“They should be here soon, shouldn’t they?” Mary looked over at Scully again. “In a couple of days?” Mary was sitting at the large communal table, preparing the vegetables for canning. Scully stood at the stove. They were alone for the moment, but soon the others would be there for lunch.
“That’s what Katy said yesterday.” Scully smiled at her as she took another jar out of the pressure cooker. She had watched her mother and grandmother can tomatoes and green beans as a child. Doing it herself made her feel very domestic.
“I’ve asked that before, huh?”
Scully chuckled. “Maybe once or twice. I don’t blame you.”
Mary sighed. “I’m just so anxious to see him.”
“Well, you’re not alone there.” Scully looked up as Anne walked in.
“Not alone with what?” Anne asked. The young woman’s long dark hair was pulled back into a ponytail so that she could help with the food. Scully had the fleeting impression that Anne was younger than when she had arrived with Mom and Charlie. She was certainly happier.
“Not alone being anxious to see everyone back here again.” Scully answered.
“Oh yeah. And if you think we’re anxious, you should spend five minutes with Megan.” Anne grinned. All three women laughed. Since learning of her pregnancy, Megan had been more than anxious for Greg to return so that she could share the news. It had been easier to laugh the last couple of days. Work had been fun; people had smiled more easily.
It had been a victory, and it felt good. Whatever had happened between their men and the alien traveling with Esther’s group, Katy has assured them everyone was safe, but details were definitely wanted. Everyone was waiting to welcome their heroes home, as well as Esther and her family.
The men had worked long hours getting a couple of places ready for habitation. No one in the community was an expert on construction, but they were learning as they went and they wanted the new part of their family to feel welcome.
Just a few days ago Byers had surprised Mulder by approaching him about the house he now occupied alone. He’d come by the office late in the day, on the way to dinner. “Mulder, I think my place is the obvious one for the new families. I sure as hell don’t need all the room I have. We took it as four single men. Then Walter got married and Frohike. Now Langly spends more time with Becky than at our place.”
“Are you warning me I’m gonna have to officiate at another wedding?”
Byers grinned, “I don’t know if Langly can go that far. I’ve talked to him though. If things don’t work out . . . it’s still too big a house for us. Anyway, I was thinking about moving into the clinic.”
“Well, not the same room.” He chuckled. “It would make sense Mulder. I spend more time in the lab, and this way I could be on call without having to go out in the cold.”
Mulder sat back, watching him a moment. Byers didn’t meet his eyes, taking in the office that Mulder and Walter shared. He smiled slightly at the difference in the two desks. How the hell did Mulder ever find anything?
“You’re still young Byers. You could meet - “
“I’m not interested Mulder.”
Byers looked directly at Mulder then and, after a moment, nodded.
“It’s been a long time - “ Mulder started, but Byers interrupted him.
“How long would it take you to get over Scully?”
Mulder jerked back, the idea completely foreign. He’d never reconcile to being without her. To fall in love again . . .
Byers allowed himself a faint smile, “That’s what I thought.” He leaned forward as if to leave. “I’ll get someone to help move my things.”
“The house is yours Byers. I would never ask - “
“Which is why I volunteered. Hell, Alex couldn’t snore worse than Frohike.” He grinned and rose. Mulder watched his old friend for a moment. He hadn’t aged much, maybe a couple more white hairs in the beard. He was definitely more filled out than when they’d lived a ‘city’ life and looked healthier for it.
Mulder finally stood and shook his hand. Byers looked a little confused at the gesture. Mulder shrugged, “I’ve grown a damn good family here.”
Byers chuckled, “Yeah. I still can’t believe Frohike has two kids, or a woman like Beth. I’m really glad we came. Now,” he straightened his shoulders, “before we get mushy and hug or something, I need to finish packing.”
After dark, Walter, Charlie, Alex, Byers and Kevin joined Mulder at his house for dinner. Anne and Megan had accepted an invitation from Beth, so that Megan could play with Ruthie and Louise, the youngest members of the family. Megan knew she was having a boy, but playing with the two smallest girls was fun and she relished the practice.
Dinner was eclectic, leftovers from the canning and preserving, but delicious. Everything seemed to taste better now anyway. Charlie put away leftovers; Sam and Byers washed and dried as Mulder put away the dishes. Mulder backed away laughing as Sam shook his wet hands in Byers’ face. Scully and Maggie were in the next room bathing Walt, Lexie and Missy. Alex was reading to Katy while Walter and Mary finished straightening up.
Mulder had never felt more content. He smiled at the thought of Will bringing home a bride, but kept quiet. He wasn’t going to share this information, but the thoughts of the next generation coming together, having families, was somehow comforting. Will was only seventeen, but he was a man now, he’d proven himself. It made Mulder want to keep this place isolated, safe. Yes, his children were still babies, but some day . . .
He looked over at Charlie, “You know, I bet they could use some help about now.”
“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Charlie agreed. They both looked over at Katy. The little girl needed a bath herself. Her long dark hair was coming down out of her ponytail after a long hard day of playing and there were smudges on her knees. At least her hands and face had been washed before she ate. She was definitely his daughter, his eyes, his mouth. Both Katy and Walt looked like him, and Lexie had Alex’s coloring, which was close enough to his. If he missed having a little redhead running around, he always had Missy and Sam.
“Hey, Kiddo.” Mulder called over to Katy. She looked up. “Think Will and the guys could use some help?”
Her eyes were unfocused for an instant then, “Yeah. They’re pretty tired. Hey, can I go?”
“No.” Mulder and Scully spoke simultaneously as she joined them in the living room. Katy rolled her eyes and looked up at Alex. He shook his head at her as well.
“What can’t she do?” Scully whispered as she moved toward Mulder.
“We were thinking about heading south to help out. It probably hasn’t been an easy trip, especially with all those little ones.”
“Who’s we?” She asked dryly.
“Uh, well, me, Charlie and . . . and Kevin.”
Kevin looked up surprised, but pleased, and nodded.
Katy’s lower lip came out, but Scully glanced over at her. “Don’t even try. You’re not going.” At least she’d learned to hold out where the kids were concerned. Mulder’s lower lip still caused her to do things that surprised her.
Mulder chuckled, “It never worked for me either.”
Scully moved closer to him, “Like hell.” She whispered and kissed him. “When would you leave?”
He glanced over at Katy. “Tomorrow morning?”
Katy nodded, a little sullenly. “We would only be away one night.”
“Good, I don’t like being away from you guys.” Mulder gave her a look and she sighed, knowing she wasn’t going to win this one. “Kevin, I know Todd took a lot of the equipment, but do we have enough for the three of us?”
“Yeah, but I better get it together now. We through here?”
Mulder nodded. “You need any help?”
“Nope, see you first thing in the morning.” Kevin headed for the door. Katy jumped up from the chair with Alex and ran to hug him goodnight. The others began gathering up their things.
Sam lifted his little sister, already half asleep, into his arms, and Mary draped her coat around Missy.
“Go get some sleep.” Mulder clapped Charlie on the shoulder. “Walking might sound like a breeze after carpentry, but it ain’t.”
Walter chuckled. “Glad I’m not invited. I remember.” He pulled Maggie close, “You young’uns go have fun. I’ll stay here with the women folk.” Scully glared at him with raised eyebrow.
Maggie laughed out loud, a first in a long time, which brought smiles to Charlie and Scully’s faces. “You’re all crazy. Let’s get out of here, so everyone can get some sleep. I want my whole family home soon.”
“Yes ma’am.” Charlie gave her a quick kiss and herded his family out.
The three men approached the group straight on and Mulder saw Todd call a halt. Then Will's head flew up and he took an immediate step toward them, his excitement overcoming his well-learned caution. Todd's hand in the air stopped him and Mulder smiled inwardly and nodded. Good discipline.
Mulder, Charlie and Kevin had made good time and with Katy’s directions had no trouble finding Todd’s group. Mulder’s innate powers of observation came up automatically, three women, seven men including the men from home, and two children, about eight and five. No, there were four children. The smallest boy, he looked about three, was on Will’s shoulders and he could tell that an even smaller child was riding on one of the women’s backs. That had to be Esther.
Mulder led Charlie and Kevin closer, then stepped forward alone. "Good to see you guys again." He pricked his finger and showed Todd the spot of crimson.
Todd nodded and reciprocated by pricking his own finger. Then Mulder stepped closer and spoke into Todd’s ear, “I want to believe.”
"Good to see you too." Todd said and Mulder clearly heard the note of fatigue. Then Will set John, Esther’s older brother, on his feet and threw himself at Charlie. He was engulfed in his father's arms, unembarrassed by the display. Charlie’s eyes were closed, holding his son close. They were the same height now and the resemblance was startling, the same ginger hair and blue eyes. Mulder turned and placed his arm around Todd’s shoulders.
“Really good to see you, man.” Mulder spoke softly watching the young man.
“You don’t know the half of it.” Todd answered. Mulder nodded. They would talk in depth soon. He turned to greet Greg then and finally hugged Will himself. The last trace of ‘boy’ was gone. Whatever had happened, Will was a man now. There was a confidence about him that had been missing, a maturity that he carried well.
The group with Todd had halted and were waiting quietly for introductions. Mulder took a good look at the littlest girl asleep on what was probably her mother’s back. Esther.
Todd motioned to the young man with a three day beard and long brown hair. “I’d like you to meet George, Esther’s father. Julie?” The young blond woman stepped forward, brushing her bangs away from her face and smiled tentatively. “The youngest boy is theirs, John.” He pointed to the other couple, standing together. “This is Peter, George’s brother, and Chloe, and their kids, Suzie and Pete. And those two are Philip and Lewis.” He smiled, as the third woman, hardly more than a girl, stepped closer to Will. “Jennifer is Julie’s sister. These guys that have come to get us are Charlie, Will’s father, and this is Kevin.” Handshakes started. “And this is Mulder.”
Everyone froze. That Mulder himself would come for them . . .
“Mr . . . Mr. Mulder, it’s an honor . . . “
“Mulder, it’s just Mulder.” He held out his hand to shake with George.
Will turned away and grinned at Kevin. “I think they’re going to kneel and kiss his ring,” he whispered. Kevin struggled to keep his face impassive, but Mulder looked over at them and winked at Will, who blushed.
“We figured you guys could use a little help, and there are several people at home anxious to see you. Plus it’s a good time to stop for tonight. We can make it home in time for dinner tomorrow.”
“Home.” Mulder heard Julie breathe the word, then saw Esther stir and wake. She blinked at the three newcomers, then her eyes widened and she reached for Mulder, jabbering away.
Everyone smiled and Mulder chuckled as he took the little girl from her papoose. “Hi Esther.”
Her arms flew around his neck and held him tightly. He knew he was blushing, but it felt good to have this child in his arms. He looked over at Kevin. “I should have taken language lessons from Lexie.” That drew a chuckle from all of the old residents. The new ones were still in awe and didn’t speak.
After another squeeze, Mulder handed the little girl back to Julie. “We’ll set up camp. You guys can take it easy.”
Todd smiled wearily, but shook his head. “We’ve had a lot of practice. This won’t take long. I hope you brought something fresh to eat.”
Charlie nodded, “We did. Let’s get a fire going.”
When camp was set and the food ready, Mulder sat in a central location and let the others talk, observing his new neighbors. The children were young, but only Esther had been born after the vaccine. He knew that Todd had vaccinated everyone again, when they had met on the road, standard procedure. The group worked well together, after all this time on the road. They were tired, but they leaned on each other well. His first impression was that they would be assets to the community. He hoped he was right.
“Hey Kevin, guess what Lewis used to do.” Greg grinned and Mulder saw color rise in Lewis’ face. “He was a plumber.”
Kevin’s eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. “Tell me he’s not kidding.” He looked at Lewis.
“Uh, no. The last five years that I had a job, I did plumbing.”
Charlie chuckled, “I think we’ve found the man of Kevin’s dreams,” and ducked as Kevin threw an acorn at him.
After eating, Esther toddled over to Mulder, climbed into his lap and settled in to stay. “Hey, Honey, I can’t do my share with you here.”
“Don’t sweat it, Mulder. We’ll make sure your pack is extra heavy tomorrow,” Kevin grinned.
Greg watched the faces of the newcomers and remembered his own awe when people had talked to Mulder like that. Lewis and Phillip were older than him. Peter was too, a little. George was younger. He’d have to let them know that Mulder was just a guy, like them. Okay, maybe not like them, but close enough.
Morning came early. Mulder heard more than one groan as they dismantled the tents. If they could keep up the pace, these people would be in warm beds tonight, with a roof over their heads. Todd and Greg would be in their wives’ arms and Greg would know about his son.
Mulder was a little surprised to see Suzie and Pete take the handles of two wagons that were piled high. He looked over at Todd, who grinned. “Don’t worry; they aren’t that heavy, so the kids usually start out with them. It’s stuff we salvaged along the way. That one’s linens, towels, blankets. Susie’s is winter coats, heavy socks, stuff like that. The larger one has tools, boots, the heavier things.”
Mulder grinned and clapped him on the back. “The women can’t get enough of you, Todd.”
Todd smiled, but it was obvious something was still bothering him. Mulder let it go for now. This wasn’t a good time or place.
He made sure his pack was one of the heaviest, and fell in step with George and Peter. He got them to talk about the community they had left, though he didn’t bring up the old woman who had injured Esther. He wanted Scully there for that.
After awhile, they walked in silence. He watched Will with Jennifer and the youngest boy, John. He had no trouble seeing them as a family sometime in the future with their own child. Will had been vaccinated a long time; it made him wonder how strong their kids would be.
Again, though, they were bringing unattached men into the group. Philip and Lewis would join Kevin, Alex, Jerry and Phil. Even taking Byers from the equation, there was still only Marie and Brittany. Brittany had made it pretty plain she wasn’t interested in a relationship with a man, though she seemed to have no problems working with them. It wasn’t as though he could go out and recruit more single women. Or put an ad in some newspaper: Seeking SWF for post-apocalyptic community.
What was it Alex had said that night in Scully’s apartment - women are going to be a precious resource - of course he didn’t know that more men had survived, only that more men had found their way to him. That was something he should ask Katy or Walt to check. And the only person they had lost had been Kelly, in childbirth. He shuddered inside, remembering Scully’s ordeal of giving birth to Walt all alone. Thank goodness Scully and he agreed on the size of their family. Mulder glanced over at Greg, not envying him for a moment.
Their stop for lunch was brief; everyone was anxious to get home. When Mulder resumed his pack, it was noticeably lighter. He turned to Kevin, “What’s - “
Kevin smiled and pointed to Esther. “Julie exchanged some things with you. Don’t worry, I didn’t let her have much, but you have someone who wants to ride with you.”
“Well, in that case . . . “ Mulder lifted the little girl up over his head and settled her around his neck. “You gonna keep me company, Esther?” She beamed at him and settled right in. Mulder saw the relieved smile on Julie’s face and moved closer to her.
“Did they tell you I’ve got three little ones at home?”
Julie blinked, a little uncertain of how to talk to this man. He continued, giving her a chance to get comfortable. “My oldest is Katy, named after her mother. She’s nearly six now. And a boy, Walt, who’s three, named for my father-in-law. The baby is Lexie. She’s a few weeks younger than Walt.”
“Weeks? Is she adopted?”
He nodded, “Her mother died in childbirth.” Mulder withdrew while the memories overtook him, then shook himself, “And her father was missing. He’s home now, but Lexie is still with us.”
“Is that working out okay?”
“So far. He’s not able to care for a little one alone and he realizes it. She seems to understand that we all love her.”
Julie smiled. “That’s the important thing.” She looked over at Will, walking with Todd and Phil. “I wish I could have seen Will with his father earlier. Maybe we wouldn’t have been so terrified that first night we ran into them.”
She nodded. “It was all such a shock. Nothing was wrong, at least, not that we knew. Then Will and Todd plunged those needles in Stu’s neck and ran. I saw Will snatch up John and grab Jennifer’s hand and keep running. I thought he was taking them, kidnapping or . . . I took a step or two after them, then Todd stopped me. Then Stu just . . . just melted.” She shivered again at the memory.
That explained Katy’s cries in her sleep - ‘Run!’ “Will and Todd stuck hypodermic needles in Stu’s neck?” They’d been that close?
“Yes, and I realize now how brave that was, but at the time . . .” She shook her head.
Brave to the point of madness, but he hadn’t been there. He couldn’t second guess the decisions made. They had used what was available to them, but to be that close and not be certain it would work . . . “Where was Greg?”
“Behind Stu, with his gun on him.”
Mulder nodded. Okay, there had been planning. He’d seen what Greg could do with a gun. But it didn’t make what the other two had done any easier. Damn, no wonder Todd looked shell shocked. The what ifs . . .
Mulder was glad for the first time that winter was coming. There would be no more trips out until Spring. That would give them time to re-evaluate these trips, and get additional information. If their enemies were coming this close, using this kind of tactic . . .
“I should probably check on John.” Julie looked up at him.
“Sure, it was good talking to you.” Mulder smiled at her, then moved over to join Kevin and Lewis.
“You’re about to lose one, Mulder.” Kevin gestured at the tiny girl on his shoulders.
About that time he felt her head come to rest on his. “She look secure?”
“Then she can stay. I’ve had worse than drool in my hair over the last few years.”
Kevin chuckled and Lewis got up the courage to smile.
It was late afternoon when Sam hailed them from a semi-hidden spot beside the road, less than a mile south of their home. “Hey guys! You’re holding things up. Get a move on!” He stepped out laughing. Trisha was with him.
Charlie tried to frown at him. “And just how can you be sure it’s us?”
Sam grinned, “Katy.” But he and Trisha pricked their fingers all the same.
Charlie looked over at Mulder and rolled his eyes, but they returned the gesture.
Mulder looked over at the others, “This is Charlie’s other son, Sam, and this is Trisha.” They could get into explanations of her at another time. “We need to let everyone know we’re here.”
“We’ve already sent word to Katy.” Trisha smiled.
“You sent word . . . how?” Mulder asked.
“Well, if Will can do it . . . “
Mulder took a deep breath, “Okay, this is something we need to get into later. We’ve got tired people here. Let’s go.” He ruffled Sam’s hair. Sam took the handle of one of the wagons and Trisha took the other.
It wasn’t long before the others joined them on the road. Scully was in Mulder’s arms, kissing him as though he’d been gone months rather than overnight.
“Damn Scully, remind me to go away more often.”
“No way, mister. Now introduce me.”
Mulder turned to make the introductions, but realized not many people were paying attention. Mary had Will in her arms, with Charlie’s arms around both of them. She was crying, but they were happy tears. Megan and Greg were lip locked and Todd seemed to have a death grip on Anne. In fact, Anne glanced over at Mulder, concerned.
He nodded reassuringly and bent down to Walt. “Hey, Big Guy, don’t you think Todd could use a hug?”
He looked up at his father and nodded soberly, then hurried to Todd’s side. Mulder watched Katy hug Esther and finally threw his hands in the air.
“Hey guys! Can we do the intros here?”
“Don’t sweat it Mulder.” Scully laughed. “Here’s the plan. We know you’re all exhausted. Your things are already being taken to your new homes. We can straighten out everything tomorrow. There’s hot food, hot showers and clean sheets to be used in any order you wish. We’ll get together tomorrow morning to do the official intros and then have a big celebration dinner tomorrow night. For now, welcome and get some rest.”
Smiling nervously, they followed their guides to their new homes and began settling in. Mulder looked around. “Where are Greg and Megan?”
Kevin laughed. “She hauled him off as soon as she got her hands on him.”
The others laughed, except for Todd and Will. “What?” Todd looked over at Mulder confused.
“I guess it’s not a secret any more. Megan’s pregnant.”
Todd’s mouth dropped open and Will burst out laughing. “I knew it! I knew if they only talked to Dana . . .”
Will clapped Todd on the shoulder. “He might give you a run for your money now - what if they want six or seven?”
Todd shook his head, “I’ll believe it when I see it.” He looked over at Mulder. “Do you want us to debrief after we eat?”
“Do you think you’re going to forget any details?”
“Hardly,” Todd responded.
“Then don’t sweat it. When Greg comes up for air, we’ll get together. Get some rest yourself.”
“I’ll make sure he does.” Anne took Todd’s hand and began leading him toward their home.