Notes and Disclaimers at end
Alex walked down the hallway toward the basement office he shared with his new partner, Fox Mulder. His footsteps echoed as he neared the office door, profoundly grateful that the hallway was deserted. He took small steps, purposefully shortening his stride, biting his lip and wincing, his butt smoking and stinging beneath the fabric of his cheap suit.
His mind whirled as he walked, scarcely able to believe what had just happened. Everything he knew, everything he thought he knew about Assistant Director Walter Skinner had just been turned merrily on its ear. Alex shook his head slightly, as though he were trying to clear it. A giddy sense of disbelief dogged him and he paused, one hand on the doorknob. He had just been spanked. Subjected to corporal punishment. Paddled, his naked butt laid across the AD's desk like an offering. He'd summed up this ego-building experience by crying. No, not just crying, you weren't content to merely cry, he admonished himself. No, you went the whole nine yards and sobbed. Bawled. Blubbered. Abjectly and without shame.
Alex frowned a little as he entered the office. He remembered them going over written reprimands at Quantico. Suspensions with pay, suspensions without pay. Transfers. Resignations. Even the dreaded Termination. Somehow his instructors had failed to mention that The Paddling of Your Bare Ass was apparently also an option at Management's disposal.
He closed the door behind him and walked slowly over to his desk, which was crammed into the only available corner. He edged carefully around Scully's desk, which Mulder had insisted be left exactly as it was the last day she had been there. Alex had learned quickly. He had worn a set of perfect fingerprints on his arm for days after casually snagging a paperclip from the little dish on the corner of Scully's desk. Mulder's face had suddenly been close to his, those hazel eyes blazing with pain and anger. Alex's own eyes had widened as Mulder's hot breath scorched his ear.
"Don't you ever touch anything on that desk," he had hissed, tears standing bright and furious in his eyes.
Alex looked at her desk now, at the files neatly stacked, their edges aligned with the edge of the desk, in dignified contrast with the barely controlled chaos happening on Mulder's desk. Her post-its, her Rolodex, her pens and pencils in their gaily decorated flowered cup, were all lined up like soldiers waiting for her return. An emery board lay along the top row of keys on her computer keyboard. Her datebook lay open to a date three months prior, phone numbers and lunch dates neatly demarcated in her flowing script, appointments for dates she would never be allowed to keep inscribed in sky blue ink. Alex felt a lump in his throat at this sad little still life, waiting there, as though she would walk in at any moment in a flurry of red hair and vanilla tofutti.
Alex swallowed hard and shook himself out of his reverie. Mulder sat at his own desk, absently cracking sunflower seeds, munching happily as he hunched over a blurry photocopy of a newspaper article. Alex sat down in his chair, hissing as his sore rump made contact with the seat. He cursed under his breath and squirmed around, trying to get comfortable. He gritted his teeth, finally found a bearable position and was rummaging in his desk drawer for a pen when he heard it.
Alex looked up, bright spots of anger blooming on his cheeks, clutching the pen in a white-knuckled grip. Mulder sat, chin insouciantly on hand, gnawing at a sunflower seed and laughing at him. Alex's jaw tensed. The son of a bitch was laughing at him!
"Just what the fuck is so funny?" Alex growled.
Mulder chuckled, his eyes twinkling with merriment.
"Looks like you had a...serious discussion with AD Skinner," he smirked.
Alex stood up, stifling a groan as his sore butt protested the sudden motion. He shot Mulder a seething glare. Alex could feel his temper rising, made a half-hearted attempt to tamp it down, then abandoned his effort and gave into sweet blazing rage.
Being laughed at was bad enough, but he'd be damned if he'd tolerate that fucking superior Mulder smirk.
"Yeah, I did," he snapped. "Thanks to you, asshole."
Mulder frowned momentarily, then returned to smirking. He reached for another seed and grinned a maddening come-on-and-slap-it-off-my-face grin.
"Oh?" he said with an air of mock casualness. "I don't seem to remember holding you down and pouring those vodka tonics down your throat."
Alex's hands curled into fists. He took another step toward Mulder's desk.
"You knew, didn't you? You knew this would be the quickest way to get me into the most shit with Skinner. You planned it. You're trying to torpedo my career before it even gets started, aren't you? You son of a bitch!"
Mulder did the worst thing he could have possibly done under the circumstances. He dismissed Alex. Ignored him.
Alex stood, overcome with this sudden wave of anger, trembling with rage as Mulder glanced at him, gave an infuriating little half-shrug, and returned to his newspaper article. One long-fingered hand pawed absently at the small pile of sunflower seeds on the corner of the desk blotter, then conveyed a plump seed to his lips. Mulder continued to eat and read, Alex forgotten, a minor distraction in the long working day of Spooky Mulder, Enigma, Legend and Golden Boy of the FBI.
Crack. Chew. Swallow.
Crack. Chew. Swallow.
Alex reached critical mass around the third seed.
Mulder glanced up just in time to see Alex coming at him in a blur of flashing green eyes and drip-dry suit jacket. Mulder's chair tipped over, wheels spinning crazily, and the sunflower seed hulls showered down around them as they rolled on the floor. Alex got Mulder pinned and grabbed him by the lapels, shouting down into his shocked face.
"You planned it! Admit it! You've been trying to ditch me since day one, and when I wouldn't let you get away with it you decided to fuck things up for me with Skinner! That's why you invited me out for drinks last night, isn't it? That's where all this sudden male-bonding bullshit came from, right? Get me drunk and then make me look like a fucking incompetent moron in front of the boss, right?"
Mulder's eyes narrowed and in a nauseating whirl, Alex found himself on the floor, firmly held down, Mulder's bony knees firmly planted on either side of his hips, Mulder's hands digging painfully into his shoulders.
"Jesus Christ, Krycek, and they call me paranoid!"
"Fuck you, get off me!" Alex snarled.
Mulder kept one hand on Alex's chest, ignoring his struggles, and felt around under his desk with the other. Alex battered at Mulder with his newly freed hands, managed to get him a good one across the cheekbone, eliciting a gasp and guttural curse from the older man. Mulder's free hand left Alex's chest and settled around his throat. Loose enough to leave his airway open, tight enough to convey a clear and present danger should Alex decide to try that again.
Alex raised his fists again, then settled as the surprisingly strong hand clamped around his throat tightened warningly. He subsided, growling and muttering curses, squirming just enough to be an irritant as Mulder continued to grope for whatever it was he was searching for. Stretching as far as he could possibly stretch and still keep one hand on Krycek's throat, his pulse bouncing frenetically under Mulder's sensitive palm, Mulder ignored the scalding green gaze being directed at him and concentrated his search beneath his overturned chair.
At last he gave a triumphant cry and held his prize aloft, shaking it meaningfully at Alex.
Alex stared up at it in disbelief.
It was a pillow. A perfectly ordinary pillow.
"What the hell are you gonna do, smother me?" Alex snapped, struggling with renewed vigor.
Mulder rolled his eyes and shook the pillow in Alex's face.
"I was sitting on it, you idiot!"
Silence as green eyes widened, as Alex processed the information and came to the only sensible hypothesis.
"You...you mean he...he paddled YOU?"
Alex's jaw dropped as he tried to imagine Skinner paddling Mulder. Strange stirrings from below warned him to derail this train of thought, and quickly. He flushed and shook his head in disbelief. But Mulder was...Mulder. Take-no-prisoners, nothing-matters-but-the-Truth, I'll-do-it-my-way Mulder. Alex simply could not equate the Mulder he knew, the Mulder presently looming over him with a large white pillow clutched in one hand, the other hand still gripping Alex's throat, with the Mulder who would meekly bend over and take a paddling from his angry AD.
Mulder tossed the pillow aside and stood up, waiting while Alex slowly got to his feet. He gave Alex a disgusted look and reached for his toppled chair, setting it upright and brushing away a few sunflower seed hulls that were adhering to the nubby upholstery.
"Of course not," he said over his shoulder. "I got the belt."
Alex stood dumbstruck.
"Wh-what?" he croaked.
Mulder turned and folded his arms, regarding Alex with a stony look.
"I said, I didn't get the paddle. I got ten strokes with his belt. Because I'm the senior agent. Because he expects more from me. Because I'm responsible for you."
Mulder took a step closer, his jaw tight, his eyes hard and flinty.
"And if YOU," he growled, stabbing a finger into Alex's chest, "hadn't handed Skinner that fucked-up, sorry-assed reeking pile of Grade A bullshit instead of the report you were supposed to write, and which report, I might add, could have been written anytime in the preceding week, NONE of this would have happened!"
Alex brushed Mulder's hand away roughly.
"Fuck off, Mr. Senior Agent. That circle-jerk of an assignment we just came back from was 100% pure Mulder lunacy from start to finish."
Mulder stood, fuming, his hands on his hips.
"Just what the fuck is that supposed to mean, Krycek?"
Now it was Alex's turn to step forward into Mulder's personal space.
"Return with me now, Mulder," he snarled sarcastically, "to a small town in Iowa. Remember the crop circles? Remember getting thrown out of that bar when you suggested to the locals that alien DNA might actually improve their gene pool? Remember the manure spreader?"
Alex's voice was increasing in volume. The last volley was shouted directly into Mulder's face.
"Do YOU know why you do what you do? How the hell do you think I'm supposed to explain it? How the fuck do you ever solve an X-File, Mulder? You're the fucking X-File! You just trip merrily along through life expecting everybody else to clean up after you, don't you? Well, the next time you go off to some podunk town and do something extravagantly stupid, you can write your own goddamned report and explain it yourself!"
Mulder was silent for a moment. Alex stood, breathing heavily, their anger arcing and snapping between them.
Mulder lost it first, hazel eyes narrowed and the growl boiling up from his chest, shoving Alex hard enough to knock him off balance. Alex fell backward, landing against Scully's desk, knocking the flowered cup to the floor. It shattered, littering the floor with pens, pencils and shards of ceramic. Two sets of eyes watched its descent, stared at the shattered remains in horror.
Alex's eyes widened in fear and he looked at Mulder, already holding up his hands in supplication.
"Whoa, hey, Mulder," he began, ducking as Mulder took a wild swing at him.
"You're going to be sorry for that, Krycek!"
"Mulder!" Alex shouted, dodging another attempted roundhouse and backing away quickly as Mulder advanced on him, face purple with rage.
"Mulder, it was an accident!" Alex yelped, trying to put the file cabinet between himself and his homicidally furious partner. "You pushed me, man, I didn't do it on purpose!"
Mulder grabbed Alex, lifting him almost off his feet. Alex headbutted him, causing him to stumble backwards momentarily. Mulder recovered quickly and came at Alex again, teeth bared in an enraged snarl.
"This is all your fault, Krycek!" he shouted, waving his arm around the office that they were in the act of systematically destroying. "All of it! I was fine before you came along! I was fine! I don't need you! I don't need a new partner! I just...I just want..." He turned and looked at the broken cup on the floor, then suddenly buried his face in his hands and began to sob.
Alex stood thunderstruck for a moment, unsure of what to do. He stepped forward, placed a hand on Mulder's shoulder.
"Hey," he said softly. "Hey, it's okay. Come on, Mulder. I'm sorry."
Mulder turned and looked at him, tears streaming down his face. Alex made a helpless gesture toward Scully's desk, shrinking in the face of the vast and immeasurable grief pouring from Mulder's eyes.
"I'm sorry about her, about what happened to her," Alex said softly, looking down. He swallowed around the lump in his throat. More than you know, Mulder.
Mulder opened his mouth to speak.
That was when they both heard Skinner clear his throat quietly.
Agents Mulder and Krycek stood in the rubble of their battlefield, their mouths hanging open, staring at the AD who stood casually in the doorway, one shoulder propped against the doorframe.
They trembled as his intense gaze swept over the room, at the pillow on the floor, at Mulder's desk blotter hanging off the desk, at the sunflower seed hulls scattered about. His eyes came to rest on Scully's broken cup, lying there beside her desk. Without a word, Skinner squatted down and carefully gathered up every shard, every pen and every pencil, and placed them almost tenderly on her desk blotter.
Alex's heart hammered in his chest. He wondered what the food was like in the FBI cafeteria in Boise.
Mulder stared down at the floor, still unable to staunch the flow of tears.
Skinner stepped forward, pulled Mulder into his arms. Alex watched in mute fascination as Mulder stood stiffly at first, then sagged, his hands clutching Skinner's shirt tightly enough to wrinkle it. His sobs were muffled against Skinner's chest as the AD held him, waited for him to cry it out.
Finally Mulder lifted his head and stepped back, scrubbing at his face with the back of his hand. Skinner looked at him with concern.
"All right, Agent?"
Mulder spoke in a whisper.
Skinner swept the room again with a gaze that missed nothing. He took in Alex's rumpled suit, his tousled hair. The bruise decorating Mulder's cheek. Alex stood, head bowed, hands behind his back, awaiting his doom. Getting fired, for most people, would be a terrible thing. For him, it would be fatal.
"H-how long were you standing there, sir?" Mulder mumbled in the general direction of his shoes.
Skinner eyed him sternly.
"Long enough, Agent Mulder. Long enough."
Skinner stood directly in front of Mulder and waited for him to raise his head. Slowly, Mulder did.
"Is this what you call looking after a junior agent, Mulder? Is this any sort of example to set? I come down here hoping to see you imparting some of your wisdom and experience to Agent Krycek and what do I see instead?"
Mulder said nothing. Skinner leaned forward almost imperceptibly.
"I said, Agent Mulder, what do I see instead?"
Mulder gulped and spoke quietly.
"We-we were fighting, sir."
Skinner swung his head toward Alex, waited for him to look up. Alex reluctantly raised his eyes.
"Is that a fairly accurate summation of the situation, Agent Krycek?"
Alex had to try twice to get the words out. His ass began to throb again in time to his pulse.
Skinner folded his arms and stared the two miscreants down.
"I am not a happy man, gentlemen."
"No, sir," they both whispered, slightly out of sync.
Skinner closed the office door. Folded his arms again. Glowering down at them, he looked ten feet tall. When he spoke, his voice was calm and quiet. Yelling would have been less terrifying.
"What I am to do with two agents who cannot even be trusted to be alone in the same room together? With two agents who appear to be more interested in squabbling, bickering and scuffling than in doing the jobs which the American taxpayers are paying them to do?"
Mulder and Krycek shuffled uneasily.
Skinner looked at Mulder, brown eyes pinioning hazel.
"Agent Mulder. I'm sure you'll agree this situation deserves...special...handling."
Mulder gulped and then straighted his posture.
Skinner eyed him levelly and continued.
"I'm sure you know, Agent Mulder, being more familiar than most with FBI disciplinary procedure, what sanctions could be taken against you and your partner, Agent Krycek for this shameful display."
Skinner raised an eyebrow.
"So then I take that you will be amenable to...an alternative form of discipline?"
Mulder nodded, his eyes down.
Skinner considered this a moment.
"Agent Mulder, you are to be at my place Saturday morning at eight o'clock sharp. Is that understood?"
"Yes, sir." Mulder's voice was low and subdued.
"You will come prepared to stay overnight. Is that clear?"
Alex watched in amazement as Mulder turned and went to his desk, sitting down meekly and beginning to tidy it up.
Skinner turned his attention to the junior agent standing in front of him.
"Agent Krycek," he began. "You already know that I have a...creative way of dealing with disciplinary problems. I thought our 'talk' earlier this afternoon had some effect on you. The evidence would suggest I was mistaken."
Alex stared at the floor.
"I will expect you to arrive at my home by eight o'clock Saturday morning, Agent. Come prepared to spend the night. Agent Mulder will give you the address."
Alex flushed and stammered, "S-sir, this...this is highly irregular. I don't..."
Then he saw Mulder's face.
Mulder was sitting at his desk, looking at AD Skinner. Not with fear or dread or resentment. His eyes shone with admiration and with something else...something deep and honest and pure. Mulder wiped away a tear and gave Alex a reassuring nod. Alex turned, his eyes wide, only to see AD Skinner gazing back at Mulder with tenderness and kindness in those warm brown eyes. There was a genuine caring between the two men, Alex could sense it, it was a palpable presence there in the room with them. His heart suddenly ached as he looked back and forth between them. He had never felt so alone, so adrift. He saw what passed between Skinner and Mulder, felt it, and wanted to be a part of it, wanted it more than he had ever wanted anything.
He looked into Skinner's eyes and steeled his resolve.
"I'll be there, sir."
Skinner looked at Alex for a long moment, then favored him with a brief but genuine smile. His hand rested on Alex's shoulder for a fleeting moment, squeezed. Then Skinner was heading for the door.
He paused and turned.
"I'll see you Saturday morning, then, gentlemen. Do not be late."
The door closed behind him and Alex and Mulder looked at one another. Neither man spoke, but the tension that had always seemed to hum just below the surface since the day they met now seemed to be at an ebb. Slowly, Alex sat back down at his desk and began to retype the report on the case in Iowa. Mulder finished tidying up.
They worked in companionable silence, each leaving the other alone with his thoughts.
At length, Mulder stood and went to the door. He opened it and turned to Alex.
"I'm going down to the cafeteria. Want some coffee?"
Alex looked up in surprise.
"Yeah," he said. "Thanks."
He waited for Mulder to come back, circled Saturday's date on his calendar. Wondered what would happen.
Notes and Disclaimers
Title: Growing Pains