Hurricane Season

Hurricane Season by rah and beduini

Rating: NC-17

Category: MSR, Angst ? no X-File, no mytharc, total ship piece.

Disclaimer: We did not create these characters. Charlie, Joy, Wim,
and for the most part, Tara and Matthew are ours, though.

Spoilers: Everything through Existence

Summary: “Old habits die hard.”

Feedback: hurricane@justduckies.org

Thanks to: Mayor Sybil, Deputy Mayor Melly, and the Bestest Quack
Lari, for their sage advice, inspired ideas, brave criticism, and
late hours. We loveses our Duckies! :V quack!

Thanks also to all of the pointy-stick bearing, pom-pom waving,
song-singing people out there who helped keep the positive energy
flowing, and never flagged in your encouragement and support during
the composition of this story.

~

HURRICANE SEASON
by rah and beduini

~
Saturday,
Mid-September
~

“Bad news Scully, April showers might bring May flowers but it also
makes for lousy baseball…”

He was barely inside the front door of her apartment when he met her
most severe ‘shut up, I’m on the phone’ look, thrown at him with an
arched brow from across the warmly lit room. Closing his mouth and
tossing his car keys onto the nearest table, Fox Mulder shrugged out
of his wet jacket, hanging it on the nearby coat rack as she turned
her back to him.

Round hips, slim waist, shoulders straight. Scully’s stance was
tense, while her voice remained familiar. “I know,” she said softly
into the receiver.

He cataloged her smallest gestures and intonation, trying to get a
quick read on what he had just walked into. Neck stiff, economical
movements. She was talking to someone close, probably a family
member. Probably her mother. She was picking up small items around
the apartment and putting them back down again, muttering her
responses unintelligibly. He deduced that whatever the subject, it
was something she didn’t want to discuss. Probably him, their
Amazing Undefined Relationship, the baby’s christening, or…

“I don’t want to talk to him right now.” Her tone sharpened
emphatically, and he heard each word clearly.

Okay, he qualified – the subject of the conversation was not *him*
as in *Mulder* him. It was him as in –

Her head bowed, Scully pressed a palm to her forehead, closing her
eyes. “Yes, I received Tara’s card.”

– Big Brother Bill *him*.

“It doesn’t make up for the things he sa-” She took a breath. “I
know, Mom. No, it’s not because of that. He’s not even going to be
there, is he? No, as I said, this just isn’t a good time for us.”
She had a hand on her hip, pacing across the living room like a
caged panther. Her voice dropped in volume, and her shoulders
hunched. “I’m sorry. No, I know you do.”

She glanced up with an apologetic look, and Mulder offered her a
faint, supportive smile. Straightening her back, her tone changed.
“Mom, Mulder’s back, I gotta go…” The convenient escape from an
inconvenient conversation, he thought wryly as she hung up the
receiver with a reserved, “I love you too.”

“Why am I always the excuse for getting you off the phone?” he
voiced his thought aloud when she turned to face him.

She let out a long huff, her shoulders visibly dropping. “You’re
not. But I just put Wim down to sleep and she knew that so I had to
think of something else.”

He crossed the room toward her, thinking a little support might be
in order. Just as he reached out to lay a hand on her shoulder, she
glanced up at him and commented, “You’re wet.”

Dropping his hand back to his side, he nodded mutely as she turned
and stalked into the bathroom. She reappeared a moment later
carrying a clean, off-white bath towel.

“The game was rained out,” he said in response to her questioning
look. He accepted the towel and rubbed it over his damp head until
his dark, cropped hair stood up on end. Outside, he could hear the
soft rhythm of the rain hitting the windows as the storm grew in
intensity.

“Did you say something about flowers?” she asked, distracted from
the conversation, probably by the sound of the rain.

He shook his head. “Nothing important. It was a joke ? and a bad
one, since it’s September, not May.”

She took the towel from his hand and gently dried his damp face,
draping the towel around the back of his neck so each end hung down
on either side of his chest. When her eyes met his, they relayed
her sympathy. “I’m sorry about the game, Mulder. I know you were
looking forward to it.”

“So am I ,” he replied softly, watching her face grow focused as
her attention diverted and she brushed her thumb over a drop of
water slowing forming a rivulet under his chin. She pursed her lips
slightly, and he smiled, caught mid-breath by a familiar pang of
affection. “Actually…that’s not *entirely* true…”

Raising her face, her eyes met his with a quizzical look. “Oh?”

“Yeah,” he whispered, pulling her gently forward by the lapels of
her untucked shirt. “C’mere…”

He leaned toward her, slowly capturing her lips between his, feeling
her mouth respond and part under the gentle quest of flesh against
flesh. When they pulled apart, she let out a soft sigh.

He nodded his head toward the telephone. “You wanna talk about it?”

She sighed again, more audibly this time, and reached up to grasp
the ends of the towel. “Mom has taken a beach house in North
Carolina for a week and she’s encouraging us to join her.” There
was emphasis on the word ‘encouraging,’ accompanied by a soft tug on
the towel, telling him everything he needed to know about how much
Maggie wanted them with her at the beach. He wondered briefly who
was included in the ‘us,’ of us, and decided that it meant him as
well. “Where in North Carolina?” he asked.

She paused, and he saw the glimmer of realization in her
expression. He had told her a little about his mother’s family the
day they drove to Raleigh for her memorial service, and no doubt she
had made the connection. The Kuipers had lived near Raleigh, but
spent their summers on the Carolina shore.

“Cape Hatteras,” she replied. “You’ve been there, haven’t you?”
The inflection in her voice made it sound more like a statement than
a question.

“Not in a very long time.”

He had spent some time in Hatteras, but not since he was nine or
ten. The Mulders had grown away from his mother’s family, spending
all of their summers on Martha’s Vineyard during his adolescence and
teens. Not wanting her to feel pressured by this tenuous connection
to his mother’s relatives, he reached out and brushed the backs of
his fingers over her cheek. “I don’t have any strong associations
one way or the other about it.”

“I told her it wasn’t a good time for us,” Scully hummed, leaning
into his touch, and leaving her explanation at that. Mulder felt
the weight of her words ? both said and unsaid – as his hand
caressed her cheek. *Not a good time.* With the wealth of issues
unspoken and unresolved between them right now, spending a week
under the same roof with her conservative Catholic mother probably
wasn’t the best idea; spending a week under the same roof with one
another was problem enough.

Their son was already four months old, and they still kept separate
apartments. Sure, he spent most days and nights at her place, aside
from a night or two when he’d gone home to his own empty apartment,
feeling alone and misplaced. They hadn’t spent a night apart in
well over two months, but letting go of his residence was a subject
they had yet to broach, and their current situation felt anything
but permanent. This non-arrangement was just one of many ties to
their past and their shared work, that – like their future – had
become a subject they carefully avoided.

He nodded in assent, and slid his hand behind her head to draw her
closer, wrapping her in his arms. Touching was something they both
used in lieu of words like ‘future’ and ‘commitment,’ even if
neither of them could imagine life without the other. Giving voice
to those feelings was much more difficult.

Scully closed her eyes and slid her arms around his waist in
response, raising his body heat and summoning his extremities to
take notice. It had been some time since they’d shared anything
more intimate than a hug and a kiss; their physical relationship had
been on indefinite hold as Scully recovered from the trauma of
childbirth and they both grew accustomed to the endless
responsibilities of parenthood. But here they were, alone and
wrapped in one another’s arms. Wim was asleep, having just gone
down for a nap, and probably wouldn’t be up again for at least an
hour. It wasn’t the amount of time Mulder would have liked, but it
was *something.*

Even as he calculated the odds of such a rare opportunity, he could
tell how tired she was just by the way her entire body seemed to
melt into his.

“Did you get any rest today?” he asked, tilting his face down next
to hers and shifting his hips slightly. He didn’t want her to feel
pressured into sex just because he couldn’t stop his body from
responding to the feel of her in his arms. They stood that way for
a long moment, holding each other in the uncharacteristically still
apartment, lulled by the constant patter of the rain.

“Some,” she replied in a non-committal tone.

“Did you have another dream?” he prompted, knowing that since Wim
was born she’d been experiencing disturbing dreams, all with the
same recurring theme: someone or something takes Wim away from her
and she is unable to move. Considering the way that he had been
brought into the world, and the circumstances surrounding his birth,
Mulder knew that her concerns were not unfounded. But there had
been no actual incident more serious than diaper rash since then,
and they had no reason to think that their safety was in question
now. No reason except old fears and a whole lot of history.

She was silent a moment, then nodded. “I woke up before it went too
far,” she said. He pressed his lips against the top of her head,
stroking his hand over her hair.

Feeling suddenly drained and in need of rest himself, he said, “Why
don’t you lay down right now while he’s sleeping. I’ll keep an ear
out for him just in case.” She took a step back and with a ragged
sigh, glanced up at him for reassurance. He offered her an
encouraging smile, taking her hand and entwining their fingers.
“Maybe I’ll join you for a while, as long as you promise not to hog
all the covers.”

~

Late afternoon turned to night while Scully slept, curled on her
side while Mulder read beside her. When the baby woke and began to
fuss for his bottle, Mulder got up gently and took him to the
kitchen so he would not wake Scully.

Wim drank hungrily, nestled in his father’s arms as Mulder paced the
apartment, padding softly from room to room, making slow circuits
around the space that was becoming – by default if not design – his
home. He breathed deeply as his gaze wandered among the familiar
comforts each room, and he wondered exactly when it was that he had
stopped feeling like a guest in this apartment. He felt more at
home here than at his own apartment anymore, although perhaps that
was not saying much. Despite a few vaguely inspired attempts at
decoration, his existence there had been the example of bachelorhood
at its most Spartan and neglectful, and his comfort had never
depended on more than knowing where his things were. There had
always been too many other things to occupy his thoughts. But
living at Scully’s was different. In ten years at his own place, he
had never achieved the kind of comfort he’d felt in the last four
months at her apartment.

Of course he had brought over the necessities – his favorite shirts,
his books, his razor ? and there was evidence of his habitation in
every room; his jacket draped over the kitchen chair, his laptop and
papers on the table, his toothbrush in the bathroom. The rest of his
things waited in dusty silence for the occasional visits he made to
collect his mail and check the answering machine; so far only the
fish tank had made it out, and now looked much more at home on her
sideboard. Other than that, he had not put anything in a box, had
not given more than the most passing thought to moving out. Not
yet. Perhaps not ever.

The bottle drained, he propped Wim up against his shoulder, tapping
his tiny back lightly to release any air he may have swallowed. Wim
burped – twice – and burrowed into his father’s shoulder, lulled
back into a somnolent state, content for the time being. Mulder
continued his circuit, listening to the rain dripping from the trees
outside, Wim’s soft grunts, and Scully’s slow, heavy breathing in
the other room. He stopped in the doorway to the bedroom. With his
hands wrapped gently but firmly around Wim’s sleeping body, he
surveyed the dimly lit room. His shoes lay on the floor near the
closet. The jeans he’d worn the day before were still loosely
folded on top of the small chair, the books he was reading piled and
scattered around his side of the bed. Beneath and around Scully’s
somnolent form, the sheets and covers were thoroughly rumpled, the
pillows marked with the imprint of his head as well as hers.

*His side of the bed*.

It had not started out that way, but that’s how it had become. One
bed. Their bed. Their bedroom. He brought Wim to the small crib
set within easy reach of Scully’s side of the bed, and lay him down.
Then, moving lightly so as not to wake mother or son, he moved to
his side of the bed, switched off the reading lamp, and settled down
to join them in slumber.

~

He hadn’t been asleep for long when he awoke with a start, aware
that Scully had left the bed. Fog-diffused light from the street
lamps outside bathed the room in non-dimensional yellow-gray,
blurring the shadows so that he had a hard time distinguishing the
walls from the furniture from the damp air. He blinked, breathing
in and out through his nose, and peered through the dim slats of the
crib. She had taken the baby with her.

The rain had stopped, leaving the world outside heavy and dripping.
Mulder walked out to the kitchen, raking his scalp with his fingers.
This was becoming ritual; each creak of the floorboards was like a
familiar greeting. He stopped in the doorway.

Scully stood with one hip against the counter, her back to him, her
silken figure silhouetted in the blue light from one of the stove’s
burners. The rose-gold of Wim’s head was just visible over her
right shoulder. Mulder stopped and let out another breath to alert
her to his presence.

“Is everything okay?” he asked.

She turned, her chin skimming over the baby’s head as she glanced
back at him, and he knew, in the instant it took for her face to
crumple and two quick tears to slip over her cheeks, that everything
was not okay. She’d had another nightmare; the remnants of it clung
to her like shadows. Shuffling forward, Mulder rounded the table
and pulled her and the baby into his arms.

“I can’t keep doing this,” she said against his chest, her voice
thick, breaking on a sob. The baby whined, squirming between them.
“I can’t…”

Mulder wrapped his hands around Wim’s middle and stepped back,
taking the baby onto his own shoulder just as Wim let out a long,
brittle cry. Scully put out an automatic hand, but let it drop when
Wim quieted almost immediately. Mulder cast a rueful smile at her
over the baby’s head, but she had turned away, snapping the burner
off and leaning back against the counter with a ragged sigh. She
looked exhausted. He glanced at the bottle warming in the pan on
the stove. “Go on back to bed,” he said, bouncing gently. “I’ll
feed him.”

She looked up at him, eyes dark with fatigue. “I can’t sleep
anymore.” Her voice held a trace of amazement and more than a
little helplessness. She shook her head. “I’m just so tired,” she
said, crumpling anew.

Reaching out with his free hand, Mulder touched her shoulder and
folded her against him again. He had them both, his heart and his
soul, trapped within the safe enclosure of his arms. He swayed them
slowly, pressing his cheek to Scully’s smooth hair.

“Can you tell me?” he asked, meaning the nightmare. She didn’t like
to tell him about the specters that disturbed her sleep more often
even than Wim. Mulder knew that she felt self-conscious about her
seemingly irrational fears, and that, beyond her chagrin, there was
also a reluctance to add to his worries. He had been through
nightmares of his own since his recent return from the ranks of the
missing and the dead – most of them waking – but he also knew that
old habits died hard. For the better part of eighteen months,
Scully had been her own bastion, had held her crumbling world
together by sheer strength of mind and will. She had forgotten how
to lean. She didn’t know how not to be the strong one. He slid his
hand along her spine, his fingers sifting through her hair and
cupping the back of her head.

“Tell me,” he said.

“It’s always the same,” she said. She was silent for a moment,
drips from the sodden trees outside punctuating the darkness.. Wim
began to fuss again, and she moved out of Mulder’s arms. “I don’t
want to think about it,” she said. She turned and lifted the bottle
from the pan on the stove, rolling it experimentally between her
hands.

“It might help,” he said, watching as she nudged a chair away from
the table with her foot. “If you brought it into your conscious
mind, you’d be less likely -”

“Here.” She cut him off brusquely, her arms held out. He shut up,
taking the hint. She was too tired to listen to his lame
psychology, and too polite to tell him to shove it. He took Wim
from his shoulder and handed him to her.

“You need to get some real sleep, Scully,” he said, shifting to sit
on the edge of the table. She sank onto the chair, settling Wim
into the crook of her arm. Mulder felt a familiar fondness creep
over him at the sight of them. They were always beautiful to him,
but there was no ignoring the dark circles under Scully’s eyes.
“You’re exhausting yourself.”

She looked away and let out a heavy breath, an impatient breath, as
she teased Wim’s lip with the rubber nipple. Wim fussed, turning
his head away from the offered formula with a hitching, petulant
cry. Scully let out another frustrated sigh and set the bottle down
on the table, hard.

“Scully…”

“Take him.”

“Scully, it’s okay -”

“Just take him -?”

Wim was in full-throated protest now, and Mulder leaned down to take
him. Scully got up immediately and walked away from the table, her
hand pressed against her lips. Mulder didn’t know when he had ever
seen her this anxious, this fundamentally upset. He could feel her
tension like a vibration in the room. Bouncing the baby against his
shoulder, he watched as she paced the kitchen floor. He waited
until Wim was quiet again before he spoke.

“When was the last time you were out of the apartment?” he asked.

She looked up in surprise. “We went out yesterday,” she said.

“No,” he qualified, reaching for the bottle. “I mean by yourself.
Without this guy.”

She didn’t answer him, her face blank. It was a rhetorical
question, after all. They both knew she had not been away from Wim
for more than a few minutes since his birth. She brought him with
her everywhere; when they went out, she kept him close to her body,
bundled into a carryall slung over her chest; inside, she carried
him with her from room to room in his car-seat. She wouldn’t even
step into the shower unless Mulder was there to watch him for the
few minutes it took her to lather and rinse – he doubted she allowed
herself the time to repeat.

He had brought it up before, briefly, when she had refused her
mother’s offer to sit with Wim while they went out to eat. The
ferocity with which she had rejected the idea had startled all of
them, and in the end Maggie had left, her feelings bruised, and
Mulder had walked down the block for take-out. He watched Scully
now, waiting for her reaction.

Scully sagged, her shoulders slumping, her head thrown back in an
attitude of defeat. Mulder set his foot on the abandoned chair and
lay the baby along his thigh, plying the nipple to his rosebud mouth
again. Wim scrunched his face, refusing the bottle with another
irritable grunt. Mulder jogged the knee under him gently, crooning
“Okay-okay-okay-” and glancing up at Scully.

“Maybe we should go,” he said. No emphasis. No intonation. Just a
suggestion. She picked her head up and regarded him closely.

“To Hatteras,” she clarified.

He nodded, hearing the hint of acceptance in her voice. He knew the
idea was tempting to her. Otherwise, she wouldn’t have mentioned it
to him earlier, her voice masked with studied nonchalance and
aggravation. Maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea. He hadn’t worked
since he’d resigned from the Bureau, and she was officially on
maternity leave until the end of October. Time wasn’t an issue.
Maybe a week at the beach was just what they needed.

Scully let out a breath, not ready to give in. “I don’t know…”

“You need to get away from this place, Scully,” he said, glancing
down at the baby. Wim’s eyelids were drooping, low and sleepy,
fluttering as he fought to stay awake. Stubborn, Mulder thought
with a grin. Just like his mom. “You’ve been stuck in this
apartment for four months now,” he said. “And it might be nice – a
week at the beach.” He paused and looked up at her. “I’m sure we
can take whatever precautions needed to make it safe, if that’s -”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “No, it’s not just that.”

He watched her. “Your mom, then?”

She rolled her neck, shrugging. Straightening up, she moved toward
them and laid her hand gently on Wim’s head. “It’s my mom, it’s my
brother…” she glanced up at him briefly, “it’s Wim…it’s *us*…”
she stopped, her hand sliding down to grasp his knee. “It’s a lot
of things,” she said. “I don’t know.”

He nodded, saying nothing. He was tempted to ask her what she meant
by ‘us,’ even if he already knew. She meant all of the things they
hadn’t talked about – all of the questions and problems and issues
and hopes and fears that hung, untouched, unresolved between them,
including and compounded by the fact that they had carefully avoided
the conversation any time it came up.

Like now.

“Your brother will be there?” he asked, creating the habitual
diversion. The thought of spending a week with Bill Scully was not
one that Mulder relished. Bill Scully had detested him from the
first moment they met.

“No,” she replied, pursing her lips. “We just have differences that
my mother wants to see ironed out, and I know it will come up…”

He reached out to touch her face and bring her eyes back up to his.
“I think we should go,” he said. She stared at him, taking a deep
breath in and holding it. “I think we should go,” he said again.
She let her breath go.

“My mother would still be there with us,” she warned.

“I know.”

“She’s going to bring up a lot of questions I – we – may not be able
to answer -”

“Well -” He brushed his thumb across her cheekbone still damp with
tear-tracks, careful to keep his voice toneless, light. “Maybe
that’s not such a bad thing, Scully.”

She was quiet. She dropped her eyes, gazing down at Wim, who had
finally given in to sleep. She smiled down on him before she looked
back up at Mulder.

“You’re sure?” she asked, bringing her hand up to his cheek,
reflecting his own gesture. Her thumb smoothed his sideburn.
“You’re sure you wouldn’t mind?”

He turned his head to smile into her palm, and laid a gentle kiss
there. “Tell your mom we’re coming,” he said.

She sighed then, a sigh of relief, and he watched as some of the
tension built up around her neck and shoulders found release in it.
She stepped forward and pressed her lips to his, once, twice.
“Thank you,” she whispered.

He drew her close and held her to him with one arm. “Come on,” he
said when they parted. He scooped Wim gently against his shoulder
and got up from the table, bringing them both back to bed.

~
Saturday
Late-September
~

“…No word on that from the National Weather Service yet folks, but
we’ll be sure to keep you informed! For the latest on Tropical
Storm Felix, keep it tuned right here to 97.1 WYND ‘The Wind’ – the
Outer Banks’ *best* -”

Mulder hit the ‘seek’ button on the car radio again and turned the
air-conditioning off. “Never let it be said that your mother
doesn’t have spectacular timing, Scully,” he said with a grin. He
put their windows down, and the car was filled with a roar of
swirling, sea-scented air.

Despite the tropical depression churning ever westward over the mid-
Atlantic and the dire predictions they had been hearing all day, the
weather could not have been prettier. The sky had taken on the pale
blue and gold of a dwindling afternoon in late summer, the clouds
not quite pinked with sunset yet. She couldn’t see the ocean from
the road, but she could smell it now – knew that it was the other
side of the dunes on their left. The last several miles had seen a
definite shift in the mood inside the car. She took in a deep,
contented breath of fresh air.

The holiday had begun.

Dana Scully smiled broadly as the wind lifted her hair, whipping it
ribbon-like around her face. She pushed it away from her forehead
and held it back as she grinned over at him. “You’re *not* going to
complain about the weather -!” she said, raising her voice over the
noise. Mulder smiled back.

“Ground-zero for tropical cyclones at the peak of hurricane season?”
he shouted. “What’s to complain about?”

She gazed out her window, laughing. “That’s what I thought,” she
said. She looked back at him suddenly. “This time, if there’s an
evacuation -” she said, “- we’re not waiting around to see what
slithers out of the plumbing -”

Mulder took his eyes from the road long enough to give her his most
wounded look. “I can’t imagine what you mean by that, Scully -”

“You know *exactly* what I’m talking about, Mulder,” she said,
referring, of course, to a case they had worked on together years
ago. A lifetimes ago, when their relationship was easily
categorized by their working partnership. She twisted to look into
the backseat, where Wim was zonked out in his carrier, oblivious to
the wind and noise. She reached an arm back and gave his elbow a
little squeeze. “And…I can’t say as I’d be there to save your ass
again this time,” she added, turning back to face front. “I’ve got
other things to worry about now…”

Mulder shook his head in amazement. “Save *my* ass? Oh Scully, how
quickly we forget…”

“How quickly *you* forget, Mulder. I have perfect recall of that
whole horrible night.”

“Then you’ll no doubt remember that *I* was the one who realized the
fresh-water connection when I saw the cat sitting out -”

“Yeah, and meanwhile I had already shot out the sprinklers.”

“Um, I don’t *think* so -”

“- and what saved lives that night, Mulder?” she went on, gazing out
her window at the passing dunes. “My setting the sprinklers off, or
your *cat revelation*..?”

“Since when did *you* shoot the sprinklers out?” he protested. “You
didn’t shoot anything out that night – it was that guy -”

“Mr. Suarez,” she supplied. “But I was the one -”

“No buts, Scully,” he said, letting his mock indignation slip with a
laugh. He reached across to snip her nose. “I can’t believe you
remembered that,” he said, still laughing.

“I delivered the man’s first-born son, Mulder,” she said. “I would
hope I’d remember his name…”

Their laughter faded gently as they fell silent, and the constant
buffeting of the wind was the only sound for the next several mile-
markers. The empty dunes and the thickets of holly and black pine
had begun to give way to houses – large vacation houses with
weathered natural siding and layers of screened-in porches and sun-
decks, looming over the dunes on lattice-covered stilts. Scully
reached over and laid her hand over his leg, lightly grasping his
thigh.

“I’m glad we came down here,” she said. “Storm or no storm.”

~

Mulder turned the key in the ignition and they sat in the resting
car a moment, sizing-up the house.

It was a two-story structure on stilts, with slate blue siding and
white trimmed windows and doors. There was a large deck on one
side, with patio furniture and a built-in-barbecue. A flight of
wooden steps indicated a balcony of sorts around the other side.

“Nice,” he commented, wondering why three people and a baby needed
such a large house for a week at the beach.

“Very nice,” Scully replied, her eyes moving away from the structure
to follow the wood-planked walkway that extended over the sand dunes
and grass toward the impatient sea.

They both opened their doors and stepped out of the car, the salty
air blowing Scully’s hair back away from her face. She lifted her
head and closed her eyes, a soft smile playing on her lips as the
breeze caressed her face once again, like the return of a phantom
lover.

The air smelled of sea and lumber, and Mulder smiled at the beauty
of the impromptu moment, the pleasant and familiar surroundings,
grateful once again that they had decided to come. They needed this
time together, away from the confines of apartment and city.
Crossing behind the car, he pulled open the back passenger door to
unsnap Wim’s carrier from its base.

Wim kicked his chunky legs, impatient to see more than the inside of
the car. “We’re here, buddy,” Mulder smiled at him, kissing the
downy top of his soft head. Wim turned his face to greet the wind
much like his mother had done minutes before. Scully was watching
him with an affectionate smile, her eyes raising to meet Mulder’s in
acknowledgement of the moment.

Maggie was already out the door of the house and heading down the
stairs toward them, her dark hair newly cropped and eyes bright,
anxious to get to her grandson. She gave her daughter a quick kiss
on the cheek with a breathy hello before focusing on the baby with a
grandmother’s indulgence. Almost as an afterthought, she glanced up
and smiled at Mulder with a welcoming “Hi Fox” before turning back
to Wim, unbuckling his carrier straps and hoisting him into her
arms.

“Did you have a nice trip?” she cooed at him, bouncing him lightly
as Scully went around the back of the car and opened the trunk to
retrieve their bags. They were accustomed to traveling light, and
between the two of them were able to carry everything they’d brought
in one load, Maggie leading the way up the stairs and into the front
room.

The house was open and airy, with high ceilings, and the yellow late
afternoon sunlight brightening the large family-room from the large
windows and French doors leading out to the deck beyond. The floors
were polished wood covered with bright, oversized rag rugs, and the
canvas slipcovered furniture looked overstuffed and inviting.
Mulder had seen enough beach houses in his lifetime to know it was
everything a beach house should be – casual enough to withstand a
little sand, and attractive enough to entertain guests without a
second thought.

“I’ve left the windows open to circulate the air a bit,” Maggie
explained, crossing the room and sliding a window shut. “We don’t
want it too drafty, do we?” she directed at Wim. Without pausing
she headed up the oak staircase, still cooing, “You’ve gotten so
big!”

She glanced back over her shoulder at her daughter as they ascended,
her voice changing to accommodate the shift from baby to adult.
“I’ve set up a crib and changing table in the bedroom next to mine,
that way I can help out in the middle of the night if you need me
to.”

Mulder tried to catch Scully’s eye as he trailed behind on the
stairs, the notion that they would be sharing a bedroom wall with
her mother not boding well. He wasn’t a particularly quiet person,
and with free time on their hands, he’d hoped that he and Scully
might have a little one-on-one time.

Scully didn’t meet his glance. On purpose, he was certain, and he
began to grow uneasy. He didn’t know Maggie Scully all that well,
but he knew that she was Catholic, and that she was fairly
conservative. He found himself wondering just *how* conservatively
Catholic she might be, especially where her youngest daughter was
concerned. Far more alarming than sharing a bedroom wall with
Scully’s mother was the notion that he might not be sharing a
bedroom with Scully and Wim at all.

When a queen-size bed came into view, he paused just outside the
doorway, waiting for Maggie to invite him in or order him under the
stairs like a bad dog. After a long moment, Scully turned and
looked at him with her ‘what the hell are you doing?’ expression,
which looked a lot like her ‘shut-up I’m on the phone’ expression,
and he hesitantly followed her into the room.

Maggie was changing Will’s diaper, and Scully had gravitated toward
the window, looking out at the shoreline, mesmerized by the choppy
water breaking into white-capped waves. He stepped close behind
her, taking in the view and trying to coax a vague memory of the
place from his childhood, but nothing specific came to mind except
old tales of Blackbeard and hidden treasure.

Scully sighed, and his attention turned back to her. She was
standing at the window, gazing out at the dunes just below, and the
ocean beyond. If the sea were a man, Mulder thought, he’d be
insanely jealous.

“Why don’t you go down there for a few minutes?” he whispered softly
in her ear, “Wim’s in good hands.”

She remained still, weighing the suggestion and watching her mother
button up Wim’s jumper in the reflection of the glass. After an
internal struggle, she turned her head to the side, enough to be
able to look Mulder in the eye.

“Come with me,” she said, with the hint of a smile.

He smiled his approval at her first small step toward letting go of
her fear, and they both turned to face Maggie.

“Go on,” she said without sparing them a glance. “My grandson and I
will be just fine.”

~

Wim refused his teething ring, slobbering happily on his chubby fist
as Maggie watched his parents out the window, their pants legs
rolled up and the two of them strolling side by side, barefoot in
the wet sand. The moment she’d laid eyes on her she’d seen Dana was
exhausted, and had lost even more weight in the last few weeks.
Maggie knew – better than most – that caring for a baby was a full-
time job, but the weariness in her daughter’s eyes had immediately
drawn her concern.

Out on the sand, Dana seemed more like the daughter she knew, Fox
standing tall and straight beside her, laughing as she dug for
burrowing sand crabs in the retreating surf. Wim did resemble his
father quite a bit, although she couldn’t help but recognize Dana’s
father in him as well. Her William had been tall and straight like
Fox. But Dana’s son had the crimson Scully hair and light blue
eyes. This baby may have been named for William Mulder, but he was
every bit as much William Scully’s grandson.

From the distance across the broad beach, Maggie could imagine once
again seeing Dana as a young girl, playing with her adoring father,
pulling him by both hands into the advancing foam. The wisping of
the sea oats and dune grass enhanced the dream-like quality of the
vision, the image fading and the grown woman coming into focus once
again as she pulled her partner’s face down to hers for a kiss. The
kiss grew deeper as he reached out to draw her body against his,
time expanding and contracting until their kiss broke gently, just
as it had begun. They wrapped their arms tightly around each other,
Dana tucking her head under Fox’s chin, oblivious to the pull of the
tide as the water swelled and faded around their ankles.

Maggie sighed softly. While the baby resembled both sides of his
family tree, standing toe-to-toe with her daughter in the yellow-
pink sand, she could see a lot of the young William Scully in Fox
Mulder as well.

~

“This was a great idea,” Mulder whispered, still wrapped up in
Scully’s embrace. She smiled against his chest, reveling in the
warmth of his body, the thumping of his heart in contrast to the
whistling wind in her hair and against her back.

“I’m glad we came.”

He hummed in agreement. “You taste good on the beach.”

“You feel good on the beach,” she responded sleepily, running her
hands up his broad back and smiling wider as she heard his deep
intake of breath and soft chuckle.

This thing between them, this connection was what they both drew the
most strength from, and feeding it was as necessary as eating and
breathing. They had been separated for too many months before Wim’s
birth, and since they reunited, too-often intimacy was pushed into
the background while day-to-day tasks and concerns took precedence.
With so many other issues lying dormant between them, the importance
of intimacy had expounded.

“The room next to your mother,” he nearly groaned in a lower,
huskier tone. “We need to do something about that if we’re going to
stay the entire week.” He brushed his lips lightly over the top of
her head. “This is supposed to be a vacation.”

“Did you notice…” she drew out the question, planting a series of
soft kisses against the brushed cotton of his shirt, “the private
bathroom on the other side of the room?”

He closed his eyes, his head falling back and his mouth dropping
open as her lips traveled up his neck, closing gently around his
Adams apple. God, it felt good. He remembered her hot mouth
against his neck, her legs clamped around his hips. It was before –
before his life had been taken away, before Wim’s existence was even
a possibility – and her skin had squeaked against the wet tile as he
pushed inside of her. Just the two of them, joined. They’d stayed
in the shower until the water grew cold, their gasps and moans
stifled by the hiss of the showerhead.

Maybe they could make due with the room next to her mother.

Lowering his face to hers, he kissed her open-mouthed, hot and
urgent. In just moments, the general wanting he lived with
constantly transformed to a desire that demanded fulfillment.

“You know, your mom needs a little more one-on-one time with the
baby. It was a long drive, and I have that not so fresh feeling,”
he whispered, molding his body to hers and kissing her again.
“Shower?”

Scully moaned against his mouth, pressing her body back against his
as her fingers tangled in his hair. Four months after Wim’s birth,
she was nearly the same woman whose flesh he’d learned and memorized
before she’d become pregnant, and it had been so long since they’d
been able to touch without restraint, to move freely without minding
the limits of pregnancy, time or opportunity. Pulling back,
breathless, she opened her mouth to reply when a figure approaching
on the wooden walkway stopped her cold, a look of shock and horror
passing over her face.

Mulder saw her reaction and in seconds his protective instinct,
honed to perfection by eight years of partnership and devotion,
drove him to turn and face the source of her discomfort head-on.
Instead of any one of the thousands of atrocities he could have
anticipated, that he had already encountered and conquered, he found
himself staring directly into the face of the one thing he would
never have expected. The one thing he was not prepared to battle.

Big brother Bill.

~

“Bill…” Scully’s voice was hesitant, laced with surprise.

Bill hesitated as well, his awkwardness with the situation apparent,
even though he looked every bit the polished Naval officer in
civilian clothing. “Mom said you were down here,” he said with a
smile, then glanced from her to Mulder, offering him a polite nod.

“Hey,” Mulder responded congenially, taking a step forward and
reaching out to shake his hand. Bill stepped closer as well, and
they clasped palms briefly, both men stepping back afterward. There
was an uncomfortable pause, then Bill said to Scully, “I saw the
baby. He’s fallen asleep on Mom’s shoulder. Cute.”

Scully nodded in response, seeing that he was trying to be pleasant
despite the fact that the last time they talked, the conversation
had turned very ugly. “Thank you.” There was another awkward
silence but she tried to shake it off. He was trying – she could do
as much. “I’m sorry…I’m just a little surprised to see you, Bill.
Mom didn’t mention you were coming.”

“I guess she had her reasons,” Bill replied. After a moment, he
added, “Tara’s up at the house with Matty. I thought maybe you’d
want to come up and say hello.”

Scully drew in a deep breath, glancing up at Mulder and then
nodding. She knew she should make sure Mulder was comfortable with
the situation, hopefully without telling him everything that had
been said between her and her brother the last time they spoke.
“We’ll be up in a little while.”

Bill paused, then nodded, turning to leave. His back stiffened, and
he stopped, then turned to face them again. “You know everyone on
the beachfront can see you two down here?”

Scully fixed her gaze on him. “And?”

He shifted slightly, “I was just thinking of Mom, that’s all.”

Mulder inwardly groaned, knowing how Scully would react to her older
brother’s censure. Clearly, the man knew how to push her buttons.
Scully’s back straightened, and she crossed her arms in front of
her, facing her brother.

“Mom or yourself?” she asked deliberately.

He stared silently at her, his jaw tightening. Scully glared at him
a moment longer then muttered, “Forget it,” and stomped past him
toward the house, stopping only to grab her shoes. Her shoulders
squared, she left the two men standing barely a yard apart. They
were roughly the same height, but Bill was broader and had about
twenty more pounds on him. Bill stared out at the sea while
Mulder’s eyes followed Scully.

Finally, Bill raised his eyes and Mulder met his gaze directly, not
knowing what had been said before today but guessing that he figured
predominantly in it. Bill had labeled him a ‘sorry son of a bitch’
a few years back, but he’d let it slide out of respect for Scully.
He respected Scully as much now if not more, but the situation had
changed.

Notably, the introduction of Wim into the world.

“I heard you left the F.B.I.,” Bill said, his expression neutral,
although the hand in the side pocket of his trousers jangled his
keys nervously. “I guess you and my sister aren’t partners any
longer.” Mulder did not respond, still meeting his gaze. Bill
continued, “Dana hasn’t said much about it, but it’s not hard to
guess who the father of her baby is.”

Pursing his lips slightly, Mulder widened his stance, realizing that
he was still standing barefoot in the ankle-waves, while Bill was
dry on the sand, complete in his socks and deck shoes. He crossed
his arms in front of his chest defensively. “If you’re asking, you
should take that up with her.”

Bill nodded slightly, sizing up the man in front of him. From the
expression on his face, he still didn’t care for what he saw. “I
know what I need to know,” he said. “Dana is my sister, and that
baby is my nephew. What I want to know is what your role is in all
of this, now that the baby is here.” He paused, waiting for Mulder
to respond, but met only silence and the same even gaze locked with
his. The silence seemed to irritate Bill further. “I had a pretty
good idea about you before I met you, Mr. Mulder. My sister is in
love with you, and I’ve had a pretty good idea about that for a long
time as well -”

Mulder shifted his weight, cocking his head slightly to the right.

“So the way I figure it,” Bill went on, “you got her pregnant and
you took off. Some crap about being abducted by aliens and
returning from the dead.” He scoffed. “Well, now she’s a single
mother with a baby to raise. You might be alive and kicking, but
how long before you go chasing after another light in the sky?”

Mulder took a deep breath, reminding himself that the fundamental
problem with Bill Scully was that he just didn’t have a fucking clue
about him, or them, or their work. He’d encountered men like him
every day when he’d worked at the Bureau. He was more than
accustomed to insults and personal attacks, and he could stand there
and argue with the man, or try to convince him that he’d just as
soon tear out his own heart and eat it as leave Scully and Wim
without someone to watch over them. But that would involve a longer
explanation than Mulder was prepared to give. And how could he
explain the truth to him? About aliens and oil, hybridization and
colonization, and a threat to life as they all knew it that was so
real and so frightening you could piss yourself just thinking about
it. He could try, but he still wasn’t going to sell the truth to
Bill Scully. So instead of responding, he walked away, leaving the
man standing alone on the beach with his ignorant, narrow-minded
opinions intact.

~

“Please don’t go, Dana,” Bill’s wife Tara was saying as Mulder
entered the house. “We haven’t seen you in so long…and this is
the first chance I’ve had to see the baby -”

Scully was standing at the foot of the staircase, Wim sleeping in
her arms, while her mother and her sister-in-law stood before her
with worried creases in their brows. Bill and Tara’s nearly four
year-old son, Matthew, had dumped a bucket of army men in the middle
of the coffee table, and was playing by himself while the women
talked. Scully looked up to meet Mulder’s eyes as he approached,
and he could see she was still angry.

His expression appeared neutral, but he made eye contact, letting
her know that whatever she decided to do, he would go along with.

“He’s your brother, Dana,” Maggie said in Bill’s defense. “He feels
its his duty since your father passed away to look out for all of
us.” She let out a frustrated sigh, her hands coming to rest on her
hips. “Maybe it was wrong of me not to tell you he would be here,”
she said, an edge to her voice. “But you two are both so *damn*
stubborn, you’ll never work this out if you’re left to your own
devices.”

Wim whimpered against her chest, and Scully gently rocked him,
lowering her voice. “I am a thirty-seven year-old woman, Mom, and
my own devices, along with Mulder, are what have made it possible
for me to be here today. It is not Bill’s duty or even his right to
tell me what I should be doing with my life, my career, my child, or
whom I choose to share them with.”

Tara glanced at Maggie with a helpless expression on her face, then
at Mulder, embarrassment coloring her cheeks when he met her gaze.
Matthew had noticed a stranger in the room and wandered over to his
mother, his solemn eyes fixed on Mulder as he wrapped his arms
around his mother’s leg.

Mulder glanced down at him, offering him a bright smile. “Hi.”

The boy pressed closer into his mother’s leg, his eyes still on
Mulder. Tara reached down and ran a hand over his blonde head,
offering Mulder a polite smile. “We met a few years back,” she
said, and Mulder nodded, raising his hand in a polite gesture.

“Christmas. I remember,” he said.

There was a small silence, and then Maggie’s hands dropped to her
sides, the edgy tone leaving her voice. “It’s been so long since
we’ve been together as a family.” She paused, reaching out and
caressing sleeping Wim’s little head. “Won’t you at least try,
Dana?”

Scully looked from her mother, to Wim, and then at Mulder again, and
he raised his eyebrows at her, letting her know that it was still
her call. He threw her a quick nod toward the toy-covered coffee-
table before looking back down at Matthew.

“What have you got over there?” he asked the toddler, pointing at
the pile of army men. “Wanna show me?”

~

“You wanna play?” Matthew asked Mulder, his face splitting into a
wide grin. He ran over to the table, dropping down to his knees and
grabbing an artillery man as Mulder sat down next to him, glancing
up at Scully with amusement. Matthew held the artillery man out to
him. “Here, you want this one?”

Watching Mulder accept the toy, Scully let out a soft huff. He
could amaze her with his gentleness at the most unexpected times.
Just then, Bill walked in the front door, and she looked up at him,
their eyes meeting. It was getting late, and she didn’t like the
idea of driving six hours back to D.C. so soon after driving all the
way down. Closing her eyes, she let out a long sigh.

“I suppose we could stay the night and see how it goes,” she said
softly.

Maggie and Tara both turned and looked expectantly at Bill, who
glanced over to see Mulder playing with his son, before focusing his
attention back on the women at the foot of the stairs.

“Billy will be on his best behavior, won’t you Billy?” Tara said,
walking over and putting her arm through his. Matthew was making
explosion noises in the background. Tara gave Scully a look of
solemn promise. “He’ll keep his opinions to himself.”

Bill sighed at his wife with resignation, then looked over at his
sister, his mother, then his sister once more. Nodding, he pressed
his lips together in a line of acceptance.

“Of course.”

Maggie raised a hand to her mouth, her gratitude shining in her
eyes. She reached out to touch her daughter’s shoulder and at the
same moment Wim let out a squeak, thrashing his arms and opening his
mouth to wail in hunger. She dropped her hand in surprise.

“Hey there,” Scully greeted him softly, “Are you ready for dinner?”

Tara approached her, her arms held out and a hopeful smile on her
face. “Let me give him his bottle?”

Scully looked at her a moment, then smiled gently. “Sure.” She
carefully handed Wim over to his aunt, who beamed brightly at him.
He stopped wailing and whimpered, temporarily distracted by the new
face in front of him.

“I forgot how small they are,” she said, raising her eyes to
Scully’s before smiling down at the baby once more. “You’re
beautiful,” she told him softly. Then she looked over at Bill, who
smiled at her in spite of the awkward tension that still filled the
room.

Wim squawked, and Maggie broke in. “I’m sure we could all use
something to eat. Why don’t I get started on our dinner as well?”

Scully and Bill shared a quick glance, followed by a reconciliatory
grimace. She had her doubts that Bill would be able to hold his
tongue, but she’d already promised her mother she would try.

~

Dinner was strained, but civil, with Maggie and Tara doing most of
the talking and the rest of them sitting, not much wanting to add to
the conversation. Mulder had had to stifle what would have seemed
like an inappropriate laugh when the thought occurred to him that
the two books he had brought with him were almost certainly not
going to be enough to fill the hours until they left. Not unless
something happened to lighten things up…

Or unless they left.

“Bill might have promised to be on his best behavior, but that
doesn’t change anything,” Scully was saying under her breath. She
still hadn’t decided whether they would stay beyond the following
afternoon, and had been rationalizing out loud for the last fifteen
minutes. “Once his mind is made up, it’s made up. It’s always been
hard for the rest of us to deal with him. Mom never realized…”

They were standing on either side of the queen-sized bed in their
room, pulling the pale blue matelasse bedspread down and dropping
the pillows onto the floor. Wim was tucked into his crib, Bill and
Tara were settling into their bedroom downstairs, and Maggie had
brought Matthew up with promises of not one but two bedtime stories
if he helped her carry sheets to everyone. They had just dropped
off a stack of clean linens before saying goodnight, Matthew pulling
his grandma back toward the stairs.

Scully picked up the fitted sheet and unfolded it. “I don’t know if
I can take a whole week of walking on eggshells and pretending
everything is okay,” she muttered, shaking her head. Mulder reached
across the bed for the corner of the sheet, looking up and meeting
the apologetic expression on her face. “I’m sorry, Mulder,” she
said. “This really isn’t how I thought -”

“I know,” he said, pulling the sheet tight over his side.

“Do you think we should stay?”

He paused. Yes, he did think they should stay. Maybe it wasn’t
going to be the quiet getaway he’d originally envisioned, but there
was still a small voice within telling him this was where they
needed to be right now. “I think you’re going to hurt your mother’s
feelings if we leave without attempting to make it work,” he said
carefully. “It isn’t going to solve anything.”

“I didn’t come down here to ‘solve’ anything,” she said, tossing
half of the flat-sheet across to him. He caught it and helped her
unfurl it over the bed, throwing her a slightly challenging look.
Scully let out a scornful huff. “You know what I mean, Mulder. And
I sure as hell didn’t come down here to listen to my brother
moralize about *my* life -”

Mulder pulled the pillow-cases on while Scully finished tucking the
sheet around the bed. He had to smile, admiring her ass as she bent
to make perfect hospital corners with silent, angry precision.
Secure in the knowledge that he was not himself the cause of her ire
– at the moment – he could afford the luxury of enjoying how
severely adorable she could be when she was angry. He threw the
pillows against the headboard and caught her around the waist as she
came over to his side. “Well,” he said, trapping her against his
chest. “Just think of that as an added *perk*.”

She scowled up at him. “Don’t laugh at me, Mulder.”

“I’m not laughing at you!” he said – laughing. He pulled her closer
and kissed her cheekbone. “We’ll do whatever you want,” he said.
He kissed the hollow of her other cheek, then dipped lower and left
a kiss on the tip of her chin. “We can leave at the crack of dawn
tomorrow, if you like. But you *know*…”

He stopped long enough to kiss her mouth. A long, wet kiss.

“You know,” he whispered again, his hands roaming downward, over the
compact little butt he had just been admiring. “We’re here *now*,”
he said, “with not one, but *two* willing babysitters. And there
seems to be a large, freshly made bed *right over there* -”

Their second kiss was interrupted by a soft knock on the slightly
open door. “Dana?” Maggie called softly before sticking her head
in.

Scully took a step back from Mulder and wiped her mouth on the side
of her hand.

“Yeah, Mom. What is it?”

“Are you coming to Mass in the morning?” Maggie asked softly.

Scully hesitated for only a second. “Um,” she said. “Yeah, I’ll
come.”

Maggie smiled warmly. “Good,” she said. “It’s about a half-hour
drive, so Bill wanted to leave by 8:15 – is that okay?”

Scully took a deep breath and let it out. “Fine,” she said, nodding
and rubbing her hand against her hairline. “I’ll be up.”

“You’re welcome to join us if you like, Fox,” Maggie said, watching
him hopefully. Mulder smiled his appreciation.

“Thanks,” he said. He reached out and brushed Scully’s shoulder
blade with his fingertips. “But I think I’ll stick around here…
hold down the fort.”

Maggie nodded, her disappointment mild, her eyes flitting between
the two of them and the newly made bed. “Well then,” she said.
“Goodnight.”

“Goodnight, Mom.”

“Don’t forget I’m right next door if William is up in the night,”
Maggie said.

“Mom, you don’t have to -”

“I’m looking forward to it,” Maggie said fondly, standing up
straight. “I’m sure you two probably can’t remember what it was
like to get a full night’s sleep.”

Maggie’s observation was followed by what felt like a long silence,
during which Mulder watched a slow blush creep up Scully’s neck and
over her face. It wasn’t that Maggie assumed too much, but contrary
to Mulder’s earlier thoughts regarding her conservative nature, she
seemed to have accepted and assimilated certain basic facts about
them which they themselves still struggled. Maggie was aware of the
uneasiness her innocent comment had produced, and she seemed to
inwardly sigh.

“Well, goodnight,” she said again.

Mulder and Scully stood, not moving, for several seconds after she
left. Scully stared absently at Wim as he slept.

“He’ll be ready to eat again before long,” she said, walking toward
her side of the bed. She turned the sheet down, looking tired.
“Let’s just go to bed.”

Mulder grabbed his bag from a nearby chair and headed for the
private bathroom Scully had mentioned so provocatively just a few
hours before. He had hoped that these tiles and fixtures might be
the scene for a special reunion of sorts tonight; he’d thought about
this bathroom more than once during dinner and the long awkward time
that had followed, looking forward to the moments they’d have there
later.

Now, as he dropped his bag in the corner and stooped to lift the
toilet seat, it just looked like any other bathroom.

~

It took them a long time to relax, spooned loosely against each
other on the unfamiliar bed, under the thin, careworn sheet from
Maggie Scully’s own linen closet. They had left the window open to
the breeze, which carried the smell of sand and dry grass, lumber,
and the ocean in with it, along with all the sounds of the nighttime
beach. Cicadas scratched incessantly in the dunes, their collective
noise swelling and receding with a slow pulse that echoed the dull
shush of the waves beyond. Somewhere very near the window, perhaps
even somewhere in the room with them, a single cricket let out
irregular, melancholy chirps.

Scully sighed, drifting near the edge of sleep, only peripherally
aware of Mulder’s arm draped along her hip, his breath on the back
of her neck. She had long since lost tether on her thoughts and was
traveling around her semiconscious mind like someone flying through
an ether, with the sounds from within and without the room filling
her ears like an aural backdrop.

A muffled sound, both soft and sharp, penetrated her consciousness,
separate from the other noises. It took her a moment to realize
that what she was hearing was outside her own head, and outside the
room. She recognized it as the sound of car doors shutting.

A rush of adrenaline brought her awake at once, and she pushed
herself up on one elbow, looking immediately toward Wim’s crib. The
sounds outside continued.

Voices. Quiet laughter.

Mulder stirred behind her, waking with a sharp inhalation, and
tightening his arm around her middle. “What’s going on?” he asked.

She didn’t answer, listening to the sound of feet coming up the long
flight of wooden steps outside as her heart thumped in her throat.
Her eyes sought out the crib again. Wim was safe. He was sleeping
and he was safe. Hushed voices came in through the open window;
something fell, bouncing back down the steps. Someone hissed
“*Shhhit* -” and another voice – a female voice – laughed softly.

“Is someone here?” Mulder asked.

“Shhh…” Scully was awake enough now to know there was no danger,
but straining to hear what was going on outside over the sound of
her own receding heartbeat.

Maggie must have heard the noise too; they could hear her moving
around in the bedroom next door. The light in the hall clicked on,
shining around the edges of their door, and Scully sensed rather
than heard her mother moving in the hall and down the stairs.

The indistinct noises had migrated to the main room downstairs,
where the front door had been opened to a rush of voices in which
Scully could now distinguish her mother’s along with at least two
others. She listened intently, trying to make out a word…to
recognize the other voices. Behind her, Mulder yawned.

“You don’t suppose Bill and Tara are leaving under cover of
darkness…?” he murmured, raspy with sleep and close to her ear.
She smiled at his joke and lay her hand over his.

“No – someone just got here,” she said, still focusing her attention
on the trio of voices below. One of them was a male voice, a mellow
tenor she knew she should know. She frowned slightly, and then she
smiled, pushing herself upright and swinging her legs over the side
of the bed. “I think it’s my brother,” she said.

“Bill?”

“No -”

Downstairs, the tenor she was focusing on broke into an unchecked
peal of laughter that she recognized immediately. She got up and
went to the door, smiling over her shoulder at Mulder. “It’s
Charlie -”

Sure enough, she arrived at the bottom of the stairs to see her
mother standing at the door, caught up in her younger brother’s
arms.

“…got into Norfolk around eleven-thirty,” he was saying, “and we
rented – hey!” He caught sight of Scully over Maggie’s shoulder,
his face breaking into a wide grin. Scully watched, smiling, as he
leaned back to give his mother a look of exaggerated confusion. “I
thought you said Dane wasn’t coming?” he teased.

“Well -” Maggie stammered, but Charlie had already let go of her and
stepped forward to scoop his sister up in a bear-hug. Scully
laughed in surprise and delight as he lifted her right off the
floor. She squeezed him tightly back, pressing her cheek to his
shoulder.

“Charlie -!”

“Hi, sis,” he said, beaming down at her and dropping her lightly
back to the floor. He bent and kissed her cheek.

Scully put her hands up to his broad shoulders, holding him at arm’s
length so she could get a good look at him. It had been more than
five years since she had seen her younger brother – not since the
last time she and Mulder had been in Northern California on a case,
and Charlie had been working as the shop-boy in a small art studio
in San Francisco. He seemed bigger to her now – broader through the
shoulders and chest – and she noticed with a slight pang the tiny
lines where the sun had etched his smile around his eyes. The eyes
themselves hadn’t changed though – bright blue that rivaled her own,
sparkling at her from behind a pair of square horn-rimmed glasses.

“Long time no see,” he said.

“Too long,” she agreed, ruffling his mop of golden-brown hair and
letting her hand slide down to caress his scruffy cheek. He grinned
down at her.

“Man it’s good to see you,” he said, pulling her close for another
squeeze. Then he stepped aside, still holding on to his sister’s
hand, and gestured back toward the doorway, where, Scully realized,
there was a woman standing, smiling unreservedly at them. Charlie
reached for her hand, looking like his face might split with
grinning. He glanced anxiously at his mother and sister. “Mom,
Dane – this is Joy.”

The woman waiting in the doorway stepped inside and grasped Maggie’s
hand. “Joy Yuen,” she said, smiling brightly. She was tall –
nearly as tall as Charlie, Scully noticed – with flawless caramel
colored skin and Asian features. She turned and took Scully’s hand,
giving it an assertive squeeze, and Scully found herself looking
directly into Joy’s twinkling black eyes. “I’m really glad to meet
you both.”

“Likewise,” Scully said, returning the woman’s frank, amiable gaze,
and feeling especially short. Joy was like an Amazon in a ball-cap;
Scully and her mother barely cleared her shoulders.

“I told you about Joy, Mom,” Charlie said.

“Of course,” said Maggie, nearly recovered from the surprise of
their unexpected arrival, her voice betraying only the slightest
uncertainty. “It’s nice to -”

“Is that Charles?”

“Hey, man -!”

Bill had come out of the hallway behind the stairs, and the three
women watched as the brothers stepped forward to greet one another.
Charlie laughed at the formal hand his older brother extended, and
pulled Bill into a back-thumping embrace. “It’s great to see you,
Billy.”

Bill stepped back, smiling awkwardly and running his hand along the
back of his closely-cropped head. “Mom told us you couldn’t come,”
he said. Everyone turned to look at Maggie, who returned their
stares with a look of startled innocence.

“And here *I* was told that Dana wasn’t coming…” Charlie said
dramatically, narrowing his eyes at his mother with mock suspicion.
“Mom…? Care to explain yourself here?”

“You never told me for certain whether you were coming or not, young
man,” Maggie defended herself, unable to keep the smile from her
lips. Her eyes softened and grew misty as she glanced among her
three children. She reached up to pat Charlie’s cheek. “But I’m
glad you’re here,” she said. She looked at Joy. “And I’m very glad
to meet you Joy, finally.”

Bill stepped forward to try his handshake on Joy. “I imagine you’ve
probably already guessed, but I’m Charles’s older brother, Bill.
Nice to meet you.”

Joy accepted the offered hand with a smile. “Joy Yuen, likewise.”

Scully saw the flicker of surprise that crossed Bill’s face in
response to Joy’s firm grasp, and caught the way he sized up the
other woman’s impressive figure. Joy was wearing a short tee-shirt
over low-slung sweatpants that left her lean midriff bare, and
revealed her small silver navel-ring. Scully suppressed a laugh at
her older brother’s less than subtle ogling, and turned just in time
to see Mulder at the top of the stairs holding Wim.

~

The group by the door turned, following Scully’s gaze up the stairs
to where Mulder stood with Wim sleeping against his shoulder.
Maggie smiled and beckoned to him. “Fox – come down and meet Dana’s
brother,” she said.

Mulder walked down the stairs slowly, his attention drawn to the
newcomers. Over the years, Scully had told him a little about her
younger brother – how they had fought as kids, but grew closer in
high school; how Charlie had inherited all the artistic talent in
the family, and now worked as a sculptor for a big computer
animation company. Mulder knew too that Charlie was notoriously
outside the family loop – had not been home for family holidays
since Captain Scully had died – and he was the only member of
Scully’s family whom Mulder had yet to meet. Mulder came off the
last step with his hand held out.

“Charlie,” he said with a smile.

Charlie grinned and took Mulder’s hand eagerly. “So this is the
Mysterious Mr. Fox Mulder,” he said. “Well holy shit, Batman.”

Maggie clicked her tongue. “Charlie -”

Charlie glanced at his mother while the others laughed. “Sorry -!”
He looked back toward Mulder. “Well, holy *something*, I guess. I
was beginning to wonder if you really existed.”

“I’ve had occasion to wonder that myself,” Mulder said, taking
Charlie’s hand. He caught Scully’s eye for a moment, and gave her a
wan smile. “But I guess the truth is stranger than fiction…”

“Is there a party going on out there or what?”

This time it was Tara making her way into the foyer with a grumpy
looking Matthew on one hip. She gave Charlie a big, open-mouthed
smile. “I *knew* I recognized your voice!”

She crossed immediately to give Charlie a kiss on the cheek, and
didn’t notice Joy until she had nearly walked into her. Tara took a
startled step back, laughing nervously as she stumbled to find a
space for herself amid the crowd in front of the door. “Hi – sorry
– hi,” she laughed, going red in the face as she hitched Matthew
higher on her hip. “I’m Bill’s wife, Tara.”

Mulder saw the relaxed indulgence in Joy’s smile as she put out a
hand to touch the back of Matthew’s head. He noticed too that she
had a small tattoo in the webbing between her thumb and forefinger,
and immediately wondered what it was. “Joy Yuen,” she said in
response to Tara’s greeting. She looked up then, meeting Mulder’s
eyes as if she knew he had been watching her.

“Is that Matthew?” Charlie was saying, grabbing one of the little
boy’s dangling feet. Matthew turned his face into his mother’s
shoulder and tried to pull his foot away. Charlie grinned at Tara.
“Jeez he got big.”

“That’s what happens when you wait a year between visits,” Tara
laughed. “Babies *grow*.”

“Speaking of which -” Charlie turned back to look at Mulder, peering
at the tiny body sleeping against his shoulder. He glanced at his
sister. “Is this -?”

Scully nodded, smiling, and Mulder carefully shifted Wim from his
shoulder for Charlie to see. Charlie leaned forward with a chuckle.

“*I see Scully-hair*…” he sang, brushing his knuckles against the
copper-colored down on Wim’s head. Charlie turned toward Joy, who
had been watching everything with an amused smile. “Believe it or
not,” Charlie told her, “I used to have hair just like this.”

“So what happened?” Joy teased.

“Your hair was never that light,” Maggie said absently as Joy
stepped forward to look at Wim. “Dana was the only one of you with
hair that red…”

“He’s gorgeous,” Joy said, glancing up to smile at Scully. Then she
turned her eyes on Mulder. “I’m Joy Yuen,” she said. She lifted
one brow slightly. “I’ve heard a little bit about the Mysterious
Mr. Mulder.”

Mulder felt a brief jolt of alarm as he looked back at her; he
wasn’t sure exactly how much Scully or her mother might have told
the rest of her family about him – or more particularly about the
latest and most bizarre events in his life. He knew that Scully had
been guarded with the details she had divulged to her mother, but
Maggie had been there through the ordeal of the previous year, had
held her daughter’s hand through his funeral. There was no telling
what she may or may not have told her other children. Mulder felt
his stomach lurch slightly, thinking that he wasn’t really up to
playing Dead Man Walking all week.

Joy saw the look that crossed Mulder’s face and turned her attention
back to Wim with an easy laugh. “Charlie told me you’re Dana’s
partner at the FBI,” she clarified, glancing back at him and holding
his gaze amicably.

Mulder’s mouth turned up at the corner. “Well, that news is a
little outdated,” he said, looking down at Wim.

Joy raised her eyebrows, waiting for elaboration, and there was an
uncomfortable silence for several seconds. Scully cleared her
throat and stepped forward to touch Wim’s foot.

“Mulder doesn’t work at the Bureau anymore,” she said, meeting Joy’s
eyes briefly.

Joy nodded. “Well,” she said, smiling down at the sleeping baby, “I
guess this is a better kind of partnership anyway.”

Mulder heard Bill’s soft laugh, and looked up. Bill was gazing down
at Wim.

“Let’s hope this one is a little more traditional, huh?” he said
with a sour chuckle, glancing at Mulder. Mulder set his jaw and
said nothing, looking up to see Joy staring at him again, her
almond-shaped eyes narrowed shrewdly.

“Oh, I don’t know,” she said, her voice low. “‘Traditional’ isn’t
all it’s cracked up to be.”

Charlie laughed and stepped forward plant a kiss on Joy’s neck.
Mulder dropped his head, biting the inside of his cheek to conceal a
smile caused not only by Joy’s balls-out attitude, but from the
memory of his earlier conversation with Scully about lasting the
week. The new additions to the household would liven things up a
bit, at least. He glanced up and met Joy’s direct gaze again,
noticing the hint of triumph in her eyes. She smiled at him.

“We still have some stuff in the car,” Charlie announced, pulling
Joy back toward the door. Bill followed them onto the deck.

“If there’s a lot, why don’t you just wait until morning?” he called
after them. “These babies need to sleep sometime tonight -”

Charlie gave his brother an off-hand salute as he jogged back down
to the driveway. Coming back into the house, Bill set his fists on
his hips, surveying them with the attitude of a captain inspecting
his crew. “I think we all ought to go on back to bed,” he said. He
took Matthew out of Tara’s arms and headed toward the back bedrooms.
“Come on, pal. Enough excitement for one night.”

Mulder turned toward Scully and she looked up at him, letting out
the breath she’d been holding with an expression of sorely abused
patience. “These are those ‘perks’ you were talking about, right?”
she asked under her breath. Mulder smiled and squeezed the back of
her neck.

Tara moved to follow her husband and son down the hall. “Well,
goodnight, guys,” she said. “See you in the morning.”

“Goodnight, Tara,” said Maggie.

Scully reached up to take Wim, who had come awake and seemed to be
considering a good scream. “I think I’ll give him his bottle,” she
said, settling the baby on her shoulder. “I’ll be up in a little
while.”

She walked Wim into the kitchen area, and Mulder and Maggie were
left standing in the foyer. Maggie gave him a small, tired smile.

“Think they need help carrying things up?” Mulder asked.

Maggie took a deep breath and walked to the door, where she flipped
on the switches for the lights over the stairs outside.

“I’m sure they can manage on their own, Fox,” she said. She put her
hand on his arm as she passed and looked up at him, giving his arm a
pat. “You and Dana take William back to bed.”

Mulder gave her a smile as she headed back up the stairs, and
wandered to the kitchen, where Scully was sitting at the center-
island, feeding Wim a bottle.

“If it isn’t the Mysterious Mr. Mulder,” she said softly. In the
dimness of the room, Mulder couldn’t tell if she was smiling or not.
Mulder pulled up a stool and sat, brushing the top of her foot with
his. She looked up at him a moment, then back at Wim. They sat in
silence until Wim had drained the bottle, then rose and climbed the
stairs back to their room, and returned Wim to his crib, all without
saying a word.

The darkness in their bedroom was like a tangible thing between them
as they lay back down. Mulder folded one arm behind his head, his
other hand lying flat and latent in the space between he and Scully.
He consciously willed his body to relax, listening as the beach
sounds made their way back into the room and into his subconscious:
the wisp of the wind against the screens…the rolling scratch of
the cicadas and crickets, the distant roar of the surf…

Scully reached into the space between them, searching for his hand.
Once she found it she twined their fingers together, letting out a
soft sigh.

Through it all, he lay, wondering, waiting – like everyone else – to
see how the Mysterious Mr. Mulder was going to fit in with this
family.

~
Sunday
~

The sun at eight o’clock was already bright and hot, promising a
perfect beach-day later as it bounced off the white concrete
driveway and under Scully’s sunglasses. She stood in the open side-
door of Bill’s rented minivan, waiting. Behind her, Matthew and Wim
were buckled into their car seats, ready to go. Matthew, who had
been singing pleasantly to himself, stopped suddenly.

“Where *are* they?” he asked with an exaggerated sigh. With his
child’s voice and his difficulty pronouncing the letter ‘r’, it came
out more like *Wew ahhhh dey?* – Scully smiled and turned to look
into the dim interior of the van.

“They’re coming, sweetie,” she said, checking that Wim’s seat was
fastened securely. Wim waved his fists at her, his tongue poking
through the tiny *o* of his lips. She tapped his nose lightly with
one finger, and was rewarded with a smile and a cheerful squeak.
Smiling, she reached across the seat and tickled Matthew’s knee,
making him cackle. “Your dad just had to change his tie…”

And why that should have taken three adults to accomplish, she
couldn’t imagine. She glanced at her watch, wondering what Bill and
Tara and her mother were doing in the house. After all the fuss
Bill had made about leaving by 8:15, he would be the only reason
they were late to mass.

Of course, that wasn’t *entirely* true, she thought. Bill was
changing his tie because Wim had spit formula up on him as they were
settling him into his car seat. Scully put her head down and
grinned, unable to restrain a wicked chuckle thinking of the
accuracy of her boy’s aim. She was still smiling when Bill came
bounding down the wooden steps, fixing his collar, with Tara and
Maggie just behind. Bill ducked his head to peer into the car as he
jogged around to the driver’s side.

“We all ready?” he asked. “Mom, why don’t you sit up front – Tara
and Dana can sit in back to watch the kids -”

Tara looked at Scully and rolled her eyes as she climbed into the
far back, causing Scully to snort with laughter. Matthew twisted
awkwardly in his seat to look at his mother and aunt. “Why you
laugh?” he demanded as Scully slid the side-door closed.

“Nothing,” Tara laughed. “Are you all buckled up, baby?”

“Yes.”

“Yes what, Matthew?” Bill asked from the front, watching through the
rear-view mirror as he backed them out of the driveway.

“Yes ma’am,” Matty replied with a self-satisfied smile.

“That’s more like it,” Bill said, with a nod.

They drove in silence for a while, with Matthew singing tunelessly
and the wind swirling around inside the car. Wim, who faced Dana
and Tara in his car seat, was charming his aunt with a series of
spit-bubbles while Tara cooed over him, tweaking his toes through
his socks.

“Mom told us you haven’t planned a christening yet,” Tara said
quietly, glancing at her sister-in-law.

Scully blinked, not sure how to respond. They were on a long flat
stretch of highway now, and Bill had picked up speed, shutting the
windows and turning on the air-conditioner. Suddenly, the van
seemed very quiet.

“No,” Scully replied, hoping that the subject would drop. Baptizing
Wim was just one of the many issues she and Mulder had managed to
avoid in the last several weeks. It was complicated – that’s what
she’d been telling herself for months now, the excuse she sheltered
under whenever the subject threatened to come up. She wasn’t ready.
It was a conversation she knew would inevitably lead to a larger
discussion of religion, to a deconstruction and justification of
their own personal beliefs, a declaration of their plans for Wim’s
spiritual education and upbringing. She was only just getting used
to his feeding schedule – she wasn’t ready to argue about what
church they would take him to…if in fact Mulder wanted Wim to grow
up as a member of an organized church at all.

Which was not to say that she didn’t know what she wanted; she
wanted Wim to share her faith – to have him baptized into the
Catholic Church. She hadn’t dared say this to Mulder yet. For
someone so willing to believe, he had shown remarkably little
patience for anything even remotely smacking of dogma. She could
just imagine the way he’d respond to the idea of having a priest
bless their son with consecrated water. She took a deep breath and
steeled herself.

“I was telling Bill you’ve probably just been too busy to think
about it,” Tara said, careful not to make eye contact. Talk about
not entirely true, Scully thought.

Maggie had turned to look over her shoulder at them. “Too busy to
think about what?” she asked.

Scully avoided her mother’s stare, squeezing her back teeth together
and glancing out the window, then down at her hands.

Tara cleared her throat. “William’s christening,” she said.

“You really need to start making plans for that, Dana,” Maggie said,
turning to face front again. “You’re going to be surprised at how
many arrangements there are to make. If you’d like, I could call
Father McCue when we get home.”

“No – Mom, that’s not necessary -”

Maggie turned around again. “What? Honey? I don’t mind -”

“No, Mom.”

“Did you want to do it somewhere else?” Maggie asked. Her face was
lined with concern. “Somewhere closer to you? I guess it doesn’t
*have* to be at St. John’s -”

“It’s not that,” Scully said, letting her breath out as she shifted
uncomfortably in her seat. She knew there was no easy way out of
the conversation now. Maggie was twisted nearly completely around
in her own seat, watching her.

“Then what?”

“Ten to one she and Mulder can’t agree how they’re going to raise
the baby,” Bill said, flicking a glance at his sister through the
rear-view mirror. Scully could feel the blood rising in her face.

“Maybe you’ve forgotten how much work a newborn is, Billy,” Maggie
said warmly. Bill sought out Scully’s eyes in the mirror again, and
she returned his stare, warning him that she didn’t want to discuss
the subject any further.

“But Mulder’s not a Catholic, is he, Dana?” he said, turning his
eyes back toward the road. “Is he even Christian?”

“Billy, that has nothing to do with *anything*,” Tara said with
exasperation, giving Scully a nervous glance. Scully took another
deep breath. Bill might have promised to be on his best behavior,
but she had known he wouldn’t be able to keep his mouth shut when
something went against his idea of how things ought to be. He had
never known when to leave something alone. Scully clenched her jaw
tight and focused on Wim. They should just leave, she thought. As
soon as they got back from church, she would have Mulder take their
things back to the car, and they would drive back to D.C. that
afternoon –

Bill was laughing to himself. “I wouldn’t be surprised if he was
trying to talk you into inducting William into some kind of UFO cult
-”

“Billy -” Tara interjected.

“UFO cult or *not* -” Scully said, her tone low and clipped, “*I*
have yet to make any decisions regarding William’s christening. If
there’s going to be a christening at all.”

The van was silent.

If they hadn’t happened to be on such a particularly desolate
stretch of the coastal highway, if the road itself had had any kind
of shoulder or a single tree to offer shade, Scully would have
demanded that Bill pull over and let her and Wim out. Her phone was
in the diaper-bag – Mulder was only a call and a fifteen-minute
drive away. If she had not been afraid for Wim’s safety on the side
of the road, she wouldn’t have hesitated.

Maggie looked stricken in the front seat. “Oh,” she said, the words
sinking in. “Oh.”

Scully sighed. Trust her mother to pack thirty-seven years worth of
Catholic guilt into a single syllable.

“Mom…”

“No, Dana, that’s fine,” Maggie said, gazing out past the
windshield.

Scully gazed out at the passing dunes, knowing that the topic may
have been dropped – for now – but that it would bounce back sooner
than she would prefer. However honest, or not, she may have been in
saying that it was her own decision that had indefinitely postponed
Wim’s baptism, Bill had known the truth. And if they stayed, he
would likely be there to catch the rebound when the subject came up
again.

~

Mulder yawned drowsily and glanced at his reflection in the vanity
mirror over the bathroom sink. He needed a shave, there were lines
around his eyes that he could swear hadn’t been there when he’d gone
to bed, and his hair stuck out all over his head. But he felt good.
He hadn’t slept much, between Charlie’s arrival, the looping mental
soundtrack, and Scully’s early wakeup call for Mass, but the morning
looked blue and clear, and he could see the potential the coming
week held for the two of them. Potential for opening some of the
locked doors that still stood between them. They were away from
home, away from work, and surrounded by family, which he hoped
might spark a conversation or two. Get the ball rolling. Besides,
in a house full of Scullys, there would be plenty of opportunity to
spend some one-on-one time with his one and only while the relatives
cooed over Wim’s enchanting fart-and-grin routine.

He chuckled to himself at the thought. He had to admit, it had held
him entranced on more than one occasion until Scully had told him
that the chubby-cheeked, toothless gape wasn’t a real smile. It was
the gas. Since then he still enjoyed the display, but it wasn’t the
same as thinking that you’ve made a deep, meaningful connection with
your son.

Without anyone to know otherwise, Mulder scratched and improvised
his own version of Wim’s well-rehearsed routine, then he moved over
to the toilet to finish his own morning ritual. This triggered his
memory, reminding him that just after Scully’s wake-up call and
before he’d rolled over to go back to sleep, Scully had asked him to
go out for some more diapers. He would finish up in here and make a
run to the store and pick them up before she got home, and maybe get
a little exposure to the community in the process.

He yawned again, and his head lolled sleepily to one side. Everyone
had gone to church; he had the house to himself. The idea seemed
luxurious – an entire beach house to himself, for a few hours
anyway. No where to be, no one to care if he walked downstairs in
his boxers… He could just lie around and take advantage of the
solitude before the family returned –

His head snapped back up as a heavy *thump* pounded the wall just
above and to the right of his head. Blinking, he wondered if he’d
dreamed it, when –

*THUMP* – *bump*

The softer bumping continued for a moment, a rhythmic knocking that
continued for several seconds and then seemed to stop. Mulder
cocked his head closer to the wall, listening, waiting for it to
resume and wondering whether it had something to do with the house’s
plumbing or ventilation system, or perhaps –

Another heavy *thump* rattled the wall, followed by a long, low-
pitched moan and a soft, rolling chuckle. A woman’s voice murmured
something on the other side of the wall, and was answered by a much
lower register. Mulder smiled. It seemed he was not the only
person who thought they had the house to themselves.

The female voice sounded again – speaking, then yelping mid-
sentence.

“You know you love it,” the man’s voice cooed at her in the next
room. Mulder held his breath. It was Charlie –

“*Oh, yeeeaaaaahhhh…*”

– and Joy. They were in the next room, right on the other side of
the wall.

The resumption of the rhythmic knocking left little to Mulder’s
imagination. Finished with what he’d been doing, he found himself
torn between staying and listening, and leaving them to their
privacy. The sounds on the other side of the wall were growing more
animated –

“Oh, yes…oh *yeaahh* -”

“Uhhnn – ooh-yeah-baby…”

Mulder bit his lip. Amusing as it was, he couldn’t sit
eavesdropping while they got it on next door. He got up to leave,
meaning to dress and be out on the diaper-run before they were any
the wiser, but damn – should he flush? If he flushed, they’d know
he’d been there listening –

The knocking had become even louder pounding, *thump-thump-thump-
thump* against the creaking wall, rattling the porcelain lid on the
back of the toilet –

Suddenly there was a loud crash and everything came to a shattering
halt.

“Ah, shiiiiiiiit!”

Somberly, almost in awe, Joy replied, “You broke it.”

“Fuck!” Charlie exclaimed. “We gotta fix this before mom gets
back.”

Low, bubbling female laughter rose up. “You ripped it right out of
the wall!”

Mulder heard a low grumble, then Charlie joined in the laughter.
“Was it good for you too, baby?”

With a grin mirroring the laughter on the other side of the wall,
Mulder decided to crack the window and leave the flushing for later.
After closing the toilet lid and burning a few matches, he made a
mental note to come back and flush when he got back. Then,
scratching his head and with a wide yawn, he stumbled off to get
dressed.

~

There was a brand new orange basketball sitting in the middle of the
coffee table when they walked in the front door, but no one was in
the living room. Maggie, Bill, Tara and Matthew headed for their
respective rooms, with Matthew hopping on both feet and chattering
about going out to dig for crabs like his daddy had promised him.
Charlie and Joy were standing in the kitchen, pouring liberal cups
of coffee – just getting a start on their day. They were dressed in
scanty beach attire, Joy’s belly button ring clearly visible in her
bikini top and cut-off jeans shorts.

“Good morning,” Scully greeted them, setting Wim’s carrier down on
top of the kitchen island. “Where’s Mulder?”

Joy merely raised her eyebrows over the top of her coffee mug as she
took a sip, and Charlie swallowed, placing his mug down on top of
the counter. There was a slight smile on his lips, as if he were in
on a secret.

“Dunno,” he replied, scratching his chest. “We didn’t know anyone
else was home. Did you try the beach?”

She let out a soft huff. “No. But that seems the most likely place
to start.”

Of course, she couldn’t just ‘go down to the beach’. She would need
to change Wim’s clothes, change her own clothes, and slather both of
them with sunblock. With a sigh of resignation, she picked up the
carrier and hauled it up the stairs.

~

Scully had changed the baby out of his church outfit and put on her
own beach clothes when there was a tap on the bedroom door. Mulder
stepped inside, wearing shorts and a tee-shirt, his hair looking
like it had been combed by the wind.

“How was church?” he asked, picking Wim up out of his crib and
kissing his forehead.

She looked up from where she was sitting on the edge of the bed
applying sunscreen to her legs, and sighed heavily. “What would you
say if I told I you I wanted to go home right now?”

He sat down next to her, propping Wim up on his lap. “I’d say your
truce with Bill was short lived.” He looked at her with concern.
“What happened?”

“It’s not just Bill.” She bent over to reach her ankles, rubbing
the lotion in with a little more force than necessary. “It’s Mom,
Tara…I received the usual Scully family twenty questions on the
way to church today. They want to know when we’re going to have the
christening. I imagine Tara was already figuring she and Bill would
be the godparents…”

“What did you tell them?” Mulder asked, surprised that she was
bringing the subject up so easily; since Wim had been born, this had
been taboo subject number four or five – he’d lost count.

She squeezed another generous dollop of lotion into her palm and
bent to attack her other leg. “I told them I wasn’t sure there
would be a christening.”

Mulder pursed his lips and blew a silent whistle. He could just
imagine how well *that* had gone over. And of course, he would get
the blame for it, which, he thought, was fairly ridiculous,
considering he hadn’t had any input into the subject at all. He
took a deep breath and focused on the baby in his lap. “Do you want
Wim to be raised in the same faith and tradition you were raised
with?” he asked.

“It’s not that simple, Mulder,” she replied shortly, her statement
punctuated by the sound of the lotion cap clicking closed. She sat
up and gave him a pointed, frustrated look, rubbing the residual
sunscreen onto her forearms. “You know that.”

Of course he knew it wasn’t simple. If there was a word to describe
this relationship, this family, *simple* wasn’t it. He knew
Scully’s faith was important to her, that it was a large part of the
strength that kept her centered when the rest of the world made no
sense. It was only natural to assume that she would want to share
that with her son. Mulder had no qualms with that. The truth was, it
wasn’t of much consequence to him one way or the other if Wim was
raised Catholic or Muslim or Orthodox Jew. But he didn’t know how
to voice that without out sounding like he didn’t care – as though
he didn’t share an interest in Wim’s spiritual upbringing. On the
contrary, he hoped to be very involved. He wanted Wim to be exposed
to a variety of religious and spiritual influences.

“You knew it was bound to come up sooner or later,” he reminded her.
He knew this was a sensitive subject for Scully – one they had
rarely seen eye-to-eye on, and one that was obviously upsetting her
now – but he was glad that the issue had been broached.

She sighed and brushed her hair away from her face, her eyes
scanning the room restlessly. “I suppose so,” she said. After a
moment, she turned to look at him straight on, her eyes dark and
vulnerable. “What do you want?”

It was a loaded question, and he knew it was difficult for her to
ask, but it wasn’t any easier for him to answer. They needed to
talk about this, but he didn’t know how to have this conversation
without diving into some of the deeper issues – perhaps all of them.
He was more than a little uncertain about what she wanted from him
when it came to Wim, and how much of her own life she was willing to
let him invade. They had been spending every day and night
together, had been playing the roles of mommy and daddy just fine
while Scully got used to having the baby in her apartment, the
feedings and the diapers, the sleepless nights and thousand new
responsibilities. But how long it would continue was one of the
biggest questions on the table. This was the first time she’d asked
him what *he* wanted, and he already knew that would take as little
or as much as she was willing to allow, but now didn’t exactly seem
like the time to mention that he felt like he’d been flying blind,
especially considering her current mood.

So he evaded the question.

“I want you to feel good about your decision, whatever it is,” he
said without inflection.

She stood up and moved over to Wim’s changing table to stuff the
sunscreen and a few other things into his diaper bag. He heard her
exhale long and slow, and she didn’t look at him when she replied
carefully, “That’s all you have to say?”

He shrugged, reminding himself to isolate the issue and deal with
one thing at a time. “It’s just a baptism, Scully.” She stopped
what she was doing and rested her palms on the changing table,
saying nothing. He sighed. “If it makes your family happy,” he
went on, “if you believe that it will protect him against the sins
of the world and ensure that his eternal soul gets into heaven, then
what harm is it gonna do? Sprinkling a little water on his head is
a lot less traumatic than a circumcision, and you didn’t think twice
about that.”

She closed her eyes, dropping her chin to her chest with a resigned
sigh. “You’re right.” Turning to face him, her head still bowed,
she drew a deep breath, speaking again with more conviction.
“You’re right. I don’t know what I was so worried about.”

Then she looked at him, the troubled look still lingering in her
eyes. He wanted to say ‘me’, but he wasn’t sure if that were true,
or if he was merely projecting his own concerns into the situation.
He watched her silently.

She dropped her eyes and turned back to finish packing up the diaper
bag.

“Scully -” he started, thinking maybe they should take the
discussion further, and pausing to figure out what approach he
should take.

She didn’t turn back around. “What?” she said, nearly inaudibly.

He hesitated. She was tired, and she’d already had enough pressure
from her family this morning – she didn’t need any more from him.
Once they opened this topic wide, he knew there would be no putting
the lid back on it, and they were likely to end up with a lot more
than either of them was ready to handle right now.

When he didn’t respond she looked over her shoulder at him, and the
decision was made; this discussion would happen some other time.
Forcing a casual smile, he said, “You ready to hit the beach?”

~

Joy and Charlie were already down on the beach by the time they got
there, set up a few feet behind the wavering line of matted beach-
grass, shell bits, and seaweed that marked the furthest reach of the
last high-tide. Joy was standing in the center of a big Mexican
blanket, rubbing tanning oil onto her arms. Charlie was a few steps
away, rocking Maggie’s beach umbrella into the sand. He looked up
and grinned as he saw them approach.

“Hey -” he called, throwing his chin up at Mulder. “Do you surf?”

Mulder paused for a second, seeing the look Scully gave him over her
shoulder. He scrunched his face, squinting into the sun. “No,” he
admitted. “Not really.”

“Not at all,” Scully corrected.

“And how would you know?” Mulder asked. Scully simply tipped an
eyebrow at him.

“Neither does he,” said Joy, tilting her head at Charlie. Scully
chuckled.

“I know my way around a board, thank you very much,” Charlie said,
kicking sand around the base of the umbrella. He raised the green
and white striped top and clicked it into place. “I’ve surfed.”

Joy and Scully exchanged another wordless look that spoke volumes.

Charlie came to stand next to Mulder, crossing his arms over his
chest and surveying the ocean with the look of a connoisseur. “See
that?” he asked, his eyebrows raised appreciatively. The water
stretched, sparkling and blue, out to the horizon, churning slowly,
higher than it had been the day before. The waves started about a
hundred yards from the shoreline, swelling gradually as they neared
the beach, forming perfect turquoise curls before they broke in a
thunder of foam.

“Those’ve got to be six feet – maybe eight,” Charlie went on. “That
storm they’re talking about must really be kicking things up out
there.”

Mulder nodded. He had listened to the weather updates on the radio
when he had gone out on a diaper run earlier. Felix was still only
a tropical storm, but was moving quickly, gathering steam as it
cruised toward the Bahamas, following the same path that Hurricane
Fran had crashed across just five years before. The cashier at the
Food Lion had not seemed much perturbed by the possibility of
getting slammed again so soon.

“We had a wall of water fourteen feet high wash clear across here
back with Fran,” she had told him as she rang up a package of
Pampers, two bags of sunflower seeds, and the basketball Mulder had
grabbed on impulse in the seasonal-items aisle. “We get storms
every year,” she said, obviously unimpressed with Mother Nature’s
fiercest efforts. “We’re used to it.”

Which had caused Mulder to reflect that clearly, here was a woman
who had never been stuck in an apartment building flooded with man-
eating parasites. Common sense prevented him from making that
particular observation out loud, however, and he had paid for his
bag of necessities without further comment.

Charlie was still gazing out over the water with a look of
determination. “I was thinking we could go and rent a couple of
boards somewhere,” he said, “take advantage of these waves…what do
you say?”

“Sure,” Mulder said, liking the idea. “I passed a couple of places
with boards and stuff this morning -”

“Oh no,” Joy said. She snapped the cap of her sun oil closed and
tossed the bottle onto the corner of the blanket. “I’m not sitting
here all day while you pound yourself into the sand.”

The look in Scully’s eyes indicated her agreement as she handed Wim
to Mulder. “You’re not eighteen anymore,” she reminded him, then
raised her eyebrow at him again as she set their chairs up between
the umbrella and the blanket. “Keep that in mind, Moon-Doggie.”

“Do you hear that?” Mulder asked Wim, lifting him up at eye level
and waggling his body side to side. “Do you hear what your mom is
telling me?”

Wim grinned and hiccoughed as Scully approached to slip a denim Baby
Gap sunhat onto his head. He blinked with confusion.

“I want to keep him covered up out here,” Scully said, tying the hat
under Wim’s chin. She squinted up at Mulder. “You should have
something on too.”

“Nah,” Mulder said, smiling at his boy. “I never burn.”

“Famous last words,” Charlie chuckled, rubbing a palm’s worth of
lotion onto the back of his neck. “Hey Dane – remember that time at
the Kingsbury’s? When you and Kelly Casey put on baby-oil and laid
out for like, six hours -?”

“Don’t remind me,” Scully groaned. She was bent over, digging in
the huge bag she had brought down with them. She straightened up to
hand Mulder his sunglasses. “Here are these at least -”

“You don’t tan, do you,” said Joy, who was already well on her way
to gorgeous tropical color. She had shimmied out of her shorts,
revealing the rest of her string bikini, and was arranging herself
on the blanket for optimum sun-exposure. Scully had gone back to
rifling through her bag. She glanced up at Joy with a rueful grin.

“No,” she said, standing up with a tube of zinc oxide. She squeezed
a dollop onto her finger and smeared it along the bridge of her
nose. “I do not tan..”

Charlie laughed. “Leave her in the sun too long and you can’t tell
where Dane’s hair stops and her skin starts.”

“Ouch,” Mulder said. He reached out to touch the greasy white
stripe on Scully’s nose.

A small form came barreling toward them from the dunes, kicking sand
up behind him with each step. Matthew arrived at their spot on the
beach breathless, with an expression of serious intent on his face.
He dropped to his knees, heaving exaggerated breaths, winded from
his run.

“Hi, Matthew,” Scully said. “Are your parents coming down?”

“What’s that?” Matthew asked, pointing at the zinc oxide on Scully’s
face.

“Want some?” Scully asked him, squeezing out a small drop and
smearing it on his nose.

Matthew’s eyes crossed as he tried to see where Scully had put the
white cream on his nose. “I can’t see!”

“Here,” Joy said to him, sitting up and pulling a small compact out
of her beach bag. She flipped it open so he could peer in the
mirror. Matthew strained his neck until his face came into view.

“I no like it,” he said, wiping the back of his hand across his nose
and smearing the zinc all over his face.

“You’re going to have to learn to like it,” Tara called to him as
she and Bill approached, trudging awkwardly over the sand under a
burden of bags, folded beach-chairs, and brightly colored towels.
Between them they carried an enormous cooler.

“Mommy! I wanna dig for crabs!” Matthew exclaimed.

Charlie grinned at Tara and Bill, his hands on his hips. “Did you
leave *anything* in the house?” he quipped.

“There’s a few more things,” Bill replied, not catching Charlie’s
sarcasm. Tara had caught it, and rolled her eyes at her brother-in-
law. They set the cooler down on the other side of the umbrella,
and Bill set his half of stuff on the sand, surveying their spot
critically. “We’re gonna get wet the next time the tide comes in,
you know,” he said to none of them specifically.

“I think it’s okay,” Charlie said.

“You’ve got us right at the waterline, Charles -”

Charlie blinked at his brother. “We’re *fine*.”

Mulder caught the slight edge in Charlie’s tone – it was the first
time he had heard anything other than easy affability in the younger
man’s voice – and for a moment he had a remarkable sensation of
deja-vu. He knew that tone. He glanced at Scully, but she seemed
not to have noticed.

Bill had thrown up his hands and was shaking his head, obviously
assured that the tide would prove his point and Charlie wrong at the
same time. He squinted up the beach at Maggie, who was approaching.
“I’m going back up for the rest of the stuff,” he said, but didn’t
move right away.

Maggie appeared, smiling broadly at them from behind a pair of large
round sunglasses. “Hello everyone,” she called, letting her bag
fall to the sand near the base of the umbrella. “Well now who set
up my umbrella for me? Wasn’t that nice…”

“That was Charlie,” Scully said, sinking onto her own chair.

“Aren’t you sweet,” Maggie said, reaching out to give her younger
son’s cheek a pat. “Thank you, honey.”

Charlie grinned and waggled his eyebrows, moving quickly to set up
her chair for her.

“I’m going back up for the rest of our stuff,” Bill said again, but
no one seemed to hear. Charlie was making an elaborate show of
arranging his mother’s chair at exactly the perfect angle beneath
the umbrella, and setting her bag at just the right distance next to
it. He presented the seat to her with a flourish.

“Your *chair*, Mrs. Onassis -”

Maggie clucked her tongue while the others laughed, tipping her
glasses down far enough to give her younger son a look.

“Oh, you tease,” she said with mock indignation. “But these happen
to be the *height* of fashion -”

This garnered another round of laughter. Matthew looked among the
adults in confusion. “Mommy -”

“Matty, what happened to your bag of beach toys?” Maggie asked,
settling into her chair.

“Daddy’s getting it,” Matthew answered.

“I’m getting it,” Bill reiterated. “Is there anything you need
while I’m up there, Mom?” he asked. He glanced at everyone else.
“Anyone?”

No one took him up on his offer, and he turned his back on them,
finally trudging back up the beach toward the house. Matthew
plopped back down on the sand. “I wanna dig for crabs,” he
announced loudly, taking up two fistfuls of sand and releasing it
into the air.

“Baby – don’t throw,” Tara said, grabbing one of his hands and
emptying it before he could fling again. She stooped to unfold
their chairs, and dropped their towels and bags on top of one of
them. “We couldn’t carry everything at once,” she told them. “Bill
organized it into two trips so I could set up the chairs down here
while he went up for the rest,” she went on, clearly amused by her
husband’s efficient planning. Squinting back up the beach, she
watched as Bill disappeared back over the dune with an indulgent
smile.

“That’s our Bill,” Charlie said, the good humor back in his voice.
“Always the Eagle Scout. Such a good sailor.”

“Not for much longer,” Tara replied, positioning her chair in the
shade next to her mother-in-law and dropping into it with a sigh.

“What do you mean?” Scully asked, sitting forward.

“Mommy,” Matthew vied for Tara’s attention. “Mommy!”

“Yes, Matthew, we’ll dig for crabs,” Tara said automatically, then
glanced over at Scully. “Billy’s considering taking early
retirement.”

Scully looked from Tara to her mother as she sank back on her chair,
unbelieving. The Navy was her older brother’s life; from the time
Scully could remember, it was all Bill had wanted: to follow their
father’s shining example. He had done Junior NROTC in high school,
had graduated second in his class at Annapolis and risen quickly
through the ranks, highly respected and well recommended. Twenty
years later, he had Commander’s stripes on his dress whites, and a
chest-full of decorations that would have made Ahab proud. Scully
felt a sinking around her heart; leaving the Navy would be as
traumatic for her brother as leaving the Bureau was for Mulder.

“What happened?” she asked.

Tara looked at Maggie, then back at Scully. “Well, he’s been
thinking about it for awhile – he says the Navy’s not the same place
it used to be – but he was passed up for promotion recently, and
that was the clincher. He’s topped out and there’s not much reason
for him to stay.”

Scully looked back at her mother. From Maggie’s expression it was
clear she had heard all of this already.

Charlie let out a low whistle and stretched out next to Joy on the
boldly striped blanket. “So what is he going to do?”

“He hasn’t decided,” Tara said, her shoulders peaking with a little
shrug. Then an anxious expression crossed her face, and she glanced
at each of them. “It’s a touchy subject,” she warned them. “I
wouldn’t bring it up unless he does.”

Mulder handed Wim to Scully and sat down in the chair next to her.
“Interesting policy,” he muttered under his breath. Scully turned
and raised a knowing eyebrow at him. Joy chuffed to his left, and
he looked over to see her smiling and shaking her head.

“Would you stay in San Diego?” Scully asked. Tara had caught and
pinned Matthew between her legs and was rubbing sunscreen between
his bird-like shoulder blades. She frowned.

“Well…” she said, raising her eyebrows and tipping her head side
to side. She ran her slick hands down Matthew’s arms one last time
and gave his rear end a gentle swat. “Go on, you’re done,” she
said. Matthew gave her a look over his shoulder, holding his newly
slathered arms out from his sides.

“I go to the water,” he said.

“Only up to your toes until Dad gets back,” Tara told him. “Or the
crabs’ll getcha!”

Her hands dashed out to tickle his ribs and he ran away, squealing
merrily. Tara watched him as ran to the water, stopping just at the
waterline and looking back for her approval. She gave him a thumbs-
up, calling: “Ok, baby! That’s far enough for now -!” Then she
turned back to Scully, her face losing its carefree expression. “We
really like it in California,” she said, returning to the prior
question. “But both our families are back here – and I know my
mother would like to see Matty more often -”

“Of course she would,” Maggie said, closing her book over her thumb
and twisting slightly in her chair. Tara took a deep breath and
continued.

“And my sister Patti just had a baby this summer too.” She cast a
fond glance at Wim, and sighed. “I’m really hoping Billy will
consider moving back to Virginia. Or maybe up to Pennsylvania, by
my family -”

She left off as she caught sight of Bill coming back over the dunes,
and she slumped back into her chair. “It’s just not an easy thing
to talk about right now.”

Mulder looked at Scully, who held his glance for several beats while
Wim squirmed in her lap. In a way, it was good to know that this
kind of lack of communication was not something peculiar to their
relationship. But hearing this about Bill and Tara did somewhat
underscore the number of things that Mulder and Scully had avoided
for months now because they weren’t ‘easy’ to talk about.

Scully looked away, getting up to lay Wim in the shade. Some
minutes and one long silence later, Bill arrived back, dropping a
large mesh sack full of bright plastic pails and shovels on the sand
next to Tara’s chair.

“Are you watching him down there?” he asked her, squinting down the
beach at Matthew, who was squatting near the waterline, examining
something on the sand. Tara shaded her eyes to look up at her
husband.

“I’ve got my eye on him,” she said. “He wants you to go dig for
sand-crabs with him.”

Bill nodded, and pulled his shirt off over his head. He glanced
around the group of them – Charlie and Joy sunning on their blanket,
Maggie reading quietly under the umbrella, Scully arranging Wim on
his blanket. His eyes stopped the longest on Mulder, who was
leaning forward with his elbows on his knees. Mulder looked up and
returned Bill’s stare without expression. Bill looked away first.

“You all sure are quiet,” he observed. He tossed his folded shirt
onto one of Tara’s bags, and stood with his hands on his hips.
Charlie pushed himself up on his elbows and squinted up at his older
brother.

“We were talking about you, Billy-boy,” he grinned.

Bill gave a half-amused, half-impatient snort and bent to reach into
the bag of toys. “Oh, good things, I’m *sure*,” he said with a
smirk, causing Charlie to chuckle. Bill pulled a bright orange pail
out of the mesh sack and started to walk down toward the water.
Charlie pushed himself up on his elbows.

“If you catch a bunch -” he called after his brother, “we can have
sand-crab cocktail with dinner!”

There was a volley of disgusted exclamations from the rest of the
party, and halfway to the water’s edge, Bill turned and walked
backwards a few steps, grinning back at them before he turned with a
wave of the orange pail. Charlie continued to chuckle softly as he
lay back on the blanket.

“That’s really gross,” Joy murmured drowsily without looking up.
Mulder was just close enough to hear Charlie’s whispered reply:

“*You love it*.”

Mulder smiled to himself, looking up as Scully came to sit down
again. She gave him a look of mild surprise when he reached between
them to take her hand. Beside them, Charlie was still murmuring to
Joy.

“You know,” Charlie said, his voice low and obviously meant only for
Joy, “I hear that the best time to dig for sand-crabs is at night.”

Joy laughed softly, deep in her throat. “Is that right…”

“Mmm-hmm,” Charlie said. He lowered his voice further. “And I was
thinking,” he said, “that maybe you and I could come out and, you
know – ‘dig for sand-crabs’ one of these nights…”

“You did, did you,” Joy murmured with interest.

“Yeaahhh,” Charlie drawled. “I know how you love a good sand-crab
cocktail…”

Joy let out a throaty chuckle. Mulder turned to see if Scully had
caught any of this exchange, but her attention was on Wim. He
glanced at Charlie and Joy on their blanket – Charlie was rolled
toward Joy and had covered her stomach with one large hand. Joy was
squinting up at him with one eye, smiling.

“I *know* you’re not trying to ruin my tan,” she warned. Charlie
grinned down at her, his head propped on his other hand.

“And what if I did?” he asked.

Joy closed her eyes again. “I’d tell your mother,” she said, her
voice sleepy. Charlie laughed, ducking in to kiss her mouth before
he settled back onto the blanket. He caught Mulder’s eye as he
rolled over, and winked.

“Ah-yup,” Charlie mused quietly, closing his eyes and lacing his
hands over his chest. His voice was just loud enough for Mulder to
hear. “Everyone loves a good sand-crab cocktail.”

~

The day on the beach produced a tranquil, almost somnolent
camaraderie among the various inhabitants of the beach-house called
‘Perfect Harmony,’ which felt like a house under the spell of it’s
own name as Scully came slowly down the stairs after her shower.
She felt warm and drowsy, ready to join her family for a pleasant
meal. The morning’s tension seemed very far away as she wandered
through the quiet to the kitchen area, which took up the entire
northwest corner of the great-room on the main floor. Her mother
and Tara had taken a pause in their dinner preparations and were
leaning against the counters, chatting, wineglasses in hand. A
large bottle of white wine sat perspiring on the counter behind
them. Maggie tilted her head to the side with a slow smile as
Scully approached.

“Hi, honey,” she said. Scully took a deep breath of beach-scented
air and returned her mother’s smile. “You got some color today.”

“Hi – yes, I did,” she said. She glanced into the great-room, where
Matthew was kneeling by the coffee table with a coloring book and a
huge box of crayons. “Where’s everyone else?”

“Well, Billy’s outside getting the grill ready,” Tara said, heaving
herself away from the counter and opening one of the cupboards to
pull down another glass. “And Joy and Charlie went to the store for
something -”

“Saline solution,” Maggie said around a sip of wine.

“That’s right,” said Tara, holding the new glass out to Scully.
Scully held it under the bottle as Tara poured.

“Thanks,” she said, forcing a smile and trying to tamp her rising
alarm over the fact that Wim had not been accounted for. Tara
picked her own glass up and clinked it against Scully’s.

“It’s really good,” she said. “I was just telling your Mom.”

Scully nodded, unable to keep from taking another anxious glance
around the room. She was aware that Tara and her mother were
watching her with amusement.

“Your man’s on the porch,” Tara said, taking a sip from her glass
with a playful smile. “Reading, I think.”

“My *m-*?” Scully half-repeated on a breathy laugh before she caught
herself and shut her mouth. Her man. Mulder as *her man*. She
took a taste from her glass, feeling a blush bloom in her sun-pinked
cheeks.

“He’s got the baby with him,” Maggie told her.

Scully cleared her throat and gave the other women a quick, tight-
lipped smile, hoping they her momentary loss of composure hadn’t
been too noticeable. “I guess I’ll go find him,” she said.

She padded softly through the room, past the couches, pausing just
long enough to hear Tara and Maggie’s gentle laughter and Maggie’s
soft comment, “Old habits die hard.”

She rolled her eyes – so they’d noticed – and passed through to the
screened-in porch. Mulder was there with Wim, not reading, but
sleeping. Both of them were dead to the world, Mulder slumped low
in one of the Adirondack chairs, his feet crossed on top of a nearby
end-table, diaper-clad Wim sprawled and drooling on his father’s
bare chest. Scully felt her insides tighten and twist with an
affection she thought might melt her where she stood.

Her man. Her men.

She stepped closer and gently took the paperback that dangled from
Mulder’s left hand, reaching up to slip the glasses away from his
face. She was folding them gently against her stomach and trying to
decide whether she should risk waking Wim by picking him up, when
she felt a warm hand slip along the back of her leg and curl behind
her knee.

“I’m not sleeping,” Mulder whispered without opening his eyes.
Scully smiled.

“No?”

“Uh-uh,” he murmured. He took a long breath, lifting Wim slightly
as he filled his lungs. “Just checking my eyelids for holes…”

Scully nodded – though he couldn’t see it – and her eyes wandered
along his relaxed figure, admiring him. “Do you want a glass of
wine?” she asked quietly. Mulder shook his head.

“I’ve got a beer…” His hand left the back of her leg to grope near
the base of his chair. “Somewhere -”

She toed the bottle over to his hand and he gripped it. “There it
is,” he murmured. He smiled up at her, his eyes still closed, and
his hand, now cold with condensation from the beer bottle, crept
back around her knee. “I was having the most incredible dream -”

“I thought you weren’t sleeping.”

“I was half-sleeping…but I was dreaming,” he said, sounding less
than half-awake now. “You were there…”

He said nothing more for a little while. Scully thought he had
fallen back asleep, and had begun to reconsider taking Wim inside
for his bottle, when the sound of feet on the outside steps barely
preceded the loud crash of the front door as it flung wide and
bounced off the inside wall. Charlie’s voice followed quickly.

“Ooh – sorry -!”

Mulder opened his eyes as Wim startled awake and jerked rigidly
against his chest. The baby’s face looked momentarily surprised
before it contorted and went red, and Wim let out with a long, ear-
splitting cry. Again, Charlie’s voice followed quickly, closer this
time.

“Oh, I’m *really* sorry -” Charlie appeared in the doorway to the
porch, cradling an enormous watermelon. “Did that scare him?”

Scully picked the baby up and soothed him on her shoulder as Mulder
sat up, grinding the heels of his hands into his eye sockets. She
gave her brother a rueful smile. “Yeah,” she said, moving through
the doorway and past him. “It’s okay.”

Wim was still crying as Charlie followed her back into the living
room and toward the kitchen area. “I’m sorry – I lost hold of the
door and it swung in really fast -”

Joy had joined Maggie and Tara behind the counter, and was unpacking
two brown-paper grocery bags, with a third folded closed at her
feet. She grimaced in sympathy as Wim continued to wail. “Awww,
I’m sorry, Dana – was he sleeping?”

“It’s time for him to eat anyway,” Scully said, pulling the
refrigerator open to grab one of Wim’s bottles. Bill and Mulder
wandered in at the same time from opposite directions, each of them
stopping just outside the kitchen area. Mulder had pulled his tee-
shirt back on, and Bill was holding a large pair of barbeque tongs
in one hand, clicking them absently.

“Scaring babies again, Charles?” he asked with a broad grin.

“Ha ha ha,” Charlie said. He set the watermelon on the counter,
keeping his hand on it to prevent it from rolling. The room was
quiet except for the sound of Wim’s remarkably consistent and
undeniably angry crying as Scully went about warming the bottle on
the stove. Charlie winced. “Jeez – is he okay? Did I hurt his
ears or something -?”

“He’s okay,” Scully said, patting Wim’s diapered behind. Mulder
stepped forward to take him, to free Scully’s hands, and she
relinquished the baby gratefully. Wim screeched as he was pulled
away from his mother, but fell silent the instant Mulder pressed him
to his chest.

Scully caught Mulder’s eye and smiled. The rest of the kitchen
looked on, amazed.

“*That*,” Joy said, “is *incredible*.”

Mulder chuckled softly as he shuffled to the island and perched on
one of the stools. Wim hiccoughed, and stared goggle-eyed over his
father’s shoulder as everyone smiled indulgently at him.

From the doorway, they could hear Bill clicking his tongs. “Grill’s
ready,” he said. “Everyone know how they want their burgers? Mom?”

“Medium, honey,” Maggie answered, tearing her eyes away from the
baby. Tara looked up, then went back to work on the tomato she was
slicing.

“Me too. And put a hotdog on for Matty…?”

Mulder and Scully joined in on the order of medium burgers, and Bill
looked toward Charlie and Joy. “What about you guys?” he asked.
“How do you like ’em?”

“We don’t eat meat,” Joy told him, re-folding one of the empty paper
bags. Bill raised his eyebrows, glancing at Charlie.

“Well, then what’re you gonna eat?” Bill asked. “I mean, there’s
only so much potato salad -”

“We bought some tempeh,” Joy said, showing Bill a vacuum-sealed
block of something that resembled white cheese. “You can throw this
on the grill toward the end. Just leave a clean space in one of the
corners for us – I’m going to make a marinade for it -”

“But what the hell is it?” Bill asked.

“Billy -”

“What the hell is it -!” Matthew mimicked from the living room.

Tara scowled at Bill, but Joy smiled good-naturedly. “It’s bean
curd,” she said. “Like tofu. I’ll slice it up and bring it out to
you.”

Bill eyed the package of tempeh suspiciously, then turned his gaze
on his brother, who was leaning against the counter with his head
bowed, trying not to laugh. “*Bean* curd, Charles?” Bill asked.

“I want bean cuhd, too!” Matty announced.

Charlie looked up and lost it, his laughter quickly followed by
everyone else’s. Everyone except Bill, who was shaking his head
incredulously at the rest of them, and Mulder, who had gotten up
from his stool and walked with Wim to the other side of the great-
room.

“You’re *not* having bean curd,” Bill told his son sternly.

Mulder looked back and caught Scully’s eye as she grinned.

“I’ll be in here,” he mouthed to her with a wink and nod toward the
porch. Scully nodded, her eyes still twinkling.

When he turned, Mulder found himself looking into a pair of dark,
almond-shaped eyes. Joy met his gaze for a moment before she looked
back down at the small pile of groceries in front of her, just long
enough for Mulder to notice that, though her eyes were friendly, Joy
had not been laughing, either.

~

Maggie set a container of potato salad on the table and sank
gratefully into the seat Bill had saved for her at the head of the
table. She smiled. There were few things that could make her feel
the way she felt with her family gathered around her – a rare
circumstance that, in the last several years, she had learned not to
take for granted. Tears pricked the backs of her eyes as they
roamed the table among the faces of her children and the people they
loved. It had been years since they’d all been together.

And of course, the family would never be completely whole again, not
in this life. There was the inevitable and expected pang for those
missing from this meal. Maggie sighed to think of how her Bill
would have enjoyed this week surrounded by his children, of the
delight Melissa would have taken in her nephews. She could imagine
their joy, could feel their presence at the table. They were
familiar, beloved ghosts, and the ache of missing only sharpened her
appreciation for those present. How she loved them all.

Bill was seated to her right. She moved to cover his hand with
hers, causing her older son to look up with an expression of mild
surprise. Then he smiled, turning his hand to grasp hers. He
reached beside him with his other hand to pick up Matthew’s small
fist.

“Want to say the blessing, Mom?” he asked.

The rest of the table paused in their conversations to look up.
Charlie took the hint first, reaching for Joy’s hand on his right,
and his sister’s on his left. Maggie saw the smiling glance her two
younger children shared as everyone clasped hands around the table,
knowing they probably thought she was being sentimental. Well let
them think it, Maggie thought with another smile. So what if she
was. If you couldn’t be sentimental about your own family, what was
the fun of being a mother?

Maggie took Joy’s hand in her left, completing the circle around the
table, and everyone bowed their heads while she intoned the prayer.
“Bless us, oh Lord…”

Matthew chirped up as soon as the last “Amen” was said, exclaiming a
bright, “I wike a beach!”

The table laughed gently as they dug into their plates, and Charlie
leaned forward, grinning across the table at his nephew. “What was
that, Matty?”

“I wike a beach!” Matthew repeated.

“He likes the beach,” Tara translated, cutting Matthew’s hotdog in
half.

“Yeah,” Matthew agreed. “Ketchup,” he told his mother.

“Ketchup what, Matt?” Bill asked.

“Pweeease,”* Matthew drawled sweetly. Bill ruffled his son’s hair
with a smile.

“We usually take turns saying something we’re thankful for after we
say grace,” Bill explained, glancing from his wife to his mother.
Maggie smiled, remembering the tradition from her own dinner table.

“That’s really nice,” Joy said. She looked at Matthew. “So you’re
thankful for the beach, Matty?”

Matthew nodded enthusiastically, his mouth full of hotdog bun.

“Well,” Joy said, “I’m thankful for the beach too. And that I
finally get to meet all of you.”

Maggie returned Joy’s warm smile, seeing the affectionate hand that
Joy ran along Charlie’s back. Charlie turned, and Maggie saw the
look that passed between the two young people.

Dana sat on Charlie’s other side, preoccupied, turning to check on
the baby every few moments. Wim was sleeping soundly in his carrier
on the counter just behind his mother, oblivious to her constant
concern. Fox, who sat at the foot of the table, put a hand on
Dana’s wrist. “He’s fine…” he whispered. He eyes met Maggie’s
when he looked up and he gave her a brief, uncertain smile.

“Well,” Maggie said, glancing around the table. “I know I’m just
glad to have you all here. It’s been a long time since we all sat
around a table like a family.”

Everybody voiced their agreement, and Charlie initiated a brief
clinking of wineglasses and beer-bottles. Maggie allowed herself a
contented sigh as everyone returned to their food and the table fell
quiet again. Perfection would have been having her husband and
older daughter here with them, but she knew not to wish for the
impossible. Looking around once more at the faces of her children,
she knew was blessed in the moment.

There was much to be thankful for.

~

The sky was orange and pink, scattered with darkly outlined clouds
that alluded to the potential for rain, but created a more
spectacular sunset with their presence. Dinner had been consumed
and cleared away, and the sated party moved onto the screened porch
to watch darkness fall. Maggie enlisted Charlie’s help in bringing
out citronella candles from the kitchen cupboard to keep the
mosquitoes at bay.

Maggie, Tara and Bill challenged Mulder, Charlie and Joy to a game
of Trivial Pursuit, and everyone did their best to coax Scully onto
their team for help with the most difficult Science and Nature
questions. Scully merely shook her head from the rocking bench where
she sat with Matthew and Wim, lulling the boys into near-slumber
with the soothing tone of her voice as she told them a very
condensed, very tame version of Moby Dick.

By the time Captain Ahab and the white whale had met their watery
ends, the two teams had collected an even number of pie slices, and
Tara got up to take Matthew in to bed. The little boy was barely
able to hold his eyes open as he protested, “But I’m not sweepy!”
The game was called at a draw when Scully declined both side’s pleas
to take Tara’s place, and everyone relaxed back in their seats.

“I remember your father telling you that story just like that,”
Maggie said, leaving the table and taking Matthew’s vacated seat on
the bench next to Scully. Wim was sleeping peacefully, a soft snore
rising up with each breath.

“I must have it memorized word for word,” Scully replied, tucking
the blanket closer around her son’s body.

Joy glanced at Charlie with one eyebrow raised. “Your dad read you
Moby Dick?” she asked, her voice low, but not so soft that they
didn’t all hear it.

Charlie was busy packing the game cards back into their boxes. He
looked up at Joy. “Not me, just Starbuck over there.” Grinning, he
raised his chin toward his sister.

Maggie gave Scully’s knee a squeeze. “It was their special thing,”
she said, smiling. “I can still hear your father reading aloud to
you. You two never got tired of that same old story.”

“It’s a great story,” Scully said, curling her hand over her
mother’s.

Bill got up, the wooden legs of his chair scraping loudly on the
deck. He ran a hand over the back of his head with a long sigh.
“I’m turning in,” he said, offering his former teammates and
opponents a polite expression that didn’t quite make it to a smile.

“Night dear,” Maggie called after him. Bill threw her a half-smile
over his shoulder as he disappeared into the house.

There was silence among the group on the porch, marked by the sound
of cicadas and the pounding surf. After a few minutes, Scully stood
up carefully, taking a deep breath and shifting Wim from one arm to
the other.

“I think I’ll go up too,” she said, bending down so her mother could
place a kiss on William’s cheek.

Maggie gave him a soft nuzzle and smiled up at her daughter,
reaching out and giving her arm a gentle squeeze. “Goodnight,
sweetheart.”

Scully smiled and walked Wim over to the table so Mulder could say
goodnight to his boy.

“‘Night buddy,” Mulder whispered, pulling the baby’s hand to his
lips. Raising his eyes to Scully’s, he asked, “You coming back
down?”

She shook her head. “I think I’ll read a while.”

Mulder gave her a disappointed look, and Charlie mock-whined, “Can
Mulder stay out and play with us a little longer?”

Scully chucked. “God, that’s *still* annoying after all these
years.”

“Hey, it always worked, didn’t it?” Charlie grinned. “Remember
that kid we always played kickball with out on the Admiral’s lawn -”

“Michael Hayes,” Maggie supplied, stepping forward and placing a
hand on his shoulder. “Captain Hayes’ son.”

“You going in too, Mom?” Charlie asked, wrapping an arm around his
mother’s waist and giving her a gentle squeeze.

Maggie nodded, running a hand through the thick hair on the back of
his head. “I’ve just started a new novel and I’m anxious to get
back to it.”

Charlie stage-whispered to Joy, “Mom has just discovered Harry
Potter.”

A blushed crept over Maggie’s cheeks, and Charlie gave her another
squeeze before letting go. “Michael Hayes,” he grinned at his
sister, who grinned broadly back, both of them obviously remembering
their former playmate. “‘I’m telling my dad!'” Charlie whined,
pushing his glasses up his nose.

Scully giggled and Maggie shook her head at them fondly, then
glanced at Joy, Mulder, and back to Charlie. “Well,” she said,
“don’t stay out too late.”

“Tell Harry the muggles say hello,” Charlie said.

The kids laughed affectionately at Maggie’s flustered “Oh Charles,”
as she waved goodnight and stepped inside.

Joy followed her into the house, and Scully looked over at Mulder
with a warm expression that said ‘come up when you’re ready.’

“I’ll be up in a while,” he replied with a warm smile. She nodded,
carrying Wim into the house.

Mulder and Charlie were reclining in their seats, enjoying the night
sounds of the beach, when Joy returned a few minutes later with a
fresh round of beers.

She sat down at the table, her eyes fixed on Charlie. “So what’s the
deal with your brother and your sister?” she asked.

Mulder’s eyes widened with surprise at her direct question, a slight
smirk curving his lips. His own personal experience and powers of
observation had given him a few notions about the state of affairs
as they existed between Scully and her older brother – there was no
ignoring the tension that had been hanging like a fog between the
two siblings during the last day-and-a-half, and, Mulder knew, much
longer than that. Of course he was curious to know the origins of
this rift between brother and sister – suspecting, of course, that
it was none other than himself – but curious or not, he doubted he
would ever have brought the question up. He sat forward in
anticipation, glad that Joy had the balls to ask about the situation
outright, and interested to hear what Charlie’s take on it might be.

Charlie smiled and twisted the cap off his beer. He looked up at
Mulder with a grin like a challenge, as if he’d read his thoughts.
“What *is* with my sister and brother?” he asked.

“Don’t look at me,” Mulder said, shaking his head. “I’ve only seen
the Reader’s Digest condensed version of that book.”

Charlie snorted, taking a sip of beer. “Don’t sweat it, man,” he
said. “Dana is notoriously closed-mouthed. She probably tells you
more than she tells anybody. She hardly talks to Bill at all…”

Joy narrowed her eyes at him shrewdly. “Nuh-uh,” she said slowly.
“No, there’s more to it than that. It’s not just a lack of
communication – there’s something else there. And it comes from
both sides. Definitely a two-way vibe there.”

Mulder smirked again at Joy’s sharp aim and took a swig of beer as
Charlie put his own bottle down on the table and stretched out his
arms dramatically, dragging out the moment.

“All right then…let me tell you how it is with the Scully family,”
Charlie drawled, “as you are but two innocent non-Scullys, and
unfamiliar with the lay of the land. Or the sea, as it were.”

Mulder grinned, but he felt a small niggling of guilt for
encouraging the topic. If Scully had wanted him to know about this,
she would have told him herself. He leveled his gaze at Charlie.
“Am I gonna get my ass kicked for this?” he asked, deadpan.

Joy chuckled, and Charlie grinned. “That depends on what you plan
to do with this information, my friend. I suggest you keep it
close, stay out of the way, and let nature run her course.”

“Sage advice,” Joy replied glibly. “From a master, I’m sure.”

“*Years* of practice,” Charlie said, leaning back and clapping his
hand smugly against her thigh. “I, myself, am an expert in the
‘throw, duck, and cover’ method.”

“So let me guess,” Joy said, sitting up in her seat, her thick dark
hair falling forward over her shoulder. She brushed it back
impatiently and continued. “Your father and Dana were close, and
Bill has issues with that that he has never come to terms with.”

Charlie made a ‘not bad’ face at Mulder, pointing his thumb at Joy.
Mulder laughed, sipping from his bottle, while Joy leaned back in
her seat, her eyes shining with self-satisfaction as she took a long
drink from her beer.

“So how do you fit into all of it, sweetums?” she blinked at Charlie
innocently.

Charlie laughed. “Me? I told you, I stay out of the way. I’m the
youngest, so nobody expected anything from me. Bill was out there
proving himself to everybody, Melissa was the sensitive one, Dana
the smart one…by the time I came along, Mom and Dad were tired, so
they pretty much left me alone.”

Mulder and Joy laughed, the sound fading softly as the wind carried
it away. Mulder had the impression that despite his claims, Charlie
wasn’t one to stay out of the way, any more than he could truthfully
claim to be exempt from the burden of familial responsibility.
Scully and Bill weren’t the only siblings who had long-standing
issues between them. Based on the few times he’d seen Charlie and
Bill interact on the beach that afternoon, and then later at dinner,
there were some interesting dynamics going on there as well. Mulder
supposed it was inevitable.

It was a pleasant night, and they all grew quiet as the ocean breeze
kicked up, whistling through the screens with the marine smell of
salt and sea oats. The candle flames danced and flickered on their
wicks, but were not extinguished. Somewhere above them, they heard
the sound of a window either opening or closing.

“Are we too loud?” Charlie called up.

Scully’s voice came down to them through the screen, her low whisper
sounding strangely close. “No, Wim’s sleeping fine. I’m just
trying to get a little more air in here.”

“Or eavesdropping to see if we’re talking about you,” Charlie added,
with a wink at Mulder. Mulder grinned at the easy way Charlie
teased his sister.

“That’s why I’m the smart one,” Scully came back softly, and Mulder
imagined he could hear her smiling as the trio on the deck laughed
again.

He was still glad they had come. Scully hadn’t seen Charlie in
years, and it was clear that she had missed her younger brother, and
was enjoying his company as much as Charlie seemed to enjoy hers.
Whatever the situation with Bill, maybe it was worth a little
awkwardness, a little discomfort if it meant a chance for Scully to
spend time with the rest of her family. As for himself, he liked
Charlie and Joy a lot; they were proving themselves to be
entertaining and interesting companions.

Joy had turned her head and was studying Mulder thoughtfully.

“Why Wim?” she asked.

“That’s what was on the box he came in,” Mulder said, looking at her
without expression. His eyes, however, belied his humor.

Joy read his intention and rolled her eyes dramatically. Charlie
laughed, commenting, “William is a big name for a little baby.”

Mulder nodded, thinking perhaps he meant that in more ways than one.

“William,” Joy said experimentally. “Will, Willie, Billy, Bill -”

“- not Bill,” Mulder interrupted, with a shake of his head. Then he
shrugged. The name was self-explanatory. “Wim.”

Joy’s direct gaze remained focused on Mulder. “So why Mulder and
Scully?” she prodded. “Is that an F.B.I. thing?”

Mulder considered the question, a fond smile on his lips. “I don’t
know,” he said after a moment. “Not everyone calls each other by
their surnames. For us it started as a work thing and I guess it
just stuck.”

Charlie was still pondering something, his head was tilted slightly
left, looking at Mulder with an arched brow that reminded Mulder a
lot of Scully, especially behind the glasses. “Your father was a
William, right? That’s what I heard, anyway.” Mulder nodded in
confirmation, and Charlie continued. “Was your dad a ‘Wim’ too?”

Mulder shook his head and drained his bottle of beer. “Bill,” he
said carefully, setting the bottle down on the table, his voice
neutral when he added, “Like your dad.”

There was a long pause, one that revealed more about Mulder’s
relationship to his father than he would have divulged out loud.
Joy looked from one man to the other. “Wow,” she said. “You mean
*both* your fathers were named Bill?”

“What are the chances?” Mulder quipped, glad to be steering away
from an uncomfortable conversation.

“Zero – in my situation,” she said, leaning back in her chair and
hooking her bare heels on the edge of the seat. “I don’t know who
my father is.”

Mulder nodded politely, and there was a long pause. There seemed to
be an uncertainty in the air regarding the direction of the topic,
and Mulder couldn’t read Joy’s vocal inflection or her expressions
with enough confidence to comfortably continue the conversation. So
he said nothing.

“Joy grew up in a commune,” Charlie explained finally. “Instead of
a single mom and dad, she was raised by a village.”

Mulder glanced at Joy, and saw her expression and her body language
remained open. “No kidding?” he asked, with interest. “A real
flower child, huh?”

Joy grimaced and shook his head. “Not exactly,” she said. “It
started out kind of like that, I guess, but it was a co-op, really.”

Mulder nodded. “Was it self-sufficient or based on trade?”

“Trade,” Joy replied over the tops of her knees as she bounced them
together with nervous energy. “We produced pottery and jewelry that
we sold and traded for materials and necessities.”

“She learned about art and how to make a deal,” Charlie added, his
voice laced with pride. “That’s why she’s such a kick-ass gallery
agent now.”

Mulder could imagine that. With her confidence and direct manner,
he might have guessed she would be a shrewd negotiator. And Charlie
was an artist – Scully had mentioned once that his medium was
sculpture – as evidenced by the permanent tinge of gray modeling
clay that lingered around the cuticles of his fingernails.

“Is that how you met?” Mulder asked.

There was a pause as Joy and Charlie looked at each other with
amusement. “Sort of,” Joy replied without breaking eye contact.
Then she turned her head toward Mulder. “We met at a gallery
opening.”

“Just like John and Yoko,” Charlie added, and Joy gave him a playful
slap.

“Shut *up* -!” she complained. “You always say that, and we are
*nothing* like John and Yoko.”

Charlie laughed, and it was evident this was one of their favorite
things to bicker over. “Oh come on,” Charlie said. “There are
similarities.”

“Name one.”

“John Lennon played the guitar.” Charlie tossed his head, shaking
the hair off his forehead. “*I* play the guitar.”

“Yeah, but you can’t sing on pitch to save your life,” Joy
qualified. “And Yoko is Japanese. I’m Chinese.”

“Half,” Charlie qualified.

“The half that’ll whoop your ass, *Scully*!” she exclaimed, standing
up and reaching out to grab him, emphasizing his last name. Charlie
caught hold of her wrists first, pulling her down into his lap as
she struggled against him, laughing.

“That’s enough of that, *Yuen*.”

Mulder stood, smiling at them as they wrestled. “Anybody want
another beer while I’m inside?”

“Yes,” Joy said, rolling her head back and looking at him upside
down. Charlie tickled her, and she curled into a ball, giggling.

“Make that two,” Charlie added with a grin.

When Mulder returned from the kitchen via the restroom, three beers
in hand, Joy and Charlie were necking in Charlie’s chair.
“…*Sand-crab cocktail*,” Charlie was whispering low against her
neck, his teeth nipping at her ear.

Joy chuckled, leaning cat-like into his touch. Mulder gave them a
sheepish smile when they looked up, and set two beers down on the
top of the table. There was a enough sexual energy emanating from
the two of them to make him consider turning in, but Joy climbed off
Charlie’s lap and slid back into her own chair, grabbing one of the
beers.

“So,” she said, drawing out the word and maintaining direct eye
contact with Charlie as she twisted the cap off the bottle, “you
never did say what’s going on between Dana and Bill.”

“Ahh,” Charlie nodded, sitting up in his seat as he grabbed the
other beer bottle, his eyes flashing as he became more animated.
“Dana and Bill. Well, see, it’s like this. Dana was always Dad’s
favorite. I mean – Dad tried, he tried really hard not to play
favorites or exclude anyone, but he and Dane, the two of them had
this special bond. You’d have to see it to believe it, but once
you’ve seen it, you know.”

Joy’s eyes narrowed as she studied Mulder across the table. He met
her gaze and she said, “I’ve seen something like that before.”

Mulder narrowed his eyes slightly, half wanting to ask Joy what she
meant, but Charlie was continuing his tale.

“So – as kids, we all *knew* Dana was Dad’s favorite. She was the
one who could make him proudest, I guess, or the one who was the
most like him in some ways -I don’t know. But the thing is, Missy
and I never really had a problem with it. I mean -” He paused to
take a thoughtful sip from his beer, and cleared his throat. “I
mean, in a certain respect, I’m sure it probably sucked, you know?
Dane was Dad’s pride and joy – no doubt – but he put a lot, he put
*so much* pressure on her, too. Bill never really understood that
part of it. Outdoing Dana became this competitive thing with him –
like everything else, I guess.”

“Bill’s a pretty competitive guy, huh,” Mulder said, a statement of
fact more than a question. Charlie’s eyes widened and he nodded,
his brow gathering in an exaggerated frown at the understatement of
Mulder’s comment.

“*Totally*,” he said. “From the time we were little kids – he was
always trying to prove himself to Dad. Maybe he was trying to prove
something to himself, I don’t know. So he got all the way to
Annapolis and became a Naval Officer, just like Dad. That was a big
deal, and Bill was *the shit*. But then Dana got accepted into
medical school.” Charlie twisted the top off his beer and took a
drink before continuing. “She was going to be a doctor. Save
lives. And dad was so proud the day she graduated. So this thing
with her and Bill just kept going until Dana dropped the bomb.”

“The bomb?” Joy asked, confused.

Mulder understood. “She joined the F.B.I.,” he explained.

Charlie nodded. “Yep. And it came totally out of nowhere –
completely floored Dad and Mom. I remember it was right around
Christmas time…” He gazed at his beer-bottle, picking at the
corner of the label. “She came home for Christmas vacation or
something I guess, and told Mom and Missy that she’d been accepted
at Quantico, and ho-ly *shit*, Batman -” He looked up at them and
grinned ruefully. “That was, like -” he shook his head. “Man, I
don’t know. No one knew how she was gonna tell Dad.”

“Was your father upset?” Joy asked.

Charlie took a deep breath and nodded, still gazing at his bottle.
He glanced up briefly and met Mulder’s eye. “Dad was upset – I’m not
sure exactly why. If it was because it seemed like a waste of her
talents, or because he felt like he’d just blown thousands of
dollars on med school…” Charlie chuffed. “I think a lot of it was
that she did it without Dad, you know? She hadn’t consulted him
about it at all, I don’t think. I think that hurt Dad a lot. *And*
he was worried about her, too, of course. I can remember him and
Mom having these arguments about how dangerous it would be for her –

“Not to mention being a woman in a male-dominated field,” Joy said,
glancing at Mulder. “And a beautiful, petite woman at that.”

Mulder laughed softly. “Well, Scully’s always been able to hold her
own,” he said. “And then some.”

“I bet she could kick some ass,” Joy said, smiling at Mulder and
nodding appreciatively. Mulder grinned and brought his beer to his
lips.

“You have *no* idea,” he said, taking a swig. Charlie laughed, and
Joy settled back into her chair.

“So was that it for your sister and your dad?” she asked.

“Well, I mean – Dad left the decision up to her,” Charlie said. He
sat back and draped his arm along the back of Joy’s chair, picking
up a piece of her hair and twirling it around his finger. “But he
sure made it clear that he thought she was making a really poor
choice – that he thought the FBI was a big mistake.”

Mulder chewed his lip. He had never met Scully’s father, and knew
him only through her fond stories and occasional remembrances. He
found himself wondering what Ahab would think of his Starbuck if he
could see her now. What would he think of the career she had built
over the last eight years? Of her choices and decisions, of the
grandson she had born him, and of the man she had chosen to be the
father of her baby -?

“And man, let me tell you – Bill just ate that shit up,” Charlie was
saying, and Mulder pulled his attention back to the conversation. “I
guess he felt like it gave him the advantage. Dana didn’t really
seem to care – she was never competitive about relationships the way
Bill was. She’s always wanted Bill to be happy. But after Dad
died,” Charlie paused and took a breath, sitting forward again. “I
guess Bill felt like it was his place to carry on Dad’s wishes. He
was hardest on Dana, maybe for his own reasons, maybe because he
thought it’s what dad would have wanted, even though I think – no, I
*know* – that no matter what Dane did, or where she worked, at the
end of the day she was still Daddy’s little Starbuck.”

Mulder nodded, knowing how important her father’s good opinion had
been to her. While Scully may have come to the same conclusion as
Charlie – that her father had always loved her unconditionally – the
conditioned desire for approval was still present in her, even now.
And it seemed that it was just as strong in Bill.

“Well, she seems to like working as an agent despite what your
father thought,” Joy said. She turned to Mulder. “To do it for
what -? Ten years? You’ve got to love a job to stay at it that
long. And from what I’ve heard it sounds like you’ve had some
pretty amazing experiences.”

Mulder laughed. Perhaps she hadn’t heard the one about the F.B.I.
agent who’d been abducted by aliens, presumed dead and then buried
alive for three months. There was no way he could respond to her
question in a general sense. The F.B.I. had been such a large part
of his life for so long, it was nearly impossible to separate the
institution from the emotions he felt.

“It has it good and its bad,” he said at last. “The pay doesn’t
compare to a doctor’s salary.”

“Eh,” Joy said with a dismissive shrug. “Money isn’t everything.”

“Says she who doesn’t need to worry about it,” Charlie reminded her,
leaning back and resting his feet on the edge of the table.

“I could get by on next to nothing if I had to,” Joy retorted.

Mulder shrugged one shoulder. “It’s like anything. It all depends
on what you want to get out of it, I guess.”

“So what are you doing now?” Charlie asked, conversationally. “Any
plans?”

Mulder smiled. It was ironic how easily he could talk about these
issues with Charlie and Joy, and how difficult it was to try to open
the subject with Scully. He found himself wondering if she were
still listening through the window upstairs. “I don’t know,” he
answered truthfully. “I’ve given it some thought, but not enough to
make any kind of decision.”

“You’d make a hell of an art dealer,” Joy said. Mulder laughed, and
she sat up. “I’m serious!”

He grinned. “Now that’s something I *haven’t* considered.” He was
certain his red-green colorblindness probably wasn’t a great
recommendation.

“Well, you have an eye for beauty, anyway,” she stated, leaning back
in her chair once again.

Charlie blinked at her. “How would you know that?”

“I can tell,” she replied.

“That’s not the first assumption you’ve made about me,” Mulder
challenged her amiably. “But you don’t say exactly what you mean,
or how you come by your information.”

Charlie smiled at Joy, his eyebrows cocked with interest as he
waited for her to respond to Mulder’s direct inquiry. “Oh, *do*
tell us, Ms. Yuen,” he goaded.

Joy let out a long sigh, tossing her hair back over her shoulder.
“I pay attention,” she said.

That she did, Mulder thought. In less than twenty-four hours, she
had walked into the middle of an unknown situation – a complex
family dynamic fraught with tensions both spoken and unvoiced – and
she had assessed the scene and all the players with seemingly
perfect accuracy. He regarded her over his beer with an expression
of respect.

“You’d make a hell of a criminal profiler,” he told her. Joy
laughed, but she didn’t seem surprised.

Charlie leaned up behind her and put his arms around her shoulders,
pulling her close to kiss the corner of her jaw with a series of
quick smooches. “We’ve got enough crime-fighters in the family,” he
said. He glanced at Mulder, cocking one eyebrow with at him.
“Right?”

Mulder smiled, shrugged, and shook his head as Charlie continued to
kiss Joy just below her ear. Her eyes went wide and she let out an
involuntary shriek of laughter as he closed his teeth on her neck.
“Ow! Charlie -!”

“Do you think you guys could keep it down out here?”

They all turned to see Bill standing in the doorway. He was wearing
his pajamas, and while he didn’t look like he had been asleep, he
did look decidedly grumpy. He scowled at each of them in turn.
“We’re trying to get some sleep,” he said.

“Why don’t you close your door then?” Charlie asked, a note of
petulance creeping into his voice. Joy pinched him, producing a
little yelp.

“We’re sorry,” she said. This was directed at Bill, but she was
looking at Charlie, who was rubbing his arm where she had pinched
him. Joy glanced at Mulder before she turned back to Bill, and
Mulder saw the glint of humor in her black eyes. “We’ll be
quieter,” she said.

Bill stood at the door saying nothing, staring at Charlie and Joy
with a cloudy but intense look. It was as though he was unsure he
could trust them to settle down, given their present mood. He
probably couldn’t, Mulder thought with a secret smile.

“Just try to keep it down, okay?” Bill asked, shifting uncomfortably
and looking away from Joy’s direct gaze.

“Sure,” Mulder said, looking up. “No problem. Sorry.”

Bill looked at him in surprise, as though he had not noticed him
sitting there before, or had not realized that Mulder could speak.
The surprise melted quickly into the same bland contempt that Bill
always seemed to reserve for Mulder, and with one last glance at
Charlie and Joy, he headed back down the hall. No one on the porch
spoke until they heard the door to Bill and Tara’s bedroom shut.

Charlie took in a deep breath and let it out, glancing between Joy
and Mulder with an expression of amusement and indignation. Joy
just smiled and closed her eyes, leaning her head to rest on the
back of her chair.

“We should go up to bed, I guess,” she said quietly.

“Fuck that,” Charlie said, getting up, a dark look crossing his face
momentarily. Joy let out a heavy breath, but did not look up. “I’m
getting another beer,” Charlie said. He lifted Joy’s bottle, still
three-quarters full, and set it back down. He looked at Mulder.
“You?”

Mulder shook his head and Charlie stepped around the table and back
inside. Mulder and Joy sat in silence for a moment. There was a
low rumble like thunder somewhere deep in the distance. Joy rolled
her head slightly to the side and opened her eyes to look at Mulder.

“How long have you and Dana been together?” she asked softly.

Mulder glanced away for a second, took a sip from his beer. “She
was assigned to my office at the Bureau about nine years ago,” he
said, meeting Joy’s eyes again. She regarded him carefully, as if
leaving nothing unchecked..

“That’s not what I meant,” she said.

“I know,” he said.

Joy narrowed her eyes a fraction. A slow smile bloomed on her lips.
Then she laughed, looking away with a shake of her head. There was
another long pause. Outside, the moon, just a shade less than full,
had risen up over the water. It hung in the sky over the waves, huge
and rusty-gold, like a flattened coin. Joy turned slightly, hooking
one arm over the back of her chair, and gazed out at the landscape.
Mulder turned his warming beer bottle in his hands.

“I don’t know if I could pinpoint an exact time,” he said then, his
voice low, knowing that this was both true and not true. He could
and *did* clearly remember exact times, knew exactly the factual
starting points of their relationship: the first handshake, the
first kiss, the first sex. These were moments he could recall down
to the second, to the very smallest detail. But these were only the
physical mile-markers of a journey that didn’t seem to have had a
beginning. He could not remember a time when he had *begun* to love
Scully – he just always had.

Joy was nodding slowly as she watched the moon through the screens.
She turned her head to look at him. He found it difficult to gauge
her expression.

“Must be nice to have someone who knows you so well,” she said
softly, as though to herself. Mulder brought his brows together,
waiting for her to continue, but before she could, Charlie had
returned, clomping onto the porch and flipping his bottle-cap into
the waste-bin in the corner. He had six new beers tucked under his
arms. He grinned at the look Joy gave him.

“I figured we still had some yarns to spin,” he said, setting the
beers on the table with a series of resounding thumps. He glanced
back inside, toward the first floor bedrooms. “So tell me about the
X-Files,” he said, smiling at Mulder. “And working with my know-it-
all sister…”

~

It was after one a.m. when Mulder finally climbed the stairs behind
Charlie and Joy, ready to call it a night. He’d had several beers
and he felt a soft buzz, but it was a long way from drunk. He felt
great. Relaxed.

“Goodnight,” Joy said as she passed, Charlie clapping him on the
shoulder as Mulder turned the doorknob to his bedroom, trying not to
wake Scully or the baby. He looked over his shoulder at them and
grinned. Charlie was already wrapping himself around Joy and they
had just reached their door. He envied their openness, and their
easy physicality.

He pushed the door to his own room open as quietly as possible,
noting that both of the other inhabitants were sleeping soundly.
Walking over to the crib, he ran his fingertips gently over his
son’s satiny head. Such a beautiful baby. He leaned down and
kissed Wim’s shoulder, then he turned to face the bed, and smiled.
Scully was passed out on her stomach, the side of her face smashed
against the pillow, her mouth slightly open and a barely audible
snore emanating from her throat.

He walked softly back to the door and pulled it shut behind him,
toeing off his shoes and pulling his shirt over his head as he
watched the rhythmic rise and fall of Scully’s back. He swayed
slightly to the right, and took a quick step to correct himself,
chuckling softly. Maybe he *was* on the buzzier side of buzzed, but
he was happy with the way the day had gone – his first full day with
Clan Scully, and he was still alive. Still in the game. He wanted
to share his happiness, and celebrate with the woman of his heart.

After all, they didn’t have to be anywhere in the morning. They
were on vacation.

“Scully?” he said softly, hoping she wasn’t really sleeping. She
didn’t respond, and he unbuttoned his shorts, stripping down to just
his cotton boxers. He climbed up on the bed and ran the pads of his
fingers over her forearm, leaning down over her. “Scully?”

She grunted softly, and drew in a deep breath of air through her
nostrils. Moving slowly, he stretched out next to her, folding one
elbow over the pillow above her head. “Danaaaaa…” he whispered,
watching her face carefully. When she didn’t respond, he softly
sing-songed, “Scull-ee,” nuzzling her cheek with the tip of his
nose. Her eyelids fluttered, and her breathing changed again as she
took in one more deep breath. She turned beneath him until they
were nearly nose to nose, her eyelids fluttering again, then opened
her eyes.

He smiled – a broad, uncomplicated smile.

“Hey,” she said groggily.

“Hey,” he replied. He smiled into her eyes a moment, caressing the
side of her face with the pad of his thumb. “We missed you,” he
said. “I missed you.”

“Mmm,” she replied, blinking her eyes to try to keep them open. “I
fell asleep reading.” She blinked again, and shifted her body
slightly, trying, but not succeeding, in stifling a yawn. “How’d it
go?”

He smiled at her a moment longer, then leaned down and pressed his
lips over hers. He pulled back, and nodded his head. “Good.”

“I thought you’d like Charlie.”

“I do. But it’s his sister I’m really after.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah,” he replied, and leaned down for another kiss, coaxing her
lips apart to access the sweet warmth of her mouth. She slid one
hand behind his head, into his hair, and hummed softly as their kiss
continued, unhurried. They drifted that way a while.

“You taste like beer,” she commented as they finally broke apart.

“I’ll go brush,” he said, not moving. It felt too good right where
he was, and she wasn’t really complaining, anyway.

She closed her eyes, and muttered, “S’okay.” Then she sleepily
blinked up at him again, and smiled. His heart was thumping
strongly in his chest, the warm glow of a man contented pumping
through his veins. So he kissed her again. It felt natural and
right to be together this way. It had been so long since the last
time they’d made love, the idea of starting again had nearly
surpassed their first time in significance. It felt that way to
him, anyway, because before that first time, he didn’t know what
they would be like together. Now that he did, it was a lot harder
to push those feelings into the background when circumstances
prevented him from acting on them.

As they kissed, he shifted his body closer to hers, sliding his knee
between her legs and pressing the thickening, persistent ache at his
groin into her firm thigh.

“What’s that all about?” she asked sleepily, not without some
amusement.

“You have to ask?” he replied, nibbling her jaw then dipping lower
to kiss the underside of her chin. “They say it’s like riding a
bicycle. You never forget.”

He slid his hand up under the cotton of her pajama top, fingertips
gliding along the smooth, soft skin to grasp her breast, kneading it
softly. She made a soft noise in response, and he nuzzled and
tasted her neck, dragging his lips up to her ear, drawing the lobe
into his mouth and biting it gently.

He slid his fingers out from under her top, glancing down and
drawing out his anticipation by releasing the button at the bottom,
taking one button at a time, revealing only a small amount of skin
as he progressed. He moved down the bed to kiss the first patch of
exposed skin, silky and translucent, before moving up the line of
buttons to unhook the next. It slipped easily out of the
buttonhole, and he pulled apart the fabric, lowering his lips once
again to her pale skin.

“This feels almost like starting over again,” he said, voicing his
previous thought. Then he slipped another button out of its hole,
and raised his head to smile up at her for her response.

Scully had fallen back to sleep.

He knew she was tired, and what she needed more than anything was
rest. But it was her appearance that convinced him not to wake her
again. He watched her face, noting how peaceful and how innocent
she looked, laying there with her head turned to one side, that same
lock of hair that he had smoothed away so many times before clinging
stubbornly to her cheek. She was almost other-worldly. Angelic.
He refastened the buttons he’d released, moved back up the bed, and
pushed the hair away from her face, watching her fondly a moment
longer as he hovered over her. Then he laid down beside her,
reached out and took her hand in his.

Scully rolled onto her side and burrowed into him.

“Mulder…” she murmured, still sleeping.

He smiled, and slid his arms around her, pulling her closer so that
her head rested on his shoulder.

“I’m right here,” he whispered, pressing his lips into her hair.
“Get some sleep.”

She exhaled one hitching breath, and her breathing returned to a
slow, rhythmic pace.

The moon, higher now in the sky, shone through the open window,
illuminating the room vaguely, bathing the sleeping figures of
mother and child in soft silvery light. At that moment, there was
nothing that could compare to the beauty before him. It was a
perfect moment, and Mulder closed his eyes, feeling like the
luckiest son of a bitch in the world.

~
Monday
~

Mulder jogged lightly down the long flight of steps to
the stretch of sand and beach grass between the house
and the dunes. It was just past 6:45; the dunes and the
beach beyond were cloaked in the purple still of the
last minutes before dawn; everything quiet save a faint
breeze in the grass and the constant low susurrus of the
waves. He breathed deeply. He had missed going out
four days now, and he could feel the need to run rising
inside him like an ache.

His running shoes thudded dully against the slats of the
wooden walkway as he crested the dunes, picking up speed
as he went, feeling the strange shift and drag of the
sand when he left the boardwalk for the open beach. He
ran at an angle, toward the water and the hard-packed
sand at the shoreline. The air was soft. He could hear
the cry of seagulls. A golden shimmer on the horizon
marked the spot where the sun was about to emerge.

The beach had changed with the overnight tide. What had
been a nearly flat stretch to the water the day before
was now interrupted by a comparatively steep and curving
slope, pushed up and carved into the beach by the
shifting currents. Mulder bounded down it carefully,
landing on the wet sand below, just at the edge of the
foamy wash. He had already decided he didn’t care if
his shoes got wet.

He ran. At first, he ran without thinking,
concentrating on the feel of the sand beneath his feet,
the pleasant strain of his muscles, the rip of salt air
in his lungs. He was still recovering from the months
of atrophy; his legs were still weak, and when he looked
in the mirror, they seemed pitifully thin. It would
take time to build his strength back to what it had
been, and there had been occasions that had caused him
to wonder if he would ever regain his former condition.
He was not, he knew, getting any younger…

*Use it or lose it.*

For all that though, he felt good – and what was more,
he *knew* he felt good as he pounded lightly down the
beach, with the sun sliding steadily upward over his
right shoulder. He had slept well, he planned to eat
well when he got back to the house, and the day promised
to be fine and bright. Anything seemed surmountable
today.

Maybe he would make pancakes.

He dodged inward around a widely spaced trio of
fishermen, their lines stretched taut into the surging
breakers. The ocean was still low in the windless
morning chill, but far from placid, rolling into the
shore with a steady churning power. It would be rough
again today. One of the fishermen raised his hand in
greeting as Mulder jogged past, and Mulder returned his
salute with a wave and an easy smile. Ahead of him, the
Avon fishing pier loomed, ghostlike and imposing in the
sparkling morning haze. He swept back onto the firmer
sand, arching his back and pushing harder, aiming for
the rib-like pilings.

He would start running on Georgetown’s outdoor track
when they got back to the city, he decided. Jogging the
streets around Scully’s neighborhood – or his own, for
that matter – was too fraught with stops and obstacles.
He needed to find somewhere he could run like this: flat
out, focused inward, using everything he had, feeling
the coiling burn in his legs and the satisfying,
rhythmic coordination of every muscle…

*When they got back to the city.*

The thought resounded, nagging him, and he found himself
slowing slightly, his initial burst of energy flagging.

They would be back in the city in less than a week. And
then what? He and Scully had had been living in this
weird state of suspended motion for the last four
months, walking through one day at a time, living under
the unspoken pretense that if they ignored the hard
conversations and difficult decisions, they might just
solve themselves or fade away. It only made it worse
that neither of them were that naive, that they both
knew – like children at the end of summer vacation –
that reality lurked just around the next corner, ready
to pounce.

Mulder could feel the weight of impending change, knew
they were fast approaching the end of their self-
constructed limbo. Scully’s maternity leave would be
over in a matter of weeks, and he needed to decide where
his own professional future lay. There were choices to
be made, and soon. They could no longer afford the
dubious comfort of stasis.

They needed to talk.

He slowed to a stop several yards from the base of the
pier and paced the sand, shaking his legs restlessly as
he squinted up at the massive uprights. The pilings
stood forty or fifty feet above the waves at their
highest, stretching a hundred yards or more out into the
water. Underneath was a baffling tangle of verticals,
growing blacker and more ominous as they disappeared
into the beach, creating a cavern that yawned out of the
sand beneath the tackle-shop above. The air smelled of
tar and seaweed and fish as Mulder breathed deeply,
turning his back on the dangerous underside of the pier
and gazing back in the direction he had come. His own
footprints, gone in places thanks to the waves, led his
eyes southward down the beach, past the fishermen and
the shifting layers of mist and sunlight. He could just
make out the shadow of the lighthouse in the distance,
its barber-pole stripes standing out through the golden-
white haze.

He realized he was grinning. The beach looked like a
scene from a postcard. He would head back to the house
and wake Scully up, so she could see the long slanting
shadows on the beach and the way the sun was glistening
on the ocean. He would show her how beautiful it all
was.

Anything was surmountable on a day like today, he
thought, smiling. He took another deep breath and began
to run again.

~

Mulder climbed up the steps and crossed the deck,
entering the house through the French doors that led
into the great room. Maggie and Tara were having coffee
at the kitchen island, and Wim was on Maggie’s lap,
jabbering “Dye dye dye dye” at Tara while he gnawed on
his slobbery fist. He held his red, blue and yellow
plastic keys in his other hand, shaking them and kicking
his chubby legs energetically at the sight of his
father.

“Hey, buddy!” Mulder exclaimed as he saw him, wiping
the perspiration from his temples with the sleeves of
his tee-shirt. “Who’s got you?”

“Dye dye dye!” Wim replied enthusiastically, and Mulder
chuckled, Maggie and Tara joining in with soft laughter.

Mulder stepped closer, but stopped a fair distance away
from them. “Yeah, ‘dye dye dye’ too. I’d pick you up
but I’m sure I don’t smell so good.” He glanced around
the room, seeing nobody else was around. “Where’s your
mommy?”

Maggie smiled up at him, scooting Wim into a more
upright position. “I told her to sleep as long as she
liked.”

“Let’s hope she listened,” Mulder replied.

“Dye dye *dye*!” Wim exclaimed louder, demanding his
father’s attention. Maggie had to duck her face out of
the way as his arms flailed to the sides and in front of
him.

“Your mommy isn’t going to get much sleep with that
going on,” Mulder admonished him with a chuckle. “Are
you giving your grandma a hard time?”

“No, he’s an angel.” Maggie placed a soft kiss on his
head. “You go on and shower or do whatever you need to
do, Fox. We’re just fine.”

Mulder offered Maggie a grateful grin as he crossed the
room toward the stairs. Bill and Matthew came out of
the back bedroom just as he started up the staircase,
Matthew dressed in clean shorts and a tee-shirt, his
hair slicked down and combed into place.

“I want some haygs,” he announced to his mother and
grandmother, his feet thumping on the wood floor as he
ran across the living room to join them in the kitchen
area.

“What do you say?” Tara asked him.

“Pwease! Pwease I want some haygs!” Matthew replied,
bouncing up and down.

Mulder chuckled as he reached the top of the stairs,
understanding ‘haygs’ meant ‘eggs.’ He carefully pushed
open the door to the bedroom, peeking around the edge to
see if he’d disturbed Scully. The bed was empty, a
tangle of sheets twisted at the foot of the bed. The
sound of running water came from the bathroom. He let
out his breath and slipped into bedroom, closing the
door behind him.

Scully had been sleeping just as soundly when he’d woken
that morning as she had been when he’d climbed into bed
the night before. He hoped she had caught up on some of
the rest she had missed lately. He also hoped she’d
finish her shower soon, because he needed to use the
toilet. He sat down on the side of the bed, stripping
off his shoes and socks, and decided to go in and use
the bathroom anyway. He stood and pulled his damp tee-
shirt over his head, using it to towel off the excess
perspiration as he crossed the room to the bath.

The door was unlocked, and he called out “Scully?” as he
entered the humid room. There was steam obscuring the
mirror over the vanity, but not so much that it lingered
visibly in the air. Still, the temperature was markedly
higher than it had been in the bedroom.

“Yeah?” she replied, her voice resonant from inside the
cavernous shower.

“Just me,” he said, peering in at her. The shower was
long and deep – so deep that it didn’t need a door –
with small tiles covering the floor and walls. A
skylight near the top let in a shaft of steamy golden
light. He ran his eyes over her quickly. “You sleep
well?”

She looked back over her shoulder at him, nodding as she
worked up the lather on her shower puff. “I haven’t
slept that well in a long time.”

He turned with a grin, stepping over to the toilet that
was separated from the rest of the room by a short wall.

“You should see the beach this morning,” he said,
dropping his shorts and relieving his bladder.

“Nice?” she asked.

“Beautiful. You can see the lighthouse if you walk down
the beach a ways…” He had the impression that he was
being watched, and glanced over his shoulder to see her
replacing her bottle of shampoo on the built-in shelf,
grinning at him. He was partially blocked, but he
imagined a fair amount of bare ass was still visible
from her angle.

He smirked, and turned back around to shake and flush.
A good night’s sleep seemed to have worked wonders on
Scully’s mood – the strain and tension that had become
habitual in her voice lately was noticeably absent this
morning, and Mulder hoped that she was feeling better
about staying through the rest of the week – hoped she
felt as hopeful as he did.

Glancing up, he caught Scully’s fogged reflection in the
vanity mirror, the soft, pale shape of her body moving
languorously behind the mist of steam. Stepping out of
his shorts, he decided he would join her in the shower –
why waste water?

He kicked his shorts to the side and, looking in through
the doorway, saw that she had her eyes closed, lathering
the shampoo into a thick foam, like a gothic halo around
her head. He drifted over to the shower opening,
leaning one shoulder against the wall.

The white suds were sliding in wet rivulets through her
crimson hair, over her neck and shoulders, caressing her
breasts and abdomen and gliding down her thighs, leaving
small, transparent bubbles clinging stubbornly to her
smooth skin. It had been a while since he’d had the
full on, leisurely view, and he noted that she looked
exactly as he remembered from before the pregnancy. Her
abdomen was flat, flaring in at the waist and out at the
hips. Her thighs and calves were well-toned and
shapely. She’d been doing crunches twice a day, and he
knew that if he were to touch her, her skin would be
soft but she’d be solid underneath.

He curled his hands at his sides, drawing the corner of
his lower lip into his mouth, worrying it between his
teeth before letting it go. He wanted to touch her.

She took a step backwards, dropping her head back
underneath the spray. Her mouth fell open slightly, her
neck and throat exposed to him – long, tender, and
porcelain white. Farther below, her breasts swayed
gently as she ran her hands over her hair, rinsing,
rinsing, rinsing, a flood of lather and bubbles flowing
over her body and swirling at her feet before
disappearing down the drain. He took it all in with his
eyes, his hunger swelling the longer he watched.

Scully turned her head slightly to the side, a soft,
knowing smile on her lips that caused him to suspect
that she knew she had a voyeur. That was preferable, he
rationalized, because it meant that she knew what she
was doing to him – perhaps that she was even doing it on
purpose – which made his objective in what he wanted to
do to her a whole lot easier.

“Your mother’s enjoying her time with her grandson,” he
remarked, his voice echoing inside the enclosed chamber,
sounding scratchy to his own ears.

“Mmmm,” she hummed in reply, lowering her chin and
slowly opening her eyes, the beautiful aquamarine of her
irises coloring in the picture as her wide pupils
focused on his eyes in a direct, purposeful gaze.

~

Scully noted with satisfaction that Mulder appeared to
be quite interested in her shampooing ritual. She’d
suspected he’d been watching her, and as she ran her
eyes leisurely down his long frame, she found
confirmation in his blossoming erection. Raising her
eyes back to his, she smiled broadly. Good timing.

“I guess there’s no reason to hurry down, then,” she
commented, her eyes flitting down to his groin and back
up again. He took that as an invitation and stepped
inside, pursing his lips, smiling as he advanced on her.

“That’s exactly what I was thinking.”

Her eyes sparkled as she moved aside, allowing the warm
spray to hit him just below his knees. Reaching along
the wall, she grabbed her shower puff and a bottle of
shower gel off the shelf and squeezed a fair amount of
gel onto the puff, lathering it up.

“C’mere,” she said, moving closer rather than waiting
for him to follow her instructions. She scrubbed the
lather over his chest and shoulders, watching the foam
cling to his skin as she put the puff back on the shelf.
His hands fell lightly onto her hips and, reaching out,
she used her palms to smear the soap over his shoulders,
up his neck and down his arms. He closed his eyes, a
pleased smile on his lips as her fingers traced over his
skin.

She circled around behind him, grabbing the puff and
scrubbing his back, working the soap down his spine.
Tucking the puff between her knees, she used her fingers
to knead the muscles between his shoulder blades before
running her hands down his sides and over his buttocks.
Her brain sluggishly acknowledged the route her hands
were discovering: trapezius, latissimus dorsi, obliquus
externus, gluteus maximus. Her ideas, however, were
more primal than academic. She gave his ass a gentle
squeeze, causing him to grin over his shoulder as she
grabbed the puff and crouched down to quickly soap up
his legs.

When she stood and moved back around to face him, he
pulled her forward until their slippery skins pressed
together, soapy, slick and wet. She made a soft noise
in the back of her throat at the contact, laying her
cheek on his chest and wrapping her arms around his
waist, dropping the puff to the floor. Inside she
heaved a huge sigh of contentment – it felt like she was
finally coming home after a long journey.

Mulder lowered his head and pressed his lips against her
wet head, using his fingers to raise her chin so that he
could kiss her mouth. There was a faint flavor of soap
in their kiss, but she didn’t care, opening up to him
readily. They moved against each other luxuriously,
changing angles of the kiss, Mulder pulling up briefly
to breathe, exhaling, “Scully,” with reverence before
diving in again.

“I know,” Scully replied tonelessly when they shifted
angles once more. He began to press forward, moving her
back slowly, kissing her until he had her against the
wall. She drew in a deep breath as her skin made
contact with the cool tile, the sensation strange but
pleasant in contrast to the delicious heat of his body
pressing into her from the front.

He moved slightly, crouching down far enough to slide
his hands behind her thighs and lifting her as he
pressed closer again, her slick skin sliding easily up
the wet tile. She wrapped her legs around his hips and
found herself suspended between Mulder and the shower
wall, the proverbial rock and a hard place, his erection
trapped between them as they paused, face to face. Time
seemed to slow to a halt at that point.

Mulder’s eyes were deep and golden, staring openly into
her soul as she gazed back at him, feeling her heart
constrict in her chest as her stomach performed a
somersault, leaving her short of breath. His gaze was
intense, a rapid-fire of emotion and sensation
transmitted back to her in mere seconds.

“Mulder,” she whispered, reaching a hand up to his face,
tenderly stroking his cheek with her thumb.

Everything she felt, everything she needed she voiced
through her own eyes. She was too far gone at this
moment to care about anything beyond this small,
enclosed space and the man underneath her. He let out a
shattered breath and kissed her again, deep and
thorough, raising her up and guiding himself into
position so he could slide into her. She broke the
kiss, wrapping both arms around his shoulders, burying
her face in the crook of his neck and holding on tight,
skin-to-skin, heart to heart. His pulse was rapid and
strong against her lips.

He hissed as he moved within her, slow and inquisitive.
Her body felt like dark melting chocolate as the heat
from where they were joined spread within her. She
groaned softly, raising her face to press her mouth
against his ear. He groaned in response, letting his
thighs help support her as he released his grip on one
of her legs to press his palm flat against the wall.
She loosened her tight hold on him, laying her head back
against the wall and sliding her hands down his sides,
his abs flexing at her touch as she looked into his
face.

His mouth was slack, and his eyes flashed, holding onto
hers with a sharp intensity that made her muscles
contract involuntarily around him. He caught his breath
and whispered something unintelligible, setting his jaw
as he began to push with a little more purpose.

There was a loud thud just outside the bathroom door and
Mulder’s expression lost some of its ecstasy as he
blinked his eyes in confusion, the noise registering,
but not completely. Scully tried to pull some of her
focus away from him, from them, and back to her
surroundings – someone was in their bedroom…

Maggie’s voice rang out from the other side of the
bathroom door. “Dana?”

Scully’s eyes went wide as her heart rate tripled,
causing her to pant to catch her breath. “Yeah Mom?”
she replied, trying to sound as normal as possible.
Mulder froze in place, their dance temporarily suspended
in motion as they looked at each other in fear.

“Honey, where have you put Wim’s clean onesies?”

Scully tried to think, her head in a thick fog of
arousal and not cooperating. Onesies? What? It was
suddenly difficult to get a good breath of air in the
humidity of the shower. “Um…”

Mulder mouthed at her, “Changing table,” and she nodded
slightly, squeezing her eyes shut in the concentration
it took to keep her voice level.

“Did you look on the shelf under his changing table?”
she called out.

In the shower, their breathing was labored, but she
hoped the sound of the spray coming from the showerhead
was all that her mother could hear from the bedroom.
When there wasn’t an immediate response from Maggie or
even a corresponding sound, Mulder shifted his hips
again, moving his face toward hers. Scully stopped him
with heavy palm against his shoulder. He groaned in
frustration, causing her to shoot him a look of warning.

This time, Maggie was standing right next to the
bathroom door, sounding like she was in the same room
with them, when she said, “There’s nothing there,
honey.”

Scully went into panic mode, giving Mulder a frantic
look of apology and motioning for him to put her down.
“Um, just a second!” she called, sliding out from behind
him and bolting out of the shower, quickly grabbing a
towel from the wrack and wrapping it around her torso.
Her mother was just on the other side of the door, and
Scully noticed that the door sat right against the latch
– it hadn’t been shut, let alone locked.

Inside the shower, there was a whimper and a soft thud –
Mulder’s head hitting the wall, she guessed, while
easing herself out the bathroom door. The cool, dry air
of the bedroom stung her skin like a slap, and she drew
in a deep breath, exhaling loudly as she pulled the door
closed behind her. Maggie was just outside, holding
Wim.

“I’m sorry,” Scully mumbled, rushing past her mother to
the changing table without looking her in the eye,
hoping Maggie couldn’t see the physical effects of
sexual intercourse written all over her face.

“Dye dye dye!” exclaimed her messy son, kicking his legs
and shaking a slobbery fist at her.

There were no clean onesies on the shelf under the
changing table, so she searched the room for Wim’s
suitcase. It was nowhere to be seen, and on a chance
she got down on her knees and looked under the bed,
where she saw the luggage shoved out of the way amongst
the dust-bunnies. One of Mulder’s sweaty socks
assaulted her olfactory sense and she knocked it across
the floor with a huff.

Scully pulled out the suitcase and located a clean
outfit for Wim, then waited while her mother – in no
hurry to get Wim dressed – cooed and cuddled the baby.
Trying to coax her breathing back to a more normal pace,
she set about finding an outfit for herself – there was
no point in returning to the shower. Mulder had
probably finished without her anyway. With a sigh of
resignation, she pulled open a drawer on her own dresser
and took out clean underclothes, a pair of shorts and a
tee-shirt. Moving at her normal speed, she had dressed
herself completely before Maggie had even started on
Wim.

~

Charlie and Joy were in the kitchen with Tara, Bill and
Matthew when Scully, Maggie and Wim came down the
stairs, Scully’s hair still wet but combed back from her
face. Charlie looked up at his sister and gave her a
wide grin. Her brow furrowed in confusion, she returned
his look.

“You must be *famished*,” he said as she sat down on one
of the stools at the center island.

“I am, actually,” she said, turning her head to see
where Maggie had taken Wim. They were in the living
room, sitting on the sofa near where Matthew had spilled
an old can of tinker toys onto the large rag rug. Bill
was sitting on the floor with him, helping him build a
structure.

“That’s good, Matty. What do you call that?” Bill
asked, handing him another round hub.

“It’s a wighthows,” Matty replied. “Daddy, I wanna go
see deh wighthows.”

“We’ll go tomorrow, big guy,” Bill replied.

“I’m making breakfast,” Charlie announced in a grand
manner, looking pointedly at his sister before pulling
open the refrigerator door with a flourish. “Let’s see,
you’ll definitely need protein…”

Tara was sitting at the dining table, writing postcards
with a delighted smirk, and Joy was standing in the
middle of the kitchen, looking at Charlie with amusement
and leaving Scully to feel like she had walked into a
movie that had already started. By most standards it
was still early, but somehow she had begun her day a
step behind everyone else, it seemed.

When Mulder came down the stairs a few minutes later,
Scully looked up, meeting his gaze across the room with
an apologetic wince. He shook his head at her, pressing
his lips into a resigned sort of frown as he rolled his
eyes.

“Hey, man!” Charlie called to him across the room,
causing Bill to look up in surprise. “How about some
breakfast? Bet you’re hungry, huh?”

“Hey,” Mulder replied with less enthusiasm, ignoring
Bill’s eyes and sinking onto the stool next to Scully.
She drew in a deep breath and exhaled heavily.

Charlie leaned his palms on the countertop across the
island from them. “You were up and out early this
morning,” he commented, turning his grin on Mulder.

“I went for a run on the beach,” Mulder said. He
squinted at the coffeemaker on the counter across from
them. “Is that fresh coffee?”

“It is,” Joy replied, reaching into the cabinet to pull
out a mug. “Dana?” she looked over her shoulder, her
eyebrows raised in question.

“Yes – please,” Scully said. “Thank you.” She inhaled
deeply as Joy sat the two mugs of coffee down in front
of them. It was a dark, strong brew, and smelled great.
Just what she needed.

Charlie was still watching her with a wide grin, and she
looked up at him with an eyebrow raised as she doctored
her coffee. “What?”

Charlie shrugged with nonchalance. “I was just
thinking…”

She took a sip from her mug, studying him. His
expression indicated he was nearly busting to say
something, but he didn’t reply. “What?” she repeated.

He and Joy exchanged an amused look, and Scully put her
mug down on the counter, feeling justifiably testy,
considering the way her morning had gone so far. “Are
you gonna tell me what’s going on?”

Charlie looked down, grinning, then back up at her. “I
was telling Joy just this morning that Mom has always
had a pretty lousy sense of timing,” he said, his voice
lowered so that Maggie couldn’t hear.

Scully blinked at him. He was obviously trying to make
some point, but she wasn’t up to guessing what it might
be. “So?”

“Soooo,” he dragged the word out, lowering his voice.
“I guess whoever built this house must’ve decided to cut
down on the pipe-work by putting your bathroom right on
the other side of ours.”

Scully stared at him, and a slow blush began to rise on
her face as the realization of what he was saying dawned
on her. She opened her mouth to speak, then closed it
and looked over at Mulder instead.

Mulder had his head bowed and he was biting his lip, not
meeting her gaze. Joy had covered her mouth with her
hand and turned her back to them, and Charlie looked at
his sister, then Mulder, laughing silently, waiting for
him to break.

It wasn’t a long wait. When Scully closed her eyes, her
shoulders drooping like she wanted to slide to the
floor, Mulder couldn’t hold back any longer and he
laughed out loud, Charlie and Joy joining in. Scully
covered her face with her hands, her chest hitching with
mortified laughter.

“Oh my God,” she breathed in horror, setting the others
off into fresh peals of laughter.

“It’s alright, Sis,” Charlie said quietly, still
chuckling as the laughter died down. “We all know where
that baby came from. I feel for you though, stuck in
the room next to Mom -”

“At least we didn’t break the towel bar,” Mulder
commented, causing Charlie to do a double take. Joy
burst out laughing once again, and covered her mouth
when Maggie looked up in surprise.

“Thank God we’ve got the entire downstairs to
ourselves,” Tara commented from the table. They all
turned to look at her, and she raised her head from her
postcards, flashing them a bright, knowing smile.
“Isn’t that right, honey?” she glanced over her shoulder
at her husband.

Bill looked up from the floor. Next to him, Maggie was
laying Wim down on a baby blanket, and she looked up as
well. “What was that?” Bill asked.

Tara merely grinned at him, and he got up and walked
over to where she was seated. He leaned one hand on the
table, peering down at her from behind.

“I *said*,” she lowered her voice, turning her head
toward him, “it’s a good thing we’ve got the bottom
floor to ourselves. You know, with everyone else
upstairs…” Her eyes sparkled and Bill looked from her
to the crew in the kitchen, seeing everyone watching him
with various expressions of mirth. And then he got it.

“Oh yeah,” he grinned, the laughter starting up again.

Maggie wandered over, a curious smile on her face.
“What’s so funny?”

Matthew was right behind her, laughing loudly, including
himself in the fun.

Everyone laughed at Matthew, then tried to control their
wayward smiles. Maggie’s expression remained curious
and slightly confused, and after getting his grin under
control, Bill laid a hand on her shoulder.

“Charles was cutting up again.” He looked over at his
brother and winked. “Isn’t that right, Charles.”

Charlie grinned, grabbing the skillet and twirling it
around in his hand. “Iron Chef, anyone?” He nearly
dropped the skillet, but he caught it just in time.
“Who wants ’em scrambled. Mom?”

Maggie smiled at him. “No thank you, dear, I’ve already
had my breakfast.”

Tara pulled Matthew onto her lap. “You wanna help mommy
write a postcard to Aunt Patti?”

“Yeah,” Matthew replied. “Postcard to Aunt Patti, and
then go to deh wighthows, ‘k?”

“Tomorrow,” Tara said. “How about we go down to the
beach after we finish up here?”

“Okay,” he said, amiably.

As this was going on, Scully slid out of her seat at the
island and walked over to where Maggie had laid Wim down
on top of a blanket on the floor. He was on his back,
trying to stuff his foot into his mouth and she crouched
down, checking his diaper to see if he was wet. Mulder
joined them, squatting down beside her. He reached out
and pulled lightly on Wim’s other foot, a soft smile on
his face before he glanced to the side at Scully.

“You okay?” he asked in an undertone.

“Yeah,” she replied, and raised her eyes to look at him.
“You?”

He nodded, smiling sheepishly. She nodded in
understanding – of course he’d taken care of himself
before he left the shower, just as she had known he
would. She would have – *should* have done the same
thing herself.

“Rain check?” he asked, the smile still on his lips but
his eyes serious.

She met his look with a somber expression that turned
into a slight smile. “Yeah. Rain check.”

“How many eggs?” Charlie called from the other room, and
they both stood slowly, Maggie taking their place beside
Wim as they returned to their former seats at the
counter. Charlie was standing in front of the stove,
bent way over, tying a folded bandana onto his head. He
stood back up, his hair swept back under the faded red
cloth, and grinned at them. It was the first time they
had seen him without a shaggy mop of bangs obscuring
half his face. Bill snorted and sat down next to Tara.

“I can’t believe they let you wear your hair that long
at work,” he said, pulling the newspaper toward himself.

“Actually, I don’t have much choice,” Charlie said,
straight-faced. “Everyone has to wear their hair long;
this particular style is strictly enforced.”

Charlie waited a beat before letting out a snort of
laughter at the incredulous look on his brother’s face.
Bill shook his head, nonplussed, while Charlie continued
to laugh.

“In my business, no one gives a rat’s -” he stopped and
looked up, glancing at Maggie, and at Matthew at the
table. “- *tail* what my hair looks like, Bill.” He
picked up an egg-carton from the counter and opened it,
taking out three eggs. Throwing them into the air one
at a time, he performed a quick little juggling act,
catching all three eggs in a metal mixing bowl, where
they each landed with a crack-splat. Mulder and Scully
both winced while Bill regarded his brother without
amusement.

“Clever,” he said. “Now you’ll spend fifteen minutes
picking the shells out.”

Charlie scooped the mostly-intact egg-shells out of the
bowl with an easy smile, murmuring, “Ahhh, you’re just
jealous.” He brought the bowl closer and picked out a
few smaller bits, throwing a glance at Mulder and
Scully. “You don’t mind if there’s a little crunch in
your eggs, do you?” he asked. “Good roughage -”

Scully groaned. “Charlie -”

“Okay okay – I’ll get it all out, there’s not much…”
He flicked a few more bits out with his finger and
reached for the carton again. “You know, Bill,” he
said, taking another egg out and cracking it one-handed
over the bowl. “You sounded a lot like Dad just then.”

“I can only imagine what your father would have said
about that hair, Charles,” Maggie interjected lightly
from the floor. Bill laughed, his eyes still fixed on
the paper in front of him.

“Oh, I *know* what he would have said about this hair,”
Charlie mused, smiling to himself as he cracked three
more eggs into the bowl. He stood up then, squaring his
shoulders and puffing out his chest. He squinted
closely at Mulder, pointing a finger at him. “You have
till tonight to get that hair four-oh and squared away –

Scully let out a little bark of laughter, her eyes wide,
and both Maggie and Bill watched, transfixed. Mulder
could tell by their expressions that Charlie’s rendition
of Captain Scully must be fairly accurate.

“- or you’re looking at a *Field Day Supreme*, boyo.”
Charlie finished, with both Scully and Bill joining in
on the last part. Everyone laughed, still looking
vaguely bemused. Charlie picked up the bowl and fork
and began to beat the eggs. Mulder glanced at Scully,
who – like her mother and brothers – had a far-away look
on her face.

“Field Day?” he asked.

Scully blinked and looked up. Behind them, Bill let the
paper drift shut and stood up. “Cleaning,” he said with
a smile, hefting Matthew up from his chair. “*Hard
core* cleaning. If a Captain thinks the morale on his
boat is low -”

“Or just wants to bust everyone’s balls -” Charlie
interjected.

Bill laughed. “He’ll call a *Field Day*,” he went on.
Matthew leaned back in Bill’s arms and put a hand on his
father’s shoulder.

“No field day,” Matthew whined with a frown.
“Wighthows!”

“Tomorrow,” Bill answered him, “We’ll take a field
*trip* to the lighthouse tomorrow.”

“We go to deh beach now,” Matthew declared. When Bill
fixed a stern look on him, he added, “Pwease?”

Bill leaned into the little boy and blew a raspberry
against his neck, causing a delighted shriek. “Let’s
go,” Bill said, glancing down at Tara. “Ready?” he
asked.

Tara dotted one last ‘i’ and looked up brightly. “Yep.”

Everyone watched as Bill and his family made their way
back to their rooms. Charlie turned the burner on under
his frying-pan.

“Two omelets, crunchy-style, coming right up -!”

~

“Think fast -!”

Mulder looked up from the newspaper he had spread out on
the counter just in time to catch the basketball Charlie
tossed at him. The dishes had been loaded into the
dishwasher, the pans scrubbed, and for the last fifteen
minutes, Mulder had been reading about the storm in the
Caribbean. Charlie was standing in the living area,
grinning and waggling his hand for the ball. Mulder
threw it back with a smile.

“Wanna play?” Charlie asked, catching the ball one-
handed. “There’s a hoop down in the driveway.”

“Yeah, I saw – that’s why I picked that up,” Mulder
said, indicating the ball with a nod of his head.

“Oh – so this is *yours* -” Charlie said, spinning the
ball in his hands. He glanced at Joy, who was sitting
at the table with her purse, her organizer open in front
of her and a look of extreme concentration on her face.
Charlie faked toward her with the ball, causing her to
look up from what she was writing with annoyance.

“I don’t *think* so -” she warned.

Charlie winked at her, then turned back to Mulder. “So
how ’bout a game of one-on-one?”

Mulder took a last swallow of coffee and set his mug in
the sink. “Sure,” he said. “Let me get some shoes on.”

“Well awwwright,” Charlie drawled, twirling the ball on
his finger as Mulder passed on his way upstairs.

~

Scully was kneeling on the floor at the foot of the bed
when Mulder got to their room, leaning on her elbows
toward Wim, who lay burbling and squeaking at the center
of the mattress. Her hair was dry now, combed neatly
into her usual style.

“Who’s gotchyer toes?” she teased Wim, her voice husky
and playful as she tickled his feet, wagging her face
over his pink belly. “Who’s gotchyer toes??”

“Gggh-ee!” Wim responded, kicking his feet. Mulder
smiled and sat down on the edge of the bed.

“I’m gonna shoot some hoops with your brother,” he said,
stooping to feel for the shoes he had shed earlier.
Scully sat back on her heels with an expression of
bewilderment.

“You mean with Charlie,” she said after a moment.
Mulder smiled and gave a little huff as he pulled the
laces on one shoe loose.

“Yeah.”

Scully got to her feet and scooped Wim up from the bed.
“Are you coming down to the beach after that?” she
asked. “Mom and Tara are down there already…”

“Yeah -” Mulder glanced up at her, and stopped what he
was doing. He frowned, his eyes fixed somewhere near
her chin. “Come here,” he said.

“What?” She stepped toward him. He had one hand on her
elbow, pulling her closer, still scowling at the area
just below her mouth. “What?” she asked, swiping at her
chin with the back of her hand. “Do I have -”

“You’ve got something there…” his said, reaching for
her chin with his other hand. It slipped along her jaw
and behind her head and pulled her mouth down to his.
He kissed her gently, letting go of her as she hummed
softly. He gave her a cocky, dreamy smile. “Got it,”
he said.

She straightened up slowly, hitching Wim up in her arms,
and Mulder noticed with a self-satisfied smile the blush
he had brought to her cheeks. She narrowed her eyes at
him provocatively.

“Not yet, you haven’t,” she said, her voice low. She
tilted her head to the side. “I think my brother is
some kind of influence on you.”

“*Some kind* of influence?” Mulder asked. “Is that a
good thing or a bad thing?”

She raised an eyebrow at him, grabbed Wim’s diaper bag
from the changing table and moved toward the door
without answering his question.

~

The driveway to ‘Perfect Harmony’ was nothing more than
a clean, almost perfectly smooth slab of white-gray
concrete, two car-widths wide and about forty feet long
from the road to right up under the house. A nice-sized
hoop and backboard had been attached to the top of one
of the stilts beneath the house. Mulder saw that
Charlie had pulled Bill and Tara’s minivan next to
Maggie’s Chrysler under the house, and that the other
two cars had been backed onto the scrubby ground in
front of the house, clearing the area beneath the net.
The driveway was pitched slightly toward the street, but
otherwise looked like the perfect playing surface.
Charlie was standing in the center of their improvised
half-court when Mulder came down, dribbling the ball
lazily from hand to hand.

“It’s a little close, but I figure we can clear to
here,” Charlie said, his toe tapping the rubber
stripping that separated the driveway into two slabs.
Mulder nodded, estimating the distance between the goal
and the clear-line at slightly over fifteen feet. It
would be a little tight, but with just the two of them,
he didn’t think it would matter.

“Clear on all shots?” he asked.

Charlie nodded and bounce-passed the ball to him. “Make
it and take it. One point a basket.”

Mulder dribbled once, twice, testing out the feel of the
new ball. He splayed his fingers across the nubbly
surface, palming the ball briefly before sending it up
for a shot. The ball hit the box on the backboard and
fell into the net. “What are we playing to?”

Charlie jogged up for the rebound, and made an
effortless lay-up, catching it and bringing it back to
the clear-line. He blinked and gave Mulder a silly
grin. “This one goes to eleven.”

The game was on. Charlie tipped the ball into the air
and Mulder grabbed it easily, spinning quickly and
cutting toward the line. He dribbled twice, pivoting
away from the arm Charlie swung out in front of him, and
took a shot. It bounced off the rim and Charlie plucked
it out of the air, dribbling back to clear. Mulder
dodged forward, throwing his arms wide to obstruct
Charlie’s aim.

“Did you play in school?” Charlie asked, somewhat
breathless as he switched back, avoiding Mulder’s block.
He stepped sideways, faking to the left, then ducked
right and shot.

The ball hit the edge of the backboard and bounced
almost directly into Mulder’s hands. He took it around
to the back of the court, dribbling slowly along the
clear-line as Charlie circled inside. “In high school,”
he said, “but they’re not much into basketball at
Oxford,” he said, waiting for Charlie to turn again.
“Or the rest Britain for that matter -”

Charlie turned and Mulder cut past him, dribbling toward
the post and going for a lay-up. Charlie was quicker
than he’d counted on, however, and arrived under the net
in time to block the shot and grab the ball. He laughed
in good-natured triumph as he dribbled back.

“That’s right,” he said, smiling. “I forgot you were
abroad -”

He pivoted quickly and shot from the clear-line. Mulder
watched the ball as it described a graceful arc toward
the goal and swished through the hoop. Charlie grinned
and pumped his arm as Mulder stepped forward to grab the
ball.

“Woo-*hoo*! Baby!”

Both men paused and looked up to see Joy on the deck
just above them – the one attached to Bill and Tara’s
room. She shimmied gleefully, arms raised. Just behind
her, Scully was standing, holding Wim. She offered
Mulder a look of exaggerated sympathy.

“Awesome,” Charlie grinned, glancing at Mulder. “We’ve
got cheerleaders.”

Mulder squinted up at Scully, unsure he wanted her – or
their son – to witness what could very well turn into an
ass-whooping extreme. There was no telling how the game
would go at this point, of course; Mulder had always
been a good player, and had been joining in pick-up
games at the gym during the last couple of months, but
his stamina was nowhere near what it had been. And
Charlie was *fast*. He had at least six years on Mulder
– never mind the fact that he had actually been *alive*
for all of last year. Mulder huffed. That was almost
funny. Glancing up again, he gave Scully a smile that
was more a grimace.

“I thought you were going to the beach,” he called up.

“This looked like more fun,” she replied, shading her
eyes to wink down at him. He took a deep breath,
nodding minutely, then bounced the basketball to her
brother.

“Your ball,” he said.

Charlie smirked and dribbled back to the line. “One,
nothing.”

~

Scully bounced gently, swaying Wim from side to side as
she and Joy watched the game continue below. Joy let
out a half-sigh and sank onto the chaise behind her.
She turned to give Scully a quick grin over her
shoulder.

“Why are guys so damn *hot* when they’re playing around
like that…?” she mused, leaning forward to watch
through the railing. She sighed again, ending on a soft
laugh.

Scully smiled. Because of biology, she thought to
herself; because every game is just a throwback to basic
animal behavior, a part of the drive in every male to
demonstrate his prowess, the desire in every female for
the perfect mate. She laughed and smoothed her cheek
against Wim’s warm head, pressing her lips to him
gently. “It’s a mating ritual, isn’t it,” she murmured.
Joy turned to look at her, eyebrows raised.

“A lot of that going around today,” she remarked with a
grin.

Scully smiled and lowered her head, refusing to blush
again. Between Charlie’s teasing and Mulder’s unabashed
innuendo, she’d been scarlet through most of breakfast.
She came around the end of Joy’s chaise and perched
lightly on the end. Below them, Mulder and Charlie were
jostling shoulder to shoulder as Charlie did his best to
block Mulder’s shot on the basket. Mulder let fly, and
scored off of the backboard.

“Uh-oh, baby!” Joy called down. “He’s comin’ to get
you!”

Charlie glanced up with a grin as he followed Mulder
back to the line, sweeping his hair out of his face with
an impatient gesture. Joy snorted.

“He’s like a sheepdog with that hair,” she said shaking
her head. Scully noticed that she was smiling
affectionately. “It’s a wonder he doesn’t walk into
walls.”

Scully watched her quietly, marveling at the other
woman’s sense of poise and self-assurance. She seemed
fearless. It was no mean feat to step up to Clan Scully
without flinching – Scully had felt more than one twinge
of concern for Mulder’s ability to cope amid the
swirling personalities and rivalries that defined her
extended family. God knows she’d avoided it more often
than not over the past several years, and Mulder had
very little experience dealing with families, especially
one as large as hers. Only her own confidence in
Mulder’s personal charm – and stores of patience – had
put her at ease over it, and even then, she would
*never* have thrown him into circumstances like these.

A week with her mother, indeed.

Scully took a deep breath and regarded Joy with a new
eye, knowing that her younger brother must think highly
of this exotic woman to have let her in for a week with
all of them.

“You and Charlie must be fairly serious,” she said,
glancing sidelong at Joy. Joy turned and looked at her
with an expression of bewilderment, her delicate brows
drawn together slightly.

“What makes you say that?” she asked.

Scully paused, taking a little breath. She hadn’t
really given any thought to Joy’s reaction, but this
wasn’t the response she might have expected. “Well,”
she began, unsure now of the direction she had chosen.
“I mean, for him to bring you all the way out here, to
meet the whole family -” She stopped. She sounded like
her mother. Or worse, *like Tara -* “It’s not easy to
be thrown into a family situation like this,” she
finished lamely. Joy laughed.

“Ohh,” she said, shaking her head ruefully. “I’m an old
hand at strange family situations, believe me. Compared
to some of the things I’ve seen, you all are like
something from TV-Land. You’re the Bradys.”

Joy had turned her attention over the railing, watching
as Charlie made another basket from the back line, and
Scully had the distinct feeling that the subject was
being avoided, if not dropped altogether. Joy clapped
her hands and whooped. “That’s it – keep it up -!”

“Don’t cheer too loudly up there, Scully -!” Mulder
shouted from below. Scully leaned forward carefully and
looked down through the deck railing. Mulder was
squinting up at her, looking sweaty and winded. He
pulled the edge of his tee-shirt up and wiped his face
with it. “I mean, don’t strain your voice or anything –

Scully grinned and sat back, taking Wim’s fists in her
hands and raising his arms. “Woooo!” she called down,
cheering for both of them. She danced Wim on her lap.
“*Go defense -!*”

Mulder smiled up at them. “That’s a little more like
it.”

“You gonna play or mug for the crowd?” Charlie taunted.
Mulder narrowed his eyes at him.

“Bring it, then,” he sneered.

The game resumed, and Scully turned to look at Joy,
returning to her former train of thought. Something
about the way Joy had answered her question – or avoided
it – caught her attention, but she couldn’t put her
finger on it. She frowned. Joy glanced at her, and
seemed to read her mind. She gave Scully an
understanding smile.

“Charlie and I like to keep things loosely defined,” she
said, her tone languid and explanatory. “You know.”

Scully arched one brow. “I don’t think I do,” she said.

“Well,” Joy said. She drew her hair back over her
shoulders, flipping it into a single twist at the back
of her neck. “You and Mulder. No one seems to know
what to think about your situation…”

Joy let this hang for a moment, perhaps waiting for
Scully to supply some kind of answer to the unasked
question. Scully remained silent and kept her eyes on
Wim, who was holding onto her fingers, bouncing her
hands up and down.

“But neither of you seems to have a problem with that.
You seem to have kept things fairly open between you,”
Joy went on. She turned on the chaise to face Scully,
bringing her legs up and tucking her feet under her. “I
think that’s a good thing. I think it speaks to the
respect you have for one another, how well you know one
another.”

Scully looked up and met Joy’s eyes. Joy was watching
her with interest.

“That’s an amazing thing,” she continued, “to know
someone that well.”

Scully blinked and looked down, studying the fine copper
hairs on Wim’s head, thinking about how well she and
Mulder purportedly knew one another. She knew him
better than *he* did, at times – better even than she
knew herself. And then there where times when she felt
she didn’t know him at all.

It wasn’t something she could explain. It was a
knowledge that ran so deep, felt so instinctual – there
was no tracing it’s beginning. It seemed for all the
world that it had always been there: the unspoken
understanding, the unconditional respect, the
synchronicity of purpose – even when their ideas
diverged. She supposed that there was, in fact,
something amazing in that.

Scully turned to see Joy looking past her toward the
door into Bill and Tara’s room, and inexplicably, the
air around them seemed to change.

“Hey there, ladies.”

Bill was standing in the doorway, ruffling his wet hair
with a towel. He put on a too-bright smile when his
sister turned her gaze on him. “What’s going on?”

“Basketball,” Scully said after a beat.

“We’re the cheering section,” Joy told him.

Bill slid the door aside and stepped out to peer over
the side of the deck. Mulder had just successfully
blocked Charlie’s latest attempt on goal, and Charlie
shouted his frustration with a colorful epithet. Bill
stepped up to the railing.

“Watch yer mouth there, sailor -!” he called down with a
grin.

Both Mulder and Charlie turned mid-motion to look up at
the new voice, and the ball rolled out of Charlie’s
hands. He yelled in exaggerated dismay as he chased it
onto the sand.

“Arghhh! See what you made me do -??”

Bill stood next to the railing, looking down with an
unreadable expression. Joy was watching him closely.

“Why don’t you go down and play?” she asked. Bill
looked at her with surprise. He seemed to consider it
for a moment, a strange tension vibrating off him.

“Nahhh,” he said, stepping back from the rail. “I just
came up to make some sandwiches -”

Charlie had heard Joy’s suggestion. “Hey, Billy boy!” he
shouted. “You make an ugly cheerleader – and this guy
could use a little help before I beat his sorry
*aaaaass* -”

Scully saw the brief look of apprehension that crossed
her brother’s face. Bill shook his head. “Nah,” he
said again. “I’m just -”

“Come on down,” Mulder shouted up. Scully looked down
at him in surprise, and he returned her stare with his
brows raised. He gave her a tight-lipped smile. “We’ll
play two-on-one and show Kobe here how to lose with
style,” he called.

Bill hesitated, glancing back over the rail at the men
below, then up at his sister. Scully raised her
eyebrows hopefully, giving him the same smile Mulder had
just given her. “Go on,” she said.

Bill took a deep breath, considering, looking from his
sister, to Joy. “All right,” he said. He stepped back
to the rail and looked over. “All right,” he said again,
louder. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

Charlie let out an evil cackle, and pointed one menacing
finger in Mulder’s direction. “Now I get to kick *both*
your asses…!”

~

Bill appeared on the front steps a few minutes later
wearing dry shorts and a crisp looking pair of track
shoes. Charlie noticed the footwear immediately.

“New sneaks, bro?” he chuckled, dribbling around the
perimeter of the driveway. Bill looked down at his new
shoes and smiled.

“Yeah,” he said. He put his hands on his hips and
glanced between them warily. “How’re we playing here?”

“You two fogies against my devastating game,” Charlie
said, his voice lazy and boastful. “One point a basket,
to eleven.” He glanced at Mulder. “We’ll start over,
okay?”

Mulder nodded. “Sure,” he said with uncertainty.
Charlie was already four up on him anyway.

“Call your own fouls,” Charlie went on, lining up for a
jump-shot from the back line. He threw the ball with a
flick of his wrist. “Marquess of Queensbury rules -”

The ball thudded off the backboard and swished through
the net.

Bill caught it and passed it back to his brother.
“Marquess of Queensbury?” he asked. He glanced at
Mulder who shared his look of confusion.

“Isn’t that boxing -?”

Charlie’s eyes took on a wild glint and he waggled his
eyebrows at them. “Shall we play?”

He tipped the ball up, and again Mulder took quick
possession, peeling back toward the line. Charlie ran
up to block his return – *damn* he was quick – and
Mulder crouched, faking left, then passing high and
right to Bill, who was waiting under the basket. Bill
caught the ball and made a perfect lay-up, grabbing the
ball back as it fell through the hoop.

“Winner’s outs, right?” he asked, dribbling the ball
slowly. Mulder and Charlie both nodded that it was, and
they circled, Bill dribbling slowly back toward the
clear-line as Mulder did his best to screen Charlie.
But Mulder had set the pick too early, and by the time
Bill came past to clear, Charlie had dodged around
Mulder, and swiped the ball from Bill mid-dribble. He
ran it down and performed his own lay-up. He was
laughing as he came back down.

“Here -” he chest-passed the ball back to Bill, who
frowned as he caught it. “Maybe we should switch to
loser’s outs,” Charlie said, laughing. “Just to make it
fair…”

Bill threw the ball back to his brother. “Don’t go
changing the rules now, Charles,” he said. “Game’s
already started -”

“Suit yourself,” Charlie said, going up for another
jump-shot. The ball skittered against the rim and
dropped in. “Yea-eah!” Charlie crowed, running up to
catch the ball. He looked up toward the deck. “Hey
ladies! Are you watching this -?”

“You get’em, baby,” Joy called down. Mulder could hear
Scully’s low laughter.

Bill moved up behind his brother while Charlie wasn’t
looking, and knocked the ball from his hands. Mulder
ran up to post, laughing at Charlie’s expression of
surprise, and raising his hand for the pass. Bill threw
the ball and Mulder caught it, swinging around backward
to avoid Charlie’s belated block. Crouching low with
his back to the hoop, he waited for a break in Charlie’s
defense. Faking to the right with his shoulder once,
twice, he caught Charlie off balance – a *fake* fake –
and broke that way, rolling around Charlie and taking
the ball up to the basket. He tipped it over the rim
with his fingers.

Bill applauded smugly from the corner, and Charlie hung
his head, shaking it in despair. Mulder clapped his
shoulder as he passed with the ball.

“Two up,” he said, with a wink. He passed the ball to
Bill. “Our ball.”

~

Scully sat on the end of the chaise with Wim in her lap,
listening to the various sounds of the game going on
below – the grunts and laughter of the three men, the
shuffle and squeak of their soles on the smooth
concrete, the echo-y spank of the ball as they dribbled
it up and down the driveway. Joy had gotten up and was
standing over the railing, leaning forward on her elbows
to shout encouragement to Charlie, and giving Mulder and
Bill good-natured trash-talk.

“C’mon you guys – pick it up!” she yelled down. “This is
basketball – not shuffle-board!”

Scully watched her, bemused. She found her opinion of
her brother’s girlfriend shifting subtly with almost
everything the other woman said, like a boat adrift at
sea. Where it would land was anybody’s guess. She
liked Joy – her direct manner and good humor were hard
to dislike – but there was something about her that
Scully couldn’t quite figure out. She propped Wim up on
her lap and leaned back on one hand. “How long have you
and Charlie been together?” she asked.

“About six months,” Joy said amiably, glancing back over
her shoulder.

Scully did her best not to let her surprise register on
her face. Six months? She would have guessed more than
twice that time based on the way Joy and Charlie
interacted. “And you live together?” she asked.

Joy turned away from the game and regarded Scully with a
brief expression of frank curiosity, as though Scully’s
second question were a completely unexpected follow-up
to the first. Then she smiled. “Essentially, yeah,”
she said. “I’m at his place most of the time.”

Scully nodded and looked back down at Wim, who was
gurgling and gnawing on his fist. She could feel Joy
watching her.

“You and Mulder don’t share a place, do you?”

Despite the interrogative upswing at the end of Joy’s
sentence, Scully knew it wasn’t a question. Her mother
had been talking to *someone*, she thought, glancing
down at her younger brother. Scully tightened her jaw
and looked up.

“No,” she said. “We keep separate apartments.”

Joy narrowed her eyes, a combination of appreciation and
wonder crossing her face. “That’s good,” she said,
causing Scully no small amount of surprise. Joy saw it
and laughed as she went on. “I think it’s good!” she
said. “I really do. I think it’s great that you’ve
maintained your identities, your freedom. That’s great.
I mean, why force yourselves into an uncomfortable
situation, just because you have a kid.”

Scully found she had no response to that, her brows
mingling with her hairline as she laughed, thinking: *Is
that what we’ve done?*

~

Mulder caught Bill’s pass and ran up toward the basket,
glancing over his shoulder to determine which of the
Scully brothers was crowding so close on his heels. It
was Charlie, dashing forward to defend the net, so hell-
bent on preventing Mulder’s next shot that he nearly
tripped them both up with it. Mulder cut quickly to the
left and stopped short, looking for Bill and sending
Charlie careening toward the base of the house.

“Ball -!” Bill called from the right. Mulder turned,
saw, passed – then tried to catch his breath as Bill
took the ball up for a jump-shot. The level of play had
been turned up two or three-fold since Bill had joined
the game, thanks entirely to the fierce sense of
competition going on between Bill and Charlie. Mulder
had felt the mood begin to shift almost immediately,
with the demands on his abilities and stamina following
right behind. They were all drenched – Charlie and
Mulder had both peeled their shirts off, letting them
fall in sodden lumps on the sand beside the driveway –
and Mulder was seriously out of breath. Moving forward
to catch the rebound, he paused to the wipe the sweat
out of his eyes, and missed the result of Bill’s shot.

He watched as both Charlie and Bill cut back, the ball
having bounced back toward the line. Already outside,
Charlie was closer, and before either Mulder or Bill
could follow, Charlie had grabbed the ball and run to
the clear-line. He shot the ball. All three men
stopped to watch it sail through the hoop.

“Yesss!” Charlie cried, arms raised in triumph as he ran
to retrieve the ball. “Nothin’ but net!”

“Too bad it doesn’t count,” Bill said, pulling his shirt
up to mop his face. Charlie turned and gave him a look
of pure incredulity.

“*What*?” he cried. He pushed the damp hair off his
forehead, the better to scowl at his brother. “Are you
high? Of course it counts -”

“It wasn’t your ball,” Bill said, stepping forward to
take the ball from his brother. “We still had
possession -”

Charlie pivoted, holding the ball away from his
brother’s outstretched hands. “What are you talking
about? You totally missed that last shot -!”

“I made the shot,” Bill said definitively. “It’s still
our ball -”

“You *missed* the shot!” Charlie said, laughing in
disbelief of his brother’s stubbornness.

“We won’t count *either* shot,” Mulder said wearily, too
tired to try to figure out which of them was right.
“Let’s just start over from where we were -”

Charlie turned his incredulous look on Mulder. “But he
*missed* the fucking shot!”

“Play nice down there!” came Joy’s voice from above.
Charlie glanced up briefly and then brought his eyes
back to Mulder’s, blinking in consternation and shaking
his head minutely – another look that reminded Mulder
instantly of Scully. Charlie bounced the ball at him.
“Fine,” he said, raking the hair from his forehead
again. “Whatever.”

“Maybe if you didn’t have all that hair in your face all
the time you’d know what the play was,” Bill said with a
laugh.

“Maybe if you didn’t fucking *cheat* -”

Mulder let out a heavy sigh. “*Guys* -”

“Don’t make me come down there, boys,” Joy called down.
“I’ll kick *all* your asses.”

Charlie made a face, rolling his eyes dramatically, and
Bill and Mulder had to laugh. Charlie shook his head
and joined with them.

“Okay okay okay,” he said. He glanced between Mulder
and his brother. “It’s your ball. Let’s just play.”

Mulder passed the ball to Bill, who dribbled it to the
clear-line as Mulder and Charlie took their positions
mid-court. “What’s the score?” he asked.

“Six-six,” Mulder said.

“Six-*seven*,” Charlie corrected.

Bill held the ball and opened his mouth to protest, but
Mulder held up a staying hand.

“Just let him -”

“Fine.” Bill shook his head impatiently and began to
dribble again. He looked at his brother with barely
disguised exasperation. “As if it even matters,
Charles.”

Charlie straightened to his full height and squared his
shoulders. “It does matter, *William* -”

Bill’s exasperation was full-fledged now. “It’s only a
*game*.”

“Well then let’s make it interesting, shall we?” Charlie
said. Mulder held his breath and watched as the
brothers squinted at each other.

“What?” Bill asked, his interest piqued. “You mean a
bet? You want to make a bet – or no no – you want to
*lose* a bet?”

Charlie chuckled indignantly. “And who’s winning now,
brother-mine?”

Bill huffed and turned his head to look at Mulder, a
look that said ‘can you believe this shit?’ Mulder felt
a strange sensation of un-reality, like a splash of cold
water; who would ever have imagined he’d be playing on
the same side as Big Brother Bill?

Bill looked back at Charlie and lifted his chin in
challenge. “All right then,” he said. “What’ll it be?”

Charlie grinned, his eyes narrowing as he considered.
“Okay,” he said after a few moments contemplation.
“Losers have to wear a thong bikini on the beach for the
rest of the week.”

Both Mulder and Bill tossed their heads, groaning, and
there was a burst of laughter from the ladies above.
“That’s just *mean*, Charlie,” Joy said.

Charlie laughed and went on. “*All* week,” he said
again. “And you’ve gotta buy it in town. The
brightest, most obnoxious, *smallest* thong you can find
-”

“Come on, Charlie,” Mulder laughed nervously. “What
kind of bet is that?”

“This isn’t high school,” Bill said. He tucked the ball
under his arm and reached into his back pocket for his
wallet. “Come on. You want a bet,” he said. “How
much?”

Charlie was shaking his head. “Oh no – I don’t want
your money. I don’t give a shit about your money.”

“What you mean is you don’t *have* any money for your
part of the stake,” Bill said. Mulder laughed, and
Charlie smiled sheepishly.

“Well that too,” he admitted. “But no – I said let’s
make it *interesting*. I’m not interested in money.”

“What then?” Mulder asked. He was getting curious to
see how far the brothers would go with this, choosing
not to think – for the present – about the fact that he
had somehow gotten mixed up in their rivalry. He smiled
at Charlie, one eyebrow raised. “What do you want?”

Charlie grinned broadly at both of them. “Nothing less
than your abject humiliation,” he said.

Mulder dropped his chin to his chest and laughed.
Beside him, Bill was nodding slowly, his mouth drawn up,
his eyes narrowed speculatively at his brother.

“All right,” he said.

Mulder looked up sharply. “What -?”

Bill and Charlie were grinning at one another –
malicious grins that Mulder could barely see beyond
visions of Bill and himself, decked out in matching
thongs, asses bared for the amusement of the entire
beach. He felt another surge of cold un-reality. *How
had this happened?*

Bill was holding up one finger, looking at his brother
with keen interest. “*But*,” he said, pausing
dramatically. Charlie and Mulder waited for him to
continue. “If *we* win -”

Bill stopped again and pointed his finger at Charlie’s
head. Charlie looked at the finger and then at Bill
himself, confused. Then he glanced at Mulder, who
shrugged.

“The hair,” Bill said, grinning smugly. Charlie leaned
forward slightly, cocking his head at his brother as if
he hadn’t quite heard. Then a look of understanding
dawned on his face, followed quickly by a look of amused
disbelief.

“You really can’t stand my hair, can you,” he said,
smiling incredulously. “You want me to cut my hair if I
lose. Is that it?”

“I suppose that would be abject enough, yeah,” Bill
said, grinning. Charlie snorted derisively.

“Hey, it’ll be worth it just to see your ass in neon
green lycra,” he said. “You’re on.”

He and Bill shook hands, and Charlie turned to look at
Mulder. Mulder took the hand he extended, shaking his
head and laughing resignedly as he and Charlie shook to
seal the deal.

“Hey,” Charlie said, giving him a sly wink. “Don’t
worry – I bet your ass will look really cute in butt
floss.”

~

The door into Bill and Tara’s room slid open again, and
Tara stepped onto the deck, shading her eyes from the
sun. “Hey!” she said, smiling at Scully and Joy. “I
see bare-chested men! What’s going on down there?”

Joy and Scully both looked up. “Charlie challenged
Mulder and Bill to a basketball game,” Joy told her.

“Uh-oh,” Tara said, her eyes going wide with exaggerated
alarm. She stepped around Scully to take a seat on the
chaise. “So that’s what happened to our sandwiches.
Who’s winning?”

“It’s hard to tell,” Scully said.

“They’ve been arguing over every point,” Joy added.

Tara’s alarm took on a more genuine look. “Uh-oh,” she
said again.

No one said anything else right away as they all watched
the men below. Bill had the ball in the far back
corner, with Mulder crouched low, arms wide as he set a
screen on Charlie. The three of them came together
briefly, Bill cutting close past the other two, while
Charlie pressed hard against Mulder’s back. Mulder spun
away toward the post, while Charlie followed Bill toward
the basket. Mulder raised his hand as he ran, calling
for the ball, and Bill turned just as Charlie ran up to
block. Bill stepped into his brother and wedged his
elbow out sharply, managing to throw Charlie off
balance. Then he passed to Mulder, who made a jump-shot
as Charlie staggered and landed hard on his ass.

“Ooh – Charlie -!” Joy cried.

“Are you all right?” Scully called down. Charlie
squinted up as Bill stepped forward, holding the ball on
his hip with one hand and extending the other to help
Charlie up. Charlie scowled at his brother briefly
before accepting the hand.

“Better watch the elbows, Bill,” he said.

“You can’t goal-tend like that,” Bill told him, wiping
his arm over his forehead.

Next to Scully, Tara let out a sigh. “They *always* get
like this,” she said below her breath. Scully grimaced
ruefully, thinking of other ball-hoops suspended over
other driveways. The base house at Miramar had had a
hoop, she remembered. Bill had bent it almost
completely off one time, proving to Charlie that he
could dunk. Scully echoed her sister-in-law’s sigh and
shifted Wim in her lap.

“They always have,” she said.

~

This was it. The score was ten-ten; whoever made the
next basket won the game, and based on that, either
Charlie’s red bandana, or Bill’s and Mulder’s modest
swim-trunks would quickly be made obsolete. The three
of them circled around one another on the driveway,
breathless and dripping with sweat, their movements made
sluggish by the growing heat of the day. The sun had
swung around on its way westward, and was high over the
house now. The house’s shadow, which had kept the
driveway dim and cool before, had receded, exposing the
white-concrete to the late-morning sun. The glare was
nearly blinding, rising up around their shins in
rippling waves of reflected heat.

Mulder pulled his hands through his wet hair and shook
his shoulders out. The sheen of sweat on his skin mixed
with the salt in the air, making him itch, and he could
feel an uncomfortable tug in the tendons around his left
knee. He would feel this later on tonight, he knew. It
had been years since he’d played this hard.

“Come on, Bill – are you just gonna dribble -?” Charlie
said. He stood casually at center-court, hands on hips,
but Mulder could see that his breathing was as labored
as theirs. Bill was pacing the perimeter, dribbling
slowly. His face was flushed a deep red, drips of sweat
wobbling on the ends of his nose and chin. He took a
deep breath through his mouth and glanced at Mulder.
Mulder held his hands up for the pass.

Bill pushed the ball toward him, a chest-pass – but no!
With more speed then Mulder would have thought him
capable of at this point, Bill pulled the ball back and
cut to the right, dribbling toward the basket. Charlie
and Mulder responded at the same time, rushing the
basket shoulder to shoulder. Bill was standing at the
low-post, setting up for a jump-shot when Charlie
lunged, batting the ball back, away from the hoop. The
ball sailed back, and Mulder scrambled after it while
Charlie continued forward, the momentum of his leap
throwing him into his brother’s chest. Down-court,
Mulder caught the ball before it bounced, spun and
brought the ball up – perfect – and it flew – perfect,
perfect –

It hit the backboard and fell through the net.

Charlie and Bill were sprawled, a tangle of limbs just
below the net. Charlie laughed breathlessly and heaved
himself up, holding his hand out toward his brother,
whom he had knocked back, nearly off onto the sand.
Bill grabbed his brother’s hand and let Charlie pull him
up, and immediately stepped forward to give Charlie’s
chest a vicious shove.

“Bill! What the fuck, man -?” Charlie cried. Bill took
another aggressive step forward, and Charlie stepped up
to meet him. Mulder moved toward them tentatively, his
hands raised.

“Come on, guys -”

“Your hot-shot moves could get someone hurt,” Bill
growled at Charlie, twitching forward again. Charlie
laughed at him.

“Give me a fucking break,” he said. “It was an accident!
You shouldn’t fucking play if you’re afraid to get a
little roughed up -”

Bill stepped in and shoved him again, harder this time,
knocking Charlie away. Charlie’s arms windmilled
briefly as he staggered back, a look of surprise and
malice flashing across his face. Mulder stepped between
them as Charlie came back at his brother. He put a hand
on Bill’s shoulder and blocked Charlie’s advance with
his forearm. “Come on,” he said. “That’s enough -”

“What’s going on down there?”

Mulder looked up to see Tara holding Wim, peering over
the railing above them. None of them answered. Charlie
and Bill were still staring at each other menacingly,
but had eased off somewhat. Mulder put his arms down,
glancing between them. “Let’s go in and get some
water.”

Charlie huffed and stepped away, glaring at Bill over
his shoulder as he stooped to pick up the ball. “Such a
fucking drama queen…” he muttered. Bill jerked
forward, and Mulder lay his hand back on his arm. Bill
shrugged it off impatiently.

“*Me*?” he asked. “You better watch -”

“You always have to make a big deal of everything,”
Charlie said, turning to face his brother. “Why didn’t
you just call the foul? Noooo – you have to make a huge
production of it -”

“Like the production you’re making now?” Bill sneered.
“You just can’t stand losing -”

“Oh, like that was such a hard win – two against one -”

Bill cocked his head threateningly. “*You* set the
rules.”

Mulder bowed his head, bringing his hand up to rub the
back of his neck. “Come on, guys.” He was too tired for
this shit.

“No,” Charlie said, “No – I’m sick of him having to
control everything all the time – turning everything
into this huge fucking circus so he can play ring-leader
-”

“Charlie -” Joy warned from above. Charlie put a hand
up in the direction of the deck.

“Just stay out of this,” he said, without looking up.
He stepped toward his brother, his eyes narrowed.
“You’d better chill-out -”

“Oh *I’d* better chill out?” Bill laughed derisively as
Charlie drew closer. Mulder watched, his muscles
tensing in anticipation of what now seemed the
inevitable. He held his hands clenched loosely at his
sides.

“Yeah – you’d better *chill out*,” Charlie snarled,
spitting each word out like venom. “‘Cause you’re
ruining the week for everyone.”

Mulder held his breath and could only watch as the next
three seconds happened in slow motion: Charlie’s hands
came up, poised to return the shove Bill had given him
before, but Bill brought his own hand up, blocking
Charlie’s blow. He grabbed the side of Charlie’s head
and pushed – Charlie came up swinging, his fist aimed
for his brother’s jaw, and Bill threw both his arms up
to avoid the strike –

There was a flash of red and a quick cry-sob-gasp —

~

Motion halted, and time returned to normal speed.
Mulder moved forward, blocking Scully and sliding a
protective arm around her shoulders before any of them
really understood what had just happened.

“Oh my God – Dana, I’m sorry,” Bill said with remorse.
“I didn’t see you-”

“Shit – Dane -?” Charlie was saying at the same time.
“What the hell happened?”

Scully was standing with her head bowed, holding one
hand against her eye, where Bill’s elbow had jabbed her
as he defended himself from Charlie’s blow. There
didn’t appear to be any blood, but Mulder tipped her
head up slightly to make sure.

“Is she okay?” Joy called down from above.

“I got it,” he replied, steering Scully toward the
stairs leading up to the house without giving Bill or
Charlie a second look.

“I can’t believe this…” Scully was muttering. Inside,
he led her into the kitchen area, located a ziplock bag,
filled it with ice, and handed it to her as she leaned
against the island, facing him.

Scully held the bag of ice against her eye, her other
eye flashing in anger as Mulder tried to pull her hand
back to get a good look at the damage.

“This always happens,” she was saying. “He knows how
controlling Bill is, and yet he lets him get under his
skin faster than – ow!”

She jerked her head back, looking up into Mulder’s face
with annoyance. He had tucked his hand up under her
chin, carefully turning her face up. Then he gently
took the bag of ice from her, and was gazing down at her
with a patient expression of empathy.

“Sorry,” he said, leaning down closer, wincing as he
brought two fingers up near her eye, careful not to
touch. “It’s already starting to swell.”

“Shit,” she muttered under her breath, laying her palm
down on the counter behind her and bowing her head.
“This is just great.”

He continued to look at her face with a compassionate
expression. “So you’re used to getting blindsided when
your brothers get into an argument?”

She raised her face and looked up at him with her lips
pursed, still annoyed. “No. I wasn’t talking about
myself. I meant Charlie.”

“He’s got some anger built up, that’s for sure,” Mulder
commented quietly, taking her hand and placing the bag
of ice back into it. “I never thought I’d be defending
your older brother, but Charlie seems to be taking it
out on Bill.” He paused, straightening. “Do you want
something for the pain? Tylenol? Advil?”

She shook her head, wincing as she did so, which caused
her to emit a small moan of pain. She raised the ice
back up to her eye, her other eye searching Mulder’s
face.

He pressed his lips together into a tight line, his brow
furrowed, and turned to pull a glass down from the
cabinet, filling it with water from the tap. “You don’t
have to be so tough, Scully,” he admonished softly,
handing her the glass. She accepted it, giving him a
slightly apologetic look as she took a drink. “Jesus,”
he whispered. “I hate it when anything happens to you.”

She put the glass down on the counter and sighed, all of
her earlier anger dissipated. “I’m fine, Mulder. You
and I have both been through worse than this.”

He reached out and laid his wrist on her shoulder,
brushing his thumb along her jaw line and leaning
closer, his voice softer. “I know. That doesn’t make
it any easier.”

She closed her eyes, tilting her head toward his touch
as he continued to stroke her face. “No, it doesn’t.”

Mulder stroked her hair down on the back of her head,
releasing a heavy sigh. She looked up, holding his
gaze. There was no way they could avoid situations like
these, intentional or accidental. It was just something
they had to live with. That didn’t mean they ever got
used to it. When he finally raised his head, he
realized Bill was standing in the living room, watching
them. He met Bill’s look over the top of Scully’s head,
and Mulder realized that there was an absence of the
usual pity or disdain that Bill usually displayed in his
presence.

“Is she okay?” Bill asked.

Mulder looked down at Scully, and they exchanged a brief
look. He nodded, and she turned to face her brother.

“I’m okay,” she replied honestly. She looked at him a
moment, then realized he was alone. “Where’s Charlie?”
she asked in a low voice.

Bill stepped toward them. “He feels as bad about this
as I do. He’s still outside – Joy had a few things to
say to him.” He tilted his head to the side, looking at
her with worry. “You sure you’re okay?”

She looked down and let out a soft snort. “Yeah.”

Tara emerged from the bedroom with Wim, holding up a
small white bottle. “It took me a while to dig it out,”
she called from across the great room, “but I found some
Motrin if you think it might help.” She crossed the
room and handed the bottle to Scully with an expression
of concern. “Does it hurt bad?”

Scully looked back up at Mulder, and then at Bill before
smiling gently at Tara and taking Wim into her arms. “A
little. Thanks.”

~

“…’Have a carrot,’ said the mother bunny.”

Maggie smiled, closing the book. “Wasn’t that a lovely
story?” she asked Matthew. It had been a favorite of
hers when her own children were small, and reading it
now brought back warm memories of tucking her own kids
into bed, sweet-smelling from their baths, sleepily
begging for her to read it just one more time.

“Yeah!” Matthew replied gleefully. “‘nother one!”

“That’s enough for tonight,” Maggie replied firmly.
“Two stories are more than enough. Now slide under the
covers.” She raised the bedspread and flat sheet, and
Matthew picked up his feet and tucked them under,
scooting down the bed.

“Gwanma, know what?” he said earnestly.

She pulled the covers up to his chin, smoothing them
down and leaning forward, giving him all of her
attention. “What?”

“Auntie Dana got a boo-a.”

“Auntie Dana *has* a sore eye, yes,” she corrected.

“Uh huh,” he nodded solemnly. “Daddy’s do it.”

She paused. She had come up from the beach with Matthew
that afternoon to find Dana with an ice pack over her
eye, and her sons skulking irritably around the house.
Fox had carefully explained what happened without
pointing fingers, but Bill had confessed to bumping into
his sister while arguing with Charlie.

“It was an accident, sweetie,” Maggie told Matthew.
“Your Daddy didn’t mean to hurt Auntie Dana. Now close
your eyes and go to sleep.”

Matthew closed his eyes, then opened them again, sitting
up.

“Gwanma?”

“Yes?” she asked, standing patiently over the bed.

“Tomorrow I go to deh wighthows.”

“Yes, sweetie. We’re all going to see the lighthouse
tomorrow. But first you’ve got to go to sleep.
Goodnight now.”

He lay back down, kicking his feet under the covers and
folding his hands over his chest. A moment later, he
sat up again.

“Gwanma?”

She schooled her expression to appear patient but firm.
“Yes, Matthew.”

He held his arms out. “Big hug.”

Her resolve melted, and she stepped forward to wrap her
arms around his small shoulders. He held on tight,
squeezing with a loud, “Uuuuhhh!” She placed a kiss on
his cheek, then tucked him under the covers one last
time.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“Yuv you too,” he replied, snuggling back under the
covers and closing his eyes. She paused a moment,
expecting to be stopped once more, but when he kept his
eyes closed she snapped off the lamp beside the bed and
slipped out the door, leaving it open a crack.

Bill and Tara had their bedroom door closed, and she
sighed as she passed by on her way to the stairs. It
had been a very quiet afternoon after the ill-fated game
on the driveway, and no one had had much to say during
dinner. Charlie and Joy had spent the evening together
on the deck, and Bill and Tara had taken a long walk on
the beach. Fox stayed close to Dana, watching her
carefully while they played Scrabble on the screened
porch, the two of them talking only when necessary.
She’d observed that they managed to say quite a bit
without ever opening their mouths.

She slid her hand softly along the wall, quietly
flicking off the hall lights as she passed. She
welcomed the darkness, a signal that night had come to
smooth over the rough patches and hurts of the day,
making ready for a fresh tomorrow. She hoped it would
be a better day than today. Bill and Charlie seemed to
have gotten over their earlier argument; the only
reminder of it during the afternoon and evening had been
the ever-darkening bruise below Dana’s eye. Dana
herself had played it down, not wanting her brothers to
feel guilty for the accidental injury, but Maggie had
seen the glances, full of remorse, that Bill and Charlie
had been throwing toward their sister and her blackened
eye all night. She had also seen the looks of
smoldering animosity that had passed between the
brothers. The argument may have been stemmed for now,
Maggie knew, but it had left a tension lingering in the
air.

As well as she knew her children – knew their individual
strengths and weaknesses, the fundamental differences in
their personalities – it always broke her heart a little
when they couldn’t get along. She had hoped this week
together would bring the family closer; it hadn’t
occurred to her that it might push them farther apart.
All of the kids had their own lives, and despite the odd
email or phone-call, she knew they were rarely in touch
if it were not through her. Dana rarely talked to Bill
or Charlie, and the boys weren’t much better about
staying in touch, even though they were both living out
west. She feared her own passing – feared that the
family would disintegrate completely without her there
to hold them together.

At the top of the stairs, she sighed again. Charlie and
Joy had their door closed, but there was a thin band of
light shining between the door and the jam of Dana and
Fox’s room. She tapped lightly on the door, opening it
gently when Fox invited her in.

He was sitting up in bed reading, Dana curled on her
side asleep behind him. He gave her warm smile, and she
smiled back, stealing a look toward William’s crib.

“Out like a light,” Fox commented, then glanced over at
Dana. “They both are.”

“Did she take anything for the pain?”

Fox pushed his glasses up his nose, and smiled. “Yeah,
she finally gave in and took another couple of Motrin.”

Maggie smiled again, and stepped over to the crib,
caressing the baby’s head. What about her Dana, her
baby girl, she thought. She so wished that Dana and Fox
would work out whatever problems were plaguing them.
After so many years, so many hardships… Maggie let out
a soft breath and bit her lip as her fingers stroked
Wim’s satiny cheek. So precious -! Having this baby
had been a challenge, she knew. Babies were not easy
even given the best of circumstances. But she knew also
that this baby was the best thing that could have
happened to her daughter, and, she suspected, to Fox.
Dana kept much of it to herself, but Maggie knew without
being told how hard her daughter’s chosen career had
been on her over the years. With this baby she had no
choice but to slow down. She picked up her head and
glanced back at her sleeping daughter, and the man
beside her. All about him was a sense of unconscious
vigilance, a fond watchfulness Maggie recognized: the
look of a father. Maggie felt a warmth in her heart.
Regardless what concerns Billy might have about his
sister’s relationship with her partner – or her own
concerns, for that matter – Maggie thought Fox was ready
to take on the responsibilities of raising a family.

“Well, I’m glad they’re sleeping,” she said softly.
“We’ve a busy day planned tomorrow.”

Fox nodded, waiting politely for her to finish her
goodnights with his thumb holding his place in the
middle of his book.

“Well, pleasant dreams,” she said, heading toward the
door.

“You too, Mrs. Scully,” he replied pleasantly. “Would
you mind closing it?” he asked as she pulled the door
toward her.

She paused, then nodded, feeling the door latch catch
behind her.

~

Scully awoke with a gasp, her heart pounding. Mulder’s
hand brushed her cheek, and she turned toward his touch,
blinking to adjust her vision to the darkness and trying
to catch her breath.

“You okay?” he asked, rubbing the backs of his fingers
over her cheekbone. He was sitting up in bed with his
back against the headboard, Wim in the crook of his arm
nursing on a bottle.

She could hear the sound of the wind whistling through
the sea oats outside, and inside the gentle sucking
sound of the nipple on Wim’s bottle as he nursed.
Blinking again, she answered hoarsely, “Yeah.” She
swallowed, and carefully sat up next to them against the
headboard. “How long has he been awake?”

“About ten minutes. I had just turned out the light to
go to sleep when he started complaining.”

Reaching out to stroke Wim’s soft bare foot, she
whispered, “Hi sweetheart.” His eyes turned to her,
focusing on her face as he finished off his formula.

“Hi mommy,” Mulder whispered back, lifting Wim’s little
arm and waving it at her. He pulled the empty bottle
out of Wim’s mouth and gently wiped the residual formula
off of his wet lips with the corner of the burping
cloth. “There you go,” he said. “Your belly’s full now.
How about letting loose with one of those big manly
burps before you drift off to babyland?”

Scully smiled and took the empty bottle from Mulder,
carrying it into the bathroom and rinsing it out. She
placed it on top of the vanity. Leaning down, she
collected cool water from the faucet in her cupped hands
and splashed it over her face, hoping to rinse the
lingering fog of her nightmare away. Grabbing a towel,
she patted her face dry as she looked into the mirror
above the basin.

Her eye was slightly swollen, the purple bruise standing
out against her pale skin. She’d be living in
sunglasses the rest of the week, she thought, and part
of the next as well, until the bruise faded away. With
a sigh, she turned out the light and padded back into
the bedroom.

Mulder was sitting on the edge of the bed, Wim hoisted
up to his shoulder as he softly patted his diapered
bottom.

“We’ve gotta find a way to keep mommy from having those
nightmares, buddy boy,” Mulder was whispering,
emphasizing every syllable with a pat.

There was the sound of a door being opened and closed in
the hallway, whispering and soft footsteps drifting past
their bedroom door. The location of the noise indicated
Charlie and Joy, but a soft chuckle confirmed it. They
were going somewhere. Scully crossed to the window and
looked down, the deck’s floodlight below allowing her to
see the two of them step out the back door a moment
later. They didn’t have their bags with them, they
weren’t dressed to go out. In fact, they were barely
dressed at all – and as they made their way down the
wooden steps, Scully was just able to make out the shape
of the Mexican blanket tucked under Charlie’s arm before
they disappeared into the darkness. A ripple of soft
laughter drifted up to her on the wind.

Scully chewed on her lip, staring out into the black
night. Charlie and Joy were so full of life, so full of
passion. She liked to think that she and Mulder had
been a little like them, traveling the country on a
moment’s notice, investigating and trying to solve the
Bureau’s most unsolvable cases. They had not been as
carefree, perhaps, but they had certainly been
passionate about their work.

Now they had Wim, and Mulder was unemployed. She had
taken advantage of the Family Leave Act to extend the
maternity leave the Bureau provided, but there was no
telling whether she would return to the X-Files when her
time off was over at the end of October, or be
reassigned elsewhere. Wherever she ended up, it would
not be at Mulder’s side. The days of their working
partnership were past.

The thought was more than unsettling. It had gnawed at
her since the day Mulder had shown up at her door and
announced that he had been terminated. She had been
pregnant then, and there had been other, more
threatening things to consider. But now her return to
work was imminent, and Mulder wouldn’t be there. What
was next for them? Turning away from the window, she
looked back at Mulder and Wim, trying to find the
stability she was seeking in the image of the two of
them.

Mulder was watching her. “Beach?” he mouthed, and she
closed her eyes, nodding.

He ducked his head, smiling and murmuring something
about sand-crab cocktails. She mused that perhaps he
had entertained a similar idea about the two of them
sneaking out onto the moonlight sand. If he had, he’d
kept it to himself, and she supposed that that was just
as well. There was seldom an opportunity for making
love these days – their unsuccessful attempt in the
shower that morning was a testament to that. Sneaking
out to lie between the sand dunes in the middle of the
night, making love until the sun came up… this was not
an option available to them.

She let out a sigh, moving around the bed to sit next to
her men. Wim had finally belched, and he was lying on
Mulder’s lap, content for the moment, his eyes drifting
shut. They watched him for a long time, gazing down on
his sweet face, slack and peaceful.

She had a child. She had been given the thing that she
had wanted most in her life – the *two* things she’d
wanted most: Mulder and Wim – but that didn’t stop the
unsettled feeling that gnawed at her. It was more than
just work, or sexual frustration. She and Mulder were
not very much like Charlie and Joy, but neither were
they similar to Bill and Tara, settled and secure in
their relationship and their family. She knew Wim was
the greatest gift she could ever have wished for, but
sometimes she couldn’t help but wonder what might have
been. *If*. If Mulder hadn’t been abducted. If they’d
had more time for the two of them before taking on all
of this. Perhaps they might have been able to progress
through the issues that seemed to limit them, holding
them in the here and now. Or maybe they wouldn’t have.
Maybe without Wim they would never have come as far as
they have.

She knew that it should be enough. She knew that she
should just count her blessings as the miracles they
were and be happy, especially considering there had been
several times in the last eight years that she would
never have imagined any of this possible. She stopped
and thought sometimes, remembering the black days of
Mulder’s abduction and then his death – she had been
little more than a shell then, alone and afraid. Afraid
for the child she carried. Afraid she wouldn’t be able
to protect him. Afraid she wouldn’t be able to do it on
her own. She had been desperate to hold on to the
remaining part of Mulder’s life growing inside her.

But then Mulder had come back – to life, to work. To
her. It should be enough.

It should be enough. But like a delicate tapestry with
loose threads, she felt like it was all beginning to
come undone.

Standing, she reached out and lifted the sleeping Wim
off of Mulder’s lap, pressing her lips against his head
and turning to lay him in the crib beside the bed.
Mulder had been watching him with a pensive expression
on his face, chewing his lower lip while his mind was
working on some unknown puzzle elsewhere. Perhaps he
had picked up on her mood. He rose from the bed and
stood just behind her as she tucked Wim’s blanket around
his body, stroking the baby-soft down on his little
head.

She felt Mulder step closer to the crib, his large hand
reaching out to squeeze the baby’s foot. There was so
much love.

Love was not the problem. Love was never the problem.

Scully turned and walked back to the bed, sliding
between the sheets and scooting over to her own side
with a heavy sigh. Mulder climbed in after her, curling
behind her without touching, but close enough that she
could feel his breath on the back of her neck as he
exhaled – a sad, weary sound.

“Love you,” he whispered softly, reaching out to touch
her hair.

She closed her eyes, focusing on the sensation. “I love
you, too,” she replied. She thought about Joy’s comment
out on the deck, and wondered about the truth in the
other woman’s observations. Had she been fooling
herself that Mulder merely needed more time to adjust to
all of the changes he’d encountered since his return?
Was he trying to get his feet firmly on the ground, or
was he happy with the status quo? Maybe he did plan to
maintain separate residences and separate identities
indefinitely. Maybe she had been waiting for a sign,
for some kind of resolution that wasn’t going to come.
She licked her lips quickly, drawing in a slow breath.
“Mulder?” she said hesitantly.

“Hmm?” he responded sleepily.

She paused. “Wim’s going to outgrow my apartment before
long…”

“Mmm hmm…” he intoned. “Babies grow…”

“He’ll need his own room.” She waited for his reply.
When he said nothing, she frowned. “Mulder?”

“That’s okay, Scully,” he said groggily, “I’ll help you
move if that’s what you want.”

She licked her lips again, opening her mouth to reply
but changing her mind. She hadn’t even thought about
this as a possible scenario. Perhaps Joy had been
right. Mulder’s hand settled on her hip, and she
listened to the sound of the wind outside, hoping it
would lull her back into a dreamless slumber. But her
mind kept turning.

Separate identities and individual freedom.

Perhaps that was what Mulder wanted. But was it enough?
She knew with a sinking feeling of disappointment in her
stomach that it wasn’t – not for her. She didn’t think
so, anyway. She knew that with this new outlook on
their relationship to analyze and consider, she would
not be falling asleep any time soon.

“Goodnight,” she said softly.

“Love you,” he mumbled again, his hand leaving her hip
as he rolled away from her.

She exhaled, long and low. Love. In the end, she hoped
that love would be enough.

~
Tuesday
~

The sound of multiple footsteps echoed down through the
center of the Hatteras Lighthouse; softly abrasive
vibrations, ringing louder as they were amplified by the
structure itself, like a giant megaphone tipped on end.
Mulder halted his own monotonous ascent to re-adjust
Wim’s Snugli on his shoulders, and for a moment he just
listened to the continuous *chushh-chushh-chushh* of
feet as they continued in circles above and below him.
They were inside the tallest lighthouse in the United
States – two-hundred and sixty-eight steps in all.
Mulder was on step number one-hundred and seventy-two.
Only ninety-six steps to go.

Woo freaking hoo.

Every muscle in his body – particularly the ones most
necessary to the game of basketball – was voicing its
dull complaint. He had woken up stiff and sore, and not
even his run that morning or the hot shower he had taken
afterwards had done much to loosen him up. He shook his
knee slightly, willing the ligaments there to relax.
Feeling a hand on the small of his back, he turned to
look over his shoulder.

“Don’t stop now,” Joy said, smiling. Charlie was
crowding behind her on the ever-narrowing spiral steps,
the two of them bringing up the rear of their caravan to
the top of the lighthouse. Mulder watched Joy’s hand as
she reached out to pinch Wim’s chin gently, Wim gurgling
and kicking his bare feet against his father’s chest.
Mulder glanced over his shoulder at Joy, resuming his
climb.

“The tattoo on your hand,” he said. Joy looked up at
him expectantly. “It’s a trigram from the I Ching,
right?”

Joy grinned. “That’s right,” she said. “It’s *Tui* –
‘The Lake’.”

“Ah.”

“It represents the energy of sparkling water,” Joy
explained. “The happiness of perfect communication,
love without the sorrow of regret -”

“*The Joyous*,” Mulder said, calling the symbol by it’s
English name. Joy laughed with pleasant surprise.

“That’s right,” she said again.

“Get it?” Charlie asked from behind her. “The *Joy-
ous*?”

Mulder laughed, glancing back at them again. “Yeah, I
get it.”

Joy narrowed her eyes at him. “How do you know about
the I Ching?” she asked. Mulder smiled to himself.

“I get around.”

“Uh huh, I bet you do.”

They climbed without talking for a few moments, and
Mulder could hear Matthew’s excited voice above them.
The others must have made it to the top. Only seventy
steps left.

“Do you believe in it?” he asked then, with another
quick glance over his shoulder. “The I Ching, I mean –
as an oracle?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” Joy said. All three of them stopped
on one of the wider landings so an older couple could
pass them on their way down, and Mulder noticed that
Charlie was holding onto the back of the waistband of
Joy’s shorts. Once the older couple had passed, they
continued upward. “I guess I do, kind of,” Joy went on.
“As much as you might believe in your horoscope. The
tattoo is from back when I was going through my ‘Chinese
and Proud’ phase.”

“Grew out of your pride, huh?” Mulder asked, giving her
a grin. Joy and Charlie laughed.

“Well, it’s hard to maintain the militant energy of a
twenty-two-year-old,” she said.

Mulder chuckled appreciatively. Tell me about it, he
thought, feeling the ache in his muscles a little more
sharply. Tara’s voice came down to them from the top of
the steps, reverberating strangely through the tower:
“Come on, slow-pokes! Wait’ll you see this *view*!”

Mulder took a deep breath and ignored the pain in his
knee. Only fifty-three steps left.

~

Scully walked out of the glassed-in beacon room onto the
catwalk that ringed the top of the massive tower.
Turning her face into the sun and wind, she took a long
breath of the clean salt air. It was another beautiful
day, all golden and blue. If there was a storm brewing
out at sea, it was hardly evident. Below the
lighthouse, beyond the Buxton Woods and the dunes beyond
that, the ocean was the color of the midnight sky, swept
with brilliant tufts of white-capped waves. Scully
leaned against the iron railing and closed her eyes,
grasping two of the tines in her hands. She took
another deep breath, and held on.

The sea air was invigorating, and helped to clear her
head somewhat. She hadn’t slept well once awakened by
the nightmare, and even now she thought she could feel
its shadow hanging over her. It was always the same
vague, confusing terror, always the same feeling of
being watched, of being weighted down. Unable to move
or cry out as hands clutched at her, ripping her baby
from her. Faces she could never quite see. Screams
that came out as deafening silence. The adrenaline
surge was usually enough to jolt her out of it,
breathing hard with the taste of lead in her mouth. And
then she would lie awake, her heart hammering, cold
arteries of fear pumping fresh dread into every part of
her body.

Having Mulder there when she woke up was the only thing
that helped. He didn’t ask her about the dreams
anymore. After four months, he had slowly learned
simply to curl himself around her and let his own calm
presence sooth her. She had suspected for some time
that this was a large part of the reason he stayed at
her apartment most nights, especially since Wim’s
feeding schedule had begun to lessen. The idea nagged
her, leaving a residual anxiety almost as bad as the
nightmares themselves, but it wasn’t something she would
ever confront him with; she doubted he would admit it to
her even if she did manage the courage to ask.

Or maybe he would admit it. She exhaled wearily,
telling herself – as she had been, over and over, since
Mulder’s last words to her the night before – that she
just didn’t know.

She turned her back on the panorama beyond the railing
and watched her brother with his family through the
window. Bill and Tara would be married nine years this
November. Scully took a deep breath, observing as Bill
carried Matthew slowly around the beacon. Tara was
close by, standing with Maggie and looking on fondly, an
unconscious smile on her lips. Nine years, Scully
thought. It wasn’t the first time she had considered
the fact that her brother had married his wife at nearly
the same time that she had met Mulder, give or take a
few months.

Tara looked up to see Scully watching them through the
glass, and smiled. Leaving Maggie’s side, she came out
onto the catwalk, sideling up to where Scully stood by
the railing. She gave Scully a scrunch-nosed smile, and
the two of them turned to squint out toward the hazy
northeastern horizon together. Tara let out a contented
sigh.

“*What* a gorgeous day – I bet we could see all the way
to the house from up here…if we knew which one it
was.”

Scully hummed vaguely in reply. Tara shaded her eyes
with one hand and peered up the beach toward Avon.

“You can even see the pier from here,” she said. Scully
nodded.

“Yeah.”

The view was spectacular, offering a three-hundred and
sixty degree vista from the center of the sandy elbow
that was Cape Hatteras. To the north, the beach swept
toward Avon and Kinnakeet in softly curving scallops,
the piers pointing into the water like long lashes.
Scully sighed and pushed her hair away from her face.

Tara peered closely at her sister-in-law and dropped her
voice. “You okay? You’ve been so quiet.”

Scully looked up quickly, suddenly alert. “Oh no – I’m
fine.” She stopped and took in a deep breath, gazing
back out at the scenery. “I’ve just got a lot on my
mind this morning, I guess.”

She offered a weak smile and Tara nodded, her lips
pressed together with concern. She leaned forward to
peek behind Scully’s sunglasses. “How’s your eye?” she
asked, her voice carrying a strange emphasis.

Scully took off her glasses so that Tara could see. She
had gotten up that morning with the whole side of her
face aching and tender, her right eye encircled by a
livid purplish-yellow bruise. It didn’t hurt anymore –
not unless she happened to touch her cheek accidentally
– but one look at it in the mirror this morning had
confirmed her fears from the night before: it would be
awhile before the bruise faded.

Tara clicked her tongue and sucked in a sympathetic
breath at the sight of it. “Oh Dana – does it hurt?”

Scully shook her head. “No, it’s fine. Really.”

“Billy’s been beating himself up over it since yesterday
– he’s so sorry, Dana, you know that -”

“It was an accident,” Scully said. Tara stopped and
nodded, her tightly pressed mouth turning up into a
smile as she leaned into Scully’s side.

“I’m so glad you decided to come,” she said, twining her
arm through Scully’s giving her a sideways hug. “Your
Mom told me that you hadn’t planned to at first, and I
know things haven’t been great between you and Billy -”

“Tara -”

“No – I know,” Tara said, leaning back a little to look
Scully in the eye. “I know he can be -” She paused and
glanced behind them. Bill was inside with Maggie,
holding Matthew up to inspect the giant prisms that made
up the beacon itself. Tara sighed, watching them. “He
can be a real bastard about things sometimes,” she said,
laughing fondly.

Scully let out a laugh and Tara turned back to her with
a smile.

“But it’s only because he cares about you, Dana,” she
said. Scully let her chin fall to her chest, her breath
hitching as Tara went on. “He gets so worried about you
sometimes, with your work and everything – and then this
whole last year, when none of us knew what was going on
with you, and then we found out you were *pregnant*…”

Tara waved her hand in a gesture of vague helplessness
as she trailed off. Behind them, Mulder and the baby
had just emerged through the hatch in the floor,
followed closely by Joy and Charlie. They were all
laughing. Scully felt a pang of tenderness at the sight
of Mulder with Wim strapped against his chest. The
emotion hit her at the oddest times – dear God, how she
loved them. She took a deep breath and slipped her
sunglasses back on.

“I know he hasn’t sounded very positive about it,” Tara
was saying, her voice pitched low. “But Billy *is* happy
for you, Dana. He knows how much this baby means to
you.”

Scully turned to look at Tara. She knew that her
brother cared about her and worried for her, and she
knew too that deep down, all of his caustic comments and
seeming lack of confidence in her and her work only came
out of his own concern. But when it came to Wim, she
didn’t know. From the moment Bill had found out about
her pregnancy, he had treated it as another poor
decision on her part, one more disappointment she had
brought to the family. She blinked and looked away.
“He’s certainly done a good job of keeping that to
himself,” she murmured.

Tara huffed and gave Scully a knowing smirk. “Well, he
is a Scully, after all.” Scully let out a short laugh,
and Tara smiled and bumped shoulders with her,
continuing, “I think we’re all just hoping that now that
you’ve got the baby, and you’re both out of the
Bureau…maybe things will settle down for you guys,”
she said. “Maybe you’ll be able to have a more normal
life.”

Scully’s turned, her brows raised to their limit, and
Tara hastened to correct herself.

“Oh – I didn’t mean that the way it sounded -”

Scully laughed ruefully. “No, it’s okay,” she said.
“We’re not exactly the poster-children for normalcy.”

Tara took in a breath, her forehead bunching with
anxiety, and Scully looked up to meet her eyes. “Dana,”
Tara said, shaking her head with an expression of
earnest concern, and, Scully thought, a tone that
sounded a lot like pity. She took Scully’s hand and
gave it a gentle squeeze. “We all just want you to be
happy.”

Scully pressed her lips together and swallowed the sharp
come-back that sprang automatically to her lips. She
hated that tone, that condescending assumption that she
was somehow lacking just because of the choices she’d
made in her life. *How do you know I’m not happy,* she
wanted to say. What made them all think she wasn’t
happy? Just because she wanted things didn’t mean she
was unhappy…

“I know,” she said instead, deciding not to correct her
sister-in-law’s assumption. What was the point, when it
went hand in hand with the somewhat misconstrued belief
that she wouldn’t be returning to the Bureau, or that
she and Mulder may be poised to embark on some brand
new, *normal* life?

“Well,” Tara said, brightening as she changed the
subject. “We’d better get going if we’re gonna make it
up to Kitty Hawk. I’m gonna take Matty to the gift-
shop. You coming down?”

“Yeah,” Scully nodded. “In a minute.”

Tara joined the rest of the family around the light
inside, and Scully turned back, combing her hair back
from her forehead with her fingers and gazing out toward
the ocean. The base of the lighthouse was now more than
half a mile further from the sea than it had been just
two years before. It had been a monumental move.

Two years.

Nine years.

So much could happen in such a short time. Nine years
ago she would not have imagined being where she was now:
a single mother, looking down the barrel of a career and
a *life* turned upside down, the foundations of
everything she knew and relied on drifting and shifting
beneath her like loose sand. Nine years ago, she had
known exactly who she was, exactly what she wanted.

Two years ago it had not been so clear, but it had been
enough to know that Mulder loved her, that he had chosen
*her*, just as she had chosen him. As long as they were
together – the details hadn’t mattered.

Now, she wasn’t so sure. Now all she saw were details.

Two years or nine years, she was miles from where she
had been.

~

“Jesus – is *everything* uphill?”

Mulder dropped heavily to the sand next to Scully and
let out a massive groan. The sand, a fine, ochre-
colored dust, was still warm from a day’s worth of sun,
and felt good under his sorely abused body. He had
climbed all two-hundred and sixty-eight steps to the top
of the lighthouse. He had climbed to the top of Kill
Devil Hill to see the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
He had climbed to the top of yet *another* hill to see
the Wright Brothers Memorial Gift-shop and Museum (which
housed a mere replica of the plane he used to pass at
least two or three times a week during lunch-breaks at
the Air and Space). In the gift-shop he had bought a
sepia-toned postcard of old Wilbur and Orville during
their historic first hop across the dunes. On the back,
he’d written, simply:

*Something for the wall of fame.*

And he’d dropped it into the shop’s mail-slot, addressed
to the basement office of Special Agent John Doggett of
the FBI.

Having done just about all they could do in one day,
they’d all trudged back down to the parking-lot,
sunburned and exhausted and ready to head back south,
everyone looking forward to a relaxing dinner at one of
the road-side restaurants they’d passed on the way up.
Mulder had been following Bill, distracted by thoughts
of fried food and cold beer, when his attention had been
drawn back to the road by the minivan’s blinker. Bill
had pulled them off the highway and into a crowded
parking-lot darkened by the shadow of the massive
mountain of sand that loomed over them to the west,
blocking out the lowering rays of the late-afternoon
sun.

Jockeys’ Ridge, the highest sand-dune on the East Coast.

And so Mulder had found himself climbing again, wincing
as his shoes filled with the slippery sand, watching
over his shoulder as people strapped to brightly colored
hang-gliders took off running along the ridge, flinging
themselves into the wind that swept over the giant dune.
The same wind ruffled his hair as he reclined on the
sand next to Scully, who was sitting cross-legged with
Wim asleep in her lap, the straps of his Snugli sagging
off of her shoulders. Mulder leaned back on his elbows
and squinted up at her.

They were nearly at the top of the dune, high enough
that the sun, sinking low behind them, touched Scully’s
head and shoulders, outlining her in a rose-gold corona,
setting her breeze-swept hair alight like a bright
flame. He watched her shoulders rise and fall as she
sighed, and he stretched his hand out to rub her back.

“How’re you doing?” he asked. They hadn’t said much to
each other all day. Even during the long car ride up to
Kitty Hawk, while Maggie fussed over Wim in the back
seat, Scully had been quiet, wearing a pensive look
behind her sunglasses that Mulder had spent most of the
rest of the afternoon trying to gauge. She turned to
look at him, but did not say anything. He swept his
fingers gently along her spine. “What’re you thinking
about, Scully?”

She licked her lips and looked down at Wim awhile before
she answered. “Us, mostly,” she said, glancing back at
him.

“Uh-oh,” he said, the humor in his voice belying his
concern. “Is this about yesterday morning in the
shower?” He watched her face carefully for signs of
what was coming. She chuffed lightly, then took in
another deep breath and he knew that humor wasn’t going
to cut it this time. Reaching out, he lifted Wim and
the Snugli off her lap and laid the sleeping child
across his chest. “You’ve been thinking about this all
day.”

She squinted at him, her face appearing pinched behind
her sunglasses. “I’m just trying to figure it out,
Mulder.” He squinted back at her, and she licked her
lips again, quickly. “I mean, so much has happened in
the last year. And now, there’s so much we haven’t
addressed.”

He nodded, watching her as she turned her head and
looked back out at the road below, the dark pavement
stretching off into the distance. “I know,” he said,
“There’s a lot of things we need to get out into the
open.”

Scully was silent a long time, still staring down the
road. He looked out at what she was seeing – the flat
black highway, scattered buildings, more beach and the
sea beyond – and wondered what she was thinking. The
sun was setting behind them, but neither of them turned
to watch the amber tinted sky as it transformed to red,
then purple, and slowly faded into dusk. This didn’t
seem like the most appropriate time or place to break
into this conversation, Mulder thought, but he decided
to roll with it – these moments didn’t come easily,
especially in the middle of such a large family
vacation.

“Is there something in particular that’s bothering you,
or is it everything in general?” he asked, uncertain
which answer he preferred.

She heaved a sigh, then turned to look over her shoulder
at him. “Truthfully, I’m not sure if it’s just one
thing or if that one thing is tied up into everything
else.” She shook her head, turning back toward the
highway. “I just don’t know.”

Mulder thought about what she’d said. He could name off
each of the individual issues he’d been mulling over in
his head the past few months, but he also knew that each
issue was connected to the rest without any way to
separate them and still give them the amount of
attention they deserved. As he’d thought so often
before, this was not a simple conversation. What’s
more, there could be a whole slew of things on her mind
that he hadn’t even considered.

And they were masters at glossing over the big
conversations, hinting around the edges until they each
found some satisfaction in what they were trying to
glean from the situation. He looked down at Wim,
sleeping soundly on his chest. This time, he knew, that
wasn’t going to be enough.

“Hey you two!” Joy called down from the top of the dune.
They both looked up toward her, a dark figure backlit by
the last rays of Tuesday’s sun. She waved to them.
“We’re going!”

Mulder turned and looked at Scully, who shared his
rueful, frustrated expression. Stalled again, he
thought, slowly rising to his feet without disturbing
Wim’s slumber. At least they’d agreed that they needed
to discuss things, and that in itself spoke to how
serious the situation had become.

The conversation could not be left simmering on the back
burner much longer.

~

Nathan’s Krusty Krab lived up to its name, a weathered,
gray wooden shack surrounded by long picnic tables and
benches atop a sturdy deck that looked out on the dunes
and the ocean beyond. There was a white trellis
separating the deck from the parking lot, covered with
ivy growing out of enormous terra cotta pots, and
decorated with white Christmas lights. Strands of white
lights were also strung from one end of the deck to the
other, criss-crossed above and sparkling like the stars
in the cloudless night sky. The tables were covered with
white butcher paper for tablecloths, and adorned with
small acrylic vases of fresh fragrant flowers to
accommodate the dinner crowd.

All in all, the combination of casual and elegant
elements within the outdoorsy beach setting was
charming, down to the craggy, weathered locals who
shared the deck with them. In fact, it appeared that
the only other patrons of the establishment *were* the
locals, who looked at them curiously as they took their
seats.

The Scullys had pushed two full picnic tables together
to make one long table in the middle of the deck. Bill
and Tara sat opposite Charlie and Joy, while Mulder sat
next to Joy and directly across from Scully, who was
seated next to Tara. Wim slept in his carrier on top of
the table at the end near Mulder and Scully, and Maggie
sat on the other end with Matthew, who could barely keep
his eyes open.

Joy shook her head dubiously as she perused the menu in
her hand.

“It’s all fish,” she grumbled, tossing her hair back
over her shoulder. “I don’t eat fish.”

“You’re pretty strict vegetarian, huh?” Tara asked. Joy
closed her menu resolutely.

“I don’t eat anything with a face,” she said.

“It doesn’t come with the face *on* it – unless you’re
getting crab,” Charlie commented, eyeing the menu with
interest. “Damn, I’m hungry.”

“You eating crab with the rest of us, Charles?” Bill
asked with a smirk from across the table.

“Why yes, I believe I am, big brother,” he closed the
menu with finality. “In fact, I think I’m hungry enough
to take the Krusty challenge.” He pointed over Maggie’s
head to a blackboard nailed to the top of the shack,
covered in colorful chalk that read:

*Krusty’s challenge: finish ten Krusty Krabs (chosen by
the house) and your dinner is free.*

“You wouldn’t,” Joy said with disdain. “I don’t want to
sit here watching you crack open shells all night long.”
She made a face, wiggling with disgust.

Charlie leaned over and kissed her cheek. “Come on,
Joyous, get into the spirit of the Outer Banks. They’re
*crabs*.”

“No thank you,” Joy replied stiffly. “I’ll stick to
salad.” She glanced at Mulder, catching his eye briefly
before he focused back on the menu.

“Anybody else up for the challenge?” Charlie asked,
rubbing his hands together gleefully. “Billy boy?”
Bill shook his head with mild disgust, and Charlie
looked over at Mulder. “Mulder – you game, man?”

Mulder shook his head with a slight grin, then laid the
menu down on the table. He was extremely hungry, but
knew that even in top form he wouldn’t have been able to
crack open and eat ten boiled crabs in one sitting.
“Sorry, I *know* my limits.”

“Aw, come on, give me a chance to get even from our game
yesterday.”

“A bet’s a bet,” Bill replied, shaking his head. “Kiss
your curls goodbye and call the barber, goldilocks. A
bunch of crabs aren’t gonna save you now.”

Charlie sighed dramatically. “Fine. I’ll be the only
one of you enjoying a free dinner. Consider it my final
hurrah before the scissors turn me into a different
man.”

“Oh, Charles,” Maggie said affectionately from the end
of the table. “You’ll look nice. You’re such a
handsome young man.”

“*Nice*?” Charlie said in reply. “Nice is for Billy Boy
and Oxford over here.” He jerked his thumb in Mulder’s
direction. “I don’t want to look *nice*. *I* am an
*artiste*.”

Maggie clucked her tongue at him, and he laughed,
dramatically muttering “handsome” under his breath.

Scully lay her menu down on the table and exhaled
slowly, causing Mulder to glance once more in her
direction. With her sunglasses on, it was difficult for
anyone to read her expression in the dim ambient light.

Mulder slid his foot over to hers underneath the table,
tapping the side of her shoe with his toe. She turned
her head toward him, tipping her chin down to gaze over
the top of her glasses.

He pursed his lips and tilted his head, giving her a
look that asked, “you okay?” She nodded slightly, then
averted her gaze to the waitress approaching their
table.

“Well, you all are a brave lot,” the waitress said with
a friendly tone. “Most vacationers started clearing out
with the first weather reports.”

Mulder smiled up at her. She appeared to be in her
early to mid-fifties, with tanned skin that had seen a
lot of sun and wind. Probably one of the owners of the
establishment, he deduced from her pleasant but
proprietary air.

“We haven’t heard the latest,” he replied. “The last
thing we’d read was the possibility that the storm would
run out of steam at sea.”

The waitress shook her head. “Oh, no, he’s comin’ this
way alright. I’m surprised your rental agency has let
you stay on. They usually start clearing the houses out
at the first sign of a hurricane coming.”

“We’re not renting,” Maggie answered her from across the
table. “The house belongs to a friend.”

“Well then, you’ve probably got everything you need for
weatherproofing right there under the house. Most of
’em have some kind of utility room for supplies and what
not. If it was me, I’d be thinking about boarding up
the windows while the weather holds. We’ve got thirty-
six, maybe forty-eight hours before Felix shows his face
around here. You’ll hear the warnings and the emergency
calls for sure.”

Maggie’s expression dropped slightly, along with the
others. The weather had been so beautiful, and the
thought of boarding up the windows would put a damper on
the rest of week. No beach views. They had all known
about the possibility of Tropical Storm Felix making an
appearance during their stay, but it hadn’t seem like
much of a reality until now. Suddenly, everyone was
aware of the fact that they might have to cut their
vacation short and leave before the storm hit.

The waitress looked down at Wim, and grinned. “You’re
packin’ some precious cargo.” Raising her head, she
glanced around at each of the faces at the table with a
smile. “So what’ll you have?”

~

They decided to take advantage of Krusty’s family dinner
and ordered family-style – enough slaw, corn on the cob,
barbecued beans and boiled crabs for everyone. The
crabs were dumped by the bushel into two heaps in the
middle of their tables, each person given a bib and a
mallet to assist with the shell-cracking. Joy had
traded seats with Scully so that she could sit on the
end of the table, away from what she deemed ‘the
carnage’ as she picked away at her modest salad.

Charlie wielded his mallet like a master, slamming it
onto the table with a thud and crunch of shell. Matthew
tried to emulate him, his less-refined motor skills
causing him to hit the table more than the crab until
Bill helped him out, cleaning the sweet meat out of a
claw and adding it to his son’s plate.

Scully tapped on the claws on her crab, and Mulder
grinned to the side at her, taking advantage of the
close proximity. It seemed that he’d hardly spent any
time with her at all that day, except for the brief
moment on the dune.

“Great to see you slicing and dicing again,” he quipped
in a low voice close to her ear.

“Unfortunately, this qualifies as neither slicing *nor*
dicing,” she replied, wincing as she used her fingers to
pry the moist shell apart. Her words were punctuated by
the sound of mallets striking in uneven rhythm.
“Pummeling comes to mind, or battering, lambasting,
pulverizing…”

“Obliterating,” Mulder added with a smirk, twisting off
a claw. “Extirpating, decimating…”

Scully let out a soft laugh and he glanced up, the two
of them sharing a brief but familiar moment of word-play
one-upmanship. His eye caught Joy watching them
closely, and he met her direct gaze, then looked over at
Scully again with a soft smile.

Tara wiped her mouth with a napkin, beaming brightly.
“This reminds me of the first night I met the Scully
family,” she said fondly, glancing around the table.
“You were all having a crab feast at Maggie’s house.”

Maggie raised her head, her brow creased as she tried to
remember the occasion. Then her face split into a wide
grin. “Oh, yes. Bill was on leave and Dana had just
started working. Aunt Olive brought crabs up from
Chesapeake Bay.”

Tara laughed. “Oh yes, Aunt Olive. I distinctly
remember that part.”

Bill raised his head and grinned at her. “Heck of a
first time with the family, wasn’t it honey?”

Charlie waved his mallet at Bill, his voice rising in
pitch and taking on an Irish brogue. “William!
William! You bring yer young lady over here and let’s
have a look at ‘er!”

Scully chuckled, and Mulder grinned, looking down at her
with affection before turning his attention back to
Charlie. This was the kind of thing he’d missed out on
with his own family, and therefore, Scully’s family
history was more than just a little interesting to him.

“My, but you’ve a sweet face,” Charlie continued, still
in character. “You watch this one, William, she’ll break
your heart as sure as I’m standin’ here.”

Bill slid his arm around Tara, giving her a squeeze.
Tara closed her eyes, then opened them again, shining.
“I’ll never forget our wedding day, when Aunt Olive
showed up at the church with her arms full of lavender,”
she said. “I’d hired a professional do my hair and
makeup and Aunt Olive stepped right in and started
weaving this lavender into my hair -” Tara laughed.
“She said it would bring me luck and power, but the
woman I’d hired nearly had a heart attack trying to get
her to stop. Luckily, they were able to come to a
compromise.”

“Luck of the Irish,” Charlie quipped as he brought his
mallet down once again, causing the table to tremble.
“You see how well it worked?”

Maggie reached out and squeezed Tara’s hand. “You
looked beautiful,” she said warmly.

Tara smiled, and leaned forward to see down to the end
of the table. “Make sure you clear everything with Aunt
Olive when your time comes, Dana and Joy. It will make
things *so much* easier.”

Mulder noticed that Scully looked down at her lap,
smoothing the edges of her napkin as Joy stared back at
Tara with a quizzical expression. Before Joy could
respond, Matthew brought his mallet down in the middle
of a crab with a loud *splat*, causing her to cringe.

“I wike cwabs,” he said, giggling gleefully.

~

Maggie noticed with a mother’s concern that Dana had
been pensive and withdrawn most of the day. Watching
from across the table, she saw her daughter finish
dinner much sooner and eat much less than anyone else,
sitting silently between Fox and Charles, making little
effort to follow the conversation as it volleyed back
and forth while the others continued their meal.

Whether it was because her eye was sore and
uncomfortable, or for some other reason related to the
way she got hurt – Dana was more quiet than usual. Call
it a mother’s intuition, but Maggie didn’t think either
scenario was the main issue. Still, after years of
watching her daughter deal silently with her own
problems, Maggie knew better than to pry. It reminded
her of an incident in Dana’s childhood, when she’d
disobeyed her parents then stoically accepted her
punishment, remaining quiet the rest of the day, despite
repeated attempts to draw her out of her silence. Dana
had always preferred to handle her problems her own way.

“Dana,” she called softly to her during a lull in
conversation as the others finished their meals. Dana
looked up, her eyebrow raised in question above the
frames of her dark glasses. “Do you remember the day we
were going to meet Aunt Olive at the church, and I told
you not to go outside because you’d get your new dress
dirty?”

Dana smiled, chuffing. “I remember. And I followed
Bill outside anyway, certain that nothing could possibly
happen to me or my dress.”

Bill snorted. “I remember that. You were circling that
tree in the backyard after Dad had just watered, what
did you expect?”

“I would have been fine if it hadn’t been for Danny
Denning,” Dana replied, sitting up straighter. “He
wandered into the backyard right after I’d stepped
outside.”

“Danny Denning?” Maggie said with confusion. “Captain
Denning’s boy? Was he there?”

“Yes,” Scully replied with a sigh, shifting her head
from side to side and wincing as her neck popped softly.
“He snuck up on me and pushed me from behind.”

“He did,” Bill chimed in, wiping his chin with his
napkin, then working on his hands. “She fell right in –
covered in mud. I chased him all the way to the next
block.”

Maggie looked from Dana, to Bill, and back to Dana
again, trying to recall that specific part of the story.
“I don’t remember that.”

“Of course you don’t,” Dana replied. “You and dad were
so angry that I’d gone outside against your orders, Dad
didn’t want to hear any excuses.”

Bill smirked. “Dad really let you have it.”

Dana looked at her brother, but her expression was
difficult to read behind the dark glasses. Her voice
held no malice as she retorted, “And you stood on the
other side of the wall and laughed the entire time.”

“Billy!” Tara exclaimed. “What a mean thing to do!”

“Bill,” Maggie clucked, surprised to learn that her son
had teased his younger sister in such a way. “Why would
you do such a thing?”

“What?” Bill replied in defense. “I chased Danny away.”

“Did you catch him?” Joy asked pointedly, breaking into
the conversation. Maggie studied her expression, noting
her direct gaze and the slight challenge in her tone.
There was something about Joy that made her slightly
uncomfortable. She was pleasant, and Charles seemed
very taken with her, but Maggie found her direct manner
and confidence a bit unsettling.

Bill glanced at Joy and shifted in his seat, placing his
napkin down on top of the table and adjusting the bib
around Matthew’s neck. “No.” A smirk played at the
corners of his mouth. “Not that time.”

“Well,” Maggie shook her head. “I’m sure there were
many times when I wasn’t told the whole story.” The
thought occurred to her that she was probably better off
not knowing everything that had occurred between her
kids when she and her husband hadn’t been around.

“You could have told the truth,” Joy threw back at him,
and Bill laughed it off.

“Like Dana said, she broke the rules and got what she
deserved – the other details weren’t important.”

Maggie shook her head at her son’s logic. While she
knew the details *were* important, she also knew the way
his mind worked. She’d lived with his father thirty-
three years. And like Bill senior, she mused fondly,
Bill junior was Navy, through and through.

“Do you have brothers or sisters, Joy?” she asked,
wondering about this unusual woman who had apparently
captured her son’s heart.

Joy didn’t respond immediately, and Maggie’s question
hung heavily in the air as they ate. Mulder was rocking
Wim’s carrier with one hand, and Joy reached out,
tucking the well-tucked blanket around the baby’s feet.

“I have a five-year-old half-sister from my mother’s
latest marriage,” she said, trying to school her voice
into a neutral tone. She continued to fuss with Wim’s
blanket, and Mulder could tell that she was not
comfortable with the subject. Maggie had struck a
nerve.

“But I grew up around a lot of other kids,” Joy
continued, her tone becoming more conversational. “And
my cousin Josh was like a brother to me when I stayed
with my grandparents in Chinatown.”

Charlie was staring across the table at Joy. “Wait,” he
said, shaking his head in confusion. “Wait. You have a
*sister*?” Joy nodded and continued eating. Charlie
stared at her incredulously, and Mulder saw the flash of
bewildered pain that crossed his face. “Why didn’t you
ever tell me?” Charlie asked. “How come you never talk
about her?”

Joy shifted in her seat, picking up her fork and pushing
the food around on her plate. Her brow furrowed and the
corners of her lips turned down in a frown. She
shrugged and glanced up at Mulder, then looked away.

“It never came up before now.”

Charlie mopped up the barbecue sauce from his beans with
a piece of roll, stuffing it into his mouth and speaking
around it. “We should have her up some weekend. It
would be fun.” His voice conveyed a lightness that was
not quite reflected in his eyes.

Joy glared at him, her tone flat and clipped when she
responded, “She can’t. My mother keeps her schedule
pretty packed. Soccer practice, dance class, Chinese
lessons…”

Charlie stopped chewing and looked at her, an ornery
smirk growing on his lips. “Wow. Big change in
parenting technique, huh?”

Mulder watched as Joy set her face into a rigid mask,
her dark eyes flashing. She said nothing. What’s more,
Mulder was certain Charlie had been taunting her,
purposely trying to get her to talk.

Joy looked up, catching Mulder’s gaze and holding it.

“What about you?” she said, clearly passing the
conversation on to somebody else.

Mulder shook his head. “What about me?”

“You told some pretty good stories the other night. How
about telling us about a few more of your X-Files.”

Mulder shrugged with a rueful smile, pulling his hand
away from Wim’s carrier and glancing over at Bill. He
knew better than to talk about his and Scully’s work in
front of her older brother. “I don’t know if that would
be appropriate conversation right now,” he said. He
wiped his hands on his napkin and reached for his beer,
taking a swig, then glancing over at Scully, her face
void of expression behind her dark glasses. “But I
*can* tell you about something pertinent to our
vacation…”

~

Scully watched as everyone around the table sat up
slightly, eyebrows raised attentively. Mulder leaned
forward again, addressing Matthew, who was curled on
Tara’s lap, sucking his thumb, staring glassy-eyed at
Mulder.

“Have you ever heard of pirates?” Mulder asked. Matthew
nodded, his eyes going wider. Mulder raised one eyebrow
and nodded conspiratorially. “Well then, do you realize
that this island used to be one of the biggest pirate
hide-outs *ever*?”

Matthew’s thumb fell out of his mouth as his jaw
dropped, forming an ‘o’ of amazement. The others at the
table smiled, and Scully smiled with them, partly
because of Matthew, and partly because of Mulder’s
delivery.

“In fact, the most famous pirate of all lived -” Mulder
stopped and waggled his eyebrows at Matthew – “not far
from *this very beach*.”

“*Dis* beach?” Matthew gasped, his eyes gone completely
round.

“Well, not this *exact* beach, but close,” Mulder
replied. “At Ocracoke.” He glanced around the table,
and seeing that he held everyone’s attention, he began.
“Blackbeard was the worst, meanest, *ugliest* pirate
ever to sail the seven seas,” he said. “People
everywhere were scared of him, he was so mean. In fact,
he’d been known to make people walk the plank just for
looking at him the wrong way.”

“How dey wook?” Matthew asked while the adults chuckled
softly.

Mulder narrowed his eyes keenly at the little boy.
“Kinda like you’re looking right now,” he teased.
Matthew grinned and shook his head with embarrassed
delight, hiding his face behind his hands. Mulder
smiled, and looked up to meet Scully’s fond smile. He
gave her a wink and went on, affecting a melodic
cadence.

“Well, one day Blackbeard decided he’d had enough of
pirating around and making people walk the plank, so he
figured he’d drop anchor and make a home for himself and
his pirate friends. And he thought he’d build that
pirate haven right here, at Ocracoke.”

As Mulder spoke, Matthew wriggled down from his mother’s
lap and ran around the table, climbing up to sit on the
bench next to Mulder. He gazed up at him in awe. “How
many piwates?” he asked.

Mulder looked down at him seriously. “Lots of pirates,”
he said. “*Loads* of them.” Matthew’s mouth fell open,
and Mulder tried not to smile. He lowered his voice,
continuing his story. “When the people who lived here
found out that a bunch of pirates wanted to move in
right next door – well, what do you think?”

Matthew stared up at him. “Dey wuh afwaid,” he said
solemnly.

Mulder nodded. “They were *very* afraid,” he said.
“They didn’t want a bunch of pirates whooping it up on
their island. Think of the mess!” There was a ripple of
laughter around the table. “So they called for help,
and the Royal Navy sent two big sailing ships, called
sloops, under the command of Lieutenant Robert Maynard –

“Not woo-ten-ant!” Matthew cried, placing a small hand
on Mulder’s arm and shaking his head emphatically from
side to side. “Commanduh, wike Daddy.”

Mulder glanced at Bill with a slight grin, then nodded
at Matthew. “You know what, Matty – you’re right. He
*was* a commander. So *Commander* Maynard sailed his
sloops to Ocracoke – which isn’t far at all from where
we’re sitting *right now* – and who do you suppose they
found anchored in the channel?”

“Bwackbeewd,” Matthew breathed, and Scully bit her lip
to keep herself from laughing at the child’s serious
expression. She reached out, giving Mulder’s arm and
affectionate stroke.

“Right again,” Mulder told him, grinning softly as
Matthew climbed up into his lap. “So Maynard -” he
paused, winked at Bill, then looked back at Matthew,
“*Commander* Maynard sent two little boats ahead, to try
to sneak around Blackbeard’s pirate ship. But
Blackbeard was looking through his telescope, and he saw
those little boats trying to sneak, and – BOOOM!”

Matthew – and a few of the others around the table –
jumped.

“BOOM!” Mulder roared again, and this time Matthew
giggled. “Blackbeard had cannons on his pirate ship, and
he fired on Commander Maynard’s little boats. And – as
I’m sure you can imagine – that didn’t make Commander
Maynard a happy guy. So Commander Maynard ran up his
flag – right up to the top of his sloop – displaying his
colors. And you know what *that* meant, right?”

Matthew, mesmerized, shook his head.

“When a ship displays its colors, it means they’re
starting a battle.”

“Daddy’s ship aw-ways has a fwag,” Matthew replied. “He
fights piwates, too.”

Mulder looked up and caught Bill’s eye again. Bill
shook his head and looked down, hiding a smile. “Well,”
Mulder said, turning back to Matthew. “The flag on your
daddy’s ship is a little different. Your daddy’s ship
always shows the United States’ flag so everybody will
know who he is when they see him…”

Scully glanced around the table at the individual faces
of her family, each one focused on Mulder and Matthew as
the story unfolded. They were charmed – Mulder had a
way with a story, as she knew well. The low, rolling
cadence and soft rhythm of his voice brought to mind the
day she’d started to know Fox Mulder as he told her the
story of his missing sister, and how he had vowed to
find her. Her mind skipped ahead to another time, much
later, when Mulder had been talking and she’d lost track
of what he was saying, watching his lips move and his
eyes flash, hearing only the sound of his voice rising
and falling, soft and intimate. That night there was
something different – something she’d never noticed in
the sound of his voice. *He’s making love to me,* she’d
realized then, that realization spawning another – he’d
been doing it for a long time.

As he continued with his pirate tale, Mulder’s hand
slipped up her back and around her waist, resting there,
the pads of his fingers softly caressing a counter
rhythm to the song of his story. It was almost as if he
knew what she was thinking. She shivered.

“Blackbeard saw what he thought was an empty ship,”
Mulder was saying. “And he thought to himself, ‘I’m
gonna go take over that empty sloop over there’ -”

“Utt-oh,” Matthew droned.

“- so Blackbeard pulled his pirate ship up next to the
sloop that he *thought* was empty, and with their swords
held high, Blackbeard and his pirates charged onto the
deck -!”

Scully let out a small, inaudible sigh. The night of
that life-altering epiphany they had made love for real,
slow and tender, his voice warm and whispery soft as
they learned each other’s bodies. She’d loved Mulder
before, but she knew that night she had made a choice to
love him without condition. She had accepted him into
her life, as her life.

Unconditionally.

The word rolled around inside her head, turning over and
over in her mind as Mulder finished his tale.

“…at that moment, Commander Maynard and his men jumped
out of their hiding places -!”

“He twicked him!” Matthew cried triumphantly. Mulder
nodded, pitching his voice low and serious.

“Blackbeard and his pirates had been *tricked*,” he
said, “and so they had to fight Commander Maynard and
his men. They fought on and on – and Blackbeard’s
pirates were fierce fighters – but Commander Maynard’s
sailors were too much for them, and one by one, the
pirates were beaten back, and Blackbeard found himself
helpless on the deck of the sloop. Blackbeard fought
and fought, but he was no match for Commander Maynard.
With one final blow from the Commander, the pirate king
fell dead.” Mulder paused for breath and dramatic
effect, and glanced around the table. He caught Scully’s
eye briefly and gave her side a gentle squeeze. Then he
took a deep breath and continued, his voice quiet and
mysterious:

“To be absolutely sure that Blackbeard was *truly* dead,
and would never terrorize the people of the Outer Banks
again, Commander Maynard cut off Blackbeard’s head, and
had his body thrown overboard. And you know…”
Mulder’s voice lowered even further, and he looked
Matthew squarely in the eye. “Years later, some of
Commander Maynard’s sailors – men who had been there on
that sloop and saw Blackbeard’s body thrown into the sea
– well *they* say that old Blackbeard’s body actually
*swam* around the Navy ship *seven* times before it
finally sank to its watery grave.”

Matthew sat with his eyes transfixed on Mulder, his
mouth still hanging open. “What about his head?” he
asked in wonder, causing the others to bite back their
smiles. Mulder blinked once.

“He fed it to the other pirates with some fava beans and
a nice Chianti,” Charlie quipped, causing a rush of
groans and grimaces, the magic of the moment broken.

“Yuck!” Matthew exclaimed, making a face of disgust.
Everyone laughed, and the boy climbed down off Mulder’s
lap and ran excitedly back over to his mother. “Mommy,
I wanna fight piwates wike daddy!”

Tara smoothed his hair down on the back of his head.
“Baby, daddy doesn’t fight pirates. He works in
telemetry.”

Scully closed her eyes and drew in a long breath,
feeling Mulder’s grip around her waist tighten in
response. It had been a long, soul-searching day. And
while she still felt conflicted, she was sure of one
thing. Even if the details didn’t work out the way she
might want them to, she knew that she would try her best
to deal with whatever Mulder could give her. If it
meant keeping their lives individually defined,
separate, at least for the time being, then she’d just
have to learn how to accept that and remember to count
her blessings. She’d seen the alternative.

“Wow…” Charlie said, cracking his knuckles.
“Lieutenant to Commander in less than five seconds.
That’s gotta be the fastest promotion since you raised
Captain Gordon an entire grade in a single afternoon,
Bill.”

Bill groaned and rolled his eyes with a rueful smile.
Tara turned to look at him, her eyes twinkling. Bill
shook his head at her, trying to discourage the story,
but Tara only turned toward Charlie. “What’s that
about?” she asked, smiling deviously. “Who’s Captain
Gordon?”

Charlie grinned, and glanced at his brother. His grin
turned to full blown laughter as Bill dropped his chin
to his chest with another groan. “Do you want to tell
the story, Billy-boy?” Charlie asked.

Bill shook his head and looked up with exaggerated
indignity. “And deprive you of the pleasure?”

“Well then,” Charlie began, hunching forward with this
elbows against the edge of the table. He tucked his
hair behind one ear and glanced around the table. “When
we were in San Diego, Bill and I both caddied at one of
the military golf courses -”

“Not at the same time,” Bill amended quietly.

“No, but they were still telling this story when I got
there,” Charlie said, chuckling. “Anyway – it was
always really competitive among the caddies, you know –
everyone always wanted the highest ranking officers when
they went out, because usually the higher the rank, the
better the tip -”

“Except Admiral Masterson,” Bill murmured with a smile.

“Well no, not that crabby old fart,” Charlie agreed,
causing Matthew to giggle. “Nobody ever wanted to get
stuck with that guy -”

“Well I certainly hope you were a little more respectful
than *that* when you went out with the man,” Maggie
chided lightly. Charlie smiled his most charming smile
at his mother.

“Of *course* we were respectful, Mother,” he crooned,
giving the rest of the table a theatrically obvious
wink. Maggie tsk’d and Charlie continued. “So, anyway –
” he glanced at his brother. “You were what – a junior
or a senior in high school?”

“Yeah, I guess so,” Bill said, beginning to laugh
softly.

“And Bill’s the big man in the caddy-shack – Mister
Junior ROTC, Mister ‘I’m older than you so watch it or
I’ll kick your -‘”

“Oh come on, I was never that bad,” Bill laughed.

“Yes you were,” Charlie said, going on. “So it’s this
weekend when nobody’s going out – there’s no one rating
higher than Petty Officer on the roster – and none of
the caddies are making any tips. Well, the clubhouse
rings down, says they’ve got Lieutenant-someone-or-
other, and a *Captain* Gordon on their way to the first
tee, and who’s gonna take them…? *Well* -” Charlie
paused and rolled his eyes. “Of course everyone jumped
to take the Captain out – that was a guaranteed good
tip, you know? But Mister ROTC here -” he glance at
Bill, who chuffed and shook his head. “Bill here took
the Captain for himself, and gave the Lieutenant to his
friend Pete.”

“My goodness – Peter Kazalski,” Maggie mused fondly. “I
haven’t thought of him in ages.”

“And what happened?” Tara asked, sitting forward
eagerly.

Charlie grinned and looked toward his brother. “You
sure you don’t want to tell it?” he asked. Bill shook
his head and draped his arm along the railing behind he
and Tara.

“Oh no, by all means,” he said with a smirk.

“Ok, so Bill takes this Captain Gordon out, and he’s
doing everything he can to impress this guy – Bill
always went ga-ga over the officers, you know – telling
them all how he was going to the Academy, how Dad was a
Captain – or I guess Dad was still Commander at the time
-”

“That’s right,” Maggie said.

“So Bill’s tripping all over himself, kissing this
Gordon guy’s ass – never mind that the guy’s only like
twenty-two or something – barely older than Bill was
himself -”

“He wasn’t *that* young,” Bill insisted.

“Okay, so *maybe* this guy was twenty-five,” Charlie
said. “But he’s out there with his buddy the Lieutenant,
who’s the same age as him – I mean, warning bells should
have been going off or something -” Charlie was
laughing. “But Bill’s treating this guy like a prince,
sucking up big time, trying to console the guy when he
starts losing to the Lieutenant -”

“He was a terrible golfer,” Bill said with chagrin, and
there was laughter around the table.

“And toward the end of the round, the two guys – the
Lieutenant and this Captain Gordon – are getting kind of
competitive, and I guess they started trash-talking and
whatnot. Well -” Charlie looked pointedly at Bill, who
was watching with an expression of puckered amusement.
“Our Billy-boy didn’t like the idea of a junior-grade
officer speaking disrespectfully to a *Captain* – even
if they were off-duty and out of uniform -”

Bill sighed audibly.

“- so finally the Lieutenant birdies the last hole, and
says something to Gordon…and Bill decided he’d had
enough, and butts in to give this Lieutenant a lecture
on proper military courtesy and conduct, and acceptable
forms of address between an officer and his superior -”

“Oh no -!” Tara cried, biting her lip with amusement and
dismay, turning to give her husband a look of empathy.
“Oh honey – you didn’t -”

“He did,” Charlie said, grinning enough to split his
face, his eyes glittering. “And apparently the
Lieutenant just stood there while Bill went off on his
tirade, telling the guy how ‘a Lieutenant should treat
his Captain with a little respect -!'” Charlie stopped
to clear his throat and compose himself before he
finished his story. “And that’s when the guy – the
Lieutenant – just kind of looks at Bill, and he looks at
Gordon, and he starts laughing, and he says to Bill:
‘He’s *army*, you moron.'”

Everyone at the table – with the exception of Joy and
Matthew – erupted in hearty, sympathetic laughter.
Joy’s brows came together in confusion while the others
laughed and aww-ed.

“So he wasn’t really a captain?” she asked.

“A captain in the army is four ranks below a navy
captain,” Maggie explained to her. “*Captain* Gordon was
essentially the same rank as the Lieutenant.”

“Needless to say, I didn’t get much of a tip that
afternoon,” Bill murmured. He had gone slightly red in
the face, but he was smiling.

Joy nodded her understanding. Across the table, Charlie
was hooting with laughter, wiping his wrist along the
outside corners of his eyes. “I used to love hearing
Pete tell that story,” he giggled.

“Oh, poor honey,” Tara cooed, putting her hand to her
husband’s face and leaning in to kiss his cheek. The
laughter at the table subsided slowly as everyone
finished their last bites and swallowed their last sips.
Mulder turned his head to look at Scully, resting his
chin on his shoulder. She looked up and her eyes met
his over the rim of her sunglasses. She gave him a soft
smile, and he felt her knuckles brush against his leg
under the table.

Their waitress had returned to the table and started to
stack their plates, while a young tow-headed busboy
began the task of clearing away the mounds of discarded
crab-shells. The waitress looked at Charlie with an
expectant smile. “So,” she said. “How’d you do?”

Charlie looked up at her with a cheerful smile, and then
down at the pile of scraps in front of him. He did a
quick count, and grinned.

“I do believe,” he said, looking back up at the waitress
triumphantly, “that I have acquitted myself most
honorably. One of you all can check me, but I count not
ten, but *thirteen* empty shells here -”

“No way,” Joy said, her face scrunching in a moue of
distaste. Charlie waggled his eyebrows at her.

“*Way*, baby.”

“Well then,” the waitress said, grinning as she balanced
the plates along her arm. “You’ve got your choice: you
can have your thirteen crabs for free, or I can bring
out dessert for the whole table, on the house. We got
strawberry shortcake, ice-cream, and peach-cobbler.”
Her eyes twinkled as she surveyed the table. “What’ll
it be?”

Charlie beamed at each of them in turn before he
squinted back up at the waitress. “How’s the peach-
cobbler?” he asked.

“Best you ever tasted,” she said.

Charlie brought both fists down on the table with a
decisive little bump. “Well then,” he said. “I do
believe our decision is made. Peach cobbler all
around!”

~

It was nearly ten o’clock by the time they got back to
the house. They all trudged up the long flight of steps
– one last mountain, Mulder thought – a cozy, yawning
ensemble, lethargic from physical exhaustion and too
much food. Bill and Tara said their goodnights at the
door and carried Matthew, lying limp as a doll against
his father’s shoulder, back to their rooms. Mulder and
Scully declined Charlie’s offer to join he and Joy for a
night-cap out on the deck, following Maggie up the
stairs instead, where they said another round of
goodnights and slipped gratefully into the silence and
comfort of their own bedroom.

Mulder stood in his boxers, looking out his bedroom
window onto the silvery dunes below. There was almost
no wind that night, a sort of reverse prelude of what
was to come, he thought to himself, scratching his chest
as he remembered what the waitress at the Krusty Krab
had told them. Thirty-six to forty-eight hours. Having
been through a variety of extreme weather conditions, he
couldn’t say he wanted to spend another night in a
hurricane, especially with a four month-old baby to
protect.

He didn’t really want to leave early, either. While he
wasn’t accustomed to the constant togetherness and lack
of privacy that came with a large family, he found
himself surprised at how much he liked being around the
Scullys – he was starting to feel accepted, even if he
didn’t quite feel like he belonged yet. That would come
with time, as he and Scully worked out all of the knots
in their relationship. Despite the fact that they
hadn’t actually gotten down to the nitty gritty, he had
been encouraged by their few words out on the dune. It
was a step in the right direction. Now all they needed
was some time alone together.

What we need, he thought, grimacing slightly at the
clich‚, is a vacation from this vacation.

After a day of retreating into her own skin, Scully had
seemed to open up and enjoy herself sometime during
dinner. It was as much of a delight to watch her
remember moments from her childhood as it was to hear
the others tell about her. There was still so much he
didn’t know, even after eight years as partners and
friends. Like Charlie had said a few nights ago, she
probably confided more to Mulder than to anyone else,
but Mulder was greedy where she was concerned – he
wanted everything.

He wanted to be able to play basketball and climb a
monument or two and not feel like an old man.

Scully stepped out of the bathroom, snapping off the
light and closing the door behind her. She had changed
into a fitted white cotton tee that just covered her
abdomen, with a pair of black French-cut panties
underneath. Her reflection in the glass drew his
attention as she crossed the bedroom to lean over Wim’s
crib, casting a long glance in his direction on her way
there. He turned around for a better view. This
ensemble didn’t make many appearances in the Scully
wardrobe repertoire. None, actually.

“Goodnight sweetie,” she crooned softly at Wim, bending
down farther to plant a kiss on the tip of his nose.
Straightening, she watched him sleep a while longer,
then stepped over to the highboy dresser, grabbing her
bottle of lotion off the top.

Mulder’s eyes fixed on the thin band of white skin
between the bottom of her tee shirt, then on the top of
her panties, the cream of her thighs, and back up. She
was definitely back in pre-baby form, he mused. And
while larger issues between them lay unopened, there was
a thing or two that they had started working on this
week that he wanted to resurrect from their pre-baby
relationship.

Primarily, the sex.

He’d been celibate for years, then had a short (too
short) and blissful span of months with Scully when he’d
had sex almost as much as he wanted. Then he’d been
abducted, and came back to find Scully in the last
trimester of a complicated pregnancy, followed by a slow
— *too* slow — recovery. He’d read the books. He
knew the statistics, and understood that some women
recovered from childbirth slower than others. He knew
Scully was not one of those women, thanks in part to
good genes and in part to her persistence at working
hard, especially on herself.

There just never seemed to be much opportunity. And
when there was opportunity, there was something else,
some other distraction.

He was resolved that *they* were not going to become a
statistic. Having a child in the home was difficult,
but he was going to do everything in his power to make
this child and their sex life copacetic. He *would*
have his cake and eat it, too. They both would. He
looked up, and saw her watching him in the mirror over
the dresser. He approached her slowly, stalking, and
Scully’s body grew still as he took the final step
behind her. He felt a jolt of energy pass between them.

You remember how it was before as well as I do, he
thought. So they hadn’t seen too much sexual activity
since Wim was born, their aborted attempt in the shower
notwithstanding. Had they changed that much over the
last year?

Scully licked her lips as he trailed the tip of his
finger down the back of her neck, and he heard her draw
in a breath. “I believe we’ve got a raincheck to
collect,” he said, brushing her hair aside and bending
down to press his lips against the revealed skin. He
raised his eyes to hold her gaze in the mirror again.

“Mmmm,” she hummed, closing her eyes briefly, then
searching his. “How do you feel?”

He grazed his lips up to her ear, kissing her softly
while his hands trailed up her sides. “Not so bad that
I can’t do this.” Cupping her breasts, he added,
“Otherwise, shoot me now and put me out of my misery.”

She arched forward into his touch and turned, and, with
an enigmatic smile, lifted her face to his, their lips
meeting in the space in between them. It was soft and
slow, much like they had begun in the shower the day
before, and he raised his hand to her face, gently
stroking her cheek with his thumb as they kissed. God,
he loved this woman. She reached up, her hands
clutching his bare shoulders, kneading the muscle like a
cat until the kiss began to open, gaining momentum.

“I’ve made a decision,” he said, lifting his head and
smiling down at her.

Her eyes were warm, amused. “What’s that?” she asked
without inflection.

He licked his lips, slowly descending down her body with
a grin. Feasting on her neck, sliding his tongue over
her clavicle.

“From now on, we’re going to do this *a lot* more
often.”

Her hands immediately slid into his hair as he moved
slowly downward, nipping lightly at her breasts through
her cotton tee, thrusting his tongue into her navel and
tasting the nearly flat expanse of skin just below it.
All the while, he ran his hands down the outside of her
thighs and up the backs, over her ass, caressing and
massaging gently with his fingers. She let out a heavy
breath as he slipped his hands between her thighs and
eased them farther apart, sliding up until the tops of
his thumbs grazed the cotton of her panties, his
thumbnails lightly scraping against the soft flesh just
underneath the thin material.

With a low hum, he lowered his face to her mons,
pressing a kiss there before nipping twice, three times
with his lips. He pulled back slightly, looking up to
see the pink flush spreading across her cheeks, her eyes
glazed with arousal. Inhaling deeply, he leaned in and
nipped at her again, harder, using his teeth and lips
until he could feel the moisture seeping through the
cotton, part of it his and part of it hers.

Scully’s breathing was quick and shallow as he slid her
panties down her legs, over one foot and then the other.
She laid one hand on the dresser for support and caught
her breath as he parted her outer lips with his thumbs,
teasing her clit with the tip of his tongue.

“Oh God, yes…” she whispered. “I remember this.”

So do I…gotta do this more often, his mind supplied as
he stood, lifting her up to sit on top of the high-boy,
his muscles complaining despite a tiny rush of fear-
induced adrenaline when the dresser rocked and thumped
dully against the wall. They both halted for a moment;
this was the wall they shared with her mother. Unless
they wanted a repeat of the day before, they needed to
be very quiet.

He could be quiet…

He tipped his head up and placed kisses on each breast,
drawing each one into his mouth, cotton and all, then
releasing it. She pulled the tee shirt over her head,
dropping it to the floor and reaching for him, pulling
him to her once again. He came eagerly, sucking her
flesh into his mouth, swirling his tongue around her
nipple, biting gently with his teeth. Her body jolted
and he did it again on the other breast, smiling against
her skin when she jolted again. Stepping back, he held
her gaze briefly, her pupils dilated as he slowly leaned
forward and down between her thighs until his lips
touched her soft outer lips. She slumped back against
the mirror as he kissed her gently, lightly flicking his
tongue at the small tip of her clit peeking out at him.
She tried to move in rhythm with him, then froze as the
dresser bumped against the wall with a heavy thump.

They shared a look of alarm, then Mulder dipped his head
again, flicking his tongue against her clit as Scully
groaned low in frustration. He smiled. Yeeessssss, it
didn’t get much better than this. He urged her to ease
closer to the edge, holding the dresser still as she did
so then using his hands to spread her open and press his
tongue into her. Her body shuddered as he laved with
the flat of his tongue, so he did it again, flicking
lightly with the tip then laving with languorous
strokes, then again, and again.

He glanced to the right, his peripheral vision catching
sight of Wim asleep in the crib nearby. They were going
to have to get a bigger place, he thought, before baby
boy got too much older…

Scully’s fingers were kneading his scalp and he looked
up, seeing her head thrown back as she tightened the
muscles in her thighs. He was rock hard and had to
fight the urge to stroke himself, closing his eyes and
concentrating instead on creating a steady rhythm, on
feeling the way she responded under his hot mouth.

Her breathing was growing faster and he began to nip at
her like before, using his lips and teeth along with his
tongue until he heard her breath catch, holding her
swollen clit between his lips. There was a moment of
suspended time, then she sobbed quietly, drawing in deep
breaths, her flesh throbbing under his mouth. He stood
up and gathered her in his arms, holding her to him.
Scully laid her cheek down on top of his head, embracing
him in return.

There was a soft smile on her lips when she opened her
eyes and lifted her face to look down at him. He raised
his eyebrows to ask if she was all right, and she
nodded, her eyes shining.

Mulder took a step backward and hooked his thumbs in the
waistband of his boxers, pushing them down his hips and
letting them fall to the floor. He was ready to focus
on his own need now. Scully looked down at his
erection, then into his eyes, holding her arms out for
him to help her to the floor.

They kissed before her feet touched the ground. He
turned so that he was facing the bed, and Scully gently
took him into her hand, sliding up and down his length
as they continued to kiss, hot and searching. Her hand
felt great, but he was ready for more. He walked her
backward until the backs of her thighs hit the mattress.
He pulled out of the kiss to gasp when she swirled her
thumb over the tip of his cock.

“How do you want it?” she asked in a whisper, swirling,
stroking, all the while pressing hot kisses against his
jawbone.

He thrust shamelessly into her hand. “Now,” he said,
drawing a shaky breath. She chuckled, and he added,
“Lay down on your back,” he said, stepping away from her
so she could climb up onto the bed. She lay back on the
bed and gazed at him from under heavy lids.

Her skin was still flushed and he bit his lip, running
his eyes over her as he crawled onto the bed, moving up
her body until his face was directly over hers. They
locked gazes, their expressions serious, and she spread
her legs apart while he lowered himself on her,
positioning the tip of his erection at her entrance and
thrusting inside easily.

Mulder closed his eyes, moving casually, focusing on the
sensations centered in his groin. God, he loved sex.
Soon he began to move in earnest, feeling her slide her
feet up until they were flat against the bed, her hips
undulating in counter rhythm beneath him. He kissed
her, deep and possessive, his hips thrusting deeper,
feeling the tip of his cock bottom out. It was
something that he could only remember once he was
experiencing it again, and the feeling was so
incredible, so good. He buried his face into the
bedspread near her ear, whispering a stream of
consciousness while their bodies collided in
accelerating rhythm, the perspiration starting to bead
up on their skin. Scully’s hands were on his ass, the
half-moons of her fingernails pressing crescents into
his flesh. Over and over, he pushed into her, her
breath hitching, groaning each time he bumped her
cervix. The feeling was exquisite. The tension built
within him, uncontrolled, demanding. Raw.

He came, clenching his teeth and pumping out the waves
of pleasure that jolted his body.

“Don’t stop,” she whispered urgently, maintaining her
rapid thrust and grind underneath him.

Breathing hard and sweat running into his eyes, he kept
going, hoping he could hold on to some kind of erection
long enough for her to reach orgasm. He knew she was
close. Suddenly, her fingers clutched and held his hips
against her tightly, grinding hard with her pelvis while
the inner muscles that surrounded his rapidly shrinking
flesh pulsed around him. He stilled, feeling her body
shudder, a soft groan emanating from her throat.

Hearts pounding, they sank into the mattress, his weight
upon her unresisting body, soft and yielding. Scully
wrapped her calves around his, claiming him, and he
sighed, his eyelids growing heavy.

She held him firmly in her arms, pressing her lips
against the side of his neck and the top of his
shoulder, her chest heaving beneath him with labored
breaths. Mulder shifted slightly to transfer some of
the weight off of her small frame, and laying his cheek
against hers, he closed his eyes, feeling like his own
chest might burst open as the endorphins and emotions
pulsed through him. In this moment of post-orgasmic
bliss, the two of them still entwined and their hearts
open, the passion flowing like a swift river around
them, he believed they could weather anything that life
might throw at them. They were so amazingly good
together. So right. Nothing else was this right.

“Amazing,” he whispered thickly, after a long silence.

Scully hummed, her breathing slowed to a more regular
pace while she leisurely caressed his smooth skin under
her hands. The house was still – as still as the air
outside. Harmony and peacefulness enveloped them like a
blanket as they drifted towards sleep.

“NNNOOOOOOOO!!!!!” A high voice screamed out from a room
somewhere below them, a shrill wail, extending into
every corner of the silent house.

Scully jolted out of near slumber with a gasp. Mulder’s
eyes opened wide and he lifted his head, listening.

“What was that?” Scully whispered breathlessly.

“Sounds like Matthew.”

Matthew screamed again. “GO ‘WAY!” he yelled. “GO ‘WAY!
MOMMY! BAD MAN! NOOOOOOOO!”

Mulder stared at Scully a moment, and as implications of
Matthew’s words sunk in, he scrambled up off the bed and
grabbed the jeans laying at the foot, yanking them up
his legs as he moved toward the door.

Scully pulled on her underwear and grabbed her robe,
slipping her arms into the sleeves as she hurried down
the stairs behind Mulder.

~

Bill and Tara were already with Matthew, Tara holding
the boy on the bed and rocking him as he sobbed loudly
against his mother’s chest.

“What happened?” Mulder asked Bill as he scanned the
room, mentally cataloging anything that might be out of
place. Scully stepped inside tying the sash on her
robe, scanning the corners just like Mulder.

“He says he saw a man at his window,” Bill told them,
running his hand over the back of his head and pressing
his lips together in a flat line.

Scully froze, her eyes wide as she looked at Mulder.
Mulder crossed the room to the window, carefully sliding
it open and looking down, scanning the area below.
Scully stepped up behind him.

Matthew’s room was on the first floor, but as the house
rested on stilts, it was the equivalent of a second
floor bedroom – at least eighteen feet from the sandy
ground below. As with most of the houses however, thick
boards had been nailed to the stilts in a horizontal
lattice that ran from the ground up to the bottom of the
house like rungs.

“Anyone could have climbed those like a ladder,” Mulder
murmured. Scully looked up at him, feeling her lungs
constrict in her chest as her heart began to pound.

“*Wim* -” she whispered breathlessly, running out of the
room and up the stairs with Mulder on her heels.

Maggie was just coming down, a look of sleepy concern on
her face as Scully and Mulder bounded past her. The
door to their room was ajar. Wim’s small form was still
curled like a shrimp on his side, sleeping peacefully.

Mulder stopped short just behind Scully, his deep
exhalation falling over her shoulders as she laid her
hands on the side of the crib, bowing her head and
closing her eyes.

“I’m gonna go check outside,” he said, scanning the
floor for his shoes.

She nodded, then turned. Maggie, Charlie and Joy were
standing in the hallway just outside the door, watching
with a mixture of curiosity and confusion. Her eyes
flitted over them, hardly registering their presence as
she focused on Mulder’s back. He had slipped on his
shoes and was heading out the door.

“Mulder…” Scully called to him in a low tone.

He turned, his face a mask of steel and anxiety as he
looked at her. She held his gaze, her concern for his
safety shining along with the fear in her eyes, but she
didn’t say anything – she didn’t have to. He knew.

“I will,” he said, then stepped between Charlie and
Maggie, heading down the stairs.

~

Bill came out of Matthew’s room as Mulder stepped off
the bottom stair, pulling his car keys out of his jeans
pocket.

“Going somewhere?” Bill asked, his brow pulled together.

Mulder shook his head. “I’m just gonna have a look
around.”

Bill snorted without humor. “What, you think there was
really somebody out there? It was a dream, Mulder. Go
back to bed.”

“We don’t know that for sure,” Mulder replied carefully.

Bill shook his head, and spoke slowly, his voice
dripping with exaggerated patience. “It was a nightmare
– what can you expect when you tell a kid a story about
pirates getting their heads chopped off?”

Mulder took a deep breath and set his back teeth tightly
together. Bill shook his head with disdain and went on.

“He had a dream and woke up when he heard the two of you
moving furniture up there – he probably imagined that
severed head at the window, floating like the face in
the magic mirror in Snow White. That’s all it was.”

Mulder rested his hands on his hips, bowing his head.
Then he looked up at Bill, resolved. “I hope you’re
right,” he said. “But I’m gonna check it out, anyway.”

Bill let out a huff and turned. “Suit yourself,” he
said, walking back toward his bedroom.

Mulder blinked as he watched him walk away, squeezing
the car keys tightly in his hand, feeling the dull edges
bite into his palm. Then he turned, and silently
slipped out the front door.

The car was parked on their makeshift basketball court
where Mulder had left it a couple of hours earlier. The
moon was high and full in the sky, bathing the nighttime
landscape with a spectral, silver glow. It was an
unusual brightness – bluish. It fell on and illuminated
strange details, leaching everything of color and
confusing his depth perception as he climbed down the
stairs, passing the car’s driver’s side door and
rounding the rear fender to stop in front of the trunk.
He slid the key into the lock, popping the latch and
lifting the lid.

He felt inside, his hands seeking the small leather
case, carefully tucked under the carpet between the
spare tire and the wheel well. Glancing quickly around,
he brought it out, unzipped the case and removed his
.38, the black metal of the barrel gleaming in the
moonlight.

“Is it loaded?”

Mulder started at the quiet voice and turned quickly to
see Scully standing just behind him. He closed his eyes
with a grimace, his shoulder’s dropping before he let
out a sigh and flipped the cylinder open, spinning it
gently with his fingers.

“Yep,” he said, snapping the cylinder shut with a
definite click. “Not much point in a gun that’s not
loaded.” He tucked the weapon into the waistband of his
jeans and closed the trunk, turning back to face her.
She had pulled on the clothes she’d been wearing earlier
and now she stood, her body tense and taut as a
bowstring in the moonlight, ready for anything. He
reached out and touched her hand briefly as he turned
away from the car. “Let’s go.”

They started out carefully, rounding the bottom of the
front steps, toward the edge of Bill and Tara’s deck,
eyes busily scanning every shadow, every movement. It
was almost unnaturally still – no wind, no cicadas, no
sound at all except for the surf, pounding endlessly
beyond the dunes. In the absence of other noise, the
crashing of the waves seemed louder, more ominous, and
even their own soft footsteps in the sand sounded large
and out of place.

Scully pulled out her pocket Mag-lite and twisted it on
to inspect the sand beneath Matthew’s room. Mulder’s
heart was beating at twice its normal rate, and he could
feel the sour nausea of the waning adrenaline surge in
his gut. It was a familiar feeling, this dread
readiness, and in some paradoxical way, he found a
certain measure of comfort in it. He had come face to
face with terror in more than one showdown, and he was
still around to tell the tale; he had earned a certain
amount of confidence in his ability to hold his shit
together.

He turned to scan the horizon behind them. The dunes
were empty, the moonlight falling flat and cold on the
sand and the grass and the uneven planks of the
boardwalk. His eyes swept the bare expanse quickly,
returning his focus to the base of the house and the
confusing maze of shadows and stilts underneath,
suddenly as threatening and bewildering as the dark
underbelly of the pier. He narrowed his eyes, searching
for any trace of movement through the slats, any
irregular shape.

Scully was inspecting the slats carefully, slowly
running the narrow point of her flashlight along the
edges of each board. Mulder honed in on a brief flicker
underneath the house, a minute change in the way the
silver and blue stripes lay across the stilts. There
was nothing more – only stillness, and then another
brief flicker. Pulling the revolver out of his
waistband, he stepped forward, turning sideways to slide
between the edges of the slats and the next stilt.

Under the house, the moonlight reached in a few inches
beyond the opening of the slats, then there was nothing
but darkness. Mulder moved ahead stealthily, on alert
for any movement, listening attentively for any sound.
Above him, the wood creaked as the inhabitants moved
within the house, a soft, weary groan that reminded him
how tired he was. He made his way forward through the
stilts and the gravelly sand, feeling his way with his
senses and an outstretched hand, searching for the
wooden pillars before his nose made first contact. He
held the gun cocked in his other hand.

Something brushed past his leg, and he froze, his heart
pounding wildly in his chest. Looking down, he scanned
the area, seeing nothing. After a moment he moved ahead
again, hoping that whatever it was, he wouldn’t step on
it – and that it wouldn’t bite. To his left he heard a
soft rustling noise and he turned his head in that
direction. He found himself staring down into a pair of
bright-yellow glowing eyes.

Stealing a quick glance back over his shoulder to locate
Scully, Mulder could see the soft white of her
flashlight still shining over the slats. When he turned
back, the eyes were gone.

He let out a long breath, moving forward once more.

Mulder came out on the back side of the house, facing
the dunes, underneath the stairs that lead up to the
back deck. Looking carefully to the left, then to the
right, he scanned the dunes; the sea oats and grasses
were perfectly still in the windless night. He tucked
the gun back into his jeans, arching his back with a
grimace.

He was going to feel like shit warmed over tomorrow.

“Hey!” a male voice called down from above. He looked
up and saw Charlie watching from one of the windows
above. “What the hell are you doing down there?”

Mulder squinted at him and put a stilling hand up,
shaking his head and turning away to focus on the area
immediately surrounding him.

“Hey, Bungalow Bill…” Charlie sang. “What did you
kill, Bungalow Bill?” Charlie let his serenade fade
into silly laughter, highly amused with himself.

Mulder shot Charlie a look, pursing his lips together
and trying to quietly shush his heckler. He moved off
to his right, rounding the corner to the other side of
the house and out of Charlie’s line of vision.

There was nothing moving. Walking carefully around the
perimeter of the house, he passed the car, the front
staircase and Bill and Tara’s deck once again, still
watching, still on edge. Scully had moved away from the
slats and was shining her flashlight on the ground
beneath Matthew’s window again. She looked up as he
approached, her lips pursed. She exhaled slowly through
her nose, a look of concern on her face.

“Find anything?” Mulder asked.

“Nothing.”

He bit the corner of his lip. “I’ll check again in the
morning when there’s more light.”

Scully looked up at him. Her bruised eye looked even
worse in the blue light of midnight, standing out
against her pale moon-washed skin. Her expression held
so much concern and worry it made him wince.

“C’mon,” he said, placing a hand on her shoulder.
“Let’s try to get some sleep.” She closed her eyes
briefly and stepped ahead of him.

They tackled the stairs up to the house, then their last
climb of the day – the flight of stairs that led to
their bedroom. Maggie was sitting on the edge of their
bed, reading while Wim still snored softly in his crib.
She looked up, her reading glasses perched on the end of
her nose.

Mulder silently thanked God when she didn’t say
anything, didn’t ask questions – merely offered them a
pitying smile and whispered, “Goodnight” before slipping
out of the room, closing the door behind her.

He lay the revolver down on the nightstand, and Scully
stood beside the crib, looking down at her sleeping
child with a knitted brow. He knew the question on her
mind – always on her mind, lingering in the darkness,
just as it still plagued him. Even if they didn’t know
for sure that anyone had been out there, or the exact
reason why, the question lay there between them, and
only the two of them understood the complete horror of
it.

*If* someone was here to take Wim, why now?

~
Wednesday
~

Thanks, Jane… We will… Bye-bye.”

Maggie hung up the phone, and laid her pen and notebook
down next to the coffee maker. She sagged against the
counter with a sigh.

The storm was coming.

Felix was still only a tropical storm, but had been
causing considerable damage in the Caribbean all night.
The National Weather Service expected it to continue
building power, making U.S. landfall somewhere near
Charleston within the next twenty-four hours, and then
wend its way northward along the Carolina coastline from
there. A storm watch had just been declared for the
Outer Banks, which meant they had about thirty-six hours
before it hit.

Maggie pressed her hand to her forehead and scanned the
notes she had jotted while talking to her friend, the
owner of ‘Perfect Harmony.’ Jane had called to let them
know about the storm warning and the possibility of
evacuation, and she had suggested – echoing their
waitress from the night before – that they go ahead and
secure the house while the weather was still good.
There were pre-drilled sheets of plywood for the
windows, and some kerosene lanterns in a utility shed
below the house, and a supply of candles in one of the
kitchen drawers. Jane hadn’t been able to say for sure
whether they’d be forced to leave the house, but – as
she and Maggie had repeated to one another over the
phone – they were better safe than sorry.

Bill came out of his bedroom, heading straight for the
coffee maker that was sputtering and coughing on the
counter beside Maggie. He leaned down to kiss her cheek
as he reached around her to retrieve a mug from the
cabinet.

“Good morning, honey,” Maggie said. Bill gave her a
tight-lipped smile and poured his coffee. Maggie held
her own cup out to be refilled, noticing the exhaustion
on her son’s face. “Did you manage to get back to sleep
all right?” she asked.

Bill huffed as he filled her mug, and turned to set the
pot back on its burner. “We were up pretty late,” he
said.

“Was Matty very frightened?” she asked, tilting her head
with a sympathetic smile.

Bill took a sip from his coffee, shaking his head.
“Matthew was fine once everyone else settled down,” he
told her. “But Tara and I stayed up talking.”

Maggie could tell by his expression that whatever he and
Tara had stayed up talking about, it had not been an
enjoyable talk. Picking up a small cow-shaped creamer,
she poured a dollop of milk into her coffee. She
glanced up at Bill, who had moved around and taken a
seat at the table. “Is everything all right?” she
asked. Bill sighed and sagged back into his chair.

“Well – no,” he admitted, glancing up at her. Maggie
frowned, attuned to even the minutest flashes of
vulnerability in her son’s eyes. It was the only signal
he was likely to give that he might need a mother’s
support or guidance. She picked up her coffee cup and
came around to the table. Bill glanced up again, but
shifted his gaze quickly back to his own mug, which he
spun slowly on the table in front of him. “I told Tara
last night that I’ve been offered a civilian position at
China Lake,” he said.

Maggie took in a deep breath and stared at her son.
“China Lake,” she said, halfway between a question and a
statement of surprise. Bill glanced up at her and
nodded.

“They’ve asked me if I want to head up their Avionics
Development team. It’s a fantastic opportunity – the
pay is good -”

“Oh Billy,” Maggie interrupted, her voice lowering with
concern. “China Lake is all the way up in the desert -!
It’s so far away from everything…”

Bill sighed heavily and picked up his mug. “That was
Tara’s reaction, too,” he said. He took a drink of
coffee as Maggie pulled out the chair directly across
from him and sat down.

“Honey,” she said quietly, carefully. “I think Tara was
hoping you would come back east if you decided to give
up your commission. So you could both be closer to
family -”

“I know that,” Bill said, looking up and meeting his
mother’s eyes. “And I’d love to come back this way too
– be closer to you and to Dana…” He trailed off, his
eyes slipping from hers and taking on a glazed look as
he stared absently down at his mug. He licked his lips
and began to shake his head. “I checked out every NAVAIR
site on the East Coast. I looked at Pax,” he said, “and
we toured the Naval Aviation Depot at Cherry Point last
week before we drove down here. I had hoped I would
hear back from them before we leave North Carolina, but
with the storm coming…” He sounded dejected. “The
best opportunity is at China Lake. I can’t help that.”

Maggie sighed. A position at Pax River would have been
ideal, just an hour and a half from her own home, or
Dana’s in the city. China Lake, on the other hand, was
smack in the middle of nowhere, located amid the heat
and sagebrush of the Mojave Desert.

“Have you decided to take the position?” she asked.
Bill shook his head.

“No,” he said. “Not yet. Well, not definitely.”

Maggie nodded, and did her best to tamp down the
disappointment she felt rising in her chest. She hadn’t
realized before how much she had been counting on Bill
bringing his family back east. If he took this job, it
meant that they would be staying in California
indefinitely. She sighed. It was just so far away…

But she had long since learned to let her children make
their own decisions, to follow their own paths. Such an
independent lot – fussing at them and meddling had never
done any good, and in some cases had only pushed them
that much further out of reach. She stood up, watching
her son as he spun his coffee mug in distracted circles.
He didn’t need her nagging at him on top of everything
else.

Taking her own coffee with her, Maggie walked slowly
across the room to the French doors that led out to the
deck. The air coming in through the screen was hot. In
the four days they had been at the house, the weather
had been nearly perfect – pleasantly warm during the
day, cool at night – and they had been keeping the
windows open to the constant breezes. Now, here it was
barely eight o’clock in the morning, and she was
considering shutting the windows and turning on the
central-air.

Her eyes strayed beyond the screen and the deck,
attracted by movement on the dunes beyond. There,
cresting the dune, feet slapping the wooden boardwalk
dully, was Fox, just back from his morning run. Maggie
opened the door and walked out onto the deck, squinting
into the sunlight, and waiting to hear the sound of
Fox’s feet thudding up the steps. Several moments
passed; he didn’t come.

Maggie moved to the railing, peering over to see what
might have caused Fox to hesitate, half-expecting to see
him stretching against the bottom of the stairs. But he
was nowhere to be seen below the deck, nowhere on the
stairs, nowhere on the ground at the base of the house.
Maggie frowned and straightened up, wondering where he
might have gone, then turned to see Dana step out onto
the deck.

“Good morning, sweetheart,” Maggie said to her, placing
a kiss on Dana’s cheek.

“Hi mom,” she said softly. Despite the sunglasses that
hid her eyes, it was evident that Dana’s gaze had
drifted past Maggie, out to the dunes below. “You
haven’t seen Mulder around by any chance, have you?”

“He was walking up the boardwalk a moment ago,” Maggie
responded. Then she smiled. “Where’s my grandson?”

Scully smiled gently. “With Bill and Tara, inside.”

Maggie gave her arm a squeeze and headed for the door.
Turning back around, she saw Dana disappear down the
stairs, heading for the sand below.

~

Mulder crouched in front of the horizontal wood slats
beneath Matthew’s bedroom, sweat running down his
temples as he squinted at the dirty sand. There wasn’t
anything more to see in the daylight than there had been
by the light of the moon. The stub of a Morley,
weathered and decayed. A beer cap, bent in half, the
logo on the top faded. A peppery scattering of
sunflower seed shells – those were his. He had hoped to
collect some piece of information, some clue that would
tell him who might be trying to gain access to this
borrowed home. He’d shoved a handful of plastic
sandwich bags for gathering evidence into the pocket of
his shorts before he left the house for his run, but the
bags remained in his pocket, empty.

He didn’t know whether to be disappointed or relieved.
Lack of evidence didn’t mean there hadn’t been someone
trying to get inside, but he was beginning to think that
Bill had been right – the power of suggestion could be
more than enough fuel for the imagination of a three
year-old boy. It was entirely possible that Matthew had
imagined the whole thing.

Mulder wanted to believe that was all it was.

Despite the early hour, the sun was hot and bright, and
the thin white haze hanging in the motionless air
created a glaring effect that made it seem even warmer.
Humidity lingered around him, thick and oppressive.

He tipped his head to the side and wiped his temple on
the sleeve of his tee shirt, catching the bright glow of
red-gold as Scully approached him in the dusty sand. He
rose to his feet, turning to face her.

“You didn’t find anything,” she said, searching his face
from behind her dark glasses. Her voice was flat, like
the air.

He bit the corner of his lip, looking her over. She’d
had another nightmare that morning, just as he was
pulling on his running shoes. He’d climbed up on the
bed and curled around her, stroking her hair back away
from her face silently while she tried to slow her
breathing. She had relaxed, but obviously she hadn’t
gone back to sleep after he’d left, and was using her
sunglasses to hide more than a bruised eye.

He shook his head. “I don’t see anything that would
suggest someone was here last night.”

She rested her palms on her hips, scrunching up her face
as she scanned the horizon. “Do you think -”

“Dana? Fox…?” Maggie called out to them from
Matthew’s window. “Would you come inside a minute?
There’s something we all need to discuss.”

Scully swallowed the rest of whatever she’d been about
to ask and met Mulder’s eyes. They looked at each other
for a long moment, more out of habit than necessity,
shoring up their battlements. It was a habit honed from
years of working together – from being called into
Skinner’s office, or the office of some unbelieving law
enforcement officer, or the Office of Professional
Review. In this case, it was simply Scully family
politics.

~

In the great room, Bill’s small short-wave radio was
tuned to a weather watch channel, a male voice reciting
information over the static-y AM band: *Stay tuned for
the latest news and information on Tropical Storm
Felix…*

Matthew was cranky, leaning against his mother’s side on
the sofa, whining about wanting to go down to the beach
to look for pirates. Tara had Wim on her lap, the baby
kicking his chunky legs with an occasional shriek or
exclamation. Charlie was curled up against Joy on the
other end of the sofa, half asleep, and Bill and Maggie
stood in the middle of the room as heads of the
household, waiting for everyone to get settled.

Scully looked at each of the faces, each expression a
different story, a different mood. She suspected that
no one had slept well, and hoped that this wasn’t going
to turn into twenty questions about Dana and Fox’s
midnight investigation of the space underneath the
house. She wasn’t in the mood. She picked Wim up from
Tara’s lap and hoisted him to her shoulder as he waved
his fists at Mulder, jabbering. Mulder took him from
her and laid him against his own shoulder. Wim grew
silent, his blue eyes wide like his mother’s as Mulder
patted his bottom.

The loveseat across from Tara was unoccupied and Mulder
sat on it carefully, his expression slack, but his eyes
sharp and alert. Scully sat next to him, sitting
forward with her elbows on her knees, looking to her
mother for some kind of explanation.

Maggie glanced from one person to the next and sighed.
“I’ve spoken with Jane about the house and the storm,”
she said. “And she’s given us the option of staying the
rest of the week or leaving before the storm hits. I
thought the decision should be made by everyone, since
we’ve all arranged our schedules so we could be here.”

Maggie looked up at Bill, and Scully could see how
unhappy her mother was to have to bring this subject up
and make this decision. It had been so long since they
had all been together, and minor squabbles
notwithstanding, so far, it had been a good time. More
than that, however, it seemed to her that Mulder was
beginning to feel like he was part of her family, and
that they had started to know and accept him. Scully
hadn’t realized how important it was to her that Mulder
fit in with the Scully clan. If they left now, who knew
when the chance for them all to be together would arise
again?

At the same time, there was Wim’s safety to consider.
If they stayed, if the storm gained momentum and was
upgraded to a hurricane, if it hit the Outer Banks at
full steam – there was no way to underplay the danger of
the situation. She let out a long breath of frustration
and sat back on the loveseat. Time with her family was
important, but common sense told her they were better
off boarding up the house and moving inland to a safer
location.

Bill set his hands on his hips, sighing. “Well, Tara
and I have to pay a penalty on our flight if we change
the date, but I guess that’s not such a big deal – we
could spend the rest of the week with Mom at her house.
I don’t know what Charles and Joy’s plans are…” He
looked at Scully. “And I don’t suppose we’d see much of
anyone else before we left if we all go back to
Washington.”

Scully looked up at him, but didn’t respond. He was
right – she and Mulder would go home with Wim, and
unless they planned some kind of family dinner before
Bill and Tara flew out, they probably wouldn’t see each
other until the next big family event. Whenever that
would be.

Maggie’s brow furrowed. “I’m sure we could come up with
something,” she said, hopefully.

“Why are we deciding this now?” Charlie asked without
picking his face up from where it was leaning against
Joy’s arm. He opened one groggy eye and glanced among
them.

Bill responded flatly. “We need to be prepared.”

“So we prepare,” Charlie said. “We find the flashlights
and buy a couple of bottles of water. Joy and I are
going to the market anyway. We’ll pick up whatever else
we need, just make a list.” He yawned and closed his
eyes again, snuggling in closer to Joy, who shifted
stiffly in her seat. “I vote we stay here and make the
decision if and when we know for sure there’s really
going to *be* a hurricane or not.”

Bill pressed his lips together in a thin line and looked
at Tara. She raised her eyebrows and shrugged.

“It’s not like the earthquakes in Southern California,
Billy,” she said, looking from Bill to Maggie, then
glancing around the room. “We’ll have plenty of
warning.”

“It’s not really that simple,” Scully said with a sigh.
The more they discussed it, the more she knew she really
didn’t want to be trapped in another hurricane. “There
has to be an evacuation route, a safe contact
established outside of the area we can all call in case
we get separated -”

“Skinner,” Mulder said, all eyes turning to him. He
shrugged one shoulder, resting his gaze on Scully.
“Assistant Director Walter Skinner at the Bureau. He’d
be a good contact.”

Scully studied him a moment, trying to decide whether he
was for the evacuation, or if he wanted to support
Charlie’s suggestion. “Does that mean you want to
stay?” she asked with a slight edge, unable to determine
his motive.

He nodded. “I think we should be prepared -” he paused,
looking over at Bill. “And we should work out the
details, of course. But I don’t see a need to jump the
gun on this one.”

“Interesting choice of words,” Joy commented dryly.
“*Jump the gun*.”

Mulder looked back at her, confused. He pursed his lips
as if to ask a question, then shook his head. Scully
drew in a breath and stiffened. The tone in Joy’s voice
grated against her nerves. There was something about
Charlie’s girlfriend that had slowly been rubbing her
the wrong way, and Scully found her resistance and her
desire to get along was starting to wear thin.

Joy sat up straighter, focusing her direct gaze on
Mulder. “You had a gun while you were sneaking around
under the house last night. I saw it in your hand.”

Charlie opened one eye, staring up at her. “Joy. He’s
*FBI*. He wasn’t sneaking, he was *stalking*.”

“*Was*,” Joy qualified, still staring at Mulder. “*Was*
FBI. And he brought the gun into the house with him -”

“What would you rather he’d done with it?” Scully asked,
sitting forward again and meeting Joy’s accusatory
stare. She caught the quick glance Mulder threw at her.

“It’s not in the house, I locked it in a case in the
trunk of my car,” he said patiently. “I put it back
this morning -”

Joy had drawn a deep breath and let it out quickly,
ignoring Mulder’s statement as she looked back at
Scully. “I’d *rather* he hadn’t brought it at all.
There was a loaded gun -”

“What’s your point, Joy?” Scully snapped, causing Joy to
shut her mouth and stare back in something like
surprise. Scully didn’t care – she was tired and
irritable – and Mulder was a trained professional,
licensed, as was she. And she felt a hell of a lot
better knowing there was a weapon nearby just in case,
whether Charlie’s girlfriend had issues with it or not.

“Guns kill people,” Joy said definitively, and Scully
didn’t miss the aggressive little head-bob and narrowed
eyes that went with the statement. “And I think I have
a right to know when somebody brings a deadly weapon
into a house where I’m staying.”

Everyone was quiet. Scully squared her shoulders,
preparing to give the woman a real piece of her mind
when Mulder pursed his lips at her, shaking his head.

“You’re right,” he said to Joy, by way of apology –
except Mulder had a way of apologizing that didn’t sound
like an apology. “I should have asked everyone.”

There was a long moment of silence. Joy let out a short
huff, as did Bill, although Bill’s was an entirely
different kind of huff.

“So we’re going to wait and see what the storm does,” he
said, sounding dubious but resigned, looking around the
room for their agreement.

No one argued, although Scully hesitated. She looked at
Mulder, who nodded back at her, a look of reassurance on
his face. She still felt the safest thing to do would
be to get off the beach and retreat somewhere inland –
preferably her own apartment.

“All right then,” Maggie was saying, “I’ll make a list
of the things we need from the market.”

“Can we go to deh beach *now*?” Matthew whined. Tara
closed her eyes and sighed a tired mother’s sigh.

Charlie was stroking Joy’s arm, saying softly, “Relax,
babe.” His tone was clearly meant only for Joy, but
Scully could hear him nonetheless. “It was only
overnight,” he whispered. “They know what they’re doing.
I told you last night – it’s no biggie.”

Scully rolled her eyes behind her glasses and got up.
If they were going to wait the storm out, at least she
could make sure they had the important details worked
out. “I’ll work out the evacuation plan,” she said
resolutely.

Mulder stood up behind her, handing Wim down to her when
she held her hands out for him. Mulder mouthed ‘shower’
at her, and she nodded, moving with Wim into the kitchen
area as Mulder made his way up the stairs.

~

Scully slouched in her chair and gazed out at the waves,
squinting despite her sunglasses, the shade of the
umbrella, and even the borrowed Yankees cap she was
wearing. It was a white day, full of glare. The wind
was coming warm and sluggish from the west, bringing
with it small swarms of gnats and sand flies that were
making the beach nearly intolerable. Wim was starting
to fuss, irritated by the heat, and she had all but
decided to pack him back up to the house to enjoy the
air-conditioning.

They had compiled a list of emergency provisions over
breakfast, and she’d mapped out the two most efficient
evacuation routes to get them off the island. In a
matter of a few hours, they would be about as prepared
as they could be without more news. There wasn’t much
more to be done, but as she sat on the beach, she was
thinking about other possible emergency scenarios, the
extra provisions they had not written down but might
need; she couldn’t stop running through alternate
evacuation routes in her head. Unfortunately, there
just weren’t that many options, and with just one major
highway running the length of the island, traffic was
sure to back up for miles if an official evacuation were
announced. She thought she might take another look at
the map, just in case.

Tara and Bill had gone down to the water to escape the
bugs, and were standing together in the low surf, the
foam splashing against their knees, with Matthew
suspended swing-like between them, his laughter bubbling
up over the roar of the surf. They swung him up over
each wave as it rolled toward them, his little legs
kicking while he shrieked with excitement and fear.
Somewhere out there, Tropical Storm Felix was churning.
Scully took a deep, tired breath, and turned her head to
look at her mother.

“Are you going up to the house?” Maggie asked without
looking up from her book. Scully let out a small huff
of laughter. It was one of her mother’s many talents
that she seemed able to *sense* when someone’s attention
had been turned toward her, even before the other person
had spoken.

“I think so,” Scully said, reaching up to take the ball-
cap off and scratch her hair loose. She let the cap
fall into her lap and thumbed her hair behind her ears.
“It’s just too hot down here,” she said, looking down at
Wim, who scrunched his nose grumpily at her.

Maggie agreed and flipped her book shut, and the two of
them set about gathering up their various bags and books
and towels. They called out to let Tara and Bill know
they were heading back up, glad for an excuse to leave
umbrella and the chairs behind. Even without the added
burden, the walk back toward the house was long and hot,
and they hissed their discomfort as the scorching sand
slipping over the edges of their sandals.

Scully trudged up the dune toward the edge of the
boardwalk, doing her best to balance Wim on one side and
two over-crammed beach bags on the other. Mulder had
never come down after his shower – and that had been
nearly two hours before. She wondered, somewhat less
than idly, what had happened to him, and had to remind
herself that everything was more than likely fine. He
had probably just sprawled out somewhere to catch up on
missed sleep. Neither of them had gotten much rest
after returning to their room the night before, unable
to relax under the weight of fresh concern for Wim’s
safety and their own, the renewed consciousness that
there were forces in the world that had – at one time,
at least – meant them harm. Mulder had finally drifted
off some time in the middle of the night, but she had
not been able to sleep until near dawn, shifting and
rolling under the sheets, only to find herself in the
cold grips of the nightmare once slumber finally came.
Mulder had done his best to comfort her, but she had not
been able to shake the idea that perhaps there was some
kind of prescience in these recurring dreams.

She shuddered involuntarily, feeling the gooseflesh
break out over her skin despite the heat, and she hugged
Wim tighter against her, seeking solace in the soft,
solid weight of him in her arms.

“We’ll just go up and make some iced tea…” Maggie was
saying in an absent undertone as they approached the
stairs up to the deck. Scully looked up at the house,
at the thin stilts that held up the huge edifice above,
the rung-like slats that anyone could climb like a
ladder. Like staring at a written word until it
appeared misspelled, the house looked wrong. Misshapen.
How safe was this house? If they were caught here in
the storm-surge, would those skinny legs hold them up?
Was the platform high enough to keep them from being
swept away?

If someone *did* want to climb in through Matthew’s
window, could they be stopped -?

*Could* they stop someone from taking Wim? In this
place or her own, how safe were they? How safe were
they anywhere? That was the crux of the matter; if
those who had come to take Wim before decided they
wanted him now, she knew there was little she could do
against them. It was a situation she had no control
over, would never be able to control. Her sense of
safety had been compromised forever. The nearest she
ever came to feeling safe was in Mulder’s presence.

The sun was high and hot, and the whole world was
rippling, quavering. Scully was still standing on the
sand below the steps to the deck, looking up at the
house as her mother climbed slowly upward. She could
hear a strange buzzing noise. Where was it coming from?
How long had she been standing there? Something was
falling down from the deck above them, slow and surreal,
like a waking dream – something floating on the stagnant
air, drifting, landing across her nose. She reached up
reflexively to scratch it away, and found a wispy lock
of golden-brown hair in her hand.

~

“Merciful heaven!” Maggie exclaimed from the top of the
stairs. Mulder watched as she stared in disbelief at
Charlie, whose head was mostly shaved to within an
eighth of an inch of his scalp. Joy was working on the
last section of hair with an electric hair-trimmer, the
buzz of the clippers rising and falling in pitch as she
worked it over Charlie’s crown. Mulder had to grin at
the expression of shock on Maggie’s face.

“What is it, Mom -?” Scully asked, stopping short behind
Maggie. She stepped onto the deck, gaping open-mouthed
at her brother, which earned a chuckle of laughter from
Charlie and a wider grin from Mulder.

“Never let it be said I don’t make good on my bets,”
Charlie said. Another large chunk of hair fell onto his
shoulder as Joy raised the clippers and started to mow
away the hair at the base of his neck.

Maggie watched, covering her mouth with her hand. “Oh,
Charles,” she sighed. “You have such beautiful hair…”

“What’s left of it,” Scully added, dropping her beach
bags onto the deck with a sigh. Mulder walked over to
her and took Wim out of her hands, giving the baby a
kiss on the forehead, following it with a kiss to
Scully’s forehead. Scully let out a held breath and
leaned into him.

“What do you think, Sis?” Charlie called out. “I’ve
been trying to talk Oxford over there into a new ‘do.”

“Oh no,” Scully replied, shaking her head. “Don’t give
him any ideas.”

Mulder bounced Wim in his arms and looked at her with
amusement, feigning hurt. “What, you don’t like my hair
short?”

“That’s not a haircut, Mulder, it’s homicide. You’re
witnessing the death of a perfectly good head of hair.”

“Ooohh,” Charlie groaned in mock protest, squishing up
his face.

Mulder grinned at Scully and glanced over his shoulder,
then motioned for Scully to move aside as Bill stepped
up onto the deck carrying the umbrella, chairs and the
rest of the beach equipment.

“Kojak!” Bill exclaimed with a grin when he caught sight
of his brother, walking over to scrub his palm over
Charlie’s stubbly head. “Who loves ya, baby…”

“It’s not *that* short,” Charlie protested, twisting to
look up at Joy. “Is it that short -?”

Joy laughed and pushed his head back down with an
authoritative hand. “It’s *short*,” she said.

Matthew had clomped up to the top of the steps, where
he’d stopped and was staring at Charlie. “Hey, Matty!
C’mere little man -” Charlie exclaimed, holding a hand
out to the little boy, but Matthew ducked back behind
Bill, peeking bashfully around his father’s leg.

Joy brushed the shorn hair off the towel draped around
Charlie’s shoulders and ran her hand over the top of his
head. “You have a nice scalp,” she commented. She
looked up at Bill. “I think he looks *hot*.”

“You’re the one sleeping with him,” Bill retorted.

“Charlie!” Tara exclaimed, her head appearing over the
top step, her mouth hanging open. She climbed up the
rest of the way, stepping onto the deck next to Mulder.
“Oh my God!” Matthew ran over to her, latching on to
her leg.

“You like?” Charlie asked, standing. He ran a hand back
and forth over the top of his head.

“No!” Tara replied, laughing and shaking her head. “But
who cares what I think, as long as Joy likes it.” She
dropped her chin and looked over at her husband,
sternly. “Bill Scully, if you *ever*…” She let her
words fade out, her meaning clear.

Joy chuffed as she folded the towel. “What, shave his
head? Why not?”

“The crew cut is bad enough -!” Tara laughed, stepping
up to have a rub at Charlie’s newly shorn scalp. Joy
took the clippers away from Charlie’s head and glanced
between Bill and Tara.

“Well, it’s *his* hair,” she said. Tara looked up, her
smile fading into a bewildered expression.

At that moment, Wim grabbed Mulder’s nose with a shriek.
Mulder pulled the baby away from his body, lifting him
high into the air, where the baby squawked and bounced
his head, kicking his legs and waving his arms as Mulder
and the others laughed. Pulling the boy back down
against his chest, Mulder glanced to his left. Maggie
smiled.

With broom in hand, Joy had begun to sweep up the hair
lying around the base of the chair where Charlie had
been seated, while Tara seemed to be giving serious
thought to Joy’s off-the-cuff statement. “I guess it’s
not a matter of it being his hair,” she said, finally.
“It’s a matter of respect. Respecting your partner
enough to consider their opinion.” She shrugged, fixing
her gaze on her husband. “It’s part of what you promise
when you take the vow to love, honor and cherish
somebody.”

Mulder looked down at Scully, thinking about respect in
a partnership and how similar certain aspects of a
working partnership were to a working marriage. Next to
him, Scully’s head was pulled back, her lips pressed
together. She was watching Joy, and Mulder got the
impression that whatever she was thinking, it was better
left unsaid.

Tara was still looking pointedly at Bill, and Joy had
narrowed her eyes at them, letting out a short laugh.
Mulder watched with curiosity, wondering what would come
next. The last couple of days with Joy had proven it
was nearly impossible to predict what she might say.

“Is that respect?” Joy asked, “Or is it just the result
of forfeiting your individuality and sense of self to
conform to the rules of a socially enforced union?”
Charlie looked up sharply, but Joy ignored him,
continuing in a matter-of-fact tone. “That’s the
biggest problem with marriage – people lose their
identity and become ambivalent, content to settle with
what feels *comfortable*. It’s the effect of the lowest
common denominator; the illusion of being married taking
precedent over each individual’s spirit and free will,
creating a union of mediocrity.”

Mulder’s eyes widened slightly with surprise – if he’d
expected anything, it certainly wasn’t a treatise on the
socio-philosophical perils of matrimony. Tara was
standing with her mouth open, looking for all the world
like she had just been slapped. Bill narrowed his eyes,
and Scully stared. Charlie took a deep breath and
coughed, squinting up at her.

Joy tossed her hair out of the way and returned to her
sweeping.

“That’s not how it is,” Tara said, somewhat lamely, and
Joy stopped, but rather than turn toward Tara, she
looked up at Mulder as if she expected him to respond.
Mulder could only stare back.

Maggie cleared her throat, crossing the deck toward the
French doors. “Who wants iced tea?” she asked tightly.

“I do!” Matthew exclaimed, trotting behind her. “Momma,
I go help Gwanma, ‘k?” Tara blinked, and bit her lip.

“All right, baby,” she said, distracted.

Maggie stopped at the door and turned. “Tara, would you
help me a moment?”

Tara blinked again and glanced up at Mulder before she
nodded and followed Maggie and Matthew into the house.
Joy watched the door shut before she continued.

“You and Dana have the right approach,” she said,
glancing again at Mulder. “Separate residences,
separate lives. You know each other well enough to
understand the importance of maintaining your individual
identities.” Her voice indicated her admiration. “You
didn’t succumb to the social pressures, the potential
mediocrity of life, just because you have a child.”

“Mediocrity -?” Bill said, laughing without humor. “What
the hell gives you the right to pass judgement on my
marriage and my family? What could you possibly know
about it?”

Joy sighed and looked at Bill, undaunted, impatiently
flipping her hair back over her shoulder. “I wasn’t
referring to *you* specifically. I was just commenting
on the institution, and Dana and Mulder’s situation as I
see it.”

Mulder opened his mouth to speak, but closed it again,
looking over at Scully. He was a little stunned that
Joy had interpreted his relationship with Scully in that
way. Where the hell had she gotten such an idea, when
they didn’t even know how to classify the relationship
themselves?

Scully’s head was turned, and she avoided his gaze. She
didn’t seem as shocked as everyone else by Joy’s
declarations – it was almost as if she’d already heard
them before. Perhaps she had. Maybe – like himself –
Scully had found it easier to talk to a virtual stranger
about these things than to discuss them with him. There
had been plenty of opportunity for the two of them to
talk; it was entirely possible that Joy’s appreciation
of their relationship was based on something Scully
herself had told her.

Which, he thought, might explain a lot.

Joy was still waiting for his affirmation. “Don’t tell
me you don’t understand the point I’m making here,” she
said. Mulder took a deep breath. He could feel
Scully’s eyes on him.

“I don’t know,” he said, and he heard Bill scoff –
probably misunderstanding the direction of his
statement. “I can’t deny the importance of retaining
your sense of personal identity in any partnership -”
Mulder paused and glanced at Scully, his stomach
lurching slightly when she dropped her eyes away from
his. What the hell was happening? Why wasn’t Scully
saying anything? Had he missed something along the way,
some signal, some small gesture or comment that would
have clued him in? He couldn’t believe that Scully
might actually *agree* with Joy’s ideas – or worse, that
she might be behind them somehow. Was this really how
she wanted things to be between them? Delineated and
defined down to the smallest detail – what’s mine is
mine, and what’s yours is yours…? How were they
supposed to fit Wim into that description? He cleared
his throat roughly. “I guess it all depends on what
each individual wants out of that partnership,” he said
flatly, daring Scully to meet his blatant stare.

Silence hung over everyone on the deck for a seemingly
interminable space of time. Then Scully let out a long,
slow breath. “Wim needs his bottle,” she said in a low
tone, and she took the baby out of Mulder’s arms and
disappeared into the house without ever meeting Mulder’s
gaze. He watched her go, feeling like he’d been punched
in the gut.

Bill crossed his arms and shook his head, looking at
Mulder closely. He glanced at Joy, then back at Mulder
again. “It figures,” he mumbled with a grimace, and
followed his sister into the house.

Joy blinked, watching Bill walk away. Then she looked
openly up at Mulder and shrugged, returning to her task
of sweeping the deck. Mulder looked out toward the
ocean and heaved a sigh, wondering how, if ever, given
the current state of affairs, he and Scully would ever
get it all of their issues out in the open and sorted
out.

~

“Can you believe that crap?” Bill said, his voice sharp
as he walked into the kitchen. Maggie and Matthew were
standing at the range top brewing tea, and Tara was at
the refrigerator, pouring apple juice into a sippy-cup.

Lying in his carrier, Wim was sucking eagerly on his
brand new bottle of formula. His eyes were wide as he
drank, and Scully looked up from his pink face, seeing
Tara frown.

“Matty, there’s your drink,” Tara said firmly, setting
the sippy-cup on the counter. Matthew turned around,
hopping over to pick up the cup.

Tara stared at Bill, her hand on her hip. “There’s some
truth lurking in the shadows of Joy’s assessment,” she
said curtly…

“Truth?” Bill asked, incredulous. “Like what?”

“Like one personality taking precedence over the other,
changing the dynamic of the relationship to suit the
stronger personality.”

“What are you talking about?” Bill asked again. “Has
everyone in this house lost their mind or -”

“What I’m talking about, *Bill* -” Tara shut the
refrigerator door with force, “- is you taking a job out
in the middle of nowhere without even asking me how I
felt about it!”

Matthew looked up from his cup with a frowning. “Not
juice! Not juice! I wan’ ice tea!”

“Honey, the tea isn’t ready yet,” Tara replied to
Matthew. “Grandma’s almost finished.”

“I haven’t accepted the job, Tara.” Bill was saying,
his voice weak with exasperation. “I didn’t tell you
about it before because I knew you would react this
way.”

“*I wan’ tea -!*” Matthew yelled, dropping his cup to
the floor with a ferocious pout.

“Hey -!” Bill barked in warning, and Matthew jumped,
pushing out his bottom lip with a scowl. “That’s enough,
Matthew. Now pick it up.”

Matthew crossed his arms, not moving.

“Why shouldn’t I react this way?” Tara continued,
reaching down to pick up Matthew’s cup and setting it on
the counter. “We had an agreement, Bill. We agreed
that when your Navy career was over it would be my turn.
Mine and Matty’s.”

“Since when did I break our agreement, Tara?”

“Since you started making major decisions *without me*!”
Tara cried in exasperation. She looked to Scully for
support. “We had an agreement,” she explained. “Before
we even got married.”

Scully looked over at Bill, who stood with his head
bowed. She didn’t want to be brought into this private
conversation. Sighing, she looked back at Tara, and
then her mother, who stood with her back to everyone.
Maggie’s shoulders were tense.

Bill replied wearily, “I haven’t officially accepted the
job, Tara -”

At that moment Mulder, Charlie and Joy walked in from
the deck. Matthew was tugging on the hem of his
mother’s shirt, looking distressed, and Tara glowered
down at him. “Matty, stop it-! Not now, baby, okay -?”

“I don’ want you fight,” he said, giving his mother’s
thigh a swat. His tone was insistent and angry, but
tears trembled in the little boy’s eyes, ready to bounce
from his lashes at any second. Tara let out an
impatient groan and stooped to pick him up. She hiked
him onto her hip and stepped around the counter, looking
daggers at her husband.

“I *won’t* spend the next five years – or ten, or
*fifty* – stuck in the desert, Bill,” Tara told him,
quietly. “I won’t do it.”

“Tara…” Bill sighed, trailing off.

“You don’t have to move out to the desert,” Joy said
after a long silence in the kitchen. All heads turned
toward where she was taking a seat at the counter, and
she blinked back at them matter-of-factly. “Stay in San
Diego,” she said, addressing Tara. “Or, if you really
wanted to, you could move to Los Angeles, or
Bakersfield. I mean, I know that’s not a whole lot
better, but -”

“What are you talking about?” Bill interrupted, looking
at her as though she had suddenly begun speaking to them
in Chinese. Joy wiggled slightly on her stool, sitting
up straighter.

“Just because your job takes you up to China Lake
doesn’t automatically mean that Tara has to follow you
up there.”

Tara stared at her in open-mouthed incredulity. “He’s
my *husband*, Joy,” she said, with just slightly less
patience than she might have used with Matthew.

“I know that,” Joy said, taking a similarly hyper-
patient tone that was completely unmatched by the taut,
combative stance she assumed, her shoulders squared,
elbows splayed as her palms pressed against the edge of
the counter. She frowned at Tara. “Come on, Tara -!
Do you really think that being married to someone means
giving up the things you want? Your own goals and
dreams and basic *comforts*? Especially if we’re only
talking about the other person’s *job*…?”

Tara’s eyes widened while Joy’s narrowed shrewdly.

“I mean, these ideas went out with corsets and covered
wagons,” Joy said with confident disdain. When there
was no immediate rush of support from the others, she
glanced around at the group of them, her brow furrowed
with impatience. “At least, I would have *thought* so.”

“Have you ever been married, Joy?” Bill asked pointedly.
Joy looked up at him with a look of contempt.

“No,” she said, as if he had asked her if she’d ever
eaten human flesh.

Tara stepped forward and looked Joy square in the eye.
“Well, as someone who *has* been married to a man with a
Naval career for going on nine years, I think I just
might know a little bit more about it than *you*,” she
said, her voice husky with emotion. Maggie stepped
forward and put a soothing hand on Tara’s shoulder. She
gave Joy a stern look.

“And as someone who was happily married to a Navy man
for more than thirty years,” she said, her voice gentle,
but firm, “through several trying circumstances – I
think I can say that this would be best left for Tara
and Bill to work out on their own. Now -” Maggie paused
and held her arms out to take Matthew from Tara. “Let
me take my grandson up to my room and we’ll read a
story,” she said gently.

“I’ve got him,” Tara muttered, avoiding Maggie as she
passed toward the downstairs bedrooms. Maggie let her
arms drop, exasperated.

Scully took a deep breath and glanced indirectly at
Mulder, not meeting his eyes as she lifted Wim from his
carrier and walked across the room to the stairs, still
holding the bottle to the baby’s mouth. There was a
twist in her gut, a feeling of despair that matched the
feeling she’d had the day before, her mind turning over
Joy’s comments on their relationship, worrying about
what Mulder truly wanted. From the corner of her eye,
she saw Mulder cross the room to follow her. Charlie’s
voice broke the terse silence below as she climbed the
steps:

“What the hell *was* all that, Joy?”

Scully turned into the upstairs hallway with Mulder
right behind her.

“Scully -”

She walked into their room and took Wim to the changing
table without looking back, setting the nearly empty
bottle down on top of the highboy. Mulder stopped
somewhere behind her and let his breath out in a long,
weary exhalation. In front of her, Wim sat on the table
between her hands, blinking neutrally up at her,
stuffing his fist against his gums. The baby’s
expression was bemused, almost comical, and Scully felt
a surge of frustration and hopelessness in the back of
her throat as she looked into his eyes. Wim wasn’t
afraid; he didn’t worry about what was going to happen
next month or next week or even tomorrow. He didn’t know
that he couldn’t trust them to make it work –

She felt her breath hitch and swallowed hard on the lump
in her throat. “What are we doing, Mulder?”

“You’re asking me?”

There was a sharpness to his voice that she hadn’t
expected. She turned to look at him and their eyes met,
and it wasn’t friendly. She could feel something in her
chest hardening. Protecting.

The sound of raised voices reached them from downstairs
and Mulder moved to shut the door to their room. He
stood just in front of it, his hands on his hips. “We
can’t keep going on like this, Scully,” he said, his
voice low. “There’s got to be an end to this bullshit –

Scully narrowed her eyes at him and opened her mouth to
speak but was interrupted by the sound of heavy
footsteps in the hallway outside.

“Don’t fucking walk away from me, dammit -” Charlie’s
voice was right on the other side of their door, moving
past. “I want to talk about this -”

“No, Charlie – you want to *fight* about this, and I’m
not getting into it with you right now -”

“You didn’t mind getting into it downstairs, though, did
you?”

“Would you *move*, please?”

“No, we’re going to talk about this. This is as good a
place -”

“Get away from the fucking door, Charlie. I’m not
talking to you right now -”

“*Fuck* that -”

The door to Charlie and Joy’s bedroom shut with a
carpet-muffled bang, followed by a quick thud.

“Dammit, Joy – open the-”

The door opened and shut again with another bang.
Mulder and Scully stared at one another across their
room for several long beats. Finally, Mulder dropped
his chin to his chest and looked away, and Scully turned
back to Wim. She felt as though someone had reached in
and rearranged her insides as she began to undo the
snaps of his romper. Charlie’s raised voice came
through the vent at the top of the wall.

” – and go off like that? In front of my *family?*
Especially my *mother?*” he was saying, his voice
pitched high and plaintive. Joy’s reply was too low to
be heard through the vent, but Charlie was loud and
clear. “What the hell does *that* mean, Joy? I mean…
Jesus Christ -”

“Why are you acting like this is a big surprise?” Joy
cried then, her voice rising for the first time. “I’ve
never made it a secret how I feel about marriage and
having kids – I have always been absolutely clear about
these things -”

“Bullshit,” Charlie scoffed. “That is *such*
bullshit…”

Scully glanced over her shoulder at Mulder, and saw him
move toward the wall that adjoined their room to Charlie
and Joy’s bathroom. “Mulder-!” she hissed. He held up
his hand and shook his head slightly.

“No, what’s *bullshit* is you pretending for the last
six months that you understood where I come from,” Joy
was saying, and Scully could hear the emotion creeping
into the other woman’s voice even through the wall, even
though she didn’t want to hear. She returned her
attention to Wim and concentrated on changing his
diaper, trying not to listen.

“…When the truth is,” Joy told Charlie in the next
room, “you’re just like everyone else.”

“Well – like everyone but Fox Mulder, I guess, right?”
Charlie shot back. Scully held her breath.

Again, Joy’s response was too low to hear, but whatever
she said caused Charlie to laugh bitterly. “Give me a
fucking break!” he cried. “‘You know what I mean,
Mulder’. Fuck, Joy, you’ve been hot on his fucking
trail since the moment we got here -”

“Oh grow up, Charlie -”

Scully let her breath out slowly, and turned to look at
Mulder. He glanced up and stared back at her, his face
a mask of concern and bewilderment. She tried to say
his name, but her voice caught in her throat and no
sound came out. In the next room, Charlie was going on,
his voice rancid with anger.

“It’s bad enough you have to fucking flirt with every
fucking guy you come across… but he’s with my
*sister*, Joy – they have a baby, for fuck’s sake -”

“Why don’t you say ‘fuck’ a little more often,
Charlie…”

“- the guy’s practically my brother-in-law – but I guess
that doesn’t make any difference to you, does it -?”

“Just shut up, Charlie. Shut up now, before -”

“- because relationships like that mean *nothing* to
you, right? There’s no bond too sacred -”

“Shut *up* -!”

“- thirty-year marriage or the thrill of a one-night
fuck, it’s all the same to you, isn’t -”

Charlie’s invective came to an abrupt halt, and although
neither Mulder nor Scully actually heard the slap, it
didn’t take much to imagine what had silenced him.

The house was suddenly ominously quiet. There was no
sound from the room next door, and in their own room it
was so still that Scully could hear Mulder’s watch,
counting off the time with slow, excruciating ticks.
She turned back to the changing table where Wim lay
squirming, and putting her hands on his warm legs,
finished buttoning his romper.

The door to Charlie and Joy’s room opened and shut
again, and there was a heavy tread past their door and
down the stairs. A moment later, a sharp bang rattled
the entire house as someone slammed the front door,
hard. Wim let out a short, irritable cry.

“Shhh,” Scully said, picking the baby up from the table,
and feeling the warm prickle of tears welling behind her
eyes. She turned back toward the room, blinking and
jogging Wim gently against her shoulder as he whimpered
and grunted his dissatisfaction. Mulder had sunk into
the edge of the mattress with a deep sigh, and was
hunched forward with his elbows on his knees, his head
sunk low between his shoulders. She seemed to see him
as if through a glass wall, as though the air between
them had thickened, creating a barrier in the small
bedroom across which she was powerless to communicate.
The room felt unnatural and cold. She watched the
muscles in Mulder’s back as his hands came up to hold
his head; watched his long fingers raking through his
hair; wanted nothing so much as to leave this house and
all the tensions, clashes and *family* within it and get
back to their small, orderly universe in DC.

She wanted to go home.

He looked back then, over his shoulder, squinting at her
bleary-eyed, with a look of pain and frustration she had
only seen on his face a handful of times – terrible
times that she did not like to recall.

“Mulder -” she started, pausing as Wim let out another
squawk of irritation. She bounced him lightly, patting
his bottom and shushing him before looking back at
Mulder. “Let’s go home.”

His eyes flashed as he stared at her. His voice was
sharp and clipped when he responded, “And then what?
Pretend this didn’t happen? On with the status quo?”

She felt anger rise up in her chest, and forced herself
to take a breath and lower her voice before she replied,
“I think I’d prefer maintaining the status quo a little
longer to standing here fighting for the rest of the
house to hear.”

He let out an impatient breath, then stood and turned
toward her, his anger apparent in the way he clenched
his hands. He lowered his voice and asked, “What is it,
exactly, that you think we can avoid by not talking
about this?”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “I’m not *avoiding*
anything,” she said curtly. Mulder’s eyes went wide and
his hand flew to his brow in an incredulous gesture.

“We’ve been avoiding this for *weeks*, Scully -!” he
hissed. “Months, even – the atmosphere is choked with
it!” He shook his head at her. “I can’t live like this,
and I can’t believe you can either. We won’t work if
we’re not going to communicate.”

She stared at him, still bouncing the baby, her body
rocking slightly out of frustration more than out of
comfort to Wim. “I *know* we need to talk about things,
Mulder. But I can’t do it this way – in the middle of
this house with my family outside, hearing every word.
This is our *life*. It isn’t an X-File, and we’re not
the Petries, playing house.”

He sighed. “No, it’s not, and we’re not. But it isn’t
something we can just walk away from either, or avoid
until it blows over.”

Scully stared at him as her heart rose, thumping in her
chest. She wasn’t prepared for this conversation.
“Mulder -” she choked.

“Do you doubt my intentions?” he asked, his own voice
barely a whisper. He cleared his throat impatiently,
but his next words were thick with emotion. “Is that
it? Scully -?” He let out a breath, then asked, “Do
you think I?m not capable of maintaining a
relationship?”

“No -” she shook her head, assuring him, and drew a
shaky breath, the tears stinging her eyes anew. “No. I
know how you feel about us.” She paused, licking her
lips. “But I think it’s understandable that we might –
we might both feel…*differently* about the prospect
raising a child together than we did when we first
talked about it as a concept -”

“Different.” He shifted his weight impatiently, setting
his lips into a thin line. “Different how? Different in
that now we actually *have* a child to raise and
protect? Or different because of all those months you
spent alone dealing with the prospect of raising this
child as a single parent -?”

“Mulder, I can’t deny the fact that what happened to you
– what happened to both of us during that time -” She
stopped herself. “You can’t tell me that didn’t *change*
us. We can’t ever be the way we were before you were
abducted, before I became pregnant.”

She watched as he breathed for a moment, as her words
sunk in. “I know that,” he said quietly. “And I can
only imagine how hard it was for you, dealing with all
of this on your own. I can’t change what’s happened.
But I’m here now, Scully. I’m back.”

“That doesn’t make things the same as before.”

He stared at her, shifting from foot to foot. “The
same? Well, some things have stayed the same -”

“Like what?”

He blew out an impatient breath. “I don’t recall that we
ever talked much about how we’d handle it,” he said, his
voice taking on a sour note of sarcasm, “before *or*
after you got pregnant.”

She blinked at him, his tone and intent sinking in. Her
voice was deceptively even when she replied, “What’s
that supposed to mean?”

He crossed his arms in front of his chest and pressed
his lips into a thin line, his glare pointed and direct.
“Whatever my role is supposed to be in this whole
scenario, it’s always been a little vague.”

“Damnit, Mulder!” she hissed, moving Wim from one
shoulder to the other as he squirmed against her. She
lowered her voice. “You were the one who needed time to
wrap your head around all of the changes that occurred
while you were gone!”

Holding her stare, he opened his mouth, then closed it,
hesitating. “So what, now I’m supposed to just sit back
and be the shadowy Dad who’s only around whenever Mommy
wants me over?”

Scully felt his question like a scalpel cutting straight
into her heart. Very deep and very cleanly executed.
She held Wim against her chest as if he could stop the
bleeding. “You know that’s not what I want -”

“Do I?” he asked, biting the corner of his lip. His
voice was hard, mocking, belying his hurt. “Tell me what
you want, Scully. Do you want to move in together? Get
married? File a joint tax return?”

She felt her chest tightening, and she breathed in and
out, blinking back the tears and trying to gather her
bearings. She sniffed, and replied shakily, “I don’t
know *what* I want.”

“Well, that’s great,” he said, nodding sarcastically.
“That makes two of us.”

They stared at each other a moment longer, then she
dropped her eyes, turning her back on him. There was a
long silence, and then she felt him brush past as he
opened the door, stepping out into the hall and closing
it behind him with sharp click of the latch. She laid
Wim down on the changing table, leaning down on her
palms for support as the tears spilled over her
eyelashes, rolling unchecked down her cheeks. She
sniffed again, and wiped them roughly away with her
hands, looking down at Wim as he stared back at her,
kicking his legs, cooing at her with bemusement.

She felt her face crumble, and covering her mouth with
her hand, she turned back to face the empty room and
sobbed – deep, gasping sobs that originated in the
center of her stomach, wracking her entire body.

~

Maggie took a large, square silver key from the ring
Jane had given her and unlocked the storage closet under
the house. The air inside the dark little room was
chilled and stagnant, and smelled of new lumber and cold
concrete. Bill flipped the switch outside the door and
stepped inside as a row of fluorescent lights flickered
on.

“Well,” Maggie sighed, walking in behind her son. She
put her hands on her hips and surveyed the neatly
organized contents of the room. Stacked against one
wall were a number of sheets of plywood, cut to various
sizes: long skinny ones to fit over the French doors,
shorter ones for the windows. There was a utility shelf
in the back corner, stocked sparsely with the lanterns
Jane had mentioned, a few empty plastic milk-jugs, and
two large plastic storage containers. Maggie licked her
lips and let out a long breath. “Jane said we should
find most of what we might need down here,” she said.

Bill walked back to the shelving unit, stepping around a
large wet-dry vacuum in the center of the room, and
pried the lid off one of the containers. He picked up a
cordless drill and put it down again. “Did Charles get
everything on the list at the store this morning?” he
asked.

“I’m sure he did.”

“Well, you should probably check that he didn’t trade
the extra batteries for a bag of m&m’s or something,”
Bill muttered, stepping sideways to check out the
plywood.

“Billy -” Maggie warned sternly, and Bill pressed his
lips together.

“Where is he, anyway?”

“I asked Tara to tell him to meet us down here,” she
said. She didn’t know, necessarily, where her younger
son had stormed off to when he’d left the house before,
but she imagined he had probably walked down to the
beach to cool off after the words he’d had with Joy.
Everyone had heard the heated exchange in the hallway
before the door to their room had slammed, and though
they had all looked the other way when Charlie had come
barreling down the stairs, it was obvious in Charlie’s
flushed face that the argument had continued behind
closed doors.

Maggie allowed herself an inward sigh. Her heart ached
in sympathy for Charlie – her baby – the way it always
ached when she knew her children were unhappy. But she
found herself unable to feel completely sorry about his
conflict with Joy. Maggie had had misgivings about
Joy’s tone and manner since they’d met, but the scene on
the porch this morning had tipped the scales completely
in her mind. Joy’s anti-marriage rhetoric was naive and
dangerous, Maggie thought, and through it, Maggie could
see faint glimmers of the real woman behind the
aggressive bravado and firm handshake. There was a lack
of character, of morals – this woman was not for her
Charlie. Not for her baby boy.

She sensed someone step up behind her and turned, half
expecting to see her younger son. Fox was standing in
the doorway, his face grim. He raised his eyebrows
slightly at them.

“Tara told me you were going to start covering the
windows,” he said, running one hand around the back of
his head absently. “What do we need to do?”

Bill looked up, pursing his lips for a moment in
contemplation. “Well,” he said, his voice taking on an
efficient, take-charge air. “We need to get the boards
out of here first, figure out where each of them goes.
I guess -” he bent to examine one of the boards more
closely. Seeing what he was looking for, he
straightened back up. ” -they’re numbered according to
the windows they go on.”

“I have a list right here,” Maggie said. She pulled the
list she had written while on the phone with Jane from
her pocket and showed it to Fox. “But I’m afraid you’ll
have to get out the ladder to reach some of those
windows, and I don’t know if I like the idea of you two
having to climb so high -”

“We’ll be fine, Mom,” Bill said. He motioned to Fox,
who stepped politely around her and stooped to help Bill
lift the first sheet of plywood. “But can you go up and
find Charles and tell him we’re waiting for him down
here?”

“I will,” Maggie said, moving backwards out of the room
while Fox and Bill carried the board out and let it drop
to the sand. Maggie hugged her arms around herself
despite the muggy heat as she made her way back toward
the steps. She had the sensation that they were all
waiting, their nerves stretching tighter by the minute
as the anticipation grew. She mounted the steps with
an anxious breath, wondering when the other shoe would
drop.

~

The air under the house was stifling and full of
stinging flies. Mulder pulled his shirt away from his
chest and fanned himself with it, waiting for Bill to
locate the battery cells that went with the cordless
drill. His ankles twitched in anticipation of the next
fly-bite. Regardless, he was glad to have something to
do – something that didn’t require a lot of thought or
talk. They had been working mostly in silence, for
which Mulder was grateful; he didn’t feel much up to
light conversation. Thankfully, Bill seemed to share
his mood, and the two of them had gone about pulling the
plywood out onto the sand, laying each beneath its
respective window, neither of them saying anything
except when it was necessary to guide or direct the
other’s actions. Every now and again, Bill would wonder
out loud where his brother was.

“He’s pulled this type of crap since he was a little
kid,” he mused irritably. He had brought one of the
plastic storage containers out and set it on the fish-
cleaning table to rummage through it for the missing
battery. He paused long enough to slap a fly away from
his thigh. “As soon as there was whiff of work to be
done around the house, Charles would disappear into the
woodwork. Ahh, here we go -”

Bill shoved the battery into the base of the drill like
he was loading a magazine clip into a pistol. He tested
it, producing a shrill, grinding whine that jarred
Mulder’s teeth. “Should we carry the wood for the doors
up to the decks,” Bill asked. “Or do you want to do the
windows first?”

They decided to get the windows taken care of first, and
pulled out the aluminum extension ladder that was hung
on the inside of the stilts. They were on the sand
below the windows to Matthew’s room, discussing how best
to go about getting the unwieldy plywood boards up to
the second-floor windows – which were a good thirty feet
above the sand – when Matthew appeared, climbing down
the back stairs one step at a time, holding on to the
railing with both hands.

“I help you, Daddy,” he announced as he crossed the sand
under the house to them. “Mommy says I help you.”

“Hey buddy – you need to get your sandals on if you’re
gonna be down here,” Bill said, looking with concern at
Matthew’s bare feet. The sand beneath the house was
treacherous with sharp pebbles of concrete and bent
nails and all kinds of small trash. Matthew eyed the
sand at his feet dubiously and wiggled his toes. Bill
gave him a stern look through the slats that separated
them. “I mean it, Matty – go put your beach shoes on.”

Matthew made no move to go back upstairs, watching
instead while Mulder and Bill set the ladder up against
the side of the house, and holding his ears against the
loud clanking as they extended it toward the upper
windows. The clanking was replaced by a loud thumping
that seemed to shake the entire house above them. They
all looked up through the slats, and saw Joy coming down
the steps from the front door with Charlie right behind
her. They were both carrying their luggage. Bill and
Mulder both walked around to the front of the house and
watched as Joy headed straight for their rental car.
Charlie paused when he saw them, and dropped his
suitcase at the base of the stairs. He approached them
with a lively step, shading his eyes and squinting so
that his expression was obscured.

“Hey – we’re going,” he said, sounding bizarrely light
and casual.

“What?” Bill asked. Down the driveway, Joy had dumped
her bags into the trunk and was climbing behind the
wheel. She turned the ignition over, and for a moment
Mulder wondered if she meant to leave without Charlie.

“Yeah,” Charlie said, ignoring their looks of confusion.
“We’re gonna try to beat the storm to Norfolk, catch a
7:30 flight back -”

“Jesus Christ -” Bill huffed, taking an impatient step
away from his brother and turning back quickly. His
eyes were wide with incredulous contempt. “You really
take the cake, Charles -”

“What?” Charlie asked indignantly, his mask of easy
nonchalance slipping for an instant. He glanced at
Mulder. “Hey, listen,” he said, regaining his cool
composure with a shrug, “it’s the best thing, really.”
He held his hand out to Mulder. “It was great to finally
meet you, man.”

Mulder took his hand. “Same here,” he said uneasily.
He squinted into Charlie’s eyes. “You know, the airport
could be closed by the time you get there – you sure
this is the best idea? ”

Charlie returned his look evenly. “Yeah,” he said. “I
do.”

Bill huffed again, shaking his head in disgust. Charlie
made a small motion toward his brother, looking at him
expectantly, but seemed to think better of trying to
force an affectionate goodbye. He shrugged again, and
ran his hand over his scalp. “Yeah, well – so long, I
guess. I’ll, uh – I told Mom I’d call when we got -”

“She’s waiting for you,” Bill interrupted, nodding
toward the idling car where Joy sat, staring away from
the house and the trio of men in front. Charlie let out
a breath, and walked back to retrieve his bag.

“Right,” he said, glancing back at them as he walked to
the car. “Bye, then. Bye-bye, Matty -! It really was
great to meet you, Mulder -”

Mulder nodded and raised an uncertain hand, which he
then used to scratch his head. He and Bill and Matthew
watched as Charlie slammed the trunk shut and climbed
into the car. Joy seemed barely to acknowledge
Charlie’s presence, her face set like stone. She looked
up once, meeting Mulder’s eyes briefly before she backed
the car out of the driveway. Mulder sighed. It was
plain that while they were leaving together, they hadn’t
made up since the fight upstairs, and Mulder thought he
could see the tension hanging between them in the car as
they drove away. He didn’t envy Charlie the three-hour
ride to Norfolk.

“Wheah Unca Chaws going?” Matthew asked.

Bill dragged his hands down his face and let them fall
on his hips. He turned to his son. “They’re going
home,” he said wearily. “Now didn’t I tell you to go
get your shoes on?”

“I don’ want my soos.”

A brief argument ensued between father and son as to the
suitability of bare-feet under the house, which was
finally brought to an end by Bill scooping Matthew
impatiently off of the sand and carrying him back to the
steps. Bill glanced back over his shoulder at Mulder.
“I’ll be down in a minute. I guess it’s just gonna be
you and me.”

~

They decided it would be easier, and safer, to carry the
plywood sheets inside rather than try to haul them one-
handed up the ladder outside. Mulder was taking a turn
on the ladder while Bill stood inside, doing his best to
feed the boards to Mulder through the windows without
knocking him off. It was an awkward dance, balancing
the boards and the drill and trying to hang onto the
ladder all at the same time, but this was the second to
last window, and between the two of them, they had
figured out what worked and what didn’t, and they moved
with a surprisingly fluid system.

“Okay, okay – I’ve got it,” Mulder grunted, shifting
carefully and leaning the edge of the plywood against
his thigh. His hands were raw and full of splinters
from handling the rough edges of the wood. He bit a
sliver from the heel of his palm and reached around the
side of the board that now stood between him and Bill.
“Give me the drill -”

“You got it?”

“Yeah, but hurry -”

Mulder felt the weight of the drill pressed into his
hand, and he brought it slowly around, wincing under the
pressure of the wood on his leg. They had been hard at
it for nearly three hours – difficult, physically
exhausting labor – but he found himself wishing there
were more windows to cover, more work to be done. The
concentration it took to juggle the heavy sheets without
falling had kept him from thinking too hard, and he knew
that that was exactly what he needed right now. If his
mind were allowed to wander, he would end up running in
circles, rehashing the argument with Scully – what she’d
said, what he’d said, what either of them had really
meant. He couldn’t think about it now. He would drive
himself crazy.

“You okay out there?” Bill’s voice came from the other
side of the board.

“Yeah, fine.” Mulder drilled the first corner down
tight.

“I’ll take the ladder for this last one if you want.”

Mulder positioned the screw at the second corner and
brought the drill up, fitting the Phillips-head bit into
the crosshairs on the head of the screw. A quick
*whrrrrr! *and it was tightly secured. “Nah,” he said,
raising his voice to be heard through the wood. “I’m
finally getting the hang of it out here.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah,” Mulder said, stepping down a rung to fasten down
the bottom corners. “I’m pretty good on this ladder
here – maybe I could get a job working skyscraper
construction…”

He heard Bill’s snort of laughter inside, and he felt a
smile tugging at the corners of his mouth, imagining
himself wearing a hard-hat, balanced on an I-beam forty
stories up. There was a more than just a grain of
seriousness in the thought, though; the idea, he
realized, held a certain fascination for him. Maybe
working a construction job was what he needed right now:
something manual, something that would require the use
of his back and his hands to get things done, and not
mire him in the boggy recesses and Byzantine alleyways
of his own brain. It felt good to use his hands – even
if they were ripped to shreds. It felt good to be able
to *see* the tangible results of an afternoon’s work.
He drilled the last screw tightly into place. It had
been a long time since he’d had that satisfaction.

“Maybe I’ll work with Habitat for Humanity or
something,” he said out loud. Bill’s face appeared in
the next window as he disengaged and removed the screen.
He smirked out at Mulder.

“Yeah – you and Jimmy Carter. I can just see it,” he
said.

Mulder laughed softly. “Yeah, well,” he said, testing
the soundness of the newly fastened board with a little
tug. He turned his gaze to survey the whole of the
outer wall. Five windows – six when you counted this
last one – just on this side. It felt good. He handed
the drill carefully through the open window to Bill.
“But it would be nice to feel useful again.”

He climbed down the ladder, his legs feeling light and
shaky once back on solid ground again. Maybe, he
thought to himself with an inward groan, he should put
his college degree to use and get himself a less
physically strenuous position.

~

The house called ‘Perfect Harmony’ was a place
transformed by the time Bill and Mulder had screwed the
last board in place. All the windows covered, every
view concealed, the bedrooms seemed to close in on
themselves, shrinking as their exposure to the world
outside was cut off. In contrast, the great room felt
even greater, the high-ceilinged space seeming to
expand, cavern-like, into the shadows. The waning
daylight was visible where it shone around the edges of
the plywood shutters, but otherwise, it was impossible
to say how late it had become without looking at a
clock. Bill and Mulder had left one of the French doors
onto the deck uncovered, and it gave the only indication
that the world outside existed at all.

Maggie walked around turning lamps on while Tara warmed
some beefaroni for Matthew in the microwave. No one
mentioned a more formal dinner; if there was anyone in
the house with an appetite, the unspoken agreement
seemed to be that they would fend for themselves in the
kitchen. Maggie and Tara shared the rest of the tuna-
salad leftover from their lighthouse picnic. Mulder
opened a bag of corn chips and a jar of salsa, which he
and Bill shared in hungry silence standing over the
center island in the kitchen before they each retreated
for showers. Scully sat in a chair in the living area,
a book open in her lap, her eyes closed – and ate
nothing.

The tension grew, rising around them even as darkness
crept out of the ocean and across the bit of sky visible
through the windows in the single uncovered door. The
wind had picked up outside, and they could hear it rush
around the corners of the house with a low, mournful
howl, heightening the sense of having been shut in.
Mulder came back downstairs after his shower feeling
slightly as though they had all been transplanted into
some other house, some other vacation. It was like
Bizarro-vacation, he thought to himself, smiling grimly
at his own humor. Designed to promote stress rather
than relieve it, it was the *anti-*vacation…

The heat of the shower had irritated each scrape and
opened up every sliver that had worked its way under the
skin of his hands that afternoon, and he was picking at
his fingers as he walked back into the living-area. He
should have known better. Scully’s eagle eyes caught
him fidgeting, and she immediately demanded to see his
hands.

His arm rested atop the kitchen island between them,
Scully holding his palm face up in her hand as her sharp
eyes searched for the painful splinters of wood that had
lodged in his skin while he’d secured the window boards.
The light was dim, and she had removed her dark glasses
for the task.

Mulder could see she’d been crying.

He felt just as bad, although he’d been able to channel
his frustration into physical labor. It had helped keep
his mind off their argument, but now, sitting with her,
he felt miserable. If appearances were any indication,
so did she. He watched her face carefully as she
expertly reached out with a pair of eyebrow tweezers,
pulling out a long, dark sliver from the heel of his
palm.

“Ow…” he complained with a hiss.

“Am I to assume there weren’t any work gloves down there
in that storage room?” Scully asked coolly, her eyes
still focused on his palm as she turned his hand
slightly to get a better view.

He didn’t respond. He wasn’t supposed to. Looking up,
he saw Bill enter the great room from the bedroom he
shared with Tara. He stopped in front of the couch,
blowing out a puff of air. Tara came out of the bedroom
just behind him, wearing a pensive expression. Maggie
looked up from her seat on the loveseat, where she was
snuggled with a napping Matthew while feeding Wim a
bottle.

“There was announcement on television,” Bill said.
“Felix has just been upgraded to hurricane.”

Mulder turned on his stool to face him, glancing over at
Scully briefly. She drew in a deep breath.

“You have a television?” Mulder asked, wondering how
that fact had escaped him all these days.

Maggie glanced from Bill and Tara to Mulder and Scully.
“Well,” she said, “I guess we should pack up. How much
time does everyone need?”

“Twenty minutes,” Scully said. “And however much time
it will take to finish securing the house.”

Bill looked at his sister, then Mulder. “I guess we
could -”

There was a rush of air through the room and a bang in
the foyer as the front door opened and closed, and Joy
and Charlie blew into the house. Joy charged straight
up the stairs without a glance in the direction of the
great room. Charlie followed at a more sedate pace,
sauntering into the living-area to face the bewildered
looks of those present.

“Ahoy-hoy,” he grinned at them. “Look who’s back.”

“Charles!” Maggie exclaimed with surprise. Charlie
dropped his suitcase on the floor and unslung the duffle
hanging across his shoulder. He gave his mother a wave.

“Hi Mom.”

“What happened?” Bill asked. The phone rang, causing
them all to jump.

Maggie stood up from the couch, carefully maneuvering
around Matthew while taking the bottle from Wim’s mouth
and bringing him up to her shoulder. “I’ll get it – I’m
sure that’s Jane,” she said as Wim let out a petulant
cry at having his dinner interrupted. Scully set the
tweezers down and turned to take the baby from her
mother.

Mulder looked up at Charlie, who was still standing
behind the couch, his grin having faded somewhat. “Did
you miss the flight?” Mulder asked.

Charlie shook his head, his grin fading somewhat.
“Actually -” he glanced at his watch, “the flight we
were trying to catch is probably taking of *riiight* -”
he paused for three seconds “- *now*. If the airport’s
still open, that is. The storm’s a real hurricane now,
by the way. They just announced it.”

“We just heard,” Scully said, patting and swaying Wim.
Mulder got up to retrieve the bottle from the coffee
table and handed it to her. “But what happened? Why’d
you come back?”

“We were just getting set to leave ourselves,” Tara
added.

Charlie raised his eyebrows at them, tucking in his chin
with an incredulous shake of his head. “We are going
*nowhere*, babies,” he told them. “Joy and I just spent
more than five hours in stand-still traffic. We didn’t
even get to the bridge.”

They all stared at him. In the kitchen, Maggie had a
finger to one ear while she listened to the phone with
the other. “Okay Jane – yes, that’s right. That’s
right – it’s all taken care of,” she was saying. “Thank
you Jane… yes, we will… you too. Bye.”

Maggie clicked the phone off and set it down on the
counter. She looked up at the dismayed faces of her
children. “What is it? What’s wrong?”

“Charlie says the traffic is backed up for hours,” Tara
said. “They didn’t even make it to the bridge.”

Maggie’s face fell as she glanced among them. “Oh my,”
she breathed. She looked at the phone on the counter.
“That was Jane – she’s asked us to leave as soon as we
can.”

“Well, where are we supposed to go?” Bill asked.

“Like I said, we are going *nowhere*,” Charlie told them
all with a grim smile. “We’re stuck.”

The whole room seemed to sigh, and as if on cue, the
wind slammed up hard against the back of the house.

Felix was coming.

~

They did their best to be ready, filling the bathtubs
and the milk-jugs from downstairs, locating all of the
flashlights and lanterns and candles and setting them
within easy reach on the kitchen counter. When there
was nothing left to do, they settled in to wait.

Bill and Tara took Matthew into their room, and Maggie
said her goodnights and headed upstairs. Joy had not
made an appearance since she’d come back into the house,
and Charlie had dragged his bags into Matthew’s bedroom,
where it looked like he would be spending the night on
the second twin bed. The great room was quiet. Mulder
watched as Scully gathered Wim up with all of his things
– so many things for such a small person, Mulder mused
as he watched Scully stooping to pick up the bottle, the
teething ring, the plastic keys. Scully glanced at him
as she pulled the diaper bag onto her shoulder, meeting
his eyes. She still looked tired and hurt.

“Do you need help with that?” he asked softly. She
stared at him for a long moment before glancing away
with a quick shake of her head.

“I’m fine,” she said, and followed her mother upstairs.

Mulder let out a long breath and wandered around the
great-room, stretching his arms, full of nervous energy.
If not for the hour and the approaching storm, he would
have run it off – just take off over the dunes and pound
the tension out through his feet. He didn’t even have
the option of losing himself in some mindless television
program, with the only set in Bill and Tara’s room.
Somehow he doubted they’d like it much if he were to
curl up on the bed with them next to Matthew.

He pulled the door to the screened porch open, and,
leaving it ajar, sank onto one of the Adirondack chairs.
The wind that whipped through the screens was pleasantly
warm compared to the canned chill of the house, where
the thermostat had been set too low. Mulder leaned his
head back against the chair and closed his eyes. His
hands throbbed. His back hurt. His heart ached.

It had been a long, long day.

He didn’t know how long he had been sitting like this,
or if he had perhaps drifted off for a few minutes, when
Charlie walked onto the porch. Mulder squinted up at
him with one eye.

“Hey,” Charlie said dully, pulling up a chair and
sitting down at the table.

“Hey,” Mulder replied. Neither said anything for quite
a while, just sitting in the dark, listening to the
night sounds. The wind was blowing strongly, the
beginning of Felix’s slow encroachment upon their
vacation. Soon, they would have to move back inside.
The television in Bill and Tara’s room was on, and they
could hear the faint sounds of a comedy program drifting
out through their bedroom window.

Charlie stood up, and without a word, walked back into
the house. Mulder was surprised when he returned just a
few minutes later carrying a bottle of Absolut, three-
quarters full, and two highball glasses.

“Just in case you feel like joining me,” Charlie said,
raising the bottle and tipping it at Mulder before
setting it on the table, along with the glasses. Mulder
reached out and grabbed the bottle, unscrewing the top
and pouring a healthy three fingers worth into each
glass.

They each picked up a glass and raised it to the other,
then threw back a healthy gulp. Charlie drank the
alcohol straight down and let his glass clatter on top
of the table, while Mulder held his in his hand, taking
one more gulp to finish the drink. He set his glass
down quietly, feeling the heat from the liquid spread
from the inside as it hit his stomach. His stomach was
not accommodating, and he fought the urge to vomit.
Reaching out again, he poured two more generous glasses
of Absolut and set the bottle back down.

“I figure I owe you an apology,” Charlie said, staring
down at his glass, swirling the liquid around the inside
of the rim.

Mulder shrugged and shook his head minutely. “Forget
it,” he said, staring at his glass. After a moment, he
tossed the drink down his throat, grimacing as he raised
his head. Charlie watched him with slight admiration,
then mimicked his actions.

They sat in silence a while, neither speaking nor
pouring another drink. The wind whistled through the
screens, rattling the frames and shaking the canvas
cushions on the Adirondack chairs. The surf pounded on
the sand; loud crashing waves roaring above the wind.
The house creaked and groaned, accepting the first signs
of Hurricane Felix beating upon its sides.

~

“Your father and I had some rough spots,” Maggie said in
a conversational tone, closing the inside shutters over
her bedroom window, even though plywood was secured to
the outside frame. Scully looked up at her from the
bed, curled on her side on the soft, care-worn sheets
that she remembered from her childhood. Maggie and Ahab
had slept on these sheets back when Scully was in high
school, and she could remember lying on the bed with
Melissa, tracing over the satin edging with her finger
as her sister chattered away.

The room was lit by Maggie’s small bedside lamp and it
reminded Scully of home, smelling of almond lotion,
fabric softener and mom. She inhaled, feeling the
momentary comfort of being her mother’s child. Not
Scully, not Agent Scully, just Dana.

Maggie crossed over to the bed, sitting on the edge and
facing her daughter. “There was a time, just after
Melissa was born,” she said, “We were faced with a
situation similar to what Bill and Tara are going
through now. Your father was offered a commission at
Miramar. I didn’t want to leave your grandma, Aunt
Olive and the rest of the family to move across the
country with a newborn child and no family to support
me.”

Scully watched her mother’s face. “Dad was offered a
commission at Miramar back then?”

Maggie nodded. “We nearly split up over the ordeal.
Your father and I considered the possibility that he
might go without us, coming back to visit only when he
had leave.” She stretched out on the bed, lying next to
her daughter. “When I married your father, I knew what
it meant to be a Navy wife. And I accepted that, for
better or for worse. But that didn’t mean I wasn’t
afraid.”

“But Dad didn’t go to Miramar until Charlie and I were
in grade school.”

“No, he didn’t. He made a very hard decision about his
career and turned down the commission out of love and
respect for me.” She sighed. “Fortunately, there were
other opportunities.”

“So you think Bill should turn down this job opportunity
because of Tara?”

Maggie drew in a deep breath. “I can’t deny that the
selfish part of me would like to see them move closer to
home. But taking the job doesn’t mean he won’t get
another opportunity to move home in a year or two.”
Scully’s brow creased in confusion, and Maggie smiled,
brushing her fingers down the side of her daughter’s
face, carefully avoiding the tender area around her eye.
“You can’t let fear dictate how you live your life,
Dana.”

Scully closed her eyes, then opened them and rolled over
on to her back, staring up at the ceiling. Downstairs,
she could hear Matthew whine, complaining about not
wanting to go to bed. Her voice was small when she
asked, “What is it you think I’m afraid of?”

Maggie didn’t respond right away. “Do you know that
Melissa used to come in and lay down with me, just like
this?” Scully turned her head and looked at her mother.
Maggie was smiling, soft and warm. “Even after she
moved away from home she would call at night and tell me
about her day, her friends, what she’d done, what she’d
learned, her worries…”

Scully let out a shaky breath. She knew how much her
mother missed Melissa, and how close they had been. She
knew how much her mother wanted that kind of open
relationship with her. But she couldn’t open up and
pour her heart out to her mother like Missy had, it
wasn’t in her.

More than ever, she missed her sister.

Maggie rolled onto her side, facing her, and smiled.
“Her worries were mostly about you.”

Scully frowned. “Me?”

“Missy spoke openly about her feelings, but you feel so
much more deeply than anyone, Dana. You always have.
You and Charlie are alike in that respect, only he acts
out his emotions. You take everything inside. Missy
knew that, and worried about you because of it. You
shared more of your thoughts and feelings with her than
anyone, and that was important to her.” Maggie reached
out and squeezed her daughter’s shoulder. “Because of
that, her passing has had a significant impact on your
life and how you live it now.”

With a sigh, Scully closed her eyes. “I’m oka-” she
paused, not finishing the word. What was the point? In
the middle of this house, this family, the problems she
and Mulder were facing were as evident as Bill’s job
situation and Charlie and Joy’s differing views on
commitment. She was only fooling herself to think it
was a private matter. Everyone knew.

Dana Scully was not okay.

~

Charlie raised a hand and scrubbed it over his head with
a grin.

“Feels weird,” he said. “Free.” He dropped his hand
and reached for the bottle, tipping it toward Mulder in
a silent query. Mulder nodded, and Charlie poured. “I
didn’t believe what I said about you to Joy, by the
way.” Mulder blinked at him, and Charlie looked up,
holding his gaze for a brief moment before looking back
down to pour into the other glass. “I know you must
have heard, at least part of it. We heard…” he left
the sentence unfinished. “Shit. Anyway, you guys will
work through this.”

Mulder picked up his glass and nodded absently. He
wished he knew as much. He knew he and Scully would work
*something* out. They had to, for Wim’s sake if nothing
else. The question was, would it be something they
could both live with? Would it be enough?

“- As for me and Joy,” Charlie shook his head. “The
forecast does not look good.”

Mulder tipped his head and blinked at him.

Charlie threw back his drink, his throat convulsing as
he swallowed. With a groan, he shook his head and wiped
his lips with the back of his hand. “She’s already said
as much.” He shook his head slightly. “You know, when
we get back home.”

Lips parted, Mulder stared at him. “How do you feel
about that?”

Charlie shrugged without meeting his eyes, reaching for
the bottle and playing with it before pouring himself
another glass. “I don’t have much of a say about it.”
He snorted. “Love is a two way street,” he quipped with
a smirk. “Her side has a roadblock.”

Mulder let out a soft snort and looked down at his glass
again. He was already feeling dull around the edges,
the effect of the alcohol doing its job to make him feel
less. Less ache, less pain. Less fear. He stared at
the glass a moment longer, then held his face tight and
drank the liquid down.

Charlie tipped the bottle at him. “Hair of the dog,” he
said, pouring Mulder another glass.

~

Scully leaned over the crib, tucked the blanket around
Wim and kissed his cheek. She cupped the top if his
head gently in her palm, lightly caressing his forehead
with the pad of her thumb, then straightened, moving
over to the bed. With a sigh, she sat, leaning forward
and staring down at her hands.

She felt helpless. Out of control. Afraid.

Glancing over her shoulder at Mulder’s empty side of the
bed, she wrapped her arms around her middle. Her
stomach was in knots, had been since they’d argued –
longer, if she were to be completely honest with
herself. She hadn’t been able to eat anything all day,
and except a few sips of water, she hadn’t felt like
drinking anything, either.

She hadn’t realized how much anger she had suppressed
since Mulder’s disappearance. Now she recognized it –
how it had been lingering overhead, hovering like a dark
cloud even after Mulder’s recovery. More than that, she
thought she had long since worked through the pain that
had been caused by the way he’d acted when she’d finally
brought him home from the hospital, his glib comments
about not knowing where he fit in, his tangible unease
with her pregnancy from the moment he’d found out she
was expecting. It had been enough to put a pin in the
joy she’d felt at having him back.

Hadn’t she shown him how much she wanted him to be a
part of her life – how much she wanted him to be a
father to their baby? Hadn’t she proved how much she
wanted and needed him over the last four months, living
together as a family, sharing the responsibilities of
parenthood, loving their son together… How could he
possibly question it now?

Was she really that closed off? Was he? She had
thought she’d been able to forgive all of that…

Clearly her feelings were proving otherwise. She still
hurt a great deal.

Mulder had finally accepted and embraced his role as the
father of her baby, and had made a strong effort to
participate; Lamaze, reading up on pregnancy and
childbirth. Staying with them these past four months.
Perhaps, looking back on the six months since Mulder’s
recovery, she had assumed the responsibility of raising
Wim on her own, even with Mulder’s participation and his
spending every day and night with them.

Outside, the wind pelted the side of the house, and
above the whistling and the light percussion of sand on
wood, she could hear the thunder of the sea, rolling up
onto the beach. Everything was in a state of turmoil,
and she needed to bring order back into her life. She
wasn’t quite sure how she was going to achieve that
balance. Laying back on the bed, she curled onto her
side, glancing over at the bedroom door. Mulder was
downstairs, but she’d left the door cracked for him,
whenever he decided to come up.

~

Charlie pulled a bottle of Mount Gay down from the same
kitchen cabinet where he’d found the Absolut, breaking
the seal as Mulder, in the great room, shuffled the deck
of cards, dealing out five cards each across the coffee
table.

“Hey, no cheating, man,” Charlie said, flopping down on
the loveseat and pouring liberally into each glass
before setting the bottle of rum down on the table with
a loud thud.

“I do *not* cheat,” Mulder said sanctimoniously.
Leaning forward with his elbows resting on his knees, he
picked up his cards and studied his hand. He had two two
of hearts, two six of clubs, two king of clubs, two king
of spades and two five of diamonds. His eyes widened at
his good fortune – four kings! – and as he blinked the
four kings blended back into two. He blinked again. A
pair. A pair of kings. He reached out and picked up
his glass, taking a drink, then sputtered, twisting his
face into a grimace and looking down into the glass.
“Jesus -”

“Good shit, eh?” Charlie grinned widely, wagging his
eyebrows, which in turn made his entire forehead move.
“Mount Gay…” he rolled the ‘r’ “…RrrrrUMMMM!” He
laughed, his eyes nearly closed, curving into mere slits
as his head bobbed slightly from side to side.

Mulder took another drink and sat the glass down, making
a face. On second thought, the rum tasted better than
the vodka. He looked at his hand again, discarded the
two, the six and the five, and dealt himself three more
cards. Then he raised his eyes to Charlie, who was
still grinning at him. “You still playing?”

“Yeah.” Charlie blinked and grabbed his cards, staring
intently at them, rearranging them half a dozen
different ways. “*Shit*,” he exclaimed softly,
rearranging the cards one last time. A card fell on the
floor – four of spades – and he leaned over to scoop it
up, allowing Mulder to see his hand. The best thing he
held was a pair of fours.

Mulder picked up the three cards he’d dealt himself.
Another two. Queen of diamonds. Seven of clubs. He
looked at Charlie again, waiting.

Charlie picked a wadded five out of his pile of bills
and coins and chucked it into the Yankees cap in the
middle of the table. “Lucky at cards, unlucky at love,”
he quipped. “Hit me.”

So far, Charlie had been quite lucky at cards, averaging
almost two winning hands to every one of Mulder’s.

“How many?”

“Um…” Charlie stared at his cards. There was a long
pause. “One.”

He dropped a card on the table and Mulder dealt him
another. Then Mulder put the deck down and picked out
five single bills from his own pile of winnings, tossing
them into the ante on top of Charlie’s five-spot. Then
he picked up his cards, fixing his gaze on Charlie
again.

Charlie was draining the liquor from his glass, swaying
backward. He caught himself before he toppled over,
turning the glass upside down before placing it on the
table. Turning his attention back to his cards, he
scratched his forehead, studying the hand. His eyes
flitted over to the bills in the cap, then back to his
cards.

“Jesus, Charlie,” Mulder laughed impatiently. “C’mon -”

“Call,” Charlie announced, dropping his cards onto the
table, face up. Two fours, two nines, one Jack. “I got
two pair. Show yer stuff, Oxf’rd.”

With the corner of his mouth pulled back, Mulder dropped
his cards onto the table as Charlie had done. “Two
kings.” With Charlie holding only a pair of fours,
Mulder had been certain he would win the hand. He’d
been watching, but he hadn’t seen Charlie’s expression
change when he picked up the additional card Mulder
dealt him. Lucky bastard. Leaning back into the sofa,
he ran his hands through his hair. He couldn’t feel his
toes.

Charlie grabbed the money out of the bowl, cackling. “I
hate taking money from an unemployed man,” he said
without sympathy.

“Yeah, yeah.” Mulder dropped his head back and blinked
up at the ceiling. The ceiling fan was turning at a
nauseatingly moderate pace. And he still couldn’t feel
his toes. The room began to turn around the ceiling fan
and he drew in a deep breath, lifting his head. “What
time is it?”

Charlie swayed slightly to the right and looked down at
his bare wrist, blinking his eyes. After a moment, he
looked up. “No’dea.”

Turning his head, Mulder glanced over at the staircase.
It was so far from where he sat on the sofa. Miles.
Miles away. He wondered if Scully was still awake.
Maybe she had gone to sleep, but then again, maybe she
hadn’t. Maybe she was awake, waiting for him to come to
bed. Maybe she wanted to cuddle. Then again, maybe she
didn’t. Forget any real action, his toes weren’t all he
couldn’t feel. The room started to move again and he
closed his eyes, swallowing. Then he abruptly sat up,
feeling his head spin faster, his stomach churning.
Slowly, he rolled over onto his side, curling his legs
up onto the sofa. That was better. Bed sounded good.
But this sofa felt good. Maybe, he thought, he’d just
lay here for a while.

Just until the room stopped spinning.

~
Thursday
~

He woke up. The room was oddly dark.

And damp.

And smelled simultaneously of sun-block, spaghetti,
mildew, and rum.

The pillow under his cheek was rough-textured, small,
and wet where he had drooled in his sleep. But somehow,
paradoxically, his mouth was prickly and dry. He sat
up, moving with belated caution when his brain seemed to
slosh inside his head, and for several seconds had no
idea where he was.

He felt like shit.

Blinking stickily, he slowly realized that he was
downstairs in the great room; he had passed out on the
couch. A bizarre cluster of shapes to his right slowly
resolved themselves into Charlie’s supine form, sprawled
on his back across the loveseat, his legs dangling over
one armrest, his elbow crooked over his face. He was
snoring. Mulder’s eyes continued to pick shapes out of
the weird dimness – caused, he understood now, by the
boarded up windows – and he saw the evidence that led to
the cause of his malady. Glasses on the skewed coffee
table, the abandoned deck of cards, the bottle of Mount
Gay that had been new when they opened it, now nearly
empty. He took a deep breath and instantly regretted
it. Then he held his breath, and regretted everything
that had happened in the last twenty-four hours.

There was a low rumble and a shudder as a gust of wind
slammed into the corner of the house. Mulder heaved
himself carefully off the couch and padded across the
room to one of the French doors that led onto the deck –
the only door they hadn’t covered the day before.
Outside, the world was various shades of cold,
dimensionless gray, shrouded in a veil of thin rain. A
quick glance at his watch told him it was not quite six
o’clock – at least an hour before the sun would rise –
but the day seemed already to have decided its mood, and
Mulder knew that even the dawn was unlikely to break
through the gloom.

Things had gotten so bad in so short a time. And now
bad was poised to become worse…

He pressed the heels of his hands into his eye sockets,
and turned his back on the door and the ominous weather.
He thought he should try to get upstairs. Scully would
wonder where he’d been. He let his hands fall, blinking
into the dimness of the room. On the couch, Charlie was
still wheezing evenly into the crook of his arm. Aside
from that, and the rattle of the wind around the house,
everything was quiet, waiting, suspended in a kind of
restless hush. Mulder breathed carefully. His whole
sense of equilibrium was upset. Maybe he would just lie
down for a little while before trying to make it
upstairs. He just needed a few more minutes sleep.
Maybe a big glass of water –

He made his way back to the couch and sank gratefully
into the cushions, thinking about cool water and how
good it felt to let his eyes seal shut again.

He would just lie here with his eyes closed. Just lie
and listen. He could hear Charlie snoring lightly, hear
the wind, hear the ticking of his own wristwatch as he
slid backwards into a jumbled, uneasy sleep.

~

*The room was dark and she couldn’t see beyond her bed
or hear what was going on in the room – there were
strange voices everywhere, whispering, filling her ears
so that she couldn’t hear. There was danger everywhere.

They were there for the baby – they wanted to take her
baby –

She tried to sit up, but there was a weight across her
chest. Someone was holding her ankles down – she
couldn’t move.

She tried to call out – Where are you? But her voice
caught in her throat and no sound came out –

Where was Mulder?

There were strange hands on her ankles – she couldn’t
see -! Agent Reyes’ face hovered nearby, like a specter,
like a ghost in the darkness – why doesn’t she turn on a
light -? Agent Reyes -?

The hands were pulling at her, squeezing – and she could
hear her baby crying. Wim was crying. The whispering
was getting louder in her ears, she could feel them
coming closer, boxing her in so she couldn’t move –
where was Mulder?

Mulder – !

She sat bolt upright in bed with his name on her lips,
her gasp still hanging in the air. Her whole body
shook, drenched in cold sweat, her ankles bound in the
twisted sheets at the foot of the mattress.

Mulder was not there.

She took several shallow breaths, waiting for her heart
to stop pounding in her ears. A gust of rain-soaked
wind lashed against the shuttered window, sounding like
a chorus of whispers.

Wim was crying in his crib.

She got up, trembling minutely all over and went
immediately to him, picking him up from the crib and
holding him fast to her chest, feeling the rush of tears
that welled in her throat and behind her eyes. The
relief of them was too much, and she sank onto the floor
and let them come, let them wash over her cheeks and wet
Wim’s downy head.

They sat like this for some time, mother and son, crying
together.

~

She crept down the stairs softly, feeling slightly
foreign in the darkened house, not knowing what time it
was, and unsure of where Mulder had spent the night.
Wim had stopped crying, but was still hungry, fussing
against her shoulder and pouting furiously, tangling his
damp fists in her hair. She bid him silently to keep
quiet, not wanting him to wake anyone else up. She was
feeling similarly irritable, and more than slightly off-
center thanks to the nightmare; she didn’t know if she
could deal with her family right now. She would just
warm a bottle and bring it back upstairs.

“Hey. Are you okay?”

Bill was standing in the kitchen, pouring himself a cup
of coffee. Scully halted on the threshold as he looked
up at her. She knew she looked like a wreck; she could
feel the flush on her own cheeks. Taking a deep breath,
she steeled herself and walked into the kitchen. Bill
glanced at her again over his shoulder as he took the
creamer out of the refrigerator. “Is everything okay,
Dana?” he asked again. “You look like hell.”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Thanks,” she said. “Can
you hand me the bottle in there -”

Bill grabbed the bottle from the top shelf and let the
refrigerator door swing closed. He leaned his hip
against the counter. “Rough night, huh?”

Scully frowned at him, unable to read his expression.
His face was serious, almost accusatory. Once again,
she felt like she wasn’t entirely filled in. “Yes,” she
said, somewhat reluctantly. The idea dawned on her that
whatever her brother was getting at, it probably had to
do with Mulder. She wasn’t sure she wanted to hear
Bill’s thoughts on that subject this early, but she
still didn’t know where Mulder was. So she asked.
“Why?”

Before Bill could answer, there was a muffled noise from
the direction of the living-area – a half-sigh, half-
snore. Bill’s face took on a look of bored
justification, and he nodded toward the couches. “See
for yourself,” he said.

Scully took the bottle from the counter and walked with
it and Wim into living-area, squinting into the dimness.
She caught sight of Charlie first, draped across the
loveseat, breathing loudly through his open mouth.
Scully smirked and looked down over the back of the
couch. There was Mulder, lying mostly on his stomach
with his face smashed down on the cushion. She sighed,
shifting Wim higher on her shoulder and bending slightly
to brush a few damp strands of hair from Mulder’s
temple. He barely stirred at her touch, and Scully
straightened up, catching sight of the clutter on the
coffee table.

“So that’s what happened,” she breathed, taking in the
mess of cards and dollar bills, the dirty glasses and
the bottle of rum. Shifting Wim’s bottle into her other
hand, she walked around the couch and picked the rum up,
glancing at the label as if for confirmation. Then she
looked back at Mulder, slumped unconscious, and her brow
creased with a concerned frown.

“There was this too,” Bill said from the kitchen. She
looked up to see him holding up an empty vodka bottle
that had been sitting in the sink.

“Oh my God,” Scully groaned, appalled, and glanced
between the senseless forms of Mulder and her younger
brother. What had they done to themselves? “Don’t they
know about alcohol poisoning?” she muttered.

Maggie appeared at the bottom of the steps, walking
toward the kitchen. “Good morning,” she called quietly.
Bill looked up and met Scully’s eyes with a decidedly
wicked glint. “Hey Mom,” he said.

Maggie stopped in her tracks when she saw Scully in the
living area. “What’s wrong?” she asked. Her eyes
flickered to the liquor bottle in her daughter’s hands.
“What is that?”

Scully sighed and started back toward the kitchen before
her mother could come any further into the gloom of the
living-area and witness the devastation splayed out on
the couches. She set the rum bottle on the counter and
gave Bill a fierce look of warning.

“Nothing,” she said. Maggie was not so easily put off.

“Dana? What is that?” she asked again, this time
meaning the sound of Charlie’s irregular snoring.
“What’s that sound?”

“Charles and Mulder had a little party down here last
night,” Bill said. Scully glared at him, and he hid
behind his coffee mug as he took a drink.

Maggie was peering into the darkness beyond the kitchen
area. “A party? What are you talking about?”

“*Nothing*,” Scully reiterated with a deeply felt sigh.
She gripped Wim’s bottle tightly. “They just both slept
down here last night, that’s all.”

But Maggie had caught sight of the rum on the counter,
and the empty Absolut bottle in the sink, and her eyes
went wide with understanding. “I see,” she said.
Scully closed her eyes momentarily, and breathed.

“I’m taking Wim back upstairs,” she said finally. Her
mother nodded, her mouth set in a grim line.

“Yes, I suppose that’s best,” Maggie said. Scully
glanced at Bill, who had taken down a second mug and was
lifting the coffee carafe from its burner. He met her
look with a single raised eyebrow, and in her mind,
Scully could hear Tara’s voice from the day at the
lighthouse –

*He can be such a bastard sometimes…*

She let out an exasperated breath and looked away,
bouncing Wim to get a better grip on him as she made her
way back through the hallway. Bill’s voice followed her
up the stairs as he addressed their mother back in the
kitchen.

“Coffee?”

~

When he woke up the second time, the room was still
oddly dark, but now the smell of brewing coffee
overwhelmed anything else that might have assaulted his
olfactory senses. Someone had made coffee. He rolled
onto his back and stared at the ceiling fan. It was
still moving too slowly, so he closed his eyes again
with a low moan.

Someone had been downstairs and made coffee. What time
was it?

It took him a moment to interpret the 10:13 on his watch
as he swung his legs around and got up, and even longer
to translate that into four hours. *Four hours* since
he’d woken up before. Four hours that Scully had
probably been awake, wondering why the hell he hadn’t
come to bed.

He scrubbed his hands over his face as he wandered
around the coffee table, following the alluring scent of
coffee and groaning inwardly as he noticed that someone
had cleared away their glasses and the bottle of rum,
and straightened the furniture. The deck of cards lay
neatly stacked on the dining table, next to a small pile
of wrinkled one-dollar bills. Mulder sighed, glancing
over his shoulder at Charlie, who didn’t seem to have
moved in the last four hours. The two of them must have
made quite a picture.

Charlie stirred, as if on cue, picking his head up with
a long sniffed-in gasp and staring blearily around the
room. He blinked back at Mulder in confusion, dragging
one hand down the side of his face.

“Hey, man – what’s going on?” he croaked.

“Nothing,” Mulder told him as he walked into the
kitchen. “But it’s late. It’s ten-fifteen.”

Charlie made a derisive noise. “That’s not late…”

“Go back to sleep then,” Mulder said, smiling despite
the increasing throb in his skull. Charlie had already
taken his advice and was lying down again, an arm curved
back over his face.

The lights over the kitchen island were on, and the
little cow-shaped creamer had been left on the counter.
Two small white drips of milk lay on the counter under
the cow’s chin. Mulder stared at them for a moment.
His eyes didn’t seem to work. He blinked and turned to
stare at the coffee maker. The carafe was half-full,
beads of condensation dripping into the dark, aromatic
liquid inside. He felt a wave of sickness that was part
hunger, part nausea. The nausea won out. He didn’t
think he’d be able to handle coffee just yet. Looking
away from the coffee maker and trying to ignore the rich
smell wafting up from the machine, he began opening
cabinet doors, searching for aspirin, or Advil, Tums –
anything –

“Jeez,” Charlie muttered from the loveseat, his voice
drowsy and muffled beneath his arm. “Is that rain?”

Mulder stopped to listen, and became aware of the sound
of the rain that was lashing against the roof and
boarded windows. “Yeah,” he said. The thin drizzle he
had witnessed earlier had grown stronger, evidently. An
involuntary shudder ran through him at the thought of
the approaching storm. There was no getting away from
it now; they were stuck. He opened a tall thin
cupboard, finally coming upon a half-empty box of Alka-
Seltzer.

Bingo.

“Fuck,” Charlie said from under his arm. There was a
long pause during which Mulder filled a tall glass under
the tap, and then Charlie spoke again. “Fuck. My head.
I feel like shit. I wish I were dead…”

Another chill swept across Mulder’s skin as he let the
carbonated wafers plop into his glass. His own head
felt like it had been scooped out with a dull melon-
baller and refilled with lead bb’s, but if the choice
was hung-over or dead, he’d take hung-over any day.

“Be careful what you wish for,” he said, hearing the
strange rasp of his own voice. His mouth was so dry.
“Dead’s not all it’s cracked up to be.”

Charlie didn’t even have the strength to muster a
chuckle at this, which Mulder took as a sign of how
rotten he really felt. Well, that was no surprise,
Mulder thought, considering the circumstances. They’d
polished off a bottle of vodka and the better part of a
bottle of rum in a span of a few hours. Feeling like
shit came with the territory. Mulder waited until the
alka tablets had dissolved and drank the entire glass in
three long, wincing gulps. Letting out a shallow,
unsatisfying belch, he refilled the glass with water,
emptied a second packet into it, and walked it over to
the loveseat. He tapped the bottom of the glass against
Charlie’s upraised elbow.

“Here,” he said when Charlie looked up. “Drink this and
go back to sleep.”

“Thanks, doc,” Charlie said, accepting the fizzing glass
and squinting dubiously at it. He glanced up at Mulder,
who was heading for the stairs. “Will it make me sick?”

Mulder stopped with his foot on the bottom step. “I
doubt it.”

Charlie made a noise that was part whimper, part sigh.
“Oh, that’s too bad,” he said. “I guess I’ll drink it
anyway.”

~

The hallway upstairs was dark without the window at the
end, but the door to his and Scully’s room was ringed
with a golden halo of light. Mulder paused just
outside. Scully was up. In fact, she could have been
the person who had come downstairs to clean up and make
coffee while he and Charlie were sprawled out in their
drunken stupor. Part of him cringed at the thought of
her seeing him that way – although, of course she had
seen worse – but he supposed he would rather Scully
witness the result of his and Charlie’s debauched
evening than anyone else in her family. Especially
Bill.

He *really* hoped it hadn’t been Bill.

Taking a deep, woozy breath, he reached out and slowly
opened the door, squinting as the light attacked his
pupils.

Scully was at the window – looking at he didn’t know
what since the window was boarded over – and Wim’s
forehead and eyes could be seen just above her shoulder,
staring blankly as she bounced him gently.

“Scully?” he called to her in a low voice.

It was evident when she turned that she had hardly
slept. Her eyes were both ringed with dark circles –
nearly as dark as the bruise – her eyelids heavy and her
mouth drawn tight. She looked exhausted. Beyond that,
the furrow in her brow and the nervous way she was
rocking Wim told him the kind of state she was in.

“You had the dream again,” he whispered, swallowing to
remove the thickness in his tongue.

Her forehead creased, and her face crumpled, the corners
of her mouth turning down into a frown. She sniffed
back the tears threatening to fall and nodded.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I didn’t mean to stay downstairs
-”

“I know,” she replied with a huff, drawing a breath and
releasing it to calm herself. “I came down earlier.”

Downstairs, there was the *wumph* of an interior door
opening, and then the slap of Matthew’s sandals on the
hallway tiles. Bill’s voice, clipped and sour, came up
the stairs to them.

“Think you’re gonna get up off that couch any time soon,
Charles?”

Charlie groaned something unintelligible, and was
quickly drowned out by a squeal of laughter from
Matthew.

“Jesus Christ, Charles!” Bill’s voice boomed with
disgust.

“Jebus Cwice Chaws!” Matthew echoed. “Jebus Cwice
Chaws!”

“Matthew -” Bill chided.

“Daddy! Unca Chaws fahr -”

“Don’t say that, say: ‘He cut the cheese,'” Bill said.

Mulder couldn’t contain a smile. He looked up and met
Scully’s eyes. She looked away and covered her mouth
with the back of her hand, her eyes shining.

Downstairs, Matthew was singing, “Unca Chaws fah-ed,
Unca Chaws fah-ed -”

Mulder could hear Charlie chuckling, bringing a raw
chuckle to his own throat.

“Sorry, man,” Charlie rasped, “I guess it’s the rum or
something -”

Bill still sounded disgusted. “Well why don’t you take
it into the bathroom, for Chrissakes? We’re gonna be
cooped up in here all day and we can’t even open a
window -”

There was another loud shriek of laughter from Matthew,
followed by a giggle from Charlie. “Sorry -”

“Charles! Would you *please*!”

“Yeah, like you never…” Charlie retorted, his voice
fading behind the sound of a door closing.

Mulder laughed louder, and even Scully was unable to
hold back a snicker. She looked back up at him, and
some of the exhaustion seemed to have lifted from her
eyes. Mulder opened his mouth to say something, but was
immediately interrupted by a loud pounding from
downstairs. Someone was knocking urgently on the front
door of the house.

Scully’s look of amusement quickly tightened into one of
alarm.

“Did someone go out?” Mulder asked. Scully shook her
head.

Downstairs, Bill said urgently, “Matthew, go back to
your room.”

“Somebody heah, Daddy.”

Mulder and Scully exchanged a look and moved out into
the hallway, stopping at the top of the stairs. A man
was standing just inside the doorway, dressed in all-
weather gear, his heavy slicker creating a puddle on the
foyer tiles. Bill was showing him in, shutting the door
against the wind that blew his clothing around his body.
Matthew stood behind Bill, his hands wrapped around his
father’s thigh.

The stranger looked up from under his dripping hood as
Scully and Mulder came down the stairs, his attention
flitting between them and finally coming to rest on Wim,
whom Scully was holding against her shoulder. The man
stared at the baby for a moment before turning back to
Bill.

“I didn’t realize…” he glanced at Scully and Wim
again. His eyes narrowed somewhat, and Scully felt
something in her stomach twist, a strange twinge of
recognition. “I didn’t know you had small children with
you,” the man finished.

Scully stopped at the bottom of the stairs, still
studying the man. He was nondescript, in his middle
forties or fifties, with a thin frame and a bland face.
Had she seen this man before? She felt Mulder on the
bottom step behind her and moved forward to make room
for him, hugging Wim closer to her chest.

“This is Mr. Fessen from Hatteras Realty,” Bill told
them.

“Is there a problem?” she asked.

Mr. Fessen was staring openly at Wim, who was fussing
against Scully’s shoulder. He shook his head slightly
and brought his gaze up to meet Scully’s eyes. “We rent
the properties adjacent,” he said. “I was just next
door checking that everything was nailed down when I saw
your cars -”

“We’re not renting this property,” Scully told him.

Matthew tightened his grip on Bill’s leg. “Who him,
Daddy?” he asked. Bill reached down and rested his hand
on Matthew’s hair, shushing him quietly. Mr. Fessen
frowned.

“I’m also a volunteer for the Outer Banks Red Cross,” he
said, glancing among the adults with an expression of
serious concern. “When I saw your cars I came on over
here to see did ya’ll need help getting out of the
house. The storm’s been upgraded to hurricane – I don’t
know if you heard that -”

“We heard it on the radio last night,” Mulder said.
Scully felt his hand on her elbow.

“Well then, you know it’d be a lot safer for you *not*
to stay in the house.” Mr. Fessen fixed his eyes on Wim
again. “There’s liable to be a storm surge through
here, and if it were to breach the dunes, it’d be a
pretty tight spot for y’all.”

“We thought we’d be safer in the house than in our cars
on the highway,” Mulder explained. Scully moved
slightly, leaning toward him. Mr. Fessen was looking
closely at Mulder, still frowning and shaking his head.

“That’s as may be,” he said, the skepticism evident in
his tone. He lifted his head and glanced around the
foyer, as if checking for signs of structural strength
or weakness in the house. “And I see you got your storm
shutters up – that’s good. But I still don’t like the
idea of y’all stuck out here with two baby children.”

“Is the threat that severe?” Bill asked. He bent and
curled his hands under Matthew’s armpits, pulling him up
and settling the little boy on his hip. “I thought
these houses were constructed to withstand this kind of
-”

At that moment, the French door that led out to the
deck, the one they hadn’t boarded up the day before,
blew open, banging loudly against the wall as a gust of
wet wind swirled into the house. Mulder crossed the
room and quickly shut it.

“Oh sure, sure,” Fessen was saying, his eyes following
Mulder’s movements. “It’s the wind, does that, throwin’
open doors and such – you’ll want to get that boarded
up.” He turned his look back to Bill. “No, it’s not the
house you have to worry about, or the wind – it’s the
being trapped. The surge is the dangerous part of the
storm. Y’all could find yourself without a way out –
cars flooded, or buried in sand.”

Everyone went silent at this, and Scully saw the
apprehensive look that passed between Mulder and her
brother as Mulder walked back to the foyer. She felt a
pang of remorse that she hadn’t pushed harder to leave
yesterday morning when then might still have had a
chance. Mr. Fessen cleared his throat and moved back
toward the doorway.

“Well – I gotta see about the other properties,” he
said. “Y’all are welcome to follow me on back to our
office – we’re just a little down the road -”

“Is it any safer there?” Bill asked dubiously. Fessen
chuffed.

“Well, you wouldn’t be stuck, anyways. We have a radio
there to call out on…” He paused as his eyes drifted
over to Wim again, and Scully found herself hugging the
baby protectively against her chest, actually having to
fight the urge to leave the room. Mr. Fessen’s eyes
lifted and met hers. “I’d hate for anything to happen
to that baby,” he told her.

Scully blinked at him, feeling a cold tendril of fear
worming its way through her gut.

“We’ll have to discuss it with the rest of the family,”
Bill was saying. Mr. Fessen looked up at him and
nodded. He opened the door to a rush of noise.

“All right then,” Fessen said, hunching out into the
wind and rain. He squinted back at them. “Be safe now
– and don’t take any chances!”

Bill shut the door after him with difficulty, the wind
trying to push its way in. Matthew reached up and
patted his father’s cheek. “It a stohm outside, Daddy.”

Bill hitched Matthew up on his hip. “Yup, it’s a storm
all right,” he said, and with a glance at his sister and
Mulder, he carried Matthew back into the living room.

Scully looked over at Mulder, who met her eyes with a
tight expression of concern. This was all beginning to
feel a little too familiar. Felix and his seventy-mile-
an-hour winds would be right on top of them in a matter
of hours, and once again, she and Mulder found
themselves trapped, waiting out a hurricane in less-
than-desirable circumstances. Only this time, it was
worse. Instead of a room full of strangers, they were
with family; and instead of Mulder injured out in the
storm while she delivered a child in a makeshift
delivery room, she had her own baby to worry about.

That made all the difference in the world.

~

Some hours later, or maybe it was only minutes – Scully
had lost all sense of time as she wandered around
downstairs, patrolling the rooms slowly as the rain and
wind battered the outside of the house. Tara and Maggie
had both of the children in Matthew’s room, where Maggie
was reading to them from a large hardcover book she had
pulled from one of the shelves in the great-room. Wim
was fast asleep on his grandmother’s lap, and Matthew
was snuggled quietly against Tara, who was sitting near
the top of the far bed, absently smoothing the fine
wisps of golden hair across her son’s forehead. Only
Matthew looked up when Scully paused in the doorway, his
eyes heavy and glazed as he sucked his thumb. His
fingers fanned out slowly in front of his small mouth,
waving at her like a delicate sea anemone, then curled
gently back over his nose as he listened, half-dreaming,
to the somnolent tones of his grandmother’s voice.

“‘…I cannot draw you a picture of Peter and Benjamin
underneath the basket, because it was quite dark, and
because the smell of onions was fearful; it made Peter
Rabbit and little Benjamin cry…'”

Scully took a deep breath and walked past Tara and
Bill’s dark bedroom and back into the living area.
There had been discussion of packing up and following
Mr. Fessen back to the Realty Offices, where at least
they would be among people who were used to these storms
and who knew what to do if an emergency arose, but
Scully had put her foot down, surprising everyone. The
storm was raging outside, had been slowly building in
strength, the house shaking as the wind broke against
it; she was not taking her child out into it. In the
end, they’d all been forced to agree that it was likely
as safe where they were as anywhere, and that being
trapping in a house was far preferable to being trapped
in a car somewhere between the house and Mr. Fessen’s
office.

She felt jittery, dazed, unable to shake the low,
prickling anxiety that had been welling in her for hours
now – since she had jolted herself from the nightmare,
only to find that Mulder had never come up to bed. The
anxiety had become increasingly worse after Mr. Fessen’s
visit. She wanted to attribute her unease to the
ominous weather, the dark stillness, and the sense of
confinement within the house, but she knew it reached
deeper. She and Mulder had hardly spoken three
sentences since this morning, separate while occupying
the same space, and now just the sight of him sitting at
the dining table was enough to send small waves of
loneliness down her spine and into the pit of her
stomach.

Why did it have to be so hard to love someone so much?

Mulder looked up from his book as she came into the
room, and their eyes met. She took a deep breath,
finding, as always, strength and renewed resolve in the
level confidence of his returned stare. They had been
through worse than this, hadn’t they? They had resolved
larger problems than whether or not they should share an
apartment or – for that matter – a name. They had spent
the last eight years fighting one calamity after another
– criminals, contagion, specters, threats of menace and
invasion on a universal scale… Why should the simplest
questions of their future suddenly halt them in their
tracks?

She didn’t have an answer to that. She was beginning to
lose all objectivity. The one thing she did know
without a doubt was that Mulder would always be a part
of her life.

She stopped behind the chair at the end of the table and
rested her hands on the back of it. Mulder studied her
with slightly narrowed, questing eyes, as if she were a
riddle he had been assigned to figure out. He looked
tired.

“Hey,” she said.

“Hey. Where’s Wim?” he asked quietly. Scully breathed
and glanced away, thumbing her hair behind her ear.
Bill was standing at the kitchen counter, reading the
newspaper. He raised his head and met his sister’s eyes
briefly. Scully looked back up at Mulder.

“Mom’s got him,” she said.

They watched each other in silence, and she wondered if
he was feeling any of what she’d been feeling since
their argument the day before. Wondering if he’d been
turning over every phrase the way she had. She believed
he hadn’t intended to sleep on the sofa, but at the same
time, she knew it hadn’t been boredom that had pulled
the liquor bottles out of the cabinets last night. The
look in Mulder’s eyes was beyond tired, beyond hung-
over.

“Why don’t you sit down or something, Dana,” Bill said,
not glancing up from the paper a second time. She
looked up, and Mulder turned his attention back to his
book, the connection broken.

Scully sighed and walked away from the table.

Charlie was on the couch, lounging in one corner with
his head thrown back and his feet propped against the
edge of the coffee table. He opened one eye to peer at
her as she came around the other end.

“Hey, sis – what’s the good word?” he asked, his voice
husky and low. She gave him a weak smile and he reached
out to grasp her knee as she sat down beside him. He
shut his eye and let his head loll along the back of the
couch. “Got any good jokes?”

Scully laughed softly and shook her head.

“No?” Charlie asked, peeking at her again. Scully put
her hand over his and patted it against her knee.

“I don’t think I could make you laugh today, Charlie.”

Charlie hummed. “Yeah,” he said. He let his head fall
to one side and his eyes met hers, dark and troubled
despite his attempted mirth. He swallowed thickly.
“Not much in the laughing mood, anyway,” he said. “It’d
hurt too much.”

Scully saw the tremor in his wan smile, and moved her
hand up to touch his cheek. He closed his eyes
gratefully, reaching up to take her hand, and leaning
into her side until his head rested on her shoulder.
Sliding down to get comfortable, he let out a long,
breathy sigh.

“I feel like shit, Daney,” he whispered.

Scully glanced at him and let him twine their hands
together against her leg. She leaned her cheek to his
forehead. He felt warm. “That’s what happens when you
drink enough to stun a small elephant,” she whispered
back. Charlie let out a low chuckle that ended in a
groan.

“That’s not it,” he said, his voice assuming a silly,
petulant whine. “I know how to drink. I’m a man’s
man.”

Scully smiled. “Oh yeah?”

“Yeah,” he sighed, sounding less than convinced. He
fell silent, and for a long moment they both stared down
at their loosely clasped hands. He gave her fingers a
gentle squeeze, picked their hands up and let them
bounce lightly back onto the cushion. “Not much of a
ladies’ man anymore, though.”

Scully took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Joy
had been upstairs since she and Charlie had returned the
night before, and Charlie – and all his things – had
been downstairs all day. He snuggled his forehead
against her shoulder, and she licked her lips. “You
mean you and Joy,” she said.

Charlie grunted in affirmation, sagging against her.
Scully flexed her fingers around her younger brother’s.
“So is it – I mean, is that *it* then?” she asked
quietly. “Just like that?”

“Just like that,” Charlie murmured. He sat up then,
fixing her with a penetrating look. “It’s amazing,” he
said, searching her eyes with his own. “Isn’t it? When
it’s over – *just like that* -”

He snapped his fingers weakly. She looked back at him,
unable to answer. His voice was small, and for a moment
his face held a confused, far-away look.

“You never think that it can happen so fast: one second
they’re there every day, and then – *wham* -”

Scully shifted uncomfortably. She had learned that
first hand after Mulder disappeared. But she found it
hard to believe – especially given what she had heard
through the vent yesterday – that Charlie hadn’t seen
this coming. Joy was certainly unpredictable, but
Scully didn’t think that this was coming out of the
blue. “Are you sure, Charlie? Maybe once you get back
home -”

“No,” he said, shaking his head and looking away. He
blinked quickly. “We went through it all in the car
yesterday. No. Once we get back home, she’s gone.
She’s outta there.”

Scully swallowed and brought their hands up to brush her
knuckles against his chin. He looked at her, his eyes
dark.

“I’m sorry,” she said quietly. He nodded minutely,
looking away.

“Yeah,” he whispered. His hand slipped out of hers as
he leaned forward with his elbows on his knees. He
covered his face with his hands, pressing his fingers
into his eyes for a moment, and then ran his palms over
his shorn head, clasping his hands behind his neck
before bringing them back around to cover his mouth.
His eyes flitted around the room, blinking. “I just -”
he said from behind his fingers. He stopped and let out
a huff. He glanced back at her, and put his hand on her
knee again. His grip was tight. His voice was a choked
whisper. “I really love her, Dane -”

Scully reached out to touch her brother’s back,
smoothing her hand along his cotton tee shirt as he fell
slowly toward her, curling onto his side and laying his
head against her thigh. She smoothed her hand over his
forehead and the stubbly fuzz of his newly shaved scalp,
moving her palm and her fingertips in slow circles over
his head. It was just like high school again,
comforting Charlie after a painful breakup. He’d always
fallen hard and fast, but always managed to pick himself
up and move on. “You’ll be fine,” she said softly.

“I *am* fine,” he said. “I just wish *she* could be
fine…”

Scully said nothing, just swirled her fingers over his
head, round and around.

“I know she’s got some screwed up ideas,” he was saying.
“I’ve always known she had issues with certain things –
she’s right about that…” He stopped for a time, and
Scully continued stroking. The velvety feel of his
stubble was addictive, almost numbing. “I guess I
thought that if we loved each other enough it wouldn’t
matter,” he said then. “I thought that would be
enough.”

Scully’s hand halted in its revolutions. She swallowed.
“But it isn’t,” she said. Charlie shook his head under
her hand, and she felt his fingers dig into the back of
her thigh as he turned his face against her leg.

“No, it’s not,” he said, his voice muffled by the
cushion and her shorts. “Not now.”

Scully scratched the top of his head lightly with her
fingers, and took a deep breath. “I’m sorry,” she said
again, her voice catching in her throat, barely a
whisper. “I’m so sorry…”

The lights flickered, and Scully raised her head as the
room was plunged abruptly into darkness. A wail of
protest came from Matthew in the bedroom.

“Well, there goes the power,” Bill said. He flicked on
a flashlight, using it to help him find the wick on the
Coleman lantern sitting next to him on the countertop.
Touching a lighter to the wick, he adjusting the level
of the flame. The lantern illuminated the room with a
soft glow that barely reached them on the sofa.

Mulder stood up from the table, pushing the chair in
with his hip. Maggie and Tara wandered in from the
bedroom, Wim was wriggling in Maggie’s arms and Matthew
sat on Tara’s hip, sucking his thumb.

“He just woke up,” Maggie said, turning Wim in her arms
as he let out short, irritable cries. “I think he needs
to be changed.”

Mulder walked over and carefully took the baby from her.
“I’ll do it,” he said, walking over to the kitchen
island and picking up a couple of candles, a lighter,
and one of the small flashlights from the counter before
moving across the great room. Scully followed them with
her eyes, her nervousness and unease growing stronger by
the minute.

~

Mulder climbed in the darkness, Wim held tightly against
his chest as he illuminated each step with the
concentric yellow glow of his pocket Mag-lite. Inside
the bedroom, he hitched Wim up higher on his shoulder,
held the flashlight in his teeth, and put two thick
candles on top of the high-boy, reaching into his pocket
for the lighter and lighting the wicks.

Taking the flashlight from his mouth and setting it on
the dresser, he laid Wim down on the changing table and
unsnapped his jumper as the baby’s eyes went directly to
the dancing flames on the candles.

“You like that?” Mulder asked, glancing at the candle
before pulling open the velcro on the diaper, watching
Wim’s face with amusement and fatherly adoration.

Wim waved his arms in the air, jabbering “dye dye dye
dye” as Mulder lifted his feet to slide the soiled
diaper off.

In the bedroom, the sound of the wind and rain pelting
the windows and the side of the house was nearly twice
what it was downstairs. Upstairs he was also aware of
the sway of the house as it leaned on its stilts like a
tree bends in the wind.

“Yeah, dye dye dye dye,” Mulder muttered, not liking the
feeling of the house moving beneath him as he slid the
clean diaper under Wim’s bottom. “It’s a good think
you’re too small to understand what’s going on.”

The sooner he got the diaper changed, the sooner he got
downstairs, he thought. Then he paused, one hand on
Wim’s chubby legs, the other holding lightly holding the
diaper down, the hair on the back of his neck prickling.
He was being watched.

He turned his head to the right, and caught the glint of
Joy’s black eyes blinking at him from the doorway. He
held her gaze a moment, then turned back to the
diapering.

“I heard you come up,” Joy said, lingering in the
hallway.

Mulder nodded slightly, fastening the velcro on the new
diaper and pulling the ends of the material together
between Wim’s legs, snapping it back in place.

“I was starting to wonder if you were going to spend the
entire day up here alone,” he commented, wrapping the
soiled diaper into a small package and discarding it in
the makeshift diaper pail.

Joy took a step into the room, crossing her arms and
leaning against the doorframe.

“I might.”

Mulder shrugged. “Your decision. But it’s pretty dark
up here with the lights out.”

“Dark isn’t so bad, considering.”

Mulder raised Wim to a sitting position, holding him
under the arms. Wim gurgled and stuffed his small hand
into his mouth, biting down on it.

“I imagine everyone would rather I stay up here anyway,”
Joy added.

Biting the corner of his lip, Mulder smoothed the soft
auburn fuzz on Wim’s head down with his palm. “I don’t
know if that’s an accurate assessment.”

“You know how it feels,” Joy said, narrowing her eyes as
she spoke. “Being the outsider. Being judged because
of your beliefs.”

He didn’t respond right away. She was correct in some
respects, of course, but not all. On some level, he
doubted anyone downstairs really felt that they belonged
one hundred percent of the time, with family or anywhere
else. Human beings just aren’t wired that way. Still,
the Scullys all had history and blood to tie them
together – even he had Wim connecting him to the Scully
family now. Joy had nothing, and he sensed that
yesterday’s events had made her very aware of that fact.
Her cool demeanor and nonchalant attitude might imply
something else, but he knew she was lonely. Otherwise,
he reasoned, she wouldn’t have approached him.

“I know what it’s like to be separated from others
because of the things I believe in, yes,” he said
finally, careful not to add to her loneliness. “But,
like I said, I don’t think anyone here is doing that.”

“You’re not, and you don’t,” she replied. She dropped
her arms, looking down at the floor. “But you understand
what it’s like to be misunderstood.”

He considered pointing out the difference between
standing up for your beliefs in the face of adversity
and rubbing those beliefs in the face of your
conservative hostess and her family in the middle of
their vacation, but he thought better of it, deciding
that she had probably known what she was doing when she
was doing it. Instead, he said carefully, “There’ve
been times when I thought nobody understood where I was
coming from.”

“Yeah.”

Joy said nothing for a moment; then her posture lost
some of its rigidity as she leaned against the doorjamb,
absently picking up a section of her hair and studying
the ends. “I mean – it’s not that dire. My beliefs
might not be welcome here, but there are people who
understand,” she said. “Most of it, anyway.” She
sighed, glancing up at him, then turned her attention
back to the ends of her hair. “Where I was raised, the
political beliefs, ethics, our sense of spirituality and
purpose – it was all shared by everyone. Finding someone
from outside the community who shares those ideals, who
doesn’t judge, is difficult.”

“So why leave the community?”

She sighed again, dropping her hair and tucking her
hands behind her back, staring up at the ceiling. “The
concept was better than the reality.”

Mulder picked Wim up and turned to face her. “Most
are.”

“I suppose,” she replied, bringing her eyes down from
the ceiling, and letting them rest on the baby in his
arms. She watched Wim for a long moment, then looked
back at Mulder, her gaze intent and even. “Is it
everything you expected?”

He blinked at her, not sure what she was asking.

“Family,” she clarified. “Being a part of one, having
your own. Is it what you thought it would be?”

Mulder studied her, wondering what she could possibly be
leading up to. He wasn’t certain, but he suspected that
she had hoped to find something with the Scullys this
week, and that for whatever reason, they had somehow
come up short of her expectations. Her expression was
open, however, and he had the feeling that she asked not
because she wanted to debunk the merits of family, but
merely because she really wanted to know. He looked
down at Wim, biting his lip as he gave the question some
thought.

“We were so focused on the *how*…” he said quietly,
his voice betraying the wonder he still felt at this
miracle that had happened to he and Scully. “I never put
a lot of expectation into what it would be like
afterward.” He paused. “When I found out, I had a lot
to deal with, and not a lot of time to do it in.” He
felt the familiar warmth and protective fervor spread
through his body as he looked down at the baby in his
arms. “But now that he’s here, I can’t imagine ever
living without him.”

Joy’s eyes were narrowed as she studied him, and Mulder
began to grow uncomfortable. “Good,” she said, finally.
“That’s how it’s supposed to be.” She stepped into the
bedroom, walked past him and grabbed the candles off of
the dresser. Then she stood behind him with a candle in
either hand, waiting.

He turned and looked at her, and she tossed her chin
forward, motioning him toward the door. He had not
expected that, nor had he expected her to follow him
down the stairs instead of turning and retreating back
into the other bedroom.

~

Everyone was visibly surprised to see that Joy had
followed Mulder downstairs after her hours of self-
appointed exile, but no one said anything about it one
way or the other. Her appearance was followed by a
long, tedious period of silence where nobody said much
except for Bill and Tara, who were trying to find ways
to divert and entertain their son, cranky and suffering
from acute cabin fever.

Slowly, everyone migrated toward the kitchen, thinking
that food could cure the boredom. They stood in a loose
group around the island counter, trying to decide what
should be done about dinner, their faces bizarrely up-
lit by the wavering flames of two Coleman lanterns and
the watery glow of an emergency road-side flashlight.
The house shuddered almost continually in the wind, and
the air in the room was sharp with the smell of
kerosene.

Scully watched as Mulder came approached the kitchen
with Wim, the baby’s eyes dazzled as he switched focus
from one light to another in the dim kitchen. She put
out a hand to touch Wim’s cheek as Mulder came to stand
next to her, and she met Mulder’s eyes briefly. They
both looked away at the same time.

Bill and Charlie were seated on the stools next to the
island, and with Maggie just behind them, her hands laid
gently on her both her sons’ shoulders. Glancing behind
her, Scully saw that Joy had remained on the periphery,
hovering just outside the group in the kitchen.

Tara was making a list of options.

“We could heat some spaghetti…? That doesn’t take -”

“There’s nothing to power the water pump, Tara,” Bill
reminded her.

“Oh shoot – I keep forgetting.”

“Well,” Maggie offered, “We can always make sandwiches –
we’ve got bread, and we’ve got peanut-butter and jelly –

“But what are we going to drink?” Bill asked.

“Listen. Guys -” Charlie chimed in, sounding irritable.
“It’s not like everything’s gonna instantaneously spoil
the second we open the fridge – I mean, what’s in there?
There can’t be much in there, right? Let’s just look -”

Bill let out an impatient huff as his brother hopped
down from his perch. “Charles, if we start opening the
door nothing in there is going to stay cold -”

There was a sucking *phhwah* and a rattle as Charlie
pulled the refrigerator door open from where he sat. A
fleeting cloud of vapor hung in the air in front of the
dark fridge. “See? Nothing’s -”

“Charles -”

“- wrong with it. We can get in here for a few things
and -”

Bill’s voice was commanding. “Charles, shut the
refrigerator door, *now*.”

Charlie stopped what he was saying and stared at his
brother. He let the door swing closed. “Yes, *sir*,”
he sneered. Bill looked balefully back at his brother,
but said nothing.

“We can drink water from one of the gallon-jugs,” Maggie
said, in answer to Bill’s earlier question. “That’s
what we filled them for.”

Matthew let out a petulant moan. “Momma, I hungwy.”

“I know, baby. We’re gonna make some sandwiches right
now.”

“I want Beefawonies,” Matthew said. He was clinging to
the front of Tara’s pants, his face turned up against
her stomach as he whined. “I want Beefawonies,
Momma…”

“We’re making peanut butter sandwiches,” Bill announced,
taking charge. He pulled a drawer out from under the
counter and removed a butter-knife. He looked up at
Tara. “Is there enough bread for everyone? How many of
us are there -”

“None for me, thanks,” Joy said quietly. She turned and
took a seat at the dining table. Bill glanced after her
with a sardonic look.

“None for her,” he said. “That’s *great*. Anyone else
not want to eat?”

Charlie scowled disgustedly at him and got off his
stool. “Mutiny on board,” he murmured, just loud enough
for Bill to hear, and brushed past on his way into the
room he now shared with Matthew. Bill let out an
exasperated sigh and set his fists down on the counter.
He looked up at the rest of them gathered in the
kitchen. Scully could feel Mulder tense beside her.

“Anyone *else* not eating?” Bill said again, his eyes
flashing at them. Tara had pulled a loaf of Sunbeam
bread from the top of the refrigerator and was counting
out slices onto the cutting board in front of her
husband. She looked up and met Scully’s eyes for an
instant.

“Billy, come on now,” Maggie said. Even her patience
sounded strained. “We’re all tired. There’s no use
getting testy -”

“I’m only trying to make sure we all get something to
eat,” Bill said. “Dana?” Scully pressed her lips into
a thin line and shook her head. Bill dropped his chin,
looking away. “You know what?” he said then, picking
his hands up in a gesture of surrender, his voice
falsely bright. “Why don’t we all just suit ourselves,
huh? I’ll make some sandwiches for Tara and Matthew and
myself -”

“Beefa-*wo*-nies!” Matthew shouted, stamping one foot
against the tiles. Bill rounded on his son, catching up
the little boy’s arm.

“Okay, mister – that’s it -” he said, bending to look
into Matthew’s alarmed face. “That is just *it* -”

Matthew opened his mouth and let out a hoarse, angry cry
as Bill marched him out of the kitchen area and toward
their bedrooms. As they passed the table, Joy looked up
from where she sat, and Bill caught her eye. He halted
momentarily, maintaining his grip on Matthew’s arm.

“I suppose you have a problem with this too, huh?” he
said.

Joy narrowed her eyes at him. “I do, as a matter of
fact,” she said. She glanced at Matthew, who was still
crying. “He doesn’t want to go.”

“Not only do you not know anything about raising a child
-” Bill told her, “You really ought to learn to mind
your own damn business.”

“You asked,” Joy replied without sparing him another
glance.

Bill continued toward the bedrooms with Matthew still
wailing “But I hungwy!” Tara followed with a weary look
of concern and impatience on her face.

Wim had started to cry when Matthew sounded off, and
Mulder walked him into the living area, jogging and
patting the baby’s bottom. In the back, Matthew’s
muffled protests could still be heard. Scully pulled
open the refrigerator, grabbing a bottle of formula and
closing the door quickly.

“It’s cold, but it’ll have to do,” she said, shaking the
bottle as she approached Mulder. She paused, her breath
hitching as Matthew’s voice rose another octave. She
held her hands out. “I’ll take him upstairs.”

“Why don’t we both go,” Mulder replied, refusing to
relinquish Wim. “We’re not going anywhere for a while,
the storm isn’t going anywhere for a while, we might as
well try to relax.”

“That’s a good idea,” Maggie sighed. “We could all try
to get some sleep.” She following them as they crossed
the great room toward the stairs, and only Joy remained,
not moving from her seat as the room cleared out.

~

They lay silent in the dark with Wim between them, both
on their sides, facing the baby. Scully was close
enough that Mulder could feel her breath on his face,
but it was so dark he could barely make out her shape
lying next to him, even after his eyes had grown
accustomed to the lack of light. Her hand rested on
Wim’s thigh, loosely holding his soft little leg as the
baby slept peacefully, sated with his bottle of formula.
Mulder ran the pads of his fingers up and down Wim’s
other leg, gently soothing the baby in his sleep.

Outside, Hurricane Felix raged on, slamming full force
into the house, shaking the entire structure with its
relentless gusting. Inside, however, the house was
quiet. Matthew’s tantrum had finally settled down as,
Mulder assumed, the little boy tired himself out and
fell asleep.

“I don’t have a lot of experience being around
children,” Mulder said in a low voice, as if he were
picking up in the middle of a conversation. He heard
Scully draw in a slow breath, listening. “I suppose I
knew, in theory, how your life revolves around them –
the past few months have proven that. Still -” he
paused, choosing his words carefully, “I wasn’t prepared
for the reality of sharing a house with a toddler.”

She let out her breath as if she were relieved with the
direction his comments had taken. “Well, we didn’t know
he would be here,” she replied, the volume of her voice
matching his. “Even if we were aware of the possibility
of Hurricane Felix, there was no way we could have
prepared for Hurricane Matthew.”

Mulder could hear the smile in her voice, and it made
him grin in the darkness. “He’s a cute kid. You know –
and don’t quote me on this – but I think Bill and Tara
are doing a pretty good job. He really does have run of
the house, though, doesn’t he?”

“They’re doing the best they can,” Scully sighed. She
shifted somewhat, bringing her arm up and propping her
head on her hand. “Matthew’s a typical three year-old,
Mulder. In his world, everything is about him. It’s a
constant struggle between what he wants and what he’s
allowed. He’s just trying to make sense of it all.”

Mulder took a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“Aren’t we all?” He saw her eyes glint through the
darkness. “I suppose it’s too much to hope that Wim
won’t be that way -?”

Scully gave a doubtful hum. “I suspect we’ve used up
all our miracles,” she said.

Mulder chuckled, brushing his fingers over Wim’s belly.
“I guess that’s one reason they start off small and
helpless. Gives parents a chance to work up to the
harder stuff.”

“You think toddlers are hard – wait’ll he turns
sixteen.”

Mulder groaned. “You hear that buddy?” he bent forward,
whispering to Wim. “You’re lucky you’re so cute.”

They fell silent again, their breathing and Wim’s soft
snoring the only sounds they could hear inside the house
for a long while. Mulder knew from the way she shifted
on the bed that Scully hadn’t fallen asleep. He slid
his hand over, making contact with her wrist, gently
caressing the sensitive skin with the side of his index
finger.

“Is it what you expected, Scully?” he asked. He had
been wondering how Scully would answer this question
since Joy had posed it to him earlier. What kind of
expectations had she placed on this child, on him as a
father, on herself as a mother? Had she, like him,
avoided the reality of the child, focusing all of her
energy instead on bringing the baby safely into the
world?

She seemed to understand what he was asking, and he
heard the long breath she drew as she prepared her
answer. “It is so much better than anything I might
have imagined,” she replied. “Of course I wondered what
it would be like to have a child of my own – I’d
wondered that for years – my whole life, to some degree.
What he would look like, how I would feel, being a
mother. But after I learned I was pregnant -” She
paused and took another breath. “There was so much
going on -” she went on, measuring each word carefully,
“I was so focused on finding you, and then I was so
afraid you wouldn’t be there when the baby came…”
Here she stopped, and it was some time before she spoke
again. She didn’t say anything – she didn’t have to –
about the months when she had been certain that her baby
would never know his father. She sighed. “I couldn’t
allow myself to think about what it would be like on a
day-to-day basis, how much it would change my life -”

“How much you would love him,” he added, voicing his own
thought. It hit him at the strangest moments,
sometimes: how someone so tiny, so new, could drop into
his life and win over his heart so quickly, so
completely. Parents were supposed to love their
children, that was a given, but the realization of that
love, for him – experiencing the depth of the emotion,
falling in love with his son – was staggering. He could
never have imagined that feeling until he had felt it
for himself.

Scully was silent for awhile, and they lay there in the
dark, Mulder stroking her wrist, both of them anchored
to the baby sleeping between them. Finally, she said,
in a very soft voice, “I’ve loved him for a long time,
Mulder. Since the day I found out I was pregnant, I’ve
loved him.”

He slid his hand up her bare arm, over her shoulder and
neck to her face, caressing her cheek with the backs of
his fingers. He could only imagine what it might have
felt like for her to learn that she was pregnant, after
believing for so long that she never would be. “I wish
I’d been there with you.”

He felt her hand on the back of his, gliding up his arm,
his shoulder, cupping his face. “You were,” she
replied. “You were there.”

He closed his eyes, feeling a powerful surge of emotion
wash over him. Without warning, she could bring him to
tears with a simple gesture. He let the emotion pass,
wishing he could have seen the expression on her face
when she learned she was going to have a baby.

He heard her soft sigh as she rested her head against
her forearm. They were both bone-tired, but with the
way the house shook, and the noise of the storm outside,
he knew they weren’t going to be able to sleep. So he
let his mind drift, hearing the rain and Wim’s soft
breaths, and feeling Scully’s light touch on his face
and he wondered what she might be thinking, lying in the
dark with him, her palm softly caressing his cheek. It
felt warm, and it grounded him.

He was aware of the fulfillment of a natural but long-
overdue promise, seeing Scully with her baby – *their*
baby. He had always known that she would make a good
mother – he had told her so once, a long time ago,
before they had found out that she would never conceive.
Then, even after Scully seemed to have accepted a future
without children of her own, it had remained one of his
greatest regrets; the cruelty of the loss had gnawed at
him. It wasn’t until later – not until the impossible
opened up and allowed them a glimmer of hope – that he
understood that what had fundamentally been Scully’s
loss had been his loss as well, that he had translated
her inability to have children into his own. Not until
she asked him to be the father of her child had he
realized that he did not want children from any mother
but her.

And now it was complete. The impossible had happened,
and the proof of their shared existence lay sleeping in
a cozy bundle right there, within reach of his hand.
Tangible proof.

He had missed so much of it. Perhaps he was coming on
too strong now, this week, pushing her for too much, too
fast, overcompensating for all the months he’d been
away, buried and left for dead. He knew he could be
overbearing and single-minded at times, distant and
scattered too thin at others. He knew Scully accepted
him for all of these things, accepted him for himself,
that she loved him despite his flaws. But that didn’t
mean it was easy. It took them seven years to admit
their feelings to each other, and another year to get to
this point – he should have known they wouldn’t be able
to work out their relationship in one week.

“Scully…” he called softly.

She was silent a moment before answering. “What?”

“If it takes months, or even if it takes years, we’ll
figure it out.” He found her hand with his, and
entwined their fingers. “We’ll figure it out.”

“I believe that, too,” she replied, squeezing his hand
in hers.

He heard her exhale a shaky sigh, and they grew silent.
Time passed as his mind drifted. How swiftly, he had no
way of knowing, and he couldn’t tell how long they lay
there in their dark bedroom, listening to the storm’s
fury. He had lost any sense of minutes or hours after
waking up confused on the sofa and then being shut
inside all day, most of it without the benefits of
electricity. He had stopped looking at his watch
sometime earlier, preferring ignorance to the bizarre
sense of disconnection it gave him to know that the
hours *were* in fact passing outside the house.

His stomach growled loudly as he lay on the bed, and he
heard Scully’s breathy snicker.

“Shall we go back down and see if the coast is clear?”
she murmured. Mulder heaved himself up with a chuckle.

“Sure.”

“It’s almost time for him to eat again anyway,” she
said, sitting up and scooping Wim gently against her
chest. “We can fix a sandwich or something -”

“Unless your brother’s posted guard outside the fridge,”
Mulder said. He got up and clicked his flashlight on and
off, testing it. She didn’t laugh, but Mulder could feel
her smiling as he led them out of the room and down the
dark stairway.

~

A peanut butter and jelly sandwich and the remnant
crumbs of several others sat in the middle of the
cutting board on the kitchen counter, along with a
couple of small wedges of watermelon and a rapidly
warming half-gallon of milk. Charlie and Joy were
positioned on either end of the couch, Charlie sitting
cross-legged in one corner, facing Joy, while Joy
reclined on the other side with her eyes closed and her
hand covering her forehead in a posture of weary
forbearance. Neither of them looked up as Mulder and
Scully came down. Mulder walked into the kitchen and
eyed the sandwich.

“I’m just saying it doesn’t have to be that way,”
Charlie was saying in an urgent whisper. Joy did not
open her eyes or move except to shake her head and sigh.

“Is this anyone’s?” Mulder asked. Charlie looked up and
waved an impatient hand.

“No, it’s all yours, man…”

Mulder raised his eyebrows at Scully and held the
sandwich out to her. She had brought Wim’s carrier up
onto the counter and was trying to settle him into it
without waking him up. She saw the offered sandwich out
of the corner of her eye and smiled.

“Just leave it there,” she said softly.

Mulder took a bite from one corner and watched as she
tucked the baby into his seat. The last eight years
might have been full of dead-ends and disappointments,
but he could not regret a moment of it if it had all led
up to this. As always, the realization of what he had
hit him like a sock in the gut.

He had a family.

Scully looked up from Wim slowly, sensing his eyes on
her, and she gave him a curious, slant-browed smile.
She looked so beautiful to him in the semi-darkness of
the boarded-up room, her right eye still shadowed by a
bruise, the lines of her face drawn with exhaustion and
worry. But she was smiling at him, and he loved her.

She opened her mouth to speak, but he held the edge of
the sandwich up to her lips, the best part, in the
middle with the most peanut butter. She grinned and
took a bite.

“I guess everyone got their appetites back.”

Maggie had come down the stairs and into the kitchen.
She stopped at the counter and put a weary hand on the
much-dwindled loaf of bread. “Does anyone know the
time? All the clocks are out and I can’t see my watch
in this dark -”

Mulder handed the rest of the sandwich to Scully and
illuminated the face of his watch. “Eleven thirty,” he
said around a mouthful of peanut butter. Maggie’s eyes
went wide.

“My goodness – I had no idea it was so late.”

“I imagine we’re all a little turned around, time-wise,”
Scully said, reaching for the milk. Maggie nodded and
moved to stand over Wim, smiling down at the sleeping
baby.

“What a sweet boy,” she cooed softly, touching his small
toes where they stuck out from under his blanket. “This
mean old storm doesn’t bother you, does it?” She
glanced up between Mulder and Scully. “Do you mind if I
sit with him awhile?” she asked.

Scully shook her head and Maggie hoisted Wim’s carrier
off the counter and brought it with her to the living
area, where she placed it on the coffee table and sat
down in the club chair across from the loveseat. Charlie
and Joy had been talking in low, serious tones on the
couch, and now Charlie rose abruptly, running his hands
impatiently over his head as he walked away.

“Nevermind,” he muttered, heading toward the back
bedrooms. Bill was coming out of the hallway at the same
time.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

Charlie stopped to give his brother a look of pure
contempt. “I’m going to bed,” he said. “Is that okay
with you?”

“Fine,” Bill said, returning Charlie’s look evenly.
“Just try not to wake Matthew up, all right? We had a
hell of a time putting him down, and we don’t need you
getting him all worked up again -”

“Like I’m gonna go in there and wake him up on purpose –
?” Charlie said, his voice rising as he stared back at
his brother. “What the hell, Bill -”

“Boys -” Maggie warned from her chair. Just then, a
flash of lightning lit the edges of all the shuttered
windows, illuminating the panes of the single unboarded
door brighter than day. Thunder followed with zero
delay – an enormous, sky-rending clap like a rifle shot,
crackling in the air just above the house. Everyone
stood motionless, momentarily stunned by the sound.
Mulder and Scully both looked immediately to Wim, who
somehow seemed not to have heard and was still sleeping
peacefully.

Then a long thin cry emanated from the hallway behind
Bill. Matthew was awake. Bill let out a heavy breath.
“Great,” he said. He glanced up at his brother.
“That’s great.”

Charlie shook his head incredulously. “So that’s *my*
fault? Are you kidding me? Jesus Christ, Bill -”

The two brothers stared at one another, and they could
all hear Tara down the hallway, soothing her little boy.

“Did I say that was your fault?” Bill growled. “I just
didn’t want him up again -”

“Too late.”

Tara appeared just behind her husband, carrying Matthew,
who was sobbing against her shoulder. She brought him
over to the couch and sat down in the seat Charlie had
just vacated. Everyone else in the room was silent.
Mulder took another bite of sandwich and watched the
brothers, feeling the tension coming off of them like a
vibration. Charlie was still standing in front of Bill,
and they were still staring fiercely at one another.
Charlie broke first, huffing disgustedly as he brushed
unnecessarily close to Bill on his way into the kitchen.

Scully turned her back on the living room as her younger
brother approached, and looked up at Mulder, her chest
rising on a sigh of frustration. “I hate it when
they’re like this,” she hissed under her breath. Mulder
glanced down and gave her a tight smile, bringing his
hand up to touch his knuckle lightly to the bruise under
her eye.

“Stay out of it this time,” he mouthed to her with a
wink. She rolled her eyes and slumped against the
counter with another sigh. Mulder looked up into the
dim room, searching for a neutral change of subject.
The wind was howling around the outside of the house,
rain lashing against the siding and the plywood. Mulder
swallowed and cleared his throat. “Has anyone been
listening to the radio?” he asked.

Bill picked his chin up from his chest and looked at
Mulder. “I was,” he said. He glanced at Charlie, who
was reaching into one of the cupboards for a glass.
“Until the batteries ran down.”

“I thought we put extra batteries on the shopping list
yesterday,” Scully said, turning back around. She
glanced between her brothers. “Didn’t we?”

“We did,” Bill said. He was now staring pointedly at
Charlie. Charlie looked up from the glass of milk he
was pouring.

“What?” he asked testily. “What now?”

“You never got the extra batteries?” Scully asked.
Charlie stared at her.

“I got the batteries!” he said indignantly. He turned
toward Bill and Maggie and the rest of the room. “I got
everything that was on that list. Here -”

He started to pull drawers out of the cabinets at
random. Finding a plastic shopping bag in one, he took
it out and shook its contents out onto the counter.
Three packs of batteries – one c-cell and two double-A’s
– and a large box of matches fell out. Charlie grabbed
one of the battery packs and held it up. “See? I got
your damn batteries -”

“My short-wave takes *triple*-A,” Bill snarled.

Charlie blinked, his entire bearing overcome with
incredulity. He let out several short breaths. “Son of
a bitch,” he muttered. He widened his eyes menacingly
at his brother. “How the *FUCK* was I supposed to know
that -?”

“Charles -”

“No – no, damnit! Mom – I’m sorry, but I am so *sick*
of him treating us all like we’re a bunch of little kids
-!”

Bill laughed derisively. “Maybe if you didn’t *act*
like such an infant -”

Charlie rounded on him. “Would you get off it, Bill?
We are not your kids!” he said, enunciating each word
with sarcastic precision. “And *you* are definitely
*not* Dad.”

Bill huffed with impatience. “I don’t know what you’re
talking about -”

“This ridiculous ‘man of the house’ crap you’ve been
pulling all week!” Charlie cried. “‘I think it’s time we
all went to bed,’ ‘I think you all should just settle
down,’ ‘I’m just trying to make sure everyone gets
something to eat, blah blah blah’ -” He stopped and
pointed a finger at his brother. “Well screw you, Bill.
You’re *not* Dad, and you never will be, so why don’t
you get the fuck off my back.”

He stomped out of the kitchen, still holding the pack of
batteries, which he slapped hard into Bill’s chest as he
passed. Bill caught the batteries with a cough, and for
a moment could only stare around at the rest of them in
surprise. Then he tossed the batteries onto the
loveseat and turned, following his brother back into the
downstairs bedrooms.

Everyone in the great room held their breath. Even
Matthew had fallen silent, and for several beats, the
only sound was the howling of the storm outside as it
lashed against the house. There was another low rumble
of thunder. Mulder looked down to see Scully’s head
bowed, her eyes closed and forehead puckered with a
frown of concentration, as if she were exercising a
telepathic link to her brothers. Bill’s and Charlie’s
voices came out to them, raised sharply in anger, but
muffled through the walls as they interrupted one
another.

“If you weren’t so caught up in your hippie girlfriend –

“- been on my fucking back since the minute I got here –
!”

“- and her *radical* world-views, maybe you’d have a
clue -”

Joy stood up from the couch and crossed the room while
everyone else watched. Maggie put a hand up toward her,
but Joy ignored it as she walked toward the hallway and
the bedrooms. Tara looked up in alarm.

“Joy, don’t -”

But Joy was already headed down the hallway, where the
angry voices had dropped off and there was a sudden
scuffle and crash. Joy’s voice broke through the
pandemonium.

“Stop it! Just stop it -!”

Mulder and Scully moved at the same time, with Tara just
ahead of them and Maggie immediately behind. They
arrived at the top of the hallway in time to see Charlie
and Bill stumble out of Matthew’s room, grappling with
one another, digging for punches where they could, their
faces and hands blurred in the flurry of violence. Joy
stood on the other side of the doorway, watching
helplessly with a look of alarm and contempt on her
face. Mulder stepped forward as Charlie backed Bill up
against the wall with his forearm pressed hard into his
brother’s neck. Bill struggled against him, choking as
his face flushed dark red, his fists pummeling Charlie’s
ribs. Charlie seemed not to feel it, growling viciously
as he leaned on his arm, pressing all his weight into
Bill’s throat. Mulder stepped past Tara and put his
hand on Charlie’s shoulder.

“I’ve had enough of you!” Charlie was shouting hoarsely,
oblivious to Mulder’s attempts to pull him off his
brother. “*I’ve had enough of you!*”

Bill was coughing and gurgling, his face gone purple.
Unless Mulder could pry them apart, Charlie would choke
him.

~

“Charles Seamus Scully that is *enough*!” Maggie
shouted, her hands on her hips and her voice trembling.
She had insinuated herself right into the middle of the
action, and she was beyond angry – she was furious, the
intense emotional tremors wracking her body. How had
her boys become so antagonistic? “I will not tolerate
this!” she cried. “I will not! I did not bring all of
you down here to brawl like a couple of hooligans!”

Bill shoved Charlie off of him just as Charlie let go,
the younger brother stumbling backward while the older
brother heaved for air with a rattling gasp.

“Why *did* you bring us here, then?” Charlie bit out,
defiantly, shaking his mother’s hand off his arm. “You
had to trick us all to get us here – what did you expect
would happen?”

“Hey!” Bill growled. “Watch your mouth -”

“Fuck you!” Charlie lunged at him again, only to find
his arms clipped behind his back by Fox.

Dana warned, “Charlie,” at the same time, but Charlie
shook Fox off, crossed his arms and glared at Bill, then
looked back at his mother.

“I’ve put up with this all of my *life*,” he growled.
The tension held in the air, nobody saying a word.
Charlie glanced among them, looking for support. “What,
you’re all just gonna pretend you’re okay with it now?”

There was a long pause, the air thick and unmoving,
oppressive and tight.

Maggie pushed her hair back in frustration, holding her
palm against her forehead, and looked at each one of her
children. Bill, Commander Scully, her eldest son,
facing life and career changes that would take him Lord
knows where. Dana, who had endured so much heartache in
the past year, now trying to find her balance in her
relationship, in motherhood and her career. And
Charles. Her eyes lingered the longest on Charles. He
was always so eager to love, to please and to be loved.
Always choosing the most difficult direction, the most
unlikely situation. Always challenging. Always the
quickest to anger.

Maggie sighed, a shaky, weary, mother’s sigh. “I have
watched this family slowly fall apart, year after year.
I have watched all of you push each other away, push me
away time after time, denying yourselves the love and
support available to you, turning your back on the
greatest gift God’s given you…”

Tara glanced up at Bill, who returned the look, and Dana
dropped her chin to her chest, letting out a slow
breath. Maggie looked directly at Charles, who remained
defensive, shifting his posture. She continued.

“You deny yourselves, and you deny me. Yes, you deny
*me*,” she said again when Dana looked up at her. “I
get pieces of you, whenever you have time, whenever you
can fit me in. I see my grandchildren when it’s
convenient for you. And I’ve accepted this. You all
have your own lives to lead. What you don’t realize is
that while you all have your lives, your priorities, I
have mine, too.” She paused, taking a shallow breath,
feeling the anger turn to hurt as the threat of tears
pricked behind her eyes. She dropped her voice. “You
don’t realize that *my* life is *you*. *You* all are
*my* children. *You* all are *my priority*.”

Maggie wiped the tears away from her eyes, looking up
and meeting Fox’s gaze as he watched her. His look was
compassionate, shifting from her to Dana, waiting for
Dana to acknowledge him. As if feeling his eyes on her,
Dana glanced up at him, wearing an expression mixed of
guilt and sorrow. They seemed to exchange some kind of
silent dialogue, but Maggie was not finished speaking
her mind.

“Yes, I brought you all here under false pretenses. I’m
not sorry,” she said, her voice choked as the tears
continued to pool in her eyes. She fixed her gaze on
Charles. “I may have had to resort to trickery to get
you all here, but I’m not sorry. Not for one minute.”

There was a long silence.

“Mom -” Dana started, but stopped with a hitch. Charlie
let out a huff, but his posture changed, the defensive
stance becoming less defensive.

There was a slam of a door and a moist blast of air blew
into the room, startling everyone. The French door had
blown open again, and Tara, who was closest to the door,
stepped out of the room, swiping at her cheeks with her
fingers as she hurried across the floor. The soft glow
of her flashlight preceded her movements, and Joy
followed behind her to lend a hand.

“I’m the one who’s sorry, Mom,” Bill said softly,
sweeping a hand down the back of his head and stepping
up behind her. Maggie turned to face him and Bill
pulled his mother into his arms, sighing as she wrapped
her arms around his strong back. The deafening noise of
the storm blowing in the great room hushed abruptly as
Tara and Joy closed and latched the French door with a
definite click.

“Me too,” Charlie added in a low voice, his anger
visibly reduced. “I’m sorry, Mom.”

Tara’s forehead was crinkled in confusion and alarm when
she returned.

“Is Matty in here?” she asked with urgency, looking
around.

“He was here a minute ago,” Charlie replied, and Dana’s
back went straight as she scanned the hallway and
bedroom, her eyes narrowed. “Wasn’t he?”

Behind Tara, Joy was shaking her head. “He went back
into the living room.”

Maggie felt a stab of panic and followed Joy, Tara, Fox
and Dana back into the great room. She heard Bill and
Charlie directly behind her, a sense of urgency filling
the space around them. Fox stopped by the coffee table,
then spun around to look at Dana, shining his flashlight
around the edges of the room.

“Wim’s not in his carrier,” he said, his voice even,
except for a slight waver at the end of the last word.
Maggie knew him well enough to see that he was anything
but calm.

“What -?” Dana crossed the room to stand next to him,
staring in horror at the empty carrier on the coffee
table.

“Matthew -?” Bill called out behind her, and Maggie,
turned, searching the room.

“Matthew!” Tara echoed him. Fox and Dana shared a long,
painful look, then Dana ran back to Bill and Tara’s
room, Fox tearing up the stairs two at a time.

“Matthew!” Dana called from the back while Fox called
for him from above. They could hear him move from room
to room, throwing open doors, moving furniture out of
the way as he called for the child. Tara and Bill were
in the kitchen, calling to Matthew, looking inside the
lower cabinets as a likely hiding place for a frightened
three year-old. Charlie paced the room, barely able to
contain all of the adrenaline and emotions that appeared
to possess his body.

Cold terror began to build in the center of Maggie’s
chest as she realized the implications. The empty
carrier, the open door. Her feeling was mirrored on
Dana’s face when Dana emerged from the back of the
house, wild-eyed, her chest rising and falling with
deep, panicked breaths. Dana looked up as Fox rushed
down the stairs.

“They’re not up there,” Fox said in short, clipped
tones. He was breathing heavily.

“Outside,” Dana replied, her voice nearly a whisper
above the whipping of the wind battering against the
house. She swayed and took a small step as if she might
fall to the ground, but somehow remained on her feet.
Fox reached out and squeezed her shoulder – a brief
touch, but it seemed to be all she needed to restore her
balance. Fox then crossed the room in three quick
strides, shining his flashlight through the panes of
glass on the French door, out into the tumultuous night.

“They can’t be outside,” Bill said from the kitchen.
“Did you look in all the closets? Under the beds?”

Fox stared back at him as if the answer to Bill’s
question was obvious, and Tara let out a sob, covering
her mouth with her hand.

“Oh my God!” she cried, leaning against Bill as he
wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

Charlie joined Mulder at the door to the deck, peering
out through the glass.

“There’s no way Matthew would go out there,” Bill
repeated, and Maggie could hear the hitching of Dana’s
breathing as she stared at her brother.

“How do you know he went out there on his own?” Dana
challenged him, her voice sharp.

“They have to be out there,” Fox said, “because they
aren’t in the house. There’s water all over the floor
here -” He looked over at Tara. “This is the door that
was open, right?”

Tara stared at him, wide-eyed, and nodded.

“Yes,” Joy answered.

“Then let’s go,” Mulder said, putting his hand on the
door handle.

Bill came to the door, looking past Mulder and Charlie
out into the darkness, but Tara hung back, her shoulders
shaking as she sobbed silently. Maggie felt helpless
and torn, knowing that they had no choice but to go out
into the storm to look for the babies. Knowing that
anything could happen. The wind was strong enough to
blow things over, and there could be a storm surge,
flooding the ground with a wave so sudden and powerful,
there would be no warning or getting out of its way.
She wanted to go with them and help, but she also knew
that she would be of little use out in the wind and
rain.

Joy stepped up to the door. Bill shot her a look of
warning. “You can’t go out there,” he said.

“Why not?” Joy demanded. A the same moment, Fox opened
the door, a blast of wet wind shoved him back a step,
soaking his clothing, his face and hair, blowing into
the room and spraying the others with a wet, stinging
slap. Those closest to the door turned their faces away
from the rain, squinting against the sudden wind. From
where she stood in the middle of the room, Maggie could
feel the wet air rush inside, painting the interior of
the house.

“*That’s* why,” Charlie yelled over the roar of the
wind, already soaked to the skin and stepping up into
the forceful wind to help Mulder with the door. “There’s
a little Hurricane going on, remember?”

“I don’t care!” Joy yelled back at him, barely audible
above the wind. “You’re going. He’s going, and so is
she -” She inclined her head toward Fox, and then Dana,
who had not moved from where she had been standing in
the middle of the room. Joy turned back toward Charlie
and Bill, glaring defiantly at them. “I might not be a
parent but I know those kids need to be found, and
standing here talking about whether or not I’m going is
wasting valuable time.”

“She’s right. We’re *all* going,” Fox said. There was
a bright flash of lightning, followed immediately by a
sharp crack of thunder, blinding their eyes and flooding
the entire room and landscape with a brief moment of
light.

With strength Maggie would not have guessed she
possessed, Joy pushed past both Charlie and Bill and
stepped into the storm’s blast, immediately disappearing
from Maggie’s vision as the black night and weather took
her from the safety of the house and into the unknown.
She reappeared a moment later, her hair and clothing
plastered to her body. In her hand she was holding up a
wet yellow bit of cloth, which Maggie immediately
recognized as one of Wim’s blankets.

~

Scully felt the scream catch in her throat as she
watched Mulder take the soaked blanket from Joy. He
looked up at her with an expression of horror and
determination, literally one foot inside and one out the
door as the storm tried to blow him over.

*A redwood among mere sprouts,* her mind supplied from
somewhere.

She couldn’t move.

Everything around her seemed to be happening in slow
motion, dreamlike, and all she could grasp was the
notion that her baby was in danger.

Wim.

And she couldn’t move.

She felt everyone’s eyes on her, watching her, waiting.
Mulder called out to her, his voice faraway and muffled
in her ears.

“Scully -”

“Mulder…” she murmured, looking into his eyes, the
feeling of helplessness and frustration that had been
plaguing her all of these months taking firm hold of
her, rooting her to the spot where she stood. She was
afraid. Confused. She couldn’t do what she needed to
do. There was a ringing in her ears and she swayed her
vision fading out blurring tunneling into bright white
spots –

“Scully,” Mulder called to her again, stretching out his
arm, offering her his hand. She couldn’t move, couldn’t
take his hand, and he stepped away from the door,
wrapping a firm hand around her upper arm. “Come on,
Scully!” he whispered in her ear, urgently. “I *need*
you on this -”

She blinked, her vision clearing. Drawing a deep
breath, her hearing seemed to grow more acute, picking
up more sounds, the dimness fading. Mulder gripped her
arm fiercely.

“*We* need you on this -!”

She let out a hitching breath, stepping forward and
reaching out until she could feel Mulder’s chest, solid
under her hands. Mulder’s hand on her arm was strong
and sure, mirroring the look of confidence in his eyes.
Confidence in her. She matched the pace of his
breathing while her fingers gripped his shirt, and she
felt her strength returning, the adrenaline beginning to
pump through her body, preparing for flight.

What had seemed to her like hours of impotence had been
mere seconds, and drawing herself to her full height,
she straightened her shoulders, letting go of Mulder’s
shirt and squinting into the oncoming wind.

“Let’s go,” she said with renewed authority.

Crossing the threshold with a purposeful stride, she left the others
at the door, feeling her body being consumed, shoved another way as
the wind changed directions, attacked by Felix’s wet sting.

~
Friday
~

She did not hear the bone-chilling shriek of the wind or the booming
roar of the surf. She was barely cognizant of the intermittent
flashes of lightning and the accompanying claps of thunder. Her
entire being was focused on one thought, one idea:

*She had to find Wim.*

Scully crossed the deck and headed straight for the back stairway,
heedless of the stinging sheets of rain and the wind that threatened
to knock her back with each step. Mulder had grabbed the roadside
flashlight on their way out the door, and was now just behind her,
holding the flashlight up over her head to light their way down the
stairs. The wet wooden steps were treacherous, and she slipped,
lurching forward feet-first –

Time seemed to be moving in fits and starts – speeding up and
slowing down without warning. She felt as though she had been
falling for some time before Mulder caught her under the arm and
steadied her. She glanced back at him for an instant, saw the
terror on his face and in his eyes, and started moving again.

*They had to find Wim.*

The rain was solid. She could feel her skin drenched beneath her
clothes, the water running off her scalp to stream down her neck and
from the tips of her hair. At the base of the house, pools had
begun to collect where the sand was packed hardest, and they had to
leap over a quickly deepening puddle at the bottom step. Mulder
still had a hold of her arm as they landed on the wet sand, and he
guided her through the wall of wind and water to the space beneath
the house.

She could hear someone shouting, a roughened voice straining to be
heard above the howl of the storm. “Check the cars! We’ve got to
check the cars and every corner under this house -!” Not until she
saw Mulder dash toward the cars parked in the spaces below the house
did she realize that the voice she was hearing was her own.

Bill had stumbled into the darkness that surrounded them holding one
of the lanterns, with Joy and Charlie just behind him. They all
halted a few steps in, everyone soaked through and staring wildly at
one another as the lantern swung grotesque shadows across the
striped surfaces of the murky space. Scully approached her older
brother and grabbed the light away from him. “Come on -!” she
shouted.

She began a methodical circuit of the area, checking each dark
corner and crook, testing the lock on the storage shed, shining the
lantern into the space beneath the fish-cleaning table, through the
lattice that hid the garbage cans, into the wet darkness of the
outdoor shower. She catalogued each empty space as a failure –

*they had to find Wim*

– and moved quickly to pour the lantern’s guttering yellow light
into the next shadow.

The others followed close behind her; she could feel them crowding
her back each time she paused, and she took a moment to curse the
fact that they had left the house without thinking to bring more
lights. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see the bouncing
glare and beam of Mulder’s flashlight as he circled the cars,
shining the light through the windows and cupping his face against
the glass. There was a flashlight in the trunk of Mulder’s car –
was the car open? Did either of them have keys -?

A new sound penetrated the deafening noise of the storm, and the
space around them was abruptly and brightly illuminated by a flash
from the headlights of a car in the driveway, the light as sudden
and brief as lightning, but quickly repeated, over and over –

*HONK – HONK – HONK – HONK – HONK -*

They all ran toward the driveway, where everything – the slats and
stilts, the nearly horizontal rain, their own drenched bodies – was
lit repeatedly by the flashing headlights of Charlie and Joy’s
rental car. Mulder was standing in the open back door of the car as
they ran up; he had tripped the alarm in his search. He squinted at
them through the driving wall of rain and slammed the door shut.

“Do you have your keys?” he shouted to them.

Scully turned and saw the look that passed between Joy and Charlie.
Both of them were wearing dazed expressions of fear and confusion.
Joy shook her head, her eyes wide.

Mulder had jogged up, his head bowed into the wind. “Never mind –
let it -”

“The kids have gotta be back up in the house somewhere!” Charlie
blurted. “They’re *nowhere* down here -”

Scully looked up and met her younger brother’s eyes. “We already
looked through the house -”

“Then let’s go back and look again -!” Charlie shouted. “There’s no
way they’re out here, Dana – *look* at this -”

“You and Joy go back up and help your mother go through the house
again,” Mulder said, raising his voice to be heard above the storm
and the car horn. “We’ll keep -”

“There’s no point in any of us going back up,” Joy interjected. She
stared at Charlie. “If they’re up there, your mom and Tara will
find them -”

“If they *are* out here somewhere, it’s gonna take all of us to find
them,” Bill finished for her. Scully glanced up at her brother,
seeing her own terror and determination reflected in his eyes. He
looked down at her, and when he spoke, she could hear the edge of
panic in his voice. “But let’s not just *stand* here -”

Scully took a deep breath to steady herself. “We need to split up,”
she said. She looked up at Mulder, who nodded. “But we need more
lights -”

“There are two more flashlights in our car,” Mulder said.

“I think I have one too,” Bill said. Scully looked up at both of
her brothers.

“You come with me,” she said, glancing between them and handing her
lantern to Charlie. She looked up at Mulder. “I’ll take Charlie
and Bill to check under the house next door – on the right,” she
said. “You get the other lights and check the house on the other
side -”

Mulder pressed his flashlight into her hand without a word. She
stared at it for a moment, watching her fingers flex around it. She
looked up again and met his eyes. He nodded at her.

She turned back toward the others. “All right – let’s go!” she
yelled, moving back toward the opening at the driveway. Everyone
sprang back into action, Scully and Charlie hunching at the edge of
the sheltered space, preparing to go out into the rain while Bill
retrieved the flashlight from his van. Mulder and Joy moved behind
them.

Scully and Charlie turned to continue under the house as soon as
Bill rejoined them, but Scully paused when she heard Mulder’s voice
pitched above the shriek of the wind, calling her name. She turned
to see him at the back of their car, squinting at her.

“*Scully*!” he cried again. “I’m packing -!”

She nodded her understanding, the rain driving her head down, her
eyes squeezed into slits. Mulder’s gun was in the trunk with their
extra flashlights. She raised her hand in acknowledgement and saw
him turn again, stepping out unprotected into the gray torrent of
the storm.

~

Inside, Maggie and Tara moved from room to room, tearing each one
apart with the hope that the missing children might appear in some
previously undiscovered hiding place. Tara had not stopped crying
since the others had left, and every few minutes she would call out
for her son with a tear-choked sob. Maggie followed her around the
house silently, her face set in a grim expression of determination.
Babies didn’t just *disappear*, she told herself. They had to be
somewhere, and if they were somewhere, that meant they would be
found.

The wind slammed against the outside and the house shuddered, as if
mocking her. Maggie knew that it was probably only her imagination,
but the storm actually seemed to have gotten worse since the rest of
the family had gone out into it. The rain seemed to be coming down
harder, the lightning more frequent, the howling wind driving the
storm closer with every passing second. She gritted her teeth and
concentrated on their search, pulling the covers from the beds,
shining her lantern into every closet and shower, pulling open every
drawer and cupboard no matter how ludicrously small. She could not
let her mind stray too far from the task at hand, she could not let
herself think of her family – her children, her grandchildren –
caught out there, at the mercy of this storm.

“We checked there already,” Tara sobbed hopelessly behind her. They
were in Dana and Fox’s bathroom, and Maggie was holding her lantern
into the cavernous shower, the yellow-tinted light reflecting dully
off the tiles and fixtures. The sound of the storm seemed less in
here, buffered. Maggie fought the urge to step inside, to curl
herself into one of the corners. They had to find the babies.
Turning, her line of vision happened to pass the small octagonal
window in the bathroom wall – left uncovered when none of the
plywood seemed fitted to its strange shape – at the same moment that
a purple-white branch of lightning struck the ocean, illuminating
the world outside for an impossibly long second. In that time she
was granted a stark glimpse of the swirling torrent outside, the
slanting rain that was coming down in nearly horizontal sheets.
Maggie shuddered.

Oh God – her children were out in this storm –

A tremendous crack of thunder shook the house, and Maggie felt
herself go still, waiting – *hoping* – for the answering cries of
frightened children…

There was no sound but the rush of the storm and the continued low
rumble of thunder. She found herself in the lantern-relieved
darkness again, facing her own up-lit reflection in the bathroom
mirror. She closed her eyes on the haggard apparition, her mind
flying unbidden to the Prayer to St. Anthony, her lips passing
soundlessly and automatically over the novena –

*St. Anthony, perfect imitator of Jesus, who received from God the
special power of restoring lost things, grant that I may find my
children, who have been lost…*

~

Scully led the way toward the house next to Perfect Harmony, the dim
light of Bill’s flashlight just behind her, casting a small spot of
light to her left. Her own flashlight had begun to sputter, and she
found herself slapping it hard with the flat of her hand every few
minutes to keep it bright.

*She had to find Wim -*

The thought raced like a litany through her head, over and over,
pumping through her blood, propelling her forward against the sheets
of rain and wind. It took longer than they would have liked to
trudge through the deluge to the next house, seeking relief
underneath the structure from the stinging downpour.

The neighboring house seemed to have the same features, and even the
same configuration as Perfect Harmony – the fish cleaning table, the
outdoor shower, the small storage shed. Scully ran to the shed
first, yanking on the door and feeling it tear open without
restraint, causing her to take a step backward, reeling back with
her own momentum. Raising her flashlight, she pointed it into the
closet. The light flickered, and she gave the flashlight a solid
slap, the light flaring more brightly for a moment.

The closet was mostly empty, with bare shelves on one wall and a
rusted-out gasoline can turned on its side on the floor.
Illuminating the corners first, she then ran the light up the walls
and around the floor. It was clear that nobody had been in this
desolate shed for quite some time.

Bill and Charlie were on opposite sides of the house, Bill checking
out the fish cleaning table and shower, while Charlie moved along
the perimeter, shining the light from his lantern out toward the
dunes. By the rain that was cutting through the glow of Charlie’s
light, Scully could see that the storm’s intensity seemed to be
lessening.

Bill straightened, striding quickly over to join her, shaking his
head.

“Nothing,” he said, his voice loud enough to be heard over the storm
without yelling. Scully looked up into his face, seeing the stress
in his eyes and in the way he held his mouth in a grimace. She knew
they had to keep moving, keep looking. Time was turning against
them.

“The storm seems to be letting up for the moment,” she said. “We
should head up the boardwalk and check the dunes.”

Bill let out a shaky breath and nodded. A few yards away, Charlie
raised his head sharply.

“Did you hear that -?!” he called.

“What?” Scully breathed.

Charlie held up an impatient hand. “Shhh – listen -!”

Scully and Bill stilled, straining to hear whatever Charlie’s ears
had picked out above all of the other noise. The wind had slowed
but still whistled through the lattice and stilts, filling their
ears with swirling white noise. She breathed in quick, shallow
breaths, shaking her head slightly, about to move the search along
when she heard it: Mulder’s voice, faint but urgent above the still
predominant wind.

“*Scul-lay -!*”

With her heart pounding in her throat, she stumbled back toward
Perfect Harmony, Bill and Charlie right on her heels.

“Mulder!” she called, her voice swallowed by the wind. “Mulder!”

~

As soon as Scully had gone out toward the other house followed by
her brothers, Mulder had jogged back out to their car and located
the black gun-case. Flipping it open quickly, he tucked the loaded
weapon into his jeans, wincing at the touch of the cold metal on his
bare stomach. He fished the flashlights out and slammed the trunk
of the car shut with his elbow, holding a flashlight in each hand,
like John Wayne bearing two six-shooters. The car alarm was still
going off, and Joy’s eyes flitted past the flashlights in Mulder’s
hands to the weapon under his waistband, given away by the wet cling
of his tee shirt.

Mulder met her critical gaze, but wisely, Joy kept her mouth shut.

“Come on -!” Mulder shouted, moving to check under the neighboring
house on the left.

“Wait,” Joy said, grabbing his arm. “What’s in there?”

She was pointing at the storage shed.

“Tools,” he replied impatiently. At the same moment, the car alarm
halted, allowing him to lower his voice a few decibels. “The door’s
locked -”

Joy’s reply sounded glib. “Well, do we have a key?”

He sighed, feeling the hammering of his own heart as impatience came
over him. “We locked the door when we finished boarding up the
windows,” he shouted angrily. “There’s no way they could’ve gotten
in there! Now c’mon – we’re wasting time -!”

Joy ignored him, grabbing the door’s handle with both hands.
Holding the release down with her thumbs, she gave it a solid tug.
The door resisted.

“You go!” she shouted over her shoulder, tugging again. “I’m gonna
open this -!”

Mulder stepped up behind her, putting an impatient hand on her
shoulder, and she turned to face him, returning his glare with her
own. Her ponytail hung in a heavy, wet matte over her chest, and
she flung it back behind her, tossing her head to loosen the strands
that clung to her neck.

Mulder narrowed his eyes. “The first rule of partnership is that
you always cover your partner’s back,” he said.

Joy gave a derisive huff and turned back around, wrapping both hands
around the handle to give the door another tug. Mulder let out a
growl of frustration and impatience, and was about to go on without
her when he heard a click and the creak of hinges. He turned to see
Joy standing in the shed’s open doorway, one hand still clutching
the handle. He raised both flashlights, shining them past her into
the space just beyond the doorway.

Matthew was sitting on the floor, with his feet tucked under him and
Wim stretched across his lap. Wim had his fist shoved in his mouth
and he was kicking his legs jerkily, but he wasn’t crying.

He jabbered, “Guh guh guh -”

Mulder felt a surge of relief-induced adrenaline push the cry from
his lungs –

“Scul-lay!”

Shoving the flashlights at Joy and stepping past her into the shed,
he crouched down in front of Matthew and lay a hand on the boy’s
shoulder. “Hey buddy, are you okay?”

Matthew stared dumbly up at him as Mulder reached down and lifted
Wim to his shoulder, closing his eyes briefly and heaving a sigh of
relief against the baby’s wet back.

“Nuuu nuuu,” Wim gurgled.

“Are they all right?” Joy asked from the doorway.

Mulder opened his eyes, nodding as he looked over Wim and Matthew.
They were fine, Mulder thought, thank God they were fine…

“Scul-lay!” he called out once more.

In the dim glow of the flashlights, he could see Matthew’s wide eyes
and the tear-tracks on his cheeks; but like Wim, he was not crying.
He was, however, soaked to the skin. Mulder peered at the little
boy.

“You okay, Matty?”

Matthew gulped once, returning Mulder’s solemn stare. “I got wocked
inside,” he said.

Mulder stood, stepping to the open doorway once more.

“Scul-lay!” he yelled, this time more urgently. Turning back toward
Matthew, he said, “You can come on out now, Matthew.”

Matthew just stared at him, not moving.

“Come on, Matty,” Joy coaxed. “It’s okay.”

Matthew shook his head. “It’s waining. I all wet.”

Then Mulder heard Scully’s voice and saw the light of her flashlight
bobbing as she approached.

~

She shoved her wet hair back from her face as she reached the
shelter of Perfect Harmony’s foundation, blinking through the
rainwater that filled her eyes.

“Mulder!” she cried, making a wide sweep underneath the house with
her flashlight, hearing Mulder call to her from the right, his voice
softer.

“Scully…”

She directed the light toward the sound of his voice, hitting his
torso, then raising the light up to his face. Mulder faced her,
holding a hiccoughing Wim against his chest.

Scully let out a sob, covering her mouth with her hand, tears
springing to her eyes. She ran the last few yards toward them,
dropping her flashlight onto the damp sand and wrapping her arms
around both her men. The flashlight flickered and died at their
feet, but Bill’s flashlight shone past them, trained on the doorway
of the shed as he approached. Scully lifted her head in time to see
Matthew step out of the closet, followed by Joy. Bill was there to
scoop the boy up into his arms, hugging him tight against his chest.

Matthew started to cry.

“I scaewed, daddy -!” he sobbed, wrapping his arms around his
father’s neck.

“I know, buddy,” Bill crooned quietly. “I know. It’s okay now.
You’re okay…”

Scully ran her hand over the back of Wim’s head, then lifted him
from Mulder’s arms, holding him against her own chest. He kicked
and waved his fists, and she laughed, the tears still streaming down
her rain dampened face.

“Thank God,” she sighed, closing her eyes and pressing her wet cheek
against Wim’s. “Thank God.” She looked up to see Mulder watching
her, their eyes connecting. The relief she saw, that they both
felt, was immeasurable.

~

Maggie looked up sharply as the front door opened, admitting a gust
of wind and rain along with the returning search party. She and
Tara rushed to the front hallway.

“Oh my God!” Tara exclaimed as Bill entered the house with Matthew
in his arms. “Oh baby, oh God, you’re okay. You’re okay -” She
took him from Bill’s arms, hugging the boy tight and burying her
face in his neck as everyone moved away from the door and into the
great room.

Wim was babbling as Dana quickly crossed the room to wrap him in the
dry blanket from his carrier, and Maggie found herself rushing to
the back of the house, into Bill and Tara’s bathroom, where she
started pulling the towels from the racks.

*The kids were wet – they would need to dry off –*

She moved swiftly, her mind crowded with emotions – residual terror,
unbelievable relief, overwhelming joy – and she didn’t slow down
until her hand smacked the edge of the counter in her haste. She
stopped, clutching the soft towels in both hands, and closed her
eyes. They were safe. Her babies had come home safe. She heaved a
long sigh, saying a silent prayer of thanks for the safe return of
her family, the little ones especially.

Holding the towels against her chest, Maggie returned to the great-
room, where Joy was standing next to the table, flicking the rain
from her hands.

“They were locked in the storage shed,” she was saying.

Maggie paused a brief moment, surprised, before she moved to hand
out the dry towels. “In the shed?” She looked at Bill, then to
Fox. “I locked it myself when you finished boarding up the windows.
How could they have gotten in there?”

“The lock must be broken,” Joy said, squeezing her wet ponytail
underneath her towel. “It was locked when Dana tried it, and again
when I tried it. But when I pulled on it harder, something clicked
and it opened.”

Maggie looked from Joy to the others, confused. No one was offering
any other explanations.

“What I want to know is how Matthew managed to get Wim out the door,
across the deck and down the stairs in the middle of a hurricane,”
Charlie said, scrubbing his head, lint from the towel sticking to
his short hair like velcro. He looked at Dana expectantly.

Dana had laid Wim on top of the kitchen island, and Fox was holding
a pair of flashlights over her shoulder to help her see as she gave
the infant a quick examination. She didn’t seem to have heard
Charlie’s question, but looked up in the sudden quiet to see that
everyone was waiting for her response. Maggie walked over and
draped a towel over her daughter’s shoulders and handed a towel to
Fox.

“I’m sorry,” Dana said, barely tearing her eyes away from Wim.
“What was that?”

Fox answered the question instead. “Of course, I’m not a scientist
-” Dana looked up at him, her expression unseen by Maggie, who had
moved back over to where the others stood, dropping the last two
towels on the floor to sop up the pooling water. Fox grinned. “But
my *unscientific* opinion is that the wind probably helped him.”

“*Helped* him?” Bill replied, “You were out there – those gusts had
to’ve been up to 60 miles an hour. How could it have *helped* him?”

Fox focused his direct gaze on Bill. “You saw how it was swirling
around out there instead of blowing directly across the deck. My
guess is that the moment Matthew stepped outside, the wind *scooped*
him up and dropped him at the bottom of the stairs.” Fox made an
illustrative motion with the flashlight, causing the light to bounce
around the room. Dana bit her lip and let out a slow, patient
breath as she looked up at him again.

Tara’s forehead creased with confusion, and Bill grinned at Fox.
“Wind,” he said shortly. “You mean he just sailed down eighteen
feet, like Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day.”

Fox shrugged, and nodded. “Yeah, basically.”

Bill barked out a laugh, and Charlie reached over and rubbed
Matthew’s toweled head.

“Is that what happened, Matthew? Did you surf the wind, buddy?”
Charlie teased.

“Wike Pooh and Pigwet,” Matthew replied, breaking into giggles as
Charlie tickled him through the towel.

Bill scoffed, and Tara raised her eyebrows at Fox in disbelief.

“Actually,” Dana said, swaddling Wim up tight in another blanket,
“at this point, it’s the most plausible explanation.”

Bill shook his head, opening his mouth to respond.

“Bill,” Maggie said, putting a preemptive hand on his shoulder,
“Why don’t you leave all the wet clothes in the bathroom after you
and Matty change, and I’ll put them in the dryer when the power
comes back on.”

Bill closed his mouth and looked at his mother, understanding. He
drew in a breath and said, “Come on, Matthew, let’s go put some dry
clothes on.”

“Dana,” Maggie said firmly, turning to face her. “You and Fox
should get out of those wet clothes as well, or you’ll be sick.
Same for you Charlie. Joy -” she broke off, glancing at each one of
them, her intent clear.

“We’ll head up for the night,” Dana replied, lifting Wim up off the
counter. “I’m sure he’ll drift off as soon as he warms up.”

Maggie nodded, giving her a thin smile. As they all made their way
up the stairs, she allowed herself a sigh of relief. They’d had
more than enough excitement and conflict for one week, let alone one
day. She was ready to lie down and get some sleep. Picking up the
Coleman lantern from the coffee table, she followed the others
upstairs, hoping that it wouldn’t be long before the storm broke.

~

Scully woke to the sound of her baby laughing.

Opening her eyes, she saw Mulder sitting next to her, bouncing Wim
gently over his lap, the baby’s feet dancing on his father’s knees.
Wim was gurgling up at Mulder, a glistening line of drool connecting
his chin to the front of his tiny tee shirt. Both of them – sleep-
creased father and small slobbery son – looked happy. Simply,
perfectly *happy*. Scully smiled, feeling a flutter in her stomach
and a tremble in her lower lip as she realized that everything she
wanted, the things she loved best in the world, were right here in
this bed with her. Her men. Safe and sound, and irrevocably
*hers*.

She reached out a hand to touch one of Wim’s pudgy legs. The baby
turned his whole face toward her, giving her a squeak and an
enormous gummy grin.

“Hi, baby,” she said. Mulder looked down at her and smiled.

“‘Morning,” he said, his voice rasping badly. He growled to clear
his throat. “How’d you sleep?”

“Your voice,” she said, her forehead puckering in concern. She sat
up straighter and put her hand to his forehead. “Are you okay?”

He grinned ruefully and took her hand, placing a kiss on her open
palm. “From yelling last night,” he explained with another gravelly
cough. He turned slightly, staring into her eyes while Wim jabbered
at them. “What about you?” he asked, seriously. “Are you okay?”

Scully took a deep breath and pushed the hair away from her
forehead, returning his stare evenly. She felt a smile blooming
across her face. “I’m good,” she said, her eyes twinkling up at
him. “I’m really good.”

Wim let out another squeak and she reached out to grasp one of his
small hands. He grimaced at her, gnashing his gums.

“What’s that?” she asked, leaning toward Wim to get a closer look.

“What?” Mulder asked with mild concern.

Scully slid her forefinger into Wim’s mouth, running the pad along
his lower gum.

“He’s got a tooth!”

“He does?” Mulder asked, looking as Scully held Wim’s mouth open
just enough for him to see the bit of white showing on his gum.
Mulder chuckled. “I’m surprised you missed that in your examination
yesterday.”

“So am I,” she replied, giving the baby a wide grin.

Mulder bounced him lightly. “So how about a nice thick steak,
little man?”

Scully laughed. “Not quite yet, Mulder.”

“I’ll bet you’re glad you’re not breastfeeding right now.”

“No kidding.”

Mulder pulled the baby down to his face, looking into his eyes.
“Them’s for daddy, got that?”

She glanced up at Mulder, whose eyes glittered with the joy she was
also feeling. “Is that so?” she asked him.

“It is,” he said, leaning down to kiss her. He handed Wim to her
and got up from the bed. “You know,” he said, walking over to the
bureau and picking up his watch. “It’s hard to say with the
shutters over the windows, but it sounds like the storm may have
passed.”

Scully hoisted Wim up against her shoulder, listening to the ambient
sounds within and without the house as she scooted to the edge of
the bed. Indeed, the constant howling shudder that they had all
grown used to the day before was noticeably absent. The house and
the world outside seemed finally to have come to rest. She looked
down at Wim, who blinked up at her with a beatific expression. She
felt hungry for the first time in days.

“What time is it?” she asked, resting her cheek against the soft
warmth of the baby’s head. Mulder was pulling a pair of khaki
shorts over his feet.

“Just after nine,” he told her. “And I don’t know about you, but
I’m starved.”

~

Maggie and Tara and, most surprisingly of all, Charlie, were all in
the kitchen, lamenting the means with which to boil water – and
therefore make coffee – when Mulder and Scully came down. Charlie
looked up eagerly as they came into the kitchen with the baby.

“Hey, great!” he greeted them. “You guys can decide -”

“Charles,” Maggie warned. Charlie made a face and continued his
appeal.

“Now listen,” he said, leaning forward over the counter to give them
his best pitch. “I’ve been trying to tell these two that if we just
lit the grill out on the deck, we could heat up a pot of water -”

“On the gas grill?” Scully asked. Mulder chuckled, shifting Wim in
his arms as he glanced from Charlie to Maggie, who was shaking her
head wearily. Tara was standing against the counter behind her
mother-in-law, laughing quietly into her hand. Charlie’s brows rose
as he nodded enthusiastically.

“Yeah!” he said. “We’ll just put the pot from the coffee-maker on
the grill -”

The rest of Charlie’s scheme was interrupted by a loud knocking on
the front door. Everyone looked around at one another in surprise.
Mulder gave Scully a wink.

“I’ll get that,” he said. He pointed a finger toward Charlie. “And
*you* should quit while you’re ahead,” he said, walking backward
with Wim toward the hallway.

A ripple of laughter from the women in the kitchen followed Mulder
down the hall to the door, along with a partial comment about his
voice sounding like Rod Stewart’s. He swung it open and found
himself face to face with a beautiful sunny day and a thin middle-
aged man.

“Good morning there!” the man said, smiling in at him and then at
the baby. “Well I sure am glad to see that y’all are all right. Is
everyone doing okay in there?”

It took Mulder a moment to recognize the man as the realtor who had
come to the house the day before, and he quickly shifted Wim to his
other side to extend his hand to the man.

“Oh hey, yeah -” he stammered, smiling. “Mr. Fessen, right?”

“That’s right,” the man answered amiably, taking the offered hand.
His gaze drifted beyond Mulder’s shoulder to where Scully and the
others had come out into the hallway. Fessen held up a hand and
gave them all a smile before he glanced back up at Mulder.

“You all come through the storm all right, I hope? Any trouble last
night?”

Mulder looked down at Scully, who had come up next to him and was
lifting Wim out of his arms. She did not quite meet his eyes, but
he saw the subtle lift of her eyebrow and the way she bit her lips
together. “We, ah -” he started, with a glance back over his
shoulder at Maggie and Charlie, who were still standing in the hall.
“Well, we had a little, um, *excitement* last night -”

Mr. Fessen’s smile faded. “Y’all are all right though?” he asked,
peering anxiously around Mulder and Scully. “No one’s hurt?”

Scully cleared her throat and gave Fessen a tight-lipped smile.
“We’re all fine,” she said. “Thank you, though.”

Maggie stepped forward. “The storm is over then?” she asked. “This
isn’t just the eye?”

“Oh no, ma’am, it’s done with. Blown on up toward Washington and
Philadelphia.”

“Great,” Scully murmured with another glance at Mulder. He smiled.

“Mr. Fessen,” he said. “Did you come all the way out here just to
check on us?”

“Well, there’s a heap of lines down all along the highway -”

“Yeah, our power’s still out here,” Charlie said from behind them.

“Well, that’ll be another couple hours, I recon,” Fessen said. He
looked back up at Mulder. “We have an elderly couple – local folks
– who were trapped in their place through the storm last night. I
was just on my way over to check in on them when I figured I’d stop
over here and see were y’all okay -”

“Are they all right?” Scully asked, leaning forward with an
expression that Mulder recognized as professional concern. It was
Scully’s Doctor Face. “The older couple, I mean,” she added.

“Well, that’s what I’m going out there to see about,” Fessen told
her. “They’ve got a house just a little ways down the road, not far
from the fishing pier.”

“If you don’t mind, I’d like to come with you,” Scully said,
surprising all of them to some degree, but Fessen the most. “I’m a
medical doctor,” she explained. “I have an emergency bag in the
car, if you don’t mind waiting for me -”

“Well then,” Fessen said, looking grateful, “the help sure would be
appreciated.”

Mulder saw the frown that crossed Scully’s face a moment later. She
was looking down at Wim, her brow furrowed as she realized that
she’d have to leave him behind. She glanced up at Mulder briefly
before turning to her mother.

“Will you watch Wim until we get back?” she asked, handing him over.
Maggie took the baby with a confused smile.

“Well – of course, Dana,” she said. She looked up at Mulder. “But
are you both going?”

Scully looked up at Mulder, and he could see the question in her
eyes.

“Yeah,” he told Maggie. “We’re both going.”

He touched Scully’s hand for a moment, long enough to give her
finger a brief squeeze, then he leaned down and laid a kiss on the
top of Wim’s head.

“See you in a little bit, buddy,” he said quietly. He looked down
and gave Maggie a smile. “We’ll be back as soon as we can.”

Maggie’s gaze held him and her daughter fondly as she hugged the
baby against her. “Go,” she said, smiling at them. “We’ll be
waiting for you.”

Mulder put his hand on Scully’s back and they followed Mr. Fessen
into the bright and blustery morning.

~

Outside, the air was cool. The wind, which was still stiff but
nowhere near hurricane strength, had a fresh tang to it that it had
not had before the storm. The sky above them was deep blue, and
crowded with swiftly moving clouds that blocked the bright morning
sunlight every few seconds, throwing brief, remnant spatters of rain
down on them. It felt more like early autumn than it had since they
had arrived in the Outer Banks, and Scully hugged herself as the sun
vanished momentarily behind a cloud, wishing she had thought to
bring a sweater.

Mulder and Mr. Fessen waited while Scully retrieved her medical bag
from the trunk of the car, and then, rather than heading toward the
street, Mr. Fessen led them around the house and over the dune. An
old Jeep Grand Wagoneer sat idling on the sand just a few yards from
the end of the boardwalk, with *Dare County Emergency Response Unit*
stenciled in yellow on the sides. Fessen opened the back door and
reached in to clear the seat of various emergency equipment.

“Guess we got lucky last night,” he said over his shoulder. “The
storm hit further west than the folks at National Service thought –
we didn’t catch but the outside edge of it, thank God.”

Scully’s eyes swept the beach around them, taking in the changes
that had occurred overnight. The dunes had taken the brunt of the
storm, the grasses and sea oats broken and trampled into a haphazard
mat littered with debris blown in on the wind. The rain had formed
a stiff, dimpled crust on the sand, and not far from where they were
standing she could see the line of seaweed and scattered trash and
driftwood where the ocean had climbed up over the beach at its
height. It seemed far receded and low now, sparkling in the
distance as it rolled quietly into the shore.

She and Mulder got into Mr. Fessen’s truck, and he turned them
around, adding his own tire-tracks to the several others that criss-
crossed the storm-flattened beach as they made their way north,
toward the pier.

“A lot of people have been out already,” Mulder observed from the
backseat. “Are these tracks mostly from emergency crews?”

Mr. Fessen glanced back at him. “Mostly,” he said. The Jeep’s
engine wheezed, moving them sluggishly through the sand. “The local
squads, and the agencies’ll have sent people out to check on the
properties. Most people know to use the beach rather’n the roads
after a storm. Easier to get around…”

“Because the roads might be blocked?” Mulder asked. Mr. Fessen
nodded.

“That’s right.”

“*Are* the roads blocked?” Scully asked.

Fessen made a doubtful face. “Not too bad, I guess,” he said,
steering them around a large piece of timber that looked like it
could have been a tree trunk or the mast of a ship. “Like I said –
there’s some power lines down up here, and I heard over the radio
that some trees fell over the road in Buxton, but otherwise not too
bad. This is just faster, I guess.”

He turned in then, toward an opening in the dunes that lead into a
parking area just slightly south of the pier. The houses were much
more crowded at this point on the beach, smaller, and seemingly
older, most of them just single-story boxes held up high on their
stilts. Mulder felt a pang of recollection, a hint of remembrance
from the times his family had come down here when he was young.

Fessen brought them to the sound-side, across the highway, where
they could see the flashing yellow lights of a utility crew stopped
about a half-a-mile further up the road. Fessen stopped and hopped
out in front of one of the little box-houses, and Mulder and Scully
followed as he climbed the steps up to the front door.

The house was tiny, but looked more established than most of the
other houses around, more like a permanent home than a vacation
rental. The small front yard, which was covered in smooth rocks the
size of fists and the color of sand, sported a miniature lighthouse,
painted with spiral black-and-white stripes to emulate the actual
beacon just a few miles down the road. A piece of driftwood over
the door proclaimed the name of the house: *The Road Less Taken*.

Scully looked up to see Mulder smiling down at her.

Mr. Fessen was rapping loudly on the screen door. “Mister ‘n Missus
Lowry?” he called. The house had been battened down securely, the
windows covered not with plywood, but with permanent metal shutters.
Mr. Fessen glanced over his shoulder at Mulder and Scully. “They’re
quite elderly,” he told them confidentially, with a trace of
irritation in his voice. “You know, we do try to get these folks
off the island every time – they’re not the only ones we got camping
out through the storm last night.” Fessen sighed and tapped the
door again. “Seems the older they are, the more stubborn they
are…”

They heard the sound of the door being unbolted from the inside, and
a moment later, the inner door swung open to reveal a tall old man
standing behind the screen. He peered suspiciously out at them.

“Yes?” he asked.

“It’s Dick Fessen, Mr. Lowry, from Hatteras Realty. We come to see
are you and Mrs. Lowry all right in there.”

“Oh we’re all right,” Mr. Lowry said, opening the screen door for
them, and moving aside to let them into the narrow entrance hall.
His voice was deep and resonant – Scully found herself thinking
immediately of Gregory Peck – and he moved with slow deliberation as
he showed them into the house. “Grace’s having a bit of trouble
with her ankle, though.”

“What kind of trouble?” Scully asked. Lowry looked back at her, his
eyebrows raised.

“You an EMT?” he asked. Scully held up her medical bag.

“I’m a doctor,” she told him. Lowry nodded and gave her a wink.

“Well then, why don’t you have a look at Grace’s ankle there and you
can see for yourself.”

~

They found Grace Lowry sitting in the sunshine on the wide deck at
the back of the house, a book resting in her lap, and her left foot
propped up on a low stool. She looked up expectantly as the door
slid open, turning in her chair to give them all a radiant smile.

“Hello,” she greeted them, looking pleasantly surprised at the sight
of visitors. Mr. Fessen stepped forward to take the tiny woman’s
hand.

“How are you, Mrs. Lowry?” Mr. Fessen asked, his voice raised to a
near shout. Mrs. Lowry beamed up at him, and brought a trembling
hand up to her ear, where a hearing-aid was nestled, almost covered
by her snow-white hair. “Your husband tells us you hurt your
ankle?” Fessen asked her. “Did you take a fall?”

Mrs. Lowry laughed and shook her head with chagrin. “I just turned
my foot a little,” she said. She smiled up at the rest of them,
fixing her sparkling eyes on each of them in turn. “It’s so hard to
know where you’re going when the lights go out. But I’m sure it’s
just a little sprain – nothing to worry about.”

Despite her sunny assurances, Mrs. Lowry’s entire foot looked
visibly swollen through a thin layer of support hose; even Mulder
could see that if it was just a sprain, it was a bad one. He
glanced down at Scully, who was frowning at the offending ankle.
She stepped forward, stooping to speak to the old woman.

“Mrs. Lowry? My name is Dana Scully. I’m a doctor. Would you mind
if I examined your foot?”

Mr. Fessen straightened up and moved out of Scully’s way as she
knelt in front of Mrs. Lowry’s chair, and he came back to where
Mulder and Mr. Lowry were standing. He looked up at Mr. Lowry.

“You came through the storm all right then?” Fessen asked.

Mr. Lowry nodded and made a vague gesture with a large, arthritic
hand. “Oh sure,” he said. Mulder noticed that his eyes never left
his wife, who was smiling and chatting with Scully while Scully
gently probed her foot. “Grace did that coming down the stairs when
the electric went out, but I guess we’re fine otherwise. Not too
much of a hurricane, then, was it?”

“Well, bad enough, I recon,” Mr. Fessen said with a frown. “I do
wish you and Mrs. Lowry would take the evacuation warnings more
seriously -”

“Oh p’shaw,” Lowry muttered, still watching Scully with his wife.
“You all evacuate down here at the slightest stiff breeze. I tell
you, it’d take a lot more than that little rain storm last night to
move us into some motel up route 158.”

Mulder glanced over at Scully, and they shared a smile as Fessen
went on with his gentle admonishment.

“Yes, but suppose your wife had been more seriously injured?
Power’s out for the whole island right now, Mr. Lowry, and phone
service in most places too -”

“Well,” Lowry interrupted, finally taking his eyes away from Scully
and his wife, and turning to herd them back toward the door. “I
guess Grace and I’ve seen worse than that.” And with that, he
walked slowly back inside. Mulder and Mr. Fessen followed as Mrs.
Lowry called after them.

“Harry? Harry, fix some lemonade for us, would you?”

~

Mr. Lowry poured glasses of lemonade for everyone, which they drank
on the deck while Scully deftly wrapped Mrs. Lowry’s undeniably
sprained ankle with an ace-bandage from her medical bag. That done,
she snapped a cold-pack and gently draped it over the ankle. A
strange but amiable silence fell over them as they stood in the
bright sunshine, looking out over the Sound. The damage the storm
had done was evident in the large drifts of broken wood and trees
that floated past on the current.

“Well, I guess it’s on to the clean-up now,” Mr. Lowry observed, and
Mr. Fessen nodded with a low murmur of assent.

“Busy day today,” he said absently. “You’d be surprised how many
reservations we’ve still got for people coming down tomorrow.”

“Is that right,” Mrs. Lowry mused. “Well, I guess people do like
their vacation time.”

“I was just getting ready to put the shutters up when you all came
to the door,” Mr. Lowry told them. Mulder cringed at the thought of
the older man up on a ladder, dealing with the heavy metal shutters
that covered his windows. Mr. Lowry stood straight and tall, and
certainly looked strong enough, but the man had to be eighty if he
was a day, and both his hands were badly gnarled with arthritis.
Mulder took a last gulp of his lemonade and set the glass down.

“Why don’t you let us help you with that?” he asked. Lowry squinted
at him.

“Oh well, I’m sure you all have other things to worry about -”

“It’s no trouble, Mr. Lowry,” Scully chimed in with a brief glance
at Mulder. “My partner and I can stay to help you if Mr. Fessen
needs to get back to his office -”

“Aren’t you just the sweetest little thing,” Mrs. Lowry cooed,
patting Scully’s arm.

“I’d be much obliged to you then. Just let me get my tool-box…”
Mr. Lowry agreed, and he went back into the house. Everyone’s eyes
fell to Mr. Fessen, who was looking slightly confused, but pleased
nonetheless.

“I guess I’ll be getting back then!” he said, chuckling. He drank
back the rest of his glass of lemonade, and looked at Mulder and
Scully. “That is mighty nice of you,” he said. “Shall I come by in
an hour to drive you back?”

“I’m sure we can walk back,” Mulder said. “We’re only a block or
two from the pier, aren’t we?”

“Just a block,” Fessen said, scratching his head and looking between
Mulder and Scully. “Well all right then – I suppose I’ll be seeing
you around, Mrs. Lowry – take care of that ankle now!”

“Oh, don’t you worry about me,” Mrs. Lowry laughed.

Mr. Fessen held his hand out to Mulder. “Thanks again,” he said.
“Will y’all be staying on next week?”

“No, we’re leaving tomorrow,” Mulder said, shaking the man’s hand,
and realizing that there was more than a hint of regret in his
voice. Fessen nodded sympathetically, turning to take Scully’s
hand.

“Well, I’m sorry your week was spoiled by the storm,” he said,
smiling warmly at her. “And I do hope y’all will come back down to
see us again.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I’m sure we will.”

And with that, Mr. Fessen took his leave, showing himself out of the
house with a shouted goodbye to Mr. Lowry on his way back through.

~

Mulder and Scully made a slow patrol of the yard and the low area
below the Lowrys’ small house while Mr. Lowry located his tool box.
Mrs. Lowry was afraid that her garbage cans might have been blown
into a neighboring yard, so they had volunteered to walk down and
check.

They found the cans just where they had been left, tied to the side
of the house by thick, nylon rope.

“You know,” Mulder said as they wandered slowly around the cool dark
space under the house. “You slipped back there.”

Scully looked up at him with a bemused smile. “What?”

“You called me your ‘partner’,” he said. His eyes glinted at her in
the dim light as he stepped closer to where she had stopped. Her
eyes widened, and she took in a surprised breath as she realized her
mistake. She let it out again on a breathy laugh.

“I guess -” she began, blushing up at him. She shook her head and
shrugged slightly, reaching up to tuck her hair behind her ear. “I
guess I’ll always think of you as my partner, Mulder. Does that
bother you?”

He turned his head away and laughed. “Are you kidding?” he asked,
looking back at her. His eyes were shining.

She smiled up at him, standing on her toes to lay a soft kiss on his
cheek. His arms came around her, catching her around the waist to
hold her close.

“I found my box of tools,” Mr. Lowry’s voice boomed down to them
from the deck. “I think we’re ready to get started -!”

Scully sank back off of her toes, and Mulder bent to kiss her
quickly. He took her hand and winked back at her over his shoulder
as he led her back into the sunlight.

“C’mon, partner.”

~

The windows in the Lowrys’ house had shutters permanently installed
over them, slatted metal units designed to work as awnings when they
weren’t covering the windows. Mulder and Mr. Lowry moved from
window to window, loosening the bolts that held the windows flat to
the sides of the house and swinging the shutters up. Scully watched
from the deck with Mrs. Lowry as Mulder climbed up and down the
ladder.

“So you all work for Mr. Fessen at the realty office, do you?” Mrs.
Lowry asked, squinting up at Scully from her deck chair. Scully
looked down at her with a smile.

“Oh no. We just came out with Mr. Fessen to see if we could help,”
she said. She glanced up at Mulder, who was holding the shutter on
one of the back windows out while Mr. Lowry maneuvered the arms that
would hold it in place. “We’re down here on vacation, actually,”
she added.

Mrs. Lowry smiled. “Some vacation!” she said with a low chuckle.
“I suppose you didn’t figure you’d be caught in the middle of a
hurricane.”

Scully laughed with the older woman, whose soft, feminine voice was
accented slightly with a patrician Southern drawl. “Mrs. Lowry,”
she asked gently, “would you mind if I checked your vitals?”

“My vitals? Why no, but you’re not going to find anything.”

“I’m sure I won’t,” Scully assured her, sitting down on the edge of
the chair facing Mrs. Lowry and pulling her stethoscope out of the
bag sitting at the foot of the chair. “We knew that we would be
down here at the height of the season,” she said in response to the
previous question, glancing back at Mrs. Lowry. “But I guess we
figured it was worth the risk.”

“That’s the spirit,” the old lady chuckled, shaking a determined
fist. “Anything worthwhile is worth a little risk.” She leaned
forward, taking Scully into her confidence. “They try to get us out
of the house every time there’s a little weather on the news,” she
said with a sniff. “But Harry and I have never gone. We always
stay *right here*.”

“How long have you lived here, Mrs. Lowry?” Scully asked as she
checked her heartbeat, seeing the defiant glint in the old lady’s
eyes.

“Oh, we’ve been here almost twenty years now,” she said. “We bought
this place when Harry retired, but we’d been coming down here
summers for years and years before that. Since our daughter was a
little girl.”

“Where’s your daughter now?” Scully asked, moving the stethoscope to
listen to her lungs.

“She’s grown with a family all her own out in Seattle. Her husband
works for that big computer company, I can never remember the name –

“Microsoft?” Scully asked.

“Yes, that’s it. Well, it’s been just Harry and me for a while
now,” she said affectionately. “You do a good job,” she commented,
lifting her ankle to admire Scully’s bandage. “I was a nurse, I
know what I’m talking about.”

“Well, you were right,” Scully sighed, winding the stethoscope up
into a neat package and slipping it back into the bag with a smile.
“You’re absolutely fine.”

“I told you,” Mrs. Lowry clucked, leaning back in the chair. “My
Harry takes good care of me. Now – tell me, was it worth it?”

Scully looked up from her back, confused. “Was what worth it?”

“The vacation,” the older woman cooed, her eyes sparkling. “Was it
worth it?”

Pausing, Scully considered the question. Was it worth it? Wim was
fine, they were all fine, and she’d been able to spend time with her
mom and brothers. She and Mulder had addressed some pretty heavy
issues, and while they hadn’t resolved them, she felt like there was
progress made. Definite progress. But the night before had taken
its toll. The woman watched her with the sharp eyes of hawk, and
she wondered for a moment if she knew what she had been thinking.

“I don’t know,” she replied, truthfully. “So much has happened.”
She paused, searching the woman’s face and finding a look of knowing
that made her uneasy. “I don’t know.”

~

Scully was lost in her own thoughts as they walked up the beach,
having spoken relatively little since they left the Lowry’s and
started slowly on their way back toward Perfect Harmony. Mulder was
also quiet – he was tired, as was she; they both needed a solid
block of rest. They had slept only a few hours the night before,
and with everything that had gone on before that, it was a wonder
neither of them had dropped from sheer exhaustion. At leas she had
not been plagued by her nightmare – that was something. And as she
walked, putting one foot in front of the other over the packed sand,
she felt certain that it would not return again. She had finally
put it behind her, and perhaps she would be able to sleep in peace.

Now, however, her mind was overactive, ceaselessly raising
questions, suggesting answers, causing her to ponder situations as
if a floodgate had been opened by her conversation with Mrs. Lowry.

Had this trip been worth it?

She looked around her as they walked, the appearance of the beach
striking her as both familiar and yet permanently changed by its
encounter with Hurricane Felix. And so had she been, she thought.
On one side, the dunes were cut by the wind and rain, and the sand
was littered with Felix’s discards. Sea grass, small pieces of
wood, shells, clumps of seaweed where flies were already beginning
to swarm under the hot sun. On her other side, the sea rolled up
onto the land, more peaceful than she had seen in all of their days
on the Outer Banks.

And tomorrow they would return to Washington.

It had been a vacation, but a vacation from what, she couldn’t
decide. She’d barely rested. The events of the last week were more
or less representative of the stress that had been her life for the
last eight years. Only in the few months since she’d brought Wim
home had she had more rest, more peace, been more contented than she
had in years. She was ready to go back home and get caught up on
her rest before her leave was over and she had to return to work.

Work hung liked a question mark over her head. What kind of
assignment could she expect when she returned? It wasn’t reasonable
for her to return to the X-Files, not now. Not with Wim to take
care of, and Mulder out of the Bureau. Mulder had been right when
he’d said she had paid her dues there – she’d known when she left
for maternity leave that returning to the X-Files wasn’t likely.
That left a job in pathology, or perhaps taking another position at
the academy. Or leaving the Bureau altogether.

But she’d built a career at the F.B.I., and teaching was a strong
possibility. She liked teaching, and the hours were good,
especially for a mother with a newborn. Perhaps she would call
Skinner and talk with him about a transfer back to Quantico.

And then there was her situation with Mulder, and their
relationship. They no longer shared a formal partnership, and so,
while convenient, they really couldn’t use that description any
more, even if Mulder had been amused and touched by her slip-up at
the Lowry’s. But if they weren’t partners, what were they? She had
been thinking about his question about what would happen next in
their relationship once they got back to D.C. Would everything just
go back to the routine they’d established by default over the last
four months – back to the status quo – and was that was either of
them wanted? Would he come directly home with her, sleep in her
bed, shower in her shower, only making trips to his own apartment
every two or three days to unpack or pack another bag? Or would he
go to his own place heaving a sigh of relief at finally having a
moment to himself? Would he choose some kind of compromise,
spending the occasional night with them, separate but equal, as Joy
had implied?

She thought he would prefer to be with them. He seemed to feel
welcome and comfortable staying at her place, and she knew her
nightmares and fears had merely been convenient excuses for him to
stay these months, just as she’d used them to rationalize her need
to have him there. She liked having him there. They’d established
a comfortable rhythm, and the last four months of domesticity had
been more than she ever would have dreamed just a year ago. They
were a family.

They had never talked about it of course, but Mulder was – and had
been since her father’s death – the most significant man in her
life, and she’d realized a few years back that she was the most
significant person in his life, male or female. It seemed like the
most natural thing in the world that they’d evolved: partners,
friends, lovers. Then he had disappeared, and things changed
irrevocably for them as individuals and in their relationship. It
wasn’t possible for them to just pick up where they’d left off.
They had both amassed too much baggage.

But now he *was* back, as he’d pointed out, and baby made three.
And after these four months, after this week and the experiences of
the last twenty-four hours, she couldn’t deny what was staring her
right in the face: there was no way for her to imagine a future
without her two men. Whatever was in store for her, Mulder and Wim
would be a part of it. She knew it, and she knew Mulder knew it.
But she wanted more now than the comfort of just knowing how they
felt about each other, she needed more than accidental routine.
Defining their relationship beyond the easy, convenient words like
partner, or friend, or perhaps constant, had always been a challenge
they had carefully avoided. She wanted to understand what Wim and
all of the changes in their lives meant in terms of living
arrangements, defined responsibilities, acknowledged roles. She
needed to know how were they were going to manage the major
decisions and the day-to-day *stuff*…

There had to be some kind of master plan.

The solution seemed obvious; and now seemed like the best time to
bring it up. She cleared her throat.

“Mulder -”

He responded with a hum, distracted.

She paused, drawing a breath. “I’ve been thinking.”

He shoved his hands into his pockets. “Uh huh…”

She pushed her hair away as the wind blew it into her face. “I’d
like it if you’d consider moving in with Wim and I when we get
back.” She paused. “Permanently.”

He didn’t respond immediately, and they walked in silence a few
steps, her words hanging in the air between them. She glanced up at
him, and saw him biting his lower lip, deep in thought. She
wondered for a moment if he’d actually heard her, when he released
his lip from between his teeth and stopped, turning and fixing his
gaze on her.

“Why are you asking me this, Scully?”

She blinked back at him, caught off guard by his question. “What do
you mean?”

“You know what I mean. You asked me to move in with you, I want to
know why. Give me your reason.”

“My reason? Mulder…” She paused, surprised by his cool reception
of her offer in light of his earlier mood. She thought her reason
should be obvious – especially after their heated discussion the
other day. “You really have to ask?”

He let out an impatient sigh, straightened his back, and looked down
the beach. “You’ve been thinking that it would be the best thing
for Wim.” He turned his head, pinning her with his eyes. “Is that
right?”

She licked her lips, dropping her eyes to his chest. “Granted, he
*is* a major consideration, of course. But that isn’t what I was -”
She stopped speaking and walking and turned to face him, reaching up
to scrub her forehead in confusion. “I thought you’d be more open
to the idea.”

He took a step toward her, seeking her eyes with his own. “Scully,”
he said softly, laying his hand on her shoulder and leaning close.
“If we do this, if I move in, I don’t want there to be any
misunderstanding about why or what we expect from it. I *need* to
know the reasons why you want this.”

His thumb gently caressed the skin over her clavicle, and she let
out a tired, shaky breath, looking up at him. “I want this because
I want you to be a part of our daily lives, Mulder. Not just
because of Wim, even though I do think it would be the best thing
for him, and not because I think it’s what you want -” She stopped,
taking his other hand in hers, both of them looking down to watch
her entwine their fingers together. “Although, I hope it *is* -”

“It is,” he said, and she looked up again to meet his gaze. His
eyes were dark. His hand squeezed hers. “I’m ready.”

She studied his face, searching for any signs of uncertainty that
might belie his words. She found none. “So am I,” she replied.

“So…” He stretched the word out. “This is more than just
providing a male influence for Wim…?”

“Mulder, if that’s all I wanted, I could have it without you shoving
all of my clothes into one corner of the closet or leaving wet
towels on the bathroom floor.” Her eyes sparkled as they scanned
his face. “I want you there for Wim, and for me…I want us to live
together.”

He watched her a moment longer, then moved his hand off her
shoulder, tangling his fingers in her hair, making a fist. He
released her other hand and pulled her close, wrapping his arms
around her and drawing a deep breath. She slid her arms around his
waist, releasing her own breath.

“Okay,” he said, his voice choked, and she knew they’d finally
figured out that they wanted the same thing. He pressed his lips
against the top of her head, tightening his arms around her and
swaying slightly. “Yes.”

She tightened her hold on him, feeling like an enormous weight had
finally been lifted off her chest. She breathed deeply in and out
through her mouth, wondering with near amazement that they had been
able to get this far together, after all that they’d been through in
the last year.

“I’ll talk to my landlord when we get back tomorrow night,” Mulder
said, his words muffled in her hair.

Blinking back the tears of nostalgia and raw emotion that sprang to
her eyes, her breathing quickened, and she turned her face against
his chest, inhaling the strong, clean scent of him.

“Good,” she said softly, controlling her emotions with a few more
deep breaths. “That’s good.”

~

Joy was coming down the front steps as they came around the side of
the house, the same bags she had carried out the day before in her
hands again. She paused as they came up the driveway.

“You’re going,” Scully observed, her intonation flat and
unsurprised. Joy scrunched her face slightly and nodded.

“Yes,” she said, glancing up and catching Mulder’s eye for an
instant. “Five o’clock flight from Norfolk.”

“What about Charlie?” Scully asked, looking for signs that her
brother was leaving as well.

Joy glanced away. “Charlie decided to stay and finish out the
week,” she said. She swung her heavy ponytail back behind her
shoulder. “There’s a lot of things I need to sort out back home,
and the sooner I’m back to take care of it all, the better…”

Mulder and Scully both nodded, picking up on the subtext. Joy was
going back early to affect the details of her breakup with Charlie
while he spent time with his family. A family that did *not*
include Ms. Joy Yuen.

“I’m sorry you have to go,” Mulder said, and Joy looked sharply up
at him, perhaps searching for sarcasm in his tone, or maybe only
surprised by the rasp of his battered voice. But Mulder was
sincere; he *was* sorry to see her go. She had, at the very least,
kept things interesting. And while he was reluctant to manufacture
too strong a connection between himself and this intense, conflicted
woman, he couldn’t help but feel a certain amount of empathy toward
her as another outsider who had attempted to broach the walls of the
Scully family fortress during this eye-opening week. Joy seemed to
sense his good will, and quickly schooled her expression of wariness
into her habitual confident smile. Letting her bag drop, she
extended her hand to him.

“I’m glad I had the chance to meet you,” she said, smiling. Mulder
clasped her hand, and their eyes held for a moment. Brash,
opinionated, hauling baggage that made the suitcase at her feet seem
trifling – Mulder still had a feeling that Joy would be okay, and it
was with genuine feeling that he agreed with her sentiment.

“Me too,” he said, adding, “I hope we see each other again some
day.”

Joy pressed her smile into a doubtful, non-committal line at this,
and turned toward Scully. “I’m sorry we won’t get to know one
another better, Dana,” she said, holding her hand out to Scully. “I
enjoyed it, anyway.”

“So have I,” Scully said, reaching out to accept her hand. “Thank
you so much for your help last night.”

Joy let her chin fall, shaking her head modestly. Then she looked
up, glancing at them with eyes that shone a little too brightly. “I
have to get going,” she said. She bent to take her bag again, but
Mulder moved forward and took it for her. She opened her mouth to
protest, but must have thought better of it, and offered Mulder a
smile – a *shy* smile – instead. “Thank you,” she said.

“Pop the trunk,” he said, and with a wink he carried the bag around
to the back of the car.

Scully walked over to Mulder’s car and deposited her emergency kit
in the trunk. Joy closed hers with a definite click while Mulder
watched out of the corner of his eye as Scully moved to join them.
He slid his arm around her shoulder when she stepped up next to him.

Joy glanced down at Scully, then back at Mulder, her bravado back in
place.

“Well, thanks again,” she smiled, and with another flip of her pony
tail, she moved to the driver’s side of the car, pulling open the
door and sliding inside. Mulder and Scully took a step back,
standing behind Mulder’s car as Joy backed out of the driveway,
giving them a short wave and a smile before shifting into drive and
heading down the street.

“Poor Charlie,” Scully commented softly. “He really wanted to make
it work.”

“It wasn’t up to Charlie,” Mulder replied, chewing on his lip as he
watched the car disappear into the distance. Then he looked down at
Scully, and with a squeeze and a private grin, they walked up the
driveway toward the house.

~

Inside, the house was looking more like its former light-filled,
airy self, the plywood already removed from the doors to the deck
and some of the windows, the shadows retreating as bright noontime
sunlight flooded the space. Scully breathed in and smiled, heartened
by the restored view across the dunes and the fresh breeze that had
been allowed back into the house. It seemed like an entirely
different world from the stuffy darkness of the day before.

Maggie was holding Wim when she met them in the hallway, her
forehead puckered with concern. “How is it out there?” she asked,
glancing anxiously between the two of them. “Is there a lot of
damage around?”

“There are some downed power lines up the street,” Mulder said,
taking Wim from Maggie. “But otherwise things aren’t too bad.”

“There’s a lot of debris on the beach and on the roads,” Scully
added. At the same moment, Wim scrunched up his face and let out a
mighty sneeze. Mulder smiled down at his son’s dazed expression.

“Hey, gesundheit there, buddy,” he chuckled, continuing into the
great-room, where Tara and Matthew were sitting at the table over
lunch. Scully and Maggie followed, both peering closely at the baby
and frowning.

“Does he look okay to you?” Scully asked, glancing at her mother.
She wrapped her hands around Wim’s middle and took him from Mulder,
and carried him into the kitchen, where his carrier was sitting on
the counter. Her eyes roved over him as she lay him down, searching
him for signs that the previous night’s ordeal had left some
permanent mark, some lasting damage. But her baby seemed happy,
staring up at her with his huge blue eyes, giving her coy, slobbery
smiles. Maggie leaned close to tweak his toes.

“I’m sure he’s fine,” she said. Wim grunted happily, blowing spit
bubbles at his grandmother. “He just finished a bottle, and I think
he’d take more if he could. Such a big boy! Yes you are!”

Scully watched as Wim waved his arms and clicked his tongue at them.
He did indeed look cozy and sated, a last drop of formula shining on
his wet mouth. He has his father’s mouth, Scully thought with a
smile, recognizing, not for the first time, the pouting curve of
Wim’s lips. Scully glanced up and met Mulder’s eyes. He winked and
touched her elbows as he passed behind her.

“You checked him last night, Scully,” he said gently. He pulled two
glasses down from one of the cupboards and filled them from the
still cool milk carton in the refrigerator. Handing one to her, he
looked down at Wim with a fond smile. “I’m sure he’s fine.”

Maggie nodded and started to unwind a package of bread. “His throat
might be a little tender from all the crying -”

“Him cwied wast night,” Matthew told them solemnly from the table.
Tara looked up and met Scully’s eyes, and they shared a brief look
of pain and relief – the look of mothers whose children have been
safely returned to them. Tara glanced away then, and wiped some
jelly from Matthew’s cheek with a paper napkin.

“I’m sure the baby was very scared last night,” she said softly.
She didn’t have to add: *Like we all were.*

Mulder spoke quickly, changing the subject. “So,” he said. “Joy’s
gone, huh?”

Maggie’s mouth pressed into a grim line. “Yes,” she said without
looking up from the sandwiches she was making.

“She said she’d arranged a five o’clock flight out of Norfolk,” Tara
said. “We all told her she might have trouble getting off the
island -”

“I’m sure she’ll be fine,” Maggie cut in, her voice neutral but
definitive. They all understood that enough had already been said
on this particular subject.

“Where’s Charlie?” Scully asked.

“Outside,” Tara said, motioning toward the deck with a tilt of her
head.

Scully looked up through the French doors and saw both brothers out
on the deck, standing side by side at the railing, their tools and
ladders forgotten for the moment. Charlie was bent forward, his
elbows resting on the rail, his bare back curled toward them, his
shorn head tilting from time to time as he looked up at his older
brother. Bill was standing up straight next to him, his fingers
curled around the edge of the railing. They were both staring out
at the sea beyond the dunes, and Scully wondered what – if anything
– they were saying to one another. The fight last night seemed like
ages ago, with all of the anxiety and excitement that had come right
after, but Scully knew that the conflict would not be forgotten
quickly by Bill or by Charlie. They had always had a tense and
volatile relationship with one another; last night was not the first
time their differences had led to physical aggression. As she
watched them standing together on the deck, she wondered how the
events of the night before would affect their relationship in the
future.

“I guess I ought to go out there and help,” Mulder was saying behind
her. Scully continued to watch out the windows as Bill put a hand
on Charlie’s shoulder – a friendly hand, a comforting squeeze.
Charlie turned to look up at his brother – Scully could see one eye
squinting up at Bill. Charlie was grinning. Then Bill reached up
and gave Charlie’s head a rough, noogie-like rub. Both brothers
were laughing as they good-naturedly pushed each other away. Scully
took a deep breath, releasing it in relief. They did not always get
along, but forgiveness was never far around the corner.

Bill entered the house a moment later, giving them a look of
acknowledgement before heading up the stairs. Mulder passed him on
his way to the deck, his glass of milk and one of Maggie’s peanut
butter and jelly sandwiches in hand. He looked back at her over his
shoulder.

“Come on, Scully – let’s show that baby some blue sky.”

~

Holding Wim in her arms, Scully stepped out onto the deck behind
Mulder, seeing Charlie perched near the top of the ladder at one of
the second floor windows. His cordless drill cried shrilly in the
placid morning air as he pulled the last screw out of place. He
removed the board and let it fall unceremoniously to the deck with a
loud crash of wood against wood.

It landed less than a foot from where Mulder was standing.

“Ho!” Mulder called out in warning, just managing to step aside
mid-drink. Charlie looked down in surprise, and Bill’s head peered
out from the window, looking at Charlie, then at the deck. He
looked back at Charlie, and grinned.

“Nice shot, Kojak!” he exclaimed, the two of them slapping their
hands together in a modified secret handshake. Charlie pulled the
screws from between his lips, dropped them into his pocket, and
stuck the drill into the waistband of his shorts.

“Hey Oxford!” Charlie called out with a grin as he climbed down the
ladder. “Get yer prissy ass up here and help us out!”

Mulder finished the last of his milk and set the empty glass down on
top of the picnic table, wiping his mouth with the napkin Maggie had
wrapped around his sandwich.

“His ass needs rest,” Scully stated firmly, shading her eyes where
the bright sunlight poured in over the top of her sunglasses. “As
does the rest of him. I imagine it’s safe to say nobody slept too
well last night.”

Charlie walked over to them, pulling off a pair of thick work-
gloves. “Yeah, you’re right about that. Go on up if you want to
get a nap, then. We’ll leave your windows for last,” he replied
with a wink. He ran the back of his hand over his forehead, wiping
the sweat from his brow. Scully saw his face fall slightly – a
micro-expression of regret and pain that lasted barely a second.
His usual, affable mask slipped quickly back into place, but his
sister had noticed.

Wim pumped his arms in the air, squinting against the sunlight, and
she cupped her hand over his forehead to cut some of the glare.

“Charlie…” she said in a low voice, “You doing okay?”

“Yeah,” he replied, softly. “One day at a time.”

She watched him a moment, then pressed her lips into a soft smile.
Reaching out, she wrapped her hand around his wrist and gave it a
gentle squeeze. He squinted back at her affectionately.

“So,” he said brightly, changing the subject. “What’d you find out
there beyond the walls of Perfect Harmony? Did Felix rip the Outer
Banks a new one?”

“Well, it could have been worse,” she replied, heaving a sigh and
transferring the baby over to her other arm. “Considering.”

Mulder had walked around the dropped board, his mouth full of peanut
butter and jelly, and was squinting up at the windows, the look on
his face telling her that he was assessing something. Scully
couldn’t guess what.

“You know,” he said, swallowing the last of his sandwich and still
staring up at the windows. “From what I’ve seen this morning, I
have to figure that either we were very lucky or this house has a
lot more structural reinforcement than some of the others houses
around.”

Maggie had joined them on the deck a few minutes earlier. “Jane’s
husband was an architect, besides being a Naval officer,” she said.
“He designed and built this house himself. Jane said he’d always
dreamed of building a house where the design, the composition and
the landscape all blended together in perfect harmony.”

“So that’s where the name comes from,” Charlie replied. “Strange
thing, naming a house.”

“All the houses around here have names,” Scully said, “Mr. Fessen
had the houses listed by name first, then address, then occupant.”

“I like it,” Mulder said, looking at Scully with a knowing grin.
She held his gaze, smiling back at him.

“Hey!” Bill called down from the window above. “We’re not done,
Charles. Hop to it.”

Charlie made a face, muttered “slave driver” so everyone could hear,
and walked back over to the ladder, picking it up and moving it to
the next window on the left.

Scully closed her eyes, shaking her head. Some things, no matter
what happened, positive or negative, managed to remain constant.
There was a strange sort of comfort in that.

“C’mon, Mulder,” she said, grabbing his hand and leading him toward
the door. She didn’t think her head would be on the pillow two
minutes before she was fast asleep.

~

When they wandered back downstairs after their nap, the sun was
setting and there was nobody to be seen, inside the house or out.
Scully didn’t think they could all be sleeping – the house didn’t
feel quiet so much as unoccupied. It was strange enough to be
turned around, waking up to find the sun setting, but also finding
the house empty was unsettling in many ways. Still, it was good to
be able to see the sun through the windows again.

She opened the refrigerator and noticed that there weren’t any more
pre-made bottles of formula. Since the power had gone out they
hadn’t been able to use the burners or their electric bedside bottle
warmer upstairs, so mixing the formula with water as they needed it
had been more convenient. She scanned the kitchen counters,
searching for the bottle of purified water they had kept aside for
Wim.

Mulder picked up a handwritten note that had been sitting underneath
their giant yellow can of baby formula. He read aloud:

“‘Dana, Fox – Come down to the beach when you’re ready – we’re
cooking outside tonight. Love, Mom.'”

Scully glanced up at Mulder, wondering if he’d sensed the inclusion
that been implied in Maggie’s choice in addressing her note to both
of them and then signing it ‘Mom’. Both of them turned to look for
Wim’s carrier without a word. They found it sitting on top of the
coffee table, and Mulder buckled the baby in while Scully mixed two
bottles of formula to take with them. When everything was ready,
Mulder hoisted the carrier up as she led the way through the French
doors and onto the deck.

They could hear Matthew’s shrieks, and the sound of distant laughter
just above the constant rumble of the sea. The wind played softly
through the sea grass on the dunes, and seagulls called to each
other in syncopated rhythm.

It was a beautiful evening.

Following the sound of voices, they walked up the boardwalk and over
the dunes, spotting the family around a large bonfire in the middle
of the beach. The flames crackled and popped, reaching up toward
the pink sky as Matthew threw another piece of driftwood on top,
clapping his hands as he watched the sparks scatter into the air
with a gleeful giggle.

“That’s enough, Matty,” Tara told him sternly, “You’re not being
safe.”

Charlie tossed a large chunk of wood onto the top of the fire,
sending sparks shooting into the air. Matthew squealed with
delight, and Tara gave her brother-in-law a look of exasperation.

“Hey, look who finally decided to get out of bed,” Charlie said
loudly, ignoring Tara’s look as he watched Scully and Mulder walk up
the boardwalk toward them. Everyone looked up, offering smiles as
they joined the group, easing Wim’s carrier down on top of a nearby
blanket.

“How was your nap?” Maggie asked with a smile, just as Scully felt
the need to yawn.

“Fine,” she replied with a self-aware grin. “I feel almost human.”

“That’s funny, cuz’ you look almost human, too,” Bill said with a
twinkle in his eye. Scully mouthed a good-natured “ha ha” at him.

Matthew ran up to Mulder, watching as he unfastened Wim’s straps and
pulled the baby out of the carrier. “Can I see his toof? Is it
gwowed?”

“Not since this morning, I’m afraid,” Mulder replied. He laid Wim
on his stomach on top of the blanket, and Wim lifted his head,
looking around and babbling happily.

Scully crouched next to the baby. “Where are you?” she asked,
tickling his chin. “Are you on the beach?”

“That tooth may be the reason you didn’t hear him fussing in the
shed last night, Dana,” Maggie said. “Once it came through, it
didn’t bother him so much anymore.”

“I wonder…” Scully replied. Many of the events of the prior
evening and early morning were still largely unexplained: how
Matthew had managed to get himself and Wim safely down the stairs
through the storm; how they had gotten into the storage shed to
hide, faulty lock or not; why Wim had remained so silent through the
entire adventure. There were a lot of questions that she supposed
would never be answered, and that was something she was all too used
to. She sighed and smoothed the baby’s hair softly. The night had
left many questions, but Wim and Matthew were both safe and well,
and nothing else mattered.

“I think we’re ready,” Bill said, standing. He and Charlie had been
whittling the ends of some long sticks into points, and the two of
them passed one out to each person as Tara ripped open a package of
hotdogs and dumped them onto a plate.

“You guys got here just in time,” she said, glancing up at Mulder
and Scully with a smile. “We’re having a weenie roast. We’ve got
potatoes baking in the fire, some canned chili and beans, fruit,
and…” she held up a large pillowy package, “marshmallows for
dessert.”

“I want maw-mawohs! I want maw-mawohs!” Matthew cried excitedly,
hopping up and down.

“After dinner, buddy,” Bill replied, taking him by the hand. “Why
don’t you come over here and help me cook a couple of hotdogs.” He
led Matthew over to sit next to Tara, and she passed the plate of
hotdogs to her husband.

Scully sat on the blanket next to Mulder and Wim, and held the
pointed end of her stick up for Mulder to impale a hotdog on when
the plate finally passed their way. She watched as he chose two
wieners for himself as Bill and Charlie had done, stuck them on his
spear, and with a boyish grin, plunged them into the flames. At
that moment, she thought he looked like a little kid, full of amused
wonder at the simplest of life’s pleasures. She smiled in fond
appreciation, adding her own stick to the fire.

~

By the time they got around to roasting the marshmallows, the last
greens and teals of the sunset had faded to dark, and thousands of
pin-prick stars were beginning to stand out against the sky. Wim
was tucked fast asleep in his carrier, swaddled in blankets, and the
rest of the family had grown quiet, enjoying their last evening
together.

Scully was sitting closer to Mulder now, having sunk contentedly
toward him as the evening grew cozy and dark. He watched as she
used her thumb and forefinger to test the temperature of the
marshmallow she’d just pulled out of the fire, and saw the look of
contentment on her face – a look shared by the others. It had been
a volatile week, and there had been some tense moments, but for now,
all was forgiven – if not forgotten. As ‘vacations’ went, this one
had not been typical or particularly relaxing, surrounded by the
tempest of the Scully family; but for all the differences and
anxiety, Mulder knew that he would not have changed anything. The
complicated and passionate family dynamic had made the week
difficult, but it had also made it special.

On Scully’s other side, Maggie was watching as her daughter slipped
sticky fingers into her mouth. Maggie’s eyes wandered up, and
Mulder met her fond look with a grin. Maggie smiled and looked
down, sitting up as she propped her marshmallow spear against
Scully’s leg. Mulder watched as her gaze wandered around the fire-
lit faces of her gathered family.

Matthew was sucking his thumb sleepily, staring into the fire as he
lay back against Tara, who in turn was leaning against Bill. Scully
sat to Maggie’s right, and Charlie was just a few yards away,
quietly whittling a piece of driftwood with his pocketknife. Mulder
saw Maggie draw a breath, and felt a sense of dreamy anticipation
steal over him. The moment seemed to stretch, languorous and
humming with a beauty he had not often experienced.

“Everyone,” Maggie said softly, drawing their attention to her.
Unshed tears glittered in her eyes. “I’d like to say something.”

They all seemed slightly surprised, and Scully’s brow furrowed.

“What is it, mom?” she asked.

Maggie took a deep breath and smiled. “I just want you all to know
how much this week has meant to me, having you all here.” She
caught Mulder’s eye again, and her smile widened. “It’s been so
long since we’ve been together like this, as a family, and you’ve
all grown, becoming such lovely adults.” She paused, making eye
contact with each of them in turn, the tears threatening to spill
onto her cheeks. She bit her lips together and sniffed, laughing at
her emotional scene. “Your father loved you all more than anything
in the world, and I know that if he were here today, he would be so
proud of all of you.”

Mulder watched as they all exchanged looks of bewildered sentiment,
the air growing heavy with the emotional unity that banded them
together. Looking over at Scully, he smiled as she wiped the tears
from the corners of her eyes. He knew that the words had been
powerful for all of them, and that she was taking them into her
heart to treasure.

Charlie dropped his whittling and stood, shaking out his legs and
stretching his arms. “I, for one, am glad we all came,” he said
with a grin, and Mulder realized that this was Charlie’s way of
apologizing for the harsh words of censure he’d offered his mother
the night before. His mother seemed to know it too, and gave her
younger son a warm smile of understanding, a single tear slipping
from the corner of her eye. Suddenly, Charlie’s head shot up toward
the dunes, the corner of this mouth turning up. “Hey,” he said,
glancing around at the rest of them. “We’ve got power again.”

Everyone’s eyes followed the direction of Charlie’s glance back up
the beach, toward the line of houses, where various porch lights and
street-lamps had blinked back to life. They all sat quietly for a
moment, listening to the soft wind and the spit and crackle of the
dying fire.

“Great,” Tara said then, sitting up and picking up the scattered
paper plates around her. “Maybe there’ll be some hot water too.
Matthew needs his bath, and I could definitely use a shower.”

And on that note, everyone started cleaning up, the mood broken.
Mulder felt a stab of regret as he helped Charlie and Bill bury the
fire, knowing that, like the heat from the quickly cooling embers,
the week was nearly gone.

~

Mulder sat at the top of the deck stairs, the night sky stretching a
brilliance of stars above him as he cracked open a sunflower seed,
pushing the shell out between his lips and letting it fall to the
sand below. Long after the cookout, he’d been sitting outside,
taking the time alone to reflect, considering his conversation with
Scully from earlier that day.

There comes a time in every person’s life, he realized, when they
start to recognize what is truly important. He had started to think
about the rest of his life – now that it had been restored to him –
and how he wanted to live it. Scully had figured into that
awareness for a long time. Now Wim was there, too.

Despite what he’d said the other day, he knew what he wanted. In
many ways, he had always known, but he’d been cautious, protective
of his desires. Maybe it was all of those adolescent years growing
up between two homes and two parents, or maybe it was a combination
of less obvious things, like all of the abnormal situations and
unusual people he and Scully had encountered over the last eight
years. Maybe he just wanted more for his own family than his father
had been able to give to his.

He had wanted to live with her – had needed her to *ask* him to move
in – long before today. He wanted a future with her lying next to
him when he went to bed every night, with Wim in the adjoining room
– the mythical house with the picket fence and rose covered front
porch. Not in some dysfunctional Lester Burnham-*American Beauty*
sense, of course, but if he were honest, he had to admit that his
dreams of a future with Scully were almost frightening in their
unabashed idealism. She would probably laugh if he told her about
them. So maybe their history didn’t exactly recommend a picture
book kind of existence, and so what if instead of traditional
pickets they might have something higher and harder to scale –
something like wrought iron, with barbed wire. Something that
included a surveillance system and extra measures for security to
make Scully feel safe. Whatever it took to have some semblance a
normal life, as normal as he and Scully could manage – that was what
he wanted.

They had some thorns, but they could still have the roses.

He heard the door to the deck open and shut, and the tread of
sandals on the wooden deck approaching slowly behind him. He didn’t
need to turn around and look. He’d spent the better part of eight
years listening to the sound of her shoes against hard tile, wood,
carpet – just about any and every surface. He knew it was her.
When she reached him, he glanced to the side, seeing her cross her
arms and look up into the brilliantly clear sky.

“Hey,” she said with a smile, looking down to meet his gaze.

“Hey,” he replied, popping another seed into his mouth. He cracked
the shell open, drawing the seed out with his tongue and watching
her as she leaned her hips against the railing, looking out into the
night, toward the sound of sea.

“I swear nothing puts Wim to sleep like the sound of my mother’s
voice,” she commented quietly. Mulder smiled. Her demeanor was
relaxed and congenial, and she looked refreshed, like she had
finally caught up on some of the sleep she’d missed over the last
several days. She took a deep breath and let it out on a contented
sigh. “It’s nice out here tonight.”

He pulled the shell out of his mouth and dropped it to the sand
below.

“Yep.”

She looked at him, then away again, silent a while longer. Then she
looked down, placing a hand on the colorful blanket lying over the
railing.

“What’s this?” she asked.

“Charlie’s,” Mulder replied, leaning back on his elbows. “I guess
Joy left it, I don’t know.”

Scully pressed her lips together and nodded, turning and resting her
bottom against the railing so that she was facing Mulder.

“Is everything okay?”

“What?” he asked, blinking up at her. He saw her expression of
concern and smiled. “Yeah,” he said. Pulling himself up by the
railing, he stood and brushed off his jeans. “Yeah, everything is
great.” He grinned and held a hand out to her. “Come on, walk with
me.”

A soft smile blossomed on her lips as she looked at his hand, then
into his eyes, and slipped her palm into his. He reached just
beyond her to pull Charlie’s blanket off of the railing, and she
raised an eyebrow at him as he rolled it up and tucked it under his
arm.

He twined their fingers together when they reached the bottom of the
steps, and they walked silently up the boardwalk, toward the sea.
Once they reached the beach, they slipped out of their shoes and
carried them in their free hands as they made their way down to the
water’s edge, their footprints disappearing behind them in the damp
sand. They passed the burned out remains of the bonfire and kept
walking, with no concern for the hour or the distance they might
walk.

“Why is it,” Scully asked softly, watching the water splash over her
toes, “that whenever you take a vacation, you never begin to feel
rested until it’s time to go home?”

Mulder chuckled, dropping her hand to wrap his arm around her
shoulders instead. “I don’t know, this is the first vacation I’ve
had in a long time.” She slid her arm around his waist as he pulled
her closer, and they settled into a languid pace that allowed them
to walk together comfortably.

“I’m glad we came,” Scully said, and he looked down at her with
warmth, seeing her smile he tightened his arm around her.

“Me too.”

They walked a little farther before Mulder stopped, looking up
toward the dunes. The dunes and the darkness concealed them, and he
knew from his morning runs that the section of beach they were on
didn’t have houses immediately nearby, but farther back. It was the
right time and the right place. He took her hand again, leading her
up onto the dry sand, unfolding the blanket he had tucked under his
arm.

~

Scully helped him smooth the sand down flat, pushing it level it
with their bare feet and laying the blanket on top, unfurling the
corners. The decision to stop had felt spur-of-the-moment, but she
couldn’t help but wonder if Mulder had planned this little
rendezvous on the dunes. Either way, she welcomed it.

It was nice to be alone with him.

She sat facing the sea, and Mulder lay on his back next to her,
stretching his arms out over his head with a satisfied growl,
reaching for her. She looked over her shoulder at him, and scooted
all the way around so that she was facing the dunes, and him as
well.

He wore a smile; it was nearly comical it was so goofy, so endearing
in its purely blissful state. His eyes shone, lit from inside. He
was so open, so completely unguarded that she felt her own weak
daily defenses melting away, a smile blooming on her face that
mirrored his in expression and emotion. She didn’t care how silly
she looked. Finally. *Finally* they understood each other
regarding this unspoken relationship they’d been carrying on for so
long. Not only did they understand each other, but they were on the
same page. They both wanted the same thing. She leaned against
him, laying her arm over his chest, still looking into his face. He
closed his eyes, wriggling slightly, molding the sand to fit his
body. He was still smiling his silly smile.

“What are you thinking?” she asked.

“Wondering,” he replied.

“What?”

He paused, shrugging, with a grin. “What it is about moonlight that
makes everything look blue; who the Yankees are going to play in the
series this year; when it was exactly that I started to feel my age;
why we could investigate some of the F.B.I.’s most unsolvable cases,
but it took a hurricane to get us to talk to each other?”

“Mmmm…” She nodded, appearing to give his questions some thought.
“Who says the Yankees are going to make it all the way to the
series?”

He stared back at her blankly. “Is that a joke?”

She laughed, and he pulled her down against his chest, grinning.
She lifted her face and kissed him, a soft, leisurely kiss that
lingered much longer than either of them had at first intended. It
just felt too good to stop.

Pulling away at last, she looked down into his face. It was almost
too much to believe, this whole experience, this journey of years
that had ultimately brought them together. She drew a deep breath
and looked up at the cloudless sky. The moon was still more than
three-quarters full, brilliantly white against the deep black of the
nighttime sky. The stars shimmered across the dark palette, and as
she admired their beauty, a breeze kicked up, brushing the edges of
her hair against her face.

“Scully -”

His voice was soft, low and tender, and he reached out to touch her
face, his fingertips feather-light on her cheek, sliding the ever-
wayward strand of hair behind her ear. She looked down into his
eyes, seeing the emotion, the burn of intensity that seemed to reach
right into her chest, constricting her lungs, causing her heart to
pound. It was powerful, what he could do to her with just a look.
His fingers tangled in the hair at the back of her neck, pulling her
closer.

Her gaze remained locked with his. She could see there was
something he wanted to say, his expression serious. In his eyes
there shone a passion and a need that caused her to still, searching
and waiting for him to speak.

The pad of his thumb grazed her cheek, just beneath her bruised eye.
He bit his lips together and exhaled slowly, and she involuntarily
held her breath.

“Marry me?”

Still and silent, the breeze moved suddenly at the moment she
exhaled, and she heard the air leave her lungs, the swish of the sea
grass, the thunder of the surf. She could hear Mulder breathing,
quick and shallow; she could smell the sea and the grass and the
scent of his skin, salty, fresh and clean. The sky stretched above
them into infinity, black peppered with endless points of light that
dwarfed and humbled them. They were a part of it all, and it was a
part of them, a part of the moment that seemed to stretch on
forever, although in reality it was only a few beats.

She blinked, looking down into his face; it was as familiar as her
own, and she saw the anticipation and raw emotion. She felt a tug
in her chest and the moisture that welled in her eyes, and she knew
that now she finally had everything that she wanted at this point in
her life.

“Okay,” she whispered.

Time raced ahead in a blur of events: his face-splitting grin, her
body being pulled forward, clasped to his, rolled until she lay on
her back, his full weight on her and his face hovering inches above
hers. His eyes, green-gold and bottomless, drew her in again.

“Okay?” he said huskily. Mirthfully.

“Okay,” she said again, beginning to smile.

He chuckled, his laughter ringing bell-like in the clear, clean air.
“*Okay*?” he repeated, louder, his eyes shining with a devilish
grin.

“Okay!” A giggle bubbled up from her chest until his mouth covered
hers. The pull of his lips stole the laughter away, and it
dissolved into a faint whimper in the back of her throat. Warm and
real – this was real. They kissed long and deep, tasting, feeling,
reveling in the sensation.

It was some time later that he lifted his head and looked at her
with heat in his eyes, adoring and sleepy. His lower body had been
slowly undulating against hers, rolling and kneading without
insisting; awakening more basic needs in small increments. Another
whimper rose from her throat. She breathed in deeply as she stared
back at him, her eyes threatening to slide shut from the feel of it
all: the weight of his body, the thickness of his groin, the warm,
floating sensation that accompanied their prolonged kissing, the
heavy-sweet building of arousal centered between her legs. She bent
her knees, yielding to his body, and he settled more firmly against
her, his hard sex teasing against her.

“Mulder -” she whispered, wanting him, needing him. She caught her
breath, the desire was so powerful. So much more than mere
physiology.

“Wanna try a sand-crab cocktail?” Mulder whispered, grinding into
her with a tilt of his pelvis. He lowered his face to her neck,
biting gently at the skin behind her ear.

She closed her eyes, then blinked them open again in confusion.
“What?”

“This is one of my favorite fantasies, Scully,” he whispered,
licking her clavicle. “You, me…” he caught her chin between his
lips, “sex on the beach…” His hips continued a slow rhythm
against hers while his mouth teased her throat. Mulder’s power of
persuasion was a force to be reckoned with, even in the most public
of places.

“Oh, God -” she whispered, her blood now pounding in her ears and
between her thighs. “Here?”

“Yes,” he groaned, and she echoed the sound as he made his way up
her neck to her earlobe.

“Did you set this whole thing up, Mulder?”

He chuckled, releasing her lobe from between his teeth. “No, but I
can’t complain about how well it’s worked out.” He kissed her
mouth, and she felt herself melting again, sinking into the blanket,
molecule by molecule.

They kissed a while longer, her hands clutching his back, pulling
him closer. She wanted him, wanted his hands on her and in her and
she couldn’t get him any closer, groaning in frustration as his hand
casually glanced along the side of her breast, down her waist and
back up again. Bringing her palms to his shoulders, she pushed with
as much strength as she could muster.

Mulder pulled back, interrupted just as he was about to kiss her
again, confused by her action. His eyes widened, and she rose up on
her elbows, pushing him once more. He flopped over onto his back
with an “Oof -” and she crawled on top of him, straddling his thighs
and reaching for the button on his jeans.

~

Blinking up at her, Mulder knew the extent of her excitement from
the flush of her skin and the look in her eyes, but he hadn’t
expected her to move so quickly. She’d unbuttoned his jeans and
opened the fly, running the pad of her thumb over his confined cock
before pulling down on the waistband. She rose up on her knees and
he raised his hips to allow her to slip his loosened jeans between
her legs, down his thighs. She pulled his boxers down, pausing only
to slide the heel of her palm up the underside of his shaft, making
him hiss and thrust his hips forward before dropping them back down
to the blanket.

The thought occurred to him that even though the dunes concealed
them from the houses, anyone might see them, any nighttime beach
stroller or even someone for her family, sent down to look for them.
But the idea of getting caught in the act excited him. The thought
of sex in a public place had always been a mild aphrodisiac.

Let them come.

He reached out and unbuttoned Scully’s shorts, and she rose to her
feet, pushing the shorts and her panties down her legs, dropping
them off her foot to the side of the blanket as she stepped out of
them. He waited in anticipation as she kneeled over him once more,
taking him in her hand to guide herself down on top of him. But he
clasped his hand on her shoulder, halting her descent.

“Take everything off,” he said, hoarsely. He wanted to see her –
all of her, her unclothed skin painted by moonlight while she moved
above him against the stars and the rolling surf. He wanted them
both to be unclothed on the beach, completely open to the elements,
nothing between them.

She breathed in and out quickly, her eyes darting between his eyes
and the dunes above – calculating the chances of being seen, he was
certain – then took the hem of her tee-shirt in her hands. She
pulled it up and over her head, dropping it down to the blanket,
while holding his gaze with hers. Next, she unclasped her bra,
shrugging out of it.

When she was completely bare, she sat back on her heels, staring
down at him. “You too, Mulder.”

He tore his gaze from her exposed breasts as she moved back a
little. Sitting up, he tugged his polo shirt over his head and
dropped it down next to them on the blanket, inside out. Grinning,
he reached for her.

She moved into his outstretched arms and covered his body with hers,
burying her face in the crook of his neck. He held her tight,
drawing in a deep breath and releasing it, reeling from the skin to
skin contact. This was exactly what he’d wanted. The two of them,
skin to skin under the stars, the soft sea breeze blowing over their
bodies while the surf pounded against the sand in the background.
Nuzzling her hair, he kissed her temple, hearing her hum deep in her
throat. Cupping her jaw in his palm, he urged her to raise her head,
looking into her eyes and smoothing her hair back away from her
face.

‘I love you’ didn’t seem like it touched on nearly enough of what he
was feeling, so he said nothing, staring into her eyes instead,
hoping she’d see it there. She mirrored his sentiments – it appeared
that they were thinking and feeling the same things, and Scully
slowly rose to her knees, carefully and deliberately lowering
herself onto him slowly, her head rolling back on her shoulders as
her bottom made contact with the tops of his thighs. Supporting
herself with her palms against his waist, she exhaled, long and
slow.

He pushed his hips up against her slightly, feeling the molded fit
of her body around his. She caught her breath but remained still as
his hands roamed over her skin. He caressed her hips, encircled her
waist, cupped her shoulder blades and finally her breasts, brushing
his thumbs over the stiff nipples. She shimmered silver, his muse,
his selkie – mysterious and loyal, his best friend, his champion.
His wife. She stared back at him with wide, colorless eyes, giving
herself to him, his touch, his adoration. With his hands resting on
her breasts, she finally leaned forward, supporting herself with her
hands on either side of his head, looking deeply into his eyes, as
he had done to her. Her eyelids were heavy, and her eyes were
glassy, but in them he imagined he was seeing into her soul – her
sensations, her emotions. It was beautiful. She undulated her
pelvis, shifting her hips a few times, her eyes sliding halfway shut
with a soft groan as she found the right point of contact. She
began to rock against him gently, unhurried.

He focused on her eyes, and the place where they joined; the feel of
her rocking against him, the way she shimmered, like a vision
against the vast, starry sky. At that moment, he felt completed;
validated; loved. Years of searching led him here, with her.
Always with her. Wherever she was, that would be home.

At last, he had found his way home.

~
Saturday, early-October
~

He awoke to the sound of her sobbing, soft and painful
in the soft violet just before dawn. She was curled on
her side, her legs drawn up to her chest, the sheet
clenched in her fists, and her face damp with tears shed
before waking.

Mulder scooted closer and curled his body around hers as
he’d done so many times before, engulfing her in his
warmth and whispering her name reassuringly in a gentle,
repeated cadence. She whimpered, and he slid his hands
down her arms, wrapping his palms around her tight
fists. Her grip on the sheet loosened, her fingers
twining around his instead.

Scully shuddered and gasped, waking with confusion. She
immediately rose up onto her elbow, nearly jabbing
Mulder in the face as she peered anxiously into Wim’s
crib, only to see the baby sleeping peacefully on his
side. Mulder had moved out of her way just in time,
watching as, with a sigh of relief, she lowered herself
back down, closing her eyes in silent thanks. She let
out three deep breaths.

“Mulder,” she said, still catching her breath.

“S’okay,” he replied, stroking her hair with the backs
of his fingers. “He’s okay.”

She blinked, and he watched her swipe her fingers across
her cheeks while she stared dully at the crib. “I
thought he was gone.” She sniffed, and let out one more
deep breath. “I thought this was over, Mulder.”

He understood she meant the nightmares. Her voice
sounded so small, so pained that it made his chest ache.
He moved closer and gathered her into his arms again,
pressing a soft kiss against her cheek.

“You have to give it time,” he said reassuringly.
“You’ve been through a lot. You can’t expect it to go
away overnight.”

She was silent a moment. “What if it doesn’t? Ever?”

Mulder drew a deep breath. He didn’t have an answer for
that. “I don’t know,” he replied, truthfully. “It’s a
huge responsibility, taking care of a baby. And you
went through more than I or anyone else could ever truly
understand just trying to bring him into the world.
You’ll always worry about his safety, Scully, but I
think the worst fears will fade into the background
eventually. He’ll grow older, and along the way we’ll
have all kinds of new problems to worry about.”

Scully stretched her arm out toward the crib, even
though it was too far from the bed for her to actually
touch. They had the bassinet right next to the bed at
home, so she could easily bend over and pick Wim up
without getting out of the bed. He wondered why they
hadn’t pushed the crib closer to the bed here,
considering all that she’d been going through this past
week. She let her arm fall to the bed and closed her
eyes.

“I thought he was gone,” she said again, more distantly
this time as she mentally revisited the horror of her
latest nightmare.

“I know,” Mulder replied, laying his cheek against hers,
pulling her back into the present with his physical
closeness. “But he’s here, and he’s safe. See him over
there? He’s got his mouth hanging open the same way you
do when you’re in a deep sleep. Listen, you can hear
him sawing away.”

She laughed through her tears, sniffing again and
snuggling closer to Mulder. “Mmm hmm, just like you
do.”

“I do not!” he replied, his soft voice rasping in mock
offense. He knew as well as she did that it was true,
and he grinned when she glanced over her shoulder at
him.

Watching the baby sleep, they grew silent, spooned
together with his front molded to her back. After a
while, Scully said, “We have a lot to do when we get
home.”

Mulder rolled onto his back and sighed, biting the
inside of his cheek. “I know. God, I hate packing.”

She rolled over to face him, and he realized she might
take his protestation the wrong way, reading it as
hesitation. But her eyes shone brightly in the dimness.

“I’ll help.”

He smiled, staring up at the ceiling. That might be fun
– more fun than doing it alone, at any rate. The room
was gradually growing lighter, and he could hear the
seagulls calling to each other as they began to stir
outside.

“How soon do you want to…” He stopped himself as the
import of all that had happened between them the night
before sank in. Swallowing, he said, “Would you rather
we made things legal first?”

She grinned back at him, their eyes meeting, sharing the
same feeling of amazement over the turn their lives had
taken. “Why don’t we take care of the practical issues
first,” she said. “One thing at a time.”

He glanced at her again. “Are we telling anyone?”

“Well…” she thought about his question before she
answered him with her own. “What do you want to do?”

“I don’t know, my life is pretty simple in this area.
The most important person I have to tell already knows.”
He looked down at her warmly, and she smiled back at
him. “Other than Frohike.” That earned him a soft
laugh, and taking her hand, he continued, “But your
family is all here right now. Do you want to tell them
before we leave this afternoon?”

She rolled over onto her back, still holding onto his
hand as she blinked up at the ceiling. “I don’t want
you to take this the wrong way, but…”

“You don’t want to tell them.”

She turned her face to look at him. Her eyes were wide,
and he could read her sincerity. “I do, eventually. But
I’d like it to keep it a private matter a little
longer.”

He held her gaze a moment, nodding. “Alright, then.
How soon do you want to have the christening?”

At the mention of the christening she closed her eyes,
her face falling, and he had the impression that she’d
forgotten all about this particular bump in the road.
“I said I would, didn’t I…”

“Did you tell your mother you would?”

“In passing, while we were on the beach the other day.”
She blinked at the ceiling. “I wish I hadn’t.”

“You don’t want to do it now?”

“No, I do. There’s just so many other…” She stopped,
rolling over to face him again. She watched him a
moment. “Do you? Want to have the Christening, I mean?
I know you said the other day you didn’t mind, but
knowing you, Mulder…” She didn’t finish.

He hesitated before he answered. This was his chance to
say what he’d wanted to say when the subject had come up
the first time. They’d managed to air so many of the
issues between them in the day or so – he decided to go
ahead and add this one to the list.

“I do,” he said. “If you want to baptize him into the
church you grew up in, Scully, I want that too. But I
don’t want it to end there. I want him to be informed,
to experience other ways of thought, other faiths, other
spiritual sources.”

After a moment, she replied, “Of course.”

Mulder released her hand and sat up on the bed, turning
to face her, crossing his legs underneath him. “I need
you to be certain about what that entails, Scully,
because I’m not talking about showing him the Rugrats
Hanukkah special and calling that Judaism. I’m talking
about taking him places, showing him how other people
worship. Teaching him what other people believe.
Allowing him to follow his own path if he so chooses.”

Her brow creased as she stared back at him. “Mulder -”
she paused, sitting up and mirroring his position. When
she spoke again, she did it very carefully, playing with
a loose string on the knee of his pajama bottoms. “I
respect your desire to teach Wim about diversity in how
people worship. I will even agree to a certain extent
that he should be exposed to as many schools of thought,
as many spiritual influences as possible…”

He watched her, biting his lip, waiting for her to
continue. “*But*…”

She looked up at him, holding his gaze. He could see
she was choosing her words with care. “I’m not sure
that you understand what the sacrament of baptism means,
Mulder. It’s more than just sprinkling a little water
on Wim’s head and giving him a Christian name. By
baptizing him into the church, we’re making a commitment
to protect his spiritual future.”

“I thought we already agreed that’s what we both want.”

“It is, but it’s not just what we want as his parents.
Once Wim has been christened, we’ve made a commitment to
the church as well. A commitment to raise Wim as a
Catholic.”

He shook his head. “So what are you telling me, Scully?
This is an either-or situation? That if we go through
with the christening we can’t teach him anything but the
doctrine of the Catholic Church?”

She bit her lips together and looked down at her lap.
“No,” she replied, “It doesn’t mean we can’t teach him
about other religions.”

He shrugged. “So?”

Sighing, she thumbed her hair back behind her ears.
“Mulder, baptizing him is only the first step in a
lifelong process. Just as we accept the responsibility
for his care and well-being, when we have Wim christened
into the faith we are asked to accept the responsibility
for nurturing his spiritual growth, via the Church.”
She let out a quick breath and licked her lips. “If we
do that, and if we throw too many points of view at him
before he’s ready, we run the risk of confusing him. We
could, in effect, drive him away from the very thing we
want to encourage.”

Scratching his head, Mulder squinted at her. “Okay,” he
said. “I can see where you might be concerned about how
much information he’s exposed to. So we save the more
abstract concepts for later. In the meantime, how much
of the party line is he going to be fed? Is he just
going to be exposed to basic Christian concepts, or do
they start with the Immaculate Conception and the
Assumption right off the bat?”

His delivery was glib, and she stared at him, visibly
holding herself back from a quick retort. After an
uncomfortable moment, she said, “The Virgin Mary and the
Assumption are both essential elements of Catholic
doctrine, Mulder.”

“Is that a yes?”

“Mulder -”

“I’m just trying to understand what’s gonna be
acceptable for me to teach my son and what’s not,
according to a religion that declares the heavens opened
up to receive one woman, but won’t allow a woman into
the priesthood. A religion that has looked the other
way for years as nuns and altar-boys were sexually
abused by priests – priests who have taken *a vow of
celibacy^ – but won’t sanction the use of condoms in the
prevention of venereal disease because sex outside of
procreation is a *sin^ -”

“Mulder,” she said again, her eyes flashing. “I know
there are problems. I’m not saying there aren’t.
Catholicism isn’t the only world religion with
inconsistencies. But it’s *my^ religion, Mulder. I
*am^ a Catholic.” She paused, licking her lips as she
gathered her thoughts. “It’s a matter of faith. Faith
in the existence of a higher power, despite human
frailties. Accepting that there are miracles that defy
all logic.”

“So for you it’s faith, but when it comes to my beliefs
it’s obsession -”

“I never said -”

He shook his head, reaching out and caressing her face
softly before dropping his hand back to his lap. “No, I
know you didn’t. It’s just that the lines between what
is accepted blindly under the guise of religion and what
is deemed ridiculous and trite outside of the tenets of
religion have always confused and frustrated me.”

She took in a deep breath and released it slowly. “It
goes both ways, Mulder. Why is it you can believe that
spirits can return from the dead, that pure evil can
exist, that there is extraterrestrial life on this
planet right now, but you take issue with the concept of
the mother of Christ being bodily assumed into heaven?”

He felt his annoyance rising sharply, and he fought
against it, without complete success. “Why is it you
can believe in a miracle without a shred of tangible
proof, but you won’t believe you were inside of, escaped
from and fell off of an alien spacecraft?”

She closed her eyes and sighed, frustrated with him just
as he had quickly grown frustrated with her. This was
not a new argument by any stretch of the imagination.
But until now, their differences had been complimentary
– they had been able to function with and around their
differing opinions. But things had changed. Scully was
forced to admit how much their divergent points of view
were going to impact the way they proceeded in their
life together. Suddenly, faced with her own
unwillingness to back down in the face of this new
argument, their differences seemed large and ominous.
She sighed.

“We don’t know for sure *what* that was,” she said for
what was probably the millionth time.

Sometimes, he acknowledged to himself, he just wanted to
grab her and shake her. On this particular subject, she
could be such a goddamn contradiction. He watched as
she rubbed her forehead, knowing from experience that
she was quickly approaching the point of saturation,
when she would turn away from the subject altogether and
end the conversation. He ran both of his hands through
his hair, locking his fingers behind his head and
releasing a heavy breath.

“So,” he sighed, bringing the focus back to their son.
“We have to be careful when we introduce alternate
concepts to him so they don’t *interfere* with what he’s
already being taught in catechism.”

She stared up at him uneasily, but didn’t pull away.
Not yet. His voice had been laced with frustration,
even though he’d tried to bring it back to normal.
“There are many fundamental similarities in differing
religious philosophies,” she said softly. “So we start
with those.”

“Yeah,” he replied with resignation, turning his head to
the side, not looking at her. He counted to ten,
holding his tongue in case some wise-ass remark made its
way unchecked past his lips. They didn’t say anything
for a while, the uncomfortable silence stretching
between them as the room slowly filled with daylight.
Wim slept on, unaware of the difficulties his parents
faced on his behalf.

“Mulder,” Scully said, finally bringing his attention
back to her face with the tone of vulnerability in her
voice. “We don’t *have* to do this.”

“What do you mean?”

She paused. “I mean the christening.”

He studied her, seeing her struggle with the conflict
she was feeling. “Is that what you want?”

“No.” She dropped her eyes, averting her gaze. “But I’m
willing to consider the alternatives.” She released a
shaky breath.

This was a concession of considerable magnitude on her
part, and he knew it. He reached out and took her hand
in his, shaking his head. “No. No, I don’t want you to
regret this decision, or worse, to blame me for it some
day because I don’t believe in everything the Catholic
Church stands for. I meant what I said, Scully: however
frustrating it may be for me, I want you to share your
faith with Wim. But I can’t promise I won’t let my
opinion be known if and when issues come up that I don’t
agree with.”

“Of course,” she replied softly, allowing their fingers
to entwine without looking up at him. “I can’t say I go
along easily with every issue, either. There are some
things that I can’t and won’t accept. But that doesn’t
make me any less of a Catholic.”

He nodded. “Then we agree that even though we’ll
disagree at times, even though this is not the last time
we will have this conversation, we’ll try to do our best
to give him as many points of view as he can handle.”

She drew in a deep breath and let it out slowly.
“That’s all any parent can do.”

“Then it’s enough.”

“Is it?” Her voice wavered. She didn’t lift her head,
and after a long moment of silence, he reached out and
tipped her chin up with his fingers.

“I love you,” he said quietly, staring into her eyes.

She stared back at him, her look of uncertainty fading
slowly as her emotions welled in her eyes. “I love you,
too.”

He leaned forward, pressing his forehead against hers.
“We’re going to be good parents, Scully. He’s going to
have the best of both of us, I promise you.”

She sniffed, wrapped her arms around his neck, and they
both rose onto their knees, embracing. “I hope so.”
She laid her cheek against his shoulder, and he could
feel her eyelashes flutter against the cotton of his
tee-shirt.

“Mulder?” she said, her voice muffled against his chest.

He laid his chin on top of her head. “Hmmm?”

“Do you mind if Father McCue performs the ceremony?”

“I don’t care, Scully. Have him Baptized by whomever
you want.”

She shook her head slightly. “I mean the wedding.”

A slow grin spread on his face as he considered the
idea. It sent a small jolt through him to think that
they were actually going to be married, and he kissed
the top of her head, tightening his arms around her.
“Yeah,” he said, his voice husky against her hair.
“Anything you want. As long as it’s legal and we get a
wedding night…”

She sniffed, and pulled away, sitting back on her heels.
He did the same. “Thank you,” she smiled, wiping the
fresh tears from her cheeks.

Mulder smiled back at her, slightly guilty that she
should feel the need to thank him. But the thrum of his
body was more powerful. He raised his head, looking
over her shoulder at the window. The sun was clearing
the horizon, and he could feel his muscles quivering, in
need of release from the tensions and emotions of the
last half hour. His internal clock was chiming for his
morning run.

“Wanna jog up the beach with me?” he asked, raising his
eyebrows in query. “One last jaunt to the pier? Sneak
out underneath the pilings for another sand crab
cocktail?”

His question caught her mid-yawn, and she shook her head
with a smile. “No, I think I’ll doze a while. Just
until Wim wakes up.”

He leaned over and kissed her forehead soundly, then
climbed off the bed, hunting for his running shoes as
she lay back, burrowing into her pillow.

“I’m going to miss the air here,” he said. “I was just
getting used to *clean*.”

“Mmm,” she replied, and by the time he’d changed into
shorts and laced up his shoes, she had drifted off to
sleep.

~

Maggie walked down to the kitchen tying her robe around
her waist. Their last day at the beach had dawned crisp
and bright, and the sun was slanting through the great-
room windows in long, yellow rays. The doors to the
screened porch had been propped open to the soft morning
breeze, filling the downstairs with cool, sweet air.
Maggie took a deep breath. Although the air was
noticeably chillier than it had been the rest of the
week, it would still be a beautiful day today. She
hated to leave.

Charlie was sitting at the island counter, staring
absently at a pad of paper, twirling a pencil idly
around his fingers. He looked up as she approached and
gave her a slow smile. “Hi, Mom,” he said.

“You’re up early,” she said. In truth, he didn’t look
like he had slept at all. His eyes were ringed with
dark shadows, his face pale and drawn. She put a hand
up and smoothed her palm along the prickly edge of his
unshaven jaw. “Two days in a row,” she teased gently,
belying her concern. “What can we expect next?”

He closed his eyes, laughing softly, but there was a
line of discomfort in his brow, and Maggie’s felt her
heart sink a little as he shrugged away from her touch.

“No telling,” Charlie said, rubbing a hand over his
head. He took a weary breath and gave her a sideways
glance. “Up early two days in a row,” he mused. “I
suppose the priesthood can’t be far behind…”

Maggie chuffed. “Aren’t you funny,” she said, giving his
shoulder a squeeze as she passed behind him. The coffee
maker was already on and brewing, the carafe nearly
half-full. She looked back up at Charlie with real
surprise. “You *have* been up awhile -”

Charlie hummed. “About a half hour,” he said, his voice
drifting distractedly as he returned to his writing.
“Mulder put the coffee on before he left…”

“Left?” Maggie asked as the coffee maker beside her
sputtered. She turned to face him again. She didn’t
think Fox would have gone anywhere without first saying
goodbye. “Where’s Dana?”

Charlie was staring into the space just above his note
pad again, his thoughts turned elsewhere. Maggie leaned
against the counter to wait for the coffee to finish
brewing, and watched the gentle rise and fall of her
son’s back as he breathed. Her Charles. She loved all
of her children more than life – enough to break her
heart – but just as Dana had been the apple of her
father’s eye, so had Charlie been his mother’s special
one, her last baby. He was the little boy who had still
climbed onto her lap after the others were too big, the
one who had never blushed to kiss his mother goodbye.
As a small child he had been her constant companion, his
sticky fingers always mingling in the folds of her
skirts, his quick laughter always in her ears. Later,
when the older kids were gone to college and their
father away at sea, it was Charlie who had been there,
rattling around with her in the house on Captains’ Row,
playing pinochle late into the night. Years had passed
since then, and since Charlie had moved west to follow
his own star, but Maggie had never stopped feeling
wistful for the closeness they had once shared. She
watched him now, her baby boy, hunched over the counter
with his back to her, his heart clearly broken, and she
still missed him.

Charlie took in a sharp breath and let his pencil fall
to the counter.

“What are you writing?” she asked softly.

“Nothing. I don’t know,” he said, crumpling the page
he’d been writing and throwing it away in frustration.
The wad of paper bounced off the corner of the counter
and landed on the floor under the table. He sighed and
let his head fall forward, and Maggie frowned with
concern.

“Was that for Joy?” she asked after a moment. Charlie
pulled his head up and looked at her, blinking. Then he
looked away.

“Yeah,” he said, clearing his throat with a growl.
“You, ah -” He glanced up at her. “You know that we
broke up before she left?”

Maggie was quiet, her eyes conveying more than she felt
she could say. It hadn’t taken a lot of imagination to
guess what Joy’s early departure had meant, but Maggie
could not pretend that she was sorry Joy had left, or
that Charlie had chosen to stay behind with the rest of
them. She didn’t think he needed to hear that now,
though, so she pressed her lips together and said
nothing.

He took a deep breath and ran his hand over his head
again, a nervous gesture, his palm rasping against his
shorn scalp as he rubbed. “I know you think it’s for
the best,” he said quietly, not looking at her. “And
who knows, maybe you’re right -”

“Charlie…”

“I just wish you knew her, Mom,” he said, turning on his
stool to face her, his hand gripping the edge of the
counter. “She’s not like you think – she’s so much more
than what you saw this week.”

Maggie met her son’s glittering eyes. “I’m sure she is,
honey.”

“I just -” Charlie cut himself off and turned away,
blinking up at the ceiling and around the kitchen. He
picked the pencil up from the counter again and stared
at it. “I don’t know,” he sighed.

Maggie stepped forward and put her arms around his
shoulders, drawing him close as she had when he was
little, and cradling his head against her breast. “Oh,
Charlie,” she whispered.

She felt his arms steal around her waist, for a moment
that seemed far too short, time turned back and she had
her baby boy in her arms again. He sighed against her.

She stepped back and kissed his cheek, holding his chin
up so that she could look into his eyes. “Joy is a
beautiful, passionate girl, and whether you believe it
or not -” She smiled down at him. “- I *did* like her.”
Charlie laughed at this and tried to look away, but
Maggie held his eyes with her own. “She spoke her mind,
and I admire that. But she’s a bird with a broken wing,
Charlie. I don’t think she’s quite ready for someone
like you.”

“Someone like me,” he echoed skeptically, raising one
eyebrow.

Maggie nodded, smiling. “Someone from a close
traditional family,” she said, stroking his head fondly.
“Someone who knows what it’s like to grow up with a
mother and a father, and brothers and sisters. Someone
who looks forward to having a family of his own
someday.”

She saw the doubt and denial that flickered in his eyes,
and hoped she hadn’t misread him. They might not be as
close as they had once been, but she didn’t think that
her younger son had changed so much since then, not that
fundamentally. She stepped back, letting her hand drop,
but maintaining their eye contact. “You used to tell me
about how you wanted to get married and have children,
Charlie,” she reminded him gently. He watched her sadly
for a moment before he looked away.

“I used to tell you I wanted to be an astronaut too,
Mom. And a private-eye, and a rock star…” he said,
his tone weary. He smiled up at her, but only briefly.

She felt his words like an emotional shove, and she
moved away in response, taking a deep breath as she
turned her back on the cynicism that had hardened her
son’s face. The coffee maker spat the last drops into
the carafe, and she braced her fists against the
counter, chiding herself for having said anything, for
sticking her nose where it was obviously not invited.
Perhaps the years *had* changed Charlie more than she
cared to admit. They had all changed. She sighed,
feeling a tightness in her throat. Perhaps it was
useless to expect her children to remain her babies.

Behind her, Charlie cleared his throat again. “Mom, I’m
sorry -”

“No,” she said quickly, moving to open one of the
cupboards for a mug. She chose the wrong one and
reached for another, hoping that he wouldn’t hear the
catch in her voice. “I’m sorry. I’m sorry the week
ended up this way for you -”

“*Mom*,” he said, and this time he was just over her
shoulder, closing the second wrong cupboard for her and
opening the correct one. He pulled out a mug and set it
on the counter, bending slightly to look into her eyes.
He put his hands on her arms. “What happened with Joy
and me was gonna happen whether we were here or back
home or anywhere else,” he said. “I told you last night
that I was glad we came, and I meant that. I am really
glad we came. I wouldn’t trade this week for the world.
Thank you.”

She smiled and stepped into his outstretched arms as two
plump tears rolled off her lashes. “I love you, baby,”
she said. He tightened his arms around her.

“I love you, too.”

A lively squeak made them both look up as Dana came into
the kitchen holding Wim at her side. They were both
smiling, Dana watching her baby affectionately as Wim
grinned, showing off his speck of tooth and jogging his
fist at his mother. Maggie smiled, stepping back and
wiping quickly at her cheeks with the back of her wrist.
Dana saw her hurried gesture and frowned.

“Is something wrong?”

“Nothing,” Charlie answered quietly. He gave her a
smile and held his hands toward her. “Can I hold him?”

Maggie let out a short laugh at the dubious lift of
Scully’s eyebrow as she handed the baby to her brother.
Charlie aped Dana’s look indignantly as he took Wim, and
even Maggie was impressed at his easy confidence as he
sank back onto his stool and settled the baby on his
thigh. Dana’s skeptical look melted into a warm smile,
and in that moment, the resemblance between the siblings
was striking. They both favored their father so much.
Maggie bit her lips together against another surge of
emotion, and turned to pour her coffee.

Wim was grunting up at his uncle. “Hey big guy,”
Charlie said, bouncing his knee gently. “You ready to
go home today?”

Dana drew in a sharp breath as Maggie made room for her
in front of the coffee maker. Her daughter still looked
slightly puffy and glazed with sleep, but Maggie noted
with relief that the bruise under her eye had faded
considerably, and was not much more than a yellowish
shadow on her cheekbone.

Feeling Maggie’s gaze, Dana looked up and gave her
mother a smile as she took her own mug from the
cupboard. “Don’t remind us,” she said over her shoulder
to Charlie. “I was just beginning to relax.”

Maggie smiled and ran her finger under her eyes while
Dana poured. “I need to call Jane to tell her what time
I’ll be arriving tonight – I suppose I could see if she
would mind us staying a little longer.” She paused,
waiting to hear how her children would respond. Charlie
kept his eyes on Wim, who was grabbing gleefully at his
uncle’s face. Dana topped off her coffee and raised her
head, an uneasy crease in her brow. Maggie let them
both off the hook with a gentle smile. “But I know you
all have your lives to get back to,” she said. Dana
slumped against the counter with a sigh and a frown, and
Maggie continued with forced brightness, “Well, Jane
said her cleaning service won’t be here until three, so
why don’t we just enjoy our last couple of hours on the
beach, take our time packing -”

Charlie slid off of his stool. “I guess I should figure
out what time my flight leaves, huh?” he said. “You’re
headed to Jane’s in Halifax for tonight, right mom?”

Maggie nodded. Charlie looked toward his sister. “And
you’re driving back to DC, Dane?”

“We are,” Dana nodded, setting down her mug and holding
her hands out to take Wim back. Charlie held him away
with a grin.

“I’ve got him,” he said with gentle indignation,
settling the baby on his shoulder. “I *do* know how to
hold a baby, sis.”

Dana pursed her mouth around a smile as she picked her
coffee back up, still watching her brother doubtfully.
“And will you be needing a ride to the airport there,
Mr. Mom?”

“I might,” he said with a wink, and Wim stared goggle-
eyed over his uncle’s shoulder as they headed toward the
back bedrooms. Maggie laughed and moved slowly around
the island to take a seat at the table.

Dana leaned against the counter, cradling her mug
against her stomach. She glanced over at her mother.
“Did you want to go down to the beach before we start
packing?” she asked.

Maggie took a deep breath and turned to look out through
the windows, hooking her arm around the back of her
chair. The sky was turning a deep azure as the sun rose
higher, and she could see the tops of the dunes just
beyond the deck. It seemed a shame to spend any more
time cooped up in the house.

“It’s probably too chilly to swim,” she said, turning
back to her daughter. “But I think it’s too beautiful
out to waste our last day inside.”

Dana gave her a resolute nod and leaned forward to set
her coffee down again. “Me too,” she said. “I just
need to feed Wim -”

“Your brother needs something to do,” Maggie said. “Why
don’t you let him take care of the baby – you go on up.”

Dana looked at her with undisguised incredulity.
“*Charlie*?”

“Sure,” Maggie said, smiling at her own idea. “He’ll be
fine.”

Dana took a deep breath and cast a dubious glance toward
the back bedrooms, where her brother and her son had
just disappeared down the hallway. She looked up at her
mother, her brow still puckered with concern. “Well, I
wouldn’t mind one more luxurious shower.”

“I’ll keep an eye on him,” Maggie winked.

Dana let out her breath. “All right,” she said. She
picked up her coffee, still glancing uncertainly between
her mother and the hallway as she moved back toward the
stairs. “You promise you’ll watch him?”

Maggie couldn’t help but smile at her daughter’s
exaggerated concern. “Who are you worried about?” she
laughed. “Your brother, or the baby?”

“Both!” Dana continued back upstairs with a nervous
laugh, and not two minutes later, the door to the deck
opened. Fox stood in the doorway, flushed and breathing
hard from his run, his hair spiked with sweat.

“G’morning,” he said, pink-cheeked, as he leaned one
hand against the doorjamb as he toed his shoes off. He
kicked them aside and stooped to peel his socks from his
feet. “Got a little too close to the waves,” he
explained with a grin, letting the wet socks drop onto
the deck. He stalked into the room barefoot, shutting
the door behind him. “Is anyone else up yet?”

“Dana just went back up to shower,” Maggie said, taking
a sip from her coffee. “She left the baby with us for
his bottle.”

Fox stopped and glanced around the room, raising his
eyebrows at the obvious absence of Wim or anyone else in
the room. He gave her an ironic smile. “Oh?”

“Charlie has him,” Maggie said with a smile, getting up
from her chair and moving back around the counter.
“Would you like some coffee?”

She turned to see Fox gazing toward the stairs with an
intent expression. “I should probably get cleaned up
first,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck with a
wince. He squinted at her. “Charlie’s gonna feed Wim?”
he asked.

Maggie nodded. “We’ll take care of it,” she said.
Fox’s eyes brightened and he nodded contemplatively,
biting his lip and glancing toward the stairs again.
Maggie pressed down on the smile that tickled the
corners of her mouth, and wondered if he was aware of
how clearly his face broadcast exactly what he was
thinking. “Why don’t you go ahead?” she said over the
rim of her mug.

Fox stared at her for a moment, and it was all Maggie
could do to keep from laughing out loud. It wasn’t the
first time she had seen the subtle evidence of his
devotion to her daughter. She met his gaze with a soft,
knowing smile, and a spark of understanding passed
between them. He glanced away with a sheepish smile,
still rubbing the back of his neck.

“Go on,” she said, and she watched as he made his way
across the great room and up the stairs.

“Hey – Mulder -!” Charlie emerged from the back hallway
holding Wim out in front of him like a leaky bucket. The
baby was making hitching, hiccoughy noises in
anticipation of crying, and Charlie scanned the room
anxiously before looked over at his mother. “Where’d he
go?”

Maggie looked up in alarm. “What’s the matter?”

“I’m not sure,” Charlie said, looking down at the
squirming baby. “But I think a small atomic explosion
just went off in this kid’s diaper.”

The laugh Maggie had been holding in finally made its
way out. “Well,” she said, “it’s time you learned how to
handle these situations. Bring him over here -”

Charlie moved toward the stairs. “I’ll just run him up
so Dana can change him -”

“*No*,” Maggie said, shaking her head and surprising
Charlie with the firm insistence in her tone. “Just
leave them be and bring the baby over here…”

Charlie gave her a shrewd look. “Leave them be?” he
asked, sounding more than slightly incredulous. “What’s
-” Then he stopped, realization dawning as he stared at
his mother in disbelief. “Mo-om!” he exclaimedd in mock
horror.

“The diaper bag is next to the couch over there,” Maggie
said, ignoring his knowing chuckle and pointing toward
the living area. “You’ll need plenty of wipes, too.”

“You want *me* to change him?” Charlie asked, his eyes
going wide. Then he shook his head, his voice taking on
a sanctimonious tone. “Oh, no. No-no. Changing
diapers is one of the many joys of parenthood ? I
wouldn’t want to *deprive* them of the opp-”

“Charles,” Maggie said, using her eyebrow to its
greatest effect. Wim was crying for real now, his face
screwed up tight, his little legs pointing stiffly at
his uncle’s chest. Charlie groaned, and with an
exaggerated frown, brought the baby to the table by way
of the couch, where he stooped to pick up the bulky
diaper bag. Maggie helped him lay Wim’s changing
blanket on the table and stood nearby as Charlie opened
the baby’s diaper as gingerly as someone defusing a
bomb.

“Oh. Ohhh. *Holy shi* -” he stopped, glancing over at
his mother.

Maggie smiled and gave his shoulder a pat. “Welcome to
the joys of parenthood,” she said.

~

Mulder made *sure* he locked the bedroom door.

Not that he was concerned about noise or the door at
this point, since Maggie had all but handed him an
engraved invitation to have his way with her daughter.
At least, it sure as hell *seemed* like that was what
she’d done. Wim was in good hands, and it wasn’t likely
anyone would be interrupting them for a while. So he
pulled off his sweat-soaked clothing, one item at a
time, starting from just inside the bedroom door and
making his way across the bedroom, leaving a trail to
the bathroom. Since he left for his run, the windows
had been opened to the morning breeze, and now it turned
his damp skin to gooseflesh on contact. With a shiver,
he peeled off the cotton boxers sticking to his buttocks
and rushed into the steamy bathroom.

Scully turned, surprised when he entered the shower. He
put his hands on her shoulders, and as his mouth covered
hers, he moved her backward, effectively forcing her out
from under the direct line of the hot spray. She
chuckled, and Mulder released her mouth a moment later,
still holding her shoulders. Closing his eyes, he let
out a long sigh as the water warmed his skin and soothed
his aching muscles. His knees, in particular, felt like
rusty hinges. He’d pushed himself the last quarter mile
of his run, and he felt it most keenly in his legs.

“You pushed yourself out there, didn’t you.”

He opened his eyes. “Yeah, but I’m trying to get back
into shape.” Scully pursed her lips, and he knew what
she was thinking. “Don’t even say it. I am not *old*.”

“I wasn’t going to say that,” she replied, running her
hand down over his breastbone, her fingers tangling
gently in the sparse hair. “But your body suffered a
major trauma less than six months ago. You should
listen when it tells you to take it easy.”

The side of his mouth turned up in amusement. “Why
start now?”

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.
Besides, you’re stealing all the water.” He pulled her
closer, and moved his body just enough for the residual
spray to generously pepper her face. “Mulder!” she
shrieked, with her eyes clenched shut.

He laughed, and moved again, until her back was against
the wall, with his hips pressing against her from the
front. He watched her face, and when she opened her
eyes, his voice came out warm and intimate as he asked,
“Better?”

The expression in her eyes changed from an inquisitive
blue to a warm, affectionate green-blue, and she smiled.
“Mmm-hmmm.”

His body felt weak in a different way as he looked into
her eyes, as warmth spread from his chest outward. He
raised his hands to wipe away the excess water from her
face, then kissed her. Not hungry or needy, but a
gentle expression of his feelings, returned by her in
exactly the same way.

“Still wanna marry me?” he asked.

“I did say I would, didn’t I…” she replied, and
laughed as he goosed her bottom. He tried to lift her
up, but his knees buckled, and she nearly slipped out
of his arms onto the cold, hard tile. He caught her,
one arm wrapped around her back and the other behind her
knee, and eased her onto to her feet, both of them
heaving a sigh of relief that the fall had been averted.
It all happened in just a few seconds, and with nervous
chuckles, they held on to each other, forehead to
forehead, until their pulses returned to normal.

“Let’s stay in here all morning,” Mulder said softly.

“I have a better idea,” she replied, smiling. She took
his hand and led him out of the shower, and he grabbed a
towel, wrapping her up in it. She grabbed another towel
and tucked it around his hips.

“Wanna try swinging from the towel bar?” he asked,
resting his hand on the empty bar next to the shower.

She shook her head, and took his hand. “Come with me,”
she beckoned, leading him into the bedroom. She stopped
in front of the bed, smiling. “Why don’t we stay here a
while?”

With a grin, he pulled her towel off, and blotted her
hair with it gently. She climbed up on the bed, sitting
on her knees and facing him, and pulled his towel down,
letting it drop to the floor. He put a knee on the bed
and climbed on top, his momentum and physicality forcing
her back onto her back with a giggle.

“Relax and enjoy yourself, Scully, because we’re going
to be here a while,” he said, straddling her. He leaned
down and pulled one of her nipples into his mouth, and
she arched up, sliding her hands into his hair.

~

He was laying on her chest, his right ear over her
heart.

“I didn’t know you felt that way,” she said softly,
smoothing her hand over his hair and the side of his
face.

“I never told you,” he replied, his voice low. “I
didn’t feel like I had any claim on those feelings. I
didn’t know if you’d understand why I felt that way.
Not without getting into a whole new conversation that
we weren’t ready to have at that time.”

“I think about her a lot,” she whispered, drawing her
finger around the shell of his ear. “It means a lot
that you think of her, too.”

“She was mine, Scully. Maybe not biologically, but she
was mine because she was yours.”

Scully closed her eyes, waiting for the overpowering
wave of emotion to abate.

“I love you,” she said, wrapping him tightly in her
arms.

~

“I’ll never get tired of watching you,” he whispered,
sliding his fingers through her hair as he kissed her
neck.

Her breathing was still rapid, and she chuckled.
“You’re going to kill me if you keep it up,” she
replied, and he grinned.

“I could do this all day.”

She turned her head and looked at him, breathing hard,
and raised herself up onto her elbows. He sat back on
his haunches, watching her with satisfaction.

“Well now it’s your turn,” she said, giving him a strong
shove, and he fell backward. She crawled forward over
his legs, lowering her face to his abdomen and nibbling
on the flesh just below his navel.

“Oh yeah?” he asked, completely at her mercy.

Her reply was muffled as her mouth closed around him,
and he sucked in a gasp, slamming his eyes shut.

~

*”…boy you been a naughty girl, you let your knickers
down.”*

She giggled as he stuck his tongue in her ear.

*”…I am the eggman… wooo… they are the eggmen…
“*

He paused, raised his head and looked at her
expectantly.

“Woooo…” she replied.

“You do that well,” he commented.

“Shut up, Mulder.”

He laughed, and lowered his head again, nipping at her
clavicle, moving his lips down her body.

“Oh God,” she groaned, tightening her fists and throwing
her head back as his tongue found her swollen clit for
the third time.

~

Her back was propped against the headboard, and he sat
cross-legged, facing her, watching the earnest blue of
her eyes as she spoke.

“I was scared, Mulder. Scared about what was going on.
Scared that I’d done the wrong thing. Scared that you
wouldn’t forgive me.”

“You saved me,” he said, simply, and reached out to
brush the back of his fingers down her cheek. “As you
said, if I’d killed Krycek then and there, there would
have been no way to prove I didn’t kill my father.” He
looked down at his shoulder. “Albert Hosteen told me
your strength is what saved my life after they found me
in the desert.”

She tilted her head to the side, surprised.

“While he was taking care of me, he said that your
strength and spirit remained, even after you’d returned
to D.C.”

She smiled sadly. “He was a good man.”

He smiled, too. “Yeah, he was.”

~

She lay on her stomach, with her arms folded above her
head, and her face pressed against the mattress. She
watched him with one blue eye – watched him watching her
with his head propped up on one hand, his other hand
tracing light figures over the canvas of her back.

“What was it you think you saw?” he asked, focused on
the mark near the base of her spine.

“I don’t know, she answered truthfully. “I don’t think
I wanna know.”

He leaned over and pressed a kiss over the small scar on
her lower back, kissing up the line of her spine to her
shoulders, moving to hover over her as he did so.

“Well, I hope it’s true,” he said, brushing his lips
over her ear and back down her neck.

“Why?” she asked, as he nudged her knees apart with his,
kneeling between them. “If Fellig is to be believed,
it’s a lonely existence.”

“The prospect of you – lift your lovely ass for me,
darlin’…yes, that’s it -” he positioned himself and
slid inside her with a soft sigh. “-living forever is
particularly attractive.”

She sighed, pushing back into his slow strokes. “Only
if you’re there with me.”

He exhaled with each slow stroke. “Ah, yes,” he
replied, nuzzling the side of her face. “I want to be
there with you.”

~

They shared the spray, Scully leaning against Mulder,
and Mulder leaning against her, their arms loosely slung
around each other. The water was quickly going tepid,
but she was in no hurry to move, unless it was to
stretch up and share another luxurious kiss. Mulder
seemed to be on the edge of slumber, though, and for his
sake, she reached behind her and turned the water off.

“Mmm?” he hummed, raising his head from their kiss and
smiling at her under heavy-lidded eyes.

“Time to go,” she said, giving him a quick smile when he
grabbed her hand, entwining their fingers and holding on
tight as they stepped out of the shower into the steamy
bathroom. He grabbed her robe and handed it to her,
then shrugged his on, giving her one more sleepy smile.

She resisted the urge to pick up Mulder’s discarded
running clothes as they moved into the bedroom. He
wandered over to the window, crossing his arms and
looking out at the sparkling sea while she pulled clean
underwear out of the dresser, stepping into her panties
as she decided which outfit to wear.

“Looks like we’re late for the party,” Mulder commented.
“Everyone’s already down on the sand.”

“Can you see Wim?” she asked, walking over and peering
around him as she fastened her bra.

“Your mom has him.” He pointed. “See? There’s his
hat.”

She stood on tiptoe to get a glimpse over his shoulder,
smiling as she spotted the small denim hat, and imagined
the chubby little face underneath it. She took in a
deeply contented breath ?

The loud, shrill sound of a cell phone felt like a slap
of cold water, and it was only after a moment of
stupefied surprise that she scanned the room for her
phone, finally locating it on top of the dresser. The
sound was unexpected and obnoxious. Intrusive. She
felt a surge of resentment that someone was interrupting
the last precious moments of her time away, and didn’t
pick it up until the fifth ring.

“Hello?” she said cautiously.

“Agent Scully?”

She felt her irritation abate somewhat at the sound of
the familiar drawl, and tucked her wet hair back behind
her ears as she sat down on the bed. “Agent Doggett?”

“I just got your postcard.” She could hear the smile in
his voice. “How was your vacation?”

“Um, great.” She glanced over at Mulder, who was now
facing her. He had taken the towel from around his hips
and was using it to scrub the moisture out of his hair.
“We’re still here, actually. We’re driving back to D.C.
this afternoon.”

“Ah, I’m sorry, Agent Scully,” Doggett said with
sincerity. “I didn’t mean to interrupt your family
time. I hope you and Mulder are having a great time.”

“We are,” she replied, congenially. “Thanks.” She
waited for him to continue, but met only silence. “Was
there something you needed, Agent Doggett?”

He paused. “Naw, I just wanted your opinion on
something. It’ll keep.” There was another moment of
silence, and he added warmly, “You and Mulder enjoy the
rest of your vacation.”

“Thank you, Agent Doggett,” she said with gratitude.
She paused, and, after a moment’s hesitation, thumbed
off the phone and sat, staring at the wall in front of
her. She was still holding the phone in her hand, and
the realization that her cell phone hadn’t gone off all
week caused her to look down at it as if it were some
kind of foreign object.

Mulder was watching her from underneath his towel.

“I guess the vacation’s really over, huh?” he said.
“Not to mention your leave. You’ll be going back soon.”

She looked up at him, and met the steely, serious look
in his eyes. She found it disquieting, but it contained
no accusation, only resolve. It was not a comfortable
concept for her to consider, going back to work without
Mulder. She was confused by her guilt – guilt that she
wouldn’t be working with Mulder, guilt that she’d
already abandoned John Doggett and the X-Files months
ago. Guilt over the fact that she didn’t intend to
return to the X-Files, choosing to pursue an assignment
more suitable to home and family.

Mulder stepped toward her, the towel draped around his
neck. He was still nude, and the strange new reality of
her situation was, at that moment, blatantly obvious.
While she and Mulder were still the same people who had
worked together for so many years, that part of their
lives was past. Life was different now. There would be
some elements that carried over, but they had evolved
into something else. Something more.

“You okay?” Mulder asked quietly.

“Yeah,” she replied, glancing away. She shook her head
and drew in a deep breath. “Yeah,” she said again, with
more conviction. Standing, she looked up at him, then
ran her eyes down his torso. “Nice look, Mulder, but
I’m not sure the Outer Banks would approve.”

The corner of his mouth twisted up in a smirk, and he
draped the damp towel over her head, walking over to the
dresser. He pulled open a drawer and grabbed a pair of
boxer shorts.

“Smartass,” he said, not quite under his breath as he
stepped into the shorts and pulled the elastic up to his
hips.

“I learned from the best,” she replied with a grin,
tossing the towel onto the bed. “And our vacation isn’t
over yet, Mulder. I intend to enjoy every minute that’s
left of it.”

~

They met the others on the beach, where everyone was
lounging quietly amid the sparkling blue and yellow day,
as if their impending departure had cast a hush on them,
lulling conversation. Maggie was reading, Charlie was
whittling the same piece of driftwood from the night
before, and Bill lay stretched on his stomach, napping
in the sunshine while Tara and Matthew slowly patrolled
the waterline, hand in hand, checking for interesting
shells or bits of sea glass. Scully stooped over Wim’s
carrier, set on the sand next to her mother, and ran the
tips of her fingers lightly along the sleeping baby’s
forehead. She felt Mulder’s hand creep into her own,
twining their fingers gently at her side.

“How’s our boy?” he whispered, just behind her ear.

“Sleeping,” she whispered back, turning her face to find
his hovering just over her shoulder. Their noses nearly
touched. Scully felt a warm, somnolent wave wash
through her, spreading outward from her heart. There
was nothing she wanted so much right then as to spread a
blanket down on the sand and curl up with her two men –
to doze the rest of their time at the beach away under
the sky, so impossibly blue, with the sounds of the
ocean and the wind and the gulls in their ears. And she
had her wish, she realized – *it was hers*. She
blinked, letting her eyes drift shut slowly, trying to
remember the last time she’d felt this kind of peace.
She felt Mulder’s warm lips touch hers softly, and a
single tear slipped from the corner of her eye and
rolled along her cheek.

“What’s that,” he asked gently, soundlessly, tightening
his grasp on her hand. She stood, forcing him to
straighten up too, and brushed the tear-track away with
the back of her wrist. She smiled up at him.

“Nothing,” she told him. “I’m happy. That’s all.”

“Then enough of that,” he said, touching her chin
lightly with the side of one curled finger. His eyes
shone down at her, warmer than the sunlight. “Don’t you
go getting sentimental on me, Scully.”

She laughed, biting her lip and glancing over her
shoulder to see if her mother had been watching them,
but Maggie was nodding over her hardcover, almost
asleep. Despite what she had said and thought earlier
that morning, Scully found herself fighting an almost
irresistible urge to wake her mother up, to tell her,
*Mom, I’m getting married -!* – to kneel in front of her
with shining eyes and let her in on their news. She
turned back to look at Mulder, who had followed her
glance toward Maggie.

“Go on,” he said, giving her a conspiratorial smile.
“Tell her if you want to.”

He was unfolding the Mexican blanket, shaking it out,
and the sight of it caused a flutter of remembered
sensation low in Scully’s stomach. No, she thought.
This would remain their secret for a while longer. She
shook her head at him. “No. Not yet.”

“Then help me spread this out,” he said, stepping back
and tossing her a corner of the blanket. And as they
smoothed the blanket down on the sand, Mulder stretched
out and sank drowsily toward sleep. She carefully
lifted Wim from his carrier and settled him in her lap,
the waves rolling with quiet thunder into the beach.
The wind lifted her hair, and Scully thought that she
had not been this happy in a very long time.

~

…He saw a house… a big house… where they would
live together, with a tree in the back where he would
hang a rope swing for Wim…

Passing fragments of dream-vision mingled loosely with
snatches of the low conversation Scully was having with
her mother, blending together in his mind in the way of
dreams – making sense only in his altered state of
consciousness.

Maggie had asked how much longer it would be before
Scully returned to work.

“Two weeks,” Scully answered.

“Have you made arrangements for child-care?” Maggie
asked.

Scully sighed. “There are a lot of things we still need
to discuss…”

…he saw himself, was himself, carrying their son
through wide white rooms, smiling… the back yard was
bigger than the yard in Chilmark…

“You know that I’ll help any way I can…” Maggie
offered.

…he saw Scully smiling – he’d never seen her so happy
before and he shared it with her – a feeling like being
full, like being warm, like sex – the feeling of holding
Wim in one arm and Scully in the other…

“Thanks, Mom…”

And then Scully shifted, pulling her sweater close and
zipping it up, laying her warm hand against his goose-
bumped arm. Mulder inhaled sharply, blinking into real
wakefulness, but bringing his dream-smile back with him.
Scully crinkled her nose at him and rubbed his arm
brusquely.

“You’re cold,” she said, grinning at him. “Good nap?”

He hummed, heaving himself up on his elbows and
squinting into the dazzling sunlight. He didn’t know if
he had truly slept, but it had been good, an
otherworldly beach-sleep, and it had claimed him. Some
of that hazy contentment clung to him as he clambered to
his feet, huffing out another breath. He held his hand
out to her.

“Come on,” he said, with a short glance toward Maggie.
He looked back into Scully’s eyes. “Walk with me.”

The wind was soft, but had a brisk edge to it as they
made their way up the beach, walking side by side at the
edge of the water. Scully had left her shoes on the
blanket, and walked barefoot in the wet sand. Mulder
watched as the smallest waves lapped over the tops of
her feet, washing around her ankles. He stopped to kick
off his own shoes.

“So we should talk about what happens when you go back
to work,” he said.

Scully had swung around on her own momentum when he
stopped, and was standing in front of him, their joined
hands dangling between them. Her expression was at
first surprised, then thoughtful. She looked down at
the sand and nodded, tracing a small circle with her
toe. Then she looked up, squinting at him through her
wind-blown hair.

“Were you listening to my conversation with Mom?” she
asked, reaching up to pull the red-gold strands from her
eyes, tucking them behind her ears.

Mulder bent and hooked two fingers into the heels of his
shoes, picking them up. “Some,” he said as they started
walking again. “I heard you talking about daycare for
Wim.”

“Well, we weren’t talking about daycare, per se.”

“I’ll stay home with him,” he offered, perhaps too
quickly. She looked up at him with another startled
expression.

“For how long?” she asked.

“I don’t know, Scully,” he said, laughing at the abrupt
frankness of her question. He shifted his grasp on her
hand, curling his little finger between two of hers.
“Until he’s eating solid food? Until he leaves for
college? I don’t know.”

“You’re not going back to work?”

He pretended not to notice the note of alarm in her
voice. “I haven’t decided anything yet.”

She didn’t say anything to this, and they walked in
silence for some distance. He went on.

“But until I do, I’d like to stay home with Wim.”

There was another quiet pause. Then Scully let out a
loud laugh, and he turned to see her grinning broadly
into the sunshine, her head thrown back.

“Are you laughing at me?” he asked, quirking an eyebrow
at her.

“No,” she said, smiling up at him and swinging their
hands between them slightly. She looked down at their
feet and he followed her stare, watching the mosaic of
broken shells they were walking on. “I laughed at
Charlie this morning,” she told him, sounding slightly
bemused. She chuckled. “I called him *Mr. Mom*…”

“So you *are* laughing at me,” he said dryly, not sure
if he was really amused. This time Scully stopped, and
he moved around to look down into her upturned face.
Her eyes were sparkling.

“No, I’m not, Mulder. I’m -” She looked away as
another smile split her face, and shook her head. “It’s
all just…leaving the X-Files, and now having this
conversation with you…” She looked up at him, and he
grinned back at her.

“Who else would you be having it with?”

She cocked her head to the side and gave him her look –
that raised eyebrow, those pursed lips, the eyes that
betrayed her amusement and love every time. He reached
up and pulled the wind-tossed strands of hair away from
her face, and tucked them behind her ear. Their eyes
locked. “No one,” she said, her soft voice nearly
swallowed by the wind. “No one in this world.”

“Good,” he said, and with a gentle tug he pulled her
close, turning her until he was standing behind her, his
arms crossed around her shoulders as they both looked
out over the waves. He rested his chin on her hair.
“And really, Scully – what have you got against Stay-at-
home-Dads?”

She chuckled, tilting her head and leaning her cheek
against his forearm. “Nothing at all,” she said. “It’s
just not a role I would ever have imagined for you,
Mulder.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” he murmured against her hair. “I’ve
done a good job so far.”

“You haven’t had him by yourself for a whole day yet,”
she reminded him.

He smiled, feeling a keen sense of anticipation. “I
know.”

“Mulder,” she said, breaking a long moment in which the
wind and the waves had been the only sound. He bent his
head, nuzzling against the smooth, sweet-smelling satin
of her hair.

“Hmm?”

She stepped forward, out of his embrace so that she
could face him. Her eyes were glittering, dark and
serious, as they looked up into his. “Whatever might be
coming,” she said, “whatever happens in the next few
weeks or months… right now, I -”

She stopped, looking up at him, searching for some
answer to what she was feeling. He found he did not
have words for her, no words that could match the
beauty, the sense of perfection he felt looking at her,
windswept and glowing, her eyes sparkling more brightly
than the sea beyond her shoulder. He found himself
blinking, dazzled, feeling like he had been swept back
into his dream…

…the energy of sparkling water, perfect communication,
love without regret…

…The Joyous.

“What?” Scully asked, stepping closer, sweeping the hair
from her face. He had spoken out loud. He shook his
head with a soft laugh and pulled her into his arms
again.

“Nothing,” he said, kissing the top of her head. He
held her tightly, feeling her hands spread wide against
his back, her fingertips pressing into him, claiming
him. He was so completely hers.

~

By mid-afternoon, everyone had accepted the inevitable
and come back up to the house to finish packing
suitcases and start loading the cars. It was a three-
hour ride to the airport in Norfolk, and six hours to
Washington, but with the storm, there was no telling
what kind of delays they might run into on the roads.
Charlie was going to ride with Bill and Tara to the
airport, and the rest of them hoped to be on the road by
two.

Tara was upstairs with Maggie, helping her strip the
beds and pack the linens, while Scully gathered Wim’s
belongings and took care of the linens in the bedroom
she had shared with Mulder. Bill, Charlie and Mulder
were downstairs, sweeping the common rooms for the
personal things they’d brought with them.

Mulder was on the floor, checking for stray items of
Wim’s under the sofa. He looked up just in time to see
Charlie pull the basketball out of the coat closet,
turning it over in his hands with reverence. Mulder
smiled.

He knew the feeling.

Standing, he caught Charlie’s eye, and the ball passed
across the open room. Mulder caught it between his
palms with a clean *thunk*, like the sound of a lock
slipping into place or a machine clicking into gear. He
massaged the nubbly surface with the pads of his
fingers, looking up to see Charlie watching him with a
grin. He passed the ball back, noticing Charlie’s look
of satisfaction as the ball slipped into his hands with
the same clean sound.

Bill entered from the back bedroom, and within seconds
the ball was whizzing past Mulder, landing neatly in
Bill’s hands. He stared at the ball as Charlie had
done, feeling the rough skin as Mulder had. A smile
cracked his face, and he passed the ball to Mulder.
Mulder grinned, feeling a sense of camaraderie with
Scully’s brothers. Looking up at Charlie, he saw a
glint in his eye.

“Horse,” Charlie said. “Losers carry the luggage and
load the cars.”

Mulder felt a moment of electricity as the challenge
filled the room. He saw Charlie exchange looks with
Bill, and the both of them focus on him. Something
passed between the three of them, a suspension of time,
a moment of realization. They all recognized it, and
seconds later, they were barreling out the front door.

“We shoot for dibs on who goes first -”

“Ro-sham-bo ?”

“*What*?”

“Rock-paper-scissors, man -”

“Just shoot, it doesn’t matter who goes first -!”

“What about the cars?”

“We’ll play around ’em -”

“Bumper shot from the back of Bill’s van -”

“Is your alarm on?”

“Anybody who trips the alarm is automatically out -”

“This crack is the first shot -!”

The ball sailed through the air, hitting the backboard
loudly before dropping through the hoop. Bill yelled,
“Woo hoo!” and Charlie retrieved it, taking the next
shot.

He aimed, and the ball arced through the air, soaring
through the hoop, nothing but net. Turning, he pointed
a finger at Mulder.

“Match that, Oxford,” he said. Mulder grabbed the ball
out of the air and shot in a single fluid movement.
Another swish. Charlie raised his eyebrows at him.

“Not bad,” he said, grinning with smug approval. “Let’s
see if you can keep that up.”

~

Scully heard the gleeful *whoop* and felt the house
shake as the men downstairs raced one another to the
door. She smiled down at Wim, who lay on a blanket in
his bare crib, rattling his plastic keys.

“What are they up to now?” she asked him, setting aside
the blankets and onesies she had been packing and
bending to lift him. “What do you think your daddy is
up to?”

She carried him into the room that Charlie and Joy had
shared, and found her mother and Tara standing at the
window, holding the venetian blinds apart to peer out.

“What’s going on down there?” Scully asked. Tara turned
and gave her a smile.

“They found the basketball,” she said, rolling her eyes.
She moved to make room for Scully near the window, and
Scully stepped between her mother and sister-in-law.
The outer edge of the driveway was just visible from
their vantage, and they could see Mulder standing near
one of the cars, dribbling the basketball and laughing
at the unseen others. Then his face went blank as he
took stance and brought the ball up in a smooth hook.
They lost sight of the ball, unable to see the basket
from where they watched, but heard the swoosh of the net
and the *tang* from the ball hitting the ground. Tara
turned toward Scully and Maggie. “I hope they don’t
wake Matthew with all of their shouting,” she said.
“Come on, let’s go down to my room and watch from the
balcony.”

~

Bill had scooped up the ball and was dribbling it into
the small space between his van and Maggie’s car. “Okay
then,” he said, smiling as he glanced between the other
two men. “Jump shot -” He raised the ball. “Off the
rim -”

He launched the ball with a flick of his wrist and it
sailed, bouncing once off the right side of the hoop and
dropping through.

“C’mon, Billy,” Charlie groaned as Mulder stepped up to
grab the ball and take Bill’s place between the cars.
“You gotta make it harder than *that* -”

Mulder’s shot hit the rim at the same point Bill’s had,
but bounced wide and away from the net. Charlie
laughed. “Or maybe you don’t!”

“*H* for Mulder,” Bill said, retrieving the ball and
dribbling it with a smirk. Mulder shrugged and smiled
back.

“A little something I learned at *Oxford*,” he said as
Bill passed the ball to Charlie. “Letting you develop a
false sense of confidence before I whoop your asses.”

Bill shook his head and laughed. “Is *that* what that
was -?”

Charlie was making a dramatic show of setting up for his
shot, crouching low with the ball poised just left of
his forehead before he sprang up and let fly, a perfect
imitation of his brother’s shot. He froze on his follow
through, arm held high, wrist dangling, maintaining his
exaggerated posture until the ball hit the ground below
the net.

“Ohhh *yes*,” he said. He looked over at his brother
with grin. “That can not be taught. That, my friend,
is Scully D.N.A.”

~

Scully sat on the balcony, on the same chaise she’d
occupied the last time her brothers and Mulder had
decided to play ball. Maggie sat to her right, and Tara
was the last out the door, sliding the screen shut and
pulling up a chair on the left, near the railing.

“He’s still asleep, thank God,” she said. “He was up
late last night, refusing to close his eyes and go to
sleep. He was just so wound up.”

Scully looked over at her with mild concern. “Is he
okay?”

Tara nodded. “He seems to be. He was talking about the
storm, though.”

“Oh?” Maggie said. “What did he say?”

Down below, they heard the ball slam into the backboard,
followed by laughter.

“‘H’ for you, too, Charles -”

Tara glanced over at Scully. “You know how scared he
was.” Scully nodded. “Well, that story has changed a
little. Now he says it was baby Wim who was scared, not
him. He says the baby didn’t like it when the grownups
were fighting, so he told Matthew to take him outside.”

Scully pursed her lips, looking down at her little
bundle of joy, wriggling on her lap, chewing on his
fist. She heard Mulder laughing in the distance, and
she smiled softly.

“Isn’t that precious,” Maggie said. “I’ll bet he feels
bad about what happened and that’s his means of
justification.”

“It wasn’t his fault,” Scully said, looking up. “It’s
understandable that he would be frightened, under the
circumstances.”

“I think we’re just lucky they came through it without a
scratch,” Tara replied.

“I wonder,” Scully said, wrapping her hands around Wim’s
bare feet, touching the bottoms together in a syncopated
rhythm.

They were silent, the laughter and cheers of the men
filling the silence.

“‘O’ Mulder! You big ‘HO’!”

Finally, Maggie asked, “What do you wonder, honey?”

Scully looked up at her mother and smiled sheepishly.
“How much luck had to do with it.”

“What do you think it was, Dana?” Tara asked, her
forehead puckered in confusion.

Scully looked back down at Wim and licked her lips,
thinking about whether or not she should voice her
feelings. She had no proof, no evidence to back up her
ideas, just a niggling feeling that wouldn’t leave her
alone. A feeling that somebody was watching out for
them. She shook it off. “Maybe it *is* luck. I don’t
know,” she said at last.

She could feel Tara’s eyes on her, and looking up, she
met her gaze. She saw a hint of understanding.

“Maybe it’s all happening just as it’s supposed to,”
Tara said softly, and turned to watch her husband down
in the driveway. “Look at them now.”

~

Charlie missed his next shot, pulling even with Mulder,
while Bill was still in the lead.

“Mulder’s shot next,” he said, passing the ball to
Mulder. Mulder caught the ball and dribbled, seeing the
expectant look on both brothers’ faces.

“What’s it gonna be?” Bill asked.

Mulder grinned, bouncing the ball lightly, delighting in
the hollow resonance of the rubber bouncing off the
concrete, the stretch of the tendons in his hand as he
palmed the ball. He looked up and met Charlie’s eyes.

“Impress me,” Charlie said, his eyes shining with eager
anticipation. Mulder nodded, mentally running through
his catalog of shots.

“Sky hook,” he said finally, bouncing the ball into this
right hand. “No backboard -”

He pivoted slightly, bent his knees and, popping back
up, swept his right arm back and around in a wide curve.
He caught a flash of red out of the corner of his eye,
and glancing up, saw Scully standing at the railing,
watching him. He smiled to himself, sending the ball
toward the basket with a quick release at the top of the
arc. Bill and Charlie chuckled low as it hit the rim
and bounced back toward Mulder.

“You’re not the first guy to miss a shot ogling my
sister,” Charlie commented.

Mulder caught the ball, his mouth twisting into a self-
deprecating smirk. “Yeah, but I’d better be the last,”
he said, turning and passing the ball to Charlie.

~

The shots became progressively more outrageous as the
game progressed, from Bill’s blind bounce shot to
Mulder’s reverse lay-up. Mulder and Charlie both needed
the ‘E’ on the word ‘HORSE’ to be disqualified from the
game, and the attitude among the players had grown
increasingly silly. When Bill missed a comparatively
simple bank-shot off the corner of the backboard, it was
because he was laughing too hard to shoot straight.

The ball ricocheted wildly off of one of the posts,
flying toward the balcony, and Tara leaned over the
railing to catch it. It grazed the tips of her fingers
and fell to the ground.

“Oh, shoot -!” she cried, watching as the guys scrambled
to catch the ball before it rolled under Maggie’s car
while Scully and Maggie laughed.

“That’s ‘R’ for you, Billy Boy,” Charlie said, stopping
the ball at the front passenger side tire.

“‘R’, as in, *are* you going to make this shot?” Bill
quipped as Charlie passed the ball to Mulder.

Mulder was setting himself up for the same bank-shot,
and he dropped his arms, groaning. He looked over at
Bill, and laughed.

“Come on, Mulder, this one is totally *Eeeee*asy’,” Bill
taunted, and Charlie began a fresh peal of laughter at
Mulder’s facial response to both Bill’s and Charlie’s
puns.

“I will gladly lose the game,” Mulder shot back glibly,
“if you’re continually going to taunt me with bad
humor.” He set up again, and let the ball fly, hitting
the backboard. The ball dropped cleanly through the
hoop.

“Watch closely, Oxford, and you might learn something,”
Charlie said as he set up the same shot. He bent his
knees, letting the ball roll off of the tips of his
fingers. The ball hit the backboard and then the rim,
spinning around the rim slowly before dropping over the
side.

“‘E’!” Mulder and Bill yelled in unison, jumping in the
air and slapping their hands together in a high-five as
Charlie grabbed his head with both of his hands.

“I can’t believe I missed that!” he wailed.

“Oh *bellboy*!” Mulder called, affecting an uppercrusty
British accent. “Do bring my luggage down…”

Charlie laughed, crossed his arms and leaned back
against Bill’s van, shaking his head with a good-natured
smile. “Oh no. No no no no no. One of you is going to
help me, and I’m not moving until I find out which one
of you it’s gonna be.”

Bill and Mulder exchanged a look, then Mulder handed him
the ball. “Call it.”

Bill turned, his mouth moving silently as he chose his
next shot. He bounced the ball once, twice, then held
it between his hands. “Free throw from the end of the
driveway.”

Mulder smiled and nodded once. “You’re on.”

Bill walked down to the end of the driveway, turning to
face the hoop while everyone else watched. Mulder
looked over and saw Charlie rubbing his hands together,
his face alight with evil glee.

“Toe the line, Billy-boy!” he called down to Bill. “Toe
the line!”

Bill smirked up at his brother and jammed the toe of his
shoe against the line that separated the concrete
driveway from the street’s blacktop. Crouching low on
his knees, he dribbled once, twice –

“He’ll *never* make it!” Charlie crowed with delight.

“Charlie, shut *up*!” Tara called from the balcony.
Mulder looked up to see the three women grinning down at
them. At the end of the driveway, Bill was still
dribbling, and Mulder could see him sizing up the shot.
It was at least forty feet from the edge of the driveway
to the basket – almost half the length of a regulation
court. Mulder had made longer shots before – the guys
at the Y didn’t call him *Tres* for nothing – but this
was further than the average three-pointer, and he
wondered how Bill was with distance.

Bill was good with distance. His shot flew high and
straight, hit the inner square of the backboard and
dropped directly though the hoop. The women on the
balcony let up a chorus of howling applause.

Charlie let out a whoop. “He made it! He actually made
it -!”

“Whoo!” Bill shouted, pumping his fist. Charlie caught
the ball before it bounced into his mother’s windshield
and stepped forward to offer his brother his hand.

“You have restored the Scully honor,” he said, and
Mulder watched as they went through the same modified
secret-handshake he had seen the day before, culminating
in more laughter and another high-five.

Then all eyes were on him.

“It’s all yours now, Fox,” Maggie called down. Mulder
glanced toward the balcony again to see the ladies
smiling down at him. He caught Scully’s eye and she
winked.

Charlie was sauntering toward him with the ball,
squinting fiercely, his face deadpan. He held the ball
out toward Mulder.

“You’ve got to ask yourself one question -” he said,
adding a ridiculous rasp to his voice. “*Do I feel
lucky?*”

He grabbed the ball away when Mulder reached for it, and
Mulder shrugged forward, laughing while Bill let out a
cackle. Charlie struggled to maintain his Dirty-Harry
composure as he offered the ball a second time. “Well
do ya? *Punk*?”

“Just give me the ball -” Mulder grinned, grabbing it
away before Charlie could tease him again. Bill and
Charlie were laughing uproariously as he made his way to
the end of the driveway, and Mulder could hear the
chuckles coming from the balcony. He looked back toward
his goal. The basket looked very far away from where he
stood, his toes against the edge of the sloping curb,
but he knew he could make this shot. He dribbled the
ball slowly and bent his knees experimentally, eyeing
the distance between him and the net.

“Come on!” Tara shouted. “You can do it!”

Mulder dribbled and looked up to see Tara and Maggie on
the balcony smiling their encouragement, Scully holding
Wim up to watch, Bill and Charlie leaning together
against the van, laughing their asses off. It brought a
grin to his face.

“You gonna shoot the ball there, Smiley?” Charlie
called, giggling.

Mulder stopped the ball in his hands and focused on the
basket. It really wasn’t so far; it really wasn’t such
a hard shot. He glanced again at the assembled family,
at the brothers laughing and ribbing each other up the
driveway. Everyone was smiling. He bent into his
knees, raised the ball – popped up, released – and the
ball soared, following a perfect arc toward the basket.

It struck the front of the rim with a loud *thwang* and
bounced back, landing a direct hit to the back
windshield of Bill’s van. The car came abruptly to life
as the alarm sounded, like a penalty buzzer, honking
Mulder’s defeat over and over and over.

There was a volley of “awws” from the balcony, and
another round of laughter from Charlie and Bill. Mulder
gave them all a chagrined smile, and glanced sheepishly
at Bill, who was reaching into his pocket for his keys.
He disarmed the alarm with a click of his key-fob.

“Sorry,” Mulder said. Bill grinned at him.

“Nah, don’t be,” he said good-naturedly. Then he
pressed the keys into Mulder’s hand with a grin. “You
just have fun packing. I think *I’m* gonna go enjoy a
cool shower!”

~

Scully strolled slowly around the great room, running
her hand along the back of the sofa, committing to
memory the way the sun, streaming through the French
doors, fell in a pattern of rectangles onto the wooden
floor. She stopped just outside of the nearest
rectangle, turning to look up toward the second floor.

She was sorry to leave.

Turning again, she looked out the French doors to the
deck and the dunes. The sea lay just beyond, the early
afternoon sun twinkling off its surface. She opened the
door, stepping out onto the deck and drawing the fresh
sea air into her lungs. She would miss the sea most of
all.

Crossing the deck, she stopped at the railing, leaning
forward and closing her eyes as the breeze blew the hair
back from her face. *I will come back here,* she
promised herself. *Someday…*

“Scully?”

She turned at her name to face her brother Bill as he
approached. She crossed her arms in front of her and
smiled a light-lipped smile.

“All packed?” she asked, leaning her rear-end against
the rail.

“Almost,” he said. “Charlie’s trying to pack the van.”

She looked down at her feet and grinned to herself,
knowing that packing was not their younger brother’s
strongest suit. Bill leaned back against the railing,
mimicking her pose.

“So you’re taking him to the airport?” she asked. Bill
nodded, gazing back into the house.

“It makes the most sense. We’re all flying out around
the same time, same place…there’s no point in you guys
going out of your way.”

A strand of hair blew across her face, and she tucked it
back behind her ear with a nod. She couldn’t argue with
his logic. They didn’t say anything for a while, both
of them staring at the house, at the sky, at the
seagulls – anything except each other.

“So,” Bill said, finally. “You guys ready to go?”

She sighed. “Yeah.” She stretched her back, feeling a
couple of vertebrae pop. “Long drive.”

“Yeah,” he replied, and again the awkward silence
stretched around them.

They fell silent again, both uncomfortable without the
rest of the family there as a buffer, and neither one of
them good at goodbyes. Scully turned and looked seaward
again, then Bill turned toward her, and she could feel
him studying her face. She looked up and met his gaze,
the wind tossing her hair around as she squinted against
the sun.

“Call me sometime,” he said. “Let me know how you’re
doing.”

She looked down and nodded, almost purely as a reflex.

“I’ve been talking with Tara,” he continued hesitantly.
“She thinks you’re happy.”

She squinted up at him again, her gaze direct. “But you
don’t?”

He shrugged, his eyes sliding away from hers. “I hope
you are, Dana.” She blinked at him, steeling herself
for the oncoming criticism. But he shook his head as
her body stiffened. “I can’t agree with some of the
choices you’ve made, but I know you’re going to do what
you think you need to do. Like that hurricane…” He
paused, looking out at the ocean.

She followed his line of vision, toward the blue sky and
azure sea, and wondered if they saw the same sky and
sea, or if the blues she saw appeared different to his
eyes. Bill stared out toward the sea a moment longer,
then shook his head again and turned back around,
pressing his lips together in a firm line.

“I know you can take care of yourself, but that doesn’t
mean I won’t worry about you,” he said.

She chuffed. “Bill -”

“I know,” he said, cutting her off. “But I do. You
can’t stop me from worrying any more than I can control
your life.”

She let out her breath, slowly, and nodded. She worried
about him, too. “Yeah,” she said, her voice sounding
strange to her own ears. Bill leaned toward her,
lowering his voice.

“And I don’t hate him,” he said. She looked up and met
his eyes; she didn’t have to ask whom he meant. Bill
wasn’t smiling, but there was a warmth and sincerity in
his eyes as he continued that she had not often seen
there before. “I’ve seen how much you care about each
other. I just -” He stopped himself. “You’re my
sister, Dana,” he said quietly, nearly a whisper. “I
hope all this pain you’ve been through stops here.”

She felt the burn in the back of her throat, and the
stinging in her eyes as tears began to form. Sniffing
quickly to hold them at bay, she nodded. A week ago,
she had been furious with him and her mother for
interfering in her life; she had been ready to turn
around and go home. Now that it was time to say
goodbye, her original resentment felt hollow and the
thought of leaving this place and her family was
difficult. She had never expected to feel this
emotional about it.

Bill let out a heavy sigh, forcing lightness into his
voice. “So, Christmas…”

She sniffed again, and wiped the tears from her cheeks.
“What about it?”

“It’d be great if we could all get together again.”

There was no telling what her life was going to be like
in a week’s time, let alone Christmas, but she nodded,
hoping that by the time the holidays came around she
would still feel as close to her family as she did at
that moment.

“I’d like that too,” she said.

Looking up at him, she saw the sincerity in his eyes and
in his hesitant step forward. They moved into a hug
that began awkwardly and became heartfelt. She wrapped
her arms around him, squeezing tight. As opinionated
and infuriating as he could be, she still loved him
dearly, and hated that the week was finally ending.

~

Mulder came down the stairs and glanced around the great
room, moving toward the open French doors in his search
for Scully. He stopped just inside the door, in time to
see her on the deck, sharing an embrace with her brother
Bill.

Tara was coming down the hallway with Wim in her arms,
and she stopped next to Mulder, watching.

“I can’t tell you how happy it makes me to see that,”
she said quietly, glancing up at Mulder with a smile.
She had Wim’s diaper bag on her shoulder, and she
shrugged it off to hand it over. Wim stuck his tongue
out and blew a spit bubble at his father, kicking his
legs.

Mulder smiled, slinging the bag over his shoulder before
reaching out to take Wim. “You ready to go, big guy?”
he asked the baby, then turned his attention back to
Tara. “They both needed this.”

“We all did,” she replied, reaching out to tweak Wim’s
toes. She glanced up at Mulder with a knowing smile.
“It was a great week, in spite of the weather. I’m
gonna miss you guys.”

He looked at her, realizing that he would miss her, too.
He liked her warmth, and her easy manner. “Maybe you’ll
be back on this side of the country before long.”

Tears welled instantly in her eyes, and she laughed. “I
hope so.” Then she stepped forward, reaching her arm
around his shoulder to give him a fast, hard hug, as
much as the baby and the bag would allow, and a quick
kiss on the cheek. Stepping back, she sniffed,
blinking. “Um, he’s got a fresh diaper -” she said,
gesturing toward Wim, and passing an impatient finger
under one eye. “And he’s been fed ?”

“Thanks,” Mulder replied, looking down at his son, then
smiling at her. “I guess we’re good to go, then.”
Scully and Bill had pulled out of their embrace, and
Mulder gave Tara another warm smile, nodding his head at
the door for her to step ahead of him.

Wim shrieked as they walked out onto the deck, and
Scully and Bill turned in surprise. Tara laughed.

“I want to see pictures, Dana,” she said, stopping next
to her husband and sliding an arm around his waist.
“Lots and lots of pictures.”

Scully smiled. “I promise. Mulder’s been pretty
liberal with the video camera, too. We’ve got about
thirty-six hours of footage that needs to be edited.”

“I don’t want to miss anything,” Mulder told them. He
exchanged a quick look with Scully that confirmed she
was ready to go.

“Where’s Matthew?” Scully asked.

Tara smiled. “Charlie strapped him into the car fifteen
minutes ago. He was afraid he might get left behind in
the confusion so he insisted on waiting in the car,
which just made things easier all around.”

They laughed, everyone moving toward the door. Mulder
watched Scully trail behind, glancing wistfully out at
the sea once last time before she stepped into the
house, closing the French doors behind her. He held her
gaze a moment, silently promising her that they would
return some day.

~

It was time to go.

The last bag had been packed, the last trunk slammed
shut. Maggie had given her children three or four hugs
apiece, and had fussed over the babies until Charlie
reminded her gently that some of them had flights to
catch. Wiping her eyes with the side of her hand, she
gave them each a last kiss on the cheek and turned to
follow Bill to the driver’s side of the van. Mulder and
Scully stood on the other side of the car, saying their
goodbyes.

“Did Billy mention Christmas too you?” Tara asked as she
gave Scully a last hug. Scully smiled.

“He did,” she said, stepping back. “We should try to
plan something.”

“We will,” Tara said, her eyes shining. She blinked
quickly to dispel her tears and leaned down to look into
the back door of the van. “Did you say goodbye to Aunt
Dana?”

Matthew looked up from his car seat with a bright smile
for his aunt, and held his arms out to her. “Bye-bye
An-Dana!” he chirped. “You come my howse?”

“Not this time, Matthew,” Scully said. She leaned into
the car and took one of Matthew’s pudgy hands to blow a
raspberry against his knuckles. Matthew giggled and
wriggled in his seat.

“Tomorrow you come my howse?” he asked.

Scully caught Bill’s glance from just outside the
driver’s side door, and they both smiled. Scully turned
her smiled on Matthew. “Not tomorrow, but soon,” she
told him, kissing her finger and pressing it to his
nose. “Bye, Matthew.”

“Bye. You come my howse, kay?”

“We’ll see what we can do about that, buddy,” Mulder
chimed in, stepping into the doorway next to Scully. He
was holding Wim, who had been watching the packing up
and leave-taking with wide eyes. Now Mulder ducked
through the door and held the baby down for Matthew to
see. “Someone else wants to say goodbye.”

Matthew’s expression faded into one of quiet reverence
as he locked gazes with Wim, and Scully watched with
some amazement as the little boy leaned out of his car-
seat toward her baby, putting his face very close to
Wim’s. At a space of mere inches, the small cousins
stared at one another solemnly, unblinking for several
seconds before Matthew closed his eyes, his lips moving
soundlessly around a whisper – like he was making a
wish. Then he smiled, leaning forward to press his soft
lips against Wim’s cheek.

“Bye-bye, Baby.”

Wim scrunched his face reflexively and brought a fist up
to swipe at the damp place where his cousin had so
lovingly assaulted him, and both Scully and Mulder
laughed. “Bye, Matty,” Mulder said. “Watch out for
those crabs -”

“Speaking of which -”

Scully turned to see Charlie standing just behind them,
one hand on Mulder’s shoulder. He glanced between them
with a grin and a mischievous glint in his eye. “I’ve
got something for you,” he said, digging into the front
pocket of his jeans. He glanced at Scully. “Well, for
Mulder really. You don’t get anything -”

“Ha-ha,” Mulder teased, and Scully snickered, watching
as Charlie pulled something small and gray from his
pocket and handed it to Mulder. Mulder turned the
object around in his fingers.

“I finished carving that this afternoon, and I was going
to give it to someone else,” Charlie explained, giving
them a knowing smile. “But then I thought that *you*
should have it, Mulder. As a token of the week. In
commemoration of having survived Clan Scully in all its
glory for eight full days, and coming through almost
unscathed -”

“*Almost*?” Mulder asked, glancing up sharply.

Charlie shrugged. “Well, your free throw seemed to
suffer.”

Scully peered at the small, round bit of wood in
Mulder’s hand, unable to determine its shape. “A
peanut?” she asked, looking up at her brother with one
eyebrow raised. Mulder had begun to laugh quietly as he
rolled the tiny gift on his palm.

“It’s a sand-crab,” he said, hitching Wim up in his
arms. He glanced up and smiled at Charlie. “Right?”

Charlie gave no reply except a waggle of eyebrows and a
face-splitting grin.

Looking closer, Scully could see the finely carved
details on the pebble-sized piece of driftwood, the
smooth upper shell, the tiny rows of legs carved into
the underside. Mulder closed his fist around it.

“Thanks,” he said.

“Thank *you*, man,” Charlie said as they gave each other
a quick, shoulder-thumping half-hug around the baby. “I
don’t think the week would have been nearly as much fun
without you.”

Scully found herself blinking back mutinous tears as her
younger brother came to stand in front of her. “I’m
sorry I don’t have a present for you too, Dane,” he said
softly. She shook her head, not trusting herself to
talk without crying, and Charlie scooped her into his
arms, picking her up off the ground in a tight bear-hug.
“Have a safe trip,” he said near her ear. “And take
good care of these two guys. I’ll come out to visit
soon.”

“Promise?”

He set her down and looked into her eyes. “Promise.”

He climbed into the back of the van and Mulder slid the
door shut while Scully dabbed at the corner of her eyes
with the cuff of her sweater. On the other side of the
car, Maggie shut Bill’s door for him, leaning against
it. Mulder and Scully moved toward their own car to
snap Wim into his carrier.

“Drive *safely*,” Maggie told them all. She peered
through Bill’s window toward the back of the van.
“Everyone buckled up in here?”

“*Yes*,” Charlie and Matthew sang in chorus from the
back seats.

Maggie turned toward her daughter. “You’re going to
follow each other until they turn off for Norfolk,
right?” she asked.

“That’s right,” Scully said, opening her door. She gave
her mother a last embrace before she got in. “Call us
when you get to Jane’s. Just leave a message on my
machine -”

“I will,” Maggie assured her. Scully took a deep
breath, smiling at her mother, and then looking beyond
her to the driver’s seat of the van where Bill was
waiting.

“Ready?” he asked. Scully nodded, glancing over the top
of the car at Mulder, who had just secured Wim’s carrier
in the back seat. He nodded back.

“Let’s roll.”

~

Mulder rolled his window down a few inches, just enough
to allow fresh air inside the stuffy car. Wim gurgled
and cooed in his car seat, and Scully stared out the
window, lost in thought. She checked her side-view
mirror every so often, looking for Bill’s van on the
highway behind them.

He considered turning on the radio, but decided against
the intrusion, preferring the quiet, rhythmic sound of
the tires on the pavement and the constant, dull howl of
the wind. Opening the console armrest between the front
seats, he pulled out a small bag of sunflower seeds,
gathering a few seeds into his palm and sliding one into
his mouth. He cracked open the seed, drumming his
thumbs lightly against the steering wheel. In the small
mirror attached to the rear window, he watched Wim’s
eyes drift shut, lulled by the monotonous car sounds.

“Mulder?” Scully said, turning her face toward him.

He pulled the shell out of his mouth, dropping it into
the ashtray. “Yeah?”

“Did you miss that three-point shot on purpose?”

He grinned, and glanced over at her. “Who, me?”

She chuckled, looking over at the rear-view mirror
again. After a few minutes, Bill’s van slowed and
turned off the road into a gas station. Scully drew a
long breath and let it out slowly, laid her head back
against the seat and turned her face to the road ahead
of them.

Mulder felt the final separation from the rest of the
family in the pit of his stomach, although probably not
as strongly as Scully did. It had been a memorable
week. Popping another seed in his mouth, and then
another, he navigated the car up NC-12, on their way to
the Wright Memorial Bridge. He estimated they would get
home between eight and nine o’clock.

The damage wrought by Hurricane Felix was evident,
although some places had fared better than others.
Trees pointed westward, drifts of wood and discarded
sea-junk lay against buildings or in piles along the
side of the road. Still, they had been lucky it was no
worse than some downed power lines and battered
buildings.

Scully turned her head, and he felt warmth wash over him
as she took him in with her eyes. “Thank you,” she said
softly, her voice laced with affection and gratitude.

It could have been thanks for the vacation, or for
tanking to her brother on the three-pointer, or maybe it
was for all of it. For suggesting they accept her
mother’s invitation and for convincing her to stay once
they arrived. For accepting her family, regardless of
their differences and petty squabbles. He smiled, and
reached out to take her hand in his.

“My pleasure, Scully,” he rasped, sliding his thumb
lovingly over the heel of her palm. He felt that it
should have been the other way around – he should be the
one thanking her for sharing her family and herself with
him. For standing beside him, staying beside him
through all of the pain and adversity they had
encountered, both in their jobs and in their personal
lives. Now, he had gained the sense of purpose and
belonging that had eluded him for years. Together they
had built a life, a family, a home.

He glanced over at her, and they shared a gentle smile.
She dropped his hand, and he reached into his bag of
sunflower seeds laying on the console between the seats
and popped a seed into his mouth. She let out a sigh of
contentment and closed her eyes.

“You know, I’m almost sorry we didn’t tell my family
about our engagement.”

“What changed your mind?” he asked, removing the shell
and dropping it into the ash tray.

She opened her eyes, and stared out the window. “I
don’t know – I was thinking about long it had been since
we’d seen each other last, and how long it would be
before we see each other again.” Her voice was soft and
scratchy, and he could feel as well as hear the regret
in he tone. “Who knows what will happen once Bill
starts his new job. And Charlie…” she let he voice
trail off, and she looked out the side window at the
passing landscape.

“How much of that lack of contact was due to petty
grievances and childhood grudges, though?” he asked.

Her mind was elsewhere as she continued to stare out the
window, but then she drew in a deep breath and turned
her head to look at him. “If things had played out
differently, we might have done it this weekend.”

He looked over at her, and their eyes met for as long as
he thought safe while operating a vehicle.

“You want to turn around?” he asked, completely serious.

“Yes,” she said, “but it’s late. They have planes to
catch.”

Mulder let out a long sigh, and bit his lip. “I suppose
so.”

They both fell silent, and Scully closed her eyes, her
breathing deepening and slowing as she drifted off to
sleep. He reached out and took her hand, rubbing his
thumb softly over her knuckles. And with one hand in
hers and the other on the wheel, his attention
alternated between her face, the face of their son in
the back seat, and the road ahead.

THE END