Title: Effloresco
Author: Wing
Written: Aug 2001
Disclaimer: The X-Files and all its characters belong to Fox Network and 1013. Other characters in this story are my creations. The song lyrics quoted are from the song "One Love" which was written by Bob Marley & Curtis Mayfield and is the property of Island Records. No infringement is intended.
Category: MSR, Story
Rating: PG
Spoilers: Requiem & Season 8
Archive: Anywhere, please keep my name attached

Summary: Mulder and Scully take personal leave to join paranormal researchers in St. Augustine, Florida. The trip turns out to be very meaningful for both of them, and an especially spiritual experience for Scully.

J. Edgar Hoover Building
Washington DC
April 2000

Skinner sat stone-faced behind his desk, flipping through the contents of a file folder. Mulder and Scully sat opposite him, as they'd done so many times before. Skinner's perusal ended with a not-so-pleased expression tugging at the corners of his mouth. "I would have preferred a more concrete conclusion, agents."

Mulder and Scully exchanged looks. "Well sir, it was difficult to ascertain all the facts when - " Mulder began his defense.

"But I think you did a good job under the circumstances."

"Thank you," Scully responded with relief.

"Now." Skinner sat the file folder down on the desk. "About this other matter."

"A new case, sir?" Scully ventured.

Skinner's brow furrowed, and Scully realized he had supposed she already knew. "No," he said. "I mean this leave request."

Scully looked at Mulder. <What request?>

<Sorry.> "Yes sir."

"Mulder, you said this was for some kind of 'personal project' - I'm not exactly sure what that means," Skinner said seriously. "But it'd better not be anything that might reflect negatively on the FBI."

"No sir." Mulder replied. "It's just a side project of mine - actually we've been invited to accompany some researchers who-"

Skinner cut him off and continued firmly, "And while working on this 'project' you will in no way present yourself as representing or acting on behalf of the FBI."

"Of course not," Mulder said sincerely.

"Then considering neither of you has taken any leave in quite some time, and considering you have no cases pending, I will approve this."

"Thank you sir," Mulder said gratefully.

"Thank you," Scully echoed, pretending to know what was going on. As soon as they were out of Skinner's earshot, Scully spoke up. "Mulder, I'd really appreciate it if you would include me in your plans for my life."

"I'm sorry Scully, really I am." He looked sincere. "I was going to-"

She turned to face him, put her hands on her hips and raised her eyebrows high. "Then would you please be so kind as to tell me where I am going on 'my' personal time?"

In the basement office he showed her some correspondence between himself and a Dr. Henry Lyons, a researcher with an organization in South Carolina called the Columbia Parapsychology Research Center. Scully skimmed the letters and said dryly, "They're going ghost hunting."

"Actually, Dr. Lyons and his wife are respected psychology professors. But they also started the Center to pursue their interests in parapsychology." Mulder whipped out a colorful brochure. On the front was a stone fortress overlooking a large body of water. "This is the Castillo de San Marcos, Scully." He was disappointed she didn't seem more interested. "It's the oldest fort in the U.S., and it's located in the oldest city in the U.S.- St. Augustine Florida."

"And it's full of ghosts." Scully was hard to impress.

"There have been reports," Mulder said. "There have also been reports in the lighthouse -" He pulled out another brochure.

Scully gathered the slick paper in her hands, marveling at her partner's enthusiasm and arsenal of educational material. Her face softened a bit after flipping through the pictures of the lovely Florida scenery. "And just what is our purpose for being there?"

"Observing - and assisting," Mulder said. "Just think - we may find proof of life after death."

"Hmph." Scully almost snorted. "And how long are we going to be there?"

"A few days - they'll conduct their studies in the wee hours of Thursday and Friday mornings."

Scully had fixed on a picture of the tall black and white striped lighthouse. It towered over a grove of sun-drenched Live Oaks, dapples of cool shade on the sandy ground beneath their branches. Just beyond, bright white boats sailed on sapphire water, and fluffy white clouds floated through an azure sky. "Any time for sightseeing?"

"Sure," Mulder said, happy with the turn his partner's attitude was taking. "We should have some time." He looked at her, encouraged by her softening expression. "Come on, Scully - I'd really like for you to come," then he clarified. "I could really use your help."

"The city must have a rich history," Scully mused.

"It does." Mulder looked at her hopefully. "And we can stay over 'til Saturday, if you want - how 'bout it?"

She cocked her head to one side and examined the brochure a moment longer. "Hmmm," she teased. Then finally, "Okay."

April 26, 2000

As they drove south on I-95, Mulder told Scully of his discovery of Dr. Lyons' work and relationship with him over the past couple of years. He couldn't say no when Dr. Lyons invited them to join a preliminary investigation in St. Augustine. "They'll come back in a few months for more thorough research - they'll probably stake out one location for several days and nights." Scully had no response, so he continued. "I think you'll appreciate their scientific research methods."

Scully looked unconvinced. "Scientific?"

"Well, parapsychologists are scientists. For example, evidence shows that when a ghost is present it will disrupt the electromagnetic field. So investigators use sensitive instruments to detect electromagnetic fields and pinpoint the energy sources."

Scully didn't say anything for a moment. He glanced at her wondering if she was going to comment at all. At length she said, "Or maybe high electromagnetic fields affect our brains and cause us to experience unusual sensations." Mulder looked at her, amazed at her uncanny ability to dissect almost any theory. "There have been several controlled experiments in which scientists stimulated certain areas of the brain with electricity. The subjects experienced a wide variety of sensations, including out-of-body, near-death and the feeling of another presence in the room - all while just sitting in a chair in a laboratory."

Mulder stared at her for a moment, then quickly looked back at the road. "What's fun about that?"

"My point exactly."

"Thank you, Ms. Party-Pooper," Mulder said, then changed the subject. "We're barely going to have time for a few hours' sleep before meeting the Lyons at the Lighthouse at 2:00am."

The drive was uneventful until they got just past Jacksonville. A huge black cloud appeared in the sky ahead. It appeared to be supported by a pedestal of dense fog. Scully cringed. "Glad I already drove my shift."

They heard "plink, plink, plunk" as giant rain drops pelted the car roof. Soon it was raining so hard they could see only a few yards ahead. The traffic slowed to 45 mph, except for a few nutcases who didn't seem to care about the visibility. The rain poured over them in waves; the drumming above their heads was deafening. Mulder punched the wipers to their fastest speed, but they could barely keep up with the downpour. The deluge continued for almost an hour, but as they neared St. Augustine the sun blazed from behind the clouds. The rain lightened but continued, although the sun was shining. Steam wafted up from the asphalt beneath them; the smell of rain-soaked highway filled the car's cabin.

Soon they were heading down Ponce de Leon Boulevard into St. Augustine. Ahead they saw a sign - the kind that welcomes visitors to almost every city. But this one was a little unusual, at least for this part of the world: St. Augustine, Florida. Est: 1565

"You don't see a date like that very often, do ya?" Mulder said.

"No, you sure don't," Scully said, then yawned.


"Exhausted - twelve hours in the car is too long. Aren't you tired?"

"Yeah - but I'm psyched," he said.

It was twilight now, and the city's charm was apparent. Spanish- moss hung from fat oak branches. Palm trees curved their thin trunks skyward, and amongst them all were the city's homes, businesses, schools, the welcome center - all tinged with an air of the ancient. The road curved to the right and they passed two large stone walls, the Spanish-style city gate. Soon they were in the middle of the historical district, not far from the fort. The narrow brick streets were barely wide enough for two vehicles to pass. Tour trains and horse-drawn carriages were usually the only things that traversed the narrow ways. They turned a corner and Mulder pulled into a small parking lot which was squeezed among some very old wooden and stucco houses.

Scully had hoped they were going straight to the hotel, but now she wasn't so sure. "Mulder, I'm really tired -"

"The Los Suenos Inn."

"This is where we're staying?"

Mulder smiled and lifted his eyebrows. "One of the most haunted inns in the country."

They walked down the quaint brick street and soon were standing before a very old two-story house. It was true Mulder had read a few ghost stories about this inn; pirates and rum-runners, soldier and slave-girl romances, and he couldn't wait to spend some time there. But the bonus was in knowing that Scully would like it. There were only ten rooms in the inn, each with its own name and unique identity. He had spent time looking at pictures of them on the internet before he made the reservation, and had picked one for Scully he thought she would like. It had hammered tin ceilings, a queen-size four-post bed and a balcony which overlooked the courtyard and fountain. For himself he'd picked a smaller room which was supposedly the most haunted.

Inside, an elderly woman shooed a fluffy gray cat off the register book. The feline moved itself just far enough to satisfy, then plopped down on the antique mahogany desk.

"Ms. Scully, you have Rosa's Room," the woman said smiling. She handed Scully a silver key on a brass key chain. "And Mr. Mulder -" She held a similar key out to him, but pulled back as he reached for it. "Are you sure you want Maggie's Room?" She smiled slyly.

"Why wouldn't I?" Mulder asked, fishing for a ghost story.

She winked. "Well, let's just say I've seen Maggie's lover - a tall, handsome soldier in a smart red British uniform and tri- cornered hat-" She pointed upstairs. "Standing right by her door." Mulder looked interested and took the key. Then she led them up a beautiful wooden staircase. "Breakfast is from seven to ten," she said.

"Unfortunately we're going to miss it," Mulder said. "Our work is going to keep us busy for most of our nights and mornings."

The woman looked disappointed. "That's too bad. Well, my name's Mrs. Wilson," she almost sang. "And you should have everything you need in your rooms, but if not - just call." She stopped at a room just off the landing. A brass plate was engraved in cursive "Rosa's Room." Scully unlocked the door and went inside.

Mulder planned to follow her, anxious to see if the room was as charming as he imagined. But Mrs. Wilson had other plans for him. She took his arm and led him a few doors down.

"He was standing here," she told him, leaning against the doorframe. She put her hand up to tip an imaginary hat. "Like this. He was in living color too." She grinned. "I almost fell in love with him myself."

"Is that right." Mulder commented. He liked Mrs. Wilson and appreciated her warm welcome and information, but he was anxious to get back to Scully. He stowed his belongings, headed to Scully's room and knocked.

She opened the door, surprised. "Mulder - hey."

"Hey," he said, smiling. He peered around her to get a peek at the room.

"Do you want to come in?" Scully asked, noting his interest.

He stepped inside. "Whatcha think?" he asked. Scully sat down on the floral comforter of the bed. The walls were covered with old- fashioned rose-pattern wallpaper. On one wall was a dresser with a large oval mirror. French doors opened onto the balcony. There was a fabric-covered screen at the far end of the room, and behind it were a white porcelain pedestal sink and claw-footed bathtub.

"I think it's beautiful." She replied. "I don't know what to say, Mulder - thank you."

He grinned with satisfaction. "Okay, well, we'd better get our rest- I'll be knocking on your door at 1:30. Good night, Scully."

Scully looked down at a colorful book which lay open on the bed beside her. "Mulder?" He raised his eyebrows as she looked back up at him. "Do you think we can do some of that sight-seeing tomorrow afternoon?" She indicated the book which he now realized was an inn-provided visitor's guide. "The Fountain of Youth Historical Site looks really interesting."

Mulder smiled. "Sure, Scully."

"Good night, Mulder."

"Good night."

Scully's alarm sounded at 1:00am. Sleepily she reached for it and punched at every button until she found the one that turned off the irritating buzz. She propped herself up on her elbows and thought about her four hours' sleep longingly, her body begging for more of its luscious presence. She allowed herself the luxury of closing her eyes for just a few more moments before swinging her legs over the side of the bed and shuffling off to the sink.

She dressed comfortably in a t-shirt, jeans and her cross-trainers, and was just brushing her teeth as the knock came at her door. She opened it to find Mulder smiling, holding two cups of coffee.

"Good morning, sunshine," he said cheerily.

"Is it?" she asked. "Thanks." She accepted the coffee gratefully.


The town seemed deserted as they drove down to the bay, looking for the bridge to Anastasia Island. On their right were several well-maintained old houses which had been converted into inns, shops and restaurants. They approached the bridge, which featured two large stone lions on either side of its entrance.

"They call this the Bridge of Lions," Mulder said. He pointed in the distance to their left at a bright light. "And there's the lighthouse."

"It still works - amazing."

Across the bridge, the Island looked more like a tourist destination, with lots of little pink and yellow hotels, surf shops & souvenir stores. Soon the lights of the town gave way to darkened woods, and they pulled up in front of a large colonial style house. Giant live oaks grew thick and tall, their branches provided a canopy-like cover. The moss swung in the breeze like long gray beards.

"Mulder?" A voice called. A man and woman stood under a nearby street-light. The man carried a huge black duffle bag. They approached and the Drs. Lyons shook their hands enthusiastically. "Mulder, it's great to meet you face to face," Dr. Lyons said. He was a balding man about fifty years old. Barbara was about the same age. Both of them appeared in excellent shape and had welcoming smiles and a friendly way about them.

"Dr. Lyons," Mulder said.

"Oh now - call me Henry." He was still shaking Mulder's hand. "And this must be -"

"Dana Scully," Scully said, shaking his hand. "Call me Dana."

"Dr. Lyons," Mulder said again, reaching for the woman's hand.

"Barbara," she replied, smiling.

"I recommend we go inside for an orientation session of sorts," Henry said. He lifted the duffle bag over his shoulder and begin walking toward the house. "What do you know about parapsychology, Dana?"

"It's concerned with unexplained phenomena." Scully replied.

Henry and Barbara exchanged glances. "Not all unexplained phenomena," Henry clarified. "Unlike Mulder here, we are not interested in UFOs or Bigfoot."

Scully smiled in Mulder's direction. "You're interested in things that have to do with the human mind."

"Exactly," Barbara said. "Psychic phenomena."

"ESP, Psycho kinesis, and anything suggestive of survival after bodily death." Henry elaborated. "From a scientific perspective, such things are called 'anomalous' because they are difficult to explain within current scientific models. It will probably take significant expansions of the current state of scientific knowledge before we can explain them." Henry waved toward the house. "There's Judy."

On the house's large porch, an attractive young woman sat on a big wooden rocker. Her golden blonde hair and aqua blue t-shirt lit by the warm glow of the orange porch light. She greeted them and then led them into the house, which used to be the lighthouse keeper's residence, but was now a museum and gift shop.

"We conducted the interview portion of the investigation with several lighthouse employees this afternoon, and Judy agreed to assist us tonight." Barbara said.

"Do you mind me asking - what were your experiences?" Mulder asked the young woman.

"Several of us have seen an image of a man with a lantern. I don't mind him - he seems like he's just watching over the place, like he's oblivious to our presence. But the little girl -" She paused and her expression became more sad. "We had my wedding reception here, outside. I looked over at the water and saw her standing on the beach. I could swear she was looking straight at me."

Henry unzipped the duffle bag and retrieved two rectangular electronic devices. "Tonight we're going to do a walk through with our EMFs," Barbara said. "Then set up some tape recorders to see if we can capture any sounds."

"EMFs?" Scully asked.

"Electromagnetic Field detectors," Mulder chimed in.

Next Barbara reached into a side pocket of the duffle bag and pulled out several 35mm cameras, tape recorders and flashlights. "These tape recorders have a built-in mike," Barbara said. "And the cameras - just take random pictures as the feeling strikes you." She handed one to Scully and one to Mulder. "Just make sure right before you snap the picture you say 'flash.'"

"Flash?" Scully was confused by this one.

"To avoid more than one person flashing at once," Mulder explained. "Multiple flashes going off at once could taint the exposures."

"We look for lighted orbs, sometimes white, sometimes red." Henry said. "Also mists, which look like fog or smoke. But usually you don't see anything until the film is developed."

"You gotta be careful in the winter - with your breath." Barbara added. "Or around smokers."

Mulder & Scully exchanged a look. <Definitely around smokers.>

"And this is just a preliminary visit?" Scully asked, referring to the amount of equipment.

"Well," Henry said. "Actually we made this a combination scouting trip and vacation."

"We've more sophisticated equipment back at the center, which we'll bring with us next time - after we've picked a definite site." Barbara said. "Electron imaging devices, infrared thermal scanners, giegercounters, you name it."

Judy led them outside and unlocked the lighthouse entry door for them. Henry and Barbara walked all around the small room, looking intently at their EMF meters. Soon they were climbing the spiral staircase.

"And why does this have to be done in the dark?" Scully asked in a loud whisper.

"Shhh," Mulder said. "You're frightening the spirits."

"And who exactly are these spirits supposed to be?" Scully asked. Then in a voice dripping with disinterest she said, "Flash." And took a picture.

Mulder climbed part way up the winding staircase, then stopped and turned to face her. "One is the ghost of a 12-year old girl who drowned in the surf near the lighthouse in 1873. Two others belong to a distraught keeper who hanged himself from a beam, and another keeper who fell to his death in an unfortunate lighthouse-painting incident." Scully stuck her bottom lip out in reconsideration and begin to climb the stairs behind him.

"It's a fifteen here," Henry said, indicating a spot.

"Flash," Mulder said, and snapped a picture.

They set their tape recorders in different locations along the stairs, then climbed to the top. For an hour they let the recorders alone in an attempt to capture what Barbara and Henry called "EVPs" - Electronic Voice Phenomenon. They leaned against the railing and admired the expansive view and the stars.

Barbara stood next to Scully. "Are you okay Dana?" she asked. "You've been so quiet."

"I'm just taking it all in, I guess." Scully answered. Truth was she had spent most of the time trying to recall the details of research de-bunking claims of psychokinetic abilities. And yet here were Barbara and Henry, obviously intelligent, educated people - believing in it. But Scully aimed to enjoy this trip, and she was in no mood for debates. "It's so beautiful up here."

"I hope you don't mind me asking, Dana - but are you a spiritual person?"

"Well, spiritual as in I'm Catholic, I believe in God."

Barbara nodded. "Do you believe in ghosts?"

"Well, I don't think so," Scully said. "I mean, there could be something there, but I don't really think it's the spirits of dead people. I hope the spirits of those that knew God are with Him."

"Then who are the ghosts?" Barbara asked. "People who didn't know Him?"

"Maybe." Scully sighed.

"Honestly I'm not sure what they are either," Barbara admitted. "Our minds are so incredible - who's to say what they're capable of? Maybe our minds can create some kind of energy that can last years after we're gone. And when other people come into contact with that energy - their minds somehow respond."

Scully nodded. It reminded her of the laboratory experiments she was telling Mulder about in the car. Only this kind of electrical stimulation would not be caused by electrodes and wires in a laboratory. Could it be created in nature - by the human mind itself?

"And in the area of parapsychology," Henry added. "You've got two extremes. You could, in fact, prove that spirits do not exist - that all of these sensations and visions are just biological operations of the human mind. On the other hand, all of this may actually prove the undeniable existence of the immortal soul."

Scully was in deep thought. "Do you think that can be proven?"

"Well, that's what we're trying to find out, isn't it?" Mulder replied.

"Even within the parapsychology community there are differences," Henry continued. "I mean, several of my colleagues would say we shouldn't be conducting this type of ghost search, and others would say I'm particularly nutty for doing it at 3:00am."

Scully shivered. The wind blowing off the water at this height was chilly. She hadn't brought a jacket along - it was Florida after all. She wrapped her arms around herself.

"Cold?" Mulder asked her.

"Yeah - no jacket - dumb." She indicated her arms, which were covered with chill bumps.

Mulder stood behind her and wrapped an arm around her collarbone and shoulders to give them both some warmth. Scully stiffened slightly, thinking how much they would appear like lovers standing there that way. Mulder sensed her uncomfortableness.

"Is this all right?" he asked quietly, concern in his tone.

"Yeah." She answered. "Sure." They stood and admired the view for at least five minutes, and she ceased to remember what it was that had bothered her about his touch.

He sighed. "Just imagine the ships sailing in all those years ago - saved from a watery grave by this lighthouse."

"It's called the Matanzas River and Bay," Henry answered. "Matanzas is Spanish for 'massacre.'"

"Why does it have that name?" Scully asked.

"Because of all the bloodshed - when Aviles came he killed everyone except those loyal to Spain and the Catholic faith. And it seems apropos - there have been many battles here, between the Spanish, English and French."

"I'm astonished at how much death and destruction have come to this city - I think it's been totally destroyed two or three times." Barbara said.

"And yet it's still here." Scully pondered.

They stayed awhile longer at the top of the lighthouse, watching the light flash out over the sea. The four of them stood in relative silence, enjoying the view and appreciating the very comforting feeling of being with another person who suits you, and knowing that you suit them.

"It's funny," Mulder said quietly after a long silence.

"What?" Scully asked.

"Here we are at this haunted lighthouse and I haven't felt the least bit uneasy - have you?"

Scully realized being scared hadn't even crossed her mind. She had no feelings of fear or foreboding, even when they were in the darkened stairway discussing the drowning victim. "You know Mulder, I don't know what's here - if anything - but I don't think it's evil."

"Let's wrap it up, guys," Henry's said. "It's almost dawn."

As they headed back across the Bridge of Lions Mulder could see the dark hulk of the fort to the north. Beyond it something stretched tall into the dimly lit sky. A radio tower?

"Look at that," Scully said, pointing toward it. "It's a cross."

"Oh yeah," Mulder remembered. "I think that's the site of the first church service in the U.S. or something."

Scully gazed at it thoughtfully, craning her neck to keep it in sight as long as possible.

The Fountain of Youth was on a beautiful oak-lined street. The tree branches stretched over it, creating a sort of tunnel. There were cozy, circa 1930 houses, which although aged were well-kept and full of families.

After paying admission they made their way down a narrow path toward the small building which was built around the spring. Inside they took their seats on a little wooden bench. Embedded in the ground before them was a group of square-shaped stones, arranged to form a cross. An older African-American man told them the story of Ponce de Leon's landing there on Easter, March 27, 1513.

"In Spain, Easter is called 'Pascua Florida'" the guide said. "And so, upon landing here on that day, Ponce de Leon named the land after the day of Christ's resurrection - he called it 'La Florida.' And he marked the spot with this cross - 15 stones long and 13 stones across - for the year of his discovery."

When his talk was done, the guide handed out samples of spring water. Scully and Mulder each took a drink.

"Not bad if you hold your nose," Mulder said, commenting on the water's sulfur smell.

"It's no wonder those natives were so healthy and lived so long," Scully said. "Their water was infection-fighting."

Next they entered a small theatre which featured a giant globe at the far end. The lights went out, the lighted globe began to turn, and a narrator with a deep voice recounted the events of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. After Ponce de Leon's discovery, Spain at one time had claimed all the land from the Rio Grande to Labrador, and called the entire territory "Florida."

When the show was over they stepped out into the blinding sunlight and steamy air of the Florida day. The sun tickled Scully's nose and she sneezed.

"Bless you!" Mulder said, walking with purpose down the path toward the exit. "Okay - so let's meet Henry and Barbara at the fort. There are several people who've agreed to be interviewed. Then we'll head back to the inn so we can get rested up for tonight." Mulder had had enough Florida history for one day. Scully, on the other hand, was deep in reflective thought. "Scully?"

She realized he was talking to her. "Sorry, Mulder, I was just thinking."

"Obviously. About what?"

She looked down as if embarrassed. "It's just that - it's amazing to me."


She looked into his eyes. "That hundreds of years ago Ponce de Leon landed here, having no idea what he'd discovered, and no idea what it would become one day - and he named it for Easter." Mulder nodded, understanding but still not sure what was quite so amazing. "I mean, Mulder -" She paused and her eyes widened. "It's like God was speaking that very day in 1513 - saying what He was going to do with this whole land."

"Yeah, the good ole' USA." Mulder replied with a tinge of sarcasm. "I mean, it's a great country, but -"

"No - I don't mean that." She looked down again, then back into his eyes. "But I think it was part of -" Having begun to put her thoughts into words, she grew more excited. "I mean, just think of it - the discovery of the New World, the Bill of Rights, the industrial revolution - all of it was a part of God's plan."

"God's plan for what?"

Scully's brow furrowed. "Maybe to help spread the Gospel."

"Guess those Europeans just weren't cuttin' it, huh?" Mulder said sarcastically. Scully rolled her eyes and started walking. He followed after her and touched her arm, "Scully, stop - I'm sorry." She looked at him, hurt in her eyes. "Please. Finish what you were saying."

Scully surveyed the garden around them. Peacocks strutted nearby. Lovely red Hibiscus and blue Hydrangea bordered a small duck pond. The mother and baby ducks waddled around a model of a dug out canoe and a statue of a Native American Chief. She shook her head and continued, the excitement gone - replaced by something more like exhaustion. "Ponce de Leon held in his hand just a tiny piece of a huge puzzle - a puzzle he couldn't even see. Ponce de Leon wasn't perfect, Mulder. But he did what God would have him do at that moment in 1513. He made a cross in the dirt with some stones, and he named this land after the resurrection."

She walked away, leaving Mulder staring after her, bewildered. Something about this city had set Scully's Christianity on fire.

When they reached the car she waited for him to unlock the door. As they climbed inside she fastened her seatbelt and then said, "Do you mind if I skip the witness interviews?"

"What?" Mulder was incredulous.

"I just - I wanted to visit that cross we saw this morning."

Mulder was disappointed. "But I thought we were going to -" He stopped in mid-sentence.

"I'm sorry, Mulder. I don't think I'll be much help anyway, and I'll be there with you tonight."

Mulder started the car, obviously irritated. "I just thought you'd be more interested, that's all."

That afternoon Mulder waited for Scully in front of Prince of Peace Catholic church, where he'd dropped her off a couple of hours before. Soon she strolled down the sidewalk. She'd barely gotten into the car before she asked enthusiastically, "So how'd it go?"

Mulder wasn't sure if she was feigning her interest, but it didn't matter. He was anxious to share. "Great. For years there have been sightings of soldiers patrolling along the fort's gun deck, even sitting in the guard's quarters. And hundreds of reports of cold spots and unidentified noises." Her eyes were wide and welcoming - she was still interested. "And there are tons of great stories - that place is almost five hundred years old. It's no wonder there's so much psychic activity there. There's this one room - a gunpowder storage room - that was sealed up for years, and when they finally opened it there may have been human skeletons inside."

"May have been?" Scully's skeptical side reared its head.

"Well, that was a long time ago - it may have been animal skeletons, I guess." He admitted. "But, the rumor is that the wife of the fort's commander had an affair with one of the soldiers - and he locked them both in and sealed them up tight." Mulder beamed. He loved this stuff.

She nodded. "Well, it's a good story anyway."

Mulder suddenly felt selfish. "What about you?" He nodded toward the church.

She smiled, "You were right - Aviles' chaplain conducted the first Mass here in 1565. That 200-foot cross was erected in the sixties in commemoration."

"Wasn't Aviles the guy who killed all those people?" Mulder asked, somewhat accusingly. He started the engine.

Scully sighed. "Well, don't confuse Christ with things done in Christ's name." She was anxious to change the subject. "There is a mission there called the Mission of Nombre de Dios. I also saw the first shrine dedicated to the Virgin Mary in the U.S. - the Shrine of Our Lady of la Leche."


"It's a statue of Mary nursing the infant Jesus," she said, a thoughtful expression consumed her face, and she gazed out the window. "It's inside a lovely little chapel, Mulder. It was so tranquil there. Turns out people come from all around - especially women - to pray. And I prayed there too." She paused and looked back into his eyes. "It was very special to me." <Thank you.>

<You're welcome.> He smiled. Any tension that existed between them earlier floated off into the warm afternoon sky. "You hungry? We'd better catch a bite before our pre-ghost-busting nap."

Soon they were pulling into the parking lot of a sub shop. Scully climbed out of the car, and Mulder was about to follow when he spied a small piece of folded blue paper on her seat. He picked it up and unfolded it.

Prayer to Our Lady of la Leche Lovely Lady of la Leche, most loving mother of the Child Jesus, and my mother, listen to my humble prayer. Your motherly heart knows my every wish, my every need. To you only, His spotless Virgin Mother, has your Divine Son given to understand the sentiments which fill my soul. Yours was the sacred privilege of being the Mother of the Savior. Intercede with him now, my loving Mother, that, in accordance with His will, I may become the mother of other children of our heavenly Father. This I ask, O Lady of la Leche, in the Name of your Divine Son, My Lord and Redeemer. Amen.

Mulder closed his eyes and clenched his teeth. <Damn it, Mulder. You can be so insensitive. You know what she's been going through and yet you only seem to think of yourself.>

He opened the door and hopped out of the car, walking briskly to catch up with her. "Hey Scully." She stopped and faced him. He held out his hand to reveal the prayer folded in his palm. She took it and stared down at the hot asphalt. "I - uh -" He started, not sure what to say. Then finally the only thing he could say, "I hope your prayers are answered."

They parallel-parked along the street, then walked north on the sidewalk toward the fort. The night was clear and beautiful. The steamy and stifling heat of the day had been replaced by a delightfully balmy evening. The lights of the bridge reflected on the water, and a refreshing breeze rustled through the palm fronds and lifted and swayed the shiny copper strands of Scully's hair.

Soon the Castillo de San Marcos loomed before them, it's impenetrable walls rising into the starry night. They stopped by the sea wall and watched the water of Matanzas Bay lap against the stone.

"They made that fort out of a kind of stone called 'coquina,'" Mulder told her. "It's made of seashells."

"That's funny that such fragile things can make something so strong." She had turned to face Mulder and her hair blew across her face, some of it getting into her mouth. She turned back toward the water, allowing the sea breeze to blow her hair back. Then she caught Mulder's eyes - he was gazing intensely at her. Her eyes widened. "What?"

He looked down into the water, then closed his eyes and said dreamily, "Mmm, sorry." He paused for a moment, knowing his truthful answer would be controversial, but also having a driving need to give it. He watched the dark water lapping against the rocks below. She had asked him the question, and he was going to tell her the truth. He took a deep breath. "It's just that - you look so beautiful."

Scully laughed. "I think this atmosphere's getting to you, Mulder."

He brought his eyes up to meet hers. "Yeah, maybe it's the sea air." He paused for a moment before adding, "But I could get used to it."

Scully closed her eyes and breathed it in. "So could I."

Henry, Barbara and a security guard waited for them under five flagpoles, one for each flag that had flown over the city. The security guard led them along the path, across the dry moat's wooden bridge and through the fort's front door. A slight smile on his face betrayed that he was somewhat amused by all this.

"Do you get ghost-hunters often?" Mulder asked him.

He grinned. "Yeah, PBS was out here awhile back, and the Discovery Channel too, a couple years ago."

"Did they find anything?" Scully asked out of curiosity.

"Didn't you watch those, Scully?" Mulder asked teasingly.

"As far as I know, ma'am - no, they didn't find anything, but they spooked themselves pretty good." They walked through the entranceway and passed the darkened gift shop. The guard waved his hand through the air. "You put anyone in this place alone in the dark and they're gonna feel pretty creeped out."

The place was dark, cool and smelled of mildew. The security guard shined his flashlight around the room, illuminating the coquina walls and arched ceiling - all covered with green moss and little sprigs of fern sprouting forth here and there. He shined his light toward a room to the right. "That's the guard's room." Then he swung it out toward an opening straight ahead. "The courtyard's that way."

"I've got my map." Henry said.

"Okay then. I'll be here. Don't go in any restricted areas and please - TRY not to put your hands on the walls."

Scully was at that moment feeling the cold wall. She jerked her hand away upon hearing him. "Why's that?"

"The oils from your hands eat away at the coquina," he said. "One person's hand wouldn't do any harm - but do you realize how many people come through here every day?"

Barbara handed out the cameras and tape recorders, and they headed into what was called the guard's room. Henry and Mulder went about with EMFs, and Scully stood out of their way as they surveyed the room. There were replicas of the beds and uniforms of the Spanish Army.

Henry whispered as he scanned the area in front of the beds. "These soldiers' average height was less than five feet. And their life expectancy was very short."

"Guess that's why they were so impressed by those six-foot tall, eighty year old natives," Mulder said.

Scully wandered into the next room, the soldiers' dining hall. She marveled at the writing on the walls - graffiti from centuries ago. She could not decipher it. Not only was it Spanish, but it was formed in odd-looking letters. Someone had drawn a picture of a huge sailing ship toward the top of the wall.

"Flash," she said, and snapped a picture of it.

Soon the other three piled into the dining hall and Scully went back into the guard's room, snapped some pictures of the hay-stuffed mattresses and then headed out to the courtyard. She gazed around the cold stone walls that pinned her in and the star-filled sky that yawned above her, and realized she was purposely avoiding the others. She had to admit she felt a bit the outsider - but it was more than that. Something about this place struck a chord in her soul. Maybe it was the history - but whatever it was she felt quiet and reflective - and she would rather be alone.

"Flash," she said quietly, even though no one else was around. It was beginning to be a habit. <If you're not careful from now on you'll be saying 'flash' every time you take a picture.> She smiled to herself. <Your family will think you're nuts.>

Soon the others filtered out into the courtyard and they began to investigate the other many dark and dank rooms of the fort. Some of them were completely empty and others contained museum-like displays of swords, guns, uniforms and other things the soldiers used throughout the centuries.

Mulder wasn't sure why Scully was avoiding them. Every time he turned to say something to her she was either on her way out or already gone. His mind quickly ran through the day and wondered if she was upset about something. But even the tiff at the Fountain of Youth was nothing extraordinary, and they had recovered from that.

<I shouldn't have made that 'beautiful' comment.> He cringed. <And on top of that I put my arm around her at the lighthouse. She's distancing herself because I'm being too affectionate.> He watched her stroll around the courtyard with her camera. <Or maybe she doesn't really want to be with me on her personal time.> His stomach turned at that thought, then he shook his head and dismissed it. <You're getting paranoid, Mulder.> Finally he gave in to his curiosity and approached her.

"Hey Scully," he said, as if he hadn't seen her in days.


"You okay?"

"Fine," she said. She turned toward the staircase which lead up to the gun deck above them. "Flash. Why?"

"I don't know - I get the feeling you're avoiding me."

She looked at him. "No I'm not." She sensed a bit of hurt in his expression. "Everything's fine Mulder." She leaned in close and lowered her voice, so he leaned in closer to hear her. "I just feel like I'm in the way, that's all. I'm more of a hindrance."

"Do you think you could ever be anything but a help to me?" He looked tenderly into her big, blue sparkling eyes, then recoiled a bit. <Watch it loverboy.>

She smiled back just as tenderly. "To you? Of course. But to them? I don't know."

"They like you," Mulder said matter-of-factly.

She smirked at him. "Anyway," she was ready to change the subject. "There they go up the steps - you'd better catch them."

"Okay," he said, still not sure what was going on with her.

Scully headed toward a prison cell room. A plaque by the door described the Native Americans who were kept captive there - how they refused to eat so that their bodies would grow thin enough to fit through the tiny, high window. They stood on each other's shoulders and then climbed through the window, falling to the ground below. Their plight and deep desire for freedom touched Scully and a tear formed in her eye. She stepped inside and snapped some pictures of the room.

The large wooden door creaked and then swung closed behind her. She startled and spun around. "Mulder." She instinctively thought he was playing a trick on her. There was no sound. She went to the door and felt for the metal handle. She found it and pulled, but the door didn't budge. The door had no lock, and it didn't even fit tightly against the jamb. She pulled again and called Mulder's name. <They must be upstairs.>

She had her flashlight, the small window admitted a hint of moonlight, and her eyes had already adjusted to the darkness of the fort. But the feeling of being stuck in that small room was oppressive, and she felt fear closing around her heart. Then her flashlight went dark. She shook it and tried again. Nothing. <Batteries.> Hoping to eke out a little more power, she quickly unscrewed the end of the flashlight and slid the batteries out. She rearranged them and then feeling of their ends to ensure proper placement, slid them back into the empty barrel. Still nothing.

She banged on the door with her hands and the flashlight. It sounded like a lot of racket from inside that small room, but she wasn't sure what it sounded like from outside. <Surely they can hear me.> She thought <The night is pretty quiet out there.> "Mulder!" She yelled as loud as she could. "Mulder!" And she banged away at the wooden door again.

She gave up, leaned against the cold wall and sighed. The echoes of her pounding faded and silence enveloped the room. She listened. Footsteps? No, it sounded more like something dragging, or scraping along the floor. Fear gripped her again and she strained to make out any shape or movement before her. She pulled the camera out of her pocket and took a picture. The flash illuminated the room just long enough for her to see there was nothing there except the cold coquina walls and dusty floor.

She was relieved for a moment, until she realized her error - the bright flash had caused her pupils to react and now she was in heavier darkness than before. A bright white ball danced before her eyes and her vision was useless. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to make the visual residue of the flash dissipate, but it was no use. The dragging noise intensified. Scully tried to tell herself it was some type of auditory illusion, and she fought the urge to use the flash again.

She stepped back away from her unseen tormentor, but it continued to approach. "Go away," she pleaded. "Leave me alone." Now she was tucked into the corner.

It said nothing, but Scully sensed its intentions. She knew that it wanted her in some inexplicable way. She thought she should pray, but she was too frightened to form any cogent thoughts. Deep inside her being, however, her spirit pleaded for rescue. She could sense the thing growing nearer to her and she squeezed her eyes shut tight. Then she felt something like a cold breath blowing on the skin of her neck. She flung her right arm back, trying to hit the person she knew wasn't there. Her hand struck only the cold stone wall. The thing breathed again; it was closer than ever. Then suddenly she felt it flinch and shrink away.

The door opened to reveal Mulder, the Lyons and the security guard. The light from their flashlights illuminated Mulder's face. It was flushed with exertion as was the guard's. They'd obviously been trying to open the door for some time. Scully fled the room, almost knocking down the others. Just beyond the door she fell onto her knees and elbows in the cool green grass of the courtyard. As soon as the Lyons' realized what must've happened, they dashed inside the room.

Mulder was at her side, bending over her, trying to put his arms around her. She was panting and saying over and over: "Thank you."

"Scully, what happened?" Mulder asked, seriously concerned.

She composed herself enough to say, "Didn't you hear me?"

"I heard you banging and calling me - we ran right there. But we couldn't get the door open."

Barbara joined them now. "What was it, Dana - can you describe it?"

"It was -" Scully closed her eyes, then opened them and stared in disbelief. "A miserable thing with cold breath."

"Henry's in there with his EMF," Barbara said, practically giddy with the realization. Mulder shot a warning look at Barbara. Regardless of its implications, this had been far from a pleasant experience for Scully. Barbara was oblivious. "Henry will want to hear all about it. This is the first genuine haunting we've experienced since we've been here."

Scully was sitting on the ground now, still breathing hard, but calming down. She looked at Mulder. His eyes were pleading with her. <Are you all right?>

She nodded at him, then looked at Barbara. "I don't think it was a ghost, Barbara."

<How're you going to explain this one away, Scully?> Mulder wondered.

"What are you implying?" Barbara asked her.

Scully took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, her breathing finally under control. "I think it was -" She looked at Mulder, then at Barbara, knowing how crazy she was about to sound. "It was an evil thing. I think it was - it could only have been - a demon."

Mulder and Scully waited beneath the five flags. A storm was approaching from the west. Now the palm fronds flew like streamers and the oak branches dipped and swayed. Barbara and Henry soon joined them, looking less elated. Henry tucked his hands into his jeans' pockets. "I didn't get any unusual readings."

"I took some more pictures," Barbara said. "We'll see if anything shows up."

They stood in silence for a moment. Scully wondered if even these three might think she had only hallucinated. Henry sensed what she was thinking. "But that's not unusual. Many times the spirit will get spooked by something and refuse to reveal itself again."

"Spirits getting spooked," Barbara said smiling. "Funny, but true."

Scully nodded. "When it got close to me - something scared it. Something-" She paused. "Inside of me, I think."

"Something about you?" Barbara suggested.

Scully nodded, then shook her head in reconsideration. "I think it was God." Mulder, Barbara and Henry exchanged looks. Suddenly Scully remembered something. She reached into her jacket pocket and held up the tape recorder. "This was on."

The others crowded in close as she rewound the tape and pressed play. The gusting wind made it impossible to hear, so they retreated to the silence of the Lyons' SUV. Everything was recorded, the door slam, Scully's yelling and banging, her rapid breathing. Scully was beginning to feel a little embarrassed of her ordeal being on display. Then they heard the dragging sound.

"That was it," Scully said, amazed the recorder caught it. "That was the sound I heard that scared me - before I felt the cold breaths. Play it again." Henry rewound the tape and played it again. The sound was definitely audible.

Then Scully heard something she didn't remember hearing in the room - a deep, low sound.

"Wait," she said. "That wasn't there." Henry rewound the tape again and they listened. There definitely was a sound, almost like a moaning.

"It's a voice." Barbara said. Henry nodded and rewound the tape once again. "What is it saying?"

They listened again for several moments. Then Mulder said, "I don't think it's saying anything - it just sounds terrified."

Mulder walked Scully into her room. She took off her jacket and sat on the bed. Mulder sat in the arm chair. For a few moments they were silent. Mulder was still very concerned. "Are you sure you're all right?"

"Yes, I'm fine." She sounded like she meant it.

He was not convinced. "It's just that whatever you saw in there, Scully -"

"I didn't see anything, Mulder. I just felt something - and it was real. It was no apparition, and it was no electromagnetic field."

He scratched his forehead and looked puzzled. "I know you experienced something - that's obvious. I heard it myself - we all heard it. It's just that I'm worried about you - this isn't like you to -"

"Mulder, this was not some lost soul. It wasn't a human being's spirit trapped between two worlds. That thing - it wanted me somehow - and then it realized it couldn't have me."

Mulder was worried. Scully seemed strangely altered. "If you'd rather not be alone, I'd understand. I could stay -" He looked around the room.

Scully seemed perfectly calm. "Actually I feel very safe. And where would you sleep? That chair doesn't look very comfortable, and this wood floor is -" She paused and smiled slightly.

He shifted in the chair and then looked at the bed. He could sleep in his clothes on top of the covers - that'd probably be okay. He imagined it for a moment, realizing that he would probably end up wanting to hold her, and she would probably let him. Then he might want to kiss her cheek and hold her closer, and then- He stopped his imagination before it devised anything sexual involving Scully. He'd had plenty of practice performing that mental maneuver - especially recently. Finally he nodded his head. "Okay, you win. But if you need me, you know where I am."

"Yes, big brother," she teased. "So when are Barbara and Henry leaving?"

"Tomorrow afternoon. After they develop the film they're heading down to Daytona Beach to finish up their vacation."

Scully was painfully aware that their personal time away from DC was nearly over, and she had to admit she wanted to spend some of it with Mulder outside of paranormal research. "Did you have anywhere you wanted to visit before we leave?"

"Actually I did want to see Ripley's Museum," he said.

"I hear they have the original Fiji Mermaid there," Scully said, sounding unopposed. "Lots of strange and unusual stuff."

Mulder smiled. "Sounds like the perfect place for us, doesn't it?" He stood up and headed toward the door. Then he looked toward the balcony at the misty dawn barely illuminating the sky. The storm was over now. "But we'd better get to sleep if we're going to do anything."

He left and Scully prepared for bed. She climbed under the covers and relaxed against the mattress. Her bones and muscles ached from the stress of her experience, and she was asleep soon after she said another "Thank you."

Her eyes didn't open again until 11:00am. Someone was softly knocking on her door. She got up, donned her sky-blue satin robe, and gently opened it. There was Mrs. Wilson, with a plate full of breakfast leftovers - a banana, a cranberry-nut muffin and two strawberries.

"I'm sorry sweetie," she said apologetically. "I feel so sorry for you two missing breakfast every morning."

"Thank you," Scully said sincerely.

"I think it's a shame the way that Federal government works you so hard."

Scully smiled and took the plate gratefully. She was hungry. The sunlight glistened on the green leaves outside the French doors, and it seemed the perfect place to enjoy her breakfast. The spring breeze was wonderfully cool without being chilly. She tied her robe, picked up her plate and settled herself outside on a wrought-iron chair.

A red brick walkway circled around a three-tiered fountain below. Water trickled soothingly over the lips of the fountain, and birds and squirrels rustled in the bushes nearby. There were several large live oaks and about six dogwoods, which were filled with bright white blossoms. Nestled under the shade of their branches bloomed azaleas in differing shades - from a deep wine to very pale pink. For the first time in a very long time Scully felt completely relaxed and happy.

Mulder also awakened to Mrs. Wilson's thoughtfulness. He didn't bother eating anything, however. He got dressed and headed down the hallway to check on Scully. He was surprised to find her door was slightly ajar, and when he pushed it open and peered inside, she was nowhere to be seen. "Scully?" No answer. The bed was unmade, so obviously she hadn't left long ago - Mrs. Wilson was pretty quick with the housekeeping. Then he caught sight of something shiny and blue on the balcony. Sure enough, there she was. He opened the door and stepped outside.

"Oh hi," she said, happy to see him.

"Good morning."

"Isn't it pretty?"

Mulder surveyed the fountain and garden below. "Yes it is. Did you sleep okay?"

"Great." Scully replied. "You know, I've forgotten to ask - have you seen anything unusual in your 'haunted' bedroom?"

Mulder stifled a laugh. "Actually no. But sometimes I think I'm not always in touch with the 'spirit world.' In fact, I don't really think they like me. They seem to run whenever I'm around. You, on the other hand - they like you." He paused, then asked with a hint of a smile, "Answer me this, Scully - am I repulsive?"

Scully tried not to smile, then replied in mock reproach, "Fishing for compliments is unbecoming, Mulder."

Mulder opened his mouth to say something, but his cell phone interrupted.

"That was Henry," Mulder said when the call was over. "He and Barbara are at Flagler college - a friend of theirs let them borrow a darkroom. They want us to meet them there."

"Did they say -" Scully began. "Did they have anything interesting?"

"From the sound of his voice - yes, I think they do."

Flagler College had once been a luxury hotel, and its brick buildings were topped with Spanish tile. It was a lovely campus tucked in the middle of the historic district. Mulder circled around the block several times looking for a parking space, but they ended up having to park a couple of blocks north of the campus.

Couples and families strolled along the street, visiting the shops of downtown. This day was cooler than the others, and most of the homes and businesses had their air conditioning off. Bits of laughter and conversation drifted through the many open windows.

Ahead on the corner across the street from the college, stood a beautifully designed building. It was ornately decorated with columns and archways, and a cross topped its domed roof. It was Memorial Presbyterian church.

"That's Italian Renaissance, isn't it?" Mulder said.

"It's shaped like St. Peter's in Rome," Scully said.

Mulder nodded. "I wonder what it's like inside?"

Scully raised her eyebrows. "I'm sure we can find out."

Mulder looked reticent. "Henry's -"

"Come on," she persuaded. "It'll only take a few minutes."

Inside the foyer they found a white guest book on a wooden stand. Scully signed it for both of them, and they entered the sanctuary. The church's beauty was astounding. Twelve tall stained-glass windows with deep, rich colors adorned the walls on all sides. At the bottom of each window was a royal blue rectangle containing one of the tenants of the Apostle's Creed in bright yellow writing.

Tiny Italian tiles covered the floor, and there were more stained glass windows at the back of the sanctuary, including a large solid pane which bathed the back of the church in purple light.

In the center, the blue ceiling rose into the high dome. Four columns supported the dome, and at the top of each column was an ornately carved head. "Those represent the four Gospels," Scully said. "But I can't remember which is which."

An elderly woman who had been arranging hymnals in the pews spoke up. "Matthew is the man, Mark the lion, Luke the ox and John is the eagle." Then she began to fill them in on the history of the church and its builder, Henry Flagler.

"Flagler spared no expense in its construction because it was built as a memorial to his beloved daughter who died in childbirth." The lady told them. At that moment a group of children entered the church. They were full of energy when they stepped through the door, but as their eyes and minds grasped the awesome place, their mouths fell silent and then open. "I've got a tour now," the little lady said, smiling as she left them.

Scully found some postcards next to a small collection box. She dropped in a quarter and took one. "I can't believe I wasted all the film trying to capture spirit orbs," she said.

"That was the Lyons' film," Mulder reminded her. "You didn't even bring a camera."

She sighed. "I didn't know I'd be seeing anything like this."

On the way out they stopped to look into the mausoleum which contained the marble crypts of Henry Flagler, his wife, their daughter and the baby. They gazed at them for a few moments, thinking about those people and what it had been like for them when they were alive. Mulder turned away and surveyed the huge stained- glass windows, his face sad.

"What's wrong, Mulder?" Scully asked.

"It's just strange to me that after losing his daughter and his grandchild - Flagler built this church. It's a memorial to his daughter, but more so it's a tribute to his God - the very God who let his daughter die. " Scully said nothing, but looked at him intently. "Wasn't he angry?" Mulder looked at her. "I would've been."

Scully put her hand around his left arm and squeezed it tenderly. "The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away, Mulder," she said solemnly.

Mulder looked at her quizzically. "That means nothing to me."

"It would if you thought about it," Scully sighed. "Flagler never would have had his daughter to begin with if God hadn't given her to him." She squeezed his arm again, and looked up into his eyes. Then she released him and walked toward the exit.

Mulder stood there for a moment longer, looking at the deep purple light which was streaming into the back of church, giving the whole place the feeling of another world. Then he followed Scully out into the sunlight.

Scully admired the facade of the church. "Guess we'd better hurry on over-"

"You know Scully," Mulder said in a tone meant for starting an argument. She answered him with a wide-eyed gaze. "Okay - so God is good - in fact, He's perfect. And He created everything - this universe, the world, our spirits, our bodies, everything, right?"

"Right." Scully wasn't sure where he was going with this.

"Then why has it gone so totally wrong?"

"I wouldn't say it's gone totally wrong. Isn't the world a beautiful place? Aren't you thankful for anything?"

"Let me word that another way then - why did He create things that are bad?"

Her brow furrowed and she pondered the question for a moment. Sounding not so sure she answered, "I guess 'bad' is subjective, don't you think? I mean, usually when people say 'bad' what they really mean is 'unpleasant.'" She became more confident. "Death, for example. Most people imagine it to be the worst possible fate - when in fact it's just a part of life. Death, in and of itself, isn't evil."

Mulder sighed. He wasn't getting where he wanted to with this discussion. Then a thought struck him. "Okay - God created everything - He even created that demon?"

Scully nodded. "Yes, I guess He must have."


She pondered. "Well, He gave it free will, just like He gave us."

Mulder was silent for a moment, then he raised his eyebrows high. "So that demon chose to be a demon?"

"Well, Satan chose to rebel against God, and the demons also made that choice."

Mulder sighed. Slowly and deliberately he asked, "But why would God make creatures who had the ability to choose evil?"

"Isn't that what free will is - the ability to choose - anything?"

Mulder's frustration was becoming apparent. "Yes, I guess so. But it just seems to me that the game is rigged."

Scully shook her head and looked at him with sympathy. "Mulder - there are so many mysteries - so many things I don't think we are meant to understand. But I know this, Mulder - God loves you. He loves us all." She smiled, then added, "He even loves the Smoking Man." Mulder snorted a little laugh. "And I guess what matters in this life is whether we're going to acknowledge God and try to get to know Him, or just do our own thing and ignore the very being who made us."

"But does He really love us?" Mulder looked at her seriously.

"He must, Mulder," Scully said, truly hurting for Mulder's spirit. "But He doesn't force Himself on us."

"It'd be better for us if He did."

"Make our choice for us?" Scully searched for an analogy. "If a woman's brain was somehow programmed to be in love with you -" She began. "She had no other choice but to love you - then what would it really mean when she said, 'I love you'?"

"No more lonely nights," Mulder couldn't help but joke. Then his face returned to seriousness. "I guess not much." He was growing tired of the deep discussion now. He couldn't resist adding with a mischievous smile, "It's those second-guessing, know-it-all women who really get your heart pumping."

She smiled. "Yeah, and vice versa."

"There you two are," It was Henry and Barbara. Mulder and Scully were walking down the hallway of the Art Building looking for the darkroom. "We're finished. Where have you been?"

Barbara nudged Henry's arm with her elbow. He looked at her and she gave him a warning look. <That's none of your business.> Henry shrugged and pulled a manila envelope from under his arm.

"Let's have a look." They went inside the darkroom and Henry began spreading the pictures on a table. "These are the interesting ones." He pointed to one picture taken on the stairwell inside the lighthouse. In the upper right corner was what looked like a red glowing ball. "This orb here -"

"Wow," Mulder said.

"That was right in the area where we took high EMF readings," Barbara said. "And this one too." She pointed to a picture taken at the fort that contained several balls of light.

Scully craned her neck to see. "I took that one," she said. Barbara handed it to her. "It looks like water got on my camera lens."

Barbara looked at her. "Was there water on your lens?"

"I don't think so." Scully answered.

"This one is very interesting," Henry said, pointing to a picture of some cannon on the fort's gun deck. Instead of a ball there was a luminous cloud. The edge of it looked like it had been smeared.

"We think the fort is definitely a hotbed of haunting activity." Barbara said.

"Was there a picture I took inside the prison cell?" Scully asked.

Henry flipped through the stack of pictures until he found what he was looking for, then handed it to Scully. It revealed nothing except walls and floor.

"We're going to come back in a few months for a more thorough investigation of the fort," Henry said. "You're welcome to join us."

"We might just take you up on that," Mulder said.

"Dana, what are your thoughts about that prison cell - do you have any recommendations on what we might do?"

Scully thought for a moment. "I guess I don't know. I mean, I didn't do anything that I know of to encourage the thing." Barbara and Henry nodded at her. "And if you want my recommendations I'd say bring a priest. And be careful who you leave alone in that room - I think that thing was looking for a new home."

Outside Mulder shook Henry and Barbara's hands in farewell. "Thanks again for inviting us. It was nice meeting you both."

"Same here." Henry said. "And I mean it - I'd like for you to come back with us next time." Mulder nodded. "Besides, it came in pretty handy when I was requesting permission to stake out the fort."

Mulder looked confused. "What do you mean?"

Barbara and Henry looked at each other. "Well," Henry began, as if he wished he hadn't mentioned it. "I think it helped a bit with the National Parks Service when I told them one of my team members worked for the -" Mulder looked surprised. "I mean, that was okay, wasn't it?"

Mulder rolled his eyes and looked at Scully. She shrugged. "Yeah, I guess it doesn't matter - it's fine, Henry."

"I guess it's goodbye for now," Scully said, reaching out her hand.

Barbara and Henry exchanged looks again. Then Henry spoke up, "Hey - aren't you guys hungry?"

"Well, yeah - I guess so." Mulder replied.

"Let us buy you lunch -" Henry looked at his watch. "Well, late lunch. That'll be our way of saying thanks."

"There's this place we've been going almost every day," Barbara said. "It's just a few blocks that way." She pointed to the east. "Of course, we don't want to hold you up if you're in a hurry."

Mulder and Scully consulted each other with their eyes. "That'd be great," Scully answered for them.

The Jamaican Me Crazy Grill was a wooden building with an open air deck for a roof. The deck was covered with tables shaded by red and white umbrellas. Colored Christmas lights hung in the windows downstairs. They could hear the syncopated rhythms of reggae music - a steel drum band was playing on the deck.

A perky waitress in cut-off jeans and sandals greeted them. "It's just a gorgeous day," she said. "You want to sit outside?"

"Sure," Henry said. "And I feel like celebrating." He nodded toward the bar. "Bring us two of those Cuervo Gold margaritas, and -" He looked toward Mulder and Scully.

Another silent consultation. "Uh, we'll just have two iced teas, please," Mulder said to the waitress.

She nodded and smiled, then led them up the wooden stairs to their table, which was near the deck railing. As she sat down Scully said quietly, "Thanks, Mulder - I'm sure just one drink would've done me in."

Mulder smiled. "Well, I'd still like to visit Ripley's."

They ordered and ate, the food was good. The reggae was somehow both joyous and soothing. Barbara and Henry filled them full of stories about ESP tests and other ghost-hunting adventures. They were already making plans for the next trip to the fort.

"We'll need a new handheld thermal scanner," Barbara reminded Henry.

"Hey, that reminds me of the time we were in Tennessee -" Then Henry began to describe in detail their investigation of some place called the Bell Witch Cave.

The band started a new song - one that sounded vaguely familiar to Scully. She divided her attention among watching the people walk along the street below, the table conversation and the music. Then a lyric jumped out at her: "Give thanks and praise to the Lord -" Her eyes shot toward the band. The lead singer was a tall, handsome man with dark brown skin. He played the guitar while his band mates hammered gracefully upon inverted trash barrels. Now she gave the song her full attention:

Let's get together to fight this Holy Armageddon So when the Man comes there will be no, no doom Have pity on those whose chances grow thinner There ain't no hiding place from the Father of Creation

It struck Scully how God's truths were everywhere - even in this song - how could God's presence be so obvious to so many, yet to others remain so uncertain? She looked at Mulder. To her surprise he had turned his head and was also listening intently to the song:

One love, one heart Let's get together and feel all right I'm pleading to mankind, Oh Lord Give thanks and praise to the Lord and I will feel all right

Mulder saw her looking at him and returned her gaze. A faint smile began to twinkle in his eyes.

"We'd better hit the trail," Henry said suddenly, rousing Scully from her reverie.

They bid farewell to the Lyons and headed back to the car. They walked in silence for awhile, then Mulder glanced over at Scully. "Scully?" She looked at him. "I just wanted to thank you for coming down here with me. I know I sprung it on you and you weren't really happy about it. On top of that, nothing about this trip turned out the way I thought it would."

"It's okay Mulder. This trip didn't turn out the way I thought it would either." She smiled faintly. "I can honestly say I think this was the best personal time I've ever spent." Mulder smiled, happy that she was pleased, and glad that he was at least partly responsible for it. Scully's expression turned serious. "You know Mulder, I didn't really want to mention it -" She stopped.

"What?" He stopped walking and prepared himself for something unpleasant.

"Next week - it's my last in-vitro." Mulder looked at her solemnly. He knew that it was coming, but he hadn't wanted to mention it either. "To be honest with you I was beginning to think the doctor was wrong."

"No." Mulder shook his head. "Just because it didn't work before doesn't mean it won't work this time."

She nodded. "I have to tell you - since this trip my whole outlook has changed. I feel really positive about it now." She reached into her pocket and grasped the little folded prayer, then looked into Mulder's eyes. "I really feel like this one is going to take."

Scully's Apartment February, 2001

Mulder cleared the table from a dinner shared by three. He carried plastic plates to the trash can, and forks and knives to the sink. Margaret Scully tossed them into the soapy water.

"That was delicious, Mrs. Scully," he said. "Thanks."

Margaret smiled at him. "It was no trouble, Fox." She tilted her head to the side. "Any excuse to see my grandbaby." He nodded, then walked back into the living room.

Scully was seated on the sofa. A pink and blue striped receiving blanket was draped over her left shoulder, shielding William's head from view as she nursed him. Mulder sat down next to her and smiled. "So I guess he was hungry, huh?"

"Yes, usually it's one end or the other." She smiled. "Of course there are those very frustrating times when I can't figure out what's wrong with him."

Margaret walked into the living room, drying her hands on a dish towel. "I've got to get going," she said. "There's some salad in the fridge, two pieces of chicken, I think." She leaned over and kissed Scully on the forehead. "Night sweetie."

"Night Mom." Scully replied.

"Night Fox." Margaret said. "You staying over?"

"Yeah, I think so - " He looked toward Scully for confirmation, and she nodded.

"Good then, I won't worry about my baby - I mean my babies - tonight." She kissed Mulder on the forehead, then left.

Mulder grinned at Mrs. Scully's kiss. "I think I've been adopted," he said.

"I think so too." Scully replied. She leaned forward to stand up, teetering a bit. Mulder held out his arm and she steadied herself on it. "Thanks."

They walked down the hall into her bedroom, and Scully sat down gingerly on the bed. Mulder stood nearby, waiting for what she needed him to do.

"Can you hold him a minute?"

"Sure." Mulder was enthusiastic for this task.

She placed her free hand under the blanket and with a little difficulty removed the baby from her breast. He immediately began to fuss, and she handed him to Mulder. Then in obvious discomfort, she scooted back on the bed until she was leaning against the headboard. Without proper medical attention during William's birth, Scully was having more than the usual post-partum pain. She'd always cringed when other women described their episiotomy experiences, but as the doctor who treated her immediately after William's birth said, "natural" episiotomies were harder to heal. She took sitz baths three times a day per the doctor's instructions, but it did little to ease the pain.

Settled in as comfortable as possible, she held out her arms. "Okay." Mulder handed the baby back to her, and she tucked him back under the blanket.

Mulder sat on the edge of the bed, and for a few moments they said nothing. Mulder's face was serious. Finally he spoke up, "You need me to do anything?"

"Uh - yeah, actually - could you take the load out of the washer and put it in the dryer for me?" she asked.

"Sure." He left and soon returned with a basket full of clothes. He sat on the bed and started folding the baby blankets and tiny shirts while Scully nursed.

"You don't have to do that," she said.

"It's the least I can do since I can't -" He stopped in mid-fold of a blue hooded bath towel and nodded toward the hidden bundle. "Give him a bottle."

They sat in silence in what should have been a peaceful domestic scene, but something was bothering Mulder. He seemed distracted and a bit sad. Finally Scully asked, "Is something wrong?" He looked up at her. "Something's on your mind." Scully felt the baby's small mouth relax. His hums of happiness were replaced by long, even breaths. She lifted him from underneath the blanket and gazed at him in pure adoration. Mulder leaned in to look at him too, a proud smile graced his face.

"Wouldja look at him," he said in awe.

Scully nodded and smiled, rocking the baby slightly. His little pink fists with perfectly miniature fingers and nails were curled up under his chin. His lips were pursed in a little pink circle, his eyelids were closed gently. Little pimply bumps had appeared on his nose a day or two ago, the doctor had called it "baby acne." Regardless, he was beautiful.

Scully handed the slumbering bundle to Mulder, who placed him into the bassinet beside the bed. He spread out the little blanket so that it covered him lightly, then sat back on the bed. Scully took a deep breath, stretched out her back and sighed.

"So what is it?" she asked seriously, looking Mulder in the eye.

Mulder looked up at the ceiling and then back at Scully. "I've been offered an opportunity - a job."

Scully's first thought was that this was wonderful news, but his demeanor made it obvious that there was something horrible about it, and she knew instinctively what that was. Before Mulder said another word Scully knew that the happiness and comfort of being together was soon to be replaced by the cold loneliness of separation.

"Where is it?" she asked sadly. <You're leaving us.>

It did not surprise Mulder that Scully had guessed the truth. He sighed and said gloomily, "South Carolina." <I wish it wasn't true.>

"That's an eight hour drive." Her mind was already weighing the pros and cons.

He nodded slowly. "Yes."

"But it's a good opportunity, you said."

He nodded again. "It's at Carolina University. A friend of ours - Dr. Lyons - offered it to me."

"St. Augustine Dr. Lyons?"

"Yes. He's professor of psychology there. Seems he's been able to keep his parapsychology in the proper perspective so that it hasn't ruined his career." They shared a tentative smile. "Anyway, he received a grant a couple of years ago. One of his associates passed away unexpectedly and he needs a replacement for the next nine months." A sly smile tugged at his lips. "As part of his offer he promised me he'd do some study of how electromagnetic fields affect the human brain - and unexposed camera film." Scully's slight smile was appreciative. "It's only nine months," he said again, hoping she'd caught that. "Another good thing is that not only would I be working in the field of psychology, but I'd also be able to accompany Dr. Lyons on his little side trips."

<Nine months seems like forever.> "It - it sounds like the perfect place for you, Mulder."

He scooted closer to her and took her right hand in both of his. He looked down at her fingers and stroked them gently. "The perfect place for me is here with you - and William," he said solemnly.

"But Mulder -" Scully said. "You have to work." She put her other hand in his. "When does he need you to start?"

"Two weeks."

Scully felt as if the wind had been knocked out of her. She could barely get out her next words. "So soon?"

"Actually, I wasn't his first choice," Mulder said, almost chuckling. "But I was next on his list."

"And did you give him an answer?"

"No - not yet." Mulder paused. "I told him I had to talk it over with my wife."

Scully looked up at him, her eyebrows raised high. "Is that what you're calling me now?"

He smiled. "Well, not exactly - but I hope to before I leave." He looked at her hopefully. "What do you think? You wanna marry me?"

She hung her head down and almost laughed. "Wow, I didn't expect this."

"You didn't?" He tried to search her lowered face. "You're surprised?"

She put her hands over her eyes as the tears spilled forth. She sobbed and then finally said, "I don't know." Then she broke into uncontrolled weeping.

Mulder's heart broke. A look of pain took hostage of his features. He wrapped his arms around her and pulled her against his chest. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he said, his own tears threatening. Scully buried her face in his warm chest and bawled. Mulder stroked her hair, trying his best to comfort her, but all the while feeling utterly incapable. Once again he was causing her pain. A small claw of fear pierced his soul and he thought for a moment that she did not want him for a husband. "Scully," he said quietly.

She was still crying, her mouth pressed against his t-shirt. Through her sobs and the now wet fabric came a muffled declaration. "I love you so much."

He smiled. <That's more like it.> The fear disappeared. "Oh Scully," he said, his tears spilling and landing in her hair. "Not as much as I love you." He wiped his face and tried to sound cheerful. "I'll feel better when you have a wedding band on - then I won't have to worry about all these guys trying to steal you away from me."

She smiled and sniffed, regaining her composure. She pulled back just enough to look into his eyes. "Yeah sure, Mulder. I'm so attractive - a regular sex symbol." She indicated her still slightly misshapen body.

"You look absolutely beautiful to me."

She suddenly remembered something. "Mulder -"


"I just - I'm not going to be ready to get married so soon."


"I mean, physically." She was slightly embarrassed. "You know."

He hugged her to him and rested his chin on top of her head. "Look Scully - as soon as you feel up to it, and the doctor gives you the green light -" He took her face in his hands and looked into her eyes. "All you gotta do is name the time and the place." The desire that tinged his voice and eyes made Scully's stomach dip and flutter.

She smiled and nodded. "Okay."

Very sincerely he said, "I don't want you to think for a minute that I'm deserting you or William. I'll talk to you every day - and we'll see each other as often as we can. I promise." She smiled into his eyes and nodded, though she couldn't help blinking away a mist of tears. "So -," he said hesitantly. "Is this a 'yes' or what?"

Scully almost laughed realizing she hadn't answered his proposal. It had seemed so obvious to her what her answer would be she didn't think to articulate it. She nodded and said, "Yes."

Mulder leaned toward her, tilting his head a little to one side. <Yes, a kiss.> She put her hands around the back of his head and buried her fingers in his dark hair. The kiss began gentle and sweet, much like the kiss they'd shared over William's small body several nights ago. That night Mulder had longed to crush her against him, and he had to remind himself that William was between them. But tonight there was nobody between them - William was asleep in his bed and the FBI didn't matter anymore. Their kiss became deep and smoldering, and now both of their stomachs were fluttering. Mulder felt the need to break the momentum, so he finally left her mouth and hugged her, resting his chin on her shoulder.

Mulder smiled and closed his eyes in a slow blink. "Mmmmm," he said, as if he'd just tasted the most delicious thing in the world.

Scully closed her eyes and her face was awash with warm pleasure. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "I'd better go take my bath," she said.

William slept soundly as Scully bathed and changed. She returned to the bedroom to find Mulder laying on the bed, his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. She climbed under the covers and rolled to face him.

"So - my fiancé." She relished that label. "What are these deep thoughts?"

He smiled and looked at her, then shook his head. "Everything."

"That's a lot."

"I know." He paused. "I was thinking of everything we've been through, and how we're here together now - with William. It's amazing, isn't it?"


"And I was thinking of St. Augustine - I never knew that trip was going to mean so much to me. In a way it's incredibly ironic."

"Hmmm - ironic?" She was growing sleepy. All those stories about taking care of a newborn were true.

"I went there to hunt ghosts - but you went there and seemed to rediscover your religion. I didn't understand that." He paused then continued in a serious tone. "Scully, I used to think God was this guy sitting on a throne up in heaven while we rolled around down here in the muck. He was a despot who had set a bunch of rules he knew we couldn't follow, just so he could kick us around when we failed. I didn't think he really cared about us. But on that trip I started to have an inkling that I was wrong."

Scully looked pleased. "Really?"

"And now I realize that all those years I was a fool to think the FBI sent you to me-"

She looked confused. "Didn't they?"

"Well, they thought they did. The Smoking Man thought he did - but I think they were just tools." At this Scully's eyes widened, but she was silent. "The FBI didn't send you to me, Scully - God did." Mulder was truly in awe. "He knew what I needed, and He sent you. And because He sent you, I know - I know that not only does He care about my puny little existence, but it's actually important to Him." He paused, looked over at William and then back at Scully. "I look at you and William - and I know that God loves me."

Scully looked down and then back up into his eyes. The tears were forming again, but she smiled through them. "Mulder, I think those are the most beautiful words I've ever heard spoken."

They fell asleep, resting soundly in the knowledge that God was, and had always been, in control.


For I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord. They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

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