A/N: Woo, hello, people. ^_^ This is my excuse for not updating any of my other stories in a long time, and I really hope it's worth it. This is a short story, and it was initially written entirely for a portfolio of recent works for a school scholarship thing (edit: I got it!), but it kind of grew on me. It might be long, but if you begin it, I ask that you finish it. ^^.

Also, reviews are very, very much appreciated, although I'm not really expecting them since this is a one shot. Anyway, I put a lot of work into this, so please, read on. ^^

[ Edit 06/23/04: Thanks for all the feedback, guys; it means a lot to me! Just thought I would upload the edited version of this, so here it is. ]

Please review!


Subject #13 – Cody Vaughn

Annette Thompson stared down at the manila folder in her hands, her fingers tracing slowly over the tab where the name was written in carefully inked, precise letters. She had read the contents through enough for her to recite most of it by heart, and she knew that this would prove to be the most interesting case she had ever handled. Cody Vaughn, a mere six years old, had, according to the documents, the amazing ability to read minds. Annette had trouble believing it, but she saw no reason for her superiors to provide her with false information when she would be seeing things for herself soon anyway.

Biting her bottom lip, she pushed the straight-backed chair away from the desk, swinging her feet to one side and standing. She tucked the folder under one arm as she made her way through the tidy office, flicking off the lights as she exited. Her mind milled with speculations about the boy she would soon be meeting as she made her way down the hallway.

The floors were covered in a hard carpet of blue and green swirling colors, the walls a nondescript white with a trim that matched the carpet. The halls were not overly wide, nor were they especially narrow, and the light-fixtures that were built into the ceiling filled the corridors with sufficient light. The halls were wholly unremarkable, having an essence of cool, collected professionalism—it was to be expected of a government facility that wished to remain unnoticed.

It was rather chilly, an artificial breeze drifting by Annette and teasing at her auburn hair. She had learned long ago to wear her hair in a bun, as it became increasingly annoying to have it blown about her face as she passed through the halls. As it was, her silky floral-patterned sundress was clinging to her as she strode purposefully through the complex, ignoring the few people she passed.

Rounding a corner, her eyes focused on one of the large Plexiglas panels that cut the hallway in two. A small metal plaque fixed above the panel read "Daycare" in cheerful, colorful, wooden letters and Annette allowed herself to smile a little at the irony.

She lifted her left hand, pressing it against an opaque white panel at head-height secured to the clear wall, her right hand moving to punch the access code quickly. A soft beep sounded after she had entered the password, and she stepped back a pace when the panel slid smoothly to the left, leaving a gap on one side for her to pass through. Cradling her bag-like purse in one arm and the folder under the other, she slipped through the open space and smiled grimly as the barrier all but snapped back into place.

The lighting was brighter now, the carpets sinking in a little more under her steps, betraying their increased softness. Doors lined the walls on either side of her, spaced evenly and far apart. Her eyes followed the little numbers secured to the uppermost section of each door, mentally counting upward. The hallway reached up to door number ten, and she turned the corner where another corridor of numbered, uniform doors greeted her.

Annette had never handled a "special" child at this particular facility before, and certainly never one quite as "special" as this Cody promised to be. She could feel the stirrings of nervousness in the pit of her stomach as her gaze fell upon the carved number thirteen of the second door on the left, the numeral's polished, gleaming gold metal reflecting her composed face. Taking a breath and forcing as much of her anxiousness from her as possible, she closed the space between her and the door, then reached out a hand to deliver an undemanding knock on the barrier in front of her.

"Cody?" she called gently, making sure that her voice sounded as unthreatening and friendly as possible.

When no answer came from inside room thirteen, the woman raised her hands to follow the same security procedure she had when removing the Plexiglas barrier. A similar white panel was located on the left side of the door, almost blending in with the off-white wall. She pressed her hand to this, feeling the cool plastic material under her palm, and typed in a different access code on the keypad to her right. The door pulled itself ajar with a friendly little click.

"Cody?" Annette asked again as she slowly peeked inside, allowing her body to follow once her head had cleared the space. She shut the door behind her, noting the similar security fixtures on this side of the door as well, and turned around.

What met her was certainly not what she had expected, given the information she had read on the boy. The room was colorful, to say the least. The walls were a soft, pastel blue with little fluffy white clouds painted here and there. It was bright, a light fixture shaped suspiciously like a sun attached to the white ceiling.

The soft carpet was made of a patchwork of differently colored squares, all adding up to form a veritable rainbow underfoot. There was a white-painted bookshelf leaning up against one wall, filled with row upon row of children's books, many of which looked as though they had never been opened. A pirate-esque treasure chest, warped wood, rusty metal lock and all, stood next to the bookcase, no doubt filled with the toys that so obviously did not litter the floor. Annette had never seen a child's room so clean before.

In the center of the room was a low, circular table, white like most of the other wood in the room, with an equally squat chair to match. Beanbags of every color filled an entire corner of the room, and one or two had been brought to sit next to the table, as if they had been set up for company.

The tabletop was covered with papers, all white, with a large box of coloring materials—markers, crayons, colored pencils, pens, and paints—set to one side. Upon closer inspection, Annette noted that a thin film of packaging plastic still stretched over the art-kit—it had never been opened. The only mess in the room, the papers on the table, bore no marks of color either. Instead, she saw that they were being folded and put in different places in the room, such as atop the bookcase or the treasure chest. She recognized almost immediately what the papers were being used for, as the folding of each was very deliberate, and they ended up sculpting the once plain paper into a distinct shape or animal. It was origami.

Turning her attention away from the shaped paper, Annette glanced over at the only corner of the room that she had not yet inspected. In the corner was a white-framed bed, twin sized, with red sheets and pillows that mimicked the colors of the carpet. Next to the bed was a small, circular nightstand, where two paper doves sat alone. Atop the bed, his back turned to her, sat a small boy dressed in a baggy blue shirt and khakis.

"Cody?" she said for the third time, stepping slowly around the short table and approaching the bed cautiously.

The boy turned, and Annette couldn't help the small smile from catching her lips. He was short, though it was hard to tell just how short as he sat cross-legged atop the red comforter, and the sleeves of his shirt were far too long, pooling over and hiding his small hands. His feet were bare, his small toes bearing neatly clipped nails.

Cody's face was round-ish, his nose small and button-like. His lips were a pale pink hue, the perfect shape for pouting, and his doe-like, expressive brown eyes were framed by soft, dark-brown lashes. His hair was a honey blonde with pale gold highlights, and it was styled into a very messy, boyish cut with tendrils falling over his eyes. The words "cherubic" and "innocent" came to mind as she discreetly inspected him, and she felt an instant liking towards the charming boy.

In his lap sat a partially done paper crane, its wings not yet properly folded and awaiting the boy's attention. His fingers peeked out from amid blue folds to run slowly along the plain white paper, his head still turned so he could watch her. He stared, and Annette continued to approach, stopping only when she reached the foot of the bed.

"Hello, Cody," she smiled, "I'm Annette. You can call me Annie if you like."

The boy had turned his head to follow her progress, blinking every so often but never speaking. Annette recalled the vague description of his personality that had been in his file—shy, hesitant, and untrusting of strangers.

He tipped his head to the side and spoke quietly, his voice boyish and sweet, "Annie?"

"That's right," she assured him, nodding encouragingly.

His eyes narrowed suspiciously and he glanced over her somewhat tall figure, taking in her relaxed pose and friendly expression. "I'm not doing it anymore," he said simply, turning away and focusing on the paper bird in his hands.

"Doing what, Cody?" came the innocent inquiry, her hands unconsciously smoothing out the slightly ruffled comforter.

The small boy ignored her, bending the wings into place and then setting to work on the beak. The woman waited patiently as he finished the origami crane, and he set it beside him once it was complete. His little hands were clasped in his lap, his head bowed as he refused to raise his gaze. "I won't do it again. I don't want to hear it."

She knew exactly what he was talking about by now, but it seemed necessary to have him admit it to her. "I don't know what you mean, Cody."

"I … I won't listen to what they think anymore!" he whispered harshly, and his knuckles were white from his intense grip.

Annette nodded—a few days ago, the people in charge of researching Cody's ability had finally decided that they had done enough unconscious tests on him and that it was time for him to actively attempt to use his talent. They had set him up in a room and had, upon his insistence, allowed no one within a certain distance of the room. The information in his file didn't say who had been brought in as a test subject, but it did say that Cody had reluctantly done as had been asked of him and employed his ability. What resulted was a few moments of silence and then Cody bursting into tears and running for the locked door.

That was why Annette had been brought in; it was her job to persuade Cody to participate in the experiments once more and to care for his psychological well-being.

"All right, then, you won't have to," the woman said easily, setting her purse down on the end of his bed.

Slowly, Cody shifted his cross-legged position to face her. His brows were drawn together in mild confusion, and his head was still tilted to one side, "What do you want, then?"

Annette smiled at the sheer naïveté of the boy, leaning forward so that they were eye-to-eye. "I want to get to know you, Cody. I want to be your friend."

The door to room thirteen swung open slowly, and Annette stepped inside. She wore another sundress, one made of a silky cream fabric decorated with blooming pink roses, and, of course, she wore her trademark smile. In one hand, she carried her purse, and in the other, she held a decently sized white-paper bag. Tucked under her left arm were Cody's folder and a slim brown-paper bag.

It was her second visit to see Cody, and she hoped that he would warm up a little more to her this time. On their first visit, she had been unable to initiate much of a conversation with him and had settled with telling him trivial things about herself for nearly an hour in hopes that he would relax around her.

"Good morning, Cody," she addressed the boy who was seated in the single chair in the room while his diminutive hands pressed precise creases into a piece of white paper. He gave no indication that he acknowledged her presence and only focused on his task.

"I brought you some breakfast," Annette continued, moving closer to the round table. Upon reaching it, she lowered herself into a cross-legged position on the soft-carpeted floor. She reached up to set the white bag on the table, watching with satisfaction as Cody glanced up at it curiously. "I know the food here gets old after a while, so I thought I might bring you some of my favorites from this nice little restaurant nearby."

Cody had lowered his eyes to the paper in his hands once more, trying to ignore the friendly woman and the white bag she had brought. Annette set her other belongings on the floor beside her, reaching up to unroll the top of the bag. She withdrew two large doggy-bag-type boxes and two small cartons of milk, setting one of each in front of Cody and the remaining two in front of herself. Tipping the white bag over, she allowed an assortment of mini butter, jelly, and maple syrup tubs along with a few napkins and some plastic silverware to spill out across the table.

"I wasn't sure what you liked, so I got eggs, toast, corned beef hash, and pancakes for both of us. Is that all right?" She watched as the blonde boy nodded slightly, hesitantly accepting the offered meal. He only opened his box once she had opened hers, and he waited for her to take a bite of her newly buttered pancakes before he made use of the butter and maple syrup that she had passed to him.

He ate slowly and warily, as if dropping a single crumb on the table would be disastrous. Annette's food was gone long before his, and she waited patiently until he finished, leaving half of the hash and a slice of toast. As he tended to his already immaculate hands with a napkin, Annette packed their garbage back into the white bag, giving the table a swipe over with another napkin before setting the bag aside.

Cody had returned to his origami with single-mindedness. The table moved a little as he ran the top of his short nails over the fold to make it more severe, his messy blonde hair falling forward into his face as he worked. Annette noted with mild surprise that not only was he not referring to an instructional book to tell where to fold, but also that she could see no such book on the bookshelf.

Curious, she watched as he selected where to bend the paper, smiling a little as the boy gently bit his pink lower lip in concentration. Another few folds and the paper began to take shape—a turtle. The analyzing, calculating part of Annette couldn't help but find symbolism behind the origami pieces that he had made in her presence—first a crane, perhaps symbolic of freedom, and then a turtle, maybe for protection or caution. He wanted to be free, but he wanted to be protected as well? She filed this away for future reference.

Soon, Cody had finished his turtle, and he stood up slowly. He approached the treasure chest, carefully setting his newest piece amid the dozens of others atop the chest. He sunk a little into the multi-colored carpet, his baggy khakis hiding his bare feet and his green shirt doing the same to his hands. Annette wondered briefly as to why he wore such ill-fitted clothing, given that he was the average height for a six-year-old and the facility would easily be able to find a size that fit him.

Cody made his way back to the table, slipping into the chair and facing Annette with his eyes lowered. Under the table, his hands fiddled with one another, though the rest of his body was held still.

"I brought you something, Cody," the woman smiled, slipping the thin brown package out from under the manila folder and her purse. She held it out to him and was pleased when his brown eyes hesitantly rose from the table to look at the bag.

"Go ahead," she nodded, and Cody paused a moment before untangling his hands and accepting the package.

"What is it?" he asked quietly, his voice laced with thinly concealed excitement.

"Just a little something I thought you might like. Go ahead and open it." Cody's brows furrowed a little and he somehow managed to have an expression of confusion, suspicion, and anticipation all at once.

Tentatively, he tore open the folded lapel of the envelope-like package, wincing a little at the ripping sound that seemed overly loud in the room. He slipped the contents out into a waiting hand, turning it over for a better view. The look of sheer joy in his eyes was something that Annette knew would stay with her for as long as she lived.

Almost reverently, the boy's splayed fingers drew across the plastic-wrapped package, soaking in the sight of sheets upon sheets of colorful origami paper. They were fanned out to display each different color, and he let out a shaky breath at the sheer variety. Most of the sheets were solid colors of every shade imaginable, a good number had tie-dyed type designs, and some had simple or moderately complex patterns.

Off to one side, a few sheets of a special paper were on display. Their base color was a deep red on one side, the other side a plain white, and it was obvious that the paper was of extremely high quality, as it looked almost like textured felt. Over the red was an intricate pattern that one might liken to that of an Oriental rug, gold thread weaving through at key points. It was beautiful.

Annette only watched as the child examined his new possession with awe, and she offered a smile when he looked up at her. His gaze was timid and cautious, as was his hold, as if he feared that Annette would say it was all a joke in a moment and take away the papers. Slowly, he spoke, "A … gift … for me?"

The woman nodded, though she gave no vocal response. He continued, more to himself than her, "No one has ever given me a gift before …" he paused, frowning a little, "I … I can't take it."

"Yes, you can, Cody. You make such beautiful origami, and I would love to see what you could make with more than just white paper," she tried to persuade him.

It seemed as though she had won, but then the boy whispered dejectedly, "I don't have anything to give you … I can't just take such pretty paper …"

Annette sighed softly, glancing over the package of paper that Cody held so carefully, almost protectively, in his hands. It was then that an idea hit her. "I'll tell you what, Cody. You can have the paper if you promise to use some of it to make me an origami piece some day. I think that's a good trade, what do you say?"

She watched him hopefully as he mentally debated the issue. After a moment, he replied, "Okay."

Again, Annette smiled, and, gradually, the first smile she had ever seen him wear tipped Cody's lips up at the corners. It was a shy smile, but so sweet that it could easily melt hearts, and Annette knew then that a bond of trust had finally begun.

"You can't do that!" Annette laughed, pointing accusingly at Cody as he scooped his captured checker-pieces up. The boy smiled mischievously, though still shyly, and set the last of Annette's pieces off to one side of the board. Shaking her head slightly, the woman consented, "All right, all right. You win. Let's do something else, shall we? I don't think I can stand to lose any more in checkers!"

Cody nodded in return and then began to stack the black and red discs by color. He was always so tidy, so meticulous about everything he did, and even though he and Annette had been meeting at least once a day for nearly two weeks now, he was just as shy as ever. It would seem to an outsider that Annette had made little or no progress with the introverted boy, but only she knew just how much growth Cody had gone through in such a short amount of time. Every time he smiled, a rare treat, she could see in his eyes not the shadow of a young boy whose childhood was shattered, as she so often thought of him, but as a happy, carefree child whose innocence and purity could never be tainted.

If his smiles weren't proof enough of their progress, Annette had noticed with veiled excitement that the origami displayed in the room had gradually shifted from birds and other symbolic animals to a myriad of blooming flowers—if that didn't symbolize growth, beauty, and happiness, she didn't know what did. Every so often, she could see a colored flower amid the blossoms of white, as Cody was very sparing in his use of his "special" paper. Apparently, he was supplied with endless amounts of plain paper, but could be given colored sheets by the facility if he asked for them—Annette felt her heart warm to know that Cody treasured her gift not just because of its uses, but also because it was just that: a gift.

Cody still didn't talk to her much, if at all, though. He had a way of conveying his emotions through his actions and expressions that required no words for clarification. Nevertheless, she could hardly attend the problem she had been assigned to if he wouldn't speak with her.

A smile grew on her face as she fitted the lid onto the checkers box, setting the game next to her. Cody was fidgeting with his hands again, averting his eyes as he always did. Unhurriedly, the woman leaned across the table and took Cody's hands in her own, willing him to meet her gaze. First, there came trust, and then everything would follow from there.

"Annie?" the boy blinked, looking confused as he watched her.

"Cody, do you trust me?" she asked without preamble, nothing but honesty and curiosity in her tone. Slowly, hesitantly, the boy nodded affirmatively, and Annette's smile widened. It wasn't just that she needed his trust in order to do her job—somewhere along the line, perhaps from the very beginning, the shy blonde boy had won her heart.

Annette continued, hoping that he would believe in her enough to go through something that she knew he hated, "Will you do something for me?"

Again, he nodded, but this time his expression had a cast of suspicion and nervousness over it.

"Will you read them, Cody? Listen to their thoughts? I promise I'll be right there with you, that I'll never leave you. I need you to do this for me, Cody, it would mean so much to me …" she allowed her voice to trail off, holding her breath in anticipation. Now was the deciding moment—there was no turning back. She regretted having to ask something like this of the sweet boy, but if she didn't need to, then she never would have met him in the first place.

For a long moment, her only response was utter silence. Cody's head was bowed slightly, his hair falling down to shield his face. Then, with almost tangible hesitation, the boy's head bobbed up and down in an agreeing nod. Annette smiled and squeezed his hand reassuringly. It will all be over soon, she told herself, and then Cody can have the normal life he deserves.

Annette gripped the edges of her chair tightly as she stared fixatedly at the large, pixilated television screen that took up half the wall. The entire room was silent as she and the group of scientists watched on, some monitoring readings that were sending interesting patterns running along miniature screens, others holdings out clipboards to jot down notes.

On the large screen, a room of similar size was displayed, though it was several floors below Annette's current location. Instead of the uniform gray that surrounded her, the monitored room was done all in white from ceiling to floor. In the center of the room, a large Plexiglas panel cut a short table in half. There was a door on both sides of the room, a chair at both sides of the divided table, and it almost seemed as though the Plexiglas was a mirror, reflecting one side of the room. It almost seemed that way, had there not been a tall, lanky man seated in one chair and a small blonde boy seated in the opposing one.

Annette glanced at the stranger, examining his long features, his oval-shaped glasses, and his greasy hair. She had no idea who the man was, but it didn't escape her notice that his arms were handcuffed behind him and his feet were restrained by a chain joining his ankles together. He scowled at the young boy across from him, but Cody was still in a trance-like state.

The blonde child stared blankly ahead, his brown eyes glazed over and his body held still and nearly limp. Annette gripped her chair tighter, fearing for the umpteenth time that something would go wrong and that Cody would be hurt. She had, if at all possible, been more nervous about the experiment than Cody had.

She could only imagine what was going on between the two in the room.

The monitored room was silent, almost eerily so, and Annette wanted nothing else than for it to be over with. And, abruptly, it was, but in a way she had never expected.

A piercing scream sounded when the lanky man suddenly lurched forward, his face drawn in shock as he smacked against the glass panel. He sunk down the divider and slumped over on the table—and still, Cody screamed.

The young boy's expression was one of utter horror as he jerked back as if he had been struck, toppling his chair over in the process. He cried out in terror as he bolted for the door, throwing himself up against the barrier and pounding on it desperately.

Annette's eyes widened as she hurled herself from her own chair, "What happened?" she demanded, but when the others around her could only shake their heads and hurry about flicking switches and hitting buttons, she turned and darted for the door.

Throwing the door open, her purse clutched protectively to her chest, she stepped out into the hallway and set off at a run. Annette hardly registered her surroundings as she rushed through the halls, down several flights of stairs, and finally arrived at a section broken off by another Plexiglas door. Hurriedly, she typed in the password and offered her hand, doing the same when she reached an inconspicuous white door at the end of the hall with the word "Testing" inscribed in metal plaque above it.

She all but tore the door off its hinges, tears welling up in her eyes as Cody tumbled into her arms. His screams had faded into wails by now, and they waned into sobs as he pressed his head against her shoulder. Gently, she cradled him in her arms, sinking to the floor and rocking him to and fro. One of her hands slowly drew comforting patterns along his back while the other threaded through his soft hair.

She hardly noticed when the guards arrived, trying to persuade her to separate from the boy—she only kept on murmuring reassuring words into his ear as she hugged him tightly.

"Is that man all right?" Cody asked softly as he clung to Annette's hand, not willing to relinquish it even during the short walk down the hall.

"He's fine, Cody. Don't worry," she assured him, though she did not meet his questioning gaze. In truth, the man that Cody had been reading was not all right—he was dead, and Annette knew it. What nobody knew, however, was what had happened. The scientists had checked the readings, the medical staff had examined the body, and Annette had questioned the boy once he had calmed down, but to no avail. The man was dead, and no one knew how or why—however, this was not Cody's concern, and she would make sure that he didn't find out.

Still, the past events disturbed her greatly. As if having the man drop dead, nearly sending Cody into shock, wasn't enough, Annette's superiors had demanded that the experiments continue. Apparently, they had sent someone in to record whatever information Cody had retrieved from the man's mind, but Annette was not privy to such things. The episode had happened the morning before, and already they were bringing the talented boy in to read another person. That Cody was frightened was no surprise, and his tight grip on her hand and the way his eyes darted about was evidence enough of it.

She squeezed his hand reassuringly as they reached the testing room, dropping to her knees to give him a quick hug before sending him inside. There, a woman slipped on the equipment needed to observe his mental output and vital statistics, then left and locked the room behind her. The woman and Annette walked to the monitoring room in silence, where they waited with bated breath as the experiment began anew.

This time the subject being read was a squat man with a mustache. He watched nervously as the six-year-old slipped into a daze, the child's muscles relaxing as he stared forward blankly. Annette could feel herself trembling as she watched and waited, praying that yesterday's occurrence had been a fluke.

Her prayers were not answered. The screaming began only a few seconds later as the thickset man gave a shudder, went limp, and fell out of his chair. The rest passed in a blur to Annette, and the next thing she knew she was back at the testing room, holding Cody protectively as he cried his eyes out for a second time.

"This can not go on, sir!" Annette exclaimed, throwing the paper-clipped assignment sheet down on the spotless desk in front of her.

"It can and it will, Doctor Thompson. You have your orders, and I expect you to follow through with them," the middle-aged man replied stiffly, folding his hands in front of him as he watched the brunette fume and pace about his office.

"With all due respect, sir, these people are dying and Cody is being traumatized! I will not lead him into the experiments anymore!" she growled, one hand coming down to slam on the wooden desk. The mild-mannered, sweet Annette that most knew was gone for the moment—here was Annette Thompson, arguing her point and spitting fire in the process.

"These things cannot be helped. We must continue—" her superior began, drawing in a deep breath, when he was interrupted.

"We will not continue! I will not allow you to hurt Cody like this!" she argued, her eyes narrowed and her hands clenched at her sides.

"Miss Thompson!" the man said sharply, instantly cooling her mood, "This is not your decision. If your emotional attachment to the subject interferes any longer, we will have to take action. Either you continue with the project, or we will have you replaced."

Annette dropped her gaze, feeling like a child being scolded for misbehaving. Reluctantly, she spoke, "Yes, sir. I understand."

Shortly thereafter, she gathered her belongings, assignment sheet included, and exited the office. She couldn't lose Cody. She had promised that she would never leave him.

It was strange, though, that they were so insistent on the matter—it made her wonder if they had any ulterior motives.

Annette sighed and bit her lip as she deposited the small bundle onto the bed, brushing stray hair out of his face and gently setting his head down on the pillow. He curled up reflexively, taking on a fetal position even in his sleep.

Poor boy—they had just come back from the seventh experiment in which the person Cody had been reading died abruptly. Cody's face was still tear-streaked as evidence of his earlier hysterics, but he was peacefully asleep now. Smiling wanly, Annette wandered about the room, noting the presence of quite a few origami boxes in place of flowers, before stopping at the night table next to the bed. She remembered seeing the two paper doves sitting atop the table when she had first met Cody, thinking it odd because it was the only place where so few origami pieces were displayed. Now, though, there were a number of paper sculptures on the table, each a different shape, aside from the twin doves.

Curious, she picked up one of the doves as if fearing that it would crumble in her hands, turning it at all angles for a better look. When something caught her eye on the white paper, she stopped turning the bird and peered closer. In the scratchy, disproportionate handwriting of a six-year-old were the words "For Mom." She smiled, setting the artwork down and scooping up the other dove. Just as she had anticipated, "For Dad" was scrawled along the inside of one of the wings.

She set this one down as well and glanced adoringly over towards the sleeping figure on the bed. Poor Cody. It was so sweet of him to make doves for his parents—Annette knew very little of what had happened to them, only that his file said that they had both died shortly before Cody had been taken to the facility. It tore at her heart to know that such an angelic child was deprived of his parents at such a young age.

A quiet knock at the door startled her out of her thoughts. Silently, Annette left the nightstand and moved to the door, opening it and taking a step back. In peeked a young man about her age, dressed in semi-formal attire and wearing a pair of glasses.

"Doctor Thompson?" he whispered, and she nodded. He held out a paper for her, and she accepted it and tucked it under her arm with the manila folder she always carried with her. "Doctor Thompson, we have to take the subject for questioning over what he was able to read. If you'll please …?"

His voice trailed off as he nodded towards the bed, and Annette knew that he wanted her to wake the sleeping boy up. A soft sigh escaped her lips, but she yielded and moved back toward the bed. Hesitantly, she reached down and gently shook the boy awake, regretting having to do so when he made a small sound of protest before cracking open his eyes.

"Cody, dear, you have to go with the man for now. I'll wait here for you to come back," she explained, helping him off the bed and to the door.

Cody nodded, stepping outside and following the young man. Annette didn't even bother to follow—she knew by now that it was not her place to do so and that she would only be sent back. She couldn't, after all, protect Cody from everything.

The door clicked behind them, and Annette turned back around with a downcast expression. After a moment, she glanced down at the paper that the man had handed her, noting with amusement that it wasn't even slightly crinkled or bent—she imagined that Cody could make something beautiful out of the boring professional informational sheet. Her eyes flickered over the rows of text briefly, realizing that this was a list of the people that Cody had read while under her care. There were seven names in all, and each had a bit of information next to the name. She supposed that they wanted her to question Cody about them and see if there was any connection between them that might be causing their deaths.

She glanced over the names once more before slipping the paper into Cody's folder, promising herself that she would look more closely at the information later. For the time being, however, she contented herself with wandering around the room once more. Before long, she found herself at the night table a second time, and she looked down at the arrangement of origami pieces with a small smile. Aside from the white doves, each was made with the colored paper Annette had given Cody, so they must have been made recently. A tall one stood out from the others, and she picked it up without knowing exactly why.

It was a giraffe, made of a brownish-yellow paper and folded perfectly in every way. That was her Cody—perfect. Inquisitive, she turned it over, only to find that this piece, too, bore an inscription just like the doves. Her brows furrowed as she read the message, "For Kevin," and then set the giraffe down. Why did that name sound so familiar?

She picked up a second origami piece, recognizing it as some type of large fish, perhaps a whale. On the underside of one flipper it said, "For Norris." An icy feeling crept up her spine as she relinquished the whale for another piece. This one was a butterfly, sculpted out of a royal purple paper, which bore the inscription, "For Lillian" under one wing.

Blinking in confusion, Annette turned the fake butterfly over in her hand, the nagging feeling that these names were familiar itching at the back of her mind. A flash of memory hit her, and she suddenly found herself tearing through Cody's folder, drawing out the sheet that the man had given her just minutes ago.

Her heart nearly stopped as she glanced over the names again, following it down the column. Kevin Beckert, the tall man that Cody had read first. Norris Alberstein, Lillian Grey—they were all there, except for the last one, who had only just died ….

Looking down at the sheet of paper, then over at the table that displayed the different pieces of origami, she suddenly realized everything. She felt as if she had just been splashed in the face with cold water, as if she could longer draw in breath.

The abrupt click of the closing door startled her, and she gave a yelp as the paper butterfly, the sheet of names, and the manila folder fell to the ground as she whipped about. Her heart was beating rapidly, and her breaths still refused to come as she watched the small boy at the door with a shocked expression.

"Cody—" she began, her voice sounding choked, and the blonde boy's eyes widened briefly before he cut her off.

"You … you know … "

"I … why? Why did you do it?"

"Don't hate me, Annie. Don't hate me like they hated me!" he pressed himself up against the door and whimpered quietly.

It was all so confusing, and Annette could feel herself trembling slightly. Suddenly, she had to know something, and she asked, "Cody … why have you never read me?"

The brown-eyed boy leaned up against the closed door, hands balled at his sides. He stated with quiet conviction, "Because … I trusted you, and I didn't want to know what you think. But … but now I know—I don't even have to read you, I can see it in your eyes." He continued almost hysterically, "You hate me now! You'll never understand! They hated me, all of them, they didn't want to be with me, never liked me. I can't … don't be …" his voice trailed off, sentences running into each other before Annette spoke once more, her voice shaky.

"I don't … but Cody, all of them? Even your parents? How could you? All … all of them? But…" she vaguely noticed that she was being less than coherent, but she spoke the words anyway, tears welling up in her eyes.

Slowly, Cody raised his head so he could look her directly in the eye, "Don't hate me, Annie. I trusted you … you were supposed to protect me, be different, but you're just like the rest!"

"But … I don't! I just…"

The boy looked puzzled for a moment, before saying with renewed fervor, "You're lying! You hate me!" Then his voice became hushed and dangerous, as he said, "I don't think I can stand you hating me."

The boy's words sent an involuntary shiver through Annette. She could only drop to her knees, still in shock at the realization, staring up at the boy she had given her heart to, whose eyes were beginning to glaze over as they had during each of the experiments. Her own eyes widened in return, and she reached out a hand towards the blonde boy, her eyes clouding over as she attempted not to cry.

"Goodbye, Annie," he said softly, a single tear running down one cheek. The last thing she saw was the image of an innocent boy, his blonde hair ruffled and a tear winding down his face.

" … other news, a compound registered as an environmental research facility was discovered two days ago by a UPS delivery man to be, as he put it, 'like a ghost ship.' The bodies of over three hundred workers were discovered in the compound, and tests are being conducted as to the cause of death, though there have been no results thus far. Experts have been unable to find any more information within or about the facility.

"Reports confirm the only survivor of the mysterious occurrence to be a six‑year‑old boy who was found in the childcare section of the building. The boy has been questioned, but he was unable to provide investigators with any other information. He is currently recovering from mild shock in a nearby hospital …"

Cody tuned out the saccharine voice of the female reporter as he sat in the hospital bed, focusing on the nearly finished piece in his hands. He was using several sheets of the most special of his paper, the textured paper with the Oriental rug pattern, to make a perfectly fitting piece. A dragon, for how she had protected him, but also a dragon because they were mythical and false, just like she ended up being.

With precision, he finished the last fold of the dragon, retrieving a pen from the table next to the hospital bed to scribe in his best handwriting along the underside of the dragon.

He had kept his promise of making something for her after all. Cody smiled quietly to himself as he set the Oriental paper dragon atop the table, giving it a place of honor amid the nine other pieces, mentally repeating the inscription, "For Annie."

A/N: Actually, this was written from a prompt created by my brother, which I gladly twisted and deformed. The prompt was: a boy is telepathic, and the people he tries to read all die. The ending, Annette, and everything else just kind of came to me.

I'm rather nervous about how this turned out, so please by nice. -^_^- If you have any questions, perhaps about some of the information I purposely didn't include in the story (because it was either unimportant or I wanted the reader to imagine it), or if you, for some reason, didn't understand the ending, feel free to send me an e-mail at PlaysWithMatches

Review? Please? =^_^=

- Matches