Charlie didn’t try to hold him back too much this morning. Bill was going to see his son for the first time in seven years. That was something Charlie couldn’t even contemplate, his sons and now his daughter were his life, his and Mary’s. Maybe in the old world they would have gone off to college, married and lived apart from him. There was less chance of that happening now; he could grow old with grandchildren surrounding him.
Charlie glanced at the back of Sam’s head and grinned. Something made Sam turn and return his smile. Then he winked and picked up his own pace so that his Uncle Bill wouldn’t get too far ahead.
They reached the outskirts of Refuge Mission just before lunch that morning. They were greeted by a small delegation, led by Mama Ruth. She hugged Sam fiercely, then Charlie. She turned to Bill then, “I’m glad you could finally join your family.”
“Thank you, ma’am.”
“Mama Ruth. Everyone calls me that. I know you want to see your son. He’s at my house. I thought we should have a few minutes - “
“I appreciate that, M-Mama Ruth, but I need to see him now. We could talk after I see him.”
Her eyebrow rose and she glanced over at Sam. He shrugged, shaking his head slightly.
“All right, Bill. We’ll take you there now. Let Scott and Phil take the horses. They’ll feed them and get them settled in.”
“Thank you.” Charlie stepped closer and took the older woman’s free arm. He walked at her pace, Sam on her cane side. They visited, bringing her the news of Anne and Todd.
Bill was obviously anxious, wanting them to move faster, but he couldn’t legitimately rush the old woman.
When they arrived at her house, Mama Ruth led them inside. She turned to Bill, “I’ll get the boy.” She limped toward the back of the house.
Bill folded his arms, then stuck his hands in his back pockets, then wiped his hands on his jeans. Charlie kept quiet, would he have been any better under the circumstances?
She returned shortly, prodding the pudgy boy in front of her. The look on the boy’s face showed his fury. “Say hello to your father, boy.” Mama Ruth touched his shoulder.
He jerked away from her and refused to look at the people assembled.
Bill stepped forward, “Matt? Matt, do you remember me?”
“My name is Matthew, Matthew Hartley.”
Bill reached out to put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, but Matt knocked it away and stepped back.
“I want to go home.”
“We’re going to take you home.”
“To Florida?” Matthew’s eyes were narrowed.
“No, we’re going north. You have a lot of family there - two aunts, a bunch of cousins - “
“No!” He looked up into his father’s face, fairly spitting with fury. Then he turned and ran back to the other room.
Mama Ruth sighed and sank into the nearest chair.
Bill stood there stunned.
“That was what I wanted to talk to you about.” She looked up at Bill.
Instead of responding, Bill turned on his heel and left the house. Charlie watched him, then looked over at Mama Ruth. “I, uh, I better - “
“Give him a minute, son.”
Charlie sighed and nodded. He didn’t have a clue what to say anyway.
“I was hoping the boy would have calmed down some by the time you got here, but . . . Let’s have some lunch. There’re a lot of people here who want to meet you. Then afterwards you should spend some time with Dick, Melanie and Ricky. They brought Matthew and Lynne here.”
“Lynne? Is that the woman that’s going back with us?”
“Oh, that’s right. You didn’t know about her when you left. She’s a lovely young lady. She’s twenty-one but doesn’t look it, and she’s very good with animals. We'll be sorry to see her leave. She’s lived near Matthew for years; maybe she’ll be able to help.”
“Looks like we’re going to need it.” Charlie shook his head.
“Well,” Mama Ruth rose to her feet, “let’s get some food in you. You’ll feel better.”
Again taking her arm, Charlie walked with Mama Ruth to the larger building nearby. Others were assembling, and greeted them warmly. They were served a warm filling meal, with promises of a celebration that evening.
“What about Matt, uh Matthew?” Charlie whispered to Mama Ruth.
“Don’t worry, he won’t miss a meal.” A man sitting at the table spoke lowly. Mama Ruth looked over at him and he fell quiet. Charlie caught Sam’s eye and the young man nodded.
“Ah, here’s Lynne.” Mama Ruth looked up and smiled. “Lynne Alexander, meet Charlie and Sam Scully.”
Her eyes lit up. She shyly held out her hand. “Please to meet you.” She shook Charlie’s hand first, then Sam’s.
“I hear you’re coming home with us.” Charlie smiled.
“I would love to, if you’ll have me. I’m a hard worker and I know animals.”
“So I heard; that’s going to come in handy now. We’re just gotten our first horses and a cow. We had rabbits and pigs. Now we’re a little overwhelmed.”
Lynne’s smile grew. “I have a horse, a donkey, some goats, a cat and a dog.”
Sam laughed out loud. Lynne, startled, laughed too and Charlie joined in. “I think you’re gonna be as handy as Lewis.”
At her puzzled look, Charlie nodded. “Don’t worry; you’ll know everyone very soon.”
They looked up to see Bill come in and get some food. He sat off to one side, not speaking to the others, his eyes down. He didn’t look very inviting. Everyone respected his privacy and gravitated toward Mama Ruth.
The conversation was quieter then, but everyone spoke to Charlie and Sam. After a little while people began drifting back to work with a promise to see them at the special dinner that night. After almost everyone had left, Sam saw Matthew slip in from the back and get his lunch.
Bill didn’t notice him. Charlie kept quiet, watching the boy. Sam’s hand on his arm brought him back to the present. They rose with Mama Ruth and left the room as well.
After lunch they rested for a little while. No one would allow them to help with the upcoming dinner, the animals or even their own laundry. The pampering was nice.
Mama Ruth brought Dick and his family over after about an hour, for some debriefing.
Dick was holding Ricky's hand, his other on Melanie's back as they moved on inside. Bill was quiet, withdrawn. Charlie looked over at his brother, then took the proffered seat. Sam sat beside him.
Dick looked at Bill, but then focused on Charlie when the older man wouldn’t meet his eyes.
“Look, I do think being with his family is the best thing for Matthew.” Dick began; their topic obvious. “He’s angry, he’s hurt and though he probably doesn't even realize it, he’s scared. He's a little boy whose life has been turned completely upside down a second time. He lost his mother, now he's lost the people that raised him and been forced from his home. The only stability he had for as long as he can remember was his grandparents. They were older and in grief when they got him. You know this, maybe they did spoil him, but I do believe he became their whole world.”
Charlie nodded. He'd seen how scared the boy was under his façade.
“He hasn’t had to work before and he’s not happy about that. He also didn’t spend a lot of time with other people his age. He was living in what had been a retirement village before the virus. There were no children there when he arrived. What followed had to be horrendous to him. Older people did not survive the virus well at all, so he loses his mother, races across country with what they could carry, and moves into basically a hospital ward."
Bill had eased himself into a chair and let his face fall into his hands.
“I wouldn’t take too much on, Bill. I didn’t know this when I met him either. I was mostly irritated that he wasn’t a help along the way, then I realized I was expecting him to act his size rather than his age. He's younger than he looks, and I had to remember that. Ricky was more help and he’s four. But Matthew was coddled. After people quit dying, he became almost a pet to the older people. They weren’t having children and for the most part didn’t know what had happened to their families."
Ricky moved closer to his father and looked over at Bill. “You can’t blame Mulder for this one. You might as well quit trying to find a way.”
Bill looked up stunned.
Dick looked down at his son confused. “Why would anyone blame Mulder for Matthew’s attitude?”
Ricky just looked at Bill, who now refused to meet his eyes. Charlie closed his eyes, shaking his head.
After a minute Dick faced Bill again. “I don’t know, Mulder’s the psychologist, but I’d think talking about his mother, how happy you were when he was born, that kind of thing would help. He’s not going to listen at first, but he might hear. He doesn’t trust anyone, I don’t know how long it will take until he does, but he’s going to be with you now. I wouldn’t let him push you away if you can help it.”
“I won’t. He won’t push me away.” Bill said quietly.
Melanie had left early to help with the dinner, now Dick and Ricky headed for home. Dick wasn’t thrilled with the way the conversation had gone and he wanted to ask Ricky what he’d meant about blaming Mulder, but right now he was tired. He felt Ricky’s hand slip into his and immediately felt better.
He looked down at his son. “You know, I’m glad to be home. I don’t like traveling nearly as much as I used to.”
“I know.” Ricky grinned up at him.
“But we got a great reward, didn’t we? Your aunt is here and your cousins. And we did a favor for Mulder.”
“I like the other reward even more.” Ricky’s smile was full and his eyes were laughing.
“What other reward?”
“My new baby brother. The one you and Mom made me in Florida.”
Dick stopped dead in his tracks, gaping at him. After a minute he found his voice, “Does, does your mother know?”
Ricky shook his head.
Dick grabbed him up then and tossed him in the air. Then he hugged him tightly. “Why don’t we go find her and tell her?”
“Good idea!” The boy hugged his father’s neck and they headed in that direction.
They left two days later. Again Matt rode with Lynne. The donkey was loaded down with gifts and supplies, and it was tethered to the goats to keep everyone together.
They started out with Charlie leading, Bill at the rear. Sam was beside Lynne and Matthew. Lynne looked over at him and smiled. “You ride well.”
“Thanks. I’ve had a lot of experience lately.”
“You’ll be glad to get home.”
“Very. I’m even looking forward to working in the fields again. And I miss my girl, Trisha.”
“You have a brother and a sister too, don’t you?”
“Yeah. Will is my brother, he’s older. Missy is five. She was born after we got to Quonochontaug.”
“Lots of kids there?”
Sam looked over at Matthew, who was pointedly ignoring them. The boy couldn’t help but hear. “A whole bunch. Katy is the oldest born there after . . . well, after. But we’ve had some families move in with kids that are a little older. Dad’s the teacher; we’re back to the old one room schoolhouse with all ages learning together. We’ve got some real little ones too and Anne is gonna have a baby in the fall. She’s the one that Mama Ruth knows. She and Todd named their first baby Ruthie, after Mama Ruth.”
“Who else? Is it a big place? Where will I live?”
“It’s not that big, at least not Quonochontaug Itself. We’re ringed by a lot of villages about our size. We trade with them. When we go on a big hunt, several of the villages will get together so we can all share. Jerry’s our chief hunter. He’s been hunting his whole life, even with a bow, so he’s taught us.”
Sam looked back to make sure Bill was doing okay. “I’m not sure where you’ll be living. Probably at Brittany’s house, at least at first. That’s been where the single women usually go. The men have moved to the clinic. It’s not really a clinic, it’s a mansion, but we use it as our gathering place. It has a big kitchen and we all usually have lunch together. Some people eat all their meals there.”
Matthew still hadn’t spoken, or even looked in Sam’s direction. “What about you? Were you in a town or out in the country?”
"Kind of both. When I was younger, Dad sold a lot of our land to the company that built the retirement village. The center of the complex was the nursing home part, almost a hospital. Then they added a building for people that needed less care, but still older. Eventually they added condos. That's where Matthew lived. Right?” She turned to look at Matthew. He sniffed and didn’t respond.
They moved on to other topics, discussing things that should be of interest to Matthew.
That night after they set up camp and ate, Matthew went on to bed rather than visit with them. Lynne picked up the story where she and Sam had dropped it earlier.
“Everyone in the nursing home died and most of the people in the assisted living part." Lynne looked away for a moment, then continued.
"Mom and I went over to help, but there wasn't much we could do. Finally the city came in and created a mass grave. Matthew's grandfather helped with that. Matthew wasn't there, but the smell, the . . . the horror of it was everywhere. When the virus died out or whatever, maybe the rest of the country could go on, but most of the people around us were already old and in failing health."
She sighed, "For a long time I didn't even know a kid was living with them. If I had, maybe I could have gotten him away occasionally. Kids like to be around animals and he could have had a break. When I did find out, it was too late. And Mrs. Hartley didn't want him out of her sight. When she died, I think Mr. Hartley tried to change things, get him to help out around the place, but . . ."
Bill looked over at his sleeping son and seemed to shrink a little.
"Bill," Charlie's arm went around his shoulders, "You were being held prisoner. There was nothing you could have done. He's young, he can get past this. Yes, he'll remember, but with new better memories . . . We have to try."
Bill nodded, the look of defeat not leaving his face. "I don't know how." He quietly admitted. "I wasn't a father to him when he needed it and I don't know what to do now."
"He still needs it. He'll always need you. None of these kids came with an instruction book. I didn't know, don't know, what I'm doing most of the time."
"Yeah, right. Look at your boys. They're men, fine men."
"Thank you, but I didn't do it alone. My guys have been lucky enough to have a lot of family around their whole lives. That's started for Matthew now."
The yearning look in his big brother's eyes was hard to face. Charlie nodded, "We'll all help."
Sam rose and went over to where Matt was sleeping. He squatted quietly by his head and held his hand out, over Matt's face but not touching him.
Bill opened his mouth to question him, but Charlie shook his head, "It's probably a message from Katy."
For a moment Charlie thought Bill was going to protest that as well, but the older man shut his mouth and looked away.
After Lynne was asleep and Bill had turned in, Charlie joined Sam. “Want to tell me what that was about?”
Sam looked up at him and moved over to make room. “I don’t really know. Katy wanted to give Matt a message. He won’t accept it when he’s awake.”
“Do you know what the message was?”
Sam shook his head. “I got the impression of pictures from home, but nothing specific.”
“So nothing’s wrong at home?”
“No, things are fine. They’d let me know if there was a problem.”
“Good. Get some rest.”
The next morning Bill was riding close to Lynne and Matt, so Sam slowed down to ride beside his father. “Dad, growing up, was Bill like Matt?”
Charlie thought about that for a moment, then shook his head. “Physically Bill was a big guy, like your grandfather, but he was muscular. He was on all the teams growing up, tackle in football, forward in basketball, clean-up batter in baseball. And he was a bully.”
Sam grinned at that.
“In his defense, he kind of had to be, with all the moving around we did. He was always my opposite. I mean, I played some baseball, even a little basketball, but never football. And I think he was born wanting to join the Navy. I never even considered it.”
Charlie sighed, “Bill thought Dad could walk on water. I loved Dad, but we didn’t always see eye to eye. I didn’t like that he was gone so much, and I didn’t like that Bill thought he was ‘in charge’ when Dad was out on maneuvers. Bill and Missy argued all the time. Fortunately I was enough younger than him that he mostly ignored me.”
“What about with Dana?”
Charlie grinned then, “Have you ever noticed that Dana is a little stubborn?”
Sam laughed out loud then. Bill glanced at them but immediately turned back to Matt. “I believe I heard Mulder mention that one or two million times.”
“Yeah, that Dana. She wouldn’t take much off of Bill. She knew he wasn’t Dad and reminded him of it a lot. Really pissed him off.”
“I believe that.”
They dismounted, knowing that they wouldn’t be alone for long. Charlie was more than delighted to be home and off a horse for the foreseeable future. Matthew was looking around, Charlie could see the fear and, and hopelessness in the boy’s face.
They all looked at the sound of others approaching. Sam smiled at the sight of Dana running toward them. Mulder was beside her, his hand out to make sure she didn’t stumble.
Something made Charlie look over at Matthew. His eyes were glued on Dana, his mouth open. He looked as though he was transfixed.
“Oh Matty! I’m so happy you’re here!” She threw her arms around him and hugged him tight. To Charlie’s amazement, the boy’s arms went around her, clinging as though he’d never let go. Tears were streaming down his face.
"The angel. You're the angel." He was murmuring over and over. Scully looked up at Mulder, confused and concerned. She didn't let go of the boy.
Katy joined them from the barn and stood watching them, nodding slightly.
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Mulder, Scully, the Lone Gunman and Skinner all belong to Chris Carter, 10-13 and Fox. No infringement intended.