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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (8/?)
Grey followed his nose down the stairs, draping his tie around his neck but leaving it undone. He rounded the corner to the kitchen, lips parted to bless whomever had turned on the coffeemaker, but pulled up short.
The first pale threads of light seeped in through the sliding glass doors and onto his kitchen table. At least, he was pretty sure it was his table. At the moment it was completely hidden beneath faxes, emails, notepads, a large map...and his brother. Sprawled over the paperwork with cheek cradled on an extended arm, his deep, even breaths surprisingly loud in the stillness, Fox held a pen still poised in his hand. Dead to the world.
Grey stepped closer and after a moment's hesitation reached down, intending to pluck the pen from unresisting fingers.
"Just leave him, Grey."
The soft voice stalled his hand. He straightened, peering into the heavily shadowed family room for its owner. Dana sat curled on the couch, sipping coffee from one of his large, ceramic mugs. Grey retrieved another from the cupboard, filled it, and joined her. Clad in sweatpants and one of his brother's tee shirts, freshly washed hair tucked behind her ears, she looked like a college girl. Only her eyes, shadowed from weariness and too much pain, gave her away.
"Morning." He eased himself onto the cushions beside her and took a long, satisfying draught from his mug. "Thanks for making the coffee."
She smiled. "You're welcome, though I'm afraid my motives were less than altruistic. After a long night, it's the only thing that gets me moving." She chuckled quietly. "Mulder likens my first cup of the morning to a pair of jumper cables."
Grey tilted his chin toward his brother. "How long has he been like that?"
Scully checked her watch. "About three hours."
Grey nearly choked on a mouthful of coffee. "Three hours?"
"More or less."
"And you just left him there? The bedroom is right upstairs--hell, the couch is only five feet away."
Scully gave him a pitying look. "Either option requires waking him, Grey."
She sighed. "You've seen him when he's immersed in a case, how driven he becomes. What do you think would have happened if I'd awakened him?"
Grey looked over at the motionless figure, lips twisting into a rueful smile. "He'd've gone right back to whatever he was working on."
He winced. "I can't believe he's lasted three hours. He's going to have a helluva backache when he wakes up."
"He likes to call himself an insomniac, but when he's finally out he can sleep through just about anything." Her mouth quirked with a repressed grin. "He'll leverage my guilt into a backrub."
"I can just..."
The phone rang, and Grey scrambled up from the sofa to answer it. "Hello?...Hey, sweetheart, it's good to hear your voice..." The warmth faded, sorrow creeping in. "No. Nothing more so far..." He wandered out of the room and down the hall, voice becoming a distant rumble.
Mulder pushed himself upright with a groan. "I hope you got the license plate of that truck." Scrubbing his face with both hands, he blinked owlishly down at the tabletop. "Damn. I think I drooled on Minnesota."
Scully padded into the kitchen and poured a mug of coffee. She placed it into his hands, then attempted to smooth his spiky hair. "Well, they do call it the land of 10,000 lakes."
Mulder wrinkled his nose but refrained from reply. After several swallows of the hot liquid his eyes had sharpened from bleary to alert. "Did I hear the phone?"
She nodded. "Kristen, I think."
"Grey said she's stuck at a seminar in Chicago. She intends to get here by the weekend."
"I hope so." Scully gave up on his hair and sat down beside him. "He needs her. Maybe more than even he realizes."
Mulder stretched, grimacing as tendons popped. He looked more closely at Scully, brow furrowed. "You showered? What time is it?"
"Just after six-thirty. You were out for about three hours."
"Three hours? Did you sleep?"
She nodded, cocking a thumb over her shoulder. "I stretched out on the couch for a while. I woke up about a half an hour ago, so I showered and made coffee. And don't even say it, Mulder, because you know why I left you here."
His scowl was more like a pout. "My back hurts."
"I've got some ibuprofen in my suitcase."
She smirked a bit, but stood and moved behind him. Digging her fingers into tight muscles, she peered over his shoulder at the map. "So, where were we?"
"Fourteen children gone missing over the last several days. Three in California," he touched the map with his index finger, "two each in Texas and Colorado...Ah, yeah. Right there, babe...and one each in Florida, Wisconsin, Illinois, Georgia, Ohio, Massachusetts..."
"And North Carolina," Scully finished quietly, massaging the back of his neck with both thumbs.
"The police reports we've seen so far all read the same. The kids range from eight to eleven years of age, both boys and girls. No witnesses to the abductions, and a complete lack of physical evidence at the crime scenes." He paused; shook his head. "Of the non-paranormal variety, anyway. However, the guys have been able to correlate UFO activity to each disappearance."
Scully gave his shoulders a parting squeeze and sat down. She picked up the faxed photo of a little girl with blonde pigtails. "The question still remains--why? Why Claire? Why any of these kids?"
Mulder shrugged. "You might ask the same of any abductee. Max Fenig, Duane Barry...I'm sure they wished for an answer."
"Are you suggesting this is only the beginning for these kids? That, even if returned, they face a future as human lab rats?"
Mulder slipped the photo from her fingers and replaced it with his hand. "I know it's not something either of us wants to consider, Scully. But I think we would be remiss not to acknowledge the possibility."
She latched onto his fingers, face pale. "If it's true... Mulder, I can't help wondering how prevalent this could be. Suppose what's in front of us is only the tip of the iceberg? Hundreds of children go missing every day..."
They stared at each other, stunned. Mulder released her hand and fumbled for his cell phone, hitting speed dial four. The Gunmen.
"Byers, it's me...Yeah, I do know what time it is. Look, I need you to do another search for me. Same parameters, only this time go back a year or two."
Scully collected both their mugs and took them to the sink, one ear on Mulder's conversation. Images of her own abduction pressed in upon her, a heavy weight on her chest that made it difficult to draw breath. The little she remembered of the experience was unbearable. That children could be forced to endure something similar was unthinkable.
She braced her palms on the counter, shivering. Remembering devastating vulnerability. Powerlessness. The ever present sensation of being watched by unfriendly eyes. And then, with a gut-wrenching twist, she was assaulted by a vivid image of Emily lying in her place.
Strong arms around her waist and solid warmth along her spine pulled her back from the abyss. She tensed, then melted into Mulder's embrace, blinking against the dark spots that danced before her eyes. He rocked her gently, stubble tickling her cheek as he murmured soothingly into her ear. Moments passed before words coalesced into meaning.
"Shhh. Scully, it's okay. Deep breaths. Slow it down, babe."
Abruptly, she realized she was gasping like a fish, respiration reduced to short, sharp pants for air, heart hammering wildly. Pressing her hands over Mulder's, she concentrated on the feeling of warmth and security until her tightly coiled body slowly relaxed.
"You all right?" Mulder's lips brushed across her temple while he kept her securely enveloped within his arms.
Scully nodded, not sure she could trust her voice. She felt raw, off balance, and oddly grateful he could not see her face.
"You want to talk about it?"
"I'm all right. The lack of sleep, the stress--it just got to me for a minute."
"Bullshit." The word was uttered without anger, as if he were making a statement of fact. She turned in his arms, frowning, but he cut her off before she could protest. "You had a flashback, Scully. Do you honestly think I don't recognize one when I see it?"
It took the wind out of her sails. He was right, of course. Denying it to Mulder, denying it to herself, wouldn't make it go away. She'd tried so hard to treat her abduction like an outdated appliance, packed up and stored away in a neatly labeled box. In actuality, it was more like an embarrassing page in the family photo album--something she continued to stumble over whenever she tried to move forward.
She wound her arms around his waist, pressing her cheek to the soft cotton over his heart. "The one thing I remember with absolute clarity is the fear." She uttered the words haltingly, with effort. "The unmitigated terror of being completely at the mercy of others outweighed even the pain they inflicted."
"It was like you were there. Experiencing it all over again." Mulder's voice was as gentle as the hand that stroked her hair.
"At first it was me. But then..." She steeled herself; took a calming breath. "Then it was Emily."
His hand stilled, coming to rest on the back of her neck. "Ah, Scully."
The ache in his voice soothed a bit of her own sorrow. "I'm all right, Mulder."
He pulled back a little to study her face. "I know you are." His smile was a bit grim. "This case is bound to push some buttons. For both of us."
"I'm heading into the station, so if you two..." Grey paused just inside the doorway to the kitchen, gaze shifting between their faces. "Is everything okay?"
"Everything is fine," Scully said, releasing Mulder and returning to the mugs in the sink. "How is Kristen?"
A little of the weariness lifted from Grey's face. "Bored. She'd cut out early but she's scheduled to make a presentation today at one. She'll catch a four o'clock flight and should get in around seven."
Scully smiled. "I'm glad."
"Yeah. Me, too."
Grey replaced the phone on its cradle and leaned one hip against the counter, watching her set the rinsed cups in the dish drainer. After an awkward moment of silence, Mulder walked over to the table, slipped on his glasses, and began shuffling paperwork. Scully observed them surreptitiously as she dried her hands. Both appeared willing to look everywhere but at each other, and the tension between them was tangible.
Grey cleared his throat. "I, uh, got to be heading in to work. Y'all should feel free to help yourself to anything edible in the fridge."
Scully waited until it became clear that Mulder, his head bent over the paperwork, wasn't going to respond. She gave Grey a tight little smile. "I'm surprised you're still here. I expected you to grab a quick nap and sneak back to the station. Mark must be tougher than I thought."
Grey snorted and shook his head, a flash of his old self surfacing. "Mark? Nah, he's nothing but a big softie. Truth is, I called down there just after midnight but didn't see much point to going in. He had the database stuff under control, and we couldn't start making the rounds until morning."
Scully glanced over at Mulder, who was scribbling on a notepad with great concentration. If he sensed her attempt to draw him into the conversation, he was ignoring it. She plunged onward. "So...you're searching the FBI database for known offenders in the area?"
"That's the plan. We'll pare down the list as much as possible and start checking them out." An uneasy silence. Grey abruptly straightened and scooped up the clean mugs, carrying them to the cupboard. "Did that fax machine work okay for you last night?"
"Like a charm." Scully walked over and tapped a stack of paper on the tabletop. "We were able to collect police reports for eight out of the fourteen missing children. Including Claire's, of course. We should be able to get the rest today, right Mulder?"
Mulder nodded without pausing in his note taking. Obviously distancing himself from the conversation and Grey, damn him.
"Fourteen? All missing like Claire?" Grey's attempt to sound casual failed pitifully.
"That's right. What was it again, Mulder? Eight girls and six boys?"
"Nine and five." Mulder lifted his head at last, pinning her with a glare that said he knew exactly what she was up to.
Grey stepped closer. "Did they all disappear from their beds?"
"No. But all were taken from their homes, at night. No signs of forced entry. No physical evidence of an intruder. No witnesses."
Grey's jaw dropped, then snapped shut. He folded his arms. "Kids go missing every day. Half the time the guilty party is a relative and forced entry isn't an issue. Just because it wasn't the case for Claire, doesn't mean it didn't happen to one or more of those kids."
Mulder picked up several sheets of paper. "There are other similarities to Claire's case, Grey. Reports of lights in the sky. Power outages. Heat damage. I can show you..."
Grey raised both hands, palms out. "We had a deal, remember, Fox? You steer clear of my investigation and I don't interfere with yours."
"If you would just listen for one minute..."
"I don't have a minute." Grey's voice dropped ten degrees, a clear warning.
Mulder thrust his jaw out and turned away. Picking up the pad and pen, he doggedly continued to take notes. Anger expressed clearly in the stiff set of his shoulders and the short, controlled motion of his hands.
"I'll have my cell phone on if you need to reach me." Grey addressed the words to Scully. Posture as rigid as his brother's, he was out of the kitchen without waiting for acknowledgement.
Scully's eyes slipped shut in resignation.
End round two. Both parties to their neutral corners.
Sure. Fine. Whatever.