Acquainted with the Night

 

by A. Leigh-Anne Childe

 

Skinner/Krycek slash. NC-17. Part of a trifling series on a weirdly insistenttheme. My playthings are borrowed. Archive as you like it. Feedback welcome;anna@swva.net.

 

***

 

And further still at an unearthly height,

One luminary clock against the sky

Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.

I have been one acquainted with the night.

--Robert Frost

 

***

 

Slumped into the crook of the couch and semi-absorbed in watching television,Alex still glanced up with the immediacy of old instinct when he heard footstepsnear the apartment door. When the door began to open, his hand moved tothe space between couch arm and cushion, where he had secreted a street-bought9 mm, but then his dipped hand rose again--it was just Walter Skinner, carryingan overnight bag and a large briefcase.

 

Alex's gaze latched to the luggage then lifted to consider the otherman. "What's up?" he asked indifferently, turning back to theTV but remaining attuned to Skinner's movements. His peripheral vision tingledwith hyperactive awareness.

 

"What's it look like," Skinner said, voice bland, as he hunghis coat up. He made an absent grunting noise, perhaps of disgust, as hebrushed snow off the coat and shook it off his bags. From the couch, Alexcould not quite see Skinner run a hand over his uncovered head, but he couldimagine that familiar action too easily.

 

Alex would have preferred to ignore Skinner's rejoinder--the implicationswere obvious enough--but after a fidgeting minute of listening to Skinnerenter the bedroom and then return to futz around the living area, he foundit impossible to hold his tongue. "Looks like you're going to makea night of it," he said flatly, reaching for his beer, still not lookingat the other man, who moved somewhere behind him, unseen but palpably present.

 

"I'm having some rooms painted this weekend," Skinner said.

 

Alex blinked thoughtfully at the television screen. "You desk jockeys--thatcushy lifestyle really takes its toll on you, doesn't it. Can't even pickup a paint-roller. . .I'm surprised you're not worried about plants."

 

"That's why I'm doing it," Skinner said, and Alex heard thedry edge of satisfaction. The voice behind him continued speaking in a lowregister, almost to itself. "I've got the house monitored, and I'vegot someone lined up to do a sweep afterwards. Thought I'd give them theopportunity, see what comes of it. Find out how closely they're watchingthese days."

 

"Not a bad plan," Alex admitted, turning on the couch to resthis chin on the back and stare at Skinner. Mildly surprised at the otherman's initiative, he dug his chinbone against the couch and considered him.He looked, as always, very much the ex-Marine, neat, trim, and exhibitingin the controlled trajectories of his movements a subdued, brooding vigor.A full charge of energy coiled in those abundant muscles; the advancingyears hadn't advanced all that far. Tonight instead of his usual suit hewas wearing a denim shirt and jeans, and looked too butch for words.

 

Alex raised his hand to the couchback and rubbed his chin against it.He felt more expressionless than usual, as if gravity pulled more stronglyat the muscles of his face, tugging its masked surface flat. He was alreadyhalf hard; it bugged him. How dare his body betray anticipation, hunger,need--Alex was inclined to brutalize his rebellious flesh into submission,but hopping on the exercise bike seemed too blatant a provocation. Meanwhile,showing no sign he was aware of Alex's look, Skinner was opening his briefcaseon the dinner table, setting up his laptop and stacking files. During hisactions, his face, downturned in studious habit, reflected an absorbtionthat suggested his thoughts were elsewhere, as if their arrival lagged behindhis body, and yet it was a safe bet he was fully conscious of his solitaryaudience.

 

"I'm surprised you trust me not to pry," Alex said, staringat the array of business materials on the table.

 

"When I'm done with this it all locks back up--and then I'm goingto keep you busy."

 

"Great," Alex said, but in contrast to his toneless voice hiscock evidenced a more honest show of interest, stiffening a little furtherat the words. Luckily the couch hid this vital enthusiasm. Faintly disgustedwith himself, Alex turned back to watching TV. He spent the next hour orso in a blank display of involvement with competitive gymnastics, his mindturning on a wheel which carried him through a continuous flow of restlessthoughts: could he find someone to teach a one-armed, thirtysomething manhow to backflip, should he get up and have another beer, what innovativedemands would Skinner make on his body tonight, were there subliminal messagesin that fast-food commercial, a backflip after all didn't involve arms,yes he definitely wanted another beer.

 

Alex got up and went to the kitchen, grabbed a beer, then, after a moment'sthought, another. He popped the caps on the lower edge of a cabinet, whoseabraded wood already showed signs of regular service, then returned to theother room. He came up behind Skinner and let his hand slide down over theother man's shoulder, then made a small gesture of competency by rollingone gripped bottle to the forefront, in an offering. Alex's eyes flickedacross the computer screen automatically while Skinner took the beer.

 

"It's nothing that would interest you."

 

"You're welcome," Alex said irritably.

 

"You're predictable."

 

Indeed, Skinner sounded unbothered, unsurprised. Alex glared at the backof his head, tempted to stick out his tongue, but merely made a face instead,before taking a pull on his beer.

 

Skinner turned in his chair to stare up at Alex. His eyes performed acasual, habitual survey, as if he were assessing Alex's fashion choicesor seeking evidence of a lapse in his exercise regimen--or perhaps justinspecting the well-marked districts of his territory. Alex was momentarilyaware of the contrast between Skinner's expensive tidiness and his own morecareless dress--recognized the difference and dismissed it. Irrelevant.He'd been wearing the same sweatpants and cut-off sweatjacket all day, evenwhile working out. Clothes were a hassle these days.

 

When Skinner stood, Alex had to forcibly command himself not to takea step back; his body twitched, live wire, then stilled. The forceful greetingof Skinner's mouth was not unexpected, but the force of his own body's responsewas. He wanted to chuck aside the beer, hated having one hand in such circumstances,wanted to feel something, anything, with what touch he had left. Skinner,unconstrained for his part, cupped Alex's ass with one hand, and his headwith the other, fingers digging into his hair. Alex's face pulled into theresemblance of a snarl as he deepened the kiss despite himself. But theywere both driven to this; their tongues skipped and jabbed like rapiers,sliding back and forth together, blades that mimicked intimacy as they dueled.Breath quickening, harshening, Alex accepted what would devour him, thestrokes of fire spilling across the aching vaulted premises of his mouth,invasive and excruciating .

 

He was harder than he'd realized; the pull of Skinner's body made himaware of himself, where his cock pressed rigidly into the other man tautbelly. God, how long a week could be; the waiting that he refused to callby its name; the savagery of relief when it arrived. Mouth to mouth, hehad to acknowledge that the connection was lifesaving, or near enough thatit made no difference.

 

"How much longer you gonna work?" he said after detaching hismouth to let his breath catch up. He could feel a broad hand still cuppingand working his ass; his lust was humiliating and exhilarating. Feelingswere not just mixed but melted together, inseparable in their cauldron.

 

"I'm done. Or I can be. But I want dinner."

 

"Ah, shit ," Alex said, grimacing. He met the other man's gaze,letting the look rise from beneath his lashes, tilting his head a littleso that his rakishly unmannered hair caught at his eyes, knifing acrosstheir green smolder.

 

Skinner's hand rested proprietorially against the back of Alex's neck,and his thumb moved up under one ear, rubbing with a slow rhythm that suggestedan unconscious sensual attention. His face showed no involvement, though;it might have been hacked from a slab of volcanic pumice, stiff and unsmooththough he worked to keep it smoothed flat of expression. "I was thinkingthat Chinese place."

 

"Mexican."

 

"Never again. . .pizza?" Skinner's voice was half-hearted.

 

"Thai."

 

"I knew you'd say that," Skinner said, eyes narrowing. "You'vebeen through their menu twice over already. Aren't you sick of it yet?"

 

"Never. I could go for Greek, though."

 

"Mm. I don't suppose there's any reason we couldn't order both."

 

"Both what?"

 

"Greek. Chinese. Whatever."

 

Impatiently, Alex said, "Jesus. Chinese, then."

 

Skinner frowned, said abruptly, "Have you always been so hung upon Thai food?"

 

"What--no, why--" But Alex was not slow on the uptake; andthen, too, it was likely he had come to subliminally recognize that mannerof frown, some peculiar tenor in the voice that indicated a particular trainof thought. "You think they'd bother to canvass Thai restaurants allover the country, putting the word out to look for the nefarious one- armedman? Well, I guess it would be possible. But even I'm not that paranoid."

 

"Maybe you should be."

 

"Doesn't matter--it's a recent addiction." Alex smiled fractionally,almost unaware of his curving lips. Charm was bred in the bones, offhand,steeped in acid. "Worrying again, Walter? Seeing headlines? BureauVIP and Toyboy Found Slain in Gay Love Nest--"

 

"When I'm slain I won't be around to worry about something likethat."

 

Alex's eyelids lowered a notch. "Mm. Tough guy." He nudgedhis head in and carefully nipped at Skinner's lower lip, then opened himup with the wet point of his tongue. Down at hip-level, his cock throbbedin sympathetic greed. They kissed some more, lazily and then roughly, sparringand goading each other. Who would break first? Moving his hand, Alex broughtthe beer bottle down between their bodies and rubbed it against Skinner'scrotch. Skinner deftly plucked away the bottle and put it on the table behindhim.

 

Hand free at last, Alex took advantage of its placement and began kneadingthe hard bulge in Skinner's jeans. Immediately, Skinner's mouth grew hotter,more strenuously demanding. The stretch of his body tightened further againstAlex, straining muscles rolling like burls of magma under the surface. Whenhad they started kissing like this? Alex couldn't put his finger on justwhen the shift from simple rutting to elaborate, unfettered pleasuring hadtaken place. There were times now when the ignition of lust was strong enoughto send them tumbling to the ground, desperate, driven to grind their bodiestogether with an uncivilized lust that would not let them wait. Disturbingand unlikely, it knitted them more closely with the passing weeks, entanglingthem together with desire if nothing else--except that the more entwinedtheir needs grew, the more difficult it was for them to pull apart afterwardsand return to their separate cells of wary solitude.

 

"I need to eat," Skinner muttered against Alex's mouth, butthen his tongue carved back into the scrim, with plundering force.

 

"Eat me," Alex offered, after drawing back for his own breath,his voice no more than a thin exhalation.

 

"Not yet. God." Skinner made a face of bemusement and whatlooked like pain, then knifed the haze apart and scowled at Alex. "Keepdoing that and I'll make you finish it."

 

"Make me," Alex said now, his eyes shooting diamond- sharpsparks. His voice husked the words out. "What else are you here for,anyway--right?"

 

Skinner's face adjusted itself slightly toward a cooler unreadability."I guess that's right." He pulled Alex with him as he moved tothe table, and when he sat back down in the chair, Alex submitted to thecurved pressing weight of hand under which his neck burned, which drew himfloorward to his knees.

 

Already, his breath labored and his eyes drifted free of focus. His mouthfelt wet with readiness for the particular lust evoked. And he could notdecide if he wanted it merely as a kindling foreplay or for its own brutesake. Whatever, whatever, what did it matter. Kneeling, he rubbed his faceagainst the arrowing rise of denim that was bracketed by Skinner's muscledthighs. The other man's hand busied itself unzipping what his jeans cruellytrapped, and in seconds the fly was open and the briefs shoved down, andthen the length of him was free, pushing erect with almost pugnacious force,lifting with familiar tropism toward Alex's mouth. The waking monster wasalready deeply flushed, the swollen head pearled thickly with pre-ejaculate.

 

Alex could have teased; sometimes did. But other times, as now, he couldbear no prelude to plunging his mouth onto the other man's organ. Couldnot wait, could not. He shoved his open mouth forward and down, wrappinghis hand around the base of the shaft. His head lowered and rose; with sureforce he lifted up and worked on the head, sucking its upwelling juice andthen letting the padded knob drag across the roof of his mouth toward theback of his throat. Above him, he heard Skinner draw in his breath--notonce, but over and over again, a jagged crescendo of lust, pulling likea serrated blade from the throat. Strong hands held his head loosely inplace, but never stayed still; carelessly, bluntly, but intimately theyexplored him, carding Alex's hair, cradling his jaw, rubbing across hisears.

 

It was inevitable that the rhythm should escalate; within a few shortminutes, Alex felt the other man's balls tighten and hug upward againstthe pulsing shaft; felt the throbbing prominence of vein stab more wildlybeneath the skin. He did a few tricks with teeth and lips he knew wouldbe welcome, then repeated them more gently. Now he was teasing, withdrawinghis mouth and playing casually, eloquently with the brimming weight of fleshhe held.

 

He could not stand to ask outright what he wanted, so instead, when hecould take it no more, he simply let go, abruptly cutting short the torment.He sat back, ass to heels, face upturned and waiting.

 

Skinner breathed heavily through his nostrils, lips pressed shut. Hiscock jutted from his jeans, slick, dark, and rudely hard. "You wantit now?" he asked, voice abraded into a shadowed half-tone of itself.

 

"Yeah." Alex licked his lips thoughtlessly and then made asound like an embryonic laugh that refused full birth. "You taste likesoap, Walter. You shower just for me?"

 

Skinner blinked, not quite pulled from his haze, despite the hooked barbof Alex's voice. "I had to wash the office off," he said.

 

Alex felt a pleasant flush spill through his body, blood stirred to lifeby the dark currents within Skinner's voice. Crazy to think they were alikein anything, and yet at times-- at times the resonance told itself thisclearly, in the drop of one small phrase, and often they both recognizedthe moments. They shared the bitterness of having bitten too deeply intothe offered apple. There was that, at least.

 

Rising, Alex gave Skinner a brief look that conveyed invitation. He stretchedhis arm behind his head and pulled off his top rather than unzipping it,then entered the bedroom without looking back. The bedroom was clean andshowed only sparse signs of habitation--a few books, and the flung clothesof a single man with the luxury of simplicity and no one to chide him forhis minor messes. The room faced west and was filled with light. Outsidethe window the winter sky was lit with strands of fire that should havemelted the snow which lined ledges and rooftops and blew erratically offin the wind. But the blazing strata, like an illuminated fire opal, mighthave been as cold. In a tree across the street the light tangled in thebranches and was immeasurably painted on the sky behind.

 

Alex moved to a window and stared out; he'd known Skinner was early thisevening, but his mental clock had failed him--it could be, now, no morethan half past five. He shifted when Skinner appeared next to him. Remainingto one side, out of line of sight from the street, Skinner turned the stickon the blinds, angling their slats to obscure the view.

 

"You came earlier than I thought."

 

Skinner made a slight, almost facetious face, but never susceptible toeasy puns he merely said, "I left early. Or on time, depending on who'sjudging the measure of my work day."

 

"Who does?"

 

With a dry twitch of lips, Skinner squinted abstractedly through theblinds into the piercing sun, and said, "No one, actually. But if Idon't do the time, the shit gets hip-deep fast. Anything less than seventyhours and I might as well be a slacker." He paused as if contemplatingthe wisdom of voicing such remarks, then added after a moment, "Probablywouldn't last six months before they'd ease me out, or I'd walk in one dayand find a cushion on my chair."

 

Alex spoke while pushing out of his sweats. "Cushion? What's that,executive equivalent of finding a pencil taped to your locker?"

 

"I expect so. . .pencils? That's no bureau tradition." Skinnerunbuttoned his shirt. Still heavily erect he looked indecent to Alex's appreciativeeyes.

 

"NYPD," he said absently, speaking with automatic finesse thelines of a scripted self whose lies and truth folded into one another. "Whenyou're no good on the street anymore they let you know. Time to ride a desk,push the pencils. Vroom, vroom." Alex, naked now, touched Skinner'scollarbone and the flesh below, tracing small scars that threaded whitelyacross the surface. It was like touching polished wood, marked by use. "Idon't think you're ready for pasture yet, even if you do drive a desk, Walt."His voice, though low and lightly mocking, paid a certain degree of respect;yet it was best his regard should always remain less than earnest. In morebrooding moments, Alex was apt to regret warm words as forfeited advantages.Any point yielded might tote up to his later downfall.

 

"Mm." Skinner nudged off his jeans, kicked them away. "Desktopsmake for some of the ugliest battlefields I've seen."

 

"That's saying a lot, I bet." Alex ran his hand down the otherman's chest, scratching lines not unlike the residual scars, fresh red totheir white. Nipples hardened and he traced a circle around one, watchingit tighten, not missing the action below, where Skinner's resurging arousalmade a similar, more potent display of the body's ability to erect its tissues.

 

After another moment, they both moved simultaneously, stepping as ifinto one another, their chests and hips pressing close, angles of theirbodies bumping here and there, mouths locking even as their hips rubbedtogether, lance to lance in a familiar battle. This simulation of intimacylasted not long before Skinner twisted Alex around and gave him a roughshove onto the bed. The roughness was what Alex had been waiting for, thatsudden breath-stealing loss of balance as the storm picked him up and tossedhim. In seconds, they were wrapped together on the bed, a braid of fleshwhose elements were difficult to distinguish, equally convolute and lost.Now a knot of limbs, now a snarl. They hurt each other, biting without restraint,peppering each other's skin with bruises. Skinner had the advantage, however,and eventually used it, flipping Alex face down in the disarray of sheetsand pinning him there while readying himself. When he was sheathed, lubed,he pulled Alex up and let him feel the edge of that blunt force he wouldbe taking in.

 

Alex, balanced precariously, shuddered his need; the tightly pocketedentrance to his body blazed with the raw, nerved prescience of a recognizedsensation, while in the depths of himself he felt only the dull lack offulfillment. Just the weight of Skinner's cock resting along his ass madehim seethe and twist; getting that much meat inside would split him apart,gut him like a fish sliding to halved pieces on the length of a bowie knife.

 

Not getting it would drive him mad.

 

He pushed his ass back, and in doing so thought, helpless to the thrallof memory, of Mulder. It sent a savage furl of irony and amusement throughhis wired being to picture a greedy Fox caught and impaled on the same spearof flesh that was pushing its way into Alex now. Would he throw back hishead, would his eyes glaze as he surrendered, would he gasp, fight, howlhis gratitude, pass out?

 

And then Alex could only think of himself. It was nearly too much, alwaysprecisely a hair short of too much; he had never given himself up for fisting,but imagined it would compare poorly to this. He spent his breath in short,helpless gasps, refusing to sing his approval, and then with one final jabthe invader was fully embedded, the pressure of balls signalling it couldgo no further. Skinner's cock. Sometimes, alone, loosely thralled in fantasy,Alex tried to puncture his own swelling lust by thinking of it in derisiveterms: Walter Skinner's Mighty Dick. But ridicule could not break the addiction,and size alone was not the full measure of Alex's fascination.

 

Groaning, Alex felt himself pulled upright. "Ah--God--yes, you fucker--bastard--ohsweet fucking Jesus *yes*--" Driven out of himself, past articulation,Alex might have been sixteen again, rendered tongue-tied and stupid by thenovelty of rut.

 

"You like that--"

 

"Yes--harder--yes--"

 

"Harder--you like this--"

 

Hands pulled Alex back into a fitted arch, touched him everywhere, casuallyand familiarly, grabbing a slippery palmful of his hair and yanking hishead back, stroking up and down his abs, sliding behind to grip his ass,to open him up further. He sobbed as rude fingers chafed his nipples, asthey pinched and fondled him and rose to his throat to collar him brieflybut emphatically.

 

"Ah, god--don't--don't stop that--" Alex rotated his ass witha deft screwing maneuver that brought from Skinner a quiet yell--a vocalizingtrick that Alex never in his life had heard from anyone else. The piercingbulk inside him pumped harder, pulling Alex back with dragging motions thatmade him feel insubstantial, as if his ass--his entire body--were a plugof cork stabbed and riding on a fish-hook; all the power and volition oftheir act was behind him, in the other man's hard curve of cock.

 

He was a man without a name, without history, past or future, given overto this--just a fuck, but essential, necessary as food to him. What didwords matter, banter and skirmish, if this clash of flesh was possible.It honed something in the soul, kept life lit. To shove back against anotherman and feel each bone in the body matched, nearly, angle to angle, striketo strike like wielded staffs, to feel a man's cock staking its claim, confirmedone's most basic existence. Alex was *there*. Staked to the dirty groundof the earth, twisting on what tethered him, breathing as keen as fire.And the keening was in his throat as well, rising, primal, desperate; hishead shook itself wildly on Skinner's shoulder, he thought of Mulder, hislust stabbed higher and higher, but it was Skinner who was there with him,big and solid as a wall behind him, impossible to push down, safe as houses,dangerous as a grizzly, a near stranger in all things but this, and so nota stranger at all.

 

Roughness of their cheeks scratching, a fine, aching hurt, abetted withother sensations toward a killing intensity--a bladed fire that pushed throughhis ass and carved Alex senseless, carved him relentlessly onto a singlepoint that he could feel high inside him like a knob of diamond--this, andthe building strain of countless muscles, a tremelous stress in his architecture,a wild chafe of back to chest, ass to hips, the trembling widespread sprawlof his thighs against a buffer of heavier muscle. He rode and was ridden.It was a simple repetition of tiny, subtle actions, small twists, littlegrinds of ecstasy--hips, ass, shoulderblades--and then deeper, harder movements,the exquisitely forced, almost painful effort toward a shared achievement,sustained and stretched to that nearly unbearable tension that seeks tobreak itself.

 

Alex's head ground itself round and around on Skinner's shoulder, liftedand dropped itself. He parted his lips and breathed a moan of assent whenblunt fingers stroked his sensitized nipples, when broad hands flowed downhis body like waves of lava toward his pelvis to weld there, to hold him,and then he choked off a half-formed curse, or a yes that could not be spoken,as one hand moved further, to grip his swollen, blazing cock the way a manmight grip a fire-heated knife. No fancy favors, the hand just took himand squeezed, but did so over and over, not leaving him, moving faster andgripping harder as it proved it knew exactly what he needed, unyieldingeven when Alex's own hand closed over its clasp and meshed their fingerstogether--the feeling was impossible, shaming, too much to bear. It feltlike his father's hand, not the twist of incest but the simple interlockedcatch of key to lock, breath-taking, beautiful, and completely unacceptable.Alex came with poorly stifled screams that he would have hated if he wereable--high-pitched sounds that stripped his throat raw and revealed a pleasurethat branded him, that even as his half-closed eyes rolled like wet pearlsback in his head, in the ripped timeless ecstasy of climax, defined andbetrayed him as. . . .

 

But no part of his pleasure-stormed mind finished the thought, neverdid.

 

Skinner's own sounds of pleasure broke low and near in Alex's ears, gruntsand groans of a man whose inhibitions are momentarily loosened, who perhapsis not aware of how deeply his throat offers up his ecstasy. He cried out"Oh god, oh Christ!" in a hoarsened voice that made Alex's skinsweep with a rippling sheer of brazen fire and sent a final spasm of icedjism through his blurting cock. He beat his skull one last time on the boulderingpillow of muscle behind him and then fell back into his body, gasping forbreath, brought to a sudden sharp awareness of his aching, thorn-sharp nipples,his depeleted cock, and a body blissed on the perfection of being fuckedto pieces by a man who knew how to fuck a man.

 

Alex slumped forward, melting onto the bed. His ass felt like a swollenbowl of seed, spilling itself--this even though skinner had used a condom.He liked the aftermath, the sense of mess that was its own kind of bliss,a wallowing in base essences. But it wasn't to be lingered over. After thisnod to animalism, Alex usually felt compelled to rinse clean--shower orshit, whatever would break the spell of that brief, post- coital contentment.The physical mistake of happiness was not to be treasured; it was weakness,a window of vulnerability. This was as true now as any time, and so whenSkinner rolled away and stretched out on the bed, Alex's first thought wasto seek the solitude of the bath.

 

But as he moved, Skinner snagged his arm and held him, and then wordlesslydrew him back. Alex, grudging, dark eyes cooling back to steel, said nothingeither for a minute, then grew restless.

 

"Don't get warm and cuddly on me, Walter," he said with irritablevenom.

 

"I don't like it when you race from the bed to wash me off,"Skinner said, voice sliding toward a menace Alex hadn't expected. Perhapsthinking of his own earlier remark about washing off the office, Skinneradded, "If this is just a job to you, you can resign. I'm not payrollingyour services."

 

Alex's eyes narrowed speculatively. "So what do you care if I wantto shower?" he said, turning the question into a hard challenge. Implicationsand unspoken terms lay between them like spilled petals on the sheets, theirscent distracting, thin and bruised.

 

Skinner's jaw tensed; the bafflement of their uneasy arrangment writteninto his face. "Do as you like," he said. His detachment was abrupt,seeminglyabsolute. He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling, but seemedless hurt than piqued. Walter Skinner was inviolable, of course. No onecould chisel down to a heart through such a thickness of stone as he fronted.

 

Alex stared at the other man in the semi-darkness that had come intothe room while they fucked. "What exactly am I doing here ?"

 

Skinner reached and turned on the light, then looked over at Alex asif he had needed to see something clearly before answering. " You'redoing wonders for my peace of mind ."

 

"Yeah? How's that? " Alex husked dryly, stretching in the coversalongside Skinner, deferring his intent to leave . The rumpled bed drapedblue folds of coverlet around their legs like irregular ocean fringes.

 

"You know well enough. I don't want you loose."

 

Alex snorted; a mere crumb of a laugh. His eyes glinted darkly, moretruly amused. "Hey, Walt: I *am* loose. If I want to go, I'm going.I don't need the Skinner pension plan."

 

"When did your options start arriving?"

 

Mouth twisting briefly, Alex said, "If nothing else, I've got mygun hand."

 

Skinner's eyes darkened without a blink; even the spilling lamplightcould not penetrate their pooled depths. "You want to reconsider thatline of work, son. It's not. . .healthy." Something in his voice madeclear that ill health, whatever form it might take, was not a distant orabstract possibility but a presence in the very room, near as the dark cat-curlof the silent telephone, sitting less than eighteen inches from Skinner'spillow-rested head.

 

Alex loathed feeling the collar tighten, the leash pull. It made himsurly, but he hid the full extent of his distaste. "You're so sexywhen you're ethical," he jibed nastily. "It's such an exotic lookfor you."

 

In the jeer was strange truth; it turned Alex on to see Skinner in fullexecutive regalia, in his sedate Brooks Brothers suit, solid tie and tiebar,polished and unobtrusive leather shoes. Gun on hip, badge over heart: thesewere the icons of a desire whose purity could not be tarnished or taintedby anything Alex might do. The clean white shirts of justice and governmenthad always held an ineluctable appeal for him, and now recalled him alsoto better times, when the future seemed to beckon on high, promising rewardsfor his right actions. He had once believed that to earn the approval ofthose in power would bring that power within his own grasp, at which timehe would be. . .inviolable. As Skinner was, damn him. Unfair--it was soutterly, bitterly unfair. Had he been less unwitting, less easily led--ifonly he had kept his head, he could have kept his place.

 

If a thousand impossible things.

 

"If ethical purity turns you on," Skinner said uncannily, "youmust have ridden from cold shower to shower working with Mulder."

 

Alex's breath caught. It was a blade slipped between the ribs, unerringlystriking him where he ached the most. In his soul he flinched and bled;his face showed hard indifference. He knew--had known for some time, intuitively--thatit would never do to tell Skinner what he and Mulder had once had. Thatthey had slept together, that he had fucked that sweet, pure ass and madeMulder scream with joy and worked his hands around that impure throat untilhis bright, twisted fox, the Fox of unbearable dark need and fire, was undoneto a different, less comfortable pleasure. To tell Skinner that would beto hand the man a weapon he could not help but fire. At himself, at Alex--maybe,worst of all, at Mulder.

 

Out loud, he said only, "Mulder's a saint." Then, with a finedry nuance of sneer, "An absolute *angel*, Walter. You should try iton with that foxy ass sometime--I bet he'd go for it. I bet he'd go fora new daddy." It was too much. Alex had gone over the invisible linethey kept taut between them, and knew it as soon as he spoke. He did notaggravate the matter by displaying regret.

 

Skinner stared at Krycek from an angle and proximity that made him feelhe had suddenly awakened to look up into the face of an intimate demon.The man who lay propped next to him seemed suddenly more than merely human,more significant. Dark currents, darker waters farther out. Beyond the cruellybladed words, behind the carved stone face and impenetrable targets of hiseyes was an unreachable fathom of otherness, the throne room of a lost soul.

 

And--beyond belief--it called to something in him. Skinner hated theattraction, tried with every particle of himself to link evil with evil,to tell himself Krycek was simply enseamed in the pure black fabric of horror,threaded fast with the monstrosities of bloody battlefields, with the drippingentrails left by serial killers, with the venal snakes of corruption--menlike the unnameable Morley and others Skinner had known. That was what hewished to believe, that there was a veil of darkness unalleviated by lightand that it hung apart from all good things, and that on its perimeter wasa grey front of ill weather into which a man could drift--but that if luckycould escape again. This was his imagining, the perception he used to maneuverhis own self: he would steer his boat from the storm. He would reach safeharbor, and the skies would be clear.

 

But it was not like that; not here and now. The dark spell of weatherwas in himself, and it was not all dark, but was instead blazed with lightning.In places, luminous.

 

Just fucking, just an arrangement, he told himself; with a man who, ifjustice were served, would be locked away to serve hard time. And comingin his body was like coming alive. Locking with him, body to body, was likefeeling an opposing equal, a sparring partner, struggle not to master himbut to reach him, to grapple his flesh purposefully toward some vaguelysensed understanding. Would it be like this with anyone else (with Mulder)?He couldn't imagine, couldn't compare. He had only this to go on; with noone else had sex and power been so fraught with cryptic meaning--so difficultto slough off once the grappling had ended.

 

These feelings, like an epiphany, arrived in him in the space of an instant,and slid like a dark spoon of medicine through him. He blinked, studiedKrycek, tried to fathom the knotted problem. At the heart of a knot wasan emptiness.

 

"I've never asked if you killed him," he said, surprised tohear his own words. Krycek's face looked anticipatory, watchful. "Mulderthinks you did."

 

"I know," Krycek said. He said no more.

 

Skinner looked away, eyed the bedside clock, then rubbed a hand acrosshis scalp, which tingled with settling fervor. His body was descending--still,now--from the height of pleasure, coming down slowly from the scaled peak.There were things he should not attempt to know, dark spots of shadow notto be poked lest they turn into tigers and bite.

 

"I'm hungry. . .hungrier," he said. Krycek, moving a little,gave a tiny sound that suggested agreement.

 

"Thai," Krycek said then, grinning as suddenly and widely asa jack-knife springs open. "Wasn't that what we decided on?"

 

Another abrupt End.