Title: Ascio Maximus
Author: starfleetofficer1
Author's page: https://www.fanfiction.net/u/1058715/
Category: X-Files
Genre: Drama/Hurt/Comfort
Rating: pg-13
Spoilers: Seasons 1-7
Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended. Many of the characters in this fanfiction are based on real people. This fanfiction is loosely based on a true story.

Summary: Mulder and Scully discover an unusual child, only to discover he has a special connection to Mulder no one would have ever guessed.


MULDER
SCULLY TOWNHOUSE
GEORGETOWN, DC
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2009
07:00

It hadn't started raining when Mulder went out for his run. It was actually clear, and looked like it was going to be a nice day. He'd started out at the usual jogging pace, gradually warming up and getting into his rhythm. Subconsciously, he counted the beat of his feet hitting the pavement in sync with his breathing, and had settled in pleasantly.

Running was the only way to clear his mind. It offered what nothing else could—not an escape from the constant stream of information bombarding his mind like spam email, but rather a way to sort it out, to think about it without distraction. And this could only be accomplished outside.

The thought had occurred to him at one time that inside might be better. Less distractions: just him and the treadmill. But after about ten minutes of that little exercise in the stuffy gym, he had not only decided the machine wasn't clocking his rate accurately, but that there was no way to clear his mind while thinking about that little band going around and around under his feet. After that day, he had vowed to only run outside, if he could help it.

Scully and he hadn't had much excitement in the last couple of weeks since their last case. There was more paperwork to fill out than there were X-files to investigate, and Mulder had become restless. The latest game in the office was to find the pencils with particularly squishy erasers, toss them into the ceiling, and then try to toss those super-sharp mechanical pencils into the squishy erasers. So far, Mulder had been largely unsuccessful.

So now he ran, hoping to get rid of some of the tension and restlessness that came with lack of meaningful work. It was beautiful—a cool morning, the sun comfortably hidden behind the slight cloud cover, a gentle breeze licking the sweat from his face and neck. And then all hell broke loose.

The wind picked up, and it started to sprinkle. Then, in true Monday fashion, Mulder experienced a ten minute downpour, followed by more sprinkling, then nothing.

He had headed home shortly after that, his run nearly completed anyway, when it had started downpouring again. And of course, seconds after he entered the house, it stopped.

Mulder looked outside, shook his head, and took off his soaked sweatshirt. He slipped his shoes off his feet and noticed the squeak of his soaked socks on their hardwood floor.

Scully was in the kitchen, still in her pajamas, sipping coffee and watching the TV.

"Did you get caught in the rain?" she asked before she saw him.

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Only slightly," he answered. He tossed the sweatshirt into the washer, and then pulled off his Under Armor shirt as well. He tossed it into the washer and grabbed a clean towel from the pile on top of the dryer. He dried himself off slightly before dropping the towel into the washer also. Then he entered the kitchen, wearing only his still-soaked sweat pants.

"I'm gonna get a shower, then I'll be down for breakfast," he told Scully, on his way toward the stairs.

"Okay, but your towel's down here."

Mulder turned, frowning. "The one on the top of the washer?"

"Yeah, I ran the load last night."

"I'll grab one from the linen closet. I used the clean one."

"No, sorry," Scully said, absently, still watching the TV. Mulder wondered what was so interesting. "All the towels are dirty. Don't you remember? We used them to stop the leak."

The bathtub had leaked two days ago, and the problem had ended up being a broken pipe. What started as a little drip turned into a stream of brown water. By the time the repairman had gotten there, they had used all their towels to absorb the disaster.

"This could only happen on a Monday," Mulder muttered, and trudged back to the laundry room. He extracted his wet towel from the washer and headed back toward the stairs. But the streaks of water left behind by his soaked feet happened to be in his path, and his feet slipped out from under him. He landed hard, right on his butt.

"Mulder, are you okay?" Scully asked instantly, rushing over.

He chuckled, and got up. "Yeah, my—"

"Ass broke the fall," she finished, still looking concerned. "Are you sure you're okay?"

He nodded. "Yeah, Scully, it's just a Monday," he answered, picking up his wet towel from their floor and giving her a quick kiss. "Maybe I'll be able to get my shower without the pilot light going out."

"Be careful," she warned, half seriously and half in jest. Then she turned back to the TV.

"Hey, what's so interesting on there?" he asked, craning his neck to get a look at the picture.

"A scientist from Colorado just killed himself last night. The DEA was apparently closing in on him, for running some kind of drug ring. He was supplying drugs to teenage kids, to sell on the streets. They've been looking for him for years."

"Hm," Mulder said, not very interested.

"It just rang a bell, for some reason..."

"Maybe we can look into it when we get to the office."

"Maybe," Scully said thoughtfully, and turned back to the report.

Mulder lingered for a moment before he shrugged slightly, and headed up the stairs. Whatever it was about this scientist, he had certainly piqued Scully's interest. And at the moment, especially because it was a Monday, any interest was better than none.


J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
WASHINGTON DC
MONDAY, NOVEMBER 10, 2009
09:00

"Hey, Scully, check this out. On July 29th of this year, Bruce E. Ivins, the anthrax guy—remember him?"

"The FBI was after him for years and had finally built up a solid case when he committed suicide," Scully said absently, filing a piece of paper into a folder and setting it aside. "I remember him."

"Killed himself on July 29th. In a psychiatric hospital, where he was going to be evaluated. His psychiatrist described him as homicidal and sociopathic."

"How shocking for a man who decided to test his anthrax cure by releasing it to humans in 2001."

"But Scully, he was employed by the Army."

"And..."

"And on September 21st, Justin LeRains, working for the Navy as a marine researcher, looking into cures for cancer found in the rare species at the bottom of the ocean, killed himself after being placed in a psychiatric hospital. He was under suspicion from the Navy and the FBI, for attempting a city-wide bioterrorism attack. Remember in 2003, the threats to the New York City subway system? They think LeRains was working with Al Qaeda to test Cyanide, and had been since 2001."

"Okay," Scully said, and turned around to face him. She recognized that tone, and in all reality, this paperwork was boring her to tears. "What else do you have?"

Mulder grinned. "Many of the chemicals he had threatened to use were originally found at the bottom of the ocean, in species no one had ever heard of. He used his research to attempt to test his own cure for this bioweapon, which was one of his other jobs. Besides cancer research, the Navy was interested in testing the same cures for bioweapons, such as cyanide."

"Wait...I heard about this. They suspected that a possible cure for certain kinds of cancer could also be used as an antidote for certain bioweapons. I don't think anything came of that research, though," Scully pondered. She stood up, and walked over to Mulder's computer screen.

"Then on October 18th, Cynthia Hassletuck committed suicide in a psychiatric facility after being removed from her job. The FBI suspected her of working with terrorists to arrange the 2004 Madrid Train bombing. Guess where Hassletuck worked."

"For the Army, developing robot technology to disarm bombs," Scully read.

"More than qualified to give the terrorists a nearly fool-proof cell phone detonation plan to use against Spain's train system, especially after eight years of research."

"And the FBI was closing in on her, just as the DEA was closing in on Peter Winfield, from Colorado. A scientist working on a successful detox program for a new kind of street drug that had just barely broken into the cities of America."

"And then yesterday, he kills himself as well, from a psychiatric hospital. This may be one of the first times I say it, Mulder, but it definitely has a certain scent to it."

Mulder smiled, and nodded. "I think it reeks like rotting Korean Kim chi, but that's just me."

"Not a fan of Kim chi, Mulder?"

"Rotting Kim chi, no. But anyway, I think there's a connection here, but I don't think it's the terrorist attacks."

Scully's eyebrow slowly went up. "Then what are you thinking?"

"These people were all in positions to work on more than one task, have access to more resources than your average scientist. And they all kill themselves now, eight years after they began their days of testing their research on human subjects."

"So you think they were working together on something else?"

"Possibly. I think a start would be collecting as much information on these people as we possibly can, and trying to squeeze answers out of whoever's in charge of the latest large scale attacks. The 7/7 London bus and underground attacks, the bridge collapse in Minnesota, hell, even the miners trapped last summer. Anything that made the national or international news."

Scully nodded. "I'll let Skinner know what we're doing."

"Another thing, Scully...think about each of these attacks. Every one of them was easy."

She paused a moment, and then nodded. "You're right. In every situation, the scientists had easy access to the weapons, and the weapons used were not difficult for them to deploy."

"Sending anthrax in an envelope would be easy for an anthrax researcher. Trying to test cyanide on the NYC subway system would be easy for someone who not only has the help of the terrorists but the access to cyanide deployment computer programs. Cell phone bombs would be like playing with Legos for a robotics researcher with access to government labs."

"And running a drug ring with teenagers as the prime customers would be a lot easier to set up for someone who works for the DEA."

"They were also all fragile people, Scully. I don't think they got together of their own volition."

"How do you know they weren't forced into those psychiatric hospitals, and then killed? We've seen that before, what makes you doubt the possibility now?"

"All of them had a history of homicidal threats. Each and every one of their psychiatrists described them as homicidal and sociopathic. Now if you have a brilliant scientist who can orchestrate a major attack in his spare time, has no moral qualms about killing and is easily convinced to do it for his own benefit, isn't that the kind of pawn you'd like to have on your team if you're into human experimentation?"

Scully nodded slowly. "The question becomes...who were they experimenting on? And for what purpose? None of these scientists were in the same field. You could make an argument for Ivins and LeRains, with bioweapons. But that's still a stretch."

"Either there's one unifying cause," Mulder said as he stood up and went to the filing cabinet to pull out a blank X-file folder, "Or the cause is completely unrelated."

"I'll go talk to Skinner."

"I'll start the paperwork."


J. EDGAR HOOVER BUILDING
WASHINGTON DC
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009
15:00

A day of research had yielded only one important piece of information—a money trail, linking all of the suicidal scientists to an offshore account. But when they had tried to trace where the money originated, they had gotten nowhere.

The money trail had provided enough evidence for Skinner to approve of their continued investigation, but Mulder knew if they didn't come up with something new soon, their still uncompleted paperwork would become a priority.

"Hey, Mulder, there might be something here. Cynthia Hassletuck went on vacation to France in 2002. She stayed at a hotel in Paris, and apparently attended a conference on robotics. A prominent Spanish robotics professor, Anibal Ollero. I'm checking into Ollero's history now."

"Let me know if you come up with anything," Mulder said from his computer, staring at a picture of Justin LeRains and a Naval officer, Commander Cody Reynolds, in 2003. They were smiling, and shaking hands as LeRains accepted an award for a leap in cancer research.

There was a knock at the door, and Mulder stood up. "Just a minute," he called.

Scully didn't look up as he walked over to the door, and opened it. But when no conversation started, she glanced over at him to find him staring at something on the floor. No one was at the door.

"Mulder?"

He bent over, and picked up the object. He showed it to her, and she frowned. "What is it?"

"I think it's a white rabbit stick-on tattoo," Mulder said, looking at it more carefully. He flipped the little sticker over, and said, "It says 'temporary tattoo, comes off under water.'"

"Who put it there?"

"I have no idea. But whoever knocked had to have run pretty fast to get out of the basement that quickly."

"What's it mean?"

Mulder shook his head, and put the white rabbit tattoo on his desk. "Maybe someone's trying to say Happy Easter."

Scully picked up the tattoo and studied it, hoping to find some kind of clue. Then she turned it over and looked at the back. "Wait a minute..." she brought it over to their microscope, and stuck it under. After adjusting the lens and ignoring Mulder's excited hovering form, she said, "Got it. Come on, Mulder."

"Where are we going?"

"Upstairs," Scully said, almost out the door.

"Why?" Mulder asked.

"It says 'The Matrix' on it, printed on the back. Grab the car keys," she ordered. When Mulder obeyed, she grabbed her jacket and said, "Remember? The white rabbit?"

"So we're looking for another white rabbit somewhere upstairs?" Mulder inquired, ever-excited. He had that nearly glistening look in his eye that told Scully she had just created a monster.

"Something like that," she said. Just as he went to brush past her and head out of the office, she caught his arm. "We stay together," she told him firmly. "Okay, Mulder?"

Mulder hesitated, and then nodded impatiently. "Let's go."


They found another tattoo dropped by the exit to the Hoover building, in the front lobby. After walking outside and scanning for whoever had the next little clue, they found a homeless man attempting in vain to stick the tattoo to his glove as he walked down the street.

"Excuse me! Sir!" Mulder called, and jogged up to him.

The man looked scared to death.

"We're not going to hurt you, Sir. We just need to know where you got that tattoo."

He squinted at them, and then began to speak. After a croak, he cleared his throat and began again. "You ain't cops, are ya?"

Mulder shook his head. "No, we just need to know where you got that tattoo."

"It's a bunny," he said, admiring the stick-on tattoo and smiling. "See?"

"Yes, it's very nice. Who gave it to you?" Scully asked.

"Hey! Are you two Neo and Trinity?" he asked, suddenly looking excited.

Mulder glanced at Scully, and Scully's eyebrow ascended her forehead.

"Yes," Mulder told him. "That's us. Who told you we were coming?"

Scully had to wonder what he was doing, but for the moment let him try to get something out of this man.

"The man with the bunny stickers. Said Neo and Trinity were coming and were gonna ask about my bunny sticker. You ain't gonna take it away, are ya?"

"No, Sir," Scully assured him. "I promise. Could you tell us what this man looked like?"

"Couldn't see his face, had a hood on. Came out of the building." He pointed to the Hoover building. "The cop building. You two ain't cops, right?"

"We're not going to hurt you, Sir. What did this man say to you?" Mulder asked.

"He said you two would come and ask about the bunny sticker, and I should stay here till ya do. So I walked up and down, but you didn't come till now. Oh! And when you come, I'm supposed to tell you. Watch the news tonight."

"Watch the news tonight?"

"The live news, the guy said. Has to be live news. Breaking news. Gonna be something big going down, promise."

"Is that all he said?" Scully asked.

"Yeah, that's all. You two ain't cops, right?"

"Thanks for your time, Sir." Mulder reached into his back pocket and pulled out his wallet, handing the man a five dollar bill. "Go to Micky D's, get some food for yourself. It's gonna be cold tonight—you should find a shelter if you can."

"Don't need no shelter. But thank's for the five. Gonna buy myself a Whopper special. God bless ya. And thank God ya ain't cops."

The man shuffled away, dirty coat flapping in the wind.

"Don't you miss the days when they'd call me up in the middle of the night and tell me to turn on my TV? Things were simpler then," Mulder said, almost wistfully.

Scully rolled her eyes. "We should go over the security tapes. We might be able to identify the man if he was in the Hoover building. If not, well...I guess we're watching TV tonight."


MULDER
SCULLY TOWNHOUSE
GEORGETOWN, DC
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009
21:00

Scully sat next to Mulder in bed, a book propped on her lap. They had no luck determining what the mysterious messenger had wanted or why he went to such lengths to give them the simple message he did. So after work, they sat through a story about a massive string cheese recall, after which Mulder made an obscene joke that caused Scully to enter a fit of hysterical laughter that didn't end until the weather report was over.

During the political commentary, they had both begun to read something in boredom. But that's when breaking news came in.

"We bring you breaking news live from a home in Bethesda, MD. This suburban home on Dellwood Place has met with recent tragedy when two intruders entered and murdered at least three out of five members of a foster home. It is confirmed that Ben and Lisa Bradley, foster parents to three children, have been shot to death in their home. One of the foster children, Derrick Jones, is confirmed dead, while police suspect another to be seriously injured. Two of the three children are still in the house, being held hostage by the intruders.

"The intruders have not identified themselves and are not making any demands. Police are calling an FBI negotiator—"

"Come on," Mulder said, getting out of bed and heading straight for the closet.

"Mulder, we have no idea if this is what they were talking about—"

"It's breaking news, Scully!" he called from the closet, as he pulled a pair of jeans from the shelf and a t-shirt from its hanger. "This has to be what they were planning. They've already murdered three people, maybe four. We have to get down there."

"No one called us," she protested. As if on cue, the phone rang. Scully rolled her eyes as she walked to the nightstand and picked it up. "Hello?"

"Scully, it's Skinner," the voice on the other end said. It sounded irritated.

"Yes, Sir, what can we do for you?"

"Were you watching the news?"

"Yes, Sir. About the hostages?"

"Don't go down to Dellwood Place."

Scully looked surprised, and glanced at Mulder coming out of the closet. "Why, Sir?" she asked.

"We have a negotiations team going down there already, and we don't need anyone else involved."

"Sir...what makes you think we would go down there?"

"Did they show the front of the house on the news, Scully?"

"Yes, Sir."

"Did you notice the sticker?"

Scully looked to the television, which was no longer focused on the front of the house. "No, Sir."

"Ben and Lisa Bradley were MUFON members."

Scully's eyebrow went up, and she said, "Really, Sir."

"It's better for everyone if you just stay out of this—there's nothing suggesting this is anything but a random act of violence."

She sighed, and sat on the edge of the bed. She was really going to regret doing this. She really, really was. But she couldn't help it—he needed to know. And Mulder was going, regardless. "Sir...there is something to suggest it's more than a random act of violence. This afternoon Mulder and I were...I guess you could say 'summoned', for lack of a better word. Someone with a construction worker's badge walked through the building, found his way to our basement office, and placed a white rabbit sticker at the foot of our door."

"Yes, I saw the footage and was told that you and Mulder were investigating. What does that have to do with this?"

"The intruder gave a white rabbit sticker to a homeless man, who told us to watch the evening news. He specified that it had to be live, breaking news. Sir, we believe this is connected."

"Did you get anywhere in identifying this man?" Skinner asked urgently.

"No, Sir. As you know, we tried. He wore a hooded jacket the entire time, but he did have a construction worker's badge. We checked the roster and it was registered under a fake name, for a job that never was completed. He appears to have done nothing else in the building other than give us the sticker."

He sighed. "Alright, Scully. I'll meet you down there. Do me a favor...if you two get there first, don't let Mulder do anything stupid."

"Trust me, Sir, I was thinking the same thing. We'll see you down there."

When she hung up and Mulder emerged from out of the closet fully dressed, he said, "Lisa and Ben Bradley. I've heard those names before, Scully."

"They were MUFON members," Scully said with a sigh, heading into the closet herself.

Mulder paused a moment, staring at a spot on the floor as the wheels of his photographic memory turned. "I've definitely heard those names before."

"Maybe they were at a conference or something."

"Foster parents to three children, at least one of which is dead," he muttered, as he watched Scully pull on jeans and then reach for a sweater.

"Okay, let's go," she said, brushing past him. "Promise me you aren't going to do anything irrational, all right?"

Mulder rolled his eyes. "Scully, have you ever known me to be irrational?"

Scully just gave him a 'look,' and he smirked as he led the way down the stairs.


1208 DELLWOOD PLACE
BETHESDA, MD
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009
21:35

Skinner approached his agents' car as it pulled up to the police barrier. He had someone with him—someone Mulder didn't know. A young agent.

Mulder and Scully stepped out of the car, and Skinner introduced, "Agent Kaplan, these are Agents Mulder and Scully. Agent Kaplan is the hostage negotiator on the case."

"Nice to meet you, Agent Mulder," Kaplan said as she shook Mulder's hand, and then Scully's.

"Agents Mulder and Scully might have information pertinent to the case," Skinner explained.

"It's possible we encountered an accomplice this afternoon," Scully explained. "We didn't realize the connection until we saw the situation on the news."

"Well, I'm sure we can use whatever you've got," Kaplan said. She stuck her hands in her FBI jacket pocket. "Have you been briefed on the situation?"

"No, we haven't," Mulder said. "Are there still two hostages in there?"

"As far as we can see. One hostage may have bled out. We were forced to pull our cameras after one of the intruders shot the second child. The first child, Derrick Jones, and the foster parents, Ben and Lisa Bradley, are confirmed dead."

"Do you have any leads on motive?" Scully asked.

Skinner stepped in. "We believe Lisa and Ben Bradley may have been targets because of their recent decision to foster the third child, Max Hunter."

"Max is an eight-year-old boy," Kaplan told them. "He's been shuffled back and forth his entire life, and eight of his nine foster homes have been targets of random acts of violence. Police investigations led to no conclusions as to why he's a target, and he wasn't under police protection when he was moved to the Bradley's home."

"How did Max enter the foster system?" Mulder asked. Scully detected just enough eagerness in his voice to tell her that he'd just made a connection, but was trying to confirm it.

"Max was found as an infant, wrapped in a plastic bag in an alley in New York City. That's all we've got at the moment."

"There are two intruders—have they made any demands?" Scully asked.

Kaplan shook her head. "No. Nothing so far. The police have been trying to communicate since the situation started." She started walking toward the makeshift headquarters the local police and FBI had set up in the Bradley's front lawn. "They've been unwilling to answer the phone."

Mulder nodded, and glanced at the home. He spotted the MUFON sticker on the front window, and then looked at Scully. "Max is eight years old."

"That's what they said," Scully said carefully, studying his eyes. "What are you thinking, Mulder?"

"The other violent attempts on Max's life," Mulder turned to Kaplan. "They were seemingly random acts of violence?"

Kaplan nodded. "In every case, two intruders. That's what the police have been able to come up with. Do you think Max might be the intended target here as well?"

"They haven't killed him yet. I need to talk to whoever compiled Max's history."

"That would be Officer Tarrin. Officer," Kaplan got the woman's attention, and she walked over. "Officer Tarrin, Agents Mulder and Scully with the FBI. You've met Assistant Director Skinner. Agent Mulder needs the information you've got on Max Hunter's history."

"On my laptop, over here," Tarrin said, and turned the tablet PC's screen around to face them. On it was a Microsoft Word document detailing Max Hunter's life, from the year 2001 until today. Mulder studied the short time line, noting each milestone.

"Max never spent more than a year anywhere," Kaplan commented, somewhat sadly.

"In each incident, no one was killed, until now," Mulder said. "Isn't that right?"

"In every case, the foster parents were too shaken or injured to continue to care for Max. They were never killed, until now."

Mulder turned back to the house, and then to Skinner. "I need to go in there."

"What? Mulder, you can't be serious. They haven't even been able to communicate. They're not going to let you anywhere near those children," Scully interjected.

"I want you to come with me, Scully. They're not going to kill the boy. They may kill that other child, though."

"Just because they haven't been successful in the past, Mulder—" Skinner started.

"Let me get on the megaphone. I want to talk to these people. I think I know what they want."

"Explain it to us, Mulder," Scully implored him. His speech was getting faster, and he was nearly bouncing on his heels. Scully recognized one of those Mulder-leaps of logic when she saw one.

"Eight years ago, someone created a child they didn't know what to do with, and now they can't kill him. What they want is passage out of here and if they think they're going to get it, that's what's going to get me in there. And I'll need backup. That's why you have to come, Scully. If that other child is still alive you need to administer medical attention."

"Mulder—"

"Wait, whoa, just wait a minute," Kaplan said, drowning out Skinner and Scully's simultaneous protest. She glanced apologetically at the Assistant Director before turning back to Mulder. "You aren't on this case. You're here to consult. It sounds like you have information for us, so please, explain it. The sooner the better."

"Agent Scully and I have been following a case involving scientists who have recently committed suicide. They can be linked through a money trail that goes back eight years. We also were recently approached by an unknown informant who told us to watch breaking news tonight," he said impatiently. "Someone who obviously knew this was going to happen, most probably an accomplice. I believe we were contacted so that we would show up down here, because of its link to our current case. Now please, let me talk to these people."

Kaplan looked dumbfounded. She glanced at Scully and Skinner hopelessly, and then said, almost out of breath, "You mean to tell me...you think somehow your case, which has absolutely nothing to do with this...might be connected? And that's your basis on walking into a hostage situation?"

"I think it's too much of a leap, Mulder," Scully said as gently as she could.

"So far, the police have tried offering medical attention, free passage out of there, hell, just about everything. I honestly don't think you could say anything to make this situation worse," Officer Tarrin offered.

"Well, I do," Kaplan said forcefully. "There's a whole hell of a lot you could say to get that boy and his foster sister killed in there."

"What are our options, Agent Kaplan? Have we tried every avenue of communications?" Skinner demanded.

Kaplan nodded. "We should send SWAT in soon, Sir. We don't have a clear sniper shot, though."

"Someone inside could get that for you," Mulder jumped in. "I could wear a wire, and you could tell me when I've got them in a position to snipe the intruders."

Kaplan looked at him, clearly annoyed.

"Agent Mulder has a point," Skinner offered. "But we can't send two agents in there. They would realize they're being played if that's the plan."

"I'm going to need Agent Scully in there with me," Mulder said. "There are two intruders. I can't position both by myself."

"Then you'd have to convince them to let you both in," Kaplan said doubtfully.

"Let me try. Give me the megaphone."

"Do you have any experience with hostage negotiations?" She asked, hands on her hips.

"Actually, yes, he does," Scully stated, though she wasn't entirely enthusiastic about it.

Kaplan looked between them, and then to Skinner. "Is this all right with you, Sir?"

Skinner nodded reluctantly. "I don't like it, but at this point, it seems as though we're stuck. We have no way of knowing what's going on in there without someone inside."

She bit her lip, and nodded in acknowledgement. "All right, then let's get the megaphone. I hope to God you know what you're doing, Agent Mulder."

She walked away, leaving Mulder, Scully, and Skinner standing in a semi-circle. Mulder stuck his hands in his pockets and tried to ignore Scully's concerned expression.

A few moments later, Mulder was handed a megaphone, and took a deep breath, willing himself to speak clearly and say the right thing. He felt so incredibly close, that this was the step he and Scully had been waiting for. This child, Max Hunter, would be the connection they needed. He just had that feeling. "My name is Fox Mulder," he said. "I have my partner with me, Dana Scully. We'd like to offer you free passage out of here, with Max Hunter. You can take the boy. But you need to take us with him. We would like to come in. We aren't armed. Scully is a medical doctor, and can offer assistance to anyone who needs it. We'll be calling the house phone in a moment. Please pick up, and let us know what your answer is."

Kaplan rolled her eyes, and Mulder wasn't quite sure what she thought he had done wrong. But moments later, she was dialing the house phone. She had that 'this is going to hell' look in her eyes that told him he had made yet another friend in the FBI. But much to everyone's surprise, she suddenly said, "Yes. This is Agent Kaplan. I'm directing Fox Mulder and Dana Scully."

There was a pause, and everyone stopped what they were doing and turned to Kaplan.

"All right. We'll have one for you on the curb. But first Mulder and Scully need to come in, and determine the condition of the hostages."

Another pause. Skinner was pulling out his cell phone, ready to order whatever vehicle they had requested so it did indeed appear on the curb.

"They'll be inside in approximately five minutes. They'll be wearing vests, but they won't have any weapons with them."

She flipped the phone closed, and was about to address Mulder and Scully, but the partners were already headed for the back of a police van, where equipment lay. They needed to be fitted for wires and vests, and quickly.

Five minutes later, Mulder and Scully were climbing the front steps to the Bradley residence. "Mulder, please be careful here," Scully said. She met his eyes, and tried to communicate exactly how pissed she'd be if he did something stupid.

"You too, Scully. We both know the main goal. Nothing else."

"That's right. Nothing else," Scully repeated firmly. She hoped Mulder believed what he had just said.

They entered and were immediately met with the barrel of a CZ-40. "Turn around, slowly," the man said. "Against the wall."

He approached them when they had done so, and patted both of them down for weapons. Then he backed away, still pointing his weapon at them. "Upstairs. Now."

His accent was American, and he had a Caucasian complexion. He was dressed very stereotypically in all black, but had at some point shed the ski mask. Mulder and Scully led the way slowly up the stairs with the CZ-40 pointed at their spines.

"Into the first bedroom," the man said. The agents knew the FBI was getting every word through their hidden microphones, and were now laying out SWAT's plans.

Inside the master bedroom a pajama-clad couple lay dead on the floor. Ben and Lisa Bradley. An African-American boy, probably about twelve, lay dead in the corner from a gunshot wound to the chest. A girl of about nine was up against the wall, her back to the door. Mulder and Scully couldn't tell if she was breathing.

And then, with a gun pointed at his head, a boy with red hair and hazel eyes stared at them from behind the second intruder. He had curled himself into a ball, his small arms clutching his legs as he stared at Mulder and Scully with wide eyes.

Scully gave him a small smile, hoping it would offer an iota of comfort.

"He said you were coming," the man behind the boy said. The man they had met downstairs still pointed his weapon at them. "Who are you, and how do you know him?"

"Who said we were coming?" Mulder asked.

"Don't be stupid. The kid."

"What exactly did the child say, Sir?" Scully asked carefully.

"He said Fox Mulder and Dana Scully would be coming soon. I want to know how you know him, and I want to know now!" The man insisted, shoving his weapon into the child's temple. The little boy flinched, but didn't try to move.

Mulder weighed his options. They had never said they were agents. Kaplan had been smart enough not to mention that, either. These men clearly didn't recognize what Mulder thought had to be engineered abilities in this child. They were probably hired help, not in the loop. "I'm Max's primary social worker. Dana Scully is his secondary social worker—my partner."

"And you had some kind of appointment tonight?" The man asked, standing up and taking the gun from the child's head.

"Yes. It was a late one but it couldn't be rescheduled. Max was going to move foster homes soon."

"So you want to go with him. You don't know where we're going," the man with the CZ-40 growled. "You have no fucking clue what we're gonna do and you want to go with us?"

"Max is my responsibility," Mulder told them. "I'm very dedicated to the children I'm in charge of."

"That's a nice story. But I don't buy it. Still, you come with us."

"Can my partner first check out Max, and his foster sister? To see if either require medical attention? Then we can go."

The two intruders glanced at each other, and then the one behind Max nodded. "Yeah. The girl should be dead by now. We didn't touch the other kid."

"Please tell him to stand up and come over here," Scully said. "I need an area large enough to examine him, away from the bodies."

"You try anything, I'll shoot him first, then you," the man said. When Scully nodded, he shoved the child with his foot. "Go."

Max stood up and walked over slowly, his eyes never leaving the floor. The men now re-positioned to cover the area where Scully and Mulder had taken steps toward. The positioning was perfect, and seconds later, they got the confirmation in their ear pieces. Then the explosion happened.

Mulder dove on top of Max and Scully tried to shield them both, as glass shattered and both intruders dropped to the ground. The snipers were successful.

Scully went right for the little girl by the wall and checked for a pulse while Mulder held Max by the shoulders and met his eyes. "Are you all right?" he demanded, his adrenaline-fueled voice sounding rougher than he would have liked.

The little boy nodded, as tears started to roll down his cheeks. It was only seconds before the full-blown sobbing began, and the child buried his head in Mulder's chest and wrapped his arms around the agent in a death grip. Mulder held the boy and rubbed his back, while looking to Scully.

"We need an ambulance," she said into her earpiece urgently. "She's alive. Barely. Gunshot wound to the upper thigh. Pulse is thready. Get the hell up here now!"

While Scully covered the girl with her jacket and applied pressure to the wound, Mulder tried to comfort the hysterical eight-year-old boy.

When the paramedics arrived and took over, Mulder picked Max up and carried him out of the room, with Scully right behind him. They exited the house just as Skinner climbed the front steps.

"It sounded like it went well in there, Mulder. Good work," Skinner said.

Mulder nodded. "The girl's still alive. The paramedics should be bringing her down soon."

"Why don't you let the paramedics check the boy out and then we'll take him into protective custody."

"Yeah," Mulder said, without much conviction. He couldn't explain it, but he really felt for this sobbing child. And he didn't want to let go of him.

Nonetheless, he followed Scully over to the ambulance bay in the Bradley's driveway, and tried to set Max down on the gurney. But the boy wouldn't let go. "No!" He screamed. "No! No!"

Mulder's face contorted in sympathy, and he said, "Shh, okay, Max, it's okay. You can stay. We'll both sit down on the gurney, okay?"

Scully watched the scene with a mixture of concern and amazement. She had never seen Mulder quite so paternal. He was just about as unwilling to let go of the child as the child was to let go of him.

The paramedic did what he could to examine Max in Mulder's arms. The eight-year-old still whimpered, but wasn't sobbing any longer.

Agent Kaplan walked over just when the paramedic gave the child a clean bill of health. "Agent Mulder," she greeted. "Agent Scully. I notified social services. They're expecting him and his appointed FBI guardians at the local field office. He'll be taken to a safe house from there." She cleared her throat. "Good work in there."

Scully nodded. "Thank you, Agent Kaplan. We'll take him there ourselves."

"Okay, that should be fine. I'll let AD Skinner know. Thanks for your assistance on this."

"Anytime, Agent Kaplan," Mulder said. Scully could detect his sarcastic tone, but she doubted Kaplan did.

By the time they got to Mulder and Scully's SUV, Max had stopped crying completely. He still clung to Mulder, though.

"Max, can you sit in the back seat if I sit with you?" he asked.

Max seemed unsure, and buried his head in Mulder's chest again for a moment. He took a deep breath, then looked up and nodded. "You drive, Scully," Mulder said without hesitation. He placed Max in the back seat, and didn't even bother walking around the car. So he was never without Mulder's company, the agent placed Max on the far seat in the car so he could climb right in. When he buckled in the boy, he asked, "Can you call me Hunter? I don't like Max."

Mulder smiled, and buckled his seatbelt. "Absolutely. Hunter, you can call me Mulder. I don't like my first name either."

Scully looked in the rear view mirror and smiled at the sight of the two of them. Those hazel eyes...she couldn't help but notice the resemblance. It was definitely spooky.

They pulled out of the driveway and headed toward the Bethesda PD office. Hunter reached his hand over and put it on Mulder's hand, and then smiled up at the man. Mulder was surprised by the gesture but went ahead and squeezed the little hand, and offered a smile back.


WILSON LANE – CLOSE TO BETHESDA PD
BETHESDA, MD
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009
22:30

They were about halfway there when Scully looked in the rear view mirror warily. "Mulder, I think we have a problem."

"What's that, Scully?" Mulder asked, keeping his voice cheerful for little Hunter's benefit and hoping Scully would catch on before she scared the child.

"The black Mercedes behind us has been there since we turned out of Dellwood Place."

Mulder now turned around, glanced at it, and nodded. "That might be a problem," he said, still sounding confident as Hunter glanced up at him with wide, innocent eyes. "I'll go ahead and call Skinner, let him know we'll be a little late. Why don't you pull some awesome moves and lose 'em?" He suggested with a smile.

Scully glanced back at him in the rear view mirror with a dissatisfied expression, but she nodded. "Okay, here we go," she said. "Don't be scared if we go fast, Hunter. Okay?"

"I'm okay," Hunter assured her.

The 'awesome moves' Scully started off with were what every cadet learned in Quantico. If they don't think you know they're following you, you're better off. Her turns and lane changes weren't odd or abrupt. Her speed increased but not insanely so. Soon the Mercedes was several cars behind them, which gave Scully room for more maneuvering.

They entered a metropolitan area and Scully fully took advantage of it. She turned down a small street that could almost be described as an alley, glancing at the GPS on the dashboard to guide her. Mulder continued to hold Hunter's hand as he called Skinner and let him know they were stuck in traffic. He couldn't be sure his cell phone frequency wasn't being monitored.

Scully's second turn took them into a back street in a department store-like area. They passed a dumpster and prepared to get back on a main road when a black Mercedes pulled out suddenly in front of them. Scully slammed on the brakes. "Shit," she said, and then looked behind her. No one was there. She put the SUV in reverse and said forcefully, "Hold on," as she accelerated.

The car flew backward, and Mulder knew exactly what would happen next. "It's okay, Hunter. The car's going to make a very sudden move—don't be scared, okay? Hold my hand. Hold it tight. We'll be fine."

That's when Scully did it. At probably forty miles per hour, she applied the brakes and put the car into drive while simultaneously turning the wheel. With squealing tires and the detectable stench of burning rubber, she executed a perfect 180 and sped off in the other direction. But the Mercedes still followed.

"We've got to lose them, Mulder," she said.

"I know, do what you have to. We'll be fine," Mulder said, and nodded to Hunter to confirm this with him. He nodded back.

There weren't many people on the road. Scully debated putting the sirens on to get cars to move out of the way. But just as the intruders in the house didn't know they were FBI, neither may the people who were following them. She left the sirens off and instead sped down Wilson Lane the way they had come. They were easily doing 60 miles per hour in a 30 zone, and she almost prayed for a cop to pull them over. But none came. Instead, she found herself weaving the car in and out of traffic to avoid the ever-present Mercedes.

She spotted a gap in the median up ahead, and decided to make her move. In one fluent motion, she applied the brakes and turned, shifting the car 90 degrees and fitting it easily through the gap in the median before taking off in the other direction. Unfortunately, whoever was following them knew how to drive, and got right back behind them. Scully shook her head. "All right, enough," she said in a tone that told Mulder she was now officially pissed.

She gunned it, taking them inches from other cars as she weaved in and out of traffic and said after a moment, "Mulder, pull your gun, and shoot out their tires."

"Scully, there are civilians around here," he said, confused at her reasoning.

"Not where we're going," she said quickly, and then gave a brief warning. "Hold on."

She drove the car to an off-road path that lead to a construction site up ahead. It was far enough away that it gave them enough time to shoot out the Mercedes' tires. But the dirt road was making it exceedingly hard for Mulder to see. He rolled down the window and attempted aiming, but shook his head. "No way, Scully. It's not happening."

She took a deep breath. "Okay," she said, and surveyed their surroundings. "Okay," she repeated. "Here we go."

That's when the car dropped. Hunter let out a little yelp and clutched Mulder's arm in fear, and Mulder gripped the car door handle as they plunged down a very steep slope. A quarry, he thought. Some kind of quarry. But how were they going to get out?

The Mercedes followed right behind them, but it wasn't an SUV and it wasn't built for that kind of a descent. It quickly lost control and Scully took that opportunity to level the car out at the base of the small quarry, and get it into position so Mulder was now in excellent range. "Now, Mulder, do it!"

Mulder stuck his arm out the open window and aimed quickly before firing. The first few shots didn't make it, but then he managed to hit a front tire and the gas tank. That Mercedes wasn't going anywhere.

But Mulder and Scully had plates on their SUV and they knew someone's backup wasn't far away. Scully sped off through an exit out of the small quarry. It was a back road made for construction vehicles, and they saw a backhoe up ahead. They managed to squeeze past it, scraping the car with branches on the way, and then got back to a road that led to Wilson Lane.

Scully exhaled.

Hunter looked at his two temporary guardians and said in awe, "Wow."

Mulder smiled. "You think that's something. You should see her beat up bad guys."

For the first time since he had met Mulder, Hunter smiled. And they drove to the Bethesda PD office.


BETHESDA PD
BETHESDA, MD
TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 11, 2009
23:25

"Sir, this child is more of a disaster magnet than I am," Mulder said flatly. "It's only right we should be together."

Mulder, Scully, and Skinner stood outside a witness room where the young child slept, curled up in a ball on Mulder's coat. Minutes ago, he had been coloring.

"I can't allow you to take him. He's got to go to a safe house."

"That's what I'm talking about, Sir. There's no way a safe house will be truly safe for this kid. Whoever wants him wants him bad. And they're not going to stop because a couple of agents are standing around babysitting him. They're going to find a way in."

"And they won't find a way in where you're taking him because..." Skinner began, clearly doubtful of Mulder's plan.

"Sir, we believe Max Hunter is safest with us while we gather the information that will tell us why they want him dead. And why they've been unsuccessful for eight years," Scully added. "We believe if we stay on the move it'll be hard to track him. Harder to track than if he goes to one place and stays there."

"So you want me to give you protective guardianship?" Skinner asked. He took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose.

Mulder nodded eagerly. "We can take the child and protect him until we find out who these people are and what they want."

Skinner nodded slowly. "Okay. Coordinate with Social Services. You have my approval. Max certainly seems attached to you, Mulder." The young child hadn't stopped clinging to Mulder's hand until he realized that the agent could see him through the glass to the witness room.

"It's Hunter, Sir," Mulder said, glancing through the window at the sleeping boy. "He doesn't like his first name."

Skinner smiled slightly, and gave Scully a glance that basically said, 'keep an eye on both of them.'

She gave him a barely detectable nod, and went to track down the Social Services people. Meanwhile, Mulder entered the witness room again and pulled Hunter onto his lap, letting the boy sleep as he held him.


COMFORT INN
WASHINGTON, DC
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
07:00

Mulder had been up almost all night, on the Internet and in touch with the Lone Gunmen. They were tracking down Hunter's medical history and any other records the FBI had not been able to complete. Scully had stayed up for a while with him before finally falling asleep on top of the covers on one of the two queen beds.

Hunter was the first one up. The little boy stretched and smiled at the sight of Mulder not far from his bed. Then he slid off and walked over. "Hi," he said.

"Hey there, Hunter," Mulder said, turning away from the computer to face the little boy. "How are you?"

Hunter shrugged. "Okay, I guess. Do you have clothes for me?"

"Social Services gave us some. I'll get them. You need any help?"

"No," he said, and laughed slightly. "I'm eight years old; I can dress myself!"

"Okay, sorry," Mulder said with a smile. He rose and went to the small bag Social Services had given them. He pulled out a small pair of cargo pants, a t-shirt, and a hoodie. Clean underwear and socks were also included. "Hope this works for you," he said. "There are shoes in here too."

"I'll change in the bathroom. Thanks, Mulder," he said, and took the clothes into his arms. He walked into the bathroom, and called, "Can I use your toothpaste and shampoo?"

"Sure, no problem. If you need to shave, my razor's in my overnight bag," Mulder deadpanned.

Hunter stuck his head out the door and raised an eyebrow in a gesture that almost exactly resembled Scully. Then he giggled, and closed the door.

Scully woke up not long after that, and glanced at the closed bathroom door. "You gave him his clothes?"

Mulder nodded. "He's in there taking a shower and changing."

"How's he doing?"

"He's not confronting what happened last night yet," Mulder said simply, sitting back down at his computer. "I managed to gather some information, though."

"What'd you and the guys come up with?"

"Hunter's had more action in eight years than Jack Bauer gets in twenty-four hours. And that's saying something."

"Continue..." Scully said, glancing at the computer monitor.

"We already know his history with foster homes. But the kid also has quite a medical history as well. At age five his foster parents took him to see a psychologist. They claimed whenever he was agitated, he would threaten them with 'his powers'. And the psychologist mentioned that he displayed an uncanny ability to guess what she was going to say to him. He sometimes mocked her, finished her sentences, or rolled his eyes in boredom. At age six, his new foster parents followed up with the same psychologist, who seemed to have gotten through. Hunter told her that he knew people had done something to him, to make him hear what she said. She believed he was remembering some kind of abuse, but she couldn't get any further. She was involved in a car accident the next day, and died at the scene."

"What else?" Scully asked, and folded her arms.

"He's bright, but only when he wants to be. He seems to display a photographic memory in class, but he isn't engaged when the subject doesn't interest him. His teachers have all said he can be years ahead or years behind, depending on his mood. But when he was three years old, his foster parents reported to social services that not only could he read, but he was starting to write stories. His first grade teacher said that he was doing third grade math for about a week, and then dropped back to not paying attention in class."

"So we have a typical brilliant, bored kid. What about Ben and Lisa Bradley. You said you recognized their names?"

"UFO nuts," Mulder reported, pulling up a picture on his computer. "This is them at a MUFON conference in Denver last year. That's how I recognized them. They spoke about child abductions—I downloaded the podcast."

"Do we have anything to connect him to these scientists?"

"Yes," Mulder said with a smile. "I was saving the best for last. A fingerprint was pulled from one crime scene at the break-in when Hunter was four. It was the only piece of evidence ever left at a crime scene where his foster family was attacked. The fingerprint got them a name—Winston Lorry. Langly managed to make the connection. Lorry worked for Bruce Ivins. The anthrax guy."

"So whoever these scientists worked for are now trying to kill him."

Mulder would have answered, but Hunter exited the bathroom at that moment. He strode over casually, with his hands in his pockets. He had combed his hair with Mulder's comb, and looked like he had even washed his face. "Hi, Scully," he said with a smile.

"Hi, Hunter. How are you feeling this morning?"

"I'm okay. How about you?"

"I'm doing just fine."

"You guys are talking about me."

Mulder glanced at Scully.

"It's okay, people talk about me all the time," Hunter said quickly. "Hey, can we get some breakfast? I'm hungry."

"We should probably get on the road soon. We'll go through the drive through at McDonald's if that's okay with everyone," Mulder said.

"I should get dressed, then," Scully said, and left to occupy the bathroom.

Hunter swung his legs on the bed, hands folded in his lap and looking perfectly passive.

"Hey, Hunter, I have a question for you."

"Okay," Hunter said, and smiled at Mulder. It was complete hero worship, Mulder knew. But for some reason, he didn't mind. He felt an absolute connection to this boy, a sort of pull at his heart that he hadn't felt since he had seen little Emily stretched out on a hospital bed, dying despite Scully's best efforts.

"How did you know we were coming last night?"

Hunter's legs stopped swinging, and the smile dropped from his face. He shrugged.

"Does it scare you?" Mulder asked softly.

Hunter refused to meet his eyes, as he shook his head. "No," he said in a definite tone.

"It would scare me," Mulder offered. "It did scare me."

Hunter looked at Mulder now, clearly confused. "What do you mean?"

"A while ago, I could hear people thinking, too. And it scared me very much."

"But it went away?"

Mulder nodded.

"How do you know about my..." he looked behind him, as if to make sure no one was listening. "My powers?"

Mulder rose from the desk chair and went over to the bed, to sit beside the boy. "You know I'm an FBI agent, right?" When Hunter nodded, Mulder continued. "Well, Scully and I investigate cases like yours, and sometimes those cases include someone who can hear other people think. Are those your only powers?"

"You mean there are other people who can do that?"

Mulder nodded. "I met one of them when he wasn't too much older than you. Bad people were after him, too."

"Where is he now?"

"He's at college. He's much older now."

"They didn't get him?"

Mulder considered this conversation for a moment. If this boy could truly read his mind, he wouldn't be asking these questions. Gibson never asked these sorts of questions. But it might be different with Hunter being a little younger. "They did, but we got him back," Mulder said carefully. "And we're not going to let them get you. I promise."

Hunter nodded slowly. "I know you won't. Because you're special."

Mulder decided to let that go for a moment, and return to his earlier question. "Do you have any other powers, Hunter?"

Hunter folded his arms, and nodded. "Yeah...but not all the time."

"Like what?"

"You promise you won't tell? No one but Scully?"

"I promise," Mulder said.

"When I get real scared, nothing touches me. I just curl up in a ball and nothing can get to me. Like a porcupine. You know, the pointy things on a porcupine protect it, right?"

Mulder nodded. "Can you only hear other people think when you're scared?"

Hunter shrugged. "Sometimes when I'm mad, too."

"Okay," he replied, and put his arm comfortingly around the boy's shoulders. "You're a good kid, Hunter. I'm going to protect you, okay?"

"I know you will," Hunter said, looking up at Mulder. "You'll protect me no matter what, huh?" Mulder nodded, and Hunter said, "There's not a whole lot of people who would do that."

Scully exited the bathroom at that moment, and said, "Everyone ready to go?"

"Let's go eat, I'm starved!" Hunter said, and leapt up.


After they packed, they piled into the car and took off for McDonald's. In another few moments they were all eating McGriddles happily as they drove to their next destination. The car was a poor excuse for an SUV—a Toyota that Mulder insulted at every chance he could get. But it did have four wheel drive and didn't look a thing like a Bureau car, which was what they needed.

Mulder and Hunter sat in the back seat while Scully drove. They played word and number games, and Hunter took the lead in Go Fish when they broke out the cards. It didn't take long for small talk to subside, though, and even though they were playing a game, they engaged in a serious conversation.

"Lisa and Ben were nice people," Hunter said as he put a match of four eight's in the cup holder.

Mulder nodded sympathetically, and Scully glanced back at them in the rear view mirror.

"They're in heaven now," he stated. "It's your turn."

"Got any seven's?" Mulder asked.

Hunter shook his head. "Go fish." When Mulder reached into the pile, Hunter continued, "I don't want to go to another home. I don't want anyone else to get hurt."

"We're going to try to stop that from happening, Hunter," Scully said. "Mulder and I are working right now to figure out who's hurting the people who want to help you, and why."

"It's the people who gave me my powers," he said. He looked at Scully through the rear view mirror reflection and said, "Mulder believes me."

"What um...what is it your powers do, Hunter?" Scully asked.

"When I'm mad or scared, I can hear what people think. And no one can hurt me. No matter how hard they try, they can't do it. Got any four's?"

Mulder handed Hunter a four, and asked, "Hunter, do you remember who gave you your powers?"

"No," he said, frowning in thought. "But I know people gave them to me. I don't know why. It's like I knew you were coming to save me, Mulder. And I know you and Scully aren't like other people—they don't understand. But you understand. Some people are stupid about bad things. They don't know what bad things are like. But you understand. It's your turn."

"Got any nine's?" Hunter handed Mulder a nine, and Mulder said, "How do you know we know what bad things are like?"

"Because I know you both have seen bad things. When you were really little," Hunter said, looking at Mulder, "And not so long ago, too." He shifted his glance to the rear view mirror again. "No one from my family ever died, or at least I don't remember, but I know you both had that happen."

"How do you know that, Hunter?" Scully asked, meeting his eyes briefly in the mirror. God, they looked like Mulder's. They had the same intelligence, the same determination...the same sorrow. And they were so young.

"I don't know. Got any seven's?" Hunter asked.

Mulder smirked, and handed Hunter a seven. "That's a dirty trick," he said.

"Derrick taught me, at Ben and Lisa's house. Count the cards, get the Cheezits in the end."

Scully couldn't help but smile.


SOMEWHERE IN VIRGINIA
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
13:00

They had just gotten an Arby's lunch and picked up a few puzzle books and a travel-sized checkers game, when Mulder's phone rang. They were back on the road, and Mulder felt safe answering candidly. "You got anything?" He asked when he saw the CID.

"One grande facto, mi amigo," Langly answered.

"You need to head for the coast, as soon as possible. We'll send the coordinates to your phone when we're done with this conversation. We found the missing link in the money trail. There's another scientist, who hasn't yet killed herself. But it's coming, very soon. Her name is Greta Piergo. She's a neuroscientist studying the effects of memory-enhancing nanotechnology, mainly dealing with genetic memory implants in humans. She's meeting someone at a shipyard in a few hours," Byers said.

"Wait a minute, I want Scully to hear this. Can you link her phone in?"

"Uno momento, por favor," Langly said, and then said, "You're in."

Scully flipped her phone open and accepted the call. "What've you got?" She asked.

When Byers repeated what he had just said, she asked, "And you have evidence directly linking her to this team of scientists?"

"We're almost 100% positive these scientists were hired help for someone, to create a child. We can directly link these people to MUFON members," Byers said.

"Those MUFON members were probably the vessels where they tried to grow this kid," Frohike told them. "And now if you've got him in your car, I'd find a safe place for him because whatever's going down in Virginia is no place for him."

"We know, Frohike. We'll figure something out," Mulder said hastily.

"What about what's going down? What do you think is going to happen at that shipyard?" Scully demanded.

"They're going to kill Greta Piergo and make it look like a suicide, we're sure of it. She's being asked to meet with a Dr. Al Romick, who we've tracked to two of the psychiatric hospitals our other scientists were admitted to."

"And he's best friends with at least five other doctors, covering every single facility any of the scientists were admitted to, man," Langly said. "So I'd high tail it down to el docko and stop this before it gets out of controlo."

"What's with the Spanglish, Langly?" Mulder asked.

"He's trying to impress some Mexican chick he met over the Internet," Frohike said with disgust. "Pervert."

"Hey, shut up—" Langly started, but Scully interrupted.

"Give us the address and directions to the dock, and we'll take it from there. Thanks, guys."

"You got it. Sending now. Good luck," Byers said.

"Thanks for your help. We'll update you," Mulder said, and then hung up. Seconds later, they had coordinates for the GPS.

"Should be about an hour and twenty minutes," Scully said. "If traffic continues the way it is."

"Okay, I'll call Skinner and let him know what's going on," Mulder told her, flipping his phone open again. Hunter stared at him with an ominous look in his eye, which Mulder returned with an inquisitive one. "You okay, Hunter?"

"I am for now," Hunter said, frowning. "But I don't like this."

"It'll be okay, Hunter. You'll be alright—we'll find a safe place for you while we go track down the bad guys, okay?" Scully asked, trying to sound cheerful.

Hunter shook his head. "It's not me who needs a safe place."

Mulder and Scully didn't respond to that.


ELIZABETH CITY MOTEL
ELIZABETH CITY, VA
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
14:30

Elizabeth City was a nice touristy area, filled with docks now shut down for the winter. Ice cream shops and hotels also looked very vacant, and Mulder and Scully chose a motel parking lot to meet with Skinner.

He got out of his car and leaned against the door, while Mulder held Hunter's hand and walked the little boy over.

"Walter's gonna take care of you while Scully and I do something very important, all right?" Mulder asked as they walked, even though he knew the boy was not okay with this at all.

Hunter shook his head. "No, I want to stay with you, Mulder."

"Well...you can't, buddy." He stopped halfway to Skinner's car, and knelt down in the parking lot. He put a hand on Hunter's shoulder and said, "I'm going to stop the people who are trying to hurt you, Hunter. Scully and I—we're going to stop them together."

"But I don't want you to go," Hunter whined. "I know you'd do anything to protect me, but I don't want you to do anything. I want you to just stay here." The child's eyes were starting to well up with tears, and he looked just about ready to collapse into Mulder's arms.

Mulder looked down for a moment, and then looked back into Hunter's eyes. "Listen to me, Hunter. Listen very carefully." The eight-year-old nodded, and stood at attention, holding back the urge to cry for a moment. "You're a very special kid. You already know that. Not everyone can do what you can do, and that's why people want to hurt you. If Scully and I don't stop them now, they're just going to keep hurting people you love. And I don't want that to happen. I know you don't, either. So I promise you, I'm going to do everything I can to make sure you're safe from now on. Okay?"

Hunter sniffed, and nodded.

"And I need something from you. Can you do something for me?"

"Anything," Hunter promised immediately.

"I want you to be brave. You're a great kid, Hunter. You keep being brave and I'll see you again soon."

"Okay," Hunter said, and wrapped his arms around Mulder. "I love you, Mulder."

The words shocked him, but he didn't even hesitate as he said, "I love you too, Hunter."

Scully and Skinner watched from their respective distances, the scene nearly touching Scully to tears. She had never seen Mulder so attached to a child. And Skinner's expression betrayed not only his concern for Mulder and Hunter, but also his compassion for what he was witnessing. It was almost like a father saying goodbye to his son.

When Mulder walked Hunter over to Skinner, the assistant director took the boy's shoulders and said, "I'll take good care of him. Your backup is waiting at the dock for you. It's within walking distance. It'd be best if you didn't drive from here."

Mulder nodded. "Understood. Thanks, Sir."

"Anytime, Mulder. You watch your ass."

"I will," Mulder promised, and walked back to Scully.

"You ready to go?" Scully asked.

Mulder nodded, and led the way down the road. They would meet up with a van that could properly equip them for what they were about to do, and then they would have to wait until their suspects showed up.


ELIZABETH CITY SHIPYARD
ELIZABETH CITY, VA
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
16:30

"Suspect approaching west dock. Audio and video surveillance now recording," a voice said over Mulder and Scully's radios. They watched from behind a service truck as the scientist met a man who was, apparently, Dr. Al Romick.

Mulder clutched his weapon as he listened to the conversation.

"You're late," Romick stated.

"Traffic. You understand our agreement?"

"Of course. As soon as you enter my facility, I will have the funds transferred and your new identity will be created."

"It's very important that this project should continue," Piergo told him firmly. "I understand you've done this before."

"Yes. Twice before. And both of your colleagues are now comfortably relocated to a new location, where their research can continue. It's dangerous for us to discuss this for so long. I need to get back to the hospital. Will you enter the facility?"

"Yes," she agreed. "As long as you assure me this is actually going to happen. I want some collateral. Your credit card, please?"

Romick reached into his back pocket and extracted his wallet. In another moment, he handed the card to her. "It won't be cancelled. The funds are there. You can have my life savings at a moments' notice, and be out of the country if you have second thoughts. Does this assure you we're serious?"

"Yes," she said with a smile. She pocketed the card. "Thank you, Dr. Romick. I'll see you in a few days."

They began to part, and Mulder shifted positions, getting ready to move. That's when his phone vibrated.

He pulled it out of his vest pocket and shoved it in Scully's direction as he prepared to give the order to move in. Scully grabbed his arm and he spun around. She mouthed 'Skinner', and showed him the phone. It was a text message. It read 'bomb, ship.'

He looked up, following the scientist as she boarded a nearby ship, and Dr. Romick as he left the docks.

"All units, apprehend Romick. Do not move in on Piergo. Repeat, do not move in on Piergo," he ordered into his radio, and then turned back to Scully. "Come on," he said. "Let's go."

As the SWAT team moved in on Romick, startling Piergo and freezing her in place for a moment, Mulder and Scully ran towards the ship, hunched over to avoid any fire that started.

The cargo vessel most likely bound for China was for the moment fully accessible from the dock and Mulder and Scully boarded, chasing after the now fleeing scientist.

"Greta Piergo, FBI!" Mulder yelled, with Scully right behind him screaming, "Freeze where you are! Federal Agents! We're armed!"

Piergo ran as quickly as she could, knocking random objects in the corridor of the dimly lit ship into Mulder and Scully's path. She mounted a steel ladder and climbed it with incredible speed, but Mulder was right behind her. She had almost hit the captain's cabin at the end of a small corridor when Mulder leapt, and tackled her to the ground. "Where's the bomb?" He demanded.

Piergo smiled. "Yeah, right," she said breathlessly.

"Is it on this ship? Where is it?" Mulder screamed, flipping her over and holding her down as he got in her face. Scully held her position, training her weapon on the scientist.

"In a manner of speaking," a low voice said from behind them. Scully spun, and Mulder held Piergo down to the floor while looking back slowly.

"Let the scientist go, Agent Mulder. Agent Scully, step away," the man ordered. He had a slight Chinese accent, and was wearing a trench coat and leather gloves. Clutched in his hands was a P-90 sub-automatic machine gun.

Scully saw no other option but to obey. She stepped back, and Mulder followed suit.

"Good. Drop the weapons," the man told them as Piergo scrambled up and walked over to him. "Now," he said, cocking the P-90. "You want to know where the bomb is?"

Piergo smirked. "I love this part."

"We can skip that part if you'd just disarm it for us," Mulder said, and the man chuckled.

"You have an interesting sense of humor, Agent Mulder."

"So do I," Piergo said, still smirking.

Mulder glanced between them, his expression telling Scully that he was concentrating. So was she. There was something odd going on here...something wasn't right.

"Why don't you quit wasting time, Greta, and tell them what they want to know?" the man asked her. They were being far too candid. That told the agents that they didn't plan to keep them alive for long. But Piergo, at least, was getting some kind of perverse pleasure from what she was about to reveal.

"The bomb isn't here per se. With the help of some Chinese-American...um...patriots...I was able to secure a link to every cargo container along the Virginia coastline carrying goods made in China with illegal child labor. And that ought to get me a seat next to Dr. Romick in the looney bin. Just long enough to stage my death and get back with my friends, to create Max Hunter II. But first, we need to take care of Max Hunter I."

Mulder clenched his jaw. Scully willed him to stay where he was and not do anything stupid, hoping her glance in his direction would be enough motivation to keep himself alive, and stay put.

But she never got the chance to test that theory. A shot suddenly rang out, and the Chinese man dropped dead from a gunshot wound to the head. Piergo immediately went for the man's weapon, but a second shot landed her on her back, gasping for air.

A shadow stepped out of the hallway and was instantly illuminated in the dim light from the captain's cabin. Krycek lowered his weapon, and glanced at Piergo's form writhing on the ground from the gunshot wound to her chest.

"I owed you one, Mulder, and this is one," he said. "Go find Skinner. They've got a plant in the FBI and he's going to kill baldy and then the kid, if you don't hurry."

Mulder stared at Krycek, doubting him for just a moment before grabbing his gun from the floor, and holstering it. Then his eyes dropped to Krycek's left hand, mobile and gripping his weapon.

"Yeah, we'll talk later, it's a long story. Get moving, save that kid. I'll take care of the bombs," Krycek said, waving his left hand. "Go! Now!"

Mulder and Scully had no choice but to go. The second they hit the dock, they found a vehicle and commandeered it from their fellow FBI agents.

They didn't speak on the way, but Scully knew Mulder would break if he lost both Skinner and Hunter, especially to whatever conspiracy Krycek was involved in now. She would never forgive herself if she let that happen, and that made them both intent on either stopping this from happening, or perishing in the attempt.


ELIZABETH CITY COFFEE SHOP
ELIZABETH CITY, VA
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
17:00

Skinner, Agent Hepburn, and Max Hunter all sat at a table in the little coffee shop. There was an FBI presence outside, and the small shop was currently functioning as a safe house for Hunter. The boy sipped his apple juice nervously, never taking his eyes from Agent Hepburn for more than a few moments.

When Mulder and Scully entered, they showed no sign of anxiety. Skinner stood, and walked over to them. "I got word that both suspects are dead. From what was said on the audio recording, they've been faking these scientists' deaths. What you've done here is huge. This looks to be some kind of illegal genetic engineering ring. The Bureau can assign more resources to this case and determine where the other scientists have relocated to. Good work, both of you."

"Thank you, Sir," Scully said. Mulder smiled at Hunter, who smiled back but didn't run over. Skinner found that unusual, but he didn't comment.

Agent Hepburn looked just slightly uncomfortable. "Excuse me," he said, and rose from his seat. He walked toward the bathroom, and took a deep breath. That's when time seemed to slow.

Scully saw his hand go for his weapon, while his other hand reached into his pocket. She tackled Skinner in one fluid motion, and barely caught the sight of Mulder leaping in front of Hunter just as the fire started. One, two, three gunshots rang out before Scully's own shot hit Hepburn square in the chest. He dropped, and sound entered Scully's ears once more.

A sobbing child, curled up in a ball in his chair. Two crumpled bullets lay beneath him. Skinner scrambling up, a baffled expression on his face. The café's staff rising from their squatting positions, some of them crying out in horror. And then her eyes fell on her partner.

His skin was glossy, his eyes glazed over and dull. He stared at the ceiling, but clearly didn't see anything. Scully dove to his side, and bit back a sob of shock and panic as she saw the bullet wound. Upper left chest...right over his heart.

"Oh God, Mulder," she breathed, ripping off his vest. A copkiller bullet. If the bullets near Mulder's head on the floor of the café were any indication, the bullet was Teflon coated and had gone right through Mulder's vest like a piece of paper.

She applied pressure to the wound and lifted his head with one hand, supporting it while trying not to cry. "Call the paramedics, now!" She screamed, and barely heard Skinner get on his phone.

Hunter fell off his chair, onto his knees beside Mulder's head. He placed his hand on Mulder's shoulder and cried, "Please don't die. Please, don't die like the others, please. Don't let him die, God, please."

The little boy collapsed into a ball on the floor, his head in his hands as he sobbed uncontrollably. Scully couldn't keep her own tears away. "Come on, Mulder, stay with me," she said, watching his dull eyes blink and his chest rise and fall with less and less frequency.

"Don't let him die, God, please," she found herself whispering.


ALBERMARLE HOSPITAL
ELIZABETH CITY, VA
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
17:20

Skinner sat with Hunter in the waiting room of the hospital, flanked by two FBI agents as he held the small child in his lap. The hospital was heavily guarded on Skinner's orders. Hunter still whimpered, but was no longer sobbing. He was wrapped in a shock blanket and had refused to leave Skinner's side even for a second.

They stared at the trauma room down the hall, waiting for Scully to come out and announce what was going on. Skinner knew he would be waiting a while, but Hunter asked about every two minutes how much longer it would be.

The assistant director had seen the rounds at the feet of Hunter's chair. He had seen how they were crumpled, as if blocked by some kind of barrier. He had seen that they were most probably Teflon coated, and matched what had hit Mulder's vest. And yet, Scully had confirmed that there was only one gunshot wound, not a through-and-through. And Hunter was untouched. What had the bullets hit on their way to Hunter?

Finally, the trauma room doors burst open and a gurney was rushed out quickly. Scully broke away and jogged to the waiting area. Skinner stood, still holding Hunter in his arms. "How is he?"

"He's stable, going into surgery now to remove the bullet. We don't know the full extent of the damage, but...it may have done permanent damage to his heart," she said, clearly attempting to hold her composure but not entirely succeeding. "He may require a transplant. We just don't know yet."

Skinner sighed, and Hunter buried his head in the man's shoulder.

Scully rubbed the boy's shoulder affectionately, and said, "We're gonna do everything we can, Hunter."

He nodded, but didn't look at her.

"I have to get back. They're letting me observe," she explained, and turned to leave.

"Scully—let us know when you know more," Skinner said, and watched her nod and jog away.

He sighed, and sat back down.

"More waiting?" Hunter asked in a tiny voice.

Skinner nodded. "That's all there is right now, Hunter. Waiting, and hoping."


ALBERMARLE HOSPITAL
ELIZABETH CITY, VA
WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
22:00

Scully walked into the waiting room to find her boss and Hunter both asleep on a small chair. Hunter's head rested on Skinner's shoulder, in a position that looked like it hadn't changed since she had last seen them. She shook Skinner's shoulder gently, arousing them both.

"What's the news?" he asked drowsily, using one hand to rub his eyes under his glasses, while the other still held Hunter on his lap.

"The surgery was successful," Scully said, exhaling with a smile. "And no transplant is required. The bullet punctured a lung and nicked a vessel going to his heart. They were able to repair the damage. He's got a chest tube in and he's on the ventilator for the next five or six hours at least, but he's going to make it."

"Mulder's gonna be okay?" Hunter asked hopefully.

Scully nodded. "That's right," she said, and smiled at him. "And when he's feeling better you can see him."

"I want to see him now. I promise I won't be loud."

"I don't see any harm in it, Scully," Skinner said. If it was any other situation, he would understand where Scully was coming from. But this little boy was as attached to Mulder as Mulder was to him, and he needed to see his hero was alive, and would be okay.

"It might be a little scary," Scully began, but Hunter rolled his eyes.

"I've seen scary stuff," he said. "Mulder will never be scary."

Scully glanced at Skinner, and then sighed. "Okay," she said, and extended her hand. Hunter slid off her boss's lap, shed the blanket on the chair, and took Scully's offered hand in his. Skinner followed behind, but when they got to Mulder's room, he waited outside as the two entered.

Hunter held Scully's hand tighter when he saw all the tubes and wires attached to his friend. He walked up to the bed and let go of Scully's hand, placing both hands on plastic rail. Then he slipped his hand down into Mulder's limp one, and said, "Hi, Mulder, it's Hunter."

Mulder, of course, didn't stir. Scully felt a lump rise in her throat when Hunter said, "You need to know I love you. And I miss you." She stared in confusion when he continued, "When I grow up, I'll be just like you. I know it. Just like I know other stuff, like the bomb on the ship. So I need you to wake up, and show me how to be like you. So I don't mess up. Okay?"

"Scully loves you too," he said, and squeezed Mulder's hand. He turned back to Scully. "Can I stay here 'till he wakes up?"

"That might be a while, Hunter," Scully cautioned, quelling her emotions for now and trying to be responsible. But in her heart, she knew this little boy wasn't going anywhere. Finally, she nodded. "Okay. You can sleep here."

Hunter smiled, and pulled a second folding chair from the corner of the room over to the side of the bed. He set it up himself, and then sat down. His legs swung, not reaching the floor, and he watched Mulder as if it was as interesting as TV. Scully shook her head in amazement, and sat down in her own chair.

"You were the one who told Walter about the bomb?"

Hunter nodded. "You guys stopped it, right?"

"We did," Scully said, thinking of Krycek and hoping the rat bastard had actually followed through with his promise, and they wouldn't see explosions on the morning news.

"More waiting," Hunter said.

Scully nodded. "He's going to be okay," she said, and took her partner's hand. She rubbed the back with her thumb, and tried to hold back tears at the sight of him in this position, yet again.

"If he's going to be okay, waiting's fine. We can wait," Hunter stated. His eyes never left Mulder's limp form. Scully gave him a small smile, and nodded her agreement.


ALBERMARLE HOSPITAL
ELIZABETH CITY, VA
THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 12, 2009
06:30

Mulder had been extubated only an hour previously, and Scully was utterly exhausted and about ready to fall asleep. Hunter had konked out in the folding chair, and Scully had asked for a nurse to bring in a cot so he could sleep more comfortably. But the second Mulder's eyes opened, Hunter also magically awoke and hopped down from the cot.

He walked over to where Scully was holding Mulder's hand and greeting him, and poked his head around the bed rail. "Hi," he said.

Mulder smiled. "Hey," he said weakly. His voice was raspy and barely rose above a whisper. Scully picked up the cup of ice chips on the nightstand and offered him one.

He took it gratefully, just as Hunter said, "You saved my life."

Mulder never stopped smiling. "Nothing to it," he quipped.

Hunter smiled back. "Two bullets missed you and I stopped those, but the other one I didn't think was coming. I didn't know I could stop bullets. I guess my powers do all kinds of things."

"I guess so," Mulder whispered, and closed his eyes.

"I know you're tired," Hunter said. "I'll just sit here and wait till you're not tired anymore."

"Thank you, Hunter," Scully told him kindly, and turned back to her partner. "Sleep, Mulder. We'll both be here when you get up."

Mulder nodded slightly, and was asleep instantly.

Skinner opened the door, and stuck his head in. "Can I come in?"

"Mulder just woke up. He's sleeping now," Scully informed him.

"That's great news," he said with a smile, noting Hunter's thrilled grin. "I just talked to Social Services..." he began, and saw Hunter's grin falter. "They and the FBI are in agreement that Hunter should be placed into the witness protection program."

Scully nodded, a bit sadly.

"I was going to explain to Hunter exactly what that meant..."

"It means I have to change my name and pretend I'm someone else," Hunter said. "I don't want to do that! That means I can't see Mulder and Scully anymore!"

"Hunter, it would keep you safe," Scully told him.

"I don't care, if I never see you again! I have to stay with Mulder; he has to show me how to grow up!"

Skinner looked confused, and Scully simply said, "You'll grow up just fine, Hunter. I promise."

"No, you don't understand," he protested. He got up, and took Mulder's hand. "Can you explain it to them? Please? Mulder, please, wake up?"

Mulder's eyes slid open, and he looked at his surroundings, clearly confused.

"Mulder, I need you to explain to them why you have to show me how to grow up. Explain it to them! Tell them why—"

"Hunter, Mulder needs sleep right now," Scully said as gently as she could manage, trying to pry the child away from Mulder.

Mulder shook his head, though, and held the child's hand tighter. He stared into Hunter's pleading eyes, willing himself to understand what the boy was talking about. "Memories?" he finally asked.

Hunter nodded.

"You know...everything?" he asked, his voice reduced to a barely detectable whisper. It was clear he was exerting himself well beyond what he should have been, and Scully's agitated look was normally enough to move a mountain. But not Hunter.

The little boy nodded eagerly, and said, "That's why you have to show me."

"You...already...know," he said. He retracted his hand from Hunter's, and motioned for Hunter to come closer. He then said, "It's all...here." He tapped Hunter's forehead. "Someday...we'll talk again." He winced in pain, and squeezed his eyes shut.

Hunter was now starting to cry, but Mulder composed himself and shook his head. "No," he said firmly. "No...be brave. K?"

The little boy nodded with uncertainty, and Mulder gave his hand another squeeze, before closing his eyes. "Listen to Walter," he whispered. "Be good."

"I will," he said, and sniffed. "Bye."

"Not bye," Mulder told him, but didn't open his eyes. He was pale and breathing heavily.

"See you later, then," Hunter said.

With a small nod, Mulder smiled slightly and then couldn't help but fall back asleep.

Hunter turned to Skinner, who walked into the room and took the boy's hand. He wasn't sure what just happened, but Mulder had managed to convince him to go.

With a wave to Scully, and one final look back at Mulder's sleeping form, the little boy walked out of the hospital room. Scully took Mulder's hand, her expression intensely worried and confused, and sat down in the seat next to the bed. "It's gonna be okay, Mulder," she found herself saying softly. "Both of you will be okay."


UNKNOWN LOCATION
ONE WEEK LATER
UNKNOWN TIME

He walked down the dark underground hallway, glancing disapprovingly at the leaking pipe above his head. He took one last drag of his cigarette before dropping it to the cement floor, and stamping it out with his foot. He pulled another as he waited for the scientist to show up.

Bruce E. Ivins walked down the corridor to meet him, sticking a pen in his overalls and jogging slightly to make up for lost time. "I apologize. I was delayed," he said simply.

Spender nodded. "Of course. What is your progress?"

"Our decision to watch the boy has proved even more effective than attempting to eliminate him. He clearly has passed all of our assassination attempts in the past, and it was time to move on. Excellent decision—"

"Thank you. I want to know what your progress is."

"We've discovered that he's responding quite well. He's even developed an affinity for Star Trek."

For a millisecond, Spender actually looked surprised. Then it was gone. "Good," he said, nodding in approval. "Ensure that his development continues in this path. Four years from now, when we take his sister, we'll know for sure."

"What we're doing here is amazing. Scientifically, it's more spectacular than I ever could have imagined," Ivins said excitedly.

"Yes, I know. It is a shame Greta couldn't join us. But that's the way it is sometimes. Very well. Carry on with your work. I'll speak with you later."

"Of course. Have a good day," Ivins said as he nearly skipped off. The man was far too enthusiastic, Spender thought. But oh well, his quirks were well worth their price. For what he was gaining...never, in all his years, did he think he would have this opportunity. Not only did he now have a son...in a way...but he had his son. He had found a way to adopt Fox Mulder. And now he had the pleasure of watching him grow...from a distance, but not without influence. It certainly was a Great Adoption.

Turning back the way he had come, the smoking man disappeared into the depths of the cement corridor.

The End


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