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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (14/17)
Intensive Care Unit
"You have no right to keep my from seeing my own child! Now, either use that gun or get the hell out of my way."
Steve Talbot's voice echoed down the corridor, belligerent and crackling with fury. They turned the corner and found themselves immersed in barely contained chaos. A uniformed cop stood in front of the ICU doors, arms folded and face impassive as he absorbed the brunt of Talbot's righteous indignation. Dr. Hsu cowered in the cop's shadow, clearly unsure what to make of the man, while a several nurses hovered nearby.
Grey quickened his stride, reaching Talbot just as he appeared ready to give the officer a shove. "Back off, Steve. Officer Larkin is just doing his job. Which, it so happens, is protecting your daughter."
Steve whirled and directed his fury toward Grey. "I'm her father, for God's sake. Claire doesn't need to be protected from me."
Larkin, a blond cop in his early thirties, scowled up at Grey. "Sorry for the commotion, Detective. I tried to explain to this guy"--he cocked a thumb at Talbot's chest--"that access to the little girl is restricted, but he was too bullheaded to listen."
"Thanks, Pete. I'll handle it from here." Grey gave the man a slap on the back with a smile that disappeared when he turned to Talbot. "Follow me."
"You might have had the decency to call, let me know Claire had been found." Talbot shouldered Mulder out of the way and caught up to Grey as they passed through the doors to the ICU.
"I've been busy." Grey growled the words through gritted teeth. "Evidently you figured it out."
"I tried to track Kira down at the station to see if you'd made progress. Somebody there told me what had happened." Talbot seized Grey's arm, stopping him. "Don't jerk me around, Grey. How is she?"
Grey glared at the restraining hand, lips parted to deliver a sharp retort. And then he seemed to really look into Talbot's eyes. After a moment's hesitation, he silently tipped his head toward the large glass window that looked into the ICU. Claire lay in the nearest cubicle, surrounded by tubes and wires, small chest rising and falling with mechanical precision as the ventilator breathed for her.
All the color drained from Talbot's face, and he swayed on his feet. "Oh my God. What's happened to her?"
Grey shook his head, gaze riveted on his niece. "We...we're not sure."
"Not sure?" Two quick steps and Talbot had buried his fists in Grey's shirt, dragging him forward until their faces were a hair's breadth apart. "What do you mean you're not sure? Three days ago that was a normal, healthy little girl! Who did this to her? What in the hell have you been doing about it?"
Mulder grabbed the distraught man by the collar of his shirt and dragged him off his brother. "Come on. What do you think he's been doing--sitting around twiddling his thumbs? He loves her too."
Talbot struggled, fighting to break Mulder's hold. No one noticed Kira stand up and hurry out of the cubicle.
"Steve? Steve, what's going on?"
At the sound of her voice, Talbot went limp. Mulder released him with a little shove and he stumbled toward her. "Kira, I'm sorry, I just wanted to..." The words trailed off to a whisper as his gaze returned to Claire. "What's wrong with her?"
Kira turned swollen, red-rimmed eyes onto Grey, her expression almost apologetic as she took Talbot's hand. "Come on in. I'll explain as best as I can."
Talbot spoke in hushed tones as he allowed her to lead him into the cubicle, meek as a child. "Can she hear us?"
A core of steel lurked beneath Kira's weary reply. "The doctor says no, but I don't believe him."
Mulder and Scully exchanged a long look--she recalling hazy dream images of a rowboat on a solitary lake, he remembering an endless night of rambling monologues and the whisper of nurses' shoes. He brushed his hand down the length of her arm until their fingers were touching though not entwined, his voice pitched for her ears alone. "Neither do I."
"Grey. Let it go."
Kristen's calming words pulled them back to the situation at hand. Grey was glaring through the glass, jaw and fists clenched, as Talbot took a weeping Kira into his arms.
"Son of a bitch. I ought to..."
"But you won't." Kristen softened the hard edge to her voice with a hand on his arm.
Grey bristled. "You don't understand, Kris. You weren't around back then, you didn't see--"
"Then. Not now." Kristen stepped between him and the window, forcing him to see her. "This isn't about what you need, Grey; it's about what Kira needs. She's a big girl; she can decide for herself. Let it go."
Grey laced his arms across his chest. "Easy for you to say."
Kristen shook her head with a bitter little laugh. "With the mood you've been in? You really think so?"
It pulled Grey up short. He let out a long, gusty sigh and reached over to brush a lock of hair off her shoulder. They stared into each other's eyes, his lips slowly curving into a faint smile.
"No. I think it's a job I wouldn't wish on anyone."
Mulder grunted as Scully elbowed him in the ribs but the gibe lifted the tension. The ICU doors swung open, admitting Dr. Hsu and Grey's parents. Grey turned hesitantly toward Scully.
"Dana, would you mind...?"
"Of course not."
"Kristen and I will wait right here." Mulder's gesture encompassed the cubicle where Kira and Talbot were now seated beside Claire's bed.
Grey nodded, understanding the subtext. "Thank you."
Silence descended once Grey and Scully had moved off to speak to the doctor. Mulder focused on a nurse as she moved about Claire, checking her vitals and jotting equipment readouts onto the chart. His relationship with Kristen until now had been cordial but superficial--unlike Scully, who had formed a close bond with the agent while he and Grey were on the camping trip from hell. Despite better intentions, the current strain in his relationship with his brother left him uncomfortable in Kristen's presence.
"He's really broken up over what's happened between you."
It took a moment for Kristen's soft voice to penetrate his thoughts. Mulder darted a sharp glance at her face before forcing his attention back to Claire. He hoped his silence would convince her to let the matter drop. Too late, he recalled Grey's descriptions of her tenacity.
"He's afraid you've decided to shut him out of your life. That you've made up your mind, and nothing he can say or do now is going to change it."
His answer sounded wooden, even to his own ears. "A little distance can be a good thing. He'll come to see that, eventually."
"He already has."
It pierced his defenses, tearing him in places already raw from Grey's rejection. He'd sucked in an involuntary gasp before he could reassemble a passive mask.
"At least we can agree on that much."
Pulling the same trick she had on his brother, Kristen stepped between Mulder and the glass. He was stunned to see fury in her green eyes. "He thinks it's good for you, Mulder. Not for himself." Ignoring his poleaxed expression, she plowed on.
"He knows he's hurt you--badly. And he doesn't want to be responsible for inflicting that kind of pain again." She reached out a tentative hand to touch his arm. "You can put things back where they belong. It's not too late."
A headache began to build behind his right eye, fueled by fatigue and emotion too long repressed. Mulder massaged the bridge of his nose, desperately wishing he'd tagged along with Scully and Grey.
"There's too much you don't know, Kristen." He met her gaze squarely, anger beginning to eclipse the pain. "Too much you could never understand."
Her own temper flared. "I understand more than you think. I fought with my father before school one morning, Mulder, a real knock down, drag out. Stomped out of the house swearing I'd never speak to him again." Her eyes fluttered shut; she shook her head. "I never dreamed a car accident would prove me right." When she opened her eyes, the anger had turned to deep sorrow. "Not a day goes by that I don't wish I could make things right."
Mulder shifted uneasily. "I'm sorry about your father, but--"
"This is different. Sure." She sighed and stepped away, freeing him to return to his vigil. "Look, I know you and Grey have history, Mulder. You spent the first three decades of your lives without each other, I guess you can spend the next three the same way." She chuffed a humorless laugh. "What I can't figure out is why you'd want to." When he didn't respond, she sighed again. "I'm going to get a drink of water. Tell Grey-- Never mind, I'll tell him myself."
Mulder listened to her footsteps, the slap of rubber on linoleum, as he stared sightlessly at Claire's still face. The hollow, gnawing ache in his gut, no longer assuaged by files and theories, welled up like bitter acid in the back of his throat. Put things back where they belong. His breath caught raggedly in his chest, a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob. If she only knew how much he wished he could.
There was a time when he'd grown so accustomed to rolled eyes and veiled insults that he barely registered them. Chalk it up to the wildly inaccurate rumor mill, professional jealousy, even simple inability to think outside the box--why he'd fallen from golden boy to monster boy really didn't matter. He believed in what he was doing, the importance of the work, and he'd convinced himself that was enough.
Then came Special Agent Dana Scully, forensic pathologist and would-be Consortium tool. He'd expected her to be beautiful and sexy--his weakness for pretty women wasn't exactly a well-kept secret. He'd suspected she would be brilliant--her thesis was damn impressive, and besides, his enemies were wise enough to realize that anyone less than his intellectual equal would never last the week.
What had knocked him on his ass, the one thing he--and they-- never could have predicted, was her respect.
He'd had to earn it, of course. Dana Scully never gave away anything for free. She'd indulged in her share of rolled eyes and incredulous laughter. But she'd listened, really listened, to his crazy, off-the-wall theories--challenging, debating, refuting. And the work had benefited.
That she'd given him her love as well as her respect was a precious gift he was still learning to accept.
He hadn't realized the addictive nature of that one-two punch until the last disastrous few days. That Grey seemed able to give him the one but not the other was a bitter pill to swallow. Five years ago he'd have taken what his brother had to give, grateful and unquestioning. But loving Scully had changed him, shown him he deserved more. Settling for less felt worse than just going through the motions. It felt like a lie.
Unpalatable for a man who'd dedicated his life to the truth.
Scully's warm fingers encircled his wrist, causing him to practically leap from his skin. He looked down into worried blue eyes and a furrowed brow, reactions to whatever she saw in his face. Consciously slowing his breathing, he sent her an apologetic grimace. She studied him for a moment longer, then, with a quick glance over her shoulder, took his hand and tugged him down the hallway.
"Mulder, what's wrong?"
"Nothing." A raised eyebrow and pursed lips prompted him to qualify the statement. "Nothing new, anyway."
She conceded the point but not the match. "Kristen seemed upset."
He sighed through clenched teeth. "Kristen has developed a Bob Vila complex." At Scully's mystified look he added, "She wants to fix everything."
"Ah." Scully pressed gentle fingers to the flesh above his right eye. "Headache?"
Mulder blinked. "Mindreader?"
Her mouth quirked, though the concern lingered in her eyes. "You squint a little. Dead giveaway."
"I'll have to remember that."
Scully trailed her fingers back through his hair before lowering her hand. "She's not the only one, you know, Mulder?"
He had to replay the conversation to pick up her thread. Despite his inner turmoil he felt more amusement than annoyance. "Yeah, I know. She's just not as subtle."
"Let's head back to the conference room. I can fill you in on Claire's condition while I hunt for some aspirin in my briefcase."
She'd barely finished speaking when pandemonium broke loose in the cubicle behind them. Two nurses wheeled a crash cart to the bedside of a middle-aged man whose heart monitor was emitting the shrill beep and erratic green line signaling cardiac arrhythmia. Within seconds a doctor rushed onto the scene and began directing the ordered chaos while a white-faced woman stood to one side, tears running down her face.
Mulder watched as the nurses stripped off the hospital gown, clearing the way for the doctor to apply defibrillator paddles to the patient's chest. The man's upper body arced off the mattress from the jolt of electric current, wringing an audible sob from the woman. Still, the monitor shrieked its warning and the green line jittered and jumped.
Scully had taken several steps down the hallway before realizing she'd left him behind. She frowned, irritated by his apparent distraction.
"Mulder, let's go. We..."
He dimly acknowledged the drone of Scully's voice as some kind of drug was injected and the paddles applied a third time. The green line stuttered for a moment longer, then settled into steady, rhythmic spikes. Mulder turned away from the flurry of smiles, tears, and congratulations, his own heart hammering as if it might burst.
"Mulder?" Fear, rather than annoyance, now sharpened Scully's question.
He waved her aside, tuning out all external distractions as he latched onto an idea so big, and yet so incredibly simple, it seemed too good to be true.
Could it work?
What did they have to lose?
"Mulder! What is it, what's going on?"
He slowly raised wide eyes to her face. "I think I've figured it out, Scully. I think I know how to save Claire."