24/7 14. Release


Mulder woke early. He didn’t think he’d managed to snatch more than thirty minutes sleep at a time throughout the long, dark night. At the beginning he’d cried for himself, but as the night wore on, his emotions quieted, and he was left with a desperate, harrowing sadness for the man he had left downstairs, his back shaking. He tried to imagine how he would feel, if someone had blundered into his life, re-opening old, and still tender wounds, and he empathized with his Master all too well. If Skinner was still his Master. He didn’t see how the other man could want him now. What had seemed merely to be his usual headlong pursuit of the truth had spiraled out of control, and caused repercussions that he had not envisaged. Mulder’s heart ached, not just for himself, but also, and most of all, for Skinner.


He felt as if he was experiencing a loss of innocence. He had been so content to bask in the erotic heat of Skinner’s expert caresses that he had forgotten that the other man didn’t simply exist to tend to his slave’s needs. Skinner was real flesh and blood, and however hard they played this game, at the end of the day he was more multi-faceted that this one role allowed him to be – as was Mulder. There was so much more to both of them, and what made it all worse was the fact that Mulder was sure that Skinner had been trying to show him that. Mulder had been too lost in the excitement, and the erotic fulfillment of so many of his dreams, to notice though. Maybe, in time, he would have, but now he felt sure that time would be denied him.


Mulder got up, and dutifully performed his morning swim, for no reason other than to anchor himself to his Master’s will at the very moment when he was sure it had been withdrawn from him – along with the other man’s love and trust. Then, not knowing what else to do, Mulder made his Master coffee, picked up his newspaper, and went to Skinner’s bedroom. He would perform his wake-up call if Skinner would let him, or kneel beside the bed if his Master would not. He just needed to know it would be all right, and to be given a chance to repair the great damage he had wrought.


Mulder pushed open the bedroom door – and stopped. Skinner wasn’t there. Somehow Mulder wasn’t surprised. He stepped into the room, and laid the coffee on the night-stand. The bed was made, and when he checked inside, it was cold. Skinner had either got up very early, or he had never gone to bed. Either way, he wasn’t in the apartment. Mulder sat down with a thud on the bed, and bit back more angry tears. He didn’t know what to do. Nothing he could think of would redress what had happened.


It was over.


He sat, staring absently around the room for a long time, then reached out and caressed his Master’s pillow. He picked it up and smelled it – it carried Skinner’s scent, faint but still that essence of Skinner that Mulder loved so much. He pressed it against his face, and gave in to the silent tears again. Not that it made any difference, but he couldn’t stop them falling. Something nudged against his elbow, and he looked down into Wanda’s curious eyes and managed a wry smile.


“Hello, girl. Come to see what a fuck up the interloper has made of this situation, huh? But you always knew I would, didn’t you, lady? You knew I wasn’t good enough for him from the outset.”


She regarded him calmly for a few seconds, then climbed onto his knee and settled there with a contented trill. He pulled her close and buried his face in her fur.


“You are beautiful – you know that though, don’t you? He’s lucky to have you. I wonder how the hell he did end up with a cat. I can’t exactly see him going out to buy one. I could ask him, but I think my curiosity has got me into enough trouble, don’t you?” She blinked at him, slowly, and he sighed, and buried his face in her fur again, stroking her soft body. She nestled in close and he was surprised by what a comfort she was. He hugged her for a long time, then finally disengaged himself, and wandered back upstairs to get dressed.


As he showered, Mulder looked down at the trappings of his slavery. Just a few short days ago he had removed his cock ring in a stupid gesture of rebellion. Now he wondered what it would be like to go without them, to have Skinner remove all of them, as the other man had said he would if he released his slave. Mulder shivered. He had become accustomed to his rings. He found them not only to be horny reminders of the contract he had signed, but also something to be proud of, something that signaled he belonged to a man he had come to love.




You’ve got a strange way of showing it, Mulder, he berated himself. He went to work, his stomach churning, his footsteps leaden. He wanted nothing more than to see Skinner, and make sure the other man was all right, but he knew that as soon as he did see his Master, he’d have nothing to say. He also wasn’t sure whether he could bear the look of disappointment he would see in his Master’s eyes. He walked into the basement, his shoulders slumped and dejected, and Scully looked at him in surprised alarm.


“Mulder? Are you all right?” Her blue eyes radiated their concern.


“I’m…fine. Just…tired. It was a long day yesterday.”


“Yeah! You’re not…you’re not thinking about what we found in California are you?” She asked him anxiously.


“No, Scully, I’m not. Don’t worry about it. I’ll be fine.”


“Good, because I’ve scheduled us a meeting with Skinner in a few minutes to go over the report.”


“Right. I see.” Mulder’s heart lurched. However much he wanted to see Skinner, he wasn’t sure he could face his Master as “Agent Mulder” after what had happened, to carry on a pretense when there was so much that he wanted to say – that needed to be said.


Skinner looked rough – presumably he’d had a night as bad as the one Mulder had suffered, wherever he had spent it. Mulder’s heart went out to the other man. He had dark rings under his eyes, and his face was pale. When he thought about the homecoming Skinner had given him, and how perfect that had been, Mulder shuddered, hating himself even more.


“Sir…” He handed Skinner his interim report, and their fingers touched as Skinner took it. Mulder held the moment, wanting to look into his Master’s eyes, but Skinner’s gaze remained resolutely fixed on the file. He wouldn’t even look at his errant slave. Mulder released the file hopelessly, and took his seat. Skinner read through the report, then looked up.


“I see Ray Glover agrees with your conclusions,” he murmured.


“Yes, sir.” Scully nodded.


“And you wrapped this up yesterday?” Skinner asked, flicking through the file.


“That’s right.” Scully crossed her legs, and shot Mulder a look from under her eyelashes.


Mulder noticed Skinner flinch, visibly, from this information. Not only was his slave lying to him, but both Scully and Glover were lying to him as well. He didn’t deserve that.


“That’s what Glover says too,” Skinner murmured, the surprised hurt sounding in his voice.


Mulder couldn’t stop himself. “Actually, sir, we wound up the case on Wednesday – it wasn’t very hard. The woman was killed by lightning, it didn’t take a genius to work that out,” he said quickly. Scully looked at him in alarm. “We could have come back straight away, but I felt like taking a day out in California, so I had Glover cover for us. It wasn’t Scully’s idea,” he added swiftly. Skinner put the file down on the desk, and looked at his slave for the first time, and now it was Mulder’s turn to flinch. Skinner’s eyes were dark, and bleak.


“Thank you for your honesty, Agent Mulder,” his Master said quietly. “I appreciate it. I’m sure we’ve all done something similar in our time. I trust you had an enjoyable day?” He directed the question to both of them. Scully smiled, relieved, and nodded.


Mulder bit on his lip, and shrugged. “Not really. I wanted to satisfy my curiosity about something, but it was a mistake. I should have let it go. I wish I had,” he said, his tone urgent and intent. Scully looked at him, her eyebrow raised in unspoken query.


“Well, this report seems clear enough. I’ll see that personnel note that yesterday was taken as vacation time,” Skinner said tersely. “Write up the report properly, and I’ll sign it, then we can bury this case.”


“Yes, sir,” Mulder nodded, his throat dry. Skinner was like a man functioning on automatic pilot. Mulder wanted nothing more than to kneel at his Master’s side, with his chin on Skinner’s knee, and offer the other man the same comfort Wanda had given him this morning. He wondered whether he would ever be given the privilege of assuming that position again.


“You’re dismissed, Agents,” Skinner said, and Scully got up to go.


“Mulder?” She asked, when she reached the door and found he wasn’t following.


“I’ll catch you up, Scully.” He gave her a wan smile, and she nodded, frowning.


When she had gone, he turned to Skinner. “I’m sorry,” he said quietly. “I’m so, so sorry. I had no idea what I was stumbling into. I never intended to cause you such pain.”


“No. You never do,” Skinner stated cryptically, in a low tone. When he spoke again, his voice had changed to his usual brisk, business-like tones. “Agent Mulder, I don’t have time for this conversation right now. I’ll see you at home, this evening, when we’ll decide where to go from here.”


“Are you going to take my rings away?” Mulder asked, hardly daring to voice the question, but needing to know. He didn’t really believe Skinner’s reassurance last night that he would not be sent away. There was silence. Skinner frowned, as if he didn’t trust himself to speak.


“Please, sir, are you going to release me?” Mulder pushed, in a desperate tone.


“Just be there this evening. We’ll talk,” Skinner said, not looking at his slave.


“Please.” Mulder stood in front of his Master, trying to make Skinner look at him. “Understand that I’m sorry at least, if you’re going to release me. Understand that. I wouldn’t want to hurt you, I promise. I’d never intentionally…”


“That’s enough, Agent Mulder,” Skinner snapped, his jaw clenching spasmodically. “Intentional or not, you did, and you aren’t helping right now.”


“I’m sorry, it’s just that I…” Mulder began.


“Yes, that’s it – I. That just about sums you up. I’ve said this before, Fox, but not everything is about you. This was about me, it still is. Now, please leave, before I say something that I regret and that you don’t want to hear.”


Mulder hesitated but the look in his Master’s eyes showed that the other man was deadly serious. He turned and left, the pain inside digging into his chest like a dagger, making it hard to breathe.


Mulder sleepwalked through the day. He composed his report on auto-pilot, submitted it, and then went home. After the morning’s conversation he no longer dared hope that Skinner would keep him. He wouldn’t, and there was no point nursing any false hope. He decided to save himself the heartache, to walk before he was sent, and went straight up to his room, and started packing his belongings away. He had no idea where he would go, but it was obvious that he couldn’t stay here.


He finished packing away his meager belongings, deciding that he’d have to come back for the fish tank. He was nearly packed by the time Skinner got home. His cases were in the hallway, waiting.


“Nearly done,” he managed a wan smile in Skinner’s direction as the other man threw his briefcase down on the table. “I’m sorry – I should have been out of your way by now. I won’t be long.”


“You’re running out?” Skinner crossed to the decanter, and poured a large tumbler of whisky, raised it to his lips, then stopped, and slammed it back down. Mulder winced. “Is that what you’re doing? Running out?”


“Isn’t that what you want?” Mulder asked, bewildered.


“No, it’s what you want. Isn’t this what you do, Fox? You run out when there’s a threat of real intimacy.”


“No.” Mulder stood up straight, considering the point. “No, but I know when I’ve screwed up, and I know when I’m making things worse by staying than by going. Believe me, I know that feeling all too well,” he muttered, with a bitter, ironic laugh. Skinner gazed at him dispassionately. “I spent the 6 years after Sam was taken knowing I was in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew I was in the way and I got out as soon as I could.”


“And now you’re doing it again.” Skinner strode into the kitchen, poured a large glass of water and took a deep gulp. Then he turned back. “Well you can’t,” he said to Mulder. “You can’t leave because I’m not going to release you. You signed a contract, remember.”


“Yes.” Mulder shrugged. “But you and I both know that it’s entirely dependent on us keeping up the game.”


“It’s not a game.” Skinner slammed his glass down again, and Mulder backed off from the real anger he saw in the other man’s eyes. “It’s a role, yes, but not a game, damnit.” He advanced on Mulder, his body shaking in fury, and Mulder shrank back, towards the door.


“All right,” he said, trying to calm the situation. “Whatever you say.”


“No, not whatever I say. You don’t understand because you refuse to,” Skinner said despairingly. “Never mind. Go if you want to. Escape was always what you both feared and wanted most. This way you’ll have managed to hit out, to forestall rejection before it comes to you – which is what you always do. Not because you’re a coward, but because you think your presence in some way hurts people, and you can’t stand doing that. I was hoping to show you something else, but I can’t make you stay. You’re right about that. Contract or not, our current living arrangement depends upon our mutual collusion.”


“Yes,” Mulder said simply. He had always known that, even if he’d maintained the fiction in his own mind that he had no choice. He did have a choice. He’d always had a choice. “You should have let me come to you as a sub. That would have been easier,” he said softly.


“Easier, yes, but you’d have learned nothing, and I couldn’t have lived with myself if I hadn’t tried…” Skinner broke off, abruptly. He downed his water in one long gulp, then took off his coat and threw it on the couch. His suit jacket followed, then he started to undo his tie, with quick, angry movements. That ended up on the couch too, and he jerked his collar open, as if struggling for air. Mulder watched the other man, noticing the depth of controlled anger in those terse gestures. Then Skinner was walking towards him, coming close, too close. Mulder took a step back, then another…then found himself backed up against the wall. Skinner placed his hands on either side of Mulder’s head, keeping the younger man trapped, his large body as overpowering and physically intimidating as ever. Mulder swallowed, smelling Skinner’s anger through the other man’s shirt. Skinner’s eyes were dark, and deadly serious as he started to speak.


“I’m giving you one last chance. What you did…” Skinner’s jaw clenched spasmodically, “…was wrong,” he said finally.


“Why? You dug around in my past,” Mulder said, finding the defense from somewhere, surprising himself with it. Skinner took a gulp of air, as if he had been physically hit in the stomach.


“I only asked about your preferences, not your life,” Skinner murmured, clearly winded by the attack. “I asked because I needed to keep you safe, and because I had to take your choices away in order to save you. I didn’t want to hurt you – I needed to know what you liked, how far I could go. I judge some of it by how you respond, but not all…I needed a basis to work from.” His voice dropped. “I’m sorry. Maybe I didn’t play this right, but it was the only way I could see to do it. I know you too well. I know that Andrew…” He paused.


Mulder bit on his lip. “Andrew did something similar to you?” He asked.


“No.” Skinner shook his head. “You and I have very different needs, Mulder. You don’t understand that because you don’t understand yourself.”


“And I don’t understand you. I wanted to though. That was why…”


“I know why!” Skinner responded angrily. “I damn well know about you and your insane curiosity. I asked you to trust me – I’d have told you in time, but you couldn’t do that for me, could you? Now you’ve forced the pace, and you’ve stirred up some damn hard personal memories for me in the process.”


“And I’ve said I’m sorry,” Mulder shrugged. “Look, I’ll just go.” He tried to move, but Skinner slammed him back against the wall. For the first time since he’d signed the contract, Mulder felt in genuine fear of his Master.


“Go, if you want to,” Skinner said, “but I’m offering you a choice. Run out on all this if you can’t take what you’ve done, but if you go, I think you’ll kill yourself within a year. Oh, not deliberately, but because you can’t live with that restless core inside you, the demons that haunt you, and you go to any lengths to escape them, take all kinds of stupid, ridiculous risks.” He moved his hands, cradled Mulder’s face between them, caressing his thumb down the sides of Mulder’s cheeks. “I don’t want you dead, little one. I don’t want that.”


“No.” Mulder looked down, fighting back the tears. “You wanted to be the one to save me.”


“No.” Skinner shook his head. “Only you can do that. I wanted to be the one to show you how though.”


Mulder stared at his Master, wordlessly. He needed to get out of here, he needed to breathe. He couldn’t take this kind of emotional scene. He couldn’t deal with it. He never had been able to deal with his own emotions, to deal with hurting people he loved. He remembered telling his Mother that Sam had gone, remembered telling his father the second time he had lost his sister. On each occasion he had turned away, unable to face their grief because of what he’d done to them. He couldn’t face it now either.


“Let me go,” he said again.


“I will.” Skinner’s fingers continued caressing Mulder’s face, gently, despairingly. “You can go if you want to. I’m asking you to stay and face it though. It won’t be easy. If you stay, I’ll make you endure something worse than anything you’ve suffered before in your life, Fox.”


Mulder stared at his Master wordlessly. He rarely craved punishment to atone for his sins. He craved it simply because it turned him on. It was about sex for him. He could endure punishment as part of a sex game, because it gave him a high, but somehow he didn’t think that was what Skinner had in mind here.


“I don’t know,” he stammered at last.


“Then make up your mind.” Skinner stood back, his dark eyes cold and sad, as if Mulder had profoundly disappointed him. He glanced at his watch. “You’ve got half an hour. I’m going to get changed. If you’re still here when I get back, then we’ll go forward but it’ll be hard. I won’t lie to you – this will be very hard for you.”


“What will you do?” Mulder closed his eyes, put his head back against the wall, his Adam’s apple bobbing convulsively in his exposed throat.


Skinner shook his head. “Come with me into the unknown, walk beside me, and we’ll face it together, but you have to take that first step alone – and with trust. Trust in me. If you can’t find that trust, then the journey’s over, before it ever really began.” Skinner ran his finger slowly down Mulder’s throat, then, abruptly, turned away. “Half an hour. It’s your choice. If you choose to leave we won’t mention this again. I’ll see that your money and your contract are returned to you, and we’ll erase the past few weeks from our lives as if they never happened.” He picked up his coat, jacket and tie, and walked out of the room without looking back.


Mulder stood, slumped, against the wall, trying to make sense of this. Every instinct in his body was telling him to run, to get away from this situation, from the breach of trust, the pain, the sheer emotional trauma. He couldn’t fight it. He picked up his cases, slung a bag over his shoulder, and walked out of the door. Mulder made it all the way down to the parking garage before he realized he’d stopped breathing. He came to a halt, gasping for air, and leaned against the wall, his heart beating fast inside his chest.


Finally he pulled himself together enough to stagger over to his car, threw his belongings inside, then got in, and started to drive. He didn’t know where he was going, just that he had to get away. Skinner’s voice echoed over and over in his mind. He remembered the word “endure”, and wondered what Skinner would do to him if he went back. His mind went nervously to the bullwhip, which was the instrument that scared him most. Just a few serious stripes of that across his back would cause him to pass out, but if it atoned in any way for what he’d done, he’d willingly face it, willingly endure it. It wasn’t fear of punishment that was sending him away – Skinner was right about that much. It was fear of himself, of his emotions, fear of the trust that had been built up between himself and his Master. He was so used to living with his paranoia – even Scully had barely managed to breach it. There were still moments, even after all this time, when he doubted her, when he imagined her writing up her reports on him, submitting them to some unknown, shadowy organization who monitored his every move. Mulder stopped driving, and opened the window, taking deep, gulping breaths of air, fighting his own panic. He wanted to trust Skinner, damnit! He wanted to commit himself back into that loving care, to sell his service in return for the other man’s protective love.


Mulder took several deep breaths, and came to a decision. He was better off alone. He had always been alone, and that way he didn’t end up hurting the people he loved. He could deal with anything except that hurt. He’d seen the same expression in Skinner’s eyes that had been in his parent’s eyes when he’d told them about Sam. Yes, it was better to leave, before he made things worse. Mulder sat up, and started the car again, nodding to himself. He turned the car stereo on to distract himself. It took a few minutes for the song playing to register in his mind – he’d only bought it a few days before, and had been playing it non-stop ever since. It was a haunting, lyrical melody. The lyrics didn’t have much meaning for him on a personal level beyond that his Master – ex-Master – had given it, but there was something so beautiful about it.


Each of us thinking how good it can be…someone is speaking…but she doesn’t know he’s there. Mulder slammed his foot on the brake again, and reached out to silence it just as the song reached its chorus, with all the memories and meaning that went with it; Here, there…and everywhere. Mulder flicked the control panel in relief, turning the radio on instead, and continued driving.


Nothing compares…nothing compares, to you, Sinead O’ Connor’s voice blared out, taut with pain. Mulder savagely changed the radio station. It was dark outside and starting to rain. The music seeped into focus, and he realized that he had hit some kind of golden oldie radio station. I can’t forget this evening, oh your face as you were leaving, but I guess that’s just the way the story goes… the plaintive warbling rang out. Mulder clenched his fists around the steering wheel. Was every damn song in the whole damn world about failed love affairs? It was driving him insane. I can’t live… if living is without you, the music blared. Mulder glared at the radio, suspecting a conspiracy. This couldn’t be for real.


“Where’s mindless pop trash when you need it anyway?” He grumbled, diving for the control panel again. He located a contemporary station, playing some kind of repetitive mantra that suited his mood, and began driving again. How come music always seemed so relevant at times of high emotional angst? He remembered how he’d sat up for several nights running after Scully had been abducted, just listening to the most depressing music he could find, seeing relevance in each heartbreaking melody, deliberately torturing himself with her loss. Mulder drove, lost in a mindless haze. He glanced at his watch. Half an hour, Skinner had said. He had ten more minutes. If he turned back now…Mulder slammed his foot on the brake, and rested his head on the steering wheel. “You made your decision,” he whispered, his skin prickling at the thought of enduring what Skinner had promised him. Something worse than anything else he’d ever undergone… Mulder buried his face in his hands. The words of the next song infiltrated his consciousness.


I try to say good-bye and I choke,


I try to walk away but I stumble,


Though I try to hide it, it’s clear


My world crumbles when you are not near.


“Fuck it!” He roared, turning the car around and screeching back to Crystal City. He drove up with two minutes to spare, left his belongings, and ran to the elevator, stood inside it, thumping his fist against the wall, willing it to go faster. He arrived at the 17th floor, ran along the corridor, found the door still ajar as he’d left it, burst inside…just as Skinner jogged down the stairs. His Master stopped, and looked at him.


“I take it you’ve made your decision?” Skinner said softly.


“I didn’t stand a chance. Every radio station in the universe was against me,” Mulder replied, making a face. Skinner had changed into gray sweatpants, matching sweater, and sneakers. He wasn’t wearing his glasses, and he didn’t look remotely like a Master. He looked lost, strangely distant, and remote – and very distracted.


“Sir? M…aster?” Mulder asked.


Skinner looked around the apartment, his expression confused. “My keys…where did I put my keys?” he muttered, patting his pockets.


“On the table.” Mulder picked up the keys, and handed them to his Master. “Are we going somewhere?” He asked.


“Somewhere?” Skinner frowned. “Oh. Yes. Look,” he pulled Mulder around to face him. “I said this would be hard, and it will be. Are you sure you want to stay?”


Mulder nodded, never taking his eyes off Skinner’s face. “Yes. I’ve never been more sure of anything in my life,” he said softly. “I can take whatever you want to hand out.”


Skinner smiled, a hazy, sad smile. “This is different. This will be harder,” he whispered. “I know you too well. This will hurt. Are you sure? Really sure, Fox?”


“Yes,” Mulder said firmly. “Whatever it is, I deserve it.”


“No.” Skinner shook his head. “This isn’t about you – it’s not a punishment, it’s just something to be endured. Punishment for you will come later. Understand that, or we can’t go on.”


“I don’t though,” Mulder replied, bewildered.


“Understand that I’m not punishing you. Understand that this is for me. Can you understand that much?”


“Yes.” Mulder nodded slowly.


“Good.” Skinner went to the door, and left, without a backward glance. Mulder swallowed nervously. Whatever was going to happen next would be bad. He could feel it.


They drove in silence. Skinner wouldn’t reply to any of Mulder’s questions, so in the end he stopped asking them. They arrived at a house that Mulder knew.


“Elaine?” He asked. “We’re going to see Elaine? Why?”


“Because she’s an old friend,” Skinner told him tersely, lost in a world of his own.


It was almost as if his Master was elsewhere, Mulder thought. He certainly didn’t seem to be in the here and now. He was fidgety, on edge, and Mulder had never seen Skinner like that before. He got out of the car, and followed his Master to the door. It was opened before they even got there, and Elaine’s arms went around Skinner’s shoulders, drawing him into a heartfelt hug.


“My poor Walter. My poor, dear Walter,” she whispered, kissing his cheek, holding him close. Mulder stared at her, guilt warring with curiosity. She saw him, and smiled, holding out her hand to him. “And poor Mulder too,” she said softly. “My poor boys. Come in.”


Mulder followed, numbly. He had only played with Elaine a few times. She had been too nice. It would have been easy to fall in love with her, and, as Skinner had so accurately pointed out, he was afraid of that, so he had ended the liaison. She was a good person though – he had trusted her as much as he trusted anybody. She was dressed in a flowing robe, that accentuated her full figure, with her large breasts and wide, curvy hips.


“Come on. Everything’s waiting,” she told them, leading them towards what she called her “boudoir”. It was a large, beautiful room, painted red and gold, lit by dim wall lamps that gave it warm glow. There were chairs covered in lush purple velvet throws, and cushions on the floor, but these homely touches couldn’t disguise what the purpose of this room was. There was a whipping post at the far end of the room, and hooks in the ceiling. A cabinet of whips, canes, paddles and chains was on full display.


“Sit, Walter,” Elaine said, taking charge, and pulling Mulder’s shell-shocked Master into a chair. Skinner went, still numb. She nodded Mulder into a chair too, and he went, silently. “David, bring us tea,” she ordered, and Mulder started, realizing that Elaine’s sub was in the room too. He was a tall, slender man, with thick dark hair – just as Elaine liked them, he thought ruefully, the irony not lost on him. He, also, had been Elaine’s physical ideal, but Skinner wasn’t. What was his Master to her, he wondered, or she to him? “It’s been a long time, Walter.” She knelt on the floor in front of the big man, and pulled his head around so that she could look him in the eye.


“Yes. I know,” Skinner cleared his throat. “It hasn’t been… I haven’t needed…”


“It’s all right. I was just surprised to get your call. You know I’m always here. It’s what we arranged with Andrew, and you know I’d never break that promise.”


“No. I know,” Skinner whispered in a broken tone.


Elaine looked up at Mulder, her fingers stroking the sides of Skinner’s face. “You never met Andrew did you?” She asked.


“No but I’d have liked to. Everyone speaks very well of him,” Mulder replied. “Is he going to be okay?” He asked Elaine in a hushed tone. Skinner seemed so out of it, as if he wasn’t there.


“Yes, he’ll be fine, but he needs some help. I don’t know all the details, but I know enough.” She got up, and fixed Mulder with an assessing stare. “You can’t know, because you weren’t there, but Andrew’s death was painful and protracted. It hurt all of us who witnessed it, but it hit Walter the hardest of course.”


“Yes. They were lovers,” Mulder nodded. “I know that.”


“More than that – Andrew rescued Walter at a time when he was very low. Walter owed Andrew, and he couldn’t bear to let him down. He did everything for Andrew when he was ill – too much maybe – he ran himself into the ground. Memories of that time hurt. Walter has certain needs. They’re nothing to do with you, so don’t take any guilt upon yourself. I know what you’re like, boy,” she chuckled, kissing Mulder’s hair softly. “It’s just what Walter requires. He needs you to be here for him now. Can you do that, boy?” She asked him. Mulder swallowed, nervously.


“What’s going to happen?” He asked.


“Release,” Elaine replied. She looked up as David came in, with the herbal tea. Skinner drank his down in one gulp, his hand shaking, then he looked up, and seemed to see Mulder for the first time.


“You can go if you want,” he told his confused slave.


“No. I’ll stay,” Mulder said firmly. “I told you, I’ve made my choice.”


“Why don’t you go and prepare, Walter,” Elaine said to his Master. “Go and choose the implement, and get to where you need to be.”


“Yes. Of course,” Skinner muttered. He got up, and as he went, Elaine grabbed hold of Mulder’s arm and pulled him into the corner, her fingers digging into his flesh.


“Are you sure about this, because if you can’t take it I want you to get out – now. He won’t take you back if you ask to leave halfway through and I, for one, will never forgive you if you can’t give him this,” she hissed.


“I’ll accept anything,” Mulder replied. “Anything he, or you, hand out. I can take anything. I’d do anything to get things back to the way they used to be.”


Her blue eyes searched his face for a long time, then she nodded. “I believe you. I hope, for his sake, that you mean that,” she said. “If you fail him now, then god forgive me I’ll…” she let the sentence hang.


Skinner returned to the table. He was holding a long, heavy, rubber whip in his hand. Mulder had never seen such an instrument before. He knew from his own experience of the tawse, how painful rubber was. It didn’t cause any scarring, because it didn’t split the skin if it was used by a skilled hand, but its heaviness caused intense bruising and severe pain. He bit on his lip, knowing it was what he deserved, and prepared to face it. If Skinner needed to whip him red raw in order to get over the pain he had caused his Master, then so be it. Mulder could accept that, maybe he’d even welcome it.


“Cuffs,” Skinner said to Elaine. “He’ll need them,” he added, pointing his head in Mulder’s direction.


“Why? Won’t he stay still?” Elaine asked.


“No. He’ll scream, and fight,” Skinner replied. “If he asks to be let go, then do it, but he’ll need the cuffs to endure this,” he said adamantly.


Elaine nodded, and beckoned Mulder over. He came, his throat dry. Elaine fastened the cuffs on Mulder’s wrists, and led him over to a hook in the wall. She snapped a length of chain onto each of the cuffs, and then checked it. “Now you can scream and shout all you like – the room is soundproofed as you know, but if it’s too much for you, just ask to be released and you can go,” Elaine told him, her expression showing him just what she’d think of him if he did that.


“I don’t understand. Why are you chaining me here?” Mulder asked, glancing at the whipping post.


“Walter thinks you might interfere. He doesn’t think you can just watch, without trying to stop it,” she told him.


“Watch?” Mulder repeated slowly, the truth sinking in, as he saw Skinner pacing the room, back and forth, out of the corner of his eye.


“Watch,” Elaine said firmly. “Can you do that for him?”


“No! You’re not…” Mulder tugged on the cuffs, but they held firm.


“Quiet!” She hissed. “This is Walter’s time. Watch and learn.” She turned her back on him, and went over to his Master. “Walter – are you sure this is what you want used?” She asked, taking the rubber whip from him.


“Yes,” Skinner said in a dull tone. He glanced at Mulder. “Is he…?”


“He’ll be fine,” Elaine said firmly, completely in control of the situation. “Walter,” she took his face between her hands. “This is for release, my dear, not punishment, not correction, just release. You do understand that, don’t you?”


“Yes, Elaine,” he nodded, his eyes glazed.


“It stops whenever you ask for it to stop. You know I won’t tie you. This is for you – it’s your catharsis.”


“Yes,” Skinner bowed his head. He looked so lost and alone that Mulder began tugging frantically on the cuffs that bound him, wanting to go over to his Master and comfort him, to stop this.


“Take your clothes off then, my dear,” Elaine said gently.


Skinner nodded, and peeled his sweater off, toed off his sneakers, and then threw his sweatpants onto the pile of clothing on the chair. Mulder noticed that Skinner wasn’t wearing any underwear, and the other man’s choice of clothing also took on significance. With a start of surprise, Mulder realized that Skinner had planned this, that it was a familiar ritual. He also noted that the prospect of an imminent whipping did not seem to be arousing his Master. Skinner’s cock was flaccid, and utterly un-aroused.


“Come with me.” Elaine took Skinner over to the whipping post, and gave him a leather cord to hold in each hand. “It stops whenever you say the word, darling. You’re in charge here,” she reminded Skinner. “This is a service for a good friend. You’re in control,” Elaine repeated, as if drumming this idea into a very small child. “Walter!” She said sharply. He emerged from his reverie for a moment, and nodded. “I mean it!” she said fiercely. “Just enough to give you release – no more. No punishment. You did nothing wrong.”


“No.” He shivered, and she wrapped her arms around his chest, and planted a kiss on the side of his face.


“Good, Walter. Good.” She stroked his cheek several times, with such affection that Mulder felt a lump rise in his throat. He watched as she stepped away from Skinner, and went back to the table. She picked up the whip, and handed it to her sub, David.


“NO!” Mulder yelled, but nobody took any notice of him. Mulder felt as if he’d been punched in the gut. It was one thing for Elaine to administer whatever it was Skinner was craving right now, but he couldn’t stand the idea of her sub giving his Master this whipping. Elaine was a domme; he could understand it if Skinner turned to her, and gave her permission to hurt him in what amounted to an exchange of power between two equals. To give up himself over to a sub though – that flew in the face of everything Mulder understood, and more than that, it made him feel a wave of deep and bitter jealousy. Skinner was his Master. If anyone performed this service for the other man it should be him.


David took the whip, and coiled the end around his hand, leaving a long trail. He flicked it through the air a few times, then looked at Elaine. She nodded. David stepped up to the whipping post, and spoke softly in Skinner’s ear.


“How hard, sir?” He asked.


“As hard as you can,” Skinner replied, his eyes unfocused, his grip tightening around the cords he was holding onto.


“Do you want me to start more easi…?” David began, but Skinner interrupted him.


“No. Start hard. Don’t let up until I say. No warm up. I don’t need it.”


“Yes, sir.” David withdrew, respectfully, and stood a few feet away from Skinner. He drew back his wrist, and then threw his arm forward with all his force. A wild, primal scream rent the air, but it didn’t come from Skinner. Skinner merely grunted as the force of that hard, heavy lash hit home across his back, leaving a long, red, raised welt in its wake. The scream came from Mulder. He opened his mouth, put his head back, and keened, and he didn’t stop, couldn’t stop, as the whip picked up pace, tearing into his Master’s beautiful, golden body, biting deep swathes of vicious red into the tender flesh. Skinner gasped, the sweat tricking down his face, his whole body shaking under the onslaught, but he didn’t speak, and he didn’t scream. Mulder tugged on his cuff frantically, yelling his head off. The whipping went on, and on, and on…nobody could stand this. It wasn’t humanly possible. Mulder didn’t know how Skinner was still standing there, taking it, without even cuffs to hold him in place. His frantic yells reached a crescendo.


“It’s too much, stop or you’ll fucking kill him!” He screeched.


Elaine held up her hand, and the blurred movement of the whip was stilled. Elaine crossed the room to Mulder. “Do you want to go?” She asked.


“Yes,” he said, unable to take any more of this. Her expression hardened. Mulder licked his lips, and glanced at Skinner. “No,” he whispered. “I can’t leave him.”


“Then accept – he told you this would be hard,” she reminded him.


“I know, but I never expected…I didn’t know…” Mulder shook his head, trembling from the violence of his emotions. “I’d trade places with him,” he said. “I’d do it. I’d take Skinner’s place.”


“I know.” She smiled, and kissed his face. “Hush, Mulder. Allow him this. Afterwards – well, he’ll need you.” She got up, and walked over to his Master. “Walter,” she said softly. Skinner blinked, and moved his head.


“Not yet,” he told her.


“Walter, I know this is a bad one, but it has to be soon. You know my rules. I won’t put you in the hospital.”


“No. I know. Not yet. More.” He gestured with his head. “I haven’t found it yet, Elaine. The place Andrew took me too. I’m not there yet,” he whispered.


“All right, my dear.” She put her arms around his shaking body, and held him for a moment, then she turned back. “Harder, David. Make it count. Bring him to his release,” she commanded. David nodded, and swung his arm back again, and Mulder opened his mouth and started to scream once more, tearing at his cuff, suddenly grateful that Skinner had ordered him to be tied.


Skinner’s body was covered by a myriad of hard, red lines, and raised, purple welts. Mulder couldn’t bear to watch as that whip covered every inch of his Master’s back and buttocks. Skinner’s cock remained flaccid and Mulder was aware that whatever release his Master hoped to get from this, it wasn’t sexual. He knew that his own response to this situation would have been to go hard, at the beginning at least, although he sincerely doubted he would have kept an erection through this kind of punishment. It was too much, too severe. David redoubled his efforts, and now Skinner was moaning, a low, throaty sound, his hands grasped tightly around the cords that held him up, as he swung against them. Mulder marveled at his Master’s endurance, as that whip continued its savage work, covering Skinner’s flesh from the top of his broad shoulders, to the back of his knees. Then Skinner started moving, his body thrashing from side to side, convulsing, as if he were only just feeling the pain. David looked inquiringly at Elaine, and she nodded. David’s arm moved even more swiftly, his face covered in a sheen of sweat, and a few seconds later there was a breakthrough. Skinner suddenly let out a giant roar, threw his head back, and gasped out one word:




Mulder recognized it as a safe word. The name was Skinner’s safe haven: Andrew. Andrew Linker. David’s arm came to an immediate halt in mid-flow, and Elaine was at Skinner’s side within seconds. She took his arm, helped him step back, and Skinner sank immediately to the floor. Elaine grabbed a glass of water and held it to his Master’s lips, and the other man drank, heavily. Then she handed a key to David, and he stepped over and undid Mulder’s cuffs. Mulder ran forward, then stopped, unsure what to say or do, as he surveyed his Master’s broken body. Skinner was on all fours, panting hard, his face drained of color.


Elaine got up, and went to Mulder, grabbed his arm, and dragged him out of Skinner’s earshot.


“He needs looking after. Can you do that for him or shall we keep him here?” She asked. “I won’t let him go if you can’t take care of him.”


“I can,” Mulder rasped, from a dry throat.


She gazed at him searchingly. “If I let him go, and you don’t stay with him…well, he’s too stubborn to come back to me for help. If I hear you’ve abandoned him, then so help me that whipping you just witnessed will seem like a walk in the park compared to what I’ll do to you,” she told him, her eyes flashing sparks of pure fire.


“I’ll take care of him,” Mulder replied hoarsely, anxious to go to his Master’s side and check that he was all right. “Of course I’ll take care of him! I promise.”


“Mulder – do you love him?” she asked suddenly.


“What?” Mulder frowned, unable to take his eyes off his stricken Master.


“Love. Do you love him?”


“Yes,” he replied. “You know I do.”


“Have you ever told him?” She asked, looking at him searchingly again with those intense blue eyes.


“What? I…no,” Mulder whispered. “Not in his hearing at least.” He felt ashamed about that. His own reticence was in stark contrast to Skinner’s constant expressions of affection. It had always been so hard for him to admit though, as if he was afraid of hearing the truth spoken out loud, committing him irrevocably to more than just his slavery.


“Then don’t you think that now would be a good time to make that known?” she said softly. “Oh, not here, not now, but when you get him home. He needs that right now, and he’s taken care of your needs often enough.”


“I will. I promise,” Mulder whispered. “Please, Elaine, let me go to him.” He wanted nothing more than to be at Skinner’s side, where he belonged, serving his Master to the best of his ability.


“All right.” She smiled, as if a weight had been removed from her shoulders. “Go to him then, slave,” she ordered, and he nodded, and ran to be with his Master.


Skinner was shaking his head, as if he’d gone ten rounds with Mike Tyson and couldn’t see clearly.


“Hey, you.” Mulder took hold of the other man’s face, and looked into his eyes. “Hold still, Master,” he said, grabbing Skinner’s clothes. Now he understood why his Master had worn sweats. “I’m going to dress you, then take you back home, Master,” he said. Somehow, he wasn’t sure why, it felt important to keep stressing Skinner’s title. The other man nodded. His face and body were soaked with sweat. He was quiet as Mulder helped him stand, and the slave dressed his Master as if tending to a child, easing Skinner’s arms into the sweatshirt, and pulling his pants gently, and carefully over his swollen, tender flesh. Skinner shuddered as the fabric rested against his hot skin, and Mulder made soothing noises, found Skinner’s car keys, and led his Master out of the boudoir. David was waiting by the door. Skinner smiled at the other man, wanly, and Mulder was relieved to see that his Master was back. The strange, hazy, lost look was gone. Skinner’s dark eyes were clear, even if they were filled with pain.


“David. My thanks.” Skinner held out his hand, and David took it and shook it warmly.


“My honor, sir. Thank you for your trust,” David replied, bowing his head.


“Your Mistress has trained you well,” Skinner remarked, glancing at Elaine.


“I did better with him than with another young pup,” Elaine laughed, glancing at Mulder. “It took a stronger top than I to tame him.”


“Stronger? Within that velvet bodice beats the strongest heart I’ve ever known,” Skinner said with a wry smile. “Thank you, Elaine, as always, for being here for me. Sorry it was such short notice.”


“You’re the only person I’d trust to do the same for me, Walter, and to understand,” she replied, drawing him down to kiss him firmly on the lips. He stood there for a moment, his head bowed, visibly drawing strength from her, then he straightened his shoulders slowly, hissing with pain. “I wish it hadn’t been so hard,” Elaine said. “It’s never been that bad before, Walter.”


“I know. Hopefully it never will be again. I allowed myself to get sucked back down. Andrew would be angry with me for letting it happen,” Skinner admitted ruefully. Mulder flushed a guilty red. Elaine smiled at him, and shook her head.


“It’s not about you, darling, so don’t go getting ideas,” she told him, kissing him firmly on the cheek. “Now, go serve your Master.”


“Yes, Ma’am,” he replied. “Master, can I help you to the car?” He said to Skinner. Skinner nodded, and placed a heavy arm over Mulder’s shoulder, allowing his slave to lead him to the car. Mulder opened the door, and moved the front seat forward. “Master should lie down in the back,” he said quietly.


“That sounds good.” Mulder helped his Master into the car, then started driving them back to Crystal City. “I know you have questions,” Skinner said in a tired voice from the back seat. “And I promise that I’ll answer them, just not tonight.”


“That’s fine, Master,” Mulder said quietly.


Mulder helped Skinner out of the car when they got back, and walked him to the elevator. His boss, his Master…hislover‘s arm was slung heavily around his shoulder, as Skinner rested all his weight on his slave. Mulder felt like some warrior in ancient times, helping a wounded comrade from battle. Skinner was battered, and bruised, but strangely unbowed. Despite his physical frailty, it seemed to Mulder as if he had his Master back. The man he had seen all day, so distant, lost, and remote, was gone, and Skinner was himself again. Mulder half carried his Master into the apartment, then walked him up the stairs to the bedroom. He deposited the other man face down on the bed in the darkness, then went into the bathroom, and began running a bath. Skinner called him back.


“Not a bath,” he told his slave. “Wet some towels and make sure they’re cold. I think I could heat the room with the warmth coming off my back right now.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder obeyed swiftly. His own emotions were on hold right now while he tended to the other man. He dunked two big towels in the bath, then came back into the bedroom. Skinner’s eyes were closed and Mulder wasn’t sure whether the other man had gone to sleep. “Master?” He said softly. Skinner opened his eyes slowly, and looked at Mulder for a long time as if he didn’t recognize him. “Master?” Mulder repeated, sitting down on the bed.


“Andrew?” Skinner whispered.


“No. It’s me.” Mulder put his fingers gently on Skinner’s face. “It’s me, Fox. We need to get you undressed.” He sat Skinner up, and untied the other man’s drawstring pants, then gently removed his sweater. Skinner winced with pain as he put his arms up for the sweater to be pulled away, and Mulder bit on his lip, tears springing unbidden to his eyes.


“I’m sorry. This is hard for you,” Skinner murmured.


“It’s okay.” Mulder wanted to say that he was the one who should be apologizing for bringing his Master to this state, but he knew it would be the ultimate act of selfishness to burden Skinner with his own emotions right now. He should have known that his Master would see what was unspoken in his eyes.


“Don’t go getting guilty on me, Fox,” Skinner said in a weary tone. “Sometimes this is what I need. I would have preferred it if it had happened further down the road, but hell, you wanted to know about me, well, this is me – a part of me at least. Does it disgust you?” Skinner’s eyes searched Mulder’s face in the dark.


“No. It scares me though,” Mulder replied. “That wasn’t about sex.”


“No, it wasn’t,” Skinner agreed. “I told you, everyone is different. Did what you find out about me in California make you think I’m weak?”


“No!” Mulder protested, gently peeling Skinner’s sweatpants from his Master’s long legs.


“And what you witnessed today?” Skinner grabbed Mulder’s hand.


“To go through that? I couldn’t have endured it,” Mulder replied, still awe-struck by his Master’s ability to bear such excruciating pain without a murmur.


“I don’t have a problem with it. Andrew taught me to understand myself very well. It’s when we need help, and won’t ask for it that we’re weak,” Skinner said. Mulder bowed his head, remembering Krycek, remembering the way he had been unable to ask Skinner for help. Was it possible that he had everything the wrong way around?


“I hate needing it. Don’t you?” He asked, lacing his hands around the back of Skinner’s head, and resting his forehead against the other man’s.


“No. No, little one. Sometimes you have to know when to question, and when to accept.” Skinner dipped his head forward, and kissed his slave on the lips. Mulder opened up, offering himself to this stranger, this man who had revealed a side to him that he had never thought to witness.


“You aren’t like me though – tonight…was a service. Even Elaine’s sub called you ‘sir’,” Mulder said as their lips parted. “You didn’t give away any of your control – unlike me. That’s part of what I need.”


“I told you, we all have different needs,” Skinner replied, moving his hand to caress the side of his slave’s face in the dark. He winced, as the small gesture hurt him, and Mulder got up, guiltily.


“Damn. You need help. What should I bring you?” He asked helplessly. “You’ve done this before – what do you need?”


“Put the cold towels on me. Keep another couple soaking – you’ll need to rotate them fairly fast to begin with,” Skinner said with a grimace. “When I’ve cooled down, there’s some antiseptic gel in the cabinet. It speeds the healing. Other than that – I just have to live through the next few days. This is the worst part,” he said with a sigh, rolling over onto his stomach, hissing with pain.


Mulder brought the towels and laid them on Skinner’s back and legs. His Master was right – his skin heated the towels up within minutes, and Mulder had to refresh them constantly for the next couple of hours. He even resorted to keeping a supply of wet towels in the fridge. Skinner gasped when his slave put the first ice cold towel on his tender flesh, but it took longer for it to warm up. After several hours of this, with Skinner dozing in between towel changes, Mulder finally decided that the fevered skin had cooled enough. He wanted his Master to get some proper sleep, judging that was the best way of healing him. He turned the bedside lamp on, and carefully straddled his Master’s body, wincing as he examined the wounds more closely. Skinner’s flesh was liberally marked with dark, livid bruises and welts – it was far worse than anything Mulder had ever undergone. He squeezed some gel onto his fingertips, and laid them gently, so gently, against his Master’s skin. Skinner’s entire body trembled, but he didn’t speak, or even whimper, although Mulder guessed that it must have hurt like hell. Conversely, instead of finding his Master weak, he was even more in awe of him than ever for being able to take such a degree of punishment, and to suffer through its aftermath with such good grace, never complaining. He went very slowly, with infinite care, and Skinner was so badly marked that it took him an hour or more to finish applying the gel. Then he got up, washed his hands, and came back to the bed. Skinner was lying on his front, his eyes closed. Mulder got a clean sheet and placed it lightly over his Master’s back. The normal bedclothes were too heavy for Skinner’s raw flesh.


“Can I sleep at the foot of your bed, Master?” Mulder asked. “I’ll go back to my room if you want, but I’d prefer to be on hand to serve you in case you’re in any distress.”


“Stay. The foot of the bed will be fine,” Skinner said, his voice heavy with weariness. Mulder nodded, and went upstairs to get some bedding. His Master was asleep by the time he returned. Mulder looked down on him for a long time, feeling light headed. Skinner needed him right now, and Mulder could be of service. Mulder was surprised to find that being of service was the one thing that calmed him. He enjoyed losing himself in his attention to his Master, and with Skinner laid low like this, Mulder could throw himself into his devotion. He bent and placed a kiss on his Master’s cheek, then retired to the foot of the bed, and covered himself with his blanket.


Mulder checked on his Master every few hours, but Skinner slept right through until mid-day. Mulder didn’t wake him. He fed Wanda, then made breakfast for his Master and took it up to him, opening the drapes, flooding the room with light. Skinner stirred, sleepily, then gave a growl of pain as his back protested. Mulder drew back the sheet, and examined the damage – in the harsh light of morning it looked even worse than last night, but the skin had at least lost its puffy look, and wasn’t as red, largely due to Mulder’s unceasing attentions the night before.


“How do you feel, Master?” Mulder asked, setting the tray down.


“Fine – considering I missed out on my normal wake-up call,” Skinner growled tersely.


Mulder was startled. “I didn’t like to…” he began.


“Did I give you permission to miss that?” Skinner demanded.


“No, Master.” Mulder said, hesitantly.


Skinner smiled. “Well, I’ll have to ensure that you make up for it at a later date,” he said. Mulder grinned back, and nodded. “And your current attire doesn’t meet with my approval,” Skinner frowned. Mulder looked down, then nodded, and swiftly got undressed.


He helped his Master onto his side, then sat on the bed beside him and handed him a plate of waffles.


“You learned how to cook?” Skinner raised a suspicious eyebrow, then he sighed. “I can see I should have trusted you with more earlier on. I think I was over-protective and I underestimated your ability to learn.”


“Well, the waffles were the frozen variety,” Mulder admitted with a grin, “but that was partly my fault, Master. I was too busy being the rebellious slave to address myself to your needs in the way I should have done.”


“A lesson for us both then,” Skinner said with a sigh.


“I wish it hadn’t been such a hard one,” Mulder replied seriously.


Skinner shrugged, then froze, a spasm of pain crossing his face. “Well, the hard ones are usually the ones we learn fastest,” he replied a few seconds later.


When Skinner had finished his breakfast, Mulder took the tray away, then rubbed more gel into his Master’s back.


“That rubber whip was vicious, Master,” he whispered. “I hope you never have cause to use it on me.”


“I hope so as well,” Skinner grunted, and Mulder shivered, realizing from that statement that it was by no means a foregone conclusion that Skinner wouldn’t use that whip on his slave. “You have skilled fingers,” Skinner whispered, laying his head on his arms as Mulder went about his work, slowly, and carefully.


“I enjoy serving you,” Mulder replied.


“Really? You’ve done nothing but fight your service, one way or another, since you got here,” Skinner grunted.


“Only because it disturbed me how much I enjoyed it,” Mulder replied. “You know me, Master.”


“Yes. I do.” Skinner gave his slave a smile over his shoulder. “And I wouldn’t want you any other way, Fox.”


Mulder finished his task and washed his hands again, then he looked back into the bedroom. Skinner appeared to be sleeping, so Mulder went downstairs, did the washing up, and made his own breakfast, then wondered what to do next. It astonished him that in just a few short weeks his own life had become so entwined with Skinner’s that he was at a genuine loss without him. Finally, unable to bear being apart from his Master, he plucked Wanda from the couch and carried her up to the bedroom. She gave her usual trilling purr as he placed her on the bed next to her beloved Master. She immediately went over and nestled against Skinner’s chest, reaching out an idle tongue to lick her slave’s skin a couple of times. Mulder smiled, and settled down on the bed beside her, stroking her soft fur, making her explode with a humming, vibrating purr of pure pleasure.


He looked at his Master, tracing lines over that familiar, beloved face, suddenly scared by the enormity of what he had so nearly given up the previous day. Skinner was right – it had been a worse ordeal than anything Mulder had ever gone through before. He came out in a cold sweat as he remembered screaming his head off, and he noticed, for the first time, that his wrists were covered in bruises where he had strained against the unyielding cuffs. The day wore on, and turned to evening, and the light faded, casting the room in a dull glow. Mulder continued to stare at the enigma that was his Master. He had scratched the surface with his insane curiosity and found depths underneath that astonished him. He reached out and caressed his Master’s cheek with the back of his hand. Skinner’s eyes fluttered open in surprise.


“I love you,” Mulder said. His heart quickened, scared by the fact that there was no turning back, that it was out in the open between them. Not a quip, not said in the heat of sex, but here, in this silent moment of peace, with only Wanda’s faint purring in the background.


Skinner looked at him for a long moment, then his mouth curved into a smile. “Thank you,” he said sincerely.


“You knew,” Mulder stated blankly. “You already knew.”


“Yes, but I didn’t think I’d ever hear you say it.” Skinner moved his hand, and stroked his slave’s thigh, and Mulder felt his cock jump despite himself. “I’m glad to see that your training is working,” Skinner remarked with a wry laugh. “I’ll have you trained to respond to my merest touch before I’m through with you, slave.”


Mulder gave an involuntary groan as the promise in that voice made his cock harden even more. “Don’t tell me – I’m forbidden to come,” he said, with a sigh.


“Of course,” Skinner replied smoothly. They were silent for a while, then Skinner shifted, an expression of discomfort passing across his face as he rearranged himself on the pillows. “Come here.” He pulled Mulder close, dislodging a sleepy Wanda who shot the slave a look of disgust and took up a new position on Skinner’s pillow. Skinner held Mulder close, his hand resting on his slave’s thigh. Then he took a deep breath, looked into Mulder’s eyes, and said: “I think it’s time for some explanations, don’t you?”


“You don’t have to…” Mulder began.


“No, but I want to,” Skinner said firmly. “You wanted to know, and I want you to find out the right way – so that you understand what you witnessed last night. I still have my reservations about whether you’re ready, but I think I’d prefer you to hear this from me, and not from anyone else. This a gift, Fox, accept it in that spirit.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder nodded.


“All right. Where do we begin?” Skinner thought about it for a moment. “I was married – you know that – and happily married for a long time. We wanted children but they never came along, and that was our great sadness. Sharon…” He paused. “She was, uh, fairly uninhibited in bed,” he said, with a grin. “She opened my eyes to the possibilities of role playing, and she, rather like you, little one, was something of a spanking devotee.”


Mulder grinned. “I always knew we had something in common. We hit it off from the moment we met,” he said.


“Well, she took me by surprise during the early days of our relationship when she insisted on being spanked as part of foreplay. She was a tough little lady, and I had no doubt that if I didn’t oblige she’d ditch me for someone who would. What did surprise me was how much I enjoyed it. All that wriggling, hot flesh under my hands and the chance to really appreciate a fine butt,” he said. Mulder grinned again, and dropped a kiss on Skinner’s shoulder. “Sharon introduced me to Elaine – they used to be roomies at college, and it was Elaine who introduced us both to the scene. I was very uncomfortable with it at first, as you can imagine.”


Mulder laughed out loud at that. “Yeah – big, strong, macho AD Skinner dressing up in fantasy clothing…hell, you know how much it surprised me to find out about your alter ego.”


“Well I wasn’t an AD then, and I had to be persuaded,” Skinner commented with a wry grin. “Definitely persuaded, but Sharon was a persuasive woman, and she wore me down. I refused to wear anything more kinky than a pair of leather pants on my first outing to a club, but when I saw what everyone else was wearing!” He shook his head. “Well, I realized I looked more out of place not joining in, and next time I was less inhibited. It was fun, anyway. I think Sharon was kind of obsessed with making me enjoy myself. She knew how hard I found it to unwind, and just be, and she knew I’d had a bad time in ‘Nam. She wanted to make me smile and she wanted to forget her own sadness about not having any kids. I suppose for both of us the scene was a place where we could forget about Sharon and Walter, and be other people, different people.”


Mulder closed his eyes, understanding that all too well.


“Anyway, I met Andrew on the scene. There was nothing between us – we just used to hang out, have a drink together, two doms enjoying ourselves, both of us in committed relationships. I knew Andrew was gay, and that was fine. For years we were just friends – and then…” Skinner hesitated, and Mulder placed his hands on his Master’s face, gently encouraging him to continue. “…then I lost touch with myself,” Skinner whispered. “It happened so gradually I didn’t notice until it was too late. I was working too hard, so we didn’t have as much time for the scene. I still saw Andrew occasionally, but…the truth was, I wasn’t comfortable around him after his partner, Ryan, died, and that made me feel guilty. Sharon loved Andrew and Ryan. She’d invite them around for dinner, coo over them. I never knew a woman could be so interested in two gay guys! That surprised the hell out of me. So, I got to know both of them pretty well, and more than that – I got to know their relationship, and I envied it. It brought up some memories for me, of my time in ‘Nam. I had…” Skinner hesitated again, and took a deep breath. “I had an affair with another marine. It was brief, and hurried, and it ended in that ambush along with everything else…no, that’s a lie, it ended before. I ended it because I was scared of being in love with another man, and then a few days later he died, and I never forgave myself. I never told anyone about that, not even Sharon, but seeing Andrew with Ryan brought it all back. I wanted what they had, and to escape from the implications of that need, I threw myself into my work, got promoted, saw less and less of Sharon, saw nothing at all of Andrew. My life became unbalanced. All work and no play – and boy, was I dull! It did wonders for my career, but I suffered for it. I could never have been unfaithful to Sharon. It wasn’t in me. I loved her, but I just stopped talking to her. So she left me.” Skinner swallowed, and Mulder saw the pain in his eyes. “I don’t blame her. It was what I deserved. I was slowly falling apart, and the only way I could pretend it wasn’t happening was by becoming even more controlled on the surface. I was the hard-assed AD. I lived it, breathed it, needed it to keep myself from spinning out of control, but however much I kept a stranglehold on my waking hours…”


“You couldn’t stop your dreams,” Mulder said softly.


“That’s right. I was haunted by what had happened in ‘Nam and my guilt over not being there for Andrew when Ryan died. I knew what it was like to lose someone, but I wouldn’t go to him. I couldn’t. I was too scared of my feelings, so I kept it all inside. I even tried to reassure myself I was normal by sleeping with that call girl. My god, what a nightmare that turned out to be.”


“Yeah, normal isn’t a word I’d use for that,” Mulder sighed. “Shit, I’m sorry. What a goddamn awful thing to have happened to you on top of everything else you were going through. I know Sharon died in that car wreck, and I wanted to say something to you after, but you were so cut off, and remote, and I suppose I felt guilty because they set you up to get at me. What happened after that?”


There was silence, and outside darkness fell. Skinner bowed his head, and gently stroked Wanda’s fur with nerveless fingers. It was a long time before he spoke, and when he did his words were so bleak that they chilled Mulder to the bone:


“I fell apart.”




Skinner came home from another bad day at work, threw his briefcase down and almost ran to the whisky bottle. His hand was shaking as he poured himself a glass. He sat down on the couch, raised the glass to his lips, then caught sight of the reflection of himself in the mirror opposite. God, he looked like shit. His skin was pale, his eyes shadowed with dark circles, and worse than that – he truly didn’t recognize the expression in them. He took a sip of the whisky, but his hand was trembling so badly he couldn’t keep the glass still, and it dropped, noiselessly, to the floor, where the whisky soaked into the carpet. What did he have to look forward to but another night with only drink for company. In a few short hours he could go to bed, but what would the night bring? More dreams? More guilt? He closed his eyes, leaned back on the couch. This wasn’t home – it was a place he came back to in the evening. He hadn’t even finished unpacking. What the hell – he hadn’t even started unpacking. He wasn’t a man who liked living in this state of chaos. He liked beautiful things; statues, paintings, ornaments. He hated being surrounded by boxes and yet he knew in his heart that he couldn’t bring himself to unpack because that would mean acknowledging that the past year had been true, not just another one of his nightmares. Sharon was dead. First she had thrown him out – rightly – and now she was dead. He scrambled around on the floor for the whisky glass, but all its contents had spilled into the carpet, leaving a stain that should have annoyed him, but didn’t – because he didn’t care. He didn’t care about anything any more.


Skinner closed his eyes, and buried his face in his hands. God, what was he? What had he become? A pathetic loser who couldn’t face up to his problems, who couldn’t get through the evening without a drink? The truth hurt, and he flinched. He needed to talk. Finally, when he knew he needed help, there was nobody to go to because the one person he would have called was Sharon, and she was dead. Skinner got up, and slammed his fist into the wall, over and over again until his hand was numb with pain. It felt good – damn good, to let the physical hurt take over from the mental pain. He sat down again and examined his hand – it was badly bruised, and bleeding. He stuck it into his mouth, sucking the pain away, and found that he was shaking.


This visible symbol of his mental state galvanized him into action, and he grabbed his keys and ran back out to his car. He didn’t have any friends left – a legacy of too many years allowing his friendships to slide, of wrapping himself up in his work to the exclusion of everything else. He found himself driving, blindly, and ended up at Elaine’s house. He had seen her briefly at the funeral, but he hadn’t spoken her for years before that. He was half out of his mind as he pounded on her door. She opened it to him, a look of alarm on her face.


“Walter?” She pulled him into the house. “Walter? God, it’s been a long time.” She pulled him close, enveloped him in her warm arms, and for a moment, he thought he had found a safe haven, somewhere to rest. She held him for a long time, maybe hours, kissing his head, running her hands up and down his back. “I worried about you after the funeral. I tried to ‘phone…”


“I’m sorry. I moved away…” he mumbled, drawing back, and looking into her concerned eyes. He needed comfort, and he moved towards her, wanting to lose himself in her, but she pulled back.


“Walter – you’re a dear friend, but we both know this isn’t a good idea,” she told him gently.


“Yes.” He stared into space, his body hunched. “I have nowhere else to go,” he whispered. “My own fault. Nobody left.”


“Of course there is.” Elaine put her arm around him. “Walter, you can stay here for as long as you like, but I think you’ve come to the wrong person.”


“Why? What makes you say that?” He asked blankly.


“Because I’m not what you need right now, tempting though it is,” she put a finger gently over his lips.


“Then who?” He asked in despair.


“Andrew.” She got up, and deposited a kiss on his wide forehead. “He still lives in his Crystal City apartment. Go there – he can help you.”


Skinner gazed at her, wondering how – and what – she knew. Andrew was a psychologist, so maybe she was suggesting him purely because of the state he was in. “I can’t,” he said, hoarsely. “After Ryan died, I did nothing…I wasn’t the kind of friend I should have been.”


“Andrew would understand if you told him,” Elaine stated firmly. “You know Andrew. He has a way of understanding people.”


“You think I need a shrink?” Skinner bristled.


“Andrew’s retired,” Elaine said softly. “He doesn’t take on any clients these days – although I think he might make an exception for you.”


“He retired? Why?” Skinner frowned. Andrew was in his mid-sixties, but he’d always said that he’d never retire.


Elaine looked at him thoughtfully, then shrugged. “He can answer that question for you. If you ask him. He might be able to answer a lot of your questions, Walter.”


“Yes,” Skinner nodded blankly.


“Go to him, Walter. I think he can help you.” Elaine pulled him to his feet, pushed him out of the door.


He didn’t drive straight there. He drove around for hours, thinking about it, trying to avoid the inevitable, but somehow he ended up outside the Viva Towers, and found himself going in. Elaine had clearly called ahead, as the doorman was expecting him and sent him right up. Skinner had been to Andrew’s Crystal City condo a few times with Sharon, but this was so different. He didn’t know what good this would do, or what he wanted, or expected from it. He staggered along the corridor, and knocked on the door, berating himself the whole time.


“I don’t need a fucking shrink,” he muttered under his breath, shaking at the thought of it, wondering what the hell Andrew would make of him turning up on his doorstep at 2 am. The door was opened a few seconds later, and his heart lurched when he saw his old friend. Andrew was thinner than he remembered him, and his hair was now a pure, snowy white, but he still had those wise, bright eyes. He was in his pajamas and was busy fastening a robe around his body as he opened the door – Skinner had clearly dragged him out of bed.


“Walter, it’s so good to see you,” Andrew said, as if Skinner had been an invited guest, and not somebody he hadn’t laid eyes on for years who had descended on him in the middle of the night. “Come in.” He grabbed Skinner’s hand, and pulled him into the room, guided him over to the couch and sat him down. Then he brought him a glass of water. “I’d bring you something stronger, but in your condition – I don’t think that would be a good idea,” Andrew said in his deep, mellifluous voice.


“I look that bad, huh?” Skinner downed the glass of water in one gulp.


“Worse,” Andrew took the glass away and as he did so, Skinner’s hands began to tremble. Andrew put the glass down, covered Skinner’s hands with his own, stilling them, and examined the dark bruise on Skinner’s fist. “Walter – what on earth happened to you?” he asked, those piercing blue-gray eyes transfixing Skinner, pinning him down in their fierce gaze.


“Nothing. Everything. I don’t know. That’s just it – I don’t know, Andrew. I don’t know. It’s been building up for years, and I can’t stop it. I don’t know what I am, or what I want…I’m not used to…I can’t…” Skinner couldn’t trust himself to speak. He hated feeling like this, so out of control.


“Walter!” Andrew’s voice was firm, bringing him back to himself. He put his hands on Skinner’s shoulders, and dug his fingertips in hard. Skinner looked up, unable to escape from that piercing gaze. “Why did you come here, Walter? What do you want from me?”


“I don’t…” Skinner looked down, unable to face the question.


“Walter.” Andrew’s fingers dug into his shoulders again, making him look up. “Walter, tell me what you want from me. I can be a friend, or a counselor, or a Master – which one do you want? Which did you come here for, Walter?”


Skinner looked up in surprise. He was even more surprised when his mouth opened and he found himself replying: “Master. I want you to be my Master.”


Andrew smiled at him, and released his grasp on Skinner’s shoulder. “Walter, if I take on that role, you get the counselor and friend for free,” he said softly, placing his finger under Skinner’s chin, and drawing the other man’s face up so that he was looking him in the eye. “Now listen to me, Walter and understand. You’re mine now, and that means you do as I say. I’m going to give you some orders – you’re good at following orders, Walter, you did that in the marines. These will be comfortable orders, easy orders to understand and to follow – later on, we’ll get into more difficult territory, but for now I need to take care of basics. When did you last eat?”


“I have no idea,” Skinner admitted, comforted more than he would ever have expected by the thought of a routine, something to follow, something to cling to. “Yesterday. Maybe?” He looked at Andrew in despair.


“Then you’ll eat now. Go and sit at the table. Don’t question me – don’t ever question me, just go.”


Skinner obeyed, blindly, and sat as ordered. He ate the plate of warmed up lasagna that Andrew placed in front of him, then started to feel more human again as the food warmed him.


“All right, Walter. Here’s the basics – you live here now. You can move all your stuff in tomorrow. I don’t care about work.” Andrew raised a hand. “Call in sick, or take a few days vacation. I want you here, and I’m in charge.”


“Yes, sir.” Skinner nodded. It felt so good not to be the one taking all the responsibility for once. He felt as if a burden had been lifted from his shoulders.


“Take your clothes off, Walter,” Andrew commanded.


“What?” Skinner’s head jerked up, startled.


“Don’t worry – I’m not going to hurt you. I’m not even going to touch you. I just want you to get back to yourself, to your body, to become aware of its needs.”


“Yes.” Skinner nodded, uncertainly.


“Undress, Walter. I’m going to get to know you as you’ve never been known before.” Andrew got up, and started clearing the plate away. Skinner undid his shirt, feeling stupid, wanting to flee. Somehow he managed to undress, fighting down his fear and embarrassment the whole time. Andrew returned from the kitchen in time to see him removing his briefs. Skinner folded all his clothing neatly on a chair, then stood, awaiting further orders. Andrew smiled, and shook his head slightly, then walked over, and, without any preamble, began examining his new possession’s body. Skinner flushed.


“I’m not sure…” he began.


“Hush.” Andrew put a finger over his lips. He was shorter than Skinner, and much slighter. Skinner could have overpowered him in seconds, but Andrew had an innate authority that he wouldn’t have dared to question. It seemed to come from deep inside him. Andrew was still, calm, at peace, and that gave him a strength that Skinner envied. Andrew circled him, one hand always on Skinner’s shoulder, making contact, flesh on flesh, but he didn’t touch him anywhere else.


“You’ve clearly been neglecting yourself judging by the condition you’re in,” Andrew said softly. “In future, if you forget to eat, I’ll punish you. Do you understand me?”


“Yes, sir.” Skinner nodded, his eyes flashing at the word ‘punishment’.


“Ah – so that’s why you’re here, is it, Walter?” Andrew mused softly. “For punishment? What, I wonder, do you feel you need to atone for?”


“Everything,” Skinner said, finally relieved that it was out in the open. Andrew was right – he had come here for this. “For ‘Nam, for Sharon, for you.”


“Me?” Andrew looked puzzled.


“After Ryan died, I deliberately avoided you.” Skinner hugged his arms around his body. Andrew stood in front of him, and unclasped Skinner’s hands from around his torso.


“Put them behind you. Stand up straight. You’re mine now, and you don’t skulk, and hide, and cower. You stand tall and proud.”


“Yes, sir.” Skinner stood to attention, his old military training kicking in.


Andrew sighed, and ran his hands down the sides of Skinner’s arms. “Not so formal, love,” he said kindly. “Walter, you stopped wanting to see me a long time before Ryan died. I understood. I know you had issues you’d never dealt with, and I knew you were running away from them, but you didn’t come to me for a professional opinion so I was hardly going to foist one on you. I missed you, but I always hoped you’d come back. Now you have, and I’m pleased, very pleased.” He grasped Skinner’s neck in his warm hand, and pulled the other man’s head down towards him. “Yes, you want punishment, but you want something else too – and in any case, I don’t give one without the other.” His lips found Skinner’s, and for the first time in thirty years, Skinner found himself kissing another man. He stood frozen under the embrace, then broke his position, and grasped hold of Andrew, throwing his arms around the other man, and kissing him hard. Andrew laughed, and responded, deepening the kiss, and then he pushed Skinner away, and slapped him lightly on the buttock.


“Slower, boy,” he murmured.


“Sorry.” Skinner hung his head again, and Andrew laughed.


“What the hell am I going to do with you, boy?” he sighed. “First things first – you’re fit to drop. Follow me.” He walked upstairs, and Skinner followed him, blindly. “Tomorrow I’ll give you your own room, but the bed isn’t made up in there now, and besides, tonight, Walter Skinner, you need someone to hold you.”


Skinner hung back, watched as Andrew pulled back the bedclothes, and beckoned him over to the bed.


“Uh, it’s been a long time…I mean…I haven’t, even back then, we didn’t…” he began in a hoarse voice.


“Walter, I’m not going to ravish you, tempting though that thought is,” Andrew murmured mischievously. “I’m simply going to hold you – because that’s what you need right now. Now come here. Immediately!” he snapped, in the kind of voice you didn’t disobey. Skinner practically ran to the bed, and slipped in between the covers without needing to be told twice. He lay there, his whole body stiff, aware of his nakedness, and his proximity to the other man, someone who, he realized, despite many years of acquaintance, he barely knew.


“Walter.” Andrew’s hands fastened across his midriff, calming, gentle, and kind. “Come here. Don’t think, just be. Here, in my arms, just be for a while. There’s nothing else. Just you, and me. No past, no future, just the present. Us.” Skinner tried hard to relax, but his body remained stiff, unused to being held, unused to these strange arms. Andrew kissed the back of his neck, over and over again. “I can see what we’ll need to work on with you, boy,” he whispered, his hands stroking Skinner’s chest gently, soothingly. Skinner was surprised to find his cock hardening. Andrew must have been aware of it, but he didn’t say anything. He just kept talking, as if to a pet, murmuring, and whispering little relaxing phrases, interspersed with kisses, until finally, Skinner gave in, his muscles losing their tension, and a little while later, he fell fast asleep.


When he woke up the next day, it was late. He glanced at the clock, and groaned. 11 a.m. Damn! He rolled over, and tried to get up, only to find that he was chained to the bed by a cuff fastened around his ankle.


“Going somewhere?” Andrew pushed open the bedroom door, and entered, carrying a tray containing two cups of coffee, and several freshly baked muffins.


“I’m late for work,” Skinner replied, flushing as the events of last night flooded back.


“I called them and told them you were sick,” Andrew said calmly, setting the tray down on the nightstand.


“You did what?” Skinner growled. He started to yank on the chain around his ankle again.


“You heard.” Andrew handed him a cup of coffee and a muffin.


“Look, last night, I was upset. I shouldn’t have come here. I’m sorry for disturbing you, and thanks for…what you did, but I must go. It was a mistake.”


“I thought you’d say that in the harsh light of day, which was why I chained you to the bed. You should get used to it. You’ll be here for some time,” Andrew said cheerfully, biting into his muffin.


“You can’t keep me here!” Skinner protested. His yanking on the chain reached a frenzy.


“Of course I can.” Andrew chewed cheerfully on the muffin. “You’re mine, Walter. We discussed that last night and that’s the choice you made.”


“Well, I’ve changed my mind,” Skinner said abruptly, wondering what on earth had possessed him to do anything so stupid.


“Unfortunately, it’s too late for that.” Andrew gave an angelic smile. “You need help, Walter. You asked me for it, and I’m damn well going to make sure you get it, whether you like it or not. Don’t you understand? You’re one of the good guys. Without you, the world would be a sadder place. I’m going to make sure that whatever is hurting you so much inside, is taken care of, dragged out where we can see it, and made better. And we can do that, Walter. You and I, between us. I promise.” Andrew put his coffee down, and took hold of Skinner’s face between his hands. “Walter – you can’t have forgotten how you felt last night. You must admit that you need help.”


“Yes…but not…I don’t need a Master,” Skinner said, shamefaced.


“What’s wrong with a Master? I had one once,” Andrew said with a shrug. “He taught me all I know. I’d like to pass the favor onto someone else. Someone worthy.” He brushed his hand down the side of Skinner’s face, and Skinner was shocked to find his cock responding all too visibly to the intimacy of the gesture.


“It’s all right, Walter,” Andrew said gently. “It’s not anywhere near as shocking as you think it is. Being bisexual isn’t a crime.”


“It might be if you’re an assistant director at the FBI,” Skinner growled.


“So get another job,” Andrew shrugged. “No job is worth the hassle if it makes you this unhappy.”


“I don’t know,” Skinner sighed. “I don’t know anything any more. I don’t know who I am, or what I want.”


“Well, then we’ll find out shall we?” Andrew broke a piece off Skinner’s muffin, and fed it to the big man. “Together. It’ll be fun.” He smiled. “Walter, I can’t make you stay – despite the cuff,” he said, his expression changing, his voice serious. “You need help, and last night I think you asked for exactly the kind of help you need. I’m happy to give it to you, but first I have to tell you something.”


Skinner nodded, accepting as another piece of muffin was fed to him, then washing it down with coffee. He was totally unprepared for what came next.


“I have cancer, Walter. I have less than two years to live. I wouldn’t take you on without telling you that. If it works out between us, then there’ll be some inevitable heartache down the road.”


“Cancer?” Skinner repeated, scarcely able to take the news in.


“Yes. It’s fair enough. I’ve led a good, happy life. I’ve done everything I needed to. At least…I thought I had, until last night. Now, I think, there’s maybe one more thing left for me to do.” Andrew smiled gently.


“You’re taking it a damn sight better than I would have done,” Skinner commented.


“Oh, I’ve had my moments, believe me,” Andrew shook his head ruefully. “But I’ve had six months to come to terms with the diagnosis – you haven’t. I’m sorry I had to hit you with this news, but you had to know before you got in any deeper.”


“I’m sorry.” Skinner didn’t know what else to say.


“Don’t be. You don’t owe me anything, but I’d like to do this for you – and maybe for myself too,” Andrew said softly. “Walter, there hasn’t been anyone else for me since Ryan died. Oh, I’ve played a bit, here and there, just to keep in practice, but nothing more than that. To be honest, nobody can really take his place in my heart, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have any love left inside me. I do – and I’d like to give it, freely, without expecting it to be reciprocated.” He looked at Skinner searchingly. “You can love me, Walter. In fact, I rather hope you’ll learn to do just that – but don’t fall in love with me, because I’m not going to be here forever.”


“I understand.” Skinner nodded, slowly.


“It’s up to you – but I think you need me, and I’d like to help.” Andrew leaned forward, and placed a gentle kiss on Skinner’s lips. “It won’t be easy – that punishment you seek, well, I’ll give you that and more besides, and I predict that you’ll take the physical pain easily enough, but not the rest. If you run out now, you’ll never know what’s behind it all, Walter. I can help you, but only if you let me. I know that if you decide, in the harsh light of day, to stay and face this, then you’ll do just that. I know you’re not a quitter, but it’s a hard path – necessary, but hard. You choose, Walter. I’m going to take a shower.” And so saying, he put his empty coffee mug down on the nightstand, slipped his robe off without the slightest hint of embarrassment, and walked naked into the en suite bathroom. Skinner watched him go, fighting down the arousal he had kept so long repressed. Andrew had long, slim legs and a neat butt, and although he was a little too slender, presumably because of his illness, he was still a damned attractive man. Skinner took an absent-minded bite out of the muffin, then another. He tested the strength of the cuff again with his leg, pulling at it, and then gave in with a sigh. Andrew was right. He was where he needed to be, and he’d never shirked a duty in his life. He couldn’t carry on the way he had. Something had to change, or he’d end up killing himself.


“Have you made your decision?” Andrew emerged from his shower fifteen minutes later, his wet, white hair plastered against his head.


“Yes.” Skinner nodded. “I’ll stay,” he whispered. “I want to…but…” He pulled on the chain again. “I really can’t stand being tied.”


“No. I thought you’d find that distressing. Loss of control, feeling helpless – these are difficult emotions for you to deal with aren’t they, Walter?”


“I suppose.” Skinner shrugged.


“Well, then that’s where we’ll start. I’ll keep you chained whenever we’re alone, Walter. Nothing that confines you, or hurts you, just enough to remind you that you’re not in charge here. I am. When you stop fighting that, we can move forward.”


“I don’t think I’m going to like this,” Skinner sighed.


“Don’t you?” Andrew raised an amused eyebrow, then sat down on the bed beside the other man. “I think, Walter, that you’ll find you’re wrong about that.” He leaned forward, took Skinner’s face between his hands, and kissed him firmly on the lips. Skinner gave into the kiss, and afterwards Andrew smiled and rubbed his hand over the big man’s shoulder. “That was a very good first step, Walter,” he murmured. “Now, let’s take care of business. There’s a gym and pool in the building – use them. I’ve contacted security to arrange for a pass for you. You have a busy job, I know that – and you’re used to working hard. That’s fair enough – I have more than enough hobbies to amuse myself with.” He gave a wolfish grin. “However, if you work late too often, I’ll call you on it, and if you’re using work to avoid personal issues I’ll expect you to be honest with me. I know you will be – that isn’t your problem. Articulating is.” He got up, and unfastened the cuff from the end of the bed, but not from around Skinner’s ankle, then he handed him the length of chain. “Time for your shower. Follow me,” he ordered. Skinner grimaced, but followed him all the same. He submitted to being tied to the towel rail while he took his shower, and then untied and taken downstairs where he was re-tied to the table leg while they ate breakfast.


“Is the chain really necessary?” He asked, feeling slightly ludicrous. He was, after all, a grown man, and this struck him as absurd. “I’m not going anywhere, Andrew.”


“I know that. If you wanted to you’d only have to unfasten the clip,” Andrew replied with a smile. “It isn’t locked.”


“It isn’t…?” Skinner looked down, confused. “Then why…?”


“It’s symbolic. Yes, you can undo it anytime you like, but I’m telling you not to. My command is your bond, Walter, not the chain.”


“I see,” Skinner said slowly, trying to absorb this.


“No,” Andrew laughed. “You don’t, but you will, in time.”


After they’d eaten, Andrew took Skinner up to the 18th floor apartment, and showed him the Playroom.


“Ryan designed it – he was fantastic at this kind of thing. That’s why it’s probably more of a sub’s room than a dom’s one,” Andrew remarked with a wink.


“Did Ryan get off on this?” Skinner asked, opening one of the cupboards and whistling in awe. “I mean, Sharon and I had a little collection of paddles, but this! It’s incredible!”


“I know. You can buy new implements – whatever you want. It’s up to you.”


“For use on me?” Skinner’s breath caught in his throat. Andrew gazed at him curiously.


“Walter, I won’t do anything to you that you don’t want. Ryan was a masochist – he enjoyed receiving pain as part of his sexuality. There’s nothing wrong with that – I enjoyed indulging him. You, I suspect, don’t have the same kink. If you did, I’m sure you’d have realized it by now!” he exclaimed.


“Then why…?” Skinner bowed his head, and placed his arms around his body again, hugging himself as he had the previous night.


“Why do you want to be punished? I was rather hoping you would answer that question. Well, Walter?”


Skinner spread his hands helplessly. “I don’t know,” he whispered. “I’ve never felt this way before.”


“Haven’t you?” Andrew raised an eyebrow. “You box, don’t you, Walter?”


“Yes…but…” Skinner blustered. Andrew raised his hand to silence him.


“You box, and sometimes you work out to the point of exhaustion. You use pain, on a subliminal level, to escape from your emotions. Yes?”


“Maybe.” Skinner shrugged. “I don’t know,” he said again.


“Well, then we’ll have to find out,” Andrew told him, with a confident nod. “One thing, Walter – whatever you want, you come to me. I will give it to you if I think it’s reasonable, and not if I don’t. I’m not just talking about punishment, I’m talking about love as well. We’ll go at your pace.”


Skinner gazed at the other man uncertainly.


“Ah, you wanted the decisions taken away – well I can’t do that. I can help you make them, and I can talk you through them, but you’re still you, Walter. We just have to figure out what that means.” Andrew gave a delighted chuckle. “You know, Walter, I think you might have given me a new lease of life!” he said, his eyes twinkling. Skinner smiled, a slow smile, responding to the other man’s infectious warmth. It felt good here. Safe. However confused and uncertain he was, he knew that he’d found a safe haven – and a place he could finally call home.


They spent the next few hours going through the cupboards. Skinner talked about Sharon, and the sex games they’d played. It felt strange, talking so candidly about something so personal, but Andrew had an air about him that made it easy, and Skinner found himself strangely reassured by the chain around his ankle, that kept him from leaving the room when the conversation grew hard for him. Andrew had found a very effective way of making him face up to himself. Skinner enjoyed touching the implements and costumes in the cupboards, stroking them, using them experimentally on his hand or thigh. Andrew watched him, those sharp blue-gray eyes missing nothing.


“I think you’re a fetishist at heart, Walter,” he commented. Skinner looked up from his examination of a soft, furry paddle, which he ran against the side of his face, enjoying the sensation.


“Me? No!” He laughed.


“Yes.” Andrew grinned. “Look at the way you dress – your work suits. I always used to wonder at those perfect starched shirts, the creases in your pants, and the way your shoes always shone. Ryan said that it was just your military background, and it’s true that you do have a need for perfection, but it’s more than that. You actually have style, and taste. You radiate it – and that implies that you’re interested in clothes, in the feel of fabrics against your skin, in color, and texture. Even your casual clothing is neat, and color co-ordinated. Green sweatshirts tucked into brown jeans, nothing sloppy, always clean and un-rumpled – I think you’ve just never really allowed yourself to express this side of yourself, Walter, but now you will.”


“Okay,” Skinner shrugged, uncertain about Andrew’s assessment of his personality. “My god – what’s this for?” He asked, holding up a box containing a set of needles and other strange apparatus. Andrew laughed.


“Ryan badgered me to pierce him. It took him five years to convince me, and even then I asked why he couldn’t go and get it done professionally like everyone else, but he was adamant. He wanted to turn it into a scene. I had to become very skilled before I’d attempt it – I took some lessons!” Andrew placed a hand on Skinner’s shoulder. “Would you like to be marked as belonging to someone, Walter?” He asked. “Piercing, branding, tattoos – they’re all ways of marking ownership.”


“I’m not sure.” Skinner thought about it. “A lot of the guys in my unit at ‘Nam had tattoos, but I never wanted one,” he said at last.


“Ah, but would you like to place your mark on someone else?” Andrew whispered, his mouth close to Skinner’s ear. Skinner’s cock started to harden involuntarily, and Andrew grinned, knowingly.


“Ah. I see you like that idea. Hmmm,” he mused thoughtfully. “First though…we need to discuss the real reason why you came here.” Andrew took the piercing box from Skinner’s hand.


“The real reason…?” Skinner bowed his head, tugging at the chain again without even realizing he was doing it.


“Yes,” Andrew said insistently. “You came to me because you thought I’d punish you. You knew enough about my relationship with Ryan to know that I’m skilled with all these implements, and you wanted that pain badly last night. Do you still want it?”


“Yes,” Skinner said quickly, knowing he did, but not why.


“All right. I’ll give it to you, Walter, but only because you’re asking me. I don’t think you need to be punished for anything. For that reason, I’m giving you the responsibility over your punishment. You will choose the implement, and you will decide how long it lasts. Just tell me when you want it to stop.”


Skinner nodded, numbly, and glanced at the little heap of implements at his feet. “Now?” He asked. “Are we going to start now?”


“Yes. Why not? I think only punishment will loosen your tongue sufficiently to get to the heart of your troubles, more’s the pity.” Andrew sighed. “It’s your choice though. If you say you don’t need it, then that’s fine.”


“No. I do…I want…” Skinner shrugged, helplessly.


Andrew just laughed, and put his arms around the big man, drawing him into a firm embrace. “Like I said, punishment might be the only thing that helps you articulate your feelings.” He squeezed Skinner’s broad shoulders firmly. “All right, make your choice, Walter.”


Skinner ran his hands over various implements, wondering how they’d feel on his flesh, and decided on a hard, leather paddle. He handed it to Andrew, who took it wordlessly. “Go and bend over the horse, he said, unclipping Skinner’s chain. Skinner went, mutely, wondering why the hell he was doing this, and what the craving inside was all about. He was surprised to realize that he was trembling as he bent over the horse. He was even more surprised when Andrew gently touched his back, soothing him.


“Like I said, Walter, I don’t think you need to be punished. This is for you. Tell me when to stop,” Andrew whispered.


Skinner nodded, just wanting it to start. Even so, he was stunned when the first blow hit home. Shit! It hurt! It hurt more than he had expected. In his head it gave him comfort, release, catharsis, but in reality it just hurt. Skinner ground his teeth together, determined to take it, and endure it, for some reason deep inside that he didn’t understand. The paddle covered every inch of his buttocks and the tops of his thighs, and somewhere along the way, Skinner stopped feeling each individual stroke, and instead felt a deep, comforting burn, a slow agony of sensation that sent him to a place he’d never known before. He felt a peculiar high, and longed to stay there. The pain got worse, but he refused to cry out, refused to end it. He wanted that pain, and he refused to be weak, to yell or sob. There was a pause, and he felt Andrew’s fingers on his face.


“Walter – I won’t go on forever, and I think you’d let me. I think you’d let me kill you like this. Let me raise the stakes a little. If you insist on too harsh a punishment, I will punish you in return, by using tight bondage on you when it’s over. You won’t like the bondage, Walter – but I’ll use it if I think you’ve been too hard on yourself. Do you understand me?”


Skinner blinked. “I don’t want to be chained even more,” he growled. “I don’t like…” he could feel the frustration rise up inside his body, as if he were already fighting the invisible chains.


“No, I know you don’t,” Andrew told him firmly. “That’s why it’s a punishment, Walter, the only kind that I think will work with you. I knew you’d have no problem taking physical pain, but being restrained is much harder for you. Now, I’ll continue, but I expect you to end this soon.”


“All right.” Skinner shrugged. He didn’t want it to end yet. The pain was excruciating, and he welcomed it, nursed it close to his heart, drowned in it. Andrew began again, and the sweat poured off Skinner’s face. He could endure this for as long as it took.


“Walter,” Andrew said warningly. Skinner flung his head back, gasping for air. It hurt so much, and he wasn’t sure he knew how to end it. He’d reached a place where he was free, unfettered by duty, responsibility and the goddamn awful guilt.


“Andrew!” he gasped, and the onslaught stopped immediately.


Andrew laid gentle fingers against his face, wiped the sweat from his forehead with a cloth, then helped him up, his hands never leaving Skinner’s shoulders, soothing him constantly. He walked Skinner out of the Playroom, and down to the living room in the apartment below, where he deposited him face down on the couch, and covered him with a blanket. Then he disappeared for a moment, and returned with a pair of wrist cuffs. He fastened them to Skinner’s wrists, while the big man watched, wordlessly, hating it. He joined the two cuffs together behind Skinner’s back, then attached his ankle cuffs together, drew Skinner’s knees up to his chest, and attached a length of chain between the ankle cuffs and those around Skinner’s wrists, securing them. Skinner squirmed, fighting his bondage, but he was too tired to do more than struggle fruitlessly for a few seconds before giving in. Andrew sat down on the couch beside the bound man and pulled Skinner’s face onto his lap, angling him sideways so that he could breathe freely, and also so that he could see the expression in Skinner’s eyes. Then he gently stroked Skinner’s shoulders and the side of his face.


“Well, Walter, it would appear that you feel there’s a lot you should be punished for,” Andrew said, his voice full of wistful regret. Skinner closed his eyes, not wanting the kind concern. “Would you rather I was angry with you? Is that what you want? I’m sorry, Walter, I never take my anger into the Playroom. It could be dangerous. I’m not angry with you – you’re far too angry with yourself to need my censure as well,” Andrew told him, still stroking him.




Skinner struggled again, hating the bondage so much. “I feel like I’m suffocating,” he rasped.


“Sorry – but if you’re going to insist on such hard beatings, then you’ll have to pay a price,” Andrew said in an implacable tone. Skinner pulled at his cuffs again, wriggling on the couch.


“Please!” He cried hoarsely.


“No,” Andrew said. “Stop struggling – now! You’ll hurt yourself.” His tone was so full of authority that Skinner found himself responding to it, calming, trying to get his breath back. “Good boy, give into it. Accept,” Andrew said soothingly.


“Boy?” Skinner raised an incredulous eyebrow.


“You are to me. You’re my boy, I’m your Master,” Andrew smiled. “Age is immaterial.”


“Right.” Skinner closed his eyes, enjoyed the sensation of being caressed. After a few minutes, Andrew nudged him.


“What did you just atone for back there, Walter?” He asked.


“Being alive,” Skinner replied, burying his face in Andrew’s shirt.


“You think it should have been you killed in that car wreck, and not Sharon?” Andrew asked.


“It’s my fault she died,” Skinner shrugged.


“No, it isn’t. You didn’t place a gun to her head. You were victim, as much as she was. Why else do you feel guilty about being alive, Walter?” He pressed. Skinner floated for a moment, surfing the pain, and the frustration of being tied.


“Because everyone else died, and I don’t make a damn bit of difference doing what I do. Mulder brings things to me, and I know he believes in them, but…I wish I could be more on his side, but I can’t.”


“Mulder?” Andrew frowned.


“A subordinate. Someone I work with. He’s finding things that shock me. I don’t know how to deal with him. If he gets himself killed it will be my fault.”


“How?” Andrew’s fingers played with Skinner’s jaw, his tone thoughtful.


“Because I don’t know how to help him. I’m so fucking useless. What’s the point of my life being saved when I can’t damn well be any use when it counts?”


“Your life was saved? Are you talking about Vietnam, Walter?”


“Yeah,” Skinner growled, closing his eyes. “Fuck, I should have died out there. Jack died. The stupid bastard. He died, but I didn’t.”




“We were…lovers.” Skinner admitted a truth he’d spent so many long years trying to forget.


“Ah.” Andrew nodded, his expression inscrutable.


“I told him to fuck off. I told him that because our tour of duty was coming to an end. We were going home and I didn’t want a goddamn boyfriend to explain to my folks. I used him.”


“No. You were, what? Eighteen years old? You were scared. Nobody could blame you for that.”


“Jack might. He died in an ambush along with every single one of my unit. I was the only survivor.”


Andrew’s fingers stiffened, silenced for a moment by this news. Then he dropped his head to Skinner’s face, and kissed him, over and over again -soft, nuzzling kisses.


“You don’t need punishment, Walter,” he said, between kisses. “You just need time, and you need to talk, and you need to be loved. I can give you all those things.” Skinner lay, on his side, scrunched up against Andrew’s chest, stiffly accepting the caresses, not as his due, but as something to be endured, because he didn’t deserve them. “So, Jack, your unit, now Sharon. And you’re worried it’ll be Mulder next. Why does that upset you. Do you love him too?” Andrew asked quietly.


Skinner’s heart missed a beat. “Yes,” he replied, facing a truth he’d never acknowledged before. “Yes. I do.”


“Does he know?” Andrew asked.


“I don’t see how. I didn’t know myself until this minute,” Skinner muttered. “Damn! Sharon deserved more than me. I was a sorry excuse for a husband.”


“No, you grew apart. Anyone who saw you together knew that you were in love once, and you were fond of each other to the end,” Andrew said. “It takes two to make or break a marriage, Walter, and Sharon fell out of love too. It happens.” He shrugged.


“She talked to you?” Skinner looked up in surprise.


“Yes. We were friends,” Andrew smiled. “She didn’t blame you – she wanted other things as well, but I know she never stopped caring about you. She cared because she knows you’re a good man, Walter. I won’t let this defeat you, I promise.”


“How?” Skinner asked helplessly. “God, listen to me. I sound like a grade A, fucked up basket case.”


“No, you don’t. I’m just amazed you carried on as long as you did before this crisis hit you. Walter – did you ever receive any counseling when you returned from Vietnam?”


“Counseling? No,” Skinner snorted. “They didn’t want to know us when we came back – they certainly weren’t going to sit and hold our hands. If you were really fucked up they sent you to a psychiatric hospital, and that was that,” he shuddered.


“Well, things have moved on since then, and if you’ve buried all this for so many years, then you are a very strong man to have coped so well for so long, Walter. Have you ever heard of post traumatic stress disorder?”


“Kinda. In passing. I never thought it had any relevance to me though.” Skinner shrugged.


“Have you had any nightmares, or trouble sleeping?” Andrew asked.


Skinner was silent for a long time, then sighed. “Yes,” he admitted.


“Hallucinations, alcohol issues?” Andrew pressed.


“Yes.” Skinner took a deep breath. “Both,” he whispered.


“Feelings of anger and alienation? Do your hands shake?” Andrew’s voice seemed to come from a long way away, and Skinner hesitated, trembling on the brink of a precipice. Damnit, he hadn’t cried since he was 12 years old, and he wasn’t going to start now.


“Yes.” His mouth formed the word, but he made no sound.


“Walter – it’s all right. You’re not alone, and we can deal with all these issues. Have you heard of a concept called survivor’s guilt?” Skinner shook his head, feeling perilously close to losing it and sobbing like a kid. “I’m going to give you some books to look at – to help you understand that what’s affecting you is normal considering what you’ve been through in your life. It won’t necessarily help you deal with it emotionally, but at least you can understand it. I’ll help you with your emotions, if you trust me.”


“I do,” Skinner said, in a barely audible tone. He had to. There was nobody else left to turn to.


“Good. Now, can we dispense with further punishment, or will it be necessary for your healing process?” Andrew asked.


“I think I need it,” Skinner replied, his voice shaking. He didn’t think he could have got this far, or admitted this much, if Andrew hadn’t broken him down first.


“Very well,” Andrew sighed. “Then I’ll continue to use the bondage. I’m sorry, Walter, but everything must have its price.”


They spent the day quietly, talking, listening to music. Skinner chafed against his bondage, but he hurt too much to seriously argue about it, and besides, he soon came to realize that Andrew had the most implacable will. If he said “no,” he meant it, and it was useless to try to argue with him. Andrew released Skinner from his bondage after a few hours, and rubbed out the cramps that had developed in the big man’s muscles. They ate, and afterwards Andrew soothed cool gel into Skinner’s hot, raw flesh.


When it got late, Andrew ordered him to bed, and he prepared to walk up to the small room in the 18th floor apartment that Andrew had earmarked for his use. He was therefore surprised when the other man forestalled him.


“No, I’ve changed my mind about that. You’ve been alone with yourself for too long, I think, Walter. You’ll share my bed, and submit to being held, however much it embarrasses you!” Andrew winked. Skinner bowed his head, his arms going around his body again. “Walter.” Andrew stood in front of him, demanding his attention. “I told you – if you want anything, you must come to me. I find you very attractive, and as your Master I’d like to show you the many ways I bring my subs pleasure, but it’s up to you. It’s been a long time since Jack, so you’ll have to decide when you’re ready – and if you never are, that’s fine. A waste,” he grinned, “but fine.”


“Thanks,” Skinner rasped out, his voice hoarse. He could hardly believe he’d ended up in this place, with someone who seemed to care, and understand, and he was more grateful than he would have thought possible. “Uh…do you want me to address you as Master?” He asked. Andrew looked at him keenly. “If you want to – when you want to. It isn’t obligatory. We both understand the situation,” he said. “I’m in charge though, Walter – don’t ever forget that.”


“I won’t,” Skinner said in a heartfelt tone, more than relieved to hear it.


Andrew ordered him up to the bedroom, and Skinner groaned when his Master fastened his ankle cuff loosely to the bed. Andrew slapped the side of his thigh lightly. “Accept, boy,” he growled.


“Yes, Master,” Skinner said with a resigned sigh.


Andrew sat on the bed beside him, and looked down at him affectionately. “Do you feel better?” He asked. “I’m curious – you clearly don’t get off on pain. Did it relieve the other feelings for you?”


“Yes,” Skinner admitted honestly.


“Don’t get addicted,” Andrew warned. “We’ll have to find other coping mechanisms for you. I don’t mind handing out the occasional whipping when you really need it, but only if you make a real effort to deal with your issues. Otherwise it’s self perpetuating and you’ll never learn anything.”


“No. I know. I can hardly believe I need it,” Skinner said, shamefaced.


“It’s nothing to feel guilty about,” Andrew exclaimed. “Everybody’s different. I prefer it when my sub enjoys my attentions and doesn’t just endure them, but your need is just as real as Ryan’s was, and I respect that.” He bent and deposited a kiss on Skinner’s lips, then changed into his pajamas, and joined the big man in the bed. Once again, his arms slid around Skinner’s waist, and he held his new sub tight. It took Skinner less time to relax than the previous night, but he still stiffened. “You’re worthy of affection, Walter,” Andrew told him, stroking him gently. “I’ll make you see all that’s inside you – the good and the bad, and I’m sure you’re in for a big surprise, boy,” he promised, in a low, sexy growl.


Skinner moved in the following day. All his possessions were in boxes, already packed, so it didn’t take long. He took a week off work, and settled into Andrew’s condo. His need for punishment was almost constant to start with, but Andrew insisted that every session was paid for by several hours in bondage, during which he was expected to talk – openly, honestly, and at length about what he was feeling. It took several months of the hardest work Skinner had ever done, but he woke up one morning and realized that he had emerged from that dark tunnel where he had been trapped. He looked at the man lying next to him on the pillow, and reached out a hand. Andrew’s illness had progressed, and his appearance was more gaunt. He never complained of any pain, but Skinner had noticed that he occasionally took medication, to relieve the worst symptoms. Nothing dimmed the unquenchable spirit in those sparkling, faintly mischievous, blue-gray eyes though. Andrew’s eyes fluttered open, as Skinner touched the side of his face.


“Hello you,” Andrew murmured.


“I want you,” Skinner replied, inching forward for a kiss, his hands reaching out for his Master. Andrew stopped him, placing a finger over the other man’s mouth.


“Walter, trust me, I’m honored, but be sure before you take this step. You know about my illness. I don’t want you to get hurt. We both know there’s no happily ever after in this.”


“No. It doesn’t matter. I’ve skipped around the edge of my sexuality for long enough,” Skinner said in reply. “I wanted to…a long time ago, but I kept holding back. Now…I don’t want to waste any more time. We may not have much.”


“All right, love.” Andrew smiled, sat up, and reached into the drawer of his nightstand for condoms, and some lube. He had to rummage, and looked back with a grin. “As you can see – it’s been a while!”


Skinner tried to smile through his own anxiety, and Andrew shook his head. “Walter – it’ll be good, trust me, not an ordeal. Why must everything be such an ordeal for you? Can’t you give yourself permission to just enjoy something?”


“Things don’t always have the habit of turning out very well – even enjoyable things,” Skinner responded, remembering the call girl.


“Well, this time they will,” Andrew said firmly, and Skinner didn’t think that anything or anyone, would dare defy the other man. Even ill, his strong will shone through every action, and word. “Now, which do you want to be -top or bottom?” Andrew asked with a grin. “Your choice.”


“It is?” Skinner looked bemused. “I assumed that you’d…”


“God, no! I don’t like to just take the one position. That would be so damn boring apart from anything else – and it would mean denying myself of a whole world of sensory delight. So which do you want, Walter?”


“I want you inside me,” Skinner said quickly, before he got cold feet.


“Sure?” Andrew slid down in the bed beside him, and tweaked a nipple playfully.


“Yes. Please. I haven’t – with Jack I always went on top. I used to enjoy it. I could kid myself that I was almost straight if I did that,” Skinner said. “I don’t want to pretend any more,” he added.


“Ah, a virgin, how nice!” Andrew smacked his lips together in a gleeful anticipation that broke the tension. Skinner laughed and started to relax. “I’ll take the lead,” Andrew said. “Remember – I’m in charge. You just let me amuse myself with you for a while, give up that phenomenal control of yours, allow yourself to feel pleasure, Walter.” Skinner nodded, arching his back as Andrew moved forward, and took a nipple in his mouth, rolling it under his tongue. Andrew was as good as his word. He played with his sub for what seemed like hours, bringing Skinner to the brink of climax, then denying him his release until Skinner was begging. Only when his sub was completely aroused, did Andrew insert a lubed finger into his anus. Skinner tensed up immediately, and Andrew gave him a light slap on the butt. “Who’s in charge?” He asked.


“You are…Master,” Skinner said meekly.


“And have I hurt you so far?” Andrew demanded.




“Then relax,” Andrew ordered, and Skinner found himself obeying, loosening his muscles so that Andrew could insert another finger, then a third. Andrew spent a long time stretching him, caressing him in a way that nobody had ever done before, and Skinner was climbing the walls, begging for more, needing to feel his Master’s hard cock inside him before Andrew relented, and withdrew his fingers. He placed a condom on his own cock, and spread it liberally with lube, then gently parted Skinner’s thighs, and placed the other man’s legs on his shoulders. “I want to look at you when I take you this first time,” Andrew said. He held Skinner’s buttocks apart and nudged his cock into Skinner’s entrance. Skinner held his gaze, radiating a sense of pure trust. Andrew pushed swiftly home, to the root, and rocked there for a moment, making Skinner gasp out loud. “How does that feel?” Andrew asked, his hands caressing Skinner’s thighs.


“Burns but it’s a good burn,” Skinner nodded. Andrew smiled, and started to pump in and out, slowly at first. Skinner moved his hips, rolling in time to the movement. He had been so well stretched that it didn’t hurt – it just felt damn good. He almost leapt into the air when Andrew grabbed his hard cock, and started pumping that too, in time to his thrusts. Skinner thought he’d explode with sheer sensory pleasure and came, shouting out his Master’s name. Andrew took his own climax a few minutes later, and looked down on his sated sub, affectionately. He withdrew, and dropped on top of Skinner, then kissed his lover firmly on the lips, with a deep, claiming kiss.


“You, are very special, Walter Skinner,” he murmured.


“And you are extraordinary, Master,” Skinner replied, wrapping his arms tightly around the other man.


Andrew smiled. “You have no idea how much fun we are going to have, Walter. Your body is so new to you, your needs, your desires – I’m going to show you everything about yourself, and it’s going to be so good,” he promised. Skinner held the other man’s slender body to his chest, and thought he never wanted to let go.


Andrew was as good as his word. In the next few months he and Skinner played every sex game possible, performed every sex act Skinner had ever heard of, and a good many he hadn’t, and talked about the nature of Skinner’s sexuality. Andrew was happy to allow Skinner to top him, and introduced his lover to BDSM sex both as top and bottom.


“I never realized…” Skinner murmured, after a session where he had undergone the most mind-blowing climax after being tied, spanked, and subjected to intense sensation play using hot and cold objects, feathers, and a myriad of textured cloths. “I never knew this could be so good. I often wondered what Sharon got out of it – I mean I was happy to oblige, but I didn’t know this could be so erotic, this giving up, the exchange of power, willingly giving that to someone else.”


“You have a sensualist’s soul, Walter,” Andrew laughed. “You’re a true connoisseur – never wanting to be rushed, savoring each new sensation.”


“If I’m anything, it’s because of you,” Skinner replied. “I never would have discovered all this by myself.”


“Maybe one day you’ll show all this to someone else, share the knowledge and the pleasure,” Andrew whispered. Skinner stiffened. He knew that Andrew was preparing him for his death, but he didn’t want to think about that right now. The other man had come to mean too much to him for him to bear thinking about losing him. “Walter,” Andrew said gently. “We both know what’s going to happen. I don’t want you sliding back to where you were before. You’ve made such progress. I don’t want my work with you to have been in vain. Promise me, boy.”


Skinner sat up at that tone. It wasn’t one he would dare to defy. “I’ll try,” he said, “but it’s going to be damn hard.”


“You can cope.” Andrew shouldered his slender frame into a robe, and fastened it around his waist, musing on something thoughtfully, then he turned back to his naked lover. “Walter, it strikes me that you might need someone to go to occasionally – when you need release.”


Skinner shook his head. “I couldn’t ask anyone else. Nobody could take your place,” he said.


“No, but there are people who could give you what you need. I’m pleased that you need it less and less these days, but it would be short sighted of us to imagine that you’ll never need it again. If you do, I want you to have somewhere to go, so I’m going to ask Elaine to take care of it. You trust her, don’t you?”


Skinner thought about it for a moment. “I’m not sure. I mean, yes I do trust Elaine, but I’m just not sure,” he said. “I don’t think it would be the same if it wasn’t you.”


“You just need the release – and someone who’ll listen to you, and understand you,” Andrew said. “It doesn’t have to be me.”




“You might never need to go to her, but just in case you do – I’d hate for you to lose yourself again. I think we should be prepared for the eventuality that you might feel the need.” He crouched down in front of his sub, and took hold of his head, making Skinner look into his vivid blue-gray eyes. “I might have to make it an order, Walter. Even when I’m not here I still expect you to follow my orders.”


“What will you do, haunt me from the grave?” Skinner said, with a sad smile. “Come into my room as an apparition and tie me to the bed until I do as you say?”


“Don’t count against it,” Andrew warned, his eyes deadly serious.


Skinner sighed. “All right,” he said finally.


“Promise?” Andrew demanded.


“Promise.” Skinner nodded.


“Good boy.” Andrew caressed his ears affectionately. “Now, tell me about your work. Has Mulder being behaving himself recently?”


Mulder was a frequent topic of conversation between them. Skinner often went to Andrew for advice on how to deal with his most troublesome subordinate, and Andrew had the most amazing insights into Mulder’s personality.


“It strikes me that the boy is looking for someone to help him. All these cries de coeur. He reminds me of you, Walter,” Andrew said mischievously, glancing at his sub as they ate a meal one evening.


“Me? Since when did I ever behave like that? I’m not headstrong, I don’t flare up at the slightest provocation, and I do not, I especially do not, go running off without telling anyone, disobey orders, and then have the bare-faced cheek to sit in my boss’s office and blame him,” Skinner growled.


Andrew laughed out loud. “Oh, Walter, the boy is desperate for you to notice him. Anyone can see that,” he chided.


“Notice him? Why?” Skinner repeated blankly.


“Because he knows you can give him what he needs, maybe?” Andrew said. “And you can, but the question is – do you want to?”


“I don’t know.” Skinner sighed. “He’s such a handful – what would I be taking on?”


“Someone who needs you – the way you needed me last year.” Andrew got up and placed his hands on Skinner’s shoulders, then deposited a kiss on his head. “You could do it, Walter. I’ve taught you all you need to know, and, my dear boy, you make a very good top. I always knew you did from the contented little smile Sharon had on her face at those scene parties you used to go to, and now of course I’ve experienced your skill myself…”


“I’m nothing compared to you and you know it,” Skinner replied.


“On the contrary, you just lack confidence. I wish you’d play more,” Andrew said with a sigh. “All these subs I keep bringing home for you…”


“I have played with them,” Skinner interrupted, “but they’re not you,” he added softly, his hand covering Andrew’s as it rested on his shoulder.


“And they’re not Mulder either – isn’t that the truth as well?” Andrew asked with his usual keen insight.


“Maybe. What would you do with him, Andrew? How would you deal with him? Would you tie him up, the way you did with me? Make him talk? Make him listen?”


“God no!” Andrew exclaimed. “Your Mulder wouldn’t react well to that at all. He sounds very different to you, Walter – and you’d have to set aside what you learned from my treatment of you and treat him as an individual – with quite different needs. You, my dear boy, had to be broken, you had walls that you hid behind, that kept you strong, but isolated. Now, Fox Mulder on the other hand – you wouldn’t want to break him. That would destroy his spirit, not release him as it did you. Fox has to be tamed I think, like the wild creature he is.”


“How?” Skinner glanced up at his lover. “God knows I’ve tried all the sanctions at my disposal and none of them have worked. I’m scared he’ll get himself killed…” He broke off, and Andrew’s fingers kneaded his shoulders lightly.


“I know – that’s always your fear, Walter. Dear boy.” He dropped a light kiss on Skinner’s bare scalp. “Now, Fox. Dear Fox. How do I think you should deal with him? Well, for a start, I don’t think he’d stay willingly. He’s like his namesake; too wild, and quick, too cunning, too afraid to trust. You’ll have to entice him with something he needs, something he wants, and then when you’ve got him, you’ll have to win his trust enough to make him want to stay and eat out of your hand.”


“Ah, well that’s easy then!” Skinner growled.


Andrew laughed, and patted his lover’s shoulders. “I never said it’d be easy. It won’t. One thing though, Walter – if you take him on, I know you’ll be there for him, because I know you and your damn obstinacy and sense of duty and responsibility. However, that doesn’t mean you can neglect yourself, and your own needs,” Andrew said fiercely.


“No, Master.” Skinner made a face.


“I mean it.” Andrew cuffed him lightly across the back of his head. “I know you. If you feel yourself going under, you must go to Elaine. She’ll take care of it. Walter – you’re really a very skilled top. You have nothing to worry about there,” he said, sitting down again, a spasm of pain passing across his face. Skinner got up, and brought the other man a glass of water. “You know they’re even clamoring to play with you on the scene?” Andrew asked slyly. “You’ve made something of a name for yourself, boy,” he grinned. “Who’d have thought it? My protÈgÈ, becoming more famous than his Master!”


“Nobody could take your place, idiot,” Skinner said cheerfully, watching anxiously, as the lines of pain refused to fade from the other man’s face.


“If anybody can it’s you – I’m proud of what we’ve achieved together,” Andrew said seriously. “You’ve come a long way from that lost soul who knocked on my door in the middle of the night another lifetime ago.” He was suddenly racked by a fit of coughing, and Skinner got up, and was at his side in seconds.


“You need to go to bed,” he said firmly.


“No. Walter – when I retire to my bed it’ll be to die, and I’m not ready for that just yet,” Andrew commented acerbically. “I’m still in charge here until they carry me out feet first – and don’t you forget it, boy,” he said firmly, his eyes sparkling.


“How could I, Master?” Skinner replied, his heart breaking. “How could I?”


As Andrew’s illness progressed towards its inevitable conclusion, Skinner moved out of the bedroom, and into the small upstairs room. He had a bell installed so that Andrew could summon him whenever he needed him. Every morning, before he left for work, he would wash and dress his Master, then pick him up in his arms, and carry him down the stairs to the living room, where he’d place him on the couch. The first visitor would arrive at 7am, and somebody would stay with Andrew until Skinner returned home. There was never any lack of volunteers, whether they were friends, old clients, or former lovers and subs. Everybody who had ever met Andrew cared about him. His good humor, love of life, and abilities as a top were legendary. Skinner found himself in the company of a good many awe-struck subs – who were as anxious to worship Andrew’s sub as much as they worshipped his Master. He turned down each and every invitation, until Andrew chided him on the matter.


“You’re still human, Walter, and I’d like you to keep your skills up to scratch,” he teased. “It doesn’t have to be about sex, – some of these subs would just like to kneel in front of you and feel your whip. You could give them that much.”


“I’m not in the mood.” Skinner rolled his stiff shoulders.


“It might ease those stresses. You could ask one of them to massage you – the queue of volunteers would stretch around the block, believe me.” Andrew smiled knowingly. “You’re the epitome of the perfect top, my dear, if only you’d see it.”


“Nonsense,” Skinner growled.


“It’s not. Come here,” Andrew commanded, and Skinner obeyed, immediately, and without question, as he always did. “Kneel,” Andrew said. It made no difference that his Master was frail, and weak, his spirit was as strong as ever. Skinner knelt. Andrew looked down into his sub’s eyes. “You’re good because you’re strong without being brutal, strict without being unfair, loving without losing your authority – and most of all, you never make the mistake of treating a sub as anything less than human. Any number of subs would gladly serve you – and you deserve to be served, love.” Andrew stroked Skinner’s head thoughtfully.


“I don’t need it.” Skinner shrugged.


“Or is it that you still think you don’t deserve it?” Andrew asked. “You do. You could make a sub very happy by just allowing them to serve you. You look after me, you do a stressful job – you deserve some R and R. In fact, I’m going to arrange it.”


“I don’t…” Skinner began. Andrew placed a silencing finger over his mouth.


“It’s an order,” he said. Skinner clenched his jaw, then gave in with a sigh, experience having taught him that Andrew’s orders had to be obeyed. Andrew smiled, and tickled him under the chin. “Cheer up – you might even enjoy yourself!” He laughed. “Honestly, Walter. There are those subs who lose themselves in their service, who want to belong to a special Master. I suspect…” he frowned, and paused, then continued, “I suspect your Mulder might be one of them.”


“Mulder! Serve me?” Skinner laughed. “He’d hate it! Besides, you don’t know he’s into any of this stuff, Andrew.”


“As a matter of fact I do,” Andrew smiled softly. “He’s active on the scene, Walter. You wouldn’t know because you don’t venture onto the scene these days, but my sources have kept me well informed.”


Skinner took a deep breath, shocked. “He’s on the scene? As a sub? Is he safe?” He asked.


“Very. I’ve made sure of that,” Andrew replied grimly. “Someone had to – the idiot is all over the place, and he’s been taking risks that I don’t approve of. I think he needs someone to take him in hand, Walter.”


“Not me,” Skinner growled. “It’s too complicated – I work with the man for god’s sake!”


“And you’re in love with him. From what I’ve learned about him on the grapevine you complement each other. You’d make a good partnership.”


“No,” Skinner shook his head.


“You can’t deny that you want him,” Andrew put his head on one side, intrigued. “I’m not too weak to tie you very tightly and get that truth out of you, Walter.”


“No, you’re not,” Skinner grinned. “And you don’t need to,” he added hastily. He had come to tolerate being tied, even to appreciate the silence and loss of control that tight bondage entailed, but it still wasn’t exactly his favorite activity. “I don’t deny that I want him. What I mean is…I don’t want him as a casual fling. I want something more, and I would never approach him – he’d have to come to me.”


“I see.” Andrew nodded thoughtfully. “In the meantime then – I think you should get some practice in.”


Skinner raised an eyebrow. “You’re so sure he’ll come to me.”


“Yes. I am.” Andrew smiled. “You see, it’s where he belongs. I just hope he’s good enough for my boy.” He dropped a kiss on Skinner’s forehead. “Now, I’m going to put the word out, and you, my dear Walter, are going to polish up those skills of yours – as well as allowing every sub who wants to do so to worship at your feet. You’ve been neglecting yourself, taking care of me,” he added softly. “Let me find some people to take care of you.” With a sigh, Skinner gave in, and nodded. “Good.” Andrew chuckled. “That’s what I love about you, Walter – so stubborn, even to the extent of refusing to take pleasure when ordered!”


As Andrew’s condition worsened, Skinner had cause to be profoundly grateful to the other man for arranging the “R&R” as he’d termed it. It gave him an hour away from the gnawing pain of watching someone he loved so much slip away from him, day by slow day. The subs were as plentiful as Andrew had promised, and Skinner lost himself in their massages, their service, their desire to please him. He gave them back as much of himself as he could, and was surprised to find that it was enough. They went away in awe of his skills, and he soon developed a reputation on the scene that rivaled that of his legendary Master.


However, Skinner was sinking further and further into despair as Andrew’s pain level skyrocketed. He oversaw his lover’s pain meds, and knew that even the huge amounts he took didn’t take away the other man’s discomfort. One night, Andrew summoned him with the bell, and Skinner found him gasping for air. He took him into his arms, and held him tight, rocking him back and forth through the long, dark night. Andrew smiled at him, a wan, listless smile, his vivid blue-gray eyes dimmed, but still containing a faint remnant of their famous spark.


“I never thought I could love anyone after Ryan,” Andrew murmured. “I was wrong.” Skinner crossed his arms protectively around his lover, wanting to keep him safe, knowing he couldn’t. Andrew took a breath, and his body spasmed with pain. “Damn! Hurts so much…” he whispered.


“I can’t stand seeing you like this,” Skinner said hoarsely. “I wish there was something I could do.”


“There is,” Andrew whispered. “If I were to ask you, would you leave the medication by my bed, where I can reach it?”


The two men looked at each other for a long time. Skinner knew what Andrew was asking of him – he wanted to take an overdose. “No,” he said softly.


“It would be my decision – nothing to do with you. I wouldn’t implicate…” Andrew began.


“No.” Skinner clasped him close.


“I’m not saying I will, but if I asked you – would you do it?” Andrew asked. “For me? One last duty performed for the only man you’ll ever call Master?”


Skinner closed his eyes, feeling the frail flesh beneath his fingertips. “Yes,” he breathed at last. “I’d do it for you.”


“Good boy.” Andrew patted his hands comfortingly. “I’ll try not to ask then.”


“Thank you.” Skinner kissed Andrew’s snowy hair, and rested his chin on the other man’s head.


His Master was as good as his word. When he passed away a few weeks later, he did so without having made his request, for which Skinner was profoundly grateful. The funeral passed in a haze, and he could barely take in the fact that Andrew had left him the two condos in his will, to say nothing of the honory title of Guardian of the House that had been bestowed upon him.


Skinner got into the habit of waking up, going to work mechanically, then coming home again and sitting slumped in front of the television. He tried not to regress, knowing that Andrew wouldn’t want that, but even so, it was hard remembering to take care of himself, remembering to sleep, and eat, and put one foot in front of the other. When the pain got too much he took himself off to Elaine, and she did as Andrew had asked her, without question, and afterwards took care of him.


“You need something to take you out of yourself,” she told him during the aftermath of one visit.


“I’ll be fine,” he growled tersely.


“We’ll see.” She smiled.


A few days later he came home to find a small kitten sitting on his couch. There was a cat tray in the laundry room, water and food in two new bowls on the kitchen floor, and a note on his dining room table.


“She’s for you. Someone to take care of. Someone to take care of you. Oh, and she’s a platinum calico Burmese, in case you were wondering. A friend of mine breeds them. Elaine.” Skinner crumpled the note up in his fist and put his head on one side, considering the small bundle of fur who was eyeing him with an equally assessing stare. “Damn Elaine. I knew I should have gotten that key off her,” Skinner muttered, glaring at the small interloper threateningly. “A cat?” He growled. “Why the hell would I need a cat?” The animal in question stretched out two dainty paws, and yawned. Skinner watched, fascinated, as her pink tongue emerged from between two sets of white whiskers. “Do I look like the kind of man that keeps small furry creatures?” He asked her. “Do I look like I need a cuddly toy?”


He turned his back on her and went to pour himself a glass of whisky. Whisky was one of his pleasures in life, but he had learned to limit himself to one glass an evening — a legacy of Andrew’s hard work in sorting out his sub’s issues, and putting him back on an even keel.


He set the glass to his lips, muttering to himself that the first thing he would do the following day was pack the kitten up in a basket and return her whence she had come from, when he suddenly felt the most excruciating pain in the back of his legs.


“Ow…” he hopped around, trying to dislodge the tiny creature that was determinedly climbing up the back of his dress pants like an intrepid explorer breaching the North face of Everest. He tried to reach out a hand to pull her off, but her claws stuck fast wherever she planted them. Skinner could almost hear Andrew laughing, and could imagine his wry comment: “Finally, Walter, a creature as obstinate as you. I think you’ve met your match.”


He grunted, and gave in, allowing the kitten to reach the sanctuary of his shoulders, where she sat, radiating a sense of pride at her dazzling feat of mountaineering. She rubbed her face against his jaw, then insinuated herself beneath his chin, holding on tight to his shirt so that she wouldn’t fall off. Skinner sighed, looked down into a pair of sparkling green eyes — and fell completely, and utterly in love.


“Well, little girl, looks like you don’t take no for an answer,” he crooned, placing one big hand under her rump, and using the other to tickle her behind the ears. She exploded into a tidal wave of purring, and responded ecstatically to his caress, her eyes glowing with adoration.


“More responsive than a sub,” he teased her, and she bit his finger playfully. “And more capricious than the most demanding top I see. All right, princess, I’m your devoted servant.” He planted a kiss firmly on the top of her silky head, and buried his face in her fur. It felt good to have someone to come home to, someone to get up for in the morning, someone to take care of. He kissed her again, and she snuggled up even closer to his face, satisfied that in the space of less than ten minutes she had wrapped this big man around her tiny, dainty paw.




“I always wondered how you and Wanda first met,” Mulder murmured, stroking the cat’s ears.


“She saw me through the hard times after Andrew’s death,” Skinner said. “Not that there was ever any doubt in her mind who I belonged to. She took one look at me and claimed me.”


Outside it had grown dark as Skinner told his story. Mulder hadn’t taken his eyes off his Master’s face once as Skinner completed his narrative. He had been completely absorbed in the story. Although he found it hard visualizing his Master subbing to anyone, somehow the fact that Andrew Linker, this legendary top, had been the one Skinner called Master made it all slot into place, as if it were the most natural thing in the world.


“So, slave — that’s the story you were so eager to hear,” Skinner said.


“Thank you. I’m sorry. I should have waited,” Mulder sighed. He wasn’t sure how he felt knowing all this about Skinner. In some ways he was relieved – he had learned nothing that diminished his love and respect for the other man. Mulder had enormous reserves of compassion, and Skinner’s story had moved him. He also knew what it was like to face the depths of despair that his Master had faced. It was reassuring to know that Skinner understood the dark recesses of his slave’s heart, because of what he had suffered and experienced himself. It gave his Master a depth of experience that Mulder valued deeply.


“Well, I knew your insane curiosity, and I also know what a talented investigator you are, so I should have expected that you wouldn’t be satisfied with my promises that I’d tell you one day,” Skinner replied. “The truth is that I wasn’t sure you could handle it. You’re in a dangerous place, Fox. I know, because I was there once myself, but my story is irrelevant right now — we’re focusing on you. That’s the only reason I didn’t tell you. Andrew helped me, and I know and understand myself much better as a result, but you… well you still have a long way to go, sweetheart.”


“Yes.” Mulder felt relieved to simply admit it. “Andrew sounds amazing. He’s a tough act to follow. I can’t ever shape up to that,” he shrugged.


“Fox — you’re you. I don’t want you to be Andrew,” Skinner said firmly. He gave his slave a hard kiss. “I love you for what you are — and I have done for years.”


“But you’re going to punish me, right?” Mulder said anxiously. Skinner’s arms tightened around his slave. “For disobeying you? For deceiving you?”


“Wasn’t yesterday punishment enough?” Skinner asked softly.


“No. I need…”


“Yes. I know.” Skinner sighed. “I know that feeling all too well. Fox — the reason I went to Elaine yesterday had less to do with you than you think. It wasn’t my intention to make you feel guilty. The truth is…that there was something I’d buried since Andrew died, and you unwittingly made me face it.” He paused, and Mulder kissed his Master’s collarbone, encouraging him to continue. “Andrew didn’t ask me to perform that final act of service — he was so strong, despite his pain. He didn’t want to leave me with that burden of guilt. However…I felt I should have done it for him anyway. When Peter called and used the word euthanasia…well, it just brought up those feelings again. It would have been a simple enough thing for me to do. I could have just left the medication within easy reach…but I didn’t.”


“And you think you should have?” Mulder asked.


“It might have been a kindness,” Skinner said softly. “I’ve never dealt with that issue before, so you were a catalyst, but nothing more. I needed what happened yesterday — Andrew would have been furious if I’d neglected the danger signals, and I’d be no use to you as a Master if I hadn’t gone to see Elaine last night.”


“Master…” Mulder began hesitantly. “I…next time you need…if you need…”


“Say it, slave,” Skinner prompted, in an amused tone.


“I could do that for you, Master. You don’t need to go to strangers. I could serve you like that.” Mulder said.


Skinner gave a wry chuckle. “Thank you, Fox, but I should point out that you nearly yelled the house down back there, so I’m not sure you could give me what I need.”


“I could do it if you asked me,” Mulder replied firmly.


“Maybe. One day. I’d like very much to know I could turn to you in such moments, but you’re not ready yet,” Skinner said softly. Mulder nodded. “And it doesn’t happen very often any more,” Skinner added. “Now, it’s late and I’m hungry. What’s for dinner?”


“Something good — something I arranged just for you.” Mulder smiled, and got up, then he leaned down and deposited another kiss on his Master’s lips. He returned a little while later bearing a tray.


Skinner sat up, cautiously, with a grimace, and looked at the contents of the tray expectantly, then his eyes lit up. “Clam chowder!” He exclaimed. Mulder grinned. “With pilot crackers!” Skinner shook his head in amazement. “This is incredible. How did you know?” He asked his slave. Mulder sat down on the bed with his own serving, a goofy smile on his face at having done something so right.


“Scully told me about your folks having a seafood restaurant in Maine — I thought you might enjoy this.”


“Fox, it’s wonderful. My favorite,” Skinner beamed. “My talented slave,” he teased.


“You never did answer me — about the punishment,” Mulder said in a hesitant voice. “I know I deserve it.”


“Yes. I think you probably do.” Skinner said with a sigh. “More than that — you need it, don’t you?”


“Yes,” Mulder replied bluntly. “Although that doesn’t mean I’m not scared,” he added, making a face. “You sure as hell know the difference between an erotic spanking and a punishment one.”


“I hope so,” Skinner said wryly. “Or Andrew failed in his tutelage! All right — I’m in no fit shape to deliver anything now, but I will be soon. On Monday evening, before bed, I’ll deliver what needs to be done then — and Fox,” his dark eyes were serious. “It’ll hurt,” he said.


Mulder shivered, and ducked his head down to his meal. “Yes, Master,” he whispered.


“And afterwards…” Skinner added, “well, I said I’d use you on a daily basis, and it’s been a couple of days, so afterwards, I think I’ll take you to my bed, and reaffirm your status, slave.”


“Yes, Master!” Mulder looked up again, his eyes alight with anticipation.


Mulder marveled at Skinner’s self control when they returned to work on Monday. The big man had to still be in some discomfort, but he didn’t show it. True, he did spend the better part of his meeting with the X Files department, pacing around his office, and preferred to lean against his desk rather than sit down, but all the same, he didn’t give so much as the smallest clue as to what he had undergone the previous Friday evening. Mulder was in awe of his Master. At the same time he was dreading his own punishment, and wishing more than anything else, that they could skip it and go straight to the sex. He even suggested this to Skinner, who just laughed, and slapped his slave’s butt affectionately.


“I don’t think so,” he said firmly, much to Mulder’s chagrin — and relief. Mulder knew that he needed this, he just found the waiting so hard.


He spent Monday evening on tenterhooks. Skinner kept him occupied with a myriad of mindless tasks, including a whole pile of the hated laundry. At 10 pm his Master summoned his slave, and ordered him to go and wait in the playroom.


“Do I get to choose my own implement?” Mulder asked, hardly able to breathe. Skinner looked at him curiously, as if assessing what effect learning about his Master’s past was having on his slave’s psyche.


“Do you want to?” He asked.


“Um…on this occasion…yes,” Mulder said.


“Very well. The level of severity will still be my decision though, boy,” Skinner growled. “I’m your Master, and you belong to me to treat as I wish.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder’s treacherous cock quivered hopefully. He couldn’t help himself — he just loved it when Skinner talked to him like that.


“And slave — not the bullwhip,” Skinner said. “I know you have a fascination for that particular implement, but only I will decide when that will be used.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder shivered. The bullwhip held a curious fascination for him, and he knew that one day his Master would make him submit to its savage caress again — but not today.


“Go then.” Skinner ordered, and Mulder turned and ran.


Mulder had already made his decision before he got to the Playroom. He went straight to the rubber tawse, and removed it with a shudder. It was heavy, and he remembered the punch it packed all too well from the previous occasion when Skinner had used it on him. He had a particular reason for choosing it though — the whip Skinner had chosen for his release had been made of rubber, and Mulder knew he was trying to see if he could endure what his Master had endured. He took a certain satisfaction in Skinner’s physical prowess at being able to withstand the whip for so long without uttering a sound. In some strange way it merely reassured him of his Master’s strength – not only physically but mentally as well.


He knelt down in the submissive position, back straight, eyes down, arms outstretched, holding the tawse up to his Master for use on his slave’s naked body, to punish, and correct.


Skinner entered the Playroom a few minutes later. He stood for a moment, looking at his naked, contrite slaveboy, then gave a grim sigh, and strode over. He took the tawse, and, looking up, Mulder could see that the significance of the implement wasn’t lost on his Master.


“All right, slave. Go and bend over the spanking horse,” Skinner ordered, in his most authoritative tone. Mulder shivered, and hurried to obey. Skinner was in full Master mode and he was quite frankly frightening when he was like this. Mulder lowered himself over the horse, and held on tight. He heard his Master come up behind him, then Skinner’s hands fondled his slave’s white, unmarked butt lightly.


“This has been allowed to get away with too much,” he murmured, continuing to stroke his slave’s buttocks. “It’s been far too long since it was last subjected to my attention. Push it out, slave, to meet its punishment,” Skinner ordered, slapping one exposed butt cheek sharply. Mulder complied swiftly. Skinner spent several agonizing minutes placing his slave into position, then he stepped back — and Mulder tensed.


“All right, boy. Tell me what lesson you will learn from this punishment,” Skinner demanded.


“Not to be disobedient,” Mulder said quickly. “Never to lie to you, or to deceive you again, not to be curious…”


Skinner’s hand came down on his back, stopping the litany. “I won’t ever punish you for an emotion. I’ve told you that before. A curious, inquiring mind is part of you and I wouldn’t want to change that. Continue.”


“Um…” Mulder thought frantically. “I’ll learn to trust you more, Master,” he said softly. “I’ll trust that you act for my own good, and accept that.”


“Good. That would be a breakthrough,” Skinner said in a gruff tone. “Very well, slave. I think we can commence.” Mulder tensed, and a few seconds later, the rubber tawse imprinted a red line across his butt. Mulder grunted from the force of the blow, but bit down hard, determined to endure this beating without screaming. The next blow almost scuppered his intentions there and then. It hurt like nothing he had ever felt before, and his breath left his body in a gasp. He took four more without a sound, but this was a serious whipping, and Skinner meant for it to count, so he wasn’t sure he could hold on much longer.


“Fox.” The whipping paused, and he clung onto the horse, his knees trembling. “It isn’t a competition. Everyone has different needs — you’re naturally a more vocal person than I am,” Skinner said softly. “I haven’t ordered you to stay silent on this occasion. You might need the release of screaming.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder felt a wave of relief, as if Skinner had removed a burden from his shoulders. He yelled out loud as the next blow fell, and it felt so good to let the tension and anxiety of the past few days go, to scream, and feel the hot tears flow down his cheeks. Skinner delivered each stroke as hard as he had promised, and the whipping didn’t let up until every inch of Mulder’s backside had been painted a deep red. Then, finally, it stopped. Mulder lay, still yelling for several seconds before he realized it was over. Then Skinner helped him to his feet, and held the swaying slave against his big chest.


“All right, little one. It’s all over now,” Skinner murmured, stroking Mulder’s back until his slave stopped shaking. “I want you to go downstairs and get into my bed. It’s cold — but with this hot butt in my bed, I think we’ll be taking the phrase ‘bed-warmer’ literally tonight.” He gave one of his sexy smiles, and Mulder grimaced, strangely relieved that the excruciating pun meant his Master had gotten his weird sense of humor back.


Mulder walked stiffly down to the bedroom, and slipped between the sheets. Skinner slid in beside him a little while later, and reached for his slave immediately.


“Who do you belong to, boy?” he demanded gruffly.


“You, Master,” Mulder replied, his cock hardening instantaneously at his Master’s presence beside him.


“All right, boy, I’m going to enjoy myself with you tonight. You’ll serve me as you’ve never served me before,” Skinner promised in a tone that went straight to Mulder’s cock.


“Thank you, Master,” he whispered. Skinner rolled him over, so that his slave’s back faced him, then grabbed his slave’s flaming buttocks.


“Oh shit!” Mulder yelled, grabbing onto the sheets.


“Hurts, huh, slaveboy?” Skinner said, kneading the buttocks between his fingers.


“Oh god, yes. Please, Master!”


“Quiet!” Skinner growled. “What can I do to you?”


“Whatever…you…want…to, Master,” Mulder panted, his sore buttocks aching, and his cock almost going into spasm.


“Good boy. Do you want to please me?”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder nodded frantically.


“Good — get on your hands and knees then,” Skinner ordered. Mulder did as he was told immediately. He felt so exposed kneeling like this, waiting for Skinner to use his pliant, eager body. Skinner moved behind him, and he felt his buttocks being parted, and a lubed finger entered inside his body. He moaned, opening up to the insistent caress. Another finger stretched him for several minutes, and then they were both withdrawn. His buttocks were seized again and he gave a strangled yelp, then his Master’s cock slid smoothly into his body, claiming him, reaffirming his slavery. Skinner’s hands slid under his slave’s body, finding his nipple rings, and tugging on them, gently at first, then harder, and harder, in time with his deep, measured thrusts. Mulder spun off into another dimension. This was so hot! He was so turned on, and he knew that his Master was reminding him, after all the revelations, and the trauma of the past few days, of the essence of what was between them. Skinner reached his climax and then lay, panting, on his slave’s back, before withdrawing, and pulling Mulder around to face him. Mulder went, willingly, wondering what was coming next, and was taken by surprise as his Master’s mood seemed to have changed abruptly. Skinner kissed him, a gentle, loving kiss, that made him moan. Then his Master’s hands roved gently over his slave’s body, caressing him, holding him, and loving him in the most tender way. Mulder blinked, wondering at this change of mood.


“Mine to punish,” Skinner whispered in Mulder’s ear, “mine to use, mine to love, and pet, and take care of.” His mouth roved all over his slave, and ended up at Mulder’s cock, taking it deep into his throat, making his slave cry out hoarsely, and grab his Master’s head. “Hush,” Skinner drew back, soothed Mulder’s thighs for a moment, then returned to his task. He brought Mulder to the brink of climax, then stopped, and turned to another part of his slave’s anatomy. He did this over and over again, until Mulder was shouting hoarsely — this time in pleasure, begging his Master to allow him his climax. Finally, after reducing his slave to a quivering jelly of sensation, Skinner allowed Mulder to come — and come. And come. Afterwards, Skinner took his slave in his arms, and kissed him again, another deep kiss.


“Who do you belong to?” he whispered.


“You. As if there could be any doubt about that,” Mulder grinned.


“I’m pleased to hear it,” Skinner said into his slave’s ear, and Mulder knew that his Master had restored their relationship to where it had been before he’d gone to California. Of course it wasn’t exactly the same. They had both learned, and grown, but it was back on track. “Tomorrow, we’ll get tested,” Skinner said. “Then we can dispense with the condoms. I want to feel you without the encumbrance of a sheet of rubber between us.”


“Thank you, Master.” Mulder snuggled up against his Master’s furry chest, feeling more truly happy than he had done in days. Skinner’s promise to be tested was a sign of something having moved on in their relationship. They had weathered their first real storm – and come out the other side stronger than before. “Master…” Something nagging at the back of his consciousness finally came to the fore. “Krycek called me. He said he had information on Samantha. That’s the other reason why I went to California. He gave me an address. I went to check it out.” Mulder held his breath, wondering if he had ruined everything, but Skinner’s arms just tightened around his slave’s body.


“And what did you find?” Skinner asked.


“Nothing. A telephone number. He said…that she’d been experimented on. That’s why I went off the rails on our first day back at work,” Mulder mumbled into a warm, solid shoulder. “I should have told you. I wanted to tell you…but this is so much my crusade — and, uh, I knew you’d disapprove,” he admitted ruefully.


“Our crusade,” Skinner said firmly. “Next time — tell me. Did it never occur to you that far from reeling you back in, I might offer you my assistance?


Mulder looked up in surprise. “No. It didn’t,” he said. “To be honest, I’m used to dealing with this on my own. Even Scully doesn’t really understand. I didn’t think anybody else would.”


“Trust me next time, Fox. I might not give you carte blanche to go and get yourself killed, but I understand what this means to you. I’m your ally, not another obstacle. I want you to solve this, and to be at peace with your demons, as much as you do,” he said fiercely.


“Thank you, Walter,” Mulder said sincerely, without even thinking about it, then his heart thudded in his chest at having addressed the other man by his first name. He hadn’t done it consciously, but Skinner’s words went to the heart of his quest, and therefore seemed somehow removed from their Master/slave relationship. He sneaked a look up at his Master from under his eyelashes, but Skinner seemed not to have noticed. His Master’s eyes were closed, and there was a satisfied smile on the other man’s face.


End Part 14



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