Blood Ties 10
Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (19/19)
By Dawn

Asheville Memorial Hospital
11:49 a.m.

Grey paused outside the room, head cocked. Silence. He peeked inside, quietly wrapping his knuckles on the half-opened door. Dana startled, a light blanket falling from her shoulders as she sat up straight in the recliner. Her momentary confusion melted into a smile when she saw him hovering in the doorway. Motioning him inside, her sharp eyes cataloged the sling and his stiff gait.

"I didn't expect you so soon; you should be resting," she said sotto voce, then added grudgingly, "You look better."

"Darlin', I saw how I looked before, and the only direction was up. But if it makes you feel any better--I stopped by the house to clean up a bit, and I slept most of the way here. Kristen drove."

Scully peered over his shoulder. "Where is she?"

"In the waiting room, curled up on a comfortable couch--or what passes for one in this place. After all the driving she could barely keep her eyes open." He crossed to the bed where Mulder slept on, oblivious, and laid his hand on his brother's forehead. "Fever's gone," he murmured, more to himself than to Scully, then turned to search her face. "How is he?"

She stood, stretching her arms over her head, then gathered up the blanket and folded it into a neat square. "His condition is much improved, actually. The surgery went well and the infection seems to be under control. They moved him down from Intensive Care right after I got here this morning."

The line between Grey's brows betrayed his doubt. "I can tell he's a lot better than the last time I saw him. It's just... Fox is the guy with hair-trigger reflexes. How can he still be sleeping through all this?"

Scully returned to the recliner, motioning for Grey to pull up a chair. After a lingering look at his brother's pale face, Grey reluctantly complied.

"He was awake when I arrived at 5:30 this morning, Grey. From what Kristen and the nurses tell me, he stayed awake all night, refusing to sleep or accept pain medication until he could be absolutely certain you and I were all right. That refusal, while perhaps noble and stoic, made his transfer down from the ICU a very unpleasant experience. By the time we got him settled in this bed, he was exhausted and in agony, barely coherent. The nurse gave him a hefty shot of morphine and he's been out ever since."

"How could he be so stupid?"

Scully arched her eyebrows. "How indeed."

Grey flushed. "That's different. My injury wasn't life threatening. All I needed was a few stitches."

"THIRTY stitches. And a unit of blood."

"Yeah, well... I had to see Fox, and I couldn't very well do that from a hospital bed."

"Grey, it's wonderful that you love your brother and that you want to help take care of him. But you need to take care of yourself, as well. I'm here, and you know I'm not going to let anything..."

"You don't understand. I HAD to come. I owe him that much, after... He needs to see that I'm still here for him."

Scully had been kneading the back of her neck but her head snapped up at his words. Grey evaded her attempts to look into his eyes.

"Grey, you're not blaming yourself for any of this--are you?"

Grey stared out the window, jaw clenched. "I dragged him up there on that stupid camping trip; he never really wanted to go. Jake hurt him, nearly killed him, because of me. And as if that wasn't enough, when he was sick and scared and at his most vulnerable, I left him. I promised I wouldn't, but I did." He swallowed, at last turning to meet her eyes. "You tell me, Dana. Who else would I blame?"

Scully closed her eyes and expelled a long, slow breath, shaking her head. "You two are incredible. I'm actually starting to believe there's a gene that controls guilt."

"Hold on a minute..."

"No, you hold on. Your brother"--she jerked a thumb in Mulder's direction--"has been beating himself up because he didn't tell us about Jake sooner. According to him, you were injured--and could have been killed--because he dropped the ball. Are you sensing a pattern here, Grey?"

Grey's jaw dropped and he struggled for words, frowning. "That's crazy! He couldn't help..."

"Look, before we become immersed in this game of 'What's My Crime,' how about we all just lay the blame where it really belongs--on Jake Preston. He's the killer, Grey. He's the one who shot Mulder, kidnapped you, and tried to cut you to ribbons. If you and Mulder would just set aside your overdeveloped sense of guilt and look at things objectively, maybe you'd both see the truth."

"She's hot when she's angry...isn't she?"

The soft, raspy voice redirected their attention to the bed, where a pair of sleepy hazel eyes regarded them with amusement.

"Hey." Grey popped to his feet and moved to the bed, clasping his brother's hand. "It's about time you woke up. You're reputation as an insomniac is on shaky ground."

Mulder licked his lips; grimaced. "Why do the good drugs...make your mouth taste like cardboard?"

Grey reached for the cup, only to stare helplessly at the water pitcher.

"I've got it." Scully liberated the styrofoam from Grey's grasp and filled the cup with water.

Mulder drank eagerly, eyeing Grey's arm over the rim of the cup. He drained the liquid, waving off Scully's offer of more and tipping his chin toward the sling.

"That looks painful."

"It's not exactly a slug in the leg."

Scully rolled her eyes and set aside the pitcher. "I think I'll duck out for a cup of coffee. Feel free to talk amongst yourselves." She'd slipped out the door before either could formulate a reply.

Mulder let his head drop back onto the pillows, lips curved. "You know, I really hate to admit this, but Scully is right."

"That's easy to say from your perspective. Maybe you wouldn't feel the same if someone with a grudge against you hurt me," Grey pointed out, bitterness turning his relaxed drawl tight and harsh.

Mulder's fingers clamped onto his sleeve. "How can you say that? Grey, you were kidnapped because they mistook you for me. I know what you're feeling."

"You didn't leave me. You ignored your own health, nearly killed yourself, to find me and bring me home."

"If not for me, you never would have been taken, experimented on, in the first place."

Grey studied his face, then looked away, teeth gnawing viciously at his lip. "I didn't want to leave you, Fox. You have to believe that. It was the only way to give you a fighting chance."

"I know that. Hey." Mulder waited for his brother to look at him. "I'm sorry for what I said to you. I was half out of my head with pain and fever, Grey. I don't blame you for going with Jake. You had no choice."

Tears flooded Grey's eyes, and his voice dropped to a whisper. "I'm so sorry I brought you into that mess, Fox. I wish to God I'd never suggested that damn camping trip."

"Hey, at least one good thing came out of it. There's no way Crittendon can draft me into profiling for him now." When the attempt at humor fell flat, Mulder sighed. "Look, I'm never going to be Grizzly Adams, but it really wasn't that bad until Jake showed up--well, except for the outhouse, maybe. You were right, it's beautiful up there. I don't have anything against communing with nature, it's just...maybe next time we could do our communing on a tropical beach."

Grey's lips quivered and he let out a short bark of laughter. "You do have a terrible track record with wooded areas." He scrubbed at his face, fingers rasping over stubble and tears.

"How's Mark?"

"Still in shock, I think. And dealing with his own feelings of guilt."

"Understandable, I suppose. But none of us can assume blame for the actions of a family member." He chuffed quietly. "I may have an overdeveloped sense of guilt, but at least I've come to terms with that."

"A fact for which we are all grateful." Scully walked to opposite side of the bed, a cup of coffee in one hand.

Mulder eyed it, licking his lips. "I don't suppose..."

"Absolutely not. And you'll notice I didn't bring any for you, either," she told Grey. "You and Kristen both need some sleep. I'm told there's a hotel just down the street--a nice one, not the type Mulder usually picks."

Grey touched two fingers to his brow. "Yes, ma'am."

Mulder pressed a hand to his chest. "Scully, I'm hurt."

"I'm told the truth often has that effect, Mulder."

Mulder sustained his wounded expression for a moment longer, then turned to Grey. "Scully says Kristen was partially responsible for them coming after us so soon. She was convinced you were in trouble. I'd say we both owe her our thanks."

Grey smiled. "I owe her a lot more than that."

Mulder exchanged a long look with Scully. "You sound like you've had some kind of epiphany," he said to Grey.

His brother chuckled. "I'm not sure I'd go that far." He sobered. "It's not like I figured out something new or unexpected. More like I finally acknowledged something I've known for quite a while."

Mulder's voice was soft, unassuming. "Did you happen to share that with Kristen?"

"Yeah. Scared the hell out of me, but...yeah, I did." Grey turned a shrewd stare at Mulder. "We had a deal, little brother. Remember?"

Mulder looked at him blankly for a moment, then remembered their conversation on the way up to the cabin. His eyes darted to Scully and a slight flush rose in his cheeks. "I remember."

Scully arched an eyebrow but her words were as gentle as the fingers she slipped between his. "Something you want to share with me, Mulder?"

He looked at Grey, who gave a slight nod, then back to Scully. "Not here, Scully. But...yes. I guess I do."

She studied his expression, both determined and apprehensive, and squeezed his hand. "You know where to find me."

One corner of Mulder's mouth turned up in a weak smile that abruptly became a yawn. Grey slid off the mattress, wincing a little as he stretched the kinks from his legs.

"I think that's my cue to find Kristen and the hotel."

"Take Scully with you. You need a bed, not that chair," he told her firmly.

"I've got our rental downstairs. I'll go as soon as you're asleep. I promise," she added in response to his skepticism.

"I'll be back later, when we've all had a nap." Grey stopped near the doorway. "If you're a good little patient, maybe I'll even smuggle in some real food."

Mulder perked up considerably. "Thai?"

"Mulder!" Scully's voice held equal parts horror and amusement. "Soup," she told Grey.

"Sculleeee. I'm much better. How about Chinese?"

"You two complete negotiations. I'll check in with Dana before I come." Grey took a step, hesitated, his face suddenly open and vulnerable. "Fox, I..."

"Yeah. Me, too. Now go get some sleep."

Mulder waited until his brother had disappeared down the hallway before sliding lower in the bed, right hand moving restlessly across the mattress, his face tense and still.

Observing the searching fingers and perspiration-beaded forehead, Scully retrieved the button for the PCA pump and placed it into his hand. "Pain bad?"

"Only when I breathe."

"You should have said something, Mulder. You've been able to administer another dose for at least a half an hour." Concern more than anger clouding her tone.

Mulder pressed the button with an audible sigh. "Not while Grey was here. Scully, he's feeling enough guilt over me getting hurt; I'm not going to rub his nose in it."

Scully stroked the hair back from his forehead, watching the tension leave his face and body as the drug took effect. Mulder sighed, eyes shutting, then slowly opening to half-mast.

"'S it for me, babe. No more sparkling conversation."

"I'll just have to turn on Jerry Springer back at the hotel."

Eyes closed again, he was too far gone to laugh, but his lips curved. "Ya watch Jerry? Marry me, Scully."

She touched her lips to his forehead, then his mouth, nuzzling his cheek. "Too late, love. I already did."

Tucking the blanket up around his shoulders, she sank back into the recliner. A promise was a promise, and she fully intended to head out to the hotel for some real sleep. But for now--just for a little while--she'd indulge herself. Seeing the soft, untroubled expression on his face. Hearing the gentle rhythm of his breath.



AUTHOR'S NOTES: Whew! Well, this was another seemingly simple little tale that took on a life of its own. A huge thank you goes to Michelle, Vickie, Mary, and Deb for riding this rollercoaster with me, offering their talent and insights, and to Suzanne for her expertise in all things medical. Thanks, as well, to all out there who follow this series and who gently stalked me throughout the writing of this installment. Your words of encouragement really kept me going through a time when I feared the muse had packed her bags and left me--for good!