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Closing the Distance by frogdoggie - Part 1

TITLE: Closing the Distance - Part 1
NAME: frogdoggie
E-MAIL:
CATEGORY: SRA
RATING: NC-17. M/SK. This story contains very explicit slash i.e. m/m sex. Also, some discussion of m/m rape. So, if you don’t like that type of thing - STOP NOW! Forewarned is forearmed. Proceed with caution.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Skinner deal with the aftermath of Mulder reading Skinner's mind in Biogenesis and Sixth Extinction. Missing a part of this story or just want to read more of my fic? Then surf here: http://www.squidge.org/3wstop  or here, on my mirror site at: http://adult.dencity.com/frogdoggie
FEEDBACK - YES PLEASE, AND THANK YOU SIR, CAN I HAVE ANOTHER? Comments, suggestions and healthy debate are always welcome. Flames? They only serve to warm my body and mind.
ARCHIVE: Sure. Anywhere - as long as my name and e-mail addy stay on it.
TIMESPAN/SPOILER WARNING: SR819. Avatar. Biogenesis, Sixth Extinction and Amor Fati. Actually...pretty much the whole series. ROFL.
KEYWORDS: story slash Skinner Mulder NC-17
DISCLAIMER: Fox Mulder, Walter Skinner, Dana Scully and all other X-Files characters belong to Chris Carter, Ten-Thirteen Productions and 20th Century FOX Broadcasting. No copyright infringement is intended and no profit is being made from their use.
This story is a response to a writer's challenge issued on the mskslash list. Enjoy, Tesa...this one's for you.

Thanks again to Beta Goddess Susan...wielder of the masterful pink highlighter.
Completed in December of 1999 and January of 2000.
Some author's notes at the end.


Closing the Distance

by frogdoggie

Friday, December 3, 1999. 7 AM. A beach house near Crossroads, Maine

Mulder would never have found this place if the Gunmen hadn't made one last ditch effort to trace that credit card record. Mulder's quarry had been careful up to a point...but then he'd used his American Express card and Frohike had him. As soon as Mulder got the news on Thursday he'd left the Hoover and driven North, non-stop. He'd arrived in Crossroads, just a whistle stop in the road, he had hoped, hot on the trail. He flashed his badge. Showed a photo. The liquor store owner ID'd him all right. Mulder didn't take that as a good sign. He had to consider that by using the card his quarry had known someone could trace him. So...he was hiding in plain sight...and Mulder wasn't sure that was a good sign either.

Mulder obtained directions to the quarry's little 'hidey-hole' but even with the directions and knowing the address this little chateau hadn't been easy to find. The property was pretty remote. Yeah...like Wuthering Heights remote. Like the man he was hunting thought he was a Daphne Du Maurier hero. Like he thought he was Heathcliffe. Then again...that was somehow ironically appropriate.

Anyway...the house was way out here on the coast of Maine...on a peninsula...right on the beach. Hell of a place to come in December, Mulder thought. Well...hell of a good place to come if you wanted solitude that was for sure. And maybe that was the point with this particular individual right at this juncture. So, if solitude was desired by this man....why was Mulder coming way out here to break into that solitude? Because he and Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner had unfinished business that was why. For better or worse, he was here and he was going to verify the truth with Skinner. He was going to hear the truth straight from the horse's mouth.

He hadn't had a chance after all. After days of mulling it over, of stewing in his own juices over what he knew...Mulder had been denied the chance to talk to Skinner because the AD had done something no one, least of all Mulder or Scully would have thought he'd do. He took vacation. More specifically - he took a leave of absence and disappeared. He put distance between himself and Mulder and Scully again and they were caught completely off guard when he did.

While Mulder, Scully guarding him like a watchdog, was convalescing from his unscheduled brain surgery, it became apparent that Skinner wasn't going to be assigned Diana Fowley's murder investigation. For a myriad of convoluted reasons from 'he was too close to the case as her direct supervisor', to fallout over his actions in the hospital over Mulder going missing, the case wasn't put under Skinner's jurisdiction. Instead, it was assigned to AD Kersh. It was obvious that none of those were the real reasons Kersh was getting the assignment. Diana's case was being shit-canned - buried with no solution or some hapless perp would be brought in as a fall guy for her murder. Either way, Skinner was out of the FBI end of it.

As soon as the assignment came down, Skinner applied for and was granted a leave of absence. He claimed a family emergency. Scully informed Mulder that the AD left immediately and gave his mother's home phone number and address as a contact. He had called in but it had been a week since Kim had heard from him. However, she didn't seem overly worried and neither did Scully. Their opinion was that if it was a family emergency the AD was probably well occupied and for once he wasn't letting the job rule his life while he dealt with his personal affairs.

Mulder, on the other hand, had a bad feeling about Skinner's disappearance but he kept mum about his own worries regarding what he knew. He couldn't tell Scully what he'd seen in Skinner's mind...not all of it at least, and not yet...not until he was sure what was going on. So, he'd decided to pursue Skinner on his own and elicited the Gunmen's help. Calling the AD's mother's home had been the first step and when a maid had informed them that Skinner's mother was in Europe and the AD wasn't staying there the hunt for Skinner began in earnest. Mulder told Scully he was taking the rest of the day off and he'd left the Hoover and headed North.

Now, here he was, driving around in 'nowheresville', Maine, searching for his recalcitrant and no doubt disillusioned and depressed boss. If they'd called Mulder 'Spooky' before what would they be calling him if they found this out? Probably 'Loony'. It would fit. So be it. He wasn't giving up and he wasn't turning back.

Mulder set his jaw, taking on a stubborn expression very much like that of the man he was seeking. He pulled the car into the house's driveway and parked in back of the Jeep Cherokee that was already parked in front of the one car garage. He cut the ignition and surveyed the territory.

The one story, white clapboard beach-house looked deserted, the shutters closed tight. The screened-in front porch didn't even have any chairs on it. They must have been put into storage for the winter Mulder thought as he unfastened his seat belt. But, the Jeep was here. He knew from the credit card records that he'd rented it for the trip. So, where the hell was he?

Mulder checked his trench coat pocket to make sure his cell phone was in there. Touched his gun in its holster, and made sure the weapon was secure. His lips flattened into a line. Nothing looked out of place other than the fact that no one appeared to be home. Better to be safe than sorry though, he thought as he removed his hand from the gun butt. He opened his car door, got out and shut the door quietly behind him. A quick flip of the remote and the car was locked up tight. Mulder pocketed his car keys, straightened and looked around.

A cold wind slapped his face. His eyes watered from the sting of cold and sand blown into his face. The gust came in off the ocean and he tasted the salt in his sinuses. The stiff wind caused him to pull his coat around his body. He flipped the collar up as well and let his eyes roam the front of the house and garage. No Skinner. He decided on the direct approach. He walked cautiously up to the screened-in porch door and pulled on the handle. The door opened and he walked onto the porch. The boards creaked under his Nunn Bushes.

The front door was locked. No surprise. Mulder surveyed the peeling paint for a moment and then brought his hand up, made a fist and knocked. No answer. He knocked again. Still no answer. Ok. He debated applying more force to the knock but thought better of it. He had a niggling suspicion that Skinner wasn't inside anyway. Sixth sense? He shook his head in self-deprecation. No...no psychic powers. Not anymore. No, this was just 'Fibbie' instinct and a natural hunch. No more mind-reading and under the circumstances he was glad he couldn't read them any longer. He wondered if in Walter Skinner's case it would have been better if he'd never been able to read them at all.

Mulder lowered his hand and cast his attention elsewhere. He walked away from the front door and off the screened-in porch, letting the screen door flop shut behind him. Walking through the sand, his shoes slipping a little, he rounded the corner of the house on the side opposite the garage. The house was on a rise and sloped down to the beach. Quite the view he thought...yeah...right out onto the dock that stretched out into the ocean...and right out to the person sitting in a deck chair at the end of...oh shit! Mulder started to run down the slope, heading for the deck chair and its occupant, Walter Skinner, where he sat, his head slumped on his chest, his body slumped to the side.

The wind tore at Mulder's face and close cropped hair, whipped his coat around him as he dashed forward. He careened onto the deck at a dead run and bolted almost all the way to the end. As he reached the chair however, he pulled up short, skidding to a stop because he was immediately aware that Skinner wasn't silent at all. No...he was snoring. Like a 747. Mulder stood staring at his back in amazement. The AD sat almost bonelessly in the chair, wearing only jeans and a forest green crew neck, long-sleeved Henley shirt, one arm trailing down onto the deck and the other on his lap. The hand stretching down to the deck was wrapped around a bottle of top shelf bourbon. No hat. No coat. No socks. No shoes.

No gun. The first good sign he'd seen so far, Mulder thought. In a way he'd wished Skinner had armed himself. It would have been safer. But then again his having a gun out here could have indicated he was going to blow his brains out rather than protect himself. So, not seeing a gun was probably a good thing if someone besides Mulder had spotted him. Mulder didn't figure the AD to be the type who would eat his gun, but someone else might. Then again...he didn't think he'd get wasted and sit half undressed in a deck chair on a dock in winter either. Maybe he did have a death wish. Well, whatever. If he really wanted to die all he'd have to do was piss Krycek off enough. Yeah, if Krycek came after him, the bastard wouldn't be phased by a gun anyway. He could take out Skinner long-distance before the AD even had a chance to get off a shot.

Mulder ran a hand over his mouth in embarrassed chagrin and walked around to the front of the chair, glancing in back of him as he did. The chair was awfully close to the end of the deck. Its precarious position made worse by the fact that Skinner's long, muscular legs were stretched out ahead of him. Mulder stood to one side of his boss's legs, gaping at his bare feet for a second. How long has he been out here? God...he really could have died out here, ran through Mulder's mind. Hypothermia asking to happen. Jesus H. Christ. Mulder drew himself up and coughed loudly, watching Skinner carefully for any reaction. There was none.

"Sir?" he asked tentatively.

Skinner didn't stir.

"Sir?" he tried again.

He thought he saw Skinner's right eyelid twitch behind his lens but he wasn't sure. The snoring buzzed on. Finally, Mulder swallowed hard and reaching forward with his foot, delivered a light kick to Skinner's bare ankle. The snoring sputtered to a halt and Skinner came round. Mulder bent to hear what he said as his mouth worked to get the words out.

"Wah?" Skinner asked.

Mulder's eyebrows knitted together. Holy shit...if he lit a match right now they'd both go up from the fumes coming out of Skinner's mouth. Damn. Mulder gathered himself up again and tried to not let either maniacal laughter or righteous anger at Skinner's foolhardiness, both of which threatened to take hold of him, have their day.

"Sir...it's Mulder..." he began as Skinner blinked and tried to focus on him.

The AD was unshaven, at least a week's worth of beard growth evident on his face. He brought his free hand up, the left hand, and ran his hand up over his chin and then up under his glasses. He swiped his hand over his eyes and then lowered it, staring at Mulder.

"Mulduh? Mulduh...get the fuck outta my nightmare," he growled, shutting his eyes again and settling back in the deck chair.

That was just about all Mulder could take. Something inside him clenched tight and he felt overwhelming pity for Skinner in that moment. Mulder probably was his worst nightmare right now...well maybe his second worst. But under the circumstances, since he'd been in Skinner's head he'd qualify for the top ten nightmare list for sure. But Mulder also thought that pity was counterproductive and in the long-run a disservice to this man. He shouldn't pity him. If he could, he should help him. Help him...and help them both to understand and deal with what he came to discuss with Skinner.

But any thoughts of asking him questions or discussing anything were superseded with the necessity of getting Skinner indoors, warm and hopefully, sober so they 'could' talk to each other. Mulder jiggled Skinner's leg with his foot again and the AD's eyes shot open. He coughed and looked up at Mulder again, frowning.

"I thought I told you to get the hell outta here," he rumbled.

"You did...but..."

"So...go," Skinner interrupted, gesturing imperiously with the bottle of booze. He suddenly noticed he was still holding the bottle and brought it up to his mouth, taking a healthy swig.

"Sir...I can't let you stay out here. Not...not in this condition. You're drunk and..."

Skinner lowered the bottle to the deck again. The bottom hit the boards with a dull thud.

"Damn straight I'm drunk, Mulduh. Pol-lu-ted. I been drunk for days. And 'ya know whah? It feels good," Skinner replied, trying to enunciate with his booze thickened tongue.

"Right," Mulder sighed, looking into Skinner's heavy lidded eyes.

He didn't look like he felt good. He didn't look like he felt anything and that was probably the point of this exercise anyway. Mulder theorized however that he was feeling a hell of a lot...and it wasn't good at all. At any rate, he couldn't let him sit out here and freeze to death while he wallowed in whatever he was wallowing in. Mulder's teeth were starting to chatter a little so he knew Skinner had to be chilled to the bone.

"You're agreein' with me?" Skinner replied, amazement in his voice. "Well shit... I'll drink ta dat," he added, making a sound somewhere between a chuckle and a sob. He lifted the bottle up to his lips again but Mulder's hand was on his wrist before he could complete the gesture. Skinner's eyes caught Mulder's and dull anger flared up in his as he gazed at the agent.

"Leggo," he snarled.

"No fucking way. You have to get back inside," Mulder replied, insistent. "You'll freeze your ass off out here."

"Nah cold," Skinner protested, pulling against Mulder's hand.

"No wonder. You've got enough anti-freeze in you to sit on a dock in Antarctica. I know...I've been there," Mulder tried to wisecrack his way through Skinner's recalcitrance. Wrong approach.

"Fuck you," Skinner hissed, yanking the bottle towards him hard.

But Mulder held firm, staring into Skinner's eyes. Skinner stared back, his breath harsh and redolent of smoky 100 proof Kentucky Bourbon Distillers bourbon.

Something passed over Skinner's face. Several expressions played over it. A look of pain, self-loathing, desperate hope and finally resignation. He opened his hand and the bottle fell to the deck with a louder thud. Mulder let go of his wrist and moved back. Liquor spilled out of the bottle's neck and pooled under the deck chair.

"Shit," Skinner mumbled and then his face fell forward on his chest.

Wonderful, Mulder thought. He must have passed out. But to his surprise, Skinner raised his head and hand, gesturing to him.

"Help me get back inna house," he added quietly. He couldn't, wouldn't look at Mulder now. He was clearly ashamed, embarrassment pulling his eyes away from Mulder's composed and neutral expression. Mulder didn't draw attention to Skinner's drunken incapacitation any more than was necessary. He wordlessly took his arm as the AD struggled to lever himself up out of the chair. Skinner really was wasted. He could barely walk and since his feet were most likely cold and almost without feeling, Mulder had to take all his weight.

"Fuck. Sorry," Skinner murmured as Mulder pulled him up into a standing position.

"Put your arm over my shoulder," Mulder grunted and Skinner complied.

They started to walk tentatively back up the dock towards the house. After a few feet Skinner seemed to marshal some hidden sober resources and started to carry his own weight. He doggedly put one foot in front of the other as Mulder supported his upper body.

Finally they gained the steps leading up to the small deck that hung off the back of the house. The steps up onto the deck were interesting to negotiate. Mulder cursed more than once, silently, as the AD's numb feet stumbled and threw them both sideways.

They reached the back door and Mulder turned the handle. Locked. Figures. Fuck a duck.

"Sir...keys?" Mulder asked into the side of Skinner's weaving head.

"Huh?" he asked, swiveling to focus on Mulder. Mulder gestured to the door handle. "Oh. Yeah. Um...jean's pocket," Skinner answered, making a swipe at his right hand pocket with his left hand. He missed by a mile, nearly knocking them both down again as he clumsily reached across his body for a second try.

"Whoa...hang on a sec," Mulder warned from under his right arm. The agent grabbed Skinner's outstretched hand frantically. The AD looked up at him, eyebrow raised as Mulder clasped his hand. He gave him a wry, lopsided, drunk- sloppy grin.

"Wanna dance...Mulduh?" he burped into his face.

Oh man, Mulder rolled his eyes and then squinted under another wave of booze breath.

"Uh...maybe later," he mumbled off the cuff and then he winced. Shit...that might not have been the thing to say. Skinner's brow knitted together as Mulder shoved his hand up against the wall. "Can you lean here a minute, sir? I think I can get the keys if you do."

"Sure," Skinner nodded agreeably, planting his hand on the wall.

Mulder pushed him into the wall and held him there with the weight of his body. Then he gingerly reached into the pocket of the tight, faded Levi's Skinner was wearing and fished around for his house keys. He bit his lip as he felt the hot confines of the space, and Skinner's groin pulse beating against his fingers.

"Lucky I'm not tickerish," Skinner grunted as Mulder extracted the key.

"Ticklish," Mulder corrected, hefting him up by pushing under his arm again.

"Whadever," Skinner replied, frowning. He pulled back off the wall and managed to get himself into an upright position again. His arm draped heavily over Mulder's shoulders.

"Ok...here we go," Mulder replied, inserting one of the keys in the dead bolt. He just hoped to hell it was the right one. There were four keys on the ring. 'Bingo', he thought as the key turned smoothly in the lock. Lucky break. He had the doorknob lock turned quickly after that and then they were inside.

Mulder shut the door with his hip. He'd have to re-lock it when he could get Skinner off his back. He looked around quickly. The house was semi-dark due to the shutters being closed. The back door had opened onto a small open concept kitchen. Roomy but not too large. He could see the living room easily beyond...including the big overstuffed couch because there was a lamp lit in there. 'Bull's-eye', he thought. If I can just get him over there...

"Sir, I'm going to get you to the couch," he informed his listing burden. "Can you make it?" he added as Skinner lurched to the left.

"Give me a fucking secun," Skinner grouched, straightening under Mulder's arm.

"I ought to let you fall on your tight ass," Mulder mumbled as he dragged Skinner forward.

"Whad?" Skinner asked, glancing at Mulder's face with suspicion.

"Don't fall on your ass," Mulder replied, giving him a peeved look.

"Tempuh, tempuh," Skinner replied, giving him another shit-faced grin.

Mulder ducked his head because for a moment he was tempted to laugh at the absurdity of the situation. Laugh or cry, he wasn't really sure which. So, instead he kept his head down and struggled to remain mute as he navigated Skinner out of the kitchen and over to the couch.

Once he was at the side of the couch he used one leg to shove the coffee table out of the way as best he could, did a little sideways dance maneuver and tipped Skinner backwards, depositing the AD gracelessly onto the couch cushions. Skinner sprawled there, his body on the couch, his legs off it, arms loose at his side. Mulder stood back with his hands on his hips. Skinner peered up at him, blinking owlishly behind his specs.

"Room's spinnin'," he commented a little breathlessly.

"I would imagine," Mulder replied, nodding.

"Gonna puke," Skinner stated matter-of-factly and then he bent over and vomited onto the floor.

"OH SHIT!" Mulder yelled, glancing around in panic for something to stick under Skinner's face. The only thing available was a copy of the Washington Post so Mulder grabbed it off the coffee table and flung it open onto the floor under the AD's mouth. It landed in a small puddle of vomit and was quickly joined by another contribution as Skinner heaved again.

Mulder stood back, his hand over his mouth as Skinner emptied his guts. Finally he was down to dry heaves and Mulder risked leaving him for a minute to go into the kitchen. There was a dishrag hung on the refrigerator handle and Mulder snatched that up, dampened it in the sink and carried it back into the living room. By this time Skinner was struggling to get his legs up onto the couch.

Mulder walked over, grabbed his ankles and pushed them up, flinging the AD's legs up onto the couch seat.

"Thanks," Skinner replied, breathing hard.

"Here," Mulder replied, handing him the wet rag.

Skinner nodded his thanks this time and wiped at his face and then his mouth with the rag.

"You want to rinse your mouth?" Mulder asked solicitously.

"No...thank you," Skinner replied, handing Mulder the rag. He breathed deeply, getting his lungs under control.

"All right. You going to be ok?" Mulder asked him carefully. He sighed. It was very evident that the AD was anything but ok right now.

But Skinner nodded again, his breathing returning rapidly back to normal.

"Sleep," he mumbled, rolling more completely onto his side. His head fell fairly comfortably onto one of the couch's decorative hunt print throw pillows.

"Good idea," Mulder agreed as Skinner began to snore again almost immediately.

Mulder stood watching him for a minute and then he pulled the old plaid blanket that was folded on the couch back over Skinner's body. He tucked it in around his feet after first brushing traces of sand off his soles. Skinner's feet felt warmer already Mulder thought as he moved the material over them. He must not have been out there that long he mused with relief. Mulder gently removed Skinner's glasses and put them on the coffee table in front of the couch. The agent stepped back and wrinkled his nose at the newspaper. Oh well...he'd make it fast, he thought as he went into the kitchen in search of a sponge or mop.

xXx

After he cleaned up the mess and re-locked the back door, Mulder did a little recon around the house. The place was what might be termed a 'weekender'. One story. One bedroom, kitchen, living room, one bath. Simple. Obviously the owner came here to fish in the summer. Maybe he came here in winter as well. The place seemed snug enough to withstand a winter on the coast. But fishing in summer was definitely in evidence. There was a large marlin stuffed and displayed on one wall. The couch was in the middle of the living room and bordered by two end tables with lamps, a coffee table and two overstuffed chairs. That group faced a small entertainment center. There was a pot-bellied stove in the corner to the right of the entertainment center. The stove was cold however. So, the house must be heated in some other way because it certainly wasn't cold inside. There was no dining room. The front door that led out onto the screened-in porch opened directly into the living room. Mulder stepped outside to open the shutters on the two windows that faced out onto the screened-in porch. Light brightened matters somewhat as he continued his quick survey of the premises.

The kitchen was large enough to accommodate a wooden table for two people. Here also, off the kitchen in a service area he discovered a small washer and dryer as well as a furnace and small hot water tank. So, that accounted for the heat. The appliances were fairly modern. There was a Mr. Coffee as well as a microwave. Gas stove. Mulder rooted around until he found some coffee in the freezer. 'Maxwell House' French roast but it would do. He started a pot of coffee and snooped some more. The cabinets were fairly well-stocked with canned goods. The refrigerator contained the basics. Quart of milk. Eggs. Bacon. Head of lettuce. Some ham and Swiss cheese. A loaf of bread. Juice. Margarine. No leftovers. It looked like Skinner had gone shopping. But, Mulder had to wonder if Skinner had been eating at all.

In the living room he passed the snoring AD and went to a desk that sat under the window on the side of the room opposite the bedroom wing. Mulder couldn't see out but he surmised if the shutters were opened he'd see the Jeep and his rental Ford sitting in the driveway. The garage was a standalone and sat back from the house. He looked down at the desktop. Skinner's laptop was open there, the screen flickering. Mulder's eyes were drawn to the screen and before he could stop himself he moved the track ball to get rid of the little Corvettes that were racing across his screen saver. There was a document displayed on the screen. He started to read it. It appeared to be a letter.

//Dear Sylvia:

I know we haven't seen each other much less corresponded in a while. However, I did want to drop you a line because I'll also have to write Mother and this will affect you both. It's not fair to leave Mom, you, Roger and the boys out of it.

There's something important that I have to tell you, Sylvia. This isn't easy for me to do.///

The letter stopped there, the cursor blinking, waiting for input. Mulder ran his long fingers through his hair. Obviously, Sylvia must be Skinner's sister he thought. Mulder shook his head. He didn't know anything much about Skinner's family. Evidently they weren't close however, if he hadn't spoken or seen his sister and her family recently. Now, whatever had proved difficult for Skinner to tell her must have been very difficult indeed, probably compounded by the fact that they'd been out of touch. He shook his head in chagrin. He wondered what Skinner had been specifically going to tell them. He reached out towards the keyboard and his fingers hesitated over it. Should he investigate, he thought. He was trying to make a decision when a low moan from the couch distracted him.

He swiveled to look at Skinner. The first moan was followed by a second. Mulder walked quietly back over to the couch and prepared to intercede in case the AD was going to have a nightmare. Mulder knew what his own nightmares were like. How he'd wake up sweating, screaming and shaking. He couldn't imagine what Skinner would do during one.

Skinner mumbled and Mulder listened carefully to try to pick up what he was saying.

"No. Won't tell you...go to hell," he whispered, enunciating surprisingly clearly this time. "Do it. What the fuck do I hafta lose?" he added with a small groan following his words. Then he settled back and started to snore again.

Mulder stood over him, grimaced and decided with those mumbled words that he was definitely staying on. No matter what Skinner said to him when he woke up...he was staying here to straighten things out. And he admitted...he was staying here to help as well. Because no matter what Skinner thought of himself. No matter what hell he was dwelling in right now...Mulder knew one thing. He knew Skinner was worth more than he probably thought he was worth. That he was a better man than he thought he was as well.

Those two facts were clear to Mulder even after being in Skinner's mind that first time in the AD's office. No, Skinner was no lost cause. He wasn't even a traitor or coward. He was a man who had made some very serious mistakes, miscalculations and was now in a horrendous situation due to his errors in judgment. He was paying for every decision to walk the line that he'd ever made. And right now what Skinner needed more than anything else was what Mulder thought he could at least give him. Walter Skinner needed a friend and Fox Mulder was willing to try to be that for him. Mulder took his trench coat off and moving over to one of the overstuffed chairs, draped it over the back. Then he headed into the kitchen to get himself a cup of coffee.

At 4 PM Mulder called Scully a second time. He'd already called her very early in the morning on the way to Maine to tell her what he was really doing. She'd been just a tad upset with him. But, after he'd explained about the phone call to Skinner's mother and his idea that the AD had hared off due to stress and after he'd also convinced her not to come in as back-up she was ok about his ditching her.

She made him promise however to call her again when he located Skinner and so he had fulfilled the promise, albeit not exactly right at the time he'd found the AD. Mulder explained to Scully that his hunch had been correct. Skinner was exhausted and had what appeared to be a raging case of the flu coming on. It was partly a lie of course but he wasn't about to tell her the AD was incapacitated due to being in a drunken stupor. He assured her that all he needed was rest.

Mulder was hoping that was all at least. He hoped that he could drag Skinner up out of whatever was bothering him. So, he couldn't bring himself to tell Scully the whole truth about Skinner's condition. Not yet. Not unless he absolutely had to tell her. Scully was relieved to hear that the AD was essentially all right and accepted Mulder's statement that he was going to stay on to make sure Skinner remained that way. After once again promising to update her later, Mulder had hung up his cell phone and went in to warm up his coffee.

It was 5:40, two cups of coffee, a glass of milk, a sandwich, the call to Scully, and two trips to the can later when Skinner finally woke up. Mulder was sitting in the overstuffed chair, the other lamp on to help with the room's much dimmer light. The weather outside had shifted from sunny to cloudy as the afternoon came on and now the sun was going down as well. Skinner stirred and Mulder put down the copy of 'GQ' he'd been reading while Skinner slept it off. Skinner's subscription. No wonder the guy was a clothes horse. Skinner opened one eye and squinted at the agent.

"I thought I was dreaming," he sighed, clearly a lot more sober. He put his hand over his eyes for a moment. When he withdrew it both eyes were open and focusing. His brow creased however. He had headache written all over his face. He glanced at the open shutters and even in the dim light he winced a little.

"Guess not," Mulder replied, putting his hands on his knees. "Sorry," he added with a small smile.

Skinner grunted and started to get up, pushing the blanket aside.

"Hey...uh..." Mulder began.

The AD waved him off as Mulder rose from the chair.

"I'm fine. Stay there. I just have to use the bathroom," Skinner explained, rising with much less difficulty.

Mulder sat back down and let Skinner stand up and walk away on his own. He walked stiffly but his gait didn't waver. Mulder hoped he had some aspirin or Tylenol in the can. He was going to need it.

In a few minutes Mulder heard the toilet flush and then water run in the sink for quite some time. He waited patiently, considering what to do next, and at last Skinner made his way back out into the living room. His hair was damp. He must have dunked his whole head in the sink.

"You want some coffee?" Mulder asked, his voice neutral. Skinner reached the couch and glanced over at him. Mulder watched Skinner's face and observed a struggle there. Mulder was fairly sure Skinner was debating whether to eject him as quickly as possible or allowing him to stay. Maybe even asking him to stay. After a few seconds, Mulder relaxed as Skinner sagged into himself a little and shrugged.

"Yeah. Thanks," he replied, coughing a little.

Mulder seized the moment and beat a hasty retreat to the kitchen. He retrieved his mug from the drainer where he'd placed it to dry after washing it, and got another mug out of the cupboard. The cupboard was full of matching dishes. He pulled a mug down. Both mugs were plain, heavy, white glazed ceramic from a set of six mugs. This place was really well set-up for a vacation - a fishing party type vacation. Mulder wondered how the hell Skinner had found it. The outside showed signs of the coastal winters but the inside was snug and tidy. Another conundrum. Man, the two of them really had a lot to discuss. Mulder poured coffee into both mugs and carried them back out into the living room.

"Black, right?" he asked Skinner as he approached the couch. Skinner was just seating his glasses on his face.

"Right," Skinner replied, giving an appreciative nod and extending his hand for the cup. Mulder handed the cup over and then returned to the overstuffed chair to sit down. He sipped his coffee and watched as Skinner sipped his. They drank in companionable silence for a few minutes and then Skinner looked at Mulder over the rim of his mug.

"You're not going to leave are you?" he rumbled, giving Mulder a baleful glare.

"I think it would be better if I didn't go quite yet," Mulder replied, leaning over and placing his mug down on the coffee table.

Skinner put his mug down as well and settled back into the couch cushions. He rubbed his temples a little and then captured Mulder's eyes.

"How much do you know?" he asked quietly.

"Pretty much all of it," Mulder replied equally as quietly.

"Then why are you still here?" Skinner responded. The men stared at each other and then Mulder had to look away from the pain he saw in the other man's dark brown eyes. "Mulder...just go," Skinner whispered.

But Mulder couldn't go. He couldn't just leave Skinner to drown his sorrows in bottle after bottle of bourbon. Not now...not after what he'd seen in his mind. He felt compassion for Skinner. He wanted to understand, and he was sincere about wanting to be his friend. His own curiosity wouldn't let him leave either. The need to know...what was in his own mind as well as how this...how Skinner could...he shook his head. He still couldn't quite wrap his mind around the idea. His own confusion on the matter was forcing him to stay as well. He needed to discover what was in his own head over the issue. What was in his own heart.

"Sir...why do you think I should leave?" he asked carefully, looking back into Skinner's eyes.

Skinner snorted and looked away this time. As he answered he stared out the front window.

"Mulder...it's not every day a man finds out his boss...his male boss has been in love with him for almost seven years. Why would I think you'd want to stay under those circumstances?" he replied, his voice showing the strain it took for him to utter those words. "The thought...I could understand how the thought might be personally distasteful for you," he added with bitterness.

"Friends don't desert friends," Mulder replied softly, watching Skinner's face.

Skinner turned his head sharply to look at Mulder again. His eyes were dark and hard, like obsidian.

"Don't patronize me, Mulder," he spat.

Mulder felt his face flush instantly in anger. He felt his pulse race.

"Patronize you?" Mulder asked, incredulous. "Are you saying my calling you my friend is patronizing? Yeah...well fuck you then," Mulder added, shaking his head. "Stay here and play Papa Hemingway of Maine then. Get drunk. Jerk off...eat your gun. Do whatever you damn well want. What the fuck difference does it make?" he blurted out, his emotions suddenly getting away on him. He made to stand and leave.

He was really angry. How dare Skinner? How dare he assume that Mulder just came up here out of curiosity alone. That was part of it...but not the only reason. He came because he was confused about just how he did feel when he'd read Skinner's love for him in his mind. He sincerely wanted to discuss it with Skinner because...all right...he wasn't at all unsure he wasn't attracted to the other man as well. So, he damned well better get that out on the table if they were ever going to function together on any level again. Besides the sexual attraction issue, he did consider Skinner a friend and didn't blame him for what he'd done. He was offering his boss his friendship and support regardless of anything else involved in the way they saw each other. He didn't expect to have that offer shit on...not even by a guy with a rep for being a surly bastard like Skinner.

Skinner stared at him as Mulder's butt hovered over the chair seat. The agent was breathing heavily for a minute, his face reddening slightly, his jaw clenched tight.

"You're serious," Skinner observed, his eyes playing over the agent's face.

"Yes, damn it. I'm serious," Mulder responded, getting up, his eyes never leaving Skinner's. Skinner tracked Mulder's movement and the AD's mouth formed a grim line.

"Well...bravo, then. How very liberal of you to call your queer boss your friend, Agent Mulder," Skinner hissed, acid dripping from every word.

Mulder started to make another heated retort and then he suddenly realized what Skinner was trying to do. He was trying to make Mulder pissed off enough to cut and run. Make him angry so he would keep telling him to go fuck himself as Mulder walked right out the door. Skinner could avoid confronting the issue that way. Very convenient. Uh uh. Well, that wasn't how things were going to work here. Not now.

"Oh no," Mulder shook his head, slowly sinking back down into the chair. "No way. I wasn't born yesterday, sir. You're not going to goad me into getting angry enough to leave here. I've seen that tactic before. Hell...I've used that tactic before. No...we're going to sit here like two mature adults and discuss this matter."

Skinner stared at him again and after a few heartbeats, the ghost of a wry smile played over his lips. Just a flicker but it was enough to relax Mulder. Skinner seemed to relax a bit as well. He gave a gruff snort that could have passed for a chuckle.

"Oxford educated psychologist. I wonder why I forgot that just now," came his wry reply.

"Maybe because your brain's half pickled?" Mulder replied acerbically.

"Touché," Skinner replied, nodding and scrubbing his hand over his mouth. When he removed his hand his expression had softened a bit. When he spoke his voice was tired but less harsh.

"All right. Look...I'm sorry. Stay. I guess...uh..." he replied, fishing for what he wanted to say. "Oh Hell, Mulder. This isn't easy for me...obviously," he gestured at his disheveled appearance, "there's a lot that isn't easy for me right now. I'm...uh...oh good Christ..." he let his voice trail off in disgust.

Mulder nodded and slumped back in the overstuffed chair.

"We don't talk do we? I mean...men. We don't share at all do we? It's better to suffer in silence than ask a friend to lend an ear, isn't it? It's never easy to talk is it, sir?" Mulder observed, running a hand through his hair.

Skinner fixed him with a penetrating look.

"No, it isn't easy. It's never easy," he replied quietly, looking down at his hands.

Mulder looked back at Skinner and he felt a sudden stillness in his mind. He had that feeling coming over him that he got sometimes when he was profiling. The notion that what he was about to do was right. The correct course of action. The only course of action that would solve the case and bring the perp in. The only action that would wrestle the demons to their knees and bring them to heel. He leaned forward a little and addressed Skinner, his face calm and open, understanding written there plainly for the AD to see.

"Does that have to be a rule, sir? And if it is some kind of unspoken rule...can't we defy it for once? Break it. Would you talk to me? If you would, I promise to lend an unbiased ear," Mulder replied. "And...I'll try to understand," Mulder added, sitting with his hands on his knees.

Yeah, I'll try to understand, he thought. I'll try to understand what's going on here with both of us.

Skinner looked back up at him and raised a speculative eyebrow.

"When did you ever follow the rules, Mulder?" he asked, his voice taking on a wry note.

Mulder let a small grin play about his lips.

"The question is, sir...are you still going to follow them?" Mulder replied, a hint of challenge in his voice.

Skinner barely changed expression but Mulder knew he'd hit home with the remark. Ball's in your court, Mulder thought.

"It seems to me that deciding not to follow someone's rules any longer is what got me in trouble in the first place," Skinner rumbled, looking away from Mulder for a moment. Mulder watched his face in profile. He was caught up in its rugged planes for a second and then Skinner looked back at him. Mulder watched the wheels turning in Skinner's mind motor his emotions across his face. He watched the older man's head nod imperceptibly.

"So...what do I have to lose?" he asked, his eyes on Mulder's face again.

The repetition of his earlier dream-mumbled words sent a short, sharp chill up Mulder's spine. He suspected those were Skinner's last words to Krycek. Scully had told him Krycek had attacked Skinner in his office after Mulder had disappeared. Skinner must have defied Krycek, refused to give him any information about Mulder's whereabouts...what little he'd had after distancing himself from Mulder's disappearance, and the bastard had done his worst. Scully had theorized as much. Mulder had another hunch after hearing Skinner talk in his sleep that she was exactly right.

"Only that bitch of a hangover you have," Mulder replied, a smile gracing his lips.

Skinner snorted a real chuckle

"No worries there. I'm done. I should know by now the booze is never a solution. I...I have no excuse though. I lost it, plain and simple. So...uh...I'll just give a blanket apology for any of my actions earlier if you don't mind," he replied a little hoarsely.

Mulder gave a shrug.

"Sounds like the expense report's accurate to me," he quipped giving Skinner another small grin.

Skinner raised an eyebrow and then for the first time he returned a small smile of his own. Mulder was amazed how much better it made him look. He'd hardly ever seen Skinner smile. It was...refreshing to see him do it.

"Thank you for your assessment, Agent Mulder," he replied wryly.

"Anytime, sir," Mulder replied with alacrity.

They sat silently for a moment at a loss for what else to say. There was certainly a huge white elephant sitting on the coffee table between them now with 'gay' stamped on its forehead. Mulder found his stomach fluttering with nervous anticipation. God. How in the hell were they going to get through this discussion? He had a moment of panic at that thought. Then he squelched down his worry and composed himself.

Why worry? After all...as he had said - they were mature adults. They could discuss it and determine...determine what? In the back of his mind the idea that Mulder very much wanted to find out what they'd do about it rose up and made his face hot again. And it wasn't from anger. No, it was from the idea that he wanted to find out because he felt attracted to Skinner too. Oh brother. Well...it was a half formed thought all along of course. He had to admit it. It was the reason he'd been so obsessed with finding Skinner and having him confirm what he'd read in his mind. He needed to hear Skinner say it to his face so he could confirm or deny his own feelings. If...he was suddenly distracted from his musings by Skinner's voice. He refocused on the AD as Skinner spoke up, shifting on the couch.

"Listen...uh...I can smell my own stink," Skinner commented honestly. "I'm going to shower. If...if you really do intend to stay...well...do you have your kit or..."

Mulder sat up again galvanized by having something to do.

"FBI 'SOP' - my garment bag and shaving kit are in the car. I guess I should get them," he replied, rising from the chair.

"Good. And uh...I guess you're stuck with the couch tonight," Skinner added, getting up himself.

"Yeah...well...that's something I'm not unaccustomed to, sir," Mulder replied quite readily.

Skinner gave him an amused look.

"Right. Well...it does fold out. So, it's not quite what you're accustomed to I suppose," he replied, running a large hand down his chest and stomach. The gesture was reflexive but Mulder found himself fascinated by the progress of Skinner's hand. He jerked his eyes away and refocused on Skinner's face.

"I'm sure it'll be fine. Uh...I'll be back in a few minutes," Mulder advised.

"Make yourself at home," Skinner replied as he turned away and headed back towards the bedroom wing.

xXx

While Mulder was getting his bags, his mind was running into overdrive. There were just too many questions. Not enough answers and confusion was mounting by the minute. The only recourse he had was to tell himself to take a deep breath, calm down and try to assess the situation dispassionately.

All right...he was attracted sexually to Skinner. He had to admit he'd looked at him more than a few times in the past. He'd never acted on it for all sorts of reasons from the superior and subordinate dynamic to the fact he didn't trust Skinner at all at first. That idea had changed of course. But the main reason he'd never given Skinner a second thought was the guy was so damned...unapproachable and closed off and so quintessentially...straight.

Mulder would never have imagined Skinner looked at him as anything other than an agent assigned to him who he respected, maybe even admired...maybe even considered a friend and ally - when he wasn't chewing him out. He was a hard-ass on the job. A task-master, but for the most part, fair. The epitome of FBI. The guy was just...well...butch...so alpha male. Mulder knew, as a psychologist and profiler, that he shouldn't stereotype people. But Skinner's whole FBI persona didn't say gay. Mulder had some gaydar after all. He thought he would have picked up something over the years if Skinner had been homosexual.

But with Skinner's macho vibes, his marriage of 17 years failed or not, his sleeping with that prostitute...Mulder just assumed he was heterosexual. Evidently that was a big error in thinking. But even if he'd suspected Skinner was gay he would never have thought he was attracted to him. He had covered that very well. Never said a damn thing. Skinner had never looked at him with anything other than professional decorum...or professional ire. No clue about his feelings...until Skinner touched him in the hospital. Held his arm so that Mulder could write on his palm. With that touch the floodgates had opened and Mulder had seen it all.

Actually, it wasn't the sexual aspect of what Mulder had seen in Skinner's mind that bothered him at all. Mulder did sex. He did casual sex with men and women as a matter-of-fact. But he didn't do relationships. In fact...he hadn't had a relationship in years and his current sexual partner was himself - as in jerking off - and had been for quite some time. Yes...any relationship he'd tried at, he'd failed in - men as well as women. Geoffrey, his first male lover at Oxford, Phoebe, Reggie his first partner at the Bureau, Diana. All had been failures. So, what was he supposed to do? Skinner didn't want casual sex. Mulder had seen that he was looking for a lot more.

Damn it, he thought. You know...the only relationship he'd been successful in at all was his partnership with Dana Scully. He and Scully were best friends, they did love each other but there wasn't a sexual component to that love really. Mulder always thought the reason they'd worked so well together and kept their friendship intact was because they hadn't slept together. Scully wasn't the casual sex type anyway. Ed Jerse could testify to that idea. So could Jack Willis. Scully had been in love with him. It had hurt her deeply when he broke it off with her. Mulder was more like a brother to Scully he thought. And if he'd admit it Scully was like a sister as well. So they'd never be lovers but they had a precious connection and Mulder hoped someday Scully would find someone to give her the type of relationship she needed and deserved as well. So, he had no romantic or sexual relationship with Scully and it was a good thing because his track record of royally fucking up relationships was pretty much intact.

So, the problem was Skinner didn't just want casual sex anymore...with anyone and particularly not with Mulder. No, he wanted a relationship and Mulder didn't know if he could handle that idea at all.

At first he'd tried to avoid confronting the issue and tried to concentrate on his recuperation. It hadn't worked well at all and he ended up realizing that...damn it... he'd have to confront Skinner eventually. He'd been foolish to think he could continue on with business as usual after everything he'd seen in Skinner's thoughts. However, when he started to let his mind work on the problem the casual versus serious relationship issue came back immediately. When Skinner disappeared he knew he'd have to hunt him down and get it all out into the open somehow...or risk hurting them both in the long-run.

But man...what a mess. Ah screw it. Enough. There was no sense in overrationalizing this incident. Sometimes it was better to bide your time and see what happened next. So, Mulder decided to take that approach and hoped it wasn't going to hoist both he and Skinner on their own petards.

When Mulder brought his garment bag and shaving kit back inside, he heard the shower running. He threw the bag over the overstuffed chair and the kit on the seat he hadn't been sitting in and reconnoitered for a moment. He noticed immediately that Skinner's laptop was gone from the desk. The envelope was gone as well. He scratched at his stomach and frowned slightly. He had hoped Skinner would trust him enough to talk about the letter. Well...that was a lot to ask. In the grand scheme of things...maybe it was a minor upset compared with the rest of the things that were eating Skinner up.

Eating. Food. His train of thought jumped to the idea that Skinner probably hadn't eaten in quite some time. When he'd emptied his stomach earlier it had been mostly liquid. He might be hungry. But with hurling as hard as he did, Mulder couldn't be sure. He decided to go down to the bathroom door and inquire about whether Skinner had any appetite. Before he went however, he removed his suit coat and placed it over his garment bag. He took his tie off and left it there as well.

He walked down the hallway to the closed bathroom door. He had to shout over the running water.

"Sir?"

"Yes, Agent Mulder?" Skinner replied, shouting back.

"I was wondering if you were hungry. It's close to my dinnertime and I was going to scrounge up a meal. Want me to cook you something?"

There was silence for a moment. Mulder wondered if Skinner was debating saying yes or in shock because Mulder was offering to cook. Or maybe the AD was just shocked that he could cook at all.

"There's some soup in the cabinet next to the refrigerator. I think I could manage some tomato. Thank you," Skinner hollered.

"Coming right up," Mulder yelled. He smiled a little and walked back down the hallway, his step a tad lighter.

When Skinner finally came out of the bedroom, shaved and changed into fresh clothes, Mulder had two bowls of tomato soup and some grilled ham and cheese sandwiches on the table in the kitchen. Skinner sauntered in, wearing a black T-shirt and Dockers Khakis. He was still in his stocking feet. Mulder thought that physically he looked a lot better. He looked very good as a matter-of-fact. Mulder let himself admire the AD's physique for a moment. The tight black T-shirt really accented his muscular chest and biceps. Yeah...the guy was a stud. No doubt about it. Sex with him would be no problem at all. Mulder swallowed and squelched his arousal. He didn't want to start something here that would backfire because it couldn't be taken any farther than a one night stand.

"How's the head?" Mulder asked as the AD stopped short and stared at the table for a moment.

Skinner tried to cover his look of astonishment mixed with pleasure and amusement at the grilled cheese sandwiches but he wasn't quite fast enough. Mulder turned and picked up the two refilled coffee mugs so that Skinner could resume his usual impassive expression. Skinner cleared his throat as Mulder turned back around and carried the mugs to the table.

"I took some aspirin. The hot shower helped too. It's better. Uh...how's yours?" Skinner replied, indicating the back of Mulder's head.

Mulder's spiky haircut barely compensated for the shaved area at the back of his skull. Mulder's brow furrowed a little. He hadn't expected to get into the mind-reading before eating. He was hoping to fortify himself a little before the fireworks started. Skinner noticed Mulder's discomfort and shifted awkwardly. "I didn't mean it that way...I meant any residual pain...blurring vision...anything...else," Skinner rumbled, moving to sit in the chair that had its back to the living room.

"Oh. Uh...my head's fine, all things considered. Thanks," Mulder replied, shrugging.

Skinner nodded and sat down, his brow cleared when he surveyed the repast before him. Mulder sat down across from him and the AD looked up from studying his bowl of soup. He twitched his lip into a terse smile.

"I'm impressed, Mulder," he commented. "Really. This looks..."

"Eatable?" Mulder replied, grinning a little.

"Delicious," Skinner answered, picking up the grilled ham and cheese sandwich. He took a large bite and began to chew, nodding in confirmation. Mulder nodded back, picked his sandwich up and bit into it. Yeah, not bad if he did make it himself, he thought, chewing vigorously.

They ate in silence, each seemingly lost in their own thoughts. Soon the sandwiches and soup had been consumed and all that remained was the coffee in their mugs. Skinner sat back, sipping his reflectively and Mulder took that as his opportunity to start a dialogue.

"So...how long were you sitting out on the dock?" he asked quietly, taking up his own cup and sipping from it. Skinner shook his head a little in self-deprecation as he swallowed his coffee.

"You know...I wanted to see the sunrise I guess. I...I'd been up all night and I thought it would be peaceful or restful or...shit...I don't know," Skinner answered in a pensive voice. He considered his words for a moment. "It was ridiculous. I was blitzed. I shouldn't have gone out there at all. It was idiotic and dangerous. It wasn't one of my most sterling moments. I should thank you for saving me from hypothermia," he added in an uncomfortable monotone.

"You're welcome. And I'm not going to disagree about the uh...'sitting by the dock o' the bay' bit," Mulder replied neutrally.

"And vomiting in front of you was rather inglorious as well," Skinner added with a slight grimace.

Mulder shrugged and kept his face as neutral as he could.

"Hey, I've been there, done that and in front of Scully too so I wouldn't worry about it," Mulder replied sympathetically.

Skinner sipped some more coffee and watched Mulder over his mug rim for a few seconds. Then he slowly put the mug down and sighed.

"Mulder...I'm not sure what I should say," Skinner began, turning the mug between his large hands. Mulder waited patiently as he gathered his thoughts. "I guess if you read my mind there isn't much I can say regarding what Krycek did to me and why," he added bleakly, looking up at Mulder.

"I understand that you were ready to side with us and he decided that was counterproductive to his objectives," Mulder replied quietly, studying Skinner's face.

That was the surface reason of course. Mulder knew the underlying reason was Skinner's love for Mulder and the fact that he'd finally allowed that love to change his stance on the balancing act he'd been playing for years. But Mulder also knew it was going to take some time before that subject was broached. It would be easier to start talking about the issue on a more general level.

When he'd looked into Skinner's mind Mulder had seen Skinner's love for him etched deep. It was in there right along with Skinner's vow never to say a thing to Mulder about it. That revelation had bothered Mulder a great deal when he'd caught the last faint glimmer of the thought that followed on that revelation's heels. He'd sensed that Skinner thought Mulder and Scully were either already lovers or very close to being so. He respected the relationship. He wasn't going to step between. He was just going to side with them out of his respect for Scully and his love for Mulder. He wanted Mulder to be happy above all else. That one idea was the thing that drew Mulder to Maine. Skinner had been wrong in his assumption and if nothing else he wanted to set that record straight. Besides, as far as Mulder could see, Scully and Skinner were the only two people concerned with his well-being. They were the only two who had been for a very long time. So, he had to at least make the attempt to reach out to Skinner on some level. He...Mulder's inner dialogue was interrupted by Skinner's reply and he refocused on the other man as he spoke.

"Apparently," Skinner rumbled. "Mulder...Krycek insists he's part of the resistance...a member of the group working with a second alien race...the one pitting themselves against the grays. I gave him that tape..."

"Because you thought he was the lesser of two evils?" Mulder replied, letting his face show that he understood the position Skinner had been put in.

"I don't know what I believe anymore, Mulder...but yeah, at the time that was pretty much my reasoning. But...I don't know now. Maybe I was just telling myself that so I didn't feel like fucking Judas," Skinner answered, the misery in his voice palpable.

"Krycek told me once, sir, that we had a choice in this battle. We could either resist or serve. But...I'm not sure resisting one master and serving another is very good advice."

"It does come down to that doesn't it?" Skinner replied with a curt nod. "But...Krycek does have the air of a zealot about him. He believes he's doing the right thing, I think. He may be compromising his ethics for what he believes is the greater good," Skinner added carefully.

Mulder considered his words. He knew Skinner was also talking about what he thought he'd been doing over the years in that last sentence. Mulder didn't see Skinner's actions that way. He couldn't equate Skinner's behavior with the types of things Krycek had done over the years. He didn't want to reinforce the idea but he wasn't sure how to address it either. He decided on the direct approach and hoped he wouldn't cause Skinner to close off again.

"Sir...I never saw you as a self-centered, self-serving, blackmailing murderer who changes sides like quicksilver depending on where he can benefit himself the most..." Mulder began.

"Krycek is a survivor, Mulder..." Skinner interrupted.

"Oh, I'm sure he's doing what he's doing to survive, yes. But...I don't agree with his methods. I don't think you do really, sir. I don't think you ever would agree to those methods," Mulder replied intensely.

Skinner shrugged and looked into Mulder's eyes.

"I took the coward's way out, Mulder. Which is worse? Following your beliefs for what you consider to be a higher good no matter how disgusting those beliefs and methods seem to someone else...or being overly cautious, refusing to take sides and jeopardizing yourself as well as others because of your actions?"

Mulder held his eyes for a moment longer and then looked down at his hands.

"Sir...we've all made mistakes in this...this fucking war. I can't claim my way is the right way either. We've all paid for the right things as well as what could be considered wrong things that we've done. But Krycek...until I have direct proof - he's a bastard. You can't tell me he isn't one...not after what he did to you...can you?" Mulder replied, looking up again to gauge Skinner's reaction.

Yes, done to Skinner not to mention done to Scully when he had a hand in her first abduction and done to Melissa Scully when he probably had a hand in her murder. Oh and of course...he'd actually murdered William Mulder, the only man Mulder had known for better or worse as a father even though he evidently hadn't sired him...and betrayed Mulder in Russia...and sold out Marita Covarrubias and...it was a fucking long damage list. Krycek went way beyond bastard in Mulder's mind. He felt both saddened and sickened at the memories. As he looked at Skinner he felt a sudden mental exhaustion bordering on depression as well. Skinner's face had slipped into that mask-like quality he donned when he wanted to hide his feelings again. The AD's eyes shifted away.

"One thing I will agree with you on...Krycek is a bastard," he replied, the strain in his voice betraying his stony facial expression. He looked out the window into the newly fallen night. "But, Mulder...don't set me up as some kind of sainted martyr. If you're going to pick someone Biblical to describe me I'd suggest Pontius Pilate. That analogy might be more apt."

"Assuming I want to be labeled as Christ," Mulder sighed, rubbing his face.

Skinner's head snapped back and Mulder lowered his hand when he saw the movement. Skinner was giving him a raised eyebrow.

"I'm just a man, sir. We're both just men. Men are fallible. We make mistakes. I don't know what else to say," Mulder replied, spreading his hands out, palms up.

Skinner's eyebrow descended and his face softened a little.

"I guess we have to hope we learn from our mistakes," he replied quietly.

"Yeah," Mulder answered simply, drawing his hands back. "And for what it's worth, sir...and if it'll help at all...I don't blame you for yours. Really. Don't...don't think I hold anything against you, because I don't," he added, getting that out in the open at last.

Mulder watched Skinner as he struggled again with something. His face showed relief at Mulder's remark and the agent was glad. But he was trying to decide on another action or on what else to say. Finally Skinner shifted and nodded.

"Thank you, Mulder," he rumbled. "Uh...I...I'm sorry for my remarks earlier regarding your friendship. I'd be honored to call you my friend," he added almost in a whisper.

"Yes, sir. You're welcome. I'm honored to be your friend as well," he replied, withdrawing his hands.

So formal he thought. So...Skinner. Mulder could tell that it was very likely that Skinner had wanted to touch him. Perhaps shake his hand but had been afraid to let himself do it. It was sad. Until the sexual agenda was discussed between them, things were going to be awkward. Mulder felt uncomfortable for sure. Right now he didn't know what to do with his hands so he took his coffee cup up again, but it was empty. Skinner noticed his glum expression as he looked down into it.

"Listen...you want another cup of coffee?" he asked.

"Sure," Mulder answered, pushing the cup across the table.

Skinner tapped the table with the knuckles of his right hand, and then reached for both coffee mugs. He picked them up and left the table. Mulder watched him stride across the room to the coffeemaker. So much contained power he thought. Skinner had a grace that some larger men possessed and it was part of his ability to command. Outside control, a hard muscularity, grace like a lion or tiger, holding in something that Mulder had glimpsed in his mind. A very passionate man. A passionate side that was barely ever allowed out. Mulder shook his head. What that must have cost him all these years had to be incalculable. Before he realized what he was saying the words were out of his mouth.

"So, sir...uh...when did you discover your...preferences?" he asked Skinner's back as the older man stood pouring coffee into one of the mugs. He saw Skinner's muscles tighten up immediately. Oh oh. Wrong thing to say. Skinner didn't respond. Instead he refilled the second cup and then replaced the pot on the burner. Finally he returned to the table and placed Mulder's cup in front of him. After he sat down again with his own cup, he spoke.

"Does this come under your earlier remark regarding how we're both just men...or is this professional curiosity? I mean I know you're a psychologist..." Skinner began a bit testily.

"Gee...and I thought we were going to be pals now. We were on such good terms a minute ago. Now I see we're back to Spooky Mulder and AD 'I eat wayward agents for breakfast' Skinner..." Mulder countered, annoyance in his voice.

Skinner sighed, running his hands up under his glasses and rubbing at his eyes.

"All right...I'm sorry. It's just...I'm not sure I'm ready to talk about this yet. It's...it's definitely not an easy subject to tackle."

Mulder looked into Skinner's face and saw the fatigue there. Right now he looked every bit of his 47 years...maybe more. Mulder stopped to consider just what he had been doing over the last week or so. He nodded and spoke again.

"Ok. Good point. And look...when was the last time you slept, sir? Or ate a whole non-liquid meal?"

Skinner gave him a resigned shrug.

"You don't really want to know," he replied, his tone of voice indicating that he wasn't going to tell him either.

"Fine. Well my point is...it's probably not a subject that should be discussed on little or no sleep or food and half a hangover," Mulder replied archly.

Skinner's lips twitched into a beleaguered smile.

"Yeah...I could use to lose this hangover big time. Uh...can we table this until morning then? I'm not going back on my intent to uh...break the 'men don't spill their guts' rule here...but I guess I am kind of whacked," Skinner replied honestly.

Mulder nodded sympathetically.

"Sounds like a plan. Get some rest," he replied. Skinner nodded and pushed away from the table.

"I think the couch bed is made up already but if it's not the linen closet is the door next to the bathroom. You'll need to get the pillows out of there anyway," Skinner volunteered as he took his coffee cup to the sink. Mulder watched him pour the coffee down the drain.

"No problem. And, I'll take care of the coffeemaker," he interjected.

"Ok. Thanks. Good night, Mulder," Skinner replied, turning and tipping his chin up in acknowledgment of Mulder's reply.

"Good night," Mulder replied as Skinner exited the kitchen.

Mulder poured his coffee out as well and then dumped the filter and grounds from the coffeemaker into the garbage can under the sink. He turned off the lights in the kitchen and went back out into the living room. As he approached the couch he heard the toilet flush and glanced down the hallway towards the

bathroom and bedroom. Skinner emerged from the bathroom, his step heavy and rather stiff again. He didn't look back at Mulder, didn't even notice him really. Instead he walked into the bedroom and shut the door behind him. Mulder's brow furrowed slightly. Man, if I got hangovers that bad I'd never drink again, Mulder thought. Well...Skinner has said he was through with the booze for the duration. It was a good thing. Mulder turned his attention to the couch.

After he shoved the coffee table to the side he opened the fold-out bed and discovered that yes, it was made up and the sheets smelled fairly fresh. He went down to the linen closet to retrieve two pillows. He tossed the pillows to the end of the bed and then proceeded to undress. His gun, wallet, ID, keys, money and watch all went on the coffee table. His outer clothes went over the overstuffed chair across from the one his garment bag was on. He placed his shoes and socks under the chair and stood there in his T-shirt and boxer briefs staring at the pile of Mulder accessories on the coffee table. As an afterthought he crossed to the other chair and fished his cell phone out of his trench coat pocket.

Mulder debated calling Scully but there was probably no point yet. He'd wait until he saw how things went tomorrow and then update her. Scully was still a little mistrustful of Skinner despite knowing for sure now who had compromised him and partly why. But she was willing to play a wait and see attitude. She was also a compassionate person and couldn't quite bring herself to disrespect him or not show some concern over his well-being. So, Mulder knew she'd appreciate knowing what was going on in Maine. He'd tell her as soon as he knew more about Skinner's mental state. If he had to get her involved due to Skinner's condition not improving, he would. The other issue though...the one they'd tabled until tomorrow...well that was one he'd definitely have to play by ear. If Skinner wasn't sure how he was going to deal with talking to Mulder about it, Mulder was even less sure how he was going to talk to Scully about it. He sighed and tossed the phone onto the table next to his gun.

The GQ magazine sat there as well but instead of picking it up his head swiveled towards the TV set. The remote sat on top of it. Mulder smiled a little. Why break a pattern. Patterns were helpful in times of stress. We're all creatures of habit. And here's one creature who really likes his 'creature features'. Yeah, he remembered seeing that 'Bride of Frankenstein' was showing on American Movie Classics tonight. Excellent. He strode over to the TV to snag the remote.

xXx

He didn't remember when he'd fallen asleep but something woke him. Mulder opened his eyes and saw as well as heard Elsa Lancaster as 'The Bride' hissing at her erstwhile groom, the Frankenstein monster. For some reason the extraneous bit of trivia that the bride in the horror film's title wasn't really Frankenstein's bride but instead the monster's intended flitted through his mind before Mulder realized that it wasn't Ms. Lancaster's catlike hissing that had awakened him. He grabbed the remote and shut the TV off, plunging the room into darkness since he'd turned off the lamps before he'd climbed into the couch bed. He listened and then he heard it...a second soft thud. He cocked his head and listened again, not sure of the noise's origin. He reached over and turned on the lamp on the end table. The soft thud was followed by a slightly louder one.

Mulder sat up quietly and then swung his legs off the couch planting his feet silently on the floor. He reached across to the coffee table and slipped his gun out of his holster. Flipping the safety off, the agent stood up. That's when he heard the low moan. It was Skinner. Mulder left the couch and headed down to the bedroom, his gun held down at his side. He flipped the overhead light on in the hall to give himself better visibility. When he got to the bedroom door a sudden loud scream startled him and he grabbed the door and threw it open without hesitation. He crouched low in the doorway his gun up, staring at the bed before him. The room was dark but there was enough light from the hall that he could see the sight ahead.

Skinner was in the bed, dressed in his T-shirt and briefs, the covers twisted around his waist. He cried out again and the sound made the hair at the back of Mulder's neck stand on end.

"NOOOOOOOO!" Skinner shouted, arching his back up off the bed. He thrashed and screamed, his arms flailing and hitting the headboard as he stretched them up over his head.

Mulder flipped the safety back on his weapon and hurried over to the bed. He placed his gun down on the night stand and grabbed at Skinner's hands.

"Sir...Hey, wake up..." he insisted, trying to still the frantic man's writhing. Skinner was strong however and Mulder quickly lost his grip. Skinner twisted further and the covers finally fell back off his hips, his legs kicked out and Mulder had to dodge them.

"FUCK YOU! FUCK YOU!" Skinner bellowed and Mulder cringed at the depth of anger, disgust and fear in Skinner's voice.

In desperation, Mulder lunged forward again and pinned Skinner's shoulders to the bed, making one more try to rouse him. The AD's T-shirt rode up high over his hard pectoral muscles and then up around his neck. Mulder looked in shock at the AD's chest. He gritted his teeth and shook Skinner hard.

"Sir, it's Mulder...come on...it's ok...I'm here. Wake up," he called out loudly.

Skinner bucked up one more time and then his eyes flew open. For an instant Mulder wasn't sure he saw him but then his eyes focused and he cried out again.

"Don't touch me!" he shouted, "God...please...not...not now," he added in near panic.

"Shhh...it's all right...it's ok," Mulder murmured as Skinner sunk back flat onto the bed. His body was soaked in sweat, as were his clothes. Mulder glanced down, he couldn't help himself as he looked between Skinner's legs to check out his package. He shook his head in disgust as Skinner threw an arm over his face.

"Get out," he hissed as Mulder pulled back and sat on the edge of the bed.

"No fucking way. Who did that to your chest?" Mulder demanded to know, his voice shaking.

Skinner's nipples were each neatly surrounded with what looked like week old human bite marks. 'Bitten around the areola nipple complex' - Scully's voice played through his mind like an autopsy report. He shuddered and felt sick. The bites were still a little red and sore looking. Skinner's rib cage had several long bruises crisscrossing it.

Skinner wouldn't answer him. Mulder stood up angrily.

"All right, fine...have it your way. But could you try to keep the God damn noise down, sir. I was trying to watch 'The Bride of Frankenstein' on American Movie Classics and your screaming was making it really difficult to hear Colin Clive," he snarled sarcastically.

There was silence for a second and then Skinner mumbled a reply, his arm still over his eyes.

"Did you know Colin Clive was gay?" he replied in a tight voice.

"So 'Hollywood Babylon' would have us believe," Mulder replied quietly.

"Hollywood Babylon?" Skinner asked still not looking at Mulder.

"A book on Hollywood gossip. Sir...who..." Mulder began.

"Krycek," Skinner replied, barely audibly. He removed his arm from his eyes. They were red rimmed where he had tried to stop himself from crying.

"Krycek did that to you?" Mulder asked, his voice heavy with bitterness.

"Yeah," Skinner replied with a sigh. He sat up, straightening his T-shirt and propped himself against the headboard.

Oh right - for the greater good I suppose, Mulder thought. And Skinner took it? Mulder noticed Skinner moved a little gingerly and he felt an inner fury the likes of which he hadn't felt since Scully was stung by the bee and abducted for the second time.

"Sir...what else did..."

"Mulder...could you get me a towel and glass of water? I'd really like to wipe off this sweat and...uh...I'm as thirsty as hell," Skinner interrupted, his voice somewhat remote. He was going to a lot of trouble not to look at Mulder and the agent reddened a bit when he realized he was sitting here in his briefs and T-shirt as well and the effect that must be having on the AD on top of everything else.

"Ok, sure," Mulder replied, getting off the bed. He figured Skinner could use a few minutes to compose himself anyway. He also wanted to go pull on his dress slacks. He got up and exited the bedroom quickly.

When he returned, dressed in his slacks again with a towel and glass of water from the kitchen, Skinner was standing with his back to the door, naked. Mulder stopped in shock - not because he was naked and he was getting a look at probably the most fantastic ass he'd ever seen in his life on man or woman - but rather because of what stretched above that ass...Skinner's back and what it looked like.

"Son of a bitch," Mulder hissed as he stared. No wonder Skinner had been walking stiffly. It wasn't just from the hangover. Skinner's entire back from neck to waist was crisscrossed with bruises and several long stripe-like cuts as well. One of the marks, the one in the center of his back looked like it had opened up again from his thrashing around earlier. Skinner turned and sat back down heavily onto the bed without saying a word. Mulder threw him the towel and averted his eyes as Skinner started to wipe himself down.

"Where do you have your underwear?" Mulder asked, setting the glass of water down on the dresser by the door. He didn't want to look at the AD as Skinner ran the towel over his sweaty body so he figured he'd get him clean skivvies to change into.

"In the closet. In my duffel bag," Skinner replied, his delivery terse.

Mulder headed over to the closet and rummaged around until he found a clean pair of briefs as well as a T-shirt. He brought them back over to the bed when a quick glance told him Skinner had draped the towel over his lap.

"Here," he said, handing Skinner the clothing.

Skinner nodded his thanks.

"I'll get the water," Mulder mumbled and moved away.

He walked over silently and retrieved the glass. When he came back Skinner was trying to flinch into his clean white T-shirt.

"Uh, sir...one of the cuts on your back is bleeding...you might want to..."

Skinner sighed and pulled the shirt off again.

"There was one I couldn't quite clean up earlier. I expect that's the one that opened up again," he surmised, coughing a little. He laid the T-shirt over the clean briefs on the bed next to him.

"Is there anything in the bathroom to uh...I could clean it for you," Mulder offered, his voice tight. He felt anger barely held in check threatening to overcome him. He pushed it down in order to remain calm. Still, he felt his hands shaking a little.

"Alcohol and some gauze, yeah," Skinner replied, running a hand over his scalp.

"Ok, take this, I'll be right back." Mulder replied, handing Skinner the glass of water.

The AD put it to his lips and as he started to drink, Mulder left his side and exited the bedroom. In the bathroom he found alcohol and the gauze. Both were recent purchases, the price stickers still on the bottle and box. Skinner must have had to buy them after...after Krycek had what? Mulder put the obvious thought out of his mind. The idea that Krycek and Skinner had something else going on besides palm pilots and nanocytes and it got out of hand. He shoved that disturbing thought to the back of his mind for the moment while he collected the gauze and alcohol and left the bathroom.

When he got back into the bedroom, Skinner was just pulling on his briefs. Mulder glanced away for a second as the AD worked them up over his cock and balls. He didn't let himself think about the brief peek he'd gotten of what the AD had to offer there. Nope. Cancel that glimpse. He instead noticed the empty glass of water sitting on the night stand next to Skinner's glasses, gun and cell phone. The damp black T-shirt, white briefs and towel draped over the back of a nearby straight backed chair. When he heard Skinner clear his throat he looked back.

"Why don't you lie down on your stomach and I'll swab off the blood," Mulder suggested as Skinner stared at him.

Without his glasses Skinner looked less closed off, a lot more vulnerable. But...he was nevertheless a striking looking man. Mulder contemplated his strong features. The AD wasn't exactly handsome in a conventional sense. Not handsome that is by the standards that the media and some people set - but his face was attractive in a rugged way.

Right now his face was showing his discomfort and he wasn't really able to mask it anymore. It was clear that he was in immense emotional pain if not some physical pain as well. Mulder felt his heart filling with sympathy for his boss. No one should have to undergo this type of humiliation and distress. Well he could think of someone...fucking one-armed bandit. He'd like to... Skinner shifted, picking up the T-shirt and tossing it onto the pillow next to him. He pulled his legs up onto the bed and Mulder let the thoughts of beating the hell out of Krycek fall by the wayside. Skinner lay down on his stomach silently, his head lying to the side on the other pillow.

Mulder approached the bed and set the gauze and alcohol on the night stand.

"Can you scoot over a little?" he asked, tapping Skinner's thigh. Skinner moved his body over and Mulder sat down and went about uncapping the alcohol.

He hesitated for a moment and his brows knitted together. Whoa. Here was something he didn't consider he thought as he gazed at the drops of blood on Skinner's back. The nanocytes. Could they be transmitted just by physical contract with Skinner's bodily fluids? If so...did Krycek risk himself when he beat and bit Skinner? Mulder looked into Skinner's one eye that watched him from the pillow.

"Sir...uh...I'm going to be touching your blood. I'm clean so that shouldn't concern you but..." Mulder began quietly.

Skinner's head shifted a little on the pillow and he shut his eyes.

"I took that into consideration...I'm clean...the nanocytes notwithstanding. But...the machines...don't...don't work that way. According to Krycek they somehow...bond with your blood and tissue type when they're inside you. Once they're in you...they are you...they can't survive in anyone else," Skinner explained haltingly.

"Like an organ transplant...they're not compatible?" Mulder asked, interested despite his disgust at the whole scenario.

"Essentially," Skinner replied, opening his eyes.

"I see," Mulder replied, nodding and uncapping the alcohol.

Christ, trust Krycek to explain the mechanism of your death to you so clinically. Mulder felt like his teeth were going to grind together for a moment. He stilled his mind to try to calm himself.

"I'm sorry you had to see this," Skinner mumbled, looking up at Mulder out of the corner of his eye.

"I'm fucking sorry you had to go through this," Mulder answered intensely.

"How...how can you defend him when he'd do something like this to you..."

"Mulder...I wasn't defending Krycek...I was merely stating his side of the argument earlier. Don't underestimate him. I was serious when I said he was a zealot."

"Well no shit, sir. I mean this is one overzealous working over if you ask me," Mulder grated out as he dampened a gauze with the alcohol.

"I can't disagree...OW!" Skinner hissed as Mulder touched the wet gauze to his back.

"Shit...sorry," Mulder replied. Good job, Mulder...let's hurt him further by not warning him before applying the alcohol. "When did he do this to you?"

Skinner nodded a little in acknowledgment and then answered the question.

"A little over a week ago," Skinner replied quietly, shutting his eyes as Mulder blotted at the cut with the gauze.

"Just a little social call, hey? Is the bastard coming back?" Mulder asked, between clenched teeth.

"No...he's...I got the impression he's going to Russia. We won't be seeing him again for a while."

"He'd better not come back here...I'll put a bullet in his fucking head if he does," Mulder hissed.

Skinner opened his eyes and raised his eyebrows at Mulder. Something passed over his face. A speculative look but it was quickly replaced by one of agreement.

"At this point, you'd have to get in line," Skinner replied with a sigh. Then he shut his eyes again for a moment. Mulder pressed the gauze to the cut and held it there.

"We could flip for it," Mulder replied with a tight smile.

Skinner opened his eyes and looked at Mulder again. Then he huffed a chuckle as Mulder pulled the gauze away from his back and tossed it into the trash can that sat next to the night stand.

"I think I've got the bleeding stopped now. If you want to put on your T-shirt you could probably risk it," Mulder commented, getting up from the bed. He recapped the alcohol as Skinner sat up. The AD reached for his T-shirt as Mulder stood by. He drew it gingerly over his head and then down, pulling on the end to adjust it over his back better.

"Thanks, this is fine," he commented, looking back up at Mulder.

"Did he...uh...expect to get information or what?" Mulder asked quietly as Skinner captured his eyes. The AD held them as he answered.

"No...he expected to get off. He did," Skinner replied through clenched teeth.

Mulder winced as he ran his hand through his hair.

"I...I'm sorry," he answered, looking down at the floor. Oh yeah right...like he'd even have had to ask what Krycek had been doing after seeing the bite marks.

Skinner leaned back against the headboard and drew his knees up. He placed his forearms over them and stared straight ahead.

"Mulder...one of the things the Consortium used against me from the beginning was my sexual preference. They knew what divulging it could do to my career. It had ruined my marriage already of course and they had a hand in that as well because they told Sharon. Showed her photos of me with men before we were married. I never cheated on her. But, they convinced her I did that too. Marrying Sharon was a mistake I regretted a great deal. I can't blame her for what she did with the divorce. The marriage was on the rocks anyway because I couldn't fool either of us any longer and not admit I wanted a man all along. She deserved better than to be used as a potential cure for my homosexuality. At any rate, what the Consortium knew...Krycek knew as well..." he let his voice trail off.

"So he came here...looking for what...a sexual favor this time?"

"More or less...although he did pose the usual questions about what you and Scully were doing in connection with the artifacts. I don't know if the uh...rest of it was an afterthought or what," Skinner answered, looking at Mulder. The agent sat down again on the end of the bed, facing Skinner.

"I take it you resisted his advances," Mulder commented, gesturing at Skinner's chest.

"Actually...no. I mean...he has the damn palm pilot. It was a very compelling reason to do what he asked at the time."

"Christ. Then why the..."

Skinner shrugged.

"Beating and bites?" he asked his voice resigned to telling it all now.

"Yeah," Mulder replied watching his face.

Skinner's eyes flicked down to his forearms when he answered.

"I couldn't get it up. I guess...it bothered him," he replied, his voice soft.

Mulder didn't want the AD to tell him anymore. The toll it was taking on him was too much. He looked like he was just about at his wit's end and reliving what happened to him was too much right now after the nightmare and Mulder discovering his injuries. It would be better to discuss it in the morning when both of them had rested more. If they could rest, Mulder thought dismally. He wasn't sure he could at all.

"Sir...you should seek medical attention then. You need...I mean if he..." Mulder started to reply.

"No...no medical treatment. There can't be any records of this...assault, Mulder. It...it would make matters worse," Skinner shook his head emphatically.

Mulder ran his hand over his eyes and pressed them into his skull for a moment. He realized of course that Krycek must have raped Skinner. Jesus wept. He removed his hand and looked into Skinner's tense face.

"You...at the very least you should seek rape counseling," he whispered. It was a big chance to suggest it. He knew Skinner could shut him out again. But as a psychologist he had to recommend it. People in Skinner's position needed it after this type of attack.

Skinner's jaw jumped but he held Mulder's eyes.

"I'll take it under advisement, Mulder," he answered quietly but not without sincerity. "But right now...I'd like to try to get some sleep," he added with a sigh, taking his arms off his knees.

Mulder nodded and reaching forward slapped him gently on the knee.

"All right. Rest. I'll talk to you in the morning," Mulder replied, moving away then and getting off the bed. He picked up his gun and took it along with him.

"Thanks, Mulder," Skinner replied, his voice suddenly rough with emotion as Mulder walked towards the door. Mulder turned back and addressed him.

"No problem. Later," he replied with a tentative smile. Skinner returned it with a smile of his own and Mulder walked out of the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.

xXx

Saturday, December 4, 1999. 7:17 AM. A beach house near Crossroads, Maine

Mulder woke to the smell of coffee brewing. He opened his eyes and took in his surroundings. He immediately saw Skinner standing in the kitchen. The AD was gazing out the window over the sink, his back to him. His tall, sweatsuit clad, muscular body was accented in a nimbus of light from the sun. The rays accentuated his broad shoulders and narrow hips. Mulder let his eyes travel down to his ass and swallowed hard before he ripped his eyes away. Christ. Here he was lusting for the guy and he'd just been raped for crying out loud. He felt a healthy dose of self-disgust as he rolled over and groped on the coffee table for his watch. He held it close to his face and saw that it was a little after 7 AM. Not as bad as he thought. He hadn't checked the time last night after Skinner's nightmare until he got back out to the couch. It had been twelve fifteen. So, even with the nightmare he'd gotten some sleep. He could only hope Skinner had as well. Mulder slipped the watch on his wrist, grabbed his pants and pulled them on. Then he padded barefoot into the kitchen.

Skinner turned when he heard his approach. He was holding a coffee mug in his hand.

"Good morning," he rumbled taking in Mulder's disheveled appearance and sleep-spiked hair with a small smile.

"Morning," Mulder responded with a return grin. "Smelled the coffee. Thanks," he added, moving to pick up the second mug sitting on the counter. As he crossed to the coffeemaker he glanced down at Skinner's feet. He had on sneakers.

"You going for a run?" he asked quizzically as he reached for the coffeepot.

Skinner placed his mug in the sink.

"Yeah. I...I think it'd help to clear my head. You want to join me?" he replied, raising his eyebrow.

"Sure...as soon as I consume my regular dose of caffeine," Mulder quipped, filling his mug. "Can you wait a few minutes for that and until I change?"

"No problem," Skinner replied, leaning against the counter. "We can rustle up something to eat afterwards," he added, obviously pleased at Mulder's acceptance. Mulder nodded in agreement.

"Where do you run around here?" Mulder asked as he put the pot back down on the burner. He turned to lean against the counter on his side, facing Skinner. "And if you don't mind me asking...how did you find this place? It is a great 'weekender'," he added, taking a sip of his coffee. Yeah, and remote but not remote enough to prevent Krycek as well as Mulder from finding Skinner, the agent thought glumly.

"The dirt road leading down here is about three miles back to the main highway so I usually run there. Three miles out, three miles back works pretty well. It's soft footing. Not too hard on the joints. As for how I found this place...it's my sister's husband's fishing shack as he calls it. I'd been here a few times in the past. Roger let me borrow it for...well for as long as I wanted I guess. He very seldom comes down here in the winter. I...I hadn't spoken to him in a while so I'm glad he gave me permission to come up here."

"Ah," Mulder replied, nodding. He took a swig of his coffee and Skinner turned to look out the window again.

"It's warmer. The sun feels good," he observed casually. Mulder took a few steps to look out the window. There was a thermometer nailed to the side of the house.

"Yeah. Fifty. That's almost balmy," Mulder replied looking into Skinner's profile.

Skinner's head turned slowly and he pinned Mulder's eyes. Mulder looked and saw the desire for him plainly written in the brown depths of Skinner's eyes. Even behind the spectacles he could see it flame up. Flame up and tamp down, regret and a certain amount of fear replacing it.

"I...uh...I'll go change," Mulder mumbled. Skinner dropped his eyes and cleared his throat.

"Ok. I'll catch you here and we'll go out through the back door. I'll wash the cups," Skinner replied, his voice gravelly.

"Right," Mulder agreed, turning and leaving his side.

Why the hell didn't I...what? Kiss him? No...why the fuck didn't I say something? he chided himself as he reentered the living room. Because Skinner looked scared shitless at the end there he guessed. But he'd have to say something soon, Mulder thought. He's got to know where I'm coming from too. Mulder decided to broach the subject after their run if at all possible. He went to his garment bag to pull out his sweats and sneakers.

xXx

Their feet thudded dully on the dirt road as Mulder and Skinner jogged side by side, the wind at their backs. Mulder had insisted on an easy jog at least for the outgoing laps being mindful of Skinner's injuries. The AD didn't seem to be having any trouble keeping up however. Mulder marveled at how smoothly his legs carried him along. Almost effortlessly. He knew Skinner boxed and lifted weights of course. He didn't realize he ran as well. He figured with a body like his he must work out a lot. Obviously he took good care of himself. It made what Krycek had done to him with the nanocytes an even greater injustice.

The morning air was refreshing. The sun did seem warm and their sweats and sneakers were more than adequate to keep them warm as they ran on. The brisk wind from the day before had died down to a pale semblance of its former fury, and the only clouds were some wispy stratus high up in the blue sky. Mulder looked to the side and saw first the beach, smooth sand dotted with a few rocks...and then the ocean, calm and blue - and then darker blue stretching out endlessly to the horizon on his left. A few seagulls floated over the surface, their raucous cries reaching his ears. He turned his head right and watched Skinner run on against the backdrop of sand and water on that side, his face intent and focused on just the experience of feeling his body work. Mulder focused on his own body's response and pressed on as well.

On the top of the key, when they reached the main highway, both men turned around without stopping and headed back to the house.

"You want to pick up the pace?" Mulder asked, huffing just slightly.

"Sure," Skinner huffed a little in return.

Mulder nodded and kicked it, his feet thumping harder as he pulled ahead. In a few strides, Skinner was next to him and as the breeze blew into their faces he caught a grin playing about Skinner's mouth. In a few moments the AD had picked up the pace again and Mulder knew he was in for a race. He grinned and forged ahead. Soon they were pounding along the road, Skinner out in front one moment, Mulder the next. Mulder was amazed that Skinner could keep up the speed. He was really tearing up the ground Mulder thought as he labored to keep up with the older man. When he pulled up next to him again he looked into his face with the intent to tell him to slow down a little but the look on Skinner's face stopped him from uttering a word.

He was running like a man possessed...or being chased by the devil. His face was a grimace of something caught between the enjoyment of taking himself almost to the limit of what his body could endure and the idea that he had to run for his life or die. Mulder's guts clenched and he almost stumbled from the sudden swell of feelings that rolled through him. He didn't know what to think or feel...but he knew...he knew he wanted to help this man shake off whatever demons were haunting him. Skinner pulled ahead again and Mulder dashed off after him.

Finally they drew within sight of the house at the end of the peninsula. By this time, Mulder was ahead. He'd out-distanced Skinner but he figured it had more to do with Skinner's injuries than either age or condition. The AD was still coming on strong, he just didn't have quite enough left to beat Mulder. Mulder ran down the slope into the sand and shore-grass filled front yard of the 'weekender' and gradually slowed to a walk as Skinner reached the top of the slope. Mulder cooled down a little further and then stood and waited as Skinner loped down the gentle incline.

"Just goes to show what an extra 8 years will do," Skinner remarked archly as he slowed to a walk at the bottom of the hill. He walked around a little, breathing deeply as Mulder stood watching him.

"Oh yeah, right. You just about killed me...Ironman," Mulder answered, chuckling.

Skinner looked over at him and chuckled as well.

"Ironman...I like that," he replied sauntering over to Mulder. "Appropriate as well," he added sardonically. Mulder gave him a raised eyebrow. "Sorry...that was a little...uh..." Skinner added, frowning.

"Macabre?" Mulder suggested without any discomfort in his voice.

"Yeah," Skinner replied.

Mulder shrugged.

"Ah, skip it. I...I've said a lot of things more outrageous...more 'bent' in the past," he replied, blowing off the veiled reference to the nanocytes.

Skinner nodded and ran his hand over the fringe of hair at the back of his head, smoothing it down a little.

"Look...how about a shower and then breakfast?" he proposed.

Mulder had to stop a moment before he realized Skinner hadn't meant they should shower together. Skinner picked up on his confused look but misinterpreted it.

"If you'd rather eat first..."

"Huh...oh...uh no...that's fine. But look...sir...I think we..." Mulder began. He couldn't take it any longer. He was going to have to say something.

"Mulder, it's not warm enough out here that our muscles aren't going to stiffen," Skinner interjected quietly.

"Oh...yeah. Right," Mulder agreed. Shit. Ok, he'd button his lip for now. But soon he'd let it out, he thought as Skinner moved off towards the front door, taking his keys out of his sweat pants pocket.

xXx

Mulder pulled on his jeans, zipped the fly up and buttoned the top. He'd brought his clothing into the bathroom after Skinner gave him first dibs on the shower. He'd showered, shaved, brushed, flossed, in short he'd made himself look eminently presentable. He was wearing a comfortable black cotton turtleneck that Scully had given him for Christmas a couple of years ago and he still wore because it was one of his favorite shirts. His Levi's jeans were comfortable and faded but not ripped or threadbare. He looked at his fresh pair of white athletic socks and frowned a little. One of them had a hole in it. His big toe was sticking out. He sighed. Time to go buy more socks he thought. It occurred to him that normally that wouldn't annoy him at all really. He considered why as he sat down on the closed toilet seat to put on his sneakers.

He wanted to look good for Skinner. Oh brother. This could not be happening at a worse possible time. He wanted to look good for Skinner because...he wanted Skinner. His libido was deciding to raise its little head in a big way and Mulder knew that the latent attraction he'd had for the AD was coming out to slap him in the face full force. Damn it. This made it even more important to talk to Skinner about the matter. He didn't know what they could work out here but under the circumstances a one night stand was the wrong choice completely. Mulder was determined not to hurt Skinner again for any reason right now. So, he decided that after Skinner's shower and over breakfast they were going to have the discussion they needed to get out of the way. He cleaned up the bathroom because it was spotless when he came in, and exited it to go in search of Skinner.

The AD was in the living room, still dressed in his sweats of course. He was seated at the desk by the window. He must have opened the shutters while I was in the shower, Mulder thought. Sunlight streamed into the room from all the living room windows now. So Skinner was sitting there in a warm pool of light, just staring. The laptop was back but he wasn't typing on the keyboard at all. Mulder quietly walked over and stood at the window opposite the one the desk was in front of and looked out.

"I think this weather will hold up. The sky is really clear," Mulder observed quietly.

The AD spoke then but he didn't add to Mulder's observation.

"I...I'm writing a letter to my sister, Mulder. I...haven't spoken to my sister in six months...and then it was just a damn e-mail on her birthday..." he let his voice trail off and sat back in the chair, his hands resting on the desktop. Mulder crossed silently and stood in back of Skinner. He wanted to place his hands on Skinner's shoulders. Massage the tension out of his muscles. Turn the massaging movements to caresses. But he didn't. Instead he took another chance at getting himself into a different kind of trouble entirely. He reached around Skinner, used the track ball to save and then close the file and turned away.

"Come on...why don't you get your shower and I'll fix breakfast and then I think...I think we'd better talk further," Mulder suggested with compassion in his voice. He left Skinner's side hoping he wouldn't start to hear Skinner's anger over his forwardness and taking it for granted as well as hoping that the AD would head for the bathroom. He was gratified to hear the wooden chair push back from the desk and not bellowing behind him.

Over the remainders of scrambled eggs, bacon, toast and coffee, Mulder put down his fork and ventured a question about the letter Skinner had been trying to write. It was an opening gambit. He was going to try to purvey it into a specific discussion about the gay issue. The AD put down his fork as well and Mulder watched as he carefully considered his words. When he spoke he looked up at Mulder and held his eyes.

"I need to tell both my sister and mother about my medical condition. They need to be informed in the event Krycek should really finish me off the next time he uses that palm pilot. My sister is executrix of my will. So, I'm trying to write that letter but I'm having a hell of a time explaining it. What do I say? How much do I tell them and how can I possibly explain the nanocytes? I'm trying...trying to avoid having it sound like I have AIDS quite frankly. This...this wouldn't be a long illness before...uh...well you get my point. I could be dead tomorrow and I need to convey that to them."

Mulder flinched at the words AIDS. He had been wondering if Krycek had used a condom. It seemed he had done so otherwise Mulder thought Skinner wouldn't have been trying to rule that possibility out. He knew Skinner practiced safe sex - at least he had with the prostitute. Mulder guessed that was one redeeming thing about Krycek then.

"They know you're gay then?" Mulder responded, shaking off thoughts of the Czech.

"Yes. All that came out with the divorce. It didn't go over well. Both my mother and sister liked Sharon. We...well things have been tense between us all since then. Roger...Sylvia's husband surprisingly has been kind of my go-between. The peacemaker. Hell of a note too. The guy's a fireman. Just an average guy but he's got...well he's a good man," Skinner replied, looking down at his plate.

"Why tell them at all, sir?" Mulder asked, looking at the top of Skinner's head. "If something was to happen...well Scully's your physician of record. She and I would explain to your family that you were killed in the line of duty. I'd...I'd see to it that they would be told that was the case, sir," Mulder added with conviction.

Skinner's head came up and he raised an eyebrow. There was a look of hope in his eyes but it was mixed with caution.

"You...you 'and' Scully would do that for me?" he asked carefully.

"Yeah, we would," Mulder replied.

"I think you know better than to put words in Agent Scully's mouth, Mulder," he replied watching Mulder's face.

It was Mulder's turn to look down then. He knew he'd have to talk to Scully about it but he had a gut feeling she wouldn't object. But Skinner was right. It was unfair for Mulder to assume Scully would agree. He'd done it before in point of fact and had Scully tell him to get stuffed in so many words as well. So, he had to agree.


 


 

TITLE: Closing the Distance - Part 2
NAME: frogdoggie
E-MAIL:
CATEGORY: SRA

RATING: NC-17. M/SK. This story contains very explicit slash i.e. m/m sex. Also, some discussion of m/m rape. So, if you don’t like that type of thing - STOP NOW! Forewarned is forearmed. Proceed with caution.

SUMMARY: Mulder and Skinner deal with the aftermath of Mulder reading Skinner's mind in Biogenesis and Sixth Extinction. Missing a part of this story or just want to read more of my fic? Then surf here: http://www.squidge.org/3wstop  or here, on my mirror site at: http://adult.dencity.com/frogdoggie

FEEDBACK - YES PLEASE, AND THANK YOU SIR, CAN I HAVE ANOTHER? Comments, suggestions and healthy debate are always welcome. Flames? They only serve to warm my body and mind.

ARCHIVE: Sure. Anywhere - as long as my name and e-mail addy stay on it.

TIMESPAN/SPOILER WARNING: Biogenesis, Sixth Extinction and Amor Fati as well as any and all episodes up to Amor Fati. Pretty much the whole series.

KEYWORDS: story slash Skinner Mulder NC-17

DISCLAIMER: Please see Part 1


"You have a point. It's not fair for me to speak for Scully. So, I can only assure you that I'll do the best I can to see that your family is told the right thing, sir. I don't think you should have to let them suffer thinking you have some incurable natural illness when that really isn't the case," Mulder replied sincerely, looking back up at Skinner.

They locked eyes and Mulder watched the AD consider his proposition. After a few moments he nodded but didn't relax very much.

"Mulder...I...I don't know what to say," he murmured. "It seems I'm in your debt and I have...there's no reason why you should..." he let his voice trail off as Mulder looked at him.

"How long?" Mulder asked him in a soft voice. Skinner blinked but he got Mulder's meaning.

"Since almost the first day I saw you in the halls at the Hoover. It wasn't...wasn't love at first at all though. No...it was...pure lust," Skinner replied hoarsely. "But later...later I grew to uh...admire you and...uh..." he shook his head in self-deprecation. "This is really hard for me to say, Mulder," he added exasperated at himself.

"Well uh...I am...I'm flattered...really," Mulder replied, grinning a little.

Skinner's ears reddened. He looked down because his face was flushing slightly and he was obviously fighting for control.

"Look...this has to be terribly awkward. I'm sorry to lay all this on you. I never intended to have it intrude on our working relationship and I sure as hell never intended for it to turn into any kind of personal connection because I knew you and Scully were uh...romantically involved and..." Skinner continued in a rush.

"We're not," Mulder blurted out, interrupting him.

"What?" Skinner replied, looking up, his brow furrowing in confusion.

"Scully and I aren't involved in a romantic relationship, sir," Mulder clarified quietly.

"Not...not involved?" Skinner replied, staring at Mulder, his face showing just how stunned he was from this turn of events.

"No...uh...we've got an interesting dynamic going on there...we respect each other as friends and we're a true partnership on the job in every sense of the word. I know I'd back her up in any situation, die for her really...and vice a versa. But anything uh...of a sexual nature...no. I guess if you were going to quantify our personal relationship it'd be kind of familial. You know...a brother and sister thing. She's...she's very special to me that way. But Scully is still looking for 'Mr. Right' and he ain't Fox Mulder," he finished getting through his halting explanation while the AD was too gob-stopped to utter another remark or reply.

The AD finally found his voice after a few seconds of uncomfortable silence and gave his response.

"This...this isn't some kind of...Mulder, you're not worried about regulations are you because really...male and female agents aren't strictly prohibited from..."

"No, sir...it's true. Honestly. Scully and I aren't having a sexual relationship. We're just very good friends and one hell of a smooth working partnership, that's all," Mulder answered seriously.

Skinner sat back and ran a large, strong hand over his mouth. He shook his head.

Mulder watched the wheels turning reflected in his face after he lowered his hand.

"All right. I'm clearly batting zero here I guess," he replied finally. "You have my apologies. I'm sorry I made the assumption," he added sincerely.

"No apologies necessary, sir. And to be honest...I have to apologize myself. I saw that assumption in your mind in the hospital. After I got back from my unscheduled surgery I...well...I should have asked to meet with you right away to discuss this whole matter. I was remiss in doing so. It had to be...unpleasant for you to contemplate what I'd seen and what I was thinking about it. I..."

"Mulder...it's all right. I can more than understand why you wouldn't have come to see me. Most heterosexual men, no matter how liberal they think they are have some trepidation concerning being the object of a gay man's...uh...desires. I don't blame you for taking time to come to terms with it before you said anything. Besides you were recuperating and I was...I was running like a coward to Maine so I could drink myself into forgetting anyway," he replied, the last bit said with a bitterness that set Mulder's teeth on edge.

Ok, Mulder thought. Here we go. The big Mulder revelation. I'm going to lay my cards out on the table and hope for a winning hand here somewhere...or at least a draw for one of us. This is not going to be easy the agent thought as Skinner sat back waiting for his reply. He tried to form the words but he could hardly do it. Finally he chucked any sort of caution and just decided on plain English spelled out clearly.

"I don't consider myself heterosexual, sir. I guess I'm bisexual," he replied quietly. "I've been with men before...uh...first at Oxford and later I had a long-term relationship with my first partner..." Mulder let his voice trail off as he observed Skinner's reaction. The AD's face went white. Completely ashen so fast Mulder didn't even have time to blink. "Sir?" he asked in concern.

"You're...this is...you're not serious?" Skinner managed to grate out.

"Yes, I'm serious," Mulder replied, nodding.

Color rose up in Skinner's face then, flushing him practically scarlet. He pushed back from the table and stood up quickly. He nearly knocked the chair over in his haste to move away.

"Sir!?" Mulder exclaimed in alarm.

"I...oh...Christ," he mumbled and then he turned and left the kitchen at a dead run.

"Shit," Mulder cursed, getting up to run after him.

Skinner was way ahead of him and running down the hallway towards the bathroom before Mulder was through the living room. Mulder heard him bull his way through the open bathroom door and then he heard a thud as Skinner's jeans clad knees hit the wooden floor. The next sounds Mulder heard were the sounds of porcelain smacking against porcelain and then the sound of vomiting.

Mulder winced. "Oh fuck," he mumbled, hurrying forward. When he reached the bathroom door, he saw Skinner on his knees with his head practically in the toilet heaving up breakfast. Skinner's stomach muscles under his dark blue crew neck shirt rose and fell as he started to gag again. Mulder held down his own gorge as Skinner gave up more of his stomach contents and walked quickly over to the nearly prostrate AD. He hated this feeling of helplessness as he stared at the stricken man. Damn it. Get a grip, Mulder, he thought giving himself a swift mental kick in the ass. Galvanized to action he strode forward and grabbed a washcloth. Moving to the sink he soaked it in water, wrung it out, and went back to Skinner's side.

"It'll be ok," he murmured, folding the cloth into a rectangle and pressing it to Skinner's forehead. The AD's glasses were askew and Mulder gently removed them and put them on the vanity as Skinner began to gag again

"Ffff," he stuttered.

"Don't try to talk, Ironman," Mulder whispered. "Just let it out," he added, holding the cloth to support the older man's head. Skinner tried to nod and then he puked noisily again into the toilet bowl.

Finally even the dry heaves subsided and Mulder was able to help Skinner pull back from the can. Skinner sat down heavily against the bathtub, propping his back against the cool porcelain. He drew his knees up. Mulder rose and rinsed and wrung the washcloth out again and brought it back over to Skinner. The AD took it gratefully and Mulder closed the toilet seats and flushed the toilet. Skinner wiped his face with the washcloth and then draped it over the side of the tub.

"Why don't you rinse your mouth out?" Mulder suggested.

Skinner nodded and got up, going to the sink to comply with Mulder's suggestion. When he was done rinsing and spitting he sat down on the toilet seat and put his head in his hands.

"It was just...the shock I think...the surprise. I'm...man...I am sincerely sorry," he mumbled completely embarrassed to be in the state he was in. "I...God damn it...I don't usually lose it like this, Mulder. Get sick because I can't handle my...emotions. It's not...not my way," he whispered, scrubbing at his face with his hand. Mulder fought the urge to make a lame joke brought on by nervousness about people losing their meal because he sometimes had that effect on them.

"Sir...you've been through a traumatic experience with Krycek. I wouldn't expect you to be...uh..."

"My usual hard-case self?" Skinner asked, looking up, his eyes showing his misery.

"Made of iron for real, sir" Mulder replied quietly. "No one should be able to go through what you just went through and just carry on like it's business as usual. They shouldn't have to do that. You should lie down for a while. Rest. Try to sleep again. I'll wake you later," Mulder advised, looking down into Skinner's face.

"I don't want to sleep, Mulder. I...I want to...Mulder, I have to ask..."

"Did I ever suspect you?" Mulder asked carefully.

"Yeah," Skinner asked, his face a study in angst.

"No."

"Well, that makes me feel marginally better," Skinner replied acerbically. He sighed then and gestured with his hand, waving off the comment. "Sorry...I didn't mean that to sound as sarcastic as it did," he amended.

Mulder shrugged and Skinner continued.

"I guess we did a pretty good job of staying in the closet. Either that or we're piss poor investigators and I am confident that's not the case with either one of us," Skinner replied, coming round a little. He was regaining his normal coloring and didn't look as near collapse as he did earlier. Mulder let out his breath a little in relief and nodded.

"There wasn't really anything that set off our 'gaydar', sir...that's all," he chuckled a little.

Skinner gave him the look but then he nodded too and his lips twitched a small weary smile.

"But uh...look...are we being honest here?" Mulder asked carefully. "Off the record, sir?"

Skinner gave him a raised eyebrow.

"Sorry...stupid question," Mulder replied with chagrin. "All of this is...is a bit overwhelming," he added, giving his shoulder a half shrug.

"Oh...no shit," Skinner rumbled, his voice caught between a laugh and a choking sound. "And it's definitely off the record, Mulder. It's way off the record," Skinner replied wryly at the same time he meant to reassure him.

Mulder nodded and told him the truth then and waited for the chips to fall where they may.

"I didn't suspect you at all, sir. But...I did look. I mean, you're not...unattractive. So for what it's worth...I did notice your...assets," Mulder replied quietly.

Skinner stared at him, his mouth open slightly, then he shut it and shook his head, irony and anguish warring on his face.

"Almost seven years," he mumbled. "To think if I had given even one clue...one sign..." he added, his voice fading. He looked down at his hands.

Mulder felt something click in his head. His body filled with a very pleasant warmth as he gazed down at Skinner. A tightness formed in his chest and he felt his breathing pick up a little. He took a tentative step towards the AD and then another, moving to stand directly in front of him. He stretched out his hand to gently touch Skinner's cheek. Mulder spoke and he paraphrased his earlier words from their discussion about Krycek's motives because he couldn't think of anything else to say that was more apt.

"You're just a man, sir. We're both just men. Men are fallible. We make mistakes. I don't think you should blame yourself," Mulder replied, letting his hand rest against Skinner's shaved jaw. Skinner's skin felt warm and inviting under his touch.

Skinner looked up, studying Mulder's face for a moment. Then, his only reply was to bend forward slightly and rest his head against Mulder's leg. Mulder moved his hand up and stroked the fringe of hair above Skinner's ear.

Mulder stood like that for several moments, holding Skinner's upper body where he sat, and then Skinner pulled back. Mulder stepped back slightly as well, his hands loose at his sides. Skinner looked up at him again.

"That...that was presumptuous of me," he mumbled, pinning Mulder's eyes.

Mulder shrugged.

"I've been presumptuous half my life. I'm not going to fault it in someone else," he whispered huskily.

Skinner stood up in a sudden fluid motion that caught Mulder off guard but which he found himself readily accepting without much surprise at all as Skinner took him in his arms. The AD enfolded him gently, cautiously and for a fraction of a second Skinner looked in Mulder's eyes seeking permission and seeing it pressed his lips tentatively to Mulder's lips.

Oh shit, Mulder thought instantly in panic. We...we're in trouble now he thought immediately afterwards. But, despite his panic, he found himself going with the moment and accepting Skinner's first hesitant kiss. It didn't even register with him that Skinner had been worshipping the porcelain God only moments earlier. It was a closed mouth kiss anyway and the sweetness of it began to fill his senses and then suddenly...it was over almost before he realized Skinner had pulled away. Skinner's eyes played over Mulder's face and he held Mulder's arms, his touch soft on Mulder's biceps.

"This...this is just about sex isn't it?" Skinner suggested quietly, studying Mulder's face keenly.

Mulder swallowed hard and felt his eyes slide from Skinner's almost without their own volition. He heard Skinner's small sigh and then he spoke again.

"Mulder...you must know that's not all I want," he added, a trace of sadness in his voice.

"Sir...uh..." Mulder began. Sir? Jesus when was he going to stop calling him that...he just kissed the man for God's sake, Mulder thought. "I don't have much luck with relationships...I..."

Skinner let go of Mulder's arms slowly, letting his leave taking turn into a caress as he stepped back. Mulder refocused on the AD as Skinner turned and took his glasses off the top of the small vanity where Mulder had placed them earlier. He put them on and with donning them he assumed the Skinner that Mulder was much more familiar with at the Hoover. The formal, business-like Walter Skinner - and Mulder's heart fell to his toes.

"It's all right, Mulder. I understand. I think...I think I'll take your earlier suggestion and lie down for a while," he replied matter-of-factly as he slid past Mulder and headed out of the bathroom. Mulder followed, walking quickly after Skinner's retreating back.

Mulder felt shame well up in him hot and slick in his guts. He tried to respond and all that came out of his mouth was a rush of platitudes, advice and nonsense that sounded totally inane to his ears.

"Sure...that sounds like a good idea. Go in the bedroom and lie down. If you can't sleep I have some Tylenol PM in my shaving kit. I'll get it for you. You've been through a lot both physically and mentally. I'd like to see you give yourself some time and sleep to build up your resources again. In my opinion you're too strung out right now. I realize we need to discuss the situation. We can talk some more after you get some rest, all right?" Mulder babbled. He felt like a clown and he was dying inside as he trailed behind Skinner like some yapping terrier.

Skinner didn't answer him until he reached the bedroom door. He opened it and then turned in the doorway to face Mulder.

"Would you wake me in time for dinner, please?" he asked, his voice flat. His face was mask-like and his eyes were dull.

"No problem," Mulder replied in a soft voice.

"Thank you, Mulder," Skinner replied, and a little gratefulness did creep into his final words before he shut the bedroom door in Mulder's face. Mulder slumped against the hallway wall and bounced his head once, hard off the plaster.

xXx

The hours dragged on and Mulder spent most of them sitting on the living room couch, which he had folded back up, the TV on with the volume down low staring at the screen without really seeing it. A beer from the fridge sat on the end table within easy reach. He sipped from it off and on in a desultory fashion. Went to the can and took a piss. But mostly he was sitting there trying to salvage a situation he had sent right down the crapper with his usual knack for fucking up any serious interpersonal relationship. He felt bereft and deeply disgusted with himself because he knew he'd hurt Skinner and that was the last thing he had wanted to do. On the contrary.

Mulder had really taken pleasure in giving Skinner support and comfort. In fact...it felt damn good. The agent was beginning to realize that he had some heavy self-examination to do here. His sexual attraction for Skinner was teetering into an area where he knew it was liable to get them both into big trouble. The "L" word area. Teetering? OK, amend that description....it had tottered...yeah, tipped right over the edge.

Mulder had to admit it. He was falling in love with Skinner like a fucking ton of bricks. And as Mulder had told himself before, he didn't do love well and he did relationships even worse. He didn't want to face this right now. He wanted his life to go back to what it had been before this weekend...endless days of investigating one bizarre X-Files case or Cancerman invasion machination after another punctuated by moments of gut-wrenching horror alternating with stultifying Bureau routine. Facing another liver eating mutant or chest bursting gray would be better than confronting Skinner when he came out of that bedroom.

"Shit," the agent sighed aloud.

Mulder had even called Sully while the AD was sawing wood, peacefully this time thank God, to see if just talking to her would help him to get things lined up in his mind. It hadn't done any good. He'd had to give her an edited version of what was going on anyway because over the phone was not the place to fill her in about Krycek or Skinner being raped and then losing it, or his growing awareness that he was losing his heart to his boss. Uh uh. That was a face to face Scully discussion.

So, Mulder reiterated that Skinner was suffering from exhaustion plus the flu which was making him sick to his stomach. Mulder informed her he was going to stay on for a few days to give him a hand so he could get some quality and quantity sack time.

Scully had been a bit suspicious that there was more wrong. She'd asked a lot of questions about his condition and made Mulder promise to call her if he seemed to become more ill. During the course of the conversation Mulder thought he'd convinced her he wasn't omitting anything. She'd warned him however that if he had she'd take a dim view of it. Mulder had mentally prepared himself for the eventuality that later she'd chew him out.

But, they'd ended the conversation on a light note at least. Scully was going to visit her mother and Mulder had told her to give her his regards. Scully had hung up after making him promise to call her again if he needed help. She'd actually sounded more sympathetic towards Skinner and Mulder felt optimistic about that idea. But he was no further along in deciding what to do about his burgeoning feelings for the AD.

What in the hell could he do next? His mind kept coming back to the same idea. It all came back to the same point. Skinner wanted a relationship and Mulder was...scared shitless of commitment. Honest to God, he thought...that's the whole crux of the matter here. Mulder was petrified to go any further into exploring his love for Skinner because the whole damn thing could never work out. He'd fuck it up just like he'd done in the past...or if he didn't they'd end up ripping each other's throats out anyway because of some basic incompatibility on both sides. Hell...he and Skinner mixed like oil and water on the damn job. How the hell could he expect to get along with him outside of it in some kind of relationship?

Mulder knew that was his track record, the symptom of his disease...the inability to bond due to fear of loss of the person he loved and he tended to make sure he didn't bond in one way or another - except with Scully and look where it had gotten her? No kidding...if he'd been sleeping with her she'd probably be dead for sure by now he thought miserably. And Jesus...Skinner would fit the 'I could lose him tomorrow idea' wouldn't he, Mulder mused with a grim tightening of his jaw. Yeah, they'd be doomed before they ever got started.

But Good Lord...he wanted Skinner now. Physically for sure and it seemed emotionally as well and he didn't want to hurt him again...and ah...fuck it, Mulder cursed inwardly. All right...time to stop procrastinating. He glanced at his watch and saw it was five o'clock already. He might as well face the music. But before he sought to gird the lion in his den he'd take another trip to the can. So, Mulder rousted himself from the couch and stood up, the TV remote in hand. He turned the TV off and placed the remote on the coffee table. Finally he headed off towards the bathroom.

As Mulder was finishing his piss he heard a crash coming from next door in Skinner's bedroom. He jumped, dropping the last drips of urine on the rim of the toilet instead of shaking it out over the water as another thud followed on the crash's heels. Mulder shoved his dick back in his pants and pulled desperately on his fly, trying to zip it up as he ran from the bathroom.

He reached the bedroom door and grabbed for the door handle, yanking the door open hard. Afternoon sunlight from the room's single window streamed in where Skinner had left the blinds open. Skinner was lying on top of the comforter on the bed, dressed except for his shoes and socks and struggling to hold onto the night stand lamp to prevent it from following his gun and the clock radio onto the floor. Mulder lunged forward and caught it as it tipped over, keeping it steady.

"I was...disorientated when I woke up," Skinner rumbled, helping Mulder to shove the lamp back onto the night stand.

"Did you have another nightmare?" Mulder asked quietly as he huffed a little from the surprise and effort to catch the lamp in time.

"I don't know...but I did one of those things where you sit bolt upright when you wake up. The lamp suffered the consequences, I'm afraid," the AD answered shaking his head a little in self-deprecation.

Mulder wondered in the back of his mind if the AD had been going for his gun due to some nightmare about Krycek again. It was on the floor. The agent bent to retrieve it and handed the Smith and Wesson to Skinner. The AD took the proffered weapon and held it close, checking the safety and the clip. Everything seemed to be in order so he put it back on the night stand and reached for his glasses.

"Lucky those didn't end up on the floor," Mulder observed with a small smile. The glasses had been out of the line of the lamp.

"Yeah, I guess so," Skinner replied awkwardly.

He seated his glasses on his face and then looked back up at Mulder. The agent stood, tense and watched his face. There was such an infinite sadness in the depths of Skinner's eyes, a disappointment mixed with resignation and the realization that he was going to have to just forget about his desires and move on that Mulder was almost undone. The younger man's hands started to shake a little and he looked down at his feet.

"I...I'm very sorry..." he began.

Skinner cleared his throat and Mulder looked up to see him swing his legs off the other side of the bed. He went to stand and look out the window, his back to Mulder, his hands on his hips, feet splayed slightly, back straight and proud.

"Mulder...I can be adult about this situation. I've been...in this situation before. I'll survive, all right. Let's leave it at that," he replied, his voice hoarse with emotion.

Mulder found his legs moving before he realized they were and he walked slowly across the room to stand in back of Skinner. He gently placed his hand on the AD's shoulder and tugged, pulling Skinner to face him.

"Sir...I...I don't want to leave it at that," he murmured. "I'm sorry...I'm sorry you thought I meant...this was just about sex," he added, at last letting what he was truly feeling for Skinner show through his eyes.

Skinner's lips parted slightly as he stared into Mulder's face, looking desperately and diligently for what he hoped to see at last there. Mulder's head nodded almost imperceptibly and then Skinner began to smile. Mulder pressed forward and captured that smile with his mouth, taking Skinner's face in his hands and kissing him with all the love that was welling up in his heart and soul.

Skinner's mouth melded to his, and he was breathing hard as he opened his lips and took Mulder's tongue in to dance with his. The AD's hands found their way onto Mulder's back and he held Mulder convulsively as their mouths continued to slant over each other.

Finally Skinner broke the kiss and both of them pulled back slightly, flushed and out of breath. Skinner touched Mulder's face and ran his thumb along the beard stubble on his jawline. Mulder felt a wonderful shiver flow up his spine.

"Mulder...I...this is..." Skinner began to speak but his voice failed him.

Mulder nodded and placed his fingers on Skinner's saliva moistened lips.

"I was serious about the relationship stuff earlier. I...I have a piss poor track record when it comes to....romance, love...commitment...the whole ball of wax. You need to know that....Ironman," Mulder replied quietly, pinning Skinner's eyes."

"If you can accept my past, my mistakes...my...what I am and what I've done...good and bad...then...I'll deal with it...Mulder. We'll deal with it...we'll deal with all of it," Skinner whispered, running his hand through Mulder's hair.

Mulder nodded and Skinner's mouth descended on his and then nothing mattered to Mulder anymore except the heat building in his groin and the certainty that this was all very right piercing his heart, mind and soul.

He drew Skinner backwards, by holding onto his biceps as they kissed, their gait akin to the same drunken stagger they experienced the day before when Mulder brought Skinner in from the dock. Skinner followed, pressing Mulder backward eagerly, and then their legs became entangled almost pitching them down before they reached their objective. They hung onto each other and then their lips slipped apart. Skinner gave a snort of laughter.

"We need to decide who leads here I think," he chuckled.

Mulder was amazed at how fantastic Skinner looked smiling. His whole face was different. Carefree...and he looked twice as hot.

"I'm a good dancer...Ironman," Mulder replied huskily, nuzzling at Skinner's neck.

"Then lead on," Skinner replied, his voice rough.

Mulder pulled and Skinner came with him. When they reached the bed Mulder maneuvered him around and pushed him backwards onto the mattress. He splayed out over him and was rewarded with a sharp intake of breath and grimace from Skinner.

"Oh shit...your back," Mulder was instantly contrite. The agent rolled to the side and sat up. Skinner levered himself up and craned his neck around to look at his back.

"Yeah...still stings," he growled. Mulder edged close to him.

"Let me look. That cut may have opened up again," Mulder advised, his face serious.

Skinner turned his back towards Mulder, nodding, and Mulder waited as Skinner removed his glasses and placed them on the night stand. Then the AD tugged at his clothing, pulling up his shirt, taking it all the way up and off over his head. He tossed the garment over onto the straight back chair. The T-shirt came off next and followed the shirt.

Mulder touched Skinner's muscular lat muscle and felt gently along the scab over the first cut with the pad of his finger. He drew it away and examined his fingertip. No blood. Skinner sat quietly and patiently as Mulder repeated the process with each cut.

"No problem here," he finally told the AD. He moved back a little and Skinner shifted to face him.

Mulder tried to resist staring at the bite marks around Skinner's nipples but he couldn't and his jaw muscles grew tight. Skinner noticed where he was looking and cleared his throat. Mulder's eyes traveled to his face. Skinner gave an ironic twist of his mouth and his face grew suddenly strained, his eyes sad.

"This may be a case where the spirit's willing but the flesh is weak, Mulder," he suggested with disappointment.

Mulder looked back at him with compassion and understanding in his face. He was beginning to think that Skinner's earlier eagerness had been a heat of the moment thing and he wasn't quite ready for where they were going.

"I'm surprised you're uh...willing at all to be quite honest. After what Krycek did...if you didn't want to go through with this I'd more than understand."

Skinner bowed his head a little and stared at his clasped hands. Mulder ran a hand up and down his bicep. Skinner spoke quietly.

"Mulder...after nearly seven years of fantasizing something I wanted so much I think I'm running on a combination of bullheadedness and adrenaline right now. I'm too ornery to give up a wish come true and the head rush is making it hard for me to slow down or stop. I want this...a lot. But I guess if I was going to be brutally honest I'd tell you not to expect much," he replied almost in a whisper. His ears reddened and Mulder realized that Skinner's ears really were a barometer for his embarrassment. Right now they were practically scarlet.

Mulder felt like kicking himself in the ass again. Here he was putting the moves on the AD and he had evidence all over his body of another man's brutal assault. What could he have been thinking? He looked down on Skinner's hands and noticed they were shaking slightly. His guts flipped over and he stretched out a hand and laid it over Skinner's hands where they were clasped together. Skinner looked up into his eyes.

"I moved too fast. There's no reason to rush into anything. We have time. When you're ready..."

Skinner shook his head before he spoke.

"That's just it, Mulder...and please forgive me for saying this but...I don't think I have much time. I don't...I don't want to wait and right now...I'm willing to take what I can get and...God help me..." he looked away from Mulder. "You want to know the irony of this situation, Mulder? The only man who touched me for over a year was me...I mean I was without a partner...not even one I paid for until...until Krycek broke in here a week ago. The first man who touched me in over a year, the way he touched me notwithstanding...Christ, Mulder, I wanted it to be you..." Skinner finished taking a deep breath and letting it out in a heavy sigh.

Mulder felt a shudder of infinite sadness followed by anger pass through his body. When he saw Alex Krycek again there would be hell to pay. He'd try to render that payback by the book, legally, but if Krycek put up a fight all bets were off. If possible he'd bring him in, if not...he was going to bring him down and have done with it. He lifted his hand and ran the back of it over Skinner's cheek. The AD leaned into Mulder's hand and shut his eyes.

"Let me show you what it feels like to have someone touch you the way you should be touched, Ironman," Mulder whispered. "Let me...let me show you how much I want you," he added, taking Skinner's chin and turning his head towards his. He pressed his lips to Skinner's mouth again and felt the AD's lips melt against his in a passionate soul searing kiss.

Skinner's hands came up and embraced Mulder, cradling his back as Mulder wound his hands low around Skinner's waist to avoid touching his back. They devoured each other hungrily for a few moments and then Skinner pulled away a little.

"Undress," he requested, hoarsely.

Mulder smiled and released him. Apparently the flesh was more willing than Skinner thought. He could only hope so. The AD was calling the shots and Mulder wanted more than anything right now to bring this man before him some semblance of pleasure.

The agent stood up to do as Skinner desired, drawing his black turtleneck over his head. He walked over to the straight backed chair and Skinner angled around to watch him as Mulder draped the sweater over the chair back. Skinner watched him, devouring Mulder with his eyes as his mouth had done earlier, and Mulder gave him another grin as he reached for his T-shirt.

In short order he stood before Skinner naked, his partially erect cock swinging a little as he placed his sneakers under the chair's seat. When he stood upright and looked at Skinner again he was pleased that he'd kept himself in shape. Skinner's whole face was transformed as he took in Mulder's body with obvious appreciation. There was a pleased smile on his lips and his eyes were almost black with his arousal.

"Oh yeah...I should never have waited this long," he commented, chuckling a little.

Mulder inclined his head in acknowledgment of the compliment and then raised his eyebrows, indicating Skinner with his chin.

"So, how about giving me the opportunity to see what I've been missing," he replied, grinning. "Although from what I've seen so far I know I'm going to like the rest," he added with a grin.

The AD had a wonderful upper body. Mulder had of course felt the power of that broad, muscular chest, and muscular, hard biceps. Skinner's chest was particularly attractive to Mulder, being covered with a nice amount of dark hair, flecked with gray.

Skinner gave him a short nod, his face also showing his pleasure at the compliment. He stood, stretching up to his full height as he moved to unbutton his jeans. Mulder noticed that his hands were still shaking a little as the button came free and he proceeded to unzip his fly. The agent felt a sudden tenderness towards the other man and he moved towards him, rounding the bed and approaching him quietly. Mulder touched Skinner's hands where they struggled with the recalcitrant zipper. Skinner looked up into his face.

"Let me help," Mulder mumbled and Skinner gave him a small smile and nod again. He moved his hands and Mulder worked at the zipper, biting his lower lip, his head bowed to the task. He chuckled a little.

"Damn thing's caught in the material," he commented. Skinner snorted a laugh as well. "Oh...here we go," Mulder added as the metal came free. He drew the zipper down slowly, looking up into Skinner's eyes then as he did so.

"I want to say something amusing at this juncture but all the blood's left my head and pooled in my dick," Skinner replied completely deadpan. Mulder guffawed and finished pulling the zipper all the way down.

"I'm just glad I didn't get the zipper caught on your cock," he replied, shaking his head and smiling.

"No shit...been there done that, don't want to go there again," Skinner replied, grinning.

"Yeah...but I do know someplace I wanna go," Mulder purred huskily. He captured Skinner's eyes as he snaked his right hand down the front of Skinner's jeans and briefs.

"Oh Jesus," the AD mumbled, and then he chuckled again as Mulder cupped his balls and then felt his cock over for the first time.

"Oh man..." Mulder replied, making a little sound of pleasure in his throat. He removed his hand and stepped back. Skinner tugged on his jeans and briefs, pulling them both off at once. His socks were in his sneakers where they sat next to the straight backed chair, so now he stood before Mulder naked as well.

"I have to amend my earlier statement," Mulder commented, wryly. "I was missing...a lot," he added surveying Skinner's cock.

Skinner laughed and ran a hand down his stomach. Mulder noticed the scars of course. The one from Luis Cardinale was the freshest. He assumed the others were from Vietnam. They were of no consequence. Skinner was beautiful. At 47 he was in better shape than some men ten years younger. His legs were long and leaner than Mulder would have imagined. He didn't have those bulging calf muscles that some weightlifters developed. Mulder knew the AD worked out in the FBI gym. He'd seen him a few times in the weight room. He wished at this point he'd seen him in the shower because his cock was something else again.

Skinner was a little longer and thicker than Mulder and he wasn't even erect yet. The agent figured he was going to be pretty damn impressive when he was hard. His lover at Oxford had been hung like a horse and Skinner wasn't quite as large but he would come under the heading of well-endowed in any book. His balls were gorgeous too, they hung a little more loosely than Mulder's but the agent liked the way they moved when Skinner shifted his weight.

Skinner shook his head but smiled widely.

"My ego thanks you," he replied, bending to pick up his clothing. He straightened and tossed the garments into the corner of the room not even bothering to drape them over the chair.

Mulder stepped close again and ran a hand over the older man's chest.

"God...you're fucking incredible," he murmured in appreciation.

Skinner placed his hand over Mulder's stilling it over his heart. Mulder felt the excited steady beat of Skinner's pulse under his palm.

"This is yours, Mulder. For as long as you want it," he whispered, pinning Mulder's eyes.

"And this is yours," Mulder murmured in return, lifting Skinner's hand and placing it over his heart.

Skinner ran his hand over Mulder's chest in a caress and Mulder shuddered and swallowed hard. Then he captured Skinner's hand and gently pushed him back toward the bed.

"Sit," he commanded, smiling. Skinner glanced back to make sure he was on target and then he sat down on the end of the bed. His knees parted slightly and his free hand supported the rest of his weight on the mattress. Mulder kissed the palm of his hand and then placed Skinner's hand on his shoulder as he sunk to his knees between the AD's legs. Mulder stroked the insides of Skinner's thighs from his cock and balls to his knees with tantalizing movements of his hands. He massaged the area on either side of Skinner's nuts with an extra tenderness and watched as Skinner's stomach muscles flexed with his shallow breathing. Finally Mulder moved his hands up to Skinner's knees and spread the other man's legs apart a little further.

"Oh God," Skinner rasped out and his hand tightened on Mulder's shoulder as the agent bent his head to Skinner's genitals.

"Relax...and enjoy," Mulder crooned, and then he licked Skinner's cock from tip to base and back again with a long languid lap of his tongue. Skinner gasped and a small moan escaped his lips. Mulder pulled back slightly and looked up at the AD's face.

"I used to be pretty good at this...but I'm admittedly out of practice. So...feedback will be greatly appreciated," Mulder quipped, a trifle embarrassed.

It had been a long time since he'd given a blow-job. He was just hoping it was like riding a bike and that it would come back to him. Skinner looked down at him, his face flushed, his lips parted a little with his excitement. He kneaded Mulder's shoulder with his hand.

"Mulder...I haven't had a blow-job in a year and a half...I wouldn't worry...you'll get feedback," Skinner replied, chuckling.

Mulder smirked and bent his head to his task again. Skinner brought his other hand up and steadied himself on both of Mulder's shoulders as the agent took the AD's cock at the base and worked his mouth down over it. Skinner's hips bucked up as Mulder slowly swallowed him all the way to where his hand met Skinner's swelling flesh.

"Oh yeah, oh yeah," Skinner mumbled as Mulder began to suck his cock. Then he didn't speak. The only sound in the room was Skinner's harsh breathing and the sound of Mulder's mouth sliding wetly over Skinner's skin.

Mulder smiled to himself as Skinner began to thrust his hips into his face gently at first but then a little more firmly. The AD's hands massaged the younger man's shoulders off and on as they established a pumping rhythm that worked for them both. Skinner was slow to arouse but he was enjoying the experience and finally after a time his cock began swelling and rising up out of his pubic hair.

Mulder stopped for a moment and rocked back to admire his handiwork.

"Fantastic," he murmured, looking up at Skinner with a smile. The AD removed his hands from Mulder's shoulders and placed them back flat behind him to support his weight as his chest pumped up and down.

Skinner was panting and he gave Mulder a dazed smile but Mulder could see from the expression in Skinner's eyes that he was chagrined at how long it was taking for him to get it completely up. Mulder still debated whether this was a good idea. Setting the man up for failure, no matter how much he wanted to be with Mulder right now wasn't really advisable. Mulder chided himself yet again for not using common sense and training in this situation. But...it was so hard to not want to go through with making love with Skinner. The AD wanted it so desperately regardless of what he'd been through and Mulder wanted to erase that former experience by showing Skinner just how much he could enjoy a truly sensual, loving touch.

"It's all right," Skinner whispered, sitting forward again. "I know you're thinking I'm not going to...uh...it doesn't matter. I love what you're doing for me," he added, moving a hand up to stroke Mulder's spiky hair. Mulder felt tears threaten to clog the back of his throat. He took Skinner's hand and held it, rising to stand between his legs.

"Come to bed," he replied softly. "Let's...let's just lie together for a while and see what happens. I don't want anything we do to make you uncomfortable or...well...this isn't standard operating procedure, not 'SOP' at all for someone in your situation to be honest. A sexual experience may not be what..." he began to explain. Skinner squeezed his hand, interrupting him.

"Let's lie down," the AD interjected, echoing his suggestion. "I...I know what I'm getting into. This is my decision, Mulder. If something bothers me...I'll tell you. Don't worry," he added gently.

Mulder nodded, clearing his throat a little and stepped back as Skinner levered himself up onto the end of the bed. The AD swung his legs up and then scooted towards the headboard. Mulder followed him onto the bed and they ended up lying side by side and face to face on top of the comforter.

They kissed again and Mulder caressed Skinner's face as their lips played over each other. When they parted Skinner ran his fingers over Mulder's moist lower lip.

"You have a fantastic mouth, Mulder. I'd watch this mouth when you'd be in my office sometimes. This lower lip would make me forget what I was saying or hearing on occasion," he rumbled, giving Mulder a wry grin.

"Never stopped you from reaming me out though," Mulder teased, kissing his fingertips.

"No...I did have a hard-assed rep to maintain after all," Skinner teased back, moving his hand down to stroke along Mulder's jaw.

Mulder moved his hand up over Skinner's hip and stroked his butt cheek, smiling at the other man.

"I don't think you have anything to worry about in the hard-ass area, Ironman," he husked, stroking Skinner's well-muscled glute.

Skinner flinched slightly and Mulder furrowed his brow, pulling his hand back instantly. Skinner looked away from his eyes.

"It's not you..." he mumbled.

"I know. We won't go there," Mulder replied softly, kissing Skinner's forehead. The AD sighed.

"Believe me...playing the blushing bride isn't one of my usual...bed games," he commented without some humor.

Mulder chuckled, running his hand down over Skinner's cock.

"I don't think there's any danger in that being the case either," he replied.

"I guess not," Skinner replied, moving close and taking Mulder's hip in his hand. Mulder moved his hand out of the way so their cocks could meet and arched his hips up in pleasure as Skinner threw a muscular leg over his.

They moved together then, sliding their cocks over each other, up and down and back and forth in a slow sensual tango. Mulder could feel Skinner's erection grow firm then and soon, both of them were completely erect. Mulder gripped Skinner's hip and encouraged him to roll over as Mulder dropped over onto his back. Skinner followed, splaying out over the younger man and coming to rest between his legs. Mulder put his arms up and opened his body to Skinner willingly and with love, giving himself completely over to whatever the older man wanted to do next.

Skinner looked down into Mulder's eyes and than raked his eyes over Mulder's body. His hands explored him for a moment, almost in awe. When he looked back up, he smiled as Mulder lay quietly below him, his arms stretched over his head to allow Skinner complete control over and access to everything he wanted to offer him.

"You're so beautiful," Skinner whispered.

"Fuck me," Mulder murmured. "Take it all. I...I love you," he added before he realized he'd been going to say it.

Skinner let out a long sound that was something between a sob and a moan. His hands came up to grip Mulder's outstretched hands where they lay over his head. The agent took Skinner's hands convulsively in his, bearing down hard on the AD's fingers. Skinner's hips surged forward and Mulder arched up under him as their groins crashed together desperately, grinding and sliding over each other with frantic, passionate thrusts.

"Ggggod!" Skinner cried out and Mulder groaned loudly as they slammed together.

They were both breathing hard, grunting and gasping within a matter of moments. Mulder drew his legs up and wrapped them around Skinner's hips, locking his ankles in the small of the AD's back. They slid against each other for a few more seconds and then Mulder felt Skinner's whole body tense and his balls pull up and twitch. Skinner's hands gripped his like a vice as he arched his body back and cried out, his orgasm taking him hard.

"OHHHHHHH!" he roared, thrusting spastically against Mulder's cock.

"Oh God, that's so good...oh yeah," Mulder moaned in encouragement.

Skinner's face grimaced in a rictus of orgasmic pleasure and his head, neck and upper chest muscles strained tight as Mulder reveled in the sight. Cum shot out of Skinner's cock between them in several milky spurts and he continued to make guttural noises in his throat as he came.

Finally Mulder felt his own climax licking hot up out of his groin and he rubbed against Skinner's spurting cock furiously until he felt the fantastic spasm that sent him over the edge as well. He grunted loudly and then arched up off the bed, his back bowing as his own muscles grew taut. He shot semen all over Skinner's hard stomach muscles as they rocked together in ecstasy.

Finally Skinner released Mulder's hands and collapsed on top of the younger man, burying his head in his neck. Skinner was wracked with gasping breaths and Mulder brought a hand up to gently stroke the back of his neck. He didn't mind Skinner's weight at all. If he could have pulled him closer he would have in that moment. He knew now beyond a shadow of a doubt that what he had said was true. He did love him and from this point on, no matter what happened he would try to make it work between them as best he could.

Mulder uncrossed his ankles and dropped his legs flat onto the bed as Skinner levered up onto his elbows.

"Crushing you," he huffed out, shifting to move off Mulder.

"It's ok...it...it felt good to have you so close," Mulder replied to reassure him.

"God...that 'was' good," Skinner replied, rolling off and onto his side. Mulder rolled on his side as well and they faced each other, letting their lungs get back to normal again. Skinner caressed Mulder's neck and then when their breathing was more normal, moved close and kissed him again on the lips. When he pulled back there were tears making his eyes moist and Mulder gathered him close and held him.

"I meant what I said...it wasn't just...some kind of heat of the moment thing. I do love you and...I know this isn't going to be easy but I'll try to make it work," Mulder vowed.

"Yeah, well I'm no picnic either," Skinner mumbled, his words an attempt to lighten the heavy emotions that were surging through both their bodies.

Mulder chuckled and pushed the AD back to look in his face. Skinner was grinning.

"If we end up ripping each other's throats out I don't want to hear any complaints about the mess it makes," Mulder retorted, laughing.

"It's a deal," Skinner rumbled a return chuckle.

Mulder hugged him again and then looked down between them. Skinner gave a rueful twitch of his lips.

"I guess we should shower and maybe wash the comforter," Skinner observed.

"Wash the comforter?" Mulder started to laugh.

Skinner gave him a look and he laughed harder.

"Hey, what can I say? I don't like to roll in the wet spot," the AD griped but with a grin playing about his mouth.

"Yeah. Ok...good idea. I didn't see another comforter in the linen closet and I could certainly use a rinse. And...really...it was great. Don't think it wasn't," Mulder replied, with sincerity.

Skinner nodded and suppressed his grin.

"A girl couldn't ask for a better wedding night," he deadpanned.

Mulder brayed a snorting laugh then and swatted Skinner on the thigh.

"God damn it...it's going to take me a long time to get that image out of my mind...you asshole," Mulder laughed.

"What image?" Skinner asked, milking the moment, his eyes crinkling up in pleasure.

"The one of you in a white gown and veil...being carried over the threshold by the groom...me...and I'll have a fucking hernia most likely," Mulder answered, almost helpless laughter making it hard for him to get the words out.

"Well I guess I'll just have to carry you then...providing I don't trip over my train," Skinner replied, shaking with suppressed laughter himself.

Mulder rolled his eyes and slapped Skinner on the shoulder.

"Come on 'Betty Bride', let's hit the showers and wash off the evidence of our passion...as Barbara Cartland might say," Mulder replied.

"Hey...you read her too?" Skinner joked, following Mulder as he slid off the bed.

"Oh shit...I don't want to know it if 'you' do," the agent replied as Skinner followed him out of the bedroom.

xXx

Later as Mulder dressed he listened to the sounds of Skinner rattling around in the kitchen. The AD had been a little quicker with pulling his clothes on again and he'd insisted on taking the sweat and cum stained comforter out to the utility room to wash it. Mulder had stayed behind and finished dressing while the AD did so. Even now as he dressed he heard the washer start.

He sat down on the bed and pulled his sneakers on. As he tied them he contemplated all the obstacles that were going to keep him and Skinner from forming a successful relationship. When he reached objection number 25 he quit in disgust and told himself, fuck it. He wasn't going to think about failure in this thing. He was going to follow through in the best way he knew how and hope for the best. Because really...neither of them could ever be sure what the future would hold. Either one of them could be dead tomorrow...or worse and if they could find some solace with each other even for a short time it was more than worth it, Mulder thought. He finished tying the laces on his left sneaker and exited the bedroom to go out and reassure Skinner that he was willing to make a go of it.

When he reached the kitchen door he froze...staring into the kitchen in shocked disbelief.

"Come on in, Mulder...take a seat," the man standing there in the black leather jacket and jeans ordered, his voice intense.

Alex Krycek stood holding a 9 mm Glock on Skinner. Mulder didn't even ask how he got in. His eyes were drawn immediately away from Krycek to Skinner to see if he was suffering any of the effects from the nanocytes.

"Don't worry, Mulder...he's fine. He didn't let me in. I picked the lock. He couldn't hear me over the washer running," Krycek commented as if reading Mulder's mind.

Mulder's lover sat at the kitchen table, his anger barely contained, his hands placed firmly on the tabletop. Skinner's face was stone, but his eyes blazed at Krycek in defiance and hatred as the other man seemed to ignore him. Krycek concentrated his attention on Mulder, giving him a speculative and very wary look.

Mulder swallowed and crushed down his own fear and anger in a desperate bid not to fly off the handle and do something stupid that would get them killed immediately. He let his face fall into as nonchalant an expression as he could muster and replied, a sneer just underlying his words.

"Trip to Russia canceled, Krycek? What's the matter, ruble take another dip in value?"

"Let's just say...I found out I had unfinished business here," Krycek replied, motioning with the gun for Mulder to join Skinner at the table. He stepped back against the kitchen counter, out of Mulder's line of movement as the agent complied and crossed to sit down, facing Skinner. "Hands on the tabletop," Krycek ordered and Mulder obeyed immediately.

"What do you want, Krycek?" Skinner hissed, looking up at the other man. Krycek shifted his shoulder a little, readjusting his prosthetic arm before he answered.

"Oh come on, Skinner...shouldn't that be obvious? A little bird told me that Mulder was hotfooting it up here to check up on his boss in his secluded vacation retreat. So...I came back to make sure I didn't miss him," Krycek answered patiently as if explaining to a child. "Mulder has something...I need," he added, his eyes flicking to Mulder's head.

Skinner glanced from Krycek to Mulder. Mulder raised an eyebrow and Skinner looked back at Krycek. The Czech frowned at Skinner. Skinner looked back at Mulder and there was a hint of triumph in his eyes.

"He doesn't know. I didn't tell him," Skinner commented, between clenched teeth.

Krycek's face clouded over with anger and he turned on Mulder. Mulder spoke and he spat out the words, not bothering to hide his disdain.

"You're an idiot Alex. If it was still there I would have sensed you in the kitchen and when I came around that corner just now I would have put a bullet in your stinking, rotten guts," Mulder hissed venomously.

To Mulder's amazement, the anger drained out of Krycek's face and body as quickly as it appeared there. The other man leaned back against the kitchen counter and laughed like hell. The gun never stopped pointing at Mulder and Skinner but Krycek shook his head and let laughter shake his whole body for a minute. The other two men just stared at him in bewilderment. Finally his laughter quieted and Krycek steadied the gun on them.

"Well...fuck me I guess. It figures. But you know...I suspected as much when you weren't carrying your piece. So..." he commented, glancing at the back of Mulder's head. "Who did the deed...that son of a bitch, cigarette sucking Spender?" he asked, his lips forming a smirk.

Mulder didn't answer as Krycek peered closer at what was left of the shaved patch on the back of the agent's skull.

"Were you awake? Damn...that must have hurt," he mused idly as Mulder felt his shorthairs stand on end.

"Unless there's something else you want, Krycek...why don't you leave? Mulder doesn't have what you need and..." Skinner began, his voice tense.

Krycek moved back and refocused on Skinner, licking his lips a little. Skinner's mouth shut immediately and his lips formed a grim line as Krycek's eyes ran over his body. The AD stared straight ahead, his eyes focusing on Mulder's face. Mulder captured his eyes and saw the plea there. 'Don't say anything', Skinner's eyes said. 'Don't do anything no matter what he says or does'. Mulder felt his guts twist and he took his eyes off Skinner for a moment as Krycek spoke, addressing him.

"Mulder, did...Walter tell you about my earlier visit and how much fun we had together? Did he tell you how he was a good...host," Krycek queried, his voice a low seductive purr.

"You're a prick, Krycek...you know that?" Mulder grated out, turning his attention away from Krycek and back at Skinner.

Krycek chuckled, nodding his head in acknowledgment that Skinner had obviously said something to the agent.

"A big prick...right, Skinner?" he replied, smirking as he looked back over at the AD.

Skinner remained mute, his eyes seething with anger at Krycek and his jaw tense as he continued to look at Mulder. Mulder swallowed and a glimpse of the love he felt for Skinner showed in his eyes for a moment before he could stop it. Skinner's eyes flashed a warning and Mulder tamped it down. Krycek glanced from one to the other, a look of speculation on his face for a moment. Then his eyes traveled back to Skinner

"Did you find out how big a prick Mulder is too...Walter?" he whispered, his voice low and full of erotic suggestion.

Mulder started to surge out of his chair, a snarl of anger boiling up out of his throat. Skinner's hand shot out and grabbed his wrist in a grip of iron.

"No!" he hissed, pushing Mulder back down into the chair hard. Mulder's ass hit wood with a thwack and he sat there breathing heavily, his nostrils flaring. Skinner let go of the agent's wrist and Mulder planted his hands on the table again.

"Well...that's very interesting," Krycek commented, pulling his gun up a little and watching the other two men as Skinner rested his hands on the tabletop again as well. "I'm sure the subject will come up again...but in the meantime, rest assured, your little secret is safe with me," he added with mock solicitousness.

Mulder was just that close to begging Krycek to give them a break. To leave and just let them be alone for as long as they could have together. He was willing to get down on his knees and plead with the bastard if he thought it would do any good. But he knew it wouldn't help at all. Krycek was going to do what he wanted to do now and neither Mulder or Skinner could do anything about it. Maybe it would be better if he killed them both. In his case it would be a smart move because if he let Mulder live, the agent was going to hunt him down and make him pay - of that 'he' could rest assured.

He was about to tell the Czech to go to hell when Krycek spoke up again, his voice cheerful.

"I'll tell you guys what I'll do. I'm going to cut you both some slack. Now, don't say I never did anything for love...ok?" Krycek advised them, his green eyes dancing with humor.

Skinner's head swiveled slowly towards Krycek.

"What could a parasite like you possibly know about love?" Skinner grated out and Mulder felt the color drain from his face. Evidently Skinner had reached the end of his rope at last and couldn't restrain his ire any longer. Mulder held his breath and waited for Krycek to administer his retribution for Skinner's comment. Krycek surprised them again. He chuckled and waved his gun at them.

"Quite a lot actually. It warms my 'rat bastard' heart gentlemen. So, I'm going to give you a thank you gift. After all...it's the holiday season...Hanukkah, right, Mulder? And Christmas is in a few weeks. So...I'll grant you guys one wish. Go on...what'll it be? Ask me...and I'll tell you whether it's in my power to grant it," Krycek answered magnanimously.

Mulder barked a laugh, unable to help himself.

"Put the gun to your head and pull the trigger, jerkwad," he replied his eyes watering a little.

Krycek laughed in return.

"I guess I left myself open for that one," he replied, chuckling. "No...no can do. Try again. How about you, Skinner...I bet I know what you'd like from Santa, don't I?" he added fixing his eyes on the AD.

Skinner just stared at him, beyond words his anger was burning so brightly.

"Krycek," Mulder's voice came very softly. "If you have one ounce of compassion in your body...leave the fucking palm pilot and get the hell out of here," Mulder interjected shutting his eyes, his face flushing at the pleading tone in his voice.

Skinner glanced from Mulder to Krycek, his jaw muscles jumping. Krycek studied them both silently for a moment and when he didn't answer right away, Mulder opened his eyes and captured Krycek's. The other man's lips twitched in a smile.

"Sure," he replied, curtly. He reached into his pocket with the prosthetic hand and both Skinner and Mulder watched in surprised disbelief as he fumbled the palm pilot out and tossed it onto the kitchen counter. "Here you go, Mulder," he replied, a ghost of a smile on his face. "And now, gentlemen...I'll take my leave. I want you to both remain seated for a half hour. Don't even think about following me. I may not have my electronic Grim Reaper here any longer but I can still give you both pierced ears with this 9 mm. So, be smart. Stay put and stay healthy," Krycek finished, edging towards the back door.

In a moment he had the door open, and with one final tip of his head in farewell, he exited the house and shut the door quietly behind him.

Mulder rose immediately, pushing his chair back.

"I'm getting my gun," he blurted out angrily, hurrying towards the kitchen door.

"No...stay here, Mulder," Skinner, turned round in his seat, admonished him quickly. "You must realize he meant what he said."

Mulder stopped and looked back at Skinner. The AD turned back around and placed his hands up under his glasses, pressing into his eyes hard. Mulder walked over and laid a hand gently on his shoulder, standing behind him. Skinner's shoulder was shaking slightly as the adrenaline surged through his body.

"Yeah...I look like crap in earrings anyway, Ironman. I'll give it a pass I guess," Mulder replied softly, giving Skinner's shoulder a light squeeze.

Skinner barked a laugh despite himself and then stopped and silently laid his cheek on Mulder's hand, shutting his eyes for a moment.

"I'm getting too old for this shit," he whispered letting out a sigh.

"I hear you," Mulder replied, reaching his free hand over and ruffling the fringe of hair on the other side of Skinner's head. Mulder stood like that for a few moments and then Skinner lifted his head.

"I want to examine that palm pilot," he commented, clearing his throat.

"Yes. So do I," Mulder replied, nodding. He moved back and Skinner rose from his chair. Both men walked over to the kitchen counter where the palm pilot sat, cover closed...squat, black and deadly.

Skinner reached it first and without hesitation picked it up.

"I'd be very careful," Mulder advised, raising an eyebrow.

Skinner grunted his response and flipped the cover up on the device. The screen glowed eerily green even under the overhead kitchen light. Krycek had activated the machine. The icons on its tiny Desktop stood out in stark relief against the lit green background.

"Fuck," Skinner whispered.

"Put...put it down," Mulder hissed and Skinner set the palm pilot carefully back down on the counter.

"I don't think it can do anything unless you actually select..." Skinner began, peering at the Desktop display.

"SR819," Mulder breathed, his voice a mixture of wariness and disgust as he read the folder name under one of the icons.

"I would lay odds on it, yes," Skinner replied, looking at Mulder. "And why...why the fuck did he leave it?" Skinner added musing. "I don't buy that the guy had an ounce of compassion for me. Mulder...I don't like this much at all," he finished, looking again at the palm pilot screen.

"Krycek always has an ulterior motive. I hate to say this but I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop too," Mulder replied wearily, running his hand through his hair. "I suppose it's too much to ask for an early Christmas present," he added sardonically, staring at the screen with a frown.

"Unless it's coal in our stocking," Skinner retorted with a sigh.

The side of Mulder's mouth twitched up in a half smile and then he straightened up and squared his shoulders. When he spoke he tried to sound a little more positive.

"Listen...we...we should leave this thing alone for now. I know someone who can take a look at it after we get back to DC," Mulder replied, looking at Skinner.

"Those three computer hacker friends of yours? The guys from the hospital?" Skinner asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Yeah. Frohike, Byers and Langly. They'd kill to get their hands on this thing...and...they just might be able to hack the program and find out what game Krycek's playing. If we got really lucky...they might give you a cure for your uh...little blood buddies," Mulder replied, hope in his voice.

Skinner raised an eyebrow but after a moment, nodded.

"All right. I'd be willing to entertain any possibility at getting rid of my...hardware. So...I agree. It goes back to DC with you and your friends can give it their tender touch," he rumbled, picking up the palm pilot again. He hesitated a second and then he deactivated it, shutting the lid again and handing the device to Mulder.

Mulder accepted the palm pilot carefully, telling himself he only hoped that Krycek hadn't planned something a lot worse for them both and they'd make it back to DC to give the Lone Gunmen a chance to use their computer Kung Fu. Ah fuck it, he told himself. What else could they do but try and not sweat it now? There wasn't any recourse anyway.

"You want to go back tonight then?" Mulder asked, glancing up at the kitchen wall clock. It was almost eight o'clock. Gee...time flies when you're having fun he thought bitterly.

"God, Mulder...no. Let's wait until the morning. I'm dead on my feet," Skinner grated out honestly. "I think we can count on Krycek leaving us alone. When he left me last week the trip to Russia sounded pressing, I imagine he's in a hurry to get back to business over there," the AD added, his voice weary.

Mulder thought Skinner's posture matched his voice. He did look exhausted for sure and Mulder knew he wasn't feeling much better. He sagged into himself a little, nodded, and brandished the palm pilot.

"Yeah, I'm beat myself. I'll go put this in my garment bag and we can turn in," he replied. "Unless you're hungry and..."

"No...I...I'm not hungry. I'll just lock up and go to bed," Skinner replied.

Mulder gave him a soft smile.

"Ok, good night then," he replied, moving away towards the living room.

"Mulder?" Skinner asked.

Mulder turned back around.

"Yeah?"

"You don't need to use the couch," he replied quietly, giving Mulder a small smile.

Mulder grinned back.

"I was hoping that might be the case," he grinned. "But I didn't want to be... presumptuous," he added, smirking a little.

"Smart-ass," Skinner retorted giving him a mock scowl.

"Only one of my charms," Mulder answered as he turned to leave. He exited the kitchen to Skinner's rumbling laughter.

xXx

Sunday, December 8, 1999. 6 AM. A beach house near Crossroads, Maine

Mulder woke to warm sunlight touching his face. He sighed with contentment, feeling the solid, comforting bulk of Skinner at his back, the AD's arm draped protectively around his middle. This he could definitely get used to he thought. Oh yeah, no problem. He had to go to the can but he wanted to lie there for just a few minutes and savor the feeling of lying enfolded in the arms of his lover.

The events of the last two days had turned Mulder's world upside down but...in the grand scheme of things that wasn't an infrequent occurrence. No...Mulder was frequently left with the idea that his life was like one of those '8 Ball' toys he and Sam had owned as kids. The black orb made to look like a billard ball, that you would turn over, shake up, turn back over and then view your fortune floating up out of some kind of black murky liquid in a little window on the flat side of the toy.

So, Mulder's life had been like that ball...or like James Bond's classic martini...yeah...shaken, not stirred. Mulder had learned one adage if he hadn't learned anything at all over time as a result. He'd learned to 'go with the flow' and that's exactly what he planned on doing now. He'd carry on and he knew Skinner would do the same...and apparently, they'd be doing it together.

Mulder gently placed his hand on Skinner's arm and attempted to move it. Skinner made a small sound of pleasure and pulled him closer. Mulder smiled and shook Skinner's arm a little.

"Walter...as much as I like this...I have to go to the can," he advised, drawing Skinner's hand up and kissing his palm. Skinner's first name still felt a trifle awkward on his tongue...but he was getting used to it.

They'd gotten past the first name basis situation before bed last night. Ironman was still fine of course, but Skinner wanted Mulder to call him Walter as well to make an additional clear distinction between their public and private relationship. Mulder didn't mind. He sure as hell didn't plan on calling him 'sir' in bed and Walter had laughed like hell at that idea too. Skinner kept calling Mulder, Mulder however. He didn't even ask if that was the agent's preference. He just instinctively knew and Mulder appreciated not having to explain why he didn't want to hear Fox coming out of the AD's mouth if at all possible.

The rest of the whole subordinate versus employee thing was going to have to be considered a wait and see situation. Mulder knew it was probably going to be a bumpy ride but he was prepared to fasten his seat belt and try to take it a day at a time at the Hoover. In private...well in private they were both determined now to make things work. Even with their doubts as to Krycek's motives and agenda they actually had hope that with the palm pilot in hand...Skinner might just be getting the kind of break he hadn't had in a very long time. Secretly, despite everything he'd been through, Mulder was still an optimist. He had to be or he couldn't keep going. He had a feeling that down deep, Skinner was an optimist too.

Mulder continued to nuzzle his lover's fingers until he felt the AD kissing the back of his neck and smiling against his skin.

"Morning," Skinner mumbled sleepily, blowing warm air along Mulder's cervical spine. "What time is it?" he asked and then chuckled a little. The clock radio was on his side of the bed. Mulder felt him shift to look at the clock. When Skinner rolled back he gave Mulder a swift swat on his naked ass. Mulder jumped and rubbed up along Skinner's cock in the process.

"It's 6 AM, Mulder...I'm at least trying to convince myself this is a vacation now," Skinner joked, turning the slap into a caress.

"We're going back to DC today," Mulder whispered as Skinner softly rubbed his ass.

"Yeah...but not at the crack of dawn. Mulder...let this old man sleep in, will you?" Skinner grouched not without a heavy dose of humor. He snuggled down further under the covers.

"Hey...I have to go...blame Mother Nature," Mulder chuckled, shifting to move away from Skinner's warm muscular body. It was lucky the guy was like a human blast furnace. Since they'd never taken the comforter out of the washer last night the additional heat had been most welcome.

"Oh. All right...yeah...she's a bitch," Skinner retorted with a chuckle. He lifted his arm up and allowed Mulder to pull away.

Mulder slid off the bed and turned to look down at Skinner fondly. The AD slid up and stretched a little, giving Mulder a genuine smile.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," Mulder advised him. Skinner scrubbed a large hand over his face and nodded.

Mulder entered the bathroom, approached the toilet, tipped up the lid and sat down. While he took care of business he found himself thinking about everything that had transpired over the last 24 hours. Mulder had been a little worried that the AD wasn't going to handle any of this well once they woke up this morning. He should have known better. It had taken Walter Skinner years of stress to get to where he fled DC and took refuge here to drink himself into forgetfulness. He was a strong man. He was going to come back from what was done to him and Mulder liked to think that part of the reason he was coping was because he was there, had declared his love and they would help each other now to get through the dark times. Mulder considered himself very lucky to have two fighters and tough individuals like Scully and Skinner on his side. In that one way at least, Fox Mulder was a very lucky man.

Finishing up with the toilet paper, Mulder got up and flushed the commode, then he wandered over to the small vanity and sink to wash his hands. As he turned on the faucet, Skinner made an appearance in the bathroom door. He sauntered over to the toilet, tipped the seat up and placing one hand on the wall and the other on his dick, leaned over the bowl. Mulder bent to wash his hands and the sound of running water was met with the sound of piss hitting water as Skinner urinated.

Mulder glanced at the AD and saw Skinner sighing a little, his eyes shut as he emptied his bladder. Mulder smiled to himself and rinsed the rest of the soap off his hands. Skinner flushed the toilet and walked over to wash his hands alongside Mulder. Mulder splashed his face a little and then rinsed his mouth out, spitting into the sink. Skinner did the same and then both of them wiped their hands in turn on the nearby hand towel. Skinner hung the towel back up and Mulder examined his beard stubble in the mirror, pulling a face. Skinner moved over in back of him and chuckled at Mulder's expression.

"Didn't your mother ever tell you not to do that, that your face would get stuck that way?" Skinner asked, running his hands up and down Mulder's biceps.

"Many times...it's why I have the nose I have today," he quipped. Skinner turned him and Mulder came around willingly in his arms to face him.

"It's a beak," Skinner teased, running his finger up and down the feature under discussion. Mulder smiled as Skinner bent forward and ran his tongue up and then down Mulder's nose as well. Mulder laughed but Skinner's mouth over his lips stopped the sound quite effectively. Mulder felt hot, electric arousal flood his groin immediately as Skinner thrust his tongue into the equally warm as well as wet confines of his mouth. His cock throbbed and started to come to attention. He moaned and Skinner took Mulder's head in his hands to deepen the kiss.

When they parted, both of them began to explore each other's bodies with their hands. Mulder leaned back against the vanity while Skinner kneaded, stroked, caressed and touched his upper body. Mulder let his hands roam over every part of Skinner they could reach. He was still careful of Skinner's injuries of course but the AD never flinched at all.

Mulder groaned as Skinner switched to using his mouth and began licking wet trails over Mulder's chest. When he reached Mulder's right nipple and started sucking, Mulder's hands came up and gripped his head, holding him close as the AD sent jolts of ecstasy from his tit straight down to his cock and balls. Mulder tilted his head back and whined in his throat, caressing Skinner's bald head as the AD laved both his nipples in turn.

When Skinner's mouth left his nipples and started to travel lower, Mulder let go of the older man's head and watched the incredible sight of Assistant Director Walter S. Skinner of the FBI, getting down on his knees between his legs and taking Mulder's cock in his mouth.

"Oh fuck...good morning, Walter" Mulder laughed in pleasure as Skinner took him all the way in and sucked like hell. "Oh shit. That's....that's so fucking good," he added, grabbing at Skinner's shoulders spastically as the AD really went to town on his rapidly swelling erection. Mulder watched as Skinner took his own cock in hand and pumped it to get himself completely up as well.

The agent thrust his hips forward and back, forward and back, shutting his eyes to rock into his lover's face. Before long he was panting hard and very close to coming. Skinner pulled back suddenly however, releasing his lover's hard-on with a wet sliding sound. Mulder gasped as the AD stood up and took his arms. Mulder's mouth was parted, his breath coming in short huffs as Skinner nuzzled his neck and then whispered in his ear.

"Have you ever been done up the ass?" he husked, starting to suck on Mulder's pulse point.

Mulder nodded a little. "Yeah...and...I...uh...I like something up there when I jerk off too so...uh...if uh...you...you wanna...."

"I wanna fuck you," Skinner breathed against his neck.

Mulder nodded breathlessly, "Yeah...come on...put it in," he murmured. Skinner slid his mouth across to Mulder's lips and kissed him again. Mulder moaned around Skinner's mouth. When the AD let him go this time he stretched a hand out and fished his shaving kit over from where it rested on the top of the vanity. Mulder looked over as Skinner rooted around inside it, his brow furrowing a little. Then his brow smoothed and he came out with a small packet.

Mulder smiled as Skinner stuck the condom up in front of his face and grinned, his eyes dark with his arousal. Mulder still couldn't get over how open and beautiful the AD's eyes were without the masking effect of his spectacles.

"Can you see the expiration date on this thing?" he asked, chuckling in self-deprecation.

Mulder chuckled, swallowing hard as his cock twitched in anticipation of what they were about to do.

"July of 2000," Mulder answered. Mulder knew there were things besides STDs you could end up getting from rectal penetration. Like a roaring bladder or urethral bacterial infection. So, a condom was a good idea during anal sex regardless of your health status. The condom was lubricated as well and Mulder took comfort in that fact too. He regularly used a dildo during masturbation and he knew that if he relaxed and they went slow he'd be able to take Skinner with only the lubed condom. "And...that lube should be enough," he added, his chest moving rapidly up and down.

Skinner grunted his thanks and then tore the packet open. He stepped back and bent over his erection a little. Mulder watched, licking his lips as Skinner worked the rubber over the engorged red head of his cock. God that thing really was fantastic he thought. Close to eight inches of circumcised pleasure. Skinner pinched the reservoir tip at the end of the condom to express the air as his hands moved the latex down over his length. Finally he seated the rubber ring comfortably and then looked up at Mulder with a grin.

Mulder took that as his signal to turn around and lean over the vanity, presenting his ass to Skinner. Skinner moved in close and reached down between Mulder's legs to caress the agent's cock and balls.

"Not too much," Mulder hissed. "I'm close. I...I'd like to come with you in me."

"I'd like that too," Skinner replied huskily taking his hand away from Mulder's erection. Then he leaned over and kissed the small of Mulder's back. "Take deep breaths and if it hurts tell me...I'll stop," he advised, his voice a deep rumbling purr.

"Right," Mulder replied, relaxing himself and leaning on his forearms.

Skinner didn't move for a moment and Mulder glanced around. The AD was running two fingers in and out of his mouth, getting them moist and then he brought them down between Mulder's ass cheeks. So he wasn't just going to ram into him, Mulder thought. He smiled to himself as he contemplated Skinner's consideration for his comfort. Mulder felt a slick finger probing his anus and then it slid easily inside. Skinner thrust it in and out a few times and then stuck the second finger in, pumping both fingers slowly in and out as well. Mulder made small thrusts with his hips and a moan escaped his lips.

"That's good then?" Skinner asked quietly as Mulder moved under his hand.

"Oh yeah...great," Mulder replied, breathing in and out deeply. He wasn't having any problem at all and the postillioning felt wonderful. Skinner avoided stroking his prostate since Mulder was so close to coming but the pressure and fullness of the AD's thick fingers inside him felt fantastic.

"You're going to do just fine...lover," Skinner replied a little shyly at referring to Mulder that way.

"Hmmm, yeah. I can hardly wait to feel your cock, Ironman," Mulder crooned seductively, urging him on. Mulder tilted his ass up a little more in invitation.

"All right, man...here it comes then," Skinner hissed, taking his fingers out of Mulder's rectum. Mulder felt Skinner put one hand on his hip and then the head of the AD's latex clad cock came into contact with Mulder's anus. Skinner parted the opening with his fingers and then thrust forward a little inserting just the tip of his cock inside Mulder's body. Skinner held the agent's hip still, moved his hand up to Mulder's other hip, gripped tight and thrust his hips forward. Mulder took a deep breath as Skinner's cock breached his anus.

"Uh," he grunted and Skinner stopped.

"Ok?" he asked, panting.

"Yeah...go," Mulder replied, tucking his chin down into his chest. He opened his mouth and took in air. It did hurt but he knew if he kept relaxed the pain would only be temporary. He shut his eyes and continued to breathe deeply as Skinner thrust slowly forward.

"Fuck...oh...that's good," Skinner grunted as he felt Mulder's tight rectum enfolding his cock.

"UhGod. You feel...huge," Mulder laughed with pleasure and then he grunted hard as he felt a dull burning pressure inside his ass. Skinner stopped again and allowed Mulder a few seconds to breathe rapidly and grow accustomed to the feel of Skinner's length invading his body.

"Tell me when," he prompted, his voice a little tight.

"Do it," Mulder huffed, glancing back to see Skinner's intense face, lost in concentration, his teeth clenched as he moved his hips forward again. Mulder moved his head back around and spread his legs apart a little further. At last he felt the familiar pop inside that told him Skinner had passed his sphincter and he groaned at the sudden spasm of pleasure that rippled through his body. "Oh fuck yeah...there you go," he moaned as Skinner settled against his balls.

"Jesus you feel hot," Skinner husked, stroking Mulder's hips. "Nice and tight too, lover.

"You feel like the fucking Washington Monument, Walter. God damn you fill me up," Mulder groaned with pleasure.

Skinner groaned low in his throat and then took Mulder's hips in his hands. He pulled back and then thrust forward, pushing his cock slowly back into Mulder.

"Oh God that's gggood," Mulder moaned. "Lover," he mumbled as Skinner began to thrust against him.

"Uh...Uh...Uh," Skinner grunted in time with his thrusts for a few moments and then he lost his voice as he picked up the pace. They slapped together hard, Skinner snapping and rolling his hips a little and Mulder arching his back like a cat and meeting each thrust eagerly. Skinner finally reached forward and fumbling a little found Mulder's cock. It only took a couple of cranks over his hard-on and Mulder felt his balls pulling up. Right at the end Skinner got the angle right and stroked at Mulder's prostate with the head of his dick. Mulder felt his muscles contract and then he cried out hoarsely as his orgasm jolted him forward. Semen spurted out of his cock onto the vanity cabinet and over Skinner's fist.

Skinner continued to jerk Mulder's cock as he stabbed against the agent's ass with his hips. At the last, his hand slipped off Mulder's flagging erection as he had to grab Mulder's hips to thrust in fast and deep to bring himself off. The older man gave a hoarse guttural moan as his climax approached.

Mulder tried to clamp down harder with his rectal muscles to give Skinner as much friction as possible and was rewarded with an exclamation of "FUCK!" as the AD rammed into him. Skinner arched back, and then made three more rapid thrusts, grunting incoherently as he shot hard into the condom. They rocked together, each riding out the last of their orgasms and then their hips finally slowed and then stopped as they ran out of steam.

Skinner collapsed on Mulder's back, gasping.

"Thank you," he mumbled after a few seconds, kissing Mulder's sweating skin. He traced his lips along Mulder's spine and then rested his head where his lips last touched near Mulder's neck.

Mulder panted and rested his forehead against the vanity.

"You're more than welcome," he whispered, breathing hard.

They stood like that for a few moments and Skinner stroked Mulder's arm. Mulder didn't mind taking his weight again at all. He knew that with their joining this way that besides his love he had given Skinner something else this morning. He had given back his sense of self. He'd given him confidence in his abilities as a lover, given him back control, allowed him to feel human again...like a man again. Getting back his humanity was something Skinner needed very badly at this point. Mulder was glad he was able to help him regain a modicum of that and his manhood as well.

Finally, Skinner pushed up off Mulder's back and stood on somewhat rubbery legs behind the agent's ass. Mulder glanced back and chuckled as Skinner steadied his cock which was still inside Mulder.

"If you wanna sleep in a little longer now I won't call you on it," he teased, gesturing towards Skinner's shaking knees with his chin. Skinner barked a laugh.

"I told you I was an old man," Skinner replied giving Mulder a grin.

"Old? Get real, Walter. You never reamed me that well in the office. Don't ever think you can't do the deed, lover. I haven't been that well fucked in eons," Mulder replied with a returning grin. He turned his head away as he saw Skinner's face take on a look of pleasure at the comment. He felt Skinner's body straighten and knew he was puffing up in pride. Mulder felt a sudden rush of warm joy and love flow through his body.

"Well...fucked or well fucked...I'm done. I gotta pull out here. Hang on," Skinner murmured, holding the base of his cock.

"Ok," Mulder replied, nodding. He spread his legs apart a little again and then stood still.

Skinner held the condom tight to his flaccid dick, placed a hand on Mulder's ass and stepped back slowly. Mulder felt his rectal muscles squeeze to expel Skinner's cock and then the AD popped free of the agent's body.

Mulder pushed up off the vanity with his hands, stood up and turned around. Skinner was carefully removing the semen filled condom from his dick. His hands fumbled with it a little and he shook his head, chuckling. Mulder flexed his leg muscles and watched as the AD focused on his task.

Skinner looked up at him, noticed the movement and stilled his hands on his cock. He spoke, his voice showing concern.

"Are you all right? I...I didn't hurt you did I?" he asked quietly indicating Mulder's legs and then his ass with a tip of his chin.

"No...I'm fine. My legs just cramped a little. I came really hard...it was incredible."

"No...uh...discomfort inside?" Skinner asked, clearing his throat a little. He looked away a trifle embarrassed and fiddled with the condom further.

"No problem at all. I do fuck myself with a dildo when I jerk off. It really did make it more easy to take you," Mulder replied lightly to reassure Skinner.

Skinner nodded and actually yawned a little. He shook his head again and finally got the condom completely off. Mulder observed the yawn and suppressed a grin. Skinner had come really hard too. Maybe they both should get some more rest before they tried driving back. What the hell, they could use it after everything that had happened between them as well as with Krycek.

"Seriously, Walter. If you want to get some more sleep I don't mind waiting to go back to DC. I think I could use a couple more hours myself, actually," Mulder suggested.

Skinner walked over to the toilet with the condom and tossed it in. He answered before he flushed it down.

"Yeah...after a rinse off I could really use some more sack time. Let's do it. I can set the alarm," he replied, smiling.

"Sounds like a plan to me," Mulder replied. Skinner nodded and then flushed the toilet.

Later, after a quick shower Mulder and Skinner lay in bed, Skinner at Mulder's back, his arm around him again. They snuggled together and it occurred to Mulder that never in a million years would he have expected the AD to be a 'cuddler'. But cuddle he did and Mulder was discovering that he liked it very much indeed. They'd been talking a little and touching, trying to stave off sleep in conversation. They wanted to talk in order to get to know each other further. After the heat of the moment both men were beginning to face up to the fact that they didn't know that much about each other at all. Any chance they would get to share was a gift they shouldn't and couldn't reject.

Mulder sighed in contentment. Skinner breathed steadily behind him and then he spoke again.

"Mulder, you know...I don't insist on...on topping all the time. If you enjoy uh...being in the driver's seat, speak up about it. I won't argue," he told him quietly.

Mulder shifted a little and stroked Skinner's arm. He sensed Skinner was trying to both thank him for letting him top him as well as admit there was no way this morning he could have let Mulder take him from behind. His flinching when Mulder had touched his ass the first time they made love had told him he was more than likely still sore or even unable mentally to go there yet after Krycek's version of lovemaking. Mulder didn't have a problem with it. He was as happy to play bottom for a while and when Skinner asked, he'd top him and do it with equal pleasure as well as vigor. But only when Skinner was ready.

"Yeah, I will. I don't mind driving myself once in a while. So, we'll see about that soon. You can let me know when the mood takes you, deal?" he replied softly, lifting Skinner's arm and kissing the AD's wrist.

"Deal," Skinner replied, a smile in his voice.

"Can I ask you something, Walter?" Mulder asked as he placed Skinner's hand over his stomach.

"Sure, what?" Skinner answered, stroking the agent's skin.

"Well...I asked you yesterday when you discovered you liked men. I was just still curious. When did you come out to yourself?" Mulder asked carefully.

Skinner kissed the back of Mulder's neck and then answered him.

"I admitted the truth to myself seven years after I married Sharon. You know they talk about that seven year itch idea? Well I started itching all right. But...I'd been with men before and even then denied I was gay. But that was in Nam and it was easy to pass a lot of stuff off as life during war time you know? So, I'd shoot VC one day, go on leave the next, whore around a little to tell myself I was one of the guys and then hook up with...well I had a lover then. My first..." he let his voice trail off.

Mulder patted his arm.

"It's all right," he murmured, soothing Skinner over the painful memory.

Skinner gave Mulder a peck on the neck again in thanks and continued. Mulder listened as Skinner went into more detail than Mulder had expected him to do. But, Mulder realized that Skinner needed to get something off his chest so he listened quietly to the AD's explanation.

"At any rate, after Nam there were still men...but I thought I was being discreet about it. I was wrong. Just before I met Sharon I was assigned to the San Francisco Office. My partner and I had just come off a very difficult case. I...I went down to the Castro and cruised a few bars. Someone...well later I wondered why this guy had approached me to be honest. I should have smelled a rat. He was older, cultured....British..."

"Oh shit," Mulder breathed out.

"Yeah. It was the wrong someone," Skinner replied with a sigh.

"He...he was with the resistance later, you know," Mulder whispered, pulling Skinner's arm tight around him.

"He wasn't back then," Skinner answered bitterly.

They were silent for a few minutes, lost in their respective memories and then Skinner spoke again, his voice sleepy but less downbeat.

"So...uh...you're bisexual then?" he asked with interest.

Mulder considered the question, pursing his lips for a moment. He'd had both men and women and to be honest...he'd failed with both genders relationship wise. But his reasons for failure with both genders right at this moment, lying here in Skinner's arms, was tremendously confusing. He needed to tell the AD what he really thought.

"Honestly, Walter...I don't know. I have been with both men and women. Yeah...and all my relationships have failed up until Scully. The only reason I think we're not splitsville is because we've kept our partnership on the job and haven't taken it into the bedroom."

"Are you attracted to her sexually?" Skinner asked quietly.

"I...once in a while I think I'd like to see what it would be like with her...yeah. But..." Mulder sighed. "I know the difference between needing to just get my rocks off and forming that kind of emotional bond. I don't want to hurt Scully that way."

Mulder felt Skinner's large hand still on his stomach. The AD pulled him closer and hugged him to his chest.

"It's not easy to admit that you're gay, Mulder. Even after I told myself I was, I hid it, didn't act on it, tried...tried to make my marriage work because of the fear of that admission. What it would do to my life...what...what the Consortium used it to do to my life. But, now...finally...I'm not going to hide it from myself any longer. I can't. I love you and I want to be with you. I hope...I hope well...you know what I want. You read my mind after all," Skinner replied, his voice rough with emotion.

"I know...and Walter...maybe...maybe you can try to help me come to terms with things here and...God...I'm going to try to give you want you want too," Mulder whispered sincerely.

Skinner nodded against Mulder's neck and nuzzled his hair.

"We'll take it a day at a time, lover. Now...get some sleep. I'm fading fast here," Skinner rumbled, his low voice intense but tinged with fatigue again.

Mulder nodded and settled down. He had a lot to think about. His sexual preferences were only the tip of the iceberg. He still had a lot to tell Skinner about all that he knew about the quest, about the X-Files hell, not to mention about himself...not the least about himself...oh yeah, a big bombshell about Fox Mulder would be coming up...all about his parentage...about...Mulder stilled his thoughts. Whoa. Slow down here. Jesus. Better listen up and heed Skinner's advice. Yes...one day at a time. Those words certainly would and should prove to be words to live by. He heard Skinner's breathing evening out and he knew the AD was falling asleep. He closed his eyes and invited sleep to take him as well.

xXx

Mulder woke suddenly to the sound of a cell phone trilling. He reached for the night stand, fumbling as Skinner violently kicked him.

"Fuck...sorry," Skinner blurted out as he grabbed at Mulder's side to stop from booting him out of bed.

Mulder pulled his cell down onto the pillow and frowned at it.

"It's yours," he informed Skinner as he turned on his side and brandished his silent phone at the AD.

Skinner lunged for the night stand on his side of the bed, found his cell phone and hit the send button as he sat up. He slammed the phone to his ear.

"Skinner!" he barked into it.

Mulder sat up and tossed his cell phone down into his lap. He watched as Skinner's face flushed red and his jaws clenched together hard.

"What do you want?" he hissed into the phone.

Mulder felt a chill travel up his spine. It was followed by a hot wash of anger as he watched Skinner listening intently.

"Rot in hell," Skinner spat into the phone and then he handed the cell wordlessly over to Mulder, a look of almost unfathomable disgust and confusion warring on his face.

Mulder took the cell phone and clamped it to his ear.

"Hey, stud...how's it hanging?" the snide voice he pretty much expected to hear came over the line.

"Gee I was hoping the plane went down over Siberia," Mulder snarled.

"No such luck, Mulder," Krycek replied, chuckling. "But listen...I had something I needed to ask you..." he added, letting his voice trail off.

Mulder closed his eyes and tried to calm himself before he answered. He was really sick of playing this asshole's game.

"What?" he finally managed to spit out.

"Well I just wanted to know...did he get it up for you? I mean...he was pretty much a limp dick when we..."

Mulder felt fury pound up from his guts right into his brain and he lost it, spitting saliva as he grated his response into the phone.

"Yeah, he got it up for me, you stinking pile of shit. He got it up and he put it to me good, like the man you'll never be, Krycek. He fucked me up the ass so good, I screamed his name and my teeth rattled I came so hard, you one armed dickless wonder. And while I got you on the line here, fucker...let me ask you a question. How does it feel to have to get used to pumping that Tic Tac you call a dick with your left hand, Krycek? Or do you like it better wrapped in plastic?" Mulder frothed on, just building up more steam.

The agent suddenly felt Skinner's hand tenderly caress his thigh and he looked up into the AD's face. Skinner's eyes had softened and his love for Mulder was plain to see in them. He shook his head and mouthed the word, 'no' and Mulder felt the anger drain out of him. His hand on the cell shook a bit as Krycek answered him.

"That's two questions," Krycek replied, anger bubbling under the forced chuckle

he gave out over the connection.

"Krycek...what do you want, really?" Mulder sighed, speaking more softly.

Krycek cleared his throat.

"There's no need to be rude to me, Mulder. I did call to tell you something important...you might say I had a crisis of conscious actually," Krycek answered cryptically.

"I'm listening," Mulder replied, trying to rein in his impatience.

"Well...I guess I figured it was less than sporting to make you think I'd left you a solution to Skinner's uh...blood product predicament. Because I really didn't," Krycek purred into the phone.

Mulder felt his own blood freeze at the answer.

"Then...then why did you leave the palm pilot?" Mulder asked slowly.

He glanced at Skinner and the AD raised his eyebrows. His face asking the obvious question and hoping against hope that the answer wouldn't be some new horror for them both to face.

"Well here's a rich one, Mulder. I'm sure you'll appreciate it too. I don't need the palm pilot anymore. The reason I don't need it is because..."

Mulder felt something fall into place in his mind. Something that had been back there the minute Krycek had tossed the palm pilot onto the kitchen counter. His lips twitched into a terse smile and he spoke into the cell phone.

"The Man in the White Suit," he replied.

"That's my boy," Krycek replied, chuckling. "Bingo...and for a week before I came to visit Walter. Make sure you tell him I said that won't you?" he added, the self satisfied leer heavy in his voice.

Mulder cleared his throat and was about to speak but Krycek beat him to the punch.

"No...please...don't try to find the words to thank me. I know they wouldn't be sincere," he chuckled again.

"You'd be right," Mulder hissed into the phone with venom.

"Well...before you heap invective on me again, Mulder...consider this. The software...the whole program is in that palm pilot, you ungrateful fuck. So, when you get it back to DC don't forget who gave you the technology. Remember that the next time you've got me in your sights, you shit. Don't say I never did anything for you. And don't forget what I told you before...resist or serve, Mulder. Just remember that you Christ figure wannabe," Krycek replied intensely.

Mulder gritted his teeth and whispered into the phone.

"Yeah...and don't forget you know our 'little secret' here too right, you bastard?"

Krycek chuckled.

"Just to show you what a nice guy I really am, Mulder...I'm willing to forget you and Skinner are fuck buddies too. Seriously. Never knew about it. Now...how's that, lover boy?" Krycek replied magnanimously.

Mulder's teeth grated together.

"All right...Alex. I owe you. Once. One time. You got me. One chance to run if I catch up with you. But after that...all bets are off."

"That's all I ask," Krycek replied quietly.

Mulder had to hope he was telling the truth. He spoke again into the phone and pitched his voice low and deadly.

"That's all you'll get," he rasped in reply.

"I'll hold you to it, cocksucker," Krycek chuckled. "Say goodbye to Walter for me. I hope he lets you get a piece sometime soon. He's a great fuck. A real tight ass in more ways than one. Later, Mulder. Keep your 'Johnny hat' on," Krycek replied and then the line went dead.

Mulder closed his eyes and composed himself for a second as Skinner breathed harshly next to him. Skinner's voice finally brought him back to focus.

"Man in the White Suit?" he asked, clearing his throat.

Mulder handed Skinner his cell phone and the AD tossed it down into his lap. When he looked up again, Mulder touched his lover's stiff jaw muscles and then bent to claim his mouth for a few moments. Skinner kissed him back gently and Mulder felt the AD's jaw muscles relax. They separated again and Mulder spoke quietly.

"Sorry...I just needed that," Mulder commented with a small smile.

"I'm not going to complain," Skinner replied, smiling a little back.

Mulder nodded and went into lecture mode. Skinner shifted back to listen. He pulled his knees up and rested his forearms over them.

"The Man in the White Suit was a British film made in 1951 and starring Alec Guiness...uh before he was Sir Alec Guiness and before the role of the older Obi Wan Kenobi was even a gleam in George Lucas's eye," Mulder began.

Skinner, his breathing returning to normal, raised an eyebrow.

"And?" he prompted.

"And the plot dealt with a humble textile mill laboratory assistant, played by Alec Guiness, inventing a white cloth that wouldn't stain, tear or wear out, and couldn't be dyed either..." Mulder continued.

"That must have gone over like a lead balloon with management," Skinner commented with a dry chuckle.

"Oh yeah. The panicked garment industry set out to destroy Guiness' character and the fabric as a matter-of-fact...however...something happened that saved his neck," Mulder replied looking at Skinner with his own arched eyebrow.

Skinner stared at Mulder for a moment and Mulder watched the wheels turn in Skinner's mind. Then the AD's brow furrowed and he answered.

"The fabric was what...a failure after all? A bust so the corporate bigwigs didn't have to string the guy up by his balls and destroy his invention?"

"Exactly," Mulder replied with a smile. "The fabric had a very short shelf life. It disintegrated after its brief life-span and saved Alex Guiness from certain destruction."

"Then...then the nanocytes..." Skinner replied, his voice a low growl.

"The nanocytes are deactivated, Walter... permanently. They're dead for all intents and purposes and..." Mulder started to explain.

"For how long?" Skinner replied roughly.

Mulder looked in his lover's eyes and knew he couldn't lie to him.

"For about a week before Krycek showed up here the first time," he answered gently, touching Skinner's forearm where it rested on his knee.

Skinner shut his eyes and swallowed convulsively. Mulder held onto his forearm for a moment as a tremor passed through the AD's body.

"You ok?" Mulder asked with concern. Skinner opened his eyes and looked at Mulder, his face unreadable.

"Yeah...I'll be all right," Skinner replied, his voice sounding stiff. He cleared his throat, "That...uh...that asshole must be a hell of a poker player. After he put away the gun and took out that thing...I would never have guessed...I mean I took it for granted that..." Skinner added, his voice trailing off. Then he shrugged and looked away from Mulder.

Mulder patted his arm and removed his hand.

"I know," he mumbled feeling both saddened and embarrassed that Krycek had been able to control Skinner and rape him because the AD still thought he held his life in his hands.

"I cuffed myself to the bed, for God's sake," Skinner finished in a hoarse whisper.

Mulder put an arm over the AD's shoulders and pulled him close. He took Skinner's head and pulled it to his chest as Skinner started to shake. Mulder realized from the dampness on his chest that Walter was crying silently as he held him close.

"Let it out...Ironman. There's no shame," he murmured, placing his chin against the top of Skinner's bald head.

Skinner continued to cry silently as Mulder rocked him gently in his arms.

xXx

EPILOGUE

Mulder stood with Skinner next to the AD's rental Jeep, kissing him until Skinner finally gently pushed him away. A cold wind had blown up but Mulder didn't feel it at all as he gazed into Skinner's brown eyes. Once more masked by his spectacles their brown depths still glowed with a soft inner light as the AD ruffled his hand through Mulder's windswept hair.

"If we keep this up, we'll never get out of here," he commented, grinning at Mulder.

After the AD had cried in Mulder's arms they had ended up making slow, passionate love again. Mulder had come screaming Skinner's name for real that time as he lay over Skinner, between the AD's legs, thrusting his cock against the older man's spurting member. For a short time afterward they'd lain together wanting once more to prolong the moment with touching and talking until they'd faced the fact that they had to return to the real world.

Finally they'd gotten out of bed, showered again, dressed and caught a quick meal. Mulder had called Scully to tell her all was well and they were both heading back to DC. He told her he had a lot to tell her as well and her interest was piqued enough that she suggested he call her and they meet when he got back into town. He'd agreed and decided he'd call her from the Gunmen's place and they'd all get down to business over the palm pilot. After he hung up with her he'd told Skinner that depending on what they found they might be meeting with him as well. He agreed and they went to gather their belongings.

After packing up, Mulder and Skinner had loaded up their respective vehicles and then gone back in and made a bit of an effort to clean the house up a little. They'd emptied the refrigerator and put what was left of the food in Skinner's Jeep. They'd put the comforter back on the bed and washed dishes and just did some general tidying up. They'd closed all the shutters and even retrieved the deck chair and empty liquor bottle from the dock. The chair went in the garage and the bottle into a bag of trash Skinner planned to leave at the first trash bin he found on his way out of town. Now they were prepared to leave at last.

"Yeah, you're right. So...uh...I guess I'll see you back at the Hoover...unless of course we dig something up on the palm pilot," Mulder replied quietly, stepping back and standing there a little more formerly. Skinner straightened his shoulders and assumed more of a mantle of authority then as well. But his face was still soft.

"I'll call you when I get in," he rumbled, looking off towards the ocean. Then he refocused on Mulder. "Things at work will have to stay the same. I'm sure you realize that, Mulder. But...outside of those four walls...it's not subordinate, superior any longer. I...I want you with me...as an equal...as my partner. You understand that, right?" he asked for final confirmation.

"I know that. I understand and I really do want to be with you too," Mulder replied gently. He felt a wave of tender regard flow through him as he contemplated just how unsure Skinner still was about whether Mulder wanted to be in a relationship with him. But Mulder was with him now...body and soul so there was no question in his mind at all. He spoke again to reinforce the idea. "And I intend to keep that private, off duty connection up close and personal, Ironman...sir" Mulder added, grinning.

Skinner chuckled.

"Very good...Agent Mulder...now...I'm out of here," Skinner replied, his genuine smile showing Mulder all his teeth.

"Yeah, me too," Mulder replied, laughing. "I have an early Christmas gift to bestow on the guys," he added, indicating the trunk of his rental where the palm pilot lay waiting for delivery. He stepped back further as Skinner turned to open the Jeep door.

Skinner nodded and opening the door, started to climb inside. Before he was completely in, he captured Mulder's eyes.

"I love you. Safe trip," he whispered.

"I love you too. I'll see you soon," Mulder replied softly.

Skinner nodded again, swung his legs in completely and shut the Jeep's door. In a few seconds the engine was running and Mulder moved back even further as Skinner angled the Jeep to pull out from in front of Mulder's rental. He did a U-turn, spraying sand in front of the agent and Mulder laughed at the display. Then as Mulder watched, Skinner was gone, the Jeep roaring off up the slight incline and then down the dirt road as it sped away from the house.

Mulder raised his hand and waved, a smile caught on his lips.

"Drive, Ironman. Drive it on home," he murmured as the Jeep's tail lights receded into the distance. Lowering his hand Mulder walked towards his own rental, his shoulders straighter and step lighter than both had been in a very long time.


*Author's notes: In case you're wondering, the term "Johnny hat" is slang for condom. If you've never seen the film "The Man in the White Suit", I'd recommend it highly. It really is a classic movie and one I hope Chris Carter and Company would consider in getting rid of the blasted nanocytes on the show, thank you very much!

-THE END-