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The moment she closes her eyes at night, she is not blessed with a dreamless sleep and instead sees his face.

There’s a pair of scissors, the lathery, floral aroma of shampoo. The metallic taste of blood underneath the dirty rag around her mouth and a flash, like the jittery flicker of sliced-up film, of the devil’s twisted horns. Memories and imagined continuations of these memories are crudely stitched up together into one delirious nightmare, one that has plagued her since the night she almost died alone in a big abandoned house at the hands of a serial killer with a hair fetish. She believes this is the closest she has ever come face to face with the Devil himself.

She quickly dials his number - she has it memorized by heart, a numeric imprint on her brain - and waits for the sound of his low breathing. Anticipates it. Needs it. “Hello?” he mumbles sleepily through the line.

“It’s me,” she whispers hoarsely.

A second of silence. “Did you have the nightmare again?”

She licks her bottom lip; a nervous habit from childhood. “Yes.” Then she sniffles, one arm tightening around her abdomen, and her breathing grows shallow and rapid. She finally finds the courage to crumble slowly before him.

“It’s okay,” he soothes, and his voice alone blankets her in a cocoon of warmth. “I got you. Do you want me to come over?”

She thinks about it for a moment. She’s thought about it before. “No,” she responds. The answer is always no.

In the weeks following her return, there’s been an emptiness that lingers in her insides. Like something is missing, or something has been mysteriously cut out of her. She can’t quite explain it. But she does wonder what happened to her in the blank slate between the moment Duane Barry dragged her bleeding and bruised body from the comfort of her own home and her near-death experience in the hospital. The fact that she doesn’t know terrifies her beyond measure.

She wakes up one Sunday night in a cold sweat, her palms clammy and her heart thrumming wildly against her chest. One hand glides smoothly along the fluid sheen of silk and it’s then that she realizes that she’s still in her bathroom robe. As her eyes slowly adjust to its surroundings it becomes glaringly apparent that the light in the bathroom is still on; she’d tried to take a bath earlier, hoping that she could confront the cause of this weight that has been holding her down for days. But her chest had constricted at the sight of the soapy water and she’d wandered back to her bed, presumably falling asleep not long after. The water must be flat and sudless by now.

Donnie Pfaster invades her mind like he’d tried to invade her body, claiming her as both object of his sick sexual desires and another female victim on his rapidly growing record. The very thought of him feels like a violation in itself, a mental rape that lacerates her flesh like thorns and strangles her insides like vines. Even though the son of a bitch is locked up elsewhere she still can’t get him out; the stench of his ordinary sweater and his scaly, slimy hands is still all over her. She desperately tries to scrub the stains clean, but they won’t fade. She’s confused and startled and cold and she’ll go fucking insane if she is left alone with her thoughts for a moment longer.

Her body is hers, she reminds herself. Hers. She won’t let some dirty man brand her; and yet she feels encroached on, invaded, desecrated. She’s had strange lizard men over a hundred years old crash unexpectedly into her bathroom and pin her to the cool hard tiles, shove her shirt up, expose her stomach to the evening air. In the bathroom. God, why did all bad things occur in bathrooms? The place where you were the most secluded and yet the most vulnerable. Marion Crane had been stabbed to death in a motel shower by a two-faced psychopath. In the bathroom. Blood staining the porcelain, the clean-cut marble. Blood that could have been hers had she gotten into the bathtub.

Her head falls back onto her pillow, and her hand drops next to it, brushing against the moonlight-drowned metal of the headboard. A strange, unprecendented sensation washes over her like a transcendent wave. She imagines herself tied to those same bars, marked, branded, but in a way that brings her immense pleasure, a pleasure that she dictates and submits to all at once. There’s a small twinge in her clit that blossoms as her mind begins to wander. The seed is planted in her brain and it quickly flowers and tumefies into something too powerful to resist. She thinks about phoning up an escort agency; maybe, she jokes to herself, she’ll call Mulder and see what he can turn up-

Then it hits her, although the idea scares her at first. Mulder. He knows her, she thinks, more than any other man - any other person - she’s ever known. She could probably hire a male escort over the phone and he’d know a million ways to make her feel good but he wouldn’t know her history. He wouldn’t understand her pain and tribulations, both specific and great. He wasn’t there to hold her after she’d barely made it out of Pfaster’s bathroom alive. It would be like performing a kind of surgery on herself, stitching the parts of her back together with the precision she needs but not the passion she wants. She needs somebody whom she has bared her entire soul to, even if she’s never bared her body to him before, except for that one rainy evening in Oregon. It’s a stupid idea, it’s a dangerous idea. But she’s putting on her coat and quietly heading out of her darkened apartment in a daze, still wearing her silk bathroom robe, and it’s too late to back out now.

He answers the door, surprised to see her there; although, in her defence, him turning up at her apartment in the middle of the night isn’t exactly a rare occurrence. He’s still wearing his work clothes from today (he must have fallen asleep while poring over files from the basement) and his hair is tousled from having just woken up; she can just make out the faint outline of his chest and abdomen through the thin cotton of his dress shirt.

“Hey,” he intones softly. “Is everything alright?” When he sees that her bottom lip is quivering and her eyes are beginning to swim with tears - a glassy ocean that mirrors his own concerned face - he shakes his head and brings out an arm to pull her into his apartment.

They sit on the couch side by side, which for once isn’t decked with blankets; he’s not sleeping on the couch tonight. There’s something intangibly electric in the air between them, like wires pulled taut, intertwining the fundamental essences of their souls. She tells him she had the nightmare again, same as always, but it feels different telling him in person. It’s always the same, Mulder. He’s still there, in my head. 

He’s listening to her with warm, wistful hazel eyes, one arm laid along the edge of the couch behind her; understanding, accommodating. “Do you want to sleep here tonight?” he offers. “I’ll move to the couch and you can use my bed.”

She stares down at the floor, wringing her hands. “No,” she says. “I’d rather not sleep.”

He softens with sympathy. “Okay. You wanna, uh, talk about it?”

She doesn’t answer this. “There’s something I have to ask- I mean, I want you to do something for me.”

He surveys her face, puzzled. “Sure. Anything.”

It’s the anything that does it for her. There’s an edge of sadness and vulnerability to the word, which makes her feel all the more guilty when she takes a deep breath and blurts out the forbidden: “I want you to take me, Mulder.”

There’s bewilderment written all over his face. “What?”

She feels herself shrink and wilter in the glare of his presence. What on earth has she gotten herself into? Breathe, Dana. You’re not asking for much, except everything. But she soldiers on, because under the building stress and lust she no longer has the capacity to think straight enough to turn this blazing vehicle around. “I want you to take me to your bedroom, and then I need you to take me. Please. I need this. I need you.” She reaches for the loose tie around his neck, runs a thumb along its cotton stripes, and he begins to understand.

He’s searching her eyes for any grain of doubt, but once he’s seemed to realize that she’s resolute about this after all his hand trails down towards the curve of her shoulder. His large and heavy palm warms the silk it touches, like caramel and oak dappled by sunlight. “Alright,” he whispers. “Come with me.”

They’re in the doorway of his bedroom, his man cave, the tucked-away corner of his private life. The room is dim, lit only by a single lamp on the nightstand cluttered with newspaper clippings and leather bound volumes. She thinks that it’s better that she came to him and not the other way round; if they do it in his bed and not hers, she can almost forget it ever happened in the weeks to come. His bed will simply be a ghost of a memory; her bed is her personal haven and her keeper of secrets, thoroughly woven with her own dreams and memories, both good and bad, both carnal and cerebral; the scent of his sex would stick to her sheets for all eternity. He’d agreed to do this for her, on one condition: should something happen during that time, if she felt they were crossing a boundary, she’d utter one word: Oregon. The place where they’d first grown closer. The first time she’d truly felt safe with him.

They turn to face each other, and his hand, initially holding hers, gradually swings her wrist towards the other before squeezing them together and bringing them to his chest, dragging her forward and making her heart race. “You’re mine now,” he rasps to her in a low, harsh voice that sends a new surge of tremors down her spine. “Understand?”

When she doesn’t respond, he tilts her chin upward so that she’s looking directly at him. Then he leans down and his lips meet hers - taking in her bottom lip and then barely skimming over her mouth as he breathes in her air - and of course he knows how to use his tongue like that because he’s spent his whole life shucking sunflower seeds in his mouth like it’s as effortless as breathing. He’s bringing his fingers towards her lips - her rosy, needy lips - and parting them, letting them slide right in. Her eyes flutter closed and she breathily moans around his fingers. He possessively tucks away the hairs on her brow as she sucks his tanned, calloused flesh, scarred and scorched by a lifetime of tragedy and familial desolation, but it feels like heaven on her tongue; god knows what it would be like to taste the rest of him.

His breath sifts through his clenched teeth and his face has darkened significantly; he is possessed by determination, sharpening his edges and clouding his eyes with a newly awakened lust. She’d seen lust in all its layers within him before: the lust for answers, the lust for meaning and truth. But not like this. This lust is cooler and steelier than anything she’s ever recognized in the past, with a touch of sweet reverence. It scares her but it also excites her.

He drags her towards the edge of the bed, sits down and guides her until her knees are perched along the outside of his thighs. Then he’s cupping her in his wide, spacious palm; there’s a fire brewing down there, searing and conflagrant. His groan arises as a guttural vibration in his throat. He retracts his hand slightly before extending two fingers and slowly slicking her already slicked folds, coaxing them open. She shivers from the sharp thrill it sparks through her abdomen.

He takes a single silk-clad nipple into his mouth, sucks it long and slow. She’s so goddamn full, with his fingers slowly entering her cunt, all of him inside and around her; her body is like putty in his hands, soft and malleable and melting at his touch. The heel of his hand presses insistently against her clit; he is entering her space, breaking through her walls by dismantling her broken, wretched fragments one by one. “I know you,” he husks. “I know what you want. You want me.” She arches in response against his lips, squeezes around his forceful fingers. “But you can’t have me. Not yet. Not until I have you first.”

He withdraws his hand from between her thighs, and her whole body feels empty without. “You have me,” she breathes through the narrow opening of her lips, both pleading and affirming. He narrows his eyes and lightly slaps her, her own come splattering across her cheek; a small sting of humiliation ripples through her, turns her pulpy and liquid. For a brief second, concern spills over his hardened features. Oregon? he asks her. She responds with a shake of her head and a smile.

His fingers slick through the mess on her cheek and roll back onto her tongue briefly, and she takes them in, tastes herself. Then he orders her to get off and flip over on the bed, and she does, hands tentatively perched on either side of her against the mattress. But then he’s clasping both wrists and forcing them onto her back; she hears the sound of his tie being tugged off from around the collar like the crack of a whip and whimpers softly as he binds her wrists together.

He sinks lower to the floor, starts peppering little kisses along the inside of one thigh and kneading the other while simultaneously rolling up the hem of her robe. Without thinking, she feebly jerks against him and he notices and administers a quick slap to her ass. Her breathing accelerates.

“Don’t move a muscle, baby,” he says in that smooth, dangerous voice of his. She flinches upon hearing the word baby issued from his lips; it’s strange to hear him call her something so intimate, so unlike the parameters of their relationship before all this started. “You’ll stay still and you’ll take everything. Is that clear?” She doesn’t answer, and he smacks her a second time, swifter and harder; she cries out under the impact.

“Yes,” she sobs into the sheets as the knot rubs against her wrists, a blistering reminder of who she belongs to tonight. “I promise.”

That night in Donnie Pfaster’s closet she’d felt trapped, like the darkness was closing in on her. She couldn’t see past the sliver of light that the door allowed her, couldn’t breathe underneath the gag that had been unceremoniously stuffed into her mouth. It was Duane Barry all over again: the tight enclosed space, the awful lingering feeling that she was no longer in control of her own body, that her own sense of autonomy was slipping fast away from her. To be suddenly regarded as a living meal or a sacrifice or a pretty body to be discarded like a doll whose plastic limbs have been torn apart is to die a slow and painful death.

She is often drawn to men - older, more powerful men - like a moth is drawn to a lamp, but in some ways they also terrify her. She fears the ways in which men can use their power against her, how they can hurt her and beat her and still walk away with little consequence. There it is, that one word of significance that makes all the difference between them and her: consequence. Their power is great and yet their burdens are light and few. The men who have attacked her, who have tried to rob her of what was hers in the past - Tooms, Barry, Pfaster - have come and gone, but she is left with the consequence of their violence. It weighs upon her shoulders, her conscience, her heart like a crown or a necklace of lead.

Tonight she chooses to let her body, still bruised and blemished after Pfaster, lie at the mercy of the man she trusts more than anybody else because she will no longer hide away from her pain. She will take the pain that she has and twist it into something of her own making, her own meaning.

The hem of her robe is rolled all the way up, and he shoves his fingers into her, pumps lazily. Sweat trickles down her forehead as she draws out a singular, high-pitched moan and he rains down another slap, the pain sizzling through her like an electric current. “God, yeah, that’s it,” he rumbles from above. “Keep moaning like that for me, baby.”

His fingers tentatively curl up inside her, and she curses, but it comes out as a strangled pant. He soothes the curve of her ass, raises his hand in the air; there’s another smack, then another, and her teeth sinks into the bundled mess of sheets, barely muffling her piercing shrieks. She feels her flesh ripple and sting in a way that inexplicably thrills her as he continues to fuck her quietly with his fingers.

Eventually they draw out of her just as she’s about to ascend into heaven, and she nearly weeps. But then she hears the jangle of his buckle and his zipper being shoved down, causing her breath to hitch. The enveloping, coffee-warm cloth of his skin emanates its heat over the sloping valley of her back, and he bends down to breathe in the musky scent of her neck. He is everywhere, everywhere.

Her head rests idly against the pillow now, arms raised above her and bound tight to the headboard. He’s hovering above her, his dress shirt unbuttoned and his cock still as thick and angry as ever. He undoes her silk robe and it opens and billows, revealing a new world; her soft snowy curves, her feathery red curls, her pink nipples pointing to the heavens. The noise he makes in the back of his throat turns her bones to jelly. His cock brushes against her thigh and she squirms desperately, but he’s pushing her legs apart, keeping them wide open with his knees. “Be good,” he warns her.

He hurriedly tears off his shirt, and he’s just as beautiful up there as he is down there, firm and chiseled like Michaelangelo’s David. Then, with his hands on her hips, he follows the curve of her breast, down the lifting flesh of her stomach. His large nose affectionately combs through the little triangle of curls, and that tongue of his, god fucking bless him, extends and strokes up and down the length of her swollen slit.

At the same time, his thumb reaches for her clit, now redder and plumper than a cherry and rubs it mercilessly. Her head shifts against the pillow, hair mussed and lips waveringly open, her moans ascending in pitch as his tongue laps, slow and deep, and his thumb circles, fast and rough, and her orgasm is once again rising and igniting like a flame in the depths, and she needs just a little more-

But then he’s cruelly pulling away, the tip of his nose and lips dripping with her, and she’s lying on the bed trembling and pulling weakly against her restraints. “Please,” she whines, the only word that registers in her mind at that moment. His eyes bore through her skull from the gap between her thighs, dour and unyielding and silent. Then he’s crawling up her little slender body and his mouth is on hers again, tongue glazing her lips with her own flavor. She feels the heat of him scorch her belly and her lips fall open, prompting him to sink his tongue deeper in. He’s cupping her chin, consuming her, taking everything from her and leaving a piece of him in return.

Never has she been handled by a man this relentlessly and yet so reverently. Whatever this thing that she feels for him is - she’s much too scared to name it, she’s always been scared to name it - it’s there, loud and palpable, in every blazing fibre of her being.

Eventually, she realizes that she cannot let this thing go unnamed any longer, because it has a name already, for better or worse.

I love you, she thinks as he’s thumbing her temple and nuzzling her jaw. I love you I love you I love you. He won’t love her in this way again. He’s doing this for her and only for her, to help her filter out all those lost hours of suffering and fitful nightmares. He doesn’t really love her in that way; he’s got too many demons on his mind and in his heart and he has no room in either for her. Hell, she isn’t even in the state of mind to be able to tell if she’s given this unspoken thing the right name or if the fucking is just that good.

And yet...and yet. The way the golden flecks spin and dance in his eyes like the peak of summer when he looks at her, the way his hands crowd her skin and the way he tastes her like she’s his own spring of holy water...sometimes she wonders if there is indeed any sort of deeper love behind this primitive act, this show with an audience of two. Perhaps, a voice whispers to her, cultivating that seed of hope in her heart despite the encircling fear. Nothing else. Just perhaps.

Meanwhile, the head of himself is beginning to nudge her tumescent folds, and this is it. She knows exactly what she wants in that moment. But then-

“Wait,” she tells him, then nods towards the nightstand. He immediately takes the hint and dives for the top drawer, pulling out a condom; he rips the packet open, rolls it out and over himself. He bends forward to lazily bless her collarbone with kisses; at the same time he rubs himself against her slit, his cock starting to glisten with her.

Then he’s sliding himself into her, agonizingly slow, and they both cry; she herself cries at how good and right it feels. His broad, sweat-speckled chest stretches over her as he begins to move inside her. The headboard thuds against the wall as he bites her bottom lip and swallows her sweet little moans whole, his hips feverish with movement and unravelling desire. She feels her legs instinctively wrap around him, pulling him closer, pulling him deeper in, and her forehead knocks against his as his entire face slackens with pure and utter bliss.

She is watching him come alive in ways different from the boyish excitement she sees all over him during every moment they’ve worked together. A part of her has craved this, craved him for as long as she can remember and now he’s inside her, plunging into her, his sturdy athlete’s body, his body, Mulder’s body, and she’s grinding her hips against him in return, and she’s close, so so close, when she thinks she hears it.

It’s a throaty, hollow breath of a whisper, barely there. But she sees his tongue flicking against the edge of his teeth and his lips funnelling to form a word beginning with l and then you. It comes out choked, but it’s there: I love you.

Her heart breaks then, for her mind is surely playing tricks on her. If she chooses to not believe it, it will be easier for her to accept that this will only be a one time thing and he will never love her in this way again. He’ll rearrange everything within her and around her, reconstruct the braided tissues of her aching soul, then shift all of their surroundings back to how they were before, leaving her still rearranged on the inside.

She comes like a rose at full bloom in the spring, sweet and full and rich, clenching around him, never wanting to let go. He buries his face into the crook of her shoulder and that’s when she knows he’s nearly there as well. She feels him flushing her insides, marking her, branding her, cleansing her, as he weeps and weeps, his normally robust figure quivering like the convulsive aftermath of a shock.

A few hours later, she leaves his bed, abandons him in his sex-induced slumber; her robe is tainted with sweat and come but she doesn’t care. She finds her coat draped over the couch and walks out of his apartment, at that point afraid to even look at him come six ‘o clock that morning.

He’ll forget it ever happened, and so will she. Business as usual. And yet she still aches. She hates how much it aches. 

He hears the refined click of her heels enter the basement that Monday morning with a plastic coffee cup in her hand, dressed in a crisp lavender blazer and smoothed out skirt and nylon stockings, and he leans against the desk, tries to hold it together. She’s all prim elegance and pursed lips and crystalline propriety; so beautiful and warm and full of life it hurts.

“You okay?” he ventures, but he swears his voice shakes a little.

A flicker of a smile. “Yeah. Of course.”

However, he has a hard time giving her even the briefest of glances from his current slideshow, knowing full well how she’d come undone before him last night.