Mulder stiffened at the sound of Bill's voice and felt Scully's eyes on him. He glanced toward Maggie and felt regret at the fear he saw in her eyes. Not fear for herself, but for the damage that could be done to her family
He realized that Josh had come to stand behind him. He could feel Charlie's eyes on him, but he couldn't take his eyes from Scully.
Charlie took the lead, moving toward the living room. Bill, Tara and Matthew stood there. Bill did look a little uncertain. "Hi, Bro. We weren't expecting you," Charlie said.
"Yeah, well I didn't call because we weren't sure we could make it. I, uh, decided I couldn't miss the happiest day of my sister's life."
Mulder glanced over at Scully, whose eyebrow had risen.
"Well, you're just in time for dinner." Maggie took control again after hugging Bill and his family. "Dana, Mary, help me get the table fixed. Let's rearrange a little. Fox, you sit here beside me, then Josh and Dana. Charlie can be on the other side with Mary, then Will and Sam. Tara can be on the other side of Dana, then Matthew and Bill at the other end."
Having taken off his coat, Bill wandered into the dining room. "Josh? Who's Josh?"
Everyone froze. Bill's eyes roved over his family, but it was Mulder who stepped forward. Holding the child's hand, he approached Bill.
"Bill, Tara, this is my son, Josh."
Fury leapt into Bill's eyes and his mouth opened.
"Josh is serving as best man in our wedding tomorrow, Bill," Scully informed him, her voice strong, though Mulder could feel her nerves.
Her words seemed to penetrate and Bill hesitated. He looked down at the boy, who tightened his grip on Mulder's hand.
"How old is he?" Bill's voice was almost even.
"He'll be six soon. He's in kindergarten."
They all watched Bill do the math. "Who's the mother?" Now the sound was tight and hostile.
"She put Josh up for adoption. I didn't know about him until a few weeks ago."
Bill turned to Scully. "You're okay with this?"
"I'm very glad we found him, and have this opportunity to give him a good home and love him."
Bill's mouth opened, but before he could speak, Maggie stepped up. "Our dinner is getting cold. Everyone take a seat."
Mulder, Scully, Mary and Charlie moved to join Will and Sam at the table. The boys had wisely taken their seats out of harm's way. Tara looked at Bill as though for instructions, but when he ignored her, she helped Matt into his seat and took the seat beside him. When Bill was the only one still standing, he finally seemed to notice and moved to the foot of the table.
Maggie passed a bowl to Mulder, who placed some food on his plate as well as Josh's, then passed it on to Scully. It was uncomfortably silent; even Matt seemed to understand that when Bill was in that mood there was no reason to talk. Mulder didn't want to dwell on how a boy of three would learn that.
Scully looked over at Mulder with an apology in her eyes. He gave her a slight smile and shook his head. She bit her lips but accepted it.
"Here, let me cut that up or you, Kiddo," Mulder smiled reassuringly to Josh and cut his roast into smaller bites. "Did you want some gravy?"
Josh looked up at him and whispered, "Are we safe?"
Mulder caught the look on Scully's face and his arm went around the boy. It was obvious that everyone at the table had heard him. Even Bill looked slightly uncomfortable. "We sure are. This is Scully's family. I know you don't know them, but they love each other. Her brother just wants to make sure she'll be really happy with you and me. He doesn't know you, or what a great kid you are. He's just looking after his sister."
"Like I'd have looked after Emily if I could have?"
saw Bill freeze. "Yes, exactly like that."
"Emily? He knows about . . . "
"But he's yours and not - " He stopped again and looked at the boy. "Oh God - "
"Would anyone like more wine?" Maggie broke in before he could say more.
"I need a Scotch," Bill replied as he scraped back his chair and left the table.
Dana started to follow him, but Mulder touched her arm. "It'll be okay, Mulder." She continued to rise. Mulder pushed back his chair but Charlie shook his head.
"Let me go with her, Mulder."
"You shouldn't have to - "
"It's better, really." Charlie laid his napkin on the table and rose.
Mulder watched them leave the room feeling torn. He couldn't leave Josh alone, but he was supposed to have Scully's back, especially when he was the reason for the problem in the first place. He turned to Maggie. "I'm sorry for - "
She patted his hand and shook her head. "It's not your fault, Fox. Let's go ahead and eat." She picked up her fork and Mary did likewise. Maggie got the boys to talk, asking about school and sports, occasionally explaining something to Josh. It was actually a lot more comfortable now.
Scully watched Bill pull the bottle of Scotch from the cabinet in the living room and lift it to see the level of the liquid. He grabbed a glass from the bar and poured a generous drink into it. Before she could think of what to say, Charlie passed her.
"Enough to share there, Bro?"
"Not really." Bill downed the drink in one and reached for the bottle again.
"That's enough for now." Charlie took the bottle. "Kids in the house, remember?"
"I'm - " he stopped from further comment when he saw Scully's white and strained face. He put the glass back down on the bar and turned to her. "Well?"
"Well what, Bill? Is Josh my son? Yes, and he is Mulder's. He's healthy, if that matters to you, unlike Emily." Bill winced but didn't turn away. "If you're thinking that Mulder had an affair and I'm upset about it, that didn't happen."
"So, he was born like, like the little girl?"
"Emily. Her name is Emily."
Bill winced, but didn't say anything.
"Bill?" Charlie moved closer and slipped the bottle of Scotch back into the cabinet. "You said you wanted to be here for the happiest day in your sister's life. Tomorrow is it. She's going to marry the man she loves and she's found their child, alive and safe."
"I know that," Bill growled. "But why does it have to be so damn strange? It's always like that with, with Mulder. Why, just once, couldn't it be normal?"
Stricken, Scully turned and headed for the stairs. "Dana," Charlie tried to stop her, but she evaded him and headed upstairs.
"You really know how to give a girl a good time, don't you, Bill." Shaking his head, he followed her upstairs. Bill took a seat in the nearest chair and closed his eyes.
Charlie tapped on the door, but didn't wait for Scully's invitation. "Don't do it, Dana."
She didn't turn to face him, staring out the window. "Don't do what?"
"Over think it. You love Mulder. You have for a long time. The two of you have a child together, a boy who needs you and is already bonding with you."
"I know that."
"So tell me what you're thinking."
Her shoulders slumped. "Bill has a point."
"On top of his head."
She did chuckle but still didn't turn from the window. "True, but he's right."
"It's never normal, how can it ever be 'normal' with Mulder? Yes, Josh is our son, but look at how he was born. He's healthy as far as we know, but are there others? Children we'll never - "
"Stop. Dana, stop right there. I don't have those answers, but I don't have answers about Mary and me either. Will we have more kids, if we do, will they be healthy?"
"You know it's not the same."
"Why not? I love Mary and whatever happens or has happened that we don't know about yet, or will happen, I'm still gonna love her and want her, need her in my life."
She did turn then.
"Yes, compared to your life, Mary's and mine are dull as dishwater a lot of the time. That works for us, you two are excitement junkies."
"We are not - "
"I don't think you planned to be, but look at your life. It suits you, Dana. It's what you were born to do. Not physics, not even medicine full time. You should hear your voice when you call me and tell me what you can about what you've been doing. You're invigorated. You are doing what you want with your life. You and I both know if you didn't, you'd have left it, or allowed 'them' to steer you in another direction. We both know they've tried."
Scully sighed and sank down on the foot of the bed. "It can't continue like that. With a child - "
"You'll adapt. I'm not telling you it will be easy. Parenting ain't for wimps, but you and Mulder will work out something that's right for you. It wouldn't be right for Mary and me or even for Bill and Tara. Do you think Mom realized what she'd bitten off when she married Dad? They made it work and it was normal - for them. Look at me," he touched her chin. "I'm not telling you anything you don't already know."
She managed a small smile. "No, I suppose not. But it is nice to hear someone else say it. Mulder already feels so guilty over everything he thinks he's 'put me through' and can't see that I won't go away."
"Finally marrying him should say a lot."
"Are you going to tell me he hasn't been after you for years?"
"I certainly am. He never asked me to marry him before we found Josh."
"That's because by myself, I wasn't worthy of you," Mulder's voice was low, but she heard every word clearly.
She turned and stared at him. He shrugged. Damn it, he'd come to the door so quietly, she hadn't heard him.
Charlie cleared his throat. "I'm missing Mom's pot roast, so I'll, uh . . . " He moved around Mulder and left the room.
"With your mother and his cousins."
"You know that's not true."
"No, honest, Will and Sam are -
"That's not what I'm talking about. You don't really believe I only agreed to marry you because of Josh."
He shrugged and her eyes widened.
"No, Mulder. That's not - " Her arms went around his waist and her head rested over his heart. His arms wrapped around her.
"I'll try to make it normal for you, Scully."
She closed her eyes and her arms tightened around him. "I don't know about 'normal', but only you can make it right for me. I wish Bill had never shown up."
"He's your brother. And he's not wrong."
"But he's also not right. You and I aren't normal according to his standards. Have you ever known me to want to live by Bill's standards? Charlie is the one you should have heard."
"You're the only one I want to listen to, Scully. Are we still getting married?"
She jerked and stared up at him. "Yes, Mulder, yes. I want to marry you."
"It is better for Josh."
"No, it's better for me. You need to believe that."
"I want to believe."
She took his hand and led him back downstairs.
They got through the rest of the evening. Will and Sam included Josh completely and they all three played with little Matt, to his utter delight. Will and Matt took on Sam and Josh in a couple of video games and Scully shared smiles with her sisters-in-law at the sound.
The men, banned from the TV in the family room by the boys, moved out to the screened-in porch and after a little while, began talking sports. Charlie wasn't at all surprised to discover that Mulder and Bill didn't share a single team in their list of favorites. It grew chilly out there, more from the company than the temperature, but Charlie stuck it out.
"I guess you're not getting much of a bachelor's party."
Mulder looked over at him startled. "Uh, don't need one."
"Your last night of freedom," Charlie coaxed.
"No, last night of being alone," Mulder correct him. Charlie smiled.
"Are, uh, are you going on a honeymoon?" Bill asked.
"No. We don't want to leave Josh alone yet. The adoption isn't complete. We don't want to jeopardize that."
"You're adopting him?"
"She is. I'm his biological father, so I got custody because there were no other relatives. We don't want the fact that we know she's the biological mother known to the courts. It just causes too many questions."
Nobody spoke for a long moment.
"You should still have some sort of honeymoon," Charlie said, ignoring the look on Bill's face.
"We're cool with it."
"Yeah, but still . . . " Mulder shook his head, so Charlie dropped it.
"It's nearly bedtime for Josh. We better get going, if I can get him away from his new cousins. He never had any family like this before. I appreciate the way your boys took him in."
"Yeah, uh, Matt enjoyed it too." Bill said just a beat late.
"They're pretty good kids, thanks to Mary."
"Now that I believe," Bill tried to grin. Charlie gave him a friendly finger. Even Mulder grinned at the byplay as he rose. Scully was at the door before he made it to his feet. Charlie looked down smiling. They were always on the same page. Maybe things were not his normal, but they were right for each other. Too bad Bill refused to see it.
Maggie had lost her bid to have Scully spend the night at her house and now with Bill and family here, it was a moot point. She promised her mother to meet them at the chapel at ten the next morning to dress. The ceremony was scheduled for eleven. At least Maggie had gotten her way about Mulder not seeing the dress before the ceremony.
Josh was asleep by the time they got home. Mulder gathered him up and carried him inside. He didn't even wake when Mulder changed him and tucked him in. Scully kissed him goodnight and just stood watching him for a long moment.
"He is real."
"I know. It's like looking at you when you were a boy, before everything. He's so innocent. Do you think we can keep him that way?"
Mulder shook his head at that. "I think we can make sure he knows he's with us, that he belongs and we want him. But innocent, we can't do that, Scully. I think he already knows more than we realize."
"I know." She leaned against Mulder and he hugged her to him.
"Scully, can you live with the strangeness?"
"Mulder, I'm sorry - "
"No, don't apologize. It's really not too late to change your mind. You'd still be in Josh's life. I would never - "
"And your life? Would I still be in yours?"
He eased her out of the room. "Yes. That's a given. However you want it, however you can make me fit, I'll be in your life."
"That's not enough for me, Mulder. I'm all in, do you understand that? I know you, I know your baggage. You know mine, and we're still together. Tomorrow I'm going to marry you - for better or worse and we're going to raise our son together."
He pulled her to him and just held her. When he led her into her bedroom, he shut the door firmly behind them.
She had the hint of a smile on her lips watching him. "You know we're still not actually married."
"True, but you know how I like to do research."
Her eyebrow started its ascent, but his kiss cut that off.