Page Next Chapter|
Blood Ties 11: Evolution (16/17)
He hadn't said a word for at least fifteen minutes.
Scully wrapped her hands around the mug of hot tea, icy fingers gratefully absorbing the warmth, and surreptitiously observed the taciturn figure across the table. By the time she'd coaxed Mulder back into the building, he'd been shivering uncontrollably and her toes had turned numb. A trip to the cafeteria for a hot drink had driven the chill from their bodies. Mulder's spirits, however, had yet to thaw.
Her lips tightened as she took in the dark circles under his eyes and the uneaten sandwich on his plate. In just 72 hours, a week's worth of rest and relaxation had been undone. He'd poured his heart and soul into this case, done everything in his power for Grey, Kira, and Claire. His investigative work had been top notch, his deductive leaps eerily accurate, yet in the end it made little difference. For Mulder, this case could only be about another shattered relationship he couldn't repair and another little girl he couldn't save.
Frohike's call, informing them that one of the other children had died, seemed to have quenched the dying sparks of Mulder's hope. He hadn't spoken since.
Scully reached across the table, curling her fingers around his wrist. "Mulder--"
"I can't, Scully." When she raised her eyebrows, he jerked a thumb at the sandwich. "I can't eat that. Right now I can't eat anything. Please don't push, all right?"
"And you call me a mindreader?"
A weak smile tugged at his lips. "You've been taking turns scowling at me and that plate for the last ten minutes. Knowing what you're thinking hardly qualifies as mindreading."
"You've barely eaten all day."
He folded over the table, pressing his forehead to the hand clasping his wrist. "Probably for the best, considering."
She sighed, bringing her other hand up to stroke his hair. "You can't take this on, Mulder. You did everything Grey could have asked, and more."
He looked up at her, cheek nestled against the back of her hand. "Claire is going to die, Scully. Whatever good I may have done--it wasn't enough." He closed his eyes, but not before she glimpsed the shine of tears. "I wish the last three days had never happened, Scully. I wish to God I could erase them and just start over."
She could barely speak past the ache in her throat. "We haven't seen the end of this yet. Give Kira a little time to think things through. She's exhausted and half out of her mind with worry."
Pressing a kiss to her knuckles, he sat up straight. "I said I'd see this through to the end, and I will. But I can't lie to you, babe. I just want to go home." He slid her empty plate beneath his and slipped them onto the tray. "Be right back."
Scully watched him dump their trash in the nearest receptacle, then trudge across the cafeteria to return the empty tray. Distracted by the slump of his shoulders and her own morose thoughts, the light touch to her shoulder drove the air from her lungs in a startled whoosh.
She spun and lurched to her feet, one hand automatically reaching for her weapon until she saw who stood behind her.
"Kira. I didn't hear you come up."
"Sorry." Kira's red-rimmed eyes left Scully's face and scanned the table. "Where's Fox?"
"He'll be right back. Can I get you something to eat? Some hot tea?"
Kira shook her head, not even bothering with the pretense of a smile. "No, thank you. I just really need to talk to Fox."
"I'm here." Mulder sent Scully an inquiring look as he detoured around the table to stand at her side. She responded with the slight lift of one shoulder.
"Fox, I need to talk to you, I..." Kira studied his face, her fingers twisting and knotting together. "...I know I kind of ran out on you, before, and I didn't want to give you the impression... I'm so grateful for everything you've done to help Claire. If I was less than...receptive to your suggestion, it's certainly not because I think...because I don't..."
"Kira." Mulder put his hand over hers, stilling them. "It's all right. You don't have to apologize. You're Claire's mother. You have every right to decide--"
"Please. Let me finish." She drew in a deep breath and blew it out. "I'm not like you, Fox. I believe in what I can see, what I can hold in my hand. Taking a leap of faith has never been my strong suit--I have a hard time believing in God, let alone aliens. But even I can see that whatever happened to Claire defies rational explanation. And I think that if anyone can make sense of such a completely senseless situation, maybe it's you." Her fingers clamped down on his in a bruising grip and her voice trembled with emotion. "You've been right about so many things up till now. I just...I have to trust you're right about this, too."
Mulder went very still. "What are you saying, Kira?"
She dropped his hand and stepped back, struggling to maintain her composure. "I've decided to have Claire undergo the ECT. I've already spoken to Dr. Pratt. They're going to be moving Claire up to the fifth floor within the next hour." She turned her gaze from Mulder to Scully. "He'd like you both to be there."
"Of course." Seeing Mulder was still struggling to assimilate Kira's news, Scully gave her a reassuring smile. "We'll be right up."
"Thank you. I'd better get back. Steve's...having a little trouble accepting all this."
She turned to leave, but Mulder caught her elbow. "Kira, wait." When she faced him once more, he released her. "I'm just wondering... What changed your mind?"
A wry expression crinkled the corners of her eyes. "There's no mystery there, Fox. My big brother can be very convincing when he believes he's right."
She turned and walked back toward the elevators, oblivious to the stunned disbelief she'd put on his face.
Mulder found his eyes straying to the wall clock for the third time in ten minutes. Nearly half an hour had passed since Claire, Kira, and Scully had disappeared behind the double doors to the psychiatric wing. Time seemed to have slowed to a snail's pace, every tick of the clock fueling his rising anxiety and impatience. From what he could see, Grey, his parents, and Steve Talbot were faring no better.
Across the room, Talbot resumed pacing, casting baleful glances in Mulder's direction and muttering under his breath. He'd been roaming the small room like a caged tiger for most of the past 20 minutes, his agitation only exacerbating Mulder's nervousness. And evidently Grey's, as well. His brother ignored Talbot for several minutes, then pinched the bridge of his nose. Mulder tensed, expecting trouble.
"Steve, do us all a favor? Sit down and shut the hell up."
Grey's words, amazingly, held weary resignation rather than animosity. Unfortunately Talbot, strung tighter than a bow, didn't hear the difference. Two quick strides and he was standing over Grey.
"Fuck off. You expect me to just sit and twiddle my thumbs, not knowing what's happening to my little girl? This is your fault, Grey. Anything happens to Claire, and so help me God, I'll--"
Grey slowly stood up. His lip curled and his voice dropped to a dangerously intimate level. "You'll what? Knock me around like you did Kira? Go ahead, Steve. Let's see how you do against someone your own size."
Mulder moved to separate them, but was outstripped by Grey's father, who wedged himself between the two men, expression stern.
"That's enough. Last time I checked they didn't allow brawling in this hospital. If you two aren't careful you'll be waiting out on the street." He gave Grey a look that said he expected more from him, then placed a hand on Talbot's shoulder. "Steve, everyone in this room wants the best for Claire. Casting blame is not only pointless, it's unfounded."
Steve shrugged off the touch, face twisted with anger and grief. "Why can't you all see how ridiculous this is? You won't listen to me, but you'll take advice from a guy that hunts aliens for a living. And you..." He stabbed a finger in Grey's direction. "You're the reason things have gotten so out of control. Kira never would have agreed to this...this treatment...if you'd've kept your mouth shut. There's nothing unfounded in--" He broke off with a pained cry, grabbing his head and crumpling.
Grey and his father caught hold of Steve's arms, easing him onto the linoleum as his eyes rolled back in his head and his limbs twitched and spasmed. Mulder knelt beside them, loosening the top button of Talbot's shirt.
Grey watched him, face pale. "What the--?"
"The tumor." Mulder ground out the words as he shoved aside a chair. "He's on medication for seizures, remember?"
Grey watched Talbot's body jerk and twist. "What do we do?"
"Nothing." Mulder stole a quick look over his shoulder; saw Grey's mother approaching with a nurse in tow. "Just make sure he doesn't hurt himself."
By the time medical personnel arrived, the spasms had ended, leaving Talbot dazed and semi-conscious. Mulder gave the young woman a brief rundown of Talbot's medical condition as she checked his vital signs. Once she was satisfied he had stabilized, she fetched an orderly to help her move him down to the ER.
"We'll run a few tests; make sure nothing else is wrong," she told them as Steve was carefully strapped to a gurney for transport. "He'll probably just need to sleep for a while. If, as you say, it's due to the tumor, there's really not much we can do but provide a place for him to rest and keep an eye on him."
"We'll come along." Grey's mother looked to her husband for confirmation. When he nodded, she turned to her son. "We'll be back as soon as Steve gets settled. Tell Kira--"
"I will." Grey looked at Talbot, pity darkening his eyes before he glanced quickly away. "I'll track you down if there's any news."
Once Talbot's little entourage had left, Mulder reclaimed his chair. His brother, however, remained standing, forehead creased and teeth gnawing his lower lip. After several minutes had passed and Grey showed no signs of moving, Mulder cleared his throat.
"Are you all right?"
"Yeah. Yeah, I just..." Grey sounded far away. Distracted. "I guess I was so worried about Claire, it never sank in."
His brother nodded, shame flushing his cheeks. "To be honest, up until now I've barely given it a passing thought. And when I did..." He winced. "The only thing I felt was relief."
Mulder chose his words carefully. "He's not exactly the easiest person to like."
Grey snorted. "Tell that to Kira." He sighed; scrubbed a hand across his stubbled jaw. "I never thought I'd see the day when I'd feel sorry for the bastard."
"Lack of sleep, stress--I'm sure the past few days have aggravated his condition. It's not really surprising that he's feeling the repercussions. In fact, it's possible some of Steve's...anger management issues could be traced to this tumor."
Grey walked over and dropped into the chair beside Mulder. "It's a helluva way to die." He turned his head to study his brother's face. "Fox... Have you wondered if there could be more to Steve's tumor than meets the eye?"
"Why--just because Steve and Claire both are suffering from a malfunctioning of the cells in their brains?
"Quite a coincidence--huh?"
It coaxed a small smile onto Mulder's lips. "You know what I'm gonna say, right?"
Grey's mouth twitched. "I've heard it a time or two, yeah."
The grin faded and Mulder shook his head. "Steve said his tumor is located in the parietal lobe, which just happens to be the location of the children's epilepsy and the area of missing tissue. I can't help feeling there is a connection, at least on some level. If Claire and the other kids carry the genetic precursor for the abilities possessed by Gibson Praise, then perhaps Talbot carries the precursor to what they have. Maybe he's one step back in the evolutionary chain."
"So why the tumor? And please don't tell me aliens did something to him, too."
Mulder rolled his eyes. "Contrary to what you may think, I don't see little green men around every corner." He tipped his head back against the wall, thinking aloud. "There's an element of trial and error in gene mutation, with natural selection serving to ensure only the most desirable traits survive. Maybe Talbot's tumor is nature's way of weeding out a less successful attempt."
He sighed rubbing the heels of his hands into gritty eyes. "We'll probably never know--though I'd definitely like Scully to take a peek at his medical records when this is all over."
Grey shifted in his chair. "I just hope it's soon. I can't take this waiting much longer."
Mulder watched his brother search for a more comfortable position, Kira and Talbot's words resonating in his head. Finally, he could keep silent no longer.
"Why did you do it?"
Grey's jaw tightened and he glanced away. "What do you mean?"
"Kira told me you were the one who convinced her that Claire should undergo the procedure."
When Grey didn't immediately answer, Mulder sat up and turned to study him. "We've been at odds over this case from almost the moment Scully and I got here. You certainly made no secret of the fact you wanted nothing to do with our investigation. Why are you backing me now, Grey?" His lips twisted into a grim smile. "Are you trying to tell me you've come to believe in aliens?"
Grey's reply was very soft. "No. I can't say that I do."
"Then why go along with this line of treatment; why put your neck on the block with Kira and the rest of your family? Talbot was right, you know--if Claire dies they will never truly forgive either one of us." Mulder shook his head, voice rising along with his anger. "If you did it out of regret, as an attempt to fix the trouble between us, then you needlessly risked Claire's life. And it doesn't prove anything."
"It should prove something to you. But not what you're thinking." Grey dropped his eyes to stare at his shoes for a long moment, then lifted them to Mulder's face. "I do regret what's happened to us, Fox. God help me, if I could take back the words, I would. But that's not the reason I talked to Kira."
The honest emotion in Grey's eyes was too much. Mulder looked away, blinking hard. "Then why?"
"Because as terrible as the past three days have been, they've helped me to understand something. Not that I believe in aliens." He chuffed. "Give me some time. It took Dana years--I think I deserve at least a week." The laughter faded from his voice. "I may not believe in aliens, Fox. But I believe in you."
Mulder sucked in a sharp breath as Grey continued. "You're a hell of an investigator. You find patterns, make connections most people would never see. And you're willing to look beyond established boundaries for the answers you need." He bit his lip, shame creeping into his voice. "Even if you wind up taking shit for it.
"You were right about this case. Every step of the way. And I think...I believe...you're going to be right about Claire. That's why I talked to Kira."
"You may be sorry." Mulder squeezed the words past the lump in his throat, then forced a smile. "Despite what I tell Scully, I'm not always right."
Grey's lips curved. "I'll take the odds, little brother."
Before Mulder could find his voice, the double doors swung outward, discharging Scully, Kira, and several medical personnel pushing a gurney bearing Claire. Mulder and Grey sprang to their feet.
"What happened? How is she?" Grey trotted alongside the gurney, staring down at Claire's still face.
"Too soon to tell." Kira's hand enveloped her daughter's; she looked very pale but composed. "Dana will explain everything, Grey. I'll see you downstairs."
Grey let them go, watching until they'd disappeared into the elevator. He turned to Scully, hope and fear clouding his face. "Dana?"
Scully pursed her lips. "Dr. Pratt delivered the mildest dose for the shortest amount of time. And it appears to have worked. The post treatment EEG shows a drastic reduction in electroconductivity."
She lay her hand on his arm. "Claire's brain has suffered a prolonged period of extreme stress to the neurons and synapses. It's too soon to tell if there will be irreversible damage."
Mulder frowned. "What exactly are you saying, Scully?"
Her eyes drifted closed and she shook her head.
When she looked up, Scully's eyes glistened with tears. "Claire's in a coma. We're not certain she'll come out of it."