Page Next Chapter|
Blood Ties 11: Evolution (6/?)
Raleigh Police Station
"Hm?" He looked up into exasperated blue eyes, abruptly aware he hadn't spoken for at least five minutes.
She pointed to his plate with her soupspoon. "That's already dead. No need to torture it."
Mulder glanced down at the shredded remains of his roast beef on rye. He shoved the plate aside and propped his elbows on the table. "Sorry, Scully. The bread was kind of dry."
"I warned you to stick to the soup." Her expression softened. "Want some of mine?"
"Thanks, but I'm not very hungry." Face pensive, he watched several uniformed cops make their way through the cafeteria line.
Scully slid her hand, palm up, across the tabletop. "Then how about sharing whatever's going on in that head of yours? You've been a million miles away ever since we sat down. We're in this together--remember?"
Mulder's lips curved, smoothing some of the lines of tension around his eyes and mouth. He slipped his hand into hers with a gentle squeeze. "I'm not holding out on you, Scully. I'm just trying to process the last few hours."
"You still think Talbot is innocent?"
He chuffed softly. "The last word I'd use to describe Talbot is innocent. But I don't think he had anything to do with Claire's disappearance. Do you?"
She considered the question a moment before shaking her head. "No. As you said, his surprise felt too real to be faked. But Grey has a point. If he's not guilty, why won't he reveal where he's been the past few days?"
"That's one of the things I've been thinking about. I believe I may have the why, if not the where."
"Talbot appears genuinely concerned about finding Claire. Yet not cooperating with us is counterproductive to achieving that. After all, as long as he remains the number one suspect, the police are going to concentrate their efforts on him."
"And not on finding the real perpetrator," Scully added.
"So why isn't he talking?"
"Maybe whatever took him out of town could jeopardize his petition for joint custody of Claire."
Scully frowned. "Such as?"
Mulder worried his lower lip between his teeth. "Unpaid debts? Drugs? Could be any of a number of factors that would cast doubt on his competence as a parent. His past record of abuse already works against him. Anything more could be the final straw that keeps him from his daughter forever."
"So where does that leave us?"
"We need Talbot to come clean. Grey's not going to move on until he does." Mulder made a face. "He's being an arrogant, pig-headed bastard about this whole case. He's so convinced he's right he won't listen to reason."
Scully looked at him, deadpan.
"Do you have any idea how many locals have used those words to describe you? If I had a dime..."
The amusement faded from Scully's eyes and she extricated her hand from Mulder's. "Kira," she said, smiling at a spot just over his right shoulder.
Mulder stood, offering Kira a chair and then reseating himself. Scully observed the woman with concern.
"Kira, can we get you something to eat? Some soup?"
"Thank you, but I just... I can't. That's not why I'm here." Kira's gaze darted between their faces, her dark eyes huge in her pale, pinched face.
"You came to talk about Steve." Mulder's voice was gentle but sure.
"Yes." Kira picked up a paper napkin and began twisting it in restless hands. "I've just come from the cell where they're holding him." She looked into Mulder's eyes. "He didn't do it, Fox. He didn't take Claire. You've got to talk to Grey; he won't listen to me."
Mulder glanced helplessly at Scully before turning back to the distraught woman. "Kira, he's not listening to me either."
"Steve talked to you?" Scully asked. Kira nodded. "Did you ask him where he's been?"
"I tried, but he wouldn't tell me. He said he's innocent, and Grey will realize that, sooner or later."
"It's the later I'm worried about," Mulder muttered.
"Grey's always been overprotective of me." Kira began tearing the napkin into bits, jaw clenched. "He acts as if I'm some kind of fragile flower. He doesn't treat Shannon that way."
"Shannon wasn't abused by her husband." Scully's tone was blunt but kind. "It's understandable that he doesn't trust Steve, considering all he put you through."
Kira's shoulders slumped. "I know, I know. I lived it, after all. But since Steve's come back... Something's changed, Dana. He's different somehow--calmer. Focused. I'm not saying he doesn't still have a temper," she added quickly. "But for the first time since I met him, I can see him really trying to control it. I believe him when he says he's sorry for the past and that he wants to build a relationship with Claire."
Mulder leaned forward in his chair. "Kira, why now? He let five years pass without so much as a birthday card to his daughter. What changed his mind?"
Kira shrugged, one corner of her mouth quirking. "He said he realized life's too short to waste time. And that the people we love are all that really matter."
Mulder was silent, tugging on his lower lip, then shoved back his chair and stood. "I have a phone call to make. I'll catch up with you both later. Scully, make her eat something."
He was gone before either of them could open their mouths. Kira looked at Scully, eyebrows raised. "Is he always like that?"
"He has his moments."
"And I thought keeping up with Claire was exhausting."
Scully grinned. "Let me buy you a bowl of soup and we'll swap war stories."
Kira hesitated briefly before breaking into a reluctant smile. "Sounds too good to pass up."
Interrogation Room B
"What's going on?" Grey stalked into the room, eyes narrowing at the sight of Mulder, Scully, and Kira already seated around the table.
"Sit down, Grey." Mulder nudged the empty chair beside him with his foot.
Grey ran a hand through disheveled hair, one corner of his mouth turned up in exasperation. "Not that I don't want you to make yourself at home, Fox, but don't you think summoning me to my own interrogation room is taking things a bit far?"
"Scully vetoed the engraved invitations." Mulder waited until Grey had taken a seat before continuing. "Covelli's getting Steve. They should be here any minute."
Grey's amusement sharpened to wariness. "I'll ask you one more time. What's going on?"
Mulder glanced at Scully, then back at his brother. "I know where Talbot was the night Claire disappeared. I think I can persuade him to talk."
"Why is Kira here?"
"I invited her."
Grey spoke through clenched teeth. "I don't want her anywhere near him, Fox."
"She deserves to hear this, Grey. It concerns her as much as any of us. More."
"Look, you don't seem to get the fact that she..."
"Excuse me, but 'she' is sitting across from you. Would you mind not discussing me as if I'm either hearing impaired or brain dead?" Kira leaned across the table, eyes giving a whole new meaning to the phrase "if looks could kill." "Grey, I love you for wanting to protect me, but back the hell off. I'm not going anywhere."
Grey slouched into his chair and folded his arms. "Fine. I'm not getting into a pissing contest with you over this. But I just want it on the record that I think it's a bad idea."
Kira rolled her eyes. "As if we had any doubts."
Covelli appeared in the doorway, Talbot in tow. He flushed a bit at the sight of Grey's thunderous face. "Uh...Agent Mulder asked that..."
"I've heard. Just sit him down over there, Covelli. I'll see he gets back where he belongs when we're finished."
Talbot lowered himself into the designated chair, gaze darting from face to face before dropping to where his cuffed hands rested on the tabletop. "Haven't we done this dance already? I don't have anything more to say."
"I think you do," Mulder said. "I think you've got a story to tell, Steve. And I think we're the perfect audience for it."
Steve's head jerked up and his mouth twisted into a sneer. "So, you can talk after all. Tired of playing the strong, silent type?" When Mulder just looked at him, he shook his head. "You're wasting your time. Unless you've dug up some kind of evidence to prove I took Claire--and we both know you haven't--you're going to have to let me go, sooner or later. May as well make it sooner. Got it?"
Mulder ran a hand along his jaw, unobtrusively nudging Grey's leg with his own. Even through the brief touch he could feel his brother's fury; Grey was like a tightly coiled spring.
"It's not our time that's being wasted, Steve. It's Claire's. See, the longer you dick around with us, the longer you remain a suspect. And that just distracts us from finding out what really happened to your daughter." He showed his teeth in a cold smile. "Got it?"
Steve glared at him, lips pressed into a thin, white line and fingers clenching spasmodically into fists. Mulder tipped backward, chair balanced precariously on two legs.
"How's your health these days, Steve?"
Talbot froze, smug self-assurance draining from his face along with most of the color. He started to look at Kira before catching himself. "I don't know what you mean."
"Seems pretty self-explanatory to me. How have you been feeling?"
A slight twitch of his shoulder. "Fine."
"Really?" Mulder adopted a faintly puzzled expression. "You sure about that?"
"Yes." The response was delivered in a voice that could cut glass.
Mulder let the chair drop back onto four legs with a thud. He locked eyes with Talbot, ignoring the questioning looks from Grey, Kira, and Scully. "Then maybe you can explain why you spent the weekend in an Atlanta hospital." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out two amber prescription bottles, setting them on the table in front of Talbot. "And why these were in the medicine chest at your apartment."
Scully reached for the bottles but Talbot's hand was there first, snatching them up in a clenched fist. "No!" He looked at Mulder, anger and sorrow mingled together until they were indistinguishable. "Why couldn't you have left this alone, left me alone? I needed..."
"Because it's time you got over yourself, Talbot, once and for all. This isn't about what you need; it's about what Claire needs. Finding her, bringing her home, is what matters."
Steve searched his face for a long moment, evidently finding what he needed. He handed the pill bottles to Scully, then dropped his face into his hands. Scully scanned the labels before turning to Mulder.
Kira caught her breath. "Zarontin? That's an anticonvulsant. Steve...?"
"I didn't want you to know." Talbot's voice was muffled. "I was afraid if you knew, if the judge knew, you wouldn't trust me with Claire."
Kira reached out to peel his hands from his face. "Knew what?"
"I have cancer, Kira. A tumor in the right parietal lobe of my brain. It's inoperable." He laughed--a bitter, lonely sound--and looked at Grey. "I remember you telling me that one day I'd get what I deserved. Guess you were right."
Grey looked away, too stunned to answer. Kira pressed trembling fingers to her lips, blinking hard.
"Are you saying you...you're dying?"
Talbot shrugged. "Doc gave me six months two months ago. He's got me on some new, experimental treatment, but it's too soon to tell if it's helping." He chuckled, desperately trying to appear unaffected by her tears. "Makes me sick as a dog, though. That's why I have to check into the hospital. If the tumor doesn't kill me, the drugs will."
"Don't," Kira said sharply. "Please, don't."
Talbot tentatively slid his hands across the table to cover hers. Grey stiffened, but didn't protest.
"When I got the news, after the shock wore off, I started wondering what to do with the time I have left. I tried on a lot of different ideas, but no matter where I started, I always seemed to wind up in the same place. Claire." He blew out a long, slow breath. "My life has been a series of screw-ups, Kira, one right after another. But that little girl...she's the only thing I've ever done right. I couldn't die without fixing things between us. Without letting her know her father loves her, even if he is a loser."
Kira turned her hand and linked it with his. "You should have told me the truth, Steve. Did you really think I'd keep her from you?"
His smile was wry. "I haven't exactly given you a reason to trust me. I was hoping if I could get my act together, show you I was trying to change..."
Mulder stood and motioned Grey and Scully to the door of the room. "How about we give them a few minutes?" he said, sotto voce.
Grey nodded. He stared at his brother, still bewildered and a little shell-shocked. "You're certain that he was in the hospital the night Claire was taken? You have witnesses?"
"The doctor wouldn't discuss the details of his treatment with me, but yes, he confirmed that Talbot spent three nights there. Too sick to be a threat to anyone, from what I can gather. With the occasional seizures he's experienced, he's not even supposed to be driving a car."
"What gave you the idea to check hospital records?" Scully asked.
"Something Kira mentioned. She said Steve told her life was too short to waste. It started me wondering why a guy like Talbot would be contemplating his mortality."
"It was a damn good piece of investigative work, Fox." Grey shook his head. "You were right. You had reservations about Talbot from the beginning, but I was too blinded by my own prejudices to listen."
Something loosened in Mulder's chest. "I never said I didn't understand why you felt the way you did." He glanced through the open door at Kira and Talbot, heads close together in deep conversation. "He's not exactly the kind of husband anyone would want for their sister."
Grey tucked chin to chest, massaging the back of his neck. "Worst part is now we're back to square one. And to be honest, I'm not sure where to go from here."
Mulder stole a quick glance at Scully. "I do."
Grey's head snapped up and the atmosphere abruptly chilled thirty degrees. "Don't start."
"It's ridiculous, Fox, and I don't want to hear another word about it! Can you imagine what the cops around here would think if I started spouting your alien abduction theory?"
Mulder stepped forward, into his brother's face. "What's the matter? Afraid they'll start thinking you're as crazy as Spooky? Insanity is hereditary, after all."
Scully placed a restraining hand on her husband's arm. "Grey, you called us in on this case for our expertise. You can't just ignore..."
"I called you in to help me find a kidnapper, to profile. If you two want to chase aliens then you damn well better do it on your own time. Leave my family the hell out of it!" Grey punctuated his words by stabbing a finger at Mulder's chest. Heads turned at the sound of their raised voices.
"This isn't about Scully and me, it's about you," Mulder snarled. "You're so worried about what people will think, you'd rather close your eyes to the truth than risk looking foolish. It's a pity Claire isn't as important to you as your damn reputation."
The blow caught Mulder under the jaw, nearly lifting him off his feet. He was sprawled on the tile before he knew what had hit him, Scully's angry cry ringing in his ears.
Grey stood over his brother, rubbing his knuckles. "And it's a pity you see Samantha every time a little girl disappears." He turned to walk back to his desk, but paused. "Go home, Fox. I can handle this on my own."