Blood Ties 10
Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (15/?)
By Dawn

Asheville Memorial Hospital
10:21 a.m.

The high-pitched trill of her cell phone pulled Scully from a restless doze. She fumbled it out of her pocket with sleep-drunk fingers, nearly poking herself in the eye with the antenna as she lifted it to her ear.


"Agent Scully. I was hoping you could give me an update on Agent Mulder's condition and the search for his brother." Skinner's voice drove away the remaining cobwebs, straightening her spine.

She stood and paced slowly over to the double doors, tucking a particularly unruly lock of hair behind her ear. "Of course, sir. He's in surgery at the moment to remove the bullet."

"How bad is it?"

Scully let her eyes slip shut, head bowed, bombarded by memories of the nerve- wracking ambulance ride from the clinic in Spring Creek to Asheville Memorial. Ironically, Mulder's exposure to the icy rain had served to temporarily counteract both the high fever and the inflammation from his infected leg. By the time Kristen had driven them back down the mountain, however, he was delirious, his skin on fire. It had been all she could do to keep him from thrashing about and further injuring his leg.

"It's.... He's not good, sir. They think the bullet fractured his right femur. Lack of medical treatment coupled with less than sanitary conditions caused infection to set in rapidly and gain a firm hold. In addition, he's lost a significant amount of blood. The body--even a healthy one--can't sustain an assault on multiple systems for long. He's very weak." Part of her was proud of her nearly clinical detachment; part of her was horrified.

A pause while Skinner digested her words. "Has he been able to tell you anything more about what happened, or where Grey might be?"

"I'm afraid not. He did a lot of talking in the ambulance, but very little of it made sense. Forensics is going over the cabin as we speak. The local bureau in Charlotte sent out a team immediately. An agent by the name of Henderson is in charge." Scully massaged the ache above her left eye. "A warning, sir. You may get a call from Sheriff Edwards in Spring Creek. He...ah...wasn't pleased when I ordered him off the investigation."

"I'll take that under advisement. Of course, I'll be forced to point out that if his man could tell his ass from his elbow such measures wouldn't be necessary. In fact, we might have avoided this whole mess." Skinner's sarcasm faded to gruff concern. "I spoke with SAC Larraby. You've been officially relieved of duty on the Englewood bombing. He asked me to convey his thanks for all your hard work, and that he understands you're more urgently needed elsewhere."

The unexpected kindness of the gesture rocked her tenuous composure, but Scully hung on. "I appreciate that, sir."

Another, longer pause, and she could almost picture the small muscle twitching along his jaw. "Stay in contact. I'm doing everything I can from this end."

"Thank you."

Scully slipped the phone into her pocket and turned around, confronted with a styrofoam cup and Kristen's weary, halfhearted attempt to smile. "Taste it before you thank me. I thought coffee like this was against the Hippocratic oath. First, do no harm...?"

"I'm hardly in a position to be choosy." Scully took a sip, winced. "At least it's hot." She eyed Kristen over the rim of the cup. "Any news?"

Kristen shrugged. "I talked to Henderson, but he was pretty tight-lipped. They've come up with four distinct sets of prints, some on the dead man. His identity has been confirmed as Chris Peterson, the owner of the cabin. The preliminary estimate for time of death is late Saturday night, early Sunday morning." She sank listlessly into a hard plastic chair. "All very interesting, but it doesn't put us any closer to finding Grey."

"It's a start. Once they run the prints..."

The double doors to the surgical wing snapped open, derailing Scully's thoughts. She scrutinized the approaching surgeon's face and body language as a Rosetta stone for the verdict he was about to deliver.

"Dr. Hawkins. How is he?"

Hawkins, a forty-something orthopedic surgeon with slick, dark hair, roving eyes, and a condescending smile had evidently played hooky on the day they taught bedside manner. "Truthfully, not much has changed since we last spoke, Dr. Scully. I removed the bullet. As the x-rays indicated, it had grazed the femur, fracturing the bone. Our real concern, however, is that the wound has gone septic. I've left the wound open and started him on intravenous antibiotics--we'll worry about setting the leg if we get the infection under control."


Hawkins eyes, which had been focused on her chest, crawled up to her face. "Excuse me?"

"When you get the infection under control. Not if."

Hawkins frowned, then waved his hand dismissively. "Of course, of course."

"When can I see him?"

"He's still in recovery. We'll be moving him to the ICU shortly. One of the nurses will come and get you once he's settled in."

"It's very important I see him as soon as possible."

Hawkins practically rolled his eyes. "Where's the fire? Between the fever and the anesthesia it's highly unlikely he'll be conscious, let alone lucid. Look, I know you're worried about your husband, but the best thing you can do..."

"Agent Mulder is the only person who can shed some light on the whereabouts of a kidnapped police detective. Every hour that passes, every minute, the trail grows colder. And a man's life hangs in the balance." Scully's frigid glare actually drove him a half step backward. "That's the fire, Dr. Hawkins. Now can I expect your cooperation or do I need to speak to someone in authority?"

"That won't be necessary." Hawkins tugged the surgical mask from around his neck and crumpled it in his fist. "I'll inform the nurses of the...unusual circumstances behind your request. I assure you, it will be honored."

"Thank you."

Scully watched his rigid back disappear through the doors, the blood pounding in her ears. She slowly turned back toward Kristen, expecting to find her still hunched in the uncomfortable chair. Instead, she appeared to be deeply engaged in conversation with a stranger. They both looked up as she approached, Kristen's haunted, red-rimmed eyes matched by the man's equally grim gaze.

"Dana." Kristen darted a glance at the stranger, then smoothed her fingertips across her cheeks, brusquely brushing away tears. "How is he?"

"In recovery. I should be able to see him soon." She carefully studied the man as she spoke.

Tall, his sandy hair was close cropped in a style reminiscent of Mulder's "weed- whacker" days. He had the stocky, muscular build of a football player, the square jaw and formal bearing of a marine. Though he was dressed simply in faded jeans and a worn leather jacket, she detected a slight bulge at his hip that suggested a weapon.

"Dana, this is Mark Preston--Grey's partner? Mark, this is Dana."

"Of course." Scully's hand was engulfed in a surprisingly gentle grip. "I've heard a lot about you from Grey."

"Me, too." A hint of humor softened his expression. "I've been giving him a hard time for a while now because I still haven't met his brother. Told him I'd decided the guy was a figment of his imagination. He said if he was going to conjure up an imaginary brother, he'd sure as heck pick a more believable name than Fox."

"That sounds like Grey." Scully stole a quick look down the hallway before continuing. "I don't know how thoroughly you've been briefed on the situation." She frowned. "In fact, I'm surprised you were able to get here so quickly."

"Agent Scully--Dana, I know more about this mess than you think." Preston paused, then gestured that they all sit down. When they had each claimed a chair, he continued.

"I got a call from the bureau in Charlotte at the crack of dawn this morning. They arranged for a helicopter to fly me out here ASAP."

Scully arched an eyebrow. "That seems unusually...solicitous."

"My emotional well being had nothing to do with it. They contacted me as soon as they heard about the condition of Peterson's body, because they realized exactly what they were dealing with. And with Grey out of the picture, I'm the closest thing to an expert."

Kristen looked into her cooling cup of coffee; set it down with a thump. "I don't understand. What are you trying to tell us? I got the impression when I talked to Henderson that something else was going on here, that he knew more than he would say. Now you're making cryptic remarks, hinting that you know who took Grey. Just give it to us straight, because I'm sick and tired of everyone beating around the bush."

Scully put a steadying hand on her arm. "Kristen..."

"It's okay, she's right. I suppose I do sound as if I'm stringing you along, but it isn't intentional. I'm still struggling to deal with all this myself. See, that phone call this morning brought back an old nightmare I'd thought Grey and I had put behind us."

Mark took a deep breath, then slowly, haltingly began to talk. He described the string of grisly murders, their attempts to work with the FBI in creating a profile, and Grey's final confrontation with the killer in the hospital parking garage. By the time he'd finished, Kristen was white-faced and silent.

"So we've been proceeding from the wrong assumption," Scully murmured. "This guy was never after Mulder in the first place. Grey was his target."

The muted squeak of crepe soles caught her attention and her head swiveled toward the nurse headed in their direction. The woman's eyes scanned the group, fastening on Scully's copper hair.

"Doctor Scully? If you'll follow me I'll take you to your husband now. Dr. Hawkins left instructions that you can have fifteen minutes with him. After that you'll be expected to comply with the usual schedule of five minutes per hour."

Scully was on her feet and had taken two steps before catching herself and turning back to Mark and Kristen.

"We'll be right here," Kristen said, her voice rusty but firm. "Give Mulder my love and..."

Scully nodded, a sharp bob of her head. "I know. I'll do my best."

"He's been in and out since recovery." The nurse's brisk stride, twice as long as Scully's shorter legs could manage, had her nearly trotting to keep up. "Don't be alarmed if he doesn't make much sense or keeps asking the same questions. His temperature is elevated and he's receiving strong pain medication; as you know, some disorientation is to be expected."

"How high is the fever?"

"The last reading was 103.4. We're monitoring it closely. If it continues to rise..."

The woman's voice faded to an indistinct drone as the still figure behind a pane of glass filled all Scully's senses. She stepped into the cubicle, cataloguing the output from each piece of machinery before walking to the bed.

Slipping her cool fingers between Mulder's, she watched his eyes flicker beneath closed lids. Though he was still a far cry from the man who had kissed her good- bye just four days previous, transfusions had already bestowed a hint of color to his pale cheeks.

"What are we doing here, Mulder? We had a deal."

Like a flower seeking sunlight, Mulder turned toward her voice. His tongue slipped out to moisten dry lips and he grimaced. "Scuh...Scully?"

"Right here, love."

He swallowed, shivering. "Where...?"

"You're in the hospital. You were shot, remember?"


Scully stroked her fingers along the tender underside of his arm. "I know. They're trying to keep your temperature down." She glanced through the glass at the hovering nurse; leaned closer. "Mulder, the man who shot you still has Grey. Do you know where he was taking him?"

Mulder's eyes slid open to half-mast and his hand jerked from her grasp. "Grey. Don't...don't go with him."

Scully placed one hand on his forehead, trying to still his restless movements with the other. "Shhh. Calm down, Mulder. Where? Where did Grey go?"

"Where went wrong."

She kept her voice low, reassuring. "You have to help me, I don't understand. Do you mean when you were shot?"

"Not like the others...promised." Fingers plucking fretfully at the sheet, his eyes looked through her, focused on a truth she could neither see nor comprehend.


"Hurts, Scully."

"I know it does, but..."

"What happened? Where 'm I?" His voice thinned, the words slurring.

Scully bit her lip, shoulders curled under a crushing weight of helplessness. She moved her hand down to cup his hot cheek, thumb sweeping slowly back and forth.

"Shhh. You're in the hospital. You need to sleep, Mulder. Let go and don't worry. Everything will be all right, I promise."

He leaned into her touch with a sigh, fingers quieting, eyes fluttering shut. "No promises...Scully. Jus'...jus' stay."

Within seconds he'd drifted off again and the nurse loomed in the doorway.

"I'm sorry, Dr. Scully, but your time is up."

"I know. I was just leaving."

Scully took her hand from his cheek, replacing it briefly with her lips. Walking away from him was almost as hard as confronting the hopeful faces in the waiting room.

Kristen studied her cautiously, the animation draining from her expression. "He couldn't tell you anything."

"He tried, I think. It just doesn't make any sense."

"What did he say?"

"He said our killer was going to take Grey 'where it went wrong.' Whatever that means." Scully folded her arms tightly across her chest, struggling with an irrational burst of irritation with Kristen. "He's sick and in pain. He can't even remember he's in a hospital, let alone what happened to his brother."

Kristen appeared too preoccupied to acknowledge the sharpness of Scully's reply. "Could he be talking about where their camping trip went wrong? Maybe where he was shot?"

"I doubt it," Mark answered. "The theory is that Fox was shot somewhere along the road as he and Grey attempted to hike to Spring Creek--not a likely location to take a hostage. This guy pulled off four murders without getting caught, then laid low for nearly six years. He's managed to overpower a police detective and a federal agent. That takes cunning and careful planning, down to the smallest detail. He wants Grey for something. Wherever he's taken him, it wasn't a random, spur of the moment decision."

Scully, who had been watching Mark intently while he was speaking, caught her breath. "Wait a minute. You said Grey was responsible for preventing the last murder, didn't you? A doctor?"

Mark nodded, light seeping into his eyes. "That's right. He interrupted the killer before he could finish the job. The doc lived--barely."

"Up until that point, everything was going smoothly for the killer. He'd had both the pleasure gained from the murders, and the satisfaction of making the police look foolish. But Grey changed all that. He did more than just prevent our UNSUB from finishing with the doctor. He forced him to stop killing altogether and go into hiding. What if that's what Mulder meant? What if that's 'where everything went wrong'?"

"The parking garage at the hospital? Do you really think he'd be crazy enough to go back there?" But Mark's voice was hopeful.

"Serial killers can be almost superstitious about the mode and method of the act. And you yourself said this guy has issues with success. Grey stole his thunder that night in the garage, grabbed the media's attention and became the star. What better way to take it all back?"

Mark pulled out a cell phone. "I'll call Henderson. He can assemble a team and..."

Scully's hand shot out and clamped over his wrist. "Wait. Let's think about this."

"Think about it? What's there to think about? If we move fast, just maybe we can beat this guy at his own game, get there ahead of him."

"I agree. But this has to be handled with kid gloves. As you said, this guy is smart and he plans ahead. We have to proceed quickly but quietly, without betraying that we're on to him. One misstep, the slightest hint of a set up, and things will turn ugly."

"You think Henderson doesn't know that?"

"I think I don't know SAC Henderson, or anything about the way he operates. I think I'm not willing to place my brother-in-law's life in the hands of a stranger."

Mark shook his head. "Grey once said you and his brother were the two most paranoid people he'd ever meant. I thought he was joking." He stared at the phone in his hand, then slipped it into his pocket. "All right. What do you suggest we do? And please don't say handle it ourselves, because I stopped operating under the delusion that I was supercop at least ten years ago."

Scully pulled out her own phone. "I'm a trained federal agent, Detective Preston. I don't intend to enter a hostage situation without reinforcements. But I do intend to be the one running the show."

Continued in Chapter 16