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Chains of Desire

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 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

 

"Hello?"

"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?"

"Yes."

"As a submissive?"

"Yes."

"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."

"Shit."

"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.

"This 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.

"Sir?"

"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.

"Come, Mulder."

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."

"Yes, sir."

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."

"Yes, sir."

"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.

Chapter Text

Come to me, breakin' me, showin' me no mercy
Filling my heart with your love
What have you done to me?

 

Skinner entered the Club with an overnight bag in hand and went to the Secretary's desk to get his key. The Assistant Secretary was on duty and handed him the cardkey.

"Sir, the young man is waiting for you over there." He pointed in the direction of an alcove. "I tried to explain that he was supposed to wait upstairs, but he was most anxious to wait down here." He smiled indulgently at Skinner. "He is new to us, isn't he?" Skinner nodded. "Well, no harm done, but you might just want to emphasize the Club rules to him."

"I'll do that," Skinner said grimly.

The Assistant Secretary smiled even wider. "A stubborn young man, sir. You will have your hands full with him, I imagine."

Skinner nodded, picked up the cardkey and his bag, and stalked over to the alcove. Mulder was pacing in the small area and Skinner's first thought was that Mulder had changed his mind at the last minute. He was surprised at the wave of disappointment that washed over him at that thought. Then Mulder caught sight of him and relief came over the young man's face.

"Mulder, you are supposed to wait upstairs," Skinner growled at him.

"I - I know, sir, but I got here early and then I got nervous and, well, I thought it would be better for me to wait here for you."

"Better for you, perhaps, but it is against the Club rules. Some very important - and very private - people use this place, and they don't want anyone hovering around here when they check in. So from now on when you check in you go upstairs and wait. No matter how nervous you get. Understood?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good."

Skinner grabbed Mulder by the back of the neck and briskly walked him past the desk to the elevator. He led the way down the hall to the suite, gestured for Mulder to enter, and closed the door behind them. As he unpacked his bag, he watched Mulder as he nervously paced around the main room. The young man's eyes briefly landed on the more unusual furnishings of the main room - the "toy" cabinet, the rings set into the wall and ceiling, the massage table, the king-sized bed with brackets set into the four corners - before shying away. A smile crossed Skinner's lips; Mulder was in for an education this weekend.

"All right, Mulder. The first thing we're going to do is get you ready. From now on, you will arrive at 8pm and prepare yourself, and I will be here at 8:30. I will expect you to be ready when I arrive. Is that clear?"

"Prepare - "

"Mulder, is that clear?" Skinner said sternly.

"Yes, sir," Mulder said faintly.

"Good. Now undress."

Mulder swallowed hard. "Sir?"

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "Well, you didn’t think we were going to discuss basketball all weekend, did you?"

Mulder flushed. "No, sir. Uh - how do you want me to do this?"

"Just get undressed quickly. Later I will teach you how to undress for show."

"Yes, sir." Mulder began unbuttoning his shirt, pulled it free of his jeans and took it off, then stood with it in his hand as if unsure what to do with it.

Skinner tried not to smile. Assuming a bored tone he said, "Just throw it on a chair. And hurry up. A good sub should be able to strip in thirty seconds."

Mulder tossed the shirt on a chair and toed off his sneakers, then unfastened and unzipped his jeans and hurriedly pulled them off, followed by his socks. Finally, hesitantly, he hooked his thumbs in his boxers, pushed them down, and stepped out of them.

Skinner appraised the naked body in front of him. "Turn around." Mulder did so, and Skinner could see the blush spread across his face and down his chest. "Face forward again." Mulder obeyed. "You have a beautiful body, Mulder." Mulder blushed even more, dropping his head to stare at his toes. Skinner stood up and crossed to him, using his fingers to lift Mulder's chin to meet his eyes. "I just complimented you. What do you think you should say?"

Mulder looked embarrassed. "I - I'm not used to compliments, sir."

"You will be." Still holding Mulder's chin, he said softly, "Your sole existence here is to give me pleasure. And it pleases me to enjoy your body. Keep that in mind."

"Yes, sir."

"Shower," he said and lightly swatted Mulder's ass.

Mulder retreated into the bathroom looking relieved and Skinner heard the shower go on. He moved about the room, preparing it. The covers on the bed were pulled down, lights dimmed, the supper he had ordered removed from the dumbwaiter and set out on the table. Tonight was all about seduction, Mulder's seduction, introducing him to pleasure in a way that would make him hunger for it again. An eager sub was a willing, cooperative sub.

Mulder came out of the bathroom, hair still slightly damp and a towel wrapped around his waist. Skinner looked at him and raised an eyebrow, and Mulder removed the towel with a blush. Skinner nodded his approval and gestured for Mulder to join him. He held up four pieces of leather with sheepskin pads.

"These are yours; I bought them especially for you. From now on, you will keep them with your overnight bag." He buckled the cuffs around Mulder's wrists and ankles. "When you arrive here, you will strip and shower, then put these on. Since you will be wearing them, it will be in your best interest to keep them clean and oiled."

"Yes, sir. Do I get a collar, too?"

"My collar is earned, Mulder. When you have proven yourself to me. Now - dinner."

"Dinner, sir?" Mulder looked at him blankly and Skinner smiled.

"Food? You remember the concept?" He gestured toward the table. "Sit down."

Mulder looked down at his nakedness and blushed. "Umm…"

"Most of the time you are in this room with me you will be naked, so get used to it."

Mulder obediently sat at the table but only picked at his food. Skinner recognized his nervousness and decided to distract Mulder.

"Mulder, tell me about your past sexual experiences."

Mulder looked up at him, startled. "Sir?"

"You don't have to go into graphic detail. I'm just trying to determine what kind of experience you've had."

Mulder stared at his plate, pushing his food around with his fork. "I - uh - lost my virginity when I was sixteen. She was seventeen and more experienced. After that, there was the occasional tumble until my second year at Oxford. That's when I met Phoebe. She was older, and way more experienced, and she put me through the wringer - emotionally and physically."

Skinner was studying him with sympathetic eyes. "So that's why you didn't choose a female Dom."

Mulder shrugged. "Been there, done that, got the emotional scars to prove it. She abandoned me for another man, one who could give her career a push."

Curious choice of words, Skinner thought, and had the feeling that Mulder had been abandoned many times in his life. "After that?"

"The occasional one night stand, another girlfriend, but nothing serious."

"What about Scully?"

Mulder looked up, puzzled. "What about Scully?"

"She's a beautiful, intelligent woman and you're on the road a lot together. You love her."

Mulder nodded. "Sure I love her, but not like that. She's my best friend."

"Are you telling me that you never fantasize about Scully?"

Mulder looked up with a grin. "I didn't say that. I fantasize about lots of people that will never become reality." He suddenly flushed.

Skinner understood that blush and said, softly, "Have you ever fantasized about me, Mulder?" The blush deepened and he chuckled softly. "That's very flattering. Anyone else you fantasize about?"

"Krycek," Mulder muttered, wishing the floor would open up and swallow him.

"Understandable. He's a very beautiful young man. And I would say, based upon his recent action in bringing you here, that he has similar fantasies." Mulder's head jerked up, eyes wide, and Skinner's eyes met his. The hard look in them made Mulder swallow. "But understand me, Mulder. You belong to me now and I do not share."

"Yes, sir," Mulder said faintly.

"Come here." He gestured to the floor in front of him and Mulder got up from his chair and came to stand in front of him. Mildly, he said, "I don't want to get a crick in my neck." Mulder flushed at his mistake and knelt. "You're new at this and you have a lot to learn. First thing for you to remember: while we are playing these games you will obey me. I won't require your silence as some tops might - I know that's an impossible goal - but I expect instant obedience to an order, and I expect you to put a curb on that tongue. This is not a debating society, Mulder, and I am not interested in your creative stories. Also you do not touch me without my permission but I may touch you anytime I wish. Your body belongs to me, which means that I determine when - and if - you come. Any questions?"

"No, sir."

"Good. All right, Mulder. Go kneel on the bed, facing me." Mulder obeyed. "Now I want you to show me how you pleasure yourself."

Mulder's eyes widened. "You want me to jerk myself off - in front of you?"

"I believe that's what I said." Skinner sighed. "I know you're new to this, Mulder, but do I need to repeat the rules?"

"No, sir."

"Then please observe them, unless you wish to learn what the penalties for breaking my rules are."

Mulder swallowed convulsively at the tone in Skinner's voice. He reached down and took his penis in hand, then said faintly, "I - I can't."

"Of course you can," Skinner said softly, and Mulder shivered at the silky smooth tone. "Just close your eyes and pretend you're alone." Mulder's eyes slid shut. "Now choose a fantasy and lose yourself in it. Don't tell me, just show me."

Mulder began stroking himself, sorting through his fantasies for one that would provide the proper stimulation but all of them were tired old scenes. He slitted his eyes a fraction, glancing across at Skinner. He didn't seem to be affected by any of this, not the room or Mulder's nakedness. Damn it, was the man made of stone? Or maybe he wasn't personally interested in Mulder, was just doing this for sheer altruism, to keep Mulder out of trouble?

He wondered about Skinner and Krycek - did Skinner find Krycek's body more appealing than Mulder's? - aware that these thoughts were making him aroused. He wondered what it would take to arouse the man sitting before him - could he crack that stone-cold exterior? Keeping his eyes slitted so that he could watch Skinner, he spread his knees and arched his back a little to present a better view. He used his other hand to play with his nipples, to run his fingers over his flat belly, to finger his balls. He saw with satisfaction that Skinner shifted slightly in his chair and gave himself up to hedonistic self-pleasuring.

Skinner had seen the partially opened eyes and had been aware when Mulder shifted from fantasizing to exhibition. He was amused by this turn of events and not above letting Mulder see that. The man had the soul of a bottom, even if he wasn't aware of it yet. Of course this was a common bottom trick, trying to seduce the top and thus escalate the action, and Skinner had no intention of falling for it - especially from a neophyte sub.

Mulder felt his climax coming and gave into the vocalization of it, arching back further and increasing the speed of his hand until he was coming hard, crying out. He collapsed on his back on the bed, trying to catch his breath and still his racing heart.

"Very good, Mulder," Skinner said dryly. "Quite an impressive show."

Mulder turned his head sideways to look at Skinner, chagrined that his intention had been so transparent. He saw the amusement on Skinner's face and grinned back, feeling relaxed for the first time. Maybe this wouldn't be so bad. "Thank you, sir."

"Yes, I think you deserve a reward for that. Go clean yourself up."

When Mulder returned from the bathroom, he was curious to see that Skinner was removing some items from the cabinet. He sauntered over nonchalantly, trying to see what Skinner was getting.

"No fair peeking," Skinner said humorously and Mulder grinned. Who'd have thought that Skinner had a sense of humor? His own sense of adventure was resurfacing; so far nothing too scary had happened here.

"Lay down on the massage table, face down," Skinner instructed and Mulder obeyed. Skinner poured some massage oil on his hands and began working on Mulder's shoulders, wringing a groan from Mulder.

"God, sir, you're good at this."

Skinner smiled and continued working his way over Mulder's back, his arms, and his legs. Once he had covered all of Mulder's back and had the young man relaxed, he decided it was time to up the stakes. With his left hand on Mulder's back, keeping him prone, he gently inserted a lubricated finger into Mulder. Mulder gasped at the sudden invasion, squirmed, but couldn't get away from Skinner. He let out a sob.

"Breathe, Mulder. Deep breaths." Mulder drew in a ragged breath while Skinner gently stroked his back. "That's it. Relax." He began slowly working the finger in and out and Mulder groaned, this time in pleasure. "There, that's not so bad, is it?"

"No…" Mulder laid his head down weakly on the table. It actually felt quite good but it made him more than a little apprehensive. Now he was positive that he was going to lose his anal virginity this weekend, to Walter Skinner, his boss and now his top. His life couldn't get too much weirder, could it?

Skinner removed his finger and deftly inserted a plug of about the same size. Mulder snapped up his head again and stared over his shoulder.

"What the hell was that?"

"An anal plug. It will help stretch you so you won't get hurt. Roll over, Mulder."

Mulder did so, wincing a little. "How long do I have to wear that thing?"

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "Until I remove it. Are we forgetting the rules again?"

Mulder sighed. "No, sir." He closed his eyes as Skinner began massaging the front of his body, avoiding the genital area, and sighed again in pleasure. This was nice, definitely nice, even if it did feel like he had a popsicle stuck up his ass. He realized that Skinner had stopped his massage and opened his eyes warily, wondering what Skinner had planned next.

He didn't have to wonder long. "Bed," said Skinner. "You may undress me."

Mulder sat up, forgetting the plug for a moment, and his eyes nearly popped out of his head. "Shit!" He gingerly got off the massage table and glared at Skinner, who was making no attempt to disguise his mirth. Mumbling under his breath, he stood in front of Skinner and began unbuttoning the older man's shirt.

"Are we having a problem, boy?" Skinner asked sternly after listening to the sub voce mutterings for a minute.

Mulder's head snapped up at that tone and he swallowed hard. He still wasn't sure what the penalties for insubordination were in this environment and he had gotten a good look at the implements in that cabinet while waiting for Skinner.

"No, sir," he said quietly and made quick work of removing Skinner's clothes. His eyes widened a little at the sight of Skinner's cock. It was impressive even when not aroused and he wondered how his body could possibly accommodate it.

"Relax, Mulder. That's not on the schedule for tonight. We've got a bit more stretching to do before you'll be comfortable."

Mulder tried to look disappointed but only managed to look desperately relieved. Skinner tousled his hair and pushed him toward the bed.

"Lay down on your back."

Mulder carefully did as ordered and Skinner settled onto the bed beside him, running a gentling hand over the younger man's body. To Mulder's surprise, he found that Skinner was kissing him. It felt strange: firm lips against his, the feel of beard stubble against his chin. Strange, but pleasurably so. Experimentally, he allowed his mouth to open and felt a tongue slip in, deepening the kiss. He could hardly breathe but he didn't care, and it just felt so good.

"Oh, God!" he gasped when his mouth was finally freed, feeling lightheaded. And then that mouth was moving across his cheek, down his neck, nipping and sucking as it moved. A tongue tickled against a nipple; he arched against it and felt the nipple being sucked into that hot mouth, roughly tongued. Then the other nipple was tended until both were tingling, and the mouth moved across his belly, down his groin. He held his breath for a moment and then felt that hot mouth engulf his cock.

"Jesus, Walter!" he breathed, then the mouth began working him over and all coherent thoughts or words fled him. His infrequent encounters had occasionally included blowjobs but they had always been perfunctory and unsatisfactory. This was a whole different experience entirely. Skinner was obviously as skilled at this as at all other things and clearly enjoyed what he was doing to Mulder. Mulder suddenly found that all doubts had fled from his mind - whatever mind hadn't been sucked out through his dick. He was soon bucking and begging and pleading, then a final touch and he was coming hard, screaming as he came.

When he came back to his senses, he was cradled against Skinner's side, his head on Skinner's shoulder and two arms wrapped around him. He shuddered, stretched, and tilted his head up to look into Skinner's face and smiled.

Skinner blinked. He had only seen that smile once, on the day that Scully's cancer had gone into remission, and its effect at close range was nearly blinding. Something between pain and joy twisted inside him and he had to draw a deep breath. This was not good; one should love but not fall in love with one's sub.

"Thank you, sir," Mulder was murmuring. Skinner had to smile at that and all doubts flew away. It was just a game, after all; this was not real life, not a relationship.

"I take it that was good for you?"

"The best," Mulder said with a contented sigh, and tucked his head under Skinner's chin. He was quiet for a long time, and Skinner thought he had gone to sleep. "Sir?"

"Why aren't you asleep, Mulder?" He tried a stern tone with his words but Mulder seemed undeterred.

"You haven't had any release."

Damn the man for saying that. Skinner had been quite successful at turning his mind from his own need and the warm body in his arms until then. His cock flared to life.

"Please, sir? Let me, please?"

Skinner pushed himself up a little so he could clearly see the man's face. "It isn't necessary, Mulder. I can wait."

Mulder's mouth twitched with a smile and he said, glancing down Skinner's body, "I don't think so, sir. This can't possibly be healthy for you. You might - explode or something, and then I'd be a virgin forever."

"Well, we can't have that," Skinner said, grinning at the audacity of the man. "Very well."

Mulder started to pop up then remembered the plug and gingerly moved onto his knees. He started nuzzling at Skinner's neck, moving down to the nipples, repeating the motions that Skinner had used on his own nipples.

Skinner groaned; damn the man, but he was a fast learner! He was going to have to stay on his toes to keep Mulder from taking control. His mouth moved down to Skinner's cock, nuzzling at the thick bush surrounding it, licking upward along the underside. His tongue circled the head, teasing the slit, and Skinner groaned and bucked upward.

Mulder gagged at the sudden feeling of the large cock filling his mouth and backed off, taking the cock in his hand. "Sorry, Walter," he murmured, a little sheepishly.

Skinner reached down to gently stroke the dark hair. "It's okay, Mulder. You're doing fine for your first time - better than fine. Just use your hand - you were quite good at that as I recall."

Mulder grinned impishly. "Yes, sir." He began stroking, using his other hand to roll the balls in his hand, until Skinner was groaning and thrashing and then coming with a shout before collapsing on the bed.

When he opened his eyes, Mulder was grinning down into his face. "You okay, sir?"

He gently cuffed the back of Mulder's head. "You are an insolent brat and I should probably beat you senseless."

Mulder just grinned, sensing the threat was empty. "Yes, sir. You can do that in the morning - right now you need to sleep."

Skinner growled and pulled Mulder down on his shoulder again, wrapping his arm around the young man. "Good-night, Mulder."

"'Night, sir."


Mulder woke to the sense that someone was watching him and blinked open sleepy eyes to see that it was early morning and that Skinner was lying propped up on one elbow, watching him with a smile. He smiled back, a little tentatively. Some things that felt okay in the night felt a little awkward by daylight.

"Good morning, sir." He blushed a little under Skinner's scrutiny. "Is - everything okay, sir?"

"Fine. I'm just wondering what I'm going to call you."

"Call me, sir?"

"Well, I can't continue calling you 'Mulder' - it's a little formal for this situation and reminds me too much of my troublesome agent from work. I know you hate being called by your first name. You have a lot of cat-like qualities so I suppose I could call you 'Cat' or 'Kitten'."

Mulder looked horrified. "Oh, God, sir! I don't think I could answer to 'Kitten'."

Skinner reached out to grasp Mulder by the back of the neck and shook him gently. "You'll answer to whatever I choose to call you, boy. One of my rules, remember? I get to pick the name. Although I'm open to suggestions."

"Call me Fox," Mulder said softly. "I don't think I'd mind if you called me that."

Skinner studied the young man. "It's not going to mess up your mind if I call you 'Fox' in the throes of passion?"

Mulder grinned. "Well, as that would be a unique situation, I don't see how it could." Then his face shadowed and he shrugged, turning away. "I'm more used to hearing it with disappointment or anger."

Skinner gently gripped his arm and kept him from escaping. "Fox," he said gently. "It's all right."

Mulder turned back to him, the naked honesty hidden under mischief again. "Easy for you to say. You haven't got a pine cone stuck up your ass."

Skinner chuckled but shook his head. "You are impossible. What was I thinking, taking you on? You'll put me in an early grave."

"Yeah, but at least you'll die happy," Mulder quipped.

"On your stomach, Fox, and we'll see about extracting that pine cone." Mulder obeyed and Skinner examined the plug, twisting it and stroking it in and out while Mulder moaned and clutched the sheets. "Yes, I think we can take this one out." He pulled it out and gently slapped Mulder's ass. "Go on in the bathroom. Start the shower when you're ready."

Mulder looked startled when Skinner joined him in the shower. Skinner pulled Mulder's back against his chest and took the soap away from him. Carefully he began soaping the young man's body. Mulder closed his eyes and relaxed, enjoying the feeling of being taken care of, all decisions in some one else's hands for awhile. No need to think, no need to analyze, just feel. And Skinner slowly stroking his cock was a very nice feeling.

"Fox, I'm going to make you come," Skinner's voice said softly in his ear. "I want you to close your eyes and keep your hands at your side. Do you understand?"

"Yes, sir," Mulder said dreamily. He spread his feet a little for balance, feeling Skinner's erection along his back, but he didn't need to worry about that right now. Skinner's hand moved up and down, skillful, knowing just how to touch him to bring him off so that in a very short time he was shaking and coming as hard as if he hadn't come in months. He lay collapsed against Skinner's chest, gasping in air, and it was incredible to feel the soft kisses against the side of his face.

"Beautiful, Fox," Skinner murmured. "You are so beautiful and so responsive."

And it was easier to murmur, "Thank you, sir," this time.

Skinner handed him the soap. "I'm very proud of you, Fox. You may wash me."

Mulder took the soap eagerly, understanding that this was a privilege, and began thoroughly soaping and rinsing every inch of that impressive body, learning its curves and contours, running a gentle finger over the white scars from many wounds over the years. Skinner watched him without comment, curiously affected by the absorbed look on Mulder's face. When Mulder had finished rinsing him, he gently pushed him down on his knees.

"Think you can handle this, Fox?" he asked indicating his erection.

"Yes, sir."

He eagerly took Skinner's cock into his mouth, careful not to go too deep this time, mimicking Skinner's own technique and adding a couple touches of his own until Skinner was rocking forward, head thrown back, coming hard. Mulder swallowed, ignoring the first protest of his throat and stomach, and found that it wasn't as bad as he had thought it would be. Well, he thought in wry amusement, my father said I was a cock-sucking faggot so I guess I'd better learn to be a good one.

Skinner's hand was in his hair, petting it gently, and he looked up a little shyly. "Was that okay, sir?"

Skinner's eyes were enigmatic but there was a smile on his face. "Yes, Fox; that was very good." He pulled Mulder up from his knees. "Out and get dried off. "

Once out of the shower, the cuffs were refastened and, to Mulder's embarrassment, another plug was inserted, this one a little wider. Mulder was acutely uncomfortable, especially when he learned that he was expected to sit and eat brunch with the plug in. He started to grumble but caught Skinner's look and bit off what he was going to say.

After eating a surprisingly large meal for him, he found that he was incredibly sleepy. Skinner didn't seem at all surprised - but then nothing seemed to surprise him - and pushed him toward the bed.

"Get a nap, Fox. I'm going to go work out in the gym for awhile.

Mulder nodded sleepily and closed his eyes. Within minutes, he was asleep.


Mulder woke alone in the room. He stretched luxuriously in the bed, then winced a little at the feeling from the anal plug. Skinner must still be working out, he thought sleepily. He rolled over on his stomach, his face on the pillow that Skinner had slept on. The man's scent lingered on the pillow still and Mulder breathed it in deeply. Walter Skinner, his master. His lover.

The panic attack was sudden and unexpected, and Mulder sat bolt upright in the bed. Christ, what was he thinking? How could he possibly have agreed to this? And, worse than that, how could he possibly be looking forward to having Skinner's cock up his ass? He had to get out of there, his mind gibbered at him, get out fast while he could. With shaking hands, he removed the plug and the leather cuffs and scrambled into his clothes. Not stopping to tuck in his shirt or tie his laces, he grabbed his bag and almost ran to the door. He opened it - and stared right into the surprised face of Walter Skinner. Panic threatened to overwhelm him - he wanted to push past Skinner and run but the man stood squarely in the doorway.

"What in the hell is this, Mulder?" Skinner growled.

"I - I can't. I've - I've changed my mind." Mulder tried to slip around Skinner. "Please, let me go!"

"Like hell I will!" Skinner kicked the door closed, slamming Mulder against the wall, his arm like a vise across Mulder's chest.

"I don't have to stay!" Mulder snapped. "You can't make me!"

Skinner recognized the panic in the man's eyes. "I will, Mulder. You agreed to this and I'll only let you out of here under two conditions."

"Name them!"

"We go down to the Secretary and remove you from the Book. And you give me your word, your word, Mulder, that you won't try this anywhere else. Anywhere." Hazel eyes met brown eyes for a long moment, and then Mulder closed his eyes. "You can't, can you?" Skinner said gently. "We both know that if you walk out that door you'll end up being someone else's bottom."

He moved away from Mulder, taking the precaution to lock the door. There was silence in the room for a long moment and Mulder still stood with his back against the wall, his eyes closed. Skinner sighed.

"Mulder, I know you've taken a look in that cabinet. I told you that I'm not into pain but there are others here that are. And those are the safe tops. Cancerman doesn't play safe. You can't even begin to imagine what that means but I can, and it scares the shit out of me. Our English friend knows the smoking bastard even better and it scared him so much that he risked losing his membership here - and God knows what out there - by contacting me. You walk out that door and you'll be putting yourself right in his hands. I can't let you do that."

"I'm an adult," Mulder whispered. "I make my own choices."

Skinner snorted. "Less often than you think."

He sighed again and ran a hand over his head, defeated. He had done what he could but Mulder was right; he couldn't stop the man, even if he thought he was making a colossal mistake.

"All right. You think about it and make up your mind. I'm going to take a shower."

Mulder stared at opposite wall for a long time. He knew that Skinner was right, and knew that he wanted - needed - this. No matter how scared it made him feel. And he remembered how safe he had felt the night before, lying in Skinner's arms. He hadn't even had a bad dream for the first time in forever. He sighed, tossed his bag onto the floor, and began to strip.

Skinner stood in the shower for a long time, wondering what he could have done differently. He tried to think of someone else he could turn Mulder over to, someone safe, but he had lost touch with his few acquaintances in the lifestyle and the only one he really trusted with Mulder had his own problems.

He turned off the water and listened, but there was only silence from the outside room. He drew in a deep breath and let it out, then briskly dried himself off and wrapped the towel around his waist. Might as well clear out and spend the rest of the weekend trying to figure out what to do next.

Skinner crossed the floor to the closet where he had hung up his clothes and nearly tripped over the bag lying on the floor. He looked down at it, his mind suddenly going blank. Mulder's bag. He swung around and saw the man sitting cross-legged on the bed, naked except for the cuffs.

"You stayed," he said in disbelief.

Mulder shrugged. "You were right about me. I'm one sick fuck, huh?"

Skinner smiled in relief and crossed to sit on the edge of the bed. "I'm not going to answer that one - I'm here, too, so what does that make me?"

"A candidate for sainthood?"

Skinner said dryly, "I think the Catholic Church would argue that one with you." He reached out to gently stroke Mulder's hair. "You're not sick, Mulder. There are plenty of other people with the same needs, otherwise why this place and others like it? As long as you know why you are here and what you want."

He lifted Mulder's chin so that the young man's eyes had to meet his. "What do you want, Fox?" he asked softly. Mulder flushed, looking away, unable to ask. "It's okay. I know." He stood up. Much as he had been enjoying this slow seduction, what Mulder needed now was to be taken, to end his suspense. "On your stomach, in the middle of the bed."

Mulder obeyed and Skinner fastened his cuffs loosely to the rings at the four corners of the bed. Ordinarily, he preferred to face his lovers and didn't use restraints but he knew that Mulder needed this. Mulder needed to feel that this encounter was out of his hands, beyond his control, while still feeling safe.

"On your knees, Fox," he ordered and slid pillows under Mulder's stomach as he complied. "That's good. Okay with the restraints? You remember the safe words?" Mulder nodded. "Then just relax." He gently stroked Mulder's back, like he was quieting a skittish horse. "You're being very good. I think you deserve a reward. Would you like to come, Fox?" Gently he began stroking the younger man's cock.

"Yes, sir." A faint whisper.

"You will, but not until I tell you that you may. Do you understand me, Fox?"

"Yes, sir." Stronger this time.

"Good." He moved his hand from Mulder's cock, caressing the skin all over his body with soft fingertips, feeling the delicious shivering running through Mulder's body. He nipped at the skin on Mulder's back, ran his tongue down the spine until Mulder was breathing harder, panting. Skinner lubricated a finger and inserted it into the tight anus, heard the shuddering breath, then slowly began stroking in and out until the shuddering turned into moans. A second finger and he repeated the process until Mulder was pressing back. Skinner smiled and twisted his fingers, brushing the prostate.

"Jesus!" Mulder nearly came off the bed. "What - "

Skinner chuckled. "I just introduced you to your prostate. Relax."

"How can I relax when you're doing that?" Mulder grumbled, closing his eyes and rocking back against the invading fingers that seemed to know him so well.

"Relax or I'll stop."

Mulder turned his head to give Skinner a dirty look but refrained from commenting. Skinner took the opportunity to introduce a third finger and saw the sweat break out on Mulder's back.

"Easy, Fox, easy," he murmured, pressing his lips along Mulder's spine as his fingers moved. "Almost there." With his free hand he rolled on a condom and positioned himself behind Mulder. He pulled out his fingers, heard Mulder groan, and quickly pressed the head of his cock inside. Mulder went suddenly still and drew a sharp breath. "Breathe, Fox. Deep breaths." He felt Mulder try to follow his instructions and heard the little gasping breaths as he continued slowly pressing in, then he was fully sheathed.

He kissed the back of Mulder's neck and murmured against his ear, "No more pain, Fox, just pleasure." Slowly he moved back out and was rewarded by a soft moan, this time of pleasure. Back in, slower than slow, and he reached around to grasp Mulder's cock in his hand, stroking him in counterpoint to his slow thrusts. And Mulder was moaning under him, sounds of pleasure and need, and it was better than anything Skinner could remember.

"Beautiful," he murmured against Mulder's ear. "You're so beautiful. Such a sweet, tight ass."

Mulder groaned, feeling that this slow thrusting was driving him out of his mind, and pushed back against Skinner. "God, Walter, faster - please."

Skinner kissed the side of his neck. "Not yet, babe. You'll be sore in the morning."

"I'll be dead now if you don't hurry," Mulder moaned.

Skinner chuckled and gradually increased his thrusting. At the same time he increased his stroking on Mulder's cock and felt the tightening that told him that Mulder was close. And he knew that he was close, too.

"Fox," he murmured in his ear, "you can come now." And he nipped the earlobe while squeezing Mulder's cock so that the younger man suddenly came violently, shaking and crying out. The tightening of the muscles around Skinner's cock triggered his own release, and he cried out as he came, then collapsed along Mulder's back.

For a long while there was no sound but the ragged sound of their breathing. Then Skinner heard a low sound coming from Mulder and his heart nearly stopped before he realized it was soft laughter.

"Fox?"

Mulder turned his face sideways and grinned. "Shit, Walter."

"That better not be a comment on my technique," Skinner growled but in good-humor. He carefully withdrew and flopped down on the bed on his back. He turned his head to study Mulder's face. The young man looked tired but happy, so he slid out of bed and went into the bathroom for a washcloth. Gently he cleaned up Mulder, checking to make sure that there was no tearing, then unfastened the tethers and crawled back in bed to take the young man in his arms.

"You okay?" he asked softly.

"No," Mulder murmured sleepily, snuggling his head closer into Skinner's shoulder. "I'm better than okay." And then he was asleep.

Skinner kissed the soft hair tickling his chin and tightened his hold. Maybe they'd be okay, he thought hopefully. Maybe this would work out after all. Maybe it would be enough - for both of them.

Chapter Text

I've got no control
You shake my soul when we touch

Still I can't get close enough to you

Skinner slid the card key into the slot and unlocked the door. Taking a deep breath, he opened the door, uncertain about what he was going to see when he entered. It had been a week since he had first begun topping Mulder and, although that weekend had seemed to go well, he knew that the second encounter was always the hardest. Shock and novelty usually got one through the first time. Then, as days passed, doubts would rear their ugly heads and things that had seemed normal would become terrifying. And Mulder had suffered a panic attack the past weekend, one that had nearly made him bolt. Even though the sex following that had been fantastic, it had also been Mulder's first time with a man. Mulder had seemed normal enough in their Tuesday morning staff meeting, but it did seem that the younger man had been avoiding him the last few days.

He opened the door and closed it behind him, then turned around. Mulder was sitting cross-legged in the middle of the bed, cuffs in place, hair still damp from his shower, a shy smile on his face.

"Hello, sir."

Skinner allowed himself to smile. "Hello, Fox." He set down his bag and crossed to the bed, ruffling the drying hair affectionately. "I see that you are ready. Very good."

"May I undress you, sir?"

"I think I'll take a bath so start the water while I unpack. Then you may undress me."

"Yes, sir."

Skinner quickly unpacked the bag, hanging up the extra clothes he had brought and putting his shaving kit in the bathroom. He found that he was smiling to himself. Mulder was there. And it looked like he was not going to be one of those subs that started each encounter by having to be retrained. Alex had been like that, he thought briefly, wanting to be forcefully put in place at the beginning of each encounter. One never knew how a sub was going to act until one had played with them for awhile, but it looked like Mulder was going to be one of the kind he liked best: mischievous, high-spirited, but eager to learn and move on to the next lesson.

Mulder undressed him quickly, carefully hanging up the suit and shirt, and Skinner couldn't resist ruffling his hair again as he bent to remove Skinner's shoes. Mulder looked up at him with a mischievous grin and Skinner wondered if he'd have to revise his earlier assessment - the young man was clearly up to something.

When he went to get in the large roman-style tub, he realized what that look was about. There were bubbles in the tub. He wanted to laugh but managed to put a stern look on his face when he turned to confront his sub.

"Bubbles, Fox?"

Mulder looked innocent. "They're very good for the skin, sir, and very relaxing. Scully swears by a bubble bath."

"In case you hadn't noticed, Scully is a woman, and women like bubble baths."

"Come to think of it, I had noticed there was something different about her."

Skinner snorted. "You know the old story 'That's One'?"

Mulder grinned. "Yes, sir."

"Then, that's one." He stepped into the tub and sank down gratefully into the hot water. It felt very good after the long week, and those bubbles were oddly soothing. He closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the edge. A hand pushed at his head and he lifted it, inquiringly, to have a rolled towel placed behind his head as a cushion. Murmuring his thanks, he leaned back again.

Mulder reclined on the tile ledge behind him, trailing his hand in the water. "So what happens when you get to 'three'?"

"Hmm?"

"The story. He shoots the mule - you're not going to be that drastic, are you?"

"Don't push your luck."

Mulder chuckled and fell silent. Skinner sighed contentedly - then felt something on his scalp.

"Fox, are you putting bubbles on my head?"

Mulder grinned. "You look good with bunny ears, Walter. 'Wabbit season. Duck season - fire'"

Skinner reached up and, in one fluid movement, pulled Mulder into the tub with him.

"Hey!" Mulder laughed, spitting out bubbles. "What happened to 'two'?"


Skinner lay drowsing contentedly in the afterglow, one hand idly caressing Mulder's back. He turned his head, rubbing his chin on the silky hair still slick with bubble residue. He was vaguely aware that the sheets were damp as he had not bothered to dry himself or Mulder off when he dragged them both out of the tub to ravish Mulder.

"Walter?"

"Hmm?"

"How are you going to punish me?"

Skinner tilted his head a little so he could see the young man's face. Mulder's eyes were closed, a contented smile on his face. Was it an idle question? Did he want reassurance that Skinner wouldn't hurt him?

"I thought I just did."

"If that's punishment, I'm going to be a very bad boy. You'll need vitamins. Or Viagra."

"Brat. I'd smack your ass but I'm too sleepy and content."

Sleepy smile. "I'll remind you in the morning."

Skinner gently ran his hand over Mulder's ass. "Fox?"

"Hmm?"

"Why are you asking?"

"Dunno," he murmured sleepily. "Just wanna know what to expect."

"I'm not into pain, Fox," Skinner said softly. "I told you that. I'll never whip you or hurt you like that."

A thread of a whisper. "There are worse kinds of pain. Sometimes it's worth getting whipped to get attention."

Skinner's throat filled with tears, and he gently hugged the man in his arms. "You've got my attention, Fox. Believe me."

"Mmm." Mulder's breathing showed that he had slipped into sleep, but Skinner lay looking up into the darkness for a long time.


"Walter, I'm bored!"

Skinner looked up from the files he was going over. He studied the man sprawled on his stomach on the bed.

"Why don't you read a book?"

"Already finished the one I brought. What kind of place doesn't have a TV?"

"I think they expect their guests to be too busy for television."

"And I would be - if you didn't have your nose in your work."

"Sorry, Fox, but I've got to finish this before I go into the office Monday. I've got a meeting with the Director." Skinner thought for a moment. "Why don't you go work out? They have a full gym including a lap pool."

"Is it okay? I feel a little uncomfortable wandering around here on my own."

"Put clothes on and you'll be perfectly safe, Fox. This isn't like those clubs where Doms try to score points by stealing other subs. That bracelet shows you're taken and no one will mess with you - it's a major infraction of the rules to poach. Think of it as a chastity belt and I hold the key." Skinner's eyes twinkled at him.

Mulder considered it. "Okay. Guess I'll go swim laps." He rummaged in his bag and pulled out his Speedo and a set of sweats.

"I'll probably come down to work in the gym when I finish here," Skinner said, looking over his reports with a sigh. Mulder nodded and, to Skinner's surprise, crossed to drop a kiss on Skinner's head before leaving.

Skinner sat there for a long time after Mulder left, unable to concentrate, feeling the soft kiss. Maybe he would go down and work out for awhile - he needed the exercise, he told himself. It had nothing to do with wanting to see that cute ass in a Speedo or the vicarious thrill of seeing other men lusting after his property.

It certainly had nothing to do with falling in love with his unruly sub.


Mulder dove into the pool, enjoying the feeling of cutting through the water with sure strokes. Across the lane, flip turn, another lap back. On and on until he was pleasantly tired.

He stopped at the side of the pool and found a towel held out to him.

"Thanks." He swung himself out of the pool.

"No worries, mate." A short, wiry, red-haired man in swim trunks held out his hand. "Sean."

"Mulder." He shook hands and began toweling his hair.

"You're new here," the man said, glanced at his wrist. "What do you think of the place?"

"Very nice. You been a member long?"

"Four years. Free sub for two years, the last two with Geoffrey." He indicated his own gold bracelet.

Mulder hesitated, wanting to talk to someone about this whole situation but not wanting to transgress any unspoken rules. "This is new to me. Do you like it - belonging to someone, I mean?"

"Yeah, it's a lot better than being a free agent. Safer. And you know what the expectations are on both sides." He glanced over at the glass wall to the exercise room and grinned. "Although if I was a free agent, I wouldn't mind being worked over by that tall drink of gorgeous man that just walked in."

Mulder turned and looked and saw Skinner. He smiled, unaware that his whole face had softened. "That's Walter."

He felt sharp eyes studying him. "He's yours?"

A warm feeling flooded him and it seemed that possession was a two-way street. "Yeah."

"No wonder you have such a shit-eating grin," Sean teased and Mulder felt himself blushing. "I haven't seen him around for awhile. And never with a permanent sub."

"Guess he figures I need special attention," Mulder said with a grin.

"Too right, mate. You look like trouble with a capital T." Mulder laughed. Then a different look crossed Sean's face. "Speaking of trouble," he muttered. He jerked his head toward the man warming up by the indoor track. "That's Jason Benett. Stay clear of him."

"A top?"

"Yeah. Likes to mess with new subs who don't know the score. Take my advice and stick close to your Walter when Benett's around."

"Thanks, I'll do that." Mulder studied the man. "He's not moving too well."

"Looks like his master worked him over good."

"I thought you said he was a top."

"A lot of the Juniors are topped, either inside or outside."

"And his?"

"Definitely outside. I've seen the marks and his top is not safe. Hell, Benett is borderline - one more infraction and he's out."

"I'll stay out of his way."

"Be sure you do, boy-o. And if he tries to give you trouble, just keep your hands to yourself and call for help. All the public rooms are monitored by Security and they have his number all right. Don't try to be the he-man - you'll just get yourself into trouble and your Walter doesn't look like he'd take kindly to that."

Mulder nodded, and Sean squeezed his shoulder. "Hey, don't look so worried. Most of the other tops here are decent and know enough to leave other people's property alone." He studied Mulder closely. "You know anyone else in the lifestyle? Subs, I mean."

"One, but we're not exactly on speaking terms."

Sean said shrewdly, "Well, it can take a little getting used to. Anytime you need to talk to someone about things, you just come talk to me. I've been gay since I was a teen, in the lifestyle for six years, and here for four so I know what's what."

"Thanks," Mulder said gratefully.

"I'll walk you over to your Dom - Benett won't mess with me." Mulder nodded and draped the towel around his neck, feeling suddenly exposed in the Speedos. He followed the redhead over to where Skinner was doing bench presses.

Skinner stopped to wipe his forehead with a towel. "Finished your swim, Fox?"

Mulder nodded, then indicated his companion. "Sean's been keeping me out of trouble."

Skinner snorted but nodded to the redhead. "Thanks for the effort, Sean. Mulder here is a trouble-magnet."

"Some trouble no one deserves," Sean said cryptically, jerking his head in the direction of Benett. "Well, I'll be shoving off now. See you 'round, Mulder. Nice seeing you back here, Mountain."

Skinner wrapped the towel back around his neck, his eyes on Benett. Mulder said quietly, "I think Benett may be our man. Sean says he has a master outside, one who is not a safe player. He says Benett is on the verge of being booted."

"He'd know; his Dom is the Club's Secretary and Sean always has his ear to the ground. He's a good friend to have here." He glanced up at Mulder with a smile. "Despite popular opinion, it appears you do know how to play well with others."

"Well, we both have a common interest." Mulder said and, at Skinner's inquiring look, he added mischievously, "Lusting after your body." Skinner flushed at that. "Why, Walter, you're blushing."

"It's still not too late to add spanking to the program," Skinner growled.

"Tease."

"One more word out of you, and I'll drag you upstairs and fuck you senseless."

"Please," Mulder said, teasingly, but his eyes were blazing green. Skinner fell into those passion-filled depths like a drowning man.

"Go get changed," he growled, "while I finish."

"Yes, sir."

Skinner watched Mulder saunter toward the locker room, amused by the triumphant strut. It seemed that Mulder had regained his equilibrium; time to throw him another curve, get him off balance again. Little did he realize that life was waiting with its own curve ball.


Mulder had just slipped on his sweatpants and was tying his shoes when he heard a familiar voice. "Well, look what the cat dragged in."

He affected nonchalance and continued tying his laces. "I'd be careful about cats if I were you - Ratboy." He sat up and saw Krycek leaning against the doorframe.

"I'm surprised to see you here. I didn't think you'd have the guts to go through with it."

"You've always been a bad judge of character, Krycek." Mulder was glad that he had changed out of his swimsuit already - the last thing he wanted was Krycek checking him out. He pulled the sweatshirt over his head, pushing the sleeves up deliberately to show the gold bracelet.

He heard the swift intake of breath and then Krycek was at his side, holding his wrist tightly in his hand and staring at the bracelet. "It's gold - I don't recognize the ID."

Mulder smiled mockingly. "Guess your scheme didn't work out like you planned."

"Who?" Krycek demanded, too upset to play games.

"Me." Krycek jerked around, staring at Skinner as he stood quietly in the doorway. "You got a problem with that, Krycek?"

Krycek was struck speechless for a moment then tried to recover. "Well, well. Isn't this sweet?" He looked mockingly at Mulder, still holding his wrist. "So, Mulder, did you give up climbing the ladder the usual way? Gonna suck and fuck your way to the top now?"

Skinner was across the room in an instant, his hands wrapped in the front of Krycek's shirt, lifting him off the floor. "Don't mess with him, boy. If you've got a problem, you come to me with it. If I even think that you've been around him, I'll tear off your balls and feed them to you."

Krycek looked him straight in the eyes. "Fuck. You."

"Sorry, my dance card is full. Go talk to Cancerman if you're lonely." Skinner opened his hands and dropped Krycek. "Ready, Mulder?"

Mulder's throat was too dry from the confrontation to speak so he merely nodded. Skinner grasped his elbow and escorted him out of the locker room. In the elevator he felt the trembling in Mulder's body and gently pulled Mulder against him.

"It's okay. I'm here."

"Shit, you were right. It was a setup and I nearly stepped into it." Mulder's stomach lurched and he knew he was going to be ill.

Skinner quickly unlocked the door to their suite and stood aside as Mulder ran for the bathroom. He followed slowly, held Mulder's head while he lost his breakfast, soothingly rubbing his back until the heaving stopped. He rinsed a washcloth and filled a glass with water, handing the cup to Mulder and gently wiping his face.

"Thanks," Mulder whispered, his throat raw and his body shaking.

"It's okay, Fox," Skinner murmured softly. "I'm here."

"I know." Mulder sighed, closed his eyes, and leaned back against Skinner.

"Let's get you out of here." Skinner effortlessly lifted the younger man to his feet, guiding him into the bedroom where he sat him down on the bed. He knelt to untie Mulder's shoes.

Mulder flopped on his back, eyes closed, and murmured, "I guess fucking me senseless is out of the picture now."

"Plenty of time for that later." Skinner lay down on his side next to Mulder, gently gathering the still trembling body against him. Mulder tucked up against the warm body gratefully, burying his face against Skinner's chest and breathing deeply to try to stop the shaking.

"Stupid thing to do," he muttered. "I'm acting like a baby, for Christ's sake." Skinner just held him close, rubbing his back soothingly, until the even breathing told him that Mulder had fallen into an exhausted sleep.


Mulder woke to the unique sensation of being snuggled against a warm but clothed body and found that he was lying sideways on the bed with Skinner spooned up behind him. He carefully turned within the encircling arms and studied the older man's face. He couldn't remember ever seeing Skinner this relaxed before, and thought that it made him look years younger. He hoped that it was due to him, that somehow he was giving something back to Skinner besides a warm body. Not that he expected Skinner to love him - this was a game, not a relationship.

Mulder couldn't believe how quickly his personal universe could change. Two weeks ago he had been a normal - well, nearly normal - heterosexual man who viewed his boss as necessary but an occasional nuisance. Now he was playing dominance games with that boss, and not only having sex with him but also thoroughly enjoying the sex.

And, to complicate matters, he thought that he was falling in love with Skinner. It scared him but excited him at the same time. Was it okay for a bottom to fall in love with the one topping him? Was that what made it possible to endure whatever the top chose to do to him? God, how sick am I? he thought wryly. Well, I may be sick, but at least I'm not alone. Then he thought about the next night, when he would be back at his apartment, and all the other nights between now and Friday, and he suddenly couldn't bear to lose another minute.

Mulder gently kissed Skinner, then nuzzled at his neck. "Walter," he murmured, "wake up."

Skinner tightened his hold but didn't open his eyes. "You got a problem, Fox?"

"I just don't want to waste any more time."

Skinner opened his eyes and studied Mulder seriously. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I guess I'll have to deal with this for awhile, but I'm okay."

"Good." Skinner slid his hands under Mulder's sweatshirt, caressing his back. "Because I threatened to fuck you senseless, and I'd hate for you to start thinking that I don't carry out my threats."

"Whatever you say, sir."

"God, Mulder, if I'd known this is what it takes to make you obey me, I would have started topping you years ago."

Mulder chuckled. "Do I sense a change to the Employee Relations Guide?"

"What? And give away my secret? Hell, no!" Skinner stripped off the sweatshirt and pants, caressing the sleek skin. He kissed Mulder ruthlessly until the younger man thought he was going to pass out from lack of oxygen, then rolled him over onto his back. Skinner nipped at his neck, sucking at the spot where the shoulder joined the neck, knowing that he was leaving a mark. Then he continued his assault down Mulder's chest, teasing the nipples until they were hard nubs.

Mulder ran his hands over Skinner's back, unable to touch the skin. He plucked at the shirt. "Damn it, Walter, get this off!"

"Hush," Skinner admonished. "Put your hands behind your head and keep them there. And close your eyes."

Mulder groaned but obeyed, and Skinner pulled off his own clothes. Mulder was rampantly erect already, and he twitched when Skinner gently ran a hand down his body.

"Keep still," he said. "If you move without my telling you, I'll stop."

Mulder drew in a sharp breath, forcing his body to stillness, his whole attention focused on the sensations Skinner's hands and mouth were generating. Skinner was exploring every inch of his body, cataloging each response, slowly building the fire within Mulder. His mouth traced the line of Mulder's collarbone, and he licked his way down Mulder's chest, across the ribs and the flat stomach, back up to the taut nipples. Mulder groaned again, fighting an urge to arch up to the mouth sucking his nipples, breaking out in a sweat from the effort.

"So you can follow orders," Skinner said with a chuckle. "I'm remembering this, Mulder."

"Unfair, sir," he said with a gasp.

"And your point would be-?"

"Bastard," Mulder said with feeling, and Skinner chuckled again.

Skinner's mouth moved down Mulder's abdomen, bypassing his genitals, working his way down one thigh and up the other until Mulder was nearly whimpering in need. One finger stroked down his cock and back up, and Mulder involuntarily bucked. The hand and mouth moved away.

"Sir - don't - please - " Mulder begged, forcing himself to lie still. "I'll be still. Please."

"One chance. Move again and I stop for good."

Mulder nodded, his eyes desperately clenched shut and hands locked on the headboard. He sighed with relief as Skinner's hand brushed his thigh, slid across his stomach, and gently grasped his cock. He gritted his teeth against to urge to jerk himself in that hand and was rewarded as it slid up and down on his cock.

"You like this, don't you, Fox? You like the pleasure of being stroked like this."

"Yes," he groaned. "Oh, God, yes."

"Such a beautifully responsive body," Skinner murmured, nipping at the inside of Mulder's thighs. "You were made to enjoy pleasure. Your body is so sensitive, and you're so hedonistic."

"Do I - please you, sir?" The voice was breathy, both from the effort of control and from uncertainty.

"You please me very much, Fox." There was a glistening of tears in the corners of Mulder's eyes, and Skinner wondered what that was about. He stopped his hand although he didn't remove it. "Mulder," he said in a carefully neutral voice. "Is this pushing an emotional button for you?"

"A - a little, but I'm okay."

"Do you need to talk about it, or are you able to continue?"

"Please, sir, don't stop. I'm fine. Really."

Skinner was satisfied that Mulder was okay, but decided that it was enough teasing for now. He had an idea about what had caused that reaction and reflected that with this man his words could be more powerful than his actions.

"All right. You can move now, if you need to, but keep your hands where they are and your eyes closed."

Skinner bent his head and took Mulder's cock in his mouth in one swift movement that made the younger man buck in surprise, crying out in pleasure. Skinner continued to suck and lick while his hands lifted Mulder's legs at the knees and bent them back against Mulder's chest. He released Mulder's cock, heard him moan in frustration, then Mulder hissed in pleasure as a lubed finger worked its way into him.

Skinner took his time preparing Mulder, and by the time he entered Mulder the younger man had been reduced to incoherent whimpers and pleas. He lifted Mulder's legs over his shoulders and set a steady rhythm, gratified by the way that Mulder moved with him. He increased his thrusts, slamming hard against Mulder's ass, feeling the clenching of the tight passage around his cock. Mulder's head was thrown back now, his eyes squeezed shut, noises that were not speech bubbling out of him continuously. Skinner reached down and took Mulder's cock in his hand, pumping it once, and Mulder was screaming and arching off the bed. Another slamming thrust and Skinner was coming too, buried impossibly deep and feeling that hot tight ass milking him dry.

Skinner collapsed on Mulder's chest, breathing heavily, and looked down at the younger man. Then he laughed, a little shakily. Mulder was out cold. He withdrew and collapsed next to Mulder on the bed.

Mulder floated back to consciousness from a world of black velvet and impossibly intense sensations to find himself pillowed on a muscled chest with a gentle hand stroking his back.

"Oh God…" he murmured.

The chest under him rumbled with laughter. "Welcome back to the land of the living."

"I passed out?" To his own ears his voice sounded thready, a mere whisper.

"Definitely."

"Jesus. I've never passed out before."

Another rumble from his pillow. "You're good for my ego, Fox." The hand moved up from his back to stroke his hair. "Sleep."

"Anything you say, sir."

Skinner chuckled again. "Definitely should have started this years ago. Think of the hair I could have saved." There was no answer, and he smiled as he realized that Mulder was sound asleep. Moments later, so was Skinner.


Krycek entered his room and heard a familiar voice from the darkness. "Security tells me they observed an incident between you and Mr. Skinner."

"Shit, sir, you scared me. I thought you were still in London."

A lamp came on by the window and he saw a familiar figure sitting in the armchair there. His employer, his patron, his owner. "I just arrived this evening." He gestured to the floor in front of him and Krycek obediently sank to his knees on the indicated spot. "Well?"

Krycek looked at the floor, avoiding those sharp eyes. "Skinner grabbed me."

"After you accosted his sub." He studied the bowed head before him, not in the least bit fooled by the meek posturing. "Alex, I have never required your sexual fidelity, but I believe I have warned you about Mr. Mulder. He is not for you."

Krycek's head snapped up, his eyes blazing as they met his master's. "You knew about this - knew that Skinner had claimed him, didn't you?"

"Knew about it?" There was humor in his voice. "My dear boy, I arranged it."

"But - I met him at that other club by accident - brought him here on my own."

More amusement. "You forget how well I know you, Alex. I knew what you would do, and what our smoking friend would do when he found out. And I knew that Mr. Skinner would be unable to resist rescuing young Mulder yet again."

"So this was all an elaborate plan to get Mulder into Skinner's bed?" Krycek thought he might be violently ill at the thought. "Why? Blackmail?"

"Certainly not. I actually have the boy's well-being in mind."

"And how is being fucked by that old man good for Mulder!" Krycek demanded angrily. He didn't even try to avoid the slap.

"Control, Alex," the Well-Manicured Man said reprovingly. "You really dislike Mr. Skinner, don't you? I wonder why. Did your encounters end badly? Did he refuse to beat you as hard as you like? Did he refuse to feed that craving for punishment?"

Krycek kept his eyes focused on the ground, refusing to meet those sharp, amused eyes. "Why is this good for Mulder?" he repeated.

"The boy is incredible, unique, but lacks a certain stability and discipline. His father's mishandling nearly ruined him and our smoking friend is just as bad. Young Mulder needs more than just discipline; he needs stability and unconditional love. And, although he may not realize it yet, Walter Skinner can give him all three." He grasped Krycek's chin and tilted his head up to study that beautiful face. He had often thought that Krycek was like a hawk - wild, only partly trained to glove, a killer at heart. "And you, my amoral little friend, will keep your hands off of Fox Mulder. Or do I need to get my cane out to reinforce that order?"

Krycek shuddered, half in fear and half in anticipation. "Yes, sir. Please."

 

Chapter Text

You pull me in, then you push me away
Ask me to leave, then you beg me to stay
Bend me, baby, bend me till I break
Do you really wanna know how much
This heart of mine can take?

 

"You're late."

Mulder slammed the door behind him and tossed his bag on the floor. It had been a hell of a week at work. Budgets and quarterly reports had taken up most of his time, and two promising-looking X-files had been shot down - one by his partner and the other by his boss. Scully had been in a bad mood most of the week, brought on by his ducking out on her during a VCU consult. Skinner had chewed his ass out for that although Mulder had - he pointed out - written up a quick profile showing that the Unsub in the triple homicide was a disgruntled employee. Which had proved to be correct, but Skinner had not paid any attention to that. And now that same Walter Skinner was sitting in a chair across the room, arms folded across his chest, frowning at him.

"Give me a break," he snapped. "I've had a hell of a time just getting here at all."

Skinner's frown deepened but he merely said, "Get prepared. I'll order dinner."

Something inside Mulder snapped. "No."

"No - what?"

"No, sir."

Skinner stared at Mulder as if he had lost his mind. "What in hell is wrong with you, Mulder?"

"You. I'm sick to death of being pushed around, told to do this or that for no goddamned good reason. 'Go on a VCU consult, Mulder', 'Expense reports in triplicate, Mulder', 'Bend over and grab your ankles, Mulder'."

Skinner stood up slowly. "May I remind you that this was your idea?"

"Well, maybe I've changed my mind."

A look came over Skinner's face that made Mulder swallow hard and break out in a cold sweat. Skinner advanced on him slowly and Mulder found himself retreating nervously.

"Too late, Mulder. You made your choice. Now I advise you to get your ass in that bathroom and get ready, or I'll make you regret the day you were born." Mulder found himself trapped between the doorjamb to the bathroom and Skinner. "Do I make myself clear, boy?"

"Y-yes, sir."

Skinner shifted slightly so that an escape route into the bathroom opened, and Mulder fled, shutting the door behind him. Skinner stood for a moment until he heard the shower go on, then drew a deep breath and relaxed slightly.

Well, damn, he thought to himself, running a hand over his head. He had been looking forward to a pleasant weekend's diversion, planning to introduce something new and erotic like feather-play, but it looked like he was going to have to change plans.

He wasn't too worried about Mulder's sudden rebellion - all subs went through a phase like this from time to time, testing to see where the limits were and what the consequences would be. What had momentarily thrown him was the uncanny similarity to Alex: the slender body quivering with anger, the eyes dark and defiant with challenge. There was a difference, of course. Mulder's outbursts had the flavor of a spoiled child throwing a tantrum, blowing up quickly and then penitent afterward. There had been nothing of the child in Alex; he was more like a half-tamed creature, one that had to be treated firmly and watched warily lest he turn on you.

He resolutely pushed away memories of that dark time. He was not going down that road again. It was too soon to tell what Mulder wanted and needed from him, but he was damned sure that he would find a way to curb him another way.

The bathroom door opened and Mulder came out cautiously. Skinner pointed at the table.

"Sit down and eat."

"I'm not hungry," Mulder said petulantly. Skinner gave him a look, and Mulder slunk over to the table and threw himself into the chair. He picked at his food, glaring darkly at Skinner from time to time, but not saying anything. Skinner ignored him until he was finished eating.

"Bed," Skinner said, again ignoring the dark look from Mulder. He went to the closet and pulled out a pillow and blanket, tossing it down on the floor beside the bed.

"What's that?" Mulder asked suspiciously.

"Your pillow and blanket."

"I'm sleeping on the floor? What am I - a pet?" Mulder demanded.

Skinner locked eyes with him. "You are whatever I say you are. This is my bed. Sleeping in my bed is a privilege that you have not earned tonight. Be grateful that I'm feeling generous - I don't have to give you a pillow or blanket."

"Gee, thanks," Mulder said sarcastically.

Skinner reached out and grabbed Mulder by the back of the neck, pulling him up from the chair and pushing him down on the floor. "Lay down, go to sleep, and I don't want to hear another word from you tonight. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir," Mulder muttered. He punched the pillow, tried to spread the blanket over himself, and lay down. The floor was cold. He got up, spread the blanket, and rolled himself up in it. Less cold but just as hard. He sighed and resolutely closed his eyes. Then he shifted to try to find a more comfortable position.

Skinner lay down in bed and turned off the light. And in the dark he smiled.


Mulder was awakened at an ungodly hour of the morning by a foot nudging his ribs.

"Up, Fox."

Mulder blinked open bleary eyes. He felt like he had gotten maybe 15 minutes of sleep on the cold, hard floor. "What?"

"It's morning, Fox. Time to get up."

Mulder pushed himself up on an elbow and blinked again. "It's dawn. Barely."

"Last time I checked 'dawn' was part of the morning." Skinner went into the bathroom. Mulder flopped down on his back, swore, and considered slitting his wrists.

Skinner came out of the bathroom and Mulder got up with a groan. When he came out of the bathroom, Skinner was sitting at the table, reading the paper.

"Serve breakfast, Fox."

Mulder stared at Skinner for a moment. During the past two weekends Skinner had served the meals. Had pampered him, and taken care of his needs, and let him sleep in the bed…

He blinked hard and went to the food service chute, pulling out the breakfast dishes. He set the dishes on the table and started to sit down.

"No. On the floor. Here." Skinner pointed to the floor beside his chair.

Mulder's eyes blazed and his lips tightened, but he obeyed that stern voice automatically. He hadn't eaten any dinner the night before and his stomach was growling. His back ached from sleeping on the floor and his head hurt. He wondered how long Skinner was going to treat him like this, and thought wistfully of the past weekend. A week ago he had been awakened around noon with gentle kisses and brunch in bed. Just thinking about it made him ache all over again and he sighed.

Skinner heard the sigh and folded the paper. "I'm going to take care of some business and then work out. I'll be back at lunch. You may have some breakfast and clear the table."

"Yes, sir," Mulder muttered. He waited till Skinner had left, then dragged himself to his feet, and cleared the table. He felt depressed and disoriented and needed to talk to someone. Mulder slipped on his sweats and went downstairs.


Sean opened the door of the Secretary's suite and looked surprised. "Mulder?"

"Um - you said if I needed to talk - but I don't want to bother you…"

"No bother, mate. Geoff just left for work and I'm having a bit of breakfast." He looked Mulder over critically. "You look like shit. Come in." Mulder followed him into a spacious suite and Sean gestured towards a food cart. "Hungry? Help yourself."

"Thanks." Mulder grabbed a pastry and coffee. He collapsed on the couch with a sigh. "Ah! Furniture - what a concept."

Sean grinned. "You slept on the floor last night, didn't you?"

Mulder looked over at him. "Does it show? Or are you psychic?"

"Well, now that you mention it…so what did you do to upset the Mountain?"

Mulder sighed. "What I usually do. He said something, and I was pissed and mouthed off at him."

"And what did he do?"

"He made me sleep on the floor."

Sean laughed at Mulder's indignant tone. "And?"

"Made me watch him eat breakfast."

"And?"

"And - that's it."

"What? You're whining because you had to sleep on the floor and miss your brekkie?" Sean snorted. "You're soft, Mulder. I'd better take you in hand or you'll disgrace submissives everywhere."

"Okay, so I'm out of my depth. I feel like I'm drowning here."

"Relax, mate. You're supposed to do things like this. You're a sub. You're supposed to push the boundaries and he's supposed to put you in place. It's part of the game, Mulder. He knows it, too"

"So what do I do now?"

Sean shrugged. "Depends on what you want to happen. If you want a spanking, you keep pushing till you get it."

Mulder looked horrified. "No! I don't want him to spank me. I want him to be nice to me again."

"Wuss," Sean teased, grinning. "Then take yourself back upstairs and clean up. Take a nap. Order his favorite foods for lunch. And when he gets back show him what a good submissive you can be. He'll be putty in your hands. Remember, you are in control."

"Me?" Mulder looked astonished.

Sean looked amused. "Of course. The bottoms are always in control. Do tops approach us? No, we approach them. And we decide when we want to end a contract."

Mulder looked thoughtful for a moment. "But they control the games."

"On the surface, but we have safe words to stop it. We surrender to them, and they reward us with whatever it is we need." He looked at Mulder in amusement. "What did you think this was about? Big bad Doms beating poor defenseless boys? With a safe top, nothing happens that we don't want to happen."

"I - guess I never really thought about it like that," Mulder said slowly.

"What you've got to figure out is what you want." Sean looked at him appraisingly. "It's early days still with you two, so it's primarily sex with some mild domination, right? What he's doing now is just showing you that you can trust him to be in control. Your job is to let him know what you need so he can set up the games to take care of your needs."

Mulder looked relieved. "Then - he's not really mad at me?"

Sean sighed. "You've got it bad."

"What?"

"You're infatuated with him."

Mulder looked down at his hands. "Is that a bad thing?"

"No, it's pretty common. Just - be careful, okay? Remember that this is a game, not a relationship. Don't get hurt."

Mulder looked up at him, meeting his eyes squarely. "I won't."

"Yes, you will," Sean said with a sigh. "And when you do, I'll be here to listen."


Skinner unlocked the door to the suite and entered, wondering what he would find inside. Wondered if Mulder would even be there. He had his answer when the young man popped up from the floor where he had been sitting.

"Hello, Fox," he said genially.

"Hello, sir. Lunch is ready."

"Very good." Skinner sat down at the table and Mulder removed the dishes from the warmer, setting them on the table. He then returned to his place kneeling on the floor by Skinner's chair. Skinner ate for a few minutes, observing Mulder. "You may join me at the table."

"Yes, sir." Mulder sat down and folded his hands on his lap, waiting for further instructions.

Skinner repressed a smile, seeing that Mulder was going to do just what he said and no more. "Eat. It's a very good lunch - my favorites, in fact." His eyes twinkled at Mulder. "Bribery, Fox?"

Mulder grinned at him as he helped himself to food. "Yes, sir. Is it working?"

"Perhaps. What did you do while I was gone?"

"Visited with Sean. Took a nap." He looked over at Skinner from under his eyelashes. "I wanted to be well rested."

"That's a good idea," Skinner replied blandly. "I may have some hard work for you to do this afternoon."

"I'm certain I'll be up for it, sir."

Skinner laughed. "You are a brat. Come here." He caught Mulder's hand and pulled the younger man onto his lap, Mulder's legs straddling his own.

Mulder nuzzled against Skinner's neck. "Am I forgiven?"

"Forgiven," Skinner said softly, turning Mulder's face up to kiss him.

Mulder responded eagerly, wriggling a little in Skinner's lap so that he could rub his growing erection against Skinner's groin. He felt the answering arousal and grinned. Oh, yeah, he thought with satisfaction, putty in my hands. Mr. Assistant Director Walter Skinner, just who is in control of things here now? he thought smugly.

Skinner was aware of Mulder's thoughts as they passed across his transparent face and he was amused. Ah, well, plenty of time later to take him down a peg. For now, he was going to enjoy this seduction by Fox Mulder.

Mulder unbuttoned Skinner's shirt, kissing the skin as he exposed it. His mouth slowly moved down Skinner's chest, and then he slid onto the floor between Skinner's legs. He looked up at the older man with an impish grin as he unbuckled Skinner's belt and unzipped his pants.

"Looks like you have a problem here, sir."

"I prefer to think of it as an opportunity." Skinner bit back a gasp as Mulder freed his erect cock from his pants.

Mulder nuzzled the cock in his hands, giving it tiny licks all over. "Mmm. And you know what they say about taking opportunity in both hands…"

"I should have known better than to give you an opening like that."

Mulder looked up at him through his eyelashes and grinned but didn't say anything. Instead, he ran his tongue around the head of Skinner's cock and flicked the slit with the tip of his tongue. Damn, but the man got better at this every time, Skinner thought, with all that creative intensity focused on giving him pleasure.

Mulder's mouth slid down his cock, engulfing it in one smooth move, while the tongue continued to tease. One hand encircled his cock while the other moved down to play with his balls. Skinner groaned, slumping in the chair as his head fell back. Mulder grinned and continued to suck and stroke, totally focused on the man before him. Skinner could feel the intensity of the other man's eyes on his face even through his closed eyelids. He tried to remember if anyone had ever been this focused on him and his pleasure but his brain was rapidly being turned to mush.

God! Skinner thought with another groan, how in the hell did he manage to do that with his tongue? And then he was exploding with a wrenching groan, and that clever mouth was sucking him dry, and it was better than anything he thought he could remember.

Skinner lay back in the chair, trying to catch his breath and watching as Mulder cleaned him up, gently tucked him back into his pants, and looked up at him with another impish grin. Skinner reached out to stroke the soft brown hair and tugged gently. Mulder crawled back up onto his lap and kissed him.

"Very good, Fox. Now finish your lunch - you're going to need your strength."

Mulder grinned back at him. "Yes, sir."

Chapter Text

Hard road I'm traveling,
Alone for so long
I'm always somewhere that I never belong
I'm moving so fast that it doesn't seem true
I'm getting closer but I don't know what to.
Oh, if I had you beside me
Then I might just sleep through the night.
Your love is the promise that guides me
All of the days of my life.

 

Scully arrived in the office early on Thursday morning despite the fact that their flight had arrived late the previous night. After spending the past six days UFO hunting in the wilds of North Georgia, she was determined to get the paperwork from the case out of the way so that she could enjoy the upcoming weekend. And she was anticipating, for the first time in forever, a Saturday-night date. A date with a friend of her brother, Charlie, a naval doctor that she had met when she was at Charlie's house for a Labor Day family get-together. There was no way she was going to risk being stuck in the office doing reports.

The door was unlocked when she got there and, to her surprise, she saw that Mulder was already there, reading something in his email with a smile. He looked up, startled, when she entered.

"Scully! You're in early today." He closed his email and began sorting through open files on his desk.

"I could say the same thing," she said, hanging up her coat. "What brings you in so early?"

He shrugged. "Thought I'd get a jump on the case notes. We've got a meeting with Skinner this afternoon, and I'd like to have the case file ready for him then."

Scully sighed. "Mulder, there's no way - we've got the expense reports and - "

"Done." He handed her a folder.

Scully stared. "You did the expense report? Mulder, you never do the expense reports unless I threaten to tie you to your chair."

He looked a little sheepish. "Um, well, it was an easy one - I didn't lose any equipment or destroy anyone's property - and I had all the receipts, so I just decided to get it out of the way. You might want to look it over, though; make sure I got everything."

She looked at him suspiciously. "What are you up to, Mulder? What happened on this past case that you didn't tell me about?"

Mulder looked innocent. "I'm not up to anything, Scully. I just wanted to get this case wrapped up before the weekend."

"Sure," Scully said skeptically. "Wait! Your annual review is coming up, and you're trying to get on Skinner's good side." She noticed the flush on his face. "I knew something was up, but it's a lost cause, Mulder. You're permanently on his bad-boy list." Mulder pointedly refrained from answering and Scully started to turn back to her own desk, then noticed something.

"Mulder, there's a bud vase on your desk."

Mulder looked at the daffodil in irritation. "I know."

"This is the - what - second time? Although the last time was a carnation."

"Yeah." Actually, it was the fourth time but he wasn't going to volunteer that information.

Scully looked amused. "Mulder, you've got a secret admirer. I assume that you don't know who's leaving you flowers."

"I have no idea, Scully," he said truthfully. He found it impossible to picture A.D. Skinner carrying a flower vase through the Hoover, which meant that Kim could have done it, but he didn't even want to consider the implications of that.

Scully chuckled, loving Mulder's discomfort, and sat down at her computer. In minutes she was connected to the Internet. "The on-line floral dictionary says that a daffodil means affection and welcome - someone's glad that you're back."

Mulder looked over at her sourly. "I can't tell you what it means to me to learn that."

Scully chuckled again but decided to abandon Mulder-baiting for now and start on her report.


Skinner looked up from the reports to the two agents sitting on the other side of the desk, puzzled but pleased. "Agent Scully, your report is concise and complete, as usual. As for your report, Agent Mulder, I must say that I am completely at a loss. It is relatively brief, intelligible and, as far as I can tell, you didn't make any new enemies or lose any government property which is probably unprecedented." He blandly ignored Scully's smothered laugh and Mulder's glare. "In fact, I have only one question - for you, Agent Scully."

"Yes, sir?"

"Have you checked the color of Agent Mulder's blood recently? This is obviously a clone or shape-shifter."

Scully struggled to repress a laugh. Skinner was obviously in a good mood today, which was also unusual. "Actually, no, I haven't, sir. Mulder wasn't injured on this case - "

"That makes it official," Skinner said solemnly. "It must be a clone." Scully dissolved into laughter and Skinner barely suppressed his smile.

"Yuk it up, guys," Mulder said sourly. "Don't mind me." That made Scully laugh even harder and Skinner had to cover his face with his hand.

"Well, if that's all, agents - "

"Actually, sir," Scully said when she had regained control of herself, "I would like to discuss opening a 302 on an unexplained phenomenon I've discovered." She was enjoying Skinner's relaxed mood and thought that this joke at Mulder's expense was too good to keep to herself.

"Yes, Agent Scully?"

"It appears that some mysterious entity is leaving flowers on Mulder's desk."

Mulder watched in amusement as Skinner froze. He leaned back in his chair, folded his arms, and prepared to watch Skinner get out of this one.

Skinner cleared his throat. "Indeed, Agent Scully?"

"Yes, sir. It appears we may have a ghost in the basement."

"A ghost? Is that your - er - scientific opinion?" He picked up his coffee cup to avoid looking at either agent.

Scully nodded solemnly. "It's the only explanation that fits. Can't be a girlfriend - everyone knows Mulder hasn't gotten laid since the Bush administration."

Skinner choked on his coffee. "Uh - really, Agent Scully, I don't think - "

"And yet for the past two weeks there has been a flower left on Mulder's desk."

"Four," Mulder interrupted, his eyes gleaming at Skinner. "And I don't see this ending any time soon."

"Must be difficult to be the target of some unidentified person's obsession," Skinner observed.

Mulder nodded solemnly. "It's been hell."

Scully went off into whoops of laughter at this and totally missed the amused and affectionate look directed at Mulder by Skinner. Mulder smiled back, then gathered his file and his partner and headed for the door.

"Agent Mulder."

He paused in the doorway and turned back slightly. "Sir?"

"It's good to have both of you back."

"Thank you, sir."


"Flowers, Walter?"

Skinner propped himself up on one elbow and smiled down at Mulder's face. "You want to talk about flowers at a time like this?"

Mulder leaned up to kiss Skinner briefly. "Why not?"

"Because I can think of other things I'd rather be talking about." Skinner kissed him hard. "I missed you, brat."

"I noticed. You think we can move this to the bed now? I've got some serious rug burns on my ass."

Skinner chuckled and pushed himself to his feet, giving Mulder a hand up. "Have you eaten, by the way?"

"Have you noticed that you're obsessed by food?" He crawled up on the bed, an enticing sight, and Skinner pounced.

"I'm not obsessed," Skinner said, pinning Mulder as they wrestled. "Just trying to get some padding on these sharp hip bones of yours."

"What? And destroy my anorexic charm?" Mulder rolled, pinning Skinner momentarily.

Skinner stopped wrestling, his hold tightening around Mulder. "That's not funny and you know it."

"Shit, Walter," Mulder said crossly, pulling away and sitting up. "I'm not anorexic. Or bulimic. I don't make myself throw up. It's just my body's reaction to stress."

Skinner reached out to gently stroke Mulder's back, which was the only part of Mulder that he could reach. "Have you talked to a doctor about it?"

"Medical or psychiatric?"

"Either. Both."

Mulder shrugged. "Other than stuffing my body with drugs, there's not much they can do. Walter, I do not want to talk about this tonight."

"Fox, part of my job as your top is to keep you safe and make sure you're healthy enough to play the games."

"I'm fine, Walter."

"Really-fine or Scully-fine?"

Mulder turned and his eyes met Skinner's for a long moment, then he sighed. "All right. You win. No, I didn't eat before I came here. Yes, I'll eat whatever you want to order. Satisfied?"

Skinner reached out to pull his head down for a gentle kiss. "No. But it'll do for now."

Chapter Text

This life I'm living's getting so hard to feel
The days are empty and the nights are unreal

Oh, if I had you beside me

Then I might just sleep through the night.

Your love is the promise that guides me

All of the days of my life.

 

Mulder had just entered the suite when the phone rang, and he dropped his bag on the bed to answer it.

"Hello?"

"Mr. Mulder, this is the front desk. We're switching a call through for you."

Mulder waited and a familiar voice came on. "Fox?"

"Walter? Where are you?"

"I'm stuck in Omaha - bad weather. The earliest they say we'll be able to get out is tomorrow morning. I'll be there around noon."

"Oh." Mulder fought down disappointment. "You'll be tired when you get in. Want to cancel this weekend?"

"Not unless you do. I'll make it up to you - run home and get a spare suit and we'll stay till Monday morning. How's that sound?"

Mulder laughed. "Must be fate - I just picked up my dry-cleaning. I've got a spare suit in the car."

"Good. I'll see you tomorrow around noon, then." There was a pause. "Did you eat yet? Never mind - I know the answer to that one. Order some dinner and eat, Fox."

"Yes, Mother."

There was a chuckle on the phone. "I guess distance makes the sub grow cheekier."

"Hey, I thought you liked my cheeks."

"Cut it out, Fox," Skinner growled good-naturedly. "I'm in the middle of an airport, for God's sake."

"Then I guess I don't need to ask what you're wearing," Mulder teased. "I, on the other hand, am lying on the bed, naked and waiting for you."

Skinner groaned. "You're killing me."

"Then I guess you should try to get here sooner."

"Hang up the phone, Fox. Then go eat. You're going to need your strength."

Mulder laughed and hung up, feeling oddly euphoric for a man who had been stood up, if temporarily. He whistled tunelessly as he fetched an extra suit from the car, changed from his suit to sweats, then ate a sandwich in bed while he caught up on some light reading. Feeling relaxed and mildly happy, he drifted to sleep.

So there was no apparent reason why he should wake up hours later to the sound of his own screams.


Mulder splashed cold water on his face then stood leaning on the sink for a long time. He was shaking all over still and there was no way that he was going to get any more sleep that night. He padded back into the bedroom and sat down on the bed. Five a.m. - hours to kill and not even a TV for distraction. He contemplated going back to his apartment for a couple hours, but it seemed like a waste of time and energy - and what if Skinner got back early? He sighed and decided to go down to the gym.

The locker room was empty but he was not surprised - at this time on a Saturday all good little sadomasochists were tied in their beds. He stripped and changed into his Speedo, stashing his clothes in a locker. As he was closing the locker door, the metal edge caught on his wrist and, with a snap, his bracelet fell to the floor.

"Damn," muttered Mulder, picking up the bracelet and studying it. The clasp was broken. He sighed and tucked it into his locker, then grabbed a towel and headed for the pool.

After swimming laps for an hour, Mulder felt invigorated and pleasantly tired. He was drying himself off in the locker room when he heard someone enter and he glanced up, then quickly ducked back down on the bench. Shit! Benett.

"You - boy. Did you see anyone else in here during the last hour?"

"No, sir, but I was in the pool." Mulder pulled on his sweat pants and felt a little less exposed.

"Come here, boy." Reluctantly, Mulder crossed to stand in front of Benett, looking down at the ground. "What is your name?"

Damn! Mulder wasn't about to tell Benett his real name, and desperately tried to think of another name but all he could think of was Skinner's joking list of names. "My master calls me - 'Kitten', sir."

Benett picked up Mulder's wrist. "You aren't wearing a bracelet, boy. I think you're lying to me."

"I'm not lying, sir. The bracelet broke. It's in my locker - "

"Talking back, boy?" Benett slammed him against the wall of lockers, knocking the breath out of Mulder. "Do you know what I do to insolent liars, boy?" He pulled his belt free of his pants and Mulder's eyes widened.

"Shit!" Mulder dropped to the floor and rolled out of reach, then jumped to his feet and sprinted toward the door. Benett intercepted him, wrestling him to the floor and holding him down with one knee in his back.

"Kitten?" Benett snarled. "You’re a damned alley cat, and I think your claws need cutting." He grabbed the waistband of Mulder's sweat pants and began hauling them down.

Mulder fought back desperately, unsure if he was facing rape or a whipping, but not keen on either one. He bucked, throwing Benett, then rolled and kicked hard, and caught Benett in the stomach. Then he scrambled to the other side of the benches, watching warily as Benett staggered to his feet, swearing.  Benett was between him and the doors to the outside, and he assessed his chances of getting past Benett.

The outer door suddenly slammed open and a security guard ran in with the Secretary on his heels.

"What in the hell is going on?" roared the Secretary. Mulder blinked; that roar reminded him of Skinner and he wondered if all Seniors learned to do that.

Benett was still trying to catch his breath and snarled, "This boy attacked me!"

"It was self-defense," Mulder said quickly.

"He was being insolent and he lied to me. I was attempting to punish him when he attacked me."

The Secretary frowned. "He has a master and it is his place to punish his sub."

"He is not marked."

The Secretary turned to study Mulder. "Mr. Mulder, where is your bracelet?"

Mulder saw Benett's ears prick up as the Secretary called him by name and he sighed.  So much for maintaining his anonymity. "In my locker, sir. It broke while I was changing."

"Bring it here." Mulder obeyed, flinching as he had to come within arms' reach of Benett. The Secretary studied the bracelet. "He is telling the truth, Benett. You may leave this matter in my hands."

Benett took a step closer to Mulder, and Mulder met his eyes unflinchingly. "This isn't finished, Kitten."

Mulder drew a sigh of relief as Benett left, but it seemed that his relief was short-lived at the Secretary turned cold blue eyes on him.

"Mr. Mulder," the Secretary said sternly, "you are fortunate that we monitor these rooms and that Mr. Benett is on our short list."

"Yes, sir," Mulder said gratefully. "I appreciate the rescue."

"Did Mr. Skinner not warn you about wearing this bracelet at all times?" The Secretary stepped closer to him and Mulder swallowed convulsively, instinctively backing up.

"Yes, sir, he did. I thought I'd be safe - I was just swimming laps and then going back to my room. There wasn't anyone else around. I'm sorry, sir."

"Next time - and I have a feeling that with you there will be a next time - come to the office immediately." Mulder found his back pressed up against the lockers. "Do you understand me, Mr. Mulder?"

"Yes, sir," Mulder said faintly.

"Very well. I will have this bracelet repaired. Wilkins, call Mr. Skinner's room and request that he come down to fetch Mr. Mulder."

Mulder was suddenly glad that Skinner wasn't there. "Sir - he's not here yet. He'll be arriving later today."

"I'll watch out for Mulder, Geoff." Mulder was glad to see Sean in the doorway. "He'll be safe with me."

The Secretary looked at Sean, then back at Mulder, and Mulder swallowed hard at the look in his eyes. "Make sure that Mr. Mulder gets back to his room safely, Sean. I don't want brawls breaking out all over the Club because of him."

"Yes, Geoffrey."

The Secretary swept out of the room with the security guard in his wake and Mulder wilted, sliding down the lockers to sit weakly on the floor. Sean was at his side in a minute.

"You okay, Mulder?"

"Yeah. Just a little shaken. Damn." He drew a deep breath. "Why do I get the feeling that the more dangerous of those two tops just left?"

Sean grinned. "Sometimes it's not the noise and fury but the delivery behind them. Come on - you look like you could use a cup of coffee."

Mulder accepted the hand up. "Thanks, but I'm not exactly dressed for dining. I'll order something in my room."

"Come on, mate," Sean said. "I have friends in the right places."

Mulder reluctantly followed Sean but figured that he had no other choice. Sean clearly had his own agenda and Mulder wasn't about to go walking around alone; whether he was more worried about running into another top like Benett or running into the Secretary was debatable.

Sean entered the back door to the kitchen, and a flurry of activity and a cacophony of noise assailed Mulder. It sounded as if everyone in the room was talking at the top of their lungs but Sean didn't seem phased. He let out a shrill whistle. "Jean-Pierre!"

A short, stocky man with a permanently exasperated look on his face looked up and became even more exasperated. "Sean! You wretched brat, what are you doing in my kitchen - you know how busy I am at this hour!"

"Be nice, Jean-Pierre. I brought a friend, and he's had a rough morning. Benett."

"Ah." Jean-Pierre nodded knowingly. He wiped his hands on his apron and held out one for Mulder to shake. "You have my sympathy, little one - you are not his boy?"

"No, Mulder belongs to the Mountain - Walter Skinner."

"Ah." Jean-Pierre smiled broadly. "Then you are the young man whose appetite we must tempt. You like pastries?"

"Yes - "

"Wait here." He disappeared into the midst of the confusion, and Mulder looked questioningly at Sean.

"Jean-Pierre is a genius at remembering people and their food," Sean said with a grin. "And a hell of a good cook."

Jean-Pierre returned a few minutes later, followed by an underling pushing a cart. "Rober' has a little something for you two to nibble on - now out with you." He dove back into the chaos, and Sean led the way down the hall to a room that looked like a library out of a Gentlemen's club.

"Just leave the cart, Robert," Sean said, and poured two cups of coffee. Something smelled good and Mulder suddenly realized that he was very hungry. He began lifting covers to investigate, and found plates of eggs Benedict, sausage, bacon, and assorted pastries that Scully would have claimed screamed "major calories". In fact, she would have condemned the whole cart as a heart attack waiting to happen. He loved it.

Sean grinned. "Don't tell me you've never had Jean-Pierre's famous breakfast pastries?"

Mulder shrugged. "I rarely eat anything before lunch when I'm here. I'm usually still asleep. Or something."

"And I'll bet it's 'or something' more than sleeping," Sean teased. "Ah! Young love."

Mulder ignored him pointedly, settling down with a plate of goodies and his coffee. He looked around with interest. "I didn't know that there was a library here."

"Well, if you'd get out of bed every now and then - " Sean laughed as Mulder fired a pillow at him. "Easy, mate! I surrender!"

"You know, you're a puzzle, Sean," Mulder said, pretending to examine a cruller while studying Sean from under his lashes. "There's the accent, which is sometimes Australian and sometimes - when you forget to throw in the 'mates' and 'no worries' - not quite British and not quite American. Then there's the fact that you always seem to be hovering around the place. Just who and what are you, Sean?"

Sean smiled and closed his eyes for a moment. "You have a keen ear, Mulder. All right, I'll come clean. I am Australian, but more of the Public School variety than the Crocodile Dundee type. I had a private university education here in the States and decided to stay. Satisfied?"

"So what do you do?"

Sean shrugged. "Just what you see. I live here. I spend a few hours on my computer in my suite managing the company that my father left me - it actually manages itself and I send out memos just to remind people that I'm alive. The rest of the time I spend around the Club."

"Don't you ever get bored?"

Sean smiled mischievously. "Never. There's always something happening. And I have a lot of friends among the subbies, like you. They come talk to me, tell Uncle Sean their troubles, get my advice. I like it - it suits me." Then he grinned at Mulder, the irrepressible sub again. "Now eat your breakfast before Geoff comes looking for me and finds us both. If you think his bark is tough, mate, you should just try his bite."

"No, thanks." Mulder shuddered. "I imagine that Walter will be taking his own bite out of my ass when he finds out about this."

"Mulder, I have just one question."

"What?"

"Kitten?"

"You don't want to know."


Skinner unlocked the door to the suite and set his suitcase down with a sigh. It had been a long morning and he had not slept well the night before, unable to banish certain images from his mind. And there was the cause of those images, sprawled asleep on the bed, the picture of innocence. He smiled and crossed to the bed, sitting on the side and studying the sleeping man. Obviously he was not the only one who had had a bad night and, although he wished that it had been for similar reasons, he had a feeling that Mulder's sleep had been disturbed by nightmares. There had been a few times over the past five weekends that he had been awakened by Mulder's writhing in the grip of a nightmare, had cradled the younger man against him and felt him slip back into dreamless sleep.

He watched Mulder sleep, thinking how strange it was that you could work with someone for five years and still not know them. When Skinner had agreed to this contract six weeks ago, he had not anticipated how much he would come to enjoy these encounters. Mulder had turned out to be far different than he had expected. Over the years, he had admired and respected the man for his intelligence and integrity, and had been driven to anger and exasperation by his actions. He had expected their encounters to contain power clashes, to have to force Mulder's submission. And he had expected Mulder to resist or be appalled at the sexual aspects of the D/s games.

But out of the office, Mulder had transformed into a submissive who was a delight to play with. He offered his submission easily with the air of a gift freely given. He required little training, absorbing new lessons eagerly with little need for discipline or retraining. There had been that one incident but, Skinner admitted, that had been partially his fault for not reading the man better - Mulder had entered the suite after a bad week, still in "mundane" mode, and Skinner had jumped him instead of allowing him time to decompress and switch modes. And Mulder had responded well to the subsequent discipline, Skinner thought, remembering the resultant blowjob fondly. As for the sex - Mulder had turned out to be a pleasurable bedmate: eager, physically responsive, and so incredibly sexy that Skinner found himself responding more intensely than he had in years.

So why the sudden disquieting feeling inside? Why did he suddenly wonder if Mulder would respond this way to anyone topping him, or if this was his personal response to Skinner? When he had been active in the lifestyle he had played with many subs, had enjoyed their games, had parted from them with little regret, and had certainly not felt a clench in his gut at the thought of his former subs with another Dom. When he had been a Junior, he had felt affection for his top - and a healthy dose of fear - but certainly nothing this intense on either side. Even with Alex, he had felt regret and sadness at ending their encounters and had been hurt by Krycek's subsequent betrayal, but nothing more.

So what was the difference between then and now? Why did the mere idea of Mulder responding to another top as he did to Skinner fill him with murderous impulses?

The answer to that question was so obvious that Skinner found himself standing in a cold shower saying angrily to himself, "I will not fall in love with Fox Mulder." He repeated the mantra over and over to himself until his body, at least, believed it even if his head didn't. He turned up the hot water and began washing himself down quickly.

The shower door opened and sleepy hazel eyes peered in. "Hi. I didn't hear you come in."

"I was trying to be quiet so you could sleep." His tone was short and sharp, he knew, but he couldn't stop himself. Mulder's eyes widened a little but he nodded and stepped into the shower, closing the door.

Mulder looked at Skinner quizzically. By now he should have had at least a hug and kiss, but Skinner did look tired. "May I wash you, sir?"

"No," Skinner said shortly, hating himself for the momentary pain he saw cross Mulder's face. He pulled Mulder against him abruptly, his mouth hard and bruising on the younger man's, his hands moving over the slender body demandingly. He felt the response, tasted blood from a cut lip, and suddenly became angry.

Turning Mulder around and pushing him against the shower wall, Skinner roughly prepared him and pushed his way in. He heard the slight sobbing breath, bit an earlobe and growled, "Don't come!" Closing his eyes, concentrating on his own pleasure, he thrust hard into the docile body in his arms until, with a shuddering grunt, he came.

Skinner collapsed against Mulder's back, disgusted with himself. The man in his arms was tense but quiet, and Skinner knew that he should do something to reassure and relieve Mulder. The anger was gone and all that was left was the appalling certainty that he had betrayed the man's trust in him. He suddenly needed to get away. Gently, he kissed the side of Mulder's neck and withdrew.

"Wash up, Fox. I'll order lunch."

Mulder stood leaning against the shower wall for a long moment after Skinner had left, shaken and uncertain as to what had happened. Skinner had always been so gentle with him, so careful, and had never left him unsatisfied. This time he had acted like a complete stranger, his touch and kisses rough, using Mulder's body and then discarding him. Mulder bit back a sob and, picking up the soap, turned into the water and began washing himself.

The nakedness on his right wrist suddenly made him think. Of course! Skinner had heard from the Secretary about the broken bracelet, about Benett. He had warned Mulder not to go anywhere without the bracelet, Mulder had not listened, and now he had shown Mulder exactly the sort of treatment he could expect from unscrupulous tops - like Benett. He drew in a shaking breath but his hands were steadier as he finished washing himself and turned off the water. He dried himself off, fastened on his cuffs, and went into the outer room.

Skinner was sitting in one of the armchairs, wrapped in a robe, staring at nothing. Mulder crossed to sit on the floor beside him, leaning slightly against Skinner's legs.

"I'm sorry, sir," Mulder said softly. "I didn't take off the bracelet. It broke. But I should have gone to the Secretary right away."

The words penetrated Skinner's self-loathing, and he looked down at the head resting trustingly against his legs. "What?"

"I don't know how much he told you, but he didn't hurt me."

"Who? The Secretary?"

"No. Benett."

Skinner drew in a deep breath, laid his hand on Mulder's head, and said, "You'd better tell me the whole story from the beginning."

Mulder did so, starting with waking from a nightmare, telling him how the bracelet snagged and he had put it in his locker. He told him how Benett had approached him, how he had fought him off, and the Secretary's arrival with security.

"You fought off another top? Why?"

Mulder looked up at Skinner, surprised, and had another flash of insight. Had Skinner thought that he deliberately took off the bracelet, that Mulder was playing around? "I belong to you," Mulder said, firmly to dispel any doubts Skinner might have. "No one else tops me, here or anywhere. My body, my soul are yours alone."

Hope blazed to life inside Skinner. "And if I end this and send you away?"

"Then I will build a willow cabin outside your front gate," Mulder said promptly, then grinned. "Well, I would if you had a front gate. And I think your apartment management might object to my building unauthorized structures on their property. But it's the thought that counts."

"Casting me in the role of Mr. Rochester?" Skinner smiled. "Shall I call you 'Jane'?"

"I might have to bite you, sir." Mulder grinned at Skinner's snort of laughter. "I was actually thinking of Viola's speech in 'Twelfth Night'. Though you do make a better Rochester than an Olivia."

"You are an insolent brat, Fox," Skinner said affectionately, tousling his hair, sudden relief making him feel light-hearted.

"Yes, but I am your insolent brat. Aren't I, sir?"

Skinner pulled Mulder up onto his lap. "Yes. You are mine."

He kissed Mulder gently, thoroughly, feeling the eager response. He caressed Mulder's skin, marveling anew at the sleekness over hard muscle, so different from his own body. Mulder groaned, dropping his head back to expose his neck to Skinner's mouth, and he moved in to nip at his favorite spots: the side of the neck joining the shoulder, the base of the throat, and just below the ear. Mulder moaned and squirmed in his lap, and he could feel the response in his groin. He bent his head to tease a nipple, heard the gasping pleas, and willingly gave in.

"Bed," he growled, and Mulder practically sprinted to the bed. The look in the younger man's eyes as Skinner settled down next to Mulder reassured Skinner - Mulder wanted him. As his top, as his Dom, as his lover - it didn't matter, because he knew that look was exclusively for him. And if this was all there would ever be for them, this oasis of time and space in their real lives, then it would have to be enough. He would make it be enough, make it burn bright enough to light all the lonely nights in between.

Skinner made love to Mulder slowly, sensuously, in apology for his earlier roughness. He fastened a cock ring on Mulder to prevent his climax and then concentrated on building his sub's arousal. Every gasp and groan, every sigh and moan from the younger man was music to his ears and balm to his soul. Mulder was drenched with sweat by the time Skinner pushed back his legs. He was relieved to see that, although the anal area was sore, there had been no tearing and set himself to prepare Mulder thoroughly this time. Before long, he had Mulder begging incoherently as he mindlessly worked himself on Skinner's fingers. Skinner slicked his cock and moved into place, lifting Mulder's legs over his shoulders. He leaned down to capture Mulder's wrists with his hands, his cock barely pressing against Mulder.

"Who do you belong to?" he asked, his eyes locked on Mulder's. Those eyes suddenly blazed with a green fire that burned clear through Skinner's heart to his soul.

"You. I belong to you."

Skinner pushed in with one steady thrust, relishing Mulder's welcoming cry, and then began moving in a steady rhythm. "God, Fox, you are so sweet, so tight and hot."

Mulder was already rocking to meet his thrusts. "Please…harder…oh, god…" Skinner reached down to remove the cock ring and Mulder was suddenly arching off the bed with a scream as he came hard. Skinner groaned as the intensity of Mulder's climax triggered his own, and it was so strong that he thought he would die right there but, God! it was worth it.

He managed to keep enough presence of mind to pull out of Mulder, then collapsed on the bed beside him and gathered the younger man into his arms. Mulder was still gasping and shaking from the force of his climax, and Skinner smiled as he cuddled and stroked the seal-soft skin. The hell with the future, with his doubts, with both their insecurities. Heaven was in his arms right now, and he intended to hold onto it as long as he could.

Chapter Text

You make me smile
Make me thankful that I breathe
Let me taste some heaven

Before you drop me to my knees
You chain me baby, till it's time to set me free

Give me everything I want
Give me nothing that I need

 

"Fox, don't take this wrong but - you look like shit."

Mulder closed the door behind him, eyed his Dom lying stretched out on the bed with disfavor, and gave him the one-finger salute. "You know, that's what I like best about this relationship - the esteem-building and support."

Skinner chuckled and folded his hands behind his head, letting the sarcastic remarks slide. He had learned that Mulder needed some time to shift from "everyday" mode to "sub" mode. Generally Mulder's arrival thirty minutes before Skinner gave him that time, but on those rare occasions when Mulder arrived late, Skinner had accepted that Mulder's smart-ass attitude would still be in gear.

"Well, I'd give you a supportive hug but I believe the Surgeon General has declared that suit to be hazardous to anyone's health. What happened to you?"

"What didn't happen to me?" Mulder said sourly.

It had started when his alarm clock - for whatever arcane reason - had decided not to go off that morning. He had awakened - late - and jumped into the shower. Halfway through the shower the hot water had suddenly cut out and orbiting satellites could have picked up his subsequent scream. He had been forced to finishing rinsing off soap and shampoo in frigid water. A traffic tie-up on the Beltway caused by the bad weather had made him even later for work, and he had had to slip into the meeting of Unit heads late, attracting unwanted attention. The day had only gotten worse when Scully had taken him out to lunch and the waitress had dumped an entire plate of fettuccine on his lap, ruining his suit. Then, the final insult, his car had developed a flat tire on his way to the Club and, while changing the tire in the rain, he had ripped the knee of his suit pants.

"It's Friday the 13th - I should have stayed in bed."

Skinner sat up, grinning. "Don't tell me that you're superstitious."

"Days like today could make me that way."

"Tell you what," Skinner said, helping him take off his suit coat. "You get a shower and change into something less fragrant, and I'll take you downstairs for dinner."

Mulder looked at him suspiciously. "Why?"

Skinner looked at him in mock surprise. "It's our two-month anniversary - I thought we'd celebrate."

"I never pegged you for the sentimental type, Walter," Mulder said with a grin. "Give me fifteen minutes." Restored to good humor, he headed into the bathroom whistling.

Skinner made sure that Mulder was in the shower, then picked up the phone. "He's here. We'll be down in about twenty minutes. Is everything ready? Good."

Mulder showered and shaved, feeling a bubble of pleasure inside. This was the first time since their initial meeting that they had gone out for dinner together and, even though it was just downstairs, he was looking forward to it. He buttoned on a fresh dress shirt and slipped on his spare suit pants, then headed downstairs with Skinner. The headwaiter led them to their table where a bottle of champagne was already chilling. Mulder smiled at the sight of it.

"Champagne, Walter?"

"What's a celebration without champagne?"

Mulder pulled out his chair and started to sit down then realized that there was a box on his chair. A gift-wrapped box. "What is this?"

"I think its technical term is a present, Fox. Happy Birthday."

Mulder picked up the box with hands that shook slightly and sat down, putting it on his lap. "I - how - " He cleared his throat. "How did you know? I never told you when it was and I know Scully wouldn't."

"You forget - I have access to your personnel file." Skinner grinned and poured the champagne. "Well, aren't you going to open it?"

"Sure." Mulder ran his fingertips over the box, trying to keep his breathing regular. It had been a long time since he had gotten a real birthday present. At home, after Samantha's disappearance, birthdays and the holidays had been just one more reminder of her loss. He had pretended not to care when they stopped celebrating, had accepted the envelope with a check inside diffidently, agreeing that it was more practical. He had pretended during his six-year partnership with Scully that he disliked the fuss of a real birthday celebration so they had developed a tradition of taking the other person out for lunch and giving each other a small novelty present. He should have known that the man sitting across from him wouldn't let him get away with any pretense. He caressed the box as gently as if it were made of a rare and precious material, and with all the apprehension of a man holding a ticking bomb.

"Fox, it's going to be your next birthday before you get that open," Skinner teased.

Mulder took a deep breath and ripped off the paper, then opened the box and stared in surprise at the contents. It was a leather collar, designed to be decorative instead of functional. He picked it up, stroking the soft leather, admiring the intricate tooling, and read the metal tag. On one side it said 'Fox' and on the other side it said 'I belong to Walter'. Those four words echoed in his head and warmed his heart. And in his head he heard the echo of other words - Skinner's words on their first weekend - "Collars are earned, Mulder." He swallowed hard and looked up at Skinner with a growing smile.

"It's beautiful. Can I - is it okay if I put it on now?"

Skinner chuckled. "Of course. I'll fasten it for you." He got up and stood behind Mulder to buckle the collar, then bent to softly kiss Mulder's cheek. "Happy birthday, Fox." Then he murmured in Mulder's ear, "I'll give you the rest of your present upstairs. After you eat."

Mulder laughed softly. "Am I going to need my strength, sir?"

"Definitely."


Skinner unlocked the door to their suite and looked over at Mulder, leaning against the wall, humming. He had never seen Mulder intoxicated before, even as slightly sprung as he was now, and Skinner found it amusing. Mulder followed him into the suite and Skinner suddenly found that he had a warm and amorous armful. He chuckled and allowed a brief kiss before he gently pushed away.

"Now, Fox, I've got plans for you," he said as Mulder protested. "Go in the bathroom and wait while I finish my preparations. Don't get undressed - I want to do that."

"You can do that now - " Mulder said, trying to snuggle back up to Skinner.

"Patience is a virtue, Fox. It'll be worth it - trust me."

Mulder sighed but went into the bathroom, anticipation starting to make him tingle. Skinner usually didn't go for complicated scenes but the two times he had done so in the past had been interesting and very erotic. He relieved himself, washed up, and paced while waiting and listening to interesting noises from outside. Finally Skinner knocked on the door.

"You can come out now."

Mulder opened the door and went into the main room, then grinned. "When did the circus come to town?"

Skinner chuckled and surveyed his handiwork with satisfaction. Suspended by chains from three built-in hooks in the ceiling was a web sling. He had dimmed the lights as well which made the triangular hammock-like object look like it was floating in the semi-darkness. Mulder studied the sling with some trepidation.

"What is this thing for?"

"For you, of course." The seat was a little below waist-high and Skinner patted it invitingly.

"Are you sure about this, sir? Given my luck today, this'll probably kill me."

"Trust me." Skinner took Mulder into his arms, kissing him slowly and thoroughly. When he released Mulder's mouth, the younger man dropped his head weakly on Skinner's shoulder.

"Whatever you want - just do it."

"I intend to." Skinner began unbuttoning Mulder's shirt. "But first I have to get you out of these." He slid the shirt off Mulder's shoulders, then unbuttoned and unzipped his pants, pushing pants and briefs down. "Mmm - very nice," he teased, grasping Mulder's half-erect cock. "Is this for me?"

Mulder threw back his head, groaning as Skinner slowly stroked him. "God - yes - only for you."

"Good." Skinner knelt to finish pulling off shoes and socks, stripped off the pants, and slowly ran his hands over Mulder's body as he stood up. Then he took Mulder's hand and gently tugged. "Come here." He settled Mulder into the sling. "Just like sitting on a swing - relax and lean back a little."

Mulder shifted into a more comfortable position and found that the sling was similar to a hammock except with wide webbing instead of rope, and was triangular instead of rectangular. The webbing was oddly comfortable, molding slightly to fit his body.

"Now these aren't your normal cuffs," Skinner said in a quietly soothing tone as he efficiently strapped first one wrist and then the other to the webbing above Mulder's head at one point of the triangle. "These are quick-release cuffs. Any sign of trouble or discomfort, just say your safe word and I'll have you down in a second."

Mulder nodded, feeling his heart rate quicken but in a pleasurable way. Skinner had been working over the past weekends at extending the length of time that Mulder could remain bound before the young man began to get anxious. Mulder drew in deep relaxing breaths as he had learned to do and felt himself begin to drift with the sensations.

"Now the ankles." Skinner lifted his right leg and attached the cuff, then the left so that Mulder was spread-eagled on the sling, his cuffed hands and feet forming the three points of the triangle. "Okay, Fox?" Mulder nodded. "I'm going to blindfold you so that you can concentrate on the sensations."

Once Mulder was blindfolded, Skinner moved around the sling, making sure that his sub was comfortable and secure, keeping one hand on Mulder as he did so for reassurance. Mulder relaxed and let himself drift, feeling again the delightful shock of knowing himself to be totally helpless in the hands of the one person he totally trusted. A sense of peace and tranquillity came over him as he gently rocked in the sling, a sense that he was relieved of all responsibility. He was floating in a warm darkness, weightless, just pure sensation.

Skinner began by gently stroking his skin, lightly massaging a faintly fragrant oil into his skin, covering the front of his body and then shifting under the sling to attend to his back. Mulder felt as if all his skin was tingling, all his nerve endings awake and aware. And then Skinner's hands became more demanding, palms rolling over his nipples and teasing them into hard points. Mulder groaned, arching up against the unseen hands. Then those hands were moving down his body, stroking his skin, teasingly running over his groin, down his legs to his feet and up the backsides of his legs.

The hands caressed his ass, fingers teasingly circling his anal opening, before moving away. Mulder bit back a groan at the loss of those skilled hands but lips and a tongue that began again at his nipples swiftly replaced them. The sensitized nubs were sucked into that hot mouth one after the other, toyed with while Mulder arched and whimpered in need. Skinner's mouth moved down across Mulder's flat stomach, nipping at the skin, while firm hands slid between Mulder's ass and the sling, lifting him up slightly to move his ass closer to the edge of the sling. The tongue licked down his cock, over his balls, and then teeth nipped down the inside of one thigh and back up the other.

Mulder wiggled a little in his restraints, trying to draw the talented mouth closer to his aching groin, then gasped as that tongue began rimming him, probing at his opening then pushing inside. He helplessly thrust against that mouth, incoherent words bubbling from his lips, while his cock bobbed and begged to be touched. The mouth moved upward, licking over his balls and up to tease his cock while fingers took the tongue's place, thrusting slowly into his ass. He was begging shamelessly by the time Skinner's mouth slid down over his cock and thankfully thrust up into the hot mouth that knew him so well. He nearly cried when the mouth released his cock.

"Don't come yet. I'll be displeased if you come before I tell you to."

Mulder groaned at that, especially when Skinner's mouth returned to sucking on his cock. "Sir - I don't - I can't - "

"If you can't control yourself, I can put a ring on you." The voice was flat, non-judgmental, making a fair offer.

Mulder drew a deep breath, steadying himself. "No - I can control - "

"Good man." The voice was warm, pleased with his response, and he felt a flood of joy fill him at the thought that he had pleased his top.

Skinner's mouth returned to its work, and Mulder felt as if the only things that existed in the darkness he floated in were that mouth sliding up and down on his cock and those fingers thrusting into his ass. He clung to his control, realizing that the last thing he wanted to do was end this sweet torment so soon, knowing that Skinner had more planned for him. He groaned in loss when the mouth and hands moved away, tensing in anticipation at the same time, and felt a hard warmth against his ass.

"What do you want, Fox?" That voice in the darkness was like rich velvet over steel, demanding an answer.

Mulder groaned, writhing in his attempt to impale himself on the hard shaft pressing against him. "Please - please - fuck me, sir."

"With pleasure, Fox." Skinner grasped the sling and pulled it forward in one smooth movement, filling Mulder completely. With steady, even movements, he pushed the sling away and pulled it back, working himself in and out of the hot, tight body before him.

Mulder arched his back at the sudden burst of fire that pressed into him and felt the darkness expand until he was floating in space, far from the pull of gravity. The Universe surrounded and filled him, and the solar winds pushed his body back and forth. The heat of a nova burned at the base of his spine, burning and expanding and filling him with light and heat. A voice from far away called to him, words he couldn't understand but whose meaning was clear, and it was like music. The nova burst up his spine, convulsing his body, exploding out the crown of his head. And then all was darkness.


Mulder drifted back to consciousness, cradled in warmth and softness. He forced heavy eyelids open and saw Skinner looking down in his face with amused concern, and he realized that Skinner had gotten him out of the sling and tucked into bed while he was out cold.

"You okay?"

"If you consider 'okay' as having had my entire body ripped apart and put back together then, yeah, I'm okay." Mulder stretched languorously, enjoying the feel of his skin against Skinner's.

"You were out for so long that I was starting to worry."

Mulder's eyes glinted with amusement. "And you sound pretty pleased with yourself."

"Can I help it if you're good for my ego?" Skinner chuckled. "How did you like your presents?"

"Wonderful, but it's a good thing that I only have one birthday a year. I'm beginning to think you're trying to kill me with sex."

Skinner laughed softly and kissed the soft hair under his chin. "So what do you think about unlucky Friday the 13th now?"

Mulder snuggled in closer and let his eyes drift shut. "I think that I'll plan on spending them in your bed in future. Much safer - and a hell of a lot more fun."

Skinner thought that he liked the sound of that. The words contained the sounds of "love" and "forever" in them. "Good night, Fox. And - happy birthday."

 

Chapter Text

Some love is just a lie of the soul
A constant battle for the ultimate state of control

After you've heard lie upon lie

There can hardly be a question of why

Some love is just a lie of the heart
The cold remains of what began with a passionate start

But that can't happen to us

Because it's always been a matter of trust

  

The message was waiting for him when he checked in and Mulder studied the envelope. No postal marks, neat but not distinctive block printing of his name, no identifiers of any kind. He took the envelope up to the suite and slit it, pulling out a single sheet of paper.

"Mr. Mulder - I have information on the Consortium involvement with your present situation, including identities, addresses, and documentation. If you are interested, meet me Saturday afternoon, 2 p.m., at the location below. This is a one-time offer. Come alone. A friend"

A map was drawn on the bottom, and he identified the location as an alleyway about three blocks from the Club. He read the letter again, then tucked it into his bag and began his usual preparations.

In the shower, he ran the words through his head again and again. If this was legit, this could be what he needed to get Benett removed from the Club, maybe even lead to his boss, the cigarette smoker. If. It could also be a trap. And then there was the little matter of how he was going to ditch Skinner to meet the contact. He had no doubt that Skinner would veto the meeting if Mulder told him about it, or would insist on accompanying him or setting up some kind of surveillance. He would have to go alone, take his chances, and deal with the fallout later.

He dried off and fastened the cuffs on his wrists and ankles, then picked up the new collar. Looking at it and stroking the soft leather, he had sudden qualms about his decision. Skinner trusted him. The bracelet might symbolize the contract between them here at the Club, but the collar defined the relationship between them, a relationship based on trust. He trusted Skinner to take care of him and respect his limits. Skinner trusted him to obey his rules and to communicate honestly. Mulder knew that he should show Skinner the note, discuss what to do about it, and accept Skinner's decision. But, he reasoned to himself, he knew what Skinner would decide and he knew that he just couldn't pass on an opportunity to learn more about the Consortium. Guiltily, he pushed the collar to the bottom of the bag, zipped it, and stuck it in the bottom of the closet.

The door opened and Skinner entered with a smile. "Hello, Fox. No car trouble today?"

Mulder managed to smile. "No, sir. Smooth sailing."

Skinner tossed his bag onto a chair and moved to take Mulder in his arms for a brief hug and kiss, relishing the scent of clean, damp hair against his cheek. "Hey, where's your new collar?"

Mulder flushed and couldn't meet Skinner's eyes. "I left it on the table at home. I'm sorry, sir."

Skinner laughed softly. "Watch out - if Scully finds that, she'll be shocked. In fact, given the level of traffic through your apartment, you might want to leave it here for safe-keeping." Mulder nodded, still not looking at him, and Skinner gently squeezed him. "I'm not mad - just a little disappointed. It looked so pretty around your neck." He dropped a kiss on Mulder's neck and then pushed away. "I'm going to get a shower. You can start setting out dinner, and I'll be out shortly."

"Yes, sir," Mulder said, relieved to have something to do. He debated again whether he was doing the right thing then, with a sigh, realized that he had already made his decision. Now he would just have to live with it.


Mulder fidgeted around the room on Saturday till one o'clock, glancing surreptitiously at the clock from time to time. Finally he decided that he couldn't wait any longer.

"I'm going to go workout," Mulder said casually. Skinner didn't look up from his work, just nodded. Mulder thankfully changed into his sweats and slipped out of the room to go meet his contact.

A few minutes after Mulder left, Skinner got up to fetch a file from his briefcase by the bed. Mulder had left his cuffs sitting on the bed and Skinner picked them up to toss them into the open bag on the chair. Something caught his eye, and he opened the bag wider to pull out the collar he had given to Mulder for his birthday. He frowned - hadn't Mulder said that he forgot the collar at home? Had he overlooked it - or had he lied for some reason? That didn't seem likely - he had been so excited to receive the collar, so why wouldn't he want to wear it now? But then, Mulder had been acting funny since they arrived Friday night. Maybe it had triggered some sort of emotional problem that he was reluctant to discuss, or maybe it was something as simple as the collar irritating his neck. Skinner set it back down on the bag, determined to discuss the issue with Mulder when he returned, and caught sight of an envelope. He pulled it out and saw that it was addressed to Mulder in simple block printing. He hesitated for a moment, then opened the envelope and scanned the letter.

"God damn it, Mulder!" A violent rage filled him, and he crumpled the letter in one hand. Glancing at the clock, he realized that the meeting would be taking place any minute. He grabbed his weapon out of his briefcase and went in pursuit of his errant agent.

Rounding the corner to the alley, Skinner heard the unmistakable sounds of a scuffle. He crouched behind boxes to ascertain the situation and saw Mulder wrestling with three assailants who were obviously trying to get Mulder into a waiting van. Mulder took down one man but a second man knocked him to the ground. With Mulder out of the line of fire Skinner seized his opportunity.

"FBI! Freeze!"

The men abandoned their quarry and jumped into the back of the van and it sped off. Skinner pocketed his gun and sprinted forward to kneel by Mulder, who pushed himself into a sitting position with a groan. His lip was bleeding slightly and his sweat clothes were dirty from the fall, but he appeared to be okay. For some reason, that made Skinner even more furious.

"Walter!" Mulder said in surprise. "How - "

"I found the note," Skinner said grimly, hauling the younger man to his feet.

"It was a trap," Mulder said ingeniously.

"No shit," growled Skinner. He fastened one large hand on the back of Mulder's neck and began quick-walking him back to the Club.

"Ow! Walter, that hurts my neck!"

"That's not the only thing that's going to hurt," Skinner said grimly. "I advise you to keep your mouth shut."

Mulder didn't recognize this tone of voice, which was somewhere between the A.D. and Dom voices but nowhere near as controlled. He decided to keep quiet till he could talk to Skinner in privacy. Thankfully, they didn't run into anyone on their way up to the room.

Once in the room, Skinner shoved him face down onto the bed and held him down with one strong hand while the other hauled down Mulder's sweatpants. Then his hand came down hard on Mulder's bare ass.

Mulder jerked, trying to twist away. "What the hell - "

"Shut. Up," Skinner ordered, continuing to swat him. "That was the stupidest stunt I've seen you pull, Mulder, and I've seen you pull a lot! As your boss, I've frequently wanted to blister your backside for the shit you've pulled. And now I'm going to do just that."

"I thought - ow! - you said - damn it! - you didn't do this shit!"

"That's in the game. This has nothing to do with the game and everything with trying to keep your sorry ass alive." After a few more hard swats, Skinner hauled up Mulder's pants, pulled him up off the bed, and pushed him into the corner. "Don't move," he ordered. "I've got some business to take care of, and I want to know where you are." He stormed out of the room.

Mulder leaned his forehead against the wall feeling rebellious and wondered what Skinner would do if he just packed up and left. He swallowed hard; he probably didn't want to know. At least the spanking was over with - and surely he could endure a little humiliation. And he hadn't had to stand with his bare ass exposed, although the feel of his clothes against the tender flesh was very uncomfortable. He shifted a little on his feet, trying to find a comfortable position to stand in. Then, as he heard the door open, he straightened up and snuck a look at the doorway. Skinner had come back in with one of the security men. Mulder moaned and leaned his head forward against the wall again to hide his embarrassment.

"Someone knew where he was going," Skinner was saying, and the man methodically ran the scanner over the room. When the scanner passed over Mulder's overnight bag the alarm went off. The security man opened the bag and scanned the contents.

"In the waistband of the boxers," the security man said. "Not a bug but a tracker." He nodded in Mulder's direction. "He's probably got one on him right now."

Skinner nodded, grabbed Mulder by the neck again and pushed him into the bathroom, thrusting his robe at the younger man. "Take off the clothes, Mulder."

Mulder closed the door, thankful that Skinner hadn't made him strip in front of the security man, quickly stripped and wrapped the robe around himself. He opened the door and silently handed his clothes to Skinner, who then pointed a stern finger back at the corner. Mulder sighed but obediently returned to his place. The security man scanned his clothes and determined that there was another tracker in his sweat pants.

"I'll take these and have the devices removed. We may be able to track their buyer through the manufacturer. We'll have these returned as soon as we're done."

"No hurry," Skinner said, and turned a stern glance in Mulder's direction. "He won't be needing them for a while."

Mulder went red again and the security man chuckled. "We'll let you know what we find."

Mulder heard the door close, the latch being thrown, the squeak of the bedsprings as Skinner sat on the bed.

"Mulder, come here."

Mulder obeyed that stern voice, gingerly sitting down on the bed where Skinner indicated.

"Why, Fox? Why did you go to meet this unknown 'friend' without backup? Without telling me? You could have been killed, or worse. What if I hadn't shown up when I did? If I had to file a police report all of this would come out, and both our careers would be out the window. And you'd be - God knows where, and I'd be worried sick about you."

Somewhere in the middle of this, Mulder had caught the anguished tone behind Skinner's harsh words and suddenly saw the older man suffering unbelievable agony over him. It had been a long time since anyone but Scully had cared that much about him. Tears filled his eyes and ran down his cheeks silently.

"What could possibly be worth it?" Skinner asked, turning to look at Mulder. It was then that he realized that Mulder was crying silently, and his heart nearly broke. Without another word, he gently pulled Mulder onto his lap, cradling his head against his shoulder and stroking his back comfortingly. "Hush, it's okay, I'm here, I won't let anyone hurt you."

"S-sorry," Mulder muttered.

"Well, you should be," Skinner said affectionately. "Idiot! Don't you know I can't bear to lose you?"

"R-really?"

"Of course. After all the time and trouble I've put into training you, I just don't have the energy for another."

"Asshole," Mulder said shakily but with a smile. "And here I was thinking it was my blow jobs that kept you coming back."

"That, and the fact that you scream when you come." He kissed Mulder gently.

"Um, Walter, this is nice and everything, but do you think I could lay down? My ass is killing me." Skinner chuckled and released Mulder who stretched out on the bed on his stomach with a relieved sigh. He turned his head so he could see Skinner and managed a half-smile. "Remind me never to piss you off again."

Skinner gently stroked the soft hair. Now that his rage had passed, he regretted what he had done. He had broken his promise to Mulder not to inflict intentional pain, and he had disciplined out of anger instead of waiting till his temper cooled down. "I could make you feel better," he said, leaning over to kiss Mulder's cheek.

Mulder looked at him skeptically. "I doubt it. My ass feels like raw hamburger."

"Trust me," Skinner said, unbelting the robe and slipping it off Mulder's prone form. "I am a man of many talents."

"That I know." Mulder sighed blissfully as Skinner pressed kisses down his spine. He blew gently across the reddened skin and Mulder shivered. "God, that feels incredible."

"Heightened sensitivity," Skinner murmured, running his fingertips over the skin with the lightest of pressure. Mulder moaned and writhed under his hands. "Be still, or do you want me to tie you down?"

"No. I'll be still," Mulder said softly. "Just don't stop."

"I have no intention of stopping." He kissed the base of Mulder's spine, then gently flicked a tongue across Mulder's supersensitive skin. Mulder shuddered and groaned, hugging a pillow tightly, but stayed still as Skinner's tongue moved over his ass, soothing the burning flesh. "Lift your hips." Mulder did so eagerly and Skinner placed pillows under his belly. "Beautiful," he said softly. "You are so beautiful with your sweet, tight, red ass in the air, waiting for me. Maybe I should do this more often."

"What, fuck me?"

"No, spank you." Skinner chuckled wickedly at the dirty look that Mulder shot him. "I wouldn't do that when I've got you in such a vulnerable position."

"You are a sadistic man, Walter Skinner."

Skinner ran his tongue around Mulder's anus, teasing him, then ran a probing finger inside. "You are such a slut," he said affectionately. "Already hot and ready for me."

"Then show you appreciate my efforts and fuck me."

"Well, since you ask so nicely…" Skinner moved away.

"Please, Walter, sir, please fuck me through the mattress."

Skinner laughed and returned with the lube, slicking himself down. "You beg so nicely, Fox." He slid in easily, and Mulder groaned at the feel of his lover's balls slapping against his sensitive ass. "I want you to feel this and remember what you are risking with your unthinking actions. Us." He thrust hard again, and Mulder felt the delicious agony.

"Yes, oh, yes," Mulder moaned, pushing back to meet the thrusting.

Skinner continued to pound hard into the younger man, enjoying the needy sounds that Mulder was making as his climax hovered just beyond reach. Then, feeling his own impending orgasm, he reached around and grasped Mulder's cock, pumping it hard. Mulder shuddered and then he was coming and the sensations took Skinner over the edge, too. They collapsed on the bed, and then Skinner gently eased out and rolled to his side beside Mulder.

"How's the pain now?" he asked.

Mulder opened sleepy eyes. "Pain? What pain?"

Skinner chuckled. "Go to sleep, babe."

Mulder nodded and drifted off to sleep. And Skinner sat and watched him sleep for a long time, thinking.


When Mulder woke from his nap, he found that he was alone. There was a note on the nightstand from Skinner telling him that he had gone down to work out. Mulder sat up gingerly, noticing that his posterior was still tender but not unbearably so. He thought about going down to swim but decided against it.

What he really needed was to talk to someone about what he was feeling. The punishment he had received had been mild compared to his father's whippings, but it had been unexpected and made him uncertain of what to expect from Skinner in the future. He had come to trust Skinner completely and, he admitted to himself, had viewed him as a near-perfect top. Now he was feeling disillusioned, and a little like a kid who discovered his favorite toy was flawed.

He showered, slipped on his returned sweats and went looking for Sean. As he entered the library, he was startled when a small sofa pillow flew across the room at him. He caught it instinctively.

"You might find it more comfortable if you sit on that."

Mulder groaned and pressed the pillow against his face. "Oh, God, does everyone know about that?"

Sean grinned. "Not yet. I was in the office when our security man reported to Geoff." He watched as Mulder threw the pillow back onto the couch and gingerly sat down in a chair. "Well, that answers my question on method - bare hand on bare skin. You'd be a lot more uncomfortable otherwise."

"What makes you think I'm not uncomfortable now?" Mulder asked tightly.

"First time?"

Mulder glared. "No, Walter regularly beats me - we get off on it!"

Sean looked at him tranquilly. "Been there. Done that."

Mulder instantly regretted his outburst. "Sorry. I guess the whole thing unsettled me. Walter's never hit me before."

"The Mountain's got incredible will-power. I think he must be tempted daily."

"Hey!" Mulder said, indignant. "I am not that difficult! Why does everyone think that I am?"

Sean rolled his eyes. "How many other subs here go running off to a clandestine meeting without telling their tops and almost get kidnapped? And why do I get the feeling that this is not the first time that has happened? What do you do for a living, anyway? Deliver the Publisher's Clearing House checks?"

Mulder grinned. "No way - that's much too dangerous. I just investigate government conspiracies and unexplained phenomenon."

"Sorry I asked. He's your boss, right?" Mulder nodded. "Talk about your unusual working relationships… So what is it that scared you most - his loss of control or the great sex afterward?"

Mulder looked at him, curiously. "How do you know about that?"

"Mulder! I've been doing this since I was sixteen. I've done just about everything and have the physical and emotional scars to prove it. If spanking was part of your game, you wouldn't be down here all confused and wanting to talk about it."

"Damn. Have you ever thought about hanging out your shingle? You're better than any of the head doctors I've talked to."

"And you're deflecting. And yes, I know the terminology, 'cause I've been there, too, after a really bad scene."

Mulder sighed. "Okay, I admit to both. So what do I do now?"

"You talk to him about it. If it wasn't part of your normal scenes, then it was probably as unexpected for him as it was for you. He's probably just as confused as you."

"Walter doesn't seem to be confused about anything."

Sean snorted. "He's just better at hiding it than you are. Believe me - he's plenty confused." He sat up. "Come on - I hear that Jean-Pierre made chocolate mousse for dessert. If we play on his sympathy, maybe we can get some now."


The Secretary looked up from his desk. "Mr. Skinner? What can I do for you?"

"I'm not here on official business," Skinner said, sitting down. "I just wondered if you had a few minutes to talk. I need some advice."

The Secretary studied him for a moment, then pushed a button on his phone. "Hanson, hold my calls and handle any business that comes up for the next hour. I'll be in my suite if anything serious comes up."

He disconnected and turned back to Skinner with a half-smile. "Well, Walter? I can guess what brought you here. You don't pick the easy ones, do you?"

Skinner smiled back, relieved by the affectionate amusement in the man's voice. Considering the way that they had parted, he hadn't known just what to expect. "With all respect, neither do you, Geoff."

"Good point." Geoffrey Mason stood and led the way to his personal suite, walking over to the bar. "Is it still Scotch?" He poured two glasses and handed one to Skinner, then settled down in an armchair and studied Skinner for a long moment.

"I'm glad to see you back, Walter," he said simply. "Ever since you came back, I've been hoping you would come by to talk."

Skinner looked down at his glass. "I wasn't sure - considering all that happened - "

"I know. I just wish that you had come to talk to me two years ago, before you left."

"To tell you what - that you were right? That taking on Alex was a mistake? Would that have helped?"

Mason sighed. "Still a stubborn bastard, aren't you? I never did manage to knock that out of you."

"Not for lack of trying," Skinner said, eyes glinting with amusement, and Mason laughed.

"It was worth it, despite all the trouble you gave me," Mason said affectionately. "You were the best top I ever brought along. Still are, for that matter." He sighed and shook his head. "These kids today - they think that it's all about complicated scenes and heavy whipping. No sense of finesse. That was always your strong point - you could have a sub's knees knocking with just a look."

"I learned from the best," Skinner said, smiling. "You bringing along any Juniors now?"

Mason shook his head. "I've got enough to handle right now with managing this place. And with Sean."

Skinner nodded. "How is Sean?"

Mason took a deep breath, studying his drink. "He's got his up and down days, which you'd expect, but there are more ups than downs. But you didn't come here to talk about Sean, or me. What's the problem, Walter?"

Skinner sighed. "Fox Mulder."

Mason looked sober. "I heard about the attempted kidnapping. Is there something I should know about?"

"Officially? It's too early to say. Unofficially, I have reason to suspect that Jason Benett was behind it and that he works for a certain member whom you had removed."

Mason nodded. "He was the man's Junior before we expelled him, and I always suspected that he maintained his ties with the Smoker. But we can't prove anything, and association isn't enough to get him removed. Benett's been close to the line but he still hasn't crossed it." He looked over at Skinner. "Two weeks ago we caught him attempting to discipline your boy."

"Mulder told me."

"Odd that he showed up in the locker room just when Mulder was there." Mason's eyes were expressionless as they studied Skinner's face. "Or maybe not so odd since we discovered tracking devices on Mulder's clothes. So what do you need advice on?"

Skinner sighed. "I made a mistake. After the attempted kidnapping, I spanked Mulder."

"And this was a mistake because - ?"

"I did it out of anger. And I had promised Mulder that I wouldn't intentionally hurt him."

"Why in hell did you make such a stupid promise? Never mind - I know why." Mason got up and paced angrily for a moment. "Jesus, Walter! When are you going to get past Alex Krycek?"

"Geoff - "

Mason crouched beside Skinner's chair and took his head between his hands, forcing Skinner to meet his eyes. "You made an error in judgment. You had no idea that Alex was with that bastard. When you saw how bad things were you stopped. End of story, Walter. Now - get over it." He gave Skinner's head a slight shake before releasing him and standing back up.

Skinner smiled slightly. "Is that an order, Master Geoff?"

Mason smiled back affectionately. "It's a request from an old friend. Now - about your boy. You know that you owe him an apology and the option to break the contract if he can't trust you anymore."

Skinner nodded. "I know. I don't think he'll take it."

"It might be better for you if he did," Mason said frankly. "The boy is trouble, Walter."

"I know. Hell, I've been working with him for years. But he's been a good sub, Geoff. He learns very quickly and is very eager."

"Well, why not? If all you're doing is mild D/s bedroom stuff what's not to be eager about? Unless he doesn't care for the sex." Mason's eyes studied Skinner frankly and he felt himself flushing.

"That's not a problem."

"It never was a problem where you were concerned," Mason said wryly. "You always did have the subs falling all over themselves to get into your bed."

"And here I thought it was my skill with a whip."

Mason chuckled. "Well, you haven't lost your sense of humor at any rate. But seriously, Walter, have you considered that you're too close to the problem? That you love him too much to be able to control him? Just remember, if all you're getting is what he wants, then you are no longer in control. And that boy needs a firm hand. You might want to reconsider - and discuss with him - that no-pain agreement."

Skinner shook his head. "There are other factors, Geoff, that make physical punishment a bad idea."

"Childhood abuse?"

"I can't be certain - he doesn't talk about it - but I suspect there was some abuse."

"Well, it's not like we haven't seen that here with other subs," Mason said with a sigh. "How did he react to the spanking?"

"Too quiet for him but not in the least bit repentant. He didn't admit he was at fault until I was talking to him later. Then came the tears and apologies."

"So words are his triggers?" Mason considered, then sighed and shook his head. "Walter, you won't always be able to talk out the problem. You're going to have to find other ways to discipline him."

"I know," Skinner said with a sigh.

"Well, anything I can do, just let me know."

Skinner nodded, finished his drink and stood up. "Thanks, Geoff. I appreciate you taking the time - "

"Don't give me that nonsense." Mason hugged Walter warmly. "We're family, Walter - including your troublesome boy. Never forget that."


Mulder and Sean were perched on stools in the kitchen, inhaling bowls of mousse, when the Secretary came into the room. "I thought you two might be here. Mr. Skinner is looking for you, Mulder."

Mulder nodded and set down his bowl. "Later, Sean." He hurried out.

The Secretary shook his head. "Walter's got his hands full with that one."

"He's not so bad," Sean said mildly. "Lots of potential if he'll just stop listening to his head long enough to listen to his heart. I've got my eye on him."

"Just don't let him drag you into trouble." The Secretary reached over to tousle his lover's hair. "Now out with you, scamp. Jean-Pierre has work to do."


Skinner was standing at the window staring out when Mulder entered, slightly out of breath from hurrying and from nervousness.

"Sorry, sir," he began -

Skinner turned toward him and smiled. "It's all right. Sit down, Fox - we need to talk." Mulder sat down on his customary ottoman and waited. "What happened earlier - I handled that badly, and I'm sorry."

Mulder blinked. He had not expected an apology from Skinner. His feelings of betrayed trust began to ease, and he suddenly realized that the hollow sensation in his stomach was lifting. "Sir?"

"When we are here, game rules apply and you have been very good about keeping that separate from the real world. If you broke the rules here - which you did by leaving the premises without my permission - I should have disciplined you according to the game rules. Instead, I got angry and took that out on you and broke my word. I told you at the start that I would not intentionally inflict pain. If I was going to change that, we should have discussed it first and agreed to it."

"I'd rather not change that agreement," Mulder said frankly. "I didn't like being spanked like a kid."

Skinner smiled wryly. "You're not supposed to like it but I understand what you mean. And if you feel that you can't trust me any more, I'll understand if you want to break our contract."

Mulder shook his head, eager to admit his own fault now that Skinner had done so first. "I trust you, sir. I was at fault. I should have shown you the letter and discussed it with you. And I lied about the collar. I didn't forget it - it's in my bag."

"Why did you lie about the collar?" Skinner asked curiously.

Mulder flushed but said honestly, "I felt that I couldn't wear it and then ditch you. It wouldn't have been right."

Skinner smiled at that, amazed at the intricate workings of Mulder's conscience. "So - apology accepted?" Mulder nodded and slid into Skinner's arms for a kiss.

Mulder grinned up at him. "You know, I've heard that make-up sex is incredible."

"In that case, Fox, I think you're overdressed." Skinner tugged the sweatshirt over Mulder's head. "And I'd like to see that pretty collar around your neck."

"Whatever you say, sir."

"My favorite words." Skinner nipped at Mulder's neck. "I think I'm going to tape them and play them back in the office when you're being difficult."

Mulder chuckled as he tilted his head to give Skinner better access to his neck. "You'll shock Scully, sir. Not to mention anyone bugging your office."

"Poor Scully," Skinner said, surveying the mark he had left on Mulder's neck with satisfaction. "After your recent good behavior, she must be ready to certify you."

Mulder grinned and slid out of Skinner's arms to fetch his collar from the bag. He caressed the leather, then held it against his neck and turned so that Skinner could fasten it. "I'm always good, sir," he said provocatively.

Skinner snorted. "I'm not talking about your skills in bed - and I would hope Scully wouldn't be either."

Mulder turned, his eyes glinting mischievously. "Jealous, sir?"

"Possessive, and I freely admit it. I always got low marks on sharing my toys with others." Skinner touched the tag and then drew Mulder back into his arms. "Mine."

Mulder kissed him softly. "Yours. All yours." And he thought to himself that he liked the sound of that, liked the thought of belonging to someone who cared enough about him to be angry when he did something stupid. And then, as Skinner tumbled him back onto the bed, he abandoned rational thought altogether.

Chapter Text

Out of the darkness, into the light
Leaving the scene of the crime

Either I'm wrong or I'm perfectly right every time

Sometimes I lie awake night after night

Coming apart at the seams

Eager to please, ready to fight

Why do I go to extremes?

 

Jason Benett was stalking him.

Of that he was morally certain. No matter where he went, Benett was there. In the exercise room, in the library, in the dining room, everywhere. Studying him with a look that made Mulder feel that he had been selected as the main course for dinner - or at least dessert. Watching him with eyes that promised retribution for what had happened in the locker room. Mulder was not a coward but the look in those eyes made him determined not to be found alone anywhere in that Club. Sean, when appealed to for help, advised him to tell Skinner about it but Mulder was certain that Skinner would think it was his over-active imagination. Mulder knew that it was real.

Then came the long Veteran's Day weekend, and Mulder decided to take the situation into his own hands.

They had missed the previous weekend due to an out-of-town case for Mulder and an important meeting in one of the regional offices for Skinner, and Skinner had suggested that they make up for it by spending an extra day at the Club. Mulder had been only too willing to agree. Their reunion Friday night had been highly combustible, leaving both of them sated and exhausted, and it was mid-day before either of them stirred.

Skinner woke first, stumbling into the bathroom amid twinges from complaining muscles. He smiled to himself, trying to remember the last time he had engaged in such an athletic bout of lovemaking. More years than he liked to remember, but Mulder brought that out in him, made him feel like a kid again. He padded back into the bedroom, surveyed the dark tousled head just visible in the wreck of the bedding, and wickedly stripped the covers off the bed.

Mulder groaned and rolled over on his stomach, burying his face in the mattress. "Have a heart, Walter. I'm reasonably certain that the coroner's office would declare this body dead."

Skinner grinned and popped the delectable ass so fetchingly displayed. "Rise and shine, Mulder."

Mulder lifted his head and balefully regarded his nemesis. "I'm rising, but I ain't shining. You're too damned cheerful this morning. Sir."

Skinner grinned and sat down on the bed next to Mulder. "A week ago at this time I was listening to a series of boring fiscal reports from regional ASACs. This is much, much better." He rolled an unresisting Mulder over onto his back so that he could thoroughly kiss the younger man.

"You're a hedonist," Mulder murmured when Skinner released his mouth.

"Definitely. Speaking of which, I'm going to get a shower. Coming?"

"I'm biting my tongue." He grinned at Skinner as the other man laughed, and then he stretched with a groan. "I think I'll head down to the gym to work out some of the kinks."

"Not too many, I hope. I like your kinks." He laughed as Mulder shot him a bird. "You are so disrespectful. Guess I'll have to do something about that when you get back."

"Is that a threat or a promise?"

"Yes."

Mulder laughed and left the suite. He hooked up with Sean at the Secretary's office and they went to the gym. Mulder almost turned and left when he saw that Benett was there, working out with the weights, but he reasoned that Benett couldn't possibly molest him in front of so many witnesses. Sean gave him a questioning look; Mulder shrugged and headed towards the treadmills while Sean made for the pool.

Mulder stretched out and warmed up, then stepped up on the treadmill and programmed it. He still preferred to jog outdoors but Skinner had vetoed that after the near kidnapping and, actually, these things weren't too bad. He could choose the terrain, the stress level and then just get into the mindset. After his run, he headed toward the pool to see how Sean was doing. As Mulder approached the doorway, Benett suddenly moved into his way so that Mulder couldn't avoid bumping into him.

"Watch where you're going, boy!"

Shit, thought Mulder. This was not going to be good.

"Sorry, sir," he said quietly, focusing his eyes on the ground.

"Are you being insolent, boy?"

"No, sir." Mulder looked around out of the corner of his eye for Sean and saw the smaller man heading their way looking worried.

"Look at me when I'm talking to you, boy." Benett grabbed Mulder's chin, forcing his face up. "Ah, it's my old friend 'Kitten'." Mulder was not fooled by the pretense that Benett hadn't recognized him when he jostled Mulder. "You still seem to need training, alley cat."

Mulder showed his wrist, his eyes challenging Benett. "As I said before, I have a master."

"He must be a poor master if he hasn't curbed your insolent tongue. Who is he?"

"Is there some trouble here?"

Speak of the cavalry, Mulder thought in relief, and sneaked a sideways look. Skinner was crossing the floor towards them, a look on his face that boded ill for someone - and that someone was not Mulder for a change.

Benett turned his head to study Skinner coolly. "Does this - creature belong to you?"

"He does."

"Your Kitten has poor manners. He doesn't appear to know the respect that should be accorded to a top." Skinner gave Benett a look and the Junior found himself quickly releasing the sub's chin. "That is, of course, your business, but I would school him better if I were you."

"I'll be sure to attend to that." Skinner's face was like stone but the tone of his voice conveyed his complete disinterest in Benett's opinion. Benett gave Mulder one last look and then left. Skinner swung around to grasp Mulder by the shoulders. "You okay, Fox?"

Mulder nodded. "I'm fine, Walter. He just - unnerved me a little."

"What happened?"

Sean joined them. "Benett deliberately moved in front of Mulder so that Mulder couldn't help bumping into him." He looked troubled. "Do you want to file a report against him, Mulder?"

"Would it do any good?"

Sean hesitated, then shook his head. "No. It's not enough to get him thrown out; it would just piss him off. And that's one man you don't want pissed off at you. Well, not any more than he already is."

Skinner frowned. "Has he been harassing you, Fox?"

Mulder hesitated. "No, not harassing me. Just - everywhere I go he seems to be there. And I'm not wearing any trackers - I had the guys go over all my clothes including shoes."

"Why didn't you tell me?" Skinner's voice was grim.

"I thought you'd think I was paranoid."

"I already think that, Fox. But just because you’re paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you. From now on, you keep me in the loop, understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good." Skinner thought for a moment. "I'm going to talk with Geoffrey about the situation - maybe he'll have some ideas. Mulder - get changed and keep out of trouble." He started toward the door, then a sudden thought struck him and he turned back. "Why did he call you my 'kitten'?"

Mulder flushed. "The last time we tangled - I didn't want to tell him my real name - in case he's - " He glanced over at Sean. "I couldn't think of any other name to tell him."

"Kitten?" Skinner's lips twitched, and Sean grinned.

Mulder glared at both of them. "It's not funny. I was desperate."

Skinner nodded. "Of course. Totally understandable. Kitten."


"No, Mulder. No, no, no."

"Sean," Mulder said persuasively. "I've got to get into his room and check it out. I'm sure that he's got something in there that will implicate him in that attempted kidnapping." And with the Consortium, he thought, but didn't say it aloud. "All I need you to do is point out the right dumbwaiter and distract the kitchen staff while I get in."

"And what if he walks in on you? He'll be within his rights to press charges, get you kicked out of here. And what would the Mountain think of that?"

Mulder shuddered slightly, not even wanting to think what Skinner would say, but persisted. "I've got to do this, Sean. I can't keep dodging out of his way or walking around with you or Walter as bodyguards."

Sean bit his lip, considering, then sighed. "All right. I'll help. But not the dumbwaiter. Wait here." He returned after a few minutes with a plastic card. "Master passkey. We'll go in the front door."

"Not we. Me. I want you to clear out."

Sean stood his ground, holding the cardkey behind his back. "I'm in, Mulder. I'll stand guard while you're inside. It's that or you're totally on your own, mate."

Mulder sighed. "All right. I guess I've got no choice."

Sean led the way to a room on the second floor and, after making sure there were no witnesses, he used the master key to open Benett's door. "All right, Mulder. Make it fast - please."

Mulder shut the door behind himself and began searching the room, trying to go as quickly as possible without leaving evidence of his search. Nothing in the drawers, the cabinet - this one with a lot more deadly looking implements than the one in Skinner's suite - was clean, the closet empty. And then, under the bed, a briefcase. Bingo, he thought, pulling it out. Locked. He swore under his breath, tried to think of possible combinations but it could be anything and he didn't have the time to experiment.

On that thought, Mulder heard Sean's voice loudly talking to someone outside the room. Damn! he thought, shoving the briefcase back under the bed and looking around for an escape route. His eyes lit on the dumbwaiter. He hit the retrieve button and, when the shelf arrived, dove into it and hit the send button as he passed. The door shut scant inches behind him and he felt it descend toward the basement. It stopped and he wiggled around to face the grill, looking out into the kitchen. Now all he had to do was wait for the coast to be clear -

Sean came racing into the kitchen right about then, skidding to a halt in front of the food service chutes. "Mulder?"

"Help me get out of here, Sean." Sean opened the panel and reached in to grab Mulder's arm.

A deep voice suddenly boomed out. "What are you doing in there?"

Sean jerked around suddenly, swearing under his breath. Mulder winced and tilted his head up slightly to see the assistant chef staring balefully at them. Damn, he thought, busted.

"Um - it was a bet. Sean thought I couldn't fit into one of these."

"Thanks a lot, mate," Sean muttered under his breath.

"Better than the truth," Mulder hissed back. "We're sorry - we'll get out of your way - "

The assistant chef looked skeptical and said, "You two stay right there." He disappeared into the main kitchen.

"Wanna bet who he's going to get?" Sean asked, slumping dejectedly.

"Nope. I'm just praying for a heart attack before Walter gets here."

"Failing that, I could stab you to death with one of those large knives."

"You're a pal, Sean."

A short time later, Skinner and Mason entered the kitchen and stopped before their respective charges. Skinner glowered at Mulder.

"Want to tell me what this is about, Mulder?"

"Is this a multiple choice question?" Mulder quipped. Skinner's hand shot out, grabbed him by the back of the neck, and shook him. "I'm going to guess that's a 'no'."

"Mulder, I'm losing my patience."

"It was just a silly bet, Walter. Really."

Mason crossed his arms and stared at Sean. "Is that true, Sean? And - before you answer - may I remind you that I have a strap with your name on it in our room?"

Sean opened his mouth, then closed it and looked over at Mulder. Mulder sighed and said, "Okay. We were searching Benett's room. Or rather, I was checking it out while Sean stood guard outside. Benett returned, and I had to make a quick getaway in the dumbwaiter."

"And how did Mulder get into Mr. Benett's room, Sean?" the Secretary asked sternly and Sean sighed then pulled the access card out of his back pocket. "All right, young man. Go to our room and get ready for me."

"Upstairs, Mulder." Skinner's face was stern. Mulder nodded, and he and Sean left the kitchen together.

"God, I'm sorry, Sean," he said miserably. "I've gotten you into trouble."

Sean shrugged. "I knew what I was doing, Mulder. Did you find anything?"

Mulder shook his head. "A locked briefcase." He stopped in front of Sean's door. "You gonna be okay? He looked pretty mad."

"I'll be fine. Geoff's tough but fair." He cocked his head and grinned. "On the other hand, I wouldn't want to be you for anything in the world."

"Gee, thanks," Mulder said dryly. He took the elevator up to the third floor, entered the suite, and stood wondering what to do. Sean's top had told him to get ready but Skinner had not given a similar order. Normally he would strip and put on the collar and cuffs when he returned to their rooms, but he was extremely reluctant to have his naked ass anywhere near Skinner while he was this angry. He decided to sit down - on the floor - and wait for further instructions.

It seemed like an hour before he heard the cardkey in the lock and he stood up. Skinner entered the room, tossed the cardkey on a table, and studied Mulder for a long moment.

"Mulder, what in the hell am I going to do with you?"

Mulder took a deep, relieved breath - the A.D. mode. He could expect to get his ass chewed out but at least it wouldn't get warmed. He cleared his throat.

"If Benett is working for Cancerman - "

"If, Mulder. We don't know for sure. What if he had caught you in his room? If he is working for Cancerman, you could be dead. If he isn't - do you know how much trouble he could cause for you here?"

Mulder nodded. "Yes, sir. I thought it was worth the risk."

"And was it worth risking a civilian, too? Do you realize that you got someone else in trouble through your antics? Your friend, Sean, is no doubt getting a whipping this very minute."

Mulder's eyes darkened. "Yes, sir. I know. He shouldn't have been punished. It was my fault."

"Don't start bearing everyone else's guilt. He did take the access card on his own - unless you held a gun to his head. I trust you didn't do that, Mulder."

Mulder managed a faint smile. "No, sir."

"Then you have more than enough sins of your own to pay for without taking on his."

"Pay for, sir?" Mulder said faintly.

"We talked about it last time," Skinner said firmly. "You are going to be disciplined for this, Fox."

"What - what are you going to do to me, sir?"

Skinner studied him for a long moment. "I think I'll let you worry about that for awhile. I'll tell you what your punishment is in the morning. In the meantime - I don't think I need to tell you where you are sleeping?"

"No, sir," Mulder said with a sigh. "Do I get a pillow or blanket?"

"Not this time. However, you can keep your sweats on."

Mulder nodded and took a deep breath, then settled onto the floor. He lay there quietly for a long time, watching as Skinner moved around the room getting ready for bed. As Skinner settled in bed with a book, Mulder said, quietly, "Sir?"

Skinner looked down at Mulder. "What is it?"

"Could - could you give me a little hint? The suspense is going to kill me."

"Of course, Fox. Here's your hint - you're not going to like it."

"Sir - "

"Give it up, Mulder. You really don't want to push my buttons right now."

Mulder sighed and rolled over on his side. He lay there for a long time, staring at the cabinet across the room, wondering what Skinner had planned. Mulling over pictures in his mind of medieval torture, he finally fell asleep.

Chapter Text

Sometimes I'm tired, sometimes I'm shot
Sometimes I don't know how much more I've got

Maybe I'm headed over the hill

Maybe I've set myself up for the kill

Tell me how much do you think you can take
Until the heart in you is starting to break

Sometimes it feels like it will

 

"Wake up, Fox."

Mulder muttered a request for five more minutes and rolled, searching for the body to accompany the voice, intent on snuggling. Instead, he found himself pressing his nose against a booted foot. He blinked, remembered where he was, and sighed. Judgment Day.

The foot moved away and he sat up, stretching with a groan. He dragged himself to his feet and staggered into the bathroom to relieve himself and splash cold water on his face. He avoided looking at his face, not wanting to see the fear in his own eyes. Damn it, why did he feel like a little kid?

He went into the main room and found Skinner sitting on the bed, waiting for him.

"Ready, Fox?"

Mulder nodded. "Where do you want me, sir?"

Skinner shook his head. "I'm not going to whip you, Fox."

"But - Sean was whipped, and it's not fair to him - I should be punished, too."

"And you will be. But I told you that I wouldn't deliberately hurt you, and I won't break my word."

Mulder felt at a loss, unsure of what was coming next, and it scared him. At least he knew what to expect from a whipping.

"Since Sean has suffered the most from this debacle, your punishment is to make it up to him. I am transferring your ownership to Sean's master for a day. For the next twenty-four hours, you will belong to Geoffrey Mason, and will take on Sean's duties."

Mulder blanched. "S-sir? You're giving me away?"

"For a day, Fox, and then you'll come back to me. You'll find that Geoff is a fair but tough master. I expect you to do your best for him." Mulder nodded numbly. "Pack your bag, and put on cuffs and collar."

As Mulder obeyed, Skinner took a leash out of the cabinet. He snapped it onto the collar, smiling at Mulder's puzzled look.

"It's symbolic, Mulder. You should appreciate that."

Mulder quietly followed Skinner down to the Secretary's suite. Geoffrey Mason opened the door, glanced coolly at Mulder, and nodded at Skinner.

"Walter."

Skinner held out the leash. "Here you are, Geoff. Good luck." He turned and touched Mulder's cheek briefly in reassurance. "Be good, brat."

"Yes, sir," Mulder said faintly, still in shock.

Mason tugged on the leash and Mulder reluctantly entered the suite, then heard the door close behind him like the lid on a coffin. Mason unsnapped the leash.

"Sit on the ottoman, Mulder - straighten your back and look straight ahead. I want to get a good look at you."

He walked around Mulder, looking him over critically. "You're a good looking young man." He gripped Mulder's chin and forced his head up to meet his eyes. "And I'm not impressed by your looks, boy. A lot of boys have come through here thinking they could slide by on their good looks. It didn't work for them and it won't work for you."

"I wouldn't try that, sir," Mulder said angrily, and Mason looked amused.

"So you have a temper, do you? I advise you to keep your temper in check and your smart mouth closed. I'm not as easily amused by impudent subs as Walter." He saw the flash in Mulder's eyes at the subtle jab at Skinner but Mulder bit his tongue. "I assume that Walter has told you why you're here?"

"I'm to take on Sean's duties for the next twenty-four hours." Oh, God, please don't tell me that includes what I'm afraid it does, Mulder thought desperately.

Mason saw the panic and patted Mulder's cheek. "Relax, Mulder. I don't consider sleeping in my bed one of Sean's duties but rather one of his rewards. Your virtue will be safe here."

"Thank you, sir," Mulder said, relieved, then realized how that sounded and flushed. "I - I'm sorry. I didn't mean to imply-"

Mason chuckled. "You are new at this, aren't you, Mulder?"

Mulder flushed even more. "Yes, sir. Walter is my first - master."

"You're lucky, boy," Mason said. "He's the best top I ever trained."

Mulder's eyes widened. "You, sir? You trained him?"

"Did you think that tops sprang to life full-grown, like Athena from the head of Zeus?" Mason looked amused. "Sean!"

"Yes, Geoff?" Sean came out of the bedroom sketchily attired in a pair of sweat pants. Mulder thought that Sean moved a little stiffly as he crossed the room to snuggle up to Mason, but the face that he turned up to his top was tranquil and loving.

"Our new boy is here. I want you to instruct Mulder in his duties this morning, but you are not to help him. I want you to take it easy." Mason's fingers were gentle as they touched his sub's cheek.

Sean grinned. "I'm not made of glass, Geoff. I'm fine."

"Indulge me, okay?" Mason kissed Sean gently. He turned to Mulder and said briskly, "All right. Time to get to work." Mason sat down in the armchair, then pointed to a spot on the floor in front of him and Mulder obediently knelt.

"Okay, Mulder, house rules. My boys wear jeans or sweat pants around the house, no shirts, and I only use collars and cuffs for training. I'll let you keep Walter's collar but take off the rest and put them and your bag in the bedroom, then come back here."

Mulder obeyed, noting when he returned that Sean had stretched out on the couch on his stomach. His guilt nearly choked him and he quietly knelt, bowing his head while he waited for Mason's next instructions. Mason's sharp eyes noted the passing of emotions over Mulder's face with satisfaction. When Skinner had proposed this as Mulder's punishment, Mason had been doubtful but he now acknowledged that Skinner knew his sub. Mulder was suffering more from Sean's punishment than he would have from his own physical punishment.

"While you are here, you will obey my orders without question. Is that understood, boy?"

"Yes, sir."

"In my absence, you are to obey Sean. You are brother subs, but he is the senior here, and he is to be respected as such." There was a knock on the door. "Breakfast, Mulder." Mulder went to the door and brought in the cart. "I take my coffee black, one sugar. Sean's is heavy on the milk, two sugars."

Mulder prepared the cups and gave Mason his cup, then set Sean's on the floor within easy reach. He returned to the cart and wondered what he was supposed to do about the food. Guess what they wanted? Ask? He glanced at Mason and saw the Secretary raise an eyebrow inquiringly. "Um - Sir?"

"Just bring the tray and I'll choose."

Mulder lifted the tray off the serving cart and carried it over to Mason, who looked up at him with a frown. "I don't need a crick in my neck, Mulder. Kneel."

Mulder tried to kneel while holding the tray but he overbalanced, tried to catch himself, failed, and lost the tray. The entire contents slid onto the floor - pastries, eggs, plates and all. The three men stared at the mess in silence, and then Sean buried his face in the sofa cushions from which choked sounds of mirth issued. Mulder wished the floor would open up and swallow him.

"Well, Mulder, your first task is going to be to clean the suite, top to bottom. Start in here, then the bedroom, and end with the playroom. And I expect you to do a thorough job." Mason drew a deep breath and stood up, carefully stepping over the mess on the floor. "I think I'll get my own breakfast. Sean, I'll be in my office if you need me."

Mulder looked down at the wreckage at his feet and then glared over at Sean whose was laughing hysterically on the couch. "Gee, thanks. I'm really appreciating the brotherly support here."

Sean lifted his streaming face from the cushions and tried to control his laughter. "C-can't help it. Should have seen - look on your face. And Geoff - " He gave up and collapsed back on the couch, screaming with laughter. Mulder couldn't help it - the laughter was so infectious that he started chuckling. He looked down at the mess at his feet.

"Well, guess I better get this cleaned up." Mulder scooped up the pastries and fruit and dumped them back onto the platter, then put the platter on the cart. He had just finished when there was a knock on the door. Mulder opened it to find one of the waiters.

"Oh - here for the cart?"

The waiter gestured to the plate in his hand. "Mr. Mason told me to give this to Sean personally and not, under any circumstances, to let Mulder near it." A wail from the couch told Mulder that Sean had succumbed to laughter again. Mulder gave him a sour look and went for the cleaning supplies.

Three hours later, Mulder had worked his way through the suite: dusting, vacuuming, windows even. Jesus, he thought, he didn't work this hard on his own place. And just why was he working so hard here? Because he owed Sean? Because he wanted Skinner to be proud of him? Or because Mason obviously didn't think he could do it?

Mulder reached the last room and he stood in the doorway for a moment, then swallowed hard. The playroom. He looked around slowly. Hooks in the wall, a "toy" cabinet, and a padded spanking bench. Nothing too scary, nothing that he hadn't read about, some of which he had seen in Skinner's suite. There was a strap lying out on the bench and he picked it up with shaking hands. Then he walked back into the living room.

Sean looked up from the book that he was reading and, at the expression on Mulder's face, pushed himself into a sitting position. "What is it, Mulder?"

Mulder looked down at the strap he was holding. "Sean, I'm so sorry - are you okay?"

Sean grinned back irrepressibly. "Hell, Mulder, it's not the first time I've had a whipping and it won't be the last."

"It's my fault."

"Mulder, sit. Now."

Mulder's head jerked up - he had never heard that authoritative tone from Sean before. He sat down on the floor by the couch.

"I don't know what your problem with this is," and he pulled the strap out of Mulder's hand. "That's your business, and your man's, not mine. But just because you don't doesn't mean that it's wrong. Geoff and I practice safe, sane and extremely consensual SM. Nothing happens to me with Geoff that I don't want to happen."

Mulder looked at him in disbelief. "You wanted him to beat your ass? You gave him permission? Is it some kind of game?"

Sean shook his head. "Geoff and I don't play games. We live it, seven by twenty-four. I belong to Geoff and he doesn't need my permission to warm my ass - I gave him that when I became his boy. For whatever reason - for no reason. Usually it's for pleasure but sometimes it's for discipline - and don't get me wrong. I don't particularly like to be punished like last night, but I accept it because it's part of what we are. Those are our rules, Mulder, common enough in the lifestyle but not universal. If that's not your scene that's cool, but you dance around the issue halfway between fear and fascination. Make up your damn mind."

Mulder flushed, looking at his hands as if they were foreign objects, and cleared his throat. "What if - what if I don't know what I want? Hell, Sean, I'm new at this. I'd never even had sex with a man before Walter."

Sean got up off the couch, went to the bookshelf and pulled out a book that he tossed to Mulder. "Read this."

Mulder looked down at the book entitled, "The Bottoming Book: How to Get Terrible Things Done to You by Wonderful People". He swallowed hard. "Are you sure?"

"Trust me. Oh, and Mulder. Here's a tip. Before you kneel with a tray, lean your shoulders back slightly and keep your back straight. Less spillage."

Mulder threw a pillow at Sean.


Mason drew a deep breath and squared his shoulders before going through the door from his office to his suite, mentally preparing himself for carnage and disaster. To his surprise, all he heard was the murmur of two voices and, entering the living room, he found Sean and Mulder with their heads bent over a book, seriously discussing something they were reading.

"Hello, boys." Sean noticed his presence first and looked up with a smile, and Mulder popped to his feet. "Sit down, Mulder. How are you progressing on your morning chores?"

"Done, sir."

"Done?" Mason looked surprised. "Well, then, I had better take a look at your results." He carefully looked over the suite and found that the entire place was in perfect order. "Mulder, I'm impressed. Good work."

Mulder flushed, pleased by the praise. "Thank you, sir."

"Think you can manage lunch without destroying your hard work?"

Mulder smiled ruefully. "I think so, sir."

"Then go to the kitchen. Jean-Pierre will have our lunch ready. Bring it back here and set the table. Three places."

Mulder hurried out and Mason turned to Sean. "And what were you two up to when I came in?"

"Just furthering Mulder's education." He pointed at the book on the couch with a grin. "Giving him a little push in the right direction."

"You romantic softie, you."

Sean chuckled. "Can I help it if I like happy endings?"


The rest of the day went by slowly but uneventfully. Mason had Mulder do the laundry, then clean and oil all the leather in the playroom, and then Sean taught him how to give a proper massage. In between chores, Mulder read and talked to Sean. And after dinner, while Sean and Mason watched TV and talked, Mulder silently thought about how his life had changed since coming to the Club and wondered where his life was going.

"Bedtime, boys." Mason stood and stretched. "Mulder, your blankets are in the corner in the bedroom. You've had a busy day - go on to bed."

Mulder readied himself for bed and rolled up in the blankets, resigning himself to another uncomfortable night on the floor. He was tired but ached too much to fall asleep right away. Mason and Sean came into the room, laughing and talking quietly, and began to undress. He hastily turned on his side with his back to them to give them some privacy. Oh God, were they going to - yes, they were. Had Mason forgotten that he was there? He cleared his throat loudly.

Mason lifted his head from Sean's neck and glanced over at Mulder's corner. "Problem, Mulder?"

"Um - I thought - perhaps you'd forgotten I was here."

Mason sighed. "I could hardly forget that, Mulder."

"Should I – should I go in the other room, sir?"

"Uncomfortable, boy?"

"Um - yes, sir."

"Get over it. This is a fact of our lifestyle. You'll have to get used to this if Walter takes another sub." Mason returned his attention to Sean who didn't seem in the least bit disturbed to have an audience.

Mason's words made Mulder's blood go cold. Walter - with another sub? Having to share Walter’s time and attention - and his bed? Skinner had said that he had quit this lifestyle but now he was back and seemed to enjoy it - maybe Skinner would decide to take on another. Someone less troublesome. Mulder swallowed hard.

The noises from the bed had intensified and Mulder found his attention irresistibly drawn toward the pair. He had watched a lot of porn but not gay porn, and he had never realized before how beautiful lovemaking between two men could be. Fascinated by the sight, amazed at his voyeurism, he watched as Mason skillfully drove Sean toward a climax so shattering that Mulder had to turn away to catch his own breath and gain control over his own body. He was so aroused that he longed to jerk himself off but knew that he couldn't do that without attracting attention. He sighed and concentrated on sports statistics and the more gruesome aspects of his latest case until his erection subsided.

From behind him came the sound of soft kisses and murmured voices and Mulder rolled over onto his back, casting a quick look at the bed. In the semi-darkness he could discern the two figures snuggled on the bed. A sudden lump filled his throat and he turned away again. He missed Walter desperately, missed the feeling of the other man around and in him, missed the heat of their passionate couplings, and missed the tender kisses and snuggling afterwards. Two nights wasted, he thought bitterly, and all for nothing. And tomorrow was the Monday holiday and he would go back to his apartment and another workweek would begin. He envied Sean and Geoff, and wondered what it would be like to have more than just weekends together.

Dangerous, that's what it would be like, he thought wryly. Their enemies already knew about them but they were protected here at the Club - too many influential and powerful people were patrons here. If they attempted to have a relationship outside they would be targets. Still, he allowed himself to fantasize coming home to Skinner after a busy day, discussing work and other interests over dinner. Other interests - he didn't even know what Skinner's favorite teams were, or his reading preferences, although he did know the exact spot on Skinner's neck that drove him crazy. Nights stretched out on the sofa watching TV and then going to bed together. His eyes drifted shut and, smiling at the mental pictures, he fell asleep.


"Mulder! Mulder, wake up!"

Mulder stirred and sat up, awakened by Mason's urgent voice. "Sir?"

"I need your help here. Fetch a bottle of Gatorade from the fridge and bring it into the bathroom." Mason disappeared into the bathroom and Mulder hurried to do as he said. When he returned to the bathroom, he found Sean huddled on the floor next to the toilet, his head leaning back against Mason's shoulder with the other man's arms wrapped around him. Mason looked up and took the bottle with a nod of thanks, then turned back to Sean.

"Okay, baby, here's your medicine and something to wash it down. Slowly, now. That's it."

Mulder left them alone, stripped the sheets off the bed and remade it with clean sheets and blankets, then returned to the bathroom. "The bed's ready, sir. Do you need help moving him?"

Mason looked up, surprised. "Thank you, Mulder. I've got him." He stood, sweeping the smaller man up in his arms and carried him into the bedroom, settling him down on the remade bed. Sean was drifting already, and Mason leaned over to kiss his cheek.

"Go back to sleep, baby. I'll come back to bed in a few minutes." Mason belted on a robe and went into the living room, while Mulder gathered the soiled linens and carried them into the laundry room to soak. As he passed back through the living room, he saw that Mason was on the phone.

" - No, there wasn't any blood, and no sign of fever. Yes, the anti-nausea medicine stopped it. Do you think it’s just reaction to the new medicine? All right, I'll bring him in tomorrow." Mason hung up the phone and sat staring into space.

"Sir, can I get you anything?"

"Scotch. Two fingers. Neat." Mulder poured the drink and handed it to him. "Thanks. Go back to bed, Mulder."

"Yes, sir." Mulder turned toward the bedroom.

"Wait, Mulder." Mulder turned back and found Mason's sharp eyes on him. "I understand from Walter that you are prone to 'rush in where angels fear to tread'. Next time - before you do something life-threatening and dangerous - I want you to take a moment to think about how precious life is, how stupid it is to waste it, and how many people would suffer at your loss."

There was a bright sheen of unshed tears in Mason's eyes and, unexplainably, the sight made Mulder's throat tighten. "Yes, sir," he said lowly. "I will."

Mason covered his eyes with his hand. "That'll be all. Go to bed, Mulder."

Mulder quietly returned to his bed on the floor but it was a long time before he fell back asleep.


Mason woke Mulder with a gentle nudge of his foot in Mulder's ribs. "Wake up, Mulder. Daylight's wasting."

Mulder hauled himself to his feet and into the bathroom where he sponge-bathed and changed into his spare sweat pants, then the breakfast cart was there and he prepared two cups of coffee. He studied Sean with sharp eyes as he gave him his coffee but the young man seemed fine this morning.

As Mulder went for the tray, Mason opened his mouth to say something but Sean shook his head at him. He shut his mouth and waited in resignation. To his surprise, Mulder managed to kneel with the tray without incident and Mason selected his breakfast.

There was a knock on the door and Mulder returned the tray to the cart then went to the door. Skinner stood there, and Mulder stood for a moment just drinking in the sight of him, unaware of how his whole face had lit up.

"Good morning, sir," he said softly, then turned toward Mason. "Sir, Mr. Skinner is here."

"Come in, Walter. Mulder - breakfast for our guest."

Mason began talking about Club business with Skinner while Mulder fixed a cup of coffee the way that Skinner liked it and set it down on the table at Skinner's elbow. Skinner watched in amused surprise as Mulder brought over the serving tray and knelt so that Skinner could select his choice, and he resisted an urge to stroke the sleek head at his knee. Mulder returned the plate to cart and returned to kneel before Mason, awaiting further orders.

"Time to go home, Mulder," he said with a smile. "Go pack your bag."

"Yes, sir!" Mulder hurried into the bedroom and Mason chuckled while Skinner hid a smile.

"Well, you were right and I was wrong, Walter," Mason admitted. "He's a much better sub than I would have imagined. But you do realize that he's a one-master sub, don't you? He did well here out of a desire to reflect well on you, not a general desire to please. Hell of a lot of responsibility, Walter."

"I know," Skinner said softly. "But I think it's worth it."

"I hope so." Mason looked up as Mulder returned and knelt by his feet again. He reached out to ruffle Mulder's hair. "You did very well, Mulder. I was pleased with your work. Just remember our little talk and perhaps you'll live longer." He clipped the leash on Mulder's collar. "Here you go, Walter. Take him away."

Both men were quiet as they returned to their suite although Mulder snuck frequent sidelong glances at Skinner. His discovery of the extent of his feelings for Skinner made him feel a little shy and tongue-tied. He hoped that Skinner wasn't still angry with him, and longed for a reassuring smile or gesture.

Once they reached the room, Skinner unfastened the leash and went to the cabinet to hang it up. Mulder stood uncertainly by the door, wondering what he should do now.

"Well, Fox," Skinner said, turning back toward him. "Geoff tells me that you performed your duties well and didn't give him any trouble. I'm very pleased."

"Does this mean that you're not mad at me anymore?" Mulder asked hopefully. "Are we okay?"

Skinner smiled. "One of the unspoken rules in D/s is that once the punishment is over, the matter is closed. You made a mistake, you paid the price, and the subject will never be brought up again."

Mulder sighed in relief. "I like that rule."

"There's another one that you'll like even better," Skinner said, and the silky seductiveness in his voice made Mulder shiver. "And that rule is that good behavior is rewarded appropriately."

Mulder's eyes lit up and he moved closer to Skinner. "And just what kind of reward would that be, sir?"

"That could depend," Skinner said, softly kissing Mulder. "On how inspired I get."

"Oh, I think I can inspire you, Walter," Mulder said, returning the kiss as he slid his arms around Skinner's waist. "I've been doing a little reading…"

Chapter Text

People in this world can be blind and so demanding
Show so little understanding.
And in these desperate times seems like everything's deceivin'

There ain't much you can believe in.
Let me be the one you come to

Show you one thing trust is always here

Let me be your cover, whenever darkness falls

I'll be there, I'll be there.

 

Krycek had been surveying his targets for the past eight weeks, noting their patterns and their habits. When Skinner left the room alone, in sweats, he knew how long he had. He used an altered access card to enter the room and looked around carefully. Mulder lay sprawled on his back on the bed, his lean, naked body outlined by a sheet twisted around his middle. Sound asleep, he managed to look both innocent and debauched, and Krycek had to fight down a spurt of anger. That wouldn't help. He needed to be cool, calm, and focused on his goal.

He saw with satisfaction that Mulder was wearing wrist and ankle cuffs and carefully set about attaching them to the rings on the bed. Mulder stirred briefly, muttering in his sleep, and Krycek froze until the other man drifted back to sleep. He was on the last ankle cuff when he felt Mulder stir again.

"God, Walter, you're a mink," Mulder groaned. "I'm exhausted - I need to get some sleep."

Anger and jealousy flared again, making Krycek rough with the last buckle.

"Hey!" Mulder protested, his eyes opening reluctantly. He saw Krycek standing at the foot of the bed and his breath caught, his eyes widening in shock.

"Surprise."

Mulder struggled against the bindings. "Krycek! What the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Paying a little social call - oh, too bad, you seem to be all tied up."

"Krycek, if you lay a hand on me, I swear I'll kill you!"

"Relax, Mulder," Krycek said with a smirk as he sat on the bed beside the furious captive. "I don't have any designs on your virtue." He watched Mulder struggle for a moment. "Although I may get ideas if you continue doing that."

Mulder stopped and glared at Krycek. "What in hell is this about, Ratbastard?"

"Actually, I'm here to do you a service."

"No, thanks."

"Get your mind out of the gutter, Mulder. I haven't got time for that today. Skinner will be back in an hour. Although," he said, casting an appreciative glance down his captive's body, "I could be persuaded to come back another time."

Mulder glared. "Not in this lifetime, Krycek."

Krycek shrugged. "Your loss."

"So you want to get to the real purpose for this visit? Not that I'm not enjoying this witty repartee…"

"Good to see that expensive education didn't go to waste."

"Krycek, so help me - " Mulder pulled against the cuffs.

"You ever hear that patience is a virtue? As I recall, that's one of our mutual friend's favorite sayings."

Mulder went completely still. "What is this about?" he asked, his voice deadly quiet.

Krycek repressed a shudder at that flat, murderous tone but also smiled inwardly. Bingo - Mulder's weak spot. "I've got something to tell you."

"And you couldn't just pick up a phone? Drop me a letter?"

"I needed to tell you face-to-face. The restraints are to keep you from hitting me while I talk."

"So I'm listening."

"You've been set up, Mulder. Hell, we both were. My - patron has arranged all this." He gestured around him. "When I met you at the other club, when the smoking bastard was alerted - it was all planned. Then he let Skinner know so that he'd show up here - "

"No," Mulder said sharply. "I heard the tape of that conversation. He was just as surprised as I was - "

"Oh, come on, Mulder. You know how convincing an actor he can be - remember that cover-up?"

Mulder shook his head. "No. He didn't know - "

"And it was just coincidence that he was a member here? Please - I know you're not that dumb."

"I'm not so dumb that I'd believe you over Walter."

"Really? I'd be willing to bet he never told you about us."

"You'd lose, Ratboy." The voice was quiet and steady. "Walter told me that he brought you here."

Damn, thought Krycek. He had counted on Skinner's reticence, thought Mulder would be shocked and hurt by this knowledge. He thought quickly.

"And did he tell you what he did to me here?"

"Not interested, Krycek."

"You're a bright boy, Mulder. I'll bet you know all about escalation. Well, I didn't. Believe it or not, I was pretty naïve back then." Krycek turned slightly, pretending to stare pensively at the wall.

"You were never naïve. You were born a lying bastard."

Krycek ignored him, warming to his story. "It started so innocently. Dominance games, fantastic sex, an occasional swat on the ass. Then the belts and the whips - "

"Shut up, damn you!"

Krycek risked a sideways glance at Mulder, and saw that the other man was furious, pulling at the wrist restraints. He frowned slightly - this was not quite the effect he had wanted. He needed a slight shift of focus.

"And you wonder why I took it, why I let him do that to me?"

Krycek looked away from Mulder briefly to hide a reminiscent smile: damn but those had been hot scenes. No one had ever handled him with that combination of authority and caring before or since. He had loved how he could push Skinner into darker games and how Skinner always pulled him back from the edge. It had hurt like hell when Skinner had suggested that they end their encounters. His mouth tightened at that memory.

"I guess it was because I was used to it. My father used to beat me, you know." He glanced over at Mulder and saw with satisfaction that Mulder had gone still again. "The old man used to haul off and hit me for no reason when I was growing up, beat me black and blue sometimes. Skinner reminded me of him, I suppose."

Another glance at Mulder and he saw that the man was white around the mouth. A little too close to home, Mulder? he thought, and decided it was time to stir Mulder's temper again. "So is that the attraction, Mulder?" he said mockingly. "Reminds you of Daddy?"

"Shut up, Krycek."

Almost a whisper, and he saw that Mulder's eyes were squeezed shut. Whoops, he thought a little uneasily. Maybe I went too far that time. Gently, he said, "I just wanted you to know the truth."

"You wouldn't know the truth if it hit you in the face, Ratbastard. Which, incidentally, I would love to be doing right now."

He smiled a little; that was the old Mulder he knew and loved. He leaned over and unbuckled one wrist, moving quickly out of reach. "I'm leaving now. With one hand undone you'll be able to get the rest." He grinned mockingly at Mulder. "Wouldn't want the old man to get suspicious, now would we? No telling what he might think - or do."

He heard Mulder's voice cursing at him as he slipped out the door with a smile.


The Assistant Secretary entered the Secretary's private suite and Sean looked up from where he lay on the couch. "Mr. Matthews, one of the young men on your Watch list just left these at the desk."

Sean sat up and stretched out a hand. "Which one?"

"Mr. Mulder."

Sean looked at the envelopes in his hand. One was addressed to "Walter Skinner" and the other to "Dionysus Club Management". He tore open the second one and a gold bracelet fell out. The enclosed letter politely asked to be removed from the membership book.

"Damn!" he muttered. "What can have happened?"

Mason entered at that moment. "Sean, we had an unauthorized card access -"

Sean closed his eyes. "Let me guess - Mr. Skinner's suite?"

"How'd you know?"

In reply, Sean held up the envelopes. "Okay," he said, thinking fast. He turned to the Assistant Secretary. "Find Mr. Skinner and tell him Mr. Mulder was called away on an emergency. Remember - calm, reassuring words. Get all the access codes changed as well. I'm going to go talk to Mulder."


Mulder had driven around aimlessly for an hour before going home. Slowly he walked down the hallway, then froze when he caught a glimpse of a small, red-haired figure in the shadows by his door. He sighed; he didn't think he could deal with Scully now.

The figure came out of the shadows. "Hey, Mulder."

"Sean?"

"Yeah. I was in the area and thought I'd drop by."

"And how did you know where I live?"

Sean grinned. "I'll tell you, mate - inside."

Mulder sighed and unlocked the door, ushering Sean in. "Now do you want to explain what's going on here?"

"This." Sean pulled out the two envelopes.

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "Those are private - "

Sean held up the second one and the bracelet. "This one is addressed to me. What's going on, Mulder? Last week you seemed to be fine with all this - you were even relaxing about the B&D stuff. So what happened?"

Mulder was still stunned by Sean's revelation. "You're the management?"

Sean grinned. "You think just because I like being submissive in bed that I can't use my brain?"

"Um - "

"Outsider thinking, Mulder. You should know better by now." Sean sat down in a chair and made himself comfortable. "Want to hear a story?"

Mulder shrugged. "Sure."

Sean waited while Mulder settled on the couch. "Once upon a time - "

"A fairy tale?"

Sean grinned. "It's appropriate. Anyway, there was a wealthy Australian businessman who married late in life and had one child, a son, heir to his kingdom. Imagine his shock one day when he found his teenaged heir in bed with another boy. So he decided to send his son to University in America, Land of John Wayne and other Manly Men, away from Bad Influences. Got him into the best schools." He paused and grinned. "Know how many gay and leather bars there are in Boston?"

Mulder snorted. "I grew up on the Vineyard."

"Homeboy!" Sean said, delighted. "Anyway, I got into the leather scene, which really narked Dear Old Dad. But, like I said, he loved me and so he decided to make sure that I had safe playmates. Some kids get a car for graduation - I got this place."

"He bought you the club?"

Sean laughed. "He bought the property, got together a Board of Directors from influential friends, but I made this Club. I am my father's son."

"Does anyone else know?"

"Geoffrey, of course, and the senior staff."

"You mean you're Geoff's boss? And you let him beat you the other week?"

"Let him? Mulder, I'm the bottom and he's the top, and that's part of the dynamic of our relationship. He whipped me because I broke the rules."

"Broke - damn it, Sean, you own the place! You should be able to access guests' rooms!" Mulder was getting angry, remembering his own guilt feelings in getting Sean into trouble and the penance that he had performed.

"I may own the place but Geoff runs it. And just because I can doesn't mean I should. I knew better. I should have talked you out of it. I didn't and that's why I got punished."

"So none of the other subs know about this?"

"No." There was a warning note in his voice. "I can't help unless the others think I'm just 'one of the boys'."

"Help what?"

"Other subs. Over the years, I've done just about everything, good and bad, and made every mistake. A couple years back I got into a mess and Geoff pulled me out of it, kept me sane, got me help. So I decided that I would do the same for others. I keep a lookout for new subs, and for those in trouble, like you. Try to give them a hand, advice, or just a sympathetic ear. And you look like you could use that right now." He held up the bracelet again. "So - you want to talk? Or do you want to walk out on the best thing that ever happened in your life?"

Mulder looked up and then away. "I don't think you'd understand."

"Does it have anything to do with an unauthorized entry to your suite?" Mulder looked up, startled. "Did someone hurt you, Mulder?"

Mulder sighed. "An acquaintance of mine paid me a visit. He tied me up and said he had something to tell me."

"Some friends you have, Mulder."

"I didn't say he was a friend." Mulder looked down at his hands. "He implied that - that I am looking for a daddy-substitute in Walter to make up for my childhood."

Sean shrugged. "So?"

"Isn't there something - wrong with that?"

"Hell, Mulder, that's a common dynamic in lots of gay relationships. Particularly when the 'son' in the relationship comes from a dysfunctional family. Even people in 'normal' het relationships are often looking for elements missing from their childhood." He paused, looking at Mulder. "Have you talked to Walter about this? About your childhood?"

Mulder shook his head. "He wouldn't understand…"

"I think you're underestimating him. In any case, he deserves more than this." Sean held up the envelope. "This is a coward's way out, and you are not a coward." Mulder snorted. "Cowards never walk back through the Club doorway a second time." Sean pulled out his cell phone. "Geoff? Is Mr. Skinner still there? Good. Don't let him leave - I don't care what you have to do: talk to him, sit on him, whatever it takes. We're on our way." He stood up. "Coming, Mulder?"

Mulder sighed and stood up. "You're awfully pushy for a sub."

Sean grinned. "Ain't I, though? Make Geoff's life hell, although I do make it up to him in other ways." Mulder flushed and Sean laughed. "Mulder, you are such an innocent. Come on - let's get out of here."


Sean knocked on the suite door and the Secretary opened it. Mulder looked past him to Skinner who looked surprised.

"Mulder! Are you okay? I heard there was an emergency."

Mulder looked at the Secretary, puzzled.

"Walter, we told you that to give Sean time to talk with Mr. Mulder. I think he's got something to talk with you about." Mason exchanged a look with Sean who nodded and they slipped out the door.

Skinner looked puzzled but went to Mulder and gently touched his cheek. "What is it, Fox?"

Mulder took a deep breath and let it out. "I've got some things to tell you, and I need you to listen. And you'll probably want to sit down."

"Are you in trouble, Fox?"

Mulder shook his head. "It's nothing like that, Walter. Please - sit down."

Skinner sat down on the couch and waited. Mulder took another deep breath, sat down at the other end of the couch. He pulled the envelopes and bracelet out of his pocket and laid them on the couch between them. Skinner looked down at the items, then back up at Mulder's face, startled.

"You…want to break the contract?"

"No, but I started to," Mulder said softly. "When I've finished talking, you may want to end this."

"I can't imagine anything that would make me want to end this - unless you no longer needed it." He reached out and picked up the bracelet. "A couple hours ago you seemed to be fine. What happened?"

"Krycek broke into the room after you left and tied me up."

Skinner's eyes blazed. "I'll kill that bastard - "

"He didn't hurt me," Mulder said quickly. "He just wanted to talk."

"A hell of a way to hold a conversation, but then we're talking about Krycek. What did he want to talk about?"

Mulder sighed. "He - I think he wanted to break us up. He tried to tell me that you were involved in the setup to get me here."

"And you believed Krycek?"

"No, of course not," Mulder said impatiently. "I know you better than that."

"So what else did he say?"

"He tried to convince me that you were an escalating sadist," Mulder said with a sigh. "Then - then he suggested that I'm using you as a father-substitute to recreate my abusive childhood."

"Oh, shit," Skinner said, closing his eyes briefly and taking a breath. He opened his eyes and reached out to take Mulder's hand. "Fox, talk to me."

Mulder looked down at their joined hands. "Sean says that's a common dynamic in the gay B&D scene."

"He's right," Skinner said softly. "The Daddy-boy relationship is one variation, as is the master-slave scenario. There are some elements of that in the way we relate, but I think our dynamics are pretty unique."

Mulder drew a shaky breath. "Walter - I - "

"Come here," Skinner said softly, holding open his arms. Mulder slid across the couch and buried his face against Skinner's chest. Skinner folded his arms around Mulder. "It's okay, Fox. I'm here. And I'm not going to let you go."

"I did have a shitty childhood," Mulder muttered.

"I know, babe. Want to talk about it?"

"I - don't know if I can - "

Skinner stroked the soft, dark hair gently. "Just take your time. We’re not going anywhere." Skinner shifted a little so that Mulder was cradled comfortably along his body. For a long time he sat there, just stroking his hair and murmuring soft and reassuring nonsense words, until he felt Mulder relax.

Mulder lay with his eyes closed, listening to the steady heartbeat under his head. It was soothing and as solid as the warm arms around him. "We were okay until Sam - " He swallowed. "We weren't the Waltons, but we were okay. Then - afterward - they stopped talking. To each other. To me. Meals were a nightmare - guess that's why I have food issues now. Mom - was in her own world. And Dad - he was hardly at home, and when he was he didn't seem to know I was there." He was quiet and Skinner gently rubbed his back. "Sometimes I would act up to get his attention, you know?"

Skinner smiled. "I know." He had borne the brunt of Mulder's attention-getting behavior for years. "What did he do, Mulder?"

"He would yell at me. And sometimes hit me."

"Yell, or verbally abuse you?"

Mulder was silent but Skinner could feel hot tears soak through his shirt. He continued stroking Mulder's back, waiting patiently for Mulder to continue. After long moment, Mulder cleared his throat and rubbed at his eyes. "Sorry."

"Nothing to apologize for," Skinner said gently. "What did he say to you, Fox?"

It came out in staggered sentences, in a voice raw with emotion. "He said that Samantha was gone because of me. And I - I couldn't remember what had really happened. He said I was a weakling - a cock-sucking faggot."

"God, Fox - "

"Well, he was right about me being gay. Maybe - maybe he was right about the rest…" The voice trailed off, the thin body shaking again.

"Easy, Fox. Slow breaths." When Mulder had relaxed again, he said softly, "Mulder, you're a psychologist - surely you don't believe that?"

"I don't know what I believe."

"You were a child, Mulder, a twelve year old boy. You couldn't have stopped them - whoever they were - from taking your sister if you were the Arnold Schwartzenager of pre-teens." A shaky laugh from Mulder encouraged him. "Did your father drink, Mulder? Did he say these things when he was drunk?"

"In vino veritas - "

"Bullshit," Skinner said succinctly. "I've found most people use that as an excuse to say whatever they want without the polite veneer of manners. Your father had his own problems. He shouldn't have taken them out on you. And it doesn't matter if you are gay, straight, bisexual, whatever - you are a worthwhile person."

Mulder grinned despite himself. "Whatever?"

"Yeah, I'm not sure if aliens have genders or not."

He snickered. "You think I'm doin' it with aliens?"

"Well, if you are it had better be safe sex." He put in the little growl that he knew Mulder loved.

Mulder broke into outright laughter, a sound that delighted Skinner. "You're nuts, Walter. Did you know that?"

"Close association with you, obviously." He stretched his legs a little. "You're putting my legs to sleep, babe. Let's stretch out on the bed and I'll hold you."

Mulder slipped off his lap. "I'm not, you know."

"Not what?"

"Having sex with aliens. Or anyone else for that matter, safe or otherwise. Just you."

Skinner grinned. "I know. Bed, Mulder."

Mulder crawled into the bed and snuggled up next to Skinner. He remembered his worry the previous weekend that the top might look for a less troublesome sub and looked at Skinner anxiously. "You don't want any other subs, do you?"

Skinner looked amused. "I can hardly handle the one I've got now." Skinner kissed Mulder's forehead gently. "No, babe. I've got no one else in mind - not here and not in real life."

Mulder tilted his head up to return the kiss on Skinner's lips, then snuggled back down into Skinner's shoulder and fell asleep with the ease of a child. And as Skinner watched Mulder drift into sleep he felt that phantom kiss on his lips like a promise or a dream.


There was a soft knock on the door and Skinner slid out of the bed to answer it.

"Hi," Sean said softly. "How is he?"

"Sleeping." Skinner stepped back slightly so Sean could slip into the room. "Thanks for your help."

Sean shrugged. "No worries, mate. We subs have to stick together, right? Speaking of which - " He held up a cardkey. "Key to his - um - friend's room. I'll need it back before Geoff notices it's missing."

"How did you - "

Sean grinned. "Just do me a favor - don't kill him. And don't tell Geoff. I don't need that kind of trouble again."

Skinner nodded, then glanced hesitantly at Mulder. "I don't want to leave him alone - not after what happened last time."

Sean nodded. "I'll watch him. Go on."


Krycek looked up at the sound of the cardkey in the lock. Shit - the old gentleman was back a day early. He pulled his shirt back off and, while temporarily blinded, found himself slammed against a wall.

"You!"

"Surprise." Skinner's eyes were cold and hard, and Krycek felt a hollow sensation in his stomach.

"What - what are you doing here?"

"Paying a little social call on you. Be thankful that I don't tie you up and leave you till your owner gets back to deal with you."

"How - "

Skinner smiled grimly at him. "Tell me, do you like driving him to the edge of a breakdown, or is that just an additional benefit of your little mind-fucks?"

"What are you talking about?"

"Mulder. The man who practically cried himself to sleep in my arms." He saw the tightening of Krycek's mouth at that and leaned closer. "I take it that the cracks about his father were shots in the dark just trying to break us up but, as usual, you shoot straight. Well, it didn't work, Krycek. He's still with me, so you gave him some additional trauma for nothing." He tightened his hold on Krycek. "I'd like to beat the hell out of you but you'd like it too much, so I won't."

Krycek snorted. "That wasn't funny the first time I heard it and your delivery didn't improve it."

Skinner pressed him harder into the wall. "I know all your games, Krycek. And I know that you can't stand the thought of Mulder and me together. But tell me - who are you the most jealous of: me - or Mulder?"

Krycek's eyes blazed at him. "You wish. I think you're losing your touch, old man. You couldn't even get Mulder into your bed on your own. You got him through a cheat, through this game."

"And it must be killing you to know that you're the one who brought him to this club, the one who pushed him into my bed," Skinner growled. He leaned closer to Krycek, their faces inches apart, and said in hard, quiet voice with an edge of mockery, "So, in gratitude for what you have accidentally brought to my life, I'm going to let you live. Live a long, long time, Krycek and watch what you can never have."

Krycek ground his teeth together, hatred burning in his eyes. "Damn you to hell, Skinner! I intend to live long enough to see you walk out on him. And then I'll kill you for it."

Skinner pushed back slightly and studied the other man's face, his anger receding. "Is that what this is about? I didn't walk out on you - we didn't have a contract. I broke it off because our games had gotten dangerous."

"I wasn't complaining. And you liked it, too, despite what you say now."

"It might have still been 'consensual', but it had gone way past 'safe' and 'sane'." In a gentler voice, he said, "I'm never walking out on Mulder. I've given him a collar." Krycek looked up sharply at the words and the soft tone, and saw the same gentle expression on Skinner's face that he had seen years before when Skinner had ended it. "I may not have handled our situation well, but Alex, give him a break. Let him be happy."

Krycek looked away, biting his lip to keep back sudden tears. He was barely aware that Skinner had released him, but the sound of the door closing behind Skinner was as loud as thunder in his ears. And, as he slid down the wall to the floor, he felt hot, painful tears run down his face.

Chapter Text

Baby, you're the last thing that I had planned
Got me livin' in the palm of your hand

The more I have of you the less I understand

How you give me so much
And I just never get enough

Can't get close enough.

 

Skinner caressed the sleek back under his hand gently, reveling in the delicious afterglow of good sex. Mulder's body was half-splayed across his and he enjoyed the warm heaviness of the man. Mulder's eyes were half-opened and there was a smile on his face, and it was an incredible ego boost to know he had put that smile there. And it occurred to Skinner again that, although he knew all of Mulder's erogenous areas and every button to push to drive him towards climax, he knew little of the man inside. Skinner took a deep breath and plunged into the topic that had been on his mind all week.

"Fox, what are you doing on Thanksgiving?"

Mulder shrugged. "Sleeping in. Watching some games."

"Not spending it with your mother?"

"We don't do holidays." The tone was brusque, firmly closing off that subject. After hearing about Mulder's childhood from the young man on the previous day, Skinner was not surprised.

"I usually go to my brother's house, but they're expecting their second child any day and I've got a meeting with the Director on Wednesday. I hate traveling on holidays, so I'm staying here." He took another breath. "You want to spend it with me? Thanksgiving, I mean."

Mulder opened his eyes fully and tilted his head back to get a good look at Skinner's face. "You want to spend Thanksgiving here?"

"No. My place. You could come over mid-day; we could watch the games together. I'll cook dinner."

"You cook?"

"Mulder, you wound me! I'm actually a good cook."

"Guess I should have figured that out, as obsessed as you are with filling my stomach."

Skinner looked at him provocatively. "That's not all I'm obsessed with filling." He noticed that Mulder hadn't replied to the invitation and said gently, "No pressure, Fox. No Dom/sub games. Just two friends enjoying a couple of games together."

Mulder closed his eyes to hide how much he wanted to accept the invitation, how much he needed to be with Skinner. This is not a relationship, he told himself firmly.

"Okay," he said finally. "I'll bring the beer."

"Sounds good. Now, about those areas of you that I am obsessed with filling…"


Mulder pressed on the buzzer, feeling a little nervous like the first time he had gone to pick up his date at her parent's house. Skinner opened the door with a smile, stood back for him to enter, and delicious scents wafted into the hallway.

"Mmm. Smells good."

"Told you I could cook."

Mulder held up the bag. "Beer?"

"Fridge." Skinner pointed the way, and Mulder managed to find some room for the bottles. "Hey, no sampling before dinner!" he admonished as Mulder peered at the other contents of the fridge.

"So when do we eat?"

"An hour. Sound good to you?"

Mulder nodded agreement and Skinner led the way to the living room, turning on the TV. Mulder whistled. "Large screen? I know where I'm watching the Superbowl."

Skinner snorted and tossed him the remote. "Find the channel while I make sure everything is okay in here."

Mulder located the pre-game show and settled into a corner of the couch, and Skinner joined him shortly. They argued companionably about the teams playing, which carried them into a wider discussion of their favorite teams, and that took them into the sports they had played in high school. Then it was time to eat. Skinner had decided that they were going to be casual and so they loaded their plates and carried them in on trays.

At the start of the second game, Mulder got up to fetch them each a beer and stretched out on his end of the couch after pulling off his shoes. Skinner decided that looked comfortable and did the same, their long legs resting companionably alongside each other. The second game was dull and, made sleepy by beer and full stomachs, they drifted off to sleep.

Skinner woke to a darkened room and the pleasant warmth of Mulder's legs against his. He reluctantly eased himself off the couch to relieve himself and turn on some lights. Mulder stirred at that, blinking his eyes, then headed off to the bathroom with a sigh.

"Pie?" Skinner called out to him from the kitchen when he returned and Mulder detoured into the kitchen.

"You made pie?"

"Pumpkin."

"You are so domestic, Walter," Mulder teased. "You'll make someone a great little wife someday."

"Smart-ass," Skinner snorted. "I was going to offer you whipped cream for that pie, but now I'm having second thoughts."

"Well, there are so many better uses for whipped cream."

Skinner turned and cocked his head sideways, smiling slowly. "Are you making a pass at me, Mulder?"

Mulder snorted. "After all that we've done over the past three months, now you're getting coy?"

Skinner's eyes held Mulder's as he said, softly, "That's a game. Anything here is real life, between equals, no subs and Doms. Do you want that? And can you deal with it?"

Mulder's eyes were green and hot and he closed the distance between them. "Yes." Then he was pulling Skinner into his arms, kissing him hungrily, taking the lead and Skinner thought that he would go out of his mind from the sheer headiness of Mulder's kisses. Mulder was tugging off his clothes, caressing his skin, and Skinner was equally determined to strip the younger man.

He broke free from Mulder's mouth. "Couch," he gasped. "Bedroom's too far."

"Lube in my jacket," Mulder said, groaning as Skinner's hands caressed his exposed skin.

Skinner grinned at that. "Were you planning this, Mulder?"

"Be prepared is my motto."

"You were never a Boy Scout."

They collapsed on the couch, Mulder on top of him caressing him with hands and mouth as if it had been four months instead of four days since they had last made love. Although, Skinner admitted, the events over the last three weekends had allowed them little time together - and certainly less sex than they had become accustomed to during the past three months.

"God, Mulder," he groaned. "I want you so badly."

Mulder slid down his body, straddling his legs as he rolled a condom on Skinner and slicked him then carefully prepared himself. Skinner watched, fascinated as always by Mulder's abandonment to the hedonistic pleasure of sex. Then Mulder was lowering himself onto Skinner's cock and it felt so good, so right. He took Mulder's cock in his hand, stroking him in sync with Mulder's slow movements. Mulder groaned and increased his rhythmic riding, and Skinner heard himself moaning and encouraging Mulder to move faster. Then he was exploding and Mulder was coming hard, too, before he collapsed weakly across Skinner's chest.

"Let me catch my breath - "

Skinner wrapped both arms around his lover and kissed the top of his head. "You're fine right here," he said.

"I'm too heavy - "

"I'm a big, tough, ex-Marine, remember? I think I can manage your weight."

Mulder chuckled, willingly resting his cheek against Skinner's shoulder. "Bet you were never in this situation back then."

"I refuse to discuss my past sex life on a first date."

Mulder laughed helplessly and Skinner grinned at the sensation of Mulder's body shaking in mirth against his. "You know you're crazy?" Mulder asked him when he could talk again.

"Wouldn't be the least bit surprised," Skinner said tranquilly. "I know that I'm crazy about you."

Mulder went still, and Skinner wondered if he had moved too fast. Was it too soon to tell Mulder that he loved him?

"Did you just say what I think you said?"

"If what you think I said was that I love you then, yeah, I did."

"Jesus, Walter," Mulder breathed. "Isn't that sort of breaking the rules - falling in love with your sub?"

"You're not my sub here, remember? And there's nothing in any rules against love," Skinner said softly, gently caressing Mulder's hair. He felt hot tears against his chest and his throat contracted. "Hey, what are those for? This is supposed to be a Kodak moment."

Mulder raised his head and gave him a crooked smile. "Yeah, well, I cry at those, too."

"Sap," said Skinner affectionately, and kissed him. He glanced over at the TV, which was still on. "Well, we missed most of this game, too. Why don't we get a shower and go to bed?"

"Sounds good to me." Mulder hauled himself off the couch and started up the stairs while Skinner shut down and locked up.

It wasn't till he was heading up the stairs himself that he realized Mulder hadn't said "I love you" in return.


Mulder was already in the shower when Skinner arrived upstairs and he joined the younger man, relieved at the welcoming smile. He had been half-afraid that Mulder would retreat into himself or even leave following Skinner's declaration. Instead, Mulder gave Skinner a soft kiss and began soaping him down. Skinner wrestled him good-naturedly for the soap, pinning Mulder to the wall to be thoroughly kissed. He felt rather than heard Mulder's laughter and released his lover's mouth to smile at him.

"What?"

"You're so butch," Mulder teased, then snatched the soap from Skinner's lax hand and ducked under his arm, retreating to the far end of the shower.

Skinner pursued and they wrestled playfully again, wet bodies sliding against one other. Increasing heat and their mouths sought each other, kisses deepening until they were breathlessly clinging together. As the water turned cold, they moved into the bedroom, barely stopping long enough to dry off before falling into the bed together. Once again, Skinner allowed Mulder to take the lead, consciously wanting this to be different from their "game" encounters. Mulder licked and kissed his way down Skinner's body, attacking first the nipples and then nipping along the taut stomach and down the thighs. He licked his way back up the thighs, then took Skinner's cock into his mouth and sucked hard.

Skinner gasped and pulled his lover back up to kiss him, murmuring in his ear, "I want you in me."

Mulder pulled back a little, staring at him in consternation. "Walter, I've never done that."

"I know, but I'm not inexperienced. I'll guide you."

"I don't want to hurt you."

"You won't. I trust you."

Mulder swallowed hard, apprehensive but growing more eager at the thought of being inside Skinner. He nodded. Skinner pulled away to rummage in the nightstand and brought out lube and condoms. The halt in love play and the surprise had lessened Mulder's erection and Skinner stroked him till he was hard again, then rolled on a condom and applied lubricant to it. He took Mulder's hand in his and squeezed some lube into his palm.

"Now you prepare me." He pulled his knees to his chest to give Mulder access.

Mulder carefully inserted a lubricated finger, amazed at the feeling of muscles tightening and relaxing around his finger. Slowly he stroked in and out, trying to duplicate the things that Skinner did to prepare and arouse him.

"Oh, yeah, babe," Skinner groaned. "That's great. You can add another finger."

Mulder did so, fascinated by the sight of his normally in-control lover writhing under his hands. This is how I look to him, he thought in amazement, this is what he sees when he does me.

"How do I - " He wriggled his fingers, trying to find the gland inside. Skinner reached down and grasped his wrist, turning his hand, and Mulder flexed his fingers, brushing against the prostate.

Skinner arched up against him. "Jesus!"

Mulder grinned, delighted to have provoked such a response. "Getting religion, Walter?"

"Smart-ass," Skinner growled. "God, Mulder, I need you in me. Now."

Mulder removed his fingers and gently pressed his cock against the opening. There was a slight pop as the head penetrated and then he was sliding fully in.

"Oh God, Walter," he groaned. "You feel incredible."

Skinner leaned up to kiss him, slowly and lovingly. "That's how you feel every time to me," he said, his voice low and soft and thick with passion.

Mulder began thrusting slowly, both men moaning from the sensation. Skinner grasped his own cock and stroked it, realizing that Mulder was too caught up in the new sensations to be able to focus on anyone else. He wrapped his legs around Mulder's waist, pulling him closer and Mulder groaned.

"God, Walter, you are so hot."

Skinner pulled his head back down and kissed him again. "You are beautiful. And I'm not made of glass - you can fuck me harder."

Mulder grinned down at him, heady from the delicious sensations coursing through his body, and increased his thrusting slightly. "I recall someone telling me that slow was good. And that patience was a virtue."

"I predict that someone is asking for a butt-warming."

"And I thought you said you weren't into that."

"I never said I was opposed to warming my lover's ass when severely provoked," Skinner growled. God, Mulder could be so irritating when he was in this teasing mood, and he was so close to the edge…

Mulder laughed and stopped moving, just barely inside Skinner. "God, you just compartmentalize everything, don't you? Have you ever seriously thought that you might have Multiple Personality Disorder? Maybe I should reconsider this whole relationship thing. One of those personalities could be an ax-wielding serial killer."

"Not a chance," Skinner said, grinding his teeth in frustration. "Axes are so messy. I much prefer to strangle my victims in their sleep. Particularly lovers who deliberately drive me crazy." He contracted his leg muscles, slamming Mulder into him hard, and growled, "Fuck me, Kitten."

Mulder glared at him. "Don't. Call. Me. That." He punctuated each word with a hard thrust. The rough movement pushed Skinner over the edge and he was suddenly coming. Mulder yelped as the interior muscles contracted and his eyes widened, then he was slamming into Skinner again and coming hard.

Mulder shakily slid out of Skinner and collapsed on his back next to him. "Jesus Fucking Christ. Why didn't you tell me about that?"

Skinner chuckled, a little breathlessly but amused at the awe in his lover's voice. "Why else do you think I like to be deep inside you when you come?" He rolled up on one elbow on his side, smiling down into his lover's face. "So what did you think?"

"You have to ask?" Mulder grinned and snaked a hand behind Skinner's head to pull him down for a deep kiss. "Still prefer you in me, but I wouldn't mind a repeat of that."

"Anytime."

"Anytime?"

"Well, anytime here. Equal opportunity to get laid."

They pulled up the covers and settled into their customary sleeping positions with Mulder's head on Skinner's shoulder and their arms wrapped around each other. Skinner felt his eyes drifting closed.

"Walter?"

"Mmm?"

"I love you, too."

Skinner smiled and turned his head to kiss Mulder's hair. "Good."

"'Night, Walter."

"'Night…Kitten."

Outraged, Mulder hit him with a pillow.


When Skinner woke in the morning, he was alone in the bed.

He swore under his breath, then closed his eyes and took a deep, calming breath. Okay, he knew that Mulder had a tendency to retreat from highly emotional situations. Give him space, approach him as if nothing was wrong -

Then he heard it - footsteps coming up the stairs. And, as the door opened, smelt the aroma of just-brewed coffee. Mulder came through the door dressed in jeans and T-shirt, coffee mug in one hand and an overnight bag in the other. He dropped the bag just inside the doorway and crossed to set the coffee mug on the nightstand.

"'Morning, sleepyhead," he said cheerfully.

Skinner pushed himself up in bed. "The Fox Mulder I know is never this cheerful in the morning. Who are you, and what have you done with the real Mulder."

Mulder grinned at him and tugged his T-shirt over his head as he toed off his shoes. "Oh, I think I can prove it's me to your satisfaction." He dropped his jeans.

"So why were you dressed in the first place?" Skinner asked, curiously.

"Had to fetch my bag from my car and I didn't think your neighbors would appreciate a naked man running through the building," Mulder said with a grin. He crawled in on his side of the bed and began nipping at Skinner's neck.

"Why didn't you bring it up with you yesterday?"

Mulder looked a little sheepish. "Didn't want to presume."

Skinner put his arms around Mulder and said softly, "Babe, feel free to presume anytime."

Mulder grinned again and crawled into his lap. "Mmm. I'd watch out if I were you. You never know what I might presume to do."

"I'm not worried. You go too far and I'll just trot out that serial killer personality."

"Ooh, Walter, you know what I like."


A long while later, Skinner lay drowsing sleepily after another round of lovemaking, enjoying the warmth of his lover's body next to him. He kissed the soft hair under his chin. "Got anything planned for the rest of the weekend?"

Mulder looked up at him, puzzled. "Just a hot date with my Dom."

"Mind if we blow that off and do something different?"

"What have you got in mind?"

"I have a cabin in the mountains. Great jogging trails, fireplace, very private. I'll make you pancakes or waffles for breakfast tomorrow morning."

"I don't think I have clothes for the mountains. All I brought was a change of underwear and socks." He grinned at Skinner. "I've found that extra clothes are a waste around you."

Skinner laughed and nuzzled Mulder's neck. "You can borrow some of my flannel shirts."

Mulder shrugged. "Okay. Sounds like fun."

Two hours later, Mulder got out of Skinner's car and looked around him appreciatively. The cabin was off a narrow gravel road, enclosed by woods. A short flight of stairs led to a wrap-around porch and the front door opened onto a large room with a fireplace. "Nice. Why don't you come here more often?"

Skinner shrugged. "Work. Troublesome sub." He looked a little wistful. "I always thought I'd bring my kids up here…"

Mulder wanted to ask but thought it was too personal. He followed Skinner inside, looking around at the rustic simplicity with interest, and put his bag in the bedroom. He bounced experimentally on the bed and grinned at Skinner. "This is nice, too." He stretched out and grinned at Skinner.

Skinner groaned. "Mulder, give me a break - I'm not a young man anymore. And if either one of us gets an erection in the next twelve hours it'll be a miracle. Help me get in the groceries."

After they unloaded the groceries Skinner asked, "What do you want to do now - other than the obvious?"

"Go for a walk."

Skinner nodded. "I know a nice place for a picnic. I'll pack a lunch."

After an hour's walk they reached a clearing beside a mountain stream and shrugged out of the packs. Mulder stretched out on the ground, staring up at the sky dreamily.

"This is beautiful."

Skinner sat down next to him, agreeing but thinking that the man before him was even more beautiful. Mulder looked up and caught Skinner's expression and grinned at him. "And you talk about my sex drive - do you think about anything else?"

"Food." Skinner grinned back at him, relishing the private joke. "Speaking of which…"

Mulder began to laugh. "You are going to make me as fat as a pig."

Skinner snorted. "Hardly. I'd settle for a little padding on those hips."

Mulder sighed in exaggeration and sat up to rummage in the backpacks for sandwiches and bottled water. Skinner watched with satisfaction as Mulder tucked into his sandwiches with obvious enjoyment. Mulder's stomach was always an accurate emotional barometer and he appeared to be okay with this new development in their relationship. Skinner knew that they would need to talk, to discuss all the ramifications of this new wrinkle, but for now he was content to enjoy the day and the man.

He picked up his own sandwiches and reclined on an elbow as he ate. "We've had this cabin for as long as I can remember. My father used to bring us up here - my brother and me. We'd sit here for hours fishing and talking about - everything. He had firm opinions but he was always willing to listen to our point of view and let us make up our own minds."

"Sounds like a good man," Mulder said quietly. "Like his son."

Skinner nodded. "He was. When I got back after 'Nam, I had a really hard time recovering. We spent a month up here, just the two of us. I don't know how he found the patience - I hardly said a word for the first week. Then he brought me out here one day, fishing, and he said, 'Son, if you keep all that bottled up inside you it's going to kill you and then they'll have won.' I started crying and talking - I don't think I stopped talking for three weeks."

"What did you talk about?" Mulder asked, curiously.

"Lots of things. The boy I killed. How scared I was. Dying and coming back. About my lover and his death in that ambush."

Mulder sat up. "You told your father that you were - that you had a male lover?"

"The word is 'gay', Mulder, and yes, I told my father about him. I told you - we talked about everything."

Mulder tried to imagine telling his father that he liked men - that he had a male lover - and shuddered at what the reaction would have been. "How did he take it?"

Skinner's eyes were unfocused as if he was staring into the past. "He listened without judging, offered me sympathy and understanding." He came back into the present, smiling at Mulder. "He would have liked you."

Mulder looked surprised. "You think so?" He turned his attention back to his sandwich, trying to absorb the idea of anyone's parent liking or even approving of him.

"He respected intelligence and passion, and admired those who sought the truth no matter the personal cost." Skinner stared out over the stream. "I miss him."

"How did he - "

"Massive heart attack six years ago. He died instantly."

"And your mother?"

"Still living in the old house, although my brother is trying to convince her to move near him and the grandkids." He sighed. "I don't get to see her as often as I'd like even though she just lives in Pennsylvania." He looked over at Mulder. "You don't see yours often either, do you?"

Mulder shrugged. "Matter of choice on both our parts."

"I thought you were closer than that. I remember when she was in the hospital - you were devastated."

"She's my mother," Mulder said quietly, then sighed. "When we're together we argue. Or rather, I argue and push, and she ignores or evades or slaps me…" He let his sentence hang, then smiled crookedly at Skinner, trying not to let the appalled look on his lover's face break him. "I told you that we weren't the Waltons." He stood up and walked over to the stream. "Bet this is cold, even in summer."

Skinner took the hint and dropped the subject - for now. "Straight from the mountains. It'd freeze your ass off."

"And it's such a nice ass."

"Isn't that my line?"

"Well, you weren't saying it so I thought I'd point that out."

"Come here, you."

Mulder dropped down on the ground next to Skinner, grinning impishly. "Why? Got something in mind?"

"Perhaps." Skinner pulled him closer for a kiss. "I thought we'd neck like horny teenagers."

Mulder snickered, dropping his forehead to Skinner's shoulder. "Heavy petting on the second date? What kind of guy do you think I am?"

"I know exactly what kind of guy you are." Skinner nipped at the exposed neck, enjoying the shiver that went through the body in his arms. "You are a sex slut."

"Said the pot." Mulder closed his eyes and tilted his head back to expose more throat while his hands pulled Skinner's shirt free from his pants and slid under to caress the warm skin, enjoying the feel of Skinner's hairier chest.

"Guilty as charged. Take me away, officer."

"Does that mean I get to use the cuffs on you?"

"The sound you're hearing is my hysterical laughter." Skinner unbuttoned Mulder's shirt to access more skin - actually, his own shirt that he had loaned to Mulder. The idea that Mulder was wearing his shirt suddenly filled him with an overwhelming sense of possession, and he captured Mulder's mouth again for a deep kiss.

"Jesus, Walter," Mulder panted when he could breathe again. "I thought we were just necking here."

"Yeah, well, I feel a miracle coming about." He pushed Mulder flat, licking his way down to Mulder's nipples and teasing the nubs.

"But I didn't bring anything…"

"Neither did I, and it's too cool for al fresco lovemaking."

"Wimp."

"Nope - just a hedonist." Skinner pushed himself to his feet and grinned down at his lover. Mulder was lying on his back, gasping for breath, flushed with desire and frustration, and Skinner thought he looked absolutely delicious.

"Bastard," Mulder said weakly. "You're driving me crazy."

Skinner laughed and reached down a hand to hoist Mulder to his feet. "Come on - it's an hour's walk back to the cabin. I'll let you take your revenge on me there." He picked up the packs and handed one to Mulder, then held out his hand. Mulder looked at it for a minute then slid his own hand into Skinner's. Skinner smiled and squeezed Mulder's hand gently. "Come on." Hand in hand, they walked slowly back to the cabin.


The sun was starting to set when they got back. Skinner lit a fire in the fireplace and they ate leftovers companionably stretched in front of it. Skinner hadn't bothered to turn on any lights and sat enjoying the way the light from the fire highlighted Mulder's skin. Mulder was lying on his stomach, head propped on his fist, staring into the flames.

"Penny for your thoughts."

Mulder turned his head slightly and smiled. "Hardly seems a fair rate, considering inflation." He rolled onto his side and gave Skinner the same absorbed attention that he had been giving the fire. "We're in a hell of a lot of trouble here; you know that, don't you?"

Skinner reached out to stroke a cheek slightly rough with stubble. "Even more than before?"

"As long as we kept it inside the Club, no one was going to bother us. Too many powerful people belong to it, people who have the ability to prevent scandals from coming out. We don't have that luxury in the real world."

Skinner nodded. "We'll have to be discreet."

"Well, forget assignations at my place," Mulder said with a grin. "With all the surveillance systems and bugs they've installed, I'm probably on the net by now."

"I'm not worried about that as much as I'm worried about you, and how you're handling this. You mentioned last night that I compartmentalize and you're right - I've been doing that for years. What about you? Can you keep work and this and the Club separate?"

"I've managed to keep work and the Club separate, so what's one more ball to juggle," Mulder said with a slight smile. "So we're still 'playing' at the Club? I still belong to you on weekends?"

"Oh, you belong to me, all right." Skinner's hand was soft as silk and strong as steel on the back of his neck, and his voice was smoky with control and desire as he turned Mulder's head to meet his eyes. "And not just on weekends." Then he released Mulder with a gentle shake. "As for the Club, we'll keep playing until you don't need it anymore."

Mulder was shaken to the core by the depth of passion in Skinner's eyes and voice, feeling an answering leap within himself. Part of him wanted to run screaming into the night, away from here, away from desire, back to the darkness and loneliness and safety of his apartment. Part of him wanted to surrender himself completely to his lover and sink into pure sensation. He drew a shaking breath, rolled onto his back, and closed his eyes. "I still need it," he said after a moment. "Thanks for understanding."

"No thanks necessary," Skinner said softly, leaning over to gently kiss Mulder's lips. "I love you. I want you to be happy. I want to make you happy."

Mulder pressed his lips against Skinner's in return. "Ditto."

"Ditto? That is so romantic, Fox."

"What's the matter - you never saw 'Ghost'?" He started crooning "Unchained Melody" and Skinner grinned.

"Don't give up your day job, Fox." He silenced his lover's outraged protest with his mouth and Mulder surrendered willingly to Skinner's skillful seduction.


Mulder woke up to the delicious smells of fresh coffee, sausage and pancakes. He rolled over in the bed, stretching luxuriously, then got up and slipped on his boxers and a T-shirt. Skinner looked up with a smile as he entered the kitchen.

"Morning, sleepy-head."

"Morning." Mulder slid his arms around Skinner's waist and dropped a kiss on the back of his neck. "Smells good."

"Pancakes, as promised, with your choice of syrup."

"I'm not particular." Mulder nuzzled Skinner's neck. "Actually, this is pretty tasty. Maybe I should just put syrup on you."

"Down, boy." Skinner swatted at Mulder's roving hands. "You've already had me once this morning."

"Yes, but not with syrup."

"Sit down and behave yourself."

Mulder laughed and released Skinner. "Geez, are you this grouchy with all your boyfriends or am I a special case?" He poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table.

"I don't kiss and tell." Skinner set a stack of pancakes in front of Mulder. "And you're always a special case."

Mulder smiled at him across the table, that rare and blinding smile that never failed to enslave him, and Walter Skinner forgot everything except his beautiful and complex lover. The weekend became a blur of images: walking along woodland trails, stopping to point out signs of wildlife to city-boy Mulder. Intense discussions about everything from politics to movies. Standing in the front yard, heads tilted back to look up at the stars while Mulder pointed out constellations. Lying in front of the fireplace, the light from the flames dancing off naked skin with the sound of breathless moans and pleas in his ears. Mischievous hazel eyes laughing at him across a table or from the other end of the couch. Hot eyes meeting his while an equally hot mouth sucked and teased him to climax. Delighted laughter in response to an unexpected joke. The soft sound of rain on the roof as they lay snuggled deep under the covers, a warm body wrapped around his, and the feel of another heart beating in time with his own.

It was still raining when they drove back to the city on Sunday evening. Mulder was quiet on the drive, looking out the window, and Skinner wondered what was going through his lover's mind.

"Penny for your thoughts."

Mulder turned his head and smiled, remembrance lighting up his somber face. "Inflation, remember? Thoughts must be up to a quarter at least."

"I'll splurge for a whole dollar's worth. You okay?"

"Yeah. I'm okay." Mulder looked down at his hands. "It's just - this has been wonderful, and I'm not looking forward to going back to the real world."

"It has been wonderful, but there'll be other weekends. Here and at the Club. Speaking of which, I want to put in an early claim for Christmas."

"You're not spending it with your family?"

"Not this year. I want to spend it with you."

Mulder felt his throat choke. "All right. I'll put you on my calendar."

"Do that," Skinner said in amusement. "In ink." He reached out to take Mulder's hand in his, running a thumb over the skin on the back of his hand. "Try not to worry or over-examine everything, Fox. It will be okay."

"Yeah." Mulder took a deep breath and smiled that dazzling smile that made Skinner's heart stop. "I think maybe you're right."

"Damn straight I am," Skinner said gruffly. He squeezed Mulder's hand again, released it, and turned onto the expressway toward the city.

Chapter Text

Time goes by and it grows stronger still
With a smile I surrender my will,

I'm on my knees
Passion's taken me so far across the line
All power of reason is no longer mine
I'm just waiting to please
What else can I do?

I'm forever wanting you.

 

Skinner opened the door to the suite and stopped still at the sight of Mulder sitting on the bed, fully dressed. He closed his eyes and sighed. Had last weekend been a mistake? They had spent a very enjoyable long weekend together, moved their relationship to a personal level, and he hadn't regretted a moment of it. Now, however, it appeared that Mulder was allowing their real life relationship to intrude here despite Mulder's insistence that he still needed to play their games. Or was something else up? He decided to give Mulder the benefit of the doubt.

"Fox? What's going on?"

Mulder's eyes met his evenly. "I would like to renegotiate our verbal agreement. I understand from the reading I've been doing that things like that are allowed when circumstances change."

Skinner sighed inwardly and set down his bag. He crossed to sit on the bed. "What is it that you want to change?"

"Sir, you've been entirely too easy on me."

Skinner blinked, speechless, and stared at Mulder. The younger man's face was stern. "I beg your pardon?"

Mulder nodded, obviously taking that as an apology, although it clearly hadn't been one. "That's all right. I understand that you have been concerned about my psychological health, given my family history. And you were right to be concerned. I don't think - " Mulder drew a deep breath. "No, I know I couldn't ask for this change if we hadn't developed a personal relationship outside of here."

Skinner studied him for a long moment. "Let's go downstairs and discuss this over dinner - on neutral turf, so to speak."

Mulder was relieved by Skinner's response and agreed. He hadn't been sure how Skinner would take the idea of changing the rules and was pleased by Skinner's willingness to at least listen to him. They went down to the dining room and, shortly after they were seated, Jean-Pierre emerged from the kitchen.

"Mr. Skinner! Mr. Mulder! It has been so long since you joined us for dinner - not since this little one's birthday, yes?" He patted Mulder's cheek affectionately. "You are still much too thin. This will not do. I shall create something special for you and you shall eat every bite, yes?" He beamed at them again and bustled off to the kitchen.

Skinner chuckled at Mulder's obvious embarrassment. "You have made a conquest, Fox. Should I be jealous?"

Mulder gave him a mock-glare. "It's all your fault and you know it. He's just as obsessed with my stomach as you are."

"I'm obsessed with more than your stomach," Skinner reminded him with a smile. "So - you want to change our agreement. What kind of changes do you have in mind?"

"Well, sir - "

"Just a minute, Fox," Skinner interrupted. "Don't call me 'sir' here. Negotiations are between equals, outside of the game."

Mulder nodded. "Walter. Like I said, I've been doing some reading and talking with Sean. I think I'm ready to get into deeper aspects, exploring my 'bottom space', so to speak. And I understand that playing heavier is more draining on the top, so I thought we could restructure our weekend commitment here to twice a month instead of every weekend. That would also give us a buffer for times when work interferes - and time outside of here for our personal relationship." He looked at Skinner anxiously. "What do you think, Walter?"

Skinner smiled at him across the table. "I think that this isn't the same man I negotiated with three months ago. And I'm impressed, Mulder; you've obviously given this a lot of thought. All right, I agree with what you've suggested so far. Now, what you do you mean by 'deeper aspects' and 'playing heavier'?"

"Heavier bondage. More submission. Light erotic pain. Breath control." He saw the frown on Skinner's face and said quickly, "I know that you said you weren't into pain and SM, but Sean says that you used to do it all. And I think I understand why you stopped. Something happened when you and Krycek were playing - and that's your business, Walter, and I'm not going to pry - "

"Breath control?" Skinner interrupted, and the angry look on his face made Mulder swallow hard. "Have you been playing with that on your own?" Mulder nodded slowly and Skinner glared at him. "Damn it, Mulder, do you know how many people die every year from erotic strangulation?"

"Walter - "

"I don't do 'edge play' at all. It isn't safe and it isn't allowed here." He reached across the table to grasp Mulder's face between his hands, forcing the young man to meet his eyes. "And, so help me, if I ever hear or find out that you've been playing with that after today, I will take a strap to you until you can't walk! And there will be nothing 'light' or 'erotic' about that pain! Do I make myself perfectly clear?"

Mulder's eyes were wide and he had to swallow again before he could talk. "Yes, sir."

Skinner drew a shaky breath and released him, then gently caressed Mulder's cheek. "Sorry. It's just - you scared me. I couldn't bear to lose you, Fox, and certainly not to something as stupid as that. I promise you that I can show you a lot more enjoyable ways to get off with a hell of a lot less risk. Promise me, Fox, because I am totally serious on this subject."

"I promise, Walter," Mulder said softly. "I give you my word that I won't try it."

"Thanks." Skinner pulled back his hand and picked up his wineglass, draining it. He took a steadying breath. "Now - about the other aspects. Heavier bondage, more submission - no problem. Light erotic pain - that's a vague area. What do you mean? Hot and cold play? Clamping? Light flagellation?" He looked amused at the surprised expression on Mulder's face. "Why the surprise? You think I got to be a Senior through correspondence courses? Ask Geoff if you've got any doubts about my abilities."

"No doubts," Mulder said, "just a little surprised to hear those phrases come from you. And, frankly, I wouldn't dare to ask Mason anything. He scares me to death."

"He should; he's about the best top in the country. He used to scare the hell out of me, too." He considered briefly for a minute. "Still could, if he wanted to."

Mulder propped his head on his hand and surveyed Skinner with a slight smile. "I find it hard to believe that anyone could scare you."

"Mulder, I hate to disillusion you, but I've been scared plenty," Skinner said with a rueful smile. "Geoff is really good at these games - and, by the way, he trained me."

Mulder grinned. "I thought I recognized that growl. So you were a submissive?"

"No, but I've been a bottom. There's a difference, believe it or not. When I was working my way up to Senior, Geoff took me under his wing, 'brought me along' as they say." He smiled a little in remembrance. "I'm afraid that I didn't make it easy for him, either. I had some - strong opinions."

"I can imagine. Tell me more."

"Oh, no - not at this point," Skinner said, laughing. "It would totally undermine my credibility with you. Suffice it to say that I learned a lot from him." Their dinners arrived, a seafood and pasta combination, and for a while they were absorbed in eating. "So how do you want to define 'light erotic pain'?"

Mulder considered this. "The areas that you mentioned seem acceptable. I'm not a - what did Sean call it - a 'pain slut', but I'm curious about the endorphin high they talk about." He looked over at Skinner. "Is that going to be problem for you, Walter?"

"No, I don't see any problems there." He met Mulder's eyes directly. "You want to know about Krycek, don't you?"

"Only if you want to talk about it."

Skinner sighed. "Krycek approached me about the same time that I became directly responsible for the X-Files. As far as I knew he was just a fresh kid out of the Academy who was already in the lifestyle. I used to wear a ring with the Club's symbol on it - very subtle, you'd have to know what you were looking for - and he recognized it. At the time I didn't question it although now I think Cancerman must have put him on me. I was flattered, he was the type that I was attracted to - tall, slender, and good-looking - so I agreed to take him to the Club and introduce him around. And we started playing together.

"It was a mistake. He was into the really heavy side and drew me into that. It was never enough, though; he always wanted more, and wanted it rougher. It seemed as if he wanted - something - but I couldn't figure him out. He liked to challenge me, would make each encounter a contest to see who was really in charge and, yeah, it was hot to beat him and put him in place. But afterward I would be exhausted and depressed and disgusted for letting myself be pushed that way."

"Top drop?"

"In spades. And I was going through the initial separation from Sharon, all the turmoil over the X-Files and then Scully's disappearance... I guess that's what eats at me when I look at him now. I had a chance to save him, and instead I cut off our liaison and stopped going to the Club. I heard he took up with dangerous players after that, like Cancerman and his friends." He sighed. "He hates me for that, you know - feels that I abandoned him and maybe I did."

"Walter, you can't blame yourself for Krycek."

"But I do," Skinner said frankly. "I had a responsibility as his top and I failed him." He looked up at Mulder, meeting his eyes firmly. "I won't ever abandon you, Fox. You can count on me."

"I know," Mulder said softly. "So - we have an agreement?"

"Yes. We have an agreement."

They concentrated on the food and small talk for a while then, over coffee and dessert, Skinner brought the subject back up again. "Fox, we won't be able to play heavy the whole time we're here. So what I propose is that we take Friday night to get into the D/s mindset, play the heavier scenes on Saturday, and take Sunday to decompress."

Mulder considered this. "Sounds reasonable. But how will we be able to differentiate between 'in scene' and 'out'?"

Skinner thought. "Well, when we're in scene space, you can call me 'Sir' exclusively, and I'll use a term like 'boy' or - "

"Don't say it!"

" - Kitten."

Mulder put his forehead down on the table, moaning, "I really hate that name."

Skinner grinned. "That's what makes it so much fun." He laughed as Mulder raised his hand and gave him a one-finger salute. "We'll save our personal names for 'out of scene', okay? That'll also help you recover if things get too intense."

Mulder lifted his head. "I like the idea of intense."

"Fox, your safe words are going to be even more important if we go deeper," Skinner warned. "Don't give me any of that macho - or masochistic - bullshit about being too tough or too proud to call a safe word, or I'll cancel this agreement and it will be vanilla sex only."

Mulder nodded seriously. "I understand." He reached across the table to touch Skinner's hand. "I know how tough this is for you, big guy," he said softly. "I appreciate your willingness to take me into it."

Skinner felt his throat tighten and he covered Mulder's hand with his other hand. "I love you, Fox. If you need this, then I'll be there for you all the way."

"What about you?" Mulder asked. "This can't be just about me, Walter. That's not fair. You need to be getting something out of this, too."

Skinner grinned. "What makes you think I'm not? Think about it - my most troublesome agent obeying my every command. It's a dream come true."

Mulder laughed. "Watch out or I'll become a SAM just to annoy you."

"I've got my ways of dealing with smart-ass masochists."

"Oooh, Walter, you're making me hot," Mulder teased. "Want to take me upstairs and show me some of those?"

"Mulder, just breathing makes you hot," Skinner teased back. "You are such a slut."

Mulder grinned. "Yeah, but I'm your slut, big guy." He lifted Skinner's hand to his mouth and began to gently suck his lover's fingertips, hot hazel-green eyes meeting deep brown with unmistakable invitation.

"Upstairs. Now." Skinner's voice was a low growl.

Mulder's eyes danced with laughter and triumph as he released Skinner's hand. "Your wish is my command."


It seemed to take a hell of a long time to get upstairs and Skinner could feel his frustration mounting by the minute. First, as they were leaving the dining room, Jean-Pierre came out the kitchen to check that they had enjoyed their meal and that Mulder had eaten. Then they waited what seemed like an eternity for an elevator while Mulder deliberately and silently flirted with him, to the amusement of the others waiting for the elevator, and now Mulder seemed to be taking forever to open the door. Finally it was open and Mulder walked into the suite ahead of him. Skinner kicked the door shut behind him and swooped down on Mulder, grabbing his waist and throwing him onto the bed.

Powerful hands gripped Mulder's shoulders and a well-muscled thigh thrust itself between his legs, pressing into his groin and pinning him against the bed. Skinner's mouth was on his, kissing him hard, and Mulder responded eagerly. The kiss was out of control as tongues danced and thrust against each other. Head spinning, cock throbbing, Mulder ran his hands over his lover's back, pulling him tighter. His hands found the waistband of Skinner's pants and he pulled the shirt free, pushing his hands up under white cotton to feel Skinner's warm, solid flesh. He ran his hands down the sides of the man's broad back feeling muscle and skin quiver under his hands. He felt a hardness press against his hip as he rubbed himself against the knee pinning him to the bed. Skinner moaned into his mouth, mouth and groin grinding into him. Mulder's lips were bruised, his whole body ached, and he wanted to make this moment last forever but also desperately wanted more. He wanted Skinner naked on top of him, in him.

The thought was mutual. Still joined at the mouth, they began tearing at each other's clothes. Skinner broke free to ruthlessly haul Mulder's shirt over his head and fumbled with the buttons of Mulder's jeans. Mulder tried to stop his fingers shaking long enough to unbutton Skinner's shirt but simply gave up and, grasping the shirt in both hands, tugged. Buttons went everywhere. Skinner's pants were easier, and he pushed them and the briefs down. Skinner tugged at Mulder's jeans then, finally, in frustration, came off the bed to haul shoes, socks, jeans and boxers off Mulder. Then he lunged forward, knocking Mulder flat and kissing him again. Mulder moaned and spread his legs wider, pulling his knees up and rocking against his lover’s hard body.

"Need you in me," he gasped against Skinner’s mouth.

Skinner groaned, broke away long enough to reach over to the night table for supplies. Mulder swung quivering legs over Skinner's shoulders and concentrated on relaxing tension, feeling the circle of muscle widen to admit the invading cock. Lungs stopped working, heart pounded in his chest, and he could feel another heart pounding against him. He locked his ankles behind Skinner's back and pulled him fully inside. Breath rushed from his lungs and he gasped for air.

"God, oh, God!"

Skinner was kissing and biting Mulder’s neck and took this as the signal that it was okay to move again. He withdrew and Mulder's muscles tightened, trying to keep his lover’s cock inside. Skinner growled and Mulder could feel his lover's whole body trembling. Then he pushed back in to the root, and Mulder arched his back and screamed with pleasure.

Skinner moved slowly at first with measured strokes. Arching his back off the bed, Mulder met each thrust head on and the pace increased. Soon they were both bathed in sweat and Mulder's heels pressed against Skinner's ass, upping the tempo. He stared up into Skinner's straining face as his lover fucked him enthusiastically, wordlessly. Every muscle in Mulder's body was alive and sizzling and he felt a familiar tension building in his balls. Then strong hands slipped under his shoulders, pulling him upright, trapping his cock between their two thrusting bodies. Something tightened deep within him and Mulder felt tension explode out of him as he came, felt the relentless cock fucking him through his climax, and felt his head spin with the force of his orgasm. Then Skinner was roaring, shuddering, and pumping into him.

In a daze, he felt himself being lowered back onto the bed and strong arms wrapped themselves around him. Gentle lips were pressing against his throat, soothing bite marks, settling nerves that still fizzed. He turned his head, blindly seeking those lips, losing himself in the hot depths again.

"You okay, babe?" Gentle fingers were running through his hair.

"Me? Sure. Fine. Whatever."

He could feel Skinner's laughter. "You are so beautiful when you've been fucked stupid."

"I seem to have lost a couple other senses, too," he said in a daze. "Geez, Walter - you been doubling up on those vitamins?"

More laughter. "Must be the herbal supplements. Or the hot young lover I've got."

"Trying to make me jealous, Walter?"

"Smart-ass. I told you've I've got ways to handle SAMs."

"And this was supposed to discourage me?"

Mulder groaned a little as Skinner gently withdrew and lifted himself off Mulder, padding into the bathroom for a warm washcloth and towel. Skinner cleaned them both up, then Mulder dragged himself under the covers and settled onto his lover's shoulder. He yawned once and was asleep almost before his mouth closed again.


"So, when do we start?"

Skinner looked up from his coffee cup and across the breakfast table at his lover. Mulder’s hair was still standing on end from bed, his eyes were heavy-lidded from sleep and pleasure, and he was sketchily dressed in a pair of loose sweat pants. Skinner grinned.

"What’s so funny?" Mulder asked, smiling back.

"You look like a well-fucked harem boy this morning."

Mulder snorted. "Well it fits, but I better be the only boy in your harem."

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "Threats, Fox? Are you forgetting your place in this relationship?"

"Not while you’re still calling me ‘Fox’." Mulder smiled at him cheekily.

"Mighty sure of ourselves, aren’t we?" The tone in Skinner’s voice was like velvet over steel and Mulder shivered in excitement. "I think someone is forgetting that I don’t need toys or props or games to prove that I’m your top. Come here. On your knees."

Mulder slid from his chair and knee-walked over to Skinner, ending with his body between Skinner’s knees. He stared up at Skinner, eyes wide, anticipation in every line of his body.

"It seems to me that you are overdressed, boy, and missing your decorations. Into the shower, and when you come out you had better have cuffs on and the proper attitude."

"Yes, Sir!"

Mulder raced into the bathroom and a moment later Skinner heard the shower go on. He smiled and poured another cup of coffee, then leaned back in his chair to plan his strategy for the day. Mulder was in for a couple of surprises.

Mulder emerged from the bathroom a short time later, hair still damp from the shower and cuffs in place. He carried his collar over to Skinner, knelt in front of him, and bent his head to allow Skinner to fasten it around his neck. Skinner started to put on the collar then stopped.

"Hmm. Something doesn’t look right."

Mulder looked up, surprised, then down again to check himself out. He had showered and his cuffs were fastened around his wrists and ankles. "I don’t understand, sir."

"This," Skinner said, gently fingering the sparse hair on Mulder’s chest, "and this." He took a handful of hair at the base of Mulder’s cock and gently tugged. "It has to go."

Mulder’s eyes widened. "Walter, are you serious? You want me to shave off my hair?"

Skinner tugged a little harder and Mulder winced. "What did you call me, boy?"

"S-sir?"

Skinner released him. "Much better. Actually, I think I’ll shave you this first time – to show you how I want it to be done."

Mulder closed his eyes and swallowed. This was going to be embarrassing and he was never going to be able to use the gym at work again. Conversely, it was hot as hell. He bowed his head in resignation.

Skinner smiled at the capitulation. "On the massage table on your back. I’ll get the things I need."

Mulder lay on his back and watched as Skinner returned with a basin of water and shaving supplies. With quick, deft strokes Skinner shaved Mulder's chest and underarms, then carefully started on the genital area. Both men had been silent, Skinner so he could concentrate on his task and Mulder so he could focus completely on what was happening, but now Skinner spoke. "You know, traditionally this should be done with a straight razor." He saw the sweat pop out on Mulder with satisfaction and carefully began shaving Mulder's balls. "Perhaps I should make that one of the requirements." He repressed a smile at Mulder's groan. He finished shaving the front and carefully removed the last traces of shaving cream. Mulder let out a sigh of relief that it was over.

"Roll over." Shit, thought Mulder, and carefully rolled over on the table. "On your knees, ass in the air, and use your hands to spread your cheeks."

Mulder awkwardly moved into position. "This is so embarrassing, sir."

A large hand smacked one ass cheek. "I don't recall giving you permission to speak, boy."

Mulder bit his lip and concentrated on not getting turned on while Skinner finished shaving him. He sighed in relief when Skinner was finished.

"You will add shaving to your preparations when you arrive on Friday night," Skinner said as he rinsed the razor and set it aside. "And one more thing." He inserted a lubricated finger into Mulder and the younger man drew in a sharp breath of startled pleasure. "You will lubricate yourself and make sure that you are properly lubed at all times during our weekends here. You will also make sure that you are ready and equipped for sex anytime and anywhere I choose to fuck you, lube and condoms within reach, including when we leave this room."

Mulder looked over his shoulder, startled. "You mean elsewhere in the building, sir? I didn't think that was permitted - I mean, you never see anyone else - "

"Just because you don't see it doesn't mean it isn't happening," Skinner said with a wicked smile. "We tops have our secrets, boy."

"But there are security cameras everywhere!"

"And your point would be?"

Mulder fell silent, digesting that information. He had discovered voyeuristic inclinations several weeks ago when staying with Sean and Mason, but he had never considered himself an exhibitionist. Now he had to admit that the thought of discreet public sex was making him hot. He closed his eyes as Skinner continued to stroke lube into him, picturing a similar scene - in the library, perhaps - and thrust back against the invading fingers.

A hard smack on his ass snapped him back to the present reality and that wonderfully husky voice growled in his ear, "Don't come." He swallowed a groan and tried to focus on anything that would take his mind away from his throbbing cock. He felt rather than saw Skinner moving away and collapsed on the massage table with a moan.

"Now, let's try that again."

Mulder turned his head and saw that Skinner was sitting back in his chair at the table. He pushed himself up from the massage table, grabbed the collar and, on slightly wobbly legs, made his way over to Skinner. Kneeling before his top, he offered the collar again and bent his neck so that Skinner could fasten it.

"Much better," Skinner said approvingly, running a hand down Mulder's chest. "Now I'm going to take a shower while you clear the breakfast dishes and straighten up the room. When you are finished, return to this spot and remain kneeling till I return."

Skinner took considerable time over his shower, then shaved, dressed and brushed his teeth until he figured that Mulder had finished and had been kneeling long enough for his legs to start to numb. He quietly opened the bathroom door and saw that Mulder was kneeling with his back to the door, his posture absolutely perfect with his back straight and his head bowed. Skinner smiled, relishing for a moment the satisfaction of playing with someone who was a willing participant in the exchange of power, rather than demanding to be conquered or expecting to lie back and be "done".

"Down!" he snapped out, going back into the Dom role again, and Mulder quickly prostrated himself, forehead on the floor and arms stretched above his head. Skinner slowly walked around Mulder’s prone body, spreading the legs further with a nudge of a foot, then stopped beside Mulder’s head. Without a word being exchanged, Mulder turned his head and gently kissed the foot nearest him. Skinner smiled again.

"Kneel up!"

Mulder pushed himself up on his knees, hands locked behind his neck, elbows out. Skinner walked around him again, adjusting his posture slightly, then ruffled Mulder's hair. "I feel like playing, boy. On the bed, on your back, hands on the headboard, and close your eyes."

Mulder scrambled to obey and felt the bed dip as Skinner knelt next to him. Then Skinner was wrapping something thin around his thumbs and Mulder felt a slight tug.

"All right, open your eyes."

Mulder opened his eyes and looked upward. A thin piece of sewing thread was wrapped around each thumb and attached to a thumbtack on the wall. "What the hell - but that's so thin! I could break it easily."

"You break it and we stop playing this game," Skinner said matter-of-factly. "If you keep your hands on the headboard you'll be just fine."

"But, sir, I asked for heavier bondage."

"This is heavier. Sometimes less is more. Psychological bondage can be heavier and hotter than physical bondage. Remember that this is the largest sex organ," he tapped Mulder's head, "and trust me."

"Always," Mulder said softly, and Skinner smiled at him affectionately. He got off the bed and went to the cabinet, and Mulder lifted his head, trying to see what Skinner was getting. When he saw it he groaned.

"Not the feather, sir! You know how ticklish I am - I'll never be able to keep still."

Skinner returned to the bed with the feather. "You don't have to keep your body still, just your hands. You're free to wiggle the rest of your body as much as you like." He slowly ran the feather down the right side of Mulder's body from his shoulder to his foot, and Mulder was torn between leaning into it and shifting away from it. "There are four ways to end this scene. Call your physical safe word, or your emotional safe word, or break the thread, or ride it out to the end." The feather came back up his other leg, up the left side of his body, stopping at his shoulder. "I’ll be here with you the whole way."

Mulder shuddered and fixed his eyes on the feather, seeing nothing but it and hearing nothing but that voice. The feather traced back down his chest, running over the newly smooth skin between his nipples, and down his stomach. He squirmed a little as it dipped into his belly button, biting his lip to keep from laughing at the ticklish sensations. Then it moved back up to circle his right nipple, teasing the nub into a hard point. The feather moved to the other nipple, repeating the same actions, while Skinner gently licked the hardened right nipple and blew across the dampened surface. Mulder groaned, arching his back up toward that teasing mouth, but Skinner kept out of reach. He turned the feather over and scratched gently with the quill end on the left nipple and Mulder drew in a sharp breath at the exquisitely delicate pain. A gentle tongue soothed the abused nipple while the feather end flicked over his right nipple again, abruptly followed by that sharp scratch and then the soothing tongue. Back and forth, alternating pain and pleasure, until his nipples were so exquisitely sensitive that the slightest breath over them made him cry out.

The feather drifted downward over his stomach again, stroking over the sensitive skin on his inner right thigh, tickling behind the knee, drifting down and up in lazy circles then moved to the other thigh to repeat its teasing. A gentle tongue began repeating the circling on his right thigh then sharp teeth nipped the skin. Back and forth again, the feather teasing the soft skin on one thigh while lips and teeth gently tortured the other side, until Mulder's legs were shaking from the intensity of sensation.

The feather was at work again, stroking the bare skin of his balls and he groaned, wondering what torment Skinner had in mind for them. A soft flat tongue lapped at them, running over the sensitized skin, while the feather traced up and down his hardened cock, then the hot mouth suddenly sucked first one ball and then the other inside, pulling them down and away from his cock. Mulder groaned again and felt sweat break out all over his body.

The mouth released his balls and moved up to his ear. "Roll over on your knees. Slowly - don't break the thread."

He forced his eyes open, looking up at his hands, and they seemed as if they were at the end of a long tunnel. Slowly, easing his hands over each other, he rolled to his side and onto his knees, feeling a supporting hand on his side to ease him up. The hands coaxed him into a position with his back stretched into a straight line parallel to the bed, knees spread and ass out while his head lolled down between his shoulders and his hands clung to the headboard. He could see his cock pointing straight down at the bed, hard and aching with need. He shivered and wondered what was coming next.

The feather traced along his spine and he arched away from it. Back and forth it went, tickling, teasing, and then suddenly that light scratch down his spine. He sucked in a breath and the movement made him arch upward against the tongue that soothed and licked its way down his back. He wanted to relax against that tongue and could feel it lulling him into a false sense of peacefulness. Part of his mind was aware of the sharp quill and the sharper teeth, and all his nerves were on edge, quivering and waiting to see where they would strike next. There! A nip under the shoulder blade, a scratch across the buttocks, then the soothing kiss, the gentle tongue. Over and over again, until he was shaking and tingling over his entire back and buttocks.

Skinner's head slid under Mulder and his mouth gently sucked Mulder's nipples but they were so sensitive that the feeling made Mulder arch away, gasping and groaning. Skinner's mouth moved down Mulder's belly towards that hard, aching cock, licking and sucking at the bare skin around its base. A hand caressed his balls, stroked up his ass, and a gentle finger pressed itself against his asshole while the other hand flicked the feather against his nipples. Mulder jerked away from the feather and the movement buried the finger deep inside him. He gasped and pulled back, and found his cock suddenly engulfed by a hot mouth. Moaning, he pushed deeper into that mouth only to find that this made him rub his nipple against the feather and he arched away again, once more driving the finger deep inside his ass. It was an endless circle, moving between pain and pleasure, fucking himself on that finger and in that mouth, twisting away from the torment on his tits. He heard himself whimpering and moaning and crying, and the tightness within his balls became impossibly tighter. Then the sensations were too much, and he was exploding in a white-hot blaze somewhere between the pain and the pleasure, flung out of his body, over the cliff, and into the dark sea below.

Mulder blinked his eyes as sensation slowly returned to his body and found himself cradled against a warm chest. He tilted his head back and looked up into smiling brown eyes, so soft and vulnerable without the glasses. He smiled back and started to reach up to touch that face, then realized that his hands were still connected by the thread.

"It didn't break!" he said in disbelief, his voice sounding wispy in his own ears, and he felt the chest move under him in suppressed laughter.

"I told you that you could do it, Fox." Skinner's voice was warm with love and pride and Mulder snuggled closer against the warm chest, smiling to himself. His nipples ached, his arms and legs felt wobbly and weak, and his skin felt as if he had rolled in pine needles.

And he was flying so high that he felt he could reach out and touch the stars.

Chapter Text

Why do you love me?
Why do you give so much?

How do you heal the pain within me?
Is it the power of your touch?

Now that you've opened up the heavens

For this heart of mine to see

I've become the richest man that I could ever be.

Baby, why me?

 

Dana Scully hated mysteries. There was something about the unknown that made her fingers itch with the need to get to the bottom of the mystery. She wanted to find the rational solution, needed to put the period at the end of the sentence.

And the biggest mystery in her life was Fox Mulder.

Over the past three months he had gone from being her exasperating, infuriating, reckless but well-known partner to being a total enigma. Without a rational excuse. And she didn't like it one bit.

First, there were the flowers. Every Monday morning - except for one Monday when they were out of town - there was a flower in a bud vase on Mulder's desk. Usually a yellow carnation, although once it had been a daffodil and another time a hyacinth. And Mulder would come in, pretend to glare at the vase, then ignore it while he settled down at his desk. A minute later, however, he would be reading an email message and would glance at the flower with such a soft expression that Scully's jaw nearly dropped the first time she saw it. Then he would be all business, back at work on a case, and the flower would be totally ignored. Where the flowers came from was a mystery, too. Scully had arrived very early one Monday, had lain in wait for the mysterious giver, only to find out that they were delivered by a service who had a standing order - paid in cash, no receipts, no message. The flower was the message, of course, and it was clear that Mulder understood it.

The second thing wrong was the cases they were pursuing. Not that there was anything wrong with the cases that they were investigating. That was just the point. She knew for a fact that during the past month four cases had come across his desk that would have normally sent him drooling and hot-footed in pursuit of his "truth". But instead of charging off to Skinner's office with 302 requests as he normally would have, he had dug further into each case, ultimately rejecting one "monster" sighting as a hoax and a supposed abduction as a runaway. Only two of the cases had made it as far as their weekly meetings with Skinner, and he had actually discussed them with both the Assistant Director and Scully before determining that only one was a potential X-File worthy of pursuit. He and Scully had duly investigated and, although Mulder managed to pepper the whole investigation with his usual off-the-wall ideas, he had "played nice" with the local boys and even listened to Scully's opinions. True, he had acted like an asshole on that VCU consult in October but she had to admit that the VCU guys had come in with an attitude about "Spooky" Mulder that would have tempted a saint to act up. And Mulder might be changed but he was no saint.

That Mulder was "involved" with someone was obvious. So was the fact that he was unreachable from Friday night through midday Sunday - no doubt with that "significant other". Scully wasn't jealous; she was actually pleased that Mulder had found someone, relieved that Mulder had something else to do in the middle of a Saturday night other than call her up. What she wanted from Mulder was an admission of this fact, a hint about the mystery woman - no, what she really wanted was for him to spill his guts and prove that Scully was still his best friend. She tried dropping hints, asking leading questions, and even telling him a little about the progress of her new romance. Nothing. Not one word.

Then came the Monday morning after Thanksgiving, and Mulder entered the office whistling tunelessly. "Morning, Scully."

Scully watched him with curious eyes. The holidays were always the worst for Mulder and she had often come in on Monday after Thanksgiving to find Mulder irritable and unkempt, looking as if he had spent the whole weekend in the office. But today he was smiling, positively radiating good humor despite the rainy weather. "Good morning, Mulder. How was your holiday?"

"Wonderful, Scully. How was yours? How's your mother?"

"She's fine and sends her love." She eyed him as he removed his coat and hung it up, and noticed a faint discoloration behind his ear. A hickey? Mulder? "Did you spend the holiday alone?"

She could have sworn that he blushed.

"No - um - I spent it with a friend."

He settled at his desk and she turned in her chair, waiting with anticipation. A single red rose sat in the vase today - surely he would say something.

Mulder looked at the rose with amused affection and reached out to touch a velvet petal with one finger. "Sap," he murmured softly, then turned his attention to his morning email without another word.

Scully ground her teeth in frustration, slammed shut her desk drawer, and stomped out of the office. Then Scully took the next logical step - she slipped into his apartment and got a sample of his water for testing. It came back negative and Scully cursed fluently.

So Scully decided to do the only rational thing she could do under the circumstances. She followed him.


Mulder left the office on Friday afternoon on time, another of the changes that had taken place over the past fourteen weeks - she knew in the past he had often worked late Friday nights at his desk pursuing a lead. She tailed him to his apartment, parking down the street and watching until Mulder emerged with an overnight bag and jumped into a waiting taxi. She followed the taxi, careful not to follow too close as the cab headed back into the city. The cab pulled up in front of a building and Mulder got out, paid off the driver, and went inside. Scully quickly pulled into a parking spot and ran up the steps after him.

The doorman stopped her. "Sorry, ma'am. Only members are allowed inside."

"Members?" Scully asked, perplexed. "Members of what?"

"This is a private club, ma'am."

Scully pulled out her ID. "Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI. I'm following a man who just entered here."

The doorman shook his head. "Sorry, ma'am. I can't let you inside unless you're with a member."

"Then maybe you can tell me - is the young man who just entered a member? Tall, thin, dark hair?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"What kind of club is this?"

"Sorry, ma'am. I can't tell you any more than that." He produced a business card. "If you would like to call the Management, perhaps they can answer your questions."

Scully looked at the card. The Dionysus Club - she had never heard the name before this. "Thank you. I'll do that."

Scully went slowly down the steps, then stood on the sidewalk and looked up at the building. It wasn't tall - about five stories, but it took up a full city block from what she could see, and the exterior was elegant but subdued. It just screamed old-style Gentlemen's Club, but she couldn't picture Mulder belonging to a place like that. A high-class sports club? She wandered down the block, studying the building, turned the corner and continued following the wall of the building until, abruptly, there was an opening in the wall on her right side. No, not an opening. A ramp down under the building - no doubt a parking lot or delivery area. She looked around quickly, determined that no one was watching, and walked quickly down the ramp. Yes, it was a parking lot with a card-key controlled access gate and large signs indicating that this was private property. She slipped under the bar and crossed the parking lot, heading towards the elevators she saw at the back, hoping that they were not card-key activated as well.

She never made it that far. The elevator door opened and a security man stepped out, leveling a gun at her while behind her she heard a voice say, "Hold it right there, ma'am."

Scully put up her hands slowly. "I'm Special Agent Dana Scully with the FBI," she said clearly. "I've got ID in my pocket."

The guards approached her and one removed her ID while the other kept his gun on her. The guard glanced at her badge, compared it to her face.

"Come this way, Agent Scully."

A short time later, Scully found herself cooling her heels in a small office. Damn it, Dana! she thought to herself, this was a dumb thing to do - just the sort of thing the old Mulder would have done. And won't you look stupid if you end up in jail and he has to bail you out?

A door opened at the back of the room and the security guard who had taken her ID entered with another man, clearly his boss. He was an average-looking man, possibly in his mid to late forties, but when he looked at her with a cool, appraising glance she found herself automatically standing up.

"Special Agent Scully? I'm Geoffrey Mason." He sat down at the desk and studied her ID for another moment before setting it on the desk in front of her. He didn't invite her to sit down and she felt herself flushing. She hadn't felt this awkward and embarrassed since Sister Mary Francis had caught her smoking at school and sent her to the office.

"I understand that my security men found you in the parking deck after you were informed by the doorman that this is a private club. Have I got those facts right?"

Scully cleared her throat. "Yes, sir. As I told your doorman, I was following a man who entered this club - "

Mason held up his hand for a moment and looked at the security guard.

"Mr. Mulder, sir."

Mason raised an eyebrow and sighed. "Of course. It would be Mr. Mulder. Pray continue, Agent Scully."

"When the doorman wouldn't let me enter, I walked around the building and found the parking entrance. I certainly didn't intend any harm - "

"That is not precisely true, Agent Scully," Mason interrupted, dryly. "There are posted signs clearly stating that this is private property. I believe that is called Criminal Trespass in law enforcement terms."

Scully flushed again but decided that she had had enough of this arrogant man. She sat down in the chair she had risen from, calmly crossed her legs, and said coolly, "Be that as it may, I did not break into your building, and I was pursuing a suspect."

She could swear that the corner of his mouth twitched. "And what, pray tell, is Mr. Mulder suspected of doing?"

"I cannot discuss an active case," Scully said firmly.

"I see." Mason looked extremely amused. "Well, Agent Scully, I'm afraid that I still cannot allow you to prowl around the premises. You can, of course, attempt to obtain a search warrant. Or I can send a message to Mr. Mulder asking him to join you here if you wish to question him."

Scully tried to hide the horrified feeling that gripped her. "That would hardly be conducive to my investigation."

"Then I'll have my men escort you off the premises. And I must warn you, Agent Scully, that if I find you on the property illegally again, I will have no compunction about having you arrested for trespass. Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes, sir," Scully said automatically. Mason stood up and started out the back door and she rose at the same time. "Mr. Mason - "

He turned back. "Yes, Agent Scully?"

"If you could just satisfy my curiosity - what kind of club is this? I've never heard of the Dionysus Club."

Mason studied her silently for a moment, his eyes coolly appraising her in a way that was not in the least bit lurid but, at the same time, seemed to evaluate her body and soul. "No, Special Agent Dana Scully, I don't suppose that you have." Then he went through the door and it closed behind him.

Scully stared open-mouthed after him. The guard picked up her ID and held it out. "Agent Scully, this way, please."

A few minutes later, Scully found herself standing out on the front steps where she had started, looking up at the building apprehensively. Damn it, Mulder, she thought uneasily, what have you gotten yourself into now?


Sean looked up from the security monitor as Mason entered from his office. "Trouble, Geoff?"

Mason frowned. "I'm not sure. She said she was with the FBI and her ID looked authentic. But why would a FBI agent be following him? Unless he's under suspicion for something and - as much trouble as Mulder can be - I can't imagine that. Or unless she's part of the group that tried to kidnap him."

Sean considered it. "She didn't look like the type of flunky that the smoker usually gets."

"No, she didn't," Mason said with a broad smile. "She's got guts, too."

"Top material?" Sean looked interested. "It's been a long time since you brought along a junior."

Mason shook his head regretfully. "No. Whatever games that young woman plays, they aren't our games. So what do you think - should we warn Mulder?"

Sean hesitated then shook his head. "No, I don't think so. Not yet, anyway. We'll just keep an eye out for him - and for anyone else who seems interested in him."


Monday morning again, and Mulder arrived in the office with a spring in his step and a more contented look on his face than Scully had seen in a long time. And this time there were half a dozen red carnations on his desk. But it wasn't until the staff meeting on Wednesday that Scully realized how serious the problem was and that drastic measures would have to be taken.

The meeting had started off normally enough. Mulder and Skinner were butting heads over a case-file, as usual. Dispassionately, Scully thought that they each had a point. The case had enough merit to be looked into but there was not enough information to warrant an active investigation. Mulder was pushing all the usual buttons and Skinner looked like he was about to explode with one of his famous roars. She sat back and waited for the fireworks to begin.

Skinner took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose, feeling a headache coming on. The urge to just snap out an order in his Dom style was strong and he had no doubt that Mulder would respond instinctively, but that wasn't playing fair and Mulder would come to resent it later on. He took a deep breath and tried to be reasonable. "Look, Mulder, I know you think that you have valid reasons for pursuing this investigation, but I just don't see them."

Mulder was surprised; he had expected an explosion from Skinner. His eyes narrowed as he studied the AD and he thought that the man was looking tired. He suddenly felt guilty. The past weekend hadn’t been as restful for the older man, he was probably suffering from that depression/fatigue nicknamed "top drop", and here Mulder was trying to push the man's buttons - even if it was unintentional. He took a deep breath and fought down his own worst instincts.

"Sir, if I come up with more information - if I can come up with reasons that you think are valid - will you sign the 302?"

Skinner picked up his glasses and put them back on, studying the man across the desk from him in disbelief. Had that reasonable tone come from Mulder? He glanced over at Scully and saw that Mulder's partner was staring at the man in stunned surprise. He could feel a corner of his mouth twitch. "That sounds reasonable to me, Mulder."

Mulder nodded and rose to his feet. "Then I'll get you those reasons, sir. Come on, Scully - we've got work to do."

Scully found herself out the door of Skinner's office before she had time to think and turned to Mulder in the elevator. "Mulder, what in hell just happened in there?"

Mulder raised his eyebrows. "AD Skinner asked for more information before he could approve the 302. I said I would get it."

Her eyes narrowed. "Just like that."

Mulder looked back at her in amusement. "Yeah. Just like that."

"You aren't going to just go running off to pursue this on your own? I'm not going to get a call from Idaho or Indiana - "

"Iowa."

" - tomorrow that you are sitting in their jail or lying in their hospital?"

"Of course not."

"Mulder, you're not on any prescribed medication like Prozac, are you?"

Mulder grinned as they exited the elevator. "Nothing but endorphins, Scully. At least - not that I'm aware of. Think it's time to analyze my water supply?"

Been there, done that, got the negative lab report to prove it, thought Scully. "It 's just that you're behaving strangely lately, Mulder, even for you."

Mulder looked at her blandly. "Me? Acting strangely? How would you define that, Scully?"

"Never mind," Scully muttered.

"Right. Well, let’s get started."

By the middle of the next day, both of them were frustrated. "There's nothing here, Mulder," Scully said.

"I know it's there, Scully; it's just a matter of finding it." He got up and put on his jacket. "And I know who can get us that information. The Gunmen."

Scully collected her purse and stashed her laptop in its bag. "Mulder, what if they can't find anything? What if there isn't anything else to find?"

Mulder let out a sigh. "Then we'll have done our best, Scully, and we'll just have to put it aside until some more information comes to light. Look - I've got to pick up something at my apartment for the guys so I'll meet you there, okay?"

Scully thought long and hard on the drive over to the Lone Gunmen headquarters and she had made up her mind by the time she entered their offices. She followed Frohike into the main room and squared off against the three men, crossing her arms and giving them her most intimidating Looks. "What do you know about the Dionysus Club?"

The three men exchanged a glance. "Where did you hear that name?"

"I followed Mulder there last Friday night. They wouldn't let me in."

"Of course not," Langly said. "You have to be a member."

"You think Mulder's a member?" Frohike asked Langly.

"Well, obviously if he went in," Langly began, then said hastily, "Not that kind of member. I mean - Mulder? He must be a - you know - "

Byers cleared his throat and jerked his head in Scully's direction. "Um, Scully, I think you should really - you know - ask Mulder."

"You haven't seen him lately. He's been acting strange - well, stranger than usual. Something is seriously wrong with him."

"Yeah, but, well, this is - personal," Frohike said.

"You really should ask Mulder," Byers insisted.

"Ask me what?"

All four turned various shades of red at Mulder's sudden appearance. He was carrying a large box and smiling.

"Merry Christmas, Frohike. I'm a little early, but I figured you might as well enjoy them."

Frohike peered into the box. "You're giving me your video collection?"

"Well, I did save one or two favorites," Mulder said with a grin. "I'm doing a little spring cleaning."

"It's winter."

"So I'm late. Or early." He turned to Scully. "What did you want to ask me?"

Scully looked at the guys but they averted their eyes, abandoning her. She raised her chin. "I followed you last Friday. I saw you go into that club."

Mulder suddenly couldn't breathe. "You followed me? Why?"

"You've been acting so strangely, Mulder. And you wouldn't talk to me about it."

His eyes blazed at her. "Did you ever stop to think that this was my personal life? That it had nothing to do with you or work?"

"It has been affecting your work - "

"How, Scully? I've been getting my reports in, I haven't ditched you - "

"And that's not abnormal? Mulder, you've been in another world. You turned down two cases last month that would have had you foaming at the mouth six months ago. And you were so damned reasonable to Skinner yesterday! What is this place, Mulder? Who is that man Mason I talked to there? And what in hell is going on with you?"

Mulder turned to look at the Gunmen. "What did you tell her?"

"We didn't tell her anything," Byers said quickly.

"Mulder, if I don't get an answer, I'll keep looking and asking until I find out."

Mulder's lips tightened. "All right, Scully, but you're not going to like the answer. It's a special club to cater to special needs. I meet someone there. It could be a man or a woman, but in my case it's a man. My master, Scully. Is that enough, or do you want to hear what happens when we go upstairs?"

It was just about the last thing she had expected to hear. Scully's face drained of color and she sank into a chair. "Mulder, are you saying that you belong to a - an S&M club?"

"Hell, they're not particular, Scully. S&M, B&D, whatever."

"You don't let him beat you, do you?"

"Would it matter if he did? It's my business, Scully. My private life."

Scully still looked shaken. "Mulder - I didn't even know you were gay."

Mulder looked as if she had just punched him in the stomach. "Damn you, Scully." He turned blindly toward the door, avoiding the eyes of his friends. "I've got to go - "

"Mulder - " Scully began but he just snarled and stormed out. Scully put her face in her hands, shaking, and knew that she had possibly lost her best friend.

Frohike cleared his throat. "Agent Scully?" She looked over at him. "I just thought you should know. I got a look at the bracelet he wears and it's gold. That means his - friend - is a senior member. Very safe players - probably the safest in the world. And you'd be surprised at how many important and influential people - men and women - are members of that club. That's why it's so private."

"Thank you, Frohike," Scully said quietly and stood up. "I'd better find Mulder and apologize - "

Frohike shook his head. "Give him a chance to cool down first. Right now I doubt if he'll listen."


Skinner searched for his keys as he walked down the hallway and he paused at the sight of a figure sitting on the floor outside his door. The figure raised his head.

"Hi."

The voice was tired and listless, the eyes dry but dull and expressionless. Skinner wondered what had happened but just nodded.

"Hello, Mulder. Hope you haven't been waiting long."

Mulder rose, shrugging. "You weren't expecting me. I - I need to talk - "

Skinner opened the door and gestured for Mulder to enter ahead of him. "Have you eaten?"

The question didn't even conjure a smile. "No - I can't - I'm not hungry."

Skinner nodded, hanging up his coat and taking Mulder's to hang up. Mulder stood with his hands shoved in the pockets of his suit jacket, looking utterly lost. "Would you like a beer?" Not waiting for an answer, he fetched two from the fridge and gestured toward the living room.

Mulder sank down on the couch, twisted off the bottle cap, and took a swallow. "Scully knows everything," he said baldly. "Except about you."

"Oh, shit," Skinner murmured, sitting on the coffee table across from Mulder.

Mulder sighed faintly. "Yeah."

"How'd she find out?"

"How do you think? She's a trained FBI agent - she followed me. She saw me go into the club. She asked the Gunmen, " he paused and looked at Skinner who nodded, remembering the three friends of Mulder's from a hospital visit, "but they wouldn't tell her so she cornered me."

"So they know, too?"

"Yeah." Mulder drained the bottle, got up and went into the kitchen to dispose of the bottle and get another. Skinner waited till he sat down again.

"How did she take it?"

Mulder snorted. "How do you think? She asked if I let him beat me and looked at me as if I was something she found growing in her fridge."

"I'm sorry," Skinner said gently. "Is there anything I can do? You want me to talk to her - "

"God, no!" Mulder exclaimed, horrified. "Can you imagine what she'd do if she found out it was you I'm seeing? She'd be at OPR so fast your head would spin."

"You really think Scully would do that?"

Mulder sagged. "I - don't know. I didn't used to think so but she's been so different since the remission…" His voice trailed off. "I don't know." He scraped at the label on his beer. "She - um - she also said that she didn't know that I was gay."

"Oh." Skinner studied the averted head, wondering what thoughts were running through it.

"I - uh - I never thought of it - us - myself - like that," Mulder admitted, flushing a little. "I mean, I don't check out other guys." He looked up at Skinner sideways, a little apprehensive.

"I don't think labels matter much, do they? What's important is what we are to each other, not what other people think we are." He reached over to gently stroke Mulder's cheek. "You're still okay with us, aren't you?"

"Yeah." Mulder looked up at him, and Skinner was appalled to see tears in his eyes. "You're the only one I've got left." It was on the tip of Mulder's tongue to ask "and when are you going to leave me?" but he really didn't want to know the answer to that question.

Skinner moved quickly to the couch, pulling Mulder into his arms, and Mulder gratefully buried his face against Skinner's shirt. "Ah, babe," Skinner said softly. "Don't do this to yourself. I'm not leaving. You'll have to hit me over the head with a shovel to get rid of me."

Mulder chuckled weakly. "You're such a romantic, Walter."

"Damn right." He kissed the top of Mulder's head and squeezed him. "Now you’re in luck because the menu at Chef Skinner's tonight is my World-Famous-Chili." He got up and headed toward the kitchen.

"World famous?" Mulder queried, feeling the tightness in his chest ease. How did Skinner manage to make the biggest catastrophes seem like just a slight bump on the road of life? Must be part of that management training, he thought with a glimmer of his normal humor surfacing.

"Well, famous in the Skinner family, anyway." Skinner's voice called back from the kitchen. "You just make yourself comfortable, okay? Did you bring your bag?"

"No," Mulder said, shrugging. "I wasn't planning on coming over tonight when I left home this morning." He looked at Skinner quizzically as he came out of the kitchen. "Why? Am I staying the night?" He took the beer Skinner handed him and grinned. "Are you trying to get me drunk and take advantage of me?"

"I don't have to get you drunk to do that," Skinner said dryly. Mulder grinned and looked up at him from under those incredible eyelashes. "Stop that."

"Stop what?"

"That, " Skinner growled and pulled Mulder up and into his arms for a long kiss that left the younger man breathless and laughing. "Now behave yourself while I make dinner."

When Skinner emerged from the kitchen a little later, he found that Mulder had shed his jacket and tie and was studying his bookshelves with the same interest as an anthropologist studying a primitive society. He slid his arms around Mulder's waist and rested his chin on his lover's shoulder, relieved to see that Mulder seemed less depressed.

"Find anything interesting?" he asked in amusement. "You look like you're researching your next book 'The Reading Habits of the Tame Associate Director'."

"Tame, huh?" Mulder gave him a skeptical look. "I don't know about that. I remember last weekend and the way you - ouch!" Mulder jumped as Skinner goosed him and laughed. "Unfair!"

"Of course," Skinner said tranquilly. "I never promised you fair." He nodded towards his shelves. "What do you think? Pretty much on profile?"

"Well, I would have predicted the mysteries and the military history books, but not the science fiction." He turned a teasing smile on Skinner and said, "I don't see Preston or Townsend, though."

Skinner grinned. "'Journals of a Master' and 'Leatherman's Handbook'? Oh, I keep those locked up. With my whips and chains - for inspiration." He saw the look that Mulder gave him, half-amusement and half-uncertainty, and laughed. "What about you? What kinds of books do you like? Mysteries?"

Mulder shook his head. "No, I can't read most of them. If they get even one thing wrong it sets me off and I can generally guess the murderer by the end of the second chapter. Same with true crime stories. I like a lot of other things, though, like the classics - drama, poetry."

"Eliot? One of my favorites - one of his poems reminds me of you."

Mulder gave Skinner a sideways look. "Yeah?"

"Yeah." Skinner leaned his mouth closer to Mulder's ear and Mulder shivered in anticipation. "The Rum Tum Tugger is a Curious Cat - And there isn't any need for me to shout it: For he will do As he do do And there's no doing anything about it!"

Mulder gave an outraged cry, and Skinner laughed and beat a hasty retreat upstairs to change.


After dinner, Skinner turned on the TV and settled on the couch to watch the game. Mulder had been okay during dinner but had gone quiet again and now was a tight ball in the other corner of the couch. Skinner waited patiently, letting Mulder work through whatever issue was preying on his mind right now. After almost an hour of this, Mulder sighed and looked over at Skinner.

"Hey."

Skinner turned his head and smiled at Mulder. "Remembered me, huh?"

Mulder looked a little sheepish. "Sorry. I didn’t mean to be such an asshole."

"It’s okay," Skinner said tranquilly. "You’re allowed. You’ve had a rough day."

Mulder unfolded from his tight ball, scooted down the couch to lay his head on Skinner’s lap and stretched out. "Doesn’t mean I can take it out on you."

Skinner gently stroked Mulder’s hair. "I think I can take a little of your self-absorption without it devastating me."

Mulder rubbed his face against Skinner’s leg. "Why are you so good to me?"

"Easy – you’re my best friend."

Mulder looked up, startled. "Really?"

"Of course. None of my other friends will let me tie them up and fuck them."

Mulder snorted. "Asshole."

"Said the pot." Skinner continued his gentle stroking of Mulder’s hair, vicariously enjoying the softness under his fingers. "Why so surprised?"

"What?" Mulder looked up at him, puzzled.

"That I would consider you my best friend."

"I don’t know," Mulder said slowly. "Friends, yeah. Fuck buddies – maybe even lovers. But your best friend – I’m flattered, Walter."

"Maybe even lovers? I would think that we’re more than a maybe."

Mulder looked up at him with a glimmer in his eyes. "Maybe I need a reminder."

"I think I can oblige." Skinner pulled Mulder up and kissed him thoroughly. "That help your memory?"

"Oh yeah," Mulder said faintly, his eyes glazed. "And I think you curled my toes."

"I aim to please." He settled Mulder back down on his lap and ran his fingers soothingly over Mulder’s back. "So what were you thinking about so intently in your corner?"

"Scully."

"Oh. Why was Scully following you, by the way?"

"She says that she was worried about me, that I’d been behaving strangely lately."

Skinner’s lips twitched. "Well, after our meeting yesterday I’m not surprised. I nearly fell on the floor."

Mulder frowned and sat up, turning to face Skinner. "What – you think I can’t behave like a decent human being?"

"I know you can, Fox," Skinner said quietly. "I was teasing you."

"Scully doesn’t think I can," Mulder said bitterly. "I still can’t believe that she went that far."

"Maybe she was worried about you. You two have been friends and partners for five years. When you started acting differently – and you have been acting differently – it probably unnerved her. She may have thought you were under the influence of some drug, or mind control, or – "

"Or some incredibly sexy Svengali?"

Skinner hauled Mulder back down on his lap again. "Flatterer. Anyway, you should be glad that she cares so much about you."

Mulder’s lips twisted sardonically. "Yeah – well – forgive me if I don’t exactly turn cartwheels over this. I don’t know how – if – we’re going to be able to work together now. And how can I do the X-Files without Scully?"

"Talk to her, Fox." He ran a caressing hand over Mulder’s chest.

"You think so?" Mulder closed his eyes to concentrate on the sensations as Skinner gently teased his nipples.

"Yeah. Tomorrow." He leaned over to kiss Mulder. "Tonight I have plans for you."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah. I want to take you upstairs and ravage your body."

"Well, in that case – " Mulder sat up and swung his feet off the couch.

Skinner grinned and led him upstairs where he slowly stripped off his lover’s clothes. Mulder reached for Skinner’s shirt but Skinner gently pushed his hands away. "Relax and let me do this."

"Bossy," Mulder teased. Skinner gave him a gentle shove and he fell back on the bed with a laugh. "And aggressive. I like that in a man."

Skinner chuckled and removed his own clothes, then followed Mulder down onto the bed. He enjoyed the sensation of having his whole body laid out on Mulder’s flesh and kissed Mulder slowly, luxuriously, while his hands moved over Mulder's body. He took his time to arouse his lover, and Mulder returned Skinner’s kisses with the focused intensity that always inflamed his lover.

Skinner broke free from Mulder’s kiss and reached over to the nightstand for the lube, then once again moved over Mulder, pressing him down into the mattress. Mulder’s legs moved up and around Skinner’s waist to give him easy access and Skinner took advantage of the position to press inside his lover. He moved his hips slowly and carefully, letting both of them enjoy a slow, casual fuck and kept kissing Mulder, lips moving from his forehead to his mouth, then over his cheeks and down to his neck. His whole length slid slowly back and forth, drawing the most intense reactions from his lover who couldn’t control his reactions to the strong, deliberate fucking. Mulder’s legs would move with quick jerks, then pull Skinner into him like a vise clamping down on him. Mulder’s hands tried to simply rest on Skinner’s shoulders, but the constant pumping of the hips against him made him clutch hold of Skinner. Before long he was kissing Skinner wildly, breathlessly, with words and moans pouring out of him.

Skinner kept back his orgasm, concentrating on using techniques to draw the energy up his spine and circulate it back through his body, wanting to give Mulder an experience to remember. He propped himself on his elbows so he could bend his head and reach Mulder’s nipples, running his tongue over the sensitive surface. The new contact made Mulder even more frenzied. One hand slipped between their bodies to find Mulder’s hard cock, playing with it gently, all the time keeping up that insistent fucking. Mulder was speaking in tongues by this time, begging for more, begging for release. Skinner gripped Mulder’s cock harder and made his stroking more intense, knowing that he couldn’t hold either one of them back much longer. He picked up the tempo then, moving more quickly, kissing Mulder hard. His hand drove Mulder further and further along and when they came it was as close to perfectly timed orgasms as Skinner had ever known. Just as he heard Mulder’s scream and felt Mulder’s cock pumping in his fist, he felt himself coming and pumped hard into Mulder before collapsing on his lover’s chest.

Skinner pushed himself back up on his elbows, trying to catch his breath again, and looked down into his lover’s face. Mulder was sprawled on his back on the mattress, clearly exhausted, his eyes glazed over. Skinner chuckled and gently pulled out of his lover, collapsing on the bed next to Mulder.

"Whatever vitamins you’re on," Mulder said weakly, "they’re working."

Skinner laughed again, pulled the covers over them, and wrapped the younger man in his arms. "Some day I’ll tell you my secret." He reached over to turn out the light with a smile.


Mulder poked his head out from under the covers, feeling generally pleased with the world. He shouldn't have been, he thought. By all rights, he should have been depressed about Scully. But right now as he stretched luxuriously in the bed he couldn't help the self-satisfied grin on his face. Nothing like having been well fucked the night before to make a man wake up happy.

Speaking of which - he sat up and looked around for his bed-buddy. No sign of him - but there was a note on the bedside table.

"Fox -

Gone to work. I called in a sick day for you - figured you could use the rest. There's a new toothbrush and razor on the sink, one of my spare sweat suits on the bedroom chair, and breakfast in the kitchen. Walter

PS - You look mighty cute snuggled under the covers. And you are probably unappreciative of my self-discipline in not crawling back into bed with you."

 

Mulder smiled to himself as he reread the note. He whistled as he showered and hummed as he shaved. He slipped into Skinner's spare sweats, liking the idea of that, like wrapping Walter around himself. In the kitchen, a half-pot of coffee sat on the warmer and the table was set with a glass of juice and some of Jean-Pierre's delicious muffins. The morning paper was folded next to his plate. He poured a cup of coffee and sat down at the table. Picking up the newspaper, he found a second note underneath with a key attached.

"Fox -

The key is yours. Please lock up when you put out the Cat. Love, Walter."

 

Mulder picked up the key with a lump in his throat and then total panic set in. This was going too fast, spinning out of control, heading straight for disaster. He should get out of there, and fast, before he got in too deep to recover. Who was he kidding? he thought with a semi-hysterical laugh. He was already in too deep.

His cell phone rang and he fished it out of his jacket pocket with shaky hands. "Hello?"

"Well, you are awake." The deep, strong voice rumbled in his ears. "How'd you sleep?"

"Okay…" He drew a deep breath, trying to still the shakiness. He should have known that it wouldn’t fool Skinner.

"What's wrong, Fox?"

"I found - I found the key. Walter, I don't - I can't - "

"Fox, it's okay." Skinner's voice was calming, soothing. "It's just a panic attack. Listen to me and breathe deeply. You're going to be okay."

Mulder felt himself calming down at the sound of that voice and, after a minute, managed a normal tone of voice. "I'm okay."

"Good. Now about the key - "

"Walter, are you sure?"

There was a chuckle on the phone. "Well, I hardly think you're going to make off with the silver. And there's no telling what the neighbors will think if they see a young man camped on my doorstep night after night. They must already think I murdered someone after that shriek of yours last night."

Mulder chuckled shakily. "Asshole."

"Said the pot."

"You are so juvenile sometimes."

"Can't help it. You take at least ten years off me every time we make love."

Mulder felt a pleasant warmth in his stomach. "Yeah, well, I must add twenty years every time I get into trouble so you stay about even."

"Just promise you won't use my apartment as a half-way house for known felons or a meeting place for MUFON and I'll be happy."

"It takes so little to please you, doesn't it?"

"Oh, I don't know. I have some pretty high standards." There was that growl that he loved, and the warm feeling spread from his stomach into his very bones. "Did you find the clothes I left out for you?"

"I put them on after my shower. Speaking of which, do you know just how much hair itches when it’s growing back in? Especially in that area?"

There was a chuckle on the other end. "Guess you’ll just have to shave every day to prevent it."

"Gee, thanks, Walter."

"Always trying to be supportive, Fox. What are your plans for today?"

"I thought I'd head back to my place and get a little work done on my reports."

"Trying to get in good with the boss?" Skinner's voice was amused.

"Well, you know what a hard-ass he is."

Skinner chuckled. "Are you getting impertinent, Fox? Need me to remind you who's the top in this relationship?"

Mulder grinned. "Well, you can try…" he said provocatively.

"I'll do more than try, boy." Skinner's voice sent shivers down his spine. "Got to go to a meeting. Be good. See you tonight at the Club."

Mulder smiled as he tucked the phone back in his jacket pocket, then fished out his keys and added the new one to the ring.


Mulder's cell phone buzzed as he was finishing up his case report and he answered it with a smile.

"Mulder, it's me."

Scully's voice was quiet, strained, and Mulder's stomach clenched.

"Hi, Scully," he said quietly.

"Mulder, we need to talk."

"I think we've already said too much."

"Mulder - please - I need to talk about this. I'm downstairs in my car. Please - may I come up?"

He drew a deep breath. "Okay. The door is unlocked."

He made a pot of coffee while he waited and, hearing the click of the door, poured two cups.

"In here, Scully."

She accepted the cup without meeting his eyes. "Thanks."

He gestured towards the living room and she settled on one end of the couch while he took the other end.

"So what did you want to talk about?"

"I wanted - I needed to tell you that I'm sorry," Scully said quietly. "I had no business prying into your personal life. All I can say to attempt to justify myself is that I was worried, Mulder. I thought you were in trouble of some kind."

Mulder snorted. "Yeah, well, I guess you could say that." He sighed and said softly, "He doesn't hurt me like you're thinking, Scully. We don't play that kind of game. He - takes care of me, makes me feel - special."

Scully reached out to touch his knee. "You are special, Mulder."

"I don't feel that way," he said lowly. "I usually just feel - different. Spooky. But not special."

"And he makes you feel that way?" she asked softly.

"Yeah."

She touched the bracelet on his wrist. "He gave you this?" Mulder nodded. "Frohike told me what it means. If - if you're going to play games like that, it's good you're with someone safe. Do you love him?"

"It's not about love but - yeah. I love him. And he loves me."

Scully took a deep breath. "Then I'm happy for you."

Mulder looked at her, stunned. "Scully?"

Scully turned sideways on the couch and took his hand in hers. "Mulder, I know I haven't chosen the best way to show it but I care about you. You're my best friend."

"Yeah?" Mulder's face lightened.

"Yeah. So - can I take you out to dinner? My treat."

Mulder flushed. "Um - I can't tonight. I'm meeting - him. At the Club."

"Oh. Of course. Well, what about Sunday afternoon? I'll treat for a movie, you spring for popcorn."

Mulder grinned. "Sounds like fun. Okay."

"I'll pick you up at four." Scully stood up and started collecting her belongings. Mulder walked her to the door and she reached out to hug him. "Thanks, Mulder."

Mulder returned her hug. "No, Scully. Thank you for being my friend."


Frohike studied the screen in front of him for a long moment, looking at the secret membership files of the Dionysus Club where member names and their symbols were correlated. He compared the sketch he had made of the symbol on Mulder’s bracelet to the screen.

"Jesus Christ," he muttered to himself. "Mulder, I hope to hell you know what you are doing." He printed off the page, quickly backed out of the system and logged out of his computer, then sat there staring at the blank screen for a long, long time.

"You’re up late," Langly’s voice said behind him and he swung around in his chair. "Find something interesting?"

Frohike folded the piece of paper and tucked it in his pocket. "No. Nothing interesting. Nothing at all."

Chapter Text

Hang up the Mistletoe I’m gonna get to know
You better
This Christmas.
And as we trim the tree

How much fun it will be

This Christmas.
Fireside blazing bright
We’re caroling through the night.
And this Christmas will be

A very special Christmas for me.

 

As the elevator door opened, Assistant Director Skinner heard a familiar voice across the lobby.

"All I’m saying, Scully, is that next time I choose the movie. If I’d known that you were taking me to the dollar Twilight Special – "

"You just wish you’d thought of that first rather than getting soaked for the popcorn and drinks. You’re cheap, Mulder."

"Yeah, but not easy." Mulder and Scully stopped in the elevator lobby, smiling at Skinner as he emerged from the elevator. "Evening, sir."

"Agents." Skinner acknowledged them with a nod. "Going in the wrong direction, aren’t you?"

Scully held up take-out bags. "Burning the midnight oil, sir."

"Scully thinks she’s found a lead on that case we’re working up," Mulder said with a sideways nod at his partner. "Get out your pen, sir – we should have that 302 ready for you in the morning."

"I look forward to it."

After exchanging good nights, Skinner strode out into the parking deck, smiling to himself. It looked like Mulder and Scully had resolved the problem to their partnership caused by her snooping, a fact that relieved Skinner greatly. They were the best team he had and he had been worried that he might have to split them up if they couldn’t work it out. Then he sighed a little as he realized that they would probably end up being out of town over the weekend on that case. He would miss Mulder. Still, it was only two weeks till Christmas and they would have a long weekend together. Which reminded him that he needed to finish up his Christmas shopping this weekend while Mulder was gone. Deep in thought, he fished his keys out of his pocket and unlocked his car.

"Assistant Director Skinner?"

Skinner turned and stared at the short man with glasses. He looked vaguely familiar. "Yes?" Then it struck him. "You’re a friend of Agent Mulder, aren’t you?"

Frohike nodded. "Melvin Frohike. There’s something we need to discuss, Mr. Skinner. Something that concerns Mulder."

Skinner frowned slightly, wondering what trouble Mulder had gotten into. "What’s this about?"

In reply, Frohike pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and handed it to Skinner. Skinner unfolded it and found himself staring at a printout of his file from the Dionysus Club. He looked up sharply at Frohike.

"How did you get this?" he demanded, taking a step forward towards the shorter man.

Frohike stood his ground. "I’ll be glad to tell you that, Mr. Skinner – but not here. It’s not safe."

Skinner took a deep breath and held the paper back out to Frohike. "There’s a place down the street. We can have a drink - and talk."

Frohike nodded in agreement and followed Skinner’s car to a little pub down the street. It was early so there wasn’t a crowd yet and they took a booth in the back. Once they had ordered drinks, Frohike pulled the paper out of his pocket again and laid it down on the table.

"So how did you find out about this?" Skinner asked, pointing at the paper.

"I suppose you know that Agent Scully confronted Mulder about the Dionysus Club?" Skinner nodded. "Well, while they were talking I got a good look at the design on Mulder’s bracelet and I knew what it meant. Then I hacked into the system at the Club – it wasn’t easy, but I know a lot of tricks. I compared the design to the database and your record came up. And right here it states that Fox Mulder is your contracted submissive."

Skinner studied the man opposite him with a stony expression on his face. "What do you intend to do?"

"I’m not trying to blackmail you, Mr. Skinner. Mulder is a friend of mine and I just want to make sure that he’s okay. I’m not into this particular kink myself, but I have friends who are and they tell me that no one can become a member of the Club without a sponsor."

Skinner knew what Frohike was asking him. "Mr. Frohike, I didn’t take Mulder to the Club. Another submissive did – it was part of a Consortium trap to get Mulder under the thumb of Cancerman. If you know Mulder well then you’ll see how...attractive this place was to him."

Frohike nodded. "Yeah. If he was living in the Middle Ages, he would be wearing a hair shirt and flailing himself."

"Exactly. A sympathetic party within the Club heard of the plan and convinced me to take on Mulder to protect him from Cancerman. Mulder agreed – you know that it has to be consensual on both sides?" Frohike nodded. "I assure you, Mr. Frohike, that Mulder was not coerced in any manner to become my sub, and that he is completely comfortable with this relationship and the...activities we engage in at the Club. You are, of course, free to ask him as well."

"I just might do that. And if I feel that you are in any way a threat to Mulder’s health or well-being..."

Skinner’s eyes locked on Frohike’s. "I can assure you that I would never do anything to hurt Fox in any way."

Frohike returned the stare for a long moment, then said slowly, "This isn’t just about the game. You care about him."

Skinner flushed a little and looked down at his drink. "Yes."

"He feels the same?"

"Yes. So what are you going to do about that paper?"

Frohike picked it up. "This is the only copy I made. I haven’t spoken to anyone else about it – not even Mulder. No one else will be able to get in the way I did – not even me – if their systems people took the recommendation I emailed them. And as for this paper…" Frohike pulled out a lighter and lit one corner of the paper, then set it in the ashtray and both men watched it burn to ash.

"Why did you do that?" Skinner asked, curious.

"I trust you, Mr. Skinner – at least on this matter – and I don’t want this to fall into the wrong hands. It’s about time Mulder had someone to look out for him. Agent Scully can’t do it – he’s too protective of her - but the idiot isn’t so protective of himself."

Skinner sighed. "A fact of which I am only too aware. And, believe me, I am trying to knock some sense into Fox."

"I imagine that’s not too easy," he said with a grin, then paused. "He lets you call him ‘Fox’?"

Skinner shrugged, a half-smile on his lips. "Well, ‘lets’ is a strong word. He prefers me to call him that rather than some other names I have for him."

Frohike laughed at that and finished the last of his beer. He stood up. "Thanks for the beer, Mr. Skinner. I’m relieved to see that Mulder is in good hands. And if you ever need any help – " He handed Skinner a business card.

Skinner glanced at the Lone Gunman card. "There are three of you, aren’t there?"

"Don’t worry, I haven’t said a word to either Langly or Byers. And I won’t be telling Agent Scully, either."

"Thanks. That woman is armed and dangerous." He stood and held out his hand. "Mr. Frohike, it was a pleasure meeting you. I’m glad that Fox has friends that care about him."

Frohike shook his hand and slipped out of the pub. Skinner sat back down to finish his drink and thought about this newest wrinkle, wondering if he should tell Mulder. He sighed and decided not to – the last thing he needed was Mulder in another tailspin. Paying for the drinks, he headed home.


"Hi, it’s me."

Skinner smiled and settled back onto the couch, muting the TV. "Hi, me. How was the flight?" God, but it was good to hear his voice - and he had been gone only a day.

"Okay, I guess. We got in a couple hours ago - and yes, Mother, I ate. I washed my face and brushed my teeth before going to bed, too."

Skinner glanced at the clock and saw that it was almost eleven-thirty, which would make it nine-thirty where Mulder was. "Kind of early bedtime for you, isn’t it?"

"We’ve got an early meeting tomorrow morning. Besides, have you ever been to rural Iowa? The cable TV doesn’t even get the good movies."

"So that explains why you called me."

"What, you think I only call you for cheesy phone sex? I can’t call just to say that I miss you and I’m sorry we’ll miss this weekend?"

"I miss you, too."

"So – what are you wearing?"

Skinner laughed. "You did call me for cheesy phone sex! Sorry to disappoint you, Fox, but I’m wearing a shirt and jeans."

"I’m not disappointed – I can do a lot with that. One of your Henleys?"

"As a matter of fact, yes."

"Oh, yeah. I can picture it now." Mulder’s voice was dreamy. "And those tight and slightly faded jeans you love, the ones that hug your ass."

Skinner shifted slightly on the couch, feeling the jeans becoming tighter. "Those are the ones."

"And you’re stretched out on the couch, watching TV – right?" Mulder sighed. "If I was there, I’d be stretched out with you."

"And what would you be wearing?"

"I’ll go with what I’m wearing now – a T-shirt and boxers. I won’t describe the boxers I’m currently wearing – it might put you out of the mood."

"Who says I’m in the mood in the first place? Fox, I’m not doing cheesy phone sex."

"Would I do anything cheesy? Wait - don’t answer that." Skinner laughed. "I’m talking about great phone sex. Go with me, Walter – widen your horizons."

"My horizons are pretty wide as it is, and I’ll remind you about that when you’re back in town."

"Oooh, I love it when you turn Dom on me," Mulder teased. "So I can’t talk you into this, huh?"

"Not a chance. I’m not that desperate – although if you’re gone a whole week I may be. Nothing like regular sex to spoil a man."

"So you’re saying that if I try this next week you might be more receptive?"

"Brat," Skinner growled, and Mulder laughed. "Say good-night, Gracie."

"Good-night, Gracie. And Walter – "

"Hmm?"

"I do miss you."

"Me, too, Fox. Me, too."

Skinner sighed and hung up the phone, then glanced over at the TV. It looked even less appealing than it had before Mulder’s call and he turned it off. On a whim, he went into the study and looked at the long-unused books on one of the shelves. He pulled out one of them and flipped through it idly, then smiled. Yes, Mulder deserved a special treat when they went back to the Club after Christmas. Taking the book with him, he went to bed.


Several days later, Skinner opened the door and looked surprised. "Fox! I didn’t know you had gotten back in town." He stood back to let Mulder enter the apartment.

"We just landed an hour ago, and I thought I’d drop by to let you know that your fair-haired boy is back – and without major injury or loss of property, either."

Mulder grinned at Skinner and the older man felt his heart turn over. He stared at Mulder, drinking in the sight of him, his senses busy remembering the scent of skin and hair. And suddenly it wasn’t enough and he needed to feel Mulder again, to taste him.

Mulder was surprised to find himself suddenly pushed back against the closed door, his mouth captured in a ruthless kiss, and searching hands moving all over his body. Those busy hands swiftly unbuttoned his shirt, then his mouth was released as Skinner’s mouth traveled downward along his neck and his chest. He wanted to say something but his brain had suddenly gone numb as all his blood moved lower and his IQ dropped into the single digits.

Skinner’s mouth fastened on one of his nipples and he moaned, nails scrabbling against the door as he tried to brace himself. Skinner’s hands were unfastening his belt and pants, pushing them off his hips and freeing him, then that skillful mouth was on his cock and he thought his legs would buckle. He grabbed onto the head bobbing at his groin, not to guide but to have something solid to hold onto, and ran his hands over the smooth scalp. He loved the feel of it under his fingers and thought it was incredibly erotic but was too self-conscious to tell his lover that, afraid it might be a sensitive issue.

Mulder groaned again as Skinner sucked him in deep and it had been too long and this was too good. He came hard, pumping into that hot mouth, crying out his lover’s name before collapsing back against the door. He drew a shuddering breath and looked down at Skinner. "Hello, Walter," he said faintly. "I missed you, too."

Skinner chuckled, wiping his mouth, and looked up at his lover. Mulder’s shirt was hanging off his shoulders, his pants were around his knees, and there was a dazed look on his face. "This is a good look for you," he commented and stood back up to pull Mulder into his arms and kiss him softly. "Have you eaten yet?"

"Yes, if you can call what they served on the plane food." Mulder wound his arms around Skinner’s waist and rested his head on his lover’s shoulder with a contented sigh.

"I’ll make you a sandwich and you can grab your bag from your car," Skinner said, releasing Mulder so that the younger man could reassemble his clothing. "Why didn’t you bring it up with you? Still afraid to presume?"

Mulder’s face was suddenly sober. "Being cautious, I guess. You know that we’re taking a terrible risk getting together here."

"I know," Skinner said. "I’ve increased the bug sweeps on this place and the building management has strict instructions not to let anyone in my apartment when I’m out – not even maintenance or utilities. Beyond that – Fox, if they want us they have us already. Personally, I think it’s worth it." He pulled Mulder back against him and said softly, "I think you’re worth it."

"Sap," Mulder said, just as softly, and gave him a brief kiss. "I’ll grab my bag and be back up in a minute."

"Use your key. I’ll be in the kitchen."

Mulder went down to his car, his forehead furrowed in thought. This was stupid, more dangerous than the Club was, but Skinner seemed to understand and accept the risk. And Mulder wanted this so badly, needed Skinner for as long as the man was willing to put up with him. Realistically, he knew that it would end someday, that Skinner would stop loving him like everyone else Mulder had ever loved, but right now the man was here and Mulder didn't intend to waste a single precious minute. He grabbed his suitcase and suitbag out of the trunk and headed back upstairs to his waiting lover.


Scully looked over at her partner. Mulder was diligently working on his case report and she thought that he was positively glowing this morning, which surprised her. They had been out of town so he hadn’t been to that Club to see his – whatever - in over a week. Of course, they had just successfully completed a case - and for once there would be little in their report to irritate their boss or get Mulder into trouble. And they had spent a lot of time the last few days just talking. She felt a little guilty; over the past few months since her remission she had been wrapped up in her personal world and had had so little time or patience for her partner even though she knew he was going through his own personal crisis. Maybe if she had been there for Mulder to talk to he wouldn't have felt the need to pursue this new hobby or lifestyle or whatever they called it these days. Although she had meant what she said about supporting him with this SM thing if it made him happy, it still made her feel uneasy and she had a feeling that - barring other plans - Mulder would be spending Christmas alone or with this master-person.

What Mulder needed was some friends; no, she corrected herself, some normal friends. Or a mentor - someone he could like and trust and turn to when he needed advice that Scully couldn't give him. Someone like… A sudden thought popped full-born into her head and it excited her so much that she had to take a deep breath before she could speak.

"Mulder, have you got any plans for Christmas?"

Mulder looked up, startled. Part of his mind had been fixed on finishing this report before their meeting with Skinner, and part of his mind was reliving last night, like looking at a slide show: Snap! Sitting on the counter watching Skinner putting together a couple of sandwiches. Snap! Kneeling on the kitchen floor with Skinner's half-naked body under him while Mulder sucked his cock. Snap! Lying on his back in Skinner's big bed, his legs over Skinner's shoulders while his lover moved slowly and deeply into him. Snap! Snuggled against that firm, muscled chest with warm arms wrapped around him, hearing Skinner's steady breathing and knowing he was as safe as anyone could be in this world. Snap! Brown eyes smiling at him across the breakfast table and a hand reaching out to wipe something off his chin. Snap! A quick hug and kiss in the front hallway, feeling the mixture of happiness from the past night and sadness that it would be several days before they would be together again like this. And behind it all, the whispered thought and hope and prayer that someday…

"Mulder?"

"Sorry, Scully. I was thinking about this report. What did you say?"

"Have you got any plans for Christmas?"

An echo in his head - "I want to put in an early claim for Christmas." - "All right. I'll put you on my calendar." He said, evasively, "Um - no firm plans, Scully."

"Mom and I are going to be out of town, with Bill and Tara, remember? I hate to think of you alone on Christmas."

Mulder shrugged. "I'm used to it, Scully. No big deal."

Scully nodded, dropping the subject, but her plans were rapidly taking form in her head. She stood up, pulling her paperwork together. "Mulder, I've got to - um - drop by the lab for those reports before our meeting with Skinner. I'll meet you there."

"Sure, Scully." Mulder bent back over his report.

Scully hurried upstairs to AD Skinner's office. Kim looked up as she came in. "Agent Scully, you're early."

"I wonder if Assistant Director Skinner has a few minutes for me before our meeting."

"I'll check." Kim returned in a few minutes. "Go on in."

Skinner looked up as Scully entered the office and shut the door behind her. "Agent Scully, you wished to speak with me. Is something wrong? Something with this last case…"

"No, sir." Scully cleared her throat, settling her nerves. "This is more in the light of a personal matter, sir."

"A personal matter, Agent Scully. Not your cancer - "

"No, sir, but thank you for your concern. It concerns Agent Mulder." Skinner leaned back in his chair, silent, and she continued quickly. "As you know, I'm taking some vacation days at Christmas to go out to San Diego to be with my family. Normally we have Christmas here, at my mother's, and I drag Mulder along but this year…." She paused and looked at Skinner directly. "Sir, do you have any plans for Christmas?"

Startled, Skinner sat upright in his chair and stared at the agent, then cleared his throat. "No firm plans, Agent Scully. Why?"

"Well, sir, I have some friends who get together at Christmas when they can't be with their families, a sort of Orphan's Christmas, and I had the thought that perhaps you and - and Mulder could get together for Christmas. Neither of you are going to be with family, and it's terrible to be alone on Christmas, and - well, sir - I'd rather Mulder wasn't alone on Christmas."

"Have you discussed this with Agent Mulder?"

"I wanted to bring the idea to your attention first. Sir, Mulder's been through some tough times. Lately he has developed a - a friendship that has me worried. And he admires you and wants your respect - the way he acted on this last case, for example. He's really trying."

"I am aware of that." For once, Skinner felt at a total loss for words. "I - I'll think about it, Agent Scully."

Scully smiled warmly. "Thank you, sir."

There was a knock on the door and Kim stuck her head in. "Agent Mulder is here for your meeting, sir."

"Send him in." Skinner sat back in his chair, feeling a little dazed by Scully's proposition and had a hard time concentrating for the first few minutes. Mulder didn't seem to notice that anything was wrong and launched into his report, and the mundanity of the situation - if one could apply the word mundane to something involving an X-file - brought him back to center. He went over the field and budget reports with them, signed off on the reports, and dismissed the agents.

Scully stood quickly, directing a speaking look at Skinner, and muttered something about labs and reports before quickly leaving the room. Mulder stared after her, puzzled, then turned back to Skinner.

"Is it my imagination, or is Scully acting bizarrely today?"

Skinner couldn't help it; the bubble of laughter that had been sitting inside him since Scully had proposed her idea burst and Mulder stared in stunned surprise as his AD roared with laughter.

"Okay - want to tell me the joke so that I can laugh, too?"

Skinner tried to stop laughing. "Scully - wants me to - invite you over - for Christmas."

Mulder stared at Skinner. "You're kidding me, right?" Skinner shook his head, unable to speak. "But - why?"

"That's the best part," Skinner said, wiping his streaming eyes. "She thinks you've developed a less-than-desirable ‘friendship’ lately."

Mulder's lips twitched. "So Scully is worried that I'm going to spend Christmas at the Club being tied up and spanked and is trying to save me?" This sent Skinner off into another round of laughter, and Mulder had to laugh as well. "God, sir - what do you plan to do?"

"Just what she asked, of course. That woman scares me sometimes." Skinner tried to recover his composure. "Agent Mulder, would you care to join me for Christmas?"

Mulder grinned and eyed Skinner speculatively. "Against my better judgment - and I get the terrified impression that you take Dickens as your guidelines for Christmas - I accept."

Skinner chuckled. "Be afraid, Mulder, be very afraid. Now get out of here - I've got fifteen minutes before my meeting with VCU and I've got to recover the expected surly demeanor."

Mulder grinned and took himself off. Scully looked up expectantly when he entered their office and he smiled. "Scully, you're not going to believe this, but the strangest thing just happened…"


Mulder let himself into the apartment, calling out to Skinner as he closed the door. "Walter?"

"Be out in a minute."

Seeing that the coast was clear, Mulder took the shopping bag with the wrapped presents over to the small tree that Skinner had standing by the patio door and placed them underneath. He was amused to see that Skinner had a live tree and wondered what he did with it after Christmas. Planted it up at the cabin, perhaps?

"Hey, Ebenezer," Skinner said, coming into the living room. "Kick any orphans on the way over?"

"Bah, humbug," Mulder said but with a trace of humor.

Skinner chuckled and folded his arms around the younger man's waist, squeezing him lightly. "What do you think of the tree?"

"Very green, but no tinsel."

"It's hard to get the stuff off, and tinsel's bad for wildlife."

"So you do plant the tree at the cabin."

"I do now, starting this year. New tradition. Seemed somehow appropriate, celebrating life."

Mulder's throat closed briefly, and he turned in Skinner's arms to return the hug. "Something smells good. Besides you."

"You sweet-talker, you." Skinner kissed him softly and felt Mulder melt into him. "Roast beef and all the trimmings."

Mulder smiled and Skinner felt his heart turn over. "Pie?"

"Of course. So, when do you want to open your presents? Are you a Christmas Eve or Christmas morning kind of guy?"

Mulder flushed a little and pulled out of Skinner's arms, shrugging diffidently. "Doesn't matter to me. What do you prefer?"

"Fox." If Mulder could have scuffed his toe in the carpet like a little boy he would have. "What is it?" Mulder became fascinated with the tree, fingering the ornaments, and seemed absorbed in the lights. "I'm not giving up on this line of questioning, and you know how tenacious I am."

Mulder sighed. "We didn't do Christmas."

"You're Jewish? You prefer to celebrate Hanukkah?"

"No - well, I wasn't raised in the faith, but what I meant was we stopped celebrating anything after - Sam."

Skinner had learned long ago to control his temper, but the white-hot surge he felt right now threatened to burst his control. He could understand grief at the loss of a child, but what kind of parents abandoned their remaining child? He took a deep breath, controlling his anger, concentrating on the man before him.

"Well, my family had a tradition. We would have our big dinner on Christmas Eve and then we'd choose one present to open that night. All the others were opened the next morning, with coffeecake for breakfast, and we’d goof-off and snack on left-overs all day."

Mulder smiled faintly. "Sounds like a nice tradition."

"Okay, I'll take that as a second. Come on, let's eat."

After dinner, Mulder said casually, "So, when do we open the present?"

Skinner was amused for he could see the little-boy eagerness under the diffidence. "Right now, if you'd like."

"And I get to choose?"

"Yes."

Mulder grinned again and began prowling around the tree, examining the packages carefully as if conducting an investigation and Skinner hid a smile. Then, unexpectedly, he picked up a package that Skinner didn't recognize and brought it to Skinner.

"I'd like you to open this one." As if suddenly embarrassed, he returned to his prowling. Skinner was going to wait till Mulder had chosen his as well, but the surreptitious glances Mulder cast his way told him that the younger man was on edge and waiting for his reaction. He swallowed hard, wondering when was the last time Mulder had been able to give someone he loved a gift. He thought about all the birthdays and Christmases over the past twenty-some years and wished it were in his power to make it up to Mulder. Realistically, he knew that the only thing he could do was to love Mulder and to make sure that he knew just how loved he was for however long they were together.

Carefully, he unwrapped the package and found himself holding a finely bound leather book. He opened it and saw that it was a special edition of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass. He remembered telling Mulder that Whitman was one of his favorite writers, and was touched that Mulder remembered.

"Fox," he murmured. "It's beautiful."

"Open it," Mulder said quietly. "I marked one of the poems that I want you to read."

Skinner flipped to the book-marked page and read aloud.

"As I lay with my head in your lap, camerado,
The confession I made I resume, what I said to you and the open air I resume,
I know I am restless and make others so,
I know my words are weapons full of danger, full of death,
For I confront peace, security, and all the settled laws, to unsettle them,
I am more resolute because all have denied me than I could ever have been had all accepted me,
I heed not and have never heeded either experience, cautions, majorities, nor ridicule,
And the threat of what is call'd hell is little or nothing to me,
And the lure of what is call'd heaven is little or nothing to me;
Dear camerado!
I confess I have urged you onward with me, and still urge you,
Without the least idea what is our destination,
Or whether we shall be victorious, or utterly quell'd and defeated."

 

Skinner swallowed, his throat suddenly tight, and looked across at the room at Mulder. His lover was watching him out of the corner of his eye, an uncertain look on his face as if even now he was unsure of whether Skinner accepted him fully and understood the risks involved. Skinner stood up and crossed the space between them, physically and metaphorically, and folded Mulder into his arms.

"Thank you," he said quietly. "It’s beautiful." He released Mulder with a squeeze and turned to the tree. "I’d like you to open this one."

Mulder took the square box. "It’s heavy." He sat down cross-legged on the floor, unwrapped the paper and opened the lid of the box, then stared in puzzled surprise. "It’s a rock. It’s a pretty rock – "

Skinner smiled and sat down next to him. "Turn it over."

Mulder ran his fingers over the surface of the large gray-brown rock, then picked it up and turned it over. And then he stared at it in open-mouthed wonder. It was a geode, cut cleanly in half and polished on the interior. Bands of color sparkled and caught the light, patterns changing as he turned it in his hands, totally amazed by this natural miracle.

He looked at Skinner, his eyes bright with wonder, and Skinner said, "That's what you look like to me. Smooth and cool on the outside, but on the inside layers of color and darkness and light. Not perfect but breathtakingly beautiful - a miracle that I am grateful to be allowed to share."

"Walter," Mulder said softly. "Thank you. Thank you for seeing this. I don't know why, but I am grateful - hell, ecstatic, that you do. I love you."

Skinner caressed his cheek softly. "I love you, too." He felt his groin tighten and ignored the feeling. "You want some pie?"

"No," Mulder said simply. "I want to go to bed. I want to make love to you."

Skinner leaned over to kiss him tenderly. "I think that can be arranged."


Skinner woke in the early morning and gently eased out of the embrace of his lover. He sat looking down at him for a long moment, drinking in the picture of his own dark angel, so beautiful and innocent in sleep. Then he slipped out of bed, put on a robe, and went into the spare bedroom to retrieve the presents hidden there. He had conspired to give Mulder a Christmas he would never forget, including a present dropped off by Frohike from the Gunmen, and those from Scully and her mother. Skinner's lips tightened briefly. He had contacted Mrs. Mulder and had invited her to join them for Christmas, but she had said she had plans and had sent a card. His own mother was spending Christmas day with his brother’s family but was flying in the day after Christmas to spend a couple days with him. He set all the presents around the tree, displaying one of his prominently by the window, and went back to bed.

Mulder woke gradually to a sense of being warm and safe, a feeling he associated with Walter Skinner. He snuggled closer into that warmth, chuckling to himself as he admitted he was a closet-snuggler.

"Well, you sound cheerful this morning."

He blinked open his eyes and smiled, stretching. "What's not to be cheerful about? Waking in your arms would make anyone smile."

"Thanks - I think. I'm going to assume that was a compliment. Time to get up, Fox."

"I already am."

"Hedonist. It's Christmas morning - don't you want to see what Santa brought you?"

"Already see it. Glad he didn't leave it under the tree, though."

Skinner laughed. "You're incorrigible. Hit the showers, junior."

They took their time in the shower, soaping and caressing each other, emerging sated and satisfied. After slipping into clothes, they went into the living room. Mulder paused on the threshold and stared, surprised, then looked up at Skinner with a grin. "Santa thinks you've been a good boy this year. Or you've got some mixed up burglars."

"What makes you think that Santa brought these for me?"

Mulder shrugged. "Your place. And you've been a very, very good boy this year. I can provide references."

Skinner snorted. "Asshole. I'll get the coffee."

As Skinner went into the kitchen, Mulder put his hands in his pockets and tentatively went into the living room. He felt like an intruder, a voyeur at someone else's Christmas, and walked around the tree, looking surreptitiously at the labels on the packages. A suspiciously large number of them had his name written on them, and they were not all from Walter. A large box stood over by the window and he was drawn towards it. A large tag on it said "To Fox from Santa" and he had to blink suddenly.

"Uh-uh - that one's last," Skinner said, entering the room with two coffee mugs. "Christmas rules."

"Damn, Walter, your family have a rule for everything?" Mulder grinned and walked back to the couch.

They took their time over opening the gifts, each enjoying each other's surprise as much as their own gifts. Skinner held up a pair of silk boxers and raised an eyebrow. "Trying to tell me something, Fox?"

"It's a documented fact that briefs reduce a man's potency."

"I haven't noticed any complaints from you on my potency. Besides, that's for pregnancy and - I hate to tell you this, Fox - there's no way I'm going to get you pregnant."

"A man can dream, Walter." Then Mulder snorted over a box of subdued ties. "Trying to change my style, Walter?"

"Trying to redeem my reputation. I've always been known for my good taste and being seen with you in those atrocious ties is going to get me black listed. Besides, look closer."

Mulder peered at the patterns on the ties, then burst out laughing. What he had taken for tiny dots were spaceships on one and galaxies on the other.

Mulder was pleased by Skinner’s pleased reception of the Civil War videotape series and his amusement over the kitschy "Kiss the Cook" apron. He had received the movie "Contact" from Skinner, "Conspiracy Theory" from the Lone Gunmen, and a book by one of his favorite authors from Scully. He read his mother's engraved card with no expression, tossing the check onto the table, and tried not to look at the box by the window.

"Okay, you can open the big box now."

"All right, but the last time I saw something like this was at a bachelor party so if a busty young thing jumps out, it's not my fault."

The box turned out to be a cover and, after Mulder lifted it, he stood staring in stupefied amazement.

"Like it?" Skinner asked. "It" was a telescope, a purchase that had required a lot of studying by Walter but it was worth it to see the look on Mulder's face. "Can't see as well in the city with all the lights, but you should be able to see spectacularly well up at the cabin." He came up behind the dumb-founded Mulder and said softly, "Remember that night that we stood outside and you showed me the constellations? I thought you could show me where those Reticulans come from."

"Walter - I - God!" He caught his breath, looked up blindly, and Skinner folded him into his arms. "It’s – it’s too much – "

"Merry Christmas, Fox," Skinner murmured. "The first of many Christmases to come."

And the smile on the face turned towards his was the best present he had ever received.


They spent the afternoon stretched out on the couch together watching videos. Skinner hadn't been to a theater in so long that he hadn't seen "Conspiracy Theory" and his primary comment was "At last - someone more paranoid than you."

Mulder grinned. "You know, they messed up on the romance, though."

Skinner was lying with his arms wrapped around Mulder and could sense both his body heat and a slight humming of energy between them. His breath became slow and even, tension melted away, and his whole body filled with a warmth, a contentment, a sense of peace. He thought, This is exactly what it’s supposed to be like; this is exactly what’s supposed to happen. Out loud he said, "Really?"

"Yeah, the real attraction was between the Mel Gibson and Patrick Stewart characters."

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "This should be good."

"Didn't you see all those smoldering looks?"

"I must have missed it during all that gun play."

"And we all know that violence is sublimated passion."

"You bite my nose, Mulder, and I'll bite your ass."

"Promises, promises." Grinning wickedly, he began to teasingly sing along with the credits, "'You're just too good to be true, can't take my eyes off of you. You'd be like heaven to touch, I want to hold you so much."

There was a comfortable silence for a few minutes, then Skinner whispered softly, "I love you, baby, and if it's quite all right, I need you, baby, to warm the lonely nights." Mulder grinned and turned in Skinner's arms, pulling his head down for a kiss.


"My mother's flight arrives at 1:30," Skinner said over breakfast the next day.

Mulder nodded, feeling a little disappointed at the interruption of their weekend. "I’ll push off, then. Give you and your mom some time together."

"Actually, she's looking forward to meeting you."

Mulder looked at him, stunned. "You told her - about us?"

"Of course."

"And she didn't have a coronary?"

"I told you that my parents have known about my bisexuality for years. Mom can’t wait to meet you."

Mulder suddenly lost his appetite. "What did you tell her about me?"

"That I’m in love with you, and that you love me. I’ve talked about you before, in connection with work, so she knows who you are."

"And she didn’t try to convince you to seek psychiatric help?" Mulder couldn’t help the slightly bitter tone in his voice.

Skinner reached out to take Mulder’s hand and said quietly, "Don’t."

"What?"

"The way you put yourself down. Do you think I’m such a bad judge of character?"

"Don’t patronize me, Walter," Mulder said, irritated, and got up from the table. Skinner threw down his napkin and followed Mulder up to the bedroom where he found his lover packing his suitcase.

"What do you think you’re doing?" he asked, leaning against the door frame.

"Going home," Mulder said shortly, throwing his clothes in the suitcase haphazardly.

"Why?"

Mulder swung to face him, suddenly furious. "Dammit, Walter, we should have talked before you told your mother about us! It should have been our decision, not yours. And I can tell you this right now – I have no intention of telling my mother! Not that she’d be interested."

"Okay, Fox," Skinner said quietly. "I agree that I should have talked it over with you, and I apologize. I hadn’t planned on telling her but we were talking about Christmas plans and I mentioned you and it just seemed the right time. But however it happened it’s done, and I don’t see that it’s worth fighting over."

"Well, maybe I do!" Mulder stomped into the bathroom and grabbed his shaving kit, throwing it into his suitcase. Suddenly he found himself spun around and flung down on the bed on his back, pinned down by Skinner’s body. "Damn it, Walter, get off me! I’m not in the mood."

Skinner grabbed the flailing hands and pinned Mulder’s wrists to the bed. "I’ll let you up as soon as you stop this shit and listen to me."

Mulder tried to break free but Skinner’s grip was too strong so he subsided, panting and glaring at Skinner. "You may be able to keep me here but you can’t make me listen."

Skinner’s lips twitched. "God, Mulder, you sound like my four-year-old nephew."

"And that’s another thing – you don’t take me seriously."

"In what way?"

"This is just about sex for you – having a regular piece of ass."

Skinner’s mouth tightened. "How dare you say that! This is about a hell of a lot more than sex! If it were just the sex, I would have kept this at the Club. Why would I risk my career just to nail you? And, as I recall, I was the first one to say ‘I love you’. Do you think I was just saying it? Were you just saying it?"

Mulder closed his eyes. "No," he said quietly. "No, I meant it."

"And I meant it, too." Skinner leaned over to kiss Mulder. "Sure I love your body and I love making love to you. But I also love your brilliant mind, and your bizarre sense of humor, and your thickheaded stubbornness, and your principles. And I can’t help it if I’m so damn happy that you love me back that I want everyone to know. I can’t tell the world because of our jobs – at least I can tell my family."

Mulder had opened his eyes while Skinner was talking, watching his face with an unreadable expression. "Let go of my wrists, Walter." Skinner cautiously released him and Mulder slid his arms around Skinner’s waist. "I’m an idiot, and I’m sorry for what I said. But next time let’s talk about it, okay? Before you make any kind of announcement?"

"Okay." Skinner kissed Mulder again and the younger man wriggled suggestively under him.

"As long as we’re here…"

"Now who’s the one thinking just about sex?"

"Of course. I’m a slut and I admit it."

Skinner moved to get up, pulling Mulder up with him. "Later. We’ve got a plane to meet."


On the way to the airport, Mulder tried to picture Skinner's mother. And he tried to ignore the queasiness in his stomach at the thought of meeting her. What if she hated him on sight? What if she couldn’t accept the fact that her son was involved in a more or less permanent relationship with a man? Skinner had said that his parents had accepted his bisexuality – but that had been after the war and he had been in a long-term heterosexual marriage since then. What parent would accept him as a replacement for Sharon Skinner?

Skinner's mother turned out to be a tall serene-looking woman with soft, pure white hair and warm brown eyes very much like her son’s. She and Skinner embraced warmly, and Mulder stood with his hands in his pockets, not sure what to do.

"Mom, I'd like you to meet Fox Mulder. Fox, this is my mother, Anne Skinner."

"Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Skinner," he said holding out his hand, but she pulled him into her arms for an embrace and kissed his cheek. He flushed a little but looked gratified.

"I've heard a lot about you from my son."

He grinned. "Any of it good, ma'am?"

"Some," she retorted. "And call me Anne. What would you prefer me to call you? I've heard you prefer 'Mulder' but Walter just called you 'Fox'."

"Yeah, he does pretty much what he wants to," Mulder said, looking over at Skinner from under his eyelashes. "Please, call me Fox."

They took her to a local restaurant and Anne amused them by telling them about how Skinner's nephew had tried to decimate the Christmas tree. Mulder countered with a story from a childhood Christmas, and then Anne had to bring up – over Skinner’s protest – the time that Walter had tried to boost his younger brother Jimmy up the chimney to make sure that it was safe for Santa to come down.

Mulder grinned at Skinner. "Always planning ahead even then, Walter."

"And then there was the time – "

"Mother!"

Anne laughed. "Oh, all right, Walter. What about you, Fox? Any nieces or nephews?"

Skinner closed his eyes briefly. Shit, he thought. He had never thought to tell his mother about Mulder’s family. He opened his eyes and looked anxiously at his lover, wanting to reach out to reassure him.

"It’s all right, Walter," Mulder said quietly. "My sister was abducted when we were children, Anne. A couple months ago I met a woman who claimed to be my sister and she has kids so, yeah, it’s possible that I’m an uncle."

Anne reached over to cover his hand with hers. "I’m sorry, Fox. I had no idea." Deftly she changed the subject and Skinner was relieved to see Mulder relax. The rest of the meal passed in humorous exchanges and lighthearted comments, then Mulder went to get the car while the two Skinners slowly followed.

Anne slid her hand into the crook of her son’s arm. "You're right," she said softly. "He's a beautiful, intelligent, well-mannered young man."

Skinner grinned. "Some of the time. He can be a pain in the ass, too."

"I can see that." She looked at her son, worried. "I can also see that he's a troubled young man. Are you sure that you know what you're getting into?"

"I'm sure, but at this point it's moot. I love him, Mom. I need him in my life. And he needs me."

"Walter, do you remember that book I used to read to you – ‘The Little Prince’?"

Skinner looked at his mother, puzzled. "Of course. Why?"

"Just remember the moral of that story: once you tame something, you are forever responsible for it. And forever can be a very, very long time."

Skinner was thoughtful as helped his mother into the car and then climbed into the front passenger seat. He glanced sideways at Mulder, thinking about the wild and skittish creature that he was slowly taming. Forever responsible. He thought that he could live with that.


Anne had not been to her son's apartment since he usually visited her in the family home so a grand tour was the first order of business. Then the three settled in front of a cheerful fire with coffee and dessert while they opened their Christmas presents to each other. Mulder was embarrassed to find that Anne had bought him a Christmas present - a set of glow-in-the-dark star charts to go with his telescope - when he didn't have anything for her and resolved to keep an eye out for something special for her before she returned home. Anne asked him a number of questions about his work and didn't seem to see anything strange about the types of cases he pursued; she was a good listener, he thought, and ended up telling her the back-stories about some of their cases, some of which Skinner hadn't even heard.

The sound of the mantle clock striking midnight surprised them all. "Well, I don’t know about you boys but I’m exhausted," Anne said, standing up. "I’m going to go up to bed."

"Sounds like a good idea," Skinner said. "Fox, would you show Mom where to find the extra towels and blankets while I lock up?"

Mulder made sure that Skinner’s mother was settled in comfortably and then headed back towards the living room. He felt uncomfortable about sharing Skinner’s bed while his mother was there and fully intended to spend the night on the couch but his lover intercepted him on the stairs.

"Aren’t you heading in the wrong direction?"

"Um – I thought I would sleep on the couch tonight – "

Skinner grinned and shook his head, pushing Mulder toward the bedroom. He closed the bedroom door behind them and pulled Mulder into his arms.

Mulder tried to pull away from Skinner, hissing, "I can't!"

Skinner ran a roving hand over the front of Mulder’s jeans. "Oh, but it's obvious you can."

"Your mother is in the next room!"

"She had two children - I think she's figured out how that happened." He nuzzled Mulder’s neck.

"Walter!"

"What?"

"That's - for god's sake, that's your parents you're talking about!"

"Fox, everyone's parents had sex. Did you miss that class in biology?"

"I'm going for the Immaculate Conception theory in my case."

Skinner grinned. "Yeah, well there are a number of guys in VCU who think you're the anti-Christ, so you may be onto something." He nipped Mulder's neck. "You could try being quiet."

Mulder snorted. "Yeah, tell me another story, Uncle Walt. You could gag me."

"Not here." Skinner unbuttoned Mulder’s shirt, kissing the exposed skin. "I guess we'll have to risk it."

"Or you could restrain yourself." Mulder groaned. "We could just sleep together."

"Oh, I intend to sleep at some point tonight – or tomorrow morning."

"Walter, you’re insatiable." Mulder’s shirt hit the floor and Skinner began teasing Mulder’s nipples with his tongue.

"I’ve never heard any complaints from you."

"You’ve never had your mother sleeping in the next room."

Skinner chuckled, reaching down to slowly unbutton Mulder’s jeans. "I never realized you were such a prude, Fox." He slid a hand inside the waistband of his boxers and stroked the silky warm skin of Mulder’s cock.

Mulder groaned and leaned his head on Skinner’s shoulder. "Dammit, Walter," he moaned. "Can’t you take ‘no’ for an answer?"

"Your lips are saying ‘no, no’, but your cock is saying ‘yes, yes’," Skinner said in his best Pepe Le Peu imitation.

Mulder chuckled weakly and bit Skinner’s neck through his shirt. "Brute. You understand that I’m giving in under duress."

"Duly noted and logged." Skinner pushed Mulder’s pants and boxers off his hips, tipped him back on the bed, and finished stripping him. "Just lie back and think of your country."

"The hell with that."

Mulder grabbed Skinner by the front of his shirt and pulled his lover down on top of him, then rolled with him. Skinner loved it when Mulder got aggressive and took the lead in their lovemaking and he cooperated fully as Mulder stripped him. Mulder straddled his lover and began nipping and kissing down his body, teasing his nipples and then moving lower across his belly. One hand grasped Skinner’s cock while his tongue softly and slowly moved up and down the shaft. His skillful tongue licked around the rim of the head then his mouth took in the head while his tongue titillated the opening.

Skinner drew in a breath with a moan. "God, Fox, you get better at this every time."

Mulder looked up from his work with a grin. "I had a good teacher." He went back to work, licking and sucking and driving Skinner crazy until the older man could feel that he was close to orgasm. Then he felt Mulder’s hand press hard at the base of his cock, stopping the flow.

"Bastard," Skinner groaned.

Mulder laughed softly. "You don’t want this party to end so quickly, do you?"

He added lube to Skinner's erection, then straddled Skinner's waist again and slowly lowered himself onto his lover's cock. Skinner groaned at the feeling of his cock sliding past the ring of muscle into Mulder's body and his hands moved up to grasp the slender waist. Mulder pushed himself up and then down again, pressing deeper with every stroke as his body began to adjust to the thick cock, and felt pleasure wash over him. He rested a hand on Skinner's chest, working Skinner's cock in and out of his body, his breathing becoming more ragged with each stroke. Skinner jerked his hips to meet Mulder's thrusts and slid a hand across Mulder's belly to grasp his lover's cock. Mulder groaned and increased his thrusting and Skinner stroked his hand over Mulder's erection in rhythm with the thrusts. He watched his lover's face above him: Mulder's eyes were half-closed, heavy with arousal, his face was flushed, and incoherent mutterings intermixed with pants and groans rolled unceasingly from his lips. Skinner increased the pace of his stroking and Mulder's thrusting became faster until he was slamming his body against his lover's. Then he threw his head back, letting out a gasping cry as he came and came across Skinner's chest. Skinner felt the fire from Mulder's orgasm race through him, setting his nerves to flame, and then he was exploding deep within his lover, crying out with his own release.

Mulder slumped down on Skinner's chest. "Damn," he said shakily. "I think I wore myself out." He sighed, lifted himself off Skinner, and curled up against his lover.

Skinner folded his arms around Mulder and kissed the sweaty forehead. He felt a pleasant lazy warmth flowing through his entire body. "It's okay. Go to sleep, babe." Mulder nodded and was asleep almost on the thought. Skinner untangled himself for a minute to retrieve the covers, then settled back and took his lover back in his arms. Mulder muttered something against his shoulder that could have been "love you", and Skinner was willing to believe that's what he heard. He smiled and let his eyes drift closed.


Anne Skinner woke up to the smell of coffee and glanced at the clock. Six a.m. Belting on a robe, she went downstairs to find Mulder lying on the couch in a darkened living room idly flicking through the channels on the TV.

"Morning, Fox. My, you’re up early! Is Walter awake, too?"

Mulder had awakened at four in the morning from one of his nightmares and had slipped downstairs so he wouldn't disturb his lover. He sat up to make room for Skinner’s mother on the couch. "No, ma’am. Would you like some coffee? I just made a pot."

"Don’t get up – I can get it myself." Anne Skinner fixed a cup of coffee and took it back in the living room, settling on the other end of the couch. While she sipped on her coffee, she surreptitiously studied her son’s lover. He looked a little tired – not that she was surprised, she thought hiding a sudden smile and thinking of the sounds that had penetrated closed doors last night. But this was a different kind of tired, one she had seen on her son’s face many mornings after his return from the war.

"Trouble sleeping, Fox?" she asked gently and he flashed her a surprised but diffident smile. It occurred to her that too few people had fussed over this young man during his life. "Walter used to have nightmares after he came home. I’d come downstairs to find him lying on the couch, like you, watching TV."

Mulder was fascinated by this glimpse into his lover’s past. "What was he like – when he was young?"

Anne smiled, relieved to see him perk up. "I brought a picture album with me – would you like to see it?" At Mulder’s assent, she fetched the album from the suitcase and they settled on the couch, the album on Mulder’s lap while Anne turned the pages and identified the pictures. There were baby pictures and birthday pictures and ones of the holidays. Mulder was fascinated to see Skinner as a skinny teenager with a mop of dark hair and an earnest expression, and then that same earnest expression on an older teen in a uniform with a buzz cut.

"This is a picture of his unit," Anne said softly, pointing to snapshot on the opposite page of several fresh-faced kids looking ready to face the world. "You know that they were all killed in an ambush?"

Mulder nodded. "Yes. Walter told me about it." He wondered which one of these kids – so young but whose eyes already looked like they had seen too much – had been Walter’s lover, but he was hesitant to ask.

Anne touched one of the young men and said quietly, "This was Murphy. Has Walter talked about him?"

Mulder shook his head. "He told me that he had a lover and that he was killed in the ambush." He studied the laughing man standing next to Skinner, wondering what he had been like and what would have happened if he hadn’t been killed.

"He’ll tell you when he’s ready." Anne turned the page and there were pictures of an older Walter Skinner with his father and brother and he recognized the cabin in the background. Then she turned the page again and he found himself staring at Walter and Sharon Skinner’s wedding pictures. Anne started to turn the page quickly but Mulder put out a hand to stop her and studied the posed portrait of the couple. They looked so happy, so much in love, and yet the marriage had ended in divorce. Sharon was somewhere on the West Coast he vaguely remembered hearing, far away from DC and conspiracies.

Mulder looked up at Skinner’s mother. "Anne, does this – bother you about Walter and me? I mean, you had a perfect daughter-in-law, must have expected grandchildren…"

Anne covered Mulder’s hand with hers. "Fox, I can truly say that all I wanted for my sons was for them to be happy. Walter tried to be happy with Sharon but they were just too different and it didn’t work out. But when I saw him yesterday at the airport – I haven’t seen him look this happy and relaxed in years. And that makes me happy." She patted his hand and stood up. "Now, how about you give me a hand making breakfast? We’ll have that lazy son of mine out of bed in a minute once he smells my pancakes cooking."

"Okay, but I have to warn you – I’m a disaster in the kitchen."

"So was Walter when he was younger, and who do you think taught him to cook?" Anne smiled at Mulder. "Come on, Fox. Time my newest son learned how to handle the dangers and mysteries of the kitchen."


Scully smiled at her partner as she entered their office. "Morning, Mulder. How was your holiday?"

Mulder leaned back in his chair. "Great. Thanks for the book, by the way, and tell your mom that the fudge was delicious. How was your Christmas?"

"Wonderful. Charlie wasn’t able to make it, but Tara made up for it by having the baby just before I left. A little boy – Matthew."

"Congratulations, Aunt Dana."

"Thanks. So how was Christmas with Skinner? I saw his car in the parking deck so I assume that no violence took place."

"Not bad, actually. He’s a good cook, too."

"Skinner cooked? I’d have paid money to see that!"

"And then his mother came in town the next day, so I spent some time sightseeing with them." At Scully’s open-mouthed stare, he grinned. "What?"

"You? Sightseeing with Skinner and his mother?"

"I’ll have you know that most of my friends’ mothers find my boyish charm appealing," Mulder said with an impish smile. "Take your mother, for example."

"Must be an X-File," Scully retorted, then turned back to work. When she knew that Mulder was absorbed with his own work, she allowed herself a small, satisfied smile. It looked like her plan had gone even better than she had hoped.

 

Chapter Text

I'm young enough to still see the passionate boy that I used to be
But I'm old enough to say I got a good look at the other side

I know we've got to work real hard, maybe even for the rest of our lives

But right now I just want to take what I can get tonight

While the night is still young
I want to keep making love to you
While the night is still young.

 

Mulder stared at the mirror in frustration. "I hate these things! I can never get them tied right." Strong hands turned him around and Skinner expertly tied the black bow tie while Mulder glared at his lover. "Why did I ever agree to go to this party with you?"

Skinner smiled, not in the least put out by Mulder’s bad temper. "Because I said ‘please’?"

"Remind me never to agree to anything before, during or after sex."

"So how much time exactly does that leave in your day for foolish promises?"

Mulder shot him a bird and Skinner chuckled, then went back into the main room to finish dressing. Mulder turned back to the mirror to brush his hair.

"What I don’t understand is why the formal dress," Mulder called back to Skinner. "I mean, wouldn’t a costume party be more in character?"

"They used to do that but the costumes got really out of hand. And then there was all the posturing that went with the typical Master/slave costuming. Besides," Skinner said as Mulder came out of the bathroom, "we Doms like looking at all you pretty boys in your tuxes."

Mulder grinned, starting to be restored to good humor, and Skinner thought again that Mulder was made for formal wear. In his black tux and starched white shirt, his lover looked incredibly hot and sexy. He slid his arms around Mulder’s waist and kissed him.

"Mmm. That’s nice," Mulder said, melting against his lover. "Are you sure that you don’t want to just stay up here tonight? You can tie me up and do wicked things to my body."

Skinner nipped at Mulder’s neck above his collar. "If you’re a good boy tonight, I promise you something special tomorrow."

Mulder’s eyes lit up and he pressed a row of kisses along Skinner’s jawline. "Can I persuade you to give me a little demonstration now?"

"Brat," Skinner growled affectionately. "Time to go."

The party was in full swing when they arrived downstairs and they looked around appreciatively. Tables had been moved out of the dining room to create a dance floor and a number of men and women were gyrating to the music already. Buffet tables were set up in the foyer area, and a coffee/dessert bar in the library. Mulder could see Sean gesturing to them and they joined him and Mason.

"Well, I was wondering if you two were going to show up," Mason said with a smile. "Finally got out of bed, I see."

"Actually, Mulder was engaged in a life and death struggle with his tie," Skinner said solemnly. "It was a near thing, too."

Mulder gave him a mock-offended look. "Just for that, I'm not saving any dances for you."

Sean chuckled. "That's telling him, Mulder. Can't let these tops get to thinking they run everything. Come on." He dragged Mulder after him onto the dance floor.

Mason gave Skinner a humorous look. "Oh, they're full of themselves tonight. There won't be any living with them."

Skinner agreed and they found a table away from the noisy dance area, settling down with a sigh. Involuntarily, his eyes sought out a slender figure in the gyrating crowd on the dance floor, panicked for a moment when he couldn't find him and then felt a sudden wave of relief when he saw Mulder again.

"Relax, Walter," Mason said. "He's not going anywhere."

"You don't know Mulder very well," Skinner said ruefully. "He's ditched his partner so often that Scully's thinking of putting a leash on him."

Mason's eyes narrowed. "Dana Scully? Little red-headed woman with a hell of a temper?"

Skinner nodded slowly. "You know her?"

Mason sat back, chuckling softly. "We made each other's acquaintance when she attempted to break into the club a couple weeks back. Did you know that she was following Mulder?"

"She told him about it, told him that she had seen him coming in here. She didn't mention that she tried to break in."

"She never had a chance. The White House isn't as well protected as this place."

"The White House isn't keeping as many secrets - well, not keeping them as discreetly, anyway," Skinner said dryly. "Maybe they should think about hiring you."

Mason laughed. "I'd never take that job - it wouldn't be nearly as much fun. There's a special thrill about terrorizing poor, innocent subbies."

"You're a sadist, Geoff."

Mason nodded gravely, but there was a twinkle in his eyes. "Thank you, Walter." Skinner snorted. "So your Mulder is an FBI agent, too. Well, well - must make life interesting."

"Too interesting at times," Skinner said dryly. He looked back out towards the floor. "He was devastated when she found out."

"Can't blame him. It can be hard enough accepting this aspect of one's self without having to explain it to others who don't understand. Does she know about you?"

Skinner shook his head. "No. She knows that he's seeing a man here but nothing more." He glanced at Mason. "One of his friends does, though. Did you know your system had been hacked?"

"Not until too late," Mason said ruefully. "A backdoor created by one of the original programmers - he very kindly let us know about it so we could lock the door behind him. There was no way to tell what he was looking for, though. So he made you?"

Skinner nodded. "He'll be okay - as long as Mulder's okay." Skinner sighed and ran his hand over his face. "Damn. This just gets more and more complicated. You know that if I screw this up I might have to eat my own gun - it would be infinitely less painful than what those two would do to me."

"Well, you know the answer to that one - don't screw it up."

"Easy for you to say," Skinner said with a snort. "I feel like I'm walking through a mine field at midnight with a match for light. I gave him my house key, for Christ's Sake, and he had a full-blown panic attack. The man's been screwed so many times by everyone from his parents to his lovers to his bosses…and I'll be damned if I'll add my name to the list."

"You think he'd talk to Dr. Malone? She did Sean a world of good."

Skinner shook his head. "He hates shrinks with a passion." He sighed. "I'll just have to manage this on my own."

"No," Mason said with quiet force. "You're not on your own, Walter. We're family, remember? He belongs to you, and you'll always belong to me, so that makes him my responsibility, too. Anytime you need my help, just ask." He smiled suddenly. "Let me rephrase that. If you don't ask for my help, I'll come after your ass and you know I can make you sorry."

Skinner grinned at him. "Sadist."

"And damn proud of it. Now go find your boy and enjoy the party."

Skinner laughed and stood up. "Yes, sir," he said, looking back over the dance floor for Mulder. And when he found him, his blood suddenly went cold.

 


Mulder protested weakly as Sean dragged him into the crowd of dancers but Sean ignored him. "Come on, Mulder! It's New Year's Eve! We've young and alive and in love with the two most gorgeous hunks here - let's celebrate!"

"So why am I dancing with you instead of him?" Mulder asked, trying not to betray the unease he felt being in the middle of a gyrating crowd.

Sean rolled his eyes. "Jesus, Mulder, try not to be so clueless! Didn't your mother ever teach you how to play hard-to-get?"

"My mother was too busy with her own games," Mulder said dryly.

"I can see that your education has been sorely neglected," Sean laughed. "Never mind - Uncle Sean will show you the ropes. Now you just dance and have a good time and totally ignore him - it'll drive him crazy."

"And the point of this would be - ?"

"Oh, you'll find out later when he drags your ass back upstairs. Nothing hotter than a jealous top."

Mulder frowned. "I don't want to make Walter jealous - I would never hurt him like that."

Sean rolled his eyes again. "Mulder, buy a clue, okay? It's a game: you know it, he knows it, and your ass'll thank you in the morning. Now get in there and enjoy yourself."

Small but forceful hands propelled him into the center of the writhing mass of people and he had to fight down a sudden surge of panic. He swallowed hard, heard Sean's lighthearted chatter nearby, and forced himself to relax. Jesus Christ, but he hated this kind of thing - too much noise and too many people. He closed his eyes and tried to relax, to move with the music.

"Somehow I didn't think this would be your scene, Mulder."

His eyes snapped open at that familiar voice and he saw amused green eyes only a few feet away. God, the man looked incredible in his tux came a sudden, unbidden thought, to be resolutely pushed to the back of his thoughts. "Krycek. What are you doing here?"

"I'm a Club member, too, remember?" Krycek's voice was slightly mocking, the same tone in it as the day he had brought Mulder here. "I see that you've ditched Papa-Bear."

Mulder frowned. "What in the hell do you want, Krycek?"

"What, I can't drop in to see my favorite paranoid G-man?" Krycek said, that teasing tone sending a shiver up Mulder's back as his eyes raked over the older man's body. "And it was definitely worth the trip. You look good enough to eat."

"Sorry, Krycek. This menu item is spoken for already."

"Wasted, baby, and such a shame," Krycek said with mock mourning. "Such a delicacy should be enjoyed by a true connoisseur and not wasted on such plebeian tastes." He reached out to caress Mulder's cheek.

White-hot fury mixed with something he couldn't and didn't want to name. He slapped away Krycek's hand. "Get the hell away from me and stay away!" He turned and headed back through the crowd toward the table where he had left Skinner.

"Later, baby," he heard that mocking voice call after him, and he nearly broke into a run, dodging around the dancers until a sudden strong pair of hands grabbed him and spun him around.

"Well, look what I've got here. You clean up nice, alley cat."

Terror flooded through Mulder, making him desperate to get away, and he felt the amusement in the sharp eyes watching him. "Let me go - "

"Not so fast, boy. We have some unfinished business."

"Ah, there you are, Fox." That cool, crisp voice washed over Mulder and he nearly collapsed in relief. "I believe that this is my dance. If you'll excuse us, Benett." A firm hand on his arm, and he was being led away from those cruel eyes, feeling them bore into his back. He barely was aware that the music had changed again to a slow dance song until he felt strong arms wrap around him.

"I’ll lead."

There was no reason why this should make him laugh but it did. "Of course." Mulder laid his head on Skinner’s shoulder and relaxed, feeling the tension and terror drain out of him. He closed his eyes, letting Skinner guide him as they slow-danced. Mulder was amazed at how comfortable this felt, how easily they moved together. Then he smiled; well, why should that surprise him? Someone had once told him that slow dancing is sex with your clothes on, and they were very, very good at sex.

"Fox," Skinner murmured into his lover's ear, feeling the tension seep out of the muscles under his hands.

"Mmm?" Mulder's voice was full of lazy contentment.

"You're not falling asleep on me, are you?"

Mulder laughed softly again. "Does this feel like I'm asleep?" he asked, rubbing against the other man's body.

Skinner drew in a sharp breath. "No, parts of you seem to be very awake."

Mulder moved back a little so that he could look up at Skinner with a gleam in his eyes. "Want to take me upstairs and do something about this?"

Skinner smiled and drew Mulder back against him. "In a little while. I want to finish this dance first."

Mulder smiled and put his head back on Skinner's shoulder.

 


They slipped away from the party long before the countdown, pausing in the shadow of a doorway to neck like teenagers. Mulder stifled a moan against Skinner's shoulder as his lover nipped and sucked at his neck, the hated bow tie long gone and unmourned.

"God, Walter, that feels so good…"

Skinner pushed Mulder against the wall, pressing his body against the other man's and rubbing slowly up and down. "Shhh. No talking." Skillful fingers unbuttoned Mulder's shirt and a mouth traveled down from his neck to his nipples, leaving a trail of fire in their wake. Mulder moaned and clutched at Skinner's head, caressing the skin under his fingers. Skinner's mouth moved back up to possess him and he moaned, trying to hold onto the single rational thought left in his brain.

"Sir - I remembered."

Skinner paused briefly and looked at him, puzzled. "Remembered what?" He returned his attention to Mulder's neck, nipping at his favorite spot where the neck joined the shoulder.

Mulder gasped and tried to remember what he had been thinking, and Skinner laughed softly, loving to see passion reduce this brilliant man to mindlessness. "This!" He dug in his pocket and produced lube and a condom with an air of triumph that made Skinner laugh again.

"Very good, boy," he said in a voice smoky with controlled passion, and Mulder shivered in delight. "I shall have to come up with something extra special for you tomorrow."

"And tonight, sir?"

"Tonight," Skinner whispered against his ear as he unfastened Mulder's pants. "Tonight I'm going to fuck you till you can't see straight."

Mulder groaned and dropped his head onto Skinner's shoulder and said weakly, "Sounds like a plan to me."

 


Mid morning on the first day of what looked to be the start of a wonderful new year, and Mulder surveyed his lover from the wreck of the bed, finishing a blueberry muffin while he watched Skinner pull a paper bag out of his suitcase. "What's in the bag?"

"Take a look." Skinner tossed the bag up onto the bed, and Mulder sat up.

Mulder opened the sack and reached in, pulling out a box of small tea candles and a white paraffin candle. "Mood lighting?"

"Nope. Guess again."

Mulder grinned. "I'm afraid to guess. You're even more perverted than I am - and that's saying something." He pulled out the next item - a pet's squeaky toy. "For me? Walter, you sentimental fool, you shouldn't have."

"Smart ass."

Mulder reached into the bag and pulled out the last item, a leather contraption that made him draw in a quick breath and he quickly set it down on the bed. "Oh."

"You know what it is?" Skinner asked quietly.

"I - it's a ball gag, isn't it? I saw a picture in one of the books…" Mulder's voice trailed off and he looked at Skinner uncertainly.

"That's right. And from now on, whenever I'm going to introduce something new, I will be doing it like this - letting you take a good look at whatever the toys are, handle them, get used to the idea before we begin playing. If there is anything that makes you uncomfortable, we'll talk it over." Skinner picked up the leather contraption. "What makes you uncomfortable with this? Being unable to call out for help?"

Mulder nodded. "How can I use my safe words when I can’t talk?" It had been a while since he had felt the need to use his safe words, although at the beginning – when being bound for more than fifteen minutes had sent him into panic - he had used his emotional safe word a lot. And even though he hadn’t felt the need to use his words recently, just the thought that he could and the knowledge that he could trust Skinner to honor them made him feel safe and secure.

Skinner picked up the toy. "That's what this is for. You'll hold this and if you should become upset and need to call either safe word, you just squeeze on this and I'll stop, take off the gag, and we'll talk."

"Why a gag? I mean, I understand using the blindfold - it makes me concentrate on what I feel rather than what I see. But I'll still be able to see - " Mulder looked suddenly apprehensive. "You aren't going to do both, are you?"

Skinner shook his head. "No, you’re not ready for that – it would be much too intense for you. Gags are just another aspect of sensory deprivation to alter your perception. You won't be able to speak but you can make noises and bite. And it forces you to breathe slower and relax."

Mulder picked up the ball gag, turning it over in his hands and studying it. "Okay," he said finally. "I'm game. So what are you planning to do once you get me all tied up and helpless?"

Skinner picked up the candles. "Hot and cold play. You'll like it - trust me."

"Always," Mulder said softly, and swung his legs off the bed, standing up. "Well, I'd better go get cleaned up and shave. I didn't have a chance to do that before the party last night."

"Definitely," Skinner said with a glimmer in his eyes. "Wax is a bitch to get out of your hair."

"I think I should be worried - you're getting that evil-Dom look in your eyes," Mulder said with a laugh as he leaned over to give Skinner a kiss.

Skinner laughed softly. "Be afraid - be very afraid." He popped Mulder lightly. "Now get your ass in that shower."

"Yes, sir!" Mulder sauntered into the bathroom, and Skinner had to laugh again. Mulder was definitely full of himself today. Then he began to get the scene set for their game.

By the time Mulder came out of the bathroom, Skinner had stripped off the covers and put a protective sheet over the bed. The new toys were waiting on the nightstand. Skinner gestured for Mulder to come to him, and Mulder automatically assumed the presentation position with his hands locked behind his neck and his feet spread apart. Skinner ran a hand over his chest and down to his groin, checking that he was completely shaven, then pushed on Mulder's back so that he bent over to allow Skinner to check that he was clean-shaven and lubed.

"Very good," Skinner said approvingly, then picked up the collar and fastened it around Mulder's neck. "Lie on the bed on your back, hands on the headboard." Mulder obeyed and Skinner quickly attached his wrist cuffs to the center wall ring. Then he picked up the squeaky toy and put it in Mulder's right hand, using a piece of medical tape to secure it. He had Mulder give it a couple of squeezes, adjusted its position, and was finally satisfied. "Remember, if you get into any kind of discomfort - physical or emotional - squeeze that a couple times. I'll also be checking in with you from time to time, okay?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. I'm going to put on the gag now." Skinner inserted the foam ball into Mulder's mouth, making sure it was comfortable and that Mulder could breathe, then fastened the leather straps. "Does that feel comfortable?" Mulder nodded. "Good." Skinner turned to the nightstand and lit the tea candle, then turned back to Mulder. He found that the younger man's eyes were on him, looking a little nervous about the whole thing. Skinner smiled reassuringly and ran a gentling hand over Mulder's body. "Relax, Mulder. Breathe. In. Out." Mulder found himself automatically relaxing as Skinner talked. "That's it, that's good."

Skinner continued to caress Mulder gently with just his fingertips, feeling the tension melt away in that wonderfully responsive body to be replaced by the first shivers of arousal. He smiled and picked up a small cloth, laying it on Mulder's stomach, then placed the tea candle on top of the cloth. "Stay still, now. You don't want to spill the wax." He picked up a paintbrush and dipped it in the melted wax, then painted light strokes along Mulder's abdomen Mulder drew in a breath at the feeling - the brush tickled a little and the wax was just warm enough to register against his skin, quickly cooling. More brushing across his abdomen and then his chest, tickling and teasing and incredibly arousing, and Mulder wanted to beg for more but the gag reduced his pleas to soft moans. Skinner's eyes were on his face, gauging his reactions. The brush moved across Mulder's nipples and he moaned again.

"Like that, do you?" Skinner smiled. "How about this?" He stroked the brush down Mulder's cock, smiling at the reaction. "Mmm. I guess that you do." Mulder groaned and wiggled slightly. "More?" Mulder nodded vigorously and Skinner laughed. "You are such a sensualist. That's one of the reasons I enjoy playing these games with you." He continued painting with wax until the tin was empty and Mulder was nearly panting with need, fully aroused.

"I think we need to cool you down a little, boy." Skinner set the paintbrush and the empty wax tin on the nightstand and picked up a small bowl. Selecting an ice cube, he ran it along the wax trail on Mulder's chest. Mulder arched up in surprise, gasping and trying to swear around the gag, and Skinner chuckled. "Swearing at me, boy? Good thing I gagged you, isn't it?" Mulder glared, then winced and shivered as the ice cube ran over his nipples. "Sensitive, are they? Then you're going to love this." Mulder, anticipating his next action, pulled his legs together and tried to roll his hips sideways in an attempt to shield his cock. "Oh no you don't!" Skinner caught his hips, pinning him, and selected a rounded ice cube. "I'm afraid I'm going to have to punish you for that."

Mulder's eyes widened and he attempted to swear again. Shit! he thought as a cold object was deftly inserted into his anus. Damn, that's cold!

"Now lay flat, and keep those legs spread." Mulder complied, wincing and hoping the damn thing would melt quickly. Skinner trailed more ice cubes over his body, noting with satisfaction that Mulder's erection had diminished significantly. He put the bowl back on the nightstand and picked up the paraffin candle, lighting it. "This is paraffin, just like the other, so it won't burn you," Skinner said reassuringly. The wax was melting nicely now, and he lifted the candle high above Mulder's chest, tilting it to allow just one drop to fall, watching Mulder's face the entire time. Mulder flinched slightly when the hot wax touched his skin and then relaxed - the dripped wax was a little warmer than the painted-on wax but not unpleasant and the warm feeling quickly faded. The candle hovered over him again, a little closer to his chest, tilted, and a trail of wax drops crossed his abdomen. Hotter than before, a slight sting and then quickly fading away to leave just a tingle on his skin. More wax trails and he was groaning again, feeling his arousal growing. Then a steady stream of drops over his left nipple - drip, sting, cool, then another drip and each layer warmed the lower layers. Then the other nipple got the same treatment and he was groaning, begging through the gag for more.

Skinner spread Mulder’s legs to expose the inside of Mulder's thighs, running a trail of wax drops along the sensitive skin. Mulder groaned at the fleeting sting, wanting and needing more intense sensations. He felt as if his entire body was tingling, all of his nerve endings warm and alive. Skinner pushed his knees up to his chest and reached up to release Mulder’s wrists.

"Hold your knees back," he ordered, placing Mulder’s hands where he wanted them. Mulder obeyed, feeling wide open and displayed, trying to keep still as Skinner stroked a lubed finger into him, gently stretching him. Then, to his complete surprise and embarrassment, he felt Skinner insert the end of the candle into his anus. He glanced down and saw that he had been turned into a candleholder and watched the wax run slowly down the candle. Involuntarily he twitched and several drops of wax dropped onto his ass, stinging and then leaving tingling warmth behind.

"Keep still," Skinner ordered. Mulder groaned and then, as he felt Skinner slowly stroke his cock, he desperately clutched his knees in an effort to keep from moving. Any twitch, any movement, made the wax splash down on his skin and the delicious stinging enhanced the heat that Skinner’s hand was generating within him. His eyes met Skinner’s imploringly, begging to be allowed to finish, and the older man deliberately increased his movements while twisting the candle slowly. Sweat broke out over Mulder’s body as he desperately tried to keep back his climax and keep from moving at the same time. He was moaning constantly now, biting the gag in his mouth, nearly desperate in his need. Then Skinner smiled, nodded, and swiftly removed the candle in the same instant. Mulder came hard, feeling his body arch off the bed as he screamed around the gag, and then slumped bonelessly back onto the bed.

Skinner swiftly removed the gag and set it aside, then poured a glass of water and supported Mulder as he gulped it down. Mulder closed his eyes and sank back down, still shaking all over from the intensity of his climax. He felt gentle hands stroke his hair and face and forced his eyelids open, smiling up at the beloved face above him.

"Permission to speak, sir?" he whispered, his mouth still feeling dry from the gag.

Skinner smiled. "Permission granted."

Mulder grinned weakly. "Holy Shit, sir!"

And Skinner laughed, pulling Mulder into his arms and kissing him thoroughly.

 


A faint glow lit the darkness and he could smell the acrid smoke filling the room. "It is time."

"Your orders, sir?" Benett ran his tongue over cracked and bleeding lips, forcing words past a throat that was dry and raw from screaming.

"I want him broken. And I want him alive." He shrugged. "The details are unimportant."

"Yes, sir." A gleam lit Benett's eyes. It was rare that his master allowed him to play as he wanted. "It shall be done as you wish."

"Good." The man rose and walked to the door, pausing to stub out his cigarette. "Because Jason - "

"Sir?"

"You know what will happen if you fail."

Benett shuddered, his throat suddenly tight. "Yes, sir."

"Very well. Oh - and if Skinner gets in the way - "

"Yes, sir?"

"Kill him."

Chapter Text

By the pricking of my thumbs

Something wicked this way comes.

 

Skinner came out of the shower with a towel wrapped around his waist to find Mulder dressed and zipping up his bag. "Ready to go?"

Mulder nodded. "I’m meeting Scully at the airport but I have to stop by my apartment to pick up my suitcase." He crossed the room to slide his arms around Skinner’s waist. "I wish I could stay longer. You look very sexy this morning."

Skinner kissed Mulder tenderly. "I’m going to miss you. Have a safe trip – and try not to break anything important."

Mulder chuckled. "Are you referring to my cell phone or my person?"

"Your cell phone, of course. Do you have any idea how those losses affect my budget?"

"Asshole," Mulder said affectionately. "Give me one good kiss to hold me over and then I’m out of here." Skinner willingly complied and when Mulder came up for air his eyes were glazed over. "Jesus, Walter."

Skinner chuckled and ran his thumb over Mulder’s full bottom lip. "That’s just to remind you what you have to come home to when this case is wrapped up."

Mulder was still smiling when he entered the elevator, thinking about the past weekend and reliving the kiss. Which is why he didn’t notice the man already in the elevator until an arm was around his neck and a cloth was over his nose and mouth.

 


Scully was furious with her errant partner. She paced at the terminal gate becoming increasingly angrier as minutes dragged by and he still hadn't shown up. Then, as their plane left without them, she started to get worried. It wasn't like Mulder to miss a flight, especially when he was looking forward to a case like this one. She tried his cell phone again but either it was dead or turned off. She checked her voice mail at home and work but there was no message. Finally she dialed the Lone Gunmen and Langley answered.

"Langley, have any of you seen or heard from Mulder?"

"Hold on." She heard his muffled voice asking questions. "Nope. Not for a couple days. Why?"

"He didn't show up for our flight and I can't reach him at home or on his cell phone. He didn't leave me any messages, either. I'm on my way to his apartment."

"We'll check around and call you back."

 


Mulder drifted out of darkness, feeling an uncomfortable tightness on his wrists, a strain on his arms. He groaned and heard a damnably familiar voice from the darkness.

"Hello, alley cat."

He raised a head that seemed heavy and forced his eyes open. "Benett." He spat out the name.

Benett grabbed his hair and pulled his head up. "I see we still haven't learned any manners. You will call me 'sir' or 'master', boy."

"The hell I will."

"Oh, you will, boy. By the time I am through with you, you will be glad to call me Master."

 


Scully arrived at Mulder's apartment and found that there wasn't a trace of her partner although his suit bag and suitcase were packed and waiting by the door. Her stomach began to knot. She checked his phone messages but there was nothing there, either. Once again she checked her voice mail at work, Mulder's voice mail, and then her home answering machine. Nothing. Where in hell could the man be?

There was a knock at the door and she opened it to see a worried-looking Frohike standing there.

"He's not here, is he?"

"No, and I'm worried."

"You should be. None of my contacts have seen him but there's something going on around the fringes of the Consortium." Frohike shut the door. "Do you know if he was going to the Dionysus Club this past weekend?"

Scully nodded. "He said that he would be there. I tried his cell phone but it’s dead or turned off. Do you think that place has something to do with his disappearance?"

"Maybe. Look, Scully, I know that this makes you uncomfortable but I think you should know something about the club. A couple weeks ago, I heard from – a friend of Mulder’s that the person who originally took Mulder there was trying to have him broken by one of Cancerman's goons. Only someone else got there first and became Mulder's - uh - top. But I can’t imagine Cancerman giving up that easily and I think he may have something to do with this disappearance."

"Could Mulder's friend be involved in his disappearance?"

Frohike shook his head. "No, absolutely not."

Scully stared at him, her eyes hard and suspicious. "You know who Mulder's friend is, don't you?" Frohike returned her stare, unblinking. "Damn it, Frohike, Mulder's life is at stake here! We’ve got to find someone who can get us into that club so we can find out what happened to Mulder!"

Frohike took a deep breath, then took her cell phone and dialed a number, handing it back to her.

"Skinner."

Scully frowned, giving Frohike a puzzled look. "Sir? I'm sorry to bother you, but I've got a serious situation. I've been talking with one of Mulder's friends - you remember the Lone Gunmen? - and he seems to think that it may be related to a club Mulder belongs to. The Dionysus Club."

There was silence on the other end of the phone for a long minute. "I - am familiar with the place."

"Frohike thinks that Mulder may have been abducted by a member of the Club at Cancerman's instructions."

"Mulder's missing?" The voice was sharp.

"Yes, sir. He didn't show up for our flight out this morning, and his bags are packed and sitting by the door inside his apartment."

"Damn! Do you know the address of the Club?"

"Yes, sir - "

"Meet me there in fifteen minutes."

The connection was cut. Scully turned to Frohike. "He wants me to meet him outside the Club."

"I'm coming, too."

They were standing beside the steps when Skinner arrived and briskly walked up the stairs.

"Sir, they won't let us in - " Scully began but Skinner just nodded to the doorman.

"They're with me," he said, indicating Frohike and Scully.

"Very good, sir." The doorman held the door for them and Scully followed, speechless. She had to run to keep up with Skinner who was striding down the hallway as if he knew where he was going. A suspicion began to grow in her mind.

Skinner opened the door to the Secretary's office and Mason looked up. "Walter? Is there a problem?"

"Mulder is missing. It appears that he may have been abducted from here."

The Secretary's eyes went wide and he hurried through the side door to the Security room, followed by Skinner. "When did you last see him?"

"He left at six thirty this morning."

A security person immediately began punching up digital images while Mason accessed the Club's computer. "One card key was turned in at 7:15."

"That was mine."

"Then he never made it to the Front Desk, Walter."

"Here, sir," the security man said. "The elevators for that time period."

"There he is," Skinner said, pointing to a figure entering the elevator. "There's someone else in the back."

The picture suddenly clicked to a blank elevator, and the security man swore. "Someone rigged the camera - we wouldn't have noticed unless we were looking right at it when the switch occurred. Whoever was in the elevator with him must have done it."

"Jason Benett," said a voice from the doorway, and Sean walked in.

"Benett?" The Secretary asked with a frown. "Are you sure, Sean?"

Sean nodded. "He's been threatening Mulder again."

"Why didn't he tell me?" Skinner demanded, then remembered the incident at the New Year's Eve party.

"He didn't want to worry you. Thought he could handle it himself."

"Damn the man!" Skinner growled. "When I get my hands on him - "

"That would seem to be the problem, sir," said a cold voice and they all swung toward Scully. "Where's Mulder?"

"He's not on the premises," Mason said.

Security pointed out a picture from the time of disappearance that showed a car pulled up in front of the basement elevator. "He probably put the missing man in the trunk here."

"I'll get the DMV info on his car - " Skinner began.

Frohike spoke up. "I can get it for you faster if you've got a computer with Internet access." Sean led him back into the Secretary’s office.

 


Mulder's arms ached from the unnatural strain and he tried to shift his body to take his weight off them. A whooshing sound cut through the air and his back exploded into fiery pain again.

"Stand still!"

Mulder bit his lip and stopped moving. He could feel the riding crop running slowly over his back, then around his side to his abdomen, and a shudder ran through him. A rough hand twisted itself into his hair and pulled his head up.

"Not laughing now, are you, alley cat?" The voice was close to his ear, low and sensual. "I can change this, you know. Turn the pain into pleasure. All you have to do is acknowledge that I am your master."

Mulder opened his eyes and met Benett's with the full force of his hatred. "Go. To. Hell."

"You first."

The blows fell upon his back in swift succession and he couldn't stop the scream that was torn out of him. Blackness swirled around him.

Walter, please…hurry.

 


Sean perched on a corner of the desk and watched Frohike manipulate the computer keyboard with the skill of a Don Juan seducing his lover, muttering encouragement and imprecations as he logged into systems and launched subroutines. Within a short period of time, he had the DMV information on Benett, as well as all known addresses.

"So you are our mysterious hacker," Sean murmured, grinning at Frohike. "You had our systems people in a fit after your break in - our system is supposed to be totally secure."

Frohike smiled back. "Well, it's a good system, but nothing is totally secure. And I helped design it so I know where the back doors are. I hope you used those suggestions I sent you to keep other people out." He ripped off the printout and returned to the other room where he handed the paper to Skinner. Glancing around the room, he saw that Scully was still leaning against the wall, a look on her face when their eyes met that made him decide not to be alone with her at any time in the near future.

"Eight possible addresses," Skinner muttered. "We'll have to check them all out - he could be at any of them. Scully, come with me. Frohike, see if you can narrow down our choices - deliveries, services, anything that might give us a clue. We'll head to the first place on the list."

Skinner strode down the hallway and out of the building, Scully jogging to keep pace with him. He gestured for Scully to get in his car, then handed her the list and started the car.

"The first place on that list is also the closest. We'll head there first and, if he's not there, call back in and hope that Mr. Frohike has more news for us."

Scully sat in the passenger seat, her head swimming, feeling that in the space of a few short hours she had been bombarded with more information than she could process. However, one clear thought stood out.

"Sir, it's you, isn't it?" she asked Skinner, her voice tight. "The one he's meeting at the Club."

Skinner's eyes met hers briefly and then he returned his attention to the road. "Agent Scully, when we have Mulder safe I promise I will answer any questions you have, but not now."

Scully nodded, pressing her lips together in annoyance but she understood. She fished a map out of the glove box and concentrated on the addresses on the list, trying to plan the quickest way to hit each of them. Another thought occurred to her.

"Sir, they've had him for four hours. Do you think he's still alive?"

"They don't want him dead," Skinner said quietly. "Humiliated, humbled, broken yes, but not dead. Not yet." And he prayed that he was right.


Benett grabbed him by the hair again, pulling his head up. "Who owns you?"

Mulder ran a tongue over dry, cracked lips. "Skinner."

The crop lashed his chest. "Wrong answer!" He released Mulder's head and it snapped back painfully. Benett picked up a knife from a side table and Mulder's eyes widened. Benett looked amused. "I'm not going to cut you, alley cat. Not yet. This is for another purpose." He grabbed Mulder's sweatpants by the waistband and, with one swift movement, slit the material down one side and then the other. Mulder clenched his eyes shut and locked his jaw as his torturer circled him, studying his naked body. "Very nice. No wonder your former master kept you on such a short leash." In the distance Mulder heard a phone ring. "Don't go anywhere - I'll be back."

Footsteps moved away from him and Mulder sagged in the restraints. Walter, he thought weakly, hurry …I can't…

//Yes, you can, Fox. Breathe//

Walter?

//Come on, babe. Remember the clips?//

Damn it, Walter - this is nothing like having clothespins on my tits for ten minutes!

//Pain is pain. Relax. Surf the pain. You can do it.//

Mulder found himself breathing steadily and tried to consciously relax. His arms and legs were trembling, his back and chest were on fire, and he was scared to the depth of his being.

I can't, Walter…I'm scared…

//I know, babe. I'm on my way. Just hold on//

I'll try. But hurry.

 

Footsteps came back into the room and he caught his breath, fighting down the panic. Breathe, he told himself. Just breathe. In and out.

Light glinted off the cane as it was lifted, then pain exploded across his buttocks followed by another wave of pain a second later. Mulder caught his breath on a sob, overwhelmed by the pain.

I can't…I can't…

//Dammit, Mulder! Focus!//

Pain exploded across his buttocks again, and he gasped. Focus, he thought desperately, remembering the way Skinner had gotten him past his fear of bondage. See the light behind your eyes, focus on it, and breathe evenly. The cane rose and fell rhythmically, the pain washing over him in double waves, and he pushed it back, focusing on the light. Breathe. See nothing but the light. Feel nothing but your own breathing. He could feel himself begin to drift, leaving behind his body and the pain, spinning slowly into the light.

 


The Smoker crossed the room to sit down in a chair near the English member of the Consortium. "I have good news," he said in a quiet, mocking voice.

The Well Manicured Man narrowed his eyes. What he saw as good news and what the smoker saw as good news were frequently at odds. "And what would that be?"

"Our most troublesome problem will soon be putty in my hands."

The Well Manicured Man stared at him with sudden sharpness. "You've taken Mulder?"

"My man has him right now and is - persuading him to be more cooperative."

"I thought we had agreed to let Mulder be - not risk him or his friends starting a crusade."

"That was always your opinion. My opinion is that the boy is getting out of hand and needs to learn who his true masters are." The Smoker smiled and it was not a pleasant smile. He hated the man sitting in front of him although he didn't believe that the Englishman had been behind his failed assassination. That wasn't his style - this man was usually more devious and clever.

"Did you clear this with Strughold?" The Smoker shrugged, and the English gentleman rose. "I'm going to speak with him about this." He left the room but went down to his car and Krycek got out, opening the passenger door in surprise.

"Done already, sir?"

"No." The Well Manicured Man looked inside the car and picked up a portfolio pad inside as if he had accidentally left it. Getting back out of the car, he avoided looking directly at Krycek. "Benett has Mulder," he said softly, sensing the slight stiffening of the man next to him. "You know where he will be. I want you to leave the car here, go around the corner and down several blocks, and get a taxi. Find Mr. Skinner and rescue Mulder - "

"I don't need his help rescuing Mulder - "

"Yes, you do," his patron said sharply. "You can't just walk into a hospital with him, and I expect that he will need a hospital quite badly. You need Mr. Skinner's help and he needs yours. Now go."

Krycek touched his fingers to his forehead in a mocking salute and shut the car doors. Once his employer had gone inside, he strolled casually down to the corner, as if going for a newspaper. Then, once he was out of sight from any observer, he ran like the devil was on his heels.

 


"Nothing," Skinner said in frustration as they came out of the third place. "Where now, Scully?"

"Skinner!" Skinner swung around at that familiar voice and saw Alex Krycek running toward him. "I heard that Mulder's been taken. Is it true?" he demanded, gasping for breath.

"What do you care? You set him up to begin with."

"I didn't know what was planned, I swear! I thought it was just a game, to take him down a peg." Krycek grabbed Skinner's arm. "I know where he'll be."

"Don't believe him, sir!" Scully said hotly. "He can't be trusted."

"Please," Krycek begged. "You know I wouldn't let him be hurt like this."

Skinner searched Krycek's face. "I know," he said quietly. "Get in the car. In the front. Scully, keep an eye on him."

Krycek seemed to recover a little of his usual insolence. "Don't trust me, Walter?"

"Not as far as I can throw you - except on one thing. Mulder's life."

They got into the car and Krycek gave them directions to a place that was not on their list. Scully sat in the backseat, glowering at Skinner, clearly distrustful of Krycek. Skinner ignored the waves of anger rolling out of the back seat, hoping that they got to Mulder before one of his passengers killed the other.

 


Ice cold water splashed over his face and his body, stinging the welts on his back and chest, bringing him back to consciousness.

"No fair, alley cat. Naps are not allowed."

Mulder ran a dry tongue over his lips, savoring the bit of moisture that clung to his face from his unexpected bath, sucking the moisture into his mouth. "Sorry," he croaked in a voice raw from screaming. "Didn't mean to spoil your fun."

"You'll be even sorrier before I'm through with you."

Sometime during the past hour he had become aware of the trembling throughout his body. A whip had replaced the cane and he felt wet trickles running down his back. I'm in trouble here, he thought vaguely, but it was hard to think with the roaring in his ears. Benett was saying something but he could hardly understand him over the noise.

Benett slapped him and he felt the blood from a cut lip trickle down his chin. "Who owns you, Mulder? Who do you belong to?"

"Skinner," Mulder muttered. Another slap, and he knew that Benett was becoming increasingly frustrated. Somehow that thought made him feel better and he smiled.

"You think this is funny?"

Mulder couldn't avoid the blows, the slaps across his face, the punches to his stomach. Agonizing pain exploded inside him and he retched uncontrollably. For the first time he thought that he might not make it, that he might die before he saw any of his friends again. Before he saw Skinner again. "Walter…" he whispered. "Sorry…"

 


Skinner stopped in front of the warehouse and said, doubtfully, "Are you sure, Krycek?"

Krycek nodded. "This is one of his favorite playgrounds."

"How can you be so certain?" Krycek gave him a silent, slightly mocking look. "Oh. Right. Well, give us the layout."

"Two entrances to the building, one to the playroom. That’s where he’ll probably be, but we'll need to split up to cover the entrances."

Skinner looked at Krycek. "You’ve played with him before, you know his style. What will he be doing now?"

Krycek shrugged as if it didn’t matter, but Skinner could see the shadows in his eyes. "Depends on Mulder’s stamina. Maybe the cane or the bullwhip. He won’t take him till he’s broken. Benett gets off on that kind of submission. How much do you think he can take before breaking?"

Skinner shook his head. "I don’t know. We don’t play heavy pain games." His eyes met Krycek’s and he saw the comprehension there.

"Then we need to get him out, and fast." Krycek pulled out his gun and checked it.

Skinner held out his hand. "Give me the gun, Krycek. Scully and I go in first and you follow." Krycek started to protest, but Skinner gripped his arm. "I want Benett alive, Krycek," Skinner growled using his control voice, knowing that Krycek would hate it but would obey by habit. Green eyes met his, then they were hidden again behind those impossible eyelashes. Krycek handed over the gun with an inner shrug. He had another one in his ankle holster and a couple knives hidden on his person - more than enough to deal with Benett.

They swept into the building, Scully taking the front door while Skinner and Krycek circled to the back door. Skinner went through first, followed by Krycek, but there was no one in the upstairs. Silently, Krycek led the way to the basement door and Skinner gave a silent count before they burst through the door. It appeared to be empty, and Skinner was turning to gesture for Scully and Krycek to fan out to check the other rooms when a shape came running out of the darkness.

"Walter!"

Skinner felt himself knocked to the ground as a sharp burning pain shot down his left arm. He could hardly breathe but he was aware of Benett running toward the inner room, the knife still in his hand. Scully dropped him with a single shot.

Skinner tried to sit up but it felt like a building had fallen across his chest. "Damn it, Krycek, get up," he growled, pushing at the man who had knocked him out of Benett's path. "You weigh a ton."

The body half-lying on top of him quivered with suppressed laughter. "You sure know how to ruin the magic of an intimate moment." Krycek pushed himself to his feet and held out a hand to help Skinner up. "He got a piece of you. Let me take a look at that cut."

Skinner pushed past him, saying, "It's only a flesh wound - I've had worse."

Krycek snorted. "You've been watching too many of Mulder's movies."

Skinner ignored him, pausing by Scully as she knelt by Benett, compressing the wound. She glanced up at Skinner briefly. "He'll live - I've called for an ambulance."

Skinner nodded but didn't stop, his eyes locked on the figure hanging from chains in the middle of the next room. "Fox," he murmured, lifting the slumped figure into his arms to relieve the weight on his wrists. "Krycek, keys."

Mulder's eyes fluttered open. "Walter," he whispered, trying to force sound past his wrecked vocal chords. "I knew you'd come."

Krycek appeared on the other side of Mulder with the keys and unlocked the manacles. Mulder looked at Krycek, puzzled but faintly amused. "Shit, Walter, who else did you bring to this party?"

"Scully - she's checking out your playmate. Frohike and Sean are holding down the fort at the Club." Skinner gently lowered Mulder to the floor, bracing him as best he could without rubbing the raw skin on his back. Mulder was pale and sweaty and Skinner was certain that he had suffered internal injuries. He hoped that the ambulance got here quickly. "You had a lot of people worried, babe."

"Sorry." Mulder's teeth started chattering in reaction and Krycek silently pulled off his jacket, wrapping it around Mulder's shoulders, then went looking for a blanket.

Skinner gently stroked Mulder's face. "You're going to be okay, Fox. We've got an ambulance on the way."

"Great," Mulder whispered. "Another hospital stay. My insurance is going to cancel on me." Mulder leaned into Skinner's chest, eyes closing. "Look pretty bad, huh?

"He did a number on you." The voice sounded so far away and Mulder felt so tired.

"I didn't break," Mulder whispered, letting the world spin gently around him. He was safe now. Walter had come; Walter would take care of him. He could let go and drift now. Mulder slid into unconsciousness.

Krycek located a blanket and wrapped it around Mulder, taking back his jacket. Then he lifted his head like a wild animal scenting danger. "Sirens. I've got to get outta here."

"Alex." Krycek turned back and caught the car keys tossed at him. "Leave a message to let me know where you ditch the car."

Krycek looked down at the keys, then back at Skinner. "Why are you doing this?"

"I know why you helped me find him. He'd want me to tell you thanks. Thanks from me, too."

Krycek shrugged. "Hey, consider it a present for old times' sake. And you'd better take good care of him."

"I'll do my best."

"You do that. I'll be watching." And then he was gone.

 


The ambulances loaded up Benett and Mulder, medical teams working over each of them. Scully and Skinner stood side by side watching, and each of them avoided looking at the other.

Finally, as they were getting ready to close the doors, Skinner said lowly, "Go with him, Scully. I'll finish up here."

She nodded and climbed up into the ambulance with Mulder. Skinner watched it drive off with an overwhelming sense of fatigue, then turned back to the crime scene team. Mulder was alive, Benett would never harm him again, and Cancerman was foiled one more time.

So why did his mouth taste of the ashes of defeat? And why - deep down inside - did he know that nothing would ever be the same?

Chapter Text

I thought our love would be so beautiful
Somehow we’d make the whole world right.

I never knew that fear and hate could be so strong

All they’d leave us are these whispers in the night

But still my heart is saying we were right.

 

Skinner entered the hospital room and found it in partial darkness. His eyes automatically sought out the still form on the bed and he was relieved to see the even rise and fall of the covers. Then a slight figure rose from the side of the bed.

"How is he?" he asked Scully in a hushed voice. He had already spoken with Mulder's doctor. There had been some internal bleeding but no permanent organ damage done, although he might have permanent scarring from the whip marks. Thankfully, he had not been raped - Mulder would have enough issues to handle without that additional trauma.

"Sleeping. The doctor has him on heavy painkillers."

He moved toward the side of the bed. Determinedly, she placed herself between him and Mulder, her face set and her eyes hard. Skinner sighed. He was exhausted. He had endured hours of anxiety and more hours processing the crime scene, making sure that it was treated as the abduction/torture of a Federal agent, not as kinky-sex-gone-wrong - the last thing Mulder would need was sniggering behind his back when he returned to work. Finally, he had spent an hour in the emergency room having the knife slash on his left arm cleaned and stitched. He wanted nothing more right now than to sit quietly, hold Mulder's hand, and watch him sleep. He was not up for Trial by Scully.

Skinner pulled a chair over to the foot of the bed where he could at least watch Mulder's face and sank into it gratefully. "Agent Scully, it's been a long day. Can I make myself comfortable before you apply the thumbscrews?"

"Torture is not my thing. Is it yours?"

Skinner had removed his glasses and was rubbing his eyes wearily. The sharpness in her tone made his head snap up, his eyes blazing at her.

"You don't have the slightest idea what you're talking about."

"I admit that I don’t have the extensive knowledge that you and Mulder have."

His lips tight, Skinner said, "Agent Scully, my personal life is none of your concern."

"It is when it involves the possible sexual harassment of my partner, who is also your subordinate. Sir. And unless you can explain this matter to my satisfaction, I will go to the OPR."

"Are you threatening me, Agent Scully?"

She stood her ground. "Yes, sir. I am."

Skinner was suddenly too tired to fight. He dropped his head then sighed. "All right, Agent Scully. What do you want to know? I warn you, though, I'm saving all the more lurid details for my book deal and Jerry Springer."

"How long have you and Mulder been involved?"

Skinner took a deep breath. "Almost six months."

"Did you take him to that Club?"

"No. Krycek took him there, as part of the smoking bastard's plan. Cancerman owns Benett and wanted him to take on Mulder, break him, then deliver him to Cancerman."

"So how did you get involved?"

"Another member of the Consortium found out and called me. He knew that I was a member years ago although I hadn't been there in a long time. There were only two ways to get Mulder out of the mess - convince him to walk away from the Club or take him on myself. He wouldn’t walk away."

"I see."

"I couldn't let Cancerman have him. And I can assure you that I am not into their kind of games, Scully. I would never intentionally hurt him."

"You’ll forgive me if I can’t see the difference between what they did and what you do – except in degree."

"Dammit, Scully, that’s like saying that there’s no difference between a boxing match and a mugging! There’s a hell of a lot of difference that comes down to three words – safe, sane, and consensual. Everything that Mulder and I do is mutually agreed upon and within limits with safety nets in place."

"Don’t give me that shit! We both know Mulder – we know how much guilt he carries around. He’d be likely to agree to anything to expiate that guilt – he probably thinks what happened to him today is his fault!"

"And it’s my responsibility to help him relieve that guilt without hurting himself."

"And you get off on it, don’t you? Controlling another human being like that – it must give you an almighty high!"

"It’s not like that, Agent Scully. If you’ll let me explain – "

"Why? Trying to pull me in, too? Do you get some kind of reward for bringing new members into that perverted sex club?"

Skinner held onto his temper – it would do no good to yell at her. "Darn," he said ironically. "You caught on. One more member and I would have been in the running for a toaster oven."

Scully glared. "Don’t push me, Skinner! I still hold Mulder’s Power of Attorney, and I can have you barred from his room!"

Skinner stared at her, appalled, too stunned to be angry. Scully stared back at him, fiercely determined to protect her partner and friend. In the silence they heard a single pair of hands slow-clapping.

"Geoff, I know you trained Walter and favor him in a fight, but my money is on the feisty red-head."

Scully swung around, startled, to see Geoffrey Mason and the short, red-haired man that she had seen earlier at the Club standing in the open doorway.

"I don’t know, Sean," Mason said mildly. "I liked the irony in the toaster oven line."

"Too last-year, Geoff." Sean’s eyes were glittering dangerously. "On the other hand, you just gotta love her balls, threatening to throw Walter out of his lover’s sickroom."

Scully glared at him. "I don’t know who you are but – "

"Sean Matthews – owner of the perverted sex club. Oh, and Walter, you’re still in the running for that toaster oven. Mr. Frohike asked for a tour and was quite impressed by our Dungeon and sex shows." Sean's voice dripped with sarcasm.

"Sean," Mason said sternly. "Behave." He stepped forward and held out a hand, smiling slightly at Scully. "Agent Scully, a pleasure to see you again."

Dazed, she found herself shaking his hand. "I – hello, Mr. Mason."

"How is our boy? We’ve all been worried about him," Mason asked gravely.

"He’ll live," Scully said shortly, looking back toward Mulder and building steam again. "No thanks to – "

"Scully. Shut. Up."

The voice was weak and thready, but there was a stern sub-tone to it that was new. Everyone turned toward the bed to see that Mulder’s eyes were open.

"If you guys – want to fight – over a sickbed," he murmured haltingly, "take it – down the hall. I’m sure - Benett is – short on - visitors." His eyes slid closed again.

"Come, Agent Scully," Mason said persuasively, taking her by the arm. "We’ll give Mulder some quiet and you can bring us up to speed on his condition."

Skinner watched in amusement as Mason ushered a speechless Scully into the hall, then he turned back to Mulder. He sat down in the chair next to Mulder’s bed and reached out to gently brush the hair off Mulder’s face.

Mulder’s eyes drifted open and he managed a faint smile. "Hi, you."

"Hi, yourself," Skinner said softly. "How are you feeling?"

"Pretty good, actually," Mulder said in a dreamy voice. "Must be on the good shit. Does my health care plan cover this?"

Skinner laughed softly. "Nothing’s too good for you, babe." He picked up Mulder’s hand and kissed the palm, then cradled the hand against his cheek. "I love you."

"Love you, too." Mulder’s eyes drifted shut, then popped open. "Don’t leave."

"I won’t. Get some rest now."

Mulder nodded sleepily, wrapped his long fingers around Skinner’s, and let his eyes drift shut.

Scully slowly walked back toward Mulder’s room, still feeling a little dazed by her encounter with Geoffrey Mason. He had been unfailingly polite, had asked intelligent questions about Mulder’s condition and treatment, but all the while she had been aware of an undercurrent of something dangerous that told her this was not a man to be pushed. When he finally left with the still-hostile Sean in tow, she was amazed to find herself promising to keep them appraised of any changes in Mulder’s condition. Who is that man, she thought, and how does he do that?

In the open doorway to Mulder’s room, she stopped and stared in stunned surprise. Skinner was sitting next to Mulder’s bed, one hand gently stroking Mulder’s hair while the sleeping man held the other hand as if it was a lifeline. Skinner had removed his glasses and he looked oddly vulnerable without them, all his emotions reflected on his face. The love and affection there was so strong, the suffering so painfully evident, that she felt tears coming to her own eyes. Blindly, she backed away from the door and fled down the hall, looking for a quiet place to sit and think.

The hospital chapel was empty and she slipped into a pew and buried her face in her hands. Too much had happened too soon and the whole world felt as if it was upside down. Her partner and her boss were playing sex games at an S&M club and it had been going on for six months. No, more than that, her boss and her partner were in love. She had wanted Skinner to take an interest in Mulder, to mentor him, but this?

Dozens of scenes over the past few months came into her mind, all reinterpreted with this new information: Skinner’s reaction to her teasing Mulder about the flowers, Mulder’s sudden change in behavior, that silent power struggle over the Iowa case and Mulder's unexpected surrender. And then, clear as a photograph, the look on Mulder’s face when he came back from Thanksgiving and saw the rose on his desk. She had never seen him so content, so happy. There had been so little love in Mulder’s life before this – if he was loved now did it matter what form that love took? If they had been involved in a normal gay relationship, would she have been this upset? She had to smile at that thought – how would she know what a normal gay relationship was?

Scully sighed, leaned her head down on her hands on the railing, and closed her eyes. It had been a long, long day, and she was so very tired.


Skinner looked up from where he was dozing next to Mulder’s bed, awakened by a soft touch on his arm. "Mom! I didn’t expect to see you here."

Anne Skinner kissed her son’s cheek and looked at him with mock severity. "You expected me to just sit at home when one of my boys is in the hospital? How is he?" She carefully sat on the edge of the bed and stroked Mulder’s hair.

"Pretty much out of it right now," Skinner said. "He’s had some internal damage that they’re keeping an eye on, and his back was torn up. They’re keeping him doped up because of the pain, and he’s on major antibiotics." He rubbed his eyes wearily.

"You need to get some rest, Walter. You look dead on your feet."

"I can’t – he needs me here. He keeps throwing off the sedatives and waking up if no one’s here with him."

"You go home and get some sleep, and I’ll sit with him."

"Mom – "

"Don’t argue with me, Walter Sergei Skinner. You won’t do him any good if you’re exhausted."

Skinner sighed. "All right. I’ll go home and catch a couple of hours sleep. His partner was here earlier and will probably be back, and I have to tell you that she isn’t pleased with the whole situation."

"Go home, Walter. I’ll watch over your Fox for you."

He hugged her. "Thanks, Mom. I’ll see you later."

After he had gone, Anne settled into the chair next to the bed after checking on her sleeping patient. Mulder lay resting quietly although every now and then he muttered and moved a little restlessly in his sleep. Gradually, his restlessness increased until she put her hand over his, stroking it gently.

"Hush, Fox," she said soothingly.

"Mom?" he whispered, half asleep.

She stroked his hair again. "It’s Anne, dear. Do you want your mother?"

He sighed, moving a little fitfully but not opening his eyes. "Doesn’t matter. She won’t come." He lay quiet again then, just when she thought he had gone back to sleep, she realized that the hazel eyes had opened and were studying her, puzzled. Identifying her, he relaxed. "Mrs. Skinner. Anne. When did you get here? Where’s Walter?"

"I sent him home to get some rest when I got here."

"Good. He looked wiped." Mulder’s eyes drifted closed again.

Anne settled back into her chair and watched the young man sleep, a slight frown on her face as she considered what Mulder's earlier words revealed about his family's dynamics. And she wondered what actions, if any, she should take.

 


Alex Krycek walked through the hospital corridor purposefully, and no one gave a second look to the well-dressed young man carrying a floral bouquet. Just a typical visitor on a typical day. But Alex Krycek was not a visitor; he was there on serious business. First, however, he needed to lose the flowers.

On a whim, he located Mulder’s room and cautiously peered in. An older woman, one he didn’t recognize, was sitting by the bed doing needlework. He decided to risk it. Tapping lightly on the door, he went in and the woman looked up with an inquiring smile.

"Hello. Are you here to see Fox? I’m afraid that he’s still out of it."

Fox? Aloud, he said, "That’s okay. I just wanted to bring these by and see how he was doing."

The woman rose and took the flowers. "They’re beautiful – I’m sure that he’ll appreciate them very much. I’m Anne Skinner, by the way."

Ah, the mother-in-law – so to speak. And on apparently friendly terms if she was calling him ‘Fox’. He wondered when that had happened. "Alex," he said with a nod. "Mulder and I used to work together." Enough of making nice, Alex, he told himself, and murmured a polite farewell as he backed out the door.

"I’ll tell Fox that you were asking about him."

Krycek smiled at the thought of Mulder’s reaction to that – not to mention Skinner. "Do that."

Then he was striding through the corridors towards his real destination, his movements deliberate but not hurried. Ah, just as he had thought – one uniformed policeman outside the hospital room. He approached the officer and pulled out the ID he had picked up from Skinner while checking his stab wound, wondering how long it would be before the owner discovered it was missing. "Walter Skinner to see the prisoner."

The officer looked at the ID and scanned down the list of people allowed access. He nodded. "Go ahead, sir."

Krycek smiled and went into the room. He stood for a moment at the end of the bed, surveying the man laying in the bed and checking to see whether the policeman was watching. Assured on the latter, he moved up to the head of the bed, keeping his back to the door so the officer couldn’t see his actions.

Jason Benett’s eyes opened as he became aware of a presence beside him, and he drew in a sharp breath. "Krycek."

Krycek smiled. "Hello, Jason. You know why I’m here."

Benett swallowed hard. "Yes."

"You really screwed up, didn’t you?" Krycek said, pulling out a hypo and preparing it.

Benett tried to pull away but he was in restraints in the bed. "Come on, Alex, give me a break. For old times sake – you remember what fun we had together, don’t you?"

"Oh, I remember, and I would except for two things. One, my patron would have me killed if I disobeyed him and I’m very fond of my life."

"And the second?"

Krycek looked down at Benett, and the man drew back in terror at the feral look in his eyes. "No one hurts either of them and lives. No one but me." He viciously jabbed the needle into Benett’s arm and emptied it. "Nighty-night, Jason."

Benett opened his mouth to scream, yell for help, but Krycek was prepared for that. He clapped a hand over Benett’s mouth, stifling him, until Benett had dropped into unconsciousness. Krycek carefully disposed of the hypo, straightened the bed and his jacket. Then he left the room and the building.

 


Skinner entered his apartment building after paying off the cab, only two thoughts on his mind - sleep and Mulder. It took a couple minutes before he realized that the security man was calling his name.

"Yes?"

"Your car keys, sir. The man from the detailing company said he put the car in your usual parking place."

Skinner stared at the keys in his hand, his mind slightly befuddled with exhaustion, then a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. Trust Krycek to make a bold move, a grand gesture. He was only surprised that the man hadn't decided to drop the car at the FBI parking deck.

"Thanks."

He dragged himself upstairs and collapsed across the bed, still fully dressed. Within minutes he was asleep.

 


Scully walked slowly down the hospital corridor toward her partner’s room. Exhausted emotionally and physically, she had fallen asleep in the chapel for almost two hours. When she woke up, she felt a little better physically but not much clearer about her emotional state. What she needed to do was talk to Skinner, quietly and calmly.

Entering her partner’s room, she was surprised to see a strange woman sitting by Mulder’s bed, calmly working on needlepoint. The woman looked up and smiled at her, and Scully felt as if she should know this woman.

"You must be Dana Scully. Walter has talked about both you and Fox so much that I almost feel I know you."

Fox? She thought, stunned. "I’m sorry but – do I know you?"

"Anne Skinner," she said with a smile. "Walter’s mother."

"Walter’s – " Scully sat down weakly. "Oh. You – you know Mulder?"

Anne nodded. "We met at Christmas." She glanced back at the sleeping man, and Scully was startled to see affectionate amusement in the older woman’s face. "He’s a nice boy, but he does seem to get into an awful lot of trouble."

Scully’s mouth dropped open. Anne had said that just as if Mulder had been sent to the principal’s office instead of having been beaten half to death by a sadistic maniac. An involuntary laugh escaped from her, and she suddenly found that she was laughing and crying in a semi-hysterical manner. It was several long minutes before she was able to control her emotions.

"S-sorry."

"Don’t be," Anne said, handing her the box of tissues. "It sounded like you could really use that."

"Yes," Scully said, drying her eyes with a sigh. "I haven’t had much to laugh about today."

"I don’t expect that you have." She reached out to grasp Scully’s hand and said, gently, "He’s going to be all right. He’s tougher than he looks."

"Yes," Scully said with another sigh.

"Walter went home to get some rest – he looked worn out, poor boy. You look like you could use some rest, too."

"I didn't want to leave Mulder alone – he has a tendency for nightmares."

Anne nodded. "He had one at Christmas – I take it that holidays are difficult for him. And he got restless about an hour ago. I touched him and he settled down, thought I was his mother." She looked searchingly at Scully. "I asked if he wanted his mother and he said that it didn’t matter, she wouldn’t come."

Scully sighed. "I know. I called her to let her know that he was in the hospital and she politely thanked me and hung up. Although, considering the number of times he’s been in the hospital, it’s probably a non-event to her by now." Hesitantly, Scully added, "I doubt that she knows about – um – them."

"It’s not an easy thing to tell one’s family. Or one’s friends."

Scully looked up to find brown eyes studying her, sharp eyes that were very like her son’s. "You seem to be okay with this situation."

Anne smiled a little ruefully. "I’ve had twenty years to get used to Walter's preference but I expect that you’ve just recently learned about them. My son will tell you that his father and I were understanding, that we’ve always accepted him and been there for him." She sighed softly. "I’m afraid that’s not the total truth. When he first told us - when he came back from Viet Nam - I cried for hours. Not in front of him – and he never knew – but… a mother has dreams for her children, and hopes that they’ll be happy with a family of their own someday. Children. Grandchildren. Lifelong love. Things that are hard to find for a gay man, and even harder in his chosen profession. I’m embarrassed to say that I was relieved when he married Sharon, settled into a ‘normal’ relationship. And I’ll admit that I was worried when he told me that he was in love, and that the person he loved was a man. But then I met Fox, and I saw how happy the two of them are together, and I remembered how unhappy he was with Sharon. And somehow nothing else seems to matter but that happiness."

Scully shook her head. "If anyone finds out, it could be the end of their careers."

"They know that, and they are willing to take the risk." Anne's eyes were studying her again. "Fox thinks very highly of you. It will devastate him if you cannot accept them. How do you feel about this?"

Scully sighed. "Honestly, I don't know. I've been in the chapel for the last couple of hours trying to think. I - I need to talk to them both, I think. Find out where this is going." She met Anne Skinner's eyes directly. "Mulder's my best friend. I've got to be certain that he isn't going to be hurt."

Anne shook her head. "Everyone gets hurt, and you cannot stop it. But I think that a lifetime of love is worth a little pain."

Scully would have replied but a nurse entered the room. "Agent Scully? The prisoner you brought in - he's coding."

Swearing under her breath, Scully rushed down the hallway and entered Benett's room in time to hear, "That's it, folks. Record the time of death."

She grabbed the doctor's arm. "His injury wasn't that bad - how did he die?"

"Apparent heart attack," the doctor said with a sigh. "The autopsy will tell us more."

Scully stepped out to the policeman's station outside the room. "Did the patient have any visitors recently?"

The officer checked the list. "Just his doctors and A.D. Skinner."

Scully frowned. "When did A.D. Skinner visit him?"

"About an hour ago."

Impossible, she thought; Anne said he had gone home two hours ago. "A tall balding man with glasses? In his late forties?"

"No, ma'am. A younger man, with dark hair."

Scully swore under her breath. Krycek, she thought bitterly. She should have known - probably cleaning up his bosses' mess. And now they wouldn't be able to find out who was behind this attempt on Mulder - not that there was much doubt that it was Cancerman's doing. With slow steps, she walked down the hallway to Mulder's room and called Skinner.


Skinner entered the hospital four hours after having left it, slightly refreshed by his nap but feeling as if he could have slept a lot longer. He met Scully outside Benett's room and felt slightly relieved when her eyes were able to meet his, even if they were a little cool.

"Agent Scully, what happened?"

"Someone impersonating you, sir, got to Benett and injected him with a chemical to simulate a heart attack. From the description, I'd say that it was Alex Krycek."

Skinner nodded and sighed. "Somehow I am not surprised."

"And yet you were willing to accept his help yesterday? I suppose that he's a member of that club, too, since he took Mulder there."

Skinner sighed. He really didn't want to get into that again. "That was different, Scully. His boss - an English gentleman that I think you've met - didn't want Mulder dead. And he did help us find Mulder in time."

"Yes."

Scully was silent as they walked back down the hallway to Mulder's room. Anne Skinner took one look at their faces and then excused herself to go in search of coffee. Skinner braced himself for round two.

Scully walked to Mulder's bedside and looked down at her sleeping partner. "You love him," she said simply, stating a fact. "It's not just sex games, is it?"

Skinner stared at her, surprised by the softened tone of her voice. "Yes."

"And he loves you, too?"

"Yes."

"Why didn’t you say something? If I had known how you felt – "

"You would have been a little more understanding? You wouldn’t have threatened to throw me out?" he asked, a little bitterly.

"I'm sorry," she said simply. "I didn't realize. It's going to take me a little while to get used to the idea."

Skinner's lips twitched a little. "You were the one who tried to set us up at Christmas."

"I thought you could be Mulder's mentor, not his lover," she retorted, and then a reluctant smile tugged at her lips. "I must have totally floored you when I asked you to invite Mulder for Christmas. How did you manage to keep a straight face, sir?"

Skinner gave in to a grin. "It wasn't easy."

"You were with him over Thanksgiving, too, weren't you?" Skinner nodded. "I've never seen him happier than he was that Monday after Thanksgiving, and when he saw that rose on his desk…the flowers were from you, too, weren't they?"

Skinner nodded again, and his eyes locked on Scully's. "I would never do anything to hurt him, Scully," he said quietly. "More than anything in this world, I want to make him happy, to make up for all the hell he has gone through in the past."

"Yesterday must have been hell for you."

Skinner smiled a little crookedly. "You could say that."

"What happened is going to be hard on your relationship, isn't it?"

Skinner looked bleak. "Depends on Mulder, and we know how good he is on snatching defeat from the jaws of victory."

Scully sighed. She found herself accepting the fact that Skinner was no physical threat to her partner. Was it up to her to decide if he was a moral threat? "All right. I’ll accept the concept that these S&M games you two play are consensual and that, because you do love him, you wouldn’t hurt him. What I don't understand is why Mulder needs these games. He seems to be a normal - well, fairly normal - heterosexual…" She stopped, realizing that she had thought the same of Skinner, and flushed, embarrassed.

Skinner smiled and she was amazed by that smile. "Don't ask, don't tell?" Then he sobered, frowning in thought. "It's hard to explain to someone who has never played the game. And it's different for different people. What he needed was to escape from himself."

"Excuse me, sir?"

Skinner sighed. "Imagine being locked inside that brain of his - alone, isolated, regarded by your peers as 'spooky'. Always having to be in control. He needs to let someone else be in control so that he doesn't have to be, so that he can stop thinking and just feel. So that he can forget the monsters – even for a little while."

He looked up to find Scully's eyes on his face, studying him intently. Normally he would have felt very uncomfortable at having revealed so much of himself but he was just too tired to care. He glanced over at Mulder's sleeping form, unaware that his face softened and that Scully had observed it.

"So Mulder escapes from himself. If you don't mind my asking, sir, what do you get out of it?"

"Fox Mulder." Skinner's mouth twisted in a wry smile. "You work with the man, Scully - haven't you noticed what a gift he is? He's beautiful and brilliant and funny and has this smile..." Her eyes were stung by the softness of his tone and she had to blink rapidly to keep the tears away. "So. Are you going to OPR about this, Agent Scully?"

She turned her eyes back to Mulder, saying softly, "He's been a different person these last few months. He's been truly happy for the first time since I’ve known him." Scully suddenly chuckled. "If you knew how hard I tried to find out about those damn flowers…"

"So now you know. We’re in your hands, Scully."

"Your secrets are safe with me," Scully said, then in a mock-serious voice added, "However, if you hurt him in any way, I promise I’ll come after you. And I’m armed and dangerous." Then, soberly, she added, "I would like to see this - whatever it is - work."

Eyes gleamed at her and a little smile tugged at his mouth. "We're not exactly picking out curtains and china yet, Scully," he said mildly.

Scully's mouth nearly dropped open. Who would have thought that Skinner would have a sense of humor?

Meanwhile, his flippant remark to Scully had made Skinner start thinking. Well, why not? He'd been thinking about buying a house - there was something satisfying about mundane household chores like mowing. Some place with enough room for his possessions. And Mulder's possessions. And Mulder. Some place to retreat from the rest of the world. He smiled a little, recalling his occasional thoughts that his very vocal lover was going to have the neighbors complaining then the smile faded a little. Deep down inside, he had a feeling that it would be a long time before that carefree and responsive lover was back in his bed.

Chapter Text

Where do we go from here?
This isn’t where we intended to be.

We had it all – you believed in me,

I believed in you.

Certainties disappear

What do we do for our dreams to survive?

How do we keep all our passions alive

As we used to do?

Deep in my heart I’m concealing

Things that I’m longing to say

Scared to confess what I’m feeling

Frightened you’ll slip away.

You must love me.

 

Mulder surfaced from a warm, dark world where he felt safe and loved to a world of too-bright light and unbearable pain, pain so great that he nearly retreated back into the dark. Only one thing, a familiar voice, kept him from diving down into that darkness and never coming out again.

"Scully?"

The sound of heels on linoleum, the feel of a cool hand on his forehead, and a gentle voice near his ear. "Hi, partner. Welcome back."

He blinked his eyes open and found that he was lying on his stomach in a hospital bed. "Shit. I hate hospitals."

That low laugh that only Scully could produce, and she settled into a chair by the head of his bed. "Well, you sound a little more like yourself."

"Do I?" Mulder blinked, frowning, and tried to remember.

"Yeah. Last time you were awake you told me to shut up."

Memory trickled back in, and Mulder lifted his head to glance around the room. "So what did you do with the bodies?"

"If I told you, that would make you an accessory after the fact."

"We'll go on the lam, a sort of variation on 'Thelma and Louise'. If Terence Stamp can do drag, so can I."

That soft laugh again. "Okay, but I get to choose whether I'm Thelma or Louise." Her hand came up to brush his forehead again, and her expression became serious. "How are you feeling?"

"Like someone beat the crap out of me," he said, trying for lightness but there was an underlying catch to his voice. "They must have turned off the good stuff."

Scully swallowed against the pain in her throat. "The doctor wanted to ease off on the medication. If the pain is too bad, they can give you something for it. Do you want me to call the nurse?"

"Not yet." Mulder took a deep breath. "So. How bad's the damage?"

Scully hesitated, but she knew that Mulder would want her to be honest. In her best pathologist's voice she said, "Deep bruises from your shoulders down to your knees. Lacerations on your upper back that broke the surface. Some internal bruising and they're a little worried about your kidneys."

"And - Benett?"

"Dead." At the surprised look on Mulder's face, she added, "Apparent heart attack, but we think that Krycek got to him." To her surprise, Mulder chuckled softly. "What?"

"Ironic, that's all."

"I gathered from something he said to Skinner that Krycek used to...play with Benett." She hesitated. "Mulder, why didn't you tell me that it was Skinner you were seeing at that Club?"

"And have you go to OPR? Not likely." He looked over at her. "I missed the end of that conversation - what did you decide to do?" A little coldness crept into his voice, and she had the feeling that he was wondering if that was why she was the only one in his room.

"I decided that it was none of OPR's business, as long as you both were happy. He's home, getting some sleep, by the way. He and Anne have been by your side off and on for the past day and a half."

A smile curved his lips. "I thought I remembered Anne being here. She's a great lady."

"I liked her, too." Lightly, she added, "So you've gotten in good with the in-laws already."

A humorous lift of his eyebrows. "Always a good plan, don't you think? My hope is that, if Walter and I break up, she'll dump him and adopt me."

"Gold-digger."

"Hey, a man's got to think about his future and I'm not getting any younger."

Scully grinned, quoting one of his favorite movies, "It's not the years, it's the mileage."

"Yeah, well I think this body is about due for a trade-in," he laughed. He shifted slightly, forgetting his back for a moment, and was abruptly reminded as a wave of unbearable pain washed over him. "Scully - "

Her hand was already on the call-button. "Hang on, Mulder. I'm getting you something for the pain."

"Can't - " The darkness swallowed him up again.


The next time he awoke it was dark outside, and the pain in his back seemed to have been reduced to a thrumming ache. The sound of pages turning alerted him to another presence in the room, and he turned his head to see Skinner sitting in the bedside chair. His head was bent, he was frowning over a report that he was reading, and the image was so familiar that Mulder felt emotion choke his throat. Sap, he thought to himself a little derisively.

Skinner looked up and caught Mulder's eyes on him, and a soft smile crossed his face. "Hi, tough guy. How are you feeling?"

"I'll live. Right now I'm just not sure if that's a good thing or a bad thing." He ran a tongue over his lips. "Thirsty."

Skinner picked up a cup and adjusted the straw so that Mulder could drink from it. Once Mulder was satisfied, Skinner dampened a washcloth and ran it over Mulder's face.

Mulder sighed. "That feels good."

"Scully says that you were awake for a little while earlier."

"Yeah." Mulder studied his lover's face. "So - you two bury the hatchet for now?"

Skinner smiled. "Actually - once she got over the initial shock - Scully's been pretty decent about the whole thing. I have a feeling that she and Mom talked - they're off getting something to eat right now. I wonder if I should be worried about that - those two will have us married and living in a little house in the suburbs before we know what has hit us."

"Yeah."

Mulder face abruptly became shuttered and Skinner could have kicked himself. It had just been a joke, but it had obviously hit Mulder wrong and he didn’t know why. And this wasn't the time or the place to discuss long-term plans.

"Sean was by earlier. He'd like to come back when you're up for visitors."

"I'd like that."

Mulder noticed that Skinner didn't pursue the subject of a long-term future and closed his eyes to hide the sudden desolation he felt. Now that Benett was gone, there was no need for Skinner to keep protecting him at the Club. He remembered that Skinner had said that he had left the Club, that he had only come back and had only agreed to take Mulder on to keep him safe from Benett and Cancerman. Now that need was gone. And the relationship they had started outside the Club - it was dangerous, and would be doubly so now that the smoking bastard had been thwarted in his plans. It only made sense to end both relationships. Right now, though, Mulder didn't feel like being sensible. He felt like begging Skinner to keep him, pleading with him to let them continue as they had been. He bit his lip to keep the words from spilling out of him, and a single tear ran down his cheek.

"Fox?"

Resolutely, he kept his eyes closed, ignoring that soft voice instead of wrapping himself up in it. If it was over, he had better learn how to stand on his own.


Scully looked surprised when Mason came into the small break room down the hall from Mulder's room, and he smiled slightly. "Sean is in the lab for his regular check-up and he hates me to hover, so I thought I'd pop up and find out how Mulder's doing. He was asleep, so I decide to look for you. How are you doing?"

Scully looked surprised. "Me? I'm not the one in the hospital."

"No, but something like this happening to someone you care about can be tough to deal with. I know from personal experience." Mason was looking at her with those sharp eyes. "And on top of that you've had a big shock. You need someone to talk to about this."

Scully studied him coolly. "Why you? I hardly even know you."

"Who else are you going to talk to? Walter? Mulder? They're part of the problem. Your family? I doubt that they'd understand." Mason smiled, and she realized that he had a nice smile. "I'm a good listener, Special Agent Dana Scully."

Scully smiled ruefully. "Are you always this persuasive?"

He laughed softly. "You have no idea." He stood up. "Let's go have lunch and you can unburden your soul. My treat."

Scully stood up and picked up her coat.


Mulder opened his eyes and realized that something was different. It was daylight again, and he was lying on his back. He wondered how long he had slept this time and turned his head, looking for Scully or Skinner or Skinner's mother. Instead, he saw Sean sitting in a chair by the bed.

"Hi," he said in surprise.

"Hey, boy-o. Thought you were going to sleep the day away. How are you feeling, mate?"

Mulder tried to push himself up, wincing. "I've felt better."

Sean helped place the pillows so he could sit up. "Know what you mean. Wait till they start healing and itching - then you'll know you’re in hell."

"You get beaten this badly often?" Mulder asked sarcastically. Then, as Sean turned his face away, he said, "Christ - I'm sorry - it's none of my business."

Sean took a deep breath and turned back, pulling the chair closer to the bed. "I've got a story to tell you, Mulder."

"Another fairy tale?"

"No. A true story, and not a particularly pretty one. I told you before that I've done just about everything, good and bad. Before I belonged to Geoff, I used to play around. Most of the time with tops at the Club, safe tops. And then I did something really stupid - got involved with an outsider who was into heavy SM with no safe words. The first two times were exciting, dangerous - I got hooked. Then, the last time, he beat me so hard I nearly died, raped me, the works. I would have died if I hadn't set up a check-in buddy. When I didn't call on schedule, he called the police.

"When I got out of the hospital, I pulled myself together. I thought I was 'dealing' with it, going on with my life. Then the tests came back at my six-month check-up. HIV Positive."

"Jesus, Sean," Mulder breathed.

Sean gave him a twisted smile. "I tried to kill myself with a pill overdose. I was just lucky that I did it at the Club. Geoff found me and took care of me. I still don't know why - we hadn't played together. I wouldn't even let him touch me for weeks. He didn't care, he was just there. He found a counselor for me to talk to, made sure that I was taking my meds, getting my T cell count healthy. And when I was ready, he made love to me so sweetly…It took a long time but I got over it with his help. He's been there for me every day, good or bad."

"You're very lucky," Mulder said softly. He remembered the incident when he had "belonged" to Mason for a day, how Sean had been sick and, afterward, how Mason had sat drinking in the living room. He remembered Mason's words, and now he understood the meaning underneath them.

"So are you." Sean looked up and, irrepressible as always, grinned at him. "You should have seen the Mountain when you were missing - he had Geoff and those butch security guys jumping through hoops like subs!"

Mulder chuckled weakly. "That's my Walter."

"Yes. *Your* Walter." Sean's eyes pinned him. "Possession is a two-way street. He's hurting, too. Don't shut him out."

Mulder closed his eyes. "He did it to keep me out of trouble, to keep me away from Benett. He doesn't have to anymore."

Sean snorted. "If you think that's the only reason he topped you, then you are blind, boy-o. He's in love with you, plain as the nose on your face. You know it, too. And you love him."

Mulder plucked at the blanket. "It's not that easy."

"Shit, Mulder. Finding someone to love that loves you back is the hard part. Everything else is easy." Mulder didn't say anything and Sean sighed. "Look, I want you to talk to my shrink." As Mulder started to protest, he said, "She's cool. She understands about the lifestyle and counsels other gays. She's seen it all and she can really help."

"Sean…"

"Just talk to her one time, okay? See what you think of her. She helped me a lot, and I think she can help you through this."

Mulder sighed and agreed, reluctantly.


"Maybe you can explain this to me," Scully said after the waitress had brought their drinks. "I suppose I can understand why Mulder does this - releasing control to another person. But why do you do this? Why does Skinner do this? What on earth do you get back out of all that time and energy you put into these games? Is it a power trip?"

Mason smiled. "Life is a power trip. We spend most of our lives struggling for power, trying to empower ourselves and to protect ourselves from being overpowered by others. What we do is play power games for fun instead of profit."

"But can't this desire for power be destructive?"

"Of course. Most people picture a SM top as an amoral, irresponsible and destructive person - like Benett. And there is that potential - playing with power can be like playing with fire. But there is also the enormous potential to heal, to provide a special kind of warmth against the empty darkness in most of our lives. An ethical top - like Walter and myself - understands the use of power and wields it responsibly and safely."

"Safe, sane and consensual? I've heard that before. It wasn't very safe or sane and it certainly wasn't consensual for Mulder."

Mason sighed. "Agent Scully - "

"Dana." When he raised an eyebrow at her, she smiled wryly. "It feels - too strange to use my title when we're talking about this subject."

"All right, Dana. And please call me Geoff. As I was saying, Jason Benett wasn't an ethical top, and he wasn't playing games. He was trying to break Mr. Mulder, trying to get power over him, to destroy Mulder's sense of identity. Consensual SM involves a power exchange, a sharing of power, not taking away of power. The bottom gives his or her power to the top while they're playing. The top adds his own power and then wields the combined energy in a way that is exciting, hot, and very, very sexy."

"So it's all about sex?"

Mason laughed. "Isn't life about sex? Pursuing it, obtaining it, retaining it. We spend more of our energy in pursuit of sex than anything else, and we have more anxieties about sex than anything else, and we repress more 'forbidden' feelings about sex than anything else. All that energy wasted when it can be channeled and released in a way that heals and revitalizes us. Both of us - tops and bottoms."

"And that's what's in it for you?"

"Among other things." Mason smiled. "It isn't just about sex or power. When a top and bottom really connect, there's a kind of empathy that's so profound that it's almost telepathic. We almost experience what the bottoms experience, we 'surf' the bottom's sensations. And when two players really mesh - like me and Sean, or Walter and Mulder - the relationship can be deeper and more profound than any vanilla relationship could ever hope to be."

Their food arrived and Scully toyed with it for a few minutes, thinking. "Have you and Sean been together long?"

"Two years. He went through something similar to what Mulder's just gone through and I helped him get over it."

"So Benett's not just an isolated case." Then she frowned, remembering. "You said he was in the lab for a checkup. Is your - um - is Sean all right?"

Mason met her eyes evenly. "Sean is HIV positive."

Scully drew in a sharp breath. "I'm sorry. He seems so - vibrant and alive."

"He is. He was diagnosed two years ago, his T-cell count is good, and so far there haven't been any major complications. God willing, he has years ahead of him." Mason drew a deep breath and smiled, a little unevenly. "But that's not what you wanted to talk about. Dana, you are looking for a simple, single answer and I have none to give you. This game is too complicated for pat answers, and it is different for everyone who plays." He pulled out a business card and held it out to her. "Think about what I've said. And if you still have questions, or want to talk for any reason, bring this with you to the Club and the doorman will see that you are escorted to my office."

Scully slowly took the card and looked at it before putting it in her purse. "Thank you. I will."


Mulder lay in bed for awhile after Sean left, thinking. And no matter how he looked at the situation, it always came down to one thing: Walter Skinner would be better off without the additional complication of Fox Mulder in his life. No matter how much he loved Walter - ruthlessly, he pushed that thought away. His feelings for Walter could only bring the man trouble. Cancerman would see to that now that his little plot had been foiled. The bastard would want his revenge, and he would have the perfect ammunition in an illicit romance between an assistant director and his male subordinate. Disgrace. Humiliation. Embarrassment. Their names and their little hobby dragged through the papers - no, maybe the Club would remain a secret with so many influential people members of it, but there would be a price for that silence. They would be forced to resign from the Bureau.

He wasn't so concerned for himself - he was used to unflattering comments behind his back, accustomed to being shunned and laughed at, but Skinner wasn't. The man had always been an insider, a player. At his age and with this scandal in his past, what kind of future would Skinner have? The picture of Walter Skinner as a humble security guard or night watchman haunted him. Mulder's own inheritances from his grandparents and his father were enough to provide him with a comfortable income for life, but he couldn't imagine Skinner allowing himself to be kept by his lover. Skinner would end up resenting Mulder for the whole mess - and rightly so - and their love would turn to bitterness and hatred, ripping each other to bits in their dark agony. Better to end this now while they had good memories instead of destroying each other and their past.

Resolutely, he wrote a note to Skinner and put it in an envelope along with the key to his apartment. Then, finally, he unfastened the bracelet around his wrist. He stared at it for a long moment, memories of good times at the Club making him smile wistfully, and then he slipped it into the envelope and sealed it.

Mulder got out of bed and located his clothes, dressed rapidly, and headed for the refuge of his apartment.


Skinner walked briskly down the hospital corridor. He was tired, physically and emotionally drained from a long week. He had spent his days keeping up a calm exterior at work while his lover lay in a hospital bed across town, spent his evenings sitting next to that hospital bed while Mulder silently struggled with whatever demons were haunting him, and spent his nights lying in a solitary bed trying to sleep while nightmare visions spun before his eyes.

Skinner had just put his mother on the plane home now that Mulder was out of danger and he was looking forward to the weekend. And with Mulder on the road to recovery, perhaps he could convince the doctors to cut him loose and could convince Mulder to continue his recovery at Skinner's apartment. Once there, away from interruptions and visitors and prying eyes, they could finally talk and he could find out just what was going on behind those sad hazel eyes.

He entered Mulder's room and found it empty of his presence. An envelope with his name on it lay on the bed, and he picked it up with hands that suddenly shook. Taking a deep breath, he opened it and pulled out a single sheet. A key fell out with it, and a gold bracelet.

 

Walter,

So where do we go from here? This isn't easy to say, but it has to be said, so I guess I'll say it. The danger from Benett is over, and Cancerman will be looking for new ways to control us. Our relationship would be just too tempting a target. I don't mind what they'd say about me so much - they've said worse - but you're a good man and I won't see your life destroyed. We've had good times together, and it's better to stop now before we lose even that. So please, Walter, just let me go. We'll always have our memories. I love you.

Fox

 

Skinner sat on the bed, stunned, reading the short paragraph again.

"Mulder - " Scully entered the room in a good mood after her lunch with Mason but stopped short when she saw Skinner sitting on the edge of the bed, staring at a piece of paper in his hand. He looked up at her, and the devastation in his face was so great that she suddenly found she couldn't breathe. "Sir? Is something wrong? Is Mulder-"

"Gone." Skinner was surprised at how even his voice was, surprised that he could even speak over the tightness in his throat. He held out the letter to her and she grabbed it, quickly reading it and then handing it back.

"What are you going to do?" she asked quietly.

"I - " Skinner tried to think but his brain was too tired, his nerves raw from the strain of the past week. He couldn't think, couldn't formulate any plans.

Scully frowned. "You're not just going to let him walk away, are you?"

Skinner took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "What can I do? Go after him and drag him back? What good will that do?"

Scully glared at Skinner. "Men! You are so dense - answer one question. Do you still love him and want him?"

He frowned at her, stung to anger by her tone. "Of course I do."

"Then go home and get ready for a visitor," she said tightly, heading towards the door.

"Where are you going, Agent Scully?" he asked, bewildered.

She turned back and he was startled by the fury on her face. "I'm going to go kick a little Mulder ass!" And then the only sound was the sharp clicking of angry heels moving down the hospital corridor.

Chapter Text

When the rain is blowing in your face
And the whole world is on your case

I could offer you a warm embrace

To make you feel my love

When evening shadows and the stars appear

And there is no one there to dry your tears

I could hold you for a million years
To make you feel my love

I know you haven't made your mind up yet

But I would never do you wrong

I've known it from the moment that we met
No doubt in my mind where you belong

 

Mulder lay on his couch, staring up at the ceiling, feeling empty and lost. Come on, Mulder, he told himself derisively, it’s only been six months. How can you have gotten so wrapped up in one person in just six months? But it didn’t matter how it had happened – it just had. Slowly, gradually, something that had started out as a game had become the single most important relationship that he had ever known, and now that it was over there was nothing to replace it.

The intensity of his need, both the physical and emotional craving for his lover, made him feel like a drug addict in withdrawal. His lips twisted wryly - he was addicted. He was hooked on the certainty that there was at least one person in his miserable fucked-up life other than Scully who cared about him, someone else who actually cared if he kept breathing for another day, someone else who would actually mourn if he kicked it. Somehow, incredibly, over the last six months he had come to accept the fact that Walter Skinner did care that he was alive - whether he deserved that caring or not - and not just because he was a great bed partner. He remembered when he had realized it over the Thanksgiving weekend, the sheer exhilaration and stark terror that had filled him, and how Skinner had understood, how he had silently pulled Mulder into his arms and just held him while the tremors shook the younger man's body. Now there was just an empty hole in his heart that had once been filled by Walter’s love and a deep ache that he felt with every breath. The days and weeks stretched endlessly ahead of him, and there was nothing to fill the loneliness.

He lay on the couch for hours, knowing he should eat something, should take something to ease the pounding in his head, but he was unable to feel any enthusiasm for either task. He wondered, idly, if someone would find his lifeless body still lying here when someone finally missed him and began the search. And how pathetic is that? he thought derisively to himself, lying here and wallowing in self-pity.

There was a loud pounding on his door and, for a moment, hope ignited in his heart and his pulse began to race. Walter, he thought, a sudden burst of energy making him sit up. "Who's there?"

"It's me, Mulder, and you had better let me in."

Scully, he thought as his hopes plummeted. He collapsed back on the couch and covered his eyes with his arm. "Go away, Scully. I'm not in the mood for company."

There was a rattle at the door and he swore silently as he realized that Scully was using her key. The door swung violently open, slamming against the wall, and a furious redhead stormed into his apartment.

"Just what in the hell do you think you are doing? First you leave the hospital without being released by your doctor, and this just days after you sustained a severe beating. Are you completely crazy? Or are you suicidal?"

"I don't know, Scully," Mulder said listlessly, not moving his arm from where it covered his face. "You tell me."

"Then you turn your back on the one man who has stood by your side - has risked everything for you - without the courtesy of telling him face to face why you're blowing him off!"

Mulder sat up abruptly, wincing at the pain this caused in his back. "He knows why - "

"Oh, come on, Mulder! I read the note you left and it was pretty pathetic. That scene may have worked in 'Casablanca' but you don't pull off noble suffering nearly as well as Bogart." She stomped into his bedroom and emerged with his suitcase.

"Am I going somewhere, Scully?"

"Yes. I'm taking you over to Skinner's apartment and you're going to talk to him. You're going to apologize for treating him this way - I'd advise a little groveling - and then you're going to discuss your future like a reasonably intelligent human being. If you're very lucky, and if he's even half as crazy about you as I think he is, then he'll forgive you for tearing out his heart and stomping on it, and you can spend the next week being coddled and cosseted at his place while you finish recovering. Otherwise, I'm taking you back to the hospital and putting you under 24-hour guard."

"And what makes you think that I'm going to go with you?"

"Because if you don't get your ass off that couch and out the door in the next thirty seconds, I'm going to put a bullet in your other shoulder. And you know that I can and will do it."

Mulder sighed. "Scully - "

"The clock is ticking, Mulder."

Mulder gave up the fight and stood up, heading towards the door. "All right, all right. I'm going."

They sat in silence in the car on the way over to Crystal City, Mulder staring out the window and trying to keep his stomach from heaving at the thought of the upcoming discussion. Shit, he thought despairingly, there was no way that Walter was just going to let him walk away. It was going to be ugly - they were going to argue, they would say things to hurt each other, and the lovely, fragile fantasy that they had built together would explode in flames.

"You know, Mulder," Scully said, breaking the silence. "I've seen you stand up against shape shifters, mutants, government conspirators. I've seen you risk your life for what you believed in, for those that you cared about, for me. But I've never thought you were a coward before now."

"A coward?"

"Yes, Mulder. If you won't face him - if you're just going to stick your head in the sand and pretend nothing happened, then you're a coward."

"Scully, you don’t understand…"

"What? That the smoking man will try to use this relationship against you? Mulder, he's been doing that to you for years with our friendship - are you just going to stop caring about anyone to protect yourself from pain? And if you stop caring about anyone, even about yourself, you'll become just as pathetic and lonely as that bastard is. You will become him, Mulder. Is that what you want?"

Mulder remembered finding Cancerman, sitting alone in his darkened room watching television, and thought how easily that could be himself. He shuddered, and Scully saw that with satisfaction.

"The only thing that matters is that we refuse to stop caring, that we refuse to let these bastards control our lives," Scully said quietly. "We have to take what happiness we can and hold onto it for however long we can, otherwise we're just their puppets."

They were silent on the elevator ride up. Standing outside Skinner's door he felt an overwhelming sense of panic but a surprisingly strong hand gripped his arm and kept him from bolting. The door swing open at Scully's first buzz as if Skinner had been waiting on the other side and, judging from his appearance, Mulder rather thought that he had.

"Hello, sir," Scully said cheerfully. "I believe I have something that belongs to you." She handed Skinner the suitcase and pushed Mulder into the apartment with a strong hand in the middle of his back. Damn, she's strong, he thought, Dana, Warrior Princess.

"Thanks," Skinner said, feeling like an idiot at being unable to come up with anything better but his brain seemed to have short-circuited at the sight of his errant lover. "Um - would you like a drink, Scully?"

"No, thank you, sir. I've got a date tonight and I've got to get going. Besides," and she gave them both a meaningful glare, "you have some talking to do. Good night, sir, Mulder."

"'Night, Scully." Skinner closed the door behind Scully and turned to study Mulder. The man stood in the middle of the front hall, head down, hands jammed into his pockets, face totally closed. Skinner sighed inwardly - he had seen this look before, and Mulder-the-martyr was almost as annoying to deal with as Mulder-the-smart-ass. He decided that the best defense was a good offense and simply pulled the younger man into his arms, holding him tight and murmuring, "God, Fox, I missed you so much. I was afraid that I was never going to see you again."

Mulder couldn't stop the sob that emerged from him but he fought valiantly to repress the rest of the tears. Then Skinner was kissing his neck and stroking his hair, murmuring soft words to him, and Mulder couldn't keep them back anymore. His stiff body melted against Skinner’s, his arms went around the other man, and he was clinging to Skinner desperately.

"Walter, you don’t understand," he said, his muffled voice full of agony as he buried his face against Skinner’s shoulder. "You know that bastard will use this against us. Your career will be ruined – "

"The hell with my career," Skinner said roughly. "You are much more important to me."

"You say that now but when you’re a night watchman at some broken-down factory you’ll begin to resent me and then hate me and we’ll have fights – "

Skinner began laughing softly. "Is that why you broke up with me?" Mulder nodded. "Idiot," Skinner said affectionately. "You’re agonizing over something that hasn’t happened, that may never happen. And why in hell would I become a night watchman?"

Mulder shrugged, still not lifting his head from Skinner's shoulder. "At your age and with the Bureau scandal – "

"At my – Fox, how old do you think I am? I’m only in my forties and I’m constantly being offered consultant work in the private sector. I’ll manage just fine. And you’re worrying over something that may never happen. We’ve got enough problems without you inventing trouble." He squeezed Mulder gently, being cautious of Mulder’s injuries. "I love you, Fox. I want to be with you. And I’m willing to risk everything for this relationship."

"Now who’s the idiot," Mulder said with a sigh, but he tightened his hold on Skinner.

Skinner pulled back slightly so he could look into Mulder’s face and he smiled at what he saw. Mulder was still troubled but appeared resigned to the fact that Skinner wasn’t going to let him go that easily. There were still a lot of things that they would have to talk about, but that could wait till later. He leaned forward to brush his lips over Mulder’s and murmured, "Have you eaten yet?"

Mulder chuckled weakly. "I should have known. No, I haven't."

"I've got steaks." He squeezed Mulder once and released him, heading toward the kitchen.

"What is this compulsion you have with food?" Mulder followed him, leaning against the counter as he watched Skinner pull food out of the refrigerator.

"Can I help it if food is one of my two favorite things?"

"What's the other?"

Skinner turned and grinned at Mulder. "Sex."

Mulder laughed, a little weakly, then sighed. "About that. I don't think - I'm not ready - "

Skinner crossed back over to Mulder and gently touched his face. "I know. We’ll talk about that later, okay? And I’m here whenever you're ready, Fox. It's up to you. Just - don't shut me out completely, okay?"

"Okay." Mulder's voice was tight. He blinked to keep back tears.

Skinner kissed him again, gently. "Go on in the living room and take it easy while I finish dinner."

Mulder nodded and started to leave the room, then turned back and said, diffidently, "You know I love you, don’t you?"

A grin broke out on Skinner’s face. "Yeah, I think I somehow got that impression."

Mulder nodded again. "Good." He disappeared into the living room, and Skinner turned back to his cooking with a light heart. It wasn’t perfect, Mulder still had a lot of healing to do, but it was a start. And he felt a hell of a lot better than he had an hour ago.


A while later, Mulder lay on the floor in front of the fireplace half-dozing. His stomach was pleasantly full and his mind disengaged. In the background he could hear Skinner washing the dishes, and all in all he was at peace.

His jacket chirped and he sat up with a groan to pull out his phone.

"Hello?"

"Mulder, it's me."

He flopped back down on his stomach. "Hey, Scully. What's up?"

"I was just checking to see if you were all right."

"I may die from high cholesterol, but other than that I'm okay."

"Skinner cooks? I'm impressed."

"The man is obsessed with my stomach, Scully. He says 'have you eaten' the way most people say 'hello'."

A chuckle on the other end of the phone. "I doubt it's your stomach he's obsessed with," she said dryly. "I think it's your ass."

"Why, Dana Scully!" he said in mock severity. "Do you kiss your mother with that mouth?" She laughed again. "I hear noise in the background - the new boyfriend there?"

"Mmmhmm. He's cooking me dinner."

"Now I'm impressed. If he's good in bed he sounds like a keeper to me, Scully."

"Mulder, are you channeling my mother?"

Dryly, he said, "Scully, if I was channeling your mother, I would hardly mention bed. Although I should probably channel Bill and question the boyfriend about his intentions."

"Carnal. Definitely carnal." They both laughed, feeling more at ease with each other than they had in days. "Mulder, I meant what I said earlier."

"I know, I know - for Christ's sake, Scully, stop pushing!" he said irritably. Skinner came into the room and they exchanged a look, then Skinner went to his desk and settled down with some papers from the office.

"Sorry, Mulder," she said softly, on the other end of the phone. "It's just that I care about you."

"I know." He drew a deep breath. "I'm sorry. Guess I'm a little sensitive."

Scully hesitated, then said, "Mulder, if you aren't doing anything Sunday afternoon, would you like to catch a movie? My treat."

"Sunday afternoon?" He glanced over at Skinner. "Sounds good. But I warn you - if you drag me to one of those dollar shows again, I'll expect popcorn, too. I'm easy but I'm not cheap."

Skinner snorted at the desk, and Mulder grinned.

"Yeah, right, tell me another one," Scully said. "You're incredibly cheap."

"Oooh, Scully, you know me so well. What're you wearing?"

She snorted. "Save it for Skinner, partner."

He fell over laughing, and Skinner looked at him in mock exasperation.

"Got to go. Peter says dinner's ready. Pick you up from Skinner’s place at 3?"

"Sounds good. Bye. Don't do anything I wouldn't do."

Dryly, she said, "Mulder, that doesn't exclude much of anything. 'Night."

Grinning, he hung up and put the phone back in his jacket pocket. It felt good to be on friendly terms with his partner again. He looked around for Skinner and saw that he had finished at the desk and had moved to the couch. Skinner turned on the TV and chose a mystery movie. Mulder watched the movie quietly for a few minutes, figured out who the murderer was, and glanced up at Skinner.

"Scully asked me to go to a movie with her Sunday afternoon." His voice was uncertain, unsure of where they stood.

"Sounds like fun. You should go." The voice was amused. Mulder drew a breath and sat up.

"Yeah. It does." He leaned his back against the couch, next to Skinner's legs, and felt a gentle hand touch his head as Skinner absently stroked his hair. He leaned his head against Skinner's legs, feeling safe and secure, and his eyes drifted shut.

The next thing he knew, Skinner was gently shaking his shoulder. "Time for bed, Fox."

Mulder sat up abruptly, his heart racing. Skinner had promised - had said it would be his choice - Then he saw that Skinner was spreading out blankets and pillows on the couch and he had to swallow tears. How could he ever doubt Walter?

Skinner gave him a hand up from the floor. "You're too tired to drive home tonight."

Mulder smiled, a sweet smile that made Skinner want to crush him to his chest and devour him with kisses, and there was mischief in those hazel eyes. "I couldn't, anyway. You and Scully kidnapped me, remember?"

"So we did." Skinner handed him the TV remote with a smile. "Sleep well, Mulder."

"What, no good-night kiss?"

Skinner reached out and caressed Mulder's face. "Cheeky bastard." He leaned over and kissed Mulder gently. "Good night."

Mulder tilted his head, smiling beguilingly. "You can do better than that."

"Yes," Skinner said softly, "but then you won't be sleeping on this couch. And I don't think you're ready for that."

Mulder smiled ruefully. "No. I'm not." He sighed. "Good night."

Skinner turned and walked down the hallway to his bedroom, hearing the TV channels changing behind him. Then he undressed and climbed into his solitary bed.


Skinner was awakened by a scream. He sat bolt upright, his heart racing, and heard it again. Mulder. He nearly ran down the hallway. In the light cast by the TV, he could see Mulder thrashing on the couch, whimpering and crying in a way that tore his heart. He knelt by the side of the couch, firmly gripping Mulder by the arms.

"Mulder! Mulder, wake up!"

"No! Please, don't!" Mulder fought against him, desperate.

"Fox, it's Walter. Wake up!"

"W-Walter?" Mulder stopped struggling and blinked his eyes open. Relief flooded his face and he laid his forehead on Skinner's shoulder, shaking like a leaf. Skinner shifted to sit on the side of the couch, pulling Mulder tightly against him.

"It's all right, Mulder. I'm here. You're all right." Mulder nodded, still too shaken to speak, and buried his face against Skinner's neck. Skinner soothingly stroked his back, silently letting Mulder pull himself back together again. Finally, with a sigh, Mulder stopped shaking and lay limp, exhausted.

"Okay now?" Mulder nodded. "Need anything? Warm milk? Water?" Mulder shook his head. "Think you can go back to sleep?" Mulder shrugged and Skinner eased him back down on the couch. As he started to stand, Mulder clutched his T-shirt, eyes wide with fright. Skinner sighed, then tugged Mulder up. "Come on." He led him down the hallway and pushed him gently toward the bed. Mulder glanced at him, wide-eyed, and Skinner said with a half-smile, "Don't worry, your virtue's safe with me. For tonight, anyway."

Mulder smiled back, tentatively, and crawled into bed. Skinner went back down the hallway to turn off the TV and shut off the lights. When he returned to the bedroom, Mulder was curled up on his side, facing away from him. He sighed again and climbed into bed, turned off the light, and lay down, staring up at the ceiling.

"Walter?"

"Hmm?"

"Thanks."

"What are friends for? Good night, Mulder."

Mulder rolled over, snuggling against him for warmth and comfort, and fell asleep. Skinner shifted his arm so that Mulder lay pillowed on his chest, breathing in the scent that was Mulder, and smiled. It wasn't everything, but it was enough for now. He was a patient man. He could wait.


Mulder was in a bad mood the next morning when Skinner woke up. Sometime in the early morning he had retreated back to the couch and lay there, changing channels faster than he could possible see them. Skinner surveyed the situation with silent amusement and went into the kitchen to make coffee and start breakfast.

He returned to the living room with a cup of coffee and set it down next to Mulder. "Stop abusing that poor remote for a minute and drink this."

"Don't want any coffee," Mulder muttered sulkily.

Skinner smiled to himself and returned to the kitchen. He knew one or two things about Fox Mulder, including the way through that stubbornness. He began mixing up pancake batter.

Mulder lay on the couch, scowling. He had awakened in the early morning in the arms of the man he loved and a panic attack more severe than any he had ever felt before swept over him. He had bit his hand to stifle a scream, aghast at the fear that tore through his stomach, and edged himself out of bed. Skinner didn't move, and he had crept down the hallway to the guest bathroom where he became violently ill. Shaking, fighting dry heaves, he had pulled himself up to the sink and washed his face, rinsed out his mouth. Then he had headed for the safe cocoon Skinner had made for him on the couch, retreating under the covers like a frightened animal in its burrow.

Now he could hear Skinner moving around in the kitchen making comfortable, familiar, safe noises. The smell of coffee was irresistible, and he put down the remote with a sigh and reached for the coffee mug. Part of him, the free-spirit Mulder, resented Skinner's high-handedness and wanted to rebel against it, wanted to push him to find out what it would take to make Skinner leave like all the others. But part of him thirsted for this coddling like a plant for rain, and reveled in the comfort of Skinner's care, the surety of his love, the strength that would allow him to be weak.

Skinner returned to the living room with a glass of juice, smiling at the sight his lover presented. He was sitting curled in a cocoon of blankets and pillows, his hair tousled like a little boy's, an expression on his face that was half-rebellious. He set the juice down without comment and turned to look at the TV.

"Have they shown the scores from last night's game yet?"

Mulder shook his head and changed to a sports station, absently picking up the juice glass as they watched the recap of the basketball game.

"Doesn't look like we missed much," Skinner commented and went back into the kitchen to start the pancakes.

Mulder sat for a moment, then pushed back the covers and took his coffee mug into the kitchen for a refill. He sniffed the air appreciatively. "Pancakes?"

"Your choice of syrup."

Another memory surged up in Mulder's mind but he pushed it down and shrugged. "I'm not particular."

"I remember." The soft, teasing tone in Skinner's voice wrapped itself around Mulder's tattered soul. He took a deep shaking breath, his lungs feeling as if he had been shallow-breathing for years, and smiled. He moved to slide his arms around Skinner's waist, pressing his cheek briefly against Skinner's back, breathing in the unique Skinner-scent.

"Morning," Skinner said with a smile in his eyes as Mulder released him and moved to lean against the counter next to him, sipping on his coffee.

"Sorry. Rough night."

"Want to talk about it?" Skinner's voice was soft and warm as an old down comforter, and Mulder wanted to sink into it, to wrap himself in Skinner's love and never come out.

"Not right now. Later."

Skinner nodded and Mulder was overwhelmed again. Scully would have pushed and nagged at him or would have withdrawn behind an icy shell. His mother would have never asked or would have turned away. His father would have - he pushed that thought away uncompleted. But Skinner just accepted his decision without withdrawing his comfort and love. He blinked away sudden tears and turned to finish setting the table.

"Before I left the hospital yesterday, the doctor said I could go back to work week after next," he said casually.

"I can imagine what Scully will think of that," Skinner said dryly. "Well? How do you feel? Think you’ll be ready?"

Mulder nodded. "I feel - okay."

"Then it's settled. It'll be a short work week, anyway, with the MLK holiday."

"Yeah." Mulder pulled the butter and syrup out of the fridge and set them on the table, sneaking a look at Skinner. Nothing had been said about weekend plans, or about the Club, and he was uncertain if he should say something.

"I’m taking a half-day on Friday. Why don't we get a head start on the holiday and go up to the cabin? We can set up the telescope."

Mulder took a deep breath. "Okay."

"Good." Skinner turned the conversation to the headlines in the paper and the sports scores, and Mulder welcomed the retreat from personal issues.


After breakfast, they settled at opposite ends of the couch, Mulder retreating inside himself again while Skinner picked up a book and waited from Mulder to emerge. Mulder moved restlessly in his corner, as if trying to find a comfortable position, and Skinner finally put down the book.

"Back feeling stiff?"

"Yeah," Mulder admitted.

"Come here." Skinner grasped Mulder’s wrist and tugged him over Skinner’s thighs, then began rubbing Mulder's shoulders, gently and expertly. Mulder gave up with a groan, closed his eyes and surrendered to those fingers that knew him better than he knew himself. Skillful fingers circled his shoulders, found the knots of tension and eased them, moved to the base of his skull and eased the headache forming there. The hands moved down his back, gentle over his healing scars, and he sighed blissfully. Skinner smiled and rolled Mulder face up. Mulder's eyes snapped open, suddenly wary. Skinner placed his fingers on Mulder's temples, gently circling with the fingertips, and Mulder's eyes drifted shut. His fingers moved up to massage Mulder's skull and the lines of pain between Mulder's eyes eased perceptively. Another sigh and the younger man totally relaxed, drifting into sleep. Skinner smiled, continuing his massage for a little longer until he was certain that Mulder was asleep, then he picked up his book and settled back.

Mulder woke in mid-afternoon, finding himself pillowed on Skinner's legs. Skinner noticed the movement and set down his book and removed his glasses.

"Hi. Feel better?"

Mulder nodded. "Yeah." He smiled crookedly. "You're so good to me. Why?"

Skinner smiled. "Easy. Associating with you all these years has made me certifiably insane." Mulder chuckled weakly and Skinner ruffled his hair affectionately. "Idiot. Come on. Let's go for a walk. We could both use the exercise."

The air was crisp and cool, and Mulder visibly shed the last remnants of sleepiness. "Feels great. It'd be a good day for a run."

"I don't think you left any sweats at my place," Skinner said, "And you need to clear that with your doctor first."

Mulder sighed and settled for a brisk walk through the park. For the first time since his kidnapping, he felt really alive and he looked around him with bright eyes. It had snowed overnight and the sun was shining, reflecting off the white snow that had not yet had a chance to get mushy. There was the sound of laughing children somewhere off in the distance, and the park was fun of joggers enjoying the beautiful day. Suddenly, a mischievous mood took over and he bent, scooping up a handful of snow. A well-aimed snowball landed squarely on Skinner's back and made the older man spin around.

"Now you're asking for it." Skinner scooped up a handful of snow and advanced on Mulder purposefully. The younger man laughed and danced out of range, taunting. Skinner surprised him with a lightening fast move, knocking him down and washing his face with snow, until Mulder laughingly begged for mercy.

"Nice take-down," Mulder gasped, trying to catch his breath between laughs.

Skinner grinned, sitting up and dusting off his hands. "Well, I attend self-defense refresher courses regularly."

"Point taken. Although I can just see explaining that I need the course to out-wrestle my lover."

"J. Edgar would have loved it," Skinner pointed out, his heart warming at the easy way Mulder had said the word "lover". He stood and offered Mulder a hand-up.

A little damp from snow wrestling but in a much lighter frame of mind, they returned to Skinner's apartment. Skinner made hot chocolate while Mulder showered and changed into spare clothes, then they settled in front of the fire, each deep in their own thoughts. Finally, Mulder sighed and sat up, looking over at Skinner.

"Umm - I think we need to talk about this."

"About what?"

"Us. The game. Everything. Are we - are we still playing?"

Skinner tilted his head and studied Mulder. "That’s up to you. What you’ve been through - "

Mulder looked away into the fire. "It wasn’t like our games," he said quietly. "I wasn’t – aroused at all by what he did to me." A sideways look at Skinner, and a half-smile. "And you know that everything you do turns me on."

"But…?"

"But - damn it!" Mulder's voice was muffled as he dropped his face onto his knees. "I don't know what the hell is wrong with me. I'm shaking like a leaf, I jump every time you touch me, and I had such a bad panic attack this morning - " He slammed his fists against the floor. "Why am I such a basket case? He didn't rape me, for Christ's sake! What in the hell is my problem?"

Skinner reached over to gently rub Mulder's back. "You've been through the Victim Sensitivity sessions - you know that it's not uncommon for victims of violence to feel helpless, angry, out of control for awhile after their ordeal."

Mulder snorted. "I'm not supposed to be a victim. I'm supposed to catch monsters like Benett. I'm the genius profiler, remember? I felt safe there at the Club, I let down my guard - shit, Walter! That was a second-rate hood's trick and I fell for it! Just walked right into the elevator without a thought -"

Skinner closed his hand around Mulder's neck and shook him gently. "Stop that. Don't you think I blame myself, too? You told me that he was still stalking you - I should have taken more precautions - but tearing ourselves up over 'should have' does no good. We have to move forward and not let the bastard ruin our lives. I love you, Fox, and you love me, and we'll get through this. Together." Mulder looked away from him. "What is it, Fox?" he asked gently. "You know I'm not going to jump you just because you're here. When you are ready, I'm here for you. And if it would make you feel more comfortable, you can top."

"I wish it was that simple," he muttered. He glanced sideways at Skinner, his face a little flushed, and Skinner thought he was embarrassed. "I - um - "

"What?"

"I'm not - I haven't been - oh, hell!" Mulder moaned and dropped his face into his hands.

Enlightenment dawned, and Skinner wrapped his arms around Mulder. "Fox, it's all right. Impotence is a common occurrence after kidnappings for male hostages. Hell, it happens to most men sometime in their life."

Mulder tried to relax back against Skinner, feeling the comfort from the strong arms around him. "Has it ever happened to you?"

"Hell, yes," Skinner said comfortably. "When I got out of the hospital after 'Nam. For months afterward, I couldn't have gotten it up to save my life." He felt the low laugh rather than heard it and smiled, reassured. If Mulder could still laugh then he was okay. "It passed for me. It'll pass for you, too. You're stronger than you think, tough guy. Look at what you went through without breaking."

"I felt you there with me. I knew I wasn't alone." Mulder sighed and folded his arms over Skinner's arms wrapped around his waist. "So you don't mind a little celibacy for while, till I get over this?"

"Of course not. Idiot," Skinner said affectionately, ruffling his hair. "Much as I esteem that sexy ass of yours, it's not the sole reason I love you."

"Oh, yeah?" Mulder tilted his head back, smiling impishly at Skinner.

Skinner chuckled. "Are you fishing for compliments, babe?"

"Well, my fragile ego could certainly use some stroking right now."

"Yeah?" Skinner suddenly tilted Mulder over on his side and mercilessly tickled him until Mulder begged for mercy.

"No fair," Mulder gasped, collapsed on the floor. "You really are a bastard, you know that?"

"So I've been told," Skinner said tranquilly. He helped Mulder sit back up and then, tentatively, broached a subject that he knew Mulder would not be happy about. "I'd like you to talk to a counselor."

To his surprise, Mulder just sighed. "Yeah. Sean has a friend that he wants me to talk to - a Dr. Malone. He says that she specializes in alternative lifestyles."

"So will you talk with her?" He smoothed Mulder's hair away from his face. "Please, babe?"

Mulder smiled wryly at him. "How can I refuse when you ask so nicely? All right. I'll call Sean on Monday and get him to set up an appointment. Will that make you happy?"

"Ecstatic. And I'll be even happier if you talk to her honestly instead of shoveling the bull you usually give shrinks."

"Geez, Walter, go for the full pound of flesh, why don't you?" Mulder griped. "Okay, I promise. Satisfied?"

"Very." Skinner kissed him gently and was satisfied by the faint response he got back. "Now, let's see about dinner. It's been over four hours since I obsessed over your eating habits." And the snort of laughter that he got back was so normal, so typically Mulder, that he felt really hopeful for the first time in over a week.

Chapter Text

No more talk of darkness
Forget these wide-eyed fears

I'm here, nothing can harm you
My words will warm and calm you.

Let me be your freedom

Let daylight dry your tears

I'm here, with you, beside you
To guard you and to guide you.


Then say you'll share with me one love, one lifetime

Let me lead you from your solitude
Say you need me with you, here beside you

Anywhere you go let me go, too

That's all I ask of you.

 

Mulder gazed at the doorway longingly but a firm voice beside him said, "Make a break for the door and I’m taking you down. I promised Walter and Geoff, and you’re not getting me into trouble with them again."

Mulder sighed and scowled at the man sitting next to him. "I’m an adult, Sean. I think I can manage a doctor’s appointment on my own. I don’t need a nursemaid."

"Right. And who almost jumped out of the car at the last stoplight?"

"I hate shrinks," Mulder grumbled.

"So do I," said a pleasant voice from the doorway. "A bunch of busy-bodies always asking ‘and how do you feel about that?’ "

Mulder nearly jumped out of his skin and turned to see a woman standing in the hallway, smiling at him. He wasn’t sure what he had been expecting, but this tall woman in her early fifties with short salt-and-pepper hair dressed in comfortable jeans and a baggy shirt wasn’t it. But then again, he had expected Sean to take him to a sophisticated, modern office in a high-rise downtown, not a converted house on a wooded lot in the suburbs.

He flushed and stood up, clearing his throat. "Sorry."

"Don’t be – I agree with you." The woman held out her hand. "Kate Malone. And it’s ‘Mulder’ but never ‘Fox’ – am I right?"

"You’ve been talking to Walter," Mulder said with a smile, shaking her hand. She had a firm handshake and a pleasant smile as she nodded in response.

"Sean," she said, turning to him and hugging him. "I haven't seen you in a couple of months. How are you doing? Still making Geoffrey’s life hell?"

"Of course. It’s my mission in life."

Kate Malone shook her head, laughing. "The poor man. Grab a cup of coffee – you know where everything is – and make yourself at home while Mulder and I talk." She led Mulder down the hallway to a comfortable sitting room and gestured toward the chairs. "Get comfortable, Mulder, while I grab my notes. Would you like some coffee?"

Mulder politely refused and entered the room she had indicated. He looked around and saw that it was like an informal living room – a couple chairs and a couch arranged in front of a fireplace with soft lighting – and fought his instinctive urge to relax. He sat down on the edge of one of the wing-back chairs as a feeling of dread filled him. Dr. Malone was obviously very good, knew all the tricks, and she was going to be very hard to fool.

Dr. Malone returned to the room and settled into the other wing-back chair with a notepad and a cup of coffee. "Well, Mulder, as you know I talked to Walter Skinner about your recent ordeal when he set up this appointment. He has his own ideas about why you need counseling, but I’d like to hear your point of view on the subject."

Mulder shrugged. "I don’t really think that I need to talk to anyone other than Walter, but he’s convinced that I’m on the verge of a breakdown."

She smiled wryly. "He also said that you would say that. Mr. Skinner appears to know you very well."

Mulder gave a rueful laugh. "Yeah, well, he’s been my boss for five years and has seen me through a lot of shit."

"And now he is your lover and your Dom as well?"

Mulder met her eyes steadily. "Yes."

He expected a "and-how-do-you-feel-about-that" remark but she merely said, "Sounds like he may know you better than you know yourself. Mr. Skinner says that you had three panic attacks over the past weekend, one that made you leave the hospital without your doctor’s approval, one when you were in bed, and one when your partner arrived at Mr. Skinner’s to take you to the movies."

"I got past them," Mulder said defensively.

"And you had a nightmare the first night that you were at Mr. Skinner’s apartment following your release from the hospital. Would you like to tell me about that nightmare?"

"Not particularly," he said sarcastically. Dr. Malone didn’t say anything, just picked up her coffee cup and took a sip, her eyes on him the entire time. Mulder sighed. "Okay. I’m back with Benett, and he’s working me over again. It’s dark in the room but there’s this kind of light over to the side that I can see just out of the corner of my eye. I turn my head and it’s an open doorway – I can see the sunlight from outside and I know that if I can just get to that door I’ll be safe. But I can’t move even though I can’t see anything tying me in place. And then I see movement in the doorway, and I can see that it’s Walter and Scully, and they’re watching while Benett beats me. Scully looks horrified and she turns and runs away. Walter holds out his hand to me, begging me to come with him, but I can’t move. He drops his hand and turns away, and then he’s gone. I turn my head back towards Benett, and his face changes, like one of the shapeshifters. Then I wake up."

"Who did Benett change into?" Dr. Malone asked, but Mulder didn’t answer. "All right, we’ll come back to this later. Let’s talk about your panic attacks. What happened when you were in the hospital?"

Mulder sighed. "I didn’t have a panic attack. I was thinking about what happened to me, and about Walter, and I realized how dangerous our relationship would be to his career. I decided that it would be better for him if I broke this off now, before he got really hurt. I knew that it would be better for him."

"Mulder, how old is Walter?"

Mulder looked startled. "Um – forty-seven, I think."

"Does he strike you as being mentally stable?"

Mulder grinned briefly. "Well, except for loving me, yeah."

"Then you are saying that Walter Skinner is a grown man who is full possession of his senses and should be capable of making his own decisions. Would you agree with this assessment?"

Mulder knew where this was going and got up from his chair, moving over to stand in front of the fireplace. "All right, all right, I know what you’re trying to say. Walter has decided that he wants to be with me, God knows why, and, since he should certainly know his own mind, I should allow him to share in the decision about whether we continue this relationship. The problem is that Walter is so damned honorable that he’d rather be shot than break a promise."

"That’s twice that you’ve done that."

Mulder turned around and frowned at her, puzzled. "What?"

"Denigrated yourself. First you said that Walter Skinner was mentally stable ‘except for loving me’, and then you said that ‘Walter has decided that he wants to be with me, God knows why’. Don’t you think that you’re worthy of being loved?"

Mulder snorted. "I’ve been through this crap before, Dr. Malone. My psych reports at the Bureau are just full of speculations that I suffer from low self-esteem. Right alongside the ones that say I have an ego the size of Texas. Well, here’s a news flash for you, Doctor. My ego and self-esteem are just fine, thank you. I just refuse to look at myself through rose-colored glasses."

"Bullshit."

Mulder stared for a moment, and then a reluctant grin crossed his face. "You don’t mince words, do you, Dr. Malone?"

"No, I don’t. And it’s Kate. Now what do you say we cut through all the crap and get to the heart of the matter?"

Mulder threw himself back into the chair. "Is this where we get into the ‘I-love-my-mother-and-hate-my-father’ crap?"

"I’m not Freudian, Mulder, and I could care less whether you hated your father. Most of us do from time to time. What I care about is the fact that you hate yourself. Who did Benett change into, Mulder? Did he turn into you?"

"Shit." Mulder drew a shaky breath. "You don’t pull any punches, do you?"

"No, I don’t. If you want someone to listen to you shovel a lot of shit and pat your hand and give you the standard lines, then you’ve come to the wrong person. You won’t get away with any crap with me – I’ll call you on it every time. But if you want someone who’ll be here for you, who’ll listen to whatever you have to say without judgment, who’ll help you find your way out that door into the light, then here I am. So what’s it going to be?"

Mulder looked at her speculatively. "You’ll really listen to whatever I have to say without judgment?"

"I guarantee that you cannot possibly shock me, no matter what you say. Or disgust or offend me."

"You have no problems with my ‘deviant sexual behavior’?"

"Define ‘deviant sexual behavior’."

"I’m engaged in a homosexual B&D relationship. That qualifies as deviant in most people’s book."

"Well, it doesn’t qualify as deviant in mine. All of my clients are involved in an alternate lifestyle of some sort: gay, lesbian, bisexual, B&D, S&M, tops, bottoms, switchers, transvestites, drag queens. And I do pre-and-post sex change counseling as well. As far as my clients go, Mulder, you’re devastatingly normal."

Mulder laughed and relaxed for the first time, dropping the brittle exterior to display the charming and humorous man underneath. "I don’t know if I can handle being normal."

"Think of it as a challenge." She set down her pad and leaned forward. "Mulder, when you came in here you said that you didn’t have any issues to discuss. I have to disagree with your self-diagnosis. I think that you are looking at a lot of issues: the recent traumatic abuse, the nightmares, and the panic attacks. I also have a feeling that you are not totally comfortable with your relationship with Walter. All joking aside, do you really see it as deviant sexual behavior?"

Mulder was quiet for a long moment, looking down at his hands, then sighed. "I never really thought about my sexual orientation, just took it for granted that I was het even though all of my sexual relationships with women have been unqualified disasters. When I joined the Club, I wasn’t looking for a romantic relationship – I’m not even sure what I was really looking for except someone else to take control for awhile. When I was assigned to him, I was horrified at first – Christ, the man is my boss! – but we just seemed to fit together so well. He was just the kind of top I was looking for, and he’s told me that I’m the kind of sub that he prefers. But it wasn’t a relationship, you know; it was just playing a game. Only – somewhere along the road it became something more, for both of us. He’s – God! I’ve never felt like this about anyone in my life before, and it scares the shit out of me. Not because he’s a man, but because he’s so deep in my heart that it will kill me when I lose him. And I can’t talk to anyone about this because he’s a man – I can’t call up my friends and say ‘listen, I’m having some trouble coping with my feelings about my lover and, by the way, he’s a man’. Scully tries to listen but she really doesn’t understand."

"Talk to me, Mulder – that’s why I’m here," Kate Malone said gently. "Now why do you think that you’ll lose him?"

Mulder shrugged. "Everyone leaves, sooner or later. Sometimes they get tired of all my shit. Other times – things just happen to those I love."

"Why do you think that?"

"It’s a fact. My sister disappeared when I was twelve. My parents left emotionally at about the same time. My first serious relationship ended when she left me for someone who could further her career. My second serious relationship ended for similar reasons. My first partner and the first boss I ever got along with were both killed by psychotic criminals. My current partner was abducted and missing for three months – we still don’t know what happened to her while she was gone. Walter was shot and nearly killed for refusing to back down from an investigation of ours."

"And why do you think that any of that is because of you?"

"Things happen to the people around me. I am a magnet for death and destruction."

Kate shook her head and sighed. "Not everything is about you, Mulder."

His eyes gleamed with humor. "That’s what Scully says."

"Sounds like a smart woman. Mulder, you can’t do anything about the past except to let it go. As for the future – do you have any reason to believe that Walter Skinner will ‘get tired of all your shit’ and leave?"

Mulder smiled, reluctantly. "No. He says that I’ll have to hit him over the head with a shovel to get rid of him."

Kate Malone laughed. "I think I like your Walter."

Mulder grinned. "Sorry, he’s already taken."

"Then go home and tell him that," she said gently. When Mulder flushed and shifted a little in his chair, she tilted her head and studied him. "What?"

"Um – well, this is a little – " Mulder took a deep breath and said, "I feel a little uncomfortable talking about this but – well, ever since – Benett – I - " He paused again and then said, in a rush, "I haven’t been sexually aroused since then."

"That’s very common following traumatic incidents like this. Have you ever had this problem before now?"

"Never," Mulder said fervently, getting up and pacing again. "I mean, I woke up in bed with Walter wrapped around me, and I should have been so turned on that I jumped him right then but instead I got a panic attack so bad that I nearly climbed the wall to get away from him. And then I threw up, and I was shaking badly, and I was foul to him when he got up the next morning. I'm amazed that he didn’t throw something at me, but he was just as patient as usual. He – he puts up with all my shit, and he’s not even getting anything out of it."

Kate frowned. "Do you think Walter expects sex from you in payment for his patience?"

"Of course not – but the whole reason we got involved to begin with was for the games, and we had a lot of sex."

"Was it good?"

Mulder grinned. "It was great."

"Then what makes you think that he won’t wait? Mulder, you’ve gone through a traumatic ordeal, you’ve been out of the hospital three days, and you expect to just jump back in bed like nothing happened? You need to give yourself some time, resolve some issues, get some control back over your life before you can relinquish any of that control to someone else. Explore other avenues of expression until you feel comfortable enough to initiate sex again. When you do - if Walter feels comfortable with this - you might want to top or at least take the top position so that you control the activity."

Mulder nodded. "Walter already suggested that."

"Good. It sounds like he's a flexible, caring man, and I expect that he'll be willing to take it at your pace as long as you are honest with him. I've seen similar cases and the one thing that does the most damage is dishonesty on either part." She consulted her notepad. "I'll be meeting with both Walter and your partner as well." At his panicked look, she quickly said, "We won't be discussing any of the issues that you discuss with me, Mulder, but they've gone through an ordeal, too, and they are going to need counseling to deal with it and be supportive to you."

Mulder nodded. "Okay."

"Good. Well, I think that's all you can handle for one session." She smiled at him. "So, Mulder - do I pass?"

Mulder slowly smiled. "Yeah. Full points in every category. It's going to be hard as hell to slip anything past you. Are you sure you're a psychiatrist?"

"Just wait till you get my bill. That should convince you."


Skinner pulled up in front of the cabin and stopped the engine. Mulder sat quietly in the passenger seat, seemingly lost in thought, and Skinner reached out to briefly touch his arm. "We're here, Fox."

Mulder slowly seemed to come back from wherever he had been and Skinner was relieved to see that he didn't flinch away from Skinner's brief touch. Everything had gone well during the past week until an incident two days earlier. Mulder had been dozing on the couch and Skinner had touched his shoulder gently to wake him. Moments later, he found himself sitting on the floor with his head tilted back and an ice pack on his nose while Mulder repeated apologies over and over. He hadn't been angry, had reassured Mulder, and had even laughed about his lover's quick reflexes, but Mulder had been mortified and had nearly run back to his own apartment that same night. It had taken all of Skinner's persuasive powers to keep him there. Later that night, Skinner had awakened to the sensation of a warm mouth enveloping his cock and had nearly been rendered unconscious from the intensity of the blow job he had received, only to have Mulder slip out of bed immediately and return to his nest on the couch. Skinner didn't know whether to be grateful or angry or hurt over the incident and, when Mulder didn't mention it in the morning, just decided to ignore the incident until he could discuss it with Dr. Malone.

He had met with Dr. Malone that morning and, after the past tense two days, it was a relief. He had liked her at once, felt comfortable with her no-nonsense attitude and had found himself talking about things that he had never discussed with anyone. His anxiety over Mulder, not just from the Benett incident but when he was in the field. His helplessness in the face of Mulder's rapid mood swings. His past experiences and the lack of control in his own life that had made him seek out the Club in the first place. And he had to agree with Mulder's assessment: Kate Malone was sharp and knew her stuff.

Skinner got out of the car and unloaded the suitcases from the trunk, carrying them up to the porch.

Mulder followed slowly, noticing the Christmas tree that stood in its container on the porch. A friend of Skinner's with a pickup truck had brought it out here and one of Skinner's plans for the weekend was to plant the tree on the property. He smiled as he touched the needles, remembering that wonderful weekend, and he felt himself relax for the first time in days - ever since he had accidentally given Skinner a bloody nose. Skinner had insisted that he wasn't angry with him but Mulder had sensed the anger in him the next day although Skinner hadn't said anything about either the incident or the midnight blowjob. Things had been tense around the apartment for the last two days, and Mulder had wondered whether Skinner was getting sick of having him around and whether he should return to his own apartment and give Skinner some peace and quiet, but Skinner wouldn't hear of it. Mulder had even tried to get out of this weekend but Skinner had insisted that they both needed it, and that it would be a good opportunity to set up the telescope. That reminded Mulder, and he went back down to the car to fetch the disassembled telescope.

When he got back up to the porch, Skinner had unlocked the door and set the suitcases in the bedroom. Mulder carefully set the telescope pieces over to one side and helped bring in the groceries, then sat down to assemble the telescope and align its mirrors correctly. By the time they sat down to dinner, Skinner was relieved to see that Mulder was in a good mood. He encouraged Mulder to talk about what they might be able to see over the next three nights, given the weather conditions. That was all the encouragement Mulder needed to dive headlong into one of his favorite hobbies, and he absently ate his way through a substantial meal while talking about the winter constellations and the current position of the planets. Not for the first time, Skinner marveled at the wealth of knowledge the man possessed and sat back to let the words wash over him. Mulder was at full throttle now, talking about the constellations and the mythology behind them, but Skinner just watched the face, reveling in the animation on it.

Mulder paused in the middle of his story about Orion, noticing that there was a funny expression on Skinner's face, and grinned. "What?"

Skinner just smiled and shook his head. "Nothing. Let's go look at the stars."


The next afternoon, Skinner paused in his digging and eyeballed the hole in the ground. "I think that's deep enough. Let's get the tree out of the container." Mulder held onto the container while Skinner lifted the former Christmas tree out, then he helped guide the tree into the center of the hole and quickly shoveled in dirt to hold the tree in place. Once Skinner was certain that the tree wasn't going anywhere, he helped Mulder fill in the hole and pack down the dirt, then the two men stepped back and surveyed their handiwork.

"How big is this thing going to get?" Mulder asked and, when Skinner gave him his best guess, studied the area. "Then the next one should go about here. And do you think we could dig the hole ahead of time - before the ground freezes to the consistency of concrete?"

Skinner laughed but was secretly pleased that Mulder was talking about next Christmas as if it were a foregone conclusion that they would still be together. A week ago he hadn't been at all certain of that. "City boy," he said teasingly.

"And you love that about me."

"Among other things," Skinner agreed. "Hot chocolate?"

Mulder slipped an arm around his waist as they started toward the cabin. "In front of the fireplace?"

"Is that a hint that you'd like me to build a fire?"

"Too subtle?" Mulder grinned at him and Skinner cuffed him.

"Smart ass."

They shed their coats and boots, and Mulder headed to the kitchen to make hot chocolate while Skinner built a fire in the fireplace. A short time later, they were settled on the couch in front of the fire. Mulder cuddled up against Skinner for the first time since Wednesday, his back against Skinner's chest as they stretched out on the couch and Skinner's arms wrapped around his lover. Mulder dropped his head back against Skinner's shoulder and sighed deeply.

"This is nice."

"Yes, it is." Skinner dropped a kiss on the soft hair under his chin, unsure what had brought this about but willing to go with it. "You know, it was incredible seeing Saturn like that last night. I mean, intellectually I knew it had rings but somehow actually seeing it - well, it was incredible."

Mulder grinned at the awe in Skinner's voice. "It takes so little to impress you, big guy."

"Oh, I don't know about that. I have some pretty demanding tastes."

"You don't demand enough."

Skinner tilted his head, trying to see Mulder's face. "Why do I get the impression that we are talking about something other than the stars?"

Mulder shrugged slightly. "I don't see what you're getting out of this, why you dragged me up here with you, when all you're getting is my pathetic shit."

Skinner was still for a moment, so blindingly furious that he couldn't trust himself to speak or move for a moment. When he finally had enough control of himself, he pushed Mulder up slightly and slipped out from behind him. Quickly, he slipped on his boots and his coat, without looking at Mulder.

"I'm going to get more firewood," he said, heading for the door.

"But Walter, you got in plenty earlier - "

"I am going to get more firewood," he growled, spitting out every word, then closed the door. He stomped off the porch, around the side of the house to the woodpile, releasing his pent-up anger by cursing under his breath and slamming around the stacked wood. When he returned to the cabin, he was reasonably controlled and utterly determined to have this out with Mulder.

Mulder was still sitting on the couch, huddled under the blanket. Skinner carefully set down the wood, removed his outside garments, and went to sit down on the other end of the couch.

"Fox, we have to talk."

Mulder nodded, miserably. "I'm sorry. I don't know what I did, Walter, but I'm sorry."

Skinner let out a deep breath. "I know you are, babe, and I guess that I know you didn't mean to hurt me that way. But how many times do we have to go over this? I. Love. You. Whether you're in a good mood or a bad mood. Whether we're having sex or not. My love isn’t conditional on you being Mr. Congeniality or you putting out. Don't get me wrong - I love making love to you and I miss it, but I miss the cuddling just as much as the fucking, and I won't accept hit-and-run blowjobs as some kind of apology. In fact, if I had to choose just one or the other for the rest of my life, I'd choose the cuddling. I can take care of my frustrations easily enough, but I can't cuddle with Mr. Hand."

Mulder snickered at that, then got on his knees and moved down the couch to Skinner. "I've been an idiot and I'm sorry."

"Yeah, well, you're my idiot, and don't forget it," Skinner said gruffly, leaning over to kiss Mulder briefly.

"Yes, sir," Mulder said impishly. "Do you think we can try that cuddling thing again? If I promise to keep my mouth shut?"

Skinner shifted on the couch and held open his arms, and Mulder slid into them with a contented sigh. They sat in silence for a long time, just watching the fire and drawing strength from each other.

Mulder shifted sideways on the couch, resting his cheek over Skinner's heart, and felt a vast contentment sink into him all the way to his soul. It wouldn't last, he thought sleepily; he was far too mercurial to wear tranquility as a regular garment, like Scully and Skinner seemed to be able to do. Still, maybe enough would flow into all the cracks and damaged places in his heart and soul to enable him to face the future without despair. Maybe even one day he would be able to look forward to the days ahead and to remember past days fondly. He had a feeling that, if Skinner had anything to say about it, he would. Even if the man had to drag him into happiness, kicking and screaming. He smiled and let his eyes drift shut.


Scully was surprised when the phone rang late one Friday night and Walter Skinner was on the other end. It had been four weeks since Mulder's ordeal and rescue, and her partner had been back at work for the past two week - a bit of an emotional roller coaster for him, but he seemed to be coping well and was pursuing two possible X-Files. Mulder had also been seeing Dr. Malone for the past three weeks, and Scully had met with her once to discuss her own concerns and how best to support Mulder during his recovery. She knew that he had been spending every weekend at Skinner's apartment and had been relieved that he wasn't alone at his own place, even though she knew that the two of them had some serious issues to work out. Still, Mulder had been more restless than usual the last two days and she wondered if something was up.

"Scully - " There was an edge of panic in that voice, something she had never heard before, and she sat bolt upright. "I need your help."

"What's wrong, sir?" Mulder, she thought, it had to be Mulder.

"I - I need to take Mulder to Dr. Malone. She's expecting him. But - he won't let me get him dressed. Won't let me touch him. I had to take away his gun - "

"Shit! I'm on my way - fifteen minutes, tops." She hung up and threw on her shoes and coat, grabbed her purse and Emergency-Mulder-Repair-Kit and ran for her car. Ran every light she could on her way to Crystal City.

Skinner opened the door to her knock as if he had been waiting right by the door. He was dressed in sweats, his face pale.

"He's in the bathroom." He led the way up to the master bedroom, halting outside and drawing a deep breath. "I - I'll go into the living room. I laid out clothes in the bedroom." He turned abruptly and went into the living room.

She nodded, noting that the panic had been suppressed under an economical, clipped tone. This voice she had heard before, when one of them had been in trouble or danger, and it gave her a whole new insight into her boss' personality. She took a deep breath, went through the bedroom, and opened the bathroom door. And nearly had a heart attack.

Mulder was sitting in the empty tub, naked, knees drawn up to his chest, shaking and rocking. Just like that time she had found him in the hotel bathroom. She closed the toilet lid and sat down, not daring to touch him yet.

"Mulder? Mulder, it's Scully." He continued to rock, oblivious to her. "Come on, partner. Come on back."

"Scully?"

The voice was high and thin, panic running under it.

"Yes, Mulder. It's Scully. How are you feeling?"

"Cold."

"I'm not surprised. Let's get you dressed, okay?"

He shuddered. "Can't."

"Why not, Mulder?"

"Took my clothes. Don't want to wear his."

Scully frowned. "Mulder, why would Skinner take your clothes?"

He shook his head, shuddering. "Not Skinner. Him. Benett."

Scully closed her eyes, her stomach dropping to her feet. Sweet Jesus, she thought. "Mulder, Benett is dead. Your clothes are here, in the bedroom."

He shuddered again, seemed to focus on the present. He looked up then, and her heart contracted at the pain in his eyes. "I fucked up, didn't I?"

"Mulder, it's okay. Let's get some clothes on you." Coaxing him out of the tub, she led him into the bedroom and helped him put on the clothes laid out. He was unusually quiet and docile, letting her lace his sneakers and obediently rising when she tugged on his elbow.

Skinner was pacing the living room and swung around as they came in, his eyes painfully fixed on Mulder's face.

Mulder managed a half-smile. "Hey."

Skinner tried to smile. "Hey, yourself. You okay?"

Mulder shrugged. "Guess that wasn't such a hot idea, huh?"

Skinner's hand went out involuntarily and Mulder flinched. His hand dropped back to his side. "Dr. Malone wants you to come spend the weekend."

Mulder rocked on his heels, nodding, his eyes over-bright. "Well, it beats a padded cell. I'm about due for another 'get-in-touch-with-your-feelings-as-a-victim' session, anyway."

"Fox…" Skinner's voice was agonized.

Scully wanted to punch her partner. She glared at him instead and he looked at his feet, embarrassed.

"Sorry, Walter," he said softly. "It's not your fault. I'll go. Scully can drive me."

Skinner nodded, picked up an overnight bag and handed it to Scully.

"I'll stop back by after he's settled in," she said softly, and Skinner nodded. Then she took Mulder's arm again and steered him out the door to her car.

Inside, Skinner stood staring at the door for a long moment. Then he went into the kitchen and pulled out a bottle of Scotch.


Scully knocked on the door and heard a voice call out for her to enter. Opening the door, she walked into the living room and found Skinner sitting on the couch, a half-empty bottle of Scotch on the table. She looked at him sharply.

"Sir, how much of this have you drunk?"

"It was a full bottle," he said wearily. His glasses were off, lying on the table, and he looked oddly vulnerable without them.

Scully sighed and picked up the bottle. "This won't help, sir."

"No," he said bleakly. "Nothing helps."

"I'm going to make some coffee. Have you eaten?" Skinner's lips twitched into a parody of a smile. "What?"

"I'm always asking Fox that."

"Yeah, he said you were obsessed with his stomach." She studied him. "How long have you known that he had an eating disorder?"

Skinner shrugged. "I'd heard rumors about his sensitive stomach from VCU." He sat for a moment, then suddenly stood and flung his glass against the fireplace. It shattered, and Scully flinched and stared at Skinner in amazement. "God-damned sorry son of a bitch! I wish that bastard was still alive so I could kill him myself!"

Scully gently put her hand on his arm. "Sir, that won't help."

He sighed and looked at Scully bleakly. "I know. But I can't help wishing it."

He looked so oddly lost and she tugged on his arm, leading him toward the kitchen. She pushed him into a chair and started investigating the kitchen. Suddenly he felt unbearably tired and put his head down on his arms on the table.

Scully made coffee in silence, then set a mug next to Skinner. "Drink this, sir."

"Walter." The word was muffled as his head was still lying on his arms.

"Sir?"

Skinner sat up. "Please. After all we've gone through on this. Call me Walter - at least away from work. Unless it makes you uncomfortable."

She nodded and smiled. "All right - Walter." She sat down in the chair across from him with her own coffee cup and said, teasingly, "I will admit to being a little jealous. Mulder doesn't let anyone else call him 'Fox'."

Skinner snorted. "He's not too happy that I call him 'Fox' either, but I told him to get over it. He says it's better than my other nickname for him."

Scully nearly choked on her coffee. Skinner's bizarre sense of humor never failed to surprise her.

Skinner looked at her, one eyebrow raised. "Something go down the wrong way, Agent Scully?"

"Dana," she managed to say. "Do I want to know what that other nickname is?"

"Probably not - Fox would have to kill us both." He became absorbed in the interior of his coffee mug. "So. He got settled in okay?"

"Yes. Kate put him in the spare room she keeps for emergencies like this and said that she was going to give him a sedative and let him sleep for awhile before talking to him." There was a heavy silence, then she said tentatively, "Walter - can I ask what happened?"

Skinner grimaced. "What happened is that I was an idiot. One hundred percent, grade A, accept-no-imitations idiot. After all the counseling and reading, I should have known better. He wasn't ready. I knew that. I knew that. How in the hell could I let him convince me otherwise?"

The picture began to be clear in Scully's mind. "Mulder can be very convincing when he wants to be."

"He gets these sad eyes and his bottom lip sticks out just a little and trembles…"

Scully nodded. "Yeah, his kicked puppy look. Works every time. If you only knew how many times he's gotten me to follow him on one of his wild hunches because of that look..."

Skinner snorted. "I have an idea - remember, I'm the one who has to read your reports. 'Kicked puppy look', huh?" He smiled a little, reluctantly. "Guess that solves an X-file of my own I've been wondering about."

Scully smiled and then concentrated on her coffee, a little embarrassed about her next question. "I take it that Mulder convinced you that he was ready to - resume intimate relations."

"Nicely put. His terminology was a little - earthier, shall we say?" He stared broodingly into the mug. "And it seemed to be going well." He sighed. "His feet got tangled in the sheets. He thought he was tied down and panicked." He thought how inadequate that word was for the hellcat that his lover had suddenly turned into. "I backed off and he seemed to settle down, went into the bathroom. That was when I realized that his gun wasn't on the dresser anymore. I went roaring into the bathroom and he was - he was just standing there and staring at it like he wasn't sure how it got into his hand.  Jesus, Scully, it scared the shit out of me. I'm afraid that I didn't handle it well. I blew up and took it away and - God! He started whimpering and went into the tub, shaking and - " He stopped, suddenly running out of energy, and covered his face with his hands. "He just kept calling your name in such a heart-breaking way."

Irrationally, the fact that Mulder had called for Scully, had needed her, made Scully feel warm inside and healed an unacknowledged wound. Ever since she had found out about Mulder and Skinner, she had felt an irrational jealousy. She had tried to reason with herself - there was no way that she wanted Fox Mulder as a lover - but she knew that it wasn't the physical intimacy that she was jealous about. For so long it had just been her and Mulder; there had been no one else to trust and she had been the only one he had turned to. True, his neediness had sometimes overwhelmed her and their friendship had been severely strained over the past year because of that. Still, it had hurt to see him turn to someone else, to call someone else first, to want someone else at his side. She had felt abandoned. Now the knowledge that he had needed her healed that wound, and more.

She remembered the horrible months after her remission when she and Mulder could barely speak. She remembered the past six months when, against all odds, they had worked their way back to a comfort that she thought had been lost forever. Ever since he had become involved with Skinner. She remembered what Skinner had said when she asked him what he got out of the relationship, the way he had described Mulder. Suddenly, she felt a warmth and affection for this man, her best friend's lover. He had called her, understanding Mulder's need, had stepped back to let her take care of her partner when it must have been killing him inside. She felt closer to Skinner than she had ever felt before: her partner's partner which, by some weird twist of logic, made him sort of her partner as well.

"Come on," she said, pulling him up from the chair. "You are burnt to the socket." She guided him to the bedroom, pulled down the covers, and pushed him to sit. "Get some rest. The doctor won't be calling for hours." He sighed and laid down, exhaustion claiming him, and she covered him with a blanket and removed his glasses. "I'll be in the living room if you need me."

"Dana."

She paused in the doorway.

"Thanks."

She smiled. "What are friends for?" Then she closed the door.


A couple hours later, after a nap and a shower that left him feeling a little less despairing, Skinner sat on the couch watching a football game with Scully. The phone rang and he picked it up, suddenly feeling his heart in his throat.

"Hello?"

"Walter, it's Kate Malone. How are you doing?"

He drew a deep breath. "Okay, I guess. Scully's been keeping me out of trouble. How's Fox?"

"A little shaky but doing well. He had a good rest and then we had a long talk. I want to discuss what happened with you. But first of all, stop blaming yourself. And don't try to tell me that you're not, because I won't accept that bullshit from you."

He chuckled a little. "You know me so well. All right, I'll try not to but I can't help feeling it was my fault."

"It takes two to tango, Walter. That man has you wrapped around his finger and we both know how persuasive he can be."

"Yeah, Scully calls it his kicked puppy look." He grinned at Scully and she smiled back.

"These kinds of things happen, Walter. We all knew that it wasn't going to be easy."

"I know. What scared me most was the gun."

She sighed. "We both know that Mulder has never been one to face his problems - he likes to run away, to court self-destruction. He wants to tell you himself why he had the gun, and I'll let him talk to you in a minute, but I wanted to see how you were doing first. I want to make an appointment for you to come in and talk this over."

Mulder wanted to talk to him. He thought his heart would explode through his chest. He cleared his throat, barely able to absorb her words. "Yes. Fine. Tomorrow? Sorry, tomorrow is Sunday - Monday."

She sounded amused. "Why don't you come this afternoon - around four p.m. You should be able to take Mulder home afterward."

"Yes."

"All right, now I'm going to get Mulder. He's really trying, Walter, but he's scared that he's messed things up between you. He's a little shaky and emotional, so don't be surprised or worried about that. He needs a little reassurance. Just be yourself."

"Okay."

There was a long pause, then the sound of the phone being picked up. "Walter?"

Jesus, that lost little voice again. "Fox," he said soothingly. "How are you doing, babe?"

Scully had been determinedly trying to not listen to the one-sided conversation, but that softly intimate tone of voice made her throat choke with sympathetic emotions and she stood up, making gestures that she was going to the kitchen. Skinner nodded, gratefully.

The voice strengthened a little. "Okay, I guess. Great room service at this place. I had a little nap and yes, I've eaten." There was the faintest suggestion of a laugh and Skinner smiled.

"Good. You know how obsessed I am with your stomach."

"You just want me to get fat and out of shape so you can outrun me."

"Damn, you figured me out. Guess I'll have to come up with another plan." He paused then said, achingly, "Fox, why? You weren't ready."

Mulder sighed. "I - it's been a month since … I miss it, Walter. I miss feeling you inside me. And I - I was afraid you'd - get tired of this. Of me."

Skinner's jaw clenched and he saw red. "You what? Of all the stupid - how many times do I have to tell you that I love you for more than your ass! God damn it, Mulder! How dare you risk us like this?" He halted, appalled at what he had said.

Oddly enough, Mulder seemed to be reassured by his ranting and said, calmly, "I wasn't going to do it." There was a long pause. "Kill myself. I thought so at first. I mean, I've screwed up your life so much already, I thought maybe it would be better if I just - left the scene. Let you get on with your life, without having to deal with all my crap."

Skinner thought his heart would stop beating and wanted to shake Mulder and make him see that it was no longer possible for him to 'get on with his life' without his lover. He took a deep breath and tried humor instead. "At what point did you realize that it would screw up my life more to have to explain the suicide of a naked subordinate in my bathroom?"

A weak chuckle on the other end of the phone. "About a half-minute before you walked in."

"Nothing wrong with your brains, Mulder," he said with a growl, and heard Mulder laugh again, stronger this time. For some reason - and he thought it must be an X-file - Mulder loved his growl.

"Yeah, well, you might get a debate on that in some circles," Mulder said dryly then, in a softer voice, said, "You okay, big guy?"

Skinner blinked away sudden tears. "Yeah. Scully's keeping an eye on me. You want to talk to her?"

"Yeah. I need to tell her to lock up the liquor."

Skinner chuckled. "Too late. She took it away from me, though. Should I be worried that you know my foibles so well?"

"Probably. When you coming to spring me from this joint?"

"This afternoon. I'll bake a file into a cake and the getaway car will be at the back door." Mulder laughed again. "I'll get Scully."

He set down the phone and padded into the kitchen. Scully was going through the refrigerator, trying to figure out what was available for breakfast. "Mulder wants to talk to you. I'll cook."

Scully looked him over for a second, decided that he looked much better, and nodded. As she disappeared into the living room, Skinner pulled out the makings for omelet. When Scully returned a little while later, she sniffed the air appreciatively.

"Mmm. Smells good. Mulder mentioned that you cooked."

"Well, one of us has to," Skinner said dryly. "That man must support the take-out business in this town single-handedly."

Scully chuckled. "Better watch it, Walter - you'll cause an economic collapse in the city."

"More of a downward slump - I'm weaning him off the stuff gradually. I don't think his system can support the shock of going cold turkey."

Scully laughed and Skinner thought suddenly that it had been a while since he had seen her relax. "Can I do anything to help?"

"You can set the table, if you'd like, while I do the cheese bread."

"Good thing I have good cholesterol readings," she said good-humoredly, going to the cabinet and pulling out dishes. "Aren't you worried?"

"Nope. I figure I'm more likely to suffer a heart attack from his antics than from anything I eat," Skinner said dryly. Scully snorted.

Scully enjoyed that meal more than she thought that she would and she began to understand the connection between her partner and his lover, their boss, a little better. She had always been a little uncomfortable around Skinner, particularly after she had accused him of being a mole, an accusation that had proved to be wrong. Now, over breakfast, Skinner was revealed to be a well-read and well-informed person and she enjoyed discussing current events with him.

"Scully," he said hesitantly, "Dana. Would you - would you mind if I ask you a personal question?"

She smiled faintly. "Why haven't Mulder and I become lovers?"

"You don't have to answer - it's just that it's obvious that you two care about each other. You've worked together for over five years. You have a link on a deep level and instinctively look to each other in trouble. So - why not?"

Scully looked thoughtful. "I have thought about it, Walter. I think - there was a time years back, before the cancer, when we might have become lovers. And it would have been a big mistake." He was quiet, watching her, waiting for her to collect her thoughts. "Remember what you said about the reason Mulder needed the Club? That it was about control? Well, I realized that our partnership is the same way. I'm the one keeping my feet on the ground so that Mulder can be free to explore every theory, even the crazy ones. After my remission, I was so tired that I wanted someone else to take charge and that's when our partnership fell apart. Unfortunately, that was when he needed someone to ground him the most. Now we've got the old dynamics back and we're okay, but we could never be together like that. We're better as friends."

Skinner reached across the table to touch her hand briefly. "He's lucky to have a friend like you. We both are."

Scully blushed and turned the subject into a less personal area.


Mulder paced restlessly around his apartment, then threw himself down on the couch and began channel surfing. Skinner had taken him home - at his own request - after picking him up from Dr. Malone's. The two of them had talked for a long time after Skinner's arrival at the Clinic, no doubt about Skinner's feelings following the sexual fiasco and whether Mulder would be safe on his own. Evidently Kate had thought that he was not a menace to himself or society for Skinner had taken him home without any disagreement - a fact that had made Mulder feel a little uneasy. However, he determined not to read more into it than how it appeared for a change.

He turned his attention to the television, but there was nothing on to distract him and he had given his video collection - well, his more interesting tapes, anyway - to Frohike months earlier. What he really wanted, what he needed, was Walter Skinner. God, how pathetic am I? he thought. Can't spend a weekend by myself.

At three am he gave up, picked up his overnight bag and ran down to his car. The apartment was dark when he unlocked the door, and he set his bag down in the hallway. He hesitated, thought about going upstairs, then decided not to, his mind skittering away from the picture of Skinner in bed. Let Walter sleep - he'd see him in the morning and then they would talk. Already he felt more relaxed and sleepy, so he stretched out on the couch and turned on the TV.

Skinner was awakened in the middle of the night by the sense that something was different. He got out of bed and put on his robe, then went downstairs. At the base of the stairs he knew what it was and his mouth curved into a smile. Mulder was sprawled on the couch, remote in hand and TV on, fast asleep. He pulled the afghan off the back of the couch and covered Mulder, then went back to bed. He relaxed, knowing that his lover was safely under his roof, and closed his eyes. They would talk in the morning.

Mulder woke to the smell of coffee and bacon and found that sometime during his sleep he had acquired a blanket. He pushed himself up and padded down the hallway to the kitchen, a little uncertain of his reception. He had not even called last night, had shown up unexpectedly on the man's couch, and he figured that Skinner had every right to be pissed.

"Morning," Skinner said affably as he entered. "Hungry?"

"Mmm." Mulder considered. "Guess I will be when I finish waking up."

"You've got time for a shower. I put your bag upstairs."

Mulder nodded, snagged a cup of coffee, and went upstairs. His overnight bag was on top of the dresser in the guestroom with a stack of towels and toiletries beside it. He was grateful for Skinner's sensitivity in knowing that he wouldn't want to use the master bathroom. Mulder shut the door and stripped, carrying the towels and shampoo into the adjoining bathroom. The hot water felt good and he stood for a long time, just letting it wash over himself, then stirred himself to soap up and rinse. Even though it was Sunday, he decided to shave and felt much more normal when he was finished. Dressed in comfortable jeans and a shirt, he went downstairs to breakfast and a long-overdue, honest talk with his lover.

Chapter Text

Far longer than forever
I'll hold you in my heart.

It's almost like you're here with me
although we're far apart.

Far longer than forever, as constant as a star
I close my eyes and I am where you are.

 

February 10, 1998, 9 a.m.
Washington, DC

 

"Hi."

"Fox? Aren’t you supposed to be on an airplane heading for Texas?"

"Anxious to get rid of me, Walter?"

"Idiot."

Laugh. "Actually, our flight is delayed. Scully’s gone to get some coffee and bagels, so I thought I’d give you a call."

Settling back in his chair. "I’m glad you did." Soft voice. "You okay?"

"Yeah. I really am." Deep breath. "Thanks for being so understanding – you know – Sunday."

Cleared throat. "No problem. You know I’m here for you, babe. Anytime you want to talk."

"Yeah." Silence for a moment. "I guess – I guess I was afraid to let you see how confused I was about everything. That I was afraid you’d take it wrong. Take it personal."

"I can see that – it didn’t help when I blew up that time up at the cabin."

"I was being an asshole."

"I still shouldn’t have stormed off. I should have stayed and talked." Self-depreciating snort. "Sharon always did say I had a problem discussing deep emotional issues."

"Not that I’ve noticed. You’re doing a hell of a lot better than me, big guy."

"So – sleep okay last night?"

"Actually, I did. No nightmares – well, not any that I remember – and I actually fell asleep at a decent hour for me." Rustling noise and murmured voice. "Thanks, Scully."

"Scully’s back? Let me speak to her for a moment."

More rustling. "Sir?"

"Morning, Agent Scully. Just wanted to wish you a safe flight."

"Thank you, sir. And don’t worry – I’ll keep an eye on him."

"I’m counting on it, Scully – and I owe you."

Rustling again. Humorous tone in voice. "I don’t think I like it when you and Scully are getting along so well, Walter."

"Get over it, Fox."

Laughter. "Whoops. They’re calling our flight. Scully's going to be pissed - she didn't get to finish her bagel. I’ll call you this evening after we get settled."

"Safe flight, Fox. I’ll talk to you tonight."


February 10, 1998, Late Evening

Chaney, Texas

 

FROM: monsterboy@hotmail.com

TO: surlyone@hotmail.com

RE: On the Road Again

Well, we’re here in Vampire Central, safe and sound – mostly safe, at any rate. I had a slight altercation with a runaway RV, but I’ll tell you more about that in my official report. No damage, so you can start breathing again – just got incredibly dirty. Nothing that a shower didn’t cure.

I tried calling you at home tonight but no answer, so you must be in one of those interminable budget and planning meetings. I hope that you at least got something to eat out of it this time – God! You’ve rubbed off on me and I’m starting to obsess about your eating habits. In any case, eat, rest, and conserve your strength. With any luck, I’ll be home by the weekend and you’ll need it.

You will have guessed from the above remarks that I am feeling a lot better. A hell of a lot better, and definitely more relaxed. Yes, me and Mr. Hand have finally gotten reacquainted in the shower mentioned above and it was good for both of us, thank you very much. Who would have thought that just being able to jack off would cause such relief? Okay, don’t say it. You know I’m talking about mental relief here, and I think you also know who figured prominently in my thoughts at the time. Oh, and I thought about you, too, once or twice.

Okay, I can just hear the A.D. voice saying, "Well, I’m glad to know that you are making such efficient use of the taxpayers’ dollars, but what about the case, Mulder?" Fear not, O Demanding One; I have already emailed my preliminary notes to your official account so you will be able to feast your eyes on my pearls of wisdom when you check your mail in the office. Scully’s working on the second autopsy as I speak and you will be hearing from her shortly as well.

Speaking of G-woman, it appears that she has fallen for the local peace officer, Sheriff Bucktooth. He’s okay as far as local talent goes, although I’m starting to worry about Scully’s dental fixation. First an orthodontist, now Bucky Beaver. Okay, okay, I can hear you ordering me to make nice with the local talent and I am. I promise. Cross my heart.

Scully ordered a pizza and it’s calling my name from the other room, so I’ll say goodnight. Sleep well, lover.

FWM

 

FROM: gwoman@hotmail.com

TO: surlyone@hotmail.com

RE: Monster Boy

As promised, I’m keeping an eye on your boy while we’re out here, and I have to warn you right now – it’s going to cost you, sir. The deluxe size box of chocolates at this point. And I am beginning to understand your attraction to your hobby in regards to the aforementioned subject. If Mulder has used up all my quarters on the "Magic Fingers" bed, I will be taking my hairbrush to him. I promise not to do any permanent damage.

In regard to our investigation, I have completed my first autopsy and the report is in your official mailbox. Yes, I said my first. Mulder has determined that there is a second victim of this "vampire" and I am now preparing to do my second autopsy of the evening (while Mulder eats my pizza). I will send a copy of my findings to you as soon as they are completed.

DS

 

February 10, 1998, Late Evening

Washington, DC

 

FROM: surlyone@hotmail.com

TO: monsterboy@hotmail.com

RE: Playing nice

Glad to know that you have arrived safely and that all working parts are fully functional. I’ll start increasing my vitamin intake in the morning.

BTW, you and I are going to have a serious discussion regarding your choice of account names. Believe me, I understand the need to have personal accounts separate from our work ones, but - surlyone? You haven’t begun to see surly, boy.

A word of caution – if you value your anatomy, hands off Scully’s quarters. The woman sounds desperate. And I’m already into her for a deluxe box of chocolates – do not up the ante.

Regarding this weekend – don’t push it, babe. Just being together is enough for me, and Dr. Malone has some suggestions for alternate things to try if you’re "up" to it.

Take care, Fox. Sweet dreams.

WSS

 


February 11, 1998, 7:45 a.m.
Dallas-Ft. Worth, Texas

 

"Sir, if you’ll just give me a minute to explain…yes, sir, I did put a stake through him but – I understand that the family may sue, but he was a vampire."

"I don’t care if he was Dracula incarnate and had the business card to prove it. There are procedures, Agent Mulder, and standard FBI procedure does not include putting a stake through the perpetrator’s heart. You have heard of due process, haven’t you? Of innocent until proven guilty?"

"Sir, the man drugged my pizza and attacked me in my hotel room and you’re worried about due process? A hell of a lot of good that would have done me if Scully hadn’t figured it out and come back right then!"

"Agent Mulder. While I appreciate that your life was endangered and I am gratified that Agent Scully was able to rescue you, it still doesn’t mean that you can pound a piece of wood through a man’s chest. I’ll be expecting both of your reports in an hour."

Mulder winced at the loud click on the other end of the phone and looked at his partner. "I think he took that well, don’t you?"

Scully cleared her throat. "He’ll be expecting us to email him our official report in an hour."

"I’m not worried since I plan on telling him what I saw."

"And so do I."

Exchanged looks. Mulder starts to get worried.


February 11, 1998, Early Evening
Chaney, Texas

 

"Hi, babe. Are you okay?"

"Walter, I’ve got to tell you that your ability to compartmentalize is starting to scare me. Where is the irate boss who chewed my ass this morning?"

"Back at the office, where he belongs. I’m at home now, and I’m worried about my lover."

"I’m fine, Walter. I was a little woozy from the drugs, but I’m okay now."

"When does your flight get in?"

"Um – well, actually, we’re back in Chaney. There’s been a development."

"What kind of development?"

"The body’s missing." Smug tone to voice.

"What?"

"The body? Ronnie Strickland? The guy with the stake through his heart? He got up and walked out of the morgue – after attacking the coroner. So what do you think now?"

"I think you need to work on your aim if you’re going to go up against any more vampires."

"Ah-ha! Then you agree that this does sound like a vampire!"

"Fox, don’t even go there tonight. So what’s the plan now?"

"We’re going to go check out a couple things and talk to the sheriff."

"Bucky Beaver?"

Snicker. "Don’t let Scully hear you call him that. Yeah. He may have some ideas where these vampires hang out."

"Fox, promise me that you’re not going to come home with a penchant for human blood and a peculiar habit of hanging upside down from the ceiling."

"Walter, you really do care."

"No, I just had my ceiling repainted."

"Bastard. Just for that, I’m not going to ask you what you’re wearing."

"What a relief. I told you last time that I don’t do cheesy phone sex."

"Yeah, but I figured you might be desperate enough by now to have forgotten that."

"Not me. I have a mind like a steel trap." Pause. Suspicion of a grin. "What’s the matter, babe? Horny?"

"Hey! I haven’t had sex for over a month!"

"What about last night?"

"One masturbatory experience hardly counts."

"You were pretty excited about it last night."

"That was last night. I’m ready to conquer other frontiers, scale new heights –"

"You’re desperate to get off."

"That, too." Smug, sexy voice. "Can I help it if your voice is so damn sexy that it turns me on?"

Dryly. "Try another line, Fox."

"I’m serious. I feel your voice moving over me like rich chocolate or that really dark and soft velvet, and it makes my whole body tingle."

Sound of shifting body. "You make a habit of pouring chocolate over yourself?"

"I could – if you’re there to clean me up."

Clearing of throat. "Aren’t you supposed to be going to talk to that sheriff?"

"I’m waiting for Scully. She’s getting a shower and changing." Sigh. "And unless you cooperate, I’m going to need a shower, too. A cold one."

Ghost of a chuckle. "Poor babe."

Grinding of teeth. "Walter, I’m going to hang up on you. Loudly."

"Fox." Smoky, deep voice. Control voice. Dom voice.

Swallow. "Sir?"

"What are you wearing?"

"Um – sweats."

"Good. Lock the doors – including the connecting one."

Quickened breathing. "They’re locked."

"Have you got any lubricant?"

"Um – no. I didn’t think I’d need any." Rummaging noises. "I found some hand lotion."

"Good enough. Put it on the nightstand."

"Done, sir."

"Take off your shirt and your shoes and socks and lay down on the bed."

Rustling noises. "Ready."

"Put the phone in your left hand. Wet the thumb and forefinger of your right hand and roll your left nipple between them."

"Hard or soft?"

"At your discretion, boy. Whatever feels good to you." Listening to slight moaning noise. "Now the other one." Listening pause. "Are you hot, Fox?"

Groaning voice. "God, yes."

"Your nipples are sticking up in hard nubs aching to be licked and sucked, aren’t they?" More moaning. "That’s it, Fox. Now, what are you wearing under those sweat pants?"

"Um – " Frantically trying to regain some mental faculties. "Nothing."

"Very clever of you. Put your hand flat on your belly and slide it down under the waistband. Don’t touch your cock yet, just your balls."

A soft groan. "Yes, sir."

"Play with them, Fox. I want to hear you moaning with pleasure."

Strained voice. "Oh, God – Walter…"

"Lose the pants, Fox." Sounds of pants being hastily shucked. "Slick up your hand and take hold of your cock. Slowly, Fox. Up and down. Don’t come till I tell you that you can. Understand me?"

"Yes, s-sir." Gasping breath.

"Good." Listening pause. "I can just picture how you look now, Fox. You always look so beautiful like this: aroused, sexy, your skin all flushed with passion. You must be biting your lip – I don’t hear any of those hot noises you make. I want to hear them, Fox."

"But Scully – "

"I didn’t ask about Scully, did I?"

"N-no, sir."

"Well? I’m waiting, boy." Delicious sounds of arousal. "That’s better. Faster now, Fox." Sound of slick movement. "Good. Very good. Are you close, Fox?"

"God, yes! I’m so close…"

"Would you like me to let you come?"

"Please…oh, please…"

"All right, boy. You’ve done very well. You may come." Sounds of ecstasy, a shouted name, gasping breaths gradually easing into a heartfelt sigh. "Was it good, Fox?"

Deep breath of satisfaction. "Incredible. Thank you, Walter."

Soft chuckle. "You’re welcome, babe. Now, get cleaned up and go get your vampire. Then come back home to me."

"Yes, sir. I love you, Walter."

"Love you, too, babe." Click of phone and dial tone.

Sound of hesitant tapping on the door. "Mulder? Are you all right?"

Embarrassed and muffled groan from underneath pillow.


February 13, 1998, 9 a.m.
Washington, DC

 

Silence. Pages turning. Cleared throat. Nervous shuffling of two bodies in two chairs.

"Agents?"

"I can neither confirm nor deny Agent Scully's version of events."

"Anyway, I was drugged."

Chapter Text

All of my life
All you give to me.
You’ve opened my eyes
And shown me how to love unselfishly.
I’ve dreamed of this a thousand times before
But in my dreams I couldn’t love you more.
I will give you my heart
Until the end of time.
You’re all I need, my love, my Valentine.

 

Mulder was in a panic. Walter Skinner was expecting him for the weekend, and Mulder didn't know what to do.

It had nothing to do with his most recent case, although the AD had raked both Mulder and his partner over the coals earlier that day, dwelling with particular fondness on why one should always have one's partner at one's back when facing an unknown situation and an escaped criminal. It had been useless to argue that Scully had wanted him to ditch her in this case. And Scully, who had apparently spent the night sleeping in a cemetery, was not in a particularly good frame of mind to support him.

No, Mulder wasn't worried that Skinner would continue to lecture him over the weekend. Skinner had an almost eerie ability to separate all the facets of their relationship into neat compartments that were not permitted to overlap: the stern-but-fair AD in the office, the passionate lover out of the office, and the consummate Dom at the Club. Mulder envied him this ability - it was a lot harder for him to turn off one mode and turn on another.

And it wasn't the fact that they were almost certainly going to resume their sexual relationship again this weekend that had Mulder pacing the floor and breaking into a cold sweat. After all, Mulder was the one who had verbally initiated the weekend's plan, and he had discussed it over the phone with Dr. Malone. He was ready to deal with his anxieties - and horny as hell.

No, it wasn't what had happened or what was going to happen that had his stomach tied in knots. It was what Saturday was. V-day. And he hadn't the slightest clue what to do.

This had never been a problem in the past. On the rare occasions when he had been "involved" when The Day rolled around, he had simply followed the tried-and-true formula and had bestowed flowers and candy. More recently, the day had been one that he ignored, comfortable in the knowledge that Scully would put a bullet in his other shoulder if he recognized The Day in any way other than professionally.

But now he was involved for the first time in his life with another man and he hadn't the slightest idea what expectations Walter Skinner might or might not have regarding The Day. Flowers and candy just didn't seem appropriate and anything else he could think of seemed tacky. And then there was the question of whether Skinner had realized what Saturday was and whether he would reciprocate. If Skinner did and Mulder didn't he would feel horrible, and if Mulder did and Skinner didn't he would feel embarrassed. And it wasn't like there was anyone that he could talk to: Scully had pointedly stated when she left the office that afternoon that she didn't want to hear from him all weekend short of a National Disaster - and he didn't think that this qualified. The guys had been a little nervous around him the last time he was over at the LGM Headquarters - well, Frohike hadn't been, but then hardly anything seemed to bother him - and he couldn't see discussing this problem with them. He had tried to call Sean earlier but his sub friend had been out, so he had left a message and started pacing.

A knock on the door stirred him out of his frantic thoughts and he threw open the door in relief when he saw that it was Sean and Mason outside.

"Thank God!" He practically dragged Sean into the apartment. "I've got a hell of a problem. Oh - sorry, sir," he said quickly to Mason. "Would you like something to drink? Beer? Iced Tea?" Both accepted tea and Sean followed him into the kitchen.

"All right, Mulder. Give. What's got your knickers in a twist?"

"Sean, you know that this is all new to me - I haven’t got the faintest idea what to do about tomorrow. Do guys even care about gifts? Is Walter expecting something from me? And what in hell do I get him?"

Sean stared for a moment and then burst out laughing. "Mulder, only you could make Valentine's Day sound like a National Crisis!"

"That isn't the sort of assistance I was hoping to get from you," Mulder said sourly. "So do you and Geoff do anything for V-Day?" At Sean's grin, he added, "Anything you can share publicly?" Sean's eyes danced and Mulder amended again, "Okay, you exhibitionist, anything that Walter and I could possibly share publicly."

Sean picked up his glass of tea. "Well, Geoff and I are totally Out so there are some things we feel comfortable doing that you and Walter wouldn't be able to do. Sometime we go out for dinner and dancing, or to one of the gay nightclubs. Once Geoff bought tickets for a performance at Lincoln Center."

Mulder’s eyes lit up. "Tickets – yeah! That’s it!" He hurried back into the living room, logged onto his mail account and sent a quick email to Frohike. Then he turned back to his guests. "Sorry," he apologized to Mason. "This whole Valentine’s day thing has been driving me crazy."

Mason smiled. "That’s all right. I think it’s great that you care so much about Walter." He studied Mulder as he took a sip of his tea. "So, how are you doing, Mulder?"

Mulder shrugged. "Pretty good, sir. I had a little setback last week, but I’ve been seeing Kate Malone weekly and she seems to think I’m making good progress." He smiled. "In fact, she’s given me the go-ahead for this weekend."

Mason raised an eyebrow. "Ah, a little reunion party?"

Mulder flushed a little. "Yes, sir."

"Then we won't hold you up - you must be anxious to be on your way." He finished his tea and collected Sean with a glance. Mulder walked them to the door and Mason paused in the open doorway to reach over to ruffle Mulder's hair. "Good luck this weekend. And come back to the Club soon, boy. We miss you."

Unexpectedly, Mulder's throat felt tight. "Thank you, sir. I will."

Sean gave Mulder a thumb's up signal and followed Mason down the hallway. Mulder stood in the doorway, watching them as they headed for the elevator, noting the way that Mason shortened his stride so that the shorter man could keep pace with him, the way that Sean affectionately wrapped his arm around Mason's waist as they stood in the elevator. He wondered, a little enviously, what it would be like to be so open about his relationship with Walter Skinner. Wondered if they would last as long as Sean and Mason had. Slowly he closed the door and stared at the wall of his apartment with unseeing eyes.

His email alert sounded, stirring him out of his wandering thoughts, and he found a reply from Frohike that read:

 

Mulder - Can do, but it's going to cost you. F.

 

Mulder smiled, a sudden warmth filling him, and typed back a response:

 

Frohike - Make the deal. Use the usual credit card number. Have a courier deliver them to AD Skinner's apartment tomorrow. Thanks - and I owe you. M.

 

The hell with the future, and the hell with what the rest of the world knew, Mulder thought with a sudden light-hearted feeling. Whistling happily, he grabbed his overnight bag and headed out the door.


Mulder unlocked the door and found the apartment in total darkness. He wasn’t surprised – it was late and Skinner wasn’t expecting him till the next morning. With a smile, he quietly headed upstairs to check on the other man.

The bedroom was in darkness, lit only by moonlight. The soft glow reflected off his lover’s head, making Skinner appear to float over the blackness of the covers. Skinner’s face, unshielded by his glasses and relaxed in sleep, looked soft and almost vulnerable, and drew Mulder like a siren call. He knelt by the bed for a long moment, studying the face that had become more familiar than his own, his eyes running down over the body outlined by the covers. A sudden thought made him frown – when was the last time he had seen that splendid body naked, touched those firm muscles, tasted the sweetness and saltiness of his flesh? It had to have been New Year’s weekend, at the Club, before Benett. Although Mulder had spent the week after his release from the hospital at Skinner’s apartment, as well as nearly every weekend since then, he suddenly realized that Skinner had been at least partially clothed around him the whole time. Even during their disastrous attempt to make love, Skinner had still been partially dressed when Mulder’s panic attack had disrupted everything. Mulder was suddenly overwhelmed by his need to see his lover’s naked body, to touch him, to possess him. He leaned forward to stroke his sleeping lover’s cheek and gently pressed a kiss on his lips.

Skinner was awakened by the knowledge that someone was in his bedroom and that someone was kissing him into wakefulness. Mulder, he thought sleepily, then surprise made his eyes pop open.

"Fox?"

"Shhh." He knew the soft voice of his lover but the tone was different. There was a quality to it that Skinner had never heard from Mulder, an underlying tone that took Skinner back many years. "No talking."

Skinner felt an involuntary shiver run up his backbone as his brain registered the words. It had been a long time since he had played bottom; even during the few times that he had been on the catching end with Mulder, Skinner had always been the one in control. Now Mulder was asking him to give that up, to turn it over to Mulder, to let him be in control this time. He could almost feel the younger man’s desire humming in the air between them, could sense his need for this reassurance. He caught Mulder's hand and lifted it to his cheek so that Mulder could feel the movement when he nodded his head. He could almost see the answering smile light up the darkness.

"Good. Now put your hands behind your head and close your eyes."

Skinner obeyed, and found his mind and body instinctively recalled how to switch awareness from the sense of sight to those of sound and touch. Some things you never forgot, he thought with an inward smile. He laid back and waited to see what Mulder would do on his first attempt at topping.

Mulder caressed Skinner’s head with his hands, moving over his face and down his neck, followed by his lips as if he was mapping his lover’s body. Mulder smiled to himself and thought that he could recognize this man in the dark from touch and scent alone. He pulled back the covers and shifted his body up to the bed, kneeling beside the quiescent form, feeling the waves of heat and arousal pouring off him. Skinner was so good at this, he thought with amusement. He was surprised at how readily the man had switched to the bottom role for him, and was startled by the sudden wave of jealousy that flared in him at the thought of Skinner playing bottom to someone else, like Geoffrey Mason. This man belonged to him, he thought fiercely, and he was determined to prove it.

His hands busied themselves unbuttoning and removing Skinner’s pajama top, and his mouth followed as he kissed and licked and nipped at every inch of Skinner’s chest. He paid special attention to the nipples, licking them and then blowing gently across their surface until they stood up in stiff peaks. He sucked one of the nipples into his mouth, grazing it with his teeth and then caressing it with his tongue. Skinner gasped and bit back a groan, and Mulder smiled in satisfaction, then moved to the other nipple. Once he had reduced the other man to breathless gasps, he kissed and licked his way down Skinner’s flat abdomen. He slipped off the pajama bottoms, ignoring the erection as he worked his way down Skinner’s legs, lingering on the feet as he caressed and sucked each toe.

"Roll over," he ordered, and Skinner obeyed silently, eyes still closed. Mulder started again, moving upward from the feet, mapping every inch of skin with fingers and lips. He could feel the trembling in the body lying silently beneath him and it was hotter than he could ever have imagined, and he felt his clothes becoming uncomfortably tight. He wondered if this was how Skinner felt when he worked Mulder and, for a moment, experienced a disorienting moment when he was inside his lover's head, watching Skinner watching him. He drew a shaky breath, dispelling the illusion, and tried to determine what he wanted to do next.

"On your knees, head and shoulders down."

Skinner shifted, his ass rising up into the air, and Mulder caught his breath at the sight. He removed his own shirt and moved around on the bed to kneel between his lover's legs. His hands caressed the skin, kneading it, while his mouth traced its way down the spine, licking and nipping at the skin. His hands parted the firm cheeks while his mouth moved downward, tonguing the sensitive area behind Skinner's balls, then moving upward to circle the puckered opening.

"God!" Skinner groaned involuntarily and Mulder stopped, swatting one cheek.

"Hush."

He heard the barely voiced growl and grinned, knowing he would pay for this when Skinner regained control, but right now he couldn't care less. He felt Skinner settle back into sub mode and returned to his disturbed activity.

Slowly, sensually, he circled his tongue over his lover's anus, reveling in the involuntary puckering as he teased and toyed with it. He pushed the barest tip of his tongue in, flicking his tongue over the sensitive nerve endings until Skinner was squirming and gasping under him, trying to force him deeper. Legs shifted under him, spreading wider to give him full access, and he trailed his mouth down to play with the heavy balls before moving back up. He spread the cheeks even more with his hands and dove in, thrusting deeply with his tongue, hearing and ignoring the moan of his lover. In and out he thrust, mimicking the fucking he intended to do later, feeling the clenching of the sphincter muscle as the body rocked beneath him.

He pulled out completely, hearing the complaining moan, and grinned. Walter was so hot, so close, but Mulder had no intention of ending his torment so soon. He moved his mouth over the tight ass cheeks, sucking in suddenly to leave a mark on the smooth skin. Skinner bit back a gasp and Mulder could almost swear that he heard a muttered curse. He nearly laughed out loud - oh yeah, he was in for a hell of a retribution when Skinner got his hands on him. But first he intended to thoroughly wear out the other man.

With a mocking kiss on the purpling mark, he got off the bed. "Don't move," he said warningly. "Don't open your eyes or touch yourself."

Skinner swallowed hard, amusement and frustration filling him in equal parts as he heard Mulder leave the room and head down the stairs. Hell, he had done this to Mulder himself at the Club. But who would have thought that Mulder would be quick enough to pick up that trick? Not that he was particularly worried about his ability to put Mulder back in place after this little excursion into top territory. Mulder was doing fine but he was an amateur compared to Skinner. He smiled and considered just exactly what he would do to his sub when he got him back in collar and cuffs. Mulder was going to find out that payback was a bitch.

He heard the younger man return to the room and set something down on the nightstand, and then there was the unmistakable sound of clothes being shed. Ah, now he was getting down to the heart of the matter. Skinner heard the popping sound of a bottle cap being removed and then a body settled on the bed and slid up under him. He had an idea of what Mulder had in mind and was almost ready for it when Mulder took his cock in his mouth and let the cold beer wash over it. He gasped but didn't quite wince. Mulder continued to lick and suck while his hand caressed Skinner's ass. From somewhere he had produced lube and a slick finger penetrated the opening that he had been rimming earlier, thrusting in and out, deliberately avoiding the sensitive gland inside. Skinner was moaning almost constantly now from the double stimulation, rocking between the mouth sucking his cock and the fingers thrusting into his ass. The noises that he was making were so hot, and the inflamed look on his face was so unlike his normal in-control expression, that Mulder found himself losing his grip on his own control.

Mulder released the cock in his mouth and slid down the bed to kneel behind Skinner. He rolled on a condom and positioned himself so that the tip of his erection was just pressing against the entrance to Skinner's body. He pulled Skinner up onto his hands and knees, moving forward in one smooth thrust at the same time, and they both groaned at the sensation as Mulder's cock completely filled his lover's body. Mulder draped himself across the strong back under him, kissing the nape of the neck as his hands slid around to caress the firm chest and tweak a nipple. He leaned closer to his lover's ear and murmured in it, "I want you to fuck yourself on me."

With a roar, Skinner surged forward and then back again, impaling himself on Mulder's cock. Mulder gasped, grabbed onto the pistoning hips, and held on for dear life. Big mistake, he thought with what remained of his brain, but he was laughing at the same time from the wildness of it all. God, they were both going to be sore as hell in the morning! Skinner was grunting and gasping, thrusting again and again, rubbing his own prostate with every thrust. Mulder felt as if his whole body was on fire, burning everywhere their bodies touched. He was being consumed by the flame but it was more glorious than anything he had ever imagined. He felt himself sliding in and out of the hot channel surrounding him, felt the shaking begin in the body below him, and then Skinner was coming hard, crying out in release. That was all it took, and Mulder felt the unbearable tension explode within him, saw the lightening dancing behind his eyes, and then he was coming and coming until the darkness reached up and enfolded him in blessed release.

When he came back to reality, he found himself lying on Skinner's chest, one big hand caressing his back soothingly. He groaned and lifted his head, and met warm brown eyes that smiled back at him.

"Welcome back."

"Shit," Mulder murmured, dropping his head back onto Skinner's chest. "I think you broke something that time."

A rumble of soft laughter beneath him. "Serves you right. First rule of topping - never relinquish control once you have it."

Mulder grinned and turned his head to press a kiss against the skin under his cheek. "Guess I'm just a natural bottom."

Skinner lifted his hand to caress Mulder's cheek, his eyes studying the other man's face intently. "You okay?"

Mulder propped his chin on Skinner's chest and met his eyes evenly. "Yeah," he said softly. "Thanks, big guy."

"The pleasure was at least fifty percent mine." Mulder snorted and moved up slightly to exchange a long, loving kiss with Skinner. "So - no more ghosts?"

"All gone," Mulder said softly and kissed him again. Then he snuggled comfortably against Skinner's shoulder and closed his eyes, drifting into a deep and dreamless sleep.


Skinner awakened slowly from a wonderfully erotic dream in which he had been drowning in sensation, Mulder moving over him, his face alight with pleasure. He had been awakened by a persistent buzzing that abruptly terminated, followed by a vitally warm and naked body rolling over to rest his head on Skinner's shoulder as a warm arm wrapped around his stomach and a long leg casually flung itself across his legs. There was an odd vibrating on his chest and he vaguely realized that it was someone humming. He breathed deeply, taking in the mixed scent of sex and Mulder, and opened his eyes cautiously to peer down at the head on his chest.

"Fox? It's morning. And you're in my bed."

He felt the chuckle as well as heard it. "That's three for three, Walter. No wonder they made you an assistant director. And you are not going into the office today, so you can just forget you heard that alarm."

He tried to absorb this information, gradually realizing that his dream had been real, while Mulder went back to humming as his fingers traced idle circles on Skinner's chest. "So you have other plans for today?" he asked in amusement.

"Definitely." An impish grin was focused on him. "I brought chocolate syrup with me."

Skinner chuckled, remembering their phone conversation, and rolled so that he was pinning the younger man under him. "For breakfast? You're even kinkier than I am."

Mulder snorted. "That's impossible. There are layers upon layers of kink in you that I have yet to uncover."

"Well, after all, I must maintain some mystery." Skinner began nipping and sucking on the luscious neck stretched before him. Mulder tilted his head to give him more working room while spreading his legs so that Skinner could settle comfortably between them. Skinner captured his mouth for a long kiss, slowly building the fire between them. The previous night's activities notwithstanding, he was determined to take this slow and give Mulder plenty of opportunity to back out if he needed to do so. His mouth moved back down to Mulder’s neck, marking his favorite spot with satisfaction. Mulder grinned at the look on his face.

"You are so damn possessive, Walter. Why don’t you just brand me and get it over with?"

Skinner pretended to consider that idea, then shook his head. "No, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun." He licked at the mark and grinned back.

Mulder laughed. "You know that you’re crazy, don’t you?"

"Mmm, well, you’re the one in bed with me so what does that make you?"

"Horny." Mulder suddenly wrapped his legs around Skinner’s waist, pulling the other man in close, and smiled up at him provocatively. "Do me, big guy."

Skinner growled and fastened his lips on Mulder’s hungrily, kissing him until they were both breathless. "Be careful what you wish for, Fox."

Mulder looked up at him, dazed. "Huh?"

Skinner laughed and dove back in for another kiss. He loved it when Mulder became sex-stupid, his incredible intellect turned off by more primitive instincts, and set himself to generating those incredibly hot noises. Before long, he had Mulder writhing and gasping beneath his skillful mouth and hands. Feeling the telltale signs that Mulder was close, he released his lover’s cock and applied pressure to the base.

Mulder gasped and swore. "Bastard. This is payback for last night, isn’t it?"

Skinner shook his head, his eyes gleaming at Mulder. "Not yet. Believe me, boy, you’ll know when the payback begins." He pushed Mulder’s knees towards his chest. "I just don’t think you’re ready for this to end yet." He dropped his head, nuzzling the sensitive area behind Mulder’s balls, and heard the gasp of pleasure with satisfaction. He pushed the knees back a little further, moving downward with his mouth.

"Oh, God, yes!" Mulder arched against the mouth teasing his asshole, almost sobbing with the pleasure of it. "Oh pleasepleaseplease…"

By the time Skinner slid home inside Mulder’s welcoming body, the younger man was nearly incoherent in his need and lust. He slid his legs down from Skinner’s shoulders, wrapping them around his lover’s waist to pull him deeper inside, moving upward to meet each thrust. How could he have forgotten how good this was, he wondered? Skinner’s body covering and filling him, his face taut with the effort to hold back his own orgasm while pleasuring his partner, both bodies slick with sweat as flesh slapped together. He heard the gasping sound that told him that Skinner was close and grasped his own cock, pulling at it hard and fast in time with their movements, and there was the familiar pressure building up within him until he thought the release might kill him. And then he was coming, screaming Skinner’s name, shooting over them both.

Skinner watched as his lover’s eyes rolled back in his head and felt the clenching of the internal muscles as Mulder’s climax hit, and it was enough to trigger his own. He thrust once, twice, shuddering in release and gasping Mulder’s name before he collapsed on his lover’s chest. He started to move off his exhausted lover but was halted by a soft voice.

"Stay."

He stayed, and lay there for a long time, trying to breath again while his heart rate dropped back to a normal rate, braced a little on his forearms to keep from crushing his lover completely. And it was sweeter than he had remembered: the feeling of the strong, slender body under him, the long runner’s legs still wrapped around his waist to hold him close, a gentle hand stroking his back leisurely while soft kisses covered his scalp. He turned his head and kissed the smooth skin under his cheek and then the soft, full lips.

"Welcome back, Fox."


Walter Skinner hummed to himself as he put dinner in the oven. He was content, deeply and profoundly content, more at peace with the world and himself than he had been at any time in his life. And the reason for this deep well of contentment lay sprawled on the couch, hair still damp from the shower, looking almost feline in repose, surfing the vast television wasteland.

"One hundred channels and nothing's on," said a grumbling voice as Mulder clicked off the television and tossed the control on the coffee table. He half-sat up and peered over the back of the couch. "Come here, you," he said, waggling his eyebrows suggestively.

"Well, now I know where I rate," Skinner said with a mock growl as he obeyed. "Suitable for entertainment - when there's nothing good on TV."

"Walter, even I can't screw all the time." Mulder pulled Skinner down on the couch and straddled his lap, nuzzling his neck.

"Couldn't prove it by me," Skinner commented, capturing the wandering hands. "Down, boy. Every part of my body is closed down for repair. Check back some time next week."

Mulder snickered and relaxed against Skinner's chest, tucking his head under his lover's chin. "That's one of the problems with this world - there's never a morphing healer around when you need him."

Skinner shifted so that he was lying down on the couch, Mulder's body stretched along his, and sighed with contentment. He had been telling Mulder the truth when he told him that he loved him for more than just the sex, that he could survive if they never had sex again. But he had to admit that he had missed it, had missed holding the long, lean body in his arms. Now that they were back together in all ways, it was more than he had dared to hope for and he was willing to do anything to keep it. He thought about his gift to Mulder, lying over on the desk, and briefly considered getting it but he was too content to move right now. It would keep till later.

They slept.


Skinner awakened at dusk, blinking his eyes and wondering what had disturbed his sleep. Mulder was still asleep on his chest, his breath stirring against Skinner's shirt and brushing his nipple, and - impossibly - Skinner felt the first faint stirrings of interest elsewhere. He laughed softly. The oven timer sounded again in the kitchen and he pushed gently at Mulder's shoulder. "Wake up, babe," he said softly. "I've got to get up and check on dinner."

Mulder blinked his eyes open and smiled at him, that rare and dazzling smile that never ceased to enchant Skinner. "Hi, you." He leaned in for a kiss.

"Up, Fox."

"Mmm. I certainly am."

Skinner snorted. "Mink." He disengaged himself and went into the kitchen while Mulder yawned and stretched, then headed down the hallway to the bathroom.

"What smells so good?" he asked, detouring into the kitchen on his way back.

"Lasagna." Satisfied with the status of dinner, he closed the oven. "It'll be ready in about thirty minutes. Set the table, will you, while I get the garlic bread ready."

Skinner was interrupted by a knock on the door and, opening it, was surprised to see a courier there with a large envelope. He signed for it and closed the door, then studied the envelope but he didn’t recognize the handwriting. Cautiously, he opened it and found two envelopes inside, one blank and one addressed to Mulder. He carried them both into the dining room.

"Fox, a courier just brought this – "

Mulder took the envelopes eagerly, opening the one addressed to him and scanning it quickly. A big grin broke out over his face.

"Good news?" Skinner asked dryly, wondering why Mulder was receiving hand-delivered mail here and almost afraid of the answer.

"The best." Mulder held out the other envelope. "Happy Valentine’s day, Walter."

Skinner smiled as he took the envelope. "I never figured you for the sentimental type, Fox."

"I live to surprise you, big guy. Go on, open it."

Skinner shook his head and set down the envelope. "First I want to get your gift."

"You are my gift," Mulder said with a grin, wrapping his arms around Skinner and nuzzling the base of his throat.

"Stop it," Skinner growled, untangling himself, "or you’ll end up on your back with your feet in the air."

Mulder grinned at him, eyes glinting with mischief. "And that’s supposed to be a deterrent?"

Skinner pounced. A long while later, Mulder emerged from his embrace with a shaky chuckle. "God, Walter, you are so easy!"

Skinner smiled at him. "Said the pot."

Mulder snorted and pushed against Skinner’s chest. "Down, Simba. I want you to see your present."

Skinner growled good-naturedly and released Mulder, then fetched a large envelope from the desk and held it out to him, settling down on the couch to watch Mulder open it.

Mulder pulled out three smaller envelopes, each numbered, and grinned at Skinner. "You are so organized." He opened the first envelope and found airline tickets on the Bureau account and an itinerary for a Law Enforcement conference in London. He groaned. "Walter, you didn’t!"

"I did," Skinner said, his eyes twinkling in amusement. "They asked for you to give a presentation, too. The details are all there and you have two months to prepare. Scully’s going, too, and she’ll be giving a presentation as well."

"Gee, you shouldn’t have," Mulder said sarcastically. He hated these conferences, although he actually didn’t mind giving the lecture. It was the socializing with his fellow law enforcement officials and the question-and-answer sessions that drove him crazy.

"O ye of little faith," Skinner said tranquilly. "Open the second envelope."

Mulder did and found another round-trip airline ticket, this one not on the Bureau account, from London to Athens, Greece. He looked at Skinner, puzzled, but the man only smiled and indicated for him to open the third envelope. Inside that one was a ferry ticket to the island of Corfu and confirmation of the reservation of a private bungalow on the island. He looked at Skinner, stunned. "Walter?"

Skinner smiled. "I thought you could use a vacation – which has been filed and approved, by the way – and I knew that the only way to make you take one was if someone went with you. The cover story is that you’re staying in England the week after the conference to meet old Oxford friends. I’ll be flying directly to Athens and I’ll meet you there, and we’ll go over to the island together. You'll like Corfu - and I sincerely doubt that we'll run into anyone we know there."

Mulder knee-walked down the couch to Skinner and straddled his lap, kissing him softly. "You romantic softie, you."

"Mmm-hmmm." Skinner returned the kiss. "I just know the benefit of keeping you happy and relaxed." Mulder dropped his head to Skinner’s shoulder, nuzzling his neck. "Stop that, or I really will ravish you this time."

Mulder chuckled. "Promises, promises." He picked up the envelope he had given Skinner and handed it to him. "Open yours now."

Skinner obediently opened the envelope and pulled out a set of tickets. His jaw nearly dropped. "The Final Four! Fox – how – where – "

Mulder smiled smugly. "I asked Frohike – he has sources everywhere."

"They must have cost you a fortune!"

"And a trip to Greece didn’t? Beside, you’re worth it, big guy. I've also got adjoining rooms reserved for the weekend." He found himself ruthlessly silenced and, when Skinner finally released him, gasped for breath. "So I take it you like them?"

"Oh, yeah. Now I just have to figure out whom I’m going to take with me. I wonder if Scully likes basketball…or maybe Frohike. After all, he’s the one who got the tickets – " He laughingly fended off his outraged lover’s pummeling.


Scully answered the phone in the office on Monday morning, wondering where her partner was that morning. "Scully."

"Agent Scully, it's Kim. Just wanted to let you know that Assistant Director Skinner is running a little late today, so I need to reschedule your meeting."

"I hope nothing happened - car trouble, accident - " Her voice trailed off, expectantly. Although Kim had not indicated in any way that she knew what was going on, Scully had the feeling that Skinner's administrative assistant knew more than her boss would be comfortable that she knew about his love life. Kim hadn't asked, and Scully hadn't asked, but she knew that Kim was devoted to her boss.

"I don't think so. He was smiling. And humming."

"Humming?" The picture of Skinner humming boggled her mind.

"Will 2 p.m. fit your schedules?"

Scully pulled up her schedule and Mulder's on the computer, then checked Mulder's paper calendar - he hated entering anything on the new calendar system. "Looks good for both of us."

"Fine. Give my best to Agent Mulder when he gets in."

Scully hung up the phone and caught a faint sound coming down the hallway. Humming. She grinned.

The door opened. "Good morning, Scully." Mulder hung his coat on the hook and walked over to his desk.

"Kim just called to reschedule our department meeting for 2 p.m. Seems AD Skinner was running a little late this morning." Was she imagining it, or was the tip of his ear turning red?

"Fine." He flipped open his calendar and made a note, then sat down at his desk and picked up a file.

Scully studied him with a twinkle in her eyes. "You look - different this morning."

Mulder looked up, startled, and blushed. "Um - "

"If I didn't know better, I'd say you got laid this weekend."

He grinned at her, a little sheepishly. "Yeah. Several times."

"Stud."

"Thank you."

"Egotist," she teased with a laugh. "How do you know I'm talking about you and not the S.O.? After all, he's got to do all the work. You just lie back and think of England."

Mulder snorted. "So that's how you get what's-his-name to keep coming back."

Scully laughed, looking mischievous. "And coming and…"

"You'll have to share your techniques with me."

"I'll lend you my Cosmo magazines."

"And what makes you think that I'm the one thinking of England?"

Scully snorted. "Give it up, Mulder. You practically have 'bottom' tattooed on your forehead." She grinned and Mulder chuckled. "Seriously, Mulder," she said, crossing to perch on the corner of his desk. "Congratulations. I know this was a big recovery step. I'm happy for you."

He flushed but said quietly, "Thanks. Now I know why you're my best friend." He picked up the file and spread it open on his desk. "Have you seen this?" And soon they were into a discussion of the latest potential X-file.

Skinner listened to their presentation of the case at their 2 p.m. meeting, every inch the Assistant Director. He asked specific questions regarding the validity of the case before finally signing off on a 302 destined to take the two agents out of town again. There was no hint of emotion other than an ironical request that the two agents try not to lose any more Bureau equipment or do anything to increase the health care premiums. Scully was impressed. Mulder grinned, knowing both gibes were aimed at him, and promised to do his best.

Skinner nodded dismissal. "You have an appointment with Dr. Malone this afternoon?" he asked Mulder as the younger man stood up, and Mulder nodded. "Good. Kim will start on your travel vouchers." As they went out the door, Skinner's head was bent over the next file but Scully was certain that she caught a brief, appraising glance directed at Mulder's back. Skinner was such a mother hen, she thought with a grin.

And when they got back to their offices, she thought she would die laughing. There, sitting on Mulder's desk, was a large floral arrangement. Mulder stood staring at it in dumb surprise, then pulled out the card and read it: "Fox, thank you for a wonderful weekend. W." His mouth twitched. "I'm going to kill him." Then he glared over at Scully. "And then you."

She managed to get her laughter under control, wiping her eyes. "Actually, I think - I think it's - sweet - " Then she collapsed in her chair and put her head down on her desk, laughing.


Kate Malone looked Mulder over appraisingly as they settled into the chairs in her office. "Is my radar wrong, or have you taken a significant step forward?"

"Kate, when has your radar ever been wrong?" Mulder said with a grin. "Yes, Walter and I had sex this past weekend. Several times. And yes, it involved anal intercourse, and yes, I was on the receiving end."

She chuckled. "Mulder, sometimes you are so forthright it takes my breath away. Makes up for the times when you're so tight-lipped that I have to take a crowbar to your jaw. So, how was it?"

"It was good - hell, it was great. I'd forgotten how it was with Walter."

She nodded. "You've been trying to forget the bad; it's normal that your mind would also shut off the good. Did you initiate or did Walter?"

"I did. Walter keeps his promises." He grinned, his eyes green and mischievous. "Although I think he's been tempted to just knock me down and ravage me."

Kate tilted her head, appraising him. "Something happened that threw you a little. You want to talk about it?"

Mulder sighed. "We were wrestling a little, just fooling around, and he grabbed my wrists. I panicked for a minute - he released me immediately, and apologized, but I don't want him to have to worry that he's going to do something to freak me out."

"Mulder, it's only to be expected that there'll be some lingering trauma. You know your stuff; you know that there are going to be setbacks. Two steps forward and one-step back. But you've got a number of things going for you, not the least of which is Walter's patience and love for you." As his eyes dropped to study his hands, she said, "You are still having problems with that, aren't you?" He was silent and she sighed. "Do I need to get out that crowbar? Do you doubt that he loves you?"

"No."

"Do you doubt that you love him?"

"No."

"Talk to me, Mulder. What is the problem?"

"Bad things happen to people who love me," he muttered.

"Mulder, we've been through this before. Bad things happen to people, period. Not because they love you, not because you fail them in some way, and not because you are bad. Things just happen. And you have two choices: you can hide away in your apartment and refuse to get involved in life, or you can take a chance and enjoy whatever happiness you can get. You took a big step this weekend, a scary step and think what happened, how good it was. I have to tell you, Mulder, that I am extremely proud of you for that. In the past you have had a tendency to head for the hills when anything good has happened to you. You should be very, very proud of yourself."

Mulder's face flushed a little, but he straightened from his slumped position. "Yeah. I am."

"Damn straight. And I want you to be sure to pick something from your rewards list and celebrate your victory."

"Do I get a star on my report card to take home to Walter?" he asked mockingly.

"Smart ass." She snorted and he laughed. "I want you to listen to what you just said - to take home to Walter. Why do you think you said that?"

He shrugged. "It was just an off-the-cuff remark."

"Mulder. Don't you dare bullshit me."

He sighed. "Okay, okay. I guess that I know that home, real home, for me, is Walter's place. Which makes me - I mean, Christ, he didn't ask for this. He shouldn't have had to pick up the pieces of Fox Mulder and put them back together again. He shouldn't have to risk his career, his reputation. And what is he getting out of it? He hasn't even gotten sex for the last six weeks. He deserves so much more than - "

"Fox, don't you say it."

He paused, twisting his lips ruefully. "Okay, I won't say that he deserves more than a fucked up mess like me - " She laughed, shaking her head " - but he does. Sometimes I think I should just take off, go somewhere where I won't be screwing up the lives of those I love."`

"And why don't you?"

"Because Walter and Scully would just hunt me down and chew hunks out of my ass."

"And?"

He drew a deep breath and said, lowly, "Because I don't want to go."

"And what do you want, Mulder?"

"I want to be worthy of their love." He said it simply, from his heart, and Kate felt a silent shout of victory inside of her. Finally. At last.


Mulder entered the apartment carrying the floral arrangement and followed the aroma of baked chicken to the kitchen. He set the arrangement down pointedly on the table and then leaned against the counter, arms crossed.

Skinner looked up from his cooking, amused. "Something wrong, Fox?" he asked mildly.

"Asshole." But he grinned as he said it.

"Proper etiquette dictates that a gentleman should follow up with a token of appreciation - "

"I don't think Emily Post had our situation in mind." Mulder folded his arms around Skinner's waist and pressed a kiss on the nape of his neck. "Now Cosmo may cover that - "

"Cosmo?" Skinner turned and kissed him.

"Yeah. Scully's lending me hers. You know, 'How to drive your man wild in bed', that sort of thing."

Skinner chuckled. "I'd tell you that you're doing fine on your own, but you're pretty cocky tonight. No pun intended." Mulder snorted. "So, what did Dr. Kate have to say?"

"She's proud of me, and I'm supposed to pick something from my rewards list to celebrate." Mulder nipped at Skinner's neck.

"And why do I get the idea that I'm the reward you chose?"

"And I told her about what happened - when I panicked." Mulder met Skinner's eyes evenly. "I want to go back, Walter. I want to go to the Club."

"Fox - "

"I'm serious. I've got it all beat, all except that. And I won't let that bastard take what we had there away from us."

"No - you're not ready - "

"I'll never be ready until I go there and face it. Please, Walter - "

"No."

"Please."

Skinner looked into Mulder's face and saw the determination there, the underlying strength that he had always admired, and the utter refusal to give in to whatever they threw at him. Bill Mulder was wrong, he thought to himself. This man was no weakling; he had an inner core of steel that had been tempered by pain and loss, and a spirit that refused to be defeated. The man took his breath away, and he found himself starting to laugh.

Mulder was mystified. "What?"

"You." Skinner pulled him in close, hugging him tight, and then let him go. "You wear me out, Fox. All right. I give up. We'll go back next weekend. But," he said sternly, "we're going to take this slowly, understand?"

Mulder smiled at him, his face alight. "Yes. Sir."

 

Chapter Text

Past the point of no return, no backward glances
The games we played till now are at an end
Past the thought of ‘if’ or ‘when’, no use resisting
Abandon thought and let the dream descend
What raging fire shall flood the soul?
What rich desire unlocks its door?
What sweet seduction lies before us?
Past the point of no return, the final threshold,
What warm, unspoken secrets will we learn?
Beyond the point of no return

 

Fox Mulder stood on the sidewalk in front of the Dionysus Club, looking up at the front of the building. It was deceptive in appearance, looking like an old-fashioned bank building or gentlemen’s club, but what lay on the other side of those doors was one of Washington’s best kept secrets. Even after entering the building, wandering through the elegant dining room, the tasteful alcoves and small meeting rooms, the well-appointed gym, the cozy library, one would hardly be able to credit the Club’s true purpose. It was only when you went upstairs to the private suites, rooms outfitted with soundproofing and containing special equipment, that the true reason for the Club’s existence became evident. Sturdy bolts attached to the walls and ceiling. Large beds fitted with rings at the corner posts and on the wall over the headboard. Whipping posts and spanking benches. Cabinets full of special toys and tools. Tamper-proof locks and high-tech security systems to ensure the privacy of the Club’s patrons.

A security system that had failed him, Fox Mulder, leaving him helpless in the hands of an amoral sadist.

He had stood here before, many times, looking up at the building, wondering what lay in store for him on the other side of the door. The first time, he had stood here with Alex Krycek, wondering what the hell he was doing here with Krycek, of all people. He had almost backed out, had almost turned and walked away, but Krycek had seen the hesitation in his face and had taunted him and Mulder had walked up those steps to change his life forever. The second time, the following night, he had stood here torn between terror and anticipation, wondering what the Dominant he would be assigned to would be like, and had walked up those stairs to find that Walter Skinner, his boss, was his assigned Dom. The third time he had stood here, that first weekend, he had been full of equal parts excitement and trepidation, wondering just what he had gotten himself into, already aroused and scared shitless at the thought of being topped by the major player in his jack-off fantasies. Fourth time, when he had stood here marshaling his thoughts after that incredible Thanksgiving weekend, trying to figure out how to tell Skinner that he wanted something more from their encounters here at the Club. And now he stood here again, facing the certain knowledge that no place was completely safe, not even here, but knowing that he was willing to take the risk. Knowing that he needed something, something that he could only get here, in this place, from one person.

Mulder drew a deep breath and went up the stairs. The doorman smiled at him and opened the door. "Welcome back, sir." The Assistant Secretary was manning the check-in desk and he coded a card-key for Skinner’s suite, handing it to Mulder with a smile. "Welcome back, Mr. Mulder."

Mulder drew a deep breath as he approached the elevator with the card-key; Benett had abducted him from one of these elevators and it was the second hurdle he would have to face this weekend.

"Mulder!" A familiar voice called out to him, and he turned with a smile to see Sean jogging down the hallway toward him. "I heard you were back."

Mulder grinned. "You mean you left instructions with the Desk to notify you when your ‘problem child’ checked in."

Sean laughed. "You are too good, mate." He got into the elevator and pressed the button for Mulder’s floor, and Mulder had no choice but to follow him after a first wary glance to make sure that the elevator was empty. He had to admit that he felt better having the company, and he had a feeling that Sean knew it.

"So how was the weekend? What did you end up getting the Mountain?"

"A pair of tickets to the Final Four series next month."

Sean whistled appreciatively. "When you do something, Mulder, you really do it up right. Did he like them?"

Mulder grinned, recalling that the lasagna had almost burned while Skinner demonstrated just how much he liked his present. "Very much. Walter’s a fanatical college hoops fan. I may have to arm-wrestle Scully for the second ticket, though."

Sean shook his head. "In that case, you haven’t got a chance, boy-o."

"Oh, I intend to fight dirty."

"Ah, the old hit-‘em-right-after-incredible-sex ploy?"

"You better believe it." They smiled at each other in perfect understanding. The elevator door opened. "Walter’s taking me to Greece on vacation in April."

"Nice." Sean gave Mulder a wicked look. "You must be better in bed than I thought."

"Jealous?"

"Of you? Hardly!"

Mulder affected a flaming queen pose. "Bitch."

Sean nearly fell down laughing. "God, Mulder, you’re a natural!"

They arrived at the suite and Mulder arranged to meet Sean in the gym the next afternoon before unlocking the door. He closed the door behind him and stood for a moment looking around. Two months, he thought. Two months since the last time he was here. He looked over at the bed, remembering the hot wax play that last weekend and all the other hot games they had played the weekends before that, and he felt his groin tighten. God, but he loved this, loved the way Walter could wind him up so tight that he thought he would simply explode and then gently push him over the edge. Walter made him fly, gave him wings to soar above the pain, and healed his soul. And Walter caught him, easing him down to earth, never letting him fall. Not for the first time, he wondered what the other man got out of this, wondered if it could possibly be close to what he gave to Mulder.

He dropped his bag on the bed and shed his clothes on his way to the bathroom. Once in the shower, he quickly washed his body then got out the razor and shaving cream to carefully remove the hair that had grown back in on his chest and under his arms. Slowly and carefully, he shaved his genital area, running a hand over his skin to make sure that no rough stubble remained, then he soaped his body and hair, rinsed, and stepped out of the shower. He toweled himself dry, then lightly oiled his skin to make it smooth and slick, then went back into the main room. Picking up his discarded clothing, he stuffed them into a labeled laundry bag for the on-site cleaners and tossed the bag into the service chute. Then he dumped out the remaining contents of his overnight bag: cuffs were quickly fastened into place, collar set aside for the moment while Mulder picked up two boxes and began distributing the contents throughout the suite. Ever since Skinner had given Mulder the order that supplies were always to be on hand wherever and whenever the Dom chose to fuck him, there had been a friendly competition between the two of them with Mulder trying to predict just where Skinner might strike and Skinner trying to be totally unpredictable. So far, Mulder had been more successful than Skinner, but the Dom had started getting very inventive the last weekend they were here.

One more task, and Mulder had deliberately left this for last. Fetching the large tube of lubricant, he began carefully preparing himself, feeling himself respond to the stimulation, which was why he left this till the last. Skinner liked him to be partially aroused when he arrived, and the sight of Mulder already hot and ready for him had precipitated more than one heated coupling.

His tasks completed, Mulder tucked the tube into the nightstand drawer and knelt in his place on the floor, the collar lying in front of him, and waited.


Geoffrey Mason was manning the check-in desk when Skinner arrived, and that was an unusual enough occurrence to make Skinner smile and quiz the Secretary with his eyes.

"Lying in wait for me, Geoff? You haven't done that in a long time." His eyes gleamed with laughter. "I promise I've been good."

Mason snorted and handed Skinner his card-key. "You've obviously forgotten that I dislike smart-alecs."

"Not in the least - I just know my ass is relatively safe from your kindly reminders these days."

"Just keep telling yourself that, Walter." Mason turned the desk back over to his assistant and walked Skinner towards the elevator. "Mulder checked in over an hour ago and Sean saw him safely to your suite. Neither party that you were concerned about appears to be on the premises at present. One of our new subs with a knack for high-tech wizardry has been over your suite with a fine-tooth comb and assures me it is completely safe. He's also instituted a more sophisticated card-key system to keep even the most determined hackers from getting access to your suite. Your boy is as safe as we can make him, short of putting a tracker on him ourselves. Which we can do if you would like."

Skinner shook his head. "He should be safe enough here, now that Benett is dead. Krycek wants to mess with his mind but he's not going to harm Mulder, and the English gentleman is evidently some sort of protector for Mulder." He stopped at the elevator and turned to Mason. "I appreciate all the effort you've put into this. It means a lot to both of us."

"Mulder means a lot to us, Walter. Which reminds me - don't forget that dinner is at seven tomorrow night. We'll be expecting both of you."

Skinner nodded. "We'll be there."

He left Mason at the elevator and walked down the hallway to his suite, unlocking it and entering. The room was in semi-darkness and felt warm and inviting; Mulder must have turned up the temperature a few degrees to make it more comfortable for his naked body. And there was the object of his thoughts, kneeling in his spot in the main room, his collar lying on the floor before him, looking naked and aroused and more incredibly sensual than Skinner had remembered.

He set down his bag and crossed the floor to the kneeling man. "Hello, Fox."

"Hello, sir," Mulder said softly. He knelt up, holding the collar to his neck, so that Skinner could easily fasten it. Skinner allowed himself to caress the sleek skin of Mulder's chest and moved his hand up to cup Mulder's face, and Mulder nuzzled into the caress. "Shower or food first, sir?"

Skinner was tempted to choose a third option first - Mulder himself - but thought that they needed to take it slowly this weekend. And tonight was all about getting back into the D/s mindset before playing heavier games tomorrow - if Mulder still wanted to abide by their negotiated agreement.

"Bath, I think. It's been a long day."

Mulder obediently hopped up and started the bath water, watching the tub fill as he recalled that first bath, when he had put bubble bath in the tub and then had proceeded to sculpt bunny ears on Skinner's head. He smiled - that had turned into a water-wrestling contest which he had gladly lost, followed by Skinner dragging them both out of the tub and onto the bed where he had proceeded to turn Mulder into jelly. He checked the temperature of the water again and turned to find that Skinner had finished unpacking and was starting to undress.

"That’s my job, sir," Mulder said reproachfully, gently pushing Skinner’s hands out of the way. Skinner smiled in amusement but stood quietly while Mulder carefully removed the rest of his clothing, hanging up the suit and adding the rest of the clothes to the laundry bag before sending it on its way. Skinner had already settled in the tub by the time Mulder finished his tasks, and Mulder settled on the tile ledge behind his Dom to await his next orders.

Skinner felt his presence and opened his eyes. "Get in with me."

Mulder paused to remove his leather cuffs and collar before obeying, and Skinner settled the younger man in front of him, leaning back against his chest. He sighed contentedly and let his eyes drift closed again. He had missed this; the bathtub in his apartment wasn’t large enough to accommodate both men comfortably. Idly, he thought that his next place would have to include a larger tub. His hands gently caressed the supple body in front of him; he had missed this, too. Only four days since Monday when he had last held this body against his own, but it seemed like four weeks. And it had been an incredible weekend. Which reminded him – there was still that little matter of "payback". He smiled to himself and began planning his strategy.

Mulder relaxed against the muscular chest behind him and let his eyes drift closed. It had been a quiet week at work, putting together the 302 for an X-File that would take him and his partner out of town the following Monday. He had seen little of the older man during the week as Skinner had been caught up in the quarterly planning meetings, but they had talked on the phone nearly every night. It was a risk, but the Gunmen had outfitted both of their phones with the latest anti-surveillance devices, so they felt relatively safe that their conversations weren’t being recorded for posterity – or blackmail. Still, it wasn’t the same as being together, and Mulder had found himself growing impatient for the weekend. Now it was here, and they were back here at the Club, and Mulder was starting to feel like there had been no interruption in their visits. But at the same time, it was almost like their first time here, as Skinner was taking things very slowly. And Mulder was content to let Skinner take control, surrendering his will to his Dom, letting him do what he wanted.

Skinner felt the surrender in the lean body pressed up against his with satisfaction and let his hands wander freely. He caressed the sleek skin, hairless and seal-like in its smoothness. He had been a little surprised that Mulder had shaved himself completely again; he had half-expected that Mulder would drop back to their beginning relationship. He tweaked a nipple and heard the soft moan of pleasure, briefly debated commanding Mulder to silence but then thought that he really enjoyed the sounds that the man made when aroused. No, he would take a different route this time, he decided, and leaned his mouth close to Mulder’s ear.

"That’s it, Kitten. I want to hear you moaning and begging and whimpering under my touch. I want to hear you scream my name when you come."

"God, I hate it when you call me ‘Kitten’." Mulder moaned as Skinner’s hands moved to the other nipple.

"I know. That’s why I do it."

"Sadistic bastard." Mulder gasped as fingers pinched his tit.

"Such language, Kitten. I think that you’ve forgotten a few lessons since the last time we were here."

"I’m sure that you will remind me, sir."

"You can count on that, boy." Skinner shifted the body in his arms slightly so that he could more comfortably nuzzle the long neck, marking the spot that he always did. Mulder sighed contentedly, relieved that Skinner had stopped torturing his tits for the moment, and tilted his head to give better access. He loved this, loved the way that Skinner always found that one spot on his neck that was such a turn-on. None of his other lovers had ever been this attentive to his needs – or as good at turning him into a quivering heap. Skinner’s hands were moving again, one hand continuing to caress his chest while the other played with his balls and teased his cock by just barely brushing against it. Mulder groaned and tried to shift himself so that his cock would get more attention, then yelped as Skinner nipped at his neck.

"Be still," Skinner ordered, firmly grasping Mulder’s balls. "These are my toys and I’ll play with them the way I want to play with them."

"Yes, sir," Mulder gasped. He went limp against Skinner’s shoulder, unresisting as Skinner shifted him about to caress his thighs, his ass, his chest, his balls, everything but his cock. He was babbling almost constantly now, nonsense words mixed up with Skinner’s name and pleas for more. He was so hot that he thought he might explode, and still Skinner hadn’t touched him where he desperately needed to be touched.

Skinner turned him around so that Mulder was straddling his lap and, for the first time tonight, kissed him. Mulder leaned hungrily into the kiss, surrendering completely to it, letting Skinner claim his mouth in prelude to claiming his body. God, the man was such a great kisser, he thought with what remained of his brain. He shifted closer to the older man and groaned as their erections rubbed against each other, breaking the kiss to catch his breath.

"God, yes!" he gasped, nipping at Skinner's neck. "That feels so good."

Skinner was breathless and completely aroused as well. "Time to take this elsewhere."

Mulder raised his head from Skinner's neck and twisted slightly to reach for something behind the soap dish. Triumphantly, he held up a tube of lubricant designed for use in the water. Skinner had to chuckle but shook his head in disbelief. "You're amazing, Fox."

"Be prepared is my motto."

"I've already told you that you were never a Boy Scout." And then he proceeded to drive Mulder totally crazy before taking him passionately, possessing him completely, and sending him flying.


The feel of cooling water drove Skinner to extract himself and Mulder from the tub, get them dried off, and then tucked into bed for a short nap. Mulder snuggled drowsily against Skinner's shoulder. He loved this: feeling sated and satisfied, all his inner demons exorcised under Skinner's skillful control. He wondered what Skinner had in mind for the rest of this weekend.

"Walter?"

"Hmm?"

"Can we talk?"

Skinner opened his eyes, suddenly concerned. "You okay, Fox? This didn't push any buttons for you?"

Mulder rolled over onto Skinner's chest, propping himself up on one elbow, and grinned. "Other than the obvious ones? I'm okay, Walter. I'm just - curious."

"About what?"

"About what you've got planned. About where we stand with this whole thing. You said we were going to drop back to basics, take it slowly - just how slow did you mean?"

"A lot slower than you, evidently," Skinner said, running a hand over Mulder's hairless chest. "I thought you'd want to start back at the beginning, before we got into the heavier D/s stuff."

"I liked the heavier D/s stuff," Mulder protested. "It makes it seem - I don't know - more real, somehow. Like I belonged to you."

Skinner held Mulder's face between his hands and said, seriously, "You do. You belong to me. Here and in the real world. And I belong to you."

Mulder turned his head to softly kiss Skinner's palm. "I know, but I mean really belong." He was a little flushed, finding it difficult to explain what he meant.

Skinner frowned. "I'm afraid I'm not getting what you're trying to say."

Mulder sighed and tried again. "Well, like Sean really belongs to Geoff. He told me, when we were both being punished for breaking into Benett's room, that he didn't have to give Geoff permission to whip him because he had already given Geoff permission to do anything he wanted when he became his boy."

"Geoff and Sean have a different type of relationship than we do, Fox, and they live 7x24. It doesn't mean that what they do is better or 'more real'. Geoff's a different kind of Dominant than I am. He's much more Authoritarian, into total control, and they are both heavy into SM. It works for them, fulfills the needs they have, but it's not my personal preference."

Mulder studied him curiously; they had never talked seriously about D/s dynamics and the few times he had asked Skinner why he did this the man had given him a flippant answer. "We've never talked about this before now. What are your preferences, Walter?"

Skinner sighed and wrapped an arm around Mulder, settling him down onto his chest. "I like control, too - "

Mulder snorted. "Big surprise, there."

"Hush. If you want answers, you need to listen," Skinner admonished. "I prefer to control through the mental and psychological aspects of D/s, rather than the physical. I don't like a lot of rules and I don't like to spend my time forcing submission. It's not the activities themselves that I get off on but the surrender as the result of my domination." He smiled and ruffled Mulder's hair. "That's why I have enjoyed our playing together so much - you get the whole concept of Dominance and submission, you want to surrender to me." He shrugged. "I don't think that it's something you can learn, either. I think we were born this way. It feels natural to me, and it comes easily to you. It doesn't make it any less real than what Sean and Geoff have."

Mulder considered this, then sighed. "I suppose not, but it seems - I don't know - different."

"Of course it's different. That doesn't make it less." Skinner soothingly stroked Mulder's back, watching the younger man's eyes start to slide shut. "Rest, Fox. I'll show you tomorrow."

"Okay." Mulder's eyes closed and he drifted into sleep.

Skinner watched him for a long time, pondering just how to prove his point to Mulder.


Mulder surveyed Skinner over the breakfast table the next morning, propping his head on his hand. "So, what do you have planned for today?"

Skinner looked up and raised an eyebrow. "Finishing my breakfast, for one thing." Mulder sighed and Skinner chuckled. "You are so damn impatient, babe."

"It's just that it's been so long," Mulder complained. "I can't wait till we get started."

"Yes, you can wait." The control voice was there, and Mulder involuntarily shivered. "You can and will wait till I am ready. Your whole mind and body are focused on waiting - waiting for me to touch you, to control you, to take you however and wherever I want." Mulder's eyes were dilated and he was breathing quickly now. "In your place, boy."

Mulder left his chair in a shot, moving to his "place" on the floor and kneeling in position, ass on his heels, hands at his side, head bowed and waiting. His whole mind and being were focused on the man sitting across the room, and even though he wasn't looking at him, he knew exactly what Skinner was doing. He bit back a sigh when he heard Skinner pour another cup of coffee, knowing that any betrayal of his impatience would just prolong his waiting.

Finally, at last, he heard Skinner push away from the table and walk towards him, and his heart started racing in anticipation. Skinner walked past him into the bathroom and Mulder nearly ground his teeth in frustration but he bit back any oral indication of his impatience. And then Skinner was coming back out of the bathroom, walking over to the cabinet. Mulder risked a peek to see if he could determine what Skinner was getting but the man hid whatever it was as he turned back, and Mulder hastily dropped his eyes before he could be caught.

Skinner caught the slight head movement as he turned back and he hid an internal smile. Mulder was nearly quivering with anticipation, wound tighter than a spring, and Skinner knew from experience that Mulder was extremely responsive when he was like this. He moved back to stand in front of the sub.

"Kneel up!"

Mulder immediately moved up on his knees, back straight, eyes focused on Skinner's bare feet. He was already aroused, and his cock jutted out at an angle from his body. Skinner nodded in approval and reached out to grasp the erect cock with his left hand.

"Who does this belong to, boy?"

"You, sir."

"That's right. And who decides when - or if - you can come?"

"You, sir."

"Very good." He fastened a cock ring on the erect cock. "And I'm not going to let you come for a long, long time." Mulder bit back a groan. "Did you say something, boy?"

"No, sir."

"Good." He returned to the cabinet and removed a couple more items. "On the bed, boy, on your knees." Mulder scrambled to obey. Skinner returned to the bed and set a blindfold on the bed beside him, then held out a set of clips. "Hold out your hands." Skinner clipped Mulder's cuffs together in front of him. "These are quick release clips, Fox," he said quietly, dropping into his comfort voice. "If you push your wrists together, the clips will release and you will be free." He demonstrated, then refastened the clips. "If you can't remember that and you get panicked, remember your safe words. Do you understand me, Fox?"

Mulder nodded. Skinner picked up the blindfold and fastened it around Mulder's head, and Mulder felt himself shift into a mindset where he was intensely aware of every touch, every sound. He could almost feel his skin tingling in anticipation.

"Lie down, boy, and grab the headrail with your hands." Once Mulder was stretched out on the bed, Skinner made some adjustments to his body, spreading Mulder's legs open wider. He felt the breath catch in Mulder's throat, the slight trembling in his body, and gently stroked Mulder's skin. "I'm not going to fasten your arms or legs to the bed, Fox," he said quietly. "You can get up and away any time; you can ask me to stop with your safe words at any time. Are you okay? Do you want to continue?" Mulder nodded. "Words, Fox. I need to hear you say it."

Mulder felt his brief agitation melt away, felt a sudden warmth fill him as he accepted both his limited bondage and the caring in his Dom's voice. He cleared his throat. "I'm okay, sir. I can continue."

"Good." Skinner studied the body stretched out before him, feeling his own arousal begin as he once again thought how beautiful the man was. And here he was, waiting quietly yet eagerly for Skinner's touch, waiting for him to ravage that beautiful body however he wanted. He had to take several deep breaths to control his own arousal or it would be all over before it began.

Skinner began caressing the sleek body stretched out before him, exploring every inch of it with his fingers, rediscovering all the most sensitive parts of Mulder's body. Mulder gasped and moaned, writhing under his touch, gripping the headrail tightly to keep from grabbing that head and those hands and putting them where he most needed them. A frustrated sob escaped from him as he felt one finger lightly stroke down his erection.

"Please," he whimpered, "please touch me, sir."

"Not yet, boy," Skinner said, moving his hands back up to tease and torment the erect nipples. "You're not ready yet." It was time to up the sensual torture, to get Mulder's mind firmly engaged. "You are so beautiful like this. So perfect. Your body sensitive to every touch, every sensation." He blew gently across Mulder's nipples, watching him shiver in delicious arousal. "I've never known anyone so sensitive, so completely aware of his body." Mulder gasped and moaned as Skinner continued his exploration with his mouth. He nuzzled and bit gently along the collarbone, licked long trails down the sleek, hairless chest, placing an occasional kiss on the tip of Mulder's cock before returning to his exploration of the rest of Mulder's body. Mulder was soon reduced to a shivering, helpless wreck, nearly wild with pleasure.

Skinner moved to kneel between Mulder's legs, laying the tube of lubricant next to him. "Turn over, boy. I'm going to fuck you now."

"Oh, God, yes, please, sir," Mulder gasped, quickly flipping over onto his belly and raising his ass into the air.

Skinner caressed the firm ass, noting with satisfaction that Mulder had lubed himself that morning as instructed. He eased in a finger, stretching and preparing the tight hole for their mutual pleasure, and felt Mulder press back eagerly against his probing fingers. He bit back his own groan; his cock was so hard that it was beginning to hurt and he knew that he couldn't wait any longer. Moving into place, he thrust into the perfect body below him, one long, slow thrust until he was completely buried inside. Mulder was gasping and groaning, and he had to stop and take a long deep breath or it would be over too soon. Mulder wiggled slightly, indicating that he was ready for more, and Skinner began thrusting steadily. Mulder was meeting him, thrust for thrust, moaning almost constantly now, making those hot noises that drove Skinner completely out of his mind. He was groaning, too; it was so unbelievably perfect, so good. The sensations in his cock were building to almost unbearable levels. He reached around to remove the cock ring from Mulder, stroking it with his hand, and that was enough to send Mulder over the edge. He came with a scream, arching his back and thrusting back hard, his ass clenching around Skinner's cock. Skinner gasped, then he was coming, too, lightning shooting sparks behind his eyes, blanking out all sensations as he fell into the enveloping darkness.

He came to slowly, barely aware that he had collapsed onto the slender body under his, and withdrew shakily. Gently, he turned Mulder over and removed the blindfold, relieved to see that the younger man was blinking and drawing shaky breaths.

"What happened?" Mulder asked. "Did I pass out again?"

Skinner grinned. "Yes, and so did I." He leaned over to kiss Mulder, then unsnapped the link between the cuffs. "You were incredible. How do you feel?"

"Wonderful. It was every bit as incredible as I remembered."

"Good." He settled them both under the covers, and Mulder snuggled down into his usual place on Skinner's shoulder.

"You were right," Mulder said sleepily.

Skinner tilted his head and peered down at Mulder's face. "About what?"

"It's every bit as real as what Sean and Geoff do. When you said all that stuff at the table - I could feel myself surrendering to you, wanting to submit. It was incredible." He turned his head and nuzzled against Skinner's neck. "Thank you."

"You're welcome," Skinner said softly. "And you were right, too."

Mulder blinked open his eyes. "About what?"

"You were ready to come back here." He kissed Mulder's lips softly. "Get some rest, babe. Geoff and Sean have invited us to dinner tonight. And before we go, I've got a little surprise planned for you."

"A good surprise or a bad surprise?"

Skinner chuckled. "Yes. Remember last weekend? Payback is a bitch, boy."

"Oh, God!"

Chapter Text

It’s been one week since you looked at me
Threw your hands in the air and said, "You’re crazy"

Five days since you tackled me

I’ve still got the rug burns on both my knees

It’s been three days since the afternoon

You realized it’s not my fault not a moment too soon

Yesterday you’d forgiven me

And now I sit back and wait till you say you’re sorry.

 

Walter Skinner woke before his lover and lay in bed watching the other man sleep, thinking that Fox Mulder in repose was a rare sight and one worthy of study. Mulder was sprawled on his stomach, flushed and warm with sleep, and had kicked one leg free of the covers. Somehow, the sight of one bare leg while the rest of that body was swathed under the sheets was more erotic and enticing than if the whole body had been exposed to his view. Like a Christmas present, Skinner thought, tantalizing and unknown and waiting to be unwrapped. He smiled to himself; this was his present, and he was going to unwrap it now. He lifted the covers slightly and slipped head-first under them.

Mulder drifted up from a deep, dreamless sleep to find himself floating in a sea of pleasurable sensation. He blinked his eyes open and turned his head sideways to see that the sheet beside him was moving in an odd way that seemed to have something to do with the sensation of fingers and tongue on his skin.

He let his eyes drift shut again, saying with lazy contentment, "I sure hope that’s you under the covers, sir, otherwise I’m going to have to complain to the management about a strange apparition in my bed."

A soft chuckle came from somewhere in the vicinity of his knees followed by a gentle nip on the back of his thigh. "Not everything is an X-File, Agent Mulder."

Mulder grinned and stretched. "Couldn’t prove it by me, boss."

Lips moved up the back of his thighs and across his ass, and he drew in a sharp breath. Another soft chuckle and he was being rolled to his side facing his unseen lover. More tantalizing touches, more arousing because the one bestowing the erotic attention was hidden from view and Mulder’s memory and imagination had to fill in the details. And Mulder had a vivid imagination and an incredible memory. He closed his eyes, "seeing" Skinner’s hands caress his body just so and his lips brush across the inside of his thigh just like that. And then his lover was moving upward, breathing on the cock that was already responding eagerly to the expert touch, engulfing it in the heat of a skillful mouth. Mulder groaned, hissing slightly as a tongue traced up the vein, and blindly reached out toward the cock bobbing enticingly before his face.

A sharp smack on his ass reminded him that this was his Dom, not his lover, and that different rules applied here. "Have I given you permission to touch me, boy?"

"Sorry, sir." Mulder gasped. "Please, sir? Please let me touch you."

"All right – using your mouth only. No hands." Skinner flung back the sheet so that he could keep an eye on Mulder.

Mulder leaned forward eagerly and took the engorged cock in his mouth, his tongue dancing over the surface, licking and teasing before sucking it in. Skinner, his own mouth similarly occupied with Mulder’s cock, groaned and thanked whatever powers there were that the younger man had such a talented mouth. Must have something to do with that oral fixation, he thought in amusement, shifting his body slightly to get more comfortable, then returned his concentration to the lean body before him. He shifted Mulder’s legs slightly so that his free hand could move between the cheeks of his ass, teasing the anal opening. Finding it still lubricated from their earlier encounter, he slipped a finger inside and began slowly thrusting in and out while he increased the suction of his mouth. Mulder groaned, gasped, trying to say something without releasing the cock in his mouth. Skinner laughed softly, even more amused when Mulder groaned as he released the younger man’s cock.

"Didn’t your mother ever tell you not to talk with your mouth full?"

Deliberately, he rocked his hips forward and forced his cock deeper in Mulder’s mouth. Mulder relaxed his mouth and throat to the deeper penetration then he deliberately slid all the way down till his nose was pressed against Skinner’s balls. Skinner gasped at the sensation, part of his brain registering that Mulder was getting incredibly good at deep-throating while the rest of his mind switched off. He gave up teasing Mulder and concentrated on driving the man completely crazy, sucking and finger-fucking. They raced towards completion, each trying to push the other over the edge first while delaying his own gratification. Skinner could feel the unbearably wonderful pressure building within himself and held on desperately as he increased his movement, twisting his finger to brush the prostate again. That was it for Mulder; he arched, rocking his hips uncontrollably as he came hard. Skinner held him firmly in place, sucking and swallowed and relishing the muffled gasps, and then Mulder’s mouth was suddenly so demanding that Skinner felt himself exploding and heard himself crying out.

Skinner came back to full awareness of his surroundings to find that Mulder’s mouth and nose were gently nuzzling his balls and he laughed softly. He reached down to tousle the dark hair and said, teasingly, "Good Kitten." Mulder growled in mock annoyance, moving his head back slightly and pretending to scowl at the horrible nickname. Skinner laughed and sat up, retrieving the covers and settling back down on the pillows with Mulder while they recovered. He stroked the soft hair, reveling in the texture of it.

"You’re getting very good at that," he said softly, and an incandescent smile was flashed at him.

"I had a great teacher."

Skinner chuckled and turned his head to kiss Mulder briefly. "Flattery will get you everywhere."

"I’m already where I want to be," Mulder said contentedly, snuggling closer.

Skinner felt his throat tighten unexpectedly at that and tightened his hold on the slender body. "Good. Because I’m not letting you go anywhere else."

They laying drowsing for a while in lazy contentment, not talking or thinking, just drifting. Finally, Skinner roused them both to shower and get ready for Sean and Mason’s dinner party. He had something special in mind to tease Mulder and he wanted to have plenty of time.

He dressed first in casual black pants and a garnet colored silk shirt with Mulder assisting him. Mulder was relishing his role of valet, his hands slowly and sensually fastening buttons on his shirt, his hands just barely brushing Skinner’s groin as he zipped and buttoned his pants. He knelt to put on Skinner’s socks and shoes, reverently kissing each toe first, then looked up at Skinner through his eyelashes with a sultry and seductive grin. It took all Skinner’s restraint to keep him from grabbing Mulder and throwing him on the bed and fucking him through the mattress.

"Stop that, brat," he growled.

Laughing green eyes looked at him innocently. "Stop what, sir?"

Skinner growled again and decided that it was definitely payback time. He went to the closet and pulled out a bag that he had brought with him, removing a white silk shirt and pleated linen pants, setting them on the bed.

"Nice," Mulder commented, picking up the silk shirt.

"I think I got the right sizes." Mulder looked at the clothing and then back at Skinner. "Something wrong, Fox?"

"Um - I think you forgot something. Underwear."

"You won't be wearing any," Skinner said calming, reaching into the bag again. "You'll be wearing something else underneath." He pulled out a leather harness and advanced on Mulder with a glint in his eyes.

Mulder eyed the contraption dangling from Skinner's fingers nervously. "Sir, that looks uncomfortable."

"And your point would be?"

Mulder cast his eyes heavenward, recognizing that Skinner was in a playful mood, and sighed. "No point, sir. I just thought I'd mention it."

Skinner grinned, a surprisingly wicked grin that was at the same time extremely arousing. He noticed the effect on his sub and laughed. "Maybe it's just as well that I decided to put this on you tonight." He reached out and grasped Mulder's half-erect cock in his hand, stroking it sensually. Mulder gasped and spread his feet wider for balance, allowing Skinner access to whatever part of his body he wanted. But after a moment Skinner stopped and fastened the leather device around Mulder's cock, buckling the three straps and adjusting them to fit snugly. Two more straps went around his testicles, separating them and Mulder groaned. Skinner studied the effect.

"I like it. I may have you wear this more often. Imagine how much more interesting budget meetings would be if I could look across the table and know you had this on underneath."

Mulder moaned and dropped his forehead down onto Skinner's shoulder. "God, Walter, you're even kinkier than I am."

"I think you've said that before," Skinner laughed. "I'm not done yet."

"There's more? Oh, shit."

Skinner took out some thin leather straps and fastened one around Mulder's waist like a belt, a second strap from the belt to a ring on one of the cock-straps, and the third from the back of the belt along his crack to fasten onto the straps encircling his balls. Skinner adjusted the straps until Mulder's cock was almost immobile, then had the younger man walk so he could be sure that it didn't rub anywhere too uncomfortably. Mulder flushed in embarrassment as every movement caused exquisitely arousing sensations in his cock and along his asshole.

"All right," Skinner said finally when he was satisfied. "Get dressed."

Mulder looked at him imploringly. "Sir, you're not going to make me go out with this on, are you?"

Skinner's eyes were gleaming again. "That's the whole point, Fox."

Mulder sighed and pulled on the pants and shirt, then looked at himself in the mirror. The white silk shirt was open-necked and deeply slit and so thin that the faint outline of his nipples could be seen through it, and the neutral-colored pants were too loose to provide additional support while at the same time clinging to the outlines of his body seductively. He was certain that everyone who looked at him could see just what he was wearing under those pants.

"God, sir, I look like a Tom Jones wanna-be!"

Skinner chuckled and stepped up behind Mulder, pulling the younger man back slightly to rest against his body, his hands reaching around to caress the sleek chest exposed by the open shirt. "Embarrassed, Fox? Embarrassed to let everyone see just how beautiful you are? The way your nipples swell when that thin shirt brushes against them." His hand moved down across the flat stomach and around to cup a firm cheek. "Or the way these pants cling to your ass and caress them like my hands do." The hands moved forward to cup his restrained cock. "Or the way your cock strains at the front of your pants, firm and hot and hard?" His thumb brushed over the head of Mulder's cock in its leather cage and he heard the low moan from his sub. "You're beautiful, babe, and hot, and mine."

Mulder felt the swelling against his ass and wriggled against it. "Can't we just stay up here, sir? You can take me back to bed and do whatever you like to me."

Skinner chuckled and dropped his head to nip at his favorite spot on Mulder's neck. "I can do that anyway, and I will - later. For now, Geoff and Sean are expecting us, and it would be impolite to keep them waiting." He squeezed Mulder one last time and turned back toward the bed, picking up Mulder's collar. "One last thing." He fastened it around Mulder's neck and studied the effect. "Yes. Perfect."

"Well, as long as you’re happy, sir."

"Don't sulk, Kitten. It's not pretty."

Mulder sighed and followed Skinner out into the hallway. He had a feeling that it was going to be a long, long night.


Skinner and Mulder made their way down to the private dining room adjoining the Secretary’s suite, Mulder arriving in an even more flustered state than he had been on leaving their suite. Skinner had taken the opportunity of an empty elevator to demonstrate another feature of the cock harness – he slid his hand into the back of the waistband of Mulder’s pants, tugging gently on the leather belt, making the younger man gasp and groan in frustrated arousal.

The special catering staff was just putting the final touches on the table when they entered, Mason was icing a bottle of champagne, and Sean was in a serious discussion with a dark-haired woman wearing a gold bracelet who seemed to be in charge of the catering staff. Sean finished whatever last-minute instructions he had and crossed to Mulder, giving him a quick appraising look. "Well, looks like everything's going fine with you this weekend." He touched Mulder's arm and said, in a rare moment of complete seriousness, "Just remember, I've been there and, if you ever need to talk with anyone, I'm here for you."

"Thanks," Mulder said gratefully, then glanced over at Skinner with irritation. "I may need your help disposing of a corpse later tonight."

Sean grinned. "The Mountain giving you hell?"

"He’s tormenting the life out of me."

Sean ran an experienced eye over Mulder and grinned knowledgeably. "Uncomfortable, mate?"

"Fuck you," Mulder snorted. "And you look a little uncomfortable yourself – ‘mate’."

Sean chuckled. "Yeah," he said with satisfaction. "I ticked off Geoff and he blistered my arse." He looked up with a grin as Mason crossed to them and wrapped an arm around his sub. "Speaking of which - why don’t we ask Mulder his opinion, Geoff?"

Mason frowned. "I don’t need another opinion, Sean. I’ve made up my mind and the answer is final – no. You come up with something other than a tattoo or piercing and I’ll consider it. And don’t go behind my back on this. You do it on your own and you eat standing up for a week. Am I perfectly clear?"

"Yes, Geoff," Sean said meekly, but Mulder could see the twinkle in his eye. He was amazed that Sean would even consider going against Mason – the man terrified him when he frowned like that.

Evidently Mason wasn’t fooled, either, and he gave Sean a swat. "Enough, brat." He smiled over at Mulder, looking him up and down. "That’s a good look for you, Mulder. Walter must have picked out the shirt. And the accessories."

Mulder flushed. "Is it obvious to everyone?"

Mason laughed. "Just to the experienced eye. No need to be embarrassed, boy. All of us have been there at one time or another."

Mulder’s eyes gleamed. "Speaking of which, I’d like to hear some stories about Walter’s bottom days, sir."

Mason snorted and reached over to cuff Mulder’s head lightly. "Not likely, boy! We tops have to stick together." He gave Sean a last squeeze and walked over to talk to Skinner.

Mulder looked at Sean inquisitively. "So what was that all about?"

Sean shrugged. "Our third anniversary is coming up and I wanted to do something personal and permanent, like getting a tattoo or a nipple pierced. Geoff put his foot down. Emphatically."

"Why? Oh!" Mulder suddenly recalled Sean’s HIV status.

"I promised him that I’d only let an ethical and informed person do it, but he’s paranoid about infections." Sean scowled and sighed. "Oh, well, I’ll think of something. Or I’ll just do it and take the consequences."

"I wouldn’t want to cross Mason," Mulder said frankly. "He looks like he eats bottoms for breakfast."

"But I like it when Geoff eats me," Sean said mischievously, laughing as Mulder blushed.

Mulder looked over the table, counting the chairs. "You expecting more guests for dinner?"

"Just friends, Mulder. A lot of people wanted to be here to welcome you back but I thought that might embarrass you so we limited the guest list." A movement from the doorway caught both their attentions. "Ah, our other guest is here."

Mulder was stunned to see Scully in the doorway, escorted by one of the security guards, and even more stunned when Geoffrey Mason crossed to shake hands with her and escort her into the room. He glanced over at Sean to see the man grinning at him.

"Geoff is smitten with your Scully, I think. He always did have a thing for redheads."

"But I thought he was gay - "

"Because of me? No, Geoff prefers male subs but has no particular preference in junior tops - he's brought along both men and women."

"You think Scully's interested - no. No way."

Sean shrugged and smiled. "Stranger things have happened."

Scully had made her way over to them and folded her arms, giving Mulder a quick once-over look that made Mulder grin and wonder if Sean might not be right. "Hello, Mulder. You're looking much more relaxed than you did yesterday afternoon."

Mulder gave her a bland look. "If you think I look relaxed, you should see Walter."

Scully snorted. "Egotist." Mulder grinned. "I like the look, Mulder. What the well-dressed slave is wearing these days?"

"I'm not a slave," Mulder corrected mildly. "Walter doesn't take slaves. I'm his sub and he's my Dom."

"I'm a slave," Sean said genially.

Scully looked puzzled. "But you're wearing the collar, Mulder, not Sean."

Mulder shook his head. "That has nothing to do with it. This collar is a personal gift from Walter. Whether you're a slave or a sub or any other designation depends on what kind of games you play, right, Sean?"

"Generally speaking," Sean said. "Geoff and I are into SM; he is my master and I belong to him. Mulder and the Mountain play D/s games."

"The mountain?" Scully laughed. "I like that!"

Mulder was about to say something when the catering crew returned and they both saw a sight that stunned them.

"Frohike?"

Frohike was balancing a tray loaded with bread baskets and he set them down on the table, then turned to the brunette that Sean had been speaking with earlier. "May I be excused for a moment, Mistress?" She nodded and Frohike walked over to Mulder and Scully, grinning at their stunned expressions.

"Hello, Mulder, Agent Scully."

A slow smile crossed Mulder's face. "Okay, Frohike, let's see the wrist." Frohike flushed a little and pulled back his sleeve so that Mulder could see the silver bracelet on it. "So you're a sub to - ?"

"Mistress Christina." Frohike indicated the brunette. "She's a junior top, to Master Jean-Pierre."

"Master Jean-Pierre?" Mulder said faintly. "I didn't know that he - "

Sean shrugged and grinned. "Most of the staff are also Doms or subs here. It's the perfect situation for both sides."

Scully was studying Frohike coolly. "So, when did this happen?"

Frohike shrugged. "After Mulder's abduction, the Club wanted to make this place more secure, so they asked me to do some freelance work. I redesigned the card-key system, tightened their computer security - and that's when I met Mistress Christina."

"I didn't know you were interested in this kind of thing," Mulder said. "What do the guys think about it?"

Frohike shrugged again. "They think I'm crazy, of course. Byers keeps looking at me out of the corner of his eye like he expects me to jump him at any moment." He grinned. "Man, I like messing with their minds. They like the secondary effect of this, though."

"And what's that?" Scully asked, curious.

Frohike smiled. "I'm learning to cook." He nodded to them and returned to his duties.

"Dana, if you'll just take a seat here," Mason said, indicating the chair to his right. "Walter, how about we relax the rules tonight and let the boys join us at the table? Mulder, if you'll take the chair to Dana's right, Sean, you're on my left, and Walter, you're at the foot of the table."

Dana? Mulder thought to himself as he took the indicated chair. When the hell did that happen?

Sean grinned across the table at Scully. "He's always this bossy, Dr. Scully."

"Just Scully, please," she said with a smile to Sean. "After all, we're practically family." She waited until they had been served, then picked up her glass and took a small sip. "So where do the 'boys' normally sit when they eat if they aren't usually allowed at the table."

"On the floor," Mason said coolly, "or standing behind our chairs. Of course, in private it's a matter of personal preference. I generally let Sean sit at the table with me, unless he's misbehaved, and I expect that Walter does the same."

"And how do they feel about that?"

Mason allowed a small smile to touch the corner of his mouth. "Why don’t you ask them? They haven't taken an oath of silence, you know - although sometimes I wish this imp had." He reached out to ruffle Sean's hair.

Scully turned her head to study Mulder, then looked across the table at Sean. "Well? How do you feel about it?"

Mulder and Sean exchanged a look and shrugged. "It's part of the discipline, Scully."

Scully grinned at her partner. "Somehow, Mulder, discipline is not a word I ever expected to have mentioned in connection with you."

"Actually, Fox has quite an affinity for discipline in this setting," Skinner said with a smile at Mulder. "Now, if we could only translate that into the work arena…"

Mulder made a face at him. "Hey! I've been doing a lot better lately! I've only ditched Scully once or twice, and I haven't been hospitalized in months."

A sudden silence fell over the table as they all remembered why Mulder had been hospitalized the last time.

Scully flushed. "I'm sorry, Mulder."

Mulder put his hand on Scully's and said, "It's okay. I'm just about over it. Dr. Kate's put gold stars on my report card." He looked at the others. "Hey! No long faces - this is supposed to be a celebration."

"Right," Mason said, gesturing to the catering staff. Champagne glasses appeared at each of their plates while Mason opened the bottle of champagne that had been chilling. "Dana, gentlemen, I propose a toast. To Fox Mulder, one of the finest young man it has been my privilege to know. Welcome back, boy."

Mulder flushed at the echoing sounds of "To Mulder" and "To Fox". "Thanks, guys," he said quietly, giving them each a warm smile. "You're the best friends I've ever had. I couldn't have done it without you guys - you rescued me and kept me sane." He raised his glass to them. "To friends, old and new."


After dinner, Mason rose from the table. "We’ll take our coffee and dessert in my suite, Christina."

"Very good, sir." She signaled to her staff and they moved in to clear the table as Mason led the way to his suite. Once there, Mason gestured to the couch. "Dana, I believe you’ll find the couch to be the most comfortable. Walter, make yourself at home." He settled into his armchair, tossing a cushion at his feet for Sean to sit on. Skinner took the other armchair and nodded to Mulder to take his usual place on the low ottoman beside him.

Christina entered, followed by Frohike pushing the dessert cart, and Mulder and Sean rose from their seats to fetch coffee for their Doms while Frohike brought Scully a cup. Christina brought around a tray of desserts for them to select from and Mulder eyed her graceful presentation with envy, exchanging a look with Sean as they remembered his first attempt and the disaster that had resulted.

"Will there be anything else, sir?" Christina asked.

"No, thank you. The boys will take care of anything else we need. A superb dinner, Christina; you outdid yourself this time."

"Thank you, sir." Christina gestured to Frohike and they left.

Scully sipped her coffee and studied the two couples curiously. Skinner saw the wheels turning in her head and smiled. "What is it, Scully? Something you're curious about?"

"I'm curious about it all," Scully said frankly. "I've never known anyone in an alternate lifestyle - I feel like I'm in a foreign country and the language is vaguely familiar but has different meanings. I don't want to offend anyone - "

"You won't," Sean said with a laugh. "Geoff and I have been in this for years, and Walter to a lesser extent, and we've heard it all." He grinned across at Mulder. "Of course, Mulder's just a baby but he's quite a prodigy." Mulder shot him a bird, grinning.

Scully laughed softly. "I must admit that this is not what I expected. It all just seems so - so normal."

Mason smiled. "Well, I don't know about Walter, but I don't wear leather all the time - it makes me sweat. And, much as I'd like to keep Sean chained to my bed, nothing would get done around the apartment if I did that." Sean snorted at that. "We're just normal people, Dana; you pass people like us every day without knowing it - at the bank, the supermarket, work. We eat and sleep and love just like everyone else. We just prefer a little spice with our lovemaking, like to push our boundaries."

Scully turned the subject towards other areas and soon the five were arguing companionably about the upcoming basketball series, which brought up the subject of Mulder's present to Skinner of tickets to the Final Four. That, in turn, brought up the upcoming vacation trip to Greece and the cover story of the London conference. Scully sipped her coffee and watched the four men bantering back and forth, trying to remember the last time that she had felt this relaxed around four such good-looking and intelligent men. She had kicked off her shoes and tucked her feet up on the couch, laughing at the outrageous things that Sean was suggesting that they pack for their vacation - items that would probably get them arrested if they could even fit them into the suitcases - reflecting that it was nice to just be herself without having to worry about how she looked or what she was saying. She watched in amusement as Skinner leaned closer to Mulder, his hand moving down the younger man's back as he murmured something in his ear that made Mulder turn red. Sean and Mason exchanged a look and a laugh - some kind of in-joke, she thought - and that made her feel a little wistful.

She reluctantly set down her coffee cup and slipped her feet off the couch and into her shoes. "Well, this has been wonderful, but it's getting late and I better get going."

The four men stood up, and Skinner offered to escort Scully to her car. Scully accepted, said goodnight to the other three men, then followed Skinner into the hallway. Mason left to confer with the night staff and check on any problems, and Mulder helped Sean collect the coffee cups and dessert plates. Mulder had been thinking over Sean’s problem and, now that they were alone, he turned to Sean.

"So, have you figured out what you’re going to do about the permanent mark for Geoff?"

Sean shook his head, sighing. "No. Guess I’m just going to have to get it done and have him mad at me – he’ll get over it eventually."

"Have you already thought about a brand?" Seeing Sean’s mouth drop open, he added quickly, "I’ve read about them. It sounds painful, but then, so does having your nipple pierced. And there wouldn’t be any puncturing, so the chance of infection is less."

Sean beamed at Mulder and bounced across the room to ruthlessly hug him. "You’re a genius, Mulder!"

"Am I interrupting something, boys?" Mason said dryly, coming back into the room.

Sean released Mulder and practically vaulted into Mason’s arms, locking his ankles around the taller man’s waist. "A brand! I can’t believe I didn’t think of it! It’s perfect! Say yes, Geoff, please?"

"Slow down, Sean," Mason teased. "A brand?" Sean nodded vigorously and Mason considered both the idea and the hopeful face in front of him. "All right. I agree."

Sean let out a whoop of joy and impetuously began kissing Mason over and over. Mulder grinned, realizing that they had totally forgotten their audience – not that it had stopped them before – and pushed the cart out into the hallway, closing the door behind him. He returned the cart to the kitchen then waited in the hallway for Skinner to return.

Skinner was surprised to see Mulder leaning against the wall outside the Secretary’s suite. "They threw you out, Fox?"

Mulder grinned. "Actually, I left on my own. They were a little...occupied at the time."

Skinner laughed softly and moved closer to Mulder, pinning him to the wall. "What – you didn’t want to stay and watch?"

"Been there, done that," Mulder said teasingly, wrapping his arms around Skinner and pulling the man’s body tight against his own. "I much prefer being a participant, thank you very much."

Skinner chuckled and leaned over to nip at Mulder’s neck, his hands sliding down the back of Mulder’s pants to tug at the leather straps. "I never knew you were into orgies, babe."

Mulder groaned at the dual stimulation from Skinner’s manipulation of the straps and the light pressure rubbing against his caged cock. "Only private orgies with one other participant, and I’ll let you guess who that is."

"I couldn’t possibly guess." Skinner’s hands slid down to cup the firm ass, squeezing gently, and Mulder moaned. Skinner covered Mulder’s mouth with his own, muffling his cries.

Mulder was rubbing himself against Skinner frantically, pulling the other man’s shirt free of his pants to slide his hands up under it and touch hot skin. Skinner groaned at that touch, broke free of Mulder with what little remained of his senses, and looked around him. He tugged Mulder down the hallway and pushed him through an open doorway. Taking a quick look around, he shut and locked the door, then turned back to Mulder and pulled him into his arms again.

Mulder returned the kiss with enthusiasm, grinding himself against the hard body clutching him. When Skinner released his mouth to attack his neck, he dropped his head to Skinner’s shoulder and laughed softly.

"You have something in mind, sir?"

"Definitely," Skinner said, pulling Mulder’s silk shirt up and off, then latching onto nipples that were already hard points. "If you remembered your instructions, I intend to fuck you fast and hard right here and right now."

Mulder groaned, aroused by both the words and Skinner’s work on his nipples. "And if I didn’t remember the supplies, sir?"

Skinner’s cock was so hard that it was almost painful, and he growled, "Then I might have to consider initiating spankings."

Mulder laughed and snaked a hand down between them to fumble in his pocket, producing lube and a condom. "Looks like I saved my ass, sir."

"Only in one sense, Fox."

Skinner hoisted Mulder over one shoulder and deposited him on the large piece of furniture in the center of the room – a billiards table. Mulder began laughing helplessly while Skinner ruthlessly stripped off Mulder’s pants and tossed them to the side. In a moment, the cock harness had joined it and Mulder’s knees were practically touching his nose as Skinner quickly stroked in the lube. He unfastened his pants and pushed them out of the way along with his briefs, rolled on the condom, and thrust home in one smooth movement. Mulder, still gasping with laughter, threw his legs over Skinner’s shoulders and locked ankles behind his neck. Skinner began thrusting deep and hard and Mulder held on for the ride, wondering with the working fraction of his brain if it was possible to get felt burn. Then Skinner gripped his hips hard, holding Mulder still while he continued slamming into the hot and welcoming body, and Mulder was certain that he was going to have bruises on his hips from those fingers but he couldn't care less. He switched from gasping with laughter to gasping with pleasure as he was completely and thoroughly possessed by the older man.

He was begging almost constantly now, a litany of "pleasepleaseplease" filling the room as he was filled and emptied, and it was hot and fast and incredible. He heard Skinner shout, felt his own climax approaching. Then he was crying out and coming so hard that he felt that his heart might explode from the sheer joy of release.

Gradually he came back to full awareness, conscious of the dampness on his belly and the sweet sensation of gentle kisses being pressed along his skin. He sighed in contentment, slipping his legs down from Skinner’s shoulders to wrap them around his waist, pulling him closer. Skinner pulled him up against his chest, brushing his lips against Mulder’s.

"Let’s go upstairs."

Mulder chuckled. "You may have to carry me, sir – I don’t think my legs are fully functional yet."

"I am not carrying a naked man through the Club." Skinner handed Mulder his pants.

Mulder grinned mischievously. "So you’re saying you’ll carry me if I get dressed?"

"Brat," Skinner growled, and pulled him in for a rough, quick kiss.

"Yes, sir, but I'm your brat so you're stuck with me." Mulder slid off the table and picked up his silk shirt and the cock harness. Letting it dangle from his fingers, he gave Skinner a sideways look. "I think I better hold onto this. You never know when another opportunity to use it will arise. But tell me, sir – is this custom fitted or ‘one-size-fits-all’?" He directed a significant look at Skinner’s cock as the older man reassembled his clothing.

Skinner looked over at Mulder in amusement. "Sounds like we’re getting mighty cocky, boy. Just remember two things before you attempt to top me again."

"And that would be?"

"The first is while we are here I am the top so your experimentation will take place elsewhere."

"And the second thing, sir?"

Skinner reached out and pulled Mulder closer, growling, "Payback is a bitch, boy."

"Oh God!"

Chapter Text

Now ain't it good to know that you've got a friend
When people can be so cold.
They'll hurt you and desert you and take your soul if you let them.
But don't you let them.
All you have to do is call and I'll be there.
You've got a friend.

 

Skinner woke to the agreeable sensation of another body in his bed and he smiled. He couldn’t believe that he had once taken this for granted. How, over six short months, had he come to accept the fact of Fox Mulder in his bed as a given instead of the incredible gift that it was? It had taken only one day for him to learn to never make that mistake again, a day in which he hadn’t been certain he would ever see his lover again. It had taken two long months before the man had returned to his bed and he had missed him, had missed both the nights of passion and these quiet mornings together. Lazy Sunday mornings spent snuggled under the covers, the long, lean body pressed along his, with nothing planned and nowhere they had to be.

He smiled in remembrance of the previous evening and rolled over, spooning up against Mulder. His hand caressed his lover's chest, sliding down his body to adjust Mulder's upper leg, draping it over his own so he could get even closer. His cock was hardening already, and he rubbed it slowly and sensuously along the cleft of his lover's ass. His hand drifted back up to caress Mulder's nipples while he kissed the nape of his neck.

There was a soft chuckle and a murmured voice. "You have something in mind, Walter?"

"Maybe. Any objections?" His mouth worried at an earlobe, nipped at a supple neck.

"Of course not," Mulder said in a teasing tone. "I am yours to command in all things, O stern and studly master."

"Good. Because I have a couple things in mind that require your complete cooperation…"

 


 

Sunday – Feb 22 - Geoffrey Mason

I left Sean sleeping peacefully in our bed, taking time to shower and dress before entering my office through the private doorway from our suite. I like to spend Sunday mornings in my office; it’s peaceful with few interruptions and I can get a lot of work done. New members of my household are always surprised by the amount of work it takes to run this place – it isn’t all fun and topping games. Already there are a stack of videotapes on the desk and a list of minor infractions to be handled. No major charges, only a little hand-slapping this weekend. I go down the list, assessing fines and making notes on a few people that need written warnings. I make a mental note to inform Sean about a freelance sub that seems to be having adjustment problems.

Then I turn my attention to the stack of videos and smile. It looks like it was a busy night – not that I am surprised. A full moon tends to bring out frisky behavior in my Doms, and I am more amused than annoyed. As long as the tops confine their activities to the side rooms and don’t jeopardize their subs or bother other patrons, I’m willing to give them leeway to play. I have standing instructions with Security to transfer "private" sessions to videotape and remove them from the system tapes, and I personally distribute these tapes to the appropriate Doms. I have a good Security staff – it has been almost six months since the last incident, the first one in three years. And I can understand the boy succumbing to the temptations of Alex Krycek and giving him the master cardkey to Walter’s suite – Krycek is incredibly persuasive, not to mention easy on the eyes. The boy came forward on his own when he heard what had happened, confessed his part, and I personally witnessed his correction by his Dom so I doubt that he will make that mistake again. Then, too, I have had him transferred into another area where he is less likely to be tempted.

I glance idly at the labels on the tapes and one catches my eye. I can’t believe it and have to pull the tape from the stack and study the label closely before my eyes accept the evidence before them: Skinner – Billiard Room.

I find myself smiling and cannot resist the impulse to pop the video into the machine in my office. It has been a long time since I have seen Walter in action and I am amused by the idea of my former Junior cavorting in a public room. The screen comes to life with the image of Walter hustling Mulder into the billiard room, both of them frantically clutching the other in a passionate embrace. From the clothing they are wearing - at the beginning of the tape at any rate - this must have occurred shortly after our dinner party last night. I lean back in my chair and pick up my coffee cup, watching the ensuing action with interest – after years in the Lifestyle, I have lost whatever inhibitions I might have once had, and this job has reinforced my natural voyeuristic inclinations. This is also my first opportunity to see Mulder completely naked and I must admit that the boy looks incredible, particularly given his aroused condition. He is also amazingly responsive for someone so new to these games. A natural. It's not that I envy Walter - tall-and-troubled is not my preference in men or subs - but I can certainly understand the attraction.

Walter turns toward the hidden camera as he reassembles his clothing and I lean forward with a frown. That scar on his abdomen is new to me and I wonder how he acquired that. A sudden wave of nostalgia grips me; I close my eyes and see Walter standing on the other side of this desk, an anonymous invitation card in his hand and an inscrutable look on his face as I describe the purpose of this place. Then Walter is standing in the middle of my suite, his entire body stiff as I outline what my training program involves, and I find myself doubting that I can train him until I look into those dark eyes and see the fire within. And all the first times: The first time I traced the scars on his body. The first time I possessed him. The first time I showed him how to surf the pain and taught him to fly. The first time I held him while he cried.

We were never lovers in that sense of the word and we didn’t become friends until after he passed out of my hands, a senior in his own right. What we had between us – what we still have – was a sense of kinship that someone who has never experienced the pain and the pleasure cannot comprehend. It is deeper than friendship, deeper than love in many ways, and binds us together. Forever.

The tape goes to black, and I sit and stare at nothing for a long time. Other memories come to mind – long nights talking and taking comfort from one another in our loneliness. His unhappy marriage was dissolving around him, his job plagued by mysterious men with hidden agendas and an irritatingly brilliant subordinate. And I was in love with my boss, a carefree and impetuous redhead who didn’t even know that I existed except as the manager of his club. And now, four years later, here we were – both of us absorbed in relationships with our fascinatingly irritating subs. Both of us content except for –

Except for his fears about Krycek and the Smoker and their plans for Mulder.

Except for my fears about Sean slipping away from me into the Unknown.

I shake my head, dispelling these thoughts, and return the tape to its case. Then, my morning work done, I turn to the other taskthat I leave for Sunday mornings when I can be undisturbed by either business or pleasure. While the center of my universe lies dreaming in blissful slumber, I log into the web and begin my tireless search for something new, something I haven’t checked out before, some hint of a therapy or – the gods willing – a cure. Something that will keep him alive and well and in my arms for just a little while longer…


 

Monday – Feb 23 - Sean Matthews

 

From my table in the dining room, I catch a glimpse of Mulder on his way out of the Club. He has a suit bag over one shoulder and a suitcase in the other hand as he runs down the steps to a waiting taxicab. On his way out of town apparently, something to do with his job. A brief sight of his face reassures me that this weekend – his first back at the Club after his ordeal at Benett’s hands – has been successful. One less worry on my mind.

Of course, I realize that Mulder has become more than just a fellow-sub or one of my special "watch" list. He's become a friend, the first true friend that I've had in years. And I can't help worrying about him in other ways. Before his abduction, he had seemed to be getting closer to figuring out what he wanted and needed here at the Club. Now I feel that he had retreated back inside himself, and I worry that he will never find his way out again. Oh, he seemed content in his relationship with Walter Skinner, and he has returned here to play, but I feel that he will never be truly content with himself until he faces whatever it was that he both craves and fears. And I want him to be happy – both because he is my friend and because it will make Geoff less worried.

Geoff doesn’t worry about Mulder, but he does worry about Walter Skinner. And, of course, Walter is absorbed body and soul with Mulder. So that makes Mulder another one of Geoff’s worries. Complicated? Perhaps, but that is one of the best things about the Lifestyle – once you become family, you are family for life. So, although I wasn’t Geoff’s boy when he was training Walter, the two of us belonged to Geoff and so we are brothers.

As I said, I wasn’t with Geoff when he was bringing Walter along, but I was around the Club and I was aware of the man. How could I not have been aware of him? The man has a kind of presence, a natural dominance that draws eyes to him when he enters the room and makes him seem larger than anyone else in the place. He intrigued me with his cool demeanor and I might have enticed him to play with me except for the fact that I was not his type. He was very specific in his playmates – tall and dark and slender, although it didn’t matter whether they were male or female. I wonder if Mulder merely fits the type or if they were all substitutes for Mulder. I shrug; it doesn’t really matter. Walter loves Mulder and the feeling appears to be mutual.

So maybe Geoff will stop worrying. I can’t help grinning at that. Geoff loves to worry – he wouldn’t be happy if he wasn’t worrying about something. I sometimes wonder if that is the source of his attraction toward me – an unlimited source of anxiety. Of course, I only think that on bad days, the ones where even getting out of bed is a major effort. On good days like today, when I feel like I’m on top of the world, I know that he loves me and I adore him.

And maybe Geoff will have something else to take his mind off his fears for me. I hope so – I would like to see him absorbed in bringing along another top, something that he is a master at, if you’ll forgive the pun. And I’d like to know that there is someone else around to take care of him when and if … Not that I intend to go anywhere for a long, long time. Still, it’d be nice to know that Geoff was in good hands.

"What’s that smile about, imp? Contemplating some new trouble?"

My anchor settles into the chair across from me and I smile with feigned innocence. "Me? I’ve been a good boy for days."

"I know, and that’s what’s got me worried…"

 


Thursday – Feb 26 - Alex Krycek

 

I hear through the grapevine that Mulder has gone back to the Club. Not from my usual source – that well dried up shortly after the time I slipped into the suite with my "borrowed" access card. You’ve got to admire that strategy the Club Management has of hiring people within the Lifestyle – nearly everyone who works there has someone else holding his or her chain. He got yanked, and hard, by his master and cut off all communication with me. Pity – he was a nice piece of ass, and I rarely get the chance to be on top these days. Yeah, my chain is pretty short, too. Witness the fact that I am on a plane bound for Russia in an attempt to steal something from our Russian "associates" that could very well cost me my life. I’d rather be anywhere but here – no, that’s not quite true and I make it a policy never to lie to myself. Lie to everyone else, Alex, but to thine own self be true.

Bullshit. I’ve been lying to myself about him for years.

Speaking of which, that’s another reason to regret the loss of my "friend" in Security. I would love to see that tape, the one that was immediately removed from the system and put into the Lord High Secretary’s hands. Ah, the advantages of being a top! Do what you like and where you like, so long as you don’t break the rules, and the System turns a blind eye. And you even get a little souvenir of the occasion. I can just imagine Mulder’s face when he finds out that the little escapade in the Billiard Room made him the star of his own personal porno film. I would pay money to have a copy of that tape, too, but by now the one and only copy is safely in Skinner’s hands. I wonder idly if it will cause trouble in Paradise - if I was home I could make sure that it did - but I expect that Mr. Smooth will work matters out to his satisfaction.

I catch the reflection of my face in the window and it is almost demonic in its frustrated rage. Not a particularly pretty sight at the moment. And do I care? He might as well be a million miles away from me for all it matters, so do I give a flying fuck?

Hell, yes.

And I expect that this is part of the reason that I have been sent out of the country, far away from both Mulder and the Smoking Man. It’s only a matter of time before that gentleman finds out the part that I played in Mulder’s rescue and the subsequent removal of Benett. I imagine that he already has his suspicions but proving them is another matter. My master is playing a dangerous game here but, then, he is a master at it and has been playing it for fifty years.

And I think it is time that I dealt myself a hand and got back into the game.

 


A.D. Skinner's Administrative Assistant

Monday, March 2 

 

"Good-morning, Kim."

He looks a little tired this morning. Not the kind of tired I see on most Monday mornings, the kind that is accompanied by a sense of quiet contentment. This fatigue speaks of long and sleepless nights spent alone. And I have the feeling from the stack of paperwork in my in box that he spent most of the past weekend here in the office. This is not a good sign and I think that this week is going to be even longer than last week.

"Morning, sir. Your schedule is on your desk – the Director has rescheduled the weekly meeting for an hour earlier than usual. I’ve rescheduled around it, and the agenda for the meeting is under the schedule." I follow him into his office, checking items off my list as he sets down his briefcase and removes his jacket. He nods absently as he listens and I know that he is making mental notes. After five years, we’ve got this down to a fine science.

He crosses to his desk and pauses at the sight of the addition to his desk, turning to look at me with a question on his face. I nod, smiling.

"Yes, sir, it arrived this morning. No card, of course."

He turns back to his desk but I catch a hint of a smile on his lips as he touches the single red rose in the bud vase. "Of course." He clears his throat and briskly moves around the desk to sit in his chair. I am glad to see that the flower has lightened his spirits.

It is a little fiction between the two of us that I am totally ignorant of the source of these rare floral gestures that arrive when a certain party is out of town. Just as I am totally unaware that a similar floral gift arrives nearly every Monday morning in an office in the basement. Not that I am involved in either exchange, but a good Admin knows his or her boss. And by now he knows that he can trust me to keep his personal business out of circulation in the Rumor pool.

Officially, I know nothing and both of us plan to keep it that way, for the sake of their jobs. Unofficially, I became aware that something significant had changed in A.D. Skinner’s life last fall although it wasn’t until earlier this year that my suspicions were confirmed. For years, the A.D. has spent long hours at the office, especially Friday nights and weekends. And then one day last August, he left early – for him - in the middle of the week. This was followed up by an early departure on Friday afternoon and he didn’t return to the office till Monday morning. I didn’t think much about it at the time, not until it became a regular pattern for the weekends following. And not until I noticed that the A.D. was coming into the office on Monday mornings with something close to a spring in his step. Suddenly I realized that he was seeing someone.

Now aware of what was going on, I started paying more attention to the phone calls that he received but I was puzzled that there didn’t seem to be any external calls that fit. So maybe he was seeing someone within the Bureau. Careful attention to the other A.D.’s and department heads turned up nothing until I noticed another anomaly. He was in the office one weekend in October and was noticeably subdued that Monday. And again in November. And the only common factor in both cases was that the X-Files team was out in the field. So I studied Agent Scully whenever she came into the office, and studied my boss whenever she was around. Nothing. Not one sign or hint of deeper feelings between them. I sighed and started to throw out all my theories and start over again but then I noticed the third anomaly just before Christmas.

They had just finished their weekly staff meeting and Agent Scully had already opened the door when I heard the A.D. say, "Agent Mulder, may I have a moment of your time?" Mulder’s reply was lost as Scully left the office, closing the door behind her, but I sat and stared at the closed door in dumb-founded amazement for a full ten minutes.

Where had that tone of voice come from?

Now I have been with the A.D. since he transferred to Washington and I have heard nearly every tone of voice that the man is capable of uttering. And most of them have been directed at Agent Mulder over the course of the past four years. I have even heard that particular tone before, once, when his former wife had dropped in unexpectedly, before their marriage fell apart – a tone of gruff exasperation and affection combined together. I had never heard that tone directed at any of his agents before now.

Mulder. The A.D. was seeing Special Agent Fox Mulder.

I will admit to being completely stunned. I don’t know how I made it through the rest of the day without making a total idiot of myself. I spent most of the weekend with my mind in a loop around just one thought – A.D. Walter Skinner was gay and was involved in a relationship with Fox Mulder. How in the hell had that happened?

Monday morning may not have brought any greater clarity to the picture, but it did bring a bit of perspective. I was already at my desk when the A.D. entered, and something very near a smile crossed his face.

"Good-morning, Kim."

That did it. If Fox Mulder could bring a smile like that to the A.D.’s face, then I was willing to accept anything up to and including believing in angels and aliens.

There was, of course, the flip side to this picture. I will never forget the Monday after New Year’s Eve when the A.D. received a call on his personal line and went roaring out of the office with such a look of fear and anxiety on his face that I found it hard to breathe. Agent Mulder, I thought numbly. Something has happened to Agent Mulder. Automatic reflexes kicked in and I began the routine calls to local hospitals, asking them to advise me when and if Agent Mulder was admitted. Filling out the medical paperwork for the files. Waiting by the phone for the call to come in. Breathing a sigh of relief when it did, when I learned that – once again – Agent Mulder had cheated death and was going to survive.

I took off that afternoon a little early – the A.D. being out of the office and all his appointments rescheduled – and stopped by the hospital with a floral arrangement from the Admin staff at the Hoover. The door was partly opened and I glanced inside for a moment, and was transfixed by what I saw. The A.D. was sitting beside the bed, glasses off, jacket off, tie off, holding one of Agent Mulder’s hands between both of his. I think he was talking to the unconscious man although his voice was so low that I couldn’t make out the words – not that it mattered. I knew what he was saying just from the look on his face: I’m here, Mulder. Get well, Mulder. I love you, Mulder. Tears stung my eyes and I stepped back away from the door, taking a moment to recover before I loudly knocked at the door.

At the A.D.’s gruff "Come in" I entered the room and found him standing over by the window, looking with absorbed interest down at the parking lot. He turned his head and looked vaguely surprised to see me there. I gestured with the flowers.

"The other Admins and I wanted to send something to brighten up Agent Mulder’s room. How is he, sir?"

"He’ll recover but he’s been through a bit of an ordeal."

I nodded, then took a deep breath. "Is there anything that I can do for either of you, sir?"

The A.D.’s head jerked up and our eyes met across the room. I nodded, smiling slightly to show him that I knew and understood and supported him. He drew a deep breath and let it out, saying tentatively, "I may be spending a lot of time here at the hospital until Agent Mulder is better."

I had nodded briskly. "I will reschedule your appointments, sir, and let you know if there are any that I can’t reschedule." I glanced again at the sleeping man and turned toward the door. "Good night, sir. Tell Agent Mulder that he will be in all our thoughts and prayers."

"I will," the A.D. had said gravely. "And – thank you, Kim."

My wandering thoughts are recalled from my memories by a gruff summons from the inner office and I sigh to myself. Hurry home, Agent Mulder. We miss you very much.

 

Tuesday, March 3

 

Tuesday morning, a full week after the X-Files team was sent to Nashville to consult on a bizarre serial killing, and I know that things are not going well. The A.D. is worried; he has been staring blankly out his window for the past half-hour. When the call comes in late in the afternoon, I can hear the anxiety in his voice as he answers. "Agent Scully? What’s wrong?"

He has the phone on speaker and I hear the cautious tones in Agent Scully’s voice. "We’re fine, sir. We’ve just run into a little...difficulty. The local office is reluctant to accept Mulder’s analysis."

"Damn it, they asked for him specifically. What is his analysis, Agent Scully?"

The tone is asking if Mulder’s theory is "out there", and Scully’s tone is reassuring. "It’s a little unusual, sir, but I believe that his theory is valid. The ASAC is – well, to be frank, sir, he’s openly hostile and the SAC is now on the West Coast for a conference."

I pick up my phone and call the travel office. By the time I finish booking the flight to Nashville and arranging for a car and hotel room, I can hear the frank anxiety in Scully’s voice.

" – well, you know how difficult these cases are for Mulder."

The A.D. looks up briefly as I hand him the slip of paper with his flight information and he smiles his thanks. "I’m booked on the nine o’clock flight, Scully. I’ll meet you both at the hotel shortly before midnight."

"Thank you, sir." Scully’s voice is grateful.

"No problem, Agent. Oh – and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this to yourself until I get there." Scully replies in the affirmative and the A.D. hangs up, already in motion as he speaks. "Cancel the rest of my appointments for this week, Kim."

"Yes, sir. Good luck, sir."

Skinner’s look is grim and I feel sorry for the Nashville office. "Thank you. I’ll be back in the office on Monday – or I’ll be appointing a new ASAC in Nashville."

 


Dana Scully

Tuesday, March 3

 

Another long day, another anonymous motel room. He sits across the room from me, glasses perched on the end of his nose, cracking sunflower seeds as he studies the files yet again. It is the only noise in the room except for the soft clicking of the laptop keys as I finish my daily report.

I pause to think and find myself regarding my partner. It’s been a long, frustrating week, called in on a consultation on a serial murder case that seems to have some occult connections and then snubbed by the locals for the very reason that we were called in – because this is "Spooky" Mulder. I can see that it has had its effect on Mulder. His foot is jiggling with the pent-up energy that even his nightly run hasn’t been able to dissipate. He hasn’t eaten more than a mouthful in the last three days except for the one time when I insisted – and then he suspiciously slipped off to the restroom afterwards. I stopped pushing him to eat but I did manage to keep sports drinks on hand. And last night I’m certain I heard him choke off a scream from a nightmare. He is on edge, watching the clock and waiting for the next victim to turn up.

In the old days, I would have expected some outrageous action to follow – Mulder running off on one of his "leads", for example. Or at least a deliberate flex of the "spooky" persona, guaranteed to make the Locals look at him from out of the corner of their eyes. However, he's shown considerable restraint – so far. But if he doesn’t blow off some steam soon, all hell is going to break lose. I find myself looking at the door, waiting and listening for a knock, and I know my nerves are stretched as tight as his when an unexpected knock on my door makes me jump.

I shut down my laptop and walk through the connecting door into my room, opening the door after checking to make sure that it is Skinner on the other side. "Hello, sir. Sorry to keep you waiting – I was expecting you to come to the other door."

Skinner enters, suitcase in hand, and sets it down. In a quiet voice, he asks, "Does he know I’m coming?"

I shake my head. "I didn’t think it was a good idea – in case you were late. His nerves are pretty thin by now."

"Any leads?"

"If you believe the local guys, then they arrested the man today. If you believe Mulder, there’ll be another body found in the morning."

"And you?" Skinner’s eyes are fixed on my face and I flush a little. We are both aware that I have not always agreed with my partner in the past.

"I have scheduled an autopsy for the morning," I say quietly. He nods and grips my shoulder briefly, and I know that he is saying thank you for sticking by Mulder. "Sir, he hasn’t eaten anything solid since Saturday morning, and he threw up what little he ate then." I don’t have to add ‘deliberately’ but the word hangs in the air between us. I am suddenly relieved not to have to bear the weight of this alone.

"You look exhausted, Agent Scully. You should get some rest."

I indicate my suitcase, packed and laying on the bed. "Yes, sir. As soon as I get settled in my new room."

There is a glimmer in those dark eyes, I’m not sure of what, and he holds out the key to his room. "Across the hall. Thank you, Dana."

I smile and shake my head. "Thank you for coming, sir." I cross to the connecting door. "Mulder, I’ve got a special delivery for you from DC."

Mulder looks up from his files, irritated by the interruption, then his eyes go wide as he catches sight of the large figure behind me. "Walter?" Then he is off the bed, across the floor, and wrapped tight in those large arms before I have time to do more than get out of the way. "How – what are you doing here?" His voice is muffled against Skinner’s shoulder.

Skinner gives him a squeeze and releases him. "I came down to kick some ass," he growls. "Relax, Mulder – yours is not on the list this time. That is, if you’ve behaved yourself."

Mulder snorts and looks over at me. "Scully, tell Walter that I’ve been a good boy."

I pause in collecting my suitcase and smile wickedly at him. "What will you give me to lie for you?"

"Scully!" he says indignantly. "I’m always good."

"I thought we agreed not to talk about your sex life," I tease him, and Mulder flushes. They are standing there, two feet apart, not touching but desperately looking as if they want to be, and I take pity on them. I open the door and set my suitcase outside. "’Night, Mulder, sir."

I close the door, catching the flash of movement and the fragment of a muffled gruff voice "- missed you so much."

And I have no idea why this makes my throat tighten.

 

Wednesday, March 4

They are waiting for me in the restaurant in the morning and I am relieved to see that Mulder looks a hundred times better. He looks - anchored. Focused. I frown a little when he only orders juice and toast but Skinner doesn't seem concerned and, in fact, orders an enormous breakfast for himself. Then he starts Mulder talking about the case - the background, what he's found so far, what his theories are. That's all it takes - Mulder is off and running. Thirty minutes later, he is still talking and I open my mouth to say something - only to receive a very speaking look from Skinner.

He raises his coffee cup and asks Mulder another question about his theory on the Unsub, and Mulder pauses, his fork in mid-air. His fork. I suddenly realize that Skinner has been surreptitiously slipping the food he ordered in front of Mulder. And Mulder, his mind occupied with the case, has absently eaten his way through more food than I have seen him eat since we arrived over a week ago. I look at Skinner in amazement and grin at him in sudden appreciation of his masterful handling of the situation.

"Scully, you're grinning like you realized you won the lottery," Mulder says suspiciously. "What's up?"

I quickly focus my attention on my own coffee cup. "Nothing. Just relieved that A.D. Skinner is here.  We should be able to make headway now."

Mulder nods in agreement, then grins over at Skinner. "I'm looking forward to watching you kick some ass, sir."

"Then we had better get going." Skinner calls for the check.

Mulder suddenly becomes aware of the fork in his hand and the empty plate in front of him. He glares at Skinner, but the A.D. seems unperturbed and there is an amused look in his eyes as he returns Mulder's stare. Mulder gives up and shakes his head ruefully. "Guess I was hungrier than I thought."

"Must have been all that exercise yesterday," Skinner says blandly, and Mulder blushes. I am entranced by this picture of them and could sit here and watch them for hours but Skinner is heading towards the exit and we follow in his wake like twin shadows.

We are still following him when he enters the Nashville office and his voice echoes through the main room, commanding instant silence. "Who is in charge here?"

ASAC Morgan emerges from his office and then seems to go into shock. A.D. Skinner has that effect on people, I've noticed, and he doesn't hesitate to use it to full advantage. In minutes, he and ASAC Morgan are inside Morgan's office although I don't know why they bothered. Skinner's voice penetrates the walls and phrases like "waste of the Bureau's valuable resources" resonate while everyone else runs for cover. I glance over at the Bureau's Valuable Resource, hoping that he is enjoying this vindication, only to find that he is back at his files. I guess I can understand - after pulling Skinner down here, he really has to deliver the goods or make Skinner look like an idiot for backing him.

I'm about to settle down with my notes when Special Agent Donna White approaches us. "Agent Mulder? The local police department just contacted us. They found another body - just like the others."

Mulder and I exchange a look, and I can see the shadows behind his eyes. He was hoping that he was wrong, knowing that he was right and, because no one would listen to him, another victim has been claimed. More unnecessary guilt, more nightmares to come. I sigh and go to the closed door, knocking on it briskly. At Skinner's command to enter, I open the door and stick my head inside.

"Sir, they've located another body."

Skinner swings around and fixes his eyes on ASAC Morgan. The man has visibly wilted during his session with the A.D. and, if it is possible, now he shrivels even more. "You are relieved of duty, on administrative leave until a determination can be made as to whether you deliberately obstructed the handling of this case or merely fucked up. Dismissed."

ASAC Morgan can't get out of there fast enough and Skinner stalks into the main room, giving orders that send agents flying in all directions. Including us. I'm to head to the morgue to autopsy the body when it arrives, and Mulder is to accompany him to the site where the most recent victim has been found.

From that point on, the result is a foregone conclusion. I receive the body within an hour and have the autopsy completed by lunch. Back at the local office, I listen with amusement as the same agents who were snickering about "Spooky" Mulder earlier this week are now talking in awestruck tones about his analysis of the latest crime scene. Another chapter added to the legend, I think, and wait for my partner and boss to return. Skinner comes striding down the hallway, trench coat billowing around him with Mulder in his wake, and sets everyone to their new tasks based on Mulder's profile and his most recent discoveries.

Before noon of the next day, we have the suspect in custody and it is all over except for the paperwork.

 

Thursday, March 5

And by six p.m., we are sitting down to a celebratory dinner. I can see that Mulder is sliding into the next phase following the successful conclusion to a stressful case - he is depressed and silent, picking at his food. I exchange a look with Skinner.

"Mulder, you couldn't have done any better," I begin.

"This last one shouldn't have died," Mulder says stubbornly. "We could have prevented it - I could have prevented it."

I sigh and prepare to argue with him, but Skinner says, quietly, "Yes. You could have. If ASAC Morgan had listened to you. But he didn't. You did stop him from killing anyone else. And I'm damned proud of you, Mulder."

Mulder looks up from his plate, his eyes meeting Skinner's, and I can see him visibly relax. "Thank you, sir," he says quietly but his eyes are saying much more in a language that it is clear Skinner understands. The air is practically crackling with the electricity between these two, and I am not surprised when they cut dinner short, refusing dessert.

We part outside Mulder's door, making arrangements to meet for breakfast, then the door closes behind them and I walk slowly to my own room. It is across the hall and down two doors, and my suitcase lies open on the spare bed. I am exhausted but at the same time keyed up from the stress of the past few days, so I start the bath water and assemble all the necessary supplies for a long, luxurious soak. Two hours later, still wound up tight, I find myself thinking of my partner. The warm bath and herbal tea have failed to soothe my jangled nerves and the book I hoped would lull me to sleep has only left me bored and facing the plain truth.

I am jealous.

No, not of them, exactly. But of what they have. This thing, this bond. They are so damned happy when they are together – you can see it in their eyes and hear it in their voices even when they are saying something entirely different. And I’m happy for them but also so envious that it hurts.

Maybe it's just a reaction to my recent break-up with the man I was dating, although I must admit that the feelings between us were never that strong. There was always something missing, something just not there. Something that is obviously there between these two. And I want it. Badly.

Do I want it badly enough to take a risk? To explore a part of myself that both scares and excites me? I sit for a long time, staring at a small square of cardboard, my heart pounding in my chest. Dana Scully, the cautious, good girl of the family. Who went against her family's expectations to become a doctor. Who went against her father's wished to become a FBI agent. Who went against their expectations to become partners and friends with Fox Mulder.

Do I have the courage to do this?

I pick up the phone and dial the number on the card. "Hello, Mr. Mason. It's Dana Scully. Could we set up a time to talk? I have a lot of questions…"

 


 

Friday - March 6

It was after midnight but the two men lay awake, a slender body sprawled across the larger one, enjoying the quiet and each other's presence. One large hand drifted lazily up and down along a back still damp with sweat. Gentle lips nuzzled against firm muscles while soft breath stirred the matted hair.

Mulder sighed and said, idly tracing his hand through the hair on Skinner’s chest, "So, Walter, why did you come?"

Skinner glanced down at the dark head resting on his chest and said, teasingly, "Weelll, first you put your tongue down my throat, and then you put your cock-"

Mulder smacked him with mock indignation. "Get your mind out of the gutter! That’s not what I meant, and you know it!"

Skinner chuckled and planted a kiss on Mulder’s head. "Sorry – I couldn’t resist."

"You didn’t even try. Now, answer the question. Not that I don’t appreciate the ‘white-knight-to-the-rescue’ bit, but did you come roaring down here just because the bullies were picking on your fair-haired boy?"

Skinner considered his words carefully, aware of the land mines here, without giving the impression that he was hesitating. "I came here because an investigation was being stalled due to the petty attitude of a man who should never have risen to his current position. I’m not saying that I would have come here under ordinary circumstances – I probably would have dressed him down over the phone – but this was a special case. First of all, a murderer was on the loose and, according to your profile, he was escalating. Second, the investigation was being seriously compromised by the ASAC’s actions. Third, two valuable Bureau resources were being wasted. And fourth, I was worried about you, babe. I know how profiling affects you."

"So you’re saying that Scully ratted on me." Mulder frowned, starting to feel angry. "Shit, Walter – I’m a grown man. I can take care of myself."

Skinner felt the shift in Mulder’s body and rolled with him, pinning him so that he couldn’t leave the bed. "I know that. I can’t help worrying about you, though." He nuzzled Mulder’s neck.

Mulder tried to ignore the sensations that those lips were creating within him. "You’re trying to change the subject again, Walter. And seducing me won’t sidetrack me this time."

Skinner chuckled and rolled away. "Can’t blame me for trying." He sat up and looked down at his lover’s face, relieved to see that the anger had faded. "Fox, this is nothing new. I’ve always been concerned about you. Did you think it was coincidence, that I just happened to show up all those times in the past when you got into trouble or needed an advocate?"

Mulder’s mouth fell open and he blinked. "I thought it was just because you liked to ride my ass when I screwed up."

Skinner grinned. "Oh, I like to ride your ass," he said as a hand wandered over that part of Mulder's anatomy. "But that wasn't my motivation."

"God, Walter, you're not going to start mothering me, are you?" Mulder asked even as he pulled the bigger man's body back down over his. "Worrying about what I eat and how much I sleep and whether I'm wearing clean underwear - "

"That I can promise you," Skinner said, his voice slightly muffled as he nuzzled the supple neck of his lover. "I much prefer it when you don't wear any underwear."

Mulder began to laugh helplessly. "Walter, you are such a pervert!"

Skinner's response left him unable to say anything else and Mulder succumbed to his lover's attentions. But in the back of his mind he determined that this conversation was not over. Not by a long shot.

Chapter Text

A man can tell a thousand lies
I've learned my lesson well
Hope I live to tell
The secret I have learned
Til then
It will burn inside of me

 

Skinner stood by the bed and looked down at the exhausted face of his lover sleeping in his bed. Safe again, out of the hands of the enemy - and only they knew the cost to him. When Scully had brought her partner here earlier that evening, he had been dazed and shaken and uncertain of what had happened to him. It had taken both of them to get him stripped, washed, and tucked into the bed where he had dropped immediately into an exhausted sleep. Skinner had gestured silently for Scully to head downstairs, and now brushed his lips over his sleeping lover's forehead then silently followed her downstairs.

Scully was standing hesitantly in the hallway, coat over her arm. "Sir, I should go - "

"Have you eaten yet, Scully?"

Scully blinked, taken by surprise by the question. "Um - as a matter of fact - "

Skinner gestured in the direction of the living room. "Sit. I've got lasagna keeping warm in the oven."

Scully gave up. "That sounds wonderful, sir."

She settled into a corner of the couch with a heartfelt groan, kicking off her shoes. Skinner joined her a few minutes later, handing her a full plate and a glass of wine. "Smells wonderful, sir."

"One of Mulder's favorites - probably because it doesn't contain vegetables," Skinner said, settling into his armchair with a glass. "I was expecting him this evening - only not quite like this. He looks like hell. What happened, Scully?"

There was no blame in his voice, only a shared sympathy. Scully sighed and shook her head.

"I went over to Mulder's apartment to talk to him - about the hypno-regression. He had a tip that 'they' were holding a - a rebel alien at Wickamp Air Force Base." She quickly explained what Mulder had told her.

Skinner sighed, seeing the next logical step - logical in Mulder's mind, anyway. "So Mulder decided to break into the Base."

"Well, we never actually broke in. There was a truck coming out and Mulder got in the back of it. The next time I saw it was when they brought him back to the car, looking like that.  Sir, I think they erased part of his memories again. I think he saw - something - that they don't want him to remember."

Skinner sighed and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his thighs. "The question is - will it restore his belief or will it further convince him that it's all an elaborate government hoax?"

"I don't know." Scully looked down at her wineglass, smiling slightly. "I never thought I'd say this, but I miss the old Mulder with his wide-eyed beliefs. It hurts to know that I helped them destroy that in him."

"Scully, you didn't know - "

"I told him that I believed that they did this to me - abducted me, gave me the cancer - because of him," Scully said quietly. Skinner nodded; Mulder had told him about the reason for their strained partnership last fall. "I sometimes think that he wouldn't have gotten involved in the Club if he hadn't had everything else knocked out from under him."

Skinner removed his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Perhaps not. Or perhaps it just would have delayed him acting on this need of his." He looked over at Scully. "You still don't believe that he is a victim, do you? That I'm abusing him?"

"No," Scully said then added, hesitantly, "in fact, I'm thinking - I've been talking with Geoffrey Mason - " She colored slightly, a little embarrassed. "I'm thinking about training with him." She looked over at Skinner, half-expecting to see shock or disbelief on his face.

Instead, he nodded slowly. "You have the potential, Scully, and Geoff is a great trainer. Just be certain that this is what you want before you start."

"I wanted to talk to Mulder about it, too. See how he feels about it."

"See how I feel about what?"

They both looked up to see Mulder standing in the doorway, wearing the sweats they had put him to bed in, his hair tousled and his eyes heavy from sleep.

Skinner started to get up. "Are you okay, babe? You look exhausted - are you hungry?"

"Don't fuss, Walter," Mulder said in irritated tones but crossed the room to sit at his feet and lean back against his legs. Skinner relaxed back into his chair and let his hand drift down to Mulder's head, stroking the soft hair. "You have something you want to tell me, Scully?"

Scully hesitated, uncertain how to begin what she wanted to say, and decided to put it off for the moment. "You should get some more rest, Mulder. I’m surprised you’re even on your feet."

"Something woke me up," Mulder muttered, and they both knew that the "something" was a nightmare. "I heard talking and then my name, so I decided to come down and see what you were talking about. Stop avoiding whatever it is, Scully – you both know how I hate to be managed."

Skinner chuckled softly. "Controlled, yes. Managed, no."

Mulder shrugged a shoulder. "Control is something I choose to give up. Being managed – it’s always done with that ‘I’m doing this for your own good’ attitude that I can’t stand."

Skinner’s hand gently caressed his head. "Cranky bastard. You got up on the wrong side of the bed."

"I woke up in an empty bed," Mulder murmured, closing his eyes and turning his head into the caress. "Spit it out, Scully. What are you withholding for my own good now?"

"Actually, Mulder, it’s a decision that I’m trying to make but since it may affect you I wanted to discuss it with you."

"Well, go ahead and drop the other shoe."

"I’m thinking about training with Geoffrey Mason."

Mulder’s eyes popped open and he stared at her in stunned surprise. Then, to her bewilderment and growing annoyance, he began to snicker. Scully glared at him and Skinner thumped his head warningly. "Sorry, Scully," Mulder said, but the grin on his face was not in the least bit penitent. "I was just picturing you in black leather with a riding crop in your hand. Frohike would think he died and went to heaven."

"Very funny, Mulder."

Skinner thumped his head again. "Ow!" protested Mulder. "You’re going to shake loose whatever brains I have left."

"Behave yourself, or Scully’s going to shoot you – again."

"Yes, O Lord and Master," Mulder said teasingly, dodging the next swat aimed at him. "Okay, okay. I’ll be good." He settled back against Skinner’s legs and looked over at Scully. "Seriously, Scully, if you’re sure that this is what you want, why would you think that I would object?"

"The Club has been your playground, Mulder. I don’t know how you’ll feel about me being around there – we’re bound to run into each other from time to time. I wouldn't want to make you - uncomfortable."

Mulder nodded. "I appreciate that, Scully. But it's not like you'll be seeing us performing in public." A soft chuckle from behind him reminded him of the Billiard room encounter and he flushed and hissed, "Walter! Behave!" Turning back to Scully, he said, "It will take a little getting used to, but we're both adults."

"Will it affect our partnership?"

"Not unless you start going Domme on me in the middle of a case," Mulder retorted, then his eyes widened in alarm at the thoughtful look that came over her face. "Scully - you wouldn't!"

"I don't know," Scully said pensively. "That command tone would come in handy when you start tearing off on your own. So would the riding crop."

"Shit! Walter, tell her that it wouldn't be ethical to use the Game in a Real Life situation!"

Scully grinned at him. "Gotcha!" She slipped on her shoes and stood up, gathering her coat. "Well, it's getting late and I'm wiped out. Thanks for dinner, Walter - no, don't get up. I'll let myself out. Mulder, I'll let you know what I decide, okay? See you on Monday."

They sat silently for a long time after she left, Skinner continuing his earlier stroking of Mulder's hair as the younger man leaned against his legs with closed eyes. He studied his lover, wondering what had happened to him at that base and wondering what was making Mulder sit by his feet like this. He usually didn't indulge in "sub behavior" outside the Club, except in a teasing manner. Don't make any more of it than it is, he told himself. Probably just wanted to be close and he could hardly sit in Skinner's lap in front of Scully. Not that he thought Scully would mind at this point.

Mulder opened his eyes and looked up at him with a tired smile on his face. "Is that lasagna I smell?"

Skinner smiled. "Yes. Hungry?"

"Definitely," Mulder said, crawling up and straddling Skinner's lap, then beginning to nuzzle on Skinner's neck.

"I meant for the lasagna."

"Yeah. It would make a good appetizer." The way he was nipping at Skinner's throat left little doubt of what the main course was going to be.

"Down, boy," Skinner said with a chuckle, and pushed Mulder off his lap so he could stand. Mulder followed him into the kitchen, sniffing the lasagna as it was pulled from the oven appreciatively, and pulling out plates.

Skinner poured them each a glass of wine and joined Mulder at the table, watching him attack the lasagna as if he hadn't eaten in days. Idly, he wondered if that was the truth. It had been a tough week for Mulder - first having to publicly admit his own disbelief in aliens and UFOs as anything but a government conspiracy, then all those people burned to death on Skyland Mountain and Ruskin Dam, and thinking that Scully was among them. Knowing how Mulder reacted to stress, he wouldn't be at all surprised if Mulder had lived off coffee and nerves for the past week. Not for the first time, he wished that he could have Mulder there with him all the time so that he could take care of his lover.

'Stop it', he told himself. 'Mulder doesn't need a mother - well, he does need a mother, but he doesn't need me to mother him.'

Out loud, he said. "Do you remember anything about what happened? If they wiped your memory again then you must have seen something they didn't want you to see."

Mulder frowned in thought. "There's something - something that I saw, but it's hovering at the back of my mind and if I try to look at it directly then it fades away."

"Scully said you were told that they were holding an alien - a member of another alien race rebelling against the Colonists."

Mulder nodded, his eyes on his plate. "He - my informant - told me that I had to take action or we'd all become extinct. He said that there was a planned invasion by an extraterrestrial race but that this other alien race - the ones with no faces that burned the people - were trying to resist the invasion. He told me that if the rebel they captured died then the resistance would die, too."

"This informant - was it Krycek?" Mulder nodded, still absorbed in his plate, and a slight flush crossed his face. "What is it, babe?"

"He kissed me."

Skinner closed his eyes against the sudden surge of jealousy and bit back a roar. "What?" he asked in an ominously quiet voice that didn't bode well for Krycek.

"On the cheek, Walter. And he said something in Russian and gave me back my gun." He set down his fork saying, with a frown, "I wonder what he wants."

"I know exactly what he wants," Skinner said between clenched teeth. "And I'll be dead and damned before he gets his hands on you!"

Mulder's eyes gleamed at him across the table, suddenly cat-green, and he almost purred as he said, "Jealous, Walter?"

Skinner growled and stood up, grasping Mulder's arm and pulling him against Skinner's chest. "I don't share," he said roughly. "Where did he kiss you?" Mulder touched the spot on his cheek where Krycek had kissed him and Skinner kissed the area as if to reinforce his claim. His lips moved to capture Mulder's mouth in a kiss designed to drive away any thoughts of anyone else while he crushed Mulder's body closer.

After several long moments, Mulder pushed away from his slightly, gasping for air with a breathless laugh. "God, Walter, you're so possessive."

Skinner's initial first reaction was receding and he managed a little grin. "Well, I always did get low marks in 'shares toys with others' in school. Sorry, babe."

"No need to apologize." Mulder was purring again. "All that macho dominance stuff can be a turn-on. Real cave-man stuff."

Skinner eyed Mulder speculatively, then suddenly bent and hoisted his lover across his shoulder in a fireman's carry and headed for the stairs. Mulder suddenly found himself hanging upside down and began laughing.

"Walter, you nut! Put me down!"

He was nearly helpless with laughter by the time Skinner deposited him on the bed and followed him down. Skinner's mouth descended on his and began ravaging his mouth while Skinner's hands efficiently stripped away both of their clothing. Then his mouth began cataloging Mulder's body as if reassuring the older man that all parts were present, accounted for, and still his personal property. Mulder lay back, helplessly gasping for breath under the erotic assault, loving every minute of it and wondering when he had accepted the idea of belonging to this man. It was evidently not a new feeling for when he looked at it closely it seemed to be an old and familiar friend, an accepted part of himself and not a new revelation. He had never belonged to anyone, had never mattered so much to anyone - other than Scully - but now he belonged to Walter Skinner. Moreover, that same Walter Skinner was demonstrating in a very persuasive manner just how enjoyable it was to belong to him and how determined he was that Mulder remain his. Mulder would have liked to reassure him of his intent to remain his forever - or for as long as the man continued to want him - but his lover was keeping him so off balance that he could hardly remember his own name.

The next time he was able to pull together a coherent thought, his legs were over Skinner's shoulders and his lover was poised above him, sweat glistening on taut muscles, looking like a Greek statue brought to life. Deep, dark eyes were pinning him to the bed and pulling his soul out of his body, and he willingly surrendered it.

"God, Walter - I love you so much - "

Skinner's mouth came down to possess his again and his voice was like the growl of a tiger. "Who do you belong to?"

"You - only you!"

Skinner plunged into his body, confirming the claim, and Mulder arched upwards with a growl of his own as he was filled completely. He knew that he was babbling something but it seemed so far away that he didn't care what he was saying. All he cared about was that the man he loved was pounding him through the mattress, taking him completely, and driving him to the brink of ecstasy. He stood on the edge for a moment, feeling the exquisite tightening in his entire body, then surrendered himself to the waves of pleasure washing over him.

"Walter!"

He heard the answering moan of his own name and then he plunged into blissful darkness.

When he came to several long minutes later, Skinner lay sprawled over his body, still trying to recover his breath and slow down his heart. "Damn, Fox," Skinner said in a gasping moan. "You're going to be the death of me."

Mulder chuckled weakly, exhausted but euphorically content. "But what a way to go."

"I'd rather stick around for awhile. You definitely make life interesting."

Skinner eased out of him and disposed of the condom, then crawled under the covers. Mulder settled into his arms with a contented sigh.

"Walter?"

"Hmm?" Skinner had been nearly asleep but the sound of Mulder's voice stirred him back to consciousness. That voice was sleepy but serious.

"I think I saw one. I think that's what I can't remember. If that's true - if there really are aliens and its not just the military - then maybe what I've believed for so long wasn't wrong after all."

Skinner tightened his hold on Mulder and swallowed hard against the tears that suddenly filled his throat. Something in that voice spoke of a faith restored, a quest rekindled. Part of him was terrified at the thought of Mulder heading off blindly in search of his impossible answers. Part of him rejoiced that the spark that had driven the man for so long had been rekindled. But it was the part of him that loved this man more than life that answered.

"I never thought you were wrong." He smiled as Mulder tilted his head back to look at him in surprise. "Obstinate and fool-hardy perhaps, but never wrong."

Mulder laughed softly. "I guess you really do love me after all."

"Were you ever in doubt?"

"No," Mulder said, quietly but with deep sincerity. "I've lost my faith in many things, but never in you, Walter."

Skinner had no reply for that; he could only tighten his hold on Mulder and murmur, "Good," but Mulder seemed to hear what he couldn't say. He snuggled contentedly into Skinner's shoulder, wrapping his arm around his lover's waist, and let his eyes drift closed. Skinner listened to his quiet breathing as he drifted into sleep and silently gave thanks to a god he wasn't sure that he believed in anymore. Maybe, if Mulder could find his faith restored, so could he.


 

Alex Krycek was in a good mood. He was no longer just an errand boy; he was back in the game again - even if only himself and one other person was aware of it. He had the additional satisfaction of having thrown Mulder off-balance and he savored the memory of the startled look on the other man's face. And now he was looking forward to his favorite kind of encounter, his blood racing in anticipation and his nerves already dancing. His back was still tingling from their earlier meeting on the freighter.

He opened the door to the suite at the Club and drew a deep, steadying breath before entering. As he expected, there was a figure standing at the window and he turned as Krycek entered.

"Ah, there you are, Alex."

The voice was pleasant and even in tone, but Krycek wasn't deceived. The man was still angry with him. //Should have known that the bat-phone crack was a bad idea,// he thought to himself as he crossed the room to stand before his Master, his head bowed.

"I have learned from my colleagues that Agent Mulder showed up at Wiekamp so it appears that you followed my orders - for once. You'll also be pleased to know that the serum you gave me was successful in curing your former playmate. Now I'll take the other vial."

Krycek looked at him, eyes wide. "What other vial?"

The man sighed. "Don't toy with me, boy. I am not one of your targets, and I know you too well. You gave me the first vial too easily, so I know that you have another one hidden away somewhere."

Krycek shrugged and knelt to unzip his left boot, removing a small wrapped packet taped inside. "You've always encouraged me to make my own opportunities, sir."

The man took the vial in one hand, closing his other hand over Krycek's wrist and twisting it. "Not against me, boy. You try your tricks on me again and you'll find that there are worse fates than being shut up in a silo. You are playing with fire, Alex - be sure that you don't burn yourself."

Krycek grimaced at the pain but managed a mocking glare at his employer, his Master. "If I may say so, Sir, so are you. If they find out what you're up to - well, let's just say that the less said about the Consortium retirement plan, the better."

"Are you threatening me, Alex?" the man demanded. "Perhaps you have forgotten just who is the Master in this relationship."

Krycek's eyes blazed with emerald fire and he smiled cat-like as he purred, "Then perhaps you had better remind me - sir."

"With pleasure, Alex. With pleasure."

Chapter Text

The way you wear your hat, the way you sip your tea
The memory of all that -
No, they can't take that away from me.
The way your smile just beams, the way you sing off key
The way you haunt my dreams -
No, they can't take that away from me.

 

The waitress spared a glance at the two men sitting at the corner table, expertly gauging whether they needed a coffee refill or planned to order anything else, and found herself smiling. Not only because the two were easy to look at but also because of the expressions on their faces. The older man was sipping his coffee and surveying the younger man with patient amusement while the younger man was obviously very excited about whatever he was discussing. His hand movements left very little doubt in her mind that the evening’s semi-final basketball games were the subject under discussion. Coffeepot in hand, she approached the table.

"More coffee, gentlemen?"

The older man shook his head and raised an inquiring eyebrow at his companion who paused in mid-sentence to glance down at his cup and plate as if he had never seen them before now. The other man smiled and turned back to the waitress.

"I think we’re fine. May I have the check, please?"

"Certainly." She produced the bill and set it on the table. "I’ll take that whenever you’re ready."

Mulder waited till the waitress had moved out of earshot before saying softly, "Sorry, Walter, I didn’t mean to go on and on like that."

"No problem. They were great games, and I enjoy hearing you talk. So who do like for the final – Kentucky or Utah?"

"Are you kidding? Kentucky’s going to run circles around Utah! They’ve won two of the past three years and they are the favorites."

Skinner shook his head. "But Utah beat the defending champions and surprised everyone. They were great in the semi-finals against North Carolina while Kentucky just squeaked by in overtime. I think Utah’s going to pull off an upset."

Mulder leaned in a little closer, an impish light gleaming in his eyes. "Care to make a little wager on that, Walter?"

Skinner paused, coffee cup halfway to his lips, and studied Mulder warily. "What do you have in mind? Fifty?"

"Nothing as mundane as money, big guy! Loser becomes the winner’s sex slave for 24 hours?"

Skinner snorted. "You’re already my sex slave, Kitten, so where’s the fun in that?" He eyed Mulder speculatively, and the younger man began to feel nervous. "Loser has to wear the cock harness under his suit to work on Friday."

Mulder was wary. "And if I win and you have to wear it? No retribution or paybacks?"

"Agreed."

"OK." Mulder grinned at Skinner. "And to think that all these years I never knew how incredibly kinky you are."

"Complaining?"

"Never. I’m becoming quite fond of your kinks."

Skinner casually laid his hand over Mulder’s and stroked his thumb against the sensitive skin on his wrist, feeling the pulse rate increase. "Good. Because there’s a lot more that you haven’t seen. Yet."

Mulder swallowed and carefully turned his hand over, flexing his fingers against Skinner’s palm. "Anything you’d care to show me tonight, Walter?"

Skinner felt his breath catch at the sensation of Mulder’s nails running over his skin and growled, "Careful what you ask for, boy."

Mulder laughed softly, loving the way that Skinner’s eyes caught fire under his subtle caress. "Too tired, old man? Six hours sitting on your ass wear you out?"

"I’ll show you who’s an ‘old man’, brat, and it’s your ass that’ll be worn out."

"Promises, promises." Mulder withdrew his hand and flicked a look at Skinner from under his lashes that made the older man suddenly rock hard.

"Upstairs. Now!"

"Your wish is my command. Sir."

Mulder rose from the table and sauntered toward the door as Skinner dropped a couple bills on the table to take care of the check and tip. Skinner caught up with him at the elevators, silently damning the crowded lobby and elevator that kept him from being able to grab Mulder and bestow the kind of mind-numbing kiss that would wipe that smug look off the younger man’s face. Mulder’s eyes laughed back at him, knowing just exactly what he was doing to his lover and anticipating the retribution that would shortly follow. Arriving at their suite first, Mulder slid his electronic key into the lock then, hearing it click, threw open the door and sprinted for the safety of the bathroom. He never made it.

Skinner brought him down with a flying tackle, knocking the breath out of the younger man, then proceeded to strip his lover. Mulder lay laughing helplessly as clothes went flying in every direction, his amusement fueled by the nearly feral look in Skinner’s eyes. He managed to slide his hand into the pocket of his jeans and retrieve the lube stashed there before the pants were skimmed off and tossed aside. Then his throat and chest and abdomen were being attacked by a series of nips and hard sucks that he was certain would show up the next day but he was beyond caring. Skinner rolled him over onto his stomach to similarly mark his back and buttocks and thighs and Mulder was gasping and laughing weakly, unable to stop. Over onto his back again and his nipples were the next target, sucked into a possessive mouth that proceeded to claim every inch of his body. His laughter switched to helpless groans and whimpers. Back onto his stomach again, demanding hands pulling his ass up into the air, and then those hands were pulling his cheeks apart and the feeling of air breathed over his anal opening made him moan and wiggle toward the hot mouth he knew was back there.

"God, Walter, please!"

A sharp swat on his ass. "I didn’t say you could move, brat."

Mulder forced his body to stillness and was rewarded with another warm breath. "Permission to speak, sir?"

"No. You may groan, moan, scream, cry, or make as much noise as you’d like, but you may not speak. Understood?"

Mulder nodded his head and waited again. He was rewarded again by that warm breath, followed up by the deliberate pressure of a tongue, and a long moan was dragged out of him. He knew this mood from prior experience and knew that Skinner was deliberately toying with him. It would be a long, long night unless - He moaned again, deliberately, followed up by some of the inarticulate noises that he knew drove Skinner right up the wall. A catch in the breathing of the man behind him told him that he was successful and he grinned to himself. Two could definitely play this game, he thought smugly, then gasped - his lover had just upped the ante and his tongue was doing incredible things to Mulder's body, so incredible that Mulder could barely remember the order to remain still. He wanted to beg, to plead with the other man to take him now and end this agony, but he was reduced to helpless whimpering. That seemed to do the trick, however, as Skinner's mouth moved away to be replaced by a larger presence. Thank God! thought Mulder fervently, pressing back against Skinner's cock as he deliberately relaxed his muscles to allow the steady penetration. He drew a deep, shaky breath as Skinner was fully sheathed within him.

Skinner leaned over to murmur in Mulder's ear, "All right?" and, at the other man's affirmative nod, dropped a kiss at the base of his neck and began the slow, deliberate movement in and out of the willing body underneath him. Mulder groaned and, impatient with the slow fucking he was receiving, pushed back, driving Skinner deeper into his body. That was all it took - Skinner gasped and swore, then gripped Mulder's hips firmly and began pounding into him with swift, hard thrusts. Mulder could feel the tension winding up within his own body, saw the white lights begin to flash behind his closed eyelids, and tumbled over the edge with a long, wailing scream. Dimly, he was aware of his name coming out in gasps from the man behind him, then Skinner shuddered and collapsed across his back.

They were both still for a long moment, trying to catch their breath and still their racing hearts. Mulder laughed a little breathlessly from both fatigue and the weight on his back. "God, Walter, you are such an animal."

Skinner chuckled, carefully withdrawing from his lover's body. "Complaints?"

"Never." Mulder rolled over on his back, lazily stretching and looking for all the world like a cat. Skinner had a feeling that if he reached out to rub the younger man’s belly that he would start purring. "Have I ever told you what a great lover you are?"

Skinner chuckled again. "Have you been reading Scully’s Cosmos again?"

"I’m hurt – you think I couldn’t come up with that on my own?"

Skinner was about to apologize when he saw the mischievous twinkle in Mulder’s eyes. "Brat," he growled, pouncing on Mulder to tickle him mercilessly until Mulder begged him to stop between howls of laughter. He got to his feet and held out a hand to help Mulder up. "Shower?"

"Mmm," Mulder agreed. "Then bed." He waggled his eyebrows suggestively at Skinner.

"You are insatiable," Skinner said with a snort. "You keep that up and you won’t be able to sit for the finals Monday night."

"It’s worth the sacrifice," Mulder said, grinning, as he turned on the shower and adjusted the temperature. "Or you could be on the bottom."

"Okay," Skinner said agreeably, getting into the shower. Mulder followed a moment later, picking up the soap and washcloth. He was quiet as he worked the soapy cloth over Skinner’s chest. "What?" Skinner asked softly. Mulder shrugged, not meeting his eyes. "Fox, if we’re going to make this work, we’ve got to talk whenever a problem comes up."

"It’s not a problem," Mulder insisted, moving downward with the cloth, carefully cleaning Skinner’s genitals before moving down the muscular legs. "It’s just – I still find it hard to believe that you’ll let me – do that."

Skinner tugged gently but insistently on Mulder’s hair, and Mulder reluctantly rose so that they were standing face to face. Skinner took the washcloth and began washing Mulder. "Why?" he asked, curiously. "It feels great and you’re a good lover, too. Why shouldn’t I let you fuck me?"

"It’s just – you’re so into control scenes and you’re so damned good at it. I – when you turn that control over to me – it’s just amazing. And you do it so easily – that’s what’s really incredible. Walter Skinner flips a switch and goes from being the King of Tops to compliant bottom. I can’t do that. The one time I tried to top you, I had to really work at it and then I screwed up at the end."

Skinner shook his head but decided that this was going to be a long discussion. "Let’s finish up and take this discussion into the other room." He scrubbed Mulder’s hair, loving the feel of it under his fingers, and rinsed them both before shutting off the water. Mulder grabbed a large towel and began drying Skinner, and Skinner wondered again at this surfacing of his sub-personality away from the Club but decided to say nothing at the moment. He wrapped the towel around his waist and went into the bedroom. Putting on the thick robe provided by the hotel, he sat on the bed and waited for Mulder. The younger man emerged from the bathroom a moment later, also wrapped in a robe and toweling his thick hair. Skinner patted the bed beside him and Mulder sat down a little warily.

Skinner smiled. "Relax, Fox. I’m not going to bite you."

A glimmer of a smile lit Mulder’s face and he seemed to visibly relax. "But I like it when you bite me."

"Imp," Skinner said affectionately. He scooted back against the headboard, pulling his legs up onto the bed, and gestured for Mulder to join him. Mulder crawled up and snuggled into his shoulder with a contented sigh. "Babe, you sound a little confused. Being a top or a bottom is not necessarily the same as being a Dom or a sub, although people do use the terms interchangeably. There are plenty of Doms who enjoy being fucked without giving up a bit of control. Personally, I like to think of ‘top’ or ‘bottom’ as the role during sex, and ‘Dom’ or ‘sub’ as the role during a scene."

Mulder considered that, then nodded. "Okay, I can deal with that."

"So while you may not feel comfortable Dominating me during a scene, that has nothing to do with topping me in bed. Which - as I recall from a very memorable holiday - you are very good at."

Mulder grinned. "Flatterer. You're just saying that to get in my pants."

Dryly, Skinner said, "Been there, done that. Besides," he murmured into Mulder's ear, "I want you in my pants. Not to mention other places."

"Yeah?"

"Yeah." Skinner nuzzled his neck. "I can't wait to feel you deep inside me, so deep that I don't know where I end and you begin. I want to feel you pounding into me until I come shouting your name. I want to watch your face as you come inside me, my name on your lips."

"Jesus, Walter," Mulder groaned and pushed Skinner flat, rolling on top of him. Skinner found himself being ruthlessly kissed and tongued over every inch of his body, the subject of Mulder's focused concentration, without any hint of the previous doubts in the younger man's actions. He gave himself up to his intense lover, reveling in the sensations that the other man was able to wring from him with just the slightest touch. And later, after his lover had dropped into an exhausted and sated sleep, he drifted off to sleep with his arms wrapped around Mulder and only a slight nagging worry in his mind.


 

They ate breakfast on their private balcony overlooking the river. Skinner sipped his coffee and wondered what kind of connections Mulder's friends must have to secure this suite at La Mansion del Rio just a month before the finals. He wondered what all this was costing Mulder; he had offered to share the cost but Mulder had assured him that he could handle it. Skinner suspected that Mulder had extensive financial resources - considering his family background, the nice suits that he went through like water, and his lack of concern over past suspensions without pay.

He studied the man across the table from him with a smile. "What do you want to do today?"

Mulder returned his smile. "How are your rock-climbing skills?"

Skinner looked at him blankly. "What?"

Mulder got up and went to the nightstand, picking up a brochure. "The Enchanted Rock - it's a 325 foot high peak connected with paranormal phenomenon. Local Native Americans have reported spirits communing there for over a century. It'd only take a couple hours to climb." He studied the stunned look on Skinner's face. "Too much? Well, there's an air duct near downtown that's reported to be haunted - "

Skinner tackled him, tickling him until Mulder begged for mercy. Skinner sat up and looked down at Mulder, lying on his back on the floor still trying to recover, flushed from laughing, his robe half-open from their tussle. He was amazed anew that this beautiful man was with him, that somehow no one had grabbed this incredibly smart and funny and sexy man and held onto him. Certainly Mulder had his problems - he was moody and insecure and stubborn - but the benefits were more than worth it.

Mulder had stopped laughing and was looking up at him questioningly. Skinner leaned over and kissed him gently.

"Mmm," Mulder murmured, wrapping his arms around Skinner. "I take it you're voting for staying in and fucking like bunnies?"

Skinner chuckled. "As appealing as that sounds, I'd like us both to be able to sit during the game tomorrow. How about we play tourist? Have you ever visited San Antonio before this?"

"VCU on a consult. I didn't exactly see the highlights."

Mulder's voice was a little bleak and Skinner's heart ached for him. He caressed Mulder's cheek lovingly. "Then it'll be a first for both of us. What do you want to see?"

"How about I consult with the concierge and get her recommendations? She was really helpful with dinner reservations for tonight."

"So - where are you taking me for dinner?"

"Uh-uh. That's a surprise." Mulder got up and went to the phone to call the concierge while Skinner went to shower and shave.

"All set," Mulder said, joining him at the sink. "The concierge will have an itinerary, passes, and a picnic basket with champagne when we're ready."

Skinner raised an eyebrow. "How did you manage that?"

Mulder laughed. "My irresistible charm, of course."

"Should I be jealous?"

"She's not my type." He grinned at Skinner. "Not unless she's tall, muscular, and follically challenged."

Skinner growled good-naturedly. "Watch it, brat." Mulder grinned at him unrepentantly and they finished dressing in companionable silence.

They spent the day playing tourist, with Mulder as his own private tour guide through the Alamo - the man never forgot anything he had read, Skinner thought in amusement. They ate a leisurely picnic lunch in Brackenridge Park and wandered through the Japanese Tea Gardens, taking advantage of a deserted pathway and a conveniently placed bridge for a little necking. They went to the top of the Tower of the Americas to take in the panoramic view of San Antonio. They stopped in Veterans Park at the Vietnam War Memorial where Skinner soberly studied the statue of a marine holding a wounded comrade while looking skyward for the evac helicopter.

A warm hand on his shoulder brought him back from his painful memories and he turned his head toward his companion who was studying him with concerned and knowledgeable eyes. "Are you all right?"

Skinner nodded and gripped Mulder's hand gratefully. "Too many memories," he said quietly.

Mulder slid his arms around Skinner's waist from behind and asked quietly, "Anything you want to talk about?"

Skinner hesitated and then shook his head. "Not yet. Soon, though. Okay?"

Mulder nodded and released him, glancing down at his itinerary to give Skinner a moment to collect himself. "The concierge recommended La Villita next. It's in the historic district and has shops with working artists and craftsmen."

"Sounds good," Skinner said briskly and they spent a couple hours wandering through the shops, picking up little gifts for Anne Skinner and Scully, before returning to their hotel to shower and change before dinner.


 

Midnight, and the two men strolled slowly along the Riverwalk back toward their hotel. They were quiet as they walked but it was a companionable quiet, an easy silence between them, and their shoulders brushed as they walked side by side. Lush green foliage lined the banks of the river, the walkways were shaded by towering cypresses, oaks and willows, and the scent of flowers filled the air. At this time of night the crowds weren't as heavy as they had been earlier but the walkway was well lit.

Skinner smiled as he thought back over the evening. Mulder had taken him to a jazz club on the river called Jim Cullum's Landing where the food had been marvelous and the music superb. Much as Skinner had enjoyed both, he had been even more entranced by his favorite hobby: Mulder-watching. He had been surprised at how much Mulder had enjoyed the music - he hadn't thought about Mulder being a jazz fan. But Mulder had certainly enjoyed it, and Skinner had enjoyed both the music and watching Mulder enjoy it. The memory of New Year's Eve and their dance at the Club came back to him, and he regretted that this wasn't a dance club. He thought that he should really take Mulder out to one of the gay clubs in DC sometime and wondered if that would make Mulder uncomfortable. Although Skinner had made occasional discreet forays into the gay community, particularly since his marriage ended, he had a feeling that Mulder hadn't. It was something that they would have to talk about.

"Thoughts worth a penny?"

Skinner looked sideways at Mulder with a smile. "Well, since I was thinking about you, I'd say they were worth a lot more than a penny."

Mulder tilted his head and looked at his lover curiously. "Anything you care to share?"

"About how much I enjoyed this evening. About how much you continue to surprise and amaze me."

Mulder grinned. "Keep them guessing - that's my motto."

"I thought your motto was 'Trust No One'."

"Not anymore. I had to change it after I fell in love with you - 'Trust No One But Walter Skinner' is too long for a motto."

For some reason, that simple statement overwhelmed Skinner, joy bursting out from the still waters of his affection like a geyser. Taking advantage of a shadowy corner of the walkway, he pulled Mulder into his arms and proceeded to rob the younger man of both breath and ability to speak. Mulder emerged from the tempestuous embrace slightly disheveled and glassy-eyed, and clung weakly to Skinner for support.

"What in the hell was that for? Not that I'm complaining - I'd just like to remember to do whatever I did more often."

Skinner chuckled and traced Mulder's bottom lip with one finger, his other arm still wrapped around Mulder's waist. "Just for being you, Fox Mulder. Have you any idea how incredible you are?"

Mulder looked at him skeptically. "And how much exactly did you drink tonight while I wasn't looking?"

Skinner thought that he should have been offended but the geyser was still bubbling inside him, drowning out all negative thoughts and emotions. So he merely pulled Mulder back into his arms and proceeded to do his damnedest to drive out the self-doubts and fears of his lover. And, judging from Mulder's response both there and back in their suite, he was successful, at least for the moment.


Tuesday evening, and Skinner closed the door to his apartment with a sigh, shrugging off the trappings of another long workday. That was the only trouble with being out of the office, even if it was only for a day - the work piled up until you needed another vacation just to recover from the stress of coming back to work. It was almost enough to make him return to his previous habit of only taking vacation when forced to do so. However, the picture of Fox Mulder stretched out on a secluded Mediterranean beach looking almost naked in a Speedo was enough to firm up his resolution to take his planned vacation the following month. He only wished that a semi-naked Mulder were here, lying on his bed upstairs, instead of halfway across the city in his own apartment.

Skinner sighed and pushed away the depression that threatened. After all, he had just spent three wonderful days and nights with his lover: he was being greedy to want more. But at the moment he didn't care - he wanted to be greedy and selfish and indulge in all the pleasures that he had pushed aside for the last few years. More than that, he wanted to indulge Mulder in every form of happiness that the man had lacked over the past twenty-some years.

A knock at the door jerked him out of his mental picture of Mulder the past Christmas, face alight with joy, and for a moment he half-imagined that his subconscious longing had drawn the man halfway across town to his side. Upon opening the door, however, he found a courier standing in the hallway with a small package in his hands.

"Walter Skinner?"

At Skinner's confirming nod, the man handed him a clipboard to sign and then gave him the package. Skinner examined the outer envelope curiously, feeling the soft package give easily as the contents shifted inside. With a deep sense of foreboding, he took the package inside and opened it. A collection of leather straps fell out into his hand, accompanied by a brief note.

"Walter, I look forward to seeing you on Friday. All day. And at your place, 8 PM. Remember - no reprisals or paybacks. FWM."

Skinner sighed. Somehow, he had the feeling that Friday was going to be a very long day.

Chapter Text

Sure as the dawn brings the sunshine, we've an unshakable bond
Destined to last for a lifetime and beyond
Far longer than forever I swear that I'll be true
I've made an everlasting vow to find my way to you
Far longer than forever like no love ever known
And with your love I'll never
Be alone.

 

"Are we keeping you up, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder's head jerked up and he realized that he had been so lost in thought about the previous weekend that he had missed what Skinner had been saying. He flushed. "Sorry, sir. I was just thinking about something."

"Anything to do with this case? Or is that too much to hope for?"

Mulder reflected that Skinner seemed to be a little out of sorts this morning and sharp eyes noted the slight shift in his chair, as if trying to get comfortable. He suppressed an inward chuckle but assumed a bland expression. "I think it is possible that the destructive events were the result of a poltergeist."

"Mulder, if you say 'They're here!', I'll throw this file at you."

"Actually, sir, this kind of random psychic activity focused around a teen or pre-teen is a common component of the poltergeist phenomenon," Scully said.

"That, or she could be doing this deliberately with the help of friends," Mulder added.

Skinner stared at the two of them and shook his head. "I give up. If you two are going to switch sides like this, I haven't got a chance." He signed the 302. "When do you leave?"

"Monday morning," Scully said. "I promised Geoff that I'd be there for the ceremony tomorrow."

Mulder nodded. "We'll be there, too."

"Are you planning to arrive there tonight?" Scully asked.

Skinner hesitated. "No, tomorrow morning. I have - prior plans for this evening." He carefully avoided Mulder's eyes. "Well, if that's all, agents - "

"Sir, may I have a moment?"

Skinner sighed and removed his glasses. The flat tone and the bland look on Mulder's face didn't fool him in the least - he knew what mischief Mulder was up to just from the twinkle in his eyes. "Very well."

Scully glanced at Mulder as she passed and that silent communication passed between them before she left the office, closing the door behind her.

"What did you want to talk to me about, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder didn't answer as he crossed to the door and quietly locked it, then turned back toward Skinner. The older man stood, mesmerized, as Mulder slowly crossed to room back toward him. His only coherent thought was that his parents had misnamed him - this was no fox but a panther, sleek and deadly.

"Mulder - " he said warningly.

Mulder held up his hand, gesturing for silence, and pulled a device out of his pocket. He flicked a switch and set it on the desk, grinning over at Skinner. "A present from the guys. It's a jammer - any video or audio devices within a fifteen foot radius are going to be going nuts about now."

Skinner crossed his arms. "Very interesting. Now would you mind telling me why you locked my door and why you think you need to prevent anyone from seeing or hearing what's going on in here?"

Mulder grinned and hopped up onto the side of Skinner's desk. "I wanted to make sure that you followed our agreement. The bet, remember?"

"How could I forget? And I suppose that you just expect me to drop my pants and show you?"

Mulder grinned again. "That's the general idea."

"Forget it, Mulder."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Welshing on a bet, sir? And one that you suggested as well?"

"Are you saying that you don't believe me, Kitten?"

Mulder swallowed convulsively at the growling tone in Skinner's voice, his eyes widening as Skinner advanced on him. Before he could move, he found himself trapped, Skinner's legs forcing his apart, Skinner's hands to either side of his thighs as he sat on the desk. Skinner leaned in closer and Mulder couldn't look away from those piercing dark eyes.

"Do you think I am not a man of my word?"

"N-no, sir."

"Perhaps you need proof?"

"Um - "

Skinner grabbed Mulder's left hand in his right one and drew it up to his mouth to nip at the fingers before pulling the hand around to his ass and rubbing Mulder's fingers over the strap.

"Feel that? Do you remember that strap? The one that ran from the one around your waist, between your ass cheeks, and attached under your balls to that pretty cock-cage?"

Mulder drew in a deep breath, his eyes dilating in a sudden rush of memory. "God, yes!"

Skinner took the other hand and placed it on the front of his pants. "Feel that?" he murmured and saw from the convulsive swallow that Mulder did. He nipped at Mulder's neck above his collar. "Remember how the harness looked on your own body? That's how it looks on mine." Mulder moaned and turned his head blindly, seeking Skinner's mouth, but Skinner avoided his searching mouth. "Think of it: my cock, confined and waiting for you to release me. Tonight." He brushed his lips over Mulder's, bestowing a light kiss but not allowing Mulder to deepen it.

Skinner drew back, satisfied at the evidence of Mulder's arousal by the glazed look in Mulder's eyes and the tenting of his well-cut slacks. He picked up the jamming device and switched it off, holding it out to Mulder. "I believe that will be all, Agent Mulder."

"Um - right." Mulder seemed to be having trouble breathing, not to mention moving, so Skinner kindly helped him down from the desk. Mulder walked to the door in a dazed state, unlocked and opened it.

"Agent Mulder?"

Mulder turned back to look at Skinner. "Sir?" His voice sounded thin to his own ears.

"Your casefile, Agent Mulder." Skinner came around the desk with the folder, his eyes twinkling in amusement.

Mulder took the file folder, carefully holding it in front of himself as he quickly made his way down to the safety of his office.


Skinner heard the door open and slam shut. "In the kitchen, Mulder!" he called out.

He heard the clatter of bags being set down, then found himself being spun around and pinned against the kitchen wall by his wild-eyed lover. "Fox?"

"Hush!" A hot mouth devoured his own mouth while impatient hands made quick work of his shirt and jerked his pants down to his ankles. "Do you know how crazy you made me earlier today? Do you think I got any work done after that? Scully was laughing her ass off all afternoon." Mulder nipped at his neck, then slid down to his knees, his hands skimming down Skinner's body to cup his ass. "My God, Walter!" Mulder breathed, gazing at his lover's cock encased in its leather cage. It was even more incredibly hot looking than his afternoon fantasies had imagined. "You are so beautiful." He quickly unfastened the straps, releasing Skinner's cock, and tossed the harness aside before leaning forward to take the half-hard cock into his mouth.

Skinner groaned and grasped for something to hold onto as that talented mouth took him in deeply, working him over. Mulder was obviously not in the mood for slow and teasing tonight but instead seemed determined to drive Skinner out of his mind as quickly as possible. And he was succeeding. Skinner's head fell back and he could no longer keep his eyes open as his lower body stopped responding to his brain and instead obeyed the hands and mouth possessing him. He gasped, and then a moan was rung out of him.

"God - babe - so good - "

Mulder intensified his attention. Skinner felt the fire begin to burn deep within, fire that raced up his spine to make his brain explode while his hips jerked involuntarily with their need for release. Then Mulder was doing that incredible move with his tongue and Skinner threw back his head, crying out his lover's name as he came deep within his lover's mouth.

When he came back to himself, he was sitting bare-ass on his kitchen floor with Mulder's talented mouth in his lap as he cleaned him up. He could almost swear that the man was purring. He tugged gently at Mulder's hair and Mulder sat back, grinning at him in a self-satisfied way.

"Brat," Skinner said faintly. "You are getting entirely too good at that."

"You have only yourself to blame, O Great Teacher." Mulder helped him to his feet and carefully tucked him back into his pants.

Skinner reached out to hug Mulder close with a mock sigh. "Then I guess I'll just have to get used to it."

Mulder chuckled and kissed his lover. "Walter?"

"Hmm?"

"Shut up and take me to bed."


Mulder tapped on the door and Sean called for him to enter. He found the small, red-haired man pacing the room, dressed in a robe.

"Nervous?"

"What do you think?" Sean raked a hand through his hair. "I just want to get this over - waiting is the hardest part."

Mulder nodded. "Sit." He moved behind Sean and began massaging his shoulders. "Relax, buddy. You know that being tense is the worst thing you can do."

Sean sighed and dropped his head forward, deliberately relaxing. "Yeah, I know." He sat quietly for a moment, letting Mulder's skillful fingers massage his tight shoulder muscles. "Thanks for being here for me, Mulder."

"That's what friends are for. So, where is the brand going?"

"There'll be two of them. A large one - Geoff's insignia - on the back of my right shoulder. That's the public brand. Then I'm getting a small, personal brand on my ass - Geoff's initials linked together."

Mulder slowly moved his fingers up Sean's neck, massaging his scalp. "How many strikes?"

"Five - two for the small one, three for the large." He drew a deep, relaxing breath. "That's much better. Thanks, mate."

As Sean sat back up, Mulder caught a flash of light and touched the diamond stud in Sean's right earlobe. "That's new."

Sean grinned and touched the earring, his face lighting up. "Yeah. It’s an anniversary present. Geoff's wearing the matching one in his left ear. He got it pierced just for me."

There was a tap on the door and Sean stood up. "Show time."

There was a crowd waiting in the private dining room and they turned with a smile as Sean entered with Mulder at his back. Mason beckoned Sean to join him and held up his hand for silence.

"I want to thank all our friends and family for joining us on this special occasion in our lives. As you know, today is the third anniversary of the day that Sean consented to become part of my life. It's been an interesting three years - " He paused and smiled at Sean. "Exciting, passion-filled, exasperating sometimes - " There was a little laughter at this. "But I'm grateful for every minute and hope that there will be many, many years ahead.

"Anyone who knows Sean knows what a generous, giving person he is, especially towards those he loves. In recognition of this special occasion, Sean has asked my permission to receive a permanent symbol of the bond between the two of us, and I have agreed. At the present time, those of us in 'non-traditional' relationships have no legal ceremonies to show our commitment. So we have to make our own ceremonies, use our own rituals. This is what Sean and I have chosen to express to each other and to our friends that this isn't a game. This is forever.

"So, here in the presence of our friends and family, Sean will receive two brands. The first is a public recognition of the relationship between the two of us here, Sean accepting me forever as his master. The second is a personal vow between us."

He turned to Sean and took the smaller man's face between his hands. "Sean, you have asked for my mark to be placed on you with the full understanding that this is forever. From this point on, we will belong to each other - beyond the Rules of this club or the Laws of this world. If you have changed your mind, say so now and I swear that it will not in any way diminish the love I have for you."

"I haven't changed my mind," Sean said firmly then, in a soft voice that only Mason could hear, murmured, "You talk too much, Geoff. I'm dying here. Let's get on with it."

"Brat," Mason said affectionately and kissed him gently. Then he untied the robe and removed it.

They settled Sean face-down on the padded table in the middle of the room. Mason and Skinner fastened the wrist and ankle restraints securely as well as a strap across his waist to keep him still. Mulder settled onto the floor by Sean's head, his task to coach Sean and keep him centered. Scully put on latex gloves to sterilize and prepare the first area to be branded. She scrubbed the area on his shoulder twice and then nodded to Mason and stepped back.

Mason studied the first area to be branded as he pulled on a glove to protect his hand from the hot iron. His other hand gently stroked up and down Sean's spine, focusing the other man's attention on his mate. Mason could tell the moment that Sean relaxed and he reached out his gloved hand toward Skinner for the first brand. Mason deftly placed the metal against the smooth skin on Sean's shoulder. Sean gasped but Mulder's hands went to either side of his face, stilling him during the five-second count. The procedure was repeated twice more as the first brand took shape, and each time Mason stroked Sean till he relaxed before striking with the next iron.

There was a short pause as Scully prepared the second area and Mulder studied his friend anxiously. Sean was holding up well, his eyes slightly unfocused and glazed as his body processed the pain and refocused it into pleasure. The first of two strikes on the smaller brand was set and an audible groan escaped his lips.

"Hold on, buddy," Mulder murmured, wiping the sweat off Sean's forehead before it could run into his eyes. "One more."

Sean gasped and nodded, holding onto the edges of the pleasure/pain. One more, he thought, one more. And then it came again, the burn and the sharp pain of it, and it was too much, too good, and he was falling over the edge…

When he came to, Scully had nearly finished applying silvadine cream to his burns and covering them with sterile pads. His wrists and ankles had been released and there was a lovingly familiar hand caressing his back while his lover's voice murmured endearments. He sighed, blissfully, and let them help him up. He swayed on his feet, felt a strong arm come around his waist and a concerned voice in his ear.

"You okay, baby?"

"Oh, yeah," Sean said with another blissful sigh. "I'm better than okay."

Skinner chuckled. "He's flying, Geoff. You won't get any sense out of him for hours."

Mason laughingly agreed and wrapped Sean back up in his robe while the catering staff began distributing refreshments. The party began in earnest and Sean was swept into a crowd of well wishers. After a short time, Mulder joined Skinner and Skinner slid his arms around his lover's waist, pulling Mulder's back against his chest. Mulder settled against him with a contented sigh, then softly laughed.

"What?" Skinner asked with a smile.

"Sean." They both looked over at the red-haired man who was talking with a group of people, his hands gesturing wildly. "I don't think I've ever seen him this hyped."

"It's the endorphins."

"Yeah, well, he's flying so high now that he practically needs an air traffic controller to guide him in."

Skinner chuckled and pressed a kiss against the side of his neck. "Well, he's certainly feeling no pain."

Mulder nodded his head slowly. "Yeah, and that's bizarre. I mean, he basically got second-degree burns, passed out from the pain of it, and there he is higher than a kite. I've burned myself before and I certainly didn't get off on the pain."

Skinner shook his head, wondering how to explain it to his sub who was, when you considered it, still pretty new to all this. "He didn't pass out from the pain but from the pleasure, like from a really intense orgasm." At Mulder's disbelieving look he said, "Pain that is slowly and expertly administered can cause exquisite and unbelievable pleasure. The pain combined with the touches and verbal encouragement, acted like waves of stimulation on his body until it stopped being pain and started becoming pleasure. And Geoff is very good at administering erotic pain."

Mulder turned his head and studied his lover. "Sounds like the voice of experience."

"Geoffrey Mason trained me, Fox. You don't think that I sat and read books on the subject, do you?"

Mulder frowned. "I don't like the idea of anyone hurting you. Even Mason."

Skinner chuckled and drew him closer into his arms, bestowing a light kiss on his head. "My kitten has claws! Maybe I should have called you Tiger."

"Well, at least that's less humiliating than 'kitten'."

"It's supposed to be humiliating, brat. That's the point."

"So what was your nickname?"

"Oh, no - we are not going there," Skinner admonished, pinching Mulder's ass. "I have enough trouble keeping you in line as it is without undermining my own authority."

Mulder pouted. "I am not that difficult."

Skinner refused to be pulled in by that adorable pout. "Keep telling yourself that, brat."

"Well, you always seem to know how to handle me, sir." Mulder deliberately ground his ass against Skinner's groin.

Skinner's hands slid down from Mulder's waist to cup his groin. "Are you asking me to handle you, boy?" He increased the friction of his stroking and heard Mulder's groan.

"Oh, yeah. Please." Mulder gulped in air. "Please handle me, sir."

Skinner bent his head to bite Mulder's earlobe and murmured, "Upstairs. I will be up there in twenty minutes exactly and you had better be clean and lubed and waiting for me - or else."

Mulder felt dizzy and thought that he could come from just the sound of Skinner's Dom voice. "Oh, God!"

"Do you understand me, Kitten?"

"Oh, yes, sir!"

"Then go. The clock starts now." He nearly laughed as he watched Mulder speed out of the room. Suppressing his amusement, he crossed the room to say goodnight to his hosts.

Mason eyed him with amusement. "Mulder took off in a hell of a hurry, like he had a rocket up his ass."

Skinner smiled. "It’s what he wants in his ass that's got him in a rush."

Mason burst out laughing and shook his head. "Where, oh where, is the repressed Marine I first took under my wing?"

"That, like my innocence, didn't last long," Skinner said dryly.

Mason shook his head, his face sad. "No. I may have taken away your walls and released your inhibitions, but I never took that away. I'll never forgive myself for letting that happen to you."

"I was a big boy, Geoff. I had been crossing streets on my own and playing with subs for a year. And you did try to warn me."

"Not strongly enough. But that won't happen again." He reached out to firmly grasp Skinner by the nape of his neck and gently shook him. "Fair warning, Walter Skinner. If I sense that you're going off-track again, I won't hesitate to put you back on course. You understand me?"

"Yes, Dad," Skinner said with a grin.

Mason cuffed him lightly. "Insolent pup - you and Mulder deserve each other, you know that?"

Skinner laughed softly. "Compliments, Geoff? You're getting soft."

"Go on, get out of here before I put you over my knee and shock your Agent Scully."

Skinner grinned. "Yes, sir."


He opened the door to his suite and smiled with satisfaction. Mulder was in place on the floor, hair damp, cuffs on ankles and wrists, collar laid on the floor in front of him, breathing heavily as if he had been racing around like mad to accomplish his tasks in the allotted time.

"Kneel up," he ordered and Mulder eagerly rose up on his knees to allow Skinner to place the collar around his neck. Skinner ruffled his hair affectionately, recognizing from the quivering of his sub's body that he wanted to play tonight. And, he thought with a smile, he supposed that he owed Mulder something special for the teasing that Skinner had put him through the previous day.

"Display," Skinner ordered, and Mulder rocked back on his heels, his hands braced on either side of his thighs, which were spread wide to display his half-hard cock. Skinner nodded. "Very good. Now hold that position while I shower and change."

Fifteen minutes later, he came out of the bathroom and Mulder's eyes widened as he saw him. Skinner had changed into a pair of leather pants and a black silk shirt, and he had left off his glasses. He looked dark and dangerous and was the sexiest thing that Mulder had ever seen.

"Oh, God!" he breathed.

"I don't recall giving you permission to speak, boy." A hand threaded into his hair, pulling his head back slightly so that he had to look up at Skinner. "Did I give you permission?"

Mulder shook his head mutely and he shivered in delicious anticipation; he loved it when Skinner played Dom, taking full control of him.

The hand relaxed in his hair and petted him. "That's my good Kitten." He relaxed against that hand and nuzzled the palm. "Since you've been so good, I'll let you tell me what you'd like to do tonight."

Mulder looked up at him with shining eyes. "Anything?"

Skinner felt his early-Mulder-warning-system come on line and said, cautiously, "You can suggest anything. I don't have to agree."

Mulder nodded and looked thoughtful for a few minutes, as if trying to determine what Skinner might agree to. "Um - bondage? But not a blindfold." His eyes ran over Skinner again as he grinned. "I like looking at you in that. And then - " He flushed a little, as if embarrassed to admit it. "I - um - I really like it when you play with different textures across my skin. And the clamps. You haven't used those since - " He drew a deep breath. "Since Benett. I liked it. Oh, and no gags. I want you to hear how much I'm enjoying it."

Skinner nodded. "That's sounds reasonable." He went to the cabinet and removed several items, setting them aside, then returned with a cock ring. "Stand." He fastened on the cock ring. "Wouldn't want you to come too soon and stop the game, would we?"

"No, sir."

"Okay, lay on the bed face down about one-third of the way across. Put your feet together and your hands behind your back." Mulder complied and Skinner brought over several lengths of rope to the bed. He clipped Mulder's wrist-cuffs together, then created a shoulder harness by running a rope under his armpits and then bringing the ropes back over his collarbones to tie at the back of his neck.

"Roll over toward the center of the bed." After Mulder did that, Skinner placed a pillow under his hips to elevate them and keep the pressure off his bound arms. He ran the free ends of the shoulder harness up to the headboard and attached them to the central ring with enough slack that he would be able to flip Mulder over if necessary. Then he finished up by clipping Mulder's ankle-cuffs together and attaching a rope from them to the central ring at the foot of the bed.

"Okay, Fox?" he asked, checking to make sure that the ropes were tight enough to immobilize Mulder without hurting him. Mulder tested his bonds and nodded. "Remember your safe words?" Mulder nodded again, and Skinner ran an assessing hand over his body. "Good."

Skinner returned to the cabinet and removed a few items, then brought them back to the bed. He watched Mulder's eyes widen and his nostrils flare in anticipation and was suddenly glad that he had thought to put on a cock-ring himself. He ran a gentling hand over Mulder's body, noting that the sub was keyed up but not tense. "I'm going to put on the first clamp now, boy. You know that there will be a sharp pain for about 30 seconds, then it will subside. I want you to try to breathe evenly through the pain." Mulder nodded, and Skinner lightly pinched the tip of his left nipple, raising it up, and slipping a light clamp under his fingertips onto the nipple. Mulder's breath caught briefly, and Skinner let him lie quietly for a minute to get used to the sensation, resting his hand on Mulder's thigh to judge the level of tension but not interfering with his concentration as he adjusted to the clamp. After a minute, Mulder relaxed and drew a deep breath, then his breathing settled down into a regular pattern again and the muscles under Skinner's hand relaxed. Skinner let his hand run back up Mulder's body, stroking and caressing, and Mulder practically purred under the attention.

Skinner chuckled and said, teasingly, "That's my Kitten. Second clamp, now."

Mulder relaxed into the second clamp quicker than the first, savoring the slight pain as he felt Skinner's hand move over his body lightly. All his nerve endings seemed to be coming to life and he ached at the loss when Skinner moved away from him to return to the cabinet. He wanted, no needed Skinner to touch him, and it seemed to take forever before his Dom was back beside him.

Something soft and warm was moving over his belly. He looked down to see that Skinner had put a fur glove on one hand and was caressing his skin with it, slowly, moving in circular patterns. He groaned and shivered with the delicious sensations, nearly melting into the mattress, then caught his breath sharply as the other hand briefly touched the clamp on his right nipple. The one moved away from the nipple and the gloved hand slid over his hip and down his legs. He sighed and relaxed into the pleasure of it, his whole body tingling.

"I'm going to roll you over now, boy."

Skinner removed the pillow and rolled Mulder over, carefully ensuring that the nipple clamps weren't jarred, placing the pillow under Mulder's stomach so that his chest was off the bed. His bare hand ran gently up and down Mulder's spine, calming him as he adjusted to the change of sensations. Then he began stroking Mulder's back with the fur glove, moving in circular patterns across his back and his ass, down his legs and back up. Mulder was purring again, wriggling under the stimulation.

"Change of pace now, Kitten," Skinner said, replacing the fur glove with a scrub mitt. The mesh was slightly abrasive and, as it moved over Mulder's already stimulated skin, it made him tingle all over. He groaned and panted, unsure whether he wanted to arch up into the stimulation or move away from it. Skinner covered his entire back with the stroking, then repositioned Mulder onto his back again and stroked over his belly and down his legs.

Skinner discarded the scrub mitt and picked up a feather, and Mulder gasped at the feeling as Skinner drew the feather over his highly stimulated skin. It seemed to blaze a trail of sensation everywhere that the feather moved.

Skinner unfastened his legs and spread them, running the feather over Mulder's cock and balls while his fingers probed and stretched him.

Mulder wriggled on those fingers. "God, sir - please - "

"Please what, Kitten? What do you want?"

"I want - I need - fuck me - "

"Not yet, boy."

Mulder practically whimpered at that, but the hand was moving back up his body, stroking his chest. Skinner deliberately set about overloading his nerves with touching sensations so that fewer nerves could carry the pain sensations, then leaned over to murmur, "I'm removing the clamps now, boy."

Mulder drew a deep breath and waited for the sensation of blood rushing back into pinched tissue. He arched and cried out, then found his mouth plundered by another, muffling the cry and his body slammed back down against the mattress. Lips moved down his hypersensitive skin, avoiding his nipples but covering the rest of his body, and he felt the flood of warmth throughout his body that told him the endorphins were kicking in. And it was too much, it wasn't enough, he was going to die from the sensations, he needed more - much more.

"Pleasepleaseplease," he heard himself babbling and he could no more stop the flood of words and pleas than he could stop his heart from beating. He was suddenly aware that Skinner was naked, that he was moving between Mulder's legs now, caressing his achingly hard cock with his mouth while his hands positioned Mulder's legs. There was the blunt ache of penetration and the delicious heat filling him completely, and he nearly wept from relief.

"Want to touch you - please - "

Skinner rested for a moment, letting Mulder's body adjust to his presence, and leaned down to kiss Mulder's mouth. "No. You may touch me later. For now, you just concentrate on what you feel, on what I'm doing to you."

"Can't - so close - please let me come, sir, please - "

"Not yet." Skinner began moving, thrusting, and Mulder gasped and locked his legs around Skinner's hips. It was so good, so incredibly good, and he couldn't remember ever being so intensely aware of the sensations of skin moving against skin. He could feel his climax building, could feel Skinner's thrusting increase and heard the gasping pants that told him that Skinner was close, too, and then a hand was reaching down to remove the cock-ring.

"God, yes!"

He felt his climax slam through him, felt himself explode, felt his body shake all over. Then Skinner was growling and thrusting hard, shouting as he came deep within Mulder before collapsing down onto Mulder's chest.

They lay there for a long moment, catching their breath, before Skinner roused himself to clean Mulder up and release him from the ropes. Then he settled them both beneath the covers, feeling Mulder snuggle into his shoulder with a sigh of contentment. He looked down at Mulder's blissful face and chuckled.

"So did that fulfill your expectations?"

"Oh, yeah!" Mulder grinned. "More than fulfilled. Thanks."

"My pleasure - in more ways than one."

Mulder chuckled. "Smart ass."

"Said the pot. You know, Geoff said that we deserve each other."

"Geoffrey Mason's a perceptive man," Mulder murmured, drifting into sleep.

Skinner turned his head and kissed the soft hair under his chin. "Yes. I think he just might be at that." Then he smiled and closed his eyes.

Chapter Text

In my world before you I lived outside my emotions
Didn't know where I was going till that day I found you
How you opened my life to a new paradise…
I've waited so long to say this to you
If you're asking do I love you this much - I do.

 

Mulder flattened his back against the wall, trying to still his racing heart that sounded overly loud in the deep silence hanging over the house. He closed his eyes to concentrate on listening, trying to locate the hunter, but there was no noise anywhere. Slowly, cautiously, he peered around the corner and then snapped his head back. Shit! The hunter was there between him and the door, blocking his path to safety. He thought quickly, trying to review his options.

There! A sudden sound from the other end of the villa where he had rigged those books to fall, and the hunter was swiftly moving to investigate, leaving the path to the door open. Mulder cautiously checked again to verify that the way was clear and then sprinted for the door. Once outside, he quickly evaluated his options. The road? No, that's what the hunter would expect. He heard the sound of pursuit behind him and dove for the path that led down to the beach.

The path twisted through the trees, erupting into a small clearing where a stream trickling down the hillside ended up in a little pool. There were two paths from here - one that led up the hillside and deeper into the woods and the other running towards the sea. Without hesitation, he took the downward path, hurtling down the steep trek as if his life depended on it. As well it might.

The path curved at a knot of golden oaks and then spilt out onto the sand of a small, sheltered bay. A thumbnail circle of pure white sand rimmed aquamarine water that rapidly turned to deep blue about ten feet out. The bay was deserted, quiet. Rocky promontories too stony for him to climb in bare feet also surrounded it on either side.

He swung back around, intending to go back up to the clearing and take the other path into the woods, only to find that his escape had been blocked by the arrival of the hunter. He turned and looked wildly out over the water, then faced his opponent. Fishing his precious, hard-worn treasure out of his pocket, he held it up for the man to see.

"Don't come any closer or I'll throw it!"

The hunter hesitated then, deciding that the threat was empty, took a step toward him. Mulder backed up another step until he was standing ankle-deep in the cool water. He pulled his arm back, ready to pitch the item in his hand.

"I'm serious! I'm a desperate man, and I've got nothing to lose!"

"Mulder, are you crazy? Do you know how long it'll take the rental agency to get a spare set of keys to us? It'll take days!"

"I hope it does! Days we can spend lying here on the beach in the sun. Sleeping in late and screwing like mink. Damn it, Walter, we're on vacation!"

Skinner looked hurt. "I thought you enjoyed seeing the sights."

"I love seeing archaeological sites, I adore museums, but I didn't realize that you'd taken a personal vow to visit every tourist site on the damned island or die in the attempt. For the past three nights we've been so tired when we got back here that we fall asleep the minute our heads hit the pillows. What with that damn conference and your 'must see one more thing before we stop' touring, it's been eleven days since we had sex last." Mulder fought to keep the pathetically desperate note out of his voice.

"I'm not that bad - "

"Oh, sure, that's what they all say in the beginning. It's only one museum. One art gallery. A monument here, a ruin there. Next thing you know, you're skipping lunch to get a quick fix at the National Gallery. Slipping into the White House to take the tour. And then it takes possession of your life, and you're forgetting to mow the lawn because a new Egyptian pottery exhibit has come to town. Never having clean suits for work but the tux is always ready for those opening night art galas. And then - " His voice broke. "And then one day you wake up and it's all gone - job, home, family - while you spend every minute wandering from one Smithsonian museum to another, cutting into lines in front of Girl Scout troops…" Mulder lowered his arm and stiffened his back. "No, Walter. I'm not going to let that happen to you. I'm going to save you from yourself."

Skinner had nearly laughed himself into tears. "You idiot," he said fondly. "I promise that I'll cut back on the sightseeing if you give me the car keys."

"No, Walter," Mulder said firmly. "You've got to go cold turkey on this. For the next few days, I want you to relax, swim, soak up some sun, and nail me on every available surface. If you're a good boy, after a couple days I'll let you visit one site - only one! - a day."

Skinner started to step forward and Mulder raised his arm again. "Promise or these keys join the fishes."

"Oh, all right, I promise."

Mulder lowered his arm and tucked the keys back into his pocket. "It's all right, big guy. You've done the right thing and I'm going to be with you every step of the way."

Skinner moved forward to take his lover into his arms. "You know that you're an idiot, don't you?" Skinner asked affectionately.

Mulder grinned. "And you love me in spite of that."

"No, I love you because of that. You help remind me to laugh at myself and at life. Before you - I can't remember the last time I had so much fun or felt so good about myself." He kissed Mulder gently. "Sorry, babe. I didn't mean to ruin your vacation."

"You didn't. Anytime I can be with you is amazing to me. And you can't help being an anal-compulsive."

"It's just that - there's so much in this world to see, and it seems like we have so little time together, and I just want to share it all with you."

Mulder's throat tightened. "Jesus, Walter. I am an idiot. Forget what I said. Grab your guide book and we'll hit the trail again."

"No," Skinner said softly, nuzzling Mulder's neck. "I've been neglecting you and I intend to start making that up to you."

"Jesus, Walter!" Mulder moaned as Skinner sucked on the spot right behind his ear that always made him crazy and then nipped his way down to Skinner's favorite spot on his shoulder.

"I think that the beach qualifies as an 'available surface', don't you, babe?"

Mulder tried to hold onto one rational thought - which was admittedly difficult, as Skinner had unbuttoned his shirt and was tonguing his nipples into hard peaks. "Um - Walter - romantic as it sounds, take it from an island native. Sand gets everywhere and I mean everywhere."

Skinner chuckled. "Good point." He released Mulder with a quick kiss and took his lover's hand to lead him back up to the house.


It was the sound of chattering in a foreign tongue and the whine of a vacuum cleaner that roused Mulder from a sated sleep. He blinked his eyes open and found that the moving surface under his face was his lover's back, rising and falling gently in sleep. He grinned as he realized that he had literally crashed nose first into that firm surface after coming harder than he could remember in recent history. Then a smirk crossed his face as he realized that Skinner must have crashed as well or the man would have rolled Mulder off him before going to sleep.

"Walter," he murmured, leaning up to nuzzle his lover's neck. "Wake up, big guy. We've got company." He eased himself off Skinner and stretched out on his back for a moment, wincing as the movement caused protests from parts of his body that had been well-loved and well-filled before he had returned the favor. "Come on, big guy. Housekeeping will want to change the bed and I'm starving."

Skinner blinked open a bleary eye. "I can't imagine why."

"Could it be because we spent half the morning fucking each other through the mattress?"

Skinner yawned and sat up, grimacing at the feeling of having slept in the wet spot. "You're sounding entirely too pleased with yourself, Mulder."

Mulder laughed and embraced him from behind. "That's because I am. First time I ever drove your peg completely into the ground."

"Where do you get these terms - never mind. Remind me to forbid you to hang around with Sean so much."

"Don’t forget to - "

Skinner turned and tackled Mulder, growling, "Smart-ass."

A tap on the door interrupted him before he could take advantage of the situation. "Housekeeping," said a heavily accented voice.

"One minute." Skinner briefly kissed Mulder and then let him up. "I'll let you get the first shower." Mulder nodded and disappeared into the bathroom, while Skinner put on a robe and opened the door. A matronly Greek woman smiled and nodded at him, and he managed a "Good-morning" before picking up Mulder's robe and taking it into the adjoining bathroom where Mulder was warbling happily - if slightly off-key - as he showered.

"Fox? I hung your robe on the hook by the towels." Receiving an acknowledgment, he began shaving methodically. A moment later, the water went off in the shower and Mulder emerged, still humming as he toweled his hair. He paused a moment to slide his arms around his lover's waist and grin at him in the mirror.

"Hey there, stud."

Skinner snorted. "There'll be no living with you now. Go feed that starving body. I'll be out after I've showered."

Mulder dropped a kiss on the side of Skinner's neck before letting him go. He belted on his robe and padded into the main room of the villa that Skinner had rented for two weeks. He smiled at the two women cleaning the kitchen and putting away groceries.

"Kalimera," he said, politely.

One of the women snorted but smiled as she poured a cup of coffee and brought it over. "Kalispera," she said, pointing at the clock.

Mulder glanced at the clock and grinned sheepishly. 'Yeah, I guess it is afternoon." He took the cup. "Efhanisto."

She nodded in return at his thanks and, as he headed back into the main room, he heard her say to the other woman, in an amused tone, "Neohumphas." He grinned, wondering what Walter would think about being called "newlyweds" by the staff. He could hear the shower still running so he opened the door to the terrace and stepped out onto it.

The Villa Kristina, which was more like a bungalow but which had probably been called a "villa" to impress the tourists, was on a private piece of property about 15 miles north of Corfu Town, nestled in the foothills of Mount Pantokrator. Originally, this had been an estate for an Italian family that had held onto the property since the Venetian occupation of the island. There had been a large house with orchards of oranges and olives to support the family, but with the tourist boom the family had converted the property into a cluster of private little vacation homes and had moved to the mainland. A friend of Skinner's had recommended the place and, luckily, there had been a cancellation. Daily maid service, including stocking the kitchen, was included although this was the first time they had actually seen the staff since they were usually out during the day.

Their villa stood at the top of a wooded cliff and, as Mulder leaned on the railing, he looked down through a virtual cloud of pines, down toward the sea. He couldn't see the bay from here as it was hidden by the trees, but the view ahead of him was spectacular - the shimmering gulf and beyond it a dark blue strip that was the strait separating Corfu from the mainland. To either side of the villa, all he could see were trees and they were set back off the main road so that even the sound of traffic was muted. Mulder sipped his coffee and felt all his problems drift away, including his lingering worries about his partner following a strange case that troubled her personally. All that belonged to another world, one far away from this Greek paradise.

Speaking of which, he thought with a little smile as he heard the terrace door open, here comes one of the Gods now. He turned to smile at his lover who was carrying a cup of coffee and some kind of sticky pastry.

"Hey, you," he said softly. "Put that down and come give me a kiss. I haven't had a proper wake-up yet."

Skinner cocked his head in the direction of the kitchen. "We have an audience, babe."

"So? You think they haven't figured out what we were doing in the bedroom? They did change the sheets, after all." Mulder grinned at him. "I talked with Sean about the attitudes towards gays over here, and he said that most women are cool with it - they're accustomed to not interfering with what the men-folk do as long as they provide for their family. And they think we're a cute couple - one of them called us honeymooners."

Skinner finished off his pastry and set down his cup, then reached out to pull Mulder close for a brief but thorough kiss. "I thought you said you studied Classical Greek at Oxford. Somehow I didn't think that 'honeymooner' was a Classic word."

Mulder shrugged. "Actually, 'newlywed' was what they said and that comes up in several texts." He picked up his coffee cup and sipped from it, glancing sideways at Skinner. "Does that bother you?"

"Not as long as I get the honeymoon sex, too." Skinner turned his back to the railing and pulled Mulder over to stand between his knees. "Are you okay with it, babe? What other people think, I mean? I've had almost thirty years to get comfortable with this aspect of myself. Granted that I repressed it for almost twenty years, but I worked through all these issues with Geoff years ago and learned to accept myself. It hasn't even been a year for you and there have been a lot of ups and downs."

Mulder sighed. "I don't know. I guess I haven't got all that worked out in my head yet. I mean, I know what I feel for you, I know that you can turn me on by just a look or a touch, and I love everything that you do to me."

"I never would have guessed that," Skinner murmured and Mulder smacked him.

"Hush. I'm trying to be serious. I know that all my sexual relationships with women have been unqualified disasters and I'm not interested in any women, but I still think that they are great looking and men in general don't do a thing for me." He shook his head. "I'm comfortable being in a relationship with you, whether that makes me gay, bi, or straight with a twist."

"Don't worry about it. All I care about is that you're comfortable around me." He kissed Mulder again, briefly, and released him. "So, no problems with the staff?"

"No. And Sean says the bigger cities have growing gay communities, and there are no actual laws against sexual acts as long as we're not minors. It's more the 'unofficial' kinds of things. Being hassled by the police - stopped and asked for our papers, that kind of nonsense. And the machismo shit from young toughs - not that much different from home."

Skinner looked sober. "I didn't think about that when I planned this vacation."

Mulder shrugged. "Neither did I. Sean's the one brought it up - you know what a mother hen he is. He has a lot of contacts all over the world and keeps up on the current situation in various countries. According to Sean, as long as we keep to ourselves and mind our own business we should be okay." He grinned over at Skinner. "Actually, you wouldn't have much problem. They have a term roughly equivalent to 'top' - kolombaras - which basically means you're macho enough to fuck anyone and everyone. Evidently that's a good thing." His eyes laughed at Skinner and Skinner growled back at him.

"So, now that you're in charge of our daily plans, what do you want to do this afternoon?"

Mulder considered this. "How about we spend some time down on the beach? Swim, sun, just relax. Then, if we feel like it, we can go into town for dinner or just whip up something here."

"Sounds like a plan."


"Now this is what I call a vacation!"

Skinner over at Mulder, blissfully sprawled out on his stomach on the beach blanket, and repressed a grin. "Don't forget the sunscreen."

Mulder looked over at Skinner and waggled his eyebrows suggestively. "Want to help put lotion on my back?"

"You're incorrigible."

"And aren't you glad?"

Yes, Skinner thought to himself, very glad. He got out of his beach chair and knelt on the blanket, picking up the bottle of sunscreen and liberally applied it over Mulder's shoulders and back, along the back of his arms and legs, then smacked the lean ass barely covered by the small swimsuit. "Turn over."

"Ow! You really do get off on that machismo stuff, don't you," Mulder teased as he flipped over.

"And aren't you glad?" Skinner said, echoing Mulder's word with a grin, and his eyes swept appreciatively over his lover's nearly naked body. "Oh, I see that you are glad - or are you carrying a concealed weapon?"

"The only weapon I need on you." Mulder pulled Skinner's head down for a passionate kiss and Skinner groaned.

"Have a heart, babe. I'm an old man and it takes a while for my batteries to recharge."

Mulder snorted. "Yeah, right - you'll still be chasing after my ass when we're both old men, even if we're both using walkers. Who's got all that extra testosterone, huh?"

Skinner laughed and continued spreading lotion over Mulder's chest and arms, deliberately brushing over the hardening bulge in the Speedo as he moved downward to apply lotion to Mulder's legs.

Mulder drew in his breath sharply. "Tease."

"But you like it when I tease you." Skinner said, working the lotion into Mulder's calves and thighs, brushing closer to his groin without actually touching it, then moving back down and over to the other leg. By the time he was done he noticed that the Speedo were considerably strained. "Looks like you have a little problem here, babe."

"Little - " Mulder began indignantly, then gasped as Skinner's mouth suddenly descended on the cloth-covered mound. "Shit!"

Skinner sucked the head into his mouth, lazily circling the top with his tongue, the taste of Mulder permeating the cloth. His hands slid under Mulder's ass, lifting him up to bring his groin to an easier angle to work. Mulder groaned and his head rolled back on the blanket, his eyes closing involuntarily as all non-critical body functions shut down.

"God, Walter!" he gasped. "That feels - incredible - "

Skinner raised his head. "More or stop?"

"More - God, please, more - "

"In that case, this is in the way." Skinner hooked his thumbs in the waistband of the skimpy swimsuit and stripped it off, tossing it behind him on the blanket. "Now, where was I?"

"I can give you a hint," Mulder said, thrusting his hips upward at his lover.

"Now I remember." Skinner suddenly took the whole shaft into his mouth and Mulder gasped, nearly coming off the blanket.

"Walter!"

"Hmm?" Skinner sucked hard and then released the shaft, lifting Mulder's ass slightly so that he could lick down the underside of the cock and then move down to his balls. "Like that?"

"What's not - to like?" Mulder asked, gasping for breath as Skinner continued working him. "Your mouth should be - registered as a - dangerous weapon."

"Who says it's not?" Skinner's mouth moved back up to the beckoning cock. He licked up and down the swollen shaft, reducing Mulder to helpless gasps and pleas. When he finally took it into his mouth again, Mulder's eyes rolled back in his head and he began thrusting helplessly.

"Yessss - God, yes! - like that - good - so good -" He felt that incredibly skillful mouth working him deeper, coaxing every bit of sensation out of him, felt the familiar tension beginning to curl inside, stretching down his legs and up his stomach. "Yes!" he screamed, rocking harder in his lover's hands. "Walter - now!" One last hard suck and he was coming, and the stars were dancing behind his eyes, and he was shooting into that wonderful warmth until there was nothing left of him, nothing that didn't belong to his lover.

He felt gentle hands caress his skin, soothing him, and his skin was still so sensitive that he gasped and shuddered, feeling the mild after-shocks ripple through his body. Soft kisses on his nose, eyes, chin, lips, and he blinked open eyes heavy with sated bliss and smiled up into his lover's face.

"Better?" Skinner asked, smiling back.

"Yeah. At least I will be when I figure out how to get my bones back into my body."

Skinner chuckled at that and kissed him, a long, slow kiss. "Smart-ass."

"Guilty as charged. Take me away, officer - I'll come quietly."

Skinner snorted. "You've never 'come' quietly in your life, except when I gag you."

Mulder snickered. "Speaking of which, bring any of the toys with you?"

Skinner cocked his head, wondering if Mulder was teasing or if he was serious. And if he was serious, why he continued to bring up the 'game' outside the Club. He wondered if he should discuss it with Mulder or if he was just being overly sensitive. He decided to handle it with mock-seriousness and wait for Mulder to make his intentions clearer.

"No, but a good Dom doesn't need toys." He leaned over Mulder and let his eyes take the younger man's captive. "I can bend you to my will just with this," he said in a silky tone and tapped Mulder's head. Mulder's breath caught in his throat and a helpless moan escaped him. Satisfied, Skinner got to his feet.

"Come on, Junior - let's go for a swim."

Mulder lay flat on his back for a long moment, trying to regain control of his lungs, not to mention the rest of his body. /The things that man can do to me,/ he thought with a wry grin.

"Mulder, come here, quick!"

Mulder sat up, startled by the strange tone in Skinner's voice and looked over at the bay where Skinner was standing waist-deep in water, staring at something. Mulder jumped to his feet in time to see the ripples of some sea creature moving quickly toward the open sea then curving in a long arc, heading back -

/Shark!/ Mulder thought, panic-stricken, and raced towards his lover who seemed to be frozen in place in terror. "Walter! Get out of there!"

It was coming fast, thirty or forty yards out. He had almost reached Skinner's side when the water bulged and a huge, silver-black back broke the surface. Mulder had a glimpse of a dark bright eye and a dorsal fin shaped like a crescent moon before the creature submerged, swinging back out to sea and then making its run again. He clung to Skinner's arm, gasping and scared. Glancing at his lover's face, he was stunned to see the delighted look on his face and to hear the soft chuckle.

"Isn't that amazing? I've never seen one this close. Look, here he comes again! Stand still and see what happens."

Mulder couldn't have moved if his life had depended on it, terror rapidly being replaced by amazement at the rapt look on Skinner's face. It was coming again, slower this time as it approached them, breaking the surface and rolling over before plunging back under the water and surfacing again several yards away.

"It's a dolphin!" Mulder said, stunned.

"It's a big one - probably a male," Skinner said in a quiet voice so as not to startle it. "And it's obviously accustomed to people - maybe even tamed by the people who own the place."

The dolphin suddenly arched and dove again, disappearing under the water.

"Oh, he's going," Mulder said, disappointed. He took a couple steps away from Skinner, looking out toward the sea to figure out where the dolphin had gone. Suddenly, the sea burst apart and the dolphin shot upwards just a few yards away, a leap that took him completely out of the water then down again to smack the surface hard with his tail. Startled, Mulder fell over in the water. The dolphin tore around the small bay and then emerged, standing on his tail, only a few feet from Mulder as he resurfaced from his unexpected bath.

Mulder caught his breath and tentatively reached out his hand towards the sea creature, then he laughed in sudden, child-like joy. Time seemed to be frozen, creating a sharp image in Skinner's mind that he would never forget. Mulder was standing thigh-deep in the water, naked, his body like a golden arrow in the brilliant sunshine, laughing as one hand stretched out towards the silver-black dolphin arching out of a brilliant blue sea. Two creatures of the water, each recognizing a kindred spirit.

Then the moment was over. The dolphin rolled gracefully over to one side, disappearing, and Mulder was looking down into the water and laughing again as the body surged past him and nearly knocked him off his feet again. Then it was gone, streaking out to sea, and Mulder was wading back to him, his face bright with excitement.

"Did you see that, Walter? Wasn't that incredible? I've read about things like that happening - there was a dolphin in Italy in the sixties who used to come near shore and play with the children - but I never thought I'd actually see something like that!"

Skinner reached out to hug his lover close, smiling into the excited face. "It was amazing. Looks like you may have a swimming partner."

Mulder grinned but shook his head. They spent the rest of the afternoon at the bay, swimming and sunning, and the next afternoon as well, but the dolphin didn't make another appearance. Mulder was philosophical about it.

"This was probably a once in a lifetime occurrence. You know, being in the right place at the right time." Mulder laughed at that. "And that must be a first for me."

They were sitting on the terrace, eating breakfast and watching the morning sunlight sparkling on the calm water. Skinner reflected that Mulder had been right - they had needed these past relaxing days to rejuvenate them. They hadn't stirred from the villa except to go down to the bay in the afternoon, spending their mornings eating a late breakfast and lounging on the terrace while they talked or read in companionable silence. And the housekeeping staff had succumbed to Mulder's charms; they brought fresh pastry every day, and homemade moussaka and pastitsada had appeared in their refrigerator to be heated for dinner.

And the lovemaking had been incredible. Skinner smiled, thinking about Mulder's order to nail him on every surface - he had put a sizable dent into that list, he thought complacently.

"What's that smile about?"

He stretched lazily. "Just remembering things."

"Like?"

"The couch. This terrace. The living room floor. Among others."

Mulder grinned. "You have a one-track mind, Walter."

"It's my only hope in keeping up with you. So, master planner, what do you have in mind for today? Any piece of furniture that you're yearning to know intimately?"

Mulder grinned at that. "Actually, I thought we'd climb up Pantokrator. The view is supposed to be impressive. And there's a monastery there that dates back to the 14th century for you to explore."

Skinner laughed. "You are just too good to me, Mulder."

"Well, I promised that if you were a good boy you'd be allowed one treat a day. And you've been very, very good." Mulder grinned at him across the table. "I'd say spectacularly good, but your ego is big enough. And we can have lunch in Ipsos along the Golden Mile, then come back here and spend the heat of the afternoon swimming."

"Well, if you're sure that you'd rather visit a historical site than christen the kitchen table - "

"Walter, this is probably the only time you're going to hear this, so pay attention." Mulder paused dramatically. "Go put some clothes on."

Skinner laughed and did just that.


 

Standing on the peak of Pantokrator, Mulder had to admit that it was worth leaving the villa and its pleasures to see this view. The day was clear, it was still early enough to be comfortably cool, and the view was spectacular. He could see the entire scorpion-tail shaped island spreading to the south below him, and off in the northwest the mainland and Albania. And the look on his lover's face as they explored the monastery together and studied the 14th century art and icons was priceless.

He felt his lover behind him and his arms slid around Mulder's waist. "Beautiful, isn't it? You know, in our line of work we see the ugly side of so much but seeing something like this, both natural beauty and man-made beauty, makes me realize that there are still parts of this world that are beautiful, pure and untouched."

Mulder refrained from mentioning that tourism was quickly turning the natural beauty into a series of holiday camps and hotels, and that the same religious group that had created the beautiful artwork had also persecuted anyone who disagreed with their beliefs - especially those of his heritage - and still condemned gays. Instead, he smiled at his lover over his shoulder. "You're a romantic, Walter."

Skinner smiled and squeezed Mulder before releasing him. "Yeah. I guess I am at that."

They were less impressed with Ipsos, which seemed, to Skinner's eye, to be full of tourists and overly crowded beaches. They found a table at an outdoor "kafenia" along the Golden Mile and watched the people passing by while they ate a meal that seemed uninspired and overpriced. Both of them were glad to return to the villa after that.

And it seemed as if virtue was justly rewarded. While Mulder was swimming laps across the bay, he was startled to feel something bump against him, followed by a sudden wave that nearly submerged him. Treading water while he wiped the water out of his face, he was delighted to see a familiar form lying along the surface of the water. The dark eye was watching him steadily with what he could swear was an interested light, the muzzle curved in that perpetual dolphin smile.

"Walter!" he called. Skinner looked up from the book that he was reading in the shade on the beach. "He's back!"

Skinner stood up to see. "I told you he was looking for a swimming buddy."

"Is that so?" Mulder asked the dolphin, feeling a little foolish, but grinning idiotically as the animal did a barrel role in an obvious invitation to play. He began swimming again, continuing to cross the bay. The dolphin dove, racing toward the rocks at the far end of the bay, then turning in an arc and racing back to end up next to Mulder. "Show off. I'm not in your league, pal."

He continued to swim, shadowed by the friendly animal. The dolphin occasionally commented on his companion's slowness by erupting from the water and spraying the man with water, generating some good-natured cursing by Mulder. Skinner put down his book, watching the show in amusement, until Mulder finished his laps.

"I'm heading in, buddy. Same time tomorrow?"

As Mulder swam toward shore, the dolphin rolled once and sped out to sea. Skinner held out a dry towel and Mulder collapsed onto the beach-blanket, briskly drying his hair.

"That was incredible! I swear, he seemed to recognize me." He glanced over at Skinner and grinned. "I know - sounds stupid."

Skinner shrugged. "Who knows? Scientists have been studying dolphins for years and they still can't explain some of the things they do."

"It's strange how people have always been fascinated with dolphins," Mulder mused. "I mean, there are statues and paintings of them in nearly every culture that has been exposed to them. Greek philosophers described dolphins 'talking' centuries before scientists began studying their speech, and they considered dolphins to be Apollo's favorites."

Mulder started talking about Greek myths, how it was an appalling crime to kill a dolphin, flowed into Eastern beliefs about the mother goddess, then to some story about dolphins disappearing and leaving behind a cryptic message about fish, and on to new-age philosophies. Skinner let the words flow over him, listening with one ear and nodding, smiling while he watched his lover in what he called Mulder's "lecture" mode.

He was constantly amazed by the depth and breadth of subjects that Mulder was knowledgeable on and secretly loved these side-journeys that Mulder's mind took even when he acknowledged that they drove him crazy in the office. He watched the animation on Mulder's face, the excitement in his voice, the way his hands moved as he talked. The tousled, quickly dried hair and the flush on his face reminded Skinner of how Mulder looked during lovemaking, and a flash of heat went though his body.

He reached over and pulled Mulder to him, interrupting something about dolphin dreams being spiritual journeys with a passionate kiss. "Let's go to bed," he said huskily, bending his head to nuzzle at Mulder's neck.

Mulder chuckled as he tilted his head to give Skinner greater access. "Gee, Walter, I didn't know that dolphins turned you on."

"You'd be surprised." Leaving their few belongings for later retrieval, Skinner pulled Mulder up the path to the villa and proceeded to show him exactly how turned on dolphins, or rather, Mulder talking about dolphins, made him.

Sometime later, when Mulder had recovered his senses enough to make speech possible again, he snuggled into the shoulder under his head and ran caressing fingers through the hair on the broad chest.

"So, Walter, how do you feel about whales…"


They fell into a pattern for the rest of their vacation. In the morning, before the daily humidity got too high, they would leave the villa and visit one of the tourist sites. They had explored every bit of Corfu Town and the northern part of the island during their first three days. Now, over several days, they toured the Corfu Archaeological Museum then explored the southern part of the island with its Roman ruins and Byzantine forts and a cave dating back to the Paleolithic era.

After lunch, they would return to the villa to spend the rest of the day swimming or relaxing or making love. The dolphin often returned to swim with Mulder, apparently fascinated by this human. Sometimes Skinner joined them, and sometimes he watched and took pictures of the two water-babies frolicking in bay.

Only one small incident occurred during this vacation, but it was something that made Skinner think. They had just finished exploring the ruins of the Roman baths and were walking back to their car, talking and laughing about some nonsense that Mulder had recalled, when they passed three teens lounging against the wall outside the site.

"Poustis."

Mulder, stiffened, stopped and turned, and Skinner stopped to see what had caught Mulder's attention. He saw his lover coolly looking over the three teens then heard him say something in rapid Greek that made two of the boys grin and one, the original speaker, flush. The boy straightened and Skinner started to step closer, but Mulder held up a hand, clearly asking him to let Mulder handle this. Skinner nodded and stepped back slightly, which made the belligerent youth stop as well and fire off a question to Mulder.

Mulder grinned and said to Skinner, without turning his head to look at him, "Give them one of your looks, Walter - that 'Mulder, you are in a lot of trouble' look." Mystified, Skinner did so and grins broke out all the way around. There were some good-natured shoulder pats, more laughing comments, then a chorus of good-byes as the three sauntered on their way.

Skinner fixed Mulder with a look of his own, one that demanded answers. "Mind telling me what that was about? And I know that that wasn't Classic Greek."

Mulder grinned. "Well, I did spend some time in London while I was at Oxford and I might have picked up a few more colorful phrases."

"Uh-huh."

Mulder started walking again. "The first boy called me a name that would be roughly equivalent to 'bottom' but is used in a more derogatory manner, implying that I was your boy-toy. I told him, roughly, that he should be so lucky."

"So that's why he looked like he was going to beat you up. Why did he stop?"

"Remember what I told you about that whole machismo thing - it's okay if you're doing the fucking? Well, when I asked you to let me handle it and you did, it impressed him. He said that I can't be much of a - um - pussy-boy if I'm ordering around a kolombaras like you."

Skinner laughed and put an arm around Mulder's shoulder. "Tough guy," he teased.

Mulder shrugged. "It worked." He looked at Skinner, diffidently. "Thanks for letting me handle that. For not playing 'he-man to the rescue'."

Skinner stopped and pulled Mulder to face him. "Mulder, you're just as tough and capable of taking care of yourself as anyone, and I hope that I've never made you feel otherwise."

"Walter - "

"Let me finish. Just because I dominate you at the Club doesn't mean that I want to do that to you in real life. And even when we play our games, I don't expect or want you to be a femme - hell, half the fun is knowing that you're submitting to me because you want to, not because I'm forcing you to. I love you the way that you are - tough, strong, intelligent, irritating as hell sometimes, but as a man and not a female-substitute. So don't ever feel that you have to play helpless - and if I ever treat you that way, you have my permission to kick my sorry ass."

Mulder grinned but said, "Walter, don't tell me that you don't have the urge to protect me, to keep me out of trouble."

"I won't because it wouldn't be true - I'd like to keep you from getting hurt. But you do the same to Scully - and I know you don't think she's helpless." Mulder shook his head with a smile. "It's natural to want to protect those we love, but I'd rather have you fighting at my side than shielded behind my manly frame."

Mulder laughed and slid his arms around Skinner's waist, saying provocatively, "Oh, but there are times when you like me behind your manly frame."

"Those times we're naked and you're pounding me through the mattress, which you do quite well, my kolombaras." Skinner grinned at Mulder. "All this sex talk is making me horny. Let's go home and take turns being he-man."

Mulder let go of him and started toward the car. "You're on. Although, frankly, He-Man never did much for me. I always liked Superman or Batman better."

"You just like wearing the cape. Although I have to admit that you look really good in those tights."

Mulder chased him to the car.


Thursday, two days before the end of their vacation, and Skinner had made a decision that filled him with alternating thoughts of hopefulness and doomed certainty that he was about to ruin everything. He debated, turning the points over in his mind, arguing both sides and trying to think how Mulder would react. But that was precisely the problem - there was no telling how Mulder would react. He knew that Mulder was puzzled, wondering why he was so quiet, but Skinner knew that he had to do this right if it had any chance at all.

He'd always wondered how he and Mulder would get along if they had to spend long amounts of time in each other's company with no distractions to give them relief from the constant friction of companionship. No work, no television, no other people - just them. They had spent some time together before - a couple days at Thanksgiving, a week at Christmas, another week after Mulder got out of the hospital, that long weekend in San Antonio - not to mention all the weekends at the Club. But there had always been some buffer there.

Now, after almost two weeks together every moment of the day and night, he knew that he was addicted to this. He loved having the man in his arms when he woke every morning, shaving companionably at the sink while discussing the plans for the day. He loved grousing at Mulder for dumping his damp towels on the bed and Mulder's teasing retorts about anal-retentive personalities. Breakfast sharing the paper and coffee, and dinner sharing thoughts and wine, made him dread the silent breakfasts and lonely dinners waiting back at his apartment.

That night, they went into Corfu Town for dinner for the last time before they left on Saturday. They ate at a restaurant in Spianada, the heart of the town of Corfu, sitting at an outside table looking over the Lower Square. Venetian lamps that cast a soft light over everything and seemed to mute the rest of the world lighted the square. Mulder ordered their meals and wine in what sounded to Skinner like flawless Greek although the other man assured him that it was anything but perfect. It seemed to be good enough - the meal was excellent, the wine a perfect complement, and the service excellent. The waiter offered dessert; Mulder looked at Skinner questioningly and he shrugged.

"I'd love some coffee, though - real coffee if they have it." Skinner repressed a shudder at the memory of the horrible coffee they had had the previous day at a little coffee shop.

Mulder grinned and turned to the waiter. "Ekh'ete amerikaniko kaphe?" The waiter nodded, smiling, and Mulder held up two fingers, then turned to Skinner. "You're spoiled, Walter. I expect that you demand cold beer in England as well."

Skinner grinned and subtly flipped him off, and Mulder laughed. The waiter returned with their coffee and a plate of dessert pastries, fruit and chocolates, and Skinner smiled blissfully after taking a cautious sip. The waiter grinned and said something to Mulder that made the younger man flush, of which Skinner only caught the word "akoites" when the waiter gestured at Skinner, although he didn't seem to be angry - just embarrassed. The bill was produced and paid, Skinner left a generous tip, and they wandered down the street in the direction of the Upper square where they had parked. The night was beautiful and they walked slowly along the shadowed garden walks, both quiet with their thoughts.

"Fox, what was it the waiter said after he brought out the coffee? You seemed embarrassed."

"It wasn't important."

"Fox."

Mulder sighed. "He was just commenting that you were very particular about your coffee."

"Fox."

"All right, his exact words were 'Your - your friend is very particular about his coffee. Is he this particular about everything?'"

Skinner couldn't see what in that had made Mulder embarrassed, then thought about the word Mulder had stumbled over. "'Akoites' means friend?"

Mulder glanced at him, startled, clearly not expecting Skinner to have picked up any of the words. "Um - not exactly."

"What does 'um - not exactly' mean?"

Mulder sighed, surrendering. "The literal translation is 'bedfellow' or, more commonly, 'husband'."

"Oh." They walked on in silence, and Skinner looked at Mulder sideways, hesitating. This seemed like the perfect time to bring up his own wish, but he had a feeling that it would be better to do this in private, where Mulder would be able to get away if he needed to. "Here's the car."

They were silent on the drive back, and Skinner had the feeling that Mulder was looking at him from time to time, on the verge of saying something. He could feel his own stomach muscles tightening. They entered the villa and Mulder started towards the bedroom to change for the night, but Skinner stopped him.

"Fox, I want - I need to talk to you about something."

Mulder gave him that blank look that Skinner hated, that mask that he hid behind when he was sure that he was going to be hurt. "What is it, Walter?"

Skinner stalled. "Let's go out on the terrace. It's a nice night."

Once on the terrace, they stood side by side looking out over the sea, silent for a long moment. Then Skinner sighed and started talking. "Fox, I want you to think about this. You don’t have to make any decisions till you're ready, I just don't want you to give a flat refusal without thinking about it first, okay?"

"Go ahead and drop the other shoe, Walter." Mulder's voice was dull, flat.

"What the waiter said, and what the housekeeper said earlier this week - well, I've been thinking about this. I know that you're not comfortable with the whole idea yet, but you did say that you were comfortable with me, and I wondered - I hoped - "

Mulder looked at him with a puzzled frown. "Walter, you're not making any sense. For me that's normal, but for you that's unheard-of."

Skinner sighed again. "What I'm trying to say, and saying badly, is that I've enjoyed these past two weeks more than I ever imagined I would, and I'd like us to discuss an exclusive, committed relationship."

He could have heard a pin drop in the silence that followed, then Mulder said in a peculiar voice, "You - you don't want to call this whole thing off?"

"God, no, Fox! I'd never want that! Why would you think that?"

"You - you were so withdrawn, so quiet today. And when I told you what the waiter said - you said 'oh' in a funny tone. I thought - " Mulder drew a ragged breath. "I thought that maybe it had all gotten to be too much for you: my rambling on and on, the way I leave messes lying around, the way I took over your vacation."

Skinner stopped Mulder with a finger on his lips. "I love your rambling, and I love the way you took over our vacation, and I love your - well, no, I don't love your messes but I can tolerate them because that means that you're somewhere around. What I can't tolerate is the thought that this will be over, and I'll go back to my apartment, and we'll have the occasional weekend there and the Club weekends, but you won't be there. Am I making any sense?"

"I think so. So you've been thinking about this all day - that's why you were so quiet?"

Skinner nodded. "So, what do you think?"

"Well, 'exclusive' - I thought we were exclusive. I mean, this," and he touched the gold bracelet, "means that we're exclusive at the Club, but I haven't been in the least bit interested in anyone else. Not that there was anyone before our agreement, either. Hell, there hasn't been anyone in my life in years. You?"

Skinner drew a breath. "You know about the hooker, of course. And Sharon. I played with subs at the Club - nothing serious, no one more than once except Krycek. And you know about Geoff. There's been no one except you for the past three years."

Mulder nodded. "Okay, so neither of us seems to have a problem with 'exclusive'. Now 'committed' - what exactly do you mean by that?"

Skinner met Mulder's eyes directly. "I told you once that you'd have to hit me over the head with a shovel to get rid of me, and I meant it. I'm talking forever, Fox. I'm talking about moving in together - my place, your place, or a house or apartment we choose together - whatever makes you comfortable. I can't see us having a commitment ceremony, but whatever makes you feel secure, makes you certain that I'm there for the long haul, is fine by me."

Mulder looked stunned. "Wow. When you decide to do something, you really go all out, don't you?"

Skinner felt his stomach plunge. "You're saying no."

"That's not what I'm saying, Walter. Give a guy a minute to absorb this, okay?"

Skinner leaned against the railing and tried to keep his heart from failing while Mulder paced the terrace, driven by pent-up nervous tension. Mulder felt like he had been on an emotional roller-coaster for the past hour, going from gut-wrenching certainty that Skinner was ending this to incredible relief when he realized that he wasn't; from sheer terror at the thought of forever to dizzying joy at the same thought. He tried to breathe, tried to think, aware that Skinner was waiting for an answer.

Mulder drew a deep breath, turned toward Skinner and said, "Okay."

Skinner blinked. "Okay? Okay, as in yes?"

"Okay, as in I'm willing to give this a shot but let's take it slowly, okay."

Skinner felt like his brain had stopped functioning. "How slowly?"

"I'm not going to move out of my apartment yet, but I'm willing to spend the majority of my time at your apartment, not just weekends. That'll give us time to see how this works out but we'll still have the ability to back off if we need some breathing space. Then, if it works, we can talk about something permanent."

It wasn't everything, but it was more than Skinner had expected. "Okay. Sounds reasonable."

Mulder grinned. "Yeah, well, I've been known to be reasonable. On occasion."

"I know, otherwise I'd be looking for the pod." Skinner took Mulder into his arms, just holding him close, breathing in the scent of the man that he loved and feeling thankful that he hadn't made a mess of everything.

Mulder buried his face against Skinner's shoulder, trying not to start shaking now that his decision had been made. Levity, he thought; make a joke and get over the rough moment. "Walter?"

"Hmm?"

"How do you feel about matching nipple rings?"

Skinner grinned and felt the last of his worries drift away. "I feel that someone's cruising for trouble."

"Well, I guess that means the honeymoon is over," Mulder said with a dramatic sigh. "You're lucky I'm easy, Walter. I didn't even make you get down on one knee. And no commitment ceremony? I've had my heart set on the National Cathedral. In my mother's wedding dress - Walter! Put me down!"

Walter Skinner, who had endured a long, anxious day, ignored this order as he threw his laughing lover over his shoulder and carried him into the bedroom.


They spent the last day finishing up their sightseeing and picking up final souvenirs for their families and friends, returning to the villa in the late afternoon. After eating dinner and packing his bags in preparation for their morning flights, Mulder wandered restlessly around the villa. Skinner finished checking all the drawers, cabinets, and under the bed to make certain that nothing had been left behind, secured his luggage, then went looking for his lover

He found Mulder on the terrace, looking out over the sea, a wistful look on his face. He slid an arm around Mulder's waist and the younger man sighed, settling against him.

"I never got a chance to say good-bye."

Skinner looked puzzled, then realized that Mulder was talking about the dolphin. They had gotten back too late for their usual swim that day and they would be leaving in the morning - first to Athens, and then Mulder back to England for a layover before flying home while Skinner flew straight back to DC.

"Why don't we go down for a moonlight swim? It's a full moon tonight so it should be bright enough. Maybe he'll turn up." Mulder nodded, looking a little sheepish, and Skinner nuzzled him. "Besides, I think that's a surface that I missed, if you can call water a surface."

Mulder grinned. "You are so goals-oriented, Walter. Far be it from me to ruin your perfect record. Let's go."

They took a flashlight to find their way down the path since it was overhung by trees, but didn't need it once they reached the sand. The bay was illuminated and seemed almost as light as day, and the moonlight gleamed off the surface of the sea making it look like it was streaked with silver. Everything was still and quiet except the breeze which rustled the trees and stirred up little whitecaps on the water.

They shed their clothes on the sand well above the waterline and walked into the bay hand in hand. The water was still warm from the day's sun and felt good on their skin. Mulder did some laps without being joined by his friend but he was philosophical about it by the time he finished, telling Skinner that it had been incredible that it had ever happened.

Skinner was relieved to see that Mulder's depression had lifted and pulled him close for a gentle kiss. Mulder wrapped his legs loosely around Skinner's waist and they floated for awhile, sometimes talking and sometimes silent, feeling the deep comfort of companionship. Soft, gentle kisses gave way to more urgent and lingering ones. Gentle caresses became more purposeful, and talk changed into soft moans and gasps. Erections rubbed together, slowly and sensuously to begin with, increasing in speed and pressure as their blood heated up.

The buoyancy of the water allowed Skinner to easily shift his lover to allow for the greatest amount of sensation. Mulder wrapped one arm around Skinner's neck and reached between them with the other to take both of them in his hand and stroke them together. Skinner groaned and captured Mulder's mouth again, his kisses hot and demanding, and Mulder responded as he increased the speed of his stroking. Then they were both shuddering, neither sure whose climax triggered the other's, neither caring at that moment, content to hold each other and savor the afterglow, exchanging occasional soft kisses and murmured endearments.

A nudge against his back startled Skinner and he opened his eyes to look around. His movement made Mulder lift his head from Skinner's shoulder.

"Walter?" he asked dreamily.

A movement in the water, and Skinner smiled. "I think your friend is back."

Mulder looked around, grinning as he saw the sleek form break the water nearby and roll onto its side, one luminous eye watching them in the moonlight.

"A voyeuristic dolphin," Mulder said with a laugh. "Enjoy the show, pal?" The dolphin dove and nudged Skinner in the back again, harder, and nearly knocked them into the water. "Hey! Find your own date - this guy's taken."

"I think he's jealous - he wants you to stop playing with me and come play with him," Skinner said with a grin.

"Oh, to be so popular," Mulder said laughing, unhooking his ankles from around Skinner's waist. "Is that it, buddy? Want to do a couple laps for old time's sake?" The dolphin took off for the other arm of the bay. "Hey! You didn't wait for the starting whistle - what a cheater!"

Skinner laughed and headed towards shore to dry off and dress, then watched the two frolic. He felt a deep well of contentment inside and wanted this feeling to last forever. He knew that it wouldn't, knew that they would have tough times ahead and that his biggest challenge would be convincing his wary lover to let go of his fears and take a chance on him. But he had hope now, and with hope and a little luck, he thought that they just might pull it off.

Chapter Text

I know the way I feel for you, it's now or never
The more I love, the more that I'm afraid
That in your eyes I many not see forever, forever

If we can be the best of lovers
Yet be the best of friends
If we can try with everyday to make it better as it grows
With any luck, then I suppose, the music never ends

 

Skinner opened his door and smiled at the tired-looking man standing on his doorstep. "Hi. I was beginning to think that you'd gone back to your place."

Mulder rubbed eyes that were reddened with fatigue. "Flight was delayed, then we circled for hours before we were waved off to Baltimore. I should have gone home - it's late - I wasn't thinking when I gave the cab driver the address - "

Skinner dragged Mulder inside by his coat lapel, shut the door and relieved him of his luggage. Then he pulled his lover into his arms, just holding him close, and murmured, "You are home."

Mulder clung to him, the combination of overwhelming fatigue and relief hitting him at once and making him weak-kneed. "I thought you might have changed your mind, once you got away from the whole romantic-vacation influence," he murmured into Skinner's shoulder.

Skinner sighed dramatically and shook his head. "I knew it was a mistake to let you fly home by yourself. You had too much time to think, and that always makes you brood. I should have insisted that you change your tickets to fly back with me."

Mulder managed a weak smile. "I'm okay."

"Come on - this should convince you." Skinner picked up one of the bags and led the way upstairs. Mulder followed, his tired brain trying to think of a way to tell Skinner that the last thing he wanted was sex without hurting the man's feelings.

Skinner walked over to the closet, turning on the light as he stepped inside. "Check it out."

Mulder managed a smile as he crossed the room. "Is there something significant about both of us going into your closet? Something symbolic?"

"Smart ass."

Mulder blinked. The closet was neat, as he would have expected, but it was also only half-full. One side of the walk-in closet was now completely empty, except for the suit bag that Skinner hung up on the bar. He looked at Skinner questioningly.

"I figured you'd need some space of your own. I thought I'd order a matching dresser for you on Monday. And I've made space downstairs for your books and videos. Even if you're not moving in here completely, I thought you'd feel more comfortable if you had some of your things here." Skinner's eyes were studying his face, watching for either a good or bad reaction.

Mulder smiled. "Walter, you're too good to me," he said, moving into Skinner's arms again with a contented sigh.

"Welcome home, Fox," Skinner murmured into his ear. "Have you - " He stopped as he felt the laugh, and he pulled back with a grin. "Never mind. I know the answer: airline food is the pits and you were so anxious that you couldn't have kept anything down. Go get a shower and I'll fix you a light meal."

Which left Mulder, standing under a cascade of blessedly hot water a few minutes later, wondering what he had done right to have this amazing man in his life. A smile curved his lips and gave way to a full laugh.

"That sounds better," Skinner said from the bedroom as he set a tray down on the end of the bed. "What are you laughing about?"

"You."

"I don't know whether to be flattered or insulted."

Mulder appeared in the bathroom doorway, a towel wrapped around his waist as he briskly rubbed his hair with another towel. "Definitely flattered."

"Then I won't pry further." He pulled Mulder into another hug, relishing the scent of freshly washed Mulder. "Dinner's waiting." He released the younger man.

Mulder slipped on a pair of boxers to sleep in and settled on the bed, sniffing appreciatively. "Soup and grilled cheese? Comfort foods, Walter?"

"Nothing's too good for you, babe."

Mulder grinned. "I'll keep that in mind." He bit into the sandwich and discovered that he was hungrier than he had thought.

Skinner, puttering around the room as he got everything settled down for the night, noticed this with approval. "I'll just run this down to the kitchen and lock up," he said, picking up the tray after Mulder polished off the last of the soup. "Go ahead and get under the covers - I'll only be a few minutes."

It was closer to ten minutes when he returned to the bedroom after rinsing the dishes and locking up, and he smiled as he saw that Mulder was already fast asleep, curled up on one side of the bed. He stood by the bed for a long moment, looking down at the sleeping face of the man he loved, and then gently kissed a slightly-stubbled cheek.

"Welcome home, Fox," he said softly.

He got ready for bed and settled in with a book, turning the light on low so that it wouldn't disturb his sleeping lover. His internal clock was still out of adjustment, still on European time, and that coupled with the nap he had taken earlier conspired against letting him sleep anytime soon. After a couple hours, though, his eyes started to get heavy and he closed the book, reaching for the light.

A sound from the sleeping man next to him made him pause and turn back. Mulder was muttering in his sleep, starting to twist in the grip of his dream. Skinner frowned; Mulder hadn't had a nightmare while sleeping with him in a long time. He gently shook Mulder until he stopped thrashing and opened his eyes.

"Walter?" The voice was fuzzy with sleep.

"You were dreaming, Fox. Are you okay? Was it one of your usual nightmares?"

Mulder shivered. "No. Something new. Something weird." He smiled weakly at Skinner. "Remind me not to read John Preston and historical romances at the same time." He shuddered again.

Skinner grinned. "Historical romance - you mean one of those books with the half-dressed women on the covers? I never would have suspected you -"

Mulder gave him a dirty look. "Yeah, well, it was Scully's and she left it in my flight bag. I was out of reading material on the plane."

"Want to tell me about the dream?"

Mulder considered for a moment, vaguely remembering Skinner as a feudal lord and himself as a slave boy, and shuddered. "I don't think so - you have enough ideas as it is."

Skinner laughed and reached over to turn out the light, then reached out to pull Mulder into his arms, settling him against his shoulder. "Go to sleep, Fox."

"Yes, my lord."


Mulder woke to bright sunshine and an empty bed. He stretched deliciously, enjoying the feeling of having slept out his bone-deep fatigue and the comfort of waking up in a familiar room. Then he decided that the luxuries of a big bed was better shared so he put on a robe and went in search of his lover.

He found Skinner in the kitchen, spooning out pancake batter. "Mmm. Smells good." Mulder helped himself to a cup of coffee and leaned against the counter to watch the older man as he expertly flipped and removed the pancakes on the griddle and then poured out another set. "You're so domestic, Walter. You must have been born with homemaker genes."

Skinner flashed him a grin and Mulder found himself wishing that his lover would smile like that more often. Dressed in casual clothes, without his glasses, and wearing a smile like that the older man packed a nearly lethal punch. "You'd be surprised," Skinner said in amusement. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," Mulder admitted. "Rested. Less uncertain about this whole moving-in thing."

"Good." Another sideways look. "Anything I can do to make you even more certain about this?"

"Well, as a matter of fact - " Mulder waggled his eyebrows at Skinner suggestively.

Skinner turned off the burner and set the plate in the oven to stay warm, then turned and pounced.


It turned out to be the high-point of his week, the low point being the reason why he was having a hell of a time packing the box in front of him. No, the real low point had been kneeling in the dirt waiting for a gunshot and wondering if his lover and his partner would ever know what had happened to him. The overwhelming relief he had felt at having his life spared had made him look at a lot of things differently. So, sent home mid-afternoon on a Friday with orders to take it easy, he had done just the opposite and began sorting out the items that he would take with him to Skinner's apartment the next morning.

He gave up on trying to secure the box flaps with his splinted fingers and decided to tackle his first challenge. Mulder picked up the phone and dialed the number from memory, almost hanging up twice. He heard the phone ring, his nerves stretching tighter with each successive ring, and wiped his sweating palms on his jeans. No one home, he thought, almost giddy with relief. Well, that was that. He had tried, hadn't he? Maybe he'd send a letter…

"Hello?"

Mulder swallowed hard, his heart jumping into his throat.

"Is anyone there?"

He cleared his throat. "Mom? It's - it's me."

"Fox? Why on earth didn't you say something right away? I thought it was one of those dreadful obscene phone calls."

"Um - sorry, Mom." Damn, he thought, his heart sinking as he felt the old helplessness fill him. Getting off on the wrong foot at the start - this was not good. "How - how are you doing?"

"As well as can be expected. I got a bit of a cold in my lungs this past winter but your aunt took me to the Caribbean last month and that helped."

Pictures of warm sun, sand, and ocean water filled his mind and steadied his nerves. "Sorry to hear that you weren't well but I'm glad that you're better." He paused awkwardly, wondering if he should make an excuse to hang up.

"Fox, you didn't call to ask about my health. What's going on? Your sister - ?"

"No, nothing like that." He paused again. "I - um - I wanted to tell you that I'm - that I've found someone special."

There was a sigh on the other end of the phone. "I suppose it's that partner of yours."

"Scully? No, it's not her. I'd like you to come to DC, you know, to meet - "

"No, I don't think so. There's not much point, is there? These relationships of yours don't last very long. What would be the point of my meeting the young lady."

Mulder swallowed hard and closed his eyes. She was right - what was he thinking? He had never successfully managed to sustain a relationship - he should just break this one off now before he really hurt Walter. He moved the phone to his other hand and, in doing so, the bracelet around his right wrist shifted and caught his eyes. Mulder touched it, ran a finger over the design on the surface. He could almost feel his lover's hands on his shoulders, sending warmth and strength through him. He drew in a deep breath.

"This is different, Mom. This one - I think it's the real thing. I love him, and he loves me."

"Him?"

"Yes, him."

There was silence and then a deep sigh. "Oh Fox; your father would be so disappointed." And then there was only a dial tone on the other end.

Mulder stared at the receiver for a long time before sighing and hanging up. "Yeah, well, it wouldn't be the first time." Then he picked up the phone and dialed another number that he knew by heart.

"Hey, Scully. You doing anything after work? Care to come by my place and split a pizza? I think we need to talk."


Saturday mid-morning, and Skinner looked up as Mulder entered the apartment. He smiled a welcome, gesturing for him to enter, then spoke into the phone again. "Yeah, he just walked in. Want to talk to him?" He held out the phone to a questioning Mulder. "Mom."

Mulder grinned, set down the suit bag he was carrying, and crossed to take the phone from Skinner, flopping down into an easy chair with languid ease. Skinner turned his attention way from that enticing sight and toward the slight redhead standing in the doorway, uncertainly holding a box in her arms.

"Here; let me take that." He glanced into the box and identified it as books and carried it over to the bookshelves, setting it on the floor for now. "I see that Mulder drafted you into helping. Any more in the car?"

"Just a box and a suitcase - one trip ought to get it."

Skinner nodded and got the car keys from his lover, then went down to the garage with Scully. She was quiet in the elevator and he looked over at her, wondering what she was thinking. "Are you okay?"

She nodded. "Just - thinking." She studied the older man's profile. "Mulder and I talked a lot last night."

"About?"

"You. Him. The two of you. Our partnership."

"And you managed to finish that discussion in one night?"

Scully laughed, shaking her head ruefully. "Okay, I admit that the talk stretched into early morning - and I crashed on his couch. In fact, I'm supposed to be at the Club right now for a training session with Mace."

Skinner looked at her in amusement. "You stood up Geoffrey Mason? You're a braver person than I am, Dana."

Scully smiled. "I have it on good authority from Sean that he's mellowed since your training days." She gave him a sideways look of amusement. "Someday we'll have to share stories."

"I wouldn't hold my breath, Dana."

"Not even if I threaten to tell Mulder your training nickname? I know that he's dying to know."

"I think that this is considered blackmail. And two can play that game."

Scully laughed. "All right - for now." She paused beside her car and laid a hand on Skinner's arm, her face turning serious. "Walter - I just want to tell you that I hope this works out. For both of you. I know that you care about him a lot, and I think you know how hard this is for him."

Skinner nodded. "Yes. I'm doing my best not to pressure him, make him feel trapped." He smiled ruefully. "Sometimes life with Mulder feels like navigating a mine field."

"Don't I know it. Just be patient - he loves you very much. And if there's ever anything I can do to help, just let me know." She let go of his arm. "Well, I better get going before Mace blows a gasket."

Skinner watched her drive off, smiling at the mental picture of Mason meeting his match in the diminutive redhead, then fetched the box and suitcase from the car.


Once the door closed behind Skinner, Mulder turned his attention to the phone in his hand. He was tired but it was a nice kind of tired. The night before, he and Scully had talked until the early morning hours. It had brought back bittersweet memories: a candlelit motel room where he had first told Scully about his sister, countless motel rooms where they had talked about nearly every subject under the sun, arguing companionably, nights spent completing case files over takeout food. Before each of them had erected walls to mask their pain. Before the arguments had become something to win, points being tallied on some unseen scoreboard. But last night they had really talked, in a way that they hadn't for years. And it had felt good, healing a wound that he hadn't even realized that he had felt. It had almost been enough to make him forget the conversation with his mother.

"Hi, Anne! How was the flight home?"

"Uneventful," came the warm voice of Anne Skinner over the connection. "And I was thankful for that - I'd forgotten how exhausting a six month old baby can be. I can't wait to show you both the pictures - she's grown so much."

Mulder groaned dramatically. "Anne, you really know how to torture a guy. Am I going to have to put up with an entire weekend of you and Walter trading pictures? You still are coming for a visit next month aren't you, for Walter's birthday?"

Anne laughed. "Of course - it's been too long since I've seen you two, and Walter says that he's got some lovely souvenirs from Greece. He also says that you're moving in - sort of."

Mulder smiled ruefully. "Yeah, Walter can be pretty convincing."

"If that's the case, what's holding you back, dear?" Anne asked gently. "I know that you love him very much - do you still doubt how much he loves you?"

"No, not really, it's just - " Mulder sighed. "Anne, how long were you married to Walter's father? If you don't mind my asking?"

"Of course not. We were married for forty-two years before he died."

"Forty-two - " Mulder was nearly struck speechless. "How - "

Anne's soft laugh came over the phone. "How did we last so long? Lots of love, lots of understanding, lots of patience."

"I can't imagine spending forty years with one person, always agreeing, never arguing."

"Who ever told you that people in love don't argue? Jonathan - Walter's father - and I had our share of fights, said terrible things to each other at times. But we learned to forgive each other, to bend and compromise when necessary."

Mulder sighed. "I don't do compromise very well. And Walter's not exactly the bending kind."

"I don't know about that. Seems that you've both been willing to compromise - for each other." There was silence from Mulder's end of the phone. "Fox, what is it?"

"It's just - I know that we love each other now but - how do I know that it's going to last? How do I know that one day I won't wake up and - and not see that in his eyes anymore?"

"Fox, none of us have any guarantees," Anne said gently. "It's the risk we take when we fall in love. But I don't think that you have anything to worry about as far as Walter is concerned. He loves you more than I've seen him love anyone in his life."

Mulder sighed. "Until I do something to screw this up. I don't have the best track record in relationships. My own mother doesn't think this will last - "

"So you told her?"

"Just the essentials. That I had found someone special. That it was a man. She hung up on me."

Anne sighed. "It can be hard for a parent to accept, Fox. We all have certain - expectations for our children. Give her time."

Mulder snorted. "You don't know my mother, Anne."

"No, I don't," Anne said slowly.

"Yeah, well she has raised denial to a high art form. By this time, she's probably suppressed her memories of the whole conversation." There was a sound at the front door, and Mulder looked over the back of the chair to see Skinner enter the apartment. "Walter's back. You want to talk to him?"

"No - I know you have unpacking and settling in to do. Give him a kiss from me and tell him I'll call him later this week. And Fox - stop worrying so much and just enjoy. Okay?"

Mulder laughed. "Yes, ma'am. Take care, Anne."

He hung up the phone and crossed the room to Skinner who was setting the box down on top of the first one. "Anne said to tell you that she'd call later this week. And she asked me to give you this." He slid his arms around Skinner and kissed him thoroughly.

Skinner chuckled softly when Mulder released him. "Somehow I doubt that's the kind of kiss my mother would have given me."

"Interpretive license." He moved back in for another kiss, relishing the security of strong arms around him. "And I'm thinking that we should put off unpacking these boxes till later. Like Monday."

Skinner let his lips move down his lover's neck. "What did you have in mind?"

"A proper homecoming celebration." Mulder began unbuttoning Skinner's shirt.

"Hmm. As I recall, a proper celebration involves making love in every room in the house."

Mulder grinned at him. "I like the way you think. Care to christen the living room?" Skinner's response was to push his lover down onto the couch, pausing only to strip off their clothes before following Mulder down. Mulder chuckled softly as Skinner's weight settled along his body. "I take it that's a 'yes'."

Skinner bent his head and kissed his lover possessively. "You talk too much." Then he proceeded to drive the younger man out of his mind with kisses and nips along his collarbone, finding the one exact place that always drove Mulder crazy, while his hands caressed and stroked the supple skin.

Mulder gasped and groaned with pleasure, his own hands moving over Skinner's back before gripping the firm ass. He pulled his lover's groin closer, relishing the resultant groan as much as the pleasurable friction against his own cock.

"God, it's been too long," he moaned, his strong hands urging Skinner's body into a rhythm that rocked both their groins together, their cocks sliding along each other, driving the tension to an almost unbearable level.

"Missed you," Skinner muttered, "missed this. And waking with you in the morning."

Mulder thought about how close they had come to missing this forever and tightened his arms around his lover. The added friction was just enough to push him over the edge and he came with a shout.

"God, yes! Walter!"

Skinner felt the warmth against their bellies, felt the heat rush through his own body, and exploded with a gasp. "Fox - love you - "

They lay there for a long moment, trying to catch their breath and return their heartbeat to normal. A soft chuckle from under him made Skinner lift his head to catch a grin on Mulder's face, one he knew that matched the expression on his own face.

"What?"

"Just wondering if I'm going to survive the homecoming celebration," Mulder teased.

"Guess that just shows who's in better shape." He lifted himself off the younger man, stretching with a wicked look at his lover. "Of course, if you're not up to it, I suppose we can just forget the homecoming ritual…"

"Not up to it?" Mulder said indignantly. "I'll show you who's not up to it! Race you to the shower - old man."

Skinner growled and set off in pursuit of his laughing lover, then pinned him against the shower wall and proceeded to show him very convincingly just who was not an old man.


The sky was overcast, promising a storm later in the day, and she idly wondered if she should cover some of the more fragile new plants in her garden. One more thing to do on a busy Monday morning, she thought with a sigh. With a hint of impatience, she looked back at the stranger standing on her doorstep.

"Yes? May I help you?"

"Mrs. Mulder? I'm Anne Skinner. I think that we need to talk."

Chapter Text

Run to me, when those cold and troubled winds have found you
Come to me, and I’ll wrap my world of love around you
I’ll be your flame burnin’ bright
Be the sunlight in your day
That’ll take you through the night.

 

Teena Mulder looked puzzled. "I'm afraid - "

Anne Skinner smiled at her. "I believe that you have spoken with my son - Assistant Director Walter Skinner."

"Oh, yes." Teena opened the door and led the way to the living room with a sigh. "I suppose Fox is in trouble again. Would you care for some coffee?"

Anne bit her tongue over a quick retort. If someone had shown up on her doorstep to talk to her about Walter, she would have been certain he was at death's door. She certainly wouldn't be this casual about it. "Thank you. That would be nice."

"Make yourself at home. I'll be back in a moment."

Anne nodded and Teena disappeared down the hallway. Anne walked over to the fireplace, studying the pictures displayed there. A handful of pictures, not many, of a girl from infancy to youth, the last one of her standing with an older boy who looked vaguely familiar. She picked up the picture and looked at it closely, smiling. Fox, she thought to herself, and this must be the sister that he had lost. She set the picture back down, looking around the room for more recent photos of the young man that she had come to regard as her son-in-law, frowning again as she realized that there were none.

Teena came back in with a tray, setting it down on the coffee table. "How do you take your coffee?"

"Black, one sugar." Anne accepted the cup and settled on the couch.

"So, Mrs. Skinner - "

"Please, call me Anne."

Teena nodded. "The last time - when your son came to tell me in person - they believed that Fox was dead."

"This isn't anything like that. This is more in the nature of a social call."

Teena raised an eyebrow. "I wasn't aware that FBI administrators sent their mothers to pay social calls on the families of their agents."

"They don't. Walter doesn't know that I'm here - he'd probably growl at me if he found out," Anne said, smiling. "The fact is, I've become very fond of Fox and I hate seeing him unhappy."

"You know my son?"

"I spent Christmas with them - Walter and Fox," Anne said quietly. "And I sat with him at the hospital earlier this year when he was recovering from his abduction."

"Christmas - with them?"

"Yes. Mrs. Mulder, I know that Fox told you that he was in love, that the person he was seeing was a man. That man is my son."

Teena frowned. "If you're blaming my son - if you think he somehow seduced - "

"I'm not blaming anyone. Fox is a delightful young man and I have enjoyed knowing him."

Teena drew a deep breath. "So you've known about all this for a long time."

"Since Christmas."

Teena set down her cup, looking horrified. "And you condone this - this relationship?"

"It's not my place to condone it or not. Walter is a grown man, capable of making his own decisions, and I support him in that. But the fact of the matter is that, yes, I do approve. My son loves Fox deeply. They are very happy together."

"You encourage them? You should be ashamed of yourself! You ought to be ashamed of your son!"

Anne bit her tongue as she set down her coffee cup, counted to ten, and said firmly, "I've never been ashamed of Walter, ever. Disappointed? Yes. Disappointed that he'll never give me a grandchild, that he'll never have the joy of having a child of his own. But if he's never going to have that, then I want him to have everything else that he can have. Love most of all."

"It went on for all this time with Fox saying a word?"

Anne sighed, trying to be patient. "It's a hard thing for a child to tell a parent. He was probably worried about how you would react."

"Well, he should be! I don't know if I can ever look him in the face again, knowing this about him."

Anne said persuasively, "Just give him a chance - see the two of them together. When you see how happy they are - "

"It's not just that. It's - it's everything. What about their jobs? If anyone finds out, they're finished."

"They know that. But the FBI isn't the world - there are plenty of other jobs out there for men with their qualifications."

Teena's mouth set. "Not for Fox. He knows that he has to stay there - it's his only chance to find his sister. Her best hope."

Anne's temper got the best of her. "Her best hope? What about him? What about your son?" She gestured at the pictures on the mantle. "You've surrounded yourself with images of your lost daughter and you've forgotten the child you have here! You have a wonderful son - bright and loving - hungry to share his life with you if you'd just let him."

"I lost my baby girl! What would you know about loss?"

"More than you imagine." Anne got up and walked to the fireplace, staring at the items on the mantle with unseeing eyes. "I sent a strong, healthy, happy young man off to war, to serve his country. What I got back was a walking ghost." Her voice trembled and she tried to steady it. "He was so skinny you could practically see every rib and just getting out of a chair exhausted him. There were scars - everywhere; he was pieced back together like a patchwork quilt. He couldn't sleep at night without a light in his room and even then - " Tears were running down her cheeks. "Even then he would have horrible nightmares, would walk up screaming. And he stopped talking. For three weeks, he didn't say a word - just those screams in the night."

Teena watched her, face expressionless. "I am sorry, but this has nothing to do with me."

Anne turned back, dashing away the tears on her cheeks, regaining her serenity. "It has everything to do with you. When I got my son back, when he pulled through and I really got him back, I realized that every day is a gift. There are no guarantees for tomorrow - all we have is today. You've got to try to put things right with your son because one day it will be too late and you will wish that you had."

Teena stood up, shaking her head. "No. Thank you for coming, but it's already too late."

Anne conceded defeat, let Teena Mulder politely but firmly escorted her out the front door, and got back in her car. She sat there for a long moment, wondering if she had made things better or worse, then picked up the phone and called her son.


Skinner hung up the phone and took off his glasses, rubbing his eyes wearily. It was only 9 on a Monday morning but it felt like it should be late afternoon. They had spent a busy weekend getting Mulder settled into Skinner's apartment, physically and emotionally. For the most part, it had gone well, although the previous night Mulder had woken several times from a nightmare that he couldn't remember later but somehow involved fire.

And now his mother had called to tell him about her confrontation with Mulder's mother. Mulder wasn't going to be happy about this, he thought with a sigh. In fact, Mulder was going to be pissed and he had every right. Although Skinner didn't know what good getting mad would do - Anne had just done what she thought was right. And, truth to tell, Skinner had longed to give Mulder's mother a piece of his mind for a long time - even before they became lovers. How could anyone treat such a beautiful, brilliant man so badly?

For now, the best thing that he could do would be to give Mulder something to distract him. An X-File to work on. Unfortunately, the only thing he had at present would take Mulder and Scully out of town for a couple days. He sighed and picked up a folder, frowning as he sat back in his chair and studied it.

The intercom buzzed. "Sir, Agents Mulder and Scully are here."

"Send them in."

Scully entered the office, followed by Mulder. "Agents, have a seat."

They settled into chairs across from his desk, and Mulder noticed that Skinner glanced at him briefly before looking at Scully.

Hmm, my 'spidey' senses are tingling, he thought. Something is wrong.

"I need you to go to Chicago as soon as possible, to perform a threat assessment." Skinner filled them in on the Vinyl Right Company, telling them about a previous incident in the company's history.

Mulder had been studying him. "Why can't the Chicago field office take care of it?"

His tone was just this side of insolence, and Skinner looked at him, expressionless. "Because I'd prefer you did."

That mocking glint was back in Mulder's eye, the one that started pushing all of Skinner's buttons and made him realize that it had been a long, long time since they had been to the Club. Perhaps they should make time for it this coming weekend, he thought.

"Because the manifesto contains bizarre overtones? Claims of a paranormal nature?"

Coolly, Skinner said, "It speaks of a monster stalking the employees. Your insight into such claims should aid in accessing the threat, if any, posed by this person."

"Monsters?" Mulder gave him a mocking smile. "I'm your boy."

The look Skinner gave him across the desk told him just exactly what he would like to do to his 'boy', then Skinner glanced over at Scully, then back at Mulder with compressed his lips. Mulder recognized a dismissal when he saw one and collected the file, heading out into the hallway.

Scully joined him and Mulder sighed. "I must have done something to piss him off this weekend."

Scully looked puzzled. "What do you mean?"

"Getting stuck with this jerk-off assignment - or have I finally reached that magic point in my career where every time someone sees Bigfoot or the Virgin Mary on a tortilla I get called out of my basement warren to offer my special insight on the matter?" His head ached and he rubbed his forehead wearily. He hadn't slept well the night before, sleep disturbed by vague nightmares that even the warm and substantial presence of his lover couldn't dispel.

"You're saying 'I' a lot - I heard 'we'. Or do I assume that this case is just a waste of our time?"

"Not yours anyway. There's no reason both of us should go to Chicago. I'll take care of it." He gave her a half-smile and started down the hallway.

"Mulder - "

"I'm monster boy, right?" he called back to her. Scully watched him, her face troubled, and wondered if there was something wrong between the two men. And, if so, what she could do about it.


And a day later, she was convinced that something was wrong. She had come into the office that morning to find Mulder there already when she had been certain he would take the day off - especially considering the ordeal he had been through the previous day in Chicago. He looked exhausted, almost feverish, and she was certain that he had come straight there from the airport instead of going home. He had rambled about a creature able to disguise itself, had admitted that he saw the monster as well, and had headed back to Chicago to continue his investigation. Without her, as she found herself unable to support his belief.

And now she had been called into Skinner's office. Scully was not in the least bit happy and, if Mulder had been anywhere around, probably would have considered shooting him in the other shoulder. Her ire evaporated when she saw Skinner 's face and heard what he didn't say under the careful phrases.

"Agent Scully, I was hoping that you could give me some insight into Agent Mulder's recent behavior." The concern on his face was more than that of a supervisor, so she guessed that Mulder had talked to Skinner even less than he had to her. "Why is he back in Illinois? I thought that case was closed."

Aware of the very real possibility that the office was bugged, she said cautiously, "Agent Mulder believes that there may be a connection between the Oakbrook incident and several other cases."

Skinner's eyes studied her, and she saw the reproach in them. "But you elected not to join him. The Chicago field office has been in contact with him and they say that his behavior has been - erratic."

Scully felt guilty. She should have gone with him; they both knew what Mulder was like on a case and she knew that he was exhausted and likely to go off half-cocked when he was like this. "To the best of my knowledge, Agent Mulder is working on a legitimate investigation. I will join him in Illinois immediately."

Skinner frowned, looking at the file he was holding. "Don't you have an autopsy to do first? This body Mulder sent to Quantico - the shooting victim." Scully looked at him blankly and he looked puzzled. "You are scheduled to do an examination - or didn't you know that?"

I will kill you, Mulder, she thought, grinding her teeth together. "I'll get right on it, Sir." She started towards the door, determined to practice some newly learned intimidation techniques on him when she saw him next.

Skinner's voice caught her before she reached the door, and she was startled at the tentative tone in it. "Is there something you want to tell me, Scully?

She glanced at Skinner and saw her own anxiety reflected back. It was enough to cool her temper for the moment, to make her smile slightly to relieve his worries. "No, sir."

She was holding onto her temper by a thread when she arrived at Quantico and prepared for the autopsy, telling the pathologist assisting her to do an external examination only. While he did that, she pulled out her cell phone, determined to give her partner a piece of her mind.

"- Estimated time of death between 48 and 72 hours."

That caught her attention, and she swung around. "No. The time of death was yesterday afternoon." But then she took a look at the corpse, remembering the clear and - yes, sane! - certainty in her partner's eyes. There was something peculiar about the amount of decomposition.

"I've changed my mind. Let's do a full autopsy."

Hours later, staring at the results of the lab phone, she picked up her cell phone and called another cell phone number. "Sir? I think we need to talk. Agent Mulder may be in grave danger."


Twenty-four hours later, Mulder entered his motel room wearily and set the hospital bag containing his personal items on the table, then went to tap on the connecting door. "Hi, honey, I'm home."

Skinner opened the door and came into the room, frowning. "Don't you ever do that again."

Mulder looked at him blankly. "What? Call you 'honey'? I didn't know you were that sensitive."

"Mulder, that's not what I was talking about - and you know it."

"Scully back yet?"

"Yeah - she finished with the local office an hour ago." Skinner gestured with his head towards the wall opposite Skinner's room. "She's in her room, working on her report and will meet us at breakfast. In the meantime, Mulder, we need to talk."

Mulder sighed and rubbed his temples. These headaches were becoming more frequent. "Can we not do this tonight? I have a splitting headache."

"I'm not surprised." Skinner went back through his connecting door and returned with a bottle of chilled water and a handful of tablets. "Here."

"What's this? Aspirin?"

"Yeah - I'm saving the cyanide till I take out that massive life insurance policy on you. I figure with all the bizarre things that happen to you, no one will notice when you keel over dead and at last I'll be free to live that life of luxury I've been dreaming about."

Mulder tossed down the tablets. "That's what I love about you, Walter - the poetry in your soul and the way you sweep me off my feet."

"Well, if sweeping is required - " Skinner swept the younger man up into his arms, carried him through to his own room, and deposited him on the bed with a bounce.

"Walter, you brute."

"And you love it." Skinner sat down and started removing Mulder's shoes.

Mulder sat up and pulled off his sweatshirt, making a face at the ache in his muscles. "Speaking of which, you were a little rough with that take-down earlier today."

"Just going along with the role - had to make it believable for Pincus."

Mulder snorted. "I think you got off on pinning me down on that desk."

Skinner grinned. "Always." He lifted the covers for Mulder to scoot under. "Seriously, though. We're going to have a long, long talk in the morning. Complete with AD growls and everything."

Mulder sighed and closed his eyes. "It's not my fault that the nurse got involved, Scully sidetracked, or that I wasn't able to defend myself. And you agreed to the plan to set me up as bait. You just didn't expect anyone - or anything - to show up." At the silence that greeted his words, he opened his eyes to find Skinner looking down at him with troubled eyes. He sighed. "Don't beat yourself up over it, Walter. It's not like that hasn't happened before this. And I thought it was a pretty unbelievable story when I first heard it - someone disguising himself, 'hiding in plain sight'. I'm just glad that Scully's autopsy showed that toxin or I might have been in the Painting with your Toes class right now. Or dead."

"I never would have agreed to commit you, Mulder. Besides the fact that I don't have the authority to do so - "

"That reminds me," Mulder murmured. "I need to change my Power of Attorney. And my will."

Skinner felt his mouth go dry. "Fox - "

"Walter, shut up and come to bed."

Skinner undressed and slipped under the covers, and Mulder rolled over to snuggle against his shoulder.

After a moment, he said, quietly, "He's still out there, you know."

"Yeah. I know. While you were getting discharged, I had some men go over to pick up Pincus. He's gone - along with half a dozen employees and that nurse."

"And Scully?"

Skinner hesitated. "She saw - something. Too dark to make it out clearly. And you - well, you were drugged."

Stubbornly, Mulder said, "I know what I saw, Walter."

"I know, babe. We'll talk in the morning. Tonight I just want to hold you while you sleep." He turned off the light and there was silence for a long moment.

"Do you think I've seriously lost it?"

"Lost what?"

"It. That edge. The line between sanity and insanity."

"You're not crazy, Mulder," Skinner said, affectionately, kissing the top of his lover's head. "Infuriating, exasperating, headstrong, thick-headed - but not crazy."

Mulder chuckled softly and turned his head to nuzzle Skinner's neck. "Love you, too, Walter." He snuggled down closer into Skinner's arms, falling asleep easily, while Skinner held him and tried not to think about how close he had come to losing him again.


"Mulder! Where in the hell have you been hiding yourself?"

Mulder turned with a grin at the sound of the familiar voice. "What - couldn't get into enough trouble on your own?"

Sean grinned impishly. "Oh, I don't have any problems in that department. I can always find something to stir up Geoff - when I want to. But, as a matter of fact, I've been a very good boy lately." His eyes twinkled. "I have references if you want to check them out."

Mulder gave him a look of mock-disapproval. "And you a married man!"

"I'm married, not dead. Speaking of which, you look three-fourths dead. You've got to get your man to let you sleep sometime."

"Ha-ha."

"Seriously, Mulder," and Sean shifted from his flighty-bottom persona, "you don't look good. Something wrong between you and the Mountain?"

Mulder shook his head. "No. We're fine. As a matter of fact, he asked me to move in with him while we were on vacation. I've just been having trouble sleeping, and I keep getting these killer headaches."

Sean looked troubled. "Have you been back to see Dr. Kate lately?"

"Great - you think I'm nuts, too."

Sean frowned. "Just because you're seeing a therapist doesn't mean you're nuts. I see Kate once a month, just to talk. And what do you mean 'too'?"

"I’d rather not talk about it right now."

"Mulder, you know that I'm not going to let it go, so you might as well talk to me."

Mulder sighed, unlocking the door to Skinner's suite, and led the way inside. "God, you are one pushy sub," he grumbled.

"Yep. Talk, or I'll get out the thumbscrews."

Mulder threw himself down onto the couch, grinning. "Walter has thumbscrews in that cabinet? Kinky."

"Mulder, I'm counting to five and then I'm calling in the big guns," Sean said ominously. "Geoff and Dana are training downstairs."

"Shit, you don't play fair, do you?"

"One….. two…"

"Okay, okay, I'm talking." Mulder sighed again. "Bad case this past week. Hell, the past two weeks have been unbelievable. Last week I was involved with a terrorist group and helped hold up a bank and got my fingers broken and nearly had a bullet put in my brain. This week was worse. Walter and Scully had to - had to pretend to commit me to try to catch a monster. Only - I'm not sure that they were entirely certain that I wasn't going crazy. Add that to the fact that Walter's pushing - in the nicest way possible - for me to move in completely, and I'm scared to death of that whole commitment thing anyway. Oh, and I came out to my mother and she hung up on me. All in all, a stellar two weeks."

"Shit, Mulder," Sean said sympathetically, sitting on the couch next to him. "You don’t go for the normal problems, do you?"

"I don't think the word 'normal' is in my dictionary."

"Well, I don't think you're crazy. And I doubt that Walter or Dana seriously believes that, either. As for the rest - I'm here whenever you want to talk, or you can talk to Dr. Kate. It can help to talk to someone objective."

"Thanks," Mulder said gratefully, then glanced at his watch. "I'd better get moving. Walter'll be here soon and I haven't shaved in weeks."

Sean grinned, unfolding from the couch. "Yeah, I'd hate to be the cause of a sore bottom - unless you wanted one."

Mulder turned to start unpacking his bag. "We don't do that kind of stuff."

"Not even once, to try it out? Guy, you don't know what you're missing."

Mulder flushed and took his kit into the bathroom, and Sean sat back with a grin, mentally counting. Five…Four…Three…Two…One…

"Um - Sean?"

Bingo. "What, Mulder?"

"Do you really enjoy it?"

"Define 'it'."

"You know what I'm talking about."

"You mean taking a trip across Geoff's knee? Going sunny-side up? Having my buns toasted?" He lowered his voice and said, theatrically, "Getting a spanking? Geez, Mulder, how are you going to even ask about it if you can't say the words? Say 'Sean, do you enjoy getting a spanking?' "

"You are a bastard, Sean."

"Say it."

Mulder sighed. "Okay. Sean, do you enjoy getting a spanking?"

Sean leaned back, grinning widely. "Oh, yeah. But then, I'm a pain slut."

"Why?"

"Why do I enjoy it?" Sean shrugged. "It makes me hot." His face got a dreamy expression. "When Geoff decides that it's time to take down my pants and turn me over his knee for a warm-up, I get so turned on - sometimes I don’t last till the spanking's over. Even if it's a punishment spanking, the way he takes care of me afterward makes it worth the pain."

"Wait - he doesn't just spank you for punishment?"

"Of course not. If he did, I'd be getting into trouble all the time and he knows it. I'm a masochist, Mulder," Sean said patiently. "I like the sexy tingle of a warm-up and the burn of a serious spanking. Luckily, Geoffrey's a sadist and really likes seeing a boy with a red bottom - that's why we're so good together. And when it's time for a serious paddling, he's the best - he can take me so far down inside myself, make me release everything so that I go down crying but come up smiling."

Mulder sat down on the bed, staring at Sean, then shuddered. "I don't think I could do that. I'm not into pain."

"Not everyone is. A lot of people like getting an erotic spanking, though - just some light slaps mixed in with stroking and kissing and fucking. Just enough of a tingle to make the sex really hot."

Mulder frowned, about to ask him more, when a click at the door startled them both. "Shit!" He rushed into the bathroom, tearing off his clothes and jumping into the shower.

Skinner looked at Sean in surprise. "Are you in the wrong room or am I?"

Sean grinned. "Don’t you wish," he said provocatively, then laughed as Skinner frowned at him. "Your boy's in the shower. He was looking a little down when he got here, so we were having a talk." He gave Skinner a troubled look. "I really think he needs to talk to someone like Dr. Kate. He seems to have a lot of issues and, frankly, he looks like hell."

"I know," Skinner said with a sigh. "He hasn't been sleeping well. I'm hoping this weekend will give us a chance to get back in touch with his needs."

"Well, good luck, and have him give Kate a call, okay? He's a little closer to the edge than I like to see."

After Sean left, Skinner stepped into the bathroom. "Fox?"

"In here, Sir," came a voice from the shower. "I'm sorry I'm running late."

"It's okay," Skinner said, shedding his own clothes. "We've gotten a little out of the rhythm. Besides," he said, stepping into the shower with a smile, "any chance I get to shower with you is a gift."

Mulder grinned at him, brandishing the razor. "Actually, you caught me prepping."

"Then let me do it for you." Skinner took the razor. "How far had you gotten?" he asked, running his hand over Mulder's smooth chest, down to his groin. "Here?"

"Yes, sir," Mulder said, trying to stand still as Skinner examined him.

Skinner applied the shaving gel to Mulder's groin and carefully began shaving him. "I was talking to Sean out there."

Mulder swallowed hard. "Um - what about? Sir."

"He's worried about you."

"Oh," Mulder said, relief in his voice.

Skinner looked up at him, questioningly. "What did you think we had talked about?"

"Nothing," Mulder said quickly. "So, Sean's worried about me."

Skinner decided to let the other matter drop for now. Mulder would tell him when he was ready, one way or another. "Yes. He thinks you should talk to Dr. Kate again." He lifted Mulder's balls to shave underneath and heard the intake of breath. "What do you think?"

Mulder tried to remain still, always unsettled when Skinner did this to him. "Um - I guess."

"I love the decisiveness in that remark, Kitten," Skinner said dryly. He hefted the balls in his hand. "I think you're in too vulnerable a position here to be playing games with me, boy."

"It's just - it's been a rough two weeks."

"Fox, I don't think you're crazy."

"But you didn't believe that I saw what I said that I did. You're still not sure that I saw it."

"I believe you. But whether I believe or not doesn't matter. What matters is whether you still believe."

Mulder gave him a wry smile. "I want to believe."

Skinner smiled and hugged him. "Yeah. I know. Come, let's finish up here. I know someone who needs a little refresher on what being a sub is all about."

Mulder chuckled against Skinner's shoulder and felt his whole body begin to respond to the promise in those words. "Yes, sir."


Skinner entered his suite, having enjoyed a pleasant hour getting a massage while his sub worked out in the gym. He smiled when he saw that Mulder was already there, sprawled across the bed, his hair still damp and spiky from his shower. The sub was reading something and was so absorbed that he hadn't even noticed that Skinner had returned.

"You're studying that so intently, it must be one of those infamous newsletters from your friends. What government conspiracy have they uncovered this month?"

Mulder sat up abruptly, his face turning bright red, and ditched the reading material over the side of the bed. "You're back!"

"Good guess. I knew there was a reason you worked for the FBI, Mulder." He walked over to the bed and held out his hand. "Hand it over."

"It's nothing, really. Just something Sean gave me to read."

"My hand is not sitting out here for pigeons to roost on, boy," Skinner growled. "I believe I gave you an order."

Reluctantly, Mulder leaned over the bed and retrieved the fallen book, then placed it in Skinner's outstretched hand. Skinner glanced at the title, expecting it to be one of Mulder's UFO books, then looked again and nearly fell over.

"Fox, why are you reading a book about SM scenes?" Mulder had pulled his knees up against his chest with his arms wrapped around them and his face was buried against his knees. He mumbled something that Skinner couldn't hear. "Speak up, boy. I can't understand you."

Mulder lifted his head, not meeting Skinner's eyes. "Sean said something about that yesterday - and I was a little curious - so he gave me that to read."

More than a little curious, Skinner thought, noticing that Mulder's cock was half-hard and had probably been even harder before he had entered the room.

"And what did you think?" he asked.

Mulder flushed again. "I mean, most of it looked a little intense, but there was one thing that - um - caught my interest."

"Yes?"

"Well, there was this 'scene' they were describing where the older man was - um - spanking the younger one - "

"You want me to spank you?"

Mulder flushed again. "Not - not seriously. I mean, I didn't like it that one time when you did it, although the sex afterward was great. But this was - like a game. And - um - they got really hot and I - um - "

Skinner smiled. "Cranked your motor, did it, Kitten?"

"Oh, yeah," Mulder breathed.

Skinner eyed the younger man, considering. So far, over the months that they had come here, he had concentrated on mental and physical domination, with an excursion into toys, but they had never played any real scenes. Mulder had never seemed to need anything like that before now, had seemed content with what they were doing. Still, he had been through a lot over the past few months, and maybe what he needed was to be taken further outside his head, to let it all go.

He glanced down at the book, making up his mind. "I didn't see this book on the list of reference materials that I told you were acceptable for you to read."

Mulder looked at him, frowning. "I told you that Sean gave it to me - "

"Oh, so is Sean now in charge of your education?"

He saw Mulder's head jerk up, his eyes catch fire as he realized Skinner's intent. "No, sir."

"Who is in charge of you, boy?"

"You are, sir."

"That's right. I decide what you do here at the Club, and what you read both here and at home in regard to our D/s relationship. And it was a bad idea for you to start messing with things that you're not ready to handle, boy."

Mulder was watching his Dom with wide, appreciative eyes. He loved it when Skinner got tough with him, growled at him, took control of every aspect of his body. Now Skinner was going further than he had before, and Mulder was just beginning to realize how much he wanted more. "Yes, sir. Sorry, sir."

"Not as sorry as you're going to be," Skinner growled, watching Mulder's nostrils flare with anticipation. "Okay, boy, I think you've just earned yourself a spanking. Get on your hands and knees, ass in the air."

Mulder rolled over on his belly and quickly pushed himself up on his hands and knees, face pressed down into the mattress. His cock automatically began to harden while he waited, breathless, for Skinner to continue this game. He felt the dip of the bed that told him that Skinner had crawled up behind him, felt those amazingly gentle hands running over his ass.

"So beautiful," Skinner murmured, leaning over to kiss the smooth cheeks before him. "I like seeing you like this, Kitten." He lifted his hand and brought it down on the pale ass waiting for him, imparting a slight sting, more sound than anything. Mulder caught his breath, then moaned when Skinner followed up the swat with a gentle caress across the sensitive skin. Skinner repeated the pattern, a swat followed by a caress, sometimes with his hand and sometimes with his tongue, until Mulder's whole ass was slightly pink. Mulder responded with moans and whimpers, pushing his ass back and up, begging for more. Mulder's cock was hard and leaking by now, and Skinner grabbed for the lube, thrusting one finger into the tight hole to prep his lover.

Mulder pushed back against the invading finger. "Yeah, oh yeah! More, please, more."

Skinner leaned up over his sub, growling into his ear, "You like that, boy? I'm going to give it to you hard, teach you a lesson, and you're going to take it, aren't you?" He nipped at Mulder's neck, inserting two fingers and stroking him open.

Mulder pushed back onto those fingers, fucking himself on them. "Yes! Whatever you want! Do it!"

Skinner pulled out his fingers and swatted him again, a little harder, and Mulder bucked upward. Skinner slid into him in one smooth thrust, amazed at how relaxed and receptive his lover was, and groaned at the warmth of the sheath around him. Under him, Mulder let out a little sob, pushing back to take everything his Dom had to give him.

"God! Yes! Fuck me, Sir!"

Skinner stretched out over his lover's back, nipping at the shoulder, chuckling. "You want something, boy?"

Mulder tried to thrust back against the weight and warmth filling him. "Don't stop now! Fuck me, dammit!"

"Such a foul mouth, brat." Skinner pulled back and slammed in hard.

"And you love it." Mulder was panting, thrusting back to meet him eagerly. "Come on! Harder! Fuck me hard!"

"You got it, Kitten." He grabbed onto Mulder's hips and began rapidly thrusting, quick hard strokes that rocked his lover forward. "Like that, boy? Like me pounding your ass, filling you good?"

"Yes! God, yes!"

Skinner pulled out completely, making Mulder swear, and swatted the firm ass a couple more times, making it tingle, then thrust back in hard. Mulder was almost incoherent by now, frantically grinding himself against the sheets, meeting his Dom's movements. Skinner reached around, taking the hard cock in his own hand, pulling on it in rhythm with his thrusts and that was all it took. Mulder was coming, crying out and slamming back hard, taking Skinner with him.

They collapsed onto the mattress, both of them breathing hard, until Skinner got enough energy to pull out and flop onto his back next to the younger man. Mulder rolled over onto his side, grinning at the Dom.

"That was pretty hot."

"Any hotter and we would have set off the sprinkler system." Skinner reached out and pulled Mulder into his arms, settling him on his shoulder, and sighed contentedly.

Mulder laughed softly. "No one would believe it if they knew that the gruff AD was a snuggler in bed."

"Yeah, well, you just keep that to yourself or I just might have to warm these buns again," he growled, cupping a firm cheek in his hand.

"Oh, what a threat." Mulder's eyes were drifting closed.

Skinner kissed the soft hair next to his chin. "You're starting to scare me, babe. Next thing I know, you'll be dressing in black leather and coming after me with a whip."

Mulder snickered, snuggling deeper into his lover's arms. "I think you're safe. I seem to be a classic bottom."

"Oh, you're a classic, all right." Skinner squeezed him affectionately. "Nap time, Kitten."

There was no answer except a soft snore.

Skinner lay there listening to the soft sounds, pleasantly content in body but strangely disturbed in mind. Mulder had wanted this, had gotten seriously into the scene, and it had been a mild scene as such things go. So why did he have that stomach-dropping feeling that he had just nudged them off the top of the roller coaster called their life?

Chapter Text

It's these changes in latitude, changes in attitude
Nothing remains quite the same
With all of our running and all of our cunning
If we couldn't laugh we would all go insane.

 

Mulder woke to the delicious feeling of total and complete satiation in mind and body. A satisfied sigh escaped him and he went over each moment of the previous session in his memory. The whole scene had been so hot, the slight sting of pain from the spanking combined with the intense pleasure from Skinner's lovemaking making his climax more intense than he could ever remember. He stretched experimentally, noticing that there was nothing but the usual discomfort after a hard ride and hopped out of bed to check his backside in the mirror. Just a very faint redness remained, and he found that he was oddly disappointed not to have any more obvious souvenirs. Maybe next time, he thought with a smile.

"I never knew you were so vain, Kitten."

Mulder grinned and turned to see that Skinner was lying on his back in the bed, watching him with a smug look on his face. He took a few running steps, pouncing on the bed and straddling the older man.

"You look awfully smug this afternoon."

"And why shouldn't I be? I seem to recall someone in this bed doing a lot of begging earlier."

Mulder snorted. "Like that 's unusual." He leaned over to kiss Skinner lovingly. "You always seem to have that effect on me."

Skinner folded his arms around Mulder, settling him down on his body. "Years of practice, brat." He ran his hand down over Mulder's ass, relieved to feel that there was no evidence of their earlier game-playing. The skin was smooth and cool to the touch. "You okay, babe?"

"Very okay." Mulder nuzzled the skin under his chin.

"So why were you looking at your ass in the mirror? I didn't leave any marks or bruises."

Mulder sighed. "I know. I was hoping there would be some sort of reminder. That was the hottest sex I've ever had." He was quiet for a moment as he stroked Skinner's chest. "Walter, do you think that next time you could do it a little harder?"

There was silence for a long moment and then Skinner said, grimly, "There won't be another time."

"But Walter - "

"Don't argue with me, Fox. I'm the Dom and I determine what games we play. You wanted to try it, I was willing to give you a taste, but that's as far as it goes."

"But I don't understand - it was hot, we both enjoyed it, there was no real pain and no lasting damage - "

"I said 'no', Fox," Skinner said sharply. "If you want to keep playing here, then you will listen to me and obey me. Otherwise this ends here and now."

Mulder sat up, looking down at Skinner with a hurt and bewildered look on his face. "I always obey you here, Walter."

"I know. And speaking of orders, hop in the shower and get cleaned up."

Mulder gave him a long, puzzled look and then silently got out of bed and went into the bathroom. Remorse filled Skinner. He had spoken too harshly to the younger man, giving no reason for his decision. Not that he was obligated to explain himself to his sub, but Mulder was also his lover, which complicated the matter. And how could he tell the younger man about the chill that had filled him as he heard Mulder say those same words that Krycek had said at the end of their first session?

He got out of bed and dressed quickly. What he needed now was a little space to think this situation over. Leaving a note for Mulder, he almost ran out of the room.


Mulder came out of the bathroom toweling his hair dry and found that the suite was empty. Looking around for clue regarding his Dom's disappearance, his eyes fell on the SM book sitting on the nightstand. He sat down and reached for it, seeing as he did that there was a note attached to the cover.

 

Fox - see that this gets back to its proper owner. Immediately. W.

 

Well, that seemed to settle that subject, Mulder thought with a sigh. The Great and Mighty Dom had spoken and his humble servant would obey - or suffer the consequences. He dragged himself off bed, threw on sweats and sneakers, and headed out on his mission.

He ran Sean to ground in the Billiard Room where he found the younger sub idly knocking the balls around the table. Sean's face brightened when he saw him.

"Mulder! A friendly face at last!"

Mulder grinned. "Are you in the doghouse again? And here you said you were being good."

Sean sighed and racked the balls. "Geoff's putting Dana through a training session, no subs allowed."

"Kicked out of your suite?"

"No - well, technically yes. They use my old suite for training but I haven't used it since I moved in with Geoff. And I am heartily sick of staring at the walls in our place. Jean-Pierre won't let me mess about in the kitchen and everyone else is out or playing." He looked at Mulder hopefully. "Care for a game?"

Mulder shook his head regretfully. "I'm on a mission." He held out the book. "Thanks for letting me borrow it."

"Keep it," Sean said with a dismissive wave of his hand. "I know that one by heart."

"Can't," Mulder said regretfully, setting the book on the table. "Though I did find it very interesting. Have you done everything in that book?"

"Just about," Sean said with a shrug. "And most more than once. But what do you mean you can't keep it? I'm serious - I can easily get another copy."

Mulder shoved his hands into his pocket and studied his shoes. "Walter put his foot down."

Sean frowned. "Excuse me?"

Mulder sighed. "Walter refuses to consider playing deeper games. He says that we play it his way - or not at all."

"But Mulder - "

"Yeah. I know - it stinks. But what can I do, Sean? He's in charge. I got him to show me a little bit but that seems to have shut him down completely."

Sean pounced on his words. "What do you mean, he showed you a little?" Mulder flushed and mumbled something. Sean sighed. "Mate, I'm not blessed with super-hearing. Try that again - slower and in English."

"The erotic spanking thing. He - we did that."

"Mulder!" Sean crowed in delight, hugging his embarrassed friend. "Good for you! Well? Did you like it?"

"Oh, yeah," Mulder admitted with a grin. "It was very hot. I wouldn't mind doing that again, actually. Not that it’s likely to happen now." He sighed. "Gotta go - I'm hunting down my elusive Dom now. He took off while I was in the shower."

"Listen Mulder, give him a little time to calm down and then bring it up again. It's part of your job as a sub to let him know what you want, and it's his job to take care of you. Show him what you need and - if it is safe - work with him on getting those needs met. But first you have to figure out exactly what it was about that scene you liked, what really turned you on and set you off."

Mulder nodded. "Thanks, Sean. Well, I better see if I can find him before there's hell to pay."

Sean watched Mulder leave, smiling to himself. New subs in the process of self-discovery were a joy to watch, and Mulder was a favorite of his. He hoped that the two men could work this little issue out, figure out where they were going together.

He turned back to the table and expertly broke, then studied the resulting placement of the balls without much enthusiasm. The fact of the matter was he was bored and he was unhappy. Mason hadn't returned to their suite last night; in fact, he hadn't seen the man since Dana Scully had arrived for training the previous evening. They had disappeared into Sean's old suite, the rooms reserved for "Mr. Matthews" that they had turned into an auxiliary playroom after Sean moved in with Mason, and he hadn't heard a word since then. Technically, he had a cardkey for the door and could have gone into the suite - but he knew that his lover would be furious with him for interrupting a training session. So unless he had a really good reason for interrupting, he knew that it was best to leave the two Doms alone. And he didn't have a good reason. He was just jealous.

Not physically jealous. He knew that Mason had rarely slept with the juniors he trained or the subs he had played with. And since the day that they had first come together, Sean knew that there had been no one else in Mason's bed. Mason wouldn't take chances - not with Sean's heart or with another person's health. For himself, Mason was willing to accept the risk although they took every precaution against infection, but Mason was too conscientious to risk any one else.

No, he wasn’t worried about Mason’s sexual fidelity; he was jealous of the time Mason had to spend away from him. Telling himself that it was stupid and selfish did no good. He liked Dana Scully and he was happy to see Mason occupied in doing one of the things he loved best - training another top. But that didn't keep him from spending the previous night curled around Mason's pillow, missing the man whose presence was vibrant and reassuring even when asleep. Sean hadn't slept much last night and now, as a sudden wave of dizziness washed over him, he remembered that he hadn't taken his medication this morning. Mason would have his hide.

Sean put down the pool cue and picked up the book, heading towards his suite. He would take his medicine and try to catch a nap before Mason got back.


Sean entered their suite, so deep in thought that he didn't notice for a moment that his lover and master was there. Upon seeing Mason sitting on the couch, he dropped the book on the seat and threw himself into the welcoming arms, raining kissed on the beloved face as he straddled Mason's lap.

"Easy, baby, easy!" Mason laughed, warmly embracing the younger man. "Miss me?"

"More than you can imagine." There was a slight pout on his lips. "I was cold and lonely without you last night."

Mason nipped at his spouse's chin. "It couldn't be helped. Dana had a break-through last night and needed to talk it through. You know how important that is, my love."

"More important than me?"

Mason kissed the pouting lips lightly. "Nothing is more important than you, my love. You are my heart and my life." His eyes studied Sean's anxiously, noting the circles under the younger man's eyes. "You okay, baby?"

Sean dropped his head onto Mason's shoulder, ashamed of his jealous sulking. "Yeah. Just had a little trouble sleeping alone. I'm sorry for complaining."

Mason squeezed him. "And I'm sorry that you were lonely last night, but I also have a responsibility to Dana. If you had really needed me, I would have been here for you and you know that." He nuzzled at the neck exposed to him. "Is my naughty, jealous little imp cruising for a spanking?"

Sean wiggled slightly on Mason's lap. "Don't tease, Geoff."

Mason chuckled. "It's been awhile, hasn't it?" As he continued to caress Sean’s back, soothing the younger man, his eyes fell on the book that Sean had dropped on the couch. "I thought you had this book memorized."

Sean chuckled, snuggling deeper into Mason's arms. "I wasn't reading it - Mulder borrowed it."

"Mulder? Why? They don't do SM scenes."

"He was curious - and that may change. He talked the Mountain into a little erotic spanking earlier today."

Mason frowned. "He did?"

"Hm-hmm." Sean nipped at Mason's neck. "Pretty hot stuff, too, from what he said. Liked it so much that he asked to try heavier games."

"Oh, shit," Mason muttered. He grasped Sean's arms and pushed him back slightly so that he could look Sean in the face. "What did Walter say about that?"

Sean frowned. "Evidently he went ballistic and told Mulder 'no' and that was final. A sort of 'my way or the highway' ultimatum. Mulder caved but I told him - "

"What?" Mason asked sharply. "What did you tell him?"

"That it’s his job to let his Dom know what he needs, to push for it."

"Oh, shit!" Mason pushed Sean off his lap and went to the phone. "No answer. Either they're not there or they're not answering," he muttered to himself. He dialed the desk and found out that they had not checked out yet. Mason sighed, rubbing tired eyes. "I'll try to get hold of Walter in the morning."

Mason turned and looked across the room at his lover. After being roughly pushed off Mason's lap, Sean had flung himself into the armchair, arms and legs hugged tightly against his chest, in full sulk mode.

"Little one, you don't know what you've done."

"Obviously," Sean said sarcastically.

Mason crossed the room, grasping Sean's chin and looking down at him sternly. "That's enough of that, young man. You are this close to going over my knee for a punishment spanking. Do you understand me, Sean?"

Subdued, Sean murmured, "Yes, Geoff. I'm sorry." Then, plaintively, he added, "But I don't understand. What did I do wrong?"

"Trying to get Mulder to manipulate Walter into doing something that he swore he would never do again - "

"Hold it - what do you mean 'swore he'd never do'? You trained him in SM, Geoff - I know, I was there, remember?"

"Yeah, and remember how he quit after Krycek?"

Sean looked blank. "No. Last thing I remember, the two of them were playing fine. Rough games, sure, but I had no room to complain at the time."

Mason sat down on the couch, rapidly thinking back. "That's right, you weren't here. Everything went to hell at the same time."

"When I - when I came back, Skinner was gone and Krycek was playing with that creep, Benett. I thought the Mountain had moved away at first. But when he didn't come to our commitment ceremony and you didn’t talk about him, I thought maybe something had - happened to him. All the rest of your boys were there - "

Sean saw the pained look on Mason's face and realized for the first time how much Skinner's disappearance had hurt the man that Sean loved beyond life. He slipped out of his chair, kneeling beside Mason, his head on Mason's lap. "Geoff, I'm so sorry. I wish I could make it better."

Mason sighed and pulled Sean onto his lap, and Sean straddled him again, snuggling close. "I know, brat. And I should have told you about it – especially when he came back – but I didn’t know what to say. I still don't know the full story – he won't talk about it. One day, while you were still at Dr. Kate’s, I came back to the Club and found Walter’s note of resignation from the Club on my desk, along with his access cards.

"I knew that Krycek was a black hole sub, that he kept demanding more and more from Walter. Walter was afraid that he was becoming addicted to the rougher games, that he would seriously hurt someone, but he couldn't seem to stop. Something must have happened, something that snapped Walter, and he walked. He only came back here to protect Mulder, and I wouldn't be surprised if our old friend Spender set it all up to try to bring Skinner down. In fact - "

Sean waited for him to continue, then prompted, "What?"

"Nothing. It's just - odd that it happened at about the same time, that's all," Mason said slowly. "And then all that business with Krycek breaking into Skinner's room to harass Mulder last November. I thought it was just jealousy, but maybe there's more to it." He silently resolved to talk to Dana Scully about Spender, see if she knew anything about the man.

But for now, he turned his attention back to Sean, noting again the telltale signs that Sean had been neglecting his health. "Never mind them - I'll talk to Walter and it'll be fine. And from now on, talk to me before you start on one of your sub-projects, okay?"

"Yes, Geoff," Sean said meekly.

"And now," Mason said, standing with the younger man in his arms. "I think it's time that I spent some time concentrating on my very sexy, very naughty little imp."

Sean grinned and wrapped his legs around Mason's waist as the bigger man carried him toward the bedroom. "Yes, Master Geoff. Anything you say."


Mulder entered the suite, frustrated in his efforts to locate Skinner, and stopped as he saw the object of his search standing in front of the window. "Where the hell have you been? I've been looking everywhere for you."

Skinner didn't turn around. "Here. I've been here. Thinking."

Mulder deliberately shut the door loudly. "Well, I did what you asked. I gave Sean back his fucking book."

He saw with satisfaction that those words caught Skinner's attention as the other man turned to look at him. Mulder turned his back on the Dom, quickly and methodically stripping off his clothes and placing them on the chair. He fastened the cuffs and picked up the collar, kneeling in his usual place with the collar before him, waiting to be acknowledged by the other man. His eyes were downcast, his posture perfectly submissive - and inside he was seething with anger.

Skinner studied the man waiting for him and knew exactly what was going through Mulder's mind at the momen