The Agreement: 2. Direct Orders


Assistant Director Skinner watched Agent Mulder, taking in the shadows under the other man’s tired eyes, the stubble on his chin, the haunting, haunted expression on his face. Skinner’s own expression didn’t change. He was a quiet, astute man and he didn’t like to give too much away. He was sure that Mulder didn’t even know that he was watching him. However he didn’t like to see one of his agents in so much emotional turmoil. Mulder was one of his, one of a very select group of agents that Skinner took a personal interest in and Skinner took his duties very seriously indeed. Mulder was in pain, in trouble and in need of some rest and Skinner had every intention of making sure that he got some. He could understand Mulder’s reluctance to let go of the investigation into Agent Scully’s disappearance, but even so, Mulder was in no condition to be of any use in the investigation. Someone had to take care of the man – he was quite clearly incapable of taking care of himself. Skinner was too busy working on the case himself to see that Mulder got home safely and took the rest that Skinner had ordered him to, so he appointed Krycek instead. It made him uneasy, placing Mulder in the hands of this new young agent – someone that Skinner could not vouch for, but he had little alternative.


When he had finished in the meeting, Skinner called Krycek into his office.


“Did you see that Mulder went home?” He asked.


“Yes, sir.” Krycek nodded.


“Don’t lie to me, Krycek.” Skinner growled. “You don’t know me all that well, son. I don’t take kindly to being lied to.”


“Sir?” Krycek had the grace to look embarrassed.


“When I give an order I expect it to be obeyed, Agent Krycek. I asked you to ensure that Mulder got home safely, but after having checked up on him I find out that he ditched you within about 30 seconds of you both leaving my office. Do you have an explanation for that?”


“Well, sir, he said he was going to go home and sleep. Short of actually escorting him home myself and tucking him up in bed, what was I to do?” Krycek shrugged helplessly. All this fuss over goddamn Mulder. Who cared?


“Exactly that, Krycek. Taken him home, tucked him in, handcuffed him to the bed for all I care.” Skinner growled. Krycek played with that mental image for a while, finding it rather pleasing. Then he noticed the thunderous expression on Skinner’s face and he shook himself back into reality. “It’s hard when your partner goes missing.” Skinner continued. “Agent Mulder is under a lot of stress right now. If he makes any mistakes because he’s not had enough sleep then I’ll hold you responsible, Krycek.”


“Me?” Krycek gasped. This was ridiculous. It was bad enough having to tag along behind Mulder as it was but serving two masters was even more difficult. One minute he had smoking man breathing down his neck and the next it was Skinner. Keeping them both satisfied was going to be a harder task than he had anticipated.


“Yes, you.” Skinner stated firmly. “I don’t know much about you, Krycek and right now I don’t have the time to find out any more. Strictly speaking I wouldn’t consider you to be one of my special agents. However, we find ourselves thrown together and so I should warn you – I don’t take kindly to sloppy work. I also don’t take kindly to being disobeyed and I especially don’t take kindly to being lied to. Is that clear?”


“Yes, sir.” Krycek replied bitterly.


“Good. Now keep an eye on Mulder and don’t let him do anything he shouldn’t. If you do, you’ll answer to me. And I don’t have much patience with green young agents who don’t do as they’re told. Understood?”


“Understood.” Krycek nodded and hurried out of the room, feeling as unnerved as he did after a meeting with his other boss. This assignment was rapidly turning into a nightmare.


He found Mulder and wanted to punch the other man as soon as look at him. He had been placed in an impossible situation. Mulder didn’t listen to anyone, certainly not to him. Krycek could tell that Mulder didn’t have the least respect or liking for him. It was obvious. And he’d tried his best to be charming as well – it was one of the reasons why he had been chosen for this mission. His charm was quite legendary and he was well aware of it. He had learned how to flash his eyes and smile winsomely even as he told the most deadly of lies. Until Mulder. Until Skinner. They both seemed immune to his charm and Krycek wasn’t sure which of them he hated most. He found himself listening to Mulder outline an absurd scheme about setting off for Skyland Mountain. His real boss would want him to go with Mulder. His pseudo-boss had already made it clear that he’d do something very unpleasant to him if he allowed Mulder to run off chasing things while he was in this condition. He knew which boss he should fear the most – the one who would have no compunction about putting a bullet in his head, but all the same, he wasn’t keen on upsetting the other one either.


“What about Skinner?” Krycek squawked to Mulder, wondering why his meeting with the ex-marine still bothered him so much.


“I’ll deal with Skinner.” Mulder said confidently. None too reassured, Krycek found himself following on behind his so-called “partner”.


It’s more likely to be the other way round, Mulder thought to himself as he set off in the car with the reluctant Krycek in tow. Instead of him dealing with Skinner, he was pretty sure that it would be Skinner who would deal with him, probably by applying the buckle end of his belt to Mulder’s ass. Mulder didn’t care. Nothing was going to stop him risking his life to find Scully. Nothing. Not even the thought of the worst whipping in the goddamn universe. He’d deal with that later and he’d deal with Skinner later. Right now he needed to do something, anything, to convince himself that Scully was still alive.


Mulder could have wept with frustration as he came so close to finding Scully and failed. He found himself hating Duane Barry with a vengeance, and hating Alex Krycek too. The man was always there, hovering and Mulder had a sudden awful fear that if Scully never returned he would be stuck with Krycek forever. He was almost relieved when he heard the cars draw up and discovered that his boss had arrived. Relieved and apprehensive. Even as tired and distraught as he was, Mulder could see that Skinner was not in a good mood. His boss swept into the room, regarded him with icily angry eyes, seemed about to move on and then stopped.


“Agent Mulder, you disobeyed my direct order,” he stated coldly. Mulder felt his stomach contract. He didn’t reply – the statement hadn’t required any reply. It had merely been Skinner’s way of telling him that he was going to be punished and punished hard for his disobedience. But not yet. It was a warning, Skinner telling him to prepare himself, Skinner informing him that he was seriously pissed off and that when the time was right he’d show him just how pissed off he was. In private and painfully.


Skinner insisted on Mulder traveling with him on the return journey to Washington. Mulder was too tired and knew that he was in too much trouble to even bother protesting. Besides, he was relieved not to have to drive back with Krycek for company. Something about that man seriously unnerved him.


“Agent Mulder I suggest that you take this opportunity to get some rest seeing as how you disobeyed my last order on that subject.” Skinner told him tersely. “You and I have some matters to discuss when we get back.”


“We could discuss them now…” Mulder began hopefully, wanting to get the lecture out of the way.


“I want you rested for our “discussion”, Mulder. You’re going to need your strength.” Skinner informed him. “So I suggest that you get some sleep.” And he refused to utter another word for the rest of the journey. Not that it mattered. Mulder was so tired that he did as he was told and fell instantly asleep.


Skinner dropped him off at his apartment a couple of hours later.


“I’ll see you in my office at 7 am, Agent Mulder,” he said. “Stay at home and sleep until then. That, incidentally, is another order.”


“Yes, sir.” Mulder climbed out of the car, pretended to go to his apartment, watched as Skinner drove off, and then set off for Quantico.


Skinner glanced at his watch and frowned. Ten past seven and still no sign of Agent Mulder.


“Alright, Krycek, let’s start without him,” he said. Krycek swallowed and nodded. Tell him the “truth”, he thought to himself. Isn’t that what his boss had told him to do? Back Mulder’s story up. “I’m not happy.” Skinner regarded Krycek with a cool frown. “I’m not happy with your performance, Agent Krycek.”


“Yes sir, sorry sir.” Krycek tried to look dutifully subdued and contrite but he knew almost immediately that he had miscalculated.


“Don’t posture and pose for me, boy!” Skinner roared, slamming his hand down on his desk. “Damn it, Krycek, I told you to keep an eye on Mulder, not tag along for the ride while he disobeys every order I give him. I trusted you to keep charge of the situation but you didn’t and now I have a dead man on my hands and Agent Mulder has been accused of having some involvement in that death. Now I know and you know, that Agent Mulder is innocent. I don’t doubt him for a second, but there are some people who I’m going to have a hard job convincing. What do you have to say about that, Krycek?”


“Agent Mulder is a very determined man, sir.” Krycek shrugged, feeling a wave of envy at Skinner’s unswerving faith in Mulder’s innocence. He wished his own boss had such a high regard for him. He tried to hide the anger, to keep the bitterness from his eyes but he wasn’t sure he succeeded. He had the feeling that Assistant Director Skinner was a very perceptive man and that made him uneasy.


“So am I, Krycek. So am I!” Skinner told him.


Krycek winced. He wanted to get out of this meeting as soon as possible. He felt that his position in the Bureau was becoming dangerous. As soon as he could he was going to slip away from all this, get out of town, await more orders. In the meantime, if he could just sweet-talk Skinner into believing his story. That was what his other boss wanted.


Skinner got up, went around to where Krycek sat and glared at the other man.


“I don’t know what to make of you, Krycek,” he said, his dark eyes boring deep into the younger man’s. “You’re…an enigma, boy.”


“Yes, sir.” Krycek’s eyes flashed angrily.


“Ah, so you object to being called ‘boy’?” Skinner asked, still standing too close.


“No, sir.”


“Another lie.” Skinner took hold of Krycek’s chin and held him still, forcing Krycek to meet his eyes. “You do lie very prettily, Krycek but you’re hiding something. I don’t trust you.”


“Let go of me!” Krycek lost control and twisted out of Skinner’s grasp, thudding his fist in the general direction of the other man’s face and then finding himself, much to his surprise, lying flat on his stomach bent over Skinner’s desk, the other man’s bulk leaning down on him.


“That at least was honest.” Skinner said. “But you’ve annoyed me now, Krycek. I don’t take kindly to acts of aggression against me in my own office. You’ve picked on the wrong man to play games with. Still, I like your fire. I suspected that innocent exterior of yours hid something deeper and now I know. Do you want me to take you on, Krycek? I will if you ask nicely.” He leaned close, his hot breath whispering against Krycek’s ear. “I sense that you’re the sort of man who responds to a firm hand, Krycek. Is that so?”


“I…” Krycek found himself panting, unable to move under Skinner’s huge body. He went limp, considering his options.


His smoking boss would tell him to go along with whatever Skinner wanted in order to finish this mission. But what was it that Skinner wanted? And was he right? Krycek knew there was a side of himself that responded to men like Skinner. All his life he had been getting away with things, playing games with people, stringing them along, deceiving them with his easy charm, his sly lies, his ability to appear so innocent and beguiling. He had been an only child, much indulged by his parents who refused to believe him capable of any wrongdoing, but all the time he had wanted to find out where the limits were, to be told when to stop. Nobody had ever told him. Not even smoking man who simply rejoiced in Krycek’s capacity for evil and used the younger man’s deceitfulness for his own ends, making it his own. But Skinner saw right through him. Skinner was the father he had longed for, the boss he wished he had, the one thing that had been missing from his life for as long as he could remember: someone who understood him, who saw the darkness inside him and told him that it didn’t matter. That he’d be protected anyway, that he’d be cared for, looked after, just as long as he accepted Skinner’s authority, as long as he behaved and didn’t try to lie to Skinner. He could turn back from this path he had chosen a long time ago, renounce his past, be what Skinner wanted. It wasn’t too late – was it?


“Well?” Skinner asked, his hand heavy between Krycek’s shoulder blades. “What is it you want, boy? You want me to look out for you? Take you under my wing?”


“Yes, sir. Yes. Please…” He whispered that pathetically. He did want it. He wanted it more than anything else in the world. If Skinner were on his side he’d be alright. He wouldn’t lie or cheat or deceive again. He’d be free of this whole mess he’d gotten himself into. Skinner would sort everything out – he’d get him back from the consortium, he’d buy his soul back from the devil, he’d…oh dream on, Alex, he told himself.


“Maybe you don’t understand.” Skinner spoke in low, measured tones. “If you want my support, Alex, you have to earn it. And that could be painful.”


“I don’t care.” Krycek shivered.


“You might care when I start punishing you.” Skinner said. “Do you agree to be punished, Alex? Because I think discipline is exactly what you need.” Krycek closed his eyes.


“Yes,” he whispered. At last. Somebody who would tell him when to stop. Someone to put an end to the wearying round of lies and deception.




Krycek felt the other man lift his hand, allowing him up. Skinner turned him round to face him, staring into his eyes for a long time. “Is there anything else you want to tell me, Krycek, before we begin? Anything else I should know?”


“I…no…” Krycek stared at his feet, couldn’t meet Skinner’s piercing dark eyes. Skinner sighed inwardly. This man was going to be a harder case to crack than even Agent Mulder was. He needed what Skinner could give him badly. What dark truth was he carrying around inside him? And how much had it embittered him? Skinner knew that he had to act hard and fast to break into Krycek’s soul and find out if there was anything good left in there at all. He crossed the room and locked the door.


“Get your trousers off,” he said. “I’m going to thrash you.” Krycek stared at him, open- mouthed. “You’ve never been thrashed before have you?” Skinner asked. Krycek shook his head numbly. “I’m going to.” Skinner told him firmly. “You’re still a child inside aren’t you Alex? Greedy, grabbing, selfish. I’m going to give you a punishment suitable for a child. Now get your trousers off and bend over my desk. Or leave this office now. Your choice.”


“If I go…” Krycek paused, glanced at the door. “If I go, you won’t take care of me or look out for me…will you?”


“No.” Skinner shrugged. “But you’re not really one of mine, Alex. I wouldn’t consider this usually but there’s something about you. Of all the men I’ve had under my command, only one other has ever needed this sort of discipline more.”


“Who was that?” Krycek asked, delaying his decision, glancing at the door again.


“That’s private.” Skinner snapped. “I don’t discuss details.” Even as he said it, Krycek knew that Skinner had been referring to Mulder. It couldn’t be anyone else. He remembered the way he had noticed Skinner watching Mulder, the stern set of his jaw tempered by the concern in his eyes. He wanted to feel that concern directed at him. He wanted to be one of Skinner’s protégés, he wanted it badly. He didn’t care what the price was.


“You don’t really want to go do you, Alex?” Skinner said softly.


“No.” Krycek whispered. “But I don’t want to be hurt either.”


“You’ll survive.” Skinner opened his desk drawer and pulled out a long wooden ruler. He laid it on the desk and rolled up his shirt sleeves. “Over the desk, Alex,” he said firmly. Without knowing why he was agreeing to this, or even when he had, Krycek undid his trousers as he had been commanded, slipped them off and bent over the desk. He didn’t even gasp in surprise when he felt Skinner pull down his boxer shorts. It seemed inevitable somehow.


“You can scream. It’s early.” Skinner shrugged, knowing there wouldn’t be many people around. “However, I’ll think more highly of you if you keep quiet on this occasion.”


Krycek ground his teeth together. He wanted Skinner to think highly of him. It was all he wanted.


His resolve went out the window with the first blow. Alex had been punched a few times, shot once, but never spanked with a heavy wooden ruler. It winded him completely and he lay there dazed. The second stroke made him realise that the first hadn’t been a one-off. They were all going to hurt this much. He closed his eyes and stuffed his knuckles in his mouth in a desperate attempt not to cry out. Skinner laid them on hard and fast, covering every inch of his bare ass and Krycek fought an inner battle with the pain and humiliation, his determination not to scream warring with the sheer agony of the beating he was enduring. Skinner kept him held down which was a relief. If he hadn’t Krycek was sure he would have got up and he didn’t want Skinner to think that he couldn’t take it, even though he was sure that he couldn’t, not another stroke. Finally it was over. Krycek felt as if his weak knees would buckle underneath him at any second. Skinner helped him up and he struggled to pull his boxers back over his sore buttocks, accepted his trousers when Skinner handed them to him, hoping that his face wasn’t too red, that he wasn’t crying too hard, that Skinner didn’t think he was weak.


Skinner stood there, sighing inside. He had failed. Krycek had endured a hard beating but still he hadn’t cracked. Inside there was still some nugget of darkness that Skinner couldn’t even begin to guess at. He put a tender hand on each of Krycek’s shoulders and looked at the other man.


“Alex, there is something else you want to tell me, isn’t there?” he said gently, insistently.


“I…” Krycek looked into those stern dark eyes and wanted to tell him. He wanted to bury his face in Skinner’s big chest and tell him everything – about the consortium, smoking man, his orders regarding Mulder. But if he did, what would Skinner think of him? Skinner would hate him, would turn away from him, withdraw that support. He couldn’t do it. He didn’t want Skinner to see inside his soul and hate him. If Skinner didn’t know then he wouldn’t hate him, even if that meant leaving here and never coming back. “No, sir,” he said, taking a deep breath, his eyes unable to meet Skinner’s gaze any more.


“Alex.” Skinner shook the young man’s shoulders. “I can’t help you unless you tell me,” he said insistently. “It doesn’t matter what it is. Once you belong to me, I’ll stand by you. There is nothing you can tell me that will make me turn away from you.”


“I want…” Krycek opened his mouth, stared hopelessly at Skinner, then shook his head, backing away. “It’s too late,” he whispered. “You found me too late.” He slid over to the door, opened it and fled from the room, feeling his failure rotting inside him, destroying him from the inside out.


Skinner stared after the man feeling a great sense of sadness. He could have helped. He would have helped. He had meant every word he said. He could have pulled Alex Krycek back from the brink of whatever abyss he stood on and he would have done as well. If Krycek had only trusted him. Damn! What a waste! Skinner threw himself back down in his chair in annoyance. And now there was Mulder to deal with as well. That wouldn’t be easy. Skinner had no intention of handing out a punishment to Mulder while he was still in this emotionally distraught state. For now, he would be the staunchest ally Mulder could wish for in the FBI. Later though, when Mulder had recovered physically and mentally from this ordeal, well later Mulder would know he had upset him, that was for sure. Skinner picked up his phone and made a call.




Mulder lay back in the car seat and dozed, trying to mentally add together all the crimes he had committed recently. There had been the disobeying the direct order thing, actually he’d done that twice, or was that three times? He’d lost count. Then there had been racing off to Skyland Mountain without telling anyone and there had been his general insolence although he rather hoped Skinner might forgive him that as he had been very tired at the time. Although he’d only been tired because he had pursued a case that Skinner told him to drop, refused to rest when Skinner ordered him to…maybe Skinner wouldn’t forgive the insolence after all. Still Skinner had trusted him enough to give him back the X Files. That at least had been a reward for all he had suffered. He opened his eyes a fraction, regarded his boss as if hoping to judge his mood, but it was useless of course. Skinner kept a tight control over his emotions and his facial expressions never gave anything away. Mulder closed his eyes again and sighed. He was feeling fine, fully recovered. Now that Scully had been returned to him he felt at peace. Nothing could upset that inner calm, not even the certain knowledge that before this weekend was out he would have to endure the most severe punishment for all his crimes. It was getting dark as they arrived at the cabin. It was situated at the end of a long, winding, deserted road. Mulder was dimly aware that this was probably a good thing. Nobody to hear him scream.


Skinner had allowed him a couple of weeks to enjoy Scully’s return and then he had dropped by his apartment. Mulder had expected to receive the worst there and then, but Skinner merely informed him that the pair of them were going to take off into the hills again.


“More running?” Mulder enquired.


“Not this time, Mulder.” Skinner told him seriously. “Just some catching up on unfinished business. That alright with you?” Mulder took a deep breath and nodded.


“I was expecting it,” he said.


“Good. Just don’t anticipate it too much. I want to enjoy a weekend out of town so I don’t want you jumpy the whole time.”


“I’ll try my best.” Mulder said.


So here they were. Skinner stopped the jeep and went to open the cabin. Mulder got their bags out. This was weird. A sort of punishment weekend with the boss. He wondered when the punishment part of it would begin but then stopped himself. Skinner had told him not to anticipate and it was hard, but his boss was right. Worrying about it was worse than the real thing when it came. He had known what he was doing when he had disobeyed his boss and he couldn’t complain now that it was over. Not considering the strings Skinner had pulled to make sure that the double-crossing Krycek was being held accountable for Barry’s death and not him. Mulder was sure that was where the blame should lie, but even so, how many other bosses would have given him the benefit of so many doubts? It was dark in the hills and chilly. Skinner lit the fire and pointed Mulder to his room.


“Mine’s the one opposite,” he said, “bathroom’s down the hallway and kitchen’s through here. I’ll heat us up some supper.”


“Not fresh fish I suppose?” Mulder queried.


“Haven’t had time to catch any.” Skinner replied. “Brought along a load of groceries though.” He began unpacking some essentials.


It was an enjoyable evening. Mulder was determined to be relaxed and after an hour or so he stopped jumping every time Skinner made a movement. Skinner was his usual straight-faced, enigmatic self but Mulder liked that about him. You always knew where you were with Skinner, which was a relief after spending time with a man like Krycek. He knew that at some point this weekend Skinner was going to hurt him. Badly. And he knew that afterwards Skinner would take care of him. He knew that Skinner was angry with him, but he knew at the same time that he wasn’t so angry that he would lose control. And that once the punishment was out of the way, he would never again hear a word of reproach from his boss on the matter. The punishment wiped out the sin forever. Although there was always the next sin of course…


After dinner Skinner packed him off to bed.


“Early start tomorrow,” he warned. Mulder nodded, wondering what to expect.


Skinner woke him up at 6am and pushed him in the direction of the shower. “Up, Mulder, get moving,” he said insistently as Mulder tried to shake the sleep out of his eyes. They set off in darkness, getting into the jeep and starting a long, slow climb, high into the hills. Mulder wondered where he was being taken. They stopped just after daybreak at a beautiful little glade surrounded by trees A stream ran down into a mini-waterfall which dripped into a still azure pool.


“Get your clothes off, Mulder,” Skinner said, unpacking a bag from the jeep.


“We going for a swim?” Mulder queried, trying to fight down the panic in his stomach.


“No.” Skinner turned his back on him and Mulder gulped, watching as Skinner unpacked two crampons from his bag and began hammering them into one of the trees at about…just above head height. Then he pulled out a tarpaulin and fastened that round the tree. Mulder wondered why he did that. “I don’t like to be kept waiting.” Skinner turned back to Mulder with a grim frown, noticing that Mulder had not yet begun to undress. With a nervous fumbling, Mulder started to strip off. As he did so, he watched out of the corner of his eye as Skinner pulled out two leather cuffs from his bag. He gasped in dismay when he set eyes on the whip that Skinner pulled out next.


“Don’t worry.” Skinner saw the alarm in his eyes. “It’s not much different to the belt. Just looks worse. It’s not very long. Long whips are hard to aim and I like to be exact.”


“This is going to be bad isn’t it?” Mulder said unsteadily.


“Did you expect anything else?” Skinner asked him. Mulder shook his head, looking around the beautiful clearing.


“But it’s so pretty out here,” he whispered.


“It’ll still be pretty. Even when you’re screaming.” Skinner told him. “Which you can do incidentally, as much as you like. There’s nobody for miles around so don’t feel like you have to hold back.”


“Right.” Mulder pulled off the last item of his clothing and stood there, feeling stupid to be naked on this cool morning in the middle of nowhere, next to a babbling brook and beside this stern, fully clothed man who was about to whip him half senseless.


“Okay. Put these on.” Skinner handed him the cuffs. Mulder thought it was odd to be asked to be so complicit in one’s own torture in this way, yet he found himself obeying all the same. He buckled each cuff on his wrist and then showed the result to Skinner.


“Tighter.” Skinner told him. “Another notch. You’ll find it holds you better that way. You’ll be more comfortable. They’re nicely padded so you shouldn’t feel any pain from them.”


Mulder nodded and tightened the cuffs, feeling his stomach flipping over inside like a pancake.


“Okay.” Skinner nodded when he was satisfied. “Now just to let you know what to expect. Today is going to be tough, son, but I promise I’ll make up for it tomorrow. Tomorrow there’ll be no pain, nothing to worry about. I thought I’d get it over with early on – I know how you fret away at things.” Mulder wondered if he was supposed to be grateful for that. “Today however, is going to be pretty bad.” Skinner told him, his dark eyes unreadable. “I mean that, Mulder. I’m going to break you down into little pieces. This isn’t going to be quick, or light. It’ll be the hardest thing you’ve ever had to endure. But you will endure it because I’ll make you. There’s no way out from here on in unless you want to end it before it begins. Your choice. I’ve told you before, any time you want to end our agreement you can.”


“But I…that is, you’ve already backed me up, supported me, given me back the X Files…” Mulder muttered.


“And you think I’d take those things back if you don’t agree to this?” Skinner raised an eyebrow. “You don’t know me very well then, Fox. I wouldn’t do that. Now what’s it to be?”


Mulder was scared, really scared.


“I’m not sure I can endure all that stuff you were saying, if it’s as bad as you say it’ll be. I’ll disappoint you…” he began.


“No. I don’t think you will.” Skinner said thoughtfully. “Shall we begin?” Mulder nodded, his whole body trembling with fear. “Relax.” Skinner ran his hands over Mulder’s bare arms. “Trust me.”


Mulder nodded again, calming down. He followed Skinner over to the tree and allowed the other man to attach the cuffs to the crampons he had hammered in. “These aren’t to restrain you, Fox.” Skinner told him. “Because I’m sure that if I told you to stand here and accept this then you would. But it would be harder for you that’s all. The cuffs will hold you up, make it easier.”


He stepped back from Mulder and got out the whip, swinging it through the air a couple of times. Mulder flinched but the whip didn’t go anywhere near him.


“Alright, Fox. Concentrate.” Skinner said. “I told you before, I won’t break the skin. It’ll be like last time except this time I’m a lot angrier. Count the strokes out loud for me. I’m going to be going really slow.”


Mulder tensed as he waited for the first stinging blow, his body flailing against the tree as he felt it lick against his thigh. It wasn’t as bad as he had feared – no worse than the belt. He was sure he could take this. He would have to take it.


“Count.” Skinner reminded him patiently.


“One.” He breathed.


“Okay. Now think, Fox. When you ran off, got yourself into knots, disobeyed me – did it get Agent Scully back?”


“I…” Mulder thought about it. A second blow descended on his back, across his shoulders and he lost his train of thought.


“Well?” Skinner asked.


“I don’t know. I suppose not.” Mulder said.


“No, I meant what’s the count? I expect the answer to the other question will be longer coming to you.” Skinner informed him.


“Oh, two.” Mulder said, pondering on that last statement.


A third stroke whipped across his buttocks and he yelped. That one had been harder.


“Three,” he said quickly.


Skinner was right about being slow. He gave Mulder ample time to get his breath back, to holler and yell and scream and weep and sag against the cuffs on his wrists. Now Mulder understood why Skinner had fastened the tarpaulin to the tree as he found himself thrown against it by the force of the strokes. He could feel the lumpy bark underneath him, but the tarpaulin meant that the tree’s rough surface didn’t harm the front of his body. After 10 strokes Skinner stopped and came over to Mulder, put some water against the other man’s lips and Mulder downed it greedily.


“Any more thoughts on that question I asked you earlier?” Skinner wanted to know, waiting by Mulder’s shoulder.


“Well…I had to go after Scully. She’s my partner.” Mulder said, a bit sulkily. He didn’t regret anything he had done. He would do it all again tomorrow.


“I understand that.” Skinner said. “But did disobeying my orders, rushing off to Skyland Mountain – did any of that get Scully back?”


“No, but…” Mulder sighed.


“Two men died, Fox.” Skinner said softly. “The tram operator and Duane Barry. If you hadn’t disobeyed me they might both still be alive.”


“I don’t believe…” Mulder paused. Maybe Skinner had a point.


“Just think about it.”


Skinner took a step back, raised the whip and brought it forwards again.


“Shit!” Mulder struggled in his bonds for a moment, realising that Skinner had just upped the ante. The first strokes had been bearable because Skinner had been holding back. Now he was letting rip.


“Count please.” Skinner said.


“Eleven.” Mulder whimpered.


“I’m not punishing you for your loyalty to Agent Scully.” Skinner told him. “Because I would expect that. I’m punishing you for your disobedience towards me. Do you understand the difference?”


“Yes.” Mulder sobbed.


Another flash of lightning across his shoulders and he shrieked.


“Twelve,” he mumbled.


“Say it loud and clear, Fox, or I’ll repeat the stroke. I’ll repeat any stoke I can’t hear called from now on and I won’t prompt you any more either. Don’t get the count wrong. I find that…irritating.” Skinner whipped his arm forward once more and Mulder found himself slamming into the tree. Skinner frowned.


“You’ll cause yourself more damage than necessary if you do that,” he said going over to his bag and taking out a length of rope. He crossed over to Mulder and fastened the rope around Mulder’s waist so that he was tied firmly to the tree. “That should keep you steady.” He paused, sighing. “I’m waiting,” he said.


“Thirteen, sorry.” Mulder croaked.


“Hmm.” Skinner resumed his position and lashed another stroke down across Mulder’s buttocks.


“Fourteen.” Mulder said quickly. His whole body felt as if it was being devoured by licking tongues of flame. There didn’t seem to be any part of him that didn’t sting. How much longer would this go on for? Skinner had implied that it would be a long time but how much did he think Mulder could take? The strokes came faster now, one after the other in quick succession until Mulder forgot to count one.


“That was 17.” Skinner provided for him. “But we’ll do number 17 again until you count it.”


He stroked the whip hard over Mulder’s shoulders in a vicious caress.


“17!” Mulder yelled. “17!”


“Good. Any more thoughts on that question?” The whip took Mulder’s senses away and he barely managed to call out “18” before the next blow crashed into him.


“19” he murmured weakly, wondering if Skinner would stop at 20.


He didn’t. He did stop at 22 though, for some inexplicable reason of his own. Then he went and unfastened Mulder from the tree and led him over to the pool.


“Go in. Cool down,” he instructed. “I’ll get us some breakfast.”


Mulder enjoyed the feeling of the cold water on his hot, aching body. It hadn’t been too bad. He’d survived. It was over! He began to hum to himself, ducking his head under the water and splashing around noisily. Breakfast was bacon and eggs cooked over an open fire. Mulder marveled at the way Skinner seemed to have all the right equipment for this outdoor living.


He knocked back a cup of coffee that Skinner had brewed and lay on his side, trying to ignore the insistently painful whisper of the stripes on his skin against the rough fabric of the blanket he was wrapped in.


“Such a pretty glade!” Mulder stared at the birds in the trees, feeling oddly at peace with the world.


“Hmm.” Skinner grunted. “You’re looking a bit more relaxed, Mulder.”


“Yeah, well, it’s all over now.” Mulder sighed dreamily and then felt a sudden sensation of imminent danger. He sat up, wincing. “Oh shit. It isn’t is it?” He asked looking at Skinner.


“Sorry, son.” Skinner shook his head and took a sip of his coffee. “To be honest we’ve only just begun. I anticipate this taking most of the day. On and off.”


“What?” Mulder was aghast. “I can’t take any more!” He protested.


“Oh you can. You can take considerably more than this!” Skinner seemed amused. “The whip’s thin – it stings a bit but it’s not going on heavy, Mulder. You don’t have anywhere near the amount of marks you had when I used the belt. I chose this whip on purpose because I knew I’d probably have to keep at it for a long while.”


“Please, sir.” Mulder whimpered pathetically. “I don’t know what it is you want from me, but you can’t expect me to take this all day! It’s only what?” He glanced at Skinner’s watch. “10 o clock?” he queried.


“That’s right.” Skinner nodded. “We got here at dawn, we’ll stay here until sundown. Longer if that’s what it takes.”


“If that’s what it takes to do what?” Mulder queried. “What is it you want to achieve?”


“Firstly to punish you.” Skinner sighed. “That much I’ve surely made clear. But also to see if we can get some sense into you as well. That’s the harder part.”


“I see sense. I do.” Mulder told him. “You were right. I shouldn’t have disobeyed you. I promise I won’t do it again.”


Skinner gave one of his rare smiles, lifting an ironic eyebrow.


“Don’t be silly, Mulder,” he chided. “Now, time to start up again. Get yourself ready.” Mulder thought he would burst into tears. He could feel himself sulking and pouting and he knew that wouldn’t do him any favors with Skinner but all the same he couldn’t stop himself.


“I hate you,” he muttered as he got to his feet.


“Oh I wondered when we’d start that again.” Skinner shook his head. “It doesn’t work on me, Mulder. Your feelings are duly noted, registered and ignored. Shall we continue?”


The next few hours counted as the longest of Mulder’s life. Skinner was agonisingly slow in his attentions, spreading out the whiplashes and interspersing them with a series of long lectures. Sometimes he would go as long as twenty minutes without using the whip, standing behind Mulder all the while, talking to him in that low tone of his. Mulder would just about relax when an unexpected blow would fall somewhere on his body, making him scream with the shock of it, fraying his nerves.


“So, explain it to me again, Mulder. Exactly what was going through your mind when you took off to Skyland Mountain?”


“Just that I had to find Scully.” Mulder whimpered, hanging against the tree. “42.”


“Good. And did you think that what you were doing was in direct defiance of my orders to you, removing you from the case?”


“Yes.” Mulder rasped as the next stinging blow struck home. “43. Yes I did think that.”


“Did Krycek try to stop you?”


“44. Shit! No. Not really. He said something about you and I said…”


“You said?”


“Fuck! 45. I told him not to worry about it, that I’d deal with you.” Mulder sobbed.


“Oh really?” The next blow seemed to tear half the skin off Mulder’s back – or at least that’s what it felt like.


“46…” Mulder sagged.


“And this is what you call “dealing with me,” I suppose?” Skinner queried.


“NO! 48, 47! I don’t know. 47. Um, no, I knew you’d have my hide but I just didn’t care at the time.”


“Do you care now?”


“48! Yes. I care now! Yes I goddamn care now. Please stop, please!”


“Not yet, Fox. A few more. You can take a few more can’t you?”


“No, I damn well can’t.”


“You have to.” Skinner stroked the whip back again. Mulder shuddered.




“The time to start worrying is when you stop feeling them.” Skinner told him. “That’s when you know you’ve had enough. I’m being very gentle with you though. You aren’t really suffering anywhere near as much as you think you are.”


“50!” Mulder gasped. “It doesn’t feel like that from where I’m standing.”


“No. Well, you lack perspective. That, I think, is your problem.” Skinner commented. He lashed another 3 down in quick succession and then returned to the tree and untied Mulder again. “Into the pool.” He gestured with his head, his face as unsmiling as ever. “Then more food?”


Mulder sighed and nodded.


Maybe Skinner was right he thought to himself as he allowed the cool water to wash over him. When he surveyed his bruised skin he could see that it wasn’t as bad as he imagined it to be. The whip hurt, it really stung in fact, but it didn’t seem to be heavy enough to really cause any serious damage. “What an evil bastard he is”, Mulder muttered to himself resentfully. “Choosing that whip on purpose so he could go on at me all day like this. God I hate him.” He ducked under the water, wishing that were true. But he didn’t hate Skinner. He never had. He just wanted the other man to like him, to look out for him, to protect him from the consequences of his actions. And if this was the price he had to pay…Mulder sighed. This definitely was the price he had to pay and he was prepared to pay it.


“Shall we take a break?” Skinner asked after lunch as they lay back in a surprisingly companionable silence. Surprising, Mulder thought, when you considered that one of them was butt naked under a blanket and the other one had been whipping his ass all morning.


“No arguments here!” Mulder said. “Any time you want to take a permanent break, that’ll be fine too!”


“I don’t think so.” Skinner told him, his eyes as dark and inscrutable as ever. “We’re getting there, Fox, but we’re not quite there yet. Get dressed. We’ll go for a walk.”


What was it about this guy and walks, fresh air, campfires and all this survivalist crap, Mulder thought to himself as they wandered through the trees? It wasn’t normal for a man to be so into these things. If this was what a military training did for you then he was glad that he’d never undergone it. He tried to keep up such bitter little thoughts but it wasn’t easy. The truth was that Skinner was just so goddamn nice! One minute he was beating him to a pulp and the next he was escorting him through the forest, talking to him quietly as if he didn’t intend to attach him to a tree and start all over again when they got back to the glade. Mulder shivered at that thought. His clothes felt strange against his skin and he hurt all over. It was only early afternoon but he felt tired.


“Not used to the fresh air.” Skinner grinned at him. “It always knocks me out when I come out here, straight from the city.”


“You don’t seem very knocked out,” Mulder commented sourly.


“Don’t be sulky, son.” Skinner told him with a warning look. “I hate sulkers. Whatever I put you through today, I do for your own good.”


“Well it sure doesn’t seem that way.” Mulder couldn’t help himself. He knew his tone was antagonistic but his back and buttocks felt raw, the fabric of his clothes rubbing against them.


Skinner stopped, his body stiffening.


“Mulder, you want some home truths?” He asked. “I’ve been holding back until now, but I’m happy to let go whenever you push me hard enough.”


“I…” Mulder stopped and considered this. “No. I’m just tired and I hurt.”


“Fair enough.” Skinner shrugged. “I can make allowances for that.” His expression softened. “I’m sorry, son, you should rest up. I brought you up here because there’s something I thought you’d like to see. Not much further. You can walk a little way more, can’t you?”


“Um, yes.” Mulder nodded. He pulled himself together and followed on without complaining. The last thing he wanted was to alienate Skinner completely. He was totally at this man’s mercy so it wouldn’t be wise.


“Ssh.” Skinner waved a hand. “You sure do go crashing around, Mulder.”


“Sorry.” Mulder whispered, noticing for the first time how silently Skinner had been walking.


“There.” Skinner waved him down and pointed. “See it? Eagle’s nest.”


“Where?” Mulder peered and saw a large bird circle and then land on a jutting out ridge not far away.


“Got a chick I think. See.” Skinner put his arm around Mulder’s shoulders and moved him forward slightly.


“Yes, I see! There is a chick!” Mulder breathed in, feeling absurdly thrilled by the spectacle. He exchanged a look of delight with Skinner, forgetting about the punishment for a moment. They stayed and watched for a while then Skinner turned back.


“Come on. Quietly.” He put his finger over his lips. Mulder nodded, sighing.


“Do we have to go back?” he whispered. Skinner shook his head.


“Yes, Mulder. We have to go back,” he replied, a rueful expression in his eyes.


“Couldn’t we…I mean, isn’t it over yet?” Mulder asked as they neared the glade, his whole body growing tense in anticipation of further pain.


“Don’t tempt me, son.” Skinner sighed, putting his arm gently around Mulder’s shoulders, taking care not to hurt him. “I’d like to give up on it, spend the rest of the day doing something else, but that wouldn’t be fair on you.”


“On me?” Mulder queried incredulously. “Hey, you don’t need to think about me!”


“Of course I do. I like you. And you need certain things from me, Fox. I wouldn’t be doing my duty if I shirked this. I can’t make you learn anything, I can’t make you obey me, but I can damn well try my best to make you learn and to try and make you obey me. I don’t want you to die because you didn’t listen to me. I don’t want you throwing your life away on a stupid mistake or a foolish crusade. I want better things for the people in my charge. And especially for you. You’ve been damaged, wounded at some point in the past.”


“And you see me as what? Some sort of injured animal?” Mulder queried.


“If you like.” Skinner shrugged. “A wounded Fox, needing to be taken care of. And part of that needing is for me to be tough on you. If I wasn’t you wouldn’t know where you were.”


“I’m not sure I do anyway.” Mulder said, with a wry shake of his head.


“Of course you do.” Skinner told him seriously. “You know I’ll whip your butt if you disobey me, and you know I’ll stand by you all the way. I’m straight up and down, Fox. You cross me, you’ll know it, but you’re still your own person, free to make your own mistakes. I’m just trying to give you some sort of framework to operate in. A few guidelines to live by.”


Mulder sighed. They had reached the glade again. Reluctantly he started undoing the buttons on his shirt.


“Fox.” Skinner stood right in front of him, looked him in the eye. “This next stop will be as bad as it ever gets I hope. I can’t see how you can screw up much more than you did a few weeks ago. However…” He paused, shifted, kept Mulder transfixed by that dark stare, “This is going to get worse. A lot worse. You won’t be walking out of this glade tonight, Fox. I’ll be carrying you. You understand that?”


“No.” Mulder could feel himself starting to whimper again. “Why do you need to make it that bad?” He whispered. “Please don’t. Please.”


“Fox, I have to.” Skinner put careful, insistent hands on Mulder’s shoulders. “I need to take you right down to basics. I hoped I wouldn’t when I brought you out here. I hoped I wouldn’t need to be this tough on you, but I know what I’m doing. And I know you. Do you trust me to take you on the next step of this?”


“I…” Mulder hopped from one foot to the other. “I don’t want this, I’m scared,” he murmured.


“Fear’s okay.” Skinner nodded, his fingertips brushing Mulder’s shoulders gently. “Fear’s fine. I’ll be here, I’ll be with you every step of the way. Now do you trust me?”


His dark eyes held Mulder’s for a long while. Mulder wanted to scream and flounce back to the jeep, to be driven back to the cabin so that he could rest up and forget this pain, but he didn’t want to duck out. Whatever Skinner thought he should endure, he supposed he could, if it meant that Skinner thought well of him, if it meant he didn’t lose his support.


“Alright. Yes,” he whispered. It was almost worth agreeing to see the look of approval in Skinner’s eyes.


“Go on then. Get yourself ready. Put the cuffs back on.” Skinner returned to the dying embers of the campfire, threw the remains of the coffee away, waited while Mulder finished undressing and prepared himself. Then he tied him back to the tree, pausing to inspect the damage he had inflicted so far, his blunt fingertips finding the welts and probing them carefully. Mulder shivered under his touch. “You’ll be fine.” Skinner told him finally. Then he changed suddenly, from solicitous and kind to cool, stern and demanding. He took a step back and picked up the whip again.


“I don’t need you to count this time.” Skinner told him softly. “I’m going to be going too fast for you to count anyway. This time you should just concentrate on breathing. This is going to be one fast ride so you’re going to need to breathe as much as you scream. Alright?” Mulder nodded, taking a deep breath in preparation. Skinner hadn’t been lying. The lashes came down one after the other, so furiously that he screamed and yelled his head off. He begged for it to stop, for Skinner to stop for just a second, but the onslaught was relentless. He was choking as he tried to breathe and scream and beg at the same time, but Skinner didn’t stop. Finally, after god knew how long, Skinner approached him, pulled his head back by the hair, rested it against his shoulder.


“What’s underneath it all, Fox?” He whispered. “What’s right at the bottom of everything?”


“I don’t know,” Mulder shivered, his whole body shaking. “I can’t think.”


“I don’t want you to think. That’s the point. If you’re thinking then I’m doing something wrong.” Skinner said, going back again. The whip continued its endless, biting work and Mulder screamed, wishing he wasn’t tied, wishing that he could avoid the lashes but each one hit its intended target. His flesh felt raw, livid, burning.


“Stop, please stop…” he panted over and over again. Another respite. Skinner’s hands on his hair again.


“Tell me then.” Skinner said. “What would make you disobey me, risk your life, your career?”


“Agent Scully…” Mulder rasped.


“Beyond that.” Skinner demanded, his voice insistent.


“Fear.” Mulder said.


“Fear of what?” Skinner asked.


“Don’t know.” Mulder shook his head. Skinner stepped back again, raised the whip.


“No, wait. I…” He hesitated then bit his lip. Skinner lashed him hard with the whip, the strokes even and fast. Dimly Mulder was aware that evening was drawing in, it was getting dark.


“Fear of losing them,” he gasped out at last.


“Of losing who?” Skinner stood behind him again, holding up his body as he sagged in the cuffs, feeling them bite at his wrists.




“Your sister?”


“Yeah, she went. Then Mom and Dad.”


“They never left you.” Skinner said, his hands large and reassuring on Mulder’s waist, keeping him straight.


“They did. They weren’t there any more. They slipped away from me. You never saw their eyes.” Mulder whispered. “Then Scully. I didn’t want to care about her, but I did. She made me…It was safer for her not to care about me. As soon as she did, she was taken. And you…” He whispered.


“Me?” Skinner asked.


“I’m a coward. When you see that you won’t want to protect me.”


“A coward?” Skinner sounded incredulous. “How do you work that out?”


“Inside. I’m scared all the time.”


“Oh we all are.” Skinner snorted. “That’s just life, Fox. You do give yourself a hard time don’t you? You think you’ll lose me too?”


“I lose everyone.” Mulder said. “Sooner or later. Safer not to care.”


“Safer not to be alive?” Skinner asked, undoing Mulder’s wrists from the tree. “Safer to run off and get yourself killed? To have a death-wish?” Released, Mulder half fell to the ground and was caught. He felt Skinner’s hands under his arms, swinging one over his broad shoulders. “It’s not though.” Skinner told him. “It’s not safer, Mulder. It’s painful. Like you feel right now. It hurts. I’ll make sure of that so you remember it. Having a death-wish hurts more than being sensible.” He bundled Mulder into the jeep, wrapped a blanket round him, glanced up at the sky. Sundown, just like he’d predicted. Damn but he hated being right so often.


Mulder didn’t remember that journey. He vaguely remembered Skinner pulling him out of the jeep and carrying him into the cabin, lying him face down on the couch. He remembered Skinner running some water into a bowl and washing him down. He sure as hell remembered Skinner rubbing that stuff into the welts on his body making him cry out with a series of little wincing sobs. Then he started to feel a whole lot better. Skinner brought him some food, sat next to him, stroking his hair.


“You really are hard work, Mulder.” Skinner told him.


“Going to give up on me?” He croaked.


“Oh that’s not an option.” Skinner told him seriously. “I never give up. On anybody. Not once they’re mine and you are one of mine, Fox. Body and soul. Damn hard work though. My arm.” He flexed his arm experimentally and winced.


“My heart bleeds for you,” Mulder commented. Skinner treated him to another of those rare grins, stroked his hair again.


“Idiot!” He snorted. “I will tame you though, my injured fox. One of these days. Not enough to make you easy prey for everyone else, just enough that you’ll eat from my hand.”


“Maybe.” Mulder sighed, closing his eyes.


“No maybe about it.” Skinner informed him. “You have no idea how determined I can be.”


“And you have no idea just how obstinate I can be.” Mulder replied.


“After today?” Skinner raised an incredulous eyebrow. “Oh I think I do.”


“A case of immovable objects meeting irresistible forces?” Mulder queried.


“We’ll see.” Skinner murmured, still keeping up that gentle caress on Mulder’s hair. “Of course if that’s true then you’re in for a few more whippings yet,” he said. Mulder sighed.


“I suppose,” he muttered.


“And I won’t be letting you get away with anything,” Skinner told him seriously. “I don’t think you want me to.”


“Maybe not, no.” Mulder said.




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