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X-Patrol: Chapter 24 – Shades of Autumn

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X-Patrol: Chapter 24 – Shades of Autumn

X-Patrol: Chapter 24 – Shades of Autumn

by Jo B


Title: X-Patrol: Chapter 24 - Shades of Autumn

Author: Jo B

Keywords: M/Sk, D/K, J/B, D/M, F/V/K Slash, AU, mpreg, Crossover: X-Files/The Sentinel/Highlander/Due South

Rating: NC-17

Story Summary: Colonization has begun. Four men set aside their differences and form an alliance to fight the aliens and stake out a new life together in their shattered world.

Chapter Summary: Seacouver's opens for business, and Mulder becomes aware of an X-File on their mountain.

Disclaimer: The X-Files are the property Chris Carter, 1013 productions and Fox Broadcasting. The Sentinel belongs to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. Highlander is the property of Rysher/Panzer/Davis/Gaumont/Fireworks. Due South belongs to Alliance Communication. No money is being made from their use.

Author's notes: We know little about immortals' origins, other than they are foundlings with no apparent parent, and they are sterile. They have to come from somewhere and most likely have a mother. So with no established canon, I decided explore a possible scenario on how immortals might come into existence.

Warning! This story contains romance between two men. Turn back now, if the subject matter offends you.

Warning! Warning! This story contains male pregnancy! Eek run for your lives!

Archive: Yes, just leave my name attached.

Web site: http://slashingmulder.com/JoB/

Special thanks to my beta-readers Joey and Xscribe.


Chapter 24
X-Patrol

Shades of Autumn

The Bear

Tuesday, September 7, 2004

Since Skinner had found out that CGB Spender was still alive and a threat to Fox, his temper had been on a slow boil. He'd even considered going to Minneapolis to finish the job Krycek had botched, but Fox wouldn't allow Skinner to go without him. And that was the last thing Skinner would do, so now they'd have to be on their guard. This was where being a werewolf came in handy. No one could sneak onto their land without them knowing it, especially with the additional protection of having a Sentinel as part of the family.

This morning, they were helping Ray, Stan, and Benton move into their new home. Francesca and Marita were moving with them into two of the upstairs bedrooms. Skinner smiled. It was going to feel great having Moonridge Lodge back to themselves. Even though Jeffrey Spender was staying with them, it was still better than the nine adults who lived with them for over half the year.

Skinner held one end of the queen-sized mattress, while Fox handled the other end. They were carrying it up the stairs to the front bedroom where Marita would be staying. In Ranger Smith's pole barn, where they stored most of the items they had scavenged from the ruins, there were only two queen-sized, four full-sized, and ten twin mattresses left. Twelve king and queen sized beds had gone to Seacouver's and the rest to Wolf's Peak. Skinner and his partners were going to add two more bedrooms and three additional bathrooms onto Moonridge Lodge the next summer. One bathroom would be off Blair and Jim's bedroom and another off Fox and Skinner's bedroom. They might even start work on the bathroom off Blair and Jim's bedroom in October before frost made the ground too hard to dig.

The guys needed a month's rest after all of the hard work they put in through the spring and summer. In September and October they were extra busy putting up food for the coming winter. Later that morning, they would be going out into the woods with their children to gather bushels of black walnuts and chestnuts. Not that the toddlers would be much help, but Skinner wanted to get them used to the woods.

"Earth to Walter," Fox said, walking backwards into the bedroom.

"Oh, sorry," Skinner said. "I was lost in thought."

"What about?"

"Having our home back to ourselves," Skinner said, "And finally being able to move the twins into the bedroom next to ours."

"It was a good thing Jeffrey was agreeable about staying in the loft," Fox said.

"If he's still with us next year, he can move into one of the new bedrooms."

"I've finished my letter to Scully," Fox said as they lifted the mattress onto the wrought iron bed frame. "She's not going to understand why I can't tell her where I'm living."

"Just tell her your wife is a bitch."

Fox sighed. "Walter, you're the one I love, not her."

"You used to love her," Skinner accused, feeling like a cad.

"She was my partner ... I still love her but not in the way you think." Fox walked over to him and placed his hands on Skinner's hips then leaned in and kissed him. "You're mine in ways that Scully could never be."

"Okay you can tell her where we live," Skinner said. "But not whom you're married to. We'll deal with that if she and her mom ever come for a visit."

Marita walked into the room carrying a box filled with clothing. She and Francesca had gone through the dozens of boxes of new clothes that the guys had scavenged from several clothing stores on their many trips to the ruins. Some clothes they found had reeked too much of smoke from the fires that had raged after the alien attack to be salvageable.

"Did you find what you needed?" Fox asked.

"Yes." Marita nodded as she set the box on the dresser. "I was surprised I was able to find my sizes. When you go on these scavenging trips you aren't very selective about what you take."

"We'll take anything we find in good shape," Skinner said. "Nothing goes to waste. We'll go through the clothing first and after we've taken what we wanted, we'll allow the other people living in our community to go through it and anything they don't want we'll bring to the Salvation Army in Holton," Skinner said. "You were lucky; the clothes you went through we had just recovered from the ruins and haven't had a chance to look through yet."

"I'm surprised you're able to avoid the rats in the ruins," Marita said.

"We go in well armed." Skinner wondered if they should tell her about them being werewolves. Alex was dead set against telling her. But she would eventually figure it out for herself, especially with Ray, Stan, and Benton still not able to control changing during the full moon.

Benton walked into room loaded down with sheets, blankets, and a goose down duvet and several duvet covers. He set them on the bed. "I wasn't sure what duvet cover you wanted for your room."

"This one." She chose the solid indigo cover over the paisley, plaid, and floral. "Thanks, Benton."

"You're welcome." Benton headed back for the door. "I'll be back with pillows for the bed and towels for the bathroom."

The sheet sets and blanket were still in plastic.

Skinner looked out the window at bright blue sky. "Fox, we better get back home and collect the kids and bushel baskets. We have a long afternoon of nut gathering ahead of us." He turned to Marita. "If you need anything, just let us know."

"Thanks." Marita smiled for the first time since they had seen her. "You, Mulder, and the others have been more than generous with your hospitality."

"This place isn't D.C.; we help each other here," Skinner said.

"And I appreciate you taking me into your community."

Fox's slender fingers wrapped around Skinner's hand, and he said, "Marita, I hope you can make it to Joey's second birthday party tomorrow. Sonja is making a chocolate cake."

"Chocolate is my one weakness," Marita said as she started to make the bed. "I'll be there."

Skinner sensed a bit of jealousy coming from Fox as his lover's grip tightened when they walked out of the bedroom. Why would Fox be jealous of Marita? It wasn't as if they were flirting.

"What's wrong, Fox?" Skinner asked as they walked down the stairs.

"I didn't like how she was looking at you," Fox said.

"And how was that?"

"Just like how the secretarial pool used to look at you, whenever you walked through their area. Those women had wanted you bad."

Skinner snorted. "And what were you doing up in the secretarial pool?"

"Looking for a date," Fox said as they walked out of the house. "Back in those days I was still interested in women. Unfortunately, I got a bad reputation for making dates and not showing up because I'd get wind of an X-File and take off without remembering to call and cancel the date."

"If you had ever done that to me," Skinner said, pushing him against a tree. "I would have been waiting for you inside your apartment when you got back."

Fox's eyes lit up with amusement. "I wonder what it would have been like dating you back in our FBI days."

"Hard," Skinner said, remembering the number of times his lover had nearly been killed. He wrapped his arm around Fox's waist as they walked the three miles back home.

~x~X~x~

The Dragonfly

Standing in the great room of their new home, Vecchio looked out the window at the lush green forest and the Blue Mountains with their peaks nestled in soft puffy clouds. This side of the house faced the stream that was down a steep incline; the other side had a view of their farmland and windmill. It might not be Chicago but Vecchio decided that he could be happy living there.

The past week had been the best in Vecchio's life. He had his sister back, and he and his lovers had moved into their new home. The friends they had made on the mountain had taught them how to grow and put up their own food for the winter. Life was looking more promising every day, if it weren't for the growth in his belly that scared the crap out of him.

Vecchio placed his hand over his belly. There was a slight bulge, and his pants had started to get tighter. Damn, he was having a baby, and it was all Benny's fault. The past month when he wasn't pissed off, Vecchio tried not to think about it. But not being one to cry over spilled milk, he finally had to come to terms with his condition. If he must go through it, Vecchio decided he would prefer a girl but would be happy with a boy.

A smile crossed his lips. Yeah, that's the ticket. And Benny would have their next two or four kids. Vecchio wanted a large family. They had the room. Of course he wasn't looking forward to pushing a baby through the tiny new opening on his body. He had avoided calling it a vagina since he'd completed the change. Unlike Benny, neither he nor Stan had experienced a menstrual period. Maybe that should have clued them in on their condition. Liz had given them each Diva feminine protection cups. While Benny had a difficult time at first, figuring out how to insert it, Vecchio and Stan had assumed they'd gotten off easy by not menstruating. But it looked like it was only a temporary reprieve; after their children were born, no doubt their masculinity would be dealt another blow.

Stan came into the room and wrapped his arms around Vecchio's waist from behind. "I can't believe we built this place."

"We did have help." Vecchio chuckled. "If we built it ourselves, no doubt the place would be lopsided."

Stan hugged him tighter. "It's going to feel great to sleep in our own bedroom and to have our own bathroom."

"But it's not going to be great doing our own cooking."

"We'll get the hang of it," Stan said, resting his chin on his lover's shoulder. "At least we've learned how to bake bread."

"I wonder if Marita knows how to cook?"

"Yes, she does," Marita said, walking around the corner. "I'd be happy to do my share and teach you how. I've had gourmet cooking classes at the CIA in New York."

"Spooks taught a class on gourmet cooking?" Stan said, amazed.

Marita gave him an exasperated look. "No. CIA stands for the Culinary Institute of America."

"Oh," Stan said.

"Well then, we might as well break in the woodstove," Vecchio said, stepping reluctantly out of Stan's embrace and walking over to the woodstove in the kitchen.

They had ten cords of wood cut and stacked out back. They'd need more to get them through winter -- Benny would have to chop it, since he and Stan were in no condition. Next to the woodstove was a wood box. Vecchio put a couple of pieces of wood and some kindling into the firebox on stove and lit it. They had tested the stove when it had been installed, but hadn't used it since. It was a magnificent piece of craftsmanship. All that chrome and iron painted with green enamel, reminded him of the streamline design of his Buick Riviera. The stove had six burners and a grill on the top, an oven with a spacious interior, and an overhead warming oven for rising bread dough or making yogurt.

"What are we going to cook?" Stan asked as he and Marita followed Vecchio into the kitchen.

"This is our first meal in our new home, so it should be something special," Vecchio said. "How about lasagna?"

"We don't have pasta, ricotta cheese, or ground sausage," Marita said, walking over to the refrigerator and looking inside. The guys at Moonridge Lodge had supplied them with fresh eggs, milk, butter, and bacon. In the pantry they had sacks of flour, salt, cooking oil, jars of pasta sauces, and fresh vegetables. "We can make fresh pasta." She pulled the bowl of eggs out of the refrigerator. "Stan, do you want to get the pasta machine out of the cabinet?"

"What pasta machine?"

"The one Alex unpacked and put in your cabinet," Marita sighed, looking at Stan as if he was another life form. "Didn't you pay attention to what the guys were stocking your kitchen with?"

"I did," Benny said as he came into the kitchen with Franny. "All the appliances are in this cabinet." He opened the door and showed that it was filled with new, out of the box appliances -- a hand mixer, vacuum sealer, a food processor, waffle iron, a juicer, slow cooker, and the pasta machine.

On the counter sat a seven-quart Kitchen Aide stand mixer, a four slice toaster, and a microwave oven. The pot and pan rack over the center island was filled with skillets, saut and sauce pans, and a large wok.

"The guys also left a case of red table wine in the pantry," Benny said as he took the pasta machine out of the cabinet and set it on the kitchen island.

Vecchio smiled. "Those guys thought of everything."

"Do you need help, Marita?" Franny asked.

"Yes, do you want to fill the flour and sugar canisters?" Marita said. "We might as well get organized."

"Sure."

Vecchio would have been happy sitting back and watching the women work, but Marita put him to work cleaning and slicing mushrooms, green peppers, zucchini, and cloves of garlic. Not that he minded -- in fact he felt great helping out.

~x~X~x~

The Wolf

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

"Blow out the candles," Sandburg said, holding Joey steady as his son stood on a chair at the table.

Joey leaned closer and blew. The two candles went out. Everyone applauded, except Jim who had gone to his bedroom feeling ill after having an adverse affect to Jasmine's diaper change.

The strong smell of a soiled diaper had been too much for his Sentinel senses heightened by his pregnancy.

"Naomi, can you watch Joey?" Sandburg said. "I need to check on Jim."

"Sure, sweetie," Naomi said happiliy when Sonja started to slice the cake.

Sandburg left the crowded dining room and headed to his bedroom where he found his husband with all of the windows open, lying in bed with a wet washcloth on his forehead.

"How are you feeling?"

"Like crap."

"I hope you won't still have this strong reaction to a poopy diaper after our baby is born," Sandburg said, sitting on the bed and placing his hand on Jim's belly.

Jim turned his head and looked into Sandburg's eyes. "If I do, Chief, you'll have permanent diaper-changing duty."

Sandburg smiled. "Maybe we can get you a gasmask to wear."

Jim chuckled. "Why don't you go back to the party? I'll be fine."

"In a bit." Sandburg leaned down and gently kissed him on the lips. "Walter wants to start on the bathroom off our bedroom. I think he wants to get it done before it snows."

"He's ambitious," Jim said. "We just spent all spring and summer building two log homes."

"At least we'll have our own bathroom. It'll be worth the additional hardwork," Sandburg said. "Just think, no more long walks in the middle of the night to use the bathroom off the kitchen, only to discover it's already occupied."

"Have Walter and Wade drawn up any plans?"

"They're working on one around the Whirlpool tub that I selected from the polebarn."

"Was that the black Whirlpool tub?"

"Yes. It has a matching toilet and sink."

"I guess it's better than the pink fixtures."

"Salmon."

"What?"

"The color isn't pink, it's salmon."

"It looks pink."

"We'll be using them in the new upstairs bathroom next summer."

"What's wrong with the white fixtures?"

"Too boring," Sandburg said, smiling. In the polebarn, they had sets of fixtures for eleven complete bathrooms. Since they had scavenged from every available hardware and plumbing store in the ruins that they could find, the white fixtures would be used eventually. If not on their place then maybe on the Gunmen's place or in the school house.

"I'm feeling better." Jim sat up. "Let's get back to the party."

Sandburg took ahold of his hand as they walked to the door. Suddenly Jim froze, swore, and staggered back to the bed.

"What's wrong?"

Jim groaned and pinched his nostrils together. "Caroline just messed her diaper."

If Jim weren't suffering, Sandburg would find the whole situation amusing. At least the twins were wearing training pants and hadn't had an accident in a month. So they might just have to avoid being around their friends' babies until they are potty trained or Jim had their baby and his senses went back to normal.

~x~X~x~

The Panther

Monday, September 27, 2004

Standing sideways in front of the mirror in the upstairs bathroom, Ellison gave his expanding belly a critical look. "Isn't there something about how high a baby is carried that determines its sex?"

Blair turned as he towel dried his long hair and looked at Ellison. "That's a myth, big guy."

"I'm carrying it high don't you think?" Ellison asked.

"It's pretty hard to tell at six months."

"So, what's the sex if I'm carrying high?" Ellison grabbed his boxers off the counter and started to put them on.

"A girl." Blair added quickly, "But you still have a fifty-fifty chance of having a boy."

Ellison had been apprehensive over having a daughter, but after taking care of the twins and Gwen, he was getting over his fear. Maybe he wouldn't completely screw up raising a daughter.

"I'd like to name her Sarah," Ellison said suddenly positive that he was having a girl.

Blair gave him an odd look before walking over and kissing him. "Sarah it is, unless it's a boy -- the name's not one of those, unisex names that my mom likes."

"If it's a boy you can choose his name," Ellison said, looking into Blair's blue eyes. If they hadn't just had sex, he would have loved another bout. He had been feeling particularly horny lately -- in areas of his body that weren't accessible in human form. However, they had to get outside to start on the morning chores. He sniffed to air. "John has grits and biscuits with country gravy cooking."

"Man, I'm starving," Blair said as he tied his shoelaces.

Ellison pulled on a pair of jeans with a stretch waistband. They were something Liz had made for him. "Joe's having pizza over at his place on Saturday to test the pizza oven before his grand-opening on October 7th. I've been starting to have cravings for pizza."

"I thought his place was going to be closed Sunday through Tuesday. I'm surprised he's having the grand-opening on a Tuesday," Blair said, waiting for his husband to finish dressing.

Ellison slipped on a pair of moccasins; his work boots no longer fit his swollen feet. He still had three months to go and would get a lot larger. This was going to get rough. "Oktoberfest begins on the 7th, and you know Joe wanted to have his grand-opening on that date." Unfortunately, in another month Ellison would be too obviously pregnant to chance going to Seacouver's. He was going to miss seeing the restaurant and pub decorated for the holidays.

"You know the Byers and Banks will be bringing their babies...."

"I've talked to John and Simon," Ellison said as they headed out of the bathroom. "They're going early, and should be leaving by the time we show up."

"I'm glad, since you missed your son's birthday party. Joey would have been disappointed if you couldn't make it to the pizza party."

"I know, he's been asking all sorts of questions about Seacouver's." Ellison hadn't realized how isolated their lives had become. Seacouver's should allow a little more interaction with the outside world.

"Daddy, Mommy." Joey ran across the room to them.

Ellison lifted him off his feet and gave his belly a raspberry. Joey giggled then threw his little arms around his dad's neck and gave him a raspberry on the cheek.

"So have you had breakfast, my little jokester?"

"Yes. Gits with honey," Joey said.

"That grits," Ellison corrected and kissed the top of his son's head.

"I'll take him back, so you can eat," Alex said. He had the kids making a hundred piece jigsaw puzzle on the floor. It was a tough one for three two-year-olds and two eighteen-month-olds. They had only been making ten and twenty piece puzzles. Ellison suspected that Alex wanted to keep them occupied so he'd have time to help John in the kitchen. The kids would probably get frustrated and quit.

"Where are Fox, Walter, and Jeffrey?" It had been a month since Jeffrey had moved in with them. Ellison couldn't believe the inhuman treatment the man had suffered at the hands of his own father.

"They've headed over to my dad's farm," John said. "My dad slaughtered three heads of beef that we're splitting with the others."

The others referred to the other households on their section of mountain -- the Banks, the Byers, the Skinners, the Gunmen, Wolf's Peak, the ranger station, and Seacouver's; not the restaurant. "It will be good having some steaks to barbecue before the weather turns cold," Ellison said. Another good thing about Paul and Mike Doggett was that they were expert butchers and would have the beef cut into roasts, steaks, and ground meat then packaged and dated.

Blair picked up a fork as he sat at the counter. "Does Paul remember that I like tongue?"

"Unfortunately." John made a face as he set their breakfast in front of them. "He's sending all three tongues back for you."

"Cool, man." Blair smiled. "There's nothing tastier than a cold tongue sandwich."

"Excuse me," John said then dashed into the bathroom.

"Chief, you did that on purpose," Ellison said. "You know he's still struggling with morning sickness."

"No, I didn't," Blair sighed. "I sometimes forget that not everyone likes tongue."

"I like tongue," Alex said loudly from the great room.

"We know the type of tongue you like, Alex," Ellison said, chuckling. The sentinel had learned to like tongue after Naomi had succeeded in pestering him to try it.

John stepped back out of the bathroom. "This fall, I'm making a large kettle of tripe soup."

"Eew." Blair made a face. "Cow's stomach should be fed to the pigs."

"Waste not, want not," John said with a smile.

Ellison had tried the tripe soup John had made last fall, and didn't like it. The organ meat was white and rubbery in texture with a strange flavor. John had spent a lot of time soaking and cleaning the tripe. At least the thick soup had a lot of root vegetables, so he was able to eat around the tripe. When Helmut Schmidt had been out last fall, helping with some masonry on Simon's place, he had a large bowl of the soup and still raved about how delicious he thought it was. Ellison smiled. He'd make sure Helmut got a large batch of John's soup this year.

Wade and Sonja walked in through the back door.

"Did someone call for plumber?" Wade asked.

"GRANDMA, GRANDPA!" the kids shouted. Climbing, to their feet they ran over to greet their grandparents.

Ellison smiled as he pushed the empty plate out of his way. "Wade, do you think you'll be able to have the bathroom fixtures installed by November?"

"I could have it done sooner if I had help," Wade said.

"Blair and I will give you a hand after we finish with the morning chores." Ellison stood. "C'mon, chief, let's get to work."

~x~X~x~

The Bear

The weather was perfect and the sky was a cloudless cerulean blue. The air had that special quality to it that was only available in the fall as the land started its transition into winter. Skinner loved this time of year when he could look forward to several months to rest at home with his family. With his parents, now werewolves, living only two miles away, the mountain had really become home. Over the radio, Skinner had been able to keep in contact with his brother, West, in Alaska. Possibly next summer, he and his wife, Maria, and their daughter, Vera, would fly in for a visit.

Fox and his half brother were helping to load the wrapped packages of beef onto the truck. They shoveled ice over the packages. Paul and Mike had gone through the trouble to label each cut of beef with the name of the recipient and what the cut was. The truck was loaded so they'd be able to deliver the first portion to Seacouver's then the next to Sean who had volunteered to fly the Byers their share.

Between Skinner, Fox and Jeffrey, they'd be able to deliver the meat to the other homes. Fox would head to Wolf's Peak while Jeffrey headed to the Gunmen's, and Skinner would deliver the remainder to his parents and Simon. They should have all the meat in the iceboxes at each residence before the ice melted.

When Jeffrey had first moved in with them, Skinner had been apprehensive about the safety of their children around the man. That fear had been alleviated by watching how gentle and patient Jeffrey was when interacting with the children -- so different from the uptight agent who used to be under Skinner's command.

"Well that's the last of it," Paul said as he wheeled out the last cart of packaged meat from their slaughterhouse.

"Thanks, Paul," Skinner said.

"What are families for?" Paul smiled.

"I hope you can make it to our barbecue on Sunday afternoon."

"I plan on stopping over after church services."

"I'm glad you can make it," Skinner said as he helped Fox and Jeffrey load the last of the meat. "We'll be having beef ribs."

"I'll be out early to give you a hand," Mike said.

"Thanks, Mike," Skinner said.

Fox opened the passenger door. "We'll see you at Seacouver's on Saturday."

Jeffrey climbed into the back seat while Skinner got behind the wheel.

As Skinner started the truck he looked in the rearview mirror at Jeffrey. The man wore a fedora on his head and the surgical mask over his mouth and nose. The mask stayed on even when he was eating. Jeffrey just untied the bottom laces so he could lift it enough to get a fork or spoon underneath.

Skinner had been horrified at the physical disfiguration the first time he'd seen Jeffrey without the mask. Even so, he and the others tried to convince him that he didn't need the mask around them and the children. The mask, Jeffrey had said, was more for him than them. He didn't want to chance seeing his reflection in a mirror or window. So the men had let it drop. In the month since Fox's brother had been living with them they'd gotten so they barely noticed the mask any longer.

The guard station and gate had been disbanded at Fox's insistence. After finding out it was the smoking bastard who had the Kahns killed, Fox didn't want to take the chance that one of their neighbors might be killed while trying to defend them. He argued, and Skinner agreed, that their neighbors would be no match against any of CGB Spender's hired assassins. Since the only lives at risk were his and the other men at Moonridge Lodge, it made no sense to place anyone else in danger.

The cobble stone driveway and parking lot in front of Seacouver's was finished. It had been the last bit of work needed on the place. Skinner steered the truck around to the side of the building to the delivery entrance off the kitchen. Mac and Joe came out with a cart.

"Hi guys," Joe said.

"How's the grand-opening planning going?" Fox asked as he climbed out of the truck.

"Really good!" Joe said, smiling. "We have a thousand buns being made at the bakery in Holton for the bratwurst and franks that we'll be serving over the five days. Jimmy, Benton, and Sonja have volunteered to help out with serving and cooking. I hired some people from Timberlake as dishwashers, cooks, and cleaners."

Mac chuckled as he rolled the full cart back into the kitchen. "Joe has everything planned down to the last paper napkin."

Skinner followed him into the kitchen. The place had a walk-in freezer and refrigerator. There were a couple of empty shelves in the freezer.

"The place is cool," Fox said, walking over to look at the pizza oven. The room was open to the dining room, so the diners could watch the activity happening in the kitchen. A separate room, out of the view of the dining room, held the large conveyor belt dishwasher and a pot and pan sink.

During the spring and summer, Skinner and Fox had been too busy building the log homes on the mountain to have time to help Joe on his place. Luckily he had plenty of help from the men and women he hired from Timberlake. Skinner's father was out three or four times a week to work on the plumbing. This place had both a men's and women's restroom with six stalls each, which had been a major plumbing job for his dad.

Fox walked out into the dining room and looked out a large picture window at the river. He ran a hand over a small mahogany table in an intimate corner and smiled. "We're going to be spending a lot of time having dinner here," he said, looking at Skinner.

"I've already made reservations for your birthday," Skinner said as he walked over to Fox and pulled him into his arms. "And my mom has volunteered to watch the kids for the night over at their place."

Fox kissed him and murmured, "A night of dining, dancing, and making love ... what a perfect birthday present."

"I thought so." Skinner took Fox's hand as his ardor started to rise. "Let's get that meat delivered then we can spend a little time down at the tea house."

~x~X~x~

The Frog

Frohike opened the freezer in the barn where they stored all of their meat. Langly and Jeffrey filled it with a half a side of beef. The beef was divided up by the number of adults at each residence. With four adults, the Gunmen qualified for more beef than the Byers, elder Skinners, or the Banks.

"Jeff, do you want to stay for dinner?" Langly asked.

"There's plenty of food," Frohike said, hoping they'd be able to help Jeffrey come out of his shell. "I have a chicken and potatoes roasting in the oven."

"Okay," Jeffrey said.

"C'mon, Dude," Langly said as they finished loading the freezer. "While we wait for dinner, I'll give you a tour of the inner workings of the Magic Mountain magazine."

Frohike followed them back to the house. He entered the kitchen while they headed to the computer room located off the parlor. Their cat, Rocky, was sleeping curled up on one of the chairs at the table.

Liz walked into the house, carrying two large paper bags along with her doctor's bag. Her long red hair was braided down her back; she looked absolutely beautiful.

"How're Ada and Arne doing?" Frohike asked. His wife had gone to the Elends after Frohike had received an emergency radio call from Ada. Arne had fallen and broken his arm, and they needed Liz to mend it.

"It was a simple fracture. He'll be fine."

"What's in the bags?"

"Payment." Liz showed him the bags were filled with yarn. "I'm going to be knitting baby caps and matching booties for our baby and our friends' babies."

"That's a lot of knitting," Frohike said, checking on the chicken.

"It won't be too bad; a baby's head and feet aren't very big," Liz said. "I should be able to get them done in a few days. What will take a long time will be the knit teddy bears, but I have time since I want to give those when the baby is born."

"You're very generous. By the way, Jeffrey is having dinner with us tonight," Frohike said, knowing Liz wanted to examine the man, if he'd let her. "He's with Langly in the computer room."

Liz smiled and gave him a peck on the lips. "I'm going to wash up before dinner. Why don't you open a bottle of wine for our guest?"

"I can now see why you made colonel," Frohike quipped. The wine would help lower Jeffrey's inhibitions and maybe he'd allow Liz to examine him after dinner.

Jimmy came into the house with a basket of acorn and butternut squash. "I'm going to make and can squash puree tomorrow," he announced.

"How is Langly's pumpkin doing?" Frohike asked.

"It's huge. I'm sure he'll win the great pumpkin contest this year."

"Have you seen John's, Simon's, or Sonja's?"

"No. It doesn't seem right to spy on our friends."

"Seacouver's is sponsoring the contest and will be offering an award," Frohike said as he set the table. "I want Langly to win, so I think it's prudent to check on our competition." Frohike filled the water glasses at the table.

"What about Helmut, Vernon, and Hugh?" Jimmy said. "It's not going to be very easy to check on them."

"We'll do a story on the contest, and you can go out to take a picture of each contestant with their pumpkins. That way we'll know if ours is the largest." Frohike wanted Langly to win; his friend had been in a state of depression lately. Winning might pull Langly out of this funk.

"What if it isn't?" Jimmy asked.

"We have three weeks of growing time left before the contest. We'll add extra fertilizer to ours." Frohike couldn't tell Jimmy that if one of the others were larger he might resort to a little middle of the night sabotage. Jimmy was just too honest to go for anything that sneaky. Desperate times called for desperate measures, because to Frohike, Langly's happiness was the most important thing to him.

Frohike pulled the roasted chicken out of the oven, transferred it to a platter and carved it. He then filled two bowls -- one with the roasted potatoes and the other with cornbread stuffing. He placed all on the lazy Susan in the center of the round table.

It was time to collect their guest and Langly. Frohike stopped outside the computer room when he heard Langly talking enthusiastically about his favorite musical group, the Ramones. From what Frohike could make out, Jeffrey was also into the group.

"Dinner's ready," Frohike said from the doorway.

"Frohike, Jeff knows C++, Perl, Java, and Visual Basic."

"That's a lot of programming languages for a former FBI agent to know," Frohike said.

Jeffrey explained, "I was geek in high school and wanted to be a computer programmer, but I was talked into applying to the FBI academy instead ... the stupidest decision I ever made in my life."

"You're Mulder's brother," Frohike said, placing a comforting hand on Jeffrey's shoulder. "Your lives had been planned for you from birth, so it really wasn't your decision."

"Unfortunately, you're probably right," Jeffrey said, sitting down at the table. Langly sat next to him and grabbed the bowl of stuffing.

Liz and Jimmy were already seated.

"I'm glad you can join us for dinner," Liz said, looking across the table at Jeffrey.

"I appreciated the invitation."

Rocky who had been sleeping on the chair at the table, lifted his head up when Frohike sat on the empty one next to him. The cat meowed.

"I put your food in your cat dish," Frohike said.

Rocky hopped off the chair, and ambled across the kitchen to his food bowl. Inside were the cooked kidneys and gizzards from the chicken. Frohike saved and froze the chicken livers; he was going to make pate once he had enough.

"Are you settling in over at Moonridge Lodge?" Liz asked.

"Yes." Jeffrey lifted the masked and took a sip of wine. "I'm not used to being around so many little kids, but I've found their presence enjoyable."

"I'd like to examine your injuries. Maybe I'd be able to do some reconstructive surgery."

"Don't take this wrong, Liz," Jeffrey said. "But, I'd prefer not to have another doctor touch me -- even with good intentions."

"No offense taken," Liz said.

Langly cut in. "I've been drawing up plans for running a WAN between the homes on our section of mountain. With your help, Jeff, maybe we could figure out away for wireless connections."

Jeffrey nodded. "We would need some relay points to bounce the signals off, but it might be possible. Or we can see if we could tap into one of the communication satellites that are still in orbit."

"I thought the satellites were all destroyed," Langly said.

"No. When I was being experimented upon, the scientist's computer had a wireless hook up to computers on the west coast."

"Cool. We'll just have to find out which ones are still up there." Langly grinned. "Then we'll be able to hack into those bastards computers and find out what they're up to."

Frohike smiled. This was the first time in months that Langly had shown the least bit of excitement.

"I'll help you anyway I can," Jeffrey said.

"What are you doing tomorrow?" Langly asked.

"Collecting eggs then cleaning the chicken coop. After that I'm free for the rest of the day."

"I have morning chores, too," Langly said as he speared a chunk of roasted potato with his fork. "Come over here in the afternoon and we can brainstorm on how to connect to any existing satellites."

Jeffrey nodded and cut the slice of chicken. "I want to shut down my father's operations; I'll do anything to protect the planet from him."

Frohike frowned. "It looks like our work isn't done. You have my word as a Lone Gunman that we'll bring your father to justice."

"Thanks, Frohike," Jeffrey said. "That means a lot; my father hated you guys."

~x~X~x~

The Cricket

Saturday, October 2, 2004

Francesca stood in front of the bathroom mirror applying makeup, a luxury she hadn't had for three years. She looked sadly at her face already starting to show some signs of aging, as she approached forty. All of her girlfriends she had grown up with had gotten married and started families early, while Francesca had held out for mister right. Now that she had finally found the man of her dreams, she was pregnant with her rapist's child, and to top it off she had a zit. This was the night she had been looking forward to for the last couple of weeks. Daydreaming about it had helped take her mind off CGB Spender, regardless of the constant reminder she had growing inside her.

At night, all alone in bed, she would have nightmares and wake up in a cold sweat with fleeting memories of being held down. The actual rape she couldn't remember. Nor could she explain why she hadn't had any physical signs of being raped the following morning. This hadn't been a normal rape, but she couldn't wrap her mind around what might have really happened to her.

This evening Francesca could bury those thoughts away; she had a date with Sean to attend a private party at Seacouver's before its official grand opening on Tuesday. At least she still wasn't showing her condition and was able to fit into the pretty evening dress she had found in one of the boxes in the pole barn. The style was different from the black dress that nicotine-stained pervert had given her. This one was a strapless column dress in soft jersey knit with shirred bodice and built-in cups. The dress was floor length and fit her like a glove. She wore a simple silver cross around her neck and over the dress she would wear the mink coat.

Francesca giggled, remembering finding the boxes of expensive furs among dozen of others in the pole barn. She and Marita had argued over who first saw the full-length, hooded mink coat -- clearly the most expensive of the lot. Ray had come to her rescue by pointing out that the coat was a petite so it would fit Francesca who was shorter by several inches than Marita. This was the first real fur coat she had owned. If she discounted the rabbit fur coat that seemed to shed wherever she went. They also had found casual coats and jackets among the boxes -- it had felt like an early Christmas.

"Franny, Sean's here!" Ray called from outside the bathroom door.

She opened the door. "How do I look?"

"Other than the zit on your chin, you look fantastic."

"Shit!" Francesca went back to look in the mirror. "I thought the make up would cover it up."

"It did." Ray chuckled. "I'm only teasing you, sis."

"Don't tease me." She lightly slapped his chest with the back of her hand. "You know how nervous I am."

"You really like this guy?"

"Yes." Francesca sighed as she walked into her bedroom and retrieved the fur coat. She looked at her brother who was showing physical signs of pregnancy. He had on a baggy sweater over his pants to hide his belly. Ray, Stan, and Benton were also going to Seacouver's. One thing Francesca couldn't get over was how young they all looked. It must be something in the mountain air. Just breathing it made Francesca feel better. "I'm sure he'll dump me once he finds out I'm pregnant."

"He already knows," Ray said.

Francesca paled. "How did he find out?"

"I told him a couple of weeks ago."

"Dammit, Ray! Why'd you go and do that?"

"I didn't want to see you get your heart broken, again." Ray touched her face. "Look, Franny, you're my sister and I care about you."

"How did he react?"

"He asked you to go to Seacouver's with him as his date." Her brother smiled and added softly, "That's how he reacted."

"So he knew before he asked me out?"

Ray nodded. "You know Sean's a silent partner in Seacouver's."

"He is?" Francesca hadn't known that, not that it mattered. Money really didn't mean much to her.

"It might be nice to have a wealthy brother-in-law for a change," Ray quipped, referring to their other sister's husband.

Sean was waiting in the foyer, looking nervous while holding a bouquet of wild flowers. "Fran, you look beautiful," he said and held out the flowers.

"So do you." She openly admired him dressed in his best uniform, boots polished, cleanly shaven, and smelling of cologne that mingled with his masculine scent. "Thanks, they're beautiful," she said, taking the flowers and handing them to Ray. "Can you put these in water for me?"

"Sure." Ray headed into the kitchen.

"Let me help you on with your coat," Sean said.

"Thanks." Francesca handed him the mink then turned her back as he helped her on with it.

"Shall we go?" Sean held open the door.

Francesca thought they'd be using his UTV to drive to Seacouver's, so she was pleasantly surprised to find a horse drawn carriage parked out front.

Sean must have noticed her surprise. "I thought this would be more romantic than my helicopter or UTV."

"It is." She smiled, feeling special for the first time in her life.

Sean assisted her up into the hooded carriage. "I'll have to think of a way to thank John. If he hadn't smoothed out and widened all of the paths from here to my station I wouldn't have been able to use the carriage."

"The guys at Moonridge Lodge are sweethearts," Francesca said, remembering how kind they had been to her during the month she, Marita, and Jeffrey had been there.

"Not the term I'd use." Sean smiled as made a clicking sound with his tongue which started the horse moving. "They are helpful and would give you the shirt off their backs. So would the other people on the mountain."

"I was surprised to find Wade and Sonja Skinner living here," Francesca said, having been shocked to see two people from her Chicago neighborhood. "It really is a small world."

The sun was slowly setting and she watched it through the arching branches overhead. The path wove through both deep dense forest and fields. This path was east of Moonridge Lodge and would intersect with the main path that ran between the ranger station and the Byers. She'd already gone out with Sean a couple of times when he had given her a personal tour of this area and the valley.

Francesca was afraid to admit that she had fallen in love with him. After shamelessly pursuing Benton, she didn't want her love not to be returned again. So she'd be careful not to throw herself at Sean for it would drive him away.

~x~X~x~

The Dog

Gwen was all smiles as she went from table to table in the dining room of Seacouver's restaurant. Doggett kept a close eye on her as they waited for the first two pizzas to come out of the oven. Blues music played over the speakers in the bar and dining room, loud enough that Doggett could lose himself in the vocals and soulful music, but not too loud that it interfered with conversations. The restaurant seated one hundred and their group took up over a quarter of the tables. The rest were empty; this was a private party.

Joe, Mac, and Adam were wearing tuxedos. Doggett had on his best suit with the pants altered to fit his expanding waistline. At least he wasn't that large yet, unlike Jim. Alex was dressed stylishly in tight black jeans with a black t-shirt and leather jacket. Of course, Fox was wearing an expensive designer suit. One of several they'd found on trips into the ruins. Sonja had tailored it to fit his tall, lean body. Fox had been looking for an opportunity to wear it. On the mountain, there wasn't much chance, except on holidays and weddings. Walter cut a fine figure next to him, slightly taller and much more muscular. They each held one of the twins in their arms as they talked. Even a complete stranger could tell by the way they looked at each other that no one would ever stand a chance of coming between them.

They had dressed their children up for the event. Doggett knew when they got home that night they'd be trying to get greasy pizza stains out of all their clothing.

Over in a corner, Jeffrey, looking Phantom of the Opera-ish, was talking to Langly. The blond Gunman wore his usual blue jeans and a Ramones' t-shirt. Doggett doubted that Langly owned any other style of clothing.

"Pizza's up!" Joe called, carrying out the first large pizza and placing it on the table where the Byers and Banks were sitting.

"That looks and smells great," Simon said.

The Banks and Byers would be leaving early to accommodate Jim whose Sentinel senses were having a bad reaction to soiled baby diapers. Everyone was hoping he'd get over it after the baby was born, especially Blair.

Walter and Fox gathered their children and Gwen, and placed them in booster seats at the table as the second pizza was placed on their table. Alex took care of cutting up a slice for Gwen into bite size pieces then blowing on it to make it cool enough for her to eat.

"Papa, where Joey?" Connor asked.

"He's coming later with his parents," Walter said as he cut up a slice of pizza for Connor who was sitting on his right.

Doggett had Connor on his left and Gwen on his right. Next to her was Alex then Fox with the twins sitting between him and Walter. The large, round table was crowded with four adults and four toddlers. There wouldn't have been room for Jim, Blair, and Joey though it felt strange dining without them.

Picking up the shaker of red pepper flakes, Doggett shook it on his slice of mushroom sausage pizza.

"What that, Daddy?" Gwen asked.

"Hot pepper," Doggett said, reaching out to wipe the pizza sauce off her chin with his thumb. "You wouldn't like it."

At the table next to theirs, Frohike was telling a joke that got chuckles from Paul and Wade, and groans from Liz and Sonja. There was an empty chair next to Paul. Doggett wished his dad would find a woman for companionship to fill that chair. Since Doggett's mother's death his dad had refused to date anyone; that had been over thirty years ago.

Doggett's brother, Mike, was at another table dining with Marita, Ray, Benton, Stan, and Jimmy, while Francesca and Sean sought privacy at a table for two near the fireplace.

Looking around at his friends, Doggett recalled the first time he had set foot on the mountain over three years ago. He'd shown up at the Ranger station looking for Mulder. Sean had been suspicious of him at first, and only when Doggett mentioned Frohike's name had the Ranger agreed to show him where Fox lived. So much had changed since that tragic day in September. The small log home was no longer recognizable. Their mountain community had become one large family, with Walter's parents, Doggett's father and brother, Blair's mother, and now with Fox's half-brother, and Ray's sister living there.

As Doggett reached for another slice of pizza he felt a movement in his belly like a butterfly had flapped its wings. Even though this was the first time he'd felt his baby move, Doggett knew what he was feeling from descriptions he'd heard from Alex and the other men. He was now more certain than ever that he had made the right decision to have a baby.

~x~X~x~

The Puppy

Jimmy took another slice of pizza from the second large pizza. Marita had chosen the toppings for the second pizza. While artichoke hearts, roma tomatoes, pesto with walnuts, feta and mozzarella cheese wasn't Jimmy's idea of a pizza, it turned out to be quite good. Even Ray had stopped complaining.

"At least you didn't order pineapple," Ray said as he reached for his second slice.

Marita smiled. "I happen to like pineapple and shrimp pizza, but since Joe didn't have shrimp...."

"That is not a combination I'd want to try," Stan said, picking off an artichoke heart and placing it on Benton's plate.

Joe strolled over to their table. "I hope you're enjoying the pizza."

"Very much," Benton said. "Thank you kindly."

"You have a winner, Joe," Ray said.

"I hope so," Joe said. "This place has been a lot of work."

"But it was worth it," Marita said. "The place feels very continental with the old stone walls."

"Well, you can expect us here for pizza on a weekly basis," Stan said.

"Stan, aren't you forgetting something?" Benton asked.

"I don't think so."

"We'll need the new national currency to pay for the pizza," Benton said.

"Oh," Stan said. "We'll have to think of a way to make money."

"We have three hundred dollars in the new currency," Ray said. "Maybe we could use that to invest in something that would make us money."

"You could buy some llamas," Jimmy said.

"And just how would we make money from llamas?" Ray asked.

"Their wool is valuable," Jimmy said. "You would have to learn how to spin and dye it."

"I'd buy all the yarn you can make," Naomi said as she joined Joe at their table.

Benton nodded. "It would allow us something to do this winter."

"We don't have a barn yet, so where would we put these llamas?" Stan asked.

"You can make a pen for them in the caves under your house," Jimmy said. "In the spring you can allow them to graze in the field by the stream."

"We know nothing about taking care of llamas or how to collect their wool," Ray sighed. "Let alone how to spin it into yarn."

"I could teach you," Jimmy said. "Mrs. Elend has shown me how to use a spinning wheel." He was more excited about the prospect of having some llamas on their mountain since Frohike had ruled out raising them.

"You can also purchase bulk cotton and spin that into yarn," Naomi suggested.

"Okay," Ray said. "I'm game."

"Me, too," Stan said.

"Where do we get the spinning wheels, llamas, and cotton?" Benton asked.

"The craftsman who I bought Naomi's loom from also makes spinning wheels," Joe said. "Josh will probably give you a deal if you buy three from him. His brother is a cotton farmer in Georgia; that was how Josh got into making looms and spinning wheels."

"What about the llamas?" Ray asked.

"There's a llama farm two hundred miles from Holton," Jimmy said. "Sean could probably help you purchase a male and a couple of females."

"Do you think three hundred dollar will be enough money?" Stan asked.

"You could probably trade for the spinning wheels," Joe said. "You own some of the furniture in the pole barn. Josh might be willing to trade them for the leather sofa and recliner. We can go see him tomorrow."

"Thank you kindly, Joe," Benton said. "It looks like we have a new business ... Wolf's Peak Yarn Goods."

"Why don't you see if you can purchase a small loom," Marita said. "I wouldn't mind trying my hand at weaving. We could sell our goods at Seacouver's country store."

"Do you know how to weave?" Naomi asked.

"I don't have a clue." Marita shook her head. "It's going to be a long winter and I'll need something to occupy my time."

"I'll be happy to teach you," Naomi said.

"Thanks." Marita smiled.

Jimmy enjoyed having the additional friends on the mountain. He liked having several places to visit during the week, and his only wish was that Yves could have been here with him. They would have their own home and raise llamas, angora rabbits, and goats. Maybe he should try to find her instead of waiting for fate to bring them back together. In the spring he'd leave the mountain and go look for her.

~x~X~x~

The Hummingbird

Monday, October 4, 2004

The day before, Naomi and Joe had accompanied Benton and Stan to purchase three spinning wheels and a small loom. The loom was half the size of Naomi's large loom. This morning she was heading over to Wolf's Peak to give Benton, Marita, and Stan lessons on weaving. Joe was preparing for the grand opening the next day and she thought it would be best to find something else to do away from the restaurant.

"Hi, Mom, are you ready?" Blair asked as he walked into their home through the door from the inn.

"Yes, sweetie." Naomi pulled on her wool, hooded parka then picked up the bag of thread and yarn.

"How are you feeling?"

"Wonderful." She smiled, handing him the bag. "The baby is becoming quite active. I can't remember you moving around as much."

"Joey was really active, too," Blair said. "I swear he used my kidneys as trampolines."

"Do you think you'd ever have another one?" Naomi asked as they stepped out the front door and into the inn's hallway. She was quite curious about what Blair would have looked like pregnant. It was just hard for her to picture her son heavy with child.

The inn's hallway was wide with three doors on either side that led into the suites; the doors were at an angle. At the end of the long hall was a small sitting area in front of an open staircase. A large lead glass window in the stone wall over the staircase allowed plenty of sunlight into the inn. It also had a wonderful view of the forest and the winding road that led between the Timberlake homes, the ranger station, and down to the main highway.

"If we decide to have another baby," Blair said. "I will definitely be its mother, but that won't be until Joey and our new baby are much older." He stopped to look at a display case outside one of the rooms. "Hey, cool."

Naomi smiled. After much discussion over what to name the inn's rooms, she, Mac, and Methos overruled Joe who wanted to name them after famous Blue's artists -- instead they named them after famous seaport cities. With only six rooms, deciding on the names had become a tough decision. Between them, they each picked two that held the most meaning to them, she had picked Rio de Janeiro and Shanghai, Mac had picked Hamburg and Yokohama, and Methos had chosen Liverpool and Sydney. Built into the wall outside of each suite was a display case that featured items from each country where the seaport had been located.

The cases were mostly empty, but in time and with expeditions to Asia, Europe, South America, and Australia they should be able to fill them. The rooms themselves were decorated in the styles of each nation. Mac and Methos proved invaluable in their knowledge of the different cultures and helped select the right items for each room. The guys from Moonridge Lodge even went into the ruins to search the abandoned furniture stores for specific items. The items they couldn't locate, they built in their workshop and then Sonja and Liz sewed the duvet covers and window treatments.

Blair was looking at the display case outside the Liverpool suite. It was the most complete even with pictures of the Beatles. The item that held her son's interest was the scale replica of the HMS Bounty. Joe had assembled it from one of the kits he found when he had accompanied Walter, Alex, and Stan into the ruins.

Joe was currently working on assembling the Bismarck for outside the Hamburg suite. With the number of German descendents living on the mountain, that suite had already been booked solid for a year. All of the suites had been booked from Wednesday to Saturday for the next six months. Joe had even started talking about adding another floor for eight additional suites if the number of reservations continued to remain heavy.

Naomi liked the idea, since she wanted to preserve as much as possible of Earth's cultures and history for her children and grandchildren.

They walked out of Seacouver's and over to Blair's two seat UTV. It was larger than the recreational ATVs. He put the bag in the back as Naomi climbed into the passenger seat. It was a beautiful fall day. The leaves had started changing color and in a couple of weeks they should be at their full splendor. This used to be her least favorite season, but after all the hard work she had put in during the spring and summer, for once she was looking forward to the quiet of winter.

"How's your new bathroom?" she asked.

"It's almost finished," Blair said as he drove down the path. "We just need to grout around the bathtub and shower after the glue sets."

"I bet Jim's happy."

"I think he'll be spending a lot of time in there." Blair chuckled. "Last time I went into the ruins, I brought back stacks of magazines. Jim's been saving them for when the bathroom is ready." He turned onto one of the paths that led up to Wolf's Peak.

"I wouldn't mind looking through them when he's done," Naomi said.

"We're planning another trip to the ruins on Thursday," Blair said. "I can pick you up some magazines. Are there any types you'd like?"

"Every type ... if I don't like it, I'm sure Joe, Adam or Mac would." Naomi looked up at the sky. Clouds were moving in and she hoped it wasn't going to rain. "I suppose it must feel strange looking through magazines from August and September 2001."

"It does," Blair said. "Life seems to have been frozen in time on the date. The ruins are a constant reminder of what's been lost."

Naomi reached out and brushed a lock of hair from his smooth forehead. "We've been frozen in time."

They drove into the front yard of the log home at the top of Wolf's Peak. After Naomi finished the first looming lesson, she was going to Moonridge Lodge for dinner then Blair would drive her back to Seacouver's.

Ray and Francesca were sitting out on the side porch on oak rocking chairs with rattan woven seats and backrests.

"Hey, you made it," Francesca said, standing. "How are the grand opening preparations coming?"

"Joe is on top of everything," Naomi said. "The bratwurst buns are being delivered this afternoon."

"We're planning on going on the second day," Ray said, heading into the house through the side door.

Blair grabbed the bag from the back of the UTV and followed Naomi into the house.

"This place is feeling more like a home," Naomi commented as she noticed the tiny touches from the refrigerator magnets to coffee mugs hung from hooks under the cabinets. The coffee table in the great room had several books on it with bookmarks sticking out. On the mantel and hanging on the walls were framed photographs of all of them. Melvin was a good photographer and enjoyed getting snapshots. He would print them using a high quality inkjet printer.

Stan and Benton came up from the cellar and closed the door.

Stan shook the straw off his clothing. "We have the stable set up in the caves. Next week we should see about getting those llamas."

Ray grabbed the broom and dustpan, and handed it to Benton. "You're tracking straw into my clean kitchen."

"Sorry, Ray."

Naomi smiled as Benton swept up the straw. He would be doing penance until Ray and Stan had their babies. "Shall we head upstairs and I'll start your weaving lessons?" she asked.

"Please," Benton said, putting the broom and dustpan away.

They found Marita upstairs studying a book on weaving.

Naomi thought she looked more relaxed. The laid-back mountain lifestyle seemed to agree with Marita, or from what Alex had told them, maybe she just needed someplace where her life wasn't in constant danger.

"Let's begin," Naomi said, looking forward to teaching others what a joy it was to weave.

~x~X~x~

The Falcon

Tuesday, October 5, 2004

MacLeod wove his way through the crowd. Nearly twice as many people had shown up for Seacouver's grand opening than they had been expecting. The restaurant and outdoor patio were packed and the bar was standing room only. Suspecting they might get a few more people than the bar, restaurant, and patio could accommodate, in the field next to Seacouver's MacLeod and Methos had set up a tent and filled it with long tables and benches. The tent was full and people were even spreading blankets on the ground and having picnics. At the rate this crowd was eating, the five-day supply of brats and buns wouldn't last more than two days.

The noise from the crowd was loud and to make it worse Joe had hired an Oompah band that was playing outside on the patio. MacLeod had to lean in close when taking someone's order.

Inside, behind the bar, Joe was grinning ear-from-ear as he filled beer steins with Seacouver's homemade brews, all the while chatting with the patrons. Apparently he wasn't having a problem hearing the orders over the noise.

Despite the over crowding, or maybe because of it, there was a festive atmosphere about their opening day. People were laughing, drinking, eating, and dancing to the music. One table of older men and women were singing in German while raising their beer steins in a salute.

Paul Doggett wandered over to MacLeod. "I'll start making another order of fresh bratwurst for you guys. You're going to need it by Thursday if the crowds continue."

"Thanks, Paul." MacLeod was grateful that their friend had seen their need and was already planning to help them meet the large demand. "It's better to have too much than to run out. Any leftover brats can be on the menu for the rest of October. I better have a talk with the baker about making more buns."

Paul smiled. "It's a good thing that he's here and having a good time -- that should make him more receptive to the rush order."

"As long as he's not hung-over tomorrow," MacLeod said, looking through the door to the bar where the owner and head baker at 'Blue Mountain Bakery' in Holton was celebrating. MacLeod realized as he watched the man that there was no way their baker was going to be up to baking five hundred more buns the next day.

"Why don't you talk to Fox and Melvin?" Paul suggested, apparently reaching the same conclusion as MacLeod. "I'm sure they'd be willing to help make buns tomorrow in Seacouver's kitchen. Between the two of them, they should be able to knock out several hundred buns."

"You're probably right. Not to mention how the smell of bread baking would add to the ambiance of the restaurant."

Methos came strolling over carrying two steins of beer. "Here you go, Mac."

MacLeod took the beer. "Where have you been?"

"I went for a hike to the ranger's station," Methos said. "There's a storm heading this way and I wanted to find out when it's expected to arrive."

"Oh great," MacLeod sighed, looking around at all the people and wondering how they were going to get them all inside. "Have you told Joe?"

"Why? It's not arriving until after midnight."

"You couldn't have mentioned that first?"

"And miss seeing that angsty expression on your face?" Methos smirked.

"You can be such a...." MacLeod sighed, letting it drop. "If you'll excuse me, I need to radio Melvin and Mulder."

"I'm surprise they aren't here," Methos said, following MacLeod inside and over to Joe's office behind the bar.

"They're planning on coming tomorrow with the kids."

Methos leaned against Joe's desk as MacLeod sat in front of the radio.

The conversations were brief and he got both Fox and Melvin to agree to play bakers the next day. MacLeod looked over at his lover who had a troubled expression on his face.

"You seem worried. Is something wrong?" MacLeod asked.

"I'm not sure." Methos shrugged.

"Not sure of what?"

"I've been having this strange feeling since yesterday that something is heading our way but I'm not quite sure what it is."

"If it's an immortal we'll know soon enough." MacLeod didn't like it when Methos had premonitions -- they weren't often but they always came to pass.

"No. It's not a negative feeling," Methos said then smiled. "Don't worry about it. We aren't in danger of losing our heads any day soon."

"Then let's get back out and help Joe," MacLeod said, making sure that his sword was secured under his coat.

The rest of the day went by quickly. With the large number of customers coming and going, MacLeod didn't have time for more than a ten minute break. The festivities ended at ten o'clock in the evening. In the future the bar would remain open until one in the morning.

"Jimmy, you better leave before the storm hits," MacLeod said, taking the broom from the young man's hands.

"Okay, I'll see you tomorrow." Jimmy walked to the cloakroom to collect his jacket.

MacLeod picked up where Jimmy had left off sweeping the floor. People had tracked in all sorts of grime and dirt from outside. He was going to have to mop after he finished sweeping. The person they had hired from the Timberlake cabins to do the cleaning had taken ill suddenly. She was suppose to start at six a.m. to clean the restaurant and bar, then head upstairs to the inn to clean the rooms and make the beds. The last thing on her schedule was to wash the sheets and towels.

The rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. MacLeod hoped it wouldn't ruin day two of their grand opening. Kronos sauntered into the bar and hopped up on a bar stool then sat watching MacLeod sweep.

"You don't have to look so smug," MacLeod grumbled, glancing at the cat.

"He always looks smug," Methos said as he stepped out of Joe's office. "Kronos enjoys a life of leisure, unlike us. You know with Mindy sick we'll going to have to clean the inn's rooms."

"We probably should have gotten the dishwasher and busboy to do the sweeping," MacLeod said.

"At least Jimmy had offered to help." Methos grabbed a mug and filled it at the beer tap then sat on the stool next to the cat and scratched its head as he continued to talk to MacLeod. "You probably shouldn't have sent him home."

"I didn't want him to be caught by the storm."

"He could have stayed in our guestroom then we would have had someone to help clean the inn's rooms after our guests woke up."

A loud crack of thunder directly overhead shook the glasses on the shelf behind the bar. Then a torrent of water was heard slamming into the pavement and ground outside.

Methos looked up. "At least we won't have to scrub the vomit off the patio." He took a large swallow of beer.

MacLeod snatched the mug and finished it then set the empty mug on the bar. "Go get the mop. The least you can do is help."

"Slave driver," Methos said as he slid off the stool and headed toward the kitchen.

Joe stepped out of his office smiling. "We had a really profitable day."

"With the crowd we had I should hope so," MacLeod said as he continued sweeping.

Joe stood watching him for a couple of minutes. "Naomi wasn't feeling well -- I'm going up to check on her," he said. "That is, if you don't need me to help down here with anything."

"We have everything under control," MacLeod said. "Go up and take care of Naomi."

"Great." Joe headed back into his office where the staircase that went up to their home was located.

The staircase up to the inn was located in the lobby by Seacouver's main entrance. A set of French doors closed off the lobby from the bar and restaurant. They were left open during the day, but the guys would lock them before going upstairs to bed. They didn't want their guests sneaking down to the bar during the night. The lobby also had a cloakroom and restrooms off it.

"Damn," MacLeod sighed.

"What's wrong?" Methos looked up from mopping.

"I forgot about the restrooms. We're going to have to clean them before we can turn in for the night."

Methos made a face. "Have you been in the men's room?"

"I know." MacLeod picked up the dustbin. "But what can you expect with four hundred men and boys using it all day? I better open the door and let it air out."

MacLeod walked into the lobby and over to the restrooms, he opened both doors. The rooms were vented, but they still stank -- beer and meat produced a foul smell. At least they wouldn't have too many days like today. The next time they would have to look into setting up some portable toilets or build some permanent outdoor facilities. Next to the restrooms was a janitor's closet with all of the cleaning implements.

"Maybe we could just turn the fire hose on the rooms from the doorway," Methos suggested.

MacLeod handed him a pair of rubber gloves. "Let's get it over with."

It took them over an hour to clean both restrooms. When they finally finished it was well past midnight. MacLeod leaned against the door to the janitor's closet, feeling tired.

Methos leaned in and kissed him.

MacLeod closed his eyes, enjoying the sensation of his lover's warm lips giving him the first moment of pleasure he'd had in hours. His lips parted as Methos' tongue slipped inside his....

A sudden pounding on the front door made them jump.

"Who would be here at this time of night?" MacLeod said as he walked over to the door.

The rain was still coming down in buckets as he looked out the glass panel at the small figure shivering in a hooded cape. He cautiously opened the door aware that Methos was standing off to his left. But when MacLeod caught a glimpse of the young woman's face, he opened the door wider and allowed her inside. She had a pretty, heart-shaped face with warm, hazel eyes. Strands of black hair showed from beneath the hood.

"Come in," MacLeod said. "What are you doing out on such a night?"

She walked inside with a duffle bag slung over her shoulder. "I-I d-didn't..." her teeth clattered as she tried to talk.

"Do you have someplace to stay for the night?" MacLeod asked, looking down at the petite woman.

She shook her head as more violent shivers ran through her body.

"C'mon, you can stay in our guestroom." MacLeod took her bag and handed it to Methos. "Let's go upstairs and we'll find you something dry to put on before you catch pneumonia."

"T-Thank you," she said.

"Do you have a name?" MacLeod asked as he led her to the stairs in Joe's office.

"Hannah."

He detected an accent but it was hard to tell with only a few words and clashing teeth. "I'm Duncan MacLeod and my silent friend is Adam Pierson. You may call me Mac."

They entered the great room. He led her across the space and down a hallway to one of the two guest bedrooms next to Joe's and Naomi's room. MacLeod took the duffle bag from Methos and set it on a chair. "I'll get you something dry to put on then you can take a hot shower. We'll talk about why you're here afterwards." For some reason he was feeling very solicitous toward this young woman who couldn't be older than fifteen or sixteen.

Methos followed MacLeod back to their bedroom. "Duncan, you just invited a total stranger to stay in our home."

"She's only a child." He pulled a pair of socks and a clean sweatshirt from the dresser drawer -- it would probably be down past her knees.

"There's something strange about her."

"Let's just help her for now. You can interrogate her later," MacLeod said as he carried the dry clothes back to the guest bedroom.

Hannah had taken off the hooded cape and stood looking out the window. She was dressed in a loose-fitting long black dress with black boots. Her skin was flawless and very pale. She walked over and handed MacLeod a newspaper clipping.

"Are either of the positions still open?" she asked.

The clipping was from an ad they had placed in the Magic Mountain magazine for a barmaid and a cleaning maid. How she had gotten a copy of the magazine was beyond MacLeod, unless she lived somewhere in the area. But that was unlikely with her strong accent. MacLeod wasn't able to place it, but he thought it might be Gaelic.

"The barmaid position is filled. The person we hired for the cleaning maid position is out sick, so the position is yours if my partners agree," MacLeod said.

"If she knows how to clean then I'm agreeable," Methos said from the doorway.

"Are you hungry?" MacLeod asked her.

"Yes." She clutched the dry soft sweatshirt in her arms. "I haven't eaten for a couple of days."

"Then I'll fix you something while you take a hot shower. Just come out to the kitchen when you're done."

"Thank you, sir."

"Just Mac." He smiled and left the bedroom with a sense of relief that they might have found someone to do the cleaning for them.

MacLeod was sliding the omelet out onto a plate, when she walked into the kitchen wearing the oversized sweatshirt and a pair of socks.

"Where are you from, Hannah?" he asked, placing the omelet on the counter.

She sat on the stool and picked up a fork. "Everywhere."

"That's pretty broad," MacLeod said, setting a plate of toast in front of her. "Where were you born?"

"I'm not really sure; mother was a gypsy and traveled quite a bit." She took a bite of eggs.

"How old are you?"

"Does it matter?" she asked.

"Yes."

"Twenty-one."

MacLeod sensed that was a lie but wasn't going to press her on it. "What's your last name?"

"It's just Hannah."

He shook his head, not willing to give up just yet. "Where have you been living recently?"

"I've been on the road living off the land for years. I was passing through Holton and found your ad in a magazine."

"Do you have any family or traveling companions?"

"I've been on my own since mother died." She looked toward the hallway. "Does he always stare?"

MacLeod followed her eyes to where Methos was standing in the hallway watching her. "Sometimes."

"He's not a very trusting person," Hannah said.

"No." MacLeod found himself becoming a little less trusting toward her; she had lied or had been very vague when answering every question he had asked. For someone who claimed to have been living off the land, her hands and fingernails were perfect. Still, she appeared to be on her own and MacLeod wasn't about to toss her out in the rain.

~x~X~x~

The Panther

Thursday, October 7, 2004

Ellison was beginning to feel like a bloated whale, and he still had over two months of this pregnancy to go. Only his ability to hear his baby's heart beating kept his spirits high. The soothing rhythm helped him sleep more soundly at night when his body found it hard to get comfortable. He could get through this for her -- his baby girl.

Blair had taken Joey to visit Naomi. This was day three of Seacouver's Oktoberfest grand opening. Fox had gone over there early to help make more buns for the bratwurst. Walter and his parents had taken Connor, Aviva, and Chloe there for the second day in a row. The crowds hadn't been as bad yesterday, but Joe was expecting large crowds on Saturday the last day of Seacouver's Oktoberfest celebration.

For once the house was quiet. Alex and John had taken Gwen to visit Grandpa Paul and Uncle Mike. They had gone to help John's dad and brother make another batch of bratwurst for Seacouver's then they were going to be spending the night.

After finishing the chores, Jeffrey had headed over to the Gunmen's to hang out with Langly. The two men had become quite close in the short time Jeffrey had been living with them. So for the first time in years Jim had the house to himself, except for their dog, Lacy, and cats, Tiger and Jam.

At least being pregnant had gotten Jim out of doing some of the least desirable chores. The chicken coop was off limits as was cleaning out the barn, stable, and pigsty.

His body was also going through some strange changes. His nipples were tender and larger and he had started to develop breasts. These changes seemed to be affecting his libido, making him constantly horny. It didn't take much for him to get an erection. Just breathing in Blair's scent seemed to do the trick. His lover seemed to find his predicament amusing.

Jim walked into the kitchen and filled the teakettle. While waiting for the water to boil he strolled into the great room. The children's toys had been placed in the toy box in the corner before they left for Seacouver's. The men had been trying to teach them to put their toys away when they were done playing with them. At times it seemed like a losing battle.

Next to one of the leather recliners sat a basket of yarn, and the start of Alex's latest knitting project. Ellison had given knitting a try, but discovered he was all thumbs and couldn't quite get the hang of it. Alex seemed to use it as a way to relax and relieve stress. On the coffee table was the beginning of a one thousand-piece puzzle.

Over on the desk were blueprints for next summer's home construction projects. They would start in the spring on the bathroom off Fox's and Walter's bedroom. Then they'd work on the two new bedrooms and bathroom on the second floor, which would require removing the roof from over Ellison's and Blair's bedroom. New additions were planned for the Gunmen's and the Byers' homes. Unless something else came up, they planned to start construction of the schoolhouse the following summer.

The teakettle whistled and Ellison headed back into the kitchen to make himself a cup of tea. As he sat at the counter sipping tea and reading an article in a magazine titled Father, there was a knock on the back door and Simon stepped inside.

"Hey, Jim," Simon said. "Jin made some brownies and I thought I'd drop off a plate."

"Thanks, Simon. Would you like a cup of tea?"

"Sure," Simon said, walking over to the stove. "Don't get up; I can make it myself."

"If you insist." Ellison grinned and reached for the plate of brownies.

"What are you reading?"

"An article about father-daughter relationships," Ellison said.

"Raising girls is different from raising boys," Simon said as he drizzled honey in his tea.

"How so?"

"Girls have different interests and needs than boys," Simon said. "I find that I really have to talk to Wren to find out how she's feeling and what her interests are. I didn't have to work at it with Daryl."

"What types of interests can a four-year-old have?"

"Plenty," Simon said. "She likes playing with dolls and My Little Pony. Her favorite story is Sleeping Beauty, and she wants to be a doctor like Aunt Liz and Laura when she grows up. She can't decide if she wants to marry Joey or Connor. She doesn't like worms but will go fishing with me as long as we use corn for bait."

"I'll have no problem talking about feelings with my daughter," Ellison said. "All the years living with Blair have worn me down, and discussing our feelings is one thing I've become good at."

Simon chuckled. "Blair always did have a way of getting you to open up."

"Like a rose." Ellison smiled.

"I heard that Melvin has agreed to infect John with the Lycan virus," Simon said.

Ellison nodded. John and Laura had both decided they wanted to become werewolves after it had been determined that there were no ill affects. John was going first and after he completed the change he would infect Laura. Ellison didn't know how much longer they'd be able to keep their secret from Marita, Jeffrey, and Francesca. Alex had been quite insistent that Marita shouldn't be trusted with their secret. He thought she would use it to get back in the smoker's good graces.

"That's one of the reasons I came over," Simon continued. "Jin and I would like to be infected, too."

"Are you one hundred percent certain?" Ellison asked. "This isn't reversible, Simon, and you'll become part hermaphrodite."

"Yes, we're certain." Simon stood and looked out the window. "I figure if you could infect me in January I'll recover in time for spring planting. When Jin is done breast-feeding Jasmine, I'll be able to infect her."

"Okay," Ellison agreed, placing his hand on his belly as he felt the baby kick.

~x~X~x~

The Fox

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Mulder kneeled and hugged each of the children. "Be good for Grandma and Grandpa," he said, kissing Connor on his nose then hugging the twins. This was the first time he and Walter would spend a whole night away from their children. Even when they were wolves they never wandered too far from their home and always made it back before sunrise.

The kids were looking forward to spending their first night at their grandparent's house. This was a whole new adventure for them. Joey and Gwen decided they wanted to be part of the adventure, so they would be spending the night, too. Mulder kissed each of them on the cheek while hoping the twins wouldn't decide in the middle of the night that they needed him or Walter.

He looked up at Sonja and Wade who were watching him with amusement. They looked so much younger than the elderly couple who had shown up on their mountain a year ago. Walter's parents would have no problem looking after five toddlers.

Walter stepped out of his parent's bathroom. "Are you ready?"

Mulder nodded and stood. "Maybe we should come back here after dinner."

"No." Walter put his fingers under Mulder's chin. "I made reservations for us at the inn. In the morning, we'll be having breakfast in bed." His lips grazed over Mulder's.

Moisture dampened Mulder's boxers as he became aroused. He would have to be ovulating on the one night they would be enjoying an evening of food and sex.

"You gonna make a baby?" Connor asked.

Walter had an amused expression as he looked down at his son. "Not tonight." Then he gazed into Mulder's eyes. "But maybe next year...."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Maybe after we get the new addition on the house," he said. The twins were now sleeping in the bunk bed room, so he and Walter finally had the bedroom to themselves, and Mulder wanted it to stay that way for at least another year.

He did feel a powerful pull to have another baby, and it wasn't just him. There was a baby boom happening across the continent. It was as if their species felt a subconscious need to preserve itself. So many people had been lost during the alien attacks. It would take millennia for them to repopulate the planet.

"We have the space now, but it would probably be better to wait," Walter said.

Fatherhood seemed to agree with Walter. Mulder had noticed how much pride he took in their children; and the pleasure Walter had taken this past week teaching Connor how to tie his shoelaces.

Mulder smiled. "Let's go. You promised me a night of dining and entertainment for my birthday."

"And I always keep my promise," Walter said, turning back to his parents. "If you need to reach us, radio Joe. Other than that, we'll be back tomorrow afternoon."

"Have fun, kids," Sonja said.

They stepped outside and headed to the UTV. The sun was just beginning to set, casting a lovely orange glow across the vibrantly colorful forest.

"It's beautiful," Mulder said, taking a deep breath of the sweet mountain air before sliding into the passenger seat.

"So are you," Walter said, his eyes filled with tenderness and love.

Mulder blushed. He'd never get used to being the recipient of Walter's unbridled devotion. To be loved with such passion was something Mulder had never known in his life and at times it scared him. He was afraid of losing Walter's love. Of doing something that would destroy their relationship. Mulder had come to love Walter more than life and couldn't imagine living without him. After worrying for months, Mulder had finally confided his fears to Blair and his friend had told him to let Walter know about his concerns -- only an open relationship would prevent it from happening. As a psychologist, Mulder already knew that but he needed to hear it from someone else. He would talk to Walter over dinner. No platitudes, just an honest conversation about what they wanted and expected from their marriage and life together.

"A penny for you thoughts," Walter said as he drove down the tree-lined path.

"I was thinking about how lucky I am to have you in my life." Mulder looked down the path. "I don't think I'd be alive today if you hadn't been made my direct supervisor all those years ago."

"They wouldn't have killed you," Walter said. "You were too important to their project. I never knew why back then but was grateful just the same."

"We've come a long way since then," Mulder said. "It almost seems like another lifetime."

"And I want to keep our past in the past," Walter said. "I don't want it to intrude on what we're building now in our lives."

"We shouldn't forget it since it was part of what bound us together." Mulder sensed that one part of their past Walter didn't want intruding was Scully. "But it needn't intrude on what we have now," he added.

"I won't let it come between us," Walter said softly.

"Nothing can come between us," Mulder said as he leaned against Walter, placing his hand on Walter's thigh close to his groin.

They drove out into the ranger's parking lot, which was full with cars that hadn't fit in Seacouver's parking lot.

This was the first night Seacouver's was open to normal business after Oktoberfest. The restaurant was already booked solid for the week. Take out pizza and the bar was on a first-come, first-served basis. Luckily, Walter had made reservations back in the summer.

It was a nice night, so Walter parked on the lawn next to Sean's UTV, and then retrieved their duffle bag from the back.

"Wow, it looks like Seacouver's is a success," Mulder said as they held hands and walked the mile to Seacouver. As they neared, the sound of music drifted outside. The bar had been soundproofed, but it wasn't enough when the doors were opening and closing.

It was a pleasure hearing a live Blue's band performing inside. With the destruction of D.C. and several other large cities, the survivors had moved to smaller communities. The music and culture that had made up some of the neighborhoods in the larger cities had found a place in small cities and rural areas. When Joe had advertised for Blue's bands and artists to perform at Seacouver's, he'd gotten quite a few applicants. One band had even relocated to Holton so they'd be closer to Seacouver's.

They walked in through the front door. Naomi spotted them and hurried out of the crowded bar. "Happy birthday, Fox!" she said, planting a kiss on his cheek then one on Walter's before snatching the duffle bag out of his hand. "Let me take your bag up to your room, Mary has your table ready, so go right in."

"Thanks, Naomi," Mulder said. "Walter never mentioned what room we'll be staying in tonight."

"You'll be staying down under," she said.

"Cool." Mulder had always wanted to visit Australia. Too bad he never got around to it before the alien attack. But there were bound to be survivors; Aussies were a strong independent people. The military was planning to launch reconnaissance missions next summer to discover how much of the world's population had survived in other countries.

They walked into the bar.

"Mulder, Walt!" Helmut Schmidt called and strolled over to them carrying a large mug of beer. "This place is just what we needed." He put his free hand on Walter's shoulder. "Do you know if your Dad is going to be busy next week?"

"He doesn't have any projects that I'm aware of, other than his wood carvings," Walter said.

"My wife has put her foot down and is demanding an indoor bathroom," Helmut said. "I told her I'd look into it and thought if your Dad could stop out and look at our place and give me some advice on what it would take, well that should keep the little woman happy."

"I'll talk to my dad tomorrow," Walter said. "I'm sure he'll stop by your place the first chance he gets."

"Great." Helmut slapped Walter on the back. "I'll tell the missus to be expecting him."

Mulder felt like he was being watched. He turned back to look into the lobby and his eyes fell on a beautiful, winged being with long black hair. She was standing on the steps going up to the inn. The creature was naked and her pregnant belly protruded from her slight frame. No one seemed to be aware of her as Mulder gazed at her amused face, she smiled at him. A person stepped in front of Mulder temporarily blocking his view. When the man passed the creature was gone.

"Fox, what's wrong?" Walter asked.

"Nothing...."

"C'mon, let's eat." Walter's arm went around his waist in a casual but intimate manner as they walked into the restaurant and Mary showed them over to their table in the corner.

A different menu was prepared on a day-to-day basis by a professional chef. On the second day of Oktoberfest a man who used to be a chef at a top notch restaurant in New York City had approached Joe about managing the restaurant. Joe had agreed to give him a try as long as he prepared meals that would appeal to the mountain community.

Mulder studied the menu, but his thoughts kept going back to what he had seen on the stairs.

"Can I get you something to drink?" the waitress asked.

"We'll have a bottle of champagne," Walter said.

The waitress jotted it down. "Would you like an appetizer to start off your meal?"

"Fox?" Walter said, turning the decision over to him.

Mulder quickly looked at the options. "We'll have the Seafood Coquilles."

After the waitress left, Walter asked, "What do you want to eat?"

"The lobster dinner."

"I'm getting the prime rib," Walter said.

"That was my second choice, do you want to split?"

"Yes." Walter smiled. "I love lobster but it never seem very filling."

Mulder glanced around. All the tables were full with people he didn't recognize. Four young women at one table stared at him and Walter and then chatted amongst themselves. Mulder knew that look and hoped they didn't get up the nerve to try and hit on him or Walter.

The waitress came back with the champagne and two flutes. She opened the bottle using a towel so the cork didn't go flying. After she filled their glasses she took their order and headed back to the kitchen.

"Do you know what my greatest fear is?" Mulder asked, looking into Walter's eyes.

"That the aliens will return and abduct you or our kids."

"No. That you'll fall out of love with me or I'll do something that would cause you to leave me."

"That will never happen," Walter said.

"When I do something that annoys you, you'll tell me won't you?"

"Of course I'd tell you." Walter reached across the table and took Mulder's hand in his. "Now would you tell me what had your interest in the bar?"

"I thought I saw something on the staircase in the lobby," Mulder said.

"What did you see?"

"Um, a naked, winged, pregnant nymph." Mulder saw doubt in Walter's eyes. "I could have imagined it..."

"Let's say that you didn't. What is a nymph and why would only you see her?"

"Nymphs are magical creatures that are always female. They're held to the Earth by an object of nature. There are forest nymphs, mountain nymphs, river and stream nymphs, and sea nymphs. A forest nymph is bonded to the tree she was born in and will live only as long as the tree lives. Mountain nymphs can live the longest. I'm not sure what type of a nymph I saw; we're on a river in the mountains surrounded by trees."

"What is the significance of her being here and why are you the only one who can see her?"

"I don't know why she's here," Mulder said, relaxing now that Walter believed him. "Maybe it's because I'm open to the possibility of their existence."

"Is she dangerous?"

"No." Mulder shook his head. "Nymphs are mostly harmless but can be the cause of great mischief."

"Should we tell Joe that he has a naked, pregnant nymph roaming around Seacouver?" Walter asked barely suppressing a laugh.

"What? And have him think I'm crazy?"

"If you see her again, we'll be obligated to tell Joe," Walter said.

"If I see her again, I'll ask her why she's here and find out what type of nymph she is." Mulder was feeling light-headed as he sipped the champagne. It had been a long time since he had had an X-File to investigate. If their mountain had nymphs living amongst them, he was determined to find out all that he could about them.

Their dinner came and they spent it talking about their kids. They were on their second bottle of champagne when they agreed that next fall Walter would impregnate Mulder with their fourth child. That part of their conversation made Mulder hornier and by the end of dinner he was anxious to get up to their room. Ovulating always aroused him, and when he was in that state, the urge to have a baby became strong. Usually he was strong enough to resist. Not tonight. It didn't help that he'd had a bottle of champagne, his emotions took over and he started to wonder why they should wait until next year.

"Fox, what's wrong?"

"Let's go upstairs and make a baby," Mulder whispered, knowing Walter didn't want to wait and had only agreed to please him.

"No."

"Yes."

"No. You'll regret it in the morning." Walter stood and shifted uncomfortably. "We can wait. Let's go up to our room."

Mulder smiled inwardly. Walter was fully aroused and only the jacket prevented an embarrassing display before the whole restaurant. Standing, Mulder followed Walter out of the restaurant, through the bar, and into the lobby. He could have sworn that several men had brushed against him on purpose.

They made it up to their room, which was at the end of the hallway next to Shanghai. Mulder didn't even get a chance to look around before Walter had him pushed against the door and was tearing off both their clothes.

"Walt..." Was all Mulder could get out before his lover's mouth was devouring his. A hand squeezed his buttock then a thick finger found his slick opening and pushed inside. Mulder shivered and spread his legs wantonly.

"You sure?" Walter whispered against his lips.

"Yes," Mulder said softly, not sure if Walter heard him or not. The press of his lover's erection against Mulder's hip had him distracted.

Walter walked them backwards to the bed. With one arm around Mulder's back, Walter used the other to pull down the bedcovers, while they continued to kiss and grope before toppling onto the mattress.

The room spun briefly as Mulder stared up at the ceiling before he turned his attention to the top of his lover's bald head. He shouldn't have had that last glass of champagne; he'd never had a high tolerance for alcohol. The feel of Walter sucking and nipping his nipples made Mulder harder and damper.

By the time his lover entered him, Mulder had already orgasmed once. He experienced a slight discomfort from their position as Walter's thrusts rammed against his balls. When his lover finally came Mulder had reached orgasm a couple more times and was drifting off to sleep.

Sunlight was coming in through the windows when Mulder next opened his eyes. He was under the covers with Walter's body wrapped possessively around him.

There was a knock on the door and a female voice called out, "Maid," before opening the door. In stepped the black-haired nymph, only she appeared human and was no longer pregnant. She pushed a food cart into the room and closed the door behind her.

Having past experience with illusions, Mulder focused on her until the deception dissolved and he was again looking at the pregnant winged nymph from last night.

"Not many humans can see through my magic," she said.

Walter stirred, but she did something that made him fall back to sleep.

"What type of nymph are you?" Mulder asked, sitting up.

"I'm a mountain nymph," she said. "I've been wed to these mountains for two thousand years. I had once been part of a chain of mountains over the great sea but I angered an elder and was banished to this place."

"Why are you here at Seacouver's?" Mulder asked.

She touched her belly. "Through the millenniums I've had dozens of children. Because they weren't nymphs I couldn't keep them, so I would leave my babies where humans would find them."

"Foundlings," Mulder said as his mind started to connect the dots. "Immortals are foundlings."

"My son lives here," she said then smiled. "He's not very trusting."

"Hannah?" Naomi called from down the hallway.

"I better see what she wants." The nymph moved to the door and paused. "Keep my secret," she said before stepping out of the room.

Mulder had more questions he wanted to ask her.

Walter woke up after the door closed. "Was someone here?"

"The maid," Mulder said, discovering the nymph's command prevented him from telling Walter about her. "She brought our breakfast."

Walter's large hand caressed Mulder's abdomen, reminding him about what they had done last night.

"Are you still all right with your ... our decision?" Walter asked.

"It's too late to have regrets now," Mulder sighed. Then he looked at Walter's concerned face and chuckled. "This is probably the most unusual birthday present anyone has ever given me."

~x~X~x~

The Badger

Monday, October 18, 2004

Even in winter the caves had a constant temperature of fifty degrees. An underground spring provided plenty of fresh drinking water. It was a perfect place to house the llamas, until they could build a barn next summer. They had hauled in enough hay to get them through the winter. Kowalski stood outside the pen and fed one of the llamas a carrot. They had two females and a male. One female had pure white fur, the other was a shade of light brown, and the male was black and white. In Kowalski's opinion they were weird-looking animals -- long necks, little heads, and large eyes and ears.

In the three days since they had gotten the llamas, Kowalski had learned to avoid being spit at. The male llama was taller than him and had an ornery personality. Kowalski had been trying to win him over with apples.

They had a thick bushy coat. The woman they'd bought the llamas from was going to teach them how to shave them. Kowalski wasn't sure they should do that this close to winter. Of course the reason they bought the llamas in the first place was to use their fur to make yarn to earn some money over the winter.

They had traded with a man named Josh for the loom and spinning wheels. His brother had come through and delivered a truckload of cotton to the ranger station. Kowalski and his partners had spent several days hauling it back to one of the dry caverns beneath their house.

A movement in his belly reminded Kowalski of his condition. He tried not to think about it, but it was becoming harder. He had switched over to wearing sweat pants three weeks ago. His lower back was aching and he'd been suffering from constipation for a whole week. Laura was coming over this afternoon to give him and Ray their bi-monthly check-up.

Kowalski had always wanted kids. The need for a family was the main reason Stella had divorced him. His childhood sweetheart didn't want kids -- they would have interfered with her career. That one issue had become a wedge in their marriage that slowly drove them apart. If Kowalski could get over his fear of being pregnant he would be able to enjoy the prospect of finally becoming a father ... or more to the point, a mother. If he wanted to be a father he'd have to get Ben or Ray pregnant.

The irony of the situation was that during one of his fights with Stella she had said the only way she'd agree to having children was if he were the one that got pregnant. Kowalski chuckled. He had loved Stella since they had been kids, but he was so much happier with Ben and Ray than he had ever been married to her.

"Stan, Marita has lunch ready," Benton said, stepping into the cavern. "Do you want to eat?"

"Sure." Kowalski patted the llama on the head and turned to follow his lover back up to the house. This was Marita's week to cook, next week it would be his. Kowalski was getting better at it; at least he no longer burned the rice on the bottom of the pan.

Ben stopped at the bottom of the stone steps going up to their home and turned to face him. "You've been awfully quiet this past week. Is something bothering you?"

"No. I'm actually feeling less like throwing things at you." Kowalski's mood swings had reached a critical point last month. He'd found himself crying for no reason or stomping out of the house in a rage. Now he was feeling calmer and more at peace with his situation.

"You know I didn't intentionally do this to you," Ben said for what must have been the thousandth time.

"I know you didn't," Kowalski finally conceded.

Ben face lit up. "You believe me?"

"Yeah, but you're still going to pay."

"Of course, Stan."

Kowalski shook his head as he followed his lover up the rough-carved steps to their home. He probably shouldn't be so hard on Ben. He'd caught his lover on a couple of occasions having imaginary conversations with his dead father. However, Kowalski couldn't help but get angry at Ben at times. The man could be polite and agreeable to the point that it became infuriating. Sometimes he'd just like Ben to tell him to fuck off. Why had he fallen in love with a Canadian? They were too fucking courteous and civil.

Kowalski watched Ben's ass on the steps in front of him. Okay, Canadians had nice asses and knew how to keep their lovers warm at night. They were very good kissers and his Canadian was knowledgeable about living off the land. Kowalski would just have to learn to tolerate a polite, considerate lover. After all, he had Ray as a counter balance.

The moment they entered the house, Kowalski's mouth started to water. The place smelled of freshly baked bread and stew. No longer suffering from morning sickness, he had developed a healthy appetite.

"How are the llamas doing?" Marita asked as she sliced the loaf of crusty bread.

"Fine." Kowalski grabbed a soup bowl and filled it with stew. "The male llama didn't try to spit at me today."

"We'll probably have baby llamas in the spring," Benton said as he joined Ray and Francesca at the table.

"Cool, then we won't have to spend any money buying more llamas," Ray said.

"Are we still going out in the woods to gather chestnuts this afternoon?" Kowalski asked as he sat at the table.

"This afternoon, Walter is dropping off some mushroom beds that he'd made," Ben said. "I'm going to help him install them down in the caves. We'll be able to have our own fresh mushrooms in a few weeks."

"I can't either," Francesca said. "Sean is picking me up in a couple of hours. We're flying down to Paul Doggett's farm to pick up hams for some needy families on the far side of the mountain."

"I'll gather chestnuts with you," Ray said. "We can make a little extra cash by selling them down in Holton."

"Thanks, Ray," Kowalski said, wondering what it was going to be like being snowed in this winter.

~x~X~x~

The Raven

Halloween

A gentle wind rattled through the overhead branches, dispersing brightly colored leaves over the landscape. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, so the restaurant and bar were closed. Joe was hosting the Halloween party outside on the patio for their friends and neighbors. Everyone was wearing costumes. Joe was dressed as a pirate and would be handing out the prize for the great pumpkin contest and later for the best adult costume. Ranger Smith, dressed as Smokey The Bear, had been elected the official judge of the pumpkin contest. Because of the enormous size of the pumpkins it was impossible to bring them to Seacouver's for judging without forklift. So Sean had gone over to the ten contestants homes to measure and snap pictures of each pumpkin.

The first place prize was a four-day stay at the inn's Rio de Janeiro room, complete with breakfast in bed.

Methos wandered around the patio sipping dark ale and making small talk. There were a hundred and fifty people at the party. The kids outnumbered adults and were playing a number of games Joe had arranged to keep them occupied. Bobbing for apples seemed to be their favorite.

Outside of the restaurant's doorway, Duncan was helping Sean pin up the photographs of the pumpkins on corkboard set on an easel. Duncan wasn't really wearing a costume per say; he had on a dark blue plaid kilt with a dragon top sporran, Ghillie shoes, and his sword.

The first two weeks Seacouver's had been open were a lot of hard work -- even for Methos. Over the past week things seemed more relaxed. They now had plenty of help for the restaurant and bar, and Mindy had recovered from her illness and was helping Hannah with the cleaning. So Methos had resumed his life of leisure and study.

At the far end of the patio Hannah was talking to Fox who stood holding his twin daughters' hands. Methos watched as Fox and Hannah leaned closer together and whispered conspiratorially. Something still bothered him about Hannah and her sudden appearance at Seacouver's. She seemed to always be watching him with those hazel eyes that were eerily beautiful in the sunlight. Methos had hazel eyes but his never reflected the blue hues of the mountains, indoors.

Other than her eyes, Methos couldn't detect anything other-worldly about her. So he decided his suspicion was unwarranted. She was a child and nothing more. Besides if she had been the least bit supernatural Fox would know it and he didn't appear the least bit alarmed. The immortal also knew Fox would never allow his daughters to go near anyone dangerous. Methos looked at the little toddlers dressed as faeries in tights with colorful skirts resembling flower petals. Sheer white wings were strapped on their backs and crowns made from silk flowers graced their heads. Aviva's costume was in shades of yellow and orange while Chloe had on shades of purple and aqua. Fox looked beautiful dressed as a medieval prince.

Naomi glided over to Methos' side as much as a woman seven months pregnant could glide. She was dressed as a sixties flower child. "Adam, smile. It's Halloween."

"Monks aren't normally jolly," he said, referring to his costume.

"Sure they are--" she started to say before being interrupted.

"May I have your attention," Joe called. "It's time to announce the winners of the great pumpkin contest."

Methos held out his arm. "Shall we move closer?"

"Yes." Naomi placed her hand on his arm just below the elbow and they walked across the patio.

Melvin was wandering around snapping photos. The Gunmen had come dressed as the three musketeers with Jimmy Bond dressed as D' Artagnan.

Most of the costumes had come from the ruins. It had been the end of September when the aliens had attacked so Halloween costumes were being sold in stores and specialty shops.

Joe continued, "As you can see from the photos we had some very large pumpkins to judge. Sean will announce the results of the judging."

"It wasn't an easy contest to judge," Sean said. "All ten contestants had enormous pumpkins. The third place prize goes to John Doggett, last year's winner."

John walked up and Sean handed him a ribbon and a gift certificate for a free dinner at Seacouver's. People congratulated him as he walked back into the crowd.

"Let me see, Daddy," Gwen said.

John kneeled and showed her the gift certificate and ribbon.

"Second place goes to Hugh Wagner." Sean gave him a ribbon and gift certificate.

"And first place for the Great Pumpkin goes to Richard Langly."

"Yes!" Langly said. "My kung fu is the greenest."

Everyone congratulated Langly as he collected his prize. He went to stand next to Jeffrey and showed him the certificate for four days at Seacouver's in December. "Dude, what do you say? No chores and free food for four days."

"Sure, Ringo."

"Papa, I need to pee," Connor said as he ran over to Walter.

"Okay." Walter scooped him up in his arms and carried him toward the door going inside. "I hope Grandma sewed a zipper into this thing."

Methos smiled. The little boy was dressed as a green dinosaur with no visible zipper. There was no zipper visible in the skintight leather pants Walter was wearing as part of his Viking's costume.

Blair was there with Joey who was wearing a dinosaur costume similar to Connor. Jim had remained home because he was now too obviously pregnant and still suffering from uncontrollable heightened senses.

Pregnancy didn't stop Ray and Stan from coming. They were dressed as the Keystone cops with enough padding to hide their conditions. Benton had on a black and white stripped prisoner costume with a plastic ball and chain.

Francesca was talking to Sean; it was still hard to tell that she was pregnant. Even with that tight Little Bo Peep costume. Liz on the other hand was showing her condition she wore a roaring-twenties red flappers outfit.

The mountains would be having a baby boom in the next several months. For some reason Methos was feeling depressed. Immortals couldn't have children of their own, since they were all sterile. It wasn't like he had never experienced fatherhood in his five thousand years of life. He had lovers who had children that he had raised as his own, only to watch them age and die. The last thing he and Duncan needed in their lives was a baby. Not when becoming attached to a child would lead to an inevitable heartbreak.

He watched Gwen, waving around her faerie wand while pretending to cast spells. She wore a similar costume to the twins only in shades of blue to match her eyes. It had been over a thousand years since Methos had last allowed himself to become attached to a child. He found it odd that he was having these desires now when fatherhood hadn't been a fancy of his for thousands of years.

Duncan appeared at his side. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing," Methos said. He was not about to tell Duncan that he was having a sudden desire to become a father. It was probably the result of being around so many little ones. Maybe they should take a trip in the spring to put some distance between themselves and their friends' children.

"Help me build a bonfire," Duncan said. "When the sun goes down our little faeries, dinosaurs, and monsters are going to get cold."

"What say we take a trip to the real Seacouver's this spring?" Methos said as he followed his lover to the field where they had a fire pit.

"Couldn't we hold off a few years?" Duncan said, grabbing a log from the woodpile. "Joe just opened this place and we just finished building our home."

"I..." Methos realized he was being reactionary; a few unwelcome thoughts and he was ready to pack up and flee. He liked the place and really didn't want to leave. Besides, his sudden desire for children didn't mean he or Duncan would actually become parents. "You're right ... we should stay here and help Joe for a few years."

"What's gotten into you?" Duncan asked.

"Nothing's gotten into me ... besides you," Methos quipped.

Hannah strolled over, wearing her hooded travel cloak and carrying a bag slung over her shoulder. "I'm leaving," she announced.

"What do you mean?" Duncan asked. "You've only been here a few weeks."

"It's as long as I ever stay in one place," she said. "Winter is coming and I need to head south before the snow arrives."

"Will you be back?" Methos asked, genuinely sorry to see her leave after he was just beginning to trust her.

She gazed into his eyes for a few moments before speaking, "Possibly, in the spring."

Methos had a sudden strange feeling. "Take care of yourself."

Hannah smiled. "Be happy, Methos. Life's too long to spend it looking over your shoulder." She reached up and caressed the side of his face. "No one will harm you or those you love on this mountain."

For the first time in his life Methos was speechless and stood frozen in place, he watched as she headed back across the field and vanished around the building. When she was out of sight, he was able to move again.

"What was that about?" Duncan said. "How did she know your real name?"

"I'll be right back," Methos said as he ran after her.

When he reached the road there was no visible sign of her in either direction. Duncan came running up and stopped at his side.

"You go that way and I'll look for her this way," Methos said and started running down the road. He made it to the highway with her nowhere in sight. How could a woman just vanish? Unless she headed in the other direction toward the Timberlake homes or maybe she ducked back inside Seacouver's.

He turned and headed back toward Seacouver's. She must have heard Duncan or Naomi call him Methos, and Hannah used that to mess with his head. That didn't explain why he wasn't able to move a muscle after she touched him. It was probably for the best to have her gone. He had enough strangeness in his life as it was.

The sun had gone down by the time Methos made it back to Seacouver's and the guys had the bonfire blazing. Fox had taken off his daughters' wings and dressed them warmly in sweaters, knit hats, and legwarmers before putting the wings back on them.

The Schmidt's four and three-year-old sons were playing with Connor and Joey under Walter's watchful eyes.

Joe was heating a kettle of apple cider over a small fire. Alex was sitting near the bonfire with Gwen sleeping in his arms.

"Nice night," John said, walking up to stand next to Methos.

"Yes, it is," Methos said. "Gwen looks done in."

"She was running around all afternoon casting spells," John said, grinning.

"What's it like?"

"You mean being pregnant?"

"Yes." Methos hadn't had an opportunity to ask Jim, and he didn't feel he knew Ray and Stan well enough to ask them.

"The physical discomforts are hard," John said. "I haven't had a good night's sleep for two months now. I usually have to get up two or three times to use the bathroom. My ankles are swollen, my nipples are overly sensitive, and my gums are bleeding." He smiled. "Other than that, it's been a humbling experience. Having a new life growing inside my body is probably the greatest experience I've ever had and worth all the aches and pains when you consider the final product."

"You're a lucky man," Methos said, and he meant it as he looked at all the children. They were extensions of their parents -- roots that would continue to branch out across the land as the children grew and had children of their own. Immortals had no roots. They were unique -- one of a kind -- no connections, except loosely, to other immortals. Five thousand years and he couldn't imagine what it would be like to have someone related to him by blood.

After talking to John for another ten minutes, Methos wandered inside and up to his and Duncan's bedroom. He needed some time alone. Before Hannah had showed up on their doorstep, Methos had told Duncan that something was heading their way and that feeling had continued to grow.

Stripping off the monk's robe, Methos tossed it on the bed then picked up the book he had been reading and carried it to the recliner near the fireplace. He wasn't in the mood to build a fire, so he turned on the lamp and sat. Opening the book, he started to read. While he was immersed in the book, Kronos hopped up on his lap and settled down as a warm, comfortable, purring weight.

The next thing Methos knew was Duncan was shaking him awake and the cat was gone.

"C'mon, its time for bed," Duncan said, kneeling before him wearing only his kilt.

"What time is it?"

"Almost midnight." The Highlander removed Methos shoes and socks then hauled him out of the chair. "Do you want to share a shower?"

"Yes, if you're willing to give me a massage." Methos knew that the kink in his neck would be gone by the time they even made it to the bathroom, but he still enjoyed feeling his lover's strong fingers massaging the muscles in his back and neck.

"You missed the costume contest." Duncan turned on the shower.

"Who won?"

"Walter."

"I would have voted for his costume," Methos said as he removed the rest of his clothing. "Talk about sexy."

"Do I have to dress in leather to get your attention?" Duncan asked, stepping into the shower.

"You don't have to wear any clothes at all to get my attention." Methos looked affectionately at Duncan's ass before joining his lover in the shower.

"Turn around," Duncan ordered then proceeded to give Methos a back rub.

Methos closed his eyes as the hot water erased any tension that wasn't chased away by his lover's expert touch. "Fuck me, Highlander." He needed the contact, the connection to someone solid.

Keeping his eyes closed, Methos enjoyed the feel of Duncan's mouth against his throat and the firmness of his lover's chest pressed against his back. The head of a cock pushed inside his body and Methos spread his legs further apart, leaning against the shower wall.

Being held securely as Duncan fucked him hard, made Methos feel safe. The Highlander must have sensed that the contact was more important to Methos than the act itself.

When they climaxed, Methos was feeling much better.

"C'mon let's go to bed," Duncan said, stepping out of the shower and grabbing a towel.

"I could sleep like the dead tonight," Methos quipped as he dried himself then pulled on a pair of boxers.

He and Duncan had a large wrought iron bed that was gothic in appearance with the stonewall behind it. Climbing under the covers, Methos was asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.

A sharp pain in his leg woke Methos. Kronos walked up on his chest and meowed loudly in his ear.

"Go away cat," Methos grumbled and tried to go back to sleep.

Kronos would have none of it and dug his claws into Methos' arm.

"YEOW!" Swearing under his breath, Methos climbed out of bed. "If I feed you, would you allow me to sleep?"

"What'swrong?" Duncan mumbled.

"Nothing," Methos said as he stepped into his slippers. "The cat from hell wants to be fed."

Hopping off the bed, Kronos headed to the door then turned and waited for Methos to follow him out of the bedroom.

The ancient immortal sighed and followed the cat into the other room. Kronos ran to the back door and meowed. The door had a small pet door built into it that the cat used to go in and out of the house. Methos had gotten tired of getting up in the middle of the night to let Kronos out, so he had personally installed the door. The cat stood at the door looking up at him.

That cat was trying to tell him something.

"What's wrong, Kronos?" Methos opened the back door. "Is there something out here?"

Kronos ran out the door and down the metal steps. He turned to face Methos and meowed. Dressed only in boxers and slippers, Methos reached back inside the house and grabbed his long coat off the hook anywhere it hung by the door. His sword was within its folds and he never went any without it. The cat waited while the immortal pulled on the coat and walked down the wrought iron steps to the patio.

Kronos then led him across the field into the woods. The temperature had dropped into the forties and Methos could feel the cold air against his bare legs.

"The things I do to humor you," he muttered as he followed the cat through the rocky woods.

Then Methos felt it -- the tingle. Not as powerful as he'd get from an immortal nearby but he knew from millennia of experience that somewhere up ahead was a pre-immortal. Keeping one hand on his sword, Methos cautiously moved through the darkened woods. What he found nearly stopped his heart. Lying in a bed of moss were two newborn babies, shivering in the cold mountain air. One of the babies was making panicked mewing noises.

The ancient immortal kneeled by their side. They couldn't have been more than a half-hour old. The fluid from their birth hadn't dried on their flesh.

"You're going to freeze to death," Methos said. Pulling off his coat, he removed the sword and leather scabbard and slung it over his bare shoulder. Then he gently placed both infants on the coat and wrapped them up in its warm folds.

The immortal shuddered at the thought of what would have happened if the two infants froze to death. As pre-immortals, their death would have only been temporary, but their fate would have been sealed. It was bad enough when a pre-immortal child died and had to spend centuries in that body until another immortal coldly took his head.

The cat sat watching him.

"Good job, Kronos," Methos said as he stood with the precious bundle in his arms. "You'll get a special treat in your dinner bowl."

By the time Methos made it back to the house, he had already decided he was going to keep the babies. They had been the source of his premonition that something was heading toward him and Duncan, and maybe even why he'd been experiencing a sudden desire for fatherhood. He walked in the house and hurried to the bedroom.

"Mac, wake up!" he ordered, placing the bundle on his side of the bed.

Not a sound sleeper, Duncan was out of bed in a flash and reaching for his sword under the bed before his eyes fell on the two newborn babies that his lover was unwrapping from the coat.

"What's going on?"

"We've just became parents," Methos quipped, looking down at the infants' naked bodies wiggling on the bed. They both had black hair and one had a tiny penis and testicles and the other, a vulva. Fate had seen its way to give them one of each sex. "Meet our new son and daughter." He picked up the newborn girl. "Go and fill the bathroom sink with warm soapy water and lay a dry towel next to it; they need to be bathed."

Duncan, still in a state of shock walked over and looked down at the babies. "They're pre-immortals."

"And?" Methos gave him a challenging look as he cradled the infant against his chest. She made tiny whimpers that threatened to turn into cries.

"And I'll fill the sink," Duncan said and hurried into the bathroom as the boy baby started crying.

Methos set the girl down and picked up the boy who continued his loud wails. "What's wrong? Are you hungry? Duncan, we need to see about getting some milk for the babies."

Duncan came back into the bedroom as the female baby's cries joined her brother's. Picking her up, the Highlander carried her into the bathroom with Methos following, carrying the boy.

"There's some goat's milk in the cooler downstairs," Duncan said. "Naomi has some baby bottles stored in the cabinet above the refrigerator."

Joe and Naomi hurried into the bedroom, wearing robes and looking disheveled from sleep.

"I told you I heard a baby crying," Naomi said as they stood in the bathroom doorway.

Duncan supported the infant with one hand in the sink of warm water. Her cries had quieted as he gently bathed her with the other. The baby boy continued to cry loudly.

"Joe, can you please go downstairs and retrieve the goat's milk from the cooler?" Methos asked as he tried to comfort his new son.

"Sure, then you can tell us where the babies came from," Joe said and hurried out of the bedroom.

"He hasn't even told me yet," Duncan muttered.

Methos ignored him and focused on Naomi. "Would you mind holding him while I get a couple of baby bottles?"

She took the tiny infant from Methos and then said, "There are cloth diapers in the cabinet in our bathroom and some receiving blankets. Infant onesies, undershirts, socks, and knit caps are in the top drawer of the dresser." She held the baby securely above her round belly.

They had been fortunate that Naomi was expecting in a couple of months and had stocked up on baby supplies.

Methos retrieved the box of bottles and nipples from above the refrigerator then started a pot of water boiling on the stove before heading into Joe and Naomi's bedroom to find the rest of the baby items. Joe was in the kitchen with the milk and filling two bottles.

"It's a good thing Naomi sterilized these before putting them in the cabinet," he said, screwing on the caps and placing the bottles in the pot of hot water. "That saves us some time."

"Thanks, Joe," Methos said as he headed back into the bedroom. Both babies were still crying but at least they had been bathed. He set the pile of baby items on the bed.

Naomi laid the boy baby on the mattress. "Let's get them diapered and dressed," she said, grabbing a cloth diaper and making quick work of diapering the crying infant.

Duncan was taking expert care of the other one. It was obvious at some point in his life he had diapered a baby.

"Let me dress him," Methos said to Naomi.

She smiled and handed him the onesie.

It was difficult getting the outfit on the infant while trying to support his neck, but Methos eventually succeeded without doing any damage to his new son. He placed a knit cap on his head then wrapped the infant in one of the warm receiving blankets.

Joe walked into the bedroom carrying two baby bottles. He handed one to Duncan and the other to Methos. The two men sat on the bed and placed the nipples into each infant's mouth. Soon the babies' hungry cries turned to sounds of suckling.

"Okay, explain," Joe said.

"I found them abandoned in the woods," Methos said.

The meaning wasn't lost on the man who spent most of his life watching immortals. "Are they?" Joe asked.

"Yes." Methos nodded, watching the infant's pink mouth suck on the nipple.

"What are you going to do with them?" Joe asked.

"Mac and I are going to raise them as ours," Methos said, knowing that he hadn't even asked Duncan what he felt about taking on such an enormous responsibility. When Methos hazarded a glance at his lover, Duncan had such a look of contentment on his face while feeding their new daughter, Methos realized he had nothing to worry about. If anything, it would have been Duncan arguing to keep the babies if Methos had rejected them. For once they both seemed to be in agreement.

"Then it's a good thing we have two extra bedrooms in this place," Joe said.

Duncan smiled. "If we have any house guests they can stay at the inn."

Kronos hopped up on the bed, sat next to Methos and stared at the baby. Methos knew Kronos wouldn't harm either infant, not after the trouble he went through to save the babies' lives. If anything their children had found themselves a hell of a protector.

"We'll head over to the pole barn at first light and search for a couple of cribs," Methos said.

"We'll have to decide on names for them," Duncan said.

"They can have your last name," Methos said. "We'll discuss first names later."

He just wanted to sit and contemplate this latest development in his long life.

~x~X~x~

End of Chapter Twenty-Four: Shades of Autumn

Coming soon Chapter Twenty-four: Winter's Fury

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