Personal Time: 2. Part Two


Doggett ran up the stairs to the 5th floor at 1pm on Monday more from a sense of perseverance than with any real optimism. Perseverance was something he was good at – and he had never been more focused on anything in his life than he was on Walter Skinner and their fledgling relationship. And Doggett, when he was focussed, was a very hard man to deflect from his purpose. He knocked on Kim’s door, and then stuck his head around it. 


“Is he in?” He asked.


She hesitated, and then shook her head. “I’m sorry, Agent Doggett. He’s got meetings scheduled all day,” she said apologetically.


“How about tomorrow? Is he working through lunch then as well?” Doggett persisted.


Kim reached for the diary and leafed through it, biting on her lip anxiously as she did so. Doggett guessed that Skinner had said something to her about ensuring that he would no longer be free to have lunch with Agent Doggett – now, or at any point in the future. He fought down a wave of anger and only just managed to stop himself storming into Skinner’s office to demand an explanation for the way he was being treated. Skinner might deny their relationship if he wanted, but they had enjoyed each other’s company for a long time before they’d become intimate – cutting them both off from that hurt Doggett to the core.


“I’m sorry – he’s fairly busy all this week,” Kim said, making a little face.


“Okay. I get the picture.” Doggett thought about it. “If I need an appointment to see him then you’d better make me one, Kim. I have a report I need to hand in to him – and I’d like to discuss it with him. He is my supervisor after all,” Doggett said grimly. Skinner was far too much the professional to deny him his basic rights as an agent to discuss a case with his superior.


“All right, Agent Doggett. How about Thursday, 3pm?” She offered, clearly relieved to be able to agree to something that Doggett requested. Doggett sighed – Thursday was a long way off, but he supposed it was better than nothing. He made the appointment and returned to his office to consider his next move. He had a pretty good idea what was going on with Skinner – and a few days in which to prove it.


By the time Thursday came, Doggett had had plenty of time to follow up his investigations – and to finish his report. He was in Kim’s office waiting ten minutes before his appointment, report in hand. Skinner came to the door of his office dead on the dot of three; he looked immaculate standing in the doorway, but Doggett could see through that façade easily now, and it took no effort at all for him to read the state of the man beneath the wirerims and faultlessly laundered suit. Skinner’s expression was hollow – there were dark smudges under his eyes which were even more veiled than usual, concealing so much and yet revealing all too much too, if you knew what you were looking for – and Doggett did. Skinner’s brown eyes were more bleak than he’d ever seen them – the man was clearly not sleeping, probably drinking too much, and certainly keeping going on willpower alone. Whatever had happened had knocked Skinner for six and he was responding to it as he always did – by ignoring it, burying himself in his work, ploughing on regardless, and hoping to come out the other side. Only Doggett didn’t think he would – not this time.


“Agent Doggett?” Skinner’s voice sounded strained.


“Sir.” Doggett got up and walked into Skinner’s office. Skinner closed the door behind him, and went to sit at his desk. Doggett didn’t sit. “I wanted to go through this report with you, sir,” he said, throwing the report down on Skinner’s desk. Skinner relaxed a little – maybe he’d been expecting Doggett to launch into some kind of personal discussion about what had happened between them, but that wasn’t Doggett’s style. While they were at the office he would be scrupulously professional – and he was sure Skinner would be too. However, on this occasion the personal was also professional to some degree, and Doggett wasn’t the kind of man who’d shy away from that.


“What report is this?” Skinner asked neutrally, picking it up, not meeting Doggett’s eye.


“It’s a report on the case I’ve been working on over the past few weeks,” Doggett said, standing his ground, his entire body still but coiled ready for battle, full of pent-up energy. “As you know, I’ve been investigating a case of blackmail – a man infected with a new and deadly techno-poison, being held hostage to ensure his co-operation with an agency unknown.”


“What the hell is this, John?” Skinner bristled angrily, opening the report with furious, jerky fingers.


“Just what I said. You knew I was working on the case, sir. I told you I was working on a case file.”


“Oh cut the crap,” Skinner snapped. “You’re filing reports on me now? Are you seriously expecting me to sign off on this?”


“Not yet, no. It isn’t finished yet. You see, I went back to the doctors at the naval hospital, and they told me they weren’t authorised to give me the final information I require in order to either close the case or keep it open pending further investigation. However, they did tell me, after some hard questioning on my part, that they have finished their tests on the subject and have reached their conclusions about the technology he is infected with. I’m sure that if you were to call them they’d release the results of those tests to me, sir, in order that I can close the file.” Doggett rocked back on his heels and surveyed Skinner intently. The big man’s jaw did a sideways shift so pronounced that there was an audible crack.


“I’m not going to give that authorisation, Agent Doggett,” he said in hard, quiet tones.


“Why not, sir? I witnessed all the tests – why not allow me to see the results?” Doggett pressed.


“Because they’re private!” Skinner snapped at him.


“Is that the reason – or is it because they were a personal disappointment to you?” Doggett persisted. Skinner’s eyes darkened and for the first time he met Doggett’s gaze.


“You’re out of order, Agent,” he growled.


“I don’t think I am, sir. I think the doctors told you they didn’t have a clue how to even start treating the subject, sir. I think they told you that the technology in his bloodstream is so sophisticated that they’re ten years away from even hoping to give him a cure. I think they made it clear that none of the drugs they tested on the subject will ever be effective against this techno-poison…and I don’t think you were able to handle that news, sir. I think you did what you always do – you closed down, shut it out and everyone associated with it, got back to work, and tried not to think about it. Only trouble is, that’s not working for you any more, sir. You can’t sleep, you drink too much, you work too hard and you’re probably working out too much for too long as well. You’re looking the abyss in the face, sir. Hell, you’re walking a tightrope over it – one false step and you’re going to go tumbling right down into it, into the mouths of the sharks waiting below. You had all your hopes resting on those tests; you endured those two weeks of pain because you were sure that would be the end of it – that there would be an answer to your problem and you could leave it all behind you. That hasn’t happened and now you’re left hanging – and you refuse to let anyone help you.” Doggett finished talking, and waited expectantly for some response. There was silence for a long time as the two men stared at each other. Finally Skinner cleared his throat.


“And all this is in your report, Agent Doggett?” he asked.


“Yes, sir. It is. There are also some recommendations for what the subject could do next – and how the X Files department could help him – if he’ll let them. On a personal level, and this isn’t in the report, I just want to say that there are people out here who want to help and who can help, but you have to let them in, sir.”
Skinner’s jaw clenched again – in fact his entire body was stiff and taut, all the muscles screaming out for some kind of release. Doggett wished he could take hold of Skinner and make him see sense but that hadn’t worked before and there was no reason to assume it would now.


“Thank you for your…recommendations,” Skinner ground out from between what sounded like gritted teeth. “Is that all?”


“Yes, sir. I’ll leave the report with you for you to consider. Perhaps you could get back to me on it when you’ve had the chance to read it in more detail.”
He didn’t wait to be dismissed. He turned on his heel, strode to the door, and let himself out without a backward glance. There was nothing left to do except wait – and hope.


As it turned out he didn’t have to wait very long – but what happened next took him by surprise. He was woken in the middle of the following night by a phone call. He reached for the phone blearily, glancing at his bedside clock as he did so. It was twenty past two.


“Yeah?” He mumbled.


“Is that John Doggett?” An unfamiliar voice asked.


“Yeah. Who is this?” Doggett sat up, suddenly wide-awake.


“This is Sergeant Fraser with the Metro Police Department,” the man said in slightly world-weary tones. “Could you confirm your occupation to me, sir?” Fraser asked. Doggett frowned, surprised by the question.


“I’m a special agent with the FBI, Sergeant – why?”


“That’s what we were told. Sorry to drag you out of bed, Agent, but we have a man in custody claiming to be an Assistant Director at the FBI…”


“Skinner?” Doggett threw the sheets off the bed and stood up. “You got Walter Skinner there? Is he hurt?”


“No – nothing beyond a few cuts anyhow. He picked him yesterday evening for brawling outside a gym. Now, it’s a minor offence, so I’m prepared to let him off without charge as a professional courtesy – but I’d like you to come down and sign for him, sir. He gave me your name as someone who’d vouch for him – said you’d confirm he is who he says he is. He’s got some ID on him but that could be a fake. If you’d like to come down here with your own ID, then I’ll release him to you.”


“A fight?” Doggett struggled to make sense of that. “Are you sure?” he couldn’t imagine Skinner getting into a common street brawl. “Was he drunk?” he asked suspiciously.


“Surprisingly no, Agent Doggett. He seems to be stone cold sober.”


“And the man he was fighting with?” Doggett began to pull on some clothes with one hand, keeping the phone nestled against his ear with the other.


“Sober too. Apparently they were sparring in the gym a little while before the incident and it turned nasty and spilled out onto the street.”
Doggett sighed – suddenly this was all starting to make a horrible kind of sense.


“I’m on my way,” he said.


It only took a few formalities to get Skinner released. Sergeant Fraser was a world-weary man who clearly wanted to do as little paperwork as possible and was prepared to overlook a relatively minor offence to that end. Doggett signed a release form and then waited as Skinner was brought up from the cells. Doggett’s heart jolted as he caught sight of Skinner; the big man was dishevelled, his shirt open at the neck and spattered with blood. He had a cut on his jaw and his knuckles were bruised. He wouldn’t even look at Doggett, just swept past him in the general direction of the door. Doggett followed him – in time to see Skinner setting off down the street. He strode to catch up with him, grabbed him by the arm and swung him around.


“Where the hell are you going, Mister?” He demanded roughly.


“Home. Thanks for signing me out, Agent Doggett,” Skinner growled in reply.


“Not so fast. You do not haul me out of bed at 2 o’ clock in the morning without explanation like I’m some kind of get out of jail free card,” Doggett snapped. “Now get your ass in my car, Mister. You have a lot of explaining to do.”


Skinner tore his arm away and looked up the street, as if he intended to walk away again.


“Walk away from me now and you can forget about me bailing you out of trouble if this ever happens again, Walter,” Doggett told him sharply. “I won’t be used by anyone and I think you know that you owe me. Now, get your ass in my car. I won’t tell you again.”


Skinner hesitated, clearly torn, then he looked at Doggett and the agent had to clench his fists to stop himself moving forward to take the big man in his arms – because Skinner’s eyes were utterly desolate and without hope.


“Okay. Where’s the fucking car?” He growled.


Doggett turned on his heel towards the car thinking furiously as he went. He knew that how he played tonight was desperately important and he wanted to get it right – Skinner’s whole future rested on what he did tonight, and how he handled the big man. He unlocked his car and got in, without looking back to see that Skinner was following him. A few seconds later, the passenger door opened and Skinner got into the car.


They drove in silence. Skinner stared moodily out of the car window, his expression glazed and faraway. Doggett stole little sideways glances at him every few blocks, but Skinner’s expression didn’t change. He barely seemed aware of his surroundings until they drew up, and then he suddenly came to.


“This isn’t my apartment,” he growled.


“No, it isn’t. It’s my place,” Doggett said.


“Why the hell did you bring me here?”


“Because we’re going to talk on my territory this time,” Doggett replied firmly. “Not in your office or your apartment – but here, in my house.”


“There’s nothing to talk about – I was sparring in the gym…I didn’t know the other guy, he’s some new kid. He said something that got me riled…I got angry. Jimmy broke us up, and ended the sparring match. I got changed and was going to go home but I ran into him outside…” Skinner shrugged.


“And you took up where you left off, huh?” Doggett pulled on the brake and opened his car door. “Well that might be the bare bones of what happened, but I want to know why it happened. Get your ass out of the car and into the house, Mister.” He got out, strode to the house, and unlocked the front door. Then he turned. Skinner was still sitting in the car, his jaw clenched tight.


“You can walk away from this if you like, Walter, but I think you know I deserve to be treated better than that,” Doggett said, loud enough for his voice to carry to the car. “You’re an honourable man – don’t make another mistake tonight.”


Then he turned and went into the house, leaving the door ajar. He held his breath as he waited to see what would happen next. A minute passed, and then another. It took all his willpower not to go back out and check to see that Skinner hadn’t just simply got out of the car and walked off down the street. Then, finally, after several minutes, he heard footsteps, and the sound of the front door being opened and then shut again, and a few seconds later Skinner appeared in the kitchen, his shoulders hunched, his gaze fixed firmly on the floor, his body language screaming out his misery.


“Take a seat.” Doggett pulled out a kitchen chair and watched as Skinner sank into it. The big man sat there uncomfortably, his hands resting on the kitchen table.


“Could I have a glass of water?” he asked.


“Sure.” Doggett poured him a glass and handed it to him. He winced as he saw how bruised and cut Skinner’s knuckles were close up. “Looks like you landed quite a few good ones on him,” he commented. He opened one of the cupboards in the kitchen and drew out a small box of medical supplies. Skinner shrugged.


“He gave as good as he got. He was a big guy – bigger than me. He could handle himself,” he muttered.


“I’m sure he could. Maybe that was why you picked him in the first place,” Doggett said.


“Picked him? He was the one making trouble,” Skinner retorted angrily.


“And why did it matter?” Doggett asked calmly, sitting down beside Skinner at the table, and reaching for his injured hand. “Come on, Walter, this isn’t like you. Swinging a punch at some asshole on an adrenaline high who thought it’d be cool to take a potshot at some high up Fibbie – isn’t that what happened? Why did you let him rattle you, Walter? Why not just walk away? Don’t tell me this hasn’t happened to you before – I’ll bet you just shrug and let it drop. You don’t retaliate and you sure as hell don’t go outside and pick up where you left off.”


Skinner’s jaw clenched sideways but he made no reply. Doggett dipped a cotton ball in iodine and dabbed Skinner’s knuckle with it. The big man grimaced slightly, but otherwise made no sound.


“It isn’t working any more, Walter,” Doggett said softly, gazing at Skinner intently as he tended to his wounds. “You can’t keep shutting everyone out and closin’ down all your emotions. What you’re feeling has to come out somewhere. Tonight it was some mouthy smartass who pissed you off – who will it be next? What if it’s Kersh? Supposing you can’t control yourself when he chews you out next? Are you prepared for the consequences of taking a swing at the Deputy Director? Kersh would love that – finally he’d have a reason to get shot of you and put a nice tame AD in your place. He could move that idiot Follmer over to Criminal Investigations. Yours is the top job after all – Follmer might be an AD but he doesn’t have responsibility for a department with the same kind of kudos CI. What use would you be to the X Files if you got fired, huh?”


“The X Files. It’s always about the fucking X Files,” Skinner snapped, drawing his hand away. “You’re just like Mulder.”


“Mulder’s gone, Walter,” Doggett said softly. “There’s nobody left to trust but me.”


There was silence for a long time. Skinner gazed into his glass of water, Doggett gazed at Skinner. Finally the big man cleared his throat.


“I read your report,” he said.


“Yeah?” Doggett waited.


“Several times.” Skinner winced. “Your conclusions were not…inaccurate,” he conceded, with a little tip of his head. Doggett sat back, a wave of sadness flooding through him. He had been fairly sure he was right, but even so, hearing it confirmed drove it all home.


“I’m sorry,” he said softly. “I know how much you had riding on those tests. I know how much you wanted to be free of the nanocytes.”


“You don’t know a fucking thing!” Skinner exploded.


“Then tell me,” Doggett said softly.


Skinner stared at him, his dark eyes full of pain. He opened his mouth to speak and his jaw did a noticeable sideways shift. He bowed his head, wrapped his arms around his body and gazed steadfastly at the table.


Doggett sighed. “Talk, Walter,” he said firmly.


“What good would it do?” Skinner growled.


“Maybe none – but you owe me,” Doggett pressed in a no-nonsense tone. Skinner’s jaw snapped sideways again, acknowledging the truth of that statement.


“What is it you want to know? That I wake up every morning knowing that today I could be at the mercy of Krycek mark two? Knowing that someone can just come along and buy me at the touch of a button? Knowing that I’m too fucking weak to just take it, to let them kill me? That they could make me do anything they wanted, anything at all, because the thought of those bloodsuckers stopping my heart again, and filling my veins with lead, turns me into a useless, pathetic parody of a man who’d rather crawl on his knees than stand up and fight. Is that what you want to know, John?”


“That’s bullshit, Walter,” Doggett said softly. “You’re just down for the count right now. You can’t keep going back into the ring and taking the punches – at some point you have to rest and get your strength back. Nobody can keep fightin’ battles as long and as hard as you have and expect to still be standing at the end of it.”


He wasn’t even sure that Skinner had heard him. The big man’s fists were furling and unfurling and he was staring sightlessly at the opposite wall.


“Walter?” Doggett put a hand gently over Skinner’s clenched fist, only for Skinner to react immediately and violently to the attempt at comfort.


“Don’t fucking patronise me!” Skinner roared, throwing John’s hand off his arm, and then, with a bellow of sheer outraged frustration the big man picked up the glass he’d been drinking from and slung it against the opposite wall where it smashed into smithereens, the wet fluid staining the painted walls.


Doggett took a deep breath – this was going to take some sorting out. Skinner clearly wasn’t in a place where he could accept any kindness, but he couldn’t go on punishing himself like this either. Doggett suddenly knew very clearly what he had to do. He got up and surveyed the panting, weary man coolly. Skinner was at the edge of his endurance – running on empty. He was a danger to himself and others like this. The situation clearly called for some extreme action on his part.


“Clean it up,” he said.


Skinner’s eyes came slowly into disbelieving focus. “What?” he growled dangerously. Doggett stood his ground. “I said, clean it up, Corporal. There’s a dustpan and brush in the cupboard under the sink. Clean up that mess and then come upstairs. I’ll be in the bedroom waiting for you. Don’t be long – and don’t make me come and get you.”


“What the hell…?” Skinner began.


Doggett stared at him with his most imperious command posture. He still remembered dealing with green young marines – remembered the tone of voice, and how to stand. He had no intention of budging an inch. Instead, he glared at Skinner with steely resolve. Skinner glared back at him, his eyes angry, his entire body taut. Doggett made no move. He just waited. Finally, after what seemed like a lifetime, Skinner dropped his gaze. Doggett nodded, satisfied, and then, without saying a word, he walked over to the stairs and disappeared up them.


Doggett made it to the sanctuary of his bedroom, and then leaned against the wall, trying to come to terms with what had just happened – and what he knew had to happen next. He waited for a few minutes, tensed and taut, wondering whether Skinner was still connected enough to him to do as he’d been commanded. He only relaxed when he heard the sound of broken glass being swept up – then he went into action. He pulled an old, battered case from under the bed. He hadn’t used its contents in years – had often contemplated throwing them away – but old memories of Tony and what they had once shared had somehow stopped him. He had never expected to use them again but this time he thought he had no choice. He opened the case, and drew out the four leather cuffs, each of them fitted with a tiny lock, and two double-ended clips. They were fur lined, and comfortable. By rights they didn’t even belong to him; Tony had bought them and given them to him, and had left amid so many rows and recriminations that he hadn’t remembered to take them with him when he went. Doggett sighed as he picked up the cuffs – he had little interest in the paraphernalia of Tony’s fetish. He always said that if there was any bondage to be done then a couple of ties and a belt would do just as well and he’d completely baulked at Tony’s suggestion that they visit a sex shop and stock up on paddles, straps and other kinds of equipment. Doggett just wasn’t interested. However, on this occasion he was glad of the cuffs.


Doggett put the cuffs and clips on the dresser and shoved the case back under the bed. A few seconds later he heard the sound of slow, reluctant footsteps on the stairs and then the bedroom door was pushed open. Skinner’s eyes were conflicted – he was still angry and rebellious, but there was a need in his eyes as well. He needed Doggett and whatever Doggett could do for him right now – in fact he was desperate for Doggett’s help. Doggett slammed the bedroom door shut behind the big man, and then went to stand in front of him.


“Think of this as the parade ground,” he said in sharp tones. “Stand at attention, Corporal.” Skinner stared at him as if he thought Doggett had gone insane.


“What the fuck kind of game are you playing, Agent Doggett?” He snapped. “The parade ground? I don’t fucking think so.” His voice was belligerent but his eyes were desperate and Doggett noticed that he didn’t head straight for the door.


“Do as I say, Corporal. Stand at attention,” Doggett said in his most authoritative tone of voice.


“Oh what the hell is this? I don’t need this kind of crap!” Skinner growled. “Look, I appreciate you bailing me out at the police station but that’s where it ends. I don’t fucking need this.” This time he did move. He turned towards the door and reached for the handle.


“Are you sure, Walter?” Doggett asked in a soft tone of voice. “Are you sure you don’t need this?”


Skinner hesitated, his muscles bunched up and tight beneath his torn shirt. Doggett sensed the profound hesitation, and knew that Skinner wasn’t sure of anything right now, least of all what he needed.


“I don’t think you know what the hell you need any more, Corporal,” he said in hard, staccato tones. He moved closer, until he was standing right behind Skinner. “What is it you think you need, Corporal?” He asked in sibilant tones. He could almost see the hairs on the back of Skinner’s neck standing on end. The other man remained standing stock-still. “You think you need to go home and drink yourself into oblivion, is that it?” He goaded. “Or maybe you think you can work yourself into the ground to forget, or even pump iron and run yourself stupid to forget. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that how you always cope?” Skinner’s hard muscles became even tighter. “You think you need to be alone right now – you think all it takes is for you to get away from here and you’ll somehow be able to push everything back inside and pretend it never happened but I’m tellin’ you, Corporal that ain’t gonna happen. You need me, Corporal, now get your ass into the centre of the room and stand at attention. NOW!”


“Fuck you!” Skinner roared. He turned around so fast that Doggett was knocked back. Skinner grabbed a fistful of Doggett’s sweater and pushed the agent against the closet in one hard, smooth motion, his other fist raised ready to strike. Doggett remained perfectly still, but he could feel the sweat standing out on his forehead.


“You gonna hit me, Walter?” He asked. “Are you going to do that? Do you think that’ll make you feel better? If so, go ahead. Land a few on me.”


He jutted out his chin as if inviting the punch. The raging expression in Skinner’s eyes faltered, and he hesitated, fist still raised.


“You want to hit me then I can’t stop you. You’re a big guy, Walter, and you know how to handle yourself…I bet it’s been a long time since anyone bested you in a fight, one on one, huh?” Doggett continued. “I know I don’t stand a chance against you so go ahead. You got me. Just hammer away. Maybe that’ll make you feel better, huh?”


Skinner let out a moan of anguish. He dropped his hold on Doggett, stepped sideways, and then drove his fist into the closet with all his force. The old wooden frame nearly buckled under the weight but although it must have hurt like hell, Skinner just stood there, motionless, his fist still locked into place against the closet.


“Walter…” Doggett put a hand on Skinner’s arm and gently pulled his fist away. It was bleeding, but that wasn’t exactly a priority right now. He needed to stop Skinner before he hurt himself again. “Walter, look at me.” Doggett slapped Skinner lightly on the face and the other man’s eyes came into puzzled focus. “Look at me, Corporal!” Doggett said in a harder tone. Skinner’s guilty, confused eyes met his own.


“I couldn’t hurt you, John,” Skinner whispered, shame-faced.


“Maybe not, Walter, but you sure as hell hurt yourself,” Doggett told him bluntly. “Do you still think you don’t need my help?”


Skinner’s licked his dry lips. He pulled away from Doggett’s grasp and wrapped his arms around his body.


“I don’t know…I don’t know…” he whispered, listing around in circles like a rudderless ship. His gaze fell on the damaged closet and he winced. “Oh god…I don’t know,” he said again, clearly shocked by what he’d done.


“I do. You want certainties you’ll have to take them from me,” Doggett said firmly. “Now, stand at attention, Corporal.”


Skinner gazed helplessly at Doggett, utterly lost, and then, because he clearly didn’t know what else to do, he obeyed. The years hadn’t diminished the big man’s ability to stand stiffly at attention. He passed muster with ease. Doggett circled him, keeping well out of arm’s reach, watching until he saw signs that Skinner was losing himself in the old, familiar stance, waiting for his next orders. After a few minutes Skinner’s shoulders settled, and a little sigh passed from between his lips. Skinner was on the verge of lashing out every five seconds, his legendary self-control finally failing him, eroded by too many pressures and too much pain. Finally, Doggett felt it might be safe to proceed.


“Do you trust me, Corporal?” He asked sharply. Skinner blinked, still standing ramrod straight, staring ahead, his eyes glazed.


“Sir?” he asked, as if the question confused him, or he wasn’t sure he’d heard it properly.


“It’s a simple question, Corporal. Do you trust me?” Doggett stood in front of Skinner and looked him straight in the eye. “Do you, Walter?” He asked in a softer tone. “Do you trust me to do what’s best for you? Will you give me that kind of trust? Will you give yourself up to me? I promise I’ll take good care of you, but I need your trust. Don’t tell me what you think I want to hear – it has to be the truth. It doesn’t matter if you don’t trust me but I need to know.”
Skinner swallowed nervously. “What the hell has this got to do with…?” He began. Doggett interrupted him.


“Yes or no, Corporal!” He snapped. “Answer the question.”
Skinner hesitated, and his jaw performed its familiar sideways clench. He considered the question for a long time, his eyes never leaving Doggett’s, as if he were evaluating the man standing in front of him. Finally his whole body seemed to crumple and become smaller as he let go of the bravado and found the answer to the question inside himself.


“Yes, sir,” he said in a quiet tone.


“Say it,” Doggett insisted, relieved to have received that answer.


“I trust you, sir.” Skinner spoke up quickly and Doggett knew that he was speaking from the heart and meant it utterly and completely. The big man’s eyes were still glazed as he lost himself in the memories of an older, simpler time, when responding to orders had been his life.


“Good. At ease, Corporal.” Skinner assumed the at ease position immediately, as if it were second nature to him, even after all these years. Doggett suppressed a little smile – he guessed that was something you never forgot. “Very good, Corporal. You have 15 seconds to strip, starting now.”
Skinner looked at him blearily, as if trying to figure out what the hell was going to happen. “One, two,” Doggett began. Skinner gazed at him uncertainly for a split second and then suddenly leapt into action. He managed to remove all his clothes by the time Doggett had finished counting to 15 – leaving them in an untidy pile on the floor. “Good, Corporal. At ease.” Doggett walked over to the dresser, picked up one of the cuffs, and returned to stand in front of Skinner once more. “Hold out your hand, Corporal,” he ordered.


Skinner hesitated.


“You said you trusted me, Corporal,” Doggett said softly. Skinner licked his dry lips again.


“I do…but what are you going to do?” He looked at the cuffs, and shook his head.


“I’m going to do what you need me to do,” Doggett told him. “Now hold our your hand, Corporal.”


Skinner’s agonised gaze met Doggett’s, full of despair.


“Corporal,” Doggett nudged. “I can help you but you have to trust me.”


Skinner blinked, but then obeyed with slow, hazy movements. He looked as if he didn’t really know what was happening to him. Doggett fastened the cuff on Skinner’s wrist, making sure it was firmly attached but comfortable, tight enough not to slip off but not so tight as to restrict the blood flow, and then he locked the cuff into place. Skinner’s wrists were noticeably bigger than Tony’s and he had to fasten the cuff a notch looser – he could tell by how the leather was worn away on the setting he’d used with Tony. “Now the other one, marine,” Doggett ordered in that same brisk, no-nonsense voice. Skinner held out his other hand and Doggett retrieved the second cuff and fastened it into place.


“Now get on the bed, face down, Corporal,” Doggett commanded. There was a moment’s hesitation again. “I said move it, Corporal. NOW!” Doggett barked and Skinner, on auto-pilot, did as ordered, and lay face down on the bed. “Hold still,” Doggett commanded. He fastened the two remaining cuffs to each of Skinner’s ankles, making sure they were tight – it was very important that Skinner couldn’t get out of them. At the moment Doggett had a caged tiger in his bedroom and he knew that if he made one false move, or got anything wrong, he might end up swatted by a huge and very furious paw.


“Okay, Corporal, bend your legs back as far as they’ll go,” he ordered. Skinner reluctantly complied, bending his knees and bringing his legs up behind his back. “More than that, Corporal – is that the best you can do?” Doggett snapped. “I want those feet touching your ass, Corporal, or you’ll do 100 sit ups before we’re through.”


He hoped that Skinner would be so busy trying to obey the order that he wouldn’t think about what might be coming next. If Skinner refused at this stage he didn’t think he’d be able to accomplish what he’d set out to do. He required the other man’s complete co-operation. It was clearly a matter of pride for Skinner now though – he wanted to show that he could obey the order and he pressed his legs back as far as they could go, until his feet were indeed touching his ass.


“Good man. Hold still.”


Doggett moved quickly. He picked up one of the double-ended clips, and fastened one end to Skinner’s right wrist cuff and the other to his ankle cuff, effectively hobbling the big man into place on the right side of his body. Skinner gave a low roar of anger, but Doggett was moving before he could react, and had already fastened the other clip to Skinner’s left wrist cuff before the man knew what was happening. Skinner tried, too late, to move his left leg back down before it too could be fastened into place, but Doggett grabbed it, pushed it back, and fastened it to the wrist cuff. Then he stepped back out of harm’s way with a satisfied sigh, sweat running down his forehead as a result of the mild tussle. Skinner was now lying face down on the bed, his left ankle attached to his left wrist, his right ankle attached to his right wrist, effectively bound into place.


“Fuck you, Doggett. Let me go!” Skinner growled, snapping out of the trance he’d been in.


“I’m afraid I can’t do that, Corporal,” Doggett told him calmly. “By all means struggle though. Maybe you can manage to slip out of the cuffs.” He knew that was impossible but he needed Skinner to react – was counting on it in fact. The big man didn’t disappoint him. He let out a roar of pure rage, and began struggling with his bonds. His outstretched hands tried to reach round to undo the clip but Doggett knew that was impossible. Growing increasingly frustrated, Skinner managed to flip himself onto his back. He reached for the cuffs on his ankles, but they were locked into place and no amount of tugging at them released the lock. Skinner was growing increasingly panic stricken by this point. He stopped trying to think his way out of his predicament and instead resorted to pure brute strength instead. Doggett winced as Skinner pulled on the cuffs with his big wrists, trying to tear the very fabric of the leather, but Tony had chosen well, and the cuffs easily stood up to the test of Skinner’s strength. Finally Skinner began to bellow, his face turning bright red as he struggled in the cuffs, searching desperately for escape.


“How does that feel, Walter, huh?” Doggett asked calmly, standing where Skinner could see him.


“FUCK YOU! YOU BASTARD!” Skinner yelled. “Let me go!”


“I asked you to tell me how that feels and I expect an answer, marine,” Doggett snapped. “So start talking.”


Skinner closed his mouth and gazed at Doggett with dark, obstinate, utterly dead eyes. Doggett decided to move things up a gear. He reached for his belt and undid it. Skinner’s eyes followed the movement, flickering apprehensively.


“What are you feeling right now, Corporal?” Doggett asked.


“Fuck you,” Skinner spat.


Doggett removed his belt from his jeans and folded it in two. “For every answer that isn’t about how you’re feeling, you’ll feel my belt on your ass – or some other part of your anatomy if you prefer,” he said. “Doesn’t bother me.” He reached down and flipped Skinner back on his front again, and then brought the belt down firmly on the big man’s exposed ass. He winced a little as he did so. It seemed a crime to mark this beautiful backside, but the circumstances called for extreme measures and he didn’t know how else to get through to Skinner at this moment in time. He knew he was taking a calculated risk and hoped it would pay off – if it didn’t he could kiss goodbye to this man’s trust forever.


“How do you feel, Walter? How does this feel?” Doggett asked, punctuating each question with another hard flick of his belt. Skinner’s backside had started to turn an outraged red as each stoke hit home. The big man turned on his side, but, true to his word, Doggett just flicked the belt onto the side of Skinner’s thigh instead, and the big man soon turned back onto his front so that his buttocks were the target once more – where he could more easily take the pain. “You haven’t answered my question yet, Corporal,” Doggett said firmly. He snapped down the belt again but they were sharp, stinging flicks rather than real strokes.


“Fuck you, fuck you, fuck you…” Skinner panted, struggling fruitlessly to be released, roaring his outrage, pain and frustration as the belt continued its work and the bondage held firm. All his muscles were bunched up and taut under his skin as he struggled with all his might to be free.


“How does it feel, Walter?” Doggett said again. “Tell me how it feels.”


“It hurts!” Skinner roared. “It hurts, you bastard.”


“Good – what else?” Doggett asked, trying desperately to penetrate the numbness of Skinner’s locked-up emotions.


“Oh god,” Skinner roared, making another mighty effort to be free. “I can’t…I can’t…” He cried, and Doggett thought his heart would break as he watched. “I can’t do it. I’m not good enough…not strong enough to break free…” Skinner growled as he continued struggling, his breathing coming in hard pants, his ass now a glowing shade of red.


“Tell me more. Tell me what you’re feeling…not what you’re thinking,” Doggett said. “Let it out, Walter. Tell me.”


“Helpless,” Skinner moaned. “Exposed…can’t move freely…can’t…” He let out another mighty roar and then lay still, panting from the effort. “At the mercy of someone else,” he whispered, lying on his side again after his most recent struggle. “Vulnerable,” he added. “Oh shit…let me go…let me go…” Doggett sensed now that he wasn’t talking about his bondage, but about something that went a great deal deeper. Doggett relaxed slightly – this was what he had been hoping for. “Please let it be over…let it all end,” Skinner whispered.


“It can’t end just by you wishing it so,” Doggett replied softly. “You have to learn to live with it, Walter, and you won’t do that until you start admitting to yourself how it feels. You can’t just shut it away and pretend it’s not there. It’ll come out somewhere – it’ll rob you of sleep, make you drink to forget, make you lose your temper and your self control…until you start to break up, to fall apart…you have to face it, Walter. How does it feel?” he asked again. Physically Doggett had replicated the situation that had been causing Skinner so much anguish and frustration – the bondage simulated how hamstrung, invaded, and out of control Skinner had been rendered by the nanocytes, while the belt focused his mind on the pain of his condition, and the guilt and self-loathing that it had caused. Doggett needed Skinner to feel that pain and frustration for himself, instead of blocking it out so that it manifested in other, more harmful ways. Skinner let out a low, keening howl, like an animal in distress.


“I’ve been destroyed!” he screamed. “I’m trapped. Everywhere I turn there are dead ends. Nowhere to go, nowhere to run, nowhere to hide,” he whispered softly. “Just me, alone in the dark. Can’t move…” he pulled on his cuffs again, pointlessly, “Can’t do anything to change it…at the mercy of anyone who wants to come along and press those goddamn fucking buttons…oh god…please….”


He buried his face in the pillow and gave himself up to a long shuddering spasm of distress. “Oh god, please end this. I can’t live like this. I can’t…I can’t… I’m sorry…I can’t…” His body seemed to crumple before Doggett’s eyes, his limbs going limp in their bonds. “I feel so…empty.”


Doggett heard the sound of a heart-rending, half-suppressed sob, and sprang into action. He released the clips on the cuffs in double-quick time, threw himself onto the bed, and took the big man into his arms. Skinner didn’t resist. His newly released arms came up and clung to Doggett for dear life. He didn’t speak, but his whole body spasmed against Doggett’s, his face buried in Doggett’s neck.


“You can cry if you want to, Walter,” Doggett said softly, gently rubbing Skinner’s back with his hands. “That ‘big boys don’t cry’ crap is garbage. I cried so many times after the death of my son…I needed to cry. You can’t bottle it all up inside. You have to deal with it or it festers. Come on, Corporal, give it all up to me. Just let go. You’ve held on for too long. No man could have held on any longer, but now you can fall…I’m here to catch you. Just go for it, Walter.” He wrapped his arms even more tightly around Skinner, and then gradually, as if the floodgates were being creaked open slowly, after a lifetime of never being used, the torrent came. Skinner bucked into him as if an earthquake had taken over his body. His mouth was open in a wordless scream and then he was sobbing in earnest. His cries rippled through his body, a primal explosion of utter distress. Doggett held on tight, going with Skinner all the way, feeling the other man’s tense muscles contract even more under his embrace. Skinner’s tears were raw and mostly silent. They came reluctantly, as if they had to be prised out of his body against the wishes of its owner, but once they started they were not going to be easily stopped.


Doggett held Skinner for over an hour as the waves of sadness ripped through the big man’s body, and then, finally, Skinner fell silent, his hands still gripping onto John, holding him, needing him. Doggett rocked Skinner back and forth, feeling Skinner’s muscles start to relax now that the tremendous outpouring of grief and frustration had subsided. Skinner buried his face in Doggett’s neck and closed his eyes, refusing to look at the agent. Doggett let him rest for a while, but as Skinner’s naked flesh started to cool under his fingertips, Doggett knew he had to move them both.


“Walter…I’m going to draw you a bath,” he said softly. “You’re getting cold lying here naked with no blanket. You need to lie in the warm and relax. Hold on.”


He disentangled himself, rose up off the bed, and walked unsteadily into the bathroom, utterly drained by the experience they’d both just been through. He was surprised to hear footsteps behind him, and looked around to find Skinner standing in the doorway, his gaze fixed on the floor, his entire body trembling.


“It’s okay, buddy,” Doggett said, understanding the vulnerability Skinner was experiencing right now. “I’m just filling the tub.” He turned on the faucets, threw in one of those orange coloured bubble-bath balls that Monica had insisted on giving him as a Christmas present, and turned back to Skinner, opening his arms. “Come here. You’re getting cold. We need to get you warm, huh?”


Skinner came into his outstretched arms and Doggett held him close, swaying gently as they waited for the bath to fill. Skinner’s flesh was cold underneath his fingers, his skin clammy. Doggett held him tight for a long time, warming him with his own body. When the bath was almost ready, he kissed Skinner’s cheek and then drew back, but the other man still wouldn’t meet his gaze.


“Walter?” He lifted Skinner’s chin so that the other man had no choice but to look at him.


“I’m sorry, John,” Skinner cleared his throat – his voice sounded croaky. “I guess I made an idiot of myself back there,” Skinner whispered huskily. “I shouldn’t have lost it like that.”


“You damn well should,” Doggett replied firmly. “If you hadn’t then that would have meant I’d screwed up big time. You needed that, Walter.”


“So what now…is that it? Will I be okay now?” Skinner asked, in an achingly vulnerable voice. Doggett smiled and shook his head at one and the same time.


“Oh Walter, what the hell am I going to do with you?” he chided softly. “No, buddy, cathartic though that was, I’m afraid your problems don’t just disappear in one go.”


“Then why…” Skinner began.


“It’s a start,” Doggett interrupted him. “Come on – the water’s ready. I want you to get warmed up or you’ll go into shock.” He turned off the faucets, swirled the water around to check the temperature and then beckoned Skinner over. “Tell you what – the tub’s not really designed for this, but I want to be close to you right now so I’ll get in first,” Doggett said.


He quickly disposed of his clothes, and then climbed into the tub and gestured to Skinner to come and sit between his outstretched legs. It was a tight squeeze for two big men to sit in the bath, and a fair amount of water sloshed over the sides, but Doggett didn’t give a damn about that. He settled back into the tub with a sigh, and pulled Skinner down so that the big man’s back rested against his chest. Skinner gave a little wince as his sore ass made contact with the water.


“I’ll rub somethin’ on that later. I’m really sorry I had to do that to you, buddy,” Doggett whispered, placing one arm around Skinner’s chest to keep the big man close to him. He made Skinner relax, so that the back of his head was resting on Doggett’s chest, their faces almost side by side.


“S’okay. I guess I deserved it,” Skinner murmured.


“No, Corporal. That wasn’t punishment,” Doggett said firmly. “Nobody deserves to be hurt, least of all you after all you’ve been through. I just didn’t know of any other way to get through to you tonight. You needed to let it out, in as safe a way as possible, so that neither you nor anybody else got badly damaged in the process. I needed to make you mad enough to really let go, while you were all trussed up and unable to hurt yourself or anyone else. I’m so, so sorry about that, Walter. How are you feeling now?” He asked, smoothing warm water over Skinner’s bruised wrists where he’d tugged on the cuffs. Then he raised one to his lips and kissed the darkened flesh gently. Skinner’s arm was as heavy as lead in his hands. Doggett winced as he saw the cut knuckles and dark bruise on the other man’s fist where he had slammed it into the closet. He checked it carefully, making sure there were no broken bones, and then released Skinner’s hand back into the water.


“I’m so tired, John. Tired beyond belief,” Skinner whispered drowsily.


“How long since you slept? Properly slept I mean,” Doggett asked.


“About a week. Ever since I got that letter from the hospital last Saturday,” Skinner murmured.


“So it was then? I figured it had to be.” Doggett brushed his lips over Skinner’s cheek. “Well, I’m going to see you get some rest this weekend, Corporal.”


“And then what?” Skinner asked despairingly. “Where do I go from here, John? Where do we go from here?”


Doggett thought about it for a moment. “All right, buddy, here’s what I want you to do. You remember I told you about Tony?”


Skinner nodded.


“Well, he and I, we had a certain kind of relationship. I think you and I need that right now too, just while you’re in a bad way.” He soothed a gentle hand over Skinner’s chest, stroking a nipple softly in the process. “Tony and I – we were in…I don’t know what he called it, somethin’ that didn’t mean a whole lot to me anyhow. What it meant, in real terms though, was that I was in charge – in the bedroom, in the supermarket, in the street, in the car – everywhere. Now, I’m not suggesting quite the same thing with you. You’re in charge in the office and that’s fine. I won’t overstep that boundary – wouldn’t want to. I think for a while at least though, that outside the office you trust my judgement because your own isn’t necessarily doing you any favours right now. I want you to agree to do what I tell you, Walter, even if you hate what I’m asking, even if every single part of you rebels at the idea. Is that okay with you?”


“I don’t think I’ll find that very easy,” Skinner grunted.


“I know.” Doggett laughed. “I don’t think you will either. Nobody said it was going to be easy and I expect there will be a few yelling matches along the way but for now I think you need a place where you don’t have to be in control – where you’re actually not allowed to be in control. I think you need a break, some relief from control. I’m not saying this will be a permanent arrangement – not unless that’s what you feel you want at a later stage anyway – I’m just saying that for now it’s what I think you need. What do you say, Corporal?”


Skinner took a deep breath and held it for what seemed like eternity, then let it out in one massive exhalation.


“All right, John,” he said at last. “If you think you can handle me.”


Doggett gave a low, rumbling laugh. “Walter, I’ll do my damndest,” he replied. “Just so long as you know that I have your best interests at heart – I care about you, Walter and I don’t think you’ve had anyone in your life care about you for a long time. That takes a bit of getting used to, but it’s one of the things you’re going to have to accept.”


“Okay, John. I’m so tired and empty right now I think I’d agree to almost anything,” Skinner said drowsily.


“In that case I’ll ask you again in the morning – I want to make sure this is something you’re going into with your eyes open because once we start you’re stuck with the arrangement until I think you’re ready for us to lighten it up. Once we begin, you can’t change your mind – I won’t allow you to in case you start building up those walls again. Understood, Walter?” Doggett squeezed Skinner across the chest gently.


“Yes, Sergeant,” Skinner sighed.


“Good.” Doggett kissed his lover on the side of the face, and then pushed him up. “Come on, Walter, time to go to bed. God knows what hour of the night – or day it is now.” He glanced out of the window, noticing for the first time that it was already light. Skinner got to his feet unsteadily, and Doggett held him up as he got out of the bath. He grabbed a towel and rubbed Skinner dry. The other man demurred, protesting that he was a grown man and could dry himself, but Doggett wasn’t having any of that.


“I’m in charge here, Walter, and I want to dry you so just be quiet and let me get on with it,” he said firmly, going about his task briskly. When they were both dry, Doggett found some aloe in a cupboard in the bathroom. He ordered Skinner to stand with his hands against the wall for support, butt out, and then gently rubbed the soothing gel into Skinner’s still reddened flesh. He hadn’t hit hard enough to cause any welts – he’d only done enough to cause outrage, not harm – but the skin was obviously tender. Skinner, stoical as ever, didn’t make a sound as the cool gel was rubbed into his hot flesh. Then Doggett turned him around and applied more to his bruised knuckle.


“This has taken something of a beating tonight, what with fighting and then that run-in with the closet,” Doggett commented, taking care to smooth the gel in as lightly as he could as Skinner’s fist looked swollen and painful. The other man grunted at his levity, but didn’t make so much as a murmur as Doggett completed his painful work. When Doggett was done he led Skinner back to the bedroom, and they both slipped under the sheets. Doggett reached for Skinner, and drew him close. They lay spooned for several long minutes – Doggett was just dropping off to sleep when Skinner shifted beside him.


“John…would you make love to me,” he requested softly.


Doggett opened his eyes, startled. “Walter, it’s been a long night – you’re exhausted,” he chided.


“I know…I just…I feel like I need it right now.”


Doggett smiled at Skinner’s use of the word “feel” instead of “think.” He understood where the other man was coming from though. Skinner had been emptied by the events of the evening, and, in the most basic way possible, needed to be filled again. He needed to feel something positive – and, more than anything else, he was feeling desperately vulnerable right now after having allowed Doggett to see him at his lowest point. He needed to be reassured that Doggett hadn’t been repulsed by his weakness.


“Then that’s good enough for me, Corporal,” Doggett replied. “Nothing too strenuous though. Hold still, Walter.” He reached into his nightstand drawer and retrieved condoms and lubricant. He spread the lube on one finger and, lying on his side, placed Skinner on his side, and pushed the other man’s leg forward. He slipped his finger into the crevice between Skinner’s warm buttocks and slid it gently in, back and forth. Skinner was relaxed after the bath, and it didn’t take long to stretch him sufficiently for penetration – by which time Doggett was thoroughly aroused and ready to go. He slid a condom on, slathered his penis with more lube, and then lay down on his side beside Skinner. He pulled the other man’s head back, rested his own chin on Skinner’s shoulder, and then swept a hand over Skinner’s body, gently soothing and arousing in equal measure. Skinner’s cock was flaccid, and didn’t move when he touched it. “Walter, are you sure about this?” He asked.


“Mmm. I’m just tired – too tired for that. All I want is you inside me. I don’t need to come,” Skinner murmured hazily.


“Okay.” Doggett had asked Skinner to be honest, and he was being exactly that. He gently pried the big man’s buttocks apart, and snubbed his cock into the opening. Skinner gave a little gasp, and Doggett surged forward until he was completely engulfed in his lover’s tight, enticing hole. “Oh boy you always feel so good,” Doggett whispered. He kissed Skinner’s cheek, and then began rocking into him, back and forth with slow, tender, almost lazy thrusts. He guessed he was hitting Skinner’s prostate each time from the little sounds the other man was making in the back of his throat. It felt so warm and good like this that Doggett wanted it to go on forever. Skinner’s eyes were closed and it looked as if he felt the same way. Doggett came in a warm, fuzzy climax, devoid of the more usual urgent sensations, and then placed his chin back on Skinner’s shoulder with a contented sigh. They were both asleep within seconds and it gave Doggett a secret thrill to find, when he woke up briefly a couple of hours later, that his cock was still lodged deep within his lover’s body.


It was past noon by the time they fully woke the next day. Doggett found that at some point in their sleep they had moved and their bodies were no longer intimately connected – instead Skinner was now facing him, his eyes closed. Doggett roused his lover with a kiss on the lips and Skinner opened his eyes blearily and gazed at him for a second. For a moment Skinner’s eyes were serene and content, and then, under Doggett’s gaze, all the memories flooded back in and the other man’s eyes darkened as if he’d visibly lost hope. Doggett made a mental vow that his chief aim in life would be to one day always wake up beside those contented eyes, and never to have to watch their expression change into one of such hopelessness. Doggett gently touched the side of Skinner’s face, needing desperately to reconnect himself with this man, to reassure him that he was in safe hands.


“That was some night, huh?” He said softly. Skinner’s skin pinked and he gave a little shrug.


“God knows what you must have thought of me…” He winced. He glanced over at the damaged closet and grimaced. “I’m sorry, John,” he murmured. “I wouldn’t have hurt you…I was just…Christ, I don’t know what I was…I’ve never behaved like that before.” He looked desperately vulnerable.


“I know you wouldn’t have hurt me, Walter.” Doggett put his arms around Skinner and squeezed him firmly, bestowing a kiss on the other man’s scalp in the process.


“I was a damn idiot. Getting into that fight, allowing myself to get out of control like that, getting arrested for god’s sake. I’m ashamed of myself,” Skinner murmured.


“Hold it, Walter. We aren’t doing shame today. It isn’t on the schedule,” Doggett told him firmly. “What is on the schedule is a shower. Come on, Corporal. Time to move.” He threw back the sheets and waited while a naked Skinner got up and then followed him to the doorway. Skinner’s movements were slow and heavy, and he winced slightly as he moved. “You’re stiff,” Doggett said, putting a hand on Skinner’s shoulder as they walked to the bathroom.


“Yeah…well…” Skinner shrugged again.


“I know. A combination of you brawling and me trussing you up last night,” Doggett said, sparing neither of them with his honesty.


“Brawling…” Skinner shook his head. “Haven’t been caught doing that since I was a rowdy marine out on the town. Christ, at my age. I wasn’t even drunk either.” He gave a shame faced smile. “Don’t even have that as an excuse.”


Doggett peed, then stepped into the shower, and turned it on. Skinner used the toilet, and then stood, waiting, as if unsure what to do next.


“Come on, Walter – I didn’t plan on taking this shower alone,” Doggett told him.


Skinner gave a ghostly, hesitant smile as he stepped into the shower cubicle beside his lover. Doggett grinned, and immediately enveloped the other man in a firm, loving, deep embrace, kissing him soundly. Skinner hung on like a drowning man, his hands fumbling for Doggett’s buttocks, the warm water cascading over both of them.


“Okay, Corporal. Hands on the wall, legs open, butt out,” Doggett ordered when the kiss finished. Skinner gazed at him quizzically but did as he was told anyway. His body was stiff and taut, all his muscles tensed as he stood facing the wall, his hands braced against it. Doggett gazed at him, perturbed by Skinner’s un-relaxed stance, and then it sank in; Skinner was in atoning mood. He was both ashamed and confused by his actions the previous night and didn’t know what to expect this morning. Doggett had spoken about giving orders after all, and he had used his belt on him. It was hardly surprising that Skinner didn’t know whether to expect pain or pleasure. Doggett suppressed an angry sigh – this wasn’t what he’d intended at all. Last night had been a one off, a desperate attempt to reach a man who was lost to himself, a lifeline to bring him back home. It had been unorthodox but seemed to have worked at the time, taking Skinner to a place where he could at least connect with emotions he’d said himself were numb. Now Doggett knew he mustn’t fail the other man in the aftermath of that great explosion of anger, frustration and sadness he had witnessed the previous night.


“No, Corporal, this won’t do at all,” Doggett said softly, placing a hand on Skinner’s shoulder. The other man jumped, clearly not sure what to expect. “Corporal, when I told you last night that I wanted you to let me take charge, it was because I want you to feel good about yourself, not bad,” Doggett said, running his hand soothingly down Skinner’s back as if the other man was a headstrong young colt to be tamed. “You’ve always been very adept at giving yourself a hard time…my job is to see that you’re given a good time too – to balance things out. Now just relax, Corporal. I’m going to take this very slow. The water’s warming your muscles, and I’m going to even out the kinks a little…while admiring this beautiful body at the same time.”


Skinner gave what sounded suspiciously like a snort.


“You don’t think this body is beautiful? I sure as hell do.” Doggett lathered his hands in soap and ran them over Skinner’s back, rubbing gently but firmly. Skinner’s muscles began to relax beneath his ministrations, slowly but surely, and Doggett took his time. “You should see yourself as I see you, Walter,” he murmured as he worked, his hands roving over the acres of honeyed flesh in front of him. “I love the way your muscles move under your skin – smooth…very smooth…”


He kissed Skinner’s shoulder blade and then worked his lathered hands further down Skinner’s back, massaging firmly as he went. Skinner opened his legs wider, and leaned into the wall with his upper body. Doggett suppressed a little laugh – somehow he didn’t think Skinner was used to being admired like this, and the other man didn’t know whether to be flattered or embarrassed – but he sure as hell was turned on.


“This ass…so edible,” Doggett grinned as he bent over, and ran his hands lovingly over Skinner’s bottom. He inspected it carefully, but his belt had left no marks – there wasn’t even any redness beyond a couple of tiny broken blood capillaries on the surface of the skin, which he knew weren’t painful. He massaged the flesh firmly and was gratified when Skinner moaned softly in pleasure, not pain. The aloe he’d used had clearly taken away any last vestige of sting or sensitivity. Unable to resist, Doggett kissed the two round globes of flesh soundly. Then he straightened and stood close behind Skinner so their bodies were touching, and carefully inserted a finger into the other man’s body. Skinner gasped, the water bouncing off his head as he gazed at the ceiling.


“This is good, Walter…this is real good, you feel so good to me, oh boy I love it when you give it up to me like this,” Doggett purred. He finger fucked Skinner for a long time, and then withdrew. “Turn around.”


He stepped back and watched as Skinner turned to face him. Doggett’s cock was thoroughly aroused by being in such close proximity to his lover, and Skinner took a step forward and moved his hand towards it. Doggett stopped him.


“Walter…I want you to just relax and let me do things for a while. I don’t want you to feel you have any responsibilities at the moment, including any responsibility for me. I can get myself off, or ask you to do that for me, but I want you to wait for me to ask.”


“I enjoy touching you,” Skinner murmured. “When you were talking to me just now, about my body…I don’t find it easy talking about that kind of stuff…I never did with Sharon or she with me…I like it.” He looked deeply uncertain, and dropped his gaze to his feet. Doggett waited and was rewarded when Skinner lifted his face again. “I told you that I didn’t know how I felt about what was happening between us…I knew I was attracted to you, but…I didn’t know much beyond that. That’s changed. I find…there are things I think about when I’m not with you…” Skinner hesitated but Doggett was patient and after awhile he began again. “Stupid stuff probably…the colour of your eyes…the expression in them. You always seem so focussed…when you’re focussed on me it’s breathtaking. I like the feel of your hair under my hands…maybe because I don’t have any to enjoy any more!” Skinner gave a wry smile, and Doggett chuckled, encouraging him to continue. “I like the way you hold yourself…the way you move.” Skinner gave up, with a little shrug, but Doggett was impressed that he’d managed that much.


“Thank you, Walter,” he said softly. “I know that wasn’t easy for you and I appreciate it. Me – when I’m with someone I just say it how it is – the bad and the good unfortunately. If you’re going to suffer from my honesty you should at least enjoy the benefits of it as well!” He grinned, and leaned in close for another kiss. Skinner’s cock was hard between their bodies. Doggett enjoyed the feel of it between them. He pushed Skinner against the tiled wall again, and held the other man’s arms above his head with his one of his hands, keeping him pinned there while he kissed him soundly. He waited until Skinner’s body melted against him, and then moved back a fraction and took the big man’s hard cock in his hand. Skinner gasped into his mouth as the sensitive organ was so suddenly stimulated, but Doggett wouldn’t let him go. Water poured over them as he firmly pumped Skinner’s cock while at the same time kissing him hard. Finally, he let them both come up for air, but he had no sooner released Skinner than he sank to his knees, and, without hesitating, took the big man’s cock in his mouth. Skinner moaned, and bucked against him, his hands reaching blindly for Doggett’s hair. Doggett deep-throated him – a technique he saved only for when he was in the mood to really spoil his partner, and Skinner gave a growl of sheer outraged pleasure, mingled with amazement that anything could feel so good. It wasn’t long before he was coming deep inside Doggett’s throat.


They stayed under the water just recovering from the force of Skinner’s climax and then Doggett got to his feet again.


“Oh shit…” Skinner said shakily. “You’ll have to teach me how to do that one day.”


“I will,” Doggett said with a little wink. “But in the meantime – if you want to touch, be my guest.” He opened his arms wide and Skinner gave a little smile and stepped forward. He ran his fingers over Doggett’s nipples, and then took each of them in his mouth, roving from one to the other while he sucked, gently, and then more forcefully on the pointed nubs of flesh. Doggett found himself moaning now – it felt so good to have this big, powerful man sucking on his body. He leaned back against the wall and gazed down on Skinner’s head in something akin to disbelief as the big man sank to his knees and took his cock into his mouth. He had never expected to see this man kneel in front of him and give him pleasure in this way and it aroused him beyond belief. Skinner wasn’t anywhere near as skilled as Doggett, but he was eager, and just the sight of Skinner performing this most intimate of services on him was enough to make Doggett come enthusiastically in Skinner’s mouth. He didn’t draw away as he ejaculated, and watched as Skinner considered the taste for a moment.


“I bet it’s been a long time since you tasted anythin’ like that,” he commented.


Skinner looked up at him and smiled. “Yeah…I was just remembering. It felt good to have you in my mouth,” he murmured.


“You have no idea how good it felt being in your mouth, Corporal!” Doggett replied with a grin. “You know, I think sometime soon you’re going to have to let me take that big cock of yours in my ass.” He gazed at Skinner’s softened but still meaty cock with a sense of anticipation as he helped the big man to his feet again – then caught Skinner’s look of surprise and laughed out loud. “What’s the matter, Corporal? You think that because I like being in charge in the bedroom I don’t want to feel that beautiful monster in my ass? On the contrary – I’m looking forward to it!”


Skinner shook his head, his expression slightly bemused.


“I guess I just don’t know the rules of this game,” he said.


“There aren’t any rules,” Doggett said firmly, turning off the shower. “No rules except enjoying ourselves at least…and that might sound easy but I don’t think it’s somethin’ you have much experience off, Corporal, which is why I’m here. I’m your Drill Sergeant for having a good time.” He grinned broadly. “Even if I have to bully your ass into it, Corporal, I’m going to make sure you get some much needed R&R!”


Skinner’s clothes were in no fit state for the big man to wear, so Doggett lent him a pair of sweatpants and a tee shirt. The sweatpants were a little short in the leg and the tee shirt clung to Skinner’s broad chest in a way that Doggett found very appealing. Skinner paused thoughtfully as he sat on the side of the bed doing up his shoe-laces. Doggett glanced over at him as he pulled on his own boxer shorts.


“Problem, Corporal?” He asked.


Skinner picked up one of the leather cuffs that had been lying on the floor and held it up.


“You took a big risk last night, John,” he commented, rubbing the cuff thoughtfully.


“I know.” Doggett paused in doing up his jeans and gazed at Skinner. “I’m sorry. I just didn’t know what to do with you, the state you were in. I needed to reach you and you were so out of control that I wasn’t sure I’d be able to.”


“I’m guessing these were Tony’s?”


“Yeah.” Doggett looped his belt through his jeans and fastened it.


“Did you do this kind of thing to him? What you did to me last night?” Skinner asked, watching Doggett intently, his eyes fixed on the other man’s belt. Doggett immediately stopped tucking his tee shirt into his jeans and turned to face Skinner.


“No, buddy,” he said softly. “Tony used to like being immobilised during sex. He liked feeling helpless – he used to get the cuffs out, not me. I didn’t mind obliging him every now and again but he usually initiated it. It wasn’t somethin’ that turned me on much – except for the fact that it obviously turned him on and that was fine by me.”


“Did you beat him with your belt too?” Skinner asked. He was still sitting holding the cuff thoughtfully. Doggett decided this was a subject they needed to talk out. He had planned on talking over breakfast about a whole host of subjects that the events of last night had raised, but as Skinner had started the subject, and seemed receptive, he decided now would be as good a time as any. He went and crouched in front of Skinner and touched his knee.


“Yes, Walter, I beat him with my belt or my hand if he wanted me to. Sometimes he’d go off half-cocked, get himself into a whole load of trouble – and he seemed to need me to rein him back in after. Again, it was his idea initially. What I did to you last night wasn’t the same thing at all. I apologise if I got it wrong, Walter. I just wanted to recreate the way you were feeling inside – to get you to feel it instead of shutting it out. And I wanted you to let me in. If I screwed up then you gotta tell me, Walter. I hope I didn’t betray your trust – I’d never want to do that.”
Skinner glanced up and met Doggett’s gaze.


“You didn’t screw up, John. I should thank you. I was so out of control last night that I don’t know what I might have done if you hadn’t been there. And you must have gotten something right because being tied last night, feeling so helpless, vulnerable…that’s exactly what it feels like having these fucking bastard bloodsuckers inside me, John,” he said quietly. “Sometimes I…it builds up so much I want to fight someone – but there’s nobody to fight, and nothing I can do to win. Every which way I turn is a dead end.” His shoulders hunched miserably as he spoke. “I can’t say I liked what you did to me last night, but I can understand why you did it, and you sure as hell managed to successfully recreate what was going inside by tying me and flicking at me with your belt. It’s strange, but last night it felt like you were really laying into me with your belt – but this morning I can see from the state of my ass that you couldn’t have done much at all.”


“Hard taps is all,” Doggett confirmed, squeezing Skinner’s knee with his hand. “Tony used to like things a lot rougher, but then that was his choice. I didn’t give you a choice so there was no way I was going to seriously lay into you. It felt worse than it was because you were in such a dark place last night. Walter, I don’t think you’ve realised how intolerable your life has been these past couple of years. You’re a proud man, and the nanocytes forced you into being someone that just wasn’t you. Maybe you could bear that while Krycek kept your mind occupied on the consequences of not doing what he wanted – but the moment you allowed yourself to hope that you could soon be free…that’s when it all came crashing down, Walter.”


“Yes. I know.” Skinner shook his head. “I didn’t see it at the time. When I got that letter last week…I’m sorry about how I treated you, John, but I just didn’t want to be involved with anyone while I’m still under the influence of the nanocytes.”


“Can you explain that to me, Walter?”


Doggett got up and sat on the bed beside Skinner. The other man was still pale after the week he’d had and the previous night’s events. His eyes were dark and there were shadows beneath them, but despite all that, there was a weary kind of peace to him, a sense of acceptance that he was in a bad way and needed help. “What was going through your mind when you blew me off last week?” Doggett pressed. Although he knew Skinner didn’t find it easy talking on a personal level, he was sure that right now the other man was willing to open up and be honest. Last night had created a bond between them – Doggett had seen Skinner at his weakest, and any fears that Skinner might have had about being so vulnerable in front of someone else had been at least partly dispelled by the morning’s shower session. Skinner shook his head again and gazed sightlessly into space.


“I’m not sure it was anything so coherent as a conscious decision. I just had an overwhelming need to slink off to my den and lick my wounds in private. I’m damaged goods, John. How can I be with anyone when I can’t even be sure what I’ll do tomorrow, or next week? What someone will make me do? I had to cut myself off from you. You didn’t deserve to be part of such a fucked-up life and I didn’t think I could handle the guilt of involving you. I did that once before…Sharon died because of me.”


“That’s not the whole truth is it?” Doggett pushed. Skinner’s eyes came slowly back into focus on him.


“What do you mean?” He asked, in a puzzled tone.


“I mean that you don’t find it easy sharing your life, do you? Not the hard stuff anyway – you wall up a part of yourself and hide behind it. You don’t want to let anyone in.”


Skinner gave a wry smile. “You aren’t the first person to accuse me of that, John. Sharon used to say the same thing. You’re right and so was she, but I don’t know how to change.”


“You need to agree to share the crap as well as the good stuff,” Doggett said firmly. “Hell, I’m a big boy, I can handle it, Walter. Speaking of which – do you have that letter from the hospital?”


“Yeah…I carry it around with me. Maybe I’m hoping that next time I read it it’ll say something different.” Skinner grimaced and reached for the pants he had been wearing the previous night, which were lying on the floor. He fished a letter out of the pocket, and handed it to Doggett who opened it, read it, then sat back and considered the contents.


“It’s not completely without hope, Walter,” he commented.


“It says that one day they might figure it out – but it could take a decade,” Skinner growled in a dull, angry tone.


“Maybe – but at least they’re goin’ to keep looking into it,” Doggett said, reading the letter again.


“Yes.” Skinner shifted uncomfortably.


Doggett looked at him sharply. “Walter – you do trust these people don’t you?” He asked. Skinner shrugged. “The honest truth? No. I don’t. Maybe I’ve been supervising the X Files for too long. Maybe I don’t trust anyone anymore.”


“You trusted me last night,” Doggett said softly. Skinner’s jaw did a sideways clench.


“Yeah. I guess I did,” he muttered, as if surprised to find that was the truth. Doggett folded up the letter and tucked it back into Skinner’s pants.


“When you pushed me away after receiving this goddamn letter, I was so pissed off. I thought I’d never be able to get through to you again and after what we’d shared, that hurt. Christ it hurt.”


Skinner glanced up, surprise in his eyes.


“You didn’t think I’d become emotionally involved with you? Is that it?” Doggett shook his head in disbelief. “You didn’t think it was possible that I’d fallen in love with you? I’m sorry, Walter, but I told you – this isn’t just a fling to me. I’ve wanted you for a long time, and there ain’t nothin’ or nobody gonna stand in my way as far as you’re concerned.”


“A long time?” Skinner looked confused. “I thought it was just when we got close in the hospital,” he said.


“Well that just confirmed to me how much I like and respect you. I was already falling in love with you a long time before then – all those lunches remember!” Doggett grinned, put his arm around Skinner’s shoulder, pulled him close, and deposited a kiss on the other man’s cheek before releasing him again. “I’m not askin’ you to feel the same way. You have enough on your plate as it is, Walter. I’m just telling you that this is serious to me, that I’m going to be hanging around come what may, and that this isn’t some kind of pity thing because you’ve been in the hospital and you have this terrible nanocyte issue to deal with. I hadn’t known you for long when you first warned me about the hidden agenda at work in the FBI. You were the only one who warned me about that and you were right. From then on I knew I liked you, and my feelings for you just grew from there.”


Skinner grimaced. “Hell, I’d been there, John; I just wanted you to know what you were getting into. I was in line to get the top job myself once. I was one of the youngest AD’s the FBI ever appointed, and I was more or less told they were grooming me to be in charge of the Bureau one day. I saw myself in you – they were doing all the same things to you, making the same old promises, and setting you up to either fail when it became obvious you wouldn’t play the game according to their rules, or to succeed if you did – the way Kersh has managed to succeed in climbing the greasy pole.”


Doggett nodded gravely. “Kersh might have seemed to be helping me in my career but I guess I always knew that appointing me to search for Mulder was like being handed a poisoned chalice. I might have been Kersh’s golden boy, but there was something about the man that I never liked or trusted. I’d seen him in action and I knew that he didn’t have any loyalty to his agents or the Bureau – only to himself. You and he couldn’t be more different. I watched you Walter – in the field and in the office. I noticed your loyalty to your agents and that quiet way you have of just takin’ care of people and asking nothing back in return, while at the same time taking no shit and giving those who deserved it a hard time. I figured you were one of the best superior officers I’d ever worked under in any field – the marines, the NYPD, or the Bureau. I noticed you tear out what’s left of your hair over the X Files,” he grinned, running his fingers through the fringe of hair on the back of Skinner’s head, “watched you take care of Agent Scully when she was pregnant…saw how she used to lean on you. I know she often visited you just to talk, and you were always there for her, day or night. Then there was Mulder.”


Doggett sighed, and glanced at the backs of his own hands speculatively.


“I don’t know what it is with you and Mulder, but I watched you going crazy trying to get that guy back from god knows where, even down to digging up his goddamn coffin – and you know how insane I thought that was at the time because I sure as hell didn’t mince my words with you over it. I still don’t know if he was worth it – but I’ll be honest with you, the only reason I ever gave him the time of day was because I figured that if a man like you thought he was worth somethin’ then I had to give him a chance.”


“Mulder’s a good man – and he had it tough, John. They were out to screw him from the beginning,” Skinner murmured, still gazing at the cuff resting in his lap with a kind of curious fascination. “I couldn’t stand by and just let that happen.”


“Tell me about it, Walter.” Doggett gently removed the cuff from Skinner’s lap, and tossed it onto the floor. He changed his position slightly, tucking his knee under his leg and turning so he was facing Skinner on the bed. “Tell me about the X Files – how it all began for you,” he asked.


Skinner took a deep breath and then shook his head. “I don’t know where to begin…when he was first assigned to me, Mulder would come to me with all these bizarre theories. I thought he was a crackpot, but I couldn’t dismiss him as just that because his reports were so intelligent and his reputation at the Behavioural Sciences Unit was just phenomenal. He had this amazing solve rate. At first, I wondered whether he’d seen too much, spent too long in the minds of some of the worst psychos to walk the planet – maybe he was burnt out. Then…the Bureau assigned me this man to work with, said he was high up with the DOD and that it would be a good idea to listen to what he had to say, and I did – at first.”


“Spender,” Doggett said. “I read all about him in Mulder’s files – he had a section all to himself, the bastard.”


“Yeah.” Skinner shook his head. “I didn’t like him and didn’t trust him so the harder he rode Mulder the more I thought Mulder might be onto something. It didn’t take me long before I was ordering that SOB out of my office. My career effectively died on that day, John. Christ, it was 6 years ago – I can’t believe it’s been that long. I’ve been hanging on by my fingertips ever since.” He shook his head. “I never told Mulder, but I did some investigating of my own about Spender. I found at least one of the places where he lived, and I got some idea of his movements, but I never could figure out who he was working for, although I followed up every lead I got. I’ve been around the block, John – I know the way this city works, the way the Bureau works, even the way the goddamn CIA works. I didn’t think it was anything more than a political game, a power struggle, with me caught in the middle. I thought I knew the game we were playing, John. I thought I understood the battlefield. I was wrong.” Skinner’s dark eyes were bleak as he shook his head. “I was so wrong. This battlefield is the size of the planet, and they don’t care who they kill or take hostage to their cause. Mulder was like David to their Goliath – even with my help, he didn’t stand a chance. I don’t think he even got close to uncovering the full extent of what’s been going on.”


“You know…6 years is a long time to be fighting without a break,” Doggett said softly. “I have this image of you, Walter. You’re like a punch-drunk boxer who has been in the ring too long. You stay in much longer and you’ll be down for the count. If you get out of the ring for a while though, and recover, then you can get back in and fight another day.”


“Maybe so, John, but you and I both know that while these fucking nanocytes are in my veins I might not have a choice as to which side I’m fighting on,” Skinner said grimly, getting up. He went to the door and stood there, his hand resting on the doorframe. “You know, I used to think I was a player, John, maybe the way you do now. I used to have so much certainty. I had the big career, I’d seen action in ‘Nam. I thought I was a hot shot, sure of myself – sure of my body, my capabilities, my life, my wife, my job – but I didn’t know shit.”


Skinner moved his hand and his body language reverted to that which Doggett had noticed the previous weekend, arms wrapped tightly around himself as if to ward off some evil that he knew had already eaten him away from the inside out, leaving him utterly defenceless.


“They got me, John and I didn’t even know it until it was too late,” Skinner said in hoarse world-weary tones, and Doggett knew that he was seeing a glimpse into the other man’s soul. “They stole it all away and I didn’t notice it was gone until I looked around one day to find I wasn’t a man any more. I was gutless, cut off from everything I’d been so sure about. Somewhere along the line, I changed, John,” Skinner told him, looking at Doggett with an exhaustion that went bone deep. Doggett’s heart went out to him – he couldn’t even begin to comprehend what Skinner had suffered so silently over the years. He’d known grief and loss himself, but nothing on this scale, and he’d never lost faith, as Skinner so clearly had. The man was on his last legs, and Doggett didn’t even know how he was still standing.


“God, how I changed. My job wasn’t about solving crimes any more, or keeping the nation safe – it was about appeasing faceless people who worked to an agenda I couldn’t even begin to understand. My life wasn’t my own any more; it belonged to my enemies – it still does – and my body is theirs to command, to hurt, and even to kill, whenever they feel like it. I’m adrift right now, John, all shot to pieces. What can I offer you when I don’t know who I am? And the way things stand with the nanocytes, they can use me to get to you, John. You don’t need this.” He shook his head, and turned to go.


“That’s for me to decide, Mister!” Doggett snapped out sharply, getting to his feet. He grabbed Skinner by the arm and pulled the other man around, roughly. “The future doesn’t come with any guarantees, Walter, but if you walk out on this, on us, then you just let them win another battle in this war.”
Skinner’s gaze was hard and bitter as he looked into Doggett’s eyes.


“What’s the point of fighting the battle when we’re out-powered, out-manoeuvred, and don’t even know who the enemy is, John?” he asked softly.


“I’ll show you the fucking point,” Doggett snapped. He pressed Skinner back against the wall, covered the man’s body with his own, held him down, and kissed him passionately and violently on the lips. His mouth was hungry and rough and at first the other man resisted, and tried to push him back, but Doggett was resolute. This wasn’t just a kiss, this was a battle all of its own. Skinner’s struggling became more muted, and then he gave way, unable to resist any more as Doggett put every single part of himself and his love into that kiss, forcing Skinner to acknowledge him. Finally Skinner’s body melted against his, and his mouth opened up. Doggett reached out and put his hands on Skinner’s head, savouring the feel of the bare flesh of that naked scalp underneath his fingertips as he continued to plunder the big man’s mouth. Only when he was satisfied that he’d made his point did he finally let go. Skinner gasped for air as he was released. He gazed at Doggett for a long time, his chest heaving, his lip slightly cut, a little bubble of blood welling up on the surface….and a searching look in those dark brown eyes. Doggett held firm under that raking gaze. He wasn’t sure what it was Skinner was seeking, but he intended for the other man to find it in him. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, Skinner sank to his haunches as if felled, his legs shaking violently, too weak to hold him up any more. He wiped away the blood on his lip as he glanced up at Doggett.


“You got me, John,” he whispered. “I don’t know how, but you found a way in somehow. Whatever you want from me…I…” He spread out the palms of his hands helplessly. “God knows what you see in me because I have nothing to offer you, but I can’t fight it any more. I’m yours, John,” he said softly. “Whatever you want from me, just take it. Only please don’t let me down – that’s all I ask – because I don’t think I have any reserves left to take that, John.”


Doggett looked down into those pleading dark eyes and a sensation of total love flooded through him. Let this man down? He’d rather slit his own wrists. He knelt down beside the stricken man, put his arms around Skinner, drew him close, and held him tight against his chest.


“I won’t let you down,” he whispered. “That’s one promise I can make with total certainty, Walter. You’re mine, and I won’t ever let you down.”


Doggett finally released the big man, and gazed at him seriously. “Walter, last night you agreed to let me be in charge in this relationship until you’re feeling better. Is that somethin’ you still want? I said I’d ask you again today.”


Skinner shook his head, wryly. “John, I don’t think I could resist you if I tried. You’re the most persistent man I’ve ever met, and god knows I’ve worked with Mulder so that’s saying something. As for giving up control to you – you seem to have a better handle on what’s going on in my head than I do at the moment, so…” He shrugged. “Yes,” he said finally, softly. “I don’t think I’ll be as amenable as Tony, but I must admit that the idea of letting someone else take charge is incredibly appealing right now.” He rested the back of his head wearily on the wall. “What exactly does it entail?” He asked, a little warily.


Doggett laughed out loud. “That’s my Assistant Director,” he said. “It entails being honest first and foremost, Walter. I might push you, and that might make you angry, but I intend to be part of your life from now on – no more shutting me out. And when I tell you to do something, I expect you to do it. Don’t worry – I won’t ask you to do anything that you’re not capable of but I might push you out of your comfort zone.”


“Will you tie me up again?” Skinner asked.


“I don’t know. How d’you feel about that?” Doggett asked carefully.


“Well…” Skinner hesitated. Doggett stroked his shoulder reassuringly and he continued. “I don’t know if I’d enjoy it during sex, like Tony did…but maybe.” He shrugged. “I did…” he hesitated again, as if he found this a painful admission. “I did, on some level, enjoy the freedom being unable to control the event gave me, if that doesn’t sound too crazy.” He looked at Doggett for reassurance and the other man smiled, and squeezed his shoulder firmly. “It was like I’d been liberated by the very fact I was tied. I couldn’t escape and…it’s strange but I felt I could say things I wouldn’t normally be able to – I could hit out without hurting anyone.”


“Well then I’ll remember that in case you ever need it again,” Doggett said reassuringly.


“What about…?” Skinner grimaced, his face flushing slightly.


“My belt?” Doggett prompted.


“Yeah.” Skinner winced. “Will you use that on me again?”


“I sure as hell hope not,” Doggett said fervently. “Maybe you might like to try spanking as an erotic game, Walter, and that’ll be fine, but I don’t get off on punishing people in a more formal way than that – Tony was always demanding really harsh beatings, but that didn’t do a lot for me. Now, holding you on my lap while I spank and fondle your beautiful ass while you got off on that would be one thing, but what I did last night isn’t anything I want to have to do again.” He kissed Skinner firmly on the lips to reiterate that point. “If it helps you let go, and you need that, then I will, but otherwise – I told you before, I’m not here to make you feel bad about yourself or to be the means by which you give yourself a hard time, so forget it.”


Skinner nodded slowly, clearly trying to get a handle on what this relationship would entail. Doggett got up. “You have any more questions, at any time, you just ask them, Walter. For now, I’m starving!”


He grinned, and reached down a hand to drag Skinner to his feet. He could feel Skinner’s tremendous weight and strength as the big man got up, and he marvelled that this strong, capable man should have committed himself so trustingly and whole-heartedly to him. He would never let Walter Skinner down – of that he was sure. He felt honoured that Skinner had agreed to hand some degree of control over his life to him, and he would do everything in his power to make sure that this wasn’t a decision that his lover would regret.


They ate while reading the papers, and then Doggett took another look at Skinner’s bruised hand. It was swollen and puffy but he was able to confirm his opinion of the previous night that nothing was broken – Skinner had been lucky in that respect Doggett thought, because he’d certainly landed one hell of a punch on the unfortunate closet. He smoothed some more gel on the bruised knuckles, and then wrapped the hand in a bandage despite Skinner’s protests that it would be fine; he wasn’t taking any chances with his lover’s health.


They were both too tired to do anything other than sleep and watch TV for the rest of the day. Doggett deliberately kept things light – they’d done a lot of talking and neither of them were men who were used to in-depth emotional discussions. While Doggett was a lot less out of his depth than Skinner in such discussions, he suspected that was more because of his brutal honesty than the fact that he was any more comfortable with it than his lover. Right now, it was necessary that they talk a lot, but they also needed to hang out and chill and Doggett intended to do just that. Skinner was still exhausted after the week he’d had anyway. As the evening wore on, Skinner fell asleep, one hand still curled around the beer bottle he had been drinking from, the other, bandaged one, resting on Doggett’s thigh, his bare feet propped up on the coffee table amid the remains of the newspapers and take-out cartons. Smiling to himself, Doggett reached out an arm, wrapped it around his lover’s shoulders, and pulled Skinner close so that his head was resting on Doggett’s shoulder, his naked scalp smooth and warm against Doggett’s cheek. Then, with a contented sigh, Doggett sank back into the couch. Life didn’t get much better than this – a full stomach, a bottle of beer in his hand, the news on TV, and an armful of Walter Skinner.


The following day, after a leisurely morning spent eating breakfast in bed, followed by a vigorous bout of lovemaking that left them both exhausted but exhilarated, Doggett told Skinner that they’d be going over to the Crystal City apartment to collect a supply of his clothing. Skinner frowned.


“John, isn’t it too soon to talk about moving in together?” he asked.


Doggett shook his head. “I’m not suggestin’ we move in together, Walter. I’m gonna be taking a bag of my clothing over to your place too. I think we should share our time between the two apartments. There might be times when I turn up at your place and don’t want to go home again that evening – so this is just being practical.”


Skinner considered it, and then had to agree that it did sound practical.


“I like to be organised – and that means thinking and planning ahead,” Doggett grinned, getting up from the bed, and watching as his lover followed suit. He never tired of seeing Skinner’s glorious naked body. He’d never have guessed the man looked this good beneath his normal office garb and it fascinated him to watch all those toned muscles rippling so enticingly beneath the surface of that taut golden skin.


“What is it they say? You can take the marine out of the military but you can’t take the military out of the marine?” Skinner chuckled.


“You bet, Corporal,” Doggett grinned, aiming a swat at Skinner’s naked buttocks as the other man passed. Skinner turned and granted him a slap back in return and that just inflamed Doggett to push Skinner against the wall and kiss him…which resulted in them leaving the house an hour later than he’d planned, military organisation having given way to more basic instincts.


Doggett winced as he set foot inside Skinner’s apartment. The place looked uncared for in stark contrast to its usual pristine neatness; there were empty glasses and liquor bottles all around, take-out cartons on the floor, and dirty dishes stacked up in the sink.


“Looks like the last week was tough for you, Walter,” Doggett commented as he surveyed the normally tidy apartment. Skinner’s jaw did a sideways clench as he glanced around – the mental state he’d been in since receiving the letter from the hospital was clear from the evidence around them. “I wanted to talk to you about your drinking,” Doggett said, as he began clearing the place. Skinner’s jaw clamped shut, and Doggett guessed this was a touchy subject. “Hold it, Corporal – I’m not going to nag you,” he said softly. “I just think there are better ways for you to deal with how you’re feeling. When do you drink?”
Skinner shrugged. “I don’t drink often – most days I don’t drink at all, not even beer. Usually months can go by without me touching a glass of whisky. I only really drink hard when I’m under extreme stress and can’t handle it any other way. When that happens, I start as soon as I get home from work. That way, if I’m lucky, I’ll have calmed down by bedtime so I know I’ll sleep.”


“Next time you feel like drinking yourself into oblivion, I want you to call me instead. Okay? I’m not talking about just having a beer, but drinking alone, for the purposes of blocking somethin’ out. Understood?”
Skinner bristled slightly, and Doggett knew he was having trouble adjusting to the fact that a subordinate was handing out orders to him. He guessed that while Skinner was fine with – heck, even enjoyed – being submissive in the bedroom, the big man didn’t like taking orders outside it.


“Walter, I need an answer from you,” he pressed, using his firmest tone of voice to remind the other man of their agreement. Skinner picked up a bottle and threw it into the trash none too gently.


“Fine,” he growled, turning his back on Doggett and slamming another bottle noisily into the trash. Doggett was over there in seconds. He grabbed Skinner’s arm and turned him around to face him.


“No, it’s not fine if you’re going to speak to me in that tone of voice, Corporal. If you have a problem with this, you tell me. I told you I want your honesty – I don’t want unquestioning obedience – I’d prefer to know what’s going in your head.”


“John, I’ve been taking care of myself for a long time. I know I drink too much when I’m under stress but it isn’t out of hand – I told you I can go for months without touching the stuff and when I do drink it isn’t for long. I always pull myself back together again – and quickly. And one thing’s for sure – I never, ever allow it to affect my work. I haven’t lost that much self-respect. So I don’t need you or anyone else telling me that I have a liquor problem or that I’m some kind of alcoholic,” Skinner snapped, his dark eyes flashing.


“I wasn’t,” Doggett replied, meaning it. He had seen Skinner under various kinds of stresses and he suspected that the other man turned to alcohol only under very extreme or particular circumstances – and that for the rest of the time he had other ways of dealing with pressure; ways that might turn out to be even more harmful to him in the long term “Walter I’ve seen the kind of job you do – there’s no way you could turn up every morning and get through the work you do if you had any kind of a liquor problem. You’re just like a lot of law enforcement officers who end up drinking more than they should – it isn’t alcoholism, just a way of lettin’ off steam because of the pressures of the job. It might not be good for them, but it tends to go with the territory. I don’t think you’re anywhere near being an alcoholic, but you do drink alone for the sole purpose of drowning out the world when it’s been gnawing at you, and that isn’t good for you – you know that as well as I do. So I was just hopin’ that instead of turning to drink when you’re under that kind of stress, you’ll turn to me instead,” he said softly.


Skinner glared at him for a long time, clearly struggling with the fact that Doggett’s request was so eminently reasonable.


“Okay, damnit,” he muttered, shaking Doggett’s hand off his arm.


“No, it isn’t okay,” Doggett told him, grabbing his arm again. “I told you I’d say it straight, Walter, and I will. You want to hear lies and half-truths, you go and have a talk with Kersh – he’ll give you those, and then some. You want someone who says it like it is, then you come to me – but don’t give me a hard time about it.”
Skinner took a deep breath, and then exhaled loudly. Finally he managed a faded smile.


“All right, John. I knew this would be hard adjusting to, but you’re right. I take your point, painful though it is.”


Doggett smiled at him, then used the hold he had on Skinner’s arm to draw him in and gave him an affectionate kiss. Skinner, as always, melted under him.


“We’ll get there, Corporal,” Doggett told him afterwards, his hand sweeping over Skinner’s sweat-pant covered butt fondly. “We knew it wouldn’t always be easy, but we will get there.”


Despite his assurances to Skinner that he wasn’t suggesting they move in together, Doggett didn’t intend to let the big man out of his sight too often – he knew how vulnerable his lover was right now and he wanted to be around to keep an eye on him. They spent another night together in Doggett’s apartment, woke early, took a shower together, and then got dressed for work. Doggett couldn’t stop himself humming as he prepared for work – he wasn’t usually a morning person, but there was something so good about waking up and getting ready for work next to this man, who he’d been slowly falling in love with over the past year. He finished dressing quickly, and then watched as Skinner slowly did up his shirt, his movements hampered by his swollen, bandaged hand, and then reached for his tie.


“I’ll do that,” Doggett said, plucking the tie from Skinner’s fingers. “You’ll have trouble doin’ it with your bruised hand.”


He stood behind Skinner, loving the feel of their freshly shaved cheeks pressed against each other, and the combination of minty toothpaste and cologne that was emanating from Skinner. Doggett was still humming as he did up Skinner’s tie slowly, savouring the closeness of Skinner’s body, the warmth of his skin through the cool cotton shirt, and the press of his woollen pants against his own thighs and legs. He was so lost in his enjoyment of the sensory experience of helping Walter Skinner get dressed for work that he was surprised when his lover suddenly let out a low, bass, rumbling laugh.


“What?” Doggett asked, turning his head sideways to gaze at Skinner quizzically.


“You,” Skinner said gruffly, still chuckling. “Did you know you’re humming, John? I can hear the vibrations…you’re purring like a cat!”
“A cat that got the cream,” Doggett replied with a grin. “And very tasty cream it is too.” He patted Walter’s shirt clad chest appreciatively, having finished with his tie. They holstered their weapons, donned their suit jackets, and then strode out to the car together. By the time they got there, Doggett was grinning inanely. This time it was Skinner’s turn to ask “What?”


“Just remembering Achilles and Patroclus,” Doggett told him. “Two warriors, fighting side by side. That’s you and me, Corporal. Going to work like this, both ready to do battle another day. It just feels so…good.” He put an arm around Skinner’s shoulder and squeezed, then released him.


“Didn’t you have this with Tony? You worked with him,” Skinner observed, getting into the car. Doggett paused momentarily as he opened the car door, and then got into the driver’s seat beside his lover.


“Yes, I did work with Tony, but it wasn’t like this. We weren’t really two warriors fighting side by side. It was more like me chasing after him and hauling him out of whatever trouble he’d gotten himself into. With you, I feel you’re walking beside me, not one step out of reach or lagging behind to check out somethin’ else!” Doggett gave a wry smile. “Hell, I can’t explain it, Walter, it just feels…right. Think of a little boy having a fantasy years ago when he first read about all those battles and those brave warriors fighting honourably in the Iliad. Think of him reading about two warriors sharing a life, sharing a tent, clearly in love with each other, both of them strong, tough men – real warriors. Imagine him wanting that relationship for himself one day – wanting it so bad it hurts. Well, you and me striding out side by side like this, goin’ to work together, preparing to do battle together…that’s my childhood fantasy come true.”


Skinner’s dark eyes were more expressive than anything he could have said, as he gave one of those rare, heart-achingly genuine smiles that made Doggett’s heart do several somersaults.


Their first few days back at work passed without incident. Doggett knew it would take time for them both to adjust to the new relationship, but he was more concerned about Skinner than himself. As Skinner had pointed out, Doggett had done this before, with Tony; he knew what it was like to work with someone you were having a relationship with – but for Skinner this was all new territory. Added to that the fact that Skinner was also having to come to terms with the new turn his sexuality had taken, as well as deal with the many personal issues he had right now, and Doggett knew it wouldn’t be plain sailing.


In fact, the first couple of weeks turned out to be easier than Doggett had anticipated, precisely because Skinner was so tired and in need of respite. He needed Doggett too much to question anything about their relationship and Doggett was happy to be needed. Skinner’s problems hadn’t gone away though. It was obvious to Doggett that he was still in crisis. The big man was pale and frequently distracted, even during meetings at the office, which wasn’t like him. Doggett watched him anxiously – now they were spending almost every night together he was getting some idea of how disrupted Skinner’s sleeping patterns were. Barely a night went by when Skinner didn’t wake and spend at least an hour or two just lying there. Sometimes Doggett woke and found his lover lying with his hands behind his head, staring up at the ceiling, but he knew that there were many times when he slept through Skinner’s insomnia. Doggett hoped that time would iron out Skinner’s habit of lying awake fretting into the small hours of the morning. He knew he hadn’t waved a magic wand and made Skinner’s problems disappear overnight – his lover had been through too much over the past few years to be able to shrug away his issues just because he now had someone to share them with. Doggett had always known it wouldn’t be that simple. Sometimes, if he woke when Skinner was going through a bout of insomnia, he’d get up and make them both a drink, and they’d sit and talk quietly. Sometimes Doggett would just roll over, take Skinner in his arms, and hold him silently until they both dropped off to sleep again…and sometimes he’d distract the big man from his problems by making love to him. Skinner acquiesced to all these methods of dealing with his insomnia, and after a while they got into a routine where Doggett was fairly sure Skinner was getting at least some sleep every night, even if not as much as he’d have liked.


The issue of Skinner’s drinking arose again a couple of weeks later when Doggett got a phone call just as he arrived at his house. He’d been going to take a shower and meet Skinner for dinner later but he knew from the tone of Skinner’s voice that those plans were going to have to change. The other man was breathing heavily and he was clearly angry.


“John. You said to call when I wanted to drink. Well, I want to fucking drink,” Skinner snapped.


“Okay. Hold on, Walter – where are you?” Doggett asked.


“I just got home. Normally I’d pour myself a drink but you said to call,” Skinner growled.


“Can you stop at just one? If so, go ahead,” Doggett said, fumbling for his car keys which he’d just thrown onto the hall table. There was silence for a moment while Skinner considered that. “Or did you want to cancel our date for tonight and just drink yourself into the floor?” Doggett pressed. Another silence, and then a wry, dull grunt at the other end of the line. “Walter?” Doggett waited.


“I want to sleep tonight, damnit!” Skinner snapped. “And I can’t while I replay today’s meeting with Kersh over and over again in my head. Christ, it took all my fucking strength to keep from punching his lights out today. If I drink then I can at least forget about it for tonight. I’m so fucking tired of all this, John.”


“Hold it – I’m coming over, we can talk about this some more in a moment,” Doggett replied, severing the connection. He ran up the stairs to his bedroom, grabbed some gym clothes and sneakers, stuffed them into a bag, then jogged back down again and got into the car.


He arrived at Skinner’s apartment to find the big man sitting on the couch, still wearing his suit, his collar open at the neck and his tie undone.


“Walter?” Doggett strode into the middle of the room, took one look at Skinner, and shook his head, laughing softly. “I thought you might have wrecked the place, thrown a few glasses around, destroyed some furniture…I’m disappointed,” he commented. Skinner glared at him, his mood not so easily defused. “Get your gym clothes, Walter,” Doggett told him firmly. Skinner’s expression changed to one of surprise.


“You want me to work out?” He asked incredulously. “I don’t want to fucking pump iron right now, John.”


“I know – and who said anything about pumping iron? You told me you wanted to do two things – one was to drink, which you know I’m not going to let you do…” He glared at Skinner who glared back, clearly furious at being told he wasn’t allowed to do something. “…and the other was to punch Kersh’s lights out. Well, I’m not Alvin Kersh, but I’m sure I can be just as annoying, so if you’d like to spar with me…” He grinned at Skinner and spread his arms. “What do you say, Walter? Think you can take me?”
Skinner’s gave a reluctant grunt in reply but there was an anticipatory gleam of relish in his dark eyes.


“You know, I’ve always been impressed by the way you handle Kersh,” Doggett commented as he drove them to the gym. Skinner’s sharply swivelled head showed his surprise at that remark. “Seriously – that guy gives you such a hard time. He does it to all of us, but with your rank it seems out of place for him to ride you like you’re a green agent from the bullpen. I’m amazed you’re able to keep your temper sometimes.”


“I have to,” Skinner muttered. “You and I both know that he’s just looking for an excuse to fire me, John, or get rid of me by some other means – like the way he pressured Mulder into quitting. Well that isn’t going to happen to me. I owe it to the people I work with to hang in here, and I’m not just talking about the X Files, but all the other people I work with. They need to know they have someone who’ll fight in their corner with them, and not hang them out to dry at the first sign of pressure from above.” Skinner’s jaw was set in a straight line, and Doggett had a sudden sense of the other man’s utter commitment to staying not only in a job he loved, but also in a place where he could be of help to the agents under his command, and where he could serve his country. Doggett was in no doubt that if Alvin Kersh wanted Skinner out of the Bureau then he had a fight on his hands. Skinner would do everything he could, using every single ounce of his strength and self-control, in order to stay in his job and continue to be a friend to the X Files.


“Kersh doesn’t know what he’s dealing with,” Doggett commented grimly.


“No, he doesn’t,” Skinner replied. “If he thinks I’m going to make it easy for him he’s got another think coming. I intend to be around on the day they finally bring Alvin Kersh to justice for his involvement in this conspiracy we’re trying to crack. Oh yeah – I intend to be there, all right. I want to smile at him as he walks out of the Bureau and straight to jail.”


There was a grim smile on Skinner’s face as he spoke, and a shiver went down Doggett’s spine. The man sitting next to him was not someone to be under-estimated; he was playing a hard and dangerous game, and he was playing it extremely well, with a level of cunning that would take the unwary by surprise. Kersh was an idiot if he thought he had Walter Skinner in any way cowed or subdued. Skinner was playing for time. He was taking all the body blows Kersh handed out without showing the other man that he’d landed any significant punches. It sure as hell had to hurt, but it was the clever way to play, cards held firmly to his chest, concealing his hand. Doggett let out a low whistle.


“I have a feeling that when it comes down to it you’re prepared to fight low down and dirty, Walter.”


“If it comes to it, then yes,” Skinner replied grimly. “Kersh is getting my best performance right now, John, but sometimes it…” His dark eyes flashed intently. “Let’s just say that it isn’t easy,” he finished softly, and Doggett was in no doubt that was an understatement of some considerable magnitude. “When I think of the number of times I’ve had to do the ‘yes, sir’, ‘no, sir’ routine to a man who stands for everything I despise, who’s bought his position with his subservience and complete disregard for either justice or the welfare of his agents…” Skinner paused again, and shook his head. “Sometimes after dealing with Alvin Kersh I need that drink really badly, John,” he murmured. Doggett nodded sympathetically.


“I hear you, Walter. I’d just like to find some other ways for you to let off steam when Kersh gets under your collar. Talking of which – what did he say this time to get you in such a mood?”


Skinner shifted uneasily, and then sighed, giving in to Doggett’s questioning stare.


“He was warning me off something,” he muttered.


“Something?” Doggett raised an eyebrow.


“Something to do with Mulder. I don’ t know what because he was talking in riddles and I haven’t heard from Mulder since he took off, but anyway, I consider myself duly warned not to get involved.”


“And will you take any notice of that warning?” Doggett asked.


“Hell no!” Skinner gave a ghost of a grin. “Would you?”


“Hell no!” Doggett answered, with a grin of his own and the two men shared a long look of understanding.


Doggett stopped the car a few minutes later, and Skinner looked around, surprised.


“This is my gym,” he said.


“I know.” Doggett got out of the car and waited, expectantly, for Skinner to join him. Skinner got out, and looked at the outside of the building uncertainly.


“John, I’m not sure I’m welcome here after…” He shrugged.


“Only one way to find out,” Doggett said, grabbing their gym bags from the trunk of his car. Skinner took a deep breath, squared his shoulders, and walked purposefully towards the door. Doggett smiled to himself as he followed on behind with their bags. Skinner was so appalled by his own behaviour he didn’t think he could be forgiven – but Doggett was pretty sure that other people didn’t judge Skinner anywhere near as harshly as the man judged himself.


The gym was of the old-fashioned variety, in a relatively rundown area of town. Doggett had been surprised that Skinner chose to come to a place like this, but somehow it added to his lover’s charm. He liked that Skinner surprised him. There were so many hidden depths to this man – just when you thought you had the measure of him he’d do something, or you’d find out something about him that completely took you by surprise. They had only been in the gym for 30 seconds when a small, wizened old man came scuttling across the floor towards them. He grabbed hold of Skinner’s arm, a smile on his face.


“Slugger!” he exclaimed.


Doggett couldn’t help laughing out loud, even when Skinner shot him a disgusted glance.


“Slugger?” Doggett raised an eyebrow.


“I give all my boys a nickname – gave Slugger his years ago. Named him because he just keeps slugging away. He rolls with the punches and keeps on coming, no matter how much punishment he takes. I’ve never saw him go down except that once…” The old man gazed anxiously at Skinner, and Doggett noticed Skinner’s jaw tighten as he was reminded of the time he had been infected by the nanocytes. “You’ve been avoiding us, Slugger,” the old man said reproachfully. “Were you hurt? Last time you stayed away so long it was because you were in the hospital.”


“No. I’m fine, Jimmy. I wasn’t sure you’d want me back after I went after that guy like that. I should have come by before to apologise but I…” Skinner glanced at Doggett. “I got caught up in something else,” he finished. “Still, that’s no excuse. I know the last thing the gym needs is to get a bad reputation with the police, so I want to apologise for my actions.”


“Thank you, Slugger.” Jimmy beamed. “But you took a heap of provocation from that asshole – nobody here blamed you for that grudge match spilling out onto the street. Hell, we know you – you’ve been coming here for years, and that asshole was a newcomer. He won’t be welcome back if he dares ta show his face here again, but you’re a legend down here for always keeping your cool – I think some of the boys were just pleased to find out you’re human after all behind that silent, poker-faced exterior, Slugger.”


Skinner allowed himself a small smile at that comment. “Oh, I’m human all right, Jimmy,” he said softly. “As someone has been making me all too well aware.” He gave a small, sideways glance at Doggett. “I’m definitely human.”


They got changed and Doggett approached the ring eagerly, looking forward to the bout.


“Did you box in the marines?” He asked Skinner as they stepped into the ring. Skinner smiled broadly around his gum shield.


“I was 1st Marine Division Middleweight Champion back in 1970,” he said with a hint of amusement in his voice.


Doggett paused, his hand on the ropes. “Now he tells me,” he groused.


“You’ll be fine. I’ll be very gentle with you,” Skinner grinned, clearly enjoying himself.


Doggett grinned back. He wasn’t any slouch in the boxing ring himself, and he was sure he could at least give Skinner a good workout even if he couldn’t seriously challenge him. They circled each other warily, and then Doggett stepped forward with a sharp right. Skinner parried easily, but then stepped back and began circling again.


“Hold it, Corporal!” Doggett said sharply. “I don’t want you to pull your punches here. I’m a big boy and I know how to handle myself. I brought you here to blow off some steam so I want you to imagine I’m Kersh and really go for it. You need someplace where you can ease off on that masterly self-control of yours for a while.”


“You’re not Kersh, John,” Skinner replied, still circling.


“What’s the matter? You think I might break? You think you’re too tough for me? Think again, Walter,” Doggett grinned. “Go for it. I’ll give as good as I get but I want you to break a sweat and get some of that aggression out of your system so you don’t turn it on yourself. Now, hit me, Corporal – this is the only payback you’re going to get for me being in charge elsewhere…so, come on…let’s see what you’re made of…Champ.”


He smiled broadly, and then had to step back fast as Skinner came at him like an enraged bull. He ducked the blow and feinted a left, then danced back out of reach as Skinner came for him again. The big man got in a body blow, but Doggett could tell he still wasn’t letting go – and he wanted Skinner to really feel he was fighting, to let the adrenaline flow so that afterwards he’d be left with a hazy glow of satisfaction for a fight well fought and not the bitter aftertaste of his own necessary but utterly soul-destroying subservient responses to Kersh’s barbed taunts. Doggett didn’t have Skinner’s sheer muscle power and brute force, but he was fast on his feet, and his greatest asset in a fight was superb hand-eye co-ordination. He waited until Skinner came at him again, side-stepped the big guy, and then landed a blow to the side of Skinner’s face. It was as if he’d woken a sleeping giant. Skinner’s eyes showed a new respect for his opponent – he knew that Doggett was able to stand up to him, and hand out as much as he took, and so he started fighting in earnest.


Doggett put Skinner through his paces – he kept the big man constantly on his toes, while minimising any actual damage his lover might do by being just fast enough to stay out of Skinner’s way. He didn’t always manage it because his lover was too good a boxer for that, and Skinner got in a few blows along the way, but Doggett was too exhilarated by the bout to care. He loved this! Being in this totally male atmosphere, knowing their sparring match was being watched by the other men in the gym, two warriors practicing their skills with each other. Skinner was clearly an experienced and talented boxer; his nickname belied considerable skill – he wasn’t just a lumbering fighter who kept coming back for more; he was a much more talented than that. He was faster on his feet than Doggett had expected, but what was striking was how intelligent a boxer he was. He conserved his energy, probed for weaknesses, and then silently went in for the kill when you least expected it. In this sense, Doggett was of the opinion that Skinner’s boxing style was very similar to the way he conducted his career in the Bureau.


Doggett thoroughly enjoyed exploring this new facet of his lover. Skinner was as fascinating a sight to Doggett in the ring as he was in bed. The big man’s tee shirt barely obscured his hard, toned chest, and the sweat pouring off him made the tee shirt cling to his body and show off its lines more clearly. Doggett loved the raw, animal grunts and growls that Skinner made as he missed a punch, or took one. There was something almost sexual about their dance around the ring, and he found that before they’d finished he was well and truly aroused. The fighting adrenaline was turning into a different kind of adrenaline altogether. He had a feeling that Skinner felt the same way, as the big man was breathing heavily, his eyes fixed on Doggett’s face, pupils dilated, with a look more akin to desire than anything combative.


“Enough.” Doggett drew the bout to a close, holding up his hand as Skinner loomed towards him, going in for another punch. “I’m beat – Jimmy was right about you, Slugger. You just keep on comin’ don’t ya?” He leaned over and put his hands on his knees, struggling to get his breath back. Skinner stood beside him, and Jimmy came over and began untying the big man’s gloves.


“Slugger’s one of our best fighters – but you know you’re not bad either,” Jimmy commented. “If you wanted to come along more often, I’d soon get you into shape,” he added. Doggett laughed, and stood up again. He caught Skinner’s ripple of suppressed amusement at ex-marine, ex-NYPD, current FBI agent John Doggett being offered help getting into shape.


“You know, maybe I will, Jimmy,” Doggett said, grinning broadly. “It’s been good so maybe I will.”


“When you’ve had a shower, go and see Duke out by the desk – he’ll give you a form to fill in so you can join,” Jimmy told him. Doggett shook his head.


“Sorry, Jimmy, no can do. I don’t think we have time for a shower, do we, Slugger?”


Skinner gave him a startled look, but there was an anticipatory gleam in his eyes. He glanced at the clock in the gym, and sighed regretfully.


“John’s right. We’re, uh…late,” he said, climbing out of the ring hurriedly.


They gathered their belongings, made it to the car, and drove home in double quick time. Doggett was thankful that it was late and there wasn’t much traffic on the roads as he was in no mood to wait. They stormed out of the car, raced into Doggett’s house, and as soon as they were inside Doggett slammed Skinner against the wall, his hands urgently exploring Skinner’s body. They kissed passionately, wildly, their hands everywhere, and then Doggett drew back, and looked Skinner straight in the eye.


“Okay, Corporal, you got me all steamed up and nothin’ except that meaty cock of yours in my ass is going to satisfy me. You up for that?” Skinner’s eyes shone and he nodded. His breathing was hard and shallow as he moved forward to grab Doggett again as if he intended to make it happen there and then. Doggett stopped him. “Upstairs. Need lube and condoms,” he said, running for the stairs. Skinner followed on so close behind him that he could feel the other man’s warm breath on his back as they ran. They burst into the bedroom and Doggett grabbed Skinner again, and began divesting his lover of his sweaty clothes. “Oh shit you smell hot,” he purred, nuzzling Skinner’s warm, damp neck. He flicked his tongue out and licked the salty skin. He could feel Skinner’s hard cock digging into him through his sweat pants and the big man moaned under his caress. “Get out of those. I want that monster inside me,” Doggett growled, tearing himself away only for long enough to divest himself of his own clothing. Skinner had finished undressing just as Doggett threw off the last of his clothes. The big man grabbed Doggett around the waist and threw him on the bed, as if in a continuation of their tussle in the ring. Doggett bounced straight back up, fastened both arms around Skinner, and pulled the big man down on top of him. Their cocks danced frenziedly between their bodies as they kissed frantically, hands, tongues and bodies writhing against each other. Then Skinner drew back, and looked down on Doggett for a moment, and the agent felt as if time had come to a standstill. Skinner looked like some kind of warrior-god, his powerful muscles, bunched from the recent exertion, rippling under his tanned, sweaty flesh. His eyes were dark with arousal, and yet curiously tender too.


“How d’you want this, John?” Skinner asked, the tiniest hint of anxiety reflected in those dark eyes. Doggett remembered that it had been a long time since his lover had performed this particular act with another man.


“I want to look into your eyes as you pound into me hard and fast,” Doggett growled, reaching out and opening a drawer in the nightstand. He found condoms and lube and lobbed them to Skinner who caught them one handed, his other wrapped around Doggett’s hard cock, massaging firmly. Too firmly.


“You’d better stop that or I’ll come right now,” Doggett gasped. Skinner nodded, and removed his hand. He placed a condom on his cock and lubed it, then lubed his fingers and Doggett spread his legs, feeling his ass tingling in anticipation. The moment Skinner was ready, Doggett raised his legs in the air, and placed them on Skinner’s shoulders. A second later he felt Skinner’s cool, lubed finger enter his body and he gasped out loud.


“Okay?” Skinner asked anxiously.


“Oh Christ, I’m fine – just get that cock of yours in my ass – NOW!” Doggett ordered, wriggling on Skinner’s fingers, needing more. He’d had many more lovers than Skinner and although few of them had been possessed of a cock quite as impressive as Skinner’s, he knew he could take the big man without too much preparation. Skinner grinned, and entered another finger, rotating slowly.


“That was an order,” Doggett commanded. “Now, Corporal, or I swear I’ll…” He never finished the sentence as Skinner grabbed his ass in his hands, and drove his cock hard and fast, up to the hilt into Doggett’s body. Doggett thought the world had exploded as everything went black and then the most beautiful shooting stars sparkled right in front of him. “Oh shit,” he whispered. “Fuck me, Corporal…hard and fast…ride me…”


The world came back into focus around him and he saw Skinner above him, the sweat pouring off his forehead as he pounded into him. Doggett didn’t think he’d ever seen a more beautiful sight than his warrior lover, still sweaty from the fight, his limbs and arousal warmed by their earlier sparring, thrusting his powerful cock into him, back and forth over and again, hitting his prostate with its raw force, sending those shooting stars fizzing to his brain with every forward thrust. Doggett reached down, grabbed his own cock, and began pumping it in time to Skinner’s pounding rhythm. They were two warriors as one, powerful, strong, lost in an age-old dance of almost primeval power. Doggett grinned up, never taking his blue eyes off Skinner’s dark brown ones, and Skinner grinned back as they shared this exquisite moment…and then the stars were falling from the sky in the biggest firework display Doggett thought he’d ever seen. He felt Skinner cry out hoarsely as he pumped to a roaring climax. Doggett savoured the moment, not yet ready to come, too engrossed by the stunning sight of Skinner’s climax as the big man’s body rippled in time to his ejaculations. Then he was still, his sweat dripping onto Doggett’s body, his eyes still not breaking his locked gaze with his lover. Doggett sighed happily, and with one last flick of his hand brought his own cock to climax. His semen flew up onto Skinner’s chest and back down onto his own, and still they gazed at each other, utterly sated by their frenzied love-making.


“Oh shit,” Skinner whispered. He pulled out and Doggett felt a burning sensation and groaned – he should have let Skinner prepare him more for such a thick, heavy cock, but he hadn’t been able to wait – he knew he’d probably pay for it in the morning but right now he didn’t care. “That was fantastic, John. Thank you,” Skinner whispered. He leaned forward, and kissed Doggett tenderly on the lips.


“Thank you, Corporal,” Doggett replied, reaching out and grabbing Skinner’s shoulders. He pulled the big man down next to him, rolled Skinner onto his back, then climbed on top of him and kissed him possessively. Skinner lay passively beneath him, bone weary after their crazed love-making session and its preceding sparring match. Doggett grinned down on his lover.


“You know you’re not bad,” Doggett commented. “If you wanted to come along more often, I’d soon get you into shape,” he grinned, echoing Jimmy’s words to him back in the gym.


A low, rumbling sound began deep within Skinner’s chest. It got bigger and bigger until it began to vibrate through Doggett’s ass and legs where he was straddling his lover, and then Skinner was laughing out loud in a helpless, abandoned way that Doggett had never thought he’d see. The laugh was infectious and Doggett couldn’t help joining in, but Skinner out-laughed him by a good three or four minutes during which Doggett gazed down on his lover and thought he’d never seen a better sight in his life than the buttoned up Assistant Director Skinner finally letting go and thoroughly enjoying himself.


Doggett replayed their sparring match and subsequent frenzied love-making in his mind so often over the following week that he completely forgot about the meeting with Kersh that had preceded it – until they were woken in Skinner’s apartment one Friday night a few days later by the sound of a ringing phone.


“Christ…who’s that?” Skinner asked blearily, his hand fumbling for the phone beside the bed. “Hello?” he growled but the phone kept on ringing. Doggett roused himself reluctantly, and fished his cell phone from the pocket of his jacket, which was hanging from a chair just within reach of the bed. He clicked the phone on, and gazed sleepily at the clock on the nightstand. 1.15? Who the hell was calling at this time?


“Yeah? Doggett,” he muttered, but the phone still kept on ringing. Doggett glanced at Skinner in the dark – the big man looked as puzzled as he did – then realisation sank in.


“My cell,” Skinner grunted, sliding naked from the bed and locating his cellphone on the dresser across the room. “Skinner,” he snapped into the phone and this time the ringing stopped. Thoroughly awake by this point, Doggett sat up, partially covered by a sheet, watching Skinner’s expression change from confused sleepiness to alert concern.


“Where?” Skinner asked. He was silent for while, listening to the reply, and then nodded, grimly. “Okay. I’m on my way,” he said, and then severed the connection. Doggett looked at him expectantly.


“Trouble?” he asked. Skinner nodded, his expression wary. “What kind of trouble?” Doggett pressed. Skinner looked at him for a moment, as if weighing something up. “Walter, this is me,” Doggett told him firmly. “What the hell is going on?”


Skinner sighed. “It’s Mulder,” he said.


“That was Mulder on the phone?”


“No, that was Scully. She says Mulder’s in trouble. He needs my help.”


Skinner opened the closet and pulled out chinos and a sweater.


“What kind of trouble?” Doggett said, getting up and pulling on his own clothes.


“I don’t know. There wasn’t time. She just told me to meet her at an address downtown. Look, there’s no need for you to get involved in this, John,” Skinner said, seeing Doggett was getting dressed.


“Bullshit, Walter. You’re walking into danger then I’m walking right beside you,” Doggett told him. “Warriors, remember, fighting side by side.” He finished dressing and headed straight for the door.


“John, it’s not the danger I’m worried about.” Skinner grabbed his arm and swung him back. “It’s your career I’m thinking about. Kersh specifically warned me off anything involving Mulder. I’m assuming that this is what he was talking about…bad enough if my career gets fucked up over this, but not yours as well.”


“Walter, I ain’t arguing this,” Doggett told him. “You can order me around all you like when we’re working on official Bureau business but this isn’t, so I’m going with you and I’m not having a discussion about it. Scully was my partner – I’m involved too,” he said softly. Skinner looked at him for a moment, and then nodded.


Twenty minutes later they pulled up on a street in a business district. There were no houses, and it was poorly lit.


“Typical place for a meet,” Doggett commented, as Skinner pulled on the brake, and got out. Doggett drew his weapon before exiting the car. Whenever Mulder was involved it was usually dangerous – he wasn’t taking any chances. They stood outside the car for a couple of minutes, and then Doggett saw two shadowy figures emerge from behind a nearby building. A flash of red hair confirmed that one of them had to be Scully. The other person was almost unrecognisable – he had a shaven head and a dark, straggly moustache, and it was only when he started talking that Doggett realised it was Mulder.


“Good to see you, Skinner,” Mulder said in low, hurried tones. Skinner stared at his old agent, as taken aback as Doggett was by Mulder’s altered appearance. “What – you don’t like the new look? I thought you’d be flattered,” Mulder said in those familiar monotones. “Imitation?” he prompted, as Skinner looked puzzled. “Sincerest form of flattery,” he grinned running a hand over his stubbled scalp. Skinner grunted and the merest hint of a grin tugged at the corners of his mouth.


“Agent Doggett.” Scully looked at Doggett warily. “We weren’t expecting you.” She looked at Mulder for confirmation and then at Skinner, her blue eyes uncertain.


“I asked Agent Doggett to come,” Skinner said softly. Scully’s eyes flicked at Doggett and back to Skinner again, confused.


“I don’t…” Scully paused and the realisation hit Doggett that she didn’t know how they’d managed to arrive so soon in the same car – she also didn’t know why Skinner had invited him along for the ride.


“It’s okay, Scully,” Mulder interrupted. There was a shrewd look in his hazel eyes as he glanced at the two men. Doggett squared his shoulders – he knew about Mulder’s reputation for filling in the gaps and making intuitive leaps and he was sure that the other man had somehow figured out the nature of his relationship with Skinner. Mulder’s gaze was speculative, with a hint of curiosity – maybe even of regret? Doggett wasn’t sure but he met the gaze with a firm one of his own, unflinching. If Mulder wanted to make something of his presence in Skinner’s life, then Doggett was more than happy to respond. Mulder didn’t say a word though; he just stared at Doggett for a long moment, and then relaxed and gave a small, wry smile. Scully looked at them all in turn, obviously aware of the strange atmosphere, and puzzled by it.


“I don’t see…” she began again. She clearly hadn’t figured it out the way Mulder had.


“We don’t have time for this,” Mulder said, cutting her short again. “Look, I need to speak to Skinner privately.” He grabbed Skinner’s arm and before Doggett could intervene, he pulled the big man towards a nearby building. Doggett turned back and gazed at Scully.


“You don’t want me here?” He asked. “That it, Dana?” As he said her name it occurred to him that Mulder had called her ‘Scully’. What was that about, he wondered. As far as he could tell, the two of them were involved – hell, they’d even had a baby together – so why the formality? He couldn’t imagine calling Walter ‘Skinner’ outside the office, and he sure as hell wouldn’t stand for being called ‘Doggett’.


“It’s just…we didn’t expect you,” Scully murmured, her face closed off in an expression he was all too familiar with.


“That’s fine. Look, Dana, I respect you as an agent and we’ve worked well together, but I know you don’t really trust me. One thing I want to ask you though – do you trust Walter?”


Scully’s blue eyes were cold and conflicted.


“I…” She looked at Doggett for a moment, and then over to where Skinner was talking to Mulder.


“It’s a simple question, Dana. Do you trust him?” Doggett pressed. Scully glanced at the ground, unable to meet his eye. “I thought not,” Doggett said. “Okay, you know me, I say what I think so let me tell you this: Don’t ever do this to him again. If you don’t trust him, then don’t you dare call him up in the middle of the night, and expect him to drive out to the middle of nowhere so he can bail you and Mulder out of whatever trouble you’ve gotten yourselves into this time, d’you hear me?” Doggett couldn’t keep the angry tone out of his voice and Scully raised her eyes to him again, an alarmed expression on her face. “Look, I haven’t got an issue with you personally, Dana – this isn’t about you and me, it’s about him,” Doggett said, his voice hard and low. He felt a protective anger kick in at the way she was treating Skinner. He didn’t care how she treated himself – he had long ago come to accept that she was a oddly disconnected woman, with a sometimes aloof manner, who found it hard admitting anything to herself, let alone anyone else, but he’d be damned if he’d stand by and watch either her or Mulder walking all over the man he loved. “You want his help – you’d better start keeping him in the loop and treatin’ him like a friend and ally and not just someone you call up and whose life you endanger whenever you need him. Especially when you don’t even trust him enough to tell him what the hell is going on.”


“John, that’s not how it is,” Scully said, in a tight voice. “It’s complicated, that’s all, and safer if Skinner doesn’t know.”


“Bullshit, Dana. You as good as told me you don’t trust him. Not really. Ain’t that the truth?”


“I…it’s not easy for me to trust people,” she whispered, her hand going to her throat.


“That’s fine – but if you don’t trust him then don’t damn well use him,” Doggett snapped. “Look, I know what you’ve been through, Dana. I’ve read the files even if you haven’t told me all of it. But let me tell you, as someone who was once your partner and who has gotten to know you pretty well, that you’re not the only person who’s suffered because of the X Files. When your sister was killed, Skinner refused to drop the investigation and paid for that decision by taking a bullet in the gut. Have you forgotten that?”


Scully shrugged, her shoulders hunched, and her blue eyes wide with surprise at this line of questioning.


“First they tried to kill him for being a good friend to the X Files, then, when that didn’t work, they tried to discredit him by framing him for the murder of his wife. Yes, you lost a sister, but he lost his wife, Dana,” Doggett hissed urgently. “All of you suffered, I ain’t denying that – but at least you and Mulder had each other. Skinner didn’t have anyone but himself, and he took a lot on himself. I saw you during those months when Mulder was lost, and after we buried him. I saw the way you turned to Walter, how you’d lean on him for support. Then as soon as Mulder was back you were shuttin’ Walter out within hours, not calling him to let him know what was happenin’, not keeping him in the loop after all he’d done. You listen to me, Dana – if it hadn’t been for Walter, Fox Mulder would still be six feet under gestating god knows what kind of virus. It was Walter Skinner who authorised an exhumation of Mulder’s body that everybody said was insane, me included.”


“I know that,” Scully muttered. “I do know that. I just…that was such a difficult time.”


“There have been a hell of a lot of difficult times, Dana – I’d have thought you were used to that by now. When I was going through those files I lost count of the number of times Skinner showed up and saved your butts. If he wasn’t pulling you out of the ground when you were trapped, or turning up to rescue you and give you a ride home when you got yourselves into trouble, he was getting beaten up obtaining information that saved your lives, or taking on that bastard Spender for you, or protecting both your asses from the Bureau jackals who wanted your hides. You owe Skinner big time, Dana Scully. You and Mulder both owe him and you’ve never once thanked him for any of it – not even by giving him your trust. He’s come through for you time and time again and it disgusts me to see you stand here and say you don’t trust him at the same time as thinking nothing, nothin’ at all of dragging him out of bed in the middle of the night to risk at best his career and at worst his life to help you out. Now, think on that, Scully, because if you ever, ever call on him for help again I expect it to be because you’ve told him what you’re workin’ on, you’ve listened to his advice, and you trust, respect and like the man. He deserves that much for being a damn good friend to you over the years. D’you hear what I’m sayin’ to you? If you can’t do that for him then do him a favour and don’t call him again.”


Doggett realised that his hands had bunched into tight fists as he finished his impassioned speech. He knew he felt strongly, but his outburst had taken him by surprise. It had definitely taken Scully by surprise. She stood there, her mouth opening and closing like a goldfish, an expression of shock in her eyes. Doggett knew that Scully wasn’t used to being told it like it is. He had found, while working as her partner, that she was completely stunned when he had called her on her behaviour on a couple of occasions. He suspected that during her time with Mulder they had neither of them been honest about either their feelings or their work. God knows how it had gotten to the stage where they had managed to conceive a child while still never having had a really honest discussion about what feelings, if any, they had for each other. Doggett pitied them, but he was pleased he had managed to find a way through Skinner’s defences and past all those X Files scars to the big heart beneath. As far as he was concerned, Mulder and Scully could live in their strange world with their strange baby, calling each other by their last names and existing in a state of selfish, repressed self-obsession – but woe betide either of them if they expected to carry on treating the man he loved as their own personal errand boy.


“I…I’m sorry, John. I guess…it’s hard knowing who we can trust these days,” Scully said, her voice lost, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears. Doggett felt sorry for her – she was a woman who had painted herself into a corner, with a child whose abilities she feared, and a lover who came and went like the wind, always pursuing some mysterious quest he could never quite put to rest.


“I’m sorry too, Dana,” he said softly. “I’m sorry for you, and I’m sorry for Mulder. You’re both good people who’ve been through a lot, but your lives and your happiness aren’t a priority for me – Walter Skinner’s life and his happiness are. Don’t mess with him again or you’ll have me to deal with. He’d never say any of this to you himself because that isn’t the kind of man he is, but he has someone to look out for him now and I can and will say it on his behalf.”
Realisation finally flooded into Scully’s eyes as she figured out why Skinner had brought Doggett along with him.


“Oh. You’re…you were with him tonight…when I called. I didn’t know…I didn’t understand,” she whispered.


“Well you do now,” he told her grimly. “Can you tell me any of what’s going on? What does Mulder want from Walter? Is it something to do with the baby? Is William okay? Who’s looking after him?”


“He’s fine. He’s with my mother. It isn’t about him. It’s something else that Mulder’s found. I…” She hesitated, and her hand went to her throat again. “I can’t tell you what it is, John. I’m sorry,” she whispered.


“You know…I’m sorry too, Dana,” he told her. “Because the two of you really need friends right now, but you just keep on pushing away the only people who want to help you, or you treat them like dirt. Think about it,” he said.


At that moment, they heard footsteps and then Mulder and Skinner returned to the car.


“John, I’m going with Mulder and Scully,” Skinner told him.


“Okay. Do you need any help?” Doggett asked.


Skinner shook his head. “It isn’t dangerous – it’s just…it requires a security clearance that I have and Mulder and Scully don’t. Take the car and go home – I’ll call you later.”


Doggett gazed at Skinner for a moment. His lover was a grown man and perfectly capable of making his own decisions, but Doggett needed some assurances. He took hold of Skinner’s arm and led him away from Mulder and Scully.


“Walter, you sure about this?” He asked. Skinner’s brown eyes met his, and held his gaze.


“Yes, John. It’s like I said, nothing to worry about – I promise.” Skinner’s gaze was unswerving and Doggett knew his lover was telling him the truth.


“Okay. I’ll see you later. Make sure you call though.” Skinner nodded, and Doggett squeezed his arm. “Take care, Corporal,” he whispered. Skinner rewarded him with a reassuring smile, and Doggett squeezed his arm again and then got in the car. He nodded curtly to Mulder and Scully and drove off, but not without one last backward glance at his lover in his rear view mirror.


Doggett had intended to drive back to his place, but something stopped him. He wanted to be around when Skinner got home because somehow he had the feeling that the big man would need him. He wasn’t sure why exactly, but he felt sure that Skinner’s feelings for Mulder and Scully were both confused and strong, and that, like Kersh, those two aroused emotions in Skinner that he often didn’t know how to deal with. With a sigh, Doggett turned the car and headed towards Crystal City instead. He tried to go back to bed, but he was worried about his lover and what Skinner might be doing – a habit that reminded him uncomfortably of his time with Tony, when sitting up at night waiting and worrying had been a common occurrence. Doggett wasn’t a man who found such inactivity easy. Finally, giving up in exasperation, he went downstairs and turned on the TV. Two solid hours of watching CNN eventually exhausted him, and he turned off the TV, and stretched out on the couch in the living room, waiting for Skinner to get home.


A noise woke him a little while later, and he woke up with a start as Skinner walked wearily into the dark living room. He was about to say something but the other man hadn’t seen him and walked straight over to the drinks cabinet and poured himself a large glass of whisky.


“Hello, Walter,” Doggett said softly behind him. Skinner stiffened and then turned.


“Busted,” he said with a wince, holding up the glass in an admission of guilt.


“I wasn’t checkin’ up on you, Walter. I just couldn’t sleep so I thought I’d wait down here for you. What happened? Are you okay?”


“Yeah.” Skinner put the glass down and stretched, then sank into the armchair with a weary sigh.


“I’ll remind you at this point that you promised me your honesty,” Doggett said sharply. Skinner closed his eyes, and shook his head. “John, I’m just tired. I’m fine. Really.”
“So fine you want to drink?” Doggett pressed. “Come on, Walter, what’s really goin’ on here?”


Skinner opened his eyes again and sat forward in the chair, his shoulders hunched. “To be perfectly honest, I don’t know, John. Mulder thinks he’s onto something, but then he always does. He told me part of it, but it didn’t make much sense to me – and he wouldn’t tell me the rest. I did what he asked, and now I’m back here hoping that Kersh doesn’t find out.” He gave a grim little smile.


“D’you often drink after getting involved in one of Mulder’s missions?” Doggett asked. Skinner shrugged again. “I don’t think you should make a big deal of this, John,” he growled defensively – and Doggett knew immediately that he was touching on a raw nerve, which was all the more reason not to let it go.


“Walter, Mulder and Scully call you in the middle of the night and you immediately go and bail them out like a dog who comes at every whistle.”


“John, if you or Monica or any other agent I like and respect called me for help in the middle of the night I’d go and help them,” Skinner said sharply.


“But would you come back and drink afterwards, that’s what I’m askin’?” Doggett said softly.


Skinner closed his eyes again and passed a weary hand over his forehead.


“I don’t know,” he said. Then, quietly, “No.”


“Walter, can you tell me about it?” Doggett pressed softly. “I know it’s not easy, and maybe you don’t even know why yourself, but talk to me. Tell me about Mulder and Scully if it helps. Tell me about what it’s been like workin’ with them all these years.”


Skinner was still for a long time, his shoulders stiff and hunched. He clearly didn’t want to talk, and yet there was something inside him that both wanted and needed to be expressed.


“I don’t know what you want to hear, John,” Skinner said with a sigh, opening his eyes and staring at a point over Doggett’s left shoulder. “They were good agents – the best. Mulder, in particular, intrigued me. He’s a good man, John. I know you and he didn’t hit it off to begin with, but that’s because he’s so passionate about the X Files. He couldn’t bear the thought of anyone taking his place. He more or less invented that department.”


“I know. I can understand that.” Doggett nodded, encouraging Skinner to continue.


“I don’t know what you said to Scully tonight, John, but I think you must have said something. She behaved strangely…she asked me how I am.” Skinner gazed at the backs of his hands, his forehead screwed up in a frown. “Maybe I look as bad as I’ve been feeling lately, but that’s the first time she’s ever asked me that. I don’t know what that was about. It felt strange being out there with Mulder tonight…I mean I haven’t even set eyes on him in weeks and then he shows up looking so different, and Scully…she always seems to be on the verge of tears these days and I don’t know why and I want to help but I don’t know how…” His voice trailed off, full of despair. “I worry about what we’ve become…and I try and think back to when it all changed but it was so gradual I don’t think I can even pinpoint it, John. One day I woke up and my wife was dead, I was infected with nanocytes, Mulder was gone, and Scully…she’s changed so much I don’t even recognise her any more. You should have known her in the beginning, John…” Skinner’s voice changed, becoming infinitely tender, full of memories. “She was the smartest woman I ever met, and so full of energy. Passionate, committed and funny – she used to make me laugh with her reports and the way she cut through some of Mulder’s bullshit. When I think what it’s all done to her…how she’s changed…it breaks my heart. As for Mulder, he was so idealistic. Somewhere along the way he became all messed up inside, harder, more paranoid and self-obsessed…he lost himself just as we all lost ourselves. I know I lost myself. Christ, John, what happened to us?” He asked, despairingly. “What the hell happened to us?”


“Walter…” Doggett began, but Skinner interrupted him.


“If you’d known us back then,” he said, shaking his head. “I don’t think you’d even recognise us. Mulder was so…alive, so full of energy. He used to make me laugh too in his own way, although I never told him that of course – he’d have been impossible to work with if I had.” He smiled a wry, bitter half-smile, his eyes distant. “We might have been different people. I can’t believe there was ever a time I went into work and believed in my job, in the office I hold, in the Bureau itself and in my government but I know there was. Now it seems that everything is dark and twisted, everything had a price to be paid. Innocent people have been killed and for what? Mulder’s father, Scully’s sister, my wife. So much lost, so little gained.”


Skinner’s arms came up to wrap themselves tightly around his chest, his body language screaming his misery in a way Doggett had come to know all too well.


“When I see them like I did tonight, it just reminds me of how much we’ve all changed, and that tears at something inside me. I can’t get it back. I can’t be that man I once was who believed in his job, who commanded the respect of his colleagues, who had a wife at his side – who knew what the hell he was. No offence, John, but sometimes I look at you and wonder who I am now. I slept beside a woman, my wife, for 17 years, and now I wake up to find myself in bed with a man. Is this one more example of how I’ve changed? Or am I going through some kind of mid-life crisis? If so, what happens when it’s over? What have I become? Who am I now?” He gazed at Doggett with brown eyes blinded by despair.


“They’re big questions, Walter,” Doggett said bluntly, “and not ones you can expect to answer easily. It’ll take time, but I think I can help you with one of them.”
Skinner’s eyes came into hazy focus and settled on Doggett’s face with a curious mix of hope and desolation.


“I know you help Mulder because he was your agent, and because you believe in his work, but I think there’s more to it than that. I’ve seen the way you look at him, the way you defer to him even when I don’t think he’s right. I saw your face when you dug him up from his grave – I’ve never seen a man more obsessed or more full of hope. It went beyond simple concern for a colleague, Walter. What you felt for Mulder was much more personal, wasn’t it?” Skinner stiffened, and wrapped his arms more tightly around his body. “You hero-worshipped him, Walter. I think, in a way, that you still do.” Doggett fought down a wave of jealousy and continued. “Everything you ever did for the X Files department was for Mulder and Scully, but usually specifically for Mulder. I think you’ve been in love with him for a long time, Walter, but you didn’t want to face the consequences of admitting that to yourself.”


Skinner took a sharp intake of breath. He was almost doubled over in his chair, his arms still wrapped around his body.


“I don’t think you’ve changed all that much, Walter. I think you’ve always been at least bisexual. You loved Sharon, but I’m betting you didn’t have a whole lot going on with her sexually after you met Mulder.”


Skinner looked up, and his face was pale and drawn, his eyes dark and haunted. “I did love her, John,” he whispered.


“I know, Corporal, I know,” Doggett said softly. He got up, went to where Skinner was sitting, and put his arms around the big man’s tense, unhappy body.


“I don’t think there’s anything wrong in admitting to yourself that you loved Mulder, that you still do in some way, and maybe that a small part of you always will – but you can’t have him, Walter,” Doggett told him gently, hugging Skinner to him. “He’s with Scully now, and even if he wasn’t…he’s not someone you could ever have. I don’t think he has room in his life for any kind of proper relationship – not even with Scully, and I don’t think he ever will. He’s always going to be out there tilting at windmills and chasing after rainbows. What you need to decide is whether you follow him, blindly, never needing or expecting anything in return, or whether you move on, and have the kind of relationship you deserve, with someone who loves you.”


Skinner stared at him blindly, and Doggett knew this was all too much for the big man to take in. He had said enough – and Skinner needed time to absorb the implications of it all and come to his own decisions. Doggett didn’t view himself as any kind of second best but he’d known Skinner was numb and confused when he’d gotten involved with him; he had promised to be here to help the big man out while he struggled with his issues and that was exactly what he intended to do, in the only ways he knew how.


“Walter, come with me,” he said, getting up and holding out his hand. Skinner rose, took the outstretched hand, and allowed himself to be led upstairs to the bedroom. Doggett pushed him down on the bed, and Skinner sat there, still in a daze.


“Walter, you don’t need to make any big decisions right now,” Doggett told him softly. “You just need to know that someone out here loves you and wants you.”


He undressed Skinner gently, as if he were a small child, removed his own clothing quickly, and then joined Skinner under the sheets.


“I don’t want there to be anything about our relationship that’s confusing,” Doggett whispered as he took Skinner in his arms and began caressing him. “I want it to be a sanctuary because that’s what you need right now; a safe place to be, somewhere to rest. Somewhere to feel good about yourself, to be taken care of. I’m going to make love to you.”


He took Skinner’s face in his hands and slowly and tenderly kissed the other man. Skinner gradually began to relax against him, accepting the embrace, but Doggett wanted this to take a long time – however long was required to make sure that Skinner felt cared for and appreciated by someone. It might not be Mulder and Scully, whose affection the big man seemed to have courted for so long to so little avail, but he would find that there was someone out here who loved him.


Doggett lost himself in the pleasure of kissing Walter Skinner, claiming the other man completely for several long, tender minutes. Then he moved his hands and began caressing Skinner’s body, going slowly again, stoking Skinner’s arousal like a slow burning fire, until finally he felt the big man’s cock starting to harden. Doggett kissed a nipple, then licked its twin, before returning to the original and sucking softly. Skinner made a low growling noise in the back of his throat, and clutched Doggett’s body, his hands going automatically to Doggett’s buttocks which he fondled and massaged with fingers full of need. Doggett started to rhythmically move against Skinner’s body, rubbing his own hard cock against Skinner’s. He played Skinner like a musical instrument, arousing him to the point of climax over and over again. His hands and tongue were never still, playing out a perfect melody on his lover’s beautiful body, exploring skin and lips and nipples and cock and balls until he felt Skinner fully unwind in his arms.


“You’re safe here, my love,” he whispered. He was surprised by that endearment, but somehow it suited his mood, his need to nurture Skinner when he was feeling so lost, to give to him. Just as he had known, instinctively, how to deal with Skinner when he had been crashing out of control that night after the fight, so he knew that what Skinner needed now was unconditional love and reassurance.


“Give it all up for me, Corporal,” he whispered, blowing on Skinner’s neck, nuzzling his ears, and sliding his body against the other man’s aroused cock. Skinner moaned, and opened his legs, allowing Doggett to slip a finger into the other man’s crack. He slid his finger in and out while watching Skinner give himself up to total abandonment. Doggett paused and reached for condoms and lube. He prepared Skinner for several long minutes, moving slowly and sensuously, taking his time, until he knew his lover couldn’t hold out much longer. Then he gently parted Skinner’s buttocks and slid his cock deep inside his lover. He reached out and took one of Skinner’s hands in his own, holding it as he gently, smoothly, glided in and out of the big man’s body. He was moving so slowly that it felt as if he was in a dream. Skinner’s cock was weeping, crying out for attention, and Doggett took it in his free hand. He massaged it slowly, with long, languorous strokes, moving in time to his own infinitely slow, measured thrusts. Skinner didn’t cry out – it wasn’t that kind of sex – it wasn’t frenzied, or passionate, but comforting, and tender, full of little kisses and gentle sucking. No biting or pounding, just very slow movements, as if in a choreographed dance. Doggett wasn’t sure how many long it lasted, but it was the slowest, longest sex he’d ever had in his life, and as far as he was concerned it could go on forever. He wanted this man beneath him to feel as if he was being made love to forever, taken care of, sheltered from the storm of his emotions in this most gentle and loving of sexual experiences. Finally he felt Skinner’s body become so relaxed beneath him that the big man seemed almost boneless. When Skinner came it almost took them both by surprise – there was no roaring climax, just a flickering of come, accompanied by a sated, happy sigh. Doggett stroked Skinner’s hand with his thumb, and continued sliding his hard cock in and out of the big man’s body until his own climax took him a little while later. He withdrew as slowly as he’d been thrusting, and then lay down on the bed and took Skinner in his arms, drawing the man to his breast, his hands firm and possessive on his lover’s body. Skinner lay still and comfortable against him, utterly accepting of the intimacy.


“So…boxing and sex…these are your solutions to my problems,” Skinner murmured drowsily.


Doggett laughed and kissed his lover’s ear. “They’re workin’ aren’t they?” He said softly, caressing Skinner’s body with his hand.


“Yes, oh yes,” Skinner sighed. “John…thank you. Nobody’s ever made love to me like that before.”


 “You’re welcome.” Doggett kissed the other man’s cheek. “But that’s their loss. They don’t know what they were missing,” he whispered. Skinner gave a little smile and Doggett wrapped him more firmly in his arms, and held him until he fell asleep. Fox Mulder might have captured Skinner’s heart, but it was to John Doggett he had confided his soul, and in John Doggett’s arms that he slept safely at night. And John Doggett was nothing if not persistent – he had always known that Walter Skinner’s heart was a prize worth fighting for, worth waiting for, and worth earning – and he intended to be here to do all those things.


End of Part Two


~ I love receiving friendly feedback! If you enjoyed this story, please leave a comment below. ~

Submit a Comment

No Comments on Personal Time: 2. Part Two


Buy Xanthe's original character BDSM slash novel, Ricochet now!

Paperback on Amazon

E-book on Amazon

Smashwords in various formats

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons