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X-Patrol: Chapter 18 – Weddings and Mutants and Toddlers, Oh My!

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X-Patrol: Chapter 18 – Weddings and Mutants and Toddlers, Oh My!

X-Patrol: Chapter 18 – Weddings and Mutants and Toddlers, Oh My!

by Jo B


Title: X-Patrol: Chapter 18 ? Weddings and Mutants and Toddlers, Oh My!

Author: Jo B

Keywords: M/Sk, D/K, and J/B. Slash, AU, mpreg, XF/TS crossover

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: Weddings bring lovers closer as the nation starts to rebuild.

Disclaimer: The X-Files are the property Chris Carter, 1013 productions and Fox Broadcasting. The Sentinel belongs to Pet Fly Productions, UPN, and Paramount. No money is being made from their use.

Author's notes:

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 18
X-Patrol

Weddings and Mutants and Toddlers, Oh My!

The Bear and Fox

Sunday, June 1, 2003

"It's beautiful. Where did you find it?" Fox asked as he ran his hand over the fine brown leather while balancing Connor on his hip.

Skinner was pleased that Fox liked the leather loveseat. Each side reclined independently. It just fit the space in front of the fireplace in their overcrowded bedroom -- eventually they'd be able to get rid of the two cribs when their children were old enough to move into the new bedrooms. "We found a partially collapsed furniture store and an appliance store next to it in the ruins of D.C."

On the outskirts of the ruins, all the stores had been thoroughly looted. From his years of working in D.C., Skinner remembered the location of several stores. The problem was finding any that hadn't been completely destroyed then reaching them through the rubble-cluttered streets. The furniture store they had found was like a treasure trove. It was hidden in the heart of the ruins surrounded by destroyed buildings. Even those familiar with D.C. would have had a hard time finding it, so the furniture inside was theirs for the taking.

The old, comfortable leather recliner that had been in their bedroom they had moved into the great room where it had become the most popular chair to relax on after a hard day of work. Skinner and Mulder had wanted the loveseat so they could sit and read to their children, and for more intimate moments together.

"Did you and John have any problem getting the furniture?" Fox asked.

"We ran into four giant rats, but we must have shape-shifted since they were suddenly dead and we lost several minutes of time. We saw several more as we carried the mattresses to John's truck, but they stayed away from us." Skinner took Connor from Fox and kissed his son's forehead. "The rats are probably why that furniture store hadn't been discovered and looted, and why the military is no longer patrolling the ruins. We're going to go back later this summer to get furniture and appliances for Simon's place. I saw a fully functioning wood stove that was part of the store's display. If we can't find a plumbing store, we're going to see if we can get some fixtures from one of the abandon hotels that weren't completely destroyed."

"Did you get the beds for the girls' bedroom?"

"Yes. I think you're going to like them." In boxes in the store's warehouse, Skinner and John had found two full-sized, white, wrought iron beds complete with canopies. They were adult beds so their girls wouldn't outgrow them once they reached their teens. The bedspreads they found for the beds were for little girls complete with unicorns. Skinner had to admit he enjoyed looking for items for his daughters, he had found jewelry boxes with dancing the ballerinas that spun around to music whenever the lid was lifted. He was saving those for Christmas presents.

"I can't wait to see them," Fox said.

"We'll need to assemble the beds before tomorrow night so Paul and Mike will have somewhere to sleep," Skinner said.

~x~X~x~

The Rat and Fox

Krycek couldn't help admiring Fox as they made the new beds in their daughters' future bedroom. How was it possible for him to have gotten even more gorgeous? The man positively glowed. His thick, brown hair was long with bangs falling haphazardly over his forehead, making Krycek's fingers itch to brush them off. It was Fox's aura that was the most changed. Gone was the sorrow that he had worn like a cloak. It had been replaced by the calm tranquility of one who had finally found peace. In a way, it pained Krycek that it was Skinner who had accomplished that for Fox. After so many years of desiring the former agent, it was hard for Krycek to get over those feelings, even with the deep love he felt for John.

"So are you nervous about Tuesday?" Krycek asked.

Fox nodded. "I once swore I'd never get married again."

"It's not too late to back out."

"I don't want to back out." Fox gave him a slow smile and was about to say something else when Walter's voice interrupted them.

"Fox!" Walter called from below in the great room.

It was then that they heard the babies crying.

"I better go feed them," Fox said and hurried out of the bedroom.

After he left, John came into the room with Gwendolyn.

"This is going to be your bedroom, Gwen," John said as he placed her on the new bed. "You're going to share it with Aviva and Chloe."

Krycek smiled as their daughter crawled around on the mattress exploring the bed. She was dressed in a madras plaid coverall with a bubble bottom and a peter pan collar. Her sable brown hair was thick and straight but still too short to cut. Krycek sat on the bed and she crawled over to him. "You know all three of them will probably share one bed for several years," he said.

"We're lucky Fox had twin girls; it might have been hard for Gwen to sleep in this large bedroom by herself." John sat on the bed and put his arm around Alex then nuzzled at his throat while caressing his flat belly. "We might have had to try for another one."

"No way, John, I'm never going through that again." Krycek looked sideways at John and smirked. "Unless you want to try it out for yourself."

John paled. "Ah, no thanks. Gwen is enough."

No way are you getting off that easy, Krycek thought. After all, if Skinner could go through with it then so could John. And Krycek would like another child once Gwen was potty-trained.

"Alex, I don't like that look on your face."

"Don't worry, it's nothing." Krycek smiled sweetly. "We should have a rocking chair and reading lamp in the bedroom so your dad will have a comfortable place to read to his granddaughter."

John nodded. "I'll bring the one up from the great room."

"I sleep big bed," Gwen said suddenly.

Krycek smiled. She had started talking in short sentences two weeks ago -- ahead of Connor who was only able to say one or two words at a time. "When you're older, you'll get to sleep in this bed with Aviva and Chloe. Would you like that?"

"I sleep you and Daddy."

"Okay, we'll save this discussion for another time." Krycek didn't feel like arguing sleeping arrangements with a ten-month-old.

"Read book," she demanded.

"Which book do you want me to read?"

"Cat in the Hat," Gwen pronounced slowly, making sure she didn't miss any words.

Reading to her every day seemed to have helped her vocabulary. Now that she was talking, Krycek hoped she'd be easy to potty train. John walked over to the built-in bookshelf, pulled the requested book down, and carried it back to them.

"I'm going downstairs to get that rocking chair while you read to our princess," John said.

~x~X~x~

The Fox, Bear, Dog, Panther, Wolf, Rat, Frog, Otter, Stork, Lion, Horse, and Puppy

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

The hard work over the past two months preparing for this day had been well worth it. Even with the lack of sleep that had come from caring for infant twins, Mulder had enjoyed it all. He was so happy to be back home with Walter and Connor, and their friends. He and Walter had planned the wedding together -- from the guest list to the reception. The other men had really chipped in to get the Japanese garden completed in time. In addition to all the other work they had to do from the spring planting to starting to clear the land for the Banks' log home and barn, everyone had worked long days and into the evening.

So now they stood in front of the Japanese teahouse under a canopy of tall trees with the sound of water rushing over rocks behind them as it wove its way down stream. Their friends were gathered around as the reverend performed the marriage ceremony.

Nervous butterflies fluttered in Mulder's belly as he and Walter stood side-by-side before Reverend Desmond. In a few minutes they would be legally married to each other, and that made Mulder both apprehensive and happy. Even though he knew this marriage wouldn't fail like his first to Diana, it was still a big step committing his life to another man. But this time Mulder was really in love; not the faux love he had felt for Diana. The long months he and Walter had been separated had only brought them closer together. As clich, as the saying 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' was, it couldn't have been truer.

A quick glance at Walter alleviated Mulder's nervousness as a pleasant warmth worked its way from his heart to his groin. Walter had on a suit and looked incredibly handsome as he stood proudly with his head held high. Not a hint of nervousness on his rugged face.

Simon stood on Mulder's right as his best man. Choosing Simon over Frohike had not been an easy decision. Mulder had grown close to Simon during the months they spent together on the road, but that didn't replace the fourteen years of friendship he had with Frohike. Even so Mulder wanted to find a special way of thanking Simon and making him feel part of their mountain community. After discussing his preferences for best man with Walter, they decided the best solution was for Frohike to stand up for Walter.

They had invited a few friends from the valley, mountain, and Timberlake resort cabins. Since the Gunmen started publishing their Magic Mountain magazine, they had included information about Mulder and the other men adopting babies that had been orphaned during the invasion. While some residents were abhorred at the thought of gay men raising children, those that knew them were supportive. Only the Schmidts and Elends knew the true nature of the babies' parentage and they weren't about to tell anyone.

So the Schmidts and Elends were there along with the O'Neils, and Wagners and three families from the Timberlake cabins. This would also provide a chance for Simon and Daryl to meet some of their new neighbors.

Paul and Mike Doggett had arrived last night. They sat on the makeshift benches with the rest of the guests.

The Reverend turned to Mulder. "Do you, Fox William, take Walter Sergei to love, honor, and cherish for as long as you both may live?"

Mulder turned to face Walter. "I do."

"You may place the ring on his finger," Desmond said to Walter.

Frohike handed Walter the ring and he slipped it on his lover's finger.

"And do you, Walter Sergei, take Fox William to love, honor, and cherish for as long as you both may live?"

"I do."

Walter's eyes were burning with so much passion as he said those two words that it made Mulder's knees weak and he nearly dropped the ring.

The Reverend smiled at Mulder. "You may place the ring on his finger."

Mulder slipped the ring on Walter's finger.

"Before God," Reverend Desmond proclaimed, "I pronounce you married."

Mulder and Walter moved into each other's arms and kissed while their friends applauded.

"I'll give you your birthday present tonight," Mulder whispered into Walter's ear before they broke apart.

"Congratulations." Frohike hugged Mulder. "I'm glad you finally found someone who's perfect for you."

"Thanks, Melvin." The moment seemed surreal to Mulder as one by one their friends congratulated him and Walter.

After Jim then Blair congratulated them, the Sentinel turned to his partner. "We're next, Chief," he said.

Blair arched an eyebrow while balancing Joey on his hip. "Are you proposing to me?"

"Yes, I'm proposing." A shy smile spread across Jim's lips as he reached out and took Blair's hand in his. "I love you, Blair, and want us to form a legally recognized family."

"I accept," Blair said. "I want a fall wedding when the oak and maple trees are in their full color."

Jim leaned in and kissed Blair.

John turned to face Alex.

Alex shook his head. "No way, John, we're not getting married."

"What are you afraid of, Alex?"

"I'm not afraid of anything. We don't need a piece of paper to be married."

Mulder listened to them and wondered who would win this argument. He knew that John was very traditional and set in his ways, and wasn't about to give up until there was a ring on Alex's finger. Alex, on the other hand, wasn't about to be tied down by any convention.

Jimmy Bond and Daryl were holding the twins while Langly held Connor. Chloe started crying which set Aviva off. Mulder felt discomfort as his tightly-bound breasts started leaking. He took Chloe from Jimmy.

"They're hungry," Mulder said, "Walter, can you take care of our guests while I take care of our daughters?"

"Sure, Fox." Walter turned to their guests. "I hope everyone has brought their appetites."

"C'mon, Daryl, let's get them into the house," Mulder said.

They walked over the moon bridge then strolled down a winding path that was lined with lush green ferns and stone lanterns under the heavy shelter of trees. Birds chirped overhead while squirrels leapt from branch to branch. Mulder felt at peace in this haven of nature -- Blair had a good idea to build this garden and teahouse. It would allow them a place to go to get away from their crowded home.

The path opened upon the herb and flower garden. They made their way through the garden then crossed the yard that was set up for an outdoor party and entered the house through the back door. Once in the bedroom, Mulder laid Chloe on the bed. She kicked her feet and cried louder.

"Daryl, put Aviva on the bed then go enjoy the party."

"Are you sure you don't need help with them?"

"I'm sure," Mulder said as he removed his tie. He wanted Daryl to make friends with some of the boys living on the mountain. The Schmidts, O'Neils, and Wagners had teenage sons who were at the reception. "Besides, I heard that Marty O'Neil, Hans Schmidt, and Rodney Wagner are pretty good at shooting hoops. Go enjoy yourself."

Daryl smiled. "Okay, I will."

After Daryl, left Mulder closed the bedroom door then removed his suit and hung it in the armoire. It was Mulder's best suit from his days as an FBI agent and the only one he'd taken with him when he moved out there. He toed off the patent leather dress shoes then took the bindings off his chest, freeing his milk-laden breasts. This was the one part of the whole pregnancy ordeal that he really disliked. Men shouldn't have breasts. Since Walter stopped producing milk for Connor, his breasts and nipples had returned to normal. Mulder only hoped the same would be true for him.

Lying on the bed beside to his daughters, Mulder positioned them one at a time on his chest. His expression softened as they nursed. He decided having breasts wasn't that big of a hindrance -- not when they provided his daughters sustenance. The twins were both so remarkable. Just the mere thought that he and Walter had made three beautiful children together made all the previous pain in his life seem insignificant. He was part of a family now.

~x~X~x~

After everything Daryl had gone through in his life, from his parents' messy divorce to the alien invasion, he finally felt like there was a future to look forward to. He stood in the kitchen doorway as his dad and the people who had come for the wedding gathered in the backyard. Mr. Schmidt had brought a pig that they were roasting over an open pit.

Daryl's eyes fell on Elsa and Lisa Elend. They were beautiful and he wondered if they had boyfriends. A redheaded teenage boy strolled up to Daryl, interrupting him from his appreciation of the teenage girls.

"Hi, I'm Marty."

"I'm Daryl."

"Yeah, I know." Marty looked over to the picnic blanket where the Elend sisters were sitting. "I see you're admiring the Elend twins." He smirked. "That's probably all you'll be able to do. Mr. Elend won't allow anyone to date his daughters though some of us keep trying."

"What happens if someone dates them without his permission?"

Marty gave him a look of horror. "No one has ever had the guts to try it."

Daryl smiled. "Where do you live?"

"Down in the valley, 'bout sixteen miles to the west of here," Marty said. "My family has hundreds of acres of farm land; we grow feed for the farms throughout this area. Mr. Mulder buys all of the feed for his cows, chickens, and horses from us." The redhead nodded toward the barn with the large silo. "We fill his silo every fall. When Old Man Peterson had this place, we did the same for him."

"My Dad and I have three donkeys," Daryl said. "Do you think we'd be able to trade for feed to get them through the winter?"

"I'm sure we can work out a deal. Do you have someplace to store the feed?"

"Mulder has given us some land. We're going to build a house and barn on it this summer."

"Cool. If my Dad lets me, I'll come up and help for a few weeks this summer."

"That would be great."

"What are neighbors for?" Marty gave Daryl a friendly punch on the arm. "C'mon, I'll introduce you to Hans and Rodney. I'll warn you up front -- Rodney's a little loopy, but he's not bad once you get to know him."

John and Paul Doggett walked inside the house as Daryl and Marty hurried off.

~x~X~x~

Going to the refrigerator, Paul pulled large bowls of chicken pasta and mixed greens salads while John removed a crock of baked beans from the oven.

"That must have been some surprise when Fox arrived home with twins," Paul said.

"It was a good surprise," John said as he tested the beans. "We'd almost given up on him ever making it home."

While they were talking, Jim, Liz, and Laura came inside to help.

Paul dug spoons out of the drawer for the salads as he maneuvered around the other men and women retrieving the food for the party. It felt mighty fine to be back with his son, granddaughter, and extended family.

"So did you get your spring planting done, Paul?" Liz asked.

"Yep. Andrew, Heidi, Shawn, and Margaret were a great help with the planting this year. Having them help oversee the farm's operation makes it easier for Mike and me to leave the farm for more than just a couple of days at a time," Paul said.

"That was nice of you to let them and their children live on your farm," Liz said.

"It was the least I could do. The farmhouse was pretty empty with just Mike and me. It sure feels good having small children underfoot again." Paul decided this was the best time to ask her. "Liz, I was wondering if you'd consider coming down and staying at my farm for a few days each month on a professional basis. My county lost our only doctor this spring and we could use another even if it's only once a month."

"Let me discuss it with Melvin. If he's agreeable to us spending a few days a month at your place then it will be fine with me."

Paul hadn't expected that Melvin would accompany her. "The two of you are getting pretty serious, aren't you?"

"We've discussed getting married."

"And?" Paul was envious over his friend's relationship but he would never try to come between them.

"And we decided to wait until things settled down more than they are ... plus Mel would like to build an addition onto his place for us."

Langly came bounding in through the back door with Connor held away from his body, the baby laughing. "Laugh all you want, Connie -- I'm the one stuck changing your poopy diaper," the blond gunman complained but his expression told everyone that he didn't mind.

"Poopy," Connor repeated and giggled.

"He's talking?" Paul observed as the two disappeared into the bathroom.

John nodded as he opened the back door then picked up the crock of beans with hot pads. "Connor's been adding new words to his vocabulary daily, but he hasn't produced a complete sentence yet. Your granddaughter has started stringing words together." They headed outside with the food, which they placed on the long buffet table that was made with sawhorses and long planks of wood.

"She didn't say a word when I was reading to her last night," Paul said.

"She's bashful," John said. "Give her a little time to warm up to you again."

They had three picnic tables for their older guests and had spread blankets out on the ground for the kids and younger guests to eat on. Paul felt right at home among the farmers and their families, and was looking forward to an afternoon of talking shop. He glanced around until he found his granddaughter and Alex sitting on one of the blankets. Sitting with them were six girls between the ages of seven to seventeen. Paul could tell while the girls admired Gwen they were more infatuated with her father. If they only knew that Alex was really Gwen's mother.

Paul's eyes dropped down to Alex's chest; like Fox and Blair, Alex had bound his breasts so they appeared flat under his t-shirt.

In the farmyard, Daryl was playing basketball with three other boys and Jimmy. Paul had briefly met Daryl last night when they had arrived. He found the boy to be polite and well-mannered. His father had done a good job of raising him.

Across the yard in the herb garden, Blair held Joey while giving Ada Elend, Wanda Wagner, and Carol Schmidt a tour of the garden. It made Paul proud that his extended family was becoming knowledgeable on all aspects of farming.

At the barbecue pit, Walter stood with Helmut Schmidt, Hugh Wagner, and Ranger Sean Smith. The large pig farmer was basting the suckling pig over the hot coals. Paul headed over to join them.

"Hey, Paul, I hope you're enjoying yourself," Walter said.

"Very much," Paul said, "It's been a long time since I've been to a pig roast."

Helmut put the large basting brush back in the bucket and retrieved his bottle of homebrewed beer from Hugh. "Well, you're in for a real treat with my special sauce," Helmut said, then took a swig of beer. "Walt was telling us that you raise pigs on your farm in North Carolina."

"I have a small operation. I process a couple hundred smoked hams a year."

"What type of wood do you use?"

"Hickory."

"I use maple," Helmut said. "I'd be interested in learning more about your smoking process."

This man was Paul's type of folk. "I'm always interested in learning new techniques myself. Since I don't have to hurry home, I'd love to get a tour of your pig farm."

"Stop by tomorrow, and my wife will fix us a meal of ham hocks and sauerkraut."

"My son, Mike, and I'll do that," Paul said.

Walter cleared his throat. "If you'll excuse me, I want to check on my partner and get out of this suit before I melt."

Helmut picked up the brush and swabbed more marinade on the pig. "Go on ahead. We'll have the pig on the table and carved by the time you get back."

~x~X~x~

Skinner entered the bedroom, pulling his suit coat off. It had been hot standing next to the barbecue pit and he was sweating profusely. He found Fox sitting on the bed dressed in shorts, sandals, and a t-shirt. Their two-month-old daughters were sleeping peacefully in wicker bassinets on the middle of the bed.

"You're missing the party," Skinner said.

Fox shrugged as he looked down at the sleeping babies. "I want a large family."

Skinner wouldn't mind another baby -- only. "Fox, I'm not sure if I can handle being pregnant again."

"I can." A smile spread across Fox's lips. "What do you say in a few years we try for another?"

"I'd like that." Skinner wanted to experience his lover being pregnant with their child; he'd missed that with Chloe and Aviva. "We have two double beds in the girls room upstairs so if we have another daughter that won't be a problem. And we have plenty of room in the boys' bedroom for another bunk bed."

"We could always add two more bedrooms and a bathroom over Jim's and Blair's bedroom and the radio alcove."

"Two new bedrooms?" Skinner didn't feel they needed any more bedrooms, but a third bathroom they could sure use.

"We'll need a guestroom for Paul and Mike when they visit."

"Maybe we should just build a hotel on the lake," Skinner quipped as he shed his shirt, exposing his muscular chest.

"A summer fishing cabin might not be a bad idea." Fox moved closer and wrapped his arms around Skinner's trim waist. "We might need a vacation from the kids."

Tilting his head, Skinner captured those beautiful lips in a passionate kiss. His lover tasted great. He pushed his tongue deeper into Fox's mouth and drank him in. They eventually ended the kiss and just held each other for several long minutes. "We'll add a fishing cabin to our list of things to build. After Simon's home and barn, Melvin's new addition, and our new bedrooms we should be able to get to it in about four or five years."

Fox rested his head on Skinner's shoulder. "Are you happy?"

"Extremely," Skinner said. "I have you and three beautiful children. I couldn't ask for more."

"I'm glad." Fox pulled away. "We should go and join our guests."

When they stepped outside carrying the wicker bassinets, the roasted pig was on the buffet table with Helmut doing an expert job of carving it. Their guests were lined up at the table scooping food onto plastic, reusable plates.

Skinner and Fox found a place on a blanket with Jimmy, Byers, Laura, Langly, and Connor. Langly really was good at watching the baby.

"Mommy," Connor said, as he broke free from Langly's protective hold, crawled over to Skinner, and climbed on his lap.

"Daddy," Skinner corrected as he glared at Langly who he knew put that word into his son's mouth. While technically correct, Skinner would rather his son didn't call him mommy -- call it male ego, but in Skinner's mind moms would always be female.

"Hey, Walter," Fox said. "Watch the babies and I'll get us something to eat."

"Sure, Fox." Holding Connor on his lap, Skinner glanced around at their guests. Helmut and his wife, Carol, were sitting at one picnic table with Paul, Mike, Melvin, and Liz. At another picnic table Simon sat with Ranger Sean Smith and several people from the Timberlake resort cabins. It appeared to Skinner that Simon had his eyes on one particular resident from the cabins -- Jin Lee. Jin was in her late twenties and of Korean ancestry. Her husband had died during the alien invasion leaving her to raise their one-year-old daughter alone. Jin was sharing one of the Timberlake cabins with two other widows and their children.

The look in Simon's eyes as he talked to Jin was the same look that Skinner got whenever he looked at Fox. Maybe he'd better change the plans for Simon's log home to have three bedrooms; it would save them time adding it now than having to add onto the home later.

Connor squirmed on his lap and pointed. "Daddy, mouse."

Skinner followed his son's eyes to the bushes and his heart almost stopped as they fell on a giant rat. The rat was a few feet away from the blanket Blair and Joey were sitting on with Daryl, Hans, Rodney, and Marty. Before Skinner could raise alarm, a large panther bounded out the back door of the house and crossed the yard with amazing speed. It launched itself at the rat.

Their guests' attention was drawn to the loud battle between the panther and giant rat. The rat was killed within a few seconds and the panther took off into the forest.

"Take the babies into the house!" Skinner said as he passed Connor back to Langly while Jimmy and Byers quickly grabbed the bassinets and headed to the house with Laura and the other guests.

At the same time, Alex scrambled to his feet with Gwen in his arms and hurried the six screaming girls into the house.

Blair and Simon hurried the teenage boys into the house.

The other men gathered around the dead rat.

"I guess the rumor was true," Paul said.

"What rumor?" Helmut asked.

"A soldier told me that giant rats were spotted at some of the ruins."

"What about that panther?" Hugh Wagner asked as he glanced nervously into the dense foliage.

The other men exchanged looks. They knew about the six men's ability living here to shape-shift. "Don't worry, Hugh, that panther was here to protect us," Helmut said.

Fox, John, and Simon joined the others beside the rat's body. They had retrieved their rifles from the workshop. Skinner placed a hand on his husband's shoulder.

A few minutes later, Jim walked out of the woods.

"It was only this one," he said. "There are no other rats within thirty miles of here."

"You remember what happened?" Skinner asked. While Fox was now able to recall some of his time in wolf form, the rest of them still had no memory of that time.

Jim nodded. "Yeah, for once I remembered everything that happened." He looked down at the rat. "Don't worry, now that I have its scent, none of these creatures will get within thirty miles of here."

"I wonder how it made it all the way up here," Fox said.

"If these giant rats are leaving the ruins we better notify everyone to be extra cautious," the Ranger said.

John's brows furrowed in thought. "Maybe we should hunt them in the ruins before they can spread throughout this area."

"I think you might be right, John," Skinner said. "If they ever get a foothold and start breeding outside of the ruins they will be nearly impossible to stop."

Sean shook his head. "Guys, before you do anything, let me call the military and find out if they're doing anything to eliminate these rats."

"Okay, Sean," Skinner said. "If they aren't, we'll take matters into our own hands." From his experience in D.C., Skinner knew that they'd be safe while in wolf and panther form. They would go into the ruins in teams. The only thing that might prove to be a problem would be convincing Fox to stay home with their children. Chloe and Aviva were still too dependent upon him for nourishment.

Liz and Laura came out of the house and crossed the yard to where the men were standing around the dead rat.

"We want to perform tests on this creature to see if we can discover what altered them and maybe an easy way to exterminate them," Liz said.

Laura nodded as she kneeled down next to it. "If we can get a live specimen it would be even better."

"If we can capture one alive we'll need a cage strong enough to hold it," Fox said. "Their teeth are as sharp as razor blades."

"Let's throw a tarp over it and get back to the party." Skinner placed an arm around his lover's waist, wanting this day to be over so he could have Fox all alone to himself. Well, maybe not entirely alone -- not with sharing their bedroom with three babies.

~x~X~x~

The Fox and Bear

Tuesday, June 3, 2003

With the babies finally asleep and a privacy screen placed in front of Connor's crib to keep his curious eyes from seeing something he shouldn't, Skinner and Mulder snuggled on the loveseat in their bedroom sharing a single glass of wine.

Wearing only white briefs, Skinner slipped his hand inside Fox's robe and fondled his breasts, circling a thumb around the dark nipple. Fox moaned, shifted, and moved closer, placing a leg over Skinner's lap against the hard bulge in the cotton briefs.

The pressure against his erection had Skinner pulling his lover further onto his lap, until they were groin to groin with Fox's knees on either side of Skinner's body. Fox sat with his bare butt on his lover's knees. The robe had fallen open giving Skinner a nice view of his lover's naked body, the long cock, flat belly, and those firm breasts. Skinner secretly hoped that Fox wouldn't lose them once he stopped breast-feeding their daughters. Even if he did, Fox had already decided that he wanted to have another child so the breasts would be back.

Taking a sip of wine, Skinner transferred the fruity beverage into Fox's mouth with a kiss. The younger man's tongue pushed into Skinner's mouth searching for every last drop while slender fingers held the bald head in place as the kiss was deepened. The erotic press of Fox's body from the softness of his lips to the hardness of his cock against Skinner's was more than the older man could take as his cock throbbed -- he wanted to be inside of his lover.

"Why don't we move over to the bed?" Skinner growled.

With a mischievous smile Fox slid off Skinner's lap and stood between his spread thighs then allowed the robe to slip to the floor. Fox looked down at his lover without showing the slightest bit of modesty. "You don't know how badly I've wanted you all day."

"Oh, I think I do," Skinner said as he reached out and stroked his lover's cock that was bobbing only inches from his face.

Fox pulled away and kneeled between Skinner's legs. "I think we should get you slicked up, don't you?" he said, freeing his lover's fat cock from the tight white briefs then taking it into his mouth.

"I like your method of slicking better than using K-Y," Skinner sighed as his erection hardened even more in his lover's talented mouth.

"We've been out of K-Y since last summer." Fox chuckled. "I'd rather not use pork fat and we're not touching the last of the olive oil."

"Heaven forbid." Skinner stood and helped Fox to his feet then over to the bed. "Lean against the bed and spread 'em."

"Are we playing cops and robbers now?" Fox asked as he bent over placing his hands on the mattress and spreading his feet apart.

"I have my night stick ready, but first a thorough cavity check is in order," Skinner said as he kneeled behind his lover.

"What are you ...? Ooh ...."

Using his thumbs to spread his lover's buttocks, Skinner licked down the crease and over the puckered anus. Fox tasted of soap; he had taken a bath while Skinner had watched the babies. This was the happiest birthday of Skinner's life; he was finally married to his former agent and this exquisite body was Skinner's exclusively. He continued to rim Fox, pushing his tongue past the tight ring of muscles -- there was something powerful about giving his lover this intimate pleasure.

Trembles ran through Fox's legs as Skinner's tongue pushed in and out. Once the anal muscles were relaxed, the former A.D. withdrew his tongue and stood, wrapping an arm around Fox's slim waist, Skinner positioned cock head against the small opening and entered. He pushed in deeper, going slowly until he was buried to his balls, then he leaned over Fox's back and whispered in his ear. "If I died now, I'd go out extremely happy."

Fox looked over his shoulder. "And people thought I was ghoulish," he quipped then added, "You better not die before me."

"We'll go at the same time then." Skinner held his lover closer, enjoying the warmth and taut muscles under his fingertips. It felt so good holding Fox and breathing in his masculine scent. Skinner enjoyed those sensations even more than the tight muscles squeezing his cock.

Fox clenched his anal muscles and received a moan from his lover. "Now would you please fuck me?" he said in a low voice so their son couldn't hear him.

Leaning back while holding Fox's hips, Skinner started slowly thrusting into that gorgeous body. He watched the tight ring of muscles squeeze his shaft as he pulled out then thrust back inside. Fox's moans of pleasure were like music to his ears. How much Skinner missed his lover the months they'd been separated and being able to hold him again as they slept was pure heaven. Today when Fox had sworn his love openly before witnesses, all of Skinner's insecurities had disappeared. No longer did he fear that Fox would someday leave him for Krycek or some other man. Call it humility, but Skinner couldn't understand how someone as beautiful and adventurous as Fox could have fallen in love with a bald, middle-aged, desk jockey.

All the while Fox had worked for Skinner, he had daydreamed about fucking the agent in a similar position to the one they were in now, bent over the desk in his office. Those fantasies seemed like a lifetime ago.

"Walter, I could use some relief." Fox's voice pulled Skinner from his daydream.

While continuing to thrust into his lover, Skinner reached under Fox's hip and found his straining erection and started to stroke the long shaft. It took only a few pulls before come spurted from the head onto the bedspread. The sudden squeezing of his lover's anal muscles contracting around Skinner's cock had him following his lover to release.

After pulling out, Skinner stood on shaky legs and held Fox.

"I love you," Fox whispered as he hugged Skinner tighter.

"Why do you love me?"

"Don't you know?"

"No."

"I love you because I know you'd never betray me. I love your honesty, intelligence, and integrity. You're the most honorable man that I've ever met -- I trust you with my heart and want to spend the rest of my life with you." Fox looked deeply into Skinner's eyes and smiled. "And it doesn't hurt that you have beautiful eyes and a body that most men would kill for." Tilting his head, he whispered, "C'mere, my big, bald, beautiful man." He leaned in and kissed Skinner then murmured, "Happy birthday, Walter."

Skinner hugged his lover -- this had to be his best birthday ever.

~x~X~x~

The Fox, Bear, Wolf, Panther, Dog, Rat, Lion, Frog, Otter, Stork, Puppy, and Horse

Tuesday, June 28, 2003

The dining room was decorated with blue and yellow crepe paper. A three-layer chocolate birthday cake sat on the table surrounded by unwrapped gifts. Walter was in the middle of reading a homemade birthday card and showing it to Connor who was in his highchair when Sean came rushing into their home. Mulder had invited the ranger to Connor's first birthday party but Sean had declined, saying he had to fly to pick up some medical supplies from the military. Liz and Laura were setting up a clinic at the ranger station for their growing community. Their two female doctors were at the Timberlake cabins, delivering a baby.

"I thought you were picking up medical supplies?" Mulder said.

"I did," Sean said as he caught his breath. "But as I was picking them up I heard some news that I thought you guys would like to hear."

They gathered around the Ranger.

"What news?" Walter asked.

"Our military has forced the aliens to retreat from Earth!"

"How?" John asked.

"They used a fleet of nuclear submarines armed with magnetite missiles. The navy launched a surprise simultaneous attack at strategic points around the globe. They destroyed hundreds the enemy's spaceships ... almost a quarter of their estimated force. This took place two months ago."

"Two months ago?" Blair said. "Why has it taken so long for the news to come out?"

"The military isn't ready to officially announce this," Sean said. "They want to make sure that the aliens are really gone."

"How will they be able to tell?" Byers asked.

"They're monitoring deep space...."

"They're gone," Mulder said. He felt relieved knowing their children would live in a world free of aliens. He didn't need to hear anymore. The military had done what he had instructed them to do.

"Are you sure, Fox?" Alex asked.

"Positive." Mulder looked at his friends and lover. "We can get on with rebuilding Earth for our children."

"Do you think the military will want to give up control?" Frohike asked.

Simon nodded. "The last thing our military will want to do is rule."

"I agree," Walter said.

John lifted Gwen out of her highchair. "We'll have to wait and see what develops."

"Nothing else we can do." Jim suddenly sneezed. He was suffering from a head cold after having been caught in a rainstorm two days before. "Let's finish opening gifts and get down to the cake."

Blair smiled. "That's what I love about you, big guy. You always have things in perspective."

"Someone has to," Jim said, sniffing.

"C'mon, Sean, join us," Mulder said.

Sean walked over to Connor's highchair and kneeled next to it. "Happy birthday, Connor," he said.

"I one!" Connor held up a finger.

"Not that finger, son," Walter said as he pushed down his son's middle finger and raised his index finger. "This one."

"This one," Connor repeated as he looked at his finger.

Mulder could see the wheels spinning inside his son's head.

"How old this one?" Connor asked, holding up his middle finger again.

Mulder would have loved to hear Walter's response, but Chloe started crying in the bedroom. She had been colicky for the past couple of weeks, and only Mulder walking outside with her seemed to quiet her. It had been a stress with Chloe crying for hours before they figured out how to soothe her. At least Aviva was able to sleep through her sister's upset shrieks.

"Shh, my sweet little Clover, it's going to be all right," Mulder murmured as he tenderly picked Chloe up and cradled her lovingly against his chest. She continued to cry as he carried her out of the bedroom.

Blair was cutting the cake while Walter fed Connor the first slice.

"Save me a piece," Mulder said as he headed toward the back door.

Once outside, he carried her around the yard, stopping by one of their vegetable gardens. A small fence made of chicken wire surrounded the garden to keep the critters out. Rows of green beans and green peppers were already quite high. He strolled down a path through the woods that led to their four acres of farmland.

Every day their cows, Bambi and Phoebe, followed the path to a field of alfalfa. The men had fenced off three acres, so their cows would only be able to graze on the acre of alfalfa without getting into the corn and other crops. It had been a lot of work clearing the additional acres of land; most of the timber had been used on their addition and for firewood. To one side there were dozens of trees still piled in anticipation of the two mile haul over to the site of Simon's future log home.

They were sharing the three acres of farmland with the Lone Gunmen. Once Simon moved into his new place, the three acres would be divided up to include a section for him, too. The guys had planted corn, watermelon, squash, and potatoes.

Each day two of them would come out to weed this garden. Mulder had been surprised by how good Langly had become at farming. He had a natural talent for nurturing plants and getting them to grow.

Chloe stopped crying so Mulder carried her nestled in the crook of his arm so she could look out over the farmland. She was just beginning to hold her head up on her own. "Isn't it pretty out here, Chloe bean?"

She had inherited his almond-shaped, hazel eyes, while Connor and Aviva had Walter's brown eyes.

A sudden feeling that he was being watched had Mulder holding his daughter more securely while scanning the woods that bordered the four acres of farmland. The alien bounty hunter stepped from the trees, holding the deadly plam at his side.

"I'm here to kill you, hybrid," the hunter said. "Your little one may live if you submit to your fate. Otherwise you both will die."

Mulder would never allow his daughter to be harmed. If he shape-shifted into a wolf and attacked the morph, he wasn't sure Chloe could survive being exposed to the alien virus. He couldn't chance trying to run with Chloe, so he found a soft spot on the alfalfa to lay her and hoped that it wouldn't take Walter too long to find her. As he was standing back up, a large, snarling, gray wolf came bounding down the path followed by a panther and three other wolves.

Thinking quickly, Mulder scooped Chloe into his arms and ran in the direction of their home just as the wolves tore into the bounty hunter.

When Mulder arrived back at the farm, the Gunmen, Simon, and Ranger Smith were outside looking off in the direction he had come from. Simon was holding Joey, while Langly held Connor and Byers, Gwen. All three babies were crying loudly.

"What's going on, Mulder?" Frohike asked. "Walter suddenly changed into a wolf and broke down the back door to get out of the house, then the other guys shape-shifted and took off after him."

Mulder looked at the back door that was in splinters. The knowledge that Walter had sensed that he and Chloe were in danger filled Mulder with relief. "The alien bounty hunter tracked me here," he said, passing Chloe to Frohike. "Watch her. I'm going back to see if they killed it."

"I'll come with you," Sean said.

"No, Sean, stay here. The blood from the alien is lethal."

While Mulder wasn't worried that Walter and the others would be harmed by the alien virus -- not with their genetic makeup now containing alien DNA, Mulder was concerned about whether they'd be able to kill it without the use of a plam. His fears were put to rest when he saw the large smoking puddle of green goo slowly sinking into the ground -- all that remained of the alien bounty hunter.

The large gray wolf trotted over to him then stood on its hind legs with its paws resting on Mulder's shoulders and licked his face as it shape-shifted back into Walter.

"How did you know, Walter?"

Pulling Mulder into his arms, Walter held him in a bone-crushing embrace. "God, Fox, I had a vision that you were about to be killed. It was like I standing beside you in this field."

Mulder rested his head against Walter's, and whispered in his ear, "I would have been killed if you hadn't arrived when you did."

"I remember it all ... breaking down the back door and racing down the path." His strong arms tightened around Mulder's body. "I was so afraid I'd be too late."

"Are there anymore of these things around?" John asked.

"I don't think so," Mulder said. "This was the one that attacked me in Nevada."

Blair walked over to them. "We should fence off this area then dispose of the contaminated soil."

"I'll go get the posts and chicken wire," Jim said.

"I'll help you." Alex nodded. "Walter, you and Fox should get back to your son's birthday party. We'll take care of getting this mess fenced off."

"Thanks, Alex."

As they walked back to their home, Walter's fingers wrapped Mulder's hand in a comforting intimate gesture.

"Do you think it's over?" Walter asked.

"I hope so," Mulder said as they walked down the mile long path.

"Until we're sure, I don't want you going anywhere alone."

Mulder would have protested if he hadn't almost been killed. For now he'd allow Walter to watch out for his safety. In time it would become obvious that he was no longer in danger.

They walked into the yard and found Sean and Simon cleaning up the broken glass and splintered wood from the back door.

"I really broke it, didn't I?" Walter said as he looked at what remained of the back door.

"You demolished it," the large ranger said. "Remind me never to piss you off."

"The children are inside," Simon said. "The guys are entertaining them with sock puppets."

~x~X~x~

Uzan

Commander Gnaye stood at attention at the bottom of the steps from where Emperor Zahn sat on his throne. They watched the shimmering image floating above the hologram display. The image was generated by what the leptan slave saw from an imager device implanted inside the slave's brain. This was the second time they had watched as the leptan tried to murder the Emperor's chosen mate.

Much to Commander Gnaye's dismay, he had personally chosen and sent this leptan to capture and return Fox Mulder to them. Never had it occurred to him that the slave would betray him, since several millennia had passed since the last slave revolt. After its first attempt on Fox Mulder's life, Gnaye had launched an investigation into the leptan traitor and uncovered a plot by several other leptans to overthrow the lycanthrope's rule on Uzan. The investigation led Gnaye to the discovery that it had been a leptan scientist who had developed the virus that rendered the lycanthrope's race infertile. Only uncovering this information spared Gnaye from execution for failing his Emperor.

His attention returned to the hologram as Fox Mulder placed his baby on the ground and as the beautiful human stood, a large lycanthrope came charging out of the forest and launched itself at the leptan. Several more lycanthrope attacked then the image went dead.

"He was going to sacrifice himself for his baby," Emperor Zahn said.

Commander Gnaye remained quiet, knowing not to speak unless asked a direct question.

Zahn's face softened. "We have harvested enough males from Earth for our uses -- no need to take anymore, I will select my mate from one of them. Commander, send a message to Earth that we are ending our conquest of their planet, and bow to their cunning and strength."

"Yes, my Emperor." Gnaye was relieved. He wanted nothing more to do with Earth and had feared his Emperor would have wanted him to personally capture Fox Mulder. The grace with which Emperor Zahn was willing to let his chosen mate go surprised the commander. Maybe there was hope for their people after all.

~x~X~x~

The Fox, Bear, Wolf, Panther, Dog, Rat, Lion, Frog, Otter, Stork, Puppy, and Horse

Friday, July 4, 2003

Three days prior the military had officially announced that the aliens had been driven from Earth and the world was free of their presence. So the Blue Ridge community's planned Fourth of July celebration took on a whole new meaning.

On a picnic blanket, Sandburg sat watching as his and Jim's son tottered around on shaky legs over the uneven ground. Joey had just started walking a few days ago. He still hadn't spoken a word -- unlike Gwen and Connor, but he was only ten-months-old; plenty of time for him to catch up with the other two.

After spending the day picnicking and celebrating with their neighbors in an open field down in the valley beside a lake, they now waited for the sun to set so they could watch the fireworks display. Ranger Smith had acquired the fireworks and contacted the man who had been responsible for previous firework shows for the community. All of the residents from the Timberlake cabins, the mountain and the valley were present with their families. Even most of the citizens from the nearby town of Holton had shown up for the picnic and fireworks. If Blair were to guess, he'd estimate the crowd to be around five thousand. So far everyone remained peaceful -- even with the heavy drinking. A bluegrass band played on a hastily-built stage while people danced to the music -- having a good old time.

Life seemed normal. It was hard to imagine watching the families around him celebrate that Earth would never be the same again. Sandburg looked at his friends who had become as close to him as brothers. They had spread out four blankets in a square formation. Fox and Walter sat on one blanket with the twins in wicker bassinets covered with mosquito netting, while Connor ran from their blanket to the blanket where the Gunmen, and Liz and Laura sat. The toddler carried yellow dandelion flowers that he picked from the hundreds in the field around them then handed them to Liz and Laura. They'd cooed and thanked him, which only encouraged him further until Langly finally scooped Connor off his feet and tickled him.

Simon, Jin Lee and her three-year-old daughter, Wren, shared the blanket with Blair and Jim. Between their blanket and Fox's and Walter's, Alex and John relaxed with Gwen. Daryl had been sitting with them, but had run off to join Hans, Marty, and Rodney. Gwen was taking a nap on John's chest, as he lay stretched out on his back, looking up at the blue sky with a spattering of fluffy clouds. Sandburg smiled. She'd wake up quickly once the first firework went off.

The sun finally sank below the horizon, and everyone's attention turned to the sky over the lake as the first firework was launched. It exploded in a bright starburst of orange with a loud BANG. Joey started and quickly climbed onto Jim's lap and buried his face against his Dad's shirt. He didn't like the loud explosions. Nor did Gwen who woke with a start and started crying. John hurriedly cuddled her against his chest as he sat upright.

Connor's brown eyes were filled with wonder as he stared up at the colorful display while his sisters started shrieking at the loud noises.

"Well, at least one of the munchins likes the fireworks," Simon said as he glanced at Connor while Jin comforted her crying daughter.

Sandburg smiled as he watched the little boy, recalling what it had been like to see fireworks for the first time. He had no doubt that next year Joey would be as excited as Connor was this year. Sandburg's attention turned to Jim soothing their frightened son. His lover was such a natural dad. Now that the alien threat was over, Sandburg wanted them to have another child. He had teased Jim about wanting a daughter and that it was Jim's turn to be pregnant. Sandburg hadn't really been serious -- he just wanted to make his lover appreciate what it was like to go thru pregnancy and childbearing. Maybe next year he'd talk to Jim about trying for another baby.

The fireworks ended in a grand finale and Sandburg hoped to see many more in the years to come. He leaned up against Jim as people around them started to fold the blankets and head home. "If it weren't for the mosquitoes I'd be almost tempted to camp out here until morning."

"Not me. I want to get you home to bed," Jim said as he kissed Sandburg gently on the mouth with Joey sandwiched comfortably between them.

Sandburg smiled. "Then we better start back. It's going to be a long bike trip."

~x~X~x~

The Dog, Rat, Panther, Wolf, Lion, Horse, and Fox

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Doggett stood bare-chested on top of a log beam thirty feet above the ground, holding the end of a rope as he guided a fifteen-foot heavy log into place. His muscles strained to bring it on top of another. The log was attached by another rope to a pulley below that Alex was operating.

They were behind schedule on Simon's log home. It had taken them almost a month to dig and frame the spacious root cellar beneath it. Being the perfectionist, Walter wanted to take the extra time to do it right, so he planned the root cellar to be able to store enough food for six adults, instead of only Simon and Daryl. Doggett respected Walter for planning for the future, after the number of times they had to add onto Fox's small log home to accommodate their growing family.

The addition of another bedroom into the plans turned the project into a three-level home with a master bedroom and bath on the third-level, which would give Simon a magnificent view of the lake and mountains. On the second-level were two bedrooms and a bathroom. The main level had the living room, kitchen, dining room, mudroom/laundry with a door down to the root cellar off the kitchen. The second floor had a railing that overlooked the living room with its large fireplace that would provide enough heat to warm the two bedrooms on the second level. The master bedroom would have its own fireplace, along with a balcony that would look out over the lake.

Their goal was to get the outer walls, windows, and plumping installed before winter, so they could work on the interior during the winter. The home wouldn't be ready for the Banks to move into until spring.

Doggett's dad was trying to make a deal for another windmill and solar panels. The solar panels would heat the water for the home, while the windmill would provide electricity.

Blair and Jim were stripping the bark and branches off a tall pine tree, while Simon, Daryl, and Marty worked on the kitchen wall. The military had lifted the ban against flying, so Sean was able to use his helicopter to lift the heavy woodstove from the appliance store with Walter's and Jim's help. They wanted to get it installed as soon as the wall and slate floor were in place.

With the departure of the aliens, the military was asking for volunteers to help rebuild the nation's infrastructure. The U.S. Capital was being moved temporarily to the Twin Cities. The area had sustained no damage during the alien attack and its central location made it easy for those on the west and east coast to reach. The few congressmen and congresswomen who had not been in D.C. when the aliens attacked were already in Minnesota setting up a new government. They had their work cut out for them with nearly a third of the U.S. population killed and the survivors spread throughout rural communities; a new census was needed before elections could take place.

Doggett didn't envy the task before them. He and his friends had their own tasks to complete before winter. For once he was looking forward to winter -- to being snowed in with Alex and their daughter -- to relaxing in front of the hearth with their friends. Once the nation was on the path to recovery, he wanted to leave the mountain for a short vacation, maybe down to Florida or up to Maine.

Fox came riding up on his horse with Chloe strapped to his chest in a Bjorn; he was holding a picnic basket. "I brought lunch," he called.

"Cool, what did you bring us?" Daryl asked as he and Marty hurried over and jumped off the wood planking of the sub floor.

"Barbecued Spam sandwiches." Fox handed him down the basket then climbed off the horse.

Doggett repelled down the rope to the ground. He was surprised that Walter had allowed Fox to ride out there alone. After the alien morph incident, Walter insisted that Fox be accompanied anywhere he went.

"Where's Walt?" Doggett asked.

"He's recuperating while the kids take a nap." Fox chuckled. "They had him running in all directions, trying to keep up with them. Gwen wouldn't quit asking Walter to pronounce words for her."

Doggett smiled. "She's been doing the same to Alex and me."

"Your dad radioed," Fox continued. "He was able to barter for another windmill. Sean is going to fly down to his farm next week and bring it back."

"That's great news!" Simon said as they sat on the wood planking to eat the sandwiches.

Alex nodded. "Having electricity will make working on this place easier in the fall and winter when the days are shorter."

"Mm, this is good," Doggett said after he took a bite of the sandwich. Fox had added creamy coleslaw on top of the barbecued SpamTM. He'd also brought them cold chocolate milk.

"Chloe seems to be getting over her colic," Alex said as he looked at the baby sleeping against Fox's chest.

Fox rubbed her back. "I think she's over the worst of it, but I didn't want to leave her with Walter, just in case. I don't think the poor man could have handled a colicky baby on top of the other four."

"How's Joey doing?" Blair asked.

"He spent all morning playing with wooden blocks."

Jim gave Fox a skeptical look. "Did he really play with them?"

"Does chewing on them count as playing?"

"No."

Fox chuckled and stood. "I better head back. I need to get a couple loads of laundry done before I start dinner. Bring the picnic basket back when you're done for the day. Dinner will be on the table at eight."

~x~X~x~

The Fox, Bear, Rat, Dog, Panther, Wolf, Lion, and Horse

Mulder finished folding the diapers and placing them on the top shelf in the laundry room. His thoughts had been wandering into the past lately -- he wondered what his parents would think of the life he was leading, and if they'd approve. Sexuality was something they'd never discussed, so he had no idea about their views on gays. Considering that they never approved of anything he had done in his life, Mulder doubted they'd approve of Walter or their grandchildren.

Through Sean, Mulder had discovered that the military had dropped all charges against him, even though they still believed he was dead. They even awarded him the Medal of Freedom, posthumously, for his life long fight against the aliens. As there was no reason for him to remain in hiding, Mulder decided to drop his George Hale alias and use his real name on the articles he wrote for the Magic Mountain magazine.

Once postal services were up and running again, Mulder planned to write Scully. He didn't really know how much he would tell her about his life. She'd never understand or condone his marriage to Walter. He felt he owed her so much from their years as partners that the least he could do was let her know that he was alive and well. Plus Mulder was curious about how William was doing, and if the boy was really his son.

He walked into the kitchen and glanced into the great room. Walter was sitting on the sofa with Joey on his lap and Connor and Gwen on either side of him. He was reading them a story. They seemed enraptured by it. This was the first time all day that they had sat quietly.

Aviva and Chloe were in the bedroom sleeping in their crib. Mulder had fed them and changed their diapers a half hour ago. Fortunately they were now sleeping through the night, and probably wouldn't wake for another eight to ten hours.

That morning he had made fettuccini and left it drying on the rack all day. He was making Fettuccini Alfredo with fresh vegetables from their garden. Since Simon and Daryl moved in with them, they no longer had any leftovers. So middle of the night snacks required a bit more work.

Mulder started a large pot of water boiling for the pasta. Next he sliced a loaf of French bread down the middle and spread garlic butter over it. Their evening meal was the only time that they were all together at one time. It was a time where they could connect and discuss everything affecting their lives. Mulder remembered the brief time as a boy when his family used to sit down to evening meals together -- it ended abruptly after Samantha was abducted.

As he was making the Alfredo sauce, the other men came into the house. They headed to wash up in the bathrooms. Blair paused to check on Joey sleeping on Walter's lap while John scooped Gwen off the sofa and kissed the tip of her nose.

"Were you a good girl for Uncle Walt?" he asked.

"I very good, Daddy."

Mulder smiled as he watched them. Gwen had John wrapped around her little finger. There was nothing John wouldn't do to make her happy. Even Alex was taken by her charms for all of his bluster.

The table was set and Mulder had nine plates on the counter waiting to be filled. The extra plate was for Marty O'Neil who had been staying with them for the past two weeks to help on the Banks' home. Mulder was beginning to think that Vernon O'Neil wanted to save on the extra cost of feeding his son and that was why he allowed Marty to stay for such a long time with them.

Mulder tossed the pasta in the Alfredo sauce then dished it up onto the plates and topped it with the steamed vegetables and Parmesan. He had a mixed green salad with vinaigrette dressing on salad plates in front of each man's chairs, on the table.

Walter placed Connor and Joey into their highchairs then went to help Mulder carry the dinner plates to the table while the other men returned from washing up.

"Fox, this smells delicious," Walter said.

"Thanks." Mulder sliced the hot garlic bread and put it into two breadbaskets.

Everyone had taken their places at the table and grabbed for the bread as Mulder placed the baskets on the table.

Alex had opened a bottle of wine and filled their wineglasses.

"We made good progress today on the log home," Alex said as he sat at his place at the table next to his daughter's highchair with John was on her other side.

"We're still on course to have the home completed by this spring," John said.

"It will be a nice winter project," Walter said from his place at the head of the table.

Mulder knew how much his husband enjoyed building things with his hands. Glancing out the window at the setting sun, Mulder sighed. "Has anyone thought about what it might be like elsewhere on Earth?"

"No. Why?" Walter asked.

"I went to college in England. I've been wondering lately how life is over there now that the aliens have departed."

"My mother was in Europe when the aliens attacked." Blair frowned. "I wish we'd hear some news on whether there are any survivors."

Mulder had talked at length to Blair about his mother, Naomi. Blair had no idea where in Europe his mother was when the aliens attacked, so it would be impossible to search for her. Although he was sure that if his mother had survived she'd make it back to this country.

John took a sip of wine. "Our military has enough work trying to resettle the refugees here and maintaining order. It might take months before they can send troops around the world to check for survivors."

Walter nodded. "I doubt the military will commit any forces until the infrastructure has been repaired here first."

Between eating and feeding Joey pureed carrots, Jim said, "That shouldn't prevent them from launching reconnaissance missions overseas to evaluate the situation."

"You're probably right," Walter conceded.

"We're going to need oil to help with the recovery," Simon said.

"We should be able to get by with increasing production from Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico," John said. "After all, our nation lost a third of our population during the attacks, and that would greatly impact demand."

Mulder listened while he fed his son. He wasn't really interested in what it would take to rebuild the nation's infrastructure. People who knew far more than he would do it. He was more interested in investigating giant rats and other mutations caused by the crashed alien spaceships. Exploring the unknown was still in his blood, so he was particularly interested in the state of the rest of the world. What had the aliens left in their wake? What he wouldn't give to be part of any reconnaissance mission. Looking at Connor's face as the baby waited with his mouth open for the next spoonful of carrots, Mulder sighed. He could never leave his children or Walter for anything -- even the X-Files.

After dinner, Mulder washed the dishes -- the worst part of cooking duty -- while Walter gave Connor a bath and put him to bed. They finished at the same time and joined Alex, Simon, and Jim in the great room. Blair had put Joey to bed and was working on his book in the bedroom. He was writing about their lives after the alien attack. Actually, it was more of a teaching guide to help people learn how to grow their own food and how to put it up for the winter, along with herbal medicines, hunting, raising chickens and such. They all were helping Blair with the book.

John came down the spiral staircase. He'd left the bedroom door open so they'd hear Gwen if she woke up. He sank down on the love seat next to Alex.

Alex put an arm around John's back and said, "Do you want to make a run into D.C. tomorrow with me for the plumbing fixtures?"

"I would but I have cooking duties tomorrow."

"I'll go with you," Jim said. "We really should try to get as many items out of the ruins as possible while we still can."

With civil law returning as opposed to military rule, it would become harder and harder to scavenge through the ruins. The guys didn't consider it looting since the owners of the properties were most likely dead. However, that wouldn't stop the new government from outlawing scavenging the ruins for any number of reasons. So the guys started focusing on retrieving items that they couldn't build themselves, like mattresses, appliances, and leather furniture, along with plumbing fixtures. They were piling items for Simon's home in the empty loft and down in a cavern in the root cellar. They also had bathroom fixtures for a new bathroom for their home that they'd start, after completing Simon's home and the addition on Frohike's home.

"I radioed my Dad while the babies were napping," Walter said. "Since the military lifted the band on flying, my brother, West, is going to fly our parents here for a visit. He's making arrangements with the military to stop at an airbase in South Dakota for refueling."

Mulder felt anxious, Walter hadn't mentioned he'd radioed his parents. It was one thing for Walter to tell his parents over the radio that he had married another man, but it was another thing to have to meet Walter's parents face-to-face. What if they didn't like him? What if they disapproved of his relationship with their son?

"When are they thinking about coming?" Mulder asked.

"Late October."

"They'll be here for Blair's and my marriage," Jim said.

"We'll have to assemble the new bunk beds in the boys' room so my dad and brother will have a place to sleep," John said. "Walter's parents can use the girl's room."

"At least we have three months to prepare for their visit." Mulder stood. "I'm going to turn in now. I'll see you guys in the morning."

~x~X~x~

The Dog, Rat, and Wolf

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The press of wet lips against the back of his neck woke Krycek. His morning erection hardened as nimble fingers played with his nipples and then an erect cock slid between his buttocks.

"You know, I miss your breasts," John purred.

"I don't," Krycek moaned as John's fingernails scraped over his nipples. "They were fucking uncomfortable." His breasts had returned to normal a few weeks after he'd stopped nursing Gwen, and that had set both Fox's and Blair's minds at ease.

"Still, they were fun while they lasted." John pushed slowly into Krycek until buried deep inside of him.

The slick feeling between his buttocks made Krycek realize that his lover had applied lubricant while he was sleeping. It was an indication that he'd been sleeping too soundly lately -- too comfortable and secure with John close by. In the olden days, sleeping so soundly would have gotten Krycek killed. He'd worry about that later; right now he was enjoying being held by John as his cock moved in and out.

It was a good feeling being woken up this way by John. It didn't take long for him to bring them both to orgasm.

Krycek rolled onto his back and looked across the room at the dresser, where an angel figurine for a child's first birthday sat. It had been Paul's gift to Gwen on her birthday last week. It was hard to believe that their daughter was already one. She was well worth all the pain he'd gone through giving birth to her.

"So do you want to get up?" John asked.

"I suppose," Krycek sighed. "After all, I have cooking duty." He'd very seldom made it downstairs in time to make breakfast in the morning. The other men usually had cold cereal and were outside doing chores by the time Krycek stumbled downstairs. He just wasn't a morning person and he tried to make it up to them with a larger dinner.

At times, Krycek contemplated leaving the mountain and moving down south with John and Gwen, but he felt so close a bond to the other men living there that he couldn't stand the thought of being separated. It was Fox who had speculated that as wolves they were part of a pack and that overruled their human instinct as individuals. Maybe so, but sometimes Krycek just wanted to get away from their ordered existence and live life on the fly with John and their daughter.

Slipping on a robe, John ducked behind the screen to check on Gwen. Like Krycek, she usually slept late.

Krycek stretched and reached for his robe as traces of their lovemaking ran down his thighs. "I'm going to grab a shower."

As he stepped into the hallway, Blair with damp curls framing his face stepped out of bathroom.

"Good morning, Alex. Looks like we'll be spending the day together."

"I thought Fox had baby-sitting duty today."

"He did, but he wanted to go scavenging in the ruins with Jim, so I traded days with him."

"Does Walter know?" Krycek knew Walter had so far prevented Fox from leaving the mountain, and didn't want him risking his life in the ruins -- not when their twins still depended on him for nourishment. Krycek was also aware of how protective Walter was of Fox and that might play an even larger role in not wanting his lover out of his sight.

Blair grinned. "Didn't you hear them arguing in their bedroom late last night?"

"No. Who won?"

"Well, Fox and Jim left for the ranger's station at sunrise, so you tell me." Blair headed for the spiral staircase. "I better get downstairs; Simon is watching the kids so I could take a shower."

Krycek entered the bathroom, stripped off the robe, and hung it on a hook then turned on the shower. While he waited for the hot water to make its way up the pipes, he stood in front of the full-length mirror. Krycek had to admit that he was looking good, and it wasn't only because his breasts had returned to normal. His body was nicely toned and tanned. He still marveled that the fine lines that had started appearing on his face due to age had vanished after the aliens altered him.

Krycek reached out and touched the mirror as the steam quickly fogged his image. Turning, he smiled as he stepped into the shower. Life on the mountain wasn't all that bad.

~x~X~x~

The Panther and Fox

Thursday, August 14, 2003

When they reached the ruins, Ellison parked the truck in the usual spot, out of sight from prying eyes, behind a collapsed parking garage. The military had posted warning signs about the giant rats, and had even started a program to contain and eradicate them. So far they weren't having much luck.

On the trip down to D.C. Fox had been quiet; Ellison sensed that his friend felt guilty about arguing with Walter.

"What's the real reason you wanted to come here today?" Ellison asked as he turned off the truck's engine.

"Walter's parents are coming to visit in two months and I'm scared to death that they're going to blame me for corrupting their son."

"You're worrying about something that hasn't happened. I'm sure Mr. and Mrs. Skinner will like you."

"How many parents would tolerate their son marrying another man?" Fox sighed, "Even my own parents barely tolerated me after my sister was abducted. My father even enrolled me at Oxford so I wasn't in the same country as him."

Ellison understood now what was causing his friend so much angst. It had to be hard growing up without the love of one's parents. Ellison could relate, since he was raised only by his strict father. "This still doesn't explain why you wanted to come here with me today."

"I wanted to look for a couple of items that would make Walter's parents stay a little more comfortable for them."

"What things?"

"Walter's father smokes cigars and enjoys a cognac after dinner, and Mrs. Skinner is a petite woman. Walter mentioned she had a favorite chair at their home in Chicago where she'd spend hours reading and knitting, so I wanted to find a similar chair to put up in the girls' room where they'll be staying."

Of course Fox would think about making Walter's parents comfortable in their home. This was the courteous, self-effacing man Ellison had come to know over the last two years. "I'm sure we can find a chair at the furniture store, but I'm not sure where we'd find cigars and cognac."

"I have an idea where to look," Fox said as he opened the door and climbed out of the truck. "There was a gentlemen's club not too far from the furniture store. If it wasn't destroyed, we might be able to find both items there."

"We could always see if Sean can locate the cognac and cigars for us," Ellison said as he morphed into a panther with Fox morphing into a wolf a second later.

They continued communicating in their animal form. "If the club is still intact, the quality of their cognac would be superior to anywhere in this country," Fox said.

"Let's check it out first, and then we'll head over to the furniture store." Ellison had seen three leather recliners that he wanted to get for their great room so they wouldn't have to compete for the only leather recliner in the room. Those three recliners and the chair for Walter's mom should be enough for this trip.

In animal form, they moved through the ruins easier than trying to maneuver over broken concrete and twisted steel in human form. They would have to shift back to human form to carry the furniture back to the truck. It was difficult even with the path they had cleared to make carrying the furniture easier.

The rats, for the most part, steered clear of them. Having their furry butts kicked three times had taught them to fear these particular humans.

Ellison followed Fox until they came to a pile of rubble. Sniffing around, Fox found an opening and squeezed inside. The building was literally a pancake with little room to move but Ellison followed his friend through the few openings until they found a staircase leading down. The route down to the basement was relatively clear. The strong scents of liquor and tobacco filled Ellison's nostrils.

When they made it down to the basement, they shape-shifted back into human forms. Fox picked a bottle off the shelf and showed it to Ellison. "I told you they only had the good stuff here."

"I never doubted you. I see they also have scotch, bourbon, and brandy; should we pack up a case of each?"

"Sure. If we don't drink it, we can always use it to trade for things we need."

Ellison turned his head and sniffed. Fresh air was coming from somewhere in the basement. He followed his nose around a corner where a staircase led up to the street through a broken door. "It looks like we're in luck; there's an outside exit to the basement."

"That should make getting this stuff out of here easier." Fox walked through the basement and over to a refrigerator-sized humidor that was buried beneath several overturned shelves. He started clearing away the debris. Ellison helped until they were able to open the humidor.

"Let's haul the liquor and cigars back to the truck."

The next two hours were spent carrying several cases of alcohol and a couple of dozen boxes of cigars to the truck. The cigars should store nicely in their root cellar without the humidor. They had to shape-shift back into animals once when a giant rat charged them. They easily killed it then the urge of the hunt overtook them and they spent the next four hours hunting down rats around the ruins.

When they finally made it back to the furniture store hours later, they felt energized.

"We should come here to hunt more often," Ellison said as he shape-shifted back to human form.

"I never thought I'd enjoy killing," Fox said, then sighed. "Jim, I need to use the breast pump."

"Do you need any help?" Ellison asked as Fox got the pump out of the canvas bag he was carrying over his shoulder. He could see the dampness on Fox's shirt; even binding his breasts didn't prevent them from filling with milk.

"No. Just stand guard."

After Fox had taken care of his engorged breasts and put the pump away, they carried the three recliners back to the truck then returned to the store to search for a chair and ottoman for Mrs. Skinner.

"How about this one?" Ellison asked.

Fox crossed the room and looked at the fabric-covered chair. "I think it's perfect, but we can test it out on Liz; according to Walter she's around Mrs. Skinner size." A sad expression crossed Fox's face as he added, "So was my FBI partner without her high heels."

"Dana Scully?"

"Yeah."

"Let's get it loaded on the truck and head home ... the sun will be setting soon."

Fox carried the chair while Ellison grabbed the ottoman. They made it back to the truck and placed the items in the bed with their other bounty. The military was no longer concerned with looting, since they were preparing a plan to clear the ruins starting with Washington D.C. So, if people wanted to brave the rats to carry out items that would be destroyed once the heavy earth-moving equipment was brought in, it was fine with them.

Leaning up against the truck, Fox sighed, "I suppose we should head back, so I can try to make up with Walter."

"I'm sure after you explain to him your reasons for coming with me today, he'll understand."

"You might be right."

"Can I ask you something?" Ellison had wanted to talk privately with Fox for weeks but in their crowded home there never seemed to be the opportunity.

"Sure."

"What was it like to be pregnant?" Ellison had been agonizing over the decision on whether or not to have his and Blair's next child for almost a year. Part of his problem was fear of the unknown, so he wanted to hear from someone who had experienced pregnancy. He had ruled out talking to Walter since the man had had a tough time even accepting he had been pregnant. Alex had had a difficult pregnancy and Blair was too close to Ellison to offer an objective opinion, so only Fox was left to get an honest answer from. After all, the man had willingly become pregnant.

"It was amazing. To feel the baby move and knowing that it was a human life." Fox smiled. "I was scared to death and elated at the same time, and I never felt closer to Walter, even though we were hundreds of miles apart."

Ellison looked into the bright green brilliance of the other man's eyes that sparkled with joy in the light of the setting sun, bringing out the flecks of gold in those amazing chameleon irises. "Would you ever go through it again?"

"Definitely. Walter and I already discussed having another child in a few years."

"Thanks. You've made my decision easier." Jim opened the driver's door and slid behind the wheel.

"What decision?" Fox asked when he climbed into the passenger seat.

"Blair and I want another child, so I'm going to have it for us."

"That takes a lot of courage, Jim."

"You can remind me again when I'm bitching about being pregnant," Ellison started the engine and steered the truck home.

~x~X~x~

The Bear, Wolf, Fox, and Panther

Thursday, August 14, 2003

Skinner looked out at the path from his position on the front porch as he waited for his lover to make it home. Crickets chirped under the porch, and occasionally an owl hooted from the woods. He had the front door open with the screen door closed so he could hear the babies if they woke. They were sleeping in their cribs in his and Fox's bedroom.

The rest of the household, with the exception of Blair, had turned in for the night. Blair sat on the porch swing, rocking and breast-feeding Joey. The young man seemed in no hurry to wean the baby. He seemed content just to allow his son to nurse for as long as he needed to. In a lot of ways Blair reminded Skinner of Fox. They were both very serious and studious, and had an adventurous nature that seemed ingrained in their beings -- the need to explore the world around them, and categorize each and every discovery for study and evaluation: the unknown, ancient history, myths and legends all held a great fascination to the two of them and they'd spend hours together talking in-depth on each subject. To that point, Skinner had to accept that he couldn't keep Fox caged as a way to protect him. The man was a free spirit who needed to be unfettered in order to be happy. Skinner regretted the argument that they had before Fox stormed out and would apologize as soon as his husband returned.

"I wonder what's taking them so long," Skinner said.

"Maybe they're having a hard time finding what Fox wanted to get in the ruins," Blair speculated.

"Do you know what he was looking for?"

"No. But then I never thought to ask." Blair pressed his finger against his breast to free his nipple from his son's mouth. Skinner could see that the boy had fallen asleep. As Joey got older he looked more and more like Jim.

The squeaky sound of wheels and tires over gravel announced that Fox and Jim were home before the two men rode their mountain bikes through the bushes and into the front yard. They pulled two carts behind them that the guys had made to make hauling supplies from the ranger station easier. The carts were lightweight, made mostly out of aluminum tubing and were large and sturdy enough to haul a bathtub. John had used the tractor to smooth out and widen the paths between the ranger station, their home, and all the way to Liz and Laura's place, so they were able to easily transport goods between their homes and ride side-by-side the entire length.

Even in the darkness, Skinner could make out two leather recliners on Jim's cart with boxes piled on their seats and behind them. Fox had a recliner and a smaller chair with what appeared to be an ottoman on his cart along with a number of crates. They parked the bikes at the bottom of the steps leading up to the porch. When Skinner got a closer look at the chair, he realized what it meant. With the exception of the upholstery fabric, the chair was just like the one his mother had had in Chicago. Fox had gone through all of this so Skinner's mother could be comfortable on her visit, and that realization made Skinner feel even guiltier about arguing with his lover.

"Fox, I'm sorry I yelled at you this morning," Skinner said as he walked down the steps to join his lover at the cart.

"No, Walter. I'm the one who should be sorry ... I shouldn't have run out until we could have worked out our disagreement." Fox wrapped his arms around Skinner's waist and kissed him.

"We both need to work a little harder." Skinner hugged him then looked into the cart. "What's in the boxes?"

A mischievous gleam appeared in Fox's eyes. "As long as you're out on the porch, have a seat and we can share a before- bedtime drink and a smoke." He reached into one of the boxes and held up a bottle of cognac and from another he retrieved a box of cigars.

Skinner took the box of cigars and chuckled. "You're too much ... did I mention my brother West loves smoked salmon?"

"Since your brother lives in Alaska, he can bring the smoked salmon with him."

"You know that's an excellent idea," Skinner said. "I'll radio and see if he can bring some smoked salmon, along with Alaskan king crab legs packed on ice when they fly down."

Jim lifted a couple of boxes off the recliner. "Let's get this stuff moved inside the house then I'll be up for a cognac and a cigar."

"I'll get the glasses, as soon as I put Joey in his crib," Blair said.

Skinner lifted one of the heavy recliners off the cart and carried it inside. They had plenty of room for furniture in the great room and really needed the extra seating. The number of friends they'd made had increased, and more and more they'd get unexpected visitors just stopping by to chat and hang out. Helmut had become a regular visitor.

Once they finished moving the furniture and boxes of cognac and cigars inside the house, they went back out to the porch to enjoy a small snifter of cognac and a smoke in the peaceful quiet of the warm summer night. They were so comfortable with each other's company that there was no need to spoil the tranquil atmosphere by talking. Skinner sat on one of the porch swings with Fox who puffed a cigar while Skinner sipped a cognac. He felt completely decadent. The simple life they were building here on this mountain was far better than Skinner had known before the alien invasion. The prestige that he had as an Assistant Director in the FBI, paled in comparison to the life he now enjoyed.

After an hour of rocking, Jim sighed and stood. "Joey's crying."

"I can go get him," Blair offered as he stood.

"It's late ... we might as well turn in." Jim nodded toward Skinner and Fox. "We'll see you guys in the morning."

"Goodnight." Fox snuffed out the cigar then rested his head against Skinner's broad shoulder. "Walter, do you want to know the real reason I wanted to go into the ruins?"

"Tell me."

"You know I had a troubled relationship with my parents. I'm worried that your parents won't like me, and might blame me for morally corrupting you."

"So that's what's been troubling you." Skinner kissed the top of Fox's head. "My parents are going to adore you. Dad's older brother was gay, and Uncle Phil used to bring his partner over for Thanksgiving dinners. My parents also know that I'm bisexual, and I've told them as much as I safely could about our relationship over the radio. The only things they don't know about are the babies and that we were genetically altered by the aliens. That's something we'll have to explain in person."

"I'm relieved." Fox pulled away and stood. "Let's go to bed. I have baby duty tomorrow and need to get some rest."

Skinner wanted nothing more at the moment than to sleep spooned with his lover in bed.

~x~X~x~

The Wolf, Panther, Bear, Lion, Fox, and Horse

Wednesday, September 8, 2003

"I don't know why he's still not talking," Sandburg said as he stood at the sink and brushed his long, curly hair. Today was their son's first birthday, and unlike Gwen and Connor, Joey still hadn't said a word.

Jim shook his head as he changed their son's diaper. "Chief, maybe Joey doesn't have anything to say." The Sentinel smiled down at his son. "Isn't that right, champ? You're being waited on hand and foot so you have nothing to complain about, so why bother talking?"

"Jim, this is serious."

"No, it's not. You're the Anthropologist you should know that not everyone learns at the same pace, and the lack of early speech isn't an indication of lesser intelligence. I was almost two before I started talking," Jim said as he glanced over at Sandburg then frowned. "Don't look at me like that ... it's not."

Sandburg grinned. "I know it's not, big guy, I just want to hear him call me Daddy."

"I have a feeling that once he starts talking we'll look back on today with longing." Jim snapped the tiny bib-overalls then fastened the Velcro closures on Joey's sneakers. "Now you're all ready to wear Uncle Alex out by making him chase you around the house. I'm going to finish making your birthday cake."

Joey smiled and held up his arms to his father; Jim picked the baby up and hugged him.

The Sentinel had bowed out on chores that day so he could prepare for Joey's birthday party. Fox had cooking duties while Alex had baby-sitting duty, and Sandburg had chicken duty that morning. It was his personal favorite chore after baby-sitting. Sandburg enjoyed collecting eggs, feeding the chickens, and checking the incubator for hatchlings. The household's chicken production had tripled since they'd moved in with Fox. Learning to slaughter chickens for food had been the hardest aspect of life on this farm, but Sandburg had accepted the need for fresh meat.

Simon, Daryl, and Walter sat at the counter while Fox served them a breakfast of crispy potato skins topped with scrambled eggs, diced ham, green peppers, onions, and cheddar cheese. This was one of Sandburg's favorite breakfast dishes. Walter reached for a slice of buttered toast and spread blueberry jam on it then took a bite.

"Hi guys," Sandburg said as he sat next to Walter at the counter.

Walter nodded in greeting.

"Good morning, Blair," Simon said.

Daryl leaned forward so he could see Sandburg. "Blair, Jimmy and I are going to pick raspberries and blackberries this morning."

"If you'd like, I'll teach you how to make jam from the berries," Sandburg said and smiled at Fox as he placed a mug of coffee in front of him.

Daryl frowned. "I'd rather learn to make raspberry ice cream."

Sandburg wrapped his fingers around the hot mug, feeling disappointed that his young friend wasn't open to learning how to make jam. "We can make that after the jam."

"I'd like to learn," Simon said. "Raspberry jam is my favorite."

"Cool, man!" Sandburg replied. "At least I have one willing student."

Sandburg sipped his coffee and watched his breakfast being made by Fox. Expanding the kitchen into the old parlor and installing a counter that sat six had been a good idea. It made eating breakfast and lunch less formal, and unlike dinner, there really wasn't a set time of the day for breakfast or lunch. Sandburg enjoyed starting the day with a large breakfast; it allowed him to skip lunch if he got too busy.

In the great room the five-month-old twins were sitting in the playpen shaking plastic keys and sucking on plastic donuts. Sandburg noticed that while Fox fixed breakfast he kept a close eye on the twins and Connor.

Connor was on the floor playing with Tiger. The cat was very patient with the toddler's rough petting. Walter glanced down at them and softly admonished his son. "Connor, pet Tiger gently."

"I am, Daddy." He continued his rough strokes. "See, I pet gently."

"Gentler. She's going to have kittens."

Connor stopped petting her. "Where are kittens?"

"Inside her belly."

The little boy looked at the Tiger's belly. "How they get in there?"

Simon chuckled. "Yes, Walt, tell us how?"

Walter smiled into his coffee mug. "Uncle Jimmy's cat, Dusty, put them in there."

"Daddy, take 'em out!" Connor said.

"The kittens will come out when it's time for them to be born," Fox said as he placed a plate of food in front of Sandburg.

Conner pouted. "But I wanna play with 'em."

Walter bent and scooped Connor into his arms. "Daddy Fox is right ... you're going to have to wait until they're born."

Tiger took the opportunity to amble out of the room on her way to the greenhouse where toddlers weren't allowed.

"I don't wanna wait!" Connor's little lip quivered as tears threatened.

Jim came into the kitchen and placed Joey in a high chair. "What's wrong with Connor?"

"He's just exhibiting his Daddy Fox's personality trait of impatience," Walter said as he comforted Connor.

"Hey, I'm never impatient," Fox said.

"Do you want me to remind you of the number of times you took off on a case before I could sign your 302?"

"You didn't expect me to wait until you got around to signing..." Fox paused and smiled sheepishly. "Okay point taken."

Sandburg laughed. "I would have loved to have seen the two of you back when you worked together for the FBI."

"No, you wouldn't," Fox quipped, "It wasn't a pretty sight."

"Working for Simon wasn't either," Jim quipped as he took a cereal bowl down and filled it with the cream of rice that Fox had kept warming on the stove after Connor had eaten.

After Sandburg finished eating, he carried his empty plate to the sink and set it inside. He then kissed Jim and Joey, before grabbing the egg basket off the shelf by the back door and heading outside. Simon and Walter were already on their way to the barn to milk the cows.

Once outside, Sandburg took a deep breath -- there was a hint of fall in the air. The air smelled so sweet and fresh. It didn't hurt that he was upwind from the pig pen. Sandburg loved fall on the mountains and the peace that the upcoming winter would bring. It was one of the reasons he wanted to get married in the fall. Life slowed during the winter months, giving them more time for personal pleasures. Over the next two months they'd be doing the bulk of the canning in preparation for winter. They'd already been making pasta sauces, in addition to dehydrating vegetables and fruits, along with making pickles and sauerkraut.

Walter's management skills had come in handy; he had them labeling and dating all of the jars and containers then listing the contents into an inventory book. Whenever they used one of the jars they'd cross it off in the book so they would always know exactly throughout the winter what was in their root cellar. It made planning meals easier.

Entering the chicken coop, Sandburg started to collect eggs while talking soothingly to the brooding hens. He loved living here. Where else could he be so close to nature and still be able to continue his anthropology work by studying the mountain people who had lived here for generations? He'd only wished his mother was alive and would eventually find him here.

~x~X~x~

The Panther, Wolf, Bear, Lion, Fox, Dog, Rat, Otter, Frog, Stork, Puppy, and Horse

Ellison held the wrapped gift steady as his son tore off the paper. From inside the box, Joey pulled out a tiny pair of khaki-colored cargo pants and tossed them aside to play with the box.

"Thanks, Liz," Blair said as he picked up the pants and held them up so everyone could see what Liz had made for Joey before he began folding them.

"It's my pleasure," Liz said from her place on the loveseat beside Melvin who was cuddling Aviva in his arms, she added, "I love sewing children's clothes."

"With our family you'll have lots of opportunities," John said, holding Gwen on his lap.

"Daddy, I wanna play with Connor," Gwen said.

"Okay, sweetie." John set her on the floor and she hurried over to Connor who was playing inside a large empty cardboard box that had contained a gift for Joey.

While Joey opened the final gift, Fox came back with the coffeepot and refreshed everyone's cups.

"Fox, sit and relax," Walter said as his husband refilled his mug.

"I will. I just wanted to take advantage of having temporary babysitters."

Ellison glanced over at Byers and Laura; the couple had Chloe sitting between them. The baby was all smiles over the attention. As Ellison looked at Laura, a stunned expression flashed crossed his face as the Sentinel's enhanced hearing detected a second heartbeat coming from her. She was pregnant, and there was no doubt that Byers was the baby's father. Now that Ellison knew her condition he noticed for the first time that she had put on some weight and wore loose clothing to conceal her pregnancy. He wondered when the couple would announce Laura's condition, since she had to be more than five months along. By the looks she and Byers were exchanging, Ellison concluded that it would be after Joey's birthday party. This was the first time all of them had been together since the Fourth of July. With Liz and Melvin spending a week each month at Paul Doggett's farm, and with the work on the log home, they never seemed to have time for socializing. Ellison turned his attention back to Joey as Blair helped their son lift the lid off the final gift.

Inside was a multi-colored, hand-knitted, stocking cap with earflaps, made of mohair and acrylic yarn. Also in the box was a handmade wooden pull toy rabbit. Both items were adorable.

"Thanks, Alex, John," Blair said, "The hat is going to come in handy this winter and the rabbit toy is too cool."

"They are really nice, guys, thanks," Ellison said as he set Joey on the floor with the rabbit. Placing the round, wooden ball attached to a string in his hand, demonstrated to his son how to pull the rabbit across the floor. The rabbit made a clicking noise as it moved, to the delight of Joey. He giggled as he pulled the rabbit around the room.

Ellison turned his focus back on Byers and Laura; they seemed to be trying to find the right moment to make their special announcement. Not being one for tact, Ellison said, "I think Laura and John have something they want to tell us."

Byers gave him a surprised look, then sighed, "Of course, Jim, you would have figured it out. Laura and I are going to be married in a small ceremony on October first, and we'd like all of you to attend. It will be at Laura's place and Reverend Desmond will perform the ceremony." Byers took Laura's hand in his. "Do you want to tell them the rest?"

She smiled. "I'm five and a half months pregnant with John's baby. Our son or daughter should arrive around the last week in December or the first week in January."

"That's wonderful news," Simon said. "Congratulations."

Everyone joined in and gave the couple their congratulations, with the exception of Liz and Melvin who appeared to already know.

"So what are your plans?" Walter asked.

"I'm moving in with Laura after the wedding," Byers said. "Liz will live with us until the baby is born then she and Melvin plan to marry."

"Then we better put in overtime to get the addition completed on the Gunmen's cabin," Fox said.

"It will be great having my own bedroom," Langly said.

They hadn't planned on starting on the Gunmen's place until after they completed Simon's home in the spring. However, Helmut, Vernon, Hugh, and their sons had surprised the guys by spending the last two weeks in August helping on Simon's log home, so now they were well ahead of schedule and decided to start on Frohike's addition. Two days ago, they had torn off the roof and were adding on a second story. Besides a bedroom and bathroom, Frohike wanted an open sewing and craft room that would look out over the parlor and have windows that would give Liz a view of the mountains while she sewed.

They would work on the interiors during the winter. Frohike's place should be ready for him and Liz by Christmas, while Simon's home would be ready for him and Daryl to move into in the spring as planned.

Ellison didn't mind the construction work. It felt good helping to build Simon's home -- just having his friend and former boss living nearby put Ellison's mind at ease. He wanted to do whatever he could for Liz, Laura, and the Gunmen.

"It's a perfect night. Why don't we go outside and I'll light a bonfire?" Walter suggested.

"I'd like that," Laura said.

Byers picked up Chloe as they stood. "You're practice, Clover, for when I'm a dad."

"You're going to make an excellent father," Fox said, going to retrieve Connor from the box that he was sitting in with Gwen.

Alex stood beside it and shook his head as Fox approached. "With all their toys, they have the most fun playing with an empty cardboard box."

"Maybe we should just wrap empty boxes as gifts for Christmas," Fox said, lifting Connor out of the box. "C'mon, Con, we're going outside to watch the bonfire."

"Bonviwer," Connor said.

"Close enough," Fox said.

Ellison carried Joey with the rabbit toy out the front door. The four foot diameter fire pit was made with stones, including a twenty-foot ring around the pit that had split log benches circling it. Living surrounded by forest, made everyone very conscious of fire hazards. The benches were far enough away from the large fire so the heat wasn't too intense.

This was their first bonfire of the year. They particularly enjoyed having them in October and November when the nighttime temperatures dropped below sixty-Fahrenheit.

As Walter and John started the fire, Ellison sat on a log bench with Joey. Miles away, Ellison heard the Gunmen's cat Rocky as it caught a rabbit then he noticed Joey look in that direction as if his son was listening to the same thing. "You can hear that, champ?" he asked softly, so no one else could hear. "Let's keep this one between us, Joey. No need for Daddy Blair to know, just yet, that you're a Sentinel. He'll want to put you through all sorts of tests."

Ellison smiled as Blair joined them and handed him a frosty glass of ale and a SippyTM cup full of cold water for Joey. "Thanks, Chief."

"Do you guys want to sing campfire songs?" Blair asked, taking a seat on the bench beside them.

In answer, Langly started singing with a twang in his voice, "On top of spaghetti, all covered with cheese, I lost my poor meatball when somebody sneezed..."

The rest of the group joined in, "It rolled off the table and onto the floor, And then my poor meatball rolled out of the door. It rolled through the garden and under a bush, And then my poor meatball was nothing but mush." The toddlers laughed and clapped.

Ellison kissed the top of Joey's head. It had been a perfect first birthday for him.

~x~X~x~

The Wolf, Panther, Bear, Lion, Fox, and Horse

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Wade Skinner looked out the window of the Cessna as it flew over the Blue Ridge Mountains. His son, West, was flying the plane, while Wade and his wife, Sonja, sat in the back.

It was still before noon, and the land below was beautiful with the leaves just beginning to change to their fall colors. It was nice to see this pristine landscape after his son had flown them over what had once been Chicago. Nothing was left of the once great midwestern city, which had been their home for over seventy years.

Wade couldn't wait to see his youngest son again, and meet the man Walter had married. The elder Skinner had long ago given up on Walter ever giving him grandchildren; he and Sonja had a granddaughter by West and his wife, Marie. Still Wade always hoped for a grandson to carry on the Skinner family name. At least Walter had found happiness with this man and that mattered the most to Wade -- that his children would find happiness in their life.

"There's the landing field," West said.

Ranger Smith had given West the coordinates to a small airfield where crop planes took off and landed for the farming community in the valley. Walter was going to meet them at the airport and drive them to the Ranger station where they would ride mountain bikes back to Walter's place. It was a good thing that he and Sonja, while 72 years old, were still in good physical shape.

West brought the plane down, making a perfect landing. As the plane taxied down the runway, a man with a flag guided the plane into a hanger. Wade noticed Walter standing beside a pickup truck parked outside the hanger. He waved and his son waved back.

Sonja leaned over him and smiled. "Walter sure looks good, doesn't he?"

"He sure does, dear." Wade patted her hand, and asked, "Are you excited?"

"Yes," Sonja said. "It's been so long since we've seen him, and I'm anxious to meet Fox."

Walter was at the plane when West opened the door.

"Mom, Dad!" Walter said and hugged them in turn as they stepped off the plane.

"Son, it's good to see you again," Wade said.

"Walter, you look so young," Sonja said. "The mountain air must be good for you."

"It is." Walter grinned. "It's good to see you all again."

West smiled and hugged his younger brother. "I have six large coolers full of Alaskan king crab legs, wild copper river king salmon, halibut, sea scallops, and smoked salmon. We should get it back to your place and put it in the refrigerator before the ice melts."

"The guys are going to be thrilled," Walter said. "Let's put the stuff in the bed of the truck."

"How are we going to get it to your place?" Wade asked, knowing that they had to bicycle eight miles from the ranger's station to reach his son's place.

"The bikes West and I are going to be riding have carts behind them." Walter grinned. "Fox wants to have the crab legs for dinner; he grew up in New England and really misses having seafood."

"I packed enough crab legs to serve twenty people, as per your request," West said.

Wade knew that four of the six coolers contained crab legs; they weren't the most compact food. West could have hauled a lot more salmon and halibut in the four coolers; enough to have served over a hundred people.

Walter nodded. "Good. Fox is planning to serve corn on the cob, coleslaw, and baked potatoes with butter and sour cream to go with the crab legs," he said as he carried one of the coolers to the pickup truck. "He's so nervous about meeting you that he's been trying to distract himself by canning and making jam."

Wade carried their suitcases to the truck and placed them in the bed. "You have told Fox that he has nothing to worry about, haven't you?"

"Dad, Fox has never been part of a loving, nonjudgmental family -- the concept is foreign to him."

"Well, I guess we'll have to make it American for him," Wade said, grinning.

The truck was loaded and Wade helped Sonja into the backseat of the extended cab then climbed in next to her.

"This is some beautiful country," Wade said as he looked out at the rolling hills and colorful foliage while Walter drove them up the winding road to the ranger station.

"Dad, this is the most beautiful place on Earth," Walter said.

"That's debatable," West said. "My home in Alaska is every bit as beautiful."

While Wade agreed that Alaska was beautiful, he never could get used to the long Alaskan winters where the sun never quite made it above the horizon. Being a morning person, it was particularly hard on Wade who liked watching the sun rise.

Once at the ranger station, Walter parked the truck in the lot. A large bear of a man in a ranger's uniform stepped out of the station. Wade was six feet tall, and this man was at least five inches taller and a hundred pounds of muscles heavier.

"Mom, Dad, West, I'd like you to meet Ranger Sean Smith," Walter said.

"It's a pleasure to meet you, West, and Mr. and Mrs. Skinner," Sean said as he shook their hands.

"Call me Wade and my wife's name is Sonja."

"Sure thing, Wade." Sean glanced at the truck. "Let me give you a hand with loading your bags into the carts."

"Sean, are you going to be able to make it for dinner tonight?" Walter asked. Lifting one of the heavy coolers from the back of the truck.

"Are you kidding?" Sean chuckled as he effortlessly lifted two heavy coolers together. "When you're serving fresh king crab legs flown in from Alaska, I'll be there with bells on."

"This should be fun," Sonja said as she sat on the mountain bike. The seat had been adjusted for someone of her petite build, so her feet could reach the pedals.

Walter smiled. "Mom, Dad, I have a surprise for you, something I couldn't tell you over the radio."

"What surprise?" Wade asked.

"You'll meet them as soon as we get to my place," Walter said as he climbed on the bike. "Shall we go?"

Wade climbed on his bicycle while wondering what Walter meant by them. He already knew that his son was sharing a house with two other male couples, and Wade was looking forward to meeting them. The bicycle trip to his son's home was enjoyable; the path was smooth and wide, and the temperature wasn't too hot or cold. They soon rode out between some bushes into the front yard of a large log home. A group of people, including three toddlers and two babies, sat on the front porch waiting for them. Wade wondered which one was Fox as a young man stood up holding a baby. The man said something to a cute little boy and they started toward the steps.

The other people hung back as a petite, gray-haired, dignified-looking woman holding another baby, walked down the porch steps with the man and toddler.

At the bottom of the steps the toddler started running to them while calling, "Grandma, Grandpa, Uncle Wes!"

"Oh, my God, Wade, he's our grandson," Sonja said as she quickly climbed off the bicycle, letting it fall to the ground and hurried to meet the little boy. She was crying as she picked the toddler up and hugged him.

It was then that Wade noticed the family resemblance. "Who's the boy's mother?" he asked.

"It's a long story, Dad," Walter said, "Fox and I are the babies' biological parents."

"Babies?" Wade's eyes fell on the other two babies as the young man and older woman stopped beside them. The baby girl in the arms of the young man looked just like a Skinner, while the other one resembled the young man.

Sonja carried the little boy over to them.

"Why you cry?" the little boy asked.

"I'm crying because I'm happy," she said. "What's your name?"

"Connor Skinner ... I this old." He held up one finger then three fingers.

"You're a big boy for fifteen-months-old," Sonja said.

"Dad, Mom, West, now that you've met your grandson and nephew, I'd like you to meet my husband Fox and your granddaughters and nieces, Aviva and Chloe. Holding Chloe is our dear friend and doctor, Colonel Elizabeth Nash M.D. -- Liz for short."

Wade wrapped his arms around Fox and his granddaughter and kissed them both on the cheek. "Welcome to the family, Fox."

"Thank you, Mr. Skinner."

"Dad," Wade corrected.

Fox smiled. "Dad, would you like to hold your granddaughter?"

"Would I ever," Wade said as he took Aviva from Fox. "She looks like my mother did as a baby. I'd show you a photo of her, if our family photo album wasn't buried under tons of rubble in Chicago."

"Walter named Chloe after his grandmother ... we probably should have named Aviva Chloe and...."

"No. Aviva is the perfect name for this one," Wade said.

West shook Fox's hand. "I'm glad to finally meet the man who drove my little brother to distraction for so many years."

Fox seemed surprised. "Walter told you about the years we worked together?"

"Confided would be more the term." West grinned. "Now if you'll excuse me I'm going to kidnap my nephew from mom."

West took Connor from Sonja. "Mom, let me hold my nephew so you can greet Fox and see your granddaughters."

Sonja moved over to Fox and hugged him. "For once Walter found himself a real looker."

"Mom!" Walter blushed.

Liz started laughing as she passed Chloe to Walter's mother. "Sonja, we're going to get along fine," she said. "And your son is a real looker, too."

The other people came down from the porch to greet the family.

Wade was pleased at how friendly everyone was and knew he was going to enjoy this visit.

~x~X~x~

Sonja looked up at the high beamed ceiling before following Fox up a staircase. He was carrying three of their suitcases. They crossed an open loft that looked over the dining room. The loft was filled with furniture covered by tarps.

"This is furniture for Simon's place," Fox said.

"Why is it here?" she asked.

"We're still building Simon's log home. It won't be ready for him and Daryl to move into until spring."

"You know how to build log homes?"

"Yes. We built two additions onto this place over the last two years," Fox said. "And we're planning a third addition with another bathroom."

They passed a large bathroom then walked through an open hallway that looked down on the great room below. At the end of the hallway, a spiral staircase led down. "This is Alex's and John's bedroom," Fox said.

Sonja looked inside the room. There was a large mahogany sleigh bed and a cozy seating in front of a fireplace. A crib was in the room behind a privacy screen. She turned back to Fox who was standing in front of another doorway.

"This will be your bedroom, Mom."

Sonja walked into the room. It had two, full-sized, wrought iron, canopy beds, built in bookshelves, a chest of drawers, and an open area with a bay window. Two chairs were positioned by the window, a rocking chair and a small reading chair with an ottoman like she used to have in Chicago. A small table was between the two chairs and reading lamps were next to both chairs. She and Wade should be very comfortable here.

"Oh, Fox, the quilts are beautiful," Sonja said as she studied the detail work on each quilt.

"Liz made those for us. We had unicorn bedspreads on the beds, but she felt these would be more appropriate for your visit."

"She's a wise woman and she makes beautiful quilts," Sonja commented as she walked around the bedroom and sat on the chair. It fit her perfectly. "I miss sewing. Marie, West's wife, doesn't sew, so she didn't have a sewing machine at their place."

Fox smiled. "If you want to sew, we have a sewing machine in our workshop with dozens of bolts of fabrics. Liz tried to teach us how to sew but we're all thumbs. The only thing we mastered was making square pillows."

"Show me the workshop," Sonja said, "I know how I'm going to be spending some of my time, when I'm not taking care of my grandchildren."

Liz and Melvin were in the great room when they came down the spiral stairs. The couple was watching the twins who were playing in their playpen.

"Liz, I loved the quilts you made for the beds," Sonja said, "Fox is going to show me the sewing machine in their workshop. I really love to sew."

"No, he's not. I'm going to give you the tour while Fox keeps Melvin company," Liz said. "It's not often that I meet someone with similar interests."

Sonja smiled warmly. "Lead the way." Even though Liz was around twenty years younger, Sonja liked this woman and felt like they could become really good friends.

"The workshop is out back," Liz said, "Be prepared -- we're about to enter male toyland."

Sonja stopped in the kitchen and looked around, it was large and well-organized. She might be able to prepare some of Walter's favorite meals while she was here if they had the ingredients. "It's been decades since I've seen a woodstove. My mother used to have one."

"They're almost a necessity up here since we don't have gas and a lot of the homes don't have electricity. This place didn't have electricity until the guys installed a windmill." Liz held open the back door and they stepped outside.

"Oh goodness, they have chickens and pigs," Sonja said.

"One of those pigs belongs to Laura, John Byers, and me. John Doggett, Alex, Melvin, and Walter will be slaughtering them at the end of this month."

"I didn't know Walter knew how to slaughter a pig."

"Paul Doggett taught the men last year, including the most humane way to kill and dress a hog." Liz opened the door to the workshop.

"Who's Paul Doggett?"

"John's father. He's a North Carolina farmer, you'll meet him when he and his son Mike come up for Blair's and Jim's wedding."

Sonja walked into the workshop. "I see what you meant ... boys and their toys, indeed." One small area of the workshop had the sewing machine with bolts of fabric stacked on a shelving unit. "This is a nice machine."

Liz leaned against the counter. "They don't use it very often, but Walter keeps the machine cleaned and oiled."

Sonja looked at the bolts of fabric. "They have some expensive fabrics."

"You should see the stuff stacked up in the loft over the workshop. I feel like I'm in a fabric store every time I come over to select some fabric for sewing projects."

"Where did they get the fabric?"

"Most was from just outside the ruins at an abandoned fabric store. Everything was free for the taking." Liz ran a hand over a bolt of silk. "The guys are scavenging furniture and other items from the D.C. ruins. The military is now allowing scavenging from all of the ruins if the people are willing to risk their lives against giant rats and whatever else might be lurking in the ruins."

"Why would the guys risk their lives for a few possessions?" Sonja had heard about the giant rats, but living up in Alaska they seemed like a distant threat.

"Don't worry about Walter and the other guys living here, the rats don't stand a chance against them."

"Liz, Walter looks like he did when he was in his thirties ... would you know what caused that?" Sonja had held off asking Fox about her son, but Liz might be willing to fill her in. "And he said that he and Fox were our grandchildren's biological parents. How is that possible?"

Liz smiled. "Sonja, I'm only going to tell you because I know Walter wants you and Wade to know the truth. C'mon let's get out of this stuffy workshop and go down to the Japanese garden." She took Sonja's hand in hers and led her out of the workshop and down the path to the Japanese garden.

Sonja looked at the rose bushes in the herb garden. She remembered back to her gardens in Chicago, when she and Wade would grow their own vegetables during the summer -- she missed those days. Liz led her down a path through the woods on a well-maintained path lined with different varieties of ferns then they crossed a moon bridge over a rushing stream into a tranquil garden that was in tune with nature.

"It's beautiful here ... almost mystical," she said.

"This is where Walter and Fox were married, and where Blair and Jim are going to be married next week." Liz looked around and smiled. "I plan to marry Melvin here, in the middle of winter when the ground is covered with snow. We'll light the stone lanterns and the small potbellied stove in the teahouse." Her blue-gray eyes sparkled with anticipation. "Since this will be my first marriage, I plan to wear white."

"Congratulations. Maybe I'll be here for your wedding."

"Aren't you flying back to Alaska with West in two weeks?"

"I want to live here with my grandchildren, son, and Fox. My granddaughter, Vera, is twenty-five and too preoccupied with her life. I don't get along with my daughter-in-law, Marie ... I think she resents Wade and me for moving in with her and West. We were only there on vacation when the aliens attacked ... what choice did we have?" Sonja wrung her hands together as she looked out at the stream. "Fox mentioned that he and the other men know how to build log homes. I want to see if they can build one for Wade and me ... they seem to have lots of land." She felt tears stinging her eyes. "I don't know what to do, Liz, I just don't want to go back to Alaska."

Sonja wasn't usually one to spill her guts, but these feelings had been building up inside of her for a long time, and now that it seemed like there might be a solution to the problems, she couldn't help but vent to her new friend.

Liz pulled the distraught elderly woman into her arms. "Oh, Sonja, Fox and Walter will welcome you into their lives with open arms. You're their children's grandmother. You can't get any more special than that." Then Liz chuckled. "I think building a log home for you and Wade would come ahead of the fishing cabin they'd been talking about building next summer. Helmut will just have to find another place to escape his family."

"I'm sorry, I didn't realize how upset I've been lately."

"It's all right, girlfriend, you can be my maid of honor at my wedding in February," Liz said soothingly. "Now do you want me to tell you about Walter and Fox?"

"Yes, and don't leave anything out." Sonja held Liz's hand feeling less stressed for the first time in two years.

So Liz spent the next two hours telling Sonja about her son's and son-in-law's pregnancies, and their ability to shape-shift into wolves.

"Wow, so these really are their children."

"Yes. And Frohike told me that Fox wants to have another baby in a few years." Liz patted Sonja hand. "So you see, dear, you are needed here."

"I'll discuss it with Wade in a few days."

"Why don't you tell him that you want to move here sooner?"

Sonja smiled. "Because I want it to be his idea ... we'll go out and look at the log home the guys are building for Simon. That alone will put the seeds of moving here into Wade's mind. He really doesn't like living in Alaska during the winter. Then a few subtle hints on my part and Wade will decide that we should stay here and he'll be the one asking Walter to build us a home nearby our grandchildren."

"You're devious."

"I've been married to the same fantastic, man for fifty-six years."

Liz stood. "Let's get back to the house and I'll make you a cup of tea, and we can check on our men."

Sonja stood. "Thanks for lending me your ear and support."

"Anytime. We women have to stick together. If you haven't noticed, we're out numbered on this side of the mountain."

Walking back to the house, Sonja felt a lot better. She took in every detail of the beautiful landscape with the hope that she'd have a home in this place in her twilight years.

~x~X~x~

Skinner helped prepare the pit where they would steam the crab legs and roast the corn on the cob and potatoes. He looked up as his mother and Liz came walking back from the Japanese garden. It felt great to have his parents present. He only wished their visit could last longer. Skinner really wanted his and Fox's children to grow up with grandparents to spoil and teach them. While Frohike and Liz were perfect for the role they were only eight years older than Skinner.

"Simon, can you take over for me," Skinner said. "I want to talk to my mom."

"Sure, Walt."

Skinner followed the women into the kitchen. "Mom, how are you doing? Did you like the bedroom and the reading chair?"

"The bedroom was perfect, Walter, and yes I loved the reading chair. It was a pleasant coincidence that you had one just like the one I had in Chicago."

"It wasn't a coincidence. I told Fox about the things that you and Dad enjoyed in our home in Chicago, and Fox went to the ruins specifically to find that chair so you'd be comfortable on your visit."

"He did that for me?" Sonja said surprised. "A woman he'd never met?"

"Mom, Fox wanted to make you feel comfortable and welcomed here. He knows how much I love you and Dad."

Fox had been in the laundry and overheard everything. He entered the kitchen, crossed the room, and hugged Sonja. "You?re Walter's mother. You don't know how much I owe you for giving birth to him and making him the man he is. The chair is insignificant by comparison, but it was the only thing I could think of to thank you."

"You and Walter gave me two lovely granddaughters and a grandson. That's more than enough." Sonja returned the hug and turned to her son. "Don't screw this one up, Walter; I want at least one more grandchild."

"Don't worry, Mom, I'm not letting this one get away." Skinner smiled at his lover. "I love Fox too much to ever lose him."

Liz filled two teacups and handed one to Sonja. "Do you want to sit at the counter so we can watch Jim and Fox make dessert or head outside and watch the men cook dinner for us?"

"I want to sit in the great room so I can watch the babies."

In the great room, Melvin, Jimmy, and Blair were babysitting. Or more to the point, they were hanging out while the babies and toddlers played together.

Skinner bent and kissed his mother on the cheek. "Enjoy yourself, Mom; we'll call you and Liz when dinner is ready."

After his mother and Liz had settled in the great room, Skinner grabbed Fox's hand and pulled him back into the laundry room.

"What's wrong?" Fox asked.

"I don't want my parents to go back to Alaska with West." Skinner sighed. "I know Dad and Mom and neither of them can be happy living in Alaska."

"I don't mind them living with us, but this house is a bit crowded."

"My dad is a proud man, and wouldn't want to move in with us, so I thought maybe we could build them a place nearby."

Fox nodded. "We can build it where we had planned to build the fishing cabin. They'd be two miles from us and a mile from Simon, so we can hook them up to the windmill that will be supplying electricity to Simon's home -- there should be plenty of electricity for both homes. Your parent's home wouldn't have to be that large -- one bedroom with a sleeping loft for when we want our rugrats to stay overnight with them."

Skinner hugged Fox. "Good, we're on the same page. Now we just need to make my parents realize that they are welcome here."

"We'll need to talk to the other guys; this place will be crowded until we can finish Simon's home then your parent's place."

"At least my Dad will be able to help us with the plumbing and carpentry."

~x~X~x~

At one of the three picnic tables in the backyard, Wade sat with Walter, Laura, Byers, Simon, Alex, and Gwen. They had a pile of piping hot crab legs in the center of each table on top of craft paper. At the second table, Sonja sat with Fox, Connor, Ranger Smith, Liz, Melvin, and Langly. The third table had Daryl, Jimmy, Jim, John, Joey, and Blair. Each table had pliers and hammers to crack the hard shell of the king crab legs.

The toddlers were standing up on the benches and seemed to like the sweet crab, as their fathers fed them tiny pieces dipped in melted butter. Chloe and Aviva were in the playpen next to the tables, babbling away to each other in a language only they could understand.

"Dad, this is really some feast," Walter said, "I can't remember when I enjoyed a meal more."

"We'll have to bring more on our next visit," Wade said. He was feeling right at home, something he hadn't felt in a long time.

"So, Wade, what did you do for a living?" Alex asked as he kept one hand on Gwen's back to make sure she didn't fall off the bench.

"I was a plumber."

Walter added, "My dad also does carpentry. He taught me everything I know about wood-working. Plus he's an artist; you should have seen some of his oil paintings and wood-carvings."

"Unfortunately all of my paintings and carvings were destroyed along with Chicago," Wade remarked.

Simon picked up a cold bottle of homemade ale. "If the guys can get you some new oil paints and canvases, maybe you can paint some new paintings. I'd love to have an original oil color to hang over the fireplace in my new home."

"If I can get my hands on some oil paints and a canvas, I'd love to do a painting for you. Unfortunately it would take longer than two weeks to paint, so maybe on our next visit." Just sitting in the backyard and sharing a meal with these good people made Wade sad that he had to go back to Alaska. While the land was beautiful, his son only had a few close neighbors. Walter's place felt more like a home to Wade. He smiled as he watched Gwen daintily pick up a piece of white crab meat from her father's plate and dunk it in the melted butter then hold it up to Alex's lips. The look of love in Alex's eyes as he ate the crab from his daughter's fingers then hugged her was heartwarming to witness. Walter's voice drew his attention back to his son.

"Dad, tomorrow I want to show you the log home we're building for Simon ... maybe you can give us some pointers."

"I'd love to see it," Wade said. He picked up the corn on the cob and took a bite.

"Good, we'll go there tomorrow after morning chores."

Laura reached for the sour cream and liberally piled it onto the baked potato. "Wade, John and I would like to invite you and Sonja over to our place for lunch on Thursday, if you have time."

"Thanks for the invite, Laura, I think I can speak for my wife and say we would love to have lunch with you," Wade said. "Walter mentioned that you have several bee hives."

"Yes. I love honey, but unfortunately being pregnant, I'm not suppose to have any," Laura said.

"Sonja loves honey, too," Wade said, "She uses it instead of sugar in a lot of recipes."

"I have several varieties of honey. I'll give you a few jars to take back to Alaska with you."

"That's nice of you," Wade said.

She smiled and said simply, "You're family."

Wade had to agree; since arriving here today everyone had made them feel like part of a large family.

The meal ended and the guys cleaned up while Wade followed Walter, Sean, West, and Melvin to the front porch.

"Sit down, Dad," Walter said. "I have an after dinner surprise for you."

"I think I've had my fill of surprises for one day." Wade sat on the porch swing while Melvin, West, and Sean sat on three of the rattan chairs lining the porch.

"I think you'll like this surprise." Walter headed inside and returned in a few minutes with a tray that had five snifters filled with cognac and a box of cigars.

"You boys are living high off the hog," Wade said as he selected a cigar from the box and lit it, before picking up a glass of cognac. "You're going to spoil me so bad, I won't want to leave."

~x~X~x~

Back inside the house, Sonja carried Connor as she followed Fox into his and Walter's bedroom. Fox had both Aviva and Chloe in his arms; the two babies were already nodding off. Her grandson smelled really nice, she had just helped Fox give Connor and the twins a bath. It felt so good to be around little ones again.

"You can put Connor in this crib."

Two cribs were behind a screen. There wasn't much room to maneuver around them.

"You and Walter can't have much privacy, sharing the bedroom with three babies," she said.

"It's not too bad. We want to keep them near us, until we can trust them in their own bedrooms." Fox placed Aviva in the crib before placing Chloe in next to her. "We might have to bring another crib in here; these two are getting a bit large to be sharing one crib."

"Grandma, read book," Connor said.

Fox sighed. "Connor, your grandma is tired ... she and grandpa had a long flight to get here."

"I'm not too tired to read to my grandson."

"Are you sure?"

"I'm sure," Sonja said. Lifting Connor out of the crib, she carried him over to the loveseat, then picked up the children's book sitting on the coffee table. "What story do you want me to read?"

"Liddle Red Riding Hood," he said.

She settled back to read to him. While she read, Fox built a fire in the fireplace. Before she finished the story, Connor had fallen to sleep.

"I'll take him," Fox said. He lifted Connor off her lap and carried him to his crib.

Sonja covered her mouth as she yawned. "I think I will turn in for the night." She stood.

"Good night, Mom." Fox leaned down and kissed her cheek. "If you want to take a bath before bed, there are fresh towels in the linen cabinet in the upstairs bathroom. You and Dad will have to share the bathroom with Alex, John, Jim, and Blair. This place really needs another bathroom."

"I'm an early riser and so is Wade -- we'll probably be finished with it before the other four men get up."

"Don't forget about the time difference between here and Alaska."

"I took a long nap on the plane, so acclimating to this time zone shouldn't be too hard." Sonja patted his hand. "I'll see you in the morning."

She left the bedroom and heard her husband's laughter coming from the front porch. Sonja crossed through the great room where a warm fire burned inside of the hearth. The men's voices carried in through the screen door, along with cigar smoke.

She could make out Walter's voice and West's but wasn't quite sure who the other to male voices belonged to. Liz had headed home with Laura and John. Blair and Jim had turned in for the night, and John and Alex were in the kitchen.

Stepping outside, Sonja took in the scene. The Ranger was still here and seemed in no hurry to leave, along with Liz's fiance, Melvin, and Simon the former police captain.

"Wade, I'm going to turn in now," she said.

Wade snuffed out his cigar. "I better go with you so you can show me where our bedroom is."

"Haven't you seen the upstairs yet?" Sonja asked.

"No. I looked around the downstairs and saw the room West is going to be sharing with Simon and Daryl, but I've been too busy to venture to the second floor."

Walter stood and addressed his mother. "I hope you enjoyed yourself today."

"I've can't remember when I enjoyed myself more." She smiled. "My favorite part of the day was giving my grandchildren a bath. They really are the most precious gifts you could have given me."

"I'm glad you're happy. I was worried it might be a bit too hectic for your first day here."

"Nonsense, Walter, we thrive on chaos," Wade quipped as he took his wife's hand and guided her inside the house. "Dear, at least we have two weeks to spend with them."

As they walked up the spiral staircase, Sonja asked, "Did Walter tell you, he and the other men built this addition onto their home last summer? The original home only had one bedroom, one bathroom, kitchen, a parlor and a loft."

"No, he didn't mention it. Tomorrow, he's going to show us the home they're building for Simon." Wade looked over the craftsmanship of the addition. "They've done a remarkable job, but building a home from the ground up requires more skills than our son and his friends possess. Don't forget all of them were former law enforcement officers."

Sonja showed him into the bedroom, feeling a little discouraged. Maybe she was hoping for too much. "We're staying in our granddaughters' future bedroom. John's and Alex's bedroom is next to ours. Down the hall is the bathroom." She walked over to the chair and sat. "Fox found this chair for me -- wasn't that sweet of him?"

"Yes it was," Wade said as he looked around. Their suitcases sat on the floor by the door. They'd brought everything with them from Alaska, which wasn't much; it was what they had brought to Alaska from Chicago. "We should get our clothes put away, so they don't get too badly wrinkled."

"Okay, let's unpack then I want to brush my teeth and wash up."

They hung up their clothes. Wade set his toiletry kit on the bed as he removed his socks and underwear from his bag and placed them in the dresser.

"Have you seen the boys' Japanese garden?" Sonja asked.

"No, Dear. I didn't get a chance to look around; I was too busy helping with dinner." Wade shut the dresser drawer. "I'm sure I'll have plenty of time to get the whole tour tomorrow." He picked up his toiletries kit. "Let's use the bathroom then turn in for the night."

~x~X~x~

The Panther and Fox

Wednesday, October 8, 2003

Feet pounded on gravel, down a dimly-lit path while the sun slowly rose toward the horizon as Mulder jogged alongside Jim. Both men's breath was visible in the chilly morning air. In the predawn every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, they would jog together; it had become routine for them. Sometimes John would join them if he could break away from Alex in the morning. In the late afternoon, just before sunset, Mulder and Walter would go jogging together, if they had someone to watch their children.

They jogged down the main path that went to the Gunmen's home then veered off, before reaching their home, onto a smaller path that took the two men around the large mountain lake where they'd pass the Banks' home, then eventually reconnect with the main path that was only a mile from their home. It was a twelve mile run but sometimes they'd morph into a panther and wolf for part of the run.

"Jim, stop for a second."

"What is it, Fox?" Jim asked as he stopped and did some stretches while waiting for Mulder.

Mulder ducked under the low branches so he could see the lake, down the hill, and through the bushes and trees. "We want to build Walter's parents a home on this spot so they'd be close to our place." The home wouldn't have a good view of the lake like Simon's home had, but that didn't matter; Mulder and Walter wanted a piece of land large enough for a small home with room for gardens and maybe a chicken coop that would be nearby their home. This piece of land wasn't nearly as large as Simon's property, but there was a nice ambiance about the place nestled under the tall oaks. Plus the paths between the two homes were flat without any dips or hills like there were to Simon's or the Gunmen's place. That would make it easier for Wade and Sonja to bicycle or walk the distance.

"What do Walter's parents think of this idea?"

"We haven't discussed it with them yet." Mulder turned to face Jim. "We wanted to show them Simon's place today, so they would know that we're quite capable of building them a log home. But first we wanted to discuss it with you, Blair, John, and Alex since we'll need your help to build the home for them, and Wade and Sonja will have to stay at our place until their home is built."

"I have no objections," Jim said. "It will be nice having them living nearby for the knowledge they could pass down to our kids, alone."

Mulder smiled. "Let's get back home and see if Walter has breakfast ready for us yet."

~x~X~x~

The Panther, Wolf, Fox, Bear, Dog, and Lion

Sonja came downstairs to the pleasant aroma of fresh coffee percolating, and wondered where the guys could have gotten their hands on coffee. It had been over a year and a half since she'd had cup. The downstairs lights were on; outside the sun was just beginning to rise.

Walter was puttering around the kitchen while Connor sat in his highchair eating what looked like a cookie. She frowned as she realized that her son was mixing something in a bowl. "Walter, what are you doing?"

"Good morning, Mom." Walter pulled a griddle down from the overhead pot rack. "I'm making potato pancakes for breakfast."

"When did you learn to cook?"

"I've always known how to make breakfast," Walter said.

"Don't give me that. Before you went into the marines you barely knew how to fix a bowl of cornflakes. And Sharon did all of the cooking when you two were married."

"Sit down, Mom, and I'll pour you a cup of coffee."

"Do you always feed Connor cookies for breakfast?" she asked, taking a seat at the counter.

"That's a carrot cookie. It's perfectly healthy. Fox and Blair have been experimenting with nutritional snacks for our children."

Sonja looked toward the bedroom. "Are Fox and the twins still sleeping?"

Walter placed a mug of coffee in front of her along with the sugar bowl and creamer. "The twins are sleeping and I'm hoping they won't wake up until Fox gets back. He's jogging around the lake with Jim."

"And here I thought I'd be the first one up."

Wade came down the spiral staircase and walked across the great room. "I haven't slept that well in over two years." He stopped at the highchair and gave his grandson a peck on the cheek then asked, "Are you going to eat that whole cookie yourself or share with grandpa?"

Connor smiled and took another nip out of the cookie that was covered with his drool.

"I take it that means you're going to eat it all yourself." Wade chuckled and took a seat at the counter next to his wife.

Walter put a coffee mug on the counter in front of Wade and retrieved the percolator.

"Cognac, cigars, now coffee ... I just might have to send West back home alone."

"You're welcome to stay here for as long as you and mom want," Walter said.

"I appreciate that, son, but this place is already overcrowded." Wade took a sip of coffee. "So what are the plans for today?"

"I have cooking duty today, but Alex offered to make lunch and start dinner so Fox and I can show you the log home we're building for Simon." As he talked, Walter spooned the pancake batter on the heated and greased griddle.

"Cooking duty?" Wade snorted. "Boy, don't give your mother any ideas."

"Ya old fool." Sonja shook her head. "You know I only trust you in the kitchen to wash the pots and pans."

Fox and Jim came in through the back door.

"Mm, I smell potato pancakes," Jim said.

Conner tossed the remains of his cookie on the floor. "I wan' a pancake," he said.

"Grandma and Grandpa get the first pancakes," Walter said.

"I wanna be first, Daddy," Connor said.

"If you had shared your cookie with Grandpa, you would have been first." Walter winked at his Dad. "Now he's hungrier than you."

Wade smiled into his coffee cup then said, "I'll tell you what, Connor, I'll share my pancakes with you then we both get to be first. Would you like that?"

"Yes!"

"And I thought I was the psychologist." Fox chuckled as he bent to pick up the wet cookie remains. "I'm going to grab a quick shower then get the twins up, dressed, and fed."

"I think I'll wait until after I clean out the barn, before taking a shower," Jim said as he grabbed a coffee mug.

As Walter was dishing up the first batch of pancakes, Blair came into the room carrying Joey. Blair placed his son in a highchair and snapped a bib on him, then filled a plastic Sippy cup with apple juice.

Slowly, the other men started to get up. Simon leaned against the counter and sipped a cup of coffee while waiting for his turn in the bathroom. West had gone upstairs to use that bathroom after John had finished with it.

While Sonja ate she watched the home come to life. It was fascinating watching her son as he made and served breakfast as the men came downstairs. Walter had cut Connor's pancake up into bit-sized pieces, and did the same for Joey while Blair ate.

Fox stood in front of Aviva's and Chloe's highchairs to feeding them hot cream of rice cereal. "Blair, we're going to take the twins with us when we go to show Walter's parents Simon's home. So you can have a bit of a breather today."

"Not that I mind taking care of them," Blair said, "But it will give me a little more time to work on teaching the others their colors today."

"Do you take care of the children all of the time?" Sonja asked Blair.

"We take turns," he responded. "The scheduling board hanging on the wall by the door shows who has what chore on each day."

"I'd like to help take care of the babies and also help with the cooking while Wade, West, and I are here." Actually, Sonja would have been happy to help take care of the babies the rest of her life, and from Walter's earlier offer, it sounded like she and he were on the same page. They only had to convince Wade that they wouldn't be an imposition to Walter and Fox.

"Mom, you're on vacation...." Walter began.

"I've been on an endless vacation for more than two years. Don't deny me the pleasure of taking care of my grandchildren along with Gwen and Joey."

Walter smiled. "If that makes you happy ... we would love your help."

John came into the room carrying Gwen and placed her in the last empty highchair. "Would you like Uncle Walter to make you a potato pancake with applesauce and sour cream or cream of rice cereal with brown sugar and milk?" he asked her.

"I like pancake," Gwen said.

"One pancake coming up," Walter said.

Sonja stood and carried her empty plate to the sink then started filling it with water so she could do the dishes. Walter looked at her and was about to say something but closed his mouth as she gave him a challenging look. Sonja turned back to the sink and smiled.

~x~X~x~

The Fox, Bear, Frog, Lion, and Panther

Wade pushed the baby stroller down the path. It wasn't your ordinary stroller; this one was a two-seater and was specially designed and built by his son and John. Walter jokingly called it a mountain stroller, since they made it to go over rough terrain -- down dips and up hills. It could also be pulled behind a bicycle.

They were taking the long way around to Simon's place. Walter and Fox wanted to show them where the Gunmen lived and the new addition they were adding onto their home. West had stayed back at the house; he wanted to spend the day relaxing.

Wade took a deep breath. The mountain air was so fresh. It was a pleasant day for a walk. Behind him, Fox led one of their two horses by its reins. He figured that a nine-mile hike to Simon's place, by way of the Gunmen's home, might be too strenuous for Sonja and Wade, so if they got tired they could ride the horse. Wade appreciated his son-in-law's thoughtfulness, even though he and Sonja tried to walk five miles everyday for exercise. An additional seven miles in one day shouldn't be a problem as long as they could rest every so often.

They made it to the Gunmen's place by one in the afternoon. Melvin and Liz came outside to greet them. Wade turned to his wife and asked, "Dear, do you need to use the bathroom?"

"I've needed to use the bathroom for the last forty minutes," Sonja said. "I shouldn't have had that cup of coffee before we left."

Liz took her hand. "Come with me, Sonja, and I'll show you to the bathroom."

With the stroller no longer moving, the twins woke and looked up as their Uncle Melvin knelt and unstrapped them. Aviva smiled and held out her arms for him to pick her up. Frohike pulled her up into his arms while Wade lifted Chloe out of the stroller. Fox tied the horse to the tree then took the heavy diaper bag from Walter.

Melvin carried Aviva up the porch steps and into the house. "I have a kettle of corn chowder on the stove, and freshly baked hard rolls. We figured you'd be hungry after the long walk."

Wade looked around the parlor and up to a second floor that appeared to be under construction. The only way up to it was by a ladder. The loft had large windows letting in plenty of light. It looked over the parlor. Over what Wade believed were two downstairs bedrooms was an enclosed room off the loft. This must be the new addition his son mentioned. The smell of fresh bread and chowder had Wade eyes moving to the kitchen. It had taken almost four hours to walk the six miles and he was hungry.

In the kitchen was a round table with six chairs. Against the wall were two highchairs. Melvin placed Aviva in one then removed her hat, mittens, and jacket. "I've made you and your sister applesauce custard," he said as he slid the highchair closer to the table then opened a drawer on the corner hutch and pulled out two bibs.

Wade realized by the way Melvin interacted with Aviva that he had taken care of her and her sister before, and that made Wade feel sad, knowing that this man would be closer to his grandkids than him. Walking over to the other highchair, Wade put Chloe in and removed her jacket, cap, and mittens; she was all smiles, looking up at him.

Wade leaned down to kiss her forehead. "Aren't you a sweetie?" he said.

"Why thanks, Wade," Frohike quipped.

Walter pulled six soup bowls out of the cupboard and filled them with chowder while Frohike got the custard out of the refrigerator. Fox stepped into the kitchen and helped carry the bowls over to the table.

"Where's Langly and Jimmy?" Walter asked.

"They're out gathering walnuts and chestnuts," Melvin said.

Liz and Sonja came into the room.

"Mm, the soup smells delicious," Sonja said.

"Melvin made it," Liz said, "He does most of the cooking; I'm all thumbs in the kitchen."

"I love to cook and bake," Sonja said as she sat next to Liz at the table.

Wade helped Melvin feed the twins. The babies seemed to like the custard, as they ate it without spitting too much up on their bibs.

"Dad, it's too bad you and Mom have to go back to Alaska," Walter said, "We could really use your help with the babies. Why don't you reconsider?"

"We don't want to intrude on your household," Wade said, turning to face the table to eat a little of the chowder, "If it were just you and Fox that would be different."

"What if we built you and mom a log home near ours? Would that make a difference?" Walter asked.

"Son, building a house from the ground up takes a lot of skill and hard work," Wade replied. He was still dubious of Walter's and the other men's abilities as home-builders, even though he did approve of the job they've done on the additions. "It's far different from adding on an addition."

"Why don't you check out the job we're doing on Simon's house then determine if we're up for the job," Walter said.

Wade looked at his two granddaughters as they shook colorful sets of plastic keys. "All right, son." He never imagined that he and Sonja might not be flying back with West to Alaska, but if this home his son was building was even half as well-constructed as this home then he'd accept Walter's offer as long as it was all right with Sonja.

Melvin chuckled. "We'll have the ground breaking ceremony for your new home after Blair's and Jim's wedding." He looked at Fox and Walter. "Have you decided where you're going to build it?"

"If Dad and Mom approve, on the north side of the lake," Fox said, "You know the patch of land that's at the top of the hill off the path."

Sonja's eyes lit up. "You've already decided to build us a house, if we agree to stay?"

"Yes." Walter smiled. "The other men already volunteered to help build it we just need Dad's and your go ahead."

Wade shook his head and smiled. "Let's go see Simon's place. Tomorrow you can show us this lot where you're planning to build our home."

"We can show you the lot today -- it's on our way home from Simon's," Fox said. "And it's less than two miles from our home."

They finished eating then Fox and Walter changed the babies' diapers, and got them bundled into their warm clothes.

"Are you ready?" Walter asked as his parents pulled their jackets back on.

"Thanks for the chowder, Melvin," Wade said. "It really hit the spot."

"Liz, I'll hopefully see you tomorrow," Sonja said as they hugged.

The trip to Simon's log home was more scenic than the trip to the Gunmen's place. They followed a path around the large pristine mountain lake. Wade loved to fish, and had taken annual fishing trips up to Minnesota and Manitoba. This lake was every bit as large as those he sport fished in Minnesota.

"What types of fish live in the lake?" he asked.

Walter stopped and looked out over the lake. "We've caught pike, catfish, walleyes, sunnies, stripped bass, perch, and crappies. The stream in back of our house has trout, herring, and mussels. One of our neighbors, Hugh Wagner, is going to show us the best way to make pickled herring. We'll be able to have it for Thanksgiving and Christmas."

Wade loved pickled herring and Walter knew it. His son was doing a very good sell job for this place. Wade looked out over the lake. "I used to dream about retiring to a place like this someday, and even looked at some lake homes in Northern Wisconsin. The places that your mom and I both liked were more than we could afford. Lakefront property had gotten so expensive."

"Most of this lake front belongs to Fox and me," Walter said. "We also own thousands of acres of land ... I still haven't explored most of it."

"What about the other men you live with? Do they own any property?"

"They each have an equal share in the house and farm. Although everything is still in Fox's name, but as soon as the country stabilizes we'll hire a lawyer and have that taken care of, legally."

"We better catch up to our significant others," Wade said. Sonja and Fox had continued walking and talking with Sonja pushing the stroller while Fox led the horse.

They finally came into sight of Simon's log home. It was impressive, standing three stories high with a wraparound porch facing the lake.

Wade whistled. "How did you haul all those heavy logs to the building site?"

"Some were already on the site -- we just cut them down. For the rest we used Simon's donkeys and our tractor," Walter said. "C'mon, Dad, let's start at the bottom and work our way up."

Walter led Wade over to a pair of horizontal storm doors that went down into the root cellar while Fox tied the horse to a post, then he and Sonja carried the twins inside through the front door.

"You built a basement onto this place?"

"A root cellar, Dad," Walter said as he pulled the doors open, exposing steps leading down. "There's no going out to the grocery store, and in the winter we're usually snowed in, so we have to plan and stock up. It took us a month to dig and frame the cellar by hand."

The cellar was empty, but it was large and cool. "Digging this cellar by hand must have been a lot of hard work."

"It was grueling work even with twelve men taking turns digging. I'm going to see if we can get our hands on a backhoe if you decide you want us to build you a home here."

"I've already decided, Walter. Your mother and I aren't happy living with West and his wife. If you and your friends are willing to go through the hard work to build us a home, I'd appreciate it and intend to pull my own weight helping with the construction."

"We could use your plumbing expertise on the bathrooms we're installing in this place, and upstairs in the Gunmen's new addition. We've already installed the septic tank, distributor box, and leach field ... we're working on installing the pipes for the bathtubs, toilets and sinks."

"I'd love to get my hands back into plumbing," Wade said. He had retired eight years ago and had regretted it ever since.

"Let's head upstairs."

By the light coming in through the outside doors that they had left open, Wade followed his son to a staircase. The steps led up into the kitchen. The room had a sturdy woodstove and a refrigerator on top of a marble floor. Simon and John were in the room working on installing pre-made cabinets.

Wade assumed the cabinets were more items the men had scavenged, along with the marble tiles for the floor.

"Hey, Wade, what do you think?" Simon asked.

"I'm suitably impressed."

The fireplace separating the kitchen from the living room was lit and providing warmth to the rooms. Fox was in the living room holding Aviva while Jim held Chloe; they were talking as Sonja looked around upstairs.

This home was too large for Wade; he would want something smaller, easier to maintain and clean, but with enough room so his grandkids could stay overnight. He'd have to talk to Sonja about what she'd like in their home.

~x~X~x~

The Fox and Bear

It had been a long day of walking for Sonja and she was tired as she trudged up the hill. She was about to ask Fox to help her up on the horse when he and Walter stopped at the top of the hill. Walter had been pushing the baby stroller. The twins had been perfect angels; they seemed to enjoy being outside.

Wade walked beside her, holding her hand, and looking every bit as tired.

"This is where we want to build your new home," Fox said as Sonja and Wade reached the top of the hill. "The paths are flat from this site to our home."

Sonja looked up at the tall majestic oak trees. Ribbons of sunlight filtered through the branches, in a lovely golden hue against the deep greens and orange foliage. She then looked down a hill through the dense brush trying to catch a glimpse of the lake below. There were raspberry and blackberry bushes along the path and a large rhubarb plant. The leaves on the trees were changing into their fall colors and would be at their peak next week.

Walter smiled. "We'll clear the trees and undergrowth so you can have a better view of the lake and we'll build steps down to it, along with a dock for fishing. We want to keep most of the old oak trees on the land, but we'll clear enough so you'll have room for gardens and a small chicken coop. You won't have to worry about growing all of your own vegetables on the land; we have a four acre plot of land a mile from here."

"This place is beautiful," Wade commented, "I'd like to keep as much of this deep woods atmosphere as possible." He turned to his wife. "What do you think, dear? Would you be happy living here?"

"Us having a home near our grandchildren -- what wouldn't make me happier?"

"We'll have to tell West that we're staying, I'm sure that Marie will be happy with the news," Wade said.

Fox smiled. "Walter and I are happy with the news."

"Wade and I expect to be added to the schedule board for chores," Sonja said as she looked forward to coming months of helping with her grandchildren and Gwen and Joey.

~x~X~x~

The Panther, Wolf, Fox, Bear, Dog, Rat, Lion, Horse, Otter, Frog, Stork, and Puppy

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Looking down at the silver wedding band gracing his finger, Sandburg barely heard the Reverend's soft voice pronounced him and Jim married. Sandburg's gaze lifted to meet Jim's bright blue eyes as his lover leaned down and kissed Sandburg in front of their neighbors and friends. This was one thing Sandburg enjoyed about living here -- they didn't have to hide their relationship. Only a handful of residents from the Timberlake cabins made known their objections to homosexuals marrying, while some of the others didn't care one way or the other, as long as it didn't affect them. The rest outwardly supported their right to marry, to have the same basic rights as any other American family.

Now as Sandburg stood beside his husband under the colorful canopy of trees in all of their autumn glory, he could rejoice at having the same rights as every other citizen in their mountain community. The right to raise his son under the legal protection that marriage afforded them. After the whirl of congratulations from their friends before everyone drifted from the Japanese garden to the backyard where the reception was being held, Sandburg felt light-headed. Jim's hand was on Sandburg's back as he walked over and sat on one of the stone benches in the now empty garden.

"Are you all right, Chief?"

"I'm fine, I just need to sit and catch my breath." He smiled up at his lover. "It feels like a dream."

Jim sat next to him. "It was a perfect day to get married."

"I can't argue with you there."

"So now that we're married, when do you want me to have our next kid?"

"I wasn't serious, Jim. You don't have to go through with it ... I was just yanking your chain."

"I didn't marry you for anything less than a fifty-fifty relationship. You had our first child, so I'll have our next one unless you want Joey to be our only child."

"No, I want at least one more but are you sure?" Sandburg couldn't believe Jim was serious.

"Positive." Jim held his lover's hand. "I had a long talk with Fox and he alleviated a lot of my fears. I'm even a little bit curious about experiencing it as long as it's not during the summer."

"Okay, let's wait until Joey is talking and potty trained." And to give you more time to think this through, Sandburg added silently as he stood, pulling Jim up with him. "We should get to our reception."

They were serving the salmon, halibut, and sea scallops that West had brought them from Alaska. In the two coolers there had been enough portions to serve fifty-five people. Paul Doggett had brought hamburger patties for the kids that didn't want to eat fish. Sonja had baked them a beautiful three-tiered wedding cake with raspberry and custard filling. When Walter's mom mentioned she enjoyed baking, Sandburg never imagined she'd be such an expert. She had volunteered to do all of the baking and help with the children for as long as she and Wade were living with them.

Sandburg wondered if they could get away with working really slowly on the elder Skinners' log home.

He and Jim had requested no gifts, but that didn't stop people from bringing them. Deep down, Sandburg didn't mind; a lot of their guests were not only farmers but artisans and he was curious about what they had made for him and Jim.

They had games planned for after the meal, depending on their guest's preferences they could play bocce ball, toss horseshoes, or play volleyball. And for the little kids, they had a ring toss game and the playground set.

Besides the three picnic tables, they had acquired six round teakwood umbrella tables with six teakwood folding chairs around each one. The umbrellas came in four different solid colors, one-blue, two-red, two-green, and one-white. The tables were set up on the stone patio without much room between them, but enough room for their guests to sit comfortably. After the party, the Gunmen were going to take one of the table sets with a red umbrella, Simon wanted the set with a blue umbrella for his place, a green umbrella set would go to the Byers, and the white umbrella set would go to the elder Skinners when their home was completed. The guys would be keeping a red and green set for themselves.

Fox, Alex, and John were acting as waiters, while Walter played bartender. Sandburg and Jim took a seat at a table with Simon who was watching Joey and had him in a highchair next to the table. Jin had her three-year-old daughter in another highchair, and Marlene had her three-year-old son on a booster seat. Marlene and another woman shared one of the Timberlake cabins with Jin.

At another table Paul Doggett had Gwen in a highchair next to him; Sonja and Wade Skinner were at the table with their granddaughters in highchairs who were also being watched by Liz and Melvin.

Langly was watching Connor at another table, with Jimmy, Laura, John and Helmut and Carol Schmidt. While their five oldest children were sitting at one of the picnic tables, their youngest sat on a booster chair next to Carol.

West Skinner, Mike Doggett, Reverend Desmond, Ranger Smith, the Elends, Wagners, O'Neils, and their other guests sat around the remaining three tables with their kids at the picnic tables. Fox, Alex, John and Walter would join their tables as soon as they served the meal. They were dishing it up in the kitchen and carrying the filled plates outside. Beside the main course they had small parsley potatoes, French cut green beans, and hard rolls.

Sandburg was pleased to see their guests enjoying themselves. He looked over at Wade and Sonja; the two appeared relaxed and happy. Wade was bald like his son but had blue eyes while Walter's mother had deep brown eyes. Sandburg decided Walter resembled his father the most. His eyes shifted to Paul, John definitely got his looks from his father.

A plate of food was placed in front of Sandburg. "Thanks, Alex."

"No problem."

"So, Blair, do you and Jim plan to adopt any more kids?" Marlene asked.

"We plan on having at least one more."

"Don't you think a child needs a mother?"

"Not any more than a child needs a father." Sandburg knew that Marlene was a single mother.

"Point taken," Marlene said.

Sandburg smiled. "Jim and I are fortunate to have Liz and Laura living nearby. Plus we'll have Walter's mother staying with us until we have their home built."

They let the subject drop and went on to discuss the problems taking place in their country. No matter how much everyone wished the country would return to normal, it was impossible with the death and destruction done to most of the nation's largest cities. Americans were going to have to learn to live off the land and get back to a simpler life for the time being. Sandburg still wondered what was going on over in Europe. Having Walter's parents here made him miss his mother more than ever.

~x~X~x~

The Raven, Falcon, and Hummingbird

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

Elsewhere, a barge set anchor in the deserted Baltimore harbor.

"It appears America didn't fair much better than Europe or Africa," Methos said, "What do you want to do?"

Duncan sighed. "We're here now, so we might as well check the situation out. It's not as if we have anything to go back to."

Naomi Sandburg joined them on deck. "Where are we?"

"Outside of Baltimore," Methos said. He had known Naomi for years. When the aliens attacked Paris, he had been having lunch with her in one of Paris' many outdoor cafes. They had fled to the docks as the city was destroyed around them, where they found Duncan, on the deck of his barge, looking up at the spaceships in stunned awe. Methos had hurried him to get the barge out to sea before the attacking ships reached the docks. They floated down the Seine and into the English Channel, and then spent a month stealthily circling around the United Kingdom before deciding that it wasn't safe to set foot on land.

Over the next year they had cruised down the coast of France around Spain and through the Straight of Gibraltar, stopping in Algeria for fresh water before proceeding on following close to the shore of the African continent. Everywhere they went large menacing spaceships could be seen hovering in the distance. For endless months the air was heavy with smoke from many fires. The aliens ignored the barge as their spaceships continued to destroy everything that they viewed as a possible threat. That included all cities, military installations, and places where humans gathered in mass. The aliens were literally blasting Earth back to the Stone Age.

The trio circled the Mediterranean spending time in various countries searching for water, food, and fuel. They didn't stay long, as the smell of death hung in the air, turning their stomachs. They would occasionally run into refugees -- mostly women and children -- and listen to their tales of terror about how their sons or husbands were taken by the aliens. As Duncan was guiding the barge along the Italian coastline it happened; an alien spaceship hovering in the distance was hit by a missile launched from beneath the sea, then another, and another. The missiles came relentlessly destroying the spaceships one by one. By the next day, the aliens were gone.

Methos remembered speculating with Duncan and Naomi that maybe it was the American military that launched this counter attack. Who else on Earth would have the firepower to destroy an exterritorial invader? It was then that they decided to head across the Atlantic to North America and see if that continent faired better.

So now here they were on the North American Eastern coast and it appeared on first sight that they might have been wrong with their speculations.

"The sun will be setting soon; let's wait until morning to go on shore," Duncan said.

Naomi sighed. "I can't wait to get my feet firmly planted on dry ground. My son lived on the West coast in Cascade ... I'm going to see if I can reach it."

"That's over two thousand miles away," Duncan said.

"Now that we're in America, I want to find Blair ... you don't have to come with me, I can search for him, myself."

"Naomi, we just spent the past two years together; Methos and I will go to Cascade with you," Duncan said, "Besides Cascade isn't too far from Seacouver and I'd like to check to see if Joe is still alive."

"Okay it's settled," Methos said. "We'll head west together." He wanted to spend some time on dry land.

~x~X~x~

End of Chapter Eighteen: Weddings and Mutants and Toddlers, Oh My!

Coming soon Chapter Nineteen: The Raven, Falcon, Hummingbird, and Owl

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