DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to CC, FOX, etc.
Notes: Thanks to my beta UnderMySkinner (X-PhileChick#35).
* * *
* * *
All was quiet on the home front when Mulder made his way into the apartment, but it didn't take long for him to catch sight of Scully, nearly doubled over on the edge of the couch. Her face was hidden by her hands and her shoulders were shaking from barely audible sobs. Panic seized him, and in just a couple of long strides, he was kneeling in front of her.
"Scully, what is it? What's wrong? Are you in pain?"
Her head shot up to reveal a red, splotchy face overwritten with surprise, as though she hadn't heard him come in. The shock quickly wore off and her expression began to crumple again. Instinctively, Mulder reached out to stroke the misery from her face, which was all the invitation she needed to throw her arms around his neck and bury her face in his shoulder just as her sobs started anew.
"It's okay, I'm here now." He spoke gently into her ear while his hands stroked up and down her back to soothe her. Although he was trying to sound calm for her sake, he felt anything but. "Can you tell me what's wrong? What's happened?"
He listened patiently to Scully's hitched breaths while she tried to regain enough control to speak. Eventually she was able to squeeze out: "I'm just so tired."
Now that Mulder realized the crisis was not medical but emotional, his heartbeat finally started to return to normal. "I know. I'm sorry you're stuck here like this--"
"No, Mulder." She pulled back so he could see her face, even more red and puffy than when he had first walked in. "I just want to sleep. I'm so tired and I just want to sleep. But I can't...." Another sob escaped, and she stopped talking until she could get herself back under control, although the tears continued to drip down her face one by one. "I can't get comfortable. My back aches, and my hips are sore, and I'm supposed to lay on my left side for the circulation, but I can't, I just can't lay on the same side hour after hour because it makes my shoulder hurt, and--" She stopped long enough to draw in another hitched breath. "And the babies keep poking me, and I just want to sleep, but I can't. I just can't."
Leaning forward, he closed the distance and drew her back into his arms, partially because he was trying not to smile and knew better than to let her see that. He thought, if Scully weren't so tired right now, she might see the humor in her current behavior, but he knew she would need a little more distance from this moment before she could share that perspective. "Oh, God, Scully. I'm so sorry. But we'll see what we can do, okay? There's got to be some way to help you sleep."
"Okay." Her voice was small and distant, muffled by his shoulder, so trusting like a little girl who believed that he really could make the monsters go away. It sounded so unlike his Scully, but he imagined that he himself might regress a few decades if he felt as exhausted as she obviously did right now.
When he felt her relax in his arms and her breathing even out, Mulder pulled back and placed a kiss on her forehead. "Why don't we start with a change of venue, okay? Let's get you back to bed."
Scully didn't protest but let him help her stand slowly and shuffle back toward the bedroom. Once she was settled on the mattress, he stepped into the bathroom and returned a moment later with a damp washcloth. She remained silent while he sat down next to her and gently washed her face with the cool cloth. Afraid that her quietness meant she was closing off again, perhaps a bit embarrassed about her outburst, he made quick work of his ministrations and did his best to return to "partner mode."
When he finished, he pulled back but didn't get up yet. "I don't suppose I could talk you into taking anything?"
"You know better than that."
He nodded in concession. "Can I get you anything? Warm milk? A vat of chocolate? Pickles and ice cream?"
The corners of her mouth twitched, but the exhaustion still dominated her features. "No. I've already tried everything I could think of." She paused. "Think it's too soon to ask for an epidural?"
Mulder chuckled. At least she still had her sense of humor. "That bad, huh?"
"No, not that bad, I guess. I'm not in pain, just supremely uncomfortable. Nice to know it'll only get worse."
He gave her a sympathetic look and then leaned over and kissed her forehead again. "Why don't you try to rest for a while? I'll do some research and see if we can find a solution that doesn't involve knocking you out until it's all over with, okay?"
"Mmm, inducing a coma sounds just fine to me. Let me know if you figure out how."
He smiled at her as he rose and headed for the door. "Well, there's always the Vulcan nerve pinch."
She just grunted in reply, her eyes now closed and her face half-buried in the pillow. He closed the door gently behind him and headed off to find a remedy. Come hell or high water, he'd find a way for her to sleep comfortably tonight.
* * *
Scully was sprawled across the couch again when Mulder later returned. Rest still eluded her, but at least her morale was slightly better.
Muting the TV while he entered, she was about to ask where he'd been, but she was struck dumb as she watched him struggle through the doorway with two oversized shopping bags. Once he was through and had kicked the door shut behind him, he turned to her and triumphantly lifted the two bags at his sides.
"Pillows!" He was obviously quite proud of himself.
"What?" In her tired confusion, she didn't quite understand his excitement about this.
He just smiled at her and carried the bags straight to the bedroom, answering her as he passed: "Pillows. Just give me a few minutes to get the wrappers off, and I'm sure you'll want pillowcases on some of them."
Scully was too weary to try to follow his logic, so she just turned the sound back on and continued to channel surf. A few minutes later, Mulder reemerged from the bedroom and gently removed the remote from her hand to cease the surfing and click the power off. After dropping the device onto the coffee table, he extended both hands to her in invitation; she accepted and allowed him to help her to her feet and back to the bedroom.
Once they reached the doorway, she stopped and took in the sight before her: "Pillows."
There were indeed pillows, of every shape and size, covering every inch of the bed. Some were large bed pillows, others were small throw pillows, and there were even a few oddly shaped orthopedic pillows, all displayed like a haphazard brood around her large body pillow. Mulder certainly never did anything halfway.
Having finished her perusal, Scully turned toward him and raised an eyebrow, eliciting a chuckle at her skeptical response.
Nudging her forward, he guided her to the side of the bed. "I know this may not be a cure for all your ills, but it's the best solution I could come up with that didn't involve drugs or alien technology. And, best of all"--he took up two pillows and shifted them along his body to illustrate as he spoke--"they're adjustable."
She couldn't help but laugh at his antics. Mulder was trying so hard to be helpful, and his enthusiasm for this solution was no less than if he'd been explaining to her that vampires really do exist. As usual, his faith was contagious, and she started to believe that maybe this would be the cure for her problem.
"Here--" He pushed a few pillows out of the way and helped her sit and then lie back on the bed.
It took them almost 15 minutes to find an arrangement that she was finally happy with, but it eventually led to Scully lying on her side in the center of the bed with an assortment of pillows stuffed under her head, neck, and ankles, between her knees, and pushed up against her on every side. They both knew that it would take nearly as long for her to find her way out when she'd have to go to the bathroom in half an hour, but neither of them wanted to mention that at the moment.
When she was finally settled, Mulder kissed her on the cheek and headed for the door, turning off the light on his way out.
Since it was only a little after 8:00, Mulder figured he'd let Scully rest while he washed the dinner dishes they'd each left in the sink and then finished reading the article that Byers had e-mailed to him. But he'd barely stepped into the hall when he heard her call out behind him: "Mulder?"
He left the light off as he poked his head back in the doorway. "Yeah?"
"Um, I have a problem."
"Do you need help getting up?" He feared that her bladder was already protesting its capacity.
The muted light pouring in the doorway illuminated her face enough for him to see her uncertain expression as he approached. "What is it?"
"The pillows behind my back won't stay in place. I can hold on to the ones in front, but the ones behind me...."
Reaching around behind her, Mulder tried to wedge the pillows in tighter. "Is that better?"
"Well, kind of, but not really...."
She was clearly hesitant to say what she wanted to.
"I can't help you if you don't tell me, Scully."
There was a pause, and then she asked timidly, "Can you stay here and hold the pillows in place?"
The little girl voice was back. He smiled at her tentative request and replied gently, "Of course I can. Just give me a minute."
After sweeping through the apartment to lock up and turn off the lights, Mulder returned to the darkened bedroom and stripped down to his boxers and t-shirt before climbing into bed behind his partner. Between her bulk and the mountain of pillows, there was very little room for him on the mattress, but he wasn't about to tell her that. Spooning up behind her, he wedged the pillows firmly against her back--his derriere almost hanging off the mattress, even pressed up as close to her as he could get.
He was pleased to finally hear contentment in her voice for the first time all evening. Even though sleep would be long in coming for him, he had no complaints about joining her in bed so early. Reaching over to rest his hand on her abdomen, he cuddled in as close as he could and listened to her breathing slow until she finally drifted off to sleep.
Although proud that his mountain of pillows seemed to do the trick, Mulder couldn't help but be dismayed at Scully's latest tribulation. In most respects, it was a good thing that she had made it to almost 35 weeks without going into labor yet, but there seemed to be no end to her discomfort. He just wished there was something he could do to cheer her up. What he really wanted was to finish the nursery so he could finally show her the new house, but first, he had to get the cribs (*Bill's* cribs)--and the changing table (*Frohike's* table)--moved in, which was anything but simple considering the fact that Scully rarely left the apartment.
But something had to be done. It was time to come up with a plan.
* * *
"Well, what do you think?"
Maggie rotated slowly, taking another long look around the spacious living room. Calling this the "great room" would be an understatement, and the rest of the house was by no means shabby in comparison. A lifetime of naval housing had taught her to make any house into a home, but that never stopped her from dreaming about having a place of this size in which to raise her four children. When she completed her revolution, she was met with Mulder's anxious expression and hastened to reassure him.
"Oh, Fox, it's beautiful. I just can't get over how large it is."
Her praise seemed not to assuage him. "You think it's too much?"
She contemplated her words carefully. "I think it's...quite a gift. I don't mean to pry, but are you sure you can afford this?"
He gave half a shrug, and his eyes dropped to watch his hands nervously pick at a hangnail. "My father left me some property on Martha's Vineyard. It was about time I sold it. I know, I probably went a little overboard, but it's so hard to find a place with a sizeable yard around here, and when I saw this one, it had Scully--I mean Dana--written all over it. It's just--I mean, I owe her so much, and giving her this is the least I could do, and I know it seems like a lot, but--I want the kids to have a nice place to grow up, and--"
With a gentle touch to his arm, Maggie halted his rambling. She leaned in to meet his eyes and graced him with a warm smile. "It's a very thoughtful gift. I couldn't think of a better place to raise a family."
Relief washed over his face, and his eyes began to twinkle with hope. "Do you think Dana will like it?"
"I'm sure she'll love it. But are you ever going to tell her?"
Now his eyes truly lit up, and he answered with enthusiasm, "Actually, that's why I asked you to meet me here. I have a plan."
Maggie knew enough about her daughter's partner to be slightly worried by this. He apparently read her concern and hurried to explain himself. "You see, Scully's been so down lately that I thought we should do something to cheer her up, like a shower."
"A baby shower?"
Mulder's exuberance waned slightly at her dubious tone. "Yeah. I mean, there's nothing better to raise your spirits than a surprise party, right?"
Pacing toward the window, Maggie shook her head slightly. "Oh, Fox, I don't know. I thought it would be better to wait until after the babies were born."
He stepped toward her, recapturing her gaze. "I know you're worried about her overdoing it--so am I--but she really wouldn't have to do anything but sit back and receive the gifts. Look, I've even got this great recliner." He eagerly plopped into the overstuffed leather chair behind him and popped out the foot rest to demonstrate. "She can just sit here with her feet propped up. Plus, it has a cup holder."
"So, you're thinking about having it here." She wasn't so sure about this "plan."
Mulder gave up on wrestling the arm rest closed over the cup holder and stood back up. "Yeah, that way we can set it up without her knowing. I'll have some guys come over to the apartment and move the cribs while we're at the appointment on Friday, so the nursery will be finished when she sees it. Then, on the way home, I'll bring her here instead, and, 'Surprise!'"
"Are you going to tell her about the house first?"
"Well, uh, no. I thought I could break that news after she's seen the inside. Besides, I figure she can't really blow up at me if I tell her in front of an audience." He smiled at her sheepishly.
She had to admit, he did have a point there.
* * *
"Scully, are you ready yet? We really need to go." The jingling of keys only accentuated the impatience in Mulder's voice.
"I can't find my shoes," she called out to him from the bedroom.
He appeared in the doorway a moment later. "Just grab a pair. You've got a whole closet full of them."
She halted in her process of pivoting and scanning the room--all that she could do in her current condition--and glared at him. "No, Mulder, I can't wear just any pair. My feet are so swollen they're the size of an elephant's. The only shoes I can fit into are my sandals."
"They probably got pushed under the bed." He tilted sideways to look under the edge and then noticed her trying to do the same. "You need to sit down. C'mon." With a hand on her back, he gently ushered her out of the room and toward the front door. One of the dining room chairs was sitting next to the coat rack, where it had taken up residence when Maggie was mopping that morning. He guided her to the chair and turned her so she could sit. "Just wait here and I'll go get your shoes."
"Well, hurry up. We're running late."
"Didn't I just say that?" he muttered on his way to the bedroom, just loud enough for her to hear.
Rolling her eyes at him, Scully shifted in the chair, trying to get more comfortable. She didn't want to lean back because it would be more difficult to get up, but the hard, wooden surface wasn't doing her lower back any favors. It seemed like the aching was getting worse, probably because she continued to add on the pounds each week, so she was eager to discuss this with her doctor. If only Mulder would hurry up.
A small sound at the front door drew her attention away from the muffled curses emanating from the bedroom. The noise was like a soft scratching or clicking, not on wood, but on metal. It was almost like...a lock being picked.
Standing carefully, she shuffled over to the door. Her first instinct was to look through the peephole, but that would require shifting her weight forward to stand on her tiptoes, and throwing off her center of balance generally wasn't a good idea these days. She didn't have a gun handy, and yelling for Mulder would scare off the intruder. The one thing she had going for her was the element of surprise, so she decided to use it.
When the door swung open, it was hard to tell which of them was more stunned, Skinner leaning over with a lock pick in his hand, or Scully staring down at his shiny head.
"Uh, Agent Scully." He straightened quickly, hiding his hands behind his back as if that could make the evidence disappear.
"Why are trying to get into my apartment?"
His mouth opened once, then twice, but no words came forth. Then his eyes shot past her, and she heard Mulder answer from behind her.
"I, uh, told him he could stop by to pick up some files, and, uh, that he shouldn't knock because he might wake you up."
Scully turned and took in Mulder's desperate look, and then glanced back at Skinner's guilty one. "Uh, uh. I'm not buying it."
"Listen, Scully, we're already late, so why don't we go and I'll tell you about it on the way." One of Mulder's hands was occupied with her shoes, but the other was free to land on her back and gently tried to nudge her out the doorway.
"No." Scully pivoted away from him and took a step back to perch on the chair. "We're not going anywhere until somebody tells me what's going on here." Her arms crossed over her chest to emphasize her point.
A tense silence ensued. Mulder ran his free hand through his hair and let it rest on the taut muscles at the base of his neck, while Skinner uncomfortably shifted his weight from one foot to another.
Eventually, the stalemate was too much for their boss. "Maybe I should just wait outside." When there was no answer, he decided to follow his own suggestion and stepped back into the hall, pulling the door shut after him.
Scully breached the silence. "Mulder?"
Avoiding eye contact, he sighed and responded, "It was supposed to be a surprise, Scully."
"I don't like surprises."
He turned once more to face her, weighing his options before announcing: "We're having a baby shower."
"And Skinner came over to help set up?" The incredulity was plain in her tone.
She perused his face with an interrogator's gaze. "You're telling me that our boss left work early to come decorate for a baby shower."
He nodded, but perhaps a little too enthusiastically.
Mulder deliberated and then revealed the next truth. "He came over to help move furniture."
"What furniture? Are you saying you got an apartment?"
"Not exactly." Yielding to the inevitable, he set down her shoes next to the chair and reached into his jacket to pull out a weathered envelope containing a set of pictures. He flipped through a few, hesitated, and then flipped through a couple more. Finally, he pulled one out and handed it to her.
As her eyes took in the image before her, Scully gasped slightly. "Mulder, this is the nursery I wanted! I don't understand. Where is this?"
He took a deep breath and dropped down on one knee to get closer to her eye level. "Scully, I...I bought a house."
Her expression remained blank as she repeated the words back to him. "You bought a house."
"I bought a house." Her lack of emotion kept him optimistic but also slightly on edge.
Scully's eyes dropped to the picture in her hand and then met his again. "This is at the house?"
He nodded hopefully. He thought she was taking this fairly well so far; but he soon found it was only the calm before the storm.
"Do I get visitation rights?"
"What?" Mulder was genuinely confused, not following her train of thought.
"I know you're all adamant about your paternal rights, but I never agreed to joint custody. You can't just take my children away from me. They're living here." The tension in her voice increased with every syllable.
He jumped in to reassure her. "No, Scully. You don't get it. The house isn't for me; it's for you--for you and the babies."
Her brow crinkled in confusion. "But I already have a place to live. And a nursery." She gestured around her as she spoke, the picture still clenched in her hand.
"Wouldn't you like a house? At least take a look at it before you reject the idea. I promise you'll love it." He held up the packet of photos for her.
"And what if I don't?" Scully handed back the picture of the nursery, not bothering to reach for the others. "This isn't like buying toys or a piece of furniture. You're asking me to move somewhere that you decided on for me. Damn it, Mulder, do you even THINK about asking me before you make plans for my life? The next thing I know, you'll be telling me that we're already married and you just haven't bothered to tell me yet."
"My God, Mulder, I--" She stopped suddenly and drew in a sharp breath, both hands flying to her abdomen. A moment later she leaned over, cradling her belly.
The packet fell from Mulder's fingers, scattering its contents across the floor unnoticed; one hand flew to her shoulder and the other encompassed one of her own.
"Scully, what is it? What's wrong? Do you want me to get the monitor?"
She shook her head, but there was no "I'm fine" this time. The only sound she emitted was a cross between a groan and a whimper.
"God, Scully, talk to me! What's going on?!?"
Through her labored breaths, her response was so quiet that he barely made it out: "Sharp pain."
"Mulder? Is everything okay?"
Looking up in surprise, Mulder saw their boss standing in the open doorway, only then realizing that he'd raised his voice in his panic. But his attention soon returned to his partner. He'd seen her experience her share of contractions over the past few weeks, but never like this.
"No, it's not. We need to get her to the hospital. Now."
"I'll drive." Without another word, Skinner headed out the door. Mulder knew the car would be running and ready to leave the curb once they were outside.
Without a second thought, Mulder got to his feet and swept Scully into his arms. Through his anxiety, his mind registered how light she seemed, even with her awkward bulk--but, he supposed, that could also be due to the overdose of adrenaline he was experiencing. As he settled her in his grip, she was able to get one hand wrapped around his neck, but the other remained firmly clutching her lower belly.
The fact that she wasn't protesting any of this only alarmed him further. Not wanting her to know this, he made an effort to sound lighthearted. "Hey, Scully, you remember my panic face? I'm making it again."
Her only response was to clasp him even tighter and whimper into his neck.
"That bad, huh?" Rushing into the hallway, he hooked the door with his foot to kick it shut behind them, but he didn't really care whether it latched or not. There were more important things right now. "Hold on for me, partner. Just hold on."
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