The Agreement: 5. Tender Loving Care


He discharged himself from hospital against their recommendation. He was used to doing this and their protests were met only by his stony, disinterested glare. He didn’t even tell Scully. His head hurt for the entire journey back to Washington but Mulder wasn’t sure he cared. At least the throbbing in his temple stopped him actually having to think. His soul ached too much to think. The doctor had insisted on giving him some pills and he still wore a dressing on his forehead. Mulder flushed the pills down the toilet, closed the blinds, locked the door and pulled a dresser in front of it. Then he lay on the couch in the dark, listening to the sound of his own beating heart. He felt lost. Alone. More truly alone than at any other point in his life.


He wasn’t sure how much time passed. A day. A night. Maybe more. He didn’t eat, he couldn’t sleep – instead he lived in a half-world, a fog of reality and nightmare, dream and illusion, recovered memories that might or might not be true. If he could just find some clarity in those memories, focus them…The phone rang and rang until he pulled it out of the socket with a sudden burst of ferocious movement that sent a wave of pain through his head and a darkness through his mind. He swayed, collapsed back down on the couch and didn’t get up.


At some point there was a knock on the door. He heard Scully call his name over and over again, with some urgency. Then the sound of a key in the lock, the noise of the door thudding against the dresser.


“Mulder! I know you’re in there,” she cried. He didn’t move, didn’t speak. He wasn’t even sure that he truly existed. “Mulder!” She sounded so worried and upset. Mulder didn’t think he cared. He didn’t care about anything. The sound of his heart beating and the throbbing in his head took over his consciousness. He closed his eyes. When he opened them again Scully had stopped calling his name.


He saw the patterns the cars made on the blinds with their headlamps as they passed by. One light, then another, a thin crack of light, moving then fading. He remembered being a child, watching the lights passing by as he tried to get to sleep, as he tried not to hear his parents arguing…about what? Or whom? Mulder realized there were tears running down his cheeks. He didn’t have the energy to wipe them away.


“Mulder.” A different voice this time, deeper, harder. “I’m coming in, Mulder so get away from the door.” A key in the lock. Mulder closed his eyes. Safe, secure. They wouldn’t find him. They couldn’t touch him. Nobody was going to touch him ever again. He wasn’t alive, he wasn’t dead. He was somewhere between the two. In limbo. There was a crash – Mulder ignored it. Nobody could get to him, he was far, far away. There were demons in his head, laughing at him. He closed his eyes – they couldn’t touch him any more. The demons had lost their power. They could laugh forever but it wouldn’t matter. He was numb. They couldn’t hurt him again.


“Mulder. Son.” Someone was sitting next to him in the darkness. “Scully was worried about you. She gave me the key. I told her to go home and get some rest – she’s worn out with chasing after you. I was worried about what I’d find.” Skinner put a hand on his shoulder.


“You can’t hurt me.” Mulder murmured.


“I don’t want to.” Skinner replied. Mulder felt Skinner’s hand move to his forehead. Gentle. “This dressing needs changing. When did you last eat?”


“Nobody can hurt me.”


“No. I won’t let them.” Skinner got up and went to the window, opening the blind, opening the window, letting in some air.


“Don’t.” Mulder shaded his eyes against the unwelcome light.


“Daylight can’t hurt you either, Mulder.” Skinner said, coming back to the couch. “You’re skin and bone and you look like shit. We have to get you well again.”


“I’m not moving.” Mulder muttered.


“That’s a lot of negative sentences, Mulder.” Skinner remarked, looming over him. “Now you’ve told me all the things you won’t do. How about letting me hear something more constructive?”


Mulder stared up distantly at the other man and Skinner sighed.


“All right. Too much to hope for maybe. Get up, Mulder. Let me change that dressing.”


“No.” Mulder lay there, staring into space. Skinner bent down, took hold of Mulder’s sweatshirt and hauled him into a sitting position. Mulder reacted violently to the intrusion, struggling in Skinner’s big hands but he had no energy and his head was swimming. He felt himself being lifted up, hauled into the bathroom, sat on the edge of the tub while Skinner ran some water, dipped a washcloth in it and careful removed the dressing. Mulder sat there listlessly until Skinner had finished, then allowed himself to be escorted back to the other room.


“Just go away,” he said. “Leave me alone.”


“No.” Skinner sat him down on the couch and went into the kitchen. He didn’t seem surprised to find it devoid of anything that could be considered remotely “edible”. With a sigh he located the phone, picked it up, held it to his ear, then shook it. He noticed the broken socket and sighed again, pulling out his cell phone. He ordered some food then returned to the couch.


“I said, go away.” Mulder muttered remotely, his eyes staring at the ceiling.


“Stop this.” Skinner sat down beside him. “Talk to me, Fox.”


“Nothing to say.” Mulder ignored him, closing his eyes. He was surprised to be pulled up again and slapped hard across the face.


“It was an order.” Skinner said. Mulder felt a wave of misery penetrate the numbness inside. He was shaking as he started to scream at Skinner to get out, to go and leave him, that none of it mattered any more. He didn’t remember crying but at some point the tears started to roll and he found himself whimpering with a pain inside that never went away. Skinner’s arms encircled his shoulders, holding him tight while he sobbed like a baby. At some point he stopped, worn out and light-headed.


“Okay. That was good. You needed that.” Skinner told him soothingly. “Now you need some sleep as well.” He swung Mulder up into his arms and carried him into the bedroom, dumping him on a chair while he cleared away the junk that littered Mulder’s bed.


“Get undressed,” he ordered as he worked and Mulder obeyed before creeping under the sheets in his boxers and closing his eyes, feeling the sheets replaced over his shivering body. “Ssh.” Skinner sat on the bed and put his hands on Mulder’s shaking shoulders. Mulder stopped shivering. “Now sleep. I’ll stay here.” Skinner told him. Mulder nodded and closed his eyes. He didn’t remember falling asleep but he must have done almost immediately.


He awoke to the smell of breakfast being cooked. He got up, swaying as the room swam around him.


“I’m not hungry,” he said, padding into the kitchen in his boxer shorts.


“That fact is irrelevant.” Skinner told him, putting two plates on the table and piling them high with bacon, eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms, sausages and bread. Mulder stared at him quizzically. “I mean, Mulder, that you’ll eat whether you’re hungry or not. So why not just give in gracefully, hmm?” Skinner said. Mulder considered this for a moment, wondering what Skinner would do if he clamped his jaws shut and refused. Tie him to the chair and stick a tube down his mouth probably. He did as he was told and gave in, sitting down at the table and chewing aimlessly for several minutes on one mouthful of bacon. Skinner glanced at his watch.


“I wasn’t going anywhere today,” he remarked. “So you can take as long as you like. But you’re not leaving this table until you’ve finished the entire plateful.” Mulder opened his mouth to protest but then closed it with a sigh and set about the meal with more determination.


“You just let me know when you want to talk about it.” Skinner said, opening up a newspaper and starting to read. Mulder glared at him.


“I won’t ever want to talk about it,” he replied fiercely.


“Fair enough. But I’m not leaving until you’re better, whether you talk or not. So get that into your well-drilled skull, Mulder.” Skinner glanced at the agent’s head with a sigh. Mulder had dislodged the dressing in his sleep and he could see the wound was weeping slightly. “I spoke to your doctor. He told me you have some medication. Where is it?” Skinner asked.


“My medical treatment is confidential. The doctor had no right…” Mulder began.


“Where is it, Mulder?” Skinner interrupted him, a stern look on his face.


“In the sewer by now I expect.” Mulder shrugged.


“What?” Skinner frowned. Mulder ignored him, moving a piece of tomato around his plate aimlessly. “Mulder? Did you throw your medication away?” Skinner asked incredulously.


“Yeah. That’s about it.” Mulder didn’t look up. He felt his head grabbed between Skinner’s hands and pulled up so that he was forced to look at his boss.


“I’m going to call your doctor and have him organize another prescription. Then I’m going to stand over you and make you take those pills. Understood?” Skinner asked. Mulder shrugged, making no reply. Skinner took a deep breath. “All right, Mulder. Let me spell it out for you. We can either do this the hard way or the easy way.” Skinner said. “That means I can either watch you 24 hours a day, force every meal and every pill into you and put you to bed every night, or you can retain a shred of dignity and do these things for yourself. Either way they’re going to get done so you take your pick as to which method you prefer.”


“Oh whatever. Suit yourself.” Mulder snapped, stabbing at a piece of sausage savagely with his fork and splashing himself with tomato juice in the process. It should have been funny but it wasn’t. He didn’t want to laugh and neither, by the look of him, did Skinner.


“Suiting myself would be to get back to work and sort out the pile of paperwork that’s building up while I’m acting as nursemaid you.” Skinner told him. “But like I said, you’re stuck with me, Mulder. No escape.” Skinner returned to his breakfast and his newspaper and didn’t say another word for the rest of the meal. When Skinner had finished he called Mulder’s doctor and then he called Scully.


“No, he’s fine. Yes, he’s eaten, or is eating I should say. No I have no idea when he’ll be back. I’ve done that, yes. I don’t know. I’ll ask him.” Skinner glanced at Mulder who was chewing down a mushroom as if it tasted of poison. “Will you talk to Scully?” He asked. Mulder shook his head and Skinner sighed, returning to the call. “I’m sorry, Agent Scully, but he seems to be in – what’s the technical term for it? Oh yes, one hell of a sulk. I’ll make him call you just as soon as I can get him to be civil.” He slammed the phone down on the table and regarded Mulder’s half eaten plate of food.


“I’m a patient man, Mulder,” he said. “I can wait all morning for you to finish breakfast. And if you don’t manage it then I’ll serve it up again cold for lunch and again for dinner if need be. But you will eat. I don’t care if I have to bully you into it. And if you behave like a kid, I’ll happily treat you like one. You’d better snap out of this by the time that head wound has healed – because if you are still sulking in a couple of days time I’ll happily put you over my knee and spank the living daylights out of you. Is that clear?”


Mulder shrugged, forcing another forkful of bacon into his mouth.


“I really don’t care,” he said. “Do what the hell you like.” He managed to clear the plate, then walked unsteadily into the lounge to sit on the couch, aimlessly flicking through the channels on the TV. Skinner sighed, staring after him, his hands on his hips. Then he followed him in and plucked the remote from Mulder’s nerveless fingers and switched the television off.


“Get up, get showered and get dressed. We’re going on a trip. I’m going to pack you some clothes,” he said tersely.


“I don’t want to go on a trip.” Mulder stayed staring at the blank screen.


“Too bad. Now do you go and get showered or do I take you in there and wash you down myself?” Skinner asked. Mulder struggled with that for a moment and then got up.


“You should just leave,” he hissed as he shoved past his boss. “I am really not in the mood for this.”


“That makes two of us.” Skinner muttered darkly, returning to the kitchen to clear up.


They arrived at the cabin a couple of hours later. Mulder sighed as he got out of the jeep. He remembered this place from a couple of years before – it was set in idyllic surroundings, a long way from anywhere. Somehow he wasn’t surprised to find himself brought here. His boss thought that fresh air and healthy exercise were antidotes to all sorts of trauma. The psychologist in Mulder found this approach ludicrously old fashioned and simplistic.


“Go and get unpacked. I’ll get lunch.” Skinner told him, handing him his bag.


“Lunch?” Mulder repeated incredulously. “We’ve only just finished breakfast.”


“That’s right. And now it’s lunch time.” Skinner said grimly. Mulder sighed and took the bag, trudging into the cabin and finding the bedroom he had used last time he was here. He winced slightly at that memory. Skinner had been fairly tough and uncompromising then, and there was no reason to imagine that he had changed. Not that Mulder thought he had been brought out here for a repeat performance. He might have been behaving oddly for the last couple of weeks, but he didn’t think Skinner intended to punish him for it. He wasn’t sure that he would have cared even if that had been the case. Pain, death, eating, sleeping, even Scully – they were all irrelevancies to him right now. He tossed the bag onto a chair, threw himself onto the bed and closed his eyes.


Skinner knocked on the door half an hour later to find Mulder asleep. He covered the agent with a blanket and sighed to himself. This was going to be hard work.


Mulder awoke some hours later with a headache. He wandered into the other room to find Skinner sitting reading a report. Skinner put it aside grimly as he came in and wordlessly got up and fetched him a glass of water and handed him two pills. Mulder didn’t even bother to argue – it wasn’t worth it. He swallowed the pills down and sat back, flicking at the report Skinner had been reading.


“What’s this?” He asked without being remotely interested.


“Scully’s report on the events of last week.” Skinner informed him.


“Oh.” Mulder closed his eyes.


“It makes interesting reading. But it’s totally perplexing. I’m having trouble understanding some of it.” Skinner commented.


“I’m sure you’re going to tell me what.” Mulder murmured.


“Yes. I am. Such as why a seemingly bright, intelligent young man with a great future ahead of him would allow someone to drill holes in his head – especially as he knew what this method of treatment had done to at least 2 other people.” Skinner said.


“A great future!” Mulder snorted. “Yeah, right.” What planet was Skinner living on? What great future? And who cared about the future anyway? “I’m more concerned about the past,” he muttered. “I think that’s where the truth is. And you can’t face the future unless you know what happened in the past. Unless you really know.”


“Why?” Skinner asked. “I once had an experience that I didn’t understand. I put it behind me and carried on. It wasn’t necessary for me to drill holes in my head to go back to that moment of my near death to find out exactly what had transpired.”


“Well maybe you aren’t as curious as I am.” Mulder snapped. “Maybe it’s fine for you to ignore the most important event of your whole life, but I don’t feel like that. I need the truth. I NEED it.”


“Why?” Skinner asked. The word hung between them for a long time but Mulder didn’t have the strength to answer. Finally Skinner got up. “Lunch is ready,” he said. Mulder noticed the salad on the table.


“I suppose it wouldn’t make any difference if I said I wasn’t hungry would it?” He asked.


“None at all.” Skinner replied.


Mulder wasn’t at all surprised to be hauled off on a long walk after lunch. Fresh air, brisk walks, huge meals – it was disgusting and he hated it. He remained in his own world, a world of swirling dark numbness. He by and large ignored Skinner’s forays into conversation, hardly bothering to give a civil answer, not caring what the consequences for his rudeness might be. Skinner’s jaw grew tighter and grimmer as the days went by but Mulder didn’t care. He wasn’t sure that it mattered if he pushed his boss to breaking point. Some part of him wanted to do that, wanted to make Skinner lash out at him and give up on him. Then maybe he’d get some peace. Physically he soon recovered. His head wound healed, he put on a bit of weight, he even lost the unhealthy pallor that his skin had acquired.


“Shouldn’t you get back to work?” He asked his boss after 5 days of long walks and brisk swims in freezing lakes.


“I am working.” Skinner told him meaningfully. Mulder scowled.


“I’m just work to you? Is that it?” He spat. “Well not any more. I’m resigning.”


“I don’t think so.” Skinner turned his back on him.


“I mean it.” Mulder told him. “I’m out of the Bureau. I’m not going back.”


“Yes you are, Mulder.” Skinner said with a sigh. “You’re in no condition to be making decisions like that right now.”


“You can’t stop me. I’m leaving here right now. I’m going back to DC and I’m handing in my notice.”


“No you’re not.” Skinner shrugged. “You can try if you like, but you aren’t going anywhere. This place is miles from civilization. You won’t be able to get the jeep working – I’ve taken care of that. So if you want to go anywhere you’ll have to walk. You’ve never exactly shown any skill as a woodsman so I wouldn’t advise it if I were you. You’ll only end up getting yourself lost.”


Mulder stared at his boss for a moment and then went to his bedroom and slammed the door. He half anticipated that Skinner would come charging in after him to slap him for that piece of insolence and his stomach somersaulted as he heard his boss’s footsteps in the corridor. Then the door was opened and Mulder held his breath, expecting to see his boss unbuckling his belt at the very least. Instead Skinner began to undo the hinges on the door.


“What are you doing?” Mulder growled at him.


“You seem to be having problems with the doors. Every time you walk through one it slams shut behind you. I thought we could improve that little problem by taking this one off its hinges.” Skinner informed him.


“But this is my bedroom…” Mulder protested.


“You’ll have to sleep in a draught then won’t you.” Skinner picked the door up and leaned it against the wall in the corridor. “Try not to make me have to do this with all the doors in the cabin,” he said before disappearing. Mulder made a face at his retreating back.


I’m not putting up with this, Mulder thought sulkily to himself as he stared at the gap where his bedroom door should have been. Later that night, he let himself out of the cabin and set off. Skinner was right – he wasn’t sure of his direction and he wasn’t very good at orienteering but he was determined to go. He must have walked for miles without seeing any sign of life. He began to get worried that he could walk forever before coming across any other humans. Finally, he heard the sound of a truck and ran down the hillside, onto a road. The truck was slow, chugging up the hill and Mulder put out a hand to stop it. The driver was a huge, gnarled looking man, with enormous hands and the torso of a weightlifter. His hair was white and his face tanned and rugged. Two bright blue eyes glinted at Mulder with something like amused interest.


“You’re way off the beaten track.” The man commented in a deep, throaty drawl.


“Yeah. Got lost. Out walking.” Mulder improvised.


“Hop in, son.” The truck driver grinned. Mulder did as he was told, leaning back, feeling weary. Despite all these days of healthy exercise and regular meals he still got tired easily.


“Where are you going?” Mulder asked, unsure whether he even cared.


“Exactly where you need to go, son.” Mulder was falling asleep as the man spoke and this reply didn’t strike him as strange. He didn’t even think about it as his head lolled back against the seat. The man glanced at Mulder and smiled.


Mulder awoke with a start. The truck had come to a clattering halt. He opened his eyes and gazed around in shock. They were back at the cabin. How was that possible? Skinner, dressed in a checked red and black shirt and black jeans was standing in the doorway. The driver got out of the truck and went over to his boss, clasped him in a bear hug and made an extremely loud hollering sound.


“Walt! Am I glad to see you again, son!” Son? Mulder glared at both his boss and the truck driver, feeling as if he had been caught in a trap. “I’ve brought you that stray pup that went missing.” The stranger said. Skinner looked at Mulder and gestured with his head toward the cabin.


“Inside. Now.” He ordered. With a sigh Mulder opened the door and got out, pushing past the two men as he returned to the cabin. This was like being trapped in some strange time loop or something – however hard you tried to escape all roads led back to this one cabin. He threw himself down on the couch and scowled angrily into the fire.


“I’m glad you could make it, Marshall.” Skinner said to his friend. “I’ve been listening out for you for the past hour or so.”


“Always happy to do you a favor, Walt. You were always one of my best men – once I got you trained right.” Marshall grinned and Mulder felt the faintest stirring of curiosity. So this was the Marshall that his boss had spoken about? The one who had taught his boss these strange disciplinary methods? And taught him the hard way. Skinner actually looked delighted to see his friend though, there was no suggestion that he harbored any resentments towards the man. Marshall was such a large man that he even dwarfed Mulder’s boss, making him look almost diminutive as he stood beside his old buddy. He must have been all of 6 feet seven. “I don’t do much these days anyway.” Marshall was saying. “Just sit around, cleaning my gun, do a bit of tracking and hunting. Made a change to be hunting something 2 legged for once.” He grinned, glancing over at Mulder.


“You were looking for me?” Mulder accused. “You didn’t find me by accident?”


“Well no, son. Walt called me after you slipped out last night. I didn’t have much trouble locating you – you sure leave a trail behind you!” Marshall beamed at him and Mulder made a face and stared listlessly at the fire. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Marshall exchange a glance with Skinner.


Another massive breakfast was prepared. Mulder refused his boss’s invitation to assist in the cooking and sat staring out of the window instead. Which made a change from staring into the fire. If only everyone would leave him alone he was sure he would come up with some answers. Even if he didn’t, he could at least enjoy the numbness inside. He didn’t want to be made to feel anything, he didn’t want to have to make conversation and he didn’t want to be here. He just wanted to be left alone. Skinner and Marshall had other ideas though. Marshall insisted on talking to him over breakfast, although he never won more than a grunt or monosyllable from Mulder in reply. This hardly deterred him though.


“Quiet thing aren’t you.” He poked Mulder in the ribs as if he were some specimen in a cage. “Never got that impression from all the things Walt’s said about you.” Marshall grinned.


“Walt… I mean, that is, Skinner’s been talking about me?” Mulder looked up, curious despite himself.


“Oh yeah. We’ve had a couple of chats about you over the years. I always told him to be firm with you but you sure are a headache, son! The things I’ve heard about you! If Walt had any hair it’d be gray by now with the hoops you’ve had him jump through!”


“I never get away with anything. Believe me.” Mulder muttered.


“Oh I do. Walt’s one of the best. I don’t think any of his personnel get away with much. If he learned one lesson from me, I hope he learned that.” Marshall grinned.


“I learned.” Skinner nodded.


“Now, Walt here’s the quiet one. You may have noticed that.” Marshall grinned again. “Doesn’t say much, doesn’t even smile much. But he knows what he’s doing. You on the other hand are one of those people who needs to be the center of attention. You make a big fuss until we all stand around staring at you. Guess that’s what you’re doing right now.”


“You just told me I was quiet.” Mulder snapped.


“Yeah – in a noisy way. You’re in one of those sulks that just screams out for attention.” Marshall said.


“Oh spare me the lecture.” Mulder snarled. “I’m not in the mood. And I don’t care what you used to do to him.” He gestured with his head towards Skinner, “but if you lay one finger on me I’ll report you.”


“I’m not gonna touch you.” Marshall regarded Mulder with a speculative stare. “Not that it’s not a tempting thought because if ever someone looked like they needed to be brought to their senses it’s you. But you’re Walt’s responsibility and he’s softer on you than I think he needs to be. Maybe that’s why you still keep ignoring his orders and running off like this.”


“Oh for god’s sake!” Mulder snarled. “I have very good reasons for ignoring his orders sometimes. And while we’re on the subject, why don’t you ask him how much notice he takes of his own orders when it suits him.”


“What’s that supposed to mean?” Marshall looked inquiringly at Mulder and then at Skinner who shook his head softly but didn’t say a word.


“I mean, perhaps you should ask him about the evidence that he destroyed recently in a criminal investigation. How he covered up a murder, disposed of a body and colluded in the death of a law enforcement officer.” Mulder brandished that information with a triumphant snarl. Marshall turned his attention back to his plate and carried right on eating.


“Oh that. I know all about that,” he said.


“What? How?” Mulder felt as if all the wind had been taken out of his sails.


“Walter told me.” Marshall glanced at Mulder and there was a look of utter contempt in his eyes. “I’m sorry you felt that you had to bring it up though, son. I think the less of you for that.”


“I don’t care what you damn well think of me.” Mulder lied, getting to his feet and leaving the cabin, slamming the door behind him. He leaned against the cabin wall, breathing deeply, feeling angry with them and with himself. He didn’t want this anger, he didn’t want any feelings at all. He’d enjoyed feeling nothing, being interested in nothing, just drifting listlessly along, not caring. His head was swimming again after all the exertions of the night and it looked as if it was going to rain sometime soon but he decided to set off for a walk all the same.


It was midday when he returned and the jeep was gone. Marshall’s old battered truck was still there though. Mulder took a deep breath and opened the door of the cabin. Marshall was sitting on the couch sharpening an axe. Mulder stopped, feeling worried. He didn’t know anything about this crazy old man and here he was sitting with an axe.


“Where’s Skinner?” He asked anxiously.


“Out getting food.” Marshall got up and walked past Mulder, opening the cabin door. “Come with me.” He ordered.


“Why? Where are we going? Are you going to kill me?” Mulder knew that was stupid but he didn’t feel rational and that axe was very sharp.


“Are you always this quarrelsome?” Marshall asked. “No don’t answer that. I think I already know the answer. I’m going to chop us some firewood and you’re going to watch.”


“No I’m not. I’m tired. I’m going to bed.” Mulder started to walk towards the bedroom when he felt his arm grabbed from behind in a vice-like grip. He tried to struggle but Marshall was too strong for him. “When I tell you to do something, you do it. I’ve eaten kids like you for breakfast so don’t play games with me, son.” Marshall hissed. Mulder felt himself being dragged bodily outside. He was sat down on the stump of a tree. “Stay there and don’t move until I tell you.” Marshall took his shirt off and began chopping some wood. “Now, from what I’ve seen of your behavior, you deserve a damn good thrashing.” Marshall told him. “Can you enlighten me as to why Walter won’t give you one?”


“No.” Mulder stared at his shoes.


“Fox.” Marshall’s tone was sharp. “You’re going to stay right there until you tell me.”


“Or?” Mulder asked sulkily.


“Or else. I’m not as kind as Walter and this belt I’m wearing is thick and hard. Like your head, son. It’s not your head I’d use it on though.”


“I’m not scared of you. You can’t bully me.” Mulder clamped his jaws shut and sat on his hands, feeling a lump rising in his throat.


“Fine. But you aren’t leaving that stump until you tell me so I suggest you give that some thought.” Marshall chopped up a few more logs and Mulder stared listlessly at the sky. It was turning ominously dark and a few moments later it started to rain – big wet droplets. Mulder got up. “Where are you going?” Marshall said.


“It’s raining.” Mulder gestured at the sky.


“So it is. And it looks like a bad one too. Maybe a storm. But you aren’t going anywhere. Sit down.”


“But…” Mulder opened his mouth to protest and Marshall’s hand went to his belt buckle. Mulder considered his situation for a moment and then sat down again, grinding his teeth together in frustration. Marshall moved into the shelter of the porch and gazed at the bedraggled young agent in front of him.


“You can come in and get dry any time you want. Just tell me why Walt is being so soft on you.” Marshall said. Mulder put his head back and glared at the dark thunderclouds overhead.


“Because…” He began. Marshall leaned forwards.


“Yes?” He prompted.


“Because I was ill.” Mulder knew that was a lie and flushed. “Okay, not ill exactly – I did something to myself that worried people.”


“What did you do?” Marshall demanded. The rain started to hit in earnest, soaking Mulder to the skin.


“I…tried out an experimental technique to recover lost memories. I…I…had some holes drilled in my head.” He sat there glumly, staring at Marshall, the water dripping down his nose. Marshall gazed back, his eyes wide with disbelief. Then he suddenly roared with laughter.


“You did what?” He gasped.


“I had some holes drilled in my head and then I accused my mother of…of…something bad and then I ditched Scully, she’s my partner and then I wouldn’t take my medication and then Skinner found me and I’ve been sulking ever since…” Mulder said it quickly, starting to shiver as a cold wind buffetted against his wet skin.


“Is there any more?” Marshall asked.


“Well…” Mulder considered it. “Apart from slamming doors and mouthing off and not eating properly, I suppose not, no.”


“Well that sounds like enough.” Marshall grunted. “Poor Walter. No wonder he calls me for advice so often. I’ve had to deal with some tough cases in my day but I don’t think I’ve ever come across anyone like you. So, he’s worried that this hole drilling has pushed you over the edge and that’s why he’s using the kid glove treatment, huh?”


“Maybe.” Mulder shrugged, flushing furiously.


“No ‘maybe’ about it. You know that he’s worried and you’re using that against him so he won’t punish you the way you know you deserve. That makes you a lowdown piece of work in my book, young Fox Mulder.” Marshall grunted. “And then you have the nerve to turn this around on him. Bringing up that crap about the deal he did to save your own partner’s life.” Marshall shook his head. “I don’t know why he bothers with you, Fox.” He regarded the young agent coolly. “If I were him I’d have given up on you a long time ago.” Mulder’s head jerked up. “Ah, so that’s what you’re afraid of. And rightly so. Well you can still fix this, Fox, but not if you keep going about it this way.”


“I don’t care.” Mulder muttered mutinously. “I’m wet. I want to come inside.”


“Not yet.” Marshall stood there in the dry comfort of the porch, his blue eyed gaze transfixing Mulder. “When Walter made that deal, the first thing he did was tell me about it. He knew he’d done wrong and he came straight to me because he trusts me and he trusts my opinion. Now you’re going to do the same.”


“What are you talking about?” Mulder was shivering in earnest now. He was wet through to the bone.


“I mean that when Walter gets back you’re going to recount a list of your sins to him and you’re going to ask him to punish you.”


“Am not.” Mulder knew that sounded childish but he couldn’t help himself.


“Yes you are, son. Then you’re going to ask him to give you a thrashing.”


“Not.” Mulder stared mutinously at his shoes.


“Yes you are. Then you’re going to give him your own belt to do it with.”


“NO!” Mulder looked up, a wave of water flooding down his face, rain mingling with the tears that had started to fall unchecked.


“Yes.” Marshall’s tone was gentle. “And you’re going to do it because you’ve dug yourself into a hole and you just need to be shown a way out. Well this is the only way and I’m not saying it’s easy but Walter must see something in you to keep caring about what you get up to so I think you’re capable of doing this.”


“I won’t.” Mulder folded his arms and glared at Marshall.


“You will if you want to start feeling better.” Marshall shrugged. “It’s up to you of course, but Walter can’t stay out here taking care of you forever. You both have jobs to do.”


At that moment they heard the sound of Skinner’s jeep chugging up the hill.


“Can I come in now?” Mulder demanded.


“No.” Marshall shrugged. “You can explain to Walter why you’re sitting out in the rain.”


Mulder gritted his teeth again and watched as Skinner got out of the truck and ran for the porch, clutching a bag of groceries to his chest.


“Mulder?” Skinner stopped and gave his agent a quizzical look. “You want to come in out of the rain?”


“No.” Mulder muttered, folding his arms.


“Uh, okay.” Skinner shrugged, looking mystified. “You want to tell me why?”


“No.” Mulder said again.


“Fine.” Skinner gave another baffled shrug and went into the cabin with Marshall close behind him.


“Whenever you want to come in, we’ll be waiting.” Marshall said softly. Mulder didn’t reply.


He sat there for half an hour, considering what he should do. He couldn’t run away again – that hadn’t exactly been a success last time. And he couldn’t stay here either. He wondered if he could go back into the cabin and not obey Marshall, just walk in and go to his bedroom, ignoring them both. He wished he had the courage for that, but there was something about Marshall that scared him. He wouldn’t put it past the old man to grab hold of him, force him bodily over his knee and give him the thrashing he seemed so sure Mulder deserved. Mulder’s stomach crawled again. He didn’t want to be beaten. He realized, with some surprise, that he wanted to go home. He wanted to see Scully and go back to work and most of all, he wanted everything to be back to normal with Skinner. He found himself getting to his feet and walking reluctantly over to the cabin. He stood on the porch for a long while, thinking frantically. He almost turned back but something inside spurred him on and finally he pushed the door open and stood there in the doorway, dripping rainwater onto the wooden floor.


“Mulder. Glad you could join us.” Skinner looked up. He was sitting on the couch working his way through some papers. Marshall was standing by the fire, a pipe in his mouth. Mulder was sure that Marshall hadn’t enlightened Skinner as to why his most brilliant agent was taking an impromptu shower in the yard.


“I…” Mulder hesitated. Skinner raised an eyebrow.


“Yes?” He asked. Mulder looked at Marshall helplessly but the other man’s blue eyes were firm and uncompromising.


“I…wanted to say…” Mulder stopped and closed his eyes.


“In your own time, Mulder. I’m not going anywhere.” Skinner turned back to his paperwork. Mulder stood there for another few minutes, struggling with it before giving in.


“I wanted to say sorry.” Mulder gasped that out as quickly as he could. Skinner looked up at him again and put his paperwork on one side.


“Sorry for what?” Skinner asked.


“For…” Mulder took a deep breath. This was getting harder, not easier. “For…all of it.” He muttered at last, but Marshall’s expression made it clear that wasn’t good enough. “For the holes, for ditching Scully, for not taking my medication, for sulking, for trying to run away…” He trailed off.


“What about that threat to resign?” Skinner asked.


“I never meant that.” Mulder admitted. “I was just trying to…”


“Yes?” Skinner asked gently.


“I wanted to make you feel as lousy as I was feeling. It was emotional blackmail. I am sorry.” He suddenly realized that he meant that.


“Thank you, Fox. I appreciate that. Does this mean you’re back with us?” Skinner asked.


“I guess so.” Mulder shrugged.


“Good. Then I think we can put this behind us and…” Mulder breathed a sigh of relief and then noticed the expression on Marshall’s face. His heart sank.


“No.” He interrupted. Skinner looked surprised.


“I…have to…that is…you should punish me. I’m better now and…and I deserve it,” he whispered.


“Well, I wouldn’t disagree with that.” Skinner said, getting up and looking at the young agent keenly. “But I’m surprised to hear you suggesting it.”


“I know. I don’t want to be punished but I’ve been behaving like a spoilt brat so you should whip me. Here.” Mulder undid his belt and pulled it out from his jeans, handing it to his boss. Skinner looked even more surprised.


“All right, Mulder. I think you’re right. Get your pants and boxer shorts off and get over here.” Skinner shook his head, stunned at the turn of events. He folded the belt in two and thwapped it against the palm of his hand a couple of times. Mulder felt his stomach lurch as he undressed. “Bend over and hold onto your ankles.” Skinner said and Mulder complied, feeling the warmth of the fire on the back of his legs. Skinner placed a hand on the small of his back and drew his arm back. Mulder closed his eyes and waited. He had never yet known Skinner to stint on a thrashing and this was no exception. He knew that Skinner worked on the principle that if he was going to deliver a whipping at all then it should hurt – no half measures. The first blow confirmed that for Mulder. He yelped and jumped up. Skinner’s hand pushed him back down again. “Stand still, son. I’ll go fast so it’ll soon be over.” Skinner’s arm moved again and Mulder cursed out loud as he tried to keep on his feet while the blows rained down on his butt. “Shit, shit, shit…” He yelled over and over again but Skinner was implacable and the belt continued to rise and fall, liberally marking Mulder’s butt with a series of red lines. Skinner paused for a moment.


“Is that enough do you think, Mulder?” He asked. Oh god, yes! Mulder thought and then he glanced up and caught Marshall’s eye and he felt his heart sink. He knew deep inside that Skinner had just given him a light spanking – nothing compared to what he deserved.


“No.” He whispered, closing his eyes. “I…er, think I deserve more.” He said.


“Good, because so do I. I’m glad we agree.” Skinner delivered another series of hard blows. “I think that about covers the sulking and ditching Scully,” he said. “But what can I do that will convey to you how I feel about that so-called medical treatment you put yourself through?”


“I don’t know.” Mulder shuddered.


“Come here.” Skinner sat down and Mulder stood up, his muscles protesting as he straightened. “Over my knee.” Skinner pointed and Mulder sighed. He hated it when Skinner did this. And Skinner knew he hated it and that was why he did it. Mulder walked over resignedly and knelt down, arranging himself cautiously over Skinner’s legs. Skinner put his hand on Mulder’s back again, holding him pinned down firmly and the next blow was harder than anything Mulder could remember. He screamed.


“Don’t ever, ever, do anything like that again, Mulder.” Skinner said, raining down 3 more blows.


“I won’t.” Mulder sobbed.


“I mean it. If you ever worry us like that again, if you ever endanger your life recklessly like that, doing something so foolhardy, so thoughtless, then we’re through, Fox. And I mean that.” Skinner slapped down another few blows on Mulder’s blistered flesh until Mulder began to weep in earnest. Then Skinner stopped and sat back. “All right, son. All done.” Mulder eased himself off Skinner’s knee and crouched on the carpet, his eyes filled with tears.


“I didn’t realize,” he said, horrified. “Shit, I was so stupid.” He shook his head.


“Yes, you were. Mind you, we’re used to that.” Skinner smiled and handed Mulder his belt back. Mulder took it wordlessly, putting his boxer shorts and jeans back on, relieved to feel the cool rain-sodden garments against his flaming flesh. His mind was in turmoil as he saw his behavior of the past few weeks in a different light.


“Oh shit.” He whispered. “I really am sorry. I’ve screwed everything up.” His body was racked with sobs as he crouched cautiously on the floor next to his boss, burying his head in Skinner’s knee and crying his heart out. Skinner ruffled his hand through Mulder’s hair, his fingers finding the scars on his head and fingering them gently.


“You’re still alive. That’s more than those other poor bastards who underwent this so-called medical treatment can say.” Skinner said softly. “I’m glad you’re still with us, Fox. Come on. Ssh.” He stroked Mulder’s shoulders gently and Mulder nodded and wiped his tears away.


“I’m okay. I feel better now.” He managed a weak smile in Marshall’s direction and the other man nodded at him. “Shit, I’m hungry.” Mulder announced, surprised by the raw emptiness in his belly. “I need food, sir!”


“You mean you’ll eat without me forcing it down your throat?” Skinner asked in surprise.


“You bet. I’m starving.” Mulder grinned, getting to his feet carefully and walking to the kitchen. “I hope you’ve stocked up. I could eat a horse. No offense, sir, but you’ve been a bit stingy with the meals.” And so saying he disappeared into the kitchen leaving Skinner staring after him, open-mouthed.


“You know, Walter.” Marshall grunted. “When I get home I’m going to make you a nice, thick leather strap for you to keep hanging somewhere in plain sight so that young pup can set eyes on it every day. Somehow I think you’ll be needing it…”




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