Therapist by LiviaB

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Therapist cover

Title: Therapist
Author: LiviaB
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Website: http://go.to/inkspot
Rating: NC-17
Content: SAR non-con elements

Disclaimer Haiku:
Legal restrictions
Make me sing this harsh refrain:
I do not own them
 

Summary: Mulder and Scully are on loan to the VCU, on the trail of a couple killer.

 ~~~~~

Therapist by LiviaB

 ~~~~~

“Agent Mulder!”

“This is pointless,” Mulder grumbles under his breath as he stalks back out of the woods toward the waiting sedan.

“Mulder,” I respond in a hoarse whisper, “slow down.”

“Speed up,” he spits out. Son of a bitch.

“Mulder,” I admonish in a slightly louder voice.

He stops abruptly and I nearly trip in my attempt to keep from slamming into his back. “Fine,” he hisses, and waits for Agent Pack to catch up.

Panting and clearly irritated, Agent Pack steps in quickly to join us.

“Agent Mulder,” he says in a high, thin voice, “You don’t really intend to leave the scene after only five minutes of investigation.” It could have only been more of a question if his voice had ascended on the last word.

“There’s nothing else to see here,” Mulder defends, but when he makes grudging contact with my potent warning glance, he softens his tone. “These killings have nothing to do with this or any of the other crime scenes. The dump sites are random.”

Pack doesn’t seem at all satisfied with Mulder’s half-explanation, and frankly I wouldn’t either. But we have to work with the SAC, and animosity gets us nowhere. Employing a technique honed through five long years of practice, I add, “Thank you for taking the time to drive us out here, but I don’t think we’re going to find anything more than your Forensics team already did. At this point, the physical evidence gathered should be a good enough start. We should get back to the Field Office and begin work on our end of the process.”

With an irritated shrug, Pack leads us back to his car.

When I finally chance a quick glance at Mulder beside me in the back seat, he looks down at the seat, for all appearances enthralled by the cheap upholstery. “This has nothing to do with the slave trade,” Mulder mutters, the disdain in his voice appallingly obvious. “There’s another motivation here.”

“Then we’ll find it,” I reassure him in a low voice. “When we get to the Field Office. Right now, let’s just enjoy the scenery.”

“Great,” he answers on a voiceless outrush of air. “Just what I need. A Sunday drive.”

I decide it’s best not to respond. I’ll have plenty of time to kick his ass later.

***

Once we’re alone in a conference room back at the Chicago field office, we both revert to our native directness.

“What makes you think the murders are unrelated to the slave trade, Mulder?” I ask, looking over crime scene photographs. “All six victims were found nude, beaten, with clear evidence of physical restraints. Considering the location and nature of the injuries, as well as the physical evidence of sexual activity prior to death, they were all victims of the same perpetrator or perpetrators.”

Mulder is shaking his head in disappointment. “What was the cause of death in all six cases?”

I look through the autopsy notes and confirm an identical M.O.: “Primary coronary collapse and asphyxiation.”

“From?”

“A thick cotton cloth saturated with halothane.”

He doesn’t look up. His eyes are riveted on the map in front of him, but he appears to be looking through it, deep in thought. “How do you kill two people using nothing but a cloth soaked with anesthetic, Scully?”

Lord, I hate when he does this, the patronizing son of a bitch. “You place the victims face to face, and block their breathing passages with the cloth. That was how all three couples were found.”

“Couples,” he mumbles, then he is silent. I don’t know what he’s processing, but it’s obvious he’s found something of value. I sit down and begin to summarize the autopsy reports, drawing comparisons and highlighting differences between the cases.

This case isn’t the kind of challenge we used to tackle back in our old basement office, but at least it’s a refreshing change from background checks on fertilizer purchases. With another supposed resurgence in the white slave trade, the pressure is on at the Bureau to solve this case, and fast.

Mulder handled himself well in the meeting with Kersh, but once we emerged from his office, he chuckled all the way back to his desk.

“You’d think they’d give up on all that Mann Act crap,” he said.

I’d read about the Bureau’s historic fascination with the slave trade, and the ultimately unsuccessful national operations to uncover massive plots to transport slaves for immoral purposes across state lines. The issue resurfaces on a regular basis, like the seventeen-year cicadas, or rubella.

In the end, however, the validity of the Bureau’s assumption meant less to me than the notion of getting out of that blasted bullpen. Whatever Kersh might think of us, at least he believes we can help.

About three hours later, Mulder has drawn up copious notes and is clicking vigorously on the mouse at the computer workstation he requested, emitting an occasional smug, “Right.”

I’m already tired, and it’s nearing the end of the day, so I drop my pen and stretch. It feels exceptionally good, lifting my arms over my head and straightening my spine, as I swivel from the waist to loosen the kinks in my lower back. When I open my eyes, I notice that Mulder’s intense attention has somehow shifted from the computer screen to me. I lower my arms and raise my eyebrows.

He blinks and turns back to the computer.

“So where are we?” I ask him.

Mulder rises, inviting me with a nod of his head to join him at the far wall of the conference room, in front of a detailed map of Chicago’s northern suburbs. He jabs a finger rhythmically at a spot marked with a red pushpin. It and three other pins are bound by a waxy red ellipse.

“Look at the perimeter, Scully. It’s almost a perfect circle. There’s the epicenter.”

“Highland Park, Illinois.”

“Yup.” And he says nothing further.

“So how is this case unrelated to the slave trade, Mulder?” I fold my arms firmly and wait for him to elaborate. And he will. He always does.Mulder explains cases the way Agatha Christie wrote mysteries. You can’t possibly form an educated conclusion about a crime, because they both withhold one crucial bit of evidence you couldn’t possibly glean from the tale. And he’s dramatic. He likes to take his time, unfolding the details of a case with relish, watching my expressions and appearing disappointed when I can’t foresee where he’s going.

“It’s about relationships, not money. And in this case, Missing Persons has more information than our little gang of slavehunters.”

Here it goes. The hard sell. I can’t be sure, but I’m fairly confident that I’m glaring at him.

He gives me that look, the one he appears to consider impish. It isn’t, it’s annoying.

Mulder returns to the desk and picks up a large file folder, which he brings to me and drops on the conference table. It lands with an impressive ‘thwap’. “Ten people are missing, Scully, but only six have turned up dead.

I found cases with a similar pattern and M.O., from two years ago, outside of Detroit. Suburban Detroit.”

Here we go. I open the folder and sift through its contents, occasionally emitting a noncommittal ‘hm’.

Mulder returns to the computer and sits, waiting impatiently, leaning back in his chair and tapping a pencil against the edge of the desk. I just barely resist the urge to smack him.

***

Lifting her head, Scully glares at me. I stop tapping, immediately wishing I had another pencil so I could do that really cool percussion bit from the beginning of “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover” just to annoy her.

She returns to scanning the evidence I’ve accumulated. Newspaper clippings, Missing Persons reports, transcripts of interviews with family members, friends, colleagues. It’s so obvious – why can’t she see the connection?

Scully lifts her head and looks at me levelly. “Okay, so we have financially successful couples disappearing around a central anchor point.”

“Not just financially successful, Scully. Look at them.”

Scully spreads the photographs across the surface of the desk, and continues. “Attractive, professional, well-dressed. Maybe a little buttoned-up.”

“More than that. Read the interviews. They were all sexually repressed.

I’m talking really repressed. Hide-those-ankles Victorian repressed. The relationships the friends and family described were almost exclusively unfulfilled. There was some kind of latent attraction, but they hadn’t taken any action on it.”

“So?” Her lips are pursed and she’s glaring again.

I’m losing her – time for The Clincher. I love doing this.

I always take her through a case one step at a time, until she’s aligned with my reasoning. It’s the only way to get her to make a successful journey from mocking incredulity to acceptance and action. All right, sometimes it’s reluctant action, but at least she’s with me. If I do it right, I can get her to agree to almost anything. I could sit her down in front of a whole, raw jellyfish, and by the time I’m done explaining why we need to eat it, she’ll have knife and fork in hand, chewing an even hundred times per bite.

“All right, Mulder. What are you holding back?”

A whole hell of a lot, Scully, been doin’ it for years. Next question?

She normally doesn’t call me on my elucidation technique so blatantly, so I figure she’s feeling a little impatient. I really don’t want to piss her off any more than I already have, so I cut to the chase, and swivel the computer monitor so Scully can see what I’ve been holding back. Pièce de résistance. The Clincher.

She leans forward and begins a slow burn, brows knitted in distaste.

“What the hell is that?”

“You’re a big girl, Scully. Figure it out.”

“I have no intention of indulging an examination of your prurient interests, Mulder.”

She can’t even bring herself to look at the screen. Honestly, it’s just sex. Kinky sex, I’ll concede. But it’s not like there are any barnyard animals involved.

“Look at the faces, Scully.”

She moves closer to the screen, her arms still folded tightly in front of her. Is it possible she isn’t aware of what her body posture indicates? Then she releases, as she recognizes the faces from the piles of pictures strewn across the desk.

“Blanchard and … what’s her name … Rubinek.”

“Yup. Click the ‘Mission Statement’ link at the top of the page.”

She reaches over, brushing her hand against mine, and takes the mouse from me.

Double chill. The casual way she makes contact with me prompts an unsuppressable shiver. But what’s even more thrilling, if it’s possible, is that she’s now happily chowing down on jellyfish.

***

“Mulder, this is one sick individual. But are you confident that these pictures were taken against their will?”

“Typical bondage pictures involve willing participants, Scully. They’re either paid to pose, or they get some kind of sexual thrill from doing it gratis. Bondage is a game – it’s dress-up night at the Kinky Sex Barn Dance.”

So much for lightening the mood. She looks like she’s sucking limes.

“The people who go for this kind of stuff know it’s staged, but they buy it anyway. But these images are different. Look at the lash marks on her back. And his left foot is almost purple – it’s probably broken. The injuries are consistent with what the coroner found in all six victims.

They’re bound, which isn’t uncommon, but they look terrified and uncomfortable, which is. These aren’t staged pictures with willing participants. They’re real images posing as staged. Check out ‘Darlene and Marcus’.”

Scully clicks the button indicated and another image loads. She examines the faces, and returns to the surface of the desk, sorting through the photographs. “Meske and LaRoche. So who’s the site administrator, and where does he get the photos?”

“I tried to trace it, but he uploaded to a public server from an anonymous FTP account. And the upload log indicates that he used an anonymous proxy. I contacted the ISP, but they don’t document their user pings, so there’s no way to trace it.”

Scully nods.

“As for his source, I suggest we consider that they’re home-grown.”

She cocks one eyebrow, waiting for elucidation. She’s finally loosened up enough to participate in the process. I adore her like this. Her face is almost childlike.

“Meaning that he took them himself, Scully, or commissioned someone to do it. The setup is the same in each picture. He must have one central ‘studio’.”

“Somewhere in the vicinity of Highland Park, Illinois.”

“Right.” It’s time to get into the disturbing part of it. “This guy doesn’t seem to want to hide his motivation, either,” I tell her.

“Is he for real, or is that manifesto of his just theater, too?”

“I think he means every word he says.”

***

I swallow hard and try to clear my mind. Mulder’s about to expound, and I have to commit the details to memory. It’s maddening to have to admit it, but paying attention to his wild theorizing is nearly always to my benefit.

“He claims his primary goal is to help people discover their inner passion,” he says.

I absolutely cannot believe he can view that kind of smut and think of it so casually.

“He views people with submerged desires as the most miserable creatures on earth.”

He slides his glasses on, slips the mouse from my fingers, and returns to the Mission Statement, to read snippets aloud.

“That repressing one’s desire, especially if it is attainable, is the worst form of self-punishment and self-denial.”

The words reflect off one lens, in reverse, angling upward toward his right temple. I’m transfixed. I move behind the desk, until I’m standing flush with his left shoulder. I lean over and read with him. My hand rests on the back of his chair. Where was he? Oh right, repressed desire.

“He says that sometimes a stressful situation is what it takes to release one’s yearning from the ‘prison of analytical justification’.

Shucks, I’m a sucker for hopeless romanticism.”

Disregard the glib witticisms. Pay attention to the profile. He looks up at me, his face only inches from mine, smiles, and returns his attention to the screen. I need to do the same. That smile was altogether too disarming.

Move this forward. “So how does he make the leap from therapist to kidnapper?”

Mulder sits back again and expostulates. “I think he’s leapt much farther than that. Look at the bedcover.”

I move to take the mouse back from his hand, gently grazing his fingers as I do. I honestly don’t think the contact or resultant quiver is intentional. I think that our most efficient communication is physical.

If I have to negotiate a bit of rough pavement, or a step up a curb, even a doorway with a raised threshold, there’s his hand, gently supporting the small of my back, demonstrating his constant attention to my well-being. And when circumstances become too much to bear alone, comforting or reassuring is expressed far better in an embrace than with feeble, trite words. Really, what can you say to someone who has suffered as much as he has? The best you can do is to hold him, providing him with a tangible reminder that he’s not alone. What it comes down to, I suppose, is that Mulder and I have come to rely upon a kind of physical shorthand.

That said, I don’t think I can explain what this touch represents. But he doesn’t pull away, and I don’t flinch. I simply take the mouse from him, click “Back”, and we’re at the first page again. I still find it disturbing, but I’m focusing on the bedcover. I zoom in and see what I had first thought was a tacky floral pattern, but which is now much more clearly identifiable as large, possibly old bloodstains.

I have to ask. “Multiple instances of violence?”

Mulder nods his head, and for a moment, a slight scent of citrus teases past me. I breathe it deeply. He smells good.

He must have noticed my lingering a little too long, because he puts on that boyish face. The one he uses when he gets suggestive.

“New shampoo. I didn’t think that Pantene stuff was giving me the glossy sheen and full-bodied styleability I deserved.”

I can’t help myself. I smile. He can be awfully cute when he’s a complete goofball.

“I’m getting a familiar feeling here, Mulder.” While that’s true on multiple levels, I will restrict my comments to the case at hand. “You think there’s more here, don’t you?” I rise and move to the other side of his desk.

“None of these people knew one another, Scully. The couples were plainly involved, in whatever pathetic, lonely way they were…” and he pauses.

He looks at me with sad, stricken eyes for a moment. “…but they had no other connection. They lived in different suburbs, worked at different companies, joined different health clubs, and espoused different religious beliefs. They didn’t vote at the same facility or carry cards to the same libraries or video stores. The only thing they have in common, clearly the focus of interest for this individual, is that they were holding back some sort of passion.”

“And…?” Don’t make me pull it out of you, Mulder.

“This guy can see it a mile off. That’s how he picks them.”

No. This cannot be happening. The man could find evidence of the paranormal in a bus schedule. “Tell me you’re not suggesting that this is an X-File.”

His smile fades. “Read Truth #18.”

I return to his side of the desk and wait for him to find the passage in question. He locates it, flicks the mouse away, and pushes his chair away from the desk. Disregarding his sudden burst of attitude, I read: Repression is the only act which elevates passion to an observable force. Engaged and relieved, passion exists within each of us as a kind of vital life force. But when it is repressed, pushed down, and intentionally choked off, it becomes visible, in the form of a semi-translucent cloud. This cloud surrounds the afflicted individual, dulling the senses, diminishing decision-making capability, and leaving behind a melancholy aching that taints all pursuits. Repression is poison to the soul. In extreme cases, the soul dies for lack of nourishment. Gifted individuals, those of us with the special ability to see this “cloud” of throttled passion, can intercede and help before spiritual death occurs.

It takes me a minute to absorb this, partly because it’s such an extreme departure from the mainstream of the pop pap available in every airport bookstore these days, but mostly because of the phrase “spiritual death”. There are days when I am certain my spirit is dying, strangulated by years of terror and disappointment. And although I will never verbalize it, six years of emotional and sexual repression have left a mark on me, in the form of a most distinctly ‘melancholy aching’.

But it’s an observation I will keep firmly to myself.

Mulder summarizes, “He’s a therapist. Or was. There’s a lot of dead-on psychobabble in here. There is still an essential kernel of truth, but he’s taken it to an extreme. I think he can see repression as a kind of aura. And that’s how he targets his victims.”

And thus we begin the customary Tango of Belief. I think I’ll just skip this one today. I don’t have the energy to argue the point. Doubtless, we’ll find some other aspect of the case to argue over. One point for the paranormal conceded temporarily. Back to the profile.

“Truths 14 and 23 reveal evidence of an unrequited love in his past, something he regrets never having fulfilled. Now he lives vicariously through the people he abducts. He watches them, even prods them to give in and accept their feelings, and he takes pleasure in it.”

“And makes a buck or hundred in the process,” I add, tipping my head toward the monitor.

“Try thousands. Net porn is a hot industry.”

I don’t want to know how he knows that.

I get us back on track, “And he justifies the violence by claiming that intense, terrifying experiences bring people out. So you think he’s doing something to lower their resistance and giving them an opportunity to get their latent sexual attraction out in the open?”

There’s the mischievous twinkle again. He sighs, smiling, and breathes, “Darling.”

Oh, he is too goddamned charming for his own good. Don’t let him distract you. “So how do you suggest we locate this individual? And what connection does he have to the slave trade?”

“If any?” he asks with utter condescension. It’s not aimed at me, but rather at the Bureau administrators who fall back on old patterns to explain what they cannot. But the attitude still irritates, and I turn away to compose myself.

“As for finding him…I suggest we do a little down ‘n’ dirty undercover work.”

I turn, fully expecting his winky leer. I am not disappointed.

“I believe you can do ‘repressed’, can’t you, Scully?”

I close my eyes and count to ten. I didn’t even know I had a button there, but that cocky sonofabitch just pushed it.

***

Sheraton Hotel

Northbrook, Illinois

8:28 p.m.

I think I’ve forgiven him already.

My room is wonderful, the hotel is wonderful, even the location is excellent. I’m half a floor away from the ice machine. There can be no question about this: Mulder’s selecting this hotel was a flagrant act of reconciliation.

The thought makes me smile.

I unpack my clothes and slip them into the large drawers of the dresser.

I run a brush through my hair in front of the large mirror and notice that the light in here is excellent. I place my toiletry bag in the bathroom and notice the very nice tub.

No question; reconciliation. I smile again.

If what he wants is a truce, I’m more than willing to meet him halfway.

***

There’s a knock on the connecting door, which I’ve been expecting. Ever since I unlocked and entered my room only minutes ago, I knew I was in store for a snarky reaction of some sort. Here it comes.

I open the door, and find myself face-to-face with a suspicious-looking Scully.

“You losing your touch, Mulder?” She sounds playful actually, so I blink once and wait for the rest of it. “It’s clean, it smells good, and all the furnishings match. I’m not sure I can handle all this luxury.”

I step aside so she can enter, which she does, inspecting my room closely. “Hey, I tried to find something ratty,” I tell her, “but the median income ‘round these parts is somewhere in the mid-six-figure range. This is ratty for the North Shore.”

She laughs and returns her attention to me, which is absolutely fine.

There is nothing in my life as satisfying as watching Scully look at me with genuine amusement and something akin to fondness. Then I realize that neither of us are speaking. We’re just standing here in my hotel room, staring at each other.

Moments like this are tempting, to say the least. Clear, raw gazes, undisguised need to spend even a few seconds in quiet contemplation of each other; all of it is intoxicating and horribly dangerous. I don’t know what happens inside Scully’s complicated mind at times like this, but I invariably find myself teetering between the need for restraint and the urge to reach for her and never let go.

I don’t mean to, but I take a single step toward her, and I’m surprised when she mirrors my action. Amazing how that works; each of us only takes one step, but when we’re done we’re twice as close.

I could probably figure out what she was thinking if I had enough time and if I could drag my eyes away from her tempting pink mouth and look into her own eyes. She doesn’t manage to hide a lot there. But I can’t because her lips are parted, just slightly, and I can’t tear my gaze away.

I could move in again, and maybe she might, too. I could move in and breathe her air again and be so close to her that it would just be easier to move together completely than it would be to step away. I could step into her space and make her tip her head up, and it would be no effort – none at all – to just lean down and taste her.

We had a moment like this one June evening in the hall outside my apartment door, and once the Karmic Trolls were done laughing their asses off, I realized that moments like that rarely end well. So, out of a healthy respect for self-preservation, I decide to bring this brief period of tension to a close. I wish I didn’t have to, but I swear I think this hotel will wash away in a rare Midwest tidal wave should I draw her to me and attempt to finish that kiss we began a couple of months ago.

I’m about to speak when Scully breaks the silence.

***

“How about some dinner?” I ask lightheartedly. I have no idea if Mulder had any intention of breaking the odd spell that bound us just a moment ago, but I had to. The energy in the room suddenly felt far too dangerous to remain unchallenged.

“Great,” he says, sounding for all the world like the most relieved man who ever lived. Part of me is relieved as well, but the other more insistent and irrational part is disappointed that yet another intimate moment has fallen victim to decorum.

Slowly and increasingly, I am tiring of this conflict. There are nights I lie awake in my bed, ticking off the points on my mental Pro and Con list about the growing attraction between Mulder and me. Invariably, regardless of the heavy weighting on the Pro side, I resign myself to this continued dance of denial and repression, for the sake of our professional relationship.

Combined as we are, we’re a rare creature, and I will do nothing to adversely affect our solve rate. I won’t kid myself: Sex and sexual tension wreak havoc on the brain. I doubt I’d be able to give Mulder’s inane yet somehow accurate theories their proper attention if I was busy indulging in an examination of the angle of his divine jaw or the curve of his splendid ass.

I’ll admit there are times when I consider five percent a respectable drop in favor of a richer personal life, but unfailingly I realize that I can in no way rationalize it. Five percent means that five more dangerous criminals out of a hundred get away, adding up to potentially dozens of additional victims and thus irreparably harmed families. Too many people stand to be harmed if we permit our effectiveness to drop.

For the sake of the victims and their families, we must maintain the status quo.

That doesn’t mean I have to like it, but it does mean I have to respect it.

So with tremendous respect but exceptional dissatisfaction, I commit to breaking the spell. “There must be some fairly decent restaurants in this area, if the quality of this place is any indication,” I tell him.

He nods absently and picks up his jacket.

Disaster averted, we head out in search of sustenance.

***

Morning

Central Avenue Shopping District

Highland Park, Illinois

What a beautiful day. It’s absolutely perfect. Sunny, not too hot, light breeze, not a cloud in the sky. I have to relish this. We only get a half-dozen perfect days like this each year in the upper Midwest.

I have my bench, a cup of lovely, dark Espresso Roast coffee, and a potato roll from The Breadsmith.

And my miniature parabolic. But I keep that well hidden.

I rounded up my daily batch of cookies this morning, and sorted through them carefully. One must always be on alert. By ‘cookies’, I am, of course referring to the little tracer files that show me who’s been visiting my little home on the Internet.

Yesterday, I was graced with a lengthy visit from one “”.

I had a very special friend of mine find out a little bit about this important visitor, and it turns out he and his female partner, one “” are at this very moment on a jetplane, bound for my fair village.

That would be Highland Park, Illinois, by the way. It’s a lovely little town, a wealthy suburb of Chicago, hovering elegantly above the shore of Lake Michigan. Oh, there’s a not-so-nice part of town as well, but it’s on the west side of the highway, and no one really considers it part of the same village. Most people assume that section is part of Northbrook or Deerfield. Hardly in the same calibre as Highland Park proper. We have an original Frank Lloyd Wright house, you know. It’s exquisite, of course, as is all of Sheridan road, as it winds southward along the edge of the lake, toward Glencoe, Winnetka, Wilmette, Kenilworth, snaking elegantly amidst multi-million-dollar homes.

But Highland Park is my home. I’m a counselor at New Trier High School, the créme de le créme of secondary education in the Chicagoland area.

Isn’t that quaint? Chicagoland? I think it sounds like a new little subsection of Disneyworld. It nearly designs itself: Costumed gangsters with plastic tommyguns, animatronic cows kicking over carefully-constructed Stunt Lanterns…but I do digress.

I will admit to a little trepidation today. I’ve never monitored the streets for federal agents before. I need to be very careful, and absolutely casual. I’ll blend in. After all, I’ve taken enormous precautions to keep my special collection completely anonymous. All those sweet, tormented souls found peace with me, and I have no intention of letting them die in vain. ‘f_mulder’ and ‘d_scully’ have no idea who I am or what I look like.

Of course, I do know their names. That special friend of mine gained access to all kinds of interesting records for me. I have names, addresses, phone numbers, height, weight, and I believe even their mothers’ maiden names.

And pictures. I have pictures. And that’s mostly why I’m out here. They are absolutely stunning. Dana Scully is a little redhead, beautiful and well-educated. A doctor. Fox Mulder is tall and dark, also beautiful and well-educated. He’s a psychologist. A profiler, yet. No doubt, they’re on their way to lay as bait for me. A confidential report from the bureau’s in-house psychologist indicated a “special” relationship between the two. But they’re still partners, so there’s been no romance.

The control-happy mucky-mucks in charge would certainly never permit that kind of happiness or fulfillment within their assemblage, regardless of the regulatory stance on inter-partner romance.

But that’s all academic, you see. I have my little portable parabolic microphone, so I can hear their conversations with absolute clarity. And if they get close enough, I will be able to see the clouds of subdued passion that are so strong they were actually visible on film.

I know I can snatch them, and I’m fairly confident I can get them to break, but it pains me to think I’ll have to eliminate them afterward.

They’re so beautiful, the two of them. What a horrible waste. But really, they’re government agents, so there really is no choice, now is there?

I’ve spent a few hours here, wandering in and out of storefronts, window shopping, and generally loitering, when I see two gray clouds approach.

I return to my bench, aim my concealed parabolic at them, and it begins.

This is always the most exciting part for me. Choosing them. In this case, they chose themselves.

“Nice town,” he says, glancing sideways at an elegant lingerie shop window. She rolls her eyes. So he’s the randy one, and she refuses to take him seriously. For a moment the cloud thickens, but it dissipates significantly as they cross the street.

As they do, he very gently places one hand at the base of her spine, offering silent support in case she should fall from those skyscraper heels of hers. He removes his hand, and the cloud reforms. This is an exquisite moment for me. I could not have dared fantasize about so ideal a pair. They are still approaching.

“So, Mulder, you think my aura’s visible enough?” She’s teasing him, and he’s insulted. His eyebrows lower, his posture stiffens, and he moves, almost imperceptibly, away from her. Less than an inch. But I see it.

They are very close to me now, and still approaching, so I conceal my microphone for the moment.

“You want some coffee, Scully?” He sees the coffee emporium behind my bench, and suggests a cup. “Thanks.” He enters alone, and after a moment, she takes a spot on my bench. I look over and nod, smiling. She nods in return.

“Beautiful day, miss.”

“Yes, it is.”

We sit there, side by side, thinking our separate thoughts, waiting for beautiful Mulder to return. Of course, Mulder. She calls him Mulder.

They use their last names like shields.

Oh, they are dazzling creatures. Even more lovely in person. They both have bee-stung pouts, priceless in my marketplace. He possesses a hangdog aspect, with hooded eyes evoking the kind of “ease my pain”

quality women today find irresistible. It won’t take much for him to release.

And she; well, she’s trussed up with the thinnest twine I’ve seen yet.

One small snip in the just right place, and she’ll unravel. Her sexual energy positively crackles in the warm, sweet late afternoon air.

He returns with two steaming cups. He hands one to her, and the tips of their fingers brush for a moment, as she takes the cup from him. The cloud thins, and they continue walking down the street. Odd, I would have expected him to say something as he handed her the cup. Their nonverbal communication is exceptionally strong.

They are really wasting time now, so near the end of the day, idly window-shopping, talking, and pretending not to scope out everyone on the street. I have spent much of the day lazing about behind shop windows and skulking about behind large sidewalk planters. Fortunately Central Avenue runs East/West, which has afforded me the opportunity to ensure that the glare of the reflected sun would disguise my presence at any given time.

By now the sun is lower in the sky, and this lovely street is flooded with rich amber light. They are both especially lovely this way. Gold beams cross Mulder’s cheeks, emphasizing their hollows, and etching even more sharply the stunning shape of his jaw. The light refracts through Scully’s hair, creating a coppery halo, which glows through the cloud of sadness. She is dazzling like this, very nearly a Madonna.

“You feel like dinner?” He has spotted J.B. Winberie’s on the corner.

She is noncommittal. It looks like she doesn’t eat much. Food is clearly not a priority for her. “I suppose. Which one?”

He points to the restaurant. “Big corner windows – tremendous perp-spotting potential.” He tries to smile, but his heart isn’t in it.

The cloud is becoming dense.

They enter the restaurant and take seats behind the expansive sheets of glass which line the corner of the restaurant. An excellent location. I follow after a bit, and take a table off in a corner. I can still hear them, but a large silk plant conceals me, as have all my perches this afternoon.

“Mulder, what makes you think he walks this one particular street in search of his victims?”

That hurts. There are no victims here, only patients.

He is shaking his head slowly, looking out the window into the street.

“This is the central part of town. High-end shops, lots of foot traffic.

It’s an ideal location. The rest of town is park land and private homes.”

She bites the inside of her lower lip and nods gently. She knows he’s right.

The waitress appears at their table. “What can I get you to drink?”

She is a tall, curvaceous brunette, and Mulder is sizing her up. The cloud over Scully thins to a mere wisp. She is ablaze. I always find it remarkable how some people find it effortless to express anger and jealousy, but not love.

Scully responds, even though the waitress has her eyes trained exclusively on him, “I’d like an iced tea, please.”

The waitress nods without breaking eye contact with Mulder. He oozes a kind of lounge lizard smile, and orders the same. He slithers his eyes back toward Scully.

It’s intentional. This is fabulous. His eyebrows are raised, and he’s challenging her to say something about it. He was flirting with the sole intention of compelling Scully to react. Oh, this will be so very enjoyable.

Lovely Scully has transformed into ice, however, sighing and returning to the subject of work, as she peruses the menu. “When do you think he makes his move?”

“Dusk or later. He probably spends time watching the pair, and follows them. He’ll either follow them and pick them up after dark, or find where they live and return later.”

Scully defrosts just enough to tease. “How do you maintain your balance on such a thin branch, Mulder?”

He offers a half-smile, and all returns to normal, which for them means comfortable tension. They must positively thrive on stress.

I’ve had a lovely meal, certainly more filling than the little salad lovely Scully picked at, which is a good thing. The drug I plan to use doesn’t always go well with an undigested meal. I finish before they do, and while Scully is in the ladies’ room, I make my exit, slipping out behind Mulder’s back. There is much to do.

I have taken my favorite spot, concealed in the darkness behind a dense bed of dwarf lilacs on Second Avenue, directly across from my van. It is precisely what it needs to be for my operation. Dark burgundy, nondescript, with no license plates – only one of those orange temporary registration tags in the rear window. Forged, of course. My special friend can do so much for me when I ask nicely. The large cargo section of the van is separated from the cabin by a solid divider wall, and domed black glass windows adorn its sides. The floor is deeply carpeted, with pillows stitched into it. Must keep my passengers safe and comfortable for their trip.

My instrument rests heavily on my right shoulder, ready to be used. The rear door of the van is wide open, and the engine is running. A perfect little trap. All I need is mice to take the bait.

They approach, and stop at the corner when they see the van. It is so very suspicious, they can’t help but take a look.

“Mulder,” Scully cautions. It is most definitely a warning.

He disregards her concern and moves closer to the van. He steps slowly around the rear of the van, and looks inside. “This is it. He’s here somewhere.”

Scully approaches, her weapon held in steady hands. I completely missed seeing her draw her gun. It must have been an inspiring sight – those delicate little hands reaching for such a heavy, indelicate object.

Mulder slides his right hand inside his jacket, and draws his weapon.

What a difference. Scully’s gun has become a part of her, almost an extension of her hand. Mulder’s gun, conversely, is a clean, cold piece of equipment. It is an object he will use if he must. I can see from the way he’s holding it, he has qualms about using it. Ooh, an enchanting glimpse of insecurity. This is most helpful.

I’d be willing to wager that she’s a better shot. He’s more emotional about using a gun than she is, and emotion is pure hell on aim.

Tell me about it. They are side-by-side, ready to move around to the back side of the van again. I must calm down, or my aim will suffer.

This is the moment – her first, then him. I steady myself, and pull the trigger, alter my angle, and pull the trigger again. Perfection. Right in the hip. He reaches out, calling her name, as he watches her go down, crumpling to the ground himself as he cries out for her.

The streets of Highland Park are absolutely empty on a weeknight, so although I want to work quickly, I am not panicked. I pick them up carefully, and lay them down inside the van, pulling the doors almost closed behind me. I count to one hundred and remove the darts, bind them in place, and exit the passenger compartment.

Our journey of discovery is about to begin.

***

“Schuhlllly?” I can’t see anything. My tongue feels like a big wet pencil eraser. “Scuhllly?” Shit. Goddammit. Fuck, fuck, fuck.

I disregarded a clear warning. I did it to her. Again. This is all my fault.

Scully’s remarkably calm at the moment, but that’s probably because she’s still unconscious. I’ll be grateful if she remains that way, at least until we get out of here. I’m almost not afraid of what’s going to happen to us at the hands of whoever’s done this. I’m much more afraid of her wrath when she wakes up.

It is going to be BAD.

I know, I torture myself altogether too much. But I’m focusing on that right now, because if I don’t, I’ll end up focusing on the fact that I’m IN the altogether. Stark as they say, completely jaybird fucking naked.

The room’s a little chilly, damp too, but I’m not all that cold because he put Scully on top of me.

And that’s what I’m trying not to think about at this particular moment.

Scully naked on top of me.

Restrained, like me, crucifixion style. Hands and feet bound firmly, arms stretched wide.

Oh, this is not going to be good. I’m actually a little thankful she’s restrained.

What the hell’s a jaybird, anyway?

Focus, Mulder.

The room is pretty dark. I can make out a few shapes, but they’re not entirely clear. They look like some kind of equipment on long, narrow stands, but I can’t tell what kind of equipment. X-rays, maybe?

Yes, Mulder. A psycho nutbar tranks you on the street, binds you to a bed, naked, face to face with your partner – your breathtakingly beautiful partner – stop that you asshole – and his goal is to forcibly take snapshots of your innards.

Focus. You’ve seen the photographs. They’re probably cameras and lights.

Map your surroundings. Find a hallway, door or a window, maybe a dumbwaiter – hell, a big-ass conduit would do. Can’t see, it’s too damn dark. Can’t hear anything either. Except her breathing – light, peaceful breathing. Whoever he is, he probably gave her the same dose he gave me, which means she’ll be out for a while longer. Much less body for the drug to subdue. That light little body – focus, you fucking degenerate.

Oh, shit, she’s waking up. We’re dealing with a pro. He gave her a dose proportionate to her weight. He’s good.

I raise my head a little, and nudge her forehead with my nose, lightly, enough to let her know she’s not alone or with a stranger.

“Scully,” I whisper gently, “it’s me.”

Her head moves a little, her breathing deepens, and she lets out a little groan into my neck. Her hip is probably as sore as mine, from the dart. Jesus, she’s probably freezing, too. I’m warming her front, but there’s nothing over her back.

The son of a bitch must be enjoying the view.

She is really coming to, now, so I’ve got to be reassuring, to keep her calm. If she freaks out, I’ll be the one to pay for it.

I guess I have it coming.

Guess, nothing. I have it coming.

“Scully,” I repeat, a little more firmly, “it’s me. Are you okay?”

“Mhhhmm,” is all she manages. She tries to move her arms, and with a jolt, she is fully awake, pulling on her restraints, and bucking against me. The realization must have hit her smack in the face. She’s a prisoner. Goddammit, I did this to her.

Focus. Remain calm.

“Scully, I’ve tried the restraints – they’re too well made.” No shit.

They feel like they’re made of seatbelt material. It’d take a machete to get through them. “We’re not going anywhere for right now.”

She lifts her head a little, and I think she’s trying to look at what she’s lying on. When she lifts her face so I can see a small reflection in her eye, I can see the fear and anger. I can’t see the rest of her face – only her eyes reflect what little light there is in the room, but I can feel her tense up – she’s probably clenching her jaw, too.

“Mulder, what the hell is going on?” Shit. “Mulder?” Of course. She can’t see anything except, well it’s probably too dark for her to see my chin, but that’s all she’d see if there was light.

“I don’t know, Scully. It’s dark, damp and cold. Probably a basement. I can’t see any way out. There’s some kind of equipment in the room, cameras, probably. And I think there’s a mirror – a big one – near the foot of the bed.”

The bed. I just said we were on a bed.

“A mirror. Two-way?” Always professional. God, she’s amazing.

“Can’t tell.”

“Well, is it set into the wall?” Ohhh, she just shifted to patronizing.

I hate that. But I deserve it. Focus.

“I can’t tell, Scully, it’s too dark.”

She tugs on her restraints again. They’re holding, as are mine. I try not to move too much, for fear of…well, we’ve been through that already. The warm softness of her skin is making it VERY difficult to concentrate. If I move around too much…stop it.

We lie there like that, quietly formulating escape plans and trying to map out the terrain together, but after a while, we are forced to give up.

“We should get some rest,” I suggest.

I don’t have to see her face to know she’s giving me The Look. The patented look. The one that shrivels macho posers and compels giants to cower in fear. The thought of it ought to wither my gonads into tiny raisinettes, but the rest of her all splayed out on top of me more than makes up for the fear generated by The Look. I sincerely wish it didn’t, for my own continued health.

“What?”

“We don’t know what he has in mind for us, but if we’re going to escape, we’re going to need as much strength as we can manage. Can you sleep?”

The look again. I just know it. “Are you joking?”

“C’mon, Scully, we’re not in control here. Let’s do what we can to mitigate our losses.”

Her head is still raised. She lies there for a few moments.

“Fine.” And she puts her head back down on my chest, sighs, and closes her eyes. I know because I can feel her little eyelashes slip down my chest, just a bit, and they don’t move again.

Sleep, Mulder. Forget about her warm breath on your skin.

Shit. Basketball. Think about basketball.

Okay, it’s game five of the 1997 NBA Championships. The Bulls are up.

They’re always up.

No. No. No. Down, boy. DOWN. Down is a better thought right now.

Downdowndown. It’s the end of the fourth quarter, and the Jazz are down by 2. Jordan sinks that three-pointer in the final minute to…

Shit.

Oh God, stop thinking about her little body, nestled weightlessly on yours. Ignore the sweet smell of her hair.

Oh.

Shit.

No.

Nonononononono.

She lifts her head slowly. I swear I feel the steam pouring out of her ears.

“You have GOT to be kidding.” Through clenched teeth. I can hear it.

Come on, Scully, more attitude. Make me shrivel.

“What?” I say, feigning ignorance.

“I don’t believe this, Mulder. I didn’t think it was possible for this situation to get any creepier.”

Ouch. Focus.

“Scully, I have a beautiful, naked woman lying on top of me. I’m a guy with a pulse. It’s an automatic thing. Get over it.”

“Right.” Brittle. She’s not buying it. She’s shaking her head. Resigned anger? Patronizing superiority?

Concealed appreciation?

Get over yourself, Mulder.

She puts her head down and closes her eyes again. But I notice that she’s lifting her hips slightly. She’s trying to avoid contact with, well, you know, the offending party.

It’s going to take more than that to get away from it, Scully. What am I, Micro Man or something?

With a sigh, she lowers her hips again and relaxes. She’s either just realized that it would take too much effort to avoid, or she’s pleased that I’m too much to get away from.

“You’re a real piece of work, Mulder,” she grumbles, and I’m compelled to agree.

Go to sleep.

Oddly, despite the circumstances, her presence is comforting. I try to ignore the sensation of her breathing against my body. Don’t mince words, Mulder: Erection. Against my erection. The sensation of her breathing against my erection.

Sleep won’t come. I feel absolutely, utterly helpless. Powerless to help her. It’s translucently macho, but really, I don’t give a damn about my own life or safety when Scully is in danger. She is more important than anything or anyone. And the combined thought of her imprisonment, her impending physical condition – let’s face it, we’ve seen the photographs of his other victims – and my physical restraints, it’s enough to make me want to crawl under a great big rock and die.

Really, it’s where I belong. She is in extreme jeopardy because of me, and here I am, casually lying here sporting a hard-on with roughly the tensile strength of titanium.

“You’re not asleep yet, are you?”

She shakes her head gently. “Nope.”

“Are you okay?”

A lengthy pause. “Yeah, Mulder, I’m just peachy.” Her voice is thin and weak, and she’s begun to shiver. Or is she trembling?

“Are you afraid, Scully?”

Pause. “Yes.”

I sigh in relief. “Me too.” But it’s as far as I can go without breaking down myself. There has to be something I can do to ease the tension in this situation.

Under normal circumstances, I’d leer and make some crude come-on, but that’s obviously not a tactical option. I’ll try deflection and allegory.

“Once upon a time,” I begin, waiting for a reaction. There is none.

“Once upon a time,” I repeat, concerned that she’s angry again. Then she speaks.

“A fairy tale?” Okay not angry. That was more like disbelief.

“Think of it as an attempt to deflect concerns for our mutual fate in a little lighthearted allegory.”

“I’m not sure I believe in fate, Mulder.”

“What, only when it’s convenient?”

“What the hell do you mean by that?”

“Hand me a root beer and you’re all over fate, but consider the likely course of these future events and this is somehow in our control?”

Pause. Shit, I think I just blew it.

“All right. Deflect away.”

Whew.

*****

“Once upon a time,” he states, again, “there was a brilliant and beautiful Queen named Scully. She was renowned throughout the kingdom for her intelligence and strength – for no nobles ever dared challenge her authority – but her life was hopelessly boring. Ruling a great big, wealthy country held plenty of job responsibilities, but not a lot of challenge for someone as clever and insightful as she.”

“That’s a good start, Mulder,” I interject. “Intelligent, confident Queen. If you’d made me a princess locked in a tower, I’d have to kick your ass. You realize this.”

“Intuitively. May I continue?”

“Absolutely. I await the Sir Walter Raleigh puddle-and-cape scene with bated breath.”

“Is that how you see me? All chivalric and smooth?”

“Who said anything about you? That’s Skinner.”

I commend myself for creating this distraction. I unthinkingly admitted only moments ago that I was afraid, and I need to push that thought as far from his conscious mind as possible.

I know what my being in peril does to him, and no doubt he’s already blaming himself for this predicament, so my sudden attack of honesty was, in my current opinion, rather poorly timed. Note to self: If the most single-mindedly protective man on the planet asks you if you’re afraid, you say “NO”.

“Okay, ANYWAY,” he continues, “the Queen’s closest companion was her trusty Jester, Mulder.”

“Mulder the Jester.”

“Right.”

“Typecasting.”

“This is my story, if you don’t mind, and I’ll thank you to keep your editorials to yourself for the moment. There will be a question and answer period later in the lecture.”

“Of course. Do continue.”

“Thank you.” He runs his chin across the top of my head in such a way that he ruffles my hair the way he would with his hand. It’s a playful gesture, and it’s not lost on me. Not by a longshot. It couldn’t have been clearer if he’d taken out a fifty-foot billboard on DuPont Circle that read, “All I care about is Dana Scully’s peace of mind.”

Gracious, that was a surprisingly easy assumption to make. I think I’d better examine that when we get home.

“Anyway, as I was saying before I was interrupted, ahem, Queen Scully’s most devoted companion was Mulder the Jester. When the rest of the kingdom expected the Queen to be strong and intelligent, she always complied. But in private, she showed her friend the Jester a much fuller picture of the exceptional person she was. Her intelligence and strength never flagged, even in private company, but she allowed herself to show true traces of other noble virtues to her Jester – courage, dedication, and trust. She allowed herself the luxury of revealing a more vulnerable side to him, because she knew he would never betray her trust. When she was sad, she wept on his shoulder, and when he was threatened by court politics, she defended him and lent him her support and strength. And when either was in danger, the other would come, colors waving, to protect and save the other.

“And, of course, the Jester was always getting into trouble. Although they didn’t keep score, it was clear that he was always getting the two of them into more trouble than she ever did. The Queen never complained about all their trials, but it was evident they were the direct result of her association with the Jester. Many of the nobles in the court advised her to keep her distance from such a rogue, but against logic and wisdom, she maintained her friendship with and dedication to the buffoon.”

This is breaking my heart. I wish there was something I could say, something I could do that was capable of easing his conscience and misery, but there is nothing. He is notoriously stubborn when it comes to self-loathing. He continues the tale.

“But one day, an evil sorcerer kidnapped the Queen and her Jester, and bound them in a cold, dark dungeon. With no tools or weapons to aid their escape, they spent the little quiet time they had together to construct their most powerful weapon: Their combined magic. For although neither the Queen nor the Jester held individual magical powers, when they combined their efforts, they were capable of spectacular feats of wizardry. And they used their faith in each other to accomplish the impossible: When the evil sorcerer finally made himself known to the intrepid pair, they combined their mutual unshakeable resolve, and worked in perfect tandem to bind the sorcerer with a powerful spell.

“They did escape that day, due entirely to the strength of their single, united will.”

I am taken aback. I thought for certain he would continue to criticize himself, but the tale’s turn toward the emphasis on unity suddenly renders me exceptionally optimistic. I am reminded of the wedding Unity Candle. Two individual candles lighting a larger joint candle. Two flames become one. Mulder has made it clear that this is our one hope now: Two minds, two wills, two sets of skills and two hearts’ worth of courage, combined in one indestructible effort.

Unfortunately, the normal conclusion to a tale like this one is ‘and they lived happily ever after’, but he is wise to leave that part out of it. I just can’t see that happening for us. Even if we do escape – which does feel possible now, bless his soul – the ramifications of this day will live with us for years to come. If I ever had any hope of considering and even voicing the depth and extent of my feelings for him, this awful situation has forever demolished that potential. He will forever associate my nude body and a bed with imprisonment and possibly even torture. The guilt will torment him for the rest of his life.

But I have to say something. It was a good story, and his message is loud and clear: Unity. Finally, all I can think of to say is “Thank you, Mulder.”

He sighs and presses his lips to the top of my head. “We’ll get through this, Scully. Together.”

“Together,” I confirm. It’s a pact.

Sleep finally comes, but not quickly.

******

The sound is deafening to my sleepy ears. A sudden vicious crack and Scully is gone. She returns a second later, landing on me with a thud.

She is crying out. Oh, God, she’s in pain. It happens again – the sharp crack, she’s gone, and she lands with a cry. Jesus fucking God he’s striking her.

There are unbelievably hot, white lights on us. I can barely make out one single figure, a man. He’s holding a lash in his right hand and a baseball bat in his left.

The sonofabitch is fucking whipping her.

“NO! Scully!”

She can’t hear me. She’s terrified and in pain.

I struggle brutally against my restraints. I’ll kill him if I get my hands on him. “STOP IT YOU FUCKING PSYCHOPATH!”

It stops. She’s lying on top of me, breathing in sharp fits and starts.

She’s trying not to cry.

My brave Scully.

“Oh God Scully Jesus Scully are you okay,” is what I think I’m managing to get out, in a hoarse whisper.

“What did you say to me?” Shit, he sounds pissed.

Decide, Mulder. Attitude or silence. I open my mouth to deliver a sharp retort, but Scully, trembling, nudges my chest with her head. I take her advice and keep the scathingly witty barb to myself.

“WHAT did you say to me?!?”

Bite it down, Mulder. Keep that attitude in check. Fuck it, I’m pissed.

“Which part of ‘Stop it, you fucking psychopath’ wasn’t clear?”

Another crack, and Scully is gone and back, and oh God, I did this to her this time. This was my big mouth. Goddamned ego. Have to get in the last word, don’t you, asshole?

Her voice is choked and shaky, “Please, Mulder…”. That’s enough for me. I listen to her this time. I wish I could put my arms around her.

Then I’d let go and choke the life out of that sadistic fuck.

Unfortunately, he, whoever HE is, isn’t convinced I’m done.

“Open your mouth to me, will you? You don’t speak unless spoken to. You understand me? You do as you’re told. If you’re good, you’ll be rewarded. If you’re bad, you’re dead.”

That seems clear.

“Any part of ‘you’re dead’ you DON’T understand?” On ‘don’t’, he swings the bat and strikes me on the sole of my left foot. Really fucking hard.

I cry out in pain, but Scully lifts her head, still shaking, and presses her forehead against my mouth, stifling the sound.

What an incredible woman.

I shake my head, making it clear that I understand him. As I do, I brush my lips against Scully’s forehead in a gesture of thanks.

My foot feels broken. It’s throbbing.

He spoke. Hm. He’s talking to us, so he’s not looking at us as chattel.

He’s intelligent and aware of what he’s doing. And, apparently, goal-driven.

Scully’s breathing begins to slow, and she’s shaking less now. I decide to take another look around.

The lights are nearly blinding, but they’re doing an effective job of warming up the room. That’s what was on the stands. Lights. And I think I see a camera off to the left. I turn my head and see another to the right. And it’s definitely a two-way mirror. It’s set flush with the wall.

I lift my head up and gently press my lips against the top of Scully’s head. It’s a gesture of comfort I’ve given countless times, but now, without the use of my arms, without anything else to offer her, it feels pathetically weak.

He takes a chair from the shadows, and brings it by the left side of the bed, near our shoulders. When he leans down, his face is level with ours. We both turn to him. To commit every detail of his face to memory.

It’s not an unpleasant face, but the stern lines above the brows indicate that he’s deadly serious. Dark hair, blue eyes, well over six feet, easily 250 pounds, about 45 years of age. Short narrow nose, thin lips, largish ears, average chin. Unremarkable. He reminds me of my high school basketball coach, his genial expression implying a kind of avuncular quality. He examines our faces closely, and exhales in approval. Surprisingly, his breath is fresh. Minty even. Uncommon for a serial offender.

I swear the very first thing I put in a profile on most serial murderers, kidnappers or rapists is “poor hygiene”. They take care of all the details of their crimes, as if the crimes themselves were children to nurture, but rarely give a second thought to themselves.

This actually bodes well for us.

Finally, he speaks.

“Well, we’ve established who’s in charge, I assume?” He waits for a response. We both nod.

“Very good. Now, if you behave yourselves, there won’t be any more of that. I hate harming the pretty ones.”

He smiles. It actually seems warm and sincere, and it gives me the screaming willies.

“I run a tidy little operation, and I’d be thrilled to have you participate. But it’s entirely up to you.”

I raise my eyebrows, a gesture I might regret, to indicate my incredulity.

He laughs. “Yes, I know. The restraints. Well, we may remove them, or at least loosen them, depending on the extent of your cooperation.”

We. There are others behind that mirror. Collaborators? Assistants?

Sicko-voyeur clients? He sits back and pauses for a moment, reading our faces. I make a concerted effort to look mildly amused. Please let Scully be doing the same.

“You will do as we tell you. You will take your orders from the speaker above the mirror there.” He smiles at Scully. “You’ll have to take my word for it, lovely one, it’s there.

“You will also be permitted to speak, but you will restrict your comments to the activities at hand. A certain amount of improvisation is appreciated, but that will become clear later on.

“If you don’t cooperate, I will have to have you removed. And that does indeed mean in body bags. If you cooperate, you’ll live. If you like what happens here, you’ll be invited back, for a generous fee.”

Scully turns to look at me. She shifts her gaze to a spot on the bed just past my right arm. I crane my head to look, and remember. An old, laundered blood stain. A big one. There are more, scattered over the bedspread. He means business.

I turn to face her, and with a small nod, nearly imperceptible, she makes it clear that she will do what he says. I blink back, and she understands. We both turn to him.

His voice is low now, only for our ears. “This is what I live for couples in harmony, working together, dissolving their fear in each other. You two are absolutely delicious. Please don’t disappoint yourselves by resisting.” I am suddenly struck with the impression that the bluster from only moments before was an act, purely for the benefit of his patrons. I am becoming more optimistic by the minute. Four people have left this room alive, that we know of, and I intend to increase that number by two.

He sits there for a while, absorbed in his thoughts, studying our faces.

I don’t think I’m being conceited when I notice he’s paying a lot more attention to me than to Scully. He’s watching my expression, how I react to her, the way I’m touching her, reassuring her in the limited way I can, under his intense scrutiny. I feel like an ant under a magnifying glass, and his gaze is beginning to burn.

After a few moments, he reaches out his hand and strokes my cheek. His expression is still warm, but now I get that creepy feeling that skitters over me every time some middle-aged Lonely Guy in a raincoat approaches me in the adult video store, flashing a wad of cash.

Normally, I just stare daggers until they leave me alone. Sometimes when I’m in a particularly jaunty mood I flash my badge and watch them scamper away in alarm. But this man is in control here, and he obviously has issues. It would be best to refrain from alienating him. Don’t cushion it, Mulder. It would be best to do whatever the fuck this guy wants, or we don’t stand a chance of leaving this room with a pulse.

His thumb wanders from the hollow of my cheek, and begins to tease the edge of my lower lip. That’s interesting. I wonder if it’s attraction or identification. Maybe he sees himself in me. Or maybe he’s just a creepy, avuncular pervert. Doesn’t matter – if he wants it, I’ll play.

And what’s more, I’ll seize control of this moment if I can. I quickly summarize the one essential lesson gleaned from countless direct-to-video classics on the subject of sexual bondage: It’s the bottom, the submissive, who really runs the show.

So I part my lips slightly, and wait for his response. And does he respond. He emits a little gasp, leans in to me, and moves his thumb to make more complete contact with my mouth, brushing and slipping it delicately between my lips. All right, big boy, come to papa. I open my mouth a crack wider, and slip just the tip of my tongue out to meet the flesh of his thumb. I run the tip of my tongue against it, and he gasps again, gliding the now-slick thumb over the edge of my upper lip. His index finger brushes past my mouth, and I take a chance – reaching out for it, and sucking it into my mouth, entertaining its length with long, slow strokes of my tongue. C’mon, big guy, let the sensation creep southward. Think about what you want me to be doing. I am still waiting for him to make eye contact. I will not be creeped out by this. I will do this and we will get out of here.

His eyes finally rise to mine, and I can see with my peripheral vision that his chest is rising and falling in rapid measure. Take that, you sick fuck. I’m giving him the best bedroom eyes I can muster, and I see him lick his lips and hear him emit a tiny moan. I have him.

I have no idea how Scully is responding to this, and I can’t find out right now, because the intense eye contact is what’s making this situation personal. If we’re going to get out of this alive, our captor must remember that we’re human beings. He must react to us that way and not dehumanize us. Every bit of interaction helps our cause. And if I have to do a few distasteful things to win his trust, or at least powerful interest, I’ll do them. This isn’t how I want to die.

He smiles, slips his finger from between my lips, gently brushes that stupid cowlick I hate off my forehead, and rises. He turns, facing the mirror, and proclaims, “They’re fabulous, gentlemen. Fees, please.”

With that, he picks up the chair, and disappears into the light. I hear a door open and close. For a long while there is silence.

Scully lifts her head again and I meet her gaze. Whatever she must have been thinking about that little performance, she is resolute, now. She realizes that I will do whatever it takes to get us out of here alive.

Her gaze is strong and clear, her jaw firm, her breathing even. No traces of fear. She has clearly made the same decision. The realization energizes me.

I whisper painfully quietly to Scully, “No matter what he asks, tell the truth. Lies are difficult to remember during times of stress. And our words might connect with him if he feels we’re being honest. Exaggerate, embellish, give him the show he wants, but don’t lie.”

She nods gently, to indicate that she understands and agrees. Only the truth. It’s a pact.

***

I am leaning against the closed door, attempting to adjust to both the low light in the viewing gallery, and the staggeringly enticing sensation clambering all over my skin. Oh, he is delicious. And she, mmmm, her expression was poesy. Shock, surprise, and something akin to arousal.

I can hear through the speaker that he’s mumbling quietly to her. Hmmm.

They’re planning something. Escape? No, the restraints are exceptionally well-made, and they know that. Resistance? Unlikely. Lovely Scully pointed out to her beautiful partner some traces of my last few guests.

They’re unlikely to tempt fate in such a futile attempt to save face.

Compliance? Well, I can dream. I have to maneuver them just the right way. I must see how they react to each other and to the stress/fear combination of bound confinement.

I must find a common weakness. And if I cannot, I will have to find their individual vulnerabilities, and break them one at a time. All I need to know is what to do to prompt the other to comply.

He is terribly protective of her. I can use that to my advantage, by threatening her. The lingering warm moisture on my index finger is a vivid indication of his intentness to keep her from harm. His little attempt at seduction was simply delightful – pure theater – but it was compelling. I will admit to a little personal delectation in that regard. The sweet strokings of his tongue traveled well beyond my left hand. If I was not so resolute to help them come together, I would most certainly help them to come separately.

That is indeed unusual. I normally spend most of my time concerned about how a given couple will react to each other. I almost never consider my own desires. But the look of them – so confined and beautiful – oh, I would have them both if I could.

So I have little concern about his compliance. But she – she is well-shrouded, difficult to read. I will have to watch and listen carefully to determine her weakness. She relies upon him for comfort, though, and it’s possible she might respond to something as simple as a threat to him. We will see.

The delectable torture of waiting to see lovely trussed-up Scully pant and moan is making the entire enterprise worth all the risks.

My eyes have adjusted to the darkness now, and I approach the single row of chairs. My guests are positively atwitter with expectation. I receive envelopes from each: From the elderly one, shrunken and shaking; from the young one, flush with both wealth and excitement; from the smarmy one, nervous and unwilling to make eye contact; and from the quiet one, my special friend, patient and alert. This last guest, my helper, my favorite, hands me the envelope with his good hand – his only hand, from the stiff look of the prosthetic bound to his left shoulder – and curves his delicious little rosebud lips into a warm smile. No matter what else may happen, I must continue to cultivate this relationship. His assistance in this entire operation has been invaluable.

I slip the envelopes into the bin in front of me, and reminding my guests to refrain from making any sound, inform them that the spectacle is about to begin. One last check of the cameras – I can’t bear the thought of losing a single moment of this particular session. I lift the headset from the center chair and sit. I slip the earphones and mouthpiece over my head, and switch on the microphone.

I will begin with the dark one. Oh, such a beautiful, readable creature.

***

Finally a voice, the same one but now nearly stentorian, begins to ask us questions.

“How did you two lovely creatures meet?”

Scully raises an eyebrow in disbelief

I answer, “We work together.”

Pause.

“What kind of work do you do?”

They must know.

She answers, “We’re Federal Agents. You know that already from the badges and weapons you took from us.”

Pause.

“Are you are partners?”

She answers again, “Yes.”

By now, her expression is of amused disbelief. I am relieved. I raise one corner of my mouth, in a half-smile. I’m trying to figure out how to explain this in our case report.

“How long?”

“Five years,” I reply.

Pause.

“When did you begin your affair?”

She responds before I can formulate a thought. “What affair?”

“You’re not involved, then?”

“Of course we are, we’re partners. Best friends. But if you’re asking about a sexual relationship, the answer is no.”

“Why not?”

“The Bureau frowns on it.”

I’m not saying anything. She’s taking the hard line again, and I just lie there and let her. But the truth is, I’m getting a little pissed. It happens every time. We get just close enough so that the gap between us is small enough to step over, and she pulls right back, widening it to a chasm. A chasm I don’t have the balls to leap. We’re in just the right position. She’s on top, doing all the deciding, and I’m on the bottom, doing as she says.

*

My back is throbbing.

“You’re being awfully quiet.” He’s talking to Mulder. “Don’t you have anything to add to this?”

He stiffens a little. “She’s answering your questions. What the hell else do you want to know?” He’s suddenly angry. You’d think he would have taken my last answer as a compliment, that it was because of the existence of rules rather than the absence of desire, but no. I take the lead and he gets testy.

“I want to know what you think about your relationship.”

“Are you for real?” Mulder is getting angry.

Pause.

Stern. “Don’t make me come out there.” He nearly growls it.

I nudge Mulder’s chin. Don’t even think about it, Mr. Bold. My back is on fire. If he lashes me again because of your big mouth, I’ll fucking bite you. Don’t think I won’t.

“Then ask me something specific,” Mulder says.

Pause.

“Do you find her attractive?”

He replies faster than I would have expected.

“Of course I do.”

The voice sounds amused. “This isn’t a surprise to you?”

“Look at her, she’s incredible. You think I’m not aware of that?”

I am speechless.

“Then why hasn’t anything happened between you?”

“Because I’m an idiot. Is that what you want to hear?”

Mulder’s breathing increases and shallows. He’s becoming impatient. And when he’s impatient, he scares me, he really does. It’s the only time he’s unpredictable.

“You blame yourself, then, for lack of progress in your relationship — ” Mulder interrupts. “Our relationship *has* progressed.”

“How, exactly?” the voice asks.

Mulder explains, “I was a professional and emotional cripple when we met, and now…her high expectations have forced me to re-evaluate my accountability, and I’m grateful to her for that. She’s the only person I trust.”

“I’m not asking about your working relationship, handsome one. I want to know about your feelings for her. As a man, beholding a beautiful woman.”

Mulder begins to tremble, and responds in a soft voice, “That’s not my place in her life.” His words sting.

“Are you certain of this?”

Mulder’s voice takes on a harsh edge. “Listen, we’ve been through more than you could ever comprehend, and we treat it like it’s just another day at the amusement park. And we do it because we have to. Because that’s what allows us to come back and take some more. And no one who hasn’t been through it could ever understand.

“She’s been through hell, absolute hell because of me, and she’s never asked for a single thing from me in return. And if she did, I don’t know what I could possibly give her that could begin to ease the misery I’ve brought her. That could return anything of what’s been taken from her because of the work we do. Because of her association with me.

“I see her every damn day and it’s not enough. I show her how I feel and she brushes me off. And I don’t blame her. I can’t even muster the respect of my colleagues, so why should I deserve a second look from her?”

I have to stop this. “Mulder, you don’t,” but he cuts me off, shaking his head insistently.

“I have to gaze up to see her, do you understand this, you fucking miscreant?!?” He is wrenching against his restraints. “She’s brilliant and insightful and beautiful and brave and all the rest of them see is the wall she puts up to protect herself from shallow assholes like them.

They only see the wall, the façade. This stunning, forbidding woman. All they think about is whether she’s fuckable, whether they’ll get anywhere with her. None of them knows what’s inside her.” He adds, in a vicious hiss, “Neither do you.”

I can’t breathe.

“And when they give up, they have to attribute their failure to her, as if their being assholes was somehow her fault. So they call her frigid, or worse, ‘Mrs. Spooky’. They don’t deserve to breathe the same air.

Most of the time, neither do I.”

I never knew. I mean, I knew how I felt, but I’ve never permitted myself to really think about this… Oh hell, I don’t know what I mean. I can never think clearly about Mulder.

The voice draws him out again. “Who is Spooky?”

Mulder swallows hard. “I am,” he says.

Pause. A lengthy one.

“Have you kissed her?”

He looks at me, and he’s suddenly a little boy. I see the vulnerability in his eyes. They become glassy, and I know he’s on the verge of tears.

This is real for him.

Lighten things. I respond, “Nearly.”

“What stopped you?”

“The first time, it was a bee.” I smile tensely, and he blinks away a tear.

“You mean you’ve tried since?”

“Yes,” says Mulder.

“Why didn’t you follow through?” Mulder looks panicked.

“It’s complicated,” I reply.

Mulder tilts his head forward and presses his lips to the top of my head again. I feel safe when he does it. Odd that, considering the circumstances.

Actually this is an ideal moment for a calming gesture. I still can’t clear away the image of Mulder sucking on that man’s finger. The way they gazed at each other was genuinely shocking. Every rational part of me considers that Mulder’s indulgence of our captor was a necessary evil, but there was, please forgive me, something breathtakingly erotic about that moment.

The voice issues its first order. “Kiss him.”

I am frozen. I don’t know what to do. I lift my head and look into Mulder’s eyes. He is in agony. He has just admitted that he wants this, but the idea of having it happen this way is painful to him. I can’t explain how I can see all that in his expression, but I do. His eyes wrinkle, the corners of his mouth turn down slightly, and his upper lip reaches up toward his nose. It’s an expression of absolute misery, and I know it well.

He lifts his head, and nudges me upward with one knee. I can move just enough so that our mouths are level. He leans in to me, and – “No! You are disobeying. I told you to kiss him. You’re the one who has to take the first step.”

Mulder closes his eyes, perhaps to gather himself. I press my lips to his. Nothing. I pull away.

“You know better than that,” the voice intones condescendingly. “Again. And mean it.”

I close my eyes, take a deep breath, and brush my lips against his.

Lighter this time. After a moment, he responds in kind, gently parting his lips and sighing. Deeply. My breath catches in me, and I lean in to him. His kiss deepens, warms, lingers. Oh, God, it’s delicious.

We part, and there is a lengthy pause. I can’t take my eyes from his.

He’s holding me, protecting me with his eyes, as surely as if they were arms. And then there’s a sudden twinkle.

Mulder whispers painfully quietly, into my cheek, “I wonder how we fared with the East German judge?”

If I separate myself from the reality of this, I really can find humor in it. I just have to remain calm and remember that compliance is my best alternative. I’ve seen the results of resistance, soaked permanently into the bedspread.

“Share it with the whole class, kids.” The bastard actually sounds amused.

I roll my eyes and try to make light of it. “Nothing, sir. Mulder was passing notes again.”

He laughs, apparently pleased with the casual tone this exchange has taken. “Tell me how that felt, making the first move.”

He’s talking to me.

“Fine.”

Mulder looks at me. He hates my dismissive “fine”. But really, when there’s too much to say, when everything I have to say would hopelessly complicate things, “fine” really does seem like a sensible alternative.

But Mulder’s pissed. He was expecting more.

Apparently, so was our host. “Don’t make me drag this out of you. You have a great deal to say, it’s obvious. Don’t brush off my questions again, Red.”

Mulder is looking at me in agreement. This is getting scary again. He’s so good at losing himself in the minds of lunatics. Please, God, don’t let him think of this as couple’s therapy. This is sick.

I’m shaking again.

Mulder closes his eyes for a moment. When he opens them, there’s a wall there. He’s constructed something to protect himself, I can feel it. I wish he could do that for me.

Then he whispers to me again, very very quietly, “Don’t just comply, Scully. Improvise, get creative. Give him a show. It’s the only way we’ll get out of here. You heard him. If we appear to enjoy it -”

“I communicated the rules very clearly, kids. Don’t piss me off when things are just getting good.”

Mulder raises his voice. “Goddamn it, Mr. Psychology, this is a frightening situation and I’m comforting her – will you give us a minute, please?”

Pause.

He never breaks eye contact with me. He’s whispering again. “Please, Scully. Let go and do what he wants. We’ll have time for all the arguing and misunderstanding later. Right now we have to focus on getting out of here alive. Two other couples made it out, so we know it’s possible.”

I agree, but reluctantly. He’s already seen it in me, and raises his eyebrows. Reluctance won’t do. Enthusiasm is what’s required. I’ll do what I can.

“What did you want to know?” I ask aloud with a slightly shaky voice.

Mulder’s still looking into my eyes, now pouring his strength into me.

“How did it feel to make the first move?”

“Frightening. Creepy.”

“Why?”

“Because this wasn’t how I wanted it to happen. Because no one wants something like this. It’s sick.”

“How did you want it to happen?”

“I don’t know, something less…scripted. More personal. I don’t like to take commands. Not about my personal life.”

“Did you like it?”

“Like what?”

“The kiss.”

“Yes.” I did like it. Mulder’s lips are warm and soft, and he exhales passion, as if it were air.

His eyes are still locked to mine. He’s building a bridge, one girder at a time. He’s reaching out to me, trying to lock his will into mine. He’s refusing to let me fall.

His expression isn’t exactly lustful, but it isn’t really platonic either. It’s an odd hybrid – a kind of supportive yearning. It’s an intensely familiar feeling, and absolutely Mulder. It’s also exceptionally comforting, but now, feeling his firm, strong flesh beneath mine, my own body rising and falling on the waves of his accelerated breathing, these sensations take on an erotic intimacy.

“Do it again.”

No problem, buddy. I’ve only shifted a fraction of an inch, imperceptibly, when Mulder moves toward me and clasps his lips to mine.

He is breathing in deep gasps as he moves his lips, those beautiful full lips, against mine. He draws my lower lip between his, and releases an enormous sigh. I find I am doing the same. And there it is again, his passion, exhaled into my mouth, and I breathe it in.

Why can’t I think about my surroundings, my circumstances? All I can feel is him, warm and strong and, oh God, so sweet.

*

I am not imagining this. She’s pressing her hips against me. No, she’s grinding her hips against me.

I’m responding, of course, I’d have to be comatose not to, and she’s not pulling away. Attagirl. Don’t pull away. Give him what he wants.

She’s breathing heavier now, and she just grazed my upper lip with her teeth. Oh God, it feels incredible. She feels incredible.

There’s a sudden whirring sound, and her restraints have slackened.

She’s moving a little. She can move her arms freely now, and her leg restraints seem loosened as well. Mine are still binding.

Scully has slid to one side, and she’s straddling my right thigh, resting her weight on her knees. She’s moved her hands to my chest, the flats of her palms cool against my skin. I can’t release her lips. She’s intoxicating, and I find I don’t want to let go.

Why am I able to lose myself in this so easily?

And why is there a little fire burning against my thigh? She moves almost imperceptibly, and I feel the fire move, too. It’s her. Scully’s fire. I feel it in her hands, her lips, her tongue slipping into my mouth. She’s fully alive and responding to me. Oh God, don’t let this end. Don’t take away this little flame, searing through me.

“Enough. Stop now.”

A little moan escapes my lips before I realize I’m making it.

“Very nice, kids. It sounds like you’re disappointed I told you to stop.” He’s talking to me now. “Why?”

I’m coming undone. Of course, it’s what he wants. This is why he does it. The vicarious thrill of watching another unrequited passion ignite.

So if I know this, why was it so agonizing to stop?

I can’t look at her. If I do, I won’t be able to answer the question. I close my eyes.

He repeats the question. “Why?”

I try to be analytical, but my voice betrays me . “Do you like waking up from an erotic dream?” It breaks on ‘erotic’.

“That was a dream to you?”

“It can’t be real.”

“Why not?”

My eyes are still closed. Focus on his voice.

“Because it was perfect.”

Scully’s breath catches.

“Are you saying you don’t believe in perfection?”

“No, I’m saying I don’t think I’ve ever deserved perfection.”

There is a lengthy pause, and it suddenly worries me. There is the sound of a door opening and closing again, and when I open my eyes I see him at the corner of the bed, bat in hand.

“You’re not good enough?” He asks angrily.

“What?” I ask, in genuine confusion.

He is seething, breathing hard and shallow. His chest is rising and falling far too quickly for this visit to represent good news. “You think you’re not good enough?”

Scully presses her forehead into my neck.

“I’m an okay person,” I tell him honestly, realizing the source of his rage.

This isn’t about us, it’s about him. “But you’re too damaged to make her happy.”

I don’t know what to say. He’s absolutely right, but I don’t know where that will lead us. I compromise. “You don’t know my life.”

And I regret it immediately. He swings the bat and lands a solid blow at nearly the same spot he hit before. “No one is that wretched! Everyone is deserving of happiness! Stop denying yourself!”

The pain in my foot screams upward, toward my knee, as I bite down a shriek. If it wasn’t broken before, it is now.

Scully has her hands under my jaw and she’s pressing her forehead against mine, our noses grazing, in a traditional gesture of consolation. She is murmuring my name and something about God.

Well, I guess we’ve confirmed what his problem is.

“You must have something to say about that.” He’s waiting for her to respond.

Scully looks up at him with unconcealed fury. “About the unnecessary beating you just gave him, you fucking sadist?” Sometimes I forget how passionate she can be when she’s protective of me. I fucking adore this woman.

He raises the bat again, preparing to strike, in response to her outburst. I hold my breath in preparation for the blow. Goddamn it, my foot is throbbing. Please, please don’t let him do that again.

Scully raises one hand and hollers, “STOP!” He lowers the bat, and she continues. “What do you want to know?” She rests her forehead against my chin.

His voice begins to level. “I want to know how you feel about his declaration.”

“I told you it was complicated.” She is shaking her head from side to side. Wisps of silky hair brush against my cheeks.

I can’t see anything now except for her, so I am surprised when I hear the door open and close again.

The voice is calm again, solicitous through the speaker. “Try, lovely one. Tell me how you feel about his admission.”

She slides down a little and nestles her forehead under my chin. Her hands lie flat against my chest. She’s tense – her muscles are taut, and her breathing is labored. Fortunately, the pulsating pain in my foot has rendered my naughty bits as limp as soggy biscuits. Hopefully she’ll be able to concentrate on her performance now that The Big Guy isn’t a distraction anymore.

She finally responds to his question. “He puts me on a pedestal. It’s absurd how wide he thinks the disparity is between his nature and mine.

He thinks he’s noble for trying to spare me a life of pain, and that I’m doing him a favor by deigning to think of him as an equal. It’s all horseshit.”

She hasn’t moved her head. She won’t look at me either.

“Do you find him attractive?”

“Of course. Look at him, he’s incredible.” She’s using my words.

“Be more specific.”

“He’s beautiful. Strong and tall and beautiful. If you pick it apart, it makes no sense. His nose is too wide for his face. His arms are a little too gangly. When he’s off on one of his bizarre tears, there’s a kind of goofball quality about him. But when you look at him as a whole, he’s…beautiful. Sincere and handsome and brilliant and loyal and…”

She stops herself. Thank god. It’s too much for me to hear now.

“…And?”

She’s taking too long to say it. He’s going to be unhappy.

“…And?”

“He’s become a part of me. Our lives are…woven together now.”

I close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. Before I open them again, I take a moment to imprint Scully’s words on my memory, these perfect, significant words, uttered in her warm breathy voice.

Her hands are holding on to me. She’s moved them up to my shoulders, and she’s gripping me tightly.

“I can see it in his eyes, hear it in his words. It’s plain from all his actions. Well, most of his actions. Not when he runs off to follow a lead and doesn’t tell me.” Ouch. “But this man crossed the Antarctic to find me. When I had cancer, he could have sat by my hospital bed, waiting for me to die, but he went out and risked his life again and again, desperate for a cure. He’s given me nothing but support and grief and misery and … I don’t know, a feeling of belonging. Of being part of something bigger than I am.

“Have you ever read that Vonnegut story about the mentally-retarded twins?”

“Yes.”

“So you understand what I mean. Separately, they were insignificant.

Together, they were monumental. Far greater than the sum of their parts.”

She sighs, and I shiver from the sensation of her warm exhalation on my skin.

“That’s what I’m talking about. Is that clear enough?”

I don’t know what to do with this. It feels real, but I just can’t process it. Either she’s just told me that I rock her world, or she’s mind-fucking him in the extreme. I honestly can’t tell. And actually, it doesn’t matter to me. Either way, I’ll never leave her side as long as I live. As horrible as it sounds, this moment is perfection.

I lean forward just a little and kiss the top of her head again. She relaxes into it.

“Touch him”.

At the words, my body springs back to attention. It’s unfair to her, of course, my being this aroused in such a shitty situation. She deserves better. But this is what it is. Go with it, don’t make him angry. Be creative. Improvise.

“Touch me, Scully,” I half-whisper with the ragged remains of my voice.

I don’t know if she interprets it as a plea born of need or if it is my way of telegraphing to her that we must satisfy our host. I don’t really care. I just want her to touch me.

She shifts slightly, to look me in the eye. Her face is an open question. No reproaching, no anger. Not even confusion. Just a simple, ‘How can I do this?’

I don’t know what I’ve done to alter my expression, but she seems to understand. I’m telling her to give in. Forget he’s there. Forget this room. Lose yourself in me and we’ll be safe.

God, every motion of her soft little body sizzles against my skin. It’s agony to lie here, unable to move.

Scully rises, still straddling my right thigh, pressing her hands against the bed. As she rises, her hair dances briefly over my right nipple, and I suppress a shudder.

Her eyes are fixed to mine, her expression absolutely unreadable. She extends the fingers on her right hand, and traces a line across my left shoulder, continuing until she reaches the elbow of my outstretched arm.

The pressure is almost unbearably light, and when she glides her fingertips back across the underside of my bicep, I breathe in, sharply.

Mmmm.

Her fingers continue to trace the edges of my body, floating down the side of my ribcage, grazing my waist, and returning to my shoulder. I am absolutely awash in gooseflesh.

She moves her fingers to my right this time, caressing my shoulder, then neck, and finally my right shoulder. It’s not enough.

Her face is still impassive, and although I try to make some contact with her, Scully is just not there. I don’t know if this is a soulless automaton, her defense against imprisonment, or if she’s trying to work out how she feels about this. Either way, there isn’t much of a show going on. I’ll tell myself later that this is necessary for our escape.

“Touch me, Scully, please.” It comes out sounding a good deal more desperate than I’d intended.

She returns a little, the bridge of her nose crinkling with concern.

Over what, I don’t know, and frankly I don’t care, just as long as she keeps touching me.

From just the very tips of her fingers, she flattens her hand, and begins to feel my body in earnest. She caresses, strokes, clings to every inch of flesh between her hand and the bedcover. She concentrates on my chest and shoulders, but something happens when she drags one thumbnail across an already sensitized nipple. I lose myself to the sensation for a moment and break contact with her eyes.

And then I see her. I really see her for the first time.

I’ve seen her naked before, of course, but there isn’t anything even vaguely arousing about icy gray skin, slick from alien goo. I was terrified for her then, and I don’t think I could really tell you what she would have looked like healthy and warm.

The way she is now. Sitting upright, straddling one leg, her knee gripping the sensitive flesh at the inside top of my thigh. Creamy white and alive, and beautiful.

Jesus, she is magnificent. From her graceful neck, down to her delicately full breasts, her narrow waist gently curving into perfectly rounded hips, she is a study in curves. I had no idea that since she lost so much weight she still possessed such a phenomenally feminine little body. She’s small, almost impossibly light, but absolutely womanly. I lie here and absorb her beauty.

Something is happening to her. I look into her eyes, and she is different. Maybe she’s reacting to my undisguised admiration of her.

Maybe she thinks I’m leering. I hope I’m not. This is genuine appreciation of fine sculpture. I suddenly realize that when I returned my gaze to her, she was returning her gaze to me as well. She was distracted too. What was she looking at?

I make my face into an open question, and she answers it by delicately tickling her lower lip with the very tip of her tongue, and taking a darting glance at my straining erection. Oh, God, is it that simple? She wants me. Yes. Thank you, God, you marvelous bastard.

Now her tongue is elsewhere, slipping across a nipple, and she nips and tugs at it with her teeth. I moan aloud, as a thrill shoots through the center of me – out through my arms and legs, and reverberating in my groin.

She pulls the entire nipple into her mouth, and sucks greedily, grinding her hip into mine.

The feeling of her tongue and lips against my skin is more intense than I can bear. I sigh her name and close my eyes from the pleasure of it, tossing in a few heavy-handed comments in a loud voice about what I’ve always wanted and needed.

***

I hope this is showing up well on camera. Whatever it takes, Scully. Do whatever it takes. The voice hasn’t said anything in a while, so we must be on the right track.

To his credit, Mulder is controlling himself well. He’s said everything our perp wants to hear, and is reacting in a fashion overt enough to win his appreciation. He’s being melodramatic and overreacting to everything I do. He just muttered something about his fate being written on my lips. I hope this guy buys it.

How does he manage to keep his skin so soft? His nipple is supple but rigid against my tongue. I continue to work it, in part because I need to ensure Mulder’s visible arousal, but also because I’m not sure what else to do. Don’t get me wrong, I know exactly what I want to do right now – I want to run away. Far, far away. The part of me that intellectualizes everything has taken control, so I’m safe for a while.

The problem is – and this is where I’m having real difficulty – I am also stroking my knee against the testicles of an exceptionally fine-looking man whom I trust implicitly. And my difficulty doesn’t arise from the mere reality of his physical beauty, and good God, he is beautiful, with his eyes closed, his lips parted in a soft pout – get a grip – the reason it’s becoming increasingly difficult to concentrate on the task at hand is because it just doesn’t feel like a task.

With every motion of my tongue, and every time I gently nudge his balls with my knee, he sighs and moans in obvious pleasure.

Maybe it’s a guy thing. I’ve read that men are able to separate themselves emotionally from the act of sex better than women can. He’s really hamming it up, but I suppose it’s possible that’s really him.

I’ve never envisioned him being exceptionally vocal in bed, but maybe…

Don’t go there. If you enjoy this, you’ll hate yourself for a good long time. Do it, but don’t think about it. Just do it.

But if I do, I think, as I slip my hands up to cup Mulder’s sculpted jaw, running a thumb over his plump lower lip, then I’ll be disappointed that I cheated myself out of whatever pleasure I could gain from the experience. And Lord knows, he’s too meek and ineffectual to really attempt to seduce me under normal circumstances. Especially after this.

If we get out alive. Good idea. Deny yourself pleasure during your last few moments on this earth.

Mulder’s tongue darts out and plays with my thumb. I moan aloud before I realize why I’m doing it. It feels good. Now slick, my thumb glides over his lower lip again, and then suddenly it’s not my thumb anymore, it’s my lips, my tongue, my sighs, warming to him and attempting to crowd out whatever is between us. This is all too confusing.

I have pressed my belly against his … I need to see it again.

I rise to my knees and look. This time I take a good long look. His penis is fully erect, standing straight up and bobbing a little from the recent commotion. I have to be honest and say I’ve always found the penis an odd-looking organ. It always made me think of a worm in an army helmet. But I can’t seem to evoke that odd cartoonish image in the face of this magnificent specimen. I don’t know what to say or think about it. It’s longer than I expected, and thicker by half. He’s certainly in a different condition from the last time I saw him naked, but that was a medical situation and hardly constituted the basis for a fair comparison. At the moment, I am trying to adjust to the reality of my partner having one of these – and having it in such a condition because of something I’m doing to him.

Five minutes ago I would have committed to reality every unrealized daydream of mine, but I was out of control, pushed by hormones. Now I have them under control and remind myself: I will do what I must, but I must not do what I will. Do everything that’s necessary to satisfy our captor, but don’t let it become personal.

Mulder’s hips rise just a little, as he sees I’m contemplating what to do. He obviously has a suggestion or three, all of them clearly involving this formidably-proportioned organ, but before I can make any decisions or take any action, his arm restraints whir until they’re slack and his arms are suddenly around me.

This is what I’ve been fearing. If he couldn’t put his arms around me, a gesture so laden with familiarity and comfort, I would be able to keep myself separate from this. But he is sitting up, his cheek against my throat, his arms clasped behind me, palms flat against my skin – “Ow.” I wince in pain from the pressure he’s putting on the wounds covering my back. He pulls back instantly, an expression of distress on his face.

“Oh, God, Scully, I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Are you okay?”

I open my mouth to utter my usual two word response, but I stop myself.

‘I’m fine’ is an utterly stupid thing to say at this moment. If I needed to avoid a confrontation with him, I’d go back to using it in an instant. But right now, he needs to know the truth, or he won’t be able to continue. And we have to continue, to ensure our own safety.

“It hurts a little. Just try to work around it, okay?” Hm. That was actually quite liberating.

He sighs in relief and leans in to me again, sliding his arms under mine, pressing his lower arms against my sides, and wrapping his hands around my shoulders from behind, like a vest, avoiding all but the edges of my back. His cheek returns to the hollow at the base of my throat, and he presses his lips there. “Better?” he asks.

Oh, God, his skin – it’s almost as if we haven’t been lying here face to face for an hour or more already. I feel his chest pressed up against mine and a shiver shoots through me, landing where my sensitive flesh meets his thigh. I say “Yes,” and something about how much I’ve wanted his arms around me, how safe I feel now. He is telling me, with an impressively choked voice, that he needs me.

I respond to his admission of need with a moan of hunger. I tell him how much I want him, how I’ve thought about it, how I’ve fantasized about it – that I am nearly desperate with desire for him.

His arms hold me firmly, and he moves his face away, just enough to look into my eyes, and I see something completely new, something foreign: He has steeled his jaw, and is devouring me with a liquid gaze. I am suddenly breathless. This, oh, God, this is why it never happened before. Had he once, just once, consumed me with an intense stare, squared his jaw and gathered me into his arms, I think I would have been lost. Had he been this strong, this quintessentially masculine, I would have surrendered to him with little difficulty.

Surprisingly, considering my need to be taken seriously as a professional, I accept this notion easily. To hell with feminism when this is going on. I enjoy being treated with gentleness and respect, and at the moment, I am delirious from the sensation of being possessed by this man.

His gaze is penetrating, and I feel dizzy. He reaches his face up to me, his soft smile doing nothing to distract from the intense purpose written on his jaw, he presses lightly on the back of my neck and his lips are on mine again. But this time, with his arms firmly clutching me, gently muscled and desperate for my embrace, it is impossibly electrifying. I have moved my right leg so that I’m straddling his lap, and I can feel his heat, his desire, throbbing against me.

Another whir, and his leg restraints are loosened as well. We are both still bound, but we are now able to maneuver at will.

The moment he is free, he is lifting me, raising me off his lap and backward on to the bed. The lash wounds burn like hell against the scratchy fabric of the bedspread, but I bite back the grunt of pain.

Mulder clenches his jaw tensely, releasing a single distressed grunt. He must have put some weight on his injured foot, but he hardly seems to notice. The painful grimace is almost immediately supplanted with another expression of intensity and want. Yes, this aggressiveness, this possessiveness. This is what you need to do if you want me to respond.

Before I’m aware I’ve said it, it’s escaped my lips. “Yes,” emerges from me in a hoarse, visceral whisper. I’m losing it. Stay focused. Think about the pounding pain in your back. “Oh, yes, my love,” I add dramatically.

He buries his face into my neck and kisses, nibbles, grazes me with his teeth. His hands devour me, lingering occasionally, as he smiles, and continues his exploration. When his hand moves to cup my left breast, he gazes appreciatively before bathing me with his lips and tongue. But it’s not entirely real until he runs his teeth across the nipple, and I shudder from the sensation.

I know now I want him. I am going with it, I really am. All I can think about is Mulder. I want him, I need him. Mulder Mulder Mulder, oh God, lips, Mulder. It’s a show, it’s a show. I moan aloud and graze his back with my fingernails, knuckles white with strain.

His beard is growing in, and the stubble scratches against my belly, as he slides down and circles my navel with his tongue. Oh, God, don’t stop, keep going, this is incredible. He shifts his caresses to one side, and grazes his teeth against my hipbone, and I cry out with pleasure. And then his hands are pressing my thighs apart, and he is there, nuzzling the patch of auburn – purring, growling, I can’t tell.

His hands are on my thighs, as he slides down further, and nudges me gently with his nose. It’s a comforting gesture he’s made countless times, but never there. Yet I find it has a similar effect. I feel safe.

Then his tongue is there, and I nearly leap off the bed from the sudden electric shock of it. The reality of it crashes around me, and it is devastating – the image of my partner, my intellectual equal, my professional colleague dissolves away and what is left is the man Mulder, passionate, beautiful Mulder. I shudder with delight as he lightly, gently investigates every fold of me with his warm, soft tongue. His gentle breath is soothing, and combined with the firm tenderness of his tongue, flicking now, I am flooded with desire. Oh, God, this is good. I don’t want to return to the respectful distance, the tension, the adolescent uncertainty. “Mhmmm, yess.” Please, God, don’t let this end.

***

I can’t think anymore. I can’t do anything except want her. I’m consumed with her – the silk of her, the perfume of her, the taste of her. Fuck my foot, fuck the dart wounds, fuck the slashes on her back. She is real, she is here, and she wants me.

Fuck the games and the theater of it, I heard that “Yes” rumbling in the back of her throat.

And now the cameras and spectators are a dim memory, and all there is in this world is Scully and my pulse, pounding in my ears and my neck and my cock, and I use it to time my motions over her slick, silky skin.

I’m a living, breathing pulse, all nerve endings and throbbing need.

It’s incredible.

It’s agony.

I can’t think how to describe how she tastes, and I wouldn’t waste the time or energy to do it. Right now all that matters is my tongue, sketching the edges of her lustrous, nubbly flesh, pressing, stroking, sweeping across her luscious, swollen clit. She shudders in response, cries out something unintelligible, and urges her hips toward me.

I don’t care why it’s happening, or what it will mean tomorrow. If we have a tomorrow. Now, this moment, all that exists in this world is her body and mine.

And my pulse.

Finally, the world has melted away, and we are everything – just my Scully and her ragged breathing, and her undisguised need. Not just for anything or anyone, but for this, and for me. I have never felt this whole, this alive.

Her fingers are in my hair, pulling and grasping, desperate to hold on to some piece of me, as waves of tremors overtake her. I slide my hands up her thighs, across her hips, and she reaches for them, grasping them, entwining her fingers with mine. She groans something that sounds like my name. She says we’ve wasted so much time.

Yes, we have.

I strengthen my hold on her hands, feeling her tension build, and lap purposefully at her opening. That’s it, Scully, let go, want me. I slide my tongue inside her, as far as I can reach, and she cries out. She says she wants me inside her, she needs to feel me above her, within her, around her. God, Scully, please, I want that too. She is so close. This is heaven.

I slip my tongue upward, and reaching the source of her thrashing again, press my lips against her, drawing her clit into my mouth, nibbling, grazing, sucking firmly.

And it happens. She stiffens against my mouth, her hands grasp mine like steel, her hips rise, and her voice ascends, filling me with pleasure and satisfaction. She is coming, screaming and panting, bellowing my name and “yes” and “oh”, and oh God, I did this to her.

Why were we so afraid, she asks in a breaking cry, still in the midst of waves of tremors, why would we trust each other with our lives but not our bodies?

I know why I didn’t: I was afraid she would never be able to see herself like this and consider it, consider me. She has such a high opinion of professionalism and such a low opinion of raw feelings. That’s why she wrestles with her emotions and locks them up. And I can never bring myself to challenge that because she’s been through so much horror, she’s lost so much, and it’s the only survival mechanism she possesses.

I would rather give up my own life than ask her to surrender this one defense. Oh my God, I’m a total freak: I can’t believe I’m actually considering this predicament a boon for us. But it is.

Resting my weight on my knees, I climb up her, until my face meets hers.

Her expression is that of contentment and exhaustion, her eyes closed, and a faint half-smile edging her lips. I place a single, tender kiss on her succulent lips, and whisper gently, only for her ears, “Perfect”.

She is.

I raise my voice just enough and tell her how delicious she is, how satisfied I am that I could give her that kind of pleasure, how I adore her. And despite the theater of it, despite the circumstances and the fear of our captor’s whim, I remember the promise I made and smile with satisfaction in the knowledge I’ve kept it. Every word I’ve uttered is truth.

She wraps her arms around me, pulls me to her, and holds me tightly against her breast as she recovers.

When her breathing slows, I gather her into my arms, and leaning back on my calves –

“OW! Shit!” That fucking hurts.

“Mulder?” she asks, and immediately turns her attention to my throbbing foot. I put too much weight on it in my gallant effort to lift her while changing our position. “Born to be suave,” I tell her, cracking a strained smile.

Scully smiles, and carefully wrapping her hands around my ankle, lifts and extends my left leg, so the weight is off my injured foot. I am back where I began, sitting up with my legs stretched out.

“Better?”

“Thanks.” I extend my hands out to her, and she takes them, approaching me again, finally settling straddled on my lap. I wind my arms around her again, careful to avoid her injured back, nuzzle my face in her throat, and place gentle kisses on her neck and shoulders. Her arms surround me, drawing me closer to her.

Don’t forget the drama, Mulder. I thank her for always taking such good care of me. I tell her I’m sorry for all the petty hurt I’ve inflicted on her. How I wish I could take it all back. That our work has harmed her enough, and all I want to do is keep her safe.

She says she is safe with me, and that I should trust myself with her.

That she would never let me fall. She kisses me, and the dull throb in my foot vanishes into the flood of renewed desire I feel for her. Her tongue gently teases my lower lip, and then her tongue is gliding across my cheek, along my jaw, toward my earlobe. She licks and nibbles there, and at the sensitive spot behind my ear. Her arms are around my shoulders, and the little patch of delicate, delicious flesh between her thighs is a furnace against my hard, aching cock.

I am beyond delicate shudders and faint thrills now. My need is painful and palpable. I gain no further pleasure from tender bits of continued foreplay. What I need is written plainly in my breathing, in my shallow little grunts each time she presses herself against my erection. It is written on my cock. It says, ‘NOW’.

I am waiting, frantically, to release myself to her. I mutter a few choice phrases about how much I want her, I ask her if she can feel how long I’ve waited and how hungry I am for her. My entire body is screaming to push its way inside her.

“Yes?” I ask in a half-whisper, pressing firmly against her. She closes her eyes, and buries her head in my shoulder. And I do it. I push inside her, and it’s, oh, God, Scully. It’s Scully. Hot and moist and soft and agonizingly tight and perfect. And she’s in my arms, and my lips meet hers, and…

She emits one tiny gasp, and then she falls silent.

I can’t speak either. This is…oh, God…I’ve wanted this, wanted her for so long. And here she is, warm and pliant, and – – real. She’s in my arms, and she’s finally mine.

She was right, we should have trusted ourselves with each other long ago. I should have kissed her that day in the hospital corridor, when she was in such anguish over leaving this world and worrying about leaving me alone without her. I should have been more forceful in declining Detective White’s advances, and just barged into Scully’s room and taken her. I should have risen from my couch, picked up my keys, driven to her place and fucked her every single night I lay awake stroking myself, wishing it was her hand, or her tongue.

We could have been doing this – oh God, yeah – this instead of constantly nattering at each other, pretending we didn’t want it.

Pretending we didn’t care about each other enough to risk being vulnerable.

I should still be keenly aware of the audience, of our confinement, but I’m not. There’s no way to cushion the harsh impact of this truth: It couldn’t have happened any other way. I actually feel some manner of gratitude to that sadistic sonofabitch in the booth for forcing us to confront this. We’ve remained face-to-face in a hopeless standoff for far too long: I couldn’t make a move because I wasn’t sure if she reciprocated my feelings, and she wouldn’t move because she refused to believe she needed it.

But finally – oh God, finally – she is mine, and I have given her pleasure, and now I’m rewarded with my own. Nothing else matters now.

I lift her gently, slowly, until I’ve nearly pulled out, and then draw her back down to me, sinking deep inside her again. Yes, this is perfection. So hot, so wet, so tight. Her smooth, creamy skin receives me, all of me, inside her, around her, against her. I moan something akin to her name into her shoulder, but there’s no response.

I bring my lips up to her ear. “Scully, oh, God Scully, you feel so good.” Still nothing.

I pull my face back from hers, and witness an expression that should end my life right here. She’s biting the inside of her cheek. Her brows are drawn together tightly, her lips turn up tensely, her jaw quivering. Her hands are fists against my shoulders.

She’s in agony.

No, oh God, no, what have I done?

I run through the last minute or so in my mind, and horrify myself with the discovery.

She didn’t say “yes”.

I asked for her permission, but I didn’t wait for her to answer. I wanted her and I took her, and I didn’t even think about what it would mean to her. That if we did this together, it would be a culmination of something, a coalescence of our unrequited feelings of love and desire.

But that I did this alone, without her consent, means that I took something from her – her dignity, her right to choose. The circumstances don’t acquit me – regardless of the consequences of noncompliance, she had to be the one to consent. She didn’t say “yes”.

I took her without consent.

She’ll rationalize this from every possible angle – in fact, I think she’s doing that right now, looking at me and saying all kinds of comforting nothings. “Don’t stop, Mulder. Please, don’t stop. You feel so good, please allow this to happen. I want this, I want you.” But it’s too late. I wanted her, and I took her. I have violated her.

Have, nothing. I AM violating her. And I don’t think I could stop if I tried. I’m plunging into her again, withdrawing, then continuing my assault. I’ve hungered for the feeling of her sweet little body on mine, and now that I have her, I can’t let go. I won’t. Her inner muscles contract around me, grasping me, refusing to let me go. The pleasure is exquisite torment. The simple, sick truth is that I don’t want to stop she feels so fucking good. But I saw her expression of misery, and it’s clear that this was nonconsentual. And I actually allowed myself to believe that this experience had some benefit.

I am a fucking freak.

This should be ecstasy, but instead it’s horror. The perfect union of my impossibly sensitive hardness and her impossibly tight warmth is now a violation, my act of painful betrayal. Our trust has ignited and burned away. And only we two remain, pounding furiously through the ash, our bodies the battered ruins of bliss.

Tears spill down my cheeks. My arms are wrapped tightly around her shoulders, helping her to rise and fall, as I thrust mercilessly into her. My body screams in pleasure, but it’s the louder scream that shatters me – that of my own despair, because I will not stop now. She feels so good and I have waited so long, and I’m finally inside her. I press my cheek against her breast and choke on hushed words intended to comfort. “Oh God, Scully, I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” An inadvertent moan of gratification bleeds out of me. “Yesss…Oh, God, no, Scully, I’m so sorry.”

There are words coming from her lips, but I’m too propelled by this cyclone of conflict to understand them. Pleasure and guilt, rapture and horror, this is incredible and hopelessly awful. I wanted her, I took her, and – fuck, fuck, fuck – I love it. I did this for my own pleasure, without a shred of respect for her or her wishes. Each wave of pleasure building in me defiles her. And still the sick theater of this must play out. “I love you,” I tell her, knowing she can never believe me again, regardless of our pact to remain honest.

How can you tell her this, when you know you’d do it again if you had the chance, you piece of shit? How can you love her and care nothing for her dignity?

My primal need for sexual release is becoming replaced with a desperate wish to leave this world. I have taken what wasn’t mine. I have destroyed our bond with a single moment of treachery. I want to die.

I come in violent, pumping waves, screaming in mourning over the death of trust.

***

Finally, yes, finally, come for me, Mulder. He is screaming my name, and coming and coming, releasing years of frustration into me.

And I take it, not because it’s my duty, but because it is phenomenally satisfying to see and feel him lose himself to me, to the absolute reality of our coupling. I’ve watched it build for years, I’ve felt it swell, and now, I am riding on the rapture of his release.

It was difficult at first. I haven’t had sex in years, and complicated by his considerable size and girth, the initial penetration was really rather painful. I tried to hide that as much as I could, because I didn’t want him to stop – he’s always so protective of me – and we had to let it happen. But I knew the pain would become discomfort and eventually it would dissolve into pleasure, and it did. Incredible, shattering pleasure.

I didn’t want to think about what it would mean tomorrow. At that moment, it was good. I mean profound, biblical-style good. God created the heavens and the earth, and saw that it was good good. I continued the stream of sweet nothings I’d been moaning since he entered me so purposefully. I told him how good he felt, that I’d wanted him for so long, that he was magnificent, that this was what I wanted for as long as I could have him. I told him that next time I wouldn’t cheat myself, that I wanted to taste him, to feel the firm heft of him on my tongue, in my mouth, down my throat.

That last one was exaggeration. I’ve never worked out how to circumvent my gag reflex, but what the hell – a show is a show.

What I don’t understand, though, is what he is doing now. He has collapsed, weeping apologies against my shoulder. I must have missed something.

“Mulder?” He doesn’t respond, he merely continues a stream of quiet, sobbing apologies. He’s sorry. He loves me. He’s sorry.

I’ll be the first one to raise my hand and admit that this wasn’t how I wanted our first encounter to be, but it was incredible anyway. He was fine earlier, he really seemed to be getting into it. And I felt how hard he was while he was literally slamming into me – it felt amazing.

But now he’s suddenly upset and horribly contrite – I haven’t a clue why – and I have to comfort him.

But I can do that, if he’ll let me.

“Sssh,” I whisper into his ear. I press my lips to his left temple.

“It’s all right, Mulder. I’m okay.”

He pulls his head away from me, just enough to look into my eyes, and I see the obstacle in my path: He’s stricken. He’s in pain, actual physical pain, over whatever’s bothering him. We don’t have the time for a leisurely conversation about this, and as much as I want to know why he’s tormenting himself, I need to focus on the fact that if we’re going to survive, he is going to have to appear just a little more upbeat and content, really goddamned fast.

My voice is incredibly quiet now. “Say something happy, Mulder. Say you’re satisfied, say something that can be taken for joy. Please Mulder, now.”

His eyes soften just enough to indicate that he can speak, and then he looks away. “Oh, Scully, I’m so sorry it had to be like this, in this place. I don’t know what this means for us.” A broad smile crosses his lips, but travels no farther. His eyes are empty. “I’ll do anything you ask. Just love me. Please love me and forgive me.”

I cup his jaw with my hands. “There’s nothing to forgive.” I shake my head, slowly. “Stay with me, Mulder. Don’t leave me. You’re mine, don’t you know that?”

He nods and smiles again, vacantly. “I’ll spend every moment of every day working to deserve you. You’ll never need to question my trust again.”

But with each word, I feel him slip farther from me. His skin is warm, but that’s just the surface. He’s ice beneath, completely unreachable.

The staging has taken over, now that the physical thrill has abated.

He’s torturing himself, and putting us in genuine danger. What the hell is his problem?

I am willing to accept that we were able to have sex under duress, and I am even able to comfort him if he’s the kind of man who gets overly emotional afterward, but this is actual jeopardy we’re in, and he seems to have forgotten that. If we don’t look happy and sated right this minute, all this will have been for nothing. We had an agreement that we would go through this together. But he’s gone now, enclosed in a private little bubble of contrition, and left me alone here. And that is a betrayal I’m not prepared to live with.

Or die for.

I push him lightly back onto the bed, sliding off his lap. The warm outward rush of fluid catches me off-guard – it’s been a long time since I’ve had sex, and I don’t even remember a time before condoms. The sensation is odd, but not unpleasant. That is, of course, until the discomfort sets in. I faintly recall the sensation, but it was never this intense – it must be on account of his relative size. I settle down beside him, our arms still firmly encircling each other, and try to control my breathing.

This should be a tender moment, but Mulder is miles away. Doesn’t he understand what this means? That we’re still being observed and judged?

I’ll do what I can to help our captor misinterpret Mulder’s maddening silence as speechlessness. This very moment depends upon my words, and it’s terrifying. Mulder’s the psychologist, not me. I could explain every bit of our current physiological post-coital state, but I really have very little idea of what to say to bring him back, especially since I don’t know what’s wrong.

“There isn’t much to say, is there?” I smile and place a light kiss on his jaw, before settling my head on his shoulder. “I love you.”

He sighs and holds me tighter. “You magnificent creature.” There’s no feeling in his voice, but the words resound. If he’s going for the ‘awed and speechless with wonder’ concept, I believe he’s accomplished his objective.

The door finally opens again, and I see him approach. He brings the chair with him, and then he is beside us again. He is looking at us, studiously.

“Very good, kids. Very, very good. Now don’t you feel better?”

I laugh. It’s just a chuckle at first, but then I put all my remaining energy into it, and it becomes a raucous chortle. I try to talk through it, smiling at Mulder, drawing him into the moment. “Actually, – a good – deal – better.” Good, Mulder is getting it. He’s laughing as well. It’s not sincere, but hopefully he doesn’t know it. “I wouldn’t have thought it possible, considering the circumstances,” I say, raising my bound wrists, “but you’re right, I do.” Smile, Scully. Keep it light.

Mulder raises himself on his elbows, and continues to laugh, until tears return his cheeks. I swear that man has a limitless capacity for self-pity.

“Then it’s really too bad about your tormented partner, here, lovely Scully,” our captor says, all traces of humor suddenly gone, and my stomach free-falls. His forehead is furrowed again, as it was when we first encountered him. He reaches out, and traces a line down Mulder’s jaw. “So very beautiful. This is where your true beauty resides, you know. Your bottomless sorrow. One could live forever on the merest hope of easing it.”

I have a very bad feeling about this. He’s seen through Mulder, and I don’t like the resigned tone of his voice.

I want to consult with Mulder, but even our physical communication is faltering. I reach for his hand, and although he takes it, the little reassuring wanderings of his thumb are conspicuously absent. The warm little kisses against the top of my head, against my forehead, they’re missing as well. I want to tell him, ‘We can take this guy. Our restraints are slack enough that we might be able to wrestle him to the bed’, but without a consultation, it could be disastrous.

“The only way I could ever let you go, sweet ones, is if you had lost yourselves in this process completely.” He shakes his head and lowers his voice. “The morons behind the glass don’t know any better. They think they’ve witnessed a glorious sexual awakening,” he confides in us, “but they can’t see what I can. That the clouds surrounding you are nearly black. You’re farther apart now than when I brought you here.”

Oh my God. This is it. Think, Scully. Find him inside there.

“For one perfect moment, you two lived in absolute clarity. The fog dissipated flawlessly, and you existed only for each other. But now,” he gestures limply at Mulder, “I see no traces of joy or unity. You might as well be strangers.” He brushes a few delinquent strands of hair out of Mulder’s eyes. “Look at her, beautiful Mulder. Regard the softness in her eyes, the strength of her hands, holding and protecting you. This is what your life could be, this is how fulfilling and happy, and deliciously sated you could feel, if you would only allow yourself to open to her.” He actually looks stricken. “Why, sweet sad beauty, why can’t you feel this joy?”

Mulder’s chin is trembling, his skin is cool to the touch, his face ashen.

“Tell me, why don’t you believe in your own happiness?”

Mulder’s breathing shallows and shortens, but he says nothing. Nothing to reprieve us. We are sinking.

“If this were to happen again, beautiful one, could you accept her strength and express your love? Could you blossom before her again?”

Mulder’s eyes shut tightly, his shoulders shudder, and he nods his head in tormented affirmation. “Yes,” he replies, finally, in a defeated and broken voice, “but it’s too late.”

Too late? “Too late for what, Mulder?” I ask. Nothing. “Answer me, Mulder. Look at me. Why is it too late?”

“Because I wanted this and you didn’t.” His head is still bowed. “And I lost myself in my own selfish needs, not for a moment considering yours.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve never had sex this good in my life.

Why would you think I didn’t want you?”

“You don’t have to protect me, Scully. I saw your expression.” His face tightens. “I started without you.” He shakes his head, and finishes quietly, “Without – your – consent.”

This is it. This is why he’s consigned himself to hell. He thinks he showed me disrespect.

“Mulder, look at me. Look at me, really look at me. You didn’t take advantage of me. If you saw anything in my expression at the moment of penetration it was because I was trying to handle the discomfort. Think about your physical dimensions and mine for a minute. It was uncomfortable at first – it took a moment or two to … adjust. But then it got good, and Mulder, it was wonderful. You didn’t hurt me – I loved it, and I know you did, too. Please, Mulder, don’t close yourself off from me.

“I’m allowed to like it. I’m allowed to love you and protect you and arouse you and enjoy you. You didn’t do anything wrong. Look at me, Mulder.” His dark, glossy eyes finally rise to mine, and I smile warmly.

I can feel the tension leaving his body. Keep at it, Scully, it’s making a dent. “What do you see?”

He inhales deeply, preparing for a lengthy dive, and reaches for me. His thumb finds its familiar place just above the line of my jaw, his fingers lightly curling below.

“You,” he replies. He shakes his head slowly. “I’ve never really seen you, Scully. You’re glowing.”

“You did that to me,” I tell him tenderly. “You made my cheeks rosy.

They are rosy, aren’t they?”

He exhales stiffly through his nose – a little chuckle. “Why, Miss Scully, they’re very apples.” Finally. He’s coming back to himself.

Mulder’s humor is a godsend right now.

“Do you think anyone else could have done this to me?” I wait for him to respond. He is silent, searching my eyes. I have to be honest but still play this up for the Therapist, but how? Well, I suppose brutal truth is foreign enough for both of us that it will feel theatrical. “Only for you, Mulder. It had to be this place, this time, in this way. We were stuck, trapped by our fears – unable to permit ourselves to need each other. I was afraid of losing control, and you – you were afraid of losing me. But we did it, and I’m not running away. You have me, and I’m not leaving you.” Where the HELL did all that come from? Who cares? Just keep going.

“To hell with ‘should’, Mulder – I’ve lied to the authorities for you, I’ve gone to jail, and Hell, and fucking Bering, Alaska – nothing is holding us back but our fear. It’s the most powerful restraint of all.

We’ve been lying to ourselves and each other about this for so long, that it couldn’t have happened any other way. This has been a blessing for us, do you understand?”

He slips his hand from my cheek down to my throat, and fingers the cross around my neck. He mutters, very softly, “A blessing.”

“You’re mine, you hear me? No one else can have you. I won’t give you up. You’re mine, with all of your flaws and faults and gifts, all of you. I’m not blind, Mulder. I see you, and you wouldn’t be the same, you wouldn’t be mine if you were any different.”

His eyes are filled with wonder, the edges of his mouth turning gently upward in realization. He is returning. Thank you, Jesus, thank you.

“You’re mine. No one else can have you.”

“No one has. I’ve been yours for years, Scully.” He looks up at me, and I see that strength again, grounded in his firm jaw. He cups my face in his hands, and stakes my claim for me with one passionate word, “Yours.”

He kisses me deeply, and I find myself responding to him again, my skin pebbling, shivering with renewed sensations of desire.

What a roller coaster.

He interrupts the moment. “Ah, that’s more like it. Good job, kids.

I’m so relieved – I can let you live.” He smiles again, with that creepy warmth he radiates.

Mulder turns to face him, his hands still firmly holding my cheeks. “How long have you been this good a therapist?”

He smiles more broadly. “Since the world was young, my sweets. I’m so pleased I’ll have the good fortune of witnessing your passion again. I look forward to your next encounter. Now that you know each other’s signals, each other’s tastes, it should be a highly erotic experience.

Sadly, I won’t be able to see it first-hand…”

“What do you mean?” I ask. This is sounding bad again.

“You’re too beautiful and committed to each other to just do away with.

For the moment, anyway. But, let’s face it kiddies, you’re federal agents. I can’t just let you go and invite you back for another round.

I’ll be in federal prison before you can say ‘take me, you fool’. My third option is really the most sensible – profitable for me, and fulfilling for you.”

Shit. What third option? There was death and an invitation for a return performance. One and two.

He rises, removes the chair, and instructs us from behind the glare of the lights, “Now lie back down on the bed, in your original positions, please. You won’t be harmed, I promise.”

We look in his direction, hoping for more elucidation. None comes.

“Do as I say, lovely ones. You, as they say, know the drill.”

We comply. Before I can get myself comfortable, though, there is a soft grinding sound, and the restraints are tightening again. Within only a few seconds, we are as we were when we awoke – pressed together, unable to move. I hear some movement, and he is back beside us, fussing with something in his hands.

I’m afraid. I speak to him with absolutely no intention of hiding that fact. Perhaps my fear will spark some sympathy. “What are you planning to do with us?”

“My only other option, beautiful, beautiful creatures, is to hand you over to an organization which specializes in this kind of thing. They will take good care of you, and if you give them what they want, you will be very happy in your new life. Remember, please, you glorious creatures, to do as they say, and take solace in each other.”

Oh God, the bureaucrats were right. Slavery wasn’t the goal of the operation, merely the result. Option Three…

We both open our mouths to speak, but he slips a cotton cloth between our faces, and I am overcome with a thick medicinal smell. Shit.

Halothane. Please God, let him get the dosage right.

“Sleep well. I will miss you.”

I hold my breath as long as I can, making panicked contact with Mulder’s equally panicked eyes. When my lungs begin to burn, it becomes clear I have no option. I breathe deeply and curse silently.

The tense edges of Mulder’s eyes swim, then fade.

***

This is an exceptionally painful and difficult moment for me.

Again, this is an odd phenomenon, considering the lengths which I am willing to traverse in order to protect my practice and my clients. I have only made this trip twice before, but I was in no way this sad to see them leave. The two couples were talented and devoted to each other, and absolutely compliant, and for that I was rewarded with tremendous finder’s fees. But I wasn’t sad to see them go. They broke so quickly, and their acts of union were so uninspiring, both experiences left me woefully unfulfilled. I might have done away with them altogether, like the others, but they were attractive enough, and I knew I could get a good price for them in Gary.

But now I cannot help but sigh. I feel such a pull from these two, such a tremendous longing, that I am having difficulty paying attention to the road. Oh, they are exquisite creatures. I do hope they will be treated well by whoever acquires them. I had best provide a copy of the tape, to justify their special value and special treatment.

I cannot even bear the thought that they might be somehow abused or shown disrespect.

I needn’t worry about it. Very often in these transactions, the provider will have final say in determining an acquirer. I resolve, here and now, to remain on the auction block with them, to interview and carefully scrutinize the buyer, to assure these two will be handled with gentle, tender care.

It is the very least I can do. And if I’m very fortunate, my special friend will be there, as promised – such an exquisite young man – and win the bidding war.

We haven’t even reached the Loop yet. I spend so little time outside of the suburbs, I often forget how long the trip into Chicago proper really is. And with traffic nearly stopped on the Edens expressway, it will take even longer. Isn’t that sweet – the Edens? I live East of Edens.

It took considerably longer than I’d anticipated to get them dressed and into their restraints in the van. I couldn’t take the risk of releasing them when conscious, so I had to dress them myself. While I am indeed proud of this solo accomplishment, this is not necessarily a good thing, because I lost at least thirty minutes of good, solid insensate time.

Which means that if these vehicles ahead of me do not pick up their collective pace, my two passengers will regain consciousness before we arrive at our destination, the Indiana border.

I will chastise myself later for failing to install that doorway between the cab and the cargo section of the van. I was primarily concerned about security, but now, a hatchway would truly be a boon. I could pull over, re-anesthetize them, and pull back on the road before the van could attract any attention. Instead, now I would have to open the back gate of the van, and well, that is simply not an option in daytime, in this traffic.

So I will simply continue to drive and concentrate on the road.

Getting them out of the van will be interesting.

I hear a little thumping back there, but I will disregard it. There is nothing I can do now, so I will simply, as they say, wait it out.

I slip the master tape into the duplication machine which I have installed in the passenger side of the cab. I insert a blank tape into the target drive, and gently tap the button marked “Dub”. I think perhaps I will offer a group viewing of this flawless gem. There is no question it will increase the pitch of the bidding. Beautiful Mulder’s relapse into self-loathing and fear will demonstrate that the opportunity to view a blossoming is not lost after the first experience.

I do believe these two will continue to discover each other with every glorious experience.

Again, I sigh. They are perfection – beauty, intelligence and repression – bundled up in utter mutual devotion. There really is nothing for it but sighs.

I gave them this. Ah, sweet, sweet creatures.

***

Well, this is unpleasant.

“Scully?” I can see her lying across from me, bound like me, unconscious unlike me, her head lolling on the little cushion sewn into the carpet.

Man, this guy is a freak.

Like I’m one to talk. There’s a nifty little bit of irony, Freak Boy Mulder passing judgement on a crackpot as twisted and freakish as he.

Get a grip.

“Scully? Wake up.” Nothing. Although my mouth tastes like the inside of a septic tank, I am having an easier time shrugging off the effects of the halothane than I could that first anesthetic.

At least this time I am waking to lit environs.

We are in the cargo section of that van again, bound to opposite walls.

The back doors are latched from the outside. The inside handles have been removed. There are two moderately-sized smoked bubble windows on each side of the van. We might squeeze through if we try. I don’t see anything here that’s hard enough to break them, though. There is a small sack near the wall dividing this section from the cab, but I can’t tell what’s in it.

“Mmmmmmrphl?” I’ll take that as a sign of increasing consciousness.

“It’s me, Scully. Wake up.”

“Mmmhulder? Where are we?” Her eyes are little slits, adjusting to the light pouring in on her from the windows high on my side of the van the driver’s side. If it’s morning, then the light is coming from the east, which means we’re heading south.

“Scully, how long does pure halothane typically knock you out?”

“Dunno. Maybe three or four hours. There was a lot of it on that cloth.”

She smacks her tongue against her palate. “I hate that stuff.”

“Mmmm, the refreshing flavor of raw sewage in the morning.” Three or four hours. So the bright light is definitely that of the sun’s rising rather than setting. We are heading south. From Chicago, there are only really two places to go southbound – Indiana or Missouri. Since our captor used a short-lived and hangover-free soporific, I’ll guess we’re headed to Indiana. The southern edge of the Chicago area abuts the Indiana state line, where it flows directly into Gary.

Ah, Gary. Smokestacks, smog, and the second-highest violent crime rate in the country. Lovely.

“You know, Mulder, it doesn’t feel like we’re travelling very fast. I can’t really see the scenery out your windows – the light is too strong.

Can you see out the windows on my side?”

“I can see some power lines…and a pole…you’re right, we’re barely moving. We must be stuck in the morning rush hour.” Fabulous. I really don’t want to think about landing on the ground with this busted foot, but at least if we can get out of here soon, while traffic is stalled, we won’t have to worry about being crushed to death by a 65 mile per hour impact against the road.

“Can you get free?” Scully asks, wriggling against her restraints.

“I’m trying.” I’ve managed to work the middle finger of my right hand into the strap on the left, and it’s loosening. If I can slip it from the snug loop holding down the loose end…

“Got it.” Using the two longest fingers on my right hand, I wrench the strap backward, attempting to release the metal tongue from its hole in the strap. “Yes!” The restraint on my left wrist slackens enough for me to pull my left hand free.

In moments, my right hand is liberated, and my ankles follow. I slide carefully across to Scully, eager to keep my left foot from excess movement.

“Hold on, Scully.” I reach behind her, unbuckling the restraints on her wrists, and when they’re loosened, she rises and unbuckles her own ankles. We sit there, massaging the sore skin and muscles, trying to figure out how to depart this vehicle.

“Scully, look and see what’s in that sack by the wall.” She moves to it quickly, and pulls out my belt and shoes, her shoes and hose, my socks and tie, our wallets and our empty holsters. No weapons, no badges, no cell phones. We don the rest of our garments, all but my left shoe. It won’t fit for weeks. I manage to drag the sock over my blackened, swollen foot, and although the contact burns like hell, at least I’m partially protected from lacerations.

Scully turns her attention to what should be the handles on the inside of the van doors. The gaping pit of metal has been welded. No way to pick ourselves out. The wall, we discover, is solid sheet plywood, carpeted in the same sickly shade of rust as the rest of the cargo area.

He must have been doing this for a long time – that carpet is pure 1970s.

“Try the weatherstripping around the windows,” I suggest. Her face contorts as she attempts to pull the black rubber strip away from the body of the van wall. Her mouth is smooshed over to one side with the effort. I snort. She’s beautiful like that.

Uh-oh. “Either help or shut the hell up, Mulder.” Ouch. All right, I deserved that.

I rise to my feet, well, foot, and push my fingers into the edge of the rubber stripping, pulling and prying it, to no avail. I reach for my wallet, and remove my American Express card, as Scully stops her activity and looks on. I slip the card under the rubber and use the stiff plastic as leverage to pull the cut end away from the wall. As soon as I pry it free, Scully has grabbed it, and is pulling on it. She manages to remove about two inches of the seal, and I take over, handing her the credit card, wrenching the rubber from around the window. The effort proves too much for my precarious balance, though, and I nearly fall, but Scully is behind me, and helps me to maintain my balance. I pull the remainder of the weatherstripping free, and gently tap the domed glass bubble, carefully slipping it inside through the opening.

Scully places the window on the carpeted floor, and when she returns her face to mine, she’s smiling. “Don’t leave home…” she manages to get out, handing me my credit card, before she dissolves into quiet chuckles. She is magnificent. I wish I knew what I did to deserve her I’d make a point of putting it in the number one spot on my To-Do list every day for the rest of my life.

Time to get the hell out of here.

The window is pretty high on the wall of the van, and for me, the drop will be treacherous, but if this guy is heading where I think he’s heading, personally I’d rather endure the shock of another blow to my foot.

Scully is looking out at the nearly stopped traffic, and sighs. “Good, we’re hardly moving. We’re going to have to get out of here very quickly. If he sees one of us in his side-view mirror, he may do something rash. It needs to be me, then you, without a pause. I’ll catch you as well as I can, and I’ll flag down a car in another lane.”

“Without our FBI creds?”

“We’ll figure something out. C’mon, McGuyver.”

I cup my hands together, and when she slips her foot into the little sling, I lift her up until she’s even with the window. “On three,” she says.

“One,” she mutters.

“Two,” I respond.

“Three…” She pulls herself out the narrow window, and lands, hands first, on the ground. I pull myself out the window immediately after her, trying desperately to ignore the pounding pain in my left foot as I use it for leverage. I slip out the window – a very snug fit – and end up in a bad position. Scully has my hands, but my feet are stuck inside the van. The pain is excruciating. I bite down against it and wriggle my feet free. We both land, flat on the ground, as the van begins to move again.

Some car horns blare, and rising to our feet, such as they are, we slip – well she slips, I hop badly – behind the van, to keep him from seeing the results of our escape. Scully immediately begins to flag down cars.

The first two refuse to even acknowledge our presence, and without badges or guns, we’re pretty much at the mercy of whoever will help. Who said Midwesterners are a friendly lot?

Finally, a silver station wagon stops, and Scully runs to the driver’s side window. “Thank you so much, we’re federal agents. We need to get in touch with the police and follow that maroon van ahead of you. Will you help us, please?”

The woman behind the wheel looks at Scully and at me, hobbling over to her, and back at Scully. “You’re hurt,” she says.

“We were kidnapped. I don’t think the driver knows we got away. Please, we need to get out of traffic right now.”

The driver takes a deep breath and flicks a switch near the handle of her door. “Get in.” Scully opens the rear door, literally leaps in, and climbs into the front passenger seat. I slide in after hear, settling down next to the infant carrier belted into the rear passenger seat. I close the door, and the car begins to move, slowly, to catch up with the stopped mass of automobiles a few carlengths ahead of us.

She was very brave to let two strangers into this car, especially considering the presence of what looks like a very young baby. Scully speaks up again.

“Thank you so much. I am Special Agent Dana Scully, I’m with the FBI.

This is my partner, Special Agent Fox Mulder. We need to get in touch with the authorities, but we can’t lose sight of that van. Do you have a cellular phone?”

The woman nods tentatively, reaches into her purse, and hands Scully the telephone. Scully punches a series of buttons, and while she’s waiting for the line to pick up, she tells our driver, “Don’t worry – the Bureau will pay for the calls, and will amply compensate you for your inconvenience. You have no idea how gratef – – Yes, this is Special Agent Dana Scully of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Please patch me through to the Chicago Field Office Emergency Services department.”

Scully waits for just a moment, and continues. “Yes, this is Special Agent Dana Scully of the DC office. My partner and I have just escaped from a dangerous criminal and we are currently in pursuit. We need immediate backup. We are…” Scully looks over at the driver. “Where are we?”

The driver responds, “We’re near Northbrook, on the Edens expressway, southbound, south of Willow Road.” Scully repeats the information into the telephone, and adds, “No, he’s not aware that we’ve escaped. He is driving a maroon Econoline van, with one missing window on the passenger side. There are no plates, but there is a temporary registration tag in the back window. I can’t read the number.” Pause. “Oh. All right. Yes, we’re in a silver Saturn station wagon, license plate number…” She barely has time to raise her eyebrows this time. The driver says loudly enough to be heard over the cell phone, “Dolly Eleven”. Scully smiles.

Scully is still conversing with the Emergency Services operator, as I make some conversation with the driver. “We’re very sorry to take you away from what you were doing, but you have the gratitude of the U.S.

government.”

She laughs tensely, and looks at me in the rear view mirror. “You still haven’t shown me any identification, you know.”

I smile and laugh. “If the only things taken from us had been our weapons and badges, we’d be in much better shape than we are now.”

“I noticed. Nice limp. You need to get to a hospital.”

“You’re right, but it’s more important that we apprehend the individual in that van first.” Oh shit. Oh, FUCK. “Scully!”

The van is moving off to the side of the road, about to take the Skokie Road exit.

We are hedged in on all sides and can’t move. We couldn’t pursue that van if we wanted to, which we do – very much.

“Shit. Oh, sorry. The van has just taken the southbound exit on to Skokie Road. No, we’re wedged in here, we can’t get out to pursue. Yes, please hurry. The perp is a multiple kidnapper and murderer. Yes, we’re injured, but not seriousl…yes we will. Thank you.” She hangs up.

“They’re on their way.” She turns to the driver, “He said there’s a hospital on Golf Road, just southeast of here, Rush Presbyterian. Could we ask you to please – “

The driver smiles and interrupts her. “No problem. I’m sorry we couldn’t go after the guy. I’ve always kind of wanted to do one of those high-speed chases you see in the movies. But with Marianne back there, I’m glad it didn’t come down to it.”

“So are we,” I say, relieved she and her baby are safe, but cursing the possible escape of our captor. Scully and I meet eyes for a moment, breathe deeply, and settle back into our seats for the drive to the hospital.

*****

They put us in two separate examination areas in the ER, and I suppose I should be glad of it. When the staff had been advised that Mulder and I had been kidnapped and assaulted, they began the inevitable questionnaire. If Mulder had been within earshot of their question about my need for a rape kit, I knew he would have become hysterical.

I politely declined, and indicated my only physical injuries were to my back, wrists and ankles. There were also some minor injuries to my hands, but they were mostly just grazes and scrapes from the fall out of the van window.

The head nurse and Chicago field agent assigned to me continue to ask various and sundry questions, which I mostly ignore. I was restrained and lashed. That is all they are getting from me. Then an unforeseen question arises.

“How do you know you weren’t sexually assaulted when you were unconscious?”

I must admit that question is making me think. I suppose it’s possible that the Therapist did something distasteful to me while I was under the second time. I’d better come clean and make my intentions clear.

“All right, you have my consent to perform the tests. You will no doubt find evidence of recent sexual activity. The semen and saliva tests will undoubtedly identify Agent Mulder as the…donor. But I want to make it clear that although we were both forced, under duress, to commit this…activity…we both did so willingly. Do you understand this? It was not rape. You will find evidence of sexual activity with my partner, Agent Mulder. But I repeat, it was not rape. I am only telling you this because I suppose it is possible that our captor might have taken some liberties with me after he administered the anesthetic. I was already sore, so I might not have been able to determine the difference between the aftereffects of one sexual act or two.”

I want to protect Mulder from this, because his questioning will undoubtedly escalate now that I have agreed to the tests. But I must do this – who knows what kind of virulence that raving psychopath is carrying? It’s possible, and it’s not a risk I’m willing to live with. I know this will make things harder on Mulder, but I’ll stand by him every moment. No one will accuse him of anything untoward if I have anything to say about it.

I guess this closes the “Innocence Lost” chapter of my life. After abduction, egg harvesting, chip implantation, near-immolation, near-lobotomizing, acidic near-dissolution, the near-removal of my heart, and assorted gunshot wounds, I can add the indignity of a rape kit.

I’m suddenly very concerned about Mulder.

*****

Another Agent has entered my examination room, and the second round of questions has begun. And they’ve gone from bad to awful.

“Did you engage in sexual activity with Agent Scully? Did she give you her consent to engage in sexual activity with her? What precisely did she say that indicated her willingness to proceed?”

Oh, shit. This could have arisen from only one event: She requested a rape kit. They wouldn’t use it against her will, which means she consented.

Doesn’t she understand what this means? That the implication is that I took her by force?

Jesus fucking Christ, I did take her by force. Finally she’s lucid enough to realize what I did. And I have no defense. She didn’t say “yes”, she didn’t give her consent. If I’m lucky, they’ll fire me and put me away for a good long time. I can’t bear the thought of her in that other room, poked and prodded, humiliated for no other reason than to collect unnecessary forensic evidence. I could just confess and make them stop the tests.

But her words in the car, just before we arrived at the hospital, ring in my ears again. “What happened in there is no one’s business but our own, Mulder. If they ask, it was duress. Remember that. Duress.”

And I’m the biggest chickenshit in the entire fucking universe because that’s all I say, that’s the only answer I give to their questions. “It was duress. He was threatening to kill us. We both agreed to do what we had to. It was duress.”

I am the worst kind of scum. The cowardly kind.

And things don’t improve upon our return to Washington. Scully made one single attempt at conversation on the plane, but really, what was there to say?

“Mulder, I need you to know that I requested a rape kit at the hospital.”

“I know you did. And I understand. It was the right thing to do.”

She was quiet for the entire trip home, and I don’t blame her. What else could she possibly have to say to me? I’m surprised she didn’t request that I be taken home in cuffs. Although, granted, it would have been hard for me to get around on crutches with the cuffs on.

Kersh is the first to speak with us, and naturally we are ushered into his office separately. Scully has gone in first, while I wait ignominiously on a chair outside his office door. A juvenile delinquent waiting for his meeting with the headmaster. Although no one in the office is aware of the full extent of our experience, I am still humiliated. His assistant must be able to see it on my face, what I did to Scully. I can’t hear through the walls, so at least we’re both spared the indignity of the accusations – genuine and undeniable – that must certainly be pinging through the air in the A.D.‘s office this very moment.

Finally, Scully leaves Kersh’s office, flushed and upset. She stops by me for a moment, and offers me one hand. I cannot look into her eyes, I cannot bear to see the loathing that must be there. She has had all night to think about what has happened, and she must want me dead. Or arrested. I take her hand as a parting gesture. There can be no question that this is goodbye. She squeezes my hand, but I cannot look up. I cannot stand to think of her disdain for me. I lower my head further.

“Agent Mulder, come in.” Kersh’s voice is level and even, betraying nothing. This does not help one bit. I turn my attention to the crutches, as I make the effort to rise and turn away from Scully, entering the A.D.‘s office, ready for the inevitable. I hear Scully’s voice catch in her throat, and listen to that single sound of despair as she leaves, reminding myself that I deserve it. I did this to her. I deserve every vengeful act of justice that is coming.

I always tried to think of the victims in the course of my work. I always thought I was here to protect the innocent and save lives. So when did I become this monster?

The Assistant Director motions me to sit and the interrogation begins.

*****

She is there when I hobble into the small conference room reserved for our use today, furious that I can’t storm in dramatically on these fucking crutches. I close the door and in three swinging strides, I am slumped in a chair, the irritating pieces of wood clattering to the floor. I collapse on to the conference table, furious and frustrated.

How could she fucking do that?

She is standing across the table from me. “Mulder?” She asks me, with that deep, soft, concerned voice. I want to be sick. “Mulder?”

I look up at her with genuine fury. “How could you fucking do that, Scully?”

She appears confused. I’ll make it clear. “How could you lie to Kersh like that? Why the fuck did you lie?”

“Mulder, what the hell are you talking about?” Oh, this is just fucking great. She’s Joan of fucking Arc.

“You can give up the whole martyr thing, Scully. It’s bad enough you lied to the A.D. about what happened, but now you’re lying to yourself.

Do you really think you deserve that little respect? Are you willing to live with that much indignity?”

“Mulder, you’re not making any sense. What the hell are you talking about?”

Cleopatra here, the Queen of Denial, will have to be taught the hard way. With short little monosyllabic words and possibly visual aids.

“Scully, you told him it was consensual. That we were under duress. That you gave me your consent. That we both did what we had to do in order to survive.”

“Of course I did.”

“You fucking liar.”

She looks appalled. Good. I can’t believe she was about to let me walk away from a justified sexual assault charge. “The Chicago field agents put me through a second round of questions in the hospital, Scully. You requested the rape kit. Why did you change your story when you were in with Kersh?”

“You…God…Mulder, you think I had the tests run because of you? I consented to the tests, you nitwit, because I had been naked and unconscious in the presence of our captor. I know nothing happened the first time – I would have felt it when I regained consciousness. But after our encounter – yours and mine – I was sore, and I might not have been able to tell if I’d been violated while I was unconscious. I was afraid of him, Mulder, not you. And I told those Chicago agents precisely that. Is that clear enough for you?”

“Yes,” I tell her, reluctant to let this go so easily. “But you told Kersh you said yes to me.”

“You think I lied to him?”

“You did lie to him. And the Therapist. And me.” Low blow, but true.

“We’ve been through this, Mulder. It was consensual. Neither of us wanted it to happen that way, but it did. No, you’re right, I didn’t say the word ‘yes’, but I did everything else physically possible to indicate my consent. I wanted it, I wanted you, you moron. And the sad truth is that I still do.”

I look at her with disgust. How can she think that little of herself?

“You’re kidding yourself, Scully. I saw your expression.”

“Oh, for God’s sake, are we back on that? I already explained that to you. I consented, we began – together, just the way we promised we would – and then you saw evidence of my physical discomfort, Mulder, NOT humiliation or despair. Discomfort. Pain. It was painful at first, okay?”

I just look at her. I don’t know what to say.

“Think about the sheer spacial geometry of it for a moment, will you?

You are – you will have to pardon my indelicacy – hung like a Clydesdale, Mulder, and I am built on roughly the same scale as a Smurf.

This isn’t justification or self-delusion. It’s basic science – about getting a very large object into a very small opening.”

“I understand that, Scully. I do.” I’m becoming weary of this already. I was primed for arrest, charges pressed, something, and now that it hasn’t come, my energy is fleeing. She’s so used to defending me that even now, she’s trying to explain it away. I have to make her comprehend the extent of my crime. “But you don’t seem to understand – at the time, I was convinced you were angry and miserable that I’d taken you without consent. But instead of stopping and waiting for you, I just kept right on going. I thought I had violated you, but I didn’t stop. THAT’S the betrayal, Scully. That’s where the sexual assault occurred.” I say it once more for emphasis. “I thought you didn’t want it, but I kept right on fucking you anyway.”

“Oh, God, Mulder, stop this. You didn’t do anything wrong. I wanted you.

Haven’t you figured it out yet? What the absolute clinching proof was of my willingness to proceed? You knew it then, even if it didn’t register completely in your mind. But you knew it.”

I look at her blankly.

She smiles softly and shakes her head. “Think about it for a minute, Mulder. When you finally managed the initial penetration, what did I feel like?”

That’s an unfair question. She felt perfect. “Good. Wonderful.”

“Get specific.”

I look at her with undisguised confusion.

“Tell me specifically how it felt to be inside me.”

“I can’t do this, Scully.”

“Well try. What did I feel like?”

For a moment, I’m back in that moment, thrilled, aroused, and utterly happy. “Warm, no, hot. Tight. Slippery. Perfect.” Oh god, I want her again. I think I’m going to be sick.

She is looking at me, smiling again, more broadly. “So if I didn’t want it, Mulder, if I didn’t want YOU, how exactly did I get so goshdarned slippery?”

That’s actually a good question. But I must counter her if she’s to recover any of her dignity. “Well maybe it’s because you’d just had an orgasm mere moments before.”

Her smile fades and her face collapses, taking on the hard edges of rage. Finally. “You’re going to do everything in your power to argue this away, aren’t you, you self-pitying ignoramus? ‘No, Scully, this wasn’t about desire, or -gasp-love, it was about my mindless, beastlike animal needs.’ What a pile of horseshit. And here I sit, alone on that mile-high pedestal again. Here’s a news flash for you: I, Dana Scully, am not so mighty, and you, Fox Mulder, are not so lowly. Is there any way to get that into that thick skull of yours?”

I absorb all she says, but the truth is, I can’t deny what I thought I was doing. “Perception is everything, Scully. I may not have taken you by force, but I thought I had. And refusing to stop when I thought I’d done this awful thing was just as bad as doing the awful thing itself.

The Catholic church, your church, holds the same view on sin.”

“You don’t believe in sin, Mulder. If you did, your video cabinet would be a whole lot emptier.”

“Don’t try to change the subject, Scully. I sure as hell do believe in sin. What I did to you qualifies in the extreme. Why can’t you understand that? Why can’t you see that I can’t trust myself with you again? I violated you, as surely as if I’d actually abducted and assaulted you myself, because I believed that’s what I was doing.”

Her expression intensifies, her breathing accelerates, and she looks like she is about to literally explode. But instead of raging at me further, she simply picks up her bag and storms out of the conference room, her heavy high heels clacking against the floor tiles.

When she is gone, I begin my report in earnest. I have accepted, reluctantly, that Scully will refuse to see my actions as they were. So my report is honest but shallow. Fuck Kersh if he wants to know my motivation or my impression of Scully’s intentions.

He’ll get the facts from me and no more. I don’t have the energy anymore to push this situation to a resolution. And truthfully, I’m a little relieved as well. I wasn’t looking forward to either dismissal or prison, no matter how much I might deserve both.

My thoughts wander to the one unresolved question from our misadventure: Our intended destination in that van. The one part of this neither of us have discussed is what that Option Number Three involved, but based on the Therapist’s description of our handling, and our “future”, it seems increasingly clear that his intentions involved the slave trade. Which means the Bureau mucky-mucks were right. Sort of.

He was going to sell us off as sex slaves. The very concept makes me wince.

Hey, way to be selective in my perversions! I’ll sexually assault my partner, but consider slavery beneath me? I am such a fucking freak.

I begin one sentence of my report with “Therapist insisted that…”, but my right thumb becomes overeager and inserts a space where it doesn’t belong. I read the new phrase and freeze.

This is why I can’t look at her. This is how I feel. This is what I am.

And I don’t know what to do to restore our trust and comfort, or if I should even try. She will defend me until her last breath, but I was there, I know what happened. It’s right there on my computer screen. One little space transforms me.

It was to have read, “Therapist”.

It now reads, “The rapist.”

*****

I can’t believe he blew me off. It was bad enough to be there, all pretty-boy suited up and ready for business, hiding from the cameras and hoping to complete the transaction with as little hoopla as possible.

But I went there for nothing. I’m really fucking pissed off.

I hope it didn’t go down badly. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.

I check my e-mail, hoping that Mr. Sicko has some news for me. Good news. I didn’t go through all this just so I can find out he panicked and killed them.

Good, a message from him.

To:

From:

Date: June 19, 1999

Subject: My Humblest Apologies

My dear friend,

I regret to inform you that my guests are no longer in my presence. They managed to evade me en route from our last meeting to the auction house.

They are likely already home by now. I am saddened to have lost them, but especially pleased to have documented their shared blossoming so well. I have already sent on a copy of the tape to you, for your enjoyment. I am truly regretful you were unable to acquire them personally. I know you would have treated them with absolute tenderness and loving care. You would have been the only buyer to whom I would have offered my consent. Scant comfort, I understand, but accept it as the compliment I intend it to be.

If another couple such as they arrive on my doorstep, please be assured that I will inform you personally. It seems truly unlikely I will ever meet their equal, but I will remain forever young in my hope for it. As always, your continued assistance and patronage is graciously and gratefully appreciated.

Do keep in touch.

Shit. Well, at least he didn’t kill them. But damn, it would have been perfect.

The intrepid pair, always so full of their own grandeur and virtue, stripped and shivering on the auction block, while sweaty, scary freaks bid for ownership. They’d stand there, their knees buckling in terror, and know that unless the Calvary was coming – which it wasn’t – they were going to end up as somebody’s property; slaves purchased and kept to do just one thing: perform on command in an endless live sex show until their owner either killed them or sold them off to another freak.

And there I’d come, spiffy in my perfectly cut FBI-boy suit, flashing a huge stash of cash, and an even larger smile, ready to take possession of them. And when they’d see my face, knowing I intended to own their naked slave asses…it would have been perfect. I wouldn’t have told them until later that I was only buying them to let them go. But they would have had to live with the knowledge that I had seen everything. I might have even admitted that I had engineered it all.

Of course, I wouldn’t have told them why. That’s my fucking business.

Doesn’t matter. I’ll have the tape soon, and if I can’t embarrass them privately, I might find another way to make their lives difficult.

Serves Mulder right for pummeling me every time he sees me.

I wonder how long it takes to make fifty copies of a ninety-minute tape?

*****

I am pacing.

I wasn’t aware of it until just a moment ago, when I slammed my foot, pointed toe first, into the leg of my coffee table. Ow, damn it.

I kick off my shoes, those stupid stratospheric heels, and begin to pace again. But it’s just not the same when I do it intentionally. It doesn’t release any of the pent-up energy I need it to.

Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it.

This is ridiculous.

I’m okay, and this is not denial. My back stings a little, but only when I sit back or lie on it. It really isn’t that bad.

And I’m not really upset about my meeting with Kersh. I told the truth, made it clear that my actions with Mulder during our ordeal were our business alone, and after a heated argument, managed to get him to understand that Mulder hadn’t done anything wrong. Really, I think, he did everything right. I enjoyed it thoroughly, and I told Mulder the truth about how I felt, so I have no regrets.

None.

Okay, one. That I left him in full-on Sulk Mode.

He’s doing it again. He metamorphosed, in the span of just a few minutes, from a sad man recalling a difficult circumstance to a regretful man blaming himself, and now – he’s a little whining child, terrified of having destroyed the love and respect of his protector because he was naughty.

I had to get out of that office at the first sign of his renewed self-flagellation, or I would have combusted. But by leaving, I gave him carte blanche to hate himself with renewed, vitriolic fervor.

I don’t get it. We were bound, imprisoned, and he was fine. Then things got good – mighty good, I’m inclined to say – and he began a swift spiral into self-loathing. I talked him down, and he was fine again fine enough to formulate an escape, thank you very much, but now there he is again, castigating himself for some imagined wrong.

Yes, Mulder. I’ve just had the most shattering orgasm of my life, I’m sitting literally ON your erect penis, with my arms around you, my eyes closed, and my face buried in your incredible naked skin, and I don’t want it. Right. What is your problem?

What the hell is it about me – don’t I deserve a normal man just once?

Oh, good, I’m pacing again.

All right, that wasn’t fair. I’m hardly normal myself. How normal could I be if that sick situation provided a means for my own arousal?

Get over it, Scully, it wasn’t the circumstances, it was the man. You have it bad for that sulking hulk, and if you’re ever going to arrive at even a trace of resolution to this conflict and tension, you’re going to have to be the one to draw him out of the pit of self-recrimination he’s buried himself in. In which he’s buried himself.

Oh for God’s sake, woman, you’re correcting your own grammar.

“AAAAaaaargh!”

Hm. That felt good. Think I’ll do it again.

I find a pair of comfortable old tennies, put them on, grab my keys and leave.

When I arrive at the conference room, he’s still there, hunched over his keyboard, tapping that goddamned pencil against the table again. He looks up when I open the door, but goes back to absently tapping when he sees it’s me.

Time to do it again. It will feel good.

I move to the table, pick up a pad of paper and scribble “No need for concern. Therapy session in progress. – D. Scully.” I tear the paper from the pad, tack the note to the outside of the door, close the door and lock it.

Oh, it will feel good. I approach him and wait for eye contact. Finally, begrudgingly, he grants it. Oh, I can feel it rising, here it comes, and it will be very, very cleansing.

“AAAAAAAaaaaaargh!”

I definitely have Mulder’s attention now, and really, I feel great. That was exceptionally liberating.

He is still looking at me, blank except for a little furrow of the brow, the one that indicates he’s confused.

Good. I am the Senior Agent in Charge of Kicking Fox Mulder’s Whining Ass.

“That’s IT, Mulder. Sulk time is over. Have your cookies and milk and get up off the mat, because it’s Story Time.”

He rises slowly, pulling himself up with his hands. “What?”

“If you’re going to act like a child, Mulder, I’ll prepare some suitable activities for you. I wasn’t exactly expecting a day in kindergarten, but if that’s the way it has to be, fine. Settle down for Story Time.”

He is still giving me the confused face. “Sit. Good boy.”

Obediently, he sits. Thankfully, his regression into childhood doesn’t preclude submission. “Scully, what the – “

I am still standing, I realize, with my balled-up fists pressed firmly against my hips, and my legs slightly apart. He’s looking at me in alarmed reverence, which isn’t surprising, inasmuch as my bearing creates an eerie resemblance to an angry superhero.

That’s no good. I need to calm down.

I loosen my posture, move to the table, lean on it and begin.

“Once upon a time,” I begin. It’s my turn for deflection and allegory.

The beginning of the tale elicits an amused expression on his face, so I continue, relieved that he will at least listen. Well, actually, I would continue to matter what.

“…there was a noble prince named Mulder. He was strong and brave and bright, and all the ladies at the palace swooned when he passed by, but he never understood why.”

He raises his eyebrows in an expression of patronizing disbelief. He’s all but saying, “Get real, Scully.”

“You see,” I continue, “Prince Mulder suffered from low self-esteem. He was convinced that none of the ladies of the palace would be genuinely interested in him, despite his strength and courage and intelligence, because he didn’t feel he was worthy of that kind of attention. It all began with his father, the King, who had been exceptionally unkind to him when the Prince was a child.

“The King was far more concerned with the business of ruling the land than loving and protecting his own son. And one day, when the King permitted one of his knights to kidnap the Prince’s beloved Fairy Godmother, the King – with great malevolence – blamed the Prince for allowing it to happen.

“The young Prince, who didn’t like himself much anyway, accepted all this guilt and shame upon himself because he was, as we’ve already noted, noble.

“But the problem was, over the years, as the Prince began to grow and mature, his self-image didn’t mature along with him. He remained convinced he was a terrible, awful person who would let down those he loved the most, someone who would inevitably hurt everyone who came near. And while he gladly took on the role of Protector of the Kingdom, slaying dragons and outwitting thieving trolls, he never realized that this work revealed his strength of spirit, dedication to justice, and depth of compassion. He was blind to his own heroic virtues.

“Now the Price was, as we’ve previously noted, strong and brave and bright, but he was also handsome. YES, and although all the ladies in the palace loved him merely for his beauty, there was one lady, a noble in the court, who saw past his beauty, and understood the complex heart of the Prince better than anyone else. She was his devoted friend, the palace doctor, Lady Scully.

“She listened to the tales the Prince would spin, and if they reflected his pain she would comfort him, and if they reflected his humor, she would laugh with him. She tended his wounds, chided him for his occasional bursts of immaturity, and eventually grew to love him – yes love him, for his dedication, integrity, sweetness, and also for his sorrow. And based on their years of warm, supportive friendship, the Prince had come to love her as well. Their dedication and commitment to each other grew with each day, but because they respected their friendship so much, they hid their feelings from each other; she to protect her professionalism, and he to protect her from his sad, long-broken heart.

“But one day the Prince and the palace doctor were kidnapped by an evil sorcerer and placed in a cold, dark dungeon. The sorcerer placed a spell on them that compelled them to tell the truth to each other, and although it was difficult, they confessed their deep love for each other. While they would have preferred to find a happier way to do it, they gave each other the strength to accept the admissions as truth. And due to the combined cunning and strength of the Prince and the doctor, they were able to escape the evil sorcerer and return to the palace happy and united.

“But one day the noble Prince began to hate himself again. He felt he had defiled his dear friend for expressing his love in such a tainted place. He sank into a pit of despair and self-loathing.

“Now,” I finish, really on a roll I think, “what do you think the doctor, Lady Scully, did in response to that?”

Silence. I raise my eyebrows to indicate a repetition of the question.

Mulder responds in a low, even voice, “She pulled out her crossbow and shot him between the eyes for being such a stupid asshole?”

He’s getting it.

“Well, that was one alternative, of course. She hated to see him torment himself that way, especially when he hadn’t done anything wrong. So what she actually did was she took him aside and told him a long-winded allegorical fairy tale to help him to identify with the baggage-laden prince who was actually an exceptionally fine human being.”

That was a lot of work, but when he closes his eyes, sighs in relief, and a slow ironic smile creeps across his lips, I realize the effort was worth it. I got through. I approach him, and I am rewarded with his open arms. I draws me to him, burying his face in my side, holding me firmly around my waist.

The lower edges of some of the lash wounds hurt like hell under his firm grasp, but part of me thinks that acknowledging it would remind him of our ordeal, and I don’t want to have to go through all this twice in one day. Then the sane portion of me speaks up. Honesty is better.

“Mulder, could you lower your hands about two inches?”

He looks up at me.

“Ow,” I offer as an explanation.

He smiles, chuckles softly, apologizing, and lowers his hands. Right back atcha, buddy. I’m not used to the honesty either.

We’ll just have to do our best to acclimate to the new rules.

Fortunately, there are only two: Honesty and unity. I can live with that.

*****

This has been one hell of a week.

I’ve spent at least half my time with the Deputy Director, and the other half with the Chicago field office. Which means that every moment of the last five days has been dedicated to Mulder and Scully’s most recent escapade, which is unusual in that they don’t report to me anymore.

When I saw Mulder hobbling along on crutches, I knew that something was amiss, but it wasn’t until a staff meeting later in the day with Deputy Director Harrison and the other A.D.s that I learned the source of his injuries, and by extension, Agent Scully’s.

Now Alvin Kersh is pretty damn good at his job, I’ll say that for him.

He can be a narrow-minded, over-focused, self-obsessed son of a bitch, but I always try to keep in mind that he’s had a hard road to travel professionally. Only a woman, I think, has a more challenging climb to the position of Assistant Director than an African American man without a law degree. He pushes twice as hard to prove he deserves his position, and although I don’t appreciate the effect that has on his agents, I do understand how his attitude would end up garnering more credibility than mine.

But when I heard him chuckling – actually chuckling – about the treatment agents Mulder and Scully received at the hands of a wanted murderer, I lost my cool.

“Alvin,” I spat, “it wasn’t a voluntary indiscretion in a cheap motel.

They were assaulted.”

Which of course brought the formerly jovial conversation to a crashing halt.

Fortunately our D.D. stepped in. Mulder may be a joke to these people, but Dana Scully is beyond reproach, and I would have defended her at nearly any cost. Harrison cleverly caught my eye, mouthed the word, “Later,” and I understood. Then the meeting began.

Two hours later I remained behind and made clear my concern that the two agents might not be represented in the most flattering light by their current Assistant Director. An Assistant Director, I hastened to add, who happened to find it comical that two of our most intuitive and successful investigators were kidnapped, drugged, restrained, and forced to endure both battery and aggravated sexual assault.

I expected resistance, but Harrison surprised me by offering to involve me in every step of the debriefing and evaluation of the case reports, based – he said – on my lengthy professional association with both agents.

I was relieved to know that Mulder and Scully would be represented more fairly, but I’ve never participated in a case review involving the sexual assault of an agent, so I’ve been surprised by how much of my time and energy it’s consumed.

I’ve spent all week explaining and re-explaining to the DD that duress from an outside force meant that BOTH of them were violated, not just Scully. The charges against the perp were clear, and combined with the charges from prior cases – including the related Detroit cases Mulder discovered – they vindicate both agents without question: kidnapping, torture, aggravated sexual assault, sale into involuntary servitude , enticement into slavery, torture, and homicide.

And of course since the events took place under duress, it didn’t constitute a breach of our ‘unwritten’ protocol regarding fraternization between mixed-gender partners. Of course that last issue wouldn’t have been actionable anyway, but Kersh still had to hammer away at it. Some days I’m ashamed to be a bureaucrat.

For a brief instant, I understood Kersh’s perspective – in the abstract, if you cared nothing for these people, it could be seen as amusing. I mean, why couldn’t they have just done it like every other pair of male/female partners who get it on? They could have just rented a room and done the deed. No repercussions. But of course they couldn’t do that like normal people. No, they had to be abducted and bound and assaulted first. They’re nothing if not colorful.

Fortunately I happen to have a conscience, and would never dream of expressing such thoughts to my peers.

This entire experience has been exhausting, but it’s finally over, so I feel absolutely no remorse coming in an hour later than normal this morning. My stride is brisk but relaxed. I finally got some sleep last night.

But there is something odd going on here. Conversation ceases as I pass individual work areas, which isn’t an entirely new experience for me that happens when you’re the boss – but what’s left behind isn’t even the normal low-voiced chatter that usually remains. What’s left now is thick, absolute silence. I don’t even want to know what this portends.

I reach my office, and Kimberly hands me my coffee cup and a padded envelope. She says that one is black, and the other was on her desk when she arrived. I make a fair assumption of which description applies to which object.

When I’ve relaxed into my chair, my jacket already off and hanging casually on the back of the office door, I open the envelope, which is addressed simply, “Assistant Director Walter Skinner”. It’s a videotape.

The label reads,

The X-Rated Files
(Assistant) Director’s Cut, 90 min.
Starring Special Agent Spooky “The Schlong” Mulder
and Special Agent Dana “The Natural” Scully
This feature contains violence and graphic sexual content.
Viewer discretion is advised.

It’s going to be a long, long day.

–-

End.

Notes: I won’t apologize for being a sick puppy. These two little campers were messed up long before I came along. But if you want to berate me, feel free.

I’ll gladly rant right on back atcha. And while I’m at it, I might as well tease: There MAY be a part two. Oh, the Revenge of Alex will be swift and snarky. (Can you say “Pop Up Video”? Good. I knew you could.)

Acknowledgements: The infinitely cool Sarah Ellen Parsons was my single ray of pure, vibrant light in the midst of writing this minisaga. Her clear head, ear for dialogue, and absolute dedication to faithful characterization helped me to keep Mulder and Scully on track. A sick, twisted, bent little track, granted.

This thing languished on my hard drive for nearly two years because it was…just…missing something. And it would still be there if it hadn’t been for her constant stalks and the new life she pumped into it with her discovery of the Mann Act.

Punk, although clearly irked by the smut, offered some exceptionally valuable suggestions regarding motivation and timeline. I promise I won’t tell anybody that you wrote smut in your beta – DANG! – sorry, guess the feline is out of the idiomatic sack. Regardless, you are still officially Da Bomb.

JET also stalked, so thanks for being the other half of the two-pronged poking device.

Round Two beta Gods: Sarah Ellen, JET, JHJ Armstrong, and M. Sebasky. Wowee, lookit that lineup, boys and girls. This is some SERIOUS BETA.

Special thanks to Thrakkerzog and the Mayor of Sunnydale (Ben Edlund and Joss Whedon, respectively) for yielding up the delectable morsel known as the Therapist.

And extra-special thanks to my Magnificent Other, whose selflessness <g> in offering up his body for “research”, helped me to understand both the physiology of the male orgasm and the emotional ramifications of being propositioned in an adult book store. You rock my world, Lionheart.

E-Mail me:

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