Subterfuge: 3. Part Three


He falls asleep. I think I’d like to talk, but he just wraps his arms around me, sprawls a big thigh over my leg, and within seconds he’s asleep. He’s heavy, but I don’t want to push him off – I’ve only just gotten used to having him this close. I relax, and breathe in the scent of him, re-living the way it felt to have him holding me up, having him whisper “mine” in my ear, owning me. I’ve always been a free spirit. I hate being tied down. I never thought I might have the need to belong to anyone before. This makes no sense, and I’d like to believe that it isn’t true, but he’s left irrefutable evidence of it on my body, and seared into my mind.


I try to rationalize this weird turn of events, but it’s hard. There’s nothing rational about this. I’m Fox Mulder, the FBI’s most unwanted, a thorn in the side of the man who’s lying next to me. I’ve been a pain in the ass to him from the moment I was assigned to him. My methods of investigation are too unorthodox, my choice of cases makes him despair, and he hates signing off my reports. I’ve pushed him too far, too often, but the psychologist in me can see this as a cry for attention, a way of forcing him into controlling me, and dealing with me – of getting physical with me. No wonder he was so angry earlier. Five years of self control, five years of being cool, of restraining me every time I got some fucked-up paranoid fantasy in my head. Five years of saving my ass, clearing up my mess, watching as I danced around trying to get him to notice me. And five years of me wanting him to lose that control but never realizing it. Wanting to provoke him into doing something, anything, to show me what I was and give me what I wanted. No wonder he thought I was a tease.


I don’t think it was an accident that on those occasions when I lost it, it was to Skinner I directed my subconscious cries for help. When I was freaking out on hallucinogenic tap water, spiked courtesy of the Consortium, he was the one I took a swing at, not Scully, not any of the Lone Gunmen, and not any of those irritating “suits” at the FBI who always hassle me and mutter “spooky” as I pass by. No, him. I wanted him to save me then, and again many times after that. That time when I thought I was going crazy, seeing monsters, and drew my gun – he was there. He was the one I wanted to rescue me, to make me sane again. And of course I wanted to save his butt as well, not that he ever thanked me for that, ungrateful SOB.


I can’t handle being labeled. I don’t like labels of any description, but I’m having an especially hard time with the homosexual, gay, even bi, labels. So I’m not even going to think about that. Oh god, if there’s one thing I want to think about even less than the gay label, it would have to be the submissive label…the one that stamps “Property of Walter Sergei Skinner” all over my psyche. There’s no way I can get around that one either. I just know that, now my eyes have been opened, I don’t ever want them to close again, and I damn well hope he feels the same. At some point during all this turmoil, I fall asleep.


When I wake up, he’s already showered and dressed and is wearing some of those clothes Saunders provided for him, clothes I know he’d never wear in his normal life – a pair of black pants, a black cotton shirt, open at the neck, no tie. He looks different; stunning, satanically imposing, and generally inspiring the adoration of lesser beings at his feet.


“You’re awake.” He glances over at me. “I’ve been thinking.”


“Me too,” I murmur but it turns out that he’s been thinking about something else entirely.


“However crazy this place is, there is nothing going on here that has so far made it obvious who our murderer is. We have no evidence that a crime has been committed on these premises – although I’m not sure that we couldn’t make a case for assault in regard to that man in the Zone. Still, the mural depicting that bullfight, the presence of those bull symbols on the dead bodies, and the clearly cultist and ritualistic elements of this community are enough to convince me that our murderer is here, somewhere. More likely than not, Saunders ordered the murders. It is highly probable that there are many others here, Matt for example, who have helped him conspire to commit murder, and have executed his orders. We must face the possibility that, at the very least, all of the members of the Mithras Circle may be guilty of aiding and abetting the cover-up of these crimes. We need to find out more about them. Even though our team wasn’t able to tail us, they’re definitely going to be working on tracking us down. They know Saunders, so they’ll be able to get some good leads from that alone.”


He’s stabbing his fingers into the air as he makes all his points, his mind totally focused on what he’s saying.


“It may be enough for us to just sit tight, find out as much as we can about this, and wait to be rescued. Since we’re being watched, and the penalties for being discovered where we shouldn’t be are…unthinkable, I don’t see that we have any choice but to keep our eyes and ears open, and hope that we don’t have too long to wait. Any questions?” He gazes at me expectantly.


“Just one. When are we going to have sex again?” I ask, because frankly that’s the only thing on my mind.


He’s still for a moment, staring at me coldly.


“Come here,” he says finally. I shiver at his tone, and scurry to obey him, kneeling down naked at his feet without even thinking about it.


“You’ll get all the goddamn sex you can handle,” he growls, his hand kneading my shoulder as he looks into my eyes. “Just don’t let it interfere with your judgement, or your ability to keep yourself alive. I need you to do your job here as well, Mulder. Indulging in erotic fantasies when you should be trying to solve this case will seriously piss me off. Your sex life does not, I repeat, NOT, get in the way of your work. Understood?”


“That’s not going to be easy,” I murmur, and his fingers tighten on my neck. His eyes are fierce and irritated.


“Well I’ve been exercising self control for five years so I think you can attempt it for five minutes,” he says. “Work – play. Two separate things. Screw up on that, and I’ll make you regret it big time. The gloves are off now, Fox,” he adds. “I’ve had to conduct myself in a professional manner due to our working relationship. Shit – I always knew that if I ever lost it with you and treated you the way you wanted, hell, the way you seemed to crave, that I’d be thrown out of the Bureau on a harassment charge. Now, however, things are different. There are certain things I just won’t tolerate. And don’t pout – it doesn’t work with me. Get up, get washed, and get dressed. We have a job to do.”


“So – no more sex?” I ask, and he growls and cuffs me playfully in the direction of the bathroom. Just my luck. I discover I like something and then find it’s only going to be doled out to me by someone else on their terms. Typical.


The shower washes away the sweat, and blood, and the scent of sex, but not the memory of that primitive, raw, coupling. Nothing could erase that from my mind. I find the bite marks on my chest and ribs and finger them, remembering how they were inflicted. My fingers cautiously seek the bite mark on my butt, which is so deep that I can make out the edges and contours of it without being able to see it, and I can feel myself becoming hard as I recall the sensation of being held down and marked by his teeth. Shit, not again. I turn the temperature of the water down to lukewarm, (I can’t face freezing cold) but it’s not enough to dampen my erection, and I have to jerk off again. That’s three times in one day. I hope this isn’t going to


become a habit or if we ever do get back to real life, then I’ll need to find excuses to visit him in his office every few hours. What was it he said about not letting sex interfere with work? I’m not sure I have his willpower.


It’s late – I think we missed lunch but dinner is being served in the main hall. Saunders glances at us as we enter, and then does a double-take, looking at us more keenly. I can see his eyes raking approvingly, almost lustfully, over the bite marks on my body, and my bruised lip. I find myself taking an absurd pride in the way he’s looking at me. I love the fact that Skinner has marked me, that there is visible evidence of our wild sexual frenzy on me, and that he’s made the status of our relationship clear and plain for them all to see. For his part, Skinner has noticed Saunders looking as well, and he straightens up, flexes his arms subconsciously, and grabs my shoulder.


“Go serve,” he grins, and I run off to join Nick and the other slaves, bringing over the meal. We have more confidence in these roles now, both of us. Matt was right about us holding back, but not any more.


I bring him his food, see that his glass is kept filled, and kneel obediently next to his chair, waiting to be fed. Not that this is exactly the way I see myself conducting our relationship if we ever get home, (trust me, it isn’t!) if, indeed, we have a ‘relationship’, but it doesn’t feel so humiliating any more.


“I’m glad to see that you eschew alcohol, Mr Skinner,” Saunders comments smoothly. “You’ll need a clear head for later.”


“Why? What happens later?” Skinner asks.


“Eleven p.m. In the arena – you remember, the large room with the sand on the floor?” Saunders says. “Bring Fox. There’s been quite some interest in him after his little display in the massage room earlier today.”


“I told you before, nobody is going to touch him.” Skinner puts a hand on my head and strokes my hair, softly.


“Then you’ll have to make sure of that, won’t you?” Saunders allows his eyes to travel over me, once again lingering on the bite marks on my body – particularly the one over my nipple.


After dinner, coffee is served in the library.


“Watch your back,” Nick whispers to me as we follow on behind the tops. “They like to have some fun with us after dinner. If you don’t like the idea of that, make sure you don’t screw up.”


“Thanks.” I nod, grateful for the warning. Skinner takes his seat in a plush armchair, and I immediately sit down on the floor beside him, determined not to move for the duration of the evening. Nobody is going to have an excuse to do anything to me.


“Gray, I believe you are on duty this evening.” Saunders nods towards the whipping post and Gray, a thin, sinewy man with wispy dark hair, smiles, and takes up position next to a cabinet. He opens it up to reveal a huge array of whips. “Are there any punishments scheduled?” Saunders asks.


“Yeah. Brad was slow helping me get changed earlier.” Matt is sitting with his feet up on the huge oak table. Saunders looks coolly at Matt for a moment, and I sense a tension between them. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what it is, but I realize that Saunders despises Matt and I suspect it’s for the same reasons that Skinner does. Saunders has shown himself to be smooth and cultured. I have no doubt that he can also be cruel and ruthless, but so far I haven’t witnessed him indulging in any acts of brutality – unlike Matt. I sense that Saunders comes from a very different school of sadists. It’s not a value judgement, I hate both the bastards. In fact in some ways Saunders is the more frightening, because of that civilized veneer. At least Matt’s brutality is obvious and unsubtle; you know where you are with him.


“Very well.” Saunders nods. “Nick – go and find Brad. Bring him here for punishment.” Nick runs off, and a few moments later he returns with the hapless Brad. I’m surprised to see that Brad is shivering, and appears to be afraid. I’m not sure of the dynamics here; are they supposed to enjoy this or what? Is it a ‘scene’? Is Brad getting off on pseudo-fear, or is he genuinely afraid? Brad kneels down in front of Saunders, his head bowed.


“There’s been a complaint,” Saunders says, stirring his coffee. “About your service earlier today. Do you wish to speak?”


“No, Master.” Brad looks up, glancing at Matt with real fear in his eyes.


“Very well. Ten I think. The crime wasn’t too serious.” Saunders waves his hand, and Brad looks relieved. A light of anticipation has appeared in his eyes so I guess he isn’t that worried after all. Gray beckons him over and gestures him to undress, then ties him up to the post, fastening a cuff on each of his wrists.


I bury my face in the side of Skinner’s knee and refuse to watch. I don’t know if Brad is going to enjoy this or not, but I sure as hell won’t. Yeah, call me a big wuss, but this stuff scares me shitless. It wasn’t so bad witnessing this sort of crap at Krypton, but here the threat is implicit and real, and I don’t know how far it will go or how bad it might get. Skinner puts a hand on my head and smoothes my hair, rubbing my head and neck constantly with a firm, gentle caress. Out of the corner of my eye, I can see Saunders watching me with an intrigued and amused look on his face. Brad screams after each lash, and I can feel myself flinching in time with the blows. Skinner’s hand never leaves my head.


Finally, it’s over, and Brad is allowed down. I find myself staring at the lash marks on his back and buttocks with a fascinated horror, but it doesn’t escape my notice that he’s been turned on by the whole event.


“You can return to the pen now, unless anyone wants to use you, Brad.” Saunders looks around the room questioningly, and one of the tops steps forward and gestures Brad over, drawing him away to the other side of the room. I try not to watch. I’m distracted instead by Nick, who has gone to get Saunders another cup of coffee. He’s crossing the room when Matt puts out a foot to trip him. Nick goes flying, and the coffee ends up splashing over Saunders’s shoes. He yelps, and looks around crossly. Matt sits back in his chair, a malevolent grin on his face.


“Looks like Goody Two Shoes has slipped up,” he remarks. Nick’s face is anguished. He grabs a cloth from the tray and wipes the coffee off Saunders’s shoes.


“Sorry, master,” he mutters, and I’m surprised to see that he has real tears in his eyes. The dynamic between Saunders and Nick is a complicated one, but I think it’s based more on service than punishment. I sense that Saunders relishes his power over his slave, and the fact that it derives less from fear or sexual role play than from love, and of course Nick gets off on his obedience. He genuinely wants to serve Saunders, and he doesn’t want his master to be angry with him, for whatever reason.


There are no marks on Nick’s body – I sense that Saunders rarely finds it necessary to punish him. Saunders shoots another cool glance at Matt, realizing who has been behind the incident, but there must be some rule I don’t know about in play because despite clearly not wanting to punish Nick, I know he’s going to anyway.


“Nick,” Saunders says softly. “I want you to go to the cabinet and bring me an implement. Any implement you want.” Nick nods, swallowing convulsively, and nobody could miss the wide grin that is plastered all over Matt’s features. He notices me staring at him, and the grin becomes a leer. It’s hard for me to resist an impulse to just get up and leave, or to shout out and tell them what a bunch of frigging psychos they are. I find myself sitting up, about to point out the inherent absurdity of this ludicrous society, when Skinner’s fingers dig into my neck warningly. I glance at him, and he shakes his head, almost imperceptibly. Doesn’t he see it too? Doesn’t he want to stand up and say: “Hey, a cup of coffee got spilt. No big deal here!”? Maybe he does. His fingers are stroking my neck urgently, trying to distract me, to calm me.


The whole room watches with interest as Nick selects a strap and returns to Saunders’ chair. He unbuttons his jeans, and slides them off, before kneeling once more, and then puts the strap in his mouth and offers it to Saunders who takes it and gestures to his knee. Nick arranges himself over his master’s knee and now I can’t stop myself smiling because it looks so absurd! Shit, it makes me want to scream with laughter but my grin soon fades.


For someone whose heart isn’t in it, Saunders certainly delivers a hard enough beating, and Nick is swiftly reduced to tears and a series of strangled sobs. Perhaps I’m wrong, perhaps they’re both enjoying themselves. Perhaps Matt is a valued member of the community for creating little diversions and thinking up excuses for mass punishments. Perhaps I’m missing the point in all this – they’re probably all grateful to the bastard. Oh fuck, I don’t know. I don’t understand the rules, and I feel helpless at the mercy of these people. I just want to go home. I want to be alone with Skinner, in my apartment or his, and I want to feel his hands on my body making love to me again. I want to explore this new relationship in a less threatening environment.


The beating seems to go on forever, and I want to turn my face away but something keeps me watching in horrified fascination. Nick’s buttocks are now covered in dark welts and I don’t even realize that I’m trembling until Skinner suddenly gets to his feet in the middle of the beating and clears his throat.


“If you’ll excuse us,” he murmurs. He clamps a hand on my shoulder, which stills my shaking, and gestures me to follow him, which I do eagerly. Saunders stops mid-stroke and looks at us.


“You have an hour, Mr Skinner,” he says. “Your presence in the Arena at 11 p.m. is not optional.”


“No. I’d sort of figured that out.” Skinner nods. “I’ll be there, but in the meantime, if you have no objection, I’d like to rest.”


“Of course.” Saunders shrugs, but his eyes have a glint of some knowing amusement. I realize that he thinks we’ve both been turned on by the evening’s activities, and are returning to our room to enact our own version. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even my newly insatiable desires have been dampened by the events I’ve witnessed.


“Thank you,” I whisper to Skinner when we reach the safety of our room.


“It’s all right. I didn’t like it much either.” He is silent and subdued, and sits down on the bed with a sigh. I go and sit beside him, and we stare at the floor glumly. Then he turns my face to his, and kisses me with an infinitely tender softness. “I’m not like them,” he murmurs in a strangulated tone.


“Hey, it’s all right.” I can sense a very real misery in him. “I’m not like them either, in case you hadn’t noticed. Not like Nick or Brad or any of the other ‘slaves’”.


“Yeah, thank god,” he grins. “I don’t think I could stand all that fawning all the time. And I’ve always hated ‘yes’ men. I like people to have minds of their own to keep me interested, and let’s face it, you sure as hell have a mind of your own.”


“Oh yeah. Nobody could argue with that.” I wish we could stay in this room forever and not face all that craziness again but I know we can’t. “Are you worried – about what will happen in the Arena?” I ask him.


“No. Apprehensive maybe but I don’t think it takes an Einstein to figure out what will be expected of me tonight.”


“No. Now please tell me that you regularly attend those FBI self-defense refresher courses.”


“Yeah,” he grins. “Although, frankly, I think that an offensive strategy will be more useful than a defensive one this evening.”


“You think they fight dirty?”


“I’d lay bets on it. Not that it matters.” He shrugs. “I can fight dirty too.”


“I never doubted it for a second. Scully told me that you once took on an informant of mine – X, and you won. That impressed me. I took a swing at him once and wished I hadn’t. He was one mean son of a bitch.”


“The information I required on that occasion was…an incentive.” He smiles softly, and touches my face. “But not as much of an incentive as there will be tonight. Don’t worry, Fox. I won’t let any of them so much as lay a finger on you.”


I shake my head. “I can fight my own battles.”


“Not against this mob,” he says wearily. “Remind me how we got into this again?”


I look up, opening my mouth to splutter another apology, or a protest, only to find that he’s grinning at me. He grabs me, and pulls me down onto the bed. I rest my head on his chest, and he strokes my back, and we neither of us says a word as we lie there for the next half an hour, relishing the peace, the company, and the comfort. Finally I feel him glancing at his watch over my shoulder and he gets up, disengaging me.


“Once more into the lion’s den,” he murmurs, stretching like a cat.


“My hero.” I grin slyly, and kiss him hard on the lips. “Just so you remember what you’re fighting for.” I tell him when we come up for air.


“I won’t forget. Trust me. After all it could be worse.” His mouth twitches in wry amusement.


“How’s that?” I try to think of any way in which our situation could be worse than this.


“Well, if we hadn’t reached our, uh, new understanding earlier this afternoon, then I could be about to do all this fighting without even the hope of getting to enjoy the spoils.” He looks me in the eye, completely stone-faced.


“Spoils?” I pout.


He puts a finger over my lip and grins. “You’re starting to look like Lenny!” he says, and then runs for the door, getting there just in time to evade the pillow his outraged piece of property has thrown at his retreating back.


The Arena has been lit by flaming torches of real fire which give it a demonic, gladiatorial glow. All the subs are here, and there’s quite a crowd of them. I count at least thirty, which is double the number of tops. They’re standing in a circle, eerily lit by the flickering torches. There’s an ominous wooden post sunk deep into the sand at the far end of the circle. Saunders saunters over to us and smiles at me, in that patronizing, creepy way he has.


“Fox – go and join Nick,” he orders, and I hesitate and glance at Skinner – a gesture that isn’t lost on Saunders whose face reflects a slight flicker of annoyance. Skinner nods, and I see Nick standing at the far end of the room and go to stand beside him.


“You okay?” I murmur.


“What?” He glances at me, confused, and I gesture with my head in the general direction of his butt. “Oh that. Yeah, I’ve had loads worse in my time,” he grins. “I bet you have too. Your master doesn’t look the sort to take much crap.”


“He doesn’t beat me,” I say, softly.


“What, never?” Nick looks surprised.


“No.” Fuck the pretense. I want to inject some normality into this place.


“You ought to ask him to one day then,” Nick grins. “The pain of a whipping can be intensely pleasurable. Mind-blowing.”


“I’ll take your word for it. You didn’t look like you were having such a good time of it earlier though,” I remark.


“I wasn’t.” Nick shrugs. “How can I describe the difference to you if you really don’t know, Fox?” He stares at me, looking genuinely perplexed. “Aaron can do what he likes to me, whenever he wants. He’s earned that right. I’ll submit to the worst beating in the world if he wants to deliver it. That’s just symbolic of my service to him – I won’t necessarily enjoy it but that doesn’t matter. Once, early on, he whipped me so hard for so long that I thought I’d die, but it was just his way of making me understand who I belonged to. I wasn’t so obedient then – I was trying to play games with him, make him jealous. I never tried that again, believe me. But,” he pauses and his eyes go dreamy, “there are times in private when he’ll make it a pleasure. He knows the way my mind works, and how to get me in the mood. Then it’s like nothing on this planet, Fox.”


“What about Matt?” I ask, seeking a distraction from this fascinating, but to me inexplicable conversation. I search the Arena for my nemesis, my eyes sweeping around the room. “He set you up this evening. How do you feel about him?”


Nick hesitates, clearly not sure how to reply. “Matt likes to enjoy himself with us,” he answers at last, in an even tone.


“He’s a fucking bastard,” I respond, seeing no reason to collude in his neutrality.


“He can be harsh,” Nick agrees. “But one or two of the subs here have a thing for him. Some people like their pleasures raw and at the outer limits of painful.”


“What about Aaron?” I ask. “What does he think of Matt?”


Nick hesitates again, biting his lip thoughtfully.


“Matt has challenged Aaron a couple of times,” he tells me. “Not because he wants me, but because he finds Aaron’s strength a threat.”


“And who won?” I ask, finding this whole subject as compelling as it is weird.


“Aaron of course.” Nick gives a small shrug of pride. “Nobody’s ever defeated him in any of the challenges. And Matt isn’t as good a fighter anyway. He’s too much of a bully, not enough of a strategist. It angers him that Aaron’s the only man here he hasn’t defeated.”


We’re distracted in this bizarre conversation by Saunders stepping into the center of the Arena. He holds up his hands and a silence falls onto the room.


“We have a new player.” Saunders beckons Skinner forward. “You know Mr. Skinner and his slave, Fox.” Nick nudges me to take a step forward and I find myself being stared at by the assembled company. “For the sake of Mr. Skinner, I’ll go through the rules.” He turns and looks at my boss with a sly grin. “There are no rules!” he laughs, and a ripple of mirth travels around the room, but there is a grim, anticipatory hunger to the sound. I’m disturbed by some of the looks I’m getting – predatory and lustful. The flickering of the flames makes the atmosphere even more threatening, and I sense a mood of collective insanity descend on the Arena. Normal rules of behavior have ceased to apply; I’m in the sewer with the rats now, abandoned in the heat and sweat of the jungle, feeling like a sacrificial victim.


“The Arena is open for one hour,” Saunders says, waving his arms around like a showman. “Each fight is to end only when one or other of the combatants surrenders. Let anyone challenge as they so desire.”


He grins at me, and I glance around, holding my breath as I catch sight of Matt in the shadows, but he doesn’t move.


“I’ll challenge.”


A slender, wiry man walks into the Arena, and I release the breath I’ve been holding. The challenger is at least 5 inches shorter than Skinner, and doesn’t have his bulk. He doesn’t stand a chance.


“Who do you challenge?” Saunders asks.


“Skinner.” Surprise, surprise.


“Can anyone be challenged?” I ask Nick. “I mean it’s not just Skinner who has to fight is it?”


“No.” Nick whispers. “But, to be honest, Fox, you’ve drawn attention to yourself, and caused some interest. I think you’ll find a fair amount of the challenges going to Skinner. And of course tonight’s just the beginning. There’s another session in the Arena scheduled for tomorrow night.”


“How many…” I begin but I’m interrupted by Saunders beckoning me forward. Another sub is also entering the arena. I cross to where Saunders is standing.


“Go and help your master prepare,” he orders, and I notice the other sub is stripping the shirt off his master, and rubbing him with some sort of oil.


“What’s the oil for?” I ask Skinner, doing the same, following the other sub’s lead.


“My guess is to make us slippery – harder to wrestle with. Plus, I suspect that making our bodies glisten adds yet another unnecessary touch of melodrama to these proceedings,” he grunts sourly. “Shit, you can smell the fucking testosterone can’t you?” Our preparations are being watched by hungry eyes that devour our every movement.


“How do you feel about that rules crap?” I whisper, taking a liberal handful of oil and smoothing it over his body until he’s gleaming. Damn but he looks good shiny!


“Fine. There weren’t any rules in ‘Nam either,” he replies with a shrug. “I can hit below the belt with the best of them.” He’s starting to snarl and I’m surprised by the darkness in his eyes, and the way he’s breathing, until I realize he’s psyching himself up for this. I hope he can come down easily afterwards. I don’t relish the idea of calming some wild, rampaging, adrenaline soaked bull in our room when this is over. Bull…hmm, the analogy is apt given the ritual associations of this cult. And of course you’ll notice I have no doubts as to the fact he’ll be successful this evening. We will be going back to our room together when this is over; I refuse to contemplate any other outcome. Skinner takes off his glasses and hands them to me.


“Can you see without them?” I ask.


“I can see better without them than I can with them smashed into my face,” he shrugs.


“Good point.” I slip them into my pocket. “Shoes aren’t allowed.” I notice the other sub divesting his master of his shoes as the man glowers at Skinner, flexing his arms theatrically. Skinner sighs, and shakes his head. I kneel down, undo his shoes, and peel off his socks, while he engages in some he-man stuff with the other guy, both of them staring each other out.


“Shit, you don’t suppose we have to fight butt naked do you?” he asks. “That would be too sick even for these guys wouldn’t it? Please, tell me it would, Fox.”


“Fuck, I don’t know. I wouldn’t put anything past them. But no, I think you might be spared that indignity.” I glance at the other top. “He doesn’t look as if he’s taking off any more clothes.”


“Thank god for that.” He breathes in deeply.


“You won’t have any problems with him. He’s too small,” I murmur, trying to bolster his ego. I make a silent vow to work on my mindless adoration skills later.


“Yeah – but he might be fast. I’m, uh, not really,” he shrugs.


“But you’ve got amazing stamina – right?”


“Oh yeah. Hell, I’ve put up with you for five years haven’t I?”


“That’s my boy.” I grin, and wipe the rest of the oil off onto my jeans. “Kick ass, boss.”


With all the preparations over, I’m ordered back into the center of the Arena again. Saunders grabs my wrist, and before I know it, I’m wearing a leather cuff, which he fastens to the post at the top of the circle. I can feel my face flaming in anger and humiliation, but there’s nothing I can do, and my situation is not any worse than Skinner’s is right now. The other sub is fastened next to me, and he grins at me – a greeting I don’t have the heart to return. God, I hope I don’t look as stupid as he does right now, but I suspect that I do.


My fellow captive is still grinning at me, as if to say, “Aren’t we just too cute for words?” Yech. We’re a couple of trussed up, half dressed babes, the spoils of war, on display, and to the victor goes all…Wait! To the victor goes all? What a revolting thought. I glance at my fellow captive with renewed interest. Does this mean that Skinner gets to keep him if he wins? Over my dead body. Still, I suppose it’s only fair that if Skinner stands the chance of losing ‘possession’ of me, then his challenger has to put up something of equal value. It’s so exquisitely, crazily sick that I want to laugh hysterically at it, and I would if the danger weren’t so very real and immediate. I try and think back to how it’s possible that I’m standing here, half-naked and tied to a post, while my boss is having to fight for me. Whatever happened to aliens, UFO’s, conspiracies, and all the normal lunacies of my life? When did this new madness take their place? Is it me? Do I attract insanity like some sort of loco-magnet? Hey, it’s Mulder, throw some crazy alien shit at him. Yeah, okay, now some genetic freaks. Yeah, that’s the ticket, but it’s getting boring. Hey, how about a wacko bunch of sado-masochistic fruitcakes who want to get a piece of his ass? Yeah – and while we’re at it, throw in a steamy love session with his boss to really screw around with his head. Thanks guys, whoever you are – you omnipotent, fate-fixing jokers are having some cosmic sized fun at my expense. I owe you fuckers, big time.


“Let battle commence.” Saunders smirks at his own crass cliche‚ and withdraws from the Arena. I find that I have a ringside view of the proceedings, and hold my breath as Skinner and the other guy circle each other warily for a few moments. Then the other guy launches himself at Skinner who side-steps him easily, and lands a good body punch. Skinner is right though – this guy is quick, and he’s soon dancing around stabbing these little punches at my boss and then darting back before Skinner can retaliate.


Skinner takes a few hits to his chest and face, and then starts to get really mad. The next time the guy comes towards him, Skinner feints a left, and then snarls and launches himself bodily at his challenger. He throws the guy to the floor, sits on him, and pounds his fist into the man’s face a couple of times. A satisfied gasp goes up from the assembled crowd as it becomes obvious that Skinner has won.


“Over,” the other guy gasps, trying to wriggle out from under Skinner and failing. “Over!” He taps Skinner’s thigh with one of his fingers. “Challenge over.” Skinner gets up triumphantly, and I find myself sagging against the pole in relief. Skinner and I exchange a wordless glance – the whole thing was wrapped up in less than 4 minutes. Quick work, boss. Nick appears beside me and unties the other sub, and leads him to one side before coming back to release me. Then Saunders moves to the center of the circle once more.


“Any other challenges?” he asks.


A tall, slender, black guy moves like a dangerous panther into the Arena. I’m instantly at Skinner’s side bringing him some water, thinking the whole nightmare must be nearly over, but in fact it’s only just begun. The black guy makes a show of examining the available slaves – I think it’s all part of the psyching out process that these freaks indulge in – and then he strides up to Skinner, and points.


“You,” he hisses and the whole thing starts up all over again. Skinner gets oiled down, I get tied to a post with some other poor bastard, and then we watch as these two grown men slug it out over our half-naked, slave-boy bodies. Just another hard day at the office. Skinner wins this one, and the next one, but by this time I’m getting anxious.


“This isn’t fucking fair,” I complain to Nick. “Is he supposed to fight everyone here? It’s not a challenge, it’s a goddamn free for all.”


“Like Aaron said, there are no rules.” Nick shrugs, but he’s frowning as well. “To be honest, Fox, we’ve never had a challenge evening like this one before. Usually the fighting is very mixed – Aaron once fought three people in one session before, but that was the highest number of challenges that one top has fought. I told you that you’d drawn attention to yourself. The tops all want to try you. You’ve got to admit that you’ve shown off. First all the insubordination, then that sublime massage. I’m not surprised that they’re itching to subdue you, and then be on the receiving end of your loving attention.”


“This is my fault?” I stare at Nick open-mouthed.


“Well it sure as hell isn’t your master’s fault is it?” He grins at me. “Don’t worry about him. He’s fighting well. He can keep going.”


“He’s only goddamn human.” I stride over to Skinner with some more water. He’s got a bruised jaw, but luckily his eyes are unharmed. I can see some bruises starting on his ribs but Nick’s probably right; he can keep going – but for how long? I remember what Saunders said – something about the Challenge lasting an hour.


“We’re about half way through,” I tell Skinner. “Can you keep going for another half an hour?”


“Re-phrase that in a way that makes it sound like I have a choice,” he grunts, wincing as I wash some blood out of the cut on the side of his face.


“Feeling in need of a pep talk are we? Well, let’s see. You’ve fought off half these guys already. You’re bigger, fitter, smarter, stronger, and a lot better looking.”


“Yeah, all right.” He shakes his head wryly.


“And I bet you’ve got more packed away where it counts as well,” I continue.


“Hmmm – this flattery is working.” He breaks into a grin. I slap some more oil onto his body, and return to the post once more with a heavy sigh.


Two more fights take us to nearly five to midnight. I cross my fingers, hoping they’ll end it there. Skinner is breathing heavily, and I’m not sure he can take any more. A mood of menace has fallen over the Arena. Skinner is like a bloodied bull, weak, and open to attack. Nobody could have fought better or longer, but he’s vulnerable right now. None of these guys are exactly useless with their fists either – he’s taken some heavy body blows. I can feel the way the pack is baying for his blood, wanting to see him defeated, wanting to see me slung into the sand and made to submit, to be visibly subdued, to be punished for my attitude, my arrogance, and my temper. The torches have burned down, making the room darker and more threatening than ever. I can barely see the next challenger as he walks into the center of the Arena and challenges Skinner.


“Last one,” Nick whispers to me as he unties me. “Tell him that. The last one.”


Skinner is breathing far too heavily for my liking, and he looks a mess.


“Nick says it’s the last fight of the evening.” I take his head in my hands, and try to get him to focus on me.


“Yeah,” he manages a weak grin. “But have you seen who it is?”


“Who?” I turn, and my heart sinks.


“Matt,” Skinner murmurs.


Matt is being oiled up, his pristine skin unmarked by the bruises that now liberally adorn Skinner. He sees me looking at him and smirks.


“The bastard waited until now before challenging – he knew he didn’t stand a chance against you when you were fresh.” I’m seething, and about ready to go over there and take care of Matt myself when I catch sight of Saunders. Before Skinner can stop me, I find myself grabbing Saunders’s arm and turning him around to face me.


“This is a fucking set-up,” I snarl. “Skinner’s taken all the challenges this evening. It isn’t fair.”


“Life isn’t though, is it?” Saunders smiles and then glares pointedly at the hand I have on his arm. I find myself removing it. “You really don’t want to anger me, Fox,” he says dangerously. “I’m quite satisfied with the slave I have already but I might decide to make a pitch for you myself one of these days. How would you like that?” His face is angled to one side as he regards me keenly.


“I don’t belong to anyone but Skinner,” I tell him evenly. “And this “challenge” is a heap of shit. Stop it now, Saunders.”


“I can’t,” Saunders shrugs. “Matt issued the challenge before the hour was up. Skinner has to respond. It’s the way Mithras functions at its most basic level, Fox. If a man has a particularly desirable slave, he has to be strong enough to keep him, even if that means having to do a lot of fighting. Of course I can see why you’d be concerned.” Saunders flashes me that creepy grin and glances over my shoulder at Matt. “I would be too if I were you. You really shouldn’t have upset Matt so much when you first arrived. He’s just itching to get his fingers on you. He’s been polishing his crop all evening. Cross your fingers, Fox – because if Matt gets his hands on you then I’d hazard a guess you’ll be one docile slave by tomorrow morning. Docile – and well marked. I look forward to seeing those marks at breakfast tomorrow. That’s if you can still walk.” He laughs out loud at his own macabre sense of humor. “Of course, Matt is an exhibitionist so it’s possible that he’ll throw you in the sand and take you immediately upon his victory with all these witnesses. I do hope he does. I enjoy watching.” Saunders chuckles again at my outraged expression and then turns his back on me.


I return to Skinner, seething inside at the injustice and the way we are being forced into accepting every piece of shit these people hand out to us.


Skinner is getting his breath back; he takes a long, deep drink and does some stretches.


“I’m not finished yet, Fox,” he says. “Don’t write me out of this contest before it starts.”


“You could beat him with one hand tied behind your back,” I state in a feeble and transparent attempt at showing a confidence in him that I’m not sure I feel.


“No, you’re the one that gets to have all the tying up shit done to you,” he grins. “I get to have my brains beaten to a pulp by mindless wackos while you just have to stand around looking pretty. Some guys get all the luck.”


“Kismet,” I grin back. “I was born prettier than you so I get the slave boy option.” I’m trying to joke but somehow I don’t think it’s a good idea to mention to him at this point that the only top here who has beaten Matt is Saunders. That wouldn’t be a good psychological place to be coming from in a fight like this.


I return to the post once more for another session with the handcuffs, only this time I’m even more scared shitless than before. I really don’t want to watch Skinner getting the crap beaten out of him but I’m only human, and at least some of my concern is saved for myself. I don’t want to be raped, and I don’t want another taste of Matt’s riding crop. I can’t see how Skinner can be expected to defeat Matt after all the fighting he’s done tonight. My fingers are crossed, and my heart is pounding in my chest as the two men begin to circle each other. Matt is about the same height as Skinner, but not as broad; however he is sinewy and obviously well toned. He’s clearly a formidable opponent.


Matt feints forward, drops back, and then repeats the move again and again, making Skinner snarl with angry frustration. Finally Matt follows through, taking Skinner by surprise, and landing a solid blow to my man’s jaw. Skinner just shakes his head, and keeps moving. He’s like a goddamn ox, charging on regardless. Matt goes through the same dancing, darting crap as before, wearing Skinner out even more before landing another good punch to Skinner’s ribs. Skinner lashes out and manages to get a blow to Matt’s face before Matt skips out of reach, but even so, it isn’t a very convincing shot. Matt is definitely ahead on points. The whole circle can see that Skinner is tired. A low humming sound starts, full of menace, repeating one word with a pounding rhythm: “Kill”.


It’s whispered over and over again, and the sub tied up with me to the stake backs up against me, his eyes wide and scared.


“What’s happening?” he whispers. I recognize him from breakfast – he’s the kid Matt made eat from the plate on the floor.


“I don’t know.” I find myself reaching out my free hand to comfort him, and we both stand there looking dazed and scared. The crowd has turned ugly. They want Matt to win; they want Skinner to drop, to finally be defeated. They want one of their own to be the victor, to bring this outsider down, and trample him into the sand. Then they want to see me raped, subdued, and finally brought into line. Buoyed up by the sound, Matt shrieks a war cry, and launches himself at Skinner, bringing him down with one blow to the midriff. He strikes him another on the face, kicks him hard in the shins, and then pins my boss to the ground with his body. I see Skinner glance at me over Matt’s shoulder, and I close my eyes, unable to watch.


When I open them again, Matt is delivering one final, decisive punch to Skinner’s head. My boss, my lover, falls back onto the sand, out cold.


“Yes!” Matt stands up, raising his arms in the air, a look of triumphant glee on his face. He turns towards me, and I actually hear myself whimper. He’s looking at me with those Nightmare-on-Elm-Street eyes of his, and I know that I haven’t got a chance. He’s crazy, full of bloodlust, and it’s me he wants to vent it on. I tug blindly, frantically, at the cuff around my wrist, trying to escape, knowing it’s hopeless, twisting to get as far away from him as possible.


He grins and pursues me, grabs my shoulders and pulls my head against his for a sweaty, revolting kiss. I kick him, pull away, and duck under him, but he just grabs me again, his hands closing around my neck as he yanks me back up.


“I’m going to share my victory with you all!” Matt yells, putting one arm around my chest while he holds onto my neck with his other hand. “Watch and enjoy!” he laughs, his free hand moving down to the front of my jeans, as he starts to unbutton my fly. His breath is hot against my flesh, and my stomach is heaving so much that I think I might puke. At that moment, I feel him forcibly wrenched from me, and I twist around just in time to see Skinner headbutt Matt across the bridge of his already crooked nose. Matt lets out a squeal of pure pain, and Skinner lands another satisfying punch to Matt’s stomach and then, standing up straight, he takes aim, and kicks my assailant squarely in the groin with as much force as he can muster. Matt curls up, and whimpers in agony. Skinner stands over him, takes a fistful of his dark hair, and pulls his head back.


“I don’t believe I said that the challenge was over,” Skinner growls. “Did I?” Matt shakes his head, still whimpering. “So-your-victory-celebration-was-premature.” Skinner punctuates each word with a savage punch to Matt’s body. “Wasn’t it?” He shakes Matt bodily as if he’s a rat.


“Yes!” Matt manages to pant out.


“And the words you’re looking for are?” Skinner waits patiently, his fist drawn back.


“Challenge over,” Matt gasps. “You win, Skinner.”


Skinner nods and smiles, and starts to put the bleeding man down, and then casually, as if as an afterthought, delivers one last brutal punch to Matt’s face. When he flings Matt back into the sand, the guy doesn’t even move. Skinner stands up stiffly, glaring around the circle, and I see the grudging respect in the eyes of the other tops.


Skinner walks slowly over to Nick, and holds out his hand.


“Give me the key,” he says. Nick stares at him blankly, still lost in the drama of the moment. “I said, give me the goddamn key!” Skinner snarls, and Nick snaps out of it and obeys. Skinner comes over to me and undoes the cuff.


“What is it with you and last minute rescues anyway?” I hiss under my breath.


“Nag, nag, nag.” He shakes his head. “Didn’t your mom teach you any manners? Like when to say ‘thank-you’ maybe?”


I don’t have a chance to reply because Saunders is coming over, a look of immense approval on his face.


“So, Mr. Skinner – you’ve turned out to be a worthy addition to our little circle.” He smiles. “I do hope you enjoyed yourself this evening.”


“Enjoyed…?” Skinner looks dumb-struck. Saunders nods – he’s quite sincere.


“The roar of the Arena, the smell of the fight,” he murmurs, his face almost orgasmic with pleasure. “There’s nothing like it, is there?”


Skinner puts his glasses back on and nods thoughtfully.


“No. I can honestly say it’s like nothing on this planet,” he agrees with a sidelong glance at me that suggests he thinks that Saunders is definitely one french fry short of a happy meal.


“And of course you deserve your reward,” Saunders grins. “I hope you still have some energy left to enjoy it, Mr. Skinner.” He clicks his fingers, and a troop of subs is ushered over. I recognize them as my various companions-of-the-post. “All yours,” Saunders smiles. “You won them, fair and square.”


“All of them?” Skinner casts his eyes over the little huddled crowd of be-jeaned slave boy specimens.


“That’s right.” Saunders shrugs.


“Don’t even fucking think about it,” I murmur to Skinner under my breath.


“Hmm,” Skinner pauses and peers at the assembled subs with a show of interest, and I’m pretty close to landing another punch on him to add to the ones that he’s already taken this evening. “I guess I’ll have to take a rain-check,” he says at last with a regretful sigh. “I think I’ve already got my hands full with the sub I’ve already got. I don’t need any more trouble.”


“Wise move, boss,” I mutter. “All right, guys – back to the pen or wherever you sleep. He’s mine, and he doesn’t want you, so get lost. Now!” They back off, startled by my tone, and I notice Skinner is starting to sway. “Come on,” I take his arm, and sling it around my shoulder.


We make our unsteady way out of the Arena, and back to our room. As soon as we get there, he collapses onto the bed.


“You stupid, crazy, bastard.” I disappear into the bathroom, and start filling the man-sized tub with hot water. “Playing dead like that. Nearly gave me a goddamn heart attack.”


I return to his side, and start easing his clothes off him gently, undressing him like he’s a kid. I can’t resist kissing him all over as I do so. He’s so weak and pathetic right now that he can’t protest; even if he wanted to.


“Well I knew I wasn’t going to beat him in a fair fight,” he mutters, leaning against me as I undo his pants, his head heavy on my shoulder. “Matt’s greedy, and he’s got a giant sized ego. I knew that if I made it look like he’d floored me, he’d go straight over to claim you. I just had to time my recovery to make sure that I had the element of surprise. If I’d gotten the timing wrong he would have had me.”


“Well he nearly had me instead,” I mutter pulling off his pants and his briefs so that he’s naked. “Oh shit, listen to me. I’m an ungrateful bastard. I was just so damn worried. I wasn’t sure how badly you were injured. I couldn’t even see if you were still breathing. Damn, I wish you’d let me in on your plan.”


I pull him up and half walk, half carry him into the bathroom. I help him into the bath and take off his glasses as they steam up. He leans back, his eyes closed, and I get my jeans off, and slip in beside him, pulling him over so that he’s reclining between my legs, his head resting on my chest while I kiss his scalp. I find the soap and gently rub it over his chest and down to his groin, and then run my fingers along his cock because, frankly, I can’t resist.


“Yeah, like I have the energy for that,” he mutters.


“I’m not asking you to do anything.” I nibble at his ear. “I’m just playing. I have to make the most of it when I have you vulnerable and at my mercy don’t I? It doesn’t happen that often.”


“Good point.” He smiles, his eyes still closed, his face etched with weariness.


I hold him, stroking him, whispering to him, and kissing the side of his face for nearly an hour until the water starts to get cold. He’s like a baby in my arms, totally relaxed and zoned out, just enjoying the caressing and attention.


Finally, I haul him out of the tub, wrap him up in a towel, and walk him back into the other room where he lies down on the bed.


“I’m just tired. I’ll be okay,” he whispers, seeing the anxious look in my eyes as I hover over him.


“I’ll put something on your injuries. God knows they’ve provided us with a big enough first aid kit.”


I get the kit, return to the bedroom with it, and smooth some cold gel over the bruises and cuts on his body. His face isn’t too badly marked, apart from that cut on the side of his jaw and a couple of bruises. I’m grateful for that much – and for the fact that he managed to duck out of the way of the couple of punches that would have damaged his eyes. His knuckles are grazed and bruised and look pretty painful so I put a light dressing on them. He submits to my clumsy medical attention, and then rolls back under the sheets. I slip in beside him, and cradle him to me, loving the feel of his ass against my thighs, my ankles draped over his, his muscular back pressed tight against my chest.


“Did I say thank you?” I murmur, feeling his breathing deepen and his body relax.


“Do you ever?” he answers.


“What do you mean? Of course I…What are you talking about?” I bristle.


“Well, there was getting beaten up in a stairwell over that stupid DAT tape. There was taking delivery of a known felon, and storing him for you in my apartment – to say nothing of all the ‘there goes the guy who likes handcuffed young men’ gossip that abounds in my apartment block as a result. There was rescuing you from faraway locations – on more occasions that I can even begin to think of right now. There was deciding NOT to suspend you despite numerous instances where it was the only sane thing to do.”


“Yes, all right, I get the point. Did I forget to thank you on all those occasions?”


“Mulder, you never thank me,” he points out, his speech slurred and drowsy.


“I could make up for it now.”


I disappear under the sheets and find his cock. I’ve never done this before but how hard can it be? Yeah, I know he’s tired, but too tired for a blow job? I know I never have been! I’m right – a few licks and nibbles and he hardens and starts thrusting into my waiting mouth, and I decide that Fox Mulder – slaveboy does actually have some talents after all. This is fun! His cock tastes of bath water, salt, and essence of Skinner, and I’m just dying to see what his come tastes like, which may be sick of me. I don’t know. I don’t know anything any more – all my certainties are gone. Anyway, he comes soon enough under my expert mouth and tongue and I like the sensation of swallowing him down. Mmmm! Yep, finger lickin’ good, that’s what he is. I don’t even allow so much as a single droplet to mess up the bed, and I lick him clean afterwards. Slut-Mulder, that’s me, the fastest tongue in the west.


“How was that?” I ask, returning to my former position behind him and drawing him close again.


“Well, that took care of the DAT tape thing, but you still owe me for the rest of it. Somehow I think it’s going to take you a long time to pay off your debt. Looks like indentured servitude is in your future for some time to come.”


“Aw, shucks,” I grin, nuzzling him shamelessly and he lets out a small barking laugh. “What?” I ask.


“You. For the last five years you’ve been dancing around like a prissy kid making me admire you from afar, always skipping just out of reach, and now you can’t keep your hands off me.”


“Why stop at hands?” I stick my tongue in his ear, and he waves me off, feebly.


“Mulder, let me sleep. Please,” he says beseechingly, and with some reluctance, I do as I’m told. See, I can be obedient. Sometimes.


I don’t go to sleep. Instead I wait until I’m sure he is sleeping, and find myself gazing down on him. He looks like a battle-scarred lion, bloody, bruised, and unbowed. I suppose I know what I’m going to do. Maybe I’ve known since my conversation with Nick earlier this evening, when he told me that there’s been another challenge scheduled for tomorrow evening. How long can Skinner keep taking this kind of punishment? I know he said to stay put, to find out what’s going on, and wait for the ‘team’ to rescue us, but I don’t have a lot of faith in the prowess of the team. I guess I’m just used to relying on myself. I get up and get dressed quietly, borrowing a pair of black pants and one of his black shirts from the wardrobe, put on his sneakers, and then slip over to the door. I try the handle but somebody has clearly visited while we were in the bathroom because it’s locked. I get a wire coat hanger and twist it around before inserting it into the keyhole. This is a talent I picked up during my misspent youth, and that’s all you need to know about it.


It takes about five minutes to pick the lock, and all the time I’m holding my breath in case he wakes up. Somehow, I know he won’t approve of this – maybe I’m psychic. When the lock finally gives up the ghost, I go back to the bed, and kiss him gently. With any luck, I’ll be back with help before they even notice I’m missing. I slip out into the corridor, and head off in the direction of the Bat Cave, but I’m soon lost. When I was there last, I had more important things on my mind than the layout of the place, so my memories are hazy at best.


Unsurprisingly, somewhere along the line, I take a wrong turn and end up outside the slave-pen. I tiptoe past as quietly as I can, head down to the end, and turn into yet another corridor. Damn, but they all look the same.


I hear someone laughing, and duck into a side passage, holding my breath as one of the tops walks by, his arms loosely wrapped around a giggling sub. When they’ve passed, I edge out into the main corridor again, and along to another dimly lit passage. The corridors are becoming more rough-hewn now, which is how I remember it. Finally I end up in a dark cavern, completely unlit. I remember the musty smell – it’s the Bat Cave! I feel my way along and then slip, tumbling head first down some roughly hewn stairs carved out of rock. I make one hell of a racket, and hold my breath as well as I can, considering that I’m winded, but nobody comes to investigate. I manage to find where the cars are stored – there are about 10 cars here, all big limos, neatly parked. The exit is covered by a solid metal sheet and I run my fingers all over it, trying to find the garage door opener. At last I locate a switch mechanism to one side, and press it and…holy shit! All hell breaks loose. A bright light comes on, a siren begins to sound, and literally, within five seconds, I find myself face to face with a guy holding a gun.


My stomach is churning as I’m pushed along the corridor at gunpoint. The guard stops outside a door and knocks on it. It’s opened by Nick who takes one look at me, and then his eyes pop out of his head. He opens the door wider, and goes to wake Saunders. It’s fair to say that I’m starting to quake by this time. Saunders is definitely not a happy camper about being woken up at this hour. He gets up, allows Nick to help him into his robe, and then comes over to look at me. He grimaces at me as though I’m something he’s stepped in.


“So, Fox. Trying to abscond? And after we showed you such hospitality as well,” he murmurs.


“Yeah, right. You’re a bunch of frigging fruitcakes,” I splutter. Call me unwise – it’s been done before and not as politely, so I’m used to it. Saunders is clearly torn between hitting me and laughing. Luckily, for me he does the latter.


“This is what always amuses me about you, Fox,” he says. “No matter how bad your situation, you still try to fight it. Nobody could ever accuse you of being a quitter.”


“Oh I’d be happy to quit. Believe me,” I tell him. His mood changes abruptly.


“Does your master know that you’re loose?” he asks.


“No. He’s still asleep.” I shrug, desperately hoping that we can keep Skinner out of this.


“Well, let’s take this conversation to him shall we?” Saunders smiles. That forlorn hope of mine is therefore dead in the water.


Saunders and the guard usher me along the corridor and back to our room. Saunders politely knocks on the door, and then enters when there is no reply. He turns on the light, and Skinner sits up blearily. He runs his hand over his eyes as he takes in the situation.


“Oh shit,” he mutters.


“It would seem,” Saunders smiles, “that we have a little discipline problem, Mr Skinner.”


“Yes. I’ll take care of it.” Skinner gets out of bed wearily and pulls on his robe.


“That isn’t acceptable,” Saunders says. “Community rules have been broken. We take the matter of runaway slaves very seriously. The punishment is quite severe.” He gives me a gleeful look of anticipation, and I close my eyes, remembering the Zone.


“He isn’t a runaway,” Skinner tells Saunders urgently. “It’s part of our game. Isn’t it, Fox?”


“What? Yeah.” I’ve lost the plot. All I can think of is that poor bastard in the Zone with all those goddamn attachments on his body.


“Your game?” Saunders questions.


“He runs. I hunt. I’ve given him permission to run whenever he wants – it makes it more interesting if I don’t know when it’ll be,” Skinner improvises wildly. Saunders stares at him for a moment, and then nods.


“I’ll accept that. However, he chose an unfortunate time to play. And he was well and truly caught in a trap this evening so he’s failed. As community rules have been broken, we’ll need to see him punished.”


“In what way, ‘punished’?” Skinner asks warily, and I cross my fingers behind my back. Not the Zone, please not the Zone.


“A public whipping.” Saunders smiles at me. “Thirty strokes seem acceptable.” Thirty? I want to choke. “You can administer the strokes yourself if you like, Mr. Skinner. After breakfast tomorrow morning in the library. Or, if you prefer, I’m sure there will be no shortage of volunteers to perform the punishment. I know that Matt takes particular pleasure in such things. It’s entirely up to you. I don’t care who does it, only that it is done, and that the other subs see that it is done. Runaway slaves are very much discouraged in this establishment, Mr. Skinner.”


“I can believe that,” Skinner murmurs. “And if I refuse to allow this punishment to take place?”


“You can if you wish,” Saunders shrugs, “but if you do then the matter will be taken out of your hands, and we will have to remove Fox forcibly to the Zone in order to oversee the punishment ourselves.”


Skinner’s eyes meet mine and he sighs again and rubs a weary hand over his forehead.


“It would seem that I don’t have a choice,” he says.


“I’m glad we’re agreed then.” Saunders smiles. “Good night, Mr. Skinner. And to you, Fox.” He shakes his head with exaggerated, sarcastic regret as he considers me, chuckling to himself, and then he turns on his heel and leaves, locking the door behind him again.


“You know,” Skinner says carefully when we’re alone. “I could have sworn that I sat in that chair only a few hours ago, and made it very clear that you were not, under any circumstances, to try to escape.”


“I can explain,” I sigh, throwing myself down on the armchair in question. “There’s another Arena session scheduled for tomorrow night. I thought you might not be fit enough. I thought it was worth the risk.”


“And you didn’t tell me about this little plan because…?” he prompts.


“I knew you wouldn’t approve.”


“And therefore?”


“You’d have stopped me.”


“And if that had happened?”


“We wouldn’t be in this mess.” I bury my head in my knees.


“One of these days you’ll follow my orders, and then we might just live to be old men and die in our beds.” He comes over to me, and ruffles my hair with a sigh. “Hey, come on.” He kneels down beside me, and wraps his arms around me. “You’ll be okay.” He kisses my head, holding me close.


“I fucking won’t. I knew these bastards wouldn’t be happy until they got to lay one of those damn whips on my bare ass. I’m fucking well up shit creek without a paddle.”


“You’re really scared of this aren’t you?” He tries to still my trembling with his warmth and strength but I’m too damn afraid.


“Wouldn’t you be?” I snap.


“You’ve faced mutants, taken gunshot wounds, been attacked and assaulted. This is no worse,” he says soothingly. “Don’t think about it.”


“I can’t do that. These people scare the shit out of me. They’ve looked for any excuse to beat me senseless ever since we’ve been here. They won’t stop until they totally dominate and subdue me. I’ve never been more scared in my life.”


“And you think that they’ll have won if they finally get to hurt you the way they want to?” He takes my head between his hands and looks into my soul.


“I don’t know if I’ll be strong enough not to give in. Yes,” I admit.


“So they might be able to force you into a submission you don’t feel in your heart?”




“They can’t. Whatever they say or do won’t make any difference. You’ll know the truth. I’ll know the truth.”


“What truth?” I ask him, still shivering. “I don’t know the truth myself any more. What truth will we know?”


“Only one.” His dark eyes are like glinting spheres of pure jet. “That you belong to me.”


“And what more do I need to know?” I whisper.


“Nothing. That’s all that’s important.” He hisses fiercely.


“Then you have to…” I begin, closing my eyes, scarcely daring to ask.


“What?” He runs his thumbs down the side of my face.


“You know what. You can’t let Matt or any of the others touch me. If I must be beaten down, if I must be subdued, then you’ve got to be the one who does it.”


“I don’t…I can’t…” he says, his tone strangulated.


“No. But you have to anyway.”


He gets up, thinking about it, and I watch as he paces around the room for a moment.


“Please. I won’t submit to any of them. I can’t. Please,” I find myself saying softly. “If it has to happen, it has to be you.”


“Why?” He comes back to me and stands in front of me, his hands on my shoulders.


“Because I trust you and I don’t trust them. I don’t want them hurting me.”


“But it’s okay if I do?” His big hands knead my neck, his expression distracted and disturbed.


“Yes. It’s okay.”


“Don’t ask me to do this, Fox,” he says, wretchedly.


“You have to. Like you said, I’m yours. It’s a two way street, this responsibility, isn’t it?”


His eyes snap up to meet mine, acknowledging the truth of what I’ve just said. “Of course,” he murmurs softly.


We’re silent for a long time. Maybe I’ve fucked him up by my request, but at least, selfish bastard that I am, I’m not as scared any more. Don’t ask me for my professional, psychological evaluation. I know, you’d think that my psychology degree would be useful for something. Maybe it’s just that having already submitted to him as my boss, and as my lover, it makes it possible for me to endure this final humiliation at his hands in a way that would be unbearable from anyone else. I trust him and besides, he’d never cross the line with me, and truly hurt me in a way I couldn’t recover from.


“Have you ever, um, done anything like this before?” I ask him as it suddenly occurs to me that I know nothing about his previous sexual exploits.


“No. What the fuck sort of life do you think I’ve led?” he demands.


“Well I don’t know. I don’t know anything about you on a personal level do I? I thought you were my straight arrow boss, and the next thing I know you’re flinging me onto the bed, we’re having rough sex, and you’re confiding that you only let yourself go with other men. How many other men have there been?”


“Not many,” he grunts. “I was happy in my marriage for a long time. I’m not saying that I didn’t occasionally fantasize about losing control, being with another guy, but life is about more than just sex. Most of the time I was busy with my job. I certainly never felt any attraction to the gay scene – let alone the S&M fringes of it. I don’t understand the fascination with stuff like this.” He gestures at the cupboard full of whips. “Any power you need to obtain through using threats like these is meaningless – just for show. If I had to tie you to my side, and beat you to keep you there then where’s the power in that? Only a bully or a coward needs those trappings. Sex games are a different matter – I can see how people might get off on using the contents of that cupboard as erotic props, but not at this level, not the way they’re used here.” He throws himself down on the bed, his arms behind his head and I stare at him for a long while, fascinated by him, and what he is saying.


“Lenny said that you had the soul of a top,” I murmur. “I think I know what he means now.”


“Oh, Lenny’s full of shit.” Skinner grins across at me. “I’ll admit there’s something erotic about the exchange of power – you needing to give yourself up to me, and me needing to claim you. I admit that, but we’re equals. Nick and Saunders are equals too, although I’m not sure either of them understands that. They both get what they need from each other.”


“You seem to have more of a handle on this shit than I would have imagined.” I go and lie next to him on the bed, my head on his lap. His fingers find my face, and he strokes me softly.


“I do. It’s instinctive. Men play games like this all the time – only usually they’re competing for status, or women, or even money. You were different. I noticed that straight away. You didn’t play like the other guys but it took me a long while to figure out where you were coming from. You’re my counterpart, Fox. We fit each other. These people have reduced the concept to dom and sub but it’s a lot more complex than that. That’s just playing at it. We’ve lived it.”


“Yes,” I say simply because it’s the truth and I don’t care that it’s a freaky concept any more. Five years in denial is long enough for anyone.


“And I may have threatened you because I needed to keep you under control to stop exactly this sort of thing happening, but I have never wanted to hurt you.”


“Are you sure?” I grin up at him, teasing him.” Lenny said you had the patience of a saint, and must be itching to throw me over your knee and give me a good spanking.”


“Oh, yeah. Well I’ve wanted to do that, obviously.” He grins back.


“What?” I sit up, outraged.


“Everyone wants to do that, Fox.” He pulls me back down again. “It’s a standard response to you, and I’ve had to suffer some of your worst excesses, so I think I’m entitled.”


“Everybody?” I look at him, startled.


“Oh yeah. You know that guy with the dark hair from internal investigations? The one I have to call in every time we do an inquiry on you?”


“Yeah.” I can picture the guy, the one who once asked me why I was so paranoid.


“Well sometimes when we’re having one of our usual heated discussions about you, he’ll slam the palm of his hand down on the desk over and over again, and I have no doubt at all as to what is going through his mind. I can empathize with that.”


“Shit. Everybody…” I say, still appalled by this concept.


“Yeah – take Scully for example. She must have hairbrushes and slippers with your name on them in her apartment. I bet sometimes after you’ve ditched her in yet another way out location, she goes home, puts one of the throw cushions from her couch over her knee, takes aim, and…”


“No!” I laugh out loud at the mental image this conjures up.


“You think I’m kidding?” He holds me down and kisses me. “Dream on then, Fox. Dream on.”


His arms are a comfort, and he doesn’t let go all night. I try not to think about the morning. I guess there’s a small section of my brain that is convinced that we’ll be rescued by the team before my date with destiny in the library. I’m woken up by him undressing me – I had fallen asleep still fully clothed in my “escape” outfit.


“What time is it?” I murmur.


“Ten,” he whispers.


“What about breakfast?” I try to get up but his arms are heavy, holding me down.


“I don’t think either of us is hungry. We have an hour before we need to be in the library. Let’s make the most of it.”


There’s something different about him but I can’t put my finger on what it is. He finishes unbuttoning my shirt, and then moves on to my pants.


“I’m not in the mood,” I tell him, pushing him away, feeling a pit of nervous fear opening up inside me. I roll off the bed and go to the bathroom for a piss, returning to find him sitting on the side of the bed, a strange, thoughtful expression on his face.


“Come here,” he says, beckoning, and I do as commanded. “Kneel down.” I find myself between his knees, and he takes my head in his hands and looks deep into my eyes. “Do you trust me, Fox?” he asks.


“Yes. With my life,” I shrug.


“Good. Then I need you to do something for me, something you’ll find hard.”


“What?” I tense and his fingers soothe me.


“I need you to give up everything to me and I need you to follow me somewhere you don’t want to go.”


“I don’t understand.” I’m transfixed by the darkness in his eyes, and the hardness of his hands against my face as he holds me too tight.


“Yes you do. You’re mine.” His hands move away from my face and down to my shirt. He pushes it off my shoulders, and it slides to the floor. “I can do what I like with you.” He kisses me behind the ear, and I feel my body responding despite myself. “Can’t I?” He whispers, his hands on my fly, unzipping, removing my pants. “Well?” he urges insistently.


“Yes.” I can feel myself drowning when he talks to me like that. I’ve forgotten about the library, about everything but him, and the way he smells, and the way he’s kissing me. I’m hard before he’s even got me fully naked, and he drags me bodily onto the bed.


“Listen to me then.” His voice is low, gruff, throaty, and so damn sexy that I’m transfixed. I can feel his hard-on digging into me, and my own cock is stiff and ready. “I’m not giving you any release yet. You can’t come unless I tell you that you can. Do you understand?”


“Yes,” I moan, feeling his lips pressing against the back of my neck, gentle despite the vice-like grip he has around my body.


“I mean it. You have to do that for me. It’s important.”


“Yes. Okay.” My breathing is coming hard and fast and as far as I’m concerned, there’s just him and me in the whole goddamned universe at this point.


“Good. There will be a reward for that, Fox. Trust me.” He loosens his grip, and his fingers find my nipples, fondling them gently. “But you’ll have to wait for the reward. It’ll be later, much later – and better than anything you can dream of.”


“What is it?” His questing fingers are still playing with my nipples, and I groan and lean back against him, trying to impale myself on the hardness I can feel in his groin.


“Not yet. I’ll tell you later.” His lips travel down my back, and his hands stay on my chest, their caress insistent, endless, sending shivers of heat through me. I can’t stand the pressure in my cock, and I move my hands down to touch it. His own hands go into action immediately, stopping me before I get there, holding my wrists tightly in front of my body. “No,” he says firmly. “Obey me.”


“I want to,” I whimper.


“You must. If it’s too much, then I can tie you, but I’d rather you obeyed me because I asked you to.”


“I’ll try.” I feel as if my whole body is a sensitive mass of receptors. My skin shivers at the slightest touch of his lips or fingers. Every part of me has been turned into an erogenous zone.


“Give in to me,” he whispers, his fingers playing me like a violin, plucking at my strings to make the most beautiful music.


“I do. I have.” I lie back against him, and feel his fingers inside me, thrusting. “Fuck me,” I whimper, and he laughs.


“Beg me,” he whispers, his fingers insistent, teasing my prostate and making me sweat with pleasure.


“Please, please. Fuck me. I’m begging you.” I put my hands behind me, trying to find his hard cock, and pull it into me, but he just grabs them and puts them back in front of me, holding my wrists tightly again.


“I really will tie you if you keep doing that,” he whispers, and for some reason that just makes me even more desperate for the sensation of him within me.


“Please, please, Walter, Master, Sir, whatever, please,” I groan incoherently.


“Good boy.” He nuzzles my neck. “What are you?”


“Yours. Your slave, yours to fuck senseless. Just do it, please.”


His fingers are removed, and I gasp from their loss, wanting to feel him, any part of him, inside me.


“Serve me then,” he says, turning me around, handing me a condom. I shiver to touch that magnificent hard cock. Although I’m rapidly becoming familiar with its contours, it still renders me breathless. I slide the condom smoothly over it, marveling at his control. If he touched my cock right now, I’d be gone. He hands me the lube, and I slather that over his dick. I can see a vein pulsing along his jaw, and there’s a heat in his body that makes me appreciate Sharon’s crack about hooking him up to a generator. I can see him being able to provide the power for whole cities when he’s like this. “Now lie on your back.” I stare at him quizzically for a moment, and his dark eyes meet mine, insistent and demanding. “Don’t be slow, Fox. Obey me.” I do as he says, watching as he looms over me. “Put your legs on my shoulders. I want to be able to see you when I fuck you. I want to see the expression in your eyes.” I shiver, my whole body screaming with erotic tension, and I obey him immediately.


He places his hands under my buttocks, strokes them, and then pulls them apart teasingly. He inserts a finger, then slips it out, making me moan in frustration. I can feel the heat of him as he closes on me and then his hands move swiftly, pulling my buttocks apart without warning, and, once again, I experience that first exquisite moment of pain and pleasure as he gains entry to the tight ring of muscle in my ass. After that he slips in smoothly, maneuvering to slide himself fully inside me. His hands grip me around the waist, and I long for the timed thrusts of yesterday, for the touch of his hand on my cock, pumping me in time to the movement of his hips, but it isn’t forthcoming. Instead he grinds his whole body into me, pulling me up against him. The sensation is so breath-taking that I can’t stop myself touching my cock, needing the sweet release of orgasm but again he stops me. His hands grasp mine tightly, and he slams them down beside my body, holding them there. “No,” he says, thrusting into me, making me whimper. “How would you like to do this?” he asks. “To be inside me?”


“I don’t…you’d let me?” I try to understand this.


“Yes.” He thrusts again. “If you obey me. If you do as I say, if you don’t come.”


“I want to…I have to.” I can’t stop myself whimpering at the thought of having to hold back.


“No. You can stop. For me. If you do I’ll reward you – but only if you obey me in this.”


I wonder what it feels like to be inside another man, the way he is inside me, and I find that I want to know, to explore, to feel the sensations that he is feeling.


“I won’t come. I promise. I’ll do everything you say.”


“You submit to me?” he hisses. “Fully? Completely? Everything you are, everything you ever were or could be? All of it mine?”


“Yes. All of me. I submit!” I yell, as his body breaks against mine, urgently pounding into me, robbing me of speech and coherent thought. His eyes are intense, and he has me physically pinned down by his hands and mentally transfixed by his eyes. I can’t move any part of my body, I can’t break this spell we have between us.


“Hold onto that.”


He roars out his climax with a shout of pure sexual release as he did yesterday, and the sound of that, and the scent and heat of his body are almost enough to make me come without touching my dick. I cling onto the deal he just offered to me, the pact and the promise that we made. He doesn’t withdraw and I can feel him soften inside me. This time he rolls me down under him, still holding me tightly, and this makes me feel more owned than at any other time. He kisses me over and over again, then gently disengages our bodies. “Come with me.” He gets off the bed, pulls me to my feet, and takes me into the bathroom. My cock is still sticking out in front of me, begging for release as he slams me into the shower and turns the water on, adjusting the temperature to make it ice cold.


“FUCK!” After the heat of his body it feels like I’ve been whisked from the tropics to Antarctica and my erection shrinks instantly as my balls duck back inside my body for warmth. “Stay there,” he grins. “And don’t jerk off. I know you’ve done that before while you took your shower.”


“How do you know that?” I ask him, startled. He grins in a feral way.


“I know you, Fox,” he says, going to clean his teeth. When he returns to the shower, he turns up the temperature of the water, and gets in beside me. My dick immediately starts to harden.


“Stop that,” he snaps. “You’ve got a while to wait yet.”


“When?” I ask, handing him the soap, transfixed by the thought of what he’s offered me.


“Later. After the library,” he says and the mention of that makes my erection disappear immediately.


“Wash me, dry me, dress me,” he orders peremptorily, his eyes dark and unreachable. His orgasm hasn’t brought him back to being the man I know from the office. He’s still far away, demanding and rough. When he’s like this I feel a need to tread very carefully, and I do as he says quickly and without question. He doesn’t touch me as I dress him. In fact he hasn’t caressed me since our love making session. Now he’s so masterful that I almost fear him. I kneel down and help him into his socks and shoes and long for his hand to brush against my hair as it has done before, but it doesn’t happen. “Get yourself dressed.” He nods, and I pull on the obligatory jeans and stand there, helplessly, abandoned to these barking commands.


There’s a knock on the door and my heart pounds inside me. “Come in.” Skinner says, not taking his eyes off me. I find that I can’t move away from that dark gaze. Saunders enters, with Nick beside him and Matt and one of the other tops close behind.


“Time, Mr. Skinner.” Saunders smiles, but Skinner hasn’t looked at him once. His eyes are still locked with mine. He comes over to me, and pushes me against the wall, finding my wrists and holding them behind me. I’m not sure that my legs will hold me up any more.


“Tell me,” he whispers in my ear. “I want to hear you say it.”


“I’m yours,” I begin falteringly.


“All of you,” he nods. “And what can I do with you?”


“Whatever you want, master.”


“Good. You submit?”


“Yes. I submit.” I feel weak and limp in his hands and only the pressure of his arms is holding me up.


“Excellent. Then come with me.” He hauls me out of the room by the neck, pushing me in front of him up the corridor as he takes me to meet my fate.


I’m not sure what I’m feeling emotionally; I can only feel the heat of his body as he pushes me along. He doesn’t once break contact with me, and I have a sensation of being underwater. Everything sounds muffled, out of focus, and my vision is a blur of hazy colors. I stop at the threshold of the library and stare, jolted back to reality. Everybody is here. All of them, gathered around to see me hurt and to watch me scream. The tops are seated in the armchairs around the oak table, and the subs are crowded against the bookshelves, and kneeling on the floor. I whimper and fall back, but Skinner pushes me forward again.


“If I want to hurt you I will,” he whispers, his voice hard, but surprisingly gentle. “Will you be hurt for me, Fox?” He stands behind me, his arms wrapped around my chest, and I have that sensation of falling again. I don’t want him to ever let me go.


“Yes,” I reply, no longer sure what I’m agreeing to.


“Will you go to the limits of your pain for me?” he asks, whispering again.


“Yes.” I can’t see anybody else now. I can just feel the heat and hardness of his body against mine.


“And if I want to hurt you more than you can endure, will you let me do that too?” He wants to know, his thigh moving against my buttocks rhythmically, caressing me. I arch my neck, feeling the sweat starting to pour off me.


“Yes,” I nod. “Yes, Master. Anything.” There is such a sweet pleasure in giving him this, in giving up everything to him, and letting him take over.


“You’ll let me do that, just because you’re mine and I want to?” His hands are on my wrists, holding them tightly, pressed against my abdomen. I’m limp in his arms.


“Yes.” I hang there, totally in his thrall.


“Good. Kneel down,” he orders and I obey instantly, staring up at him as he moves around to face me. He looks into my eyes. “There is only me and you here, Fox. Just me and you.” My eyes flicker, knowing that we are being watched by dozens of pairs of prying eyes. “No!” His voice barks out, drawing my gaze back to him. “There is only me and you. Do you understand?” I allow my eyes to drown in his once more, keeping him in sight all the time, not letting my gaze drop for a second.


“Yes,” I nod.


“Good. You’ve disobeyed me.”


“Yes.” I nod again.


“But that’s not why I want to punish you.” His eyes are boring into me.


“No?” I wipe away some of the sweat that is soaking into my hair.


“No. I’m going to punish you because you are mine, and because I can. I’m going to punish you without requiring anything from you. Your submission I already have. Your body I certainly have. You lose nothing by capitulating to me. You can scream, you can beg, and you can cry. I give you permission to do all these. I want you to do all these. This is between us; a sign of your devotion to me, your willingness to serve and accept, and mine to you, a demonstration of my power over you.”


Shit. Those words give me a hard-on. Once more he’s playing me like a violin. It’s like he’s stroking me with what he’s saying, and it’s working. I think I’d eat shit if he asked me to right now. He puts his hand under my chin and makes me stand, then kisses my forehead gently.


“Go and get the whip and bring it to me,” he says softly, and I wrench myself away from him, and stumble over to where one of the tops is standing by the post, holding a whip. I bring it back to him, feeling myself starting to tremble again. I hand it to him, and he accepts it, examines it thoughtfully, and then gives it straight back. “Look at it. Touch it. Feel it.”


He puts his hands on my shoulders, and I do as he says. It’s black, leather, and heavy. It’s not a display whip, or an item of erotic fun. It means business. He puts his hand over mine, and strokes both our hands along it. This reminds me of somewhere I’d prefer to be stroking, and my hard-on gets worse, pressing against my tight jeans. “It will hurt. But not more than you can bear. And you will bear it, for me. And afterwards, I will reward you, as I promised.” He plucks the whip from my nerveless fingers. “Go to the post,” he whispers, and I’m not sure I can breathe as I turn away from him and walk over to the post. I can hear somebody clearing his throat, and then Saunders speaks.


“The slave will be naked. The punishment is thirty strokes.”


“Shut the fuck up!” Skinner snaps. “He’s mine. I will say how, and how many.” I can’t see what is happening but I don’t hear so much as a murmur from Saunders, or anyone else for that matter. You could hear a pin drop in the library.


Skinner comes up behind me again, and his hands move around my waist, unbutton my jeans, and push them down to my ankles. I step out of them, aware of my erection and flushing furiously. This should not be a turn-on. This should most definitely NOT be a turn-on. Skinner’s cheek is against mine as he rubs his hand along my cock, gently, not hard enough to make me come.


“Good,” he whispers and I don’t feel like such an ass for having a hard-on at such an embarrassing moment. He picks up some leather cuffs from the table, and fastens one to each of my wrists, keeping his gaze locked with mine. “Remember what I said. Screaming, begging and weeping would honor me so you shouldn’t feel ashamed of any of these things.”


I nod, and he pushes me against the post, and clips the cuffs into place, stretching me up. His lips are against my neck, and he bestows a tender kiss on me that makes my hair stand up on end. Then he moves away, and I close my eyes, still able to smell the scent of him.


The first stroke is like being kissed by a streak of pure flame. It burns itself over my buttocks like a caress, and I can hear this primal scream escaping from my body. I can’t stop it or control it. I hang there, whimpering, suddenly aware that this is just the first stroke; that there are 29 more to be endured, and I know, with an icy fear deep inside, that I can’t bear it.


“One,” Skinner says, and my whole body is tense waiting for the next. The whip makes a hissing sound in the air as it comes towards me. A split second later it strikes, like the sting of a scorpion, or the scratch of a lion’s claw, raking a line of pure pain down my back, and ending over my left buttock.


“PLEASE!” I gasp, bouncing against the post.


“Two.” His voice makes contact with me again, bringing me back down from the threshold of pain where I have been left stranded. I don’t even notice the next few strokes – everything is rolled into one, a muddled mix of torture, and exquisite, burning, teasingly erotic agony. All I can do is scream, and I sure as hell do that, loudly, over and over again.


“Ten.” He cuts through my screams, and then I hear him move towards me. His lips are on my neck again, kissing me gently, and I lie my head back on his shoulder. “You can keep going, can’t you?” he whispers.


“No. No, I can’t. I can’t do it. You have to stop this; you have to stop now,” I gibber frantically.


“Ssh,” he soothes, his hand sweeping back my sweaty hair from my forehead. “You can keep going because I want you to,” he whispers. “And you want to please me. You’re mine, aren’t you?”


“Yes, but I can’t…”


“Fox.” His tone is patient, understanding, and utterly implacable. “I’ll keep reminding you for as long as it takes. Who do you belong to?”


“You, but I…”


“And what can I do to you?”


I hang there limply, being drawn back down into that place where he intends to make me go.


“Whatever you want.” I can feel my arms going limp in the cuffs, which are strong enough to hold my weight.


“Good. You’re pleasing me. I’m proud of you.” He kisses me again, and then leaves me. The next few blows are a dizzying whorl of pain, but I can feel a new sensation now. A warmth and heat and an almost delicious sense of helplessness, of belonging to him. His creature, to hurt, to love. His. I just repeat that in my head as the blows fall, and, after another ten, he comes to talk to me again in that low, intense voice. I’ve lost touch with reality altogether now – I can’t see anybody, or hear anybody else. It’s just him, making me endure, and me, eagerly accepting whatever he wants me to. I’m still screaming – and begging and weeping just as he told me that I could, but I don’t have any control over this. He’s taken it all away. Finally, just when I’m sure that I cannot endure another single flash of that fire along my back and buttocks, leaping and kissing its tormenting, flaming caress through my body, it’s over.


I hear a breathless sigh pass around the room, and someone steps forward to undo my cuffs.


“Don’t touch him,” Skinner snarls, and then his hands are on my body, holding me up as he undoes the cuffs. I immediately drop to the floor like a stone weight in a pond, but he catches me up in his arms, and swings me up close to his chest, carrying me. “Don’t fucking come near us,” Skinner growls, and I see Saunders out of the corner of my eye. “You’ve got what you wanted,” Skinner snaps. Saunders raises an eyebrow, but his gaze rakes over my body as I lie in Skinner’s arms. Even exhausted and in pain as I am, I recognize some new emotion in Saunders’s expression. He has never looked at me like this before.


“You two are a constant source of delight,” Saunders murmurs. “Such a scene you played, Mr. Skinner. What a fine show you put on for us here.”


“Get out of my way. I’m taking him back to our room if you have no objection.” I think the whole room knows that it wouldn’t be wise to object to anything he says at this moment. Saunders gives another urbane smile and nods but his eyes never leave my face, and I feel a shiver of foreboding at the expression in them. He moves back, and the crowd parts to let us through.


“I can walk,” I mutter as Skinner carries me out into the corridor, swaying slightly under my weight. I remember all those punches he took last night, and struggle to get down.


“No, you can’t. Shut up,” he snarls. I don’t protest again. He kicks our door open, and places me gently face down on the bed. He goes to the bathroom to find a washcloth and the increasingly invaluable first aid kit. The coolness of the water on my back and buttocks is enough to make me scream again. “Ssh,” he whispers soothingly.


He presses the cloth firmly against my fevered flesh, kissing me the whole time in a way I start to find arousing. I’m surprised to find that, although my body is a mass of raw, tingling, pain, it has coalesced into something warm and not altogether unpleasant.


I roll over carefully, and press myself against him, kissing his lips urgently, pressing my tongue inside him. He submits to this, letting me explore him, and then allows me to push him down on the bed, and begin to undress him. I feel light-headed, strangely divorced from reality, my burning body just making me even more eager for sexual release, flooding me with an erotic urgency that I would never have anticipated.


“What you said earlier…can I…? Now?” I lick his nipples, nibbling them, my tongue moving faster, my teeth biting him. There’s a ferocious energy building inside me.


“Yes. If you want. Do anything you want. Fox.” He takes my head between his hands. “Take it back,” he whispers, and I know what he means. I can feel my cock hardening, and I wonder if I’ve been possessed by demons as I slam him down on the bed, and kiss him roughly, desperate to be inside him.


He lies still, letting me do anything I want. I bite his nipples again, keeping one eye on his face to see if he will stop me in this savage caress, but he doesn’t. He just lies there, accepting. I turn him face down and throw myself on top of him, ignoring the pounding blood in my brain as my body protests my fast movements.


I pause to try to put on a condom, but my shaking fingers can barely manage it. I do manage to lubricate my dick though, before pressing myself inside him. Shit! This is a new, totally mind blowing sensation. I’ve lost track of what I’m doing, as once again, I’m pleasure and pain all rolled up into one. My body is on fire, my cock is on fire, and he’s gone quite still beneath me, letting me sink myself into his waiting ass and the sensation of his tightness is milking me, making me come, before I’ve barely started thrusting. As my dick softens, so does my whole body. I roll off and lie beside him on the bed, both of us face down, side by side.


“That was quick,” he mutters, with a sideways glance at me. “Wham, bam, thank you, man?”


“Shit,” is all I can say, giving him a tired grin. “Shit, shit, shit.”


“I hope you enjoyed it,” he kisses me softly on the lips, “because that is not going to happen very often. Believe me!”


“Doesn’t matter,” I pant, wearily. “I think I prefer the other anyway, but that was good. It felt right for now.”


“It was right for now,” he smiles. “Now hold still while I rub something into your back.” I can barely feel the cold gel he smoothes onto my skin. When he’s through, he lies down on his back, and I snake over to him, and lay my head on his chest with a contented sigh.


“It’s been one hell of a morning,” he murmurs.


“It’s been one hell of a few days,” I smile, tiredly. “I…I know I’m not very good at saying thank you, but what you did today…shit.” I stare at him. “Shit, I’m the one with the degree in psychology, but you out- psyched me. You figured this whole thing didn’t you, from beginning to end, while I slept last night?”


He shrugs. “You were so scared,” he murmurs.


“Fuck.” It dawns on me what it was about his behavior that seemed so strangely familiar. “Nick said that Saunders takes him to a place in his head where he enjoys being whipped. That’s what you were trying to do, wasn’t it?”


“Not really. I just needed to make the whole thing less traumatic for you.” He strokes my arm. “Did I do that?”


“Yeah. I’m not saying I ever want to go through something like that again, but when you do all that masterful shit, and speak in that tone of voice, I’m gone.”


“I had sort of noticed that,” he grins.


“So you’d better watch what you say to me in the office from now on, if you don’t want me melting at your feet every time we have an argument over my expense account.”


“Oh I don’t know. It could be a useful weapon in my on-going battle to keep the Bureau from sinking into bankruptcy as a result of the X Files,” he muses thoughtfully. “But first we have to get home.” He lies back wearily and I notice again how hot he is. His face is flushed.


“Are you all right?” I put my hand against his forehead but he brushes it away before I can touch him.


“I’m fine,” he states firmly. “Just tired. Let’s get some sleep.”


It’s late afternoon when I wake up, and he’s still sleeping. My body pounds with a dull, throbbing ache that sends shooting licks of flame through me when I move. I sit up and stare down at him. There are several red bruises on his body and along his jaw, but I’m more worried about the flush on his skin. I take advantage of the fact that he’s sleeping to place my hand against his face, and find that he’s burning up. There’s a faint sheen of sweat all over him. Of course it’s hardly surprising that the events of the past 24 hours would have taken their toll on him, but even so, I’m worried about him. I get a cup of water, and shake him awake.


“What’s the matter?” He squints at me blearily, but I can see the wince that passes across his features as he moves.


“You. There’s something wrong with you. Sit up.” He does so cautiously and I notice the guarded look in his eyes. “What is it? You know what it is – what is it?” I demand, handing him the water. He drinks it down in one gulp.


“I didn’t want to freak you out.” He sits back against the headboard cautiously. “And I wasn’t sure how bad it was – it was hard to tell while all that adrenaline was flowing. One of my kidneys was damaged in Vietnam. Occasionally, I get some pain from it. Last night someone got a punch in there. It’s hurting me.”


“Shit.” I pull him forward, and see the dark bruise on his back.


“I don’t think it’s serious. I just need to rest and drink fluids. It’ll pass.”


“But tonight, the Arena,” I stare at him wordlessly.


“Yes I know.” His eyes are uncompromisingly dark. “I think we have to face up to the fact that you might have a change of ownership.”


I fight down a feeling of panic. “What can we do?” I ask.


“Hope for rescue?” He shakes his head. “I’ll still fight the best I can, and I promise I’ll kill Matt before I let him get his hands on you – but one of the other tops might not be so bad. You could charm them.” He manages a weak grin. “I’m sorry. I’ve let you down.”


“No. No, this is my fault. Treasure this moment,” I grin at him. “You won’t hear me say those words very often!” We stare at each other glumly. This is the worst moment of this whole nightmare so far.


“You did appoint the best guys you had to the team didn’t you?”


“Yeah. Kendall’s sharp. They’ll be looking for us.”


“What about another escape attempt?” I suggest.


“Over my dead body.” He shakes his head. “I mean that literally. If something happens to me, then you’re better off running again than waiting to see what happens next. But after last night, escape seems to be a poor option.”


“Never mind,” I shrug. “It’s probably for the best. I mean you and me – back in DC, what the fuck sort of a relationship could we hope to have there?”


“I don’t know,” he says. “I can’t even think beyond the here and now. I don’t suppose we can go back to how things were before though.”


“No.” I kneel back on the bed, staring at him. “Look at us. We’re fucking wrecks.”


“No wonder only the strongest are allowed into this crazy hell-hole.” He shakes his head grimly.


“Shouldn’t we try to bring your temperature down? A cool bath might work.”


I go and run the bath, and we sink into the tepid water gratefully.


“Don’t worry about tonight,” I tell him nobly. “I can handle this shit. So long as it isn’t Matt, I’ll be fine.”


“It won’t be Matt,” he whispers. I jerk my head up to look at him.


“What do you…?”


“You know what I mean, Fox. It won’t be Matt.” His dark eyes are unreadable. “It’ll be Saunders.”


We sit there staring at each other with the truth between us. “He wants you now.” Skinner shrugs. “You saw the way he was looking at you earlier. How would you feel if he…?”


“Stop it.” I close my eyes and picture Saunders with his creepy, patronizing smile and cool ruthlessness. His polite, urbane exterior hides a heart of pure steel. “He’s more dangerous than Matt, isn’t he?” I whisper.


“I’ve always thought so, yes.” Skinner’s eyes haven’t left mine. “But his brutality isn’t mindless. He’s a sane psychopath rather than a crazy one.”


“That’s even worse.”


“If I were fit, I’d beat him. I might beat him yet,” Skinner tells me. “But I want you to be realistic about this. I’m in bad shape right now. If you can find a way of wanting him, of letting him…”


“No. I can’t,” I tell him fiercely.


“You might have to.” He pulls me over and nestles my head under his chin. His feverish flesh has begun to heat the cool water. His lips suck gently at the welts on my back, his fingers running over them with infinite tenderness.


“I want to go home,” I whimper pathetically.


“So do I, Fox,” he whispers into my ear. “So do I.”


11PM. Our witching hour. Our date with fate. The moment of truth. I’m counting each last minute as they pass until we get to it. By the time I get him out of the bath and onto the bed it’s nearly 5pm.


“I’ll get you something to eat,” I tell him. He nods gratefully, and I set off. I have no way of knowing if I’ll be able to do this. Considering how regimented this loony bin is, eating between meals is probably a flogging offense, but, frankly, I don’t give a damn. I track down Saunders in the massage room where Nick is attending to him.


“Fox.” He smiles, and beckons me over. “Have you recovered from this morning’s little punishment?” he asks, sitting up on the massage table, his towel falling away to reveal a firmly muscled midriff. I can feel myself tensing at the way his eyes are traveling over my body. Two can play at this game. I allow my gaze to wander over his body, in a frankly assessing and speculative way. He’s older than Skinner, by maybe five or so years, and in very good shape. He has some sparse chest hair, (unlike my furry caveman!) in a mixture of white and brown, and his hips and legs are thickset. Solid. He’s stockier than Skinner, shorter, more compact, a ram to my bull but equally dangerous. He’s naked and unashamed of that fact, making no move to cover himself under my raking, disdainful gaze. By the time I’ve allowed that gaze to travel back to his sharp blue eyes, I notice how dangerously amused he is. His creepy smile is plastered all over his face. He beckons me towards him, and I move forward, cautiously. He’s urbane, still smiling, and I relax a fraction, only to find myself swept forward over the massage table, with one of his hands planted firmly on my sore back. Much as I wouldn’t like to give him the pleasure, I can’t bite back the strangled cry of pain that escapes from my lips.


“Do you like what you see?” he asks pleasantly, as if discussing the weather. One of his hands twists in my hair, holding me still.


“I’m satisfied with what I’ve got already,” I grind out.


“Pity.” He slams my face forward into the leather upholstery of the massage table. “Because I don’t like insolent boys, Fox. Boys who stare. Boys who run away. Boys whose obedience is always tinged with defiance, boys who’ve been allowed to run wild for too long. Boys who need a firm hand.” He tugs on my hair, pulling my head back until I’m gasping.


“I’m not a fucking boy,” I manage to hiss. “I’m thirty-fucking-seven for god’s sake!”


He shakes his head with rueful amusement.


“You just don’t seem to get it, Fox,” he laughs. “You’re whatever I say you are. Whatever any of us wants you to be. That’s all you can aspire to.”


“You’re wrong,” I pant, on the verge of hitting him but trying desperately to restrain myself. Skinner doesn’t need to deal with me screwing things up again. Not when he’s ill.


“No. You are. And he is. Skinner. He’s never broken you. He’s handled you all wrong.”


“Somehow I get the feeling that you’re going to tell me that you could do a better job,” I mutter.


“Would you like that?” He lets go and circles me as if he’s a vulture eyeing his next meal.


“Look, I didn’t come here for this. I just came here to ask for someone to let me into the kitchen so that I can grab something to eat,” I tell him, trying to calm down, and get the conversation back on a less confrontational footing.


“Grab something to eat?” He stands behind me, too close, and I can feel him breathing in the scent of my hair.


“For my master.” I stand still, clenching my fists. “He wants to eat in his room.”


“Does he? How anti-social of him,” Saunders murmurs. “I do hope he is quite…well.” He puts his hands on my shoulders and runs them down the sides of my arms.


“He’s fine.” I close my eyes and count to ten. He won’t provoke me into anything. I won’t let him do that. Never before have I had to fight so hard to keep control of myself.


“Good. Because we want him fit don’t we? For the Arena tonight?” His lips brush the back of my neck, and my whole body stiffens. He laughs. “We’ll have to work on loosening him up,” he remarks to Nick over my shoulder, as if he already owns me. Nick smiles at me, a gentle, serene smile of agreement.


“We can do that,” he replies to his master.


“In the meantime…” Saunders sits back down on the massage table, “Your master will be expecting his meal, and I wouldn’t want you to keep him waiting. Nick – take Fox to the kitchen and see that he is fully provided for. It may be the last meal he and his current master share together.” He smiles wolfishly at me and his intent is now open between us. I know, without a shadow of a doubt, that he will fight Skinner tonight.


I resturn to our room to find Skinner flushed and feverish. His eyes are glowing too brightly, and there’s a sheen of sweat all over his body.


“You can’t fight tonight. I’ll tell Saunders.” I sit down on the bed in front of him, and start spooning soup into him.


“Mulder, I can feed myself.” He grabs the bowl from me. “And I don’t think Saunders will give a toad’s fart whether I’m ill or not.”


“A toad’s fart?” I gaze at him quizzically, head on one side. “Is that a technical marine expression?”


“No, it’s a technical Skinner expression. Anyway, I’m feeling much better,” he says, nodding confidently. “I’ll beat the bastard and then you can show me your appreciation in your own inimitable way.”


“Sounds good to me.” I stuff a chunk of bread into my mouth. “Then we can catch the murderer and go home and live happily ever after. Oh, and have non-stop sex, right?”


“Something like that,” he grins, then the smile fades. “Come here.” He puts his bowl down, and I crawl over to sit between his knees. He takes hold of my face and looks into my eyes. He isn’t wearing his glasses, and his eyes are dark and intense. “I want you to agree to something,” he says.


“What?” I ask cautiously.


He shakes his head. “You have to agree without knowing what, my paranoid little sex maniac.” He puts his hand on my neck, drawing me closer, until I’m being dragged deeper and deeper into that dark, mesmerizing stare.


“I’m not sure…” I begin, and he puts his index finger over my mouth.


“You have to agree,” he says. “I want a promise from you. After what we’ve been through together in the past few days I wouldn’t have thought that was too much to ask for.” I open my mouth and start sucking his finger and he sighs and rolls his eyes, removing it and giving me a rough shake. “Do you agree to do whatever I tell you next?” he asks.


“Does it involve us both being naked?” I ask hopefully.


“No. It doesn’t,” he tells me firmly.


“Oh. Does it involve one of us being naked then?” I press.


“Possibly.” He shrugs.


“Does it involve…”


“Mulder,” he says warningly.


“All right. I agree,” I tell him, making a face. “Fuck, we’re about to face a fate worse than death. You’d think, under the circumstances, that even you could lighten up.”


“That’s such crap. I’ve been dead before, Mulder. There is no such thing as a fate worse than death. At least not on this occasion. Understand me?”


“No,” I pout. “And anyway, what is it that you just had me agree to?”


“This.” He holds my shoulders in a vice-like grip. “If I lose, you don’t hang around. You don’t throw one of your tantrums, you don’t struggle, and fight, and mouth off. You leave the Arena with Saunders without looking back, you go to his room, and you do whatever he tells you to.”


“You bastard.” I draw back from him, and he lets me go.


“Yeah. That’s right. I am,” he shrugs. “We’re way out of our depth here, Fox. We’ve just been getting in deeper and deeper since we got here. I warned you back in DC what might happen to you if you ended up here – hell, even Lenny warned you. You’re no shy young virgin so…”


“Thanks to you,” I murmur.


“I didn’t hear you complaining at the time,” he snaps. “I seem to recall the words ‘just fucking fuck me’.”


“That was different. I wanted you. I don’t want him. The way I see it, I have 2 choices. I can make it easy for the sick bastard, or I can make it hard for him. I don’t see why.”


“Mulder, you’re wrong,” he states flatly. “The only person you’ll make it hard for is yourself.”


“No, he’ll see that…”


“Mulder.” He takes hold of my head again, and makes me look into his eyes once more. “Listen to me,” he says urgently. “If you go along with him, if you just close your eyes and go along with whatever it is he wants to do to you, then you’ll get out the other side in one piece. It won’t be nice, but you’ll be okay. If you fight him, he’ll still do what he wants to you, only it’ll hurt more – a lot more. You don’t need to struggle to prove anything to yourself, or to me. I’ve just told you what I want you to do, and I expect you to do it. You promised.”


“Okay, okay.” I lean my head against his, wretchedly, not sure if I can do as he asks, promise or not.


“Fuck, but I wish I was being chased by 9 foot high aliens wanting to take me back to their mothership right now,” I murmur.


“Yeah. Me too. If I believed in aliens,” he snorts.


“We have so much in common.” I give a wry laugh.


“Sometimes it’s good to be with people who are different from you. I probably need someone crazy to make me laugh, god help me. You sure as hell need someone sane to drag you back down to earth.”


“The dragging part sounds fun. Want to try some of that now?” I lean forward hopefully.


“No.” He reaches for his bowl again, and continues eating. “I want to conserve my strength. Maybe you should too – you don’t know what might be expected of you later.”


Somehow that comment wrecks my appetite. I watch him eat, bring him some more water, insisting that he drinks all of it, then lie face down next to him, wondering how I could have known him for five or more years and never once noticed how good he smells. We both lie there, watching the hands on the clock move around, slow second by inexorable slow second. His fingers are absently stroking my hair in time to the ticking clock.


“Do you suppose Kendall watches westerns?” I murmur at five minutes to 11. “You know, the cavalry always arrives just in time, doesn’t it?”


“This is Real Life,” he shrugs and I can’t help but see the sickly pallor on his face because even that small movement pains him. “In my experience, there’s no such thing as last minute rescues. You have to rely on yourself.”


I don’t even have that option. Everything in my future hangs on other people. I’m helpless, in the thrall of fate, chance, luck, my lover’s state of health and the whims of a bunch of crazies. Welcome to Mulderworld – the ultimate sick fantasy theme park. Everything here is out of your control – you’re a helpless victim of chance, your whole life hanging in the balance.


The Arena looks the same as last night, although I notice that the bloodstained sand has been replenished by new, pristine supplies. Skinner removes his shirt before the challenge has even been made, and we begin the oiling up process all over again. This time Saunders doesn’t bother with preliminaries. He just strides over to Skinner and smiles.


“You and me, I think. Yes?” he murmurs.


“If you insist,” Skinner shrugs.


Saunders’s smirk widens. “Oh, I rather think I do.”


He returns to the center of the arena and announces the challenge before leaving to undress and prepare for it.


“He’s good, but probably too sure of himself. He’ll have a weakness. He’s older than you, probably doesn’t have your stamina. He…” I ramble on forcefully, trying to convince the pair of us. Skinner nods at each of my points. When I finally finish, he takes a deep breath and holds me close. I can feel his oily body shaking against my bare flesh.


“If I lose, it won’t be because I didn’t damn well try to beat the shit out of that sick bastard,” he mutters into my ear. “Remember your promise, Fox. If you only obey one goddamn order I give you in your entire life, make it this one.” And then he pushes me away towards the post.


Matt takes great delight in acting as ringmaster for the evening, grabbing my wrist and fastening me to the post alongside Nick.


“This isn’t fair,” I whine at Nick, which is pointless because there’s nothing he can do about it. “Skinner’s ill. He took too much of a pounding last night. Saunders is fresh. What sort of a fight is this anyway?”


“It’ll be fun.” Nick is smiling at me. “I love the Arena. People don’t challenge Saunders very often so no one fights over me much.” His pupils are dilated and he’s got a stupid expression on his face. “Can you smell it? The sand and oil? I just love that smell! Come on, Fox. Aren’t you flattered? Just look at who’s fighting over us. They’re the toughest men here. Oh God, look at their muscles!” He groans slightly and I notice a suspicious bulge in his jeans. Christ, what the fuck is he on? Whatever it is, I wish I had a dose of it right now. It might stop the sweaty shivers that keep washing over me.


Matt prances around in the center of the arena for a while, his broken nose bruised and swollen after his encounter with Skinner last night. Finally the contenders step into the circle. Saunders is a compact man, neat beside Skinner’s long-limbed body. He has a dangerous, elegant ease to his movements, like the born predator he is. I realize, without surprise, that he does not expect to lose. There’s a long slow build-up as each man gauges the other’s strength. Skinner gives no sign that he might be hurt, and I know just what it must be costing him to move so freely, without wincing in pain, but it’s crucial that Saunders has no inkling that his opponent has a weakness. We both know that if he did, he’d home in on it like the vulture he is. Saunders isn’t particularly fast, but he has a good eye.


After several minor skirmishes, lasting in total 15 or so minutes, they have sized each other up. Then Saunders lands a couple of easy punches before Skinner finds a chink in his armor. Saunders is good with his fists but not so good at close quarters. He’s less of a wrestler than Skinner, lacking his upper body bulk.


Soon Skinner has him on the floor. He pounds Saunders onto his back, tosses him down into the sand, and punches him firmly several times. I breathe a sigh of relief, but Saunders isn’t finished off so quickly. The oil on his body makes it easier for him to slide out from under Skinner, and he gets to his feet quickly, before Skinner can react, and swings around to deliver a kick to my lover’s chin, and a karate chop to his neck. Skinner falls into the sand and Saunders descends on him, beating at him mercilessly with cutting punches from his fists. I close my eyes but I can still hear Skinner’s rasping breathing and the sounds of Saunders’ blows as they connect. When I open my eyes again, Skinner is struggling to break free of Saunders, twisting beneath him. He’s pale, and so obviously ill that for the first time I change the silent prayer I’ve been sending to a god who has never given any sign of listening to me before. Instead of praying for my lover to win the fight, I pray to have him give up before he takes any more of this punishment.


“Please, just end the fucking challenge,” I whisper over and over again. “Just say it. Give in.” And I know he won’t. I know he won’t say those words. Not now, not ever. He’ll fight until either Saunders kills him, or he loses consciousness. “Fuck you. Fuck.” I’m tearing at the cuff around my wrist, going half-crazy with worry for him as he takes blow after blow. “Stop this!” I yell. “Just fucking stop.” But nobody is listening to me.


The crowd is baying its appreciation of Saunders’s savagery, combined with a grudging acknowledgement of Skinner’s bravery for continuing the fight. Nick glances at me with a sick smile of delight and Saunders pauses in his assault for a moment, kneeling on Skinner’s shoulders and holding him in the sand.


“Anytime you want to say the words, Mr Skinner,” he murmurs silkily.


“Not in this goddamn lifetime, fucker,” Skinner throws back between gasps of pain.


“Very well. But perhaps I should just put you out of your misery.” Saunders backhands my man hard across the face, and again the other way, and I can see Skinner’s eyes begin to lose their focus. The fight has been going on for 45 minutes.


“What happens after an hour?” I ask Nick. “Does it stop then?”


“No.” Nick shrugs. “It just goes on until it’s over. One way or another.” Oh shit. A thought occurs to me. Is this how those tops died? The ones who were dumped in the Potomac? Scully said they’d been castrated, but all of them had been badly bruised as well – as if they’d been fighting.


“What happens if Skinner loses?” I whisper anxiously to Nick.


“Then you belong to Aaron,” he shrugs.


“Nothing else?”


“No. The same as last night.” He shrugs again, licking his lips in eager anticipation as Saunders delivers yet another savage blow to Skinner’s body. Skinner grunts as he takes it, his eyes rolling back into his head. Then somehow, I don’t know how, he manages to roll free and stagger to his feet, breathing too heavily, covered in sweat and blood and bruises. He staggers in my direction, but Saunders is on him again almost immediately, and, throwing himself at my boss, brings him crashing down at my feet. I make the most of the opportunity and kneel down beside his prone body and talk to him.


“Just give in. Say the fucking words. I’ll keep my promise. Please. Please,” I whisper to him. He looks at me, and I’m not sure if he’s understood, then he shakes his head, partly in answer to my question, partly to clear it.


“I can’t,” he says. “You know that.” Then Saunders is on him again. I’m so angry I can’t keep still, wrenching at the cuff until my wrist starts to bleed.


“Fuck you, it’s all right to make me promise not to fight back, but you won’t do it for me. Fuck you!” I scream at him, but I’m not sure if he’s even heard me as Saunders cracks him hard across the jaw. Sweat and blood both spew in my direction and I can see Nick react as if he’s been shown some hot porn. He’s loving this, he’s so involved in it that he’s lost himself. He doesn’t see the pain or genuine emotional suffering, but then why should he? He doesn’t know that neither Skinner nor I get off on this. As far as he knows, we’ve come here because we enjoy all this as much as any of the other warped Mithras motherfuckers. I can’t see how Skinner can hold out for much longer, and there’s no point in it anyway. He doesn’t stand a chance of winning now.


Saunders suddenly seizes Skinner’s head and delivers one final, bone-jarring punch, and I can see my man fall back, unconscious. I know that it isn’t a trick, but after last night, Saunders isn’t taking any chances. He rolls Skinner’s eyelid back before getting up, a look of smug satisfaction on his face. Then, with one contemptuous flick of his foot, he rolls Skinner over in the sand, and stands with his foot resting on my lover’s forehead.


“Challenge over, Mr. Skinner,” he laughs, looking down on my boss’s prone form. Skinner doesn’t even blink. This time he’s genuinely out cold. Saunders head snaps up, and he looks directly at me. “So, Fox. Come to Daddy,” he smiles, holding his arms out wide. “I think it’s time I took you home to bed, don’t you?”


There won’t be any more challenges this evening. The hour is up. I have no idea how Skinner kept going for the full hour, but I’m scared that he might be dead. He certainly needs immediate medical attention. He has to after the punishment he took this evening, especially considering his already fragile state of health. Saunders has the keys to the cuffs, and he’s crossing over to us. He releases Nick who kisses him all over, abasing himself at Saunders’s feet and licking them in a frenzy of post-fight adoration.


Saunders enjoys this for a moment, and I’m pleased to see that there are some dark bruises on his body. He hasn’t got away completely unscathed. Then Saunders comes to stand in front of me. He lifts my chin and looks into my downcast, sullen eyes.


“We know you’re temperamental, Fox,” he says softly. “So I’m not going to undo the cuff just yet. I’m going to make a deal with you. If you come quietly, then I’ll get a couple of the other tops to carry your former master to his room. How does that sound? If you make a fuss then I’ll just leave him here in the sand, in his own blood.”


“I’ll do as you say.” My throat is so dry that I can barely speak and he nods approvingly, running a finger along my jaw and down my throat.


“Good boy.”


He unlocks the cuff and Nick grabs hold of me and kisses me, then puts an arm around me and leads me towards the door. I twist my head to catch one last glimpse of my lover, lying in the sand, his eyes closed. I can just make out the rise and fall of his chest and console myself that he is at least still alive, but that image of him, lying like a wounded animal on the floor, is seared deep into my mind. Saunders gives the order to have him taken back to our room, and then he puts his arm around my other shoulder and, between them, he and Nick propel me down the corridors to meet my next ordeal.


“That was very satisfying.” Saunders stretches out his body and grins at Nick as we enter their room. When I’m safely inside, he turns a key in the lock and puts it safely on a chain around his neck. “Boys that run have to be protected from themselves.” He smiles wolfishly at me. “Now, see to the bath, Nick, while I examine Fox.” Examine? Fuck. Nick grins and disappears into the bathroom, while Saunders approaches me. He places one of his hands in my hair, and holds me under the light, looking at me keenly. The fingers of his other hand inspect my face, part my lips, and run down over my chin, lingering on my neck. His eyes devour me at the same time.


“You’re pretty of course, but so wild.” He kisses me on the forehead. “I think you long to be restrained, don’t you?”


“Whatever you say,” I shrug, trembling in his grip.


“That’s right. That’s good. You know the right words, but you need to feel them, Fox.” He kisses me again, on the cheek, his lips wandering down further, finding mine. His tongue parts them, and he’s inside my mouth, tasting unfamiliar, unwanted. I stand, stock-still, as tense and skittish as a scared foal. He draws back. “You’ll submit,” he whispers. “Because they all do in the end. It’s in your soul, and you just need to recognize it. When you do, you’ll submit, because that’s when you’re happiest. I can make you happy all the time, dear Fox. You want my strength. You crave it.” He’s kneading his body into mine, and I can feel his erection against my thigh. I fight off a feeling of nausea.


“Yes. Whatever,” I state numbly, remembering my promise. He slaps me hard across the cheek, leaving a burning red mark on my face, and I clench my fists.


“Just words. No feeling behind them. You must know that I’ll demand more than that.” He smiles again, that creepy, sinister smile. “And don’t speak unless I give you permission. It’s my first rule. Nick has permission when we are together like this, although not in public. You haven’t earned it yet, and I don’t anticipate that you will for quite some time. You may ask for permission to speak whenever you like, but I won’t always grant it. You can answer direct questions. Understood?”


“Yes.” I nod, warily. This has to be a nightmare. I can’t get through this. I can’t do what he wants, and I cannot serve him, much less sleep with him. I notice that Nick has come back into the room.


“Your bath is ready, sir,” he says, his eyes lingering longingly on Saunders’s battle-scarred body.


“Good. Fox – you can have the honor of undressing me tonight.”


I gaze at him, fighting my own revulsion.


“Thank me,” he says warningly.


“Thank you, sir,” I mutter, and he smiles and slaps me again, even harder than before, my whole face swinging sideways as a result of the blow.


“As if you mean it next time, Fox,” he says smoothly.


I follow him into the bathroom and reach shaking fingers to his pants, undo his belt, and push his trousers down his thighs. He didn’t bother to put his shirt back on after the Arena, so there isn’t much undressing to do. I close my eyes, and put my thumbs in the waistband of his briefs, pushing them down as well. He steps out of them, and eases himself into the huge circular tub with a sigh. Then he waves a hand at us.


“Join me,” he orders, and Nick undresses in nanoseconds, and slides in beside his master, nuzzling up to him shamelessly. I undo my jeans, and take them off, no longer sure whether I have any embarrassment glands left in my body after all I’ve been through here. I get into the water and sit stiffly, facing them. Saunders laughs out loud. “Come here, and bring the soap with you. I want to see how well you’ve been trained, and if you know how to serve.” I do as I’m told without spilling too much water, and manage to soap him all over and then rub him down with a washcloth.


I still can’t believe that this is happening. I remember my apartment, my office as if they’re old friends – familiar, everyday places that I don’t think I’ll ever visit again. I am not this person, but the truth is that I don’t know what person I am any more. I never knew I wanted to sleep with Skinner until a few days ago. Supposing I now find out that I’m a raging queen who wants to be nailed by everything with a dick? Maybe I have an insatiable desire to suck other men’s cocks, or to be fucked. Maybe, just maybe, all I want to do is kneel at the feet of a man like Saunders, and let him do what he likes with me. How the hell should I know? How well can I really say that I know myself? Saunders doesn’t linger over his bath and I’m not surprised – he obviously wants to move on to the main event. As I soap him, he fondles me, his fingers running along my cock, and down over my balls, pressing up between the crease in my ass. I don’t protest, clamping my jaws shut, but my nerves are on edge, and I’m not sure whether I’ll be able to stop myself fighting back when things really start to heat up. And somehow I’m sure that they will.


He gets out of the bath, and Nick hands me a big towel to dry him with. This is an intricate ceremony, like some sort of Japanese tea ritual. I’m told that I must start at his feet, and kiss each area as I work. I go quickly about this task, pressing unwilling lips against his body until another slap stops me.


“Really, Fox. Are all your lessons going to be learned the hard way?” He asks. “Begin again. Do you remember that massage you gave to your former master? I expect to see a similar level of devotion now.”


I try my best, closing my eyes, and imagining that it’s Skinner I’m drying. It works to a certain extent. This isn’t me…I whisper over and over again in my head. I’m not here, I’m detached…but Saunders is too clever to buy this.


“Next time, you’ll keep your eyes open in order to remind yourself exactly who your master is,” he hisses, grabbing my hair, and delivering another swinging blow across my cheek.


When the drying is over, he pushes me to my knees in front of him and holds my face between his hands. I know what he wants before he asks. His cock is hard and swollen, and he rubs it against the side of my face.


“Show us your skill, boy,” he says, his tone hard and urgent. He presses his cock into my unwilling mouth, and I gag, drawing back and retching. “Nick – go into the other room, and bring me a crop,” Saunders says, and Nick does as he’s told. I stare up at Saunders in alarm, and he grips my jaw tight and glares at me. “You’ll do it, Fox, or I’ll beat you. It’s really that simple. I won’t ask you to enjoy it, not this evening anyway. We’ll save that for later on in your servitude. Now do it.”


He takes the crop that Nick has brought him, and runs it lightly over the welts on my back. This time, when he pushes into my mouth, I obey him, closing my eyes, and concentrating every atom of my body on doing as I’ve been told, doing as I promised Skinner I would. Luckily he’s already so turned on by the events of the evening that he comes quickly, without much effort from me, and, withdrawing from my mouth, he takes great delight in holding my hair as he spurts out over my chest. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more degraded in my entire life.


“Good boy,” he murmurs. “Now clean yourself up, and join me in the other room. Nick – help me into my robe.” Nick swiftly obeys, and ushers his master into the bedroom while I wash his semen from my body. It makes me feel sick, and I can’t stop myself rushing to the toilet and puking up. Nick comes back in time to witness this.


“Oh, Fox.” He strokes my back tenderly as I throw up some more. “Please, Fox. Just relax. It can be so good. You’ll see. I’ll help you. Forget your old master. You’re with us now.” He talks soothingly, softly. “Don’t let him hear you,” he whispers. “Try to keep quiet. There, there.” At least all this vomiting answers one question for me. Whatever it is I feel for Skinner, it’s about more than just sex. When I’m finally finished, Nick gives me a glass of water, which I swill down in one go, then he takes my hand, and leads me back into the other room. I feel as if I can’t put one foot in front of the other. I’m dangerously close to betraying my promise to Skinner, even though I know it won’t do me any good. I want to throw myself at Saunders, to punch him down, strangle him, and hurt him so bad that he doesn’t get up again, and instead he expects me to caress him with every semblance of enjoyment? I can’t do it.


Saunders is sitting in the armchair, which has been placed facing the bed. He instructs me to stand in front of him, and he fondles my body. His fingers play with my cock, linger on my balls, and stroke my inner thighs. I bite down with all my force on my bottom lip.


“Stop that. It’s such a pretty lip.” Saunders is looking at me sharply, and I’m surprised to feel the trickle of hot blood running down my chin. “Now, Fox, I want to watch my two beautiful slaves enjoying each other. Go over to the bed with Nick. Go on.” He pushes me firmly, and sits back in his chair, undoes his robe, and holds his cock as he anticipates his evening’s entertainment. So this is what turns him on, is it? A live action peep show with Nick and me as stars of the show? There’s a certain irony to this, considering the amount of times I’ve jerked off in front of my extensive video collection, but you’ll forgive me for not appreciating that right now. My public awaits me. Nick is lying on the bed, a sultry, indolent expression on his face. He puts an arm out, and draws me down into his embrace.


He’s a good looking guy – all that dark hair, those green eyes, the sharp cheekbones. He has a nice, toned body, young and beautiful, but I don’t want him any more than I wanted Saunders. Nick’s fingers find my nipples, and he plays with them, gently, then his tongue takes the place of his hands as he explores me. His thumb rubs my butt, then pushes inside me, and I move, disengaging myself from him.


“Hush, baby.” He draws me close, and I can feel the warmth of his breath, the slight wetness of the tip of his erect cock as it brushes against me. “Come on, sweet Fox.” He kisses my lips gently, then again, with more passion. “You’re so sexy. You make me so hard. I’m not the only one in the room who feels that way. Just look at our master; look at how hard his cock is…WE’RE doing that to him. We’re making him so fucking horny, he’d like to ram that big dick of his right up your gorgeous ass while you ball my brains out,” he murmurs, obviously trying to psyche me into the right mood. His hand is on my cock, moving furiously, and I try to relax and go with it, but all I can see is Skinner, lying in the sand, bleeding. Because of me. All because I disobeyed his goddamn orders, and because he wouldn’t just leave me here to rot which is exactly what he should have done.


“Fox, please,” Nick is moaning, his lips roving over my shoulders and neck, down onto my collarbone, my nipples. He’s thrusting against me, his hard cock digging into my thigh. This isn’t as bad as Saunders. I should be grateful. I should remember my promise. With a jolt I’m back in high school, getting changed for a track session. I can recall the slamming of my locker door, and a bigger, older boy holding me against the wall.


“Crazy Fox Mulder. Where’s your sister, sissy?” He’s pinning me down, his big arms too strong for me. I can hear myself yelling, screaming at him as he pulls my shorts down, and takes me in his mouth, his hands keeping me still, pressed hard against the wall. Then my hormones betray me, the sensation of his warm mouth is too much for me and I come, feeling desperately ashamed. I can still remember his laugh as he drew back from me. “Had you.” He said with a leering grin. “Had you, Mulder.” And then he left. He never touched me again, and I never admitted to myself that I wanted him to. In later years, I rationalized it better. People often have homosexual experiences in their youth. It’s completely normal. It doesn’t mean anything. I believed that right up until a few days ago. Now I’m questioning everything. Maybe, since I’ve been with Skinner, I should be able to go with anyone. I should be able to just switch off my intellect, enjoy.

“Fox, oh that’s good, Fox.” Nick is working hard, his hand rubbing my cock, but there’s still barely any response. “Please,” he whispers in a tone too low for Saunders to hear. “He’ll punish you. Try, Fox. For me. I don’t want you hurt.” I roll over, push him beneath me, and kiss him with as much passion as I can simulate, licking at his earlobes, and pumping his dick with my hand and the same time.

“Good.” Saunders’s voice jolts me back to the peep show. “You fuck him, Fox. Do it.”

I glance over to him, bile rising in my throat to see him jerking off as he watches us. His cock is large, swollen and purple, straining against his hand, and I feel like puking again. My own cock remains resolutely limp. I don’t want Nick; I don’t want Saunders. Every time I try to get aroused, all I can think of is Skinner. Is he badly injured? Has he regained consciousness? Will he regain consciousness? I’ve stopped moving, and Nick is doing all the work again, tugging at me, trying to make me join in. I’m doing what I can, my hands moving as if I’m a puppet, but I’m not here, I’m not really here at all. My mind is crying out, my body is numb. It’s dark, I can hear Nick sucking, feel him nibbling, but nothing is happening. There are all these sounds of sex, but they’re jumbled up with images of pain, of Skinner, bleeding. I can’t function, I can’t think or feel. I’m adrift in a void.

“Stop!” Saunders comes over to the bed, and sits down. He lifts up my head and gazes at me searchingly. “Fox?” His fingers wipe something warm from my face. My tears. “Fox. Who are these for?”

“For him.” I look Saunders squarely in the eye. “I’m sorry. I’m not doing it on purpose, but I can’t.” I gesture to my limp penis.

His fingers travel down to my throat, and linger there, then his hands effortlessly circle my neck, crushing my windpipe in a firm embrace.

“Not even if your life depends on it?” he asks softly, increasing the pressure slightly. “Hmm, Fox?” I manage to shake my head, and he loosens his grasp, allowing me to speak.

“You don’t understand,” I tell him. “Skinner was…that is…I’d never been with another man before him. There’s only been him. I’ve never…with another…I just can’t,” I shrug helplessly, and Saunders looks at me for an aeon.

“How very interesting,” he says at last. “Well, I never thought you’d be so inhibited. Of course you made your devotion to Mr. Skinner clear from the moment you arrived here, but all the same – I didn’t realize how ingrained it is. I could change that. In time.” He smiles at me. “You can be broken, Fox. I can do it – but I’ll make you ask for it. By the time I finish with you, you’ll be hard on order. You’ll open your mouth to anyone I tell you to, suck like an expert. You’ll go down on your hands and knees when I gave the word, immediately, with absolute obedience – and you’ll enjoy it. Even with Matt. I could get you to that stage, Fox. I could get you to the point where you’d approach Matt on your hands and knees, and beg him to fuck you. But your tears have moved me, so I’m going to give you something.”

“What?” I ask, dreading his reply.

“Your freedom.” He smiles and plays with my hair. “You can go back to Skinner. I’ll take you there myself.”

“What? No strings?” I stare at him in disbelief.

“None,” he shrugs. “However.” He puts his head on one side, and looks at me for a long moment. “When you come back to me, and you will come back, you’ll be prepared to give me everything I want. You’ll ask me to break you. Do you understand?”

I nod, uncertain what he means. I’ll never ask him for this. He smiles, and pulls me to my feet.

“Get dressed then.”

I don’t need telling twice. I run to the bathroom, pull my jeans on, and allow him to wrap his arm around my shoulders as he escorts me up the corridor to Skinner’s room. He unlocks the door, and pushes me inside, locking it again after me.

Skinner is lying on the floor. The bastards just dumped him there – they didn’t even bother to put him on the bed.

“Walter.” I roll him over, my body shaking in case he’s dead, and I’ve lost him. “Walter.” His eyes roll open, trying to focus on me.

“Fox?” he rasps.

“Yeah, it’s me. You’re going to be all right. I promise you’ll be all right.” I kiss his face, relieved to the point of tears to find that he’s still alive. “Can you move? Can you get up?” I ask but he doesn’t seem to understand me. I try to tug him into an upright position, but he’s just too damn heavy, and I’m scared of hurting him. Giving up, I run over to the bed, and get the pillows and a blanket. I roll him into the blanket, then place the pillow under his head. I’m not a doctor. I can’t do anything for him, and I feel so helpless. He’s cold to the touch where they left him here half-naked on the floor, and the fever has produced a sweat that has cooled his skin. I do the only thing I can; I get another blanket and pillow, settle down beside him, and press my body against his, giving him all the warmth I can, holding his battered body against my own.



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