Blood Ties 10
Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (14/?)
By Dawn

Preston Cabin
2:43 a.m.

Scully slipped out of the sleeping bag and walked to the window, oblivious to the shock of the cold floorboards on her bare feet. The worst of the downpour had passed, tapering off to light drizzle, but heavy clouds still obscured the moon and most of the stars. She laced her arms tightly across her chest and watched leaves skitter wildly across the dark, rain-drenched earth. And remembered...

A quiet evening at her apartment just after they'd returned from Antarctica. Both jetlagged and bearing marks from their ordeal--physical and emotional. They'd been watching a terrible B movie that Mulder had insisted was a classic, munching popcorn and sipping cider.

She'd turned, prepared to offer a scathing comparison of the lead actress's bra size and IQ, only to be derailed by the sight of the still inflamed gash along Mulder's temple. A gash she'd mistakenly assumed he'd acquired while they were making their escape, until Frohike had set her straight.

A bullet to the head. Glancing off his thick skull rather than penetrating it. Just a slight alteration in trajectory and it would have meant the end--for both of them. The only thing more amazing than Mulder's luck was the way he'd completely disregarded the seriousness of his injury, journeying halfway around the world to find her.

Mulder had turned, then, and caught her looking. He'd waggled his eyebrows in an exaggerated leer. "Hey, Scully. See something you like?"

"Why didn't you tell me you'd been shot?'

His expression went still, guarded. "Well, I was kind of busy, for a while--you know, dodging those aliens you don't believe in on that ship you didn't see. Not that you were in any shape to listen."

"Mulder..." She'd traced the wound with a feather-light fingertip, pleased when he shivered but didn't pull away. "You belonged in a hospital, under observation, not chasing after me. If there had been a slow bleed, some other complication..."

He'd gently encircled her wrist and lowered her hand, lacing their fingers together. "Scully, I will *always* come after you when you need me. Doesn't matter how far I have to travel, or how many roadblocks they throw in my way. As long as I can still draw breath, I won't quit until I find you."

She'd squeezed his hand, struggling to clear her tear-clogged throat. "Guess those rumors are true. You are crazy."

His answering chuckle warmed her to her toes. "Nope. Just your partner."

Scully pressed her palm to the cold glass, blinded by a sudden rush of tears. He'd come for her--crossing a frozen wasteland to enter a real-life chamber of horrors, all while sporting what could have been a fatal head injury.

Why in God's name was she still standing here?

"Can't sleep?"

Scully stiffened at Kristen's soft query, blinking hard and brushing at stray tears with trembling fingers. "Not for lack of trying," she answered without taking her eyes from the window. "You?"

"I'm intimately acquainted with every lump in that mattress."

Scully took a deep breath, drew herself up to her full height--such as it was--and turned. "Look, Kristen, I know what I said about not rushing in half-cocked, but..." She trailed off, staring.

Kristen stood in front of the fireplace, fully clothed, right down to her hiking boots. She lifted an eyebrow. "You were about to say...?"

Scully couldn't manage a smile. "Nothing's changed, you know. All those reasons for waiting until morning are still valid."

Kristen inclined her head. "So, are you getting dressed, or what?" When Scully still hesitated she plunged ahead. "Look, Dana, I know I'm not the person you'd choose to have at your back right now. But I'm all you've got. And I, for one, can't stand another minute of staring at the ceiling while my imagination runs horror movies of what might be happening to Grey and Mulder."

"I know, I'm seeing them, too." Scully paused, taking in the folded arms, furrowed brow, and determined set to Kristen's mouth. "I'm afraid of what we might find up there. And frankly, I'm not convinced you're ready for it."

Kristen's chin came up. "I have to be."

Out of arguments, Scully scooped up her overnight bag and headed for the bedroom to dress. Five minutes later she emerged to find Kristen had usurped her place at the window. Unobserved, Scully studied her face, reading the anxiety and doubt that Kristen normally concealed.


Her soft question brought up Kristen's guard, her expression shifting from apprehensive to resolute. "Definitely."

Wind whistled through the tree branches and drove a fine, cold mist into their faces as they made their way to the car. Scully reached for the driver's door, halted by a hand on her arm.

"Let me drive. You can ride shotgun--literally." Kristen raised her voice to be heard above the storm.

Scully hesitated, then pressed the keys into Kristen's outstretched hand and circled around to the passenger side of the car. The interior, though frigid, provided a blessed relief from the bitter bite of the wind. Kristen cranked up the heater and navigated down the dark, rutted drive, fingers wrapped tightly around the wheel, lip caught between her teeth.

Twenty minutes later, after multiple skids--one that nearly sent the car into a deep ravine bordering the road--both women were hunched forward, eyes straining to peer through the misty darkness.

"I never realized what a great invention street lights are. I...hold on!"

Scully clutched the dashboard, stifling a gasp as Kristen wrenched the steering wheel hard to the left in a desperate attempt to avoid a downed tree. Tires squealed protest, the car sliding dangerously close to a plunge off the shoulder before regaining traction. Kristen brought the vehicle to a complete stop, her face white.

"Are you all right?"

"I'm fine. That was quite a save. Where'd you learn to drive like that?"

Kristen brought one trembling hand up to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "Older brother. Lots of speeding tickets."

"Remind me to thank him, if I ever..." Scully leaned even farther forward, eyes squinted against the glare from the headlights. "Kristen, up ahead on the right. Is that...?" She pointed to a break in the trees about five feet down the road.

Kristen followed Scully's finger with her eyes. "It looks like a drive. That must be it!" She stepped on the gas, inching the car forward and then right, down the narrow gravel lane.

"Pull over and park. We'll walk from here."

Kristen jockeyed the car to the edge of the driveway beneath the large, overhanging bow of a tree. She turned off headlights and engine, immersing them in darkness. Without the mechanical rumble for competition, the wail of the wind sounded louder, more savage. Scully touched the gun tucked in the waistband of her jeans--a reflexive need for reassurance--and opened her door.

They hadn't walked more than thirty paces when a large, motionless mass, sprawled by the side of the drive, appeared out of the darkness at the edge of Scully's flashlight beam. She jerked to a stop, heart hammering, and slowly adjusted the light to focus directly on the form. Her breath caught in her chest and she darted forward with a low cry.


She knelt beside him, only vaguely aware of Kristen at her back, taking the flashlight from her limp fingers. He lay on his stomach, face pressed into the mud, arms curled beneath his body--as if he'd been trying to get to his feet, right up until the moment he'd lost consciousness. He was drenched, dark hair plastered to his skull, the waterlogged sweats clinging to his body.

Scully began running her hands over him, beginning with his arms and working her way downward, checking for broken bones. "Mulder? Mulder, it's me. Wake up for me now, okay?"

"Where's Grey? Why isn't he with Grey?" Kristen's voice was ragged and the flashlight wavered in her grasp. She stood and began panning the beam in a circle.

"Kristen, get that light back here! I need it."

Kristen obeyed, but her gaze continued to dart around the area. When Scully reached Mulder's right knee, he moaned, fingers scrabbling at the dirt. Scully pulled her hand back and stared at the flash of red, then gently probed the area a second time.

"His leg is injured--a gunshot, I think." Her steady voice couldn't disguise the alarm in her eyes. "I'm going to turn him over."

As gentle as she tried to be, Mulder groaned when she rolled him to his back, a low, animal cry of pain.

Kristen gasped. "Oh, my God. Look at his neck."

The finger-shaped bruises had turned a livid purple, contrasting starkly with the milky skin of Mulder's throat. He sucked in a shallow gulp of air, eyelids fluttering.

"Mulder?" Scully ran her knuckles over his cheek and pinched his earlobe. "Come on, Mulder, wake up."

His hand swatted ineffectually at hers and his eyelids cracked open to reveal cloudy hazel. "Scu...llee?"

"Right on the first try." Scully tried to shield him with her body as a vicious gust of wind drove the drizzle into his upturned face.

His forehead scrunched. "I don't...where...?" He tried to move, stiffened, eyes slamming shut. "Hurts."

Fortunately, whoever had loaned Mulder the sweats must have been twice his size. Scully worked the right pants leg up past his knee, exposing the blood- soaked bandage. She grimaced; quickly concealed it.

"Looks like you've got quite an injury to your right leg. What happened?"

Mulder's eyes opened but they were vague and unfocused. "I...Scully, where...why 'm I on the ground?" His voice, faint to begin with, quickly deteriorated to a breathy rasp.

Kristen, nearly vibrating with impatience, leaned in to hiss, "Dana, for God's sake, ask him where Grey is!"

Scully turned on her, voice pitched low but hard as steel. "He's barely coherent. If we push too hard he'll just become more confused." She stroked a lock of dripping hair back from Mulder's face. "You're in the mountains, remember? You came up here to do a little camping with..."

"Grey!" Mulder's eyes flew open wide and he began struggling to sit up, oblivious to any pain in his leg. "Can't let him...I can't...gotta stop..."

Scully held him down, hands planted on his shoulders. "Shh, easy. Mulder, be still. You'll increase the bleeding."

To her relief, he complied. Yet his fingers plucked at her jacket and he continued to plead with her, words and phrases that seemed little more than gibberish.

"Killed Jed...shot me. 'S gonna kill Grey. Said he wouldn't leave...promised...but he's...he's gone, Scully. Gotta...gotta..." His voice dropped to a mumble, snatched and scattered by the wind.

She worked to keep her voice calm, soothing, though it trembled despite the effort. "Where's Grey, Mulder? Is he up at the cabin? Who's going to kill him?"

"Took him away. Back to the beginning."

"This isn't getting us anywhere. I'm going up to the cabin." Kristen's attempt to stand was pulled up short when Scully snagged her wrist in an iron grip.

"Wait! You can't go alone and unarmed into what could likely be a hostage situation. Help me get Mulder into the car and we'll go together."

Kristen gritted her teeth, obviously chafing under the delay, but helped Scully drag Mulder upright so they could each slip an arm over their shoulders. Maneuvering him over to the car and then loading him into the back would have been difficult under the best circumstances--the buffeting wind and uneven, rain- slicked ground made the task nearly impossible. By the time Scully and Kristen had him stretched out on the seat, their jackets cocooning him, they were both trembling from cold and exertion and he'd lapsed into unconsciousness.

"Leave the headlights off," Scully said, cranking the heater as high as it would go. "We'll have to rely on the parking lights."

"Aren't you afraid they'll betray the fact that we're coming?"

"I'm more afraid of driving into a tree or landing in a ditch." Scully tore her eyes from Mulder's face. "Look, Kristen, we have to go in fully prepared to find Grey and whoever did this to Mulder. But I don't think we will."

Kristen's gaze reflexively jerked to her face before she forced it back to the road. "What are you trying to say, Dana? Why not?"

"For the simple reason that we found Mulder where we did. Do you honestly think he'd be allowed to wander around out here if someone was holding Grey hostage up at the house?"

Kristen worried her lip between her teeth. "But why would they take Grey and leave Mulder? And where would they have gone?"

"I don't know. But I think Mulder does."

Mulder muttered something unintelligible, squirming under the confinement of their makeshift blanket. Scully reached between the seats to lay her hand on his head until he subsided. She sighed. "You could have given us a little bit more to go on, Mulder."

"There it is." Kristen cut the engine and stared at the cabin and the rectangular swathe of light spilling from its open front door. She swallowed, her voice wavering. "Not a good sign."

Scully cast one more look over her shoulder and checked the clip in her weapon before getting out of the car and locking Mulder inside. She did a 360-degree scan of the clearing, senses hyper-attuned to the slightest sound or movement, then motioned Kristen forward.

"Stay behind me and keep your eyes and ears open. We both know what this looks like, but trusting appearances could get us all killed."

"There's obviously a reason I'm not a field agent," Kristen murmured, offering her a tight smile.

Scully's nose picked up the all-too-familiar smell the minute they stepped inside. She eyed the closed door to her right, but turned left. The short hallway opened into a small room--a den with bookshelves lining the walls, a small oak desk and an overstuffed lounge chair with a reading lamp. Empty. Kristen reached for the doorknob on the coat closet but she waved her away, cautiously nudging the door open and examining the rack containing a parka, a slicker, and several lightweight jackets and sweaters. Parting the garments she searched behind them, both disappointed and relieved to find only boxes and a pair of boots.

Scully retraced her steps and turned right, pausing in front of the closed door.

"Why do I get the feeling I really, really don't want to know what's in there?" Kristen's eyes looked huge in her pale face.

Scully inclined her head, gesturing with her weapon. Kristen turned the knob and pushed, moving aside as Scully stepped around the corner and into the doorway, gun raised. Death, a faint suggestion in the hallway, became an overwhelming presence--in air heavy with the ripe odor of decay and in the motionless lump on the bed, shrouded by a bloody sheet.

Scully bypassed the bed to conduct a brief, cursory search of the bedroom and bath, but Kristen wandered closer, one hand pressed beneath her nose. She stretched out trembling fingers, halting just before they brushed the sheet. Jerking her arm back and tucking it close to her body, she shook her head.

"I can't. I... Oh, God, Dana, what if...?"

Scully moved past with a gossamer touch to Kristen's sleeve. Mulder's words echoed in her head: "Said he wouldn't leave...promised...but, he's...he's gone, Scully."

Grey. No.

She grasped the sheet firmly and drew it back, exposing the stiff limbs and contorted features of...a stranger.

All the air exited her lungs in a whoosh and she heard a smothered sob as Kristen sagged, swaying. Scully grasped her elbow.

"Are you all right?" When Kristen nodded, she continued, "I'm going to do a quick sweep of the rest of the house. Wait here."

Kristen's lips quivered in a precarious, wobbly smile. "I know it's illogical to feel any relief. I know Grey's out there somewhere, still at the mercy of a killer. But he's alive, Dana. He's alive."

Scully thought of Mulder, unconscious and bleeding in the back seat of the rental car. A bullet in his leg. Fingerprints on his throat. Left to die.

She looked at Kristen; mustered a weak smile. "I'll be right back."

Continued in Chapter 15