Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (4/?)
Great Smoky Mountains
"You're crazy." Mulder climbed over a fallen tree, the trunk
slippery with bright green moss. "They're not even in the same
Grey shifted his pack so that it rested more comfortably on his
shoulders. "Least we can agree on that."
"Batman had that utility belt with all the crime-fighting gadgets."
"Spidey could walk up the sides of buildings," Grey countered.
"And he had that whole web thing going for him."
Mulder rolled his eyes. "Like any crook with half a brain isn't
going to be able to get out of that sticky stuff. And what about
cars? Even you have to admit the Batmobile was way cool."
Grey shrugged, ducking under a particularly low branch. "It was
"Okay? Are you serious? I used to dream about driving a car like
that when I grew up." Mulder snorted indelicately. "Unfortunately,
I don't think Ford makes them."
"Not exactly Bureau issue, huh?"
Grey signaled for him to stop. Swiping at his sweaty brow with the
back of an arm, Mulder watched his brother take a swig from the
canteen before handing it over. The water was lukewarm and
slightly musty from the canvas, but the wetness slid easily down
his parched throat.
Grey slung the canteen back around his neck, squinting up at the
pale gold light filtering through the leaves. For at least the tenth
time that afternoon, he tugged the baseball cap off his head,
impatiently shoving wavy, sweat-dampened tendrils of dark hair
out of his eyes before replacing it. Mulder made no attempt to hide
"Just don't say it," Grey warned, poking a finger at his brother's
chest. "We've already established that I need a haircut. You start
calling me Shirley again and you're walking home."
Mulder pointedly gazed around them. "I wasn't aware I had a
"Not the cabin, little brother. Raleigh."
"Look at this way. It could be worse," Mulder deadpanned. "You
could have your buddy Walt's problem."
"Gee, thanks, Fox. Somehow that just puts it all in perspective."
Grey's gaze returned to the sky. "We'd better head back. Way I
figure it, we're about three or four miles out, and once that sun
starts to set it'll get dark pretty quickly."
"Fine with me. I'm getting hungry already. By the time we hike
back, I'll actually be desperate enough to eat that canned stew you
Mulder followed Grey as he began to loop back toward the cabin.
Despite his initial lack of enthusiasm for the camping trip, he'd
enjoyed the afternoon hike immensely. The hillsides were a
patchwork quilt of green, red, gold, and orange, some areas
breathtakingly brilliant. They'd happened upon a small waterfall
tumbling down a rocky gorge, where a simple drink had turned
into a water fight that left them both drenched but refreshed.
They'd observed two deer, a rabbit, half a dozen squirrels, and a
few unidentified birds with Grey's binoculars. And they'd laughed.
Distracted by his thoughts and a bootlace that had worked loose,
Mulder nearly toppled over Grey, who had stopped abruptly in the
middle of the trail.
"You might want to signal next time you... Grey? Is something
Grey didn't answer right away, his eyes scrutinizing the foliage as
he turned in a slow circle. "Thought I heard something."
"Could you be a little more specific? I hear a lot of things--birds,
the wind, my own feet." Mulder's eyes narrowed. "If this is another
attempt to spook me with killer wildlife..."
Grey gave a sharp shake of his head, eyes still scanning the brush
and ears tuned to catch the slightest sound. "Not this time."
Mulder frowned, stepping closer so that his shoulder brushed his
brother's and unconsciously mimicking Grey's vigilance. "You're
serious about this."
"I've had the strangest feeling all afternoon. Like we were being
watched." Grey shook his head again and smiled sheepishly. "It's
probably nothing. Maybe your paranoia is finally starting to rub off
on me." He resumed hiking and Mulder fell into step beside him.
"Hey, it's not paranoia if they're really out to get you."
"In your case, I think you have a point."
They reached the cabin without further incident just as the sun
dipped below the horizon, lengthening shadows shrouding the
clearing in near darkness. Grey was almost to the cabin door when
he jerked to a halt with a muttered curse. He stripped off his
backpack and tossed it onto the porch before stomping over to the
SUV, which was now sporting an extremely flat tire.
He crouched down, running a hand over the puddle of rubber.
"Damn. Must've hit something sharp on the way up here."
"Like when you nearly drove us into a ditch." Mulder peered over
Grey's shoulder, grunting when his brother's elbow dug into his
ribs. "You've got a spare, don't you?"
"Yeah. I'm not messing with it now, though, I'll run out of light
before I can even get this jacked up." With a final, black glare at
the tire, Grey stood and they walked back to the cabin.
"Tell you what--I'll make dinner. You just sit back and take it
easy." Mulder waved his hand magnanimously in the direction of
"I don't know if I can enjoy myself, thinking of you slaving away
in the kitchen. If you wind up with a blister from that can opener,
I'll never forgive myself." Grey dropped onto the cushions and
kicked off his boots.
Mulder ignored the jibe, divesting himself of both socks and boots
before padding barefoot into the kitchen. He fished two beers from
the refrigerator, whistled to grab Grey's attention, and lobbed one
toward the couch. Grey caught it neatly, tapping the top a few
times before opening it.
"What do we have to go with the stew?" Mulder opened the nearest
cupboard and began sorting through cans.
"There's a loaf of bread on the counter."
Further investigation produced a saucepan and can opener. Mulder
transferred the stew to the pot and turned on the stove, then
scanned the counter for the bread.
"No, there isn't."
Grey's head emerged from a copy of "Sports Illustrated." "Sure
there is. I put it right next to the dish soap."
Mulder picked up the bottle of yellow liquid and brandished it.
"Our hands will smell lemony fresh, but there's no bread in sight,
Grey heaved a longsuffering sigh, set aside the magazine, and
trudged over to the kitchen, grumbling under his breath. The line
between his brows deepened as his eyes swept the counter.
He tugged open first one cupboard, then the other, rummaged
through all three drawers and thoroughly examined the empty box
that had contained their supplies.
"This is crazy." Hands on hips, he glared suspiciously at Mulder.
"Fox, if this is your idea of a joke..."
Mulder held up both hands. "I like to think my sense of humor is a
little more sophisticated, though Scully might disagree. Are you
sure you didn't just forget to put it in the box? Maybe it's on the
counter back home."
"I guess it's possible." Grey's expression remained troubled.
"Damn. Now we have no bread for sandwiches tomorrow."
Mulder crossed to the stove and stirred the now bubbling pot of
stew. "So we make do with that box of crackers I saw and buy
bread when we drive into town tomorrow."
Grey's rigid shoulders relaxed. "Yeah. You're right. I just would've
sworn..." He shook his head and pulled two bowls from the
cupboard. "Let's eat."
An hour later, stomachs full and dishes washed, they sprawled in
front of the fire, Mulder on the couch and Grey on the floor, back
propped near his brother's legs. Darkness had quickly leached
away the day's warmth, but the blaze drove away the chill
sufficiently to keep the cabin comfortable.
"Sam loved it when we'd have a fire in the fireplace." Mulder's
voice was soft, pensive. He stared into the flickering yellow and
orange flames with a distant smile on his lips. "When she was
little, she couldn't understand why we didn't have them in the
summer. It would be ninety-five degrees outside, and she'd start
raiding the woodpile, bringing in logs."
"Sounds like a gal who knew her own mind," Grey mused.
Mulder snorted. "Why not call a spade a spade? She was about as
stubborn and pigheaded as they come. Once she got an idea in her
head, there was no discouraging her."
"Sounds familiar." Grey's chuckle turned into a guffaw when
Mulder flashed him an obscene gesture.
After several minutes of silence Grey tipped his head back so that
he could see his brother's face. "Are you still looking for the people
who took her?"
Pain flickered across Mulder's face like the flames over the logs. "I
made a promise to Sam after she was abducted. I vowed I'd never
quit until I either brought her home safely or caught her
murderers." His mouth twisted into a bitter grimace. "I've failed
miserably at both."
"You dedicated your life to finding the truth about what happened
to Sam," Grey replied. "In the end, that's exactly what you did.
How is that failure?" When Mulder didn't answer, he turned back
to the fire. "It's all right to put Samantha to rest now, Fox."
Mulder sighed and let his head drop onto the back of the sofa.
"There was a time when nothing was more important to me than
finding the truth and exposing the men who attempted to bury it."
A long pause. "Now, all of that pales in comparison to Scully
getting a clean bill of health from the doctor."
Grey sat forward abruptly, spinning to face his brother. "She's all
right, isn't she? There haven't been any signs of the cancer coming
back, have there?"
Mulder smiled, touched by the concern. "None so far. The doctor's
been monitoring her more carefully since the chip was removed.
According to him, she's the picture of health." The smile faded.
"But it's always there, like an uninvited guest. When she's more
tired than usual. If she skips a meal or two." He blanched. "When
she gets a bloody nose from a box falling off a shelf."
"How's she handling it?"
This time Mulder's chuckle was genuine. "A hell of a lot better
than I am. It pisses her off to no end if I get overprotective. Tells
me she won't live her life waiting for the other shoe to drop."
Grinning, Grey settled back into a more comfortable position.
"Yeah. I can hear her saying it, too. She's a lot like Kate was, you
know? Tough as nails when it comes to defending what she
"What about Kristen? She doesn't exactly strike me as a pushover,
either." Mulder's grin turned to a smirk. "From what I've heard she
went toe to toe with Skinner when we were trapped in the hospital
by the bomb blast. He wanted her to go back to the Bureau, but she
insisted on staying put until you were found."
Grey chuffed softly. "Yeah, I've run up against her a time or two
myself. Don't let her fool you. She's every bit as tenacious as Dana,
her methods are just a little more...subtle."
A comfortable silence, filled only by the hissing and popping of
the fire, fell between them. When Mulder spoke again his voice
was heavy with sleep.
"Are you happy, Grey?"
Grey turned, hooking one arm over his brother's outstretched legs
and leaning his cheek against the cushion. His gaze was abstracted,
contemplative, but the corners of his mouth turned up.
"Yeah. I guess I am." His voice held a touch of wistful surprise.
"Losing someone you love--it's kind of like breaking a leg, you
know? At first the pain is so overwhelming, you can't move, can't
function. It hurts too damn much. After a while folks start telling
you it's time to get back on your feet, but just the thought of trying
to walk again is frightening. You hobble around hurting, every step
a huge effort, certain that you're gonna fall flat on your face any
minute. And the really terrible part, the thing that keeps you awake
nights, is that you can remember how wonderful it once felt to run.
How effortless it was. And you know that you took it all for
"And life goes on like that. Some days are better than others. Until
one day you take a step, expecting to feel that same old stab...but it
never comes. So you take another step, and another, waiting for it
to hit, for that other shoe to drop. But it never does. And you
realize that maybe, just maybe..."
"You're ready to run again," Mulder murmured.
Grey's eyes jerked sharply to his brother's, then softened. "Yeah. I
think I might be. 'Course, I still get these twinges, now and then."
"Nobody said you had to start off with a marathon. The journey
starts with just one step, and all that. Give yourself credit for
getting back in the race, even if you're not quite ready to finish
"I'll keep that in mind." A grin spread slowly across Grey's face.
"Sometimes I forget that my brother's a shrink."
Mulder released an explosive breath of laughter. "Hey, I might as
well use the degree to help you. God knows, I've never been much
good at helping myself." He broke off in a jaw-cracking yawn.
"Looks like my cue to let you get some sleep." Grey gave the leg
under his hand a pat and stood, stretching both arms over his head
until his spine cracked.
Mulder blinked up at him. "I must be getting old; it can't be more
than ten o'clock."
"It's called fresh air, little brother. You should try it more often."
"I get fresh air." Mulder folded his arms across his chest and
clamped his lips into a thin line.
Grey huffed and shook his head. "I'm not talking about jogging
through the streets of DC, sucking in exhaust fumes." He sobered.
"You work too hard, Fox. You need to take more time, you and
Dana. You never did have a honeymoon, did you?"
"Yeah, we did. We went to California, remember?"
Grey's eyebrows disappeared beneath a tangled sweep of hair.
"You're kidding, right? Flying out to the coast to investigate a
supposed mermaid is not a vacation, little brother, let alone a
"It wasn't so bad. I got us a room at a really nice bed and breakfast
on the beach." When Grey's look of pity didn't fade, Mulder
scowled. "All right, all right. I've got a couple ideas in mind; I'm
planning on surprising her after this mess with the bombing is all
cleared up. And before you ask, no, none of them are remotely
connected to paranormal phenomena."
"He can be taught." Grey stifled a yawn and rubbed at his eyes
with the back of one hand. He hooked his thumb over his shoulder
at the back door. "Because I'm such a wonderful person, I'll let you
have first crack at the facilities before bed."
Mulder groaned pitifully and hauled himself upright. "I can't
believe I actually managed to forget that little detail." He wrinkled
his nose. "It's pitch dark out there. And cold--can't be more than 45
Grey extended a hand and tugged him to his feet. "See there? You
could have a promising career as a weatherman if your job at the
Bureau ever falls through."
"And if you're considering comedy, I wouldn't quit my day job,"
Mulder growled, snagging his jacket and ambling to the door. "If
I'm not back in five minutes..."
"I'll radio for search and rescue," Grey snickered.
Mulder paused outside the back door, gazing upward. The
cloudless night sky provided a velvet backdrop for thousands of
stars and a nearly full moon. The deep silence, broken only by the
occasional rustling of undergrowth or the distant cry of an owl,
made a sharp contrast to the twenty-four hour bustle of busy DC
streets. He drew in a long, slow breath of the crisp air and sighed,
slightly amused by the thought that dwarfed all others.
Wish you were here, babe.
He shivered, stuffing his hands into his pockets and crossing the
grass to the small but functional shack. He was in the process of
reaching for the handle, thoughts still wrapped up in the
surrounding beauty and Scully, when the stench of blood hit his
nostrils and he froze, eyes dropping to the shadowed ground in
front of the door.
At first glance it was little more than a ball of bloody fur, torn and
shredded almost beyond recognition. Clumps of hair, bone, and
flesh littered the grass, puddles of blood soaking into the earth.
One glazed eye stared sightless upward, the lips pulled back from
gleaming teeth in a final snarl. The pointed ears, long snout, and
rust-colored fur testified that it had once been a fox.
Mulder dropped to a crouch, swallowing hard. He'd seen his share
of gruesome crime scenes, but the brutal dismemberment of any
creature--whether human or animal--never failed to disturb him. In
the darkness, surrounded by wilderness and surveyed by hidden
eyes, it caused a chill to race up his spine.
"Fox? You okay?"
Grey's warmth and solidity at his back chased away the shadows.
His brother took a long look at the carcass and walked away,
returning moments later with a large stick. Mulder watched silently
as Grey shoved the bloody mess out of sight around the corner of
"I'll bury it in the morning," he said, watching Mulder closely.
"Kind of spooked you, huh?"
Mulder lifted one shoulder, a bit embarrassed by his reaction. "Not
what I expect when going to take a leak." He scuffed some dirt
over the bloody residue with one toe. "What would do something
Grey shrugged. "Something bigger and hungrier, I guess. This is
nature, Fox. You know, kill or be killed?"
Mulder frowned. "I'm not completely ignorant, Grey, I know how
it works. But that..." He shook his head. "From what I could see,
whatever killed that didn't eat it. Just...shredded it."
"Yeah." Grey cast a quick glance at the woods. "Well, no one ever
said nature was kind." He lifted an eyebrow. "Now are you gonna
use that or am I?"
It broke Mulder out of his daze and he grinned. "Patience, Bubba.
Give me a minute, and then it's all yours. You can even take that
magazine you were reading in with you."
Mulder watched him walk back to the cabin before taking hold of
the handle and tugging open the door. The blood at his feet
gleamed black in the moonlight. He stepped carefully over the
puddle, unable to shake his feeling of disquiet or the pall that had
dropped over a once pleasant evening.
Continued in Chapter 5