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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (3/?)
By Dawn

7:48 a.m.

"I just spoke to Collins. Still no activity at Talbot's apartment." Mark's head seesawed back and forth as he watched Grey pace.

"What about Atlanta? Is someone checking out his old place?"

"We put the local boys on it. Haven't heard back yet."

"We need to stay on top of them, make sure..." Grey turned, words trailing off as he really looked at his partner for the first time all morning. "You look like hell."

Tie missing, shirt rumpled, and in definite need of a razor, Mark grinned wearily up at him. "I feel like hell. It's a matched set."

"I completely forgot you've been here all night. Why didn't you say something?" He held up a hand before Mark could answer. "Never mind. I guess I know why. Go home, partner."

"You sure? I'll stay if you need me." A jaw-cracking yawn lessened the sincerity of his words.

"Nah, we'll be fine."

Mark shoved back his chair and stood. "Don't have to tell me twice. I'll check in later, after sleep and a shower."

Grey wrinkled his nose. "I'd reverse the order if I were you."

"Ha, ha."

Mark shuffled to the door, stepping aside to admit Mulder and Scully, each carrying two cups of coffee.

"I'll just take mine to go." He liberated Scully of one cup, raising it in a "cheers" gesture. "See y'all later."

"I sent him home." Grey accepted a cup from Mulder's outstretched hand and took a long draught. His eyebrows shot up and he lifted the cup to examine it more closely. "This is NOT from the pot down the hall."

"Even Mulder wouldn't drink the stuff in the pot down the hall-- and that's saying something." Scully ignored her partner's mock pout. "We bumped into Sergeant Wade on his way out the door and he showed us the little place around the corner."

Grey took another sip. Sighed. "Remind me to thank him." He jerked his thumb at a file folder on the table. "Preliminary forensic results."

Scully sat down and pulled the folder toward her while Mulder loomed at her back. "What have we got?"

"One word. Nothing."

Scully looked up. "Nothing?"

Grey looked as if he was barely containing the desire to hurl the coffee against the wall. "No signs of forced entry. No fingerprints-- other than Claire's and Kira's. No extraneous fibers, hairs. It's as if she just...disappeared into thin air."

Scully flipped through the paperwork in the folder. "This is preliminary, Grey. They've still got a couple partial prints to check and..."

"And we're going to go over the scene again, with a fine-toothed comb." Mulder came around to prop a hip on the table. "As someone once told me, the answers are there. You just have to know where to look for them."

Scully pursed her lips and looked up at him. "Sounds like a wise person."

His reply was interrupted by a soft, feminine voice. "Grey?"

Three heads swiveled as one to find Kira standing tentatively in the doorway. Eyes shadowed with grief and exhaustion brightened when she saw Mulder and Scully.

"Fox. Dana. You're here."

"Of course we are." Mulder stood and crossed the room. "We came as soon as we could."

She squeezed his hand; looked over at Scully. "Thank you."

"How are you, Kira?" His voice communicated much more than the words--compassion, sorrow, concern, support.

"She's going to be all right." Kira swallowed, tipped her chin up. "With you, Dana, and Grey working together, I know we'll find Claire soon."

"We're going to do everything we can for Claire." Mulder looked at her intently. "But how are you, Kira?"

Tears welled up but Kira blinked them back. "I can't think about me right now, Fox. If I do, I'll have to think about me without Claire. And I...I can't do that."

"Come and sit down, Kira." Scully pulled out the chair beside her. "We need to ask you some questions."

Kira accepted the chair but grimaced. "I've been over this so many times I'm beginning to feel like a recording. Don't you have it down by now?"

Scully smiled. "Bear with us. There's always the possibility that telling it one more time will jog your memory to uncover a detail you may have forgotten. And the same story can sound different to a fresh pair of ears."

Kira ducked her head. "You know I'll do anything..."

Mulder grabbed a chair from the other side of the table and straddled it, arms folded across the back. "Tell us about the night before Claire went missing, Kira. What did you do that evening, before she went to bed?"

Kira sighed; brushed her fingers through the chestnut curls that framed her face. "It was an extremely ordinary evening. Nothing unusual or exciting happened."

"That's all right. Just walk us through it."

"All right. I guess this is your party." She paused. "After dinner..."

"What did you have for dinner?"

She stared at him with raised brows. "What did we have for dinner?" When Mulder nodded she gave her head a little shake. "I'm not sure I... Wait a minute. It was chicken. I started out baking it in the oven, but the electricity was on the fritz so I wound up grilling it instead."

"What do you mean, 'the electricity was on the fritz'?"

"It kept flickering. Going out for a few minutes and then coming back on."

Mulder looked at Grey, who shook his head. "I doubt anyone checked. Power was on when we got there, so we had no reason to."

Kira's gaze darted between their faces. "What are you saying? You think that has something to do with Claire's disappearance?"

"Just covering the bases, sweetheart." Grey's easy smile couldn't hide the flicker of excitement in his voice.

"So you ate dinner. What happened after that?" Mulder asked.

"Claire had some homework, a project for school. She had to make a diorama for a book she'd read-- 'Charlotte's Web.' We worked on it together until it was time for her to go to bed." Kira pressed fingers to her lips, blinking furiously. "She was so proud of it. It's still sitting on the kitchen table."

Scully got her a cup of water from the cooler and they waited in silence while Kira sipped, composing herself. She met Mulder's eyes and nodded.

"The police report says you put Claire to bed about eight-thirty. And that you checked on her again at ten-thirty."

Kira nodded. "Right before I went to bed."

"Think carefully--did anything unusual happen during that time? Any odd noises, phone calls, anything at all."

Kira hesitated; firmly shook her head. "Nothing. Claire went right to sleep and was sleeping soundly when I checked on her."

"And you didn't hear anything during the night?"

"No. And I'm a light sleeper. Which is why I couldn't believe it when I went to wake her and she was gone. I can't understand how she could have been taken out of the house without me hearing something." Her voice broke and this time tears spilled down her cheeks as she thumped her fist against the tabletop. "I should have heard something."

Mulder placed a hand over hers. "Kira, this wasn't your fault. You know that, don't you?"

She didn't remove her hand, but her eyes evaded his. "She's my child, Fox. I'm responsible for her safety."

"And you exercised that responsibility. You had her in a locked house, tucked into her bed. Whatever happened, it was beyond your control. You did all the right things. Never doubt that."

Kira's reply was barely audible. "But it wasn't enough. Was it?"

Mulder shook his head and sat back. "Sometimes it isn't."

The hidden sorrow in his words pulled Scully's attention from Kira. She knew much about Claire's disappearance would trigger painful memories, but Mulder's face betrayed nothing except compassion.

"Kira, I have a final question, and I'd like you to think very carefully before you answer."


Mulder took a deep breath. "Do you think your ex-husband is responsible for Claire's disappearance?"

Kira's gaze darted to Grey's face before she looked Mulder squarely in the eye. "No. I don't."

Grey hissed and stood up, face twisted into a scowl. "Listen, Kira, I..."

"No, it's time for YOU to listen, Grey. Because you haven't, so far." Kira's sharp retort startled them all. She turned back to Mulder and Dana, voice softer but eyes like flint. "I will be the first person to admit that marrying Steve Talbot was one of the worst mistakes of my life. He's controlling, manipulative, and has a nasty temper." She grimaced. "Not to mention a helluva backhand. I've never regretted ending my marriage. It was the best thing for me, and for Claire.

"I've known the man for nearly twelve years; lived with him for five of them. I know what he is and isn't capable of. He's hurt Claire and me, yes, in the heat of the moment when he's lost control. But something like this--calculated? Planned? It's not in him."

Grey stalked back to brace his palms on the table, leaning into Kira's space. "How can you still defend him? He came back here to get Claire, didn't he? Is it such a stretch to think he'd take matters into his own hands?"

"He came back to SEE Claire, Grey. He didn't even ask for full custody, just visiting privileges. For God's sake, he hired a lawyer- -what kind of kidnapper does that?"

"A desperate one."

Kira laughed bitterly. "Yeah? Well, I have news for you--he didn't have anything to be desperate about. My lawyer already warned me the judge would probably allow Steve to see Claire on a limited basis, under supervision."

Grey looked as if she'd slapped him. "How...? He hit her, Kira! Why would a judge let him anywhere near her?"

Kira shrugged. "According to Steve, he's cleaned up his act. He hasn't taken a drink in over a year." She huffed. "He even took a class on anger management."

Grey stared at her a moment, then abruptly straightened. "Son of a bitch." It was more of a growl than a curse, punctuated by his foot connecting solidly with the plastic chair. He stalked out the door without pausing or looking back.

Thick silence blanketed the room until Mulder shoved his own chair back. "I, uh..." He tipped his head toward the hallway and Scully nodded.

As Mulder followed his brother, Scully focused her attention on the woman seated beside her. Kira had dropped her head into her hands, face hidden by a curtain of dark curls.

"Are you all right?"

Kira's snuffle of laughter held a ragged edge. "All right? My baby is missing, could be in the hands of...of..." She sucked in a shaky breath. "And my damn brother can't let go of an old grudge long enough to do his job."

"That's not fair, Kira. He's doing everything he can to find Claire--I don't think he slept a wink last night."

Kira's shoulders slumped and she lowered her hands to look at Scully. "I know he is. But, Dana, he's letting his hatred for Steve blind him to any other possibilities. And that terrifies me."

"He asked Mulder and me to help--remember? On some level I think he recognizes his own bias. To tell you the truth, I'm surprised he's been allowed lead the investigation--he's too close to this."

"They almost pulled him off. If it hadn't been for Mark, I'm sure they would have." Kira scrubbed at bloodshot eyes. "Maybe it would have been best if they had."

"You don't mean that."

Kira traced the woodgrain of the tabletop with one finger. "I don't know. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure what I'm feeling right now. Dana, I love my brother, and I know he loves me. But sometimes I'm not sure the Kira he loves is a real person. Sometimes... Sometimes I don't think he really knows me at all."

She sighed and shook her head, eyes hardening. "I loved Steve Talbot. A part of me still does, though I'd never admit it to my family. I know Grey likes to think of me as this sweet, innocent child, seduced and deceived by Steve. But the truth of the matter is that I saw the dark and dangerous side to him." She looked at Scully defiantly. "And I liked it."

Scully's lips curved. "If you're expecting to shock me, you've missed the mark." She laughed quietly at Kira's raised eyebrows. "I was raised by a sea captain in a household run with military precision, Kira. I'm well aware of how tiresome being a 'good girl' can become. I've fallen for one or two bad boys myself."

"Yeah?" Kira smiled and a little of the weariness melted from her face. " But you're with Fox now, and he'd hardly be considered... What?"

Scully's smile had become a smirk. "Let's just say Mulder's not exactly the poster boy for FBI agents. And if you polled my family on whether he's a suitable partner for me, well, you'd get mixed results."

Kira digested this information, her smile slowly fading. "I know my family will never understand what I saw in Steve. But he is Claire's father. Maybe he's been a pretty poor excuse for one, but I believe in his own way he loves her. And he wouldn't do this, Dana. He wouldn't."

Scully gave Kira's arm a gentle squeeze. "If there's one thing you can count on about Fox Mulder, it's that he's never afraid to think outside the box. He's going to go by the evidence, Kira, not popular opinion."

Kira bit lip, eyes welling with tears. "Thank you."

Before Scully could respond, Grey stuck his head inside the door. "Dana, we're going to head over to the house now. Fox went to get the car."

Scully gave Kira's arm another quick squeeze, then stood and headed for the door.

Grey's eyes remained on Kira, who was nervously gathering up her purse, as Scully walked past. "I'll be there in a minute."

Kira slipped the straps over her shoulder and headed for the door, eyes on the floor. Grey's extended arm stopped her, and her head snapped up, eyes blazing.

"What is it, Grey? Because I don't..."

"I'm sorry."

The broken, lost tone of his voice defused her anger but not the hurt inside. "Okay."

"I just..." Grey looked away, blinking hard. "I'm scared, Mouse. This is my job; it's what I'm supposed to be good at. And I'm so afraid of letting you down. Of letting Claire down."

Kira's breath hitched and she lurched forward, wrapping her arms around his waist and burying her face in his shirt. "I understand, Grey." She choked out the words past a throat filled with tears. "I'm afraid it's too late for me. I think I've let her down already."

Continued in Chapter 4...