Blood Ties 10: A Dish Served Cold (6/?)
Great Smoky Mountains
"We've got to find someplace to hole up for the night."
"'M okay. I can...keep going."
Grey looked over at his brother, a mixture of amusement,
tenderness, and irritation clouding his features. "Fox, you and
'okay' aren't even in the same zip code."
Mulder swiped wearily at a damp lock of hair that insisted on
falling into his eyes. "What's that...supposed to mean?" His voice,
wispy and breathless, betrayed his exhaustion and pain as plainly
as his pale, drawn face.
"It means I've seen stiffs that looked better than you do right now."
Grey was breathing hard himself, the strain of bearing most of his
brother's weight in addition to his own turning an already
strenuous hike into a nightmare. "Look, I'm about done in myself,
and the sun will be down soon. Last thing we need is to tumble off
a cliff in the dark."
"Well...when you put it...that way..."
"Hang on a minute." Grey hesitated, eyes scanning the dense
foliage surrounding them. "Over here." He tipped his head in the
direction of a shallow ravine about twenty feet down a steep grade
peppered with loose stones and shale.
"Are you...crazy? I'll never make it...down that...without breaking
my neck. And yours." Mulder's voice vibrated with frustration and
"I know it's risky, but we'll take it nice and slow. Trust me on this
one, Fox, I know what I'm doing."
"Should know...by now. My motto's...trust no one." Mulder shifted
too much weight onto his injured leg, grimacing.
"Really? I thought you changed it to 'trust everyone.'" Grey pressed
his lips together, unsuccessfully attempting to conceal a smirk.
Mulder's brow creased, then smoothed. "'S there anything...Scully
hasn't told you?"
"You're a fairly frequent topic of conversation." Grey draped his
brother's arm more firmly across his shoulders. "C'mon. Just a little
further. Let me do the work."
Even at a snail's pace, the trip down the slope was treacherous.
Stones, polished smooth by melting snow and rain, defied the
traction of their boots, and tree roots poked from the soft earth to
catch unsuspecting toes. By the time they reached the bottom Grey
was gulping air like a drowning man and Mulder was a dead
weight, his chin pressed to his chest and his eyes reduced to slits.
"Almost there," Grey panted, dragging his brother along the floor
of the ravine to an area bathed in shadow from the surrounding
trees and a slab of rock that protruded from the side of the hill.
"Just a little further, almost there." He wasn't sure if he was talking
to the limp form in his arms or himself.
Grey eased Mulder down with his back against a large boulder and
dropped the packs from his shoulders with a groan of gratitude. He
braced his hands in the small of his back and stretched until his
spine cracked, then rolled his shoulders and massaged his neck.
Never taking his eyes off his brother, slumped against the rock like
a broken doll, his only movements the harsh rise and fall of his
chest and fingers that clutched and kneaded the flesh just above the
bandage on his leg.
"You still with me?"
One eye cracked open. "Just trying to decide...whether to go
dancing...or send out for pizza."
Grey snorted. "While you're deciding, I'm going to scout around
for a minute. Stay put, okay?"
Mulder let his head sag back against the rock with a soft thump
and tracked the crunch of Grey's boots on dead leaves and gravel
as his brother prowled around the gully. Only a hint of a breeze
stirred the trees, but as it dried the sweat gluing his hair to his
forehead the chills returned. His head throbbed relentlessly, his leg
was on fire, and the cool stone at this back increased his shivering-
-tremors that exacerbated every ache and pain. And the one person
he longed for, who could ease the misery simply with the warmth
of her hand in his, was a lifetime away.
"Fox, sit up a minute."
Grey's voice and the gentle pressure of fingers on his shoulder,
startled Mulder out of a doze he hadn't realized he'd slid into. He
blearily allowed his brother to tip him forward, balking when soft
fleece brushed his cheek.
"Forget it. Going to get...cold tonight. You'll need it."
Grey's hands never faltered as he worked Mulder's arms into the
sweatshirt like a stubborn toddler's. "I've got my windbreaker. And
I'm going to build a fire."
Mulder stiffened, surprise allowing Grey to finish the job without
further argument. "Are you nuts?"
Grey cocked an eyebrow. "You keep asking me that question. Do
you expect an answer, or can I assume it's rhetorical?"
Mulder refused to be sidetracked. "Have you forgotten the fact that
we are not alone--and for once I'm not talking on a cosmic scale.
You build a fire and it'll be like a neon sign for our friend to
follow." He broke off, panting heavily from the outburst.
Grey slipped on his jacket and moved over to a small pile of sticks
and twigs he'd evidently gathered while his brother had been
dozing. He began arranging them in a configuration that made little
sense to Mulder's untrained eye, but obviously held some purpose.
His reply was calm and unruffled.
"Fox, I didn't drag you down here to enjoy the scenery. The sides
of the ravine, the thickness of the trees, and the rock over our
heads are all going to camouflage a fire if we keep it small and
don't burn anything that will generate smoke. I'm not a novice at
this, I know what I'm doing."
"Harder to see...but not impossible," Mulder persisted through
gulps for air. "'S risky, Grey. You know it."
Grey fished a book of matches from his pack and turned them over
in his palm. "It was cold last night. It's gonna be cold tonight.
You've lost a lot of blood, you're most likely in shock, and all that's
standing between you and the cold is a couple of sweatshirts." He
looked squarely into Mulder's eyes. "You'd never make it, little
Mulder searched in vain for a response but found instead, in a
place deeply buried, that his brother was right. Grey proceeded to
light the fire, patiently feeding it with twigs until he had a small
but respectable blaze. He then retrieved the first aid kit and
brandished it with a sympathetic wince.
"'S okay. It already hurts like hell. Can't get much worse."
Grey began carefully to unwrap the strips binding his brother's leg.
"You said before that you think this guy set us up. Any ideas who
he could be and why he's gone to all this trouble?"
Sweat broke out on Mulder's forehead but he kept his eyes locked
on the granite above their heads. "Could be...any one of...ah...the
enemies I've made." His mouth twisted into a sardonic little grin.
"Plenty to chose from. As for why...'s pretty obvious...isn't it?"
Grey wet his lips, keeping his expression blank as he regarded the
bullet wound, the edges swollen and angry red. He opened the first
aid kit and uncapped the hydrogen peroxide as he worked to keep
his brother talking.
"You're not the only one who's got enemies. What makes you so
sure you're the target?"
"Besides the slug in my leg?"
Grey nodded, secretly pleased with the sarcasm. When Mulder
continued, he tightened his grip on the bottle of antiseptic.
"In case you've forgotten...he left me a damn calling card...outside
what you call a bathroom last night. Or maybe it was more like...a
letter of intent--" Mulder's words cut abruptly into a sharp cry of
agony followed by obscenities, and his spine arched as the
peroxide bubbled and fizzed in the open wound.
"It's over, it's over. Breathe, Fox. Nice and slow." Grey set aside
the bottle and dressed the wound with fresh gauze. "You think our
boy is responsible for that dead animal?"
"Dead fox." Mulder ground out the words, teeth clenched so hard
the tendons in his neck stood in sharp relief. "Bit
Grey tied off the bandage and sat back, studying his brother's face
with red-rimmed, exhausted eyes. "Whoever he is, he's good. This
was planned by a pro."
Mulder raised a trembling hand to swipe at a drop of perspiration
trickling slowly down his cheek. "All the ones I put away were
good, Grey. That's why they gave them to me."
Grey fished a bottle of ibuprofen from the kit, popped the cap, and
snagged his brother's hand. He held it steady and shook three
capsules into the palm, handing Mulder the canteen once he'd
placed the pills on his tongue. Grey's lips thinned and his eyes
narrowed as he watched his brother drink.
"We've already discussed this, so let's not even go there. Every
time you talk about that prick Patterson I want to hit something."
The corners of Mulder's mouth twitched. "Anyone ever tell
you...your eyes flash when you get angry?"
"Yeah, yeah. Part of my southern charm. I'm not kidding, Fox. I
said it before and I'll say it again. I don't understand how you can
pass off the way they treated you when you were profiling. If not
for the X-Files you'd've wound up in either a grave or a straight
jacket, and you know it."
Mulder took another swig from the canteen before handing it back
to his brother, the teasing glint fading from his eyes. "There were
killers to catch. Lives to save. You think I was the only one...close
to a breakdown? Comes with the job."
Grey shook his head, frustration a bitter edge in his normally
mellow drawl. "A job you did too well. Patterson used you like
some kind of natural resource he'd staked a claim to. And he'd've
used you up if you hadn't gotten out when you did."
Mulder shrugged. "Water under the bridge." He blew a soft puff of
air through his nose. "In some ways the X-Files aren't all that
different. Still chasing monsters. They just don't wear masks."
Grey tucked the first aid kit back into his pack. After more
rummaging, he pulled out several foil-wrapped quick energy bars.
He smiled brightly, waving them in the air as if displaying a
gourmet feast. "Dinner?"
Mulder eyed them with a distinct lack of enthusiasm. "Think I'll
wait for the pizza guy."
The grin slid off Grey's face. "Fox. You need to eat something. It's
the only way you're going to keep your energy up."
"Bubba, if I eat that...won't be my energy coming up." When his
brother's expression didn't soften, Mulder sighed. "All right. Give
me the red one."
He managed three bites, ever mindful that Grey was watching him
surreptitiously, before his stomach rebelled. Dropping the half-
eaten bar in the dirt beside him, Mulder tipped his head back and
breathed deeply, willing the little he'd consumed to stay put.
"Can't," he said, the words clipped, terse.
Mulder's eyes snapped open and he lunged forward. "I said I can't,
damn it! Don't force me to eat something I don't want, I hate that!"
Grey blinked, startled by the fury. "Okay, okay. I hear you."
He slumped back against the rock, grimacing. "Sorry. You just... I
always hated that when I was a kid."
Grey scanned his face for a moment, then moved so that he, too,
was seated against the rock, shoulder brushing his brother's.
"Tee...Mom make you clean your plate when you were a kid?" His
voice was very soft, noncommittal.
Mulder gazed out into the ravine, now almost completely cloaked
in darkness. "Before Sam was taken. After..." He snorted. "She
couldn't be bothered most of the time. I ate whatever I wanted--
whatever I could scrounge from bare cupboards and a nearly empty
refrigerator. Every once in a while she'd have an attack of guilt and
try to cook dinner for me. Unfortunately, she usually burned it, or
mixed up the ingredients so it tasted terrible. That didn't stop her
from forcing me to eat it, though."
Grey studied the hair at the nape of Mulder's neck, struggling with
the now familiar feelings of anger and sadness his brother's
childhood never failed to provoke.
Careful. This is shaky ground.
"Didn't anyone notice what was going on around your house?
Other family members? Teachers? Friends?"
The reply was light, sarcastic. "I'm sure the Mulder family was
excellent fodder for the rumor mill. But we always put on our
game faces in front of company."
Grey tugged off his baseball cap and ran his fingers through
sweaty strands of hair. "It's okay to be pissed at them, you know.
You've earned that right."
Mulder's shoulders stiffened. "Samantha's abduction was
devastating. They did the best that they could."
"Cut the bullshit!" Grey's explosive retort startled Mulder. His
head snapped around and his mouth worked for several moments
without producing sound. Grey plowed on.
"You were a child, Fox! They were supposed to be the grown-ups,
it was their job to take care of you. If they were too traumatized, if
they were incapable of dealing with their own crap, then they
should've gotten help."
Mulder shook his head with a laugh that took too much effort.
"First Patterson, now my parents. Why exactly do you feel the
need to defend me against the world?"
Grey didn't smile. "Someone has to, Fox. God knows, you refuse
to defend yourself."
Mulder's eyes cut off to the trees, but he leaned a little more
heavily into Grey's warmth. "Guess Scully must have figured out
by now that she's not getting a phone call. You available to defend
me against my wife?"
Grey chuckled softly, willing to let the subject slide. "You're on
your own there. I'll have my own explaining to do." He sighed.
"With any luck Dana and Kristen will figure out something is
wrong and send in the cavalry."
Mulder shivered, drawing his arms deeper into the sweatshirts until
the sleeves covered his hands. "Maybe. The thing is, I haven't
always been the most...uh...reliable person when it comes to
checking in with Scully. She's probably not going to get too
worried right away."
Grey finished the bar he'd been munching and stuffed the wrapper
into his pocket. "My guess is Kristen will do enough worrying for
them both. Ever since your buddy Krycek snatched me while I was
on my way to her house... Well, let's just say I always let her know
if I'm running late."
Mulder smothered a yawn, shifting his weight in an attempt to ease
the throbbing ache in his leg. Unfortunately, the simple movement
caused a stab of pain so intense his vision erupted into bright
flashes of light, and for several minutes he could hear nothing but
the rush of his own breath. He was only peripherally aware of
hands pulling and tugging, a low voice rumbling near his ear, and
sudden heat driving some of the chill from his body.
At last the pain receded to a dull roar and he was able to slit open
his eyes. Only a few slivers of pale light remained, even the small
fire's glow muted by the darkness. Mulder suddenly realized
something soft and warm had replaced the frigid rock at his back.
Blinking, he gazed down at an additional pair of arms wrapped
around his middle.
"You back now?" Grey's gentle drawl held just a hint of strain.
Mulder struggled to sit up, reluctant to admit how good the warmth
felt. "You can let go. I'm okay now." He winced at the croaking
rasp of his own voice. "I promised Kristen I'd behave."
"Shut up." The growl was good-natured, lacking any genuine
anger, and Grey's arms tightened. "You're shaking like a leaf and
I'm not much warmer. First law of survival--use all available
resources. Shared body heat just makes sense. Now get some
sleep." Mulder could almost hear the smile. "I promise I'll still
respect you in the morning."
On the heels of the warmth came bone-deep fatigue. Mulder's head
settled back on his brother's shoulder and his eyes slid shut.
"'Kay. But if it starts raining sleeping bags, 'm outta here."
"Huh?" Grey craned his head to study his brother's face, the
features now slack in sleep. He blew out a long breath of air and
settled more comfortably against the rock. "Guess that's one she
hasn't told me, little brother. Remind me to ask."
Continued in Chapter 7