M/m sex, discipline, spanking. Memories of abuse. If the idea of a discipline relationship between consenting adult males offends you, so will this story.




Walter Skinner rubbed his aching temples. Alex had finally fallen asleep, on his stomach, tear tracks still visible on his cheeks. Walter sighed unhappily. He had spanked Alex until Alex had cried. Alex's butt was going to be sore for at least the next twenty-four hours. And Walter's heart was going to be sore a lot longer than that.

Walter stroked Alex's sable hair softly. He knew he shouldn't take Alex's cries while he was being spanked personally. He knew Alex didn't hate him, any more than he believed Alex's promises to be good forever afterwards. Still, it hurt. Sometimes he wondered if he knew what the hell he was doing. He looked at the phone. Melvin Frohike was usually up for a chat. Walter wanted to unburden himself to someone who understood his situation.

"Melvin's out with Ringo, Walter," John Byers said apologetically. "Can I help you?" Walter hesitated. Alex liked John. Maybe John could help. Walter sighed.

"How's Alex doing?" John asked.

"How did you guess?" Walter replied.

"We had a little taste of him when you were in the hospital," John said. Walter laughed ruefully.

"I noticed he gave Melvin a lot harder time than he gave you," Walter said. John agreed.

"I woke him from that nightmare. He grabbed me by the throat. Choked me. Oh, he stopped as soon as he woke up enough to know where he was and who I was. But he felt guilty, that was obvious. And he tried to make it up to me by obeying me. It's the way I was able to get him to eat. I'm a little softer in approach than Melvin, and I think Alex needed that right then."

John took a deep breath.

"Walter, I know this is none of my business, but what I said when you were in the hospital still holds. Alex in my opinion is a very fragile man. Badly damaged. Abused as a child. I wouldn't even hazard a guess at what the Consortium used him for, although we've seen some of their files and let me just say you wouldn't wish that life on your worst enemy."

"What sort of files, John?" Walter asked. "I'd really appreciate any insight you can give me. I've managed to get a few glimpses of Alex's past, and they haven't been pleasant. But I don't get the whole picture."

"As best as I can see, they used prostitution and pornography to finance their whole operation," John said. "They were very efficient. Used the prostitutes they had to breed their own replacements. Not to mention the alien medical experiments they donated their leftovers for."

Walter sighed.

"Alex almost never talks about his past. Everything I know is bits and pieces."

"Walter, you're both intelligent men. Have you ever considered therapy, either individually or as a couple? Alex deserves a chance to work through some of his past. And you... well, truthfully, Walter, I can almost understand why this works for Alex, better than why it works for you. I'll accept that he needs the kind of structure you offer, though not the kind of punishment you believe in. But what do you get from it? You don't seem to enjoy punishing him. He certainly causes you enough grief. What do you get out of this relationship?"

"He needs me, John," Walter said.

"Needs is one thing, Walter. But what you do for Alex...look, I'm no therapist. And God knows I've got my own issues. But Alex is not a well man, Walter. I'm telling you, he copes all right, maybe 75 percent of the time. But the other 25 percent? Come on, Walter--the fugue states, the times he's totally lost? There is medication that might help. And this discipline thing...you're a decent man, Walter. Can you tell me for certain that it's not abusive? Would Alex even know the difference?"

Walter's headache got worse. He knew John was right about Alex. He was worried himself. Since the well-manicured man had met with his well-deserved end, Alex had been a bundle of conflicting impulses.

"Do you have a name for me, John? Someone who is at least open to the idea of a discipline relationship, someone with some standing in gay and BDSM circles, maybe?" Walter asked.

"I'll get you a few names, Walter. For whatever it's worth, I think you're doing the right thing."

True to his word, John wasted no time before getting back to Walter with a referral. There were not many people with the specific qualifications Walter sought. Walter took the first appointment the recommended therapist had available. With some trepidation, Walter made it clear to Alex that his participation was mandatory.

"No, Walter. I won't go in there. Fuck you, you can't make me. No!" The panic in Alex's voice. The terror in his eyes. Walter sighed. Tried to be patient.

"Alex, calm down. We talked about this, remember? We agreed we'd give it a try. We--"

"No! I changed my mind! I'm leaving, Walter! Try and stop me, you bastard. I hate you. No!" Walter had Alex's good arm in a firm grip and had wrapped his other arm around Alex's waist, effectively restraining him.

The therapist's office door opened. Her eyes took in the tableau. Alex's green eyes flaming hate, his vicious curses as he struggled to get loose from Walter. Walter's unyielding hold, his quiet voice. She watched as both men's eyes turned to her. Alex's icy and blank. Walter's sad and embarrassed. She noticed that despite his obvious discomfort, Walter took time to check on Alex before addressing her.

"Easy, easy, Alex," he said softly. "Will you stay still if I let go?" Alex looked at him sullenly.

"Yes," he whispered. "But I still hate you. And I'm never, ever going inside."

"We can talk out here if you'd feel more comfortable," the therapist offered. Both men looked surprised. "I'm not expecting anyone else."

"Thank you," Walter said.

"Fine. Whatever. I'll go in the fucking office. Walter's making me pay half anyway; I might as well get the full treatment," Alex said sulkily. Walter sighed.

"Contrary," he muttered apologetically. The therapist watched his expression intently, noting the combination of sheepishness, resignation and annoyance.

Alex came to an abrupt halt at the open office door.

"No!" he yelped. Walter caught him before he could flee. This time, his voice was all comfort.

"Easy, Alex, easy. No one's going to hurt you. Shh, Alex, it's OK. Easy now, I'm right here." He spoke as though he were cajoling a frightened child. The therapist noticed how Alex leaned into Walter, seeming glad for the contact. All defiance gone.

Then again, the lightning switch in posture. Alex was back, doubly angry at having exposed himself as vulnerable. He chose a corner of the couch and sprawled defiantly, spreading himself out like so much merchandise. Walter shivered as Alex deliberately displayed himself, legs spread, hips thrust forward, eyes half closed behind long, dark lashes. Licked his lips seductively.

Please don't, Alex, Walter thought sadly. You don't have to do this.

The therapist watched Alex's display with interest. Observed Walter's frustrated glares and how Alex avoided meeting his gaze.

Walter, making a mental note to have a few firm words with his lover later, sat in the center of the couch, just out of Alex's reach.

"Would you like to tell me a little about what brings you here?" the therapist asked.

Alex put his thumb in his mouth and began to move it in and out, running his tongue around the tip. There was no mistaking his meaning.

Walter had had it.

"Please excuse us a moment," he said. It wasn't a request.

"Alex, come. Now." He stood up, clearly expecting Alex to follow. Alex hesitated, then, seeing the steel in Walter's posture, sighed. Better to get this over with now, he thought. I certainly don't want Walter to spank me in front of her.

"Come on, Alex," Walter said once they reached the waiting room. "You can behave better than this!"

"Fuck you, Walter," Alex said defiantly. "What, you want me to watch my mouth? Spank me then. I dare you. I agree, I deserve it. Now do it, if you dare."

Grabbing the men's room key from the basket at the receptionist's desk, Walter icily escorted Alex down the hallway. Opened the door and double locked it behind him. Alex looked resigned. Walter shoved Alex none too gently towards the wall.

"Brace yourself," he ordered.

"OK, OK, " Alex said, putting real and prosthetic hands on the wall without any prompting. "Spank me, Walter, OK? I was rude, uncooperative and a real SOB. Please spank me. And then take me home."

Walter sighed. Although he had intended to spank Alex, he had no intention of taking Alex home. But whether a spanked, tearful, chastened Alex could possibly be compelled to go back into the therapist's office without a major collapse was anyone's guess.

Alex was looking at Walter anxiously, awaiting his decision. Walter knew Alex needed him to take charge in a very physical way.

"Drop your jeans and underwear, now. I am going to spank you unless you give me a very good reason not to, Alex."

"I'm sorry, Walter," Alex whispered. "Just do it, OK? I'll be good." He took a deep breath and dropped his clothing. Ducked his head, caught his lower lip between his teeth. Waited for the first swat.

Walter put his left hand firmly on Alex's hip. His right hand traced the fine swell of the pale buttocks.

"Keep still, Alex," he admonished. "You are going to get a half dozen swats. And then we're going back in there, and you're going to behave properly."

"Oh, shit," whispered Alex. "Please, Walter, please, take me home?" Walter closed his eyes wearily and tried to remember why they were there.

"No, Alex," he said, his pity carefully concealed. "Let's get this over with."

Keeping his hand braced against Alex's hip, he dealt out six sharp smacks. Alex trembled, but didn't attempt to pull away.

"All done," Walter said. "It's all over, Alex. Get dressed and let's try this again." He rubbed Alex's back encouragingly. Alex's eyes sought his, wide and uncertain.

"Walter," he begged. " Are sure you won't take me home?" Walter nodded.

"Yes, Alex," he said gently. "We're going to see this through. Come on, now." He took Alex's hand and led him back into the office.

"I'm sorry," Walter said to the therapist, reseating himself. Alex hesitated a moment, then swiftly stretched out on the couch, his head in Walter's lap, two bright spots of red on his cheeks. His eyes wide and hazy, his breathing rough.

"Alex?" Walter prompted. "You had something to say?"

"Sorry," Alex said softly. "Won't do that again." He watched anxiously as the therapist studied him and Walter.

"Would you be able to tell me what happened just now?" she asked both men.

"It's not important," Walter said.

"Walter spanked me," Alex said.

There was silence.

"There seems to be some difference of opinion?" The therapist waited quietly. Walter sighed. Leave it to Alex to do the unexpected.

"I spanked him," Walter said, feeling ridiculously exposed.

"And is this a regular part of your relationship?"

Both men nodded uncertainly. The therapist noted the gentleness with which Walter stroked Alex's hair. The childlike way in which Alex mouthed his own hand. How Walter carefully pushed Alex's hand from his mouth, held it in his own. How Alex molded his body to Walter's lap.

"Do you do this often?" the therapist asked.

Walter tried to remember why they were there. He needed help, he had admitted as much to John. Alex's ability to function had deteriorated markedly since his encounter with the well-manicured man.

"I take it you're familiar with loving discipline relationships?" Walter asked.

The therapist nodded.

"What you're telling me is that this is a lifestyle you both embrace. Is this sexual, some sort of dominant-submissive relationship? Or domestic discipline? Or something else? What are you hoping to get out of being here? What would you like to accomplish?"

"I want to clarify some issues," Walter said, beginning to relax. "In particular, a friend I trust has questioned whether what I do with Alex is abusive. My own instincts say no, but I want some guidance."

"And you, Alex? What do you want?" Alex's eyes met the therapist's for barely a second. They were hazy and far away. She took a deep breath.

"Alex?" His eyes remained blank.

"Alex, can you look at me?" she asked, trying to get him to focus, trying for some contact. The green eyes remained blank.

"Is he on medication?" she asked Walter. Walter shook his head no.

"Have you considered hospitalizing him?"

Alex moved so quickly both Walter and the therapist were stunned. One moment he was sprawled bonelessly in Walter's lap, the next he was at the door, tension radiating from every limb.

"Fuck you, bitch," he hissed. "Fuck you too, Walter. I'm out of here. " He yanked open the door and was gone.

Walter tackled him before he was halfway down the hall. "Stop it, Alex," he ordered. Alex twisted and spit. Walter held on. The therapist watched as Walter held Alex down despite his struggles. Watched as Alex stopped fighting. Gradually Walter loosened his grip.

"Finished, Alex?" he asked. Alex nodded.

"No hospitals, Walter," he whispered. "Please, Walter, no hospitals."

"All right, Alex, all right," Walter soothed. He rolled his eyes at the therapist. "Exciting session," Walter commented dryly, smiling ruefully. She nodded her head.

"Please come back inside, Alex," she said quietly. Alex looked at her blankly, but this time she wasn't taken in by his seeming lack of understanding.

"Alex? Nod your head yes or no. Will you come inside and sit down?"

Alex nodded yes. Walter helped him up and they trailed the therapist into her office.

"Sit down, Alex," she said firmly. "No, in that chair, please. Take your hand out of your mouth." Alex obeyed. Walter hid his smile. This woman was quick, he thought. Not many people would have seen past Alex's florid hysterics.

"Now, Alex, I want you to tell me why you're here." Alex looked to Walter for help. Walter smiled encouragingly.

"You can talk just fine, Alex," he said.

"Walter made me come," Alex said sulkily.

"And you agreed to come because..." the therapist said.

"Because he fucking made me!"" Alex flared. "He said I had to, he fucking dragged me up here, he spanked me for being bad and now he threw me on the fucking floor when I tried to leave. Satisfied?" The therapist indicated the phone.

"Call 911. Report him for assault. I'll be a witness to what just happened." Alex gaped at her. Walter just sat. He and Sharon had been no strangers to counseling. Something told him this woman knew what she was about.

"Fuck you," Alex spat. "I don't want to call the police. Walter didn't hurt me. Walter takes care of me. But he did make me come today. And I don't want to be here." He looked at the therapist, his eyes pleading.

"Please can I sit next to Walter?" he begged. The therapist nodded. Walter put his arms around his miserable lover.

"Shh, Alex, easy," he whispered. Alex buried his head in Walter's chest.

"Can you help us?" Walter asked over the top of Alex's head. The therapist's eyes met his.

"I can help you clarify what's going on in this relationship, Walter. I can probably help you set some goals for Alex. I may be able to help you understand your role a little better. I don't think I can do much for Alex, unless he wants to participate. I'm not comfortable with having him coerced into being here, Walter. I would prefer we meet alone next time." Walter nodded.

"All right," he said slowly. "I suppose that's fair. I'll see you next week."

Alex smirked as they left the office.

"I don't have to go back!" he exclaimed gleefully.

"We'll see if you're as happy after we're done discussing this little session at home," Walter said sourly. "Alex, you were a complete and utter brat in there and you know it." Alex looked at Walter nervously. He had a pretty good idea what their "discussion" would consist of, namely his butt becoming reacquainted with Walter's hand. He winced in anticipation.

"Thanks for coming by, Ringo," Walter said. "Make yourself at home. Alex!" Alex was already halfway down the stairs.

"Hey Alex, sitter's here," said Ringo cheerfully. Walter closed his eyes, shaking his head. Could Ringo please keep his mouth shut for once, he thought despairingly.

"Fuck you," Alex said. To Walter's surprise, he didn't seem offended.

"Same to you," Ringo said good-naturedly. "How've you been, Alex?"

Walter shook his head bemusedly. This ritual exchange of insults was hard to understand, but if it worked for Alex and Ringo, he wasn't going to complain.

"I came by myself this week, as we agreed," Walter said to the therapist. "But I want to be clear that I'm here to discuss my relationship with Alex, not to be analyzed myself." The therapist nodded.

"I understand. How is Alex? What is he doing while you're here?"

"A mutual friend is keeping an eye on him," Walter said ruefully. "I don't really like to leave him alone," he added. "He doesn't do very well by himself these days." The therapist nodded.

"I'd like to return to that," she said. "But first, I'd like to get a little more information about your background. I see from your intake form that you were married?" Walter nodded.

"My wife died of cancer. We were separated at the time, but I helped care for her until the end."

"No children?" Walter shook his head.

"Is this relationship with Alex a sexual as well as a discipline relationship?"

"Yes," Walter said. He hoped he wasn't blushing at the matter of fact questions.

"Can you tell me a little bit about how your relationship with Alex started?"

"A mutual friend took Alex in after Alex was hurt in a sexual encounter. He called me because he didn't feel he could handle Alex alone. I brought him home with me," Walter said softly. "The first time we made love, he panicked and ran away."

"Can you talk a little about what you mean by panicked?" the therapist asked.

"He disappeared for three days," Walter said sadly. "When he came back, hungry, tired and scraped up, I spanked him. Nothing but corporal punishment has any impact at all on his behavior. I only spank him with my open hand, on his bottom, and only if we both agree he deserves it. Would you call that abuse?" Walter asked anxiously.

"Are there other punishments you impose?"

"I'll make him skip dessert. I'll send him to bed, but that's less a punishment than a way to quiet him down."

"Do you do the writing lines bit? The washing out his mouth with soap? The standing in the corner?" the therapist asked. Walter shook his head.

"They feel artificial to me, like a game. And I'm not playing."

"Does Alex want this?"

"I don't think he has the faintest idea what he wants," Walter said sadly, thinking of how Alex alternately begged to be spanked and pleaded not to be punished.

"And you? Do you know what you want?" The therapist asked.

"I want to be needed," he said softly. "I want someone to take care of. I was raised by my father and my paternal grandmother. My mother was considered 'delicate.' She had 'nerves.' As long as I can remember, my father and I conspired to protect her."

Walter removed his glasses and pinched the bridge of his nose hard between thumb and forefinger. Took a deep breath.

"I really don't like talking about this. Nowadays I think her manic depression would have been identified and treated. She died in a car accident while I was in Vietnam. It could have been a suicide. I'll never know.

Thanks to my father and grandmother, I had a very stable, happy childhood despite her illness. But it left me with a deep need to care for someone. I enjoy taking care of Alex. He needs me. I need to be needed."

"Have you found other outlets for this need?"

"At work? I've been very tolerant and supportive of some very eccentric individuals under my command," Walter sighed.

"Alex never talks about his childhood. My understanding is that he grew up in some sort of communal childcare setting inside the Consortium. I know he was physically and sexually abused. I don't know how young he was when the abuse started. I think he was very young." Walter's voice broke.

"He says he doesn't even remember a time when he wasn't having sex. It was just something you did, like eating or going to the toilet. That's exactly how he put it. He doesn't understand the usual rules. He came to me with almost no experience of ordinary life. He was alternately being used as a sexual plaything and as a highly trained professional assassin. You saw that little performance in here last week?" He pointed to the corner of the couch where Alex had sat, intent on displaying himself.

"That's vintage Alex. Getting him to allow me to touch him in a context other than sex took physically restraining him at first. He's incredibly cocky and incredibly vulnerable. I never know what will trigger a flashback. As a young man he was forced to participate in pornographic films. Recently, the man responsible for doing that to him resurfaced. Alex saw him, without consulting me first. The man died in an accident. Since then, Alex has been in a tailspin. He hardly eats at all at meals, and what little he eats doesn't always stay down. Only in bed will he allow himself to show anything other than anger. I'm scared that I'm not going to be able to keep him safe."

Walter felt drained. The therapist shook her head.

"He may improve. With medication and support, he may be able to function a little better. However, you have to consider the possibility that Alex may never be able to function independently."

Walter looked sad.

"He doesn't have to as long as I'm here. And I'll try to find someone who'll take him on if anything happens to me. But don't you think he'll get better? He's still young enough and flexible enough to change, isn't he?"

"I don't doubt that we'll see some improvement, but this is a very damaged young man. Are you prepared to continue like this if necessary?"

"I'll never give up on him," Walter said softly. "About what I said earlier...do you feel what I do is abusive?"

"Talk to me about consent. How do you know if Alex agrees he should be punished?"

"He has to specifically say he agrees, or else I won't spank him. I always ask what the punishment is for. It's fairly ritualized. I won't spank him if he's too upset to talk it through first."

"That doesn't sound abusive. This is a very unusual relationship, with a lot of factors to consider. I would suggest you try to broaden the range of sanctions you can draw on. Rinse his mouth out with soap, or make him write lines, or stand in the corner. Start slow, and see how it goes. Save the spanking for the most important issues."

"All right," Walter said.

"I would also say you could use a harder implement than your hand. A paddle or a strap may make more effective deterrents."

Walter balked.

"I'll use my hand, and only my hand. Nothing else. I won't do it." Walter was adamant.

"You seem to feel very strongly about this."

Walter nodded.

"My hand, only ever my hand. That's what I promised him when we began this relationship. I'm not going to change that, even if he wants to."

"He has asked for more severe punishment, then?"

Walter nodded again.

"I don't enjoy punishing him. I just want to keep him safe," Walter said, frustration and sadness making his voice thick. "I love him. I want him to be happy."

"That may not be within your control, Walter. You need to take Alex for an evaluation by a psychiatrist. I'll recommend someone I think will be able to work with Alex. I'd like to get his opinion before we discuss medication."

"There's one or two other things," Walter said. "Alex blanks out under stress. He loses time. He has trouble distinguishing past from present, reality from fantasy."

"That's all consistent. Make an appointment for him with this doctor." The therapist handed Walter a card.

"It sounds so hopeless," Walter said sadly. The therapist smiled at him.

"It isn't hopeless, Walter. Alex is very, very lucky to have you as a partner. We'll work together on this." She stood up.

"See you next week, then," Walter said.

Pulling up to the house, Walter was alarmed to see Melvin Frohike's decrepit Honda Civic parked behind the Gunmen's van in the driveway. He hurried in the front door, surprised to find the normally paranoid Gunmen had left it unlocked.

Alex lay curled on his side on the living room couch, his face white, his eyes unfocused. Someone had covered him with a blanket. John Byers knelt alongside the couch, talking softly to Alex, trying to get him to respond. Ringo was slumped despondently next to his laptop, nervously chewing his nails.

"What the hell happened?" Walter asked. He bent over Alex, stroked his hair tenderly. Alex didn't move. Walter sighed. Alex was becoming more and more difficult to make sense of.

"Ringo called us, Walter," Melvin said. "Apparently they were playing one of Ringo's virtual reality games and Alex flipped out. Couldn't move. Couldn't talk. Started shivering. By the time we got here he'd been sick."

"I'm sorry, Walter," Ringo said. "I really don't know what I did. We were having fun and suddenly Alex just froze..." He looked away, blinking hard. Shoved his dark framed glasses roughly back up his nose. Walter laid his hand on Ringo's shoulder.

"No one's blaming you. If Alex were a well man, I wouldn't have asked you to come over and keep an eye on him while I was out. Can you try to remember what happened just before Alex panicked?" Ringo shrugged.

"Look for yourself. It's this chase sequence. Mulder and I worked on it together. See, there are these rooms full of experiments. You go in through this doorway and you see they're alive."

Ringo turned the screen towards Walter. In a room bathed in eerie blue-green light lay rows of human subjects strapped to tables amongst vaguely threatening medical equipment. Lengths of tubing were connected to the naked forms. They writhed and moaned incoherently. Walter was appalled.

"Alex saw this?" he asked. Ringo nodded.

"It's a game, Walter," he said, pleading for understanding.

"And what is it based on?" Walter asked sharply.

"Various Consortium files we've turned up for Mulder. Motherfucker. Shit. Shit, shit, shit. Alex has been there, hasn't he? On those tables. Shit, shit, shit." Ringo buried his face in his arms. Walter cuffed the back of his head lightly, his frustration plain.

"Next time, think," Walter said shortly. He rejoined a worried John alongside Alex. Alex was very far away.

"Were you scared, Alex?" Walter asked softly, no trace of his previous annoyance in his voice. "It's not real, Alex, you know that. It's not real. Alex, look at me, now. Come on, Alex, come back here. Now." His voice was firm. He took Alex's jaw in his hand, turned Alex's face towards his own.

"Look at me, Alex. That's it, good, you're OK, you're safe." Alex's green eyes wavered back and forth, between memory and the present moment. Walter stroked Alex's sweat-soaked hair back from his forehead.

"All right, all right now," Walter said softly. "Melvin, John, Ringo, make yourselves at home. I'll be down in a bit." As the three Gunmen watched soberly, Walter drew Alex upright.

"Come upstairs, Alex, that's it. Easy does it. I've got you now, that's it, you're OK." Walter murmured soothingly as he half-led, half-carried a reluctant Alex to their bedroom.

"Shit," Ringo said. "I never thought...oh, shit. I never imagined it'd do that to him, you know?" John nodded.

"We know, Ringo. None of us believes you intentionally upset Alex. It's not your fault."

"Can you imagine?" Melvin mused. "He was there. Poor bastard."

Walter carefully eased Alex onto their bed and out of his shirt and jeans. He slipped off his own outer clothing, stretched himself full length on the bed and drew Alex snugly to him. Rested Alex's head against his chest. Wrapped his arms around Alex and hugged him close. Twined his legs through Alex's. Kissed Alex's face gently.

"Shh, Alex, shh," Walter murmured, hoping the familiar scent and feel of his body would help anchor Alex. "You're safe now, Alex. I've got you. You're safe. It's all over. You're safe now." He rocked Alex even closer, repeated the litany of reassurance. Alex blinked, then closed his eyes.

"Scared. I'm so scared. It hurts. No, don't, it hurts. No. I didn't do anything. Don't hurt me, please don't hurt me," Alex whimpered desperately.

"Easy, Alex, I've got you. You're safe. No one's hurting you. I'm here now. I won't let anyone hurt you. You're safe, Alex, it's all over," Walter soothed his shivering lover, his own skin prickling at the terror in Alex's voice.

"It didn't matter if I tried to be good, Walter. They took us into the lab, six or eight at a time. Stripped us. Hosed us down. The water was so cold it hurt. Sometimes I cried, Walter. Especially after I knew what was coming. I couldn't help it. They strapped us to the tables. They did stuff. Horrible stuff. It all hurt, it hurt a lot. Sometimes they gave me medicine that made me sleep. Sometimes I heard screaming. I was just glad it wasn't me. Sometimes it was me screaming. Usually someone was missing when they took us back. We'd curl up together afterwards, trying to get warm. Some of the supervisors pretended they didn't see that. Some of the other supervisors beat us when we did that. It really didn't matter. At least they were human. Oh god, Walter, I'm going to be sick!"

Alex scrambled for the edge of the bed. Walter supported him carefully. Alex retched, but his stomach was empty and he brought up only bile and phlegm. Walter rubbed his back, speechless with fury at the sheer cruelty of the Consortium's so-called scientific experiments. Felt his gorge rise at the thought. Walter forced himself to breathe and to relax his tense muscles, so that he could cradle Alex gently and reassuringly.

"OK, Alex, OK. It's all over. You're safe now, I've got you. I won't let anyone hurt you, I promise. You're safe now."

"They weren't all human, Walter," Alex whispered. "The scientists, they weren't all human. They'd touch us inside. Their hands were so cold. You can't imagine how cold."

"Shh," Walter said gently. "It's OK, you're safe now, Alex." Privately, he doubted Alex's identification of the scientists. Let Mulder dwell on his goddamn X Files. This kind of cruelty was an all too familiar part of earth's history. Not that it mattered, either to Alex or to the other survivors, if their torturers were human or alien. Not that it mattered to the dead, Walter thought bitterly, recalling Alex's chilling words: "Usually someone was missing."

Walter continued to rub Alex's back until Alex's even breathing assured Walter that he was asleep. Easing himself out of the room, Walter phoned the therapist.

"Of course I'll see you, Walter. Tomorrow morning is fine."

The therapist pursed her lips as Walter recounted Alex's story.

"I don't know, Walter. I don't think Alex is lying deliberately. But it sounds like a fabrication. I think there's probably a real memory underlying it, but the whole thing feels like a delusion to me."

Walter closed his eyes.

"I wish I knew," he said.

The therapist was silent for a moment.

"I am aware that there are reasonable people who believe in aliens, for instance, Fox Mulder. His thesis is that alien abductees' reports are valid and can be documented."

Walter stifled a sound halfway between a groan and a laugh.

"I was Agent Mulder's direct supervisor for several years in my capacity as AD," he said dryly. "I'm familiar with his theories. Although I'd hardly term Fox Mulder a 'reasonable' person."

"How interesting. I take the conventional view that these alien abduction and experimentation memories are delusions, which form around some repressed trauma," the therapist said. "But in any case, can we agree that the distress Alex manifests is very real, whatever the actual etiology?

Walter nodded.

"Where do we stand on the evaluation I requested, Walter? Have you made Alex an appointment with Graham Miller yet?"

"No," Walter said sheepishly. "I'm sorry I haven't followed through. I just haven't had the energy to shepherd Alex through another psychiatric consultation."

The therapist acknowledged his statement with a wry shake of her head.

"Yes, that was quite an exciting first session we had. I would recommend you give Alex as much generalized reassurance and support as you can beforehand, and not too much warning about the actual appointment. The more time he has to become anxious, the harder it'll be for all of you. If you'd like me to speak to Dr. Miller first, just to lay a foundation, I'd be glad to."

"Thank you," Walter said. "Look, I'll get Alex there, even if I have to carry him. But how cooperative he'll be is out of my hands."

"Understood. I just want Graham's input as we work out what medication Alex needs."

"I don't want to see Alex turned into a zombie," Walter said.

"It's natural to have concerns about psychotropic medication. However, Graham Miller is very conservative and very astute, Walter. We'll have ample time to discuss your questions next week." The therapist made a quick notation in her calendar.

"Make the appointment, Walter. I feel strongly that we need to get Alex on a more even keel as soon as possible. I'm concerned about how unstable he seems to be."

Walter drove home, mulling over the therapist's words. She was correct; Alex's behavior was continuing to deteriorate.

Walter recalled this morning's altercation with Alex.

"I don't need a babysitter, Walter," Alex had insisted. "Fuck that and fuck you, too."

Walter had seized Alex's good arm and forced Alex to face him.

"How many times are we going to have to go over this, Alex? You do not curse at me. Period. What did we agree would happen if you did?"

"You'd spank me! Fine, spank me then. I hate you, Walter, do you know that?" Alex had said bitterly, even as he lowered his jeans and boxers and let Walter draw him over his lap. The spanking Walter had administered was quick and hard. Alex had sniffled despondently.

"Sorry," he had said sullenly, wincing as he pulled his clothing back in place. Walter had had the distinct feeling that Alex wasn't sorry at all. He would have pursued the matter, but by then Melvin had arrived.

I hope Alex gave Melvin an easy time, Walter thought, his attention returning to the present as he pulled up to the house. He locked the car and let himself in.

"Alex is still sulking upstairs, Walter," Melvin said. "I think he was really disappointed Ringo didn't come in when he dropped me off. Ringo should be picking me up any time now."

Walter nodded.

Ringo tapped tentatively on the door.

"Hey, Walter. I'm here for Melvin. Listen, is Alex OK? I'm sorry about last time, man." Walter sighed.

"It's all right, Ringo. I shouldn't have snapped at you. I've accidentally spooked Alex before myself. Go on up and say hi to him."

A miserable Alex was sprawled on his stomach on the bed. Drops of moisture still clung to his cheeks and eyelashes. Ringo looked at him for a long moment. When he spoke, his voice was shaky.

"You really let him spank you, huh?" Ringo said. Alex nodded, his face reddening.

"Is it any fun at least?" Ringo asked hopefully.

"No," Alex said sadly. "It's no fun at all. Being punished isn't like sex games, Ringo."

"Shit," Ringo said. "Listen, dude, I'm sorry about that fucking video game, OK?" Alex shrugged.

"Shit, Ringo," he said despondently. "I know you think I'm an asshole." Ringo shook his head.

"Alex, I'm the fucking asshole. Shit, man, I'm sorry about what happened." Very tentatively, Ringo reached out, ran the back of his hand over Alex's still damp cheek. Alex turned into the caress.

"Shh," Ringo said softly, a tenderness he hadn't known he possessed evident in his voice. "Try and rest, Alex. I'll choose a better game next time, I promise. Shh..." He stroked Alex's hair lightly, watching as Alex's eyes closed tiredly. Ringo looked up to find Walter watching him steadily.

"Sorry, Walter," Ringo said, uneasily drawing his hand back from Alex's hair.

"No, don't apologize," Walter said. "I was just appreciating how gentle you were being with Alex. You're a good friend to him, Ringo," he smiled. "Alex needs all the kindness he can get. He's had precious little before now."

By the time Alex awoke, Ringo and Melvin had departed. Alex was upset.

"Fuck you, Walter! Why'd you let Ringo see me that way?" he demanded angrily, feeling overexposed and embarrassed. "What the fuck is the matter with you?"

"Alex, stop cursing at me," Walter said quietly. "We've been over this too many times before. I am not going to tolerate your using that kind of language with me, no matter how upset you are. It's hurtful, it doesn't improve our communication, and I simply won't put up with it."

"Shit, Walter," Alex mumbled, eyes cast down. "I know. I'm really sorry. I know I deserve to be punished. You're going to spank me again. Shit. I don't even know why I bother pulling up my pants." He sighed resignedly.

Walter shook his head.

"Alex, I'd like to try something else. I am going to wash your mouth out with soap instead. Maybe that'll cure you of cursing at me whenever you're worked up."

Alex stared at him.

"What kind of bullshit is that, Walter? Like that's going to teach me anything? Did that therapist suggest this? You're a fucking asshole for listening to that bitch!"

"Alex, I've had it. Stop cursing at me. Now. This isn't going to hurt you, but it won't be pleasant either. Come with me, please."

"Fine. Whatever." Alex smirked cynically as he trailed Walter into the kitchen. Walter took a clean dishcloth and wetting it, rubbed it over the cake of soap until it was saturated with foamy lather.

"All right, Alex," Walter said quietly. "Open your mouth." Alex stared at him, suddenly aghast. A moment before he had felt eerily calm. Now, confronted with the soap-laden cloth in Walter's hand, he panicked.

"No, fuck you, Walter, no! Don't touch me, you sonofabitch. Take it away!" Alex yelped. The countertop caught his hip sharply as he backed hastily away. Walter winced at the impact. Alex didn't seem to notice.

"Stop it, Alex. Stand still before you hurt yourself. This won't harm you," Walter said sternly. "Stand still and open your mouth. Now, Alex." Walter reached the cloth towards Alex's mouth. Alex froze, then turned to flee. Walter caught his good arm and restrained Alex firmly.

"Stand still, Alex, and open your mouth," Walter ordered grimly. Reluctantly, eyes wide, Alex obeyed. Walter managed one generous swipe directly through Alex's open mouth and across his tongue before Alex twisted away.

"Fuck you, Walter, you bastard," Alex cursed, gagging and spitting, his face contorted. "Motherfucker!" He spat angrily at Walter and at the floor. He turned on the faucet and tilting his head sideways, gulped desperately. Vomited over sink, countertop, floor. Pale and coldly furious, Alex fled the room.

Walter felt sick himself. Sick, sorry and immensely misunderstood. This had been a mistake from the start, he thought as he cleaned up.

For the rest of the afternoon, Alex snubbed Walter entirely, refusing all his overtures. He slammed doors, crashed around and made a general nuisance of himself. Sighing, Walter resigned himself to waiting out Alex's tantrum and applied himself to concocting a special dinner as a peace offering.

"I'm not eating," Alex said sulkily, looking at his favorite meal as if it might bite him.

"Why not?" Walter asked reasonably.

"Because I hate you," Alex said. "You stuck that fucking soap in my mouth, even though I begged you not to. I don't want anything you've touched in my mouth ever again. You're just plain mean, Walter."

Walter closed his eyes. Alex had never reproached him quite this bitterly before. It hurt. He felt guilty enough already.

Alex watched miserably as Walter forced himself to continue his own meal. Alex loved sirloin tips with roasted potatoes. He loved sweet and sour red cabbage. Walter didn't seem to care anymore how hungry and sad he was, Alex thought unhappily.

Walter looked into the hurt, despairing green eyes of his sulking lover.

"Alex, I do love you, you know that," he said gently. "I know you didn't like having your mouth washed out. Believe it or not, I thought it'd be easier on you than spanking you. I'm really sorry it made you sick. I won't do it again. Come on, Alex, I cooked this dinner especially to make it up to you. Yes, you're punishing me by not eating, but you're punishing yourself, too. Come on, Alex, have a few bites. There's a treat for dessert, too, if you eat a little food first." Alex closed his eyes.

"Walter," he whispered, "I hated that. At least when you spank me, I know you love me, and afterwards you hold me. But that was just mean. You could do that to someone without loving him at all. You didn't even hug me afterwards." His voice was taut with pain. Walter forbore to point out that it was Alex who had angrily withdrawn from him. Obviously, he had scared Alex badly.

"Come here, Alex," Walter said softly. He filled a fresh plate with food, placed it alongside his own, and pushed back his chair.

"Come sit with me," he coaxed, holding out his arms. Alex hesitantly settled sideways into Walter's lap. Walter hugged him reassuringly.

"Good, Alex," he praised. "I didn't mean to frighten you. I love you, Alex. Here, let me help you. Open your mouth." Alex shuddered, remembering the last time that he had heard Walter utter that phrase. Walter winced too, then pushed past the moment.

"Try a little of this, Alex. That's it, that's good." Morsel by morsel, Walter fed Alex his dinner. He felt Alex's tense body soften against him as each bite reinforced how much Walter cared. Alex's reluctance to open his mouth faded as the meal continued. Finishing, he laid his head contentedly on Walter's shoulder.

"That was nice, Walter," Alex said softly. "Thank you." Walter brushed his lips across Alex's hair, enjoying the silky feel of the fine, dark strands.

"That soap thing is evil, Walter," Alex said. "I don't mean to curse, I just lose my temper. I know you hate it and I'll try harder. You can spank me if I screw up. Paddle me, strap me, whatever. But putting stuff in my mouth on purpose to hurt me..."

Walter shivered. He had never intended Alex to feel this way.

"My poor Alex. Believe it or not, most people would think having your mouth washed out was a milder punishment than being spanked. Obviously for you it's not. I won't ever use it again. I'm sorry, Alex. I understand now how scared you must have felt. I didn't mean to frighten you, please believe me. I'm sorry."

"Hot pepper sauce," said Alex.

"What?" Walter said, not understanding.

"Hot pepper sauce," Alex said musingly. "For talking back. He pinched my nose closed. I couldn't breathe." His voice grew more and more frantic.

"He made me open my mouth. It burned, oh Christ it burned. No more, please no more. I'll be good, I promise!" Once again, Alex was adrift in the past. Walter shook his head sorrowfully. So many, many triggers. So many nightmarish memories. He rocked Alex slowly, in the soothing rhythm they had long ago established. Gradually Alex seemed to resurface.

"You could always gag me, Walter," Alex said tonelessly. "That always worked. I was always quiet then."

Walter shivered again.

"Alex, please, I made one mistake. For the love of God, I'm not them. I'll never hurt you." Walter's voice cracked.

The therapist winced.

"I imagine that must have been very upsetting, Walter."

"It was awful. I seem to have triggered a whole set of negative associations. By the time Alex was through, I felt like a total bastard. What they did to him..." Walter shook his head. The therapist nodded empathetically.

"I want you to be clear that you aren't responsible for his reaction, Walter. It was extreme and impossible to anticipate. When I recommended washing out his mouth with soap, I thought of it essentially as a very mild form of negative reinforcement, which it would be for most adults. Evidently, in light of what you've reported, it was anything but that from Alex's point of view. I regret that I put you in this position, Walter."

"I don't mean to sound as if I'm blaming you," Walter sighed. "You only suggested it. I did it. I didn't have to. I could have pulled back when Alex first resisted so strongly. It's just that he always initially protests being punished, no matter how much he knows he deserves it. It's so hard to know what's going to really throw him."

"We're working with someone who's survived an extraordinary array of traumatic experiences. We're not always going to be able to predict his responses accurately. What we need to look for are the warning signs that indicate something is too stressful for him to tolerate. Pupil dilation. A shift in breathing patterns. Altered muscle tension. Even more subtle changes. We need to help Alex learn to identify his early warning signs himself and communicate them to you. We need to teach him to warn you before he gets to the point of panic. I suspect from his point of view it seems to happen instantaneously. We need to slow the process down."

"How do we do that?" Walter asked.

"Under normal circumstances, I would work on some relaxation exercises with him. I would try to increase his general body awareness. Have him connect with the various parts of his body. Have him identify and name various sensations. We'd do some movement exercises, try to open the mind-body connection up. Since Alex won't be working with me directly, what I will do is explore some of these techniques with you. Then you can work through them at your own pace with Alex. You're not going to see instant results, Walter. What we're looking for in incremental progress. How was Alex the rest of the week?"

"He doesn't sleep well. He hardly eats at all. He's angry all the time. Every other word out of his mouth is a curse."

"Don't put off the appointment with Dr. Miller any longer, Walter. What I'm hearing from you is not encouraging. Try having Alex write lines; it may help engage his more rational side. And don't give up hope. Pay attention to your own eating and sleeping patterns; you need to support yourself as well as Alex."

"All right," Walter said. "See you next week." He drove tiredly home. Alex had been up wandering half the night. Between tracking Alex down and alternately coaxing and coercing him back into bed, Walter had gotten precious little sleep. Walter sighed. Alex was not easy these days.

"Stay put a moment, Alex," Walter said, watching Alex finish his usual afternoon coffee and cake. Sweets were about the only things Alex seemed able to keep down.

"I want to talk to you."

Alex licked his lips nervously. This sounded worrisome.

"Have you ever had to write lines, Alex? Copy a sentence over again and again, as discipline?" Walter asked, trying for a neutral tone. Alex gaped at Walter.

"People really do shit like that, Walter?" he asked. Walter nodded.

"Apparently some people find it very helpful," Walter said, hoping Alex was going to find the idea intriguing. "It allows them to think about what they've done wrong and how they might do better."

"Well, I wouldn't. I won't do it. You can't fucking make me," Alex said rebelliously.

"Don't curse, Alex," Walter said reflexively. Alex gulped.

"Would you at least be willing to give it a try, Alex?" Walter asked. "The point would be for you to calm down and think rationally about what you're writing, about what you did and why you did it."

Alex watched Walter's expression intently. He could tell Walter really wanted to give this a shot.

"I guess it sounds OK," said Alex doubtfully. "What would I have to write and how many times would I have to write it, Walter?" Actually, it sounded awful, cold and threatening, Alex thought unhappily. But Walter seemed determined and Alex wanted to cooperate. He knew he was behaving badly. He knew Walter was frustrated with him. He didn't want to feel this angry and agitated all the time. And he hadn't a clue how to make himself feel better.

"I'll give you a sentence, say, 'I always come to a complete stop at stop signs," and you'll write it, say, fifty times," Walter explained, proud of the example he'd thought of. Alex's driving was as erratic as the rest of his recent behavior. Alex blanched.

"Shit, Walter, that's brutal," Alex said sullenly. "Couldn't you just cut my other fucking arm off while you're at it? Christ!"

Walter scowled. What an attitude.

"Let's start with this then, Alex," he said. Taking a pad of paper, Walter wrote out two sentences in his precise script:

I only drink coffee before 4 p.m.

I stay in bed until morning.

Alex stared at the two lines, outraged.

"Shit, Walter. That's not fair."

Walter glared back at Alex.

"I have talked until I'm blue in the face. You are going to sleep through the night if it kills us both. No more coffee with dessert, Alex, unless it's decaf. No more all night channel and web surfing."

"Fine, Walter. I'll skip the coffee. I'll stay in bed. But I'm not going to write a fucking dissertation about it. Forget it," Alex snapped.

Never had Walter been so tempted to apply a few smart whacks to his defiant lover's bottom. But spanking Alex to convince him to write lines seemed a violation of his promise never to spank Alex unless Alex agreed he deserved it. Swatting Alex's butt wouldn't hurt him, might even ensure his reluctant cooperation, but it would frighten Alex and undermine his trust in Walter.

Instead, Walter took a deep breath and sharpened his tone.

"Alex. Sit down, take the pen, and copy out those lines. Fifty times each, please. Do it, Alex. Now."

"Fuck you too, Walter. Fine. Give me the fucking pen." Alex glared furiously at Walter, then began to write. Walter sighed with relief as he watched Alex work. Walter drifted out of the room, feeling quite smug at his success in insisting on this new found, non-corporal punishment. He returned to check on Alex's progress, casually looking over Alex's shoulder. Felt his gut twist. He stared at Alex's paper in disbelief.

Fuck you Walter I hate you Walter

Fuck you I hate you

Fuck you Walter I hate you Walter

Line after line after line.

"Like your fucking lines, Walter? You can beat me to death and that's all you'll ever get out of me, you bastard," Alex hissed. Walter was taken aback at the fury in his eyes. Walter inhaled sharply.

"Don't curse at me, Alex," he warned. "Not unless you want to be sleeping face down tonight." Alex gulped. The two men glared at each other. Silently, Walter turned and walked out of the room.

Walter had seldom felt so frustrated. Why did Alex have to make everything into a struggle? Walter was ready to forget this whole idea. He was ready to tell the therapist just what to do with the soap and the lines and the as yet untested corner time...Walter sighed. Great, one more trick left to try. Maybe another day. Meanwhile, he was going to treat himself to a workout and a shower.

Accordingly, Walter headed downstairs to the basement. He stretched perfunctorily, adjusted his weights, and proceeded to push himself through a rigorous series of lifts. Finally, sweat soaked and satisfied, he returned upstairs, stripped and enjoyed the longest, hottest shower he'd allowed himself in weeks. Toweled himself dry. Rolled his loosened shoulders. Ahh. He felt much, much better. He pulled on a fresh pair of boxers and stepped out of the bathroom, barely avoiding the figure sprawled prone across the doorway.

Alex lay limply on the floor, his eyes wide and empty. In his good hand he clutched a sheaf of papers. Walter bent over and taking them from Alex's frozen hand, ruffled through them quickly.

I'm so sorry I'm so scared

I'm sorry I'm scared

I'm scared I'm scared I'm scared

Over and over.

"Alex," Walter said gently. "Alex, please, look at me." He seated himself cross-legged on the floor alongside Alex, tugged Alex's head into his lap. Stroked his hair consolingly. Alex eyed him listlessly.

"I'm so sorry," he mouthed silently. "I'm so scared." Gently, Walter took Alex's good hand in his. Massaged the cramped fingers, carefully rotated the rigid wrist.

"Does this hurt, Alex?" he asked worriedly.

"Yes, sir," Alex said softly. Walter sighed. Shit. Goddamnit to hell. Alex could make a saint curse.

"I'm sorry, Alex," Walter said. "I didn't mean for this to happen." He stroked Alex's hair, rubbed his back in slow, gentle circles. Alex snuggled into his lap.

"You're nice, Walter," he whispered. "You love me. I do know that. I trust you. Walter, I get so scared sometimes. When I know you're angry and you're not holding me, I feel as if I'm not even real. Like I don't exist. I can't explain. I know it's stupid. It's just so scary."

Walter shook his head worriedly as he repeated Alex's words to the therapist. She nodded.

"He's amazingly articulate, Walter. That's actually a great strength. For him to be able to describe his feelings so acutely is a big help. Now we know why writing the lines was so problematical. A combination of disapproval and distance. Deadly to him. Try it again. Just stay with him."

Walter drove home, resolved to give the lines another chance.

"Go away, Walter," Alex said.

Walter sat down anyway.

"Come on, Alex, what's the point of making this harder on yourself than it has to be?" Walter asked gently. "Here." He tugged Alex into his arms. Alex jerked angrily, abruptly away.

"Fuck you, Walter. You don't know shit. This is how you make me write the fucking lines." Alex yanked his own jeans and boxers down, lowered himself bare bottomed across Walter's knees.

"Spank me, Walter," Alex said, to Walter's utter bemusement. "Hit me hard. Until I cry and can't stop. Then tell me I have to write the fucking lines or you'll spank me again, even harder. Then do it. Beat the shit out of me." Alex's voice was ice cold.

Walter's throat tightened. Alex knew all too well how to coerce obedience. It didn't take much imagination to figure out how Alex had been taught that lesson. Walter allowed himself a brief, violent fantasy of the revenge he wanted to inflict on those cruel Consortium bastards who had raised Alex. He sighed. It was pointless to wish things were different. Walter took a deep breath, let it out slowly. He looked down at Alex sadly.

"This isn't working for me, Alex," Walter said, gently shoving Alex off his lap. "You know I'll never hurt you. Come on, pull up your jeans and underwear and come sit with me." Alex obeyed silently.

"I'm sorry, Walter," he whispered. "Please don't be mad. I'm sorry. I don't know what happened. I was trying to help." He sounded scared and confused. Walter put his arm around Alex and hugged him close. Alex felt cold and shaky.

"It's OK, Alex, it's all right," he soothed. "Maybe it's unreasonable to expect you to be able to do this. Shh, that's it, just take it easy now."

Alex sniffled quietly. Carefully, Walter cuddled Alex's head against his chest, stroked his sweaty black hair, rubbed his trembling shoulders.

"Alex, it's all right, really it is. There are other punishments besides writing lines we can discuss. I'm not going to spank you for not doing something that scares you this much. I won't do it, Alex." He smoothed Alex's damp hair gently back from his forehead.

"Shall we give it one more try? This is just an experiment. We'll stop if it doesn't work. Don't be afraid, Alex. I'll stay with you the whole time, I promise. Easy now..." Slowly, Alex sank back into Walter's reassuring warmth. Walter rubbed Alex's tense back, kneaded his tight shoulders. He positioned pen and paper before Alex.

"Write, Alex. Think about what you're writing. I'm here, you're not alone. That's it, Alex."

"I hate this, Walter," Alex said miserably. Walter's hand made gentle circles on his back.

"It makes my arm hurt."

"OK, Alex, OK. Stop then. Remember, we said this was an experiment. I don't want you to hurt your arm." Walter patted Alex's hand reassuringly.

"I'm not sure, Walter," said the therapist slowly. "It sounds very manipulative, if you ask me. He doesn't like writing lines, that's true. But I think he could tolerate it. It's up to you. If you find it too stressful, then let's leave it alone."

"I'll never get over that first time I had him do it," Walter said. "Finding him lying dazed on the floor. It hurt. I felt responsible."

"Don't underestimate him, Walter. I suspect he's tougher than you think. He needs to accept responsibility for his own actions. You need to let him."

"He's more fragile than you think," Walter countered. "You haven't seen him when he's crying. He gets scared." The therapist smiled gently.

"He's your lover, Walter. It's natural for you to find his distress upsetting. You need to decide what you can tolerate. You're in charge of this relationship, not me. Just ask yourself honestly whether it's you or Alex who is the more distressed here. In the long run, whether you decide to have him write lines or not is a lot less important than understanding why you make that decision. And Walter, we need that psychiatric consult. Don't put it off any longer. Alex needs medical support. You cannot do this alone."

"I know," Walter said. "I'll follow up on this. I'm just worried."

"You have real reasons to be worried. Alex is not in a stable position. This situation is not going to resolve spontaneously. You need to have him evaluated. Do it this week, Walter. It's important."

Walter nodded. He knew the therapist was right.

"Meanwhile, keep trying to expand your options for sanctions. Remember that it's not punishment if Alex likes it. We know he's going to resist. We also know he needs boundaries. Especially now, when he's not at his best."

"OK. Thank you. See you next week," Walter said soberly.

This time, Walter decided, there would be no surprises. He would give Alex ample time to consider the new sanctions and voice any concerns he might have. It was with great trepidation that Walter broached the idea of corner time. To his surprise, Alex seemed to find this soothing. He stood quietly where Walter placed him, shifting his weight occasionally, but not fighting or cursing. Walter remembered all the times he'd found Alex hiding, rocking, his arm around his knees, and realized that the corner was simply a more ritualized form of Alex's own method for chilling out. Alex balked at only one thing.

"I won't face the wall if you're not in the room, Walter," Alex warned. "It's not safe if you're not watching my back for me."

Walter nodded. I can live with that, he thought. He also knew better than to try to leave a freshly spanked, tearful Alex to quiet down anywhere outside his arms.

Guiltily, Walter called Dr. Graham Miller's office and secured the earliest appointment he could convince his nurse to book. It remained an open question how best to prepare Alex for the visit. Walter decided that the therapist's suggestion, to offer a lot of support and only a little notice before the appointment, seemed a sound strategy. Perhaps an evening of sex, sweets and snuggling would mellow Alex sufficiently to see that the session with Dr. Miller went smoothly.

"Let's go to bed early tonight, Alex," Walter said softly. "But first, how does a warm bath sound?"

"Really, Walter?" There was no mistaking the longing in Alex's voice. He trailed Walter into the bathroom. For once at ease, he stripped and sat on the wicker bench with its pile of fresh towels, watching as Walter ran warm water into the tub.

"It feels good, Alex," Walter said, testing the temperature with his hand. Alex quietly slipped into the water.

"I love when you do this for me," Alex said, leaning into Walter as he carefully soaped his back and shoulders, ran the soft washcloth over his chest and down his good arm. Gently cleaned his damaged arm. Alex stretched his feet out of the water, resting his calves against the side of the tub. Walter soaped each foot, working the cloth carefully between Alex's toes, over his ticklish arch and instep, around his ankles, up his calves.

"Shift over, you," he ordered. Obediently Alex turned sideways. Walter soaped his lower back and buttocks, then ran the cloth gently between his thighs.

"Umm," Alex groaned happily. Walter laughed.

"Don't rush me," he groused. "Sit back up and let me do your hair now, Alex." He massaged Alex's scalp, working his thumbs into the tight knots at the nape of Alex's neck. Alex leaned back, his body soft and pliant, his expression relaxed and happy. Gently, carefully, Walter rinsed off the shampoo and soap.

"Do you want to come out now, or would you rather soak a little longer, Alex?" Walter asked.

"Sit with me while I soak, Walter?" Alex asked hopefully.

"Sure, Alex. Here, let me warm the water up a little." Walter ran more warm water into the tub, stirred it with his hand.

What we need, Walter thought wistfully, is a bigger tub, so that we could bathe together. Walter smiled to himself. That would make a nice gift for ourselves someday. A plan began to form in the back of his mind.

"Alex, you're wrinkling," Walter finally said, looking at his blissed out lover. Alex grinned sheepishly, letting Walter help him to his feet. Walter wrapped him in a clean bath sheet, warm from the radiator. His eyes closing with pleasure, Alex leaned into Walter as Walter carefully patted him dry through the thick terrycloth. Keeping the towel wrapped around Alex, Walter led him into their bedroom. He had already drawn the blinds and turned down the covers.

Alex stretched languorously as Walter unwrapped him. Walter covered Alex with a sheet, not wanting him to be chilly. Undressing, he slipped into bed alongside Alex. Alex rolled into Walter's arms, pressing the full length of his warm, lean body against Walter's more heavily muscled frame. Walter kissed Alex, savoring his sweet, clean taste. Alex returned his kiss eagerly, his tongue teasing the inside of Walter's mouth.

"I love it when you're happy with me, " Alex whispered.

"You're so beautiful, Alex," Walter murmured, looking at his lover's half closed green eyes with their fringe of long dark lashes. His small nose, his fine cheekbones. His luscious lips.

"So are you, Walter," Alex sighed, taking in the warm brown eyes, the slow smile, the broad shoulders. He rubbed his cheek happily against Walter's furry, well-muscled chest.

With long, loving strokes, Walter explored Alex's almost hairless chest and belly. Noted sadly how thin Alex had become. Gently, Walter opened Alex's legs. Alex's cock was rigid against his stomach. Walter stroked Alex's inner thighs, the bottom curve of his buttocks. The tender skin behind his balls. The heavy, wrinkled sack itself. Alex twisted eagerly, trying for more contact.

"Shh," Walter soothed. "Let me take care of you." Alex tried to be patient as Walter lovingly massaged his body.

"Please, Walter, please, fuck me, fuck me now," Alex begged. Sliding down the bed, Walter grasped Alex's cock firmly and licked slowly around the head and tender ridge of flesh below. Widening his lips, he drew both head and shaft deep into his mouth.

"Oh god Walter, that's good, that's so, so good, oh yes, please!" Alex arched his back. Walter moved his mouth rhythmically over the swollen shaft, enjoying Alex's unrestrained moans of pleasure.

"I'm going to come, Walter," Alex warned, shoving at Walter's head. Walter gently pushed his hand away. He kept his mouth fast on Alex's cock as the salty fluid pulsed over his lips and chin. Teased his tongue gently over the still throbbing slit despite Alex's protests.

"Enough, Walter, enough. Shit. That was intense. I love you so much, Walter." Walter wiped his face against the rumpled sheets and gathered Alex in his arms, kissing him soundly. Alex opened his mouth, licked at the taste of himself still lingering on Walter's lips. He trailed his fingers down Walter's stomach teasingly, circled his hardened cock.

"Let me make you happy, Walter. What would you like?"

"Lie on your stomach, OK?" Walter coaxed. "Here, open your legs. That's it, good." He slid first one pillow, then a second, under Alex's hips. Kissed the small of Alex's back lovingly. Using both hands, he gently parted Alex's buttocks and began to run his tongue carefully around the tight crinkled opening. Alex moaned incoherently. Pointing his tongue, Walter began to press inwards, his hands restraining Alex's attempts to shift away. Alex whimpered.

"So good, Walter, so good. You don't have to." Walter lifted his head briefly.

"Let me lick you, Alex. You're all mine, aren't you?"

"Yes, Walter, all yours," Alex agreed softly.

"Every part of you, Alex?"

"Every part of me, Walter."

"Shh, then, Alex. Relax. Let me take care of you." Alex gave himself over to the warm, wet tongue that gently rimmed and opened his ass, to the mouth intent on giving him pleasure. Walter felt Alex's muscles soften under his loving assault. Alex twitched bonelessly. Walter paused. He snagged the lube and coating his fingers, began to further loosen and relax Alex. Alex's legs sprawled wider, allowing Walter's hands unrestricted access. Walter worked two gentle fingers into Alex's ass, felt Alex relax even more deeply. Walter used the gel to slick his own rigid cock.

"Please, Walter, I need you in me." Walter smoothly slid his cock up Alex's ass and began to fuck him with slow, deep strokes. Alex pressed back, widening himself, sighing with pleasure.

With a final slow thrust, Walter shot his cum deep into Alex. Withdrew carefully, rolled on his back and scooped Alex against him, holding him in a snug embrace. Alex tried to open his eyes, succeeded in blinking once, then snuggled trustingly into Walter.

"I'm dead," Alex muttered softly. Walter laughed quietly.

"I doubt it, Alex." He stroked Alex's hair tenderly. "I love you, Alex. Sleep now. Shh, Alex, that's good, sleep."

Walter had always enjoyed holding Alex while he slept. He admired his lover's fine, milk white skin. Frowned at the faint outlines of ribs and hipbones. He needs to start eating again, Walter thought. Gently, Walter rubbed his hand along Alex's back, felt Alex soften. His heart melted at the thought of how far Alex had come from the days when a gentle touch brought only terror.

Alex dozed happily. To be snuggled safely in their bed, with Walter holding and petting him, was heaven. He sighed blissfully as he returned to consciousness. There was only one thing that could make this moment even better.

"I never got my dessert," Alex said wistfully. Walter tried not to laugh at Alex's aggrieved tone.

"Hmm," Walter said playfully, looking Alex up and down. "I wonder if I left you any." Alex groaned.

"Come on, Walter, don't tease me," Alex grumbled. "This is important. Tell me what's for dessert, Walter!"

"Patience, Alex," Walter remonstrated. "Give me a moment. I'll be right back."

Walter washed his face and hands, brushed his teeth, then slipped downstairs and returned with a small box of fancy pastries. Tiny fruit tarts. Miniature custard cups. Little chocolate mousse puffs. Alex studied them carefully, sighed joyfully.

"Feed me, Walter?" he begged. Walter propped pillows behind himself and took Alex in his arms. Held the first pastry to Alex's mouth. Alex nibbled it slowly and carefully from Walter's hand, then licked Walter's fingers clean.

"More?" Alex asked hopefully. Walter fed Alex bite after bite of pastry as Alex reclined against him, totally content.

"I wish we could stay like this forever, Walter," Alex whispered. "I love you so much, Walter. I hate it when you're angry with me. I don't know what's wrong with me. I want to be good, I really do try. I just feel so bad all the time." Walter rocked him gently.

"I know, Alex, I know. It's been a tough time for you. I'm going to help make things better. Promise. Which is why we have an appointment with a psychiatrist tomorrow, Alex. Come with me nicely this time," Walter coaxed. "I have a very special treat in mind if you're good."

"I think you set me up here, Walter," Alex groused. Walter kissed him and fed him the last bite of pastry. Alex sighed resignedly.

"It was a disaster last time, Walter," Alex said unhappily.

"Be good this time, Alex," Walter admonished. He drew his finger across Alex's ass in a gentle reminder.

"I'll be good, Walter," Alex said hastily. "You won't have to spank me. Just stay with me, OK? Please? I swear I'll be good this time. Just don't leave me."

"I'll be right there, Alex," Walter promised. "Thank you for doing this for me. Thank you for doing this for us."

Dr. Graham Miller looked at his morning's schedule, brushed his unruly light hair back with a neatly manicured hand and smiled. Walter Skinner and Alex Krycek. His lengthy discussion with their therapist had made clear this was going to be an interesting couple to work with. He enjoyed a challenge. Hearing the buzzer, he opened his office door with a smile, his pale blue eyes bright with goodwill.

"Good morning, gentlemen," he said in his soft, upper class English accent. "Please, come in."

Alex was gone before Walter could even voice his reassurance. One moment he was there, the next moment he wasn't. Dr. Miller blinked in astonishment.

"What on earth? I have never seen anyone vanish that quickly!"

Walter sighed and extended his hand.

"Walter Skinner. Look, I'm sorry," he said. "You bear an uncanny resemblance to a man who abused Alex horribly and whose recent reappearance and subsequent death is part of why we're here. You have the same accent, the same build and the same coloring. I apologize for Alex's behavior. He's very fragile these days and he wasn't prepared for this encounter."

Dr. Miller grimaced.

"Oh dear, how unfortunate. I see we have a problem. Perhaps we should reschedule."

"Thank you," said Walter. "Again, I'm sorry. I'll be in touch."

Walter walked dispiritedly back to the parking lot. He hoped Alex would have the presence of mind to realize he was overreacting. He came to an abrupt stop where he had parked the car. Oh, this was just great. No trace of the car. No trace of Alex. Goddamnit.

Walter tried to remember if Alex had taken car keys. Probably. Now where would he go? Home, Walter prayed. Damn. Damn. Damn.

Walter used his cell phone to dial a local car service and arrange a ride home. Took a deep, relieved breath at the sight of his car in their driveway. Thank God. His stomach hurt, badly. He walked into the kitchen and took a hefty swig of antacid from the bottle in the refrigerator.

"Walter?" A shaken, angry Alex materialized in the hallway. Walter forced himself to breathe. Deliberately softened his voice.

"Alex. Are you all right?"

"Don't touch me, Walter," Alex warned. "I hate you."

Walter's gut clenched.

"Alex, listen to me. I know you're upset. It's OK. I'm not angry with you. I didn't know either. I was startled too. Please, Alex, come here to me. It's safe here, I promise. Come here now."

"Walter? I'm afraid. I don't know what to do," Alex whispered.

"Come here, Alex. Now," Walter said. "Listen to me, Alex. Come to me now."

"Are you sure, Walter?" Alex sounded very young and very scared.

"Yes, Alex. Do what I tell you. I want you to come here. Now, Alex."

"All right," Alex said softly. He came quietly into Walter's embrace. Walter backed them slowly towards the stairs.

"Good, Alex. I've got you now. It's all right, you're safe. It's not him, you know that. Come on, Alex, come upstairs with me. Shh..."

Trembling, Alex leaned into Walter, allowed himself to be led upstairs. Sank gratefully onto their bed.

"Home," he whispered. "Safe." Then in a despairing voice, "Walter? Are you going to spank me?"

Walter closed his eyes.

"No, Alex. I know you were scared. You did the right thing, coming home. I'm not going to punish you. Shh, it's OK. Try and rest." He rubbed Alex's back in gentle circles, trying to ease Alex into sleep. Finally, Alex sighed deeply and closed his eyes. He mouthed his good hand unconsciously. Walter watched him shudder, knew it was only a matter of time before Alex would wake up screaming, in the grip of yet another nightmare. Goddamnit.

Reluctantly, Walter called the therapist.

"I'm sorry, Walter. I had no idea. You're going to have to make a decision. There is a very limited pool of people to draw on who will be sympathetic to the discipline aspect of your relationship and who are also experienced clinicians. You don't have many options here. Graham Miller is one of the best in the field. I don't believe you're doing Alex a favor by letting him control the situation this way. If he can no longer distinguish fantasy from reality, he really is going to have to be hospitalized.

"Dr. Miller is a very experienced, very competent psychiatrist with impeccable credentials. I understand that there's an unfortunate resemblance that Alex finds unnerving. We can certainly talk about that when we meet again."

Walter took off his glasses and laid them aside. He rubbed his temples tiredly as he listened intently.

"This has to be your call, Walter. From my perspective, according to what you've told me, Alex has deteriorated markedly over the last few weeks. In my opinion, it is dangerous to leave him untreated. I feel it is in his best interest for you to insist. Alex needs help now, Walter."

Steeling himself, Walter made another appointment with Dr. Miller. Alex took it hard.

"No. I won't go." Alex was adamant. Walter took a deep breath.

"This isn't a choice, Alex. You are coming with me to Dr. Miller's office. I won't let anything bad happen to you, Alex, you know that. It isn't him. You do know that."

"No." Alex closed his eyes. Walter recognized the signs. Alex was shutting down. He sighed. Alex had spent the morning vomiting up his breakfast.

"Alex. I know you're afraid. Please trust me. I'll be right there. Come on, Alex, let's go now." Walter put his arm around Alex, tugged him to his feet. Alex didn't struggle, merely swayed unsteadily. Walter led his trembling lover to the car.

"Why are you doing this to me?" Alex begged. "Please, Walter, I'm sorry, I'll be good, I promise. Don't give me back to him. Please."

Walter struggled to control his own breathing. He had never felt so cruel in his life. He knew Alex was terrified. He also knew Alex's fear was irrational. Alex needed help. It was his responsibility to make sure that Alex got it.

He belted Alex into the car. Alex stared straight ahead, almost catatonic. Walter kissed him gently. No response.

He parked directly in front of Dr. Miller's building. Undid Alex's seatbelt. Half carried, half dragged his frozen lover through the waiting room to the office door. Rang the buzzer.

Dr. Miller opened the door with his usual alacrity. He took in what was happening.

"Walter, bring Alex inside and sit him on the couch." Walter held Alex's good hand tightly. Everything about Alex screamed that he did not want to be there. Dr. Miller spoke softly.

"Alex. Alex, look at me." Alex closed his eyes. Shivered.

"Walter, I am going to ask you to trust me. I will not harm Alex. I give you my word. But I am going to be much more directive with him than I would normally be with a new patient. I know he is your lover and I know from your therapist that yours is a discipline relationship. Do I have your permission to take a firm hand with him? Or would you prefer that I call an ambulance? We can choose to hospitalize him. He is not a well man. I will ask you to make the decision."

"I won't let you discipline him," Walter said. "I will trust you to be firm with him. But I will not have you physically punish him."

"Agreed." Dr. Miller smiled inwardly at Walter's protectiveness. It told him a great deal about his relationship with Alex.

"Alex," Dr. Miller said sharply. "Alex, you need to pay attention now. Open your eyes and look at me. Now, Alex. Do you know where you are? Alex. Open your eyes. Now. You must listen to me. Open your eyes." Warily, Alex's green eyes fluttered open.

"Good. Look at me, Alex. I said, look at me. Now." Alex raised his eyes reluctantly.

"I understand I bear an unfortunate resemblance to someone who was very, very cruel to you, Alex. But I'm not him. I want you to be clear about that. Look at me, Alex. Don't just listen to me. Do I really resemble him that much? Open your eyes. Is my hair the same color?"

"Yours is lighter," Alex whispered.

"Are my eyes the same color?"

"Yes, sir, the same," Alex said softly. Dr. Miller saw Walter wince and held up his hand, palm outward, in the universal sign for 'stop.'"

"Did I ask you to address me as sir, Alex?"

"No, sir," Alex whispered.

"Alex, I want you to look at me. I am Dr. Graham Miller. I do not want you to call me sir. Answer, 'Yes, Dr. Miller.'"

"Yes, Dr. Miller."

"Very good. Where are you, Alex?"

"Fuck you," Alex said flatly.

"Alex. Answer the question. Where are you?"

"Your fucking office," Alex said sullenly.

"Alex, you are going to be punished if you keep cursing," Dr. Miller warned.

"Just try it, you motherfucking bastard," Alex said viciously.

"Stand in the corner, please," Dr. Miller said. Alex gulped.

"Walter?" he begged.

"Walter, I need you to support me here," Dr. Miller said. Walter swallowed hard.

"In the corner, Alex. Please," Walter said quietly.

"I hate you," Alex hissed.

"Corner, Alex. Now," Walter repeated. Alex backed mutinously into the corner.

"Face the wall, Alex," Dr. Miller said.

"Walter never makes me," Alex argued.

"Do as you're told, please, Alex," Dr. Miller said.

"I can't. It's not safe," Alex protested.

"What are you afraid of, Alex? Who's going to harm you? Has Walter ever swatted you without warning you first?"

"No," Alex said softly.

"Do you think Walter would allow me to swat you?"

"No," Alex said, a little hesitantly.

"You must ask Walter, if you're not sure, Alex," Dr. Miller said firmly. "Check out whether your belief is accurate."

"Walter, you wouldn't let him spank me? Would you?" Alex whispered.

"Never," Walter said reassuringly. "Any discipline you need I'll administer. No one else. Ever."

"All right. So you know it's safe to turn around. Now, please, Alex," Dr. Miller said.

"But I'm scared," Alex pleaded.

"Please, Alex. Walter, you need to insist."

"Turn around, Alex," Walter said. Reluctantly, Alex faced the wall. Dr. Miller nodded approvingly. He waited without speaking for what seemed to Walter to be a very long three minutes.

"All right, Alex. You may come out of the corner and sit down on the couch," Dr. Miller said.

Silently, Alex obeyed.

"He needs to listen, Walter. You need to push him," Dr. Miller said. "He is tougher than you think. He is very, very strong or he wouldn't have survived. And he is very, very confused. He needs your guidance and he also needs medication, at least until he rebounds a little. I want us to try something, Walter. Leave Alex here and sit in the waiting room, please. You can leave the door ajar," Dr. Miller added, seeing the flash of terror in Alex's eyes.

"Oh, no," Alex said, panicked. "Shit, Walter, stay here."

Walter looked at Dr. Miller.

"Walter, I need your cooperation. Please insist. Alex can do this."

"Easy Alex," Walter said softly. "I'll be right outside. Try to do this, OK? That's it. I'm proud of you."

Alex deteriorated immediately without Walter's presence. His speech slowed, became less coherent. He started at each sound.

"Please, sir," he whispered, his voice rough. "Why are you doing this to me? I need Walter. Please, I'll be good, I'll do anything you say. Please let me sit next to Walter."

Dr. Miller listened quietly to the increasing desperation in Alex's pleas, noted his shivering.

"All right, Walter, thank you, you can come back in. Give Alex a hug, he deserves one, he tried very hard. He was very brave." Dr. Miller watched intently as Alex leaned into Walter's embrace, reviving visibly in Walter's presence.

"I will speak with your therapist again. In both our opinions, there is no question that Alex more than meets the criteria for borderline personality disorder. The question is, how shall we proceed? Walter, you bear the brunt of his care, so you need to understand the options. There is medication that may ameliorate some of the worst symptoms. Basically, it breaks out in three categories. Antipsychotics like Haldol or Thorazine to relieve some of the dissociative symptoms. One of the SSRI drugs, Paxil or Zoloft, for the depression and angry outbursts. Depakote or lithium for the mood swings and emotional lability."

"It's too much medication," Walter protested. "I can't agree to this. I've seen drugs used as chemical restraints. I don't want that for Alex."

"Then I want to try him on Paxil. The SSRI drugs are relatively clean, with few side effects. This will also address his coexisting depression. We'll see if it helps with some of the angry outbursts. That will reduce the need to discipline him as well."

"Shouldn't Alex make this decision?" Walter asked. Dr. Miller looked at Alex.

"I'll do whatever Walter says," Alex said dully. "I just want to go home."

"It's obvious to me that he accepts you are responsible for him, Walter. And that he knows he can trust you." Dr. Miller sighed. "I want you to realize, Walter, the prognosis for BPD is not great. On the positive side, it's clear Alex is deeply attached to you, and you to him. I can see how well the caretaking aspects of this relationship seem to work. My basic approach is conservative. Although I have reservations about domestic discipline, mostly regarding the issue of consent, it's clear to me your relationship is not abusive. I don't like to tamper with a primary relationship that seems to be working. However, I agree with your therapist that you would benefit from using something harder than your hand to punish him."

"No," Walter said. "I won't do it."


"I didn't even want this," Walter said, frustrated. "I spank him because nothing else works. I won't beat him."

"It's perfectly legitimate to use a paddle instead of your hand. A few whacks with a belt are not a beating, Walter, anymore than a spanking is. Or even a cane. Six of the best is not abuse."

"No, damn it," Walter said tightly. "I tell you, you have no idea what he remembers. He was beaten, brutally, on a daily basis, for years. I will never, ever duplicate that. If a spanking won't do it, it won't get done. Only ever my hand. This is not negotiable. I will not compromise on this."

"Very well. Let's start with the Paxil and see how it goes." He handed Walter a sample bottle of pills.

"I'll work in tandem with your therapist on fine-tuning the medication. Walter, Alex is lucky. You take very good care of him. You need to be certain your own needs are being equally well met."

Alex sulked throughout the ride home. Walter knew he was furiously embarrassed at how scared he had appeared. Walter sighed. Talking to Alex while he was in this mood was pointless.

Reaching home, Alex practically leaped from the car. Slammed every door on his way to their bedroom. Threw himself fully clothed and shod across their bed. Refused to even look at Walter.

"I hate him. I hate you too, Walter. Why'd you let him fuck with me that way? Go away."

"Alex. He needed to test your reactions in order to make a diagnosis. Doctors do that," Walter tried to explain. Alex remained unconvinced.

Walter tried every trick he knew to settle Alex down. Alex wouldn't cuddle. Wouldn't eat. As far as the medication went, Alex was adamant. He was never going to take it. Never.

"All right, Alex," Walter said, finally angry at Alex's total lack of cooperation. "Take the medicine or don't take it. I opened the bottle for you. I'm not going to force it down your throat. I've had it." He put the uncapped the bottle of pills on the table and left the room.

He's going to leave me, Alex thought sickly. I've pushed him too far. He's going to leave me. Alex felt totally numb. He put the bottle of pills to his mouth and gulped. Gagged. Gulped again. Sat quietly and waited.

Walter took one look at the empty pill bottle on the table and blanched.

"Alex, what have you done?" he whispered. Walter knew time was not on his side. He didn't hesitate. He had ipecac in the medicine chest. He manhandled Alex up the stairs and into the bathroom. Alex resisted, but to no avail. Walter's methods were quick and dirty. A firm hand across Alex's nostrils forced his mouth open, his head back. Walter poured the ipecac down Alex's throat. As Alex vomited, unable to stop, Walter was relieved to see the pills he brought up were mostly undissolved. Alex vomited over and over. His stomach hurt, his throat was raw. Above all, he was terrified.

"Are you going to punish me?" he whispered. "Are you going to leave me?"

Alex, you scared me so badly, Walter thought. I'm going to wait until you feel better and then I'm going to kill you. Aloud he hushed Alex, quietly, reassuringly.

"Shh, Alex. It's all right. I've got you. Just rest now." Walter sat with Alex on the bathroom floor until the gagging stopped. Stroked the drenched sable hair reassuringly. It was over an hour before Alex's stomach stopped heaving. Carefully, Walter tugged Alex upright, supporting him with an arm around his waist. He helped Alex rinse out his mouth, washed his sweaty face. Leading Alex into the bedroom, Walter stripped him to his boxers, then pushed him firmly onto their bed. Silently, Alex curled up on his side, his good hand in his mouth. Walter covered him lightly. Walter sat alongside Alex without talking, rubbing his back gently. Finally, Alex subsided into uneasy sleep.

Walter placed two calls. He asked the same question of both the therapist and Dr. Miller:

"Do I punish him?"

The therapist's voice wavered.

"I would say he should be hospitalized, Walter. You have to understand that punishing a suicide attempt is not something we're trained to even consider. On the other hand, you're the expert on Alex. I am prepared to support your decision."

Graham Miller thought it through out loud.

"This is certainly upsetting. However, it was a gesture," he said. "If he wanted to be dead, he would be. You are only replying in kind. By all means, punish him."

Walter slept fitfully that night, his arm around Alex. He awoke frequently, his sleep disturbed by visions of what might have been. Totally drained, Alex slept motionlessly, occasional whimpers the only clue to his dreams.

Morning found both men tired and gray. Walter forced himself to make coffee, scramble eggs and butter toast. He brought Alex a tray, but Alex gagged even at the sight of food. He turned green, hazy eyes to Walter.

"You're going to punish me," he said soberly. "I deserve it. Please, Walter, let's get it over with."

With a deep sigh, Walter helped Alex out of bed and guided him downstairs to the living room. Walter had not thought his lover could get any paler, but he was mistaken.

"Please, Walter, I'm sorry," Alex whimpered. "I'm afraid."

Walter shook his head sorrowfully.

"Alex, I have never been so disappointed in you. This goes beyond what I can tolerate. Alex. Do not ever try that again. Suicide is not an option. Period. Full stop. If you do that to me again, I swear I will walk away from this relationship. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Walter," Alex whispered. "Please Walter, I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. You can strap me. I deserve it."

Slowly, Walter took off his belt. Doubled it. Ran his hand over the folded strap, tested it against his palm. Closed his eyes, trying to imagine what it would be like to bring the leather down across Alex's pale buttocks. Laid it aside.

"No," he said. "My hand, only ever my hand, Alex. But believe me, this will be the worst spanking of your life." Alex gulped.

"Yes, Walter. I know I deserve it," he said. He pushed down his boxers. Arranged himself facedown over Walter's lap. Took a shuddery breath. Walter rubbed the small of his back absently.

"Walter? You can spank me now, OK?"

"All right, Alex. This isn't going to be pleasant. We both know what this spanking is for, don't we? Suicide is never, ever an option. Do you understand me?"

"Yes, Walter," Alex whispered. "No suicide attempts. Never again. I'm sorry."

Walter spanked Alex slowly, carefully, silently. Ignored the ache in his palm. Reapplied his hand over already reddened flesh, determined to make an impact on Alex's brain as well as his butt. Alex struggled for a long time to stay quiet, then, realizing Walter was determined to continue, gave up trying to control his tears and cried softly as the harsh spanking continued. It hurt, worse than any other spanking Walter had ever given him. Oh shit, it hurt. He cried piteously, the ache in his butt matching the ache in his heart.

"Please, Walter, I'm sorry. No more, Walter, no more. I'll be good, I promise. Oh please, Walter, it hurts. Please stop now. Please..." Walter rubbed Alex's back with his sore hand.

"I know, Alex. Be brave. We're not anywhere near done yet." Resignedly, he resumed the hard, implacable spanks on the sore flesh. Alex cried wordlessly. Walter was never this severe.

"Please don't spank me anymore, Walter. I'm so sore." Alex twisted miserably. Walter paused just long enough to guide Alex squarely back across his lap.

"I am going to spank you some more, Alex. Stay still and take it." Sniffling, Alex obeyed.

Walter rubbed his hand surreptitiously. Jesus, this was hard to do. He gritted his teeth, then began another meticulous circuit of smacks over the fiery buttocks. Alex cried sadly. It hurt.

"Suicide is not an option. I need to know you will never, ever try that again," Walter said, emphasizing each word with yet another stinging smack.

"I promise," Alex wailed. "I'll never do it again. No more, Walter, please, no more. Oh please, please stop."

"All over. All done. All forgiven." At the longed for words, Alex slid back to the floor on his knees, buried his head in Walter's lap and sobbed unrestrainedly.

"You said you'd leave me!" Alex wailed. Walter felt about a million years old. He stroked Alex's wet, sticky face gently.

"I was very upset, Alex. I was frightened and angry. I didn't mean it. You're mine, mine forever. I'll never leave you. Don't you leave me either, Alex."

Walter hesitated a moment.

"My mother did leave, Alex. She drove her car into a telephone pole. They had to have a closed casket. I was in Vietnam. I couldn't even go home for the funeral. I'm scared, Alex. I love you so much. I don't want to lose you."

Walter took off his glasses, pinched the bridge of his nose hard. Wiped at his eyes. Alarmed, Alex looked, really looked, at Walter for the first time in weeks. Walter looked utterly drained. He had dark circles under his eyes and a gray veil of stubble. Alex eased himself into Walter's lap and hugged Walter hard, curling his good arm around Walter's neck. He stroked Walter's smooth scalp tenderly, kissed him fully, deeply on the mouth.

"I'm sorry, Walter, I'm so, so sorry. Don't cry, Walter, oh shit, please don't cry. You can spank me some more, Walter. You can spank me even harder," Alex said guiltily.

"I can't, Alex," Walter said ruefully. "My hand's too sore." Alex brought Walter's hand to his lips. Kissed the hot, swollen palm. Felt Walter wince. Studied Walter's hand with awed eyes.

"Wow." Alex was silent for a moment. He rubbed his butt meditatively.

"Wow," he repeated. Alex had never felt so intimately connected to Walter, even during sex. He tried confusedly to puzzle out what made this spanking so significant. It wasn't the physical pain. Alex had had the shit beaten out of him enough times to appreciate that on the cosmic scale of pain, this barely tipped the balance.

"I'm sorry, Walter, I'm sorry. I'm scared all the time. I'm so, so angry. Please, Walter, don't hate me. Don't leave me. I know, I know I'm being awful. Every time I try to stop I can't. Help me, Walter. I'm so scared. I just want to die, Walter. Hold me. Walter. Please, you should have let me die. I'm no good to you. I'm no good at all."

Walter closed his eyes at the despair in Alex's voice. He stroked Alex's sweaty hair sympathetically.

"I see him every time I close my eyes, Walter. I have scars all over from him. Look!" He extended his arms.

"See these?" Alex indicated the ropy scars at each wrist. "That's from when he strung me up. I thought I would die. I couldn't breathe. He left me hanging there for hours."

"He lied, Walter. Always. He said if I was good, if I tried hard, they wouldn't hurt me. But they did hurt me. It didn't matter how hard I tried. When I told him that, he laughed at me. 'Pretty Alex. Such pretty, pale skin. Shows the whip marks so nicely. Which do you prefer, Alex? Being fucked or being whipped?' Walter, he hurt me!"

Alex sobbed for what seemed like hours. Walter rocked him, his own tears mingling with Alex's. Finally, both red-eyed, heartsore men regarded each other wearily.

"Bed," Walter decided. Walter's hand was almost too sore to grip the handrail. Alex's butt was almost too sore to walk.

They stretched out side by side on their bed. Walter studied the ceiling. He didn't know if spanking Alex had been the wisest or the stupidest choice he had ever made. Lost for a moment in his own thoughts, he almost missed hearing Alex's tentative whisper.

"Walter? Am I still yours? Do you still love me?" Tenderly, he drew Alex's head to his chest.

"Mine forever. I love you so much, Alex," he said as he stroked Alex's hair. Alex sniffled.

"All yours then. I love you, Walter."

The therapist greeted Walter compassionately.

"I think I overdid it," Walter said.

Walter extended his bruised and swollen hand to the therapist. She shook her head. "Walter, you need to seek some balance here. You are too easy on Alex and too hard on yourself. You need to model self care as well. If he merits that severe a punishment again, use a paddle or your belt. Not your hand."

"No. I'm glad it hurt me. I don't ever, ever want to forget how much it hurts him. How badly he's been hurt. I spank him only because I honestly don't see any other way of getting through to him. But I never want to spank him in such a way that he feels it and I don't. He's so brave. He tries so hard. I love him so much."

The therapist watched Walter's losing battle not to cry.

"Are you sure Alex knows just how much he hurt you, Walter?" she asked. "Maybe he's the one who needs to witness these tears."

Unable to speak, Walter nodded goodbye. He returned home looking tired and sad.

It's all my fault, Alex thought regretfully, watching as Walter slumped despondently on the couch. Alex insinuated himself under Walter's arm, stretched himself on top of Walter. Kissed him. Turned to the one form of contact that never failed him. Stroked Walter's cock through his pants. Getting no response, he undid Walter's zipper and pushed aside his boxers. He fastened his mouth on Walter's velvety cock and tongued him gently. Paused a moment.

"Love you, Walter," he whispered. Walter stroked Alex's hair. Felt his cock stir as Alex continued to lick at him.

"Upstairs, Alex," Walter said. They sprawled together on the bed. Walter was hard.

"Want me to do something with this cock?" Walter asked, working Alex's jeans and underwear down. Alex arched his back helpfully. Walter grasped Alex's cock firmly, at the same time rubbing his hand carefully over Alex's tender ass. Alex moaned at the dual sensations. Coating his forefinger with lube, Walter worked it gently past the still sore buttocks, into Alex's ass. Alex was extraordinarily tight. He seemed uncomfortable.

"How's that feel, Alex?" Walter asked. Alex licked his dry lips. It hurt. It was only fair.

"I hurt you, Walter," he said. "I'm sorry. Punish me. More fingers. Punish me." Walter withdrew his hand and rolled Alex to him.

"You have to let it go now, Alex," he said. "You were spanked. You were very soundly spanked. It's over. You're forgiven. I will never, never hurt you sexually as punishment. If it doesn't feel right today, we'll do it another time. Lie down, Alex, let me take care of you." He cuddled Alex close. Alex began to cry. Walter rocked him carefully, noting how Alex's cock retreated into his sparse, dark hair.

"Shh, Alex, shh. Nothing bad's going to happen to you. I promise. I'll take care of you."

"Don't leave me, Walter," Alex begged. "I'm sorry, I'll do anything you want, please don't leave me."

"I'll never leave you," Walter said softly. He thought for a long moment. "You need to talk to someone, Alex. The Paxil will help, but medication alone is not enough."

"I'll talk to you, Walter," Alex said miserably. "I don't want to talk to anybody else. I don't trust anybody else."

Walter stroked Alex's hair soothingly.

"I'll always listen, Alex. But someone professional can get to places inside you that I simply can't reach. You need a kind of help that I can't give you, no matter how much I love you."

"Dr. Miller scares me, Walter. I can't help it. If I have to talk to someone, I'll talk to the first therapist we saw. She seemed OK." Alex sighed despondently.

"Shit, Walter, I really don't want to do this."

"I know, Alex, and I think it's very brave of you to try. I promise there'll be a very special treat for cooperating. Do you want me to go with you?"

Alex licked his lips nervously.

"No, Walter," he said with quiet dignity. "It won't work that way. I need to do this by myself."

"Can do this can do this can do this," Alex chanted under his breath, as he made yet another circuit around the therapist's building. Nerved himself up enough to park.

"Can do this can do this can do this," Alex repeated softly, as he climbed the stairs. The three-worded mantra soothed him.

"Can do this can do this can do this."

Alex entered the therapist's office tentatively. Stood motionless. The therapist took in the green eyes, cloudy with anxiety. The nervous flicker of tongue over lips that bled slightly where Alex had chewed them. The tousled black hair. The tee shirt darkened with rivulets of sweat. The tight jeans. This man was both beautiful and tremendously damaged. His very vulnerability made him all the more unstable and all the more dangerous.

"Are you afraid of me?" Alex asked the therapist in a soft, dangerous voice, drawing on a lifetime's practice in intimidation.

"Should I be?" the therapist asked.

"How the fuck should I know?" Alex was taken aback.

"How are you supposed to help people if you can't even answer a simple question?" he asked, genuinely puzzled.

"How do you think I'm supposed to help people, Alex?"

Alex stared at her.

"Are you making fun of me?" he asked tentatively, searching her face for signs of mockery.

"Do you feel that I'm making fun of you?"

"Yes. No. I don't know. Oh shit, I knew I couldn't do this. You're doing this on purpose to make it hard for me. Just talk to me. Shit. I'm trying here. I don't get this shit, OK? I don't know what the fuck you want me to do."

"What do you think I want you to do?"

"I don't know! Oh shit, stop asking me questions, just tell me what I need to do. I bet you don't jerk Walter around like this," Alex said resentfully.

"What do you imagine I do with Walter?"

"How the fuck should I know? Probably tell him he should get rid of a prick like me and find a nice lover like Ringo or John. Someone good like him. Who won't be any trouble. Who won't need to have his ass spanked to teach him what's right. I don't know," Alex spat angrily.

"Is that what you think?"

"I don't know! It'd make sense. Why the fuck should he be saddled with damaged goods like me? I have one fucking arm. I don't know fuck all about the shit he likes. Music. Fucking history. How the fuck am I supposed to know? I'm a good fuck. I can do anything." He laughed bitterly. "I've done everything. I was good at the other shit I did, too, but Walter won't let me have a weapon, so I can't do that anymore. Shit. I've got nothing to say. Do whatever the fuck you want to me. I'm good at pain, too."

"Tell me about pain, Alex."

Alex took a shaky breath.

"What's there to tell? I'm used to it. I'm used to getting hurt. I hate it. I hate when Walter spanks me. And that other fucking stuff...." He glared at the therapist.

"Writing lines? Having your mouth washed out with soap? Corner time?" she asked.

"Yeah. All that shit was your idea? It had to be! Walter was never that mean before. Why couldn't you just tell him to paddle me? Or whip me? I could take that. I deserve that. But this other stuff is fucking weird. Stop laughing at me!" Alex glared at the therapist.

"Am I laughing at you?"

"Yes. No. I don't know. Oh shit. I hate this. This isn't fair. I don't know what I'm supposed to do and you're not helping me at all!" Alex's voice cracked and for the first time, he looked squarely at the therapist, his beautiful eyes wide and reproachful.

"Good, Alex," she praised him. "Do you know that that's the first time you've really looked at me?"

"Yeah, so?" Alex said.

"That's very good, Alex. How does it feel, to look at me when you're talking to me?"

"Oh, shit, I don't know," Alex moaned, dropping his head to his hands. "What the fuck am I doing here?" His confusion was total and touching. For the first time, there was no bravado, no facade. Just Alex. Clueless. Confused, bewildered, and yet, not willing to give up. The therapist noted that not once had Alex attempted to leave. For the first time, she glimpsed what Walter treasured in Alex. The persistence. The aching determination to understand in the face of an almost total lack of context. The legacy of fear. The barest beginning of trust.

"I'll see you next week, Alex," she said, standing up.

"Next week? I have to do this again next week? Shit!" Alex shook his head as if to clear it.

"What did you expect, Alex?" the therapist asked calmly.

"All right," Alex muttered. "I'll see you next week." He walked slowly out, closing the door quietly behind him.

It was a start.

Walter was pleased with Alex's progress. He had gone on his own to see the therapist. He took the Paxil Walter doled out. Let Walter coach him through the therapist's body awareness exercises with only token protests.

"Come on Alex," Walter said, jingling his car keys. "I promised you a very special treat if you tried to cooperate with your therapy. I'd say you're keeping up your end of the deal. Let's take a ride." Walter had already familiarized himself with the Home Expo showroom. He ushered Alex over to the row of luxury bathtubs.

"What would you think about us getting one of these, Alex?" Walter grinned.

Alex didn't want to spoil Walter's fun, but something about the array of tubs was making Alex very, very uneasy. He felt his throat tighten.

"Walter? Take me home, OK? I don't like this. I don't like this at all." Alex chewed his lip, his eyes clouding over. "Please, Walter..."

Walter concealed his disappointment. Obviously this was not going to be the treat that he'd hoped it would be.

"OK, Alex, OK. Hang on, we're going. I'm right here, Alex, you're safe." He took Alex's good elbow and moving steadily, guided him to the parking lot.

"Breathe, Alex. Deep breath now, that's it, easy. You're OK now."

" Walter, I'm sorry. It's just... " Alex fell silent.

"I'm not upset, Alex. I'm very glad you told me you felt bad. See, you can do it. You can pay attention to your feelings. You did good."

Alex's unhappy confusion lifted a little at Walter's praise. He smiled tentatively. Accepted the hug Walter gave him; let Walter tousle his hair affectionately. Seemed to brighten a bit at the gentle attention.

Walter waited until after dinner, then tugged Alex into his lap.

"Talk," Walter said simply.

"You don't need to hear this, Walter," Alex said. Walter rubbed his back gently.

"Tell me, Alex," he coaxed. "You don't have to do this alone." Alex sighed.

"They called us bath toys. That's all I remember, really." Alex hesitated, then began to whimper quietly.

"No, this isn't fun. I don't like this, I don't like this at all." His eyes were wide and very far away.

Walter felt sick. Poor, poor Alex. Was there no limit to the depravity of those Consortium bastards? Goddamn perverts! Alex cringed, not knowing how to interpret Walter's obvious fury.

"Easy, Alex," Walter soothed, forcing a calm he didn't feel. Alex was frightened enough.

"It's good that you told me, Alex. You're very, very brave. You did well today. You remembered what we practiced. I'm proud of you."

"Really?" Alex asked. For an answer, Walter kissed him gently. Alex leaned into Walter.

"Love you," he whispered, returning the kiss with interest.

"So much for my great plan," Walter said wryly. The therapist shook her head.

"How did that make you feel?"

"It's all so hopeless. Every time I think I've seen the worst, there's something even uglier. What they did to him..."

"I hear how discouraged you are, Walter." He nodded.

"And yet, this is the first time Alex has been able to tell you before he panicked that something was wrong. Can you acknowledge what an enormous step forward that is for him?'' Walter thought about it.

"It is progress, isn't it?" he said slowly. "I guess that's almost worth giving up my fantasy of soaking happily with him in a warm tub."

"It may be possible to ease him into it, if that's your goal. It may take us some time to figure out what would make it less threatening for him, but it's not an unrealistic fantasy, Walter. We can talk about some ways to reduce Alex's anxiety."

"It's not that important," Walter said with a shrug.

"Walter, your needs and wants are just as important as Alex's." Walter nodded doubtfully.

"How does it make you feel to hear me say that, Walter?"

"I don't mind catering to Alex. He's entitled to extra consideration," Walter said.

"Walter, you need to work with Alex's strengths, not indulge his weaknesses. Both he and your relationship will be stronger for it."

Walter took a deep breath.

"What they did to him..." Walter said sadly. The therapist shook her head.

"Stay in the present, Walter. That's the only time we have. Alex needs you, but he's not an invalid. Don't treat him like one. Remember, Walter, this is a process."

"I understand," Walter said. "Thank you. See you next week."

Dinner was long over. Alex had disappeared upstairs. John and Walter sat quietly over their coffee in the kitchen.

"Alex looks good, Walter," John said. Walter nodded.

"Better than he did. He's never going to be one hundred percent, John, I realize that now."

John closed his eyes.

"Walter. I'm sorry. I know you love him," he said softly.

Walter sighed.

"What can you do, John?" he said philosophically. "When you love someone, you take him as you find him. For better or worse. The medication's helped. He's even talking to the therapist. Still, Alex is Alex." Both men were silent. Walter looked soberly at John.

"If anything were to happen to me, would you take care of him? He can't make it on his own."

John thought for a long moment, then shook his head sadly.


"I'm sorry, Walter. Melvin and I will look out for him. But what you do for him? He's too strong for me. I'm sorry. Shit." It was the one and only time Walter had ever heard John curse.

John had barely pulled out of the driveway when a door slammed viciously upstairs. Walter winced as Alex took the stairs at breakneck speed, his feet loud against the wooden treads.

"Fuck you, Walter, I hate you," Alex swore savagely, squaring off in front of Walter in full-blown panic mode.

"Fuck you, Walter," Alex repeated. "You bastard. Motherfucker." Walter took Alex's good hand, pulled Alex hard against him. Alex's heart was racing.

"Stop cursing, Alex," Walter said firmly. "Right now. One more word and I'll spank you." Where is this coming from, he wondered? Alex struggled to escape, but Walter simply held him close. Finally, Alex was still. He closed his eyes.

"I heard you talking to John," he whispered. Walter winced again.

"What did I tell you about eavesdropping, Alex?" he asked. Alex shivered.

"No one wants me," Alex whispered. " I'm scared, Walter. I need you. I love you."

"I love you, Alex. I want you. I'm not going anywhere. Alex, are you crying?" Alex sniffled, shaking his head. Walter cuddled him, rubbing his back gently.

"I'm here, Alex. You're the one who tried to check out, not me." Alex tried to catch his breath.

"Are you still angry at me? Are you going to leave me? Is that why you want John to take me?"

"No, Alex," Walter said softly. "That's not it at all. It's just a precaution, Alex. I just want some backup. I'm fine. Nothing's going to happen to me. I love you, Alex."

"I love you too, Walter. Please, don't leave me alone. No one else wants me." Alex's hand crept to his mouth. Walter tugged it free and kissed Alex gently, reassuringly.

"I get so scared, Walter," Alex whispered. "I feel so empty. Is that ever going to change?"

"I wish I could promise you it would, Alex. It may. You're doing the right things: therapy, medication. All that helps." Walter smiled encouragingly at Alex. Alex eyed Walter desperately. He knew of only one thing that could soothe the anxiety he felt.

"Please, Walter." Alex tugged Walter towards the stairs. Walter let himself be led to their bedroom.

"I need this, Walter," Alex begged, turning himself on his stomach and shrugging out of his pants and boxers.

"Please, Walter, fuck me. I need you to fuck me." Walter rubbed his hand along Alex's back, up under his tee shirt. Gently turned Alex over. He knew how important this connection was to Alex.

"Kiss me first," Walter said softly, rubbing Alex's lips with his own. Alex closed his eyes, opened his mouth obediently. Walter kissed him deeply and thoroughly. Felt Alex begin to relax as their breath mingled, their tongues explored each other's mouths. Felt some of the desperation ebb from Alex's tense body. Took a moment to undress himself.

Carefully, Walter eased Alex out of his shirt. Traced his hand carefully, lovingly, over Alex's taut shoulders, his flat belly. Massaged his tight nipples into little peaks. Sucked them gently, savoring Alex's moans. Stroked Alex's hardening cock with a practiced hand. Only then did he allow Alex to roll onto his stomach again.

Walter worked the heel of his hand into the small of Alex's back, judging the extent of Alex's panic from the degree of tension in the knotted muscles. From long experience, Walter knew that only sex ever held Alex's terror of abandonment at bay. Coating his fingers with lube, Walter gently loosened Alex's tight ass. Not until Alex was soft and open did he slick his cock with gel and lean slowly into Alex, taking him smoothly and quietly. Alex moaned with pleasure. Walter took Alex's cock in his slick hand and stroked it in rhythm with his thrusts. It took neither man long to come.

Making himself comfortable on his side, Walter drew Alex next to him. Cradled Alex's head on his arm, used his other hand to stroke Alex's cheeks. They were tracked with tears.

"I didn't hurt you, did I?" Walter worried. Alex shook his head no.

"I'm just scared, Walter," Alex whispered. "I love you so much. I know I'm a lot of trouble. I don't want you to leave me."

"I love you too, Alex. I'll never leave you. You're a lot of work, I'll agree, but you're not any trouble. You're worth it. I'm all yours," Walter said.

"I'm all yours, too," Alex said softly. "I hope you want me."

"Forever, Alex," Walter answered. He snuggled Alex close.

"You're all mine, Alex. Forever."



THANK you, Lorelei, my beta and my friend. EM

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