fighting over them. But I wasn't one of them. Besides, I was no fool. Two against five were not very good odds--especially if the five were all a foot and half taller and twenty pounds heavier.

I grabbed Will by the arm to keep him from doing something stupid. "Don't, Will," I hissed.

He jerked his head in protest.

"Will!"

Reluctantly, he let me pull him away. Randy Johnson and his friends hackled and hooted after us.

"Chicken!"

"Bawk-Bawk-Bawk!"

"Mouse Lake is an ugly witch!"

"Maybe we should call you Will Fraidy Pants, instead of Will Van de Kampf!"

Will was furious.

"You should have let me belt him one!" he said darkly.

"You know they wouldn't fight fair. They would have ganged-up on us!"

Will made a face. "I wouldn't expect you to fight, Mouse."

I made one back at him. "What you expect me to do? Stand around and watch you being pummeled?"

Will's mouth dropped, then he said, his humor restored--his temper dying down. "Naw," he said, grinning. "I expected you to run for help, Mouse."

It was later that afternoon we heard the news. After heckling us and leaving the park, Randy Johnson had been hit by a runaway shopping cart while crossing the local Walmart parking lot. He was in the hospital with a broken arm.


"Are you all right?" Auntie May asked when I came into the kitchen. And before I could answer, she had felt my forehead for my temperature and checked my pulse. Then turned around and put a kettle on top of the stove.

"What happened, Mouse?"

"Randy Johnson got ran over by a shopping cart. He broke his arm."

To my surprise, Auntie May merely said, "I thought you and Will didn't like Randy Johnson--that he was the bane of your existences."

"He is," I confessed. "Me and Will were playing in the park when he and a bunch of his friends came over and started to harass us. Will was so mad that he wanted to beat them all up."

"I like Will," she said mildly.

I sighed. "Don't you see, Auntie! They're going to blame me! They already saying that I cursed Randy Johnson and that's why he got ran over."

"It wasn't because he was just careless?" she asked, looking very innocent.

The kettle sang from behind her and she got up to attend to it. Then she set a cup of tea down in front of me. I took a deep sniff. It was lavender tea. To soothe me. I drank it down. Then I rubbed my finger across the polished surface of the kitchen table with its indentations of generations of use.

"What am I going to do, Auntie?"

She patted my shoulder comfortingly.

"It'll blow over, Mouse. You'll see."


It was worse at school. Kids whispering and dodging out of my way as I walked through the halls. I was more miserable than usual.

"It'll all blow over soon enough," Will said soothingly.

I made a face. "That's exactly what Auntie May said."

He grinned. "I like your aunt, Mouse."

I wrinkled my nose at him. "That's what she said about you, Will."

Will hooted happily. "Auntie May likes me then?"

I rolled my eyes. "Of course she does," I said darkly. "I don't know why."

He gave my shoulder a little push. "Hey, I heard that!" he said.

I laughed, feeling better. Will always knew what to say.


It would have blown over after a while, I guess, if nothing else had happened.

Randy Johnson returned to school, flashing his arm sling to the oohs and aahs of our schoolmates, and casting rather nasty looks at me and Will, but otherwise he left us alone.

I guess he was too scared.

Two days after his return, Tye Carter, one of the five boys that had heckled us, had fallen into the toilet as he was using the bathroom and broke his tail bone.

We had been playing Knights. I was the Queen of the Land and had just dubbed him Sir William when we overhead a neighbor tell his mother what happened.

Will rolled on his back with laughter. "Oh, I wish I could have seen that!" he said, giggling.

I was distressed to see that he found it funny. "It's not funny," I said, feeling if I was somehow to blame. "That must have really hurt."

"Of course it hurt," Will said rather unfeelingly, "but it's still funny."

I shook my head, wondering if this was the same Will. The one who cried when Charlotte the spider died in the Charlotte's Web or when Little Ann died of a broken heart in Where the Red Fern Grows. The one who didn't even like to abandon me. That Will.

Will pulled his mouth down mulishly. "He deserved it," Will said. "And so did Johnson! Saying those mean things about you?" I could tell he was getting mad. His ears were turning red.

"I'm not saying they didn't deserve it , Will. It's just--it's just they think I did it, Will. And I didn't do anything!"

Will sighed. "They're leaving us alone now, right?"

"Well, yeah," I said reluctantly. But still..."

"Oh, c'mon now, Mouse." He patted me on the shoulder. "I got something to show you."

He opened his closet and lifted the hidden trap door on the floor of his closet. The trap door led to a crawl space that was large enough for Will and me to crawl in and pretended we were a king and queen escaping our enemies or prisoners thrown into a dungeon. It was also the place that Will kept the things that he didn't want his parents to mess with.

I was pretty sure that his parents didn't know about it.

The house was very old and Will had discovered the trap door by accident a few years ago. It was so well-hidden that you had to practically know it was there to find it.

He pulled something out of there, walked back over to me, and handed it to me. I looked at it in puzzlement for a few seconds, before I realized it was a baby cap with bunny ears.

A vision of Will as a baby wearing these bunny ears popped into my mind.

"I found these in the same box that had my adoption papers,"

he said, chewing his lower lip thoughtfully. "I think it's mine before Mom and Dad adopted me." Then he stopped and corrected, "No, actually I am sure it is," He touched one of the bunny ears with a tentative finger. "I've remembered other things, too."

I smoothed the soft fabric of the bunny cap, then looked up at him. "Are you sure, Will? You were just a baby then."

He nodded. "I know, Mouse. But I'm pretty sure they're real memories."

"What do you remember?"

"I--I remember a woman singing to me. She has red hair. She's singing--" The tips of his ears turned pink. "She's singing a song--It's a pretty silly song."

"What is it?" I asked, curious.

Will made a face, then sang off-key, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog..."

We looked at each other and giggled.

"That's a real song?" I asked disbelievingly.

He nodded. "Yep. I asked my parents if they ever heard of it. They say it's an old song. Joy To The World by Three Dog Night."

We giggled even more at the absurdity of the name.

"Did you tell your parents that you found about being adopted?"

Will shifted uncomfortably. Then he shook his head. "Nahh. I don't want to hurt their feelings. I mean--they aren't bad parents, you know. They can't help being the way they are. It's not their fault."

I nodded. Will's parents weren't that bad. They were very nice to me, letting us play together. A lot of parents in town wouldn't because of the stories about the Lake House and the Lake Ladies....

It was just that Will was so different from them. The way he acted. The way he thought. I always had a sneaking suspicion that Will was a lot smarter than he made himself out to be...a lot smarter than his parents, to tell you the truth.

His parents couldn't understand him. They kept trying to make him act like a regular twelve-year-old kid. They just didn't realize that he wasn't one.


After a while, I got used to being avoided by the kids at school, and Will was avoided along with me, since he refused to abandoned me. I had hoped it would fade away, and it would have except two more of our hecklers suffered from unfortunate accidents.

Martin Cooper had the embarrassing luck of slipping on dog poo and breaking his big toe. Then Greg Evans broke two of his fingers when he accidentally got them caught in the bathroom door after gym.

"Well, there's only one left to go," I said gloomily to Will.

He patted me on the shoulder. "It's not your fault, Mouse."

"It sure feels like it, Will," I told him. I was glad that the winter holidays were about to begin.


Along came the holidays. My sister Autumn came dancing home from performance school. She swept in gracefully, looking like a princess from a fairy tale.

Will looked at her and gulped.

I rolled my eyes, disgusted at his behavior. It was the typical response that any male from the ages of nine to ninety-nine had when he saw Autumn.

She swooped down on me to hug me close, her scent sweet and spicy.

"Hello, Mouse!" she exclaimed happily. "I sure did miss you and the Aunties!" Then she reached over and hugged Will to his amazement. His ears turned such a bright red that I was surprised that they didn't glow. I snickered.

"Hi ya, Will!" she said. "Glad to see you here, too!" Then she turned and motioned behind her. "I want you guys to meet someone. This is my friend. She's my new roommate!"

Leslie smiled uncertainly at me and Will. I thought she seemed rather nice but very shy--very different from most of friends that Autumn had made.

I didn't realize how different until I stumbled into Autumn's bedroom the next morning and found to my surprise, Leslie in bed with her. And it was obvious they didn't have any clothes on beneath the covers.

I stopped short, unsure what to do.

"Do you need something, Mouse?" my sister asked sleepily.

"Uh..." I stammered. "Auntie May wanted to know if you two wanted breakfast."

Autumn nudged Leslie, who muttered in her sleep. Autumn sighed, then smiled at me, "Tell Auntie we'll get something later on."

"Sure," I said, and fled, embarrassed.

Later, I told Will what happened, my face flaming.

"So your sister is gay?" he asked, looking surprised but not as surprised as I had been.

I looked down at the ground and tried to draw a picture on the ground with the toe of my shoe, but It was cold and the ground was too hard.

I sighed. "I guess so. I always wondered why she never had a boyfriend. I mean there are tons of boys that are in love with her. They leave candy and stuff by the front gate and of course, at night, they come and try to wake her up by throwing things at her window." I made a face. "They usually wake me up instead." I shrugged. "I just thought that she was too busy with her dancing to pay attention."

Will looked puzzled. "So you don't like the fact that your sister is gay, Mouse?"

I frowned, thinking about it. Then I shook my head. "That's not it," I said. "I guess I felt weird walking in on them like that. It was rather mortifying, Will."

Will leaned over and said quite wisely, "She's still Autumn, you know. That never changes."

I sighed. "I know. It was just a big surprise. That's all. I'll get over it."

And I did.

Leslie was pretty funny once she got over her shyness and realized that the Aunties didn't seem to care that she was sleeping in the same bed as my sister. And it was obvious that she and Autumn was deeply in love. Leslie helped the Aunties cook the holiday dinner, and even found time to sit down with me and help me finish making Will's gift.


Will was already waiting for me at the oak tree.

"Merry Christmas!" he said as I came out the front door, my arms equally loaded with his presents, all of them wrapped in the Sunday comics.

"What do you got there?" he asked, gleefully.

"Happy Yuletide, Will," I said and shoved his gifts into his arms.

He took them, grinning broadly, and made a big production about opening them, as though he didn't already know what he was getting--or at least from the Aunties.

They had given him the same gift every year for the last six years that we have known him.

From Auntie Winters, he received three pairs of hand knitted socks. Will loved her socks and he received a gift of them for every gift-giving holiday.

Will sat down on the wood bench at the foot of the oak tree and pulled his boots (they were new so they were obviously a present from his parents) and socks off. He slipped on a new pair of Auntie's socks, then he wiggled his toes happily in the air.

"They fit perfectly," he said like always. "Tell Auntie Winters thank you." Then he opened the box from Auntie May--a hand knitted hat, gloves, and scarf set. This year they were white with scarlet dragons.

He hooted his approval. "They are so cool, Mouse! Tell Auntie May that they are great!" Then he looked approvingly at my own gloves--red with black ravens. "Those your new ones?" he asked.

I nodded and wiggled my gloved fingers at him. He snickered and opened up Autumn's gift to him. It was a complete set of Harry Potter books that she had picked up from a secondhand shop.

"Wow!" he said, looking amazed. I knew how much he wanted them. He was allowed to read them, but his parents refused to buy them for him. He had read both the library copies and my own to tatters. "Tell your sister thanks, Mouse!"

Then he opened my gift. I squirmed. I had made his gift and wasn't sure if he would like it.

"Oh, Mouse!" he said. His hand clenched tightly around it.

For a heart stopping moment I thought he didn't like it but then I looked into his face. His eyes were shiny with tears.

"It's gorgeous, Mouse." Carefully, he lifted it from the box and flipped through it slowly, stroking the pages lovingly.

"It's the story about King Arthur," I told him.

I had written the story in my best calligraphic hand script and illustrated it in watercolor. I had poured my soul into it.

"I tried to make it look like one of the medieval books," I said. "But I had to use fake parchment paper, though, since real parchment paper is too much money. Autumn bought the paper for me at a copy store. And the cover is real leather.

We found an old leather coat and cut it out of there, and Leslie showed me how to sew it up like a real book."

He looked up at me, his eyes shiny.

"I love it, Mouse! It's beautiful!" He looked down at the book for a long time, then up at me, "I have a present for you." He looked uncertain.. "But it's nothing like what you gave me, though... He handed a small box to me.

I opened it up.

"It's a friendship bracelet," he said, looking over my shoulder.

It was a silver I.D. bracelet. My name was engraved on the outside. On the inside, was Will's.

"I got it for you because you're my friend," he said, looking slightly embarrassed. Then he held out his wrist. He wore a matching one.

Best friends. We smiled at each other, then Will helped me put it on.

Then he laid his forehead against mine and whispered, "Merry Christmas, Mouse!" Then so softly that I almost didn't hear it. "I'm glad that you're my friend."

Then Auntie May came out with a tray of refreshments for us.

For me, they always made lavender tea. For Will, they made chamomile and honey. And for the both of us, Monkey Face Ice Box cookies.

We munched the cookies down and drank the tea, and Will got up to go. His parents were expecting him home.


The day had started out so beautifully but as night fell, a sense of foreboding crept into the air. It became heavy and oppressive. And my heart began to race as if I was running as hard as I could.

I tried to push it from my mind, but I couldn't shake the feeling that something awful had happened.

Uneasily, I climbed into bed, tossing and turning, trying to get to sleep. Finally, I was able to drop off to sleep--only to be awoken a few minutes later by pinging at the window.

I groaned, much annoyed.

It was probably one of Autumn's lovelorn admirers who found out that she was back home and decided to make a nocturnal visit.

The braver ones tried to scale the walls, but they received broken or sprained limbs for their pains. The ones who were to scared to go past the gate tried to get Autumn's attention by throwing pebbles at her windows. Whether it was bad aim or that they were frightened by the Lake House stories, they rarely hit Autumn's window. Instead they got mine and they would often slink off in embarrassment when they realized that they had awoken the wrong Lake sister.

Frustrated, I rolled over, pulling the pillow over my head, but whoever it was was persistent. I gave up on any hope of going to sleep and crept out of bed, intent on telling Mr. Romeo to get lost.

It wasn't a Romeo. It was Will.

He was inside the gates. Somehow, he had managed to get over the wall without getting hurt.

Astonished, I ran outside without bothering to put my shoes or coat on.

"Are you crazy, Will?" I whispered loudly. "Coming through the gate."

I thought I didn't believe in the stories about the Lake House, but a tiny bit of me did after all.

"You could've gotten hurt. And your parents are going to kill you!"

"They can't," he whispered shakily. "I think they're dead."

"What?" I stared at him incredulously, not sure what he just said.

His face was sheet white, his body shaking. He was dressed only in his pajamas, wearing nothing on his feet except a pair of Auntie Winters' socks. He was clutching something in his hand--it was my book that I had made for him. "What do you mean that they're dead?"

He drew in a sobbing gasp. "Something woke me. I don't know what it was. Mom was screaming, "Please don't hurt him. Please don't hurt him." And someone was saying, "Where's the boy? Where's the boy?" And my Dad was yelling, "He's not here!" Then Mom was saying, "Why are you doing this? Why are you doing this?" Then I heard bangs. I think they shot my parents."

He whimpered. "I got scared and hid in the dungeon, Mouse. I heard them come into the room and check the closet. I could hear them talking. "Where's the boy?Where is he? We can't leave without that damn boy!" Will began to shake like a leaf. "I was so scared, Mouse," he whispered. "I waited for a long time until I was sure they were gone. Then I snuck out and came over here."

"Did you call the police, Will?" I asked, horrified.

He shook his head numbly. I turned to run inside and do so.

He caught my arm. "Don't, Mouse," he croaked out.

I stared at him, puzzled. "Why not?"

He took in a deep breath. "Because one of them was Chief Leeds."

"Chief Leeds?" I whispered, aghast. I tried to imagine the large, jolly policeman who made frequent "say no to drugs" lectures at our school as a cold-blooded killer. "Are you sure, Will?"

He nodded wearily. "You know how he talks. No one else talks like him." Then, "Please, Mouse. Don't call the police. Promise me?"

I nodded reluctantly, suddenly realizing my feet were like frozen blocks of ice. I was freezing cold and looking at Will's thin pajamas and shivering body, I bet he was, too.

"You can't stay out here, Will," I said. "It's freezing."

Suddenly I had to make a choice. I hope we didn't find out if the Lake House curse were really true. "You need to come inside, Will. And hide. I bet they'll be looking for you."

His hazel eyes looked like deep bruises in his thin face. He hiccuped. "I can't do that, Mouse. What if they come after you and your family and h--hurt you guys, too."

Determinedly, I took his hand. Will had stayed with me through thick and thin. I refused to abandon him in his time of need.

"You can hide in my room, Will."

We snuck upstairs, past the Aunties' rooms on the 2nd floor and up to the third floor where Autumn and I have our rooms.

I opened my closet. It was large, almost as big as a small bedroom. I pulled blankets and pillows off the closet shelf and made Will a bed in back. He dropped down limply. He looked like he was going to pass out. I pushed his head between his knees and rubbed his back, and covered him high with blankets.

"You okay, Will?" I asked.

He nodded.

"I'll back," I whispered. I went downstairs into the kitchen and made him chamomile tea with honey. Then I came back up and handed him the teacup. He took it with shaking hands.

"Thanks, Mouse," he whispered, his teeth chattering.

I reached out and pulled a blanket high over his shoulders.

He smiled uncertainly at me and took a deep breath of the sweet, apple-like scent of the chamomile. It seemed to calm him a little.

He finished the tea, looking sleepy and exhausted. I took the empty teacup away from his limp hand. I bent over him and helped him lie down, took off his wet socks, and put a new pair of socks on his feet, then pulled the blankets up to his chin.

"Go to sleep, Will," I whispered to him.

Looking suddenly very awake and very frightened, he asked, "You won't be far, will you, Mouse?"

"I will be here," I promised.

And I would be.


The next dawn, Chief Leeds showed up at the front gate, asking me if I had talked to Will this morning. He wouldn't pass through the front gate. Chief Leeds, it seemed, was a believer in the Lake House curse.

"Are you sure you haven't talked to William Van de Kampf this morning?" he asked. In the morning light, he was no longer the jolly man that I knew from school. He was different, his posture menacing.

I shook my head. "No," I said truthfully. I had peeked in on Will this morning but he was still asleep, and I hadn't wanted to wake him.

He stepped forward, looming above me. He frowned. "Are you sure, Miss Lake?" he asked me. "We have reason to believe that whoever killed his parents are going to try to hurt him."

He grabbed me abruptly by the arm, his fingers digging into my skin. "We can protect him, Miss Lake. If we knew where he is..."

He was beginning to frighten me badly. I tried to pulled away but he tightened his grip.

"Chief Leeds!"

We both turned around. It was Auntie Winters by the door, looking imperious and regal. She was still very beautiful, despite the fact she was quite old and gray. Her presence seemed to affect him greatly. I could feel him shaking as he dropped his hand from my arm.

"Please stop bothering my niece," she said in a clear, ringing voice. "You're frightening her!" Then she opened the door wide. "Come inside, Mouse. It's freezing cold outside."

Happy to have an excuse to get away, I scuttled inside.

After breakfast, I slipped away to check on Will and tell him what happened.

"You be careful now, Mouse," Will said anxiously, as he ate the oatmeal and toast that I gave him. "Don't get hurt now."

"I won't, " I promised, although I wasn't sure if I would be able to keep it.


Will was having nightmares. And his face became paler and paler. I became worried and sought Auntie May's advice.

"Are you having nightmares, Mouse?" she asked, looking at me thoughtfully, her knitting heavy on her lap.

I hummed noncommittally.

Auntie picked up her knitting. "Make a dream pillow, Mouse. And fill it with lavender and rosemary. Lavender to soothe. And rosemary to keep the bad dreams away."

So I slipped into the Herb Room where the Aunties store the herbs in ceramic jars after the harvest. I got some rosemary and lavender and took them upstairs to the Aunties' sewing room .

I dug through their scrap bag and found a large piece of scarlet velvet that I sewed into a small pillow, stuffing it with the herbs and cotton wadding. Then I took it to the third floor to give it to Will.

He took it, looking a little puzzled. "It's seems awfully small to be used as a pillow, Mouse," he said rather doubtfully.

"It's a dream pillow," I told him. "You stick it under your pillow. It's supposed to keep bad dreams away."

He scrunched up the pillow thoughtfully. The scent of the herbs wafting up to his nose. He grinned, looking a bit pleased.

"Hey, Mouse," he said. "It smells kinda like you."

"It's the lavender."

The Aunties scented our soap and rinse water with lavender, and stored lavender sachets in our clothes.

"It smells nice," he said.


A few day later, another man appeared. He must have been from out of town because he had no qualms about coming through the front gate to our front door. He was a tall man, big, with a bald head, and glasses.

Auntie May didn't seem to be surprised to see him. She let him in and led him into the kitchen.

I watched his eyes follow her as she sat down at the kitchen table.

He cleared his throat, embarrassed, when he realized he had been staring. My Auntie was unconcerned.

"My name is Walter Skinner. I'm with FBI," he said, showing his badge to us.

"I don't know much about the FBI, but I would venture to say that you're pretty high on the FBI totem pole, Director Skinner," Auntie May said mildly.

Mr. Skinner's bald head turned several shades of pink, but his voice was even as he said, "This is somewhat of personal case for me, Mrs.--"

"Miss Lake," Auntie May said. "I've never been married. Why is this personal? Did you know the Van de Kampfs personally."

He paused. "Uhr--no--not the Van de Kampfs." He cleared his throat again. "They have a son--an adopted son--William Van de Kampf, who has been missing since the murders, Miss Lake. I have reason to believe he is in great danger. I need to find him."

Auntie May sighed. "We are all worried about Will. We are all very fond of him."

Director Skinner nodded to me. "I've been told that your niece here was very close to Will. I would like to talk to her."

Auntie May frowned. "I'd rather you didn't, Mr. Skinner. She's been very upset by this all. And after the way Chief Leeds treated her while he was questioning her earlier made me and my aunt wary of letting her talk to anyone else."

Mr. Skinner drew his brow together in puzzlement. "What did the Chief do?"

"Mouse," Auntie May said. "Show Mr. Skinner your arm."

I did. You could see bruises where Chief Leeds had gripped me. Mr. Skinner looked furious.

"Miss Lake," he said. "Let me assure you that is not the way that law enforcement officers usually work!"

Behind us, the kettle sang. Auntie May got up from her chair. "Excuse me, Mr. Skinner. It's time for tea. Would you like some?"

Mr. Skinner looked like he was about to decline, but thought better of it, and nodded. "Thank you, please."

Auntie May handed me a teacup and some cookies. "Here you go, Mouse," she said. "Go upstairs for now. Let me talk with Mr. Skinner here."

I took the teacup from her and took a sniff. It was chamomile tea with honey. My eyes widened.

Somehow, Auntie May knew that Will was here.

"Go on," Auntie May said.

I nodded, trying to hide my trembling, and hurried upstairs.


"Auntie May made you some tea," I said to Will as I handed him the tea and cookies.

Will looked frightened.

"I didn't tell her, Will," I answered his unspoken question. "She just knew."

"Do the others know that I am here?" he asked.

I shook my head. "I don't know, Will." I paused, then said, "There's a man from the FBI here. "

"FBI?" he squeaked.

"He said that it was personal."

"Personal?" Will wrinkled up his brow. "What does he mean by that? Did he know my Mom and Dad?"

"He didn't say. Auntie May is talking to him downstairs."

"Do you think she will tell him?" he asked.

"I don't know," I replied. "But only if she really trusts him."

I looked down and noticed that he had my book in his lap. He looked down at it, then up at me.

"You know, Mouse," he said ruefully. His hand shook as he turned a page. "I decided that it's much better to read about adventure than go through it."


There were footsteps in the hall by my bedroom door. We both started, then I relaxed. "It's just Auntie May," I said.

She knocked on the door and came in. She had some clothes draped over her arm.

"Hello, Auntie May," Will whispered, looking sheepish.

"Hello, Will. I'm glad that you are here," she said briskly. "I have some clothes for you. You need to take a bath."

"A bath?" he stammered.

Auntie May thrust the clothes into his arms as well as a small sachet. "Put this in your bath, Will. It will make you feel better." Then to me, "Bring his clothes downstairs so I can wash them."

Then she was gone.

Will looked at the clothes that she brought. Somewhere, probably in the attic, she had scrounged up a pair of jeans, boxers, and a T-shirt that would fit him. He blushed at the boxers. Then picked up the sachet that Auntie May had given him.

"What is this?" he asked.

"It's filled with herbs. You put it in your bath. It's like a giant tea bag." I looked at him anxiously. "You're feeling okay, aren't you, Will?" I worried that he was becoming sick from being in the house.

"I feel okay," he answered. "Considering..." he left that open. Then he said, "I like your house, Mouse. I like it a lot."

I was surprised. "Do you? They say most men who've come in complained that they felt they were being watched all the time. You don't feel that way?"

Will thought about it. "No. I do feel I'm being kinda watched. But not in a bad way. Not like a someone watching you, waiting for you do something wrong. More like someone watching and taking care of you."

I smiled. No matter how hard it was to be a Lady of the Lake, I loved every square inch of this house.


He looked a lot better after he got out of the bath. The T-shirt hung almost to his knees. And the jeans puddled to the floor. I bent over and rolled them up for him.

He watched me do this and said shyly, "I don't know what I would do without you, Mouse."

I smirked up at him. "Roll up your own jeans!"

But I understood what he meant. I stood up.

"Auntie May and Auntie Winters want to talk to you," I said to him.

"So Auntie Winters knows I'm here, too." Will didn't seem to be surprised or too upset. I think he was glad to have some adults know what was going on.

"I don't know if Autumn knows you're here. She and Leslie wanted to stay, but the Aunties told them to go because Autumn has a dance show to rehearse." I tugged his arm.

"C'mon, let's go."


They were sitting in the parlor. Auntie Winters was knitting Autumn a sweater and Auntie May was knitting an afghan for one of the upstairs spare bedrooms. Both of them put their pieces down when we came into the room.

"Come here, Will," Auntie Winters said, motioning him to come forward. "Let me check your ears to make sure they are washed properly."

Bemused, Will cast me a glance. At my shrug, he walked over to her. She grabbed him by one ear and inspected him thoroughly, before checking the other.

"Very good, dear," she said. She waved her hand to the couch. "Sit, Will."

So Will and I sat on the couch.

"Tell us what happened," Auntie Winters said, looking like a Queen.

So we did.


Afterwards, Will said tentatively, "I'm afraid they will hurt you if I stay here any longer, Auntie Winters."

Auntie waved his concerns away. "They will not bother us,"

Auntie said. "As long as you stay in this house, you will be safe."

"But--"

Auntie May leaned forward. "Will. Don't worry, dear. We have our own way of protecting ourselves. You will stay here and we will protect you."

It was too much for Will. Relieved, he began to cry. I reached out a hand and grabbed his hand, and began to howl alongside of him.

The Aunties waited patiently for us to stop. Then they stood up, looking very grand, and Auntie Winters said regally, "Come, Will. I am not sure what Mouse has been feeding you for the past few days--" she gave me a stern gaze, "--but dinner is ready."

The Aunties were good cooks and Will ate hungrily. I watched him carefully. He finished his second bowl of stew, took a bite from a piece of homemade bread, and yawned widely.

"Oh, excuse me," he said, looking abashed. Then promptly yawned again.

Auntie May merely said, "It's time for you to go to bed, I suppose. Mouse, take him upstairs and put him in the bedroom next to yours."


"Wow," Will was amazed when he saw his bedroom. His bed was like mine--a poster bed made of heavy wood. It was hung with well-worn, midnight blue velvet curtains, and dressed in matching bed clothes. On top of of it, piled high, were mounds of silk and velvet pillows.

"Aunties must like you," I teased. "To put you into the special guest room."

He laughed a little about that, climbed into bed and let me tuck him in. He slipped the dream pillow under his head.

Then I turned around to go but he mumbled, "Don't go yet, Mouse."

I came back and sat on the floor and rested my head next to his on the pillow.

He reached out, grabbed my hand, laced his fingers through mine, and pulled our hands next to his cheek.

"Wait until I go to sleep?" he asked, mumbling.

I nodded, even though his eyes were closed and he was half asleep. We lapsed into silence, my eyes became heavy. I closed them.

"Mouse?" Will said sleepily.

"Yeah, Will?" I replied, as sleepily.

"Glad you're my best friend." Then he was asleep. And so was I.


I haven't left the house much since everything happened, but both Will and I needed something to read. Will had given me a whole list of books that he wanted me to check out, starting out with Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising Books (which started us on the whole Arthurian kick that we were on in the first place.) The list included Mary Stewart's Merlin Trilogy, and rounded out with a personal favorite of mine: The Mists of Avalon by Marion Zimmer Bradley. I loved it because her main characters were the "Ladies of the Lake", too, although the ending always made me sort of sad.

I had stayed longer than I planned. Time has a way of getting away from me when I'm at the library. It seemed one moment I was taking a book of the shelf and then next moment, the library was closing.

By the time I left, it was pitch dark outside already and I had to carry a bag of books that weighed a ton. I had made this journey countless times before in the past, with barely any thought, but tonight, the familiar seemed alien. I felt like I was venturing into some strange and terrible land. I could imagine how Will felt as he ran from his home to our house that night...

"Miss Lake--"

Startled, I looked up to see Chief Leeds looming in front of me. My heart began to thump crazily.

"C--Chief Leeds?" I stammered. "Y--you scared me."

"Oh, I'm sorry," he said in a way that I knew he wasn't. He looked into the bag. "What you got in there, Miss Lake? Library books?"

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

"Seem you have a lot of books there, Miss Lake. Enough for two people to read." The way he said it didn't leave any room to doubt. He knew that Will was at our house.

"I need to get home," I stammered. "My aunts are expecting me home for supper."

Chief Leeds ignored what I said. Instead he went on conversationally as if I hadn't said anything. "You know I went to school with your Aunt May and your mother Summer.par You know, your mother was sure beautiful, but your Aunt May--well, your Aunt May was considered the "beauty" of the two. I asked her out a couple of times but she always told me no." He stepped closer to me until he was almost leaning over me. "Now I hear that your sister Autumn is the same way. Won't say boo to anyone."

I swallowed. I wasn't sure why he was so angry about my sister's dating habits. "Who Autumn dates is her business, Chief Leeds. I don't have anything to do with that."

"I guess you don't." Suddenly his round, jovial face twisted--turned ugly. "Since you don't have those looks that drive a man plain crazy, only one who gives you the time of the day is that boy, Miss Lake."

"I have to go..." I whispered and tried to brush past him.

He grabbed my arm hard. "Where's the boy, Miss Lake?" he hissed. "I know that you know where he is!"

I whimpered. He was twisting my arm, hurting me. "You're hurting me, Chief Leeds!" I cried.

"Chief Leeds!" a voice called. It was Mr. Skinner from the FBI.

My shoulder sagged with relief. I was never so glad to see anyone in my life. I was shaking, my heart pounding. I could hear the Chief breathing heavily beside me.

"Director Skinner," the Chief said, nodding his head.

Mr. Skinner looked coldly at the police chief, then turned to me, "Miss Lake, I have just been at your house. Your Aunt May told me that you were at the library. I thought I could speak to you. I will be happy to give you a ride home."

I had two unhappy choices: one, I could accept the ride with Mr. Skinner and talk to him (which I didn't want to do) or I could turn him down and take my chance with Chief Leeds who I knew would hurt me--*wanted* to hurt me, and would have if Mr. Skinner had not shown up when he did. So I nodded my head numbly, leaving Chief Leeds glaring at us from behind, and got into Mr. Skinner's car.


He didn't say anything until he parked the car in front of the Lake House. Then he turned to me and said, "I know you that you know where Will is, Miss Lake."

I opened my mouth to protest but he shook his head at me.

"Don't," he warned me. "I know, Miss Lake. And I'm not going to force you to tell me. I could if I wanted to. You know that. I could go into your house and look for Will myself, but I won't. Because I know you are Will's friend and that it will upset him too much to do such a thing. But I want to tell you that Will is very much in danger. That the people who killed his adopted parents are still after him. That this is no random thing. The men went there for a specific purpose. To get Will. His parents were killed because they were in the way. Your family is in the same danger. Think about it, Miss Lake. These people don't mess around."

He broke off. "There are two people that I want you to meet. To talk to. Would you do that? I will bring them here to the House, if it will make you feel more comfortable. They would have been here earlier if they had known..." He cleared his throat, "They--they have been very worried about Will--very worried."

Talking to him, I suddenly had the urge to unload my worries. To trust him. But I couldn't. Not without betraying Will's confidence. That I would never do.

I had to talk to Will first.

I stumbled to my feet, grabbing the bag of books from the the floorboard.

"I need to go," I stammered. "My aunts are waiting for me, Mr. Skinner."

"Please think about it, Miss Lake," he called after me as I made my way to the front door.

I paused, then turned.

"I will meet with them. But just to talk. You can bring them by tomorrow morning, Mr. Skinner."

He was silent for a long time, looking very worried. Then he nodded. "I will bring them by, Miss Lake. Be careful. Be very careful, Miss Lake."


Will flew down the stairs to meet me.

"Mouse," he said anxiously. "I've been so worried since you've been gone. I kept thinking that something bad was happening to you. I told Auntie May how I was feeling and she said not to worry--that you were with Mr. Skinner." He took the bag of books from my shaking hands and led me to the couch in the sitting room, then said slowly, "Something did happen. Tell me, Mouse."

I said, trying to keep my voice from trembling. "I ran into Chief Leeds as I was walking home. He--he said he knew that you were here--He..."

"He hurt you!" Will said, his voice furious. "He twisted your arm!"

My eyes jerked up to his.

He showed me his arm. "I felt it, Mouse! That's why I told Auntie May, but she said that you were with Mr. Skinner..."

"Mr. Skinner came in time," I said softly.

Will's eyes filled with tears.

"He could have hurt you!" Will whispered. "He could have hurt you bad, Mouse! And it would be my fault!" His chest began to heave with sobs. "I should go. I should go before you and the Aunties get hurt."

"No, no, Will!" I said, grabbing his arm. "It's not your fault! It's not your fault!"

"It is! It is!" he sobbed. "It's my fault my parents are dead! It's my fault that Chief Leeds hurt you! I need to go before it's too late! Before they hurt you bad, too!"

"Will! Stop! Listen! They think you are here anyway. Even if you leave, they will still think you are here. It doesn't matter if you go, you see! They will still think you are here anyway!"

My words finally sank in. He drew in a shuddery breath. "Do you think so, Mouse?" He wanted to believe. He wanted to believe so badly.

I nodded. "At least if you do stay, you're safe."

"Yeah--safe." He whispered the words huskily.

We both leaned back on the couch, exhausted. Finally Will said in a quiet voice, "What did your Aunties mean when they said they have their own type of protection?"

I frowned. "I don't know." I picked at a loose thread on my jeans, then mumbled into this couch cushion. "People say that the Lake House is cursed, you know."

"Yeah. Everyone says that," he said, his voice drowsy.

I looked at him sharply. His eyes closed and his face was drawn with fatigue. I felt his forehead. It felt clammy.

"You've been sleeping better, haven't you, Will?"

His eyes opened, looking a bit surprised. "Oh, yeah, Mouse,"

he said. "The pillow you made seemed to help a lot." He reached out and tugged at my hair playfully, grinning.

Then a strange look came over his face. He stared at me for a moment, then he began to laugh. "Are you worried that the house is making me sick, Mouse?" he demanded.

I made a face. It seemed rather silly when he asked the question outright, but it didn't stop me any from worrying.

I was going to ask the Aunties to make sure.

"I feel fine, My Lady Mouse." He sat up and gave me an elaborate bow from the waist up. Then he patted my shoulder assuringly. "I feel fine, Mouse. I promise. I was just worried about you and the Aunties getting hurt..." he broke off. "I don't think I could bear it if anything happened to you, Mouse," he added, his eyes shiny.

"Will," I said hesitantly. "There's something I have to tell you." Then I told him what Mr. Skinner had said.


I cornered Auntie May after dinner and asked her.

"Curse?" She seemed genuinely perplexed. "What curse?"

"About men--boys coming into the House? About them getting sick..." My voice caught. "...and dying. That's what people say..." My voice trailed off.

Auntie May touched my face, a rare gesture on her part. Our family was not a demonstrative one. "Have you been listening to those tales, Mouse? Are you worried that Will will die because he is here?"

I couldn't help myself. I started to cry. "I don't want Will to die!"

"Oh, Mouse!" Auntie May said, shaking her head. "There is no curse."

"But what about my father? And the others?"

"People have a good memory for the bad. They easily forget the good or the mundane, Mouse. Your father was a good man--but he was a very sick man--even before he married your mother and came to live here."

"They--they said that he died mysteriously."

"Mysteriously to them but not to us. We of the Lake House have always kept to ourselves."

"But my mother..."

"She loved your father very much, Mouse," Auntie May said gently. "Very much. Part of the reason they moved here was because your mother couldn't bear to be away from the Lake House. We share a certain bond with it and the land--but part of it was she hoped that we could help him--but there are some things beyond our abilities, Mouse. Your mother was filled with grief and she could not see beyond it. She was without hope and in the end, it killed her, Mouse."

"But couldn't she have stayed for me and Autumn? We needed her, too?" I cried, long time resentment brimming over.

"It is easy for us to say that," Auntie May said, "but your father was her whole world. I know it is hard for you to understand it. And you will one day when you love. We don't give our love easily--the women of our family--but when we do, we give it all. We cannot call our hearts our own. Our soul is no longer ours, but part of theirs. They become an extension of ourselves. That is how we love. It can be very beautiful. Or it can very terrible, Mouse."


They came with Mr. Skinner and Auntie May let them in. She led Mr. Skinner off to the kitchen and left me alone with them in the parlor.

"Are you Morgan Lake," the women asked, reaching to shake my hand. She sounded nervous. She was a pretty woman, very small, with Will's red hair.

"People call me Mouse," I said. "You can call me Mouse, if you want."

"My name is Dana Mulder. You can call me Dana." She turned to the tall, dark-haired man standing behind her. "This is my husband. Fox Mulder."

Mr. Mulder reached out a hand.

"You can call me Mulder," he said.

I looked into his face and saw Will looking back at me. A sob began to bubble up inside of me. I could feel Will's eyes watching us, listening to our words so carefully. I could feel the turmoil fluttering inside of him.

Dana's voice was wobbly as she said, "I--I heard that you and Will--Va--Van de Kampf are best of friends."

I nodded. "We've been best friends since we were six. That's when they moved back here. Mr. Van de Kampf owned a farm in Wyoming but it went under. So they came back here, because Mrs. Van de Kampf's daddy still lived here."

"Is he still living?"

"Mrs. Van de Kampf's daddy?" I shook my head. "No. He died when Will was eight."

"Do you know if Will has any family left here?" Mrs. Mulder asked me.

"No."

Dana glanced at her husband and he gave her a tiny nod.

"We are worried about him--Will. Can you just tell us if he's all right?"

It was then I noticed she had Will's bunny cap in her hands.

That she was worrying it gently with her fingers. And then her husband's hand carefully came up and tenderly covered hers.

"That's Will's," I said, pointing at the cap.

She nodded.

"He had it when he was a baby. Before he was adopted."

She nodded again.

"He didn't know he was adopted for a long time," I went on.

"He just found out a little while ago. He didn't--he didn't understand why his parents didn't want him."

Her eyes filled with tears. "But they did want him, Mouse. They wanted him more than anything. He was their beautiful miracle baby."

I swallowed my tears. I was determined to ask the questions that Will wanted so desperately to know. "Then why did they give him up if they wanted him that much?"

It was her husband that spoke, "They thought they were doing the best thing for him. They had a lot of enemies that wanted to hurt them. To hurt their baby. They were afraid that if they kept him, he would get hurt. So they thought if they give him to someone else, he would have a chance to have a normal life--a happy life--instead of looking over his shoulder and worrying that someone was trying to hurt him."

"But that happened anyway."

"Yes," Dana said sadly. "It happened anyway."

I reached out and took the bunny cap from her. She let it go reluctantly, her fingers clutching empty air.

I smoothed the ears down on my lap.

"Tell me what you sang to him," I said to her.

She looked startled. "Sang?"

"A song that you sang to him when he was a baby." I had to make sure.

She looked uncertain for a moment, wiping the tears from her face, then she began to sing off-key--just like Will did, "Jeremiah was a bullfrog..."

And from the behind us, from the stairs...Will's voice warbled shakily, "...was a great friend of mine..."

We all turned to see Will standing by the foot of the stairs, dressed in jeans and shirt that my Aunties had cut down to fit him. For a moment, they stood there uncertain, then his parents opened their arms, and Will ran into them.


I hoped it would be over, but it wasn't, of course. Auntie Winters invited Will's parents to stay at the Lake House.

"The boy does not need to be separated from his parents," Aunt Winters said firmly.

The Mulders nodded, agreeing meekly to her words.

Then Auntie May and Mr. Skinner got into an argument. He wanted the house to be watched.

"In addition to the people already watching?" Auntie May asked him, her brows arching.

Mr. Skinner blinked. Then sputtered.

"We do not need people watching our house, Walter," Auntie May said to him.

"May," he protested. "These people are dangerous! And I don't like the fact that Chief Leeds hasn't been seen for a while. I'm just surprised that he hasn't come after you, if you what you said about him is true!"

"We have ways of protecting ourselves," was Auntie May's placid reply.


The next morning, they found Chief Leeds and another man dead. Apparently during the night, they had snuck past the people watching and tried to scale our iron gate last night.

They had slipped and fallen, impaling themselves on the gate's iron spikes. They had died slowly and painfully.

On the bodies, Mr. Skinner's agents (since he no longer trusted the local law enforcement) found the guns that were used to kill Will's adopted parents.

It caused a great uproar in our community and new stories about the Lake House spread like wildfire.

The Aunties dismissed them with a wave of their hands, but Will and I could not help wondering if that was their way of protecting us, and that some of the stories about the Lake House might be true after all.

I longed for a happy ending, to know that all would end well. But I knew better. Not matter what happened, I knew that Will would be leaving me soon.


Will's parents told us more about what was happening. Why they had given up Will in hopes he would have a normal childhood--that what they feared would never come about. But now they were sure that the threat was immediate.

The Aunties listened attentively, knitting up a storm. They were making scarves, hats, and gloves for the Mulders and Mr. Skinner.

"You should go into hiding," Will's father urged the Aunties. "Before it's too late."

"Young man," Auntie Winters said, "We are of the Lake House. We * belong* here!"

"But..."

"We can't go, Mr. Mulder," Auntie May said quietly. "If we did, we might as well be dead. This is how we are. How we always have been."

"But your niece, Autumn, is gone," he pointed out.

"For a while," Auntie Winters said. "But she will be back. We are always strongest here at our home."

Mr. Mulder bit back what he was about to say. Then he said slowly, "They call you the Ladies of the Lake."

Auntie Winters hrmmphed and switched yarn colors.

His eyes lighted on me. "They say that Morgan--the one from the King Arthur's stories--was the most powerful and the Queen of the them all. That her bird was the raven. And her colors black and red. They said she started out as a Goddess, but became vilified until she ended up as evil sorceress who seduced her brother, the King." He chewed his bottom lip thoughtfully. "I always wondered if she hated him so much, why it was that when Arthur lay dying, it was Morgan and her ladies that came to take him to Avalon to be healed. Curious. Just curious."

Auntie Winters sniffed. "Stories," she muttered. "They are just fairy stories, Mr. Mulder."

And I said seriously, "Mr. Mulder..."

"You can call me Mulder," Will's Daddy said.

"Mulder, I can assure you that I'm ordinary as you 'could' be."

"Are you sure?" he asked me. And his eyes--so much like Will's--twinkled at me.


They could not stay. There was too much to do. To little time to do it. But this time, they would stay together.

So I knew for sure that Will was leaving and I went about, trying not to weep.

Years seemed to have passed since Will's adopted parents were murdered. The truth, it had been just days.

Laden with the woolens that the Aunties had knitted for them and the food that Auntie May had made, they packed up to leave on the twelfth day.

They gave Will and me time to say good-bye.

In his hands, he clutched the book that I made for him.

"I guess this is goodbye," he said, his voice dull.

I nodded numbly. Part of me wanted to get it over with so I could crawl into bed and cry. The other part didn't want the time to come at all.

"Goodbye, My Lady Mouse," he whispered, reaching out and rubbing my friendship bracelet.

"Good-bye, Sir William," I said, my voice clogged with tears.

He clasped me strongly on the shoulder.

"Best friends?"

"Best friends always."

Then he turned away and took a step slowly away from me. I became blinded by a curtain of tears.

He was going--going away...

My heart was breaking--I knew it would never mend...

Then he was back, hugging me tightly to him. I was sobbing...sobbing...

"It's okay, it's okay," he crooned, rubbing my back soothingly.

Then he whispered into my ear, "I'll be back, Mouse. I'll be back. I promise."

Then he did something he never did before. He bent his head and kissed me gently on the lips. Then he turned quickly away to hide his tears. He didn't want me to see.

I watched him climb into the car with his parents. Watched him watching me, red-eyed, as they faded away into the distance...

Then he was gone....

My Will was gone...


EPILOGUE:

It was very different to go about without Will at my side.

There was an emptiness to my life that I could not describe.

I remembered what Auntie May had said about my mother. I could now understand how she felt when my father died.

At first I heard from Will sporadically. He kept in touch like he promised. Letters. Postcards. Emails that I read on a computer at the library or at school. He would write and tell me the books he was reading. What he was learning.

It was in one of those rare communications that I found out it was Will who did those things to Randy Johnson and his friends...

"I didn't realize it was me at the time, Mouse. Can you imagine my surprise when my Mom told me that I used to do that type of thing when I was a baby? She thought I had lost it, but I guess I didn't. They think that I can use it. It's something that *they* fear.

I hope you and the Aunties are all right. I miss you all.

And I will be back, Mouse. I promise.

I just wish you could write me back....

Your best friend, Will

I couldn't write him back because he couldn't let me know where he was. It was too dangerous for them.

Then it happened--what the Mulders feared would come to pass. The world was invaded by those who wanted to destroy it. They razed the world, leaving it smoldering in ashes and millions of people dead.

There was no law. No government. No order.

As the chaos reigned outside of the Lake House, inside it remained the same. The Aunties knitted fiercely by the fireplace, making mounds of woolens to give away for those who sought refuge.

I sat and read by the candlelight since there was no more power. Soon after, knitting needles found their way into my hands and I began to knit too.

Occasionally, a brave soul would venture past the front gate of the Lake House--the only thing standing in a landscape of destruction. They would marvel at the trees standing high, the vines that draped across the stone walls of the house, and the herbs that sweetly scented the air.

"How can this still be standing?" they asked us as we gave them food to fill their tummies, drink to quench their thirst, and clothing to keep them warm.

The aliens did not bother us. They tried at first, of course. If they ventured by land, the earth opened and swallowed them whole. If they came by air, the ships came down in flames. After a while, they left us alone.

And to those humans who plotted to harm us, they suffered from the same fate. It was as if the Lake House and the land around knew their intentions.

There was no hiding the magic that my Aunties wrought.

My sister Autumn had returned to the Lake House and was at home when it all began. Leslie was not here. She was visiting her family two states over and Autumn could not stay at the Lake House, not knowing if her lover was safe.

She kissed me and the Aunties goodbye, bid us not to worry, that she would be back with Leslie as soon as she could.

As the days, then the months passed, there was still no word from Autumn.

The leaves turned from green to red and begin to fall from the trees. One cold night, the clocks in our house stopped at nine thirty-three.

Auntie Winters, looking stiff and bent, went through the house, covering the clock faces and mirrors in the house.

My sister Autumn was dead.

Later, word came to us that she and Leslie had joined a resistance group. Autumn had used her allure to obtain important information from those humans who worked with the enemies. She had succeeded in performing a powerful service.

As she and Leslie were returning to the Lake House, they were ambushed and killed.

When I heard this, I wept bitterly. I wanted to leave. To do my part in the fight for the future. And I told the Aunties so.

They shook their heads, looking for the first time so old--so gray--their pain etched deeply into their faces.

"You cannot leave, Morgan," they whispered, their voice thin wisps, "because we do not have the strength to stay. You will understand. You will soon understand."

A few months later, we buried Auntie Winters first in the cold, frozen earth.

"You will have to learn,"Auntie May said. And she began to teach me--the things that the Ladies of the Lake knew.

I learned because I knew it was what I had to do. There were no doctors--no nurses--no hospitals or drugs. The sick came to the Lake House and Auntie May and I did what we could with our herbs. Sometimes it was not enough.

When Auntie May lay dying, her beauty so faded that only what remained was in her eyes. She patted my hand and whispered, "You have a duty--to keep the earth alive. As long as one small piece is alive--there is hope and all is not lost. Remember what I told you, Morgan. " I had ceased to be Mouse that day so very long ago. She sighed. "I have no regrets but one."

I leaned close to her to hear her voice. "What is it, Auntie May?"

She smiled, a sad smile. "If you see Walter Skinner, tell him I said goodbye."

And then she closed her eyes and died.

I was alone, the last of the ladies of the Lake House. My sister was dead. My aunties were dead. And Will?

I have not heard from Will since that fateful day when the war started and all communications and mail ceased All I knew was the snatches of news that I heard from those who passed through the Lake House.

They said when all hope was almost gone, a young man appeared from nowhere. Tall and red-haired, he was brave and strong. He could, they said, their voice filled with awe, wrestle the control of the ships from the aliens themselves and make them do what he bid. There were even, they said, aliens who *served* him. And his name, they said, was Will Mulder.

The tide was turning. We were winning...


It was an early spring day--still chilly from the winter months before. I had laid down to rest, having been up all night delivering a baby--when there was a knock on the door.

Summoning the strength I cold muster, I got up to answer it--then it happened--my senses started to tingle--and I knew--I knew!

I ran and flung the door wide open...

It was him. Will, standing there, looking taller, older, his red hair darker, but still--Will.

We stared at each other for a long time. Such a long time--lost in each others eyes. I could see the lines of pain etched at the corners of his eyes.

Both of us reached out a tentative hand to touch each other's face.

"Mouse?" he whispered. And in that one word, I knew all he was asking and saying.

I nodded, my heart bursting with joy.

Then we were in each other's arm.

"You see," he murmured into my ear, holding me tight. "I told you that I would come back."

All I could do was weep. Will was finally home.

FIni


Author's Note*

Yep, I am a sap. And I like happy endings. So sue me.

I hope you enjoyed reading it. If you did, please let me know.

And as always, constructive feedback is always welcome.

Myriss myriss1013@yahoo.com

Thanks TO MORI for beta-ing!

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