Notes and Disclaimers at end

Saturday with Skinner

by Lorelei

Alex tossed and turned, finally giving up on sleep around five am. He lay on his back, staring up at the ceiling, barely visible in the early morning light just seeping in beneath the windowshades. He raised his head to look at the clock on the bedside table, dropping it back onto the pillow with a groan. In three hours he would be at Skinner's place.

He tucked one arm under his pillow, rested the other hand on his flat stomach, rubbed it absently, trying unconsciously to calm the anxious flip-flopping it had been doing all night. He replayed the scene in his mind for the hundredth time. Skinner's face, stern and unreadable as he waited for Alex to drop his pants and bend over the desk. Alex's face flushing hotly as the cool air wafted across his bare ass. Clutching the desk, trying not to yell as the paddle smacked down. The sound of Skinner's voice as he spoke of their "arrangement".

Yes. You agreed to it, Alex thought. Why?

Because he cares. Because you could see it in his eyes. He paddled your ass because he gives a damn and you bent over and took it because you've wanted this your whole life. Because you need it.



Forcibly distracting himself from this troubling train of thought, Alex groaned again, rubbed circles on his still fluttering stomach, his traitorous hand dipping ever more closely toward the soft dark hair curling below. His breath quickened as he imagined Mulder in his place, pants down around his ankles, runner's legs slightly spread, the taut muscles flexing, his naked ass beginning to pinken as he accepted Skinner's discipline.

Alex kicked the covers off. His hand moved lower, making him gasp as it closed around his erect cock. He was rock hard, so hard it hurt. Hard like he had been in Skinner's office, biting his lip every time the paddle came down, humiliation and pain and arousal all warring together as his agonizing hard-on pressed against the edge of Skinner's desk.

He gripped his cock, spreading the hot precome around the head with his thumb, began to stroke himself, slowly at first, then faster, concentrating on the image of Mulder being punished by the AD. Inevitably, as his hips began to buck and he neared his climax, the images of Mulder gave way to images of himself, kneeling before Skinner, those dark brown eyes looking down at him with caring...with forgiveness...Alex tossed his head, eyes squeezed shut tightly, moaning his pleasure as he saw himself over Skinner's knee, saw Skinner's big hand warming his ass, spanking him...oh God...

Alex came explosively, hot semen spurting over his hand and onto his stomach. He lay, panting, feeling the delicious heat radiating from his groin into every part of his body. He brushed the sweat-dampened hair out of his eyes and looked at the clock again. Might as well get up, take a shower. Maybe he could make himself sit still long enough to read the newspaper or something, try to distract himself until it was time to leave.

Alex stood in the shower, letting the hot water pound his back and shoulders as he soaped himself up. His lathered hands passed over his ass, lingering there, absently tracing the spots on his buttocks where the paddle had landed. The pain and the heat were faded now, but the thought of the paddling, of the way Skinner's every movement telegraphed his dominance, the effortless way he claimed his alpha male status, was enough to get Alex hard again. He groaned even as he lathered his hands again and reached down to grasp his stiffening cock. How was he ever going to make it through the day if the mere thought of the AD was enough to make him hard?

He pumped in and out of his soapy fist, bracing himself against the shower wall as he did. It didn't take long for him to come as he played the now-familiar movie in his mind, his husky shout of completion echoing off the tile walls. He closed his eyes, seeing the Alex in his mind stand slowly and pull up his pants, accepting the handkerchief, wiping away his tears of shame.

That's it. Stop now.

He wouldn't let himself think about what had happened next. As many times as he had replayed the paddling in his mind, he had never let himself think about what happened after. He stood beneath the rapidly cooling spray, the tepid water streaming over his bent head, his hands clenched into fists.

Don't. Don't think about it. Don't let yourself.

But this time, he couldn't stop it. He rested his face against the cool tile wall, fat droplets of water mingling with tears, a sob escaping him as he surrendered to the memory, terrible and beautiful, of being held in Skinner's arms, nestled against that broad chest. Surrounded by the warmth of him, strong arms encircling him. That deep voice, so close, rumbling in his ear.

I'm proud of you. I will not let you fail.

Alex straightened and turned off the water. He stepped out of the shower and toweled himself off in front of the mirror, willing his green eyes to mask the pain behind them.

He would not let himself think of it again.

At precisely 7:59am, Alex stood outside Skinner's door. The nervousness was back. In the privacy of his small apartment, it was easy to find the situation erotic, the thought of being punished by his stern AD undeniably attractive. But now, as he stood in the hallway, trying to will himself to ring the bell, his heart was hammering in his chest. He swallowed hard. He was going to be here an entire day and night. Intrigue warred with stark terror. What would Skinner do?

He was still trying to get the courage up to ring the bell when Skinner opened the door. He was dressed in a T-shirt and running shorts, and Alex found it impossible not to let his eyes travel up and down those long, strong legs. He swallowed and looked up into Skinner's eyes, which were appraising him in turn. Alex was dressed similarly, having obeyed Skinner's instructions to the letter. He too wore shorts and a T-shirt, sneakers on his feet, his bag packed with toiletries and extra clothes.

"Are you intending to take up residence out here in the hallway, Agent Krycek?" Skinner barked.

Alex jumped.

"N-no, sir," he stammered, stepping inside. Skinner shut the door. Mulder was already there, sitting on the sofa. He acknowledged Alex with a nod and went back to lacing up his sneakers while Skinner disappeared into the kitchen.

Alex stood hesitantly by the door, still clutching his gym bag like a talisman. A jittery first-day-of-school feeling dogged him. He was the new kid, all right, and he sure felt it as he watched Mulder coolly thumbing through Sports Illustrated, calm and collected as you please, as though they were just three buddies who had gotten together for a game of basketball.

Skinner came out of the kitchen and beckoned to Mulder, who obediently got up and followed him. Alex could hear them talking, but couldn't hear what they said over the din of dishes clanking and water running.

He was still standing there, looking shyly around the living room, when Skinner and Mulder returned. Skinner gave Alex an exasperated look. He walked over and relieved Alex of his gym bag, placing it on the floor by the sofa.

"Sit down, Agent Krycek."

Alex walked over to the sofa and sat down next to Mulder. There was a tray on the coffee table with three large glasses of orange juice. Mulder took one and handed it to Alex, then took another for himself. Skinner and Mulder drank theirs calmly, seeming oblivious to the tension radiating from the rookie agent. Alex clutched the glass of juice, too nervous to do more than sip at it. Finally, he could stand it no more.

"Sir?" he asked, trying to keep his voice even. "What..." he paused and cleared his throat. "What are you...I mean, what are we going to do?"

Skinner eyed him levelly for a moment and then answered, setting his empty glass back on the tray.

"Well, Agent, we're going to go downstairs to the gym and work out. You do work out, don't you?"

Alex blinked.

"I...when I can, sir."

"Hmmm," Skinner said. The look he gave Alex suggested that he was somewhat displeased with the answer he had been given.

Skinner folded his arms and continued.

"After that, we will shower, then come back up here for breakfast."

Alex looked as confused as he felt.

"B-breakfast, sir?"

Skinner's patience was nearing its end.

"Yes, Agent Krycek, breakfast. The first meal of the day. Usually eaten in the morning. Perhaps you've heard of it?"

Alex gulped and flushed dark red.

"I...yes, sir," he mumbled, sure he heard a low snicker from Mulder.

Skinner picked up the tray, watching Alex pointedly until the younger man finished his juice, then took the empty glasses to the kitchen.

Alex jumped as Mulder put a hand on his shoulder.

"Would you relax?" Mulder said dryly. "Stop acting like he's going to grab you and beat the shit out of you."

Alex looked at Mulder helplessly. Mulder rolled his eyes.

"What did you think, he was going to meet you at the door with a paddle in his hand?"

Alex colored again and twisted his hands in his lap.

"I...I don't know. I don't know what to expect. Does you do this often?"

"You mean the Saturday thing?"

Alex nodded. Mulder rested his ankle on the opposite knee and fiddled with a looped shoelace as he talked.

"No, only once or twice before. He always handles discipline in the office...he only does this when it's serious."

Alex gulped.

"How did you...I mean, what happened to make you..." He trailed off, wondering if he had somehow lost the ability to form a complete sentence since arriving here.

Mulder looked at him for a moment, those piercing hazel eyes seeming to study him. Alex sat still under that assessing gaze, trying not to fidget. The day before, this man had made him angry enough to attack him. Because he had laughed at Alex. Because more than anything, Alex wanted Mulder to respect him, to accept him.

Mulder rested his head against the back of the couch and spoke softly, long fingers still absently toying with his shoelace.

"The first time was about six months ago. Scully and I were after a serial killer. It seemed like every time we got close, he'd slip through our fingers. He got my home number and left taunting messages on my answering machine, talking about what he was going to do to his next victim." Mulder paused, obviously troubled by the memory. "He was spotted at a bar in Georgetown, but he managed to slip away again. He left another message on my machine that night, told me where he was going to strike next, telling me to be there, alone, if I wanted him to surrender."

Mulder shook his head, as through trying to clear it.

"I wanted the guy so bad, I didn't care about the risk. I...I didn't tell Scully where I was going, I didn't tell anybody. I had to go alone. She would have insisted on going along, would have insisted on backup. I knew it was probably a trap but I had to try, and I didn't want her or anyone else to get hurt."

Mulder looked down, ashamed.

"Of course, it was a trap. He'd given me the address of a seedy motel in Baltimore. I was in the alley, trying to find a back way in when he jumped me. He got my gun and was about to shoot me when Skinner and Scully showed up. Skinner got him in the shoulder. He went down but managed to squeeze off a shot before he did. It just missed me, but Skinner's next shot nailed him in the chest. He died on the way to the hospital."

Mulder went silent again. Alex waited, strangely exhilarated at the way Mulder was talking to him. To him, not at him. Not...not like friends, not yet, but like a fellow agent, a partner. Not like some green kid foisted on him, something to be endured.

Mulder took a deep breath and continued.

"The next day, Skinner called me into his office and chewed my ass to rags. I'd never seen him so pissed off. He read me the riot act backwards and forwards, then asked me what I thought I deserved for pulling an idiotic stunt like that. I...I lost it. I got up in his face and told him to quit yanking my chain. I asked him what he thought I deserved."

Mulder gave a low, rueful chuckle.

"He stormed over to his desk and ripped the drawer open. I know my mouth dropped open when I saw the paddle. I told him he was insane, that he'd completely lost his mind. He told me he knew a spoiled brat when he saw one and he knew exactly how to deal with one. I told him he wasn't man enough to do it."

Mulder fidgeted a little, unable or unwilling to look Alex in the eye.

"Of course, we both knew I could have been suspended, even terminated for what I'd done, not to mention the fact that, had Skinner and Scully gotten there a few seconds later, I'd have ended up on a slab. He gave me a choice: accept the punishment he deemed fair or take my chances with the Bureau. Next thing I knew, I was ass up over his desk and he was giving me the blistering of a lifetime. I thought it would never end. I could barely sit for the next week. Scully thought I had hemorrhoids."

Mulder's eyes suddenly grew bright.

"But after...he...he told me how important I was to him, how he could never forgive himself if anything happened to me. That if that was what he had to do to get through to me, he would. But he wanted me to agree to it. Wanted me to accept it. And if I didn't, he would never bring it up again."

Mulder turned toward Alex.

"We've had this...arrangement ever since." He shrugged. "That's really all there is to tell."

Alex looked into Mulder's eyes, saw openness there, honesty. Mulder's expression showed no embarrassment, no wariness. There was only the truth, unvarnished and simple.

Alex opened his mouth to ask another question but was interrupted as Skinner returned from the kitchen. He had his own gym bag slung over his shoulder and a set of keys in his hand.

"Let's go, gentlemen," he said quietly. Mulder and Alex glanced at each other, picked up their bags and followed Skinner.

The gym at Viva Tower was spacious and well-appointed. Mulder ran through a few stretching exercises to limber up and then hopped on the treadmill. Skinner interrogated Alex, questioning him closely about his exercise habits and diet. Alex found himself answering at length, blushing at this unaccustomed attention. Skinner frowned disapprovingly as Alex admitted his predilection for fast food and Coke, indulgences he had enjoyed frequently since leaving Quantico. He nodded numbly as Skinner brisquely recommended changes in his diet, advised him to get more sleep and handed him a business card with the address of a vitamin shop. Skinner recommended a particular brand of multivitamin and waited with eyebrows raised as Alex mumbled a bewildered "yes, sir" and slipped the card into the pocket of his shorts.

Skinner put Alex and Mulder through a brisk workout, keeping them so busy that Alex was almost able to forget that this was supposedly a day for punishment. Skinner kept pace alongside them, moving easily through his own workout, one that was obviously second nature. Alex drank deeply from the bottle of water Skinner pressed into his hand, his heart skipping a beat as he wondered what would happen once they were back upstairs.

He didn't have long to wait. It was early still, and the shower room was nearly empty. Alex directed a silent thank you skyward as he saw the separate shower stalls with their frosted glass doors. He didn't want to think about the embarrassing spectacle his rogue cock might make of itself if he saw Skinner and Mulder naked right now. They stepped into the stalls and showered quickly. One by one they filed into the adjoining locker room, towels around their waists. Skinner and Mulder were already dressed when Alex came in, one hand firmly anchoring his towel. They waited patiently while he found a spot, shielded by a row of lockers, and hastily dried himself, dressing quickly in clean shorts and shirt. Skinner then led the way to the elevator, his two younger agents trailing him like nervous puppies.

Back in Skinner's living room, Alex glanced around nervously. Skinner eyed both young men sternly.

"You both know why you're here. There is business to be attended to, but it will wait until after breakfast. While I'm taking care of that, I want you both to sit quietly and think about what happened yesterday. I want 'yes, sir' to be the last thing I hear either of you say until breakfast is ready. Is that understood?"

Alex and Mulder looked at one another.

"Yes, sir," they mumbled.

"Good," Skinner said, pointing toward the sofa. "Mulder, you sit there. Agent Krycek can sit in the breakfast nook."

Mulder meekly sat down on the sofa, his hands in his lap. Alex followed Skinner to the breakfast nook and sat down in the chair the AD indicated, staring nervously at the empty plates and glasses already arranged on the table.

Skinner busied himself scrambling eggs and making toast. He filled a large bowl with melon, grapes and berries, then filled the glasses on the table with milk. Alex found himself gazing out of the window at the birds soaring over the rooftops, at the morning sun reflecting off the windows across the street.

Skinner's voice jolted Alex out of his reverie. His face was close to Alex's ear and his tone was that of a man not to be trifled with.

"Are you thinking, Agent Krycek?"

Alex flushed guiltily.

"Y-yes, sir," he answered, looking penitently down at the tablecloth. Skinner eyed him doubtfully for a moment before walking out into the living room to summon Mulder to breakfast.

Nerves notwithstanding, Alex's nearly empty stomach welcomed the appetizing food and he ate with a healthy appetite. Skinner looked at him approvingly when he chose jam instead of butter for his toast and accepted a second helping of fruit. Skinner directed the conversation, steering clear of the matter of his agents' misbehavior, but chatting enthusiastically about sports and current events. Alex was surprised to find himself joining in and enjoying the give and take, even laughing with genuine delight at Mulder's dry wit as he recounted a harrowing tale of a midnight visit to Wal-Mart and his encounter with a 300 pound woman in a glow in the dark "I Love Aliens" T-shirt.

After breakfast, however, the mood grew serious. Alex and Mulder sat in matching wing chairs in Skinner's home office, facing the AD across a broad expanse of mahogany. Skinner steepled his hands and looked at them, his expression severe.

"All right, gentlemen. It's time to deal with what happened this week. I think it goes without saying that I am deeply unhappy with your behavior. If there is any doubt in your mind, either of you, I can assure you that I intend to rectify that before you leave here tomorrow morning."

Two dark heads nodded miserably.

Skinner looked at them both for a long moment before he continued.

"Fighting will not be tolerated, particularly on FBI time and on FBI property. The two of you ought to be ashamed of yourselves. Rolling on the floor like common thugs. Do you think that's what I wanted to see when I walked into your office, Agent Mulder?"

"No, sir," Mulder whispered.

"Do you think Scully would be proud of your behavior?"

Mulder paled. He blinked rapidly, then answered, his voice barely audible.

"No, sir," he said again.

Skinner's gaze swept over them both.

"Who started it?"

Alex swallowed hard.

"I-I did, sir. I attacked Agent Mulder."

Skinner gave him a long look.

"May I ask why?"

Alex turned red. He stared at the carpet, willing it to open up and swallow him.

Skinner's hand slammed down on the desk, making both younger men jump.

"Agent Krycek!"

Alex gulped.

"He...he laughed at me."

Skinner was incredulous.

"He laughed at you?"

Alex nodded, knowing how ridiculous it all sounded.

Skinner scowled.

"Are you telling me that you attacked Agent Mulder and instigated this scuffle because he laughed at you? Agent Krycek, perhaps it escaped me when I read your Personnel file, but do you happen to be eight years old?"

"N-no, sir."

"Perhaps you mistook your office for a school playground?"

"No, sir."

Skinner looked at Mulder again.

"And just what did you find to be so funny, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder hesitated.

"Do not make me ask you again, Agent."

Mulder took a deep breath and then confessed.

"I...he had just come from your office, sir, and he sat down, and I..." Mulder trailed off. The look on Skinner's face spelled doom. Mulder's butt clenched in anticipation.

"Go on, Agent Mulder. I'm eager to benefit from this hilarious tale. I could use a laugh. Go ahead, tell me just what was so funny about Agent Krycek when he returned from my office."

Mulder's face was aflame. He stared at the floor, one hand picking nervously at the arm of the chair.

Skinner settled back in his chair.

"I hope you're ashamed, Agent Mulder, because you deserve to be. What happened between Agent Krycek and myself in my office is personal and private, just as my arrangement with you has been. Like it or not, he is your partner. I entrusted this junior agent to you, so that you could instruct and guide him, give him the benefit of your wisdom. Instead you mock and humiliate him, taking what is a very sensitive and private matter and turning it into a joke. I am very disappointed in you, Agent Mulder."

Mulder's eyes filled with tears. He couldn't bear to look at Skinner.

"Yes, sir," he whispered.

"Do you remember how you felt the first time I punished you, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder nodded, wiping quickly at his eyes.

"No doubt it was a very emotional experience. You needed time to get your thoughts, your feelings in order."

"Yes, sir."

"Would you have liked to be laughed at? Ridiculed?"

Mulder hung his head.

"No, sir."

Alex watched with wide eyes. He trembled as Skinner's brown eyes once again focused sharply on him.

"And you, Agent Krycek, need to learn to control your impulses."

"Yes, sir."

"Agent Mulder was wrong, but so were you. You will both be severely punished. I will not tolerate such unprofessional behavior from my agents."

"Yes, sir," Alex said softly.

Skinner pointed a finger at Alex.

"You are young and inexperienced, Agent Krycek, no doubt about it. But you will learn to curb your temper or I will do it for you. Is that clear?"

"Y-yes, sir," Alex whispered.

"Good," Skinner said, standing and walking over to a burnished wood cabinet. He opened it and withdrew a wide leather strap. He brought it over and placed in the center of his desk. Alex's eyes were fixed on it with fascination and horror.

Skinner looked at the two miscreants fidgeting in their chairs.

"It goes without saying that you've both earned a strapping. You'll get thirty strokes each, to be given ten at a time. Ten now, ten after dinner and ten before you leave in the morning, to make sure the lesson stays with you."

Skinner looked at Alex.

"As you are the one responsible for instigating the physical altercation, Agent Krycek, you will receive an additional punishment."

"Yes, sir," Alex murmured, still gazing at the fearsome strap.

Skinner sighed.

"I can think of many things I would rather be doing with my weekend, gentlemen. But if you insist on demonstrating your need for discipline, I will have to oblige you. Agent Mulder, wait in the living room."

Mulder rose and left the room, closing the door quietly behind him.

Skinner waited by the desk, the strap in his hand.

"Let's get the first ten over with, Alex."

The use of his first name snapped Alex back to reality. He stood, shaking slightly, eyeing the door. His pulse thrummed, his adrenaline pumped. His fight-or-flight instinct was in overdrive. He didn't have to get strapped. He could leave. He could walk out right now. He could...

Skinner's eyes softened. He watched the younger man struggle to conquer his desire to flee.

"Alex," Skinner said quietly. "Tell me what you did wrong."

"Wh-what?" Alex asked, still looking longingly at the door. His palms had begun to sweat.

Skinner moved slightly closer, careful not to spook the skittish young man.

"Alex, take a deep breath. Now." The AD's commanding tone resonated with Alex. He obeyed, taking a long, hitching breath.

"Good," Skinner said soothingly. "Now another."

Alex took another deep breath.

"Tell me what you did wrong," Skinner said again.

Alex swallowed hard.

"I...I lost my temper. I let Mulder get to me, let him make me angry. I attacked him and fought with him."

Skinner nodded, sitting on the edge of the desk. His body language was loose and relaxed, subtly encouraging Alex to relax as well.

"And what could you have done differently?"

"I don't know!" Alex snapped, frustrated. He began to pace nervously back and forth.

"Yes, you do," Skinner murmured. "Tell me."

Alex turned to face him, felt himself pulled in by that gentle voice. He bit his lip, jammed his hands in his pockets. He looked down at his shoes.

"I could have ignored him. I could have taken a walk, gone out for some air."

Skinner nodded.

"Yes, you could have. I believe that, next time, you will."

Alex looked at the loathesome strap again. He looked helplessly at Skinner.

"I don't want a strapping," he said fearfully. "I don't. I know I screwed up but I don't want that."

Skinner nodded again.

"I know, Alex," he said simply. "It's not pleasant, for the giver or the receiver. But that's why it's called punishment."

Alex hesitated, his instincts telling him to get out, to leave. But his heart felt the pull of those kind brown eyes. Such gentleness in such a big man. The AD's stern face looked softer now, more open. The face of a man who wanted to help. He opened his mouth, unsure of what to say.

"Sir, I-"

"Agent Krycek," Skinner said gently. "I see something in you. I see your potential. But I also see a young man's hot temper, a reckless and impetuous streak that needs to be reined in. I want to help you to realize your potential, Alex. All you need is a little help getting there. Do you want to be a good agent, Alex?"

Alex straightened his spine.

"Yes, sir," he said with conviction. "I do. More...more than anything." He closed his eyes, the simple truth in that statement almost more than he could bear.

Skinner stood, stepped closer to Alex.

"I'm going to ask you a question, Alex," he said softly. "I don't want you to think about your answer. Just tell me the truth, and if the answer is no, then you can leave right now and we'll say no more about it. All right?"

Alex nodded, his mouth dry. Skinner looked at him, his brown eyes solemn.

"Do you believe that you are here today, with me, in my home, for your own good? That I am trying to help and guide you?"

Alex stared at Skinner for a moment, then spoke, his voice breaking slightly.

"Yes, sir."

Skinner picked up the strap.

"Then you agree to accept the punishment I have chosen for you?"

Alex looked into Skinner's eyes and felt the tension drain away. He blinked back tears, touched by the sincerity, the concern on the older man's face.

Alex stood in front of the desk, slid his shorts and boxers down, and bent over, gripping the sides tightly.

"I'm ready, sir," he said. "Thank you, sir."

As the first stroke blazed a line of fire across his bottom, he thanked Skinner again. He thanked him for each stroke, gasping the words out as the strap snapped down, scalding tears pouring down his cheeks. He didn't realize he was still saying it, even as Skinner lay the strap down and helped him to stand, then gathered him into his strong arms.

Alex lay his head on Skinner's shoulder and wept.

"Thank you, sir, thank you, th--"

"Shhh," Skinner soothed. "It's all right, Alex. Cry it out."

And he did. Cried out his loneliness and sorrow and gratitude. Felt Skinner's arms tighten around him, holding him close.

Alex wasn't sure how long he stood there in Skinner's arms, only that the AD continued to hold him long after he stopped crying. Alex rested his cheek against the damp spot his tears had made, lulled into calm by the sound of Skinner's strong heartbeat. Such a safe, warm place, the circle Skinner's arms made around him, a place he never dreamed existed. Finally, Alex reluctantly raised his head.

"Okay?" Skinner asked with concern.

Alex scrubbed at his face with the back of his hand.

"Yes, sir," he said, casting an embarrassed look at the dark spot on the front of Skinner's T-shirt. "Sorry."

"Don't apologize," Skinner said. "You needed to let it out. You can always be honest with me. I'll always listen."

Alex looked down, fresh tears stinging his eyes.

"Thank you, sir."

Skinner opened the door and led Alex into the hallway.

"The guest bathroom is down the hall and to the left. Wash your face and then wait in the living room while I deal with Agent Mulder."

Skinner waited as Mulder rose from the sofa and slowly walked over to him, ducking his head a little sheepishly as he followed Skinner into the office. Skinner closed the door. Alex went into the guest bathroom and turned on the cold water tap. He stared at his reflection in the mirror over the sink, at his reddened face, his puffy eyes. He splashed water on his face, drying it on one of the soft blue towels in the rack. He stood for a moment, the soft fabric against his face, and closed his eyes, thinking of Skinner's scent, the way his hands could be at once hard and soft, giving discipline, giving comfort.

Alex walked into the living room, over to the window overlooking the city. He stood as far away as possible from Skinner's closed office door, wanting to give them their privacy. It soon became evident, however, that Mulder was very vocal when he was being punished. Alex's ears burned and he tried not to listen, but he couldn't help hearing Mulder's yelps and cries rising over the sound of the strap. Soon, there was silence, followed by muffled sobs. Alex knew Mulder was now standing where he had been standing moments before, Skinner's arms around him, inhabiting that rare forgiving space.

Alex looked at the front door. He was tired. His ass hurt. By all accounts, he had about another twenty-one hours of "discipline" to go. He glanced at Skinner's office door, still closed, then at his own gym bag where it sat beside the sofa. He was a free adult. He could leave right now. Go home, take a catnap. Get up, order a pizza, hit the shower and then go out for a few drinks.

Alex stood still for a moment, then bent and reached for the handles of his gym bag, his tender butt protesting the motion. Then he stopped, a faraway smile on his face.

There was nowhere else he wanted to be. He sat down gingerly on the sofa to await the rest of his punishment.

At length, Skinner's office door opened and Mulder was banished to the guest bathroom to wash his face. Skinner caught Alex's eye, the younger man flushing guiltily as that intense gaze seemed to see right through him. Skinner smiled as he passed by, the twinkle in his eye suggesting that he knew exactly what Alex had been thinking. Alex thought he saw pride in that smile. He decided he liked seeing that look on Skinner's face, wanted to give him cause to be proud. He filed it away in his memory for later, when he would be alone.

Skinner stood at one end of the gleaming dining room table, a cheerful smile on his face. Alex and Mulder sat uncomfortably on the straightbacked chairs, eyeing the brand-new legal pads and ballpoint pens that lay before them with dread. Skinner selected several books from a pile on the sideboard and took his time, perusing them thoughtfully. His smile widened. Alex watched with a sinking heart as Skinner chose a particularly weighty tome and dropped the book on the table in front of Alex with an audible plop.

"Agent Krycek," Skinner said brightly. "Would you be so kind as to read the title of this book? Out loud, if you please."

"Conflict Resolution and You," read Alex in a small voice. He looked up at Skinner. "New edition, 1970?"

Skinner patted Alex on the shoulder.

"Sometimes the old ways are the best," he said with a grin. "And for you, Agent Mulder," he said merrily, depositing a thick, clothbound book on the table with a flourish. "Read the title, please."

Mulder regarded the book warily.

"Sensitivity in The Workplace," he read with a detectable lack of enthusiasm. He scowled and crossed his arms mutinously.

"Somehow, sir, I doubt there's a chapter in this book addressing the proper response to one's partner having just been paddled by one's Assistant Director."

Skinner arched an eyebrow.

"I see, Agent Mulder," he said, his tone deceptively gentle. "Perhaps Agent Krycek will be able to assist you. Because I can promise you, if you don't adjust your attitude, he will be an expert on the subject."

Mulder paled, suddenly very interested in the tabletop.

"Sorry, sir," he mumbled.

"I thought you'd see things my way," Skinner said amiably. He stepped through the connecting door into the kitchen, returning with a tray bearing a pitcher of iced water and two glasses. He placed the tray in the center of the table.

"All right, gentlemen," he said firmly. "Open your books to chapter one and start writing. You will copy every word on every page and you will do it neatly and legibly. Sloppiness or skipping lines will result in your copying the entire chapter over again."

He paused and waited while Alex and Mulder reluctantly opened their books, misery evident on their faces. He grinned again.

"I advise you to give considerable thought to the words you are writing, Agents, and contemplate ways in which you can implement them in your daily lives."

Alex and Mulder sat hunched over their books like recalcitrant schoolboys. Skinner had to chew the inside of his lip to keep from laughing at the perfect picture of misery their downcast faces made. Come on, Walt, he chided himself. Laugh now and you'll spoil this stern image you've spent so long perfecting. A few hours spent ruing their impetuous ways would do them good, he knew, but he couldn't help feeling a twinge of sympathy for them as they picked up their pens and began to write.

Skinner remembered Mrs. Katz, his sixth grade English teacher, and her single-minded devotion to writing assignments as punishment. He had spent many long afternoons dolefully copying lines from some dreary grammar text, sure that by the end of the term, his pencil would be grafted to his hand. As the two dark heads bent over their legal pads, he gave them one more fond look and then left the room.

"I'll be right here in the living room, Agents," he called as he rounded the corner, "and I don't want to hear any talking."

Alex sighed and squirmed a little in his chair, his sore rear end making its dislike of the hard wood known. He flipped through the first few chapters of the book. The text was as dry as chalk and the author seemed to have taken sadistic glee in making the subject matter exponentially more stultifying as the book went on. Alex turned back to the first page and started writing. He knew they deserved to be punished, both of them, but the thought of the hours stretching before him, full of mindless tedium, made him want to scream. He put down his pen and ran his fingers through his hair. Only five lines into it and he was already about to lose his mind.

"I don't hear pen on paper, Agent Krycek," came a deep voice from the doorway. "Perhaps you'd like to step into my office and discuss the importance of accepting the discipline offered to you?"

Alex gulped.

"N-no, sir," he said. He gave Skinner a pleading look. "But, sir, it's-"

"Like watching paint dry, Agent? Watching grass grow? The single most tedious thing you've ever had to do?"

Alex flushed. "Something like that, sir."

Skinner smiled.

"Well, you're absolutely right. Ten seconds of this would be enough to drive anybody stark raving mad. But," he added, not unkindly, "by your own admission, you made a mistake. You did something wrong and you're here today to do penance for that. Am I right?"

"Yes, sir," Alex answered quietly, not looking up. Skinner stepped closer, his hands in his pockets.

"When you came here today, Alex, did you come here with honest intentions?"

Alex paled, looking at the AD in alarm.

"Sir? I don't understand," he said nervously. "Wh-what do you mean?"

"I mean," Skinner said patiently, "did you come here with a sincere desire to learn from this experience? To understand not only that you did something wrong, but why it was wrong? To learn an important lesson and to carry it with you when you leave here, so that you might not make the same mistake again? Did you come here with an open mind, hoping to benefit from the guidance I am attempting to give you?"

Alex looked up into Skinner's eyes.

"Yes, sir," he said firmly.

Skinner's smile was warm and open. He placed a hand on Alex's shoulder.

"So you see, Alex, that there is method in my madness? That even this seemingly mindless exercise has some purpose? That I am trying to give you some structure, some guidance so that you may be not only a better agent and a better partner, but a better man as well?"

Alex nodded, unable to speak around the lump in his throat. Skinner gave his shoulder a squeeze and walked back to the doorway.

"Good. Get to work, Agent. I want to see considerable progress when I check on you again."

"Yes, sir," Alex said softly. He picked up his pen and began to write, trying to make the dull words mean something, trying to learn from them.

One cannot hope to resolve conflicts successfully unless one is willing to listen. Often we are so intent on winning an argument that we forget to truly listen to the other person's point of view....

A cough from Mulder drew Alex's attention. Alex looked up. Mulder spoke without looking at Alex, concentrating on his work, filling line after line with his neat, flowing script.

"He means it, you know. He does it because he cares." Serious hazel eyes raised from the half-filled page and focused on Alex. "He's really impressed with you. He sees something in you. In us both."

Alex nodded numbly. Casting a nervous glance toward the doorway, he leaned closer to Mulder, finally giving voice to the question that had been nagging at him all day.

"Mulder? Are there any others, besides us? That he..."

"That he has an...arrangement with?" Mulder asked with a sardonic half-smile. "No. Only the two of us."

Alex studied the lined paper before him, toying nervously with his pen.

"Mulder," he began hesitantly. "Are you...I mean...this is something special, between you, and now..." he trailed off, unable to find the words to articulate his worry.

"Does it bother me that he's decided to extend the same sort of offer to you?"

Alex nodded, holding his breath for the answer. He wanted so much for Mulder to accept him, to stop treating him like the interloper he undoubtedly was. It seemed every time he was on the verge of a breakthrough, finding some common ground between them, Mulder retreated behind a wall of sarcasm and disdain. Alex knew Mulder felt he was taking Scully's place, intruding into something sacred and precious. Did he resent the attention the AD was giving Alex, too? Had this been something private and special between Mulder and Skinner, and now Alex was the unwanted tagalong?

Mulder sat, deep in thought. Then he rested his intense gaze on Alex and spoke with characteristic bluntness.

"Yeah, it bothered me at first," he admitted. "I guess I was kind of jealous. I liked being the only one he gave that extra attention to, you know? But," he paused and shrugged, "I've learned to talk to Skinner when something's bugging me. Nothing against you, you understand," he held up a placating hand. Alex nodded for Mulder to continue. "He and I had a long talk. He feels you need his help too and as for me, well, I...I know what it's like, being a rookie agent. I guess maybe you remind me a little of me when I was still wet behind the ears. Maybe if I'd had Skinner when I started out..."

Skinner cleared his throat in the other room and Mulder hastily resumed writing. He gave Alex one last cockeyed grin before turning his attention back to his book.

"Anyway, even though I hate this, and I damn sure hate having a sore ass, I...I like being cared for. I like that he gives a damn what I do. Just make sure you don't forget how lucky you are, and don't ever make him sorry he took a chance on you. Because if you do, you'll have to deal with me. Got it, kid?"

Alex stared at him for a long moment, then lowered his eyes, hiding the pain in them.

"Yeah," he answered softly. "I got it."

The hours passed with agonizing slowness. Alex wavered between a steadfast commital to impress Skinner with his diligence and a smoldering resentment toward the smiling AD. Alex scowled and flexed his hand as Skinner came into refill the water pitcher. He felt ridiculous. He was twenty-six years old, for God's sake, and here he sat, copying lines like a little boy in disgrace. He caught the smile on Skinner's face and realized that he was pouting.

"Put that lip away, Agent Krycek," Skinner said as he rifled through Alex's legal pad, checking the work Alex had already done. "You don't want to get ink on it."

Alex's scowl deepened. He had half-decided to flee the room when Skinner handed him the legal pad and said, "Very good, Alex. I know this is unpleasant, but...Agent Mulder?"

"That's why they call it punishment," Mulder said, his own pout rivaling Alex's. He handed Skinner his own legal pad and cringed a little as the AD pointed out a few places where his handwriting really could have been a little neater.

Alex could have sobbed with relief when Skinner finally called them for lunch. Both men were grateful to leave the dining room for the relative cheerfulness of the breakfast nook. Alex drank deeply from the glass of real brewed iced tea and all three men made short work of the simple meal of vegetable soup and cold roast beef sandwiches that the AD had prepared.

After lunch, back to the books. Alex considered weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth if only it would free him from Conflict Resolution and You.

Three ink-stained hours later, and Skinner finally took pity on them. Alex and Mulder took great pleasure in unceremoniously dumping the hated books on the sideboard as they followed Skinner into the living room. It was nearing dusk as they were herded into the elevator, down into the lobby and out onto the sidewalk. Mulder seemed to know what Skinner had planned but Alex was clueless, walking along behind them, just enjoying the fresh air. He was so grateful to be free of the confines of the dining room that he was unconcerned about what the AD had in store for them. His stomach lurched as he remembered the second strapping due him after dinner, but he quickly put the thought aside, trying to forget it for the time being.

Alex looked up in surprise as they stopped, a few blocks away, in front of a school. Skinner led the way around to the back, where a neatly lined track lay empty. Alex and Mulder followed him through the gate and inside, where Skinner made himself comfortable halfway up a row of bleachers.

"All right, gentlemen," he said. "We've worked on your minds, now it's time to work on your bodies again. Let's have some laps, please. I'll let you know when you can stop."

Alex looked up, puzzled. But Mulder loved to run. Alex wasn't much of a runner but he did enjoy physical activity. A chance to run in the fresh air after being cooped up in the dining room all afternoon seemed a treat more so than a punishment.

Skinner grinned. Mulder was already halfway around the track, coltish legs pumping eagerly. The AD looked down at Alex, once again seeming to know exactly what he was thinking.

"It doesn't all have to be sackcloth and ashes, Agent. I know you might enjoy the chance to work off some of that pent-up energy. Go on. It'll do you good. If there's any doubt in your mind that you're still being punished, we'll rectify that after dinner tonight."

Alex swallowed hard and jogged onto the track.

He lost count of the laps after the first ten, and it was after dark when Skinner called them over. They put on their jackets to guard against the night chill and walked back to Viva Tower. No one said much, all three were deep in thought, the two younger men thinking of what was to come after dinner with growing apprehension. Skinner glanced at them, their faces serious in the moonlight, and wondered what they would think if they knew how much he dreaded it too.

Skinner prepared dinner while Mulder and Alex were packed off to separate bathrooms to shower. They emerged in clean shorts and shirts, their hair damp, surprised to find that Skinner had laid a buffet of sorts on the coffee table in the living room.

"I figured Chinese would be a universal favorite," Skinner explained as he handed them each a plate. "The delivery boy just left so it's piping hot. " He gestured toward the widescreen television in one corner of the room. "There's a hockey game on tonight, I thought we could enjoy it while we eat dinner."

Alex and Mulder nodded their enthusiastic agreement and piled their plates high. Soon all three were lost in the game, cheering lustily around mouths full of sweet and sour chicken and egg rolls as the Capitals scored another goal. Alex picked up one of the white cartons from the coffee table, using his chopsticks to fish out a plump steamed dumpling. Skinner and Mulder were loudly debating the skills of the Capitals' goalie and Alex found himself joining in, arguing happily. He paused, watching their faces, and truly felt a part of things, truly accepted, for the first time. At this moment, they weren't a boss and his subordinates. They were just three men, sharing each other's company, enjoying a meal and a hockey game. It was easy to forget Skinner's role as disciplinarian and just see him as a friend, a mentor. Alex watched as Skinner laughed at one of Mulder's jokes, his head thrown back, his eyes alight with happiness. Alex smiled and dug into his food. Skinner was right, he thought. This too has meaning.

The mood turned somber after dinner. Skinner turned the television off after the post-game show and Alex helped him carry the dirty dishes to the kitchen. He and Mulder waited, fidgeting nervously, as Skinner quickly rinsed the dishes and stacked them in the dishwasher, then thriftily packed away the leftovers.

Skinner came out of the kitchen, back in full AD mode, and the after-dinner strappings were handled quickly and efficiently. Alex was first. Skinner closed the door, leaving Mulder waiting in the living room. Alex stood, his hands behind his back, fingers twisting nervously.

"I know you know what this punishment is for, Alex." the AD said quietly. "We discussed it at length this morning."

"Yes, sir," Alex said. He fumbled with the button, then slid his shorts and boxers down, bending over the desk. His legs trembled. He alternately dreaded and welcomed the first swish of the strap. The sooner they got started, the sooner it would be over.

He heard Skinner take up position behind him.

"I want you to think about what you've learned here today, Alex," Skinner said softly. "I want you to carry the lesson inside you and remember it. I want you to remember, too, that I care about you. I care too much for you to let you behave this way. I'm not going to let your youth and inexperience jeopardize your career and your future. You must learn to control your temper. The FBI is no place for displays of childish pique."

"No, sir," Alex whispered. He gripped the desk tightly as the first stroke blazed across his bare backside.

"Ow!" he yelped.

"Settle down, Agent," Skinner admonished dryly. "We're just getting started here."

Skinner laid them down fast and even, barely giving Alex time to draw a breath in between. By the last stroke he was gasping and sobbing, knowing Mulder could probably hear him but too far gone to care. He all but collapsed in Skinner's arms, clinging to the older man for life.

"I'm sorry, sir, I'm sorry, I'm sorry," he cried, hiding his face in shame. "I disappointed you, I let you down, I'm sorry..."

Skinner cupped the back of Alex's neck, the warm weight of his hand reassuring and soothing.

"It's all right, Alex," he said quietly. "I know you're sorry. I know. It's over for now. Take a deep breath."

Alex clutched at Skinner's shirt, heard what he was saying with growing horror but couldn't stop himself. He raised his head and looked into Skinner's eyes.

"You don't understand," he said, his voice shaking. "I'm sorry. I am. I'm so sorry, sir." He looked down, miserably, tears dripping off his chin.

Skinner looked at him for a moment, puzzled. Obviously, the young man was overwrought. He needed to know this wasn't the end of the world. He tipped Alex's chin up, forcing the anguished green eyes to meet his.

"It's all right, Agent. You've done well today and I'm proud of you. I know it wasn't all pleasant but you've done everything I've asked. I know you sincerely want to improve as an agent and as a person, and I'm always here for you. You're a good man, Alex. You just need someone to believe in you. I believe."

Alex was stunned silent for a moment, then buried his head in the AD's chest and bawled.

After Mulder's strapping, the punishment was over for the night. Mulder was delighted to find an all-night MonsterThon on channel 9 and soon forgot his sore butt as he munched popcorn and enlightened Alex and Skinner on the groundbreaking use of irony in "The Attack of the 50 Foot Woman".

Later that night, Alex lay on the couch, Mulder having claimed the guest room by dint of seniority. The AD had fussed over him, making sure he had plenty of blankets and an extra pillow, and Alex was comfortable despite his aching backside. It alternately stung and burned, but he was almost glad for the pain, a tangible reminder of Skinner's words. You just need someone to believe in you.

I believe.

He thought of Skinner, asleep upstairs, Mulder, asleep down the hall. Had he heard footsteps on the stairs earlier as he lay, half-dozing? Had he heard Skinner's bedroom door close a second time? Or had he dreamed it? His cock began to lift its head, eager to get in on the fantasy brewing in Alex's mind, but he forced himself to think of something else. He thought about leaving tomorrow, going back to his empty apartment. Thought about what awaited him there.

It was enough. His cock settled all too quickly and Alex drifted into an uneasy sleep.

Skinner woke them early for breakfast, cereal and fruit served on the balcony. He did not make them wait for the final phase of their punishment. Alex remained on the balcony, toying nervously with the last of his cereal as Mulder took his final ten strokes. It seemed to take longer than usual, and Alex decided to help Skinner out by clearing the breakfast table and putting the dishes in the dishwasher. He was just finishing when Mulder appeared in the kitchen doorway, his eyes red and puffy from crying. He had his gym bag over one shoulder.

"See you Monday," he said, giving Alex a brief smile.

"Sure," Alex said, drying his hands on the dishcloth. He glanced away, unsure of what to say. "You okay?"

"Yeah," Mulder shrugged. "I've had worse. I guess when I sit down the rest of the weekend it'll remind me to stay on Skinner's good side."

They both laughed as Skinner walked in. He placed a firm hand on Mulder's shoulder but his eyes were dancing.

"And how do you go about doing that, Agent Mulder?" he asked wryly.

"By remembering the lesson, sir," Mulder said, looking up at Skinner through his lashes. "By making you proud."

"That's it," Skinner said, beaming. "Get out of here, Agent. Enjoy the rest of your weekend."

"Yes, sir," Mulder replied, heading for the door. "See you, sir, Alex!"

The door closed behind him, leaving Skinner and Alex alone. Alex looked at the AD nervously.

"Well, Agent Krycek," Skinner said. "I suggest we get this over with."

"Yes, sir."

Skinner left the office door open this time, as there was no one there to hear.

"Go on, Alex. The sooner we get started, the sooner we're done." He waited while Alex lowered his pants and got into position, then picked up the strap.

"I really do hate having to do this, Alex. I hope you believe that."

"Yes, sir," Alex whispered, his cheek against the desk. He truly did believe it. Skinner always seemed to hesitate before he picked up the strap, as though he loathed the very feel of it in his hand.

Skinner raised the strap and paused.

"Tell me what you've learned this weekend, Alex."

Alex took a deep breath.

"I...I learned that...that you care, sir. That you give a damn what happens to me. That the way I behave now impacts my future at the Bureau and it reflects on you as my superior. I learned that I have to control my temper, that I have to learn not to be impulsive. I've learned...I've learned that I'm lucky to have you as my AD, sir."

Silence. Finally Skinner spoke, his voice roughened by some unnamed emotion.

"I'm glad, Alex. I know it wasn't easy for you to come here this weekend. I know there were times over the last twenty-four hours when you probably didn't like me very much. But it's important to me that you realize that all of this is for your own good. That I'm punishing you because I care and because I believe you can do better."

"Yes, sir," Alex said. He closed his eyes and waited for the first stroke.

His bottom was still sore from the previous night's strapping and so the first stroke had his eyes stinging. He gritted his teeth and rode it out, but was puzzled when Skinner stopped after only five strokes.

Alex lifted his head.


"Stand up, please, Alex," Skinner said.

Alex obeyed, hastily pulling up his shorts and boxers, bending slightly to hide the evidence of the bold interest his cock was taking in the proceedings.

Skinner sat in one of the wing chairs and looked at Alex seriously.

"Do you remember me telling you that, as the instigator of the physical altercation that occurred in your office, you would receive an additional punishment?"

Alex shivered a little and lowered his eyes.

"Y-yes, sir."

Skinner continued.

"Do you agree that you behaved childishly, and attacked your partner without reason? That an adult should be able to rise above another person's laughing at them, and not resort to physical violence?"

Alex stared down at his gym shoes.

"Yes, sir," he whispered.

"Very well, then. I think you'll agree that some of the punishments this weekend have been somewhat childish in nature. That was deliberate on my part, and I think, a highly effective way of dealing with what was a childish act."

"Yes, sir." Alex shifted from foot to foot, unsure where Skinner was going with this. Skinner saw the bewilderment on the young agent's face and continued.

"As you and I are in agreement that you behaved childishly, you will receive a child's punishment. You will take your final five strokes over my knee, and receive an additional five for attacking your partner."

Alex was stunned. The blood seemed to rush from his tender rear end to his face, making it fairly glow with embarrassment. He tried to swallow, his dry throat making a clicking noise.

"Sir, I-"

Skinner raised an eyebrow.

"Accept the punishment, Agent, or don't. I will not force you. It's your decision."

Alex hesitated. He remembered his fantasy, himself over Skinner's knee, knew what kind of reaction it had provoked. He couldn't deny, even though he knew Skinner was in earnest, what an erotic scenario this was. His cock began its inconvenient stirring again.

"Sir, I...I don't..."

Skinner took pity on the flustered young man.

"In case you're wondering, Alex, I've punished Agent Mulder in this way on more than one occasion. He too finds it...unnerving and that's understandable. I wouldn't suggest it if I didn't think it appropriate under the circumstances."

Alex took a step forward, then stopped. He bit his lip, looking helplessly at Skinner.

"Do you trust me?" Skinner asked simply.

Alex made his decision. His eyes shut tight in his scarlet face, he eased his shorts and underwear down again and felt Skinner's hands guiding him into position across the strong thighs.

"I'm going to start now, Alex," Skinner said gently. "You don't have to count them out, but I do want you to think again what this punishment is for. I hope we don't have to do this again."

"No, sir," Alex whispered. He felt so vulnerable, with his bare butt in the air, high over Skinner's knee. His cock began to fill and Alex moaned involuntarily, mortified. Surely Skinner could feel his hardness pressing against his leg! As if in response, Skinner lifted Alex slightly and repositioned him so that his cock and balls fell into the space between Skinner's denim-clad thighs. Alex almost wanted to whimper at the loss of friction, but decided he was grateful he wouldn't have the added humiliation of coming all over the AD's leg.

Skinner brought the strap down hard, eliciting a startled squeak from the young man across his lap. He spanked Alex swiftly and firmly, keeping one hand on the small of Alex's back to keep him anchored as he began to kick fruitlessly.

"Ow, ow, sir, please!" Alex moaned, despite his resolve to stay quiet and take his punishment like a man. "I'm sorry, please, sir, I've learned, I swear I have!"

"Three more, Alex," Skinner said calmly. He brought the strap down three times, crisscrossing the reddened buttocks, then tossed it aside.

Alex lay across Skinner's lap, limp and sobbing. He wouldn't have been surprised to see flames leaping from the blazing skin of his backside. Carefully, Skinner helped him to sit up, wincing in sympathy at the hiss of pain Alex emitted as his sore butt touched Skinner's jeans. Alex stood and slowly pulled up his shorts, sniffling. He turned away, embarrassed at his loss of composure, but strong hands turned him back around.

"Come on," Skinner said softly. "This part isn't optional."

He drew Alex into his arms, just as he had before, but this time, Alex seemed reluctant. He stood stiffly, unwilling or unable to look Skinner in the eye.

"Alex?" Skinner said with concern. "What is it?"

Alex shook his head, trying to fight the renewed flow of tears. His hands clenched and unclenched as he visibly tried to get himself under control.

"Please tell me, Alex. Is it the spanking?"

Alex shook his head, trying to contain the sobs threatening to rack his slender frame. Finally, he raised an anguished face to Skinner, his green eyes overflowing with tears.

"It's one's ever...I...I never had anyone care like this, sir. No one. I-" he broke off, crying as though his heart would break. Skinner enfolded him in his arms and rocked him gently.

"It's all right, Alex. I do care. I'm always here for you."

Alex looked up, his eyes streaming.

"Thank you, sir," he gasped. "Thank you. I wish I..." he looked down again suddenly.

"What is it, Alex? Tell me," Skinner urged, his face worried.

Alex shook his head.

"It's nothing, sir, honestly," he mumbled, his heart pounding in his chest, shaking with the shock of what he had almost told the AD.

Skinner fell silent, leaving Alex to his thoughts. Wanting the younger man to trust him enough to share whatever was bothering him, trust him the way Mulder did.

Finally, Alex's sobs tapered off, and he wiped his face and adjusted his clothing. Skinner looked at him. Alex still seemed troubled by something.

"It's over now," Skinner said quietly. "It's over and forgotten. You know that, don't you?"

"Yes, sir," Alex whispered.

"Alex, I hope you know that you can tell me anything," Skinner said, looking into the younger man's eyes. "There's nothing that you can't come to me and tell me, nothing I won't do my best to help you with."

"Thank you, sir," Alex blurted and rushed from the room. He grabbed his gym bag. Skinner stood by the front door, watching Alex with worried brown eyes.

Alex stood clutching his gym bag nervously, as had when he had arrived the night before.

"I'm sorry, sir," he said, ashamed. "I...I guess it's just emotional for me, all of this. I'm all right."

Skinner smiled, though the worry did not leave his eyes. Something was obviously eating at Alex, but whatever it was, Skinner was going to have to work harder to earn his trust before he would feel comfortable enough to share it. He squeezed Alex's shoulder gently.

"You have the number here, Alex. Don't hesitate to call if you need me. I'll see you in the office on Monday."

"Yes, sir," Alex opened the door. He turned to look at Skinner again, his eyes clouded with some fleeting emotion. "Thank you, sir. For everything."

"You're welcome, Agent," Skinner replied.

Alex walked for two blocks before the sleek black car pulled up alongside him. The back door slowly swung open. He hesitated, then climbed in.

The smell of cigarette smoke was overwhelming in the closed-in space. Spender regarded him with hard, glittering eyes as he lit another Morley, blowing the smoke in Alex's face.

"So," Spender said, his voice oily and menacing. "It seems you have won their trust."

Alex swallowed hard and closed his eyes, unable to bear the sight of the old man.

"Yes, sir," he said softly. "Yes I have."

The End


Notes and Disclaimers