It’s not yet 3 a.m. when his cellphone rings, shrill and insistent. He fumbles for it from the couch, squinting at his watch.
“Mul’er,” he mumbles.
There’s a pause. “Mulder? It’s me…”
“Hey, Scully…what’s up?”
“I…think I’m in labor.”
He blinks, suddenly wide awake. “It’s too early.”
“Only…a couple weeks. Look, I’m sorry to bother you but…” she pauses, her voice going strained. “I need your help.”
“Sure, sure. What can I do?”
“My mom…she’s out of town,” Scully gasps. “I don’t want her driving all the way down here…if it’s nothing,” she says, letting out a long breath.
Mulder struggles to stand, hand sliding across the coffee table in search of his keys, scattering magazines, files, and a half-full glass of water to the floor.
“Shit,” he hisses, just as she does the same. “Hang on, Scully, I’m on my way.”
Several minutes later he stands at her apartment door wearing yesterday’s shirt with the buttons misaligned. He lets himself in with her key.
“In here,” she calls.
He finds her in the bedroom, hair pulled back with a bandanna, and she’s holding a dripping sponge with hands clad in yellow rubber gloves. Her voice is almost too bright. “I thought I’d clean to take my mind off the contractions. The bathroom floor is filthy.”
“Um,” he says, watching as she ducks back into the bathroom. He hears the water running, the sound of the sponge scrubbing at the porcelain sink. “Are you sure you should be doing that now?”
She emerges from the bathroom and strips off the gloves. “I haven’t had a contraction in thirty minutes. I think I might have spoken too soon, Mulder,” she says. “I’m sorry you came all the way over here for false labor.”
“Really, it’s probably just…” she trails off, her face going slack. “Oh…”
She bends at the waist, reaching out to brace herself on the wall.
“Scully? Talk to me, Scully.”
“Hurts,” she gasps.
“Breathe,” he says. “Lean on me if you have to.”
She does, her body tense and shaking.
“Try to relax. It hurts more if you fight it, remember?”
“Easy for you to say,” she mutters through gritted teeth, but eventually she pulls away. “Thanks,” she says, face flushed.
“Maybe you should sit down,” he offers.
“I…but the bathroom.”
“Tell you what, I’ll take care of the bathroom,” he says, willing to say anything to get her to cooperate. “You rest.”
He finds the sponge still in the sink. He half-heartedly scrubs around the drain, listening for her.
“So, uh, where’s your mom?” he calls.
“Visiting a friend upstate. She didn’t want to go, but the woman’s husband passed away last week, and I told her it was fine. Dr. Parenti said he didn’t expect him to come early.”
“Him?” Mulder says.
“Or her,” Scully qualifies, followed by a sharp intake of breath.
“Scully? You OK?”
“Yeah, I’m…I’m fine. Not a strong one.”
“Bathroom’s spotless,” he lies, tossing the sponge into the tub. “Should we be on our way?”
“Too soon,” she gasps, wincing. “Have to wait until they’re…less than five minutes apart…and at least sixty seconds long…”
“Are you sure you don’t want me to call the hospital?”
“Yes,” she groans, leaning forward. “We don’t know this is the real thing.”
“I’m no doctor, but it looks like the real thing to me.”
“The chance of unnecessary intervention…goes down…exponentially for every hour you labor…at home,” she says, breathing out.
“That’s interesting, Scully, but I’d like to see the statistics on live births in vehicles on the side of the road to compare.”
She glares at him. “I’m not going anywhere. It’s probably Braxton—ohgod,” she groans, doubling over.
“Yeah, a false alarm, right,” he mutters. “That was, what, two minutes?”
“Mullllderrrrr,” she wails, and he goes to her side, contrite.
“I’m here, Scully. What can I do?”
“I don’t…ohhhhhhhhh,” she groans again, blinking up at him with wide eyes, barely choking out the words, looking down at her lap with terrified awe. “Hand.”
He offers his hand and she squeezes it, forcing out some breaths for several painful seconds before finally relaxing.
“Want me to try your mom again?”
“Yeah,” she whispers. “Number’s on the fridge.”
“I’ll be right back.”
The phone rings without answer for several minutes. Mulder curses under his breath and hangs up when he hears a stifled cry from the next room.
“Fine,” she hisses, sounding anything but.
He wracks his brain, going over that one childbirth class, but the details are murky. He remembers how she smelled, the warm feeling of her back against his chest, the pace of her breathing and the taste of his vanilla cone, but the pertinent information is a blur.
She’s still sitting on the bed, hand tucked protectively around her belly when he comes back.
“You wanna walk around?”
“C’mon,” he says, taking her hand, guiding her off the bed. “You haven’t shown me the kid’s room yet.”
“Yes, I have.”
“I forgot what it looks like.”
She throws him a look, but follows him into the spare bedroom, now painted a creamy shade of yellow—the kind with a fancy name, he remembers teasing her about it, golden sunray or lemon chiffon, something like that—with a new crib in the corner, a rocking chair, a changing table.
There’s a stuffed frog sitting on the rocking chair. Scully picks it up, turns it over in her hands, runs her fingers over the plush. Mulder had bought it for her on a whim during a long layover.
“It reminded me of you,” he’d said as she’d unwrapped it. “You know, because of Florida. Maybe you can name him Jeremiah.”
Scully had smiled and rolled her eyes at the time, but the frog held a prominent place in the baby’s room.
“Does, uh, the peanut have a name yet?” he asks.
Scully shakes her head, putting the frog back on the chair. “Not yet.”
“Not even a hint, huh?”
“Nope,” she says through gritted teeth, putting her hand to the small of her back, grimacing.
“Breathe,” he reminds her, feeling helpless.
“I am,” she replies, her voice shaking with the effort.
They move to the kitchen, and she leans against the counter. Her knuckles turn white on the countertop, and she doesn’t pull away when he takes her hand, letting her squeeze it until the wave passes.
They time contractions for an hour, but the pains never fall into a regular pattern. Mulder tries her mom twice with no luck.
At some point, Scully doubles over with a force so strong that every bone in Mulder’s hand seems to grind together in a brutal, gritty dance of empathy.
When she can finally speak, her voice is raspy.
He sucks in a breath, flexing his sore fingers. “Does that mean we can go to the hospital?”
She nods violently, head snapping up and down as her brow wrinkles in concentration, another contraction following on the heels of the first.
“Breathe, Scully. Breathe, and tell me where you put your bag.”
It’s only three miles, but it feels like hours. Scully squeezes his hand over the console with each contraction, stoic and silent, and he becomes painfully aware of her strength.
They pull up to the Emergency entrance and Mulder jogs inside to flag down a nurse from the reception area.
“Hey, my partner is in labor, her water broke—“
Scully comes up beside him, giving her details to the receptionist in between labored breaths; another nurse arrives and helps Scully into a wheelchair.
“Are you the father?” he asks.
“Um, no,” Mulder says, just as Scully says, “Yes.”
The nurse looks back and forth between them for a moment before grabbing a clipboard. “I guess you two can figure that out later. Follow me.”
“Where is she?” Scully demands through clenched teeth.
Mulder shakes his head, hanging up the phone. “She got caught in traffic coming into the city, there was a pileup on 95…she’ll be here as soon as she can.”
“Dammit,” she curses, but it comes out like a sob.
“Hey, you’re doing great,” he murmurs, rubbing her back, but she shakes him off.
“Just my hand,” she mutters, forehead pressed to the bed rail. He takes her fingers with a wince, wondering how many bruises he’ll have by the time Maggie Scully walks through the door.
“Better be soon,” he mutters to himself as the contraction reaches its peak. “Breathe, Scully, just breathe, remember?”
“I…remember,” she snaps in between breaths. “It’s…not…helping.”
“I know,” he says, looking toward the door, willing someone—anyone—to walk through. “I know.”
The contraction eases and her grip loosens. It takes him a moment to register the keening noise she’s making through the beeping of the monitors and the fatigue ringing in his ears.
“Scully? Hey, talk to me.”
“S’nothing,” she mumbles thickly, face pressed into the pillow, hair falling over her cheek like a curtain. He reaches over to draw it back.
“You need me to call the nurse?” he asks, feeling helpless.
“No,” she sniffs. Her eyes are wet.
“I’m a piss-poor substitute for a birth coach, huh?” he murmurs.
“It’s not that,” she says, facing him. “It’s—“
The moment is interrupted by another contraction, this one stronger than the others, if the pressure on his fingers is any indication.
“Nooooooo ow ow ow,” she groans, her voice growing higher and more panicked with each second, devolving into a shriek that sets Mulder’s pulse racing.
“Scully? Tell me what to—“
Suddenly there’s a nurse at the door asking, “How are we doing, Mrs. Scully?”
“It’s Doctor Scully,” Mulder says, though the woman doesn’t appear to hear him. “And she’s in a lot of pain.”
“Sounds like it’s time for a cervical check,” she says mildly, reaching for a pair of gloves. “Let’s see where we’re at.”
Mulder helps Scully roll to her back when the contraction finally ends, and winces on her behalf when the nurse reaches beneath the sheet over her knees.
“Ice chips?” he offers, and she shakes her head, eyes wide and shimmering, fixed on the ceiling. He reaches over to brush hair away from her forehead, and when she doesn’t push him away, he strokes her temple.
“I can’t do this,” she whispers.
“Yeah, you can.”
“No. No, I can’t, I don’t know what I’m doing, Mulder, this was a mistake—“
“I wanted this…I want this, but…this is too much. I can’t…if I…”
He shakes his head. “That’s the pain talking. Remember? That’s how you know it’s almost over.”
“I can’t,” she groans, the word drawn out by another oncoming contraction.
“You’re close,” the nurse says. “I’m going to page Dr. Parenti. Time to have a baby!” she singsongs, leaving the room.
“Do you want me to call your—“
“Nooooooooo,” Scully wails. “Don’t…leave…me…”
“But your mom—“
“Not…gonna…make it,” she gasps.
Several minutes and three strong contractions later, a team of nurses descends on the room, followed by a short, white-haired man who must be Dr. Parenti.
“I heard there’s a baby on the way, Dana,” he says, chuckling as if enjoying a private joke, and Mulder’s lip curls in a snarl. A squeeze from Scully brings him back, and he kneels down, covering her hand with his.
“I’m here,” he says.
She breathes a sigh. “I’m glad it was you.”
He doesn’t have time to ask what she means before Dr. Parenti stands, gesturing for the nurses. “You’re at ten, Dana, and ready to push. Let’s get the bed ready.”
There’s a flurry of activity as machines are wheeled out of the way. Mulder swallows hard.
“I hope you know what’s going on here, Scully, because I’m a little out of my element.”
“Got your back,” she murmurs weakly.
“You just worry about getting the kid out, and tell me what I can do to help that won’t violate the Bureau’s fraternization protocol.”
“Since when have you ever cared about protocol, Mulder?”
He grins. “That’s my Scully,” he says, bringing her fingers to his lips.
“Just hold my hand,” she says, groaning as another contraction starts.
“Dana, you can push whenever you’re ready,” Dr. Parenti says from over Mulder’s shoulder.
“You heard the man, Scully. Do your thing.”
“I…am,” she rasps, curling forward, hair plastered to her forehead with sweat.
“More…more, more,” Dr. Parenti says, as if bored. “I know you can do better, Dana. Push!”
“Tough crowd,” Mulder mutters. “C’mon, Scully, you can do this. Focus. Breathe. Push.”
It seems to last forever, but at some point, a cry fills the room. Mulder braves a look over his shoulder to see Dr. Parenti lifting the baby up, placing him on Scully’s stomach.
“Mulder?” she whispers, still dazed and panting.
He’s struck dumb by the sight, watching the child as the nurses coo at him, rubbing him with a blanket. He sees Scully reach down, instinctively pulling the baby closer. A foot sticks out, splayed toes and wriggling against Mulder’s forearm as she gathers the child into her arms.
“You did it,” is all he can manage, wondering how it’s possible to feel like he’s watching his own heart settling against her chest when it’s beating within him.
“A boy,” she whispers.
He nods, unable to talk past the lump in his throat.
“Mulder, look,” she whispers, still awed.
“Yeah,” he chokes out.
He barely notices the nurses fussing over Scully, the doctor finishing his exam. When they take the baby to weigh and measure him, Mulder can’t take his eyes off him, and only when they place him in Scully’s arms and take their leave does he relax.
“He needs to try to eat,” Scully murmurs, untangling the front of her gown. It takes Mulder a moment to realize what she means, until she unclasps the top of her bra. Suddenly he finds the pattern on the ceiling deeply interesting, becomes absorbed in the hospital signage on the other side of the room.
“I think I need the nurse,” she admits after a few minutes of rustling and coaxing, and he jumps up, relieved to have a purpose.
“I’ll get someone.”
The nurse settles in with Scully and the baby, and Mulder takes the opportunity to get coffee, making sure to stay away for what he hopes is long enough to maintain a partnerly boundary. He arrives back at Scully’s room just in time for the nurse to leave.
“Welcome back, Dad! He’s got a great latch,” the nurse beams.
Mulder bites his tongue. “That’s, uh…great…”
“I’ll leave you three alone,” she says, patting his shoulder on the way out. “We’re down the hall if you need anything.”
Scully doesn’t seem to have noticed Mulder’s absence, or his return, or the nurse’s mistaken perception of his standing. He sidles up to the bed, relieved to find the baby sleeping in her arms.
“How’s he doing?”
She grins up at him. “He’s perfect, Mulder.”
He reaches out, drawing a finger along the baby’s crown, finding himself amazed at his presence; that what had once been an intangible hope born from a recovered vial of ova was now this tiny, living, breathing creature.
He turns around to find Maggie Scully in the doorway.
“Hi, Mrs. Scully,” he says, giving Scully’s shoulder a squeeze. “I’ll give you some space—“
“No, stay,” Maggie says, waving him off, intent on the newborn bundled up against his mother’s chest. “Oh, Dana, he’s beautiful. Oh, I’m so sorry I couldn’t make it, but he’s perfect.”
“It’s OK, Mom,” she says, accepting a hug. “We did just fine.”
Maggie turns to Mulder, reaching out to take his hand. “I’m so glad you were here, Fox.”
“Don’t thank me,” he says, ducking his head to hide the color in his face. “Scully did all the work.”
Maggie opens her mouth to protest, but Mulder interrupts. “What are you going to call him?”
“William,” Scully whispers.
“William,” he repeats, thinking of her father and brother.
“He looks like a William, don’t you think? He looks like you.”
He swallows hard, realizing her true intent.
“It’s the least I could do,” she explains, stroking the baby’s cheek with the pad of a finger as Mulder sways on his feet.
“Do you want to hold him?” Scully asks.
“I, uh, don’t know,” Mulder says, but Scully is already lifting the child up and into his arms. The only thing that keeps him from leaving is the certain terror that he’ll drop the baby if he so much as flinches. He’s stunned at the slight weight of him, surprised the baby—William, he thinks, she named him William—doesn’t start screaming.
“Hey there,” he begins, barely above a whisper. “Hey, William. I’m your…” he trails off.
“Fox,” Maggie speaks up gently, coaxing him. For the first time in his life, the name doesn’t sound foreign to his ears.
“Yeah,” he says, leaning in closer, whispering, “I’m your Fox.”
He meant to leave an hour ago, but he can’t seem to uproot himself from her couch. The baby is curled on his chest, and there’s the distant sound of the shower running as Scully washes the smell of the hospital out of her hair.
“Are you sure you don’t mind?” she’d asked, looking back and forth between them. “I don’t want to put you out.”
“It’s OK,” he says. “I think I can handle this.”
She’d looking longingly at the baby before ducking into the bedroom. “I’ll be out in ten minutes.”
“No rush,” he murmurs, taking in the warm, sweet scent of Will’s downy-soft head, surprised at the magnetic pull of someone so small.
Mrs. Scully had left to get groceries and dinner, saying something about the importance of quality time as she’d walked out the door.
Now, with William curled against him, he ponders an alternate universe where he stays. The thought is fleeting, sends his head spinning with the possibilities, none of which he has the energy to consider.
The shower stops running; Scully’s voice drifts from over his shoulder. She’s poking her head around the bedroom corner. “Mulder?”
“We’re still here,” he says, careful not to disturb William.
She gives a tired half-smile before ducking back into the bedroom, emerging a few minutes later dressed in sweatpants and a loose-fitting v-neck. He tries not to notice the swell of her cleavage.
“I should probably go,” he whispers, handing the baby over. “You should be sleeping.”
“I don’t think I can,” she sighs, drawing a finger across the puckered bow of William’s lips, the curve of a cheek. “I just want to look at him.”
He leans over and presses a kiss to her forehead. “You did good…Mom.”
“We did,” she says, soft enough that he wonders if he imagined it, but then she looks at him and smiles, and he feels it in every breath, every bone, every pore.