Blood Ties 10
Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (3/?)
By Dawn

Great Smoky Mountains
12:36 p.m.

"Whoa, whoa, whoa. Hold on just a minute! Dana did what?" Grey somehow managed to keep one eye on the twisting dirt road while darting incredulous looks at his brother.

"You heard me. She ate a cricket. At least, it looked like she ate it." Mulder's mouth turned up and his eyes went soft, an expression Grey called his "Dana Face." "I've always suspected she really palmed it, but she won't admit anything."

Grey slowly shook his head. "Only you would be investigating murders committed by a sideshow freak's evil midget twin. You know, getting someone like Dana for your partner was really a one-in-a-million longshot, little brother. You're just plain lucky."

Mulder turned to gaze out the window, his eyes barely registering the sporadic splashes of orange, red, and gold among the still lush foliage. "You won't get any argument from me." He snickered. "I just wish I could have seen that cigarette-smoking bastard's face when he first realized that instead of putting a gun to my head, he'd only managed to shoot himself in the foot."

"Not one of his better days, I'm sure." Grey stole a quick peek at his brother before anchoring his eyes on the road. "'Course I wouldn't be feeling too smug. It still took you six years to admit Spender gave you a helluva lot more than just a great partner. If I hadn't come along, you'd probably still be in denial."

Mulder's head whipped around and his eyebrows skyrocketed. "Excuse me? Are you actually trying to tell me you're responsible for Scully and I beginning a romantic relationship?"

Grey inclined his head, expression smug. "My mamma always told me to accept credit where credit was due."

"You're delusional! I told Scully how I really felt about her. Okay, so I happened to be drugged at the time--the words still came out of my mouth. I certainly don't see where you come into the picture."

Grey shook his head, snicking his tongue against his teeth. "How quickly they forget. Tell me, Fox. Who was responsible for getting you two involved with that case in the first place?"

"You were. So what?"

"So you never would have been bitten by that creature if not for me--right?"


"And because you were bitten, whatever drug was present in that creature's saliva lowered your inhibitions--right?"

Mulder's eyes narrowed. "So?"

"So you said things to Dana, poured your heart out to her and confessed your true feelings, because you were too high to know any better. Which encouraged Dana to come clean about her own feelings." Grey waved the hand not gripping the steering wheel. "And the rest, little brother, is history."

Mulder laced his arms across his chest and scowled at Grey. "Your whole case is built on the premise that I would never have told Scully I loved her without the use of narcotics. You can't possibly prove such an allegation."

Grey snorted indelicately. "You are so full of it! How many times did I not-so-subtly suggest it was time you took the plunge? 'It's complicated, Grey.' 'She deserves better than what I can give her.' 'I don't want to risk our partnership.'" Grey mimicked his brother's voice with eerie accuracy. "Face it, Fox. If not for the werewolf from hell--and by extension, me--you and Dana would still be dancing the same old dance. Solo."

Mulder opened his mouth, then snapped it shut, jerking his head to the right so that he could glare at the passing trees and not his brother's face. Grey, of course, wouldn't let it go.

"Don't thank me. I was glad to help."

Caught between laughter and irritation, Mulder settled for a mixture of both. "You know, you're hardly the one to be lecturing me about relationships," he pointed out. "People who live in glass houses should stick to basketball or a good game of darts."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

Mulder turned, bracing his back against the passenger door so that he could see Grey's face and stretch his legs. "It means we all carry the ghosts of past relationships with us, Bubba. But then, I don't have to tell you that, do I?"

Grey's eyes darted to his face and the car swerved a bit, hitting a large pothole with a bone-jarring thump. Swearing under his breath, he navigated the car back to a smoother section of road. When he finally spoke, his voice was very soft.

"I've been up front with Kristen from the very beginning. You know that."

Mulder tipped his head back against the window, wishing he could take back his own words. "Yeah."

The gentle tone of his voice seemed to make Grey more defensive. "I do love her."

Mulder couldn't help himself. Grey had always been honest, even if it hurt. He deserved no less. "But you haven't been able to tell her."

Grey's lips thinned. "Not in so many words."

"How many do you think you need? Last time I checked, it only took three." When Grey only hunched further over the steering wheel, Mulder reached across to lay one hand on a rigid shoulder. "I'm sorry. This really isn't any of my business. Like you said, I'm hardly an expert on relationships."

"It's okay." Grey sighed. "When I vowed to love and honor Kate till death parted us, I never pictured it happening so soon. She was everything I'd ever wanted or needed out of life. I always figured I'd be the one to go first, or at the very least, I'd be an old man with one foot in the grave."

"I know you must realize that loving Kristen isn't betraying Kate's memory."

Grey chuckled, but the sound was flat and without humor. "Here," he said, tapping his index finger against his temple. "But here..." He laid the same hand over his heart and slowly shook his head. "I can tell Kristen she's beautiful. I can tell her that she's important to me and I want to be with her. I can even tell her she makes me happier than I've been in a long time. But when I try to speak those three little words they get all tangled up somewhere between my heart and my mouth." He cast a sideways glance at Mulder. "Pathetic, huh?"

"You're asking the guy who needed drugs to pull off the same feat," Mulder reminded him, pleased when Grey's laughter turned warm and genuine. He removed his hand from his brother's shoulder but left his arm across the seatback. "Look, I know Scully loves me--she married me, and even for a slightly lapsed Catholic that's a heavy commitment. My brain knows she's in this relationship for the long haul, that she plans to keep filing my Alien Abduction magazines alongside her medical journals..." His voice trailed off and he stared out the windshield.

"But?" Grey prodded.

"When I wake up in the middle of the night, and the other side of the bed is empty and cold, for just a minute..." A long pause. "For just a minute, I think maybe she's had enough. That she's finally realized what everyone eventually figures out--that Fox Mulder requires a hell of an emotional investment with dubious returns. And then the water runs in the bathroom, or the teapot whistles in the kitchen, or I see the glow of the reading lamp in the living room. And all of a sudden I can breathe again."

Grey's eyebrows knitted together. "I don't know why it's so hard for you to get it through your thick skull that Dana and I aren't going anywhere, Fox. You have to start accepting the fact that you deserve happiness."

Mulder didn't reply, simply turned his head with an exaggerated motion toward his brother and raised an eyebrow.

Grey glared at him. "That was dirty pool."

Mulder shrugged. "Maybe. Like I said, we've all got our ghosts. You've weathered a few bumps in the road with Kristen; I'm sure if you just give yourself some time you'll get past this one."

A smile spread slowly across Grey's face. "I'll master those three little words and you learn to just roll over and go back to sleep."

Mulder's mouth twisted into a wry grin. "You first."

Grey's retort cut off when he abruptly spun the steering wheel hard to the left, nearly pitching Mulder onto the floor. One of the tires slipped briefly into the ditch at the side of the road and the SUV tipped precariously before righting itself with a spray of gravel. Mulder clung to the door handle and glowered at his brother.

"What in the hell are you trying to do, drive us off the mountain?"

"Sorry, I almost missed the turn. This should take us right up to the cabin."

Two minutes later Grey pulled the truck up to a small and rather rustic cabin nestled in a clearing. Constructed of logs, a long porch ran the length of the front and a stone chimney peeked over the roof in back. Grey shut off the engine and turned to Mulder with the smile of a proud parent.

"There! Isn't it perfect? A little home away from home right smack dab in the middle of all this beauty."

Mulder eyed the cabin sourly. "That bears absolutely no resemblance to my home." He leaned forward to take a closer look, then poked his finger at a small shack about 50 feet from the back door. "Tell me that's not what I think it is."

Grey offered him a toothy grin. "Just think of it as another opportunity to commune with nature."

Mulder moaned and flung open his door. "I can't believe I let you and Scully talk me into this."

"I told you we'd be roughing it." Grey's voice remained patient, if amused, as he popped the hatch and tossed Mulder his duffel bag. "What did you think I meant?"

Mulder shrugged. "I dunno--no cable?"

"You're impossible. Look, we'll be fine. There's a pump that brings water into the kitchen and a small shower, and a generator for the lights. It's even got a little refrigerator."

"Sounds like the Hilton." Mulder looked from the cabin to his brother, who had ceased unloading his own bag, hands propped on hips and brow furrowed. With a sigh he hefted the duffel over his shoulder and raised both hands. "All right, all right. I'll try to keep an open mind."

Grey's shoulders lost a little of their stiffness as he retrieved his own gear and shut the trunk. He slung one arm around his brother's neck and they walked companionably to the front door.

"Mark was just up here a couple weeks ago. He assured me that everything is in working order, and promised we'd have a great time. After all, the grizzlies are usually hibernating by now." When Mulder jerked to a halt and gaped at him in horror, Grey dissolved into laughter.

"I'm kidding, Fox, it was just a joke! There aren't any grizzlies around here, and as long as we don't leave food or garbage laying around the wildlife won't bother us."

"You're a real comedian; you ought to take that act on the road," Mulder growled.

"Just making up for thirty-seven lost years, little brother." Grey was still snickering to himself as he slipped the key into the lock, frowning a little when the door swung open without the click of tumblers turning. "That's odd. I know Mark always keeps this place locked up."

"So he forgot. Probably distracted by a grizzly." Mulder brushed past his brother and dropped his bag, turning slowly to survey the interior.

To the left of the door a huge stone fireplace dominated a spacious living area. The plain but comfortable furnishings included a couch and an old fashioned wooden rocking chair; a thick, colorful braided rug covered the hardwood floor. To the right of the door was a small but functional kitchenette, including a table and two chairs.

Grey dumped his duffel next to his brother's, then carried the box containing canned goods and other nonperishables into the kitchen and began unloading them. "You can have the bed," he called over his shoulder when Mulder stuck his head into the small sleeping quarters adjacent to the greatroom.

"Nah, I'll be fine on the couch." Mulder ambled by the fireplace, examining a painting over the mantle of Canadian geese in flight and fingering a ceramic container of matches before joining Grey in the kitchen.

Grey handed him several cans and gestured toward a cupboard. "You sure? You must be out of practice by now."

Mulder chuffed a little. "It's like riding a bike--you never forget. Besides, I'd rather stay close to the fire. You never know when a grizzly might decide he's sick of hibernating."

Though his brother's tone was dry, Grey paused to scrutinize his face. "Still? I thought maybe now, with Dana..."

Mulder didn't pretend not to understand. Instead he pasted on a smile, but his eyes dodged Grey's. "You're asking an awful lot of Scully, don't you think? My nightmares are thirty-nine years in the making--she's only had six months." When Grey didn't respond he chanced a look at his brother's face. Compassion, not pity, softened the features. "They're better, Grey. Really. Stop worrying."

Grey regarded him for a moment longer, then one corner of his mouth turned up in a lopsided grin and he tossed Mulder a tin of coffee. "All right, you can have the fireplace. Least I can do since there's no cable."

"You're all heart."

Once they'd emptied the box, Grey set about firing up the generator and Mulder brought in several armfuls of wood from the pile against the side of the cabin. Grey came through the back door, wiping grease from his hands onto an old rag, to find his brother glaring at his cell phone.

"I told you that was never gonna work." He walked across the room and flicked the switch on a lamp, beaming in satisfaction when the bulb glowed obediently. "You may as well use it for a paperweight while we're up here. That's about all it's good for."

"It was worth a try," Mulder grumbled. "Just looking for some link to the civilized world."

"Miss her already, huh?"

Grey ducked, narrowly avoiding an elbow to the gut, and beckoned his brother over to a desk tucked into the corner. He rolled back the top, exposing a shortwave radio. "In case of emergency," he said, turning a large knob. "You can talk to Dana tomorrow afternoon when we drive into town for..." He seemed to lose track of his own words, a line appearing between his eyes.

"What?" Mulder's brow furrowed, mimicking his brother's, and he leaned in closer to watch Grey fiddle with various buttons and knobs.

"It's not working. Something's wrong."


"I don't know. Preston taught me the basics of radioing for help, not how to repair it if it broke!" Grey's smooth drawl turned sharp with annoyance. After several minutes of fruitless attempts to coax the radio to life, he smacked the top with the flat of his hand and cursed through clenched teeth.

Mulder grinned. "I'm pretty sure radios can't do that--even when they're functioning." When Grey's expression remained cross, he tossed his cell phone on top of the radio. "Looks like we've got another paperweight. We'll probably never miss it anyway--unless you'd devised some method of contacting Tippi that I don't know about."

It did the trick. Grey abandoned his quest to resurrect the radio, turning to stab a finger in Mulder's chest. "We're cut off from the rest of the world, Fox. I'd watch my mouth if I were you."

Mulder folded his arms. "I'm a trained FBI agent. I'm not worried."

"Oh yeah? Well, you should be."

"Why is that?"

Grey's glare turned into a wolfish grin and he pulled a keyring from his jacket pocket, dangling it in front of his brother's face. "'Cause I got the key to the padlock on the outhouse."

Continued in Chapter 4