Something was wrong. Something indefinable. Skinner sat at his desk, staring absently across the room, wishing he could put his finger on it. First of all, Agent Mulder had come here requesting his permission to investigate a case that was clearly not an X File, and, just as clearly, way outside his jurisdiction. Skinner had refused to sign the 302.


“Explain to me why, Mulder,” he had beseeched.


“No. You have to trust me.” Mulder had replied.


“I do trust you. But it isn’t blind trust.” Skinner told him, gazing at the other man searchingly, trying to find some clue as to why he wanted to chase off to the other side of the world to look into the suspicious death of some old English guy.


“Then I guess we have nothing more to say.” Mulder had got up and left the room, abruptly, not quite slamming the door behind him. Skinner had, as usual, sighed.


Barely two hours later, he saw that Mulder had taken advantage of his hugely banked up vacation time and put in a request for immediate leave. Personnel had been nagging him to use up some of his leave for as long as Skinner could remember, so they had granted the request post haste. And now everything had gone suddenly and suspiciously quiet…


Skinner wasn’t stupid. He was sure that Mulder’s request to pursue the case and his request for leave were linked, which was why he had called his agent on his cell phone and informed him in no uncertain terms, that he was not to investigate the case. He had also added that if he was wise, Mulder would not get on a plane to England. Mulder had merely replied that he had a funeral to attend, and so yes, he would be going to England. Then he terminated the call.


Skinner drummed his fingers on the desk, waiting…for something. He wasn’t sure what. It had been four days since his last conversation with Mulder, and he was on the verge of calling Mulder’s cell phone again when his phone buzzed.
“Sir.” Kimberly sounded worried. “I have a call for you, sir.”


“Yes? Who is it, Kim?” He asked, trying to take a step back from the Mulder problem.


“It’s Scotland Yard, sir.”






Skinner got on a plane, fighting both a headache and a desire to take hold of Agent Mulder by the scruff of his neck and…and…he wasn’t sure what he would do when he got hold of him, but he suspected that it would be painful.


At Heathrow airport he took a cab to Scotland Yard, where he was greeted by a gray haired, jovial man who introduced himself as “DCI Fred Phillips.”


“Assistant Director Skinner. FBI.” Skinner returned the greeting tersely. “I believe you have one of my men here?”


“Oh yeah. We’ve got him all right. Says his name is Fox Mulder. We thought it must be an alias at first, only who’d think up an alias that sounded that daft?”


“Quite.” Skinner nodded briskly. “I must apologize for Agent Mulder’s conduct. He isn’t here in an official capacity, I can assure you of that.”


“Obviously.” Fred Phillips grinned. “Be like me poking around in New York, waving my Scotland Yard ID at people. They wouldn’t know what the bloody hell I was talking about, and I wouldn’t have any arresting authority.”


“Mulder didn’t try to arrest anybody did he?” Skinner asked anxiously.


“No. He’s not that stupid.” DCI Phillips laughed. “He just got a bit over-eager with his questioning, and caused some offense. He’s a pushy little bugger isn’t he?”


“You could say that.” Skinner smiled wryly.


“Anyway, he got himself arrested and we found he was carrying a firearm. That sort of thing doesn’t go down too well over here.”


“I can imagine.” Skinner shook his head. What the hell had been going on in Mulder’s head?


“We checked him out and found he was FBI. Now, I’ll take your word for it that this isn’t anything official he’s working on.”


“It isn’t.” Skinner confirmed, grimly.


“Good. Because otherwise we could have something of a diplomatic incident on our hands.” DCI Phillips grinned broadly. “And between you and me, I kind of like to avoid them.”


He led Skinner along a corridor and down a few flights of stairs.


“Which is why I’m glad you came to pick him up in person. I could have let him go, with a caution, but I had a feeling he’d just end up getting into more trouble, and, well, he’s a pain in the backside, but I quite like the kid. He and I have done some talking, played a bit of chess…he’s okay.”


“Yes. Yes he is.” Skinner nodded.


“But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t need a good dressing down.” DCI Phillips grinned. “And, by the look of you, I’d have said that’s exactly what he’s going to get.”


“Is it that obvious?” Skinner grinned maliciously.


“Oh yes. I wouldn’t like to be in that kid’s shoes right now.” Phillips chuckled, unlocking a door, and ushering Skinner into a corridor containing a row of cells. “We offered to move him somewhere more…salubrious, but he said he was happy enough here, and we knew you wouldn’t be long in arriving. So. Here we go.” He smiled, unlocking another door, and Skinner found himself face to face with a tired, pale, stubble-chinned Agent Mulder.


“Hi.” Mulder said weakly, getting to his feet. “I’m in big trouble, right, sir?”


“Trouble doesn’t even begin to describe it.” Skinner told him tersely. “You have no authority, no jurisdiction, and no right even being here. I warned you, Agent Mulder. Hell, I practically ordered you not to come here.”


“A guy’s allowed a vacation…” Mulder began innocently.


“This wasn’t a vacation, Agent Mulder. You were pursuing an investigation, and don’t even bother to lie to me. I’m not in the mood for it. Just collect your belongings and come with me. We’ll talk about this in more detail later.”


“But, sir…”


“I said, later.” Skinner thundered, and Mulder shut up, gathering up his jacket and shrugging himself into it, shaking hands with DCI Phillips and smiling at him wryly.


“Nice to meet you,” he muttered. “Sorry about the circumstances.”


“That’s okay, son. Nice to meet you too. Be good in future.”


“Uh, well…I’ll try.” Mulder sighed, and Phillips grinned.


“Not your forte in life?” He laughed out loud. “Never mind, Mulder. Although I hope for your sake, his bark is worse than his bite.” He shot a glance at Skinner’s retreating back. Mulder took a deep breath and shook his head.


“Unfortunately it isn’t,” he grimaced, before hurrying to catch his boss up.


“We’re booked on the next flight back.” Skinner told his agent tersely as they got into a black cab.


“But, all my stuff is in my hotel room back at Oxford.” Mulder protested.


“Tough. You can call them when we get back and ask them to send it on.” Skinner growled, loosening his collar and staring out of the window. “Shit, it’s hot. I thought it was supposed to rain all the time in England?”


“It’s summer.” Mulder shrugged. “It’s been idyllic in Oxford for the past few days. Green grass, hot sun, blue skies…”


“And an FBI agent with a gun in his pocket running amok looking for killers?” Skinner raised an eyebrow. “That’s one way to destroy the idyll! Handguns aren’t exactly an everyday sight in this country, Mulder. Their goddamn police don’t even carry them!”


“I know that!” Mulder exploded. “I lived here for three damn years.”


Skinner’s face darkened, and Mulder knew that he had made a big mistake. “You might like to consider the value of silence right now, Agent Mulder.” Skinner said, in a low, dangerous tone. “Because if you say one more word I swear it’ll be your last for a very long time. You were this close…” he held up his thumb and forefinger, “to causing an international incident yesterday. An international incident that could have ruined your career, to say nothing of landing my ass in a sling. So just sit there, keep your mouth shut, and pray to god that I’ve calmed down by the time we get back to DC, because you are really not going to like the consequences of this little escapade.”


Mulder’s eyes flashed but he didn’t say another word and they continued on their journey in silence. When they got to Heathrow, Skinner took Mulder to one of the airport cafeterias to wait for their flight.


“Six hours before take-off?” Mulder groaned. “We could have stayed in town and done some sightseeing.”


“Mulder, the only sight you are going to be seeing for the next six months is the inside of a surveillance van. Compared to that, this is sightseeing.” Skinner told him grimly. Mulder glared at him for a long moment, then got up, flicking at his stained tie, and running a hand over his stubbled jaw.


“Where are you going?” Skinner demanded.


“To use the bathroom, if that’s allowed, sir.” Mulder told him, in a tone just bordering on insolence. Skinner fought down an urge to slap him. “I need to freshen up.”


“You’ve got 5 minutes.” Skinner glanced at his watch. “Quickly, Agent Mulder. I’m timing you.”


Mulder gave him another glare, and set off.


Skinner allowed him 6 minutes, then watched as the airport clock ticked over another 60 seconds. “Damn you for always having to push me, Mulder!” He cursed, getting to his feet. He strode down to the toilets, prepared to drag Mulder from one of the stalls by his collar if need be, only to find the washroom completely empty.


“Mulder.” He called, kicking each door open. He came to the end, turned around, thought about it for a moment, and then opened his mouth in a loud roar. “MULDER!”


When there was no reply he charged out, muttering furiously to himself as he walked through the airport, checking to see if Mulder was elsewhere, and already knowing exactly where Mulder had gone. “So help me god, I am gonna kill you for this, Mulder,” he swore, finally chasing out into the sunlight, and getting into one of several waiting cabs.


“Where to, Guv?” The taxi driver asked cheerfully.


“Oxford,” he growled, sinking back in the seat.


“Uh…Oxford’s a long drive…” the driver said tentatively.


“I don’t care how goddamn long a drive it is. Just take me there.” Skinner snapped, in a tone that brooked no argument. The taxi driver opened his mouth, then caught the expression on his passenger’s face and changed his mind.


“Oxford? No problem…” he murmured. “We could go onto Manchester afterwards if you wanted. Hey, why stop there? I’ve heard that Aberdeen’s nice at this time of year…”




Mulder paused, looking over his shoulder for a second, then he took a deep breath, and got on the tube train, taking a seat and waiting for the doors to close. He glanced at his watch. He had no doubt that Skinner meant what he said about having five minutes. That time had been up over 3 minutes ago. When Skinner found out, he was going to be livid…Mulder bit on his lip, and got up again, hopping off the train, and started to walk back to the airport. Then he stopped. Hell, who was he kidding? Even if he went back now, he’d still be in deep shit. Might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, he told himself, getting back on the train. He heaved a sigh of relief as the doors slid closed. At least now, there was no turning back. Let Skinner fume and shout, and go red in the face. Mulder would deal with that later.


“Hey, Mr. Mulder! You’re back!” Susan, the hotel manager called, as he entered the hotel lobby. “We thought you’d been arrested!”


“Uh, yeah. I was.” Mulder admitted with a shrug. “But it was just a misunderstanding. Do you still have my stuff?”


“Of course.” Susan smiled. “I hope you’ll be staying a while longer, Mr. Mulder. Hearing about how the old bill took you away was the most excitement we’d had in ages.”


“I’m glad to be of some entertainment value.” Mulder smiled stiffly.


“We’ll have to charge you for the night you didn’t use the room of course.”


“Fine. Whatever.” Mulder disappeared up the stairs and into his room, closing the door behind him, and leaning back on it with a sigh.


Shit, what a day. What a week. He needed a shower, a shave, and some sleep.


“Agent Mulder. I’m so glad you could join me.” A deep voice rang out in the silent room. Mulder jumped fully four feet in the air. There, sitting in an armchair, was his boss.


“You’re a doppelganger, right? You’re not here.” Mulder muttered weakly, feeling his heart pounding in his chest. “I mean, I just left you behind at the airport didn’t I?”


“I believe the technical term for it is ‘ditching’, Agent Mulder. From the verb ‘to ditch’, a term that you must be very familiar with by now, as must poor Agent Scully. Now, I don’t know how she exacts revenge for the many occasions when she’s been ditched, but I can assure you, it’s nothing compared to what I’m going to do to you.” Skinner got to his feet, the expression on his face darkly unreadable. He looked so angry that Mulder felt a wave of sheer terror sweep through him momentarily.


“Please, sir. I can explain,” he said weakly. It was at this point that his legs chose to give way.


“Damn, Mulder. When did you last eat?” Skinner was by his side in seconds, helping the other man to the chair, and then pouring him a glass of water.


“I can’t eat.” Mulder downed the water in one gulp. “You don’t understand, sir. I had to ditch you. I had to come back here, and I can’t eat because something’s happened to Mac, and I have to work out what.”


“Mac? Who the hell are you talking about? I thought you said this Mac guy was dead? You came here to attend his funeral!” Skinner protested.


“I thought he was dead too.” Mulder shook his head. “And yeah, I came here to attend his funeral, and to look for his killer. I hadn’t been here five minutes when it became obvious to me that the local cops weren’t exactly expending much time or manpower on looking for the guy who murdered him. I did a bit of digging…” he ignored Skinner’s sigh, “…found some stuff that didn’t add up, and then it just came to me in the middle of the night – Mac isn’t dead. He can’t be. Something isn’t right, I know it. I just need to find out what.”


“Mulder – you were obviously fond of Mac. This all sounds like wishful thinking. It’s understandable that you can’t accept his death, but…”


“Bullshit, sir!” Mulder spat. Skinner rocked back on his heels, balling his hands into fists. “I’m sorry.” Mulder got control of himself again. “But please don’t humor me on this. I know what I’m talking about. I’ve got evidence…well, I’ve very nearly got evidence. Please. You have to believe me.” He looked beseechingly at his boss.


“Mulder, did you tell DCI Phillips about this theory of yours?” Skinner relented, seating himself on the side of the bed.


“Yeah. But he didn’t seem all that interested.” Mulder shrugged. “You don’t understand how important it is, sir. Mac…well, he was special to me. If he’s alive…if he’s being held somewhere…”


“Mulder, why the hell would anyone kidnap your old tutor and hold him against his will? This is Real Life, not some soap opera. I think you’ve spent too much time on the X Files…”


“NO!” Mulder said desperately. “You have to listen to me, sir. It’s important! I’m not leaving until I find Mac. You can shout at me all you like, but you’ll have to drag me back to DC in handcuffs because there is no other way I am going back!”


“All right, son. Calm down.” Skinner regarded the younger man thoughtfully. He was angry with the agent – in fact he was close to breaking point with him, but Mulder really seemed worried about his old tutor, and it was clear that he meant the comment about being dragged back to Washington in handcuffs. The two men had had their differences over the years but Skinner had a feeling that if he forced Mulder to leave now, he’d jeopardize every shred of understanding they’d built up between them. He came to a decision.


“You haven’t eaten since you got here, have you, Mulder?” He asked, noticing how gray and weary the other man’s face was.


“Not properly, no.” Mulder shrugged. “How can I eat knowing that Mac is…”


“Yes, all right, Mulder. I’ve heard your theory on that. Now, I want you to listen to me.” Skinner got up and stood over Mulder, putting his hands on the other man’s shoulders and looking into his eyes. “I want you to take a shower, shave, and then get out here and eat the meal I’m going to order up. Then you’re going to bed. No arguments.” He held up his hand to quell Mulder’s protest before it started. “While you’re sleeping, I’ll make some calls and see what I can find out. I accept that you won’t leave until you have some more information. I don’t say that I like it, or that there won’t be repercussions for it, but I do accept it. However, I will not stand by and allow you to screw up again. The last thing I need is Scotland Yard lodging a formal complaint. And god knows you don’t need that on your record either, not with all the other crap that’s already there. So I’m going to be with you every step of the way on this one, Mulder. And trust me – you’d better not step out of line. Understood?”


Mulder weighed it up. Skinner would slow him down, but at least this way he got to stay. And hell, Skinner might even come in useful if he needed some extra muscle.


“All right.” He nodded.


“Good.” Skinner finally released his grip on Mulder’s shoulders. “Get washed and changed then. And Mulder?” Mulder turned as he reached the bathroom door, an inquiring look on his face. “Ditch me again and you’re a dead man.” Skinner growled. Mulder gave a mock salute.


“Understood, sir.” He grinned.


An hour later, Skinner stood looking down on his sleeping agent. Mulder looked better for being clean, but he also looked pale and drawn, like a lost kid. Skinner sighed. Sometimes it was really hard to stay mad at Mulder. Especially when he looked like this. He drew a blanket up over the younger agent, and returned to the other room to make those calls.




“The dreaming spires…” Skinner stopped in the street and gazed at the spires in question.
“What? Yeah, pretty.” Mulder grabbed hold of Skinner’s arm, and dragged him quickly along the street.


“Hey, George, remember me!” Mulder waved at the porter as they entered his old college.


“Who could forget you?” The old man grunted sourly. “You were only here the day before yesterday when we found you snooping around the college. You got all hysterical and we had to call the police in to arrest you. That was when they found you were carrying a gun, wasn’t it?”


“Yeah, I know, but you didn’t give me time to explain. Look, George, I’m a friend of Mac’s.”


“Mac? You mean Dr Macclesfield?” George frowned.


“Yeah. Mac. George, you must remember me. It’s Mulder. I was a student here about 16 years ago.”


“Did you cause as much trouble then, as you did a couple of days ago?” George asked.


“Uh…” Mulder looked at his shoes, and cast a surreptitious glance at his boss. Skinner tapped his toe impatiently.


“Well, did you?” Skinner asked.


“Uh, pretty much, yeah.” Mulder flushed. “I got thrown out of a debate on the paranormal once, George – you must remember that. It was in the local papers.”


“Doesn’t sound that serious to me.” Skinner frowned.


“I threw some eggs at the guest speaker.” Mulder explained.


“Ah, the eighties – great egg throwing days.” George sighed nostalgically. “The students don’t tend to bother so much with the whole foodstuff and rotting vegetation thing now. I don’t know why. It’s a shame. So, what else did you get up to, remind me?”


“Look, we don’t need to…” Mulder began, but Skinner interrupted him.


“Tell the man, Mulder,” he said briskly, a gleam in his eye as he watched Mulder’s discomfiture.


“Really, sir, it isn’t necessary…” Mulder said wretchedly.


“Hang on a minute.” George looked at Mulder more keenly. “I remember you now. Kid with the strange name. What was it, Badger? Weasel?”


“Uh, Fox.” Mulder choked. “Fox Mulder.”


“Fox Mulder! That’s it. I remember you! Aren’t you the kid who nearly got sent down for breaking into the library one night to read the papers held in the “restricted access” section?”


“Uh…” Mulder flushed again.


“Figures…” Skinner murmured.


“The kid who was always getting into fights with the other students?”




“And breaking college property?”




“And taking off without telling anyone to investigate UFO sightings in Wales?”


“I only did that once…” Mulder muttered.


“The kid who started the Oxford Chapter of the British Crop Circle Association?”


“Yeah.” Mulder smiled weakly. Next to him he could hear Skinner slowly exhale a long, deep breath. He didn’t dare look at his boss.


“Some things never change do they?” Skinner muttered.


“Welcome back then, Fox.” George laughed, grabbing Mulder’s hand, and pumping it warmly. “Things have been quiet since you left. I miss the likes of you. We’ve had a few eco-warriors making a nuisance of themselves recently, but Fox Mulder. The great Fox Mulder. I never did know how Dr Macclesfield managed to swing it so that you could stay in college after that library thing though. You walked away from that one Scot-free, didn’t you, Fox lad?” George beamed.


“Not quite, George.” Mulder winced at the memory. “I seem to recall that Mac made sure I regretted that particular episode, big time.” Mulder ignored Skinner’s questioning glance and plunged on. “Mac’s why we’re here, George.”


“Poor Dr Macclesfield.” George shook his head. “He was a nice man. I was sorry to hear about his death.”


“So was I.” Mulder said impatiently. “But look, George – we…that is, I wanted to see Mac’s old room. You know, his study? For old time’s sake?” George smiled and nodded.


“I shouldn’t,” he said, “but seeing as it’s you, Fox lad. Just this once. And it’s just between us.” He tapped the side of his nose. Mulder grinned.


Skinner stood in the room, watching as Mulder moved around, picking up various items and objects, plucking a book from the bookcase, staring at a painting on the wall. He even picked up a cricket bat and mimed a shot.


“Mac was crazy about cricket.” He grinned at Skinner.


“Never understood the game.” Skinner grunted. “Is it true they have matches that last for five days at a stretch?”


“Yeah – you have to understand the subtleties, but when you do…it’s compelling!” Mulder sighed, putting the bat down. Skinner glanced at the threadbare carpet, the books piled on the floor, and the mounds of papers everywhere.


“He wasn’t exactly neat was he?” He observed. Mulder laughed.


“Mac? No way! He existed in a constant state of organized chaos. This room is just how I remember it. This room…it’s like home, sir.” Mulder stood by the window, gazing out dreamily. “I spent hours in here when I was a student. It was a refuge – a sanctuary. I’d sit here, in the window seat, and Mac would sit in front of the fire – where you’re standing now, sir, reading, or writing. Every now and then he’d read something out loud to me and we’d laugh. Sometimes he’d sit up at his desk with his glasses perched on the end of his nose, writing some paper or other. He was one of the good guys, sir, and there aren’t many of them around.”


“No. There aren’t.” Skinner tried to build up a mental picture of this man whom Mulder spoke of so fondly. “It sounds like he made a big impression on you, Mulder.”


“That’s an understatement. I was 17 when I first came here.” Mulder sat down in the window seat. “I was so full of shit.”


“Yeah, tell me about it. I was about the same age when I left home.” Skinner grunted, remembering some antics of his own from when he was that age that he would rather forget.


“Things weren’t good at home.” Mulder swallowed, and looked down. “Dad and mom…well let’s just say that as far as I was concerned, England wasn’t far enough away from Chilmark. I’d have gone a thousand miles and more to escape that atmosphere. By the time I got here, I was already screwed up. Mac could have just thrown me out – god knows I deserved it for some of the stuff I got up to here, but he didn’t do that. He took me in hand, turned me around, pulled me back into line.”


“I’d like to know how he managed that,” Skinner grunted. “Sounds like he was better at it than I am.”


“Oh, I think you’d approve of his methods.” Mulder grinned, getting to his feet. “He wasn’t soft on me, sir, but he was always there. And he always stood by me, whatever I’d done. Sometimes…” Mulder flushed. “Sometimes, I kind of think you and he…well, you stand by me like he used to.” He ducked his head, embarrassed, and opened one of Mac’s drawers, rifling through it, glancing at some papers.


Skinner watched him, intrigued by Mulder’s behavior. God knows the younger man was complex enough at the best of times, but all this stuff about his youth was showing Skinner sides to Mulder that he hadn’t seen before.


“Mac took everything I threw at him.” Mulder continued. “He didn’t let me get away with anything, but for the first time in my life, I actually found someone who cared about me. I didn’t know how to take it at first. I kept waiting for him to give up, like mom and dad gave up, like my teachers gave up, but he didn’t. He used to keep me sitting in here as a punishment. I’d spend hours just cooling my heels in here, staring at him resentfully. He didn’t seem to notice. He’d give me a book, ask me to read a chapter. He’d always make it sound like it was something he’d value my opinion on, or something exciting or profound that he just had to share with me. At first I’d barely glance at whatever it was, but then I’d find myself interested, despite myself, and we’d end up talking for hours. He was a fascinating man, with a remarkable intellect.” Mulder smiled softly to himself. “Tough though!” He broke off from his reverie, and grinned at Skinner. “He used to play rugby – he taught at one of the big English public schools for years before coming to teach at Oxford. He must have seen hundreds of kids like me, but he still managed to make me feel special.”


“When did you last see him?” Skinner flicked through some of the books on the shelves. They were so diverse in subject matter that if he hadn’t already known Dr Macclesfield’s area of specialty he would never have been able to guess by looking at them.


“About a year ago.”


Skinner looked up in surprise. “You didn’t lose touch then?”


“With Mac? No way.” Mulder shook his head. “He was more like a dad to me than my own father ever was.” For a moment, Mulder looked utterly lost, almost in pain, and Skinner had to resist an urge to go over to the other man and put a hand on his shoulder. “Dad always had the project, the work, whatever it damn well was. I don’t remember him ever taking much notice of me except to criticize. Cold, hectoring remarks…nothing I did was good enough.” Mulder broke off, and Skinner found himself growing angry with Mulder’s father. He’d only met the man a couple of times, and he hadn’t liked him much. How the man hadn’t seen how bright and unique his son was, was a mystery to him.


“It’s a hard thing to say but I guess Mac meant more to me than Dad.” Mulder continued, picking a small bronze statue off the desk and staring at it. “Sometimes I was crazy as a kid. I wouldn’t listen to anything anyone said, I wouldn’t do as I was told, I’d run off, run wild.”


“You mean you’ve changed?” Skinner asked incredulously. Mulder laughed out loud.


“Oh yeah! You should have known me then! Boy was I bad!” He sat at Mac’s desk and swiveled around in his chair. “I got brought back twice by the cops. Mac was furious.” Mulder put his long legs up on the desk.


“What did he do?” Skinner asked, putting back a book and selecting another, intrigued by the conversation.


“Uh-uh.” Mulder grinned, swinging his legs back down again. “There’s no way I’m telling you. It might put ideas into your head!”


He got to his feet and walked back towards the door. Then he stopped. “There’s one place he might…” Mulder walked back to a filing cabinet standing against the wall by the desk. He opened it and reached inside, pulling out a long, slender cane. There was an envelope attached to it. Mulder tore open the envelope and read the letter.


“Mulder, if you’re reading this then I suppose it means you’re not letting this one go. You must. Now. Go back to America and I’ll be in touch as soon as I can. I’m warning you not to pursue this any further. I’m sure you remember the item this note is attached to. It hasn’t had much use since you nearly wore it out all those years ago. Continue with this investigation and I’ll remind you exactly why it used to scare you so much.


Love, as always,




“He’s alive!” Mulder whooped. “I knew it! He’s alive!”


“What the hell does he mean?” Skinner read the note over Mulder’s shoulder. “Are you telling me this guy used to beat you, Mulder?”


“Only when I really deserved it.” Mulder shrugged, then he caught Skinner’s expression. “Oh come on, don’t tell me your dad never put you over his knee when you were a kid?”


“That’s different.” Skinner protested. “He was my dad.”


“And Mac was my dad. The closest I ever got to one anyway.” Mulder said. “Sometimes whipping my butt was the only way he could get me to stand still for long enough to talk some sense into me. Jeez, it hurt, but it sure as hell worked. I don’t resent him for it.”


“But, surely that sort of thing is against the university rules isn’t it?” Skinner asked in an incredulous tone. “I mean I’ve heard that English public schools have a certain reputation, but they don’t sanction the use of corporal punishment in their universities do they?”


“I don’t think so.” Mulder shrugged. “I never thought to tell anyone. Another tutor would have just thrown me out as not being worth the effort anyway. Mac’s way was hard, but at least he forced me to face up to a few things about myself – and I got my degree along the way. So, I guess that’s it.” Mulder put the cane back in the drawer and closed it, then tucked the note into his pocket and walked over to the door.


“It is?” Skinner blinked, surprised.


“Oh yeah. He’s told me to drop it. He’s not a guy you disobey. I’ll just do as he says. Go back to DC and wait for him to contact me. It’s his business – he must have a reason for faking his own death.” Mulder gave Skinner an easy smile and held the door open for him. Skinner was about to walk through it when he changed his mind. He turned around and grabbed Mulder by the lapels.


“Mulder – you’re not kidding me are you? You really do mean to go back to Washington with me?”


“Yeah. Of course.” Mulder nodded. “I’m not kidding you, sir. Honest.”


“Because if you are…” Skinner glanced at the filing cabinet. “If you are, then I might be tempted to administer my own version of Mac’s wonder cure for disobedient brats. Understood?”


“You wouldn’t do that, sir…” Mulder’s smile faltered. “Would you?” he squeaked, uncertainly.


“You don’t want to find out.” Skinner told him ominously, letting the younger man go.


“Damn, I knew I shouldn’t have told you that stuff.” Mulder kicked the door-frame as he followed Skinner out of the building.




“I was a kid you know.” Mulder babbled as Skinner drove them back to their hotel. “I mean this was years ago, right. You couldn’t get away with it now. I mean, you aren’t considering…that is, I’m sure the FBI has rules against that sort of thing.”


Skinner changed gear smoothly, a small smile hovering around his mouth. Mulder was really freaked about this. Well, let him sweat. He deserved it after the run-around he’d put Skinner through in the past few days.


“That’s typical of you, Mulder,” he said. “You let me in on the best method of dealing with you, then tell me I can’t use it.”


“Well you can’t.” Mulder nodded firmly, as if to convince himself. “It’s absurd. I’m a grown man. I can’t believe you made that threat.” He glanced at Skinner. “You were just kidding, sir, weren’t you?”


“Of course I was.” Skinner smiled. “Just like you were kidding when you said that you were giving up this investigation.”


Mulder’s head swiveled around in surprise, and he stared at his boss.


“I wasn’t kidding, sir. I promise.” He said earnestly. “We can catch a flight out first thing tomorrow morning.”


“Fine.” Skinner pulled up outside the hotel. “Just so long as you remember this, Agent Mulder. If you’re lying to me, I’ll have your ass the way Mac used to. It’s your call.” He gave a malicious smile and got out of the car, slamming the door shut behind him. He wasn’t sure that he really had any intention of making good on his threat, but it certainly seemed to have got Mulder’s attention. He’d have to remember that in future.


Mulder sat there for a few moments, digesting this information.


“Coming, Agent Mulder?” Skinner opened his door for him and he got out, yawning.


“Well, it’s been a long day. I’ll just turn in,” he murmured.


“No. You’ll eat first. Then you’ll turn in.” Skinner told him firmly.


“I…okay,” he said sulkily. “Jeez, just because I told you about what happened when I was 17, doesn’t mean you have to treat me like I’m still 17,” he grumbled, as he followed his boss into the hotel lobby.


“I’m not.” Skinner smiled. “Agent Mulder I always treat you exactly how I think you deserve to be treated.”


Mulder opened his mouth to argue, then the implications of that remark sank in and he closed it again.


Mulder sat at the table in their hotel room, pushing the food around on his plate.


“I’d eat it if I were you.” Skinner advised, clearing his own plate.


“Or?” Mulder looked up, still mulling over the events of the day. He was none too sure of himself now. He had always known how to play Skinner before, but he wasn’t at all sure how to take his boss’s recent threat. He also wasn’t sure how much he should let it influence his plans. And he definitely had plans.


“Don’t push me, Mulder. It’s only food.” Skinner waved a hand at Mulder’s plate. “We can have battles over other things, it seems a waste of time and energy to have them over a plate of…what did they call this stuff? Bangers and mash?”


Mulder nodded and set about cutting into a sausage. As he ate, he took surreptitious glances at Skinner from under his eyelashes. Would he really punish him the way Mac had? He wondered. Surely it was absurd. God, what would Scully say? He pushed that thought to the back of his mind. He remembered some of the punishments he had endured in Mac’s study with a shiver. The pain was still etched clearly in his mind, and he had no inclination to repeat the experience. Skinner’s shirtsleeves were rolled up, to reveal 2 burly forearms. Shit, he was even brawnier than Mac. Mulder was sure he didn’t want to be on the receiving end of any sort of punishment from those strong arms. And yet…Silently, Mulder came to a decision.




Skinner slept soundly until 4 a.m., when the sound of a ringing phone awakened him. He fumbled around for the light, located his glasses, and his cellphone, and finally answered the call.


“Assistant Director Skinner? It’s DCI Phillips.” Skinner felt his heart sinking to the pit of his stomach.


“Oh shit,” he murmured. He got up, and walked with the phone over to the door connecting his room to Mulder’s. He opened it, and glanced in. He could just make out a sleeping form in the bed.


“Sorry to wake you at this hour, Assistant Director. But we’ve got something here that belongs to you.” Skinner crossed over to Mulder’s bed and pulled the covers back – to reveal two large pillows.


“I’ll be right there,” he sighed.


Skinner pulled on his sweats and strode angrily into the night. “Running off to England against my orders, getting arrested, thrown in the cells, ditching me at the airport, lying to me, ditching me again…” He went through a litany of Mulder’s crimes in his head. “You are really going to pay for this one, Mulder.”


He drew up outside the college as DCI Phillips had instructed, and got out of his car, locating George in the lobby.


“They said to send you straight on up, sir.” George nodded with his head in the direction of the staircase and Skinner set off grimly. He swept up the stairs, along the corridor, and thundered into Mac’s study without knocking.


Mulder was sitting in the window seat, looking disheveled. He was wearing dark sweats, and a chagrined expression. He looked up as Skinner came in, then bit on his lip, and looked down again, unable to meet the other man’s fierce stare. DCI Phillips was seated in the sofa in front of the fire grate, and there, sitting behind his own desk, sat a stocky man in his late 50’s, with steel gray hair and twinkling green eyes, hidden behind a pair of gold rimmed spectacles.


“Dr Macclesfield I presume.” Skinner offered the man his hand, and was rewarded by a firm handshake in return.


“Assistant Director Skinner I presume.” Mac laughed out loud. “It looks, my dear sir, as if we have a problem on our hands.”


“It sure does.” Skinner growled, glancing at Mulder with a withering look. Mulder buried his head in his hands and groaned.


“I witnessed a murder.” Mac explained, gesturing for Skinner to be seated. “I was placed under police protection but owing to the sensitive nature of the case, and after two attempts on my life, we decided that some additional level of security was required.” He peered at Mulder over his glasses. “I hated deceiving you with this news, dear boy, but the faking of my death was DCI Phillips’s idea. He was adamant that nobody should know the truth – for their own safety as much as for mine. The trial is next week. After that date, I would have been able to spring back, miraculously from the dead. Tra-la. Lazarus-lives!” Mac smiled. “I should have realized that you’d prove difficult, Mulder. I had hoped that you wouldn’t come back for the funeral. That you wouldn’t start digging in this fashion. Then, when you did, I told Fred here to call your boss and have him escort you home personally. From all you’ve told me about him, I sensed he was the sort of man who could take care of you in even in your most excessive moods. I didn’t count on you being quite as persuasive as you obviously were.”


“It’s my fault. I made the mistake of believing him when he said he was dropping the case.” Skinner growled.


Mulder sat, limply, listening to them talking about him. he thought to himself, watching as Skinner said something to Mac, and Mac replied. It was like being in a silent movie. He couldn’t make out the words, couldn’t hear what was being said, yet he was at the center of the action. was the one word that was repeating over and over again in his brain. He had been overjoyed to see Mac, but it looked as if their reunion was to be bittersweet. He watched nervously as the two men that he trusted the most in the whole world discussed the situation. His eyes strayed over to the filing cabinet.


“Mulder!” Skinner’s voice cut into his reverie. “Would you like to explain why you came here tonight?”


“Uh…” Mulder glanced helplessly from Skinner, to Mac, to DCI Phillips, and back again. “Uh, I decided to stake this place out. I came back here late last night and sat watching the window. The light went on about an hour ago. I crept up here, and found Mac…and DCI Phillips.”


“I needed some papers as a matter of urgency.” Mac shrugged. “We decided to collect them at night to avoid being seen during the day. Of course we hadn’t counted on Mulder here. I’m not saying it wasn’t delightful to see you again, dear boy,” he flashed a beaming smile in Mulder’s direction, “but I did think that after seeing my note, you would have thought twice about pursuing this.”


“We can keep this whole thing quiet, can’t we?” Skinner turned to DCI Phillips. “I mean, you’re not going to charge him with anything are you?”


“I’d like to charge him with being a bloody fool!” Phillips exclaimed. “But no. He’s your responsibility, sir. As long as you assure me that he’s been dealt with, and get him off British soil within 24 hours, then I’ll accept that.”


“Oh trust me, he’ll be dealt with. You and I had a deal about that, didn’t we, Mulder?” Skinner demanded.


“Oh no. No way.” Mulder shook his head. “I’m much too old for that. You cannot be serious!” He briefly considered clambering out of the window to escape, but decided that the fall would almost certainly kill him.


“Too old for what?” Mac asked.


“Mulder told me about the way you used to deal with him when he was a kid.” Skinner explained. “I told him that if he was lying to me about giving up this case, I’d use that cane of yours on his backside.”


“Bravo.” Mac laughed. “And he’s saying he’s too old?” Mac raised an eyebrow at Mulder. “Naughty, Mulder. What’s age got to do with it? You might be interested to know, Mr. Skinner, that the last time I tanned his hide was during a vacation I took to DC about 4 years ago. Of course I didn’t take the cane with me to DC. I didn’t anticipate that I’d need to use it. I had to use my belt instead. If you knew what he got up to on that occasion, you’d have been sorely tempted to give him the same treatment.”


“Oh trust me, I know exactly what he’s capable of.” Skinner shook his head grimly. “And I thoroughly approve of your methods of dealing with it, Dr. Macclesfield. You have no idea how many times I’ve wanted to do the same thing to him myself.”


“No, no, no. This isn’t happening.” Mulder shook his head in alarm. “Look, sir, I agree I lied to you…”


“And you ditched me.” Skinner pointed out.




“Twice,” he added.


“Yeah, but…”


“And I told you what the penalty would be for lying.”


“Sir…” Mulder said desperately. “Please…”


“Would you prefer me to write this up and put it on your file?” Skinner demanded.


“I…No.” Mulder whispered. “Mac, please – tell him!” He turned to his old mentor in desperation. Mac shook his head.


“Mulder, you’re the same as always and you never seem to learn. I don’t know how Mr. Skinner has tolerated your more excessive behavior for this long without administering a swift lesson to your rear end, to be honest. I’m getting too old to have to keep you in check, Mulder. You’re a dear boy, but you need discipline. You always have. Now, I’m happy to hand the “baton” onto Mr. Skinner, as it were. Of course it’s up to you whether you accept that arrangement, but I must point out that it hasn’t done you any harm in the past.”


“DCI Phillips, sir…” Mulder turned his despairing glance in the direction of the C.I.D man.


“Oh don’t drag me into this, son!” Phillips put up his hands. “To be honest, I think it would wrap the whole matter up nicely – justice will be done, and there’ll be no need for it to show up on any official reports. Suits me fine. You can’t say you weren’t warned, lad. Several times.” He shook his head sympathetically. “Mind you I wouldn’t like to be in your shoes right now,” he winked cheerfully, glancing at Skinner’s large, angry frame.


“DCI Phillips is right, Mulder.” Skinner said quietly. “We can do this the FBI way, or we can do it Mac’s way, but your ass gets roasted one way or the other. Now what’s it to be?”


Mulder stared at them, feeling his stomach contracting with fear at the thought of becoming “reacquainted” with the cane. He had sudden recollection of how much it had hurt. Of course, Mac had always allowed him to lie on the window seat afterwards, and fed him huge amounts of cake, and hot cinnamon toast, and he’d talked to him when he’d calmed down, drummed some sense into Mulder’s tortured thought processes.


“All right.” Mulder said, gripping onto the seat with white knuckles. “But nobody else watches. This isn’t some sort of damn peep show.”


“Of course not.” Mac said firmly. “DCI Phillips and I will be leaving in a few minutes anyway. In the meantime, perhaps you could wait outside in the corridor. There are a few things I’d like to discuss with Mr. Skinner first.” Mulder considered arguing, but there was something so commanding about Mac’s tone that he decided against it. He got up, and walked to the door, anger rippling through his every movement.


“And Mulder?” Mac said, as he opened the door. He stopped, and glanced back. “Don’t slam it. I’m sure Mr. Skinner is as intolerant of that sort of behavior as I am, and you don’t want to add to your punishment.” Mulder gave a low growl, and pulled the door shut with all his force, just stopping it before it hit the frame, to prevent it slamming.


He stood in the corridor, leaning against the wall, a sense of dread in his heart. he wailed for the hundredth time. He banged his head against the wall over and over again. I cannot believe I’m gonna go in there, bend over and…oh god…> He closed his eyes.


He would have been surprised to know that Skinner was going through some similar emotions as he sat in Mac’s study. This whole thing had started out as a way of getting some control over Mulder. He had never really intended to go through with it.


“I’m not sure about all this…” he began. “I’ve never…I mean…”


“Mr. Skinner.” Mac held up a hand. “I’m glad you have reservations. I wouldn’t pass Mulder on to just anyone. But like I said, I’m not getting any younger, and he needs someone strong to haul him back into line, and stop him getting into trouble, or worse.” Mac paused, a look of worry passing across his eyes. “I do get anxious about his recklessness, Mr. Skinner, his lifestyle. He doesn’t take care of himself.”


“I know.” Skinner shook his head.


“And he places himself in situations of great risk and jeopardy.”


“Yes.” Skinner sighed, rubbing his forehead wearily.


“He needs someone to watch out for him, to remind him that someone cares when he behaves in this manner. And he does respond to physical punishment, Mr. Skinner. Believe me. I only used it as a last resort, but sometimes it was the only thing that actually got his attention. I don’t think he’s changed. Your responsibility goes beyond just administering a few licks of the cane though.” Mac paused, and gave Skinner a searching look. “You do understand what I mean? You mustn’t let the punishment fester or brood. Don’t be afraid to be tough on him, but remember to be kind as well.”


Skinner nodded, turning all this over in his mind. His own father had been pretty handy with the strap – with 6 sons, he’d had to keep order somehow, and it hadn’t done him or his brothers any harm. He still loved and respected his father, and he’d been on the receiving end of some blistering attention from that strap in his time. Okay, so he wasn’t Mulder’s father, and Mulder was a grown man, but all the same, the principle wasn’t much different. And if Mac was right – if this sort of punishment would make Mulder think twice about doing anything rash or impulsive in future, then surely it was worth it.


“Mulder has a great deal of respect for you.” Mac told him, and he looked up in surprise. “You didn’t know? You should! He talks about you a lot – he wants your good opinion, Mr. Skinner. In fact, I think he craves it. However, he’s not an easy man to look out for. If you take him on, I need to know that you’ll do your best by him. Too many people have given up on him in the past, Mr. Skinner. Mulder is a…”special project”, shall we say?” Mac paused and glanced at Skinner. “And special rules apply to him. Don’t go down this path if you can’t see it through to the end. If it’s any help – I have the utmost confidence in you. I can’t think of anyone better to take Mulder in hand, and keep him on the straight and narrow.”


“Thank you.” Skinner straightened up. “I’ll do it,” he said, feeling the responsibility settle around his shoulders.


Mulder wondered angrily as he endured the agonizing wait. It took all his willpower not to disappear down the corridor, but he sensed another ditching would only bring the wrath of Skinner tumbling down on him like a ton of bricks.


“Mulder.” Mac emerged into the corridor and swept the agent into a hug. “Dear boy. I’m glad you’re well. We must talk soon – I’ll call when this business is over. I promise. In the meantime, be good for Mr. Skinner. He really does care about you, Mulder. Just as I do. Remember that.” Mac punched Mulder lightly on the shoulder.


“I thought you were dead,” Mulder accused. “I can’t believe you allowed me to think that.”


“Oh, Mulder. I’m sorry,” Dr Macclesfield sighed. “It really wasn’t my choice. I’d never willingly deceive you – I’m sure you know how I feel about deception. I seem to remember drumming it into you enough times. DCI Phillips was insistent, and too much was at stake to argue the point. I wrote you the note because I had a feeling you wouldn’t accept my so-called death. You really should have obeyed me on this one, Mulder.” He lifted Mulder’s chin up and looked in the other man’s eyes. “You put a lot of lives at risk pursuing this – mine, that of my protection team, Mr. Skinner’s – to say nothing of your own.”


“I…” Mulder shook his head. “Okay. I screwed up,” he said finally.


“Good boy.” Dr Macclesfield smiled at him. “Now go and accept what’s due to you. Go on. The sooner you go in, the sooner it’ll be over. He’s waiting for you.” He pushed the reluctant agent through the door, and the younger man took one hesitant step after another, dimly aware that he was going to an unpleasant fate, and wishing that he could just turn and run.


Skinner was sitting behind the desk, and the cane was resting on a stack of papers in front of him.


“Shut the door.” Skinner said tersely. “It’s early, and I don’t want you waking everyone up.”


Mulder thought bitterly to himself.


“Do you want to change your mind, Mulder?” Skinner asked as Mulder crept miserably towards the desk.


“I…don’t know.” Mulder tried to think. “Yes! No. Look, sir, I just want to know that when it’s over you’re not going to be mad at me still. It’s gonna be a hard enough journey back to DC as it is.”


“Agreed.” Skinner nodded. “But I sure as hell am mad at this moment, Mulder. I’ve called in a lot of favors to get you out of trouble over the years, and I don’t like being lied to, or run out on the minute my back is turned. I’d like to think I can trust you.”


“You can!” Mulder protested.


“Well, right at this moment, that isn’t how it looks to me.” Skinner said tersely. “Now, if you’re going through with this, you’d better drop your pants and bend over the desk.”


Mulder stood there for a moment, wavering. He could feel the tears prick at the back of his eyes, and brushed them angrily away.


“All right. Fuck it. If it’s what it takes to get this over and done with.” Mulder undid the drawstring knot around his waist, and pushed his sweats down to his knees, lowering himself over the desk. Oh god, he remembered this from years ago. The smell of the wood on the desk, the feel of it, cold and hard against his stomach. He was dimly aware of Skinner moving around behind him, then the cane was plucked away from his field of vision. He held onto the desk for a moment, trembling slightly and tensed his buttocks as he heard Skinner move close. Then he felt his boxers being tugged down.


Skinner paused for a moment, wondering how the hell he came to be standing in a study in a college in Oxford, early on a Summer’s morning, about to apply a cane to Agent Mulder’s backside. Then the events of the past few days came flooding back to him, with a grotesque clarity, and he felt his anger rise inside him. He raised his arm.


Mulder buried his head under one of his armpits, remembering, with vivid accuracy, the emotions he had always felt waiting for the first blow to fall. Anticipation, fear, dread…There was a swishing sound, and the cane connected with the meatiest part of his buttocks with a biting force that took all the breath out of him. Jeez, but he’d forgotten how much this hurt. The pain was indescribable. He let out a low moan.


“Let’s just be clear on what this is for, Mulder,” he heard Skinner say. “It’s not just for lying to me about dropping the investigation. Is it?” A second blow took his breath away again, and he didn’t reply. “Is it?” The cane landed with full force a third time.


“No…sir…” he managed to force out.


“Good. It’s also for disobeying my direct orders. How many do you think you deserve for that, Agent Mulder?” Skinner swung the cane again, and Mulder let out a screech.


“Um, Three? Two?” He offered hopefully.


“As this is the first time we’ve done this, let’s go for two.” Skinner delivered the two strokes in quick succession before Mulder even had time to think about it.


“And for ditching me?” Skinner asked.


“Two again?” Mulder suggested.


“Very well.” Skinner delivered the two strokes on Mulder’s unbearably painful behind, then paused, and immediately delivered two more. Mulder hollered a protest.


“You ditched me twice, Mulder,” Skinner informed him.


“Shit…” Mulder panted.


“We’re about half way through. Let’s make this quick.” Skinner said. He paused again, and ran a hand through Mulder’s hair. “How are you doing?” He asked. Mulder considered the question.


“Oh fine…for someone whose ass is being flamed by a maniac wielding a c…” he didn’t get any further, as the cane swung down twice on the tops of his thighs.


“We’ll save that area for mouthy remarks.” Skinner informed him. “Now, I’ll ask you again. How are you doing? This isn’t an endurance test. If you’re not holding up, I’ll bank the rest of your punishment and deliver it when we get back to DC.”


“Oh god, no.” Mulder managed to gasp. “I couldn’t bear to have it hanging over me. Just get it over with.”


“Fine. How many for the lies, Mulder?”


“I thought we’d done the lies.” Mulder protested.


“No, that was just a warm up because I’m so mad. The lies, Mulder. Don’t keep me waiting, I can think of ways to fill in the time.” He slapped another stroke down to illustrate the point. Mulder squealed, and put his fist into his mouth to stop the full-blown scream that wanted to burst out.


“Uh, two again?” he offered.


“More like four.” Skinner snorted. “I really hate lying, Mulder.” He swung the cane down four times, in quick succession.


Skinner paused, standing back for a second. He didn’t want to go too far. Mulder’s bottom was already criss-crossed with several dark red stripes, and he guessed that the young man had been right – that plane journey would be an ordeal for him. Yet he also felt that he had to make an impression on the agent, and he had to make sure that Mulder didn’t sense any weakness in him.


“Now, I’m going to deliver a couple more, then it’ll be over,” he told the young man. “Think you can stand that?”


“Do I have a choice?” Mulder asked, regretting the remark immediately as the cane swung down twice on the top of his thighs.


“There’s always a choice, Mulder.” Skinner said dangerously.


“I’m sorry.” Mulder hiccuped. “Yes. I can stand a couple more. I think.”


“These are for your attitude, Mulder.” Skinner said, pulling the cane back and delivering the hardest blow he’d given so far. Mulder began to shake as the sobbing started in earnest, tears pouring down his cheeks. “Last one.” Skinner swung another hard one and Mulder dissolved, clinging onto the desk for fear that he would fall. “Get up.” Skinner said softly.


Mulder saw the cane out of the corner of his eye as Skinner replaced it on the desk in front of him. He managed to struggle to his feet, and pull up his boxers and sweats, but even those light cotton fabrics chafed his flaming, punished behind.


“Shit.” He put his hands over his head and hopped around the room a few times, trying to disguise the fact that he was crying.


“Mulder. Come here. It’s over.” Skinner caught up with the agent, and placed his hands on the other man’s shoulders, calming him. “I’m sorry it was so hard for you, but I hope you’ve learned something.”


“Yeah, like when not to open my big mouth.” Mulder managed a smile through the tears.


“That’ll be the day!” Skinner got out his handkerchief, and wiped away a mixture of sweat and tears from Mulder’s face.


“I shouldn’t be crying.” Mulder kicked the sofa angrily.


“You’re allowed.” Skinner said. “You were brave, son. I’m proud of you. That was a tough whipping.”


He put his arm around Mulder’s shoulder and pulled him close for a second, until Mulder stopped shaking, and his sobs lessened. Mulder nestled his face into Skinner’s shoulder, enjoying the contact, and the comfort, and the fact that it symbolized that he was forgiven. Mac had always done this. Skinner smiled, grateful to Mac for passing the tip on. It felt right. He was surprised by the change in Mulder. The mouthy attitude, the suppressed resentment and willfulness were all, temporarily he suspected, gone. He planted a kiss on the top of Mulder’s head, and then pushed him away.


“Time to get back to the hotel,” he said. “You okay?”


“Yeah.” Mulder nodded. “Sorry for, uh, you know, everything.” He watched in alarm as Skinner picked up the cane. “Hey, you aren’t taking that with you are you?” He asked, panic-stricken. “You won’t need it again, sir. I promise. I’ll be good from now on.”


“It’s all right, Mulder.” Skinner soothed. “I’m just putting it away for Mac.” He opened the filing cabinet, and threw it inside. “And as for needing it again – I’m not so sure.” He gave Mulder a speculative glance. “With your track record I think it’s likely we’ll be in this situation again. I’m sure I can pick up a paddle back in Washington though. Failing that, there’s nothing wrong with a ruler, or a belt.” He grinned at the shock on Mulder’s face. “Come on, Mulder. Mac’s sort of passed you on to me, and if this treatment works, I can promise you I’ll use it again.”


“You won’t need to.” Mulder said firmly, wincing as he followed Skinner out of the door, still rubbing away his tears with Skinner’s handkerchief.


“I hope not, Mulder.” Skinner smiled. “I really hope not.”




Mulder thought the airplane journey was the worst torment he’d ever endured. Finally, after an hour or so of restless fidgeting, Skinner solved the problem by asking for a pillow. He placed it on his own lap, and pulled Mulder’s head onto it. That at least relieved some of the pressure, as the young agent’s body weight was inclined forward and sideways, and not down onto the most tender part of his anatomy. Mulder lay there for a long time, watching as Skinner read a book, his glasses perched halfway down his nose.


“You remind me of Mac,” he blurted out after a while.


“That’s a good thing, right?” Skinner looked down at him over the top of his glasses.


“Yeah. Only you have to make sure you feed me lots of cake and stuff after…you know…” Mulder flicked his eyes around the plane. “And distract me with mindless conversation, and…” <…reassure me. Oh god you’re a basket case, Mulder. Reassure me, make me feel…what? Safe? Loved? Shit, the guy’s your boss, not your brother, or your dad or something.>


“It’s okay. I can handle you. I can more than handle you.” Skinner smiled, and rested his hand in the small of Mulder’s back, stroking softly.


Mulder closed his eyes, a faint smile curving at the corners of his mouth. He realized with a start, that a significant part of his heart had always viewed Oxford as his home, as the one place on this earth that actually contained someone who gave a damn about him, or what he did. Now that had changed.


“We’re going home,” he murmured sleepily.


“That’s right, Mulder.” Skinner replied. “We’re going back to DC.”


“Home…” Mulder whispered.




The Test, the sequel to Oxford can be found here.




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