TITLE: Phoenicia Series I-V
Author: Jeri
SPOILERS: The Vulpecula Series
Summary: after Vulpecula

I - Phoenix Rising
[[Mulder's view of the birth of his daughter.
Companion piece to Vulpecula XIII: Holy Smoke!]]

April 4, 2004
9:43 a.m.

I can never admit to Scully how glad I am we got the minivan.

While it wasn't fun to see Bill's reaction to it when we piled in, the fact remains that we're all in one car. That means we don't have to tell them where we're going, and that means we don't have to explain why we're going there.

I like going to church. I know, no one's more surprised by that fact than I am, but it's true. When we found out about the baby, my mind had instantly thought of Cancerman and that letter he supposedly wrote about how we were able to conceive Adam. I don't want that to be true, though. I want that to be Krycek messing with us. I want both of my children to be amazing little miracles that came about completely naturally. And so I did some reading, and the next thing I knew I'd decided it had to be God's plan for us.

So here I am, driving Bill Scully to church.

No, I shouldn't say that like it's a bad thing. The Bill part, I mean. He's been a pretty decent guy to me. I've never felt death glares being shot in my direction. And he's always been good to AJ. I'm not going to question it.

"Father McPherson? What happened to Father McCue?"

Uh oh. I haven't been following the conversation, but it appears that Bill just realized that we're not going to his mother's church. Well, we knew this was coming; it was either now or when we got there.

I find Scully's face in the rearview mirror. She bites her lip and says, "Well, Father McPherson's church is right in town, which is easier to get to most of the time."

Bill nods, but I get the feeling he's not too happy on the inside. Scully's eyes find mine and I try to relay to her my relief that he accepted that simple explanation. The real one isn't as simple.

Mom had stopped by a few years ago, right after church. Father McCue had asked her about Scully and AJ, and she mentioned that I was back and married Scully. We thought that would have pleased him. Instead, he was insulted that Scully had married outside the church, and asked Mom to relay the message to us that we were no longer welcome in his church.

I know Scully was a bit hurt by his decree; I found her crying into a pillow later that night. Luckily, she was more hurt by the fact that he couldn't tell her himself and had used her mother as a messenger. I made sure that she didn't regret our small ceremony or the time it took us to get there.

And so she began attending Adrian McPherson's church. Father Mac, as he's known to the parishioners, is much younger than McCue, and is a bit more relaxed about things. I don't think I would have felt as comfortable going to McCue for guidance when I began attending church, but Father Mac was very easy to open up to. He knows the *whole* story about why it took so long for Scully and I to marry, and he still likes me.

So, yeah, I like going to church.

9:56 a.m.

I wonder what it's like to stand behind that altar.

No, really. I wonder what it's like to stand up there and talk and have ninety percent of the people listening to you believing every single word you say, just because you have some detailed notes in front of you.

Now, if the priest were to go speak to some atheists, then I'd know exactly how he would feel. I've preached my gospel to more disbelievers over the years than one would think possible. I know what it's like to see people whispering behind their hands or papers and rolling their eyes. I know what it's like to have people walk out on me.

But I have to wonder what it's like to speak to people and have their undivided attention. To not have disparagers in the audience.

I think it would be very weird. I don't think I'd like it one bit.

I must admit, I get a thrill being the only one in my corner. When Scully I worked together, I couldn't wait for the next case, and the weirder the better, because that meant I'd get to argue with her. Ronnie doesn't argue with me, really. I know she doesn't really believe most of my theories, but she holds in all her doubts until she can conclusively prove me wrong. I don't force it, though. Besides, I go home at night and tell Scully my crazy ideas, and for a little while it's like old times. Then AJ interrupts us and we remember why it's different now. And why we like it this way.

The church bells chime ten times, and I pull myself out of my reverie. AJ climbs up next to me, and I give him a playful nudge with my elbow. He looks up at me and gives me a Look, and I have to hold in a laugh because the Look is so Scully...I love it.

10:13 a.m.

If AJ wriggles against me one more time I may have to restrain him. He's usually a perfect angel during the service, but for some reason he's as wiggly as a worm on a fisherman's hook today.

I have noticed that Matt's just as antsy; maybe AJ's just sensing his cousin's discomfort.

There's a nudge in my side, and I turn my head and catch Scully's gaze. Her eyes flick down to AJ then back to me, indicating that she's noticed AJ's uneasiness. Then she leans across me and asks him what the problem is. He doesn't answer, just squishes closer to me. She then asks Matt the same question.

"I smell something weird. Like someone left a hot dog on the stove too long."

I frown, not smelling anything of the sort. I usually have a pretty good sense of smell, which isn't always a blessing, especially at fresh murder scenes. But maybe this is too faint for even me.

I don't even bother trying to follow the sermon anymore; if there is something wrong, I want to figure it out before it becomes an emergency. Ten or fifteen minutes go by before I smell it: There is something burning.

But at that point it's too late. As soon as I realize that something is wrong, I hear gasps of alarm filter through the church. In one corner, flames are beginning.

"Everyone remain calm!" I shout, standing up and stepping into the aisle. "I want all the children to carefully head for the door. No running! Just take it easy so no one gets hurt. Everything's going to be fine."

"Teenagers help out the little ones!" Scully adds, pulling out her Agent Skin and finding that it still fits, despite the pregnancy.


"Scully, you go out with the children," I instruct. She gives me a Look, and I while I know it's not in her nature to let other people take control, but this time she's going to have to step away. "Scully, you know you can't stay in here."

She sighs. "Yeah, I know." I smile and kiss her forehead and squeeze her hand, then give her a gentle nudge towards the door.

As I watch the evacuation, I pull out my cell and dial 9-1-1. I tell them what's going on, and decide that having an ambulance on the way couldn't hurt.

And then, just as the kids reach the doors, the fire causes four of the beams on the ceiling to come crashing down.

We're trapped.

10:35 a.m.

"Shit." Oops. Shouldn't have said that in church. Oh well, I think God understands that these are extenuating circumstances.


I look at Scully and hold up my phone. "I lost the 9-1-1 connection. The fire's starting to cause problems, I think." Damn phone.

"Well, at least they're on their way," she says with a sigh. "We shouldn't need any more help....Shit."

My eyes widen. Scully may have been the daughter of a sailor, but she does *not* curse. "What? What's wrong?"

Scully glances down at herself, and I can see a dark stain spreading in the crotch of her khaki-colored slacks.

"My water broke. She's coming!"

Oh crap. Oh crap. Oh crap oh crap ohcrapohcrapohcrapohcrap...

My instinct tells me to call for Scully, but I realize that she's not in the best position to help herself right now. So I call for Tara. To her credit, she doesn't freak out. I guess this whole birthing thing comes naturally to women, because Tara just takes over, helping Scully to the most comfortable place she can find that's also the least smoky.

Within minutes Scully is into a steady pattern of contractions. I successfully contact Aly, her obstetrician, on my amazing phone, and she's trying to prepare me to catch this baby in case the rescue people don't arrive in time.

I hope they get here.

Between contractions Scully tells me exactly how this child will pay for her surprise arrival. Tara assures me that Scully doesn't mean a thing she says, and that her attitude will improve the moment little Anna is in her arms.

Anna Mulder, that's her name. Anna Something Mulder. We haven't decided on a middle name yet; all we've been able to do is eliminate all the J names, since we don't want both kids to have the same initials.

Oh man. Both kids. Spooky Mulder, father of two? Well, I would have lost my life savings on that bet. Not that I'd give this up for anything in the world. No way, no how.

"Mulder!" Scully screeches. The look in her eyes tells me that time is up, and even though I can hear the fire trucks coming, they're too late.

I'm going to have to catch my daughter.

"Aly, I get the feeling it's time."

"Just tell her to keep up her breathing. You get ready to do this, Mulder."

Right. "Aly says breathe, Scully. Just breathe. The firemen are here, Scully. They're hacking their way in as we speak. You're gonna be fine." The Look she gives me suggests otherwise, but I decide not to pursue that point with her right now.

"Mulder, can you check me? Check my cervix?"

Oh...God. I feel the blood rush to my toes as I figure out exactly what she wants me to do. Jesus...I kneel down between her legs -- gee, isn't this what got us in this predicament in the first place? -- and proceed to guesstimate how dilated she is. Ten centimeters is about two inches, right? Close enough.

I give Scully the go-ahead to push, and hand the cell phone over to Tara, who also gets AJ. I tell him to stand by Mommy and help her push, which Scully and I had decided a few weeks ago to let him do.

After a couple of minutes of hard pushing by two of the most important people in my life, the third slides easily into my arms.

Happy Birthday, little Anna.

3:56 p.m.

"Can I go see Mommy, Daddy?"

I smile and nod. "Go ahead, Li'l Bullfrog. Go give her a big kiss." I open the door for him and watch with a wave of affection as he stretches on his tip-toes to reach Scully's cheek.

She wakes up, and I can see that it takes her a second to remember where she is and why she's there. "How's Anna doing, kiddo?"

"Annie's good." I can't help but grin at the nickname he's assigned his baby sister. I couldn't say Samantha when she was first born, so I just called her Sammie; when I told AJ that, he told me he'd call *his* sister Annie.

"Where is she?" she asks, shifting a bit in the bed.

I speak up from the doorway. "They're gonna bring her in as soon as I tell them you're awake. Want me to get her?" She nods, and I take a step back into the hallway and catch the eye of the nurse at the desk. She nods and heads out to the nursery. That done, I go back in the room and sit on the corner of her bed.

I tell her that the church is pretty much gone. I saw some pictures on the news, and there isn't much more than ashes left.

"Are they going to build over it?" she asks.

I shrug. "Why?"

"Well, that's where Anna was born. It'd be nice to continue to worship there," she reasons. Makes sense to me.

"You know," I say, "it's kind of ironic. One extra body came out of a fire that usually destroys."

Scully's quiet for a moment. "She's a Phoenix. Born from the ashes."

The image her words bring to mind creates a strong feeling of emotion in me. My Anna, such a fighter already, rising in a dangerous environment, only to emerge without a scratch.

"Anna Phoenix," I say, quietly, inspired to name my daughter after this stirring image. "That'll work."

II - Normalcy [[Strange how the ordinary and extraordinary can exchange places so easily.]]

December 13, 2004
6:00 a.m.

There is no better alarm clock to wake to than one's own child. I truly fear the day that Anna and AJ sleep in.

"You're up, Daddy," Scully says in that sleepy voice that I love.

"I don't think so. I did it both Thursday and Friday last week. You owe me, *Mommy*."

She groans, and I smile because I know I've won. I get to sleep in an extra fifteen minutes this morning while she feeds the baby. Then she'll wake up AJ and they'll all come jump in bed and we'll have a nice family-oriented Monday morning.

Scully tries once more to get me out of bed. "Hey G-man...if you get the kids I'll make sure they can stay at Grandma's next weekend. The *whole* weekend. From whistle's blow Friday till the rooster's crow Monday."


She's evil this way. Offering a weekend of sex in exchange for a few extra minutes of restless slumber. Honestly, how can I turn down an offer where I end up the victor?

I can't. I'm up in jiffy, pulling on sweatpants but not wasting time looking for a shirt. In thirty seconds I'm pulling a freshly warmed bottle from the microwave and on my way back upstairs to my baby daughter's room.

Anna knows she doesn't need to fuss so much now. I find her calmly sitting in the crib, babbling cheerfully to Miss Piggy and Kermit. I wonder if she's telling them about a dream she had, or perhaps what her plans for annoying AJ are for today.

"Hey there, Peanut," I coo to my girl. Her conversation with the Muppets stops abruptly as she looks up and me with a gurgle and a bright, two-toothed smile. Her arms reach out for me, and I happily reach into the little jail cell and rescue my princess, for which she rewards me with a giggle and a nuzzle.

Despite the chill that I know is out in the December air, the room is warm, so I take off her PJs before I begin feeding her; I love to feel her baby skin against mine. I have a picture in the office of Anna and me asleep on the couch, Anna on my chest and stomach and dressed only in a diaper, while I'm only wearing a pair of Knicks shorts. Ronnie gets the biggest kick out of that picture, saying how it's a rare look into the alternate personality of Spooky Mulder.

I know, on an intellectual level, that this life *is* pretty much the exact opposite of everything I'd imagined my life would be.

Since Sam was taken, I'd imagined myself growing old alone; the only thing keeping me from just staying in bed all day would be my goal to find my sister. Then, when I'd finally found her, dead of old age most likely, I'd write a book about it, then quietly die in my sleep one night. No one would even notice until I began to stink.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that I'd end up with a beautiful, perfect wife and two beautiful, perfect children. Not that life is perfect...not by conventional standards, anyway. My job is still dangerous, Scully still sometimes gets bored staying at home with the kids, AJ can be a little jealous of his baby sister, and I'm sure I'll end up spoiling Anna before long, if I haven't already.

But, for some reason, Fate has deemed me worthy of these people who surround me now.

And I'm not going to question it.

I do have to wonder, however, that if Scully and I had known that she could become pregnant all those years ago, would we have been so quick to "do the deed"? And I mean quick as in the split second decision that we both made as she stood in my bedroom doorway that night. Sure, she'd become a near-permanent resident in my apartment since the beginning of that year, but we'd never actually discussed The Next Step. With physical consequences out of the way, all we had to do was wait for the emotional ones to disintegrate, and we both knew it would all turn out right in the end.

Which it did. I truly can't imagine not having this life anymore. But back then it was the last thing on my mind, and I believe that that would have been true even if we thought it was a possibility. And knowing that she could get pregnant would have forced us to talk about it, and since that wasn't going to happen anytime soon, we probably would still be at that stage today.

Then again, maybe we would have talked and found out that on the inside, we both wanted this, and we would have gone about making ourselves a life.

I heard someone say once that they were supposed to have a life...but the post office had lost it somewhere along the way. I've come to realize that you can't have one given to you; you've got to get the materials to manufacture one yourself.

And no life is ever abnormal. I mean, look at the "classic" American families: The Brady Bunch? Six kids who weren't even all related to each other! But that and sequined jumpsuits were normal for them.

Normal for me now is snuggling with my family, then going out and facing mutants in Smalltown, USA. If you'd asked me five years ago if it would be normal to say goodbye to Scully and go to work without her, I would have asked her to prescribe a CT scan for you, along with some bed rest. But now, it's perfectly normal to work with another woman at my side. Ronnie and Scully have a great relationship; she's the kind of friend Scully's been lacking all these years...someone who knows what it's like to hang around a head case like me.

My musings are interrupted by an insistent tugging on my earlobe. Anna has finished her bottle and now wants to go get her brother so she can go see Mommy. I stand up and hold my finger to her lips, telling her to be quiet for a few more minutes so Mommy can get as much rest as possible.

We tiptoe into AJ's room, and he's quietly reading a Dr. Seuss book...The Grinch if I'm not mistaken.

"Morning Daddy," he whispers, rising to greet me with a hug.

"Morning Li'l Bullfrog," I whisper back. I motion for him to climb aboard for a piggyback ride into Scully's and my room. Scully doesn't exactly approve of piggyback rides while I'm holding the baby -- not because she doesn't trust me, but because she doesn't completely trust Adam not to do something stupid -- but he hasn't gotten one in a while, so I'll endure Looks and Glares for a little bit to make him happy.

Luckily, Scully's asleep when we get in, so I discreetly let AJ off on the bed, then place Anna right under Mommy's nose. A couple blinks later Mommy's awake and smiling, ready to plan her day with the kids. I think I hear a few whispers about going to buy Daddy's Christmas present (which may rhyme with "gasket tall soup"), as well as the possibility of renting a movie or two for the evening.

While they talk, I get out of bed and begin to get dressed for work. In my head I plan out my own day: expense reports, field reports, a meeting with Director Skinner about expanding the X-Files by adding a few more agents...I guess I should tell Scully about that little piece of news soon. More agents mean less fieldwork for me, which means more family time.

And who'da thought one day it would be normal to avoid fieldwork?

This new sense of normalcy is a bit of a 180...but I wouldn't give it up for all the Truths in all the worlds.

III - Terrible Twos [[Anna turns two. Mulder's in charge of the party. Hilarity ensues.]]

April 2, 2006
1:34 p.m.

I am perhaps the stupidest man in the history of men. And there have been quite a number of stupid men.

Why am I stupid, you ask?

I *volunteered* to take charge of my two-year-old daughter's birthday party.

Of course, I have to plead ignorance on this one; I had been kept so out of the party-planning loop that I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Scully had been planning this shindig for a few weeks. She'd invited all of Anna's friends from the neighborhood, ordered a cake, even arranged for a magician. It all seemed so *simple*.

And then, this morning, approximately four hours before the toddlers would begin arriving, Scully got a frantic call from one of her friends from the Baltimore County Coroner's Office, begging her to come in today and help out with the autopsies of twelve murder victims that had arrived last night.

She'd hemmed and hawed for a few minutes until I silently convinced her that I could handle things. I was told I'd be handsomely rewarded for this good deed, and though at the time I thought that it wasn't a big deal, I wasn't going to pass up a promise like that.

Now, however...

Now I'm not sure "handsomely" will be enough to reward me. I don't think unlimited sports viewing will be enough.

The magician left fifteen minutes after he arrived. The cake has yet to be seen, although it was supposed to be delivered before the party even started. One of the invited kids brought with her five little friends, as her mother was suddenly asked to babysit, and she didn't see a problem just showing up with five extra people.

Now, an hour and a half after the party began, the living room is a disaster. Pillows and cushions are strewn across the floor, acting as mini-trampolines for the rambunctious rugrats. Toys are everywhere, too. Thankfully, Scully had remembered to remove all breakable objects before she left, so no *real* damage has been done. The carpet, however, will need a serious vacuuming to extract the ground-in pretzels and chips.

I am the center of attention, however. Apparently my name has been circulating the playground since Adam was a toddler as a great monkey for Monkey-in-the-Middle. Little twins Melissa and Hope delight in calling me "MuddahMuhkey" as they toss the Nerf ball past me.

Four-year-old Timmy keeps sneaking off towards the kitchen, I assume in hopes of getting some treats before the other kids. Too bad there's nothing there...food would be a good thing to keep everyone occupied at the moment.

Anna keeps bugging me for her presents, but I'm supposed to wait for Mom to come over with the video camera so she can tape it for Scully. You'd think we were still living in DC for the time it's taking her to get here.

I'm temporarily freed from my Monkey duties, and so I take that moment to do a quick head count. Two, four, six, no, five, seven, eight, ten, twelve...

Twelve? There are supposed to be fourteen.

I count again; sure enough, I'm minus two kids...Jackie and Stephie if I'm not mistaken.

I get my daughter's attention. "Annakins? Do you know where Jackie and Stephie went?"

"Nope-ah," she says with a firm shake of her head. My Anna knows the definition of "no" very well, and so I know she's being truthful.

I step out into the hall, careful to keep the living room of kids in view, and call out for my wayward adventurers. To my relief I hear an answering giggle from upstairs. I know the bathroom up there is toddler-proof thanks to Scully, so they must be in one of the bedrooms, probably Anna's. Both girls have been here before, so they must have remembered where it was.

I'm about to take a chance and make a mad dash upstairs when the doorbell rings.

For a moment I'm torn: do I get the girls back downstairs, or do I see who's at the door and let them in, if necessary.

In the end, my decision is made for me as I hear a squeal of "Mommy!" from upstairs and the movements of little feet coming towards the stairs. Confident in the fact that the girls are coming back down, I head for the door.

Opening it reveals Mary Palladino, Stephie's mother. "Hi Mary," I say with a little bit of relief in my voice. If I remember correctly, she's picking up three of them.

"Hi Mulder. I know I'm a bit early, but I've got to be home by two-thirty."

I hold up a hand. "That's absolutely *fine*, Mary," I confess with a grin.

She chuckles. "I'll bet it is. I can't imagine what Dana's gonna owe you after this."

"Neither can I...come on in and I'll go rustle up some kids. Any special requests?"

"I'm looking for Stephie, Cathey, Vincent and Holly."

"All right then..." I leave her in the front hallway and journey back into the destruction zone, finding three of the four children. Stephie is still MIA. I'm about to head upstairs when I hear a little voice exclaim:

"Mommy! Hot dog!"

At first I'm confused, but then it all makes terrible, horrible, no good, very bad sense.

There's no way Stephie could have been in Anna's room and known that her mother had arrived; the only room in the front of the house is the master bedroom...and I have the absolute knowledge that comes just before humiliation that Scully's little April Fool's gift to me was lying quite casually on the bed or the floor or *somewhere* that a little kid could find without difficulty.

I mentally cross my fingers as I walk back to the foyer, hoping that my suspicions are completely unfounded.

Mary's shocked face tells me that my investigative skills are still nice and sharp.

Damn it.

My eyes search out little Stephie, and my worst fears are confirmed. The darling angel is wearing my newest pair of boxers as a hat.

But it's not like they're plain black silk boxers, or pinstripe, or any other normal pattern.


They're *special* boxers that have the words "Contains One Jumbo Oscar Meyer Weiner -- Buns Stored in Back" written across the front.

Mrs. Palladino and I avoid each other's eyes as she pulls them off her daughter's head and hands them back to me.

Finally, I feel the burn on my cheeks begin to cool off, and I chance a glance at Mrs. Palladino.

She's smirking.

And that little show of humor breaks the tension, and both of us crack up, leaving the kids to wonder, I'm sure, what the heck's so funny.

I swear Mary to secrecy before she leaves, and she promises to never speak of it to anyone ever.

But boy oh *boy* does Scully owe me...

IV - Mr. Paulsen [[Every coach's nightmare.]]

July 24, 2010
4:38 p.m.

Bottom of the ninth. Team's down by two. Bases loaded. Two outs. Full count.

Every little boy's fantasy.

Every coach's nightmare.

Luckily for this Little League Coach, it's not *my* son who's got the weight of the game on his shoulders. That pleasure goes to Jake.

I take a little glance back at poor Jake. Sure enough he's assumed The Position: forearms on the knees, hunched over, eyes focused on his boy and oblivious to the rest of the world, including Katie, his wife, who's clutching his arm in what's got to be a painful grip.

I return to my coachly duties and put my attention back on the game. Ten-year-old DJ seems to be holding up pretty well, considering the little bit of delay the other team's pulling. Pitcher's tying his shoe. Oldest trick in the book.

A shout of, "You got it, Deejer! Bring me on home!" carries across the field from third base. I smile; I've worked as hard to teach my guys how to be a team as I have to teach them baseball.

Finally the pitcher's ready to go. I turn to motion to the bench to come to the edge of the dugout to show support, but they're already lined up with their arms around each other.

This is why I decided to be a coach.

A pitch and a swing of the bat later, the game's over. Final score: Pine Orchard 4, Ellicott City 2. Sure it's a loss, but none of the boys seem to mind too much. That's another thing I've worked hard to teach them: how to take losses lightly.

I give DJ a pat on the shoulder. "Nice at bat, Deejer. Your stance was very nice; if the pitcher had just given you your pitch, that ball woulda been outta here."

"Thanks, Coach," DJ says, his eyes searching the crowd for his family. I turn him slightly so he makes eye contact with his father. Jake looks appropriately disappointed, and he still sends a big smile to DJ.

I gather the team in the dugout and wait patiently for them to calm down.

"All right guys. We knew this team was gonna be a tough one, and they certainly didn't let us down. But starting next week, that's not gonna to matter anymore, right?" An upbeat "Right!" comes in response. "Great. Now, we'll have practice on Thursday, like always, but afterwards don't forget that we're all going over to Luke's house for a little pre-playoff party."

The boys cheer at the reminder, and I catch Luke's eye over their heads and grin. Luke is an amazing person, considering the life he's led. I'm so glad he volunteered to help out with the team this season; I'll miss him when he goes off to college next fall.

I finish off my speech with my standard dismissal: "So, that's it for now! Have a good week!" The boys are shuffling away before I'm halfway through my ending; they know me so well.

"Tough game, Coach," says a soft voice behind me. I turn around and smile at Ronnie, who's leaning against the edge of the dugout.

"Hey, can't win 'em all. We put up a good fight though." I look around a bit and notice something odd. "Hey, where's your appendage?"

Ronnie's eyes widen and she pats her right hip in mock horror. "Oh no! He's escaped!" We both laugh. "No, actually he had to work today, if you can believe it. I swear, the man works more that you, Mulder!"

I half-snort. "Ronnie, dear, you just ask Scully about her early days with me. You'll soon realize that *no one* works as hard as I did."

"So you're saying there's only one way to get him home on the weekends?"

I hold up my hands. "I'm not saying anything, Agent Durant. You just do what you think is necessary to get that guy out here for next week's playoff." I take a step closer to her and lower my voice. "I'm handing Luke the reigns. He doesn't know it yet, but I'm basically putting him in charge. John should be here for that."

Ronnie nods. "He'll be here, Mulder. I'll make sure of it."

She gives me a pat on my arm, and we exchange farewells.

I step further into the dugout and begin to clean up the paper cups that the boys have left scattered around.

There's a cough from behind me, then a booming, "Mr. Mulder?" draws my attention to the man who is standing just outside the dugout. I recognize him as the father of one of my boys, but I can't be sure which one; he's not a "regular", that's for sure. I step out of the dugout in hopes of gleaning some more information on the man. He's wearing jeans despite the damp July heat, which suggests that he's used to even warmer temperatures at this time of year. His golf shirt proudly proclaims that he or someone he knows once stopped by St. Andrews at some point; his hat repeats this claim. He's holding a duffle in his left hand that bears the logo of the -- ugh -- Baltimore Orioles (it's amazing, even after living in the Baltimore/DC area for twenty years, I still can't stand 'em; go Yanks).

I sense a bit of movement off to the right, and out of the corner of my eye I see Leigh Paulsen watching us. That's right! It's Bret Paulsen's father...can't remember his first name, but that's no big deal; at least I can talk to him now.

"Yes, Mr. Paulsen, how can I help you?" I assume he's going to ask a question about next Thursday's party, probably something about not wanting to drive his son all the way to Falls Church. I prepare my speech about the little mini-van caravan Scully arranged to put his mind at ease, but what comes out of his mouth is most unexpected.

"You're an idiot."

I blink, a bit taken aback by the rash judgment. It's not like I've never heard it before, but usually I have some sense of what I've done to piss the speaker off.

Before I can ask him to elaborate, he continues. "What are you thinking, putting that little shrimp in the box at such a critical moment of the game?"

Ooooooh. I'm *that* kind of idiot. Well, first time for everything; I'm actually surprised I hadn't had this kind of confrontation earlier in the season.

"I'm sorry, sir, but DJ was next in the lineup. There was no reason for me to make a last second substitute, either. Bret played for four innings, then I took him out and put another boy in." I realize I put AJ in Bret's position, though wisely I don't mention this to Mr. Paulsen.

"When was the last time that shrimp did anything for this team? Look, Mr. Mulder, you're starting playoffs next week. I'd really like to get to Williamsport this year, if that's all right with you."

I take in a deep breath. "Mr. Paulsen, I've been working with these boys since the spring. We *all* want to get to Williamsport, trust me. And I think we're doing just fine now. We've got our strategies down pat, and every player plays his best every game. There's not much more I or anyone can do."

"There sure as hell is more you can do! You can start by benching that shrimp and playing Bret more." Oh God, this man's not going to give up, is he?

"I'm afraid I can't do that. Little League rules maintain that every player must play three outs in the field and one at-bat consecutively. No one plays the entire game. In fact, I usually play everyone for three innings, that way no one gets more play than others. Your son was playing very well today, so I allowed him to stay in an extra inning. Surely you can't complain about that."

Silly me. Of course he can.

"If he was playing so great then why'd you take him out at all? The little shrimp wouldn't have been in that position if Bret had the chance to knock one out of the park beforehand." Mr. Paulsen's arms are crossed across his chest, trying to intimidate me, I'm sure.

Peering around his beefy body, I can see that we're beginning to attract an awful lot of unwanted attention. Time to wrap this up. "Please, Mr. Paulsen, let me run the team my own way. If you're so displeased with my methods, then perhaps you'll start your own team next season. Excuse me now, I've got to get home." With that I nod and turn around and head back into the dugout. A few seconds later Mr. Paulsen walks away in a huff.

6:54 p.m.

The doorbell rings and AJ and Anna jump up to answer the door. As expected, it's the pizza man, laden with two large pizzas -- one plain cheese, one with pepperoni and mushrooms -- as well as a few dozen Buffalo wings and two liters of Coke.

"You sure you can handle all this, kids?" Mr. Pizza Hut asks in a tone that suggests that he doesn't think they can. Neither do I, so I haul myself off the couch to help them out.

"AJ, give him the money and grab the Cokes; Anna, you take the wings; I'll grab the pizzas."

Mr. Pizza Hut, who isn't much older than twenty (probably a college student working this summer to earn his frat dues), gives me a smile as he hands over our food. "You have quite the little helpers here."

"I'm not little!" Anna proclaims. Ah yes, she's going through her second "big" stage the past few days. It was cute when she was three, but now it's honestly kinda annoying. She takes the wings and flounces off to the kitchen. I'd never actually *seen* someone flounce until I saw my daughter in a Mood. She can flounce with the best of them.

"Keep the change," I hear my son say. I cringe as I realize that he gave the guy an eight-dollar tip for a thirty- dollar meal. Scully strikes again. I can't remember the last time I actually paid for delivery food; Scully's not too fond of my tipping capabilities for some reason.

"You sure?" Mr. Pizza Hut asks, glancing up at me for confirmation. It is with great difficulty that I nod and smile. He shrugs says his thanks, then turns and jogs down the driveway to his car.

Twenty minutes later, we're all munching on our food in the family room, watching the latest episode of "Survivor 12: Siberia." Saturday nights are the best...it's the only night we order takeout and the only night we're allowed to eat somewhere other than the dining room. Of course, we still have placemats under our plates and coasters under our drinks. The house isn't kept in museum condition, but Scully likes to be prepared for her mother's random pop- ins.

The show breaks for commercial, and Scully gets up to put her dishes in the kitchen. Before she leaves the room though, she gives me her "get in here" look. Sighing, I get up and bring my plates with me. I must give her credit: I'm amazed she's held out this long.

Not wasting time, Scully starts off with, "Mulder, what was the deal with that man at the game today?"

"Mr. Paulsen. Bret's father. He's less than thrilled with my coaching techniques." I shrug it off. "No big deal. At least he waited until after the game, and he didn't try to continue the matter after I stopped it." I lean back against the counter, supporting myself with my elbows.

Scully assumes a similar stance against the opposite wall; our toes touch between us. "You sure it's okay? We don't need the guys and Skinner and John to run background checks for us?" she asks with a smile.

I smile back. "Nah. Everybody thinks they can do better than the coach. He just made his opinions vocal. I told him to make his own team next season if he thinks he can do better. If he does, I'll be impressed."

With that, the matter is dropped. I reach out for her hand, and we pull each other up, meeting in the middle for a kiss.

"Mom, Dad, it's back!"

We don't move. Scully traces the letters of "Ellicott City" printed across my shirt. "Say Coach," she murmurs, not lifting her eyes from my chest, "I think I might need some extra help with my stance...how 'bout some one on one time later tonight?"

Oh yes, the *other* reason I love Saturdays..."I think I can squeeze you in, little lady," I reply with a wink.

"Come *on*!" insists a voice from the family room.

Reluctantly, we head back to the couch and snuggle up.

July 29, 2010
3:13 p.m.

Luke's face is sporting the biggest grin I've ever seen on him. I don't think he ever expected to be put in charge of any game, least of all a playoff one.

Then again, I'm sure Luke never expected to do anything in his life.

I watch as he chats with Scully; those two have formed a wonderful bond, one that she hasn't had since Penny Northern. As much as I try to understand her residual feelings from her battle, I simply can't. The only way it would be possible would be if I got cancer, and God knows none of us want that.

When Luke was three, he was diagnosed with leukemia. The battle that ensued ended up sparing him, but tore his parents apart. John and Elaine waited until Luke was in remission to get the divorce, not that that made the decision easier for four-year-old Luke to handle.

After the custody hearing gave full-custody to Elaine, John left the NYPD and took up a position with the FBI. After working for VCMOP for five years, John was promoted to SAC. But just weeks after, Elaine called with the horrible news that Luke's cancer was back.

It was harder to beat this time around, and it nearly killed John to have to stay in DC during the worst of Luke's illness. Luckily, while the enemy was twice as strong the second time around, it fell twice as fast. And for ten years, it's stayed in remission.

Still, that wasn't the end of Luke's rough childhood. One week before his fifteenth birthday, Elaine was killed by a bank robber as she was trying to make a large deposit to Luke's college fund.

Needless to say, the last four years have been tough on Luke and John.

But they seem to work best from the trenches. John had met Ronnie back in '02 when the Hunter had come back to claim his last victim. Now, nine years later, they're engaged. Rather than rejecting Ronnie as his step-mother, Luke loves her as a...well, I'm not really sure what their relationship is, but they're remarkably close. Then again, maybe it's not so remarkable, because Luke by nature becomes close to anyone who loves him back.

My thoughts are interrupted by the soft sound of someone clearing her throat. I turn around, expecting to see Ronnie or Mom behind me.

To my surprise, it's Leigh Paulsen.

"Leigh! I didn't know you'd be coming down here. Is everything all right?"

She holds up a hand. "Everything's fine, Mulder. I just...I want to apologize for my husband the other day..."

Now I hold up my hand to silence her. "There's no need, Leigh. Really. I'm quite aware that someone's father would disagree with something I did, if not most of them."

"But no one else says anything. They keep it to themselves," she insists. "Please, I'll feel better if you accept this apology."

"Okay," I agree, smiling my special charm smile. Not at it's full power, of course; only Scully gets the high- powered charm smile. But it's enough to put Leigh at ease.

"Well, I best be going..." she says, but she's obviously reluctant to leave.

"This thing isn't gonna last too much longer. Why don't you stay until the end? Then you can bring Bret back yourself."

Leigh agrees, and within a few minutes she's chatting with the Mini-Van Moms and looking nicely at home.

I wander over to my wife, who's now talking with my partner and her fiance. Gee. I wonder what they could be talking about...

"Oh Mulder!" Ronnie says when she spies me approaching. I nod at her, signaling her to continue, as I wrap my arms around Scully. "We were just discussing when my family should come down for the Big Dress Hunt. I was thinking that they'd love to get out of town for Christmas this year."

"Isn't the wedding gonna be up there?" I ask, a tad confused.

Ronnie nods. "It is, but you do *not* want to go up there in the winter. It's rough. And they've been hinting about coming down for some Christmas anyway for the last few years..."

"Sounds like a good idea then. We're not going anywhere this year, are we Scully?" I move my chin off her head and move to her side a bit so I can make eye contact.

"Not that I know of. I'm pretty sure this is the 'everyone stay the hell away from each other' year," she says with a smile, and I have to laugh.

For the last seven or eight years, the Scullys have begun a routine of going around the country visiting each other. It started with a trip out to Portland, Oregon to visit Charlie's crew, and the next year we were in San Diego, then everyone came to Maryland. The next year everyone agreed that their wallets and their sanity needed a break. So we've kept up that four-year cycle. Last year they came here; this year we're by ourselves -- well, with Mom -- and next year it's back to Portland.

I'm beginning to hope that either Bill or Charlie moves, because we're running out of interesting things to do.

"Well, that's good then. You guys can take AJ and Anna with you then. Get their outfits picked out."

We chatter on for a bit longer, but four o'clock eventually makes its way around, and I begin the "okay, time to go home" shuffle. The boys are carefully loaded into the four mini-vans, and they drive off shouting thanks and singing pep songs.

I love this stuff.

July 31, 2010
11:12 a.m.

It's interesting to watch the game from the corner of the dugout. I'm so used to being up front and in charge. Not that I regret putting Luke out there; no, he's doing a fine job, and we're up 3-1 in the third. And AJ knocked two of our runs in, much to DadMulder's delight.

The hardest thing about coaching AJ's team was learning to see him as a player, and not as my son. I had to coax CoachMulder into taking over for a few hours, and convince DadMulder to go take a nap. It's worked out well, though. AJ's never had someone tell him that he just gets to play because his Dad's the coach, and I've never had a parent tell me I'm playing favorites with my son. Mr. Paulsen was the first person to approach me with a negative comment, and even that didn't mention AJ (though he easily could have).

A cheer comes from the crowd, and I turn my attention back to the game, where Scott has just hit a single to centerfield. He easily tags up at first, and Bret Paulsen comes up to bat.

Luke gives the signal to just swing when he's comfortable. Bret has a good sense of his pitches, and if he waits for the right one, he can easily bring Scott home, if not himself as well.

After a strike and two balls, Bret lets the bat come around hard, rocketing the ball deep into left field. The boys get their little legs movin', but I can already see it's gonna be a close one for Bret at second. And, indeed, it is.

Bret is called out, and immediately the crowd shows its indignation. Luke turns around and his face clearly shows the panic he's feeling.

"Relax, Luke. I'll go handle this," I tell him, giving him a gentle pat on the shoulder. He sighs and smiles, then goes to stop the boys from charging the field.

The opposing coach sees me walking out to the second base umpire, and he comes out to meet me there.

"Mulder, you can't be serious," the ump says, his expression suggesting that he wouldn't be surprised if I was serious.

I smile. "Nah, not really. I think everyone's just expecting to see some sort of conversation out here. So, now I'm going to wave my arms, suggesting that I'm very upset with your judgment." I follow through on my promise, thrusting my arms into the air in a show of aggression.

The ump and opposing coach laugh, appreciating my sense of humor.

"So, I guess right now they're expecting me to tell you to knock it off and get back to the dugout so we can finish this game," the ump jokes, taking a noticeable-but-harmless step towards me.

"All right, now I'm going to give up and sulk back to my dugout and tell my players that it's not a big deal, we'll get it back."

The other coach pipes in with, "And I'll head back with a victorious smile on my face."

"Fine!" I yell loudly, spinning and storming back towards my dugout. I try to catch Scully's eye, tell her that everything's okay, but I'm too far away. I'll tell her after the game.

"Coach, what happened?"

"Is Bret still out?"

"Are you still allowed to be here?"

I hold up a hand to silence the boys. "Shh, don't worry about that; we've got a game to play. Bret is still out, but Deejer's up, and he'll knock in some runs."

I nod to Luke, giving him control once again. DJ prepares to bat, but an angry shout from the stands causes everyone to forget the game and turn around.

"What the hell is going on?! He wasn't out! What are you *blind*, Ump?!"

Oh...I know that voice. The way Bret drops his head confirms it.

Again, I emerge from the dugout, though this time my attention is on the stands, as is everyone else's. And sure enough, Mr. Paulsen is standing right behind home plate, grasping the mesh fencing and shaking it as though the extra noise would help get his point across better.

"For Christ's sake! It's not a difficult call to make! Bret tagged the base *before* he was tagged by the baseman...SO HE'S NOT OUT!"

I can see Leigh a few rows back trying her best to impersonate the metal bleachers. Poor Leigh. I just hope that her husband doesn't do anything *really* stupid...

...like punching another spectator. Which he just did.


8:13 p.m.

I am so unbelievably tired. All I want to do is crawl into bed with Scully and sleep for a week, but the head of the Baltimore Area Little League (BALL) is supposed to call before nine to let me know what they're doing about Mr. Paulsen. Mr. Robert Paulsen, I was informed by the nice ECPD officer who escorted the subject from the field.

Somehow we managed to finish the game despite the somber mood. Our 5-1 win helped lift everyone's spirits -- well, everyone on our team anyway. I held a quick parent-coach conference to let them know what would happen to Mr. Paulsen in the spirit of my "full disclosure" technique of communicating to my parents.

He was held in the local drunk tank (although he was completely sober) for a hundred dollars bail, which my parents helpfully put together for Leigh to take down to the courthouse. Next a rep from BALL paid Mr. Paulsen a visit, informing him of the seriousness of his actions, and the various ways that he might have to atone for them.

He'll have to pay a fine no matter what. But there may be other prices he'll have to pay, from attending "Sports Rage" classes to avoiding the rest of the games for the rest of the season.

I'm honestly not sure what I want him to get. Luckily, it's not up to me.

And so I sit here, trying to focus on the Yankees game, but since it's an inter-league snore fest against the Phillies, my mind won't stay put.

Finally the phone rings, and I sit up a bit to fast, answering under a wave of dizziness.

"Mr. Mulder? This is Gary Jones from BALL. I'm just calling to keep you informed of the results of Robert Paulsen's little hearing."

"Yes, I've been expecting your call. What have you decided?"

"Well, he's got a two hundred dollar fine to pay before he can go to another game. He also must attend three classes on Sports Rage before he can attend a game. They're offered once a week on Wednesday and Friday nights. And he must get the instructor and you to sign a sheet saying that he has attended the required course. I suggest that you only sign it after the instructor has done so."

I sigh. "Sure, that's fine Mr. Jones. I'm just sorry that it had to come to this."

"I am, too, Mr. Mulder. Thanks for your cooperation."

We exchange goodbyes, and I hang up the phone, tossing it aside in frustration. Almost immediately, it rings again, and I pick it up, assuming that it's Gary Jones again, having forgot something before.


"Mr. Mulder," comes a growl in a very familiar voice.

"Yes, Mr. Paulsen, what can I do for you?" I amaze myself with my civil tone.

"Has that Jones character called you yet?" he asks. I answer affirmatively. "Well, then you know about the bullshit they're making me go through just to watch my kid play a stupid ballgame. Look, would you mind just signing this paper so I can be at the next game?"

My mouth falls open. He's actually trying to cheat his way through this? And he actually thinks I'm going to *help* him?

"I'm sorry, Mr. Paulsen, but I can't do that. I can't sign the paper until you attend the classes."

"Oh, come on, Mulder! The classes are a joke! They're just trying to keep me away for the rest of the season; they'll probably rig it so you get knocked out in the next couple of weeks."

Wow. And I thought *I* was paranoid. At least I'd had legitimate reasons...

"Again, I simply cannot do that. No one's rigging the games, either. Just go to the classes, learn to keep your thoughts to yourself, and everyone will be happy."

He's quiet for a few moments, and I wonder if I've actually gotten through to him.

"Well, then. I guess I'll just have to take Bret off the team. Either you sign this for me, or you lose a damn good player. Let me know your decision." He hangs up abruptly, and I bet he wishes he wasn't on a portable phone so he could slam it down.

Well. This is a fun position to be in. I either honor my morals and the rules, or I do what seems best for my team, which is to keep Bret on.

A very strong part of my head is telling me that I should stick by my guns, to obey the rules given to me. But another little part, the remnants of Agent Mulder from twenty years ago remind me that rules are meant to be broken.

And another part of me reminds me that AJ and Bret are pretty good friends. AJ wouldn't be too happy if I let his friend get pulled from the team.

Argh! God, why me? What have I done lately to piss You off?

"Mulder? Any word yet?"

Oh, thank you! My reason-oriented sounding board has arrived. I pull Scully down next to me and explain the whole sticky situation.

She's quiet, obviously mulling this over, then finally turns in her verdict. "Mulder, as unpopular as it is, I think the only choice is to follow the rules. You're the coach; you've got to set some sort of standards. You should explain to the boys why Bret is being pulled...that it's not his fault, but his father wouldn't follow the rules. Yes, Adam will be ticked off at you for a bit, I'm sure, but he'll get over it."

"Yeah, you're right," I sigh, placing a kiss in her hair. "I'll call Herr Paulsen tomorrow and tell him."

"Good." She turns to face me, stroking my cheeks and chin with a finger. "You're a good man, Fox Mulder. I don't think I tell you that enough." Before I can contradict her, citing her willingness to marry me and let me father her children as evidence, her lips are on mine, and I feel all of the day's stress flush out of me.

It's true what they say. Behind every good man is a great woman.

August 14, 2010
2:35 p.m.

The boys have taken the change reasonably well. The first practice without Bret was hard, and the game was even harder, but when we won 7-5 they all felt a bit better about it.

Luke's in charge again this week, and so he's running the pre-game warm-up while I sit in the shade of the dugout. This is going to be his last game no matter what, since he's flying up to New York next week to get settled in before classes start. Everyone was surprised when he told us he wanted to go to NYU; we'd all assumed he'd go to Georgetown or American or something else close to home.

The boys all pitched in for a few college-related items, as well as a t-shirt with the team photo screened on. They all signed it. I had briefly thought about taking it over to Bret's house so he could sign it, too, but the chance of running into this father deterred me.

I know I made the right decision. Some of the boys had told their parents, and some of those parents had come to me, thanking me for setting a good example and not worrying about the decisions popularity.

It still hurts, though.

AJ is still a bit mad at me, but at least he stopped with the silent treatment after two days. I'm pretty sure his mother had something to do with that, but I don't care if the Pope came over and smacked him into talking, at least he's talking to me.

As I stare at the ground, thinking, a pair of spikes step into view. I hope they don't belong to a player who's just hurt himself.

"Hey Coach," says a little voice...a little voice that I've really missed the last two weeks.

"Bret!" I exclaim, looking up at him in surprise. "What's up? Why are you here?"

"Mom snuck me out," he explains. "I brought my uniform and stuff, but if I can't play, that's fine. I just want to watch, really."

I laugh and pat him on the back. "You can play, if you want. I'm sure the guys would love to see you back on the field."

He looks up at me, a huge smile on his face. "Awesome."

Still laughing, I agree, then give him a nudge to go out on the field and warm up. Stepping out of the dugout, I watch as his teammates surround him in joy, thrilled to have their friend back on the team.

"Hey, Coach!" I turn around and find Scully's face, which is glowing with her smile. Her 'I done good' smile.

"You arranged this, Scully?" I ask.

She nods. "It was killing me to see you and Adam so depressed. I called Leigh and convinced her to get him down here for Luke's last day. Hopefully, she'll keep doing it for every game."

Awed, I tell her, "You go, girl," and reach out to stroke her fingers that are curled around the fencing.

We lose the game and are knocked out of the playoffs, but by the look on my boys' faces, they feel as though they've just won the World Series...major league style.

Have I mentioned that I love this game?

V Tin [[Wedding vows are exchanged, some brand new, and some for a second time.]]

August 4, 2011 1:21 p.m.

This is nice. This is a nice way to spend the summer. I really wish we could be up here for more than two weeks, but I'm not exactly Daddy Warbucks, and this place is expensive.

But it's sure worth it. The sky is clear, the breeze is cool, and the air smells of pine. This time, it really *is* a nice trip to the woods.

"Daaaaaaaad! You're not watching!"

Anna successfully grabs my attention, and I watch as she bellyflops into the water off the dock. I sigh as she does her little fish act for the umpteenth time. We've only been here three days, and already it's getting old.

She resurfaces, her auburn hair dark with water and slicked back. "Did'ja watch Daddy?"

"Sure did, baby. I think you might be part fish, you know."

Right on cue, her eyebrow scooches up her forehead. "Daddy," she says, almost condescendingly, "a person can't be half-animal. It's not scientifically possible."

Oh, let's see, where could she have picked *that* up from? I resist the urge to start quoting X-Files to prove her wrong. She's only seven after all. Don't want to give her nightmares.

"Silly me," I concede, then make a grand show of checking my watch. "Hmm...it's almost one-thirty...don't certain little bridesmaids have to get ready for a secret trip?"

She's out of the water in record time. "Thanks Daddy. Boy, I'm so excited to go visit Ronnie's family. It's gonna be..." Her hand clamps over her mouth as she realizes she's given away the secret. "Oopsies...Daddy, you won't tell Ronnie that we're gonna go visit her family, will you?"

I smile. "Of course not, my little trout. Your secret's safe with me." She wraps her wet arms around me in thanks, and I give her a tender love tap on her tush as she scampers off the dock and back up to the house.

My mind wanders again as I stare out at the clear lake. Somewhere across the way is the Duck Inn, site of the rehearsal dinner in two days. Then just a skip down the road is the chapel where Ronnie and John will be getting married on Sunday. It's a pretty little chapel, perfect for the small ceremony. We're the only guests attending who aren't related by blood or marriage. Skinner was invited, but a hot case out in Wyoming took precedence. My agents are out there as well, but luckily neither Ronnie nor myself were needed.

This is Ronnie's home, this beautiful expanse of land in upstate New York. She and her younger brother and sister were born just o'er yonder in the family-owned inn here on Squawking Duck Lake. They endured the harsh winters on what they earned during the summer season's regular tourists; families who came once usually came back the same time every year.

Ann, Ronnie's mother, offered to board us at their Inn for free for the two weeks surrounding the wedding, but I wouldn't have felt comfortable doing that. Besides, now we have somewhere to send the kids next weekend.

The walkie-talkie in my bag chirps. "Mulder?"

Picking it up, I reply with my usual "That's me." I'm still not used to these long-distance WT's. I miss my cell phone.

"Anna and I are leaving now. We should be back in a few hours," Scully tells me. "John may be popping in around two or so; he's taking Adam on a hike. I think you're invited, too.

The thought of hiking for hiking's sake intrigues me. Usually when I'm on a trail I'm looking for mothmen or the Jersey Devil or Bigfoot. I don't think I've ever hiked without an X-Files as the destination. I tell Scully as much.

"Hey, first time for everything, right?" she replies with a laugh. "Go with them. Let Adam take pictures. I'm hoping I can put together a scrapbook for the kids."

"Sounds good." Scully has become amazingly crafty in the last few years. Her inner Martha Stewart is becoming more bold.

"All right. You and Anna have fun with the Durants."

"We will." The connection clicks, and I know they're gone.

2:13 p.m.

The four of us step out of John's truck. The boys have to climb out of the bed; though they're not usually allowed to ride back there, the drive to the trailhead was short enough to bed the rules just this once.

The hike book we consulted said the trail to West Pond is a short and easy one, perfect for beginning hikers. The trail is headed up by a large barrier with a stop sign on it. This is also a trail for snowmobilers during the winter. To the right is a map and a box.

"That's the register," John says. "Not required, buy helpful in case you get lost."

"Can I sign us in?" AJ asks, and I nod. He opens the box, takes out the book and begins writing. When he's done, he takes out his camera and snaps a picture of the book. Martha Scully strikes again.

We begin walking down the path; it's wide to accommodate the snowmobiles, and we can easily walk two-by-two. John and I let Luke and AJ take the lead.

"You nervous?" I say to John.

"Weren't you?" he replies, and I chuckle.

"Hell no. We were only engaged for a week; there was no time to *be* nervous."

John nods. "But you never had any doubts? Never wondered if you were making the right decision?"

"No, not really. It wasn't like Scully and I barely knew each other." I lower my voice. "We did have AJ already," I add with a wink.

"True," John says with a grin. In an equally low voice, he adds, "Ron tells me next week is your official tenth?"

I nod. "Ten in a week, according to the license. But we don't use that timeline in regular conversation."

As far as the kids and other adults in our non-FBI social circle know, Scully and I have been married nearly twenty years. We tell them we met on March 6, 1992 -- which is true -- and that we married on August 11 of the same year. It's much easier than explaining why we were legally married eight months after AJ was born.

"All you'll be burdening my future in-laws with your children because of that fact?"

I grin. "You bet."

August 7, 2011
1:53 p.m.

Finally. After a year and a half of planning, the moment is upon us. In seven minutes, my kids will start off the occasion.

Make that six minutes.

This chapel is beautiful. The six wooden arches that connect the walls to the ceiling are unbelievable. They were all found with that precise curve; the architect knew just where to find them so that he wouldn't have to steam the wood into shape.

I almost wish it were a bit cooler out, so we could put the fireplace to use. I imagine it keeps everyone nice and warm during the Christmas Mass.

The minister takes his place behind the small altar. Agent Max Barnner is John's best friend and happened to be ordained as a minister to perform marriage ceremonies.

Next, from out of the annex, comes the organist. Lillian Mathers is a childhood friend of Ronnie's who now plays piano and organ for the Syracuse Symphony Orchestra.

They spend a few minutes preparing, and then I see Barnner look to one of the doors in the back, waiting for the okay from the bridal party. He apparently gets it, and signals to annex again. In troop four men in tuxes. Luke takes his position as best man, and John's other friends move to the groom's side, ready to bear witness.

And with this last preparation, Lillian begins to play, and the small crowd in the pews turn around to watch the small party come down the aisle.

There are two doors in the back, and out of the left one comes AJ and Anna, looking very grown up in their formal wear. I guess they behaved themselves back there, because not a single hair is out of place on either head. I squeeze Scully's arm in relief, and I can see her smile.

From the other door come two more kids: Sophia Menna and Peter Durant, Ronnie's niece and nephew. Peter's a couple years older than AJ, and Sophia's a year older than Anna. The four of them get along pretty well, though it's obvious Peter and Sophia, who have never lived outside this town, have little in common with my kids.

Next comes Amelia Menna, Sophia's mom and Ronnie's sister and Matron of Honor. She's the one who holds the deed to the Duck Inn now, even though Mom Durant still stays pretty involved.

Once Amelia's up at the front of the church, the organ music changes to the well-known "Here Comes the Bride" march that everyone knows by heart.

I'm amazed at Ronnie when she comes out on her mother's arm. She looks absolutely stunning, and if I weren't her partner, I'd never guess that she was an FBI agent.

I lean forward a bit so I can whisper "She looks fantastic" in Scully's ear. Scully, who helped Ronnie with getting dressed and hair and makeup and whatever else brides do before they walk down the aisle, smiles again and whispers "Doesn't she?" back.

There's a note of wistfulness in Scully's voice, and it's with a heavy heart that I realize that she never had this. When we married, she wore her least business-like suit. I wore my khakis and a nice jacket. And I know that Scully is perfectly content with the way all that happened...but I'm sure there's still a trace of a little girl who probably planned her wedding with Melissa when they were six or so.

Oh well. Now is not the time to try and wish changes on the past.

Ronnie meets John at the altar, and I take a peek at his face. He's amazed like I was at the sight of her, but his amazement is about more than just her glowing beauty. He's amazed that she's in this chapel, that all the plans they made actually are being followed through on.

He's amazed that she didn't suddenly decide that he's not good enough for her.

I recognize this look on his face. I wear it every morning when I wake up and see Scully next to me. And it occurs to me that the way we got married isn't really important. That's why we fudge the date a little bit when people ask us when our anniversary is. The important part is that we're together.

I take her hand in mine, and although we both look focused on the couple up front, I know that her mind is floating back ten years. Just like mine.

And as Ronnie and John exchange their vows, I can feel our silent communication lines open up.

Yeah, ten years is a good time for a second honeymoon.

The End

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