torch, 1998
flambeau@strangeplaces.net

Disclaimer: no characters were severely injured in the making of this story. This story was written for and originally published in the IIBNF Press zine Double eXposure. Some very small revisions have been made. Set at some point before The end. All feedback is welcome. Do not archive this story without permission.

Subaudition

The lamp on the bedside table had a grey steel base and a brown paper shade; the effect was interesting, a combination of chilly high-tech and the clunky aesthetics of recycling. Its light spilled easily over all of the king sized bed, turning the sheets gold, emphasizing the gleam of their sweaty bodies. They always fucked with the lights on. Sometimes the overhead lights, bright and brazen, and then it was hard and fast, or experimentative and long drawn out. Sometimes just this one lamp, and then it was simple, uncomplicated, as plain as it ever got.

They'd never done it by candlelight.

He was lying on his back, one leg slightly drawn up, his right hand resting on his stomach close to the cooling puddle of semen. After having listened to the regular breaths coming from the other man in the bed for a while, he sat up and swung his legs over the side, and made a face as he felt the chilly trickle slide down towards his groin. He felt a bit sore. The cocktail of scents in the air was familiar, semen and post-coital sweat, lubricant, the flat dull smell of latex, even, very faintly, detergent from sheets that had been fresh not so long ago.

Mulder got to his feet and walked down around the foot of the bed. He paused to look, saw no movement, and padded quietly out of the room. Walking around naked in someone else's home felt a little surreal, even when he should be getting used to it after repeated exposure. Down the hall, into the bathroom, where he cleaned himself up with tissues, water, soap, towels. Taking a shower would be too noisy, would take too long. He was staying the night; he could have a shower in the morning.

Looking at himself in the mirror, he saw that he was still flushed. His mouth was swollen; his lower lip looked almost grotesque. He shook his head tiredly. It was a little hard to believe sometimes. There were moments when he was convinced it would turn out that the past couple of months had been some kind of bizarre mistake. Mulder tilted his head back and looked at his throat. No marks above the collar line. It was invisible when they had their clothes on.

He stretched, and felt muscles unkink themselves. The thoughtless sensuality of the movement caught up with him and he lowered his arms abruptly. His body was full of memories. Shaking his head did nothing to dispel them.

On an impulse, he dropped down to the floor and started to do pushups, pumping the blood faster through his body once more, trying to exercise away whatever misty residue of confusion lingered in him and made him doubt the good sense of what he'd chosen to do. It didn't help. The bathroom was too small for it, and before he'd even reached twenty, he felt ridiculous enough to get to his feet again.

Indecisiveness was nothing new. He had stood here on other nights, attempting to communicate with the man in the mirror, whose dazed, I-just-got-fucked-through-the-mattress attitude made him hard to talk to. Maybe he would learn eventually that some moments were better than others for intelligent introspection. Maybe he would learn eventually to live with the choices he'd made.

Mulder opened the bathroom door again, flicked the lights off and went back along the hallway. The hardwood floor was smooth against the soles of his feet, smooth and clean, no grit or dust here. Not like in his own apartment. He turned into the bedroom and sank into soft carpet. It yielded to his steps, made him feel like he was floating.

The sheets and covers were tangled, leaving the bed full of soft-edged shadows where the golden light didn't reach. Skinner lay on his back, covered to the waist, his face as expressionless in sleep as it was when he was awake. He'd put his glasses down next to the lamp. Mulder walked up to the bedside table and leaned down. Skinner's body seemed the most solid object in the room, of incalculable weight and density, unchangeable, permanently there.

With a sudden sharp movement, Mulder turned the light off.

He went around the foot of the bed more slowly this time, feeling his way, unwilling to risk a stubbed toe by moving faster. When he reached the side that had by default become his, he crawled in gracelessly under what he could grab up of the covers, settled in quietly and closed his eyes.

It was very dark. He missed the regular flicker of a TV screen, the rise and fall of background noise. It was a good thing he'd been fucked to within an inch of his life. The lassitude in his body would help him fall asleep. Mulder curled up, found a pillow by touch and dragged it under his head. He tried not to shift around too much; he didn't want to wake Skinner.

* * *

When he woke again he was very warm, weighed down by a heavy tangle of bedcovers and Skinner's arm, Skinner's leg, the whole length of Skinner's body against his own. Only a thin film of sweat separated them. Mulder shifted fractionally and felt the heavier body shift with him, breath gusting against the back of his neck, a thickening, hardening, familiar pressure against his ass. He lay still again, wondering if Skinner was awake or not.

After a few moments, he tried to relax back into sleep. He was just so damn hot. Slowly turning one foot, he raised the covers up to get some air in. The arm around his chest tightened. Mulder felt the tension of awareness and knew what was going to happen even before Skinner moved, pressing more closely against him. He lay still, and waited. Anticipated. Skinner's hand rested flat against his chest for a while, palm against heartbeat. Then it moved down in a slow stroke, all the way down to his groin, curving around him, a warm and confident touch.

"You awake?" Skinner muttered in his ear, then bit his earlobe.

"I am now." He could hardly claim to be otherwise when his cock was pushing in pulses of increasing insistency against Skinner's hand, waking faster and more eagerly than the rest of him. A bite to the back of his neck, another, and he sighed without knowing he was doing it, stretched, pushing forward against the too-gentle grip, back against the hard, promising pressure. It was starting again, the physical rush, the heat in his blood rising towards intoxication. That was something he'd never imagined before all this started, his reaction to this man's touch.

They moved slowly against each other, Skinner stroking him erect, rocking against his ass. He wanted to sink down flat under the other man's weight, spread his legs, do it slowly, silently, in the dark. Teeth grazed his skin and he moaned. It seemed to be a favorite game of Skinner's, finding all his weaknesses, getting him more stupidly, dizzily turned on each time.

Skinner moved back and tugged him into rolling over, so they lay on their sides facing each other. He bent his head and caught a nipple between his teeth; there was an exhalation of breath, an almost-vocalized grunt. Mulder shifted down in the bed, bracing himself with an arm slung over Skinner's hip. He wanted to brush his lips over the velvety dryness of the cockhead, but Skinner was already leaking and the skin under his mouth was slick with moisture. Licking slowly, he used one hand to brush over Skinner's balls, stroking with his fingertips to feel the sensitive skin move in ripples of excitement.

When Skinner rolled over half on his back and reached out, Mulder paused, knowing what he was reaching for. "Don't," he said on a sudden impulse, then changed it to, "please don't."

"I just want to see you."

"I know, you told me." Mulder slid his tongue once more around the head of Skinner's cock, the most effective distracting maneuver he knew. "The first time."

He remembered it in clear separate moments, rather than as a connected chain of events. The request for a private talk, after the case where he'd nearly gotten his head blown off, ignoring Skinner's orders. The taste of scotch, the flat comment that the X-Files might be in danger from his recklessness, that he had to learn to listen to his superiors and rein himself in. The completely unexpected sensation of Skinner's body against his own, hard and demanding. Later, the lights left on as he was undressed.

"I like to look at you." It was a mild rumble, and Skinner brought his hand down to cup Mulder's head instead. "To know it's you."

"I know," he said again, and wished he hadn't mentioned it. "But just this once, can we leave the lights off?"

Fingers tightened against his jaw for a moment, then relaxed again. "So you can pretend I'm someone else?" It wasn't quite a tease, nor quite a threat.

He breathed in on a dry chuckle, and reached up to run his hand familiarly along the breadth of Skinner's shoulders. "You're kind of hard to mistake for anyone else. Want to come in my mouth?" He finished the question by pressing down with his tongue, licking, sucking.

"Yeah," it was almost a groan, "no. Are you sore?"

Mulder shrugged. "It's not too bad," he said.

"Come up here, then." Skinner was reaching out again, but not towards the lamp this time. After some determined fumbling, he brought back a condom and the lubricant; the tube was slippery, and he dropped it. "Fuck."

"Well, yes, in a minute," Mulder said and took the condom packet, ripping it open. He knelt by Skinner's side and smoothed the latex down around thick flesh with quick, practised motions. Skinner had got hold of the lube again and was squirting it out over his fingers. Moments later Mulder felt pressure against his anus, a finger slipping right in, deeper than he'd expected. He jerked. "That's cold."

"It'll warm up," Skinner said, voice flat with promise. "You're hot enough." The twist and slide of fingers inside him made his breath come short. It was easy for Skinner to stretch him again, open him up and slick him into readiness. He arched his back, unable to stop the sound that came out of his throat. "Like that?" Mulder clenched his jaw; then the blunt-tipped fingers rubbed over his prostate again and the same sound ripped out of him and his head fell forward in defeat.

"Yes," he hissed, a whisper without any weight of sound behind it. Skinner pulled his fingers out and pushed at Mulder's hip, moving him. He understood and knelt up, moved to straddle Skinner's body. Skinner had let go of him now and was letting him do this all his own way. Reaching down, he grabbed Skinner's cock and steadied it, the latex slippery against his fingers, damping the heat down. He fit it against himself and took a deep breath before starting to sink down in slow, hard, deliberate pushes.

This wasn't his favorite position. It made him feel exposed, uncertain, too aware of being watched. But the room was dark for once. Skinner couldn't see his face. Not clearly. Mulder moved, lifting up and sliding down again, taking the full length of Skinner's cock this time. He angled his hips, felt the hard stroke of flesh just where he wanted it, just where it felt so fucking good. Slowly, now.

Slowly, because it was the second time this night, and he wouldn't come so fast and neither would Skinner. This could go on for a long time, Mulder thought almost dreamily, rocking where he was, small circling motions that sent pulses of glowing desire up along his spine, out into the heaviness of his own erection. He lifted up and pushed down more forcefully, just once, for the flare of sensation, and went back to the gentle rock and grind. It was hypnotic, the pleasure just this side of bearable, and he didn't want it to stop.

"Mulder." Skinner was a little hoarse. As he couldn't see Mulder's face, so Mulder couldn't see his; the body he was straddling was solid darkness in the softer darkness of the bed, that was all. But as he'd said before, it was hard to mistake Skinner for anyone else. If there was one thing he knew, it was who was fucking him. "Faster." Skinner's hips pushed up, lifting off the bed, and Mulder sucked his breath in between his teeth at the sudden jolt.

Responding to Skinner's desire, he began to work himself up and down, his movements faster but still controlled. Skinner didn't thrust deeply again, just moved against him, a cant of the hips, the occasional push. All the same, the harder stimulation was difficult to resist. Mulder bit his lip but couldn't keep from moaning, rocking faster still. He could feel now that he was more sore than he'd thought from last time, but it didn't matter. The burning sensation blended with the thick pulses of want and need that shot through him every time he ground himself down, took Skinner's cock deep inside.

And Skinner couldn't see him — he threw his head back, panting for air, and moved without shame, taking what he had to have. That touch, right there. A moment later Skinner's hand closed over his own on his cock and they stroked it together. Mulder felt the crashing rhythm of his own heartbeat, a bell ringing a wild alarm in his chest. He was going to come.

"Fuck," he gritted out between clenched teeth, tried to slow down, tried to get Skinner's hand, his own hand, to release the firm knowing grip that was stroking him into ecstasy. But Skinner thrust up hard instead, driven by his own need. Mulder shook his head. Almost there, he was almost there and he didn't want to come yet and oh, oh shit, oh God...

It was impossible to resist. It sliced through him, cutting clean, cutting deep, and he came in slow burning shivers, spilling over Skinner's hand and belly. He slumped forward, fighting for breath.

When he could move again he sat back a little, and felt Skinner push up, push in, still hard. Mulder braced himself and tried to get his watery muscles to cooperate. Up, down, he felt light-headed, pulse beats like thunder in his ears. Skinner grabbed hold of his hips with both large, strong hands, thrusting up and pulling him down at the same time. He could feel now just how sore he was, he could have done with some more lube, but Skinner was pumping faster, growling deep in his throat, not the sound of a man who wanted to be interrupted.

So he moved with the force of the other man's driving need, and when he felt the thrusts turn jerky and wild he clenched down, tightening himself, wincing a little, and Skinner came with a rough sound that wasn't quite a yell.

Mulder fell forward, leaning on both arms, hands on either side of Skinner's shoulders. He stayed like that for long breathless moments, before straightening up again, reaching down to hold the condom in place while he slowly raised himself up to separate them. Slumping down awkwardly next to Skinner, he tried to resist the impulse to just fall flat on his face and fall asleep again.

The movements in the dark were familiar: Skinner pulling the condom off, knotting it deftly, shifting up to put it on the bedside table until the morning. "I'm sticky," the deep voice observed.

"I'll clean you up." He braced himself on one elbow and licked across the flat stomach, swallowing his own come, moving gradually down to suck carefully at Skinner's softening cock. It twitched on his tongue, little aftershocks.

Skinner's fingers wove into his hair, stroking him. "I want to see you next time," Skinner said. "I want to watch your face when you come." A strong thumb rubbed the hollow at the back of his head. "I want to look at you in that moment and know it's because of me, know I'm the one doing that to you."

"Didn't know you doubted it," Mulder said, a shade of dryness in his voice. He raised himself up again and the hand slipped away, skidding over his shoulder in a heavy caress before landing on the bed. It was late, probably around three, he thought. "We should get some more sleep."

"Yeah." Skinner's voice was short with a suppressed yawn. "Can't say I'm sorry I woke up, though."

Mulder stretched out, tired enough to feel almost completely relaxed, too tired to go to the bathroom and clean up yet again. Closing his eyes, he rolled over on his back, feeling Skinner's warmth even from a distance. He was a restless sleeper, and after the first few nights Skinner had learned to release him after sex, leaving him to his tossing and turning.

Although sometimes Skinner would move in his sleep to grab hold of Mulder, and Mulder would invariably wake up, as he had tonight. It didn't always lead to more sex, but often enough, as it had tonight.

His last thoughts before drifting off were about unscrewing the lightbulb in the bedside lamp.

* * *

When the alarm went off, they grouched their separate ways into wakefulness. Mulder stretched, on his back, and subsided back into half-sleep for a moment, but was prodded awake by Skinner's touch. "Yeah," he mumbled, and swung himself up slowly into a sitting position. Christ, but he was sore.

They went into the bathroom together. Mulder shaved while Skinner was in the shower, then they traded places with wordless efficiency. Neither was a morning person, although with Skinner it was sometimes hard to tell the difference between morning grumpiness and the attitude he projected for the rest of the day. Mulder dried himself carefully and hung the towel up with some neatness before going back to the bedroom to hunt up his clothes.

Boxers half under the bed, socks all the way under; he had to kneel down and hunt for them. Shirt inside out over the back of a chair, suit jacket buried under Skinner's, on the seat of the chair. Pants on the floor by the wall, lying over the shoes. He picked them up and looked at the creases. Sometimes he wondered why he bothered. He could wear a sweatsuit down in that basement office. No one would notice.

He put on everything except the suit jacket, and went out again, bumping into Skinner in the doorway. "Make some coffee," Skinner said, brushing past him very closely, smelling of shower gel and after shave.

"Toast?"

"Whatever." Then after a moment, when he was already out in the hall, "Bagels in the freezer."

Mulder was starting to know his way around this kitchen. He flung his suit jacket over the back of a chair, got the coffee started, fished the bagels out of the freezer and put them in the toaster oven. Then he filled one of the coffee mugs he'd taken out with water and drank it slowly, leaning against the countertop. As he was finishing it Skinner came in, looking starched and proper, his suit jacket already buttoned. He had Mulder's tie in one hand and glanced down at it with an expression that could be interpreted as distaste before handing it over.

"Where did I leave it?"

"It was in my shoe." Skinner opened the fridge and brought out butter, raspberry jelly, milk.

They ate in silence, standing there, neither suggesting that they move to the kitchen table. Mulder burned his tongue on the coffee and poured in milk after the fact. He ate half a bagel, with both butter and jelly on, washed the last bite down with coffee and set his mug down in the sink. "See you at the office, I guess." Picking up his suit jacket, he pulled it on and went to get his coat.

Skinner followed him after a while, catching up as he was at the door, ready to leave. "Mulder." He turned to look over his shoulder at the stern-faced man watching him, twisted an eyebrow questioningly, his hand already reaching out to turn the doorknob. Skinner frowned a little, as the silence stretched between them, then pushed his glasses more firmly into place and shook his head. "Nothing."

He went out, feeling for a brief moment as though he'd gnawed off his leg to escape a trap.

As he drove to work he concentrated on ignoring the discomfort he felt, sitting down. It looked like a nice, clear day. He had lots of things to do. Thinking about the night that had passed wouldn't get him anywhere, and he knew from experience how powerful a distraction it could be. In the beginning, it had been on his mind all the time. He'd learned, though.

Once he arrived he'd settled into it, his suit, his mood. Others were coming in early as well and he nodded cautiously brisk hellos and saw them go, onwards and upwards, before he went down into his basement. It was a mess, as always, but the things he'd laid out last night were still on top. He dragged out the projector and set it up, then leaned against the desk and flipped through the police reports. Scully ought to be here—

She tapped once on the door before stepping inside. It gave him time to turn the projector on, click up the first photo. "Morning, Scully. How do you feel about ritualized senicide?"

Scully put her briefcase down and glanced at the projected picture, then at him. "Is this another tabloid case? There are some aspects of my job that I can't quite explain to my mother."

"At least you still have a job," he said cheerfully.

Her eyes sharpened on his face, despite his tone of voice. "Mulder, are things looking bad for us again? I haven't heard any rumors about shutting us down since that time after the Salazar case."

Mulder shook his head. "I think we're safe for now," he said, leaning his hip against the edge of the desk, careful not to wince. He met her eyes and spoke flatly, assuredly. "Believe me, I'm doing everything I can to make sure of that."

* * *

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