Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (12/?)
All-encompassing darkness. It wraps itself around him like a living blanket, so
thick he can't see his hand in front of his face. Worse than the darkness, though, is
the death. It's everywhere—in the leathery skin brushing his cheeks and arms, the
brittle bones that snap and crack beneath his boots, and the rich, sick-sweet smell
of decay that fills his nostrils.
He crouches under the mound of inhuman corpses, sweat trickling between his
shoulder blades, breathing in short, sharp pants. The rusty screech of the trap
door, the thump of boots hitting the ground, and barked commands double his
heartrate and dry his mouth. He becomes stone, unmoving, barely breathing.
Wishing for Scully's presence even as he's grateful she's hundreds of miles away.
Calm, he thinks. Just stay calm.
Until all hell breaks loose.
A blast of sound and hot air, scattering bones like popcorn and singeing the small
hairs at the nape of his neck. The hissing crackle of flames ignites a fear within
him that is decades old, a panic he struggles to control.
Out. Got to get out.
Tunneling through bodies, the acrid stench of fire and ash lends a new potency to
the odor of death. Scrabbling with his fingers, kicking with his feet. He gulps for
oxygen, finds none. The superheated air sears his throat and melts his lungs.
Can't think. Can't breathe.
Have to get…
"…out. Gotta get out."
"Shh. Easy, Fox. Easy."
Grey refreshed the washcloth in a pan of water and resumed running it over
Mulder's face and neck. Heat radiated from his brother's body like a furnace,
quickly turning the cloth from cool to tepid. Grey didn't need a thermometer to
tell him that the fever had grown dangerously high. Though lucid an hour
previous, Mulder's condition had rapidly deteriorated into delirium. Wherever
he'd gone, it wasn't a nice place.
"No…the fire…gotta…trapped… I gotta…" Mulder's fingers scratched at the
cushions, his breathing harsh and labored.
"There's no fire, little brother. You're right here with me. It's just a dream."
Grey returned the cloth to the pan, grimacing at water already too warm to be
effective. An image of Mulder, convulsing with fever caused by pneumonia and
the mysterious alien virus, flashed vividly before his eyes. Terrifying enough in a
hospital with trained medical personnel. If it happened here…
Despite the closed blinds, darkness pressed through the cabin's windows, accented
by the restless, grasping shadows of tree limbs stirred by the wind. Rain drummed
a staccato beat on the roof and burbled in the gutters. The fire crackled and
snapped on the hearth. And the clock on the wall kept a steady rhythm, sounding
the hour with a mellow chime.
Sounds that should feel familiar, even comforting, instead served to increase
Grey's gnawing uneasiness. The cabin might give the impression of a safe haven,
a refuge from the elements and a killer, but that was illusion. They were trapped,
virtually unarmed, and Fox had become a liability rather than an asset.
Grey had never felt more alone in his life.
"Okay, Dana, what do I do?"
He uttered the question aloud, but mumbled. Slightly embarrassed. Mostly
Mulder's legs thrashed and he sucked in a shallow gulp of air. "Hot…Scully,
Grey dropped the cloth and stood, grasping his semi-conscious brother beneath
the arms and hauling him upright. "Dana might not be here, but I know what she'd
say. We gotta cool you down, Fox, and that little bowl of water sure as hell ain't
doing the trick."
Mulder whimpered as Grey levered him off the cushions, his knees buckling and
his head sagging until his chin brushed his chest. Grey draped his brother's arm
around his own shoulders and gritted his teeth, struggling to manipulate one
hundred and eighty odd pounds of nearly dead weight. Fox's body felt like a live
coal, his overheated skin uncomfortably hot where it rested along Grey's side.
"Jeez, Fox. What's Dana been…feeding you?"
They staggered down the hallway like two soldiers after an all-night drinking
binge. Mulder alternated between silent passivity and agitated ramblings that
made little or no sense. Unintelligible muttering, most of the words were garbled
from the fever. Yet the few Grey could decipher left him with a prickly feeling at
the back of his neck. Krycek. Alien. Merchandise.
They finally reached the end of the hallway. Grey propped his brother against the
wall and reached for the bedroom doorknob, hesitating when his fingertips
brushed the cool metal. He let his eyes slip shut, took a deep breath. Preparing or
postponing--he couldn't have said which.
He shoved open the door and groped for the light switch, the other hand knotted
in Mulder's shirt as he struggled to prevent his brother from sliding down the wall.
The air inside the room felt heavy, the slightly musty fragrance of damp wood
tainted by the underlying sick-sweet odor of decay. Grey shouldered his brother
and steered him past the bed, wrinkling his nose and keeping his eyes fixed on the
Once inside, he lowered Mulder to the closed seat of the toilet. Two beige
bathsheets were draped over a long towel bar near the shower stall, and Grey was
able to rustle up two more from a cupboard under the sink. He turned on the
shower and fiddled with the dial until the water temperature felt lukewarm but not
cold, absurdly grateful that Craig Peterson's plumbing was more sophisticated
than the Preston's.
Pausing with hands on hips, Grey watched his brother teeter precariously to the
right, eyes glassy and unfocused. "All right, Fox, here we go. Believe me, I don't
like this any better than you."
He rolled up his sleeves, then proceeded to strip Mulder down to his boxers.
When he slid the jeans down his brother's legs he was dismayed by the condition
of the bullet wound. In just a matter of hours the surrounding skin had turned tight
and inflamed, the wound now oozing infection.
"Dear God, Fox, no wonder you're burning up. We've got to get you out of here."
He hauled Mulder to his feet and wrestled him into the stall. The cool spray
shocked his brother out of his stupor. Mulder flailed his arms, spluttering and
choking when his struggles succeeded in earning him a mouthful of water.
Resistance rapidly gave way to exhaustion and he slumped mutely in Grey's hold.
After ten minutes Mulder's skin had noticeably cooled and he was able to stand
mostly on his own, leaning heavily against the tile wall. Grey's arms quivered
with fatigue and the abused muscles in his back voiced their protest by tightening
into painful spasms. He turned off the water and wrapped two of the towels
around his brother. Mulder allowed himself to be guided back to his seat on the
toilet, where he huddled, shivering.
Grey glanced down at his own drenched shirt with a grimace. He peeled it off and
added it to the pile of discarded clothing, helping himself to another of the large
towels. Once he'd dried off, he draped it around his neck and crouched down in
front of his brother.
"How are you doing? You gonna be all right while I try to find us a change of
Mulder's dark hair clung to his skull, accentuating the pale, nearly translucent hue
of his skin. Water droplets trailed like tears down his cheeks and pain had etched
lines around his mouth. To Grey's intense relief, however, his brother met his
"Something in flannel," he croaked. "'S what all well-dressed hermits are
"I'll keep that in mind." Unreasonably reassured by the sarcasm. "You just
concentrate on staying vertical."
It got him a long-suffering roll of the eyes that left him chuckling softly.
Grey searched the bedroom quickly, rifling through the closet and pawing through
drawers. Always mindful of the dead man at his back, a constant prickling
between his shoulder blades. Two sweatshirts and a pair of sweatpants. A bit
large--Chris was a jumbo-sized hermit--but they he figured Fox could manage.
Back in the bathroom he found Mulder had removed the wet bandage from his leg
and was staring at the wound with horrified fascination.
Grey handed his brother the clothing. "The latest in high fashion." He pulled on
the second sweatshirt, then began removing bandages and antiseptic from the
"Green Bay? You've got to be kidding."
Grey favored him with a raised eyebrow. "Hey, it's warm and it's dry. Would you
rather have the Chicago Cubs?" Gestured to his own shirt.
"God, no." Mulder struggled into the sweatshirt, lip curled. "If it looks like I'm
going to die, please take this off."
"That's not funny."
"You're telling me. Not bad enough...we're stuck with a dead hermit; we have to
wind up with a dead hermit...who has terrible taste in sports teams."
"You must be feeling better. You've got your smart mouth back."
"Yeah." Wearily. "I feel just peachy."
Grey rebandaged the wound without further comment. The routine was becoming
painfully familiar to them both--Grey doing his best to be gentle but thorough;
Mulder striving to cooperate by holding still. Once he'd slathered on antibiotic
cream and swathed the leg in gauze, Grey sat back on his heels.
"Need some help with those pants?"
A sharp shake of the head, and Mulder discarded the wet towel and boxers,
working the soft fleece up to his waist. Even tightly cinched the pants were almost
comically large, riding low on his hips and pooling around his ankles. He
endeavored to tie the drawstring with trembling fingers, swaying on his feet.
Grey grabbed hold of his arm, steadying him. "Whoa! Easy, Fox. Sit down."
Mulder yielded, unconsciously leaning into Grey's solid support. He curled
forward, forearms braced on thighs, and closed his eyes. Concentrated on his
breathing and waited for the dizziness to pass. "Just…just give me a minute."
"Take all the time you need. I'm not going anywhere."
It struck a nerve, sparked an abrupt, irrational flare of temper. Mulder's head came
up, his eyes overbright. "You should. Screw this, Grey! You ought to hike out, go
for help. We both know you could make it without me slowing you down. The
only reason you've stayed is to play nursemaid. I'm not helpless, damn it; I'll be
The words, meant to be determined and forceful, sounded as fragile as dry leaves
in a strong wind. Grey didn't react to the fury in his brother's voice. He crouched
down until they were eye to eye, hands clasped loosely between his knees. When
he spoke, his voice held a mixture of irritation and compassion.
"I'm gonna say this one more time, and then I don't expect you to bring the subject
up again. I'm not going to leave you, Fox. Not to get help, and sure as hell not to
save my own skin. I understand why you think I will--why you've come to expect
it. But those days are gone, little brother. I'm not Samantha, or Pheobe, or…or
Diana." Softer. "And I'm not Bill or Teena. I'm here now. And I'm here to stay.
Mulder blinked, his eyes cutting away to fix on the darkened bedroom. "I…yeah."
"Glad we got that settled." Grey laid a hand briefly on his leg, stood. "You about
ready to head back to the couch? I've seen about all I care to of this bathroom."
It earned him a phantom smile, not much more than a flicker at the corners of
Mulder's mouth. "I'm ready."
They were halfway across the bedroom when Mulder's feet began to drag and
Grey noticed him staring at the shrouded figure on the bed. "Fox? What is it?"
"Just trying to see…Jed--was he a big man?"
Grey frowned at the effortful sound of his brother's voice; chose not to comment
on it. "You gotta ask? Those sweats make you look like a kid playing dress up."
When Mulder didn't respond, Grey tugged him forward. "Come on, Fox. You
look ready to fall on your face, and it's getting to the point where I'm not sure I
could stop you. You're no lightweight, you know."
Grey regretted the sharpness of his words when he felt his brother struggling to
bear more of his own weight. "Why?" Softer. An apology without apologizing.
He held onto patience--barely. "Why did you ask how big Peterson was? What
difference does it make?"
"Because… Hold up a minute."
Grey leaned against the wall, waiting for Fox to catch his breath. From the
pinched look around his brother's eyes and mouth, the pain had to be bad. Very
"If he's a big man…means he'd be hard to overpower." Mulder swallowed; licked
dry lips. "Stands to reason…he wouldn't go down…without a fight."
Grey's brow furrowed. "Not much evidence of a struggle."
"Just what I…was thinking."
And then he got it--saw where his brother was headed. "You think… You think
Peterson knew him?"
One shoulder lifted. "'S possible." But his face said that was exactly what Mulder
Grey stared at his brother for a long moment before tightening his hold and
resuming the trek to the family room. "I don't know, Fox. What you're suggesting
makes sense--in an odd sort of way--but I…"
Grey stumbled back a step. Nearly dropped his brother in a reflexive grab for a
gun that wasn't there. Froze.
A man on the couch. Dark hair slick from the rain, mud-caked boots. One arm
casually slung across the cushions. The other extended, fingers curled around a
gun aimed at Grey's head.
"Well, don't just stand there. Come on in, sit down. I was beginning to think you
two died back there." A shark's grin. "But that would be just a little premature,
Continued in Chapter 13