Blood Ties 10
Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (17/?)
By Dawn

Asheville Memorial
10:53 p.m.

If only it weren't so damn dark.

He creeps along, all senses on alert, Scully a vague shadow off to the right. The gun feels heavy, oily against his sweat-slick palm. The bass rumble of heavy machinery humming in his ears and vibrating the metal plates beneath his feet echoes the overpowering sensation of danger that thrums through his blood.

Evil is watching, waiting.

With a jolt of uneasiness, he realizes Scully has drawn ahead, her bright copper hair barely visible in the gloom.

Where is his flashlight?

He quickens his steps, even as a figure coalesces out of the shadows at her back. The shape dwarfs Scully's small form--huge, hulking, dark. The upraised knife glitters like a cold star.

Time slows to a crawl. He can't shoot--the monster and Scully are as close as lovers, though she remains unaware. He can't cover the distance quickly enough to arrest the blow. All he can do is warn her.

Terror fuels the cry that begins somewhere around his toes, swelling to an ear- splitting scream when it reaches his lips. "Scully, behind you!" He hears the words in his head, opens his mouth...

To silence.

Panicked, he tries again. And again. Each time, the words lodge in his throat, unspoken.

And the knife plunges in a smooth arc...

"Sculleeeee! Sculleeeee!"

"Shh! Mulder, wake up. It's a dream. You're having a bad dream."

Hands, gripping his shoulders. A pair of worried green eyes. The rapid beep of a heart monitor. Pain.

Mulder blinked, shivering as clarity seeped into his muzzy brain. He was sitting bolt upright, the sheet clenched in his fists and sweat trickling down his back. If the monitor was any indication, he'd just given his heart quite the workout.

"Just a nightmare, Mulder. Lay back now, before you hurt yourself."

Kristen was seated on the edge of the bed, a nurse hovering just over her shoulder. Relief smoothed the lines across her forehead when he allowed her to guide him back onto the pillows.

"Sorry." The word left his dry throat as a croak. "Water?"

Kristen nodded and reached for the pitcher.

"Where's Scully?"

All his perceptions seemed jumbled, mixed up, like a stack of file folders dumped onto the ground, their pages in disarray. The relentless pain in his leg and the residue of drugs in his veins conspired, making it harder to focus, to think.

Kristen offered the cup, holding it to his lips when his own hands proved too unsteady. The water slid easily down his sore throat, cool and soothing.

"Dana went to Raleigh, remember?"

Like the flick of a light switch, memory flooded his brain, driving back the cobwebs and illuminating the dark corners with frightening clarity. Scully had gone to rescue Grey, to trap a killer, and he'd never told her...

He locked his hand around Kristen's wrist, nearly spilling the cup of water. "Have to...I have to talk to Scully."

Kristen peeled away his fingers and set the cup on the tray table. "I spoke to her a couple hours ago. They were setting up the stakeout at the hospital. I don't know if there's any way to contact her now."

For the first time Mulder noticed the restless movement of Kristen's hands, one minute fiddling with the water pitcher, the next smoothing the sheets. Her gaze kept wandering to the clock on the wall and the silent phone.

"I'm sure she'll call as soon as there's any news," she continued, but the slight quaver in her voice betrayed the calm she was obviously attempting for his sake.

"No, you don't understand. This can't wait, it's important. I know who the killer is."

"It's all right, Mulder. I guess you weren't exactly coherent before when Dana tried to explain. We know who he is, too. Mark told us all about the murders, and how Grey..."

"Mark?" It felt like the bottom dropped out from beneath him. Mulder heard his heartrate soar through the pounding in his ears as well as the monitors. "Mark Preston?"

"That's right, Grey's partner. He was here earlier, but he went back to Raleigh with Dana." Kristen eyed the monitor, frowned. "Mulder, you have to calm down or the nurse is going to boot me out of here."

As if on cue, the ICU nurse was back, hypodermic in hand. The look she turned on Kristen was both irritated and reproachful. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to ask you to leave. Mr. Mulder is less than 24 hours out of surgery, he can't afford to become agitated like this."

"No!" Mulder struggled upright, snagging Kristen's sleeve for fear she might obey the woman's order. "Kristen, listen to me. We have to get word to Scully before it's too late. Mark Preston shouldn't be on that stakeout. He'll get her killed."

Impatience flared in Kristen's tired eyes. "That's hardly fair, is it? I know you don't trust anyone else to watch Dana's back, but in this situation you don't have a choice. Grey spoke...speaks very highly of Mark; he's a good cop."

Not to be ignored, the nurse stepped closer and began swabbing the IV port with an alcohol wipe. "Miss, I want you to leave. Now. Mr. Mulder, let go of her and lie back. You're going to tear your stitches if you aren't careful."

"This has nothing to do with how good a cop he is! The man who has Grey--it's his cousin. Do you hear me, Kristen? The killer is Mark Preston's cousin."

"Mr. Mulder, I'm going to give you something for the pain and to help you sleep..."

"Wait!" Kristen's hand shot out, waving the nurse away from the IV.

The woman, silver-haired and bearing the tough demeanor of a veteran, pursed her lips. "I will not wait. Now, I've asked you nicely to leave. If you persist in disrupting this ICU, I'll be forced to call security and have you forcibly evicted."

Kristen faced off across the bed, her own expression just as grim and determined. "I'm with the FBI. This man is a federal agent, and he has information vital to the apprehension of a serial killer. Now back off and let him talk."

The nurse's eyes flew open wide, and her lips formed a little "o" of astonishment before she turned and stalked out of the cubicle, muttering under her breath. Mulder sank back, panting, against the pillows, too relieved to find humor in Kristen's victory.

Kristen spared a brief glance at the nurse's stiff back before pinning him with a sharp glare. "Did I hear you correctly? Did you say that the man who has Grey is Mark Preston's cousin?"

Mulder nodded. "His name is Jake; Grey recognized him. That's how he knew where we were, how he was able to set us up."

"All those years ago--it was Mark's cousin killing those people? He...he did that to the man in the cabin? How could...what kind of monster is he?"

"A sick one. He's a sociopath who has a perfectly good reason for every terrible thing he's done--in his own mind, anyway. Kristen, if Mark sees him, if he finds out who his killer really is in the middle of the action..."

"Oh, God. You're right, of course, you're right." Kristen began to pace, her hands pressed to her cheeks. "What do we do? They could show up in the garage at any moment, if they haven't already."

"Call Scully's cell. Now."

Kristen seized the phone from the bedside table and punched in numbers as Mulder rattled them off. He watched, willing Scully to answer, as Kristen paced within the short reach of the cord. After a moment she cursed and slammed the receiver down.

"All I get is a message saying the cellular customer is unavailable. Mulder, they're in the garage under the hospital. It's a good bet the signal's not strong enough."

Mulder stared blankly at her for a moment, then snapped his fingers. "Call Skinner. There has to be a way to get ahold of him, he's an assistant director. He'll know how to get word to Scully."

Kristen nodded, expression tight. "I'll find him--even if I have to call Kim at home."

Mulder watched her scoop up the phone, only half listening as she proceeded to track Skinner like a bloodhound on the scent. His leg burned like fire, but for now the blessed relief of morphine was out of the question. There might be nothing more he could do for Scully and Grey, but he'd keep vigil until he knew they were both safe.

St. Alexius Hospital
Raleigh, NC
11:33 p.m.

"It's been more than a year since I've participated in a stakeout. I haven't missed it."

Scully watched Mark shift his long legs in a futile attempt to work out the kinks. They sat in a nondescript, Bureau-issue sedan about twenty feet from the elevators. The interior of the car was heavily shadowed--thanks to the removal of several fluorescent bulbs from the garage's overhead lights.

"The only aspect of the job more tedious than the paperwork." Scully leaned back against the headrest but continued to scan the area outside the car. "I usually have to fight Mulder for control of the radio. I'm afraid I've never understood the allure of listening to baseball."

"He's going to be all right."

It took Scully a moment to realize Mark was speaking of Mulder, not Grey.

When she didn't answer, he added, "Sure, it'll hurt like hell for a while. But he's safe now, and getting the best care."

"It's not his leg I'm worried about," she admitted, a bit surprised by her own candor.

"You're afraid how he might react if Grey...if something happens to Grey?"

"Mulder's...gone through a lot of hard times. More sorrow, more loss than any one man should have to bear. Finding Grey has made a huge difference in his life. If he loses him now..."

"He won't. We won't." Scully turned at the vehemence in Mark's voice; watched his fingers tighten in a white-knuckled grip on the wheel. "That man has been my partner, my friend, for nearly ten years. I'm not about to lose him to some sick little bastard carrying a grudge. Not as long as I can still draw breath."

Scully turned back to the window. What could she say? Mark's determination was admirable, but as law enforcement officers, they couldn't blind themselves to the cold, hard facts: the most dangerous thing about hostage situations was their inherent unpredictability. All the conviction in the world could be undone with one twist of the knife, one pull on the trigger.

"For what it's worth, Fox has made a big difference in Grey's life, as well." Mark nodded in response to Scully's raised brow. "Grey and Kate...I've never seen a bond like that. They were like two halves of a whole. Her death decimated him. There was a time I was afraid he'd never be able to pull himself together."

"But his parents, his sisters..."

"Oh, they--we--all tried our best to comfort him. And don't get me wrong, he got better. At least, I stopped worrying that he might do something crazy. But he'd lost a piece of himself somewhere along the way. He worked, he played--but it was as if he were on autopilot. The man I once knew, the spark, wasn't there any more.

"And then you and Fox showed up on his doorstep. And it was like..."

"Finding that missing piece," Scully murmured, eyes stinging.

Mark opened his mouth to answer when Scully's radio crackled to life. "Agent Scully? This is Henderson. What's your status?"

She raised the radio to her lips, grimacing at the clipped, cold tone to the SAC's voice. "Nothing to report, sir. Everything has been quiet so far."

"I'm patching in a call from Assistant Director Skinner. He says it's urgent he speak with you immediately."

Scully blinked, lifting one shoulder in reply to Mark's inquisitive stare. "Thank you, sir."

"Agent Scully?" Skinner's gruff baritone was followed by a brief burst of static.

"Yes, sir, I'm here. Is there a problem? Is Mulder all right?"

"Mulder is fine. Scully, there's something you need to know before..."

Mark's fingers wrapped around her neck and yanked downward until she was lying on her side, face pressed into the cushion and Mark's bulk draped over her back. Skinner's voice cut off midstream as the radio tumbled to the floor.

"Mark! What's going on? You're crushing me!" she hissed.

"A car just pulled in. I think it's our boy."

The weight on her eased and she cautiously lifted her head to see Mark peering through the windshield. "Are you sure? Why wouldn't Henderson have warned us?"

"Not sure. Must have slipped through. Maybe the fact there's only one person in the car fooled them."

"Maybe the fact that there's only one person means it's not our man. What makes you so sure this is our UNSUB?"

Mark pulled out his weapon, checked the clip, and slid it into the waistband of his pants. "A long time ago, when we were first partners, Grey and I came up with a signal, a kind of...of code, that we'd use to let each other know we'd landed in deep sh--trouble."

Scully carefully slid upright, her eyes glued to the still glowing taillights of the car now parked several rows from where they sat. "Go on." When Mark made a gesture with his right hand, she frowned. "That's it? You hold up three fingers?"

"Three. As in, three strikes I'm out. Last chance--get it?"

"And this relates to our"

"I was looking out the window while you were talking to A.D. Skinner. So I got a real good glimpse of that car when it drove past. It's filthy--a real dirtball. You ever used to write in the dirt on your parent's car, Dana? You know, like 'wash me' --stuff like that?"

"Every kid used to do that, what are you..." Scully broke off, eyes wide.

"Someone drew a number 3 on the passenger side door. Bit of a coincidence, don't you think?"

Scully reached for the radio, stopped by Mark's iron grip on her wrist. "Leave it. We wait for Henderson now, and it'll be too late."

"Procedure dictates..."

"Screw procedure! I'm going."

Mark opened his door and slipped out, using their car for cover as he circled around towards the suspect vehicle. Letting out a string of curses that would have impressed her brothers, Scully scooted across the seat and followed.

They converged at the back of the suspect's vehicle, a dilapidated Dodge with rusted paint and a plethora of dents and scrapes. Crouched behind the bumper, they could just make out the rumble of two voices in heated conversation. Mark tipped his head, expression triumphant.

"What'd I tell you? It's got to be them," he said, sotto voce. "You take the passenger side; I'll take the driver."

"Wait! What if..."

Sounds of a struggle erupted from within the car and Mark pulled his gun. "Now! Get into position. On the count of five, I'm making my move."

Frustrated with the way things had spiraled out of control, Scully watched Mark creep along the side of the car, then followed suit.

She silently counted to five, springing to her feet and bringing up her weapon as she heard Mark's shouted command.

"Out of the car, punk, hands where I can seem them!"

Several things happened at once, in a rapid-fire blur of images:

Grey's face through the window, unnaturally pale, eyes huge.

A hand wrapped around a large hunting knife, the blade pressed to Grey's throat.

The back of a dark head.

Mark's gasp--a guttural sound, filled with bewildered horror.


"Mark, look out!"

Mark's gun dipped for only a moment, but it was more than enough time for the man behind the wheel to act, flinging his door open so that it connected squarely with Mark's midsection. A sickening thud as metal connected with flesh and bone; Mark landed on his back, weapon flying from his fingers to skitter across the cement floor.

By the time Scully moved into position for a clear shot, it was too late. The dark- haired killer had Mark clutched to his chest, the tip of his knife dimpling the skin at the base of Mark's throat. He grinned toothily at Scully, putting his lips to the ear of the man in his grip.

"Hey, cous. Surprise!"

Continued in Chapter 18