Switch: 2. Oblivion


Mulder lay on his stomach, flicking through the television channels. He felt strange, light-headed. Probably he should have eaten. He tried to watch the television but instead kept running through the images of what had happened to him this evening. The smell of Cancerman’s cigarette-fumed breath as he leaned over his prone body, Skinner’s anger and disgust with the proceedings, his own helplessness and the pain – god, the pain. He cradled the pillow close to his chest and felt the familiar salty tears running down his face. He had screwed up as usual, only this time the retribution had been swifter, more revolting than anything he could have expected. He should feel traumatised, raped even after what he had just gone through but he didn’t…his feelings were more complex than that. This pain was a relief, a relief from his tortured emotions, his own sense of guilt at every damn thing he’d done wrong all his life. When your body hurt you didn’t have to think about anything else, you could just go with the pain, a just punishment for a guilty life. It took him to a dark place in his head, somewhere he had always wanted to find but which had so often eluded him. Beaten, abused…there was no pleasure in it, no sexual excitement or satisfaction, but mentally, emotionally…shit, what was going on in his head this time?


The phone interrupted these dark thoughts. He reached out a fumbling hand to pick it up and yelped. That switch had done its job well. His flesh had been tortured with precision, as if by an expert. God that was a sick thought. He hoped Skinner wasn’t an expert at this sort of thing.


“Hello.” He mumbled into the phone.


“Mulder?” Jeez, talk of the devil.




“I just wanted to check you were okay.”


“I’m fine. My ass is twelve different shades of hellfire, I can’t move a muscle without crying like a baby and there’s crap on TV. Welcome to the wonderful life of Fox Mulder.”


“So you’re feeling better then?”


“Shit, don’t make me laugh.” Mulder grimaced into the phone. Now was not the time to discover that his normally taciturn boss had a sense of humor.


“Sorry. At least you’re still compos mentis. I was worried you’d slipped into a coma or something.”


“Nah. Hey, it was no big deal. Like he said, a little pain, soon over. I probably deserved it.” Mulder stopped and bit his lip. The truth was that he believed that.


“Don’t be stupid.” Skinner’s voice sounded angry. “Damn, Mulder but however did Cancerman get this hold on our lives?”


“I don’t know, sir. You’re the one who gives him office space.” Mulder pointed out. There was silence on the other end of the line and he thought maybe he had gone too far then shrugged and winced as the gesture sent a wave of pain through his body. He reckoned he had some leeway with Skinner right now, although how much he couldn’t be sure. To be honest he had always been reassured by Skinner’s way of standing up to him, showing him where the boundaries were, making it clear that he could only go so far. Without Skinner he would probably have made worse mistakes than he had done so far. Much worse. Ones that might have ended up killing him. He wasn’t sure he liked the man, but he did respect him, even after today. Especially after today.


“It’s not personal choice.” Skinner finally answered his undisguised accusation.


“Whatever. Look I’m fine. I said you didn’t have to phone. I’ll be alright. Leave me alone.” He severed the connection. The tears were rolling down his face again and he welcomed them. This felt good, this felt really good. This was a distraction. He watched the television blankly, his mind going back to the helplessness…at someone else’s mercy, out of his control, just accept, accept the just punishment for his sins. All his sins, not just the most recent ones, going right the way back to…right the way back. He felt cleansed.


He fell asleep on the couch and woke 8 hours later, astonished. This was the first proper night’s sleep he’d managed for ages. The pain had exhausted him physically and cleaned him out emotionally. He hadn’t had the strength to do his usual chewing over the crap that usually overwhelmed him and kept him awake. He looked around the room blearily. The television was still on, mutely flickering away in the background, sunlight was streaming through the windows. He smiled to himself and stretched and then yelped in pain. Damn, how could he have forgotten about it so quickly? Gingerly he eased himself off the couch and walked swiftly to the bathroom, turning the shower on full blast, cold. Cold against his aching, burning flesh, cold and comforting and cleansing. Funny how he kept coming back to that word. Such a distraction, such a relief…the constant pain, the constant nagging ache, replacing the other ache, the one he’d carried in his heart and mind for so long, pushing it out, keeping it down. This actually felt good. He shaved, pulled on his suit and took himself off to work.


“Agent Mulder?” Skinner stood in the doorway, his expression incredulous. “What are you doing here?”


“Working, sir.” Mulder peered at his boss over the top of his glasses as he stood, flicking through a file. Scully looked up. She had been surprised by Mulder’s level of nervous energy this morning and his continued refusal to sit down like a normal person. Instead he kept flitting around the office leaning against things, occasionally wincing to himself as if the files he was looking at contained something painful. She had no idea what was going on in his head but that wasn’t unusual.


“Yes, I can see that. But why?” Skinner looked angry. Scully wasn’t sure what was going on. She knew Mulder had been in bad trouble yesterday but he refused to tell her what the outcome had been. Had Skinner suspended him? Transferred him?


“Because there’s work to be done.” Mulder looked up innocently and Skinner took a deep breath.


“I thought I told you to take a couple of days off.” He frowned.


“You did. I ignored your advice.” Mulder grinned. “No point lying around at home while there’s stuff to be done here. I’m a glutton for punishment.” It was said lightly but Scully noticed the tension between the two of them suddenly skyrocket.


“I’ll see you in my office. Ten minutes.” Skinner said tersely. Mulder made a face at his boss’s disappearing back.


“In trouble again?” Scully asked him. He shrugged and again that strange little wince.


“No. I don’t think so.” Mulder said softly.


Skinner sat back and scowled at Mulder as the young agent leaned against the wall of his office. He was occupying that space where ironically, Cancerman usually took up position. His eyes had darted towards the adjacent room as he came in, an expression that had not been lost on Skinner.


“Mulder I meant what I said. You’re in no condition to be at work. I don’t want you here.” Skinner told him tersely.


“I’m flattered.” Mulder made a face. “But I don’t see how you’re going to make me go anywhere else,” he said. “You can’t exactly report this one without opening up the whole debacle of last week and the mess I made of things.”


“Don’t tell me what I can or can’t do!” Skinner said angrily. “You shouldn’t be here. You need time to recover. You took one hell of a beating, Mulder.”


“You should know.” Mulder said softly, regretting it instantly. “I’m sorry. Out of order.”


“I won’t be made to feel guilty over this. You were given a choice, Mulder. A sick one, but a choice none the less.” Skinner said firmly.


“Yeah. Talking of which, has our cancerous friend delivered the goods?” Mulder asked.


“Oh yes. He’s not stupid. If he wants to keep playing games with us he needs to keep us onside.” Skinner threw the file down on the corner of the desk nearest to Mulder. “This was sent to me this morning. All tied up, no loose ends, no sign of the mess you made of things. He’s a man with a lot of contacts in all the right places.”


“How reassuring for us.” Mulder only gave the file a cursory glance. “Do you have any idea where we can find him?” He asked, his breath catching in his throat, wondering why he was asking. Skinner had no such doubts, he thought he understood why Mulder was asking.


“No. I have no way of finding the evil son of a bitch and wasting him. Much as I’d like to,” he murmured. “Much as you’d like to as well, I guess.” He looked at Mulder who nodded.


“Yeah. Of course.” But that wasn’t what he was thinking. It wasn’t anything like what he was thinking. Something was going on deep inside, triggered by events last night, something so dark and evil that he couldn’t even begin to look at it or understand it. A compulsion, a need. He took a deep breath. “So, we just wait until he shows up again for another sick little sideshow do we?” He asked lightly. Skinner shook his head.


“No more sideshows, Mulder. I told you that last night,” he said.


Mulder bit his lip. You don’t understand, he thought. I want to go through that again. Over and over again until all my sins are washed away and if Cancerman was the man who could give him absolution, if he was the one who’d watch over him as he sweated and screamed, decreeing the punishment, laying down the rules, coldly, ruthlessly, then Mulder needed to find him. He needed that absolution bad. He found himself looking questioningly at Skinner, wondering if he’d do instead but knowing it was no use. Skinner had principles, honor, integrity. Skinner wouldn’t agree and anyway he couldn’t begin to know how to ask him. But Cancerman…give himself up to that bastard, to his oldest, greatest enemy, to a man who seemed to have an unnatural fixation on him, well that was different. What could be a better way to atone for sins than to place yourself willingly into the hands of a man who would abuse you without mercy, who would punish you cruelly, allowing you no comfort or respite? Not someone who might be blinded by convention, or even affection or respect. Someone who was outside the law, outside everything, someone so amoral they’d just deliver what you wanted without asking why you wanted it…Mulder snapped back into reality, realising that Skinner was gazing at him.


“I’m going back to work,” he said. “You can’t stop me. Sir.” He left the office without looking back.


Skinner frowned and returned to his work, but he couldn’t concentrate. He got up and went into the conference room next door, saw the shattered remains of the switch and winced. How did anyone live with this? If he could just find out where Cancerman was staying…what would he do? Slip the address to Mulder and let natural justice take over? Go there himself? When had he ever killed anyone in cold blood? Even someone as evil as Cancerman. No, he had to let it go. If only Mulder could do the same. He hadn’t liked the expression in Mulder’s eyes; faraway, reflecting a strange kind of peace, unreal. Skinner shuddered, remembering something he would have preferred to forget, remembering where he had seen that sort of expression before.


Mulder stared down at the paper in his hands in disbelief. It had been 3 weeks, the cuts had healed and as the days passed he had become more and more sure of what he wanted. He had to track this man down if it was the last thing he did. The usual channels drew a blank as he had known they would. However all this blundering around, searching had yielded an unexpected result. Cancerman had been alerted to him and now he found himself staring down at the slip of paper in his hands.


“Dear boy, if you wanted to find me, you only had to ask.” And an address. Mulder pulled on his jeans and a denim shirt, his leather jacket. Then he screwed up the note and threw it into the bin. He knew what he wanted. Why he wanted it was a different matter and not something he cared to go into. He just knew what he wanted.


The road was deserted, leading to an old house set in darkness, surrounded by trees. Mulder got out of the car and walked nervously to the door, knocked, waited for a long agonising minute. The man who opened the door let him in wordlessly. He had been expected. He was taken into a plush drawing room, the atmosphere thick with smoke. There were 2 armchairs, side by side in front of the fire. One of them had an occupant – that much was obvious from the circle of smoke emerging from the chair.


“Come in, dear boy, come in.” A hand beckoned him forward, gestured him to a chair. He sat, as instructed, unsure how he was going to say what he wanted to say or to ask for what he wanted to ask for. Cancerman smiled at him, fondly, as if he were a pet. Mulder choked back a wave of nausea, shocked by himself, disbelieving. “So. You wanted to see me?” Cancerman offered him a drink and he shook his head, mutely. “Well?” Cancerman leaned back, taking a sip of his drink and drawing a long puff on his cigarette.


“I…that is…” He closed his eyes. “It’s about what you did to me.”


“Ah.” Cancerman put his drink down and looked for a long time into Mulder’s eyes and then he smiled. “You know, I did wonder. I wondered if retribution might be on your mind but now I see you, I realise you have come on a different matter entirely. You’re not the first of course. Many people are attracted by what I can give them.”


“What you can give?” Mulder was incredulous. “You make a habit of slamming people over tables and beating them?”


“No. Never. I make a habit of watching. That’s entirely different.” Cancerman smiled. “I like to think of myself as a facilitator, shall we say. I can make things happen. And of course I am untroubled by conscience or morals which makes the matter all the more satisfying for people like you.”


“People like me?” Mulder echoed.


“People who need to be relieved of certain…emotions. People who want the guilt taken away.” Cancerman blew out a long stream of smoke and regarded Mulder with amused fondness. “And you have always felt the need to have your guilt taken away, Fox.”


“Don’t call me that.” Mulder pulled back.


“Of course I’ll call you what I like. You don’t make any rules here.” Cancerman said sharply. “You don’t need to worry. There’ll be no responsibility here either. I won’t give you a choice. Last time I didn’t really give you a choice did I? You didn’t even thank me for that.”


“You planned this? You thought I’d react this way?” Mulder asked, confused.


“I’ve known you for a very long time, Fox. I know you very well. Better than you know yourself.” Cancerman told him seriously. “And I know what’s best for you. Get up.” Mulder wanted to disobey but couldn’t find the words. He got to his feet.


“Just give me the pain,” he whispered. “Make it hurt.”


“I will.” Cancerman clicked his fingers in the air and the burly man who had opened the door appeared as if by magic. “See to it, Lewis.” Cancerman said. Lewis nodded. He approached Mulder and reached out a hand to unbutton the agent’s shirt. Mulder stiffened and swallowed, allowing himself to be stripped of his shirt, his arms held roughly behind his back as he was pushed across the room. No choice, he told himself, never any choice.


Lewis fastened a leather cuff around each of his wrists and fastened them to a bar hanging from the ceiling, then he tugged on a pulley and Mulder found himself being drawn into the air, so that his feet barely touched the ground. The wrenching sensation in his arms calmed him. No choice. Lewis opened a cabinet to reveal an array of whips. One of them was still soaking in water. This was the one he pulled out. Mulder closed his eyes and repeated the words over and over again, like a litany. “No choice, you deserve this, no choice…” Out of the corner of his eye he could see Cancerman’s cigarette, still burning in the darkened room and watched as Cancerman leaned forward in eager anticipation. The first blow numbed his senses. He couldn’t ever have imagined that such pain existed. More please, more, he thought to himself. Harder, faster, to take him away from himself. The whip hissed as it flew through the air, connecting with his back in a haze of agony that flared, subsided, flared again as each blow struck home.


“Harder, harder, hurt me,” he whispered. Hurt me so much that I can’t think, can’t breathe, can’t exist… He had an image of Skinner leaning over him, pushing the sweaty hair out of his eyes. Save me, he said to himself. Hurt me. Save me. Be kind, sir, but hurt me too. Love me, hurt me, save me… He wasn’t sure what was going on in his head now and that was the way he wanted it to be. A relief from the hideous clarity that had dogged him all his life. Now there was only pain and the sound of a man screaming from a long way away.


He thought of Skinner giving him a way out, a person to hate, and it had been such a relief. Someone to hate more than he hated himself, someone else to blame for the pain. Cancerman. It was his fault, not Mulder’s any more, not Fox’s. Fox was being punished as he deserved and if he was punished enough then maybe the pain inside would end, driven out by the pain in his arms, his back, his shoulders.


It wasn’t about failure, about reproach, about his mother’s tears every night as she mourned her lost daughter or his father’s dysfunctional, unstated, ever-present anger. It was about redemption. Save me. Hurt me. Love me. Save me…


A splash of cold water and he came to.


“Now, now.” Cancerman scolded. “You mustn’t lose consciousness on me, dear boy. That’s no fun at all. And you should make the most of this. Who knows when I’ll be back in town again and available to give you what you want?”


“No more…” He murmured, his back on fire.


“I haven’t finished yet. I want you to have something to remember me by – some lasting scars.” Cancerman smiled. “Lewis is very handy with the whip, almost as handy as your Mr Skinner was with that little present I gave him. A man of such unexpected talents your boss, don’t you think?” He grinned.


“Leave Skinner out of this!” Mulder shouted.


“How can I? When it’s his name you keep moaning.” Cancerman smiled. “You prefer to think Lewis is your boss then go ahead, Fox. It doesn’t bother me.” He nodded and Lewis raised the whip again. Mulder whimpered, unsure he could stand any more. He had passed out? Damn but it hurt. It hurt enough, he didn’t need any more but he didn’t have any choice. Cancerman decided, Cancerman was the one. Out of his control. Begging wouldn’t do any good. Hate, hate…he sent his hatred out towards Cancerman and the cigarette smoking bastard laughed. “That’s what I like about you, dear, dear boy!” He exclaimed. “The truculence, the insolence, the struggle. If only you’d give yourself up to it but you can’t can you? Not really. Always the fight. One day we might be able to still that fight, silence your warring soul, Fox. Then who do you think you’ll belong to?”


“Not you.” Mulder spat. “Not ever you!”


“We’ll see.” Cancerman nodded and Lewis brought the whip down across his shoulders with a searing force that sent his body shaking into the air, twirling around in his chains. “Everybody has to belong to someone, Fox. You’ve just never found anyone to take you on. Nobody wants you do they? You’re not worthy.” His tone was mocking and he seemed to know all the right buttons to press. Mulder let out a sob. “Have you ever thought…” Cancerman got up and drew close to him, blowing out some smoke into his face, making him cough, “…that I might be all that you deserve, Mulder?” Cancerman laughed. “Oh yes. Think about it. At the end of the day, I might be the only person who’ll have you. Me. The person you hate most in the world.”


“No.” Mulder gritted his teeth. “I don’t believe that. Someone else…somewhere else…” but who? he wondered. Who had ever loved him? His parents, yes, he supposed so, in a remote, reproachful way, but who else? Nobody. Nobody claimed him, nobody gave him absolution. Scully loved him as a friend but she couldn’t give him this, she couldn’t take away the pain and give it back as comfort as Cancerman could, as Skinner had…Skinner…no! His mind twisted away from that.


He recalled his father’s love, the love of a man up to his neck in slime, involved in a project that Mulder was sure was obscene. Bill Mulder had never so much as praised him in his life, always angry about something. That still tone, the drinking…never violent, but abusive none the less. Emotional abuse. Distant, cold, disapproving. I want to be loved…he thought despairingly as the whip claimed him again. Love me. Save me. Hurt me. Then make it all better. He thought of Skinner helping him dress, angrily breaking the switch in two. Love me, hurt me, save me…his arms shot fire through his body as the whip sent him flying through the air again. Lewis waited until his body stilled then flicked the whip again. He knew he was screaming, he knew he was calling but he didn’t know what he was saying or who he was calling for.


“Let him down.” He only heard the voice dimly, jerked his head up and saw Skinner standing in the doorway, his gun aimed at Cancerman’s head.


“Why, Mr Skinner. How unexpected.” Cancerman smiled. “By all means, Lewis, let him down. I think he’s had enough.”


Blessed relief from the pain in his arms, firm ground under his feet, under his chest, under his legs, lying face down, panting, feeling the blood and sweat slickly wet on his back.


“Remember.” Cancerman hovered over him, smiling. “You belong to me, Fox. Nobody else will have you.”


“I know.” Mulder opened his eyes, bleakly aware that Cancerman spoke the truth. This was what he deserved, this was all he deserved. It was a relief to know.


“I’ll be leaving now.” Cancerman smiled. “Another day, another house, another set of chains. I’ll let you know when. I’ll be expecting you.” He didn’t touch the young man. Instead he just blew one final lungful of smoke over him, covering his battered body like a shroud and, beckoning to Lewis, he left the room. Skinner raised the gun as he passed, looking murderous, as if he could kill but resisting, marshalling all of his self control to resist. Then he was at Mulder’s side.


“Shit. Shit. Why did you come here alone?” He berated, sitting Mulder up. “If you wanted to confront him why didn’t you call me? We could have done it together. I’ve got my own set of grudges you know. How could you have let him have the opportunity to do this? You know what sort of a sick interest he has in you. Oh damn you, Mulder, why?” He leaned his head forward against Mulder’s for a second then drew back, pushing Mulder’s sweaty hair out of his eyes as he had done before. Mulder started to shake. “Wait here.” Skinner tore at one of the drapes, pulling it down and wrapped it around Mulder’s body. Then he pulled Mulder up, placed the injured man’s arm around his big shoulders and dragged the other man out of the house and bundled him into his car. “We’re going to a hospital,” he said grimly.


“No! No hospital.” Mulder protested.


“Yes. You haven’t seen what they’ve done to your back.” Skinner hissed.


“I don’t care. You take me to a hospital and I’ll run.” Mulder opened the door and half fell out.


“Shit. Stop that. Stop it.” Skinner pulled him back in. “Alright. Look, I’ll take you home, get you cleaned up. See how bad it is when I take a close look at it.”


“If you want. You shouldn’t bother. I’m not worth it.” Mulder shrugged.


“Shut up.” Skinner started the car and set off. “Christ, Mulder I’m having trouble understanding all this,” he murmured, glancing at the young agent who was drifting in and out of consciousness. He bit his tongue. Shouting at Mulder right now was not a good idea. Instead he slammed his foot down on the accelerator and sped off into the night.


Mulder woke up to find himself pressed naked into his shower, the cold water bringing him to his senses, a big hand holding him up.


“What…?” he asked blearily.


“Wake up.” A hand slapped his face lightly. His back felt numb.


“I can’t feel…can’t feel my back…” he moaned.


“By the look of it, that’s probably for the best.” Skinner told him. “Now come on.” He pulled Mulder out and looked around for a clean towel. All the ones he could see seemed to be covered in several layers of grime.


“Damn, Mulder, but where do you keep the clean towels?” He demanded. Mulder stared up at him with puzzled eyes.


“You’re supposed to wash towels?” he asked. Skinner sighed.


“Your trouble is that you’re not house-trained.” He let go of Mulder for a second to return to the other room and Mulder immediately slumped to the floor. Skinner sighed and pulled him back up again, walking him out into the lounge, depositing him wet and shivering onto the couch and disappearing into the bedroom. He returned a few seconds later with what looked like a passably clean sheet and wrapped that around Mulder. Then he pulled Mulder out and laid him face down on the couch, gently peeling the sheet away from his back to survey the damage and wincing again for the hundredth time. “I have to call a doctor,” he said. Mulder shook his head feebly.


“It’ll be alright. Leave me. A few days, it’ll be fine.”


“No. It won’t.” Skinner crouched beside him. “Look, I know someone, someone who owes me a favor. Let me call him. He won’t say anything to anybody about this.”


Mulder didn’t reply, his mind disappearing into the warm, pleasant darkness where there was only a numb pain and no need to think. This was good. He couldn’t remember when he had last felt this good. Skinner sighed and got up, making the phone call anyway.


The doctor took one look at Mulder’s back and shook his head.


“Jesus. What’s been done to him?” He looked up at Skinner who shrugged.


“I don’t know, I just found him this way. Although to be honest, by the look of it, it’s quite obvious what’s been done.”


“Why didn’t you take him to a hospital?” The man asked.


“Because he won’t let me.” Skinner shook his head.




“I don’t know.” Skinner frowned. “But he won’t so I called you instead. I require your absolute discretion.”


“Of course…discretion.” The doctor looked up keenly. “You think this was some sort of sado-masochistic sex game gone wrong?” Skinner looked coldly furious, shaking his head again.


“No.” He said firmly. “I think this was something else completely.”


The doctor did his best, leaving painkillers and some special ointment, putting a dressing on Mulder’s back and bandaging it. Then he left.


Mulder refused to take the painkillers.


“Come on. It must be killing you.” Skinner paced around the apartment, sure he was a participant in some sort of bizarre nightmare, trying to fight back memories he thought he had buried years ago.


“No. Leave me alone. Go.” Mulder buried his head in a pillow. He wanted to cry and he needed to be alone for that. Skinner didn’t understand anything.


“Take them.” Skinner just about managed to stop himself from holding Mulder’s mouth open, pushing the painkillers into his throat then holding the other man’s jaw closed until he swallowed like you did with a cat or dog.


“No.” Mulder was resolute and Skinner gave up. He sat down on the floor by the couch, staring numbly at his own feet. “There’s no need for you to stay.” Mulder told him.


“I need you to tell me what went on.” Skinner said.


“I would have thought that was obvious.” Mulder replied wearily. “How did you find me? Why did you find me?”


“I came by with some information and found the note in your bin.” Skinner said.


“You came by and let yourself in and then rummaged through my garbage?” Mulder asked incredulously.


“I’ve been worried about you. Ever since…ever since it happened a few weeks ago. I thought your obsession with finding Cancerman was clouding your better judgement. Mulder what on earth possessed you to go there alone? Was it that you didn’t want to share your revenge? And how did he manage to get you…why didn’t you just draw your gun on him?”


“I didn’t take my gun.” Mulder said, holding the pillow close against his chest, shutting his eyes.


“What?” Skinner swung round and stared at him and Mulder opened his eyes again.


“I didn’t want the temptation.” Mulder said, knowing it was a lie. Why was he bothering to lie?


“Then why?” Skinner asked, still staring. Mulder shook his head.


“I don’t want to talk about it,” he said. Realisation flooded into Skinner’s eyes. He got up and walked away from Mulder, disgusted, putting his fist into his mouth and very nearly gnawing it in anger and disbelief. This couldn’t be happening. Not again.


“You know…” he said gently, “Cancerman operates by some fairly simple rules. One of his rules is that he wants consent. Did you give him that, Mulder? Is that why you went there?”


Mulder didn’t reply. He moved his hand aimlessly over the carpet, finding tufts and pulling on them.


“Answer me!” Skinner was insistent. Mulder looked up. He didn’t need to answer, his reply was in his eyes. Skinner left the apartment abruptly.


He wasn’t gone long. When he returned he had brought food and drink to replenish Mulder’s empty fridge.


“Thought you’d left. Thought I disgusted you.” Mulder murmured.


“I went to get some food.” Skinner carefully didn’t reply to Mulder’s comment. He wasn’t sure how he felt about all this. Disgust yes, but not with Mulder, maybe not even with Cancerman. He knew how easy all this was, how simple a pattern it was to fall into when someone like Cancerman was there to prey on your weaknesses. He fed Mulder some pizza and then made him drink some coke. “We need to talk,” he said firmly.


“There’s nothing to say.” Mulder told him.


“Is it…it’s not about sex is it?” Skinner asked, sounding faintly hopeful, as if he could deal with it better if it were. Mulder laughed.


“Oh no. I could go to all sorts of places for that!” he said.


“Why Cancerman then, Mulder? Why him?”


“Because he knows what I want and how to give it to me.” Mulder replied. “I didn’t know how much I wanted it until…that day, in your office.”


“If I’d known I never would have gone along with the two of you.” Skinner fumed. “Letting him give you that choice, letting you make it. Participating…damn!” What had he been thinking of? Why had he never considered that Mulder’s own damaged psyche was at least as vulnerable as his own had once been? Had he really thought this could just be a one-off? Easily contained? No need to go any further? Hadn’t he learned anything from his own experience?


“He knows me.” Mulder said, his voice hoarse and horrified. “He knows me, sir. He understands things I never realised before. He can give me what I want.”


“And you want this so much? This pain?” Skinner queried.


“Oblivion.” Mulder told him. “I had no idea how much I wanted it until he, you, gave me it the first time. I had to go back for more. He knew I would. He knows me. He owns me.”


“No he doesn’t!” Skinner was furious. “Nobody owns you, Mulder.”


“He does.” Mulder said. “He’s all I’m worth. That’s what he says.”


“No!” Skinner was halfway to wishing he could punch some sense into Mulder before he pulled himself up over the irony of it.


“You then. You could own me. You could give me what he has…” Mulder began hopefully.


“NO!” Skinner was even more angry now, fighting battles and demons of his own, demons Mulder could not even guess at.


“Then I’ll go back to him.” Mulder said. “It’s not a choice, it’s just what will happen. I will go back.”


“When I got there…” Skinner began. “You were hoping to be rescued.”


“Yes.” Mulder nodded wearily.


“You were calling for me. I could hear you as I drove up. It was as if you knew I was on my way.”


“No.” Mulder sighed. “I didn’t know.”


“But you did want to be rescued?”


“No. I wanted to be saved.” Mulder mumbled. Skinner frowned, understanding the difference only too well.


Skinner couldn’t find a way to impart any sort of reason into Mulder’s head during the next few days. He tormented himself, knowing, understanding what Mulder sought from Cancerman, knowing he could stop Mulder from making a contract with the devil and yet not speaking out. Not saying what he could because it meant stepping back into a darkness he had long ago forsworn. He considered taking Mulder up on his plea, taking charge of him, but resisted. That way led to another madness and he didn’t want any part of it. So if he would not speak up or claim Mulder himself, he was useless. He could do nothing. He stayed there looking after the other man until his wounds had healed. As Mulder became more lucid he started talking less and finally appeared to return to his old self, even assuring Skinner that it had all been a mistake, he had been delirious and hadn’t meant any of it. Skinner wanted to believe, but he knew he was being deceived. He knew that deceit only too well.


Mulder returned to work. Apart from some lasting scars on his back he was fine. Skinner longed to send him along for a psychological evaluation but he couldn’t without putting both their careers on the line so he let it slide, crossing his fingers, keeping a wary eye on the younger man, hoping against hope that he could keep him out of Cancerman’s clutches.


Three months passed and Mulder grew restless. Where was Cancerman? When would he return to give him what he craved? He need was so strong that he even considered asking Skinner again, but he had spent a long time trying to convince Skinner to let the matter drop and he didn’t want to re-open that can of worms. He returned home one day to find a packet of cigarettes in his apartment and a note.


“Time you were reminded who owns you. Tonight. 11 p.m. This time make sure Mr Skinner doesn’t follow you.” Another address. Mulder took the note and found a box of matches in the kitchen. He was about to burn the note and then stopped. Saved. There was no chance of Skinner turning up here again. Why would he? All the same, he put the matches away and scrunched the paper up, throwing it into the bin as he had before.


Mulder could feel his body tingle in anticipation as he found the address. Another old house in a tree lined road. Did Cancerman have a monopoly on these places? Lewis let him in and he shivered, not meeting the other man’s eyes. Cancerman was not alone. He was sitting in an armchair, his hand resting lightly on the head of the young man who was kneeling on the floor beside him.


“Ah, Fox. You’ve met Alex of course haven’t you?” Cancerman smiled. Mulder stiffened, looking down into Krycek’s dark eyes.





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