Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (3/?)
Great Smoky Mountains
"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
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
"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
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
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
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.
"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
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
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
"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,"
"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
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
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
"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
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