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Mulder was rather fixated on the baby and Scully had started to think it was a bit unhealthy. The birth had been hard and she was so relieved he was taking the lead on caring for Lily while she had a chance to recover. It wasn’t like last time. Mulder changed the diapers, fixed her bottles, and fed her. He would patiently rub her back and burp her. A little spit up or vomit didn’t faze him. He didn’t complain when the poopy diaper leaked or a changing mishap led to her peeing all over him.

“I’ll just take a quick shower once she goes down for a nap,” he told Scully almost looking…happy? Which was an odd disposition for a man covered in baby urine.

She understood. He had missed almost everything last time so being on top of everything was how he coped. Guilt had always been a powerful motivator for him. She had told him over and over that he had nothing to feel guilty about, but she knew there really wasn’t anything she could say that would compete with decades of recrimination. Besides the guilt he really seemed to just find joy in being a parent. She had thought he was happy with just the two of them but now he seemed on a completely different level. Still, his joy and guilt were intrinsically linked and she hoped for a better balance.

So, she just told him how much she loved their family and how happy she was. She made sure they had an equal distribution of baby duties and figured things would get better. In time they did, more or less.

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Mulder had come outside one morning to get the paper and found Jackson sitting on the front porch. Since the last time he had seen his son he had been riddled with bullets and left for dead in a freezing river, this was surprising but not earth shattering.

Soon after they came back from Tennessee Scully had started to dream about him. Not exactly nightmares but also not happy dreams. After waking up she would have trouble articulating in detail what she saw in her sleep but she was clear on one thing. Jackson was alive and he was okay. That was the important thing. Where exactly he was and what he was doing was a mystery, but they tried to not focus on that part for the sake of their sanity.

Jackson. Not William. That was the crux of the matter. He hadn’t been William since he was 10 months old. It was difficult but they had to respect the person he had become and part of that was calling him by the name that was his. They couldn’t live in the past and still expect to build a relationship with the young man he had become. He was pretty sure both he and Scully would always call him William in their heads and they tended to slip up when they had conversations about him, just the two of them.

While he wanted to do nothing more than grab his son and hug him, he they had to start slow.

Trying not to let the many emotions he was feeling show on his face, he asked him, “Would you like to come in for breakfast?”

That was the beginning.

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They had been seriously craving some normalcy. Things seemed to be going well with Jackson. It was always a little bit awkward but things seemed to be improving. He was very interested in his new baby sister. He had picked her up and held her for a good hour last night. When she started crying he did his best to soothe her. As best a teenager who had never been around babies can do. A quick sniff of her diaper confirmed the issue and Jackson volunteered to change her diaper which he did under Mulder’s supervision.

Scully suggested they take the baby to the park that was about 20 minutes away. Even though they had lived in the house for 12 years they had spent little time exploring the area around it and what was nearby. They were very rural but there was a decent sized town not too far away that included a coffee shop, bookstore, elementary school and a nice public park. They had taken the baby for walks there several times.

After loading up the baby bag with the necessities, they carefully loaded Lily into the car seat. It really took forever to get out of the house to go anywhere. Jackson surprised them by asking if he could drive.

“I’m a very careful driver,” he assured them but they hesitated. Did he even have a driver's license at this point? But it really came down to trust, the one thing they were trying to build with him. So, after a brief whispered conversation, Mulder and Scully agreed and handed the keys over to the SUV. Jackson indeed was a careful driver. He paid close attention to the other cars on the road and obeyed the speed limit.

Without any prompting he told them, “My dad taught me to drive. Starting when I was 15 he would take me every Saturday to the school near our house so I could practice. When I got better at it he would let me drive on the street as long as there wasn’t much traffic. He was a good teacher. We usually didn’t get along so it was really nice. Then we would go home and mom would have breakfast waiting…” His voice faltered.

While it was difficult to hear about his other parents, they really did want him to feel comfortable talking about them. Mulder took a risk and leaned over to squeeze his shoulder in a comforting way. Jackson looked over at him and gave a sad small before going back to concentrate on the road.

Scully directed him to the turn off for the park and where to park. They then got Lily out of her car seat and retrieved the stroller from the back. Once she was secure in it they started walking around the perimeter of the park. Lily babbled to herself and grinned. She was a happy baby by nature and loved being outside. They approached the baby swings. There were several in a row and another mother was pushing her baby on one of them.

“Hey Lilybit, want to go swing?” Mulder asked her. Lily babbled what could have been yes, no or potato. He picked her up and carried her over to the baby swing. After securing her in the swing he and Scully took turns pushing her

Jackson watched as they settled into a rhythm occasionally taking a turn to push her.

“Did you guys bring me to me a park, like this?” Mulder visibly stiffened. They hadn’t really discussed his life pre-adoption at all and obviously it was a difficult and loaded subject. Scully hesitated before telling him, “Yes. The swings were your favorite when you were Lily’s age. We used to go to a park in Georgetown.” At that moment Lily let loose with a loud stream of giggles.

They vaguely noticed the other woman and her baby getting ready to leave. She stopped as she was passing Jackson and asked “How old is this little one?”. As both Mulder and Scully were a bit lost in their memories, Jackson told her Lily was 4 months old.

The woman patted Jackson on the arm. “I just wanted you know you have a great family here. It’s always nice when grandparents step up to help out with first babies and I hope you appreciate all the help you are getting here.” With that, she shouldered her diaper bag and walked away leaving the three of them in stunned silence. Way to read a room.
Jackson quickly jumped in to reassure them. “She must think I’m one of those teen parents. You guys don’t look old at all. Really. “

Mulder laughed and chanced a glance at Scully who had an unreadable expression on her face. He really hoped she wasn’t worrying about their age. She had many mixed emotions about the pregnancy. Elation, of course. But there was also anxiety about them being too old for this. They were going to be in their 70’s when Lily graduated from high school. It bugged Mulder sometimes but he mostly just put it out of his mind. They were both healthy now. While they didn’t have the financial security they used to have, they both had multiple advanced degrees and decades of employment under their belts that many young parents lack. Mulder had finally gone back to working on his book which had been half written for at least 10 years. Scully was planning on going back to work as soon she found an available position. Her job at Our Lady of Sorrows had long since been filled. In spite of this misunderstanding, when they talked later that night, they would decide the outing had been a success. It would be the first of many.

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Scully was cooking or at least giving it her best shot. Her mother had tried to teach her as a child but young Dana was always more interested in her science books or running after her brothers. After a few years Maggie just gave up trying. Scully had found her recipe box after she died and had resolved she was going to make everything in it eventually. Of course, she had never promised the results would be edible.

At that moment she was alternating between stirring a pot on the stove and mixing several; ingredients in a bowl. Lily was sitting in her high chair next to Mulder and Jackson, who were playing poker at the kitchen table. Mulder was losing, badly. “How are you so bad at this?” Jackson asked him. Mulder shrugged and gave a self-deprecating laugh. “Kids on The Vineyard didn’t play this and I went to college in England. We played cards once in a while, but not this game.” Scully was wondering if he was losing on purpose. Which would be sweet but kind of overkill.

Jackson eyed him skeptically. He turned to look at Scully. “Hey Mom, what are you making anyway?”

Scully felt the tears well up in her eyes and for a moment she couldn’t breathe. “Stir Fry and a souffle for dessert.”

“That sounds great,” he said and turned back to the game. “How about I teach you a different card game?” After a brief pause Mulder told him that was fine. While Jackson shuffled the cards, Scully and Mulder shared a long look. He hadn’t said it on purpose. It had just slipped out and he hadn’t even noticed. If they tried to draw attention to it, he was sure to get upset.

How long had she hoped, dreamed and prayed to hear her son call her mom? Scully felt like the tiny part of her that died when she gave him up all those years ago might just be healing. She didn’t want to jump to any conclusions based on a simple slip of the tongue but it boded well for how Jackson viewed them. Their relationship had been somewhat nebulous. He had shown up and they gave him a place to stay. He would come and go as he pleased and did. Sometimes he was gone for days or weeks at a time. He always came back in one piece which was what mattered.

He was nearly 18 and they had seen just how well he could take care of himself. While she wished he would move back in with them and just be a typical teenager, so they could have their perfect happily ever after, that just wasn’t their life or reality. She and Mulder had talked many times about Jackson and what they wanted out of the relationship. They had resolved to not expect or hope for too much. They would take whatever he was willing to give. But maybe there could be a happily ever after for them. Not fairy tales or hearts and flowers but everyone healthy and happy.