A LIFE SERIES, Part Nine: Full-Circle Summer (1 of 2)

by Char Chaffin

Category: MSR, AU, Future-Fic
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: Vague, Seasons One through Nine

STORYLINE, THANKS: See Header Notes, Part 0

Summary: 'Life is more than good. Life is damned amazing...'

"Full Circle Summer"

Part One

The stove in the kitchen isn't working very well, but it's nothing she cannot live with. She can do without an oven as long as her crock pot doesn't give out on her. Two burners are clogged, or broken; she's not sure if gas burners can break but it certainly appears that hers have done just that. She has two burners left, a non-functioning oven - and a crock pot. She'll do just fine.

Besides, buying a new stove means a trip into town, since she doesn't have a phone to use for ordering one from the local hardware store. She could go to a neighbor's house and use theirs, but that would mean she'd have to actually leave her house - and she's not ready to do that, either. So, she'll make do with what she has.

She's very good at making do.

Outside her window midsummer is coming on fast. She has a wildlooking flower garden; an effusion of daisies, primroses, lilac bushes and assorted bachelor buttons, even some columbine. Nestled within their riotous colors are a lot of weeds, she'd bet. She has only been outside to weed at twilight and it's less than easy to see in that dim time frame. But she's not ready to go out into the bright early-summer day - not yet. Her face...

Well, suffice to say she's not ready to be seen.

Her new house is old and has some electrical problems, some wiring troubles. There's a small leak in the downstairs bathroom sink and a stain on the bedroom carpeting that she can't get rid of. She knows she should call her landlady, for Adele Pennington is a very nice and helpful woman. Again, this would mean walking to the nearest neighbor and asking to use their phone. She prefers to think that eventually Mrs. Pennington will hop in her car and drive up Bluff Ridge and check on her. If that happens it'll be all right to ask her into the house, to sit down with her and talk. It'll be within these walls, it'll be safe.


Cora puts a small pot on one of two burners still working on her stove, and as the water heats for her tea, she cups the distorted side of her face, and feels the awkward pull of skin when she tries to smile.

She's safe. That's what matters, right now.

June rolls down the window of the old truck and lets the warm summer wind blow on her face, as they climb the Bluffs, headed for home. Next to her on the wide seat Kevin slumps sideways, dozing and drooling. In the back of the truck Briggs stands tall with his front paws propped on the spare tire that is chained down, grinning in true doggy fashion with his tongue flapping out the side of his mouth.

Frank drives with one hand and passes a gentle palm over her very rounded tummy, frowning a bit as he comments, "Maybe you should have taken Adele up on her offer and stayed in town, baby - what if you start up again? I may not be able to get you down the Ridge fast enough."

June sighs as the extra air coming in her window cools her damp scalp. She shakes her head definitively. "No. I don't want to stay with Adele or anyone else in town, Frank. I love her to pieces but she'd drive me batty in a second. She means well but she is a militant hover-er. Right now I don't have enough patience left to endure any of that."

Franks nods, understanding just what she means. He's had to bite his concern back more than once in the past seven months, because it would only have served to irritate. June's had a very normal pregnancy; it's what she's assured him all along. He's watched her grow heavy with his child, marveling at the way her skin has taken on that hormonal luster that he always figured was some kind of folklore wishful thinking amongst pregnant women throughout history. Her hair, her eyes, everything - glowing, healthy, more beautiful than ever.

It's been a wonder, truly it has. He missed out on so much with Kevin. And he's been thoroughly enchanted with the way June's pregnancy has advanced.

But he wouldn't be who he is without that element of protectiveness and worry. It can't be helped. He also knows his wife; knows his concern would be viewed as the worst sort of hovering. And so Frank has been swallowing it for months. But in the last week June has had two seriously realistic bouts of false labor; each time they both thought for sure this was it. And both times it was just that: false. So once again they'd piled back in the truck, bounced back up the Ridge, trying not to hit every pot-hole on Emmett Road.

Or maybe...

"Hey, June - is there any truth to the myth that if I toss you around in the cab of an old truck on rough roads, it'll break your water?" Frank's voice has just the right mix of tease. June rolls her head against the back of her seat and sends him a grin. His face is so hopeful-looking.

"Not really, Frank. Sorry to burst your bubble. It's iffy at best and can cause more harm than good. So please do find it within your heart to avoid those trenches on the road - okay? And the next time we drive to town, let's take the car." She slips a hand over his thigh and squeezes affectionately, then settles in as comfortably as she can with her bulk. Thankfully she's not overdue - not yet, anyway. But she is very bloated, and feels more pressure each day. It won't be long, now; her delivery date is closing in.

As they pass the turnoff for Peale Point, June looks out over Little Bluff Gulch and thinks for the hundredth time how lovely it is up here in the summer. The very air seems to shimmer with the back-glow of the sun, filtering through wispy clouds and giving the higher hills and lower mountains a bright sheen. And once again she finds herself wishing her family could see the beauty of this place. More and more she thinks of them; they are almost constantly on her mind. She absently rubs her hand over Frank's leg as she muses the differences between this pregnancy and her first.

With Kevin, her mother had been a regular presence in her life. There for every question, each new worry and unexplained twinge. They spoke on the phone every day, saw each other several times a week. Her mother worried but never actively hovered and for that June was grateful. Her mother understood her cravings, her need to call at midnight and sob into the phone when her hormonal imbalance got the best of her. June had someone to go maternity clothesshopping with, a woman who in just a few short months became more of a best friend than ever - and it was wonderful. It helped to take her mind off the fact that she was missing her mate so, so horribly...

This time around, it's amazing in so many ways to have Frank with her. He understands her food cravings. He rubs her feet and swollen ankles, massages her lower back when it aches. He's gone shopping with her and she can't fault his taste in maternity gear. He's listened to her fears, her hopes, her worries... her unrelenting sadness that her mother isn't here to share in the wonder of this growing life within her. In many ways it's a thousand times better that Frank is here this time. Of course it is.

But she misses her mother. Oh, so much, so very much.

As they turn into their driveway, Kevin stirs and sits up, wiping at his mouth. He yawns, "I drooled again. Sorry, Mom." He smiles sleepily at her and June smiles back, snagging him against her side and landing a series of smacking kisses along his flushed little cheek. He giggles and protests, loving the attention but putting up his usual 'big-boy' front. As the truck comes to a stop, June finally releases him and Kevin jumps out the driver's door as Frank comes around the passenger side to help her out. They walk slowly to the house, their arms around each other and Kevin racing Briggs to the front door.

As Frank fishes in his pocket for the key they can hear the phone ringing inside; he finally gets the door open and Kevin dashes through, convinced the caller is his buddy Johnnie who lives farther up on the Ridge. June lowers herself carefully onto the old glider on the front porch and yawns, Frank settling himself next to her and reaching out a hand to sift through her loose wavy hair. It's a nice breeze and the day isn't too warm. Maybe they'll stay out here and enjoy it, for a little while -

A few seconds later Kevin pokes his head out of the screen door and yells, "Dad! PHONE!" Since his parents are only perhaps three feet away from him, the strident and loud voice of their son cuts through them like a knife. Frank winces, but obligingly rouses himself out of his comfy seat and walks to the kitchen, picking up the phone.

"Frank here."

"Oh, Frank! It's Adele, my dear. I hope I'm not disturbing you! But I need to ask a favor."

Frank stifles a yawn of his own before he replies. "Sure Adele - what can I do for you?"

"Well, it's about my new tenant, Cora. Cora Bledsoe. She doesn't have a phone, you know, and I need to get word to her that I'm having a new stove delivered in a few days, and to make sure she's home. I've no doubt she would be - she doesn't like to go out yet, poor dear is still uneasy about the way her scars look - but I do think she'd be just fine if you were to go to her house and just knock on the door and give her the message. Could you do that for me, my dear?"

"You bet. In fact, I'll do it now, before it gets any later in the day. June's going to go lie down and take a nap; she just doesn't know it yet! I can head out there and be back before supper. I'll take care of it."

"Oh, you're a lovely man! I tell June all the time how lovely you are. You make sure she rests! Now, I'll let you go because I know you want to get out there and back soon - and thank you very much! Hugs to June..."

After promising to give his wife a hug, Frank hangs up and heads back out to the porch, where June has curled herself into the glider cushions and is almost asleep. He runs a gentle hand over her hair and as she rouses herself a bit, explains, "That was Adele. She wants me to run over to her new tenant's house and deliver a message. Seems this Cora Bledsoe doesn't have a phone yet." He leans down and brushes a kiss over her soft lips, smiling against them when she nibbles at his lower lip and murmurs a vow to him.

"Okay, but hurry back. I may fall asleep here but when I wake up I want to eat - and then I want to 'eat.' I'm sure you know what I mean." Her eyes are half closed and heavy with drowsiness and sensual promise. And the heat in her loving kiss sends Frank's temperature soaring in the late-afternoon summer day.

He groans quietly, "You're a wicked woman, to render me all hot and bothered and then send me on my way. Just for that I'm gonna get you. Later." The threat lies thick and sweet between them, and with one final biting kiss Frank straightens and walks off the porch, managing to make it halfway to the truck before Kevin bursts through the screen door and barrels down the steps, Briggs hot on his heels.

"Dad! Whereyougoingtakemewithyou!!!" It's a one-word screech delivered Kevin-style, and it stops Frank in his tracks. He turns and smiles at his adorable son, running up the sidewalk in his cutoff jeans and baggy Knicks tee-shirt; hair sticking up on end and a gob of jelly at the corner of his mouth, a half-eaten sandwich in one sticky hand. Kevin wants to go along for the ride and so apparently does the yapping Briggs. Frank sighs, knowing it would be better if Kevin stayed at home and kept his mother company.

He also knows that Kevin has been cooped up a lot this month already, keeping June company... albeit willingly. He loves hanging around his mom. Frank looks over his head and catches June's eyes; she nods and waves them both on. "Go ahead, take them both! I'll call Maureen and have her run over, if I feel the need for company." Maureen Stokes is their closest neighbor and a terrible gossip - and luckily for them, a nurse's aide as well. Frank nods in relief and catching his son's hopeful eyes, jerks a thumb toward the truck.

"Okay, you can come. But get rid of that sandwich and clean off your face before you climb in the truck!" No sooner do the words leave his mouth than Kevin plops himself down in the grass, gives Briggs the remainder of his sandwich and then lets the eager dog clean the jelly off his face. June laughs aloud and Frank just shakes his head in mock-disgust. He hauls his son to his feet and tosses him over his shoulder, Kevin hanging upside down and shrieking and Briggs barking wildly all the way to the truck. All three of them pile into the front cab. Kevin waves to his mother and June waves back, giggling at their uninhibited display. She adores her men... but sometimes it's nice when she's surrounded by peace and quiet. As they roar off she rests her hands on her tummy, whispering secrets to the child nestled in her womb, finally dozing in the warm summer afternoon.

Adele's old place is about a three-mile drive up Little Bluff Road. On the way Frank cautions Kevin about Cora Bledsoe. "She was in a fire, Son - she got burned pretty badly. She lost her husband and her dogs in that fire."

Kevin listens with curiously adult-like attention. "Did she have kids, Dad? Did they get hurt, too? I'll bet she was real sad about her dogs." Kevin has an arm hooked around Brigg's neck and the faithful dog leans into his young master as they bump over the uneven surface of Little Bluff Road. Kevin can't imagine ever losing Briggs. Poor lady...

Frank's pride at his son's sympathy is evident in his voice. "I don't think she has any children, Kevin, which probably makes it all the harder for her. Kids could be a real comfort to her right now. Just remember not to stare at her, okay? I'll bet she's feeling really shy about people looking at her."

Kevin nods, "I won't stare, Dad, I promise. Briggs won't, either. Maybe if she likes us an' and she doesn't get shy, we can come visit her sometimes and maybe she can come see us - and we can be like her family." The little boy's voice is serious and endearing; Frank feels pride swell his heart all over again. He and June really do have a very special son...

The sound of a gunning engine in her driveway rouses Cora from her intense focus on the book in her hand and she sets it down and rises from her chair, moving toward the window and peeking out from lace curtains. She spots the boy first, jumping down from the passenger side of an old beat-up truck. In the afternoon sun his brown hair gleams with reddish glints; he's slender and gangly. Cora finds herself holding her breath, willing the child to turn toward the house, but his face remains at an angle as he reaches up to the window of the truck and scratches at the ears of a panting golden retriever sitting in the cab.

When the tall man with the thick silver hair moves around from the driver's side of the truck and comes into view, Cora Bledsoe gasps aloud. Her eyes dart to her car, parked on the side of her driveway and she silently bemoans that she left it out instead of putting it in the small garage, as she should have done. Better to let folks think there's no one home.

Damn it. She doesn't want to answer the door. She doesn't want to face this man... this boy. She's not ready to face anyone. A child, for heaven's sake! He'd take one look at her face and his horror would be absolute and painfully evident to her. She's not ready...

Her doorbell rings. Cora stands in the middle of the living room, wringing her hands. She's not ready. She's NOT READY! She may never be ready... and yet, she's not a coward either. She's not. The things she has seen, in her life... the losses she has endured. The tough exterior she has had to layer on, over the years...

With a deep and fortifying breath, Cora reaches in her pocket for the oversized sunglasses she always keeps handy. She slips them onto her nose, steps to the door, grasps the handle and turns it.

That evening, after the supper dishes have been dried and Kevin romps with Briggs out in the yard for a precious half-hour before bed, June and Frank snuggle together on the front porch glider and watch the fireflies flickering in the darkness. Briggs' barking is loud in the quiet stillness; Kevin's giggles sweet on the night air. June leans her head on Frank's shoulder, and sighs in contentment as his warm hand rubs her stomach in slow circles.

"That feels so good, Frank. Don't stop. And while you're not stopping, you can tell me about Cora Bledsoe."

Frank drops a kiss on the top of her hair, and considers the visit he and Kevin had with the reclusive woman. "Well, she seemed nervous, but genuinely nice. Very shy about showing her face. She had a kind of shawl or something on her head and down enough over her forehead to obscure a lot of her face. Sunglasses, too. Kevin was sweet to her, didn't stare at all. He asked her about her garden and offered to go out and pull all her weeds, and she seemed grateful for that. So Kevin let Briggs run around the back yard while he pulled her weeds and got her flower beds cleaned up. She gave him three dollars and Kevin was so thrilled he ran up to her and hugged her."

Frank smiles as he recalls the startled look on Cora Bledsoe's face when Kevin flung his arms around her waist and hugged her. What little of her face he could see, that is... She'd hesitantly hugged him back and Frank had seen the corner of her mouth curl up in a stiff smile. "I think she's having a lot of trouble with the burns on her face, right around her mouth. She smiled, but it looked as if it was difficult for her to move those muscles."

June nods in understanding. "I'm not surprised. Especially around the mouth, burns are hard to heal. Grafts complicate the healing process as well because the mouth and jaw are always moving, flexing. Takes twice as long." She trails a slender hand along Frank's arm, adding, "So... she was taken with Kevin? Good. That child can charm the birds out of the trees. And I think maybe having a child around her once in a while could really help to bring her to the point where she wouldn't mind her neighbors coming around and helping her out, keeping her company."

"Well, I plan on going back. I sensed she wouldn't mind at all. I told her we'd check on her a few days after the new stove gets there, make sure it's working properly." Frank presses another kiss on his wife's hair. He snuggles her closer and calls a soft warning to Kevin that it's time to go in and take a bath and wind down for the night.

An hour later, Kevin is in bed and asleep, Briggs sprawled across his feet and snoring as usual. Down the hall June sits in bed brushing her hair, absently noting how much it's grown since the onset of her pregnancy. Almost to her waist, she keeps it braided or tied back most of the time, even when she sleeps. In the small connecting bathroom Frank rinses toothpaste from his mouth and dries off, then turns out the light. He walks to the bed and sinks down next to June, grabbing the brush out of her hands and finishing the task, muttering, "One thousand one... one thousand two..."

She huffs, "I do NOT brush my hair a thousand times! Only a hundred. Or so. You've got exactly twenty-six more strokes, Frank... so get busy. And if you do an extra-good job of it, maybe I'll return the favor." Her hands slip over his waist, rub the sensitive skin at hip level as he runs the brush through her hair. Frank smothers a groan when her fingers wander closer to his groin.

A handful of strokes later he gives up all pretense of brushing her hair, tosses the hairbrush over his shoulder and pins his wife to the bed, hands gripping her carefully, pressing her down gently. His mouth on hers is anything but careful or gentle, though... his tongue devours her, demanding entry, taking possession, overwhelming her. Conquering, and in turn being conquered...

There are times when their kisses are lethal weapons aimed at each other for the sole purpose of marking what's theirs. She bites and he nips; she stabs with her tongue and he leaves evidence of his passion on her neck, visible for days. Since her pregnancy has advanced into the final stages it seems their need for each other has advanced as well, complicated by the enforced abstinence of intercourse. That denial has only strengthened the power of their alternative intimacy, making it even more urgent and needful.

Like now.

June reclines against a mound of pillows and watches Frank through half-closed eyes as he rips his way out of his boxers, then tugs at her panties. She should feel like a beached whale this far along into her pregnancy but thanks to the way Frank always lets her know how beautiful she is to him, June has retained a calm confidence about her body and the way her husband finds matchless favor with it regardless of her girth. She is a few days shy of her nine-month point, the baby has begun to drop into position. She can't walk unless she waddles, her ankles are swollen and she can't see her feet even when she's lying flat on her back. Frank assures her they're still attached to her legs and still cute...

June believes him when he tells her she's more beautiful than ever. How can she not believe him? He has a very convincing way about him.

Her eyes close in bliss when she feels his eager mouth trail over her skin, leaving a wet track of kisses everywhere. Gentle on her tender breasts, laving each nipple lovingly - lingeringly against her distended stomach, where his unborn daughter sleeps. Passionately when it slides down and catches the wispy ends of her silky, damp hair, parts the slick flesh and delves inside for a famished drink of her. She's so sensitive now, so full, so ready. And he reaps the benefits of the way nature has prepared her for the delivery of their Megan. It makes her slippery and hot and melting for him.

A few well-placed sweeps of his tongue and one rough little nip of her throbbing clit and June is gasping, shuddering and coming, fast and hard. Frank holds her hips steady and applies his tongue in gentle licks to prolong her pleasure as long as she seems to need it. He releases her when she emits a final shudder, her fingers unclenching from his scalp where she'd gripped at him in the throes of her climax. She sinks back into the pillows and Frank comes to rest beside her, cuddling her close, kissing her sweetly, loving the way she she's responded to him. He's aching, pulsing with need, but right now it's so much more important to him that she feel good, that he could give to her.

Sleepy blue eyes gaze into his and a smile trembles on her lips; she whispers to him, "Mulder... I wanted to do you first! You're so sneaky..."

Her voice is a mere thread of sound on the warm bedroom air; as always it's deep in the night when she gives into the desire to call him by his real name. After the years they've been hidden away in other places and in Simmons, old habits remain in the forefront of their consciousness. And that's a good thing, but for now...

He shivers when her hand finds his hard length, curls around him, begins to stroke him. On their sides facing each other, an extra pillow underneath her tummy to cushion it - holding him in both hands, cupping him, running a firm palm over his flesh. Biting kisses take his lips, his tongue, slender legs slip against his, fingers drive him up, and up... until he tightens and swells, groans aloud, eyes rolling back in his head as the explosion of his climax coats her hands and his lower body.

And her name on the shuddering sigh he pours into her neck, "Scully, my God, so good..."

She echoes it back to him, "So good..."

Three minutes later she's asleep in his arms, mumbling her love for him on a thick yawn that warms his shoulder where her cheek rests. Frank rolls their bodies together, mindful of the pillow resting under June's stomach, and falls asleep with the scent of them strong in the night air he breathes. He's sticky and so is she. They don't care. It barely registers as he holds her close and returns her vow of love in a hoarse whisper that stirs the fine hair at her temple.

In the dark they smile in their sleep.

In the clear summer evening Cora Bledsoe sits on her front porch and listens to the night sounds all around her. Used to the rather discordant music of a big city, the traffic on congested streets and the whistle of a train once in a while, the soft silence of Bluff Ridge is a little unnerving. With an occasional hoot owl and a few crickets making noise, the faint barking of a dog... she's slowly getting used to it. Slowly losing her fear, her unsteadiness. Today's visit from her neighbors down the Ridge helped a lot. Especially the boy.

Kevin... he's a sweet child, enthusiastic and affectionate, wise beyond his tender years. She only spoke with him for a few minutes but his personality came shining through. She'll see him again, in just a few days, after her stove gets installed. The boy and his father - Frank - are coming over to make sure everything's in proper working order.

Cora smiles a little. It was smart to come here. It was the right thing to do. Simmons is a safe place. She can feel it - she is glad of it. She'll find her feet, slowly - as is her way. She'll go out in public a little more, maybe without her hat and shawl, as she feels safer. She will.

Cora leans her head against the back of the chair and looks up at the stars. She did the right thing, the only thing she could do. And when a glittery shooting star passes far, far overhead, Cora wishes on it, impulsively - wishes that those whom she loves best in the world are sleeping dreamless slumbers tonight; that they are safe, too.

Tara Scully is a woman who has lost more of her family than most women, and come back all the stronger for the loss.

She was an only child, raised by elderly grandparents when her own parents were killed in a fifteen-car pileup on the New Jersey turnpike on their way back from a Lutheran retreat. Tara was only six at the time. She could barely remember how she'd felt upon hearing the terrible news, delivered to her by her Great-Aunt Maude because her grandparents were too devastated and in too much shock. She'd lived with them after the funeral, lived in their mausoleum of a house until the day she married Bill Scully. The happiest day of her life, because she was gaining a husband and a savior, all wrapped up into one muscular, brown-haired package... and he came with a big family, too.

As the years went by and Tara watched her beloved Scullys drop off, one by one, she gritted her teeth and squared her shoulders and bore the pain like one of them. She was a Scully, too - tough and hearty. Able to take the knocks of this world in the jaw and spring back up, in fighting stance, ready to go another round.

Pop Bill. Melissa. Grannie Meg. Those three alone just about broke the Scully spirit, and of course over the years they all had to find ways to deal with what Dana endured in the name of her job and her partnership with Fox Mulder. Well, Tara and most of the family endured; Billy militantly protested. In the end it did little good to protest. Dana chose her path - and her man - as was her right as a woman and a professional.

The man she chose was a good man. Tara cared for Mulder a great deal. She understood him; that was the best way to look at it. In a way, Mulder was another lost soul - attracted to not only a Scully but the Scully ideal. She could never fault him for that; indeed she faulted him for nothing. For all of Billy's indignant squawking, nobody held a gun to his sister's head and forced her to follow Mulder.

When they lost Dana and Mulder - and William - it almost killed the Scully spirit altogether. The only day blacker, in Tara's opinion, was the day a few short months ago when she sat under a dark green canvas awning in Falls Church and watched a rosewood coffin covered in pale yellow roses slowly descend into the spring ground. She held her head high, though - she cried openly but her eyes remained steady, her demeanor Scully-proud. Mom would have wanted it that way.

On this warm summer day, Tara folds laundry in the bright and airy family room and thinks about what she has lost. Why this wants to hit her now - after all of this time - she hasn't a clue. Maybe it's the way the sun glints off the sandbox in the back yard, the one her father-in-law made for his children that got passed down to the grandchildren. Every time she looks at that sandbox she can see Pop Bill's beloved face, and she mourns anew that she had so few years with him before he passed away.

Maybe it's because yesterday she found an old photograph of her and Melissa mugging at the camera during a visit Missy made to their house one Easter. And maybe it's because Charlie's wife Deborah called her this morning and they both had not only a good talk but a good cry, over the phone. Talking about Mom...

Mom. That's all it is, truly. Tara wipes away a tear with the back of her hand and stares off into a corner of the room, seeing nothing but her mom's dear face. From the moment she met Maggie Scully, when she was just barely seventeen, Tara called her 'Mom'. Of average height, still she towered over Maggie, and yet when Bill's mother wrapped her loving arms around her Tara always felt like a little girl.

She misses Maggie Scully. Badly. It doesn't get any easier, and it won't. Open and honest with her husband about her feelings, Tara knows talking to Billy about his mother hurts him. But she needs to talk. Thankfully Deborah understands and feels the same way. And so, they make that long-distance call once a week, and they talk. They take turns paying for the toll charges. When Bill and Charlie get their respective phone bills, they grit their teeth like the Scullys they are and pay without complaint.

Tara pairs up a lapful of Matthew's socks and thinks about the last time she and Maggie went shopping - for socks and other things, in fact. They'd had a lovely day, lunching together, laughing over salads at Creamer's Cafe and walking themselves silly in three different malls. Billy had taken the kids to the zoo and for once Tara had Mom all to herself. It had been wonderful; in retrospect the day had been over much too fast. Because Maggie flew home two days later... and two months later she was gone.

Just like that.

Tara folds up the last of her laundry and piles everything neatly into the basket, then rises and stretches, bends and hefts the load, takes it upstairs to be distributed in various dressers. It's a quiet day and Matthew and Mary are at the neighbor's house, playing with her kids. Barbara lives next door and her children are the same age as theirs, and twice a week she and Tara take turns babysitting the entire brood so they can each finagle some precious free time. Tara has a day of time on her hands, thanks to their arrangement. A day to sit and think, if that's all she wants to do -

Think about how much she misses Mom.

The pounding on the front door is loud and unrelenting. In a back bedroom he snaps awake and sits up, rubbing hard at his myopic eyes. If he squints very hard he can see the oversized glow-in-the-dark numerals on his alarm clock, telling him it's barely six AM. Who the hell could be so insufferably rude as to pound on the door at six o'fucking clock in the morning?

He staggers to the door, not bothering to yank on his jeans. Whoever is there, they deserve to be subjected to the sight of his scrawny ass, as punishment for waking him up. The baggy tee shirt he's wearing barely covers the family jewels in front but he doesn't bother tugging it down; instead he slams his glasses on his nose and glances through the oversized peephole. The identity of his earlymorning door-pounder causes him to emit a stream of curses under his breath, as he throws all ten deadbolts and wrenches the door open, an additional furious verbal blast at the ready -

Only to gawk with comic shock as the tall figure pushes past him and forces his way into the darkened apartment, trench coat flapping around his long legs.

"What the..." Sputtering protest gives way under the piercing glare the intruder pins him with.

"Shut up, Goldilocks - and tell me what the fuck you and the other Stooges think you're doing." A large hand gestures in his direction. "And for Christ's sake put on some skivvies! I'd rather not have to look at your 'boys' this early in the morning!"

Ringo Langly scowls at the big man standing in the middle of his living room and his retort is edged with sarcasm. "My 'boys' and I were sleeping, 'Sir'. What I choose to dress them in while I goddamn sleep is MY business. What the hell do you want?"

Once upon a time Langly would have treated this man with respect and a fair amount of deference when speaking to him. The man commanded respect. But not any more, not for several years now. Not since he'd come back from a visit to a Stargate convention in Toronto, to find two of the dearest friends in the world gone, and his godson along with them. Not since then...

He shakes his head in disgust, sending his tangled, unbound hair flying, and turns to stomp back to his bedroom. He barely takes a step when his arm is grasped and twisted painfully up behind his back, pushing a hoarse grunt of pain from his throat. The hand shakes him hard, sending more shooting pain up and down his arm, and the voice drops, becomes more threatening.

"Get Hick and Byers out here. Now. I want answers. Don't even think of dicking me around."

As Langly struggles against the unrelenting grip on his arm, John Byers and Melvin Frohike hurry down the hall, two bedroom doors slamming behind them as they rush to see what all the noise is about. And they both screech to a stop in their bare feet when they view the tense little tableau in the living room...

And man oh man, Walter Skinner looks pissed.

A few minutes later they're lined up on the sofa, Langly's nudity covered up with a hastily-donned pair of sweatpants. John is visibly tense, Melvin is as bristly as a hedgehog on steroids and Ringo just wants to punch out Skinner's lights. At the funeral they'd been ignored by most of Mrs. Scully's family; they'd expected that. But Skinner had treated them like shit, refusing to speak to them, come anywhere near them. He'd sat with the Scully men and offered them his support, completely ignoring how he and the guys were hurting. Hell, the loss of Maggie Scully had hit them hard. She'd always treated them with kindness.

On his feet, pacing back and forth, Walter Skinner looks mean, exhausted and mean. He's staring at them, one after another, as if he can't quite decide whether he wants to interrogate them or just shoot them. Finally he stops in front of Byers and his eyes bore into him. John meets the hard stare with more calm than he feels. And Skinner is not fooled.

"I want you to tell me everything you know about Margaret Scully's death." The voice is uncompromising. Byers resists the urge to grind the heels of his hands into his eyes, wondering why in hell when being grilled for information he always gets chosen first to speak for the three of them. Damn it all...

He manages to keep his tone level and calm. "I know what you know... Sir. Mrs. Scully's car was forced off the Little Orleans Bridge, outside of Cumberland. Her car was found three days later, after the river was dredged, and there was evidence that she'd been the victim of road rage. Witnesses cited a Peterbilt driven by an inebriated trucker as the main cause." John shrugs with a nonchalance he's far from feeling. If Skinner is asking questions now, over a month later, it means that he and the guys are far from safe, themselves...

Skinner's frown deepens. "Bullshit. It wasn't a fucking accident and you know it. I want some answers. And I want to know when Maggie Scully first told you she suspected someone was trying to kill her."

Frohike visibly startles when he hears that, and his eyes are wide behind the thick eyeglass lenses. "Kill her? What're you talking about? Who was trying to kill -"

Langly interrupts with a shocked, "Maggie Scully never said anything to us about someone trying to kill her! Jesus, man - don't you think we'd have come to you, if she told us that? So she could get some kind of protection?" The bewilderment on his face is absolute and sincere.

Skinner stares hard at Langly, deep into the eyes covered by the Buddy Holly specs - and nods to himself. One of his biggest questions has just been answered; Langly doesn't know anything. Satisfied, Skinner turns his attention to Melvin Frohike. The little guy is a tough talker, feisty as hell and a fierce protector of all the Scully family members. And yet... he's pasty white, obviously in shock upon hearing that Maggie might have been murdered. Skinner sighs and rubs blunt fingers into his weary face. That leaves John Byers. He eyes the tall, quiet Gunman.

Of the three, John Byers has always been a bit of an enigma. Intelligent almost to the point of being a genius, polite, articulate - and the most likely to not spill his guts about what he knows.

Skinner decides that perhaps confrontation might be the way to get around Byers' studied calm. "Look, Byers... I know Maggie Scully spoke to you; called you on the phone and told you she thought someone was trying to kill her. I have proof." He doesn't have anything of the sort; he's bluffing big-time. But maybe, if he can rattle Byers' cage, just a little...

But John Byers has been around enough these past several years - been around Mulder, Scully, Skinner himself; seen enough to learn the value of half-truths and smoke screens. And he's learned how to look someone dead in the eye and lie through his teeth - occasional contact with one CGB Spender taught him that. He employs that talent now, in his quiet, effective way.

"Maggie Scully never called me on the phone. She didn't even know where we lived. I saw her once or twice after Mulder and Scully's funeral. It was... hard... talking to her, knowing what we knew about her children, knowing we could never tell her the truth. She left this world thinking they were dead. Her family thinks they're dead, have been dead for five years." John Byers ignores the stares of his best friends, and stands, facing Walter Skinner. In his bare feet Byers is only an inch shorter than the tough ex-Marine.

He squares his shoulders and his voice is low, firmer and more decisive than it's ever been, as he addresses Skinner with his habitual polite and erudite manner. "Let it alone, Sir. Leave it be. What good would it do, re-opening the case? If Maggie Scully was in danger then possibly her family could also suffer the same fate, one day. For whatever reason, if someone wanted her dead - and I see no proof at all of that being the case - if someone wanted that, they could easily turn their attention to her sons and their families." Byers watches Skinner carefully, and knows the very second he has the AD's grudging attention and possibly his agreement.

He presses on, "They have wives and children to think about. The Scully family has lost more than any family we've ever seen. Do you want to be responsible for stirring up the shit that sends more harm their way? Do any of us? For their sakes we have got to leave it be." Byers holds Skinner's regard with unblinking eyes. On either side of him, Frohike and then Langly get to their feet, standing shoulder to shoulder with Byers. It's a united front, thrown up for the first time against someone they would have never in their pasts dared to contradict.

As Walter Skinner stares at all of them as if they've lost their minds, the words he utters say it all.

"Ah, shit..."

"June? Baby, wake up. It's time to go." Frank bends over the sofa and kisses his wife awake. June's eyes open slowly, a little confused. She sits up and rubs a hand over her face, disoriented.

"How long was I out? I just sat down for a moment, I thought!" June swings her legs to the floor and gratefully accepts Frank's hands, as he pulls her out of the soft cushions. She sways a bit on her feet and leans on her husband, yawning.

Frank snuggles her for a minute, loving the sleep-warm scent of her skin. They'll probably be late for their appointment but he doesn't care. He could have roused her half an hour ago, but she needed her sleep. He grins down into her pretty face. "You were asleep for about an hour, I guess..." Her squawk of protest makes him chuckle.

"You let me sleep for an hour? Jeez, Frank... Dr. Lowe is going to kill both of us! He's only in town once a month as it is. This is the only chance we'll have to talk to him, get to know him, before the baby is born." June is in a huff and Frank merely smirks at her as he makes her sit down so he can tie her sneakers for her.

"You mean, so you can grill him. You don't want to get to know him, face it. You want to check out his delivery room and give him some doc to doc grief." Frank pulls her to her feet again and June graces him with a scowl and a retort he hasn't heard her say to him in a very long time.

"Oh, bite me, Mulder..."

Maureen has Kevin for the day, as slave labor for her garden. At least, that's what she has told Kevin, who for some reason has deemed himself too old for a real babysitter. It's easy enough for Maureen to let him pretend he's just come over for the day to work like a farm hand, if that's what he wants.

As they head into town June adjusts herself in her seat and tries to ease the ache in her back. She knows what that ache means; it happened with Kevin, too. It's actually the beginning of her labor. She hasn't said anything to Frank yet because she knows he'd only worry needlessly. He's been looking for a reason to freak out on her these past nine months. June's not about to give him one, at least not while they're driving. It's been difficult enough for him to keep a level head throughout the pregnancy. Truthfully, June's proud of him; he hasn't given her a reason to want to kill him.


Simmons Medical Center is actually more of a clinic - in fact everyone in town calls it such, instead of a center - although they do boast a decent Obstetrics. It's certainly more than capable of handling a routine birth, which is what June's determined she's having. There's a small but well-equipped surgery, a laboratory, enough rooms and beds to accommodate thirty patients and even a small cafeteria. Although there isn't a regular OB/GYN on staff, there are several excellent midwifes and Henry Lowe comes in from Burlington once a month for exams, appointments and anything else that's needed.

June waits in one of the small examination rooms, Frank standing next to her as she reclines full length on the padded table. As large with baby as she is, still her small frame is swallowed up in the huge cotton gown, obviously intended for a big, strapping farmer instead of a petite farmer's wife.

Frank plays with the fingers of her left hand as she shifts uncomfortably on the high table. There's no way she'll ever be comfortable again, June thinks, not until their Megan pops out of her snug little cocoon. She sighs loudly and Frank levels a concerned stare at her; June shakes her head and sends him a reassuring smile, just as Dr. Lowe opens the door and enters. He's short and rotund and balding; of an age to retire but enjoying his job far too much to buckle down to his wife's demands for a larger chunk of his time. His eyes twinkle, and if he had a beard and more hair he'd make a great Santa Claus.

He gives June's hand a firm shake, repeats the action with Frank and them beams on the both of them. "Well! Nice to meet you both! Ready to set this little one free?"

No sooner do the words leave his mouth than June's entire body jerks in surprise, her mouth forms a perfect "O" of shock... and she looks down at the thick white paper padding underneath her gown - which is suddenly soaking wet. As Frank gapes at her, June clutches Dr. Lowe's arm as a powerful contraction sweeps over her. She rides it out, biting the inside of her mouth to keep from crying aloud... and when it's over the grin she aims at her husband is huge, albeit shaky, and her answer immediately causes every drop of color to drain from Frank's face.

The urge to laugh aloud in pure joy is hard to resist, but June manages it, instead addressing Dr. Lowe with an enthusiastic, "I'd say we're both ready, Doctor! I've been having contractions all day. Frank, you'd better bring in my suitcase, it's behind the seat on the passenger side."

Frank stutters, "Contractions? When did you have contractions? You never told me you were having cont - wait a minute... WHAT suitcase?"

She merely blows him a kiss as the chuckling Dr. Lowe mops up the fluid dripping on the floor. "Backaches, Frank. I've had them all day. Just another kind of contraction. And I packed the suitcase and put it in the car a week ago. Just in case."

As Dr. Lowe pokes his head out the examining room door and hollers for a wheelchair, Frank sinks onto the nearest chair and grips June's hand with a nervously clammy one of his own, muttering, "Okay, here we go, baby, now I don't want you to worry or panic -"

"Yes, Frank."

"Everything is gonna be fine, sometimes second babies are early, isn't that so, that sometimes second babies are early?"

"Yes, Frank."

"I should call Kevin. Do you think I should call Kevin? Maybe Maureen can bring him in. He needs to be here. He should be here, don't you think Kevin needs to be here?"

"Yes, Frank."

"What's taking that nurse so long, Doctor? June needs to get going! She needs to start doing her delivery thing, don't you think she should be in the delivery room, delivering?"

Lowe is a fun-loving sort of physician, and he just can't resist. He pats the nervous father-to-be on his back, and retorts meekly, "Yes, Frank..."

Kevin bounces in the front seat of Maureen Stokes' Jeep Cherokee. Every other bounce has got a trail of excited chatter tagged onto it, and Maureen chuckles at the sight of her young neighbor. Listening to him is half the fun, as she drives the last ten miles or so down Emmett Road.

"Are we there yet Maureen? I think we're almost there! I got to pick out Megan's middle name did you know I picked it out? Mom said anything goes so I picked 'Daisy' an' she said that was okay! So I'm gonna call her 'Daisy' an' I'll bet she'll be pretty like a daisy an' I can't wait to see her do you think she'll look like me? I sure hope she looks like me an' maybe like Mom too 'cause Mom's so pretty don't you think Mom's pretty Maureen?"

It's a monologue spouted with hardly a breath taken and accompanied by seat-bouncing from a bright-eyed boy who's been waiting a long time to say hello to his baby sister. Maureen reaches out a hand to tousle Kevin's thick hair, and as they take the last curve in the road and hang a sharp left onto Licking Street, she gestures out the window.

"Look, Kevin, there's the clinic! And there's your dad's car. Let's get you inside and hooked up with your dad, okay? Maybe if you're lucky you'll get to see your mom before she has Megan." The Jeep comes go a stop and Kevin wrestles with his seat-belt, determined not to miss a thing. He flings himself out of the car and runs toward the front doors of the clinic, Maureen hurrying to keep up with him and trying so hard not to laugh again. He's just the cutest kid in the world.

As they reach the doors they open and Frank is there to catch Kevin before he goes barreling inside. The clinic is fairly relaxed and its employees are used to children running in and out during the day. Still, it's better to keep the more rambunctious kids - like Kevin - under some kind of control, to save the sanity of those who work here. And Kevin is more than happy to let his dad haul him up into his arms and give him a huge hug, then set him on his feet and take his hand.

Frank sends a grateful smile Maureen's way as they walk toward the OB. "Thanks a lot, Maureen - are you staying or do you have to get back?"

Maureen shakes her head as she walks next to him. "Are you kidding? I'm staying right here. I want to see that little bundle of joy as soon as she pops out and you and Kevin have had a chance to monopolize her a bit! I'll wait my turn. But I haven't seen a brandnew baby in a long time. Gotta refresh my memory on how sweet they are!"

They reach the double doors of the OB and Frank nods to the nurse behind the glass, then points to Kevin, who's gripping his hand and barely containing himself. The nurse grins at both of them, winks at Kevin and lets him come in with his father. She's been a nurse for many years and not once has she ever denied a sibling the right to come in and be with Mommy during the delivery, especially the routine births. Unless the child is a little monster - and Simmons sure doesn't seem to have many of those - children are welcome as long as their hands and faces are clean and they wear a surgical mask.

Five minutes later, Frank and Kevin are all geared up in their surgical ensembles and Maureen is waving them off as they head into the delivery room. Frank retains a firm hold on Kevin's hand and explains to him that it may be a while yet until his mom delivers his sister. "You can stay as long as you're quiet, Son. Okay? Mom has to concentrate and if you make a lot of noise she can't do that. And if she would rather not have you - or me - in there, we're gonna have to suck it up like a couple of big guys, okay?"

Kevin is somber as he nods agreement, proud as can be that his dad thinks he's a 'big guy'. He knows it hurts to deliver a baby; his mom told him all about it. He wants to see his sister born, but he's not sure if he wants to watch his mom feeling hurt. He'll just have to see how bad it all is... When he speaks his thoughts aloud Frank can do nothing else but hug the boy, thinking for probably the thousandth time how very special their son really is.

In the delivery room June is keeping track of her contractions, her breathing and her anxiety. When she looks up from the birthing table and sees Frank and Kevin standing there in green scrubs, the little boy's slight body swamped with loose material, her grin is wide and she's so happy to see them both that she almost misses the beginning of the next contraction. She holds out both hands and her men each take one; Kevin leans in and kisses her cheek, a big wet boy-kiss that brings tears to her eyes.

On her other side Frank hovers, and this time she doesn't mind it at all. She's got her husband and her son by her side, each contraction is like a victory, for they signal the imminent arrival of their beloved baby girl... and if there's one vital person missing, she tells herself it's okay. It truly is...

June holds her husband's and her son's hands tightly, and begins the countdown to Megan.

In the garden Cora Bledsoe kneels, pulling at a few weeds and admiring the way her columbine have taken off since the bulk of those choking plants have been removed. Her stove is working fine, and she's looking forward to seeing Frank and Kevin again. He'd told her they'd be back in a few days to make sure the appliance wasn't giving her any trouble.

Cora sits back on her heels and runs a palm over her damp forehead. Looking around, she sees no one about; the road winding by her house is empty and has been since she first came outside. The fields are deserted, not even a tractor in sight. She fingers the shawl covering her head and obscuring most of her face. It's a lightweight cotton but still too warm on a day like this. But she's not ready to push it back and lift her face to the sun. Maybe another week...

"Mrs. Bledsoe! Yoo hoo!" The call startles her and she jumps, straightening up, automatically tugging at the shawl as she looks toward her driveway and sees Adele Pennington walking toward her. Cora hadn't even heard the car drive up. Satisfied her face is as covered as possible, Cora forces as much of a smile as she can and waits for Adele to reach her side.

Adele is all smiles. "My dear, I hope you don't mind that I dropped in on you this way! I'm just checking up on that new stove. Is everything working properly?"

Cora breathes a small sigh of relief, then chides herself for her worry. This kind woman is not the enemy. "Yes, thank you, it's doing fine. It's very kind of you to stop by." She means it. When she first moved here she didn't want to see anyone. But it's hard to resist the kindness of these Simmons folks.

Adele waves off her thanks. "It's no problem at all, truly! We Simmons-ites stick together! You'll find it to be true, as you get out more and meet people." She smiles at the shawl-covered woman, and adds, "Well, I must go! I'm due in town in an hour. Some friends of mine just had a baby, and I am simply chomping at the bit to see the little darling! Actually, you know them... Frank, the lovely man who came over to deliver the message about your stove! He and his wife June just had a little girl."

Adele waves cheerily, smiling at Cora one last time, so eager to get to town and get her hands on Megan that she doesn't notice the look on Cora's face. She climbs into her car and backs down the driveway, leaving the other woman with what could be considered a broad smile curving her lips.

Walking slowly back to her house, Cora is thinking about pretty pink and white girl-babies with eyes like the sweet boy who gave her a hug when she paid him to weed her garden. A baby... it's been so very long since she's looked into the face of a tiny newborn, that most miraculous of miracles.

Cora pauses by her hall table, removing her shawl and folding it neatly in her hands. There's a floppy sun-hat on the table, next to a tall vase full of daisies. Cora drops the shawl and runs a finger over the wide brim of the hat.

It's awfully hard to resist the pull of a newborn baby... and besides, maybe it's about time she started going to town, once in a while. Maybe it's time she stopped being so damned skittish -

Cora reaches for the sun-hat - and her keys.

"Kevin, hand me those booties, Sweetheart." June puts the finishing touches on the newborn-sized diaper that swamps Megan's tiny body. On her back in the middle of her mommy's hospital bed, Megan is perfect, a peaches and cream mixture of pale red hair, cloudy gray eyes and her father's long fingers and feet. June's hoping her eyes will clear to hazel, or maybe blue; Kevin had the same gray when he was born, and his eyes went blue in just a few weeks.

Looking down at her daughter, June thinks there couldn't have been an easier birth than this tiny girl-baby of theirs. She came into the world with barely a whimper and allowed herself to be cleaned off and dressed in her very first diaper and tee shirt with a minimum of complaint. She spent the rest of her initial day on earth feeding like a little piggie, sleeping in her daddy's arms and being cuddled by her ecstatic older brother, who has decided his 'Daisy' is better than Christmas and Easter all rolled into one.

June and Frank have to agree on that one. Their daughter is a miracle and they are head over heels in love with her.

June finishes snapping the diaper pants in place and carefully maneuvers minuscule arms and legs in the one-piece pink romper. The little collar has daisies embroidered on it; Kevin picked it out, thrilled beyond words when he found matching booties with daisies all over them.

Kevin hands her the booties and June pulls them over teensy toes without a peep from the sleeping child. She scoops the baby up and snuggles her underneath her chin, smiling mistily when her daughter snuffles against her neck, briefly rooting for a nipple before somehow understanding that lunch is over and it's her nap time. Her mouth rests in damp contentment on June's shoulder and her tiny hand curls tightly around Kevin's finger as he sits next to his mom on the rumpled hospital bed and holds his sister's hand.

Together they wait for Frank to finish up the release paperwork, anxious to get home. Though she was only in overnight, June hates hospitals and cannot wait to get home and start bonding with Megan. She feels wonderful, a little tired but that's to be expected, of course. And yet her tiredness just melts away every time she looks down and gazes into her baby daughter's angelic face. An angel, that's what their Megan is - a precious little dream they'd never thought would bless them, and yet here she is.

June kisses the soft reddish tufts of silk on her child's head, and with her free arm gathers Kevin closer to her side. He presses his tousled head into her shoulder and sighs happily, his finger still held firmly in his baby sister's infant grip. Safe to say she's already got as fierce a grip on his heart, too...

They remain in that position on the hospital bed, neither feeling the need to say anything out loud, both watching the sleeping baby wrapped in pale pink cotton. A soft sound at the door, like a hesitant clearing of the throat, rouses first Kevin and then his mother from their happy vigil. When he looks toward the door his little face breaks into a wide grin, and his exclamation snares June's attention -

"Mrs. Bledsoe! Hi! Look, I've got a new sister!"

June's eyes take in the silhouette of a woman standing in the doorway with the sun behind her; a slender, petite form dressed in a loose long-sleeved dress, her hair and most of her face hidden by a large straw sun-hat. A smile breaks over her lips and she is truly touched that this reclusive woman has found enough bravery to drive into town just to say 'hello' and see the baby.

As June rises slowly from the bed, Cora Bledsoe steps into the room, out of the back-light of sun, and her chin lifts a little as she returns June's smile. And that small movement of chin and curl of one side of her mouth suddenly stops June in her tracks, her eyes searching out Cora's from underneath that wide-brimmed hat. In the daylight there's something about the way this woman stands, the tilt of her head... June takes another step - and then another - and Kevin tugs his hand loose and rushes across the room to wrap his arms around the older woman's waist, his excited chatter full of 'Megan this' and 'Megan that'...

And as Cora smiles down on him her hat slips to one side, just a little bit - and a lock of deep brown wavy hair lightly streaked with gray escapes its confinement from behind her ear, and falls against the scarred cheek - and June feels the knot of something panicked and scary and shaky and joyous, swirling through her... A small gasp escapes her throat when Cora finally looks up, the hat falling completely away and most of her face visible at last. And the color drains out of June's own face, when she looks into those eyes.

She knows those eyes... oh, Lord. She knows those beautiful, loving eyes.

"M-Mom? Oh my God... How - Oh, GOD... MOM!"

Maggie Scully falls into her daughter's embrace, bringing her beloved William with her - and the arms that close tightly around her are strong and fierce in their welcome and padded with the small, pink-bundled body of Megan Daisy Mulder, still fast asleep.

"She's perfect. She looks so much like you did the day you were born."

Cora holds her granddaughter in one arm and Kevin in the other. Back on the bed, the door now closed and locked behind them and the drapes pulled, still there is plenty of light for everyone to see each other.

June can't take her eyes off her mother. It's as if Mom will vanish into thin air if any of them blinks. Sitting next to her, holding her in his arms, Frank has been swallowing back the tears as much as his wife. He walked into the room with release papers in his hands, about two minutes after his wife and his mother-in-law found themselves in each other's arms, with his children squashed in between like the filling in a Mommy sandwich. The forms had slipped from Frank's numb fingers... and a few seconds later they were all in his arms, wife and mother-in-law, son and daughter. All crying at once. Well, except for Megan; she just slept on like a tiny little angel.

Looking at Cora, Frank marvels that he never figured it out when he and Kevin visited her last week. Granted, she'd been covered up and very little of her face had been exposed. She'd had a large pair of sunglasses hiding her eyes and she'd spoken in a soft, hoarse voice. But now...

He fingers the thin latex material lying on the bed next to June. Amazing stuff, so much like human skin it's downright creepy. Frank picks it up and examines it more closely, commenting, "How on earth could you stand having this on your face, Mag - I mean, Mom?"

The hesitant 'Mom' catches sweetly in Cora's ear, sending a tear overflowing down her smooth cheek. At long last her daughter's true love is calling her 'Mom'. It's about time...

She eyes the piece of disfigured latex swinging from the tip of Frank's finger. She's hated wearing the disguise, having to awaken early in the morning and spend the time applying it. Just in case a neighbor might come by; just in case her landlady pays a visit, in case... in case. She rubs the tear from her face and smiles lovingly at her handsome son-in-law.

"I didn't have a choice, my loves, truly. I hate it. Feels awful! It pulls and it's hot and it itches. I don't know how actors wear stuff like that for hours upon hours. I lived for the evening, when I could spend an hour or so, taking the damned thing off in one piece so I wouldn't ruin it." She reaches out a teasing finger and taps Frank's nose, quipping, "But as much as it bugged me, it sure didn't hurt like that nose job of yours!"

Frank chuckles and nods. "I had to do it, Mom. It ended up being a great way to change the look of my face. I tried to provoke June into punching me but the wimp chickened out. I had to run into a door, of all things."

After the snickers die down, June slips an arm around her mother and hugs her close. "Tell us, Mom. Everything. I confess I'm still half-afraid you're going to disappear right before my eyes if I let loose of you!" She reinforces her words with a huge squeeze, which Cora happily returns. Leaning back into the stacked-up bed pillows, Cora ruffles her fingers through June's hair as her daughter rests her head on her shoulder. Across her knees her grandson snoozes, tired out from the day's excitement, of discovering that the nice lady on the Ridge that paid him to weed her garden is his for-real grandmother. In the crook of Grandma's arm Megan snuffles softly in her sleep, a newborn cloggy nose plaguing her, but not enough to awaken her, thankfully.

Happy... so happy. Cora swears she never dreamed she'd ever be this happy again, in her life. And she owes her children one hell of an explanation, so she starts at the beginning.

"Dana, I had to do this. Someone was trying to kill me..."

The first time it happened Maggie Scully figured she was just on the receiving end of a disgruntled driver. She'd been on her way to church, bright and early on a Sunday morning. Yes, traffic had been heavy on the road and as usual there were drivers all around her, taking stupid chances. Everyone did it a time or two; you're in a hurry, mind isn't on your driving, you miss your exit... there are all kinds of reasons to act dumb behind the wheel.

Later in the day, Maggie thought back to the incident and just couldn't remember doing anything that might have angered another motorist. And yet she'd done just that, for as she approached her exit a car came up behind her, too fast for the exit ramp speed. They'd plowed into her from behind, knocking her to the right side, sending her car skittering over loose gravel and onto the ramp shoulder. She'd fought to hold the wheel steady, and it was only her own reduced speed that had kept her from spinning back out into offramp traffic. Shaken, she'd sat for a minute, trying to collect her wits, then she'd inched back on the ramp and taken the rest of the exit. She'd gone to church, and as the day had worn on she'd more or less forgotten the incident.

About three days later, again on the road, driving to the supermarket, it had happened again. This time a car sideswiped hers, on her passenger side, as she maneuvered herself into the left lane to pass a slowpoke driving below speed limit. As soon as she eased into the left lane and sped up, that slowpoke car next to her accelerated, swerved into her lane and pushed at her, full-length. Since it was a three-lane road on her side, the swipe had her battling like mad to hold her position in the middle. Thankfully the car inching up to her left had seen what Mr. Slowpoke was up to and had backed off, otherwise Maggie could easily have been in the middle of a pile-up.

Heart in her throat, Maggie had somehow managed to keep her car from spinning out. The roads were dry, and she was very lucky. With one car watching out for her on the left and the car that swiped her peeling away from the scene, she'd been able to signal right, slow down and stop on the berm. Shaken to the core, Maggie hadn't thought to catch the license plate. She'd made it to the market without further incident, shopped and drove home on as many back roads as she could. And she still didn't put two and two together, until a third experience finally brought home to her the ugly and horrifying truth: someone wanted her dead.

"I have never been so afraid, Da - um, June. I sat in a locked house the night it happened that third time, trying to figure out why someone would want to harm me. It made no sense at all. Then, I got a phone call a few days later. I didn't recognize the voice on the other end, but I remember very well the words he said." Cora takes a deep breath and she can feel her eyes tear up as she remembers the hoarse words in her ear...

"A friend of mine wants to know where your daughter is, Mrs. Scully. My friend doesn't really believe it's her body in the ground under that fancy headstone. If I were you, I'd be doing my best to flush Agent Scully out of hiding... the kid, too. Oh, and do yourself a favor... don't mention this. Not to anyone..." The !click! in her ear had been very loud in the quiet room...

Cora raises damp eyes to her horrified daughter and son-in-law. "I got the same phone call for three nights in a row, at exactly the same time of night. Same voice, same words. By then I was so petrified I didn't leave my house for a week. I thought for sure somebody would be waiting outside for me. I realized this person hoped I'd get in touch with you and you'd be willing to save my life, so to speak, by coming out of hiding and allowing yourself to be taken. Obviously there was no way in hell I was going to let that happen, but I was at a loss as to whom I could turn for help. Finally, I made a call. But it wasn't to Walter Skinner. I called John Byers." Cora wipes tears from her face and leans into the strong arm Frank winds around her shoulders, as she struggles to continue the narrative.

"I remember you both telling me once that if I ever needed help to go to the Gunmen. I hated to involve them but I was going crazy. And I knew John was the only one who knew your exact location. So I called him on my cell phone. I told him everything. Looking back I realize how risky it had been, calling him - they could have had every phone in the house bugged, for all I knew - but I figured my cell was okay to use.

"John told me the only way to keep me safe was for me to disappear, as soon as something could be arranged. It was his idea to swap cars with me for a few weeks, his idea to go out and drive around just to see if anyone would harass me on the road again. He said if they wanted my death to look like an accident then a vehicular crash would be the logical method. He was right. We swapped cars very early one morning - I still remember how scared I was to venture out, convinced I was being followed - and I took his car and drove to Cape Cod.

"I hid out there for two weeks, dressing in men's clothes, locked away in a cottage outside of Provincetown. Back home, John stayed at my house and drove my car out in public. I have no idea what excuses he made to his friends; they must have wondered what was going on. He never told me much of what he went through, those two weeks." Cora smiles, adding, "You know, he actually wore a brown-haired wig and sunglasses! And he shaved off his beard and mustache. Neither of us thought it would be enough of a disguise but apparently my 'hit-man' was an idiot, because he never seemed to notice anything amiss. He ran John off the road one evening, right off the Little Orleans Bridge and into the river."

Frank's jaw drops open at the mention of the river. "Holy sh - that river moves fast! What made him think to use the river? And how on earth did John get out of the car?"

Cora shrugs, "John Byers is a very smart and resourceful man. I think he'd make a great FBI agent. He decided to force their hand, I guess you could say. He made a point of traveling over the bridge, at least twice a day. Made it look as if I was in the habit of taking that road every day. He drove it at nine in the morning and at seven at night. He followed that routine for a week before the creep finally took the bait. And John was ready for him... he had a scuba-pack in the front seat, and left a window partially open, too. When he was forced off the road he just let it happen. By the time he hit the river he was breathing from the tank, and it didn't take long at all for him to ease out, once the car had sunk. He kicked clear and the river did the rest."

June has been listening all this time, fascinated. She exclaims in admiration, "I never knew Byers had it in him! I am impressed. That river is so deep and the undertow can be strong; it was a stroke of genius for him to think of using it. But the risk he took! He could have been sucked right under, too. I assume the police dragged for the car, and did find it?"

Cora nods, "Yes, three days later they found the car. And truly it's a miracle he came out of there alive. The man has nerves of steel! I'd never have expected it of him, judging by what little I'd seen of him in the past. Being a powerful swimmer also helped; unbeknownst to probably any of us, John has been swimming for most of his life. He'd somehow pushed at the door enough with his feet that it gave the impression of succumbing to water pressure. When no body was found inside, the authorities assumed that I'd somehow freed myself from the sinking car but that the current just took me away. It's a deep, huge and long river. It could be months until they find the 'body', if they even bother to continue looking... and think of the damage all those hungry fish could do, in the meantime!"

Her grin is meant to calm the twin looks of horror on their faces, and it succeeds, a little. June shivers and Frank releases a pent-up whoosh of air from his lungs, not even realizing he'd been holding his breath. He hugs his mother-in-law close, clasping June's fingers with his free hand, and thinks about the level of friendship and devotion that prompted John Byers to take such chances with his own life, for a woman he barely knows.

When John agreed to not only be the go-between for June and her mother but to organize an entire elaborate mailing system, Frank had been impressed by his friend's resourcefulness. He now knows that John must have regarded the subterfuge as part and parcel of being an 'honorary' Fed, and he agrees wholeheartedly with the notion that John would have made a great agent.

Into the profound silence kept by three adults who feel so fortunate to be together, a tiny squeak and a soft little wail signals the awakening of Megan, who's ready to eat. Cora's eyes fill with loving wonder as she looks down at her now-alert grandchild, and she reluctantly hands her over to June, who's already opened her shirt and is ready to nurse the baby.

While Megan nurses, Frank runs a gentle hand over Kevin's sleepmussed hair and voices several imminent concerns. "We should go home, as soon as Megan's finished. I'm sure the nurses are wondering why we lingered as long as we did! And we need to talk seriously about where we go from here." His gaze rests on June as she carefully burps Megan, who's already fallen asleep against her shoulder. June nods and her hand rubs her daughter's delicate little back as she considers their options.

It's clear to see that Cora needs to keep up the pretense of being the scarred survivor of a house fire, at least for a while longer. It's how the folks in town and on the Ridge already know of her, and though most of them haven't actually met her yet it's best not to make radical changes. Perhaps in time, slowly, she can alter the amount of latex 'scarring' she wears, with the idea that her face is healing - until she stops disguising herself completely. When she voices this aloud, Cora nods, agreeing completely.

"The last thing we want to do is bring any attention to the situation. If I have learned nothing more from this experience I have learned that. And I should stay where I am, up in Mrs. Pennington's house. Things have to go on as normally as possible. Thankfully very few people have seen much of my face, and most everyone knows me to be recuperating from burns. I don't see why we can't keep up the charade, for as long as we need to." She holds her eager arms out for the sleeping baby and June hands Megan over, gladly. Cora rocks the child in her arms, thinking that for these kinds of magical moments, she'll endure anything, anything at all...

Fifteen minutes later, vases of flowers distributed amongst the nursing staff that took such good care of them, and other assorted baby paraphernalia gathered up, Frank and June herd their children to the car, parked in the summer sun. A few parking spots down from them, a dear neighbor of theirs adjusts her wide-brimmed sun-hat and slips oversized sunglasses on her nose, climbs into her little Honda and with a carefree and casual wave, pulls out onto Licking Street, headed for Bluff Ridge.

Everyone's going home.

Later in the day there's a gathering at Frank's and June's house; a quick supper and an evening spent 'ooh-ing' and 'ahh-ing' over the new addition. Kevin and Briggs play in the front yard, making all sorts of racket, while in the old farmhouse, laughter and memories are shared and plans firmed up. In the days to come, perhaps a few close Simmons friends will be taken into a sort of confidence - and perhaps not. It all depends on how much Frank and June feel they can trust the folks who have cared for them, befriended them, since the first night they set foot in Simmons.

Cora rocks Megan to sleep in the old rocking chair, and she mourns the fact that until further notice her sons and their families will have to go on believing she's dead. It's a hard thing to accept. And the worry, that whomever still searches for her daughter and family might be out there, still wondering and still plotting, is compounded by the real fear that they could go to her boys next, and threaten them. It could happen. She prays it won't; prays that relentless stalking ended with the car that went over the Little Orleans Bridge, a few months ago.

But in the meantime, she has a new identity and papers to back it up, thanks to John Byers. She has a life that she must remember to reinforce at every opportunity.

After June places Megan in her bassinet and calls Kevin in for bed, Cora opens up the file folder she brought with her and spreads the contents out on her lap. These are the papers John sent to her right after Maggie Scully 'died' - here is her new identity, her new life. A husband, family, everything... new driver's license and new Social Security number. New person. Cora Bledsoe, husband deceased. She'd refused to look through it when she first received the packet, thinking she just couldn't bear to see what she'd had to become. But now - seeing how easily Frank and June have slipped into their identities - she knows it's time to be brave, and take a look.

There's a death certificate. Her 'husband's', she notes. An obituary from a Gary, Indiana newspaper. Bless John's heart, he thought of everything... then she looks closely at the obit - and she gasps aloud - and she holds it out for June and Frank to read, her hand trembling as chilled fingers grip the newsprint.

"Look. Look what he did, oh God, Dana..." In her emotional state Cora forgets to use the right name. But it doesn't matter; the house is locked and it's later in the evening and they are safe, they're all safe...

June takes the paper from Cora's hand, glances down - and her intake of breath is audible in the quiet room. Her wide blue eyes dart to Frank's in shock, then back to the paper, and she reads aloud in a small and shaky voice.

"Henry W. Bledsoe. Died April 3. Born in Gary, Indiana on May 12, 1939. Survivors include his wife, Cora and daughter, June. Oh God, Mom... 'daughter June'. He gave June to Cora. He made a link for us. Oh, bless his wonderful, brave heart..." Tears clog her throat and she can't say another word. June scoots across the short width of the sofa and is wrapped tightly in her mother's embrace. The newsprint flutters toward the floor and Frank catches it before it hits, smoothing out the crumples and staring it in disbelief and dawning thankfulness.

As mother and daughter cry all over each other and their soft murmurs of love rise and fall in the room, Frank wipes away a tear or two of his own. He knows exactly what this means to June and to Cora. He'd hated the thought of any of them having to pretend they never met until just a few short weeks ago... now, thanks to John Byers, they can go about in public. They can be mother and daughter for everyone to see. It's a final gift, perhaps the most wonderful of all. A gift to June, and also to their children. Kevin and Megan have heredity, now. They have their grandmother. In its own way it's quite a miracle. A day of miracles, in fact.

He knows they'll always have to be careful. He accepts the heavy responsibility and welcomes the watch he'll keep. It won't be easy; he knows that. But right now they are happy and they have each other. They have more than so many people, and like every other day since he and June came to Simmons, it's a celebration because they are still alive.

Alive... and he'll do whatever needs to be done, to keep them safe.

The night is deep and dark by the time Cora heads for home, leaving over their protests that she should stay the night and drive Bluff Ridge in the morning. She refuses, saying she needs time alone to process the day's events and they need time together, too. She'll be back tomorrow, and every day she can. She'll start being Mom, and Grandmother, tomorrow.

When the taillights of the little Honda are finally out of sight, headed up Bluff Ridge, Frank slips an arm around his wife and leads her up the stairs. The children are in bed and in just a few hours Megan will probably awaken and demand a feeding. But for now the house is quiet and there's a soft and warm night breeze coming in through their bedroom windows. Down the hall Kevin and Briggs are tangled up in the bed-sheets, fast asleep.

Life is more than good. Life is damned amazing.

June snuggles against her husband's side, half-dozing, exhausted but still taking a moment to whisper her thanks to God, that He has blessed them so richly. A small voice in her head cuts through some of her thanks and reminds her they're still not out of the woods, and her brothers could be in some sort of future danger. But each day must be taken and lived to the best they can live it. Small steps. Careful steps. They've survived for seven years by taking these small and careful steps.

In the warm darkness Frank holds her close and kisses her gently, worshipfully. It'll be a few weeks before her body can join itself to his, and they both ache with the desire to connect, to love. They're also emotionally drained and they need sleep, badly. But he can fall asleep with his mouth buried between her soft breasts and she can doze off to dreamland holding him beneath his boxer shorts. Cupping his flesh, cradling the hardness that remains regardless of his level of weariness. It's a comfort for them both.

Stars twinkle in the clear summer night over Simmons, and the Bluff Mountains encircle the town protectively, as they have for over a hundred years... as they will for a hundred more.


My sincere thanks for visiting Simmons, deep in the Bluff Mountains - and spending some time with Frank, June, Kevin, Megan and Briggs!

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Char Chaffin