Spero Novus

sfoxmascover

Spero Novus

Author: Starfleetofficer1

Category: X-File/Christmas special

Rating: PG-13

Artwork: Truthwebothknow1

Summary: On Christmas Eve, Mulder and Scully find themselves in the middle of a hostage situation that will change their outlook on Christmas forever.

Spoilers: Seasons 1-7

Disclaimer: No copyright infringement intended.

Original web date:01/09/2009

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Spero Novus

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0700

“Nothin’ to say, before I shoot this bullet through his eyes. Nothin’ to say? No last plea, no beggin’, no whimperin’, no nothin’? Well, then…I guess that’s all. That must be the last scene.”

Nathan’s hard eyes stared across the room at the trapped agent. He had seen his fair share of atrocities, victims, and heroes. And this fed was the hero type. He certainly didn’t expect to hear anything come out of the man’s mouth.

But as the agent made eye contact with the teenager, breaking his gaze from the barrel of the gun for just a moment, he cleared his throat. Then, with dust-filled lungs, he turned to the man behind the M9 and said, “You have…no hope.”

No one in the room, including Mulder’s would-be executioner, saw that coming. And, using that moment of hesitation, Nathan hurled himself forward and straight into the serial killer. The teenager completed the tackle just as the deafening sound of a gunshot echoed through the rubble-filled area, followed by dead silence.

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MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

1600

“I don’t know, Mulder. It would pee all over the place and it would take forever to train. And neither of us has a work schedule that lets us come home in the middle of the afternoon to let it out.”

“But Aunt Dana, it’d be fun,” Matthew protested as he cut a shape out of the cookie dough. He gently placed the shape on the cookie board.

“This isn’t our puppy, Matt,” Tara chided gently. She loaded another batch of cookies in the oven and closed the door.

“Matt’s got a point, though,” Mulder said with a smirk in Matt’s direction. “It would be fun, Aunt Dana,” he grinned. Matt grinned back, and Scully rolled her eyes.

“Do you know how much work a puppy is, Mulder?” Scully demanded.

“About as much work as me,” Mulder said with a smile.

Another eye roll. Another cookie shape cut out. Another batch ready for the oven. And then they were done.

They began cleaning up the messy kitchen, still debating the puppy issue.

“It’s really what I want for Christmas,” Matt said with a suggestive grin in his mom’s direction.

Tara laughed, and said, “We’ve had this discussion, Mister, and I’m not going to have it again.”

Before Matt got the chance to reply, they heard the front door open, and Scully headed to the foyer. She smiled when she saw her mom holding Clara, who was fast asleep in her arms.

“The skating lesson did the trick,” Maggie said with a smile. “She’ll sleep tonight.”

Tara entered and smiled at the sight of her five-year-old sleeping peacefully and asked, “How did she do?”

“She did wonderfully—better than the other little ones in the class. She fell a few times but she got right back up.”

“She’s so close to the ice it doesn’t even hurt when she falls,” Matt said, rolling his eyes.

Mulder smirked. “Wasn’t too long ago that you were that size, Buddy.”

“I’ll just go up and put her down. We’ll wake her for dinner. Speaking of which, have you started it yet?”

“Just got the cookies in the oven. We’ll start dinner when they come out,” Scully said.

Maggie nodded, and headed upstairs with the sleeping preschooler. Tara followed to help Maggie get Clara out of her snowsuit and into some pajamas. As soon as his mother was out of earshot, Matt turned to Mulder and Scully. “I really think you should consider that puppy. It’s an investment for the future.”

Scully chuckled. “How’s that?” she asked, walking back into the kitchen. Mulder and Matt followed her.

“Well, see, the puppy will grow into a dog. And he’ll be big enough to protect the house, see? So you won’t need that security system you have. You can just use the dog.”

Mulder laughed. “We’re thinking about it, Matt, but we haven’t come to a decision yet. When we decide, you’ll be the first to know.”

“Good, because my book says animals are good for kids with ADHD, to add structure and responsibility, and you want me to be structured and responsible, so it would really benefit everyone,” he said, trying as hard as he could to keep a straight face.

Scully patted him on the shoulder. “We’ll keep that in mind. Speaking of which, don’t you have a level left on your math game for today? You can finish it before dinner—you’re excused to go play.”

“Okay,” Matt said with a smile, and took off the apron that protected his sweater and jeans from the baking materials. He tossed it on the counter, and took off for the foyer. He dug through his backpack and pulled out his Nintendo DS, and then plopped down on the couch.

Two months ago, the eleven-year-old had been diagnosed with ADHD. After the diagnosis, his grades improved dramatically. Mulder, Scully, Tara, and Maggie had all known he was smart. He just couldn’t find a way to concentrate in the more boring subjects at middle school. But the new plan was helping him considerably. He was playing educational video games geared toward pre-teens with ADHD, and learning what he couldn’t pay attention to in class. His new binder system eliminated his tendency to lose his homework, and with Tara and the teachers’ help, he was integrating himself into the sixth grade community much smoother than before.

Mulder and Scully had both signed on to help, as well. Mulder agreed to coach the kid on athletics, helping him develop a work-out plan that stimulated the cerebellum—a new and highly recommended treatment for people with ADHD. Scully was helping him with science, devoting weekends to taking him to museums where he could actually see what he was supposed to be learning about. The doctors had agreed that he didn’t need medication, just a new way of looking at school. And it was working beautifully.

Mulder had gotten him an early Christmas gift—a book geared toward children with ADHD. It was called A Bird’s-Eye View of Life with ADD and ADHD: Advice from Young Survivors, and Matt was breezing through it at a pace he only seemed to have when reading kids’ novels and comic books.

The diagnosis had gotten Mulder thinking—as a psychologist, he knew the signs of ADHD, and realized that throughout his life, he had mirrored them almost perfectly. Impulsivity, creativity, out-of-the-box thinking, inability to pay attention to certain things no matter how hard he tried, a proclivity towards high-risk behavior, hyper-focusing on certain tasks to an almost obsessive extent, an addictive personality…and alcoholism ran in the family, which was yet another common trait in genetically inherited ADHD.

He had shared this with Scully but they had both agreed that he didn’t need to do anything about it. It had pretty much taken care of itself. The X-files offered structure, and Scully was effectively his coach, keeping him on track and forcing him to send in those damn expense reports on time.

“Want to get started on dinner?” Scully asked, pulling Mulder from his train of thought.

“Sure,” he said, and pulled the chicken out of the refrigerator. Maggie and Tara joined in after a few minutes, and soon they had the cookies out of the oven and the chicken marinated and ready to go in.

“Mulder, you want to go finish that case report? I’ll join you in a few,” Scully said.

Mulder moaned. “Scully…”

“It’s due tomorrow, Mulder. Come on. Skinner wanted it three days ago. You’re just lucky you got an extension.”

“He gave me an extension because he was probably too hung over from a holiday party to read it,” Mulder muttered as he headed out of the kitchen.

“What was that?” Scully called.

“Nothing,” Mulder called back, but couldn’t help but smirk at the thought of Skinner drunk.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

TUESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

1800

The light snow glinted off the street lamp outside the room’s window. An elderly woman rested on a bed, a rope puzzle next to her left hand. The ropes weren’t quite untangled—it was clear she had been working on it, but had grown tired and stopped.

A fifteen-year-old held her tray and walked in quietly. “Mrs. Taperman, it’s dinner time,” he said softly, trying not to disturb her.

“Nathan? Is it dinner already?”

Nathan smiled. “Yep,” he said, and attached the tray to the swinging table next to the bed, and then brought it closer to her. “You’ll have to finish your puzzle later.”

“When are you going to get a haircut, Nathan?”

The boy chuckled. “You know me, Mrs. Taperman. Probably never.”

She gave him a slight ‘humph,’ but the twinkle in her eye let him know that she was not only alert, but still had her sense of humor. The Alzheimer’s still wasn’t bad enough to take that from her.

“And coming out in public like that, your shirt tucked out and your pants down by your knees,” she continued to kid him, as she raised a shaky hand toward the spoon, and tried to grasp it.

Nathan let her struggle, knowing that Mrs. Taperman didn’t want help until she asked for it. It only took another shaky, uncertain motion towards the bowl of soup that she sighed, and said, “I think you’d better help.”

“Be glad to, Mrs. Taperman,” Nathan said, and took the spoon from her hand gently. He fed her the soup slowly, and glanced out the window.

“Why aren’t you with your friends?” She asked suddenly.

Nathan turned back to her, surprised at the question. “I uh…well…I dunno. I belong here.”

“You’re not earning any money and there’s no one here your age.”

“Well, there is that comatose kid on the fourth floor,” Nathan offered, knowing Mrs. Taperman caught the sarcasm in his voice.

“Don’t be smart with me, young man,” she told him with a smile. She glanced out the window for a moment, and then turned toward him again. “It’s a nice day outside,” she said.

He wasn’t surprised. In fact, he had learned to go with this kind of conversation long ago. “Warming up,” he said, although he knew it was a complete lie.

“Yes, it’ll be…were we eating dinner?”

“Yes we were, Mrs. Taperman. Are you full, or would you like more?”

“I’ll have more. Nathan, isn’t it?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said, and forced a smile. This was the saddest part of his job. He watched them get worse. Phase in and out, unable to recall conversation that happened five minutes ago.

A strange man walked by the door just then, and Nathan glanced at him curiously. He had never seen that man before…and he was here every day.

“One sec, Mrs. Taperman. I’ll be right back.”

He stuck his head out the door, and called, “Hey, dude. You need help or something? This floor plan can be kind of confusing.”

The man turned, and stared at Nathan with such ice cold eyes that a shiver ran down the teenager’s spine. “No, don’t need any help. I’m visiting a relative. Thank you, though,” he said in a Louisiana Southern accent.

“Oh…okay. Well…Merry Christmas then.” Nathan watched as the odd man turned and continued walking. Shaking his head, and hoping security was on top of their game, he re-entered Mrs. Taperman’s room.

“Mrs. Taperman, would you like more soup?”

“Nathan, what are you still doing here? It’s almost Christmas. Why don’t you go home to your family?”

Nathan sighed. She was determined today. “I’m happy here, Mrs. Taperman. Let’s eat your soup, okay?”

She smiled at him, and nodded. “It’ll be my Christmas present to you.”

Nathan smiled back. “That’d be great,” he said, and sat down next to her once more, spoon-feeding the soup to her.

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MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

2000

“Thanks for coming!” Scully called as Maggie, Tara, and the kids headed out the door.

“Bye, Aunt Dana, I love you,” Clara said, and offered a hug. “I love you too, Uncle Mulder.”

“Good, because I was starting to feel left out,” Mulder said, folding his arms in a mock indignant expression. Clara giggled, not fooled in the slightest, and Mulder’s expression broke into a smile as he dropped to one knee, allowing her to hug him.

Matt held his Nintendo DS in his gloved hand and his stylus in his other hand, while his glove was stuffed in his pocket. He looked away from the screen only when Tara tapped him on the shoulder. “Matt, say goodbye to Aunt Dana and Uncle Mulder.”

“Bye,” Matt said, his gaze barely leaving the DS for a second.

Mulder chuckled. “Beat that next level for me. I always had trouble with quadratics—maybe you can explain it to me when you’re done.”

“Quadratics are easy, it’s just the variable squared. It’s the cubics that are hard,” Matt said, furiously pressing the A button with his thumb, and then exclaiming, “Oh, damn.”

“Matt!” Tara scolded.

“What? I died.”

“Come on,” Tara sighed. “Let’s get out of your doorjamb before all the heat lets out. Put your other glove on, Matt, until we get the car warmed up.”

“We’ll see you tomorrow,” Maggie said with a smile.

“Bye,” Mulder and Scully said simultaneously, and finally closed the door.

Mulder watched them go from the window for a moment, still staring out as the cars pulled out of the driveway and disappeared from sight.

He didn’t know how much time had passed before he heard, “Mulder, you all right?”

He turned to see Scully leaning against the doorframe leading into the kitchen. “You’ve been standing there for the past ten minutes. I cleaned up the kitchen. Anything wrong?”

Shaking his head, he turned back to the driveway for just a second before he walked towards her. “I don’t know. I guess I still can’t believe it,” he stated.

Scully’s eyebrow rose, and she met his gaze. “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” he said, and embraced her gently. He rested his chin on top of her head, and they held each other in silence for a moment. Finally, he spoke. “Every holiday for the past couple of years, I think about what I have…and really don’t deserve.”

“Oh, Mulder, we’ve been over this!” Scully exclaimed, pulling out of the hug. “Why do you keep insisting that you don’t deserve this family? You deserve nothing less than a loving family!”

“I don’t know, maybe I just keep expecting something bad to happen. You must think I’m an idiot for not being able to just enjoy the holiday.”

“No, you’re not an idiot,” Scully said quietly, hugging him again. “You’re too used to tragedy, Mulder. And that in itself is a tragedy. But why don’t we try, just for a bit, to forget about that? To ignore the darkness and evil and…bad weather,” she said the last with a bit of a chuckle.

Mulder chuckled back.

“Let’s just focus on Christmas. On our beautiful tree, our beautiful home. Our family.”

He nodded, and closed his eyes. “Sounds like a plan,” he said. But for some reason, he wasn’t quite satisfied. He had so much to be thankful for. He couldn’t help but think about losing it all. And that was unsettling.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 23, 2008

2300

Brody Drexler walked into the maintenance closet and closed the door gently behind him. He turned on the lamp, and proceeded to rummage through the equipment. He began setting up the camera gear, opening the laptop lid to reveal a split screen view of various parts of the nursing home. He then set up the scanner, plugging everything in and getting it all secure. It had taken three days to move this equipment in, piece by piece, without anyone noticing. The maintenance closet was supposed to be under renovation, but the maintenance workers were off for Christmas. The residents wouldn’t like the noise of construction during their holiday.

So among the sawdust and uninstalled 2×4’s, Drexler was able to store a wealth of computer equipment that probably totaled close to the price of a car. Of course, with the Auto Bailout pending, the price of a car wasn’t much to compare with.

It took him an hour to set up all the equipment, integrate it with the security cameras, install color viewing on each of the signals, and transmit the signals back to the receiver on his laptop. Another hour was devoted to setting up the rest of the equipment, and readying the camera for its job.

He then took a bulletproof vest from behind the table saw stand and unclipped his visitor’s pass from his collar, re-clipping it to his belt before pulling the vest over his head. He secured the straps in place. Then he pulled a black case from behind a pile of wood, and set it on top of the table saw stand. He opened it, revealing several weapons. He slung a P90 automatic weapon over his shoulders, holstered two M9’s, and tucked a small .380 into the back of his pants.

Finally, he placed a helmet on top of his head and secured it with a chin strap. Atop the helmet was a standard helmet-cam, just like the ones the soldiers wore during tours of duty. He loaded his suit with extra ammo and then cocked the P90. “Show time,” he said with a grin, and pressed the ‘play’ button on a universal RCA remote control. He stuck the remote in his pocket and kicked the door of the maintenance closet open.

“All right, everyone listen up!” He screamed, and fired off a few shots. “Lights, camera, action, take one, we’re rolling, everyone on set!” He laughed joyfully at the terrified expressions on the old people’s faces as the staff tried to protect them, stepping in front of them and herding them back to their rooms.

“Now who’s the director, huh? I’m in charge, bitches! It’s my movie, and it’s rollin’ now!”

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MULDER & SCULLY’S TOWNHOUSE

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0300

The phone rang, and Scully moaned and rolled over. She batted in Mulder’s general direction, and said, “Phone’s ringing.”

“Let it ring,” Mulder said, rolling over and pulling the covers over his head. He had just gotten to bed an hour ago, after two failed attempts at sleep.

“You suck,” Scully muttered, and picked up her receiver. “Hello?” She answered, not bothering to look at the CID but trying her hardest to sound professional.

“Scully, this is Skinner. We have a situation we need you and Mulder on.”

“Sir? It’s three in the morning. What is it?”

“A hostage situation. Of a very unusual nature. Listen, I need you both at the Garden Court Nursing Home as soon as possible.”

Skinner spoke with urgency and what Scully thought sounded like confusion. But it might just be because it was so damn early in the morning.

Mulder rolled over and propped himself up on his elbow, giving Scully an inquisitive glance.

“How bad is the hostage situation, Sir?” Scully asked, trying to keep the sleep out of her voice.

“It’s extremely complicated. There are ten identified hostage takers in the facility. I’ll brief you both when you get here.”

“Okay, Sir,” she said, curious as to what they were about to get themselves into at 3 in the morning. “We’ll be there in twenty minutes.”

She hung up the phone, and turned to Mulder. “Ten hostage takers have infiltrated a nursing home. It’s practically down the street from our house—Garden Court.”

“That place? Why do they need us?”

“Skinner didn’t say,” Scully said as she slid out of bed. “C’mon, let’s go. I just hope this is over by this afternoon so we can get some sleep before Christmas.”

Mulder groaned. He still needed to do his Christmas shopping. He had managed to collect gifts for Maggie, Tara, Clara, and Matt, but he had several gifts picked out for Scully. He just hadn’t gotten them yet. It had been on his list of things to do and he couldn’t believe he had let it go this long. But now here he was, Christmas Eve, with a case prohibiting him from going Christmas shopping.

Maybe this would be over by this afternoon. Then he could go pick up the gifts he had picked out. All but two of the stores had agreed to hold the gifts, but hadn’t guaranteed him that a mistake wouldn’t occur and his gift would be sold by accident.

Scully turned on the radio, and they listened to Hark the Herald Angels Sing as they got dressed hastily. They practically ran out the door, and into their car. Scully drove toward the nursing home, and sent up a silent prayer that this would be over sooner rather than later.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0330

“So let me get this straight. They all look the same?”

“More than just the same, Agent Scully,” the tech said, pointing to the security monitor feeds of the building. “They’re all identical. Our tracking programs match their faces perfectly. They’re…well, whatever you call ten babies from the same mother. They’re that.”

“Decuplets,” Mulder said, and scratched the back of his head. They were looking at pictures of the culprits, ten identically mustachioed men with thinning brown hair and wild eyes. “So every resident is accounted for on these tapes?”

“All residents and all staff, as far as we know. We’ve got full video feed of what’s going on in there, and it doesn’t look good. These guys have positioned themselves in exactly the right places to avoid capture. If we storm the building, we’d trip their silent alarms and trigger a machine gun booby trap. That would give them enough time to take cover and use the oxygen tanks in the hostage areas to create an explosion,” Skinner said.

“Bomb suits?” Mulder asked.

“We don’t want to risk a firefight, Mulder. There are elderly patients in there,” Skinner told him flatly. “Even a well-executed operation still risks hitting one of them.”

“Why were we called, Sir? I mean, other than the fact that they’re decuplets…”

“Assistant Director Taperman is a friend of mine—as soon as this came in, he asked me to personally handle it. His mother is in this facility, and besides that, there is this,” he said, and indicated the computer screen as well.

The tech took his cue. “The decuplets are reciting some kind of script, like it’s from a movie. Our limited audio inside the building has given us this.” The tech began playing the tape.

“…And I have risen from the dead to show you all how to really make a movie. I am the star, and none of you…”

“This is the second one,” the tech said, and started another tape.

“…You people don’t know shit. I’m the star of this movie and you guys ain’t gonna screw this up this time—I’ve risen from the dead to show you…”

“They all go on like this,” the tech explained. “Some of them use proper English, some of them you can barely understand. But they all say the same thing, at about the same time during the situation. Ten minutes after it started—that’s when these were collected.”

“And it’s as if they were all actors on this film—improvising the script but not varying from the plot,” Mulder said.

“And they’re filming every second,” Skinner said. “Their helmet cams are actually streaming live video to a maintenance closet. They have a computer set up there that’s collecting the videos and storing them. We’ve intercepted their videos and they’ve caught us. But they don’t seem to mind.”

“Sir!” a woman called from behind. They turned to see an FBI agent approaching. “Sir, we’ve got a new video uploading.”

“I’m receiving it now,” the tech said, but the woman shoved a PDA in front of Skinner’s nose. “It’s already downloaded here,” she said.

Skinner wasted no time, and pressed ‘play’. The helmet had been taken off the man’s head and he was now addressing the camera.

“Hey, Feds, how ya doin’? All right, let’s make this short and sweet. My name’s Brody Drexler. I used to make movies, but some asshole cut my life short. I’m back now to show you all how it’s really done. For my next scene, I need two agents. Preferably one with medical training. Think you can do that for me? If not, this lady here,” he said, pulling an elderly, frantically sobbing woman into the camera’s view, “is gonna get a bullet through her pretty little skull. You all move, now, hear? I’ll look forward to the addition to my cast.”

He placed the helmet back on his head and ended the feed. Skinner tossed the PDA to the tech. “Go through that video and get a frame-by-frame of that last shot. When he puts the helmet back on his head, you have a view of the room.”

The tech nodded, said, “Yes, Sir,” and then handed the PDA back to the agent that had given it to Skinner in the first place. “I can do that from here,” he said, and pointed to his laptop.

“So we can assume that Brody Drexler is the leader. Look into the name Drexler,” Skinner said to the agent with the PDA. “Find out who he is, and whether he’s a decuplet or if this is some kind of a trick.”

“Yes, Sir,” she said, and jogged away.

Skinner turned to Scully, and before he could even say the words, Scully said, “I’ll go.”

“If she’s going, I’m the second agent,” Mulder stated.

“That makes the most sense,” Skinner said with a nod. “You’ve both got hostage crisis experience, and we don’t need you to negotiate, Mulder. We’ve got a negotiator over there already, setting up a game plan.” He indicated to the tent not too far away, where a young agent was pointing to a chalk board, and other agents were nodding in response.

Mulder snorted. “This isn’t the Academy, Sir, and we can’t afford to have someone green in there. Who picked that kid?”

“I did. He’s a highly skilled negotiator, and he’ll be guiding you through what to say. You’re not to deviate from the plan unless you have information he doesn’t, understood?” Skinner demanded.

Mulder rolled his eyes. “Sir, look, if I’m going in with Scully—”

“You’ll need to act like her partner and back her up. I need your attention on her location as much as possible. It’s very likely he’s planning on injuring one of the hostages as part of his movie, and using Scully as a doctor.”

“Or he’s already injured one of the hostages and it isn’t part of the movie, so he needs me to take that person off the scene,” Scully suggested.

“He would use one of the nursing home doctors for that,” Mulder said, and then turned to Skinner. “Okay. I won’t go off the script, unless I’ve got other information. But if that kid makes a mistake, don’t expect me to follow through with it.”

Skinner nodded. “Understandable. Go get suited up, Agents. I don’t know how long he’s going to give us.”

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other briefly before heading to the tent to grab gear. They were both thinking the same thing, and it was almost unnecessary when Scully said, “Mulder, I swear to God, if you come home for Christmas in a cast of any kind, I’m going to kick your ass.”

“I’ll be good, Scully,” he promised, but the smirk on his face told her he was in his usual adrenaline-fueled ‘impulsive’ mood.

“You better be. No heroics.”

“None necessary. I can probably talk this guy down. And all his friends will follow.”

It was amazing. In a few moments, Scully realized, Mulder had yet again compiled a mental profile of their suspect and was ready to disarm him.

“Besides, you know the notorious rule of law enforcement,” Mulder said with a grin.

“What?” Scully asked with dread. He was in ‘energetic’ mode now, and there was no stopping him.

“The number of suspects is inversely proportionate to the proximity of your backup. In this case, we’ve got a lot of suspects but we’ve got even more backup,” he said, waving his arms around at the crowd gathered outside the nursing home. “So we should be fine.”

“But Mulder, you’ve forgotten the notorious rule of the X-files.”

“Oh?” he asked, snapping his helmet chin strap and sticking the radio in his ear.

“The number of things that go wrong is inversely proportionate to the proximity of Mulder to the suspect,” she said with a smirk.

He shoved her gently in reply, and they headed toward the negotiator to be briefed.

“Here we go,” Scully said with a sigh.

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GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0345

“You, kid, go let the lady in,” Drexler said, and pointed his weapon at the teenager’s head.

Nathan got up slowly, keeping Drexler in his peripheral vision as he walked toward the door to the Alzheimer’s ward. Drexler had used the PA system to direct the two agents to where he wanted them, and keep them away from the areas he wanted to keep clear.

Nathan keyed in the code to open the door, a security measure in place to keep the wandering patients inside the ward. When the doors opened, Nathan gave the two agents a wary look, as if trying to gauge what their intentions were. Then he walked back to the group huddled together on the floor, and sat down silently.

“All righty, now we’re in show business!” Drexler exclaimed in his Louisiana southern accent. “Now what’re your names?”

“I’m Agent Dana Scully—I’m a medical doctor. And this is Agent Fox Mulder.”

“Fox…sounds southern to me. You from the south?”

Mulder shook his head. “Sorry, no.”

“Pity,” he said, and then perked up. “Okay! You, Agent Scully, you’re with me. We’re gonna walk on over to this next ward here, and you all sit tight—I’ll have one of my friends come check in on you every now and then. Agent Mulder, I need you here with these ones—your excitement’s comin’, trust me. You both are federal agents, are ya not?”

“We are. And Sir, I don’t think you realize how much trouble you’re in right now,” Scully said.

Drexler laughed. “Aren’t you a sharp little thing? You pegged me as crazy, haven’t you? Well, y’all better reconsider that position, ‘cause I ain’t crazy. I’m back from the dead, bitches! Ha ha! C’mon, you’re with me,” he gripped Scully’s arm and pulled her toward the exit. “Kid! Open the door!”

Nathan rose and opened the door once more, watching as Scully was led away. Mulder looked around when the door slid closed, trying to find places where Drexler might have hidden a camera other than the one recording the ‘movie’. He spotted the security camera, but not anything else. “Is everyone okay?” Mulder asked the hostages.

“Mr. Pederman might have to go to the bathroom soon,” a nurse offered. “He has a weak bladder but his diapers are in his room.”

“It might be okay to get up and get those diapers now. You should move now, before one of his accomplices comes to keep watch over this ward. Does anyone else need anything?”

“I’ll find Mrs. Gregory’s meds, just in case we’re here that long.”

“If anyone needs meds, we might be able to negotiate a break in Drexler’s film,” Mulder said. “He’d understand that actors need a break.”

“We’re not actors. We’re hostages,” another nurse stated, his voice shaky. “Are you going to get us out of here?”

“I’m doing everything I can to make that happen. But my partner and I need to coordinate, and we need more information on this guy. You’re just going to have to trust me, and stay calm.”

“Yeah, right,” the man said, and glanced at the patients. “I give it fifteen minutes before someone loses it.”

“Do whatever you can to keep everyone calm,” Mulder repeated, and then heard the radio in his ear crackle.

“Mulder, we’ve got information on this guy,” Skinner’s voice told him. “Brody Drexler was an independent film director in Louisiana until two years ago, during a trip to DC where he was murdered. The case was never solved, and the remains of the body were hard to identify—so it was probably a mistake. What it doesn’t explain is the decuplets thing. Mulder, Brody Drexler was an only child. This means either he’s pulling some kind of magic trick or this isn’t Brody Drexler.”

Most likely the latter, Mulder thought, but he wasn’t sure yet.

“We ran his identity through facial recognition and have minimal results, but they’re still significant. He’s been linked to four security camera heists around the country, all in nursing homes, all staging hostage situations. But never with nine identical accomplices. All hostage situations were unsuccessful and he always appears to escape somehow, but no one has figured out how he gets past the security and back up perimeter.

“As far as personal information, all we have thus far is the real Brody Drexler had no criminal record. No gambling debts that anyone knew of, no family, and was in good financial standing. No outstanding bills. Clear your throat if you’re getting this.”

Mulder cleared his throat.

“He has no history of violence, but obviously the men you’re dealing with here do have a proclivity towards violence. Watch Scully’s back, and make sure you keep each other updated. I’m giving her this same information. We have your location on infrared tracker out here. We’re ready to come if necessary. Use the codeword if you have to. The hostage negotiator—Jenkins—he says you’re doing great. No complaints so far. We’ll keep in touch. Skinner out.”

“Excuse me, Sir?” a woman said, her frail body in a geriatric chair.

“Yes, Ma’am?” Mulder asked her.

“You can’t be here.”

Mulder stared at her, and then glanced at the nurses. They didn’t seem to react to the woman’s words. “Why is that?”

“You weren’t invited,” she said bluntly, and then nodded toward the door. “You can leave, and come back in when you’re invited.”

Mulder smiled slightly, and was surprised when the teenager spoke. “Don’t mind her. Ms. Van Remp doesn’t quite understand what’s going on.”

“I understand that man wasn’t invited,” Ms. VanRemp said, an irritated look on her face.

“What’s your name?” Mulder asked the boy.

“Nathan. I’m a volunteer here. I’d like to help you—in whatever way you need me to.”

Mulder nodded. “You can help me by keeping them calm. I understand this is the Alzheimer’s unit—do you know of any disruptive patients my partner and I should know about?”

Nathan shook his head. “Naw, man, they’re all pretty good as long as they got the nurses close by. There are a few who will throw a fit but the nurses should be able to calm them down.”

Mulder nodded at the teenager’s answer, even though he knew that a nurse with a gun to her head would not be able to calm down a patient who decided to suddenly throw a fit. “You’re doing a great job remaining calm. Keep it up.”

Nathan snorted. “Yeah,” he said.

Mulder gave him a curious look.

The boy shook his head, and said, “I’ve seen this shit before. Never ends well. But nothin’ you can do.”

“You can do plenty, Nathan,” Mulder told him seriously. “You can listen for my cue. When I need your help, I’ll let you know. Stay alert. This will end well.”

“That’s what they all say. No offense, man. I know you’re a big-wig fed, but that doesn’t stop the crazies. I’ll still pay attention. You got my help if you need it.”

Mulder smiled, and gave him an approving nod. Then he stood by the door, waiting for someone to return.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0415

Drexler had dropped Scully off at a doctor’s office in the nursing home, where an elderly man was bleeding profusely from a head wound. Most likely, he had been shoved into something. Scully was doing everything she could, but doubted he would survive.

The serial killer, who had done this before many times, Scully realized, stood by the door and watched, occasionally stepping forward and uttering the same words. He had disappeared for a short time after Scully started her attempt at controlling the bleeding, and then reappeared. Or at least, someone identical to Drexler had reappeared. And he did the same thing, walking forward, pointing the gun to her head, and yelling, “Save him or we’ll never get the code!” or some variant of that.

Scully managed to get the bleeding under control and was stitching the contusion while monitoring the man’s iffy vitals, when Drexler stepped forward and screamed his ‘code’ nonsense once more. She turned to him and said coolly, “You’re going to need to stop that. I can’t concentrate and save this man if you keep screaming in my face.”

The man took a step back, surprisingly enough, and stood holding the weapon in a fairly non-threatening, observant stance. Scully was shocked but tried not to show it. Instead, she got back to work on who the residents in this ward had mentioned was Mr. Valdor.

After a few more minutes, the man was stable, but unconscious.

“Did you save him?” Drexler—or whoever he was–stated.

“He’s stable for now but I can’t guarantee he’ll stay that way, much less that he’ll wake up and give you whatever code you need. What does the code open?”

“The door to the furnace,” the man told her. “He was down there when that maintenance worker opened the door. I shot the maintenance worker, knocked the old man out. I need that code.”

“Why do you need to get to the furnace room?” Scully asked, as non-confrontationally as she could.

“Why, honey, don’t you know?” His horrid breath nearly gagged Scully as he leaned in. “That’s where the bomb is. Damn maintenance worker changed the code at the last second, ‘fore I could see what it was. Now the bomb’s in there idlin’ like a car in a driveway on a hot summer day, and I need to get back in there to set it off.”

“Well, I doubt you’ll get much out of him,” Scully stated flatly, pleased that this man had leaned in to make his statement about a bomb perfectly clear to the units sitting outside, waiting to storm in if necessary. Booby-traps be damned.

“That may be true. But I’m pretty sure I can find someone else who might know just what that maintenance worker might’ve changed the code to. After all, security for these patients is a top priority in this here facility.”

With that, the man left. Scully glanced at her patient, for whom she could do nothing at the moment, and sighed.

“Scully, I got all that,” Skinner said on her radio. “See if you can find a maintenance worker who knows that code, and transmit it to us. We’ll go in and disarm the bomb.”

“Copy,” Scully said in a low voice, and approached the small group that had gathered outside the medical room. She quickly located the nurse and bypassed the patients. “Do you know where a maintenance worker might be?”

“Um…over in the uh…in the maintenance area, I guess…third floor,” the nervous woman said. She was shaking with fear. “Are they…are they gonna kill us?”

Scully placed her arm on the woman’s shoulder. “My partner and I are going to do everything we can to stop these men, and end this as soon as possible. But I need your help. Can you keep these patients calm while I head to the third floor?”

She nodded rapidly, and Scully realized that by the way her eyes were darting around, and the manner in which she was shaking, hugging herself to get warm, and stuttering led to the diagnosis of shock. She looked around for another nurse, perhaps down the hall or maybe even in one of these offices, but found none. “Where are all the medical staff that usually occupy these offices?”

“He’s locked them in the furnace area,” the nurse stuttered, and shook her head. “He did it just before that new guy, Joe, went to change the codes for the night. We always change the…the codes. So the Alzheimers patients don’t get help…from the other patients…you know, in their wandering. And Tom—the guy in there, the guy you saved, he was down there with the maintenance worker because he’s a wanderer. He was caught down there.”

Scully nodded. If Tom had Alzheimer’s and was at the wandering stage it was unlikely that he would remember the code, even if he did wake up. She looked at the patients around her, and did a quick assessment. “Do any of you have medical training?”

“I do!” an elderly man said, and stepped forward slowly. He clearly had arthritis in his hips, Scully judged by the way he shuffled. “I’m a retired paramedic. Thirty-five years on the job, after ten years of service in the US Navy. I’m the leader of the disaster plan group here at Garden Court—if it weren’t for this damned arthritis, I’d be running the place! What do you need?”

“What’s your name, Sir?” Scully asked.

“Jim Randall,” he said, and extended his hand to Scully. She shook it gently.

“Mr. Randall, I need you to help this nurse here—she’s in shock. She needs a warm blanket, a glass of ice water, and she needs to be closely monitored for any kind of heartbeat irregularities. Can you do that?”

Jim nodded. “Of course I can. We’ve got the disaster plan right over here…damn it, Pete, get me the disaster plan. It’s over there—my walker’s in my damn room, and all this commotion started, and I didn’t have a chance to get it.”

Jim’s friend, Pete, walked almost as slowly as Jim would have toward the receptionist’s desk at the doctor’s office area. He pulled a blue binder from the shelf and brought it over. “See, it’s here,” Jim said, and flipped to the page with the materials listed. “Everything we have, and its location.”

“Great. If you can start implementing this disaster plan, Mr. Randall, I’d greatly appreciate it. And Tom in there,” Scully indicated her patient, “Needs to be monitored in the same way. Heartbeat, blood pressure, and check his eyes for dilation. Can you do that?”

Jim nodded confidently. “Anything to serve my community.”

“I’ll try to find you a nurse to help. Does anyone here have a medical condition that requires assistance?”

Jim looked around, and then said, “Kate’s got a bit of a bladder problem.”

Kate, who was leaning on a walker, threw him a nasty look. “Oh, you’re a fool and a liar, Jim. Don’t listen to him. He’s making it up as he goes along. I’ll keep him in order.”

Scully wondered vaguely if these two were husband and wife, here for a doctor’s appointment. The group was small, and that was good—it meant less variability for Jim to handle. She nodded, and gave Jim an encouraging smile. “I’m sure you’ll handle this just fine, Mr. Randall. I’ll be back as soon as possible.”

He gave her a salute, and Scully walked off. She admired people like Jim Randall more than almost anyone else in the world. Instead of spending their lives working toward a glamorous retirement with a golf course nearby and a country club membership, he had spent his life serving his country and community. He had signed up to serve his community in his very old age, using his talents despite his physical limitations. And finally, during a crisis situation, he stepped up to help.

She headed toward the stairs, using guidance from the techs outside to watch for booby traps. Since there were none and infrared signatures were absent from the stairwell, she opened the door and mounted the stairs. Extending her weapon in front of her, she began to climb.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0445

It had been a while since anyone entered the Alzheimer’s ward, but Mulder decided that it was worth it to wait. He had received Skinner’s notice that Scully was moving, and maintaining radio silence as long as she could. She was trying to find a maintenance worker who could give them the code to the furnace room, to disarm some kind of a bomb Drexler had put there.

Drexler burst in the door suddenly, and nearly everyone jumped. He pointed to the teenager, Nathan. “You! Boy! Get up!”

Nathan got up slowly, glaring at the man with a hardened, street-wise gaze. Mulder was ready to jump if necessary, hoping this kid wouldn’t be stupid enough to say something provocative.

“Do you know of any maintenance workers around here?”

Nathan shook his head.

“You don’t know any? You have no clue where they might be? Does anyone know where they might be?”

Mulder closed his eyes in annoyance when a nurse stood up. “Third floor,” she said. “It’s where the maintenance lounge is. They have their lockers there.”

“All right, Agent Mulder and Tom Thumb here are comin’ with me. C’mon, this ain’t part of the script but I like it. A boy and a fed, gettin’ ready to help me torture a maintenance worker for a code. Sounds beautiful!”

“It sounds like a good plot for a movie,” Mulder said sincerely as he led the way out the door, Drexler’s weapon pointed at his back. He needed some way to stall. Skinner had said that Scully was heading to the third floor to find a maintenance worker. If she got there first, she’d get to the bomb first.

“Don’t you talk smart with me, Fed.”

Mulder’s radio crackled, and a voice he didn’t recognize, but presumed to be the negotiator Jenkins, said, “Don’t antagonize him. Keep him calm. Be careful, Mulder—movies are his domain. He’s likely to get territorial.”

Mulder ignored Jenkins’ voice for now. “No, I’m serious. I’m a bit of a movie buff. I’ve actually seen some of your classics.”

Skinner, obviously taking his cue, began a search and supplied Mulder with information instantaneously.

“Oh yeah, like what?” Drexler stopped and pointed his weapon at Mulder’s head. Mulder didn’t turn.

“Skeleton in my Closet, 1998,” Skinner said in Mulder’s radio.

“Skeleton in my Closet. I saw it in ’98, right after it was made.”

Drexler’s eyebrow ascended, and he said, “Go on.”

“Good Times Never End, 2002,” Skinner provided.

“Good Times Never End. Didn’t catch it until early 2003,” Mulder said.

“What else?” Drexler asked.

“Peter’s Snowflake, 2005. A children’s movie.”

“My nephew loves Peter’s Snowflake. He turned six in 2005. I figured it’d be a nice birthday present to find a way to get him to that movie.”

“So you must…ah…you must travel in Louisiana a lot?” Drexler asked.

“Tell him you stopped by a few times but you catch most of his movies in DC’s Trademark 10 theatre.”

“I saw Skeleton in my Closet in Louisiana but I saw most of your movies in a local theatre. Trademark 10. You know it?”

“Naw, not from around this area. Have to keep movin’ around, y’know? When you rehearse as much as I do, people get suspicious.”

The radio crackled again, and Jenkins’ voice filled Mulder’s ear. “Try to find out about the plot. Where he’s going with the movie.”

“Have you rehearsed this movie before?” Mulder asked.

“’Bout six other times. Was in the news four times for it. Finally got it just right, but that damn maintenance worker put us off schedule. I was writin’ this script before someone decided to take my life, y’know. Now I’m here, back from the dead, ready to act it all out. Wanna know what it’s called?”

“Sure,” Mulder said.

“The End is Near,” he said, and laughed. “Kinda funny—ya have to admire the humor, these people bein’ so close to dead.”

“That isn’t funny,” Nathan stated harshly, and Mulder wanted to slap the kid.

Drexler shoved his weapon into Nathan’s head and demanded, “What do you mean? You don’t like my title, kid? Wanna learn just how near the end is?”

“Keep the kid under control, Mulder,” Jenkins ordered.

But Nathan seemed to have a mind of his own. “These people have lived out most of their lives. At least most of them have—some of them are kids or young adults who had some kinda trauma, and are comatose. But like…dude, you can’t make fun of the fact that these people are nearing their end, because every day of life to them is like a gift. Every day of life to you should be like a gift.”

Mulder had to admit, he was surprised to hear what came out of the kid’s mouth. For a teenager in sagging pants, skater’s shoes, a huge t-shirt and sweatshirt, and shaggy unkempt hair, he certainly was profound. Apparently, Drexler thought so too.

He took the gun from the kid’s head. “Why, son, I do believe you understand me. Every day of my new life is a gift. I was dead, but now I’m alive. I’ve been given this chance to finish my movie, don’t you understand? I’m takin’ it! Now let’s head up to that third floor!”

“Mulder, I’ve got more information on Drexler,” Skinner said in Mulder’s radio. “He was a college dropout—his original field of study was computer engineering. He left and started his own company in 1991. The company failed in 1994. He was trying to sell holographic technology, but he was too far ahead of the market.”

Mulder cleared his throat. Drexler glanced at him, but didn’t react.

“Drexler’s capable of constructing complex computer technology,” Skinner told him. “He’s probably used that skill to set up the booby traps in the building, and he might have used that skill to find a way to make the monitors show ten of him, instead of one. You’d never know the difference, if all the ‘Drexlers’ look the same.”

There was a pause, and Mulder realized they were at the landing to the third floor.

“Scully’s signature is still on that floor, Mulder. If you can stall him, do it now.”

“Drexler, do you have any children?”

Drexler turned, and shook his head absently. “No, don’t have no children to my name.”

“Hm. That’s weird, because Peter’s Snowflake was extremely observant of a child’s nature. Do you have any nieces or nephews?”

“You tryin’ to implicate me as a pedophile?” Drexler demanded, and shoved his gun under Mulder’s chin. “I ain’t got no baby fetish, you understand? I have a movie fetish. I love kids, just love ‘em. Can’t stand ‘em when they turn to teenagers, like your friend here.”

“What’s wrong with teenagers?” Nathan challenged.

“For that, boy, you get to go first,” Drexler said, and took Nathan by the arm and shoved him in front of him. He opened the door to the third floor and pushed Nathan forward, and Mulder brought up the rear. The agent tried to push past the other two to make sure Scully wasn’t in the area.

They rounded a corner and the sign for the maintenance lounge was in sight. But suddenly, Scully turned the corner at the other end of the hall, and they stared at each other for a moment before she broke into a dead run. Drexler ran after her, at top speed. Then he pressed two buttons on the remote attached to his belt. Mulder and Nathan were hot on his heels, Nathan looking like he was ready to take him down. Luckily, Mulder caught the kid’s shoulder and shook his head.

They rounded another corner and went down a maze-like hallway. Mulder nearly thought he was seeing double when a second Drexler jumped in front of Scully, and pointed his weapon at her head. She stopped dead in her tracks, and the Drexler closest to Mulder and Nathan fired his weapon. Scully dropped.

“No! Scully!” Mulder screamed, and lunged toward her. But Drexler was too fast. He caught Mulder by the neck and pulled a knife, holding it against the agent’s carotid artery.

“We got to find a maintenance worker,” he said, far too calmly for the occasion. “So you just quiet down there, boy, and we’ll get your partner some medical attention.”

“Fuck you!” Mulder yelled.

Nathan’s gaze rose from the fallen agent to a maintenance worker jogging down the hallway. The Latino man’s eyes grew wide when he saw both Drexlers, and started to run. But the second Drexler caught him in his tracks by pointing his weapon directly at the man’s skull, and saying not a word.

“Ah, there’s one now,” Drexler said, and released Mulder. He pointed his weapon at the agent as he approached the maintenance worker, and indicated that the man should cover the other half of the distance.

Shakily and clearly scared out of his mind, the poor man approached the serial killer and stuttered, “What…what do you want? I got kids, I’m a single dad, I’m trying to raise them by working two jobs—I got to put food on the table—”

“Didn’t your mama never tell you to shut your trap? If not, shut it now, and follow me. You happen to know what the codes to the furnace room were changed to tonight?”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever you need, man,” he said. His Mexican accent was getting thicker, which Mulder took as a sign that he was getting more and more nervous. However, he didn’t much care. All he could look at was Scully’s prone form across the hallway. He wasn’t getting anything from Skinner on his radio, and that worried him, too. Drexler forced them down the hall, and to the stairwell. They descended the stairs in utter silence all the way to the basement.

Finally, Drexler pointed at the door. “Okay, open it, son. And I’ll let you go.”

Mulder saw him look at the security camera, which was no doubt recording the ‘scene’ as part of the movie. He realized all too well what was going to happen next.

The second the door opened, Drexler extended his weapon and pulled the trigger. The maintenance worker dropped to the floor, instantly dead.

“You bastard! That man had a family! He had kids! He was their only source of food! How could you do that?!” Nathan screamed, and Mulder held him back from lunging at the serial killer.

Drexler looked at Nathan square in the eye, and said, “I got no need for big mouths. Take particular note of that, son, before yours becomes too big for your own good.”

With that, he backed into the furnace area, training his weapon on Mulder and Nathan the entire time. Mulder glanced at the doctors with bound hands gathered in the corner of the room, trying to stay away from the gunfire. Drexler set the bomb without even glancing at the medical staff, and looked into a camera that was set up near the door. “Now there won’t be doubt—I rule this place and I am the master of death!”

He looked at Mulder and Nathan, and then waved his gun, indicating they should come into the room.

“You won’t be able to stop me, Fed. I’m gonna blow this place and take everyone with me!” He said, his tone exaggerated. It was clear to Mulder and Nathan that this was some kind of a gruesome script. But neither one of them was in an acting mood.

“What’s the point in blowing yourself up? You just got a chance at a new life—why would you want to blow it all to hell?” Nathan asked, his brow lowered angrily. “You’re either stupid or pathetic.”

“You don’t understand, boy. I’m mastering death. Death couldn’t master me the first time, what in God’s name makes you think it’ll master me a second time?”

“Someone made an attempt on your life, Drexler. That doesn’t mean you died,” Mulder stated bluntly. “Your twisted head made that up, and now you’re about to take a nursing home filled with helpless elderly residents along with the staff and volunteers that keep this place running, just to make a fucking movie you never got to finish! What are you using, Drexler? Holographic technology? Is that why there are ten of you? There aren’t really, are there? They’re all holograms. And that means their bullets are holographic too—it’s a brilliant way to control a bunch of untrained civilians. But there’s one major problem with your plan. You’re up against the FBI, the ATF, and the bomb squad. They’ve got this place mapped, and they’re ready to storm in when they need to.”

“Ah, but Mr. G-man, you’re forgettin’ one very important detail. I know my computers. I blocked the signal from that little radio you’re wearin’ in your ear from transmitting anything but static to your boss-man out there. They have not a clue what just transpired with your pretty little partner, Dr. Scully. And because your radios don’t work, neither do you. Now…” he stepped aside, and left the doorway clear. “I suggest the two of you skiddaddle on outta here, if you want to save your partner and get out of the building.” He grinned. “This’ll make for one hell of a great movie.”

“You’re letting us go?” Nathan asked, skeptical.

“No, boy, you’ll never make it before the bomb blows. But good luck. Like I said, a great movie.”

“And how are you going to retrieve this movie, if your equipment’s about to blow up, Drexler?” Mulder challenged him.

Drexler laughed. “You think I’d stake all this on one little building? Naw, I got cameras and computers recording this everywhere. In fact, it’ll be up on Youtube in a couple of hours, when the soundtrack gets put in. See, after I go, I’m immortalized. My computer is gonna stick the soundtrack in pre-determined places, and this little improvised movie of mine will become immortalized forever. I will go down in history as Brody Drexler—the one writer, director, and producer who made a real movie. There will be tangible evidence of my story. And it’ll be accessible forever.”

Nathan snorted. “You don’t know what forever is,” he said.

Mulder glanced Drexler, and then at the bomb. “Let the medical staff go.”

Drexler rolled his eyes. “Fine,” he said, and paused the count-down on the bomb. “You’re the most difficult actors to work with.” He pulled a knife and cut the zip ties around the doctors’ hands, after which they looked to Mulder for instruction.

“Go!” Mulder yelled, and grabbed Nathan’s arm, yanking him out of the furnace room. They ran up the stairs, bypassing the elevator. When they reached the third floor, they knew the bomb had to be close to blowing. Mulder tried repeatedly to contact Scully, Skinner—anyone, even Jenkins. But it was to no avail.

They ran directly to the spot where Scully had dropped, but she wasn’t there. Instead, there was a small trail of blood droplets.

“This is good,” Nathan said encouragingly. “This means she didn’t lose too much blood to walk. She walked away, Mulder—this is good.”

Mulder nodded numbly, and said, “C’mon, we’ve got to try to find her.”

They jogged along the blood droplet trail until they heard a deafening roar, followed by a rumbling in the building. The sound of twisted metal and exploding fluorescent bulbs filled their ears, along with the screams of confused and terrified civilians. Mulder pushed Nathan into a corner as they were knocked to the ground by the force of the building shaking. The ceiling collapsed, and the hallway filled with thick, suffocating smoke.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0530

“Get me Intel on the structural integrity of that building!” Skinner roared. “I want to know where my agents are—get me their infrared signatures back now! I want them traced and out of there! Rescue! Contact the nearest hospital and get ready to evacuate the residents and the staff! And get these damn reporters out of here!”

Skinner stormed away to find his tech, who seemed to have wandered off, when he nearly ran right into a woman. “Is it true? Brody Drexler’s in there?”

“Ma’am, you can’t be here—this is a command center. Please get back behind the yellow tape.”

“I’m Brody Drexler’s editor! And…we were engaged, before the accident.”

“Who told you this information about this man?” Skinner demanded.

“I got an email last week. It went to my spam box—I didn’t recognize the address. But it said “I’m back, baby, and you can see me in the old folk’s home in DC.” Then this happened. I knew it had to be Brody—I know his writing style. I’m his editor. Are you the man in charge?”

“I’m Assistant Director Skinner. I’ve got a very serious situation in here, so if you think you can help us, great. Otherwise, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Mr. Skinner, I know how his movie ends. I know what he’s planning on doing. He’s showed me this script before. He never got to do the film. Are your agents trapped in that building? If they are, I can get them out. I can convince Brody to stop this.”

“We’ll take whatever you can give us—you can speak to this agent over here,” he said, and led her to one of his agents. “But at this point, Ma’am, we’re not even sure Drexler’s alive. That bomb rocked the entire building, and it could be coming down any second. What’s your name?”

“Cynthia Michaels. Promise me you’ll try to get Brody out of that building,” she said, sounding quite desperate.

Skinner nodded. “We’re going to do everything we can do get everyone out.”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0535

“Agent Scully? Agent Scully, you okay?”

She heard Lawrence’s voice before she saw him. Dust was everywhere, and the kind maintenance worker who had helped her off the hallway floor and into the maintenance lounge to treat her wound had ended up diving on top of her as the ceiling and floor simultaneously caved. They were left on an outcrop near the sink, so close to the gaping hole in the floor that she dare not shift.

But Lawrence had already climbed off of her and was rifling through the first aid cabinet.

She winced, and held her arm. “I’m okay,” she said. “You?”

“Not a scratch. You’re unlucky today, Agent Scully. A bullet wound and an explosion.”

“In my world we call that a Tuesday,” Scully deadpanned, and settled for leaning against the cabinet instead of trying to get up. The couch was now one floor beneath them, and so the floor looked like a pretty inviting place to sit.

Lawrence chuckled. “At least you’ve got a good sense of humor about it. Can’t go through life without a good sense of humor, you know?”

“Oh, I know,” she said sarcastically, and winced again. She glanced at the wound. It was a through-and-through, very close to being a graze. It hadn’t caught any bones, and by the way it felt, probably hadn’t severely damaged any muscle tissue. It was more like a 9 mm cylinder carved into her arm than it was a bullet hole, but it still hurt like hell. And it was now getting infected with all the dust floating through the air. She coughed. “You have to have one hell of a good sense of humor to work with my partner.”

“Oh yeah?” Lawrence chuckled. “Yeah, I had a buddy like that during the war.”

“You’re a veteran?” Scully asked.

“Afghanistan, two years. Glad I’m not there now—it’s one hell of a mess. Got a few friends in Iraq who said they’d gladly stay there four years straight instead of heading into Afghanistan.”

“Well, they’re two different battlefronts. Iraq’s a lot safer than it used to be.”

“Got that right. Okay, got some gauze, antiseptic, some tape…we’ll fix that up real fast.”

“I’m a doctor,” Scully said, and it sounded like quite an odd statement until she followed it up with, “I’m going to let you know if I see any signs of infection from now until we’re rescued. And then I’ll give you instructions on what to do.”

“Oh, sure. Got some field medic training myself, but it’s probably nowhere near as good as yours. I’m gonna edge my way over there to you. If you see any structural instability, or I see any, it’s extremely important that we let each other know. If that happens, we should freeze in place until we locate the weak point. Okay?”

Scully nodded. “Sure. Makes sense.”

He edged over to her, and in a few moments was bandaging her arm.

“So do you celebrate Christmas, Agent Scully?” Lawrence asked, and Scully knew he was trying to keep her talking while he attempted to seal with liquid bandaging what really needed a ton of stitches.

Scully nodded, and winced. “Yeah. Catholic.”

“I’m Presbyterian. But don’t throw me in that hole.”

She chuckled, and said, “I won’t be throwing much of anything with this arm for a while.”

“Well, at least you get a Christmas vacation out of it.”

With a smile, then a wince, she asked him, “Are you headed home to family when we get out of here?”

“No, don’t have any. Not anymore, anyway.”

Her smile faltered, and she looked away. “I’m sorry.”

“No, don’t be sorry, wasn’t your fault. I had just gotten home from Afghanistan, Christmas 2004. They were actually driving to pick me up at the airport. A semi hit a patch of ice and slid into their lane.” As he spoke, his voice caught once, but he quickly recovered. Taking a deep breath, he said, “But I’m doing okay. One day at a time, you know?”

She nodded slowly, and looked down. “I’ve lost some family too. I know how it feels—I’m sorry for your loss.”

He gave her a quick, artificial smile, and then focused on his work. After a moment, he said, “I think I’m gonna leave this place. Go back into the military. I’m still young enough. And there just isn’t enough excitement here. Things break, but it’s this—this right here, this kind of excitement. That’s what gets me going.”

“If it’s what you love, I think you should do it.”

He nodded. “There, that should be good,” he said, securing the bandage with some tape. “Now if we edge out of here, we can go look for your partner and that kid.”

“And try to get a radio working,” Scully added.

Slowly but surely, Lawrence helped Scully out of the room and they entered the equally dust-filled hallway. It was time to search.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0545

“Mulder? Aw, shit. How am I gonna move this thing?” Nathan yelled, exasperated. A large cross beam from the ceiling had fallen to the floor, broken through the linoleum, and trapped Mulder’s upper body completely. There was no way one fifteen-year-old could move the beam, and Nathan wondered if the agent would have to be cut out of there. He hoped to God Drexler didn’t come back.

Torn between leaving Mulder and going to get help, the nearly unscathed Nathan paced the hallway, careful of structural instability. Just when he had decided to leave to get help, he heard a cough, and a gasp for air.

He bent down, leaning near Mulder and trying to clear the dust from the agent’s face.

“Mulder, can you hear me?”

Mulder nodded slightly, and winced. “Hard…hard to breathe.”

“I know. There’s a giant…thing…on top of you. I don’t know what this is—part of the building. But it’s too heavy for me to lift, man. What can I do? Should I go get help?”

“No…Drexler might be…there. You have no…weapon.” Mulder coughed. “Need to find…radio.”

“I don’t know where I’d find one of those. I mean, it looks like this hallway’s blocked off. There are no offices nearby. My best bet is trying to crawl through that pile over there.”

Mulder shook his head. “No. If we can’t get out…Drexler…” he coughed again. “Can’t get in. Rescue will have to…find us.”

Nathan nodded, and took a seat near Mulder’s head so the agent could see him.

“Sorry your Christmas…sucks,” Mulder said.

“Christmas never sucks for me,” Nathan stated simply, and then looked around. “Hope your partner’s okay.”

“Me too,” Mulder responded softly. Then he closed his eyes.

“Hey, dude, no. You can’t sleep. No way. I don’t know if you have a concussion or something—you have to stay awake.”

Mulder opened his eyes, and shot a glare at Nathan. “Didn’t hit my head.”

“How do you know?”

“Doesn’t hurt.”

“That could be the fact that it’s friggin’ freezing in here. Or that you didn’t hit it very hard. I dunno. But I’m not letting you sleep.”

“Then you’re going to have…to talk to me.”

“Fine,” Nathan said. There was a long pause. Mulder glanced at his teenaged companion inquisitively, and with the pressure on, Nathan came up with something. “Fifty nifty United States from thirteen original colonies, fifty nifty stars on the flag that billow so beautifully in the breeze,” he sang.

“Oh great,” Mulder muttered.

“Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut!”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0600

“So at the end of the movie when the volunteer and the federal agent are in the furnace area with the bomb, he sets the bomb and lets them go find the other agent. He follows them and hides, and then waits until they’ve been talking a while if they’re not already dead. He barges in on them and tries to kill them. He realizes in the last second that he can only master death over those who are already dead inside, and he thinks the federal agent is dead inside, but not the volunteer. So he spares the volunteer and kills the federal agent. But if he’s jammed your infrared signals, you have no way of knowing where he is.”

“That’s what we’ll work on now,” Skinner said, giving Cynthia an approving nod. “You’ve been very helpful. Just wait here while I talk with my agents.”

He walked away before he could be bombarded with questions, and pulled three agents aside. “We need those infrared sensors soon—Drexler’s most likely alive and looking to kill Mulder or Scully. We don’t know if both Agents Mulder and Scully are together—that’s something we’ll need to determine. Have separate teams looking for the rest of the occupants. We want those people out of there as soon as we can. It sounds like he’s let the doctors go, but that wasn’t part of the script. We can’t take what Cynthia Michaels says as gospel truth because Drexler’s never gotten this far in the rehearsals—he’s always been stopped by the authorities, and he’s had to cancel his hologram programs before this point. We’re dealing with a serial killer here, folks. He’s tried this with other nursing homes and even if he hasn’t rehearsed this part, he’s extremely knowledgeable and knows what he’s doing! All right, get to work!”

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0615

“So why did you choose a nursing home?” Scully asked, sifting through rubble in an attempt to clear the hallway for their passage. One-handed, she was much less effective than the muscular and uninjured Lawrence.

“I wanted a place where I could see my results every day. I wanted to see the people I was working for. But now…I don’t know, it’s been great. But something’s missing. There’s something I got overseas that I’m not getting here. And I really don’t think it’s just the adrenaline.”

Scully listened and nodded, not really sure what to say.

“I guess it could be a variety of things, but I’ve been thinking, and I think it might be the fact that nothing changes here. I mean, we get new patients, but it’s like…the people I’m working for, the people I’m serving, they’re never gonna get better. There’s no real good outcome for these people. And it’s this time of year that I just really want to be somewhere where there’s a good outcome.”

“Where there’s hope,” Scully said, and kicked a piece of rubble out of the way. She leaned against the wall, exhausted.

“Exactly,” Lawrence stated. “In Afghanistan, in Iraq…there are some pretty shitty days, and there are days when we wonder why the hell we’re even bothering. In fact, there are a lot of those days. But it’s the days when we see some improvement, where we gain some ground—it’s happening all the time now in Iraq. Those are the days when we know why we’re doing it. We know we’re actually getting somewhere. We’re working toward a tangible goal, where we can see some results.”

“That’s always a good thing,” Scully said, and leaned her head against the wall.

“Hey, you doing okay?”

She opened her eyes and looked at him, feigning a smile. “Fine,” she said.

“My political points of view aren’t bothering you, are they?”

“No, I don’t mind,” she told him, and nodded toward the pile. “Think we can get through that hole yet?”

“Not yet. A few more pieces of rubble. I don’t want your arm getting snagged on something.”

It was secured in a sling they had made back at the maintenance worker’s lounge, but there was still a great possibility of re-injury in this kind of environment. Scully agreed with a nod.

“Tell you the truth, I wasn’t trying to give you a political speech,” Lawrence said, and chucked a piece of rubble away from the pile. “I could give a shit what you think about the war—what I was trying to say is I need somewhere to go that’s not like this. Where there’s some kind of real end to it, you know?”

“Then maybe the military is the right path for you,” Scully offered. “Or you could consider law enforcement. Or a ministry. There are plenty of options.” She was getting a little tired of this. She wasn’t a damn career counselor, and Mulder could be injured somewhere in this building. They needed to work faster!

“Yeah. I mean…you’re right. There are plenty of options. I just need to figure out what it’s all about. Here, I think we can go through now.”

He went through first, and then handed her his arm to support her as she climbed through next. They were at another large stretch of open area, and they clambered through it carefully in an attempt to find the hallway where Scully had been shot. She had a feeling she’d find Mulder there. And she prayed he was alive.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0630

“So you said…Christmas…was always good for you. How can that be? Santa never…stiffed you?” Mulder asked, thanking whatever deity was looking down on them for stopping this kid from singing Fifty Nifty United States again.

“Christmas isn’t about Santa,” Nathan said with a snort, and shook his head. “Man, popular culture just destroys this holiday.”

“Yeah, just like…every other…holiday. You celebrate…the religious…part of it?”

“I only celebrate the religious part of it.”

Mulder nodded, and then gasped as a pain shot up his chest.

“What was that, man? You okay?”

With a wince, Mulder swallowed thickly and said, “Don’t know…chest hurts.”

“This damn thing is probably on top of your ribs.” Nathan stood up, and gripped the beam with all his might.

“No—don’t try. Hurt yourself.”

“I’m not gonna hurt myself. You sound like some parent or something.”

“Leave it. Sit back down,” Mulder said, and tried to control his breathing.

“You’re gonna kick if I don’t get this thing offa you.”

“Nice way…of putting it.”

“That doesn’t bother you?”

“Nothing…I can do…about it, Nathan.”

Nathan sat back down in the rubble, and rubbed the bridge of his nose with his thumb and forefinger. “You’re like one of those stupid TV heroes, always sacrificing himself needlessly. C’mon, you got more to do than sit here under this damn beam and die. What about your partner? Your partner will kill me if I let you kick under here.”

“You better…learn to duck, then.”

The teenager rolled his eyes. “Fine. Have it your way. We’ll wait for help like sissies.”

“You seem…awfully calm…through all this. You said…something like this happ—happened before. When?”

“Only been in one hostage situation. I was six years old, and it was a bank heist. It lasted a couple of hours, then we were rescued. The hostage taker shot himself in the head. But in my neighborhood, shit happens all the time. Why do you think I come here? I take the bus in and volunteer. Get out of that hell-hole. People stealin’ shit from other people’s houses, people getting shot ‘cause they’ve got some kind of new sneakers or some other crap.”

Mulder nodded.

“I’m a foster kid. Been in eight houses, so I’m pretty lucky. Most kids have to move more than that in this piss-poor excuse for a system. But I’m getting out soon.”

“Like…your foster parents…right now?”

“I liked the last ones. The last ones were great. They put me in a good school. They were going to adopt me. Then his mother died and they got into some huge fight over some kind of inheritance thing. Got a divorce, lost the foster parenthood, and I got shipped off to the crackhead I live with now. Don’t much associate with him, though.”

“You’re…old enough to call…social services. Get yourself…moved.”

“I put in a request for a new home. Really nice place. Hard to get into. This lady runs a house with six kids at a time. Thirteen and older is her rule. She puts them in academic and sports programs that take them to Ivy League colleges. She’s hard core but she’s nice, according to this kid I know. And you have to really stay on top of your shit with her. She doesn’t fool around. No drugs, or you’re in therapy within a week. That kinda stuff.”

“What’s…the likelihood…you’ll be moved there?”

“Eh, you know. These things take time. Maybe not until I’m too old for it anyway. But my grades are decent and I don’t have a penny to my name so I should be able to get a scholarship to something or other.”

“What…do you want…to do with…your life?”

“I want to be a doctor.”

Mulder smiled. “My partner’s a doctor.”

Nathan nodded. “There’s something about that profession that really makes me want to do it. It’s not just the challenge, though I like a challenge. Can’t stand the boring shit some people think is worthwhile. I mean your job, that’s a cool job. Accountants? Psh.”

Mulder would have chuckled, if he didn’t think doing so would be the death of him. Instead, he continued to smile and nod.

“But yeah, I don’t know what it is. I come here for the same reason. I guess…you know what it is? It’s the meaning of Christmas.”

Mulder stared at the boy, totally confused. “Did I…miss something?”

“No, I’m weird like that. No, dude, it’s like this. What do you think the meaning of Christmas is?”

“Uh…” Mulder faltered. “I’m not Christian.”

“No, no, not the technical meaning, your meaning. If you celebrate it, why do you do it? Do you celebrate it?”

Mulder nodded. “I do. I guess…” he thought for a moment. “Family.”

Nathan smiled, and stared at his companion. “You got a family?”

“I do now,” he answered, and Nathan could see in his eyes that years of tragedy had built up until he finally got that family he had been looking for.

“But before, you didn’t have one. You were like me.”

“Sort of…” Mulder looked up at the ceiling. “Lost members…my sister. My father…then my mother. No other…family.” He decided long ago not to consider Spender family, regardless of what may or may not be a blood relation.

“You had it. You lost it. You have it back again. Story of Christmas, right there.”

Mulder stared at the boy, and thought about the theology behind that.

“There’s an old song. Kinda boring tune, but lyrics make a shitload of sense, man. O Holy Night—you know it, right?”

Mulder nodded.

Nathan thought for a moment, and then said, “Long lay the world, in sin and error pining. Till He appeared, and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, a weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks, a new and glorious morn.” He smiled. “The guy in the song even falls on his knees. You don’t have to be a Christian to get that message. We both know this world sucks. But now we have this new and glorious hope. Christmas…and life…is about hope.”

They both sat in silence for a moment, and Mulder looked away. He thought about that line. ‘The soul felt its worth.’ Mulder never felt worthy. Not until now. Not until he realized it wasn’t about worrying about the prospect of losing what he had already lost and regained. It was about rejoicing. It was about the new and spectacular days ahead. If they ever got out of here, that was.

The thought overwhelmed him, and he looked away, hiding the tears in his eyes. Christmas, he realized, really was about hope.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0640

“You have them?” Skinner demanded, and the tech nodded rapidly. “Infrared’s back online. We’ve got Mulder and Scully’s tagged signatures. Mulder’s…moving slightly, Sir. Not much. He looks to be pretty still, on the ground. Scully’s signature’s moving pretty fast. We got another signature right near Mulder, and one a few meters away.”

“That must be the kid they’re with,” Skinner said. He had heard the boy’s voice on the radio just before it was blocked, so he knew the teenager was still with Mulder. “And just off there, that has to be Drexler. Okay, get these images to Rescue. Let’s get people in there now, before Drexler gets to them! Move!”

He turned to one of his agents. “Organize the rescue personnel for the residents and the staff. Get everyone evacuated through the safest place possible. I want blankets and warm drinks ready for these people, and transportation to the hospital standing by whatever exit they’re coming from. We want this to be a smooth transition.”

“Got it, Sir,” she said, and jogged off.

“Johnson! I want an update!” Skinner barked.

The bomb squad leader approached him. “Bomb pieces are mostly recovered, Sir. We’ll be moving the parts to Quantico within the hour. Detonation wasn’t anything fancy. We found the blast cap. It was a homemade compound.”

“Official assessment of the building?”

“The west part of the second and first floor aren’t safe for rescue personnel to enter until we get some reinforcements set up. Everything else should be okay as long as we watch our step. The building’s beyond repair. It’ll have to be knocked down.”

Skinner nodded. “Just work on getting that bomb recovered.”

“Yes, Sir.”

“Davis, where’s Drexler?”

“He’s making his way towards Mulder and the kid, Sir.”

“Damn it.” Skinner got on the radio, on the new frequency, and said, “Be advised, suspect is in motion, towards our target.”

When the reply came in, Skinner exhaled, and stared at the building. A gust of cold air brushed against his body and he shivered. Calling Maggie Scully and giving her bad news on Christmas Eve was not his idea of a pleasant afternoon. He hoped to God this would turn out well.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0650

“We just have this wall to break through. I can hear someone talking. Hey! Who’s over there!?” Lawrence yelled. There was a pause.

“Who are you?” A young voice demanded.

“Is Mulder back there?” Scully screamed. “Where is Mulder?”

“Mulder’s back here. Are you Scully?”

“I’m Scully—how is he? Is he injured? Can I talk with him?”

“He’s having trouble talking. There’s a large metal thing pinned to him. Can you knock this wall down from your end? This beam is blocking me.”

“We’ll start working on it. Give us ten minutes,” Lawrence called.

“I’ll try to help,” Nathan called back, and piece by piece, the wall was removed.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

GARDEN COURT NURSING HOME

GEORGETOWN, DC

WEDNESDAY, DECEMBER 24, 2008

0700

A small hole was dug in a pile behind Mulder, Lawrence, Nathan, and Scully. Drexler crawled through, scraped and bruised but otherwise unscathed. With the commotion going on across the hall, rubble being thrown in every direction and the wall being torn apart, no one noticed Drexler until he was right on top of Mulder with a 9 mm weapon.

“Well, well, well. We meet again, Mr. Mulder. And wouldn’t ya know it, you got to love German engineering. I bought these cameras in Frankfurt and they somehow survived the blast. Well, most of ‘em. And they’re still rollin’. I checked.”

Nathan spun, and froze when he saw Drexler. Mulder stared up at this man, and realized there was no way in hell he was getting out of here. Scully couldn’t dig fast enough, and Nathan wasn’t strong enough to tackle a large man like Drexler.

“Nothin’ to say, before I shoot this bullet through his eyes. Nothin’ to say? No last plea, no beggin’, no whimperin’, no nothin’? Well, then…I guess that’s all. That must be the last scene,” Drexler said to the camera.

Nathan’s hard eyes stared across the room at the trapped agent. Mulder looked back, and closed his eyes for a moment. This man standing over him, he realized in a severely displaced moment of profound thought, was the perfect embodiment of himself and every other person who was missing the point of Christmas. Who was missing the point of life. This man had been given his second chance. He had survived an attempt on his life and somehow been mistaken for dead. He could have started over again. He had gained his life back, something that he had nearly lost—and probably had figuratively lost, like so many others in the world.

But instead of using that opportunity to live again, to serve others, to make something of himself, he was squandering it away on an insane scheme where he was trying to make the world’s first ‘real’ movie. Well…if this was going to be his last moment on Earth, he might as well share his profound thought as well as he could, he thought.

Mulder cleared his throat. Then, with dust-filled lungs, he turned to the man behind the M9 and said, “You have…no hope.”

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nathan hurl himself forward and straight into the serial killer. The teenager completed the tackle just as the deafening sound of a gunshot echoed through the rubble-filled area, followed by dead silence.

Disturbed smoke and dust rose and blocked Mulder’s vision. He coughed, the pain in his chest increasing. A few moments later, he saw two figures squeeze through a small hole in the pile of rubble at the other end of the hall. The smaller figure ran toward him, and he recognized her instantly.

His instant smile turned into a frown as he inspected her arm. “You okay, Scully?”

“I’m all right, Mulder,” she breathed, and checked his pulse. “Damn it. Lawrence! We need to move this thing!”

The large man behind her moved toward her and stepped over the two bodies on the floor, but before he could get any further, something grabbed his leg and he dropped. Drexler’s previously immobile form shoved a limp Nathan to the side as he trained his weapon on Lawrence. “Not so fast, Mr. Maintenance-Man,” he said. Scully had never wished for her gun more than she did at that moment.

But her prayers were answered by some miracle, and the FBI happened to burst in the door at that second. A quick assessment of the situation and a gunshot, and Drexler was down. An agent slapped handcuffs on him as the paramedics ran in, and Lawrence rose from the floor.

Just like that, Scully thought for a split second. The man who had caused this disaster, gone to all this trouble to create this movie thing, was down and captured. Just like that.

She turned her attention to Mulder, who had begun gasping for air. One paramedic put an oxygen mask over his face while another enlisted Lawrence to help him attempt to move the beam. But it wouldn’t budge. Two more paramedics flooded the room and began to help. All five men and women were eventually able to budge the beam enough for two FBI agents and an ATF agent to slide Mulder out as gently as possible.

He was placed on a stretcher and Scully ran by his side as they navigated the wreckage and exited. Lawrence was left behind, standing beside the beam and the remaining paramedics. He looked down, and saw a teenage boy with a gunshot wound to the chest.

“How is he?” he asked, through either morbid curiosity or some odd sympathy for this boy whom he’d never really met.

“I’m sorry, Sir. He’s gone,” the medic said.

Lawrence stood there, staring at the dead body and the FBI agents dragging the injured culprit from the room. “That agent that was trapped. What are his chances?” He asked.

“Hard to say,” The medic said as he helped his partner place the boy in a body bag. “Probably pretty good. His vitals weren’t too bad.”

“So he’ll make it.”

“Well, there’s a lot of reason to hope so,” one medic said as they carried the body out of the room. “C’mon, Sir, we need to check you out, outside.”

Lawrence lingered for just a moment before following. Maybe this was where he belonged, then. This field of medicine. Excitement, check. Occasional disappointment, check. Reason to keep working every day, check. Tangible results, check. Hope…hope he could save a boy like that teenager, hope he could save victims of crime, of war, of accidents…hope for the future of medicine and of humanity…check plus.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

MULDER AND SCULLY’S CAR

GEORGETOWN, DC

THURSDAY, DECEMBER 25, 2008

1000

Scully technically was not allowed to drive. And she knew she was going to face the third degree from her mother when they arrived in Maggie Scully’s driveway momentarily. But she didn’t want to bother Skinner with driving them on Christmas morning and she certainly wasn’t willing to stay cooped up away from family. So last night, when Mulder and she had both been released from the hospital, they collapsed into bed and didn’t wake up until late. They decided to surprise Maggie.

Last night she and Tara had visited the hospital, and were enormously relieved when Skinner explained to the women that Mulder and Scully’s injuries were not serious. Fifteen stitches in Scully’s left arm, and three broken ribs for Mulder, but other than that, they were very surprisingly unscathed. Mulder had to remain on oxygen until late in the evening, but a chest x-ray had shown no punctured lungs. It had been difficult to breathe because his chest was compressed, not because anything was punctured.

So with that wonderful news, Mulder and Scully’s family had headed back to Maggie’s house, where they waited for Santa with the kids and knew they’d see Dana and Fox sometime later on Christmas day. They had a feeling the two of them wanted a little space to themselves.

Now they drove to Maggie’s house, and Mulder was slightly quiet. Scully didn’t really mind—she was just happy to have him alive and well.

“Nathan was really onto something, Scully,” Mulder said quietly. Scully looked at him from the driver’s seat, but let him continue. He had taken the teenager’s death very hard at first, until a complete turnaround occurred. It was when the maintenance worker Lawrence had found Mulder’s room and informed Scully, rather abruptly, that he had decided to go into medicine, that Mulder’s mood improved. He watched Lawrence shake Scully’s hand and thank her, and then leave. When the man was gone, Mulder said, “This is just another piece.”

“Piece of what?” Scully had asked.

“How it works, Scully. In life and death, you have to inspire. That’s how we can transmit our hope. And you inspired that man.”

Now Mulder was finally going to explain what he was talking about, Scully thought thankfully. He had been talking about ‘hope’ and ‘Christmas’ and ‘intertwining theologies’ on and off, but had been mostly quiet since he was released from the hospital. “Drexler was wasting his entire life on this crazy idea, Scully,” Mulder said. “But Nathan’s point was everyone’s got their own little version of this insane plan. We’re all running around with this odd idea that how many presents our kids get and what size tree we have and how many lights we have outside actually matters. We’ve got this idea all year round, that the big promotion matters, that the mortgage matters, that the dog’s diarrhea matters.”

Scully chuckled. “Well, those things do matter, Mulder.”

“They do, but they can’t define us. We’ve all lost something, and regained it, Scully. That’s what this holiday is about. And if we waste our lives thinking that some insane idea is going to work, some idea that will probably lead to just another loss, then we’re setting ourselves up for never discovering hope.”

With a slow nod, Scully agreed and pulled into Maggie’s driveway. “So you’re saying that a teenage boy pointed this out to you?”

“A teenage boy who understood more about sacrifice and the meaning of life than most eighty-year-olds. Nathan was looking for a place where he could give hope to people. It’s why he volunteered at a nursing home. He wanted to give the one last ray of hope to these poor elderly people, because most of them don’t have any hope left.”

“They have hope if they believe their souls are eternal,” Scully offered.

Mulder nodded, considering that.

Scully turned the car off and reached over with her right arm to open the door.

“I’m not worried about the loss of it all anymore, Scully,” Mulder said, and smiled at her as she turned to look at him. “I think I learned something extremely valuable.”

“Hope?”

“Yes, but that’s not all. In my own strange, unconventional way, Scully, I think I’ve learned something tangential to hope.”

“What’s that?”

Mulder smiled, and took her right hand in his. “Faith.”

*END

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