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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (11/?)
St. Mary's Hospital
Dr. Joshua Keating, neurologist, was not pleased.
He sat stiffly behind his large mahogany desk, drumming fingers and increasingly sour expression clearly communicating impatience. Hardly surprising. If the string of agitated nurses he'd left in his wake was any indication, the good doctor was not accustomed to being kept waiting.
Scully, by contrast, presented the picture of calm. Settled comfortably into the leather-cushioned chair, legs crossed, she worked her way through Jessica Chapman's medical file, scanning reports and examining test results with thorough and unhurried attention to detail. To the casual observer she appeared completely oblivious to Keating's barely restrained irritation. Mulder alone recognized that she was deliberately ignoring the doctor--by the obstinate line between her brows and the occasional tightening of her lips when Keating's fidgeting disrupted her concentration.
He leaned back into his own chair, answering the doctor's longsuffering glare with a studiously bland look to conceal his amusement.
Tsk, tsk, Agent Scully. Who's not playing nice now?
Keating propped his arms on his desk and cleared his throat. "Can we get on with this? I spent ten hours in surgery today and another two writing up my notes. The last thing I needed was to be dragged back here less than an hour after I arrived home."
Scully continued reading, leaving Mulder to smooth ruffled feathers. He pasted on his most diplomatic smile.
"As I said over the phone, doctor, we do apologize for the late hour. The time-sensitive nature of our investigation prohibited us from waiting until morning."
Keating's scowl deepened. "Jessica Chapman died six months ago, Agent Mulder. I fail to see the urgency."
All right, so he sucked at diplomacy. Why should Scully have all the fun?
"If I'm not mistaken, Dr. Keating, the true cause of Jessica Chapman's death was an overabundance of ignorance--on the part of police who failed to determine the specific details of her abduction, and a medical community that could neither adequately diagnose her condition nor devise a cure. Now there's another little girl missing under nearly identical circumstances whose parents would consider your input extremely helpful. Does that fit your definition of urgent?"
Keating turned purple. "Now look here, I did everything possible for that little girl..."
"Dr. Keating, I'm certain Agent Mulder didn't mean to imply you were less than thorough in your treatment of Jessica Chapman." Scully directed an upraised eyebrow and a quelling look at Mulder before turning her attention to Keating. "From her chart, I can see that you tried all the conventional approaches to handling what was, indeed, a very unconventional condition."
Keating huffed, shooting Mulder his own glare before favoring Scully with a thin smile. "As you can see, I consulted with colleagues in Ashville during every step of the treatment. Unfortunately our efforts proved too little, too late. In layman's terms, the child's brain simply went into overdrive until it burned itself out. All her life-sustaining systems began to fail within twenty-four hours after she was admitted. There was simply nothing we could do to save her."
"According to the chart, you tried heavy doses of anticonvulsants. There were no discernable effects?"
Keating ran a hand over his face, weariness replacing self- righteousness. For the first time they saw not an arrogant surgeon, but a frustrated healer. "None. Considering we had previous data to show that Jessica responded to Zarontin, I'd hoped that in combination with Tegretol it might at least achieve some dampening of the electrical activity across the brain's surface."
Scully sat up a little straighter. "Jessica had been on Zarontin prior to this incident?"
"Not over the past twelve months, but yes, Jessica Chapman had a history of epilepsy. Nothing severe, just the occasional petit mal-- or what we now call absence seizure. Her pediatrician had maintained her on a low dose of Zarontin for several years."
Scully frowned. "We spoke with her parents earlier this evening. They never mentioned it."
"My understanding was that she'd outgrown the condition. As I said, she hadn't been medicated for it in over a year."
As Scully flipped back through the chart, armed with this new piece of information, Mulder cleared his throat. "Dr. Keating, do you have any explanation for the missing brain tissue?"
Keating's wry laugh surprised them both. "Unless someone's invented one of those gizmos the doctor on Star Trek had, no, I don't. We're not talking an area of dead tissue, Agent Mulder. It was extracted--surgically, I'd say, if I could only have found the damn incision." He shook his head. "Ironic, really."
Scully looked up. "How so?"
"The area that had been removed? It was the exact section of affected tissue that had caused the child's earlier bout with epilepsy. What are the odds of that?"
"I'm beginning to wonder." Mulder's muttered response was nearly inaudible, spoken more to himself than the others.
Scully's gaze was sharp, but she remained pensive and silent. Keating shook off his own bemusement, irritation once more creasing his brow.
"Is there anything else?"
Feeling Scully's silent question, Mulder gave a slight shake of his head. She turned back to Keating, gravely professional.
"That's all for now, Dr. Keating. If anything else comes up, we'll be in touch." They all stood, Scully still holding the chart. "If you've no objections, I'd like a few more minutes to go over Jessica's test results."
With freedom in sight, Keating could afford to be expansive. "Not at all, not at all. Feel free to use my office for as long as you like, and to make yourself a copy of that chart, if necessary. If you leave it on my desk, I'll make sure it's returned to records in the morning."
In other words, you'll order some overworked nurse to take it down for you. Mulder extended his hand, smirking inwardly.
"Thank you for your assistance, Dr. Keating."
He waited until he was certain Keating was out of earshot before allowing himself a look into Scully's eyes. The turmoil he saw more than matched the churning in his gut. He opened his mouth to speak, but she beat him to it.
"I know what you're going to say, Mulder."
"Coincidences, Scully. You know how I feel about them."
"I agree, it seems beyond mere chance that the same brain tissue responsible for Jessica's epilepsy should be the tissue missing after her abduction. But at this point I'm inclined to think it has little bearing on Claire's case."
It was there, on the edge of conscious thought, hovering just out of reach. Something important, something he'd heard or seen... A key that could possibly open the door to all the answers they sought. Mulder turned and braced his palms on Keating's desk, letting his eyes slip shut as he tried to concentrate, to follow the wisp of smoke to its source.
"Mulder." Scully's fingers, somehow freed from the chart, kneaded the knotted muscles at the base of his neck. "I want to connect the dots as badly as you, but we have to take care not to draw lines that don't exist."
Normally soothing, her hands and words were an irritation, a distraction. He ground his response through clenched teeth. "They are there, Scully. We just aren't seeing them."
"Everything we've learned here will serve Claire, should the need arise. Even knowing which treatments failed, that the Tegretol and Zarontin had no effect..."
Like a raised shade in a dark room, the memory returned in one glorious burst of light. Mulder spun on his heel so quickly he nearly knocked her off her feet.
"That's it! That's what I've been trying to recall. Scully, do you remember Kira's reaction when you showed Talbot the prescription bottles?"
Scully gazed at him blankly for a moment before her brow furrowed with concentration. "She was surprised...worried, too, I guess."
"Exactly. Because she recognized the Zarontin. She not only knew the name, she was familiar with its purpose."
Scully's frown deepened as she searched her own memory. "That's right. She called it an anticonvulsant."
"A pretty technical term--don't you think?"
Scully's eyes widened. "You think Claire is an epileptic? Grey's never mentioned it, and she's never shown any sign."
Mulder began to pace--no easy feat in the small office. "If she'd pretty much outgrown it, like Jessica, why would he?"
"It's not exactly an uncommon childhood ailment. The symptoms are so mild they can easily be mistaken for a limited ability to concentrate."
Mulder abruptly stopped moving. "What if this is our answer, Scully? What if that little piece of seemingly damaged brain tissue is more than meets the eye? What if it's the reason the kids were abducted?"
Scully gaped at him for a moment before shaking her head. "You're getting ahead of yourself. We don't even know if Claire and the other kids were epileptics."
"Then we need to find out. As soon as possible."
His cell phone punctuated his words with a sharp trill. He absentmindedly punched the button, his mind traveling 60 miles an hour in the opposite direction.
"We've got news."
The lack of telephone foreplay sent Mulder's stomach on a long, slow roll. "What is it, Frohike?"
"Those other kids that went missing the same time as your brother's niece? Four of them are back."
"Sketchy so far--we're working on it. From what we're seeing, they're being returned in the same order they were taken. We've been monitoring all the hot spots, figuring the rest will keep showing up in the same sequence."
"Any word on their conditions?"
"In every case so far, EMTs were called and the kids taken to the hospital. Langly was able to hack into admittance records for the first two." A slight hesitation. "They list the kids as being comatose on arrival."
Mulder gritted his teeth, forcing himself to take a steadying breath before answering. "I need everything you can dig up, Hickey. Police reports, witness testimony... If you get me a list of the hospitals, Scully can call and use her badge number to access patient records." Dryly. "Legitimately."
"Got it covered. I'll have Langly email ASAP."
"Keep in touch."
"One more thing you should know. The kids are turning up close to wherever they were when they disappeared. One of 'em was even back in her own bed. The mother was seriously freaked when she walked into the room and found her daughter sleeping as if nothing had happened." He cleared his throat. "Uh, until she tried to wake her up, that is. Maybe you'd better make sure your brother has someone watching the house."
"I'm on it. Thanks."
Scully laid a hand on his arm as he disconnected and then began rapidly punching in Grey's number. "Some of the children have been found?"
"Four. All comatose." Mulder grimaced, hating the sharpness of his reply. "The guys think they're being returned in the same order they were taken."
"Grey, it's me."
"Fox? You in Boone?"
"Yeah. We're done here, we should be on the road shortly." He watched Scully tense, then slump in resignation.
"Tonight? I thought you were going to get a room. That's a helluva long trip to make this late."
"We'll mainline some caffeine. Listen, Grey, I need you to do something for me."
"Anything, Fox. You just gotta ask."
It warmed a spot inside of him that he'd feared would never thaw. His lips curved and a little of the tightness eased in the aching muscles along his spine.
"I need you to have someone keep an eye on Kira's place. Twenty- four hour surveillance."
A pregnant silence as he sensed Grey examining his request, turning it over and over like a child with a new toy. "What do you know that I don't know?"
"Do you remember me telling you that some other kids went missing the same time Claire did? Well, a few of them have been returned."
"What do you mean? Did they catch who did it?"
There were so many answers to that question, none of them conducive to healing the rift between them. Mulder sighed. "No. All I'm saying is that I think there's a good possibility Claire could turn up, and if she does it will be close to home. Just trust me in this, will you? It's not going to cost you anything."
Another long pause, and he knew Grey was biting back his own string of retorts. Finally, his brother let out his own gusty sigh. "All right. I'll see who I can spare."
The flood of relief left him exhausted and nearly giddy. "Thank you."
Grey's voice dropped until it was little more than a murmur. "You think we're going to find her soon, don't you? That's why you're driving home tonight."
The phone felt slippery in Mulder's grip. "Yeah. I do."
"I hope to hell you're right." His wistful tone turned businesslike. "Be careful. Some of those roads can be tricky in the dark."
"We will." He was about to hang up; caught himself. "Grey?"
"This is going to sound strange, but... Is Claire epileptic?"
A sharp intake of breath. "What in the... How did you know that? Did Kira mention it?"
Goosebumps broke out, tingling along his arms and legs. "No. Are you saying she is?"
"Was is more like it. It was always pretty mild, and she hasn't had a seizure in over a year. Kira doesn't give her medicine for it anymore." His voice sharpened. "Why, Fox? What does it have to do with anything?"
"Not over the phone. I'll explain when we see you."
A trace of Grey's dry wit returned. "I'll be looking forward to it with bated breath."
"See you in a few hours." He disconnected, still reeling from the impact of Grey's confirmation.
"Claire has epilepsy?" Scully studied his face as he pocketed the phone.
"Had. Sounds just like Jessica; their symptoms even disappeared about the same time. It's the link, Scully. I know it."
"We'll get a clearer picture when we can compare the other kids' medical records." She ran her hand down his arm, taking his hand. "You've done all you can for now."
Mulder rubbed at eyes burning with emotion and fatigue. "Maybe so. I just wish I didn't get the feeling this has been the easy part, Scully. That the really hard part's yet to come."
Her only response was a tightening of the fingers tangled with his. Somehow, though, it was more than enough.
Scully sipped her coffee, blinking gritty eyes. She eased the styrofoam cup into the holder, careful not to disturb the man sprawled bonelessly against her shoulder. She'd taken possession of his car keys at the last rest stop, firmly ignoring protests that he was perfectly able to drive. Within ten minutes, darkness and the rhythmic hum of tires on pavement had lulled him to sleep. An all- to-brief respite before the ordeal that lay ahead.
She tightened her grip on the steering wheel and rolled her head, steeling herself against her own weariness. Mulder's soft, even breathing and warm weight against her side was a seductive invitation to join him in slumber. Not an option, if they were going to make it back to Raleigh in one piece. Thank God they were within an hour of their destination.
The high-pitched warble of his cell phone, abnormally loud in the silence, startled her. Her hands jerked inadvertently to the right, briefly swerving the car onto the shoulder of the road with a spray of gravel before she caught herself. Mulder jerked upright as if the tone carried an electrical charge, fumbling in his pockets until he produced the offending device. His voice was thick and heavy with sleep.
She read the caller's message in his rigid posture and the tight, carefully controlled tone of his voice. Depressing the gas pedal, she increased the car's speed to well past the posted limit. Mulder's announcement, when it came, brought no surprise. Only bitter resignation.
"Claire's back. She's been taken to Raleigh Community Hospital."
She gave a short nod, keeping her gaze focused on the road as she sent up a silent prayer.
Dear God, help Claire. Help us all.