WARNING: EXPLICIT CRUELTY. Physical and sexual abuse, M/m sex, discipline, spanking. If the idea of a discipline relationship between consenting adult males offends you, so will this story.



AD Walter Skinner sat comfortably in his armchair, working his way through his newspaper. His lover Alex Krycek lay sprawled on the floor at his feet, thumbing through the comics.

"Huh," said Walter, his eyes on the paper. "Remember Luis Cardinale, Alex? Looks like somebody finally got him." Alex inhaled sharply.

"Shit," Alex said, then more ambivalently, "He deserved it. I guess." He swung himself off the floor, not meeting Walter's gaze. In two quick movements he grabbed his jacket; toed into his boots.

"I'm going out," he said, already through the door before Walter could respond.

Walking swiftly along the gray road, Alex dashed his hand at his eyes. Fucking cold was making him teary. Had nothing to do with anything else. Certainly not with Luis fucking Cardinale.

Another cold day in hell. Once again Alex had been caught in the no man's land between the Englishman and CGB Spender. Alex was already bruised and bloody when he was dragged into Spender's office. He stood stiffly, Cardinale and the other goon at his back, awaiting the smoker's judgment.

"You'd be an asshole to let the Brit have him back, Charlie," Cardinale said softly. "You can teach him a lesson. He'll be fine. You'll see, it'll work out. Want me to do it?" CGB Spender glared at his insolent henchman, but knew enough about how the man worked not to react to his tone.

"All right, go on. Teach him a lesson. Take him downstairs and beat the shit out of him, Luis. Then we'll see."

Even as the beating began, Alex recognized with dim surprise that Cardinale was pulling his punches. He was also blocking some of the worst blows the other thug delivered, taking the impact against his own thick frame.

"Fucking asshole, watch yourself," Cardinale cursed at the other thug. "Lemme do it, you're just getting in the way." The other man backed off. Like most of the thugs, he knew this was Cardinale's boy. Let him handle it. Let him work it out with Mr. Spender. He left the room.

Through a haze of pain Alex was aware of Cardinale's rough hands shoving him into a chair. He whimpered.

"Shut the fuck up will you already, you stupid asshole " Cardinale snapped.

"This'll help. Here, take a hit." Cardinale slid the mirror with its line of precious white powder onto the table, pushed Alex's head over it, thrust the rolled bill in his hand. Alex sniffed gratefully, anticipating the blessed rush the drug always delivered. He was not disappointed. Cardinale cuffed his head roughly.

"You were born for trouble, Alex, you know that?"

Alex was too far gone to answer that he knew that it was true. Alex's earliest memories involved pain. He both feared it and accepted it as his due.

A particularly bad day. Alex couldn't remember exactly what had gone wrong, what had been done to him, only that he had panicked. Kicking, twisting, trying to escape. Harsh hands grabbing, choking, hitting him over and over. He was screaming hysterically as he was dragged into the Englishman's office.

"Alex Krycek. I am sick of hearing you complain," the Englishman said coldly. "You are here to be used. When you are told to do something, you obey. I am tired of this nonsense. This time I am going to punish you in a way you won't quickly forget." He reached for the narrow cane leaning against the wall behind him.

"Bend over." Alex's eyes were fastened in horror on the cane.

"No! Please, please, I'm sorry, I'll do what I'm told, anything, just please, please don't hit me with that again!" Alex half sobbed, half screamed. The Englishman glared at the dark-haired young man, whose green eyes met his with a fury born of panic. The Englishman sighed.

"Alex, Alex, Alex. Lower your voice. It seems we need a little lesson in how to accept our punishment gracefully." He stepped forward and without warning, backhanded Alex square across the face. Hard. Alex pinched his nostrils together with suddenly unsteady fingers, feeling the slight trickle of blood. The Englishman took advantage of this momentary disorientation to spin Alex around and slam him hard against the desk. Even as one well-manicured hand forced Alex face forward across the broad expanse, the other hand descended sharply on already red and welted buttocks.

"You will learn to take a whipping properly. That means, you stay still. You thank me for each stroke of the cane and you absolutely, positively do not beg me to stop. Is that clear?" He pinned Alex across the desk, digging into the small of his back with a harsh hand. With the other he reached for the cane which had rolled to the floor during Alex's struggles.

"I am going to beat you until you tell me you are ready to learn the proper way to behave while you are being punished. It is a shame to use a cane in this barbaric fashion and the necessity of my doing this is just one more thing I will punish you for." With that he brought the cane down hard across Alex's ass. Almost before the pain of the first slash had registered, the cane was falling again, and yet again. Alex gagged, nauseous with pain. Tears coated his cheeks as he sobbed uncontrollably, gasping for breath.

"Please, help me, oh please, I'm sorry, I'll be good," he gasped incoherently.

"Please, no more, please stop, oh please," he begged pitifully. The Englishman gave no sign that he heard. He showed no sign of flagging, continuing to apply the cane with vicious force to Alex's rapidly blistering butt.

"Please, I'll be good, I promise, please, no more..." Alex sobbed, unable to remember why he was being punished, what he had been told to do. He choked back his tears, gagging, shaking, and trying desperately to remember the magic words.

"I'll learn I'll learn I promise I'll learn..." he gasped. "Please sir, thank you sir, thank you for teaching me!" The words garbled together in an agonized shriek.

The Englishman smiled grimly.

"Very well, Alex, let's begin again. Count the strokes."

"Yes, sir," Alex said in a voice he himself barely recognized. The cane cut through the air and across his buttocks.

"One," he whispered. Without warning the cane slashed down three times in swift succession.

"One, what?" the soft voice asked implacably. Alex hesitated, his bewilderment genuine. The cane slashed down again, drawing an anguished scream and prompting his shaky memory.

"One, thank you, sir!" he wailed. The Englishman smiled. It was always a pleasure to bring the difficult ones to heel properly. He had a feeling Alex Krycek would never forget this lesson. He brought the cane down viciously. Alex threw back his head and howled.

"Count, Alex," the Englishman said coldly. "Or I'll begin again."

"Two! Two thank you sir!" Alex ground out, desperate for the pain to end. The Englishman brought the cane down yet again.

"Three thank you sir!" Alex's voice was raw with pain, terror and unwilling acquiescence. The Englishman drew him roughly upright for a moment, then thrust him to his knees. He held the cane in front of his lips, now swollen and dry.

"Kiss it, Alex, and thank me properly." Gagging, terrified, but determined not to be beaten anymore, Alex touched his lips to the hated cane.

"Thank you for punishing me, sir," he whispered. The Englishman nodded.

"I won't be so lenient in the future," he said. "You may go."

Still half-naked, Alex rose quietly and escaped into the hallway. Tears were coursing down his face.

"Help me, help me, help me, help me," he begged, not expecting an answer, but unable to stop, thrusting his hand in his mouth in a frantic attempt to quiet himself. There was no reply to his plea. There never was.

Day after day, week after week. Anything, everything they told him to do. He tried, he really did try.

Hot lights. Cameras. For hour after hour, he took it. Anything and everything they wanted to give him. On his knees. On his back. Sprawled on his stomach. His intestines cramping, his ass bruised. His insides sore from the abuse. His lips cracked from widening his mouth. Only the last scene had been so painful and so humiliating... He hadn't meant to start cursing. To start thrashing about. He had tried, he had really, really tried...

Alex lost his balance as he was thrust roughly into the room and fell, sprawling awkwardly across the floor in front of the well-manicured man.

"Alex Krycek. Possibly the young man I least wanted to see in my office again. I really am sick of you, Alex," the Englishman said in his soft upper class voice. "I think we'll have to do something that will leave an impression on you. Laugh at my jokes, Alex, " he reproved, as Alex dropped his eyes and gulped, defiance fading fast at the cruel jest.

"Let's make this simple. I am going to give you twelve strokes with the cane. You are going to drop your pants and underwear, bend over the chair and take them. If you cooperate perfectly, that's all you'll get. If I have to repeat our last lesson in how to take your punishment properly, I will add six strokes. If you even think about resisting me, I will add another six. You're supposed to be intelligent, Alex. I trust you'll behave accordingly."

Right, Alex thought. He had no doubt that the man would carry out his threats. Twelve miserable strokes, with him counting them aloud and thanking the manicured SOB for each one, were going to be bad enough. He wondered for a moment if there was any chance he could simply will himself to die right here and avoid the pain and the humiliation that were coming. He wished. The Englishman probably had a standing deal with the devil to return all recalcitrant rough trade to him for punishment before sending them directly to hell.

"Do you need an engraved invitation, Alex?" The Englishman nodded to the chair. Alex dragged himself to his feet and silently positioned himself behind it. Unbuckled his belt. Opened the button on his jeans. Opened the zipper. Eased them down over his hips. Shivered involuntarily as he shoved his boxers down after them. Bent over the back of the chair, grabbed its legs. Tried not to think of what was coming. Oh god oh god oh god it was going to hurt.

He felt rather than heard the cane cut through the air and across his bare skin. Tried not to gasp.

"Alex? This is the only reminder you'll get."

"One," he said dully. "Thank you. Sir."

The second stroke made him gasp.

"Two." Concentrate, Alex. Say the words.

"Thank you, sir." Don't screw up. Don't lose count. Shit, shit, shit it hurt it hurt it hurt.

"Three. Thank you, sir." Don't screw up now. Don't screw it up. Oh god oh god oh god.

"F-four. Thank you. Sir." Fuck you. Fuck you. Oh shit, shit, shit it hurts! Don't talk don't talk just breathe oh god no not again.

"Five." Five, five, stay alive. No, don't start the rhymes. Concentrate, Alex. Say the words.

"Thank you, sir." Did he notice please let him not notice. I did say it I did. Oh god oh god it hurts.

"Six. Thank you, sir." Pick up sticks. Snatches of remembered rhyme. Half way there, Alex. Half oh god half no more no more.

"Seven." Heaven, eleven. No, don't lose count. Concentrate. Come on, Alex, come on now.

"Thank you, sir." Taste of blood. Hang on hang on hang on. Oh shit it hurts so bad.

"Eight. Thank you, sir." Eight hate hate eight hate hate hate. No...oh shit, oh shit, what was that? Please please please nine.

"Nine. Thank you, sir." Nine mine mine nine. Bite down hard. Don't beg don't beg don't beg. No, no, no.

"Ten. Thank you, sir." Can't take it must take it can't must can't must oh shit, shit, fucking shit.

"Eleven. Thank you, sir." One more just one just one oh please just one he was good just one just one. God!

"Twelve. Thank you, sir." Please no more oh god please. Don't move don't beg don't breathe. Oh god it hurts. Please.

He jumped as a hand caressed his ass.

"Very nice, Alex. You may stand up now and readjust your clothing." The cultured voice held a hint of amusement. Alex winced as cloth stretched across raw welts.

"Not so difficult this time, Alex?" The question quietly ironic. Alex tried to remember the right words.

"N-no, sir. Thank you, sir." Please let that be right, Alex prayed. The Englishman smiled coldly. Definitely an improvement. The young man was learning. With a flourish, he held out the cane. Alex swallowed hard, then pressed his lips to it in his best imitation of a kiss.

"Thank you for correcting me, sir," Alex whispered, holding his voice steady with every ounce of will he possessed. The Englishman nodded graciously.

"I trust I won't see you in here again this week," he said. Alex nodded hastily.

"No, sir. Thank you, sir," he whispered. Please let me leave.

"Dismissed." The Englishman turned away, no longer concerned. Alex backed out the door, sweaty, nauseous and desperately happy to have survived another beating. His face was white under a glaze of tears and snot, his breathing ragged, his ass a blazing mass of pain.

The Englishman reached under the desk and pressed a button. With a sigh, he popped the videotape out of the concealed recorder. The endless coarse pornographic films the miserable bastards were forced to participate in produced generous revenues for the Consortium. A tape like this had a much smaller market. Ah, but how he liked dealing with connoisseurs. An altogether superior market.

Alex stumbled to the communal bathroom at the end of the long corridor. Bracing his arms against the toilet bowl, he leaned forward, retching miserably. The taste of blood and vomit, salt tears and sweat mingled in his mouth. Every nerve in his body was fiery with pain. He slumped helplessly facedown beside the toilet, rested his cheek on the cold tile floor. Feeling utterly alone, he noted dimly the several pairs of shoes and pants hems that walked past without pausing.

You're fucked, Alex Krycek. Totally fucked.

Luis Cardinale didn't give a damn about whether the punk sprawled face down on the tile floor was hurt or not. He just couldn't stand seeing another man cry if he hadn't purposely reduced him to tears himself.

"Shut up, you fucking idiot," Cardinale said. Alex didn't move. The manicured SOB had just caned him, there wasn't a cell in his body that didn't hurt and one more person yelling abuse at him meant nothing at all.

"Ah, Jesus, come here," Cardinale said, shaking his head. "Get up." The punk looked like shit. "Let's get you cleaned up." Alex hurt all over. Nothing was going to help. Cardinale looked at the pale face with its haggard green eyes. The red blotches mottling white cheeks. The undone pants.

"The Brit worked you over good, didn't he," he said roughly. "What's your name?"

"Alex, sir," Alex whispered. Cardinale laughed bitterly.

"You don't have to say sir to me, kiddo. I'm one of the grunts, too. Luis Cardinale, hired thug." He smiled grimly.

Alex had heard the name before. One of the Consortium's stable of contract killers. One of Mr. Spender's handpicked band of strongmen. He had no idea why the man was talking to him and no doubt that whatever the reason, it wasn't good.

Cardinale looked at the dark haired young man struggling to stay upright. That English bastard was bent. There were lots of ways to bring these punks into line, without leaving them bloody assed and terrified like this. Good for nothing but fucking and kamikaze jobs. Himself, he intended to survive. He felt sorry for this punk.

"Come on, let's get something to eat, Alex," he said. Alex looked at him.

"I'm not sure I'm allowed to, s-Luis," he said. Luis laughed.

"Scared?" he taunted. "Don't worry, I'll take care of you. The Brit never comes out of that fucking office anyway," he added more kindly. "Don't be scared, kid."

"I'm not scared," Alex said, "I just don't want another fucking beating." Cardinale laughed.

"That's right, baby, fight back. There's a lot more where that came from, you might as well learn to fight back now."

Alex followed the swarthy man through parts of the building he'd never known existed. To a room with slouchy couches, a refrigerator and microwave, a table and chairs. Almost like a real home, he thought appreciatively. Not that he'd know from personal experience, but he'd seen pictures.

Cardinale pawed through the refrigerator, snagged two beers and handed one to Alex. Slapped a loaf of bread and some cold cuts on the table and began constructing two monstrously large sandwiches. He shoved one to Alex.

"Eat, kid," he said. Alex looked doubtfully at the size of the sandwich. Right now he doubted his stomach could handle any food at all. And he was damn sure his butt couldn't handle sitting in one of the chairs. The beer looked good, though.

"Uh, Luis? Do you think I could lie down? I'm pretty bruised..." Alex said softly.

Cardinale laughed, not entirely unkindly.

"Go ahead," he said. Alex lay on his side, sipping the beer, happier than he'd been for a long time. It didn't bother him when Cardinale sat alongside him on the couch and tugged Alex's head into his lap. When he unzipped his fly. Alex took the dark cock willingly in his mouth, worked it with tongue and palate until it spurted its milky white fluid. Accepted the pat on the head Cardinale gave him as he zipped himself back up. It didn't matter. Nothing did.

"You oughta see if you can get Charlie to look at you, Alex," Cardinale said, ignoring what they had just done as if it'd been two other people.

"He's a helluva lot better to work for than the English shit. You any good with weapons?" Alex shrugged. "You want me to put in a good word for you?"

"Whatever," Alex said, not giving anything away. "I have to get back before they start missing me."

"Sure, kid. See you around," Cardinale said, flipping on the TV and clicking through the channels. Alex swung himself stiffly off the couch and made his way quietly back down the long hallway. Years of training in self preservation had made him note the route they had taken, and he retraced it easily.

He wondered if Cardinale might want to see him again. It would be nice to be wanted, no matter what for.

They settled into a routine. Every few days, Cardinale would show up and Alex would follow him quietly to the room with the couches. Cardinale would get Alex a beer, make some sandwiches. At some point he would open his fly and Alex would suck him. It never took long till he came, he never grabbed Alex's hair or made him choke, and they never spoke about it afterwards. Once he asked Alex about the films. He listened expressionlessly while Alex told him and he didn't seem turned on by it at all.

"Who the fuck wants to see that sick shit when he could watch a woman...ah, babe, we gotta get you a real job," was his only response.

He hates these films the worst of all. He is being beaten and there is no way out. He hasn't done anything wrong. It is all for the man with the camera. If that prick hits him one more time, he is fucking going to die. No. He is fucking going to kill the SOB who's hurting him. He can't see. They always blindfold him, but now the freak is beating him and he really doesn't think he's going to stop. He wonders if anyone will help if he passes out. More probably they'll let him lie here in his own blood and piss and take pictures. Ugly sells.

Shit. This is bad. This is really, really bad. Whatever they're shoving up his ass, it's too big, he's not ready, oh shit, shit, shit it hurts.

"No more! Fuck you!" He screams as the pressure changes to sharp pain. Frantically he fights the hands that hold him down, his teeth catching one of the fingers trying to keep him still. He bites down as hard as he can, feels something give.

Pain, pain beyond imagining. Hands at his throat. They are going to kill him. Shouted instructions. He bites down into the flesh in front of him. Kicks upwards.

Something heavy, wet, warm, limp. Silence. Blessed relief from hurt.

"Fucker killed him!" Mingled awe and something else.

You're in trouble now, Alex. No one tries to help him.

He threw up, and that was the last thing he remembered.

Waking up, not in his room, but in the cold space they used for punishment.

He had spent enough time here to know the chill was intentional. It'd take a certain number of favors to get a blanket.

Shoved by the Englishman into a dark paneled room.

CGB Spender sat cigarette in hand, as always, looking at him coldly. "Why am I being involved?" he asked the Englishman with a slight sigh.

"It's the first time any of the merchandise has actually killed someone, sir," the Englishman replied. "We would like you to make an example of him yourself."

"Alex, is it?" The Englishman nodded. "Thank you. Leave him here for a bit."

"So...do you talk?" he asked. "I would like to hear something, an explanation preferably, or in lieu of that something amusing."

Alex just stared at him. He hadn't realized just how large the man was. He watched, mesmerized, as the cigarette glowed red in the man's hand. He would have cringed, if he had had the presence of mind, as the man buried the glowing tip in the back of his hand. Instead, he kept still, staring at his hand dispassionately, while somewhere deep inside him, something noted the smell of burning flesh.

"You're quite an interesting young man, Alex," the cigarette smoking man said, watching the blank green eyes in the translucent face.

"What is it? High pain threshold? Or something else? Did you ever kill a man before, Alex?" The green eyes remained empty. The man smiled.

"Didn't bother you, then? No?" Still the eyes stayed blank. Sighing, the man got up, fetched a decanter, and poured a drink.

"Here," he said, and for a moment something very close to gentleness flickered in his eyes. He placed the glass in front of the young man.

"Drink it." It was an order. Alex tipped the glass back, gulped.

"Thank you, sir," he whispered. The man nodded. There was something fascinating about this young man. It had been a long time since anyone had surprised him. It would be fun to play with someone unpredictable. The idea excited him.

The liquor burned its way down Alex's throat. God, it felt good. Maybe, just maybe, Mr. Spender would not beat him to death. If he were good, if he were very, very good, maybe Mr. Spender would want him for his own, not let the Englishman share him around like a box of chocolates. Alex looked at the wound on the back of his hand. It hurt like hell. But it was Spender's mark, and maybe, just maybe, it meant he was going keep Alex.

"It's entirely your decision of course, Charles," the Englishman said. "I'll grant he's extraordinary. He needs a firm hand. If you take him, be prepared to keep him. I can't guarantee I can take him back again without killing him." Charles laughed.

"Don't make it sound so unpleasant," he said. "I'm sure you had a lot of fun bending him to your will. Or over your desk, or over your chair." He convulsed with laughter. Coarse, thought the Englishman.

"I am serious," he said. "I know Alex. If you train him the way you are planning to, you will have one of the best assassins you've ever made. But you will also have a lethal weapon that can turn on you. I'm just advising you to be careful."

The two men locked eyes in cordial enmity.

"Thank you," Charles said at length. "Close the door on your way out." The Englishman nodded coldly as he left.

Charles studied his prize. Alex hadn't moved. He stroked Alex's black hair thoughtfully.

"What do you like, Alex?" he asked him. Alex tilted his head to the side, trying to guess what the man wanted to hear.

"Don't lie, Alex," he said. "I want to know. Do you like girls? Or boys? What did you do for the films, anyway?" Alex winced.

"Sir? I don't think I like anything, really," he said softly. Charles understood what he intended to say. It made the smoker sad. Christ alone knows how he could still feel anything, Charles thought to himself. When did we become so desperate for money that we would resort to this?

"Come closer to me," he said to Alex. "We're going to see what you like." Alex swallowed. OK. He was a good performer. If Mr. Spender wanted to fuck him, well, he'd been fucked before.

Spender had wanted him. He had traded sex for a safe haven in the Consortium's hierarchy, for a promotion from rough trade to assassin. Sometimes

Alex wondered if he hadn't made the worst of all possible bargains. What Spender liked was nothing like the simple favor Cardinale took. Spender liked to hurt him. To fuck his ass until he writhed in pain, to burn him, to choke him as he came. Every time he was afraid Spender would make a mistake, take him too close to the edge and drop him over.

Still, he could have done worse. At least it was just Charles. He let him sleep in his bed afterwards. He took him out for dinner. He taught him to kill.

"Charlie," Luis Cardinale said. CGB Spender looked at him and grimaced. He both despised the nickname and understood exactly why Cardinale insisted on using it.

"Luis," Charles said. "I have a present for you. This is Alex Krycek, who's interested in your specialty. Or rather, I should say, I would like to interest him in your specialty." Alex watched the swarthy man carefully, trying to pick up his cues. He looked at Alex as if he had never seen him. Alex's expression mirrored his exactly.

"Take him downstairs with you. Alex, be good," Charles said. He tousled Alex's dark hair affectionately. Luis Cardinale's lip curled in disgust as they left the room.

"Ah, fuck it, baby," Cardinale said. "You're not some fucking faggot. You tell Charlie to leave you the fuck alone, you hear me?" Alex looked at him in bitter confusion.

"How is that different from what we do, Luis?" he asked. He was unprepared for Cardinale's response. Alex reeled back as Luis's open hand caught him flat across the face, hard. He licked his lips, tasted blood. He knew better than to cry out.

"I'm not a fucking fag, don't you ever, ever forget that, you understand me? You don't ever talk to me that way again," Cardinale said roughly. He took Alex's face in his large hand, turned it toward the light. Wiped the blood from Alex's mouth with a callused thumb. "You'll live. Come on babe, let's go."

"Alex! Alex, do you hear me? Alex!" Alex shook his head. He heard the voice calling his name as if from a very great distance. His green eyes widened with confusion as he felt Walter shake him gently. Where was he? Walter was watching him with concerned brown eyes.

"Alex, you've been walking for hours. You're ice cold. Come on, let's get you home," Walter said gently, coaxing Alex into the car. Alex curled despondently in the front seat, his forehead pressed to the glass. Walter made several attempts at conversation and then realizing the futility, fell silent. The frozen landscape passed before them, as cold and empty as Alex's eyes.

"I didn't mean to get lost, Walter," Alex said softly as they walked into the house. "Are you going to punish me?" Walter looked at Alex for a long moment, swallowed hard. Sometimes Alex's idea of what merited punishment broke his heart.

"No, Alex, I won't punish you," Walter said softly. "You didn't do anything wrong. Come here now. Let's get you warmed up." He tugged off Alex's jacket and boots, maneuvered Alex down onto the sofa and draped the spare blanket over him.

"Talk to me, Alex," Walter said gently. "Tell me who Luis Cardinale was."

Alex tried to explain to Walter what it was like. Never having anyone to talk to. Never having anyone see you as anything but a piece of meat. How little Luis asked in comparison with the things he had been made to do, day in and day out, before the cameras. How Luis had fed him, talked to him, stroked his hair. How he had smelled, warm and musky and somehow comforting. How Luis had taught him the one skill which had made him valuable as something other than a fuck toy...

His jaw rigid with his effort to remain silent, Walter seated himself alongside Alex. Willing his body to remain relaxed, Walter drew Alex to him.

Burying his head in Walter's lap, Alex cried. Walter smoothed his hair gently, his fingers working patiently through the knotted strands as Alex continued sobbing and hiccuping, gasping for breath. Wearily, soundlessly, Walter cursed the Consortium's elite to himself, in a refrain that had become familiar. What they did to Alex... Walter tried to keep the loathing he felt out of his voice.

"Was Cardinale Catholic, Alex? Did he belong to the church? You can get masses said for someone who's died, do you know that?" Alex lifted his head, his eyes red and sore.

"He used to cross himself for luck. Before he took somebody out. What kind of prayers can help save someone like that, Walter?" Alex began to sob again. Walter stroked his hair gently.

"I don't know, Alex. I don't know. He obviously meant a lot to you. Give it some thought. You may find it helps to do something, even if you don't know if it makes a difference," Walter said softly.

Alex sat himself up. Wearily, he pushed away from Walter's embrace and grabbing his jacket, made for the kitchen. Walter followed him, unsure what Alex intended.

Alex laid his jacket on the counter and taking one of Walter's precious cooking knives, slit the lining. Slipping his hand inside, he drew out bill after bill. Walter's eyes widened at the denominations. Fifties, hundreds...what the hell was this?

"Spender made sure I never, ever had any cash. Luis used to skim some bills off the top, every time he dealt drugs or guns for them. He'd make me take part of it, make me hide it. I was shit scared I'd get caught. Luis smacked me, said it'd be there when I needed an out. This is all I have left, Walter. I want to give it to him," Alex said. He divided the bills into two piles. Turned on the stove. Before Walter could say anything, Alex touched one pile to the flame. It caught immediately. Alex watched impassively as it burnt, released it in the sink an instant before he singed his fingers. Ran cold water over the ashes.

"Fuck you, Luis," Alex said. "Spend that, wherever you are." He turned to Walter, held out the other pile.

"Walter? Where's there a church?" Silently, Walter walked to the door, took his car keys from the hook.

"Let's go, Alex," he said quietly.

Walter walked with Alex to the door of the rectory. It took Alex a little while to nerve himself up to knock. An older woman admitted them.

"I want to buy a Mass card," Alex said tentatively.

"For five dollars you can add a name to our prayer list. For twenty dollars, you can dedicate a particular mass to someone. What would you like to do?"

"Walter?" Alex asked softly. Walter shook his head.

"It's your call, Alex," he said gently. Alex reached into his pocket.

"This is for however the hell many masses it'll get him. They're for Luis, from Alex. I don't care how the fuck you work it out." Shoving the rubber-banded stack of bills into the secretary's hand, Alex turned on his heel and fled.

"Thank you, ma'am," Walter said, with an apologetic grimace. He trailed Alex out.

Alex was already in the car, eyes fixed on the windshield. With a sigh, Walter started the engine. He wondered if there was any point in reproving Alex for his rudeness; decided to let it go. Walter clicked the radio to his favorite station and drove silently home. He knew better than to expect Alex to talk.

Alex spoke little the rest of the day. It was only after they were in bed that Walter felt rather than heard Alex crying into his pillow. Walter trailed a finger experimentally over Alex's cheeks, feeling the wetness.

"Come here, Alex," he said gently, pulling Alex against his chest. Alex shook his head.

"Are you angry at me, Walter?" he asked. Walter rubbed gentle circles along Alex's back.

"Of course not," he said. "Why would I be?"

"Because he was a bastard, Walter, a fucking piece of shit. And I never said thank you and I never said goodbye and now he's fucking dead. What the fuck does it matter anyhow?" Alex glared at Walter as if it were somehow his fault.

Sighing, Walter continued to rub Alex's back until Alex's stiff body softened against him.

"I didn't have anyone else," Alex whispered. "I feel so sad, Walter. Is that wrong?" Walter continued to cuddle Alex gently, trying to find the words he wanted.

"Of course not, Alex," Walter soothed. "There's no right or wrong with feelings. You feel what you feel. It's all right, Alex, it's all all right. I love you." He kissed Alex gently.

"I love you, Walter," Alex whispered. "I love you so much." Alex sighed and finally closed his eyes, his breathing deepening into soft snores.

It was a very long time before Walter fell asleep.


FOR my beta, Lorelei, the inspiration for this story. Thank you, Lorelei, for both challenge and comfort. EM

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