Title: Vows
Author: Gwinne
Feedback: gwinne@yahoo.com
Archive: Xemplary, Gossamer, Spookys ok; otherwise ask
Keywords: MSR; Angst
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: post-ep for "Existence"
Disclaimer Thanks for eight great years and the opportunity to make these characters into my own. Still, I take no credit for their creation.

Summary: For the first time since Lizzy Gill set this nightmare in motion, Mulder felt his jaw unclench and stay released.

"She needs to get to the hospital."

Despite the seriousness of her statement, there was little threat in Agent Reyes' voice, at least to Mulder. But the moment he crossed the threshold and saw his partner, he panicked.

He knew birth was messy. That much he'd gleaned from the few prepared childbirth classes he and Scully actually made it to.

And he knew birth was painful; he was sure he'd never forget the sounds of laboring women on the videos, so raw, so primal.

Still, he wasn't prepared to see Scully propped up in an old brass bed, hair stuck to her face in sweaty clumps, tears running into the open neck of her shirt. She clutched the baby, wrapped in a blood-streaked towel, to her chest. He couldn't hear the child over Scully's sobs. Oh God.

"Scully?" He walked toward her slowly, cataloguing the bloody towels piled at the foot of the bed and the butcher knife that Reyes must have used to cut the cord.

She looked up at him then, mouth pulled down in that anguished way he hadn't seen since Donnie Pfaster first attacked her. Her face was blotchy from the exertion of the birth and her breath hitched. Even in the most intimate moments of their relationship, flushed and relaxed in orgasm, she had never seemed so vulnerable. "Scully," he started again, "is it, is everything--"

Sudden movement caught his attention, the baby's hand flailing in open air. She's nursing, Mulder realized, that's why it's not making any noise.

She nodded slightly and looked back down at the infant. Mulder sat on the bed, bracketed between Scully's bent knees and the headboard, running his index finger lightly over the baby's scalp. Despite the layer of vernix and gore that covered its body, there was no question of who this child's mother was.

Strawberry blond fuzz curled under Mulder's hand as he palmed the baby's pointed head. And above the mouth, wet with colostrum, sat a nose that could have only come from him. For the first time since Lizzy Gill set this nightmare in motion, Mulder felt his jaw clench and stay released.

Pressed against him, Scully shivered and gasped, her thighs quivering from exhaustion. When he reached up, tracing her cheekbone with his knuckles, she shut her eyes. He wondered if she would ever look at him the same way again.

"It's a boy," Agent Reyes said as she washed her hands. He hadn't even heard her come in. "They're okay. But I think we should get them to a hospital. I've never done this before," she paused, glancing quickly in the direction of Scully's legs, "but I don't think she should be bleeding this much." A hint of urgency surfaced above the practiced calm of Reyes' tone.

Scully would know, he told himself, she'd say something if we should be concerned.

"Mulder," Scully finally said, her voice low and worn from what Mulder could only imagine as hours of screaming. In that single word, his own name, he heard her every fear and the beginnings of relief.

He rested his forehead against hers until they were almost nose to nose, the baby mewing softly between them. "It will be okay," he said. "I promise."

"I want to go home, Mulder." It was the first full sentence she'd uttered to him since they admitted her to the ER. Before he could answer, her gaze drifted lower, to the small boy asleep in her arms.

"You just gave birth, Scully."

"Plenty of women give birth without ever setting foot in a hospital. I'll be fine, Mulder, you heard the doctor." Her voice still crackled from overuse, but at least she was talking to him again.

"Yeah, he said he was amazed everything went as smoothly as it did, given the abruption and all."

Seconds after they arrived at the hospital, mother and son had been separated for the second time that day. While the pediatrician poked and prodded, giving the baby a near-perfect "9" on the Apgar scale, the head of obstetrics palpated Scully's abdomen, delivered the placenta, and stitched up what he described as "an amazingly minor laceration for an unattended birth." Even now, with Scully cleaned up and resting, Mulder's heart still raced. He wasn't ready. In the week's adrenaline rush to protect her, he'd lost sight of what this moment meant for him. For them. She'd never said it. In all these weeks, with him shuttling from Apartment to Apartment, accompanying her to birthing classes, and assembling a bassinet in the corner of her room, she'd never actually said that she wanted him to be this baby's father.

"I'm so tired, Mulder," Scully said, her voice wavering with the now-familiar onset of tears. He'd seen her cry more in the few months since his return than he had in the seven years prior.

The baby fussed a little and Scully cupped his tiny fist inside her own. "Let's go home."

When he'd agreed to be her birth partner, he'd agreed to do things her way. Part of him knew that it was all a fantasy--the quiet labor, the water birth in a homey suite--and that the real thing would be dangerous and out of her control. Aliens had witnessed the birth of this child; the man who came to kill Scully and take her son had stood and watched as she screamed and pushed and cried.

If she wanted to go home, they would go home. "Let me make some calls. I'll get us a plane."

Mulder wasn't sure what to expect as he opened the door to her Apartment. It had been nearly twenty-four hours since he'd left Scully and her unnamed son in the care of proud Grandma Maggie, already in the kitchen slicing carrots and onions for chicken soup.

"You need some time alone," he'd explained, watching Scully settle herself carefully on the couch. How ordinary it all seemed, a mother preparing to feed her child, after the surreal spectacle of his birth. He sat on the edge of the coffee table, tapping her gently on the knee.

Her hand froze on the top button of her pajamas. "But you're--"

"I need to check in with Skinner. There was a situation," he paused slightly to let her heft the full weight of the word, "down at the bureau. Besides, aren't I supposed to pass out cigars or something?" He shrugged, pressing his hands against his thighs. They suddenly seemed huge, almost the length of the baby's torso.

She forced a smile, and something in his stomach turned. Mulder thought of the baby, how only yesterday he shifted and kicked in the warmth of his mother's womb. It hadn't seemed real until now.

And, for a man who had yet to hold his son, it was all too real, the baby's lusty cry and the milky smell of his mother's skin.

His throat constricted. As Mulder stood and moved toward the door, he paused at her side. He squeezed her shoulder, running his thumb back and forth over the silken material at her collarbone. He needed to reassure himself as much as her.

"And when I come back, Scully, that kid better have a name."

Now, closing the door and pocketing his key, Mulder took in lingering aroma of garlic and spices from Maggie's cooking. The Apartment was quiet, quieter than he expected. No overprotective grandmother giving orders to the anxious new mother, no baby crying for a diaper change. Only the balloons floating in the corner of the room and the padded carrier on the kitchen table indicated that a new baby lived here. He'd wrapped it in Flintstones paper for her to open at the shower, "for when we get out of the car" written on the card.

He certainly wasn't expecting to see the guys, stammering in embarrassment at being caught in Scully's bedroom. Somehow, though, it all made sense, this odd group of five he considered family. This is it, Mulder thought as the Gunmen headed for the front door, it all begins now. He unclenched his fists and walked toward her, seated on the edge of her impeccably made bed with the baby in the crook of her arm. It didn't seem possible that she was the same person who, less than two days ago, lay sobbing on a bed of sweat and slime. In her pale satin pajamas and robe, she looked almost ethereal.

What did he say to her, the woman whose child he'd agreed to father, the woman he'd left to give birth in the company of an untrained midwife and a roomful of aliens while he chased the bad guys around D.C.? It should have been him, not Reyes, who helped her bring this child into the world. She could have bled to death, he thought, not for the first time, remembering the obstetrician's dour-faced warning. And he wouldn't have even been there to hold her.

"How's everybody doing?" he finally said, asking the standard question that would earn the standard reply.

"We're doing just fine." As she stood and walked toward him, only the slightest waver of discomfort in her step, he knew that for once she was telling the truth.

"So what do we do now?" Mulder asked, when their kiss finally broke.

"I need to lie down," Scully said. She leaned heavily against his chest, right over her son's restless feet.

"Everything okay?"

"I'm just achy. And tired." Her words were punctuated by William's coo. She exhaled deeply, pulling away. "I haven't been this tired since Antarctica."

Mulder shifted the baby more firmly into his right arm, reaching up to stroke her face with his other hand. "Why don't you take a nap for a bit and Willie and I will get acquainted."

Her eyebrow raised, objecting as quickly as she did to his theories about vampires and exsanguinated cows. She crossed her arms tightly over her chest, as if she'd forgotten what she did with them before William's birth.

"Will? Billy? Bill?" Scully made a show of clearing her throat and moved back toward the bed. "Okay, then, 'William' it is. Does he have a middle name?"

She paused, pressing her hand into the mattress. "I thought I'd leave that up to his father, if that's okay with you."

"Seriously?" He looked up from the baby, almost asleep in the cradle of his arms. No wonder she didn't want to let go of him.

Scully nodded, shrugging out of her bathrobe and laying it over the footboard.

"I suppose 'Elvis' is out of the question?" As he spoke, he walked the baby back to the bassinet, rocking William slightly in his arms. So much for getting acquainted.

"Why don't we stick with names that won't get him beaten up on the playground." Scully piled throw pillows on the floor, and Mulder wanted to ask if this was always her nightly routine, if he and the baby had changed it.

"Sure. Okay. Say goodnight to Mommy, William." The newborn's eyes fluttered and shut, and Mulder placed the boy in his bed.

He wound the mobile, a gift from Skinner, and 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' filled the room. Across from him, Scully pulled back the comforter and climbed into bed.

The evening before the baby shower, Mulder had shown up at her door with a box of bedding instead of the usual pizza. As he tightened bolts and smoothed sheets lined with clouds, Scully told him about that awful night before they found him dead in the woods. She told him how, at the funeral, Skinner had said he was sure Mulder was watching over them from the stars, protecting them. "He's been so good to me, Mulder. I think this is his way of saying he's sorry. And saying he believes."

I'm here now, he'd wanted to say, but it seemed too simple.

"I'd like to believe, too, Scully, that this baby will be born into starlight. That whoever or whatever is up there will watch over him, keep him safe."

Tonight, listening to the soft sucking sounds William made in his sleep, Mulder vowed to protect him from someplace much closer than the stars. He closed his eyes, feeling the baby's steady heartbeat beneath his palm, then spooned up behind Scully on the bed.

"Seriously, Mulder, how did you find us?"

He settled his hand against the gentle swell of her belly. For a moment, he expected to feel the welcome nighttime movements of their son. She stiffened a bit at his touch, and he didn't know whether he had hurt her, or if she missed the sensation as well.

"The pilot had a map, Scully. But there really was a light.

It's from an observatory on Brasstown Bald, the highest mountain in Georgia."

"It does make a better story, you know, for when he grows up."

"Once upon a time, there was a beautiful scientist and a geeky prince."

"Spooky. And why do you get to be a prince?" She reached back and stroked his hip.

"Shhh. Let me finish. One day the beautiful scientist came to rescue the prince from the evil dungeon."

"You love that basement."

"Scully!" He pulled her back more tightly against the curve of his body and kissed the exposed skin where shoulder met neck.

"Long story short: the prince fell madly in love with the beautiful scientist but it took him eight long years and a miraculous conception to get up the courage to tell her."

"That's no way to end a story, Mulder. What happens to them?

Do they live happily ever after?" Beneath Scully's questions, Mulder heard the baby fussing again.

"I hope so," he said, getting up for what would inevitably be the first of many times that night. "Hey, buddy, what's the problem?" William's face reddened and scrunched before he began to wail. Mulder bent his knees, bouncing the little boy as he walked back toward Scully, on the other side of the bed.

"Let me take him, Mulder. He needs to eat." He envied how quickly she had learned to identify what he needed from the sound of his cry. After she unbuttoned her pajama top with well-practiced fingers, Mulder set the child squirming in her arms. He watched, transfixed, as the boy latched on to his mother's nipple, covering the entire aureole with his small mouth.

"Wow." He sat facing her, hip to hip.


"I just never pictured this. Somehow, I always envisioned you as the plastic bottle type of mom. But this, I mean, wow, Scully, it's amazing." He skimmed his finger over the baby's cheek and the alabaster skin of his mother's breast. He rested his forehead against hers, just as he had in those first moments after William's birth. "I'm so sorry, Scully."

"For what?" Mulder felt, as well as saw, the movement as she bit the inside of her cheek.

"For everything that happened. For everything that could have happened. To you. To him. I'm sorry I wasn't there."

She swallowed audibly. "Next time." In those two soft words, Mulder heard the strength of her vow. It had taken eight years, two abductions, a bout with cancer, and his own ill-timed death, but they were finally ready to be a family.

"I'll be there from the first dizzy spell to the last push." He kissed her then, sure that this moment was as close to a wedding ceremony as they'd ever get. "I promise."

The End

Note: Thank you to alanna, for her geographical insight and sharp sense of character, and for pushing me to answer the tough questions; to BoneTree, for her keen awareness of image and diction, for helping me see how these characters move; and, as always, to Scullyfic, birthplace of good ideas.

feedback is like iced tea on a hot summer day; share a virtual drink with me at gwinne@yahoo.com

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