Title: A Rose In The Deeps
Summary: Scully receives a great-aunt's journal, and an invitation to stay in a haunted house. With them comes a new understanding of loss, and second chances.
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,
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?
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.
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:
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.
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
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.
Scully shifted under the heavy damask, eyelids fluttering as she drifted deeper and deeper into the dream. The wind blew softly into the room, and a lightning bug landed just inside the window on the old sill. It sat there, blinking its iridescent light for a few seconds, then slipped back out into the warm night air. The old house settled, creaking boards making their night noises, and the figure in the four poster bed breathed quietly as her spirit walked in another world.
"Hey, Katherine! Wait up!" It was Susan, dashing along the sidewalk calling to her over the noise of the horses and people making their way through the town. Somewhere an automobile backfired; must be Old Man Johnson's son, she thought. Though the autos had been out since '08, the Johnson family was the only one who had been courageous—or was it foolhardy?—enough to purchase one of the smelly, loud contraptions. But she knew her Papa was thinking about it—the wave of the future, he'd said at the dinner table the other night. Mama had merely rolled her eyes and asked him to pass the peas.
"What are you doing in town today?" Susan asked as she caught up with Katherine and they began walking together.
"Oh, Mama wanted some things from the general store so she sent me into town for them," Katherine replied. Susan was bouncing on the toes of her shiny black shoes, blond bangs bobbing in time with the rhythm of her gait.
"Katherine," she said in a stage whisper. Katherine arched an eyebrow.
"What, Susan? You look like you're going to bust your buttons." Susan made a small face at the vulgar expression, but didn't comment.
"Oh, but Kath, it's so exciting! Remember that handsome young man you were staring at in church a few weeks ago?" Katherine drew herself up to her full height of five feet, two inches, and wished she could look down her nose at her taller friend to show her distaste for her gross overstatement.
"I was NOT staring," she said haughtily. Susan giggled and adjusted her glove.
"Well, whatever you choose to call it, I know something /you/ don't, and I think it's something you'll be /very/ interested in."
"What do you mean?" Katherine asked, curiosity piqued despite her unwillingness to encourage her friend's display.
"I know his NAME!" Susan fairly squealed, her excitement finally getting the best of her. The couple walking past stared at her disapprovingly.
"These young people, no manners!" part of Katherine's mind supplied as they slipped past, even as Susan giggled again. Then Susan's words caught up with her. Katherine stared, stupid with shock, as white as if she'd seen a ghost, then colored up thoroughly. Yet another mark against fair Irish complexions, she thought bemusedly.
"Wh..what is it?" she asked at last, in a queer voice that was little more than a whisper. She felt numb, and oddly floaty. She had the strangest sensation in her chest, like a breath held too long.
Susan put her hand on Katherine's arm and drew her out of the crowd. "It's Daniel," she said to her friend. "Daniel Lange."
"Daniel," Katherine whispered, trying the name out as if she could taste it. She found that she could, and for all the world it tasted like…blackberries. Warm. Sweet. Vibrant.
"Of course," she replied.
"Katherine, you should see your face!" her friend said. "You haven't been that color since we canned the tomatoes!" Susan went off again in a gale of giggles. Katherine tried to hush her even as she pulled herself together.
"What else do you know about him?" she asked quietly, fiercely.
"Well, Papa met him down at our store the other day. Seems he's only in town for a few months." Katherine felt the sun beat down on her head and she watched the world break up into dark splotches. Only a few months? A few /months/? No!
"Why is he here?" she asked, blinking rapidly, thinking that getting information out of Susan was like prying the top off of an old canning jar. She valiantly resisted the urge just to smash the jar instead.
"Well, his brother decided to move up here from Charleston; seemed he wanted a quieter place, somewhere he could buy some land and put in a farm, get away from the constant news of the war. So Daniel accompanied him here to help build a new house and get the ground turned. They're out a few miles from town, rather near y'all, actually," Susan said with a wink and a nudge. Katherine ignored her, thinking quickly. She wondered if Papa knew anything about this new development. She'd just have to ask him, in a roundabout way of course, when she got home.
"Well, thanks for the information Susan. I really do appreciate it," she said with a smile. Susan looked down at her, agape, obviously surprised at the control Katherine was exhibiting, having expected something beyond the cool, friendly response her friend was giving her.
I must have been a regular show in church, Katherine realized, if Susan is acting this way about it all. I'll just have to be more circumspect until I can find out more about this man. About Daniel, she reminded herself. The taste of blackberries sat warmly in her mouth.
"You want to go with me to the store?" she asked, deliberately switching the subject. "I hear they have some new ribbon in."
Susan nodded, always eager to spend her coins on pretty trifles. "Oooh, Katherine," she started as they walked toward the store, "I got the most beautiful fabric for a new dress the other day. Pale pink, and Mama's making it up now so I can wear to the next church social...hey, have you heard about Laura and James? Well, it seems they fought and now James is keeping time with Laura's sister, Rachel! Can you believe it....?" Katherine was able to listen with half a mind to Susan's chatter. The rest of her mind was on Daniel and how and when they might meet.
The early afternoon sun burned gently down on her shoulders, and Katherine winced as the apples thudded resoundingly when they fell from her apron into the basket. Usually she didn't come out to pick apples; she stayed in the house with Mama to peel and can them.
But Mama had decided it was time for Mary Margaret to learn how to put up apples, and so here she was, with Colleen, picking apples like a child. But it was a beautiful, early autumn day, and Colleen was home from school, so at least she wasn't out here alone.
Her skirts swished as she climbed back up the ladder. Darn these things, she thought. Just once, I'd like to do this in pants. Colleen clamored up the tree next to her, chattering about nothing important. As usual, Katherine thought. That girl was as bad as Susan. But it gave a body time to think about things, and for that she was grateful.
Things, in part, being the advancement of the war, already being called the Great War. She didn't know what was great about it. Not too many years ago, over 100,000 men had died in these fields. Families were just getting over it, even now, and sometimes, at night, she could smell the blood, feel the fear that still floated in the air. She shivered and turned her thoughts to the poem that she had read this morning. And what she would write in her journal next. And Daniel, of course.
Now that she knew his name, it was even worse. She truly could not stop thinking about him; the way the light played on his hair through the stained glass windows that day she'd seen him in church; how he moved so relaxed but like he could take quick action at any moment. She sighed.
"Hey, Kath," Colleen called as she dropped her apples into the basket below. Katherine looked down at her younger sister, whose fair face was turned upward, her blue eyes peering out from under dark brown bangs.
"What?" she asked, still far away.
"We've been out here for /hours/! I'm too hot to work another /minute/! I'm going to take my lunch down to the creek and cool off. You coming?"
"Maybe in a minute," Katherine replied. "I want to get a couple more baskets filled, then I'll join you." Her sister picked up her lunch and disappeared through the trees and down the hill toward the creek.
Katherine slowly made her way down the ladder, feeling carefully with the toe of her shoe before taking the next step. Now that her sister was gone, she sure didn't want to take a spill. Knowing Colleen, it could be an hour before she came back from lunch.
"Here! Let me help you!" a voice called from behind her. She started, turned, felt the ladder wobble, and nearly dropped the apron full of apples she held. The next thing she knew, there was a pair of hands around her waist, and she was lifted down onto the ground. She turned quickly and found herself staring into his eyes....
"Daniel," she whispered, a flush crimsoning her already warm skin. He smiled at her and her heart thumped against her chest as loudly as an apple meeting the bottom of a basket. It was a wonder he didn't hear it.
"Oh, dear. My reputation precedes me," he said with a laugh. She dropped the apples into the basket without any grace at all, and looked back up into the face of the man she'd been dreaming about for weeks.
Try as she could, she hadn't been able to get any more information on him. And he hadn't been back to church, either. But now he was here, walking confidently through the fields...her family's fields, she thought, and felt a shiver. He was much better looking up close, if that was possible, her foggy mind registered.
"I'm sorry to admit I don't know your name," he said, smiling.
"Katherine," she said, "Katherine O'Donnelly."
"O'Donnelly, hmm?" She nodded, suddenly feeling horribly self- conscious. "I was just coming over to introduce myself to your family. My brother and I came up from Charleston a few weeks ago to set up his farm—we're a couple of miles beyond the creek, there, and wanted to get to know our neighbors. It's the first chance I've had since we got here to come 'round."
As he smiled again, she noticed that his nose was a little too big for his face, but his mouth was beautiful, almost like a girl's. She flushed again and dropped her eyes downward, wishing she had on something besides her chambray workday dress for their first meeting. She was glad that today hadn't been the day she'd decided to try wearing pants.
"I'm sure Papa will be pleased to meet you," she said, looking back up at him, suddenly unsure of what to do with her hands. She remembered what Susan had said about getting a man’s attention, and tried to remember just when she should flutter her eyelashes, when she should lower her head demurely.
Oh, fiddle, she was terrible at this. Where was Susan when she needed her? She hoped she didn’t look as uncertain as she felt. Well, she decided, she’d just have to be herself. That was the best she could do right now. She cleared her throat, looked him straight in the eye, and said steadily, "If you'd like, I'll be glad to take you to the house and introduce you."
"That would be mighty nice," he said softly, his words curling up with her heart like sunshine on a drowsing cat. He smiled again, full mouth opening over strong teeth, and she flushed hot and cold.
"Just a minute, I have to let my sister know where I'm going," she said, even as she dashed off toward the creek. She paused, turned back. "Don't go away!"
"I won't," he called back, and it sounded like a promise.
"Colleeeeen!" she yelled, going as far away as she could without actually losing sight of Daniel. When she heard the answering 'halloo' at last, she hollered that she was heading back to the house, then turned and jogged back to where Daniel waited.
"Follow me?" she panted.
"Yes," he replied, and she had that feeling again, only this time it was like the breath finally came free. She took the proffered arm and they began the short hike back to the O'Donnelly home.
"Katherine! You're beau's here!" Mary Margaret called in a sing- song voice.
"Oooh, Mary Margaret," Katherine growled as she hurried out of her room, "how many times do I have to tell you he's NOT my beau? We're just friends!"
"Of course you are, dear," said Jenny soothingly, as she shooed Mary Margaret up the stairs to do her lessons.
"Now, you don't stay out long," she said. "I want you back in before dark."
"Yes, ma'am," Katherine said, dashing down the stairs to meet Daniel. They were going for a walk together, something they'd done most evenings after dinner since that day she'd met him in the orchard six months before. Now that she thought about it, as she flew down the stairs, she realized that, except for the times when she couldn't see him because of bad weather, they'd been together every night since that first meeting.
She grabbed a book of poetry on the way out. Now that April was here, and the promise of spring was heavy in the air, they had begun stopping before coming inside, and sitting in the grass to read poetry in the dying light of day.
Tonight, she thought with a thrill, Yeats. She opened the door to see him on the porch, cleaned up after a day's work and smiling at her. She thought she'd never seen anything more beautiful. He took her hand.
"Good evening, Katherine. I like the dress," he said, and she flushed. It was new, a soft violet fabric that turned her eyes to cobalt, her hair to flame. He brushed his hand across her cheek and she turned her blue gaze on him.
"Ready to walk?" he asked.
"Of course. I brought Mr. Yeats tonight," she said, and she showed him the book. He smiled. They loved Yeats, and she especially loved it when he read the poems to her. It made them even more magical, she thought, and almost laughed at her fancy. She took his outstretched hand, and they walked along the road, under the young magnolia trees her father had planted when the family had moved here, the year before she was born.
"It's such a beautiful night," she whispered, watching twilight steal across the lawn as they headed toward the house.
"Yes, it is." His voice was soft, and deep; he squeezed her hand. As usual, they'd spent the last hour arguing everything from politics to poetry; who should be elected president next and which Yeats' poems were their favorites. They even talked about the advancement of the war, wondering whether America should join the Allies. Not the usual conversation for a man and a woman to have, but Daniel was a miracle, not discounting her thoughts and feelings because she happened to be female.
He listened, he considered, he discussed. She delighted in the fact that she had someone she could talk to so easily; even arguing was easy and good natured with him, and they seemed to do a lot of it, she thought with a smile. She thought that it should be impossible to love him any more than she did when she met him, and yet, each day what she felt for him grew. Maybe it went beyond love, now, and into hope and trust.
But he would be leaving soon, she knew, now that the winter was over and his brother had settled into the farm. Leaving to go back to Charleston, and then they'd only have letters.
She felt herself grow sad at the thought, and then reminded herself that he was here now, her best friend, and that was what mattered. That, and the fact that he should never know how she felt about him, lest he feel obligated to her somehow.
Too much to risk, too much to lose. Their friendship was more precious to her than anything she owned, and to risk losing it because she was so foolishly in love with him.... The only safe place to say this was bound in leather and sealed with a ribbon. And that was how it would stay, she thought. Better to have loved and lost....
"Katherine," he said softly, turning her face toward him. "I have something for you."
"You do? What is it?" They were within sight of the house now, and she could see her father in the rocking chair on the porch smoking his pipe. Daniel waved and Mr. O'Donnelly waved back. Daniel reached into the satchel he'd been carrying, and tugged out a small, burlap wrapped...twig?
"It's lovely," she said uncertainly, allowing him to press it into her hands.
He laughed. "Not yet, but it will be. It's a rose," he said, "a cutting off a rose bush. Give it some time, and attention, and soon it will bloom. It's got such a lovely, lemony fragrance..." he paused, looking for the words, "...a soft scent that enfolds you, draws you into its secrets."
"A rose?" she breathed. He knew how she loved roses, how she always had a small vase on her desk with roses she'd picked, herself. But this one looked different. She ran her finger over the twig and gasped when it struck a thorn. He reached down and soothed the mild stick with a caress of his callused fingers, his warm hands cupping hers lightly.
The wild roses barely had thorns. Was he sure this was a rose? She looked up in confusion. "Like the wild roses down by the creek?" she asked, as she looked again at what she cradled between her fingers.
"No, this one is different. It's cultivated, brought over from England. I saw them when I was in Charleston, before we came out here. It's the palest white...it reminds me of your skin," he said, and Katherine looked up at him with tears in her eyes.
"Beautiful," she said, already imagining the rose fully in bloom.
"Yes," he agreed, his eyes intent upon her face, and she realized he wasn't talking about the rose at all. He lifted her hands up, complete with their precious bundle, and dropped a gentle kiss along the knuckles. She started. It was the gesture of a lover, and they both knew it.
"Katherine..." he said, his voice as full and shaded as the night.
"Daniel..." she echoed, out of breath, eyes large.
"Katherine, what would you say if I asked your father if I could court you?" Katherine felt her heart speed up. Words were drummed out by the thunder of her pulse, and she couldn't seem to make the world stop spinning.
"Wh...what?" she asked, and Daniel smiled down at her.
"Surely you're not surprised, Katherine?" he said. But she was, she was stunned. She'd only dreamed, barely hoped…and here was this miracle. She remembered the words of longing, the wishes from her heart that she'd penned in her journal. Were they coming true even now?
"Oh, Daniel," his name was a little more than a breath, and she was afire. She could feel something burning through her, could feel her eyes glowing, her face glowing. She threw her arms around him and kissed him, fully on the mouth, in front of her father.
Daniel, surprised for a moment, pulled her closer and kissed her back. And it was right, they fit, and she was right, he tasted like blackberries, sweet and full of summer. It lasted a second, it echoed forever. They pulled apart laughing.
"I'll take that as a yes," he murmured.
"What about Charleston?" she said.
"Everything I want is here," he replied.
They went to talk to her father.
She shifted in the bed as the dream moved through her. Her hands reached out for the smooth, worn leather, wanting to write it down, wanting to save the kiss for all time should memory fail. But it was not there, she couldn't find it. She moaned as her hand worried over the damask.
"What do you mean, war?" she asked, the horror of it dawning in her eyes. "The country is at WAR?"
They'd all known it was coming, of course, for the last two years there had been nothing but talk of war was on everyone's lips, in the newspapers, about how the United States would, at some time, have to become involved in the fight overseas. About how they must do what was right, join up with England and France and become Allies.
But still, it didn't stop the shock that rocked her to her heart. War. Even the word, itself, sounded horrible, the worst kind of word. She shivered as she sat with her mother in the kitchen, listening as Daniel told the news.
"Katherine, you knew this was happening. We've been talking about it for ages," Daniel said reprovingly, but not unkindly. Jenny put a hand on her daughter's shoulder and squeezed lightly. She knew how Katherine felt about this young man; and she was ashamed to admit, even to herself, that she was glad her Liam was too old to fight. But that didn't stop the pain she felt for her daughter, or for Daniel, whom she'd grown to love like a son.
"Of course, you're right, Daniel," Katherine said. And then a horrible thought struck her. "You're not waiting for the draft, are you? You’re going voluntarily." Daniel looked down at his feet. He took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and looked Katherine in the eye. She flinched.
"Daniel," she breathed. He reached for her hand.
"Katherine," he beseeched, looking deeply into her eyes. She saw there what she needed to know, and she dropped her head. A flash of anger roared through her. She looked back up at him, eyes hard.
"Of course, Daniel," she said through gritted teeth, "you must go and fight. You must go and fight for your country." And leave your loved ones behind while you die in some terrible trench, surrounded by rotting corpses and buzzing flies, she thought, eyes watering.
She knew that he saw this, saw what she was thinking, and he reached up and clasped her jaw in his hand. She shuddered, and watched tears came to his eyes. She hated hurting him; it was the first time she'd ever done it. But at that moment, she was hurting more. And she was hating him. Hating all those things that so drew her to him in the first place: his courage, his honor, his strength. For they were the very things that were taking him away from her....
She watched his face as he looked down at her and knew why he was going to do this thing. It was simply that he felt in his bones that it was right. He’d told her one night as they walked through the trees that he /must/ fight for this country because, without it, he would never have met her. They would still have lived in Ireland and England, miles and miles apart, separated by more than just a channel of water.
Words, ideals, notions, that meant nothing in the face of her despair.
She let her hot blue gaze drop. She felt him flinch as he heard her fight a tearless sob.
"I could not love thee, dear, so much/Loved I not honor more," she quoted softly, not quite bitterly, and only felt a little ashamed when he winced.
Jenny left the kitchen silently, giving them time alone, as Katherine turned to look out the window. Her fledgling rose garden was just blooming now, in the early April sun, opening up like she'd opened her heart. The new gazebo was framed in. She could see the fresh new wood, the lovely patterned gingerbread of their special place, their own place, and she felt her own despair swallow her as she looked at it.
He tried to explain it to her again, in her mother’s kitchen, why he must go.
“Here, Katherine,” he said, “It was here in the apple orchards and battlefields of the Virginia tidewater, that we met. I must protect what we’ve been given, even if it means giving my life in return. You /know/ that.” He squeezed her hand. She knew, in the part of her that was still rational, that he didn't want to leave her. But if he didn't go, he’d be compromising some integral part of himself, of his soul. If she held him back—and she knew he would stay if she asked him to—then he would grow to resent her. She knew that their life together would be spoiled by what she’d asked of him.
She felt damned either way.
She wondered how long he would be gone. The awareness of his mortality lanced through her yet again, and she hated him a little more for accepting it so blithely. His warm hand came to rest on her shoulder and she turned to him as she felt his arms wrap around her and pull her tightly against him.
A light breeze blew through the window carrying the fragrance of the roses in the warm summer night. The golden light bounced fire off her hair as she twisted in the bed, unable to find comfort in the cool cotton sheets, and her glasses fell to the floor, landing softly on the old carpet.
She'd been up all night, unable to sleep. Even writing in her journal didn't comfort her, as it usually did. She knew why she felt like this. Daniel had left for England today, and then on to France, most likely, though none of them knew for sure. She'd spent the week helping him prepare, getting his gear together, washing and ironing his clothes.
For the past month, he’d been in training. He’d endured rigorous exercise regimens, gone without food and water, slept outside with the other men in the tents they’d set up on the edge of town. He’d lost weight, lost sleep, even while his conviction grew. He was doing the right thing. He knew it.
She was still not convinced. The night he came home, hair cropped close to his head, it became real. She’d gone into the house weeping when he came up the walk. His shining, chestnut hair gone, and with it any illusions she’d had left. He's looked harder, older, and so removed from the man who'd kissed her hands that first time.
During the last week she’d thought many times how wonderful it would be if she really were his wife, and she were doing his laundry, his mending and ironing in their own home, instead of at his brother’s house, an empty mockery as she helped prepare him for war. Since that first day, she'd not told him how she felt; he knew just by looking at her that half of her soul was going with him. It was the same for him; half of his would be staying here.
It was the actual goodbye at the boat that was the worst. They'd all gone to Newport News, with the other families who had sons setting off for Europe, and she'd watched as he made his way up the gangplank, duffel bag shouldered high, his hair, which had begun to grow again, shining like a pelt in the morning sun. He stood there on the deck, with the other men from the counties who had signed up, and shifted his duffel bag on his shoulder as he'd waved.
She'd waved back, trying to hold back the tears, and succeeding, really, better than she thought she would. She didn't want the last picture he had of her—might ever have of her—to be red-faced and weepy. No, she wanted him to remember her smiling and happy and loving him. Now she understood what Rossetti had meant in that poem.
Jenny and Liam stood with her; Jenny wept silently, watching as Daniel waved to them. The two younger girls stood next to their parents, caught up in the excitement of it all but still too young to understand what war meant. Eventually, the boat pulled away, taking the young men with it, and the families headed to their homes, handkerchiefs wiping tears from wet faces, arms wound protectively around each other.
The trip back had taken hours, even in Papa's new auto, yet she remembered very little. Only Jenny clasping her hand, stroking her hair, telling her in a soft voice that everything would be fine, that the war would end, and he would come home. Empty promises, she knew, but the only promises she had.
Now it was nearly dawn, and Katherine hadn't been able to sleep. Didn't want to sleep, for to lose consciousness even for a moment would mean putting an end to the day. It would mean losing contact with Daniel, once and for all.
She was so tired, but fought against sleep, struggling to hold onto the memory of their last walk, their last night together for months, for years. Maybe forever. Now there was only dreaming, remembering. She must steel her heart, she thought, shield it against the desire she felt for him; ignore the longing she felt, the longing for the evening walks, the long discussions, even the arguments. The things she knew she couldn't have, except by letter, until he came home. Whenever that was. If it ever was.
She felt the sadness rest heavy on her shoulders as she looked out the window of her girlhood room. She loved this view, over the maturing magnolias to the fields, with the lilacs edging the road, and the rose garden below. She looked down on the newly finished gazebo. Daniel and her father had worked so hard to complete it before Daniel left; for it was imperative that she have some physical reminder of him during his absence. He'd told her it would keep her company, like her journal and his letters would while he was gone; he'd promised her he'd come back and they'd sit and read Yeats there, just like always.
Before she realized what she was doing, she'd pulled her robe and started silently down the stairs. She picked up the book of poems he'd given her before he left today from the shelf in Papa's study and slipped outside to the gazebo. The dew came up between her toes, riding on the chilly green grass to soak the hem of her nightgown. She was barefooted, but she didn't care. The cold dew made her feel alive and she was glad for it.
She shivered as she crossed the lawn, touched the rosebushes as she passed, being mindful of the thorns, and sat on the bench, their bench. She opened the Yeats book at random and began to read.
The first line of the poem twisted her heart.
"I dreamed that one had died in a strange place," she whispered, and feared it was prophetic. She felt her eyes sting and fill, and the first drop fell on the pages below before she could stop it, the pages he'd held in his hands only hours before.
It was suddenly too much to bear, his absence, and the memory of his presence, and she burst into tears. At first they moved through her silently, her shoulders shuddering under their weight. But then the dam burst and the tears fell, and the sobs poured through her, and she was keening, not caring who heard, not caring if the whole world heard. It would not matter. There was nothing that could stop this pain.
"Daniel," she moaned, clasping the book to her chest and rocking as the first rays of the dawn sun slipped into the garden.
"Scully," she heard, someone dimly reply. Scully, she thought, who was Scully?
"Daniel," she keened. "Don't go...."
"Scully," it was more urgent, louder this time. Her feet were cold and she shifted on the bench. She felt warm hands cover hers, and the book slid away.
"Daniel," she cried. "Daniel!" She opened her eyes and saw through the tears that it was him, that he had heard her heart's call, had returned to her somehow, that he was here, kneeling in front of her in their gazebo.
But the war, she thought. He has only just left for the war. What miracle of God /was/ this? She threw her arms around his neck and kissed him fervently, afraid that if she let him go he'd leave her again, and that, she knew, she could never bear.
Mulder had expected many responses when he'd knelt in front of her.
This was not one of them.
As her lips met his, he shut his eyes reflexively. This was his partner, and something was obviously, terribly wrong with her. What would draw her out of the house at dawn, clad only in her nightgown, and cause her to sob and call out a stranger’s name?
But the thoughts quickly became dust as he realized that she was here in his arms as he'd longed for last night, alive. Even more incredibly she was kissing him, as if she could somehow crawl inside him. For a moment he tried to resist, tried to be noble, but she was ruthless and he was so very hungry.
He couldn't stop himself from kissing her back, couldn't stop himself from diving into the heat of her seeking mouth, couldn't stop himself from cupping her face in his hands and drawing her against him, so close that she could never slip away again.
Even as he did this, he felt her start and pull back, her fingers coming up to rest on her lips, her face beautiful and bemused in the strengthening light.
"Scully?" he whispered, a hoarse noise in the stillness. At that she awoke completely, the clouds clearing from her blue gaze to reveal confusion and a hint of disquiet. She looked like a child against the backdrop of the gazebo and stone bench, the early dawn light rendering her damp nightgown translucent even as it set fire to the roses of the garden.
"Mulder?" she asked, hesitantly. He looked down at her, his face mirroring the confusion and longing that curled inside her. His long fingers reached out and brushed the drying tears from her face. Small ripples of sensation pooled through her at his touch. "What are you doing here?"
"I could ask you the same question," he said, as he picked up the battered book of poetry from her side. The kiss hung between them like an unanswered promise. Scully looked down at her lap.
"I didn't know you liked Yeats." It was all he said. She knew he was letting it go...for now.
Yeats, she thought. The tears welled up in her eyes again. She brushed at them and looked at her fingers in amazement. She noticed the sunlight for the first time. What time was it? Where was she? She looked around and the dream flooded back. The rose garden....
"Here," he said, "you must be freezing." He stood slowly, slipping his arm around her and guiding her to her feet. "Let's get you into the house."
She shivered as he pulled her from the gazebo, glancing at him quickly when he muttered, "You scared the hell out of me," as they made their way across the yard. Scully leaned into him, allowing her head to rest against his shoulder in a rare moment of vulnerability, allowing herself to be sheltered by his arm and warmed by his body.
Her mind was swirling. She had no recollection of leaving the house, no memory of being in the gazebo until she woke to Mulder's mouth on hers, soft and hot and sweet; the reality and the dream twined together like the old vines and wood above them. She looked down at her feet, startled to find them bare on the grass and chillingly wet with the dew, as was the hem of her nightgown. Jesus. What had happened?
Mulder felt her shoulders slump, and he looked down at her, taking in the rumpled hair, the edgy movements, the clinging damp of the nightgown. Questions welled up; he let his territorial soul ask the one question he really, really wanted the answer for.
He'd searched his mind and couldn't remember a Daniel, either in their cases or in her family. She wiped her hand across her face. She looked up at him and held her hand out for the book. He handed it to her and watched her touch it lovingly, stroking it like one might stroke a child's hair.
"The man Aunt Katherine loved," she said, and opened the book to the front cover, where the inscription read, "To Katherine: true love never dies, Daniel." She showed him the inscription and he looked at her strangely.
"He gave her the book when he went to war," she said, realizing that she wasn't even sure if it was true. How did she know that, she wondered? She hadn't gotten that far in the journal...the journal, she thought, suddenly, where's the journal? It would tell her if what she dreamed was real.... She was dashing up the stairs and into the house, out of Mulder's arms before he realized what was happening.
"Scully?" he called behind her, "Where are you going?"
"Up here, Mulder! In Katherine's room!" He followed her up the stairs, his long legs negating her head start. He found her in her great-aunt's bedroom, looking like a wraith in her now-transparent nightgown as she frantically searched the area around the bed, crawling under it, shaking the covers. The longer she searched the more distressed she became; a wild look replaced the clouded confusion of her waking.
Her glasses sat on the floor next to the bedside table, as if they'd been knocked carelessly off the bed, something Scully would never do. He picked them up and replaced them gently in their case.
"It was here," she said, panting, panic edging her voice. "I was reading it when I went to sleep and it must have fallen out of my hand."
"What was here?" he asked patiently, his concern at her odd behavior growing. "What are you talking about?"
"The book. Katherine's journal. I KNOW it was here!" and she tossed the covers off the bed, running her hands along the pillows, under the mattress...wait! She turned to the enamel box on the bedside table and placed her hand on it.
"What are you doing?" he asked.
"She always kept it in here," she said. She tried to open the lid, but it was locked. She looked up at him, then walked to the desk and pulled open the drawer. It slid open easily. And yes, there was the false bottom, just as Katherine had written about so many years ago, and surely there was the key...yes!
The tiny gold key fit in her palm, not much larger then the cross around her neck. She turned and looked at Mulder. He was looking at her with a mix of concern and fascination, as if not sure what to think about the tableau unfolding before him.
She walked to the box and put the key in, turning it in the lock. The lid drew upward, and there was the journal, in its hiding place, as it had lain for so many years, ribbon tied neatly around the faded leather.
"How'd you know...?" he asked.
"She wrote about it," she replied. "I must have put it here when I was sleepwalking...." she let the sentence trail off. Mulder saw a flush creep up her cheeks as she suddenly realized just what she had done, how he'd found her outside in the rose garden at dawn, weeping uncontrollably over the book. How she'd kissed him, wildly, passionately, with a heart full of feeling he’d only suspected she possessed. She looked at him defensively.
"I fell asleep reading it Mulder," she said, and he could hear the distance between them growing with every word. "I dreamed about the book. I went sleepwalking. It could happen to anyone," she finished in a huff. The corners of his mouth turned up slightly. His Scully, he thought. Or maybe he should call her Cleopatra. Queen of Denial. He snorted softly, shook his head. There was more here than met the eye. He could feel it. But he wouldn't push her on it. Yet.
"Why don't you get cleaned up and we'll go out for breakfast," he said. He ran his hand along her hair, letting it fall to rest on her bare white shoulder, where the lace-edged cotton nightgown had slid down her arm.
He was going to grill her about that journal. About why she hadn't told him about it in the first place. Oh yes, he was going to grill her. And he was going to enjoy every minute of it.
But not now.
He'd do it later, when she wasn't looking so vulnerable...or so beautiful. When the vestiges of the kiss weren't still quaking in his soul.
Scully sipped at the coffee, and surveyed her surroundings. The small diner they had found had a cozy, mom-and-pop feel to it, with shining Formica counters and blue vinyl booths. The coffee was hot and the food was good. Not too much more you could ask for at seven on a Sunday morning. She returned her attention to her plate and the few, lonely mouthfuls that remained of her fruit salad and bagel.
She was very careful not to look at Mulder.
He had been patient, she had to admit. He had kept all conversation small and casual, talking about the book he had read last night, the war waged against the insects that had found the miniscule tear in his window screening, the benefits of bacon and eggs over bagel and fruit. He talked about everything except finding her half-dressed in the garden at sunrise, and the kiss that still scalded her mouth.
But she could feel it, like the heavy weight of air that precedes a thunderstorm. Even now, the fine hairs on her arms prickled with the memory of what had passed between them, the electricity of it. It was a live wire that danced between them, humming with connection. She knew, without looking, that his eyes followed her. She could feel the questions he kept at bay.
She could still taste him, mixed up with the memory of roses and...blackberries?
"I've never really gone sleepwalking before," she offered hesitantly. "It's unnerving, the total lack of control."
"At least you don't sleep naked," Mulder offered, his own peculiar brand of comfort. She choked on her coffee and shot him a terrible glare, at last making eye contact. He offered her a lazy smile, little more than a slight quirking of his full lips and a warm gleam in his hazel eyes.
"Mulder!" His name was a mingling of exasperation and amusement. "Why does it always come down to bare skin with you?" she asked at last.
He snorted. "If that were the case, I wouldn't have a drawer full of videos that you know nothing about." He paused, let the laughter linger between them.
"So, tell me about it." It wasn't a request.
She traced a pattern on the table top with a nervous finger. "Where do you want me to start?" she asked, as the silence threatened to swallow them.
"How about with why you didn't mention the journal?" His tone wasn't accusatory, but there was a faint current of reproach all the same. "Seems to me like you were withholding evidence. That's not really like you, Scully."
Nervous fingers found their way into the wet rings left by her sweating orange juice glass. She'd never been one to fidget, but now she couldn't seem to stop. "I wanted you to approach it objectively, I think."
Blue eyes locked with hazel. "I think," she repeated, and he could hear something rare in her voice: uncertainty. "And perhaps," she continued, "because it seemed personal. Intimate." Her gaze pleaded with his for understanding. That, too, was rare.
His mouth quirked, but not in laughter. "You've never been terribly good with sharing anything intimate, have you?" It was almost, but not quite bitter. She flinched, but held his gaze. Neither of us has been, he thought. "So, you read the journal and you dreamed. What did you read, and then what did you dream?"
Scully sighed, and then launched into the details he requested, a part of her mind detaching from the narrative. Mulder's attention never wavered, and his only interruptions were to ask questions about details in the journal, and details in the dream. After she finished, she sat back in the booth and watched Mulder process.
He had long, graceful fingers. She watched as they fretted away at the sugar packets in the container. If there had been a straw or toothpick handy, she was sure he would have been chewing on it. She wondered if she'd caught her restlessness from him.
"You dreamt more than you read," he said suddenly, startling her from her contemplation.
"More than I remember reading," she corrected automatically. "I fell asleep reading; I probably processed a lot more than I can consciously remember."
Mulder rolled his eyes. "Sure. At any rate, I suspect that the journal might be the key to this haunting. It's your aunt's house that's haunted, and her journal that has you playing Juliet in moonlight. Perhaps you're susceptible to the feelings, the old memories." He held up a hand to quell her rising protest.
"Scully, this wouldn't be the first time, and we both know it, so let's just not argue. I'm not even going to try and convince you of anything." He smiled at her. "In my increasing old age I've learned to pick my windmills. But it is the beginning of a hypothesis. Feel free to prove me wrong, but /prove/ it, don't just argue it."
The words were firm, though not unkind; all the same Scully still felt a clutch of pain in her belly. They often disagreed; it was an integral part of their relationship. Right now, however, it hurt. She wondered it she was a little too predictable, a little too unyielding.
Mulder waved to the waitress for the bill, and began fishing around in his wallet for smalls to leave a tip with. "I say we go home and finish the journal together, and then search around for scrapbooks, photo albums. There's a story here that needs telling."
She watched as he took a toothpick from the holder on the counter when they left, and set it between his teeth. The hurt receded, and she allowed herself a small smile. In a world of uncertainties, it was good to have something you could rely upon.
It was only a short drive back to the house, and it was passed in silence. Scully gazed out the window, obviously replaying the conversation in the diner. He could see it in the set of her shoulders, the faint pulse of muscles along her jaw. Mulder glanced at her from time to time. It wasn't the first time she'd been haunted, but that didn't make him any more comfortable. If he were ruthlessly honest, it also made him a bit jealous. It seemed just unfair, somehow, that the skeptic always got to see the ghosts. Maybe it was like cats, he reasoned. They always jumped in the lap of the person who wanted them least.
Scully was out of the car before they came to a complete stop. He frowned at the slamming car door and made to get out of the car. Something stopped him, held him in place; it moved inside him, a feeling in his gut. What is it, he wondered, overwhelmed by a sudden surge of...homecoming?
It was as if all of the loneliness, all of the isolation he had known since Sam had gone just lifted, to be replaced by a ball of light that expanded within his chest until he could barely breathe because of it. He felt good. He felt safe. He gasped as it continued to swell within him, and then, suddenly, it felt like it fragmented into a million pieces. When he came to himself again, Scully had disappeared into the house, and his face was wet with tears.
He wiped his face hastily, got gingerly out of the car, and jogged to catch up with his partner. "Hey, Scully," he called through the screen door, "Slow down! Or is the little agent's room calling your name?"
He caught up to her in the hall. She shook her head. "No, just a feeling that I need to hurry. That time is running out, y'know?"
He glanced down at her, and realized he was feeling the same thing. He nodded. "Let's get to it." He walked toward the study.
It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the interior after the brilliant sunlight. For a span of heartbeats he saw only the haze of dust motes dancing, and then his gaze steadied. He felt his mouth open and close, but could do nothing about it.
His sudden halt forced Scully to run into his back, and he was sure that she felt his indrawn breath deep in her own body. "Mulder, what...oh, my God."
On the coffee table was the enamel box she had shown him earlier, now open. The journal was visible inside it, as was a bundle of papers, tied by a blue ribbon. Something long and slender stood out, starkly brown against the cream and sepia of the paper. With a start, he realized it was a rose.
"Call your cousin, huh, Scully? Ask if she stopped by this morning while we were out."
Scully reached into her handbag and pulled out her cell phone. "Why? You don't really think she did, do you?" she asked, even as she dialed.
Mulder surveyed the box and its treasures grimly, and then looked at his partner. "No, I don't. I just thought I'd get your most obvious argument out of the way before we sit down and read what /someone/ has so thoughtfully provided."
"So you're sure you didn't stop by?" Scully asked again, a little imploringly.
Karen laughed. "I'm sure, honey. I did mention that things had a tendency to get up and move there, now didn't I?" Her voice sounded amused. "I told you about the box, now it's gone and performed its little parlor trick especially for you!"
Something clicked inside Scully's head. "That's how you found the journal to send to me, isn't it?" she said, accusingly. Her temper didn't subside at all when the older woman laughed again.
"Guilty as charged. Dana, honest, it seemed the right thing to do, like a message. Has something bad happened?" The warm voice shifted from amusement to concern. "Has something gone wrong?"
Scully touched her mouth and wondered if smashing every wall that let her keep her balance where her partner was concerned qualified as 'something wrong'. "Not wrong, precisely," she finally responded, aware that her cousin's concern grew the longer she stayed quiet. "Just a little weird."
Karen's laugh returned. "Well, according to your mom, weird is what you do for a living, hon. D'yall need anything? We can stop by after Mass if you want."
A small voice inside Scully protested the possibility of intrusion, and the same urgency that had driven her from the car spurred her now. "No, no, we're fine. I suspect another quiet day here will let us settle everything out. We'll drop the keys in the mailbox at your place on the way out of town tomorrow, if that's all right with you?"
"Sure thing, Dana, provided you promise not to wait years before coming our way again. Family means something, honey." Her cousin's voice was only moderately reproachful.
"I promise," Scully replied, a slow warmth spreading through her. "You're right, it does. I'll talk to you soon."
She joined Mulder in the living room after her cousin's good-bye. He was already untying the bundle of papers. Letters, she realized suddenly, Daniel's letters.
"Karen didn't stop by," she offered, reaching for the journal.
"What a surprise." He fingered the rose distractedly, yet with wonder. "This is very old, Scully. Should be powder, by the feel of it, but it isn't." He held up the small bundle in his hands. "These are Daniel's letters."
"I know," she replied, clasping the journal loosely between her hands. He glanced sharply at her.
"I mean, it's a logical deduction, isn't it?" she fumbled, resolutely ignoring the look her partner shot her. "I take the journal, you take the letters?" she offered after a moment of silence.
"You're on," he agreed. "We'll take a break and compare notes in a couple of hours."
She nodded, settling back into the solid embrace of the old sofa, and didn't even protest when he sprawled out and tucked his bare feet under her legs. She had already fallen back in time.
//July 8, 1917
Life moves along here, though I'm not sure how. Without Daniel, everything in my being comes to a standstill. It seems strange that the outside of my life keeps moving.
We get news of the war every day in the papers. I haunt the general store with the other wives, the other fiancées, waiting for them to come in, eager to know what is happening even as I dread to hear more. It is terrifying to think of Daniel in that place, doing those things. But the alternative is to know nothing at all, and that would be worse.
Colleen has gone off to boarding school in Charleston. She's decided to become a teacher, and the school offers a study program in education. I envy her independent life, the new people and the new city. I'm sure it's exciting for her; I'm also sure that it wouldn't keep my mind off of Daniel for one moment. It's much better for me to stay here with Papa and Mama and Mary Margaret. I couldn't live far from our roses, from our gazebo. Each day they remind me of our love. A love that I know will never die.//
I knew this would be hard. I just did not expect it to be like this. Sometimes, I think I could forget to breathe, I miss you that much. We have arrived in England, and that is all I can really tell you about anything from now on. Unless, of course, you like having my letters to you full of little black lines? Please smile at that, my dear one. Please smile.
The trip over was long and rough. Apparently I'm one of the few recruits on board who does not get seasick. I do not feel particularly lucky. It was like the picnic last summer, where Billy Henderson overindulged in cherry preserves, only multiplied a hundredfold. Those who could stand were pressed into service. I had laundry detail. I know you are smiling at that.
Before I left, my brother and your father took me aside for a little talk. When I get back, and we marry, they want to give us some of the land along where their properties border. It will be our own, and we can build a house, if you would like. It won't bring that much income, but I will also be helping them both out with their farms. Rachel is in a delicate way, and so Jacob will need the help, and then there is your farther, cursed with nothing but beautiful daughters. I think it will be good. I think we will be happy. You can be near your Mama, too, and I know that is important. Nor can we forget about the roses.
I still remember the night before you drove me down to the boat. Katherine in moonlight—I swear it should be a poem, if it is not one already. Your skin goes all mother of pearl, like a set of combs my mother wears. The roses just starting to come into bloom, white and sweet. Of course, I had to bring you another rose, fool that I am. You have your little garden now, roses we planted together. But this one was red. You know what red roses mean, do you not my dear? One red rose, one true love. Forever.
You still make me dizzy.
With Love, Daniel//
Her father had wanted them to stay on the porch in plain sight, but Katherine's mama had overruled him, quietly but firmly. And so he got to walk with her, going down by the creek and then through the orchards where they first met. They didn't talk much, because the silence was just too hard to fill. Already the ache of separation echoed hollowly within, and there was nothing anyone could say to ease it, fill it. Once, he stopped and kissed her, right under the tree that she had been in the day they met. It was a gentle kiss, but it was a good-bye kiss as well, and it left them both feeling bruised.
Eventually he led her around to the gazebo, where the roses were finally blooming, and the moonlight would make her skin glow and turn her copper hair titian. He had a present waiting there for her, something to hold onto when she couldn't hold onto him.
"When I'm gone, you'll come here. Read poetry. Smell the roses. Know that wherever I am, I'm picturing you here, and that my heart is with you." He tried to give her that, tried to forge the connection, but it sounded weak even in his own ears. She simply nodded her head and sighed.
Daniel echoed the sigh, and then reached down under the gazebo bench to retrieve what he'd hidden there earlier. First came a small, flat package, which he passed to her in silence. She opened it slowly, moving aside the soft cloth packaging. He watched as she held it aloft, a small silver locket on a length of blue ribbon.
"It matches your eyes," he said softly. "I thought for now, you could keep a bit of my hair in there. I've already put it in," he confessed a little sheepishly. "Later, well, later, it can be used for…." he trailed off, uncertain of what to say. He hoped she'd understand enough that words wouldn't be needed.
"Thank you," she said at last, her voice catching. "It's beautiful." He reached down again and pulled out the second gift.
"I know it seems a little strange to be giving you in the middle of a rose garden, but I wanted you to have it, all the same." He held it out to her, the single long-stemmed rose that he had hunted the area for.
"It's red," she said at last, not taking it, her hands still looped in the ribbon of the locket.
"It's red," he agreed, struggling against the loss in her voice, clutching the fragile stem too hard and not even noticing the thorns. He wanted, desperately, to quote Ben Jonson at her, to compare her to the rose in his hands. He wanted to touch her with words, kiss her with poetry so deeply she felt it until the day she died. He wanted to woo her, win her, and cherish her. He wanted a hundred dead poets to say all the things he couldn't say in this last private half-hour, things that propriety and convention wouldn't allow, to make promises he couldn't, in good faith, give.
"I've got to go, you know," he said softly, at last. Her eyes were shadowed in the twilight, and he was thankful for that. They saw too much in full light.
"But I want you to know, I'll write. I intend to come back. I can't not come back." The words were heavy, awkward in his mouth. He let the rose drift between his fingers, plucked the petals off, one by one, crushed them between his clumsy fingers until the fragrance rose up and mixed with all the other roses blooming in the night.
"I'm going to lie there at night, and remember that in the middle of all these roses, you're the one thing that made me dizzy."
His rose-stained hands came up, held her face and tipped it up so that the moonlight left her blind. He kissed her again, and it still hurt like hell, but it had to be done. The pain was worth it. It let him know he was still alive. When it ended, he pulled her towards him so that their foreheads touched. They sat like that until their hearts grew quieter.
"I crushed your rose," he said at last, ruefully.
"It's all right," she said softly, her breath feathering across his face. “You can bring me another when you come home."
Daniel had to swallow hard to clear away the sudden lump in his throat. "I'll do that."
"You'll do what?"
Mulder started, staring up into a Scully-shaped shadow, outlined in a fiery corona. For a minute or two he could merely gape at her open mouthed, until he realized that his left hand hurt like hell.
Immediately Scully was beside him, and he realized suddenly that he was sitting in the gazebo.
"Yeah, well, if you're going to rip roses off the bushes, you're going to get hurt," she said, forcing his hand open to reveal the mangled flower and bloody palm.
"You scared the hell out of me, Mulder," she said quietly, echoing his words from that morning. She began plucking out thorns with her well-manicured nails. "One minute you're reading, and the next thing I know you're out the door, wandering around the back yard, muttering something about Ben Jonson!"
Mulder shook his head dazedly. Ben Jonson. The rose. He looked at Scully’s bowed head.
"I'm not sure what happened—ouch!—to me. I was reading through the letters, and suddenly...it's like a technicolor dream, and I'm in the middle of it.” She lifted her face, her eyes steady on his.
"It was like I became him. Daniel." He paused, lost in thought. A small smile played over his features.
"He promised to bring her a rose when the war was over. Probably that rose that was tied to the letters. Your uncle must have been some romantic," Mulder said softly.
Scully looked up at him, a small furrow forming between her eyebrows.
"Daniel never married Katherine. She married Edward Spencer, at the end of the war."
Mulder made a soft 'o' of surprise, his eyes widening, then narrowing. "I think the other shoe just dropped, Scully. Unfinished business is usually a prime motivation for a haunting."
She returned her gaze to his palm, idly picking out the few remaining thorns. "So you honestly believe this is a haunting?" she asked carefully, her voice steadfastly neutral.
Mulder pulled his bloody hand away, examining it with displeasure. "Yeah, well, I know I’m a bit of a masochist sometimes, but I didn't exactly do this on my own." He wiped it on his denim cut-offs, hissing in pain as he snagged a missed thorn. "My guess is that someone wants a story to be told. And the story is back there in the living room."
Scully reached for his hand again, and examined the small wounds still bleeding sluggishly. "Is it wise?” she asked softly, stroking his fingers as she scanned his face with her eyes. “If we go with your theory, this haunting has taken on elements of possession. Is it safe to just keep ourselves available for that? And if it isn't a haunting...well, this just isn't...healthy," she finished weakly.
Mulder shrugged. "I doubt we're in any danger. I don't feel frightened by any of it," he offered.
"You don't have the common sense to be frightened," Scully commented dryly, curling his fingers protectively over his palm and setting the hand in his lap. She shot him a warning glance as he began to protest. "I'll bring up anecdotal evidence, if need be. Then we'd be here for a month."
Mulder pouted at her. "Thank you for that vote of confidence, Dr. Scully. Seriously, though, I say we go back to what we're reading. If we watch out for each other, we can probably make sure nothing too dangerous happens.
“But first, I want Bactine,” he said with a grin. “And an ice-cream bar," he finished, his grin becoming wicked around the edges. He stood up, offered his good hand and pulled her to her feet.
"Bactine you can have. The ice-cream is mine," Scully said firmly as they headed back towards the house.
Mulder held up his bloody palm face up, as if in supplication, and let his mouth slide into another pout, one which said, “I know you can’t resist me.”
"But Scully, I'm hurt. Didn’t your mother ever tell you that ice- cream is good for owies?” On top of the pout he gave her his best little boy look. Scully, determined to resist him if only to show she could, shook her head and glared. The man’s ego was big enough as it was.
"You touch my ice-cream and /I'll/ give you owies. C'mon, Mulder. Let's get going," she said firmly.
He shot her a surprised look, as if he couldn’t believe she would deny him anything. "You must've missed out on the whole 'sharing' section of the kindergarten curriculum, Scully. Either that or you're totally heartless," he grumbled as they went in the back door.
Scully smiled sweetly at him. "Take your pick, Mulder. Make it a damn X-file if you want. But the ice-cream's mine."
Mulder shot Scully a malevolent look as she sat down on the couch with her ice cream bar. Meanie, he thought. Won't share her ice cream with an injured man. With a sigh he worked steadily through the bag of sunflower seeds he'd settled for, and skimmed over the letters as he crunched. He marveled at the depth and length of the missives; with a rueful shake of his head, he realized that he was lucky if he managed one-line responses to most of his e-mail.
Even with the surface reading, the love was there in every line, every word. He almost felt like a voyeur, despite the fact that this had happened decades before he'd even been born. Yet somewhere in the middle of all these letters, an answer lay waiting to be discovered. The fact that they had been set out for him eased his conscience. He pulled one at random, from 1917, and began to read it in earnest.
//August 27, 1917
"When my arms wrap you round I press/My heart upon the loveliness/That has long faded from the world"
I look at the picture your Mama gave me of you every night, and I swear that it is everything lovely in the world. I am not in the middle of a war, I am not trudging till my feet ache so bad I'd take a mustard bath, and gladly! I am instead lost in you, and all your high, lonely mysteries.
Have I told you that I miss you?
We've covered a great deal of ground. I'm not even going to try and tell you what ground, since that would make the censors whip out the scissors and black ink. Some nights we camp in tents, but when we are near a town we can usually get lodgings with the locals.
The towns are chilling, Katherine. They echo a bit, I swear. There are no young men left at all; the women, the infants and the elderly are left here to fend for themselves. And it is quiet, but not in a comfortable way. It's like everyone is waiting, if you can picture it. Like the stillness right before the thunderstorm. It is a little unsettling.
Tonight Davey and I are sharing a broom closet (that is the approximate dimension of the room, at any rate. I don't actually see a broom!), which means we are in out of the elements. There is even an indoor water closet. The line is long. I thought I'd take the time to write, since I have the time, a flat surface, and bunk mate who is lined up to take advantage of the W.C.
We are getting nearer to our destination. We'll be taking over from a British unit that has been on the lines for three months now. I must admit to a certain amount of trepidation. I know that we will acquit ourselves well, but still, there is so much unknown and unknowable. I can't prepare for what is coming.
I was thinking that when I get home we should set a date for our wedding right away.
The longer I'm here the more I miss you. I want to build us a home, and work a farm, and watch our daughters grow up to have beautiful red hair, just like their mother.
The boys downstairs have gotten some sort of talent show going. We amuse ourselves, and some of the fellows are pretty entertaining. Ira Wright is a fine tenor, and Jubal Washington tells a good story. They are a good group. I'm lucky to be with them. I suppose I should get back to them. I promised to read something to the group. Maybe some Browning.
Good night. Please take care.
I love you.
Mulder shifted in his seat, stretching and twisting like a cat. Because of the censors, and Daniel's own discretion, there were very few details to glean about the war itself. He didn't even know what company the young man was with. But at the same time, he felt a surge of liking for him, a sense of depth. He was intelligent, literate and possessed a sense of humor. And he knew how to love; that alone made Mulder admire him. With a sigh he shuffled through another couple of letters, only settling to read when one pulled at his attention.
Scully settled back into the couch and looked thoughtfully at her half-eaten ice-cream bar. For the last few minutes, she had resolutely ignored the occasional grumble and glower from Mulder, trying not to gloat as he made a great show of eating his sunflower seeds. So she'd failed the "sharing" class, had she? Well she'd see about that. She held the other half of the bar under Mulder's nose. He looked up from his letters, his eyes focusing on hers.
"What...?" he asked. She reached for his hand and wrapped his fingers around the stick.
"See? I know how to share," she said. His mouth fell open, and then he grinned.
"Well, wonders will never cease," he said, and took a big bite. Ice cream dribbled down his chin. Scully wiped it away with her fingertips and then licked it off. She heard his quick intake of breath, felt his eyes search hers out. She finished licking her fingers with slow deliberation.
"Missed some." Her voice was unbelievably prim. Her eyes were anything but. Paybacks are hell, she thought. She met his gaze a moment longer, then turned her attention back to the journal. Mulder just shook his head and took another bite of ice cream.
The book sat unopened on her lap, a strange and awkward weight. She knew she was avoiding picking it up again, despite the odd ache inside that had her brushing her hand over it every few minutes. It had been nice when she had merely felt this as a sort of kinship, but now the thought of something outside of herself pushing at her...it made her rebel at the most fundamental level. She was uncomfortable at best with the thought of such matters. While she believed in life after death, she didn't claim any insight into the details of it. She was a rationalist. She was an empiricist. You couldn't put your hands on a ghost, measure its shape and weight like you could a brain or a heart.
But you saw those girls, a traitorous inner voice chided her. You felt their terror and their suffering. You saw them as they died, and you couldn't measure it, you couldn't rationalize it. You could only feel it until it made you shake apart, until it made you vomit.
But even at its worst, they had been a presence alongside her. They had never crawled inside her, walked around in her skin. They had never invaded her, controlled her. In some ways, this haunting was a compulsion in line with what Modell had done, and she hated the sense of violation it brought. The potential loss of her free will terrified her almost as much as the journal called her.
With a sigh she gave in and opened the book. The words swam into focus. It was like warm water closing over her head.
//Sept. 9, 1917
The town is so empty, now, with all the young men gone. Even Daniel's brother, Jacob, is preparing to ship out in a few weeks, leaving Rachel and baby Sarah behind. I see sadness and fear in Rachel's eyes each time we meet. I've taken to walking over most days to help with little Sarah. It eases my mind. Even after Daniel's been gone for over a year, I miss him. It is impossible to describe this feeling of longing. It is the deepest pain, the most overwhelming sadness.
Yesterday I was walking through the orchard and passed under the tree where we first met. My knees gave way and I sat and wept. I was glad there was no one to see, for I covered my face with my hands and bawled like a baby. You must come home soon, my beloved. Please.//
Scully flipped quickly through the book, skimming the entries until one caught her eye. The journal looked as if it continued more in this vein, and finished out the year of 1917. She leaned over and picked up the next book from the coffee table. Yes, here's where
//January 3, 1918
Some Happy New Year this has been. It began with a snowfall that has stranded us here, away from any news of the war. No newspaper, no letters. I can neither send nor receive, and I am increasingly frustrated.
The house is cold; we have firewood, but we're trying to burn it mainly at night. We've begun living in the kitchen; it's easiest to heat the one room, as opposed to the whole house. I'm sleeping with Mary Margaret to keep warm. The girl kicks so, but she does keep the temperature up.
Mama has been baking bread to pass the time. We've been eating it with the tomatoes we canned last summer. She's always right; as miserable as it is to do that job, it is wonderful to eat tomatoes while there's snow on the ground.
I’ve been embroidering linens for my hope chest when the light is strong. Today I finished the pillowcases for our bed. The creamiest linen, they are, and I worked the thread through their tops, embroidering our initials into the twining roses I’d already sewn there. I’m not a very patient seamstress; especially not when it’s so cold my fingers ache. But these turned out so beautifully, even I have to admit it. Mama and Mary Margaret cooed over them. Papa merely raised his eyebrows and patted me on the cheek.
“A lucky man,” he said, “to have you as a wife!” and then he turned back to his book. Ah, Papa.
I slipped into the study once the light started to fail and got the Yeats book Daniel gave me. It's now in my apron pocket, and I've been reading it by firelight this evening. It's so chilly I've had to keep my gloves on, and it makes writing in my journal difficult now, but without my little books I'd have no company at all. My heart is lonely enough....//
Scully read entries from each month, noting the number of names in the growing list of dead that Katherine commemorated. She noted the change of seasons, the comments on clothes, on books, on Katherine's family. Read about the advancement of the war. Not much was different from the journals of years past, except that the war was on. And Daniel was gone. That alone changed everything.
Her fingers paged restlessly through the small book, finally coming to rest on a single entry in June.
//June 24, 1918
Oh, God. Daniel. The news is terrible. The papers say that we have gone over the top—that the fighting is more severe than it has ever been. The telegrams come every day to our friends—their loved ones, their sons and husbands and brothers—gone. Our families, only now healing from the War Between the States, rent apart again like rotten fabric. I pray every day that the telegram will not come. I am with you, Daniel. Are you getting my letters? Can you hear me, feel me, taste me, as I can, you? Why aren't you writing to me? I am yours forever.//
"Here, Scully, read this," Mulder said, and handed her a letter. She marked her place in the journal with her finger and took the missive from her partner. She glanced at the date. How did he know that this corresponded to the entry she'd been reading in the journal? Or was it merely coincidence that he handed her this letter at this moment?
//June 16th, 1918
I'm sorry I haven't been able to write more. I start letters, but by the time they're ready to send off, everything is old news and I've thought of a hundred better things to say. I always have so much to say to you, I sometimes just say it aloud and pretend you can hear. Not too loudly though. I suspect it might put the other men on edge. Thank-you for the tin of hard candies you and your sisters made. You were right. Had you sent cookies they would have been inedible by the time they arrived here. Not that they'd be all that different from what they're serving now. I swear, there is a place in the 7th Level of Hell reserved for army cooks. I have a confession to make. Some nights, instead of dreaming of you, I find myself envisioning fresh eggs and warm bread that tears instead of crumbling. And meat that is identifiable. Forgive me my unfaithfulness.
It's been raining for two weeks now. The ground is a slogging mess—like the far field on my brother's place, last fall. You sink at every step, and you are never completely dry. If we ever take a honeymoon, Europe is not even to be considered.
It's strange to think of the enemy soldiers so close by. Sometimes, late at night, when the rain isn't too hard, and everyone is settling in, you can hear the German soldiers talking and laughing. You can picture it in your head, really. A bunch of young men like us, playing cards and racing rats (You remember that from my last letter, don't you? Richard is still the undisputed champion. Long may his whiskers wave!) and scratching at the bugs that live cheek- by-jowl with us in the trenches. Maybe one of the Germans is writing a letter home, to the second-most beautiful girl in the world.
Things are coming to a head, here. The rumor is we're going over the top. I see the other men writing wonderfully bracing letters home, reassuring their wives and families that all will be well. I love you and respect you too much to pretend. I am disquieted. I suspect part of it is fear. Only a fool feels no fear. I suppose that means I am very wise indeed.
Whatever happens, though, know that I love you. They're such pale, small words to express this depth of feeling. They don't even begin to say all the things that I want to say to you. All the things you are to me.
Alpha and Omega, Katherine, and heaven help me if that's blasphemy, but it's true. I'll come home to you, Katherine. I can't not come home. I owe you a rose.
Pray for us all.
I love you, and your pilgrim soul, Daniel//
Scully felt it happening again, felt the pain, the longing, roll through her like a wave. Felt her world tilt, her head spin, felt the old book in her hands fade away. Felt as if it ceased to be outside of her, and instead, she dissolved inside it.
"Mary Margaret, give it to me." Katherine's younger sister stood at the road, the just-delivered mail clutched in her hand. Katherine had been watching for the mail truck, and she rushed out begging her sister to let her sift through it, desperate for any word from Daniel. Mary Margaret held the mail behind her back.
"Give you what, Katherine?" she teased. She knew how Katherine wanted the letters, the letters that were coming fewer and farther between. And really, she wasn't being cruel. It was just that everyone was so glum, lately, with this stupid, never-ending war. Nothing fun ever happened any more.
Ever since Daniel left, it felt like the light had gone from her sister. She had faded without him. She was almost hollow looking, like an egg that had had a tiny hole poked in it and all its insides blown out. Mary Margaret only wanted to see her sister laugh.
Evidently this tactic wasn't the way to win her good humor, for Katherine simply stood at the base of the driveway, under the shadow of the arching lilac, and held out her hand. Her skin was sallow, the shadows under her eyes the color of bruised plums. Mary Margaret slipped the mail into her palm and watched as Katherine sorted through it, watched as her face fell. Nothing. Again. Mary Margaret put her hand on Katherine's shoulder.
"It's okay, Kath," she said. "He'll be back soon."
As she said this, she heard the growl of an automobile making its way slowly up the road. Mary Margaret turned toward the sound, while Katherine stood, head down, staring at the letters, worry and fear etched plainly into her young features.
Mary Margaret held up a hand in greeting as the car drew nearer. The driver didn't return the wave. Mary Margaret felt her stomach twist like the clothes in the wringer she'd used that morning. She clasped Katherine's hand hard as the car drew to a stop.
The officer stepped down from the passenger seat, put on his hat, and said, "Katherine O'Donnelly?" She looked up from the letters as if startled to see him there.
His face was grim, his eyes soft with sadness, defeat. He held out his hand. A flat, brown envelope lay on his upturned palm.
"I'm sorry, ma'am," he said, and he turned back to the car. Katherine's eyes looked from the letter back to the man.
"What...?" she asked.
"I'm so sorry," he said, and then the car was gone in a plume of dust and fumes.
Mary Margaret 's heart twisted in her breast as she took in the slack gaze of her older sister, the sharp, shallow pants that preceded weeping. Oh dear Lord, no.
She reached out and plucked the letter from her sister's nerveless fingers, then draped her arm around Katherine's shoulders and drew her gently toward the house.
"Come on, Kath," she crooned. "Let's go find Mama."
//August 23, 1918
No it is not true. It cannot be true. I cannot even write it here.
I have burned the telegram, for I know that it lies. My Daniel is not dead. He cannot be dead, for my life, too, would be extinguished. I will wait for you Daniel. Forever, if I must. But I will wait for you, my beloved.//
The words stared out at her from the page. For all the denial they held, their very presence sounded like a death knell throughout her body. Shivering, Katherine put the pen down and crawled into the uncertain comfort of her bed.
The winter wind slashed through the trees, snapping branches with abandon. The very rosebushes seemed to shiver in the relentless chill of it. Katherine pulled the shawl around her too-thin shoulders, felt her hair whip free of its pins. The snow lingered on the ground; it had been so cold that the snow hadn't melted since November.
She was tired of the snow, tired of the bleak sky. January 1919 had come and another year had passed. A year without Daniel. Nearly six months since she had received the telegram.
Edward Spencer had asked her to marry him. Good, kind Edward, whom she'd known since they were children. Good, kind Edward, who, it seemed, had loved her more than half his life. Half his life, and she had never even known—had barely known he had existed at all. She had seen only Daniel, blinded to anyone else.
Edward knew this. He knew how she felt about Daniel, but he was kind, and he was gentle, and he didn't begrudge her the loving. He seemed to think half her heart was better than none, that they could build something from friendship and loyalty and trust.
She walked out to the orchard, her hair streaming behind her as the wind clawed and tore over her. The fierce bite of it stung her eyes to tears. She found the tree where she'd been picking apples, where she'd first met Daniel. She wrapped her arms around the trunk, and pressed her cheek against the cold, rough bark of the tree. The tears continued, and she didn't even try to pretend it was the wind.
//February 3, 1919
Daniel, where are you? It's been months, and you have not returned. You must be alive, you must, or I would surely have died. My heart would have stopped with yours, wouldn't it?
I am beginning to doubt myself, as the days pass. Beginning to doubt that you are alive. For if you were alive, wouldn't you have come to me? Wouldn't you be here with me now, your warm hand clasped in mine as we walked these fields?
Mama says this is for the best, for me to marry Edward. Marrying him, getting on with my life, this will help me live with my loss. How do you get on? How do you live with loss? I look before me, and missing you stretches out like a road to forever, without end, without respite, without ease. I hate you just a little for it, I think. For leaving, and leaving me alone to try and figure out what to do.
Whatever happens, whether or not I marry, it doesn't matter. You were the sun in my life, the light, the heat, the passion…whether I'm alone or married to Edward, I'm still dead inside, empty. Like the roses are now, waiting for a spring that will never come. Either way, I stay barren. But at least with Edward, I would not be alone.
Please forgive me, but you are not here. You have not come home. All the other boys have come home, ages ago, to be welcomed by their families, to become part of our lives again. All but you, Daniel, and the only thing I have had to go on is my belief that you are alive.
I have lost the strength of my convictions.
I walked our land today, the land that was to have been ours. That is ours. All our dreams are buried there. I feel like I should mark it somehow, mark the small deaths that destroy me every day. But at the same time, it gives me hope. Whatever else has happened, whatever may come, you'll always be a part of me. Like the trees bury their deep roots in that soil, your soul is buried in mine.
But I can't wed myself to a ghost, Daniel. I can't wait for a dream. I must go on with my life, my beloved. I will marry Edward, and I will do right by him. I will be a wife to him. I cannot give him love, but I can give him friendship. I can build something from this grief.
I wish you could tell me that it's what you would have wanted. I wish…I wish so many things, and writing them is pointless, because if wishes came true, I'd simply wish you were here.
Please forgive me.//
Katherine stretched slowly in the early summer afternoon, slightly drowsy with the heat of it, her hands moving gracefully over the whitework she was sewing. Mama had sent her to the porch with it, decreeing that she'd looked too peaked and drawn to be doing the chores, and that she'd best rest and get ready for the "blessed event.”
She set aside the sewing, and let her hands caress the gentle swell of her ripening belly. She marveled at the spark of light, the only brightness in her grayed world. As if aware of her touch, the baby kicked. It had started this about a week ago. Mama had called it the quickening, and the word seemed right somehow, as though the baby had suddenly become a person, a soul. A life ripe with possibilities and hope, able to jump and flutter and tumble. It had become amazingly, heart-stoppingly real, then. It stopped being "the baby" and had rapidly become "my baby.”
She crooned to it, sang to the little pulse of life that trembled under her hands. In a rush of unreasoning emotion, joy tumbled into despair.
"Oh Daniel," her voice cracked, and the tears that had come so easily these last few months fell yet again, "what am I doing making this baby without you? This was supposed to be ours, our daughter. Our baby."
She wept a little, then wiped away the tears, ashamed. What sort of woman was she, to be carrying one man's child and weeping over another. Yet she couldn't help the tears, or the sorrow. The need was bone-deep, and not even the baby in her belly could begin to fill the emptiness inside.
Scully felt herself drift back to the present slowly. The room, the old study, began to take shape. She moved her hand to her belly, feeling for the baby, panicking at the flatness, the emptiness. Her heart contracted as memory returned. Not her baby, Katherine's.
The pain was almost too great to bear. Her own longing for her lost children. Katherine's longing for Daniel. The empty ache that had dogged her for so long became a tidal wave, and she thought she might drown in it.
Jesus, she whispered, little more than a breath. It sounded like a prayer. Take away this pain. It is too much for me to carry. She looked back at the journal, at the entries of love and sorrow.
How did Katherine do it? How did she live with not knowing?
She remembered Mulder's absence from her life earlier in their partnership. Remembered her conviction that he was alive. He had come to her in a dream. It was the only thing that had kept her going in his absence, when everyone else believed him dead. She had known differently. For he had come to her. Scully wondered if Daniel had done the same for Katherine.
She glanced up as she heard Mulder shuffle into the room, his thoughts years away with Daniel. She hadn't felt him get up; hadn't realized he'd stepped away. She watched as he inched toward the sofa, two cans of soda clutched in one hand, the other holding a letter. As he eased down into the cushions, he glanced up from the letter and really saw her face, the naked loss painted there. The letter fluttered to the floor. The cans dropped with a thump onto the carpet.
"Ah, damn, Dana," he breathed, not even realizing he'd shifted to her first name. He cupped her face in his hands and wiped the tears with his thumbs. She hadn't realized she'd been crying and she huffed out a soft laugh, made as if to pull away from him. His hands tightened on her face, capturing her. His eyes were gentle.
"How did they do it, Mulder?" she asked at last, her voice a ragged sigh. He knew what she was asking, but had no answer. He could only remember how he'd felt when she was gone, believed dead; it had been as though some vital part of him had been torn out with her leaving. Like he'd been left to bleed, to die by inches. He had felt utterly, completely alone. The thought of trying to go on without her indefinitely chilled him utterly, making old wounds ache.
"I honestly don't know," he acknowledged. He rested his forehead against hers and closed his eyes. Her skin felt warm and smooth against his. He smelled the faintest scent of lavender.
"If this is too hard, Scully..." he started.
"No, Mulder, they need to tell the story. Let's let them tell it." He leaned back. Dropped his hands from her face. She met his gaze quietly, steadily. He took her hand.
They continued reading together.
Katherine felt the soft tickle of grass on her ankles, heard the dirt crunch under her shoes. She knew that if she were to turn around, she'd see the house behind her, the early afternoon sun turning its soft yellow paint nearly white.
Instead she stepped onto the path to the orchard, a bag for gathering apples slung over her shoulder, a walking stick in her left hand. The baby kicked, turning restlessly in her swollen belly. The baby was too big to somersault anymore, and Katherine missed the wild fluttering movement. But this meant she was getting bigger, nearer to being born.
She hadn't told anyone that she knew the baby was a girl, but she felt it to her core. Already she called her by name, crooning Elizabeth. Gift of God. She stopped on the path, rubbed her belly, circling her hand over the distended fullness. Her daughter. Katherine laughed aloud, at the thought of her busy little girl, always moving, always kicking. Just like her mama.
But she hadn't been that way, not for a long time. It'd been too easy to stay inside, to fall into a stupor after lunch, to let the day slip away into nothing. She'd spent too many afternoons that way, hiding in the dark rooms, avoiding the world in a pretense of getting ready for baby. She couldn't do it any longer. Like the baby, she had grown restless, impatient as the baby as gotten bigger. She couldn't sit still any more and wait. Memory and loss were making her insane, and that was just no good for the baby. Just not fair to Edward.
Everyone had cautioned her about these walks. You’re too far along, they’d say. It's not good to go walking alone. What if you twist an ankle? What if you fall?
But I must be alone, she thought. I must get out of the house, away from mama, away from Mary Margaret. Away from their prying eyes, their solicitous commands. Lie down, Katherine. Eat your vegetables, Katherine. How'd you sleep, Katherine? You'd think I was sick, not pregnant!
If Daniel were here, he'd shoo them all away, tell them I can take care of myself, then proceed to badger me, too. She smiled at the thought even as she wiped at her eyes. "Daniel. God help me. I miss you so much." She realized with a start that she'd spoken out loud.
The wind felt crisp and cool today, and the baby kicked again. Sometimes it tickled. Sometimes it hurt. Katherine knew she'd be glad when the baby was finally born. Glad to have her body back. Happy to be able to bend over, to tie her apron, to buckle her shoes. Such simple things, really. But her life had been reduced to the simple. To eating, to sleeping, to getting through the day without Daniel.
The orchard was so beautiful the afternoon, with the light coming through the trees. It had gotten a bit chilly out, with the wind. Fall was finally here, and she felt her heart gladden. She had swelled all summer long as the baby grew inside her small frame, tenting under long dresses and those awful, scratchy petticoats. At least she'd been able to put away her corset. Thank god. She could breathe so much better without it. And now the cool air felt good on her swollen ankles, her puffy face.
She'd been craving apple pie. And the apples from the orchard trees made the best pies, tangy and tart. And Mama had such a light hand with pastry. Katherine quietly and ruefully despaired of ever being able to equal her in that regard.
She stepped into the orchard and reached for an apple, pulling it from a low hanging branch, and dropping it into the bag she'd slung over her shoulder. It was impossible to carry a basket now, her belly sticking out so far, and no hips left to balance it on.
She remembered the day she had met Daniel, so long ago. She'd been picking apples, then, too. Climbing the ladder. Filling her apron. Dropping them in the basket. Thunk. Thunk.
Now they slid into the bag with a shush. She could feel the tug against her shoulder as apples contacted the canvas. She paused, leaned against the tree, resting her forehead against the bark.
She wanted to pound her fists into the unyielding trunk, beat and wail until her hands were bloody, until she hurt as much on the outside as she did inside. How could he have left her? What a mockery, to live in the middle of the garden they'd planted, breathe their roses day and night, sit in the gazebo they'd built, but without him, always alone. She pressed her face hard against the tree, let the uneven surface roughen her cheek and lips, and hated Daniel with an intensity that left her breathless. "How could you make me love you, and leave me?" she whispered against its bark.
Her husband's face flashed before her eyes. Poor Edward. Katherine pulled away from the tree, drew in a steadying breath. He was a good man, a kind soul. And he respected her. He always quietly listened to what she had to say. It wasn't the challenging, laughter- filled conversations she'd known with Daniel, but they were, at least, friends. It was more than she'd expected to have, more than she'd expected to feel after the telegram had arrived.
She was so grateful to Edward in many ways, and at the same time she felt unworthy of him. A man deserved more than just friendship in a marriage. Edward deserved so much more. Her hands drifted over her swollen belly, back to the ache in the small of her back, and for a moment she pictured Daniel's hands there, easing the pain away. Strong, courageous, faithful Daniel. The memory of his touch moved through her like summer sun. It always would. She shook her head, dispelling the memory, and reached for an apple, tottering precariously onto tiptoe, swaying as her center of gravity shifted, knocked her a little off-kilter.
"Here, let me help you," a voice murmured from behind. Longing clutched her heart, and she knew that it was only her imagination, knew it because she heard his voice always, waking and dreaming. They talked often, in her head, in her heart. She continued reaching for the apple. Her fingers closed around the ripe, red fruit; her heart fluttered to stillness when suddenly there was another, larger hand around hers.
"Katherine," he whispered, his voice a caress. She turned her head, looked upward into his eyes. He stood next to her, his body brushing hers, as solid and real and as full of life as the trees around her.
Her blood sang insanely through her veins, and there was a ringing in her ears, like church bells when the funeral procession passed.
"Daniel?" she whispered, even as she slid toward the ground, vision narrowing to sudden blackness, then shattering into a million pieces that bled a searing light.
"Oh, my God...Daniel? Daniel, is it really.... Oh, Katherine, Katherine...what's wrong with her? Is she okay?" He saw Jenny O'Donnelly rushing at him, her fine Irish face three different shades of white as her wide gaze shifted from him to Katherine lying slackly in his arms. The screen door slammed behind her as she ran down the steps. He worked on instinct, only thinking of Katherine's safety, unable to fathom the weight of her pregnant body, the unthinkable weight of the slim gold band on her left hand. His Katherine needed help, and that was all that mattered.
"Daniel?" Jenny asked again as she reached them. She was crying now, her face red and splotchy with fear and grief and wonder. "Oh, Daniel, it is you," she wept, touching his face, touching his hand, looking at her daughter.
"But how...?" she asked, and then, disjointedly, "Oh, Katherine, what happened?"
"She fainted," Daniel offered, pushing past the distraught woman into the house. He carried his fragile armful gently up the stairs, directed by Jenny into Katherine's room. He set her down on the counterpane, realized with a start that this was the first time he'd ever been in this room, that it was her childhood room. Vague eyes took in every detail, noting that it was clean and neat and utterly divested of any hint of his beloved. She no longer lived there. She lived somewhere else. His eyes were drawn to the awkward swell of her belly, the cruel glint of gold on her hand. She lived elsewhere. With her husband.
Jenny had said nothing, too busy pulling off Katherine's shoes, unlacing her dress. She looked up at him finally, stricken, still crying. "Daniel," she said, "go downstairs and get a towel. Soak it in cool water and bring it up here to me. Please." She touched his arm again, and then went back to her daughter. He did as she bid, hoping that they were alone in the house, knowing that he could not bear to meet with the rest of the family, their anguished eyes. No matter what words he used, he could not explain his absence, or his more damning presence. The living always resented the dead come back to life.
Daniel tried rushing to the kitchen, but collapsed halfway down the staircase, knees buckling. Katherine, oh Katherine. He covered his too-thin face with scarecrow hands, and wept. Oh, no. No. He heard Jenny come up behind him, felt her heat as she sat next to him on the stairs. Felt her hands pulling his away from his face. Her small hands lifted his head with ruthless pity.
"Oh, Daniel," she breathed. "I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry." She pulled him to her and they cried together. He felt her small body, so like Katherine's, heave against him. Moments passed, and then she pulled back, wiping her eyes on her apron.
"Daniel, we thought you were dead, we got a telegram...." She trailed of, made a helpless gesture. Her face was a mixture of despair and shame.
He nodded. He wanted to tell her that he knew, that he understood, but he didn't have the words, couldn't find the words, there were no words. How could he explain shell shock and misidentified bodies and a catatonic state to a woman whose daughter had just fallen to flinders at the sight of him? But she seemed to see it in his eyes, in the bones that threatened to break through skin stretched thin to the point of gauntness. She touched the scar on his neck, the one that showed above his collar. Her eyes grew huge in her tear-streaked face. He could see her wondering how many more there were. He would not tell her. He pulled her gentle fingers away from his ruins, clasped them gently between them.
"Daniel, she waited for you. We told her you were dead, but she waited. For months, she waited. She refused to mourn, said she knew you weren't dead. But months had passed, and all the other men came home, and we heard nothing more.... Even your brother, Rachel, they did their grieving. We all thought...." She looked down at her hands. Guilt and shame and just a hint of defiance were in the bow of her wind-burned neck.
"We didn't know, we didn't believe her. We told her it was for the best to marry, that she wouldn't be so lonely." She looked up at him again. "She was lost without you, Daniel; we didn't know what else to do," she finished, the tears spilling again. He reached out to wipe them away.
He tried to find the anger he knew he should be feeling, but he could not bring himself to be angry with Jenny. She loved Katherine, only wanted what was best for her. Had he truly died, it was what he would have wanted, too. He wished he had the strength to tell her that. But now, right now, he just wanted to leave, to get out. He longed to have a moment to think, so he could decide what to do. A moment in which to remember Katherine's hand under his, warmer, softer than it had been in his memories. Warmer and softer and better than she had been when he half-remembered her in his battle fugue. When the memory of her touch, her laugh, her quicksilver mind were the only things real in his universe.
Jenny was staring at him. He wondered what she saw in his eyes, if they told her that he'd killed and watched men killed until he couldn't, just couldn't bear to even just be any longer. He wondered if she could see the memory of five-nines, mud thick with blood, and the hazy coil of mustard gas. He'd learned that there were many ways for a man to die.
He'd just found another.
"I should go," he said quietly. She moved to stop him, her hand on his arm, mouth open to say something. He held up his hand to stay the words. "No, Jenny, I must go." He pulled out the rose he'd cradled between his jacket and his shirt, slightly crushed from his mad hurry to bring Katherine safely home. He could feel where the thorns had pressed through broadcloth into his chest. The pain anchored him, steadied him. He handed her the flower.
His insides were churning, like he'd missed the scramble to get his mask in place in time and the corrosive gas had eaten its way into him. The shrapnel of loving. The thorn-bites stung smartly. He found himself wishing he'd just died after all, never having to return to this. It would have been so much easier. So much kinder. Jenny looked at him, holding the rose gingerly, eyes filling yet again with tears.
"Give her the rose for me, Jenny. Tell her that I still love her. That I forgive her." The last almost wasn't a lie at all. "I promised her the rose. She'll know what it means." he whispered, as he stood and made his way down the stairs. He left her there crying. He left his Katherine to make her life with another man. A man whose name he didn't even know. She'll know what it means, he whispered again, letting the porch door swing shut behind him. True love never dies.
No matter how much you might wish it to.
She awoke, finally, to feel a cool cloth over her forehead, to feel a soft hand holding hers. The hand was tender, soothing, the same hand that had nursed her through whooping cough and measles. There was no comfort in it now. No comfort, for it was her mama's and not Daniel's. She reached up, pushed the cloth away, but didn't even try to open her eyes.
"Mama," she said, voice like stone. "Daniel is alive." She felt Jenny's hand reach out, smoothe back wet hair from her chilled forehead.
"I know, love. I know." Jenny's voice was rough and sweet and broken.
Katherine felt the stone move inward, eating into her, turning her granite bit by bit. Daniel. Alive.
And Edward, her husband, out in the fields with her father.
The baby kicked in her belly, hard. Not all stone, then. Still some flesh and blood. Elizabeth, she crooned silently. Oh, Elizabeth, what are we going to do? She touched the hard curve of her distended belly, and felt her mama reach up to cover her hands. Katherine opened her eyes at that. Jenny had been crying. She looked shattered. Katherine wanted to offer something, some sort of comfort, but she had nothing left to give.
"Daniel wanted me to give you this," Jenny offered, taking the rose from her lap. Katherine closed her eyes, opened them again to see the rose before her still, rich and red and damning. She smiled brokenly, clutched at the stem, glad for the pain of the thorns, glad for any feeling at all. The twisting, burning anguish that had held her hostage for so long had been replaced by something darker, something infinitely deeper. She thought she might suffocate in the stillness.
"He said that you'd know what it meant," Jenny finished, her voice a thick, tear-blurred whisper. Katherine heard the words and the stillness was shattered. She knew then that the darkness, the stone, had been the easy part.
She had not believed.
She had been unfaithful to her heart.
She was broken.
She had not believed.
She would never stop paying for her lapse of faith.
"It means that true love never dies," she offered, and the stone was gone. Her mama trembled at the sound of her voice. She struggled up to her elbows, hair wet and wild about her face. "Mama," she whispered, harshly. Her mama flinched again, avoided her eyes. She wondered what Jenny saw there. "Tell no one what you saw today."
Jenny reached out to her, tried to pat at her, soothe her like one would soothe a child. "Katherine, no," she said, "no…." Her voice was sad, so sad, so full of pity, but Katherine shook her head, unyielding to the tenderness offered, resolute against the softness of sympathy.
"Mama, I'm married now. I'm pregnant with Edward's child. I must do what is right by him." Katherine knew she was pleading, knew she was begging. She saw Jenny waver, and pushed harder. She had to have this. Had to take the penance God had given.
O ye of little faith.
"Mama! I promised him for better or for worse. If he were to know….” Her mama looked at her then, clever hands nervous in her lap. Katherine watched as Jenny's shoulders hunched under the weight of secrecy. She felt it too, if only a shadow of it.
Jenny sighed. Katherine knew she had wanted so much more for her. But God had played his hand. And now she must play hers.
"For better or worse," Jenny repeated softly, colorlessly.
Katherine nodded, took her mother's hands and it was a pact between them, sealed as solidly by tears as any oath sworn by blood. She must go on, move forward. There was no looking back. Only think what had become of Lot's wife.
Katherine had been ready for better or worse.
She just hadn't known worse would come so soon.
They were still holding hands, the heat of the late afternoon settling around them like a blanket. The silence was a low hum that vibrated against them, set their teeth on edge.
"Goddamn," Mulder swore softly, violently, his voice frayed by emotion.
"Goddamn," Scully echoed, her face wet with tears yet again.
"Scully, they…he…shit." Mulder gave up trying to speak, trying to articulate the loss that gaped like a wound inside him. "I give up. I just fucking give up!" He was up and away and in the kitchen before she could even draw a clear breath. She found him rummaging through the fridge, pulling out the makings of dinner.
"Mulder, what's the matter?" she begged as he shoved past her to the counter. "What are you doing?"
"Making us something to eat," he replied evenly, beginning to chop carrots with a vengeance. "A chicken salad okay with you?"
Scully opened and shut her mouth, at a loss over how to deal with him. Now she knew what he had felt like, all those times she'd clamped down on her emotions, evaded his questions with ruthless guile.
"Mulder, don't you think we should talk about what's just happened here? Compare notes? Sort things out?" she demanded, feeling strangely at a loss in the face of his desertion.
He stopped chopping, knife tip digging into the cutting board. She could see the tendons on his arm strain, the muscles pump and flex with tension. "Give me time, Scully, give me some time, okay? After dinner. Please." His voice was harsh, almost angry, but it was the plea underneath that won her, wrung at her. She reached out, tilted his face up so she could see his eyes.
They were darker than they'd ever been, and empty to the point of aching. She understood it then, saw the ghost of Daniel's loss mixed up with all the times Mulder had been forced to mourn her. Her abduction. Her dying. This last, latest defection, when she'd tried to tender her resignation.
"Oh, Mulder," she said softly, her hand gentle under his chin, keeping the fragile connection in place. "Chicken salad sounds just fine."
Dinner was quiet. They ate wrapped in the silence of their thoughts, with nothing more than a 'pass the salad dressing' exchanged between them. Scully nodded him towards the living room, and cleared the table alone. She was very thorough, knowing that this would be their last night there, feeling a need to leave the place unmarked. She hoped it gave Mulder enough time.
He was sitting in shadow, the last of the sun slanting through the window and puddling on the floor at his feet. He held the rose in one hand, the letters in the other, as though weighing them. "He went on, you know. He lived a life without her—almost. Not really, though. He was never really alive without her."
His words slid ghost-like through the darkness and bright, curled inside and haunted her. She saw in them the allegory for his own loss, his own despair. Heard the echo of longing in the words "without her.”
"She felt the same. The journal entries after that are…empty. Daily routine, mother things, housewife things, but not Katherine things. No poetry. No joy. It's like she set that part of herself aside, like she…." Scully floundered, trying to find the words.
"Died." Mulder's voice was harsh, cracked with grief. "She died, he died. Walking around dead, pretending to be alive. How absolutely, fucking horrifying." The swear word jarred, tore at her. It was said with such anger, such venom. The intensity of it frightened her.
"I'm so jesus-fucking tired of walking around dead, Scully," he said at last.
There was nothing she could say to that.
He held the letters aloft, letting the last of the light flare against the soft, sepia paper.
"There are just over 30 letters here, from 1920 to 1938. Some are from Europe, some are from the U.S., two are from Canada. They are polite, like old friends talking about things that barely matter. He sounds like a goddamned travel writer. He mentions books he's read, sends her snippets of poetry, tells he what he's doing…but Daniel's gone, you know? The man he was just curled up and died."
He thumbed through the letters, opened one at random, began to read.
"Toronto is a busy place. I've managed to find work here in warehouse, manual labor. Long hours, but I enjoy the work. It feels good to be using my hands again. It's just plain good to be working. The library here is excellent. I managed to find an old favorite. Do you remember this one?"
Mulder's reading paused, his voice rough and deep. A long shuddering breath inhaled and exhaled, and Scully sat helpless as he read, as he continued.
"The wrong of unshapely things is a wrong too great to be told; I hunger to build them anew and sit on a green knoll apart, With the earth and the sky and the water, re-made, like a casket of gold For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart."
The silence was deafening, and quickly shattered. He threw the letters down in disgust, set the rose down with infinite care. "How the hell could she not believe in him? How the hell could she not wait? How the hell could she just walk away?"
Tears clawed down his voice, and she saw him rise from the seat, pace the room in long, agitated strides. "How the hell could she?" he cried again, and she heard, clear as anything, "How the hell could you?"
She didn't even see him leave, locked in her private shame. So many times she had left him behind, so much worse than his little disappearances and dodges. He had run in pursuit, while she had run away. Mulder, I'm fine, echoed in her head like an indictment. That, perhaps, had been the greatest sin of all, all the times she'd been so afraid she'd pulled away, left him alone not by circumstance but by cowardly, beggarly choice.
She heard the door to his room slam shut, pulling her from the morass of her self-blame. Without conscious volition, she pulled a journal out of the small pile, and followed him up the half-lit staircase, stained rose and gold by the sunset.
She could hear his weeping through the three inches of wood that separated them. A part of her longed to open the door, to offer him comfort, but she didn't have the strength. Instead, she sat down against the door, and opened the journal to the last entry. A small, yellowed paper fluttered out. She knew, without looking, that it was Daniel's obituary. Knew, without even trying, that he had died in Toronto, in an accident, in the warehouse where he'd worked. The senselessness of it was an old ache, pale beside the overwhelming grief of her partner.
She tried to read the last entry. Her voice wouldn't co-operate, and she had to cough and clear her throat twice before she could proceed.
"When you are old and Grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars, Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled And paced upon the mountains overhead And hid his face amid a crowd of stars."
For a time there was only drowsy hum of night insects, her harsh breathing and the final shudders of Mulder's weeping. At last she spoke.
"Mulder, she loved him, she really, really loved him. But she was afraid, and she was alone, and she didn't know what to do, couldn't trust her heart…but she never stopped loving him, never stopped." She pressed her flushed face against the wood.
"I'm so sorry. So very sorry,” she whispered in a broken voice. She didn't know if she was Katherine speaking to Daniel, or Scully speaking to Mulder.
The silence continued. She dragged herself from the floor, and headed for her bedroom.
The night air was tinged with the scent of magnolias, of roses. The cicadas droned in the in the soft night; the lightning bugs flickered and flared in the magnolia trees below. Scully pulled the brush through her hair. 98…99…100. She would miss this ritual, she thought as she lowered the brush, laid it gently on the dresser. Would miss the brush and the mirror. Would miss the rose damask spread on the bed, the view from the windows. Would miss Katherine, she thought, as she slipped off her robe.
She heard the bathroom door close down the hall. Mulder, she thought, getting ready for bed. She’d miss that, too. The little sounds that were him, the sounds that were muffled by hotel room walls and doors, but laid open to her here, in this old haunted house. He had not come to her tonight, not since he had locked himself in his room, weeping. She pressed her hand to her heart, took a breath. Thought of going to him. Then remembered the locked door, and turned, instead, to the bed.
Life doesn’t always give you a second chance, she thought. The words took on new meaning now. They chimed in her head as she pulled the covers around her. The moonlight slanted through the window, rendered almost invisible by the golden light of the globe lamp at her elbow. Scully stroked the cover of the journal where it lay on the bedside table. She’d read the end of it. Now she must go back a few pages and read the entries she’d dreaded since she read the Yeats poem outside Mulder’s door. She opened the soft cover and began thumbing through the pages.
//June 28, 1938
I can hardly record it here, hardly make it real. My Daniel, gone. I felt it the moment it happened. Those funny flashes I get from time to time, those little knowing. Papa used to call say I had Faeroe blood, used to laugh at how it didn’t show until after Elizabeth was born. Elizabeth, all grown now, my little Faeroe girl.
I knew it, I felt it. I was in the kitchen cleaning up from breakfast. Edward had gone to work, kissing me on the brow as is his custom. My sweet, patient friend. How has he lived with me all these years? And how will he live with me now? For I thought I was dead before, but I was still half-alive. Now, with Daniel gone….
I was reaching across the table to pick up the bowl left over from Jennifer’s oatmeal. I swear, she looks just like Mama; the name is so fitting. I know I keep writing things that are off the subject. I know it. It’s just that the subject is so awful, so unbelievable. My Daniel. Killed by a load of lumber crashing down upon him in that warehouse in Toronto. Not by poison gas or gunfire. Not in this new war, building. Not even of old age. He was still young, healthy. Taken by an accident. It’s all so senseless.
I was reaching across the table when he appeared to me, there, as he had appeared when I first met him, all power and grace, chestnut hair falling in his eyes, and he reached out for me and smiled.
“Daniel,” I whispered.
“True love never dies,” he said, and he smiled that smile, and then I was looking at the wall behind him, looking at the spot he had just been in, feeling lost because he was there one second, and then gone.
I dropped the bowl. It shattered at my feet and I remembered how I felt all those years ago when he came back, when all that darkness shattered into a million pieces of light. I was lucky this time. When I fell, the chair caught me, and I didn’t make it to the floor. The irony was not lost on me that, this time, it was a piece of furniture, and not Daniel, that saved me.
I reached for him, but of course I was too late. I thought, here is my heart, Daniel. Take me with you. This time, take me with you.
I called Rachel as soon as I could. She didn’t ask how I knew, just began weeping softly and gave me the number of the foreman of the warehouse. I had to wait for several minutes to speak with him; he was already attending to the business of death.//
//July 2, 1938
How do I even begin to write these words? For it has happened, the day I dreaded for so many years. The day I buried my Daniel is slowly fading into night. There is no point in staying awake, in putting off the close of day, for he is truly gone. With war, at least, there was hope, even if I forgot near the end. Now I know he will never return.
I had Daniel shipped back to Fredericksburg, had the men dig his grave on the strip of land my father gave us, within view of our apple tree. No one questioned my decision; no one asked why he wasn’t being buried in the cemetery at the church. Jacob took Matthew, his oldest boy, went to meet the driver from the warehouse somewhere in New York. It was kind of the driver to come that far, to bring Daniel back onto American soil. Jacob and Matthew were silent the day after their long drive. They had returned home in the middle of the night, having taken Daniel to their house so we could prepare him for burial.
I went over at dawn, found Rachel and Sarah already bathing him by lamplight. Jacob had taken the boys out to start their chores. Edward stayed at home with the girls; he touched my hand softly as I left, his eyes sad, his mouth soft. I think I smiled at him, said something, I don’t know what. Kind, good-hearted Edward.
Rachel and Sarah were not surprised by my presence; Rachel merely nodded to me and handed me the rag and the bowls.
I thought that morning in the gazebo right after Daniel went away was the worst morning of my life. I was wrong. This morning was beyond awful, beyond cruel. For then, I saw the body of my love, fully, for the first time. One of the greatest ironies of my life, that I should become acquainted with Daniel so intimately only after his death.
Death had not been gentle with Daniel, any more than life had. His body, already scarred from his days overseas, was terribly bruised, terribly broken. My beautiful Daniel, reduced to nothing more than simple flesh. It was a shameful thing, and it would have been impossible to look at had it been anyone but him.
I found my eyes dry, my hands steady as I bathed him. Behind me, Sarah lit another lamp and began singing, as if to drive out the grief.
The water is wide, I can’t cross o’er And neither have I wings to fly Give me a boat that can carry two And both shall row, my love and I
It was comforting to hear the words, comforting to hear Sarah’s voice, so light and lovely, carry the tune through the house as the first rays of the sun crackled through the windows. I imagined that Daniel would have liked to hear it, to hear his niece sing the old song his brother had taught her, the old song from his childhood. I wondered if he could hear it, and felt the tears come, the tears I had denied myself all those years ago.
Oh love be handsome, and love be kind Gay as a jewel when first it is new But love grows cold and waxes old And fades away like the morning dew
“Katherine,” Rachel said. I looked at her.
“What would you like to dress him in?” I realized I hadn’t thought of this. In the confusion of his death, in having to trust others, so far away, to get him home to me, I’d never thought…. She must have seen the look of utter despair that crossed my face. She put her hand on my arm. Sarah’s voice dropped to a whisper in the background.
Give me a boat that can carry two And both shall row, my love and I And both shall row, my love and I
“I have just the thing,” she said, and she left the room. I looked down at my hands, resting on Daniel’s arm, saw the white sheet draped across his hips in an attempt to preserve his dignity. There was no dignity in death, only emptiness and awkward silences. Sarah stopped singing and all I could hear was the waking-up noises of the birds.
“Sarah,” I said, glancing at her. She looked so sad. I returned the soft, wet cloth to the bowl and went to her. She wrapped her arms around me and we held each other, two women, made family by our love for one man.
“Oh, Katherine,” she said, and I felt her tears slip down the scooped neck of my cotton dress.
“I know,” I whispered, and we stayed in our embrace until Rachel returned. I heard her footfall in the doorway, turned to see what she had brought. It was an old suit, one I had never seen before. It must have been several years old, by the cut and the fabric, but it was a lovely blue color. It would flatter him, I thought, and I stepped from Sarah’s arms to take it from her.
“Thank you,” I whispered.
“It’s one of Jacob’s,” she replied.
“He got too fat for it,” she continued, and I glanced sharply at her. The look on her face as she said it was too much for me. Suddenly we were giggling, like girls in church, holding our hands over our mouths, tears streaming from our eyes, trying to hold back the laughter and only making it come harder.
Laughing in the face of death, I thought. Laughing at the fact that we are here, at dawn, laying out Daniel for burial, putting him in a suit that his brother had outgrown on Rachel’s good cooking. It was too much to bear, this idea that life could be funny in the face of such pain, yet we couldn’t stop laughing. Even Sarah, who had looked askance at us when we started, had joined in. It was unimaginable, and yet, I could almost hear Daniel laughing, too.
Within the hour, we had dressed Daniel, had made him as presentable as we could. I had brushed his hair, had kissed his sweet, beautiful mouth. No hint of blackberries, but the memory was enough.
“My love,” I said, as Rachel pulled Sarah from the room.
“Let’s go,” she said to her daughter quietly. Sarah watched for a moment as I took Daniel’s hand and then followed her mother to the back of the house.
“Daniel,” I whispered, “wherever you are, wait for me." For the first time since he'd given it to me, I took my locket off. I had put my picture in it last night after the girls had gone to bed, while Edward smoked his cigar on the porch. I slipped the locket around Daniel’s neck.
“Think of me, my love. Think of me in the roses.” I straightened his tie, smoothed his hair, and kissed him again.
“Rachel, Sarah,” I called. A few moments later, they came back into the room.
“I’m going to get the girls ready for school. The priest should be here mid-morning.” Rachel nodded.
“Who all will be there?” Sarah asked.
“Your family, my mother and I,” I said. Sarah clasped her hands in front of her, leaned back against her mother. The understanding in her eyes was far too adult. Maybe everyone understands longing, I thought. Maybe everyone understands love.
I touched Sarah’s soft cheek, squeezed Rachel’s hand, and started the walk through the fields to my house, where my daughters would be waking and wanting their breakfast. Where my husband would be reading the paper, listening to the radio.
Edward had known that I needed to do this alone, had told the girls that I was going to help prepare an old friend for burial, had answered their questions patiently so I wouldn’t have to. Ah, Edward, you deserve so much more than I can give you, I thought as I closed the door behind me. Always making the better from my worse.
The sun had crested the hill; the trees Jacob and the boys had planted this spring looked young and strong in the early morning light. I was grateful for this sign of life; like our laughter earlier it helped me see past the pain in my chest, to see past the endless, lonesome road before me.//
Scully closed the book, marking the page with her finger. Her eyes burned with dryness, all tears already wept. How did Katherine survive that? How did anyone survive that? To have lost him three times, it was unbearable. It was so unfair. She heard the bedsprings squeak in Mulder’s room as he shifted in the bed. To have lost Mulder once had nearly been her undoing. But to lose him again, and again. It was unimaginable. She took a deep breath, held it for a moment. The heady smell of roses washed over her and she sighed.
She felt the weight of the door he'd shut between them, all the words she's barricaded herself with. Losing each other, again and again. "Stupid," she whispered as she opened the book and began reading again.
//Edward and the children were gone when the priest came. I had arranged to walk Mama over to Rachel and Jacob’s, to accompany the casket as the men carried Daniel to his final resting-place. Mama met me at the bottom of the stairs as I made ready to leave.
“Katherine,” she said, “I’m so sorry.” I wrapped my arms around her. She felt so small, now, so small without Papa to bolster her up. There was pain in her eyes, and understanding. I remembered the day Papa died; I knew she still pined for him. Her Liam. My Daniel. Both of us widows. I knew now what she felt when she awoke that first morning alone.
“Just a minute,” I said, and I picked up the book of Yeats from the shelf in Papa’s study. She smiled at me as I handed it to her to carry.
“But what will you carry?” she asked. I picked up the small cloth package that had been resting next to the book. She glanced down, blinked back tears. I heard her sharp intake of breath, saw her eyes search for mine.
“Yes,” she said. I drew the pillowcases to me, smoothed the blue ribbon I’d tied around them. My initials entwined there with Daniel’s. The faded embroidery caught the light as it filtered through the window and she took my hand.
We started our walk to Rachel and Jacob’s house, stopping only at the gazebo to pick one of the red roses that grew there, and a few of the white. Mama smiled as I did this, took the whites I offered and let me keep the red. Then she took my hand again as we started walking down the path, through the orchard to meet Daniel. Here, I thought, the journey will end. We will close the circle we’d opened so many years ago.
“Have your hankie?” I asked. Mama laughed and pulled two hankies out from the bosom of her dress.
“I came prepared,” she said, and we laughed quietly together.
As the priest read from the bible, I fingered the rose in my hands. The last rites were administered there in the bright, strong sunshine, just down from the apple orchard, in the Virginia tidewater where we’d met. On our land, the land my father had given us for our marriage. I listened as the priest eulogized Daniel, a man he had never known. The eulogy was short, and too general for my taste. I would have said it differently, but then I knew Daniel better than anyone else had.
I listened to the creek chatter as I mumbled the appropriate response to the call for the Lord’s Prayer. I watched the birds wheel overhead as we sang the funeral hymn. It wasn’t a Catholic song; it was one I’d learned in school as a girl, from a friend of mine who was a Baptist. I thought I had forgotten it; yet it came to me the night that Daniel died, just as I was on the edge of sleep. I knew it was his way of saying goodbye.
I come to the garden alone While the dew is still on the roses And the voice I hear falling in my ear The Son of God discloses
And He walks with me And He talks with me And He tells me I am his own And the joy we share as we tarry there None other has ever known
He speaks and the sound of His voice Is so sweet the birds hush their singing And the melody that he gave to me There in my heart is ringing
And He walks with me And He talks with me And He tells me I am his own And the joy we share as we tarry there None other has ever known
I’d stay in the garden with Him Though the night around me be falling But he bids me go; through the voice of woe His voice to me is calling
And He walks with me And He talks with me And He tells me I am his own And the joy we share as we tarry there None other has ever known
Mama had already started on her second hankie by the time we sang the last line. Mine stayed where it was, tucked into my sleeve at the wrist of my dress. The brook and the birds and the memories of our garden were comfort enough.
Then it was time to push the dirt over him. I stepped forward, dropped the rose into the grave, then knelt and let the pillowcases fall softly. I felt my head spin, and then the soft doves of Mama’s hands landed on my shoulders. It strengthened me enough to drop in the first handful of dirt, and then Rachel and Sarah were there with Mama, pulling me back so the men could start shoveling in earnest. I had pulled one petal off the rose before I dropped it in. I clutched it now in my hand, smelling its slight fragrance as the dirt began pouring over the simple wooden coffin.
I stayed until the only thing left of Daniel was a mound of dirt, glowing rich brown in the morning sunshine. The others had left me there, left me to say goodbye once and for all. But I couldn’t. I couldn’t say goodbye because I know we’ll meet again, my love. Somehow. Somewhere.
True love never dies.
The petal fell like a drop of blood onto Scully’s nightgown. Old now, and sepia colored, but preserved by the pages of the book. She could see the place where it had stained the paper, so long had it lain there.
Scully stroked the petal lightly, then returned it to its proper place, closed the journal. Set it back in its nesting place in the enameled box. Extinguished the light and pulled the old damask over her shoulders. She felt the longing spear through her, and thought again of going to Mulder. Remembered the weeping, the locked door. She sighed as she drifted off to sleep, listening to the cicadas drone, the story of Katherine and Daniel whispering through her heart.
He was waiting for her in the gazebo. He was tall and strong and utterly beautiful, looking exactly as he had the day his hands had spanned her waist and he had lifted her from the tree. She realized, with a thrill of joy, that she was once again the girl he'd known, untouched by war or death or marriage or birth.
"You waited for me," she said, coming to sit beside him on the bench.
He slipped an arm about her waist. "I waited," he agreed, smiling.
She buried her face in the curve of his arm, smelling him, feeling him, knowing him even after so many years apart. "I missed you. Every day, I missed you. I'm so sorry. So very sorry. I should have had faith. I should have believed."
His hand was soft on her face, forcing her to look up at him. His eyes were gentle.
"You were frightened, you were alone, and life had to go on. There's nothing to be sorry for. I'm sorry that you spent a lifetime mourning me. I wish you could have been happier. I always loved your smile."
"I'm happy now," she replied at last. "I'm happy now."
He pulled the pins and combs from her hair, buried his face in the deep red tresses, smelling her, feeling her, knowing her even after so many years apart.
"So am I," he breathed against her, kissed the tender skin behind her ear, along her jaw. "So very happy."
She moved in his arms, and he pulled her closer, tighter, fingers lacing though the short bob of her hair. "Scully," he sighed, and she returned his kiss with a gentle one of her own.
"I'm sorry, Mulder. I'm sorry." She looked up into his eyes, saw the silver gleam of moonlight and the last wisps of Daniel. "I'm glad you didn't just wait,” she said, “That you came for me. Wouldn't let me slip away."
Mulder's hands slipped from her hair, tracing her face and shoulders as they drifted down.
"So am I," he breathed, his fingers kissing the tender skin of her nape and collarbones. "So am I." He turned her slightly, and settled her against him. Together they watched the stars creep out, and the moon move slowly across the sky.
She watched the stars sparkle, pointing the way to other worlds, and marveled at the boundless possibilities of second chances.
The night air was wonderfully cool after the blistering day, and the smell of roses made her pleasantly dizzy. She could feel the heat of Mulder's chest where it pressed against the thin cotton of her nightgown; it soothed her gently, leaving her feeling a deep sense of relief, of homecoming.
She let her head lean against his shoulder, almost sighing as she felt him slowly lower the weight of his chin onto the top of her head. After a minute or two, a strong arm snaked around her waist, and he gently clasped one of the hands resting in her lap.
She smiled and closed her eyes, breathed in his scent as it mixed with the odor of rose petals. She thought then that maybe this was who Dana was: a woman in a garden, at peace with heaven and earth, with Fox Mulder holding her hand.
Minor reference to Brighid’s story, “Poryphyria’s Lover.”
Poetry by William Butler Yeats:
"When You are Old" "The Lover Tells of the Rose in his Heart" (hence the title!) "Forgotten Beauty" "A Dream Of Death"
Poetry by Richard Lovelace:
"To Lucasta. Going to the Wars"
http://www.u.arizon.edu~rstaley/wwletter1.htm http://www.rockingham.k12.va.us/EMS/WW1/WW1.h tml http://www.rootsquest.com/~amhisnet/ww1/index ..html
Song credits (songs used without permission):
“In the Garden.” Words and music by C. A. Miles “The Water is Wide.” Unknown, traditional.
Authors' notes: Brighid: This was a blast to write. Kelley spearheaded it, and came up with the idea of it, then invited me along, for which I am very grateful. All poems and such are referenced at the end. Thanks to Dawson E. Rambo, who responded to my post for information. And to my dad, a war and general history buff who answered a lot of odd questions and only once asked "Just how old do you think I ~am~?"
Kelley: Once upon a time, I had a vague idea for an X Files piece modeled after one of my favorite books, A.S. Byatt’s “Possession.” After reading Brighid’s lovely story, “Poryphyria’s Lover,” I approached her about co-writing this Possession-style piece with me. She seemed to have the same, lyrical writing quality that I admired so in Byatt’s work, plus, she could write a /hell/ of a Scully.
Lo and behold, she agreed, and a summer writing spree of the most wonderful type ensued. Herein lies the result of our work, a story which, with each addition, took on a life of its own. Now, as Brighid says, her red and my blue have mixed to make the most wonderful purple.
Thanks to Jeffrey Weaver for answering my WWI questions. Thanks, as well, to all the patient people who helped me slog through the first draft, including my dear friends Lauren Levi, Marla Stair, and Angie Vicars. None of my writing would be complete without their input. I want to thank our beta readers, Ninnoc and Lauren Metal. Your comments helped shape this story in the most positive of ways. And finally, thank you, Brighid, for agreeing to co-author this story with a total stranger, for having such a wonderful way with words, and for being so much fun to work with.