Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (5/?)
Great Smoky Mountains
He'd just finished tying his boots when the cabin door opened, then
shut with a resounding bang that rattled the pictures on the walls.
Mulder craned his head over the back of the couch to find Grey
standing with arms folded and a thunderous expression on his face.
"Grey? What's wrong? Are you having trouble with the spare?"
"No, I'm not having trouble with the spare." Grey spoke through
tightly clenched teeth. "There is no spare."
"What?" Mulder stood and crossed quickly to his brother. "What
do you mean, no spare? It was right there on the back of the truck;
I saw it myself."
"Oh, there's a tire there all right. It just doesn't happen to have any
air in it. Which makes it damn useless, now doesn't it?" Grey
sucked in a long slow breath and released it, tucking his chin to his
chest and massaging the back of his neck.
Mulder eyed him for a moment, then tugged open the door and
strode outside. He stood next to the crippled vehicle, hands
propped on hips, waiting for Grey to join him. "Let me get this
straight. We're stranded out here, surrounded by nothing but
mountains, forest, and wild animals, with a truck that has two flat
tires and a radio that doesn't work. We've got enough canned goods
to last two--maybe three days, if we ration them, three-quarters of
a jug of fresh water, and two beers. And it's roughly twenty-five
miles to the nearest town."
Grey flashed him a toothy grin. "I'd say that about sums it up. You
know, you're real good at that, little brother. Must come in handy
on the job."
Mulder's eyes narrowed. "I'm serious, Grey."
His brother chuckled, moving close enough to prop a hand on
Mulder's shoulder. "I can see that. Look, the situation is bad, not
hopeless. According to Mark, there's another cabin about eleven
miles from here. It's rugged terrain, but if we stick to the road--
such as it is--we shouldn't have too much trouble."
Mulder chewed his lip, only slightly mollified. "You're forgetting
one thing. What if Mark's neighbor didn't drive up to enjoy the
great outdoors this weekend?"
"Not a problem. The guy is retired; he lives up here year 'round.
Mark says he's kind of the grouchy old hermit type, but decent
enough once you get past his bluster."
Mulder's eyebrows soared. "A grouchy old hermit? Living alone in
the mountains? Isn't that a little cliché?"
"Maybe hermit is a little extreme. The guy keeps to himself, that's
all." Grey waved his hand at the jacked-up truck squatting sullenly
on the gravel drive. "I'm sure, considering the circumstances, he'll
be willing to give us a lift into town--or at the very least, the use of
Mulder's gaze shifted from Grey to the car and back again, lips
compressed to a thin line. Finally, he sighed. "Eleven miles, huh?"
As if he'd managed to transfer his morose mood to his brother,
Grey smiled cheerily. "We should make it to Chris Peterson's cabin
by early afternoon. With any luck we can still get to town and back
"Chris Peterson? The hermit's name is Chris?" Mulder's
voice dripped disbelief.
"Yeah? So? Is there a problem?"
"The problem is that grouchy hermits are not named Chris. They're
named Jed, or Zack, or Jeremiah."
Grey stared at him, then snorted indelicately. "Guess his mama
wasn't in class the day they discussed that rule. Now why don't you
grab your backpack and we'll hit the road. Or we could continue to
stand here and waste daylight discussing Mrs. Peterson's choice of
a name for her son." He grinned toothily at Mulder before
sauntering into the cabin to collect his own pack.
By the time they struck out for the Peterson cabin the sun had risen
above the treeline and the air had turned from frigid to comfortably
warm. The dirt road, fit only for rugged vehicles such as Grey's
SUV, was deeply rutted in some spots and almost completely
nonexistent in others. After only a mile both of them had shed their
sweatshirts, and Grey's sweat dampened hair had begun to curl
defiantly around his ears and the nape of his neck.
"You know, I hate to sound negative," Mulder mused, shifting the
straps of his pack to settle it more comfortably on his shoulders,
"but this trip of yours hasn't exactly gotten off to a stellar
"This trip of mine?"
"Yes, yours. You're the one that couldn't wait to get us out in the
middle of nowhere communing with the wildlife, Nature Boy."
Grey clutched his chest. "I'm wounded. I thought we were having a
great time. What about that hike through the woods yesterday?
And that gourmet meal you concocted last night? I saw the way
you were soaking up the peace and quiet and all those stars before
we went to bed."
"Yeah, until I almost stepped in pureed fox." A flicker of
disappointment passed across Grey's face, disappearing so quickly
Mulder wasn't positive he'd seen it. He sighed. "Hey, I did enjoy
all those things. But you have to admit, we've had more than our
share of bad luck."
Grey opened his mouth as if to argue, but shut it with a shrug.
"Guess I can't dispute that point. Look at it this way--we've paid
our dues. I mean, what are the odds that a run of bad luck like
we've had is gonna continue?"
"You forget, I investigate the supposedly improbable," Mulder
replied dryly. He stopped and shoved his fingers through damp
hair, brushing it back from his forehead. "Wait up a minute, I need
"Just don't drink too much. We've still got a long way to go."
Grey took a few swallows from his own canteen and proceeded to
adjust his baseball cap, idly scanning the surrounding forest. Two
squirrels chased each other through the treetops at breakneck
speed, leaping from branch to branch. A woodpecker worked
furiously on the trunk of a large oak, beak tapping rhythmically. A
sparkle at the periphery of his vision caught his attention and he
turned, squinting through the tinted lenses of his sunglasses as he
struggled to make out the source.
The answer hit him like a freight train and he reacted without
stopping to think.
"Fox, get down!"
He launched himself at his brother, the distinctive crack of a rifle
piercing the air a split second before they both tumbled down the
embankment into a shallow ditch. A second report followed
immediately after the first, kicking up dirt and gravel at the side of
the road, and then an unnatural silence blanketed the forest.
Grey remained motionless for a moment, sprawled across Mulder,
who had landed on his right side. His heart thudded wildly in his
chest, and his brother's short, sharp pants for air seared his neck.
Slowly, cautiously, he tipped his head up until he could look into
Mulder's white face.
"That was gunfire."
"I noticed." Mulder spoke through locked teeth.
Grey frowned at the tension in his brother's face and voice. "You
"Not entirely? What the hell does that mean?"
"It means I'm still breathing, but I think that streak of bad luck we
were talking about isn't over yet." The sarcasm was forced and
Mulder's attempted smirk turned into a wince.
Grey quickly rolled off his brother's body but kept his head down.
"You're hit? Where?"
"Right leg, above the knee." Mulder struggled to prop himself up
on his elbows. He made it halfway before his face twisted and he
grunted in pain, collapsing onto his back.
"Easy, easy. Lie still for a minute and let me check things out."
Grey's voice was calm, reassuring, but his eyes betrayed him.
Hands traveled carefully down Mulder's thigh, pausing a few
inches above the knee. A tug and the sound of ripping cloth.
Mulder stared up at his brother's face--jaw set, lips compressed to a
"How bad is it?"
Grey's eyes met his for only a moment before sliding away. "Brace
yourself. I've got to check for an exit wound."
Fingers slipped under Mulder's knee and... White-hot agony shot
through his leg from hip to toes, wrenching an involuntary cry
from his lips. His eyes slammed shut, sparks dancing across the
lids, while a rushing sound like the surf on a windy day filled his
ears. Grey's voice, at first nothing more than an insistent buzz,
gradually resolved into words.
"...so sorry, Fox, I had to know. Stay with me, little brother. That's
it, c'mon back."
Mulder blinked, wrestling with a tongue turned thick and clumsy.
"Still in there."
Grey grimaced. "Yeah. Most likely in the bone, which is why it
hurts like a son of a bitch. But then, I don't have to tell you that."
He cautiously lifted his head high enough to peer out of the ditch,
panning the forest. "We've got to get out of this hole and into the
cover of the trees. If we stay here we're sitting ducks."
Mulder licked his lips. "I was hoping we could chalk this up to a
hunter with bad eyesight. You think it was intentional?"
"Whoever it is had a high-powered scope trained on us. I spotted
the reflection right before he fired." Grey slipped his pack off his
shoulders and rummaged through it, pulling out a clean tee shirt.
With his pocketknife he tore the fabric into several large strips.
"You're bleeding like a stuck pig. I've got to try to slow it down or
we'll be leaving a neon sign for him to follow." He paused. "That
means putting pressure on the wound." A slight tremor spoiled the
Mulder met his gaze without flinching. "Do it."
Grey nodded, giving his brother's shoulder a squeeze. He folded
one of the cloth strips into a square, laid it over the wound, and
with a last, apologetic glance, pressed down firmly.
No sparks this time around. An explosion of pain so intense
Mulder thought the top of his head might blow off before darkness
blotted out the distress in Grey's face.
He surfaced dizzy and disoriented, the need to vomit nearly
overwhelming. Everything around him bounced and swayed so
whenever he attempted to open his eyes, the nausea tripled. His
head throbbed, his leg was on fire, and someone was swearing a
blue streak. A gunshot, then two more, and the bouncing became a
"Oh, God, I'm gonna puke."
Mulder wasn't sure if he said it or thought it, but his brother's
voice, tense and breathless, cut through the haze.
"Hang on, hang on...almost there."
Snapping and rustling sounds preceded the brush of leaves against
his dangling arms. Mulder abruptly realized he was hanging upside
down, in a fireman's carry, over Grey's shoulder as his brother
jogged through the forest. Icy droplets of water pelted his cheeks
when Grey tromped through a small, shallow stream and then
scuffled awkwardly down a steep slope. Despite caution, about
five feet from the bottom Grey tripped on a root and nearly lost
hold of him. Mulder's head plunged precariously toward a large
rock before Grey regained his balance, cursing under his breath.
Just when Mulder was certain neither his stomach nor his leg could
endure another minute, Grey's frenetic steps slowed, then stopped.
He eased Mulder gently to the ground, propping his upper body
against the trunk of a large tree, and peered into his eyes.
"Hey, little brother. How you doing?"
Mulder stared blearily at him. My leg is killing me and I just
spent the last five minutes slung over your shoulder like yesterday's
garbage. How the hell do you think I'm feeling?
He opened his mouth to retort, but instead lunged to the left and
proceeded to lose every bit of the breakfast Grey had prepared that
morning. Each twist of his gut provoked a corresponding spasm in
his injured leg until he was doubled over, panting and whimpering
Cool fingers at the back of his neck, a strong arm curled around his
middle, supporting him. When the violent cramping in his stomach
eased, Grey held the canteen to his lips so that he could rinse his
mouth, then settled him back against the tree. Mulder shivered
helplessly as his brother dampened a scrap of cloth and wiped his
"Where are we?" The words jittered and trembled as badly as his
Grey stripped the pack from his shoulders, dug out the discarded
sweatshirt, and helped him slip it on. "About a half mile north of
the road. This seemed a good spot to stop and get our bearings."
He reached over to brush an errant lock of hair off Mulder's sweaty
forehead. "We got problems, Fox."
Mulder's mouth twisted. "You think?"
Grey reached into Mulder's pack and pulled out his Sig, holding it
so that Mulder could plainly see the weapon was missing its clip.
"Seems like some practical joker made off with all our ammo.
We've been set up, Fox. And by someone who knows what he's
Mulder's jaw dropped. "How...?"
Grey shrugged, his mouth set in a grim line. "Last night when we
were out stargazing? First thing this morning when we were
looking over the truck? I didn't check my weapon before we left
the cabin, did you?"
Mulder tucked his arms tightly against his body, miserable. "Didn't
think I needed to. Everything was still in my pack from when we
hiked yesterday. I just filled my canteen."
"Yeah. Me, too." Grey swore and chucked the weapon back into
Mulder's pack. "I should've known better. You never start out on a
major hike like we were attempting without taking inventory of
Mulder ground his teeth together to prevent them from chattering.
"C...cut yourself some sl...slack. It's not like we c...could've
predicted some nut would be t...taking potshots at us."
"Yeah, well, the idea is to be prepared for anything," Grey
muttered. "I sure as hell know that."
He dug through his own pack and produced a small first aid kit.
Mulder looked down at the blood-soaked bandage tied around his
leg, swallowed hard, and glanced away.
"I wasn't exactly...at the top of my game...when you were hauling
my ass out of that ditch...but I thought I heard shots."
"You heard right." Grey gingerly cut away the bloody cloth with
his knife. "Our friend started firing the minute I lifted my head.
Nearly took it off." He opened a bottle of hydrogen peroxide and
"I know, I know. Got to be done." Mulder tipped his head back
against the rough bark and stared up into a spray of yellow leaves
that undulated gently in the breeze. "What's the plan anyway? Back
to the cabin?"
"It would be closer." Grey flushed the wound with antiseptic and
blotted with a clean gauze pad, holding Mulder's leg steady when
his brother's body turned rigid. He continued to speak softly and
slowly, flinching slightly when the fingers of Mulder's right hand
buried themselves in his shoulder. "Problem is, it'd put us right
back where we started--literally and figuratively. We've got no
radio and no transportation, Fox. And you need a doctor."
Grey packed the wound with fresh gauze and bound it with more
strips from his tee shirt. By the time he'd finished, Mulder was
panting as if he'd run a marathon, drenched in sweat and wracked
with tremors. Grey set aside the kit and moved between Mulder
and the tree with his brother body pulled against his chest, soaking
up his warmth.
"Easy, Fox. Deep breaths."
After several minutes Mulder's trembling abated and his frantic
gulps for air slowed. "Let me get...this straight. We're still
heading...for Jed's place?"
It took a moment for the joke to register, then Grey chuckled
quietly. "Don't see what choice we have. That grouchy hermit's our
best hope for getting out of this mess."
Mulder let his head drop against his brother's shoulder. "Grey...
Maybe you should go without me. I could wait here...for you to
Grey stiffened. "No way. I'm not leaving you for that psycho to
hunt down. You've got no weapon and you're damn near helpless,
Fox. We stay together."
Softly, little more than a whisper. "I'm not sure I can make it,
Grey's reply was rough. "You don't have to. We
"Then consider this. Whoever's behind that rifle...went to a lot of
trouble...to bring us here. He's going to do...anything he can
to...prevent us from reaching Jed."
Grey cranked his head to look into his brother's face. "What are
"That I don't think...our run of bad luck...was luck at all."
Grey stared at him. "The radio? The flat tires? You think he was
behind all that?"
"Don't you?" Mulder tried to shift position, groaning when it only
succeeded in sending a spike of agony through his leg. "He's got us
right...where he wants us. Whoever he is...he's thorough."
"All the more reason not to split up."
Grey eased Mulder forward and stood. He meticulously replaced
the contents of their packs and slung them both onto his shoulders
before squatting down beside his brother.
"We need to move. You ready?"
Mulder gave him an incredulous look, then nodded. Grey slid his
hands under his brother's armpits and lifted, steadying him when
he wobbled like a newborn colt. He slipped Mulder's right arm
over his shoulder and looped his own around his brother's waist.
"Okay, we'll take it nice and easy. Cutting straight north through
the forest instead of taking the road will trim at least three miles
off the trip, but it'll be rough going. Just holler when you can't keep
up and we'll take a break, relax a few minutes."
"Sure. I'll bring the wine and cheese." Mulder ground the words
out through his teeth, blinking against the blackness hovering on
the edge of his vision.
Grey snorted and started walking, supporting his brother so that he
could keep most of the weight off his injured leg. "If this is your
idea of a party, little brother, next time you can leave me off the
Mulder concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other and
remained silent, conserving his strength.
Continued in Chapter 6