Blood Ties 10
Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (13/?)
By Dawn

Peterson Cabin
10:02 p.m.

Mulder sensed a subtle shift in his brother's posture as Grey tightened his grasp on the arm slung across his shoulders. At the same time he released his hold on Mulder's waist, allowing his left arm to drop behind the shield of their bodies. Slowly, discreetly inching his fingers toward his back pocket. Grey's face smoothed into a blank mask as he tipped his head toward his brother and arched an eyebrow.

"I don't remember hearing the doorbell, do you?"

"No. Of course...I don't remember...inviting anyone in, either." His tissue paper voice was a far cry from the glib, breezy tone Mulder had hoped for, but it would have to do.

Their intruder raised his free hand, idly spinning a keyring around the index finger. "No invitation necessary. I picked these up when I stopped by earlier." His smile widened but his eyes went flat as he rose slowly to his feet. "And Detective McKenzie? When you've finally located whatever it is you're searching for in your back pocket, you can put it right over here on the table."

Grey stiffened, anger turning his muscles rigid. Mulder dropped his head, turning his face away from the killer. "Not now," he said, sotto voce. "He's holding all the cards."

Grey yanked an object from his pocket and tossed it onto the coffee table. A Swiss Army knife, the one he kept in his pack. He bared his teeth in an insincere smile.

"Anything else I can get you? Coffee? Tea? Mothballs?"

The killer's face contorted into a snarl and his finger tightened on the trigger. He seemed to catch himself, consciously pushing aside anger as his expression smoothed and he gestured casually with the gun. "Take a seat. Our boy Fox, there, looks like he's about to keel over."

Grey had already begun moving Mulder toward the couch. The killer's words hit him like a verbal slap, and his feet momentarily tangled up with his brother's. Mulder's soft grunt of discomfort regained his attention.

"Sorry," he murmured, lowering Mulder carefully. "You okay?" He watched his brother lose the battle to remain upright, his head flopping back onto the cushions.

Mulder's eyes, the only bit of color in his face, blinked lazily and his tongue swiped at dry lips. "You're kidding...right?"

Grey straightened and turned. "Look, whoever you are--I want to get one thing straight. I don't know how you tracked us here or figured out my brother's name, but any grudge, any unfinished business, is between you and me. Leave Fox out of it."

The killer circled slowly until he was standing directly opposite Mulder and Grey. "No, you get something straight, Mr. Bigshot Hero. In case you haven't noticed, you're in no position to give orders. Now shut the hell up and sit down or the next bullet's going right between your brother's eyes."

The threat, backed by the cold fury in the killer's eyes, effectively extinguished Grey's defiance. He dropped down beside Mulder, lips compressed to a thin line.

"You know, I'm hurt." The killer pocketed Grey's knife and then strolled over to perch on the arm of a chair. "I know I don't exactly have the most memorable face, but I still thought you'd've recognized me by now." His lip curled. "Detective."

"I don't know what the heck you're..." Grey's voice faded away, his eyes widening in astonishment as he scrutinized the killer. Shoulder-length dark hair caught into a ponytail at the nape of his neck. Brown eyes, a long, thin nose, and the mouth... "Wait a minute, I...oh, my god."

Mulder's gaze darted to his brother's face. "Grey?"

Grey was slowly shaking his head, oblivious to the anxiety in Mulder's voice. Tension crackled in the air as he and the killer continued to lock eyes. "'re.... Jake?"

"Aw, you do remember. I'm touched."

All the color drained from Grey's face and his left hand clutched the arm of the couch in a white-knuckled grip. "B...but...that's impossible. That can't be."

Mulder frowned at the stutter. In the space between one breath and the next, the killer's revelation had transformed Grey from cool professional to bewildered child. Mulder pushed back his own pain and fatigue, leaning forward to lay a calming hand on his brother's shoulder while turning studiously neutral eyes on the killer.

"So. I take it you two know each other."

The killer laughed--a harsh, humorless sound sharp enough to draw blood. "We've crossed paths once or twice, nothing earth shattering. But we do share a bond that's much more...intimate."

Grey seemed to get hold of himself, regaining a bit of his composure. "Where are my manners? Fox, this is Jake Preston."

Mulder stared at his brother for what seemed like an eternity while his sluggish brain tried to process the significance of the name. When synapses finally fired and the connection became clear, he knew his own face probably looked nearly as shell-shocked as Grey's.

"Preston? As in...Mark Preston? Your partner?"

Jake grinned toothily. "We're cousins. There's a family resemblance--don't you think?"

"You're responsible for this? For Peterson?"

Jake's smile flattened out and he stared at Grey. A slow, deliberate nod.

"Brandmeier? Feeney? All the others?"

"All except the good doctor. And we know whose fault that was, don't we? I have to say, I was sweating that night. I thought sure you'd seen my face and would eventually realize who I was."

Mulder felt the tremors thrumming through Grey like electrical current. He tightened his fingers on his brother's shoulder, a subtle reminder of both support and warning. Grey shrugged it off, his teeth clenched.

"Why? Why would you do it--to them, to your cousin? Innocent people who never..."

"No one is innocent, Detective! We all have our debts to pay, even those of you who've been handed life on a silver platter. Everyone's marker gets called in eventually."

"That's how you attempt to justify cold blooded murder? As some kind of...of cosmic reckoning with you working the scales? Is the dead man lying in that bedroom supposed to be your twisted idea of justice?"

Jake leaned forward, arms crossed so that the gun rested easily in the crook of his elbow. "What would you know about justice, McKenzie? You and Mark, you're exactly alike. It's easy to be self-righteous when you're standing on the mountaintop. Try slogging through the mud with the rest of us before you pass judgement."

Grey sucked in a sharp breath and his face went very still. "It's no coincidence, is it, you killing those people on our beat? This is just as much about Mark as it is about them."

Jake's eyes narrowed. "I had a job to do. If it happened to impact my cousin, to shake up his picture-perfect life, well, so be it."

"That's bullshit! He's been good to you, gone out of his way to try and help. I know for a fact that he hired you to do landscaping and yard work for him when you couldn't find a job anywhere else."

"Spare me the guilt trip! My saintly cousin is nothing more than the favored son of a favored son. A twist of fate is all that separates us--our positions could just as easily have been reversed."

Grey's hands curled into fists, his body a tightly coiled spring. Mulder dug his fingers into his brother's shoulder, speaking over the resulting grunt of pain.

"How so?"

Jake's gaze jerked from Grey and he seemed to really look at Mulder for the first time. "What's this? Some kind of game to keep me talking?"

Mulder returned his stare, face guileless. "You keep harping about...fate and justice. I assumed you...want us to understand."

Jake studied his face for a moment, then smiled--the barest curve at the corners of his mouth. "All right. I'll play." He leaned back, feet casually crossed at the ankles. "It's an old story, really. My father was one of two sons born to a poor family in rural West Virginia. My grandfather, Lucas, was one in a long line of Prestons to work the mines--backbreaking, thankless work for minimum wage that destroyed your body until you were old before your time. But Lucas was different, a dreamer, determined for his children to have a better life." Jake's lip curled. "One of them, anyway."

"I'm guessing it...wasn't your father."

Grey frowned at the heat from the hand on his shoulder and the tremor in his brother's voice, but held his tongue.

"My father, Benjamin, was the oldest. From a very young age he was expected to be the second man of the house, responsible for a lot of the chores his father couldn't do after a twelve-hour shift in the mine. That included helping his mother take care of his brother and two sisters.

"He loved school--maybe because it was the only time he had for himself--but he studied hard and earned good grades. He knew an education was his only chance, his ticket out of the mines. And that was the last place he wanted to wind up.

"But when he was fifteen, my grandfather got sick. Black Lung. Within six months the old man couldn't work at all, and there wasn't enough food on the table. Three weeks before his sixteenth birthday, my father quit school and went to work in the mines. He had no choice."

Grey made a small noise in his throat and Jake glowered at him. "What?"

Grey scowled back. "I've heard this story. Mark's dad remembers it well."

"Really? Did he tell you the rest? That when my grandfather died a year later, he left the little bit of insurance money that remained after the burial to his younger son, Jonathan?" Jake bared his teeth. "My father spent the next twenty years of his life at the bottom of a hole, eating coal dust, so Mark's could go to college. How's that for justice?"

"Is that your father talking? Or you?" Mulder asked. "Seems to's not your carry."

"Oh, but you're wrong. My grandfather's...tunnel vision concerning his younger son resulted in more than just a college diploma for Mark's dad. Pop quiz, Mr. FBI. One brother earns a degree in mathematics and winds up working as a CPA at a respected accounting firm. The other quits high school for a manual labor job, crawls into a bottle and never comes out." Jake tipped his head, sarcasm dripping from his words. "They each have a son. Which winds up the detective? And which one the detective's gardener?"

Jake lurched to his feet, pacing back and forth with the gun tapping restlessly against his thigh. "I always knew I deserved better than what my father got. Yeah, the only way I'd go to college would be on my own dime, but I had that covered. I never had the highest GPA, but hand me a football and I could work magic. By my senior year I had a scholarship to WVU in the bag."

He chuckled, a harsh, jagged sound. "Second to the last game of the season, we're losing by six points, and I make a 40 yard run for the goal before they take me down. A hit from the left, another from the right, and my knee just...popped." Jake stopped pacing, expression blank, focus turned inward. "Sixty seconds and both my football career and my life were over. All my plans, dreams...I had to pack them away along with my jersey."

"In mothballs."

Mulder's soft rasp drew Jake's glare. "Yeah. Now you're getting the picture. I deserved that scholarship; deserved the chance my father was denied. If it wasn't for that injury I'd be making big bucks by now, hiring a gardener not being one. Instead, I had to sit back and watch while my classmates, kids I could think circles around, went off to school, graduated, and began successful careers."

Jake's eyes went distant, his expression a mixture of pride and vindication. "They took what should have been mine. Everything I fought for, worked so hard to achieve, was handed to them on a silver platter. And with every stroke of the knife, with every drop of their blood I spill, I take another piece of it back."

Mulder slowly shook his head. "You view success like a jealous lover. If you can't have it, no one can."

A predatory smile spread slowly across Jake's face. "Well, well, well. You actually live up to your reputation. Mark said your brother's always telling him what a genius you are. That you used to be the FBI's boy wonder, catching killers who had everyone else chasing their tails by figuring out how they think."

"Is that how you knew I was coming up here?" Grey cut in, voice low, rigid. "You pumped Mark for information?"

"He might have mentioned it." Jake's grin never touched his eyes. "And it's amazing what you can overhear while trimming bushes under an open window."

"Then you also had to have realized that I wouldn't be alone. That Fox would be with me."

"Realized? I counted on it." He chuffed at Grey's incredulous stare. "You're a cop, not some high school teacher. Alone you were twice as dangerous. You needed a handicap."

"And I thought...Spooky was insulting," Mulder muttered.

Grey threw him a quelling look. "I meant what I said, Jake. This is between you and me. I want you to leave Fox out of it."

"And I meant what I said. You aren't in control, I am."

Mulder snorted derisively and Jake rounded on him. "You think this is funny?"

Mulder pressed a shaky hand to his chest, widened his eyes theatrically. "Me? No, I don't think you're funny." He waited a beat, then added, "I think you're pathetic."

Color crept up Jake's neck until his whole face flushed, and he went very still. "Pathetic?" He ground the word between his teeth like chewing a bone.

Grey tensed, alarmed that his brother had inadvertently provoked their captor. Until Mulder's fingers squeezed his shoulder and he caught a gleam of satisfaction in his brother's eye, the truth hitting him like a sucker punch. Mulder's needling was calculated, deliberate. Grey swallowed thickly and waited.

"Yeah, pathetic. All of you are. Remember...I used to catch dirtbags like you...for a living. You're all the same...think you're Manson, Bundy, and Hannibal Lecter rolled into one. Superkiller." He laughed.

Jake lifted the gun, his finger twitching on the trigger. "You won't think it's so funny when I add another hole to your head."


Mulder waved Grey off, his brief glare communicating his intentions as clearly as words. Wait. Be ready.

"Oh, come on," he said to Jake, laughter still lingering in the smirk twisting his lips. "You're a smart guy...right? Surely you...can see the irony. You think you've got control...'cause you wave around a gun...when the truth're powerless. You're enslaved by...the sick kill. You get away with it...but you keep coming back. Eventually...your own weakness...will get you caught. It already...almost did."

As Mulder spoke, Jake's breathing had accelerated to short, sharp pants nearly as effortful as his own respiration. Every muscle in the killer's body seemed wired, like a cat poised to pounce.

"You don't know what you're talking about. I've planned every move I've made. I've run circles around you both, you never knew what hit you." He jerked a thumb at Grey, nearly vibrating with anger. "Him catching me with the doctor in that parking garage was just dumb luck."

Mulder braced himself, licking his dry lips and forcing another chuckle. "It was dumb all right. Told're just like all the rest."

The jab found its mark. Jake launched himself at Mulder with a growl, the gun nearly forgotten in his rage. Mulder had just enough time to choke out, "Grey, now!" before the killer seized him by the throat and dragged him to his feet.

A fierce but eerily silent struggle commenced as Mulder fought to break Jake's grip while Grey wrestled him for the gun. As Grey clutched Jake's wrist with both hands, desperately searching for the pressure point that would compel him to drop the weapon, the gun swung wildly--first toward Grey, then Jake, and finally discharging harmlessly into the ceiling. Now cursing, the killer tightened his fingers around Mulder's throat until a high pitched whine filled his ears and black dots obscured his vision. His eyelids fluttered and his arms fell loosely to his sides.

Grey ground his foot onto Jake's and shoved, momentarily throwing the killer off balance. Before he could press his advantage, however, he sensed his brother's stillness. He turned, terrified to see Mulder hanging limply in Jake's grasp, lips blue. The split-second distraction was all Jake needed. He flung Mulder onto the couch like a rag doll and brought his fist around in a hard blow just under Grey's ribs. All the air whooshed out of Grey's lungs and he reflexively released Jake's wrist, tumbling back down onto the couch beside his coughing, gasping brother.

Snarling, Jake backhanded Grey with the barrel of the gun, splitting his lip and smashing his cheekbone. He then grabbed the semi-conscious Mulder by the hair and jammed the weapon up under his chin.

"You stupid son of a bitch! I oughta waste him right now. Is that what you want? Huh?"

Grey struggled to remain conscious, spitting and gagging on the blood that flooded his mouth. "No! Jake, don't!" Tears, whether from pain or fear, blurred his vision, trickled unheeded down his cheeks. "Please."

The broken, pleading tone mollified Jake. "You try something stupid like that again and..."

"I won't. I swear I'll cooperate. Just...just don't hurt him."

Jake smiled, relaxed. "That's more like it. Stand up. Turn around and put your hands behind your back."

Grey obeyed, wincing when cold steel bit his wrists. He watched his brother laboriously haul himself upright. The violent coughing had tapered off, but Fox still gulped for air in wheezing pants and the flesh under his chin had already begun to darken in angry, finger-shaped bruises.

"What now?" Grey asked, hating the defeat in his voice. He tried to rally. "You know, you've made your point; you outsmarted us. We're overdue checking in; it's just a matter of time before someone comes looking for us. Fox's partner and another agent from the Bureau are probably already on their way. If you cleared out now..."

"Partner? His wife, you mean." Grey didn't have to see Jake's face to detect the disdain. "A woman. I think I'll take my chances." He grabbed Grey above his right elbow and spun him around. "We're gonna take a little trip, a walk down memory lane. Back to the beginning, to where it all went wrong."

"What about Fox?"

"In his condition he'd only slow us down. He stays right here. Only question is whether or not I put him out of his misery before we go."

It took every ounce of strength Grey possessed to suppress his emotions. "If you let him live, I'll do whatever you want. You kill him, and I've got nothing left to lose."

"No!" Mulder's hoarse cry startled them both. "Grey, you can't..." His protest was cut off by another round of coughing.

"Shut up, Fox." In contrast to the words, Grey's tone was gentle. He looked back at Jake. "Well?"

Jake's eyes darted between the two brothers. "You're forgetting again," he told Grey, gesturing to the gun. But there was more amusement than anger in his demeanor as he watched Mulder struggling to stand. "All right. But I swear, you give me any trouble and I'll waste you on the spot, then come back for him. Understand?"

"Yeah." Grey blinked, jaw clenched, and looked down at his brother. "Now give me a minute, okay?"

Jake looked ready to argue but shrugged instead, stepping back a few paces but keeping the gun trained on them both. "Make it quick."

Grey carefully sat down on the coffee table, facing his brother. Mulder shook his head, his pale face showing equal parts distress and anger.

"Don't you do this...don't you dare do this. You can' your life for mine. I won't let you."

Grey leaned forward, wishing desperately he could lay a calming hand on his brother's leg. Fox was trembling and it was obvious he was very close to complete collapse. "It's not your decision to make, Fox. You were never supposed to be a part of this equation. I'm taking you out of it. Now."

Mulder stared at him, eyes glazed with fever and tears, lip trembling. Before Grey knew what had happened his brother's fists were knotted in his shirt with an adrenaline-fueled grip.

"You promised me, you bastard! You promised you'd never leave me, said you were here to stay. You got me to trust you--damn it, you made me believe." His voice cracked and the tears spilled over. "Grey, please don't..."

Grey tipped his forehead down to rest against his brother's and fought to squeeze words past the chokehold of grief. "Whatever happens, however this ends, I will still be with you, little brother. Remember that. 'Cause if I find out you're blaming yourself for this I'll find some way to kick your ass."

"No. I won't let you...I won't..." Mulder tightened his grip, past the point of reason A grunt of impatience, several quick footsteps, and Jake was between them. "Let him go."

Mulder's face instantly transformed from anguish to rage. "No. You let him go...or else take me, too."

"Oh, for..."

Jake drew back his foot and kicked Mulder's injured leg. Mulder shrieked, his eyes rolling back in his head as he slid to the floor.

"No!" Grey lunged against the hand that snagged him by the arm until the muzzle of the gun nudged his temple. He froze, shivering as he was forced to listen to his brother's incoherent moans.

"Are we finished now?"

The implication was clear. Leave Fox, or watch Jake shoot him where he lay. Grey's shoulder's slumped and he nodded, squeezing his eyes shut.

"Let's go."

Continued in Chapter 14