“Are you sure you’ll be OK? We’re just going around the corner for coffee, I’ll be back in half an hour. Twenty minutes, even.”
“Dana, we’ll be fine,” Maggie says, gently bouncing William in her arms. “I’ve done this before. Take your time. Get some fresh air.”
Mulder puts his hand at Scully’s back, gently steering her to the door. “C’mon. I’ll have you back before you turn into a pumpkin.”
She glares at him, then over her shoulder to where William is snuggled against his grandma. “I have my phone, Mom, the number is—“
“I know, Dana, I have it right here. Go,” she says, forcing the issue by closing the door before Scully can protest again.
They walk around the corner to the coffee shop, then down the street to a nearby park. Mulder talks about work to distract her; about Doggett, their last case, anything to take her mind off William.
“He’s a bit rough around the edges, but he’s more open than you were,” Mulder says, sipping his coffee. “You wouldn’t know it looking at him, though.”
“Never thought I’d say it, but he’s not half bad. He’s not you, though, Scully.”
She ducks her head. “I wanted to talk about that, actually.”
“You’ll be happy to know I cleared off a space on the office bulletin board just for baby pictures. We can probably fit a playpen in the back if I rearrange the projector cabi—”
“Mulder, I’m not coming back to the X-Files.”
He blinks. “You’re…oh.”
“Skinner recommended me for a faculty position at Quantico. Regular hours, better pay…I couldn’t say no. I wanted to tell you—”
“I understand,” he interrupts. “That’s, uh, that’s great, Scully. I’m happy for you.”
“It will be good for us, for William. I’m home every night, and he has a space at the daycare on campus. I’ll still be able to consult when you need a pathologist.”
Mulder nods, forcing a smile. “That’s great.”
She fidgets with the rim of her cup, nudges his shoulder with hers, watching his face for a reaction. “I thought you might be upset.”
“No…no, I get it. I want what’s best for you and Will.”
“You don’t sound convinced.”
He swallows a harder response. “It’ll take some getting used to, is all.”
She nods, looking back from where they’d come, takes a long last drink from her coffee. He watches, waiting for her to say more, but her attention is elsewhere.
“You want to head back, don’t you?”
She smiles, shifts in her seat, still distant. “I’m fine, Mulder. We haven’t been out long. It’s good for me to spend some time in the real world.”
“Now you’re the one who doesn’t sound convinced.”
“I’m fine,” she sighs, but she doesn’t say anything further.
“C’mon,” he says, offering his hand. “Let’s go.”
Relief washes over her features, even though she tries to hide it. “Are you sure?”
“I won’t try to compete with the other guy in your life.”
She accepts his hand, squeezes. “We’re good?”
“Sure, Scully,” he says, his heart sinking in his chest. “We’re good.”
They’re assisting at a crime scene when Mulder’s cell phone rings.
“Have to take this,” he mutters to Doggett, turning away. “Hey, Scully. What’s up?”
A high-pitched wail cuts through the line, causing him to flinch and pull the phone from his ear.
“Christ, Scully, are you murdering a cat?”
“No, it’s Will. He’s been inconsolable all morning. He’s hungry, but I can’t get him to latch, he won’t take a bottle…”
“Is he sick?”
“He doesn’t have a temperature, it’s not a pain cry,” she sighs, as the baby’s wails grow louder. “He’s just…angry at the world.”
“You need me to come over?”
“No…no, I just wanted to hear a friendly voice,” she says. “I’ve been up since three and there are only so many times I can walk around the block. I’m convinced the neighbors think I’m trying to kill him.”
“We’re finishing up here, I’ll swing by in a few.”
He hangs up, turns to his partner. “Let’s wrap this up, I need to go.”
“Everything OK?” Doggett asks.
“Yeah, it’s fine.”
“You sure? Sounded pretty serious…”
“It’s fine,” Mulder snaps.
Doggett shakes his head, gives a rueful chuckle. “Alright.”
He swings around. “Is there a problem, Agent Doggett?”
The other man holds up his hands. “No. No problem.”
Mulder slams the door as they get in the car, hard enough to rattle the window, hoping to end the conversation, but Doggett continues.
“So what’s the deal with you and Agent Scully?”
Mulder rolls his eyes. “What’s it to you?”
Doggett stretches out in the passenger seat. “It’s none of my business—“
“You’re right. It isn’t.”
“But you two are pretty cozy. You keep a picture of her kid on your desk. I’d heard you were a recluse, addicted to your work, but you spend every lunch break at her place, and we haven’t set foot on a plane since the kid was born. She asks you to jump,” he says, gesturing to Mulder’s phone, “and you ask ‘how high?’”
Mulder sucks in a breath. “Where are you going with this, Doggett?”
The man whistles in amusement. “The hot-shot profiler doesn’t like it when the tables are turned, does he?”
“This profiler wants you to get to the fucking point,” Mulder mutters.
“Fine, I’ll do that. You’ve been a real ass this week, you know. I don’t know what kinda hair you’ve got across it, if you get what I’m sayin’, but you’re stuck with me. You can either take it out on me, or talk to me, and I’ll be honest: my patience is lookin’ pretty damn thin. I’d start talking.”
There’s a lapse as Mulder considers this, surprising himself when he blurts out, “She’s not coming back.”
“She got a better offer,” he mutters.
“So…that’s good, right? Good for her.”
“Yeah…good for her,” he says. “And I can’t argue, and it’s for the best, but…fuck,” he finishes, flushing at his own selfishness.
“You didn’t see it comin’?”
“No,” Mulder snaps. “I mean, yeah. I may be an ass, but I’m not an asshole. Scully should have gotten out years ago. She stayed because of me, and now…her priorities are where they should be. I’m just not used to playing second fiddle yet.”
It feels good to admit it; better than he’d expected. His shoulders relax a little as they exit the highway, the tightness in his chest slowly unwinding.
“I had a son,” Doggett says, a confession out of the blue.
Mulder keeps his expression neutral, eyes fixed on the road. Luke Doggett was a notation in a personnel file, brought to life by the heaviness in his father’s voice.
“He was killed. Kidnapped when he was seven.”
Mulder swallows a sudden burning in his throat, tries to imagine William at seven, decides it’s best not to.
“Tore my wife and I apart,” Doggett continues. “You’re lucky, Agent Mulder. Whatever you have…hold on to it.”
“I’m sorry about your son,” he says after a pause.
Doggett waves his hand. “I’m not looking for pity. I’ve seen a lot of things in my time—you work with someone long enough…let’s just say people get close. I don’t judge.”
“You saying you want to get close, Doggett?” Mulder mutters.
The other man laughs. “No. From the sound of it, you’ve already got your hands full.”
He pulls up to Scully’s apartment, having dropped off Doggett at the office. Familiar wailing can be heard even before he sets foot inside the building, and it grows louder and angrier as he approaches her door. He uses his key, greeted by the sound of William’s screeching and Scully, pacing back and forth, bouncing him in her arms.
“You weren’t kidding,” Mulder says, wincing.
“I’ve tried everything,” she says in lieu of a greeting. “Walks, car rides, vacuum noise, the swing. I’m out of ideas.”
Mulder resists the urge to cover his ears. “When did he start?”
“I tried to give him a bottle this morning. He needs to get used to it before I go back to work, but then this started, and now he won’t eat anything, breast or bottle. I’ve been pumping to keep my supply up, but I hate leaving him to cry when I know he needs to eat.”
“Have an IV handy?”
Scully rolls her eyes. “Not helpful.”
“Yeah, sorry. Uhh…can I try?”
Mulder holds out his hands, taking the squirming, red-faced six-week-old in his arms. Possibly startled by the change of scenery, the baby quiets, blinking up at him with grey-blue eyes. They stay like that for a moment, sizing each other up, before Will begins to fuss more quietly. Mulder bounces him, swaying on his feet, as the baby chews his fist and whimpers.
“Have that bottle?” Mulder asks after a minute or two.
“You really think that’s a good idea?” she asks, but goes to the kitchen, returning with a bottle. Mulder offers it to Will, who immediately latches on and begins eating in long, slurping gulps, eyes wide and fixed on his face.
“Jesus,” Scully murmurs, sinking into a chair. “I thought he’d never stop.”
“He holds a strong grudge, Scully. Accept no substitutes, right, peanut?”
She puts her head in her hands. “Hopefully this means he’ll take a bottle at daycare, too.”
The milk is half gone in minutes. Mulder pulls the bottle away, and Will’s face scrunches up, hands waving in protest.
“Don’t start,” he warns. The baby gives what sounds like a growl, but acquiesces, letting Mulder pat his back for a few minutes before starting on the rest. Soon his eyes are heavy.
Mulder looks up to tell Scully, but she’s resting with her chin on her hands, eyes closed. Only in the sudden peace of the moment does he notice her hair, tangled around her face, her shirt stained with spit-up and something that could either be mustard or baby poop.
Her head snaps up. “What? What is it?”
“Still with me?”
She blinks. “Sorry…haven’t been getting much sleep.”
“I don’t know who wore who out more,” he says, watching Will’s eyes slip shut, fingers flexing in rhythm with the steady clench and release of his jaw.
“Maybe he’ll actually nap,” she sighs.
“I’m not moving.”
“Don’t you have to get back?”
“Doggett’s covering for me. He and I, uh, came to a certain understanding. I think he’s going to work out.”
“That’s good, because I don’t have the energy to feel guilty for leaving the X-Files today,” she mutters, stifling a yawn with the back of her hand.
“You’re making the right choice,” he murmurs, watching Will’s face relax further into sleep. “I miss having you down there with me, though.”
She smiles, slow and sleepy and warm. “Even if we don’t share an office, you’ll always be my partner, Mulder. You should know that by now.”