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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (2/?)
Mulder stared out the window at the field of twinkling lights, the low buzz humming through his body ratcheting up a notch. The already long flight, extended by a delay in Miami, left him feeling stretched tight, like a rubberband ready to snap. The burden of Grey's need weighed heavily on his shoulders, conspiring to keep him wide-eyed and sleepless throughout the trip. Whatever unpleasantness lay ahead once the plane hit the ground would be preferable to the forced inactivity of the past seven hours.
A passing flight attendant motioned for him to raise his seatback. Mulder nodded, shifting carefully so as not to dislodge the heavy head on his shoulder. Scully's face, soft and peaceful in sleep, was a balm to his restless spirit. He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear, then skimmed his finger down the smooth skin of her cheek. The steady cadence of her breath skipped a beat, her lashes fluttering open to reveal blue eyes still cloudy with sleep.
"Rise and shine, Sleeping Beauty. We're about to land."
Scully blinked and sat up, stretching catlike before pressing the button to raise her seat. She fussed for a moment with crumpled hair, then gave up.
"I can't believe I slept through the whole flight."
Mulder glanced down at her, lips quirking. "My fault. I didn't exactly let you get a full eight hours last night."
She looked up at him from beneath her lashes. "Believe me when I say I will always forgive you that kind of transgression."
He slipped his hand over hers where it rested on the seat arm, turning once again to look out the window. Scully watched the amusement drain from his features, replaced by a wary, pensive expression.
"Did you sleep at all?"
"Nah. I was having too much fun watching the guy across the aisle drool."
Scully flipped her hand and wove her fingers between his. "You'll do what you can, Mulder. We both will."
He blew out a long breath, staring down at their joined hands. "I keep thinking about Kira, how helpless she must feel. She's got to be out of her mind with worry."
"Kira's a survivor, Mulder. She must possess a core of steel to endure everything she has and to overcome it. Don't sell her short."
Don't compare her to your mother, she wanted to add. Not everyone falls to pieces in the midst of tragedy. Some actually persevere and grow stronger.
Mulder was silent as they debarked, collected their suitcases, and arranged for a rental car. Scully let him be, well aware of the headspace he'd entered as he prepared to immerse himself in what was essentially a kidnapping case--albeit one with a truckload of emotional baggage.
The late hour and nearly deserted roads shortened the thirty-minute trip to twenty, getting them to the precinct at the ungodly hour of 1:15 a.m. Scully shivered as she stepped out of the car, the chill magnified by skin grown accustomed to sunshine and tropical breezes. They'd changed clothes during the layover in Miami, trading shorts and tee shirts for jeans and sweaters, and she was now profoundly grateful.
Mulder tugged open the glass door and guided her through, squinting in the glare from bright fluorescent lights. A lone sergeant posted behind the front desk was the only sign of life in the otherwise deserted lobby. He stood as they approached, brown eyes locked onto Mulder's face.
Mulder reached for his ID. "Hi. We're..."
"No introduction necessary--one look at that mug of yours tells it all. You must be Fox." Lips twisting into something between a smirk and a grin, he extended a meaty hand. "Joe Wade. Grey said to expect you both."
Mulder allowed his hand to be swallowed in a bone-crushing grip, amused when Wade shook Scully's as if her fingers were made of glass.
"Your brother is in the conference room--down that way, third door on the left." The smile slid off Wade's face, transforming him from desk clerk to grizzled veteran. "I think they're about ready to pack it in. Not much more to be done tonight."
"I suppose that means there haven't been any breakthroughs," Scully murmured as they moved down the hallway.
"Did you think there would be?"
She lifted one shoulder. "I guess a small part of me was still holding out hope that it was all a big mistake. Whether that meant finding Claire camped out at a friend's house or brought home by her father with a credible explanation."
The conference room door hung slightly ajar and they could hear Grey's voice, terse and impatient. "There has to be something else we can do, some other avenue to pursue."
His partner's response was patient but weary. "Grey, it's after one in the morning. We've put out the APB on Talbot, filed a missing persons report on Claire. There's just not much more we can do until morning. For God's sake, go home and get some sleep while you can."
"How do you expect me to sleep when my niece is out there somewhere, most likely in the hands of the bastard who used to abuse her? Anyway, Fox and Dana..."
"Are here." Mulder nudged open the door and they stepped inside.
Mark Preston sat slumped over a table, arms folded. Spread across its surface were various file folders, reports, and pictures. Across the room Grey ceased pacing like a caged tiger and propped his hands on his hips, a strained smile erasing the scowl from his face.
"What took you so long, little brother? I was beginning to worry you'd ditched us for one more night in paradise."
"Our flight was delayed a bit. Guess I should've called."
Scully surprised them both by simply walking over and slipping her arms around Grey's waist. "I'm so sorry, Grey. We'll do whatever we can to help."
A moment's hesitation and then his arms came up, much of the tension leaving his body in a whoosh. His voice dropped to barely more than a whisper but remained steady. "Thanks, darlin'."
"How's Kira holding up?" Mulder circled the table as he spoke, eyes roving over each piece of paper.
"She's scared." Grey chuffed, watching his brother prowl. "Pissed. My little sister isn't one to give up without a fight. My folks took her home with them about an hour ago."
Mark caught Scully's eye and tilted his head toward the door. She dipped her chin slightly and stepped out of Grey's embrace.
"It's been a long day for us all. I know I could use a shower and something hot to drink. Grey, why don't we go back to your place? You can bring Mulder and me up to speed on what you know so far, and we can all grab a few hours of sleep."
"Grey, you live ten minutes from here," Mark said when his partner hesitated. "If anything comes up, you'll be the first to know. Go on."
Propriety toward his brother and Scully achieved what Mark's previous badgering could not. Grey's shoulders slumped and he nodded. "Guess you're right. Y'all deserve a break before I start asking you to jump through hoops."
Mulder looked up, mouth twitching. "No problem. Your buddy Walt's always telling Scully and me that managing the X-Files is like running a circus."
Grey shook his head, but a little of the bleakness left his eyes. "Don't take this the wrong way, Fox. But I'm not surprised."
Scully shuffled into the family room, hair damp, face scrubbed clean of make-up, and clad in worn sweats. Grey handed her a mug of steaming tea, relinquishing his seat beside Mulder and moving to a chair across from the couch. She melted into the soft cushion with a contented sigh and took a long sip.
"Have you two come up with a game plan?"
Mulder slipped an arm around her shoulders. "Well, I definitely want to see the crime scene--" He winced. "Claire's bedroom. And I need to talk to Kira. If her ex does have Claire, I need to get a better handle on what we're dealing with."
"We've had his apartment under surveillance all day. There hasn't been hide nor hair of him." Grey spoke through gritted teeth. "He's got her. I'd bet money on it."
"You're probably right. The overwhelming majority of child kidnappings are perpetrated by a parent or other family member. But you're a cop, Grey. You of all people know the danger in prematurely narrowing the focus of an investigation."
"Don't patronize me, Fox. You weren't around when Kira was married to that bastard; you don't know what it was like. Bruises up and down her arms, split lips, black eyes. I've seen first hand what the son of a bitch is capable of."
"Hey." Mulder's soft, even response brought his brother up short. "I'm on your side, remember? You asked for my help, Grey; you have to trust me to give it. We both know you're way too close to this one."
Grey looked ready to protest, but his eyes slipped shut and he nodded. "Yeah. I guess I am." He pinned Mulder with a look of fierce determination. "But don't expect me to just sit back and let you drive on this one. I can't do that."
One corner of Mulder's mouth turned up. "Fair enough."
"Grey, I'm not sure how to ask this, but..." Scully took another sip from her mug as she chose her words. "Kira has always impressed me as strong and independent. How--"
"--did someone so intelligent wind up married to such a loser?" Grey asked.
"Something like that."
Grey sighed, propping his chin on steepled fingers. "I'm not sure I have an answer for you. I can tell you that Shannon was a tough act to follow: cheerleader, homecoming queen, fellas lining up to take her out on a date. Kira was always quieter, a little more serious and, I don't know--introspective? It tended to put guys off. Steve Talbot saw what a lot of them didn't--the girl inside. And he can be very charming when he sets his mind to it. He swept my baby sister off her feet."
Grey's fingers curled into fists. "By the time Kira truly realized what she'd gotten herself into she had his ring on her finger and his child inside her body. She toughed it out for five years before finally calling it quits."
Mulder leaned forward. "Talbot disappeared for nearly five years before showing up here again. Do you have any idea where he was and what he was doing during that time?"
"Other than dodging alimony and child support, you mean?" Grey shook his head. "Supposedly he was living in Atlanta for the past year and a half, freelancing for the local newspapers. He's a photographer. Before that?" He shrugged.
"We need to track down every move he made after he and Kira divorced. If he does have Claire--and yes, I'm still saying 'if'--it's likely he might revisit one of his old haunts."
"I've got just the person for the job." Grey frowned. "Speaking of which--does Walt know I dragged you two into this?"
Mulder let his head drop back, then rolled it from side to side in an effort to loosen tight muscles. "We're technically still on vacation. I don't see that we need ol' Walt's approval."
Scully dug her elbow into his waist, eliciting a gust of air and a glare. "He's right, Mulder. Skinner thinks we're in Florida, soaking up sun on the beach. If word gets back to him that we're knee-deep in a kidnapping case, he'll go ballistic. I'll give him a call in the morning."
Grey smiled at her, but his eyes were shadowed with grief and regret. "Fox wouldn't let me tell him, so I'm gonna say it to you, darlin'. I'm sorrier than I can say about taking you away from your vacation. I'll make it up to y'all, I promise."
Scully reached over to place her hand on top of his. "There's nothing to apologize for, Grey. We're right where we want to be."
Grey squeezed her hand and then stood. "I think I'd better let you two get some sleep. I know it was a long flight, and you both are looking pretty rough around the edges. I was hoping to head back to the station as soon as it's light."
Scully took her mug into the kitchen, then popped her head back around the corner. "I'm going up. You coming, Mulder?"
"I'll be there in a minute." When she'd disappeared, he called, "Don't hog the blanket."
Her indignant reply drifted from the stairs. "I do NOT hog the blanket."
Mulder smirked at Grey and nodded.
Scully's voice, fainter now. "I saw that, Mulder."
Grey blew out a long breath and shook his head. "That is a dangerous woman."
"Tell me something I don't know." Mulder studied his brother. "You're not going to sleep at all, are you?"
Grey looked away. "I'm too wired. I think I'll go over the file one more time, see if I might have missed anything."
"You're not going to do Kira or Claire any good by running yourself to the ground, Grey. The best thing you can do for them right now is get some rest."
"This from the world's worst insomniac."
Mulder chuckled. "The voice of experience." The humor faded and he grasped his brother's arm. "We're going to find her, Grey."
Grey's lips curved into a smile that never touched his eyes. He patted Mulder's cheek; turned away. "Don't a make a promise you might not be able to keep, little brother."
Mulder opened his mouth to protest; found he couldn't.
Grey tipped his head toward the stairs. "You've got a beautiful woman waiting to steal the blanket from you. Go on."
He hesitated, wishing for words that would take the darkness from his brother's eyes, words that could give Grey something solid, something concrete to hang onto. Words that didn't exist.
"Go on, Fox. I'm all right."
So he went, unable to shake the vague feeling that he'd failed before he'd begun.