10-Oct-97
MKRA OK.
This story will also be available at my website,
http://www.geocities.com/WestHollywood/Village/1121
Characters and situations are the property of Cris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions and Fox Broadcasting. Used without permission and no infringement is intended. All other contents are copyright 1997 by the author. Contains scenes of graphic S/M and m/m sex.


The Paradox Club
by Cody Nelson <codyne@netwizards.net>

Part One

Mulder suppressed a yawn and leaned into the trunk of the tree, peering around it to watch Alex Krycek climb the front steps of a huge and very expensive house on the outskirts of Georgetown.

At least, Mulder was sure it was Alex Krycek, though he hadn't been close enough throughout the long chase to see the man's face. But even from the back, from twenty yards away, he'd felt it with a certainty that still churned in his guts that =this= was his enemy, his former partner who'd betrayed him, his father's killer. It was the way he moved: the loose-limbed, explosive gait, the sudden little feints, as though he had so much energy his arms and legs couldn't quite contain it and he felt compelled to try to be everywhere at once. Not to mention the leather jacket, oversized and shiny black, like the one he'd worn when Mulder found him in Hong Kong, and the black jeans and boots, and black leather gloves. His hair was longer than when Mulder had last seen him, in Tunguska, but the shape of the head was right, and so were the small, almost delicate ears that Mulder occasionally glimpsed. Oh, it was Krycek, it had to be --no one else could induce this rage in him, this terrible rush of angry black lust.

He'd been following him for nearly two hours now, ever since his earlier meeting had fallen apart -- there had been a horrible car accident the next street over, his contact hadn't shown, he'd discovered in disgust that his cell phone batteries were dead, and he was ready to give it up and go home when he'd caught the first brief glimpse of black leather and familiar stance in the crowd dispersing from the accident and decided to follow. It was now after three a.m., well past time for good children and FBI agents to be home in bed, and here he was hiding behind a tree in a neighborhood in which he couldn't even afford to park his car, while the man he was sure was Krycek stood on the front porch in earnest conversation with a man resembling Lurch from the Addams Family who'd answered the door.

Presently, Krycek went inside, and Lurch closed the door, and Mulder was left standing in the dark behind his tree, yawning. What were the chances that Krycek would come back out any time soon, before Mulder fell asleep where he stood, or was spotted by a security guard and hauled away, or something? If his damned cell phone were working, he'd call Scully and get some backup and put a watch on the house. Or try to get a warrant to go in and get Krycek out. As it was, the best he could do was make a note of the address and try to find out who lived there, and what the link to Krycek might be.

Or -- if he went to the door, had a few words with Lurch? Maybe he could find out something useful. Maybe he could even get inside, break up whatever nasty, underhanded thing Krycek was up to here. (Unless he was simply staying with an unsuspecting friend who had no idea what sort of rat he was harboring, but -- in this neighborhood? Krycek, in any of his various guises, had never looked like anyone who rubbed elbows with the Georgetown old-money crowd.)

Mulder glanced at his watch. He couldn't read the dial in the shadowed street light filtering under his tree. Late -- it was late. Get the address and go home, or?

Mulder shrugged. Was there ever really any question? He peeled himself away from the tree, and headed up the steps to the front porch.

Up close, the house screamed money even louder than it had from the street. The small metal plate proclaiming the house number in discreet, one-inch numerals was brass, and shone deeply from what must have been daily polish. The ornate doorknocker was just as shiny. But there was something else besides unlimited wealth whispering in the house's voice: something dark, and a little intimidating. The door, for example, was jet black enamel, with a glow so deep it seemed to have been lacquered. There were two small windows set into it, both of thick, smoky glass, only faintly translucent, looking almost like plates of obsidian.

And the doorknocker. Mulder felt reluctant even to put his hand on it. It was a human form, naked but genderless, twisted and marked with miniature wounds, with an expression of abject horror on its face. The ring of the knocker pierced the sides of the figure's chest, leaving tiny drops of brass blood flowing from the wounds, and the bottom of the ring battered against the poor soul's crushed thighs. <It =is= the Addams Family,> Mulder thought, as he swallowed, and reached out to tap the knocker, wincing as he added to the small figure's torture.

The door was answered promptly. Up close, the man resembled Arnold Schwarzenegger as much as Lurch. He was at least six-foot-six, nearly as broad as the doorway, and impeccably dressed in white tie and tails, with fastidious white gloves on his hands. Arnold Schwarzenegger, by way of Fred Astaire. He made Mulder feel small, and Mulder didn't often feel small, not physically, anyway.

"May I help you, Sir?" The man's voice was cold steel.

Mulder tried not to stammer. "That man who just came in -- I want to see him."

"Do you have an invitation, Sir?"

An invitation to what? A late-night party for murderers and traitors? Mulder pulled out his FBI badge and held it up. "I'm a Federal agent."

The man's gaze flicked dismissively over Mulder's badge. "Do you have a warrant?"

"No," Mulder admitted.

"Then I'd advise you to put that away, Sir."

Feeling more than a little foolish, Mulder did. "I have reason to believe that the man who just entered these premises is a Federal fugitive. May I speak to someone who lives here, please?"

"=I= live here, Sir." The man's eyes glinted unpleasantly in the cold light.

"Yes, of course, I meant -- "

"Step into the foyer for a moment, Sir," the man was suddenly ushering him in. Mulder stepped over the threshold into darkness, a place so swallowed up in blackness that he couldn't measure the distance to the walls. "I'll make the inquiries, Sir, if you'll just wait here." And then Mulder heard a door close, and he was alone in total dark.

He swallowed down panic. The front door was behind him -- he hadn't taken more than two steps inside. He eased back, reaching out behind himself, until he touched the solid lacquered bulk of the door. Somewhat reassured, he took a few deep breaths and tried to think. All right, it was all meant to be intimidating. And it was. But nothing truly threatening had happened -- it was just children's games, leaving the unsuspecting victim alone in the dark. He'd wait a bit, and if the man didn't come back soon, he'd start exploring. As long as he kept one hand on the wall and remembered what direction he'd gone in, he'd be able to find his way out if necessary.

But the wait, after all, was only a few minutes. A door opened, off to Mulder's right, admitting both the man in the dinner suit and a rectangle of yellowish light.

"You may enter," the man intoned, "as long as you agree to abide by the rules of the house."

"Which are?"

"Your host will be responsible for your behavior." There was something in the man's tone that clearly said he didn't think much for the chances of anyone who'd accept responsibility for Mulder's behavior. Mulder had to agree he was probably right. "The first rule is, weapons are left at the door."

Mulder was no doubt more startled than he should have been. Of course, he'd already identified himself as an FBI agent. And if Krycek was going to be his host (his reaction to that thought warred between amusement and disgust), surely he'd want Mulder disarmed at the very least before he'd accept responsibility for him. So, at this point, he supposed he had a choice -- give up his gun and play out this little game, or go home and see what he could do about getting a twenty-four hour watch on this place.

His curiosity got the better of him. Mulder pulled the gun out of his belt holster, and handed it to the doorman, reflecting that it was amazing what a little civilized veneer and subtle intimidation could induce a person to do. (He wasn't likely to want to tell Scully about this escapade, he mused, and more's the pity, she could use a good laugh these days.)

The man accepted Mulder's gun, ejected the clip, then tucked it into the waistband of his trousers. "And the other gun, Sir?"

"What other gun?" There was one, of course, in an ankle holster, but Mulder had no intention of giving that one up -- at least, not unless he had to.

"Would you care for a full-body search, Sir?" It was as if he were offering an aperitif.

Mulder spent only a brief split-second imagining Lurch's white-gloved hands inspecting his body. "No, thank you." He bent to retrieve the gun, and handed it over, smiling brightly. "I hope the rules of the house don't involve robbing the guests."

The doorman frowned haughtily at him. "No, Sir. You'll have your weapons back when you leave. And your coat, and anything else you wish to leave in my care while you're here."

Mulder shrugged out of his overcoat, letting it go with the two guns. Anything else? Mulder had the absurd impulse to begin undressing, handing pieces of his clothing over to the doorman, one by one.

The doorman paused a moment, as if waiting for him to decide whether to go with that impulse, then nodded and went back to the side door. "Your host will be with you shortly." Then he was gone, and Mulder was alone in the dark again.

The wait was longer this time -- long enough for Mulder to reflect deeply on the wisdom of turning over his guns to a perfect stranger. And accepting Krycek as his host in this Caligariesque funhouse. And what he would do if it happened that his host didn't turn out to be Krycek. (He had to admit he had no real evidence that it would be Krycek. It might in fact be the house's owner, whoever that was, or some large and humorless cousin of Lurch, or Newt Gingrich, for all Mulder knew. But he seemed to have convinced himself that it would be Krycek -- in fact, he'd be terribly disappointed if it wasn't. He didn't really want to think about what it meant that he would jump so wildly to that conclusion.) And there was time to ponder the rules of the house, which included leaving your weapons at the door, and waiting for your host in the dark.

He nearly jumped out of his skin when the door opened, seemingly right in front of his face. The light from the hallway assailed his eyes; for a moment, the man standing before him was a huge, dark shadow, something from the underworld, come to take him down to hell.

But he blinked, and rubbed his eyes, and it was only Krycek ("only" Krycek?), still in his leather jacket and boots, but now he'd traded his black jeans for black leather trousers. The only thing he wore that wasn't black leather was his shirt -- oversized white cotton, worn loose, almost a poet's shirt, with a wide collar, and unfastened cuffs that poked from the sleeves of his jacket. His eyes were wide and bright, his cheeks flushed, and there was a sly smile on his round, moist lips.

"Good evening, Mulder. Come to play? I wouldn't have expected to see you here, but I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. Somehow, we always seem to find each other."

"I followed you. From the car accident on K Street. Your handiwork?"

Krycek just shrugged and smiled. There was something odd about his left shoulder, but Mulder couldn't quite place what it was. "It's a small world. Well, come in, since you're here. We can find a place to talk, if that's what you want."

With a glance to the side, towards the door behind which Lurch lurked, Mulder followed Krycek into the hallway. "Talking wouldn't be first on my list. But with guys like Lurch around, I imagine it will be the best I can do."

Krycek grinned over his shoulder at him. "Oh, I think you might be allowed a little of what you really want. As long as you follow the rules."

"So what =are= the rules of the house? If you're going to be responsible for my behavior, I ought to know what I might do that would get you into trouble." The hallway seemed to go on forever. Rooms opened off to the sides, but they were all dark and indistinguishable. Krycek suddenly turned and led them up a wide, curving stairway. It was the Winchester Mystery House, Mulder thought. Or Zork.

"Oh, nothing too unusual. You know. Safe, sane, consensual."

"Consensual? Sounds like a sex club."

Krycek stopped, suddenly, and turned to face Mulder. "Well, of course it is. What did you think?"

Mulder's mouth opened, but no words came out. Krycek stood one step above him, smiling brightly. It was three in the morning -- closer to four by now -- and he was in a sex club in Georgetown with Alex Krycek. Alex Krycek all dressed in black leather and looking like some decadent and perverse eighteenth-century poet. _Gothic_, Mulder thought. Yes, that was it. He was in a Ken Russell film. All it needed was a thunderstorm.

He swallowed, and tried again. "A sex club. So where is everyone? Seems awfully quiet for a sex club."

"Most everyone's down in the dungeon. These are the private rooms up here. I thought -- " Krycek paused, shook his head, laughing silently. "My mistake. Of course, you'll want to visit the dungeon. Come on, Mulder, it's down this way."

Mulder stood on the broad stairway, watching Krycek's back as he ran down the steps, white tail of his shirt peeking out from under his jacket, like the flash of a white-tailed deer as it bounded away. He didn't look back, seeming unconcerned that Mulder might not follow. It was vaguely irritating, but of course he was right. Mulder didn't plan to let Krycek out of his sight, at least not before he'd given up all hope of getting some satisfaction out of this evening beyond the dubious pleasure of finding his favorite enemy all decked out in black leather, like a bon-bon to be served up at the Marquis de Sade's table.

He caught up with his "host" at the bottom of the stairs. "You're under arrest," he said softly, poking his finger in the small of Krycek's back, and gripping one shoulder through thick black leather.

Krycek shrugged him off, rolling his eyes. "Save it for the dungeon, Mulder."

There were more hallways, more dark rooms, more stairs. Mulder pondered as he followed: what was Krycek doing here? In Georgetown, of all places, hanging out in sex clubs? Was this where off-duty triple agents came to while away their free hours? For that matter, what was Mulder doing here? Why hadn't he just noted the address, gone back to work, and started the inquiries? Or, at least, when he'd been asked to give up his gun, said no and gone quietly away? What had possessed him to think that he had to come in here, unarmed and helpless, defying what little good sense he had, to confront an enemy he had no power over, to subject himself to frustration and confusion and humiliation in this gothic underworld? He thought about that doorknocker, and pictured himself, pierced and battered and pinned to the wall. Except nobody'd nailed him down -- he'd walked right into this with his eyes wide open, every step of the way.

And now he was on his way to the dungeon. Mulder found that he was a little light-headed, as they finally turned a corner to find another wide stairway, this one leading down. His breath was coming fast, and a thin trickle of cold sweat crept down his chest. It was foolish, he told himself. He was no innocent, he knew what sex clubs were like -- a lot of silly games, that was all. Paunchy businessmen and bored housewives dressed up in leather and rubber, spanking each other, pretending to be dangerous for an hour or two before going home to their spouses and their boring jobs. It was all negotiated and mapped out and terribly tame beneath the veneer, like children shouting "Boo!" and shrieking hysterically, pretending to be frightened.

Except that Krycek was no paunchy businessman. He was sleek and powerful and, admit it, beautiful in his leather and his poet's shirt, and his danger was no veneer. Those elegantly-gloved hands had killed. And if Mulder never left this place, if his body ended up buried in some obscure corner under the stairs, who would ever find out what had happened to him? He swallowed hard, moved over to hold onto the balustrade, and continued down.

The landing opened out into a large anteroom, well-lit for a change with round yellow ceiling globes. It was the smell that hit Mulder first: leather and sweat and animal fear. The room was full of it. And as he looked around, dazed, he realized that there was indeed leather everywhere. Piled in the corners; hanging from hooks on the walls. Jackets and vests, trousers and chaps, whips and harnesses and collars and straps. There were chains, too, and clean white ropes, and other things Mulder didn't want to look at too closely. He reached out and stroked the jacket nearest his hand -- fine, buttery-soft leather, shiny and elegant. What would it feel like to put it on? Would it protect him, give him power?

He turned abruptly to find Krycek looking him over appraisingly. He felt his face grow red under the inspection.

"You're not really dressed for it," Krycek said, eyes narrowed thoughtfully.

So, was he supposed to change clothes, here under these lights, while Krycek watched? And do what with his suit in the meantime? "I'm not taking my clothes off."

Krycek gave a tiny shrug. "You're going to draw a lot of attention to yourself like that. I don't think it will be attention you'll like." His tongue came out to moisten his lower lip. Then he smiled. "I know." He turned to the wall, to the abundance of leather, found what he wanted, and returned to Mulder.

It was a collar. Shiny black leather, about an inch wide, with D-rings set into it. <No,> Mulder tried to protest. But his throat had gone dry, and no words would come out.

"This way, people will know you're with me, and they'll leave you alone," Krycek explained, as he reached out to slide the leather collar around Mulder's neck. His voice was a low murmur, soothing, as if he were quieting a frightened animal. The leather was soft against his neck, seductive, at once delicious and frightening. The tug as it tightened around his throat made him gasp. He felt his eyes fall shut, his hands curl into fists, and his cock shiver and begin to rise.

<People will know you're with me> -- Mulder knew what that really meant. People would assume he was Krycek's sex toy, his slave. His tame FBI agent. But again, his protests caught in his throat and died. <It's only a game,> he told himself roughly, wiping his hands on his trousers. He could reach up at any time, unbuckle the collar and take it off. Only a silly game. Why not play it out? Go into the dungeon, watch the silly people play. It had to be at least as good as video.

He opened his eyes, and there was Krycek, so close he could feel the man's breath on his face. Krycek's smile was knowing, hard and yet somehow gentle. "That's better," he said softly. "It looks good on you." Then he was reaching up, and snapping the spring-clip of a leather lead into one of the D-rings of the collar. Before Mulder could react, Krycek had stepped away, holding the other end of the lead in one gloved hand, gave it a little tug and started towards the door, not bothering to look back.

It was a gentle tug, but Mulder's knees had gone watery, and he barely stopped himself from stumbling. Face flaming, he hurried forward to get a little slack in the lead, and followed Krycek into the dungeon.

Part Two

Flesh was his first impression -- flesh and leather. Smooth white expanses of skin, set off by shiny black leather. Body parts twisted into uncomfortable and humiliating postures while leather angels stood over them, exacting penances. Moans of pain, ecstasy and need; the sharp sounds of leather slapping against skin. The driving, hypnotic beat of music, urgent and dark and desperate. And the smell of the anteroom, even stronger in here, of leather and sweat and musk, and other smells, too --lubricants and latex and the tang of invaded bodies.

The tug at his neck stopped him; he hadn't even been aware that he was still moving. Before him, a tableau of pain played out.

Spread-eagled on his back, a man lay naked on a table, shackled at wrist and ankle with broad, fleece-lined leather cuffs. Sweat gleamed on his well-formed body, and his chest, with its fine mat of golden-brown hair, rose and fell in time with the tiny moans emerging from his throat. Standing over him, face creased with concentration, another man, dressed in leather trousers and vest, was carefully clipping a row of wooden clothespins down each side of his body. Beginning at the top of his shoulders, proceeding down the delicate flesh next to his armpits, across his chest to his swollen nipples, the clothespins bit. Then down his ribs, into the soft crease between hip and thigh, onto the trembling flesh between his legs. As Mulder watched, the man in leather reached down and removed the clothespins from the bound man's nipples, and carefully replaced each one with a metal alligator clip. The man on the table stiffened and arched as the tiny metal teeth sank into his nipples. Small drops of blood trickled down his sides. His cock was nearly as red as the blood, standing engorged at his crotch. His tormentor stood back, smiling in satisfaction, and slapped the man's cock. The man cried out and twisted in his bonds. A thin strand of shiny pre-come dripped from the tip of his cock onto his straining belly. The rows of clothespins shook with his struggles, clinging fiercely to his reddened flesh.

Mulder felt himself straining forward, fists clenched in sympathetic pain. <Stop it,> he wanted to protest. Blood pounded in his temples. And in his cock, just as hard as the man on the table's. <Stop making me feel this way....>

Gritting his teeth, he forced himself away from the table. Next to it, two men were working on a third, suspended on ropes within a wooden frame, like a fly trapped in a spider's web. It was horrifying, yet strangely beautiful: the intricate weave of rope, the man bound within it, stretched and turned and displayed. The white ropes circled his legs, arms, and torso, holding him immobile, forcing him into whatever position amused the two men controlling the apparatus. They flipped the frame so that he was bent forward at the waist, legs pulled apart, round buttocks lifted high and split like ripe melons. They patted his bottom, laughing, and teased at his anus with their fingers, before flipping him over again, to find another way to rearrange his helpless body.

Suddenly, Mulder found it hard to breathe. Sensation. Overwhelming sensation -- it filled the air, he could taste it at the back of his throat, clinging to his pores. Bodies stretched to their limits; controlled and tortured and exposed, shockingly vulnerable. He couldn't bear it; the sensation washed in and filled him up, like an empty bottle lying on a stormy beach. He stepped back, looking around for Krycek.

There were men all around him -- talking to each other, handling each other's bodies, watching the various displays. And it finally sank in --this sea of flesh was all male. No bored housewives here. Just men --hard-bodied and powerful, many of them seeming as large and intimidating as Lurch at the front door. Men who looked at him with penetrating eyes, sizing him up in his Armani suit and his dog collar, smiling knowingly at the hard lump at his crotch. <You belong on this table, or in this web of rope,> their glances seemed to tell him. <I could give you such wonderful tortures.> Then their gazes flicked along the lead to the man who held the other end, and they nodded to Krycek, acknowledging his ownership, and he smiled back at them, pleased and perhaps even a little proud to be holding such a fine creature in his possession.

<It's a damned game,> Mulder told himself hotly. His hand came up to clutch at the collar, suddenly burning his neck. He could take it off any time. <And then be fair game to all these big, powerful men with their knowing eyes....>

Angrily, he strode away, past Krycek, trying to escape their eyes, as helpless to do so as the man in the web. Angry, but he was careful to stop before his lead grew taut. Angry, but tingling all over with the sensation of their hot eyes on him, as palpable as physical caresses.

And came to a naked man in a leather sling, lying on his back with his arms and legs in the air, shackled to the chains suspending the sling from the ceiling. Another man stood at his ass, gloved arm up to his forearm in the man's rectum. Mulder stood, mesmerized, watching the arm, shiny with rubber and lubricant, slowly slide in and out of the man's widely stretched asshole, from wrist to forearm and back again. It was so huge -- how could he take it? Why wasn't he screaming in pain? But the man in the sling seemed utterly relaxed in his bonds, and on his face was an expression of pure transcendence, as he swung gently in the sling to the motions of the fist deep in his guts. Somehow, this troubled Mulder even more than the agonies of the man with the clothespins in his flesh. He shifted unhappily, wanting to shake the man, to make him wake up and feel what was happening to him, to make him explain why he did it.

There was a tug at his neck. Unthinking, Mulder stepped away and followed where the lead took him. Now, he felt oddly grateful for the collar around his neck, keeping him safe, protecting him from all these frightening things.

Krycek reeled him in until they stood side-by-side. He continued to look straight ahead as he spoke. "You okay, Mulder?" His voice was quiet, pitched to carry only the distance between them.

"Yeah." Mulder was well aware of how shaky he sounded. If he had an ounce of sense, he'd ask Krycek to take him out of here, now. On the other hand, if he had an ounce of sense, he'd never have come here in the first place. And how could he admit he couldn't handle it, when Krycek was standing here as calm as the Dead Sea, acting like it was nothing at all, just another night in the dungeon? He swallowed hard, feeling the leather of the collar press against his throat. "I'm fine."

Krycek glanced at him, for just a brief moment, smiling his sly smile. "If this were real," he said, giving Mulder a short tug on his lead, "I'd teach you that one of the rules of the house is honesty. But since you're a guest, I'll let it go." Then he grinned. "You're such a terrible liar, anyway. -- Let's go, Mulder. I think I see some friends over there."

His feet followed obediently, even as his mind was again protesting --he couldn't let Krycek's friends see him like this, couldn't stand there in front of them wearing Krycek's collar, couldn't let them laugh at him and think what they would think of him. It was bad enough in front of strangers -- men he'd never seen before and never would again -- but Krycek's friends -- what if he knew some of them? He had a sudden vision of coming face to face with the Cigarette-Smoking Man down here, all dressed in leather, with a bullwhip in one hand and the ever-present Morley in the other. He choked down a laugh that felt more than a little hysterical. The collar felt huge and heavy on his neck, hot as a burning iron. He could almost believe it would leave a mark there, a scarlet brand of shame, that would never fade. Unbidden, his hands scrabbled at the collar, and he gulped deep breaths through it. He could just take it off. Why didn't he just take it off?

But he couldn't. He didn't know why. He only knew that it was there until Krycek took it off him, no matter how humiliating it became to wear it. The thought, strangely enough, brought him a little peace, a little relief. Not much, but enough to keep his knees steady, to keep him walking one step behind Krycek, following the lead Krycek held loosely in his hand.

Krycek's friends, it turned out, were just more men like the others --muscular men in leather, exposing more or less naked skin, with knowing looks on their faces and hard bulges at their crotches. They nodded to Krycek, smiled, slapped him on the arm. One of them wrapped his arms around Krycek and kissed him on the mouth, thrusting his tongue in deep, his beard brushing against Krycek's face. Mulder watched uncomfortably. The temperature of the room seemed to shoot up another few degrees.

Krycek made no attempt to introduce him, or refer to his presence at all. He held Mulder's lead casually, as if holding men in Armani suits and dog collars on the end of a leash were the most natural and mundane thing in the world, as if Mulder were of no consequence whatsoever. The men's gazes took him in, looked him over and then dismissed him, returning their attention to their friend, ignoring his pet. Mulder was offended at the same time he was relieved. It was a different kind of humiliation than he'd expected, and all the sharper for that.

But he took the opportunity, standing a little off to the side of the group, to take a few deep breaths and pull himself together. The raw sex, the intensity, the electric currents of power flowing had overwhelmed him at first. But there was really nothing to get so upset about. Safe, sane, consensual, Krycek had said -- no one here was in any real danger, no one was being forced to do anything against his will. It was a game on a whole different level than the one he'd expected, but still, it was a game. These men would go home tonight, take off their leather, and go back to their lives, as ordinary and indistinguishable as any other man he might pass in the street. Tomorrow he might see them, wearing suits, carrying cell phones, hurrying to meetings, and he would never know.

Even now, he could barely keep track of them, they all looked alike in their leather uniforms. It was amazing how Krycek shone out in this mass of men -- and it wasn't just the bright white cotton shirt he had on under his jacket, like no one else was wearing. It was the exotic delicacy of his features, the depth of his wide, dark eyes, the special energy that seemed to flow from his body. Mulder felt a creeping sense of... was it pride? that of all the men in this room, it was this one -- it was Krycek -- holding his lead. The heat rising in him this time was not in his face, but down in his belly and his groin.

Oh god. He was sinking, he was losing himself in this seductive world of overwhelming sensation, where torture was agonizing pleasure, submission was safety and protection, even shame was beginning to be addictive and sweet. He was losing himself, and if he let go, who knew where he would fall --

One of the men stepped forward. He was naked to the waist, wearing leather trousers and boots, and a heavy whip hung from his belt. He had tattoos on his arms, and gold rings pierced both nipples. Unclipping the whip from his belt, he held it out to Krycek with both hands, eyes deferentially downcast. "May I have a whipping, Sir?"

Krycek's eyes lit with a strange, dark glow. A slow smile formed on a mouth still wet from another man's kiss. His white shirt was a bright contrast to the shiny blackness of his leather. He seemed almost luminescent in the pale light of the dungeon: an avenging angel, terrible and cruel and implacable. He nodded once, accepting the whip, turning it in his hands, feeling its heft and balance. "Over there," he indicated. "Looks like there's a post free."

Mulder felt an odd little flutter in his guts. Krycek was going to whip someone; one of these powerful men in black leather. And Mulder was going to watch. It was a frightening intimacy, almost as if he were going to watch Krycek having sex. And in a way he was, considering the eroticism of the act.

But if that were true, then what could you say about the act of wearing a man's collar, and following him around on a lead -- ?

<It's only a game,> Mulder protested to himself, forcefully if silently. But his litany against what was happening to him was beginning to feel hollow, even to himself.

And even as he made his mental arguments, he was following behind Krycek, who held Mulder's lead in one hand and a whip in the other, as the group of men made their way to a nearby platform, set with a tall whipping post. Once again, Mulder noticed something not-quite-right about Krycek's left arm, and the hand that now held his lead -- it seemed a little stiff, a little awkward. You wouldn't even notice, except that he was otherwise so perfectly graceful, sleek and elegant and controlled. He'd had some injury, perhaps. And Mulder's mind cast back to Tunguska, to a man with a machete and one arm, and he shivered convulsively. He'd dragged Krycek to Russia, tossed him in the back of a truck and dumped him in the woods -- if Krycek had suffered some injury there, would he blame Mulder for it? Would he want revenge? Would this dark underground dungeon full of Krycek's allies and playmates present the perfect opportunity? He should leave, now, take off this collar and walk away before it was too late --

But it was already too late. Too late even if he had the will to try to leave -- but he didn't. The fear was doing something to him, curling in his guts and tingling in his nerve endings, making the sweat drip down his collar and his hands tremble, teasing at his cock like a lover's tongue. It was the same thing that wearing the collar did to him, and feeling the little tugs of the lead on his neck, in this catacomb of powerful men and dark desire. It was heady and dangerous and sickeningly sweet, and he was helpless to it.

They stopped before the platform, and the man who'd asked to be whipped stepped up on it. Krycek turned to the man who'd kissed him, saying, "Will you hold this for me?" and casually handed him Mulder's lead.

Just as casually, the man accepted it, with nothing more than a brief nod. Neither of them spared a glance for Mulder, who stood shocked immobile, stomach twisting, face once again aflame. <No!> he tried to protest, but all that came out was a wordless gurgle.

The man now holding his lead turned to him, an easy and slightly curious smile on his face. He was a tall man, burly, with short, sandy hair and a thick red beard. He was wearing a leather vest, and chaps over blue jeans. He seemed to find Mulder's discomfort amusing, his abortive protest an only slightly interesting challenge, no trouble to put down.

Krycek's gloved fingers tapped his cheek in a gentle little slap --just getting his attention, not discipline, although the threat of discipline was implicit in the act. Mulder jumped, focused instantly on Krycek. Was it possible for his face to get any hotter? Yet it seemed to be constantly doing so. "It's impolite to stare," Krycek told him mildly. "Behave yourself." Then he turned away, not bothering to confirm that his orders would be obeyed, to the platform, and the man he was about to whip.

Mulder stared at the floor, gulping in deep breaths of air. Krycek had just handed him over to someone else, as casually as you'd ask a friend to hold your drink or your jacket. And Mulder had allowed it. A total stranger was now holding his lead, expecting his obedience. A stranger who had no idea that Mulder was a guest and an observer here, that he was only wearing a collar to keep away unwanted attention, that he wasn't part of this scene. It was supposed to be only a game. But all of a sudden, it wasn't -- or if it was, it was a game with high stakes and hard rules, and he was only just beginning to learn them. And what were the rules about holding someone else's pet? Was this man allowed to do to any and all of the things that the pet's real master was allowed to do? (And since when had Krycek become his "real" master? And just what was Krycek allowed to do? Was he allowed to make Mulder wear a collar? Was he allowed to slap Mulder's face in public? Before tonight, Mulder would certainly have said no, would have been astonished at the suggestion. But now it seemed that he was. What else was Krycek allowed to do, that Mulder had no idea of, and would have no idea of until Krycek had done it, and he was standing here with his face flaming and his cock throbbing, allowing it?)

The whipping post was a tall four-by-four, reaching almost to the ceiling, and bolted securely to the wall. O-rings were set into it at intervals of six inches or so; padded leather cuffs hung on chains from each of them. The wood of the post was unfinished, but oiled and sanded and polished smooth. There would be no splinters or sharp edges to distract a man from other pain. Several feet in front of the tall post was a contraption resembling a gymnast's horse -- a rounded, padded bench at hip height, for the man receiving the whipping to lean over. All this was on a raised platform, a small stage for the performance.

The man on the platform stood facing his friends and the onlookers beginning to gather. His expression was one of seriousness, of concentration, like an athlete preparing for a difficult event. Deliberately, he unzipped his leather trousers, and pushed them down to his thighs. His cock, unfettered by underwear, jutted forward, already half-erect and dark with need. He stood exposed, displaying himself to the crowd. There was a glint of eager pleasure in his eyes. <Look at me,> he seemed to be saying. <I'm here for you to enjoy.> Mulder shivered, watching him. There was something frightening about the man's openness, his shamelessness, and Mulder felt it as a challenge. <If I can do it, so can you,> the man's eyes seemed to tell him. Mulder swallowed, wanting to look away, but he could not.

Then the man turned away, breaking the spell. Mulder let out a deep breath, and watched as the man stepped up to the bench, facing the whipping post, and positioned himself with his crotch snug against the bench, hands resting lightly on it. There was just the suggestion of a spotlight illuminating him -- a soft glow delineating his broad, muscular back and his firm buttocks as he stood there, waiting. He looked like a man in a painting: some Renaissance vision of the torments of hell.

Now Krycek stepped up onto the platform. Was it just Mulder's overheated imagination, or was there a slight intake of breath, a quiet "oh" of anticipation from the crowd when they saw who was holding the whip? Krycek paid no attention to his audience, but stood with his arms folded and his brow furrowed, regarding the man thoughtfully. He had clipped the whip to his own belt, the heavy leather lashes spilling out from under the hem of his jacket along his thigh.

-- And Mulder remembered a forest in Tunguska, and men on horseback with bullwhips, chasing him down like an animal, and falling to the wet ground with the whip tangled around his legs, scrambling frantically in the mud, unable to evade the blows that fell on his body -- It was a memory of horror and pain, not in any way pleasant. And yet, there was something else in it, something that tangled up with the nightmare visions that haunted his dreams, of jack-booted Nazis and imperious Roman slavemasters: something that whispered softly to him, seductively, of the possibilities of other kinds of pleasure. And Krycek in black leather with a whip dangling at his thigh, and a man with his pants down standing ready at a whipping post: this was one of those nightmare visions, too, only it was no longer whispering.

Krycek stepped up behind the man, put a hand on the small of his back, and kicked his legs apart. He did it confidently, matter-of-factly, as if his right to arrange this man as he liked was as natural and unquestionable as his right to breathe. Then he moved around the bench, taking one of the man's wrists and pulling it toward the whipping post, and carefully selected one of the pairs of cuffs -- one that would have his arms stretched out over his head, but not too tight, and his body bending over the bench at an angle that pleased him. He buckled the man's wrists into the cuffs.

Now he moved behind the man again, studying his handiwork. Frowning, he stepped forward, and nudged the man's ankles a little farther apart with his boot. He took the man's hips in his hands, and adjusted their angle slightly. He pulled at the waistband of the man's trousers, lowering them to expose a little more sturdy thigh beneath the firm, white buttocks.

At last, Krycek stood back, satisfied with the image he'd created. He paused a moment to enjoy it, a pleased smile on his face. The lashes of the whip stroked his leg -- Mulder couldn't take his eyes off it. Or Krycek -- a nightmare vision in black leather, a powerful man among powerful men, whom other men came to as supplicants, displaying their submission to him openly. (Like Mulder, wearing his collar... Mulder spared a surreptitious glance at Krycek's friend, now holding his lead. Thankfully, this man's attention was all on Krycek, too. He seemed to have forgotten all about the strip of leather he held in his hand, at the other end of which a confused FBI agent tried desperately to deal with the situation he'd gotten himself into.)

Finally, Krycek reached beneath his jacket, and unclipped the whip from his belt. The murmurs of anticipation from the crowd were definitely real this time. One of them had even come from Mulder. The whipping was about to begin.

Part Three

Krycek stepped forward, and raised the whip --

But he did not strike. Instead, he brought the whip forward gently, and stroked the lashes up one of the man's buttocks, letting them trail along the white flesh. A slight tremor ran through the man's body. Krycek tilted his head, and a look of pleased concentration creased his brow. He lowered the whip and trailed it up the other buttock. He stroked the man's bottom with the whip, up across each white mound, then circling the buttocks as if drawing a bullseye, teasing between them with just the tips of the leather lashes, and stroking the dimpled tailbone. The man's broad back rose and fell with his breath as the whip measured him. Krycek continued caressing him with the whip, his motions careful and precise, and strangely tender.

It startled Mulder; he hadn't expected it. Harshness and blows, cruelty and humiliation -- these were the things he expected. How could a whipping be tender? Mulder began to tremble. It wasn't fair; it took away too much. A man could steel himself against blows, but how could he steel himself against this?

Gradually, the motions of the whip changed, attained a rhythm. Krycek began swinging the whip, letting the lashes fall against the man's buttocks. Still, the blows were light, gentle, leaving the skin under them white and unmarked. The man's hips flexed, his body began to rock with the rhythm, ever so slightly. Mulder found that he was breathing in time with it, entranced by it, watching the whip rise and fall, the precise crisscross pattern of the lashes slapping the flexing buttocks.

Suddenly, Krycek's arm drew back, and one of the blows came down hard, with a resounding crack. The man's body clenched, the muscles in his buttocks and back tightening. His wrists pulled at the cuffs. Krycek paused, arm drawn back, whip lifted high in the air. A pink mark rose across the man's buttocks, tracing the path of the whip's lashes. A murmur of satisfaction whispered through the onlookers, as quiet as summer breeze.

Then, the whip came down again, gentle as before, and the easy rhythm of lightly slapping blows resumed. The man relaxed into it -- but not entirely. There remained a thread of tension in his hips and thighs. For now, without warning, one of the blows might suddenly turn harsh, and strike sharply across his lower buttocks, causing him to flinch and jump, and the whip mark to blush from pink to deepest rose. His body began to break out into a fine sweat, making him shimmer in the light.

The gentle slaps roamed the man's buttocks, but the sharp blows all landed in precisely the same place, across the rounded padding of his lower buttocks. It was fascinating to watch Krycek's arm suddenly rise, and then rush forward, in a powerful, smooth motion, with a slight snap of his wrist as the whip landed exactly on the red mark left by his previous blows. It reminded Mulder a little of a pro tennis player's serve, strong and controlled and just as beautiful to watch. Krycek was an artist, Mulder realized, and a dark, smoky pleasure curled in him at the thought. This was not just some crude beating, it was a performance, one with elegance and depth and subtlety, one a man could be proud to receive. Something relaxed inside Mulder, just a little bit. A tiny chip of resistance melted away, and a trace of a smile formed unnoticed on his face.

At last, Krycek lowered the whip and stepped back. He was sweating in his leather jacket, from the exertion and also, it seemed to Mulder, from the intense concentration he'd applied to his efforts. That concentration did not break -- clearly, this was only a temporary lull, the pause between movements of a symphony, not the end of the performance. Mulder found himself... relieved. It hadn't seemed finished, that was all. He wanted to see the artwork complete.

Krycek moved to the man's side, placed his hand on the man's back, and stroked him gently. (Once again, that gentleness caught Mulder off guard, and made him tremble.) He said a few words to man bound before him, smiled at the answer. He stood a few more moments like that, hand resting reassuringly on the man's back, looking down on him with a smile that was generous and understanding and even affectionate.

And Mulder understood something else: if Krycek was an artist, the man he was whipping was his instrument. It wasn't just the case of a man demonstrating how talented he was with his arm, or how precisely he could place his blows -- if that were so, he could just as easily be whipping a block of wood. The two of them were working together somehow; the man, with his sweat and his flinching body and his reddened buttocks, was responding to Krycek's use of him with his own performance, just as rich and subtle in its own way as Krycek's skill with the whip. <And what's my performance been like?> came Mulder's unbidden thought, as his hand crept again to his collar.

But he had no time to worry about it, as Krycek was stepping into position to resume the whipping.

There were no gentle little slaps this time; that had been merely the warmup, and this was now getting to the heart of the action. There was rhythm again, but it was slower, harder, each blow striking with force. The pattern of the blows widened, and the redness spread, until it was even and hot all across the man's buttocks. Their red glow contrasted sharply with the whiteness of his back. He no longer flinched with each blow, but his shoulders heaved, and his fists clenched in their cuffs, as the red heat in his buttocks grew. The heavy thud of leather striking flesh hung in the air.

At first, the blows were uniform in force, as Krycek's arm moved with hypnotic grace, and the lashes continued to fall in precise patterns. Eventually, though, Krycek began once again to add even harder blows to the rhythm. His expression grew terrible, and his body fell into a powerful stance, as he threw his weight behind the blows. Only his intense concentration and exacting control prevented it from seeming savage. Instead, there remained a terrifying beauty in it, even as the man's body jerked and he cried out in pain. Krycek showed no mercy, but only hit harder. The entire dungeon seemed to fill with his implacable power.

Finally he stepped back again, letting the whip fall. His chest heaved and his face was shiny with sweat. But his expression remained grimly determined. The pause was for only a moment, then he moved to a new position at the man's side, and brought the whip down on his shoulders.

The pace was slower now, and the whip did not fall quite so hard as it had on the man's buttocks. But the blows were not gentle, and soon a rosy stripe began to form across his shoulders, a delicate counterpoint to the flaming red of his bottom. Despite the relative ease of this whipping, the man seemed more troubled by it, and for the first time struggled in his bonds, trying futilely to escape his torture. He seemed helpless, tormented by the pain, unable to stop himself from resisting it, despite the hopelessness of his efforts. Mulder squirmed with him, gritting his teeth. His own skin seemed alive, sensitized. Even the fabric of his suit felt harsh and abrasive. His shoulders and buttocks tingled with sympathetic pain. His throat burned under the collar. His cock hurt, too, swollen like an overripe fruit, demanding relief. Around him, he saw, several of the men had pulled their cocks free and were stroking their own turgid flesh. Mulder's face flamed. He wanted it, but he couldn't do it, could not masturbate in public, could not bring his own release. (<What would Krycek think?> came the unbidden thought, quickly and desperately rejected.) He was ashamed of even wanting it, when the man on the platform was suffering so -- even though his struggles had quieted now, and he hung limply in his bonds, while the relentless blows continued.

Krycek let the whip fall to his side, finally, and heaved a deep breath. He paced the length of the platform several times, rubbing his whip arm briskly, digging his fingers into his shoulder. Then he stopped at the edge of the platform and stood, observing the man carefully. He was not finished yet, but he waited longer this time, giving the man time to recover, watching the tension flow back into his arms and shoulders, and his legs strengthen under him. No doubt Krycek needed his own time to recover, too. While he waited, his own breathing slowed and evened.

There was an expression of finality on his face as he stepped back into position. This would be the last act. The level of tension in the crowd around the platform ratcheted up. Mulder found that he was holding his breath, and forced himself to let it slowly out.

Krycek once again said a few words to the man at the whipping post. There was no smile, no reassuring hand this time, but he nodded, satisfied with the answer he received. Then he closed his eyes for a moment, and a dread calm settled over him. Fiercely, he raised his arm and brought the whip down to strike with a resounding crack across the fleshy part of the man's lower buttocks, across the exact place where he'd started.

The man's cry this time was almost a wail, desperate and pleading. Krycek answered it with another blow, just like the first. There was no rhythm this time, no softer blows interspersed with harder ones. Just a pause, a deep breath, and the whip landing sharply across already-tortured buttocks. Each blow was a crystal shard of pain, separate, demanding its own due. The man began to sob, his reddened shoulders heaving convulsively. But he didn't struggle this time, and he didn't go limp. He simply stood there, bent over the bench with his arms bound in front of him and his legs spread wide, weeping his agony, and took it. And Krycek began to smile as he whipped him -- not in cruelty, or in kindness, but in joy --that they'd gone on this journey together, and arrived at this place.

Mulder found that he was weeping, too, as he watched, although he didn't know why. Something inside him ached in response to what he was seeing, something he hadn't quite known was there. It troubled him, but he didn't seem to be able to do anything about it, any more than he could do anything about the collar around his neck, or the lead in a stranger's hand. But if that man could stand exposed like that, naked and beaten and weeping, Mulder supposed he could stand here and cry a little.

This time, when Krycek lowered the whip, it was over, and everyone knew it. A quiet sigh susurrated through the spectators. A few of the men turned to go. But most stayed, and watched quietly as Krycek stood, eyes closed, glowing with sweat and nearly transcendent, with his whip in his hand; then, with a contented sigh went to help the whipped man out of his bonds. His movements were kind now, friendly and gentle, as he laid the man's whip across the end of the bench, then reached up to unbuckle his handcuffs, and held the man's arm as he stood up from the bench.

The man's face was red with tears, drained but peaceful. He gazed at Krycek with something like adoration; then slipped slowly to his knees at Krycek's feet, and embraced Krycek's legs, pressing his face into his thigh. Krycek smiled indulgently, ruffled the man's hair, then pulled him to his feet. He waited while the man pulled up his trousers and zipped his fly, and collected his whip from the bench, returning it to his belt. Then they both stepped down from the platform together.

Several men converged around the whipped man and bore him away, like football players carrying a triumphant but exhausted teammate off the field. One man slapped Krycek cheerfully on the back; another offered him a drink, which he took gratefully and swallowed down at a rate that indicated it was likely only water, nothing more. He talked with a few of the men who'd watched the whipping. Mulder couldn't hear what they were saying, but Krycek smiled benevolently, standing slightly apart from them, as if he were holding court.

Mulder swallowed, painfully aware of the leather containing his neck, and the stranger still holding his lead. It was a fresh humiliation to be left standing here like a forgotten toy while Krycek chatted with his admirers. He felt far more forlorn than any sensible man really ought. <=I= should have been the one....> That thought was fiercely chopped off before it had a chance to fully form.

Krycek looked toward him suddenly, and their eyes met. He was like a pagan god standing there among his followers, with his face flushed and his eyes bright as stars, shining with a triumphant glow. He bestowed a happy smile on Mulder, a conspiratorial smile, as if sharing secrets. As if to say, <I always knew you would like this.> Mulder felt the breath rush out of his lungs. He felt as if he were seeing Krycek for the first time; as if he were seeing himself for the first time; as if nothing was the same. Then Krycek detached himself from his companions and returned to his friend, collecting another kiss, and Mulder's lead.

Mulder was in Krycek's possession again. It was awful, it was frightening, and he was so relieved his knees went weak. It was shocking how right and natural it felt. He stared at the hand holding his lead, that moments ago had been holding a whip. Then he stared at the man now standing in front of him, inches away from his face, as he'd been when he put the collar around Mulder's neck.

Krycek lifted his hand. Mulder started to flinch, forced himself still. But this time the hand did not rise to strike. The leather-clad fingers that touched his cheek were slow and careful. They traced a path from the corner of his eye down the side of his nose, and then came away from his face wet, shiny drops of moisture clinging to the black leather fingertips of his gloves. Mulder had forgotten his tears. He shivered suddenly, feeling naked in his Armani suit.

 Krycek took a deep breath and nodded once. "Okay. I think you've had enough for tonight. Let's go." Then he turned and began to walk away, back toward the entrance, leaving Mulder to marshall his scattered limbs and trail along behind him.

Back in the anteroom, Krycek turned to him, unsnapped the lead, and unbuckled the collar, pulling it free and turning to hang it back on the wall. Mulder swallowed and rubbed his neck, feeling a little let down, as if there ought to be more to it, somehow. He cleared his throat experimentally. "So. Krycek. I never knew you were gay."

Krycek returned from hanging up the collar, grinning. "No reason you should have -- is there?"

"No. I suppose not." Mulder tried to imagine Krycek, as he had known him nearly three years ago in his geeky suits and bad haircut, going home at night to put on his leathers and whipping men in sex clubs. He failed. "So what now?" He wasn't even sure he could find his way out of this place without help, so he supposed he was still under Krycek's care, even if he was no longer wearing his collar.

Krycek folded his arms and gazed at Mulder with narrowed eyes. "Well, you could go home. We could talk. Or we could have sex."

Mulder felt that he ought to be shocked, but found instead that the suggestion had a strange inevitability about it. Of course, it had all been leading up to this, hadn't it? From the moment Krycek had put a collar around his neck, Mulder had felt it -- the thrill of being owned, of being paraded around like property, of feeling leather against his neck, watching the whip come down, imagining it on his own skin -- it was heady and sharp and rampantly sexual, and demanded resolution. So now it seemed that there was one more thing that Krycek was allowed to do.

"Sure. Why not?" Mulder made great effort to be casual, but there was a catch in his voice that even he could hear.

Krycek chuckled softly. His voice was crushed velvet. "Terrific. Oh, that's fine. Well, come on, Mulder, let's find a room. First times should be in private."

Part Four

It was another long Alice-in-Wonderland tour through hell, up stairs and down corridors and around corners, until finally they came to what was, at first glance, a disorientingly normal bedroom, with a big queen-sized four-poster bed made up with crisp white sheets, and a heavy black walnut dressing table and night stand. But on closer inspection, Mulder saw that there were black leather cuffs hanging from straps at each corner of the bed, and O-rings set at intervals along the head of the bed, and in the ceiling over it. He lifted one of the cuffs, then dropped it with a self-conscious laugh. Well, he hadn't really supposed, after all this, that they were going to cozy up and have nice, normal, vanilla sex, had he? Nor did he want it, not with Krycek anyway. The feelings Krycek stirred in him might be powerful, might be shot through with black lust and twisted desire, but they had nothing to do with ordinary feelings of attraction.

Krycek waited while Mulder inspected the room, leaning casually against the wall. Again, Mulder noticed, with just a little shock, like a zap of static electricity, that there was something not-quite-right about Krycek's left arm. A little bit stiff. A little awkward. Mulder wondered what was under that heavy leather jacket and voluminous white shirt. He wondered whether he would find out. Now that he was here, he found, he had no idea what to do.

Krycek pushed off the wall, and came to stand before Mulder -- not quite as close as he had come to buckle the collar around Mulder's neck, or to gather Mulder's tears, but close enough for Mulder to see the startling aquamarine of his eyes, and the plush roundness of his lower lip. "The first order of business," Krycek began, with a good-natured smile, "is generally to negotiate the scene. Likes, dislikes, limits, and so forth. But I have a feeling you don't really know what you like yet."

Before tonight, Mulder might have disagreed with that. There had been rough games before, with Phoebe, and with others. Brief forays into bondage (several of his favorite silk ties had been called into service), spanking, light-hearted fantasies of force. But after what he'd seen tonight, he was forced to admit that he had no idea what might be on the menu. But he remembered something Krycek had said to him when he had first arrived -- <You might be allowed a little of what you really want, as long as you follow the rules.> Who said Krycek was going to be calling the shots?

"We haven't decided yet, who's going to be... master." Mulder knew his hesitation was hardly a picture of convincing dominance, but he scowled and held his ground.

Krycek's smile was amused. "Let's say 'top' and 'bottom' for tonight, Mulder. This is a play date, not a commitment."

" 'Top,' then. Who's going to be top?"

Krycek moved to lean back against the dresser, patient and willing to discuss the matter. But the continued amusement in his smile seemed to say that it was a foregone conclusion. "Well, it's customary for the inexperienced to start out on the bottom. To learn by having it done to them, so to speak."

The sudden image of Krycek tied to the whipping post, naked to his thighs, back and buttocks red from the lash, made Mulder's face flame. "You started out that way?"

"Of course. And I still like to switch, now and then. I don't bottom in the dungeon -- I have my reputation to uphold -- " and the brief flash of a deprecating smile and nod said that he knew such things were foolish, but one must think of them for the fans -- "but in private, I'm happy to bend over for the right man."

And that smile again, teasing, said that Mulder might some day, with the proper training, become the right man, but for now? What could he have to teach someone like Krycek?

And Mulder was forced to admit that was right, as well. But he couldn't quite bring himself to give up just yet. To say yes, take me, put the collar back on me, I want to be your bottom. Even though he did want it. "I thought it was also customary to trust someone before you let them top you."

"Ah, well, that is a problem, isn't it?" Krycek stood up from the dresser and walked over to Mulder. He reached out, resting his open hand briefly against Mulder's throat, letting his gloved thumb and fingers stroke softly.

Leather against his throat. Mulder's breath caught, and he had to stop his eyes drifting shut against the touch. By the time he recovered, only the briefest instant, Krycek had moved away, and was grinning at him. "On the other hand, Mulder, I don't know that I have any more reason to trust you than you do me."

Possibly even less, Mulder was forced to admit. Which one of them, after all, had tried to beat the shit out of the other every time they'd met for the last two years? And, to be honest, if he truly didn't trust Krycek, in this context at least, what was he doing in this room? Mulder shrugged, as casually as he could manage, and resisted the urge to rub at his neck. "So what do we do? Wrestle for it?"

"Or we could cut cards," Krycek replied easily.

"How about Truth or Dare?" It was out before he could think about it, but as soon as he said it, Mulder knew that it wasn't a bad suggestion at all. The one thing he wanted from Krycek, apart from perverse sexual thrills, was truth. And Krycek had said honesty was one of the rules of the house.

Krycek's smile was pure delight. It made Mulder wonder what he'd forgotten. "Oh, I like that. Well, we already know what the dare is, so it looks like we're playing for the truth. Go ahead, Mulder, I'll let you start."

Mulder nodded. There was only one question he really wanted to ask. He already knew the answer, he was sure, but he wanted to hear Krycek say it. "Did you kill my father?"

"Yes. Did it turn you on to wear my collar?"

It was a double-barreled hit -- Mulder didn't know whether he was more shocked by the casual horror of the answer, or the effrontery of the question. Grimly, he steeled himself. So they were going for the big guns. Well, two could play at that game.

"Yes. Did you kill Duane Barry?"

"No, Mulder, you did." Before Mulder could protest, Krycek had raised a conciliatory hand, and continued. "No, I suppose it was the sharpshooter who plugged him in the chest, if it was anybody. He was a badly injured man, Mulder, who never should have been out of the hospital, much less running all over Virginia kidnapping FBI agents and chasing UFOs. He made it as far as he did on adrenaline and sheer psychotic will power, but he was already dead before he ever got to the top of Skyland Mountain. You just helped him along a little."

"Then why did they cover up the autopsy results?"

Krycek shook his head. "They didn't. There was nothing to cover up. They wanted you to go through channels, that was all, but you wouldn't do it, and you wouldn't wait. You'd already made up your mind."

"What about the tram operator?"

"My turn, Mulder. Here's one for you -- whose fault was it that Scully got abducted?"

<Mine,> was the immediate answer that popped into his head. But that wasn't really true, and even he knew it. Well, it was not entirely his fault. But: whose fault? Not who kidnapped her, that was Duane Barry, that was easy enough. And who did Duane Barry turn her over to -- the Cigarette Smoking Man and his goons, that was also easy enough. But whose fault was it? Who was responsible for the chain of events that led her to the top of that mountain, and put her in the hands of his enemies? That was a little more complicated. He spoke slowly, face creased into a thoughtful frown. "Whoever it was who got to Duane Barry and manipulated him into taking her. Your boss -- or ex-boss -- and the people he works with. My father." Krycek's slow smile held no tease in it now, no amusement. In fact, it held something that looked almost like approval. Mulder had to look away for a moment before he could continue. "Me, for getting her involved in my work, and never really warning her of the dangers. You, for stopping me from getting there in time to save her."

Krycek's smile turned indulgent. "Mulder. I didn't stop you from saving her. I stopped you from getting yourself killed."

Mulder made an exasperated little noise. "Truth, Krycek."

"It is the truth. Think about it, Mulder. That was a precision military operation they'd set to extract Scully. They had helicopters, weapons, highly trained troops -- and you were one man. What did you think you were going to do? Rush in there and demand Scully back with just the force of your will, and walk out with her, untouched? They weren't going to let you have her. They would have killed you if they had to. Killed her too."

Mulder's mouth worked, but no words came out. There was nothing he could have done to save her? It might be the truth, but it was a truth he didn't want to know.

Krycek nodded. "Your turn. You wanted to know about the tram operator. I cold-cocked him with my gun. He was unconscious when I left, but alive. As far as I know, he still is."

Mulder still couldn't seem to find his voice. So Krycek didn't kill Duane Barry, didn't kill the tram operator. He was still involved in Scully's abduction. He'd still killed Mulder's father. It didn't change anything, did it? He was still Krycek, the enemy. All right, maybe he'd just been a cog in a wheel up until he pulled the trigger on Mulder's father, but that crime he could never explain away. He'd murdered an innocent man. Well, all right, not innocent, a man who'd given away one of his children and left the other to suffer unrelievable guilt in cold silence, but he was Mulder's father, someone he... loved....

"My turn, then." Krycek's voice grew low and hypnotic. "Tell me, Mulder, are you glad the son of a bitch is dead? Did you run away to England just to get away from him, and then discover that even halfway around the world wasn't far enough? Do you hate me, just a little, because damn it, you wish you could have done it yourself?"

Mulder felt as if he had turned to ice. He stared, but saw nothing. His mind had gone white, impenetrable. He was blank, unthinking, unfeeling --

Until Krycek's gloved hand touched his cheek, and he drew a trembling breath, and could once again feel a body that was shaking uncontrollably, and hear the low voice murmuring in his ear. "That's dare, then."

And then he could feel Krycek's hands on his shoulders, thumbs stroking his collarbone, and Krycek's warm breath on his cheek. "You know what I want, Mulder, but let me spell it out for you. Just put yourself in my hands. You have trouble following orders, don't you? But always beating your own path isn't easy, either. You get lonely, you get scared, you don't know whom to trust. Wouldn't it feel good, for a change, to lay that burden down and let someone else call the shots? Just for the night, just for an hour or so, here in this special place, where the ordinary rules don't apply. Give it up, Mulder. Try following orders for a change."

It felt good to stand there, eyes half-closed, leather-clad fingers stroking his neck, velvety-smooth voice murmuring hypnotically in his ear. He felt, in that moment, that he might have agreed to anything -- which was what he was doing, really, to agree to give up his own will and do whatever Krycek ordered -- but it all made perfect sense, in a way, and he found himself nodding agreeably, and somehow his body had turned into a pliant tower of flesh, a warm glow spreading pleasantly from his groin, with no purpose but to stand here and wait for Krycek to use him as he pleased, and tell him what to do.

Then Krycek's stroking hands gathered purpose, and were easing his suit coat off his shoulders. "Let's get you out of your clothes." He stepped back, breaking the contact, and Mulder felt that tiny electric shock again, as if he were waking from a dream.

"There's a closet, and hangers, so you won't get your pretty suit all mussed up. Go ahead, Mulder. Undress."

And suddenly he was Fox Mulder again, and he was standing in a bedroom in a sex club with Alex Krycek, and it seemed that he'd just agreed to be Krycek's sex slave for the night, and Krycek was waiting with that damned amused smile on his face for him to strip.

"Having a little trouble, Mulder? First times can be difficult. Perhaps you need a little encouragement." Krycek moved, and Mulder couldn't stop himself from flinching, but Krycek was moving to the big dresser, not towards Mulder. So Krycek wasn't going to enforce his order with a slap (and was that just the tiniest flicker of disappointment Mulder felt?), but with what?

It was a leather collar Krycek pulled from the top drawer, and held up to Mulder like a man teasing his dog with offers of a walk. A collar just like the one Mulder had worn in the dungeon. Mulder's face flamed, and his cock leapt up.

"You liked the collar, didn't you?" Krycek still spoke in that calm, soothing tone, as if he were gentling a nervous thoroughbred. "A little prop, to help you focus on your place. I'll put this one on you -- as soon as you've got your clothes off."

It was as if a spell had been broken. Or perhaps as if one had been cast -- Mulder found his hesitation gone, and he was shrugging out of his suit coat, shoes and socks, and trousers, hanging his things carefully in the closet. His hands shook, making it hard to undo his buttons. He'd been offered a dog collar as a reward for his obedience. And found himself responding to it, with eagerness. How had this happened, that humiliation had become a sweet thing, and himself helpless to its pull? His heart pounded as he loosened his tie and pulled it from around his neck, where soon he would feel the rough caress of leather. The pulsing heat in his face was as delicious as the throbbing heat in his cock. He bit his lip when he got down to his briefs, and plunged ahead, stripping them off and laying them carefully on the pile with his shoes and socks.

And then he stood, utterly naked, with his face burning and his cock rampant, in front of Alex Krycek, waiting for his orders.

Krycek gazed at him, tongue tucked into the corner of his mouth, eyes narrowed critically. Mulder stood while Krycek looked him up and down for long, long moments, until embarrassment overcame him and his hands moved in front of his shameless cock.

"Don't cover yourself," Krycek ordered mildly. Gritting his teeth, Mulder jerked his hands away. "Turn around." Mulder turned his back to Krycek, and endured another long moment of inspection. His fists hung at his sides, clenching and unclenching nervously.

Finally, he felt hands at his neck, and leather, and Krycek was standing behind him, buckling the collar around his neck. Mulder couldn't help the pleasured groan that escaped his throat as the leather tightened around it. Once the collar had been fastened, Krycek's hands on his shoulders turned him around, and they stood face to face once more.

"You didn't make much of a show of taking your clothes off," Krycek said. "I didn't order you to, so it's not a transgression, but next time, think about your top's pleasure in watching you undress, and try to do it with a little more style." He smiled, his eyes lit with lazy contemplation. "If this were part of an ongoing training, I'd have you put your clothes back on and do it again. Instruct you as you went along, let you do it over until you got it right. But for tonight, we'll let it go." The smile widened, and the light in his eyes grew feral. "There are other things I'd rather be doing tonight."

Mulder shivered, although the room wasn't cold. He felt absurdly grateful for the collar, which somehow was a comfort. A focus, as Krycek had said. He nodded, trying to show that he understood. He realized, though, that he didn't really know what was expected of him. Following orders, that was simple enough, but apparently there was more -- think of his top's pleasure. Think of =Krycek's= pleasure. Follow orders with style. "I... I don't know what I'm supposed to do."

"Of course you don't," Krycek said gently. "It's all right, that's what I'm here for -- to tell you what to do. Just relax, Mulder. Follow orders. That's all you have to do."

Krycek's low voice was hypnotic and reassuring, and Mulder let it wash over him, soothing the nervousness away. Just follow orders. He could do that, couldn't he? He nodded again, with a little more confidence this time.

"All right." Krycek let go of him and stepped aside, with a friendly squeeze of his arm. "Go lie down on the bed. Face up."

And Mulder was terrified all over again.

Part Five

It was a long walk to the bed. Mulder had never felt so completely naked in his life. Every step seemed to increase his exposure -- the gentle currents of air brushing the small of his back and the inside of his thighs; the cool hardwood floor pressing against the soles of his feet; the small tugs of his engorged cock bobbing freely in front of his body. <You're a slut,> he told himself, fascinated at the sight of his own cock jutting dark and hard from its nest of soft brown curls. A shiny drop of liquid seeped from its tip, as if in shameless agreement with the epithet. It frightened him that he found this so arousing. And the fear fed his arousal, and so did the shame, in a never-ending spiral that seemed to have no limits. He felt that his heart would pound right out of his chest.

He got onto the bed, carefully arranging himself down the middle of the mattress, arms at his sides and legs straight. He thought that he probably ought to be assuming some sort of submissive position, spreading his legs or curving his body seductively, lying down with =style,= but he didn't know exactly how, so he supposed he'd better just lie here and wait for Krycek to tell him what to do. Wait for Krycek to give him his orders. <Yes, sir,> he imagined himself saying. <Thank you, sir. May I have another?> Oh god. To =Krycek.= He was out of his mind. Completely, absolutely out of his fucking mind. Time to get up, =right now,= say, <I'm sorry, I can't do this, I've changed my mind,> and =run,= not walk, for the exit.

Then Krycek had taken hold of the lapels of his leather jacket, and was shrugging it off his shoulders, and the clean white cotton of his poet's shirt billowed over his body. The jacket slid down over his arms and into one hand, and he stood for a moment holding it, gazing at Mulder with his head cocked and a gently mocking smile on his soft mouth, as if to say, <Pay attention, Mulder. This is how you do it.>

Mulder paid attention. It would have been impossible not to. Krycek moved like a powerful animal, aware of every fiber in its body and able to use each one to its maximum effect. (Except for that left arm, a continuing source of tiny off-kilter motions.) He hung his leather jacket in the closet, nestling it up behind Mulder's suit, leather to fine wool, sending another jolt to Mulder's cock. Balancing against the closet doorjamb, smiling lazily, he heeled out of his boots and socks and lined them up beside Mulder's shoes. Then he stood directly facing Mulder, and his hands, with their shiny black leather gloves now a sharp contrast to the pure white cotton, found their way under the hem of his shirt and to the fastenings of his trousers, and slowly, deliberately, pulled the zipper down. It was deliciously maddening the way the shirt tails fell over his hands, partially obscuring the sight of his leather trousers, snug as skin, being worked down over his hips. Even bending down to slide the trousers over his muscular legs, he looked strong and fine and in control. And Mulder knew he wasn't going anywhere, not until Krycek had finished with him, no matter what Krycek intended to do.

The leather trousers joined the jacket and Mulder's suit in the closet. Then he came to stand by the bed, close enough for Mulder to reach out and touch him if he'd dared. He lifted his shirttails and showed Mulder his strong hips, still covered by black silk boxers, his cock poking insistently at the smooth material. He slid his thumbs under the waistband and brought the shorts down slowly, an even more maddening tease than the trousers, carefully lifting the elastic over his cock and finally letting it free, mere inches from Mulder's burning face. He let the shorts fall to the floor, and stepped out of them, then stood there, his erection as full and ruddy as Mulder's own.

Mulder drew a trembling breath, then turned his head away. It was too much, he couldn't bear it -- and Krycek hadn't even touched him yet, how was he going to take this?

"Look at it, Mulder," Krycek's soft voice, as silky as the boxer shorts pooling in the floor at his feet, instructed. And Mulder obeyed. Krycek's cock was... beautiful. Beautiful as the rest of him, finely formed and strong, with velvety skin and a rose-pink glans peeking from his foreskin. Mulder's mouth went dry as he looked at it, and he swallowed roughly, feeling the leather of the collar tighten against his neck as he did so.

"This is your world," Krycek went on, in that same silky, hypnotic tone. "For this time, you exist only to please me, and to please my cock. You do that by obeying me, without question and without hesitation. And you do that by being honest, by not trying to control or hide your reactions. Do you understand?"

It was hard to get the words out his constricted throat. "Yes... sir."

Krycek smiled. "Initiative. I like that." He moved closer to the bed, until his thighs touched the mattress. "Kiss it. On the tip, with just your lips. Leave your hands where they are."

Mulder felt the order like a blow. A blow that felt like fire in his cock. Kiss Krycek's cock. He was not sure he would be able to do it, as a physical matter -- his limbs had gone weak, and he struggled to get his elbows under himself to support his weight, unable to stretch his neck to reach the straining member. But finally, his recalcitrant arms agreed to hold him, and he leaned forward, trembling, and pressed his lips against the rosy tip of Krycek's cock.

An electric tingle ran through his entire body, and he fell back onto the bed gasping for air. <I just kissed Alex Krycek's cock.> Firm, warm flesh. <Alex Krycek's cock.> His mouth felt imprinted with the touch. <Guess what I did last night, Scully. I let Alex Krycek put a dog collar on me and I kissed his cock.> He pressed his lips together, trying vainly to escape the feel of that velvety-smooth flesh on his mouth. But the sensation would not be put down; more, it invaded his mouth, stretching at his jaws and filling his throat until he could almost taste it, until he was almost ready to beg for it, if only to stop the uncontrollable flight of his imagination.

He didn't even notice Krycek moving down the bed, so lost he was in the image of his lips meeting that warm, round flesh. When Krycek sat on the bed by his hip, it made him jump, startled, and cry out. Again, he fell back gasping. <Don't try to hide your reactions.> Well, he couldn't have hidden that if he'd tried. Good thing Krycek seemed to be enjoying it. He smiled down at Mulder, still calm and patient as ever. He looked even more like a pagan god, in his loose white shirt and black leather gloves and nothing else. There were spots of red on his cheeks and his eyes glowed like carved jade. Mulder forced himself to take a few deep breaths, fought himself into some semblance of calm. They were still far from actually doing anything -- if he went on like this, he'd be in hysterics by the time Krycek... God, what was Krycek going to do?

Anything he wanted to. And Mulder was going to let him. Well, all right, how bad could it be? He'd get whipped, maybe -- well, he could take that. Maybe give Krycek a blow job -- his imagination and his body already seemed to have decided that that would be just fine. He'd... he'd.... Mulder's buttocks tightened, and his mind refused to finish the thought. Maybe that wouldn't happen. Krycek wanted him face up, so maybe he wouldn't.... And Mulder found himself gasping for breath again.

Krycek chuckled softly. "You're a real treat, Mulder, you know that? Your top barely has to do anything. Just sit back and watch while you torture yourself." His gloved hand reached out, and one finger trailed lightly up Mulder's thigh. Mulder shivered convulsively. "But enough teasing. I think you need some real pain to settle you down." He leaned forward on one hand, bringing a knee up onto the mattress, and moved forward on the bed. "I'm not going to use the restraints. Tonight's lesson is about following orders, and you can't follow orders if you're tied up. So...." he took hold of Mulder's near wrist and stretched it out toward the post at the corner of the bed, "you'll just have to pretend you've got the cuffs on." He took Mulder's other wrist and did the same. Then he moved back, looking down at Mulder's lower body. "Legs, too."

So Mulder was spreading his legs after all, carefully pointing his feet toward the corners of the bed where the cuffs hung. Cool air touched the insides of his thighs, making him shiver. He was not going to be tied -- not made helpless, not put completely under Krycek's control -- it was a relief, and yet, and yet -- it was frightening, too. Because unbound meant he was going to have to lie here and endure whatever Krycek decided to do to him, with only his own will and determination to hold him. And Krycek was going to hurt him -- =real= pain, he'd said -- oh, god. A hundred shattering images from the dungeon tumbled through his mind: whips and bonds and clamps and bodies twisting and crying out....

Krycek's gloved hand reached out and touched Mulder's shoulder. The fingertips ran down his chest, circling but not quite touching his nipple, then traced his ribs. The feel of leather stroking his body, the struggles to stay still, the promise of pain... Mulder squeezed his eyes shut and bit his lip. His whole body felt alive, sensitized to the minutest touches, straining on the verge of uncontrollable response.

Then leather-clad thumb and finger closed around his nipple and squeezed. Mulder yelped and his back arched off the bed. The pressure increased and the pain streaked through him, sharp and heady. Harder and harder the fingers dug into his nipple. His heels dug into the mattress and he felt his hips working, making helpless little thrusts into the air, as the unrelenting pain spiked through his chest.

Krycek released him, and the relief from the pain was so sudden and sharp, it was almost another kind of pain. Mulder sucked in air with a strange little animal noise. He stared at his chest, at the throbbing little tit, red and swollen and erect. He shuddered.

Then Krycek was moving again, lifting his knee and sliding it across Mulder's belly, to settle his bare haunches in Mulder's lap, strong thighs gripping Mulder's sides. He leaned forward, his fists on the mattress just over Mulder's shoulders, and that same look of joyous concentration was on his face as when he'd gazed down on the man he was whipping, deciding exactly how to place the blows he was inflicting. And even as it frightened him, Mulder felt the smoky pleasure of having that intense concentration on himself. =Real= pain Krycek had promised him, and he was not through yet, oh no. These things came in stages, Mulder had already learned, and built slowly until they took you over the edge to -- where?

And he was already drowning in sensation -- the weight of Krycek's body resting on his outstretched lap, the warm feel of his firm, naked flesh -- up until now, Krycek had barely touched him, and then only with his gloved hands. The only bare flesh he'd felt was the brief touch of his lips to Krycek's cock. The cock that was now hard along his belly, rubbing against him with every slight shift of Krycek's body. And at the base of Krycek's cock, his heavy round balls pressed into Mulder's stomach, just behind his belly button. And Mulder's own cock lay trapped under Krycek's hips, just by the crown, held immobile and maddeningly close to the puckered opening of Krycek's body, which he could not see or feel, but which he knew was there, scant inches from his hungry cock. He groaned and, without thinking, tried to thrust, but he was held down by Krycek's weight and Krycek's orders, his arms and legs stretched out as if cuffed to the corner posts of the bed.

Krycek sat up, his weight pressing even more heavily into Mulder's belly, his ass now resting directly on Mulder's cock. He was going to go insane, Mulder thought, if he hadn't already -- and then Krycek brought his hands over Mulder's chest, and grasped each nipple, the one already swollen and the other shiveringly virgin, with a black-leather-clad thumb and fingers, and the slow, inexorable application of pressure and pain began all over again. Only this time the pain was doubled, stabbing through his chest in twin points of agony. Mulder couldn't tell which was harsher, the grinding pain in the nipple already sore from the previous torture, or the fresh pain in the soft brown untouched one. And this time Krycek's butt rested on his belly, and his trapped cock squirmed under Krycek's ass, and that was agony, too, only a different kind. Except that somehow the sensations were growing together, overlapping, until they had short-circuited, and the sharp pain in his chest and the sharp need in his cock were all the same, and the throbbing in his body was singing to a single note, glorious and overwhelming.

He didn't know how long it had gone on, only that he never wanted it to end, when Krycek suddenly released him and slid off him to the side. His body arched in protest, and "Don't stop!" escaped his bound throat before he could call it back.

Krycek chuckled softly, and lay at Mulder's side like a lover, and brought one gloved hand to Mulder's cheek, thumb stroking thoughtfully at Mulder's lower lip. His eyes were shiny and deep as black holes, and he smiled like a man who owned the world, and was happy in his contemplation of it. "No fear, Mulder. I'm not through with you yet." His eyes grew dreamy and faraway, and he repeated, as if to himself, "I'm not through with you yet."

The fear, this time, was a delicate little shiver, hot and delicious. He felt that he was staring out over an abyss, with no idea what lay beyond, and it terrified him, and yet he wanted nothing more than to close his eyes and step over the edge.

Then Krycek's expression grew bright and happily cruel, and his finger tapped decisively at Mulder's mouth. He drew away, giving Mulder room to move. "Turn over," he ordered.

Mulder's fear turned cold. It was going to happen, he should have known -- Krycek, having won his power, would surely use it. <No hesitation> -- Mulder swallowed, suddenly remembered limbs he had already trained to stay still in their imaginary bonds, and asked, in a voice as rough as the leather at his throat, "Am I still tied?"

Krycek's eyes narrowed dangerously, but his mouth curved in a pleased smile. The combined effect was terrifying. "There are no trick orders," he said, so softly it seemed to go straight to Mulder's brain. "Just do what you're told."

With a gasping breath that was almost a sob, Mulder gathered in his arms and legs, which had almost forgotten how to move, and slowly began to turn. <No hesitation,> played across his brain like a mantra, and he was determined to obey, but he had to fight his muscles for every inch of movement, and when he finally lay on his belly with his fists clenched at his sides, the leather collar pressing into his throat and the mattress scraping at his burning tits, his chest was heaving as if he'd run a marathon.

He waited. If he had expected Krycek to move straight in for the kill, he was disappointed. Finally, he turned his head and looked at Krycek, his =top=, the man he'd agreed to turn himself over to, the man who'd... but Mulder didn't want to think about that now. <Give it up> --that was what he'd agreed. <Put yourself in my hands. Let someone else call the shots.> And so far, it had been a thrill ride he wouldn't have wanted to miss. Not that he'd had any idea before it began that he would have wanted any of it. And now... well, he would just have to trust that somehow Krycek would make the rest of the ride just as good.

Krycek was regarding him thoughtfully, eyes narrowed, tongue at the corner of his mouth. And Mulder knew this look, too -- it was the one Krycek had as he was preparing the man for his whipping -- as though Mulder were a vase of flowers to be arranged for his pleasure.

Mulder squeezed his eyes shut, and turned his face to the mattress.

When Krycek finally touched him, it was on his shoulder, friendly and reassuring. "You haven't given it up yet," Krycek said. "You're still protecting yourself. Your pride, your dignity. You still think you can get through this without letting it all go.

"That's all right. It's a long process, and we don't have to make the whole journey tonight. And besides," and now Mulder could hear the grin in his voice, "watching you give it up a little at a time, kicking and screaming, is part of the fun. But we've still got a way to go tonight. So just to set your mind at ease, I'll tell you this -- " and his mouth moved close to Mulder's ear; so close he could feel the moist air of his breath, and his voice was creamy velvet -- "I =am= going to fuck your ass. In a little while, when we're both ready."

Then Krycek lifted his hand from Mulder's shoulder and moved away, and when he spoke again, his voice was calm and matter-of-fact. "Meanwhile, let's get your butt in the air, like a proper bottom." His fingers tapped the back of Mulder's thigh. "Up on your knees, Mulder. Keep your head down." Krycek's hand pressed between Mulder's shoulders, helpfully holding his chest to the mattress while he struggled to get his knees under himself.

It was strange and physically awkward, propping himself up on his knees. It wasn't a position he was accustomed to; the pressure of his weight on his chest felt odd; he didn't know what to do with his arms. He supposed he'd be required to spread his legs sooner or later, so he thought he might as well do it now, but he didn't know how wide he should spread them, and he shuffled his knees awkwardly. Nothing he did felt natural. His face burned, and he thought about his dignity, which was certainly gone now. His cock hung heavily between his legs, swaying with his movements, throbbing with heat, reminding him insistently that giving it up was exactly what it wanted. And cool currents of air kissed his exposed anus, making him twitch like a nervous colt.

Surprisingly, it did ease his mind to know that Krycek intended to fuck him. The inevitability of it made it less frightening. It was oddly reassuring, the way Krycek took his time with him, explaining what was required of him, giving him time to adjust to each new situation. To be sure, Krycek was enjoying it too, and he told Mulder so, but that was reassuring, too. And, to be honest, the prospect of having Krycek's cock up his ass was illicitly exciting, now that he didn't have to worry about wanting it or not.

Krycek's hand was still resting between his shoulders. "I want you to make yourself comfortable, you're going to be in this position for a while. So go ahead and find the easiest position, as long as your chest is flat on the bed, and your cock is up off the mattress. And spread your legs a little more, if you can. You're a runner, you should be limber enough."

Mulder shifted his knees tentatively, finding himself wishing that Krycek would just tell him exactly how to move. How was he going to get comfortable? Nothing felt right. His legs felt horribly long and clumsy; his back too flexible; his shoulders heavy and hard. He knew he must look horribly foolish. For a moment, he remembered Krycek arranging the man he was going to whip, and imagined Krycek's hands on his own hips, adjusting their angle, and Krycek's knees nudging his legs apart. His cock tightened at the thought. Suppose it were Krycek receiving this order from one of the special men who were allowed to top him? No doubt he would slide into position easily, elegantly, with =style.= Mulder imagined Krycek on his knees, his firm round butt in the air, with his beautiful strong cock suspended between his legs, and his angel's face crushed into the mattress, and the image in Mulder's mind did not look foolish at all.

How would Krycek do it? Well, he wouldn't be worrying about his dignity, that was for sure. He would be thinking about his top's pleasure in watching him submit himself. He would thrust his bottom right up in the air, and spread his legs wide, and open himself up to his top's desire. So Mulder took a deep breath and put the shreds of his dignity aside, and did the same, finding as he did so that his nervousness faded and his muscles relaxed, and finally it was possible to settle his knees under himself to make himself stable, and even comfortable.

Each breath he took tightened the collar against his throat, just a little, and brushed his sore nipples against the mattress. Krycek's hand rested on his shoulders, thumb stroking lightly. It felt good, somehow, to lie there like that, spread out and arranged and offered up to Krycek's pleasure. It felt good to surrender, to let it all go, to forget about what he must look like and what people would think, to know that nothing he could do was wrong, as long as he followed his orders. How could it feel this good? It didn't make sense, and yet there it was.

"You look good like that," Krycek told him, and his voice was a soft purr, honeyed and warm and possessive. "You look beautiful."

Mulder felt himself tremble. He cleared his throat, feeling the collar with every tiny movement. "Shouldn't you be telling me I'm a filthy whore?"

"Like verbal abuse, do you?" Krycek's tone was amused, but the hand stroking his back stiffened slightly, and now his voice was icy steel. "Actually, I =should= be doing anything I damn please." Mulder caught himself in a flinch, and forced himself still.

When Krycek continued, though, he was as calm and matter-of-fact as if they were any two men having a late-night conversation. It was unnerving, the way he shifted so suddenly from harsh master to casual friend. No doubt it was intended to be. "You're still fighting it. Fighting yourself, really. You'd like it if I got rough with you, that would make it easier for you to fight back. Easier to resist losing yourself in the experience. But I don't want you to resist -- I want you to let go. I want you to find out how it feels to strip yourself of everything, until there's nothing left but the sensations I give you. I don't mind if you take your time. I'm not going to force you. I could, you know. I could beat you and humiliate you until you fell apart, and maybe you'd get off on it at the time, but afterward, you'd feel sick and abused. I don't want that, Mulder." The grin came back into his voice. "I may be a sadist, but I'm not cruel. Everything I do, ultimately, is for your pleasure as much as mine."

For his pleasure. Mulder felt himself shaking. Desperately, he tried to make his voice light. He stared at the mattress, unable to look at Krycek. "You shouldn't tell me all your secrets. I might figure out a way to get around you."

"Oh, I don't think that's going to be a problem. You're a psychologist, Mulder, you should know -- everyone can be gotten to. Everybody's vulnerable, if you know the right buttons to push. And knowing it isn't going to help you one bit, you're still going to jump through every hoop I set for you. In fact, it will probably just make it easier for me to take you down, since you won't be able to pretend to yourself that you don't know what I'm doing."

Mulder finally forced himself to look up at Krycek -- while the collar at his throat and his butt in the air reminded him of his chosen place --but all he got was a quick glimpse of Krycek's cocky grin, as Krycek was moving away, lifting his hand from Mulder's back and sliding down the mattress and off the bed, walking over to the dresser. And Mulder was frightened, and Krycek was right -- it didn't matter whether he knew or didn't know what Krycek was about to do, it was still frightening. And Mulder was glad. Utterly, shamefully glad.

Part Six

He heard the dresser drawer opening, and couldn't help craning his neck to try to see what Krycek was retrieving. He supposed he could crawl back on the mattress a little -- Krycek hadn't forbidden that, he'd only told him to keep his shoulders down and his bottom up, but it still felt like disobedience to move, and anyway, he'd finally gotten himself into a position he felt relatively comfortable with and he didn't want to have to start squirming around again. So he waited, while his imagination ran wild with every thump and rattle of the drawer's contents as Krycek found what he was looking for.

Then Krycek was back at Mulder's bedside, sitting at his side on the mattress, showing him what he had. There were condoms and small plastic tubes of lubricant, and a black leather riding crop. Mulder's eyes went wide, and he stared at the things in Krycek's hands. His body tingled, crouched there on his knees, already feeling the cool lubricant slippery between his buttocks, the condom on Krycek's beautiful cock sliding after, the sharp lash of the riding crop striping his hips. He felt himself break out into a sweat, and his collared throat gasped, and his tongue flicked over his dry lips.

Krycek laid the riding crop on the mattress, inches from Mulder's heated face, and reached out his gloved hand to stroke Mulder's hair. His hand was firm and comforting on Mulder's scalp. Mulder let his eyes fall shut, and sank into it, the fingers ruffling his hair, steadying him, =owning= him. It was good to let go -- and why not? He'd take whatever Krycek wanted to give him, and he'd like it, so why not just stop fighting and let it happen? Even as he thought this, he knew that it wasn't going to be that easy -- the little individual-sized tubes of lubricant still loomed in his vision, even with his eyes closed, filling his senses with delicate little shivers of fear. More than the whip, he feared this: being penetrated, being taken, yielding up everything, even inside himself. And there were so =many= of the little tubes -- he supposed he ought to be reassured that Krycek meant to make sure he had enough, but why did he need so many of them? Still, it was good, lying here like this with his eyes closed, being stroked and reassured, while the little tingles of fear caressed his body.

At last, Krycek drew his hand away. He spoke softly, not breaking the spell. "We won't need the crop for a while, so I'll just leave it here, to keep you company. It's a prop, really -- a focus, like the collar, to help you stay steady while I open you up."

Now his hand was on Mulder's shoulder, massaging gently, moving slowly up his back. Mulder let his eyes come open, and there was the riding crop, just as Krycek said, resting on the mattress inches from his face. It was absurd, but Krycek was right again, and the presence of the whip was a sweet, hazy delight, easing him gently into submission, making it easier to accept the inevitable, even to want it.

Krycek's hand reached the small of his back, drifted close to his tailbone, and, just as Mulder was about to tense up, lifted and drew away. Mulder drew a trembling breath, and slid his hand along the mattress, until the tip of his finger was just touching the haft of the riding crop. He closed his eyes again, and ordered his trembling body to relax.

Krycek's hand touched his ankle. Startled, he couldn't help flinching, but he took a few deep breaths and relaxed again, while Krycek stroked his ankle and waited patiently. Then, the slow journey began again, as Krycek's hand massaged up Mulder's calf, then along his thigh, until it just reached the rounder flesh of his buttock -- and then the touch was gone again.

Mulder moaned in frustration. Why didn't he just get on with it? Which, of course, was just the reaction Krycek was aiming for, and some part of Mulder's mind couldn't help being amused that, once again, Krycek was right, and Mulder was jumping through his hoops like well-trained pet. And he felt a sudden, unexpected burst of pride -- that out of all the men in the world he might have chosen for his first real experience in dominance and submission games, he'd chosen Alex Krycek -- who, no matter what else he was, was a virtuoso of dark sex; an artist, not only with the whip, but with his voice and his body and his mind; patient and clever and precise --

And now his hand was on Mulder's bottom. Mulder shivered, but it was a shiver of pleasure as much as fear, and he let it wash over him. He felt Krycek moving behind him, settling between Mulder's outstretched knees, and both hands were on his butt, still in their gloves, soft leather stroking and massaging, thumbs rubbing his tailbone, sliding down between his buttocks, teasing close to his anus and shying away, leaving him gasping and squirming within the confines of the position he'd been ordered into. His cock, stirred by the motions of his body, swayed heavily between his legs, harder than ever. Even his balls felt heavy, like hard lumps in their sac, pulling at his body. He couldn't remember ever being this hard without having even touched his cock. He was almost afraid of what might happen if Krycek touched him there. Would the fabric of the universe withstand it?

Then Krycek had released him again, and he heard the tiny pop of the plastic lubricant tube being broken open, and despite everything, he was frightened again. But it was good fear, coursing through his veins like fine wine, heady and strong, lighting up all his nerve endings, and he reveled in it. So this was what submission felt like: hundreds of tiny firecrackers under the skin. Heat glowing in his chest and groin. Body turned inside out, all the secret places exposed to the light. It was wonderful, and he reveled in it all.

When Krycek touched him this time, one hand lay gently but firmly across his buttocks, thumb and forefinger spreading him slightly, and the other stroked the skin around his anus, the leather fingers of his gloves now slick and cool with lubricant. Mulder let out a shuddering breath, feeling himself twitch, and bright little pulses shot through his body every time Krycek's fingers brushed across the opening.

Krycek paused for more lubricant, then began working it directly into him, inserting his finger as far as the sphincter muscle, massaging with circular motions, pressing at the opening, but not pushing past it, not yet. Mulder clutched at the mattress, and his hand found the haft of the riding crop and gripped it tightly, while his breath came in shallow gasps. The collar seemed to tighten around his neck; and there was leather at his throat, and leather in his ass, and a whip in his hand whose bite his body awaited, and Alex Krycek was lubricating him, and his heart was pounding so hard it was shaking the bed --

And then, suddenly, Krycek's leather-clad finger slid into him, past the sphincter, right up his ass. A strange, squeaking noise escaped him, and his buttocks tightened and tried to jerk away, but he was solid on his knees and chest and there was nowhere to go.

It was too much; he couldn't bear it. His body trembled and twitched, at once resisting the sensation and plunging headlong into it; and small whimpering noises keened in his throat.

Krycek's other hand rested on the small of his back. "Relax, Mulder," his honey-soft voice soothed. Mulder wasn't sure it was an order, but he took it as one and obeyed, forcing his breathing to slow and deepen. "It's nothing so astonishing. You've had fingers up your ass before." Mulder felt his face blaze, in what was now a familiar reaction. How the hell did Krycek know that? But it was true, and the reminder helped him get himself under control. Krycek continued to stroke his back, continued to let his finger rest inside Mulder's body, and gradually Mulder got used to it, since there was nothing else to do.

"That's good, Mulder," Krycek crooned softly, "It's all right, you're doing fine. You're a good bottom, Mulder. Everything's all right."

It was the tenderness that killed: as he had known, there was no defense against it. Tears sprang to his eyes, and sobs filled his throat, and something seemed to break inside him, and dissolve away, and at last he let go. What was left to hang on to? Weeping on a bed in a sex club, with Krycek's hand stroking his back and Krycek's finger up his ass -- he'd lost himself, become nothing, and it felt good in a way he couldn't have imagined: as if a great weight had been lifted from him, and he was floating free in a warm, dark place, safe and protected.

Krycek waited while Mulder's tears subsided, stroking and soothing, finger still inside him. Mulder didn't mind; he was content as he was, and would stay this way as long as Krycek wanted him to.

Eventually, Krycek withdrew his finger, slowly and gently, and moved to Mulder's side. His hand rested over Mulder's, and his voice spoke softly in Mulder's ear. "Let go of the whip now, Mulder." Obediently, he opened his hand and let Krycek slide the riding crop away. Krycek was going to whip him now -- that was good. He'd been wanting this ever since he'd watched Krycek whip that other man, although he hadn't been able to admit it before. It hadn't seemed quite fair -- he was the one wearing the collar, he should have been the one tied to the whipping post. But now it was all right, he'd get what he needed.

He felt Krycek settle beside him, and he thrust his butt up proudly, ready for the whip to fall. <He was a good bottom.> He felt the lubricant, wet and slippery between his buttocks, and the sensation of Krycek's leather-gloved finger still tingled inside him. He felt the lash of the riding crop stroke his hips, making circles around each buttock, teasing between his thighs. He felt the whip tap the padded mound of each cheek. He felt the taps sharpen into tickling little bites.

Then the riding crop struck, hard and stinging, across the fleshy rounds of his buttocks. He cried out, as much in delight as pain, and his body bucked. Heat bloomed in the lash's stripe, spreading through his bottom, throbbing in his groin. Another sharp blow fell, and another. The searing pain was heady, intoxicating. He lifted his hips eagerly into the blows. They fell in precise patterns, forming hashmarks on his buttocks that burned like fire, cleansing and pure. He found that he was crying again, or perhaps he was laughing, sobs of joy that caught in his collared throat. He was filled with a great happiness. He loved the whip that was striking his ass. He loved his collar. He loved everything that was happening to him.

The whipping was over all too soon. He was disappointed when it stopped, but it didn't occur to him to protest. If Krycek thought he'd been whipped enough, Krycek must be right. Mulder wished he'd counted the blows; he wanted to remember each one in its separate purity. Never mind. He'd been whipped by Alex Krycek; that was enough to remember. And anyway, his butt was still flaming, throbbing and swollen, and he had a feeling he'd have this to remind him for a long, long time.

Krycek laid the riding crop on the mattress near Mulder's shoulder. His hand stroked Mulder's hair. "I'm going to fuck you now. You may hold the whip, if you like."

Mulder moved to take the whip in his hand. "Thank you," he whispered.

Krycek chuckled softly, and ruffled Mulder's hair. "You're quite welcome."

Then Krycek was moving between Mulder's knees again, and there was the pop of another tube of lubricant being opened, and this time the cool, slick stuff was welcome between Mulder's burning buttocks. Mulder sighed with pleasure as Krycek's finger slid into him. He felt relaxed and drained and happy in his submission. He remained relaxed while Krycek worked his finger in and out. He was glad Krycek had kept his gloves on; he liked the feel of leather inside him. And he liked it when Krycek gently eased a second finger in beside the first, stretching him and filling him, preparing him for Krycek's cock. His hand clutched the whip, and his butt burned, and Krycek's fingers worked him. He was still floating in that wonderful warm, safe place; he felt that could stay there forever.

At last, Krycek's fingers slid free, and now he heard the tearing of a foil condom package, and he knew that Krycek was preparing to enter him. The thought no longer frightened him; he was ready for it, as Krycek had known he would be. Some part of Mulder's mind knew that he was deep in some endorphin trance, and that when he came out of it he would have a lot to think about. That it was Krycek who'd brought him to this was going to be one of the things he'd have to think long and hard about. He hoped he wouldn't regret it too much. In any case, there was no way in heaven or hell he was going to stop now, and that pleased him as much as anything. <You think too much,> he told himself amiably, and pulled the whip a little closer, and worked his knees a little farther apart.

One of Krycek's hands cupped the side of Mulder's hip; the other guided his cock between Mulder's buttocks. Mulder's heart was pounding again, but it was in anticipation, and his body remained relaxed. The head of Krycek's cock entered him, nudging against his sphincter with a gentle pressure.

Mulder now found that he wanted Krycek's cock inside him -- wanted it as much as he'd ever wanted anything. He pushed back, trying to impale himself, but again, his position allowed him little freedom of movement, and Krycek moved back with him, not letting him have it. "Patience, Mulder," Krycek murmured. His hands gripped Mulder's buttocks, fingers digging sharply into tender, swollen flesh, and the pain of the whipping flared, shocking him into stillness.

Yes, it was good to have that little reminder of Krycek's dominance. Mulder swallowed, and settled down, his cock throbbing heavily. Krycek's thumbs continued to press painfully into the tender flesh of Mulder's buttocks as his cock thrust gently into him, still not all the way in. The pain of the whipping kept Mulder steady, kept him patient and hungry, while Krycek took his slow, sweet time working his cock into Mulder's ass. The contrast between the hardness of Krycek's hands and the gentleness of his cock was wonderful and dizzying; it was everything at once, and Mulder didn't know how long he'd be able to take it, although a little voice whispered, <As long as Krycek wants you to.> He found that Krycek would allow him to rock his hips just a little in time with the thrusts, and for that he was grateful.

Gradually, Krycek let his thrusts deepen, and the pressure inside Mulder increased, until at last his body opened and Krycek's cock slid all the way in, right up to the hilt. Mulder gasped, and pushed back, and this time Krycek allowed it, and their bodies pressed hard together. Krycek's cock felt big and strong and powerful inside him, filling him to the brim. And when Krycek began to thrust again, this time all the way inside him, pumping against Mulder's sore buttocks with every jab of his cock up Mulder's ass, his heavy balls slapping against Mulder's, it was enough to drive Mulder right out of his mind.

Krycek settled in and rode him hard, and Mulder felt that Krycek at last had given in, too, and was finally letting his body have its way. Mulder was glad -- he wouldn't have wanted to think that he was having =all= the fun. Krycek's breath was coming in hard, wheezing gasps, and he leaned over Mulder's body and gripped him by the shoulders, and drove his cock in as though he wanted to drill right through him. Mulder gave up trying to thrust back, and just let Krycek take him, feeling Krycek's hard cock hammer into him, over and over again.

Krycek's breathing changed; he was beginning to build to his climax, and now one hand slid back around Mulder's waist and down to his groin, and a leather-gloved hand had taken Mulder's cock in its grip, and began to pump him in time with the thrusts in his ass. Mulder moaned, and went dizzy, and his balls suddenly tightened and his orgasm was ripping through him like a volcano, semen as hot as lava spurting onto the mattress. Krycek shouted triumphantly, and drove into Mulder, and then he was coming, too, just as hard.

Krycek thrust a few more times, moaning his pleasure, then collapsed to the side, pulling Mulder with him, and they fell over in a tangle of arms and legs. Krycek was laughing, so Mulder started laughing, too, until his laughter suddenly turned to tears, and then stopped, exhausted. His mind spun; too much, too much, and faded away to blackness.

Mulder dozed briefly, then drifted gently back to consciousness, feeling warm and boneless. He stretched and shifted onto his side. Krycek lay awake, propped up on one elbow, gazing at Mulder with a sated, contented smile. His green eyes were hazy and lit with satisfaction. He looked so beautiful, in his white poet's shirt and black leather gloves, spent cock lying quiescent against his leg, short damp hair in spikes along his forehead. So beautiful... Mulder wanted to reach out and touch him, but he didn't know if that was allowed. Was the game over now? Did they stop being top and bottom, and go back to being enemies?

Mulder sighed. "Krycek. How did you know that about my father?"

Krycek smiled thoughtfully. "He called you once when I was with you -- do you remember that?"

Mulder shook his head, although it was certainly possible. They had spent those months together, working, before....

"I remember the look on your face while you were talking to him. Like a cat in a cage." His eyes glowed. "I never wanted to fuck you as badly as I did right then. Until tonight, of course."

Mulder shivered. He turned onto his back, hand on his forehead. "I don't hate him, you know." <One of the rules of the house is honesty.> "I don't =just= hate him, anyway."

"I know." Krycek's voice was gentle. "Love and hate. Sometimes I wonder if there isn't always a little of one in the other." He rolled over, and slid off the bed, beginning to walk away.

Without thinking, Mulder reached out and grabbed him by the arm.

By the left arm.

It was hard, unyielding. Not flesh-hard, but bone-hard. Or plastic hard. Still holding onto the arm, Mulder levered himself out of bed, and pulled Krycek around to face him. Krycek stood where Mulder had stopped him, face as hard as his arm, but unresisting, as Mulder unbuttoned the poet's shirt, and pulled it back over Krycek's shoulders.

The left arm was a prosthetic, smooth pink plastic, strapped tightly to his body, attached to the short stump that appeared to be all that was left of his flesh and blood arm. <Tunguska,> Mulder thought. Oh, god. They'd cut off Krycek's arm. The prosthetic was amazingly functional. Possibly experimental. Undoubtedly expensive. A gift from the owner of this pleasure palace?

But not something he was proud of. And now Mulder had discovered his secret. Too much to think about, too fast. The world spun away beneath his feet again. He was not even sure how he felt about what had happened tonight, but now -- whatever he did, whatever he said right now could change everything. With a word, or a look, or the tone of his voice, he could wipe out everything that had happened here tonight, put them right back where they were before he'd come to this place, or worse -- give them new, fresh reasons to hate each other. He could take back the power he'd willingly given up. He could inflict pain. Not the good pain of the dungeon, but bad pain, real and cruel.

Or he could keep this night, as it had happened. At least for now, until he had time to think. He could try to learn from it, maybe even build on it. At least not make things worse.

Krycek stared at him, his poet's shirt hanging down around his elbows, his prosthetic arm gleaming and lifeless, the single imperfection of a body otherwise a work of art. There was pain in his eyes, but he didn't try to hide it or deny it. Instead, he seemed to offer it to Mulder, to do what he would with it.

Mulder sank slowly to his knees. The collar was still around his neck, and he was glad. He took Krycek's prosthetic hand in his, opened the palm, and pressed his lips to it.

Krycek's hand, his flesh-and-blood hand in its leather glove, squeezed Mulder's shoulder, then pulled him to his feet. His eyes were still full of pain, but Mulder understood that there was good pain and there was bad pain, and this was good pain. Mulder ventured a smile, and was answered with one from Krycek, tight but genuine.

Krycek glanced away for a moment, drew a deep breath, then reached up and began to unbuckle the collar from Mulder's neck, equanimity returned. "Get dressed, Mulder. I'll walk you to the door."

Mulder did what he was told. And this time, he did it with style.

It was nearly seven a.m. by the time he got home, in the taxi that Lurch had called for him. His butt was raw, and his tits were sore, and his ass knew it had been fucked, and every muscle in his body had turned to water. He did something he rarely did, no matter how little sleep he'd gotten the night before -- he called in sick and spent the day on his couch, napping and watching videos in a blind haze. And it was just as well he hadn't gone in to work, because there were marks on his neck from the collar and he couldn't sit down without wincing, and he hadn't the energy to withstand Scully's intent blue gaze and lifted eyebrow, and he probably would have ended up telling her what had happened, and he didn't even know himself what had happened.

He tried to think about it, but he kept getting lost in the haze of conflicting feelings, until all he could see were collars and whips and black leather gloves, and he ended up jerking off again, trying to tell himself that it was the videos he was watching that were making him so horny.

The next day, he went back to work, passing it off as "a virus," telling Scully nothing, only pestering her with questions about the latest advances in prosthetic limbs, which she answered with her usual aplomb. If she noticed that he still had a little trouble sitting down, she made no mention of it. He thought about the house in Georgetown, its address burned into his memory, and he considered running it through the databases, finding out who owned it, and where the money to operate it came from. He didn't. He realized that he had no real idea what Krycek's relationship to that place and its owners was, but he'd come to think of it as Alex Krycek's safe haven, and perhaps Krycek deserved a safe haven, so he had no desire to interfere. He thought about going back there some night, seeing if he could talk his way past Lurch, perhaps asking if his host was there. He didn't do that, either. Eventually, as the days passed, he found that the events of that night had taken on a dreamlike quality, as if they'd happened in some other time and place, or to some other person, and had no connection to his life here and now. But he found that he was wearing his leather jacket more often.

He found the envelope in the day's mail one evening, returning home late from work. It was a square of stiff ivory paper, with no return address, a D.C. postmark, and Mulder's name and address printed in neat, round letters. He thought the handwriting looked vaguely familiar, but he couldn't place it.

Settling down on his couch, he tore the envelope open. Inside was an engraved invitation. At the top was a tiny figure, naked but genderless, writhing in agony from a bar that was piercing its sides. Below, it read: "The pleasure of your company is requested at the Paradox Club." At the bottom, an initial: "A." That was all. No date, no time, no address, no signature.

He didn't need them. He knew where and who. And when?

Mulder sat staring at the invitation. He ought to just tear it up, throw it in the trash, and forget about it. It had been one night, an aberration, a temporary lapse in judgment. All right, it had been exciting and good and it had taken him places he'd never even known existed. That didn't mean he wanted to do it again. Necessarily. Although, what harm could it do? Safe, sane, consensual. Nothing to worry about there. Like a roller-coaster ride at the amusement park, or a scary movie -- you got your shot of adrenaline, you screamed, and then you went home safe and sound.

Mulder's heart was pounding, and his face was burning with that familiar flush. He could almost feel the collar around his neck. Was there ever really any doubt?

Taking a deep breath, he got up to go change. He was not going to show up in an Armani suit this time. Blue jeans and black tee-shirt, boots and leather jacket. Not quite the uniform, but it was the best he could do. He could always change when he got there -- assuming Krycek allowed it. He smiled to himself at the thought. He was already getting hard, already beginning to slide into the submissive trance, and it was scary and shameful and good. Krycek's image loomed large in his vision: the bright green eyes, the amused, self-assured smile, the white poet's shirt and black leather. Master of the whip. Master of Mulder. <Top,> he heard Krycek's voice telling him. <This is a play date, not a commitment.>

Mulder stuffed the invitation into his pocket, took another deep breath and headed for the door. He was going crazy. He was going for the thrill ride of his life.

He was going to the Paradox Club.

-end-