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.