Party of Three
By Christine Leigh
Summary: An important decision is made. This story is the sixth in what I call the Party of Three Universe, which is a series of stories and vignettes that are set post-Requiem.
Spoilers: Requiem, Existence.
It was a quiet scene in Mulder's apartment; the soft bubble sounds from the aquarium, and the sound of Scully's even breathing were all that were audible.
Their day out had been a success so far. They had eaten their lunch and after William had been fed and changed, both he and Scully crashed. Scully was asleep on the couch, and William in a dresser drawer Mulder had removed and brought into the living room. Placed on the other side of the coffee table and lined with a blanket, it made for a cozy dwelling for its little occupant. An interesting assortment of displaced casual wear, circa 1985 was now piled in a corner of the bedroom.
Mulder was going through the contents of his desk. He hadn't been through some of the stuff in years, but even so this was one area of his life that was fairly organized. He was a packrat, no doubt about it, but a neat one where the mundane details of his life were concerned. A folder that Scully had given him shortly after his return to the living sat to his left on top of the desk. She'd been awkward when she'd given it to him - he knew she'd felt funny even having to, but of course, knew that he needed to have it. He'd written her a check for the rent and utilities she'd been paying, but beyond that they hadn't discussed any of the other stuff she'd dealt with during his absence. She must have encountered a neighbor on occasion while making her stops for the fish feedings. Did she speak to any of them, and if so, what did she say to them? And what about when she began to show? He could only imagine what entertainment that must have provided for Mrs. Walden, two doors down. Mulder had been grateful that she hadn't been about when they had arrived earlier. His neighbors had seen it all where he was concerned, but Fox Mulder, family man, might just throw them for a bigger loop than his return from the grave. Not that he gave a damn about what anyone thought of him, but it was different now. He cared a great deal what people thought about Scully and William.
Another thing he and Scully hadn't really discussed was their current status. The tempest that had surrounded William's birth had become a line of demarcation, with everything that had happened since unfolding rather normally. They seemed to be working toward a routine that was relatively stable, or so he hoped. Hope. It had somehow worked its way into their lives. And even though their lives were being lived on a day-to-day basis, the details, at least were consistent. There were things they needed to discuss though, and one thing in particular. However, so far during their moments alone, which occurred when William was sleeping, and they were both there, they would just sit or lay together and not talk much. Everything was new, and yet wasn't. Mulder had no doubts about what he wanted. When he thinks back on entering that awful, old and abandoned building in Georgia where William had just been born, and seeing Scully holding the tiny little baby, he doesn't see the bloody mess that surrounded them. He sees love. His emotions expanded beyond any boundary that they had ever known. A thread of steel had started to unspool at that moment, and had continued to each day since, binding the three of them together in its stitches.
Mulder thought back to when he'd first returned, to when nothing had seemed right or real, particularly Scully, and her pregnancy. Every time he'd looked at her he'd had to take a few seconds to try to sort it all out once more, and failed. After the sweet haze of seeing her face upon waking in the hospital had cleared, he had become frightened; he was someone he didn't know, and didn't want anyone else to know. If he could have kept Scully away from him at this point, he would have, but of course that was impossible. He knew that she knew he was having a bad time of it, but at the same time knew that her main focus was her pregnancy in its final weeks. She never said this to him, but he saw it when she looked at him, when she thought him preoccupied and didn't think he would notice. That he would always notice her, whatever their situation, was something that would never change, however, and he saw it all. Well, almost all.
Scully and he had forgiven each other for many things through the years, but the night that she'd sat next to him on the couch in her living room, and explained in a few quiet sentences that the baby she was carrying was his and had most probably been conceived on the best night of their lives, he had truly thought that perhaps his luck had run out. After she had finished, she rose and went into the bedroom, leaving him there to process her revelation. How was he to have known, or even guessed? So, he'd made another one of his infamous leaps and assumed that she'd tried another donor. What the hell, life has to go on, right? Who cares if he was in the picture or not, or ever had been? The procedure had worked this time, and everything else came in behind that, including him. Mulder had felt like such an ass. Fifteen minutes had passed before he got up and went to the bedroom. Scully had left the door ajar a few inches, and he tapped on it. No answer. He opened it further and saw her laying on the bed, her back to him. He entered and went to the side of the bed where she was and knelt to look at her face. Her eyes were closed, but he could see she'd been crying. He needed to feel her, but didn't want to disturb her rest, so he rose and went around to the other side of the bed and laid down beside her, and gently placed his arm around her, his hand resting on her abdomen. The last time they had been together like this had been in Oregon, and she'd apparently been about five or six weeks pregnant at the time. This baby was theirs. Theirs. The word kept repeating in his mind.
That day a little over a year ago, when he had watched her holding Teresa Hoese's baby and singing her little lullaby, he'd wanted to wrap his arms around both of them, and pretend that the baby was theirs. Scully hadn't said a word about the failed IVF attempt since the night she'd come home after getting the result. It was one more sad detail from their past. That night in Oregon, when she'd come to him feeling ill, he remembered wondering whether there would be a day, ever, that they would just wake up and be, without their past sadness coloring everything.
The night that they had become lovers had been the closest thing to a religious experience that Mulder had ever had. Physically acknowledging what had been between them for so long had been the defining moment of his adult life, but it didn't negate the rest. He had known since Emily's death that Scully had wanted a child, but until she came to him with her request regarding the IVF, he'd thought that she had come to terms with the knowledge that she wouldn't be able to do that, at least not biologically. It had hit him harder than he had ever thought it could have, when she'd told him about the failure. In a very short time, he had become quite excited about the two of them parenting a child together. Typically, they hadn't discussed it, but there was never a question about that, he knew. Whatever their living arrangements, they would both be present in the life of this child. And then it was no longer an issue. Mulder came out of his reverie and shifted a little on the bed, and then it had happened. Their future started kicking against the palm of his hand.
Scully had opened her eyes at the start of the kicking. When she realized that Mulder had joined her she placed her hand next to his so that they both could feel the baby's movement. Neither of them said anything for a minute. "That's unbelievable." Mulder's voice was next to a whisper, but she heard it, and replied, "That was my reaction the first time it happened." Scully turned her face to him. He kissed her gently on the lips. They took another minute to just look at each other, and then they smiled, quiet little smiles, but they knew that it was going to be all right. That they were in this together. That the silly fairytale word that had no place in either of their lives until now had arrived. Forever.
Mulder returned his attention to the present. Among the items he'd pulled out of the desk were two old photo albums. Their sentimental value had disappeared a long time ago; in recent years he'd only opened them to look for a clue when attempting to patch together his father's murky past. But he found himself lingering now over a photograph of the two of them from when he was eight years old. He remembered that summer day clearly. They had been swimming most of the morning and then after an early lunch, had decided to go for what turned out to be a long hike. His mother had snapped the picture before they had left. They started out along the beach, but then moved into the woods and covered quite a lot of territory before returning home. Mulder had been so tired that he'd fallen asleep and slept straight through dinner. When he'd awakened, it was after nine, and Samantha had long been in bed, so when he wandered out to the deck to find his parents enjoying their coffee and brandy, it was one of those rare times when the three of them were alone together. His mother had given him a hug and kiss and then brought his dinner out to the deck. She and his father continued their conversation, something about whether they would take the ferry over to Woods Hole tomorrow or the next day for some shopping. After Mulder had finished eating, he'd gone to get the little collection of shells and rocks he'd gathered on the hike to show to his mother. They sat next to each other on the steps leading to the beach and she examined each one of his specimens as though it were a rare object. Soon after he became sleepy again, and she walked him into the house and pointed him to the bathroom, indicating that he needed to brush his teeth before dropping off, and said she'd be in to tuck him in. It had been a great day.
Mulder looked over to Scully. And then to William. His new family was still fast asleep, and he was one amazed and lucky man, to be able to sit there and see it and know that this was the real thing. He continued watching them for a few minutes. His brain was busy processing this whole new world, but it was his heart that prodded him to take a piece of typing paper from the desk and start writing. When he was finished, he folded the page in two and wrote "Scully" on one side and placed it on the coffee table where she would see it upon waking. He was tired now, too, so he went into the bedroom to lie down for a nap. Mulder's sleep patterns had made quite a reversal since William came on the scene. He now had no trouble dropping off when he was sleepy.
One hour later
Scully awakened with a start. After remembering where she was, she smiled and stretched. She looked at William. He'd be awake and ready for another feeding very soon. She got up and walked to the bedroom and saw that Mulder was zonked out on the bed. Tired as they both were most of the time now, it was good to see him sleeping so soundly on a regular basis. She'd always worried so about his four-hour nights. She closed the door to where it was only open an inch and returned to the couch, and sat down and curled up against one of the cushions and stared into the side of the aquarium. Tending to Mulder's fish had been one of the things that had kept her sane during his absence. They provided her with a visceral connection to him. She'd cried the day she'd found that one had died. That was then, though, she thought. It was time to go forward. Then she saw the folded sheet of paper on the table with her name on it. She picked it up, leaned back and read it:
I'd be saying this to you instead of writing it, but you were still asleep, and I couldn't wait.
The morning that we were married was an incredible moment in my life. I'm not certain, however, that you know this. I'm aware that when we discussed doing this, our focus was the baby and his or her safety and legal status in the world. I remember looking at you and believing that your agreeing to do this was a concession to doing the right thing, so to speak.
I've never for a moment doubted your love, but know that I wasn't the easiest person to be around during the weeks immediately following my return, and it was entirely plausible to me that you would want to hold off on something as serious as marriage. I'm glad I was wrong.
These last few weeks since William was born have been the most wondrous time of my life. Every time I look at the three of us, I'm filled with emotion that threatens only to grow bigger each time I see either of your faces. I can't fathom what my life would be if I'd never met you. You've been everything, and now the two of you are everything.
I know this question I'm about to ask may seem strange, but then I think it's safe to say that we've already taken that concept to never-before imagined levels, so here's one more.
Scully, will you marry me? I love you.
Scully couldn't quite believe what she'd just read. So, through her tears, she read it again, and then again, and finally she stopped crying and smiled the smile that, Mulder if he had been sitting there next to her, would identify as her supernova. When she had dropped their rings into her pocket earlier that day and included the split of champagne with their lunch while packing to leave her apartment, she had done so just in case the opportunity presented itself for them to have a discussion about what they wanted to do regarding their marriage. It felt so strange even thinking the word, and she'd never said it aloud. At the time they had agreed that it would be the best thing to do, not knowing what the future held for them and the baby. They had also agreed that keeping it between the two of them was the wisest thing. Now that some time had passed and things were somewhat calmer, Scully had hoped that Mulder would agree with her that it was time to put the rings back on, and for them to behave as an ordinary couple, albeit one whose history was anything but. She knew that he'd gained a lot of ground in his emotional recovery from his ordeal, but she had chosen to continue treading lightly concerning the idea of the two of them as a married couple. And now this. Her smile was for the reality of what she'd just read; her tears were for the utter romance. She had been fifteen the last time that the notion of a marriage proposal made her feel the way that she was feeling now. She refolded the letter and on the opposite side from the one where Mulder had written her name wrote:
Yes. I love you. I can't say that enough. Meet me by the aquarium.
She walked quietly back to the bedroom and placed it beside him on the bed. It was all she could do to keep herself from waking him, but she did.
Scully then moved to the kitchen and checked the freezer for ice. Underneath the permafrost, she found some and emptied it into a bowl. She placed the split in the bowl, located a baking sheet of all things to use as a tray, and then placed the bowl and the two wine glasses she'd retrieved from the picnic basket on the coffee table. Then she dug into the pocket of her jeans and brought out the rings. She held them in her hand for a moment, and then placed them next to the wine glasses. Then she went into the bathroom to refresh her makeup.
William was awake and hungry when she returned to the living room, so she lifted him from his makeshift bassinet and settled in for the feeding. She was sitting on the couch, but after several minutes got up and wandered over to watch the fish, leaning against the edge of the desk. Weird, how doing this always gave her a sense of calm, but it did.
"Party of three?"
Mulder was standing at the far end of the couch, taking the scene before him in. He was smiling through sleepy eyes, and trying not to pinch himself. This is real...this is real...a permanent loop was playing inside his head. "I have my invitation." He held the piece of paper containing his letter and Scully's response in his hand.
Scully looked at him and smiled. Yeah, he thought, this was really, really real. He felt like a kid.
"Hi" she said.
"Hi." He needed a moment more. Then he walked over and stood beside them. "Thanks for tending them while I was gone," he said, nodding toward the fish. "I don't think I told you that." He leaned down and kissed her cheek, lingering there for a bit. She had the softest skin; only William's was softer. Then the three of them went back to the couch. They didn't speak. Scully continued nursing and when William had apparently had enough, she handed him to Mulder while she excused herself for a few minutes. When she returned, Mulder was rocking William in his arms and talking to him. These conversations, when she happened on them, were amazing to behold. They were so serious and love-filled, and served to remind her that life was now good. Mulder got up and placed William in the drawer, and returned to the couch and sat down next to her.
"So," he said.
"Yes," she replied.
"It's okay for you to drink this?" He looked at the little bottle in the bowl.
"Just a sip, yes."
Mulder opened the bottle and filled each of the glasses with about an inch of the champagne. Then he picked up the rings and handed Scully his. Taking her left hand, he held it for a couple of seconds, and then slid her ring onto her third finger. She then did the same to him with his ring. They kissed for a bit, and then for a bit more, and then rose from the couch. They each took a glass and went to stand by the aquarium to sip and look out the window. The sun had just gone down, and twilight filled the room.
"I don't know that I've ever felt more at peace, Scully. I don't want to wake up." He smiled at her and set his glass down on the desk. "I feel like I could surmount anything right now. Don't know if that's good or bad."
Scully set her glass down and put her arms around him. "It's good. It's right. Mulder, I've never said this before because I never wanted to think that I'd ever be so desperate, but after your funeral, there were days that I really thought that I wouldn't be able to go on. And it wasn't just that you were gone, but it was the overwhelming regret that I'd wasted so much time. I don't want to waste one minute more." She hugged him even more tightly. His lips touched the top of her head.
"I know. I feel the same way." Mulder glanced across the room and saw the spectre of a man crouched on the floor, sobbing. It might as well have been yesterday, from the feeling that it conjured in him.
They stood like that, arms around each other, for a few more minutes until it was dark, except for the glow from the aquarium. Scully smiled and remembered something.
"Mulder, I don't want to rush anything, but I hope you know that your fish are welcome in my apartment."
"Thanks, Scully. I know it sounds funny, but I miss them sometimes."
"So do I. The routine of feeding them while you were gone was a comfort to me. I'm afraid I'd always taken them for granted before then."
They kissed again, this time for several minutes. And then they took their wine glasses, the tray, the bowl and the bottle back to the kitchen. Mulder emptied the small remainder of the champagne down the drain, and washed the bowl and replaced it along with the tray back on the shelf where Scully had found them. Scully packed William's things up, and then they were ready to head back to her place. Or their place, rather. She needed to start thinking of it that way.
Scully stopped right before they were going out the door and turned to look at the apartment. It was going to be hard to say goodbye to it, once Mulder finished his moving. So much had happened here. So very much. She felt her back pocket to make sure his letter was still tucked safely where she'd put it, and then looked down at William. You happened here, she thought to herself. You don't know it, but you were the best thing to happen here, ever. She blinked back a tear. Mulder saw this, and paused too.
"We can stay a little longer if you want, Scully. We can order dinner in here, too, if you would prefer." Leaving the apartment behind eventually wouldn't be as hard for him, but it touched Mulder to know that she felt so attached to it.
"No, I'm ready to go back. And I think William is ready, too. Mulder, thank you for today." She looked at his hand on the doorknob and at the ring on his finger, and then looked at her ring. "Thank you for everything. I'll remember this day forever."
"I will too, Scully." His voice was a trifle husky. The decision that they had made here today to continue their marriage was momentous enough, but the knowledge that she wanted the world to know that they had taken this step was what Mulder's emotions were somersaulting over. For a man who'd been dead three months past, he was doing remarkably well.
He turned out the light, and the three of them headed home.
~ End ~
Next in series: October
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This story is (c) Copyright 2001 by Christine Leigh. "The X-Files" and its characters are the property of the Fox Network and Ten-Thirteen Productions and are borrowed here without profit or intent for profit.