The Agreement: 1. The New Boss


Mulder was working late. He glanced at his watch. 10pm. A shadow passed underneath the door and he looked up.




“Sir.” He got up, surprised.


“Sit down.” Skinner waved a hand and Mulder did as he was told, watching warily. He wasn’t at all sure about this new boss that had suddenly been foisted on him. Since when did lowly special agents report directly to the Assistant Director and since when did Assistant Directors act as supervisors to special agents? A whole chain of command had been bypassed and he wasn’t at all comfortable with it. Bad enough that he had to have a boss at all – Blevins had been a nuisance, but he didn’t have anywhere near the power that Skinner did. Mulder didn’t like it. Skinner didn’t come into the room. He lurked by the filing cabinet near the door, leaning against it.


“So this is where you work.” Skinner glanced around.


“Yeah.” Mulder shrugged.


“Hmm.” Skinner stared at him for a moment, seemingly lost in thought. Mulder shifted, feeling unnerved. “Well, Mulder, your first case under my direct supervision and I have to say that I have mixed feelings about it.”


“Sir?” Mulder stiffened, wondering what was coming next.


“You solved it. Brilliantly well if we discount the basic tenet of your case which is that the serial killer was a mutant with a taste for human livers.”


“Yes, sir.” Mulder shrugged. He had long ago stopped expecting to be believed.


“And I have been told that we should accept your preposterous theories.”


“Really?” Mulder raised an eyebrow, wondering who had told Skinner that.


“Yes. However, there are certain aspects of the case that I am unhappy with.” Skinner suddenly moved into the room and Mulder felt a wave of panic. The man had an air of menace to him, a kind of leashed power that was threatening. His sheer physical presence was overwhelming. Quite simply he took up too much space – it was intimidating.


“Yes.” Skinner continued. “So I thought I’d bring myself down here to talk to you about them.”


“Please, sit down.” Mulder offered, waving a hand at a chair.


“No thank you.” Skinner didn’t smile. “I won’t be long. You see, Mulder, I make it my business to fully understand the people who report to me. We work in a stressful field, where a wrong action or approach can result in death. I like to make sure that I have the correct approach for each individual under my command.”


“Under your command…?” Mulder repeated quizzically. “Sorry, sir. You sounded sort of, well military.”


“I was in the marines, Mulder.” Skinner told him. “Which is where I learned about taking responsibility for the personnel who report to me. I picked up some unusual techniques but they’ve always worked for me. Which brings me back to you. On first acquaintance, I must say that I find you a problem.”


“A problem, sir?” Mulder chewed on his lip.


“Yes. I admire your record, son, but I’m not sure about your methods. However, if I take on anybody, then I support them, all the way. No question of it.”


“Well…thank you, sir.” Mulder was surprised.


“But that support has certain obligations of its own.” Skinner informed him. Mulder hesitated.


“Obligations?” He queried.


“Yes.” Skinner nodded. “So I need to find out just what sort of approach to you I should have. You see, Mulder.” Suddenly he was very close. So close that Mulder could smell his aftershave mingled with the raw scent of the other man. “I don’t tolerate ANY of my direct orders being disobeyed. You’ve only been under my supervision for a few days and you’ve already disobeyed me once. I seem to recall that I forbade you to go near Eugene Tooms.”


“Yes, sir.” Mulder nodded, his face inches away from his boss.


“And you disobeyed me.” Skinner stated flatly. Mulder swallowed and nodded, suddenly feeling rather scared of this grim faced ex-marine macho man who stood too close to him. “So, we need to come to an agreement.” Skinner told him tersely. “What are you doing tomorrow?”


“Tomorrow?” Mulder thought about it. “Is that a Saturday?”


“Yes, Mulder.” Skinner’s breath was warm on his face.


“Um…usually I come into work on a Saturday.”


“Not tomorrow. Tomorrow I’ll pick you up at your apartment at 8 am. Make sure you’re dressed for a hike.”


“A hike?”


“Yes.” Skinner drew back, nodding to himself. “And a run.”


And so saying, he left the room. Mulder sat back in his chair, trying not to notice the way his stomach was flipping inside his body.


7:58 am. Mulder jogged up and down outside his apartment, trying to keep warm. It was sunny but there was a cold wind. At exactly 8 am a four-wheeled drive vehicle came roaring round the corner and swung up next to him. Skinner sat behind the wheel, dressed in combat fatigues. Mulder stared at him. He looked completely different.


“Get in.” Skinner opened the door for him and Mulder slid into his seat. He really wasn’t at all sure about this. He had done some digging on his new boss after last night but had seen nothing that implied the man would drag him off to a remote spot in the country and then murder him. All the same, why did he feel so unsafe? Skinner had an unblemished record at the FBI and one phrase kept coming up over and over again: Firm but fair. A strict disciplinarian but everybody who worked under him respected and admired him. And he was notorious for sticking by his subordinates, even those who had really screwed up big time. Mulder felt some relief at this but somehow he was sure he was just about to find out exactly what the price for that support was.


They drove into the country in silence, up into some hills and then Skinner stopped the jeep. He got two large rucksacks out of the back and handed one to Mulder, instructing him how to strap it on properly.


“Now we run.” Skinner said.


“Run? With this on my back?” Mulder complained, feeling like he had been weighed down with a ten-ton truck.


“Yes. I understood you were a jogger.” Skinner glanced at him.


“Well yes, but I don’t usually carry all this luggage around with me.” Mulder said. Skinner stared at him for a moment and something in those dark eyes made Mulder uneasy. He didn’t want this man thinking that he was weak so, reluctantly, he set off.


Skinner set the pace, a leisurely trot and Mulder struggled to keep up with him. He noticed the way Skinner’s muscles moved smoothly, used to all sorts of physical exertion. Mulder wasn’t exactly unfit himself, but even so, Skinner was in peak condition and seemed not to notice the weight of the rucksack on his shoulders. They ran in silence for an hour or so until Mulder grew increasingly uncomfortable. What was this? Some sort of endurance test? How was this helping Skinner understand what approach to take with him? And what did he mean by that anyway?


“Sir,” he stopped. “What is this?” He asked. Skinner turned, his eyes inquiring.


“Well I don’t know, Mulder. I was rather hoping we’d find out,” Skinner replied.


“By running in silence? For how long? And is this rucksack really necessary?” Mulder demanded.


“That depends.” Skinner shrugged. “Shall we continue?” He set off again and Mulder sighed and followed on behind.


Four hours later he was exhausted. They had stopped for water breaks once every hour and then continued in silence.


“I’m hungry.” Mulder said at last. Skinner turned round.


“You should have said. We’ll stop.” He didn’t smile. In fact Mulder hadn’t seen him smile once but all the same, there was an odd sort of companionship here. Skinner unbuckled his rucksack and rummaged around in it. “There are rations in yours,” he told Mulder. Mulder screwed up his face. Rations? What sort of mad military experience was this guy re-living? It was a bit scary. He opened his rucksack and put his hands in. There was a blanket in here and a medical kit and the promised rations. Mulder sat down and leaned back against his rucksack with a sigh. It was actually quite beautiful up here in the hills. The sky was blue although the wind was still blowing strongly and the grass seemed green and fresh underneath.


“Beautiful isn’t it?” Skinner asked.


“Yes.” Mulder nodded.


“I love it here.” Skinner gulped down some water.


“You come running up here often?” Mulder asked. Skinner shrugged.


“Sometimes. I don’t have all that much free time,” he said.


“I guess not,” Mulder murmured.


Skinner got out a map and a compass and checked their direction.


“We’ll make for the lake,” he said, glancing at Mulder and showing him the map. The lake was miles away! They wouldn’t have time to get there and back before nightfall, which meant…He remembered the blanket in his rucksack. Oh shit. Mulder opened his mouth to protest then caught the strange, intense way Skinner was looking at him and so he shut it again.


Half an hour later Skinner got to his feet, strapped his pack back on again and set off. Mulder stared after him, sighing and then he did the same. Really this whole experience was becoming more and more surreal.


They stopped for a break a couple of hours later. Mulder’s whole body was shaking from the exertion and his feet ached. He took off his shoes with a sigh and then his socks. His feet were badly blistered.


“Hmm.” Skinner came over. “You should put something on those.” He reached into his pack and took out the medical kit. “You see, these packs do have some uses,” he told Mulder. Mulder glowered at him, thinking that he probably wouldn’t have blisters if Skinner hadn’t insisted on him carrying the pack in the first place. Skinner rubbed some cream into his sore feet and Mulder was too tired to protest. He just lay back, wondering what on earth was going on in Skinner’s mind. Skinner stared at him, his eyes questioning. But what was the question, Mulder wondered? And what answer was he expected to give? Skinner finished with his feet and helped Mulder back into his shoes and socks. Then he got up and strapped his pack back on again. Mulder glared at him. Hadn’t the man seen the state of his feet? Did he seriously expect him to continue with this mad run? Obviously he did. Mulder got up and pulled his pack on again, sighing. Skinner was still looking at him as if waiting for something but Mulder had no idea what it was the other man was waiting for so he just ran past him, ignoring him. A few seconds later Skinner caught him up.


The lake was beautiful. Almost worth the cramped muscles and sore feet just to get here, Mulder thought to himself. It stretched out blue and glistening and they had it all to themselves.


“Time for a swim I think.” Skinner divested himself of his pack, stripped off all his clothes and dived in before Mulder even had time to process this information. All the same, the water did look very inviting. Before he knew it, he found himself undressing and diving in as well. The cold water soothed his aching feet and sweaty body and made him feel gloriously tingly and glad to be alive. When he looked round he noticed that Skinner had got out and was dressed again.


“Dinner.” Skinner announced when Mulder struggled out of the water a few minutes later. “You make the fire. I’ll catch the fish.”


“Catch the fish…with what? Are you serious?” Mulder asked.


“Of course.” Skinner nodded. “A few maggots, a bit of string and a stick from a tree. Simple.” He got out a knife and cut a stick from a nearby tree, pulled some string from his pack and scraped around in the earth for some suitable insect life to attract the fish. Mulder stared at him in astonishment before setting off to gather some firewood. He didn’t have any matches and was unable to get the fire alight before Skinner returned with 4 plump fish, still wriggling.


“Here. I’ll do that. You gut the fish.” Skinner leaned over the fire and Mulder stared at the fish glumly. What did he know about gutting fish? Within seconds Skinner had a huge fire going and Mulder was still staring at the fish. “Alright, Mulder. I’ll do the fish as well.” Skinner sighed, getting out his knife again and cutting into the fish with practised hands. Mulder looked away.


It was nearly dark by the time they started eating. Mulder couldn’t believe how good those fish tasted. He could have eaten them twice over.


“Looks like I should have caught more.” Skinner told him. The man still hadn’t broken into a smile. Mulder nodded.


“They were wonderful. This is a beautiful spot, sir.”


“Yes it is. We’ll camp here for the night,” he said. “There’s a bedroll in your pack.”


“I noticed.” Mulder shrugged, looking at his boss across the campfire.


“Yes, Mulder?” Skinner asked.


“Nothing.” Mulder delved into his rucksack and pulled out his bedroll, lying it on the ground near the fire.


“You wanted to ask me what all this is about.” Skinner said.


“Well…I have been wondering.” Mulder admitted.


“Good. Of course after having read your file I was never in any doubt about the levels of your curiosity!” Skinner exclaimed. “However I’ve been pleased by today, Mulder.”


“You have?” Mulder asked incredulously.


“Oh yes. I think I’ve learned a lot.” Skinner nodded.


“Like what? We’ve hardly spoken.” Mulder pointed out.


“True.” Skinner nodded again. “However you showed me that you trust me and trust is very important.”


“I don’t trust anyone.” Mulder told him sulkily, feeling rather insulted.


“Then you are very good at making leaps of faith,” Skinner said.


“Oh yeah, I’m good at that alright!” Mulder grinned. “How did you come to that conclusion?” He asked.


“This was about you, Mulder. I would have gone along with anything you wanted. If you had asked to turn back or not to make the trip I would have agreed. If you had asked me to fetch the jeep and pick you up when your feet blistered, I would have agreed. If you’d refused to carry the pack, that would have been fine.”


“You mean I could have saved myself all this?” Mulder asked ruefully, gingerly undoing his shoes and examining his swollen feet.


“Yes. Instead you followed me on a journey that you didn’t want to go on. That says a lot about you.


“That I’m stupid?” Mulder queried.


“Not at all. That you trust me not to get you lost. That your curiosity outweighs your personal sense of danger and discomfort. That your survival skills are somewhat lacking but you more than make up for that in your eagerness to understand the world and other people. That you like fresh fish.”


“Well that last bit I agree with.” Mulder grinned across the fire wondering if his boss had just made a joke but still Skinner didn’t smile. “So how does this tie in with me disobeying that order about Tooms?” Mulder asked.


“That depends on you.” Skinner said thoughtfully. “I like you, Mulder. I’ve examined your record and it’s quite brilliant. I’m impressed with your behavior here today. I will take you on, Mulder. I had my reservations – you’re quite clearly going to be a lot of work, but I’ve never shirked hard work. So I’ve decided to accept you.”


“Thanks…but, I mean…I thought you already had taken me on so to speak.”


“Not at all.” Skinner shook his head. “You’ve been assigned to me. But it’s up to me to decide whether or not to accept you. Now that I have, you’ll have to decide whether to accept me or not.”


“I have a choice?” Mulder asked.


“There’s always a choice, Mulder.” Skinner said firmly. “Now you have a problem with authority figures, right?”


“Um…” Mulder was thrown by the question.


“Male authority figures at least.” Skinner said. “I’ve read your file. I’ve looked into your background. I’m very thorough. I don’t want to psychoanalyse you, Mulder, I just need to get a handle on your behavior. You had a bad relationship with your father. Yes?”


“Yes.” Mulder gulped, feeling uncomfortable with this strange, strict man knowing so much about him.


“Did he ever hit you?” Skinner asked.


“Why is this…?”


“Just answer the question.” Skinner said.




“Often?” Skinner wanted to know.


“When I played up.” Mulder shrugged.


“Often then.” Skinner remarked.


“Yeah.” Mulder shrugged again.


“So you’re used to this as a form of disciplinary action?” Skinner asked.


“I…what are you suggesting, sir?” Mulder enquired, his mind racing at the unexpected turn of events.


“This, Mulder. You, quite clearly, are going to get into lots of trouble during your time as my subordinate. This is going to cause me headaches. I’m happy to stand by you. Like I said, I admire you. However you are badly disciplined and I blame your father for that. Some men have no idea. This is why you have a bad attitude towards authority. I suspect you are capable of learning, but you’ve never had a very good role model. Also your own somewhat passionate and unruly nature makes it hard for you to knuckle down under anyone. I aim to make you re-learn the lessons of your childhood, but in a different way. If it works you might stay alive. If it doesn’t, well you’ll be no worse off than if I hadn’t tried.”


“What does that mean?” Mulder couldn’t take his eyes off his boss.


“Punishment without affection, retribution filled with reproach – I disapprove of these things.” Skinner said, stretching his long, muscular arms. “Your father made you resentful. He hurt you without showing you unconditional love and support. Am I right?”


“I…” Mulder could feel the tears springing into his eyes as he recalled the amount of times his father had swung a belt at him then banished him to his room, refused to speak to him for days on end.


“Am I right?” Skinner asked insistently.


“Yes,” he whispered.


“So you’re always on the defensive with male authority figures.” Skinner shrugged. “You can be as defensive as you like with me, Mulder. It won’t change anything. I’m more than able to handle you. However your father was right about one thing – you do need discipline.”


“I don’t like the sound of that.” Mulder said.


“Oh I rather think you do.” Skinner’s eyes were deadly serious as they caught his across the fire. “You won’t like the reality, but you do like the idea. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not talking about some sort of perverted sex game here, just pure discipline. I don’t suppose for a moment that you go out looking for people to hurt you for sexual pleasure. I don’t go out looking for people to hurt. In fact I find the very idea abhorrent. All the same, I recognise when a man needs someone to show some concern about his behavior, to check it before it goes too far. To deliver punishments where they’re deserved.”


“What sort of punishments are we talking about, sir?” Mulder asked, feeling rather weak and he was sure that wasn’t just as a result of all the day’s exertion.


“Physical punishment, Mulder.” Skinner told him.


“You’re proposing to whip me when I disobey you?” Mulder asked incredulously. Skinner laughed out loud, the first time Mulder had seen his features display anything other than stern self-control.


“I like your use of the word “when” and not “if”. I was right about you, Mulder. You are going to be hard work. And yes, “whip” is a fair description of what I’ll do to you. Not always. A punishment is my decision not yours. But a whipping will usually be the inevitable consequence of disobeying a direct order from me, yes. On other occasions I will use other methods.”


“I don’t believe I’m hearing this.” Mulder stared at his boss, a look of amazement on his face. “Look, sir, I’m a grown man, not a kid.”


“Quite. The military was full of grown men who needed discipline.” Skinner shrugged. “I endured it in my time and it did me good. Kept me from getting myself and my brothers-in-arms killed. I don’t resent the man who punished me. As a matter of fact I’m very fond of him. We still keep in touch and I’m sure that if I ever forget the lessons he taught me, he’ll show up on my doorstep to make me re-learn them. Painfully. And I’m 9 years older than you, Mulder.”


“And you’d let him?” Mulder asked incredulously.


“You’re never too old to learn.” Skinner shrugged. “And you have a lot to learn, Mulder. An awful lot.”


“You beat all your subordinates?” Mulder asked. Skinner laughed for the second time.


“Oh no. I told you, Mulder, I treat everyone differently. I use appropriate action for each agent under my command. But I knew I’d need a different approach for you – you are quite obviously special. Take Agent Scully for example. I wouldn’t drag her out here and subject her to this treatment.”


“Good.” Mulder hated the idea of Scully enduring all this physical hardship.


“No, I have a different method entirely for dealing with Scully. But then I don’t suppose Scully will disobey too many of my direct orders.” Skinner pointed out. “You will. I’m not saying I’m happy about that, I’m just warning you what you can expect if you do. I don’t want your career ruined, Mulder. You have a bright future. I’m happy not to give you conventional punishments, or indeed put anything down on your file that will be too incriminating for you.”


“But you will whip my butt whenever I upset you?” Mulder still couldn’t believe he was having this conversation.


“Only if you agree that this is the way you wish me to run my supervisory role over you.” Skinner shrugged. “If you don’t, then fine. We’ll forget we had this conversation. However I must warn you that conventional FBI reprimands might hinder you more in your search for the truth than a taste of my belt across your backside. Think about it.”


“I don’t need to.” Mulder said.


“Oh?” Skinner raised an enquiring eyebrow. “We have an agreement then?”


“How did you know my decision was to agree?” Mulder was astonished. He was also more than a little amazed by the decision he had reached as well.


“I know you, Mulder. And I know what sort of a man you are. Don’t worry. I’ll take very good care of you.”


And so saying, he got out his bed roll, laid it out, disappeared inside the blanket and fell fast asleep.


Mulder stared at his boss for a while, running over their “agreement” in his head. This was weird, surreal, bizarre…and curiously rather reassuring as well. He could cope with a bit of physical pain, far better than having to appear before disciplinary enquiries every five minutes, having his pay docked, being reassigned, sent off on dull pointless missions, being assigned a “minder” to make sure he obeyed the rules, black marks on his file. All the normal disciplinary procedures he was so familiar with that they made him want to scream. They slowed him down. Skinner was giving him a different way to play the game and a different set of rules to play by. As for the pain, well how bad could it be? Mulder shrugged to himself and settled down in his blanket, following his boss’s example and falling fast asleep.


“You’re stiff and your feet are so swollen you don’t think you can fit them into your shoes.” Skinner told him as he groaned himself awake the next day.


“That’s about it…” Mulder cried out loud as a spasm of muscular pain shot through him.


“So the best thing to do is get those muscles warmed up and your feet cooled down. A brisk swim should do it. Get your clothes off.”


Mulder did as he was told and then Skinner picked him up, carried him over to the water and dropped him bodily into the lake. Mulder screamed as the icy water engulfed him. He started to kick, every muscle in his body protesting and he called his boss every name under the sun. A few seconds later Skinner appeared beside him.


“You bastard! You total bastard!” Mulder shouted.


“Watch your tongue, Mulder.” Skinner told him, his face unsmiling. Mulder wondered if those 2 laughs he had witnessed the previous night had been some figment of his imagination or tricks of the firelight. “I won’t tolerate being called names. Come on. I’ll race you to the other side.” And so saying he ducked his bald head under the water and swam off. Mulder watched him for a while and then, sighing, followed him.


Actually the day turned out to be good fun. Skinner showed him how to catch and gut some fish for breakfast, how to get the fire lit without matches, how to track through the hills. He pointed out various different varieties of wildlife that would have passed Mulder by and all in all he was very good company. Mulder felt quite absurdly cheerful. Finally it was time to return home.


“Couldn’t I just stay here?” Mulder asked. “You could get the jeep and pick me up.”


“Is that what you want?” Skinner looked at him intently. Mulder flushed. Damn, why did he want this man to think well of him? This strict, stern man who had last night promised to beat the shit out of him if he ever screwed up. Yet also, also the man who had promised to support him come what may, to always be on his side. The man who had showed him the way round the insides of a fish!


“No,” he murmured. “I’ll walk it.” He shouldered himself into his pack and started the long trudge back to the jeep. At least Skinner didn’t insist that they run this time and they took a shorter route back so it only took them a couple of hours. Mulder marvelled at the other man’s level of fitness, feeling strangely at peace after the exertions of the past few days. Skinner wasn’t exactly a man for small talk, but all the same they did find some topics of conversation. His boss shared some of the details of his experiences in Vietnam and asked Mulder a series of searching questions about his childhood, his sister and some of his FBI cases. He didn’t give Mulder any fake sympathy, but he did show him the courtesy of listening intently to what Mulder had to say and grasping the essence of the information he was given immediately. Mulder decided he didn’t want to disobey any direct orders. He didn’t want this man to hurt him. However even as he thought this, he knew that he wouldn’t change his behavior. He couldn’t, not even knowing the consequences…




Mulder took a deep breath as Skinner ushered him into his office. It had been 6 weeks since their trip into the hills and really it was hard to believe that it had ever happened. Skinner was coolly polite to him at work, no special treatment, no mention of their agreement. Even so, 6 weeks later he was in big trouble. Mulder wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or not that cigarette smoking man was in the room. Relieved he thought. Surely Skinner wouldn’t give him that punishment he’d threatened while someone else was present? All the same, Skinner was hopping mad. Not that Mulder was surprised. Deserting his post, leaving the tape surveillance and skipping off to Puerto Rico to check out that observatory. There was no way that Skinner was going to let him off the hook on this one. Mulder felt his stomach turn over inside. It had been a long time since his father had last whipped him but he could still remember the stinging stripes of the belt. Would Skinner use a belt, he wondered? Or some other instrument of torture? He shut those thoughts out of his mind. He didn’t care – so long as he didn’t lose his job.


In fact Skinner completely wrong-footed him. No mention of a beating, just a complete dressing down. Even when smoking man had left, Skinner just ordered him back to the tape surveillance. Mulder hesitated, wondering if he had missed something, but the expression in Skinner’s eyes made it unwise to linger so he scooted from the room. He had got away with it! He should have felt pleased with himself but he didn’t. He could cope with Skinner’s anger better than he could cope with this sense of having disappointed the man, let him down in some way. Mulder chewed on his lip, trying to make sense of it and found that he couldn’t. Damn Skinner! How had he managed to get into his head like this! Mulder flounced angrily around his apartment, throwing a ball around, trying not to think about the agreement they had made 6 weeks ago. Why was he so edgy? How had Skinner done this to him?


He was still feeling jittery when Skinner sent him off to investigate a mysterious death in a sewer in Newark. As he waded through that stinking raw sewage he suddenly understood what Skinner meant by “other methods of punishment.” This was his punishment for Puerto Rico! Furious, he set off straight for Skinner’s office.


“What’s my next punishment? Scrubbing the bathroom floors with a toothbrush?” He asked his boss, fuming, not realising he was interrupting Skinner in a meeting. Skinner regarded him coldly, then allowed him into his office so that he could make a fool of himself in front of the people who were assembled there. After thoroughly humiliating himself, Mulder was finally allowed to leave. Damn, who needed a beating when he could do such a good job of punishing himself like this! It was all he could do to keep control of himself for the next few days as he solved the case, enduring a nightmarishly tense meeting in Skinner’s office during which he expected to be reminded of their agreement at any second. He was glad when the whole thing was over, even if it did mean that he was back on tape surveillance.


He was relaxing in his apartment, trying to straighten out his tense muscles and even more tense thought processes when the knock on the door startled him. He felt his stomach churn as he opened the door to his boss.


“I suppose I should have expected you,” he muttered, turning away and allowing the other man to come in.


“Not necessarily.” Skinner shut the door. He was dressed in his work clothes and Mulder surmised that he had come straight from the office despite the lateness of the hour. “In fact, that’s the problem, Mulder. You are going to have to relax about our agreement. It’s interfering with your work.”


“How can I relax?” Mulder cried. “When every time I screw up I expect you to bend me over your desk and beat the crap out of me?”


“Well that was the nature of our agreement. However I had no idea it would cause you such anxiety. Are you really so scared of being beaten, Mulder?” Skinner enquired, taking off his coat and jacket and sitting himself down on the couch without being asked.


“No, yes, I don’t know! I just thought that after Puerto Rico…but nothing. Not a damn thing.”


“Except the tape surveillance.” Skinner pointed out.


“Yeah, but that wasn’t what I expected.”


“I don’t have to give you what you expect,” Skinner murmured. “I told you, these decisions are in my hands, not yours, Mulder.”


“But I screwed up! And then again a couple of days ago. In front of all those people in your office. Oh, shit. Why did you let me in, sir? Why did you let me humiliate myself like that?”


“You seemed hell-bent on it, Mulder. It would have been hard to stop you. However you’re right, I’m not happy about that. It seems to me that you’re a bit jittery. Trying to anticipate me all the time, wondering when “it” will happen.”


“You’re right.” Mulder sagged against the fish tank. “I can’t take it.”


“This from the man who ran 10 miles with blistered feet?” Skinner asked incredulously. “No, I think you can take it, Mulder. What you can’t take is waiting for it. So I’ve come to put you out of your misery.”


“Hey, you don’t have to. I can pass on this! Don’t do this for me.” Mulder backed away in alarm. Skinner ignored him, getting up and glancing round the small apartment, lingering by the kitchen table.


“I’m not. I’ve been evaluating your behavior and really after disturbing me in my office like that and your general insolence, well I think you deserve to be punished, Mulder. Not severely – but just a taste of what you’ll get if you really screw up.”


“I’m not sure…” Mulder gulped nervously.


“Anytime you want to abandon our agreement, you just tell me.” Skinner said seriously. “Otherwise, get yourself undressed and bent over the table.” He tapped the kitchen table with his knuckles. “Yes, this’ll do. Come on then, what’s it to be?” He crossed his arms and stared at Mulder. Mulder stared back.


“All my clothes?” He asked in alarm.


“All your clothes.” Skinner told him firmly. “I’ll start off with your butt but on other occasions my attentions might stray elsewhere. You might as well get used to it.” He waited while Mulder reluctantly slipped off his tee shirt, then unbuckled his belt and unzipped his trousers, easing them down his thighs together with his boxer shorts. “Socks, Mulder.” Skinner pointed out as a nearly naked Mulder began to walk over to the table.


“What? Oh.” Mulder looked down and saw that he was still wearing his socks.


“It’s just that you’ll find yourself slipping all over the place if you wear them,” Skinner told him.


“Right.” Mulder took his socks off and gulped again. Of course, Skinner had seen him naked before but all the same, this was pretty humiliating. Which, he supposed, was precisely the effect that Skinner had intended. He stopped when he got to the table, suddenly hating this innocent piece of household furniture. Would he ever be able to eat off it again, he wondered?


“Mulder.” Skinner put a gentle hand on each of his shoulders. “First time hurts like hell,” he said, his dark eyes piercing in their intensity. “Don’t be macho about it. Scream and holler if you like. I’ll sort out the neighbors if they drop by to investigate. If it gets too bad I’ll stick a handkerchief in your mouth to shut you up.”


“Oh thanks.” Mulder said sarcastically. Skinner shook his head.


“Humility, Mulder. You have an awful lot of learning to do, son. Now bend over the table and get ready. I can’t see the point in handing out a beating if you don’t make it hard, so I won’t make this soft because it’s a first time. I’ll use my belt. Other times I might use something else so don’t get too used to this. Other times might also go on longer or shorter, depending on what you’ve done and how angry you’ve made me. Disobeying direct orders is the worst though. You’ll find me fairly uncompromising on those occasions. I won’t ever break the skin but I will leave some pretty nasty welts and bruises. Don’t expect to sit down for the next couple of days.”


Mulder stood there, listening to this information with an outraged mind. He still couldn’t quite believe he’d got himself into this position.


“Time to start, Mulder.” Skinner unbuttoned his shirtsleeves and rolled them up tidily to his elbows. Then he unbuckled his belt and drew it slowly from his trousers. Mulder watched him, feeling like a rabbit caught in car headlights. “Mulder.” Skinner said gently but sternly. “You do know that your behavior has been unacceptable don’t you?” Mulder nodded. “And I was bound to be cross. You knew that didn’t you? You were pushing me, trying to see how far you could go. Well this is how far. Now accept your punishment, Fox. It’ll soon be over.” Mulder took a deep breath and nodded, finally bending himself over the table, feeling the hard wooden edges dig into his thighs.


“Hold on tight. You’ll find it easier that way.” Skinner pushed Mulder forward more, so that his head was on the table, then placed a hand on the other man’s back. Mulder took a deep breath and waited.


The first lick of the belt stunned his senses. He heard himself giving out a howl of horrified pain. Skinner took no notice. Mulder didn’t even notice the second lick – he was too busy getting over the first. But boy did he feel the third! It was like Skinner had just been getting into a rhythm with the first two. The third was like a flash of pure lightning against his buttocks and he screamed and struggled to get up. Skinner’s hand kept him down.


“That’s only three.” Skinner said softly. “You have a long way to go yet, Mulder.”


“I can’t…please stop!” he whimpered wriggling under that big hand.


“No, Mulder. This is for your own good. Try and concentrate on how you ended up here and what you did to deserve it. That way you might avoid being in this position again.” Skinner’s tone implied that he thought this was unlikely. “I have no intention of letting you off this.” He added and his voice had a note of finality in it that made Mulder stop wriggling. “So stop acting up and start accepting. You’re not going anywhere.” The next stroke thundered down across Mulder’s backside with a sting of agony. Mulder actually sobbed, gasping for air. This couldn’t be happening. He remembered his father’s belt landing on his backside, but it had never hurt like this and it had been so long ago. Maybe he had been more resilient then or maybe his father hadn’t swung so hard. He could feel the wood of the table bruising his thigh as he crashed into it, his body leaping like a fish with every harsh stroke.


“Do you know how many that is, Mulder?” Skinner asked him in that same, firm, reasonable tone of voice.


“No…” His own voice had a pathetic wavering tone to it.


“It’s seven, Mulder. I’m not asking you to count this time but I might on another occasion. Try and keep track of it. I want you to concentrate on the pain.”


“I can’t concentrate on anything else.” Mulder whimpered.


“Good. Think about it then, Mulder. Think about how much this hurts and how you can stay out of trouble in future.” Skinner took a step back, his hand still holding Mulder down, then whipped the belt forward with a greater force than he had thus far used. Mulder shrieked, gasping to get oxygen into his lungs, failing as Skinner no longer spaced out the blows but delivered them all swiftly, one after the other onto Mulder’s raw, bruised buttocks. Winded, Mulder accepted the stinging, biting blows, unable to do more than shiver and cry pathetically, yelping as each blow struck home, tears running copiously down his face, mingling with his sweat. Finally the onslaught stopped. He hurt so much that he didn’t notice immediately, just lay there sobbing. Then he felt a gentle caress on his back.


“Alright, Mulder. That’ll do for now. Just a light whipping.” A light one? Light? Mulder couldn’t believe it.


“It didn’t feel light…” he complained, still sobbing. He heard a snort behind him.


“Well it was, Mulder, believe me. There’s far worse in store for you in future. Trust me. Now get up, son, let’s get you sorted out.” And he helped Mulder to stand up, escorted him back into the living room and laid him face down on the couch. Mulder looked back over his shoulder, saw the state of his buttocks and winced. “Light whipping my ass…” he murmured under his breath. Skinner brought him a glass of water and he downed it in one go, hating his boss for these small kindnesses after what he had just put him through.


“Now how do you feel?” Skinner perched beside him on the couch.


“Like shit.” Mulder muttered into a cushion, the tears still coursing down his face. “I hate you. I hurt…” He was astonished to find his tears falling more heavily until he was sobbing his eyes out. He felt Skinner’s hand on his bare shoulder, rubbing him gently.


“Okay, son. It’s all over now,” Skinner murmured.


“I do hate you.” Mulder whimpered, then he found himself burying his face into the front of Skinner’s shirt, clutching the other man’s shoulders.


“Hate’s a big word, Mulder.” Skinner soothed his hair.


“I don’t want this. I don’t want you being nice…” Mulder sobbed. He couldn’t remember his dad ever having been nice but at least his dad had let him go afterwards without subjecting him to any more lectures or wanting to chat to him or be nice. As soon as he was released after punishment, Mulder had chased out of the house and up into the treehouse. Sam usually found him there and offered him a cookie or a piece of cake, crushing it into his hand and watching him sympathetically until he stopped crying and ate the goodies she had brought. Skinner seemed to be playing the role of both his father and Sam, tormentor and comforter in one. He didn’t know what to make of it.


“I told you, I intend to take good care of you,” Skinner said. “You’re one of mine now and I may get cross with you and I may punish you and hurt you but I’ll always look out for you. Do you understand that, Fox?” Mulder looked up, trying to blink away the tears so he could look at his boss properly.


“I suppose so.” He shook, still clinging to Skinner.


“No, I need more than that. I need you to understand.” Skinner said, his hands still soothing on Mulder’s back.


“I…yes.” Mulder nodded, feeling comforted. “I understand.”


“Good. Get dressed then, Mulder. We’re going out.”


“Out?” Mulder asked, confused. “Out where?”


“For a walk. I’m not leaving you like this. That isn’t my style.”


Skinner got up and handed Mulder his clothing, helping the other man to pull his boxers and trousers carefully over his sore backside and kneeling in front of Mulder to put his shoes and socks on. Mulder allowed him to help, feeling a strange sense of trust for this man who had just hurt him so much.


Mulder was glad of the cold air on his face, drying his tears and soothing the heat from him. They walked up to a small hill, climbed it, then Skinner flung himself down on his back on the grass, looking up at the stars. Mulder settled himself down cautiously beside him, his backside protesting at anything approaching contact with even the softest surface.


“Are you always going to be this nice…um…afterwards?” he asked.


“I don’t want you to fear me, Mulder.” Skinner said. “However in answer to your question, no, I won’t be. I have a feeling that sometimes I’m just going to be too angry. However it’s when I decide not to bother correcting your behavior that you need to worry.”


“Why? Sounds appealing…” Mulder murmured.


“Not really. Because the day I decide not to bother is the day I’ve given up on you.” Skinner told him. “Right here and now I care about what happens to you. And I want you to use your head, stop being insolent, stop questioning my decisions and never again to take off at a moment’s notice on some mad scheme. Will you try and do that for me?”


“I’ll try.” Mulder sniffed, privately not at all sure that he’d be able to manage it.


“Good. Because like I said, tonight was light. Another time you’ll really know what’s hit you. You took it well though, son. I’m proud of you.” And he ruffled his hand through Mulder’s hair.


Mulder couldn’t make any sense of all this. It was like Skinner had got into his head. The man damn near took the skin off his backside and he felt pleased to have his company for god’s sake? Yet he did. He lay back, enjoying Skinner’s low tones as he pointed something out in the sky, mused on something, recounted some anecdote. Despite the pain he was in, Mulder couldn’t help feeling a curious sense of peace




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