by Lorelei

Part 1

waiting by the fire
and I
attendant upon you
shaken by your beauty
-William Carlos Williams

Alex Krycek was crying in his sleep. He lay curled on his side, sobbing, his hands twisting fitfully against the coverlet. In his dream he was back in the silo, back in the dark. He opened his mouth to scream and the darkness poured in, choking him. He was breathing the darkness, sweating it. The darkness was filling him, suffocating him from the inside out. An eternity had passed before Spender had finally come to let him out. He had listened appreciatively as Alex cried and begged, satisfied that the lesson was well learned. But in his dreams, Alex was entombed in that awful place again and again. In his dreams, his world was the size of the cold unlit circle he stumbled endlessly around, falling to his scraped and bloody knees, shivering. Crying for the light.

Alex awoke with the damp sheets tangled around him and the tear-tracks drying on his face. He sat up and looked around the tiny, barren apartment. No one there. Not that he expected anything else. He drew his knees up to his chest, wrapped his good arm around them and began to rock back and forth slightly. He breathed deeply through his nose, waiting for the urge to vomit to pass. A wave of self-pity washed over him and for once, he allowed it. What would it be like to have someone there to chase the horror away?

He tried to remember his mother. Surely she must have held him, when he was a tiny child? There was nothing but a blank place where the memories should be. Alex closed his eyes, tried to imagine what it would be like to be held. It was like trying to imagine what it would be like to fly. He could only picture a vague sort of happiness, and he felt even less human than he usually did. He had no idea what it was like for another human being to take him in their arms and hold him there in the warmth. The concept of comfort was alien to him. He simply had no frame of reference.

Alex ran a shaking hand through his sweat-soaked hair and got up from the bed, disgusted with himself for wallowing like this, like some fucking little kid. Dizziness overtook him as he walked toward the bathroom, making the edges of his vision shimmer and blur. He leaned against the wall for support, waiting for the lightheadedness to pass. He was on the third day of a self-imposed liquid diet. His last client had tied him down and whipped him savagely with an extension cord, brand-new and stiff. The thought of sitting down on a toilet seat made him feel sick. He had spent the following two days without leaving his apartment, lying on his stomach, naked from the waist down, moving only to drink a little instant soup and swallow painkillers. Only the previous night had he been able to bear the slight weight of thin cotton boxers against his tortured flesh.

The dizzy spell passed and Alex made his way unsteadily into the bathroom. He turned the shower on, keeping the water pressure light. He stepped under the lukewarm spray, shivering a little. He was gingerly drying himself when his cell phone rang. He deliberately let it ring twice more before he answered it, knowing how the son of a bitch hated to be kept waiting.

"Next time answer more quickly," Spender snapped. His tone changed to one of mock concern. "Well, Alex, how are we feeling?"

Alex gripped the phone so tightly he felt it might shatter in his hand. "We got our ass whipped by some fucking freak until it bled. That's how we are." Alex hissed.

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment, broken by the flare of a match. Spender's voice was cold and flat. "Meeting, Alex. One hour. We'll discuss your attitude then."

He hung up. Alex walked back into the bathroom and opened the medicine cabinet. He stood there for a long while, looking at the small box of single-edged razor blades, the small box emblazoned with the word "PAL". Alex smiled a little at the surely unintentional irony of that name. Pal, indeed. A pal you can always depend on. He turned the box over in his hands for a few moments, then tossed it back into the medicine cabinet and shut the door. Not today.

Alex stirred another packet of the dehydrated chicken soup into a mug of steaming water and drank it. He dressed quickly in the dark clothes that had been chosen and purchased by his employer, dark, tight-fitting clothes that appeared unnervingly in his closet when Spender decided the old ones needed replacing. He shrugged into his leather jacket, careful of his prosthetic, then took the stairs down to the lobby of his nondescript apartment building. He stepped out onto the sidewalk, hesitating for a moment before heading in the direction of Spender's office. It was a fairly long walk, but he preferred it over taking a cab or having Jason, Spender's odious driver, pick him up. The walk gave him a chance to feel the sun on his face, to lose himself in the crowd of other people, normal people, and feel, for a little while, at least, that he was a part of their world. Even if he never really could be.


Walter Skinner stepped out of the bookshop, feeling in the pocket of his jacket for his car keys. He had made his usual Saturday afternoon stops at the dry cleaners, the post office, the supermarket. By then it had only been half past noon. He had driven to the hardware store. A new screwdriver and brass switchplates for the condo. To the auto supply store. Brake fluid. A quart of oil. A long and involved conversation with the man behind the counter about the pros and cons of fuel additives. To the stationery shop. Paper for the laser printer. Pens and post-its. Perpetual motion. Because to slow down meant to remember. To stop meant to think. Trying to find some comfort in the manic performance of these ordinary errands, to try to forget for a little while, at least, that he was a man living under a death sentence.

He had been about to make the reluctant drive back home to the empty condo, order a pizza, get to work replacing those switchplates. Then he remembered Sammy's book. Sammy Kellerman. Skinner remembered a skinny kid, bucktoothed and gangly, quick with a joke, his battered Nikon never far away. Long nights on patrol, Sammy's high, skittering laugh as he told another raunchy joke from a seemingly inexhaustible supply. Sammy's face, white and pinched, as the medics loaded him in to the helicopter. Skinner had lost touch with Sammy over the years, the last he'd heard of him was a postcard about ten years ago. Sammy was married, teaching photography at UC Berkeley. Skinner had heard recently that Sammy Kellerman had published a book of photographs taken during his tour of duty in Vietnam. It was apparently a limited run, from a small publishing house, and proved difficult to find. Skinner's call to the little corner shop near Dupont Circle had borne fruit, and he had asked the shop's owner to hold a copy for him.

The next week had been hectic. Between budget meetings, constant memos from the Director and Mulder's inability to account for two rental cars and a backhoe, Sammy Kellerman's book had completely slipped Skinner's mind. Until he stood in the parking lot of the stationery store, depositing the slippery plastic bag that held his paper, post its and pens in the back seat of his car. Until he contemplated the evening ahead. The quietness. The empty hours. The time to think. To wonder when it was going to happen. He got into the car and headed in the direction of Dupont Circle, making a quick call on his cell phone to the bookshop. The shop's owner, a garrulous, elderly man, assured him the book was still being held for him, to inquire at the counter.

Skinner stood on the sidewalk outside the bookshop, Sammy's book tucked under his arm, fishing for his keys. He looked up.

"Son of a bitch!" Skinner snarled.

There, across the street, descending the steps of a brownstone apartment building, was Alex Krycek. Skinner quickly ducked back into the shadow provided by the shop's brightly striped awning. His eyes narrowed as he watched the little bastard look around warily, then zip up his jacket and disappear into the crowd of Saturday shoppers. Skinner's jaw was clenched so tightly it ached. He wanted to dash across the street, catch up to the cocky little shit and beat him senseless. Hold him down and pound that infuriating insouciant smirking face into a bloody pulp.

Skinner realized with a start that he had actually taken several steps toward the street. With difficulty, he forced himself to retreat back into the shadows. Krycek might have the Palm Pilot on him, might use it. He glanced across the street at the apartment building. So, the rat does have a home, he mused. Of course, Krycek could have been visiting someone, but somehow Skinner didn't picture him having a lot of friends to chat with on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Skinner could wait. He would come back, observe, be patient. The opportunity would present itself. When it did, he thought he knew a certain double-crossing little rat who was going to be very sorry indeed.


Alex's stomach knotted uncomfortably as he approached the office door. He hated these "meetings", as his employer insisted on calling them. He knocked and Spender's driver answered, ushering Alex in with a smirk. Alex brushed past him, feeling the man's lustful eyes on him. Alex entered Spender's inner office, unconsciously making a face as the cigarette smoke assailed him. His employer shook another cigarette out of the pack and jabbed a yellowed finger toward the carpet. Alex shot him a look of pure hatred before kneeling down stiffly, gritting his teeth a little at the pain in his backside and thighs.

"Alex," came the oily voice from behind the desk. "You have a date tonight. Jason will take you."

Alex looked up apprehensively. Please don't let it be one of the bad ones. I still hurt so much. Please just let him fuck me and let me leave.

"Yes, sir," he said tonelessly. Fuck you, sir. Please God just let me live long enough to kill you, sir.

Spender stood up, exhaling a plume of smoke. He gestured to Alex to stand. Alex climbed awkwardly to his feet and stood, waiting. Spender tapped his ash into the tray.

"Strip. Let's see what you've been whining about."

Alex felt the blood rush to his face. His fist clenched as the rage boiled up inside him. He knew it was useless to fight. He knew it would only end the way it always did, with Alex hurting. With Alex sorry. With Alex wishing he were anywhere else on earth.

"Fuck you."

Digging his own grave, one word at a time. Hollow words, useless words, but it was his only way of trying to hold on to the Alex Krycek he once was and could barely remember. When he was something other than Spender's whore. Spender considered him coolly over the glowing tip of his cigarette.

"Do it, Alex. Now. Or I'll have Jason help you."

Alex slowly moved to obey, not wanting Jason anywhere near him. He placed his boots under one of the wing chairs that faced Spender's desk, his clothes and the prosthetic arm on the seat. He stood, naked, wishing he could cover his genitals, knowing better than to try it. The last time he had pissed blood for a week. He kept his eyes lowered. Spender took a drag on his cigarette, blowing the smoke in Alex's face.

"You know what to do," he said.

Alex turned, his face blank, trying to control the fear. He reluctantly bent over Spender's desk, automatically spreading his legs as he did. His one hand gripped the side of the desk. He was almost unaware of his ingrained response to the command. Time and consequences had taught him well. He closed his eyes as Spender trailed a cool, dry hand across his bruised ass. Whenever his employer forced him to endure this humiliation , Alex would focus on a small brass horse that stood on a nearby bookshelf. The horse was rearing, kicking, frozen in motion on its burnished wood base. Alex looked at the brass horse and tried to distance himself from this place, this self. This ravaged thing that he had become.

Spender ran his hand over the dark welts, roughly fingered the purple bruises that marked the pale flesh. He slapped Alex's ass hard, making him gasp. The pain was devastating. His knees threatened to buckle and he clung to the side of the desk with his one hand, trying not to collapse. Spender smiled as he surveyed the damage.

"All in a day's work, wouldn't you say, Alex?" Alex winced. He knew he would suffer for what he was about to do, but he had to. Resist. For the tiny part of himself that was all he had left.

"Let me up, you sick bastard!"

Alex attempted to stand but was shoved back down with a hand coiled painfully around the back of his neck. Spender hit him again. Alex's eyes filled with tears and he fought them back. Crying was not an option. Spender leaned close, the fabric of his suit jacket brushing Alex's bare back.

"Alex?" That voice. Smooth as Cutty Sark. It never failed to make Alex break out in a cold sweat.

Alex tightened his grip on the side of the desk until his fingers ached. He stared at the horse. The brass glowed warmly. So pretty in the light. The horse's eyes were wild and rolling in its head, its mane streaming out behind it as it bucked and kicked and fought.

"Your last... client had a complaint."

Alex's mouth went dry. He began to tremble, his legs shaking with the effort of remaining in position. Spender suddenly grabbed Alex's wrist and twisted his arm up behind his back. With his other hand, he grabbed a handful of Alex's hair and yanked his head back savagely.

"You worthless little slut," Spender growled, "how dare you disobey a client?"

"That fucking sadist was torturing me!" Alex cried. Spender wrenched Alex's arm up higher behind his back. Alex screamed as a bolt of pain shot from his elbow to his wrist. His fingers went numb.

"He paid good money to hurt you, you little whore!" Spender spat. "You're nothing but a pathetic little piece of ass, Alex. You ought to be grateful I don't make you sell it on the street."

Alex shut his eyes, tried to shut out that awful voice, those awful words. But he couldn't, he never could. Another sharp yank forced his head further back. Spender leaned closer, his breath hot against Alex's ear.

"God help you, Alex, when your looks are gone," he whispered. "Do you know what I'm going to do with you when that day comes?" Alex whimpered. "I'm going to put a bullet right behind that pretty little ear of yours."

His tongue flickered across Alex's ear. Alex moaned and tried to pull away, but the fist clenched in his hair kept him in place. Spender kept up the pressure on his arm, increasing it fractionally until Alex thought he would go mad from it. --Oh God, my arm!--He began to panic, thrashing weakly in Spender's grip, but the lack of food coupled with his ordeal at the hands of his last client had left him weak. The stump of his left arm thumped dully against the desk as he fought to escape. Spender easily held him down.

"How many times do we have to play this little scene out, Alex? Why do you insist on pushing me when you know I'll make you suffer for it?"

Alex struggled grimly to free himself, only to be forced back against the desk. The wood surface was chilly against his skin. Spender watched detachedly as he fought.

"What do I have to do to make you remember your place?" he demanded. He yanked Alex's arm still higher. He could feel the muscles straining. He could feel Alex's panic rising and he relished it. "Do I have to break your arm?"

For a moment Alex went deathly still, then his terror overtook him completely. He was breathing in great, gasping sobs, shuddering from the pain and fear. Spender tightened his grip on Alex's wrist, feeling the small, delicate bones shift and slide.

"Is that what I have to do, Alex? Break your arm? I will if that's what it takes. What do you think life will be like then, Alex? What will it be like for you with one arm gone and the other broken?"

Alex screamed again. Unbelievable that you could hurt this badly and not die from it. He broke then, splintered, shuddering and hurting and wailing in the face of that unbearable vision.

"Oh God please don't break it, please don't, sir, don't break it, please, please... " he begged, his voice cracking. Spender smiled.

"Are you going to be good, Alex?"

"Yes! Please, sir, please---"

Alex heard himself grovelling and he didn't care. It didn't matter, nothing mattered. Nothing except escaping this room with his only arm intact. Spender eased the pressure on Alex's arm slightly and let go of his hair. Alex rested his head against the desk, panting and disoriented from the pain. His heart felt as if it would explode in his chest. Spender leaned close again.

"I'm only going to tell you this one more time, Alex. You are my property. You will go where I tell you, when I tell you. Once you are there, you will do whatever you are told to do, however you are told to do it. Your opinion is not a necessary part of the equation. Is that clear?"

"Yes, sir." Alex whispered.

The agony in his arm had eased slightly, but he was acutely aware of its vulnerable position. He struggled to concentrate on what Spender was saying. He knew a wrong answer now would cost him dearly. Spender gave Alex's arm another sharp tug and savored the groan that followed.

"Who owns you, Alex?" Spender's voice sounded tinny and far away. Alex swallowed and croaked out an answer.

"You do, sir." Alex's voice was a weak, defeated whisper. Spender petted his damp hair.

"Very good, Alex."

Without warning, he dealt another hard slap to Alex's ass, aiming for the worst of the welts. Alex shrieked and Spender pulled his arm up higher again. His voice became low and dangerous.

"Who decides where you sleep? What you wear? Who you fuck? Who decides if you get to live to see the light of the next day?"

"You sir, you do," Alex sobbed.

Spender stroked his hand down Alex's back, feeling him shiver under his touch. So frightened. So submissive. Sweet shattered pretty thing. He looked down at Alex, at the sweat drying on his white skin, so pale against the polished oak. His hand clutching, trembling. He ran his fingers through Alex's dark hair. Alex whimpered again. Spender licked his lips. No matter how many times he crushed this beautiful creature, it never failed to make him rock hard. Almost as hard as the first time. Almost as hard as it made him to think of Alex being used, again and again, forced to spread his legs and offer that sweet little ass up to whomever Spender allowed the privilege. He trailed his fingers along Alex's shoulder blades almost tenderly.

"And what are you? Tell me, Alex. Tell me what you are," he said quietly.

Alex lay still under Spender's hands. Please don't make me say it. Please. But he would say it. He always did. Hurting and tired and all the fight gone out of him, he spoke in a broken, exhausted monotone.

"I'm a slut, sir. A whore." Amazingly, after all these years, the words still had the power to hurt. Spender let him go.

"Get up."

Alex stood slowly, holding his throbbing arm close to his body, wishing he could massage it.

"Get dressed."

Spender picked up the pack of Morleys and lit another one. Alex clumsily buckled the straps of his prosthesis. His fingers were still partially numb and it took him longer than usual. Spender stared at him as if he were a particularly interesting experiment, making no move to help him. Alex was secretly grateful. If Spender touched him now, he thought he might start to scream again and never stop. He got his clothes on, a task that was difficult enough without his one good arm stiff and sore. Once he was dressed, Spender eyed him coldly.

"Are you going to learn to watch your tone, Alex? To adopt a more... respectful manner?" Alex bit his lip.

"Yes, sir," he said, his voice barely audible. He stared at the floor.

"Good. These petty rebellions of yours are tiresome and pointless." Spender resumed his place behind the desk.

"Jason will drive you to your date now. The client has you until seven o'clock tomorrow morning." Alex's stomach heaved. "Make sure you aren't late with your report." Alex turned to go. Spender called after him. "And, Alex?" Alex turned. "If your client has even the smallest complaint, I promise you, a broken arm will be the least of your problems." Alex nodded and left. In the hallway, Jason was waiting. He sneered.

"Awww, did the pretty boy get taught a little lesson? Want me to kiss it and make it better?"

Alex looked at him with disgust and turned away. Suddenly he was shoved against the wall, Jason's massive bulk pressing up behind him, his reeking breath on the back of Alex's neck.

"Awfully uppity for a rent boy," he growled in Alex's ear.

"Get the fuck off me!" Alex yelled.

He tried to jab his elbow back into Jason's solar plexus but the larger man effortlessly held him still. Jason's meaty hand trailed along Alex's back, then down to his ass. He squeezed him hard through the denim. Alex bit back a cry of pain. Jason leaned closer, pinning Alex between his body and the wall, and whispered in his ear.

"I can't wait to fuck you, pretty boy. I'm going to make you scream like the little bitch you are." He bit the back of Alex's neck just hard enough to hurt.

"Mr. Spender likes me. He thinks I've got potential. He said I can count on a generous Christmas bonus this year." Jason licked his lips lasciviously. "Guess what I'm going to ask for?"

Alex was motionless against the wall, his eyes closed. He knew Jason wouldn't dare take it any further unless the old man gave him permission. The thought made him shudder. Jason let him go, and he turned around, his eyes drawn to the tender hollow at the base of Jason's throat. One hard punch there, and the sorry piece of shit wouldn't be able to so much as whisper for a couple of weeks. Maybe forever. Alex smiled at the thought, his hand curling into a fist. Jason saw the glitter in Alex's eyes and took a step back before he even realized what he was doing. He narrowed his eyes.

"Come on, whore. You've got a date to keep." He pushed Alex in the direction of the stairs leading to the parking deck.

Alex climbed into the back seat of Spender's sedan. Jason started the engine and pulled out into traffic. Alex could feel Jason's eyes on him in the rear view mirror. He looked up and Jason shot him a seething look.

"Wouldn't want to be in your shoes if you fuck up again, slut." On the ride to the client's hotel, Alex stared out the window, seeing nothing, waiting for what would happen to him next.


Skinner drove back to Crystal City, Sammy's book forgotten on the seat beside him. He stared resolutely ahead, changing lanes, signaling, turning mechanically. It had been exactly thirty-eight days since Krycek had last contacted him. Skinner knew this because he had spent every one of those thirty-eight days wondering if it would be his last. Wondering if this would be the day he would die. Again. He had died, that night in the hospital, but had been brought back, only to become Krycek's unwilling lackey.

Krycek had an unsettling habit of appearing in the back seat of Skinner's car. In the parking garage at the condo. That husky voice on the other end of the phone, calling him in the middle of the night, reminding him just how close death was. Then, nothing. Krycek had simply stopped calling, stopped showing up. There had been no contact at all in over a month, leaving Skinner to wonder if the little bastard had gotten himself killed. What then? If Krycek was dead, who was controlling the tiny deadly machines that could end his life with the touch of a button?

But Krycek wasn't dead at all. He was alive and well and in Washington, strolling the city sidewalks as if he hadn't a care in the world. While Skinner slept little, ate less and wondered which would get him first, the nanocytes or the heart attack. His hands tightened on the steering wheel as he pictured himself wrapping those hands around Krycek's throat. Krycek's long white throat. The way he had looked, standing in the sunlight, his hand shoved in the pocket of his black leather jacket, the slight breeze ruffling that dark hair. Those tight jeans molded to his ass, leaving nothing to the imagination as he turned and melted into the crowd. Skinner swore. What the hell was he doing? His life was literally in Alex Krycek's pocket, and here he was, thinking about him like this. Like he was an attractive, eminently fuckable young man and not a traitorous, backstabbing rat bastard.

Jesus. It was so easy when he was out of your sight, to forget the beauty shrouding that black soul. To see him as he should be. To mar the skin, warp those long, delicate bones, to blacken the teeth, to blight him as he had blighted the lives of all he touched. Skinner laughed ruefully. God loves irony. The killer with the naughty choirboy face. The angelic, pretty triple-crossing spy. He parked in the underground garage of the condo and got out, pausing to open the trunk and unload the day's purchases. He headed for the elevator, already mentally plotting his plan of attack.


Jason pulled Alex along the hotel hallway by his jacket, jerking him hard enough to make him stumble.

"Maybe I'll get to stay and watch, pretty boy. What do you think about that?" he jeered.

Alex didn't bother to reply. He stood silently behind Jason, looking down at nothing. Jason knocked on the client's door. The man who opened it appeared to be in his fifties, with blue eyes that were unsettlingly icy in his deeply tanned face. He did not acknowledge Jason. He reached past him, grabbed Alex's right arm and yanked him into the suite before slamming the door in Jason's face.

The man grasped Alex's jaw in a firm grip and stared at him intently. The hard fingers dug into his flesh and Alex fought the urge to pull away. He stood unmoving, his back against the door, forcing himself to remain still as the man studied him. The strong fingers tilted his chin up, those flinty eyes taking in every detail. Alex looked up at the ceiling, expressionless, waiting. Without a word, the man released his jaw and divested him of his jacket, his hand briefly brushing the smooth plastic of the prosthetic arm. He tossed Alex's jacket over a nearby chair and appraised him with a practiced eye, taking in the long legs, the slim hips, the long elegant curve of the throat, so appealingly exposed.

His scrutiny finally complete, the man smiled. The price had been high, but the boy was everything Spender had promised. He had been skeptical when Spender had assured him that an amputee – a very beautiful green-eyed amputee- could be procured on such short notice. Supply and demand. This was a man who appreciated, truly appreciated, the power that having money could bring. The man turned and walked toward the wet bar, leaving Alex in his position by the door. Alex cleared his throat nervously. He spoke tentatively, not looking at the man.

"How do you want me, sir?" he asked softly.

He cringed inwardly as he said the words. Spender made him say it. Every time. He would check. The man glanced at Alex as he poured himself a drink.

"Sit down there for now."

He gestured toward the sofa. Alex walked over to it and sat down. The man put a second glass down on the bar and filled it with scotch. Alex didn't want a drink right now, but he kept his mouth shut. It didn't matter what he wanted. He shut his eyes, steeling himself for the ordeal ahead. He hated this so much. Spender used to whore him out only occasionally, to punish him for fucking up an assignment or when there was no other dirty work for him to do. The frequency of the "dates" gradually increased. Eventually, Alex the assassin found himself relegated to the role of Alex the whore.

He had no idea how much his employer charged these men to possess him, to use his body for an hour or a day or a week. He knew it had nothing to do with money, the old man had more money stashed away in offshore accounts than he would ever live to spend. It had everything to do with Alex on his knees, Alex on his back. Alex on his stomach, spread and waiting, helpless to refuse. The slow and insidious erosion of a soul, one night at a time.

He looked up cautiously at the man who owned him for the next twelve hours. His temporary master wore charcoal colored slacks and a black knit shirt, his salt-and-pepper hair neatly and expensively styled. Alex fidgeted nervously as the man sipped his drink. He had been here at least fifteen minutes and the man had barely spoken to him. The man's silent appraisal had badly unnerved him. Usually the clients were too full of the feeling of power that came with having this beautiful creature under their control to waste any time. Usually they began barking orders at him the second the door closed behind him, sometimes firing so many directives at him so quickly that he had to scramble to comply. He certainly didn't remember the last time he had still been fully dressed after fifteen minutes of the client's time had elapsed. Perhaps that was what felt so wrong.

His shoulders tensed as he awaited his instructions. He had always derived some tiny measure of comfort, if it could be called comfort, from the sheer predictability of these men. Surely they would have been dismayed to know how truly pedestrian their deepest fantasies really were. They would have been disappointed to know how sickeningly familiar their darkest most unspeakable desires were to him. Alex had a sinking feeling that this man was going to be different. He kept his eyes cast downward submissively, trying not to look scared. He wasn't supposed to look scared unless the client specifically requested it.

Finally, the man crossed the spacious living room and sat down beside him. He handed the glass of scotch to Alex.

"Drink it," he said.

Alex looked at the scotch. He really didn't want it. Alex closed his eyes briefly and then obediently raised the glass. He drank half of the scotch, his nearly empty stomach protesting a little. The man beside him nudged his arm.

"All of it."

Alex finished his drink and the man took the glass out of his hand. He returned to the bar and opened a cabinet under it, removing a black doctor's bag. Alex's overworked nerves were suddenly on full alert. The man walked past Alex toward the bathroom, carrying the bag.

"Stay there," he ordered. He disappeared into the bathroom.

Alex listened to the sound of running water coming from behind the closed bathroom door, getting more jittery by the second. He did not like the look of that black bag one bit. He wondered just how pissed off Spender was this time. Had he decided to rent Alex out to some kind of Dr. Mengele and let him find out just how bad it could get? He remembered his words in Spender's office, how he had pushed the old man even though he knew he would pay for it. He bit his lip, regretting his false bravado, his trembling defiance. When the hell was he going to learn to keep his mouth shut? The sound of running water stopped and the bathroom door opened. The man returned to the living room, a syringe in his hand.

Alex was up off of the sofa and heading for the door before he knew what he was doing. He reached the door and scrabbled for the knob, his jacket forgotten on the chair, intent on putting as much distance between himself and that glittering needle as possible. He managed to get the door open a fraction before a large hand shot over his shoulder and slammed it shut again. The man grabbed Alex roughly and shoved him back toward the sofa.

"Where the fuck do you think you're going?" he growled.

Alex tried to use his agility and smaller size to his advantage, ducking around the man and attempting to run for the door again. The man caught him by the scruff of the neck, picked him bodily up off the floor and threw him back onto the sofa. He pinned Alex down before he could get up again. Alex was in a full-scale panic, stoked by adrenaline, Spender's warning all but forgotten as he struggled.

The man grasped Alex's wrist and pinned it against the arm of the sofa. Alex attempted to swing his prosthetic left arm up, intending to crack the man's skull with it, but the man batted it away with a curse. He yanked Alex's T-shirt out of his jeans and efficiently stripped it off, releasing Alex's right wrist only long enough to get his arm out of its sleeve. Holding Alex's thrashing body down, he swiftly unbuckled the straps before removing the prosthesis and tossing it across the room. The abrupt, impersonal removal of his arm pushed Alex over the edge. He began screaming as he kicked and clawed, trying to dislodge the implacable weight holding him down. The man slapped him hard across the face.

"Enough!" he roared.

He shook Alex sharply. Alex saw the furious red face above him, the flashing eyes promising that there would be hell to pay. The man held Alex's wrist, still sensitive from Spender's earlier mistreatment, firmly pressed against the arm of the sofa. Gradually, the pain in Alex's wrist brought him back to himself and he stilled as the events of that afternoon came back to him in sharp focus.

"Oh, God... " he groaned aloud.

His breathing was still ragged, his oxygen-starved body trying to recover from his panicked attempt at escape. Alex trembled as he realized what he had just done. Oh, shit. Spender. The old man would kill him for this, no doubt about it. Just two hours earlier, he had nearly broken Alex's arm just for arguing with a client. At least that's what Spender had called it. Alex had borne the agony as long as he could as the man whipped him with the thick extension cord. But when the man began hitting him with the plug end, Alex had begun to plead and beg. The man complained to Spender and Spender had nearly torn his fucking arm off. Jesus, Alex thought. What the hell is he going to do to me for this?

He looked up fearfully at the man holding him down. The man stared down at him, no discernable expression on his face. He could feel the boy's pulse racing as he held his wrist, could feel his triphammer heartbeat through his chest. Alex tried to lie still, tried to regulate his breathing. He was too frightened to speak. The man watched as Alex slowly regained control.

"Are you quite finished?"

The man's voice was brusque and irritated. Alex nodded.

"I'm going to let go of your wrist now. You will leave it where it is. Understand?" Alex nodded again. The man released his wrist but made no move to get off of Alex. Alex obediently kept his arm bent over his head. He flexed his wrist cautiously, wincing at the pain. The man waited to make sure that Alex was not going to try to fight again. Alex lay motionless under him, his eyes closed in surrender. The man spoke again.

"Look at me." Alex opened his eyes.

"Are we going to have any more of this bullshit?"

Alex shook his head. The man snorted impatiently and got off of Alex. He stood next to the sofa, his arms folded. Alex didn't dare move. The man pointed his finger at him.

"Sit up."

Alex slowly hauled himself up into a sitting position, mindful of his now swollen wrist. He hugged the corner of the sofa, drawing himself up as small as possible. Satisfied, the man continued.

"You will not move from that spot unless I give you permission. Is that clear?" Alex nodded.

"We are going to have a little talk, you and I. I have paid a great deal of money for the pleasure of your company," he paused and cast Alex a stony glare, "and I believe in getting my money's worth. You have wasted enough of my time."

Alex looked down, his shoulders slumped. The fight had worn him out, and the effects of the scotch he had been forced to drink were beginning to hit him. He felt altogether unwell. The man had left the syringe on top of the bar when Alex tried to flee. He picked it up between his thumb and forefinger, holding it up so that Alex could see it. Alex's eyes widened and he began to shake.

With difficulty, he remained in his place on the sofa, his eyes never leaving the syringe. Alex's sense of dread was overwhelming, but as much as he feared what this man might do to him, he feared Spender more. Besides, his weary mind reasoned, he was trapped in here with this maniac. He had tried to escape and had failed. The man was going to do whatever he wanted to do to him and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He stared at the frightening syringe. Jesus. No one had ever done this to him before. Was he going to poison him?

He tried to think clearly. If Spender decided it was time for Alex to die, he almost certainly wouldn't do it like this. He would insist on doing it himself. Though he was still deeply afraid, Alex relaxed slightly. Whatever the clear stuff in the syringe was, it probably wouldn't kill him. He allowed himself a moment of rueful contemplation. Another fun-filled day in the life of Alex Krycek, where success is measured one stumbling, bleeding day at a time. Somehow, he still hadn't reached the point where the thought of another day spent broken and degraded and hurting was worse than the thought of dying. Somehow that fathomless unknowable darkness was still more frightening than a lifetime spent in servitude to Spender. This man was going to hurt him, he knew. How much remained to be seen. And there was the little matter of Alex's abortive escape attempt. If Spender found out... Alex's stomach heaved again.

As if reading Alex's thoughts, the man picked up a cell phone from the top of the bar, snapped it open and began to dial.

"I'm calling your employer and telling him to send that goon back over here to pick you up. I'm sure once I tell him what just happened here he will be only too happy to give me a full refund." He shot Alex a disgusted look.

"Imagine, him telling me how well-trained you are. Well-trained! Disobedient and willful is more like it!" Alex was perilously close to breaking down. A tear spilled down his cheek and he wiped it away quickly with the back of his hand.

"Sir? Please... please don't call him, sir. Please give me another chance." The man glanced at him dismissively.

"After that little wrestling match you instigated? Why should I?" Alex looked at him pleadingly.

"Please, sir, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I just got... scared."

He looked at the syringe. The man snapped the cell phone shut and put it back down on the bar, placing the syringe next to it. He walked back over to the sofa and sat down next to Alex. His expression was inscrutable.

"You were saying?" he prompted.

Alex blinked, trying to keep the tears back. The threat of Spender's wrath had reduced him to a pathetic, quivering mess. His cheeks burned with the shame and humiliation of having to beg for the privilege to stay and be hurt.

"I'm sorry I disobeyed you. I'm sorry I tried to leave. Please, sir, I'll do anything," Alex begged, his voice shaking, "anything you say. Whatever you tell me. Just please d-don't call him. Please don't call him, sir." The man considered this for a moment, fixing Alex with a steely glare.

"All right," he said severely, "this is what's going to happen. Look at me." Alex obeyed. The man took Alex's chin in his hand, none too gently, and continued. "You are bought and paid for, here for my pleasure. You have wasted," he glanced at his watch, "seventeen minutes of my time. My patience is at an end. If you stay, you will do as I tell you and you will do it immediately. Do I make myself clear?" Alex's lower lip trembled. Another tear made its way down his bruised cheek.

"Yes, sir."

"Good. And if you even look like you're thinking of giving me any more trouble, I will call Mr. Spender and tell him exactly what I think of him and of you. Is that clear?" Alex nodded quickly.

"Yes, sir." The man stood and went to retrieve the syringe.

"You want to know what's in this." Alex nodded, his eyes huge. The man smiled, without humor. "All in good time." Alex was very pale, his eyes fixed on the syringe.

"There are no permanent effects, so you can stop looking so terrified."

Alex wasn't sure he could. He was absolutely terrified. Wasn't it enough to humiliate him? To fuck him? To remind him again and again that he was a whore, sold by the hour? Did the fucker have to drug him, too? Jesus, even his veins weren't safe. The man turned toward the short hallway that led to the suite's other rooms. "Bedroom. Now." he said, not bothering to look back as Alex reluctantly followed.

"Lie on the bed, on your back," the man directed. "No, leave your jeans on."

He wanted to strip the boy himself after he had been given the injection. He smiled in anticipation. He'd done this before, but never with such a beautiful subject. He watched as Alex, graceful even in his fear, lay down on the bed. His pale skin seemed almost translucent against the dark blue coverlet. The man sat down on the edge of the bed. Alex's one hand picked fitfully at the leg of his jeans.

"Stop fidgeting."

Alex started guiltily, then placed his hand down by his side. The man noticed that it was shaking. He leaned forward, making sure he had Alex's full attention. He held up the syringe and watched as Alex's eyes were drawn to it and held there with horrified fascination. He snapped his fingers in front of Alex's face, making him flinch.

"I want you to pay close attention to what I am telling you." He waited for Alex's nod before continuing.

"The drug in this syringe is called Ketamine. I will administer it by intramuscular injection. As the drug takes effect, you will lose all bodily control." He paused, eyeing Alex intently. "Do you need to use the bathroom? I need to know."

Alex, still trying to process this last awful piece of information, shook his head numbly. "Are you sure?" the man pressed. "If you need to go, tell me now. I will be extremely displeased if you urinate or defecate while you're under." Alex's mouth felt like it was full of cotton.

"I-I'm sure, sir." he croaked.

The man nodded and continued, his voice cool and dispassionate. "I'm giving you a dose sufficient to render you unconscious for four or five hours. When the drug begins to wear off, you will be awake but paralyzed. The paralysis will last thirty minutes to an hour. You may hallucinate. These are referred to as emergence reactions. You will be in no immediate danger."

Alex couldn't believe this was happening to him. He didn't think he had ever been this scared. Every fiber of his being was screaming at him to leap up from the bed and run for his life, but he knew he had to stay. To submit. If he tried to get away again, this would be a walk in the park compared to what Spender would do to him. Alex swallowed, his throat working. He wanted very badly to ask a question, but he knew he must tread very carefully. He was terrified that the man would call Spender after all.

"Sir?" he ventured. The man, who had been tapping the side of the syringe, holding it up to the light, turned to him.

"Yes?" Alex felt the man must surely be able to hear his heart pounding.

"May I please ask a question?" The man nodded as he depressed the plunger slightly, shooting a small amount of the drug toward the carpet.

"Sir... may I ask why?" He nodded toward the syringe. "If you want me to be still, sir, I can do that. I wouldn't move. I've done that before." The man stared at him for a long time. Alex barely breathed. Finally the man answered.

"Why is my business, young man. Suffice to say, I require no active participation from you." Alex bit his lip. His voice trembling, he threw caution to the wind. He had to know.

"Please, sir, may I ask one more question?"

The man sighed as he rummaged through the nightstand drawer. He pulled out a foil packet and ripped it open. Alex could smell the rubbing alcohol and felt a tightening in his gut.

"What is it?" the man snapped.

"Sir? What will you do to me? When I'm asleep?" Alex's voice was small and frightened. The man glanced at him with disdain.

"Nothing that hasn't been done to you before. Unbutton your jeans and slide them down over your hips."

His tone brooked no further discussion. Alex complied, trying to pretend this was happening to someone else. He slid his jeans and boxers together down to the tops of his thighs, feeling the man's eyes on him.

"Roll over." The voice was cool and clinical. Alex hesitated. The man eyed him levelly. "Don't make me regret not making that call."

Alex hastily maneuvered himself over onto his stomach, his hand clutching the pillow. He felt the man move his jeans a little farther down, then felt the cold swab of the alcohol on his skin. He buried his face in the pillow, tears threatening to dampen the cool cotton. He gasped as the needle bit into him, feeling the sting as the drug was forced in. He lay like that for some time. His skin began to feel curiously warm, his limbs too heavy to move. Alex was dimly aware of hands turning him over. He tried feebly to move and couldn't. He felt the man pulling off his boots, socks and jeans. The hands lingered over his boxers before removing them as well. Alex knew he should try to get away from the hands, but the fear that had consumed him so completely before now seemed distant and unclear. As if this were happening to someone else.

The man savored the scene in front of him. He had removed his own clothing, and his erection stood stiffly out in front of him. He grasped his cock and stroked it as he stared at the boy, so naked and helpless. The boy was trying to blink and look around the room, but those pretty green eyes were confused and unfocused. This was going to be so much fun. The man knelt on the end of the bed, then lay beside Alex. He stroked those long creamy white thighs, ran his hand across the sparsely haired chest. He gently pressed his thumb against those pink lips, slightly parted. He listened to the boy's faint breathing. The drug would depress his respiration slightly, but it was no major cause for concern. He smoothed the dark hair back from the boy's face, traced the delicate cheekbones with his finger.

The man was glad he had told his wife the medical conference would require him to be away two days longer than he had initially expected. He flicked his tongue gently across Alex's lips. Such a mouth this one had. Lush and inviting, it would be like sliding into velvet. One very beneficial aspect of Ketamine, he had discovered, was that while it rendered the subject deeply unconscious, the cough and gag reflexes remained unaffected. He could use the boy as he pleased, and it was very unlikely that he would aspirate anything.

He sighed. Of course it would be so much simpler to administer the drug orally, slip it into a drink. The boy never would have known what hit him. But it was the knowing, the look in his eyes as he watched the needle coming closer, knowing what was going to happen, the look of surrender as he rolled over, waiting, accepting the sting, the tumble into blackness. So sweet. He kissed those lips, feeling them give softly under his, glad the boy wouldn't move now and spoil everything. The boy's eyes were closed now, his faint breaths almost too soft to hear. The man caressed his prize, circled one pale pink nipple with his tongue.


Skinner sat in his armchair, Sammy's book unopened on the coffee table. The new screwdriver and switchplates lay abandoned on the kitchen counter, still in their packages. The pizza he had ordered upon returning home was still in the box, cold and uneaten. He took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes, feeling the mother of all headaches coming on. Alex Krycek. Son of a bitch. Free to walk the streets, no doubt wreaking havoc wherever he went, while Skinner jerked and danced on the end of his invisible tether. Dying a little death every time he had a stomachache, every time he felt a little feverish, wondering if the unspeakable crushing agony was about to descend on him again. Wondering if it was again his time to die, this time for good. He remembered that night in the hospital, looking up as the sheet was pulled back from his face. Seeing Krycek through the window in his ridiculous disguise, those unmistakable eyes burning into him. Holding Walter Skinner's next breath clutched in one black gloved hand.

Skinner's hands clenched into fists. He leaned his head back and closed his eyes, imagining what he would do to Alex Krycek when he got the chance. Fantasies of revenge, raw and roughly taken, filled his mind. The little rat bastard crawling and cowed. Krycek on his knees, handing over the Palm Pilot with trembling hands. Krycek pleading. Krycek sobbing. Krycek bleeding, his wise-ass punk routine in tatters. Those long-lashed cat's eyes looking up at him, big and scared, shining with the aching and complete understanding of what it meant, what it truly meant, to be in the control of another. A lesson in loss, painfully and exactingly taught. The Education of Alex Krycek. Skinner smiled tightly. It was an education Skinner intended to undertake with scrupulous attention to detail.


Alex Krycek was dying. The way he had always known he would, the bullets he never saw coming finding the soft, vulnerable parts of him, winding their unerring way through the defenseless flesh. The pain was piercing, bright, undeniable. He pressed his pale trembling hand against the dark ruined place at the center of him, the hot sticky rush of his blood pouring over the fragile dam of his fingers, the sound of his own heartbeat faint and far away. Fading. He was alone and so cold, the ground hard under his back, the red lake thickening around him. The darkness pressed close, wanting him, and he whimpered, trying to shrink away from that terrifying blind embrace. The darkness took him then, broken body lying white and gushing red, owning him. Alex tried to scream, his eyes and ears and mouth full, choking on the dark, his last breath lost in that relentless unknowable blackness.

Silence, stretching forever. Alex couldn't move. He lay sprawled in the unending void, his arm and legs numb and useless. There was something familiar about this cold, empty place. A place remarkable not for what was there but for what was not there. Sound. Warmth. Light. He began to panic. He was dead and in Hell. Hell was the silo. Buried alive again, eight stories down. He knew he deserved it but oh God, it hurt, the gasping clawing terror at the aloneness, the howling soul shattering grief for the loss of the light. The taste of his fear was bright and metallic in his mouth as he fought with all his strength to move, to run, to escape. His traitorous body refused him. He could only lie frozen, subsumed by the rapacious darkness that would not be denied.

A voice. Someone was here with him. Who? What had they done to deserve banishment to this monstrous hollow place? Alex surfaced slowly, following the voice instinctively. The voice would lead to the light. He gradually became aware of his own pounding heartbeat, his rasping, ragged breathing. He opened his eyes, tried to focus, to find the voice. He could see shapes now, shadows. The voice was speaking to him. He tried to understand what it was saying.

"... emergence reactions... "

Alex recognized the voice, recognized the words. The man. The man who had hurt him, who had done this to him. The man was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching Alex with no expression in his pale eyes. Alex tried to move his head, but his muscles would not obey, his own voice, shrill and terrified, screamed in his head---oh god I can't move can't move can't--! He tried to speak, to plead, but could only moan softly.

Alex could hear the blood rushing in his ears, his chest rose and fell as he sucked in air, his terror bringing him close to hyperventilation. A sob escaped his swollen lips. Alex fought to control his panic. The hotel. He was in the hotel with the client. He wasn't shot. He wasn't dead. He wasn't back in the silo. The man was frowning, saying something to him. Alex tried to listen, to understand the words. His frightened eyes fought to focus on the man who now stood beside the bed, staring at him without pity.

"Stop it now. Take a deep breath," the man ordered.

Shakily, Alex obeyed. He would do whatever the voice demanded if only it would free him from this nightmare, from the prison of his own body. He took another deep breath, and then another. Slowly his heart rate and pulse began to approach a more normal rhythm. Alex's eyes darted around the room, still trying to reassure himself that this was not the hallucination, that he was really still alive. The man spoke again. His voice had all the emotion of someone reading a grocery list.

"You are experiencing the emergence reactions I told you about. You are in no danger."

Alex's boxers had been put back on him. The man placed the rest of Alex's clothes, neatly folded, on the foot of the bed.

"Mr. Spender's driver is coming to collect you. The paralysis should wear off by the time he arrives."

The man turned and left Alex alone in the room. Alex lay in the dim light of the bedside lamp, staring at the ceiling. He felt utterly empty. He thought he had been used in every way one human being could use another, but nothing in his short, harsh life had prepared him for this. None of the cruel lessons he had been forced to learn so early had prepared him for this stainless, meticulous subjugation, this taking, this agonizing demolition from the inside out.

When the tingling in his arm and legs began, Alex sobbed with relief. Despite the man's clinical assurances, he had been terrified that the paralysis wouldn't be temporary. He could not bear to imagine what would happen to him then, what Spender would do with his helpless, stricken whore. Alex slowly flexed his fingers, his toes, tentatively moved his legs. His muscles were slow to respond, sluggish. He wanted desperately to sit up, but fell back groaning in the attempt. Moving his head brought on a sickening onslaught of nausea. He closed his eyes and drifted, jerking awake with a start every few minutes, fitfully moving his arm and legs to make sure he still could.


Skinner moved stealthily down the dimly lit hallway of Krycek's apartment building, treading as quietly as was possible for a big man on a hardwood floor. Finding the rat's apartment had been surprisingly easy. Keeping one eye on the door in case the rat himself decided to make an ill-timed appearance, Skinner had staked out the lobby of the brownstone. He didn't have long to wait before spotting a likely mark. A petite older woman, perhaps approaching sixty, entered the lobby walking a Yorkshire terrier on a leash. Skinner watched as she used a key to retrieve mail from one of the mailboxes which lined the far wall.

Armed with a sincere smile and a closely cropped photograph scavenged from Krycek's old FBI personnel file, Skinner approached. The conversation went exactly as he had planned. He charmed. He schmoozed. He patted the Yorkie's head. He even flirted a little, smiling as the woman sneaked a hand up to smooth her tightly curled hair. He had her right where he wanted her.

Skinner painted a touching picture for Krycek's unsuspecting neighbor. The concerned uncle from out of town. The beloved young nephew, alone in the big city, who wasn't keeping in touch as he should. Skinner smiled warmly, chatting on, surprising himself with his gift of invention. He spun convincing tales of family picnics, soccer games, holidays. A dearly departed brother and a promise to look after the brother's only son, a sweet-natured young man who loved his uncle, even if he was a little forgetful when it came to phone calls and letters home.

She bit and bit hard. Skinner thanked her effusively as she pointed the way up the stairs. Apartment 12. Where the nice young man in the photograph lived. The nice young man who always helped her carry in her groceries. Skinner had nearly choked on that one. Nice. Yeah, right. Nice like a rabid dog. He could just picture Krycek wrapping this woman around his little finger, using those big green eyes to their full effect, carrying in her shopping bags, listening to her natter on about this and that. Making sure that she and his other neighbors would never suspect that the polite, helpful young man in Apartment 12 was in reality a ruthless, murdering spy.

Skinner stood outside Apartment 12, close to the wall, his weapon drawn and hidden in the folds of his trenchcoat. He had indeed found Krycek's apartment with surprising ease. Getting in was another matter. Cautiously, he leaned closer to the door, listening intently. Silence. No creaking floors. No rattling dishes. No television. He took a deep breath and then knocked briskly on the door, stepping quickly back to his place away from the door in case there was a gun on the other side of it. Silence. Skinner knocked again, not about to take chances. The rat hadn't lived this long because he wasn't careful.

Skinner forced himself to wait ten long, sweating minutes before moving. In that time, he had heard absolutely no sound coming from Apartment 12. His decision made, he put his plan into action. It was a plan that left no room for error. If Krycek was in there, if he got the drop on him, Walter Skinner had no doubt he would end up on a slab. Just as he would when Krycek decided to activate the nanocytes and turn Skinner's blood into the circulatory equivalent of battery acid. Skinner was a man with nothing to lose. It was, he thought grimly, time to do or die.

He knelt down beside the door, keeping a wary eye out for anyone approaching. He was a little rusty with the lock pick, but managed it well enough. Not bad for a desk jockey, he thought as he heard the tiny click. Skinner stood, pocketing the lock pick. He straightened his back, took a deep breath, and gingerly turned the doorknob. He held his breath as he cracked the door open. Nothing. His heart was pounding, his body thrummed with nervous tension. There was no guarantee that Krycek wasn't on the other side of that door, aware all this time of Skinner's actions, just waiting for Skinner to step inside so he could put a bullet in his head.

Skinner waited, sweat beading on his upper lip, listening for any telltale sound that would alert him to the presence of someone inside. He pushed the door a little further open, peering inside, seeing nothing except a wedge of burnished wood floor, a section of plain white wall. It occurred to him that perhaps Krycek would have the place booby-trapped. Skinner hoped Krycek was secure enough in his lair as to think such cloak-and-dagger trappings to be unnecessary. Skinner made his decision. He had come this far.


Alex was grabbed roughly and pulled up into a sitting position. The bundle of his clothing hit him in the chest and fell into his lap. Jason loomed over him, glaring impatiently.

"Come on, whore. I don't have all day."

Alex peered up at the large shape gesturing at him, then looked down at the jeans and shirt in his lap. He picked the shirt up and stared at it stupidly. Oh. The shape wanted him to put his clothes on. Alex tried to make his hand do what his brain told it, but somehow the signal seemed to get lost on the way. He rubbed his eyes. God, he felt like shit. A Ketamine hangover was not something he ever wanted to experience again. He made a clumsy attempt to get his hand into the shirtsleeve and only succeeded in dropping the shirt on the floor. Jason snatched it up, grumbling.

"Jesus Christ," he growled, "you're as dumb as you look."

He knelt down beside the bed, complaining the entire time, and got Alex's shirt, socks and jeans on him. Alex cooperated as best he could through his fog. He didn't like Jason touching him, but he knew Jason was going to take him away from here, away from the man with the frightening needle. Alex squeaked a little at Jason's indelicate handling of the prosthetic against his bruised stump, earning himself a cuff on the ear. Jason shoved Alex's boots on his feet and tossed his leather jacket at him.

"You carry it or it stays."

Alex tried to keep a grip on the jacket as Jason yanked him up off the bed and toward the door. He tried to walk in a straight line, but his coordination was impaired and he walked into the wall. Jason cursed him for an ignorant slut and half-dragged, half-carried him through the suite's living room. Alex looked around fearfully. The client was nowhere in sight.

Jason shoved Alex out into the hallway. Alex slumped against the wall, blinking, trying to clear his head. Jason smiled maliciously and grabbed his arm again. Alex had to stumble along quickly to keep it from being yanked out of the socket. He kept his eyes fixed on Jason's broad back, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other and not falling. Suddenly he realized that Jason was pulling him toward the elevator. He made a mewling sound in his throat and tried to free himself from Jason's grip. Jason just gave Alex's sore arm another hard yank and Alex yelped. He dug his heels into the carpet, shaking his head.

"No... no... no... " he moaned, groggy and confused. They never took the elevator. The one time Jason had forced the issue, Alex had thrown up on Jason's shoes. After that, they had taken the stairs. Jason jerked Alex nearly off his feet and threw him in the direction of the elevator doors. He jabbed the button with a fat finger. The elevator doors opened and he shoved Alex inside, ignoring his protests. Panicked, Alex dove for the doors as they began to slide shut. Jason gripped the back of Alex's neck painfully and slammed him up against the wall of the elevator, pinning him there.

Alex struggled but was no match for Jason's brute strength, especially with the dregs of the Ketamine still in his system. He closed his eyes, trying not to think of the enclosed space he was trapped in, taking deep breaths, trying to fight off the panic attack. The stainless steel interior of the elevator was cool against his bruised cheek. His heart was pounding and he felt the nausea making a strong comeback. He whimpered softly. Jason leaned close.

"I'm through coddling you, slut. Stop your whining or I'll give you something to whine about. And you puke and I'll beat the shit out of you."

Alex tried to be quiet, squirming a little at the discomfort of Jason's hand clamped around the back of his neck. Jason took advantage of Alex's impaired condition, letting his free hand roam over Alex's body. He pawed his way under Alex's shirt, found a nipple and pinched hard. Alex gasped. He felt Jason's hand slide up between his legs, cupping his balls through his jeans. He went very still. Jason's voice was smug.

"That's right, pretty boy. You'd better be good. Unless you want to go back up to the top floor and start over."

Alex trembled. He tried not to think about Jason's hands on him. In a few seconds the doors would open again and he would be out of this tiny space. That was all that mattered to him at that moment. Jason wouldn't dare rape him, but he did have Spender's leave to punish him. Alex knew Jason's threat to take the elevator back up was very real. He sagged with relief when the doors finally opened again and he was hauled off toward the parking garage.


Skinner stepped inside and closed the door behind him, taking care to lock it again. He glanced around, quickly taking stock of the apartment. Skinner felt mild surprise at the ordinariness of this small, tidy place. There was nothing at all remarkable about it. The walls were white and unadorned, the floors bare of rugs. What sparse furniture there was, was plain and practical. There were no framed photographs, seemingly no personal effects of any kind, save a few books on a low shelf in the living room. Skinner could not reconcile this spartan, utilitarian space with the dangerous, unpredictable man who had become his personal demon.

He noticed a small closet near the kitchen. His gun drawn, he walked over to it and quickly opened the door. Nothing there but a pair of old boots in the corner and a black raincoat on a wire hanger. Skinner stepped into the miniscule kitchen and found it also empty, likewise the bedroom and bathroom. After investigating the bedroom closet, finally satisfied that he was indeed alone, Skinner began a quiet and methodical search of Krycek's apartment.

Half an hour later, he stood in the living room again, his hands in his pockets, thoroughly frustrated. He hadn't found the Palm Pilot. Skinner swore quietly. Rat bastard must have it with him. Skinner had hoped to have it in his possession before he confronted Krycek. If Krycek was able to hit the button before Skinner could stop him, could force him to unlock its secrets... Skinner didn't want to think about it.


Alex lay on his side on the back seat of the sedan, hugging himself with his one arm, noticing now the soreness, the burning in his rectum, the familiar taste in the back of his throat. He was glad he couldn't remember what the man had done to him after the shot. He curled around himself, the motion of the car lulling him to sleep.

Skinner stood in the living room of Krycek's apartment, tense and alert. Footsteps echoed in the hallway outside. Skinner's eyes darted around the small room. Quickly, he moved over to the closet by the kitchen door and stepped inside. He left the closet door open a fraction, not latching it, so that he could see into the living room. He just had to hope the rat wouldn't notice it before Skinner had the chance to pounce. There was the sound of a key turning in the lock and the apartment door opened. Skinner peered through the small opening between the closet door and the jamb. His mouth dropped open and he stifled a curse.

Spender cast a disdainful eye around the place, took off his coat and dropped it across the arm of the little sofa that faced the apartment door. He sat down, directly in Skinner's line of sight. Skinner hardly dared to breathe. Something was very wrong. Spender got comfortable, crossing his legs and lighting a cigarette. It didn't look like he was going anywhere anytime soon. Shit, Skinner thought. Shit! What the hell is he doing here? He didn't want to think about what would happen if he were discovered.

Skinner was glad the closet was practically empty, it decreased the chance that he would jostle up against something and make his presence known. Still, the closet had definitely not been designed for a tall man to conceal himself in. Skinner was hunched over, the rod for the hangers across the back of his neck. Sweat was beginning to trickle down his back. His muscles were beginning to cramp. He shifted his position as best he could, keeping his eye to the crack in the door.

He became very aware of the passage of time. God, what if he was stuck in here for hours? His bladder was beginning to make its presence known, all right, and he began to regret having that tall glass of orange juice before leaving the condo. He was glad Mulder couldn't see him now. This was exactly the kind of situation that would have earned his subordinate a long and expert reaming from the AD. Skinner watched stealthily as Spender tapped his ash on the floor, smoke drifting around his head. He gazed at the closed apartment door and calmly smoked his cigarette.

Skinner heard the approaching footsteps at the same time Spender did. The door opened and the biggest man Skinner had ever seen lumbered in. He looked not so much dressed in his ill-fitting suit as upholstered in it. He had one big paw on the shoulder of Alex Krycek, propelling him into the room. Skinner couldn't imagine anyone being glad to see Cancerman, but Krycek's reaction was extreme. Krycek saw Spender and his face immediately lost all color. He took two hesitant steps forward, his head bowed, and sank to his knees. Skinner's jaw dropped in surprise. Krycek seemed to be shaking. The big goon closed the apartment door and stood silently next to it, watching Krycek with an unhealthy gleam in his eye. Skinner didn't know what the man was thinking but he was prepared to guess that they weren't deep thoughts. Spender stood, dropped his cigarette on the floor and stepped on it.

"I've been very busy this morning, Alex. Would you like to know what I've been doing?"

Krycek stared at the floor. Spender continued.

"I've been checking up on you, Alex, and I don't like what I'm finding out. I would have thought our little chat in my office yesterday would have had more of an impact."

Alex didn't dare look up. He shivered and huddled into his jacket. The man had called Spender and told him what Alex had done. He would be punished after all. He bit his lip and waited. The shock of Spender's unexpected appearance in his apartment had dispelled the last of the Ketamine's aftereffects. He almost wished it hadn't. He wished his mind, at least, could be somewhere else while his body bore the brunt of Spender's anger.

Spender walked over to where Krycek knelt. He stared at Krycek for a moment, his eyes narrowed. His voice was hard and cold.

"Did you think I wouldn't find out?" Krycek flinched.

"I---" he began. The backhand caught him across the cheekbone, knocking him down off of his knees. He lay on his side, dazed. Spender dealt him a vicious kick to the midsection that made even Skinner wince.

"Kneel up!" Spender shouted.

Krycek slowly got back into position, a trickle of blood running from the corner of his mouth. Skinner watched, astonished. He was seeing the rat get what he deserved, even if he hadn't been given the honor of administering the justice himself. So why was the feeling of triumph such a hollow one? Skinner felt cheated. Instead of feeling warm satisfaction at Krycek's suffering, he felt vaguely disturbed by it. Krycek looked terrible. Skinner wondered when he had last eaten. He looked pale and sickly, and now that Skinner was seeing him up close, a good deal thinner than Skinner remembered. He looked almost frail, a word Skinner had certainly never thought to apply to Alex Krycek. Spender slapped Krycek again. Krycek seemed to fold in on himself, hunched over on his knees, his face a tight mask of pain.

Spender glared at Krycek with disgust and then walked back over to the sofa. He picked his coat up and reached into the pocket, removing something. He walked back over to Krycek and grabbed him by the hair, forcing him to look up. He showed the object in his hand to Krycek. It was the Palm Pilot. Skinner stopped breathing. Time seemed to slow, to shudder to a stop. His felt as if his knees would buckle. Was this it? Was he living the last few minutes of his life? Would Spender flip open that sleek, deadly machine and end him right here and now? He mentally calculated the distance between himself and Spender, wondering if he could reach Spender in time to save himself.

Alex saw what Spender held in his hand and his eyes widened in terror. His mouth worked but no sound came out.

"Why is Walter Skinner still alive?" Spender screamed.

He kicked Krycek in the stomach. In the closet, Skinner's breath caught in his throat. His heart pounded. He strained to see and hear everything, his aching back and cramped position forgotten as he stared in disbelief at the scene unfolding in front of him. Spender kicked Krycek again, then leaned down close, shoving the Palm Pilot in his agonized face.

"I had it checked out, Alex. It's been disabled. Useless!" Spender's voice grew louder. "You little whore, did you think you would get away with this? That you would make a fool of me? You dare to deceive me?"

Spender turned and hurled the Palm Pilot across the room, where it exploded against the wall. The floor was littered with the pieces of the ominous black machine. Krycek cringed, curling into a ball as Spender kicked him again. He screamed as the toe of Spender's shoe connected with the small of his back hard enough to lift him off the floor.

Alex lay panting, hurting, trying to make himself as small as possible, agony blossoming in the pit of his stomach as Spender dealt him another vicious kick. This was it. The end. In a moment, Spender would take out his gun and kill him. Alex hoped it would be quick. He hoped Spender wouldn't let Jason have him first. He felt curiously unafraid now. He was so tired. So that part of the hallucination had been right. It would be a bullet. Alex thought about the silo and shivered. Maybe he would be lucky and there wouldn't be a Hell after all. Maybe just nothing. No more fear. No more pain. He wished Spender would get it over with. Spender had worked himself into a frenzy. He snatched Alex up by the hair and threw him across the room. Alex hit the wall hard and slid down, dazed. Spender screamed at him again.

"The other two! Where are they?"

Alex tried to get to his feet and collapsed, moaning. Spender kicked him in the face, grimacing with distaste at the blood that spattered his shoe. Alex groaned loudly. Spender grabbed him by the collar of his jacket and dragged him back up on his knees. Alex knelt there, swaying, his hair disheveled, blood dripping from his chin. That odd serenity flowed over him again. It was all right. It was really all right. Soon he would finally be at peace. No one would ever touch him again. He looked up at Spender, who was breathing heavily, his face red, beside himself with fury.

"In the Potomac," Krycek said softly. "The pieces, anyway."

It was true. After Alex had managed to gain possession of the other two Palm Pilots, he had smashed them with a hammer. That night he had stopped on the bridge and dropped the pieces into the river, shining like black glass in the moonlight. Skinner thought he saw Krycek smile then. A faint, almost peaceful smile. Spender was apoplectic. Skinner didn't think he had ever seen anyone that angry. The man looked like he was about to have a stroke. Spender slapped Alex again, putting all of his weight behind the swing. Alex reeled, but managed somehow to stay upright. Skinner wondered how in hell the man was still conscious. Spender advanced on Krycek again.

"I told you I wanted him dead, you fucking little slut! And you dare to defy me? To destroy my property?"

Spender grabbed Krycek by the hair again and forced him to look up.

"I'm going to make you suffer, Alex. I'm going to make you regret the day you ever contemplated double-crossing me." He pulled Krycek's hair harder, snapping his head back.

"Why, Alex? Why do you care whether Walter Skinner lives or dies? Why is it worth your suffering to save his miserable life?"

Skinner held his breath. Krycek looked like a man about to be executed, kneeling, his throat exposed, drops of blood on his white shirt. He looked into Spender's eyes, calmly meeting his gaze. He spoke softly. Skinner had to strain to hear, but what he heard was unmistakable.

"He didn't deserve it."

Spender slammed his fist into Krycek's face, only his grip on the man's hair keeping him upright. Krycek shakily wiped the blood from his face with his one hand. He looked up at Spender again, his green eyes unblinking, unafraid.

"Go ahead. Finish it. Go ahead and kill me. It'll be the first kindness you've ever shown me."

He said it without a trace of irony. Spender smiled without any warmth whatsoever. He leaned down and spoke directly into Krycek's upturned face.

"Kill you?" He laughed. "Kill you, Alex?"

He let go of Krycek's hair and turned away, withdrawing a handkerchief from his pocket and wiping his hands on it. "You underestimate me." He glanced toward the door.

"Jason?" The large man nodded at Spender and opened the apartment door.


The shriek sounded torn from Krycek's throat. His eyes were huge and terrified, fixed on the man who stood in the doorway. Krycek began backing away from the man, on his hand and knees, shaking his head and moaning.

"No... no... "

The man paid no attention to Krycek. He stepped inside the apartment, his dark eyes flicking over the room with an imperious air. He nodded toward Spender.

"Charles," he said amiably.

So that's your name, you son of a bitch, Skinner thought. Spender smiled and flipped open his cigarette lighter.

"Nikolai. So good of you to come on such short notice."

"Not a moment too soon, it would appear," the man replied.

His voice was cultured, with a strong Russian accent. The man glanced toward Krycek, who was still backing away toward the far corner of the room. Krycek looked as though he were going to faint. He was chalk white, his breathing had become irregular and shallow. He had begun to shake violently. Skinner watched Krycek from his hiding place. Why was Krycek so obviously terrified of this man? He looked more than terrified, Skinner thought. He looked as though he were having a breakdown.

Krycek reached the corner and curled into a fetal position, his body racked with tremors. He curled his arm around his knees and rocked back and forth, keening softly. Skinner took a closer look at the man. He was tall and broad, his impeccably tailored black suit making him resemble a well-heeled funeral director. He appeared to be in his sixties, his silver hair swept back over his forehead. He was meticulously groomed, with sharp features and a prominent nose. He looked at Krycek.


Krycek did not respond. He rocked harder, his head tucked down. He was sobbing now, loud, gasping sobs that echoed in the small room. The man frowned.

"Alexei. Stop that noise this instant."

He sounded as though he were scolding a recalcitrant child. Krycek shrank down smaller in his corner, shaking his head, crying harder.

"Alexei! Come here," the man ordered, his voice snapping like a bullwhip.

Krycek lifted his head slightly, one frightened green eye peering over his arm. He shook his head again.

"Please," he whispered. He looked at Spender beseechingly.

"Please, sir."

Spender eyed him coldly. Krycek unfolded his body from the corner and crawled awkwardly over to Spender, glancing fearfully at Nikolai. Nikolai watched him, a faint smile curving his thin lips. Krycek knelt in front of Spender, his haunted eyes looking up pleadingly. He leaned down, trembling, and kissed Spender's shoe. Spender looked down with disgust at the tears dripping down onto the leather. Krycek's voice was shaking with terror.

"Please, sir, please. I'm sorry. I'm so sorry, sir. Please don't do this."

Spender ignored him, arching an eyebrow at Nikolai. Nikolai looked at Krycek calmly.

"Alexei. Come!"

Krycek shook his head, mewling, beginning to back away again. His eyes resembled those of a wounded animal. Krycek tried to plead again but he was crying too hard to speak. Nikolai fixed him with a steely glare.

"ALEXEI!" he thundered.

Krycek jumped and cried out. Slowly, awkwardly, he got to his feet, his hand clutching his side where Spender had landed a particularly sharp kick. He looked around the room, looking very small and afraid. He looked at Nikolai, then back at Spender. He shook his head again, making small animal noises of fear in his throat. Nikolai turned to Spender.

"You should have called sooner, my friend." He looked back at Krycek.

"Alexei. Now."

He pointed a long finger toward the floor by his feet. Krycek, shaking, finally obeyed. He walked slowly, jerkily toward the man who so terrified him, his body language screaming with every reluctant step that he did not want to do this. He reached the designated place beside Nikolai, shrinking as far away from the man as possible, and collapsed on his knees. He cringed, whimpering, as Nikolai reached down and stroked his hair.

"Now, Alexei. What is this? Have you forgotten all of your lessons?"

He grasped Krycek's chin in his hand and tilted the tear-stained face up.

"I am terribly, terribly disappointed in you, little one," he said sadly. "You were my proudest accomplishment, Alexei. Can you imagine my embarrassment when Mr. Spender called? To hear how troublesome my little Alexei has become?"

Krycek cringed as Nikolai caressed his face. "When Mr. Spender asked if I might be willing to suspend my retirement and return here to help, I was only too glad to agree." Nikolai's voice became stern.

"I take a great deal of pride in my work, Alexei. I will not tolerate this appalling behavior from you. I have a reputation at stake." He spoke to Spender.

"I do apologize, Charles, for Alexei's forgetting himself this way. I assure you, he will be thoroughly retrained before he is returned to you."

Hearing this, Krycek wailed. He was rocking back and forth again, wide eyes focused on nothing, shivering like a puppy in a thunderstorm. Spender smiled a cool, satisfied smile.

"Thank you, Nikolai. I appreciate your coming all this way to take care of this little," he glanced pointedly at Krycek, "problem. Jason?"

The big man came forward. Spender gestured toward the stricken Krycek. Jason took Krycek by the arm and pulled him to his feet. Krycek panicked. He began screaming and struggling, surprising Jason, who nearly lost his grip on the terrified man. Krycek lost all control, hysteria overtaking him completely.

"PLEASE!" he screamed. "Please, sir, don't let him take me! Don't let him, sir, please!"

Krycek was sobbing so loudly that Skinner thought surely everyone in the building must be able to hear him.

"Please! I'm sorry, sir! I'm sorry!" he cried. "I'll do anything, sir, please! Please don't let him take me!"

He fought with all of his strength to get away, but Jason held him fast, pinioning Krycek's right arm behind his back. Spender took a drag on his cigarette and looked at Krycek pitilessly.

"We've discussed your behavior, Alex. My patience is at an end. Now you will learn again what it is to be obedient." He gathered up his coat and walked to the door.

"Jason, please give Mr. Andreiev any assistance he may require. I will be waiting in the car."

"Yes, sir, Mr. Spender," Jason said.

Nikolai smiled at Spender.

"Not to worry, Charles. A few weeks and you will have your old Alexei back. He only needs reminding of his place and to whom he belongs."

"Thank you, Nikolai. I knew I could count on you."

Spender ground out his cigarette under his shoe and opened the door. Krycek strained, trying to loosen Jason's grip on his arm.

"Please, sir! I'll be good! Please!" Krycek cried, twisting in Jason's grasp.

Spender walked out without looking back, closing the door on Alex's entreaties. Krycek watched the door shut behind his employer and sobbed, his last hope gone. Nikolai walked over to the sofa and sat down. He held his arms out toward Krycek.

"Bring him to me."

Krycek writhed, putting the last of his strength into the effort to escape. Jason wrapped a thick arm around his waist and dragged him over to the sofa, Krycek's feet barely scraping the floor. Jason forced Krycek down onto the sofa. Nikolai reached into the inside pocket of his suit jacket and withdrew several black leather straps.

"No!" Krycek sobbed. "Please---"

Nikolai took Alex's chin in his hand, his fingers gripping tightly enough to leave bruises. His voice was low and cold.

"Stop now, little one."

There could be no mistaking the undercurrent of menace in that deceptively cool, quiet tone. Krycek went very still, trembling and whimpering.

"Hold him, please, Jason."

Jason held Krycek as Nikolai quickly and efficiently bound his ankles tightly together. He then tied Alex's right wrist to the wrist of the prosthetic, binding them in front of him. Krycek was crying steadily, his chest hitching as he sobbed. When Alex was securely bound, Nikolai rose.

"Is there anything else I can do, sir?" asked Jason solicitously, his eyes on Krycek.

The little whore looked so hot, tied and helpless like that. When the slut was brought back, Jason fully intended to have a little talk with Mr. Spender. He smiled. Maybe Christmas would come early this year. Nikolai handed Jason a hundred dollar bill and walked him to the door.

"No thank you, Jason. I think we'll be quite all right."

Jason took the money and left with one last lustful look at Krycek, who sat, his dark head bowed, weeping softly. Nikolai returned to Krycek's side. He sat down and put one arm around Krycek's narrow shoulders, pulling him close.

"Now, Alexei. That is enough."

Nikolai reached into his jacket pocket again, this time retrieving a length of black cloth. Krycek stiffened and tried to pull away, but Nikolai's grip was unyielding.

"No," Alex begged, beginning to cry harder. "no, please... "

Nikolai stroked Alex's hair. He spoke in a soothing tone that belied his chilling words.

"We've been apart too long, little one. You really have become quite unmanageable." He cupped Alex's face between his long, tapering hands.

"You have behaved very badly, Alexei. You must be punished. You know that, don't you?" Alex closed his eyes, tears sliding out from under the thick lashes.

"Please don't," he whispered, "please." Nikolai wiped Alex's tears away with his thumbs, then picked up the cloth.

"Hush now, little one. You know it must be done."

Nikolai tied the black cloth tightly across Alex's eyes. Alex shuddered and whimpered, tiny sounds of fright making their way past his pale lips. Nikolai pulled the trembling boy into a tight embrace, forcing Alex to rest his head on Nikolai's chest. Alex lay like a doll in his arms, shaking and crying softly. He was lost again in the dark, bereft and alone. The memories circled, pressing close, and Alex felt himself begin to fade away, eclipsed, ravaged. Shuddering, he whispered one last intelligible word.

"... dark... "

Nikolai cradled Alex, running his hand through Alex's damp hair. Alex began to mumble incoherently, the words too soft to hear, interspersed with increasingly shallow, hitching breaths. Stroking Alex's hair, Nikolai spoke softly, as if to a child.

"There, now, little one. My plane is being readied for our journey back to my dacha. You remember it, don't you, Alexei?"

No response. Nikolai didn't appear to notice. He continued, one hand toying with Alex's dark hair.

"You must be corrected, Alexei. You must be reminded to whom you belong. Things will be easier for you then, little one. You'll see."

Alex whimpered faintly. Nikolai pressed Alex's face against his chest, one long, tapering hand absently stroking his hair as one would a pet cat. Alex's eyes were closed. The memories were coming back and he had no defenses left. That hand stroking his hair, the familiar scent of the expensive cologne Nikolai wore, the same as all those years ago. Alex shivered. Nikolai pulled him closer.

"Shhh, little one, try to rest. We have so much work ahead of us."

Alex whimpered again, his mind powerless against the assault of that scent, those hands, that voice. He was fourteen again, hurting and afraid and alone, defenseless against the dark.

Skinner leaned heavily against the wall of the closet. He felt as though he had been mugged. He was in a state of shock, his mind still grappling with the fact that he had just seen Alex Krycek---Alex Krycek---traitor, thief, cold-blooded killer---crouched in the corner sobbing like a terrified child. Krycek had protected him? Krycek had risked death, endured torture, for him? In God's name, why? Skinner watched Nikolai holding Krycek, murmuring in his ear, stroking his hair. Krycek was crying, whispering brokenly. Skinner tried to make sense of it all. In the last hour, everything he thought he knew, everything he believed had been turned upside down. He leaned close to the crack in the door, watching as Nikolai gently sat Krycek up.

Nikolai traced Alex's delicate cheekbone with one long finger.

"Alexei," he breathed, "still so beautiful, little one."

Alex moaned, his trembling growing more pronounced. Nikolai unbuttoned Alex's shirt and pulled it down over his shoulders, exposing his chest. He kissed Alex, feeling the boy's trembling lips part under his. He kissed and licked the tender place where his neck and shoulder met, then bit hard enough to draw blood. Alex cried out, trying weakly to pull away, a thin rivulet of blood threading its way along his collarbone. Nikolai held him close, long fingers stroking, touching, remembering.

He pulled Alex up on his feet and unbuttoned his jeans. Alex sobbed quietly as Nikolai pulled his jeans and boxers down to his knees, pausing to trail his finger down one pale thigh. Nikolai turned Alex around and pressed him back down onto the sofa. Alex was forced onto his stomach, his bound hand trapped painfully under him. Nikolai admired Alex's pale smooth skin, the sweet inviting curve of his buttocks as he lay, panting and afraid, ripe for the taking. Nikolai lay his jacket and tie over the arm of the sofa and began to unbutton his shirt.

"I have missed you, moy lyubov," he breathed, his voice trembling with lust.

"My beautiful boy. So many years, Alexei, and you are even more breathtaking than you were the first day I saw you." He moved toward Alex.

"I will be your teacher again, Alexei. I will punish and correct you, little one, and you will once again be my perfect obedient boy." Alex lay still, the fabric of the cushion rough against his cheek, tears soaking the blindfold. Nikolai unbuckled his belt and reached for his zipper, his erection straining against the fine material of his suit.

Skinner moved soundlessly. He couldn't stop to think. He raised his gun and brought the butt end down in a short, efficient arc, dropping the Russian where he stood. Krycek lay motionless on the sofa, seemingly unaware of what had just happened. Skinner looked around the room, then went to the bedroom and stripped the coverlet from the bed. He returned to the living room, quickly tugging Krycek's jeans and boxers back up before wrapping him in the coverlet. There was no time now to untie him.

Skinner hoisted Krycek over his shoulder, surprised for a moment at how light he was, and opened the apartment door. There was no one in the hallway. Skinner had parked in the alley behind the building, close to the building's back door. Skinner carried his burden down the stairs, the only sound from Krycek a faint moaning. He managed to get him to the car without attracting any undue attention, a fact for which he was supremely grateful. He lay Krycek on the back seat, still wrapped in the coverlet, and drove toward Crystal City as swiftly as he dared.

Skinner carried Krycek into the condominium, pausing only to close the door behind him. He shifted the slight weight on his shoulder, trying not to put too much pressure on Krycek's ribs, remembering his screams as Spender's ferocious kicks had found their mark. The last thing Skinner needed was for Krycek to end up with a punctured lung or worse. He carried Krycek into the guest bedroom and put him down on the bed. Krycek lay still, his lips slightly parted, his skin waxy and pale. Except for the occasional tremor, he had not moved at all since Skinner had taken him from the apartment. Skinner reached for the blindfold and then stopped as his fingertips brushed the black material. What if Krycek awoke and panicked, became hysterical? How would he react when he realized where he was?

Skinner thought uncomfortably of the last time Krycek had been here, remembered Krycek's stunned bellow of pain as Skinner slammed his fist into his stomach. He remembered the look of helplessness and fear on Krycek's face that cold November night as Skinner clipped the handcuff to the balcony railing and left him there. The resignation in those sea green eyes as Skinner walked back into the living room, back into the warmth, sliding the door shut behind him without a backward glance. That long night, tossing and turning in his bed, haunted by those eyes, wondering what it would be like to slide that door open again, plunder those pretty pink lips with his tongue, make that long supple spine arch, make the assassin sigh and shudder and moan. Skinner had taken a not quite cold but far from hot shower, stroking himself to a joyless orgasm, seeing Krycek's hurt, scared face, those sad, unforgettable eyes.

Skinner reached for the blindfold again, steeling himself for whatever happened next. Judging by what he had seen in the apartment, leaving the blindfold on was definitely not an option. He untied the cloth and tossed it aside. Krycek didn't move. He looked exhausted, his closed eyes ringed faintly with dark circles. Skinner moved to untie Krycek's ankles, hissing as he saw the deep red marks the leather straps left in the tender flesh. He began removing the bindings from Krycek's wrists and discovered the prosthetic, uttering a startled exclamation as his fingers closed around the chill plastic. Skinner carefully peeled off Krycek's bloodstained shirt, dropping it on the floor. He unbuckled the straps of the prosthesis and removed it, wincing at the thick scars circling the stump. He glanced up at Krycek's face, feeling amazement and a grudging respect. How in hell had the man survived that?

Skinner stripped off the rest of Krycek's clothing, leaving the boxers. He ran his hand over Krycek's ribs, the prominent ridges telling a tale of too many meals missed. Skinner pressed gently. He didn't think any of the ribs were broken, but spectacular bruises were already beginning to form. Krycek was definitely going to wake up hurting. Skinner went to the bathroom and returned with a wet washcloth. Krycek twitched a little and moaned as Skinner washed the dried blood from his face and chest.

Carefully, Skinner rolled Krycek over onto his stomach, checking for further injuries. Skinner winced again as he saw Krycek's bare, scarred back. Old welts and new ones threaded amongst the bruises and scars. Skinner reached for the waistband of Krycek's boxers, remembering the fleeting glimpse of welts as he had quickly covered Krycek up before fleeing with him. He tugged Krycek's boxers down.

"Jesus Christ!"

Skinner stood frozen, his expression one of shock and horror. There, in the small of Krycek's back, were six small, perfectly round scars. Cigarette burns. In the shape of a circle. Someone, Skinner had no problem guessing who, had slowly and deliberately pressed a burning cigarette into that soft, vulnerable hollow, holding it there. Blazing, hellish anguish, repeated six times over. He swallowed, feeling the bile rising in his throat. He gently rolled Krycek back over and lifted him up. Krycek's head fell back, exposing his white throat, making him look even younger and more vulnerable.

Skinner looked down at him for a moment, dazed with secrets so unexpectedly revealed, reeling from this glimpse into Krycek's life of misery and fear. Skinner got Krycek into bed and covered him up, leaving Krycek's own coverlet on top, telling himself it was just to keep him warm, to ward off shock. Definitely not because he wanted Krycek to have something of his own, something familiar to comfort him when he awoke.

Skinner sat down heavily in the chair near the bed and cradled his head in his hands, unsurprised to find that they were shaking slightly. What the hell had happened? He watched as Krycek murmured softly, his face taking on a faintly worried expression. He whimpered and then settled again. Skinner's jaw was tense as he remembered Krycek's screams, Krycek's blood stark against his skin. Krycek crying and begging as the men who controlled him did as they pleased with him.

Skinner's gut tightened as he thought of the desire for revenge that had fueled him these last few months. He had wanted to make Krycek scream, make him cry and beg, make him plead for mercy. Skinner looked at the unconscious man in his bed, the monster so suddenly revealed as being all too human. Skinner tried to feel that rage again, to touch that bottomless well of anger for Alex Krycek, that thirst for vengeance. The fury that had fueled him for so long now seemed faint and insubstantial.

His enemy lay helpless in his bed. The man who had betrayed him, betrayed the FBI. The man responsible for Scully's sister. Mulder's father. The nanocytes. Skinner sat in the chair, willing himself to stop shaking, as Krycek's terrified screams echoed again in his mind. He looked at the face of the man he had spent so much time hating. Alex Krycek. The diabolical, dangerous killer. The calculating, clever spy. Krycek was beautiful in repose, his pale pink lips parted slightly, dark hair falling across his forehead, appearing nearly black against his alabaster skin. He didn't look like a killer. He just looked like a little boy in a big bed.

Skinner rose and walked to the door. He needed a drink. He paused for a moment in the doorway, a strange expression crossing his face, looking at the end result of a day in the life of a man who did not make impetuous decisions. Skinner shook his head, glad once again that Mulder couldn't see this. Skinner prided himself on being rational and practical, yet he had left his home that morning with fantasies of revenge, of rough justice. He had thrown his hated enemy over his shoulder like a damsel in distress and spirited him away from the man who was abusing him, and what now? Just what in hell was he going to do with Krycek? Skinner watched as Krycek's head moved fitfully against the pillow. He groaned and then grew quiet again. Skinner hesitated a moment, wondering if he should leave Krycek alone. He went downstairs, leaving the bedroom door open so that he would hear if Krycek awoke.


Alex clawed his way out of the dark for a moment. His eyes opened slightly as the man in the doorway turned and left the room. Alex saw his face as he turned, and fear gripped him. Skinner. Alex tried to think but his thoughts were murky and sluggish. Spender had given him to Skinner. Alex's mouth was very dry and he wished for some water. He whimpered. He knew how hard Skinner could hit. He tried to stay very quiet. Maybe if he was quiet Skinner wouldn't put him out on the balcony. A tear slid down Alex's cheek. He wondered if Skinner would kill him. He was so tired. His ribs and back hurt. Another tear spilled onto the pillow and Alex was sucked back under again.

Skinner rummaged in the kitchen cabinet for the bottle of Glenfiddich he kept for company. He himself drank only on occasion. This was, he thought to himself, one hell of an occasion. He dropped ice cubes into the glass and splashed the scotch over them. He drank it in one swallow and poured another. He leaned against the counter, trying to come to terms with what had happened. The nanocytes. If what he had heard in Krycek's apartment was true, the nightmare was over. Skinner blinked, his eyes suddenly full of hot tears. The hope was overwhelming, devastating. Could it really be over? Could his life really be his again? Were the deadly dark machines that haunted his dreams really powerless now?

Skinner shook his head numbly. Krycek had done this. Krycek had been beaten and terrorized and nearly raped because he had done this. Skinner glanced toward the stairway. Why? He felt the anger welling up within him. Why? Why would Krycek risk his life to save me? He resented him at that moment, resented the beaten man who lay in his bed. Did he do it so that I would owe him my life? So that I would be beholden to him, obligated to repay the favor? Skinner put the bottle away before he was tempted into a third drink. He would get Krycek awake and talking. Once he was well enough, he would be on his way. Debt paid in full.

Unbidden, his mind replayed the image of Krycek huddled in the corner, pleading through his tears as the Russian man called him to heel like a dog. Krycek curling into a ball as Spender's shoe thudded into him. Krycek on his stomach, his jeans and boxers around his knees, blind and helpless. Skinner put his glass in the sink, a little harder than necessary. A few hours ago, he had hated Alex Krycek more than anyone he had ever known. Now, he didn't know how he felt. He thought of those six perfectly round scars burned into the soft skin at the base of Krycek's spine. He saw Krycek, beaten, kicked, struggling to stay on his knees, blood dripping onto his white shirt. Saw Krycek asking for the kindness of murder. Spender's bloodless smile around his cigarette, smoke curling from his lips as he coolly promised suffering unforetold. No one, not even Alex Krycek, deserved to go back to that.

Skinner was starting back up the stairs when he heard a knock at the door. He crossed the living room to the door and looked through the peephole, his gut already telling him who it would be. Spender stood in the hallway, smiling coldly, the big man standing silently behind him. Skinner opened the door. Spender raised his eyebrows and spoke with that grating false cordiality that made Skinner want to hit him.

"Mr. Skinner? I do believe you have something of mine." Skinner glared past Spender at Jason.

"The gorilla stays in the hallway."

Spender smiled again, turning to Jason.

"Jason? Please wait here. I'm sure Mr. Skinner and I can discuss this small matter like gentlemen."

The big man's lip curled. He nodded at Spender and stepped a few paces away, his hands in his pockets. He cursed under his breath as Skinner stepped aside and allowed Spender to enter. He hoped he would get the chance to teach that bald bastard some manners.

Skinner closed the door and stood just beside it, his arms folded. He did not want this man in his home and he was not about to allow him to think otherwise. Spender dragged on his cigarette and exhaled a cloud of smoke, ignoring the look of disgust on Skinner's face.

"That was fast," Skinner said sarcastically.

"I'm a resourceful man, Mr. Skinner," Spender replied. "My colleague has a rather nasty headache. Your handiwork, I presume?" Skinner met his eye coolly.

"You tell me."

Spender laughed humorlessly.

"All right, Mr. Skinner, all right," he held up his hands in mock surrender. "You were observed as you left Mr. Krycek's apartment building. With my property. If you will be so kind as to return what is mine, I will be on my way."

Skinner appeared to consider this. He kept his gaze coolly fixed on Spender as he readied himself. He was going to have to bluff this out, and he was going against the master of the game.

"I want him."

Spender chuckled drily.

"Most people want the things they steal. May I ask why you want Mr. Krycek?"

"Revenge," Skinner growled. "I owe that little rat bastard. I want to make him regret every second of every minute of every day he's lived since he betrayed me. And then there's the little matter of the nanocytes."

Skinner managed to keep his voice even. Standing in his own home, faced with the man who had engineered his death, was requiring all of his strength not to throttle Spender. Spender calmly smoked his cigarette.

"Go on," he encouraged.

Skinner envisioned taking revenge on the man truly responsible for his suffering and when he spoke, knew that the requisite cold gleam was present in his eyes, knew that his smile was feral and dangerous.

"I've decided I need a hobby. Making Alex Krycek's life a living hell sounds like something I'd be good at." Spender raised an eyebrow.

"So you decided to make off with my property? Not very polite, Mr. Skinner."

Spender's eyes were flat and unreadable. Skinner knew he was on dangerous ground. He chose his words carefully, hiding his disgust at what he heard himself saying.

"When I found out where the rat was living, I wanted revenge," he said, trying to sound a little sheepish. "I didn't stop to think. I apologize for the inconvenience my hasty actions have caused you and your colleague," he paused. "But I want Alex Krycek. What's it going to take?" Spender's smile made Skinner feel suddenly chilly.

"Hmm, a very interesting situation, indeed," he said thoughtfully. "Mr. Krycek can be very troublesome. I have invested tremendous amounts of time and money on his training and still he remains stubborn and disobedient." He sighed, sounding truly put-upon. "My patience has been sorely tested. I had been thinking of disposing of him." Skinner held himself in check. To sound too eager now would be a mistake.

"Let me take him off your hands," he said. "I have a number of scores to settle with him. He'll beg for death before I'm through. Besides," he added, giving Spender a sympathetic look, "he's not getting any younger. What is he? Almost thirty? And with only one arm. He's not much good to you anymore, hardly worth his keep, I'm sure." Skinner smiled again, a shameless we-are-men-of-the-world-aren't-we grin. Spender fell for it.

"I'm sure you would make his remaining time on earth exquisitely painful," he said, taking another slow drag on his cigarette. "I must admit the irony appeals to me. I rather like the idea of that little whore being consigned to live out his days under the control of the man who hates him more than anyone in the world." He smoked thoughtfully. Skinner kept his expression carefully neutral. At length, Spender gestured magnanimously.

"All right, Mr. Skinner. You have a deal. There is, of course, the matter of payment."

Skinner's stomach did a flip-flop. Here it comes, he thought. He wondered what Spender would want. The X-Files closed down again? Mulder assigned to some remote outpost? He swallowed, wondering if he had gone too far. Spender continued.

"I'm sure you'll find my price reasonable. Shall we say, five thousand dollars?" Caught off-guard, Skinner gaped at Spender.

"You've got to be kidding," he said. "Do you realize what you're saying?" Spender caught Skinner's look of amazement and sniffed impatiently.

"Alex Krycek is mine, to beat, to kill or to sell. I am giving you a special price, as a friend." Coming from Spender's mouth, the word was grotesque. "I am only recouping my original investment, Mr. Skinner, I am hardly making a profit." Skinner stared at him silently.

"Ah, I see I've offended your delicate sensibilities. If it makes it easier for you, Mr. Skinner, you may consider it compensation for my inconvenience, as well as for the considerable cost involved in his care and training."

He smiled, enjoying Skinner's obvious discomfort. Spender continued drily, as though this were an ordinary business transaction. For him, Skinner thought with contempt, it undoubtedly was.

"No reason for you to feel your irreproachable integrity has been impugned."

Spender's tone was gently mocking. Skinner glared at him. The seconds ticked by, Spender studying him as at cat would a mouse. What the hell am I doing? Skinner thought. He swallowed. He would have to go along with it. What was the alternative? To carry Krycek's limp, battered body downstairs and hand him over to this monster? Skinner hid his revulsion and extended his hand to Spender. Compensation. That was how he would have to think of it.

"Agreed." Spender's hand was dry and cold. Skinner wanted nothing more at that moment than to thrust his hand under the kitchen tap and scrub the flesh raw. With much effort, he kept his mask intact. Spender glanced around the room.

"Where is dear Alex?" he asked casually.

Skinner braced himself. It was time for the coup de grace. He smiled again, trying for sadistic malice, the answering gleam in Spender's eyes telling him he was successful.

"He's upstairs in the closet. He didn't like that too much, I'm afraid. I had to gag him so the neighbors wouldn't hear him yelling. I don't think he likes his collar and chains, either. He's quite a bad little dog, but I intend to beat the disobedience right out of him. I'd like for you to see him, but he's in deep bondage and I don't want to interfere with his training."

Skinner held his breath. He had lain his cards on the table. If Spender called his bluff, his story was blown. It was a foolish chance to take, perhaps, but he had to be sure. He had to know that Spender believed him. Spender glanced toward the stairs, then at his watch.

"Thank you just the same, Mr. Skinner. The sooner I wash my hands of that worthless slut, the better. I have other business to attend to this afternoon." Skinner escorted him to the door, hiding his relief. Skinner opened the door and Spender turned.

"You will receive instructions regarding payment. You will make a deposit into one of my foreign accounts. Quite untraceable, I assure you." Skinner nodded.

"Just curious," he said, nonchalantly, pasting an expression of casualness on his face. "How long have you had him?" Spender reached into his pocket for his pack of Morleys and shook out another cigarette.

"He was fourteen when I obtained him. Beautiful boy, so much potential." He sighed again. "Despite my best efforts, he's only useful as a whore, and most of the time he can't even do that right." He shook his head as he left. "Do yourself and the world a favor, Mr. Skinner. Have your revenge and then put a bullet in him. Let me know if you require assistance with the disposal of the body." Spender walked down the hall, followed by Jason, who shot Skinner one last, seething look over his shoulder.