The Adversary: 4. Part Four



In the absence of any other instructions, the dutymen have tied Mulder, in an upright position, to the bar at the far end of the room. They’ve also threaded tight straps round his body and secured him to the post to keep him in place, should I want to whip him. I do want to whip him, but I don’t want him tied in place. On the contrary, I want him to flail and thrash around. I also want him to watch himself being whipped. There’s nothing more demoralizing to someone in the final stages before breaking than seeing themselves in agony. To this end, I will move two full-length mirrors into place, one in front of him, and one behind him. Mulder is still when I come in, but he stiffens as he hears my footsteps.


“Larry? Is that you?” He asks. “I know it is. I can tell by the scent. I know how you smell, Larry. What is that scent? Lavender, and something else.”


“I have no idea what you mean, dear boy.” I pause for a moment, and gaze at him. He’s so beautiful, standing bound, shackled and naked, waiting for my attention. I drink in the sight of him, but I can’t keep from touching him. He’s too adorable. I stand behind him, stroking his buttocks gently, and he shivers.


“Does that feel good, Larry?” he asks me. “Do you like touching me?”


“You know I do, darling.” I remove his blindfold, and begin undoing the straps around his body. “You’re looking very pale, my sweet. There are hardly any marks on this beautiful white flesh. Unfortunately I haven’t been able to beat you as much as I would have liked recently, or as much as you deserved, because I didn’t want you too badly marked for your debut in front of the Elite. Now that this is over, I can give you the kind of long whipping you need.” I position the mirrors, and then fetch his whip from above his table.


“Do I need that, Larry?” He asks. “Or do you just need to feel as if you’re in control again? Would whipping me make you forget what happened in the car, Larry?”


He really is very annoying. I’d gag him, except for the fact that I really want to hear him scream – and I want him to hear himself scream as well.


“Hush, darling. I want you to concentrate on your whip, not on the labyrinthine workings of your mind. I want you to switch off from all those whirring thoughts, and just watch yourself as you suffer, and listen to the sound of your own screams. I want you to scream for a long time, my sweet. For hours and hours. I want you to lose yourself in screaming.” I run the whip lightly over his body, and the hairs on the back of his neck stand on end.


“You mean you want to shut me up, Larry, because you don’t want to hear what I have to say,” he comments.


“You don’t have anything to say, dear heart. Nothing at all.” I draw back my arm, and deliver the first stroke hard across his back, trailing it down over his left buttock. He jack-knifes against the post, flailing, held up only by his wrist cuffs, just as I wanted.


“I do, Larry. You can’t silence me,” he grunts, a fine sheen of sweat already breaking out on his skin.


“Yes, I can, my sweet. Now, watch yourself in the mirrors. Watch how beautifully you suffer. Then, maybe, you’ll understand what it is I love about you.”


He can’t help but look into the mirror. It’s right in front of him and he’s tied so he can’t look anywhere else. He gazes at his own pale reflection, and I know he can see the one long red welt that is already rising on his back, reflected in the mirror behind me. Another stroke has him shuddering, trying hard not to scream out loud.


“You will scream for me, darling,” I tell him. “We have time. I won’t stop until you’re screaming. In fact, I won’t even stop then. I want you to scream for hours, my sweet. I want you to scream until you become your screams, and they’re the only sound in your head.”


“Larry, you can’t obliterate me completely. You can’t make me into nothing. I’ll still be here, somewhere inside, even when you make me scream. You’re just scared, Larry.” I snap the whip at him again, and he convulses, and then is still, panting harshly. “You’re scared of what happened to you today, Larry. It reminded you of being a kid again, didn’t it? Out of control, out in the big, wide world, and at the mercy of the older, stronger boys. You were scared. Whipping me won’t cure your fear, Larry, or your phobia.”


I whip him hard, not pausing between the strokes now, and he’s soon screaming, as I predicted. When he isn’t screaming, he tries so hard to speak to me, to reason with me. It’s…annoying.


“Larry, Larry!” That voice. That beautiful, ironic voice, punctuated by cries of distress. It’s so arousing, but we need to make him move beyond speech, and into the realm of pure pain. “Some…of the things you said…to me were wrong, Larry. Whipping me…wo…won’t change that!” he shrieks, as the whip rises and falls inexorably, marking that pale flesh with lines of pure, red beauty. “You said…my father gave me to you because he doesn’t care, but you were wrong. He said so. He gave me to you because he does care, because…because… he wants me to be with him, on his side, and at his side, and not opposed to him…fuck…shit!” He whimpers pathetically. He’s slumped in his cuffs now, barely able to stand. He swings as I beat him, and his chest, stomach, groin, and the front of his legs end up receiving as much punishment as his back, as was my intention. “You told me Walter abandoned me, but he…didn’t. He didn’t… If he hadn’t left when he did then…oh Christ…please stop…please…” I ignore his pleas and continue with my work, and he struggles to find the fight to keep on speaking, and when he does continue, it’s with long pauses, and he screams as much as he talks. “If…if he hadn’t left then I would have been the one who walked out. I was just…just…a kid. I was freaked out by our relationship. I hadn’t…been… in…love before…I didn’t know what I wanted.”


He screams for several long minutes as the whip flashes down faster, and harder. Then, panting, he tries to talk again. “So you see…Larry, I know you. I know how you operate. I know…I know…I know you use pain to break people down, and then use the power of…of…shit!..of…suggestion to torture them mentally, so they don’t know what to think any more. I know you talk bullshit… sometimes, but with enough of the truth thrown in to confuse.” My arm is really starting to ache. I hope he quiets soon. The only sound I want to hear from his lips is the delicious symphony of screaming.


“And…even if you make me shut up, Larry…even if you…break me…finally…you’ll know. You’ll know, when…you look at me, that…that…I’ve seen you being…weak. I’ve seen you break down…shit…please…please. I’ve seen you, Larry. I…know you. Oh god, please make it end. I know…I kn…know all about the frightened little boy you keep hidden inside. I know all about Laiurenty.”


He’s gone too far. I must shut him up or he’ll ruin everything. I show him no mercy now. The whip is like quicksilver in my hand and I know he’s close to the edge but somehow, in between cries of pain and gasps for breath, he still manages to keep talking.


“Laiurenty…the…boy who’s afraid of the outside…world…the…one…please stop…who…tries…to…keep…himself…safe…please…please…by…controlling everything…around…him.”


A splash of red on the floor breaks me out of my trance. His back has started to bleed, which wasn’t my intention at all. I do hate blood. It’s so messy, and it stains. I don’t like to break the skin because that can lead to infection and scarring. I’m annoyed; I’m usually so careful. I have no choice but to stop, and he hasn’t performed the way I wanted. Why is he so difficult? Why will he never do as he’s supposed to? I knew he’d be a challenge – that’s why I wanted him after all – but I never knew he’d be this hard to break. It’s always one step forward, two steps back with him. Every time I think I have a breakthrough he slips away from me, finds some defense I had not anticipated. I think, finally, that I might have to use the last resort. I wanted to save this, because if it doesn’t work then nothing will, and I will have to admit defeat.


I unfasten his cuffs, and he slumps immediately to the floor, where he lies, looking up at me, those hazel eyes shining bright, and intense.


“I told you, Larry. I did warn you that I might not break. I said that you might end up killing me in the process.”


“Oh, you’ll break, darling,” I tell him tenderly, lifting him up, and half-walking, half-carrying him back to the table. “You see, there’s one thing left that I haven’t done, and I think it will achieve the desired result.”


I nod to the dutyman at the door, and he disappears into the storeroom as I begin to strap Mulder down on the table. He puts up a token struggle, his bloodied hands locked with mine, but he’s been too badly beaten to resist for long. His blood has stained my shirt by the time I’m through. I hate that. I can’t wait to go upstairs and change. It’s so distasteful. He sees the curl of my lips, and laughs.


“Sorry for bleeding on you, Larry. My apologies. I know how you hate mess.”


“You will be sorry in a moment, dear heart,” I tell him, fastening him in the delivery position, which of course he hates. They all hate this position. It’s so exposed, so vulnerable. The dutyman returns, making a noise as he enters the room. Mulder turns his head, looks at what the dutyman is pushing, and frowns.


“That’s right, my sweet. It’s a brazier. He’ll be bringing in another in a second. You see, dear heart, I couldn’t help noticing something about you. Most of my recruits, when they’re cold, huddle as close to the fire as it’s humanly possible to be without burning. You don’t, darling. You content yourself with sitting on the couch, near the fire, but not too close. It made me wonder, dear boy, whether you weren’t a little afraid of the fire. Ah, you could sit watching it, but you didn’t want to be close enough to feel it burn your skin. So I checked your file, darling. I found out about your little childhood experience that made you afraid of fire. I’m not the only one with a phobia, am I, my sweet?” I stroke his hair back away from his face, and his eyes widen in panic. “There, there. We’re not ready yet. What I’m going to do is start little fires in the braziers. We’ll position them close to your table. I wonder how you’ll scream when I put your arm in the flame, hmm? Or maybe I’ll light a candle, and trail it down your chest. The wax might drip a little, but I don’t think that will bother you. I think it’s the flame that will scare you, hmm? Did you know that you can hold human flesh in a flame for quite a few seconds without causing any serious harm? We can go on like that for hours. It’ll be fun.”


He’s gone quite pale, and his face is sweaty in the dim light, his eyes dark. Now he knows what it feels like to suffer a phobia-induced panic attack. I push the braziers close, and, bound as he is, he can’t move away from them. He can see the coals already arranged inside them. The dutyman lights each brazier, and the coals begin smoldering. It takes them a little while to warm up but when the flames start to rise Mulder stares at them with huge eyes, his pupils dilated, and his breathing coming fast and shallow. The dear boy is almost hyperventilating. It’s a very pleasing reaction. I hadn’t expected anything so dramatic, so soon, and I force the pace by moving the braziers even closer to the table. He isn’t in any danger of burning – but the fact that he can’t move away from the flames is clearly terrifying the darling creature. He whimpers, and tugs on his cuffs, unable to take his eyes off the flames, fixated by them almost.


“What’s the matter, darling? You’ve suddenly gone very quiet.” I smile, still stroking his hair, leaning over him. Soon, Mulder. Soon you will be mine.


“Larry,” he whispers, his eyes still on the flames as if he’s unable to tear his gaze away. “Larry, you can do this to me. Maybe you’ll even break me if you do, but do you really want that? This is your last chance.” His voice is hoarse, choked with fear. “I’ve told you before, if you break me, you lose me, the way you lost all the others. Is that why you didn’t take Alex all the way down, Larry? So that you’d have the pleasure of seeing him again? Didn’t you say that they sent him back to you sometimes, Larry? Wasn’t he the one you identified with most? Living on the streets, an orphan. Unloved, unwanted…why did it take you so long to break him, Larry? Maybe you never really wanted to let him go. Hmm?”


Ah. Alex. My dear Alex. He fought me, not with his wits, as Mulder has done, but with his passion, and his fire. I loved him, as I loved them all, but none of them as much as I love Mulder. He has been a truly worthy adversary.


“Break me, and you lose me, Larry,” he whispers. With a great act of will, he tears his gaze away from the flames. “Remember that. Break me and I become just like all the others, and you’ll be empty again. Don’t you hate that empty feeling? Hmm? It makes you feel so alone. Even having me near you, knowing that you’ve broken me down to nothing, that you have that power over me…you crave that power, but it leaves you restless, and dissatisfied, doesn’t it, Larry?”


“A soft science,” I murmur, kissing his pretty lips gently. “Isn’t that how you thought Walter viewed psychology? Maybe it has its uses – yes, my darling?”


I caress his face lovingly. I do love him so much. I don’t want to lose him. I could break him. I can feel victory at the end of my fingertips. It’s so nearly in sight. He’s lost, alone, defeated, lying here on this table, awaiting my final actions that will make him totally, and irrevocably mine. It’s so easy. It’s so close. I let my fingers linger, regretfully on his face, as if I could map every last contour of it, by touch alone. I will miss him so much. I will miss this verbal sparring, this endless back and forth. None of my other recruits ever spoke to me like this. Soon he will be calling me ‘sir’, and obeying my every whim. He won’t call me Larry any more, and that hurts. It hurts deep inside. He won’t be Mulder any more, my beautiful adversary. He’ll be just like all the rest.


“Larry,” he whispers softly. “You don’t have to do this.” His voice is like a caress, like a siren’s song, beguiling, and tempting. I can’t stay down here for one more second. I must go.


“Stay here and consider the flames, dear heart,” I whisper to him. “I’ll be back when you’ve had time to think.”


I flee. I flee back to the safety of my salon. I was wrong to go down there so soon after such a dreadful day. I feel confused, and yet, there’s a streak of hard, cold truth in my situation that I cannot avoid: Mulder is right.


I sit at my desk in my salon, and open a file with shaking fingers. It’s the file Charles sent over: Walter Skinner’s file. I pull out the clearest picture I have of him. My rival. Mulder’s lost love. Walter Skinner is the person in Mulder’s heart. I could put myself there, but he wouldn’t be Mulder any more. The new Mulder will love me, but he won’t be the bright, shining, brilliant man I have tied up downstairs. He’ll be someone else, someone much less interesting. I can never make the old Mulder love me because he already loves someone else. Walter Skinner; so big, so powerful, so self-assured. The bigger boys always win. It isn’t fair.


A knock on the door rouses me from my reverie, and the dutyman passes me a message. “Someone wants to use the Recreation Room, sir. Shall I tell him there’s nobody in there today?” They always have to apply to use the Recreation Room. I insist on speaking to each one individually to remind them of the rules of that room, and ensure that the recruit inside isn’t damaged.


“What? Yes…no, wait…who is it?”


“Krycek, sir.”


“Krycek? Send him in. I want to talk to him. And leave us. You can wait outside the door.”


Alex Krycek. Was Mulder right? Did I hold back from breaking him down completely because I could not bear to lose him? It’s true that he’s been sent back to me for Remedial Treatment a few times, and I’ve so enjoyed playing with that soft, supple skin again. It was interesting when he lost his arm. I was prepared to be repulsed, but instead found the stump most fascinating, although we did have to adjust our restraint techniques, which was a challenge. He walks into my room, with that famous Krycek swagger, but I can see beneath the bravado. I always could with Alex.


“You wanted to use the Recreation Room, Alex?” I sit back in my chair, and watch his reactions. He gives the tiniest, almost imperceptible shift of his shoulders, always a giveaway to his mental state, but he’s such a fantastic little actor that few other people would pick up on that nervous gesture.


“Yeah. Is that okay?” he asks.


“You’ve never asked to use that particular room before.”


He shrugs, nonchalantly. I wander over to him, and caress his cheek lovingly. He stiffens, as they all do, and then pretends that he’s relaxed, meeting my gaze with his flashing eyes, that tell me so much about his still passionate nature. We’ve never quite been able to subdue that passion.


“Why now?” I whisper, caressing the back of his neck with my fingertips, while looking deep into his gorgeous jade green eyes. Alex and I have a special bond. He is the only one of my trainees who is regularly returned to me for Remedial Treatment and that gives me an intimacy with him that I often lose with my creatures. Alex is in an unusual position; still subject to my discipline, and yet also a valuable Syndicate operative, who has earned the privileges of the salon and smoking rooms in his own right. It’s an awkward fence to straddle, but so delicious to watch him squirm as he tries to do just that.


“Do you get turned on by the idea of sinking yourself into bound, gagged, helpless flesh, Alex?” I purr. “Do you have fond memories of your own sessions in that room, and maybe want to experience what it’s like from a different perspective? Hmm?”


“Maybe.” He shrugs, his shoulders full of tension. I run my hand down over his arm, and trace the line under his shirt where the prosthetic meets his flesh. It’s taking all his willpower to stay still, and not move away from my caress.


“Or maybe you hoped that Mulder would be there,” I comment. His shoulders now hunch fractionally, but his eyes remain clear of emotion. He’s so perfectly impassive, and that tells me all that I need to know.


“Yes, I did,” he replies, with what would be disarming honesty if it weren’t such a blatant lie. “I only had a taste of him earlier. I want more.”


“Ah.” What a perfect reply. The two of them do, after all, have a history of enmity reaching back a long way. But I know my Alex too well. I know that even though Mulder is his enemy, he also identifies with the dear boy in some way. Maybe Mulder has led a life that Alex craves for himself, but knows he can never have. He sees in Mulder someone he wanted to be, someone he still thinks he is inside. Seeing Mulder here, in my salon, suffering under my tender care, he longs to effect the escape for Mulder that he has always denied himself.


“Is that so?” I ask, raising an eyebrow. I wander around behind him, and gently kiss the back of his neck, making the fine hairs there stand on end. “Come now, Alex – the truth,” I purr into his ear. He stiffens again, and makes a small sound in the back of his throat. I can sense how scared he is. He’s worried about being sent back to me for Remedial Treatment if he admits to his intent. “You know I can always see through your lies, good at them though you are,” I whisper. I think he wants to flee. His eyes dart, anxiously, towards the door, where the dutymen are standing. Now, technically, Charles hasn’t requested any correction for him, so he isn’t being detained here, and could leave, but he’s unsure where he stands right now – which is just the way I like him. “I’m waiting, Alex,” I murmur, still nuzzling the back of his neck. He swallows, hard.


“I’m not lying.” He stands his ground, and I tighten my grip on his shoulders.


“Alex. You know how I feel about dishonesty, don’t you?” I murmur. “I abhor it. Now, if you just tell the truth then you won’t be hurt. Why are you asking to use the Recreation Room?” He makes no reply. I massage his shoulders gently. “You’re so tense. Just tell the truth and you can relax. You won’t be harmed. I don’t want to have to whip you, Alex.” I run my fingers through those dark locks. He has darker hair than my darling boy downstairs, and I’ve always loved running my fingers through it. When he still makes no reply, I tip him over the edge, and take away his choices. “Come now, Alex. I know why you’re here. You’re here to rescue Mulder, aren’t you?”


The color drains from his face, anger vying with terror in his expression. “No!” He says, too quickly. I shake my head, making a little noise of censure, and he explodes, as he always does under pressure from me. “It’s true that I think this whole thing is nuts but I’m not planning a rescue. I can’t believe those crazy old men sanctioned you to do this to Mulder. He isn’t one of us for fuck’s sake. This could ruin us – don’t you see that? Mulder’s an FBI agent, he’s not just some screwed up kid off the streets who you can manipulate at will.”


“Is that how you still see yourself?” I ask him tenderly, stroking my hands down his arms. Such a pretty little speech.


“It’s what I’ll always be inside. You know that.” He shrugs. He and I are beyond any pretense in that respect. He’s shared so much with me in his time, after punishment, lying naked, and unguarded in my arms, gibbering in pain. I gaze at him for a long time. He’s so very sweet, to have risked so much for a man who hates him. It’s enough to make a tear rise to my eye. My two boys! Working together at last! It’s adorable. All the same, I do have a real issue to address here. I gaze at him speculatively, and he tries to gaze back, unflinching, but it takes all his strength.


“Don’t lie to me any more, Alex. Tell me about your plan to rescue Mulder.”


“I don’t have a plan. There wouldn’t be any point. He’s too well guarded,” he snaps.


“But you’re very well trained,” I point out. “You have many…skills,” I add, in a silky tone.


“So do your dutymen,” he retorts. “And they’re as equally well trained. Oh, I could probably get past them, but they’d struggle, and that might make too much noise. It might bring someone running. And then there are the internal cameras. I probably couldn’t disable all of them. They might pick me up and then…” He shrugs.


“I agree – it wouldn’t be easy. You’d almost certainly need the aid of someone on the inside.” I let that little bombshell fall, gazing at him steadily, and his green eyes flash, uncertainly. “You’d need to make sure the guards on the door were drugged, and the security cameras were out of action.”


“I don’t know anyone on the inside,” he says. I smile, and massage my fingers hard into his shoulders. He gives a muffled grunt of pain as I find the deep knots of tension.


“Now, having gotten him to your car, where would you take him?” I ask, ignoring that last comment. He’s looking at me intently, weighing me up, and now he starts to enter into the spirit of the conversation a little more.


“I don’t know.” He shrugs. “To Scully I suppose.”


“No, not to Dr. Scully.” I glance at the picture of Walter Skinner, my rival. I wonder if he truly deserves the treasure lying locked up downstairs. Would he appreciate such a gift if it turned up on his doorstep? Can I truly bring myself to give him such a gift?


“Not Scully?” Alex repeats, still mystified.


“No, you would take him to Assistant Director Skinner.” I glance at the photograph of Skinner again, with a meaningful expression this time. Alex’s eyes follow mine, and he frowns.


“Skinner,” he says, with an uncertain shrug.


“And you would have to be very careful not to be noticed or your boss would find out, and I can predict that Charles would be most annoyed with whoever spirits his son away from under his nose.”


“He sure as hell would.” Alex’s eyes narrow. “It’s a risk that not everybody is prepared to take,” he murmurs.


“That’s right. It takes a special person to carry out such a bold plan, but that person would be assured of the discretion of any accomplices he might have, as long as he is quick, and efficient, and leaves no clues.” He is quiet, thinking about that for some time, his eyes never leaving mine. He is trying to figure out where I’m coming from, and why I might help him in this way, but he would never understand, even if I told him, and I could never tell him.


“I see.” Alex nods. “May I ask why?”


“No.” I smile at him pleasantly. “You may not. So, my dear boy, you wanted to use the Recreation Room?”


He frowns, confused by the rapid change of subject. “Yes, sir,” he murmurs.


“Well, that particular room has no occupant at the moment. However…if you would care to return in a few hours…well, you never know, you might be in luck.”


I leave the sentence hanging, and he nods, uncertainly. I dismiss him with a wave of my hand and then stare into the fire. Fire. Does Mulder feel the same way about fire as I do about leaving my house, and being out in the big, wide world? The sky seems so far away, and the ground so unsteady when I go outside. Does fire make his heart pound inside his breast? Does it send him half out of his mind with panic? Finding out whether this would break him is such a delicious thought…and yet, forever not knowing, forever having the fantasy of it, rather than the empty reality…is that not more enticing? Do I really want that boy broken? Is he right? Would the challenge of knowing he is always there, somewhere in the world, always teetering on the brink I took him to…is that more delicious?


Would Mr. Skinner appreciate the sacrifice of the one who gave up this rare treasure so that he could benefit, I wonder? Does Mr. Skinner have any idea how to take care of this treasure? Mulder will need considerable care, but he’s so ripe now, like a horse about to be broken to a rider, any rider. All he needs is the right hand on the rein, and he’ll be their faithful steed for life. Does Mr. Skinner have the power and strength to keep such an exotic, highly-strung animal?


I get up, and wander downstairs. Mulder moves his head and looks at me as I enter the Delivery Room, his eyes wide with panic. His body is soaked with sweat, not all of it caused by the heat of the flames, I think.


“Larry?” he says, sounding for all the world like a lost, frightened child, desperate for reassurance.


“It’s all right, darling.” I go to him, and stare down into those scared, hazel eyes.


“Are you going to burn me, Larry?” he whispers, shuddering as he says the words. “Are you going to put me into the flames?”


“Not if you’re good,” I soothe him. “I’m going to take you upstairs, my darling, and I’m going to make love to you. Do you understand?” He closes his eyes, and swallows, then nods. “All I ask is that you respond, just this once. I won’t tie you, or beat you any more. I just want you to respond as a lover would. You can even imagine I’m Walter if you like; you can pretend I’m your young lawyer – or maybe your boss, the older Walter, if you prefer, but I want you to give the best performance of your life. Do that, and I won’t burn you.” He takes a deep breath, his eyes flicker over the braziers, and then he nods. “Good boy.”


I untie him, attach his wrist cuffs to his belt, blindfold him, and then walk him back upstairs. When he’s safely ensconced in my bedroom, I remove every single restraint and he rubs his wrists wonderingly. Much to his surprise, I send the dutymen away, to stand on the other side of the door, so that Mulder and I are alone in the room. Then I turn the lights down low, and settle on the bed beside him. He could hurt me I suppose, but he’s weak from his whipping and I don’t think he will in any case. I lie on the bed, look deep into his eyes, and run my hand over his lovely, tear-stained cheeks.


“You never looked more beautiful,” I whisper.


“With all due respect, Larry, you have a weird definition of beauty,” he comments, in those wonderful, ironic tones that make me laugh. He’s looking down ruefully, on his battered body, covered in welts, with little splashes of blood here and there. I can’t help smiling. He has no idea how much the sight of his suffering turns me on. I always said that nobody suffered quite like him. He imbues it with such grace, and sublime loveliness. I lean forward to claim a kiss from his divine lips. They open beneath me, and I push my tongue into him. He is still for a moment, and then responds, his mouth opening wider, his tongue clashing eagerly with my own.


“My darling. My lovely boy,” I murmur when we part. “I want to make love to you. I want you to be aroused, and to come. I want to taste you.” One last time. I want to make love to an unbroken Fox William Mulder, and have him respond. I want to know what that is like. I want to arouse him, to come in his ass, our bodies merged, as one, and I want to watch him throw back his head and arch his body as he takes his own climax. I want to see the sexual being I have worked so hard to unleash. I want to know he’s been released from his inhibitions before I set him on the next little journey he must take.


I wrap my arms around him and draw him close, kiss his face, and then trail my lips down his body. I take a nipple in my mouth, and suck on it gently, and he murmurs something, his body twisting in pleasure. He opens his legs as my mouth reaches his groin, and thrusts his hips at me, so I take his cock into my mouth, and feel it grow hard under my caress. He writhes for me, and my heart is full of love as I gaze down on him. Uninhibited, free of his restraints, he is truly beautiful. I lick one of his welts and he shivers, clutching me.


“Undress me,” I whisper, and he smiles, and reaches out those long, expressive fingers to untie my cravat and then unbutton my shirt. He takes his time, stealing little kisses as he works, and finally smoothes the fabric away from my shoulder and nuzzles at my chest. “Darling boy.” I kneel on the bed and he rises up to take each of my nipples in his mouth in turn, raising them to delicious points of sensation. He gently slides my cravat away from my opened shirt, pausing to steal a kiss from my lips as he does so. His hazel eyes are burning with passion, and arousal and it is a slow, dreamy love making. He undresses me as if he is unwrapping a present, taking his time, undoing me as surely as he undoes my clothes. I am lost in him. He is so exquisitely tender, so loving. His fingertips arouse me to the most intense heat of passion as he removes my pants, and I find myself naked next to him. Two bodies, naked together, no cuffs or chains between us, no clothing. It’s just the two of us – two people in love. He holds me in those strong arms of his, and kisses, and sucks, and licks for all he is worth. He can arouse with a flick of his tongue, or a knowing wink of his eye. Ah, I was right all along. Inside he is innately sexual. He is everything he never dreamed he could be. His cock is hard, weeping, as our bodies rise and fall against each other, entwined in our dance of erotic delight, rubbing, and kissing, and devouring each other. He is so good. Finally, he lies down on his back, puts his legs on my shoulders, and guides my cock into his body. I glide deep inside him, and he gasps, putting his head back, alive and vibrant under my caress. Our eyes meet, and remain locked together as we consummate our love, once and for all. I grasp his cock, and pump it in time to my thrusts, and then we are both coming, over and over again. Oh what a moment! What a sweet love this is! My beautiful boy is so perfect in my arms, and his lovemaking is more intimate, more truly a joining of two souls than I have ever known. I flop down on top of his warm, sweaty, naked body, and he smiles, and wraps his arms around me, nuzzling at my hair. He’s holding me! As lovers do… truly lovers, truly joined. I love him so much that it hurts.


“Was that good, Larry? Did I do what you wanted?” he asks sweetly.


“Yes, my love. That was very good.” I withdraw slowly, and lie resting in his strong arms for what feels like an eternity. There can be no better feeling than this. He has given me all I have ever wanted. He strokes my back, and whispers to me in the dark.


“Did that help you forget, Larry? I hope so. I hope that was good. I hope you won’t send me into the fire. Please don’t do that, Larry. Please.”


My poor Mulder! That someone so complex could be felled, in the end, by something as simple as fire. As I look into his eyes I know that we understand each other. He has seen my weakness, and I his. We are cleaved from the same flesh, he and I. We have the same kind of spirit. We are both smarter than our peers, and both of us have survived their ridicule. We are both different from other people. We are always misunderstood, and we both struggle to keep ourselves out of the fire, one way or another. Ah, but the boy has played a clever game. I knew he would be a challenge, and so it has proved. I think that my final decision has somehow been inevitable; from the moment Charles first agreed to give me this lovely, untamed creature, to this moment, when I finally choose his fate. Wild animals shouldn’t be kept confined; they are only beautiful if they are allowed to roam free. Lock them up and they lose their mystery, and their exotic appeal. My Mulder, with his expressive, almost golden eyes, and his erotic suffering, could never really, truly be mine, even if I broke him. It’s a sad truth, but one that this old man must accept.


I pull on my robe, and call the dutymen into the room.


“Please, Larry,” he says, because it is his last chance to evade the fire, and he knows that. “Please don’t send me into the flames.”


“I won’t, my love.” I glance at the dutymen. “Take him to the Recreation Room,” I tell them.


“NO!” Mulder cries out, and struggles, but I turn my back on him. I can hear him yelling at me as they drag him away, screaming his head off, and calling me every vile name under the sun. It doesn’t matter. When he’s gone, I feel as if I’ve been punched in the gut. I sit down on the bed, take the crumpled, sex-stained sheets in my hand, and sniff them.


That’s when the tears begin to fall.




He was back in a nightmare. Mulder fought as they tied him down, blindfolded him, gagged him with that appalling, intrusive, choking gag, and spread his legs. He struggled as they strapped him into place, open, and exposed, and then he slumped as they left him, alone in the dark once more. He knew what happened in this room, knew the faceless demons that would rise up to slay him in the silence of his own thoughts. Why hadn’t Laurence burned him as he had threatened? Why had he brought him back here, to this only marginally lesser of two evils? What had he done to deserve this? Hadn’t he tried? Mulder shuddered as he remembered caressing emaciated flesh, making love to the monster, inviting him inside his own body in a bid to save himself. Maybe this was it. Maybe this would be enough to finally finish him. He was bruised, beaten, and abused. He had nothing left, not even the possibility of escape. Had Laurence ordered him to be brought here as an object lesson? To end up in the one place that he had so recently hoped to be brought to, in order to escape, yet knowing that escape would not be forthcoming? Was that it? If so, Mulder had to admit that it was effective. He was at the end of his endurance. In fact, he was surprised that he was still sane. He had absolutely nothing left inside. If the men came now, the faceless men, and raped him, as they had before, then he wasn’t even sure that he cared any more. Maybe this was what Laurence meant by breaking him. He closed his eyes, and lay there, like a piece of meat on a slab, and allowed the darkness to claim him.


He wasn’t sure how many hours passed, but suddenly he heard a movement in the room. His buttocks tightened involuntarily, as he waited for what he knew would happen next. He felt a hand on his wrist, surprising him, and then felt the cool caress of metal against his flesh, surprising him even more. The knife sliced through the plastic cuffs, freeing his hands, then made equally short work of his gag and blindfold. He looked around, confused.




“Shut up.” A hand was pressed over his mouth. Krycek? His weary mind struggled to make sense of what he was seeing. Krycek knifed through the bonds around his torso and legs, and then pulled him to his feet. Mulder wobbled, like a new born foal.


“Krycek?” he whispered again, disbelievingly. “He knows,” he hissed urgently. “You’ll be caught.”


“No.” Krycek pulled Mulder towards the door, and he went, staggering. “You look like shit,” Krycek commented, pausing at the door, opening it a fraction, and glancing out.


“Strange. That’s also how I feel,” Mulder snapped. “There are guards outside. How the hell did you get in?” His voice trailed off as he saw the slumped bodies of two dutymen outside the door. “What the…?”


“Drugged,” Krycek said, in a strange voice. “Here.” He pulled the pants off one of the dutymen, and handed them to Mulder. “Hurry.”


“How will we get out?” Mulder whispered, trying to make sense of all this. He stared dumbly at the pants, unsure whether he remembered how to pull the garment on. “Surely the place will be crawling with dutymen?”


“I didn’t see any on my way here.” Krycek shrugged. “Maybe they’re all…busy.” His mouth twisted into a strained smile. Mulder managed to put his legs into the pants, and did his best to fasten the fabric with trembling fingers. His wrists were bruised from the cuffs, and he hurt so much he didn’t think he could stand for long.


“How far to the parking garage? I’m not…in very good shape,” he admitted, with a rueful glance down at his scarred body.


“I can see that. It isn’t far.” A noise alerted Krycek. “We don’t have any more time. Forget the sweater – follow me.” He grabbed Mulder’s arm, and pulled him along the hallway. Mulder went, still bare-chested. He could have sworn that they ran forever. It felt as if his whole life was that journey, down those many hallways, and flights of stairs. He hurt so much that each step felt like a marathon, and only Krycek’s fingers, digging into his arm, kept him upright. He lost track of their route, lost track of everything save the need to put one bare foot in front of the other. He got slower, and slower, until in the end Krycek had to sling one of his arms over his own shoulder and run with him down the final flight of stairs and out into a parking garage. Mulder was faint with exhaustion and pain by the time they got to the car. Krycek opened the back seat, and threw him in. Mulder lay there, drifting in and out of consciousness.


“Hurry,” he kept saying, over and over again. He could see Laurence in his mind’s eye, chasing after them, opening the car door and hauling him out, so close to freedom. Or maybe this was the way Laurence intended to break him. That thought froze his heart, and he sat up, wild eyed and incoherent.


“Are you working for him?” he hissed at Krycek. “Is that what this is? You take me to the brink of freedom and then he pulls me back in again, just when I think I’m safe?”


“Shut the fuck up, Mulder, and lie down. I need to drive you past the guard at the entrance. There’s a blanket in the back. Cover yourself, and stay still.”


Mulder did as he was told, in a haze of uncertainty. He felt the car start to move, and shuddered as they drove slowly through the garage. Laurence was going to find him. Laurence was going to take him back, and keep him as a prisoner forever. There was no such thing as freedom. He couldn’t even remember what it felt like. The car stopped, and he held his breath. He heard Krycek talking to someone, felt a wave of cold air waft through the open window, and then they were driving again. Still he couldn’t breathe. He felt himself drift off into space. This was where it was going to end. This was how he was going to end. A sharp slap across the face woke him up.
“Mulder, for fuck’s sake, breathe. You’re going blue. I didn’t risk my ass getting you out of there just to have you fucking die on me.” He took a gasping gulp of air, and sat up, gazing around blearily. They were parked at the side of the road, and Krycek was leaning over, staring at him.


“What now? You just push me out of the car to fend for myself?” he asked.


“No, you stupid bastard. If I did that they’d find you and drag you back. I’m taking you somewhere safe. Now lie down and shut up. We have a long drive ahead of us.”


Krycek turned around and started to drive. Mulder pulled the blanket up around his body, and curled into the fetal position. He didn’t know where he was going, and he didn’t care. He hurt so much that he didn’t think he’d ever care again. With freedom came anti-climax. With freedom he lost all the strength of will he had been relying on just to survive. The immediate danger had gone. Now he was just left with the nightmare of picking up the pieces of his shattered psyche. Maybe it would have been better if he’d stayed with Laurence, in the safety of the salon. At least Laurence had understood him.


“Get out.”


“What?” Mulder looked around, confused out of his troubled slumber. They were in an underground parking garage. In the dark, it looked suspiciously like the one they had just left. Had it all been a ruse? Had Krycek just driven him around for hours, and then brought him back here in order to help Laurence break him?


“We’re here. Now get out. I need to be back in New York by morning or they’ll know it was me.”


“You’re going back?” Mulder was horrified.


“Yes. Now get out. Hurry. I don’t have much time.”


“You can’t go back.” Mulder grabbed Krycek’s arm. “Laurence knows about you. He knew you were going to try and help me escape. I don’t understand how…if he knew…”


“Wise up, Mulder.” Krycek rolled his eyes. “He does know. The old bastard is letting you go.”


“He…?” Mulder couldn’t make sense of that statement. He shook his head, vigorously. “If you go back…if they find out…”


“They won’t find out. I have his word on that.” Krycek shrugged. “Now get the fuck out of here before I change my mind and drag you back to the crazy old monster.” He reached past Mulder, and opened the car door.


“You can’t go back to them,” Mulder protested. “I don’t understand how you can go back to them.”


“No you don’t fucking understand!” Krycek roared. “You never fucking understand anything, Mulder. We didn’t all grow up in a nice safe town, with nice safe people around. I belong with them. That’s my world. Now get the fuck out of this car.”


Krycek grabbed his arm, and shoved him out of the car. Mulder’s feet tangled in the blanket, and he fell onto the concrete floor of the garage, the blanket wrapped around the lower half of his body. Krycek slammed the door shut, and reversed out of the garage with a screech of tires. Mulder watched the tail lights fade from view, losing consciousness again as they went. The concrete was cold against his hot, torn flesh. He felt so tired. He placed his head on the floor, and gave into oblivion.


He thought it was a dream. He saw a red shirt, and then his lover was there, looming over him.


“Walter…I thought you’d gone,” he muttered in surprise. It had been so long since he had last seen his lover that he just lay there, staring, trying to make sense of his lover’s return. “I thought I drove you away when I betrayed you. I’m sorry,” he whispered. He heard a muffled exclamation. Big, strong arms grabbed him, held his face, and he tried to focus on his lover’s visage but it was hazy, and indistinct.


“Christ, Mulder…oh Christ, what have they done to you?” Gentle, blunt fingertips traced lines on his face. “Hold still, Mulder. I’m going to…” Someone was peeling back his blanket, looking at the marks all over his blood-streaked body. “Oh Christ.” His vision cleared, and he saw a look of total horror in a pair of dark eyes. His own beaten, abused body, and hollow, lifeless face were reflected back at him through a pair of glasses. He reached out to touch the wirerims, wonderingly.


“I didn’t think you wore these back then,” he murmured. “Only now. Vain, you said.”


“You aren’t making any sense. Hold on. We need to get you to the hospital. Hold on…” He felt himself being lifted.


“I’m too heavy,” he protested, struggling.


“No you’re not. Lie still. You’re safe,” his lover said. “I’ve got you. You’re safe.”




The place seems so lonely without him. I visit all the rooms that he graced with his presence. The salon. I sit in his armchair, and gaze into the fire. The Recreation Room, where there are only the sliced remains of his cuffs to remind me that he was here. The dutymen guarding Mulder last night have been punished; it was a pleasure.


I wander down to the Delivery Room. This was the room where he suffered so much, and so beautifully. I can still smell his sweat, and fear. I trace my finger, nostalgically, over the bar where he so recently hung. Ah, but this is such a delicious torment. He knew it would be. He knew it would be sweeter to give him up than to break him, and it is! It is! It hurts, but it’s a pain that reminds me I’m alive. It isn’t the empty boredom of having yet another fully broken recruit kneeling by my side. So, we’ll never know whether I could have taken him over the edge. I like to think that I could. It’s a stalemate. Maybe, in the end, that’s the best outcome I could hope for.


I trail listlessly into the storeroom, and find the bag containing his belongings, lying on a shelf, packaged up neatly, as I left it. Purely to torment myself even more, I open it, pull out his shirt, and bury my face in it, inhaling his beautiful, delicious, earthy and yet exotic scent. I’m going to miss him so much! I can hardly believe the depths of my emotions right now. I am tingling with them and it’s the most heady sensation I’ve ever felt in my life. I smudge a tear or two on his shirt, and then replace it in its packaging and tuck it under one of my arms. I have a feeling that I will be burying my face in his clothing a good many times in the coming weeks.


Finally, I wander back up to the salon. It’s been twelve hours since he left, and I have a phone call to make.


Charles sounds peeved – understandably so.


“Can’t we find him again? Bring him back?” he snaps.


“I’m afraid not.” I finger Mulder’s whip, lost in memories. “It’s too late. Once the FBI gets their hands on him all my good work will be ruined. Even apart from that, he knows it was us. Now, I’m sure that with your network of people in high places there’s no chance that either of us will be brought to justice.” He grunts, acknowledging the truth of that statement, “But all the same. They might have more of an idea of where to look for him if we took him again. No, I’m afraid he’s lost to us. It’s such a pity. I was so close.”


“Damn!” Charles snaps, which is a strong expression indeed from such a restrained man. “Who was responsible?” He asks.


I hesitate, and then smile. If I can’t have my one true love, then at least I can have the next best thing. “Why don’t you come over, and we’ll talk about it,” I murmur. “And bring your assistant with you.”


They arrive within the hour. Charles looks faded, as if the life has gone out of him. I think that losing Mulder at this stage was worse than the boy dying. As for Alex…well, he looks a little tired. Too much night driving I think. I glance at him, and we exchange a look.


“I want a full report,” Charles fumes, as I pour a glass of brandy, and a glass of water. I hand Charles the brandy, and Alex holds out his hand for the water.


“It’s not for you,” I tell him, in a cold tone. His eyes widen, startled. I sit down on the couch, and settle myself easily, gesturing to Charles to take the armchair. I don’t even look at Alex. My eyes are fixed on Charles as I speak.


“Take your clothes off, Alex. We have work to do.”


“What?” He gasps.


“Do it, boy. Now.”


“No, you can’t…you promised…you fucking bastard…you…” One of my dutymen holds him down, while another forces a gag into his mouth, but he struggles and fights so much that I’m forced to call another two dutymen to help subdue him. Ah, I’d almost forgotten how delicious he is. He always fights. Such a little spitfire.


“It was Alex?” Charles gazes at the scene, astonished. “Alex did this?”


“I’m afraid so.” I hand him a printout from one of the internal cameras. It shows Krycek helping Mulder down some stairs. “We have the whole tape if you’d like to watch it,” I offer.


“No,” he snaps, downing his brandy in one gulp, and then getting up. “I think I’ve seen enough.” Alex has been stripped of his clothes and is kneeling on the floor, his good arm thrust up behind his back by one of my dutymen. His prosthetic arm has been removed and is lying discarded on the floor, and a second dutyman has his hand in Alex’s hair, holding him still while they put his choke chain around his neck. We discovered very early on that Alex responds particularly well to this form of restraint. Charles pauses, and gazes down at him, his eyes dark and full of anger. He has just lost his son after all, his one hope for the future, to say nothing of most probably turning the boy into an irrevocable enemy, when he had hoped so much to make him an ally, and heir.


“How long can I keep him for?” I ask, taking a sip of my water.


“As long as you like,” Charles growls, striding towards the door. He pauses in front of the kneeling, restrained Alex as he goes to leave, and then, without warning, stubs out his cigarette on the poor pup’s naked, white chest. Alex gives an inarticulate cry around the edges of his gag, and Charles continues on his way. “One more thing, Laurence,” he says, as he opens the door. “Make sure that he suffers,” and he exits, slamming the door shut behind him.


“Oh, I will,” I murmur, getting up, and going to crouch down in front of my beautiful, maimed boy. I lift Alex’s pretty head, and gaze into his rebellious, betrayed green eyes, with a smile of utter, delicious, anticipatory intent. He shivers, visibly, which pleases me no end. “I certainly will.”




The room drifted in and out of focus, white, and sterile. He could hear the hush-hush of voices, but didn’t have the energy to tune into what they were saying. Hush, dear boy. Hush, hush… stroke, stroke…His body was wrapped in chains, tied down…no, bandages…they were bandages. Tube in one of his arms, but he couldn’t move…why couldn’t he move?


“It’s okay, you’ve been sedated,” someone said and he cried out silently inside. Trapped inside his mind, unable to move, unable to breathe, tied to that table, his legs over his head, passing in and out of consciousness…he could feel his body convulsing, struggling against the sedation, and hands were pushing him back down. “Hush,” someone said. Hush, hush…stroke, stroke.


“Mulder.” A shadow loomed over him, and he shrank back into the pillows to evade it. “Christ, he flinches away every time I go near him.”


“Give him time.” Scully’s voice. A part of him curled up and died inside, knowing that she was here, looking at him, stripped of his dignity as he was. He caught a glimpse of red hair, and a pale, strained face. A larger body came into focus. Skinner. He was dressed in brown jeans, and a sloppy, navy blue sweatshirt. There was a baseball cap on his head. He looked so different that Mulder didn’t even know who he was for a moment.


“Thought you were wearing a red shirt,” Mulder croaked.


Skinner frowned, his eyes dark and concerned behind the wirerims. “Do you recognize me now?” He asked, coming over, and putting a hand on Mulder’s arm. Mulder flinched. He couldn’t help it, and he didn’t care, even when he saw the flash of pain in the other man’s eyes. For a big man Skinner looked curiously fragile, as if breaking under the weight of some dark knowledge. Mulder felt his throat constricting, and a wave of anger coursing through him: they knew. They both knew. He saw the truth in the desperate pity of Scully’s blue eyes and the confused horror of Skinner’s brown ones. They knew that he’d been held down and raped, knew that he had been bound with cuffs that had left his wrists bruised and chafed, knew that he had been whipped repeatedly, and he hated them for knowing.


“Get out of here. Both of you,” Mulder snapped, anger paralyzing him. “What am I? Some kind of fucking circus freak?” His body didn’t feel real. He looked down on it wondering if it even belonged to him. His legs and arms were so heavy they were weighing him down. He imagined the doctor explaining to them that he had been raped, could almost feel that by virtue of that clinical explanation he had become the ‘other’ again, only a different kind of ‘other’ this time. Still on the outside, an object of pity, someone to be tiptoed around, somebody damaged, tainted even. Too tired to hurt any more than he already did, he closed his eyes once again, curled his body into the smallest ball he could manage and resolutely refused to say another word.


He wasn’t sure how long he stayed in the hospital. Like Laurence’s salon, there was neither day nor night. Time had no meaning. There had been a barrage of tests for sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, which he submitted to without comment, not caring what the results would be. His body was slow, and shaky, and he had ceased to recognize it as his own. No, he refused to recognize it, because if he did, then he would have to acknowledge what had been done to him, and he couldn’t do that right now; he didn’t have the strength. He avoided every single mirror, closing his eyes when he was taken to the bathroom to pee or shower, so that he wouldn’t see himself.


There were questions, including those asked by a pretty hospital psychiatrist in gentle, insistent tones, but he answered none of them. Where would he begin? In the salon he had been forced to answer questions just to evade pain, or to earn something to eat, or to drink. Here, stripped of clothing, and freedom, just as he had been during his captivity, he did at least have the option not to speak. It was the only independence he had and he clung to it, as if his whole self was invested in it – or what was left of his self.


On the day he was released from the hospital Skinner brought him a pair of boxers, and some sweats.


“Can I at least have some privacy to dress?” Mulder asked, talking to his boss for the first time in days.


“I could turn my back,” Skinner suggested, still in that same gentle tone he had used throughout the younger man’s stay here, still treating Mulder as if he would break; hesitant, and unsure. Where had the boss gone, Mulder wondered? He didn’t want to be confused right now, between the concerned ex-lover, and the matter-of-fact boss. He didn’t have the strength to deal with that duality right now.


“But you won’t leave me on my own?” Mulder swung his legs out of the bed, shakily. Skinner shook his head. “I see.” Loss of dignity, loss of independence, loss of control of this weak, useless body; he still hadn’t woken up from the nightmare. He dressed slowly, his limbs protesting, his fingers shaking. Skinner had thought to bring in clothes that were easily pulled on, but even so it was a long, painstaking process. He knew Skinner would have helped if he had asked, but he also knew that he would never ask. “Are you coming home with me as well?” Mulder asked, sinking his feet into his sneakers. He didn’t have the energy to kneel and tie the laces so he just left them.


“You aren’t going home,” Skinner said softly. “Remember, we talked about this?” Hush, hush; stroke, stroke. He remembered them talking about it. He couldn’t remember giving his consent. He had never given his consent…although there had been that one time, on the side of the Jacuzzi, his ankles trailing in warm water, and then that final coupling, when he had willingly sold his love in exchange for his soul…thin arms wrapped around his body, and his own cock, hard, responsive…consent. He wasn’t sure what consent was any more.


“I want to go home.” Mulder clenched his fists, fighting his own rising anger.


“Look at you, Mulder. You can barely get dressed. You can’t take care of yourself right now,” Skinner pointed out in a calm, rational, utterly reasonable tone that infuriated Mulder beyond endurance. “That’s fine – you’ve been through a lot. You need time to recover.”


“You son of a bitch. Where am I going then? Into a nursing home?” Mulder had a vivid recollection of his grandmother dying in a nursing home. He remembered green walls, and that smell of imminent death as well as the absence of sunlight. Hush, hush; stroke, stroke, pale flesh, untouched by sunlight.


“No, you’re coming home with me,” Skinner said softly. Mulder narrowed his eyes. “We talked about it, remember? Scully wanted you to go back to her place, but…well, you’re a big guy, and you might need more physical help than she can provide. She’s going to visit, bring the groceries, that kind of thing. We did talk about it.” Skinner shrugged.


“But I didn’t agree.” Mulder didn’t remember agreeing, but then again his consent wasn’t strictly speaking necessary. The dutymen knew that. They’re allowed to have fun with you, Laurence had said. “Don’t I have a say in any of this?”


“Mulder, you have an appointment to see a psychiatrist again in a few days. Let’s wait and see what happens then.”


“I see, and until than you’re on, what? Suicide watch?”


He could tell by the expression in Skinner’s eyes that he was right.


“You’ve been through a lot, Mulder,” Skinner repeated softly.


“You don’t know anything,” Mulder replied, in a voice tight with angry pain. “You don’t know anything about it. You don’t have a fucking clue.” He saw himself reflected in Skinner’s eyes, and took a sharp intake of breath. Damn, he could avoid mirrors but he couldn’t avoid people’s eyes. He had an image of himself on his knees, sucking someone’s cock, and Skinner was watching, watching, watching – watching with the very same eyes that now showed only shocked pity, eyes that a long time ago used to look at him with love. Skinner had seen, Skinner knew. He saw himself in his mind’s eye, tied down, screaming in pain, desperate for it to stop, and heard himself yelling “Do it to Walter!”


“I just want you to know,” he said, needing to wound, wanting more than anything else to hurt this man, who had witnessed him in the worst of his degradation, and who had listened to the word ‘rape’ being uttered in a doctor’s dry tones, but who could not possibly understand what that word really meant. “That I sold you. I sold you out, and I’d fucking do it again.”


There was silence between them.


“Do you want to talk about that? I don’t understand what you’re telling me,” Skinner said carefully.


“No. I. Don’t. Want. To. Fucking. Talk.” Mulder said, in hard, staccato tones. He didn’t have to consent to talk. That was the one thing they couldn’t make him do. And he didn’t need their food. If they stopped feeding him then he’d just die, but he wouldn’t talk. He also didn’t need the warmth of the fire. If they tried to lure him there, he’d just refuse. This time he’d refuse, because last time he had been weak, but he wasn’t going to be weak again, wasn’t going to give in to it again. Hush, hush; stroke stroke…Tears pricked the back of his eyes, and, with a great act of will, he blinked them away.


“Come on, Mulder. Let’s go home,” Skinner said gently.


Skinner’s apartment was more practical than his own, he’d give it that much. There was a lot more space for a start. Then again, it always had been Walter’s apartment where they hung out, Walter’s apartment in a different town into which, over a period of a few weeks many years ago, he’d moved several changes of clothes and more than a few books, and later moved them out again. And now he was moving back. Temporarily. Because his boss and his partner didn’t trust him not to kill himself. His boss, and one time lover, showed him around, pointed out the bathroom, and kitchen, and slung his bag of clothing into the spare room.


“No TV?” Mulder raised an eyebrow.


“You can watch it downstairs. You don’t need to stay in bed. You just need to rest,” Skinner told him, his eyes also adding that he didn’t want Mulder spending too much time alone, brooding, in his room, where Skinner couldn’t keep an eye on him.


“You can’t watch me every hour of the day,” he said. “What are you going to do? Sleep outside my door like a fucking guard dog?”


“If need be.” Skinner smiled, trying to make a joke of it. His relentless gentleness in the face of Mulder’s barbs was beginning to grate on the younger man’s nerves.


“What about your job?” Mulder snarled. “What about your important fucking career, Skinner?”


Skinner ran a weary hand over his eyes, and shook his head. “I’m on special leave. Have been ever since you were abducted.”


“What?” Mulder paused in the action of opening his bag, and glanced around, shocked, for a moment, out of his own misery. “Special leave? Why? Are you ill?”


“No – I was looking for you.” Skinner leaned back against the doorframe, and wrapped his arms around his body, hugging himself. It wasn’t a gesture that Mulder could ever recall seeing his boss perform before, but he dimly remembered his lover standing like that once, years ago, after he had woken up screaming from a nightmare that he had refused to ever talk about. “Scully and I discussed it. We tried to pursue the investigation into your disappearance within the Bureau but just kept coming up against red tape. It seemed that everywhere we turned our attempts were hampered.” Mulder straightened, swallowing hard. This information didn’t surprise him. “In the end, we decided we’d have more luck pursuing the investigation…outside the law.”


“Outside…?” Mulder looked startled.


“This time the law wasn’t good enough.” Skinner shrugged. “Scully would have given up her career for you – she’d have been the one to work on the outside, but I strong-armed her into letting me do it.” He gave a grim smile, and Mulder guessed that hadn’t been easy. “I had a pile of leave stacked up – I’m almost as bad as you are about taking vacation.” Mulder remembered a mall, and a book. What had happened to that book he had bought, he wondered, smelling chloroform as they pressed a wad of cloth over his face. “I asked to take it all in one gulp,” Skinner was saying. “They weren’t happy, but…” Skinner raised his hands in a gesture of supreme indifference. “I told them it was that or my resignation, and if they chose the latter then they might find I had some interesting things to tell the media.”


“They’d have crucified you for that.” Mulder stood quite still, gazing at this man, who had once been his lover, a man he had once known so well, but who he had long since been more accustomed to responding to as boss, rather than lover.


“Yeah. Well.” Skinner shrugged.


“What about your career?”


Skinner laughed. He actually laughed out loud, a bitter, ironic sound. “What career? I blew that the first time I took on the big boys over one of your cases, and you know what? I don’t care. It was never about success at any price. Did I ever give you that impression?”


The past stood between them. They were teetering on the brink of acknowledging a relationship that they had never spoken about since it had ended, so many years ago. In all their time working together, Mulder had never once allowed Skinner to discuss their relationship, and Skinner, despite one small attempt, had been happy to collude in that silence. There were many things Mulder wanted to ask, and equally as many that he wanted to say, but the silence they had built up for over 18 years was too profound for him to breach it. So he merely shrugged, and turned back to his bag. He heard Skinner sigh behind him, and then heard the other man turn to go.


“I’ll be downstairs,” Skinner said softly.


Mulder steeled himself to go and sit in polite silence with a man with whom he had once spent so much easy, intimate time. He paused at the top of the stairs, unable to face the ordeal of walking down them, and went along to the bathroom instead, buying time. He filled a basin with cold water, then splashed it on his face. Looking up, he caught sight of himself in the mirror, by mistake. He had been avoiding mirrors. Mirrors held memories, locked in glass; memories of Laurence’s bedroom, memories of watching himself being beaten in that dark room in the basement. Strange how you always end up in the basement, wherever you go. Maybe you belong in the dark, away from the light, hidden away from the rest of the world. His own pale flesh became superimposed with Laurence’s white skin, pallid from being so long hidden away from the sun. Mulder shuddered. Where did he end, and Laurence begin? He saw their bodies entwined. Making love, Laurence had called it. Intimacy. Mulder splashed the cold water on his face, trying to wash Laurence’s flesh away from his own, to achieve separation. It felt good. He repeated the motion, reveling in the sharp shock of cold liquid splashing against his skin. Sensation, any sensation other than his own pain was what he needed now. The water was cleansing. He felt a need to be immersed in it, completely and utterly, so that it was over his head, over his face, washing away the hurt, and degradation, washing away the scent of lavender, the memory of stiff lacquered hair under his fingers, and cool lizard’s skin, caressing his own.


He tore off his clothes, and got into the shower, turning it on full blast, painfully cold. The shock of the cold was what he needed. He didn’t want comfort. He didn’t want people’s sympathy, didn’t want them tiptoeing around, scared of saying or doing the wrong thing; he wanted distraction. He grabbed some soap and began to wash. He was tired, exhausted from his frenzied undressing, but the water made him feel alive, and his skin began to zing. He put his head back under the flow, and enjoyed the way the tiny pinpricks of water stung his flesh. He tried turning the control even further, wanting that stream of water to be even harsher, but it was turned as far as it would go. He let the cold seep into his flesh, and then even deeper, into the very marrow of his bones. He needed to go back in time, to a few weeks ago, before any of this had ever happened. What had his life been back then? He could barely remember. He didn’t know what he was going to do with himself now. Everything had changed, everything was different, nothing was the same, and he had gone through more than any man could and hope to stay sane. He had been right when he had said to Laurence that what had happened in his childhood had broken him in some way. He had never been the same after that, and he would never be the same after this.


A large arm came into view, and it was followed by an equally large body, which waded, fully clothed, into the shower, and pulled him out bodily. A large towel was slung around his shoulders, and held closed under his chin, as if he were a small child.


“I heard the shower…I had no idea you were freezing yourself to death. It’s been half an hour, Mulder. Christ, you’re blue.”


He flinched away from the urgent tones, waiting for the sting of the whip against his damp flesh. It was often like this. First they hosed him down, then they beat him on his wet skin. The wetness made the whip hurt even more, made him scream until he was hoarse and voiceless. He didn’t want to lose his voice again. Something was missing though. Usually before they hosed him down, they put their cocks in his mouth and fucked his head back against the wall. Maybe that was why they were angry with him. Hush, hush; stroke, stroke. They were angry because he hadn’t opened his mouth, and allowed them to force themselves between his lips. He sank to his knees, blindly fumbling at the pants in front of him. If he sucked them well enough then maybe they wouldn’t whip him.


“What are you doing? Mulder, stop…Mulder.” He was lifted up, and he flinched away; they were going to tie him to the post now, and whip him… “Mulder!” He felt firm fingers on his chin, forcing him to look into uncomprehending, dark eyes.


“Sorry…” He mumbled, confused. “Sorry, sorry, sorry.” Hush, hush; stroke, stroke…


“It’s okay. You’re out of it. Hold on, we need to warm you up.” Skinner turned the shower on again – warm this time, and swung Mulder back into it, holding him there. The warmth slowly flooded back into Mulder’s veins, and with it came the loss of the oblivion he had sought, and knowledge that he had just done something stupid; something inappropriate, and embarrassing.


“Fuck you,” he growled, his distress and confusion manifesting as anger as he tried to block out the memory of what had just happened. “Can’t I even take a fucking shower without being stared at, and prodded like an animal?”


“You were freezing to death,” Skinner said carefully, his eyes radiating both pity and horror at what his agent had become. “Your body can’t take this kind of stress right now.” Skinner looked at him, and Mulder dropped his own eyes. Making eye contact felt dangerous, and besides, he didn’t want to see the revulsion in the other man’s eyes. He knew how he looked. He was so thin that his ribs stuck out, and his whipped flesh was turning every shade from purple to yellow. He knew he looked a mess, and he didn’t care. He closed his eyes, and allowed Skinner to haul him out of the shower, rub him dry again, and envelop him in a massive robe. He couldn’t make the short walk down the hallway back to his bedroom. He willed his legs to walk, but they wouldn’t. They wobbled, as if he was drunk, and he found himself sinking down to the floor. Skinner picked him up, draped Mulder’s arm over his shoulders, and staggered along to the spare bedroom with his burden. He helped Mulder into the bed, and then stood there, breathing heavily.


“It’s all right. I know you wanted to feel clean,” he said, looking profoundly uncomfortable. Mulder almost laughed. Skinner wasn’t anyone’s idea of rape counselor…and yet, he had to admit that despite the big man’s gruff persona, he had often seen Skinner talking in low, sensitive tones to the victims of crimes. “I know all the text book stuff about it, but of course I can’t understand how it must feel.” Skinner sat down on the side of the bed, and rubbed his eyes tiredly. “I just want you to know that if you do want to talk about it, then I’m here. I think talking would help. You had…some kind of episode back there, Mulder. You’re having them frequently. Now, that is something I can understand.” He took another deep breath. “When I came back from ‘Nam, I had the worst case of PTSD you ever saw. My hands shook uncontrollably, and I had these flashbacks all the time. Saw myself walking into that ambush, over and over again. Saw my friends dying around me. Heard the sounds of bullets hitting flesh. I’d be doing the simplest things; making a cup of coffee, watching TV…and the memories came back as vivid as if I was there. So you see, I do understand some of what you’re going through, more than you might realize.”


Mulder felt light headed. Everything in the whole world was suddenly very clear, including all the things he had never understood before – especially all the things he had never understood before. Skinner hadn’t been attracted to law because he was in love with it, the way he had told Laurence. Skinner was attracted to the suffering of the victims of crime. He had read, somewhere, that people who had gone through great suffering themselves often had a huge sense of compassion for other people’s suffering. Empathy. That was the word. Empathy – he almost laughed. Laurence had suffered, both as a kid, and as an adult, trapped within his phobia. What kind of empathy had he had? And yet…hush, hush; stroke, stroke…Laurence had empathized with him. He had enjoyed comforting Mulder after causing his pain almost as much as he appeared to enjoy inflicting that pain. It was as if he needed to cause the pain in order to provide a comfort that he had never had.


“If you want to talk,” Skinner said again.


“Why would I want to talk?” Mulder clenched his fists, fighting the desire to let go and hit out. He was aware of a need to hurt Skinner in some way, to cause the other man the same kind of pain that he was feeling right now.


“I’ll bring you some food, and then you can go to sleep.” Skinner suggested.


“If I want to fucking sleep,” Mulder growled. “If. I. Want. I can do what I fucking want.”


“Okay. Okay.” Skinner held up his hands in a gesture of contrition, and Mulder felt his anger die, leaving only a sense of acute misery in its wake.


Skinner returned with a bowl of soup and three thick wedges of bread. Mulder made it through half of one of the wedges of bread, and a third of the soup. He could have eaten more. He chose not to. It was one of the few things he could control in his environment right now. Skinner looked at the copious remains, and clearly considered commenting, but then thought better of it.


“Do you want to stay here and sleep?” He asked. “I’ll be downstairs if you want any company.”


“I’ll be fine.” Mulder slid down under the sheets and turned his back on the other man.


He closed his eyes, and waited for the light to go out, but as soon as it had, he sat up again. He had wanted to be alone, and now that he had his solitude, he found that it disturbed him. He didn’t like the dark. It reminded him of the suffocating closeness of the blindfold. He fumbled to turn on the light beside his bed. The light banished his fears of suffocation, but the gnawing pain inside didn’t go away. He despised his own weakness, and need for comfort. Laurence had told him he was loved. It was an evil, sadistic love, but it had been so long since he had been loved in any other way – in any way at all. Hush, hush; stroke, stroke…comforting, hurting – were they also things he couldn’t tell the difference between any more? Mulder caught an unwanted glimpse of himself in the mirror across from his bed, and his heart raced faster. He had grown to loathe mirrors. Nobody should ever have to watch themselves screaming in pain, or see their own blood running down their back. He got up, found his damp bathrobe, discarded on the floor, and slung it over the mirror, then returned to bed and closed his eyes, but sleep eluded him for a long time, and when it came it was uneasy, and broken.


He was woken by the smell of breakfast wafting up the stairs. He dressed himself in his sweats and walked slowly towards the smell. His physical injuries were slowly healing, but he still hurt all over, and the pain meds made him fuzzy headed and unfocused, which he hated. He needed his wits about him if he was going to stand a chance of getting out of…getting out of…He paused, clinging onto the banister for a moment to catch his breath, and then continued on downstairs.


Skinner was sitting at the kitchen table, drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. He was wearing a white tee shirt and sweatpants. It was the first time Mulder had seen him in such informal clothing in such an intimate setting in years. Morning. Breakfast. Papers…it brought back old memories. He sat down, and stared at the glass of orange juice in front of him.


“Are you okay?” Skinner asked.


Mulder drank the juice, and nodded. “Look, you’ll go stir crazy if you stay cooped up in here with me the whole time. Why don’t you go out for a few hours?” He suggested.


“Scully will come around after work. I’ll take a breather then,” Skinner said. Mulder felt an unaccountable sense of anger. It didn’t matter that he’d suggested it, the fact that Skinner had agreed in some measure, the fact that he seemed to think Mulder was someone he needed a breather from…that annoyed him.


“I’ve made breakfast.” Skinner got a plate out of the oven, and placed it in front of his guest. Then he handed Mulder the sports section of the paper absently. Mulder took it. How easily they slipped into the routine of a relationship they hadn’t been in for years. He ate, barely tasting what was on his plate. Skinner cleared his throat.


“I don’t know if you remember…I had a nightmare, a long time ago, when we were…” He shrugged. “Back then. I didn’t tell you at the time, but the nightmare was about ‘Nam. I should have told you. You were…very kind to me. I was screaming my head off, and you held me.” Skinner looked awkward, but he plowed on, regardless. “I appreciated that but, uh, I think I appreciated even more the fact that you didn’t make a big deal of it in the morning.”


“I don’t remember it,” Mulder snapped, sliding his fingers over his forehead, back and forth. He did remember it. He remembered the way his lover had shaken under his fingers, and how they had ended up making love because Walter hadn’t wanted to go back to sleep.


“I wanted to say, that if the same thing happened to you I’d return the favor. Look, Mulder, I’m just very wary of your boundaries right now. I know you need to feel in control, but…” He shrugged.


“Yes. In control.” Mulder rubbed insistently at his forehead, trying to ease the nagging, gnawing headache that was brewing. “Like choosing what fucking breakfast I might want, and what fucking section of the newspaper I might like to read, and what fucking drink I might like to drink, and whether I fucking need Scully babysitting me while you go out and grab a few beers with your friends, and choosing whether or fucking not I want to talk about a relationship that you ended 18 years ago.” Mulder paused for breath. “It was just a few months, Skinner. A few months a long time ago.” What were the words he needed? The words Laurence had used? “It wasn’t a great love affair, it was just sex,” he hissed. “Fucking. I was just your last piece of ass before you decided to go straight. It was just a cheap screw. Get over it.”


It didn’t have the desired reaction. Skinner’s eyes weren’t wounded; they were still filled with that same horrified pity that had been in them since he had picked Mulder off the floor in the parking garage.


“Eat whatever you like,” he said, gesturing to the kitchen cupboards. “I’ll be in the other room.” He left, and instead of feeling relieved and pleased to have his solitude, Mulder experienced only an acute sense of misery at the absence of the big man’s company.


Mulder spent the day sleeping, reading, and watching TV. None of it seemed real. His life right now didn’t seem real. He dreaded seeing the psychiatrist. Counseling was too much like the grotesque process Laurence had put him through. Making him answer questions, asking him how he felt. He didn’t feel anything right now except weak, pathetic, dirty and…pointless. He wasn’t good for anything. He wasn’t working. He was just existing. Taking up space. He spent the evening on the couch with Scully, both of them pretending to watch the sci-fi videos she had brought round. When she tried to talk to him, he pretended to be so utterly absorbed in the appallingly corny dialogue that she shut up. He went to bed early, before Skinner got back.


He slept for a while, and then felt warm arms slide around his body, holding him tight. He smiled, and sank back against them for comfort, enjoying the way those arms wrapped themselves around his body, holding him tight…too tight. The fingers were cold, and emaciated. They dug into his flesh, pushed deep into his chest, and then they wrapped themselves icily around his heart.


“It’s so nice to have you back, my darling boy,” a familiar voice whispered in his ear, and he sat up with a start, gasping for air. He knew it wasn’t a dream. He had heard that voice; he had heard it in this room. Laurence was coming for him. He got out of bed, and opened the drapes, noisily, looking for his torturer. He wasn’t there. Mulder’s movements became more frenzied. He opened the closet, pulled out all the contents, and then upturned the bed to see what was beneath it. Only his sneakers were there. Angry, he shoved the nightstand aside, looking for the other man, and then he heard him, entering the room. Mulder could smell Laurence, could feel his icy fingers on his shoulder. He threw himself into the gap between the nightstand and the bed. He had hidden here once before, and had been safe. He curled himself into a small ball, and buried his face in his knees.




He made no reply. He could feel Laurence moving closer, and closer. Soon he would find him, and take him back to his room, where he would whip him over and over again for daring to…




Fingers touched his hair, and he jumped. “I’m sorry!” He whispered hoarsely. “I’m sorry I escaped but you don’t have to hurt me, Larry. Please don’t hurt me. I’ll be good. I’ll do whatever you say. I’ll make you proud of me, Larry. I promise.”


“Mulder, it’s me. Fox…it’s Walter. You’re having a dream…a nightmare. You need to wake up now.”


Reality seeped back in slowly, and he found himself looking into a pair of warm, concerned brown eyes, not cold, watchful violet ones.


“Wa…alter?” He asked, his teeth chattering.


“Yes. Do you need some help or can you get out of there by yourself?”


Mulder took a deep breath, trying to get some measure of where he was. “I can do it.” He stood up, slowly, edged past the upturned bed, then stared in dismay at the wreckage of the room.


“I’m sorry,” he murmured. “I guess I trashed the place.”


“Never mind.” Skinner was wearing a pair of sweatpants and nothing else, not even his glasses. He set the bed back on its legs, then began gathering up Mulder’s clothes, and hung them back in the closet.


“Get back in the bed. You’re cold,” Skinner said. Another order. Mulder did as he was told, mutely, the anger flaring and dying inside. Skinner finished putting his clothes away, and then came to sit on the side of the bed. “Who’s Larry, Mulder?” He asked gently.


“I thought he was here. I thought he had found me,” Mulder whispered. “I thought he was going to take me back.”


“Nobody is going to take you anywhere,” Skinner growled, and Mulder flinched, visibly, and then hated himself for this instinctive response. Skinner took a deep breath, and pretended he hadn’t noticed. “Are you all right?” He asked. “Do you want me to stay?”


“No.” Mulder shook his head firmly. Skinner nodded, then got up, and walked over to the door. He stood there for a moment, clearly hesitating.


“If you need anything…” He let the sentence hang.


If he needed anything. Mulder knew what he needed. He needed to feel fingers in his hair, and arms around his body. He needed the kind of comfort that Laurence had offered, but without the price Laurence had demanded for it, and he hated himself for that need. He clenched his fists, resolutely, sinking his nails deep into his own flesh. He was stronger than this. He had to be.


Skinner drove Mulder to his appointment with the psychiatrist a couple of days later. The agent had both looked forward to, and feared this appointment. If it went well then maybe they would let him return to his own apartment. Physically, he was in better shape. He knew he should eat more but he never felt hungry – that didn’t mean he couldn’t take care of himself though. He could. He just needed some time to gather his thoughts, and regroup. He always bounced back – always – no matter what injuries he sustained. He was strong. He had always been strong, and fit. He wasn’t even sure that he needed a psychiatrist. Now that he was free, the past had taken on a hazy, indistinct quality. Had it really been so bad? He could barely remember. Mulder sat in the car next to Skinner, gazing out, listlessly. What was it like to be afraid of the outside world, he wondered. To be afraid of a car journey? The sky was so blue, and the sun was shining. What was it like to be so scared that you never experienced the beauty of such a day? Mulder feel unaccountably sad. He was almost relieved when Skinner parked the car and they were able to go inside, out of the light. Skinner escorted him up to the psychiatrist’s office – the big man was a constant presence, always hovering at Mulder’s shoulder, which made Mulder resentful. It was as if Skinner didn’t trust him. Nobody trusted him to do anything alone. His life was no longer in his own hands. When he wasn’t a prisoner in Skinner’s apartment then he was being made to keep an appointment with a man he didn’t want to see.


He was ushered into a plush room, containing half a dozen potted plants, their green fronds splayed against the walls. Mulder began to shake; he didn’t like this place. It reminded him too much of…hush, hush; stroke, stroke…of…of… A man walked towards them, holding out his hand. Mulder froze, and felt Skinner bump into him from behind. The psychiatrist was saying something, as he walked towards them. He was a thin man, with a shock of graying hair, and he was coming closer, and closer. Mulder was trembling in earnest now.


“Mulder?” Skinner put a hand on his arm, and Mulder flinched, still gazing at the psychiatrist. His mouth was dry, and he was terrified.


“Was it all a trap?” He asked Skinner, turning, trying desperately to find the door handle. “Did you bring me here to trap me?”


“What are you talking about?”


“I’m not fucking staying here,” he hissed. “You can’t make me. Did you think you could make me? Is that what you wanted? Did you want him to ask me questions? To pry into my mind, and twist everything I say? Did he get to you?” Mulder looked at Skinner suspiciously. “Did he pay you to bring me here? Or has he broken you? Is that it?” His expression changed, and his mood darkened. “Have you been working for them all along? At the beginning, you had that cigarette-smoking bastard in your office. You knew where he lived…is that how they knew where to find me? Did you arrange that vacation for me on purpose?” His mind was making all kinds of connections, and it all suddenly seemed very clear; Skinner had been part of the conspiracy all along. “Did they send you to seduce me in Boston?” He asked. “Were you already working for them then, all those years ago? Had he already broken you?”


“Who?” Skinner shook his head, bewildered.


“Him!” Mulder yelled, gesturing at the bemused psychiatrist who was standing very still. “Him! Larry.” He found the door handle, yanked the door open, and began to run, blindly, without even knowing where he was going. He heard footsteps behind him, and then Skinner was there again, following him.


“Mulder.” Skinner pulled him around. Mulder gave a hoarse yell, and struggled desperately, expecting to feel the sharp sting of the whip on his body. He tried to run. If he didn’t run for them then the dutymen would rape him, each of them, over and over again, and then they’d piss on his body just to drive home the message that he was nothing. Less than nothing. He couldn’t run though, because the big dutyman was holding his arm so hard that it hurt. “Did the psychiatrist remind you of Larry?” The dutyman demanded. “Did he look like the man who hurt you? Mulder? Mulder?”


“He wanted to make me talk,” Mulder whispered, confused. He was standing on the street, but he had no idea how he had gotten here. The sun was warm on the back of his head, and Skinner was looking at him with a strange, bemused expression in his dark eyes.


“Yes, he does want you to talk. Hell, Mulder you have to talk to someone. You have to.” Skinner loosened his grasp on Mulder’s arm, talking urgently.


“I have answered enough questions to last me for the rest of my fucking life!” Mulder yelled, suddenly angry beyond belief. Pedestrians cast them nervous glances as they edged past the two men. “I am not doing it any more. Now get your fucking hands off me. Don’t fucking touch me… You don’t have…any…right…you don’t have…you don’t!”


Skinner removed his hands as if stung, and Mulder turned, and carried on walking. Skinner didn’t follow. Mulder strode along the street, and then suddenly stopped, wondering where he was, and what to do next. He felt lost. He suddenly realized that he couldn’t make decisions any more. He longed for the comforting familiarity of Laurence’s salon, where he had no choice but to accept, and do as he was told. He turned, panic-stricken. Was this how Laurence had felt? Alone in a hostile world? He might have escaped, but he was still completely dependent on other people to make his decisions for him, and for someone so used to being strong, and independent, that hurt. He started to hyperventilate, looking around for help, hating himself for being so weak.


A car drew up beside him, the door was pushed open, and he collapsed into the vehicle in relief. He hated himself for his pathetic acceptance of help, for not being able to solve the simple problem of how to get home by himself. He glanced at Skinner, and the other man gave him a tight smile.


“I guess this means I screwed up my get-out-of-jail-free card?” Mulder murmured.


“We’ll find another shrink,” Skinner replied. “I think maybe a woman might be better? You were okay with that woman in the hospital.”


“Whatever.” Mulder felt too tired and angry to think any more. He put his head against the car window, and watched the world go by. Hush, hush; stroke, stroke. If he was a good boy Larry wouldn’t whip him, but he wasn’t a good boy, so he had to be hurt. He shouldn’t have been born in the first place. He had ruined so many lives just by coming into existence. He caught sight of a man in the side mirror of the car, and gazed at him, in horrified fascination. The man stared back. He knew the man, but he didn’t recognize him. Maybe if he gave it enough thought he might remember the man’s name, but his head hurt, and he didn’t want to have to think.


He lurched upstairs to the bathroom as soon as they got home, needing to wash, as he frequently needed to wash, several times a day. The cool water felt so good against his skin. There was even a new bar of soap – he’d already gone through the other one. Mulder picked up the soap, unwrapped it, and then lathered his hands, scrubbing them with the nailbrush. Soon he would be clean…soon he would wash away the events of the day…soon… The scent of the soap permeated his consciousness…lavender…it smelled of lavender… He gave a hoarse scream, turned, and, reaching for a towel, pulled one from where it was hanging over the wall cabinet behind him… where he had placed it to obscure the mirror…Haunted eyes stared back at him out of pallid skin, and he screamed out loud, shocked by the sight. Hush, hush; stroke, stroke.


Mulder saw a fuck toy standing there. Someone who opened his mouth to suck other men’s cocks, someone who went down on all fours and let strangers fuck his ass, someone who deserved to scream under the whip because he should never have been born. He wanted to obliterate that image, to shatter it into shards and free himself from the haunting gaze of that man he didn’t recognize – the one in his own body.


Hush, hush; stroke, stroke.


He grabbed Skinner’s electric razor, and rammed it hard into the mirror, causing a great crack that made a noise like thunder. He saw the man reflected back at him, now in two grotesque pieces, divided by a jagged tear. It wasn’t enough. He could still see the man’s eyes. The man who was just an orifice, a receptacle, who had failed in every single relationship he had ever, haltingly, tried to form. He thrust the hard end of the electric razor back into the glass, shattering the mirror to smithereens. He could hear the sound of his own harsh breathing, as his arm beat out a rhythm on the smashed mirror. Little chips of glass were flying off in all directions, and his hand was bleeding. He heard a noise behind him.


“Mulder, it’s okay. Mulder…give me the razor.” Skinner reached out, and the keys in his jacket pocket clinked together as he did so. Clink, clink. It was the sound of chains being attached to a bed, or a post. Mulder dropped the razor immediately, and cowered down beside the toilet.


“Don’t chain me,” he whimpered, his eyes wide and frightened, hearing those keys coming clink, clink, clink, closer and closer. “Don’t chain me, or whip me, please.”


“I’m not going to. It’s all right.”


Skinner edged closer, and gingerly touched Mulder’s hair. Mulder leaned into the caress. If he could just make Larry pleased with him, then he’d be fine, and Larry wouldn’t whip him for smashing the mirror.


“It’s okay.” Skinner crouched down in front of him, and put his arms around Mulder’s shoulders, pulling him close, giving him that comfort he craved, the touch of warm hands on his skin, banishing the nightmares. When hands were stroking him then they weren’t hurting him. That was good. He clung to Skinner.


“Please don’t whip me, Larry,” he whispered.


“Nobody is going to whip you, Fox,” Skinner whispered gently. “You’re going to be okay. Just hold on to me. Everything is going to be fine. Hush, hush.”


Hush, hush; stroke, stroke…hush, hush…stroke, stroke…


The words ignited something in Mulder that he couldn’t control. He felt the anger mushroom from the pit of his stomach to the top of his head, in a blinding, red flash. A myriad of images coalesced in his mind. He was on his knees, and he was on his back with his legs tied open, and he was on his front strapped down, his ass exposed – all at one and the same time.
Hush, hush, hush…


He was alone in the dark, being fucked by an endless procession of strangers he couldn’t even see, and at the same time he was kneeling in a smoky room, watching men watching him with predatory gazes, watching them fucking him…his ass, his mouth…and all the time he was writhing under the whip, and screaming, and being burned in the fire, and still screaming…and he was screaming out loud now, anger bursting out of him in an unstoppable wave, all of it directed at this one man because it was his fault…Larry had said so. Down in the basement, with that cold steel speculum wedged up his ass, Larry had told him that it was all Walter’s fault, and while he couldn’t remember why, he knew that was the truth, because if it wasn’t Walter’s fault then it had to be…


Hush. Hush. HUSH.


If it wasn’t Walter’s fault then it had to be…


Your own fault, dear boy. For forcing your way into this world, for selfishly messing up your own life, and the lives of those around you…it’s all your own fault, my darling…all your own…


The explosion came, ripping through his body and infusing him with an energy that he hadn’t felt in weeks, and he became a blur of angry action.


“You bastard! You fucking bastard!” He screamed at the top of his voice. “You walked out on me. You fucking walked out on me.” His fists flailed at Skinner’s body, attacking him. “You fucking, fucking bastard. I hate you, do you know that? When I was screaming, when he was raping me with that fucking cold instrument, all I could think of was that I wanted him to do it to you.”


He punched Skinner hard on the jaw, wrestled him to the floor, and banged the other man’s head onto the shards of glass, pummeling him constantly wherever he could find flesh in which to bury his fists.


“I told him to do it to you. Do you understand me? So you can stop being nice, and kind, and looking at me with all that fucking pity because I wanted him to do it to you. I wanted him to hurt you. I needed him to hurt you. I could see you tied up on his table. I wanted it to be anyone but me. I sold you, Skinner. I sold you…I loved you, I loved you so much, and I sold you…”


He was weeping now, the tears falling unchecked, his voice fading in anguished despair, his body racked with sobs. Skinner wasn’t moving. He accepted each punch, took every single blow, and while his hands flailed desperately, trying to ward the punches away from his face, he didn’t make any move to punch back. Mulder remembered a hallway a long time ago, remembered striking Skinner in the face, because he had to hit out at someone, and Scully had later asked him, “Why Skinner?” and he had replied that he didn’t know, but he had known. He had known then, and he knew now. “Because you walked out on me! Because I still fucking love you!” he screamed, demented. “Because you didn’t rescue me. Because I waited, and waited, and waited, and you didn’t come. You didn’t come… and I went to him. I went to him for warmth, and food, and comfort because I’m so fucking weak, and because you didn’t come.”


Mulder slumped down on Skinner’s chest, and held on, feeling as if the world was swimming around him. The only solid thing was Skinner’s body, lying underneath him, warm, and strong.


“I tried. I tried,” Skinner said, in a tone so broken that it sheared through Mulder’s consciousness. “I looked for weeks. I barely slept. I’m sorry I didn’t get there in time. I’m sorry.”


Mulder grabbed Skinner’s hands, and placed them around his body. “Hold me,” he said, his teeth chattering. “You have to hold me. Please…hold me. Please.” He wept into Skinner’s shirt, and the big man, sensing that the violence was spent, slowly, gently, rubbed circles on his back. They lay there for an eternity, bodies entwined, Mulder lying on top of Skinner, both heaving. Then, finally, Mulder broke the long silence.


“Walter…they raped me,” he whispered into Skinner’s broad chest. “They raped me, Walter.”


“I know.” Skinner’s arms tightened around his body. “I know, Fox. I know.”


Mulder lay there, hanging on to Skinner for dear life and the other man held onto him, his arms warm and strong around Mulder’s shaking body. Mulder wasn’t sure how much time passed as they both lay on the bathroom floor, a tangle of limbs, broken glass, and blood. Finally, Skinner moved under him, and Mulder whimpered.


“It’s okay. I’m not letting go. It’s okay. I’m still holding you.”


Skinner slowly sat up. His wirerims hung from one of his ears at an incongruous angle, bent and broken. He got to his feet, gingerly, with Mulder still wrapped around his body, clinging on, like a baby monkey. Skinner kept one big arm around the younger man, and staggered them both back downstairs to the kitchen where he positioned Mulder in front of the sink, and turned on the faucet. He held Mulder’s cut hand under the water and Mulder watched the sink turn red, and then pink.


“It’s okay. It isn’t deep. Hold on, I’m going to wrap something around it.” Mulder refused to be left while Skinner grabbed a kitchen towel, so they both went together, still entwined. Skinner swathed Mulder’s hand in the towel, and then guided him back into the lounge. He sat down on the couch with an exhausted sigh, opened his legs, and settled Mulder between them, pulling him back against his chest. “It’s okay. I’m not letting go,” Skinner whispered, grabbing a blanket from the back of the couch, and folding it over both of them. “It’s okay,” he said again, holding Mulder tight. Skinner removed his broken glasses, and folded them with one hand, his fingers shaking slightly. He placed them on the coffee table. They were silent for a long time. Skinner didn’t say a word. He just waited.


Then, finally, Mulder looked up, and faced his reflection in Skinner’s eyes. The face he saw was his own; haggard, drawn, and pale, but unmistakably his own.


“They didn’t just rape me once,” he said numbly. “They raped me over and over again. Raped me, beat me, pissed on me. He, Larry…he wanted to break me. My father was there…”


“Your father? I thought he was dead,” Skinner stroked his arm gently with blunt, loving fingers that didn’t make him flinch.


“He is.” Mulder didn’t know where to begin, or how to explain any of it.


Skinner continued to hold him tight, waiting, allowing him to take his time. This wasn’t like Laurence’s creepy comforting. Skinner’s hands were warmer, and much fleshier. They weren’t cold, or emaciated, or probing. They didn’t stroke one minute, and hit the next.


“Whatever you want to tell me, you can. You can tell me all of it. I can take it, Fox,” Skinner whispered, squeezing him encouragingly.


“There was a room, Walter.” Mulder stared into the void of his own memories. “A room where they tied me, like an animal. They gagged me, tied me down, and blindfolded me, and men came and just…just…they just forced their way into me as if I was a piece of meat.” He clenched his fists, remembering the way he had faced down insanity in that room, and only barely emerged with his mind intact. Skinner’s arms were steadfast around Mulder’s body, but his body was tense, his muscles bunched, and hard. “I thought I’d go crazy in there, Walter. I saw my mother, my father, Scully…even you. I talked to all of you. You were so real. You were there a lot, Walter, not just in that room. But it wasn’t you as you are now – it was you as you were back then, when we were…” Mulder let the sentence hang. “Another time they made me run for them, blindfolded. I was looking for the door, and they kept catching me, and whipping me, and raping me, over and over again. That was when they pissed on me. A whole group of them, crowding round me, and pissing on me as if I was nothing. That’s what hurt. I was nothing. I wasn’t human to them. I was…nothing. Nothing…” His voice faded, and he stared sightlessly into space.


“You aren’t nothing,” Skinner said, his tone low, and fierce. Mulder looked up, startled. “You must never believe that. You matter – very much,” Skinner said urgently. “However they made you feel you must remember that you aren’t nothing because it’s important, and it’s true.”


Mulder moved his body, nestling closer as if he could somehow become part of the big man’s body. He wanted to crawl inside the safety that Skinner represented to him and stay there forever. “You were always there, Walter. You were always beside me until he drove you away, and that’s the kind of thing you always said to me when I was out of my mind with the pain, and the humiliation. They tied me down, stinking of their urine – they made me lie in it for hours, the stench of it all around me, and it stung like hell where they’d whipped me. Every time I thought it couldn’t get any worse, it did. It did. What scares me most was how far out of my own mind I was. I was lost, Walter. For a while back there I was completely lost. I went on my hands and knees and begged men to fuck me. I held myself open, took them into my mouth…I was the whore Laurence wanted me to be and none of it even seems real now. Sometimes, when I have these flashbacks, it frightens me that I can be so out of my head again. That scares me.”


“The flashbacks will fade, in time. They did for me – but not until I dealt with what had happened to me in ‘Nam,” Skinner said, a calm voice of hope, in the midst of Mulder’s confusion.


“It makes a difference. Knowing that you kind of understand some of this,” Mulder murmured. “I grew to loathe myself, Walter. I loathed my own weakness, and I hated the fact that I would crawl to that bastard, and beg him to hold me just because I needed comfort. I needed it so badly that I sold myself for it. I hate myself for that.”


Skinner’s arms tightened around him, hugging him close. “Don’t,” he said firmly. “Don’t hate yourself – hate him, but don’t hate yourself. Christ, Mulder, you have to believe that this Larry is a monster. You did nothing, nothing to deserve this. He’s evil.”


“Intellectually I understand that.” Mulder nodded. “Emotionally, it’s a different story.” A memory of himself, on his knees, being enticed to open his mouth assaulted him, and the breath left his body in a gasp. Skinner clasped him even closer, and Mulder could feel the tension radiating from the other man. “Oh christ, Walter,” Mulder whispered, hanging on to the other man’s arm, finally understanding something that had eluded him before. “The worst of it wasn’t even the torture… the worst of it was the way he made me feel by the things he said. They were so nearly the truth, and I was hurting so much that I couldn’t think straight. He made me believe things…he said things…” Mulder stared sightlessly ahead. The knowledge that being raped, tortured, and degraded wasn’t even the root of his most intense pain hurt him all over again, filling the empty void in the pit of his stomach with a raging despair that he didn’t think would ever go away.


“Whatever he said, you can’t believe it,” Skinner growled, his voice low, and ragged.


“Ah, but the trouble is that some of it was probably true,” Mulder whispered, plucking at the blanket with his fingers. “He said I was out of place, that I didn’t belong, and he was right. I’ve always been on the outside. It took him to make me face up to myself.” He gave a mirthless, staccato laugh. “All these years chasing aliens, and I never understood that I was seeking myself – I’m the alien, the stranger. I’m the one who doesn’t belong. I externalized my own feelings of displacement, of being ‘other’.”


“I don’t pretend to understand that,” Skinner said. “You’re different, yes, but that just makes you unique – something special, someone to be valued. I always felt that way. I could sense it the moment I first met you – I expect that most people can. I can see it might be alienating for you, but for us…it’s entrancing having someone like you around.”


Mulder looked up, surprised at the depth of emotion in Skinner’s voice. The other man gave a watery smile, and continued.


“When I was in that OPR hearing a few years back, the investigating agent said that I was enchanted by you, as if you’d placed a spell on me. He didn’t understand – he saw your unique talents as a threat. You scared him. People can be afraid of your sheer brilliance, Fox. It’s the downside of your particular brand of genius.” The big man brushed blunt fingers through Mulder’s hair, his expression thoughtful. “This bastard Laurence saw that brilliance too, but he made it into a weapon to beat you with. He wanted to possess it, maybe – to have it brush off on him, by virtue of association. Maybe, he even fell in love with it. God knows, that would be an easy thing to do.” Skinner took a sharp intake of breath. Mulder felt a tension inside ease. Whatever he saw in Skinner’s eyes was not disgust, or even pity – compassion, yes, but then Skinner was an eminently compassionate man. What he saw in his eyes though, was the same light he had seen years ago. A light he had been so sure was gone that he had never even tried to look for it since. Without that light, he couldn’t have said what hurt him most; he wouldn’t have had the strength to face it alone.


“Laurence told me I was dispossessed. My own father sent me to him, to finally claim a kinship with me that he had denied all my life.” Mulder felt the pain, raw and unfettered, tearing at him with its poisonous claws, ripping into him from the inside out. “I am my father’s son, Walter. I can see it now, so clearly.” He gazed unflinchingly at the tiny pin-prick reflections of his own gray, haggard face, encapsulated in Skinner’s irises. “My father’s son.” He hunched, miserably. “I wear his face. I have his genes inside…and he offered me up to this.”


“Who…?” Skinner frowned, looking down. His fingers gently traced lines over Mulder’s features, inherited from a man he had despised for most of his life. Mulder made no reply, just watched as the realization dawned, slowly, in Skinner’s dark brown eyes. “Oh Christ. Fox…I had no idea…” Skinner’s fingers lingered a moment on his cheekbones, brushing softly over his skin. Mulder almost expected the other man to flinch from the likeness he saw, but instead there was just a grim acknowledgement of something that, now it was in the open, seemed almost obvious. “Listen to me,” Skinner said urgently. “One thing that I’ve learned from being with you, and dealing with you over the years, is that you are your own person. Not just somebody’s son. You’re a hell of a lot more than just a collection of genes.”


“He called me illegitimate. Out of place. Someone who doesn’t belong and wasn’t meant to be.” Mulder hugged his own arms around his body, trying to still a pain that, now awakened, would be with him forever. He was wearily aware of how easily Laurence had exposed his central core, stripping away all the veneers of his safe, controlled, adult life, and reducing him almost to the level of scared, hurting, needy child.


“That’s crap.” Skinner’s voice had a grim, unequivocal force, cutting through his pain like a knife lancing an abscess. “Fox, surely you understand that – on an intellectual level at least. Hang on to the rational thought, and dismiss everything else. However we come into existence, we all of us have a right to be here. To even suggest anything else is so warped that it defies belief.”


It was the voice of reason, and in being so was less compelling than Laurence’s seductive insinuations that had chimed so completely with emotions Mulder had experienced all his life, seeming to validate them. Strange how Laurence’s lies were more appealing in many ways, than the stark, less emotive truth. Mulder didn’t doubt that Skinner was right – but making himself believe it emotionally would be a tougher task.


“I’ll admit that I have a hard time understanding how your own father could do something this evil,” Skinner said softly. “But it’s his problem, Fox. It has nothing to do with you, or your worth. Christ, the man doesn’t even know you. All these years watching you, manipulating you, and he never took the time to actually get to know you. Being a father is more than plain biology. That cigarette smoking bastard forfeited any claims of kinship when he allowed this to happen to you,” Skinner said firmly. He grasped Mulder’s face, gently, between his two large, warm hands. “Believe me, Fox.”


Mulder swallowed hard. Skinner’s brown eyes were so strong, so steadfast and reassuring…which only served to make the guilt inside rise up once more, worse than ever.


“There’s something else. Something…something I have to tell you.” Mulder took a deep breath. “When it was at its worst, when he was torturing me so much that I couldn’t bear it any more…he made me…he gave me a choice. He said it could all end if I would just…” Mulder hesitated, and then lowered his eyes, unable to meet the other man’s searching gaze. He couldn’t look Skinner in the face when he said this. “All I had to do was ask him to torture you instead of me. He wanted me to betray you, to sell you out…and I did, Walter. I’m sorry. I asked him to torture you instead. I begged him to torture you.” Mulder gazed at the blanket covering his shaking body, feeling numb. “I’m sorry,” he whispered again. “I’d like to say that I didn’t mean it when I said it, but what scares me is that I did. I would have done or said anything at that moment…anything to stop the torture.”


“I don’t think any of us know how we would endure what you went through,” Skinner said softly. “I don’t blame you, Fox. Not for that, and not for anything else. You don’t have anything to feel guilty about.”


He waited, his hands still holding Mulder’s face, stroking the younger man’s cheeks with his thumbs. Finally, Mulder found he could look up, and meet that gaze again. He felt as if a great weight had been lifted, and now he started to talk more freely, less haltingly. Once he began, his words came out in a torrent, and he couldn’t stop them. He spared Skinner none of it, partly because he knew Skinner would not want to be spared, and partly because he had no control over what he was saying. It came out in disjointed bursts, not in the order it had happened, but as it sprang into his mind. Every time he thought he was done, he’d remember something else, and start again. Outside it grew dark, and then, only a short while later it seemed, it was light again. Sometimes, when Mulder looked up for reassurance, he saw that there were tears in Skinner’s dark eyes, but the other man said nothing to stop Mulder’s flow of words. Finally, all talked out, they both just lay there, winded and exhausted. An hour passed, in total, necessary silence.


When Skinner eventually spoke it was halting, and pained.


“Fox, I’m sorry that I couldn’t save you from what you went through. I’m more sorry than I can ever say, but you have to know that I looked. After I saw that video I don’t think I slept again…”


Mulder made a small sound in the back of his throat, his airways constricting as he remembered that video. “Oh fuck…” He remembered being on his knees, sucking that dutyman, and talking to him like he was in some kind of porno movie. “What did you think when you saw me…like that?” He asked, shaking.


“What did I think?” Skinner sounded surprised by the question. His muscles bunched up tightly against Mulder’s body. “I’ll tell you what I didn’t think – I didn’t for a moment think you were acting willingly, of your own volition. It gave me some idea of what they must be doing to you and I felt so fucking helpless. I was half out of my mind with worry. I searched, day and night, called in every old favor I could think of, and all the time I was torturing myself with what might be happening to you, and the terrible thing is that even my worst nightmares didn’t come close to the truth.”


Mulder looked up, and, for the first time, saw that Skinner’s jaw was bruised, and his head covered in tiny red wounds from the broken glass.


“Oh shit. I hurt you. I’m sorry,” Mulder said.


“It’s all right. You always did express your own pain through anger, and this was a big pain. It doesn’t matter. I’ll survive. I…didn’t know you still loved me. You never gave me any indication…”


“Stubborn, misplaced pride.” Mulder shrugged. “You walked out on me, and I never forgave you for that. I know I pushed you back then. You probably didn’t even realize that I had my own bag packed, ready to flee because the emotions just got too intense. I wasn’t ready for that kind of love.”


“I don’t think I was either.” Skinner smiled, gently, and touched Mulder’s hair softly with his fingertips. “I had issues of my own.”


“Why didn’t you ever tell me about ‘Nam?” Mulder frowned. “I asked you once about the scars on your back and legs, and you just brushed it inside but it was always there between us. I always wondered why you couldn’t tell me…and when you did finally tell me, it was years later, long after our relationship was over.”


“I wanted to give you an explanation. You wouldn’t let me talk about what had happened between us. I wanted to explain, in some measure, why I was so screwed up all those years ago. I might have been older than you, but I’d seen things…I’d learned certain ways of coping that shut you out. You’re right. I should have told you. It’s just that some things are too hard to share, especially with someone…you love.”


“Yes,” Mulder replied blindly. He saw himself flailing under a whip, kneeling and taking a cock into his mouth, begging faceless men to fuck his ass. “Yes,” he repeated.


“I knew Sharon before I met you,” Skinner said, slowly, with great difficulty. “We broke up because I never got over ‘Nam. She gave me an ultimatum – see a shrink, or she’d leave me. I let her move away to DC. They didn’t have many counselors in those days, and my PTSD remained undiagnosed for a long time after ‘Nam, and, to make matters worse, I was very confused about my sexuality. When I met you, everything seemed so clear. I loved Sharon – she was a good woman – but there was never anything in my life to compare with the way I felt about you. I didn’t want to leave, but I knew I’d destroy you if I didn’t go. Sharon was right, and you were right; I needed to sort my life out, in more ways than one. When I heard about this brilliant new agent in Quantico, years later, I knew it was you before anyone even said your name. I followed every single profiling case you solved, and when the X Files came up for supervision I leapt at the chance. Every single feeling I had for you came back the day I met you again in my office, in a way I hadn’t expected… and could never have anticipated. I kept a tight rein on my feelings in those early days because if I hadn’t…I think they would have driven me insane.”


He stopped, took a deep breath, and then continued.


“I know we’ve had our fights, and our misunderstandings, but I was always, always on your side. I tried not to let my feelings show, but Sharon knew something was wrong. Our marriage had been on the rocks for some time – I talked about you almost constantly at home, and she just tuned into the fact that something wasn’t right. I loved her, but I knew I wasn’t in love with her. Maybe I never had been. It was hard letting her go, but I didn’t want to keep ruining her life. I didn’t hold out any hope…that is, I never expected…” Skinner hesitated, and then plunged in again, trying to find the right words. “When I first saw you again I wasn’t even sure if you remembered me. It was a long time ago, after all, and you must have had plenty of lovers since then.”


Mulder snorted. “Not really. I never really got over you. Lousy timing.” He made a face. “I met the right person, but at the wrong time.”


“We could…” Skinner hesitated. “We could put that right? You can stay here for as long as you like. You have a lot of healing to do, but I’ll be beside you, every step of the way, if…I mean, that is…if you want me here,” he finished, his tone shy, unsure, and almost hesitant. Mulder had almost forgotten this side of his lover; the side he only showed in private. “Oh shit. I’m sorry. This is probably the wrong time again.” He looked confused and guilty for having raised this issue after all that Mulder had been through.


“No.” Mulder said, softly. “No, Walter. It isn’t. I think that now might be exactly the right time. I need you, and…we never talked much of love back then, but I’m too old and tired now to care if I sound stupid. I still love you, have done for years. If nothing else, my time with Laurence showed me that particular truth. Fucking ironic isn’t it? To find out something so important in such a way.” He gave a grim, mirthless chuckle. “I was an idiot to let you go, Walter. I want you back.”


“You’ve got me. As for it sounding stupid – I think we should have allowed ourselves to sound stupid a long time ago because I never stopped loving you either.” Skinner gave him the smile he remembered from his youth. Age hadn’t dimmed the effect it had on him. Mulder traced a finger wonderingly over beloved, remembered lips.


“Killer smile. Thought you’d lost that. Glad you haven’t,” he murmured. Skinner dipped his face, hesitantly, and then stopped, clearly remembering Mulder’s need to be in control. Mulder didn’t have any reservations; he lifted his face and claimed a kiss from Skinner’s waiting mouth. It was just a touch, nothing more, but it warmed Mulder all the way to his core, replacing the cold emptiness inside with a sense of contentment, and hope.


“Mulder…Fox…this was just a first step,” Skinner said, in a warning tone. “There’s still a long road ahead.”


“I do know that,” Mulder said, but after the long hours of talking he felt more optimistic that he would be able to make the journey back to normality, and at least now he knew there would be someone by his side all the way. “I’ll go back to the psychiatrist.”


“Good. And we’ll catch the bastard who did this to you.” Skinner said in a low, growling tone. “I promise you that, if it’s the last thing I ever do.”


“Walter, these men won’t ever pay for what they’ve done,” Mulder said wearily. “That’s why it hurts so much. They’ve been getting away with this for years. You’ll find that you won’t be able to get a search warrant, or an arrest warrant, or that there will be watertight alibis. You won’t get a case anywhere near court and, even if you do, all your main witnesses will be involved in mysterious accidents, or they’ll just disappear.”


“We can’t just do nothing. This Larry could be out there hurting someone else, raping some other poor man or woman as we speak. We can’t just allow that to happen,” Skinner said stubbornly.


Mulder couldn’t help smiling. This was the man he remembered so well from 18 years before. “Walter, you never did understand the nature of evil, and how it can always find a way to evade the law,” he murmured.


“Maybe not, but I refuse to just stand by and let innocent people suffer because I didn’t have the guts to at least try and bring the culprits to justice,” Skinner said in a voice like stone.


“Walter, you’re wrong. I know you’ve lived all your life by the law, but you’re wrong. These men are beyond justice.”


“I find that hard to accept. I might not be able to accept it,” Skinner said stubbornly. “I want to kill the bastard who did this to you, Fox.” His body was trembling, and Mulder knew how much effort it had taken for the other man to just sit here, listening and holding him, when he wanted to be out, pursuing the justice he still believed in so strongly.


“I know,” Mulder replied. “I know, but I don’t want to spend my life chasing vengeance when I don’t think we stand a chance of bringing these people to justice. I want to get over this. I want to carry on with my life – and I want to rediscover what it was like being with you.”


“Okay.” Skinner nodded and pulled Mulder even closer. Mulder went willingly, feeling comfortable and secure for the first time in a very long while. “Look, Fox…you have to help me here. I’ll do whatever it takes to help heal you…I just need to know what it is you want of me.”


“I don’t know what I want, Walter. It’s too soon.” Mulder allowed himself to relax so far into the body of the man under him that he felt as if they had become one warm mound of flesh. “I just know I need you.”


“I’ll be here.” Skinner’s voice was tense, and choked. “Always.”


Mulder raised his hand to Skinner’s face, and stroked gently. “Hush,” he said, and then froze, waiting for the whispers to start up, waiting to hear that familiar litany, hush, hush; stroke, stroke…


…But this time it never came.




Mulder stared down at the cars, crawling like tiny colorful dots on the ground below, far beneath the 17th floor balcony. He heard Skinner come in, and then the sound of footsteps behind him.


“Hi.” A hand slid around his shoulder, and he accepted a kiss on his cold cheek. Mulder turned, and smiled. His lover was wearing a red shirt; they had gone out and bought him a half dozen of them, at Mulder’s insistence, despite Skinner’s repeated protestations that he was more into earth colors these days, now that he was getting old. Mulder refused to accept that age had anything to do with it – Skinner was certainly looking younger than he had for years. They both were.


“Shit, it’s cold out here. What are you thinking?” Skinner asked, staring at the cars below. “Not about jumping, I hope. My cooking isn’t that bad.”


There was an edge of worry in Skinner’s voice, despite the joking tone. Mulder had come a long way over the past eight months, but he still had his dark days. After his break-through conversation with Skinner, Mulder had also spoken at length with the other person he loved most in the world: Scully. That hadn’t been easy for either of them, and there were many details that he just couldn’t bring himself to share with his diminutive partner, but she had a clinical, detached, doctor’s air about her, which helped get them both through the trauma of that conversation. Between them, Scully and Skinner had helped Mulder take his first, tentative steps towards recovery. Returning to work had helped. He was delighted to be back with his beloved X Files, solving the cases that were meat and drink to him.


When he had felt ready, Mulder had made the first, tentative step towards resuming some kind of sex life. Later, when the results of his HIV test had come back negative, they had graduated, slowly, beyond kissing, and fondling. Mulder still wouldn’t allow his lover to penetrate him, but Skinner had always enjoyed being on the bottom more anyway. Skinner had no problem with allowing Mulder to call the shots in the bedroom. That worked for both of them, and gave Mulder the control that he badly needed. There were still times when Mulder would freak out, and have a flashback, but they were becoming fewer. Mulder had worried at first by how turned on he was, and how much he wanted to have sex. He felt like a permanently hormonal teenager, barely able to take his hands off his lover, sporting a continual erection. He wondered whether this might not be Laurence’s sick legacy to him, but his psychiatrist had pointed out that one thing had remained constant throughout his time in captivity – Skinner turned him on. He always had. Mulder was more relaxed about his sexual feelings now. He accepted that they were his own, and that he had a right to them, and, if he was honest, his sex life with Skinner was pretty damn good. Their relationship wasn’t always easy, but they both worked hard at the issues. Mulder knew he was happy – happier than he had ever thought he could be.


“No. I wasn’t thinking about jumping. I was thinking about Laurence.”


“You okay?” Skinner slid his arms around his lover’s shoulders, holding him, as he always did when they talked about Laurence. After their return to work they had searched for Mulder’s torturer for several months, but Mulder had been proved right. It was impossible to even find Laurence – Mulder had no idea where exactly in New York City he had been held, and every single avenue of investigation turned out to be a dead end. Laurence was, it seemed, protected by very powerful men, but Mulder had already known that. He hadn’t really anticipated bringing his torturer to justice.


“Yes…no…I don’t know.” Mulder struggled with his emotions. “I received a letter today.” Mulder looked down on his closed fist, within which, clutched deep inside, was a crumpled ball of thin, white paper. “From Krycek.” Mulder examined his lover’s reactions as they flitted across the dark expressive eyes that he had learned to read so well.


“And?” Skinner kneaded Mulder’s shoulder gently with his fingers, and Mulder leaned back into the caress, relishing the warmth of his lover’s body in the cold, evening air. They had both discovered that Mulder had a great need for physical reassurance. Quite simply, he loved to be touched. It was a comfort he had denied himself for many long, lonely years, and his time with Laurence had brought the need into focus. He was still wary around other men, and only really relaxed in the company of Skinner, or women. If any man other than Skinner tried to touch him, even to shake his hand, then he often flinched, almost instinctively. They were working on that with the aid of the psychiatrist.


“Laurence is dead.” Mulder felt sure that the words should have meant something to him, anything, but they didn’t. He was numb inside, still struggling to come to terms with the news. Skinner’s eyes flashed, but he held back his instinctive reaction, and waited for Mulder to continue. “It would seem…” Mulder cleared his throat. “It would seem that he had terminal cancer. That was partly why he was so thin, and partly, I think, why he was so desperate to have one final conquest – me. He was diagnosed just before I was abducted.”


“So he knew he was dying?”


“Yes. He was seeing a doctor in New York – or rather a doctor was seeing him. He wouldn’t go to a hospital, so he was visited in his salon. It was a particularly nasty cancer – he died an agonizingly painful death. Krycek seemed to take considerable satisfaction in that. Maybe, one day, I will as well.”


“So, justice caught up with him in the end.” Skinner gave a grim smile. Mulder looked up, questioningly. “Natural justice,” Skinner grunted. A gust of cold wind made Skinner’s shirt billow like the red sails of a yacht on a stormy sea. Mulder looked down on the street, a long way below, and all the tiny dots that were people and cars moving around down there.


“Bitter,” Mulder murmured.


“Hmm?” Skinner frowned.


“Bitter – Laurence always smelled of lavender, and something else, something bitter. I never knew what that was until now. It was the smell of impending death, Walter. My grandmother smelled the same way before she died. I don’t know why I didn’t figure that out before.”


“Did Krycek say anything else?” Skinner asked.


Mulder shook his head. “No. Krycek didn’t.” He felt goose bumps break out on his flesh, and shivered.


“Fox, are you sure that you’re okay with this?” Skinner’s warm, strong arms formed a protective circle around his lover, and Mulder leaned back against that solid, comforting body, and closed his eyes. Was he? It took him a little while to answer that question.


“Yes. Yes, I’ll be fine. I just need…some time alone.” Mulder disengaged himself, and pushed his lover back into the apartment. “Go and start dinner. I’ll be in soon.” He smiled reassuringly, and the other man deposited a kiss on his forehead, and then, reluctantly, went back inside.


Mulder gazed down at his fist, which was wrapped so tightly around the scrap of paper inside that his knuckles were white. He hadn’t told Skinner about the other letter, the one Krycek had enclosed with his own: the one from Laurence. He would, very soon, but right now he just needed to figure out a few things alone. Slowly, he opened his fist and smoothed out the thin, white, sheet of paper that he had crumpled into a tiny ball. It was written in dark, navy blue ink, the meticulous precision of the lettering marred by a slight shakiness of the hand, signifying that the writer hadn’t been well when he penned it.


“My darling boy,


I couldn’t go without saying goodbye. I’ve missed you, dear heart. The salon really isn’t the same without you. I hear that you are living with Walter Skinner, and I take some pride in the knowledge that I helped bring you two love birds back together after so much wasted time. I do hope you’re enjoying your young lawyer’s strong arms. I’m sure you understand that I’m speaking from personal experience when I say that sometimes the reality can be so much less fulfilling than the fantasy.


I have very fond memories of our time together, and I know that you think of me often, as I do of you. You were the culmination of my life’s work, and a very worthy adversary. I can die a happy man knowing that what we shared was truly special, and that I live on forever in your heart.


Farewell, darling boy. Farewell.


All my love, always,


Your Larry.”


The scrap of paper was as thin and pale as Laurence’s flesh had been. The wind rustled through Mulder’s hair, like cool fingers, caressing him with its icy, inhuman touch. It danced around his head, whispering to him; “Farewell, darling boy. Farewell.” Inside the apartment, Mulder could smell dinner, and could hear his lover whistling tunelessly as he worked. It was cold out here. Inside, there was food, warmth, comfort, and genuine love, and there was no price to be paid for any of those things any more.


Mulder opened his hand, and allowed the scrap of paper to rise into the air, carried away by the wind. It did a slow, graceful dance in mid-air, and then paused for a moment, hanging there, as if held in place by an invisible thread. Then the wind caught it again and the paper lightly darted forward and gave him an elegant little bow, as if in acknowledgement, before it swooped away into the darkness of the city below.


Mulder watched until it was out of sight, and then he turned and walked back into the warmth.


The End



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