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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (7/?)
"You're both acting like stubborn children." Scully leaned in the bathroom doorway, arms laced across her chest, as Mulder tossed toiletries into his shaving kit.
He paused, razor in hand, to glare at her. "What do you want me to do, Scully? Apologize to my brother for knocking me on my ass?" He tucked the razor into the case and reached for the shaving cream.
"No." She sighed, struggling to keep frustration in check. "I'm not saying Grey wasn't way out of line when he hit you. And I'm not denying that he's been rude and overbearing when it comes to this case." She reached over and plucked the pouch from his fingers, forcing him to meet her eyes. "Mulder, he hasn't slept in over 36 hours. He's worried about Kira and terrified for Claire. You and I both know he's got no business running this investigation."
"What are you trying to tell me?"
Scully set the kit aside and moved behind him, slipping her arms around his waist and leaning her cheek against his shoulder. "I'm telling you to cut him some slack. To realize he's not himself, and that maybe right now you have to be the big brother. Swallow your pride and your anger and go make things right with him."
Mulder stared at their reflection in the mirror, fingers tracing the darkening bruise along his jaw before covering her hands with his own. "Scully, I can't."
"No, listen. This is about something far more basic than anger and pride. This is about respect, Scully. Respect not just for what I do, but for who I am."
"Grey respects you, Mulder, he..."
"He doesn't! He accepts me. Loves me in spite of...me. Fox, the brilliant but damaged brother. He's a terrific agent--writes a mean profile. Just look the other way if he starts seeing aliens, though. Poor guy had a traumatic childhood."
Scully dropped her arms, a chunk of ice in the pit of her stomach. "That's not true."
Mulder turned to face her, calm--or perhaps just resigned. "I might never have realized, if not for this case." He shook his head, looking bemused. "You said it yourself, Scully. What are the odds that someone so close to me would be abducted by aliens? There's a cruel irony in there somewhere."
His placid surrender infuriated her. "So...what? You're just going to chuck the whole relationship? Write Grey off as a lost cause and go home? He's your brother, Mulder. The only blood relative you have left. Isn't he worth more to you than that?"
"No, I'm not going home, I'm going to a hotel. I owe it to Kira and Claire to see this case through to the end." Mulder picked up the shaving kit, zipped it shut, and shouldered past her. She followed him down the hall to the guest bedroom, where he tossed it into his open suitcase.
"And Grey?" she asked quietly.
"Despite what you might think, I'm not really angry with him. But I...I can't..." His voice turned wispy and broke. She watched the clench and release of jaw muscles, the flutter of eyelashes. "I don't care if I'm 'Spooky' around the Bureau, Scully, or even with the local boys. I don't give a damn what they think. But Grey... It matters."
She wanted to argue, torn between hugging him and shaking him, but the trill of his cell phone intervened.
"Mulder...Whatcha got, Byers?" He listened a moment, gaze roaming the room until it landed on her laptop case. "Hang on." Phone cradled between ear and shoulder, he pulled a notepad and pen from the side pocket and sat down on the bed. "Go ahead....No, all of them...Really?"
Scully's ears perked up at the excitement in his voice. "What is it?"
He waved a hand at her and began scribbling furiously on the pad. "Dates and locations. Names, too, if you have them."
Scully tired of listening after a few minutes. Deliberately ignoring her open suitcase, she headed down the stairs and into the kitchen. She grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator and wandered into the living room. A shelf containing framed photos caught her eye, and she moved closer to get a better look.
Grey and Kate's wedding photo, he looking impossibly young and eager in a black tux; she radiantly beautiful in an ivory satin gown. Grey and Kristen in hiking boots and backpacks, posed against a wooded backdrop of brilliant fall colors. The last she recognized. Taken by Grey's mom, it was a photo of the three of them--Scully, Mulder, and Grey--during a family picnic the previous summer. Fresh from a game of softball, they all were flushed, sweaty, and slightly disheveled.
She lifted the photo from the shelf, the dull ache in her chest expanding. With Scully tucked under one arm, the other thrown over Grey's shoulders, Mulder's face reflected happiness and contentment. An expression she'd seen more and more over the past two years. She let her eyes drift shut. How had things soured so quickly?
The front door rattled and swung open, emitting a gust of chill air and Grey. His eyes met hers only briefly before he ducked his head and turned to shut the door. Scully replaced the photo and walked over to where he was busily hanging up his coat. Evidently the task took great concentration, since he focused his whole attention on it.
"Mark kicked me out--can you believe it? Told me not to come back until I'd gotten at least five hours of sleep." His gaze skittered over her face to the bottle in her hands. "Think I'll grab one of those; I'm parched."
Scully stopped his forward momentum with a firmly placed hand to the shoulder. "Grey. We need to talk."
Grey folded his arms across his chest. "What do you want from me, Dana?"
God, give me strength. One is irritating. Two just might push me over the edge.
She gave him a look usually reserved for her husband. "You're as bad as Mulder. You can't ignore the elephant in the middle of the room and just go about your business."
"I'm prepared to give it the old college try." When she didn't respond, he blew out a long, weary breath and pinched the bridge of his nose. "I never... I didn't mean to hit him."
Scully handed him her still unopened bottle. "It's not that bad. His jaw's a little bruised, but the swelling is minimal."
"Still." Grey twisted off the cap and took a long draught, swiping the moisture from his lips with the back of his hand. "I know Bill knocked Fox around a few times. For me to resort to my fists..."
She shook her head. "What you just said--insinuating he's some kind of victim? That's exactly what he's afraid you'll think of him."
Grey's remorse took on a defensive edge. "I just meant I was sorry, that I realize..."
"It was one punch, Grey. I must have seen my brothers exchange as bad or worse at least a dozen times. Mulder's jaw will be healed in a week. The hits to his spirit--that's another matter altogether."
"You've lost me, Dana."
Scully glanced up the staircase, then drew Grey into the living room. "Do you know when they started calling Mulder 'Spooky'?"
Grey stared at her blankly for a moment before obviously deciding to go with the flow. "I always assumed it was when he relocated to the basement and started investigating aliens."
"Understandable, but incorrect. People were calling him 'Spooky Mulder' years before he picked up his first X-File. I'm not sure anyone remembers who coined the nickname, but it originated when he began profiling." Scully shook her head. "There he was, fresh out of the Academy, looking barely old enough to shave, yet in six months he'd turned the BSU upside down. Not only did his solve rate surpass that of older, more seasoned agents, he'd managed to write the monograph that led to the capture of Monty Props, a serial killer who had eluded police for nearly two years. It was downright spooky."
Grey looked thoughtful. "So that's how it started. I never realized."
"My point is, while it was never exactly flattering, initially it communicated a kind of respect--even awe. He intimidated the hell out of people, but no one doubted that he was the Bureau's rising star."
"Until he started to crash and burn," Grey said quietly.
"Mulder took on the X-Files for two reasons, Grey, the least significant of which was his mental health. He glimpsed in them a path to the truth--truth about his missing sister and about a conspiracy to conceal the existence of extraterrestrial life. And he dedicated his life to following that path. Nothing was more important--not his career, the respect of his peers...not even his life."
"And you." Scully walked over to the shelf and held up the picture of the three of them. "We changed him, Grey. You and I. We pounded on the door long enough, and hard enough that he finally let us inside. I didn't become a part of his life out of charity. Did you?"
Grey's brows drew together. "Of course not! You don't really believe that, do you?"
"No. But I'm not so sure about Mulder."
Indignation gave way to confusion. "Fox? Why would he think such a thing? Just because I don't agree with his theory..."
"Don't agree? Grey, you've not only dismissed it, you've ridiculed it. But what's worse is that you've ridiculed him. That's nothing new for Mulder--he's endured similar treatment in countless police departments all over the country, gotten pretty adept at deflecting. Problem is, you flew in under his radar. He never saw it coming."
She detected a quick flash of guilt before Grey's expression turned mulish. "Dana, I love my brother, but I'm not about to let him turn Claire's case into an X-File."
"Even if it is one?" She held up a hand to still his protest. "Forget I said that, it's irrelevant. Look, you don't have to agree with him, Grey. Just respect him. He's earned it."
The sound of footsteps overhead and then Mulder's voice. "Scully?"
Scully held Grey's gaze a moment longer before turning and walking to the foot of the stairs. "I'm down here."
"Get your stuff together; we've got to get moving." He appeared from the bedroom and jogged down the steps, suitcase in hand, talking a mile a minute. "Wait'll you hear what the guys dug up. As soon as we get checked in somewhere I've got to find a fax machine. They've located more than a dozen instances of UFO activity across the country over the last two days and in every case there's been a corresponding..." He broke off, stalled on the bottom step, as he stared at something just past Scully's right shoulder. She felt Grey's proximity a moment later.
Grey inclined his head. "Don't stop on my account."
Mulder's eyes narrowed and he spoke through gritted teeth. "Thought you didn't want to hear this."
A shrug, but Grey's shoulders were stiff. "Changed my mind."
Mulder descended the last step and set down the suitcase, directing his words to Scully. "There have been over a dozen reports of UFO phenomena over the last two days--lights in the sky, power fluctuations, even a near miss with a small plane. They seem to be spread evenly across the country, but with no discernable pattern." He glanced warily at Grey before continuing. "The guys are still confirming, but...it looks like in each case a child has also been reported missing."
There was a long and very pregnant silence before Grey spun on his heel and strode down the hall to the kitchen. Scully watched Mulder's face adopt the carefully neutral mask he used to conceal pain.
"I want copies of police reports for all the missing kids. Some precincts may not have email capability, so if we can locate a fax..."
"There's one upstairs, in my office."
Grey walked slowly up the hallway and handed Scully a bottle of water. "I think I owe you one of these, darlin'." He turned to look at his brother. "Got the machine a year ago when I hurt my back. I could at least keep up with paperwork while I was stuck at home." His gaze dropped to the suitcase. "Don't go, Fox."
Mulder propped hands on hips, shaking his head. "What's the point, Grey? Unless you've had a sudden epiphany regarding my theory, we've got very different ideas about how this investigation should proceed. You've certainly made it clear..." He took a deep breath; sighed. "I don't want to fight anymore."
"I don't either." Grey ran one hand over his stubbled chin with an audible rasp. "I won't lie to you--I think you're way off base. I think whoever took Claire was very clever, and very human, and that's the direction I intend to pursue. And I'm not likely to change my mind, no matter how many reports of lights in the sky you show me."
He glanced at Scully, who was watching him carefully between pulls on the water bottle. "But...I shouldn't have cut you off the way I did, without giving you a chance to explain. And I sure as hell shouldn't have lost my temper and hit you. I'm sorry, Fox."
Mulder shrugged, mouth twisting in a self-deprecating smirk. "I tend to have that effect on people." He studied Grey's face as if trying to decipher a code. "What exactly are you suggesting? That we each pursue our own line of inquiry?"
"Why not? Split up and we cover twice the ground."
"And avoid fratricide." Mulder's tone was teasing, but Scully detected an underlayer of bitterness. He hesitated a moment longer before nodding. "All right. If you're sure."
"I am." Grey punctuated his words with a jaw-cracking yawn that he unsuccessfully tried to smother behind his hand. "Guess Mark was right--I really am nearly asleep on my feet," he admitted wearily. "Think I'd better grab a quick nap."
"I believe the requirement was at least five hours--remember?" Scully cocked an eyebrow as if daring him to argue.
He chuckled, holding up both hands in surrender. "Yes, Ma'am." He scooped up Mulder's suitcase as he headed for the stairs. "I'll just put this back in your room. Wouldn't want anyone to trip over it."
Mulder waited for the sound of Grey's door closing before turning to Scully, arms folded. "You talked to him, didn't you?" His expression held a mixture of annoyance and affection.
Scully drained the last drops from the bottle and replaced the lid. "It was a dirty job, but someone had to do it."
"Do I even want to know what you said?"
"Probably not." She walked back to the kitchen and deposited the bottle in the recycling bin. Mulder leaned against the counter, looking pensive. She sighed.
"I told him the truth, Mulder. About you. About me. About the X- Files." One corner of her mouth turned up. "And I threw in a dash of verbal ass-kicking while I was at it."
Mulder feigned a wince. "Been there. No wonder he was exhausted."
She punched his arm, leaning companionably beside him.
"Nothing's really changed, you know," Mulder eventually continued, his voice very soft. "He still thinks I'm a playing without a full deck. It's just that this way he doesn't have to watch."
Scully moved to stand in front of him, chin high. "Then I guess you'd better deal with him in the usual manner."
He chuffed quietly. "Oh yeah? And what would that be?"
Her answering grin had a core of steel. "Prove him wrong."