24/7  25. The Branding Part 1


“Fox, if you won’t sit still I have ways of making you,” Skinner commented ominously.


“I’m nervous.” Mulder bit down on his already worried looking lower lip. He tasted the slight tang of blood and licked it away nervously. If Skinner saw he’d chewed into his lip enough to draw blood then there would be trouble.


“I know you’re nervous, sweetheart, but there’s absolutely nothing to be scared of.” Skinner gave his slave a sympathetic sideways glance.


“That’s easy for you to say,” Mulder muttered, wriggling in his seat. His elbows felt unaccountably cramped. He shot his arms out to relieve some of the tension and caught his Master a glancing blow on the side of his muscled arm, causing the car to swerve across the road. Luckily it was deserted, and Skinner soon got control of the vehicle again and guided it back to safety.


“All right. That’s it.” Skinner slammed his foot on the brake, and then edged the car slowly over to the side of the road.


“I’m sorry,” Mulder sighed as they came to a halt. “I really am. It’s just…I don’t think I’ve ever been more nervous in my entire life.”


“I know.” Skinner pulled on the handbrake, and unbuttoned his shirt-sleeves. Mulder gazed at his Master apprehensively as Skinner rolled his sleeves up to his elbows.


“You’re just doing that because you’re hot, right?” He asked.


Skinner turned to face him, a grim smile on his face. “Fox, it’s November. I’m not overheated – but your ass will be in a moment. I think it’s time to give you something to be really nervous about. Maybe a spanking will distract you from your thoughts for the rest of the journey. We have a long way to go and I have no intention of driving next to a whirling dervish. It’s dangerous aside from anything else. Get out of the car.”


Mulder stared at his Master blankly. Skinner wouldn’t really spank him just for fidgeting would he? Here? By the side of the – admittedly deserted – road?


“Master…” he hissed urgently.


“Now,” Skinner said tersely, opening the driver’s door and getting out. Mulder unbuckled his seatbelt swiftly, and hopped out of the car. His warm breath misted the cold November air the minute he stepped out. “Come here,” Skinner said in a curt tone. Oh shit – was his Master going to throw him over the hood of the car and spank him in full view of the world? Not that anybody was watching apart from a disinterested horse grazing in a nearby field. Mulder went quickly, without question, to his Master’s side. Skinner exhaled loudly, and the resulting plume of breath mushroomed in the frosty air, enveloping Mulder for a split second in a cloud of warmth.


“What on earth am I going to do with you?” Skinner shook his head, exasperated, placed his hands on his slave’s shoulders and looked into his eyes. Mulder found the safety and reassurance there that his Master always gave him. He managed a tentative smile. Skinner ran his fingers over Mulder’s forehead, down over his nose, and stopped for a second on his lip, lingering on the tiny tear he found there. “What have we said about you damaging my property?” He asked.


Mulder sighed. “She’s your sister,” he protested, nonsensically.


“I know – and she’s very nice. You’ll like her,” Skinner said softly, his large hands caressing his slave’s shoulders gently.


“I’m not worried about that. I’m sure I will like her. If she’s anything like her brother I’m certain to.” Mulder gave his Master another wry grin. “It’s the whole part about her liking me I’m more worried about,” he said, his teeth going unwittingly to his lip and biting down again. Skinner entwined his hand firmly in his slave’s hair and placed one finger over the lip to prevent the action.


“Tabi very kindly invited us over for Thanksgiving. Do you think she’d do that if she wasn’t interested in meeting you? And, seriously, what’s not to like?” Skinner asked. “Plenty of people like you. I like you. Scully likes you, Ian likes you – your weird geeky gunmen friends like you,” Skinner added forcefully.


Mulder shrugged. “I’m a disaster at social occasions. I’ll screw this up.”


“You’ve accompanied me to plenty of parties,” Skinner told him patiently. “You did just fine at all of them.”


“They were scene parties,” Mulder pointed out. “This is different. This is your family we’re talking about.”


“Not my whole family – just my sister.”


“She’ll hate me,” Mulder predicted morosely. In truth, what was worrying him was not so much that his Master’s sister wouldn’t like him as the fact that he wanted to be liked – and that was something new for him to deal with. He wasn’t someone who suffered fools gladly, and he didn’t have the patience to deal with people who were obstructive or less than sympathetic to his ideas or his quest. He knew that sometimes came over as a kind of arrogance but he genuinely didn’t feel that way – he was just too consumed by what he knew to be right to take the time to soothe people’s ruffled feathers. That, he thought wryly, was his Master’s talent. Mulder was now so used to alienating people that he had long ago told himself that he didn’t care what people thought of him – his work was the important thing, not whether he was liked. However, now, for the first time in a very long while, he found himself caring – and he didn’t like the feeling of vulnerability that induced. His Master had a kind of quiet, understated charm that seemed to work on people. He had a knack for listening to people, to seeming to empathise with them – Mulder didn’t have that knack. His relationship with his own family had been so dysfunctional that he dreaded having to take on a whole new set of family politics with Skinner’s family. Families, as far as Mulder was concerned, were a battleground. And ironically, it was he who had suggested visiting Skinner’s sister – not his Master. In the closeness that had followed his Master’s whipping a few weeks previously, the two men had talked frankly and candidly about their families. It was then that Mulder realised that Skinner had an affectionate, if slightly distant relationship with his sister – and, feeling confident after recent events, and wanting to help his troubled Master, he had thought it would be nice for them to get together for Thanksgiving – a suggestion that he was now regretting.  


Skinner gazed at his slave for a moment, and then, without another word, he opened the back door of the car. He grabbed Mulder’s wrist, climbed inside the car, and hauled his slave over his knee, all in one swift movement. Mulder gave a cry of sheer surprise as his pants and briefs were pulled down, and a gust of cold air from the open car door wafted over his naked, upturned ass.


“You can be an extremely charming man when you try,” Skinner said, punctuating each word with a sharp swat to his slave’s backside. Mulder wriggled helplessly in his Master’s grasp, his long legs scissoring against the car’s upholstery, but, as usual, there was no escape. Skinner’s thighs were too sturdy, his chest and upper arms far too strong. He pinned his slave in position with seemingly effortless ease and then began spanking him in earnest, talking the whole time as he did so. “You can be courteous, polite, amusing, attentive and a very good conversationalist. I know this because I’ve witnessed you being all these things – frequently, and without effort. If you antagonise people it’s usually in a professional capacity, because you care too much about your work to compromise. That’s just you. I might not always agree with your methods but I haven’t sought to change you – just to help you win the respect that you undoubtedly deserve but which your own pride and cussedness has held you back from attaining.”


“Oh shit…” Mulder held on to his Master’s thighs for dear life, as the swats became even louder and stung his exposed backside even more. Now he was grateful that the car door was open – the cold November air cooled his glowing ass.


“Are you listening to me?” Skinner demanded, his hand seemingly tireless in delivering endless stinging slaps to Mulder’s backside.


“Yes! Master!” Mulder cried, desperately thankful that the road was deserted and no passing carload of people was witnessing his humiliation.


“Good. Then hear this: My sister is a very nice woman. She won’t be judging you. You are accompanying me as my slave, my lover, my life partner, and my permanent companion. That status alone should give you all the confidence you need. What is your primary purpose in life, slave?”


“Pleasing you, Master!” Mulder gasped. “I exist to serve you!”


“That’s right. You will therefore forget your insecurities, and concentrate solely on that task. And you can best please me by being yourself. That’s all I ask. Tabi will love you. I already told you that she’s got a thing for waifs and strays, and with your puppy dog eyes and chewed lip she’ll melt the moment she sets eyes on you. Now, do you understand, or does this lesson need reinforcing some more?” Skinner’s hand slowed, and began caressing gentle circles on his slave’s backside instead of swats.


Mulder glanced back at his red bottom. He wasn’t sure he could take much more – and they still had another two hours driving ahead of them in order to reach Skinner’s sister’s apartment in time for Thanksgiving dinner. Oh god. Dinner. With his Master’s sister. Mulder found himself biting down on his lip again, wholeheartedly regretting his enthusiasm for this visit. Why did he do these things? Why did he throw himself into these dangerous situations without thinking about the consequences?


“What if she…?” he began.


He never finished the sentence. Skinner’s hand began its stinging work again, making another circuit of his backside, paying particular attention to the swelling under-curve of his buttocks, where he sat, purposefully enflaming the region so that his slave would be in no doubt at all about what was expected of him – indeed his sore bottom would remind him of this conversation throughout the day.


“You will please me today the way you do every other day of your life. Today is no different. You will be the beautiful, attentive, charming slave that you always are, and that is all I ask of you. Nothing else. Nothing more complicated than that. Pleasing me is your sole consideration today as it is every day. Do you understand?” Skinner asked again.


“Oh god, yes!” Mulder gasped, finally giving himself up to the lesson his Master was teaching him.


“Good.” Skinner finished spanking him, and caressed his hot bottom instead. “Hmmm…such a beautiful sight. The most erotic sight in the world,” he said in a throaty tone. “If we were anywhere else, I’d throw you on your hands and knees and bury myself up to the hilt inside this beautiful red ass. As it is…I’m going to keep the memory of these glowing butt cheeks permanently in mind today, so that every time I look at you I’ll visualise your hot bottom, waiting for me under your pants.” Skinner’s voice was almost dreamy, and Mulder realised they were both hard. He moaned, and wriggled on his Master’s lap, pressing his erection into Skinner’s thigh hopefully.


“The road is empty, Master,” he whispered, all traces of his earlier embarrassment at their location disappearing at the thought of being taken, roughly and without mercy, by the side of the road. “You could use me. Nobody would see.”


“It’s tempting – but too risky,” Skinner said regretfully. “It’ll have to wait until tonight.”


“Oh god. In your sister’s apartment? In her spare room? No. We can’t…she might hear…” Mulder babbled. Skinner slapped down a warning swat to silence him.


“You’re mine, slave. I can use you anywhere or anyhow I choose – and I most definitely will want to use you tonight after this little scene, wherever we might be sleeping, so get used to the idea.”


“Yes, Master,” Mulder whispered, burying his face in his arms and surrendering himself once more to his Master’s will. Just a few short months ago he knew he wouldn’t even have been able to tell Skinner honestly what was worrying him. He would have become defensive, and angry – might even have lashed out, run off or otherwise gotten himself into trouble. Being honest about what was worrying him hadn’t come easy to him. It felt self-pitying and weak, but he had to admit he felt better for it. Mulder sighed happily as Skinner stroked his bottom for several minutes, and then his Master nudged him to get to his feet, and ordered him to adjust his clothing and get out of the car.  


Mulder scrambled out, his bottom protesting his awkward and undignified exit. He tidied himself up, tucking his shirt back inside his pants, as his Master climbed out of the back seat. Without pausing, Skinner wrapped his big arms around his slave’s shoulders, pulled him close, and then gave him a deep, claiming kiss that made Mulder go weak at the knees. He clung onto his Master for dear life, then grinned at the other man stupidly when he was released, all his nervousness banished in the face of Skinner’s masterly display of ownership, comfort, and love.


“Has this little ‘conversation’ helped?” Skinner asked softly, caressing the side of his slave’s face. “Can we drive in safety now?”


“I think so.” Mulder smiled, and drew his Master back for another kiss. Skinner’s hands went around his slave’s back, and cupped Mulder’s thoroughly spanked buttocks, squeezing hard, making Mulder squirm.


“Stealing kisses – I’m sure that’s a punishable offence,” Skinner murmured huskily when Mulder released him.


“I’m yours, Master. You can punish me whenever you want,” Mulder replied. “Although…I would prefer to eat my Thanksgiving dinner sitting down if it pleases you. Tabi really will think I’m strange if I insist on eating standing up!”


“You’ll sit,” Skinner predicted firmly with another masterly grin. He opened his door and got into the driver’s seat again. Mulder slid cautiously into the passenger seat, his sore bottom making its feelings on the subject of the two-hour drive ahead very clear indeed.


“‘Conversation’.” Mulder made a face. “Only you could call what just happened on the back seat a ‘conversation’. What is it with tops and their euphemisms? That wasn’t a conversation.”


“Yes it was. It was my hand conversing with your butt. And in case you didn’t realise it – my hand won.” Skinner grinned widely, reaching for his seatbelt and buckling it.


“Yeah, like I wasn’t aware of that,” Mulder groused, still smiling good-humouredly. He wasn’t looking forward to sitting on his sore ass for the next two hours but he had to admit that the spanking had worked. He felt calmer. The butterflies that had settled in the pit of his stomach seemed to have flown away – for now at least. He leaned his head against the car window, and gazed at his handsome Master happily as Skinner put the car into gear and pulled back onto the road.


“Love ya,” Mulder murmured, unembarrassed by the admission, and full of admiration for the way his Master always seemed to know, unerringly, how to handle his wayward slave.


“I love you too.” Skinner glanced at him, with a smile curving his full, kissable lips. “And so,” he added firmly, “will Tabi.” > 


“Tell me more about your sister,” Mulder requested as they drove. Skinner gave a thoughtful little smile.


“She’s…different. Always was, always will be. She doesn’t fit in…she’s her own person. I guess that’s why we get along so well. She’s a lot younger than me as well which helped I think. There’s only four years between Brian and myself but I was 13 when Tabi came along and…well, I suspect she wasn’t planned, although my folks never said as much. Tabi kept me sane when I got back from ‘Nam. I used to sit in my bed in the family room – I couldn’t walk well enough to make it upstairs to my bedroom – and Tabi used to sit on my bed with her colouring book. She’d make up all these stories about the people she was drawing to keep me amused.”


“What about later? When she was older? You’ve never mentioned her until recently so I’m assuming you’re not close.”


“It’s not that – we’re both just busy, that’s all. Tabi travels a lot.” Skinner shrugged. “And I have the Bureau – and you.” He grinned. “Both of which take up a lot of my time.”


“Will your folks be upset that you aren’t spending Thanksgiving with them?” Mulder asked cautiously. From the few things Skinner had said, he sensed relations between his Master and his parents were strained.


“I have no idea – they haven’t invited me to Thanksgiving since Sharon died.” Skinner shrugged but Mulder picked up on the slight sense of dejection in his body language.


“Walter?” He prompted softly.


Skinner took a deep breath. Mulder knew that his Master wasn’t comfortable talking about himself – most of their most intimate conversations had taken place after a severe whipping had put Skinner in a state of mind in which he found it easier to talk about his most personal experiences and feelings – but Skinner demanded no less than total honesty from his slave and wasn’t any kind of hypocrite. He might have found it hard but he did his best to share his thoughts and feelings.


“Being with Andrew…well, he wasn’t the kind of man who could live with deception. He knew it wouldn’t be easy for me but living a lie is even harder. He didn’t insist I had to tell my family about our relationship but I knew that it was something I should do all the same.” Skinner gazed moodily out of the window.


“I guess it was a shock to them. Their big, ex-marine son. Their Vietnam vet. And you’d been married, had this high powered job in DC – I expect finding out about your sexuality was the last thing they expected,” Mulder commented. Skinner smiled at him gratefully.


“Yeah,” he grunted. “You could say that. My father…I think he took enormous pleasure in finding the news offensive. It was as if it was the chink in my armour that he’d always been looking for. Finally, he had something he could fail me on. Something legitimate, something that made me less than him despite the important career, the Vietnam medals – despite all that. I was, at the end of the day, just a fag, regardless of the fact that I had a long and happy marriage with Sharon, which I guess makes me bisexual – although that kind of differentiation is lost on my father and I’m not sure it matters anyway. He couldn’t see beyond the ‘fag’ label and that’s his loss.” Skinner shrugged, and Mulder reached over and placed his hand on his Master’s neck. He rubbed gently, easing the tension there.


“His loss,” Mulder commented. “I’m lucky I never had to come out to my father. Mind you, he was predisposed to disapprove of me anyway, so I’m sure he’d have just grunted and taken it all in his stride as yet one more example of how incredibly disappointing I was to him. What about…?” He paused.


“The BDSM stuff? Christ, I never even got into that with them!” Skinner shook his head. “I figured that was really nobody’s business but my own anyway. Tabi was the only one who didn’t make me feel as if I was letting the whole family down – and she was the only one who asked to meet Andrew. They got on well – but then it was impossible not to like Andrew.” Skinner glanced at Mulder who felt his sense of inadequacy surfacing again at that comment. He was no Andrew Linker. He didn’t possess the kind of effortless charm that had made Andrew a man about whom nobody ever had a bad word to say. “He was like you in that respect,” Skinner commented softly. Mulder shook his head, but he couldn’t help smiling anyway – his Master saw things in him that he wasn’t so sure existed but he was glad that Skinner had such a high opinion of him. “She’s a good person,” Skinner continued. “I don’t think she has a judgemental bone in her body. She just wants me to be happy and I want the same for her.” Skinner turned his head and kissed Mulder’s fingers where they rested on his shoulder.


“She sounds great. I can’t wait to meet her.” Mulder was surprised to find that was nothing less than the truth.



The discussion, combined with the after-effects of the impromptu roadside spanking calmed Mulder to the point where he was able to fall asleep. He woke in surprise an hour later as his Master pulled up outside a large old building.


“Wake up, sleepyhead,” Skinner said, tousling his slave’s hair affectionately.


“We here?” Mulder gazed around blearily, confused.


“Yes.” Skinner made no move to get out of the car. He just sat there, watching, as Mulder roused himself. “You okay, Fox?” He inquired gently. “Ready to go in?”


“Yes. I’m looking forward to it.” Mulder nodded. Skinner’s sister was the only member of his Master’s family who had stood by Skinner during the darkest days of his life. Whether she liked him or not, he was sure, from all that he’d heard, that he would like her.


Mulder retrieved their overnight bag from the trunk of the car, and then they headed up the steps of the large building. Skinner pushed the entryphone button and a few seconds later the door swung open. Skinner trotted up two flights of stairs, Mulder in tow, and they stopped outside a red door at the end of a long corridor. Skinner paused outside, and looked at his slave questioningly. Mulder took a deep breath, and then nodded. Skinner smiled, and knocked on the door.


“Hang on!” A female voice inside yelled. “I’m coming!”


Mulder exchanged a glance with his Master, and found the other man grinning.


“Tabi,” Skinner mouthed. Mulder rolled his eyes.


“I’d never have guessed,” he murmured. That earned him a none-too-serious swat from his Master. There was a sound akin to a miniature herd of elephants galloping across a hard wooden floor, and then the door was opened, and a second later something was flinging itself at his Master.


“I knew you’d be exactly on time to the minute! I knew it! What is wrong with you, Walter? Why are you so punctual? It isn’t natural,” the whirlwind protested, fastening itself around Skinner’s neck, a mass of dark curls and bright blue sweater. Skinner gave a delighted laugh and spun his little sister around. Mulder watched, pensively, feeling suddenly detached from the family reunion. He wondered what it would be like to have a grown-up sister like this one – someone who invited him to Thanksgiving, and was open-minded enough to meet his male partner. It wasn’t something he’d ever experience and that saddened him. What would Samantha have been like, he wondered? Would she have been accepting, like Tabi, or would she have been stiff, formal, and withdrawn? He was suddenly aware of a pair of bright, dark eyes gazing at him speculatively.


“And you must be the stray. Walter said he’d adopted a stray. I was expecting some gangling grad student, but you’re a man!” Tabi said, with a refreshing honesty. “God, you’re probably older than me – and you look able to handle yourself. Not a stray at all.”


She disentangled herself from Skinner and then took Mulder completely by surprise by throwing herself enthusiastically at him. Her arms went around him and she squeezed and kissed his cheek. He was so dumbfounded that he didn’t even move. Nobody but his Master ever hugged him with this degree of enthusiasm – not even Scully. People rarely hugged him at all – a fact for which he had always been profoundly grateful until now. Tabi’s hug was nice – welcoming, and affectionate. “Oh god!” Tabi said, as she took a step back from him. “You’re an FBI agent too, aren’t you?”


“How did you know?” Mulder glanced at his Master in surprise. Skinner shrugged so he clearly hadn’t told her that much about Mulder.


“The gun.” Tabi patted his hip with a grimace. “Walter always carries one, although exactly what kind of desperate criminal he expects to uncover in my apartment is anyone’s guess.” She gave her brother a wicked smile, and then opened the door so they could step out of the gloomy hallway. It was only when they walked into the brightly lit apartment that Mulder got a good glimpse of Skinner’s little sister. She wasn’t what he’d expected – although he had no idea exactly what he had expected, just that it wasn’t this. He supposed that in his mind’s eye he’d had a vision of a female version of Skinner; slim, tall, self-assured, restrained…his mental image had faltered at the idea of assigning her hair, but this creature had masses of it, tumbling from her head in unruly dark brown curls. She wasn’t slim, or particularly tall. She was of no more than average height, and quite plump, with a homely looking face rather than a beautiful one. Her inner beauty shone through though, in her laughing brown eyes, and the most amazingly deep dimples that lit up her whole face whenever she smiled, which was frequently. Mulder gazed at her, transfixed.


“Fox, this is Tabi. Tabi – this is my…” Skinner paused and then smiled, “partner, Fox,” he finished, although Mulder had the distinct impression that he could have introduced Mulder as his slave and Tabi wouldn’t have batted an eyelid.


“So you’re the famous Fox.” She smiled at him, and those dimples made another appearance. Mulder put his head on one side, and grinned back at her, fascinated by her. “I knew it had to be someone fairly special for him to bring to Thanksgiving – and to explain why he’s been so quiet recently. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Fox. What an unusual name. Is there a story behind it? I love hearing people’s stories! Shit, I’m talking too much, aren’t I? I always do when I’m nervous.”


“You’re nervous of me?” Mulder laughed out loud. “Oh thank god, because I was so scared of meeting you that Walter had to ‘talk’ some sense into me on the way over here.” He shot his Master a knowing look and Skinner grinned at him.


“Well, Walter’s very good at talking sense. He was born sensible. It’s very sad.” She fixed her brother with a disapproving glare.


“It is,” Mulder agreed. “Very sad.” He sighed theatrically and then joined Tabi in a fit of giggles. He couldn’t help it – her laugh was infectious. Skinner shook his head wryly, but was clearly delighted that his sister and his slave were getting along so well.


“I’m dying to get to know you, Fox,” Tabi said, drawing them both into the living room. “It’ll be cool having someone to tease Walter with. It’s a hard job, but someone has to do it after all,” she grinned.


“Uh, I don’t have to be teased,” Skinner remonstrated, shooting his slave a stern look.


“Yes you do, big brother.” Tabi patted her brother affectionately on the cheek. “Your family and friends are the only people who know you outside that big, high-powered job you do. All you get there is ‘yes, sir’, and ‘no, sir’. You need us to bring you back down to reality, doesn’t he, Fox?”


Mulder almost choked. “Well, all he gets at home is ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no, sir’ as well,” he winked. “I think he must like it that way,” he told Tabi in a conspiratorial tone. She gave a delighted gurgle and they basked for a moment in their little mutual admiration society. Mulder dared a sideways glance at his Master. He might pay for it later when they were alone in their room, but somehow he thought that in the company of Skinner’s little sister he was going to have some fun teasing his Master without mercy. Judging by the benign look on Skinner’s face, this wasn’t a state of affairs he was too unhappy about. He looked delighted that Mulder and Tabi were clearly going to be friends, and they all relaxed accordingly.



Tabi’s apartment was something of an endearing mess. She showed Mulder and his Master to their room, which, Mulder was somewhat chagrined to find, was next to her own bedroom, then left them to go and check on the meal she was cooking.


“How thin d’you think the walls are?” Mulder whispered to his Master when they were alone, crawling onto the bed and placing his ear to the wall.


“Thick enough for us not to have to whisper,” Skinner told him in a normal tone, an amused smile on his face.


“It wasn’t talking I was worried about.” Mulder made a face at his Master. “I know what you said in the car but I don’t want your sister…I don’t want her hearing anything,” he muttered, flushing a bright red. “Perhaps we shouldn’t…”


“Fox.” Skinner placed their overnight bag on the bed. “I’m going to ride you to within an inch of your life tonight. Get used to the idea. Now, unpack the bag while I go and see my little sister.”



Mulder gazed after his Master’s disappearing back glumly. He was always uncomfortable at the thought of their intimacy being witnessed in any way – scene parties were fine, because they were for people who understood, but he could still remember his acute discomfort when he had first met Donald and Elliot. He just didn’t like the idea of people outside the lifestyle knowing about their Master/slave relationship. He still had a fear of being judged, or maybe looked down on, for his sexual preference. His experiences with Krycek hadn’t helped in that respect. His old enemy hadn’t wasted one opportunity to sneer at Mulder for his submission, and that had rankled beyond endurance with Mulder. He didn’t feel submissive towards anyone but Skinner. On the contrary – with just about everyone else he felt antagonistic and constantly prepared to do battle, partly because of the continual hostility he had encountered during his tenure on the X Files, and partly also because of a residual, defensive prickliness that his childhood had left him with. Only Skinner knew how to tame him – and Skinner was the only person he was prepared to be tamed by. With everyone else he was as wild and uncontrollable as he had always been. If they knew that he was prepared to act as another man’s slave, to wait on him, serve him, offer up his body to him…  


Mulder began unpacking their overnight bag, pondering the issue. He was proud of his slavery, but that didn’t mean he wanted to share the details with anyone outside the lifestyle – and certainly not with Skinner’s sister. He wasn’t sure why that thought bothered him particularly, but it did. Mulder took a deep breath. His Master had left the door open and he could smell the scent of something delicious cooking, and could hear the low rumble of his Master’s voice, punctuated every now and again by Tabi’s warm laugh. Mulder pulled his Master’s favourite black shirt out of the bag and inhaled the scent of it deeply. The smell of his Master’s pheromones always calmed him, and the residual Eau De Skinner clinging to the shirt was enough to distract him. He put the shirt on a hanger and then unpacked his Master’s chinos and hung those up too. He made sure his Master’s clothing was lovingly unpacked before hastily seeing to his own clothes, and then, with another deep breath, he followed his Master into the kitchen.  


Mulder found it so easy talking to Tabi that he seriously wondered whether he might have known her in a previous life. It was as if they’d known each other for years and Skinner hardly got a word in edgeways as his sister and his slave talked non-stop about just about everything over a splendid dinner of roast turkey, accompanied by so many different kinds of vegetable dishes that Mulder thought his stomach would explode but it was all too delicious not to indulge to the full. He chatted to Skinner’s sister animatedly over their long, leisurely dinner – cramming in conversation between mouthfuls of sweet potatoes, succotash, green bean casserole and some special kind of Russian salad that was, apparently, an old Skinner family recipe. Tabi took a keen interest in UFOs and other related paranormal phenomenon – Mulder was surprised at her depth of knowledge on the subject and she was clearly delighted by his.


“So how come you know all this stuff?” He asked her in awe when they both stopped for breath.


“I researched it once for a children’s book I was working on,” she grinned. “And I found it fascinating. 99% of it is crap in my view, but there were just a few cases that I could find no explanation for – they fascinated me.”


“Oh I agree.” Mulder nodded his head, animated. “So many cases aren’t even worth investigating. I can take one look at a photo and judge whether it’s been faked in most cases. So you write children’s books?”


“Factual ones, yes.” Tabi grinned. “Walter says it’s because I’ve never grown up but then I don’t think big brothers ever think of their little sisters as having grown up, do they?” She grinned at Skinner and he leaned over and flicked some hair away from her face affectionately, a fond smile on his face.


“I don’t know.” Mulder shrugged, feeling his mood change. A silence fell on the room. Skinner shot a concerned glance at his slave. “I had a little sister…she was abducted when she was 8 years old. We never knew what happened to her,” Mulder said softly. “I’m still looking for her… Walter’s the only reason why I haven’t thrown my life away in the search. So, maybe it’s not that they can’t let you grow up…maybe it’s just that big brothers can never let go of that protective thing they have for their kid sisters.” He played with the threads on the table cloth for a moment, his long fingers worrying at them and was surprised a few seconds later when a tanned, dimpled hand descended on his own.


“Fox, I’m sorry. I had no idea. What a terrible thing to have happened,” she said and he looked up into her warm, sympathetic brown eyes. “I might grumble about big brother here,” Tabi continued, glancing at Skinner, “but I wouldn’t be without him for the world. I am so sorry for your loss.”


“Thank you.” He squeezed her fingers. “I wouldn’t be without your brother for the world either,” he added softly, with a glance at Skinner. His Master gave a small, heartfelt smile, then leaned forward and kissed his slave on the forehead.


“It hasn’t always been easy reaching this point, but I’m glad that you were able to turn away in time, before it went too far, before you got yourself killed,” Skinner murmured and Mulder knew from the look in his Master’s eyes that they were both thinking of Krycek, and how he had so recently tried to lure Mulder away using Samantha as bait – and how Mulder had finally found the strength to say ‘no’.


“You always understood – even before we became involved. I don’t think I ever realised that. Now I’ve met Tabi it’s much clearer to me,” Mulder said, gazing at his Master with a new understanding, meeting those brown eyes and finding in them a dark knowledge and sense of empathy.


“If anything ever happened to Tabi I would go to the ends of the earth to find her,” Skinner said simply, with a shrug, his eyes never leaving those of his slave. “I’ve always understood what drives you, Fox. Always.” His voice was firm and his expression unwavering and Mulder realised that just when he thought he knew everything there was to know about his Master, he uncovered more layers to this complex, intensely private man. It was almost as if something had clicked into place, and yet another significant connection had been made between them – this one transcending sex, or their roles, and reaching right to the core of what attracted them to each other. Yes, of course his Master understood his quest – Mulder had always, on some level, been aware of that – but he hadn’t fathomed the depth of that understanding until today. For a moment they weren’t Master and slave, or boss and subordinate – they were simply older brothers with sisters they loved very much.  


“I’ve already got two big brothers but you know there’s always room for another one,” Tabi said softly, gazing at Mulder thoughtfully. “The two I’ve got are very serious and grown up. I think you would make a very amusing brother, Fox.”


Mulder grinned at her. “You should watch out – I’m a teasing, tickling, braid-tugging kind of big brother, Tabi.”


Tabi grinned back and shot a glance at Skinner who was watching them both with a very happy expression on his face.


“Oh, I’m more than used to that kind of brother,” she laughed. “I should warn you that I give as good as I get though as Walter will testify!”


“I sure can!” Skinner said in a heartfelt tone and they all laughed out loud, their earlier serious mood was broken. As Mulder got up to help Tabi bring in the coffee, Skinner caught his hand and bestowed a fond kiss on it, and Mulder in turn dropped a kiss on his Master’s naked scalp. Something good had just happened here; something very good indeed.




Mulder joked around in the kitchen with Tabi as they made the coffee, and then they returned with it to the table where Skinner was busy clearing away the remains of their huge Thanksgiving meal.


“So, what’s Tabi short for?” Mulder asked conversationally as he put the cups on the table.


“Tabitha,” Tabi plonked the coffee pot down on a mat beside the cups.


“Nice name,” Mulder commented.


“Oh god it’s not my real name!” Tabi laughed. “It’s a pet name Walter and Brian dreamed up for me.”


Mulder was aware of Skinner suddenly stiffening, and glanced at him in surprise as Tabi carried on chatting away blithely, unaware of the sudden tension in the room.


“My mother was a great fan of that show, Bewitched which she watched avidly when she was expecting me, so she named me Samantha after the witch, but Walter said I was just a baby so I should have been named after Samantha’s little girl, Tabitha – and hence I ended up with this ridiculous nickname!”


“Your name is Samantha?” Mulder stood there for a moment, and felt his universe rearranging itself around him as he processed this new information. He glanced at his Master who looked concerned.


“Sorry, I should have told you – I just forgot to be honest. We never call her that,” Skinner told him in hurried tones.


“What’s the problem?” Tabi looked from one to the other of them, her expression confused.


“My sister was called Samantha,” Mulder said softly.


“Oh. I see.” Tabi made a little face. “I guess it was a pretty common name in the mid-sixties.”


“Excuse me. I need to…use the bathroom,” Mulder muttered, and then he turned on his heel and fled along the corridor. He splashed his face with cool water and gazed at himself in the bathroom mirror. He was so many things – FBI agent, son, slave, and the grieving brother who had never been able to let his sister go. Now…he wasn’t sure he understood it, but in some way this day was a rite of passage. He had become a brother again, and while he hadn’t found the sister he had sought for so long, he had found someone else, another Samantha, not to take the place of the one he’d lost but maybe to occupy the little corner of his heart that had been frozen in time for far too long. It felt too profound a moment for him to comprehend and he stood, gazing at himself in the mirror for a long while, not, at this moment in time a son, or a slave, or an agent, but a brother again.


“Fox.” He heard a tap on the door and then Skinner opened it, and stepped inside, closing it behind him. “Are you all right, sweetheart?” Skinner asked softly. Mulder turned to face the other man.


“Walter…I…” Mulder shook his head, uncertain what he was feeling right now as he faced the man who was his Master but who, more importantly right now, was also his lover and closest friend.


“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that to be such a shock…I had no idea this trip would bring up these kind of issues. I should have thought of it and warned you. Forgive me.” Skinner looked wretched. He crossed over to his slave, and put his hands on Mulder’s shoulders. Mulder gazed at him steadily.


“Walter it isn’t a problem. I just needed a few moments to…deal with it. It brought up some emotions I hadn’t expected,” Mulder explained. He shifted forward and settled himself easily into his lover’s arms, which closed around him gently, clasping him close. And for a moment lovers were exactly what they were. Walter and Fox, not Master and slave, and, for the first time since his slavery had begun, Mulder saw a whole world beyond it, a world he had barely begun to explore, but one which he longed to. Mulder stayed there for a long time, his head resting on his lover’s broad shoulder, swaying a little as he mentally came to terms with these new roles: Brother and lover.


“What are you thinking?” Skinner asked, his big hands still caressing his lover’s back. Mulder sighed and burrowed in closer. These hands that could spank so hard and deliver such delicious torments to his body could also be so gentle, comforting and reassuring.


“That it feels almost as if…having given up everything to become your slave, having given up on a ‘normal’ relationship whatever that may be, and having given up on searching for Samantha as if my own life didn’t matter, that somehow, through that act of giving everything up, everything I ever wanted has been given to me. I don’t understand it. Kind of like those people who find love only when they stop looking. I know she’s your Sam, not mine, but…I may never find my own sister…and…” Mulder ran out of words, blinded suddenly by tears. Skinner hugged him close and kissed his head and they stood there, sharing a very important moment.  


Finally Skinner released him. “I’m going to make some phone calls to the office from the bedroom. Why don’t you go and spend some time with Tabi alone? I think she’s wondering what’s happening right now.”


Mulder smiled at the other man, and nodded. As always, Skinner seemed to instinctively know the right thing to do. Although he must be dying to catch up with his sister’s news, he was more concerned that his lover got to know her, and began to forge a relationship of his own with her.


“That sounds good. Thank you,” he said. Skinner nodded and walked towards the door.


“Walter,” Mulder called him back. Skinner turned, one eyebrow raised questioningly. “For all of it,” Mulder added. “Thank you for everything. For sticking with me even when I was unbearable, especially during those first few days of my slavery when I was all over the place, and for later, when I screwed up so badly in LA and then again in Seattle. And thank you for taking me as your slave in the first place. If you’d just taken me as your sub then I’d have run the moment you got too close. This way I didn’t have a choice – so I couldn’t sabotage it for myself. Thank you for all those things. I’m not sure I’ve ever said it before, maybe I have in bits and pieces but it bears saying again. Thank you – for being my Master and my lover. I think that now, more than ever before, I can see a way to be both slave and lover to you in return.”


The expression on Skinner’s face took Mulder completely by surprise. The big man closed his eyes for a moment, and sighed – a sigh that reminded Mulder of that first long sigh he had overheard in that room nearly a year ago, the sigh that had signalled that Skinner was prepared to take him as his slave. When Skinner opened his eyes again there was an expression of profound contentment in them.


“You already started on that journey awhile ago, Fox,” Skinner told him softly. “What you did for me a few weeks ago, after that crap with Krycek, that wasn’t something I ordered you to do. You stepped up the plate when I needed you most, and took some of the weight from me. You saw beyond the roles then, and you glimpsed it many times before that.”


“Yes.” Mulder nodded. “I just didn’t see it clearly until today. You’ve waited a long time for me to see this particular truth. You must curse me sometimes – always pursuing the truth that’s ‘out there’ and ignoring the one under my nose.”


Skinner chuckled. “The journey has been a long one,” he admitted, “but I don’t regret one single second of it.”


“Come here,” Mulder ordered, and Skinner came, without argument or question, into Mulder’s outstretched arms. Mulder kissed his lover soundly on the lips, and then released him. Skinner looked down on him with a tender expression in his dark eyes.


“We’re not quite there yet, Fox, but we’re very close now.”


“You have to brand me, Walter,” Mulder said firmly. “I know we talked about it happening over Christmas but we haven’t discussed it since we agreed on that and I can’t wait any longer. It’s time.”


“I know. We’ll make the arrangements as soon as we get home,” Skinner promised. Mulder smiled. It was definitely time.




When he returned to the living room, Tabi was sitting on the couch, her legs curled up beneath her, sipping her coffee as she stared out of the window. She looked up when she saw him, her expression uncertain, and he tugged her curly hair slyly and grinned at her broadly.


“Hey, sis,” he said. “What’s up?”


Her face broke into a wide grin and she patted the couch beside her. “Come and sit with me, Fox,” she said. “We have so many years to catch up on.”


Mulder sat down eagerly beside her and they started to talk, like old friends, or like siblings catching up after a long absence, with perfect ease, as if they’d known each other for years. Mulder relaxed back into the couch, utterly contented, drinking in the sight of her dark eyes, and her animated expressions as she talked. He hadn’t found what he’d lost, but, after all these years, he had finally found a sister.




It was late by the time Mulder and Tabi finally took themselves off to bed. Mulder planted an affectionate kiss on his sister’s cheek and then walked into the bedroom he was sharing with his Master. Skinner was sitting on the bed, reading a book. He glanced up when his slave came in and smiled.


“It’s late – so I’m presuming you two had a lot to talk about,” he commented.


“Yeah – it’s so weird. I feel like I’ve known her all my life. Maybe because she’s so much like you in some ways,” Mulder said.


“She is?” Skinner folded his glasses and closed the book he’d been reading.


“Yes – she works like crazy for a start, and she knows all kinds of stuff that you wouldn’t expect her to know.”


“Perhaps that’s because of her job. She has to research some quite varied subjects I believe,” Skinner said. “I was just reading one of her books.” He held up the book that had been perched on his knees. “She has a whole pile of them on a shelf over there.” He pointed. Mulder wandered over and looked at the array of books – they were factual children’s books, with a variety of interesting titles. He stared at the name on the spines, unsurprised to find that she used her real name on her work, and not the family nickname. “Samantha Skinner,” he murmured, tracing his finger over the name. “Kind’a catchy.”


“I think that’s partly why Mom chose it,” Skinner said with a nod. “I’m glad you like her, Fox.”


“I do. I’m more glad that she seems to like me though.” Mulder grinned. “I’m sorry – I hope you weren’t bored in here on your own.”


“Not at all.” Skinner grinned. “It gave me some time to contemplate what I plan on doing to my slave tonight.”


Mulder flushed – he had forgotten his Master’s promise to use him but his cock told him in no uncertain terms that he liked the idea, even while his brain was already shrivelling up in embarrassment at the idea of his Master making love to his slave with Tabi in a room just down the hall. “Don’t worry – we won’t be making any noise, and even if we did I’m sure Tabi would take it in her stride,” Skinner grinned. “I thought this would be a good opportunity to put you into some voluntary bondage, boy.”


“Bondage, Master?” Mulder frowned. “We didn’t bring any equipment.”


“I know. We don’t need any. That’s why it’s ‘voluntary’,” Skinner chuckled. “Go and clean up and brush your teeth, slave, and then get your ass back in here. I want to ride it hard tonight.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder nodded, his excitement rising. He used the bathroom quickly and then went back into the bedroom. His Master was already undressed, and wearing his dressing gown.


“Take off your clothes, Fox, and lie on the bed, on your back,” Skinner instructed.


Mulder did as he was told, shaking slightly from excitement. He crawled onto the bed and lay down, then waited for his Master to come to him.


“All right, boy – your slavery goes beyond physical bond. My orders are your bond,” Skinner hissed, trailing a finger over his slave’s naked body. Mulder moaned and Skinner placed the finger over his lips. “I want you to imagine that I’ve gagged you,” he said. “You can’t speak, you can’t moan – you can’t make any sound at all. It’s physically impossible for you to do so. You have a huge gag wedged in your mouth and you can’t so much as squeak around it. Understood?”


Mulder gazed at his Master, wide-eyed, wondering if he was going to be able to manage to do as commanded. He found his answer in Skinner’s dark, uncompromising eyes. He would obey because his Master was expecting him to do so, however hard it might be. His Master wanted to use him without disturbing their hostess, and his Master should be able to use his slave whenever he wanted, however he wanted. Mulder nodded and closed his mouth firmly. Skinner smiled down on him.


“Good boy. Now, I want you to imagine that you’re tied in the tightest bondage. I’m going to attach your wrists to the bedposts.” Skinner raised first one of Mulder’s arms and then the other so that they positioned over his head, and Mulder stretched them out taut, imagining how they would feel if they really were tied.


“Relax – you might have to keep this position for some time,” Skinner warned. “Now your legs.” He spread Mulder’s legs wide as if they were being attached as well and Mulder’s cock leapt to attention as he realised how open he was for his Master’s use. “Good boy. Being a slave is an attitude of mind as much as anything else. It isn’t about the equipment – the implements, the ropes and chains,” Skinner told him, running that teasing finger over his slave’s body as he spoke. “It’s about what goes on in here.” He tapped Mulder’s head gently. “Your slavery begins and ends here, Fox, and you’re going to demonstrate to me tonight how well you understand that. You’re tied and gagged, subject to your Master’s whim. You’re an offering, a slave belonging to your Master who can use you as he pleases – hard…” Skinner slowly pinched one of Mulder’s nipples between his thumb and forefinger with increasing pressure until Mulder bucked up beneath the hard caress, although he kept his arms and legs in place, as ordered, and didn’t make a sound. “Or soft…” Skinner continued, releasing his grasp on Mulder’s nipple and bending to kiss the pinched flesh softly. He enveloped the abused nub in his warm, wet mouth and gently tongued it, until Mulder began to bliss out on a haze of pleasure.


“Good boy,” Skinner murmured, his hands moving over Mulder’s body like a maestro playing with a familiar, favourite instrument. Mulder concentrated hard on keeping his arms where his Master had placed them and his legs wide open, his ass available for whenever his Master should wish to take him. Skinner dropped his head down towards Mulder’s body and sucked and played in earnest, pausing to render a loving bite to his slave’s body at intervals, making Mulder squirm and long to cry out but, mindful of the mental gag in place, he remained utterly silent.


“My beautiful slave. I love your body when it moves and writhes beneath me,” Skinner whispered, “but I love it like this, utterly still, as well. I love your obedience. It turns me on, slave.”


He opened his dressing gown to reveal his large erection. Mulder swallowed hard. He longed to take his Master in his mouth or to touch that magnificent cock with his hands but that was denied him, so he feasted on the sight of it instead.  


Skinner shrugged his gown away from his shoulders and returned to his task. He trailed one fingernail down Mulder’s body, pressing just too hard to be comfortable but not so hard as to be painful. Mulder clenched his teeth together, bearing the torment, enjoying the torment, loving his own submission. He heard his Master reach for something on the nightstand and wondered what he was looking for, and then a moment later he found out as something rough began to scrape its way along his chest. He looked down, startled, to find that his Master was rubbing a nail file over his chest – just lightly, but it was an interesting sensation. The file moved inexorably towards his nipples and Mulder couldn’t stop the slight moan of anticipation. Skinner tapped him sharply and he nodded, and closed his eyes, as if that would block out what he knew must be coming next. Sure enough, a few seconds later he felt the sensitive flesh of his nipples being rubbed by the file – just lightly, not enough to hurt, but enough to make itself felt. Mulder was sweating now, and he pulled on his imaginary cuffs, needing there to be something that would make him endure this without moving or putting up some resistance, but there was only his Master’s command. Mulder hoped it would be enough because he was sure that Skinner was going to test him to the edge of his resistance this evening. Skinner took hold of his left nipple and ran the nail file more firmly over the tender surface. This time it did hurt – it wasn’t a sharp pain but it was a rough one, and his nipples had already been sensitised by Skinner’s earlier pinching and sucking on them. Mulder desperately wanted to put up his hands, to push his Master away, to bring the torment to an end.


“These are so sensitive aren’t they?” Skinner murmured. “Even before we pierced them they were sensitive but now they’re even more so. Hmmm?” Mulder knew he wasn’t expected to reply but he opened his eyes to find Skinner totally engrossed in his task, his head bent as he busied himself with his slave’s body, his eyes alight with enjoyment of his play. Mulder put his head back, utterly turned on by the expression in his Master’s eyes. “Shall we go harder?” Skinner asked, in a husky, sexy whisper. “Hold on, slave, let’s really torment these.” And so saying he took one of the nipples in his mouth at the same time as he continued to rub the nail file over the surface of the other one. Mulder stiffened and bucked up into his Master’s painful embrace, loving it, hating it, and needing it, at one and the same time. Skinner swapped sides, and sucked hard on the other nipple while using the nail file on its twin and it was all Mulder could do not to cry out. He twisted, but his arms never moved from the position in which they had been placed, and he kept his legs wide open, his body ever ready for his Master’s use. “Beautiful,” Skinner murmured. “You know, one day, slave, when we’re home and have plenty of time, I’ll take several hours to torture these nipples. I have lots of interesting implements to use on them – I’ll devote a whole session to them. By the end you’ll be begging me to stop but I’ll continue despite your pleas until you think you can’t bear one more sensation. I’ll use ice and heat, and clamps and weights.” He squeezed Mulder’s right nipple with one hand while he spoke and continued rubbing the nail file over the other one at the same time. Mulder thought he would expire from the dual sensations. “I think I’d enjoy that, slave,” Skinner whispered, releasing both nipples and calming them with gentle lapping of his expert tongue. Mulder couldn’t help himself – he whimpered, and Skinner slapped his thigh. “Quiet, boy…remember that your body is an offering to your Master, that you are tied and gagged, and cannot resist your Master’s attentions, however cruel they might be.”


Skinner grinned and pinched hard on the already sore nipples. It took all Mulder’s strength of will and devotion to his Master’s orders not to cry out.


“Good boy,” Skinner said, releasing him. He kissed Mulder’s forehead gently. “That’s very good. You’re doing very well,” he said. Mulder felt his cock start to leak. This situation was so hot! His Master grinned down at him. “I think it’s time I put you out of your misery,” he said. “Hold tight, boy. I’m going to undo your legs but your arms will remain tied.” He knelt between Mulder’s spread legs and parted his buttocks and then carefully, slowly, inserted his cock, nudging it in, inch by inch, until Mulder’s ass was fully distended. Then he leaned forward, and, resting his weight on his forearms, lowered his head to suck on Mulder’s abused nipples once more. Mulder wanted to scream – his nipples were now so sensitised that the lightest touch felt like too much, and the sensation of his Master’s massive cock fully lodged in his opening, filling him to the brim, added to the sensory overload. He longed to scream and wrap his arms around his Master, but he could do none of those things so instead he lay there, his arms above his head, his legs open wide, as Skinner claimed him with his tongue and with his cock. Finally his Master released his nipples and began slowly pounding in and out of his slave’s body. He went so slowly that Mulder thought he’d expire, feeling every single inch as it entered him and then slid out again. He looked up to find his Master gazing down on him, a fond expression on his face.


“Beautiful slave…take me…that’s it,” Skinner whispered, shifting his hips for another slow, lazy thrust. Mulder was sure that if Skinner didn’t move the action up a gear soon that he’d have to open his mouth and yell. He couldn’t bear the sensations – he was minutely aware of even the tiniest movement. His voluntary bondage seemed to have made him more aware of every single nerve ending in his body and he was sure he could feel the message of each one individually.  


Skinner slowed again, and came to rest once more on his slave’s chest. This time, when his mouth closed over his slave’s right nipple, he used his teeth, biting until Mulder bucked against him, although still Mulder remained in position, arms above his head, mouth closed, even though his legs were flailing like crazy. Skinner grinned a totally evil grin and transferred his attention to Mulder’s other nipple, biting down even harder, his hard cock still lodged deep within his slave’s body. Mulder gave a small, inarticulate cry, but Skinner didn’t release him; it was as if he was glued to his slave’s body and he wouldn’t release the tortured nub of flesh between his teeth until he was good and ready. They were frozen like that for what seemed like an eternity, neither of them moving or speaking, bodies pressed so closely together that they were one, Skinner’s cock embedded in Mulder’s anus up to the hilt, and Mulder’s tortured nipple inside Skinner’s mouth. Then suddenly it was over. Skinner released him and, although he was relieved to be rid of the feeling of his Master’s teeth on his sore nipple, Mulder also missed that warm, tormenting mouth, and perversely longed for it to return. Skinner didn’t disappoint him. A few more languid thrusts and he returned his attention once more to Mulder’s nipples, biting down on the right one this time, and Mulder bore it as he had before, never breaking in his determination to remain in the position in which his Master had ‘tied’ him, to offer up his body for his Master’s pleasure, however harsh that pleasure might be.  


Finally Skinner released him, and began thrusting with more purpose. Mulder gazed, transfixed as always at his powerful Master as he entered him over and over again, faster and faster, his arm and shoulder muscles bulging as he neared his climax, his dark eyes alight with arousal and love for his slave who was demonstrating his devotion in the only way possible to him – with his obedience. Skinner came with a gasp, and rested his head on Mulder’s chest. “You’re still tied, little one,” he said huskily. Mulder nodded, longing to caress his Master’s back. Skinner withdrew from his slave’s body and, dropping his head, took Mulder’s cock in his mouth in one swallow. Mulder almost shouted in surprise and pleasure, and only just managed to keep from making a noise, and Skinner rewarded him by sucking him at length, before finally allowing him to come in his mouth. His Master swallowed and then slid up his slave’s body and reached for his arms.


“I’m untying you, Fox,” he whispered. “You’ve behaved excellently, little one. I’m very proud of you.”


He moved Mulder’s arms back down and dropped his mouth to Mulder’s lips, his deep, searching kiss ending the pretence of the gag. Mulder sighed and opened up, his arms finally going around his Master’s big body, holding him close. Skinner released his slave and looked down on him with a grin.


“See – we barely made any noise at all,” he said. “Nobody heard us.”


“No, Master,” Mulder said dreamily. “Shit that was hard,” he murmured, as Skinner flopped down beside him and pulled the sheets over them both.


“I know – but you did very well.” Skinner wrapped his arms around his slave and held him close to his chest. They lay there sleepily for a while, and then Skinner gently touched his slave’s nipples. “How are these?” He asked.


“Sore, Master!” Mulder retorted in a heartfelt tone. Skinner chuckled.


“It was so good playing with them while you couldn’t move,” he murmured, and Mulder grinned. He loved knowing that their sex life turned his Master on just as much as it turned him on. They were silent, both of them dozing towards sleep, and then Mulder spoke again.


“Master…did you mean what you said…about having a session in the Playroom just playing with my nipples?” He asked. Skinner kissed the back of his neck.


“I’d enjoy that – it’s pretty close to edge play for you though. It isn’t easy dealing with that much attention to just one area of your body for such a long time. I’d make sure you got some breaks but even so…it’s a real endurance test. You might find that a turn on – by the end you’ll probably be screaming for me to stop but you’d come harder than usual. Would you like to try it, Fox?” he asked.


Mulder shuddered, his sore nipples protesting at the very thought of it – and yet, as with all demonstrations of his Master’s power over him, when it was extreme and took him to the very limits of his endurance he found a massive sexual energy in it.


“I don’t know,” he murmured. “Nipple play is so like walking a tightrope between pain and pleasure.”


“You do have very sensitive nipples – that helps,” Skinner chuckled. “And I enjoy watching your reaction to having them played with…I know you like being taken close to the edge and brought back again and this is a good way of doing it. Think about it. We could do it one slave day.”


>Mulder snuggled closer to his Master, resolving to think about it another day so he was surprised when he opened his mouth a few minutes later and said “Yes.”


“Mm?” Skinner asked hazily.


“I’d like you to give me that session in the Playroom, Master,” Mulder said. “Even though I’m sure I’ll change my mind the minute it actually happens so please make me see it through to the end.”


“Very well, little one,” Skinner chuckled softly in his slave’s ear. “We’ll have such fun,” he murmured, finding Mulder’s nipples under the sheets and rubbing them softly. “I’ll let you scream and twist next time – it’s very erotic when you buck up against me,” he commented in a husky tone. Mulder smiled to himself, and relaxed into his Master’s loving embrace once more.




Mulder was genuinely sorry to leave Tabi and return to DC the following day.


“Promise me you’ll come again for a longer visit soon,” she said, grabbing him by the shoulders and hugging him tight. “And promise you’ll call me – you can speak to me even if Walter isn’t around. In fact, that would be best – you can keep me updated on all the gossip in my brother’s life – all the stuff he doesn’t tell me.” She released Mulder and shot Skinner a significant look. He laughed and gathered her into a big hug.


“And you…don’t be a stranger. I know we’re both busy but it’s been so good seeing you again,” Tabi told her brother, her eyes dark with affection. “And very good seeing you so happy,” she added in an undertone. “Fox is good for you, Walter. I’ve never seen you looking so relaxed. This is serious isn’t it?” She asked. Skinner smiled and glanced at his slave.


“Oh it’s more than that, Tabi. This one’s for keeps.”


“I noticed the wedding ring,” Tabi whispered, almost conspiratorially, with a nod in the direction of Mulder’s left hand. “It’s your ring isn’t it, Walter?” Skinner smiled again and nodded.


“Nothing much gets past you, Tabi. Yes, I put that ring on Fox’s finger.” He and his slave exchanged a meaningful glance – neither of them had forgotten the exact circumstances of that particular act and what it had signified.


“But you don’t wear his ring?” Tabi asked. “Why’s that?” 


Skinner’s smile faded a little. “Well, maybe because he hasn’t given me one yet,” he murmured. Mulder frowned. It hadn’t even occurred to him to give his Master a wedding ring – Skinner was the Master and he was the slave. It would take a very bold slave indeed to make his Master wear a symbol of his commitment on his hand…and yet, now that she had mentioned it, Mulder thought he’d like very much to see Skinner wearing his ring. He wondered whether it was something that could ever happen. Skinner’s tone had been wistful when he’d made his reply, so maybe there was a chance that it could.


“Here’s my cell phone number.” Tabi tucked a piece of paper into Mulder’s shirt pocket. “Call me,” she ordered firmly. Mulder laughed and this time swung her into up a brotherly hug, which wasn’t something he’d done since he was 12 years old. It felt good.


“I will, sis,” he said grinning into her dark curly hair.


“Oh, and here.” She handed him a cooler.


“What’s this?” Mulder frowned.


“Leftovers from dinner yesterday – I can’t possibly eat them all up and I know Walter has a healthy appetite and you look as if you could do with fattening up.” Tabi grinned at him. Mulder shook his head and grinned back, before drawing her into another hug, reluctant to leave.  


He got into the car beside Skinner, and they both waved farewell to Tabi. She stood on the sidewalk for a long time waving until the car was completely out of sight. Mulder sat back in his seat with a sigh.


“That was the best Thanksgiving of my life,” he murmured. “Thank you, Walter.”


“What did you do this time last year?” Skinner asked.


“I sat in my apartment eating pizza and watching very bad science fiction movies.” Mulder shrugged. “You?”


“Elaine invited me over.” Skinner smiled. “After dinner she held a play party but I wasn’t in the mood so I went for a very long walk and tried to figure out where my life was going. I didn’t know that just a few short months later you’d arrive on my doorstep and demand to be let in.”


“Talking of play parties…” Mulder glanced at Skinner. “Do you have any idea when exactly you’ll brand me, Master?”


“I was thinking – how about 10 days before Christmas, on the Saturday?” Skinner suggested. “It gives us time to prepare and to invite guests, and as it’s so close to Christmas we could take two weeks vacation starting immediately afterwards to give you time to…” He paused. “Adjust,” he finished, but Mulder knew what he meant. He had no wish to return to work immediately after what he knew would be both a profound and a painful experience – he liked the idea of having some time to heal afterwards, and the chance to spend some quality time with his Master.


“Sounds good to me,” he said with a nod. “Who will you invite, Master?”


“I think we should both decide on the guest list – it’s an important moment for both of us after all,” Skinner mused. Mulder smiled and stroked his Master’s hand. That was a boon his Master didn’t have to grant him – Skinner could say when and where and how, just as he had for their first party together, so many long months ago.


“Thank you, Master,” Mulder murmured softly.


“You’re welcome, slave.” Skinner replied.




They were no sooner through the door than a small bundle of creamy coloured fur hurled herself at them, wailing piteously.


“Don’t over-dramatise. It was only one night, Wanda,” Skinner said, picking her up and allowing himself to be head-butted by her furry head.


“Madam is so spoiled,” Mulder commented, bringing the bags in, but he couldn’t wait for Skinner to put the little cat back down again so that he could pick her up and make a fuss of her himself. Wanda submitted ecstatically – never one to refuse the devotion of human slaves she was always happy to bestow her largesse on anyone who would tickle her vigorously behind the ears. Mulder knew that he could never hope to rival his Master’s place in her heart, but he did think that he came a close second these days. Skinner would sit still for hours on end so that she could sleep on his lap but it was Mulder who got down on his hands and knees and played with her so he guessed that she had somehow, somewhere along the way, managed to train both of them to see to her every need.    




The invitations to the branding went out a few days later and they started receiving replies almost immediately.


“Who’s coming?” Mulder asked from his vantage position kneeling next to his Master, his chin on Skinner’s lap, as the big man went through the replies in his den a week or so later.


“Everyone.” Skinner grinned, glancing down at him.


“Everyone?” Mulder was shocked. “Every single person we invited is coming?” He asked, kneeling up straight in surprise. They had invited over 40 people – all friends from the scene. It was going to be a huge gathering.


“Yup!” Skinner laughed out loud at the expression on his slave’s face. “Did you seriously think anybody would turn down an invitation to one of the few parties the Guardian holds? Especially when they know he’s going to brand his slave?”


“I guess I hadn’t thought of it like that,” Mulder mused. “Oh shit. I hope I don’t make a complete idiot of myself.”


“And how would you do that?” Skinner asked, with a raised eyebrow.


“By…I don’t know…screwing up. Screaming too loudly…” He suggested ruefully. Skinner laughed.


“You can scream as loudly as you like, Fox. That’s what a branding is about – being completely honest about who you are, what you feel, and who you belong to.”


“Can I look at the branding iron again, Master?” Mulder asked.


“Of course. It’s yours. I gave it to you as a birthday gift,” Skinner told him. He opened one of his desk drawers, withdrew the sleek, metallic branding iron, and handed it to Mulder who took it, shivering as he did so. Mulder rocked back on his heels and ran his hand over the surface of the brand. It was a simple, elegant S. “S for Skinner, s for slave,” he murmured.


“That’s right, boy.” Skinner smiled and tousled his hair affectionately.


“Seriously speaking – how much does it hurt?” Mulder asked.


Skinner mused on that for a moment. “Well, I won’t lie to you, Fox  – the pain will be intense. Some people pass out. It won’t be any shame on you if you do pass out – Perry will be on standby to administer first aid if required. However…” Skinner put a warm hand on Mulder’s shoulder to still his trembling. “I’ll ensure that you’re deeply in head space first, Fox. I don’t want this to be an ordeal – I want it to be a celebration.”


“I think you said something similar when you pierced me,” Mulder murmured.


“I probably did – but this is different. This is a permanent mark. Nipple rings can be removed – a brand is for life,” Skinner said softly. “Do you trust me, Fox?” He asked, his hands sweeping over Mulder’s shoulders, up and down, reassuring, comforting and loving.


“Yes, Master. You know I do,” Mulder replied, and his trembling stopped to be replaced by a warm feeling in the pit of his stomach. “I am scared but you know how much I want this. One thing I was wondering, Master…” He hesitated. Skinner put a finger under his chin and lifted his slave’s face and Mulder found himself looking into a pair of dark eyes. “You said you’d mark me on




>  my buttocks…?”


“I was considering that, yes.” Skinner gazed at him implacably.


“Well, I was wondering whether you’d mark me somewhere else…I’d like to be able to see the brand when I’m naked,” Mulder blurted. “I’d like it to be somewhere I can touch it, even when I’m clothed, so that I can feel you there, marked on me. If you mark my butt I’ll look damn strange if I keep touching my ass!”


“I can understand that,” Skinner mused. “In fact, I can think of somewhere else I’d like to mark you – somewhere that I’ll be able to touch when we’re out together – although only you and I will know the significance of that touch.”


“Where, Master?”


“Your thigh. Here.” Skinner reached out and touched Mulder’s right flank. “Another good thing about that position is that I can look into your eyes when I’m branding you. I think that would make the moment more…intense, for both of us.”


“Yes, Master,” Mulder whispered, drowning in his Master’s dark eyed gaze.


“However…” Skinner said and Mulder’s heart sank. “If your butt is to remain unmarked, then it’s only fair to warn you that I will have to continue marking it regularly with my switch, slave. I told you when you arrived, that this ass of yours should bear your Master’s mark at all times. If it isn’t going to have a permanent mark then it will need to accept my more temporary marks every few days.”


Mulder swallowed hard. Much as he hated the actual process of being marked, he did love the ritual of marking that they had built up between them. He considered the matter for several moments. It had been impudent of him to suggest an alternative site for the branding, but his Master had been indulgent – although he had allowed his slave to know that he wouldn’t be granted this boon without a price. All told, it was a price Mulder thought he was prepared to pay for being able to look into his Master’s eyes as he was being branded, and for being able to look at his brand and touch it with impunity, whenever he liked.


“I understand, Master,” he said, bowing his head. “I would like the brand on my thigh, Master. I’m happy to be marked with your switch for the rest of my life to pay for that honour.”




>Skinner smiled, and stroked his slave’s hair softly. Then he raised Mulder’s head and kissed his lips gently, before releasing him.


“You have become the slave I’ve always wanted you to be – and the slave you’ve always wanted to be,” he said softly. “Well done, Fox.” He bestowed another tender kiss on Mulder’s willing lips and Mulder clung to him for a moment, his heart positively zinging in his chest at his Master’s praise. “We’ve come such a long way, haven’t we?” Skinner said when the kiss drew to an end.


“Yes, Master. Such a long way.” Mulder remembered the many ups and downs of their relationship thus far – and flushed slightly when he recalled how long it had taken him to get to this place in his slavery, and how much he had fought the very thing he wanted most in the world.  


The phone broke into their reverie and Skinner picked it up. Mulder resumed his position kneeling at his Master’s side, and was surprised when, after a few brief moments of chat, Skinner passed the phone to him.


“It’s Murray,” he said.


“And he wants to talk to me?” Mulder asked, bemused. Hammer’s large, dramatic, hook-nosed top was Skinner’s friend – Mulder always felt they existed on some kind of toppy plane together, and that as tops they were rarely interested in any sub or slave other than their own.


“Why not?” Skinner handed Mulder the phone and he took it, warily.


“Fox!” Murray’s voice roared into the earpiece. “We got your invitation, lad! I can’t tell you how delighted we are that you’ve finally managed to talk that Master of yours into branding you.”


“I’m pretty pleased about it myself!” Mulder replied with a laugh.


“This is the best news we’ve had in a long time. One of Walter’s magnificent parties and the chance to see you two make that last commitment to each other. Hammer – remind me to take my handkerchief. I always cry at these ceremonies,” Murray proclaimed and Mulder had no doubt that was the case. Murray was a man who wore his emotions loudly, proudly, and unashamedly on his sleeve.


“I’m delighted for you, lad, truly delighted. Hammer had to talk me into branding him but it was the best thing we ever did. I love that little symbol, seared into his flesh…just love it! He went through that pain for me and I’m proud of him for that. I’ll bet Walter is just as proud of you.”


“I think maybe he is.” Mulder glanced at his Master who smiled at him encouragingly.


“You can bet on it,” Murray said confidently.


“Did you want to talk to my Master again?” Mulder asked tentatively.


“God no. I called to speak to you!” Murray laughed.


“Oh, I just thought…that, well, Walter’s another top and I assumed…” Mulder began, feeling himself flushing.


“That tops only want to talk to other tops? Nonsense!” Murray scolded in his roaring tones. “The world would be a very boring place if that were so.”


Mulder smiled. He was both surprised and gratified that Murray wanted to talk to him. He felt like he’d arrived, like he was finally accepted amongst these people, as one of them – and then he realised that it had only been his own misguided notions of his place in this subculture that had ever prevented him feeling this way before. Ian, after all, was perfectly at ease with everyone on the scene, and he was a sub, but Mulder had always felt that he was being judged, looked down on, and even sneered at for his preference. Talking to Murray he knew he couldn’t have been more wrong.


“Where would we be without our subs, Fox? You’re the other half of us – what are we without you? Hmm?” Murray demanded on the other end of the phone. “You define us, you make us what we are. You enable us to enjoy this exchange of power that we find so erotic. Without you we wouldn’t be whole.” Mulder relaxed, and leaned his head against his Master’s knee as he continued the conversation. Murray’s deep, booming voice was curiously comforting and they conversed for several minutes before the call came to an end.




The preparations for the party proceeded without hitch. They ordered food and drink and generally prepared. On the weekend before the party, Skinner took Mulder up to the Playroom and they discussed how they wanted to arrange it to best effect so that everybody would be able to view the proceedings. Mulder felt a strange tingle in his stomach as they matter of factly talked about a ceremony that would culminate with a white-hot iron being plunged into his flesh. While he knew Skinner had never branded anyone before, he also knew that his Master had studied the subject thoroughly and knew exactly what he was doing.


“Fox, I’m going to tie you down while I brand you,” Skinner told him. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I need you to be very still while I brand you and I don’t think that’s something you’ll physically be able to do without some help. So, I’m going to tie you down on the massage couch. I’ll alter the height so you’re in a sitting position – I want you to be able to see everything that’s going on. Here, it’ll be positioned like this.”


He sat Mulder down on the couch and showed him exactly how he’d been tied, with his leg and torso held completely immobile. 


“I’ll heat the brand over here.” Skinner waved his hand. Mulder swallowed hard, trying to visualise the scene and failing, his stomach somersaulting in nervous anticipation. Skinner seemed to sense his mood and changed the topic of conversation accordingly.


“What do you want me to wear?” Skinner opened the cupboard containing his scene clothes and gestured inside.


“You mean I get to choose?” Mulder was delighted.


“Sure.” Skinner grinned. “You, of course, will be naked for the actual event, but not for the preceding party. I’ll strip you just before we begin. You’ll wear those leather pants with the butt cut out of them – I love you in them and I’ll mark you beforehand so folks will have something to look at – apart from your cute ass of course.” He grinned, wolfishly. Mulder sighed and rolled his eyeballs. “I’ll let you wear a harness on your chest – gold, I think. It’s either that outfit or the harem boy one which I adore, so take your pick.” Skinner folded his arms and looked at his slave with an amused raised eyebrow.


“I’ll take the leather pants, Master,” Mulder said hurriedly. The harem pants look might feed into one of his Master’s most cherished fantasies but he really felt stupid in them.


“Somehow I thought you’d say that.” Skinner grinned. “Well, I might have to dress you up in the harem outfit sometime soon just for myself…I love you in that costume. Let’s get back to my outfit for the party. Any suggestions?”  


>Mulder spent a happy hour sorting through his Master’s closet before deciding on the pair of tight black moleskin pants, the black belt with the silver buckle, the black silk shirt and the long leather boots that Skinner had been wearing the day he had first collared and ringed his slave.


“Interesting choice, little one,” Skinner commented softly as he surveyed the outfit. “Any reason?”


“It seemed…fitting.” Mulder murmured. “Last time you wore it you took me as your slave. This time…you’ll be marking me as such for all to see, for all time.”


“I like your sense of occasion.” Skinner bestowed a loving kiss on his slave’s lips. When he released his slave, he put an arm around Mulder’s shoulders and they surveyed the Playroom together.


“This time next week it’ll be full of people, waiting to see you branded,” Skinner murmured. Mulder shivered and leaned into his Master’s warm embrace.


“I can’t wait, Master,” he replied.


Mulder was woken in the early hours of the morning a few hours later by the sound of the phone. He blinked, blearily, and listened with half an ear as Skinner answered it. He came to as he heard the tone of his Master’s voice change.


“When? How bad is it? Where?” Skinner asked, sitting up in bed and swinging his legs over the side. “We’ll be there. We’ll come now. No, listen, Hammer, we’ll come. Of course we’ll come,” Skinner said urgently. “Just hold on, Hammer. We’ll be there.” He put the phone down and sat there for a moment, his expression one of shock and distress.


“Walter? What’s happened?” Mulder got up and knelt on the bed behind his Master, putting his hands on the other man’s shoulders. “Is everything okay?”


“No. That was Hammer. It’s Murray…” Skinner took a deep breath and his jaw shifted sideways so fast that Mulder heard an audible click.


“What’s happened to him, Walter?” Mulder asked gently. He knew Skinner and Murray had been friends for years and Skinner was clearly upset.


“He’s had a heart attack. He’s in the ICU. Hammer is there with him but he says…” Skinner paused and took a deep breath. “He says it’s bad, that Murray might not make it. I said we’d go over there now. I’m about the closest friend Murray’s got apart from Hammer. He’s always been very good to me. After Andrew died, Murray, Hammer and Elaine were very kind to me. Murray often invited me over at the weekends – he worried about me being lonely. We even took a vacation together in the beach house, all four of us…Elaine wasn’t with David then. Murray has the biggest heart of anyone I know…” Skinner broke off and Mulder was shocked to realise that his big, strong, normally stoical Master was very close to tears.


“Come here,” he whispered, and he pulled Skinner close and hugged him for a moment, kissing his head over and over again, soothing the big man. After a couple of minutes, Skinner visibly pulled himself together and got up.


“I’m coming with you,” Mulder said, grabbing a pair of jeans and a tee shirt.


“No, you don’t have to…” Skinner began but Mulder stopped him short.


“He’s my friend too – I want to be there. And, more than that, I want to be with you, Walter – where I belong.” 


Skinner gazed at him for a moment and then nodded, his eyes glassy with tears.




They found Hammer pacing up and down a hospital corridor.


“Walter, Fox…thank you for coming,” Hammer said in a choked voice when he saw them. Skinner put an arm around Hammer’s shoulder and squeezed him tight.


“We had to be here,” Skinner said firmly.


“Any more news?” Mulder asked.


Hammer shook his head. “It was so sudden. One minute he was fine…then he just literally keeled over. He was holding onto his chest…I did CPR, gave him aspirin, and kept him going until the paramedics arrived. The doctors worked on him when they got him to the ER but they say he’s in a critical condition.” Hammer wrapped his arms around his stomach as if he was going to be physically sick. “I know he looks like he’s this big, strong, blustery guy…he’s so larger than life…but underneath he’s the sweetest man. He’s a pussycat really. People don’t understand…they don’t know him.”


“We do. We know what kind of man he is,” Skinner said softly. “Hammer – don’t give up hope just yet. He’s still with us and he’s a fighter. He won’t give in easily.”


“Yes.” Hammer nodded, still hugging his stomach.


“Can we see him?” Skinner asked softly.


“Yes…I…they were putting a new IV into him so I came out to try and pull myself together. They said we can sit with him as long as we don’t get in the way.”


They walked into the ICU and Mulder took a deep breath as he caught sight of Murray. Hammer’s lover was a big man – but now he looked small, and frail. He was as big in personality as he was in girth and now that he was sedated, he seemed so diminished – the most vital part of him – his personality – was missing.


Skinner sat beside the bed and gently stroked the other man’s hand, while Hammer took up position opposite him. Mulder stood beside Skinner, a hand on his Master’s shoulder, giving what comfort he could.


“Hey, Murray. You have to pull through this,” Skinner said softly. “We need you, buddy.”


>Mulder swallowed down the lump that had risen in his throat. He had spoken to Murray so recently when the other man had called to congratulate him on his imminent branding and he’d been so thrilled by that phone call. It hardly seemed possible that Murray could be lying here, looking so pale and small beneath the sheets, attached to all these machines by tubes and wires.






>They stayed all through the night and all the next day. Towards evening, Murray’s condition improved a little and the nurse told them to go home and get some rest – they’d be called if there was any news.


“I kept telling him to make a living will,” Hammer muttered tiredly as they walked out of the hospital towards Skinner’s car. “I work with terminally ill people and I kept saying to him…” Hammer shook his head. “But you know Murray – he didn’t like to think he’d ever die. I think he thought he’d just disappear in a puff of smoke one day. He didn’t think he might be on a life support machine…do you know that his closest relative is his niece – a woman he’s only met a few times in his entire life? She now has the power of life and death over him. She gets to decide. Not me, not his lover of 20 years, the man who’s shared his life, his laughter, his tears for two decades…not me, but her. I should have sat him down and made him do it. I knew…I’ve seen this kind of thing happen. I knew and I should have insisted…”


“Hey – you’re tired – don’t give yourself such a hard time,” Skinner told him. “We all know Murray. It’s the devil’s own job to get him to do anything he doesn’t want to. Hell, he doesn’t even listen to things he doesn’t want to hear.”


“Yeah.” Hammer gave a little laugh. “That’s Murray. He’s such a mule-headed, big hearted, totally…” He broke off, a little choke in his voice.


“Hammer – do you want to come back with me and Fox?” Skinner asked. “You could stay with us.”


“Thank you…but no.” Hammer shook his head. “It’s very kind of you, Walter, but…I’d rather be in my own home…with his stuff all around me…just in case…” His voice trailed off again.  




Over the next few days, Skinner spent every spare minute outside work at his friend’s bedside and Mulder was there almost as much…only now he wasn’t so much worried about Murray as about his own Master. Skinner had caught a cold and the strain of his friend’s illness was taking its toll on him. His face had a pale, haggard cast, and he looked extremely tired. Mulder realised, with a pang of guilt, that Skinner’s reserves of energy had already been low before this latest crisis. When he thought back to the events of the past year, he could see how much responsibility his Master had taken – and was continuing to take – for everyone, not least his own slave. There seemed to be no limit to the responsibilities resting on his Master’s broad shoulders. At the office, Skinner was in charge of the FBI’s violent crimes division, a job that required enormous amount of drive and dedication. On the scene, Skinner had all the responsibilities of Guardian of the House, culminating in the nightmare that had been Franklin’s abuse of his slave, Lee. At home, Skinner had taken on the task of pulling his self-destructive slave back from the brink…a task that had overwhelmed both their lives for the past 10 months. Mulder thought back to all the many crises of his relationship with Skinner, from that first week of training when he had been trying to play Skinner, to that disastrous first day back at work when he had spun off into orbit. There had been the many other highs and lows on the roller-coaster ride – his trip to California where he had pried into his Master’s personal life, uncovering his painful secret, his subsequent witnessing of the kind of punishment Skinner took on himself, his own crisis in Seattle and the fallout from it that had seen him carve into his chest with a razor blade…all this Skinner had dealt with, and there had been many pleasures along with the drama, but when, Mulder thought to himself, had Skinner ever had the chance to just kick back and relax? No wonder the strain was finally starting to show.  


Mulder did all he could during that week to ensure that his Master had food, clean clothing and the comfort of his slave’s arms whenever he needed any of those things, but it felt so little compared to all that his Master had done for him. He was grateful that Skinner felt able to lean on him, even if it was only for the small things like remembering to feed Wanda and clear out her litter tray, but he wished he could be of even more help to his Master and really relieve the burdens resting on those broad shoulders.  


By Tuesday, Murray was officially declared out of danger, although he was still very weak and would need an angioplasty. Mulder worked late and went to collect Skinner from the hospital and do some visiting of his own that evening. Murray was still asleep – Mulder had yet to see him awake – but Hammer and Skinner were talking softly over his bed.


“Hey, Fox,” Hammer smiled at him as he came in and Mulder smiled back as he placed a hand on his Master’s shoulder and gently kissed the other man’s head.


“How’s he doing?”


“Fine – good.” Hammer nodded. “Okay, so I don’t think he’ll exactly be well enough to attend your branding on Saturday but…”


“The branding?” Mulder interrupted. “Shit…to be honest I’d forgotten about it with all this going on.”


“I think we should postpone it…” Skinner interjected.


“Don’t you dare!” A dry, rasping voice said and they all turned to gaze at Murray, whose eyelids had fluttered open and who was staring at them as imperiously as was possible when you’re that ill.


“Hey you.” Hammer clasped his lover’s hand in his own, raised it to his lips, and kissed it gently. “I might have known you’d have something to say on that particular subject!” He grinned. 


“Maybe if we’d started talking about it before you’d have woken up earlier!”


“Hmmm…just so long as this young pup gets his brand. We’ve all waited more than long enough for the occasion,” Murray muttered. “And I’ve never seen a lad more in need of his Master’s mark on his body than this one.”


Mulder laughed out loud and squeezed his Master’s shoulders.


“I think you’re right, Murray,” Skinner agreed, putting one hand over Mulder’s long fingers and stroking, tenderly.


“What the hell are all these damn tubes doing sticking out of me?” Murray exclaimed. He tried to sit up and then lay back down as if he’d been toppled. “Was I hit by a bus, Hammer?” He asked plaintively, sounding almost like a little boy.


“You’ll be fine,” Hammer told him firmly. “But you have to take it easy for a while. You did have a heart attack, Murray.”


“Hmph. Don’t say ‘I told you so’,” Murray murmured, gazing hazily at his lover. “Always nagging me to eat right and do this and do that. Never met a more pushy sub in my life.”


“That’s just the way you like it and you know it,” Hammer retaliated with a grin.


Mulder had a sudden vivid glimpse into their relationship. It was very different to that of his own with his Master. Hammer was the fusser, the nurturer, the one who got things done. He effectively managed and took care of Murray who, Mulder suspected, probably couldn’t even take care of his own socks let alone his life. Murray in return was a larger than life character who kept his sub constantly entertained, and whose generosity and big heart were legendary on the scene. Mulder was surprised to find tears pricking at the back of his eyes. Everyone had their own way of making this work, and they were all different. He thought of urbane, laid back Perry – never quite the stern master that his friend Ian wanted, but prepared to inhabit the role periodically in order to keep his lover happy. Murray loved being a top, more for the sense of drama and the chance to dress up in elaborate costumes than because of any intrinsic interest in the eroticism of the role, while Hammer, who, with his battered face and strong, wiry body looked like the last person you’d want to meet on a dark night, worked in a hospice, nursing the terminally ill, and was a super-efficient sub who liked nothing better than taking charge of his eccentric, chaotic top. Then there was himself and Skinner. Mulder glanced down at his Master, wondering how they appeared to the outside world. Skinner was so calm, and good-natured, prepared to be as strict as it took to keep Mulder from spinning off into space in a self-destructive frenzy. Who on the outside understood the nuances of their relationship? Who saw and understood that the veneer of slave and Master told so little of the truth about what and who they were, and how they complemented each other so well?






Mulder glanced at his Master as he drove the other man home later that evening.


“Will you go ahead with the branding, Master?” He asked.


“Well…Murray was pretty insistent that we shouldn’t put it off on his account and we have waited a long time…” Skinner hesitated and looked at his slave wearily. “How do you feel about it?” He asked.


Mulder shrugged. “It’d be nice to proceed with our plans,” he commented, unsure exactly how he felt on the topic. “The room’s all ready and all the food and drink will be arriving on Saturday.”




“I know…it feels a little rushed though,” Skinner commented.


“I agree.” Mulder nodded as he sighed.


“But…damnit, this is something we’ve both wanted for such a long time…and it’ll be a nightmare cancelling everything at the last minute,” Skinner said. “It’ll probably be easier to go ahead with it than cancel.”


“Will you be well enough, Master?” Mulder asked.


“Me? I’m fine,” Skinner said tersely.


“You haven’t been well and you’re exhausted,” Mulder pointed out gently.


“It’s just a cold – it’s already going and as for being tired, it’s nothing that a few good night’s sleep won’t cure,” Skinner replied.


“Okay – then let’s go for it!” Mulder had as little enthusiasm for the task of calling everyone to cancel and dealing with the food and drink deliveries they were expecting as his Master did. Skinner was right – it was simply easier to go ahead with it…so why did Mulder feel a sense of foreboding settle into the pit of his stomach as they made their decision?




Mulder barely saw his Master for the next few days. They were both busy tying up loose ends at work prior to their vacation and Skinner’s end of year workload was heavy and was taking some hugely long hours to shift. Skinner also liked to visit Murray whenever he could as well so he never had any free time to spend with his slave. Mulder felt himself becoming increasingly irritable as the day of the branding drew closer. He snapped at the forensics lab who were providing information for a report, and lost his temper with Scully – which he bitterly regretted afterwards and told her so.


“Are you okay, partner?” She asked, with a worried frown. “I haven’t seen you this jumpy since…well since before you and Skinner…” She let that sentence trail off.


“I’m fine. Just busy with finishing all this stuff before my vacation,” Mulder told her shortly, turning back to his work.


“Are you and Skinner doing anything nice?” Scully asked carefully, clearly searching for a safe topic of conversation and unwittingly alighting on one that was very far from being safe.


Mulder bit down on his bottom lip so savagely that he knew he’d drawn blood. Christ – what the hell was wrong with him? He wanted to be branded as much as Skinner wanted to brand him, so why did he feel so unsettled and at odds with the world in general and himself in particular?


“Nothing much,” he told Scully, his tone making it clear that he didn’t want to pursue this line of conversation. He had no intention of telling his partner about the branding. However close they were, there were some aspects to his lifestyle that he knew she just wouldn’t understand…hell, right now he was having a hard time understanding them himself.






He got home late that evening and found the apartment empty. He gave a growl of annoyance – he had hoped his Master would already be home. He wanted them to spend some time together – the way things were going they’d wake up on the morning of the branding not even having exchanged more than a couple of words all week. And there had been no sex – even Mulder’s daily spankings had gone by the wayside. He didn’t like to badger his Master about either topic – Skinner had enough on his plate right now without his slave whining on about his needs. Besides which, he knew that his Master’s usually rampant libido was in hibernation at the moment. For the first time in as long as he’d been Skinner’s slave, his Master’s cock had ceased to respond to his early morning ministrations and yesterday Skinner had brushed him off and told him that his wake up call was suspended until further notice. It was all wrong – and on some level it hurt. It jangled on Mulder’s nerves and he felt himself becoming more and more wound up.


>With a sigh, Mulder removed his tie, and, ignoring the waiting Wanda who was expecting her hello kiss, he marched sullenly into the kitchen to find something to eat…only to discover that the cupboards were bare. Groceries were technically the slave’s responsibility but usually Skinner pointed out when they were getting low and made a list of what they needed and Mulder did the actual shopping – or, as happened more often these days, they went shopping together. Now, with everything that had been going on, Mulder had forgotten some of the most basic rules of his slavery and he was angry with himself.


The door slamming alerted him to the fact that his Master had returned home. Mulder went out into the hallway and gave the other man a faint smile. Skinner still looked terrible, whatever he said, and that didn’t help the jarring sense of unease in Mulder’s stomach.


“Hiya.” Mulder pressed a kiss to his Master’s cheek.


“Hello, Fox. What’s cooking?” Skinner asked. “I didn’t have time for lunch today and I’m starving.”


“There’s nothing fucking cooking because I forgot to get any fucking food,” Mulder growled and then he charged up the stairs and threw himself into the bathroom, slamming the door behind him. He washed his face in cold water and pulled himself together, wondering what his Master had made of that display of temper. He hadn’t intended to behave so badly – it had just come out, and now he regretted it, just as he regretted snapping at Scully earlier in the day. His butt started to throb in anticipation of the strapping he was sure his Master would dole out for his behaviour – Skinner hated being yelled or sworn at, and rightly so. It was a lesson he had drummed into his slave a long time ago, one of the first and most basic lessons of Mulder’s slavery, and Mulder had just demonstrated that it wasn’t as well learned as it should have been. With a sigh, Mulder decided to go down and face the music.  


He found his Master sitting on the couch in the living room, still wearing his coat. Wanda was sitting on his knee, trying desperately to get his attention by rubbing her face against his chest but he was just staring out of the window, weariness etched in every line on his face, his shoulders set in a dejected slump. Mulder went to kneel beside him, full of abject remorse.


“I’m so sorry, Master,” he whispered, resting his chin on Skinner’s knee. “I shouldn’t have spoken to you like that. It’s been…a difficult day.”


“That’s all right, slave. It’s been a difficult week,” Skinner said with a totally exhausted sigh. He put his hand absently on his slave’s hair and tousled it gently. “I know you didn’t mean to shout at me like that. We can order take out. It isn’t a big deal.”


Mulder glanced up at his Master. “Will you punish me, Master?” he asked, holding his breath.


“What?” Skinner looked down at his slave for the first time. “No, Fox,” he said gently. “I know you’re getting nervous leading up to the big day. I expected you to act out a bit. It’s fine. We’ll get there.”


>Mulder felt as if someone had literally punched him in the gut and it was only then that he realised he had wanted to be punished. He needed to be punished, to be taken down, to find the serenity of subspace once more. He longed for that – he longed for his Master to throw him over his knee and reassert their roles so that he could feel right about the imminent branding, so that it would be the natural culmination of the relationship between Master and slave…because he didn’t feel like that right now. He just wasn’t in the right headspace.


“Master, I deserve to be punished,” he said, nudging Skinner’s hand with his head, much like Wanda did when she wanted his Master’s attention. Skinner looked down at him again and Mulder felt a wave of guilt course through him – Skinner was just too damn tired to discipline his slave. Skinner looked so pale, drawn and haggard that Mulder was surprised his Master was still standing; he looked completely at the end of his tether.


“Fox…I’m not going to punish you. We both know why you acted out just then,” Skinner said softly. “Come here.” He patted the couch beside him and Mulder got up and sat next to his Master. Skinner put a weary arm around his slave’s shoulders, pulled him close, and kissed his head fondly. “You’ll do fine, Fox,” he murmured.


Mulder swallowed down his frustrations. There was no way on earth he’d add to his Master’s burdens when Skinner was at such a low ebb. On the contrary – he’d do his best, as he had been doing all week, to relieve the burden on his Master and ensure that of all the areas of responsibility in his life, the one area that Skinner would not have to worry about was his slave.


“Thank you, Master,” he whispered, and then he got up and went to call for the take out. When he returned to the living room a couple of minutes later he found his Master already fast asleep on the couch. Mulder knelt and removed Skinner’s shoes, loosened his pants, pulled a comforter over the sleeping man and looked down on him for a moment, then gently soothed his Master’s head with light, loving fingers.


“I’ll take good care of you, Master,” he said softly. “I promise.”




The day of the branding arrived and Mulder woke with what felt like a whole host of butterflies in his stomach. He lay with his head on Skinner’s bare chest for half an hour, both of them awake, gazing at the ceiling, enjoying a few moments together before their busy day began.


“How are you feeling?” Skinner asked.


“Fine,” Mulder lied. “Well, pretty nervous,” he amended, although he was aware that got nowhere close to the truth.


“Me too,” Skinner admitted.


“Really?” Mulder turned his head to look at his Master. He was pleased that Skinner had his own sense of nervous anticipation…but at the same time it niggled with him as well. He didn’t want his Master to be so…human. Not on this day of all days. He wanted Skinner to be splendidly, imperviously masterful. Mulder needed to feel every inch the slave and he didn’t right now. He felt lost and confused, and the rock he normally anchored himself to at these times was his Master – only now he didn’t want to be another burden on the big man. Mulder desperately wished the day was over, and that he could get through the branding. He no longer even considered enjoying it. The day stretched out ahead of him like an ordeal.




They got up, had breakfast, and checked the Playroom and upstairs apartment to make sure they were ready to receive their guests. Then Skinner called his slave over and clicked his fingers. Mulder sank obediently to his knees, and gazed up at his Master.


“All right – for the rest of the day I want you naked. You can get dressed just before our guests arrive,” Skinner told him. “I want you to think about what you are and what’s going to take place in this room tonight.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder wished he could feel that involuntary shiver of anticipation that he usually felt at such moments, but he was numb inside. Something wasn’t right and he didn’t know how to put it right.


“I want you to take some time for yourself,” Skinner told him firmly. “Find the heart of your submission, Fox, because I’ll want you to offer it up to me this evening. You’re in deep submission – I don’t want you to talk for the next few hours. Understood?”


>Mulder nodded, but he felt as if he was drowning. He couldn’t do this!


“I’m going out for a few hours,” Skinner told him and Mulder looked up wildly.


“Where? Now? Master…” He began, feeling frantic.


“You’re in deep submission, slave,” Skinner reminded him. “I’ll only be a few hours. You need some time on your own to ground yourself. I’ll be back later. You can go into any room you want – even the Playroom.”


>Mulder nodded, but inside he was churning up with hopelessness. He needed Skinner here right now! Yes, usually it was enough for his Master to order him into deep submission but not today, not when he felt so at odds both with the world and his own slavery. None of this felt as it should damnit! He watched, forlornly, as his Master left the apartment, wondering where Skinner was going. He assumed his Master was going to visit Murray and couldn’t begrudge the other man that. Maybe they did both need some time. Maybe Skinner was taking himself away so that when they saw each other again they would both have had time to really sink into their roles, and they could come to each other afresh, as Master and slave, and not as Skinner and Mulder who had both had such a very difficult week. Mulder could understand that reasoning but it was all wrong, and he was too concerned for his Master’s well-being to discuss his fears with the other man. After all, what could Skinner do at this late date? It was too late to cancel the party – they had 40 people arriving within a few hours. So what possible purpose did Mulder raising his doubts serve?


Mulder slowly undressed and then he stood there, uncertainly. Skinner hadn’t allowed him to see the brazier, which was screened off in one corner of the room, and he wondered whether it would help him to take a good look at it or not. He decided against it – his Master had screened it off for a purpose, and while he hadn’t forbidden Mulder to look at it, somehow it felt against the spirit of the occasion to try and get a sneak peek prior to the evening’s activities.  


Mulder sat on the waiting massage table, and tried to imagine what it would feel like being tied here, under the watchful gaze of 40 guests, but somehow he couldn’t manage it. Instead his mind kept going over the events of the week; he kept seeing Murray, lying on that hospital bed attached to all those tubes, and his Master, struggling with illness, worry, and all his usual responsibilities, and starting to look, for the first time, as if it might all be too much for him. Something else was bothering him as well…something that he had been pushing to the back of his mind and refusing to think about, but now that he had the time it came creeping in. He thought of Hammer, who had come so close to losing his lover and top, and he knew then why his own worries for his Master’s health were nagging him so much. Skinner was so important a part of his life – how would Mulder cope if something like this happened to him? Mulder shivered, his naked flesh covered in goose-bumps. This was his worst nightmare made real. He had struggled against his feelings, had tried not to love Skinner, because sooner or later he always lost everyone he loved. He remembered those nightmares he’d had early in his slavery, that Skinner would be taken from him, just as Samantha had been taken and Scully. He lost the people he loved. It always happened, and for that reason he had always tried to keep people at arm’s length, to not let anyone get close…but Skinner had snuck under his defences, and now Mulder was deeply in love with the big man. Skinner wasn’t just his lover and his Master – he was the centre of Mulder’s very existence. Skinner had made him belong, had given him a place to take sanctuary, and had anchored Mulder with the force of his love.  


Somehow Skinner’s absence exacerbated Mulder’s fears. Without his large presence giving Mulder reassurance and tangible proof that his Master was alive and well and always would be, Mulder’s worries were beginning to get too much for him. He was a long way from being the man he had been before his slavery, who hovered so close to self-destruction that emotional turmoil sent him spinning out of control. The past 10 months as Skinner’s slave had taught him so much and he could handle his own crises much more effectively these days…but it was one thing to control himself, and another to get himself anywhere near the headspace he was supposed to be in for the evening’s activities. Mulder resigned himself to the fact that this was just going to be unpleasant – and he could deal with that. He had dealt with worse things before – having his finger broken, being beaten up and shot in the course of his work. He had no problem dealing with pain, but his response to erotic pain had always been different. Erotic pain allowed him to express himself in a way he never did when faced with more mundane agony. From the very beginning of his time as Skinner’s slave he had cried when spanked hard, wriggled and writhed, squirmed and yelled…he let out everything during sex games in a way he did not in his everyday life. There his response to pain was fury rather than tears. He could ignore it, and even control it, with a toughness that probably only his Master could match. Mulder knew his own strength – but he bought it at a price, and that price was the way he allowed himself to express pain, pleasure, fear, joy and all the other feelings he experienced during sex games. Those were his release, the necessary flip side to the way he fought the many pains he had encountered during the course of his job. Tonight Skinner would be expecting his slave’s usual response to erotic pain…but Mulder was afraid that instead he would only be able to offer Mulder’s response, not that of the slave, Fox. Mulder would struggle against being tied down, Mulder would scream and yell abuse at his torturer…and Mulder would swallow his pain and turn his face against it – he wouldn’t look into Skinner’s eyes with peace and acceptance, and he wouldn’t accept that brand on his body with joy and celebration. He would fight it all the way.  


Mulder took a deep breath and tried to get himself under control. Of one thing he was certain: his Master must never know. Tonight, if he couldn’t be Fox, if he could only be Mulder, then he would just have to fake being Fox to the best of his ability. Having made that decision Mulder felt calmer. He squared his shoulders, knelt in the centre of the Playroom, and awaited his Master’s return. 


Skinner was gone for a few hours, as he had said. When he found his slave kneeling in the Playroom he smiled, crossed the room towards him and dropped a light kiss on Mulder’s forehead.


“That’s a beautiful sight, little one. It never ceases to take my breath away,” he commented approvingly. Mulder smiled, glad that he was getting this right. Skinner looked a little sweaty and his eyes were dark as if he had just undergone some kind of ordeal. Mulder got up and put his hand on his Master’s forehead.


“Are you sure you’re okay? I thought you were getting better,” he commented anxiously.


“I am. I’m feeling much better,” Skinner assured him. “I just got a little hot running up the stairs. More to the point – how are you feeling?”


“I’m fine.” Mulder smiled brightly.


“Good. Then it’s time we got ready,” Skinner told him. “Take a shower, slave, and get dressed for your branding.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder bowed his head so that Skinner wouldn’t see the expression in his eyes. He was surprised when Skinner stopped him as he began to walk to the door.


“I love you, Fox,” Skinner told him softly, swinging Mulder into his arms. He kissed his slave on the mouth, slowly, savouring him, and Mulder melted against his Master’s chest. Skinner gave a slight grimace, as if in pain, and drew back.


“Master? Are you okay?” Mulder frowned, reaching out a hand to touch his Master’s chest.


“I’m fine.” Skinner pushed his slave’s hand away quickly. “Daylight’s burning, Fox. Go and get ready.”


Mulder turned, frowning. Something else wasn’t right here – something wasn’t right with Skinner…and that worried him all over again. He remembered Hammer saying that Murray had just fallen over, clutching his chest… It would surely be too much of a coincidence for Skinner to have a heart attack so close to Murray’s, but Mulder had seen too many X Files to be completely convinced on that point and the thought nagged at him.  


He took his shower and got dressed slowly. Instead of thinking about the evening ahead, and how erotic it was dressing himself in the revealing clothes his Master had chosen for him, he barely took any notice of his clothing, lost in his own thoughts and half-formed worries.  


When he was done he went downstairs to help his Master with his clothing but found, to his dismay, that Skinner had already finished dressing. He stood there, resplendent in the black moleskin pants and silky black shirt that Mulder remembered so vividly from their first meeting as Master and slave. Skinner looked truly magnificent, as ever, despite his pallor, but Mulder felt as if he had been deprived of one last chance to find a space in his head where he could become totally the slave once more, performing a duty for his Master, helping the other man dress.


“You look good,” Skinner said with a smile, admiring his slave. “Turn around, boy, so I can get a good look at you.” He twirled his arm around and, feeling a bit stupid, Mulder turned to reveal his naked bottom, his buttocks cosily sticking out from their framework of black leather. “Very nice…very tempting,” Skinner grinned. “I don’t think I can resist that sight – against the wall, Fox, in the grace position.”


Mulder positioned himself against the wall, hands pressed against it, butt out, his naked bottom feeling even more exposed in the revealing pants than they would have done if he had been completely naked.


“Mmm.” Skinner came up close behind him and grabbed his slave’s buttocks, kneading them hard. Mulder breathed in, enjoying an intimate moment with his Master for the first time in days. He loved it when Skinner played with him, and he felt some of his tension dissipate. Skinner drew back and then slapped Mulder’s buttocks hard, and Mulder moaned and pushed his butt out even more. Skinner had promised to mark him, and maybe that would help him reach the serenity of subspace that he needed so much right now. The spanking helped a little, and after a few minutes Mulder’s butt was thoroughly warmed up and he was too busy concentrating on the stinging sensation in his ass to worry as frantically as he had been doing. Then the spanking came to an end, and Skinner swung his slave around and kissed him thoroughly. “Our guests will be here soon. Go upstairs, Fox. I’ll be with you in a second,” he said.


Mulder stared at his Master…surely Skinner was going to mark him? His Master had told him he’d be marked. While Mulder hated marking, he felt he needed it right now. He needed proof of his Master’s power over him…he needed to be taken down, damnit! Surely…it wasn’t possible that Skinner had forgotten, was it? His Master was so precise and organised that Mulder had never known him forget anything like this before – certainly not something this important…but it was clear from Skinner’s dark eyed gaze that he had forgotten. Mulder considered reminding him, but decided against it. He could manage without being marked and the last thing he wanted to do was draw his Master’s attention to a failing at this moment in time. Only Mulder knew how close Skinner had been to buckling these past few days. He didn’t want to give Skinner any cause to doubt himself and lose confidence at this crucial moment in their relationship. So, he ran off up the stairs, trying hard to forget his worries and resolved to enjoy the party as best he could.  


Skinner took his place beside Mulder a few minutes later, just as the doorbell proclaimed the arrival of the first guest. Mulder was relieved and delighted to find that it was Ian.


“I thought you’d need a friendly face as soon as possible,” Ian said with a grin. “I feel like I’m the bridesmaid come to attend the bride on her big day.”


“Careful, Ian,” Mulder warned. “I am a trained FBI agent and I do have a gun.”


“Hmmm…I wonder if it’s as big as your Master’s gun?” Ian said slyly and Mulder grinned. It felt good to have his friend with him, especially when he was feeling so out of sorts.


“Is Perry here?” Skinner asked.


“He’s parking the car. I let him do all the masterful, being in charge stuff like driving today, seeing as how this is a scene party. He rolled his eyes a bit but I think he’ll play along for the evening,” Ian grinned. “He’ll be up in a minute. He is the technical consultant for the evening’s entertainment after all! I think he’s looking forward to the kudos!” Now it was Ian’s turn to roll his eyes and Skinner laughed. The doorbell rang again and Skinner went to answer it.


“So…I bet you’re all jittery,” Ian said to Mulder. Mulder thought about it for a moment. No, he wasn’t, and that was the problem. He just felt wrong when normally he’d have been high on a combination of nerves and anticipatory excitement.


“I’m fine,” he told Ian quietly, and his friend looked at him in surprise.


“Is everything okay?” Ian asked softly, glancing at Skinner and then back at Mulder.


“It’s fine.” Mulder smiled brightly, resolving to try harder to fake the required responses. If Ian could see through him then Skinner wouldn’t have any trouble at all.






>Luckily the party was soon in full swing so Mulder didn’t have a chance to do much more fretting. Skinner made his slave walk to heel, and Mulder lost himself in the required responses, kneeling when his Master stopped to talk to people, fetching drinks and taking coats and generally being the most perfect slave, but he felt as if he was doing it all by rote. None of it came from the heart – it was all simply a learned response. Skinner greeted their guests and talked politely, but Mulder had the impression that his Master’s heart wasn’t entirely in the event either as Skinner wasn’t his usual strong presence. He was quieter, more reflective, and he didn’t have a great deal to say to his guests. Mulder even caught his Master staring into space on a couple of occasions, lost in thought despite the tremendous bustle and noise as all their guests filled the penthouse apartment with their noise and colour. People had really made an effort to dress up – there were all kinds of costumes and outfits and under different circumstances Mulder would have loved the array of people in rubber and leather and corsetry, but not tonight. Elaine arrived with her sub, David, in tow. She was wearing the most beautiful blue velvet evening gown that hugged her voluptuous hips and breasts, and her hair was hanging loose in golden curls down her back.


“You look gorgeous!” Mulder said, taking her coat and kissing her.


“My, you look rather impressive yourself,” she replied with a sneaky grin at his exposed backside. Mulder flushed.


“This will be such a beautiful celebration,” Elaine told him, grabbing his face and looking at him proudly. “I’m so happy for you, darling.” Mulder felt almost guilty for not being as happy about it as he was expected to be, and he withdrew from her embrace with a wan smile, making an excuse to hurry away to avoid her sharp, blue-eyed gaze.




The highlight of the evening was Hammer’s arrival, long after everyone else was settled in and eating, drinking and chatting away merrily.


“Sorry I’m late. I wasn’t sure I’d make it at all but Murray insisted. He wouldn’t shut up about it until I agreed to come,” he told them with a weary, but relieved smile.


“How is he?” Skinner asked and Mulder glanced at his Master, surprised. Hadn’t Skinner spent the afternoon with Murray? Where else had he been during those missing hours if not at the hospital doing some visiting?


“He’s fine. I’m bringing him home tomorrow,” Hammer said.


“Tomorrow? So soon? That’s excellent news!” Skinner exclaimed.


“Well, I can look after him better than they can – what he needs now is nursing, and I’m the best nurse for him. I’m taking time off work until he gets better so I can be with him all the time. They don’t know how to handle him in the hospital anyway.” Hammer grinned. “He drives them all nuts – when he isn’t making them all laugh of course.”


Mulder smiled – this was so much the Murray they all knew and loved, alternately exasperating and amusing but never less than outrageous with a childlike innocence and an equally childlike tendency towards throwing the occasional tantrum.


“This is wonderful news, Hammer – the best I could have hoped to hear,” Skinner said in a heartfelt tone. “Come into the kitchen – let me get you a drink.” He put an arm around Hammer’s shoulder and ushered him away. Mulder was about to follow when his arm was grabbed and he found himself being dragged into the bedroom.


“Ian…what are you doing?” He demanded.


Ian propelled him into the bedroom, shut the door firmly behind them, and threw Mulder onto the coat-covered bed.


“I could ask you the same question,” Ian hissed. “What the hell is going on here, Mulder?”


“Nothing is going on.” Mulder felt himself flushing furiously. He got up from the bed and tried to pass by his friend on his way to the door in the narrow, cell-like bedroom.


“Not so fast.” Ian stood his ground. “Mulder, I’ve been watching you all evening and something isn’t right. Walter is acting like some kind of absent-minded professor and you…you just look so unhappy. This should be one of the happiest days of your life and you look as if you’re at a wake.”


“I think the ‘one of the happiest days of your life’ thing is stretching the wedding analogy a little too far,” Mulder snapped. “It’s just a party.”


Ian gazed at him, his brown eyes genuinely shocked. “Now I know something’s wrong,” he said grimly. “Mulder, this isn’t just a party, this is a branding party – it’s important and significant. It’s just as big a deal as your re-collaring ceremony was, maybe more so – and I know you’d never have described that as ‘just a party’. Now what’s happening?”


Mulder felt as if he had been punched in the gut and yet in some ways it was a relief not to have to hide any more. He sat down on the bed once more, with a heavy sigh.


“Ian, I don’t know what to do,” he whispered, putting his head in his hands.


“Why? What’s happened?” Ian crouched down in front of him, and removed Mulder’s hands from his face so that he could look into his friend’s eyes.


“Nothing…and yet…everything is wrong,” Mulder said. “We haven’t had any time together lately, and Walter hasn’t been well. I’m genuinely concerned about his health – he’s doing too much and has been for months. I’m not in subspace, Ian. I’m not anywhere near it. I’m dreading the branding – everything feels wrong. I can’t ask Walter for more of his time because god know the poor guy doesn’t have any more time left to give, but I need to be taken down and he’s too tired and stretched too thin to see that. I hate to have to say this after the amount of time I’ve waited for this – but I’m not ready. I mean…” Mulder screwed up his face. “I am ready for it to happen mentally – I want it so badly…but I’m not in the right place emotionally or physically today.” He gazed at his friend, feeling utterly wretched.


“Have you told Walter any of this?” Ian asked.


“No. I can’t. He has enough to deal with right now without me being demanding. I thought I’d just get through this – it’s just a hump. In a couple of weeks it’ll probably have all blown over.”


“Mulder, you aren’t being branded in a couple of weeks. You’re being branded tonight,” Ian told him in a shocked tone. “This isn’t something you ‘get through’ – you either do it because it’s a beautiful, symbolic moment for both of you, or you don’t do it at all. Personally I don’t see how you can even contemplate it if you aren’t in subspace. It’s like being bullwhipped without a warm-up – it just hurts.”


Mulder gazed at his friend wearily. “I’ll be able to handle it. It’s only a moment’s pain.”


“And a brand that is with you for a lifetime – whenever you see it do you want to remember what a goddamn awful day it was when you got it? Or would you prefer to remember how beautiful it was, and how close you felt to your Master when he put his mark on your body?”


“I won’t feel like that,” Mulder said angrily.


“How can you, of all people, say that?” Ian asked. “What about this.” He brushed aside the harness on Mulder’s chest and laid his hand on the faint scar he had revealed. “Look what extremes you went to in order to get this off your body because of what it represented, Mulder,” he said desperately.


“This is different!” Mulder pushed Ian’s hand away.


“You have to tell him, Mulder,” Ian told him urgently. “You have to. I won’t stand by and watch you being branded when you feel like this. It’s barbaric if you’re not in the right headspace. I won’t be party to it.” Ian stood up and gazed down at his friend sternly. Mulder was about to reply when the door opened. They both turned, startled, to see Skinner standing in the doorway.


“Is everything okay?” Skinner asked, clearly surprised. “Fox, I’ve been looking all over the place for you. It’s time.” He glanced at his watch.


“I should be getting back to Perry,” Ian said. “Mulder.” He gazed at his friend in a meaningful way and then gestured with his head towards Skinner. Mulder shook his head mutely. Ian gave an audible sigh and then turned on his heel and walked out the door, leaving Master and slave alone together.


“What was all that about?” Skinner asked. Mulder got up.


“Nothing.” He smiled at his Master as he passed him on the way to the door. Skinner grabbed his arm and shut the door with a sharp nudge from his boot.


“Not so fast. I want to know what’s going on, Fox, and don’t say nothing – it didn’t look like nothing from where I was standing.”


“Ian is just getting worked up over nothing,” Mulder growled, trying to wrench his arm away from his Master’s grasp and failing. Skinner grabbed his other arm and gazed into his slave’s eyes.


“Fox, one of the first lessons I taught you was to be honest with me. Tell me what’s going on,” Skinner said firmly. Mulder took a deep breath. It was clear his Master wasn’t going to be fobbed off with any more assurances that nothing was going on, but at the same time, Mulder had no intention of ruining the evening for everyone by backing out at this late stage.


“I was just having some last minute jitters, that’s all,” Mulder said.


“Why didn’t you come to me?” Skinner looked genuinely hurt – which Mulder hadn’t expected at all.


“I…I didn’t need to. It’s nothing. I was just…” Mulder shrugged. “Just nervous. Ian was giving me a pep-talk. That’s all. Honestly.”


“Fox.” Skinner’s dark eyes bored holes into his soul. “Are you sure that’s it?” Skinner asked.


“Yes, Master. Completely sure. We should go – our guests will be getting restless.” Mulder tried to pull away from his Master’s firm grasp only to find that it was unrelenting – as was Skinner’s gaze.


“Fox…I won’t brand you if there’s a problem,” Skinner told his slave. Mulder looked up in alarm.


“Master we have 40 people out there in case you’ve forgotten,” he pointed out desperately. 


“And one person in here – and he’s the only one I’m interested in right now,” Skinner told him firmly. He brushed one of his hands gently down the side of Mulder’s face, although he didn’t release his grip on his slave’s arm with his other hand. “I won’t do anything that would harm you, Fox.”


“You can do what you like to me, Master,” Mulder pointed out. “I’m your slave.”


“I know, and I signed a contract to say I wouldn’t harm you and I won’t. Clause 3, slave, of the Master’s contract, in case you’ve forgotten, states the following: ‘I will use my slave’s body as I wish, such usage to be limited only by my responsibility not to damage either his physical or mental being.’ >Burning a permanent mark on your skin if you’re not sure about it comes under my definition of damaging both your physical and your mental being.”


Mulder closed his eyes. They had waited for this for so long – he wanted this, damnit! No, he wasn’t in the right mood for it today, but he wanted it. If he bailed out now who knew when the chance would ever arise again – and what would their guests think? It would be humiliating for the Guardian of the House if his own slave turned around on his branding day and said he’d changed his mind. No. Mulder couldn’t bear for that to happen.


“I’ll be fine,” he said firmly. “I want this, Master.” That much was the truth, and, clearly swayed by the resolve in his slave’s eyes, Skinner finally released his slave’s arm and smiled.


“All right, little one. Then let’s go,” he said softly. He pulled Mulder close and kissed him firmly, and then ushered him out of the room, one arm around his slave’s shoulders.




Mulder felt as if he was in a dream as his Master walked him along the hallway towards the Playroom. Their guests were already crammed into the Playroom waiting eagerly for the evening’s main event to begin, and an expectant hush fell on the room as Master and slave made their entrance. The sea of people parted before them, and Mulder felt his chest constrict as Skinner escorted him into the centre of the room and then clicked his fingers to signify that Mulder should kneel. Mulder did so, barely able to breathe as he felt the warmth emanating from the furnace, still hidden behind the screen. This was going to happen. This was actually going to happen! Panic stricken, he tried to gulp more air into his body, longing for his Master’s reassuring touch, but Skinner was busy addressing the assembled guests. Mulder stifled a growl of claustrophic rage as it welled up inside his throat. He didn’t want to feel like this. His eyes flashed frantically over the assembled throng. He couldn’t let them down – he couldn’t let himself down…and, most importantly of all, he couldn’t let his Master down. He found one set of eyes in the crowd, met them, and couldn’t tear his gaze away. Ian’s eyes were dark with worry, still desperately trying to communicate with Mulder that this was wrong, and that he should put an end to it. Mulder lowered his head so that he wouldn’t have to meet that sharp, inquiring gaze.  


His Master was moving around, and the screen was being removed. Mulder took one look at the exposed brazier with the branding iron sticking out and felt sick to the pit of his stomach. He should be fighting…he wanted to lash out, and flee as far away from this room as possible. His Master was looming over him now. Skinner took Mulder’s face in his hands, making him look up, but Mulder wouldn’t meet his Master’s eyes. He stood, under his Master’s guidance, but still he wouldn’t look at Skinner.


“Fox…” Skinner’s hands rubbed his arms gently. “Are you with me?”


“Yes, Master,” Mulder replied, his gaze still averted.


“Fox…what are you?” Skinner whispered softly.


“I’m your slave, Master,” Mulder said, almost inaudibly, every muscle in his body screaming his tension. His Master’s hands felt hot and heavy on his skin and he wanted to throw them off. He shook his arms involuntarily, dislodging his Master.


“Fox…look at me,” Skinner demanded.


“I…can’t,” Mulder hissed, keeping his gaze fixed on a spot over his Master’s shoulder.


“Fox…I’m going to start undressing you now,” Skinner said softly. Mulder knew the routine – his Master had told him what would happen. He would undress Mulder in front of their guests, leaving his slave completely naked, and then he would tie his slave tightly to the massage table. Skinner placed his hands on the golden harness covering Mulder’s chest and began unbuckling it. Mulder couldn’t help himself. He gave a low growl, and his hand came up and took hold of his Master’s wrist in a firm grip. Skinner stopped immediately. Mulder kept his gaze fixed on a spot in the distance so it came as a surprise to him when he felt a sharp slap on his cheek. It seemed to bring him back into focus, and he found himself looking into his Master’s dark eyes.


“You’re not in sub-space, Fox,” Skinner told him in a low voice – too low to be heard by the watching throng. “You’ve been lying to me…you’ve been pretending.”


“I’m not lying!” Mulder snapped. Skinner’s hand went to his crotch and felt his cock.


“Yes you are. If you were in sub-space, this would be hard as a rock by now. I know you and your responses too well, Fox.”


“I’ll be fine. Just get on with it,” Mulder hissed in an undertone, releasing his Master’s wrist.


“No.” Skinner took a step back. “I want you to go downstairs to my bedroom, Fox,” he said softly.


“What?” Mulder clenched his fists by his side. “I can do this, damnit, Walter!” he exclaimed.


“I’m sure you can. I, however, can’t,” Skinner told him. “Go, Fox. Now.”


Mulder looked at his Master and then at the expectant faces in the room. If he left now he’d not only be bailing out on his Master but he’d be leaving him to clear up his mess after him.




“Please…Master,” he whispered.


“Fox…it’s okay,” Skinner told him gently. “Just go. I’ll be along in a minute.”


>Mulder caught sight of Ian’s face in the crowd, and could feel his friend silently begging him to listen to his Master. From somewhere Mulder felt the strength to move. His Master beckoned Ian forward and his friend materialised by his side. Ian put his arm around Mulder’s shoulder and helped him from the room, away from all those inquiring gazes.


As they walked towards the stairs, Mulder heard Skinner’s voice addressing their guests, although he couldn’t hear what his Master was saying.


“You did the right thing,” Ian told him.


“He did. I didn’t do anything,” Mulder muttered.


“You and he together – you did the right thing,” Ian said sharply. “I know how hard it was for you to walk out of that room, Mulder but it was the right thing.” He walked Mulder down the stairs and along the hallway to his Master’s bedroom, then sat Mulder on the bed and went into the en-suite bathroom, returning with a glass of water. Mulder gulped it down gratefully.


“Oh shit. What a fucking mess,” Mulder sighed.


“Walter will smooth it over. Don’t worry about it,” Ian told him.


“You have no fucking idea how much I wanted this,” Mulder growled, utterly desolate. “Christ I hate myself right now.” He lay down on the bed and brought his knees up against his chest in the foetal position.


“Not as much as you’d have hated yourself if you’d gone through with that branding this evening,” Ian told him forcefully. Mulder didn’t reply. He lay there for a long time, and then glanced up at his friend, who was sitting beside him, a worried expression on his face.


“Ian…I need to be alone,” he said, desperately needing to pull himself together before his Master came down. Ian hesitated. “It’s okay – I won’t do anything stupid. I just need to get my head together. Please.”


>Ian gave a little smile. “Okay – but call me if you need anything.”


“I will. And Ian…” He called the other man back from the door. “Thanks,” Mulder said softly. Ian smiled and nodded, then left the room.






>When he was alone Mulder rolled onto his back and gazed at the ceiling sightlessly. He was cringing inside at the thought of his Master explaining to all those people that there wasn’t going to be a branding tonight. He had been hoping to spare his Master any problems but instead his actions just seemed to have landed Skinner in the deepest shit of all at a time when he already had enough to deal with. How the hell could he hope to repair this kind of damage? Mulder decided that he couldn’t – that all he could do was throw himself on his Master’s mercy and hope for the best. Suddenly galvanised into action, he got up, and got undressed. Then he went to the closet and retrieved the briefcase containing his own special Fox engraved disciplinary implements that his Master always kept there. Mulder opened the briefcase, took out the 4 implements nestled within, and laid them out on the armchair in the corner of the room. Then he stood next to the chair, facing the corner, his nose pressed into it, and waited for his Master’s return.


Upstairs Mulder heard the sound of feet moving and people calling goodbye to each other. The upstairs front door seemed to close an interminable number of times as their guests left the party, and then, after about half an hour, he heard a tread on the stairs. He stood up straight, trembling slightly, waiting for his Master, and a few seconds later he heard the bedroom door open. There was silence for a moment, followed by a deep heartfelt sigh.


“Fox…come here, sweetheart. I’m not going to punish you,” Skinner told him. Mulder turned, genuinely bewildered, expecting anger and disappointment, to find only love and warmth in his Master’s eyes. He ran across the room in a split second and melted into his Master’s big arms. Skinner held him tight for a long time, and they stood there, just holding each other, Skinner occasionally dropping a kiss on his slave’s head. Finally, Skinner pushed him away.  


“I think we have a lot of talking to do, Fox,” he said, gently but firmly.


“Yes, Master,” Mulder said with a sigh. “I’m sorry.”


“So am I.” Skinner sat down on the bed and pulled his slave down beside him. He put his arm around Mulder and his slave rested his head on his Master’s shoulder. “I didn’t realise you were having problems, Fox. I wish you’d felt you could have told me.”


“You had so many problems to deal with, Walter. I didn’t want to be one more,” Mulder sighed.


“You’re not a problem, Fox. You’re my beloved slave.” Skinner kissed his slave’s cheek. They were silent for awhile then Skinner gave a wry chuckle.


“What?” Mulder glanced at his Master.


“You – when I think how you started out when I first took you as my slave – everything was about you…it’s almost as if you’ve gone too far in the other direction now, to the point where you’d prefer to have a burning iron pressed into your skin when you aren’t in the right frame of mind to handle it, than upset me. I can see we need to work on some balance here, Fox.”


“Yeah.” Mulder made a wry face. “You know me, Walter. I exist in a state of extremes.”


Skinner laughed again and squeezed his slave’s shoulder.


“Have they all gone?” Mulder asked. “The guests?”




“Oh. Shit. How did they react when you…?” Mulder bit down on his lip.


“They were fine about it. I explained that we’d had a difficult week and we hadn’t had time to prepare properly. They’d already had a lot of food and drink and a fine time catching up with friends and they all understood.”


“I hope so,” Mulder murmured.


They were silent for a long time, and then Skinner squeezed Mulder’s shoulder again.


“I think it’s time to discuss this,” he said. “What went wrong, Fox? What was going on in your head?”


>Mulder thought about it for a long time, but he really didn’t know where to begin. Some of what he had to say would entail criticising his Master and he didn’t want to spoil the mood by throwing recriminations at the big man. After several minutes had passed, Skinner sighed and sat up.


“All right, Fox. Let’s go back to basics here.” He clicked his fingers and Mulder sat up, startled. “On the floor, in the confessional position,” Skinner ordered.


Mulder stared at his Master, confused. They hadn’t done any formal confessionals for months now – they talked so much more easily and freely than they had at the beginning that it wasn’t necessary. “Quickly, slave.” Skinner made it clear this wasn’t going to be an optional discussion – it was a Master/slave issue and would be dealt with as such.  


Mulder got into position on the floor beside the bed. He pressed his nose onto the carpet and waited for the words to come.


“I won’t interrupt you and you can say whatever you like.” Skinner reminded him of the rules. “In your own time, but you must be honest and you must talk, slave.”




Mulder nodded, and pressed his nose even further into the carpet. He had previously found that once in the confessional position he could speak easily and freely – it sometimes took him awhile for the words to flow but once they did they usually came out in a torrent.


“I’ve been struggling for several days, Master. There were several things going on – it’s confusing. Murray’s heart attack….made me worried about you,” he said.


“About me?” Skinner sounded surprised and Mulder looked up at his Master. Skinner rarely interrupted him during a confessional. “I’m sorry – carry on,” Skinner murmured.


“You’ve been under a lot of strain recently. Murray’s illness was one more thing you had to deal with – and you did. You visited him every night even though you were busy clearing your workload prior to our vacation. You also had a cold, and you weren’t getting enough sleep. I love you, Master, and it worried me. Seeing Murray lying there, watching Hammer deal with his illness…made me wonder how I’d deal with it if it had been you…and I couldn’t get that worry out of my mind.”


Mulder was silent for a while. Skinner said nothing. Finally, Mulder sighed, knowing his Master wouldn’t let him stop until it was all out in the open.


“I couldn’t get into sub space, Master because I barely saw you this past week. I needed to spend some time with you but it didn’t happen and you had too many other things to deal with to make it happen. I do understand that. I hated feeling needy when you were so stressed out but this was a time when I really did need you to be my Master. Not Walter, not my lover, but my Master. The branding is a huge deal for me – I need to feel every inch your slave and I need to feel that you are every inch my Master, but instead you cut me some slack when I acted out when instead I wanted to be reined in. I needed you to be particularly strict and stern with me – not kind and understanding – but really tough and uncompromising. I needed to be taken down. Today…today you left me alone when I needed you to be there. I’m sorry…I tried to get into the right mindset without you…but you didn’t even mark me…” Mulder trailed off, biting his lip, hating what he was having to say. “Not that marking would have solved the problem necessarily, but…” Mulder shrugged. “I wanted to bathe and dress you before the ceremony but you didn’t let me do that.” He pressed his nose further into the carpet. “I’m sorry. I should have told you all this before now. I just thought I could get through the branding without you finding out – that even if it was an ordeal I could handle it rather than disappoint you. Ian said I had to tell you. He’s learned his lessons better than I have. Wasn’t that one of the first lessons you taught me? I must always be honest with my Master? I screwed up on that, big time.”  


>Mulder finished with a sigh and knelt there, waiting to hear his Master’s reaction. Skinner was silent for several minutes, and then, finally, he spoke.


“Fox. Look up,” he said. Mulder did so, trembling in anticipation of his Master’s reaction to his honesty. “I’m sorry, little one,” Skinner told him softly. “I failed you in this – I must take a large part of the responsibility. Yes, you should have been honest with me about what you were feeling, but I was too busy and stressed out to notice. Like you, I wasn’t particularly in the mood to go through with the branding tonight either – but I carried on because I didn’t want to disappoint you. So I can’t blame you for doing exactly the same thing. It seems as if we both screwed up here but my fault was the greater. I should have realised that your explosion the other day was a cry for help – I usually don’t have any difficulty picking up on those signals.” He shook his head ruefully.


“I don’t want you to take all the blame,” Mulder said vehemently. “I know how hard this week has been for you.”


“Well…let’s agree that we were both so concerned about each other that we failed each other,” Skinner said with a wry grin. Mulder gave a sigh and smiled back.


“I think that’s about the truth of it, Master. So…what now?”


“We put it behind us and move on,” Skinner told him firmly.


“What about…the branding?” Mulder ventured uncertainly. “Will we still…?”


“Oh yes.” Skinner smiled. “But I’ll decide when, Fox. I won’t tell you in advance but rest assured you will be ready. To that end…we still have a couple of weeks off work. I suggest we use them first to recover, and then to revisit your basic training.”


“That sounds good to me, Master.” Mulder smiled at the other man in relief.


“I’ll make one thing clear right now – I’m in charge,” Skinner said firmly. “However for the next two days I think we both need to be kind to ourselves. So, we’ll just spend the days hanging out together and resting – we need that to get ourselves back together physically if nothing else, or at least I certainly do. I’ve been running on empty and ignoring the signs. For future reference – if I ever do that again, Fox, you are under orders to tell me so and to insist I get some rest. I feel as if I need a week’s worth of sleep to recoup my energy levels.”


“Perhaps we should make the next 2 days both Master’s Days,” Mulder said. “That way I can take care of you and you can rest.”


“Sounds good to me!” Skinner beamed. “After that – I intend to take you right down, Fox. I’m taking you at your word and I’ll be as hard as is necessary to get you back on track. So it might be a case of  ‘be careful what you wish for’ because things are going to change around here.”


“Thank you, Master.” Mulder gave a faint smile. “Uh…I think,” he added nervously. Skinner grinned.


“You won’t be in any doubt who is the Master by the time I do come to brand you, Fox. I can promise you that. I’ll take you down to the most basic level of your slavery.”


Mulder nodded, feeling happier than he had in awhile, despite the knowledge that the next few days would undoubtedly be demanding – at least with his Master’s help he’d be able to find the serenity of sub-space again. He leaned forward and kissed his Master’s feet, where they were resting on the bed.


“One more thing,” Skinner said, with a sigh, and Mulder looked up again, wondering what was coming next. “The issue of why I wouldn’t allow you to bathe and dress me, and where I went today…I can see it wasn’t a good move to leave you alone for those few hours. If it’s any consolation…it was done for the best of intentions. You see…I wanted to do something to surprise you. I thought that as you were going to take my mark onto your body today, then I also wanted to make a similar commitment to you. I intended to show you this after your branding, so this spoils the moment a bit…but I think you need to see it now. You’ll see it before long in any case as I won’t be able to hide it until I do brand you.” And so saying, Skinner unbuttoned his silk shirt to reveal a small white dressing over his chest.


“What have you done?” Mulder got up, and went close, his heart pounding in his chest. Skinner peeled off the dressing to reveal the most beautiful tattoo of a fox, positioned right over his heart.


“Oh shit…it’s perfect,” Mulder said softly – and it was. The little creature had bright, inquisitive golden eyes and bushy orange/brown fur. It had clearly been drawn by a talented tattoo artist. It looked intensely lifelike – and very appealing. Somehow the artist had imbued the fox with an innate curiosity and sense of innocence that made the tattoo all the more enchanting.


“They had to shave some of my chest hair,” Skinner grimaced, “but I wanted it placed here on purpose. I already carry you in my heart, Fox – so I knew you’d understand the symbolism of this.”


“Did it hurt?” Mulder reached out a finger and gently touched the surface of the tattoo.


“Yes.” Skinner grinned. “But I figured that if you were going to undergo a painful marking process then I would too.”


“Oh shit.” Mulder hung his head. “That just makes me feel worse for wimping out of this.”


“You didn’t wimp out of anything – you’ll have that brand, but in my time,” Skinner said firmly.


“Thank you.” Mulder gently fingered the tattoo in wonder. “So this is why you winced and pulled away from me earlier – with my stupid, overactive imagination I thought it might be because you were about to have a heart attack – just like Murray.” He shook his head, laughing at himself bitterly.


“I had no idea that was going on inside you head.” Skinner sighed. “If I had, I’d have put a stop to it there and then.”


“It’s so strange – when I woke up this morning I knew one of us would get marked today. I just didn’t realise it would be you and not me.” Mulder smiled at the irony. “I feel very honoured that you did this for me, Master. I’ll do my best to be worthy of it.” He pressed his lips against the tattoo with a gossamer light touch and Skinner sighed and ruffled his slave’s hair.


“Fox – it was my pleasure. I wanted to do it. I wanted you to understand that you aren’t the only one who wants to live with a celebration of our relationship embedded in your flesh.” Skinner’s dark eyes were alight with love. “Come here.” Skinner lay down on the bed with an exhausted smile and beckoned his slave to lie beside him. Mulder obeyed eagerly, resting his head on his Master’s shoulder. “What a day,” Skinner sighed.


“Yeah.” Mulder gave a wry chuckle.


“One more thing, boy…” Skinner squeezed Mulder’s shoulder with his hand, holding him tight. “I can’t promise that I won’t die, Fox. Nobody can promise that,” he said softly. “I can’t promise I won’t fall ill, any more than you can promise that somebody won’t take a pot-shot at you when you’re out in the field one day. We lead more dangerous lives than most, after all. However, I have no intention of keeling over just yet. I have a lot of living I want to do, especially now that I have you here, keeping me on my toes and providing me with so much fun, excitement and sheer erotic pleasure.”


Mulder glanced up into his Master’s brown eyes to find them more serious than he had expected.


“But…” Skinner bestowed a kiss on his slave’s forehead. “I might die one day, Fox…as might you. When Andrew died and when Sharon died I experienced intense grief and I know that if you died I would be desolate…but I would carry on. I’d survive – a little tattered and torn around the edges maybe, and with a bruised heart, but I’d keep on putting one foot in front of the other, trusting myself to the kindness of my friends, because if there was one thing that Andrew taught me it was that I had to carry on. If I’d crumbled after he’d died, I would have let him down. I feel the same way about you, Fox. I hope I’ve given you something, not taken away from you. I hope I haven’t made you so dependent on me that you can’t lead your life without me. I hope you’ve become stronger during our time together, not weaker. You’ve always been a survivor, Fox – I hope that if I died you’d do just that: survive. Because if you turned your face away from life then I’d have failed in every single thing I tried to do.”


Mulder swallowed hard, tracing a finger over his Master’s newly shaven chest, outlining the little fox that was etched on his Master’s skin.


“I am stronger, Master, just from having been your slave, and from having experienced your love –which was something I never expected for myself in a million years, and could never even have hoped for. I promise I won’t fail you, not even in death.”


“Good – because that would be my last order to you, Fox. If I should die before you, I order you to carry on with your life and make a success of it, to let your friends take care of you while the grief is at its worst, and, in time, to admit to the possibility of loving again.”


“You’re making that an order?” Mulder asked, utterly winded by the solemnity of the conversation.


“Yes. Yes I am. Do you understand that, little one? Will you promise that, if the day should ever come, you’ll obey me in this?” Skinner held him tight and Mulder shivered, as if someone had walked over his grave. He gazed at his Master, his finger still tracing the little fox that adorned the other man’s skin, and then, finally, he gave a long, loud sigh.


“Yes, Master. I promise,” he said softly.


“Good.” Skinner leaned over and kissed him firmly on the mouth. Mulder opened up, surrendering to his Master’s kisses, always wanting more. Finally Skinner released him and they both lay there in companionable silence for awhile.


“Tomorrow I’m going to give you the special Fox massage,” Mulder murmured, his fingers itching to get to work on his Master’s skin and soothe away all the knots in the other man’s weary muscles. “I’m going to spend hours bathing you, shaving you, massaging you, dressing you,” Mulder continued. “I’m going to make you feel better, Master.” He glanced up to find that his Master was already fast asleep. Mulder gave a wry laugh. Skinner was exhausted and god knows he needed the rest. Mulder disentangled himself from beneath his Master’s arm and gently undid the other man’s belt and then unbuttoned his pants. He pulled Skinner’s shining boots from his long legs, and then slowly, carefully, lovingly undressed his Master, being careful not to wake him. Then he undressed himself, got into the bed beside his Master and pulled a blanket over them both before turning out the light. He held the big man in his arms and kissed him softly in the darkness. It wasn’t the ending he had expected this evening to have, but he felt more at peace than he had done at any point in the past week.


“I’ll take good care of you, Master,” Mulder whispered before he fell fast asleep himself.




Skinner was still sleeping when Mulder woke the next day. Mulder slid out of the bed, leaving his Master still lying there, Wanda curled up on his pillow, her chin resting on Skinner’s shoulder. Mulder smiled at the sight and then went downstairs. It was already ten o’ clock but Mulder had no intention of waking his Master – he wanted Skinner to get all the rest he needed for the next few days. Mulder made himself some coffee and settled down to read the paper, checking on his Master at regular intervals. At just gone 11, the phone rang. Mulder grabbed it quickly, hoping it hadn’t woken his Master in the upstairs bedroom.


“Hi, it’s me,” Ian’s voice said. “I was just calling to see if you’re okay.”


“I’m fine.” Mulder settled down on the couch to talk to his friend. “In fact…I’m better than fine. We had a long talk last night and we worked it all out.”


“Hallelujah!” Ian proclaimed.


“Thanks, Ian – if it hadn’t been for you I’m not sure the evening would have ended so well,” Mulder admitted.


“You’re welcome, friend! So, have the calls begun yet?” Ian asked.


“What calls?” Mulder queried blankly.


“Well it’s early yet. Give it awhile and you’ll see,” Ian told him with a laugh. They chatted for a few minutes and then the conversation ended. Mulder had no sooner disconnected than the phone rang again.


“Mulder? It’s Elaine. How are you, darling?” She asked, in her familiar warm tones.


“I’m fine. Look, I’m sorry about last night,” he began.


“Oh hush. I’m not calling to make a fuss. I’m calling to make sure you’re both all right. I’ve never seen Walter look so tired or you so dispirited. Usually you’re the most high octane person I’ve ever met! And he’s always filled with that Walter sense of purpose and determination. You were like two different people last night.”


“We were tired – we hadn’t had any time to prepare and Walter had a cold all last week. We needed some time out. I’m just sorry that our guests had to go away without seeing what they came for.”


“You did the right thing,” Elaine told him firmly. “All your guests understood that.”


Mulder nodded, reassured by her no-nonsense tones. He had no sooner finished talking to Elaine than the phone rang again. Mulder wondered if it was even vaguely possible that his Master had slept through all this as he answered the call.


“Mulder! It’s Hammer. I’ve just got Murray home and settled in and I wanted to call to make sure you were okay…”


Mulder grinned, feeling an attack of the warm fuzzies coming on. He had been so worried about letting his guests down last night but this morning they were all rallying around. Suddenly he understood his Master’s comment about throwing himself on the kindness of his friends, and for the first time he felt like they were all his friends – not just Ian, but Elaine and Hammer and all the others as well.


“How’s Murray?” He asked.


“He’s fine – in fact he’s gesticulating wildly at me because he wants to talk to you too!” Hammer said. “He’ll have to wait though. Mulder, I know you must be feeling pretty disappointed right now. I’ve been branded – I know what it feels like and I know it was one of the best days of my entire life, but I also know that it wouldn’t have been for you if you hadn’t been in the right place last night. Yes, Murray, give me a second will you!” Hammer chided his lover, laughing as he did so. Mulder smiled to himself.


“Thanks, Hammer. That means a lot to me,” he said sincerely.


“I’ve no doubt Walter will brand you – but it’ll be at the right time in the right circumstances,” Hammer informed him. Mulder felt a little shiver of anticipation sweep through him and with it came a sense of total relief – he had worried that he’d never feel this way about being branded again – but this was a start. With his Master’s undivided attention he knew he could find his way back into the beautiful serenity of subspace and total submission – and from there his branding could be the beautiful experience that Hammer spoke of.  


Mulder took the phone off the hook after speaking to Hammer and Murray and went back upstairs to find his Master, amazingly, still fast asleep. In fact Skinner didn’t wake until a well after noon, and, Mulder was pleased to note, his Master looked much better than he had done in days. His skin was pinker, and had lost its pallor.


Mulder was as good as his word and spent the next couple of days throwing himself whole-heartedly into taking care of his Master. He bathed, shaved, massaged and dressed Skinner, and under his ministrations his Master swiftly recovered from the last vestiges of his cold. Skinner also caught up on his sleep and with Murray home and off Skinner’s ‘to worry about’ list, the big man started to look more like his old self. Skinner didn’t make any use of his slave, but Mulder was content enough – somehow they both needed the space and anyway it was nice just being together, talking quietly about anything but the scene, or their roles, or the branding. These were subjects they avoided altogether until they retired to bed a couple of evenings later. Then Skinner turned out the light, and pulled his slave close.


“Feeling apprehensive, Fox?” He asked quietly.


“Yes, Master.” Mulder gave a little shiver.


“With good reason,” Skinner told him in solemnly. “Tomorrow I’m going to take you right back down to basics. These will be a demanding few days.”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder swallowed hard.


“I won’t brand you until I’m sure you’re ready, but this time I want you to understand that it’ll be my decision, and not yours. Do you understand that?”


“Yes, Master.” Mulder felt his cock start to harden which pleased him. It had been several days since he’d had anything approaching an erection and that was unusual for him.


“Good.” Skinner kissed his slave firmly on the cheek. “Good night then, boy.” He turned over and settled into his pillow. Mulder lay there in the darkness for a few minutes, pondering hard, until Skinner let out a loud sigh.


“Fox, I swear that the sound of your mind chewing over a problem is the loudest thing I’ve ever heard,” he said. “What is it? I don’t want you lying here all night worrying – I want you fresh and alert and ready to fully embrace your slavery first thing tomorrow morning.”


“Sorry, Master.” Mulder made a face in the darkness and moved closer to the other man for reassurance. “It’s just that…I do want this…I want to be branded…but I’m afraid I might fight you on the way down into submission. I don’t know why – that’s just how I’m feeling right now.”


“I know that, boy,” Skinner replied. “I don’t anticipate that the next few days will be without incident, but we’ll get there. I’m very confident of that.”


“Master…I need you to promise me that you’ll be tough with me,” Mulder confessed, feeling his cheeks flushing bright red. “I know I’m going to regret saying this in the morning but to get into the headspace for this I need to really go down. Right down. I love it when you’re in full Master mode, and sometimes I need a kind of…” he hesitated, “a kind of rough physicality to get myself psyched up. Does that make sense?”


“Yes, boy – although I suspect only my Oxford educated psychology graduate would phrase it like that,” Skinner chuckled. Mulder gave a wry laugh.


“I just didn’t want you to think I was fighting you or fighting being branded. I want to obey you, to do everything you ask of me, but I think I might dig my heels in like a stubborn mule and fight you instead. Shit, I don’t know why I feel like this but I do,” he sighed.


“Maybe you need to make sure I’m strong enough to be your Master – that I’m worthy of that title,” Skinner told him quietly. “Maybe you need to be sure that you’re surrendering yourself to a kind of dominating force you can’t resist – maybe only then will your subconscious view me as being a good enough Master to put a brand in your flesh – a brand that will stay there for the rest of your life.”


“Ah, now who’s being the psychologist?” Mulder muttered, kissing his Master’s shoulder gently. “Maybe you’re right, Master. Promise me you won’t give up on me no matter how much of a jerk I am?”


Skinner laughed out loud. “Fox, you’re mine. I’ve told you that a thousand times before. There’s no question of me giving up on you. In this battle for dominance, I promise you that I’ll be stronger and more demanding than I’ve ever been before. You’ll bow to me, Fox, the way you so desperately want to – and it won’t feel like a defeat or a surrender – it’ll just feel right.”


Mulder sighed happily and rested his head on Skinner’s warm chest. “Thank you in advance, Master,” he said softly. “In case I don’t seem very grateful at the time – thank you.”


Mulder closed his eyes, his mind eased by the conversation. Now he had no choice but to just surrender himself to his Master. Skinner would take care of the rest, and, however hard it might be, Mulder knew that his eventual submission would be all the sweeter for it.


End of The Branding Part 1


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