Author Topic: One Year On  (Read 242 times)

Eli Mullen

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One Year On
« on: July 04, 2019, 05:32:15 PM »
What a difference a year could make. Dale could hardly believe it had only been a little over a year since she had first threatened Eli Mullen with her shotgun, and here they were - married, with an energetic baby boy, and a home close to his brothers and Pax itself. She no longer looked over her shoulder, worrying that her own brothers would find her, knowing that even if they did, Eli would not let them take her back to the mountains. And this was home - they had turned the former Beckett house into their own space, with room for themselves and Noah, and their animals, as well as a garden that was already turning a good harvest. It was so much more than she had ever hoped for all those years ago when she had married Bart on a whim.

Eli, too, could never have predicted such a life for himself and his brothers, especially not after the death of their parents had left them without a home or a means of providing for themselves. After years of wandering from place to place, to once again have a home and the love of a family was more than he could have ever hoped for. He was no longer the angry young man he had once been, lost in grief and the need for revenge. That man no longer existed. He was content to live the life of a family man now. It was almost as if he'd come full circle, returning to the peaceful life of a farmer, just as his father before him.

"Oh, no, you don't, you little rascal!"

Ah, the clarion call of Dale wrangling their seven-month-old son as he made an attempt to crawl right into the vegetable patch. Noah's giggles floated across the little garden as he was hoisted up into the air, arms and legs flailing before he was set down back on the blanket while his mother finished with her weeding.

Eli had been absent most of the morning, having attended a militia meeting in town, leaving his wife and son alone, but not really alone, as extended family lived close by. He had gone off to town, promising to be home for the noon meal, and just as he'd promised, he arrived home just in time to find his wife chasing after their young son. He watched quietly a moment, an amused smile on his face, trying hard not to laugh and give away his presence.

"Mischief maker," Dale was saying, propping Noah on her lap as she pulled up weeds. "Just like your papa, I swear."

The baby boy grinned up at her, showing off his new teeth in the process. Blue eyes swept away to the road, focusing on said papa watching them.


Eli's smile widened and he couldn't help but chuckle as his son gave him away. "Just like his Papa, eh?" he asked, grinning, as he swept in to pluck the little boy off his mother's lap and plant a sloppy kiss on each cheek. "And how is my little man today? Not giving your Mama any trouble, are you?"

Noah crowed happily as he was picked up, babbling in his own made-up language as Dale chuckled, rising more slowly to her own feet. "Yes, just like his Papa," she agreed, standing by her statement in amusement. "He's got it in for my beans."

"You wouldn't want him or me any other way, and you know it," he teased, blue eyes sparkling with amusement as he leaned in to give his wife a far less sloppy kiss. "What do you say we take a break and have some lunch?" he asked, though he had only just returned.

"You say that like I don't have lunch ready for you," she teased him in return, bending to pick up her blanket before lifting onto her toes for that kiss. "You've domesticated me, Eli Mullen."

"Are you sure that's not the other way around?" he asked, as his nose circled hers, even as Noah grabbed a handful of his father's hair, as if to demand some attention for himself. "Ouch!" Eli laughed, turning his head to pry his son's fingers from his hair, which was probably in need of a trim. "I haven't forgotten about you!"

"He's been all about the weeding and feeding the goats this morning," Dale told Eli as she turned to lead the way into the house. "Tried to get into the milk bucket once or twice, but I won that round."

Eli laughed. "Yanno, Cody was the one who was always getting into trouble. I was an angel," he told his wife. Did that mean Noah took more after his uncle than his father, or was Eli bending the truth a bit?

"Oh, please," she drawled, not believing it for a second. "Who else could Cody have learned his tricks from but you?" She waved him into the kitchen, moving to pull out the ham and cheese pie and potatoes with gravy she'd put together for a cold lunch. A small pot of mushed up everything was set down on the table for Noah as well, and she turned to fetch out a jug of cider and a cup of water.

"Uh, from Nate?" Eli suggested, trying but failing to keep a straight face as he blamed his younger brothers for his son's mischief, rather than himself. "I reckon we've both turned domestic, but that's not a bad thing, is it, love?" he asked, as he settled Noah in the wooden high chair Eli himself had made for him.

Dale's laughter was definitely skeptical as Nate was then offered up as an excuse for Noah's energetic mischief. "Wasn't what I expected outta life, but can't say I'm sad about it," she said with warm cheer. "Just think, if you hadn't've come up to the stead while I was washin', we might not have got here."

"Oh, I think we might have," he assured her, wrapping his arms around her waist as she laid out the noon meal and pressed a kiss to her neck. "I'm stubborn like that," he told her, letting her come to her own conclusion about what he meant by that.

She leaned into him, raising her hand to stroke his cheek. "Aye, you are a stubborn fella," she agreed, not mentioning her own stubbornness at all. "Wash your hands, then you can eat."

"Yes, ma'am," he replied obediently, despite the smirk on his face. He dropped a quick kiss against the top of her head before moving to the sink to pump out some water and scrub his hands clean.

He wasn't alone in washing his hands, though Dale had to take a cloth over to Noah to complete the set. The baby boy grimaced and attempted to eat the cloth in retaliation, but Dale was certainly a determined mother. "You're a mucky pup and you ain't eating dirt," she informed her son cheerfully.

"Don't bother fighting it, Noah!" Eli called over to his son as he scrubbed his own hands. "She's as stubborn as they come!" said the man who only a short year ago had been as wild as a tumbleweed.

Eli Mullen

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« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2019, 05:32:43 PM »
The baby boy stuck his tongue out at his mother as she tucked a bib about his neck, giggling when she stuck her tongue out at him in return. Dale was laughing when she rejoined Eli at the sink, reaching to wash her own hands before eating. "You're as cheeky as each other."

"Like father, like son," Eli said, despite having denied it just a few minutes ago. He gently bumped his hip to hers before snagging a towel to wipe his hands dry. "The garden's coming along well," he said, praising her efforts.

"We'll have a good crop of vegetables to get us through the winter," she agreed, glad that her pet project was finally showing some progress. "Old Sam knocked up Nate's nanny goat, so there'll be kids soon enough, too."

"That's good news," Eli said, moving over to the table to share the noon meal with his family. He took a swallow of the cider before claiming his usual seat at the table, quenching his thirst from his long walk from town. "No recent mutant attacks," he told her as he filled a plate for himself and for her. That was good news, too.

"That's good to hear," Dale said, making no attempt to hide the relief in her voice as she sat with them. She scooped up a spoonful of the mush and inserted it into Noah's mouth, taking advantage of the time it took for him to swallow to fill her own mouth. "How's it coming with the fence? Any news when it'll be ready to put out and contain them?"

"It's coming along," he informed her, somewhat vaguely. "Reckon it should be finished before winter." That was good news, too. There was still the need for the militia and always would be so long as there were mutants and other dangers, but at least, they were making progress in finding ways to defend against those threats.

Dale smiled, glad they were making progress. "You know, Brona and Ember have been talkin' about studying a corpse one of these days," she said thoughtfully, tucking another spoonful between Noah's hungry lips. "They reckon there might be a way to sterilize the mutants so they can't breed no more."

"Studying a ..." Eli broke off, with a forkful of meat pie halfway to his mouth. He made a face at the thought of the women picking apart a dead mutant, though he knew it was for the greater good. "They mention how they expect to get hold of one?" he asked, shoveling the meat pie into his mouth at last.

"I don't know." She shrugged, putting her own loaded fork down to feed the baby again. "You are a hungry little monster today, ain'tcha?" Noah grinned, dribbling some of his mouthful happily. "I mean, how do they get the venom for some of their potions and things?" Dale went on, wiping the boy's chin gently. "I never thought to ask."

Eli turned quietly thoughtful. There was obviously something on his mind - something he never thought he'd think, much less say, considering how the mutants had been responsible for his parents' deaths. "You know, maybe Cody is right. It's not their fault they are what they are. Then again, they're dangerous."

"We're not the aggressors, darlin', they are," Dale pointed out in a gentle tone. "The mutants are the ones tryin' to make lunch outta every human they run across."

"But if we kill them in cold blood, are we any better than they are?" Eli asked. He'd been struggling with the morality of the problem for a few months now, at odds with his instinct to protect. "What do you do when there are wolves at the gate? Is it the wolves fault that they're hungry?" he asked.

"Isn't that why you and Mahon got the council and the valley leaders to start workin' on the fence in the first place?" Dale reminded him. "So's we don't have to kill them. Fence them away from folks, and there won't be so much trouble, right?"

"They're like wild animals," Eli said, not disagreeing with his wife. "I just don't think killing them is the solution. Maybe if we could manage them somehow?" he asked, with a shrug of his shoulders.

"It'd be easier if we could understand them," Dale mused, swallowing her mouthful to turn her attention back to Noah. "What, you don't want any more?" The baby boy grabbed for the spoon. "Oh, you do want more? Why's all that down your front then, huh?"

Eli smirked at their son's attempt to feed himself. If he was this fiercely independent already, what were they going to be in for when he was older? Eli wondered if the mutants were as protective of their own children. "Cody thinks they were like us once. In the Before Time," Eli mused aloud.

"How's that possible?" she asked. It wasn't that Dale was uneducated, but her education had been limited to keeping house, and hadn't had much opportunity to expand further over the years. "The same thing happened to everyone, right?"

Eli shrugged. His youngest brother was the smart one in the family, the one who devoured every book he could get his hands on. He had theories about what had happened in the past, but he'd never had much chance to explore or prove those theories.

"Cody says something happened to make them different from us, but he isn't sure what. Disease maybe. I dunno. If that's true, they aren't just mutants, Dale. They're people who became monsters."

"If that's true, then it ain't right they got hit that way," she said firmly. "But if they're people just in a different way, there's gotta be a way to talk to them, right?"

"I dunno," Eli replied, scooping up another forkful of meat pie. "It might be too late for that," he admitted. There had been a time when all he'd wanted to do was kill mutants, but wouldn't it be better if they could help them somehow? "I'm not saying we should keep them as pets or let them keep multiplying. They outnumber us already. But there has to be something we can do. Some humane way of dealing with them."

"But if it comes down to it and it's us or them ... I still say them," Dale said, only a faint note of regret in her voice. "At least we got some kinda quality in our lives. What've they got, when you break it down?"

"Nothing. They're like animals, just living to survive. And they might be too far gone for us to help them," Eli admitted sourly. If that was the case and nothing could be done to help them, then something had to at least be done to keep their numbers down until they died out.

"So we're back to containment and control," she murmured, wiping Noah's face clean. "There, you mucky mischief, all done now? Can I trust you to take a drink while I eat now?" The baby boy gurgled back at her, all bright smiles again now he'd eaten.

Eli Mullen

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« Reply #2 on: July 04, 2019, 05:33:00 PM »
"Yeah, but that's better than hunting them down and killing them," Eli replied, frowning at the knowledge that that was precisely what he and his brothers had spent the last few years doing.

"Darlin', you didn't know you had a choice," Dale reminded him, ignoring her meal a moment longer to reach across and touch his hand as she smiled gently. "Life's different now. You got time to think it over."

"I was consumed with hatred, Dale," Eli confessed, though she likely knew this already. "It was meeting you that changed that," he told her, turning his palm upward to tangle his fingers with hers. He was a changed man, a kinder man, and all because of her.

"Gettin' bullied into marriage can change a fella, so I've heard," she laughed, squeezing his hand. "I love you, you know. Even your cranky bits."

"Is that what you think happened?" he asked, a bit of a smirk on his face. What had happened between them gave new meaning to the term "shotgun wedding". Forced together, they had fallen in love against their own better judgment, and he had never looked back.

"Well, it didn't seem like you had much of a choice at the time," she pointed out with a smirk of her own. "Glad you agreed, though." She glanced at Noah, who was apparently trying to work out how his sippy cup worked. "Think you can handle your son while I eat something?"

"I think I can manage," he assured her, smiling back and giving her hand a gentle squeeze in return before letting go. "Nate says everything happens for a reason," he said, reaching over to help Noah with his sippy cup. Nate - the middle Mullen brother - was what people sometimes called an eternal optimist. No matter how bad things got, Nate insisted they'd get better. "Do you think that's true?"

"I think in our cases that reason was called Brona, but it makes sense, kinda," Dale had to agree, finally having the freedom to eat what was on her plate. "I guess all the good fortune goes back to that one bit of bad fortune that lead to you two hijacking Brona off the road in the first place, huh?"

"One thing led to another, I reckon," Eli agreed. Desperate times called for desperate measures. Eli had been desperate to save Cody and hadn't even considered that Brona might agree to help them without a gun pointed her way. "I've done some things I ain't very proud of," he confessed, though he'd told her as much before. "But we were lucky enough to get a second chance, and I don't intend to waste it."

As if to underline his intention, Noah let out an almighty roar and shook his cup, sending a spray of water over his father in the process. Dale snorted around her mouthful. "And how's that workin' out for you, darlin'?"

Eli laughed as he reached for Noah's cup. "I think maybe he ain't ready for a cup yet," he said, tipping the cup back against his son's lips to demonstrate how it's supposed to be done.

"He won't ever be ready for it if we don't let him keep tryin'," she countered, taking a sip of her cider as Noah glugged greedily from the cup in Eli's hand.

"Somehow, I doubt he'll grow up never knowing how to drink from a cup, darlin'," Eli teased her. Everything in its own time, after all. He held the cup there a moment longer, before lifting Noah's chubby hand to take hold of it himself.

"I still think we want Millie to get pregnant so we can have her look after the kiddies while I feed all of us," Dale pointed out. "She won't give up doing everything over there until she's got a reason to, and she won't let me help."

Eli arched a brow, wondering where that came from. "I thought they hired an apprentice," he said, wondering just what work Dale wanted to save her sister-in-law from.

"They did, and Jonas is definitely an all hands on deck kind of kid, but Millie's looking after the house, Ella, and her grandfather, not to mention feeding Nate and Joe as well as the goats," Dale said. "I feel like she's got more on her plate that I do, but every time I offer to help out, she insists she's got it covered."

"And Nate's got his hands full running the mill," Eli murmured thoughtfully, knowing his brother's situation. "Maybe what they need is a another pair of hands in the kitchen," he suggested. He wasn't sure he liked the idea of Dale cooking for a small army, when they had enough work of their own. "Maybe a girl in the village. Someone who's looking for work?"

"I think we should talk to Nate and Harry about it first before we jump into hiring anyone," Dale pointed out with a smile. "Pretty sure that between them they could convince Millie she shouldn't have to do everything."

"You think so?" Eli asked, uncertainly. "I dunno." He wondered if Nate had ever tried broaching the subject. "Running the mill is hard work, but the work benefits everyone. No reason why they can't get someone to help out."

"I think Millie really doesn't know how hard she's workin' compared with everyone else," Dale considered aloud. "You know, since she used to run the mill as well as everything else. I'd feel happier if she had someone there, even if it's just to help with the cleanin' and the cookin'. Hell, we could put the girl up here so she wouldn't have far to go and they wouldn't need to worry about having Joe sharing space with an unmarried sprite."

"I'll talk to Mahon. See if he knows of anyone in town," Eli volunteered. There had been a time when the two alpha males had butted heads, but now that Dale and Eli had settled in the village and lived close by, the pair was on grudgingly friendly terms.

Dale seemed to relax, confident that it would be sorted out simply because Eli was going to do something about it. She was still loath to openly do anything for her in-laws, almost afraid that her cultivated reputation in the village as a frigid, trigger-happy shrew wouldn't survive it. "Thanks, darlin'."

"'Course," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders, before turning to their son, who had grown a little too quiet. He smiled to find the boy was practically nodding off at the table. "Looks like it's time for a nap," he said, pushing away from the table and scooping the little boy up into his arms. Not for Eli though. There was too much to do to spend time napping.

"He's had a busy mornin'," she commented, smiling as Noah looped his sleepy arms around Eli's neck without a second thought, nestling in close. She rose, too, gathering the plates together to wash them in the sink.

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« Reply #3 on: July 04, 2019, 05:36:21 PM »
"I'll just put him to bed," Eli said. "Time for a nap, sleepyhead," he murmured to the boy, touching a kiss to his cheek before heading in the direction of the bedrooms.

Dale set herself to washing the dishes, pausing when movement through the window drew her attention to Millie across the way. The quietest of the Mullen wives was already out of the house following lunch, beating rugs and quilts, with little Ella helping her as best she could while Nate and Joe headed back to the mill. She couldn't help smiling at the sight of the toddler banging at nothing but air with her little beater.

It wasn't more than a few minutes before Eli rejoined his wife in the kitchen, taking up a towel to dry the dishes. They'd dry by themselves, given time, but this gave him a few quiet minutes to spend alone with his wife.

"So what are you applying yourself to this afternoon, husband mine?" she asked, tilting her head to smile up at him as he started drying the dishes beside her.

He peeped out the window at Millie and Ella vigorously going at the rugs and frowned. "I was gonna tend to the broken fence, but maybe I should go talk to Mahon." Or he could help Millie beat the rugs before she wore herself out.

"If you're goin' over to the Dugan farm, there's a basket of stuff packed up for Brona and Cody," Dale pointed out. "Hell, maybe you could take Ella with you to see Aedan and Liam while you're at it."

"I can do that, if she wants to go along," Eli replied, uncertainly. He wasn't too sure if Nate and Millie's little girl liked him very much, much less trusted him. She was a quiet little thing who followed her mother around like her shadow.

"Trust me," Dale assured him. "You just gotta flash her a smile and promise she'll see Nemone and Brona as well, and she'll be on that horse faster'n you."

"You think so?" he asked, still looking doubtful. It wasn't that the little girl didn't like him, as she was a little on the shy side. Or was it Eli who was a little scared of her? He'd only had brothers all his life and now a son. He had no idea what to do with a little girl.

"Yeah." Dale chuckled at his uncertainty. "She's a pretty fearless little thing, she just likes toddling around behind Millie. But you're her uncle, Eli. Smiling a little more at her will definitely help,"

"What if I get her a pony? Reckon she'd like me then?" he asked hopefully, only teasing a little. It wasn't beyond him to make that a reality, but she might be too little to really appreciate such a gift yet. It was one way of buying her love anyway.

"I think you could save yourself the effort by spending a little more time with her, that's all," she told him in amusement. "Like an afternoon visiting the other half of the family together."

Eli chuckled and rolled his eyes. "Okay, I get the hint," he told her, as he finished up with the dishes. "Reckon I'll be gone most of the afternoon then," he told her. Even if Millie didn't want to give Ella up, it would take a little while to reach the Dugan farm, and even longer to talk to Mahon.

Wiping her hands dry, Dale hung the cloth on the edge of the sink, turning to face him with a cheerful cast to her smile. "I guess you'll just have to make it up to me with an early night then," she countered impishly. "If you're up for it, of course."

Eli tossed the towel aside and swung his arms around his wife's waist, drawing her close. "Just when have I not been up for it?" he asked, mirroring that impish grin, and waggling his brows at her.

"Well, this is why I have to keep checking, to find out if it'll ever happen," she teased, hopping up onto her toes to pull him down into a soft kiss.

"Not lik-" His words were cut off by that kiss, but he wasn't complaining. She had certainly managed to tame the wildest of the Mullen brothers.

"Mmm ..." Dale's smile was still obvious as she drew back from that kiss. "Need me to come with you so you don't run away from the tiny girl, or do you think you can handle it?"

For a man who had fearlessly hunted mutants, it was almost ridiculous to think he might be frightened of one small girl. "I think I can handle it," he assured her, though for some strange reason, his stomach was tied up in knots just thinking about it.

"Go on, then." She patted his backside fondly. "The basket's by the door, all ready to go. You can strap it onto the horse easy enough."

He frowned at her, his expression a little reminiscent of little Noah when he was being scolded. "Yes, ma'am. I'm going," he told her, starting toward the door. "I'll be home for dinner."

"You better be." She waited until he wasn't looking at her before letting her grin shine forth. Eli's nerves when it came to being anywhere near Ella was absolutely hilarious to her.

Eli drew a deep breath as he stepped out the door. What was it about the little girl that frightened him so? Was it just the fact that he was uncomfortable around her? That he had no idea how to relate to girls, big or small? Dale was one thing; little Ella was quite another.

He was in time to see Ella aim her little beater at a corner of the rug, swing, miss by a mile and spin around to land on her backside with an uproarious cackle of laughter.

"You're havin' fun there, are you?" Millie asked her daughter, bending to hoist the toddler back onto her feet with a kiss.

Just how he'd gotten talked into taking Ella with him to the Dugans was beyond him, but there was no time like the present, he supposed. He drew another breath, pasted a smile on his face, and stepped off the porch toward Millie and Ella. "Afternoon, Millie!" he called over, lifting a hand in greeting.

Straightening up, Millie passed her beater from one hand to the other, tossing her braid back over her shoulder with a wide smile.

"Hey, Eli, what brings you this way before dark?" she asked warmly, chuckling as Ella garbled something randomly before adding,

"'lo, Unc'eelie."

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« Reply #4 on: July 04, 2019, 05:37:03 PM »
"Howdy, Ella!" Eli greeted the little girl, before turning back to her mother. "I'm heading over to the Dugan Farm and was wondering if little Ella here might wanna go along. Visit with Aedan and Liam."

"Well, that sounds like fun, doesn't it, Elliekins?" Millie said, looking down at her daughter. "Wanna go visit Aedan and Liam with Uncle Eli?" Clinging to Millie's skirt with one hand, Ella looked up at Eli and nodded happily, toddling forward to raise her hands toward him. "That answers that question," Millie chuckled.

A look of surprise flitted briefly across Eli's face at the little girl's trust and willingness to accompany him, though he had a feeling it was the promise of seeing the boys that had convinced her. "All right then," he said, crouching down to scoop her up, balancing her against one hip, the basket held in the other. "Promised Dale I'd be home for dinner."

"We'll be ready for you," Millie promised him. "Thank you for inviting her along." Her eyes turned to Ella, clinging happily to Eli's shirt. "You be a good girl for Uncle Eli, okay?"

Ella nodded again, doing her best impression of an angel by settling her head on Eli's shoulder.

Eli's heart melted as the little girl laid her head against his shoulder. Was it only because she wanted her mother to think she'd be good or was she actually fond of her father's brother?

"We'll be fine, Millie. Don't worry. I'll take care of her like she's my own," he assured his brother's wife.

"I know you will," Millie answered, her smile warming again before she looked back at her work. "I better get on with this, though. I got the mattresses to beat out as well before I make dinner. And you got places to be!"

Eli hesitated a moment, a small frown on his face. "Millie, you know if you need help, all you gotta do is ask, right?" he asked her. Maybe Dale was right. The best thing that could happen would be for Millie to get pregnant. Why she wasn't by now he wasn't sure, but he knew some women had a harder time getting themselves with child than others, but he supposed there was no rush.

"I know," Millie told him cheerfully. "I'm used to it, Eli, don't worry about me. There's always been lots to do around here." To her credit, she never complained about any of the work she had to do, though it might actually have been the sheer amount of work she was doing that was keeping her from getting pregnant.

"All right," Eli said, not pushing the matter further. "We'll be back before dark," he assured her again. "Won't we, sweet pea?" he asked, looking to Ella, balanced against his hip.

"Gun ri' horsie?" Ella asked hopefully, lifting her head to look into Eli's eyes. Whatever he thought counted against him when it came to little girls, he had clearly been wrong.

"Sure," Eli replied, "but you gotta promise to sit still on the horse, so you don't fall. Can you do that?" he asked her. They could just have easily walked, but it would be faster to ride.

"P'mise," was Ella's faithful response. Millie watched them go with a warm smile, pushing her hair out of her eyes before turning back to beating the dust and dander out of the quilts in the heat of the afternoon sun.

Eli waited for Ella to wave to her mama before the two of them headed to the barn to saddle his horse. Why had Nate and Millie given their little girl a name so similar to his? Was it on purpose or just a fluke? And why did she always make him feel so awkward? Somewhere inside him, he knew the answer to that question, but just didn't want to face it. It was the memory of a loss from a long time ago.

Yet Ella showed no sign of being shy of him, or of not wanting to be close to her uncle, sitting happily on his lap as they rode toward the Dugan farm just a few minutes later. She crowed with delight at being allowed to ride at all, waving her hands in the air as she laughed uproariously almost all the way there.

Thankfully, it wasn't far, and it was nice weather for a ride, or he'd have never agreed to taking her along. With one arm around her to keep her secure, and the other handling the reins, it wasn't long before they arrived, much to Aedan and Liam's delight. While Ella went off to play with the boys, Eli went in search of Mahon, who referred him to Cody and Brona.

Who welcomed him warmly into their little home. Brona was definitely waddling by now, her bump bigger every time they saw it. It wouldn't be long before there was a new Mullen in the world.

"What brings you over here?" she asked as she reached up to hug Eli fondly.

To Eli's credit, he didn't hesitate in hugging his sister in law back. "Can't I come by to visit without having some underlying reason?" he asked, eying Brona's bump with a grin. "Look like you're gonna pop any day now, Brona. Where's my baby brother got himself to?" he asked, raising his voice so that Cody could hear him.

"I'm here!" Cody called back, as he joined his wife and brother. "Just going over some lessons for school," he explained.

"You don't usually come alone if you're only visiting," Brona pointed out with a grin, chuckling at his comment on her middle. "Hard to believe there's still a month to go, huh?" She patted the bump affectionately. "This kid is gonna be huge."

"You sure there's only one in there?" he asked, reluctant to poke a finger at her middle. She was his brother's wife, and some things were just not properly done.

"Let's hope there's only one in there if we wanna get any sleep!" Cody said, laughing.

Brona rolled her eyes at both of them, shaking her head as she laughed. "There's only one," she said with absolute conviction. "And I've been forcibly been put on light duty." Her expression suggested she was not entirely happy about that, but couldn't argue if she expected to be able to use the same argument on Ember next time she got pregnant.

"In a way, that's what I came here to talk to you about," Eli said, though it had very little to actually do with Cody and Brona.

"You wanted to talk to us about what?" Cody asked, furrowing his brows in confusion.

"It's about Millie," Eli said, looking a little uncomfortable about the subject.

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« Reply #5 on: July 04, 2019, 05:37:25 PM »
"Is she okay?" Brona asked with a frown, looking up from the basket of baby supplies Eli had brought with him. "She's not ill, is she?"

"No," Eli replied with a frown. "At least, not yet. Dale and I think she's pushing herself too hard. Even with an apprentice, there's too much work at the mill for the two of them, considering how Old Man Green's getting on in age. We were wondering if you know of anyone in the village who might be willing to do a little housework in exchange for room and board."

Brona's eyes turned to Cody thoughtfully. "What about Verity Cooper?" she suggested. "Heard her pa talking the other day about getting her married off to have babies already, and she's only just sixteen. She could probably do with the job, and her ma would appreciate a little extra coming in."

Cody looked thoughtful a moment before nodding. "That might work. It would be good experience for her and good for Millie, too."

"Dale's kinda worried about her," Eli confessed, with a worried frown of his own. "I probably shouldn't ask this, but don't you think she should be pregnant by now?"

"Some women don't conceive for a long time," Brona said thoughtfully. "But if Millie's still doing a lot of heavy work around the place, she could have miscarried a few times without ever knowing she was pregnant."

Eli winced. He didn't want to butt into Nate and Millie's lives, but he knew how hard they worked and Brona's statement only proved that they had valid concerns.

"Which only proves that Millie needs help," he said.

"But how do we convince Millie?" Cody asked.

"I'd offer to bully her into it, but I think this is something she probably needs to hear from Nate and Harry, to be honest," Brona admitted ruefully. "It'd be better for her state of mind if she thought she was doing it for other people and not for herself. She's never been one to ask for help."

"But if it is affecting her ability to conceive, shouldn't she know that?" Eli asked uncertainly, looking from one to the other.

"Might do more harm than good telling her that," Cody admitted, looking to Brona for her thoughts on the matter.

"I wouldn't tell her," Brona said firmly. "Because if that's not the problem, it'd get her hopes up and I don't want to see her fall down that hole. No, if we can get Nate and Harry to get her to take Verity on out of her own compassion for the girl, I think it'd work out better for all concerned."

"I'll have to talk to Nate then," Eli said, frowning. And probably Harry. He was going to have to make it sound like it was about Verity, not Millie at all. Brona was right - he didn't think it would be a good idea to tell Nate about the fact that Millie might have been working herself too hard either. It would only make his brother worry.

Brona nodded in agreement. "They know her best," she conceded. "If anyone can convince Millie to take on help, it's her husband, after all. Besides, it could be she's working too hard for them to do the do after a long day's work, as well."

"Maybe. I know they're very happy with Ella," Eli pointed out. "We're just worried about her is all." He hoped he wasn't overstepping his boundaries as a brother-in-law by going to Brona and Cody for advice.

"And this is the good thing about being close to family," Brona replied with a smile. "All right, first step is to get Millie to agree, then one of us can approach the Coopers and offer Verity the place. I'm pretty sure she'd jump at it - but I didn't think there was another room at the mill house?"

"No, Dale and I were going to volunteer to let her stay with us," Eli informed her. "We have an extra room and that way she'll have a place to get away from work for a while."

"It sounds like a good plan," Cody said. "So long as Millie agrees."

"I think she will," Brona said confidently. "She's not stupid, she just doesn't like drawing attention to herself even if it's to ask for a little help. She's probably more than ready to have some help on hand for the heavy work during the day."

"At least, they don't live too far away," Cody remarked, relieved both his brothers were less than walking distance from the Dugan Farm these days.

"And close enough that Dale and I can keep an eye on them," Eli added. It wasn't that Nate and Millie needed babysitting, but it was hard giving up the job of looking out for his younger brothers.

"And it'll be good for Verity to get out of parents' house, too," Brona added. "Fists fly when her father drinks - doesn't happen too often, but often enough. She's the only daughter; the boys can take care of themselves. Her ma can, too."

Eli scowled at the thought of that, wondering if the man needed talking to, though he knew better than to butt into something that was none of his business.

"I didn't know that," Cody admitted with a frown of his own.

"Well, technically you still don't know," Brona pointed out. "But I've patched Verity up enough to make an educated guess." She shrugged; every village had its dark secrets, after all.

"Patched her up?" Eli echoed, expression darkening. "You mean he raised his hand to her?" he asked in a tone of voice that made no secret how he felt about that. He might have threatened Brona with a gun, but he had never had any intention of pulling the trigger, much less hurting her in any way.

Brona nodded, but didn't say any more. She wasn't going to tempt sending Eli over to the Coopers' in a rage just because he knew some of the injuries she had patched for young Verity since the girl started to show signs of being old enough to take the blows.

"Maybe that could be mentioned to Nate, too," she suggested. "He's at least as protective as you two are."

"So long as she's living under my roof, he's not going to lay a hand on her, father or not," Eli said, leaving no room for argument. "I'll say something to Nate," he added with a nod, though he knew his brother wasn't going to like it. "And we call mutants monsters," Eli murmured.

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« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2019, 05:37:40 PM »
"Good," Brona said with a faint smile. "But she's not there yet, so no detours while you're taking our niece home again." She waggled a finger at her brother-in-law teasingly, pausing to draw in a slow breath and arch her back with a groan that was barely noticeable.

"I promised Millie I'd take care of her like she's my own," Eli assured Brona, though little Ella was in the care of the Dugans for the moment. He looked over at the window, gauging the time. "I should probably get going. Promised I'd by back for supper," he told the pair, turning back.

"Sure," Brona agreed with a smile. "Can you do me a quick favor, though? It's just a very brief in Pax on your way back." She batted her lashes at Eli, knowing perfectly well that her place as honorary little sister gave her pretty much carte blanche with everything.

Eli sighed and frowned, but there was no point in telling her no when she already knew he'd do as she asked. "What favor?"

"Just drop by Ember's house and tell her I'm probably gonna need her in a couple of hours? Pretty please?" Only Brona could be quite so calm and composed when openly admitting the fact that she was pretty sure she was in labor.

"You're gonna need Ember?" Eli echoed, looking confused again.

Cody seemed to catch on pretty quickly. "Brona, are you ...?" he asked, not finishing his thought, a look of mingled concern and excitement on his face.

Her smile was bright for Cody, as reassuring as she could make it. "Yeah, we're getting there," she told her husband fondly. "It's probably gonna be a long night, though."

"Oh!" Cody exclaimed, a brief look of panic crossing his face. "What do I do?" he asked, looking to Eli for help and advice.

Eli chuckled. "All you can do is wait, for now. I'll go fetch Ember and let Nemone know it's started," Eli promised.

"Thank you, Eli." Brona reached up to kiss his cheek affectionately, turning to soothe her own husband. "Sweetheart, it's going to be hours yet," she told Cody. "Just cool your heels and try and have a normal evening. You'll know when it's getting close to time."

"Am I allowed to pass along the news?" Eli asked, glad to be able to share some happy news with his wife and those at the mill. He wondered if Dale or Millie would insist on visiting, or if they'd be content to let Ember and Nemone handle the birth.

"Sure," was the cheerful answer. "But no visitors until tomorrow afternoon. The bedroom is too small to have all our female relatives in it at the same time!"

"You're going to be a papa, little brother," Eli said, taking Cody by the shoulders and laughing as he kissed both his brother's cheeks.

As for Cody, he looked like he was in a temporary state of shock. He'd known Brona was going to go into labor at some point, but he hadn't expected it to be today!

"Cutest papa there ever was!" Brona added impishly, hugging her arm about Cody's waist. It probably helped that she was very used to births; most girls tended to be a little wild-eyed about their first until the midwife showed up.

Eli laughed at the other couple, and patted Cody's cheek, amused at the look of shock on his brother's face. "Now that I have an errand to run, I'd better get going," he told them. "Brona, I expect we'll be back to see you tomorrow," he said, bending down to kiss his sister-in-law's cheek. "Send word if you need anything."

"I expect so," she agreed cheerfully. "And we will. Just you get yourself and that adorable little girl home in time for your supper."

"Yes, ma'am," Eli replied, agreeably and obediently. Besides Dale, Brona was perhaps the only other person alive that Eli allowed to boss him around.

His timing seemed pretty perfect at the main farmhouse, too - Ella was just starting to look around for him, wanting to go home to her Mama and Papa. She swarmed up into Eli's arms without a second thought, hugging his neck as she said her goodbyes cheerfully.

Once the farewells had been said, Eli turned the horse for home, with a brief stop in the village to pass along the good news to Ember. So long as they weren't detained, they'd be home before dark and just in time for supper.

Time enough, in fact, for Eli to rope Nate into helping him stable the horse and have a quiet word with his brother while doing so, while Millie whisked Ella inside to wash up and potty before setting supper onto the table for her grandfather, her husband, and their apprentice. She loved to work for her family, but even she knew she was getting very tired at the end of each day.

Eli had to form his words carefully, where his brother was concerned, so that he didn't worry him too much. Nate seemed to understand the need for another pair of hands and was agreeable to the idea. It was just a matter of convincing Millie. And there was the news of Brona giving birth to share, too. By the time he rejoined his family for supper, Nate was feeling a mix of excitement and trepidation at his brother's news.

As he came back in, Harry was in the process of convincing Millie to let him take over helping Ella eat so she could eat her own meal without distractions for once.

"... less than you do, anyway," the old man was saying, rolling his eyes at his granddaughter. "Nate, talk some sense into your wife. She hasn't sat down since lunch."

"Millie, sit down. I have some news," Nate told his wife, for once, brooking no argument. Both he and Harry were more than willing and capable of helping with Ella. Jonah was there, too, as much a part of the family as the rest of them were, but he knew better than to interrupt.

Blinking in surprise, Millie abruptly sat, relinquishing responsibility for Ella to her grandfather in a moment. She looked up at Nate, concern touching her face. "What is it, love?" she asked, unused to Nate taking charge quite so obviously.

There had been no anger in Nate's voice when he'd given his directive, though he'd left little room for argument. He was an easy-going man who was slow to anger, the serious look on his face softening at Millie's concern.

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« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2019, 05:37:56 PM »
"It's all right, darlin'," he said, reaching to reassure her with a touch of his hand. "But Harry's right. You work too hard. There's a girl in the village looking for work. Eli and Dale are willing to put her up, if we're willing to hire her to lend a hand," he said, coming straight to the point.

Millie hesitated, glancing around the table at the men folk in her life. "Aren't ... aren't I keeping up with things?" she asked worriedly. "Did I forget something? I can always add it to the list."

Harry rolled his eyes, catching Nate's eye and closing his mouth before butting in.

"No, darlin'," Nate assured her, taking her hand and giving it a gentle squeeze. "We just don't like to see you work so hard. You're up at dawn and don't turn in 'til dark. We hired Jonah to help with the mill, and he's working out fine. Now, it's time to hire someone to help with the household chores. 'Sides, it'll give you more time to spend with Ella," he reasoned.

Millie softened at the reassurance, turning her hand to link her fingers with his. "All right," she agreed, happy to agree to almost anything if it made her husband happier. "We'll try it out. Who's the girl?"

"Verity Cooper," Nate replied. He didn't know the girl very well, but if Brona had recommended her for the job, then that was good enough for him. He didn't want to tell Millie that giving Verity the job would help her escape an alcoholic father, but he would if it would help him convince her.

"Goodness, I don't blame her for wanting out of that house," Millie said innocently. "She's got too many brothers, that girl."

Harry's brows had knitted together; that wasn't usually the reason a girl wanted to go into service away from her home. But he wasn't going to mention his own suspicions. After all, he'd known the girl's grandfather. Some behaviors weren't born, they were learned.

Nate shifted slightly, a sign of nervousness. He was honest to a fault, but he didn't really want to share a secret that wasn't his to share, especially one that might prove hurtful.

"Should I tell Eli yes?" he asked, though it seemed Millie had already agreed to trying the girl out.

"Yeah, we should." Millie nodded as she agreed. "Are you sure Eli and Dale don't mind putting her up, though? I mean, we could probably make space." That was wishing on moonbeams, though.

"They don't mind," Nate assured her with a smile, giving her hand another squeeze, pleased she had agreed to the idea. "Now that's settled, I got something else to tell you," he said, the smile on his face widening. "Brona's having her baby!"

The gasp this ripped from his wife was totally drowned out by the cheer that rose from Harry across the table.

"Trust that girl to go early!" the old man chuckled, bouncing Ella on his knee as she sucked on her cooked carrots and giggled with him.

Even Jonah smiled, though he remained silent. He was a quiet young man who, like Harry, knew when not to butt in, but this was happy news.

"Eli said we can visit tomorrow," Nate was quick to add. "You're gonna have a new cousin, Ellabelle!" he told his daughter, reaching over to brush a finger against her cheek.

The toddler gabbled for a moment before producing something coherent. "Unca'eelie wen' horsie fast!"

Millie giggled quietly, already mentally tallying up what they could take over to the Dugans to make life easier on Brona and Cody for a few weeks as they ate.

Nate chuckled at his daughter's remark, and grinned over at Millie. "It's good news!" he said, glad he was able to share something to make her smile and do something that might make her life easier. "Uncle Cody and Auntie Brona are gonna have a baby!" he told his daughter, whether she understood or not. With any luck, by this time tomorrow, all the Mullen brothers would be fathers at long last.

Mouth full, Ella blinked her big blue eyes over Nate curiously. "Baby?" she asked, not quite understanding, but hopefully by tomorrow, she would.

Harry chuckled, taking the opportunity to shovel a forkful into his own mouth while the little girl was distracted.

"Yes, a baby!" Nate replied, laughing. In his opinion, it was about time Cody and Brona caught up to the rest of them, though they really weren't all that far behind.

"I can handle the mill myself tomorrow, if you wanna go visit," Jonah volunteered.

"We'll go in the afternoon," Millie said softly, smiling over at Jonah. "You might as well come with us - it's your day off the day after, so take the afternoon as well. Go see your ma for a bit."

Jonah smiled and nodded his head. "Thank you, ma'am. I will."

"What about you, Harry? You wanna come along?" Nate asked his wife's grandfather. The man was old, but it was simple enough to hook up the wagon so they could all go along, and it wasn't too far.

"I'll come along, if you're willing to humor an old man," Harry agreed. He was fond of all the Mullen boys, and the Dugans besides. It was good to be able to call them family. "I can make sure we don't overstay our welcome."

Millie rolled her eyes. "Maybe we should talk to Eli and Dale," she suggested. "All of us in one wagon."

"I'll talk to them after supper," Nate told her. He still had a few more chores to do before bed, but with Jonah's help, they wouldn't take long. It made sense for all of them to go in one wagon, rather than go separate, since they lived close by.

"Or in the morning," Millie said in her soft way, smiling over at him. "I don't think they're going to run off at the crack of dawn - Brona would try and kill them for arriving that early."

"I reckon you're right," Nate said, laughing at himself. "It's exciting news though, ain't it?" he asked, of both bits of news really. Brona was obviously going to give birth sometime; he just hadn't expected it today. It wasn't quite as unexpected as finding a baby on your doorstep, but as far as Nate was concerned, Ella was theirs through and through.

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« Reply #8 on: July 04, 2019, 05:38:19 PM »
"Yeah, it is. I didn't think she was due for another few weeks!" Millie finally lifted Ella off her grandfather's knee to let the old man feed himself now the toddler had eaten a fair amount, tucking her onto her lap as she finished off her own meal.

"Oh, babes come when they choose," Harry commented. "Especially first ones. Some early, some late. Never known one to show up on time."

"What about Millie?" Nate asked, curiously as he, too, scraped his plate clean. "Was she early or late?" He never seemed to tire of Harry's stories, especially the ones about Millie.

"Late." The old man laughed as Millie groaned softly. "A whole month late! Her ma thought she was goin' to be expecting forever."

"A whole month?" Nate echoed, brows arching upwards.

Beside him, Jonah cleared his throat and mumbled something about a thing or two that needed doing at the mill, quietly excusing himself from the table. Nate nodded his acknowledgment before turning back to Millie and Harry.

"Seems there's some babes that sleep in the womb for a bit," Harry said cheerfully. "Your lady wife was one of them. Not that I'm complainin', not when I got a fine tall beauty for a granddaughter out of it."

"Grandpa," Millie murmured, embarrassed by the complimentary attention.

"No argument there," Nate said, with an equally affectionate gaze at his wife. He might not tell her very often how he felt, but in his estimation, there was no one as pretty as his Millie, and no one he loved more.

Millie blushed, smiling even as she ducked her head. Even after a full year or more married, she was very easy to please with words she knew Nate meant with every fiber of his being. On her lap, Ella grinned over at Nate, completely unaware of what was actually being said, but knowing that it was definitely something good.

Nate smiled back, eyes bright with happiness. He couldn't deny he'd been worried about Millie for some time now - worried she was working herself too hard. He'd noticed how tired she was sometimes, though she never complained. Now that help was on the way, maybe there'd be more time to spend as a family. It didn't even occur to him that she might be having trouble getting pregnant, and thankfully, Eli hadn't mentioned it. They had Ella, and that was good enough for him. Having another child would just be icing on the cake, as far as Nate was concerned, but there was plenty of time for that.

"Reckon I should go help Jonah finish up," he said, rising from his seat. The sooner that was done, the sooner they could relax for the evening. "I won't be long," he promised, leaning close to touch a kiss to Millie's lips.

She beamed into that kiss, despite her brilliant blush, laughing when Ella grabbed onto his collar and demanded a kiss of her own before her papa headed out to finish up for the evening.

Harry's laugh joined hers. "That little woman's got both of you wrapped around her tiny fingers."

"Just as Millie did you," Nate remarked with a wink, once he'd indulged his daughter with a kiss, and off he went to find Jonas.

It had certainly been an interesting day, for all the Mullen families.