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Blood Ties 11: Evolution (9/?)
She'd reached critical mass at 9:30. One more minute of pacing, of tapping pens, fingers, and toes, of crunching and spitting, and Scully was certain she'd be facing charges of manslaughter. She doubted any judge would convict her. Mulder was a bundle of nerves, snide and sharp-tongued one minute, subdued and apologetic the next. At 9:30 she'd plucked the pen from his hand and dumped his sweats in his lap, steely eyes daring him to argue.
He'd just gazed up at her with that trademark smirk. "You know what, Scully? Think I'll take a run."
With his departure the house had settled into blessed silence, and she'd seized the opportunity to gather her thoughts.
There were good reasons for law enforcement officers not to investigate cases involving their family members. Grey's lack of objectivity had already proven to be a problem, but Scully was beginning to worry about Mulder and herself as well. Samantha issues aside, for Mulder this case had become as much about proving himself to his brother as finding Claire. Then there was her earlier loss of control, and the raw, bruised feeling that even now lingered in her chest... Who was left to view the evidence with a dispassionate, assessing eye?
From nowhere, an image popped into her head--she and Mulder lying on a moonlit beach, bodies entwined, making love under a backdrop of stars. The soothing hiss of waves meeting sand. The taste of salt and his kisses. And, most of all, the soul-deep sensation of peace and contentment she could see reflected on his face. Why did it seem those moments, too few and infrequent, were inevitably snatched from their grasp?
Her conversation with Rosa echoed in her head...
My mother says it's the strongest character that God gives the most challenges.
Your mama is a wise woman, chiquita. It would seem He has challenges for you both.
Mulder's phone trilled, a jarring interruption to stillness and deep thoughts. It rang four times before she found it buried beneath a pile of faxes and scooped it up, breathless.
"Ah, the better half."
"Good morning to you too, Frohike."
"Where's my man Mulder?"
"Out for a run. Do you have the information he requested?"
"What does that mean?"
"We're still working on it, but I knew you'd be interested in what we've found so far."
"Like I said, we're still collecting data. But it looks like the events of the last few days are a repeat of something that happened six months ago. The circumstances appear nearly identical."
Scully's mouth worked impotently for a moment as her brain struggled to process what she'd just heard. "What exactly are you saying, Frohike? That there was another series of missing children?"
"Missing kids, documented UFO activity, the whole nine yards. The names and locations are different, but the rest is carbon copy." He paused. "With a twist."
"They came back, Scully. Exactly three days after they disappeared, all the kids turned up."
Something in his voice put Scully on alert. "What do you mean, they 'turned up'?"
"We're still verifying newspaper articles and police reports. But from what we've seen so far, every kid was found very close to wherever they were when they went missing."
There it was again, the slightest edge of discomfort in Frohike's tone. Apprehension fluttered in Scully's stomach.
"Frohike, what is it you're not telling me?"
An even longer pause--she could almost see him consulting with Byers and Langly. When he did speak, he sounded almost apologetic.
"This is the part we're still working on, but...the kids...they're dead, Scully."
She folded into a chair, heart pounding and mouth dry. "All of them?"
"We've confirmed eight out of ten. No details on what killed them yet, only that they were in a comatose state when found. Most died within a week; one lived nearly three."
Scully closed her eyes against a heartbreakingly clear image of Claire's small face. "We'll need names, dates, locations..."
"That's actually the reason I called. One of the kids, Jessica Chapman, was from Boone, North Carolina. Thought you'd want to know."
"You were right. Fax us everything you've got on her, ASAP. And keep us posted on the rest." She drew a hand down her face; sighed. "Thank you, Frohike. You've been very helpful."
"No problemo." She was reaching for the disconnect button, certain he'd signed off, when he added, "Sorry we don't have better news. Tell Grey..."
Scully had just replaced the phone on the table when the front door slammed. Mulder breezed into the kitchen a moment later, sweaty and flushed with cold air and exertion. He grabbed a bottle of water from the refrigerator, sent the cap spinning into the garbage can, and chugged half its contents. Lowering it with a sigh of contentment, he brushed the back of his hand across his lips and looked at her for the first time. The animation drained from his face as he studied hers.
"What is it, Scully?"
She told him Frohike's news, then followed him upstairs where the fax machine was already spitting out pages. They passed them back and forth in silence, stunned by the ramifications of what they were reading.
Jessica Chapman, age 9. Disappeared from the backyard of her home just after dusk on a hot summer evening. No physical evidence of her abductor. No witnesses. No phone calls or demands for ransom. Found three days later in a patch of tall grass at the edge of the property, unconscious. Dead five days after that from undisclosed trauma, presumably inflicted by her kidnapper. Picture of a vivacious little girl with a page boy haircut and an impish smile. A quote from her grief-stricken mother: "I don't understand. Things like this don't happen in Boone. We've always felt safe here."
Mulder pulled off his glasses and rubbed bloodshot eyes. "We've got to go to Boone. Today. Talk to the parents, the doctors. We have to find out what really happened. If the timetable holds..."
"How far is Boone?"
"Near the Tennessee border. I'd guess a three, maybe four hour drive." He picked up the photo but Scully could tell he was seeing the face of a different little girl.
"We take this one step at a time, Mulder."
His gaze shifted from the photo to her face, something just short of anger lurking behind his eyes. "The implications are clear."
"Implications won't help Claire. We need facts."
One corner of his mouth curved upward in the parody of a smile. "In my experience the facts haven't helped a helluva lot either." He replaced his glasses and began gathering the pages into a neat pile. "You know it better than anyone, Scully. Identifying the cause of a nightmare is easy. Curing it...that's something else altogether."
The memory of Emily's flushed face and fever-bright eyes stole any rebuttal she might have attempted. She took the papers from Mulder's hands and gestured to the phone. "We'll need to spend the night in Boone. I'll pack us a bag; you give Grey a call."
She made it to their bedroom before his voice stopped her. Looking over her shoulder, she found him leaning in the doorway, features arranged into a carefully passive mask.
"Why don't I pack the bag and you can let Grey know what's happening?"
Scully struggled to keep her own poker face. Like she couldn't see that one coming from a mile away. Turning, arms laced across her chest, she propped her weight on one hip.
"For two very good reasons, Mulder. Number one--the last time I let you pack our overnight bag, you forgot a few little...necessities. Like underwear. My underwear."
She knew he'd never be able to resist, and of course, he didn't. "See, now that's where we differ, babe. I don't consider underwear a necessity."
"Really? I don't seem to remember you going commando anytime in the recent past."
"You've been checking? Scully, have I stumbled upon an unfulfilled fantasy?"
"Number two." She'd walked right into that one. "I'm not going to act as a go-between for you and your brother. I didn't like it in the sixth grade when Amy Milligan coerced me into asking Jack Pritchard if he liked her; I sure as hell don't intend to reprise the role as an adult."
"Fine, I'll do it." Mulder disappeared only to pop back a moment later. "And I just want to draw your attention to the fact that I'm forgoing the wealth of opportunities presented by that childhood tidbit."
His voice was light, the words teasing, yet Scully sensed a darker emotion beneath their surface. She tugged Mulder's duffel from beneath the bed and began filling it with a change of clothes, wishing for a suit and pumps to replace slacks and loafers. Bad enough she and Mulder had a dearth of clothing suitable for cold weather. If the case dragged on much longer, a shopping trip would be unavoidable.
She moved quickly and efficiently--if partnering with Mulder had taught her anything, it was how to pack a bag at a minute's notice. When she was satisfied she'd overlooked nothing, Scully zipped up the duffel and carried it downstairs. She left it on the tile by the front door and went in search of Mulder.
He was standing in front of the sliding glass doors, staring out at the backyard. Teeth gnawing his lower lip, cell phone clenched in his fist, it wasn't difficult to judge his state of mind. She walked over to stand beside him. Waiting.
"Guess we didn't do such a bad job building that shed after all. It's still standing, anyway."
She remained quiet, letting him talk. Sometimes Mulder had to take the long route to reach what he really wanted to say. He'd get there, eventually.
The silence stretched long between them before he spoke again. "His cell said he was unavailable. I had to leave a voicemail." Another long pause. "I was glad, Scully. I was glad I didn't have to talk to my own brother."
The lost quality to his voice bothered her less than the resignation. Scully tugged on his arm, pulling him over to sit in one of the kitchen chairs. She stepped between his knees, one hand brushing through his hair before coming to rest on his cheek.
"The days of running are over, Mulder. You're not alone anymore-- you have a family, people in your life who care about you. That means weathering the bad times, working through them even when it hurts like hell. Not shutting yourself off to numb the pain."
He jerked away from her touch, eyes flat and hard. "Being part of a family shouldn't mean baring your jugular and then handing over a knife."
"Nor should it mean hiding all sharp objects."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"I think you know." Scully kept her voice gentle but firm. "I think you experienced it first hand, after your sister was taken. Your mother, your father... They taught you to guard your heart, love. But now it's time to unlearn that lesson; it's time to take a risk. Grey's worth it--isn't he?"
Mulder looked away and his throat worked convulsively. "You don't understand." The words were rough and thick with anger and tears. "Losing Sam was almost more than I could bear. I felt I'd let her down, that it was my fault I lost her. I've finally--" he sucked in a shaky breath--"finally come to accept that what happened was beyond my control.
"But, don't you see, Scully, if I lose Grey now it will be on my shoulders. A direct result of who I am. And I don't think..." He choked on the words, jaw tightly clenched. "I know that I can't open myself up to that. Better to pull back now and salvage what I can."
How could someone be so intuitive in some areas and blind in others? Scully laid her hand on the top of his head, not stroking or caressing, just connecting.
"Mulder, pulling back is the only thing that will cause you to lose Grey. This is a crossroads in your relationship, an opportunity for it to evolve into something deeper, stronger. Do you remember what Rosa said to you? Dark times will either pull souls together or tear them apart. You have to choose."
He stared at her for a disconcertingly long moment, then wrapped his arms around her and rested his cheek against her belly. "You make it sound simple."
She chuckled, petting the hair beneath her fingers. "It's an illusion. I'm sure you've noticed I'm not always the most open person myself. But I'm trying, Mulder. For you. For us."
He chuffed quietly, breath warming her stomach through the thin cotton of her shirt. "Guess we're both works in process." Another squeeze and he released her, standing up. "Bag all packed?"
"Packed and ready to go. I left it by the front door."
He glanced at his watch. "Let me grab a quick shower and we'll hit the road. If we make good time we should be able to get there before dark." He cocked an eyebrow at her as they left the kitchen. "Did you remember your underwear?"
Scully gave him a longsuffering look. "First thing in the bag."
She followed him up the stairs, hiding a smirk. He'd neglected to ask if she'd packed his.