CHAPTER ELEVEN
Continued from
Chapter Ten

["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Chapter 11 contains "/O". Some readers may find the situations represented in this chapter disturbing or offensive. Reader discretion is advised.] 

Mulder and Scully petroglyphJealousy burned in Mulder’s throat. Driven by his escalating rage and the lingering hallucinogenic effects of wo-chi, he stumbled frantically to the nearest hut in search of Scully. He was convinced she was in danger and pictured her trapped in Dzeh’s embrace, fending off the caveman’s determined advances. The idea made Mulder’s skin crawl. His fingers itched to wring the damn Neanderthal’s neck.

He bulldozed through the door, bellowing “Scully! Sculleeee!”, and stopped just short of the sleeping skins. The beds were arranged in a semi-circle around a low-burning hearth and eight sets of eyes peered out from beneath their furs, blinking up at him in startled surprise. Someone gasped. A baby started to cry.

“Scully?” He asked, his voice sounding too loud in the confined space.

He glanced from face to face. The dim glow of the dying fire revealed she wasn’t there. The baby’s wailing grew louder.

“Eh-ha-jay, nil-chi-tso,” growled a frowning man with a braided beard and a pierced lower lip.

He rose from his bed to confront Mulder. Although he wasn’t very tall, he was sturdily built with powerful arms and legs. His coppery skin was blackened with angry-looking tattoos, geometric designs that accentuated his muscular physique.

“Sorry, wrong hut,” Mulder said, realizing too late the rashness of his intrusion.

The tattooed man swaggered toward him, sledgehammer fists clenched at his sides. He paused an arm’s length away to glower at Mulder from beneath dark brows.

“I-I’m looking for Dzeh,” Mulder explained. “You haven’t seen him by any chance?”

The man’s frown deepened. “Eh-ha-jay,” he said again, jerking his bearded chin toward the doorway.

“Guess not.”

Mulder backpedaled out of the shelter, where he was met by a veritable sea of scowling faces. At least two-dozen bleary-eyed men stood waiting for him there, roused from their beds by his shouting.

Feeling sandwiched between the crowd and the irate tattooed man, Mulder did the only thing he could think to do; he stood his ground, cupped his hands around his mouth, and called Scully’s name at the top of his lungs. Then he let loose a string of epithets directed at Dzeh that rounded the onlookers’ eyes. They clearly grasped the vehemence in his tone, if not the literal meaning of his words.

A familiar face appeared in the crowd; it was Lin, the older man with the basketball hands. His expression was stern but calm as he approached Mulder.

Mulder gritted his teeth and tried to reign in his temper. He was seriously outnumbered here. No doubt his outburst was irritating the hell out of these people, if not outright insulting them. Everyone was eyeballing him, making him suddenly aware of his vulnerability...and his nakedness.

Most of the onlookers were naked, too, having been awakened unexpectedly. But their state of undress did little to ease Mulder’s apprehension. These men were heavily muscled. They carried themselves with confidence, accustomed to threats far more serious than one loud-mouthed crazy man.

Lin rested a weighty hand on Mulder’s shoulder, pinning him in place. The older man seemed less annoyed than the others, so Mulder decided to take a chance that he might help.

“I need to find Scully...er...Dana,” he said. “Do you know where she is? Or Dzeh? Dzeh and Dana?” He repeated their names several times to make his meaning understood.

Lin nodded and gazed past the crowd to scan the campground.

“Tehi,” he said, hooking an arm around Mulder’s shoulders. He steered him through the onlookers, who broke formation to follow them. They walked only a short distance before Lin stopped in front of the very shelter where Mulder had begun. Klizzie was waiting there by the door, looking nervous and fearful, her eyes downcast and her former enthusiasm gone. Mulder read shame in her posture, as well as accusation in the eyes of the other tribe members.

Did they blame her for his outburst?

Some conversation passed between Lin and Klizzie. Lin’s gruff tone caused her to wince several times. She glanced at Mulder and fresh tears filled her eyes.

Mulder suspected she was being held accountable for his show of bad temper. Would she suffer repercussions for his breach of etiquette?

Although he felt sorry for her, he had greater concerns right now. He needed to find Scully.

“Where is Dana?” he asked Klizzie, his tone urgent.

Her eyes flickered to a hut at the edge of the village. “Na-hos,” she said, pointing past his shoulder with a shaky hand.

Mulder turned from the group and marched straight to the hut. Without pause at the door, he stormed inside.

Just as he’d feared, he found Dzeh inside with Scully, but the Neanderthal wasn’t forcing unwanted sexual advances on her. As a matter of fact, he wasn’t touching her at all. She was holding him at bay with his own stone knife.

“You okay, Scully?” Mulder asked.

“I’m fine.” She was crouched beside the hearth, knife in hand.

Dzeh was sitting cross-legged a few feet away.

Mulder walked over to him and without warning delivered a formidable uppercut to his jaw.

Dzeh rocked, but remained upright. Mulder struck again. Knuckles met bone with a jarring crack, but the caveman still didn’t fall. Mulder tried for a third punch, but was stopped mid-swing when Dzeh grabbed his fist and twisted him to his knees.

Restrained by the caveman’s crushing grip, Mulder wasn’t sure what to do next. He was peripherally aware that the group of anxious onlookers were jockeying for position at the door. They reminded him of the flock of vultures that had surrounded him and Scully their first day in the Pleistocene.

“Did he touch you, Scully?” Mulder asked, glaring at Dzeh.

“I...I’m okay, Mulder. He didn’t hurt me.”

A confused half-smile slowly replaced Dzeh’s frown. He released Mulder’s fist.

“Muhl-dar?” he asked, sounding puzzled but good-natured. He continued speaking in an amiable tone, nodding and smiling at Scully. He finally concluded with, “Day-nuh nil-ta.”

The only word Mulder had understood in his entire speech was “Day-nuh.”

“I don’t know what you’re saying,” Mulder said. Frustration increased his anger. Nothing about this surreal situation was making any sense.

“Day-nuh ye-tsan Dzeh. A-nah-ne-dzin.” Dzeh said. He chuckled and then pointed to his lap.

Mulder looked down to discover Dzeh was in a state of unquestionable arousal.

“Son of a bitch!” He sprang at Dzeh with outstretched arms, intending to choke the smiling bastard to death. “She’s mine, you fucking--”

Again Dzeh’s reflexes were quicker and he stopped Mulder by grabbing his wrists and holding him at arm’s length.

Dzeh’s baffled grin evaporated, replaced by a stern scowl. “Beh-gha. Eee-nuff,” he said. 

Klizzie appeared at the hut’s entrance. Her eyes widened at the sight of Dzeh and Mulder locked in a standoff. She began chattering and waving her hands. Dzeh yammered right back at her, never loosening his hold on Mulder. Neither one seemed to listen to the other.

Unable to shake himself free, Mulder started hollering, too.

Only when Scully stood up and shouted in her most authoritative voice, “Be quiet!” did they all fall silent.

“That’s more like it,” she said, looking at each in turn. “Now would someone please explain what the hell is going on here?”

*   *   *

People from three clans waited outside Day-nuh’s open door to hear how Klizzie was going to smooth things over between Dzeh and his angry Trading Partner. Their prying stares made her as nervous as a rabbit in a wolf’s lair.

She was to blame for tonight’s misunderstanding, she was sure, although she couldn’t quite reason out where she’d gone wrong. She’d followed all the Clan’s protocols right down to the minutest detail, preparing the shelters, getting herself and Day-nuh ready. Yet Muhl-dar was angry, refusing to accept her in trade for Day-nuh.

His behavior was utterly baffling.

It was also dangerous. If he didn’t change his mind, he would be exiled from the Clan. Without the ties of blood or partnership, Muhl-dar and Day-nuh would be considered untrustworthy interlopers and forced to leave.

And if they refused to go, they would be killed.

With so much at stake, Klizzie hoped to find a peaceful solution to their dilemma.

She liked these strangers. They had shown no unkindness to the Clan. They were gentle with Gini, and they had contributed to the recent boon of mastodon meat.

There were other reasons, too, why Klizzie didn’t want to sit idly by and watch the newcomers driven off...reasons she was not so eager to bring up. She’d been responsible for talking Dzeh into accepting Muhl-dar as a Trading Partner in the first place. And she was also the one who set out markers, leading the newcomers to Turkey Lake. It would be hard to admit these actions had been undesirable and hurtful to the Clan.

In addition, Klizzie carried a burden of guilt from her past. She had caused considerable trouble for the Clan four years ago when she became Dzeh’s mate. Her cousin Klesh had been exiled as a result of her poor judgment. Her brother Tse-e, had left, too. It had been a difficult time for everyone, and she didn’t wish to repeat it.

Her desire to make amends for her past misdeeds fueled her desire to set things right now.

Again she found herself wishing she knew how to speak Eel Clan’s language, if only a few words. Then she could put this awful misunderstanding behind them.

Klizzie knelt with her back to the meddlesome people outside and decided to address her comments directly to Day-nuh because, quite frankly, Muhl-dar’s grim expression frightened her.

The newcomers were sitting side-by-side facing her, each now dressed in the clean skins she had left for them earlier. Day-nuh was also wearing her strange, black upper garment, the small glossy tunic without fasteners.

Dzeh was dressed, too, having put on his loincloth. He squatted on the far side of the shelter, away from the others. He wore an aloof expression as he rocked on his heels. He’d already said all he intended to say; if Muhl-dar was against the partnership, then so be it. Dzeh would not beg a man to sleep with his mate. To do so would be unseemly and disgraceful.

There was no denying Mulder’s rejection was an insult, to Dzeh and the Clan.

“Please, Sister,” Klizzie began, keeping her tone as respectful as possible. “I have caused a rift between these Trading Partners.” She glanced at Dzeh and Muhl-dar in turn, and saw that both men wore thundercloud expressions.

Again she was reminded of Dzeh’s failed partnership with Klesh. Shame burned her cheeks. Dzeh had forgiven her only because he assumed Klesh forced her to do the things she’d done that night, but she knew that wasn’t entirely true.

Klesh had offered her a pretty hair ornament in trade for sleeping with him. It was an unusual thing, made from the loveliest clamshell Klizzie had ever seen. It had been incised with a picture of a lo-tso, an enormous mythical fish, rumored to be bigger than a bull mastodon. Klesh had received it from a traveling man who visited the giant waters to the west, where lo-tso were said to live. The man’s name was Ta-bas-dsissi, Shore Runner, and according to Klesh, he possessed superior bartering skills, but was not so competent at betting games. Ta-bas-dsissi had wagered and lost the ornament to Klesh during a round of Ne-e-lahi.

Klesh promised the ornament to Klizzie in exchange for a night on her furs. She knew it was wrong to lay with her cousin, but the shell was too great a temptation.

The next morning Klesh kept his word and gave her the hair ornament. He also bragged to his best friend Tse-e about what he had done. And soon after, Tse-e tattled to Dzeh.

Dzeh was furious, of course, and humiliated. Klizzie was so ashamed by what she had done she threw the ornament away, tossed it into Small Wind Lake without ever telling Dzeh about it.

Instead, she let Dzeh and the entire Clan believe Klesh had forced her to submit to his sexual demands. Klesh was not trusted for many reasons, so his protests were ignored. No one listened to his story about the hair ornament.

Klizzie kept silent while he was exiled for mating with his own cousin. And she said nothing when her brother Tse-e went with him, too.

To this day she still kept her terrible secret, even from Dzeh -- the man she loved and trusted like no other.

It was no wonder the Spirits continued to punish her, denying her a child in retribution for her transgressions and her deceit. She deserved their wrath for the things she had done.

Tucking away her bad memories, Klizzie said to Day-nuh, “Please, tell me how I might give pleasure to Muhl-dar.” She pointed to herself and then to him.

Day-nuh shook her head emphatically. “No. *No* Klizzie and Mulder. *No* Dzeh and Dana.”

The onlookers buzzed like deerflies. Her objections made no sense.

Klizzie tried again. “I apologize for any offense I have caused and will do whatever is necessary to set things right.”

Day-nuh continued to frown, unmoved by her apology.

Again Klizzie pointed to herself and then to Muhl-dar. “I can satisfy him if he would allow me anoth--”

“*No* Mulder and Klizzie!” Muhl-dar’s voice roared like an angered bear.

Her hand went to her totem, seeking its protection and strength.

“But...we *must*. The exchange is a good custom. It builds trust. Everyone knows this.” She clung to her totem, drawing courage from it the way she often did whenever she was frightened or confused.

Looking into Day-nuh’s pale eyes, she prayed silently to the Spirits for guidance.

Suddenly she was struck by an odd idea. Suppose Eel Clan’s customs were as unusual as Day-nuh’s eyes or her red hair. Klizzie considered the newcomers’ incomprehensible language, their foreign clothes and exotic jewelry, their lack of knowledge about simple things like edible greens and soap root.

Was it possible they didn’t know the rules of mate-exchange? Did they practice a different custom?

She turned to the group outside the door, hoping to find someone who might know the answer for sure. “Have any of you ever visited Eel Clan?” she asked.

The onlookers shook their heads and murmured no, they had not.

“My sister’s cousin from Moose Clan heard that Eel Clan men sometimes eat the flesh of humans,” one man claimed.

Another man leaned his head into the shelter, suspicion shining bright in his eyes. “I say we cast these intruders out now, before they decide to kill us in our sleep and cook us for breakfast.”

The prospect caused the crowd to rattle like a nest of angry snakes. “Strangers cannot be trusted,” they insisted.

Klizzie ignored their unease and turned her attention to her mate. “Dzeh, I am wondering if Eel Clan shares our custom of mate-exchange.”

His eyebrows rose in surprise. “What sort of clan does not practice mate-exchange?” he asked, sounding incredulous. “Everyone knows of it. How can a man trust his Trading Partner without first exchanging mates?”

He glared at Muhl-dar and Muhl-dar glowered back with equal intensity.

She cleared her throat, trying to regain his attention.

“You must admit their ways are strange, Dzeh” she reminded him. “The ornament you wear on your wrist...” She indicated Muhl-dar’s unique bracelet with a nod of her head. “Have you ever seen anything like it before?”

She knew he had not. He had shown her its extraordinary glow just a few days ago, delighted as a child by the way he could light it and extinguish it just by tapping one of its tiny prongs.

His eyes flickered to it now. “Explain the custom to them. Then we will hear what they have to say.”

Hope blossomed in her chest. It was possible she was not the cause of tonight’s trouble after all. And she might still be able to work things out to everyone’s benefit.

But how does one explain something as complex as mate-exchange without a common language?

Hand signals would be useless, she knew; Day-nuh and Muhl-dar understood very few, even the most general ones. She might try drawing pictures on the dirt floor if she were a better artist. But she could not draw a careful line, let alone capture the true Spirits of things.

“I do not know how to explain it,” she said, feeling her hopes fly away.

Lin stepped forward from the crowd. “Let me try,” he said.

He squatted beside Klizzie and drew several circles in the dirt with his finger.

“These are our huts; this is the village,” he said, looking from one face to the next. “Now hand me your amulets.”

Klizzie removed her totem and placed it in Lin’s large palm. Dzeh did the same without hesitation. Day-nuh removed her fox amulet, too, and then convinced Muhl-dar to do the same with the claw necklace he wore. They passed both to the older man.

Lin arranged the necklaces inside two of the circles, Klizzie’s with Dzeh’s and Muhl-dar’s with Day-nuh’s. “Dzeh and Klizzie,” he said in a deep voice. He pointed to their intertwined necklaces. Then he indicated the other necklaces, laid one against the other, apart from the other two. “Muhl-dar and Day-nuh,” he said.

When everyone indicated they understood this arrangement by nodding, Lin rearranged the necklaces to illustrate the mate-exchange.

“Uh-uh,” Muhl-dar said. “Put ‘em back.”

Lin shook his head, refusing to switch the necklaces to their former positions. His expression was stern. He was a man used to giving orders and being obeyed, an elder respected for his wisdom, strength and skill. Holding up one stout finger, he said, “To bind a partnership according to our customs, Dzeh of Owl Clan and Muhl-dar of Eel Clan will exchange mates for one night.”

The newcomers indicated they didn’t understand, so Lin pantomimed “night” by tilting his head and closing his eyes, followed by a stretch and a yawn to represent “day.” He repeated the action several times until he was certain they understood. Only then did he put the necklaces back to their original positions.

“Okay, I get it, but the answer is still no,” Muhl-dar insisted.

Klizzie didn’t grasp the meaning of all his words, but she did understand what he meant by “no.” He shook his head each time he said it, and a shake of the head seemed to mean the same thing in every language.

“Uncle Lin, please help Muhl-dar understand the consequences of his refusal,” she said, keeping her gaze downcast out of respect.

Lin stared into the Eel stranger’s stubborn eyes. “Refusal to comply with the rules of Partnership will result in exile or death,” he said.

He picked up the newcomer’s necklaces and hurled them across the hut. They landed with a slap against the far wall. Then he drew his knife from the sheath on his belt. Its stone blade appeared razor sharp. Lightning fast, he thrust the knife at Muhl-dar, stopping only a hair’s breadth from his throat.

“I think I get the picture,” Muhl-dar said, backing away and rising slowly to his feet. “Come on, Scully. Let’s get out of here.” He held out a hand for her.

“Mulder...” Concern notched her forehead. “My ankle.”

He glanced down at her swollen, bandaged leg. Air hissed from his lungs and his taut limbs suddenly hung limp.

I won’t allow this. The answer is no,” he said with finality and glowered at Lin.

The elder man shrugged, unwilling to shoulder the burden of the stranger’s decision. It meant nothing to him if they stayed, departed or died. “The decision is yours.”

Klizzie was astonished that anyone would choose exile or death over something so trivial as a mate-exchange. It was beyond comprehension. Clearly Muhl-dar did not yet understand the seriousness of his decision. She had to try once more to straighten out his tangled thinking.

Rising to her feet, she ignored the stares of the men and crossed the room to collect Muhl-dar and Day-nuh’s necklaces. She brought them back to the circles and arranged them in a way that depicted the exchange.

“Please,” she begged Muhl-dar. “Just one night. *Please*.”

He shook his head. “Uh-uh.”

His odd refusal was his final word before he stalked from the hut.

*   *   *

“Mulder?” Scully shouted, limping after him.

He didn’t answer her call or stop. The gap between them widened with every dogged step he took. Already she could barely make him out, a determined shadow slicing through the haze of campfire smoke and pre-dawn dark. He was heading upland, away from the village, his stride unwavering as he waded through murky waves of knee-high grass in the direction they had come.

Behind him, hearth fires lit the huts like votives. No one came out to follow or challenge them. The villagers seemed to understand they needed to be alone to reach an agreement: whether to stay, accepting the tribe’s customs, or to leave.

Scully tried to jog, but her injured ankle wouldn’t allow it. The medicine man’s anesthetizing tea was wearing off and each step was excruciating.

“Mulder?” she called again. A sudden stab of pain took her breath away and forced her to slow down. She silently cursed her sprain and Mulder.

Damn it, why didn’t he stop?

“Mulder!”

“Stay or come with me, Scully,” he shouted, “but don’t expect me to stick around for...for...” Without slowing his pace or turning to look at her, he dismissed the entire camp with a wave of his hand.

Leaving was not an option, as far as she was concerned. Neither she nor Mulder had the necessary skills to survive in the Ice Age. That had been proven a dozen times over in the hungry days of the last two weeks. Unable to identify a single edible plant or preserve their infrequent windfalls of meat, they would face certain starvation without the tribe’s help. There was no way to know how long they would be trapped in the past. Another week? A month? Years? What would they do when winter arrived, when game was presumably scarcer and conditions more severe than now? Would they even live through the summer? Saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, snakes...danger seemed to be waiting behind every rock.

“Mulder, stop, please!” she called, her voice thinned by her desperation. “My ankle...I can’t...”

That stopped him. He turned and waited, bristling with irritation, fists clenched, chin held high, ready for battle. If he felt any sympathy for her injured condition, he wasn’t showing it.

When she reached his side, she saw anger glowing in his eyes and heard fear in his ragged breathing.

“Mulder, where are you going?”

For a split second, her question stalled the rise and fall of his chest. She’d caught him off guard; he obviously had no plan. He was simply running away.

“I’m not agreeing to...to that.” He jabbed a finger at the camp.

He was furious. She couldn’t remember ever seeing him so angry.

She tried to steady her breathing, remain calm. Losing her temper now would only serve to push him further away. “What do you want to do?”

His gaze swept the landscape, as if an answer lurked somewhere in the shadows. She waited him out, letting him consider all the possibilities.

“Could you do it, Scully?” he asked finally, spitting the words. “Could you sleep with him?”

Could she? She wasn’t sure. Dzeh’s advances had taken her by surprise earlier, so she’d fought him with all her strength. But she hadn’t realized his purpose at the time, or what was at stake: her life, Mulder’s.

“I-I’m not sure,” she said honestly. “But you heard them; a refusal means banishment...or death. I think the consequences outweigh our personal feelings here.”

His eyebrows rose. “You can separate from your feelings as easily as that?”

She hadn’t meant to imply it would be easy. The prospect of having sex with another man frightened her -- a lot -- but she believed she could contain her fears long enough to put the experience behind her, especially if it guaranteed their survival.

She’d always been adept at suppressing her emotions, even as a little girl trying to please her no-nonsense Navy father. Her medical training, followed by years in the morgue, had honed her ability. It would be impossible for her to perform her job without a measure of emotional detachment. Countless autopsies, criminal investigations, and even her own abduction had taught her to guard her inner self. She found it almost natural now to push her emotions to one side while she went about her daily business.

Surely Mulder did the same whenever he aimed and fired his gun with lethal intent at another person. As FBI agents, they’d both been trained to put aside their personal feelings to do whatever needed doing in the line of duty.

“It’s a way to survive, Mulder. Nothing more.”

“Tell yourself that if you need to, but exchanging sex for something else, even food, has a different name in my book.”

The anger behind his words stung her. He was acting jealous, although he had no reason to be. She wasn’t romantically interested in Dzeh any more than he was interested in Klizzie.

“He means nothing to me,” she said.

“So that makes it okay to sleep with him?” He glared at her, derision narrowing his eyes. “Well, I feel a whole lot better.”

He wasn’t getting it; this was a matter of living or dying. Why was he making it personal?

“We aren’t talking about a lifelong commitment, Mulder,” she said, irritation creeping into her tone. “They said one night.”

“It’s wife-swapping.”

Before she could stop herself, she blurted, “That’s an interesting take considering I’m not your wife.”

His eyes widened and his body stiffened. For a moment, she thought he might strike her, or turn and stalk away.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he said, sarcasm dripping from his voice, “but I was under the impression that when you slept with me it was because you cared about me. But then maybe I’m just a means to an end, too, huh?” He loomed closer. “Tell me, Scully, what end would that be exactly? Pregnancy? A child?”

His words shocked her. She felt her restraint slipping away.

“What were your reasons?” she challenged, hurt by his unwarranted accusation. “Need a sexual release and I happened to be handy?” Her anger overtook her at this idea. “Is that why you finally decided to take the plunge and sleep with me? Was I just a convenient fuck?”

The word hung between them.

A grunt of disbelief chuffed from his lungs. His shoulders slumped and he appeared to deflate as his anger -- or maybe his hope -- drained out of him. Turning his focus to the village, his eyes swamped with tears. “I did care for you, Scully. I still do...more than you know.”

Turning his focus to the village, his eyes swamped with tears.

“Then why are you willing to risk my life...and yours...over something that is temporary and inconsequential?”

“Inconsequen...?” He looked stunned. His frown deepened. “Because you’re *mine*, goddamn it,” he said through gritted teeth, his anger returning full force. “I don’t want him touching you. And...and I’m sorry if that’s not politically correct or I shouldn’t feel that way...or...or I have no right to feel that way, but...you’re...I can’t... *God damn it*!”

He suddenly grabbed her and pulled her into a rib-crushing embrace. His words, his emotion, overwhelmed her, and she felt tears flood her own eyes. She wrapped her arms around him and held onto him as tightly as she could.

They stood like that for several minutes, lost in a storm of uncertainty. Tucked against his feverish chest, listening to the hammering of his heart, breathing the familiar scent of his body, she no longer heard the shriek of crickets in the grass at her feet, nor did she smell the cloying stench of burnt meat and woodsmoke that wafted up from the village, or feel the chilly night breeze that rattled the beads in her braided hair. Her entire universe became the circle of his arms. He was a refuge on this vast, empty hillside beneath a ceiling of stars, where the moon was setting and dawn was still an eternity away.

“Scully, I can’t make love to another woman, or allow you to sleep with another man,” he murmured into her hair. “I can’t. I just can’t.”

“If you know a way out of this, I’m listening.”

She drew back to look into his eyes. It was obvious from his sad expression that he had no real alternatives to offer.

“We could camp nearby, come back and steal their food while they’re sleeping,” he said, trying to make a joke. When she didn’t smile, he suggested more seriously, “Or we could just leave. Go somewhere far away, take our chances that we’ll survive until we get home.”

That was so like him, she thought, ignoring the hard facts while he looked for an improbable, “out there” answer. He needed to see their predicament realistically; she had to find a way to make him see it.

“How many bullets do you have left?” she asked.

“Uh...” He avoided her eyes, pretending to study the beads in her hair. “We don’t need bullets. I killed that sloth with my spear, remember?”

“You don’t have any bullets, do you?”

“No.” He stroked her braids, rattling the beads. “I used them to kill the mastodon.”

Without bullets they wouldn’t survive for more than a few weeks at best.

And there was also the little problem of her injured ankle.

“I can’t go anywhere, Mulder,” she said, nodding at her bandaged leg. “Not right now.”

Reminded of her injury, he mumbled an apology and squatted in the grass, drawing her down beside him.

It comforted her to sit there with him, knees drawn up, surrounded by a thickening veil of pre-dawn mist. It reminded her of the night they spent on a rock in Heuvelmans Lake while hunting Big Blue.

“Mulder, do you remember asking me once if I could cannibalize someone if I had to?”

“Yes.”

“Do you remember what I said?”

She knew he did. He never forgot anything.

“You said that a living entity is conditioned to perform whatever extreme measures are necessary to ensure its survival. And as much as you abhorred the idea of cannibalism, you supposed that under certain conditions, you would resort to it. Or something to that effect.”

“Yes, that’s what I said.” And she’d meant it, although at the time she hoped she would never find herself in a situation where all the choices were objectionable ones...like now.

There are degrees of hardship, she reminded herself. Avoiding death, no matter what the emotional cost, was the only real choice here.

“I still feel that way,” she said.

“We’re not talking about cannibalism, Scully.”

“Is sleeping with someone worse than cannibalizing them?”

A humorless laugh huffed from his nose. “Given the choice, I’d rather cook and eat Dzeh than have him make love to you.”

She put a hand on his leg, stilling the nervous tapping of his foot. “Maybe you need to stop thinking of it as making love.”

“I’m not sure I can,” he said, sounding sad. “I guess I’m not like you, Scully; I can’t seem to separate the act from the emotion.”

“They don’t think of it that way, you know. To them it’s a practical arrangement.”

“I don’t care what they think.” He plucked a blade of grass from beside his foot and stuck it between his teeth. “What kind of a fucked up society has a custom like this anyway?” he asked, causing the grass to waggle between his lips.

“The aboriginal Inupiat of Alaska, for one.”

He turned to give her an unbelieving stare.

“Really, Mulder, I learned about them from Dr. Diamond. The Inupiat practiced a sort of co-marriage, a non-residential arrangement between two conjugal husband-wife couples united by shared sexual access. The alliance served to connect individuals who were otherwise unrelated by blood or marriage, ensuring assistance in the form of protection, food and goods across territorial boundaries. It made sense in a lot of ways. In periods of war, such ties would temper the amount of killing. In periods of peace, partners and co-spouses became key linkages in the conduct of inter-territorial trade.”

His jaw stopped working the blade of grass. “We aren’t Inupiat.”

“No, but Klizzie’s tribe is like them in this respect. They believe their practices are reasonable. They *are* reasonable, given the circumstances. The exchange serves a cooperative purpose. It has nothing to do with love.”

“I don’t like it, Scully.” A sigh of disgust sifted from his lungs.

“I know you don’t. Neither do I.

But...?

“What options do we have?”

Tossing away his chewed grass, he said, “None, I suppose.”

She found no relief in his surrender. Maybe she’d been hoping he would come up with one of his improbable, “out there” solutions after all.

She rose to her feet. “It’ll be okay, Mulder.”

He stared up at her, clearly not convinced. All around him the grass sparkled, tear-kissed by dew. “Will it?” he asked before pushing himself to his feet. He groped for her hand and linked his fingers with hers. “I hope you’re right.”

She hoped so, too.

“Wouldn’t you rather live to regret your decision than not live at all?”

He shook his head, brow knotted with worry. “I’m not sure about that, no.”

She squeezed his hand. “I am. I want to live. I want to return home.”

This is no guarantee.

“No, but it’s a chance. The best one we have.”

Slowly, reluctantly, they walked down the hill together. When they reached the outermost edge of the camp, he pulled her into his arms.

The heat of his body warmed her and the downy hair on his arms and chest tickled her skin.

He dipped his head to peer into her eyes. “It hurts me that this doesn’t seem to bother you more.”

She wanted to laugh. Or cry. Or both. It bothered her. It bothered her a lot. But if it kept them alive and safe...kept *him* alive and safe...it would be a worthwhile trade.

She pulled away from him. “Don’t imagine for a minute I’m taking it lightly.”

*   *   *

Pausing outside Klizzie’s door, Mulder ran his fingers through his hair and tried to corral his emotions. Of all the difficult, dreadful things he’d had to do in his life, leaving Scully with Dzeh topped the list. He knew she was looking at this arrangement in her usual pragmatic way, but he found it impossible to adopt her matter-of-fact attitude. His heart felt as if it were being squeezed by a malevolent hand, like he was under someone’s voodoo curse.

And yet somehow he was supposed to get it up and get it on with Klizzie. Shit, he’d never felt so un-amorous in his entire life. Thinking about Scully having sex with another man was the biggest turn off of all time.

With nervous energy to burn, he began to pace. Sunrise was still an hour away. Maybe an hour and a half, tops.

Was Dzeh already kissing Scully?

Stop it, he told himself. Just stop thinking about it.

Right. Easier said than done.

As a psychologist, he understood he was like every other human male, genetically programmed to guard his love interest from the attentions of other sexually attentive males. Millions of years of evolution had honed this urge to instinct, and all the sensitivity seminars in the world weren’t going to erase an inherent drive to protect his reproductive rights and guarantee the survival of his bloodline.

Understanding the origins of his jealousy, however, didn’t help him feel any better about the situation. Even knowing he never planned to procreate didn’t lessen his desire to keep Dzeh from sowing oats in what Mulder considered his field.

Great, now he was thinking of Scully as property...in the literal sense. What would she think?

Before leaving her with Dzeh, Mulder made damn sure to clarify that this was a one-time deal, signed, sealed and delivered by sunup. Dzeh seemed to get the gist and nodded in gruff agreement.

Then the crowd of surly clansmen had dispersed, placated by Mulder’s promise to swap partners. And Dzeh seemed guardedly satisfied, too. He gave Mulder a solemn nod before placing his big, fat, hairy Neanderthal paw on the small of Scully’s back and steering her into his hut.

Son-of-a...

Mulder almost ended it right there, but Scully shot him a glare that warned him loud and clear don’t fuck this up.” Against his better judgment, he backed down. To save her life, he told himself, his mind still scrambling for another solution, knowing he would hate himself until the day he died for allowing this.

Klizzie had returned to her own hut while he pretended to see a man about a horse, when in fact he was trying to cool his temper.

Jesus, how was he supposed to make love to Klizzie when he couldn’t get his mind off Scully and Dzeh?

It’s not “making love,” he reminded himself. It’s a social rule with a purpose, according to Scully.

Shit.

Taking a deep breath, he pushed through the door flap.

Klizzie was waiting inside on the sleeping skins, her knees drawn up and arms hugging her bare legs. A fire burned in the hearth. It cast flickering shadows across the leather ceiling and a golden glow over the left half of her face. All her former confidence and playfulness were gone. To be honest, she looked a little frightened.

Jesus, he hadn’t meant to scare her.

Feeling guilty, he walked to the bed and crouched so that he faced her. He cleared his throat. “Hey.”

“H-hey?”

“Yeah, well...” He nodded and cleared his throat again. “Here we are.”

She offered him a nervous smile and scooted to one side, making room for him on the furs.

He remained where he was, looking at her. She was a small woman, only a little bigger than Scully, with smooth, coppery skin, and hair the color of a Hershey bar. It was done up in dozens of tiny braids, like Scully’s was tonight. Full of beads and bangles, the braids glittered in the firelight. He could hear their soft tinkle whenever she moved her head. Her eyes were almond-shaped and full of trepidation. Her lower lip trembled, caught between white teeth. She was naked, except for the small, leather pouch that hung from a rawhide cord around her neck. She couldn’t have been more than seventeen or eighteen years old, he realized, feeling queasy at the thought. He had to remind himself she was a married woman, not a naive virgin.

There was no denying she was lovely, but he didn’t feel the least bit turned on. Everything about this situation felt wrong.

“Guess I’m supposed to make the first move,” he said. Reluctantly he shifted position so that he was sitting beside her.

She gasped when their arms bumped.

“Sorry,” he said. “Uh...this is awkward, isn’t it?”

She glanced into his eyes and then quickly away.

Okay, he’d take the plunge. Reaching out, he fingered one of her braids.

“Uh...what’s the word for this?” he asked, hoping to relax them both with a little friendly conversation.

“Cey-yehs-besi,” she said shyly.

“Cey-yehs...?”

“Cey-yehs-besi,” she repeated the word more slowly.

“And this?” He stroked the outer edge of her ear. “What’s this called?”

“Ah-jah.”

“And this?” He touched the tip of her nose.

“A-chin.”

His questions brought a smile to her lips. If she had been Scully, he would have kissed that smile. But she wasn’t Scully. She neither looked like Scully, nor smelled like Scully, and he was going to have a helluva tough time getting down to business here.

She seemed to read his mind, which was a bit like Scully. She reached beneath his loincloth and groped his penis, which wasn’t at all like Scully...at least not until recently.

“Ah...Klizzie, let’s wait on that for a minute.” He removed her hand from his lap.

Worry returned to her eyes and she began chewing her lip again.

“Don’t...” he said, caressing her lip with his thumb until she released it from her teeth. “Don’t do that. You don’t need to be afraid of me. I...uh...I’m sorry about...earlier.”

Not understanding, she shook her head, setting her beads tinkling.

Unsure what to do next, he asked, “You sing, Klizzie? Know any Elvis? ‘Don’t be cruel’” -- he crooned -- “No?”

Again she shook her head, but her quizzical smile returned. She clearly didn’t know what to make of him.

“I guess this isn’t how these swap things usually go, huh?”

Had she slept with many men besides Dzeh? he wondered. He tried to imagine her with other lovers, cavemen like Dzeh who understood the tribal protocols. Did they indulge in a little foreplay or did they skip right to the main event?

What was Dzeh doing with Scully right now?

Klizzie interrupted his worrisome thoughts by tugging at his loincloth.

“Right. Clock’s ticking and this has gotta come off.”

He unknotted the cord at his waist and let her pull the loincloth away.

She looked at his lap and giggled.

“That’s not gonna help, Klizzie. It’s a reeeeal turn off when a woman laughs at a guy’s co...penis.”

“Be-zonz sid?” she asked. “Bi-nih-nani be-zonz sid?”

“Excuse me?”

“Be-zonz.” She pointed at his penis.

He still didn’t understand.

She reached out and traced his circumcision with the tip of her finger, causing him to flinch.

“Oh, right. Yeah, I guess that looks kinda different from what you’re used to.” How the hell do you explain circumcision to an Ice Age woman? He decided not to even try. Let her think it was a war wound or something.

All this attention directed at his flaccid penis was making him more uncomfortable than ever.

“Klizzie, why don’t we lie down?” He patted the furs.

She got the idea and stretched out beside him. When they were both settled, he drew the blanket over them. She snuggled next to him, hooking an arm over his chest and a leg over his thigh.

She felt nice: curvy, soft, warm. But she wasn’t Scully and he wasn’t turned on.

He couldn’t make love to this woman. He wouldn’t. Screw the fucking rules. He hated rules anyway.

“Roll over,” he said, nudging Klizzie onto her side.

She gave him another confused look, but turned her back to him, maybe thinking he intended to take her from behind. 

“Muhl-dar?” she asked, uncertainty in her voice.

“It’ll be okay,” he said, repeating Scully’s earlier words. He gently kissed her shoulder, wrapped an arm around her waist and spooned against the curve of her back.

Would she tell anyone he wasn’t going to go through with the exchange?

Keeping his eyes trained on the door, he lay completely still and waited for sunrise.

He gently kissed her shoulder, wrapped his arms around her waist and spooned against the curve of her back.

*   *   *

You can do this, Scully told herself as Dzeh guided her into the hut. It won’t take long, just an hour. Or less, she predicted, noticing the way Dzeh’s erection tented his loincloth. He looked ready now.

You can do this, she repeated to herself.

You can do this.

You can...

Although she’d tried to convince Mulder that sex with Dzeh would mean nothing to her, in truth she was dreading their intimacy more than she’d realized.

It was ridiculous. She had no romantic feelings for him. They were here to fulfill a duty and that was all. Rules were rules and you carried them out whether you agreed with them or not. She’d learned that lesson at a very young age whenever her father praised her and her siblings for doing as they were told, and disciplining them when they did not. He’d sometimes called Scully a “good sailor” when her behavior had been exemplary.

As a kid Melissa had called her Miss Goody Two Shoes, and later on when they were older she switched to Kiss Ass, but that was because Missy preferred breaking the rules rather than following them.

Like Mulder.

Dzeh nudged Scully toward the furs, his hand pressed firmly against the small of her back. She considered pretending it was Mulder who touched her there, but Dzeh’s prodding was more insistent than Mulder’s. He wasn’t suggesting she step forward; he was almost demanding it. There was no mistaking him for Mulder. She would not be able to close her eyes and imagine it was Mulder who made love to her. Dzeh neither looked nor acted like him. 

He didn’t smell like him either. Mulder’s familiar scent reminded her of their office, his apartment, her home; Dzeh’s musky odor, on the other hand, made her feel lost in unfamiliar territory.

Facing the bed with Dzeh at her elbow, Scully felt her first real pang of foreboding.

This was really going to happen, right now.

She fought the urge to call out for Mulders help. The desire was so strong it made her throat ache to hold it in. She was thankful Dzeh didn’t expect her to make small talk; there was no way she could utter a single word.

Dzeh removed his loincloth and reclined on the furs. He beckoned her to lie beside him.

Should she turn and walk out, take the chance that she and Mulder could survive on their own?

Or was Mulder already making love to Klizzie, playing by the rules as she’d suggested?

She shook the image from her mind. She had no reason to feel jealous. He was doing this for her, at her request, just as she was doing it for him. And it wasn’t making love.

Dzeh propped himself on one elbow and reached out a hand for her. She watched herself take it, felt herself drawn down beside him, closed her eyes when he unknotted the belt on her fur skirt.

She tried to distract herself by recalling a seminar from her FBI training: Mental Preparation for Duty and the Reality of a Critical Confrontation. In the class they’d learned basic self-defense techniques, negotiation and crisis management, the importance of back ups. The last half hour was spent discussing the psychological impact of kidnapping and sexual assault on officers.

This wasn’t rape, she reminded herself. She was permitting it, to save her life and Mulder’s. Dzeh was not a monster. He was a kind man, following the customs of his people.

It meant nothing when he kissed her.

It meant nothing when he positioned himself between her legs.

It meant nothing when he pushed slowly inside her.

*   *   *

It is night. Dzeh is gone, Scully realizes. She is still naked. Mulder is naked, too, and is lying on top of her. They are in Mulder’s bed, in his apartment. She can smell herbal tea on his breath.

She spreads her thighs for him as he shifts his hips and pushes into her.

Oh, God, he feels good.

“I’m glad God spoke to you,” he breathes into her ear as he fills her. Somehow she knows he is talking about her vision. Not the one she had in the cave, but the one in the Buddhist temple.

Although...she doesn’t know when she was in a Buddhist temple.

With Mulder inside her she doesn’t care; she wants to experience this astonishing combination of need and satisfaction without question or worry. This is a familiar feeling, yet somehow brand new. She knows she has loved him before...in a cave somewhere, long ago. Yet she also knows this is their first time together as lovers.

How can both things be true?

Everything happens for a reason, she thinks.

He rocks against her, fitting his body more tightly to hers before he begins to glide smoothly in and out of her.

“I love you,” he sighs.

She shuts her eyes against an overwhelming surge of emotion. She loves him, too. She should tell him. The words hang on the tip of her tongue, but before she can say them, she is no longer beneath him. She is in the Lone Gunmen’s offices, fully clothed, and Mulder is gone.

“I want you guys to tell me who Diana Fowley is,” she says to Mulder’s friends.

The three men are clearly discomfited by her question. Byers finally says, “Diana Fowley? Geez, we haven’t heard that name in a while.

“Then you know her.”

“Well...yeeaaah.” He says it as if her question is a no-brainer, and yet she really has no idea who this Fowley person is. An image of a dark haired woman, busty and glamorous, comes to mind.

Frohike clears his throat. “She was Mulder’s chickadee when he first got out of the Academy. Good-looking.”

Chickadee? Her skin crawls at the idea.

“Well, she claims to have worked closely with him for a while.”

Langly says, “She was there when he discovered the X-Files. She has some kind of background in para-science.”

Byers adds, “She got a Legat appointment a while back...in Berlin. I always wondered why they split up.”

Split up? Why has Mulder never mentioned this Fowley person before?

Head swimming, Scully retreats from the Gunmen’s office only to find herself in the doorway of her own office. Mulder’s office.

Mulder is sitting at his desk waiting for her. Come on, Scully. What’s the word? he asks when she enters.

She crosses the room and settles a hip against the side of his desk.

Um, Dr. Parenti feels, with the proper approach, theres a good chance for me to become pregnant. She feels nervous and a little giddy, so she fumbles with some pencils he has lined up at the edge of his desk. He said he could...uh, help me with genetic counseling if I wanted to find an anonymous donor for the babys father.

Mulder nods. Is that...is that what you plan to do?

There is another option. I can ask someone I know. She releases the pencils; they roll across the desk like pick-up sticks. I was thinking of you.

She is having another vision, she realizes. The change of scene doesn’t frighten her the way it did the first time. But she hasn’t been paying attention, looking for clues as to how to get back home. Mulder will ask her later.

She looks around now, determined to notice every detail, something to help them, if she can find and remember it.

Suddenly she’s back in that apartment with the cameras again. Oh, God, no, this is the place where she got shot. The room smells of photographic chemicals. A man is loading film.

He tells her “You’re very lucky, you know that?”

He barely finishes saying this when a bullet pierces her abdomen. Oh, God, the pain is terrible, a shock, buckling her knees, sliding her to the floor.

Mulder! Help me, please!

She looks down at her stomach and sees blood. Pain rips through her abdomen. Oh God, oh God!

“Push. Push, Dana, push!” commands a dark-haired woman Scully has never met.

The photographer is gone. Scully is no longer in the camera-filled apartment, but on a bed in a room with a stained glass window. She places a hand on her stomach and discovers it’s distended, enormous.

She hasn’t been shot; she’s giving birth! Dozens of faces stare at her. She is screaming, terrified. They want to hurt her. They want to take her baby!

Yet in the next breath she is holding her newborn son and her fear is gone. He is one day old and perfect. She is with him in her apartment, on her bed. She could watch him forever. She can’t remember ever feeling this happy. When Mulder arrives, she rises from the bed and carries the baby to him.

He murmurs to the child, gathers him in his arms, and asks, “What are you going to call him?”

“William. After your father.”

This is Mulder’s child. She knows it, feels it. And her heart unburdens itself in that single instant.

This is Mulder’s child. She knows it, feels it.

*   *   *

“Gini,” Dzeh whispered to his little sister, “Where is my yea-go stick?”

Rummaging through the stores of fur blankets, empty containers, tools and cooking gear in the back of his Uncle Lin’s shelter, Dzeh tried to be as quiet as possible so as not to wake the others who still slept around the hearth. Although it was almost sunup, it was dark in the lodge with the door closed. Most of his relatives were sleeping late this morning, recovering from last night’s excitement.

Gini climbed from her furs to help Dzeh look for his stick. She knelt beside him, eyes still glazed with dreams.

He cupped her small cheek. It felt overly warm and he hoped her feverishness was the result of sleeping too near the fire, not a sign of illness. He would send her to the Shaman later today to get a potion, just to be on the prudent side.

“Where is Klizzie?” she asked, keeping her voice low.

Dzeh let his hand fall away from her cheek.

“She is with Muhl-dar.”

Gini nodded and then set about silently rearranging a pile of unworked hides to gain access to the back of the storage area. Once she had cleared a narrow path, she crawled through. “Why are you not still with Day-nuh?” she asked, her head hidden behind a large travel pack.

“Because we are done,” he said.

He didn’t bother to explain they had finished before first birdsong. Day-nuh had been an unresponsive partner. She refused to let him kiss her or bring her to her moment of pleasure. She remained mute and emotionless the entire time, leaving him to consummate their alliance.

At least the responsibility was now over and he was grateful Day-nuh had not fought or pulled any more knives on him.

“Why are Klizzie and Muhl-dar not finished, too?”

Why indeed? Perhaps Klizzie was being more accommodating than Day-nuh had been, pleasuring Muhl-dar twice or even three times. It pleased Dzeh to think his mate was fulfilling her part of the bargain in a proper manner.

These newcomers bewildered him. Their strangeness seemed without limits. Muhl-dar’s initial objections to the mate-exchange, followed by his outrageous temper last night -- such actions were unheard of among civilized men. How did Eel clansmen build binding partnerships without first trading mates? It was beyond understanding.

Day-nuh’s lack of enthusiasm confused him every bit as much as Muhl-dar’s temper. He had expected to receive a sincere demonstration of conjugal affection from his Trading Partner’s mate. But Day-nuh had shown no friendliness whatsoever.

The one-sided exchange left him feeling a little cheated. Not that he would complain to Muhl-dar. Such pettiness would be impolite. Insulting even.

“You ask too many questions, Little Sister. Prying is unseemly. It is time for you to start behaving more like a grown woman and less like a little girl. How will I find a mate for you if you continue to act like a child who has not learned proper manners?”

Gini pulled her head out from between the stores. Her eyebrows peaked with worry. “Klizzie said I do not have to have a mate!” she said, her voice soaring with apprehension.

Gini pulled her head out from between the stacks. Her eyebrows peaked with worry.

“Hush!” Dzeh pointed to the sleeping family. “You will wake everyone!”

Gini clamped a hand over her mouth. Tears pooled in her widened eyes.

“Of course you will have a mate,” he said, lowering his voice. “Do you expect me to take care of you forever?”

She uncovered her mouth, revealing a headstrong scowl. “I will take care of myself,” she said, squaring her slim shoulders.

“You will hunt for your own meat?” He almost laughed out loud at the idea.

“I...yes, I will.”

“Such foolish notions prove you have much growing to do.”

Gini needed to be taught the proper ways of adults, and the sooner the better. Klizzie had babied the girl too long.

“We will take our meals with Klizzie’s Aunt Ho-Ya today,” he announced, ready to begin Gini’s education as soon as possible.

“Why?” Gini’s round face paled.

“So you can become acquainted with her son Chal.” He shifted several empty baskets out of his way and resumed his search for his yea-go stick. “The boy showed courage during the mastodon hunt. He knows how to make serviceable spear points. He might be an acceptable mate for you.”

“But--”

Tears spilled down Gini’s cheeks at this news. She jumped to her feet and, without even bothering to ask her brother’s leave, she ran from the hut.

Dzeh would have called her back and disciplined her if he could have done so without waking the others. Instead he simply sighed and continued hunting for his stick.

He wasn’t really a hard-hearted man; it weighed heavily on him to see his little sister in distress. But he was also a man who had experienced the harshness of the world. He had witnessed many bleak seasons, times of starvation and hardship. Gini was too young to remember such suffering. She didn’t know that their own mother had been weakened by hunger when she began her last labor. The Spirits had taken her that awful night, leaving Gini an orphan. Dzeh recalled the moment like yesterday. He knew his sister needed a strong, skilled man to provide her with food and protection. Life was a difficult enough path when a family walked together; it was impossible for one who walked alone.

He caught sight of his yea-go stick and tugged it out from beneath his uncle’s fishing gear. The rawhide yea-go ball was tucked inside the stick’s leather well. He hefted it, testing its familiar weight and then he brought the leather ball to his nose. Ahhh, the smell made him long to be on the playing field.

Soon enough. Turtle Clan would arrive this morning, which meant the yea-go matches could begin.

*   *   *

The sun crested the blue-black mountains in the east and cast a golden glow into the valley, turning the lake molten, gilding the trees, and striping the land with hard-edged shadows. From the reeds along the lakeshore to the uppermost branches of the butternut trees, grackles, jays and ducks cawed and quacked, their raucous morning ritual announcing the dawn.

Mulder paced outside Scully’s hut, the same way he had paced outside Klizzie’s only an hour earlier. His stomach was in knots. He combed his fingers repeatedly through his hair. Worry creased his brow. The sun wasn’t fully up yet, which meant Dzeh might still be inside with Scully. *That* would be more than he could bear. He wished this whole mate-swap thing would fade like this morning’s mist, never to come up again.

He paused in his pacing to cock an ear toward the shelter. He heard nothing from inside, no conversation, no masculine snore, no cries...or grunts...of ecstasy. All good signs. Even so, he was reluctant to enter.

Most of the village was still sleeping, exhausted from yesterday’s feasting and long night of celebration...not to mention Mulder’s early morning rampage. A few women were up and about, stirring communal cook-fires, bringing the glowing coals to life. A couple meandered toward the lake. They were nude and carried soap roots, combs and furs. They pretended to ignore Mulder as they walked past with heads bowed, as if too intent on their own low conversation to notice him.

He caught their sly, sidelong glances.

“Hey,” he said, lifting a hand to give them a half-hearted wave. “Nice morning.”

They frowned and hurried on their way.

No pleasing some people. He’d played by their rules...sort of...and yet he was still being treated like an outsider.

Disgusted, he turned and entered the hut.

Inside he found Scully -- and only Scully, thank God -- curled on the sleeping skins with her back to the door. The fire had burned out, but daylight from the open door made it bright enough for him to see she was wearing his leather jacket.

The coat was several sizes too big, of course, and the sleeves extended beyond her wrists, hiding her hands. Her legs were bare, knees drawn up. She looked lost in his coat, small and vulnerable.

The hut smelled like sex, hers mixed with the musky odor of male sweat and semen. Mulder’s stomach knotted tighter. He considered turning and walking away. If he were back home he’d quell his nervous stomach by jogging until his legs cramped and his lungs ached. He’d expel his overwrought emotions by sweating them out. It would be a relief to empty his mind while concentrating on the rhythmic slap, slap of his feet on concrete. He could almost smell the car exhaust prickling his nose, hear the blare of horns, feel himself bouncing in place while he waited for the crosswalk light to change. God, what he wouldn’t give right now for a decent pair of running shoes and five miles of city sidewalk.

Letting the shelter door fall shut behind him, he crossed to the bed and knelt beside her. He reached out to gently stroke her bare hip. “Scully?” he said softly.

She sniffled at his touch and rolled over to look at him.

Oh Christ, she was crying. Her eyes were red-rimmed, her lashes and cheeks wet with tears.

Rage washed through him in waves at the sight, battering his frazzled nerves and threatening to steal the last shreds of his control. What had that fucking Neanderthal done to her?

Unable to ask the question, he gathered her into his arms intending to let her cry herself out.

But she didn’t bury her face against his chest as he thought she might. She surprised him by smiling up at him.

“Scully?”

“I had another vision,” she said, sounding breathless and excited.

Her tears weren’t tears of grief, but of joy. Mulder found himself struggling to switch gears.

“W-When?”

“Just now. A few minutes ago.”

He brushed his palm over the jacket she wore. His fingers itched to reach into the pocket and touch the carved idol he knew was there.

“Tell me,” he urged.

“I was pregnant.”

“Pregnant?” He hadn’t expected this.

“I gave birth to a baby. A boy.”

Questions swirled through his mind. How? Where? When? Who?

“When did this, uh, event take place?” he asked, deciding to ease into his questions, beginning with the least personal.

“I don’t know. There was a woman with me. A dark haired woman. I’ve never seen her before. I think she was an FBI agent.”

An FBI agent in the maternity ward? That was odd.

“Where--” He paused to clear his throat. His mouth felt as dry as the Utah desert. “Where did you have this...your baby?”

“I’m not sure. I was in a room with a stained glass window. I was afraid.”

“Afraid? Why?”

She shook her head. “But then you came and everything was fine.” Her smile widened.

He rarely saw her smile this way. It softened her face, made her look younger, less like a seasoned agent. He would cut off both arms to be able to put that smile on her face every day.

“He was beautiful,” she said in a dreamy voice. “So perfect.”

“The baby?”

“Yes. I named him William.”

She shifted in his arms, snuggling against him like a satisfied cat.

“After your father?” he asked, feeling stupid because of course it would be after her father.

“No. After yours. The baby was yours, Mulder.”

Whoa, whoa, whoa...not possible. Not in this lifetime.

“Are you sure?” he asked, spotting a smear of drying semen on her upper thigh. The knot in his stomach was reaching critical mass; he was on the verge of losing last night’s supper.

Her beautiful smile faded. “Yes, I’m sure.”

She pulled away from him.

“Well, it’s just...” He gestured at her leg. “Isn’t it possible--?”

“No. The baby was yours, Mulder.”

“How do you know? How can you be sure?”

“Because you agreed to the IVF procedure, for one thing.”

“In vitro fertilization?” He was having trouble keeping up. This was too confusing, too outlandish. His emotions were seesawing. Jealousy, fear, rage, bewilderment...he couldn’t get his bearings. “Why IVF?”

Her frown deepened. “In case you’ve forgotten, I happen to be infertile.”

Jesus, I can be such an idiot, he thought. Of course she would need IVF.

Her expression changed again, from irritation to apprehension. “Mulder, what you said, back in the field, about me using you to get pregnant--”

“Scully, I was upset. I shouldn’t have said that.”

“Shouldn’t have,” she repeated softly, looking down. “But you meant it, didn’t you?”

“Shouldn’t have,” she repeated softly, looking down.

“Scully...” He shook his head.

Yes, he’d meant it but only in an insecure, thoughtless way. He truly didn’t believe she would try to trick him into getting her pregnant. She was the most honest, forthright person he’d ever known. It wasn’t in her character to be devious. He’d been projecting his past relationship with Diana onto his current one with her.

Assuming they still had a relationship. Scully looked ready to flee. And he felt ready to run in the opposite direction.

She rose and for a moment he thought she was going to leave, but she crossed the hut to get the water bag. She used it to sluice her thigh while scrubbing the dried semen from her leg with her fingers. When she finished washing, she turned to face him.

“I want you to be honest with me,” she said.

“Always,” he said, knowing this was a lie but wishing it weren’t. It wasn’t that he liked lying to her; it was just sometimes it seemed more prudent to keep the truth to himself, for her sake as much as for his own.

She cleared her throat before pinning him with a stare. 

“Mulder, who is Diana Fowley?”

 


Continued in Chapter Twelve

Special thanks to mimic117 for beta of Chapter 11.

Happy Birthday Kim1013! This one's for you!  

See The Mastodon Diaries Dictionary for an explanation of the paleo-indian terms and names.

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