The Game
Chapters 13 - 18

by Noirceur

Chapter 13

Skinner reached over the man sleeping in his arms and hit the "off" button before the alarm could sound. After last night's, no, this morning's nightmare, Alex was in need of sleep. So was he, but then all he had done was hold the man through the after-effects of yet another Danny dream.

He'd wakened, trembling, not knowing, so he said, what the dream had been about. Skinner had grunted, just pulled him into his arms, let him settle on what he was now thinking of as Alex's spot, head over his heart, arm snaked tightly around to his shoulder. Alex had muttered "Sorry" several times until Skinner calmed him down. He didn't know which was harder, hearing Alex apologizing for something that haunted him, or Danny begging for someone to believe him.

Jesus! It was times like these that he wished he could have just a few minutes alone, unsupervised, with Thomas Glenn, or even with Spender to show them how he felt about what they had done to a young boy, raping and beating him into becoming something evil.

He placed a kiss on the head tucked under his chin. Still, they hadn't completely won, had they?

But, one way or another, the dreams had to be dealt with. And it was hard asking anyone for advice about a situation that shouldn't exist with a man who had, according to the Bureau, just disappeared.

And worse was yet to come. By the time he got home tonight, Alex would be wanting punishment as he had both those times he had had Danny dreams since he'd moved into this bed.

Maybe it was time.

He wasn't surprised to find when he got home that Alex was nude, waiting by the basement door. He kept his head down, didn't react when Skinner passed his hand against the shorter hair in a caressing gesture.

Skinner left him there, went upstairs to change out of his Bureau uniform, put on comfortable clothing. He made himself something to drink, some hot tea, made certain there was lots more of it that could later on be heated up in the microwave.

He closed the basement door behind himself, not permitting Alex to come down. Come back up with some things in his hand. He pulled out a heavy wooden armchair that he had inherited from somewhere along the line in his travels. It had a wide base, solid arms and carved back. Sharon had used it to stand on for hanging curtains, anything that was up high. She had hated ladders and this chair was so stable it was almost impossible to tip or overturn.

He pushed the table back so that there was ample free space around the chair. Nothing to get in its way, nor in his.

Alex had remained in position, unmoving, head down throughout all of his preparations. Now he made him move. "Come here, boy. Stand up." He buckled the belt around Alex's waist, the restraint around his wrist, then clamped the restraint to the back of the belt. Alex was used to this, expected it. It was part of their ritual.

"Sit in the chair."

Alex hesitated, then complied. This was new.

"Make sure you're in solidly." Skinner threaded another strap through the carved back, under his arm, across his chest and back again to buckle behind the chair. He passed a second strap across his lower abdomen, also buckling in the back. He bound his ankles to the lower portions of the legs.

"Can you rock the chair, boy?" Alex couldn't.

Skinner pulled some familiar items out of his pockets. First the gag. Skinner stroked his thumbs across Alex's mouth, bent and replaced them with his own mouth. It struck him this may be the last opportunity he would have to do this, depending on how his plans worked. He bent again, took Alex's mouth in a demanding kiss, got a hesitant response. He made sure the bit gag was placed so that Alex could bite into it if need be.

He kissed the closed eyes before tying on the blindfold. At this stage, he knew Alex was expecting ear plugs, but he wasn't too surprised when the headphones went on, to be tied in place with another blindfold.

Skinner let Alex sit there, just to get used to the situation. He went and got a portable tape recorder from the hallway closet, the tape from his coat pocket. He set up the recorder, dropped in the tape, and, with a deep breath and a prayer, he hit the play switch.

Alex didn't react at first. His head was slightly down as it was whenever he prepared himself for what was to follow. When he realized what he was hearing, he made a sound like an animal, and began struggling to get out of the chair, to rid his head of the headphones.

Skinner had been waiting for this, grabbed Alex from the back, tried hard to keep him still. The gag muted the worse of the sounds that Alex made in reaction, the leather straps held him as close to immobile as possible, the chair neither rocked nor tipped over even while he struggled to escape.

Skinner winced at the animal sounds coming from the bound man. He held him down by the shoulders, trying to prevent him from hurting himself against the thick straps that kept him in the chair, listening to the composite tape Skinner had put together.

A tape that began with the interview Skinner had had with Spender, went on to the one with Thomas Glenn, then to his own voice reading the report Agent Madison had given him.

Eventually the tape reached the end and stopped.

Skinner crouched awkwardly, held himself close to Alex, just trying to hold him through the tremors which shook his body. Gradually the keening faded to a sort of wheezing.

Skinner reached out, hit the rewind button. Alex hadn't listened, just reacted. He needed him to listen. And, God, he hoped he was doing the right thing.

This time, apart from an initial groan and what seemed to be an involuntary reaction, Alex didn't move. Skinner stroked his chest, his shoulders, letting him know he wasn't alone. This time when the tape stopped, all he did for several minutes, was stroke Alex's neck along the chain. Then he reached up and took the head phones off.


Alex made a slight whining sound.

"Alex. Listen to me. They lied to you. You didn't kill your father. You didn't deserve to be punished. You never did anything to deserve what they did to you."

Alex shook his head, frantic. Skinner caught it in his hands. "No. They lied to you. They wanted to control you. To make you do things you didn't want. They lied to you, Alex. Do you understand? Alex, they *lied* to you."

He removed the gag, the blindfold. He cupped the back of Alex's head, waited till he raised it himself.

He spoke gently as if that would make this whole nightmare easier, " Did she tell you that you killed him? Alex, did your mother tell you that you killed your father?"

Alex rested his head against Skinner's cheek. Didn't answer for a long time. Then, almost at a whisper, "Not me. She told Danny."

Skinner cupped the face next to his, "She lied, Alex. She lied to Danny. Danny didn't kill anyone. I swear to you, Alex, Danny didn't kill his father."

He got some strong sweet tea into Alex, moved with him onto the couch. Wrapped a blanket around him and settled himself with Alex in his arms along the couch.

Alex lay very still, only the occasional tremor, breath hitching to show how he had been affected by the whole scenario. Skinner would almost have preferred it if he'd cried. At least that way, he would have let some of the pain, the fear out.

And this had to be finished.

"Alex," he rubbed his cheek against Alex's forehead, "why did Danny think he'd killed his father?"

Alex made a little settling motion, sighed, spoke, his voice raspy. "She told him only his prints had been found on the gun. That he must have done it, why else would they be on the gun. She had an alibi. He didn't. That everyone loved Nick. No one had a reason for wanting him dead. Except for Danny."

"Alex, what reason would an eleven year old boy have for wanting his father dead?"

"Danny wanted to go fishing. His father had promised to take him. Then he'd backed out. Wouldn't give him a reason. They'd had an argument about it. Danny was angry."

"Children don't kill their parents for refusing them something, Alex. There'd be no parents left anywhere if that were true."

Alex ignored him. "She told Danny the cops wanted to question him about the prints. Danny begged her to tell them that he couldn't have done it. That he loved his father. She asked him how could she do that. She wouldn't lie to the cops for him. All she might be able to do was get him away before the cops came to get him."

Skinner clamped down his anger. Right now it wouldn't help. He kept his voice as calm, as level as possible. "So she passed him on to his father's controller. Who passed him on to Thomas Glenn." Skinner felt Alex nod against him. He waited a bit before continuing. "Then, one day, Glenn sent Danny to one of the Elders. What happened there?"

Alex turned more into Skinner, who gripped him harder.

"The Elder wasn't too happy with Glenn. He liked them a bit younger and he'd thought Danny was too old. Then Glenn told him who Danny's father was. The Elder knew Nicholai Gorshok. Called him a beautiful man. Said at least in that his son wasn't a disappointment. He'd been a good man, and the Elder really regretted his loss.

"That he'd been very much a man. A man's man. Not like his fag catamite son. Wondered what Nick would have thought of his fag son. Wondered if that was why he'd been killed? Because he'd looked at his son and saw him for what he really was, a disgusting pervert. Pity the wrong Gorshok had been killed. Pity the fag son had killed such a good *man*.

"Danny protested. Said it wasn't true, that he hadn't killed his father. The Elder told him of course he had. His mother had told him the whole story. How he even refused to admit it. That it was so convenient for him, but what about his mother. Left alone without anyone to take care of her. He deserved the most severe of punishments because patricide was the most reviled crime on the face of the earth."

Skinner wanted to say something, but he didn't know what would erase any of that from Danny's memory. All he wanted to do was hit someone. Alex must have sensed something because he caught a sound in the back of his throat. Skinner realized he was holding Alex in a painful grip. He released it a little. Said nothing, just rubbed his cheek on the top of Alex's head. After a moment or two, Alex went on.

"He said it was up to him to punish Danny properly. And he hurt him. Danny started screaming. The Elder didn't like it, told him to stop. But he didn't. He kept on screaming. He wanted to stop but he couldn't. He couldn't. He just kept on screaming. No matter what the Elder did to him. I couldn't stand it any more. I had to make the screaming stop."

Skinner braced himself. This was the first time Alex had personally involved himself in the narrative. "How did you do that, Alex?"

"I killed him. I killed Danny."

Dear God, thought Skinner. He fought down the nausea that was building in his throat. He'd never expected this. How the hell was he to deal with this piece of information?

Alex began speaking again. "I remember being sick for a long time. The handler who took care of me called me Alex; he already had another boy in his stable called Danny. When I got better, I was sent to Spender. He put me into service. Then Peskow got interested in me."

"Alex, did Spender use you?" He wanted an excuse, any excuse to hit someone he could get his hands on.

"No. Not like what you mean. He's a watcher, not a toucher."

"He sent you to Mulder." They were beginning to tread on delicate ground here, but Skinner wanted this all out of the way.

Alex moved his head back, finally looked up at Skinner. "Yes. But he wasn't interested. Is that what you wanted to know?"

"Actually," Skinner rubbed the knuckles of one hand against Alex's chin, "what I would like to know is how someone as intelligent as you seem to be could be so stupid as to forget to clean out an ashtray?"

There was a long pause, then "I didn't, forget that is. The ashtray was empty and clean when I left the car."

Neither of them said anything, just thought about that.

"You were good, Alex. You had the makings of a top- notch agent. Good combination of street-smarts and brains. Sometimes the brainy ones don't work out. Good at school but not much use anywhere else. The nerdy ones."

Alex gave a sort of sigh. "I was one of those, a nerd."

Skinner grabbed the chance to lighten the atmosphere. "I can't believe that you were ever a nerd, Alex."

"Well, I didn't have much choice. I was under orders not to participate in anything other than classes. In high school, I spent too much time in the administrators' offices to be trusted by the other kids."

"What were you doing in the administrators' offices, Alex?"

"Blow jobs mainly. Dropping my pants now and then. The ones I dealt with all had ties of some kind with Spender. They kept an eye on me while I was out of his reach, and he had me pay them back that way."

Suddenly Alex got anxious. He raised himself up a bit. "The marks were mine. Really mine. Not because of a blow job or because I took it up the ass. I worked for them, the real way."

Skinner was surprised by how important this was to Alex. How it worried him that Skinner might think he'd whored for marks. He just raised an eyebrow. "I doubt very much that a university would hand out a scholarship or Quantico, recommendations, in exchange for a blow job, Alex.

"And I don't think the ability to take it up the ass would have deciphered the DAT tape. Or encoded the ones you dumped on us. Some were so convoluted ...Williams is still rather in awe of some of the circuitous routes some of those files took before you opened them up for us. He's told me that he's sorry he can't use you officially in his department. He's been hinting that maybe you could be used unofficially." He smiled at Alex. "Maybe as a consultant?"

Alex shrugged. "Yeah, right." Tone sarcastic. "As if the Bureau would let me anywhere near one of their departments."

He settled back again in Skinner's arms, needing their comfort. Skinner held off asking the one thing left he wanted to know until he felt Alex was calmer.

"Alex. I need to understand. I know why Danny would think that he had killed his father, but why would *you* believe it?"

When Alex finally looked up, his expression was bleak. "I didn't remember Danny until I saw a photo of him in the file Justice wanted me to answer. If I didn't remember him, didn't remember what his life was like, didn't remember killing him, maybe I couldn't remember killing my father. Maybe killing was easy because I started so early. It makes sense, why would killing bother me when I'd killed the only person who ever lo..." he caught himself, "who ever wanted me?"

Skinner shook his head. "I don't believe you killed him, Alex. Neither you nor Danny killed Nicholai Gorshok. We'll find the truth, Alex. I promise you."

Chapter 14

"I want to thank you, Mr. Skinner, for the recommendation. I'll try my best to be deserving of it."

"You may find that after a while you may not want to thank me for putting your name forward, Agent Madison. You're not being assigned the easiest of partners."

"No. sir. But I understand that life is never dull when your partner is Special Agent Mulder."

Skinner laughed. "That's a delicate way of putting it. But seriously, you might like to arrange for a meeting with Dana Scully. She has regular hours now that she's been permanently assigned to Quantico."

"Thank you, sir, but she's already contacted me. We're meeting for lunch next week. She asked me how much First Aid experience I had." She smiled. "She was laughing as she asked me. I told her I had five brothers."

Skinner nodded. "Well, if he becomes too much trouble, you can always do what Scully did."


"She shot him."

"Did she? I must try that some day with my brothers."

"I'll wish you the best of luck, Agent Madison. I'm sure you'll find a way of keeping Mulder from getting himself into situations like the one last week. And I want to thank you again for the fine work you did for me, tracking down that information."

"Sir, may I ask? Is the posting because of the work I did for you?"

"Pay-off, you mean? No, but I did take into account the efficiency you demonstrated. No, Rachel, you earned this yourself. Besides, I won't be here much longer. So if your posting proves to be too troublesome, you'll have to let me know soon enough. I'll find you a new assignment, it won't be held against you."

"Thank you, sir, but I think any assignment after Special Agent Mulder would be rather boring."

When she left, Skinner settled, uncomfortably, in his chair. It had been too long, he thought, he'd forgotten. He was used to being the stuffer, not the stuffee.

Still, he smiled, it was worth it. He'd also forgotten the pleasure being well-fucked could bring. And Alex had certainly done that. God, it was well worth a little discomfort for the look on his face when Skinner had rolled the condom on him. First the surprise, then that wicked gleam he'd gotten in his eyes.

Skinner could feel himself harden at the memory. Shit! He was fifty years old. He wasn't supposed to be able to react this way at a mere thought. Especially after last night. Come to think of it, he also wasn't supposed to be able to get it up twice in one night, but then maybe the ones who came up with these "supposes" had never shared a bed with Alex Krycek.

The phone on his desk rang and brought him back to reality.

"Sir. Deputy Director Cassidy wonders if she could have a few minutes of your time. In five minutes?"

Jana Cassidy was the woman Skinner had told Madison was in line for the Directorship. He liked her, respected her and not just because when the whole fiasco had started, she had been the only one to welcome him personally to the Upper Floor.

"I'll get straight to the point, Walter. There's a rumour circulating that says you're thinking of retirement."

Skinner smiled. "Nice to know the grapevine is alive and well. And accurate. I went to see the Director only this morning."

Cassidy settled back in her chair. "I'm glad."

Skinner raised his eyebrow.

"To be honest, I was about to put out a contract on you. You're the only Deputy Director who isn't six months behind on reading his reports. Makes us all look bad, Walter. Your office is nice and neat, no reports piled in the corners. It's not natural."

"Oh, well, I won't be getting away from them completely."

"New job already?"

"Actually, I've been approached by Wilson-Jones."

Cassidy made a sound of appreciation. "Not bad, Walter. Status think tank. Not too conservative, not too liberal. Nice comfort zone."

"I'm thinking of attaching myself to them only as a consultant. I want time to do other things. Take on other assignments that are interesting."

"Sure you won't miss this place, Walter?"

"The reports? The necessity of being polite to jerks? Jana, I want a life of my own again. I want to go fishing. Take a trip. Not have to worry about hiding things."

"You've got somebody in your life."

"Yes. A somebody I want time with before I'm too old to enjoy the relationship."

Jana Cassidy laughed with him. So the rumour that old Stone Face was in a relationship was true. She wondered with whom, that it would be considered inappropriate here at the Bureau. The young woman who had been top of the pool was on her way to Mulder.

"So what do you think, Alex? Just a part-time commitment to Wilson-Jones and free lance the rest of the time."

They were lying on the couch, Alex in Skinner's arms. The hockey game was between periods and they were just lazing through the afternoon.

"Why ask me?"

"Because in a relationship there's such a thing as discussion. We are holding a discussion. My wife accused me often of not wanting to discuss things with her and I don't intend making the same mistake twice."

Alex twisted around so that he could see Skinner's face. Quietly he asked, "So, this is a relationship?"

Skinner nodded, very serious. "That's what this is, Alex. A relationship. Any objections."

Skinner never thought he'd see the day that Alex would blush. "No. No objections."

"Wilson-Jones finds our counter proposal..."

"*Our* counter proposal?"

"Yes, that of my partner and I. As I was saying, our counter proposal of being available to them on a part- time basis very acceptable. Especially when I told them who my partner was."

"You told was acceptable?" Alex was stunned.

"Of course, Alex. I told them that I had no intention of hiding my partner. That he would be equally involved in whatever project they handed out. They weren't bothered by that in the least. Said they were quite looking forward to meeting you. Even when I informed them that there was also a personal relationship involved between us."

Alex sat up. "Are you out of your fucking mind, Walter?"

"No. Alex, Wilson-Jones is not the Bureau. Moreover when I told them that any necessary socializing had to include both of us..."

"You *are* out of your fucking mind. Do you have any idea what people will say if you're seen anywhere in public with me?"

Skinner pulled Alex back against him, rubbed his hands on Alex's bare chest. He had just come out of the shower, pulled on a pair of jeans, and was still a bit damp.

"They'll either be envious or they'll be shocked. Either way, they won't bother us, and Wilson-Jones assures me we won't be the only male pair attending their functions. So better start thinking about shelling out for a tux. Their get-togethers are very black tie."

As the second period of the game began, Alex scratched his groin through his jeans. "So when are you done at the Bureau?"

"In two weeks." Skinner unzipped Alex's jeans, scratched around Alex's cock where the hair was growing back in at the prickly stage. Of course, there was more of a reaction than just Alex's sigh of pleasure. "I told Kim that all reports except crucial ones were henceforth banned from the office. To pass them on to Cassidy." Alex's hips were rubbing against his hand. He could feel his own cock responding nicely to Alex's shoulder rubbing against his fly.

Alex reached over and unbuttoned Skinner's fly, liberated his cock. He turned his head and played it into his mouth. Which fell into rhythm with the hand on his cock.

It was a nice way to spend a lazy afternoon.

After Alex asked, "Do you think Wilson-Jones might approve if we did this at one of their soirees?"

"Just remember, boy, no one touches you except me."

Chapter 15

The man accompanying Deputy Director Skinner raised a few eyebrows. But only a few; the back way into the upper floor was sparsely populated. But enough that word would quickly make its way round the offices.

Skinner just ignored them; Krycek wore his "dare you to say anything" face. But he wasn't quite sure what he was doing here.

Skinner held the door to his office open, let Krycek precede him. Kim looked up from her desk, smiled absently, caught herself. Gave them a second look.

The two people who had been waiting for Skinner's arrival stood. They and Krycek froze. Skinner just continued on into his office as if nothing particular was happening.

"Kim, whatever happens, I'm not available until I tell you otherwise." He paused at the door to his office. "People? In here, please." And went in, almost pleased that he'd managed to surprise not just Alex but Scully and Mulder as well.

The three of them were eyeing each other warily. Mulder hadn't seen Krycek since the night he'd arrived to deal immunity for passwords: Scully, since long before that.

Skinner was examining a file he had taken out of a drawer, looked up at them and indicated the chairs with a gesture of his hand. For a moment he was reminded of three cats ready to take each other on.

Time to defuse the tension a bit. "How's Agent Madison working out, Mulder?"

Mulder stopped glaring at Krycek long enough to glare at Skinner. "So you're the one I have to thank for siccing that bitch on me."

Skinner looked shocked. Scully actually giggled.

"I think," she snickered, "the appropriate term would be *terrier*. You know," she addressed Skinner, "like in *fox* terrier. Hard to dump one of those, isn't it, Mulder."

Skinner got it. "Finds you, does she? Before you get into trouble?" He and Scully exchanged understanding grins.

Scully, he was pleased to see, was more relaxed. Quantico was doing her good. And he knew she was being fast-tracked to taking over when the Head of Forensics retired next year.

A phone rang. Skinner reached into his inside suit pocket, took out a thin cellphone. Listened. "Thank you."

"Would the three of you come with me, please."

He picked up the file, went out the back door of his office, down a private hallway to a conference room. The three following him were equally confused. Silent questions, shrugged answers united them.

The conference room was not a particularly large one, but it did have a special feature: a small room off it, disguised to pass as a bathroom, which was actually a viewing room. The large stained glass artwork by the door doubled as a one way window into the conference room.

"Mulder, would you familiarize yourself with this?" He passed over the file. "Dana, would you and Alex come with me." He led them into the viewing room. Closed the door behind the three of them. He turned and addressed Krycek in his strictest game voice.


Krycek's head went back at the tone, then his eyes dropped. Scully wondered just what the hell was going on?

"You will stay here, in this room, no matter what happens. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, sir."

Krycek started dropping his head. Skinner grabbed his chin, forced his head up, forced him to look at him. "You will not try to leave this room. Understand?"

"Yes, sir."

"You will do nothing that calls attention to the fact that there are people in this room. Nothing. Do you understand *that*?"

Krycek's face had become a mask, the one he wore when they moved the game into the basement.

Scully was bewildered by the whole scenario, but recognized the tone Skinner used as one not to argue with.

Skinner released Krycek's jaw, stroked a gentle thumb along the area he'd held. He addressed Scully in his regular voice. "Would you stay here with Alex, Dana?"

She nodded, "Yes," not too sure where this was all going.

"Thank you."

Mulder looked up from the file at the sound of the door closing. "What do you want me to do?"

"Look intimidating. Maybe help me out if I need it. Be a witness if it's necessary. To be honest, I don't know what will happen."

He went back to the file. "Start by letting her wait outside." Then, "He doesn't know."

Skinner shook his head.

"That's why you've got Scully in there with him."

Skinner sat in the chair behind the desk, nodded.

"Has he been with you all this time?" Mulder didn't look up from his reading.

Skinner smiled at the casual tone of the question. "Yes." Mulder looked up over his glasses. "And he'll be staying with me."

Mulder nodded, went back to the file. Well, that explained the early retirement. He'd have thought they would have had to carry Skinner out feet first to get him away from a Bureau desk.

The phone rang again. Skinner looked to Mulder. "Ten minutes enough?"

When Mulder finally opened the door, a woman entered. A woman who was clearly unhappy with the way her morning had developed.

She was slim, hair tastefully dyed a white blond, conservatively made-up. She was wearing the type of clothes, shoes a woman wore when she entertained a day of shopping. In her early to mid fifties. A sort of brittle beauty to her. Looking just what she was, the wife of a some middle manager who was in town, accompanying her husband at a conference.

She seemed neither afraid nor intimidated by having been stopped by two FBI agents who had requested she accompany them as there were some questions that she could help them with.

Skinner reached under the desk, pressed the switch that turned on the monitor in the viewing room. Slowly he got up to greet the woman.

"Mrs. Davidson Christie? Mrs. Christie, thank you for coming in. We appreciate that you could take the time to come and answer some questions we have about a previous case."

"Did I have a choice? Mr....?"

Mulder stepped in. "*Deputy Director* Skinner, ma'am."

The title impressed her. She sat down in the chair Mulder pulled out for her.

"What is this about, Deputy Director?"

Skinner thought she must do her husband proud when they entertained the bosses. She certainly had just the proper tone of awe in her voice as she said his title. Even looked a little flirtatious.

"Mrs. Christie, we're thinking about re-opening a file into the murder of Nicholai Alexandrovitch Gorshok."

He had to give her credit: she didn't even bat an eyelash.

"I'm sorry. I don't understand how I could possibly be of any help to you."

"Why should that be, Mrs. Christie? Aren't you even the slightest bit interested on why we would be re- opening the file into your husband's death?"

"My husband is very much alive, thank you." She stood up.

Mulder tossed a piece of paper onto the desk in front of her. "Marriage certificate. Nicholai Alexandrovitch Gorshok and Zaneta Ilaria Bazarov. That's you, Mrs. Christie."

She glared at the two men but sat down. "I prefer Janice. And it was suicide, not murder."

"Left-handed people don't blow the right sides of their faces off, Mrs. Christie." Mulder took the chair between her and the desk.

She snapped back. "The verdict of the coroner was still suicide."

"That's not what the boy was told." Skinner was in full Deputy Director mode.

She turned a querying look at Skinner. "Boy? What boy?"


"I'm sorry. I don't know any Danny."

"Your son, Mrs. Christie."

"I don't have any children by that name, Mr. Skinner."

Mulder tossed another document onto the desk. "Birth certificate. Daniel Aloysha Gorshok. If necessary we can prove it with DNA testing. We have blood samples from the three of you."

Janice Christie sat back in the chair. "What is it exactly that you want from me, gentlemen? I do have plans for the day and would like to get to them eventually."

"You told Danny that he was responsible for his father's death and then you passed him on to his controller."

"If it will get me out of here. Certainly I passed the boy onto to someone who wanted to take care of him. I didn't want him. I couldn't stand the sight of him."

"Why was that, Mrs. Christie? What was so wrong with the boy that you couldn't stand the sight of him?"

"I spent eleven years married to a man who disgusted me because of that...boy."

"From the timing of his birth, I'd say you were pregnant when you married his father."

"Yes, I was."

"Are you saying it was rape?"

"No. Even my idiot parents wouldn't have forced me to marry him if it had been rape. Besides they knew Nick, knew he didn't have to resort to rape. He had anyone he wanted whenever he wanted. All he had to do was smile at a woman to get her into his bed. Everyone knew that."

"So he smiled at you, and you ended up in his bed. And pregnant." Mulder didn't sound sympathetic at all.

"It wasn't supposed to end in my marrying *him*."

"Who were you supposed to marry? Davey? That *is* what you call your present husband."

"Yes." She crossed her legs. She wanted this over quickly. Spoke staring at the abstract sketch that hung on the wall behind Skinner. "Davey and I were seeing each other. My parents didn't approve of our associating with people from outside the neighbourhood. And Davey's people didn't approve of his associating with ethnics. They insisted he date the daughter of one of their friends. I could tell it was beginning to be serious. I didn't want to be just his little jaunt into the ethnic pool. So I decided to make him jealous. But we went too far.

"I wanted to get an abortion. Davey and I had made plans for one, but my parents caught us. They forced me to carry the brat, told Nick and he decided to do the noble thing and marry me so his bastard would be legal. Davey married his parents' choice.

"But that didn't work out. He still loved me. He was getting a divorce when he came to see me, to ask me to come away with him. I knew that Nick would never give me a divorce: God knows I'd asked often enough. He kept telling me a mother's place was with her child. And that he would never let Danny leave."

"How convenient for both of you," mocked Skinner, "that Gorshok stopped being a hindrance to your plans at just that time."

She had no trouble whatsoever meeting his eyes. "Yes, wasn't it. And how convenient that we both had water- tight alibis for that entire afternoon."

"Except for Danny."

"Yes," she agreed, "except for the boy."

"So you told him you were sending him away for his own good. And you passed him onto your husband's boss."

"I *contacted* Nick's boss. He was always interested in the boy. Always asked about him. His eyes always followed the boy whenever he came out to the house. So I called him. Explained how only the boy's prints were on the gun. He understood right away. He told me to bring the boy to him. That he'd take care of him."

"What did you think he was going to do with Danny?"

She shrugged, obviously not caring.

"I'll tell you, shall I." Skinner's voice was colder than anything Mulder had ever heard from him. "They beat him. They raped him. They prostitued him."

"Poetic justice," she snapped back. "That's what his father did to me. He claimed he had rights under marriage and he took them whether or not I wanted. Once, when I punished the boy, he beat me. Told me he'd kill me if I ever touched *his* son again. And he meant it."

Mulder leaned over. "Why would he do that, Mrs. Christie? How exactly did you punish the boy?"

She turned to him, graced him with a cold look. "The same way my father disciplined us. With a belt."

"So Gorshok cared for Danny." Skinner said.

"He doted on him. Ignored me unless he wanted *something*. Spent his money, his time with the boy. Came home every night, supposedly to put the boy to bed. *I* knew he was just checking out the boy's body. The boy thought Nick walked on water." She was having a harder time controlling her emotions.

"The *boy* didn't kill his father." Skinner wanted her to say it.

"I never said he did." She dared him to contradict her.

Mulder stepped in. "Mrs. Christie, according to the documents we have, your husband, your present husband that is, was cut off without a cent by his family when he ran off with you. That his and his wife's family paid off all their debts, but he never got a cent from them again."

"No." She spat the word out. "Never."

"And Gorshok didn't even leave that." He looked up at her. "So, Mrs. Christie, where did your husband get the money he used to buy into the franchise?"

Skinner sat back in his chair: he hadn't caught that.

She said nothing, just continued glaring at Mulder.

"Mrs. Christie, how much did they give you for Danny?"

Skinner reacted before she did. "You *sold* your son?" He was incredulous. "You *sold* your son to a pimp?"

"Seven thousand dollars, wasn't it, Mrs. Christie. A lot of money to come out of nowhere."

She smiled coldly. "Ten thousand actually. We used the remaining three for a downpayment on our house. It was the least Gorshok's *legacy* could do considering he'd taken eleven years of my life."

There was a long silence after that. Finally, having gotten himself in hand though all he wanted to do was put his hands around the woman's throat, Skinner leaned forward in his chair. "And the boy, don't you want to know what happened to him?"

She condescended to answer him. "Why would I care what happened to a whore?"

Skinner slowly stood up. "Actually, he only did that for a few years. Then they trained him to kill people. He's very good at that."

She came up to her feet, spitting. "Are *you* threatening me? Who the hell do you think you are? I'll have you up on charges of harassment! Of threatening me with murder! You bastard!"

Skinner ignored her, looked at Mulder who had also stood up. "Special Agent Mulder, do you remember this meeting taking place?"

"No, Deputy Director, I can't say I do."

"And have you ever heard of...someone called Janice Christie?"

"No, sir, I can't say I have."

Skinner turned to the woman, his distaste obvious. "Sorry, madam, you seem to have lost your way. That sometimes happens to visiting tourists. Mulder, could you have this..." he sneered the word, "person...escorted out of the building."

He went back behind his desk, picked up the documents on the desk and began replacing them in the dossier. Mulder went to open the door. He nodded to the two agents who had waited in the hallway. "See her out to the front door, agents."

Both men ignored her as she left.

As soon as the door closed behind her, Skinner was at the door of the viewing room.

Krycek was sitting on the floor, back against the wall. Head tipped back. Eyes closed. No colour whatsoever in his face.

Scully crouched beside him, her hand on his shoulder. She looked up at Skinner, shook her head slightly, shrugged, indicating she wasn't quite sure. She gave Krycek's shoulder a last squeeze, rose and went out to join Mulder in the conference room. She closed the door behind her.

Skinner crouched next to Alex. Hesitated, but then just placed his hand on the side of Alex's face.

"Alex?" He waited. "Alex? Are you okay?"

Alex slowly moved his head off the wall, opened his eyes. Consciously pulled himself back from wherever he'd been. He met Skinner's eyes. "Well, I wanted to know."

"You didn't kill your father. Neither you nor Danny. More likely they hired someone to do it. Probably through your father's boss." Skinner thought it made sense. Gorshok stood between the controller and the boy. And the money would ensure the wife's complicity.

"Alex, do you want me to push it? We could probably get enough to officially re-open the case."

Alex dropped his head onto his knees. "Do they have kids?"

"Yes. Three. Two boys and a girl. Ages 21 down to 14."

Alex said nothing. Skinner slowly stroked the back of his neck. After a while, Alex raised his head. "No. Not worth it."

"You're sure?"

Alex nodded.

"You going to be okay?"

"Yeah. Walter, can I go back now?"

"Sure, if that's what you want. I'll drive you home."

"No. Maybe Scully or Mulder could do it. You have work to finish before you leave next week." He gave a sort of smile. Got to his feet. Skinner looked worried. "I'm fine. Really I am, Walter. I just want some time to myself. Okay?"

Skinner nodded. "Okay."

Scully drove him back to the house. He was quiet all the way there, just staring out of the side window. Scully didn't say anything until she let him off at Skinner's house. "Are you sure you don't want anyone to stay with you, Krycek? We don't need to talk or anything."

Krycek's smile managed to be a fairly good one this time. "No, thanks. I'll be fine. Go catch up on the gossip with Mulder." He closed the car door and let himself into the house.

Chapter 16

The house was almost dark when Skinner arrived home. No lights on except for the one in the foyer. He felt a frisson of disquiet crawl up his spine.

He moved carefully, making sure, for the first time since Alex had arrived, that his weapon was easily accessible.

From the foyer he could see the basement door. He almost expected to find Alex waiting there for him. But there was no Alex, no lights on in the kitchen, in the laundry room. He wondered if Alex were down in the basement, but there was no one there either.

He found Alex in the living room.

And a nightmare he hadn't even remotely considered.

He stood still by the couch, by the light he'd turned on and wondered just how the hell he was going to handle the situation.

Alex was kneeling in position in the far corner of the living room. Arm bond behind his back. Blindfold on. Dog collar. Gag. From where he stood, Skinner could only assume that he wore ear plugs.

There were two thin lines of blood trailing from the nipple clamps that hadn't been used since that very first night.

Skinner moved forward enough to see that Alex had also used the thin strap he had used as a cock ring that night too. At least he thought that's what it was; he could barely make out the buckle in the swollen flesh. However tightly Alex had buckled it at first, only hours of wear would have caused the swelling he saw.

Skinner closed his eyes and swore softly. He had thought that with the morning's revelations, that Alex might be a bit distraught, but this was more than that: this was Alex back to his original masochism.

Jesus! What the hell did Alex think he needed to be punished for this time? And why to this extent?

Before he released Alex from his bonds, Skinner went to get the medical supplies he had gathered for dealing with injuries during those early days. He hoped that all there were were the ones he could see. Maybe he should call Scully and ask her to come over with her bag? But no, they had dealt with this from the beginning by themselves; they would continue to do so now. Unless...

Skinner poured himself a stiff drink, tossed it back and went to deal with Alex.

He began by crouching in front of him, to let him know that he was back. Alex seemed to be in that world of his too deeply to notice. Skinner wondered if, in fact, Mulder and his psychology background wouldn't be a better choice right now than Scully.

He lay his hand on the truncated shoulder, only to notice that the end of the stump was purpled. As if it had been hit against something. Something solid.

Skinner winced, stroked the shoulder until he felt a small shiver shake Alex's body. The head moved slightly. Okay, he thought, coming back to this world.

He took the dog collar off first. Stroked the neck where the bruising had already begun showing. He'd have trouble swallowing for the next few days.

Apart from the involuntary shivering, Alex didn't move.

Then the blindfold. Alex kept his eyes closed, even when Skinner ran his thumbs across the lids. He didn't insist that Alex open his eyes.

The gag. The back of his lips were raw. How the hell had he managed this with only one hand?

The ear plugs, thank God, had done no damage. He had just put them in.

He unscrewed the clamps. They were on so tightly that he had trouble getting them started. He knew his attempts must have hurt like hell, but Alex barely flinched. The wounds began bleeding again. He reached for the gauze and quickly taped temporary bandages over the torn nubs.

The cock ring was even more difficult. The flesh of his cock was deep purple. Shit, he had heard of guys who had effectively castrated themselves by doing this. He would have to pack ice there. And hope he had been in time.

Unbuckling the strap was not easy. Alex finally jerked when he had to pull it tighter to release the bit, but he was most afraid of what would happen as the circulation was restored.

Alex didn't faint, but he did collapse forward, into Skinner's arms. Which is how Skinner discovered the rest of the damage.

In the toy cupboard downstairs he had a collection of dildos ranging in size. One he had picked up in Bangkok, during R and R, while in the Marines. The sort of thing an eighteen year old youth buys on a dare from his buddies. Made of teak, it ended in a small rod for use as a handgrip. It was huge. And it was in Alex. And there was more blood streaking the backside of his thighs, the soles of his feet where he had rested his ass.

First things first. He lay Alex on his side on the carpet, covered him with the blanket they kept on the couch. The shivers were beginning to change into tremors.

In the kitchen, he put ice into a couple of plastic bags, went and packed them on his groin. The mere touch of the bags caused Alex to jerk. He placed his hand on Alex's hip, held it there while his body got accustomed to the feeling of coldness hopefully numbing the pain of blood recirculating.

He used that time to unbind the hand. Alex had used not the wrist restraint but the handcuffs. Easier for a one-handed man hellbent on abusing himself. He hadn't been able to snap them on too tightly. One small blessing.

Another was the fact that he hadn't thought of self- flagellation. Thank heaven for small mercies, thought Skinner.

He reached over to work out the dildo gently when he realized something was missing. "Jesus Christ, Alex. No lube. You didn't use any lube. Are you out of your fucking mind!"

He was amazed at the amount of anger in his reaction. He had to walk into the kitchen, pace a bit before he calmed down enough to even try to figure out what he would have to do to get that piece of wood out of Alex's ass without causing more damage than had already been done.

And considering the amount of time that thing had been in, let alone the way it had found its way in -- God, he didn't even want to think of that! -- the inner tissues must be raw and swollen.

He was going to have to call for help after all. Shit, the situation was bad enough as was. How would Alex react to the presence of someone else?

He thought a moment, had an idea. If it didn't work, he would have to call Scully. He might still have to call her.

Why the fuck hadn't he come home with Alex? And why hadn't he considered just how violently Alex would react? He always reacted badly. The night they had gone to the diner. The time he had changed the collar for the chain. Which he still wore. At least he hadn't taken *that* off.

Sharon had gone through a stage of cooking with marinated meats. Not just sitting in marinade, but injecting it into the piece of meat. The gadget she'd bought for that was still around. He seen it recently, wondered how come he had ended up with it. Hadn't thrown it out. Found it.

It was like a thin turkey baster, with a nozzle that was larger than a syringe needle, but smaller than the baster's. It would probably hurt, but it was better than pulling the thing out dry.

He found the baby oil that he sometimes used for oiling delicate tools. Filled the marinader.

Alex was obviously uncomfortable. He had drawn up his knees, just a bit, head was curled close to his chest. He moaned softly to himself.

Skinner checked the ice and decided to add a couple more packs. He moved the light so that he could see properly. Checked Alex's eyes. The pupils were dilated, hopefully from pain, not from any drugs he might have taken.

"Alex? Can you hear me, Alex?"

Alex made a sound that seemed to indicate he could.

"I'm going to move you onto the couch. And you're going to help me. Got that? First: did you take anything? Any drugs? Okay, that's good. I want you to swallow these." It took some time for Alex to swallow the codeine pills. A more than ample dosage, but he wanted him feeling as little pain as possible when he began working on the dildo.

"Alex, don't fight the codeine. Let it work. I'll come get you in a minute."

Skinner removed the middle and end cushions from the couch, dropped one to the floor, the other on top of the remaining one. He stacked the ice packs at the edge of the pile. Alex would be lying face down. His groin still needed the ice. His nipples would have to bear the brunt of his weight, but he needed Alex on his stomach.

Getting him onto the couch was unpleasant, but was accomplished with far fewer sounds from Alex than Skinner would have thought possible. *He* would be screaming his head off by now. But then, as Thomas Glenn had said, Alex had been popular for his ability to endure pain.

His plan to settle Alex on the couch was enough of a success. As was, eventually, his plan of getting enough oil around the dildo in order to facilitate its removal. Actually, he found that Alex had used some lube on the thing, on the first part of it, but it was enough with the oil to get it out with as little damage as was possible.

There was bleeding, but a lot less than he had expected. He even managed to get a fair amount of antibiotic cream up Alex's ass before he felt he had played around with the damage enough for the moment.

He checked the ice packs, covered him with the blanket and left him alone.

Then he seriously considered getting drunk, but decided that wouldn't be very productive.

Instead he settled by the couch and tried to decide how he was going to handle Alex when he woke up.

It was around four a.m. when Alex did wake up. He made some noise which woke Skinner up, a crick in the neck from the uncomfortable position he'd been sleeping in.

Skinner got Alex some water, a couple more codeine pills. "You are going to explain to me just what this was all about, Alex."

When Alex finally spoke, his voice was hoarse. "I can't."

"Can't as in won't? Or can't as in you don't know yourself?"

"Don't know."

"Alex, you don't do that sort of damage to yourself and not have an inkling why."

Alex just shook his head.

"Alex, there's no reason for punishment. You're not responsible for your father's death. Do you at least understand that?"

He nodded.

"Is it because of her?"

Alex seemed to shrug, mumbled, "Don't know."

Skinner was irritated. He'd had a trying evening, had slept badly, had a neck that he knew would ache through the meetings he *had* to attend this day, and he wasn't sure he could trust Alex alone all day.

"So you got home, felt an overwhelming urge to injure yourself, to go overboard on pain, and you don't know why." He meant it sarcastically but got another nod from Alex.

"So what do we do about today, Alex? I mean. I have to go in. Do I cuff you to the bed? Do I tied you up? Do I get in Scully?"

"No!" Alex looked up, frantic. "Not Scully. I'm all right. I don't need a doctor. You don't need to tie me down or cuff me, I won't move. I'll stay right here, I promise."

"God, Alex, can I trust you? To stay on the couch all day? "

"I swear. Walter, please. I don't know what happened to me. I just freaked out, I guess. Please, sir, I'll behave."

Skinner felt he really didn't have much choice right now. "Okay. I'm moving upstairs to the bed. The alarm's going off in two hours and I want some comfortable sleep. Call me if you need anything."

He left late for the Bureau. He checked Alex over, changed dressings, agreed with Alex that except for some swelling and discolouration, he didn't seem to be in jeopardy of losing any essential body parts. He left him with a bottle of juice, some of the codeine tablets, a cellphone for him to call if he needed help. Crossed his fingers and hoped he wouldn't regret this decision of leaving Alex alone.

Chapter 17

Alex was sleeping, or pretending to be sleeping, on the couch when Skinner got home.

Sighing, Skinner decided to leave things alone for a while. He needed more time to think about the situation and what with having seven days left at the Bureau, he was overwhelmed there with all the last minute details he had to deal with before leaving.

The weekend was coming, and he knew Alex would probably not be wandering much off the couch until then.

But when he asked Alex if he preferred to spend another night on the couch or to try and make it up the stairs, Alex opted for the bed upstairs.

It took some time, but when he dropped onto the bed Alex gave a sigh of relief, stretched out slowly making little noises of almost contentment. Skinner had long ago realized the couch was not the greatest place for sleeping. He guessed Alex knew that too now.

When he got into bed that night, he did what he often did, he spooned Alex into his arms. Alex was startled, as if he hadn't been expecting it. But he curved into Skinner, like he usually did, and placed his hand on Skinner's arm. But it was some time before he relaxed, almost as though he was braced for something to happen.

It was a small thing, but it nagged Skinner throughout the day, eventually prodding him into making some connections he should have some time ago.

Saturday, he got Alex back downstairs, settled on the couch. He dropped a thick report, a pencil onto his legs, getting his attention. "Your last chance at a Spender report. He took particular exception to your last set of comments. I think you'll find that he addresses all of them in great detail throughout this one."

Which meant that Spender had added pages upon pages pointing out the various reasons he had included the data he had in the way he had.

For the first time since he'd abused himself, Alex groaned, really groaned. "I have nightmares where I'm locked in a room," he said, "and Spender's reports are blocking the only way out. Except every time I toss one away, two take its place."

Skinner laughed. Okay, he thought, Alex is back. Now, where do we go from here?

He got another connecting line that night in bed, after he'd fallen asleep. He was wakened by his body's reactions to the mouth on his cock. He raised himself onto his elbows, watched the concentration on Alex's face as he worked bringing him to orgasm.

Skinner dropped back down on the bed. God, but he had a gifted mouth!

But when he had recovered enough to open his eyes, he realized that Alex was watching him, expression serious, eyes afraid. He reached up with his hand, but when he went to touch Alex, he visibly braced himself.

Skinner stroked the wary face with a finger. "Sorry I can't return the favour. You're still too sore."

Alex looked embarrassed. "It's okay. I wasn't expecting anything." He turned to move back to his side of the bed, but Skinner's hand on his shoulder stopped him.

"You got something against cuddling, Alex? You always seem surprised when all I want to do, hell! all I have the energy to do, is cuddle."

Alex gave a sort of half smile. "It's not why I'm usually in someone's bed."

Skinner pulled him back, got him settled against his chest, wrapped his arms around Alex and gave a bit of a squeeze. "I told you when you moved up here that there would be nights without action. That didn't mean without touching. I enjoy sex with you, Alex, but I like this kind of thing, too. Especially with you."

He had almost fallen back asleep when he heard a faint voice ask, "So you won't be sending me away?"

Skinner's eyes opened wide. Well, that was one answer to one question. He made his voice sleepy, forced himself to answer casually. "No. Why would I do that?" He gently rubbed Alex's back under his hand. "Because of what you did to yourself?" Got the feel of a head nodding against his skin. "Like my father used to say, Alex, you're allowed one really stupid move in a lifetime. You've had yours. Just don't try for a second, okay?"

Alex was silent for a long time. Skinner thought he'd finally gone to sleep. "That's what the game is for."

"Yes, that's what the game is for," agreed Skinner.

So why the hell was he so surprised, when he returned from picking up some beer the next afternoon, to find Alex, nude, in position by the basement door.

Alex looked up, "You said I could ask. Please, I'm asking."

Skinner said nothing, just considered his options. Then, he nodded. "All right, Alex. Go down. I'll put these away and then I'll join you."

He ignored Alex's whispered "Thank you, sir," and waited until he heard Alex go down the stairs before cursing. One way or another they were going to get to the bottom of this.

He hung Alex from the pulley, both arms above his head, feet spread as far apart as possible. He put the ear plugs into his ears, gagged him, blindfolded him. He felt Alex brace himself because he *had* made his displeasure known by the brusqueness of his movements, by not stroking eyelids before covering them, by not plundering a mouth before muting it.

Alex, he knew, was on the verge of entering that damn world of his, the one pain sent him to. Well, the boy was just going to have to wait. He turned and went up the stairs. He had things to do and Alex was just going to have to bide his time.

He gave it an hour, then, removing his boots at the top of the stairs, so that Alex would have no warning whatsoever, he went and took up position behind Alex.

The first Alex knew he was there was when the flat of his hand came down hard on an ass that still ached. Before it properly registered, his hand came down again. Then again. And continued until Skinner felt the palm of his hand tingling. He checked it out. It was just a bit paler than Alex's buttocks.

He went back upstairs and put ice on it. He was going to put it to lots of use before the afternoon was over.

The second time, Alex reacted quicker to the first spank. Skinner had left him enough lee-way for his body to sway forward a bit with each contact between cheek and palm.

The third time, Skinner knew what his father had meant when he'd quoted that old saw: this will hurt me as much as you, my son. He switched to using his left hand. It didn't have the impact of his right, but by then he didn't think Alex would notice much.

He waited till the tingling in his hand was gone before he went back down.

This time, he placed his hand on Alex's hip before he hit him. Alex tried hard to avoid the blow.

"Well, what do you know! Not off in your alternate universe, Alex? Maybe this *is* going to work after all."

He moved his left hand to Alex's abdomen, pushed slightly against it so he had to go in the direction of the next blow. It landed hard, Skinner winced, but Alex also made a noise that sounded very much like a protest.

Skinner stepped back. That was the first time in all the times they had played any of the games that Alex was protesting. He smiled.

He removed the blindfold to be glared at by a pair of very alive, very wary, very green eyes. Next he removed the ear plugs. He had something to say and the man was going to listen to him.

"So, Alex, do I have your attention?"

Alex just looked at him.

Skinner smiled, brought his hand down hard. "Do I have your attention *now*?"

Alex opened his eyes, nodded.

"Your full attention?" Another swat, lighter this time, but he didn't think Alex appreciated the fact.

The nodding was more enthusiastic.

"Good." He placed himself in front of Alex, rested his hands on Alex's hips. Both men were aware of the proximity of those hands to sore ass. "Listen to me, Alex. No, look at me. Now pay attention, I have something to say about all this."

He took a deep breath. "Danny did nothing wrong. Nothing that deserved punishment. He did not deserve what they did to him. No matter how often they told him that. They lied. Have you got that, Alex?"

He was slow to respond, so Skinner encouraged him with a slap. Alex winced, nodded.

"But do you believe it?"

He let Alex think about it. He wanted his answer to be wholly from Alex, with no "encouragement" from him.

Alex raised his head, met his eyes, and nodded.

Finally! thought Skinner. "All right, Alex, do I still have your attention?" Another slap, another wince. "Let's talk about Alex and his need for punishment.

"Well, Alex, I'll grant you, you're no saint. Far from it. And some of the things you've done we will never talk about. They're in the past, and that's where they'll stay. But a lot of what you did, you did to survive.

"I know you've killed, but hard fact is some of those you killed needed killing. I don't condone what you did, but again, that's in the past. You were given immunity and frankly, you deserved it.

"Because, let's be honest here, we would have never had the material to take down the Consortium if it hadn't been for you. I know you put your life on the line to do it. If Spender or any of the others had known what you were up to, well, it wouldn't have been an easy death, would it, Alex? I'm not saying that excuses your past, but it does balance the equation a bit better. 'Nuff said."

Alex's head had dropped as if he wasn't sure how he was supposed to feel about all this. Skinner rubbed his hand briskly across the tender skin. Alex looked up smartly.

"Good. You're still paying attention. Now then, Alex, my father helped raise three sons. While we weren't hellions..." It was obvious Alex didn't believe him; his eyes were very expressive about that. "Well, we weren't outright hellions, but we did give him good reason to lose his hair. He rarely laid a finger on us, but when we did something stupid, something really stupid, he had no second thoughts about taking us for a little walk to the woodshed."

Skinner brought his hands up to either side of Alex's face. Held it in a gentle grip.

"Alex," he said, his voice intense, "what you did to yourself was stupid. So very fucking stupid. Did you ever think for one minute what it would be like for me to come home and find my lover..." Alex jerked his head back. "Yes, Alex, my *lover*...mutilating himself?"

He let that sink in.

"Christ, Alex, you have *no* right to do that to yourself. You do *not* need to be punished. Not that way. Ever."

He stroked the side of Alex's face with his thumbs, still holding his head so he would have to look at him.

"You want to play games. That's okay. I like playing games. I like the fact that my lover likes playing those same games with me. But that's all they are, all they're ever going to be, Alex. Games. Do you understand that?"

He released Alex's head. Held his eyes until he got the nod he'd been hoping for. He gave a sigh of relief.

"The reason for this spanking is the same reason my father spanked us. To get a message into our thick skulls. Stupid things are dangerous things. And you've got to pay a price for doing stupid things. Understood? Good."

He reached up and began releasing Alex.

"When this stuff is all off you, you are going to do what Dad made us do when we got in from the woodshed. You're going to *sit* on a chair in the kitchen and we are going to discuss the situation. Got that?"

Alex was smart enough to keep quiet. He just nodded and headed for the stairs.

"Alex. Put some clothes on first."

Skinner waited till he heard Alex going for his clothes. He looked around the room, noticing for the first time how depressing it was. Maybe, now that he'd have time, it would be a good idea to redo the whole basement. Maybe move the exercise equipment down here. It would need more light, but the height in these older houses was a bonus.

He got a stool from the other part of the basement, stood on it and removed the pulley from the beam. One way or another it would have no place in his house again.

He found Alex dressed in a pair of his old sweats -- the material would be softer against his skin -- and sitting on chair at one end of the table. He looked rather sheepish all of a sudden. Skinner thought that boded well for the rest of it.

He got a couple of beers out of the fridge, uncapped Alex's before giving it to him.

He sat down at the side to Alex's right, took a sip of his beer.

"We are going to discuss," he said in his best DD- chairing-a-meeting voice, "why this sudden need for pain, Alex."

He held up a hand forestalling anything Alex might want to say.

"Don't try and tell me you've always been into it. You may have had no choice under Glenn and Spender, but until I laid the crop on you, you hadn't played around with that in years. Probably not since you were sent out on your own after university."

Skinner put down his beer bottle, reached over and placed his hand on Alex's. "When you're being punished, you go into another world. What's in that world, Alex? What draws you there?"

Alex was staring at the table top. His hand twitched under Skinner's. At first, Skinner thought he was going to try avoid answering, but then realized that Alex was having trouble finding the words to answer.

Finally, "Nothing. There's nothing there." The answer wasn't satisfactory. Not to Alex. Not to Skinner.

"Nothing as in...what? No people. No responsibilities ..."

"No pain." He said it softly.

Skinner hesitated before continuing. He kept his voice even, calm, realizing that this was very delicate territory. "You need pain to get into a world that has no pain."

Alex didn't react.

"Alex. Why not just avoid the pain in the first place?"

"Can't. It's there."

Skinner took a breath, felt he was going out on thin ice. "This all started with the photo of Danny. About your not remembering him. About being afraid that you'd killed your father. You needed the physical pain to deal with the pain of the remembering. Is that it, Alex?"

"Yeah. I guess."

"Alex, why didn't you just cry, throw things, scream..." Oh, God! This had to do with Danny and screaming. Danny who had started screaming and couldn't stop. "The pain, does it take the need to scream away?"

Alex dipped his head a bit more.

"The day with..." Skinner couldn't bring himself to use the word mother, "Mrs. Christie. You wanted to scream that day, too."

Alex stayed very still. Skinner gripped his hand tighter, used his other one to stroke up and down his arm. Trying to increase contact: the next few minutes were going to be hard.

"What hurt the most, Alex? The fact that she didn't want you or the fact that she didn't care?"

Alex looked up, face totally unmasked, eyes devastated. He tried to speak, but his throat was so tight that he could barely be heard.

"She has other kids. She loves them. Couldn't she have...just a little..."

God, thought Skinner, cry, Alex. For God's sake, cry.

Instead Alex just looked at him, like a child completely lost.

"Alex, the love of a child is a treasure. She had a treasure and she was too self-centred to see it. To want it. She did her best to break it. But, Alex, your father loved you. Surely you remember that?"

Alex shook his head. "No. I don't. I don't remember much about Danny's life before he found his father in the garage."

"Alex," Skinner's voice got intense. "Your father loved you. Everyone still in the neighbourhood talked about how much he loved you."

"No. He loved Danny. I doubt he'd find much to love in Alex." His acceptance of that was painful to hear.

Skinner forced himself to stay calm. God! What could he say?

"Alex? Why did you come to me in the first place? For punishment."

Alex looked up, relieved at the change of subject. "At the Warehouse, a sub who'd gone with you told me that you weren't a safe choice, but that he felt safe with you. That you seemed to know limits and never pushed passed them."

Skinner looked a bit incredulous.

Alex continued, "He said that your idea and his of limits were different, and that he'd never go with you again, but that he didn't regret the experience. Sounded like a good recommendation at the time."

Skinner sat back, thought about that. He reached over and rubbed his finger along the chain at Alex's neck. In his best Marine voice, he asked, "Who do you belong to, Alex?"

Alex relaxed, answered as he always did. "You, Walter. I belong to you."

"Why do you belong to me?"

Alex tensed up. Said nothing.

"Ever wonder why I even let you in the door? Those early days, you showed me a side to myself I didn't particularly like. That I'm still uncomfortable with, even now.

"So why didn't I just boot you out, Alex? Would have made sense. Hell, why should it have mattered that you'd just find yourself someone else to beat the shit out of you? That's what you wanted, wasn't it? Would probably have served you right?

"But for some reason, I let you stay. I kept you here." He looked up. "Now, I would hate it if you decided to go. Why would I feel like that, Alex?"

He sat back in his chair. Alex just looked at him as if he were hungry for something yet expecting it to be taken away from him.

Skinner continued. "Is it so hard for you to think that someone could want you, Alex?"

He got up, went round to Alex, took his face between his hands, gently pulled him up. Stroked his mouth over Alex's.

"Is it so hard for you to accept that someone could love you? That I could love you?"

He brought Alex close, wrapped his arms around him. Alex dropped his head onto Skinner's shoulder. Wrapped his arm tightly around Skinner.

"Not just for your body, beautiful in spite of the scars, Alex. Your spirit. Your mind. Your sense of humour.

"Ever think of the pleasure you give me when you light up for something silly like chocolate?"

"Chocolate's not silly," Alex whispered, voice thick with suppressed emotion. Skinner chuckled. Inside, he gave a sigh of relief.

"When you're muttering to yourself over Spender's reports, slashing them."

"No more of those." Alex rubbed his cheek against Skinner's throat.

"When I come home at night and find you here, waiting for me." Skinner kissed the head by his mouth. Then he pulled back just enough to see Alex's face. "And why are you still here, Alex? No one was stopping you from leaving. It's not like it was four months ago, but you're still here. Why is that?"

Alex shrugged, opened his mouth to say something, then closed it. Skinner saw the frustration, the fear rise in him. Pulled him close again.

"It's okay, Alex. Just so long as we both know why."

He rubbed Alex's back, went a bit too low, felt Alex wince. "Want me to put some lotion on your ass? It might numb the pain."

Alex shook his head, actually laughed. "No, that's okay. It just tingles."

Skinner caressed his face. "Alex. I don't like that game. I won't play it ever again."

Alex accepted his decision. Tried to explain. "Sometimes..."

"Alex, any time you need to scream, just do it. You can scream, cry, yell your head off. It won't scare me away."

"And if I can't stop?"

"Alex, Danny couldn't stop because he was alone. You're not alone. I'm here, with you, and I don't intend going anywhere. And *if* it happens that you can't stop, well, just remember, Scully is only a phone call away and she's had lots of experience with tranquilizers and needles. Okay?"

Alex gave a wet sort of chuckle, went back to his head on Skinner's shoulder. "Until you tire of me," he whispered.

Skinner was ready to shake him. "Alex! Shit! Why would I tire of you? Chances are more you'll tire of me long before I tire of you!"

Alex held his head back, raised a disbelieving brow.

"Christ, Alex, I am *fifteen* years older than you. At one point I won't have the energy to keep up with you. Don't you think I'm afraid you'll look to younger men?"

It was obvious that Alex didn't believe that. "Never."

Skinner smiled. "Never say never, Alex."

Alex passed his hand over Skinner's jaw, caressed the side of his face. He seemed to be thinking about it, a hint of a smile, a real Alex smile, on his face. A smile that spread to his eyes. "Okay, Walter. Maybe when I'm 100 and you're 115. Maybe then."

Skinner laughed. "I love you too, Alex."

Chapter 18: Epilogue

Dana Scully was rushing to finish some errands on her lunchtime when she heard the motorcycle. Considering the neighbourhood she was in, it wasn't too surprising that she recognized both the Harley and the men riding on it.

Waiting to cross at a red light, she watched the passenger hop off the back, pull off the leather jacket he wore and drop it into the storage bin.

Alex wasn't wearing his prosthesis much any more, claiming it got more in the way than it helped. He usually wore it only when he had to represent Capitol Security Consultants. And then only if he had to wear a suit.

He was laughing as he pulled off the helmet.

Skinner looked rather impressive in his leather jacket. He too took it off. The fall weather was still warm, but Scully knew from experience it was cold riding on the Monster.

Officially, it was Alex's Harley. Skinner had thrown an incredible conniption fit at the thought of Alex driving it. "You've only got one fucking arm, boy! How the hell do you intend controlling that monster with only one arm?"

Alex had waited until Skinner had calmed down enough to point out that, while it was true he had only one arm, he did live with someone who had two. So while it was Alex's bike, it was Skinner who drove it. Grumbled about driving it. Loved driving it.

Their other vehicle was a big Chrysler that was Skinner's. Scully had teased him once about why hadn't he exchanged the big vehicle for a sports car. He had the excuse of his age, mid-life crisis and all.

"*I'm* Walter's mid-life crisis," Alex had growled. "And I don't tolerate competition."

Scully tried to get their attention, but the traffic was too loud. She watched Alex nudge Skinner with his hip, saw Skinner laugh openly at something Alex said to him.

He looked well, she thought. No more ulcer problem.

As the men turned to go into the restaurant, both casually dressed in jeans and dark shirts, the sun caught on the heavy silver chain Skinner wore around his neck. Alex had one like it too. Only the animals etched on the medallions were different: Alex's a rat, Skinner's a bulldog.

Oh, well, they hadn't seen her. And her light was green. She was going to be late as was getting back to Quantico. This Head of Department business was putting a severe crimp into her free time.

She found her car, dropped her parcels in the trunk.

Darn, she'd forgotten the wine. Barbecue at Skinner's this weekend. And it was Alex's turn to do the food. Which meant red meat. Skinner provided other choices like fish or chicken when he was in charge, but Alex was a firm believer in red meat.

On the other hand, it meant that there would be something chocolate for dessert. Decadently chocolate.

She must remember, she noted to herself, to pick up a couple of bottles of good red wine.


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