The Agreement: 4. Paper Hearts


It was an agonizing plane journey. Mulder found himself sandwiched between a not-speaking-to-you Scully and a my-arms-are-aching-to-whip-you Skinner. He tried not to let any part of his body touch either Scully’s frosty shoulder or Skinner’s huge and tensely muscled arm, but it wasn’t easy, not least because Skinner took up more than his fair share of space and Mulder didn’t like to ask him to lean the other way a bit. Skinner wasn’t talking to Scully and she wasn’t talking to Mulder and as Mulder didn’t dare talk to either of them, he guessed that they were in for a long, slow nightmare of a journey.


Nothing can be worse than this, Mulder thought miserably to himself, although he knew that something could, and he knew he’d find out exactly what that something was just as soon as Skinner got him back on solid ground, and in some private place somewhere. However he wasn’t just unhappy because of the punishment he knew he was only hours away from receiving, he was also unhappy because of the distress he had caused to a blameless little girl. It was through his actions that the child had been abducted by Roche and that was the last thing he had ever intended to happen. He felt very bad about it. And then there was Scully. Skinner had placed him in her charge and he had slipped away from her, knowing that his actions would get her into trouble with their boss. He felt bad about that too. By the look of it, Skinner had already had a few terse words with Scully on the matter. Mulder hoped that Skinner didn’t use the same methods of discipline on Scully as he did on himself. He was sure that wasn’t the case – Scully could walk for a start and he had a feeling that he wouldn’t able to in a couple of hours time. No, he assumed that Skinner had just chewed Scully out big time. And Scully was smarting and blamed him for it. Which was only fair seeing as it was all his fault. He had really screwed up on this one and he supposed he deserved to be punished but that didn’t stop him dreading what would be coming his way soon.


“Drink, sir?” The flight attendant smiled at Skinner, then at Mulder and finally at Scully. Neither of them returned the smile. Mulder was dying for a drink and decided to risk it. Anyway, he needed one. He needed one badly.


“Yeah. I’ll have a…” He surveyed the drinks cart. “Whatever’s strongest,” he told the woman.


“He’ll have a water.” Skinner said in a low, growly tone. “I wouldn’t want to have to carry you off this plane drunk, Mulder,” he muttered. “I want you standing when I get you to my office.” Mulder winced. Being drunk was certainly an option he preferred right now. He accepted the water and opened the bottle just as the plane hit some turbulence. The water splashed against Scully’s hair and she wiped it off furiously, her eyes glowing angrily. Mulder put the top back on the bottle quickly and decided that drinking of any sort was just not an option. Not if he wanted to actually stay alive for the rest of this journey. Of course once the journey was over he was a dead man anyway, so he might as well throw the entire contents of the bottle all over Skinner and Scully right now and have done with it. It couldn’t possibly make any difference to his fate. Mulder sighed and fiddled with his tie, trying to cross his long legs in the small space and failing.


“If I were you…” Skinner murmured in a low, threatening voice. “I’d stop fidgeting and try and keep as quiet as possible for the next hour or so.”


“Yes, sir,” he whispered. He glanced at Scully, sure that she had overheard this exchange and hoping for some sympathy. He only got a cold blue stare of venom from her, one that told him that she was glad he was in trouble and that he deserved it.


Mulder sat back and concentrated on keeping every limb, muscle and nerve ending completely still. He tried not to think about his punishment but he couldn’t help it. Every time Skinner had punished him in the past, he had done so with a certain degree of…well…kindness, Mulder supposed. Certainly not with a huge amount of anger, although he had definitely been cross on occasion. Today was different though. Today, Skinner was furious. Mulder recalled the sting of Skinner’s belt during his first beating. Shit, that had hurt. And the whip he’d used in the glade had felt like fire. Mulder felt his body trembling slightly as he imagined what Skinner would do to him this time. He wondered if it was too late to end their agreement. Skinner had said that he could, any time he wanted. What would the consequences of that be? He had taken a convicted murderer of small girls on a plane journey, on a mission that was personal to him. He had done so without permission from his boss, and by deceiving and ditching his partner. He had allowed the murderer to overpower him, get loose, kidnap and hold hostage a blameless little girl. What sort of disciplinary measures would a “normal” assistant director impose on him, he wondered? Suspension at the very least, probable reassignment, disciplinary black marks on his file – almost certainly. Skinner had never resorted to any of these methods and Mulder’s file had been almost black mark-free for the past couple of years, as Skinner had carefully hidden the truth about the methods of investigation that his most wayward agent employed.


So – accept Skinner’s methods of discipline, which in this case he knew would be pretty severe, or accept more traditional FBI disciplinary measures. Mulder weighed it up fairly seriously. He had never before even considered ending the agreement he had with his boss. He liked the freedom it gave him, and he endured the punishments as the price for that freedom. This time he feared it more than any other time though. This time he truly wasn’t sure he could go through the ordeal. At least before…at least Skinner had seemed to be on his side in a curious sort of way. He had taken Mulder to the limits of his endurance but he had been supportive, calming, and “there” for him. This time, Mulder sensed that Skinner wouldn’t be either as patient or as caring as he had before. This time Skinner meant business.


“Mulder.” Skinner said warningly, placing one finger on Mulder’s leg. Mulder realized that he had been bouncing his knee up and down in a nervous gesture. He stopped.


“Sorry,” he muttered, his eyes meeting Skinner’s for a brief moment, hoping to find some clue in them. Skinner’s expression was grim, his eyes dark and unreadable. Mulder wished it were over, that they weren’t in a crowded plane and that Skinner would just bend him over the nearest seat and whip him senseless. It was the waiting that he couldn’t bear. Got to get a grip, he told himself. Get a grip, get a grip. He closed his eyes, tried to breathe deeply. It was no use. He opened his eyes again, and saw that Scully appeared to have fallen asleep. Cautiously, he leaned towards Skinner.


“Um, sir?” he whispered.


“Yes.” Skinner snapped tersely.


“About our agreement…” Mulder licked his lips and glanced at Scully again but she didn’t stir.


“Yes.” Skinner’s whole body seemed to tense in the seat next to Mulder’s. He gave Mulder a warning look and his eyes moved briefly around the plane as if to check who might be listening.


“I might want to think about re-considering it.” Mulder said.


“Your prerogative, Mulder.” Skinner said with a slight shrug, his dark eyes cold and angry. “But remember that your butt’s on the line one way or the other, if you get my meaning. You don’t walk out of this without some sort of penalty.”


“No, sir. I understand that. As a matter of interest…” Mulder paused, unable to believe he was doing this. “As a matter of interest, sir, if I did end our agreement, what um, would the nature of the, um “penalty” be then?”


Skinner snorted.


“I don’t think so, Mulder,” he said grimly. “Why don’t you just make your mind up without all the facts? Like you did this time, and on a couple of other occasions I can think of.”


“Yes, sir.” Mulder felt himself flush and he clenched his fists tightly.


“Let me know what you’ve decided by the time the plane lands,” Skinner said. “Because I want to know how I’m going to be dealing with you when we get back to the office. I’d like to give it some thought before then.”


“Yes, sir.” Mulder nodded, chewing on his lip. His whole body squirmed at the thought of Skinner sitting beside him, calmly considering how best to whip his ass. It scared him.


He didn’t consider himself to be a coward. He had been in hundreds of difficult, dangerous and painful situations in his time. Only this time it was worse. The anticipation was half the nightmare. Mulder hated being whipped, although he supposed he hated it less than he hated being called up before a board of FBI stuffed shirts and made to account for himself. It was over quicker for a start and had far less impact on his career. With another twitch of his knee, Mulder realized that he had made his decision.


“Sir?” Mulder glanced at Scully again, but she was still asleep.


“Mulder.” Skinner’s tone contained a deep sigh.


“I don’t want to end our agreement, sir,” he murmured.


“I didn’t think for a moment that you would.” Skinner replied, shooting him a dark glance. Damn him! How did he always know Mulder so much better than Mulder knew himself?


“I was just…” He paused. Skinner nodded.


“Scared. I know.” Skinner shrugged. “You should be,” he commented. “You’re in for a rough ride, Agent Mulder.”


Mulder swallowed and tried to open the water bottle. He needed this right now. His fingers trembled so much that he couldn’t twist the lid off the bottle. With another sigh, Skinner took the bottle out of his hands and opened it for him, returning it to him so that he could drink. Mulder accepted it gratefully, and raised it shakily to his lips.


“Once…” Skinner whispered, leaning forward in his seat, “in Vietnam, I disobeyed an order to return to base. One of my buddies was still in the jungle and I was convinced he was still alive. I took off after him, got myself lost. My CO found me, and got me safely back to camp. It was a long journey. Four hours. He didn’t talk to me the whole way, and I knew what he was going to do to me once he got us both home. It was a hairy ride – we were nearly killed a couple of times on the way back and of course when we did get back, the buddy I had gone looking for was already there – alive and kicking. I’d made a damned nuisance of myself for nothing.”


Mulder listened to this story in surprise, allowing the narrative to distract him from his own predicament.


“What happened to you, sir?” He asked, curious. “What did your CO do to you?”


“Marshall was an interesting guy – he was the best soldier I ever met.” Skinner paused, ran a hand over his bald head. “And he had one hell of a reputation. Everybody wanted to be in his unit – he kept his personnel alive. He looked out for each and every one of us, but we sure as hell knew it when we’d screwed up.” Skinner shook his head wryly, and settled back in his seat again. There was silence for a moment.


“Sir? You still haven’t answered my question.” Mulder said.


“Yes I have.” Skinner snapped.


Mulder distracted himself for a while by imagining a skinny 18 year old Skinner being tied to a tree and whipped by a huge, fearsome marine. It didn’t help. He was still scared shitless by the prospect of his own impending doom.


“God knows what Marshall would have made of you.” Skinner commented a few minutes later. “He was much tougher on his personnel than I am.”


“Tougher than you?” Mulder queried incredulously. Was that possible?


“Much tougher.” Skinner repeated. “He knew the way I was feeling, but he didn’t say a word to me on that march through the jungle. I’ve been kinder to you.”


Mulder wondered if he was supposed to say “thank you” or something. He decided against it.


The plane finally came into land, and Skinner got up and blocked the aisle with his massive frame, shooting a frown at both Mulder and the newly awakened Scully. Scully scowled at Mulder in turn and Mulder stared at his tie. At least he was fairly sure that Skinner would stop being angry with him when he’d punished him thoroughly. He wasn’t so sure about Scully. She didn’t know what Skinner was about to do to him. That was a good thing. That would make it even worse.


“Get your bags. I’ll get us a taxi.” Skinner told them both, setting off down the aisle as if he couldn’t bear to be in their company for another second.


“Well, Mulder, I hope you’re satisfied.” Scully hissed. “Skinner really chewed me out over this.”


“It’s nothing compared to what he’s going to do to me, believe me.” Mulder muttered, giving her a beseeching look. She ignored it.


“I don’t care what he does to you. You deserve it,” she told him coldly.


“You have no idea, Scully.” He found himself shivering again. Scully shook her head and stared at him.


“You really are scared of Skinner aren’t you, Mulder?” She sounded surprised.


“Right now? Petrified.” Mulder couldn’t even manage a wry smile.


“You have nobody to blame but yourself. I’d be scared if I was in your shoes. He is REALLY angry.” Scully pulled her bag down and left Mulder standing in the aisle, contemplating his fate.


They pulled up at the Hoover building in silence, walked along the corridors in silence. At the elevator Skinner turned to Scully.


“I’ll see you in my office tomorrow morning at 9 am, Agent Scully,” he told her briskly.


“Yes, sir…” Scully shot a look at Mulder who had gone quite pale. “What about Agent Mulder, sir?” She asked, concerned about her partner despite herself.


“Agent Mulder will be coming with me.” Skinner told her. “You won’t see him for the rest of the day,” he said firmly. “So you might like to catch up on some paperwork.”


“Yes, sir.” Scully felt the smallest twinge of pity for Mulder. She watched as Skinner placed his hand in the small of Mulder’s back and shoved him into the elevator. Mulder was in big trouble.


Mulder wasn’t sure if his legs would carry him along the corridor to Skinner’s office. Was Skinner going to punish him here – in his own office? Wouldn’t it be too noisy? Or was his boss going to gag him or something? Mulder felt himself hyperventilating at the very thought. Skinner put his hand on Mulder’s shoulder and practically frog-marched him to his door. He thrust Mulder bodily into his office and closed the door quietly behind him. Then he went over to a cupboard and pulled out a bag. He threw it to Mulder.


“What’s this?” Mulder caught it and peered inside.


“A change of clothing.” Skinner told him. “I’ll see you in the gym in 5 minutes. Go, Mulder. Now.”


Mulder opened his mouth to ask more questions then closed it again as he caught Skinner’s dark malevolent expression. He fled.


Skinner worked him solidly for 3 hours. Mulder did so many sit-ups he thought his ribs would break. The muscles in his abdomen ached, and sweat poured off him. The gym was quiet – the few people who had been there when they arrived soon sloped off as it became clear that Mulder was not so much doing a work-out as being put through the grinder by his grim-faced supervisor. An air of menace emanated from Skinner, and Mulder’s fear was only slightly relieved by the exercise endorphins flooding his body. Finally he flopped to the floor, totally exhausted.


“Please…” He panted.


“Had enough?” Skinner loomed over him.


“I’m sorry. What do you want me to say? I screwed up!” Mulder sobbed. “Big time. I know that. I know I deserve to be punished.”


“Yes, you do. Get undressed.” Skinner told him tersely. Then he went and checked the gym door, locking it with a key that he seemed to have brought with him. He lowered the blind over the door as Mulder watched with an increasing sense of dread. Mulder undressed slowly, trembling again. He had never seen Skinner this grim faced and angry. He had spoken of being angry before, but he had never been so obviously, darkly furious. Skinner turned back to him and prowled menacingly towards him. Mulder wasn’t sure if his knees were going to hold up. He removed the last item of his clothing as quickly as he could, and then hopped from foot to foot as Skinner approached him.


“Over here.” Skinner put a hand on the back of Mulder’s neck and propelled him towards the vaulting horse in the center of the gym. Mulder started to whimper. “Stop that.” Skinner told him coldly. “I haven’t even started yet.” He pushed Mulder face down over the horse. Mulder felt his feet leave the ground, and clung onto the side of the apparatus in alarm. He could smell the sweaty stench of it and feel the rub of the cool, leathery surface against his bare chest.


“Do I need to tell you how angry I am?” Skinner asked. Mulder shook his head. “I will anyway.” Skinner snarled. “I’m furious. First you deceive Scully, then you run off with a convicted killer, then, unforgivably, unleash him on an unsuspecting public. One little girl will be having nightmares about that experience for the rest of her days and I will be called to account for it, Agent Mulder. Not you, who I trusted, but me. I’ll smooth it over for you, I’ll take the rap for it, but you’re damn well going to know what the price for that is. Now maybe you’re wondering why I just had you work out for 3 hours – shall I tell you?”


“Um…yes.” Actually Mulder would have preferred it if Skinner had just got on with the punishment. He felt exposed, lying naked over the horse like this and his butt was already aching from the punishment he expected to receive. A lecture right now was the last thing he wanted.


“Well I had you work out this long to give me time to cool down. If I’d laid my hands on you when we first arrived back then you wouldn’t have been alive to walk out of this building, Mulder. I’m more in control now. Luckily for you. You’re still going to feel this though. Anything else I’ve ever done to you will be like a walk in the park compared to this. You can scream all you like; it’s late now – another reason for keeping you here so long. And we’re a long way from passers-by. And apart from that, rumor of your recent exploit has spread like wildfire – there won’t be anybody who’ll begrudge me this if they did find out. Hell, I don’t think anybody would lift a finger to stop me. This is more than deep shit, Mulder. This is buried up to your head in shit. And this is going to damn well hurt.”


Mulder watched in terror as Skinner went over to a cupboard containing some equipment and opened it, getting out one of the thick, heavy belts people used to protect their backs when lifting weights. He tried to stifle a groan and failed. A normal belt hurt enough, but this was much heavier and wider.


“Ready?” Skinner asked. He wanted to shout and yell and say no, but instead he just swallowed again and thought of that little girl and nodded.


Skinner swung the belt down. It made a rasping sound as it connected with his bare thigh and he couldn’t contain the scream that rose in his throat. Nothing Skinner had ever used before had hurt so much. The whip had stung, but this burned a heavy line of pain deep into his flesh. Dimly he wondered how many of these he could take. Skinner didn’t build up slowly – he swung straight in there, over and over again and soon Mulder’s sweaty hands were grasping for purchase on the horse, sure that he would fall off. Skinner didn’t confine himself to Mulder’s butt either, but instead worked over a whole area of his body starting at his shoulders and going right down to the back of his knees. Mulder’s already stressed muscles tensed with the agony of not knowing where the next lick would land. The belt was so heavy-duty that each stroke blazed a fire of pure pain into his skin that took his breath away. Mulder buried his head in his arms and started to shake as he screamed.


There was a pause and Mulder looked up hopefully, his last scream dying in his throat but Skinner hadn’t stopped – he was just wrapping the belt more tightly round his fist.


“Brace yourself,” he muttered. “This is something that was done to me once – and I never forgot the lesson of it.” He rapped the belt down on Mulder’s backside and then raised it again and brought it down on the same spot, and then again. And again. Mulder screamed with pain.


“Please…somewhere else…please…” he whimpered but nothing deflected Skinner from his aim. He hit that spot over and over again, until Mulder felt sure that his skin was torn and bleeding from it. He started to wriggle, to lean away to avoid the blows, to make them land in a different spot. Skinner was a few strides away from him, and he wasn’t holding him down, so Mulder was able to alter his position enough to make sure that the next blow didn’t hit the mark that Skinner was aiming for. There was a terrible silence.


“You’ll stay still,” Skinner told him, “or you’ll wish you had. Which is it to be?” Mulder cleared his throat.


“I’ll try,” he whispered.


“Good. Because I’m not nearly finished with you yet.” Skinner thudded another blow on the sore spot and Mulder shrieked, his whole body flipping into the air slightly. Despite his promise he couldn’t stay still. His body just wouldn’t obey him and two strokes later he rolled away from the lash and took the blow lower down on his body. There was silence again, and then Mulder felt his hair being tugged. Skinner pulled him bodily off the horse and propelled him over to one of the padded work benches. He sat down, grabbed Mulder and pulled him over his knee, placing a hand on Mulder’s back to keep him still.


“You won’t be able to avoid them now.” Skinner told him grimly. Mulder noticed that he’d left the belt behind and picked up a sneaker from Mulder’s pile of abandoned clothing. This was heavier even than the belt, and it thwacked down with a lightning intensity on his bare flesh, connecting with that painful area that Skinner had already created on his abused backside. Mulder felt the tears run down his cheeks and onto his boss’s thickly muscled thighs. He held on for dear life as the shoe bit streaks of painful fire into his flesh, thudding down over and over again on one small area of his buttocks until he thought the pain would make him pass out. He didn’t plead though, or beg for the punishment to stop. He just thought of that little girl and what she had endured because of him. He could take any punishment that Skinner thought he deserved. It was only right.


Finally, his knees gave way and his already over-worked muscles turned to jello. He lay limply across his boss like a rag doll, not even noticing when Skinner stopped. Skinner allowed him to just lie there, stunned, for a few moments, waiting until his breathing calmed down, then he helped Mulder to get up. Every nerve fiber in Mulder’s body protested as Skinner walked him back to his pile of clothing and handed him each item, one by one until he was fully clothed. It took some while – Mulder’s body wasn’t obeying his brain’s commands and he swayed a couple of times, leaning on Skinner’s broad arms for support. Still Skinner didn’t speak. Finally, when he was dressed, Skinner took hold of his shoulders, looked into his eyes, and said:


“Don’t you ever make me this angry again. I don’t like having to do this, Mulder.”


“No.” Mulder looked at his feet, still hearing his blood pound in his ears.


“Now come with me. This isn’t over yet.” Skinner put a hand on the back of Mulder’s neck, pushed him over to the door, unlocked it and escorted Mulder back up to his office. Kimberly had gone home, and the corridors were deserted. Mulder was glad of that. He was sure his red, tear-stained, sweat-streaked face, spoke volumes about what had just happened to him and he was dimly aware that he smelt. Not over yet…what did Skinner mean? Mulder shuddered, dreading to think what Skinner had meant.


“You have some paperwork to do.” Skinner told him, pointing at a chair opposite his desk. “A report on this whole sorry mess. You can write it here, now, and run each sentence by me so that I know you’re on the right track. I’m the one who has to make this stick.”


“You want me to sit down and write?” Mulder gasped incredulously.


“Yes. Now.” Skinner sat down in his own chair and got out a pad of paper, handed Mulder a pen. “Quickly, Mulder.” Gingerly, Mulder perched himself on the edge of the chair but even that hurt too much. He got up again.


“I could stand,” he suggested.


“No. You’ll sit.” Skinner got up, crossed over to him, and sat him down firmly in the chair. Mulder yelped. “Now, write.” Skinner said. “Before I get angry again.” Mulder watched as Skinner opened his desk drawer and got out a big, heavy wooden ruler. “Just to help you keep your mind on your work.” Skinner told him, without a trace of a smile, placing the ruler in plain sight on his desk. Mulder swallowed and bent his head over the pad, trying to ignore the hundred different messages of pain that his body was sending him.


Skinner kept him there for 4 hours writing that report. He insisted that Mulder read out every sentence, explain every comma and full stop, and only allowed Mulder to get up for a few minutes to use the washroom. Once in the privacy of the washroom, Mulder examined the damage to his butt. The place where Skinner had concentrated his attentions was a mass of thick, dark welts, each overlaying the other until the individual stroke was invisible amid the welter of red bruising. He undid his shirt and examined his back in the mirror, finding long streaks of angry mottled flesh. He was going to hurt for days – weeks. He dressed and returned to the other room, sensing that now was not a good time to keep his boss waiting. Finally, after several long hours, it was over.


“I’ll run you home.” Skinner told him.


“No…I can…” Mulder began.


“I’ll run you home.” Skinner repeated tersely. Mulder nodded.


When they got to his apartment, Mulder hesitated. They had driven in silence, and he was more than a little concerned about their future working relationship.


“Sir…” He began, his hand on the door handle.


“Yes, Mulder.” Skinner nodded.


“Are you still angry with me?” Mulder felt stupid asking, but it bothered him.


“Yes.” Skinner said.


“Oh.” Mulder opened the door, then stopped. “Would you, um…come in for a drink or something?” He asked, not sure why, just that he needed to persuade Skinner not to be angry with him any more. Skinner sighed and stared at him.


“All right, Mulder.” He agreed reluctantly, getting out of the car.


Mulder wished he hadn’t offered. He didn’t really want Skinner in his apartment, making small talk, he just wanted everything to be okay.


“Look, I know I screwed up.” Mulder said, once the door shut behind them. “I just want to know that it’s going to all right.”


“You won’t be suspended, Mulder. I’ll take the rap for this.” Skinner told him wearily. “I’ll find some way of explaining it.”


“Thanks, sir, but that wasn’t what I meant.” Mulder shrugged then wished he hadn’t. He winced and clung onto the couch for a moment as a dizzy wave of pain passed through him.


“I know what you meant and I know exactly what it is that you don’t want to ask me for right now.” Skinner sat himself down on the couch with a sigh. “I’m disappointed in you, Mulder. I’ve worked through some of that anger but I’m still pretty mad. I expect I’ll get over it. In time.”


“Please, sir…wouldn’t you…that is…” How did Skinner know what he didn’t want to ask him for? Mulder remembered when Skinner had put him over his knee and spanked him like a kid, how afterwards he had been kind and comforting. He wanted, needed that comfort now but he wasn’t sure he deserved it. “That little girl.” Mulder felt his eyes filling up with tears and he wiped them away angrily.


“Will you think next time, Fox?” Skinner asked him. “Will you listen to me?”


“I will try.” Mulder chewed on his lip. “I promise I’ll try.” He perched himself awkwardly on the floor next to Skinner’s leg, wanting to be looked after. How did Skinner always make him feel like a beaten puppy in need of a kind master?


He felt Skinner’s big hand in his hair and yelped as Skinner yanked his head back and looked into his eyes.


“Once, I spoke of taming you. I accept I probably never will.” Skinner sighed. “That’s my failure. I’m sorry for it, son, because I think you might stay alive longer if I succeed. However, I have at least managed to get you to trust me, I hope.”


Mulder nodded, as best he could with the tight grip Skinner had of his hair.


“Don’t let anybody else try and tame you, Fox.” Skinner told him. “If you won’t belong to me, then don’t belong to anyone else. They might not be as understanding as I am. And they certainly won’t give you what you need. Like this.” Skinner pulled Mulder up bodily by the hair until he was next to him on the couch, then hauled Mulder’s body into his lap and stroked the other man’s hair gently. “I guess I’m too soft,” he sighed. Mulder felt his muscles relax and gave himself up to the knowledge that Skinner had forgiven him and that his boss’s anger was receding. After a long silence, a thought occurred to him.


“Sir…?” He asked.


“Hmm?” Skinner was lying back, exhausted, his eyes closed.


“What did happen to you back in Vietnam? With your CO?”


“Like I said, he was way tougher than I am.” Skinner’s fingers tightened in Mulder’s hair for a moment, then relaxed and smoothed it out again. “He took me out of camp late that night and made my buddy, the one I’d gone looking for, hold me up while he leathered me with his belt until I couldn’t stand. Then he carried me back, bandaged me up and made me work twice as hard for the next 2 weeks. I remembered that little lesson, believe me.”


“You still see this guy?” Mulder asked. “Did he make it back?”


“Oh yeah. Marshall made it back. He was that sort of guy.” Skinner snorted. “I see him occasionally. He’s the same as ever. I still wouldn’t want to get on the wrong side of him, but he kept me alive in Vietnam. I wouldn’t have got back if it hadn’t been for him. I’d obey him implicitly. I wish you’d do that for me. Then I could keep you safe, the way he kept me safe.”


“I just…get ideas in my head and I can’t stop myself.” Mulder admitted lamely.


“I know.” Skinner sighed again. “I still think it’s my fault for not getting the discipline right, but we’ll have to learn to live with that. If you die, I’ll be furious,” he said.


“You can’t whip my ass if I’m dead.” Mulder told him with a grin.


“No. Which is why I guess I’ll just have to make a better job of it while you’re still alive.” Skinner commented.


“You couldn’t really make a better job of it than tonight.” Mulder murmured with a wince. “I’m gonna hurt for a long time.”


“You deserved it.” Skinner shrugged.


“I know.” Mulder nodded.


“I meant what I said earlier.” Skinner told him. “Foxes can be hunters, but they can also be prey. You were prey to Roche. He caught you in a trap, and you ended up getting hurt pretty bad as a result. Be more careful next time, Fox. Next time it could be the Consortium, or worse, if that’s possible. I don’t like punishing you, but I’d rather tan your hide a hundred times than have you fall into one of their fox hunts. Their hounds would tear you to pieces. I only chew you around the edges a bit. Take care, Fox.”


Fox nodded, closing his eyes and enjoying the feeling of calm and safety, even if he hurt like hell. He didn’t doubt for a moment that Skinner would save him from the Consortium if it ever came to it. Whether Skinner could save him from himself was a different matter entirely…


End of Part 4


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