Personal Time: 4. Part Four



Doggett endured a couple of days in the hospital and then checked himself out, thoroughly exasperated by the enforced inactivity, and less than appetising food. Skinner didn’t seem to have any objections to him checking himself out – he’d spent most of Doggett’s stay in the hospital grinning smugly at his lover’s frustration with a “now you know how it felt for me a few months back” expression in his eyes. Nice though it was to have someone in his life who cared about him, Doggett had no intention of sitting around in bed being waited on by Skinner, and told him so gruffly as the big man drove him back to his house.


“Uh-huh.” Skinner nodded.


“Are you listening to me?” Doggett demanded, non-plussed by his lover’s easy acquiescence.


“Sure – and I’m certain you’re going to start making sense sometime soon,” Skinner replied. Doggett opened his mouth to protest but Skinner pre-empted him. “John, you’re wounded – I know what that’s like and I know the last thing you want is to be fussed over, but at the same time you’re not in any fit state to take care of yourself. You can’t wash by yourself, you sure as hell can’t drive, and you need your dressing changed regularly. That’s what I’m here for. Beyond that…” Skinner shrugged. “You won’t even know I’m here.”


Doggett grunted. Skinner grinned.


“I always knew that one day I’d meet someone who was a worse patient than me,” he said with a certain smugness in his voice. Doggett gave a sour grimace and Skinner pulled up outside the house and turned to him. “John,” he said softly. “You’ve done a damn fine job of taking care of me these past few months. Let me return the favour. Just until you’re back on your feet.”


“There’s nothin’ wrong with my feet,” Doggett growled.


“What’s the matter? Don’t like the taste of your own medicine?” Skinner asked with a wry smile. Doggett frowned at him. “Look, John, I’m going to take care of you whether you like it or not – as you so often point out, I’m good at taking care of people.”


“That’s the whole point. You shouldn’t have to be doin’ that right now,” Doggett sighed. “I don’t want you to, Walter. You need a break from that kind of crap.”


“I know – and I’ve had one thanks to you. Now it’s time for you to do the same.”


Doggett gazed at his lover for a long time, but Skinner’s dark eyes were resolute behind the wirerims.


“You always were the most obstinate SOB I ever met,” Doggett sighed at last. “More obstinate than me – and that’s sayin’ something.” Skinner smiled, and opened the car door.


“One thing,” Doggett called him back. “I need you to tell me one thing, Walter. Just how guilty are you feeling right now?” Skinner sat back down on the car seat with a thud. He took a deep breath and looked out of the window. “Look at me, Corporal,” Doggett ordered softly. Skinner turned to look at him and Doggett nodded. “I thought so,” he said.


“I’m not taking care of you because I feel guilty,” Skinner snapped.


“I know. I know that. Walter, you couldn’t know anyone was going to get hurt going into that building. You did everything you could to make sure that if anyone was going to get hurt it was gonna be you. Fate just took the whole thing out of your hands. Now, you’ve gotta stop beatin’ yourself up about it.”


“I will – just as soon as you’re well,” Skinner replied softly.


Doggett gazed at him steadily, and then nodded, thoughtfully. “Okay – but I think I might have to give the process a helping hand,” he murmured. Skinner glanced at him, questioningly. “When I’ve got the use of both of ’em again,” Doggett added, glancing down at his chest, where one of his arms was nestled in a sling.


“And what then?” Skinner asked, the slight catch in his voice betraying his apprehension.


“Then I’ll have to deny you the use of both of yours I think. Right?” Doggett gazed at his lover insistently. He reached out with his free hand and massaged the back of Skinner’s neck. “Right, Corporal?” He asked again.


Skinner glanced down at the steering wheel and then sideways at his lover, a haunted but anticipatory look in his eyes.


“Yes, sir,” he said, his voice hardly a tone above a whisper.


“Good – now listen, Walter, you don’t need to wait for me to suggest it. Any time you feel I can help you, then just ask.” Skinner nodded, a surprised expression in his eyes, as if that hadn’t occurred to him. “And of course sometimes I’ll insist, like at Silvermist, because it’s what you need, whether you recognise it or not,” Doggett added. “Okay, Corporal?”


“Yes, Sergeant.” Skinner gave a tight smile. “But right now it can wait. You’re the one who needs taking care of, so let’s go inside.”


Skinner, true to his word, was precisely the kind of nurse that Doggett could tolerate. He didn’t fuss, or nag, allowed Doggett to dictate the pace of his own convalescence, but at the same time unobtrusively made the agent’s life much easier than it would otherwise have been. Doggett suspected that Skinner’s bedside manner came from his own many hospital experiences – his lover was clearly being the kind of nurse he’d always wanted someone to be for him.


Skinner returned to work a few days later, leaving Doggett to his own devices during the daytime – a state of affairs that Doggett found utterly intolerable. He was a man of action, and hated being idle. He needed to be working, or working out, or making love, or at least doing something but all this enforced sitting around was driving him insane. He was able to stop using the sling after a few days, and as far as he was concerned he was well enough to go back to work – unfortunately the Bureau doctor disagreed with him. Deeply bored, Doggett took to calling Monica for an update on what was happening in the X Files office every half an hour until she lost her temper and yelled that if he was so damn interested he’d have to come down and check things out for himself. Unable to resist such an invitation, Doggett did just that. It felt good to be sitting in the office, going through the files, reading some of the new cases that had been passed their way – most of which were easily figured out just by reading the existing case report and making a few pertinent phone calls, although Doggett did put two on his ‘to be investigated further’ pile.


Four hours later, his arm was aching but he felt less twitchy than he had for the past few days. He was reading through a report that he thought might have been a total work of fiction for all the logical sense it made, when the door was flung wide open. Doggett got to his feet, startled, and found himself looking into the dark and none-too-friendly eyes of his boss.


“Assistant Director Skinner. I wasn’t expecting to see you,” he murmured, shooting a glance at Monica who immediately showed whose side she was on by making an excuse and fleeing the room, leaving Doggett to face down his angry superior alone.


“I wasn’t expecting to see you either, Agent Doggett – unless the Bureau doctor changed his mind and said you’re well enough to resume your duties,” Skinner commented, coming into the room and closing the door firmly behind him.


“No, sir. I just thought I’d stop by and see what was goin’ on my absence,” Doggett replied.


“Agent Doggett, I’m delighted that you enjoy your work so much but the Bureau has a responsibility to all its personnel and that isn’t a responsibility that I, as your supervisor, can allow the FBI to shirk,” Skinner told him, his eyes still serious and not a little irate. “You’re not well enough to be here, Agent. Go home.”


“With all due respect, sir, the doctor says I can come back to the office next week, and it’s Wednesday today so that’s only a few more days,” Doggett pointed out. Skinner smiled at his angle, but was having none of it. He put a hand on Doggett’s shoulder, and ushered him towards the door.


“Go home, John,” he insisted, quietly but firmly. “Rest up – you have all the time in the world to investigate apparitions and aberrations when you’re fully well. In the meantime…give me your badge.”


“You’re takin’ away my badge?” Doggett asked, stunned.


“You can have it back next week,” Skinner promised, removing Doggett’s badge from his pants and pocketing it. “Just as soon as I get that note from the doctor.”


He walked with Doggett along the corridor, into the elevator, and out into the parking garage. “Go home, watch some TV, and get well,” Skinner said, as they ended up beside Doggett’s car. “But don’t come back here until next week or I’ll personally kick your ass.”


“Are you pulling rank on me, sir?” Doggett asked, giving in gracefully. He actually rather admired Skinner’s total command of the situation and resolute will. His lover had never been a pushover, but all the same it was startling to be reminded of that fact in no uncertain terms.


“Only place I can, Agent,” Skinner told him with a wry gleam in his eye. He opened the car door and waited for his agent to get in.


“You know, when they told me before I began working with you that AD Skinner was a hard nosed SOB who didn’t take any shit from his agents I figured they were exaggerating…” Doggett muttered, getting into the car. “Now I see that everything they said was true – and then some,” he growled.


Skinner’s lips turned up in the merest hint of a grin. “I’ll take that as a compliment, Agent,” he said smoothly. “Drive carefully, John,” he added softly. “That arm isn’t better yet and you know it.”


Doggett sighed. “As a matter of fact it’s aching like hell,” he admitted, wincing as he got into the car. Doggett could have kicked himself when he saw the guilt flash momentarily into Skinner’s eyes. Skinner shut the car door and Doggett gave him a faded smile and drove away.


At least that little exchange had given him an idea for how he could occupy himself for the next couple of days. Doggett glanced in his rear view mirror at the Assistant Director, standing in shirtsleeves and tie, watching him leave the parking garage. He had been more than a little aroused by the power-play that had just taken place between them – Walter Skinner in full AD mode was a force to be reckoned with, and Doggett enjoyed seeing his lover strong and able to give back as good as he got. It made him realise how far Skinner had come since agreeing to give up control to him, but all the same, the other man still needed some help dealing with the emotional fall-out from the shooting; Doggett decided that it was time for Walter Skinner to receive a little guilt-relieving session.


Doggett planned his strategy carefully, down to the last detail. Just thinking about it aroused him so much that he had to jerk off a couple of times. The first thing he did was to tell Skinner he wanted to be alone for the next couple of days but would be in touch at the end of the week. On Friday night he let himself into Skinner’s apartment, made his preparations, then sat and waited in the dark in the living room for his lover to return home.


Half an hour later Skinner showed up. He threw his briefcase down on the couch with a sigh, and then stood there for a moment, rotating his neck from side to side to relieve the week’s tension. That was when Doggett pounced.


“Take your clothes off, Corporal – real slow,” he ordered.


Skinner jumped, startled, and peered at him in the dark apartment. Doggett reached out and turned on the lamp on the table beside him. Skinner was looking his usual fit, edible self; what seemed like acres of white shirt were stretched tautly across his broad chest, accentuating his impossibly wide shoulders, and Doggett felt his cock stir hungrily in his pants. Skinner’s eyes were dark behind his wirerims, his body stiff and tense. His eyes flickered around the room, alighted on the leather cuffs Doggett had left purposefully on the coffee table and he swallowed, hard.


“Did you hear me, Corporal?” Doggett said in firm, no-nonsense tones. “It’s time for that guilt relieving session I promised you,” he added. “I’m feeling well enough for that and I think you need it.”


Skinner swallowed, hard, and then nodded, and bowed his head.


“I can’t hear you, Corporal,” Doggett snapped.


“Sir, yes, sir,” Skinner replied swiftly, unconsciously standing at attention. Doggett smiled.


“Then get moving, Corporal – and make it slow.”


Doggett picked up one of the leather cuffs and turned it over in his hands, aware that he was drawing Skinner’s eyes to his every movement. The big man’s tongue darted out anxiously and licked his lips, but his hand went to his collar and he began un-knotting his tie. He tugged it off in a swift movement, and then began unbuttoning his shirt.


“I said, slowly, Corporal,” Doggett purred. “I want to enjoy this.”


Skinner’s hands faltered and he blinked behind the wirerims. Doggett had to work hard to suppress a laugh – hard-assed AD Skinner could face down armed men without batting an eyelid but place him in a sexual arena and expect him to perform and he was as paralysed as a rabbit in the jaws of a fox.


“Lose the glasses, Corporal,” Doggett said. “They’re just holdin’ you back right now.”


He opened his legs wide, on purpose, and sat back in his chair, still caressing the leather cuff, his body exuding his enjoyment of this scenario. Skinner removed his wirerims, and placed them carefully on the coffee table, taking care not to touch the cuffs, and then he returned to the task of undressing. Doggett opened his pants and reached inside to where his cock was already pulsing with need. Skinner swallowed hard again, clearly finding this kind of openly sexual scrutiny disturbing – and arousing if the bulge in his pants was anything to go by. The big man ran a hand across his chest, and unbuttoned his shirt slowly, as requested. His face was flushed, and he kept his gaze fixed firmly on the floor.


“Look at me, Corporal. Look into my eyes as you undress. Make it good for me, Corporal,” Doggett ordered softly. Skinner flushed even more, but he raised his eyes to meet Doggett’s, although the agent guessed that what his lover was seeing was pretty hazy without his glasses – which was probably for the best as he knew Skinner had a streak of shyness that went very deep. He wasn’t an exhibitionist, and Doggett loved mining his rich vein of sensuality and hauling it to the surface where it could be put on display for both of them to enjoy. Skinner’s blunt fingertips weren’t equipped for anything like a sexy striptease, and Doggett didn’t demand that of him, but he did want a show – and it was a sign of the potency of their sexual power game that Skinner obeyed him even when his every normal instinct clearly rebelled. Skinner slid one side of his shirt off his shoulder, shrugged himself out of the other side of it, folded it, and placed it with his other clothes on the couch. Then he hesitated and gazed uncertainly at Doggett.


“Come here – let’s make the rest of this a little more interesting shall we?” Doggett purred, plucking the cuffs from the coffee table and then opening his legs wide. Skinner walked towards him, and came to rest easily between his widespread legs. “Hands out, Corporal, you know the drill,” Doggett ordered. Skinner’s hesitation was small, but still noticeable. Doggett wasn’t sure that he ever wanted Skinner to obey this particular command without pausing. He liked watching the big man give himself up to his submission too much – it was intoxicating. Skinner gave a reluctant growl, and then gave in and held out his hands. Doggett fastened the cuffs onto his lover’s wrists and then clipped them together in front of Skinner’s torso. “Nothin’ too heavy, Corporal,” he said softly, rubbing Skinner’s bare arms to reassure him. “You can still move around with your arms tied like this. Now undress the rest of the way for me,” he commanded. “Starting with your belt – undo that and give it to me.”


Skinner nodded, and exhaled what sounded like a sigh of relief to find that he hadn’t been tied in a more constricting way. Doggett smiled to himself – he knew he’d have to increase the bondage before the evening was through in order to give Skinner the liberation from self and absolution from guilt that he craved, but this was a good place to start. Skinner took a step back and struggled for a moment to undo his belt with his cuffed hands. He finally got the hang of it and, with a two-handed motion, whisked it out of his pants and handed it to Doggett.


“That’s very good Corporal. Now the pants.” Doggett gestured and Skinner fumbled for a moment with his fly and then lowered his pants and boxers to his ankles. “Undo your shoes and get rid of the socks, then kick off the pants,” Doggett instructed and Skinner bent, almost totally naked, giving Doggett a fine view of his smooth backside as he did so. He removed the last remnants of his clothing and then stood, naked and bound in front of his lover. Doggett sighed. “You’re a sight for sore eyes, Corporal,” he purred. “Turn around for me. Let me look at you.”


Skinner’s skin was now flushed a bright red, and he rolled his eyes slightly, but, his gaze fixed warily on his own belt in Doggett’s hands, he obeyed. Doggett grinned to himself and stretched the warm black leather belt between his fingers. He had no intention of using it to whip his lover but Skinner didn’t know that and Doggett didn’t think the uncertainty would do the big man any harm. Skinner turned slowly, revealing his naked body from every angle, offered up to his lover for his enjoyment. Doggett sighed with pleasure – the sight of a naked Walter Skinner was a very good one indeed. Skinner looked around sharply when he heard the sigh, misinterpreting it.


“Am I doing something wrong, Sergeant?” He asked anxiously.


“No, Corporal. Oh no – you’re doin’ just fine!” Doggett exclaimed, feasting on the sight of his lover’s half erect cock. “I was just overwhelmed by how goddamn sexy you are, that’s all! Now, come here.” He gestured for Skinner to come and stand between his legs again. “Kneel,” he ordered. Skinner did so, a little awkwardly, with his hands still cuffed in front of him. Doggett reached down and unfastened the cuffs – but only so that he could refasten them behind Skinner’s back. “I want your hands out of the way, Corporal. All I want from you is your tongue,” he said with a grin.


Skinner knelt obediently between his Sergeant’s legs, and didn’t fight the bondage as Doggett fastened his hands behind his back and out of the way. Doggett noticed the slight edge of panic in Skinner’s dark eyes as the bondage went to a more demanding level, and Skinner tugged at his cuffs, testing them for a couple of seconds, as he came to terms with the new restriction. Doggett allowed him that – Skinner needed it, and probably always would.


“Okay, Corporal – I want you to suck me. You can’t use your hands, I just want you to use your open mouth,” he ordered softly. He put the belt around Skinner’s neck, holding the two loose ends in each of his hands, and pulled Skinner’s head towards his crotch. The big man came easily, his cock lurching in arousal at the implicit bondage in the use of the belt, however mild the action was. He bent his head to Doggett’s groin and soon the agent could feel his lover’s warm breath on his cock through the fabric of his briefs. Skinner nuzzled his lover’s straining cock for a few seconds and then looked up, his eyes confused.


“I can’t suck you, sir. I can’t move your briefs.” He gestured with his head in the direction of his bound hands behind his back.


“Sure you can. My cock’s ready to go. You just have to release it – find a way,” Doggett grinned, pulling Skinner’s head down with the belt again. His lover went without question, and delicately, using his teeth, took a bunch of fabric and slid it sideways. It wasn’t easy and it took him a few goes to get it right, but then he succeeded and Doggett’s cock popped out eagerly, freed from its prison.


“See, Corporal.” Doggett caressed Skinner’s naked scalp approvingly. “You’re good at this.”


Skinner relaxed visibly at the praise. He leaned forward and took Doggett’s cock between his lips. The agent thrust into Skinner’s warm, welcoming mouth, sighing with pleasure as Skinner slid his tongue down his shaft. He allowed Skinner to caress him orally for several minutes, and then decided to test the limits of the big man’s bondage again.


“Okay, Corporal. I want you to just relax and take me. You’re tied, hands behind your back – I don’t want you to do anything except keep your mouth open and receive me. I’m going to fuck your mouth. Understood?”


Skinner nodded, his eyes flashing with arousal. “Yes, sir,” he said quickly, and then he opened his mouth obediently in readiness.


Doggett sat forward in the chair, and caressed his lover’s face for a few seconds, relaxing his jaw, and then, using the belt to pull Skinner’s head closer, he slid his cock into the big man’s mouth. Skinner remained still, and Doggett pushed in further.


“I want you to relax the muscles at the back of your throat,” he ordered. Skinner shot him a look of panic, but Doggett soothed him by gently caressing his face for a few seconds. He felt Skinner’s jaw begin to relax again and took that as his cue to push in further. Skinner swallowed him down easily, and then, gasping for air, he drew back, choking. Doggett laughed and pulled Skinner close, kissing the other man’s mouth firmly.


“That’s okay, Corporal. It takes time to learn this trick, but I promised I’d teach you and I will. Want to try again?”


Skinner nodded, and positioned himself between Doggett’s knees again. Doggett slid the belt behind his neck once more, pulled him forward, and slipped his cock between his lover’s lips again. Skinner accepted the full length in one go this time, co-ordinating his breathing with Doggett’s thrusts, and soon he had taken the agent’s entire length down his throat.


“Oh shit that’s good,” Doggett purred. He pulled back to allow Skinner some air and then pushed in again to get his lover accustomed to the sensation. He repeated this several times, totally in control, using the belt to pull Skinner forwards each time. His lover quickly figured out a way to breathe and relax the muscles at the back of his throat so that he could take him and soon Doggett was sliding in right up to the root of his cock, totally enveloped in his lover’s warm mouth. After several minutes he thought it was time to draw the lesson to a close as he was dangerously close to coming, so he drew back completely, allowing Skinner to regain his breath.


“Okay, Corporal. I want some more lip action now,” Doggett commanded. “I want you to kneel up close.”


He quickly removed his own sweater, and then pulled Skinner against his naked chest. He guided the big man to each of his nipples and let him suck there for a moment, then pushed his lover’s magnificent bald head down to his lower belly and allowed Skinner to linger there, before pulling Skinner’s head up to his shoulder, and guiding his lover to the puckered new scar that marked his flesh there. Skinner drew back, his eyes flashing with guilt and worry, and Doggett smiled reassuringly.


“It’s okay, Corporal. It doesn’t hurt. I just want you to get acquainted with it,” he said softly. Skinner moved his head forward willingly, and touched the tip of his tongue to the newly healing scar. Doggett caressed his lover’s head as he got used to the sensation himself – the flesh around the scar was still a little tender but Skinner was infinitely gentle in his caress. “Listen to me, Corporal. I don’t want you feeling guilty about this any more. I’m not goin’ to let you feel, guilty,” he said firmly. “This wasn’t your fault – it wasn’t anyone’s fault but the bastard who pulled the trigger and we’re going to catch up with him one day soon.”


Skinner drew back, his eyes trusting but still shadowed by guilt. Doggett knew he had to step things up to drive that expression out of Skinner’s eyes.


“All right, Corporal. I’m going to hobble you again, like I did the first time I tied you,” Doggett said in a soft, loving but very authoritative voice. Skinner’s eyes registered panic and he drew back. Doggett put the belt firmly around his lover’s neck and held him in place between his knees. “It’s okay, Corporal, you just have to trust me. I’m going to tie you in place, so you can’t get free…I think you need that,” he said firmly. Skinner’s eyes calmed a fraction and he never broke his gaze away from Doggett. He was like a drowning man, hanging on Doggett’s every word as if they could save him. Doggett held the ends of the belt with one hand, and used his free hand to caress Skinner lovingly, calming and soothing him as if he were a startled horse. “I’m going to tie you so you can’t move…tie you down and keep you still,” he whispered. “I’m going to make you accept that, Corporal. I’m going to take you through the struggles and make you accept my will. Do you understand that?”


“Yes, Sergeant.” Skinner spoke up quickly, his eyes still uncertain but his body language resolute.


“And then, while you’re tied and can’t move, I’m going to fuck you, Corporal,” Doggett told him. Skinner recoiled, although Doggett noted that his cock was hard and interested in his words. “I’m going to fuck you when you’re helpless – when you can’t move or participate, when all you can do is accept and enjoy,” Doggett continued in low, soothing tones. Skinner’s eyes were wide, his cock weeping hungrily at the mental picture Doggett had just created for him, even though his muscles were tense and his body language unhappy. Doggett leaned forward and claimed a deep kiss, and Skinner surrendered to him willingly, giving up his lips and mouth to the caress, unable to move his hands or steady himself in any way, relying on Doggett to hold him up and keep him from falling. Doggett was more than equal to that particular task. He kissed Skinner slowly, taking his time, making love to the other man with his tongue. When they finally pulled apart, Doggett kept Skinner in position with his hand and the belt as the other man swayed in his grasp.


“Okay, Corporal – you ready for this?” Doggett asked. Skinner nodded trustingly. “Good man. Lie on the cushions and towel, face down.” He pointed at the little area in front of the radiator that he had prepared earlier. “I know it doesn’t have the romance of Silvermist’s roaring fire but it’s the best I could do,” he grinned, as he got up and followed Skinner over to the cushions.


The big man lay face down as ordered, and Doggett spent a long time getting him comfortable. When he was sure that Skinner was in the best position possible, he took the ankle cuffs and strapped them into place. Skinner was quivering now, as he always did when placed in bondage, struggling with the effort of offering himself up to this act, which he both hated and needed in equal measure. Doggett calmed him as he always did, with words, and by running his hands over his lover’s skin, caressing him gently.


“All right, Corporal, legs up – I’m going to fasten you into place,” he said. Skinner obeyed, bending his legs behind him at the knee, his limbs trembling in earnest. Doggett took only a few seconds to fasten the ankle cuffs to the wrist cuffs, and then Skinner was locked into place. “You comfortable?” Doggett asked, adjusting several of the cushions under Skinner’s chest to keep him in a position where breathing would be easy.


“No, Sergeant. I’m trussed up like a calf about to be branded. Why the hell would I be comfortable?” Skinner growled. Doggett laughed, and leaned forward to bestow a sharp slap on Skinner’s buttocks, making the other man growl again, even more dangerously this time.


“Don’t talk back to your Sergeant,” Doggett told him reprovingly, secretly thrilled by Skinner’s fiery spirit. “You look pretty good like this, Corporal, with that ass of yours exposed and ready. You look pretty hot,” Doggett informed him. Skinner grunted, but Doggett noted that his body sank more easily into the cushions. “Okay, Corporal. I’m going to keep you tied for a while so I can play with you. Struggle now if you want to because I don’t want you struggling later.”


Skinner didn’t need telling twice. He rocked around on the cushions, fighting the bonds for several minutes, growling and cursing as he did so. It was an important part of the process of liberating Skinner from the shackles of his everyday existence so Doggett made no move to hurry it. Instead he busied himself by finishing his own undressing, and arranging condoms, lube, and massage oil on the coffee table. Skinner’s struggles began to subside, his breath coming in heaving pants. Doggett poured some massage oil into his hands to warm it, and then placed his hands on his lover’s still wriggling body. Skinner jumped.


“It’s okay, Corporal, I’m just going to take care of you.” Doggett ran his oily hands over Skinner’s back, smoothing out the kinks in the muscles that he found and gradually forcing Skinner to stop struggling and start relaxing. “Good, Corporal – that’s good,” he said encouragingly as Skinner gave himself up to the gently caressing fingers.


Doggett massaged Skinner’s naked, bound body for several long minutes, smoothing oil into whatever section of skin he could reach, including the soles of Skinner’s feet. His lover arched up against him when he got there and Doggett laughed out loud.


“Are these ticklish, Corporal?” He asked.


“Hell, yes!” Skinner protested. He tried to move away and failed as Doggett caught hold of one foot and began massaging it firmly. Skinner soon relaxed as he realised that Doggett’s touch was too firm to be ticklish. Doggett worked for a long time, until Skinner’s flesh was glistening and he was quiet and relaxed under his hands. “How d’you feel, Corporal? Are you floating free yet?” Doggett asked gently. Skinner gave a little sigh and moved his head sideways on the cushions.


“Yes, Sergeant,” he murmured in a hazy, out-of-it, voice.


“Good. It’s time for me to fuck you then,” Doggett promised in a throaty, sexual tone. He covered his fingers with lube and slid one into Skinner’s ass, finding the other man relaxed. He soon had three fingers inside Skinner, caressing him, and the big man moved his knees as much as he was able to facilitate a deeper reach. “I think you need my cock now, Corporal. Is that right?” Doggett asked.


“Yes, sir,” Skinner moaned into the cushions.


“Ask for my cock, Corporal,” Doggett insisted.


“Please sir, fuck my ass with your cock,” Skinner said obligingly, with no hesitation. Doggett smiled. He loved seeing his lover so blissed out. It wasn’t easy getting Skinner to give up his monumental control – it had to be a slow process by necessity, but the rewards were well worth the effort. Skinner was magnificent. He looked like a sleeping lion, sprawled on the cushions in an abjectly sexual position, his ass raised in the air, his legs tied to his arms, utterly unable to prevent the coming penetration even if he had wanted to, which he clearly didn’t. Doggett rolled a condom onto his cock, slathered it in lube, and then knelt between Skinner’s legs, and took hold of his buttocks.


“You can’t stop me taking you, Corporal,” he murmured. Skinner made a little whimpering sound in the back of his throat and lifted his ass invitingly. Doggett patted it. “This is all mine. You’re tied, unable to stop me from exploring every inch of you,” Doggett observed in a sexy tone.


Skinner didn’t even move when Doggett caressed his buttocks firmly and then opened them and snubbed his cock in the big man’s entrance. Skinner just lay there, loving, trusting, and needing what Doggett could give him.


“You trust me to do this, with you lying here, naked, exposed, unprotected?” Doggett whispered, sliding his cock in slowly. “You trust me to take you like this, from behind? You let me do this to you?”


“Yes, sir! Please!” Skinner panted, trying to push back to increase Doggett’s maddeningly slow pace. Doggett grinned and then pushed forward the rest of the way in one smooth thrust, until he was buried to the root of his cock in his lover’s warm body.


“Well if you trust me to do this, Corporal, then you have to trust me when I tell you that you have to stop feeling guilty,” Doggett insisted. Skinner’s body went still beneath his fingers, tensing up. “Stop that, Corporal!” Doggett ordered, pulling back then slamming his cock in again to distract Skinner. “Just remember that you trust me – that’s all I want you to think about for the next few minutes.”


So saying he grasped hold of Skinner’s buttocks and thrust into his lover over and over again. Skinner writhed under him, but he couldn’t move away, could do nothing but accept Doggett’s smooth, unhurried lovemaking, and soon Skinner abandoned himself to the sensations, emitting small choked sounds of pleasure with each forward thrust. Doggett went about their love making in a slow, leisurely way, taking his time, ramming into Skinner for several long minutes, and then he came, and remained deeply embedded in Skinner’s body while he kissed the big man’s neck and licked some of the sweat from his broad, golden back. Finally he withdrew, but he didn’t release his lover. Instead he flipped Skinner onto his back, adjusted his position until he was comfortable within his bonds, and then lowered his head and deep-throated the other man’s cock. Skinner gave a cry of arousal, and tried to thrust up with his hips, but Doggett refused to be hurried. He took his time bringing the bound man to climax and then he swallowed Skinner’s come.


When he was done, he lay on his side, his head propped up on his hand, gazing down on his lover.


“It’s all about trust, Corporal,” he said softly, caressing the side of Skinner’s face with his free hand. “You trusted me to take care of you just now and I did. I trusted you to get me out of that building and you did. You have to trust me when I say that what happened in there wasn’t your fault. Okay?” Skinner’s dark eyes met his and there was, finally, acceptance in them.


“Yes, Sergeant,” he said, in a voice that was barely more than a whisper.


“Good.” Doggett leaned forward and kissed his naked, bound lover, pressing his own naked body over Skinner’s. He loved the feeling of bare skin on bare skin, the scent of arousal, sweat and semen heady in the air around them. He caressed Skinner for a long time, his hands wandering over every inch of his lover’s skin, just enjoying being able to play, without interruption. Skinner’s body was so bewitching that it was easy to lose himself in the joy of touching, sucking, licking, kissing and caressing it all over. His lover submitted to him easily, offering himself up, even enjoying the attention of a kind he would never normally allow himself to receive. Finally Doggett stopped and gazed at his lover.


“Do you want me to release you now, or do you want to float for a while longer?” He asked.


Skinner looked at him as if stunned that there could be any doubt about his answer, and then his eyes widened even more in surprise as he realised his reply was not what he had expected it to be. “I don’t want to be released just yet,” he whispered. “Hold me, please, Sergeant.”


Doggett smilingly agreed, resting Skinner’s head on his own chest, and holding the big man in his arms.


They lay like that for over an hour before Skinner’s position finally became too uncomfortable for him to remain in bondage any longer. Doggett released him and rubbed some of the kinks out of his lover’s muscles. Skinner sat there amid the towels and cushions and slowly came back to reality.


“Good?” Doggett asked, lazily rubbing Skinner’s wrists with his fingertips to smooth away the marks from the cuffs.


“Yes. Thank you, Sergeant.” Skinner leaned forward and kissed Doggett on the lips. “These little bastards are a revelation to me,” he commented, picking up one of the leather cuffs. “It never stops surprising me that being out of control can feel so damn good.”


“You look mighty hot tied up too,” Doggett commented with a sly smile. Skinner smiled back, his skin flushing a deep pink.


“So, I guess this means you’re back in charge,” he murmured.


Doggett shook his head and rubbed the back of Skinner’s neck. “No, Corporal. I’m only in charge when you need me to be,” he replied. Skinner glanced at him in surprise. “I mean it,” Doggett said, sitting up and speaking seriously. “I’m giving you back the control you gave to me a few months ago, Walter. You’ve pulled yourself back from the brink of the abyss – it wasn’t easy but you did it. You’re looking good, and you’re dealing with things a hell of a lot better. I always said that all you needed was a break and I hope I gave you that. From now on, you and me – we’re equal partners. Any time you need the cuffs, you can ask, or, like I told you before, if I think you need them I’ll get them out. You can be sure I’ll pull you back if it looks like you’re slipping, and I might insist you give up control to me again outside the bedroom when necessary for a weekend, or a week, or a month or however long is necessary, but for now…you can have your life back, Walter.” He nuzzled Skinner’s shoulder with his mouth. The other man sat there, clearly dazed. “I ain’t letting you go, Corporal,” Doggett chided, clasping his arms around Skinner’s body and holding him tight, sensing Skinner’s unspoken unease. “I’m just easing up on the heavy routine that’s all. I’m proud of you, buddy. You’ve come a hell of a long way and you don’t need me breathing down your neck the whole time.”


“I…it’s been okay.” Skinner gave a hesitant shrug.


“I’m glad to hear it – but it was always a temporary arrangement.” Doggett smiled broadly. Skinner gave a small, but utterly satisfied smile in return, finally acknowledging the progress he’d made.


“Thank you, John,” was all he said, but the way he said it made John Doggett’s heart soar and his mind sing. He knew he had the made the right decision – if he continued their arrangement any longer Skinner would chafe against it and that might ruin the delicate level of trust and affection they had built up between them. All the same, he felt a pang of loss inside. He had enjoyed rescuing Walter Skinner, and taking care of his lover these past few months – it would be hard to let go of that. Not that he intended to lose his dominant attitude in the bedroom – he suspected that both he and Skinner enjoyed that too much. It wasn’t always a part of their lovemaking, but it often was, and they both loved it so he saw no reason to change that.


It wasn’t easy for either of them to adjust to the alteration in the power balance of their relationship, and there were times when Doggett had to stop himself from reining Skinner back in when he thought the other man was making a mistake, but over the next couple of months they settled into a routine that made both of them happy. They were now more or less living together, although they still kept both homes. Life settled down into what Doggett soon recognised as being as close to normality as they could ever hope to achieve, given the demanding and unusual nature of their jobs. There was an easy companionship between them and as Skinner relaxed into their new arrangement, Doggett discovered a sly, witty side to his lover’s personality that he hadn’t seen before. Skinner enjoyed teasing the more serious, literal-minded Doggett, who took it all in good part, and found himself enjoying being teased. It felt good to be so comfortable with someone, and to have someone as reliable as Skinner to depend on. This was his fantasy come true – it was the closest to his ideal relationship, of two strong men, warriors, working and fighting and loving side by side, as he could ever hope to come. Not a day went by when he didn’t count his blessings that he had found Walter Skinner – a man as right for him as any man could be, as if he’d been designed specifically to be his perfect lover.


It wasn’t only that he found Skinner overwhelmingly physically attractive – there were so many things about his lover that made him so right. He loved that Skinner was good at his job, and that he enjoyed his career – Doggett felt a man should have a purpose in life, and a job that helped define him, and which he could throw himself into with passion. He loved that Skinner was a good boss, a man he could talk to both in and out of the office – a superior he could respect and admire, as well as a man he wanted to make love to every hour of every day. He loved that Skinner shared so many of his own interests, from his obsession with news and current affairs to his love of sports, especially football – a love that Doggett shared. He loved how easy it was just being with Skinner, hanging out together, drinking beer, talking – or not saying a word. They had such a comfortable relationship, never finding each other dull, or irritating. He loved making love to Skinner – loved the way Skinner often offered himself up submissively, or sometimes came at him like a raging bull, tearing his clothes off and reminding Doggett that he also liked being in charge occasionally. There was nothing about their relationship that was wrong…except, sometimes Doggett wondered who was in Skinner’s heart, and, when he was tired or down, he watched Skinner make love to him and wondered whether the big man saw Mulder when he screamed out his climax, wondered whether it was still Mulder who he was fantasising about being with, and Mulder who he really loved. For a man used to being honest and straightforward, this was a question he could never find the words to ask – because he feared the answer. He had come too far and loved too steadfastly to want to find out that none of it made any difference, that to Skinner he was a companionable interlude but not the great love of his life that he knew Skinner was to him. So Doggett bided his time in silence, but the nagging question never went away.


As Winter approached Doggett felt a different sense of foreboding – one he had encountered before, which he had fought many times but never successfully. He had thought that this time it would be different, that this time he would succeed with his new love by his side to distract him, but as the leaves disappeared from the trees, leaving them stark and empty, and the first flurries of snow fell, his libido went into hibernation and he knew he had been wrong; this was one anniversary that he would never easily be able to handle. One night, as Skinner made love to him assiduously, trying to get a rise from Doggett’s normally eager cock, Doggett pushed him away with muttered apologies, wrapped himself in his robe, and hurried downstairs. He poured himself a glass of water, and paused to cup his hands in the cool fluid running from the faucet. He splashed his face with water and leaned on the sink, trying to banish the memories.


“John.” Skinner’s voice – soft, low and gentle. A big hand stroked his shoulders and Doggett spent a few seconds struggling with his emotions, wanting to show his lover a composed face, but unable to manage it.


“I’m sorry, Walter. I don’t know what…” he trailed off. He did know and he didn’t want to lie, but if he spoke then it would bring it all back, and he would have to give into it all over again; he had been through this so many times before and longed not to have to keep doing it. “It isn’t you,” he said in a strangled tone, his voice sounding strange to his own ears. “It’s me. Not you.”


“It’s all right, John. I know,” Skinner said softly. Doggett stiffened. “Come here.” Skinner pulled him around, and wrapped his arms around Doggett’s shoulders, holding him against his big chest. Doggett went blindly, not trusting himself to speak. Skinner didn’t ask him to. Instead he just held him against his chest for a long time, rocking him gently. It felt good to be standing here like this, comforted in his lover’s embrace; good enough that he thought it might be possible for the first time to get through this, painful as it was, without falling into the dark pit of grief that usually claimed him.


“How did you…?” Doggett managed when he finally found his voice.


“I read your file remember. Several times,” Skinner murmured. “I wasn’t sure how you’d want to deal with it when the time came. Whether you preferred to ignore it, or whether you had some ritual you liked to observe; whether you’d need time to yourself, or whether you’d want me around even more. I thought I’d wait until you talked about it, but I made some preparations just in case.”


“Preparations?” Doggett drew back and looked at his lover, but Skinner kept his arms loosely wrapped around the agent’s lean frame.


“Plane tickets.” Skinner reached into the pocket of his robe and took out a little plastic wallet. “I bought them a few weeks ago and I’ve been carrying them around in my briefcase waiting for the best time to mention it. When you flipped out up in the bedroom I figured now might be a good time to produce them. They’re for New York – I didn’t know whether you’d want to visit Luke’s grave on the anniversary of his death next weekend, or whether that’s too painful for you, so I made sure we could exchange the tickets and go somewhere else if you’d prefer. Las Vegas maybe, if you wanted to be completely distracted.”


Doggett gazed at Skinner blindly for a moment. His vision was blurred and he had to rest his face on his lover’s shoulder to get control of himself and blink away the tears. He stayed nestled in Skinner’s arms for a long time, giving into the grief that washed through him, although he knew his tears weren’t only about Luke. Somehow Skinner’s thoughtfulness and tender kindness were a catalyst for the tears, and he didn’t really understand why. Maybe because he was always so capable of taking care of himself that it surprised and touched him that anyone else could do that job equally well, if not better – that anybody would want to. He had always been the strong one for Tony, and somehow he had gotten into a pattern of never expecting his lovers to be there for him – his own self-reliance kept them at bay and kept him from ever having to trust them with his vulnerabilities. The anniversary of Luke’s death blind-sided him every time. Every year he thought it would be different, that this year he’d be able to handle it better, and not fall into a slough of despair and mind-numbing grief, but every year he was wrong, and this year was no different. Having a new lover, and a busy and distracting job was not enough to stop him remembering sitting in that room at the precinct, staring out of the window at the stark, bare winter trees outside, as his boss broke the news to him about Luke’s death. His first reaction had been angry denial, and then he’d wanted to get up and do something – anything; to see the body, to talk to Debbie, to be told it wasn’t true…and then, finally, reality had sunk in, and his entire body had gone numb, devoid of energy, and he’d just sat there, gazing out of the window at the trees, an agonising pain twisting in his gut like a knife.


Doggett stayed with his head buried in Skinner’s shoulder for a long time, soaking a silent patch of salty moisture into Skinner’s robe, and then, finally, drew back.


“Uh…” He cleared his throat. He saw his own reflection in Skinner’s glasses. It was obvious he’d been crying, his eyes were red-rimmed and shone a more watery, aqua-blue than usual – it was the first time he supposed that he’d really shown his lover any of his own vulnerability, and he braced himself for the inevitable rejection – and then found it didn’t matter. Skinner wasn’t Tony. He didn’t falter, or pull away, unable to handle it. Instead he gave an understanding smile, squeezing Doggett’s shoulder gently as he did so.


“New York would be good. I haven’t been back there since I moved to DC.” Doggett shrugged and swallowed down hard. “I’d like to see the headstone again. Not that I think he’s there in any sense of the word,” he shrugged.


“No, it’s just a focus,” Skinner said quietly. “Somewhere to direct the grief, and all the other feelings. I also thought you might like to revisit some of your old haunts – places where you used to hang out with Luke. The ball park maybe, his school, your old apartment. I don’t know. It’s up to you. Just let me know what you want to do and I’ll do it all with you – or I’ll stay at the hotel if you want to do it alone. I won’t intrude; it’s entirely up to you, Sergeant. Your call.”


“Thank you,” Doggett said, his voice barely more than a whisper, and the word seemed inadequate to convey the depth and sincerity of what he was feeling. He allowed Skinner to lead him back to the bedroom, to put him gently to bed, and then he allowed his lover to hold him in his arms. Doggett closed his eyes – then opened them again. All he could see were the stark trees, devoid of leaves and life, just like Luke’s empty, abused body, laid out bare in the police mortuary, his beloved face as white as the sheet he was wrapped in. Every year the trees reminded him of that stark, terrible day – black trunks against a cold, white sky, reminding him of the anniversary soon to arrive and giving rise to those feelings of grief and guilt and hurt all over again. Luke had been his beloved only son but he hadn’t been able to keep him safe, hadn’t been able to protect him. It was the worst failure any father could ever know. Your children bury you – you don’t bury them. Skinner’s hand stroked a loving trail over Doggett’s body, and came to rest on his hip. He could feel his lover’s breath warming the back of his neck, and purposefully snuggled back further so that his back was pressed firmly against Skinner’s chest. Skinner moved his arm and tightened it around Doggett’s waist, keeping him close, keeping him anchored. His lips brushed Doggett’s shoulder, warm and loving. Doggett closed his eyes again. Maybe he was wrong. Maybe this time it would be different.




New York was still as he remembered it. Still bustling, and lively. There had a been a time when that noise and activity had thrummed in Doggett’s veins, energising him. He had viewed this city as something of a soul-mate. Driven, ambitious, tough, uncompromising, active – he recognised himself in it, and he had loved living here. If it hadn’t been for what had happened to Luke he never would have moved away, and certainly not to a place like Washington DC, with its polished facades and tourist-pretty parks and monuments. Washington DC was a place of politics, a difficult, complex city, where people said one thing and meant another. It wasn’t raw and honest in its dirt like New York – for a long time he’d felt no affinity with his new home at all, but affection for it had crept up on him unexpectedly. No, Washington DC wasn’t in his soul as New York was, but while it could never be a soul-mate, it could be a sanctuary, and in the aftermath of his terrible grief and loss he had come to appreciate its stately beauty, its quiet confidence, gentle pleasures, and historic charm.


He had never thought he would come back, but this was different, because he was different, and because he was coming back with Walter Skinner standing by his side. Doggett shouldered his bag and glanced at his lover, surprised not only that he needed the reassurance, but also that he didn’t mind seeking it from Skinner. His lover smiled at him, and shrugged.


“You lead the way, John. This is your place.”


Your place.


“It was once,” Doggett murmured. “Not any more.”


“You’ve grown fond of DC huh?” Skinner smiled, making small talk. “That’s home now is it?” He headed towards the taxi rank outside JFK. Doggett followed behind, frowning.


No, he thought to himself, his lover’s broad back filling his vision as he walked. Anyplace you are is home, Walter. But he didn’t say it. He didn’t find it easy to say anything so overtly sentimental – it wasn’t him, but more than that, he had shied away in recent weeks from his earlier blunt honesty about his emotions. In the early days it had been easy to tell Skinner he loved him, and to expect nothing in return – but now his feelings were exponentially deeper, and he felt any declaration would either force Skinner to admit that he couldn’t return those feelings, or else put unfair pressure on him to say that he did. Doggett didn’t want a love borne out of a desire to be kind – he wanted the real thing – and he could no longer face the risk of rejection. He had fallen too deeply in love to handle that. He was aware that this issue was making him moody, that having to bite back from saying what he felt was frustrating his natural sense of honesty, but he hoped that Skinner was misreading his brooding silences as yet another symptom of his difficulty in dealing with the anniversary of Luke’s death – and that hope made him feel guilty and even more bad tempered. He would never have hidden behind Luke while he was alive, so do to so now that he was dead seemed despicable.


Thoroughly unsettled, Doggett got into the taxi beside Skinner. He gazed at the bustling streets as they drove, feeling that familiar thrum in his veins again. This place had a rhythm all of its own, almost like a heartbeat. No matter what great tragedy had befallen him here, this city was a part of him, and not always a part he liked very much. They reached the hotel Skinner had booked for them and Doggett gave a whistle of surprise.


“This place is expensive, Corporal,” he said, managing an awed smile. Skinner smiled back.


“Only the best for you, Sergeant,” he replied.


Doggett’s smile faded and he settled back into his previous grim mood as they went inside and collected their room key. Being back here for this anniversary was un-nerving him, giving him the jitters. He wanted to be here, but at the same time he wasn’t sure that he could handle it – no, that wasn’t quite true – the truth was that he didn’t want Skinner to see him struggling to handle it. That was at the heart of it. He didn’t want his vulnerabilities laid bare, even to this man who he loved more than he loved his own life.


Doggett barely noticed the plush opulence of their room, with its enormous emperor sized bed and en-suite marble bathroom. He stood by the window, staring out sightlessly at streets he had once policed, that he knew like the back of his hand, and which now seemed alien to him – just like the man standing by his side. This man didn’t belong here, in this place. He wasn’t part of it. Doggett leaned his forehead on the window, remembering. He could see Luke so clearly now that he was back. Could see him running along these streets which had been his home, could remember buying his son a bagel on the deli close to his apartment block .It had been a kind of ritual – he’d pick up his son from his mother, and they’d buy a bagel and eat it as they walked down the street. He could see himself, tall, slowing down his walk to match that of the small, beloved figure by his side, both of them with cheeks full to bulging, unable to speak around the chewy bagel. Luke would take a skip step to keep up every now and again, his blue eyes shining at the pleasure of being out with his father, his spiky brown hair so like his own. Doggett raised a hand, remembering how it felt to place it on those small shoulders, guiding his son down the street, companionable in their bagel-filled silence.


“Okay, John?” Skinner asked quietly, waiting, doing nothing wrong. Doggett was jolted out of the memory, but he couldn’t share his emotions, not even with Skinner. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t shake off the sensation of being detached, a ghost in a city that had once been his home. As much a ghost here as Luke was – neither of them had any right to be here now. Both of them had moved on. Returning had been a mistake.


“I’m fine,” he snapped, loathing himself for the fraud he was. Christ, he’d made Walter face up to his weaknesses and deal with his problems, had forced him to be vulnerable in front of someone else, but he wasn’t prepared to give the same back. He hated himself, hated this damn place for making him feel this way and hated Skinner for being here to witness it.


“Did you want to go out to eat, or…did you want to visit the grave right away?” Skinner asked softly, ignoring Doggett’s snappy tone. “I know that technically tomorrow is the anniversary…but you might not want to wait until then.”


Doggett felt all his muscles tense under his clothing. “Tomorrow,” he said tersely, from between gritted teeth. “I’ll do this properly if I’m going to do it, damnit.”


“You don’t have to do it at all,” Skinner reminded him gently.


“Yes.” Doggett turned away from the window. “Yes I do.”


The evening passed in glum silence. Doggett rebuffed all his lover’s attempts at conversation and descended instead into a morose mood. Skinner rose above it, seeming not even to notice it, his dark eyes always compassionate, calm and gentle. After dinner they went back to the bedroom, although it was still early. Skinner sat on the bed, while Doggett lay on the other side of it, as far away from his lover as possible, gazing sightlessly at the ceiling. Skinner reached for a book, and sat reading it by the light of the lamp. Doggett resented Skinner for being able to read, resented him for bringing him here, and was angry with himself for agreeing to it. He stewed silently in his anger and his raw and confused emotions for a long time…and then it dawned on him that Skinner hadn’t once turned a page. He glanced over, and gazed at the big man, who was cast in the soothing glow of the lamp. Skinner’s polo shirt was open at the neck. He was looking down on his book as if he was reading, one of his blunt fingernails scratching aimlessly at the corner of the page. Doggett felt a wave of shame, and remembered Tony. He recalled only that his old lover had let him down, that he hadn’t been able to deal with his grief and his moods but, looking back, he wondered whether anyone could have. If he was feeling bad now, several years after the event, how much worse had his behaviour been back then, when he had been in the midst of a storm of grief that he repressed and held down until it threatened to destroy him? Only when it had finally burst out of him in an explosion of agony at Silvermist, had he really come to terms with it and that had been many months after Luke’s death. Was he shutting out Walter the way he had shut out Tony? Skinner’s finger continued scratching at the page, and Doggett noticed that his free hand was lying on the comforter, just a few inches away from his own head; Skinner had moved into the centre of the bed, closer to Doggett, but not all the way. He’d left the rest up to his lover, as if to say, “I’m here if you need me, but I won’t intrude if you don’t.” Doggett lay still for a little longer, and then slowly, inch by inch, he moved towards that waiting hand, and then, hesitating slightly, rested his head against it. He heard a small, satisfied sound emerge from Skinner’s throat, but he didn’t look up to see his lover’s expression. A second later, he felt those blunt, capable fingertips gently caress his hair, and that was the closest he came to allowing himself to give in and accept the comfort his lover so obviously wanted to give him.


Doggett wasn’t sure he slept at all that night. Images of Luke fogged in and out of his mind; blurred, hazy images, reminiscent of those first horrific weeks after they’d found his son’s body, when Doggett had limped from one day to the next in a miasma of guilt and pain. The next day his eyes were ringed with dark shadows when he splashed water on his face to clear the mugginess from his head. They left the hotel early, and made the trip to the cemetery. Doggett remembered the last time he had made this journey. Only then it had been raining, and everyone had been dressed in black, with huge, black umbrellas. Now the sun was shining and although it was cold, it was a beautiful day with a bright blue sky. A procession of dark cars swept past as Doggett and Skinner got out of the taxi. Doggett gazed at them and then turned on his heel and walked out to where they had buried Luke. He remembered the journey all too well, couldn’t forget any step of it, even though the last time he had walked it he had barely looked up from his muddy shoes the entire way. He could hear Skinner behind him, and vehemently wanted the other man gone, was busy feeling his anger and irritation that Skinner was here, that he was here, when suddenly he came upon the grave and it was as if all the breath had been knocked from his body. It was well kept – he and Debbie paid for its upkeep between them, and he guessed she visited occasionally although she had moved away from New York even sooner than he, unable to bear the memories. There were fresh flowers, and Doggett laid the ones he’d brought alongside them. He crouched down and read the words on the headstone as if they had been placed there by a stranger, and not chosen in love and grief by himself and Debbie.


Luke Martin Doggett.


He couldn’t get beyond the name and read it over and over again. Skinner touched his arm, breaking into his thoughts.


“Do you want me to stay, or do you want to be alone?” Skinner asked softly.


“I don’t want you here,” Doggett growled under his breath, trying to keep his emotions under control. Skinner nodded, his dark eyes understanding behind the wirerims, not taking offence at either the words or the snarling tone. He walked away and Doggett gazed after him. Only when he was sure he was alone did he break down. He knelt in front of the grave, and felt the warm, salty tears stream down his face and onto the grass beneath. Grass. Last time he had been here it had been earth. Doggett gazed at the headstone sightlessly.


Luke Martin Doggett.


He could barely make out the dates that added up to 8 short years of life. He shouldn’t have come back. Why had he come back? No, that wasn’t the right question…


Why did you take so long to come back?


That was the right question – why had he waited until now to come back? He knew the answer immediately – because of Walter Skinner. Skinner had bought the tickets, Skinner had been by his side, a real support, when before he had been so busy being strong for Debbie while Tony had been next to useless beside him. He had come back now because he finally had someone to share this with, someone who wouldn’t back away as Tony had, someone who wouldn’t lean on him for support as Debbie rightly had – and what had he done? He’d pushed him away.


Doggett got up and walked, blindly determined, back down the path to where the burly, black-coated figure of his lover was meandering between the gravestones, head bowed, studying the inscriptions intently, with respect. He caught up with Skinner, and put his hand on the other man’s arm.


“Sorry,” he whispered.


“For what?” Skinner looked surprised. He put his hand on Doggett’s back and soothed a gentle pattern on his coat.


“Shuttin’ you out. I pushed and pushed at you to open up to me when you were in trouble, and yet the minute I’m strugglin’ with something I shut you out. I’m sorry.”


“I didn’t give in any more gracefully than you – it isn’t easy, John,” Skinner said, still caressing Doggett’s back with his fingertips. They began walking up the incline towards Luke’s grave.


“I want you to be here. Luke would’ve liked you. He never liked Tony much – I think they viewed each other as competition for my attention. You and he would have got on great though. He was a good kid.” Doggett paused, his eyes glassy again. “I should have come back here before. It wasn’t like I never thought about him because there ain’t a day goes by when I don’t…I just never came back.”


“John, it’s like you said – he isn’t really here,” Skinner said softly.


“Some part of him is. The part we buried,” Doggett murmured, coming to a halt in front of the grave. This time he didn’t feel annoyed when Skinner put his arm around him and held him tight, and he didn’t even try to hide his tears when they started again. Skinner didn’t say a word, just stood there, holding him, as Doggett finally cleared the last hurdle in his acceptance of his grief for his murdered son.


A curious sense of peace swept through Doggett at the cemetery. He spent the rest of the day in a haze of serenity, walking with Skinner around New York, showing him his favourite haunts, the places where he used to eat, his old apartment block, the apartment block just around the corner where Debbie and Luke used to live; they walked past Luke’s old school, and even visited the ball park where he and his son used to play together. Although on one level it was painful, it was also a good and necessary kind of pain, and with Skinner beside him he knew he could handle it – could handle anything. He had never had anyone he could talk to about Luke before and he found he loved telling anecdotes about his son, each one prompted by a place or a building that they visited. Skinner listened to each story intently, chuckling gently, or shaking his head silently, some part of his body always in contact with Doggett – his hand gently resting on his lover’s shoulder, or soothing circles on his back, or resting on his knee.


When they got back to the hotel, late that evening, Skinner drew a bath for them both and they sat together in the warm bubbly water. Doggett gazed at the man he had just shared the most intimate part of his life with; the part that was still raw and hurting, the part that he knew could never properly heal…although time would no doubt wave its magic wand and relieve some of the hurt one day.


“Thank you, Walter,” he said sincerely. “For bein’ with me today. I don’t think I would have come back if it hadn’t been for you. I never felt I could face it before – but you know, I’m glad I did.”


“Good.” Skinner smiled that almost shy smile of his. Doggett was overwhelmed – he drew Skinner close, and held him, kissing his bare scalp idly as he did so.


“I want to make love to you, Corporal,” he murmured.


“Any time, Sergeant,” Skinner replied easily, his hand stroking Doggett’s already hardening cock.


“Slow and deep and long,” Doggett whispered into his lover’s ear. “Right here – in the bath,” he added. Skinner’s eyes widened and Doggett gave a little laugh. “Well, it’s sure as hell big enough,” he said, waving his hand around at the huge, marble tub.


“Anything you say, sir,” Skinner acquiesced easily. He hopped out of the tub and brought back lube and condoms, which he rested on the side. Doggett held out a hand to help him back into the bath and then pulled him down into the water and subjected him to a deep, claiming kiss.


“I want you inside me,” Doggett said when he released him. “I want to connect tonight, Corporal. I want to feel that monster of yours deep within me.”


“Sounds fine to me, John,” Skinner murmured lovingly, nuzzling the side of Doggett’s face.


The tub was deep enough that Doggett was able to float on his back, his arms along the side of the bath, keeping his head out of the water, while his body floated free. Skinner knelt between his open legs, and inserted a lubed finger. Doggett sighed and lay back, allowing his body to relax and his lover to prepare him. When Skinner solicitously asked if he was ready, he nodded, and gazed dreamily at his lover as Skinner edged his cock between his parted buttocks, and then slid smoothly into his body. Doggett gasped – it was a beautiful sensation. Skinner’s hard, vibrant cock filling him, while the warm bathwater swirled around them both. “Slow and deep, Corporal,” he murmured, surrendering to the sensation. Skinner nodded, and slid out and then back in again with exquisite languor. Doggett felt boneless with pleasure. His lover looked so beautiful, his wet chest hair plastered against his body, his eyes guileless without the wirerims to hide behind.


“You’re so fantastic,” Doggett whispered, as Skinner reached out to take Doggett’s hard cock in his hand. Skinner smiled and thrust slowly in and out in time to the massaging of his hand on Doggett’s cock.


“I could say the same thing,” he said in a low, throaty tone. “You look so hot lying here like this in the water.”


Doggett smiled and flicked some bubbles at his lover and Skinner laughed – a sound that Doggett heard rarely but loved beyond words. Then they were both serious again as Skinner slid slowly, in and out of Doggett’s warm, relaxed body. They made love lazily, connecting all over again through the act, both of them deeply affected by the many and deep emotions that had preceded it, and which had brought them closer together than they’d ever been. Skinner made sure Doggett came first, his come disappearing into the water, and then he brought himself off, his thrusts coming harder, making some of the water spill over the side of the enormous tub. When he’d finished, he drew out, tied the used condom and lobbed it onto a soaked towel lying on the floor, then he unexpectedly picked Doggett up bodily, put him down gently on the floor, got out of the tub himself, and grabbed one of the huge, fluffy hotel towels. He wrapped them both in it, enveloping Doggett in his arms and kissing his lover as he dried them both. Then he walked the tired agent into the bedroom, pushed him into the bed, and got in beside him.


“Are you okay, John?” He asked softly. “About what happened today? About this anniversary?”


Doggett sighed and turned so that he was facing Skinner. He traced a finger over his lover’s lips. “As okay as I’ll ever be, I think. Thank you, Walter. You helped me finally lay something to rest today – I don’t think I could have done it alone. I needed you today – and I’m not used to needing people. It gives me some insight into how things must have been for you a few months ago when your problems were at their worst. I don’t think I was as patient with you then as you’ve been with me.”


“Bullshit,” Skinner grinned. “See, that plain talking of yours is rubbing off on me. I needed someone who’d tell it to me straight, John. Today you just needed someone to be there for you. I’m glad it was me – honoured you’d let it be me.”


Who else could it possibly be but you, the man I love so much, helping me say a final goodbye to the boy I loved so much? Doggett thought to himself, but he didn’t say anything, just contented himself with burying his face in his lover’s chest and surrendering himself to the feel of his lover’s arms wrapped around his body, knowing that this was the first anniversary of Luke’s death that hadn’t ended with him drinking himself stupid or crying himself to sleep.


Doggett woke the next day feeling more bright and alive than he had for the previous few weeks. He took a shower and got dressed before Skinner even woke up, and then an idea occurred to him. He broached it with Skinner over breakfast.


“I was wondrin’…would you like to drop in on my old precinct, and visit my old colleagues? It seems a shame while I’m in town not to go and see them. You don’t have to come with me, but I’d like to go.” Doggett took a sip of his coffee and gazed at his lover.


“I’ll come. Why not?” Skinner smiled easily. He glanced down at his newspaper and took a bite out of his toast.


“Tony might be there,” Doggett said. “I know he’s still in the same job.”
Skinner’s jaw stopped in mid-chew, and then made that familiar sideways motion that betrayed some kind of deep emotion – although Doggett wasn’t sure what it meant in this instance.


“You don’t have to come if you don’t want to,” Doggett said quietly.


Skinner swallowed down his toast thoughtfully, and then took a large gulp of orange juice to wash it down. “No,” he said finally. “I’d like to come with you.”


Nothing had changed. Doggett felt a wave of nostalgia as he walked into the scruffy police station. People were walking in and out, a drunk was shouting loudly in a corridor, someone had recently dripped blood on a patch of the floor and everywhere was hustle and bustle. It was all so different from the neat, smartly dressed world of the FBI. It was a rough, tough place – somewhere he belonged.


Skinner glanced at him. “I can imagine you here,” he said perceptively.


Doggett gave a wry grin and shrugged. “Seems just like comin’ home,” he murmured.


Skinner gave a faded smile in return. “Ever think of returning?” he asked carefully.


Doggett glanced around. Before he’d come here he would have said no – but now that he was here… he wasn’t entirely sure. He didn’t reply, and caught the slight flash of Skinner’s eyes behind the wirerims as he put his own interpretation on that lack of response.


Doggett walked easily into the bullpen, and paused on the threshold, taking in the sights and sounds. There were some new faces – but a lot of old ones as well. He glanced around, unmoving, feeling Skinner’s solid reassuring shoulder against his own. Then someone caught sight of him, and a shout went up, and before long he was surrounded by old friends, lost in a melee that saw both he and Skinner dragged into the Captain’s office amid a throng of people. “John, you old dog. I knew you’d turn up here again one day,” Captain O’Brien was saying, slamming him repeatedly on the back with a big beefy arm. Sam Heggarty was handing him a coffee and Marcia King had stuck a sweet, sugary donut into his free hand. Doggett looked around to make sure his lover was okay, but Skinner was just standing there, grinning, clearly enjoying this evidence of his lover’s popularity among his former colleagues.


“Hey, slow down!” Doggett remonstrated, putting his hands up in surrender, one holding the cup of coffee, the other still clutching the donut. “Thanks, Marcia – I can see you haven’t forgotten!” He took a large bite out of the donut and winked at the large, motherly black woman who put her head back and laughed.


A clamour of voices went up, demanding to know how he was getting along and what brought him back to New York , but the Captain drowned them all out with his huge, bellowing voice, his Irish-American tones giving him a lilting sound that brought back so many memories for Doggett that for a moment he felt as if he had stepped back in time, and that nothing had changed; he still worked here with these people, Luke had never been murdered, he had never left to join the FBI, had never even heard of the X Files…had never met the tall, handsome, burly, utterly sexy man who was standing a little way off to the side, looking bemused but pleased at the same time.


“So, John Doggett, you still one of those men in black?” O’Brien asked him. “Still running around covering up evidence of UFO’s and little green men are you, John?” A guffaw went around the room and for a moment Doggett thought they must have heard about his work on the X Files – and then realised they were just making fun of the movie Men In Black. It wasn’t a usual career path for an officer of the NYPD to end up working at the FBI and they were all intrigued.


“That’s right, Captain,” he winked. “But I’m getting mighty hacked off with all these aliens so I thought I’d come back here and spend some time with you folks who are out chasin’ real criminals,” he added. The room erupted again in a fit of cheering and whistling.


“Seriously, John – are you here in an official capacity?” O’Brien asked. Doggett glanced down at his jeans and sweater – hardly official FBI garb.


“No, Liam. Just…checking somethin’ out,” he said, mysteriously. “I should introduce you to Walter Skinner here.” He waved his arm towards his lover. “Mr. Skinner is an Assistant Director at the FBI – he’s also my immediate superior so I’d be grateful if you didn’t fill him in on any of the uh, more colourful incidents from my time here.”


Another guffaw went around the tiny office, but Doggett didn’t miss the slightly awed glances his old colleagues directed Skinner’s way – his lover’s rank preceded him here as it did everywhere. Whatever the politics of his position in the Bureau, out here in the real world he wielded a lot of power and he was a symbol of authority to these people. Doggett smiled – he liked the fact that at least here Skinner got the respect his position entitled him to.


“You’re very welcome, sir,” Marcia said, offering Skinner a donut and coffee – both of which he wisely accepted, although Doggett knew he hated donuts so it was a clever move on his part in order to be accepted by these people. Doggett flashed a grin at his lover, full of pride at the way Skinner always knew how to handle himself, and how to get along with people. It was a relief not to have to worry about Skinner, or to have to nursemaid him along when he was in an unfamiliar environment – unlike Tony…Doggett took a deep breath as his searching eyes found one familiar face in the crowd: Tony Larsen. They looked at each other for a long time, sharp, detective gazes taking in one thing, while ex-lover gazes were looking for something else entirely. Tony hadn’t changed much. His blue eyes were as vivid as ever, although his face was more jowly, a concession to age which had only just started to diminish those boyish good looks that had once attracted Doggett so much. He was a little thinner around the hairline, and a little fatter around the middle – one too many donuts, Doggett guessed, combined with too many hours sitting on his ass writing up reports and not enough out chasing anyone. Tony had always had a lazy streak, combined with a tendency to go wild and run off for days on end as well – it had always been all or nothing with Tony, a perpetual rollercoaster of emotion. Doggett was suddenly extremely glad that he’d gotten off that particular rollercoaster, and was with someone much more sensible and down to earth instead…which reminded him…Doggett glanced at Skinner to find that his lover had already made the connection and was gazing at Tony – who, for his part, was still scrutinising Doggett intently, a dark, moody look brewing in those bright blue eyes. Doggett remembered how that look had always preceded thunderstorms before – Tony had never been good at hiding what he felt, and he obviously still had some strong emotions for his ex-lover.


Doggett was going to say something, but as he moved his hand to begin talking he knocked over the coffee cup he’d left balancing precariously on the Captain’s desk and then he was engulfed in a melee as Marcia got splattered with hot coffee and the rest went all over O’Brien’s papers and when he looked up again Tony had disappeared – and so had Skinner.


Doggett spent the next few minutes helping to clear up the coffee, while saying hello to old friends and answering questions about his job, and then, gradually, the crowd began to disperse but the Captain wanted to show him off so he was paraded around the station, shown the new computer system, reintroduced to people who, to his shame, he knew he had once addressed by name but who he had now forgotten. So it was a good half an hour before he finally got a chance to escape and go looking for his lover and ex-lover.


He found them in an interrogation room. Tony was sitting sprawled in a chair, his over-active fingers playing with a pad of paper that had been left in there. Skinner was sitting with his overcoat wrapped tightly around his body, his hands in the pockets, his untouched donut and coffee sitting on the table between them. He looked calm, maybe even a little amused, but there was a deadly kind of power in those dark eyes as they flashed behind the wirerims. Doggett paused, fascinated, as he watched the two men face off through the glass window to the interrogation room. He was about to go into the room, but something stopped him. Tony looked like a petulant child who found that someone had been playing with his favourite toy while Skinner looked every inch the adult – and a very dangerous one at that. Doggett was fascinated by the two men – they couldn’t have been more different, and yet he had loved them both at some point in his life. While he couldn’t deny the love he’d once had for Tony, beside his love for Skinner it seemed a very childish, insubstantial kind of emotion. The two men were talking, and Doggett was able to catch parts of their conversation.


“I think you’re dancing around the question, that’s all,” Tony said in his familiar, lazy drawl.


Skinner raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I’m sorry. I didn’t realise this was an interrogation,” he replied smoothly.


“It ain’t.” Tony’s eyebrows furrowed across his forehead in an expression of frustration and impending explosion that Doggett remembered all too well. He watched Skinner measure Tony up, could almost see him reconciling this man, with his pale hair and air of nervous energy, being the previous owner of those leather cuffs that always raised such strong emotions for him.


“If you’ve got a question, why don’t you just come straight out and ask it?” Skinner said calmly. Doggett suddenly had the awareness that Walter Skinner was a veteran of far more interrogations that Tony Larsen – and that his current lover had negotiated with men far more dangerous than his disgruntled ex-lover. Skinner’s calm strength was in stark contrast to Tony’s usual jumpy, fidgety movements and Doggett felt a sudden wave of total, paralysing, self-realisation.


Oh god – what had he done?


He’d taken this man, this strong, powerful, confident, even dangerous man, and asked him to submit? Had ordered him onto his knees? How had he even dared? Skinner was no Tony Larsen – it was only seeing them both in the same room that Doggett was aware of how completely different they were – Skinner was in another league entirely. He was a man, where Tony had only ever been a petulant, attention-seeking boy. And yet this man had offered everything up to Doggett; suddenly the meaning of that gift became all too clear to him and he was filled with a sense of awe that he, of all the men in this world, had been the recipient of it.


“Okay, let’s cut the crap. He walks in here and says you’re his boss and maybe you are, but you and I both know that you’re more than that to him,” Tony snapped. Skinner raised an eyebrow. “I saw the way he looked at you – saw the way you smiled at him…so what’s the deal? You’re his fuck toy? Or he’s yours? What? Why did he come back here? What’s he tryin’ to do? Rub my nose in it? Or maybe he’s missin’ me – huh? Is that it?”


Skinner gave a wry grunt and shook his head. Doggett had to catch himself from doing the same – it was absurd. He and Skinner were so much a unit, so clearly together that there was absolutely no chance of Tony Larsen coming between them. Any regrets he might have had about the way his relationship with Tony had ended suddenly disappeared.


“What’s the matter – you told me to ask you straight. Don’t you have any answers?” Tony demanded angrily.


“Mr. Larsen, you may ask me any question you like – I never gave you any promise of an answer,” Skinner replied smoothly. Tony’s eyes narrowed.


“I can’t see you giving him what I used to. He doesn’t like it easy – he likes it hard, challenging, and you’re way too old and too damn…in charge for him. He likes to be the one handing out the orders. Christ, don’t you have anythin’ to say to any of this? What the fuck kind of man are you? Doesn’t any of this get a rise from you? Huh?” Tony kicked out at a nearby chair and Doggett recognised all the signs of the explosion he’d predicted.


“If you have any questions of a personal nature about Agent Doggett then I suggest you address them to him,” Skinner said calmly. He got up, his expression neutral and completely un-phased, the set of his shoulders utterly implacable.


“I haven’t seen the guy in years!” Tony protested. He glanced over Skinner’s shoulder and Doggett was sure Tony had caught sight of him, because he immediately raised his voice a little louder, clearly intent on being heard by anyone standing outside the door. “Then he turns up here like this with you in tow, both of you so goddamn polished like you stepped out the pages of GQ and it’s like he’s flaunting you or somethin’, and he makes a grand fucking entrance, and looks at me – just looks at me like he did. I just think I have a right to know what’s goin’ on, that’s all,” he whined.


Doggett sighed and pushed the door open. Trust Tony to make a completely inappropriate scene – he was still trying to get Doggett’s attention after all these years, in the noisiest, most irritating way possible – only now it was obvious to him how manipulative his ex-lover’s behaviour was, and he felt a surge of relief that he was no longer so caught up in Tony’s dramas that he didn’t see what was going on. Tony had always been a morass of emotional energy – sometimes it had revealed a vulnerability and spirit that Doggett had been attracted to, but more often that not it had simply served to hide a dark, self-absorbed streak that he hadn’t fully glimpsed until after Luke’s death, when for the first time in his life he’d needed someone to be there for him – and had found that Tony most definitely wasn’t going to be that person.


“Hello, Tony,” he said quietly, as he walked into the room. Tony flushed, and Doggett remembered how much that subtle pinking of his pale skin had once aroused him – but not any more. Tony Larsen was most definitely history. If it was a choice between him and Walter Skinner there simply wasn’t any contest. Skinner might be older and have none of Tony Larsen’s boyish charm but he had something else – something much more real, solid, and reassuring. He didn’t seriously think that Tony Larsen wanted him back after all these years – but he knew that both the authoritative spark that had attracted Tony to him and the ghost of their relationship were still there – and Tony didn’t know how to handle either of them.


“John…you’re looking good,” Tony said softly as if Skinner wasn’t there, glancing up at Doggett from under his thick eyelashes; those blue eyes of his were still seductive, but somehow that little boy lost expression no longer worked on him.


“Thanks.” Doggett inclined his head. “If you guys are finished here, then we should be making a move, Walter.”


“Oh, I think we’re finished,” Skinner said dryly.


“John…I was wondering why you came back.” Tony gave a shyly seductive smile, his expression hopeful. Maybe he really did believe that Doggett had come back for him. “I didn’t buy all that bullshit about checking up on something. Why are you here, John?”


“It’s the anniversary of Luke’s death,” Doggett said bluntly. “Walter and I went out to visit his grave.”


Tony had the grace to look embarrassed. He stuck a finger under his collar and loosened it a little. “I’m sorry. I guess I should have figured that out,” he murmured.


“There’s no reason why you should.” Doggett shrugged. “I’m glad you’re doin’ okay, Tony. Looks like you’ve lost that death wish of yours. I used to think you’d never live to see 35 but here you are.” He spread his arms wide and gestured at his ex-lover.


“Well, I guess without you around to impress there’s no point doing the death or glory stuff any more,” Tony replied and Doggett thought that might have been the most honest thing he’d ever heard his old lover say.


“Yeah…I wasn’t good for you, Tony,” he murmured, shaking his head, remembering the many times Tony had scared the hell out of him by risking his life out of need for Doggett’s attention and in the hopes of forcing him into a display of strength and dominance. Doggett sighed. Tony had suckered him in good – but he had gone along with it all so willingly, wanting to be needed, even on some level enjoying his power over the other man. It had been an unhealthy relationship for both of them. What he had with Skinner was so much more real and honest.


“Ready to go, Walter?” He asked and Skinner nodded, his eyes dark, steady and even a little amused by Tony’s shenanigans. Doggett smiled. He waved goodbye to Tony, stopped off to make his farewells to Captain O’Brien and his old colleagues in the bullpen, and then, with Walter Skinner by his side, he sauntered out of the station for what he knew would be the last time. Skinner’s broad shoulder was so close to his that he could feel the other man’s warmth through his jacket. He didn’t look at Skinner as they swept out onto the humming New York street – didn’t need to. They were warriors, strong men, walking side by side, leaving the past where it belonged – behind them.


“No,” Doggett said, answering the question he had avoided earlier. “I don’t think of returnin’, Walter. I belong someplace else now. This…” He paused and looked up and down the bustling sidewalk. “This isn’t home any more,” he said softly. “Hasn’t been since Luke died. Let’s go back home, Walter. We’re through here.”




The trip to New York somehow resolved something for Doggett – something he didn’t even know he’d been struggling with – and when he returned to Washington DC it was if he was seeing the place for the first time. He had never really let go of his life in New York – not really, not in his heart. It had been interrupted, tragically cut short, the decision almost taken against his will. He had never wanted to leave – he had just been unable to stay. Now, having gone back, he felt as if he was making that choice willingly for the first time – and Washington DC held happy memories for him. Washington DC was where he had met Walter Skinner, where he had first made love to Walter Skinner, where they shared a life together. Washington was where his work was, a job he felt passionate about. He might still have his share of problems, but for the first time in a long time he was truly content, and it was only when he realised that that he was also realised he hadn’t been before.


Having left the past behind, it therefore came as a total shock to Doggett when it decided to catch up with them – in the most brutal way possible. A month after their return from New York, he received a frantic phone call from Kim first thing on a Wednesday morning.


“Hey, slow down – what is it?” Doggett said, getting to his feet, torn between running for the door and charging up the five flights of stairs to her office and staying to listen to what she had to say.


“It’s AD Skinner. I…Agent Doggett, he’s gone.”


“Gone? What do you mean?” Doggett frowned. He had seen Skinner on Monday night and his lover had been fine. Skinner had called him Tuesday night to say he wasn’t feeling so good and wouldn’t be coming over, but that was it. How could he be gone?


“He’s left a letter on my desk – a letter of resignation. Agent Doggett, please, I don’t know what to do,” she said, her voice close to tears. “You’re his…friend,” her slight hesitation before the word ‘friend’ told Dogget that she knew exactly what the nature of their ‘friendship’ was. “I thought you might know…after yesterday, I thought maybe…”


“What the hell happened yesterday?” He interrupted her. “No, wait. Hold it right there. I’m comin’ up.”


He slammed the phone down and ran up to the fifth floor, his heart pounding in his chest. Gone? Why? Where? Skinner had handed in his resignation and taken off? Without talking to him? Doggett felt a sharp pain constrict across his chest. This had come from nowhere! He and Skinner had been happy – or at least he thought they were. Skinner didn’t talk a great deal about what he was feeling unless pushed, and Doggett hadn’t done much pushing of late because everything felt so right between them and he didn’t want to rock the boat. Had Skinner been unhappy with their relationship? What the hell could have driven him to just up and leave without telling anyone – without telling him? It hurt so much that he had to stop and lean against the wall for a moment to get breath back before he could continue.


When the pain between his ribs had subsided, at least a little, he continued his headlong charge up the stairs, and crashed into Kim’s office, breathing heavily. She looked like a frightened rabbit, her pale face in stark contrast to her red hair.


“What happened yesterday?” Doggett demanded, shutting the door firmly behind him and turning the key in the lock to ensure there they wouldn’t be interrupted.


“I’m not sure. I don’t even know if it’s related but I…” Kim shook her head and bit on her lip, her eyes glassy with tears.


“Where’s the letter?” Doggett asked, striding over to her desk. She pushed a single sheet of white paper and an envelope towards him. The sheet of paper was addressed to Kim – the envelope was addressed to the Director. Doggett’s hand was shaking as he read the words addressed to Kim.


Dear Kim,


Due to circumstances beyond my control, I have been forced into a position where I have to leave the Bureau forthwith. The nature of my predicament leaves me no time to work out the usual notice period. Please hand the enclosed envelope to the Director. It explains the circumstances of my resignation in a way that he will be able to accept.


All that remains is for me to wish you well and thank you for your many years of hard work. You have been an excellent PA and I have appreciated your help.


Yours truly,


Walter Skinner.


Doggett’s fingers tightened around the sheet of paper, his knuckles white. What the hell was going on here?


“Kim – what happened yesterday?” He asked more gently, seeing that she was close to crying in earnest.


“He had an appointment…a man I didn’t know. I don’t think AD Skinner knew him either. It was a late appointment – the man just rang and said he needed to see the Assistant Director. Something to do with some missing medical records.”


Doggett took a sharp intake of breath. “Go on,” he said curtly.


“It was about 5 – I was just preparing to go home and AD Skinner told me to go ahead…but…” Kim paused. “Something didn’t seem right. I didn’t like the man I showed into AD Skinner’s office, and the Assistant Director didn’t seem well – he was sweating and he looked uncomfortable – there was a really bad atmosphere between him and this man.”


“Did you know who this guy was?” Doggett demanded.


“No. I’d never seen him before.” Kim shook her head.


“You’re sure – he couldn’t have been in disguise? You’d recognise Alex Krycek if you saw him?” Doggett pressed.


Kim’s eyes widened in surprise. “Alex Krycek is dead, Agent Doggett,” she pointed out gently, as if concerned about his mental state if he could have forgotten a fact like that.


“I know. All the same – was this man Alex Krycek in disguise?”


“No.” Kim shook her head. “He was nothing like him. He was a big, fat man, with light coloured hair. He definitely wasn’t Alex Krycek.”


“Okay. Go on. What happened next?” Doggett asked impatiently.


“Well, it felt wrong…so I didn’t go home. I hung around, tidying my desk.”


Doggett glanced at her desk – it was always impeccably neat. He’d often thought that one of the reasons why Kim and Skinner worked so well together was because they were both pathologically tidy people with ordered, well organised minds, who didn’t like working in clutter. He felt a wave of gratitude to her. Good old Kim, ever the consummate PA – she cared enough about Skinner to delay going home on a hunch, following her own intuition.


“I could hear the sound of raised voices in the AD’s office but I didn’t go in. Raised voices aren’t all that unusual in there after all.” She gave Doggett a little knowing smile that he barely managed to return. “After about ten minutes this guy left. I didn’t hear anything in the AD’s office…I hung around for awhile but he didn’t come out and there was no sound in there…so I knocked on the door and went in.”


“What did you find?” Doggett asked softly, his voice catching in his throat.


“AD Skinner was sitting in his chair with his back to me, staring out of the window. I asked him whether he was all right but he didn’t answer. All I could see was the top of the back of his head. I was scared.” Kim took a deep breath. “I wondered if something had happened to him. Like in the movies, you know…you go over to the chair and the person sitting in it is…” She trailed off and bit her lip again.


“He wasn’t dead though,” Doggett encouraged her gently.


“No, but he wasn’t well – he looked even worse than he had before the meeting, and he had that problem back again, the one that happened a couple of times before that put him in the hospital. His face was lined with dark veins…he looked so ill, but worse than that, he looked so hopeless.”


Her voice dropped and her face crumpled. Doggett felt his heart plummet to his feet. So, whoever had broken into Bethesda had found what they were looking for – or maybe it was nothing to do with that. Maybe the palm pilot’s original owners had merely decided to pick up where they’d left off when Alex Krycek had been killed.


“He kept saying ‘it doesn’t work’. I don’t know what that meant, but he was repeating it as he looked out of the window. He had a little black box in his hand.” She looked at Doggett for confirmation that was important. Doggett ran a clammy hand through his hair making it stand up in points on his head.


“The palm pilot,” he said in an undertone. “Oh shit. He takes it with him everywhere – never lets it out of his sight. This guy must have activated the nanocytes and when Skinner used his own palm pilot to reverse it, it didn’t work. They’ve somehow managed to key them in to a different signature. The palm pilot he’s got is useless.” He said all this out loud, pacing around the office as he did so. Kim watched him, her eyes wide and frightened.


“I don’t understand what you’re saying, Agent Doggett,” she whispered. “Is AD Skinner in trouble?”


“I don’t know.” Doggett stopped short. “Yes,” he added wearily. “Yes, he is. He’s in big trouble. We need to find him before he does something…” He paused, his heart thudding inside his chest. Surely Skinner wouldn’t…? But he remembered the look on the big man’s face when he’d finished their relationship last time over the nanocytes. Those ‘bloodsuckers’ as Skinner called them, were his lover’s weak spot. He so hated being in thrall to them that Doggett could imagine he would do anything to escape…even take that one last, final step.


“What else did he say?” Doggett asked, opening the door to Skinner’s office and striding into it, Kim at his heels.


“Nothing much. He must have seen that I was worried because he pulled himself together and told me he was fine. I asked him if he wanted me to call security and arrest the man who had been in his office – that maybe he hadn’t left the building yet – but he said no. He sort of laughed, and threw a crumpled piece of paper he’d been holding in his fist into the trash. He said something like, ‘he’s just the errand boy. He’s nothing.’”


“He threw something into the trash? Do you know what it was?” Doggett asked, striding over to the trash and emptying the contents. A whole pile of crumpled paper was strewn over the floor as a result.


“No I didn’t. AD Skinner assured me that everything was fine – and the lines on his face had faded. He was looking better. He told me to go home, and I…well I didn’t have any reason to argue with him. I didn’t like leaving but he insisted so I went. I worried about it all night, and then when I came in this morning that letter was lying on my desk.” She gestured back to the outer office.


Doggett nodded, his mind racing. Wherever Skinner was he probably had at least 12 hour’s head-start on them – and he could be anywhere…if he was still alive. Doggett clamped down on that thought, and searched through the trash until he came across what he’d been looking for. It was just a short, three line note, but he could see why it had devastated his lover so much.


“You’ve come under new management. This is just a demonstration of what we can do. Consider yourself working for us now – we’ll let you have your orders very soon.”


Doggett crumpled the note in his fist and threw it angrily onto the desk. “Christ, why can’t they leave us alone?” he yelled. “He doesn’t deserve this…things were going so well for him. Christ!”


“Agent Doggett?” Kim’s face was pinched and worried.


“It’s okay. Look, Kim, I need you to do me a favour,” Doggett said in a low, urgent tone.


“I’m going to Skinner’s apartment to see if there’s anything there. I want you to call everyone he’s supposed to be seeing today and for the next few days and say that he’s got sick all of a sudden. Don’t reschedule anything. Give me…give me a couple of weeks to sort this out.”


“Do you know where AD Skinner is?” Kim asked. “I already phoned his apartment and there was no reply.”


“No, there wouldn’t be,” Doggett sighed. “Kim, one more thing – don’t give that letter of resignation to the Director.”


Kim bit on her lip again, her blue eyes worried. “Agent Doggett, AD Skinner instructed me to give the Director that letter. I…” She faltered, torn between obeying her boss’s commands and wanting to help him if he was in trouble.


“Kim, trust me.” Doggett put his hands on her slender shoulders and looked into her confused eyes. “If I can reach him then I can talk to him, maybe persuade him to come back…but I need time. If you give that letter to the Director that’ll be the end of Walter’s career. Do you want that? I know I don’t – not without talking to him first to make sure he knows what he’s doin’.”


“I…” Kim gazed at him helplessly. “No. I don’t want that. He’s the best boss I’ve ever worked for – and he’s such a nice man. He’s always been very considerate towards me. If he’s in any trouble then I want to help him,” she said firmly. She walked back into the outer office, picked up the letter of resignation and handed it to Doggett who had followed her back out. “You take it, Agent Doggett. I’ll only give it to the Director if you tell me to.”


“Good. Can you hold the sharks at bay for two weeks?” He asked her, silently crossing his fingers behind his back that two weeks would be long enough. He might be a trained FBI agent but then so was Skinner – if his lover wanted to hide out of sight then he would know exactly how to go about it.


“Yes,” she told him, her blue eyes clear and committed.


“Thank you. You’re a godsend, Kim,” he told her.


“I…” She gave a shy smile. “I just like him that’s all. And you…you’ve been good for him, Agent Doggett. I haven’t seen him like this since before his wife died. It’s okay,” she added quickly. “I’ve never told anyone…and he never said anything to me, but I knew. I could tell by the way he said your name and how grumpy he’d be if he had to cancel a lunch date with you.”


“Sounds as if you should have been an agent and not a PA,” Doggett commented, smiling at her. He didn’t care who knew about their relationship – while undoubtedly it wouldn’t be approved of in the higher echelons of power, neither of their careers was going anywhere and it wasn’t grounds enough to fire either of them. John Doggett didn’t hide or skulk around. If people found out then they did, and he dealt with it – and made them do the same.


“Just let me know what’s going on,” she told him as he strode toward the door. “And if you find him, tell him that I hope he’ll come back. This place wouldn’t be the same without him. Some of the PA’s are scared to death of their bosses – some of the people who work here have secrets far worse than what AD Skinner is hiding,” she whispered. “If he goes…I don’t know who will be left who isn’t…” she searched for the right words and then shrugged. “Wrong,” she said at last, although he could tell that wasn’t what she had intended to say.


“Don’t worry, Kim. I’ll find him,” he told her with more confidence than he felt. I have to, he thought to himself as he unlocked the door and walked away.


Doggett let himself into Skinner’s apartment half an hour later, with a sense of foreboding as to what he’d find. He reasoned with himself that there was no sense in Skinner writing a letter of resignation if he’d intended killing himself but even so, he didn’t know what he’d find in the apartment. One thing he knew he wouldn’t find was a live Walter Skinner. He’d either be dead or gone. Doggett turned on the lights and crept cautiously around the place, taking care not to disturb anything. There was nothing downstairs so he went upstairs, his gun drawn, his nerves jangling. There was an envelope taped to the mirror in the bathroom. It was addressed, simply, to “John”.


Doggett tore it off the mirror and opened it. A sheet of white paper fell out, the same kind as the one addressed to Kim, covered in the same handwriting, unusually shaky, but still recognisably Walter Skinner’s, written in black ink, probably using the pen he always used when he was writing anything by hand – the one Sharon had given him years ago.


“Dear John,


I knew you’d come looking for me, which is why I’ve gone. I can’t let you talk me out of this and you would. I have to get away to where I can’t hurt anyone and those bastards can’t get at me. The thing has a range – we discovered that in those tests and I know that Krycek had to be nearby to activate it. If I clear out then they can’t use me against anybody. I’m sorry. Forgive me – but don’t come looking for me.






“Like hell I won’t,” Doggett growled to the empty room. At least that answered his worst fear – Skinner hadn’t committed suicide. He hadn’t thought his lover would, it just wasn’t something that Skinner would contemplate, but you never could tell what a man would do when he was this desperate.


Doggett searched through Skinner’s belongings, as thoroughly and methodically as he could considering his agitated mental state. There wasn’t much missing. He saw that a bag was gone, and suspected that some of his lover’s clothes were in it, but beyond that there was nothing. A swift phone call to the office and a few checks later and he knew that his lover had withdrawn a substantial amount of cash from his bank account – but he hadn’t taken credit cards or cheques with him. Doggett grunted, and threw the wallet of cards on the bed. Skinner knew that a credit card would be easily traced – by taking cash he was hoping to hold out on his own for long enough that people would stop looking for him…but then what? He found himself a job? He kept moving on, always looking over his shoulder? Doggett clenched his fists angrily. Christ no! That strong, dignified man deserved more than being reduced to some kind of tramp, roaming from place to place without a home, or someone to love him. He was damned if he would let that happen. The question was – where to start looking?


Doggett raced back to the office. He did the usual things, made all the normal enquiries, checked Skinner’s boyhood home, and the homes of his friends, but they all drew a blank as he’d known they would. Skinner wouldn’t go anywhere he could put people in danger. He would head precisely for a place where he could go unnoticed and unrecognised – but where?


Doggett spent a week, working day and night, sifting through every single clue he could. Monica helped, her dark eyes following his every move, worried about him as he drove himself into the ground in his search for his lover. Damn but if he could just find Skinner he was sure he could drum some sense into his lover’s wrong-headed, noble skull. Doggett slept fitfully in the basement office only when exhaustion overtook him. His dreams were full of Skinner, lost and alone, calling for him – but he could never find him. No matter how hard he ran he could never catch up with his lover, and Skinner disappeared into the dark, his voice fading away as Doggett tried desperately to reach him.


As the end of the second week drew to a close Doggett was still was no further forward. He followed up every lead, drove out to any place where there had been a reported sighting, or where there was hope that Skinner might be, but drew a blank wherever he went. Kim called him the day before the two weeks were up.


“Agent Doggett, I can’t hold people off for much longer. I need to have something concrete to tell them,” she said in a sad, resigned voice. Doggett ran a weary hand over his eyes.


“I know. I just need more time,” he told her desperately.


“We don’t have more time, Agent Doggett.”


“Give me ’til tomorrow. I’m goin’ back to his place…I’ll spend the night there. Maybe somethin’ will occur to me. Somewhere we haven’t tried,” Doggett told her.


“Okay,” she replied but he could tell by the tone of her voice that she’d already given up hope. Damn but a man couldn’t just disappear like this, Doggett thought to himself, but Skinner had left his car behind, had taken nothing but a change of clothes and a bag. He was a man with survival skills, used to taking care of himself – if he wanted to keep out of sight then he could, able to evade everything except a huge, organised manhunt across every state in the US, and Doggett didn’t have either the resources or the authority to order one of those.


Wearily, Doggett let himself into his lover’s apartment. He strolled around it for a few minutes, trying to think himself into Skinner’s mind, to figure out where his lover would have gone. Maybe nowhere, a little voice told him. All Skinner had to do was to take off aimlessly, travelling by train, stopping wherever he pleased – Doggett would never find him if that was what he’d done, and yet…and yet that wasn’t very like Skinner. Doggett knew his lover would have left with a plan, a place he intended to go to, even if he hadn’t thought much beyond that. He was too organised to consider doing anything else.


Doggett threw himself wearily onto the bed. It smelled of Skinner, and he could have wept from the memories that this bed held. He knew how obstinate his lover was. Unless he found him, Skinner would never come back – but supposing he never found him? Doggett felt a pain that went bone deep. He had never been in love like this before, and never would again. If he lost Skinner then he lost a huge chunk of whatever gave his life meaning. He was hopelessly, utterly in love, and without Skinner he was half a person. Walter Skinner was his warrior lover, his boyhood dream of a strong, capable man who walked side by side with him into danger, who was a shoulder to lean on when he needed it and who could lean on him in return; Walter Skinner was his clever, ambitious boss, a good man, solicitous of his agents, excellent at his job…Doggett remembered how this strong man would kneel before him, or spread his legs for him, offering himself up so sweetly, how he would allow himself to be tied, conversely finding his freedom in the very denial of liberty that Doggett was able to give him…and he wanted – no, needed – to feel that firm body under his fingers again, to look into those dark, knowing eyes again, to taste those sensuous lips again. Doggett was so tired that he soon fell asleep, haunted by those dark, lost eyes, begging him not to give up.


He woke with a start early the next morning. A glance at the nightstand showed it to be nearly 6 am – it was the longest amount of sleep he’d had since Skinner had gone missing. Doggett sat up, annoyed with himself for sleeping so long when he’d wanted to try and figure out where Skinner had gone. He fumbled for the light, turned it on, and his hand nudged the photo that Skinner kept on the nightstand. Doggett picked it up. He had seen the picture a dozen times but it had added piquancy now. The photo was of him and Skinner standing outside their cabin at Silvermist. It had been raining and his hair was wet and spiky – the way his lover liked it. A kindly passing hiker had taken the photograph for them, and Skinner had so loved the way they both looked in it that he’d had it framed. It was a good picture of a happy time. Doggett smiled and traced a hand over the glass absently. He had checked Silvermist – it had been one of the first places he had called, and he’d followed that up with a dozen or more calls to check that Skinner hadn’t taken a cabin there since, paying by cash, but each time he had been assured that nobody answering that description was at Silvermist –in fact there were very few visitors as it was cold in the hills at this time of year, and nobody was paying by cash either. Doggett gazed at the picture for a long time; they were both wet and muddy – but so cheerful. That reminded him of the time they’d made love in that walkers’ hut, both of them soaked to the skin but not caring. He could still remember the feel of Skinner’s soggy jacket under his fingers, the scent of the rain on the other man’s warm skin as he pounded into him, his thick cock filling him completely, the sound of the storm outside seeming to rage in time to their frenzied love making, the rain thrumming on the roof of the little hut. Doggett sat, frozen, and the picture slipped out from his fingers.


The hut. The walkers’ hut. It was a long shot – there was no reason on earth to believe that Skinner was there, and yet…something about it felt right to Doggett. It was the perfect place to hide – there was hardly anyone staying at Silvermist at this time of year so Skinner was unlikely to be disturbed. It was shelter, even if it wasn’t particularly comfortable, but Skinner wouldn’t care about his own discomfort. Knowing him, he’d probably welcome it as some kind of penance for leaving in the first place.


Doggett pulled on his shoes and grabbed his jacket. He hadn’t undressed last night and he looked a mess, but he didn’t care about that. He considered calling Silvermist and asking them to check the hut, but decided against it. If anyone but him flushed out Skinner then the man would just keep on running, and his trail would go cold. Doggett jumped into his jeep and began driving. He knew that this could be as much of a dead end as all the other places he’d searched, but blind hope kept him going. He didn’t have any other leads to follow so he might as well spend the morning driving out to the hills. What did it matter? Today was his last day – he might as well spend it driving out to Silvermist as sitting in the office fretting about Kim giving that letter to the Director.


Doggett called Kim a couple of hours later and told her to stall for a few hours longer. She agreed, genuinely pleased that he sounded so hopeful, and he knew he was setting them both up for a giant fall if he was wrong – but this felt right in his gut, and he’d been proved right with this kind of hunch before. Or was it a hunch, that little voice inside asked – maybe it was just the voice of weariness and desperation talking. Doggett pushed that thought away and kept on driving. He reached Silvermist in the early afternoon. It was cold in the hills, and he was hardly dressed for hiking, but he didn’t care about that. He had a pair of boots in the back of the jeep, and a thick sweater, which he pulled on over his crumpled work shirt. He took the jeep as far into the hills as it would go, and then went the rest of the way on foot, sliding through the mud in places. Nobody would have walked this way by choice – if Skinner was in the hut then it was a good place to hide out, at least for the next couple of cold, winter months. It wasn’t linked to him, so those who were manipulating him with the nanocytes wouldn’t think to look there either.


Doggett ran the last part of the way, and crashed through the door of the hut. It took him a few seconds to realise that it was empty and he sank to his haunches in despair, all the breath knocked out of him by his disappointment. He’d been so sure that Skinner would be here. So certain. He had to be here because if he wasn’t then Doggett truly didn’t know where else to look and he refused to accept that he’d lost one more person he loved – he couldn’t face that again. Wouldn’t face it.


Doggett pulled himself together, and peered around the gloomy interior. There wasn’t any electricity in the hut and it took a little while for his eyes to get used to the darkness – and then a tiny flutter of hope stirred inside him. There was a sleeping bag on the floor and the remains of a meal beside it. Someone had been staying here – someone who was expecting to come back!


Doggett turned on his heel and left the hut, trying to think where Skinner would go. Of course he wouldn’t sit in the hut all day long when it was so dark in there. He’d go out and get some fresh air during the day. He remembered the hill they’d climbed, and how Skinner had spoken of seeing the sunrise…the short winter afternoon was already wearing on, and the sky was streaked with gold. A sunset would be as good a view as a sunrise for a man on his own, staying in such conditions, a man considering his life and what to do with it next. Doggett ran up the hill, breathing hard, full of hope. He couldn’t see anyone as he neared the top, but there was a rocky promontory on the other side, invisible from anywhere but the summit. Doggett slid down the other side towards it – and his heart missed a beat as he caught sight of a red and black plaid shirt. There was a man sitting there, dressed in faded jeans, with big hiker’s boots on his feet. For a moment Doggett thought he had got the wrong person – this man had a dark beard, streaked with gray, but then the figure turned and looked straight at him, and time stood still for a moment.


Skinner didn’t say anything. He just grunted, his eyes unsurprised behind the wirerims. Then, still silent, he turned back to look at the sunset as it streaked across the sky.


Doggett didn’t say a word either. He just went and sat down on the rocks beside Skinner, leaning in close for body warmth and comfort. They watched as the sun began to slip down in the sky, and then, finally, after several long minutes, Skinner spoke.


“I should have known you’d track me down, John. I always said you were the most persistent man I ever knew.”


“And you’re the most obstinate. I almost didn’t find you,” Doggett replied. He put an arm around Skinner’s shoulders, pulled him over, and planted a heartfelt, fervent kiss on that beloved scalp. He held Skinner for a long time, his lips pressed against the familiar warm, bare skin that he had come so close to never touching again. Now that he was in contact with it once more, Doggett shuddered at the though of being deprived of any part of his lover again. He knew that he truly wouldn’t be able to stand it. When he finally released Skinner, the big man’s head came to rest easily on Doggett’s shoulder, as if it belonged there, which they both knew it did.


“I’m not coming back,” Skinner said softly, not looking at him, still gazing at the sunset.


“You don’t have to if you don’t want to, but if you don’t come back then I’m not goin’ back either,” Doggett told him. “I’m not losin’ you, Walter, not for anything. If you want out, then that’s fine; god knows you’ve been through enough and maybe it isn’t worth it any more, but that’s a decision we’ll make together, and we’ll live with the consequences together. No more runnin’ off. Christ, Walter, that hurt so much!” He moved Skinner from his shoulder, and took the other man’s face in both his hands, looking at him intently, the unfamiliar beard scratching against the palms of his hands. “After all we’ve been through together why the hell couldn’t you come to me and tell me what was goin’ on?”


“I’m sorry. I thought it was for the best,” Skinner murmured, his dark eyes dropping behind his eyelashes.


“Why? I knew about the nanocytes – I was with you every step of the way during those tests and after. You could have told me,” Doggett scolded.


“No, I couldn’t.” Skinner pulled away. “You don’t understand,” he said, the fading sunlight casting an eerie glow over his bearded face. “Before…before I only just managed to tolerate having my strings pulled by those bastards because I thought I could control it to some degree. I thought I could still be of some use – but I was wrong. They asked me to do things that didn’t seem harmful to Mulder and Scully, but it turned out they were harmful and I just didn’t know why. That was bad enough – that nearly destroyed me…that case in Africa that I gave Mulder to investigate…” He trailed off, his voice choking. Doggett gazed at him intently. “I didn’t know it would hurt him the way it did. Seeing him in that hospital, knowing that directly or indirectly, I was to blame for his suffering… I couldn’t stand for that to happen again. Not because of me.”


“This time it’s different,” Doggett said gently. “Mulder didn’t know about the nanocytes, but I do. I know the pressure you’re under. We could deal with it together.”


“Yes, this time it is different, because this time…” Skinner gazed blindly into the darkening sky. “This time, it would mean betraying someone I love…potentially ordering him into dangerous situations where neither he nor I could anticipate the outcome because we didn’t have all the facts…and I can’t do that, John.”


“Someone you love?” Doggett repeated the words stupidly, hearing only them, not caring about anything else, his heart doing an absurd somersault. Skinner looked at him, his eyes surprised.


“You, John.” He gave a wry smile, and placed a regretful hand on Doggett’s cheek, caressing gently.


“Me? You love me?” Doggett’s face split into a grin that he was sure stretched from one ear to the other. Skinner looked confused.


“You knew that, John. You always seem to know what I’m feeling – better than I do half the time.”


“Yeah, but I…” Doggett paused, considering this. “No, I did know, Walter,” he said softly, realising that was the truth. “I guess I’ve known since New York – it just feels good to finally hear you say it after all this time.”


“Since New York?” Skinner looked flabbergasted. “John, I’ve been in love with you for much longer than that. Are you seriously telling me you didn’t know?”


“No – I thought you were still pinin’ after Mulder,” Doggett laughed. “I thought you were fond of me, sure, but I didn’t think you felt the same way about me as I did about you.”


“After all we shared, you and I? Christ, Sergeant, why the hell didn’t you just ask?”


“I dunno, Corporal. I suppose for the same reason you didn’t just tell,” Doggett replied.


“I should have. I just thought you knew. It seemed so obvious to me – I had no idea you didn’t know. I guess we’re both…”


“Men?” Doggett suggested with a grin.


Skinner laughed. “Yeah. I suppose that’s it. Seriously though, John.” He leaned forward and caught Doggett’s lips with his own. “I do love you,” he whispered as he drew back. “I’ve been in love with you for months and I don’t think I’m ever going to stop loving you.”


“I’m not sure I deserve it, Walter,” Doggett murmured, gazing at his own hands. “I’ve been holdin’ out on you. I told you I loved you easily enough right from the beginning, but I never trusted you – not until New York. I made you trust me. I kept insisting that you trust me, but I always held out on trusting you in return until New York. I think I was expectin’ you to turn out to be Tony…and you proved that you aren’t…or at least you did until you started this runnin’ off shit.” He gave a teasing smile.


“Tony was a problem for me,” Skinner said, his voice hoarse with honesty. “I thought that maybe I didn’t measure up to him, that you still wanted and missed him – and then I met him, and I realised he really wasn’t anything for me to worry about.” He exchanged a wry smile with Doggett.


“Ain’t that the truth! You know, I remember seeing you sitting there in that room, talking to Tony, handling him so easily like the brat he is, and I guess that was when it finally sank in that you loved me. Maybe not consciously, but somehow somethin’ changed that day. I dunno why, but it was just seeing you sitting there, dealing with him, taking his shit without missing a beat. You were so self assured, as if there was nothing on this earth that could shake what we had together, and certainly nothing as insignificant as Tony Larsen. Something just clicked into place my head at that moment and I knew then.”


“Oh, so the whole buying the plane ticket thing didn’t give it away before then?” Skinner commented. Doggett had the grace to flush.


“What can I say? I can be an obtuse bastard when I try.” He grinned.


Skinner gave a wry shrug, and then looked away. “I’m sorry, but it doesn’t change anything. I’m not coming back,” he said firmly.


“We can talk about it. I have an idea how we can turn this to our advantage,” Doggett told him.


“How?” Skinner turned back sharply.


“Every time they threaten you with the nanocytes, it means there’s something that’s important to them. By knowing what’s important to them, we’re half-way to destroying them. All you have to do is tell me whenever they use them as leverage. That way we can walk into whatever it is with our eyes wide open.”


“I don’t know, John. That’s still pretty risky.” Skinner shook his head.


“So is crossin’ the road. So is being an FBI agent period.” Doggett shrugged. “You can’t protect me from everythin’, Walter, any more than I can protect you. That’s just life. I think it’s worth a try – there’s nothing they can do to hurt us as long as you and I keep talking and know what’s going on. If you find it too painful, then we’ll cut and run then – but I think it’s worth going back and giving this a try first. I want to nail those bastards and I know that you do too. I think we can too. I think we can find out who they are and crush them once and for all.”


“I want that.” Skinner gave a wry grimace. “God how I want to nail those bastards.”


“And I want you to have that satisfaction,” Doggett told him quietly. “But let’s not kid ourselves that ridin’ this out will be easy, Walter. I know how much it hurts you when the nanocytes are active in your bloodstream. I know it isn’t easy handling that kind of pain and if you want to leave it all behind then I sure as hell won’t blame you. God knows you’ve given up enough for the X Files. If it’s time for you to call it quits then I won’t question your decision; I’ll come with you, like I said. I figure that between us we can do just about anything together. It’ll be an exciting new challenge. We could travel, and think about a new kind of career. Just don’t make this decision based on what’s best for me, or Scully and Mulder, or the X Files. Make it for yourself. It’s your call, Walter. You know I’ll back you up, whatever you decide.”


There was a long silence. Skinner gazed thoughtfully into the twilight sky, his brow furrowed. He didn’t say anything for a long time, and Doggett didn’t interrupt his decision-making process. Finally, after half an hour of silence, Skinner let out a long, explosive sigh.


“I knew you’d talk me out of it,” he growled. “That’s why I came out here. But I can’t go back, John – I wrote a letter of resignation.”


“I know. I’ve got it here.” Doggett pulled it out of his pocket and waved it in the air. “Kim’s worth her weight in gold you know, Walter. First thing she did on finding this was to call me.”


“You? How did she…?” Skinner shook his head and laughed, a deep, rumbling roar of a laugh. “Kim always did know everything that was going on without being told.”
“She’s a treasure. When we get home we’ll have to take her out to dinner in the most expensive restaurant in town. You are coming home, aren’t you, Walter?”


Doggett got up, and held out a hand to help his lover to his feet. Skinner gazed at the hand for a moment, and then accepted it with a resigned sigh.


“Now?” He asked, as Doggett hauled him to his feet.


Doggett shook his head. “No. I figure we could do with a few days at Silvermist to unwind first. They’ve got cabins to spare. You’re in no fit state to go straight back into the fray, and frankly, neither am I.”


“I’ve been gone two weeks, John. I can’t swing any more time off. I have to go back and sort out the mess I left behind at some point,” Skinner said ruefully.


“A few days more won’t make any difference,” Doggett told him as they walked back down the hill together. “I’ll call Kim and let her know I’ve found you. She’ll be able to hold the vultures off for a bit longer. I’ll tell her…” Doggett glanced at Skinner, and then grinned at his own private joke. “I’ll tell her to let everyone know you’re takin’ some personal time.”


Skinner grinned back. They walked in silence to the jeep, and got in. Doggett turned on the engine and began driving over the rocky terrain back to Silvermist.


“So…” Skinner gave a little grimace and glanced over at his lover. “I figure that you’re pretty angry with me for running out on you and leaving that note. Are you going to take your belt to my ass for this, Sergeant?”


Doggett shook his head, a laugh bubbling up from deep within. He glanced at Skinner as he drove, a feeling of total relief and joy flooding through him. He loved, and was loved in return by this handsome man, this noble, strong, warrior-lover who fulfilled all his youthful hopes and dreams. He knew that with this man by his side he was complete.


“No, Corporal,” he replied with an evilly sexual grin. “Oh no. I can think of somethin’ a whole lot better to do with that magnificent ass of yours…”


The End


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