Lived my life and walked it alone
All my time and my heart was my own,
for so long I held the key to everything I'd need
Every dream, so sure that I'd succeed '
Cause I was strong, so strong
I swear that it was true, till the day that I met you
"Assistant Director Skinner?" The accent was unmistakably upper class English and sounded vaguely familiar.
"Yes. Who is this?"
"You don't know me, Mr. Skinner, but I know you. I belong to an organization your young friend Mulder calls the 'Consortium'."
Skinner frowned and considered hanging up. "What is this about?"
"Actually, I need your help. Or rather, I need your help in saving our friend from the folly of his actions."
Skinner sighed. "What has Mulder done now?"
"Let me pose a question to you, Mr. Skinner. Are you familiar with the Dionysus Club?"
Skinner felt his heart begin to race. The Dionysus Club. One of the most exclusive and unique clubs in the DC area, catering to a clientele that preferred its pleasures on the unusual side. A discreet and high-class BDSM club. And a place from a time in his life filled with dark desires. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the voice.
"I believe that you are a member."
"If this is an attempt to blackmail me - "
"It is not. I, myself, am a Senior member of that club and, as you well know, it is a strict rule that confidentiality is honored. Just talking to you like this could get me removed from the membership."
Skinner frowned. "This must be important, then, but I haven't been there in years."
"No matter. You are still on the roles." He paused. "Our young friend wandered in there last night."
"It is impossible to just 'wander' in there. You have to be invited or attend with a member."
"He did." The English gentleman sighed. "A young protégé of mine took him there. Without my knowledge."
"And this protégé of yours - would he be of Russian extraction?"
"Yes. I assure you, he had no knowledge of what his folly would lead to, and thought he was opening our young friend's eyes. My protégé has been suitably punished for his lack of thought, but the damage has been done."
Skinner's heart sank. "Mulder signed the Book?"
"As a submissive?"
"Has he been claimed?"
"Not yet. He will be returning tonight."
Skinner rubbed his face wearily. "And you know who he will be assigned to."
"I know who has requested him, and I know that person is a front for our smoking friend."
"Indeed. This person is very, very good, Mr. Skinner, and into the - shall we say - harsher pleasures? He will break our young friend. And, when he is finished, he will turn him over to his master, the smoking man. You know what that will mean."
"Yes." Skinner wanted to curse or throw something.
"There is one chance to save him."
"What is it?"
"This man is a junior member. If a senior member requests Mulder, the senior will be given preference. You are a senior member, Mr. Skinner."
"Are you telling me that the only way for me to save Mulder is for me to claim him?" Skinner demanded.
"That is precisely what I am saying, Mr. Skinner. And we do not have the luxury of time. I need your answer now."
Skinner thought quickly. "There's another way. I'll talk to Mulder, tell him what he's getting into, and he won't go back there."
"Mr. Skinner, I saw Mr. Mulder at the Club last night. He will return. Now that he knows about this place, he will come back. He wants this; he feels he needs it. And you know that there is no stopping that kind of hunger. When he comes back - whether it is tonight or a year from now - he will be claimed by the smoker's boy and he will be lost."
"What do you care?"
There was a sigh on the other end. "Our means may be different, Mr. Skinner, but our ends are the same. We both want to save this planet. You do it from the outside; I do it from the inside. And Mr. Mulder is necessary to both our plans. What is your answer?"
Skinner sighed. "I have no choice. I agree - but you know that Mulder must agree as well."
"I believe that you can convince him. We shall see you at the Club, then, at 8pm."
The doorman at the Club didn't even glance at Skinner's card; one of his best qualities was that he had a keen memory for faces and knew the membership by heart. Skinner entered and was immediately approached by the Secretary of the Club.
"Mr. Skinner, welcome back. It has been a long time."
Skinner nodded, avoiding the Secretary's eyes, thinking that it would have been even longer if he could have had his way.
Skinner followed him through the main room, quietly and tastefully decorated with little alcoves and seating areas for private conversations adjoining an exclusive dining room. All high-class and discreet. No posturing or displays took place in the Public rooms. That was one of the features that had appealed to Skinner when he first joined the Club; there were no public Dungeons here, no slaves being led around on chains. All interactions took place upstairs in the private suites, in a private party room, or, if one preferred, off-site. The Club was merely there to provide the introductions and a secure location for encounters, had its own security force that swept the place for surveillance devices regularly, and a strict policy that kept non-members outside and unaware of what lay beyond its doors.
The Secretary opened the door to one of the small meeting rooms and looked at Skinner. "I understand that no introductions are necessary?" Skinner nodded. "Very well. I will have your table ready when you are finished here."
Skinner entered the room and the door closed behind him. At the sound, the other figure in the room turned around and froze in shock.
"Hello, Mulder." Skinner removed his overcoat and carefully draped it over the back of a chair.
"I - I don't understand. What are you doing here?"
"I'm a member, Mulder. A Senior member." He moved to the table and poured himself a glass of scotch. He had a feeling that he was going to need it. "You have been assigned to me."
Mulder blanched. "What? But - this is impossible - I can't - I refuse!" He headed toward the door.
"Before you make any final decision, Mulder, you had better listen to this." He pulled out a tape recorder and played the conversation with the English gentleman. Mulder had stopped at the sound of that voice - evidently he recognized it. During the replay, he alternately turned red and then white, and finally sank trembling into a chair.
Skinner turned off the tape player. "You have three choices, Mulder. One, walk out of this place and never come back. Two, agree to be assigned to me. Three, take your chances with Cancerman's associate. What will it be?" His voice was harsh; silently he begged Mulder to choose the first option.
Mulder moistened his lips. "If I choose - agree to be assigned to you - this does not follow us into the office?"
Oh, Mulder, you are so naïve, he thought sadly. "Of course."
Mulder drew a deep breath. "Then - then I choose to be assigned to you."
Skinner sighed. "Then these are my rules, Mulder. You belong to me on the weekends, from 8pm Friday night to noon Sunday. There will be times when real life intrudes, of course, and exceptions will be made accordingly. We will meet here, at the Club - bring an overnight bag with you with workout clothes as well. I will probably choose to call you something other than 'Mulder', a name which I will select - you will have no say in this." He drew in a deep breath before speaking again. "And finally, while we are here your body belongs to me. Do you understand what that means?"
Mulder flushed but said steadily, "It means - it means that you may have sex with me."
Skinner looked at Mulder curiously, noticing the blush. He hadn't thought that anything could embarrass the brash young agent. "Have you ever been with a man, Mulder?"
"No, sir, but I - I have been - curious about that," Mulder said frankly, looking steadily at Skinner. "What shall I call you, sir?"
"Walter or 'sir' will be fine - I don't care to be called 'master'."
Mulder tilted his head, studying Skinner. "And what do I get from this, sir?"
He raised an eyebrow. "What you are looking for, Mulder. Someone else to take control, to make you do what you want to do without the guilt of choosing to do it. Isn't that why you came here?"
Mulder's eyes had gone wide at the accuracy of his words. "Sir? How - "
Skinner's eyes met his and they were as blank and black as a sheet of slate. "You agree to the rules, Mulder?"
A small smile played at Mulder's lips. "Would it matter if I didn't? You're the boss here and they are your rules. Of course, we know how good I am about following rules, sir."
Skinner chuckled at that, his eyes softening back to normal. "I can see I'm going to have my hands full with you."
Mulder's eyes glinted. "I never promised you easy, sir."
"No, you didn't." Suddenly, to Mulder's complete surprise, Skinner reached out and pulled Mulder into a headlock, just like he had that time at the Hoover. And as before, Mulder felt the heat of the other man's body along his back, the strength in the arm wrapped around his chest. A voice that was like velvet over steel said softly in his ear, "I like a challenge, Mulder. And I'm very, very good at this."
Mulder swallowed hard, trying to suppress the sudden arousal of his body, and then just as suddenly he was free. When he caught his breath and his balance again, he saw that Skinner was picking up his coat and walking toward the door.
Skinner didn't bother to look back, knowing that the younger man was following him as he walked down the hallway to the dining room. A waiter was there to lead him to a table and Mulder followed in their wake, looking around with frank curiosity. Only half of the other tables were filled, and the occupants were diverse combinations of men and women. He tried to determine which were the "Doms" and "subs" at each grouping, a task that was harder than he had thought it would be. Somehow, he had always thought of a top as being like Skinner.
Like Skinner. Curious that he had always recognized that Skinner was the alpha male. Mulder had few illusions about himself and knew that he had a masochistic streak a mile wide. But the ease with which he found himself accepting Skinner as his potential Dom surprised even him. Had he always wanted this from Skinner?
He frankly studied the man across from him while Skinner ordered for both of them. Like the others here - and unlike those at the nightclubs he visited the night before - Skinner was dressed in business attire with no attempt at flashy dominant dressing. It was just so evident from the way he acted that he was a Dom, and Mulder found himself wondering if Skinner had always been like this. Mulder knew that he had always been like this, even if he hadn't realized what "like this" meant at the time. Sensitive, he had been called. His father had said crueler things than that - but then that was hardly unusual. His father had always said cruel things.
The Secretary came over as the waiter left. "I trust that everything has been worked out satisfactorily?"
Skinner's eyes met Mulder's for a moment and Mulder was surprised to see a little sadness there. Was Skinner having regrets about this? he wondered, his throat suddenly dry.
"Yes," Skinner said flatly.
"Then I shall see that this contract is entered in the Book." The Secretary set a box down on the table. "Welcome back, Walter Skinner," he said quietly, then nodded his head to Mulder and left.
Mulder looked curiously at the box and Skinner picked it up. "One last formality, Mulder." He opened it up and removed what appeared to be a man's gold ID bracelet. "Your right hand, please." Mulder stretched out his right hand and Skinner fastened the bracelet around it. "This marks you as my property. You are to wear this at all times." His eyes met Mulder's, holding them with an intensity that made it impossible for Mulder to look away. "I want to be very clear on this point, Mulder. You are to wear it when you sleep, bathe, jog, fight liver-eating monsters, At All Times. Removing this bracelet removes you from my protection, allowing any Dom here to approach you - and you don't have the experience in this lifestyle to handle being a free-sub. Plus, we know that Cancerman owns one of the junior members. He will be watching for an opportunity to get his hands on you. This is not my rule, Mulder; it is a Club rule. If you break it, I cannot save you from the result of your own folly. Do I make myself clear?"
"Yes, sir," Mulder said faintly. He looked down at the bracelet, blushing slightly, and wondered how incriminating this might be in the outside world.
Skinner looked amused. "It doesn't say 'Property of Walter Skinner' or anything else so obvious, Mulder. When we pass our tests, we each choose a unique symbol for marking our property. The gold indicates that I am a senior member."
"Tests?" Mulder asked, ignoring the word "property" which made shivers run up his spine.
"They don't let just anyone proclaim himself or herself to be a Dominant - a top, if you prefer." Skinner sipped his wine, an excellent vintage as always. "This Club prides itself on having the best, the most skillful, and the safest. You have to pass tests to become a Junior, and more tests to become a Senior. Even after that, if there are three formal and substantiated complaints from subs a Dom is out."
Mulder looked at him with a certain amount of awe that, Skinner thought ironically, he had rarely - if ever - seen in the office. "So when do we start, sir?"
"We have already started, Mulder. You belong to me now. The only safe way to end this - and you may end it at any time - is for both of us to go to the Secretary, remove this ID and your name from the Book. You would then be safe from being claimed by any other master here, but you would also not be allowed back in the Club."
Mulder nodded. "I understand."
"And as for your training," Mulder repressed a shudder at that, "we will start this weekend if you are available."
"Of course, sir," Mulder said promptly.
"You are certain, Mulder? Nothing you need to finish up? Once we start, your weekends will belong to me unless we make prior arrangements."
"I'm certain, sir." Mulder smiled, wryly. "I don't have much of a life outside work."
Their dinners arrived and Skinner occupied himself for a few minutes, then asked the question that had been bothering him. "Why did you come here, Mulder? Why did you let Krycek, of all people, bring you here?"
Mulder flushed a little. "I ran into him, sir. In an S&M nightclub. I had heard of it and was checking it out. He came over to me there and made some rude remarks about the place. He said that if I was really interested he knew this place - very exclusive, very good. I was - curious. He brought me here, showed me around. Challenged me - so I signed the Book." A rueful smile crossed his face. "I was really ill last night when I got home, wondering what I had gotten myself into. I had no idea it was a set up, though. I mean, how could they know that I was interested in this sort of thing?"
"It's not that hard to figure out, Mulder. Given the load of guilt you carry around, this was bound to be attractive to you, once you found out about it. The only question would be whether you would request a male or female Dom. Once again you have managed to land on your feet - just barely."
"I'm lucky that you are a member, sir," Mulder said frankly. "What I don't understand is how Krycek found this place - it doesn't seem to be his type of place."
Skinner stared at his drink. "I brought him here."
Mulder stared at him, mouth wide. "You, sir? Then was he - " He glanced at the bracelet.
"No. I never trained Krycek. This was years ago, before we found out he was a double agent. He was already into the lifestyle when we met. I was a member and I brought him here for a few...encounters. He attracted the attention of others and we went our separate ways." He looked up, meeting Mulder's eyes squarely. "For the record, Mulder, you are the first I've given my bracelet to. I gave this all up years ago, until I got that call."
"I - I'm sorry to have put you in this position, sir. If you don't wish to continue - "
Skinner sighed. "Mulder, we both know that you won't walk away from this and I won't let Cancerman have you. So - until the day that you decide you don't need any of this anymore - let's just consider that topic closed."
Skinner took another sip of his drink. "Before we start, we need to discuss parameters for our games. How familiar are you with the lifestyle terminology?"
"I - uh - I've been doing some reading lately. As I said, I was curious."
"Bring a list of the books with you this weekend - I want to make sure you're getting correct information. I'll also give you a list of good books on the subject. I don't object to intellectual curiosity, but I don't want you wallowing in a lot of the garbage out there."
"I have experience in all areas but my preference is D/s - Dominance/submission. I try to tailor the game to the needs of my sub but I will not intentionally inflict pain. Do you understand me, Mulder? If you are looking for someone to beat you for your sins then you've got the wrong man and we had better terminate this now."
Mulder cleared his throat, looking a little relieved. "I - that's fine with me, sir."
Skinner studied him. "Is this making you uncomfortable, Mulder?" he asked in amusement, thinking that Mulder was not nearly as sophisticated as he tried to act. "Truth, Mulder. I don't tolerate lying in the game arena."
"Yes, sir, it is," Mulder admitted. "But I can live with it."
"Good answer. I'll be pushing your limits, Mulder - that's what the game is about. You'll have to be totally honest with me or I could end up pushing dangerous buttons for you." He studied Mulder's face again, thinking of what he knew about the agent. "Because of that, you'll have two safe words. The first one you will use if you are in unbearable physical discomfort. When you use that word, I will stop playing and evaluate the situation with you to determine what is causing the problem and whether we can continue. The second word will be for unbearable emotional discomfort and, when you use that word, it will stop play. It doesn't mean that we won't play again, just that we'll drop into comfort-mode till we determine what caused the problem. Do you understand?"
"Yes, sir." Mulder shrugged as if not concerned.
Skinner's eyes narrowed and he reached out to grab Mulder's chin, forcing their eyes to meet. "I am serious about this, Mulder. These games can be healthy emotional and physical releases, or they can destroy you. I am not interested in breaking you, unlike our friend. If I find that you are not using the safe words, I will end this agreement and see that you are transferred far beyond Cancerman's reach. Am I understood, Mulder?"
"Yes, sir," Mulder said, eyes wide and voice faint.
Skinner softened his voice and let go of Mulder. "There is no shame in admitting that something is too much for you to bear. Sometimes all you will need is a little reassurance before we continue, or stepping back to a familiar level. Strength comes in knowing our weaknesses."
Mulder dropped his eyes to his plate, saying softly, "I may have a lot of buttons, sir."
"I'm aware of that, Mulder. If we start a game and something pushes one of your buttons and we have to discontinue till the next weekend, I will not blame you or refuse to play again. There may be some things we can never do. I know that you have a problem with being restrained so, if we cannot work around that, it may be something we have to avoid."
He studied the younger man who was pushing his food around on his plate. "Are you having a problem right now, Mulder?"
Mulder looked up, startled. "Sir?"
"That steak is already dead, and those vegetables will never compete in the Indy 500."
Mulder grinned, surprised by the subtle humor. "Sorry, sir."
"So what's the problem?"
"I guess I'm just realizing what I'm getting into," Mulder said frankly. "Stress tends to go straight to my stomach."
"Lose your appetite or lose your lunch?"
"Depends on the stress. Appetite first."
"Then I think we'll quit while we're ahead. Think about what we've talked about and, should you decide you don't want to go through with this, let me know by Friday afternoon. Now," Skinner said, deftly changing the subject, "I understand that you like basketball. Did you catch the game night before last?"
Mulder nodded and launched into an animated discussion of the game's highlights, and Skinner was satisfied to see that Mulder's appetite returned. When they parted at the lobby, Mulder seemed to be in cheerful spirits. Skinner wondered if that would last, wondered if he would get a call during the week. And he wondered if he would be relieved or disappointed to receive such a call.