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An Acceptable Level of Happiness


After dinner is cleaned up, Mulder commandeers the computer to do research, which I don’t mind because it means I can play with Malcolm. He’s at the stage now where his universe is expanding and he’s starting to notice what goes on around him. When objects fall from his hands, his eyes follow where they go. He reaches for things that interest him, and when I place something new in his hands, he’ll inspect it for a moment or two before it goes into his mouth.

“Scully,” Mulder says when there’s a lull in the noise Malcolm and I are making, “there are so many sites out here that are anti-Christmas.”

“Really,” I say, not completely listening because Malcolm is turning himself from his back to his stomach and I love watching him do it.

“Yeah. They say the trappings of modern Christmas are really pagan in origin and good Christians shouldn’t observe them.” He points to the screen. “They say it’s all about materialism and not decent Christian values.”

“Well,” I say slowly, “that’s the complaint a lot of people have about Christmas: that it’s become about shopping, not giving.”

“These people are saying that Santa Claus is another disguise of the devil. Tell me in what universe this makes sense. Santa Claus, evil? Jolly old St. Nick?”

“St. Nicholas is an historical figure. Everything else is folklore.” I roll onto my back and pick up Malcolm to give him a ride on my knees, and he crows with delight. “A lot of our customs are based on pagan practices. Not just with holidays. Putting your best foot forward is from the Romans, for example. Things like that, everyday things. I can’t tell you, as a Roman Catholic and as an Irish Catholic, even, how many of our rituals come from the Romans, the Celts, Mithraism—religions that have their roots in the deep dark past and that are far older than ‘decent Christian values’.” I sit up to hold Malcolm against my chest, and notice that Mulder is staring at me with his mouth slightly agape. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Oh,” he says faintly, “I’m just thinking . . .” He sighs and turns back to the computer.

I think I know what he’s thinking, but I am much too tired to do anything about that right now. “Anyway. Why are you worrying about what some spoilsports are saying?”

“I guess it disturbs me, people reading such dire things into such an innocent holiday. I mean, if it were really evil, wouldn’t we perform human sacrifice instead of donating to charity and giving cookies to our neighbors?”

“The Steadmans down the hall always give me a fruitcake for Christmas. I think that’s pretty evil.”

Mulder looks at me over his shoulder, his expression suggesting he doesn’t quite know if I’m kidding or not. I just smile at him, patting Malcolm on the back, and say, “It’s feeding time again. Don’t stay up too late, ‘kay?” I bend over his shoulder for a quick kiss.

“I won’t.” He returns my kiss absently.

In the bedroom, I take off my sweatshirt and sit on the bed to nurse Malcolm. He’s not crying yet, just making snuffling noises as he punches his fists in the air. He won’t nurse if he’s truly not hungry, but most of the time my milk production and his hunger are still in sync. During the day Mulder feeds him from a bottle with thawed milk I pumped the day before. It’s not a perfect system, but for the time being it’s the best we can do.

Despite the hassles I wouldn’t change things. I can’t imagine another person I’d rather leave Malcolm with during the day—no one but Mulder would love and protect him the way that I would. If Mulder decides he wants to return to work—if they let him—we’ll have to find another arrangement, and the only alternative I can see is me staying home. I am not placing my son in the care of strangers, no matter how well qualified they may be. You never know. *We* never know.

Meantime, I’m glad Mulder is here to tend the baby, and that he’s happy to do it and pretty good at it, too. His tenderness and patience are unending.

This includes his patience with me. Here’s the thing: despite the fact that he’s been home almost eight months now, we have yet to make love again. Between Mulder’s recovery process and Malcolm’s birth, neither of us have been physically able. And even though I’ve started to notice wiry muscles in Mulder’s arms and his stamina has decidedly improved, I have been just too tired.

I know he wants me. It’s in the way he admires me when I dress and undress, the way he holds me during the night, the expression on his face when he watches me with Malcolm. I want him too—oh, yes—but I need to sleep for a week straight first.

While I ponder this dilemma Malcolm’s suckling has lessened and slowed. I rock him for a few minutes more until I’m sure he’s asleep, and then carefully rise to put him to bed. I change his diaper once more, put him in his sleeper, and lay him in his crib. Mulder thinks he got his sleeping patterns from me—he sleeps like the dead until he’s ready to wake up, the way I used to sleep. “Used to” being the operative phrase.

I stifle a yawn and go into the bathroom. I’ve heard horror stories from nursing mothers about dry, cracked and bleeding nipples, but mine aren’t as bad as that. Mainly the skin around the areolae is red and bumpy, and the nipples themselves are very tender. My doctor recommended a lotion to help with the irritation, but the best thing, we both know, is to stop using the breast pump. Which I won’t do.

I brush my teeth and wash my face, ticking off my mental To Do list. There’s still quite a few items on it before I can go to bed.

I’m rubbing lotion into my breasts when Mulder pauses in the bathroom door. “I looked at the files.”

“Oh?” I try not to show how glad I am to hear that. “What do you think?”

“They’re from Tarot cards. The positions. The guy hanging by one foot? That’s the Hanging Man. The couple are meant to be the Lovers. The four people, that’s the Wheel of Fortune.”

“Do you think it’s a message?”

“I’m sure it is. Couldn’t tell you want the killer’s trying to say, though. Tarot interpretation relates to myth and dream symbolism, but it also depends on the reader and the person they’re doing the reading for.”

“Do you have some references to the Tarot? This could be helpful.”

“I have a book in storage somewhere. I’ll look for it.” He pauses and says, “Are they still bothering you?”


His voice drops an octave or so. “Do you need some help with that?”

“I think I’ve got it covered, thanks.”

He doesn’t answer and I glance at his reflection in the medicine cabinet mirror. His eyes are distant, his face disappointed, but when he notices me looking he gives me a faint smile. “I’m going down to the storage room,” he says quietly.

“Mulder—hey—” I turn around and hold out my hands to him, never minding that I am naked from the waist up. I’ve been a lot less self-conscious about nudity since Malcolm’s birth. “Come here a second.”

He crosses the bathroom and puts his hands in mine. I slide my hands up his arms and pull on his shoulders a bit, and the corner of his mouth twitches in a half-smile as he bends to sweetly kiss me.

Oh, he tastes good. Towards the end of his disappearance I would dig through his belongings, looking for anything that still carried his scent. The photographs would always remind me of how he looked and his clothes would always remind me of his height, his size, the breadth of his shoulders—but it was the other, less tangible things that I was afraid to lose, the memory of his scent and his taste and the texture of his tongue in my mouth.

The first time I kissed him after his return I knew I had forgotten nothing.

All right. Yes, I am tired and I smell like baby spit and sour milk, but there’s no mistaking the intent in Mulder’s kiss. Oh, he wants me—and oh, I want him too. I open my mouth to his tongue and wind my arms around his neck, nuzzling my face against his beard. He wraps his arms around my waist and lifts me off my feet
to crush me to his chest.

I break off the kiss with a hiss as pain flares through my breasts. “Oh, shit, I’m sorry,” Mulder mutters, setting me on my feet. “I knew they were sore but I didn’t think they were *that* sore—are you okay?”

“I’ll be fine.” I run some cold water into my cupped hand and splash it onto my breasts. Mulder watches me with his hands on my shoulders and sorrow on his face.

“I’m sorry,” he says again.

“It’s okay, Mulder. Really.” I grip the edge of the sink with both hands, swaying on my feet. I want to crawl into bed and start over again tomorrow.

“You’re exhausted, Scully,” he says, rubbing my shoulders. “You’re working nonstop, you do so much for Malcolm and you hardly sleep—you’re pushing yourself too hard.”

“It all has to be done.”

“Nobody said it all had to be done by you.” He bends and slides his arm under my knees, holding my back with the other.

“Mulder, you’re not strong enough.”

“Shh,” he whispers and lifts me off the floor. He doesn’t wobble a bit as he carries me into the bedroom, and he sets me carefully onto the bed. “Stay there.”

“I can’t go to bed yet, there’s too much to do. I haven’t prepared my notes for tomorrow and I want to look at your book—”

“You’re going to sleep,” he says firmly. “It’s after midnight and Malcolm will be awake again in just a few hours. You’re going to sleep now, young lady.”

“Young lady,” I sulk as Mulder gets my pajamas out of the bureau, but I don’t get up, either.

“I bet your partner wouldn’t complain if you telecommuted tomorrow. He knows how to reach you.”

I have to admit he’s right. Doggett’s been trying to convince me to take some extra time off, anyway. He’s worried about the pace I’ve set myself.  “All right. I’ll stay home tomorrow. We can do more research on the Tarot connection.”

“And then it’s the weekend and you’re going to take that easy, too. Your partner can handle things.”

“Yes, sir,” I say, widening my eyes at him as he dresses me and buttons up my pajama top.

“You wouldn’t have this problem if you’d slowed down in the first place.” His voice is much more soothing than his words, and his hands are gentle as he takes off the sweats and replaces them with pajama bottoms. He chose the flannel tonight. Good choice.

“I’m a working mother with a new baby, I can’t slow down.”

“Scully.” Mulder grasps my chin in his hand and lifts my face so I have to look him in the eye. He says, emphasizing each word, “Yes, you can.”

Our gazes lock, and then the moment is ruined by a jaw-splitting yawn that I can’t hold back. Mulder chuckles and tucks my legs beneath the covers. I lay my head down on the pillow and I feel his hand gently stroking my hair as I drift into sleep.


Even though Mulder insists I take this Saturday easy—on the couch beneath an afghan with the cell phone within reach—he spends it getting things for Christmas. He enlists the help of my mother, who gives me a quick kiss before turning her full attention to her grandson. The little flirt is in fine shape, cooing and grabbing and kicking his feet. The three of them leave the apartment in a flurry of “goodbyes” and “love yous” and “we won’t be gone longs”, and I am left with silence.

For a moment or two I just sit, watching the fire crackle in the fireplace, and then I sigh and stretch out my arms. It’s the first time I’ve been completely alone in my own apartment since Mulder came home. I don’t even want to flick on the TV for company. I just want to listen to the fire and the wind while I do my work.

By mid-afternoon, I’ve  read Doggett’s findings and added some thoughts of my own, I’ve e-mailed them to him and answered a few other messages that were waiting in my In box. I even write in my journal, which has been sorely neglected these last few months—my last entry was Malcolm’s birth, and that was perfunctory: “Malcolm Joseph Scully, 9:48 p.m., May 27, 2001. Baby-blue eyes and dark hair. Looks like Mulder.” Keep in mind I’d just had a caesarean section and was afraid that Mulder’s abduction had truly  driven him insane.

Writing about that day is harder than I expected. I start and stop several times, trying to put my thoughts in order. Mulder was still in the hospital, too weak to come home, and they brought him into the delivery room in a wheelchair. I was already groggy from labor, muscle relaxants and the anesthesia they’d given me to prepare me for the caesarean. I remember his hand touched my face and he kissed my cheek. You’re so brave, he whispered.

I don’t remember much between that and when Mulder started screaming. He must have looked past the sheet that was set up to block the view of my open belly, and that sight, the blood, even the alien appearance of a newborn baby, was too much for him. He knocked over a tray of instruments struggling to stand. He pushed a nurse off her feet. He tried to drape himself over my body, his legs so weak they shook. His hands were so gnarled he dropped the scalpel he had grabbed to threaten the staff away. And all the while I could hear him: Don’t hurt her, stop hurting her, take me instead, don’t hurt her.

When I visited him a few days later in the psychiatric ward, he wept and apologized over and over. “There was so much blood, Scully. All I could see was the blood.” His doctor recommended that I wait until Mulder’s condition was more stable, but I brought the baby anyway and laid him carefully in his father’s arms. I said, Say hello to your son. And Mulder whispered, his eyes rapturous and his face full of reverence, Hello. Hello, you beautiful child. Hello.

I cap my pend and put the journal aside, not tempted to reread old entries. This particular notebook is the record of loneliness and worry and I don’t know if I’ll ever revisit it. Even the joy of Malcolm’s birth is marred by Mulder’s breakdown.

I look at the clock. They’ve been gone most of the afternoon, and Malcolm’s going to be hungry any minute now. Mulder had the diaper bag—a dark blue one that looks more like a gym bag, though it does have a rollout mat for changing diapers—but he didn’t take any bottles or milk with him.

I go to the window and look out onto the street. The sun is out and the wind is blowing hard, tearing what leaves remained off the trees. They bundled up Malcolm in his little snowsuit with an extra knitted cap to keep his head warm, and he had his mittens, but it’s still so cold out. I rub my arms, shivering. Did Mulder wear his thick coat? Did he remember his scarf? He is getting stronger but he’s still an easy target for pneumonia—

The front door opens and the three of them bustle in, Malcolm zipped inside Mulder’s coat so that only his little face shows. He’s teary and red-faced, and makes his “Feed me! Now!” cry when he sees me. Of course this is enough for the milk to let down, but it’s not the first time I’ve stained this shirt so I don’t mind.

“Sorry, Scully,” Mulder says as he unzips his coat and I take our wailing baby. “Traffic was worse than I thought it would be.”

I kiss Mulder quickly, unbuttoning my shirt with one hand. “I was starting to get worried.”

“We left everything in the car so we could get the baby inside,” Mom adds, looking away from the sight of Malcolm nursing at my breast. The fact that I breast feed so openly makes her uncomfortable. We were all bottle-fed babies. “Other than this he was a very well-behaved young man.”

“Yep, he’s a charmer,” I say, curling up on the couch. I put my finger in Malcolm’s hand and he clenches his fingers around it in rhythm to his suckling. “I think I know where he gets it from,” I add, and Mulder, on his way to the bedroom to put away the diaper bag, laughs out loud.

“I’ll get the bags. Maggie, you said something about tea?”

“Tea. Yes. That wind is biting.” She goes into the kitchen. Mulder takes this opportunity to lean over the back of the couch, tilting back my head, and he kisses me deeply. His hand slides down my chest, cares
ses my breast on the way, and strokes the baby’s head.

“You are so beautiful,” he whispers and stands up to go back to the car, leaving me breathless and more than a little distracted.

Mom comes back from the kitchen and sits on the couch beside me. “Teapot’s on.” After a moment she puts her feet on the coffee table. “Dana,” she says pensively.

“Hm?” I stroke Malcolm’s head and play with his hand.

“Have you ever gone shopping with Mulder before?”

“I have. Yes.” I have to smile. Shopping with Mulder is not for the faint of heart.

She sighs, furrowing her eyebrows. “Do you think he had ADD as a child?”

I start laughing. “No . . . but that would explain a few things about him, wouldn’t it?”

“The man is non-stop! Every five minutes it was ‘Oo, Maggie, look at this!’ ‘Oo, Maggie, look at that!'” She sighs again. “I’m glad he was carrying the baby. Otherwise I don’t think I could have kept up.”

“Did Malcolm enjoy it?”

“Malcolm enjoyed it. Mulder takes such good care of him.”

I lean my head on her shoulder. “He’s a good daddy.”

“He’s a very good daddy.” Mom leans her head against mine. “I wish your father could have met him.”

I have to smile at the thought. Ahab and Mulder in the same room . . . “Me too. Though I can just imagine what he’d have to say about my having a baby without being married first.”

“Your father would love Malcolm the same as the rest of his grandchildren. Though I think he’d be a bit more insistent than I have been about the two of you getting married.”

I sigh. Not this again. “We will. Eventually. I just hate the thought of people saying we had to get married. I mean, we don’t *have* to get married, we don’t *have* to do anything.”

“No, of course you don’t *have* to. But it would be the right thing to do, don’t you think? It’s these kinds of institutions that hold society together.”

I lift my head and look at her. “You know, Mulder said that to me not two weeks ago. He wants you to convince me, right?”

“He asked me to talk to you. It hurts him, thinking that you don’t want to marry him.”

“I do want to marry him. Just . . . not yet. I want to do it for the right reason, not because society expects it or because it’s a neat idea.”

“Isn’t Malcolm the right reason?” Mom asks gently, and I sigh.

“I’m already a fallen woman,” I say, grumpy at where this conversation is going. “A wedding is not going to make that big of a difference. What’s taking Mulder so long?”

“Oh, I hope he’s not trying to carry all the bags at once.” Mom gets up and puts her coat back on, just as the front door opens again and Mulder staggers in with the shopping bags. Mom rushes forward to help him and the teapot starts whistling.

I take a deep breath and get up to tend the teapot, holding my startled baby in the crook of one arm. It’s nice to have them back. It is. Really.

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