Faith Lives

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TITLE: Faith Lives
AUTHOR: Daydreamer
RATING: PG-13
CONTENT: Case File, Sk
SPOILERS: VS8-10, especially “Faith
DISTRIBUTION: Written for I-Made-This Productions’ Virtual Season 10 and they have exclusive rights for the first two weeks. After that, anywhere is fine but I’d appreciate it if you’d let me know where. It helps inspire me!
DISCLAIMER: Mulder, Scully and any characters you recognize belong to Chris Carter, 1013 Productions and Fox Studios and have been used without permission. Anyone else belongs to me. No infringement of copyright intended.
SUMMARY: An old enemy reappears and the new person in Skinner’s life is suddenly in danger again.

Author’s Notes: Andrew Nam Thuong is one of the 117

Vietnamese martyrs canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1988.

He was the mayor of his village, lived a holy life, served

as a catechist, and did indeed die of exhaustion and

dehydration on a forced march into exile. In the Catholic

faith, martyrdom is sufficient for canonization. For others

who are proposed for sainthood, such as Mother Theresa,

miracles are required before canonization can occur.

Saints DO NOT work miracles; God works miracles. We believe

that God may work miracles through the intercession of our

friends, the saints. In the case of the Martyrs of Vietnam,

no miracles were documented nor is there any record of

supernatural powers on the part of these saints. Any

reference to such abilities on the part of Saint Andrew

is literary license on my part. Additional references

to surviving isolation and starvation are also literary

license.

Summary: An old enemy reappears and the new person in

Skinner’s life is suddenly in danger again.

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Teaser

Federal Prison

Jonesville, Virginia

April 10, 2003, 3:30 pm

It hadn’t been so hard. Prisons are notoriously hard up

for medical help and within the first month of his placement

he was practically running the infirmary. Oh, he still

had to show up for head counts, but that was about it.

After the fourth time the guards had come to get him from

his cell in the middle of the night, it somehow became

easier to just let him sleep on a cot in the infirmary.

And there was a shower in the medical ward as well, so

he no longer had to suffer through the indignity of

communal bathing.

He was just so innocuous looking. A middle-aged man,

a medical doctor who specialized in research. A man who

had pled not guilty, insisting it was his assistant who

had killed those people, conducted those outrageous

experiments. How could a man like him, a man who *revered*

life, possibly done those things he was accused of?

He’d been trying to *save* that boy, hadn’t he?

And such was his will that soon everyone thought that

way.

It must be a mistake.

Tragic mistake.

Dr. Braden’s lawyers would fix it and he would be released.

Everyone *believed* in him.

It was all so easy.

And then the riot broke out.

And the guard was shot.

And it just made perfect sense that Dr. Braden would be

right there, taking care of the injured man, telling the

other guards what to do. Walking right alongside the

dying man, as the others carried.

Right through the gates, right through the many, many

gates, and into the reception area, and out into the

ambulance, talking, working, trying to save a man’s

life.

And then he was through the outside gate, into the

world, riding along in an ambulance of all things,

and he was *free!*

He continued to work on the guard all the way to the

hospital, followed the injured man in as he was wheeled

into the emergency room, and then, in the midst of the

confusion, he donned a white coat, slung a stethoscope

around his neck and walked away.

His hard-soled shoes hit the tile floor, announcing his

presence, announcing each step.

Tap, tap, tap.

I. Am. Back.

Tap, tap, tap.

Be. Very. Afraid.

Tap, tap, tap …

***********************

Act I

Skinner’s Condo

Crystal City, Virginia

April 11, 2003, 5:20 pm

“You’re sure you want to be here?” Skinner asked again.

He was thrilled when Andrew had accepted his invitation

to spend Spring Break with him, but after Mulder had

teasingly pointed out all the invitations Andrew had turned

down to spend Christmas with him, he was worried that the

boy felt obligated, and he didn’t want that. Apparently,

in order to stay with Skinner over Christmas, Andrew had

turned down a chance to go skiing with a group from the

school, a chance to go to Disney World with a friend,

and a chance to join another friend on a cruise.

Andrew looked up from unpacking and smiled. “I *like*

it here with you, Walter,” he said before he returned

to putting his clothes away.

Skinner looked around the room. It was already becoming

Andrew’s. He’d replaced the off-white bedspread with a

new plaid comforter in bright colors — Andrew’s choice.

Matching curtains hung over the window and the books in

the small bookcase were all things Andrew had brought

on visits and left here. The dresser and closet both

held clothes that Skinner had bought and left there so

that when Andrew came to visit, he wouldn’t have to pack

so much. He’d met the boy in October, so thus far, the

clothing was all winter weight, but for this spring

visit, Skinner had slipped in some new T-shirts and

shorts, and there was a pair of sandals in the closet.

And a light-weight windbreaker.

“Well, I like having you here, Andrew, really I do,

but I don’t want you to feel you have to come …

Especially if you have a better offer.” He tried to

smile as he spoke, but he wasn’t sure he pulled it

off too well.

“Better offer?” Andrew asked, looking at him quizzically.

Skinner looked at the floor. “Mulder, uh, told me you

could have gone skiing over Christmas. Or to Disney

World.”

“Ohhhh,” Andrew said, as if a light had just come on for

him. “Did Mulder also tell you that the ski trip is

arranged by the school? For kids who don’t have anywhere

else to go?”

Skinner looked up, his brow furrowed. “Don’t have anywhere

to go?”

Andrew sat on the bed, then waited patiently until Skinner

joined him. “You’d be amazed, Walter,” he said. “There are

so many lonely kids at that school. They all have more

money than they need, have the best clothes, the best toys,

the ones who can drive have the best cars … But none of

it matters. So many of them are, like, empty … Nothing

inside.”

“I was worried you didn’t tell me about the other invitations

because you were afraid it cost too much,” Skinner said

softly. “I can’t promise I’ll always be able to say ‘yes,’

but I don’t want you afraid to ask.”

The boy sighed again. “You spend too much on me already,

Walter,” he replied, waving at the room. The new computer,

his Christmas gift, sat on the desk, which was also new.

And he had a laptop, as well, to use at school.

“I have it to spend. It’s no big deal,” Skinner said,

his usual gruffness reasserting itself to cover his

discomfort.

“That ski trip — it was for all the kids whose parents

didn’t want them for Christmas. The Brothers arrange it

every year.”

“What kind of parent doesn’t want their kid at Christmas?”

Skinner asked wonderingly.

“Rich ones, apparently,” Andrew responded, his eyes down

as he picked at the edge of the comforter. “Davey’s

folks were in Europe and it was just too much trouble

for him to go over for such a short time. I think

Tim and Justin’s parents were in Europe, too. And

Alfred’s folks were on some adult-only thing, somewhere

out west. Alan’s mom and dad got into a huge fight over

whose turn it was to take him. Mom said it was Dad’s

turn, and Dad swore it was Mom’s turn, and Alan was right

there finding out neither of his parents wanted him.

So he decided to stay at school.”

“That’s — awful!” Skinner exclaimed. “What’s wrong with

those people?”

“Well, the trip to Disney World might have been fun, but

somehow, I didn’t see you letting me take off on my own

for a week with a couple of other guys from the school.”

“What? I thought Mulder said a friend invited you to go

with him?”

“He did. Brian’s parents paid for him to go for a week

and told him he could take a friend, because they didn’t

have time to come see him this year.”

“You’re telling me this fifteen year old kid went to

Florida for a week by himself?” Skinner was appalled.

“Well, no, actually,” Andrew said, repressing a smile,

“Brian’s only fourteen and he did take George with him.

He’s fourteen, too, and his dad had business meetings

he couldn’t get out of, so he couldn’t come see him at

Christmas.”

Skinner reached out and touched Andrew’s shoulder.

“You’re right. I wouldn’t have wanted you to go. Of

course, I’d have never known the trip was unchaperoned

if you hadn’t told me.”

“Yes, you would,” Andrew said smugly as he slid over

to sit next to the big man. Skinner slid his arm over

the slight shoulders. “You’d have found out when you

called Brian’s parents to check on the arrangements.”

“You know me so well, do you?” Skinner said with a

smile.

Andrew laughed. “Yeah, well, oddly enough, I like

knowing someone cares about what happens to me.” He

paused a moment, then added, “They got in trouble.

For stealing. Brother James had to go and get them

because no one could reach their parents.” Andrew

shook his head sadly.

“Probably did it deliberately. Looking for attention.”

Andrew nodded in agreement.

“I can’t believe all these boys are just dumped at this

school. I checked it out — it’s a really good school,

and I would have expected parents wanted their kids

there for that reason.”

“*You* wanted *me* there for that reason,” Andrew said

reasonably. “Lots of other people just want their kids

there because it is convenient.”

“What about the cruise?” Skinner asked curiously. “Was

that unchaperoned as well?”

Andrew shook his head. “No. Edgar’s mom hired some guy

to take him and a few of his friends. She had other plans

but she wanted to make sure her son had a good time.”

“She just hired some guy? What did she know about him?

What kind of checks did she run? How did she know she

could trust him?”

Andrew shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess she’s done it

before, because Edgar didn’t seem fazed by the idea, and

Charlie and Danny both got to go. Their folks were busy

as well.”

“That’s still just — awful.”

“It’s really sad, Walter,” he said softly.

“I’ve always had someone to love me, to care about me.

First Father, now you.” He tilted his head and looked

around the room. “And because of you, I’ve got Mulder

and Dana now, too. And Dana’s whole family.” He looked

up and met Skinner’s eyes. “You’ve gotta know Mrs. Scully

is spoiling me rotten. She comes to visit every couple of

weeks and sends me cookies and brownies all the time. Tara

sends me pictures of Matthew and keeps me up to

date on what’s happening out there. I’ve even gotten a

few postcards from Bill from the ship.”

He sighed. “I mean, I’m so lucky. Most of my family is

*right here* — I get visitors all the time. And I still

get more mail than most of those kids.”

Skinner gave the boy a hug. “We’re glad you’re right

here. I wasn’t about to send you somewhere where I

couldn’t visit regularly.”

“I’m glad, too, Walter,” Andrew said as he leaned into

his guardian for a moment and then rose to resume unpacking.

“But for now, I’m hungry.”

Skinner laughed. “You’re always hungry,” he said in

mock-irritation. “I can’t seem to keep you fed.”

“Still growing, I guess,” the boy mumbled as he leaned

into the closet to put his shoes away. “So,” he said,

turning back to face Skinner, “what is for dinner?”

*********************************************

1826 Seven Hills Rd

Falls Church, Virginia

April 11, 2003, 7:10 pm

The door opened and a stunned face looked out at him.

“Braden!” the man gasped. “I thought you were in jail.”

“Prison,” Braden responded shortly. “And I was.” He

pushed his way into the house. “Now I’m not.”

“But — how?” The man stood there, staring stupidly

at the doctor as if waiting for instructions.

“Shut the door, Eli,” Braden said wearily. It was

always so exhausting to work with idiots. But then,

compared to him, *everyone* was an idiot. “I need to

talk to you.”

Eli shut the door.

Just then a voice called out, “Who is it, hon?”

Braden looked at the other man and raised an eyebrow.

“Uh, nobody, Mel.”

Braden’s eyebrow stayed up.

“I mean, just an old colleague — a friend.”

A young woman walked out of the kitchen, a toddler on

her hip. She extended a hand, saying, “Hi, I’m Mel,

Eli’s wife. And this,” she bounced the baby up and

down and smiled when the child giggled, “is Daniel.”

“Daniel?” Braden repeated.

“Daniel Thomas Juarez.”

“He’s lovely,” Braden said, smiling appropriately at

the drooling bundle of smelly baby. He carefully

avoided touching it.

“And you are …” the woman hinted.

“Oh, um, sorry, Mel,” Eli said. “Dr. Nicholas Braden,

Melanie Juarez — my wife.”

“Pleased to meet you,” Mel said, still smiling. “Your

name sounds familiar. Have I heard of you?”

Braden kept the smile plastered on his face and reached

out to grip Eli’s arm. “We worked together for a time,

your husband and I,” he said. “Research.”

“It was a long time ago,” Eli added quickly.

“Can you join us for dinner?” Mel asked. “I love to

hear old war stories from Elian’s bachelor days.”

“He can’t stay,” Eli said shortly, pulling from Braden’s

grasp.

“No, actually, I can’t,” Braden responded. “I have to be

somewhere else shortly. I just needed to check on an old

piece of research with Eli.” He smiled again, dredging up

his most charming and winning ways as he gave a little

semi-bow to the woman.

“I see,” she said, obviously confused by the tension

between her husband and the other man. When Eli moved

to stand by her and placed his arm around her, she came

into his embrace easily.

“Nicholas,” Eli said, “have a seat in the living room.”

He nodded at the room behind them. “Let me just help

Mel get Danny settled and I’ll be right back.

Braden moved to the designated room but didn’t sit. He

stood by the large bay window and stared out over the

neatly manicured lawn. It wasn’t long before Eli was

back.

“What do you want, Braden?” he asked wearily. “I won’t

go back to that kind of life — you have to know that.

I won’t do those things again.”

“It got you a child apparently,” Braden said smugly.

“Danny is adopted,” Eli replied. “I told you when I

left, I wouldn’t be involved in your sick plans anymore.

“You’ll help me now,” Braden said in an ice cold voice,

“or we’ll see how well your Melanie really likes hearing

the old war stories. That is what she called them, isn’t

it?”

“What do you want?” Eli repeated.

“Not much. I need a place I can conduct some studies in

isolation. I need nothing more than a private entrance,

a room or chamber for my subject, and a way to observe.”

“Is your subject willing?”

Braden just looked at him.

“It’s that kid again, isn’t it? The one you were always

talking about.”

“When can you get me a place?”

Eli sighed, then capitulated. “There was a place we used

to use — it’s vacant now. You can rent it. They’d probably

be thrilled to have a tenant again.”

“You rent it,” Braden ordered and Eli nodded.

“I also want you to help me get the boy.”

“No! I won’t be a partner to kidnapping.” Eli turned

and began to pace.

“I see. You’ll help me to secure a place to hold the

boy in complete isolation, but you won’t help me capture

him.” Braden laughed, “That’s a very slippery moral

slope you’re standing on, my friend.”

“I am NOT your friend,” Eli said, his voice filled with

frustration and fury. “And I won’t help you.”

Braden stepped over to him. “Yes. You will. You’ll

make arrangements for the place tomorrow — have the keys

ready for me. And then, rent a van on Monday and meet me

here.” He passed over a slip of paper with an address on

it. “We’ll go to the Smithsonian, get the boy, and you

can take me to my new lab. After that, I’ll leave you

alone. You can go on with your nice little parody of

the American dream, and continue your slide down the

slippery slope of ethics.”

“Don’t ask me to do this, Nicholas,” Eli pleaded.

“Should we call Melanie back in?”

“I hate you. I hate what you did to me — what you made

me become. I hate who you are and what you are.”

Braden cocked his head. “And what am I, Elian?” he asked

softly.

Eli stood with his head down, his chest heaving with

repressed emotion. “You’re evil, Nicholas. Pure evil.”

*******************************

X-Files Office

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 8:45 am

“How’d the weekend go?” Mulder asked as he passed a cup of

coffee to his boss.

Skinner was leaning against the desk and he grunted “Thanks,”

as he took a sip of the fragrant morning brew. “Good,” he

said quietly, staring off into space.

“The coffee or the weekend,” Scully asked. When Skinner

didn’t respond, she tried again. “Uh, Sir? How’s Andrew?”

“Oh.” Skinner blinked and looked around, then a smile lit

his face as Scully’s question sunk in. “Oh, he’s great.

Just a great kid.” He turned and looked at Mulder. “You

were wrong, you know.”

Mulder’s brow furrowed. “About what?”

“Christmas. Andrew wanted to be with me.” Skinner couldn’t

keep the note of smugness from his voice.

Mulder looked embarrassed. “I didn’t mean to imply that

he didn’t, Sir. I was just,” he waved his hand in the

air, “letting you know what was going on.” He looked

down, his face still flushed. “Because kids don’t always,

uh, tell their, uh, parents,” his eyes darted up and he

risked a quick peek at Skinner to see how the older man

reacted to being called a parent, but Skinner seemed to

take it in stride, “everything. Sometimes, they’re more

comfortable talking to, uh, someone else.”

“You trying to tell me I’m old, Mulder? Think Andrew can’t

relate to an old man like me?” Skinner teased.

“Not at all!” The words shot out of Mulder’s mouth and the

only way to describe the look on his face was — aghast.

It made Skinner and Scully burst out laughing and it took

a minute before Mulder realized he’d been had, then he

reluctantly joined the laughter. “All right, all right,”

he mumbled good-naturedly as he slid into his seat and

sipped his own coffee. “I was just trying to help.”

Skinner sobered and nodded seriously. “I know that,

Mulder, and I appreciate it.” He turned his head and

included Scully in his thanks. “I appreciate all both

of you have done for the boy. Scully, he tells me your

mother is spoiling him rotten.”

Scully laughed. “Mom loves to bake. Andrew gives her

an outlet since I put her on notice NOT to send anything

else to me.” She patted her stomach. “Too hard to resist.”

“Now she sends stuff to me instead,” Mulder said with a

smile. “Which, I might add, works quite well.”

“Andrew said that ski trip was arranged by the school

for kids who didn’t have anywhere else to go,” Skinner

offered.

“Nowhere to go at Christmas?” Scully asked, appalled.

Mulder just shrugged. “It’s not that unusual. A lot

of boarding schools are just dumping grounds.”

“That’s awful!” Scully cried.

Skinner nodded in agreement. “That’s what I said. And

that trip to Disney you told me about?”

Mulder nodded.

“That was completely unchaperoned. Two fourteen-year-old

boys with too much money, too much freedom, and too little

supervision. And they got in trouble as well. For stealing.”

“Probably the only way they could think of to get their

parents’ attention,” Scully observed.

Skinner nodded. “That’s exactly what I said. But the sad

part is, not even that got the folks to sit up and take

notice. One of the brothers had to go down and get them.”

Skinner sighed softly, then smiled again. “I’m glad

Andrew wanted to be with me.”

“You’re doing a good job of making him feel like he has

a home, Sir,” Scully said.

“He’s an easy kid to care for,” Skinner said, still sipping

the coffee. “No trouble, so appreciative for every little

thing, and so aware of everything. He’s very mature for his

age. None of that usual resentful teenager crap.”

“He’s had an unusual life,” Mulder said. “It probably

makes him appreciate the normal stuff just a little bit

more.”

Scully looked at her partner and noted the tension in

his body as he spoke the seemingly innocuous words. It

was obvious he could relate to not having had the ‘normal

stuff’ during his own teenage years. She went to stand

behind him, her hand resting on his shoulder. “What’s

Andrew doing today?” she asked, as she rubbed Mulder’s

neck.

“Meeting a couple of the boys from school at the Smithsonian.”

At Mulder’s amused look, Skinner raised his hands in defeat.

“Hey, it wasn’t my idea! He really wanted to go.” Skinner

flushed slightly as he admitted, “I’m going over around one,

take them for a late lunch.”

“I hope museums aren’t the only thing on the agenda for the

week,” Mulder said. “The kid needs to have fun, too.”

“Hey!” Scully smacked her partner softly. “Some of us

happen to think museums *are* fun.”

“Maybe,” Mulder said unsurely, “but most of *those* people

aren’t fifteen year old boys.”

Scully raised her hand to smack Mulder again, but Skinner

laughed and said, “Enough, you two. And no, Mulder, museums

aren’t the only thing. I’m taking Friday off and we’re

driving down to King’s Dominion.” The big man looked at

the floor, obviously uncomfortable as he added, “You two

want to come?”

“Love to!” Mulder answered for them both. “Man, I haven’t

been on the Rebel Yell in years! The Anaconda, the Grizzly,

the Shockwave! The new thing is open now, too — the Drop

Zone.” He grinned at Skinner. “Oh, yeah! I’m there!’

Skinner laughed. “Scully?”

She shrugged. “How can I say no to that much enthusiasm?”

She smiled at her partner. “Guess ‘I’m there,’ too!”

*********************************

Act II

Skinner’s Office

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 11:30 am

“Skinner,” he barked into the phone. The interruption

irritated him. He was trying to clear his desk so that

when he left to get Andrew and his friends for lunch,

he could surprise them and spend the rest of the day

with them. Maybe they’d like to go to the National Zoo,

or take in a movie.

“This is Henley Anderson, at the Jonesville Prison. Is

this Assistant Director Walter Skinner?”

“Yes. Jonesville Prison.” Skinner’s eyes widened as

he recognized the name. “What happened?” he demanded.

“Well, Sir, Dr. Braden has escaped and you were on the

list of people to be notified if that happened.” The

speaker was obviously unhappy to be making this call.

“Escaped? Braden escaped?” Skinner paused, trying to

take it all in. Braden couldn’t have escaped. Jonesville

was a maximum security prison. Braden had gotten life.

This had to be a mistake. “How?”

Skinner listened with increasing concern as the man

started telling him about the doctor working in the

infirmary and how helpful he had been. What a good

man the doctor seemed to be. How useful he’d been to

everyone — inmates and staff alike. And then he

started talking about the riot, and how unexpected

that had been, and how they’d had to shut off part of

the prison, and the guard had been shot and the doctor

had probably saved his life. As Skinner listened, he

realized he had asked the wrong question. Someone else

could deal with ‘how.’ He needed the answer to a different

question entirely. “Wait. Never mind all that,” he

said, cutting the other man off completely. “When?

That’s what I really need to know. How long ago did this

happen?” Jonesville was almost four hundred miles away,

and if this had only just happened then Andrew should

be safe. Not even Braden could fly, so he was looking

at at least an eight hour trip if he decided to target

the boy again.

“Well, Sir, uh, Thursday.” The man seemed distinctly

uncomfortable answering.

“Thursday!” Skinner exclaimed. “That’s *four* days

ago!” Four days! Skinner could feel his heart rate

increase. Andrew could already be in danger. What

the hell had delayed his notification? “Why am I just

now being notified? I was to be notified *immediately*

if there was *any* change in Braden’s status.” He

pinched the bridge of his nose, fighting the headache

that had risen with this news, then hit a button on his

phone. When Kim stuck her head in the door, he covered

the receiver and said, “Mulder. Scully. My office.

Now.”

She nodded and was gone.

“There was some confusion over whether or not he had

actually escaped,” the hapless man admitted, sounding

increasingly distressed to be the bearer of this news.

“Confusion? How could there be confusion?” Skinner

was fumbling at his bottom desk drawer, the drawer where

he had a copy of the file on Braden. He’d kept it, and

kept it up, ever since he had become Andrew’s guardian.

As long as Braden was alive, Andrew could be in danger,

but Skinner had thought the danger contained with the

man in Jonesville.

“I, uh, didn’t get to that part …” The guard cleared

his throat.

“Jonesville is a maximum security facility. You tell me

how the hell Braden got out,” Skinner demanded.

“He, uh, apparently went out with the ambulance.”

Skinner could hear the discomfort in the other man’s

voice. Out with the ambulance? Skinner tried to work

through it. If there had been a riot, with injuries,

there would have been medical personnel called to the

scene. Maybe Braden was able to take advantage of that

fact. “He commandeered an ambulance?” he asked.

“Well, not really. We, uh sorta let him go along with

them …”

Skinner could not believe the words he was hearing. His

mouth dropped open and he stared at the wall for a long

moment, then said, “You let that madman just go along in

an ambulance? Was he injured?”

“Uh, no. Not him.”

“Was he at least restrained?” Skinner was beginning to

wonder exactly what idiot was running the federal government’s

maximum security facility in Jonesville. He was singularly

unimpressed so far. And his heart rate was still

accelerating.

“Well, uh, again, no.” The guard coughed. “Look here,

Mr. Skinner, you have to understand. Belton was dying

and the Doc, well, he’d been helping everyone so when

he came along, trying to save Belton, no one really thought

anything of it. I mean, the man’s a *doctor,* after

all …” The man’s voice trailed away as if the enormity

of what had occurred was just now sinking in with him.

“The man’s a convicted felon. He killed people in cold

blood. Tortured them. Kidnapped a young boy.” Skinner

shook his head in disgust. “He was in Jonesville to be

punished, not to work on his medical degree.”

“Uh, well, yes, Sir. We see that now. I can assure you,

the matter will be thoroughly investigated.”

“Fat lot of good that will do,” Skinner muttered. “Tell

me why I wasn’t notified sooner.”

“We, uh, thought he was just at the hospital. We, uh,

didn’t want to start a panic.”

“You didn’t want anyone to find out you fucked up.”

Skinner looked up as Mulder and Scully entered, puzzled

looks on their faces. “Well, you did fuck up, and believe

me, the whole world is going to know it. And if anything

happens to Andrew because of your fuck up, there won’t

be a place you can go to hide from me,” he added darkly

before he slammed the phone down.

“What?” Mulder asked.

“Braden’s escaped. Last fucking Thursday!”

“What can we do?” Scully was on her feet, coming around

the desk to lay a comforting hand on Skinner’s arm.

“Go get him for me. Please?” Skinner looked up. “I’d

go myself, but I’ve got to get the wheels turning to get

us jurisdiction in this. I’m not going to deal with

pissant locals who can’t even keep someone in a maximum

security prison.”

“We’re on it. Which museum is he in?”

Skinner shook his head, suddenly at a loss. “We’re

meeting in front of American History at one, but where

the kids are now,” he shrugged, “I just don’t know.”

“Didn’t you get him a cell phone for Christmas?” Scully

asked. “Call him.”

Skinner nodded, fingers dialing. “Andrew?” he said, the

relief in his voice evident. “No, no, nothing’s wrong.

I just thought, uh, that is, I can’t get down there to

pick you up.”

He listened a minute, then shook his head. “No, that’s

okay. I don’t want you to walk. Mulder and Scully are

going to come and get you and Paul and Simon. They’ll

bring you back here. Maybe the boys would like a tour of

the building?”

Skinner smiled at Andrew’s enthusiastic response. “Good.

Well, I can show you guys around, then we can take off and

get something to eat.”

He listened again, frowning. “No, Andrew. It’s not a

problem and you’re not interfering with anything. I’ve

kept my schedule light this week. I *want* to spend time

with you — and your friends. It’s not an inconvenience —

I’m not like those other people who dump their kids and

forget them.”

Mulder looked at Scully. Andrew must have said something

reassuring, because the grim look on Skinner’s face

vanished, replaced by a smile. “All right. You meet

Mulder and Scully inside.”

Apparently Andrew offered to be outside, because Skinner

disagreed. “No, Andrew, no!” He took a deep breath and

lowered his voice. “That’s okay, son. I know Mulder and

Scully appreciate the offer, but I’d rather you stay

inside, please?”

He nodded when he got Andrew’s agreement. “They should be

there in about fifteen minutes.” Skinner cleared his

throat. “Take care, kid. I’ll see you soon.”

Andrew spoke again, and Skinner nodded. “Yeah. Me, too,”

he said as he closed the phone. He stared at it for a

minute, wondering why he found it so hard to tell the boy

he loved him, especially when Andrew said it to him so

frequently. For some reason, he just had trouble with

the actual words and he always ended up with the lame,

‘me, too’ response. He shook his head, then looked up

and said, “Air and Space. I should have known. Where

else would a group of boys go?”

“We’re on it.” Scully looked at her partner. “Shall

we walk?”

He nodded. “It’ll be just as fast and we won’t have to

worry about parking.”

“Just get him back here, please?” Skinner asked as he rose

to walk out with them. “I appreciate this — I really do.”

Mulder nodded and Scully laid her hand on the big man’s

arm again. “We care about him, too, you know.”

He nodded again, watched as they left the office, then

turned back to his secretary. “Kim, this is what we

need to do…”

***********************************

Air and Space Museum

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 11:46 am

“Your dad sure does worry about you, Drew,” Simon said

as the boys waited on the steps of the museum.

“He’s not my dad. I told you that,” Andrew replied.

“He’s my guardian.” Andrew cast a long look at the

doors. “We’re supposed to wait inside,” he added.

“He sure acts like a dad,” the boy said wistfully. “Well,

like I guess a dad should act.”

“Your father loves you, Simon,” Andrew said, patting his

friend’s arm.

“Ah, let’s face it, Madden, you’ve got the best family of

any of us, and you’re not even related to any of them.”

Paul couldn’t help the bit of resentment that slipped into

his voice.

Andrew shrugged. “I’m lucky,” he said softly. “And believe

me, I know how lucky I am. But really,” he added, tugging

at Simon’s arm, “we’re supposed to wait inside.”

“That why you never get in trouble? Don’t want to risk

them dumping you?” Simon asked, as he refused to budge.

“Walter would never dump me,” Andrew replied. “I stay out

of trouble because it’s the smart thing.” He shot a look

at his friends. “You should do the same thing.”

Paul snorted but Simon nodded, then looked up to see a

man approaching them. “Hey, Madden, that the guy your

guardian is sending for us?”

Andrew turned in time to find himself face to face

with a gun. “Don’t move, any of you,” the man snarled.

Simon and Paul froze, the color draining from their faces.

Andrew looked at the man and said, “Dr. Braden.”

“Let’s move over there,” Braden said, gesturing with the

gun he kept half concealed with a jacket. The boys

moved obediently to stand by a low wall that bordered

the upper plaza-like entrance to the museum. “Sit,”

he ordered, nodding as Paul and Simon obeyed, but shaking

his head at Andrew. “Not you. You take this.” He passed

over a plastic bag with a cloth inside. “Hold that over

their faces.”

“No,” Andrew said simply.

“It will only put them to sleep. You can either hold that

over their faces, or I will shoot them.”

Andrew blanched at the total lack of concern over the

distinction between sleeping and dying and moved to kneel

by Paul. “I told you we should have waited inside.” He

noted the look of fear in the boy’s eyes. “I’m sorry,”

he whispered, pulling the cloth from the bag and holding it

to the other boy’s face. Within seconds, Paul was slumped

asleep against the wall. Simon was next and he succumbed

as easily. Andrew dropped the bag and the cloth and rose.

“Now,” Braden said, “use that phone on your belt and call

Skinner. Tell him that he’s lost. I’ve got you, and you’re

not getting away from me again.

Andrew opened the phone and pressed a button.

“Walter?” he said in a tremulous voice.

“Andrew! What’s wrong?” Skinner’s worried voice rang from

the cell phone.

“Dr. Braden is here,” the boy said, his voice breaking.

“He made me drug Paul and Simon — they’re by the wall

at the museum.” His breath hitched as he fought to keep

from crying. “I’m sorry we didn’t wait inside, Walter.

I’m sorry!”

“Andrew — Mulder and Scully are coming. Hang on, son!

Just hang on. They’ll be there any second.” He pressed a

button again, and Kim appeared. “I’m calling the locals,

calling the museum — Air and Space, right? Help is coming!”

He nodded when Kim disappeared again and knew that she would

have the area swarming with cops within seconds.

“Just hang on, Andrew,” Skinner said, as he rose and

raced for the door. “I’m coming.”

“Walter,” Andrew said, a sob escaping as Braden twisted

his arm and yanked him forward. “He’s got a gun, Walter.

“I’m sorry. I’m so sorry …” The boy sobbed again.

“Thanks for everything, Walter, thank you.”

Braden tugged again and Andrew stumbled against the curb

then found himself being tossed into the back of a van.

“I love you, Walter. I wish you really were my dad.”

“Andrew!” The cry rang out in stereo, and Andrew looked

up from the phone to see Mulder running toward him, Scully

following.

“Mulder!” he cried as he was shoved backwards.

“Go!” Braden ordered the driver, and the van shot forward,

but almost immediately slowed due to traffic. “Go, go,

go!” Braden screamed. “Go around them, go over them,

go through them! I don’t care, just go!”

Mulder raced along behind, slowly gaining on them as

the van was hampered by other cars. Braden shoved the boy

again, then handcuffed him to the side of the van. The

phone fell from the boy’s hands and skittered across the

metal flooring. Braden managed to get one door shut, but

then Mulder was there, clinging to the open door as he

struggled to pull himself up and into the vehicle.

Braden kicked out at the agent, but Mulder hung on

stubbornly. The van lurched and the door swung wildly,

but Mulder maintained his grasp.

“What’s happening, Andrew?” Skinner’s voice came through

the phone. “Andrew???”

“Walter!” the boy cried. “Walter!”

“Shut up,” Braden snarled as he pulled a tire iron from

the wheel well. He turned and brought it down heavily

across Mulder’s arm.

The agent screamed in pain, lost his grip and tumbled

backward into the street. The van slammed to a stop

as a car cut them off, and Braden looked around worriedly.

Scully was still racing toward them, but as she reached

Mulder, the traffic cleared enough for the driver to take

off. Braden tossed the phone out, then pulled the second

door shut.

“You’re mine now, Andrew,” he said calmly. “And you’ll never

get away from me again.”

Andrew sniffed as his nose began to run and tears still

fell from his eyes. “Walter will find me,” he said softly,

and Braden slapped him, the boy’s head rocking back from

the violence of the blow. “Walter will find me,” he

insisted stubbornly. “He will.”

Behind the van, Mulder cradled his injured arm and watched

as Scully ran forward to pick up the abandoned phone.

Through the receiver, they could both hear Skinner, still

screaming, “Andrew! Andrew! Andrew!”

****************************

Act III

Skinner’s Office

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 2:30 pm

Skinner’s office had been turned into a command center.

Half a dozen agents sat around his conference table, and

techs were busy setting up additional phone lines and

computers.

Mulder and Scully had finally returned from the hospital.

The good news was his arm wasn’t broken. The bad news

was that his elbow and forearm were extremely swollen

and tender and the whole area was rapidly turning into

a kaleidoscope of purples, blues, and reds. Skinner knew

that before it was healed, yellow and green would be

added to the palette. The arm was currently resting in

a sling and Skinner had seen Scully have to fuss at

her partner twice already for trying to take the arm

out. It would be his right arm.

A young agent appeared, a faxed printout in her hand.

“Truck was rented this morning by James Smithson,

1829 England Ave, right here in DC.” She seemed very

pleased with herself as she announced, “I’ve already

dispatched agents to the address.”

Mulder snorted in disgust. “Don’t bother,” he said.

“It’s an alias.”

The room grew quiet as everyone turned to stare at him.

“Mulder?” Scully asked quietly.

“In 1829, James Smithson, a wealthy English explorer and

collector died and left all his artifacts to the United

States. To establish a museum.”

Some heads were nodding now, but for the benefit of

those that weren’t, Mulder went on. “We know this museum

as the Smithsonian.”

“He thinks he’s being clever,” Skinner said under his

breath, as he waved the report away. “Keep the APB on

the truck, have someone watching the rental place, and

make sure forensics gets first crack at it when the

damn thing turns up.”

He strode through the techs who were still swarming

about the office, until he stood at the head of the

table. “I’ve had copies of all Braden’s info made

for each of you. Edwards — you coordinate with Norfolk.

I want everyone who ever worked with Braden interviewed

and reinterviewed. I want to know if anyone has seen

or heard from him in the last four days. Ferrer — you

do the same thing with the Richmond people. Polski —

you head up the interview and research team here in the

DC area.”

He paused a moment, looking at the grim faces throughout

the room. “Let’s listen to what Mulder has to say, then

you can each give me a list of who you want on your team.

Work together. I don’t have to approve anything — I just

want the final listing.” He turned and looked at his

agent. “Mulder? You ready?”

Mulder nodded and moved to stand beside Skinner. “This

is rough,” he said by way of preamble. “I sketched most

of this out in the ER, but I think we can safely say that

Braden is an egomaniacal psychopath with delusions of

godhood. He has fixated on Andrew Madden and in his own

warped worldview, has decided the boy is critical to

his — Braden’s — success at his self-proclaimed god

status. He has already demonstrated a cold-blooded

willingness to kill without remorse and without provocation.

He has no qualms about taking innocents and will use

whoever or whatever he deems necessary to achieve his

ends.”

Mulder licked his lips and swallowed, looking at Skinner

out of the corner of his eye. The older man stood

immobile, a solid slab of unmoving granite with not the

first emotion cracking his stone face. “Braden tortured

the boy last time, and the Assistant Director. It is

very likely he will resort to this method of persuasion

again. The threat of such acts makes it imperative that

we find the boy before too much more time elapses.”

“Agent Mulder?” an older man in a gray suit called, “do

you think this bastard is working alone?”

Mulder shook his head. “He was in the back of the van

with Andrew. Someone else was driving. So we know he

has at least one accomplice.”

“What exactly is it that Braden wants?” a middle-aged

woman with bright red fingernails asked.

Mulder shot a look at Skinner and watched as the AD

stirred and prepared to answer. “Braden is convinced

that Andrew is a clone of a long dead saint. And he

believes Andrew has the ability to work miracles.”

“Miracles?” the woman laughed. “The man is nuts.”

Mulder, Scully, and Skinner exchanged glances. Now

was not the time to go into their own experiences with

Andrew. “I think we have established that, Agent Farrow,”

Skinner said quietly. “And unless there are any other

questions …” He paused, but the room remained silent.

“Then let’s get to it. Whatever resources you need, you

come to me. I’ll see to it you have it.” He paused

again, taking his glasses off and holding them loosely

in his right hand. He dropped his head and his left

hand came up and rubbed his eyes, then settled on the

bridge of his nose. The room remained silent while he

replaced his glasses and slowly swept the room with his

stony gaze. “This boy is my ward. My son. I want him

found. Get out there and make it happen.”

*********************************

Hoover Building

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 3:00 pm

At three o’clock, the team leaders had presented him

with their team listings. Edwards and Ferrer had left

to set up conference calls with their people in Norfolk

and Richmond respectively, and Polski had his team

assembled in another conference room two floors down.

At four o’clock, he’d met with the Director and managed

to give a halfway coherent briefing. He’d been given

a tremendous amount of autonomy in this, but Mueller

had made it clear it needed to be by the book. By allowing

Skinner to not only stay involved, but in charge, he was

violating policy on how to handle family involved

incidents, and Mueller wasn’t about to let the case

fail because of Skinner’s involvement.

Skinner had dutifully responded with ‘yes, sir’ and ‘no,

sir’ as appropriate, had added the requisite ‘thank you,

sir,’ at the requisite times, and was, quite frankly

amazed he’d gotten out of the meeting without punching

something or someone. But he’d made it and gotten back

to his office in time to field a phone call from Jonesville,

the Warden this time. It had been all political apologies,

and Skinner had hung up in disgust.

At five o’clock, the truck was found. It had been abandoned

on the Georgetown campus and a zealous campus cop who aspired

to greater things connected it with the APB he’d heard about

on his police scanner. Skinner had gone with Mulder and

Scully to take a look. There was a body in the back — a

man with no identification who had been shot through the

back of the head. The handcuffs that had secured Andrew

to the van’s wall still dangled from their hook and he

could see the traces of blood that coated the thin metal

bands. It had taken every bit of his strength not to

pound the hell out of the van wall.

Instead, he had crawled out with exaggerated care, and

stood on the pavement while Scully completed her initial

examination. Mulder joined him.

“Braden killed him,” the younger man said.

Skinner nodded. “He didn’t need him anymore.” He turned

to face Mulder, his eyes haunted. “Oh, God! What if …

Andrew …” The words would not come, but Mulder seemed

to understand and he reached out and gripped Skinner’s

arm tightly.

“He *needs* Andrew. He’s not going to kill him. He

sees Andrew as the culmination of his life’s work and

he is convinced he can bend the boy to his will.”

Mulder took a deep breath and sighed. “It may not be

pleasant for Andrew, but Braden won’t kill him.”

Skinner nodded slowly. “Thanks,” he said as Scully

jumped down from the van.

“I’m ready to go. I’ll print him as soon as we get

to the morgue, run it through the database. Cause of

death is pretty clear cut — gunshot to the head —

but I’ll check to make sure he wasn’t drugged first,

and to be sure there isn’t anything else going on we

need to be aware of.” She looked at her watch as two

techs moved into the van behind her and began to prepare

the body for transport. “I should be done in a few hours.”

Skinner nodded and walked away.

Mulder took a moment more to reach out to touch her. “Be

as fast as you can, Scully,” he said quietly. “Skinner’s

hanging on by a very thin thread. And we desperately

need a break.”

“Stay with him, Mulder,” she murmured as she nodded

acknowledgement of his words. “I’ll be back as quick

as I can.”

It was almost seven o’clock by the time he and Mulder

were back at the Hoover. He took phone calls from

Edwards — now in Norfolk — and Ferrer — now in

Richmond — and then had an impromptu meeting with

Polski. Nothing new on any of the fronts.

He checked in with Mueller again, talked to the DC

Metro Police Chief to thank them for their invaluable

assistance in canvassing for people who had seen the

truck, and then made a polite call to the head of

Georgetown’s campus security, reaching him at home to

thank him for the good work of the young cop that

evening.

By the time he was finished, his jaw ached from grinding

his teeth and forcing himself to speak civilly.

His office still swarmed with agents and techs, but Mulder

had refused to leave. At eight o’clock, Skinner looked

over to see Mulder reading Braden’s file, his lower lip

bitten between his teeth as he concentrated and his

arm out of the sling again as he took notes. Skinner

walked over and waited to be acknowledged, but Mulder

never looked up. At length, he cleared his throat and

watched as Mulder blinked owlishly up at him through his

glasses, then slowly lifted a hand to remove them.

“Put your arm back in the sling, Mulder,” he ordered

gruffly.

Mulder shrugged. “I need to make notes.” He winced as

he slowly set the arm back in the sling.

Skinner shook his head. “I’ll assign you a steno. You

can dictate.” He looked around for the bottle of pain

pills he remembered seeing Scully carry in. It was on

the corner of his desk. He read the instructions on the

label, then opened the bottle and shook out two. He laid

them on the desk while he poured a glass of water, then

handed the pills to Mulder. The younger man made a face,

but he threw the pills into his mouth, then accepted the

water and swallowed.

“I hate these things,” he groused.

“Dulls the pain,” Skinner said, wishing it were that

easy to dull the pain he was feeling.

“Dulls everything,” Mulder complained. “I always end

up feeling like my brain is in a fog and nothing is

clear.”

“I’ve got to get out of here,” Skinner said and Mulder

nodded as he began to pick up the papers he’d spread

before him and reassemble the file he’d been working

from.

“Come on down to the basement,” Mulder offered. “It’ll

be quiet and Scully will look for me there first when

she comes back.” He rose, handed the laptop he’d been

working on to the AD, then hefted his files and notes.

When he left, Skinner followed.

***********************************

Undisclosed Location

April 14, 2003, 6:00 pm

Braden looked around the small office area. He hadn’t

had much time to make it comfortable, but that could come

later. For now, he had a table that he could use as a

desk, with a small lamp on it. There was a straight

back chair that would have to do until he could get

something better, and a camp cot, off to one side that

would serve as his bedroom. He’d have preferred a place

with a bathroom in the unit he used, but there hadn’t

been a lot of time and he was lucky Juarez had found

something even this close to his requirements.

He made a few more notes in the log he had begun, then

dropped the pen and watched as it rolled to rest next

to the cell phone. It had been a last minute decision,

to take Eli’s phone, but until he was sure he was safe,

and could run a phone line of his own, he didn’t want

to be completely without a means of communication.

With a barely suppressed laugh of excitement, he rose

and walked to the door of the small room that held his

creation. The boy huddled on the floor as far from the

door as possible, and flinched when Braden entered the

room.

His touch neither rough nor soft, but purely impersonal,

he pulled the child to his feet and held him there.

“Do you know the story of your namesake, Andrew?” Braden

asked conversationally as he stripped the boy to his

underwear.

The room that would hold his project for the next month

was small, completely covered in tile, including the

ceiling. There were no furnishings, no bed, no chair,

no rugs. Just cold, bare tile and a metal drain in the

center of the slightly sloping floor.

Andrew looked up and saw a sprinkler nozzle in the ceiling.

The lighting was bright, but recessed. There were no windows.

The single door had an observation port in it and Andrew

could see there were cameras and probably microphones as

well in the ceiling by the recessed lighting.

“What do you want with me?” the boy asked.

Braden shook his head. “I asked you a question.”

Andrew sighed. “Saint Andrew was a fisherman. He was the

brother of Saint Peter. He’s the patron saint of …”

Braden slapped him. “Do you think you are being clever?”

he snarled.

Andrew shook his head in confusion, his hand coming up

to cradle his cheek.

“Your namesake,” Braden reiterated, “your *father.*”

“I’m just a kid,” Andrew said softly, struggling to

swallow a sob. “And I don’t know who my father is.”

“You are far more than just a kid. Your Andrew, the

one who made you, was once punished by being locked

in a box for a month. No food, no water.”

Andrew looked around at the small room, a sense of panic

threatening to overtake him.

“When he emerged at the end of the thirty days, he was

perfectly fit, perfectly healthy.” He narrowed his eyes

and stared at the boy. “I wonder if the same will be

said of you.”

****************************

Hoover Gymnasium

Washington, DC

April 14, 2003, 11:48 pm

Scully had returned with very little news. The dead man

was Elian Juarez and agents were on their way to contact

his wife. Traces were being set up on Juarez’s home and

office phone, and on both his and his wife’s cell phones.

They were combing records of property Juarez owned or

rented and were looking for connections with Braden.

But it was late now — businesses were closed and things

would move slowly through the night.

And he couldn’t stand the tension, the waiting, any

longer.

He’d excused himself from his agents, left the refuge

of the X-Files office to come here — his other refuge.

At least here, he could burn off some of the anger that

kept threatening to overtake him.

He started with the weights, knowing how foolish he was

to be here without a spotter, and not caring. He lifted

the bar, felt it drop to his chest and then he began to

push. The monotonous rhythm was oddly soothing and he

lost himself in the simple drive of up and down, up and

down. He pushed until his muscles began to burn, then

pushed past the burn until sweat dripped from his skin

and stung his eyes. And still he pushed on. Up and down,

up and down, up and down. He pushed until the burn turned

to an ache and then the ache to real pain, and still he

pushed on. It was only when he couldn’t push again, when

the heavy bar rested tight against his chest and he had

to reach down to his furthest reserves to lift it off,

it was only then that he stopped.

He lay on the bench for a long moment, panting as he

struggled to bring his breathing under control. When

he could stand, he wiped his face and chest with his

towel, then looked around, trying to decide what to do

next. Normally he’d have worked his legs, but he needed

something more active, more aggressive, and his eyes lit

on the heavy bag off by itself in the corner.

Without bothering to tape his hands, without putting on

gloves, he moved to the large leather sack and began to

pound. His arms began to burn almost immediately, but

he ignored the sensation.

This was better, much better than the weights. This let

him visualize Braden’s laughing face and pound the shit

out of it over and over again.

This let him beat the man for taking Andrew, for daring

to harm that precious child.

This let him work out all his fury, all his anger, all

his aggression, holding the image of Braden before him

and hitting it, beating it, pounding it, smashing it,

taking it apart, taking it to pieces …

Over and over and over, he beat the bag. His knuckles

bruised and then tore, and he was vaguely aware of bloody

streaks on the brown leather.

He continued on.

clip_image004

In his mind’s eyes, Braden fell repeatedly, his nose broken,

his eyes swollen shut, his cheekbone shattered.

Skinner smiled wolfishly as he watched the imaginary Braden

take yet another fall, collapsing in a heap of pulverized

skin.

There was a sound now, a low, monotonous drone that reeked

of suffering and pain, and he broke from his pounding long

enough to look around and try to place its source.

He was vaguely aware of Mulder and Scully standing back,

calling him, but the other noise drowned out their words.

He was staring at them blankly, still trying to place the

odd sound, when his cell phone rang.

He stumbled exhaustedly forward, falling against Mulder

as the other man tried to keep him upright with just one

good arm. Skinner grimaced. Maybe he’d overdone the

workout just a bit.

He looked around. The cell phone was still ringing, but

the other sound was gone, and that was when he realized

it had been him. He had been making that ungodly cry

of unrelieved agony.

He lifted the phone and croaked, “Skinner.”

“Walter?” said a small voice. “Can you come and get me

now?”

******************************

Act IV

Undisclosed Location

April 15, 2003, 12:30 am

“Andrew!” Skinner made frantic motions — track the

call, contact the phone company, find out where he

is. “Where? Where do I come?”

“I’m in a building, Walter. It’s like a laboratory.”

“Where, Andrew?” Skinner was pacing, one hand running

repeatedly through his sweat-soaked hair. “Where is it?”

“Not sure, exactly, Walter, but it’s got to be in the city.

We didn’t drive real far.” Andrew paused, thinking. “And

Dr. Braden told the other man that real estate like this

was cheap in the city — ’cause of where it was.”

“That’s good, Andrew, real good.” Skinner took a deep

breath. “What kind of phone are you using?”

“A cell phone. Not mine — not the one you got me.

He threw that out the van.” Andrew was quiet for a

minute. “I’m sorry.”

“Hush,” Skinner said gently. “It’s not important. You

are all that matter. Are you loose? Can you get away?

Where’s Braden?”

“I can’t get out, Walter. He’s got me locked in a little

room. I can’t get out of the room. Not really. But Doctor

Braden is gone now. He’ll be back soon, and I have to be

off the phone by then.” The boy’s voice broke. “Please

come get me, Walter. I don’t want to be here anymore.”

“Shhhh, Andrew,” Skinner soothed, “I’m coming. We’re

working with the cell phone company to find out where

you are. I’m coming, kiddo. As soon as I have an address,

I’ll be there. You know that, right?”

Andrew nodded, then realized Skinner couldn’t see the

movement and said, “I know, Walter.” He shivered as

he glanced around the room. “I think it could be some

kind of a warehouse,” he said softly.

“Are you okay, Andrew? Did he hurt you?”

“He hit me a couple of times, that’s all,” Andrew answered

slowly and Skinner’s gut twisted. “I’m a little sore,

but I’m all right.” There was a sound and Andrew jumped,

then said, “He’s coming back, Walter. I have to go now.”

“Andrew! Wait! Can’t you hide? Can’t you run?”

“I have to go,” Andrew repeated. “I’m going to leave the

phone open. Maybe that will help.”

Braden came around the corner and blinked. For a minute

there, it had looked like the boy was standing in the

outer room, by the table he was using for a desk. But —

that was impossible, wasn’t it? Of course, with this boy’s

abilities, nothing was impossible. He moved to the door of

the tiled room, and stared through the observation port.

The boy was safely locked in the room, still huddled in a

corner as far from the door as he could get. He couldn’t

have been at the desk, could he? Braden shook his head

and took a long pull on the coffee he’d just poured, then

stared at the boy again.

This time it would work. This time the boy would break

and he would do as he was told. This time, the saint

would be his.

**********************************

Hoover Building

Washington, DC

April 15, 2003, 1:20 am

“We’ve got an address! The cry echoed in Skinner’s office

as the agent slammed the phone down and held up a piece

of paper triumphantly. “It’s somewhere within a four block

radius down in the warehouse district. I’ve got the

boundaries.”

Skinner grabbed the paper and whirled, snatching his coat

up as he headed out the door. Scully followed him

immediately and Mulder took long enough to tell Polski

to get *everyone* down to the area — FBI, DC Metro, and

anyone else they could borrow from the neighboring cities.

Assured that support would be on the way, he raced after

his partner and his boss and caught them in the parking

garage. Scully was almost forcibly restraining Skinner,

arguing that he needed to wait until Mulder arrived.

“I’m here,” he called out as he jogged up. “Polski’s

getting everyone mobilized. Backup will be right behind

us.” He deftly snagged the keys from Skinner’s hand and

passed them to Scully before climbing into the back.

When Skinner started to protest, Scully cut him off as

she got into the car. “You don’t need to be driving,”

she said, “and you know it.” She stared up at the AD

through the driver’s window, the motor running, and Skinner

bowed to the inevitable and walked around, getting into

the passenger seat. “Polski’s getting the troops in

motion?” he asked as he buckled up and Scully backed

smoothly out of the parking slot.

“Yeah,” Mulder replied. “He’ll have locals meet us there,

and everyone in the Bureau has been scrambled. The whole

area will be crawling with LEOs in no time.”

“Braden’s clever,” Skinner mused. “The machinery was

rigged in Richmond.” He shot a look over his shoulder

at Mulder, remembering the fear that had gripped him

when he thought his agent was dead. “We may need

explosives experts, maybe dogs. And fire and rescue.

I want them standing by.”

Mulder was nodding, his cell phone at his ear and he

began relaying Skinner’s instructions to Polski back at

the Hoover. He finished and then listened, making

‘uh-huh’ noises at intervals, and then said, “All right.

We’ll see you there,” as he hung up.

“Polski says they finally found Juarez’s wife. They

woke her up. She says Braden was there Friday night,

and then Juarez was gone all day Saturday. Should have

been his day off, so she assumed it had something to

do with his visit from Braden, but she didn’t ask

questions.”

“Any word on property?”

“She gave us a list of everything they own — not much.

Just the house they’re living in and a vacation property

in the mountains — about six hours away.”

“What about family?” Skinner asked.

“Juarez was an only child. He came to America from

Cuba when he was twenty. Put himself through school.

The rest of his family is still in Cuba. Her family

is a different story. She’s got 6 brothers and sisters,

over a dozen aunts and uncles, and more cousins than even

I can remember. They all own property. Research is

running it down now — trying to see if any of it could

be in the area we’re heading for.” Mulder growled in

frustration. “Everything’s closed! We’re working on

tracking down owners and property manager numbers —

Polski’s been waking people up all night — but we still

can’t pin down anything definite.” He sighed. “At this

point, we’re going to be relying on a door to door search.”

Skinner nodded. “That’s about what I expected. By nine

this morning, when everything starts opening up, I want

Andrew found and this whole matter put behind us. I’m

not sitting around waiting for the sun to come up!”

The designated four-block area had been cordoned off by

several additional blocks. Much of the area consisted of

vacant and abandoned warehouses, and as the uniforms and

agents slowly worked their way through the buildings,

homeless people were being forced out of the spaces they

had claimed as home.

A DC Metro Police Captain was coordinating local effort,

and Skinner approached him immediately. “I’m AD Skinner,”

he said, his hand extended.

The man took his hand in a firm grasp and shook. “It’s

your boy, then,” he said sympathetically.

“Yeah,” Skinner agreed. “Give me an area. I’m going in

with my agents.”

“Is that such a good idea?” the captain asked.

“Give me an area,” Skinner growled, “or I’ll just get

started on my own.”

The captain studied him for a moment, noting the

resolution in his face, then nodded. “Guess I’d be the

same way if it was my kid,” he muttered, turning to

point to a map he had laid out on a car hood. “Three

blocks in,” he said, pointing. “An old warehouse that

has been turned into office space. The building itself

is huge — four stories, takes up half a city block —

and there must be hundred little cubbyhole offices

on each floor. We haven’t started there yet.” He

looked up at Skinner. “You and your people want to take

that one?”

Skinner nodded. “Thanks.”

The captain handed him a radio. “It’s already tuned to

the frequency we’re using. Just check in regularly —

every half hour.” He looked at his watch. “First check

at 2:25. Got it?”

Skinned nodded again. “You’ve got a good plan in place.

You run the search organization.” He gave the man a

tight smile. “I’ll tell the rest of my people to

report to you. Keep it organized — but let’s find

my boy.”

“Yes, Sir,” the man said, his hand coming out again.

“I’m Mason — Ephraim Mason.”

“Nice work, Mason,” Skinner said, shaking hands one

more time before he turned and walked away.

He rejoined Mulder and Scully, told them where they

were going, and began walking. Mulder called Polski

again, relaying Skinner’s latest instructions to check

in with Captain Mason for search assignments. There

was a tense moment when he thought the other man was

going to fight for control, but Polski bit it back and

merely said, “Fine. If that’s what the AD wants.”

“It is,” Mulder said with finality, closing the phone.

All around them as they walked toward their building,

they could see law enforcement officials working their

own assigned territory. Shadows were visible through

broken windows as people worked methodically through

the buildings, seeking any sign of Braden or Andrew.

Andrew had called from this area — he had to be here

somewhere. It was just a matter of finding him now.

And Skinner worried that so many cops, so much activity

was going to attract Braden’s attention, make the man

panic and try to move the boy. But they had no choice.

There was too much territory to cover to mount anything

close to a covert assault. Blanketing the area with

cops and FBI agents, so many that Braden wouldn’t stand

a chance of escape, was the best way to force the man

into the open. He’d already made it clear he wouldn’t

kill Andrew — so Skinner didn’t really fear for the

boy’s life. But Braden had hit him, and Skinner didn’t

want the boy to suffer. And with Braden convinced

the boy had healing powers, he couldn’t be sure the

insane doctor wouldn’t do something life-threatening

to the child, and then expect him to heal himself.

Skinner shook his head and increased his pace.

******************************

Warehouse

Washington, DC

April 15, 2003, 3:18 am.

Braden stared through the window into the tiled room.

The boy was hunched over in the corner, throwing up.

“What’s wrong with you?” he called.

“I feel sick,” Andrew muttered. “My head hurts.”

He looked up and met Braden’s eyes through the window.

“I’m thirsty. Can I have some water?”

“No,” Braden said simply. “You might as well get used

to it. You get nothing — no water, no food — for as

long as it takes for you to realize you have no choice

but to accept your destiny.”

“I don’t have a destiny,” Andrew said plaintively. “I’m

just a kid.”

“Hardly,” Braden said dryly. “I made you with the cells

of a saint, and you carry that power within you.” He

cocked his head, studying the boy as the coughed and then

threw up again. “If you feel so bad, why don’t you heal

yourself?”

“I can’t,” the child sobbed. “Why won’t you believe me

when I tell you I can’t?”

“You can,” Braden insisted. “For that matter, you can

save yourself. If you really wanted to, you could heal

yourself, save yourself, free yourself. You have the

power of miracles within you — you need only use it.”

“Don’t you understand?” Andrew cried. “I can’t work

miracles. Only God can do that. Only God!”

“Then appeal to your God for rescue,” Braden said.

“You just don’t get it, do you?” Andrew said, staring

up at Braden’s cold eyes, visible through the small

window in the door. “Sometimes God works a miracle to

show us something, to teach us, or guide us, or help

us. And sometimes, it is the absence of miracles

that is supposed to help us learn. It is in the absence

that our faith is strongest.”

“This should surely test your faith then, Braden said as

he slammed the cover over the window and walked away.

Andrew was left crying in the corner. He crawled away

from his sickness, fighting the urge to be sick again

that the odor ignited, and settled in the other corner.

“Dear God,” he prayed. “Please don’t let anything happen

to my friends. Take care of Walter and Mulder and Dana.

Don’t let anyone be hurt looking for me, but please — let

them find me soon.”

***********************************

Warehouse

Washington, DC

April 15, 2003, 3:42 am

“Next floor?” Scully asked wearily. Skinner nodded and

they began the climb to the third floor. It was time-

consuming to open every door, and emotionally draining as

each time they had to be geared up to find themselves

vulnerable to attack from whatever was behind the door.

They were all exhausted.

Scully and Skinner had done most of the door opening,

as Mulder’s injured arm made it almost impossible to hold

his weapon. He had the gun out, held loosely in his left

hand and ready to switch to his right if need be, but

there had been no need thus far.

There’d been a number of scares so far, as the building

apparently still had power and there had been lights on

in some of the offices. At first, they’d taken that as

a good sign, but as door after opened door revealed

nothing but dirt and dust and emptiness, the adrenaline

rush of seeing a light began to fade.

They’d made three check-ins with Mason and knew that

every building now had a team assigned to it. No one

had turned up any sign of Andrew or Braden. The only

people found thus far had been far too many homeless who

were losing their rent-free space this night.

They entered the third floor, Skinner high and Scully

low, with Mulder following. It was empty. A single nod

at the first door and they began the routine again —

position on either side of the door, Mulder behind Scully

out to the side a bit. Skinner placed his hand on the

door. A silent count of one, two, three. He pushed the

door inward and he and Scully flowed forward, guns pointing

at an empty room.

Without a word, they pulled back, moved to the next door

and repeated the process. The tiny, cell-like offices

opened off on both sides of a narrow, dark hallway. They

followed it to the end, opening ten doors on each side,

then turned and walked over to the next corridor and began

again. The rooms in this hall were different. They seemed

to consist of small suites. Each door opened into a small

office-like area, but there were two other doors at the

back. One opened into a cramped bathroom, and the other

into a fully tiled area with a drain in the floor.

Skinner shook his head. This was weird. He couldn’t

begin to imagine what this area had been used for. He

looked at Scully, and tilted his head in silent inquiry.

She shrugged. “Medical research, maybe?” she whispered.

“Something with animals that required a place to wash

them down?”

Skinner nodded. “Keep alert.” He jerked his head back

at the door. “Let’s keep going.”

It was the sixth door on the left side. They positioned

themselves as they had a hundred times before tonight.

Mulder hung back, ready to come in if needed. Skinner

and Scully on either side of the door, weapons at the

ready. The silent count. One. Two. Three. Skinner

pushed the door. They rolled inward, eyes scanning,

weapons up and pointed at — Braden!

The doctor had a gun as well, and he screamed a single

“Noooooo!” then sighted on Scully and pulled the trigger.

Mulder was coming through the door, racing for his partner,

knowing he was going to be too late to shove her out of

the way.

Skinner was diving at her as well, flying through the

air with no thought of anything other than taking her out

of the line of fire.

But he, too, realized it was too late. There was nothing

that could be done. The bullet flew true — aimed straight

for her heart.

And then the air seemed to shimmer and time seemed to slow

down. Skinner could actually see the bullet as it made

its way toward Scully. He could feel himself moving

infinitely slowly through the air, literally flying as

his feet were completely off the floor. Mulder had his

gun up, pointing at Braden as he still moved toward

Scully and Skinner saw the moment his agent pulled the

trigger. He could see the little explosion as the

hammer ignited the gunpowder, as the bullet dragged

itself out of the muzzle, as it moved as if through

mud, inching toward Braden.

Skinner could see all of these things, feel all of

these things as clearly as if they were everyday occurrences.

Braden’s cry still hung in the room, the sound eerie

in the time-slowed air. Mulder was screaming as well

now, and his slow-motion words were garbled, unintelligible,

but Skinner knew they were some form of “Not Scully, not

her.”

Into the shimmering air, Andrew suddenly appeared. He

stepped from behind a table and Skinner could feel his

brow furrow as he wondered if the boy had been there all

along. The child moved to stand in front of Scully,

and everything snapped, the bullet again moving faster

than could be seen, slamming into Andrew’s head. Braden

fell, shot through the heart by Mulder. His single cry

pulled all of their attention, and when he looked back,

Scully was in Mulder’s arms, saying, “I’m okay, I’m okay,”

over and over again.

Mulder was completely out of the sling, both arms clutched

his partner to his chest. His gun hung laxly from his

fingers.

Skinner moved to check Braden, confirmed the man was dead,

and retrieved the weapon.

And then it hit him.

Andrew!

The boy had been out here.

He’d been shot.

He looked around frantically but there was no sign of

the child.

“Where’d he go, Sir?” Scully asked, as she looked around

as well.

Skinner shrugged. “You did see him, right?”

“Oh, yeah,” Mulder mumbled. “Not sure even I believe it,

but I saw it.”

Skinner moved forward and flung open the bathroom door,

then the door to the tiled room. “Andrew!” he cried,

racing to the slender body slumped in the corner. “I’m

here, Andrew,” he whispered, reaching out to lift the

boy’s head.

“Oh, shit!”

Exactly in the center of the boy’s head was a single

round hole. The entrance wound of the bullet. It was

then he realized the boy was not breathing.

“Get an ambulance!” he ordered, and then found himself

shoved to the side as Scully pushed in and took over.

From that point on, he could do nothing but wait.

********************

Epilogue

Georgetown Memorial Hospital

Washington, DC

April 20, 2003, 05:35 am

“How did he do it?” Mulder asked.

Skinner shrugged. “Who knows? You’ve heard what they

said. There was no way he could have moved after he was

shot, so it had to have happened in the tiled room.”

“I saw him,” Scully said firmly. “He put himself in

front of me. He took that bullet to save my life.”

“I saw him, too, Scully,” Skinner agreed. “I just

don’t have any answers.” He sighed softly. “And now,

I guess we won’t ever get any.”

“Are you sure you don’t want us with you, Sir?” Scully

asked quietly. The three of them stood just outside

the curtained alcove that was Andrew’s room.

Skinner shook his head. “Thank you, but no.”

“Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure this

is the right decision?”

“He’s gone, Mulder,” Skinner said in a quiet and resigned

voice. “Brain dead. That means dead. The body breathes

because a machine forces it to. The heart beats, but only

reflexively. The spark that made Andrew is gone, and it’s

time to let the body go as well.”

“How long …” Mulder looked away, uncomfortable.

Skinner shrugged. “Maybe two minutes, maybe ten, once

the ventilator is removed. He won’t breathe, but his

heart may keep beating for a little bit longer.”

Mulder held out a pair of Andrew’s sweatpants, and a

T-shirt of his own. “Thought you might like to dress

him before …”

“Thanks,” Skinner said as he accepted the clothes. He

looked at Scully, noticing the white stuffed rabbit she

carried. “What’s that for?”

She blushed. “Easter bunny,” she said, her eyes not

meeting his. “I don’t think Andrew had too many traditional

Easters. I thought …” She blushed again then held the

rabbit out. “I thought he might like this.”

Skinner’s throat tightened. “Thank you — thank you, both,”

he said as he looked at his agents. “Thanks for being

here, and thanks for caring.” Scully’s hand came out and

rested on his arm for a moment, before she dropped it and

moved to stand by Mulder, his arm wrapping around her.

“Do you two want to, uh, say good-bye?”

Mulder looked at Scully and she nodded, then they slipped

behind the curtain. Skinner stood unmoving, the clothes

and stuffed bunny dangling from one hand while the other

was held in a fist at his side. When his friends came out

several minutes later, Scully was crying softly and Mulder’s

eyes were red. She reached out and gave the big man a hug,

pulling him down so she could whisper, “We’ll be right here,

waiting for you.”

He nodded his appreciation, unable to speak. Mulder placed

his hand on Skinner’s shoulder and Skinner reached up,

covering it with his own for a brief moment before he

drew a deep breath and moved behind the curtain.

The chair he had requested was there — facing the window

so that he could see the sun rise. He moved quickly to

the bed, waiting while the nurse removed the catheter,

and then disconnected the IV lines. He slipped the pants

onto Andrew, then watched as the ventilator tube was removed.

He sat the unresisting body up, sliding the T-shirt on

over Andrew’s head, and listened to the silence. The lack

of machine sounds was shockingly loud in the small cubicle.

“It won’t be long,” the nurse said quietly as she moved

to leave. “He’s not in any pain.”

Skinner nodded and then lifted the slight body up and

moved to the chair. He sat and held the child — the

young man — who had so suddenly become such an important

part of his life. Andrew drew a ragged breath as he

was settled against Skinner’s broad chest.

clip_image006

“I’m so sorry, Andrew,” he whispered, his voice thick

and raspy with unshed tears. “I don’t know what you

want me to learn here — I don’t know what God wants.

All I see is you — dying — and I’m helpless. I don’t

know what to do …”

He sat in silence and listened to Andrew struggle to

breathe.

The sun was just becoming visible, rosy pinks and golds

lighting the horizon, as around the world, Christians

celebrated Easter. How ironic, Skinner thought, that on

this day of resurrection, he would be holding a child and

waiting for death.

He shifted the boy, holding him so that the first fingers

of dawn that came through the window would touch his face.

“I love you, Andrew,” he murmured against the child’s

hair. “You were a blessing to me.” He settled back,

still not ready to let go, but unprepared to fight anymore.

Andrew still breathed, and as the minutes passed, it

slowly occurred to Skinner that he wasn’t supposed to

be doing that. They’d told him he wouldn’t breathe.

Without the ventilator, that would be it. And yet,

instead of silent immobility, the small body moved, the

chest rising and falling, each breath becoming smoother,

less painful.

When Andrew shifted in his arms, Skinner jumped. “Andrew?”

he cried, twisting the child in his arms. Large dark

eyes stared back at him.

“Love you, too,” Andrew said in a dry and cracked voice.

” ‘m thirsty.”

“You’re — alive!” The tears that Skinner had been holding

back fell unabashedly now and he kissed the boy’s face.

“Alive!”

Andrew nodded and leaned into Skinner’s arms. “It’s

Easter, Walter. A time for new beginnings.”

End

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