She answers the door with two-year-old William on her hip, damp hair curling against her collarbone, still dressed in her bathrobe.
“Mulder, hi,” she says. “Thanks for watching him. I know it’s last minute.”
“No problem. Hey, peanut,” he says as Will squeals and reaches for him.
“Fox, right. You and I are going to have a good time tonight,” he tells the baby as Scully ducks into the bedroom to finish getting ready. “I brought a movie,” he says, holding up a copy of Shrek.
“Down,” Will demands, pointing at the floor, and Mulder obliges. The baby toddles to the couch and climbs up, sitting with both feet straight out. “Moo-vee?”
“Soon, buddy. Let’s let your mom get dressed first. So what’s the occasion, Scully?” he calls, helping himself to a glass of orange juice. “Another fascinating pathology lecture? Are they finally recognizing your exceptional slicing-and-dicing skills?”
“Actually,” she says, emerging from the bedroom in a black cocktail dress, red curls pinned up, “Mom set me up.”
He coughs into his glass, choking on his drink. Scully doesn’t seem to notice as she steps into her heels, fiddling with one earring, then the other.
“Zip me up?”
“You have a date?” he balks.
“Someone Mom met at her church. A doctor. The zipper, Mulder?”
She turns around, and he fumbles with the clasp, admiring the soft line of her back, the sleek fabric, the way the dress hugs her hips. Jealousy burns in his stomach as the doorbell rings.
“That’s probably him,” she says. “Will, be good for Fox. I love you,” she says, leaning over to nuzzle the baby’s cheek, giving him a peck on the nose.
“I’ll be back before eleven,” she says. “His dinner’s in the fridge—just heat it up. Bedtime’s at 7:30, don’t forget his frog. All the numbers are on the fridge—emergency, his pediatrician, my cell, Mom’s cell—”
“Foss uppa! Uppa!” Will cries.
“Yeah, I’ve got it,” Mulder says, pulling Will into his arms. “We’ve done this before, haven’t we, buddy?”
Scully opens the door to find her date standing on the other side.
“Matt, hi. Come in, I’m almost ready.”
“It’s great to meet you; your mom’s told me so much about you,” he says, offering his hand.
“I’m sure she did,” Mulder mumbles into Will’s ear. The baby giggles, smacking Mulder on the cheeks with both fists, drawing the other man’s attention.
“And this must be William. I’ve heard a lot about you, too, little guy. You didn’t have trouble finding a sitter on short notice, did you?” Matt asks, meeting Mulder’s eyes. He stares for a moment, visibly started by the striking affinity between William and his “sitter.”
“No, no. This is, uh, Fox,” Scully says, eyeing her former partner over the man’s shoulder, mouthing, “Be nice.”
“Nice to meet you,” Matt says. “It’s nice to see more men getting into the childcare business. Very, ah, forward thinking. Reversing gender roles and all that.”
“I’m an FBI agent, actually,” Mulder says, smiling with all his teeth in an expression he hopes is more predatory than friendly. “Be good or I’ll have to arrest you.”
Scully titters a forced laugh. “Very funny, but I think we should be going if we’re going to make that reservation,” she says, glaring at Mulder, taking the other man’s arm.
“Oh I didn’t get reserv—“
“That’s fine. Let’s go,” she says, already pulling her date out the door.
“Bye bye now. Have fun,” Mulder says, using Will’s little hand to wave as the door shuts behind them. “Hope your mom’s still packing heat,” he mutters.
“Mama bye-bye,” Will agrees.
“She’ll be back. What do you say we get something to eat and watch that movie?”
He goes to the fridge, pulls out the wrapped plate Scully left for Will’s dinner. “Looks like…leftover meatloaf,” he says. “Tell you what. If you eat your carrots and don’t tell your mom, we’ll skip the meatloaf and order pizza. Deal?”
“Eeza!” Will says. “Foss eeza pee-zah.”
“That’s my boy.”
He’s wide awake with the TV on, Will sleeping on his chest, when he hears her key turning in the lock. He closes his eyes, feigning sleep until she tiptoes over to the couch.
“Oh, hey,” he whispers, faking a yawn. “You’re back.”
Scully leans down, brushes her fingers through the baby’s hair. “He’s asleep?”
“Been out since seven.”
“Did he fight?”
Mulder shakes his head, running his fingers up and down the boy’s warm back. “Told him he could stay up as late as he wanted.”
“Did you reverse psychology my kid, Mulder?”
He grins. “Maybe.”
He sits up, careful not to disturb William, who scrunches up his face in his sleep, one fist on Mulder’s t-shirt, the other wrapped around his frog.
“Ugh,” Scully groans, pulling off her heels, easing herself onto the couch.
“How’d it go with Romeo?”
She hesitates. “It was…nice.”
“Nice,” Mulder echoes, heart falling in his chest. “Second-date nice?”
She shakes her head. “He’s sweet, but…”
“Doctors are boring.”
Mulder snorts. “I’ve never found that to be true.”
“Well, there are exceptions,” she smiles.
“So is the, uh, dating going to be a regular thing? Not that I don’t love spending quality time with the peanut, but—“
“Jealousy doesn’t become you, Mulder,” she murmurs, resting her head on his shoulder.
“I’m not jealous,” he balks, flushing at the contact. “There’s only so many times I can watch Shrek, and the rest of my movie collection isn’t child friendly.”
“Then maybe you should ask me out next time,” she yawns, stroking William’s cheek.
Mulder becomes hyper aware of her hip against his thigh, the vanilla-sugar smell of her hair, the warmth of her shoulder against his chest.
“I suppose we should put him to bed, huh?” she murmurs, slurring lightly.
“Probably,” Mulder says, grateful his voice doesn’t crack.
Neither makes an effort to move. The TV plays on in the background, muted, Shrek having rewound and started from the beginning. Mulder has the sudden desire to stay; to wake up beside Scully the next morning, get William dressed, take him to the park, put him down for an afternoon nap.
Scully shifts against him, makes a soft sound against his shoulder. She’s already fallen asleep. It would be so easy to stay like this, to pretend this is where he belongs.
He nuzzles the top of William’s head and promises himself he’ll wake her in five more minutes.