CHAPTER TWELVE
Continued from
Chapter Eleven

["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content.  Reader discretion is advised.] 

Mulder and Scully petroglyph“D-Diana Fowley?” Mulder asked in what he hoped was a neutral tone of voice.

He remained frozen in place, kneeling on the sleeping skins and staring up at Scully as she rinsed the last traces of Dzeh’s ejaculate from her thighs. His stomach rolled at the sight and he clenched his jaws against the sting of bile at the back of his throat. Damn it, didn’t they have more important things to discuss than Diana? Like what Dzeh had done to Scully.

She set down the waterbag and stepped around the fireless hearth. Mulder’s jacket hung loosely across her hunched shoulders, engulfing her small frame. She paused at the edge of the bed to take a swipe at her wet, bare thighs, trying to dry herself with one dangling sleeve.

“Do you know her?” she asked, pressing him for an answer.

He nervously rubbed his palms up and down his own naked thighs. His tongue felt as gritty as the cooling ash in the hearth. “Uh...in what context?”

“In any context,” she said. “Do you know her or not?”

“Well, yes.” His head bobbed. “But it was a long time ago.”

“And...?”

“And...we worked together.” He shrugged, hoping to end the conversation. This was not an appropriate time for true confessions about his failed marriage. He wanted to hear about Scully; he wanted to find out if she was all right after sleeping with Dzeh.

“When you were in ISU?” she persisted.

“No, on the X-Files.” 

She must be purposely avoiding the topic of the mate-exchange, he decided, which meant the experience was worse than she’d anticipated.

Damn it, she’d seemed so calm back on the hill, touting logical arguments, urging him to go along.

It suddenly struck him that her composure must have been an act, deliberately feigned to save his life and safeguard his feelings.

The realization settled painfully into the pit of his stomach. It would be just like her to do whatever it took to protect him. He had no doubt she would put herself at risk for him, just as she was trained to do...as they were both trained to do.

Shit, why hadn’t he responded with equal valor? While she’d willingly sacrificed herself for him, he’d done nothing to protect her. He’d let himself be persuaded without thinking the situation through, without considering every possible alternative.

Why had he been so quick to agree?

To save her life? Or had he been overly eager to save his own sorry ass?

His hands began to tremble and he felt swamped with regret and self-loathing. His negligence -- or worse, his damn egocentric instincts -- had clouded his judgment. As a result, he’d allowed this terrible thing to happen.

“Scully--”

“I didn’t know you had another partner on the X-Files,” she continued.

“Uh...yeah, for a couple of years. She left for a foreign terrorism assignment in Europe. But--” Mulder scrubbed his chin with his palm as he tried to figure out what he should say next. He wanted to ask about Dzeh, but was uncertain if Scully was trying to spare his feelings, the same way she’d done on the hill, or guard her own. It was possible she wasn’t emotionally ready to talk about what happened. And if that were the case, he didn’t want to push her. He’d already caused her enough hurt.

Then again, he wasn’t ready to launch into the truth about Diana either.

No doubt he should have mentioned her to Scully years ago, but the subject hadn’t seemed relevant in the early years of their partnership. And now it was so far beyond relevant he didn’t know the best way to approach it.

How do you start a conversation with your lover about an ex-wife anyway? How ‘bout those Yankees, Scully, and by the way I was once married. That didn’t sound quite right.

He decided to dodge the issue for now by repeating, “It was a long time ago.”

“So you said.”

She knelt in front of him, her knees almost touching his. The hut was warm, yet Mulder shivered as if chilled to the bone. He wanted to reach out and take her in his arms, to comfort her as well as himself. The urge to touch her was almost overwhelming, unbearable, but he fought it and kept his hands anchored to his thighs, guessing that she didn’t need any more manhandling at the moment.

Especially from him, the asshole who’d given Dzeh permission to have his way with her. Jesus, how could he have condoned such a repugnant act?

Did Scully blame him for abandoning her to Dzeh, for putting her in danger, for bringing her here in the first place?

She should. He blamed himself. How could he not? He was responsible for all of it.

He desperately wanted to set things right, get them back home, away from the tribe’s abhorrent customs, out of the damn Ice Age.

But he had no clue where to begin, other than Scully’s visions, which he wasn’t a hundred percent convinced were visions.

Although...she had learned about Diana from them.

“Was Dian -- Agent Fowley in your dream?”

“It was a vision, Mulder, not a dream.”

“Fine. Was Agent Fowley in your vision?”

“Yes, indirectly.”

“Indirectly...what does that mean?”

“The Gunmen mentioned her. They were wondering why you two broke up.”

Don’t tell her, do *not* tell, he thought. Not right now. Not while he was misreading her, missing important clues, messing up.

Scully tightened his jacket around her, hugging her arms across her chest. He pictured the carved idol hidden in its pocket. She had been holding it when she experienced her first revelation. And it was with her again during the second.

As much as he believed in magic and the supernatural, right now he felt torn about the idol’s potential power. On the one hand, it could represent a way home. On the other, it seemed to be forecasting a future he found unlikely and undesirable.

Sam’s death at age fourteen. His supposed relief at learning about it. Scully’s pregnancy, the birth of her baby, *his* baby. His willingness to participate in an IVF procedure. It was difficult to reconcile these improbable events. They ran contrary to some of his deepest wishes.

And yet Scully had learned about Diana somehow. She’d developed that new scar on her abdomen, physical proof that her vision was more than a figment of her imagination.

He suddenly felt bone-tired. Days of hiking and going without food, yesterday’s hunt and the events of last night had exhausted his strength. His worries about Scully and Dzeh and her visions were expending the last of his diminished energy. He could barely keep his head up.

“Scully...can we...do you mind if we lie down?”

She glanced suspiciously at the furs before searching his face. Whatever she was hoping to find in his expression must have been there, because she lowered herself onto the bed, facing him.

He settled beside her, careful not to touch her; he preferred to wait for her to take the lead and reach out to him.

When she did, putting her arms around him, he melted into her embrace, overwhelmed by her capacity to forgive him. Tears flooded his eyes and he hid them by pressing his face into the crease of her neck. He held his breath against crying, fearful his lack of restraint would disgust her even more than his earlier acts of cowardice.

He felt unremitting remorse for his failure to prevent Dzeh’s sexual assault and knew he would never forgive himself for his role in it. 

Unlike him, Scully was bearing the brunt of his folly with her usual sangfroid.

He’d honestly expected to find her physically and emotionally altered by her experience: face red with grief, hair disheveled, bruises on her hands and arms where she’d tried to fight off Dzeh’s unwelcome advances. Yet she appeared as self-possessed as ever.

Her composure shouldn’t come as a surprise, he realized. She’d been practicing it for years. Half a decade with the FBI’s good ol’ boys had hardened her until now, twelve thousand years from Bureau paradigms and the prying eyes of her colleagues and superiors, she was still clinging to her customary stoicism.

You don’t have anything to prove, he wanted to tell her. You surpassed them all long ago. You surpassed me, too.

He pulled back and looked at her with tear-filled eyes.

“I know it’s not our usual MO, Scully, but talk to me. Please.”

She stroked his face, inspiring a painful lump in his throat.

“There’s nothing to say, Mulder. Really.”

“Noth-- You just gave yourself to a caveman, for Christ’s sake.”

“I didn’t *give* anything,” she said, bristling. “I participated in a tribal ritual. So did you.”

No, actually he hadn’t...and that little fact would be another of the many unspoken truths between them.

He tentatively ran a finger over her coat sleeve.

“It had to affect you,” he whispered.

“Why? Why did it have to affect me?”

“How could it not?” His eyes searched her face. “You made love to another man.”

“I did not. I kept us alive.” Color rose in her cheeks. “Are you saying your...encounter with Klizzie affected you?”

His hand stopped its rhythmic caress.

“No...I’m...It’s different for me,” he said, skirting the truth.

“Because you’re a man?”

“Yes, because I’m a man.”

“Tell me what difference that makes,” she challenged.

“It’s...it’s less invasive for me.”

“You think I was ‘invaded’?”

“Don’t you?”

Her focus fell away. “My body...maybe...yes,” she murmured, sounding sad and momentarily vulnerable. She looked up and pinned him with a determined stare. “But not *me*.”

There’s a difference? he wanted to ask, but bit his lip against the words, trying instead to put himself in her place, to think the way she might be thinking...not as a victim of a sexual assault, but as Scully, his strong, logic-minded partner.

“I don’t buy it, Scully. You weren’t given a choice--”

“We were backed into a corner, Mulder, *both* of us, but no one held a gun to our heads.”

“The gun was metaphorical. We were forced...and that had to be worse for you.”

“Mulder, I wasn’t raped. I allowed it to happen.”

Clearly she believed she’d made the emotional leap from the mores of 1998 to the tribe’s loathsome prehistoric customs, but she would have to face the truth eventually and when that happened, she’d feel the same turmoil he was feeling now.

“Is Klizzie okay?” she suddenly asked.

“Is *Klizzie* okay? Shit, Scully.” Why did she care what Klizzie was feeling? “Yes. Of course. She’s fine.”

“I just wondered if she was feeling ‘invaded.’”

Now it was his turn to look away.

“No,” he said, managing to keep his voice steady. “I don’t think she’s feeling... No.”

“Then there’s no reason for you to think I’m not okay, is there?”

Yes, there is, he thought. “That’s not an apt comparison,” he said, still not able to look her in the eye.

“Why not?”

“Because this is her culture, her rules.”

“Rules by which we must abide as long as we’re here.”

He didn’t want to argue with her. Not now. He wanted to hold her, feel her skin, taste her lips, convince himself she was okay. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, keep her safe. He wanted to make up for all the hurt he’d caused.

“Scully, are you sure--”

“I’m fine, Mulder. Drop it, please. Go to sleep. That’s what I plan to do.”

Her expression hardened; she was steeling herself, avoiding the full impact of her emotions by putting her back up against a wall of logic, the same way she’d done after her father’s death and her sister’s and Emily’s, after her abduction and after her cancer. This was her way of coping; hed seen it countless times.

She closed her eyes, effectively shutting him out.

He decided not to push; he would drop it for now, silently promising to be there when she finally did need him, vowing to do better than he’d done earlier. He would watch out for her best interests, not his. He would, he swore it.

Reluctantly, he closed his eyes. Almost immediately he fell fast sleep.

*   *   *

Gini ran as hard as her legs could carry her. Tears blurred her vision as she raced through wet, waist-high grass, heading upland toward the summit of Crouching Cat Mountain. Morning mist, tinted silvery-gold by the rising sun, swirled in her wake like angry Spirits. Her heart pounded in her chest. She could hear nothing but her ragged breathing and the memory of Dzeh’s dreadful words: “Of course you will have a mate. Do you expect me to take care of you forever?”

“No, no, no,” she chanted through clenched teeth. More tears flooded her eyes.

Three quarters of the way to the top of the hill, she felt the jab of spear points in her sides. Her thighs burned like hot coals. Out of breath, she threw herself to the ground to weep into the crook of her arm.

Flower blossoms heavy with dew hid her from prying eyes and helped cool her overheated skin. Her body shook with outrage and dread as she cried.

At this moment she hated Dzeh. He was cruel beyond belief. Couldn’t he see she did not want to move away from her home and family? And what did he mean when he said *he* took care of *her*? It was the other way around! Did he not notice the way she was always helping Klizzie, cooking *his* meals and sewing *his* clothes and tending *his* hearth? If he would only open his eyes he would see how often she gathered food, scraped hides, dried meat, fetched wood, carried supplies from one camp to the next. The work was endless!

He was not being fair. She had done everything he had ever asked and yet he still wanted to send her away to live with a stranger, a stupid boy who was rude and ugly and mean...almost as mean as Dzeh himself!

It would serve her brother right if she went away to live with another clan. Then he would see exactly how much he missed her. “Help me find my yea-go stick, Gini.” “Fetch my tool kit.” “Pour my tea.” “Bring me another plate of meat.” He would surely suffer if she were gone.

Right now she wished a saber-toothed cat would come and eat her up. That would solve all her problems. Dzeh would be rid of her and she would not have to go live with Chal. Then Dzeh would be sorry that he treated her so badly. When he found nothing but her bones and her bloody tunic, he would be the one crying. Then he would have to tell the entire Clan how sad he was to have lost his sister -- the girl who did everything for him, who loved him with all her heart even though he was mean, mean, mean.

One day he would regret the unfeeling things he had said. He would wish he’d never mentioned sending her away.

*   *   *

“Klizzie?” Dzeh crouched beside the furs and gently tickled his mate’s bare shoulder. “Wake up.”

When she didn’t stir, he leaned closer, putting his lips to her ear. He blew across the outer ridges, nibbled her lobe, then whispered, “It is after sunup, my mate.”

She groaned with dissatisfaction, squeezed her eyes shut more tightly and curled onto her side in a ball.

He slid beneath the blankets behind her.

“Did my Trading Partner tire you out?” He chuckled and nuzzled her neck.

Breathing her womanly scent, he felt himself growing hard. She smelled nice, like the perfumed oil she often wore. Overlaying her feminine fragrance Dzeh detected a more masculine odor, too, very faint along her shoulders, at the nape of her neck. He let his nose guide him down her spine, knowing this musky odor must be Muhl-dar’s.

Giving Klizzie to his Trading Partner had not been easy for Dzeh. Mate exchange required a leap of faith in the best of times and Dzeh’s trust had been razed four summers ago when his former Trading Partner took Klizzie to his bed. Remembering those fiery days still caused coals to burn in his stomach. It was beyond reason that a man would mate with his own kin. Klesh’s actions were reprehensible, the worst contravention imaginable.

All civilized men knew the Spirits imparted traditions and taboos for the good of the Clan. Only a fool would flout the rules, risking the fury of the Spirits and endangering the lives of his family.

A reliable Trading Partner was intended to be a blessing. Partnerships turned the stone mountains that often divided clans into mists, allowing men to walk freely in hostile territories, help each other in times of need. This was the reason Dzeh was willing to take a gamble with Muhl-dar. There was much to gain if the stranger from Eel Clan was a man of honor and status. If he turned out to be as contemptible as Klesh, however, there was everything to lose.

Dzeh thought back to his dream about Muhl-dar, the vision he had recounted days ago to the elders in Tsa-ond Cave. In it, stormy skies calmed when an invisible female Spirit transformed Snake Spirit’s terrible lightning bolt into a fog of harmless cottonwood seed. The female Spirit blew the downy seeds away. Then she stole Muhl-dar away, too, and the people of Owl Clan had been very sad to see him go.

Parts of the dream had frightened him; Klizzie was missing and he could think of nothing more dreadful than that. And yet the vision was hopeful, too. Muhl-dar had saved the Clan from the vengeful snake-man.

Whether the vision turned out to be true or not, Dzeh’s partnership with Muhl-dar was already made; the formality of the mate-exchange now bound them like brothers. And overall, Dzeh felt relieved by their relationship. He had gone too long without a partner. Thank the Spirits the last four years had not been too arduous; the Clan had needed to ask for assistance from neighboring clans only twice, when winter stores had run low and hunger squeezed their empty bellies. Thanks to the generosity of Lin’s Trading Partner in Bear Clan, no one in Owl Clan had been lost.

Dzeh took a deep breath, pressing his nose into the soft flesh of Klizzie’s hip. Yes, he could smell his Trading Partner there; Muhl-dar must have taken her from behind. Thinking of the Eel stranger on his mate’s back made Dzeh want to take her in that fashion, too. He became rock hard at the thought of Klizzie beneath Muhl-dar, her back arched, her braids swaying and her breasts jouncing with each of his thrusts.

She would still be wet inside from her earlier mating, slicked with a mixture of Muhl-dar’s essence and her own juices. It pleased Dzeh to know she had pleasured his Trading Partner, strengthening their bond. 

He slid a hand around her waist, spreading his palm across the gentle swell of her abdomen. Her skin was smooth, warm. He dipped his hand lower, sliding a finger between her folds.

She rolled toward him, eyes dark with passion.

Withdrawing his caress, he whispered, “I want to take you from behind. Like a stallion with his mare.”

Her eyes widened a little, but she complied, turning over to position herself on hands and knees in front of him.

She was beautiful. Her skin was as polished as a river stone and the color of ripe acorns. Her curves reminded him of the undulating hills around Small Wind Lake where they met at the Mastodon Feast four years ago. She had been a woman just out of girlhood, only fourteen Feasts old. She had crept into his heart the instant he cast eyes on her. And for the first time in many lonely seasons, he had no longer felt the awful ache left by the passing of his first mate.

Young Klizzie had reawakened the Spirits in him.

Feeling the same rush of desire for her now as on that wonderful summer day four years ago, Dzeh moved behind her, nudging her knees apart with his own. His erection stood straight out, eager to plunge into her.

“Ready, my mate?” he whispered.

She glanced over her shoulder at him, setting her braids into motion. The clatter of her beads caused the hairs on his arms to rise. His legs went numb at the sight of her liquid eyes. Mother Earth, how he loved this woman. She was his delight, his companion, his hearth-mate. He could think of nothing he wanted more than to be here with her, inside her.

Hands on her hips, he pressed slowly into her. She was pliant and snug, although not as slick as he had expected her to be. His head swam with pleasure as he pushed more deeply into her. A quiet growl hummed in the back of his throat.

Bowing over her, his chest pressing against her back, he balanced himself on one arm, so as not to burden her with his weight. With his free hand, he groped her right breast, tugging her hardened nipple and squeezing her soft flesh.

He began to thrust, making her moan. Her soft cries excited him, urging him to quicken his pace. The smell of her sex prickled his nose. This felt wonderful; she felt wonderful.

Had Muhl-dar thought so, too, when he was inside her? Had he brought Klizzie to her moment of pleasure before hurrying to his own?

Releasing her breast, Dzeh slid his hand between her legs, his fingers searching for her ulh-ne-ih. She gasped when he found it.

“No, Dzeh. Please. I cannot,” she suddenly begged.

He halted his thrusts and removed his hand from between her legs. “What is the matter, Klizzie?”

“I...”

She was trembling beneath him, so he withdrew from her and turned her around to face him.

“You must tell me,” he murmured.

She hid her eyes behind lowered lashes. “It is...bad. I have done something shameful.”

“Shameful? What is it?”

“You will be angry.” A tear slipped down her cheek. “You will no longer want me as your mate.”

He doubted that. What could she possibly say that would steal away his love for her? He caressed her face, wiping her tears with his thumb.

“Tell me,” he urged.

Clinging to her totem, she drew a deep, shuddering breath. “I have lied to you,” she whispered.

Shame crept up her neck and face, reddening her skin. Her hands trembled. She bit her lower lip to still its quivering.

He couldn’t imagine what would make her so afraid of him. He rarely became angry...at her or at anyone. Not once in four years had he struck her the way some men did to their mates. She’d never given him a reason to hit or scold her...ever. And even if she had, he doubted very much he would react with such ferocity.

So why was she quaking like a startled hare now?

“What lie, my mate?” he asked, uncertain he wanted to hear her answer.

Clearly she didn’t want to tell him. She swallowed hard. Tears overflowed her lashes again, painting wet trails down both cheeks.

“He...he did not...”

Her voice was so faint and meek, Dzeh needed to lean forward to hear her.

“Who, Klizzie?” he asked. Did this have anything to do with Muhl-dar and the mate exchange? “Who did not do what?”

“Klesh. Klesh did not...force me.”

A hive of bees awoke in Dzeh’s stomach at the mention of Klesh’s name. His hand dropped away from Klizzie’s cheek. What did she mean he did not force her?

“Force you to do what?” he asked, his voice a hoarse whisper. The question scoured his throat like a breath of wood ash.

“He...he offered me a hair ornament in exchange for the night on his sleeping skins.”

Dzeh could not believe his ears! “And you agreed?” he asked, incredulous. Please, deny it, he silently begged. Tell me you argued with him and you fought him. Tell me it was only because he overpowered you that you submitted. Please, Klizzie, please, don’t tell me you allowed this to happen.

Her shoulders slumped and her chin fell to her chest.

“Klizzie, he is your cousin!”

It was an outrage...the most contemptible act imaginable. Even at age fourteen she would have known this.

“Dzeh, I am...so sorry.” She was crying openly now, her hands twisting nervously in her lap.

The angry bees in Dzeh’s stomach began to sting him and he thought he might throw up. Klizzie had done this loathsome thing of her own volition...for a silly hair ornament.

“Why did you not tell me this before?” he shouted, surprised by the roar of his voice across his tongue.

Klizzie jumped at his shout. She opened her mouth, but no words came out. The only sound in the hut was the rattle of her beads as she ducked her head, cringing as if she expected a rain of blows on her back.

He rose to his feet, fists clenched in anger. His heart hammered inside his chest. Spinning on his heel, he lunged for the door.

“Dzeh? Where are you going? What will you do?” she asked, her voice watery with tears.

“I do not know,” he growled and pushed through the door, leaving her to cry alone.

*   *   *

As soon as Mulder fell asleep, Scully rose from the furs, intending to take a bath in the lake. She wanted to scour away all traces of Dzeh from her skin.

Quietly, she located a soap root and her clothes: her jeans and turtleneck, not the garments Klizzie had given her. She didn’t want anything that had belonged to the tribe touching her skin...not now, not yet. She preferred instead to wrap herself in the familiar, which was why she’d put on Mulder’s jacket the moment Dzeh left her. She’d wanted to lose herself in Mulder’s comforting scent. Cocooned in his coat she felt less alone, less afraid.

She hugged the coat around her now and looked down at Mulder, asleep in a tangle of furs. He was lying on his back, his face half-hidden beneath one upraised arm, his fingers curled into a loose fist. A soft snore whirred in his throat. She watched his chest rise and fall and silently she counted his steady breaths just as she’d done almost three weeks ago when he’d been so ill. She’d nearly lost him then. She might have lost him last night, too, when he challenged death again by refusing to cooperate with the tribe.

Didn’t he realize how much she needed him? Especially here. He had no right to risk himself for the sake of his irrelevant 20th Century code of ethics. Their modern-day values were utterly meaningless in this Ice Age world. These people had no way to understand or appreciate their foreign concepts of honor, principles of morality that were tied to a time still thousands of years in the future. She and Mulder needed to play by a set of older, less familiar rules now, to stay alive, to get back to their real place in history, to the life she’d foreseen in her vision.

Reminded of her vision, she once again imagined the small weight of her infant son cradled in her arms, the milky feel of his skin beneath her lips, the downy softness of his hair as she ran a palm across the crown of his head. Closing her eyes, she could hear him suckle at her breast, feel the pull of his mouth on her nipple as he drew sustenance from her. He was a miracle and it didn’t matter to her how or when he came into being; her love for him was already so strong it stole her breath away.

She opened her eyes and let her teary gaze settle on Mulder’s bearded face. This man would one day be the father of her baby... “If I can keep you alive long enough to get you back home,” she whispered.

Letting him sleep, she left the shelter with clothes in hand. She headed for the lake, but changed her direction when she saw how many tribespeople were already there. She didn’t feel ready to mingle with them...not yet.

Wanting to cleanse her spirit as much as her body, she decided to climb the hill that overlooked the lake; at the summit, she would pray to God for His guidance. He had allowed her to see an angel not too long ago, during the Kernoff case; maybe He would show her the right path to take here.

Limping through knee-high grass, she climbed slowly. The rising sun cast her shadow into her path like a blackened corpse. Her sprained ankle pained her. It was irresponsible to hike on it, she knew, but at the same time she was grateful for the way it distracted her from the raw ache between her legs.

Scully hadn’t been ready for Dzeh’s invasive intimacy. As much as she’d tried to close off her mind and relax her body, she’d been tense and the act had been uncomfortable. Thankfully, it hadn’t lasted long; he’d thrust only a few times, ejaculated and then quickly withdrew.

Had Mulder’s performance been equally brief?

Don’t think about it, she told herself. It’s over now. It doesn’t matter what happened.

Unless...

Klizzie became pregnant as a result of her union with Mulder.

God, please, not that, she silently prayed. The consequences would be devastating. A baby would anchor Mulder to this prehistoric world. He would never agree to abandon his child to strangers...would he?

Glancing over her shoulder to gauge the distance she’d come, she was momentarily blinded by the glare of the sun. She lifted an arm to shade her face and gaze down into the valley. The lake glittered like a shattered mirror between the ranges of bruise-colored mountains. A ghostly mist hovered over the water. Sounds from the village floated feebly up the hillside: the wail of a baby, a mother’s concerned call, an unidentifiable hammering that reminded Scully of a too fast heartbeat.

Overhead, a battalion of tin-colored clouds marched toward the rising sun, as if intending to ambush and capture it. Gray and menacing, they reminded her of a similar sky on a June day in Denver eight years ago...the last day she saw Daniel.

She’d asked Daniel to meet her in the atrium outside UCH’s cafeteria and had bought sandwiches from the vending machine for their lunch. He was late, as usual, but she hadn’t been hungry anyway; her stomach was tied in knots because she was planning to tell him goodbye. She’d decided to leave her medical career, and him, to join the FBI. She doubted he would understand her desire to switch from medicine to law enforcement. No doubt he would infer her motives were fueled by the complications of their personal relationship. With Daniel, everything was about him.

“I’m late,” he announced without apology when he appeared at her small table. Sliding into the seat opposite her, he didn’t reach for her hand or lean in to kiss her. Too many people at the hospital knew his wife Barbara, who spearheaded several very successful fundraising projects for the auxiliary.

“I can’t stay,” he said. “This for me?” He pointed to one of the sandwiches.

She nodded and pushed the turkey club across the sunlit table. He unwrapped it and took a hearty bite. “What’s up?” he asked, between mouthfuls.

“I’m leaving,” she said without preamble.

He stopped chewing, but only for a moment. “What do you mean you’re leaving?”

“I’m joining the FBI. I’m flying to Washington on Friday.”

“The FBI?” A laugh chuffed from his nose and his eyes clouded with disapproval. “You’re running away from me.”

“This isn’t about you, Daniel.”

“No? You expect me to believe the FBI is more alluring than a career in medicine? It’s an excuse, Dana.”

To some degree, he was right. He scared her with his unyielding passion -- for medicine, for her, for his secretive double life. She admired his relentless dedication to his patients and to his profession; he was a brilliant doctor and she couldn’t deny she was attracted to him. But Daniel Waterston required everything his way, and she saw little room for her in his already overcrowded life. He had a wife, a daughter. An affair with him would lead to nothing but heartache for them all.

“If you stay, Dana, I can help you with your career,” he said. “There’s an open--”

“No. Thank you. I can make my own way.”

“The only thing you’re making is a mistake.” He rewrapped what was left of his sandwich. “You’ll regret it.”

“I might. But I would regret staying more.” Already her heart was aching over the loss of him, yet she knew she mustn’t show it. Any sign of waffling would launch him into an argument, one he was sure to win because she loved him, and he knew exactly how much. It would take so little for him to convince her to stay. She couldn’t allow that to happen; she couldn’t be responsible for the breakup of his family. Their needs outweighed hers.

He rose from his chair, dusted the crumbs from his trousers and leaned across the table. In front of the entire crowded dining room, he planted a passionate kiss on her lips. It was the first time he’d ever risked his position and reputation for her sake. When he finally pulled away, he said, “Stay, Dana. Forget this FBI nonsense.”

Still feeling the press of his lips on hers, she blinked back tears and tried to find her voice. She shook her head. “I’m sorry, Daniel.”

“So am I,” he said, sounding sincere.

She saw real pain in his eyes before he turned from the table and walked away.

She sat there for several minutes, blinking away tears, eyes turned toward the atrium’s glass ceiling. The sky darkened as clouds overtook the sun, their surprise attack mirroring the swirl of emotion inside her chest.

Turning away from her memory of that day, Scully continued her uphill climb. She sought solace as she walked by reciting the 23rd Psalm.

“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want...”

Her hand went automatically to her throat, searching for her cross and the comfort it brought her. She was seized with fresh anxiety when she remembered it was no longer there, that it was in the possession of the scarred man...or lost.

“He makes me lie down in green pastures,” she continued. “He leads me beside still waters; He restores--”

Thinking she heard the sound of muffled crying, she paused and held her breath to listen. Sure enough, somewhere up ahead, hidden by tall grass, someone was weeping as if her heart would break. Scully aimed for the sad sound, hobbling as fast as she could and trying to ignore the pain in her ankle.

“Hello,” she called as she hiked, still unable to see who was crying. “Are you all right?” Then she saw her, little Gini, stretched out on her belly in a well of trampled grass.

At the sound of Scully’s voice, Gini stopped her hiccoughing sobs and lifted her head to mop tears from her eyes with her fists.

“Sweetie, what’s the matter?” Scully asked. Setting the things she carried on the ground, she knelt beside the girl and gently rubbed her back, coaxing her to sit up. “Are you hurt?”

Gini launched into a long teary explanation, none of which Scully could understand, except for the word “Dzeh.”

“Come here,” she invited, indicating her lap.

Gini didn’t hesitate. She slid into Scully’s lap, her tears starting up all over again when Scully wrapped her in a hug.

“It can’t be as bad as that, can it?” she asked, smoothing the girl’s hair away from her fiery cheeks. She planted a kiss on the crown of her dark head. “Shhhh, it’ll be fine.”

They sat like that for several minutes while Gini cried herself out, her wet face pressed into Mulder’s coat, her narrow shoulders shaking within the loose circle of Scully’s arms. Scully rubbed her back, soothing the girl’s nerves.

Gini cried herself out, her wet face pressed into Mulder’s coat, her narrow shoulders shaking within the loose circle of Scully’s arms.

Comforting Gini reminded her of William. She pictured him again, snug in her arms, blond and blue-eyed, with Mulder’s pouty mouth and curious stare. She ached to hold him and satisfied her desire by rocking Gini instead. Closing her eyes against the Pleistocene landscape, she conjured up her most recent vision: her bedroom, William, Mulder walking toward them, his eyes glistening with pride and love.

The image was so real she swore she could hear the sounds of traffic outside her window, smell the baby’s powdery scent, even taste the flavor of decaf coffee from the cup on her nightstand.

“Day-nuh?”

Gini was no longer crying. She was patting Scully’s arm to get her attention.

“You’re a mess,” Scully said, looking down at the girl’s tear-streaked face. She dug Mulder’s handkerchief from his coat pocket, wiped Gini’s cheeks, and then held the cloth to her nose. “Blow,” she said, crinkling her nose and demonstrating a quick, gentle blow.

Gini understood and snuffled into the handkerchief, then watched with curiosity as Scully tucked it away again. When she withdrew Mulder’s binoculars, the girl’s eyes widened.

“Look through here,” Scully said, holding the glasses to her face.

Gini peered through them at the lake and gasped. She turned to stare at Scully in wonder. “Nih-tsa-goh-al-neh,” she said, breathless with excitement. “Nih-tsa-goh-al-neh!”

“Pretty interesting, huh?” She handed Gini the binoculars.

The girl leapt to her feet and, pivoting 360 degrees, she inspected the mountaintops, the faraway forest, the clouds, the village, the lake. She chattered nonstop as she looked, pointing a stubby finger and squealing at each new view. Spinning around twice more, she became so dizzy, she toppled and landed with a giggle on her backside in the grass.

Scully smiled at her exuberance.

“Cha! Cha!” Gini said. She pointed to a large beaver lodge on the northeast shore of the lake and indicated she wanted Scully to look at it through the binoculars.

That began a back and forth game of looking and naming various objects, trading words for each. Scully found it fairly easy to remember most of Gini’s words and phrases; she’d always had an aptitude for languages. The girl seemed to share her ability.

When they’d finally exhausted the most obvious landmarks, Scully rose to her feet and gathered her things.

“What do you say, you and I go down to the lake to get cleaned up, hmm?” she said. “You hang onto the binoculars for now.”

“Bi-nok-a-lurs,” Gini repeated, grinning. “Nih-tsa-goh-al-neh. Bi-nok-a-lurs.”

“Nih-tsa-goh-al-neh.” Scully carefully pronounced each distinct syllable. She took hold of Gini’s hand and together they headed down the hill.

*   *   *

“...Ninety-eight, ninety-nine, one hundred! Ready or not, here I come!”

Fox uncovers his eyes and blinks against the bright afternoon sun. Finding Sam will be a piece of cake, he thinks; she always hides in the same half-dozen locations.

The first place he looks is the boathouse. Its shadowy interior is surprisingly cold on this hot summer day. Goosebumps stipple his arms and legs when he steps inside. He hopes Sam isn’t here. The air smells of mildew. Cobwebs cling to the rafters. When he crouches to check beneath the upside down rowboat, his bathing suit, still damp from his morning swim, feels chilly against his backside. He grabs hold of the boat’s gunwale to keep his balance, and the rotting wood is spongy beneath his fingers. The paint is peeling. He offered to scrape it and put on a fresh coat, but his dad said no. He doesn’t want Fox out on the water in the boat. Not even if he promises to wear a life jacket.

“Sam? If you’re in here, I’m gonna find you.”

He listens for telltale noises: a giggle, a hitch of breath. He hears nothing but the scampering of a small animal. Probably a red squirrel.

Returning to the outdoors, Fox checks behind the prickly, waist-high shrubs that line his mother’s flower bed. He circles a few trees, looks beneath his dad’s car, which is parked in the driveway near the house. He squats beside the foundation and peers between slats of wood that are meant to keep raccoons out from under the porch, but don’t because several boards are missing and the hole is big enough for his sister to crawl through.

“Sam?” The sound of his voice falls flat in the dead, damp space.

She’s not in any of her favorite hiding spots, so he stands and heads down the shore path to the beach because the rule is “no hiding in the house.” Mom doesn’t want them underfoot, tracking sand and pine needles across her clean floors.

“Sam? Saaammmm!”

The sound of breakers drowns out his cry. He pivots, looking up and down the beach, seeing nothing but a knot of seagulls in front of the Norwood’s house. The birds are bickering over a dead squid, washed ashore, black with sand fleas and blowflies.

“Sam!”

He spots her small footprints in the sand and begins to follow them. Another set of prints soon appears alongside hers, larger than hers. Larger than his. There is a toe missing on the left foot. Oh God, oh God, he knows these prints.

He breaks into a jog.

“Sam? Saaam!” His voice becomes a shriek. Shit, she’s gone! He’s got to find her, save her, protect her from that Neanderthal monster.

Suddenly he is no longer a boy on the beach. He’s a grown man in his apartment with his father.

“You let this man take your sister,” Bill Mulder accuses him. “Isn’t that what you’re trying to tell me?”

Mulder turns his back, unable to look his father in the eye.

“I-I can’t explain it to you,” he stammers. “But, um...I believed I was doing the right thing, Dad.”

“Was this your decision?”

His father’s blame knocks the wind from his lungs.

“Yes,” he admits, wanting to shirk the responsibility, but knowing he should admit to it. “I’ll tell Mom.”

“Do you realize what losing her again is going to do to your mother?”

He turns to look at his father, whose disappointment and anger bring tears to his eyes.

“Do you?” Bill Mulder hurls the words at him.

His voice fails him. Shame, guilt and sorrow push rational thought out of reach. He stares at the floor and starts to cry, feeling like a boy again, repentant and overwhelmed with regret.

“I’m sorry, Dad. I’m sorry. I’m...I’m sorry.”

It’s all he can say. A wave of nausea threatens to empty his stomach.

“Sorry doesn’t cut it, Agent Mulder.”

He’s no longer standing with his father. He’s in A.D. Skinner’s office and Skinner is sitting behind his desk, shoulders squared, jaw clenched. Annoyance seeps from every pore.

Mulder slouches in the chair opposite the AD. It’s his usual seat. Scully’s chair is empty beside him. Misery blurs his vision. Fear constricts his lungs. “I lost her.”

“You lost her? Is that all you can say?”

They aren’t talking about Sam. They’re talking about Scully.

“I couldn’t...I couldn’t protect her. I tried.” His hands twist in his lap. He loathes everything about himself. “I think...I think she’s dead.”

Skinner’s focus drops to his desk as he considers this news. “Agent Scully was a fine officer,” he finally says. “More than that, I liked her. I respected her.” He lifts his eyes to glare at Mulder. Mulder recognizes his words from years ago, when Scully was abducted. Skinner continues to speak. “We all know the field we play on and we all know what can happen in the course of a game. If you were unprepared for all the potentials, then you shouldn’t step on the field.”

“What if I...I knew the potential consequences but I...I never told her?” He’s made one bad choice after the next. “I lost her,” he repeats, knowing the fault is his. “I didn’t tell her the truth and now I’ve lost her. I’ve lost everything.”

*   *   *

“Muhl-dar? Day-nuh?” Klizzie called through the closed door of their hut. “Excuse me, are you awake?” She held a tray of food, which was laden with roasted mastodon, fresh mushrooms, gooseberries sweetened with honey, two raw goose eggs and an assortment of greens. Tucked between the bowls and plates were several mint twigs for cleaning their teeth when they were finished eating.

“Muhl-dar?”

There was no answer. They were either sleeping or had left the hut.

Or maybe they were mating.

Not wishing to disturb them, Klizzie considered leaving the tray on the ground outside the door. But to do so would draw insects and scavenging animals. It would be better to set the tray inside.

“I have food,” she announced loudly.

She had prepared the tray soon after Dzeh stormed out of their hut. Providing his new partner with breakfast was part of the exchange, and Klizzie didn’t wish to further anger her mate, so she dried her tears and set about gathering the finest food in the camp.

She went to Aunt Ho-Ya for fresh goose eggs. The kind woman didn’t seem to notice she’d been crying; she was too distracted by last minute preparations for Jeha’s Joining Ceremony, which was scheduled to take place after the afternoon yea-go match.

“I have so much to do.” Ho-Ya complained without any real irritation in her voice; a broad grin lightened her words. “Extra food is needed for Turtle Clan when they arrive. My sister Tkin and her family will be staying here with me until a new lodge can be set up for them. I do not mind the extra company, really. We have the bed space. Oh, Klizzie, Jeha looks so pretty in her new Joining dress! So grown up!”

Klizzie barely listened as Ho-Ya described the embroidered tunic; her mind was on Dzeh instead. She feared what he might do now that he knew the truth about her and Klesh. Would he beat her? Cast her out of the Clan?

She wished she hadn’t told him; it would have been better to take her secret to the Spirit World. But the second lie about Muhl-dar had piled upon the first about Klesh, and the two together were too great a burden to carry. When Dzeh began making love to her, she felt overwhelmed with guilt. The words came out as if on their own.

Her confession brought both relief and regret. Admitting the truth had felt good, like having a heavy load of firewood lifted from her aching arms, and yet, she wished she had told someone other than Dzeh.

She’d deceived him and lost his love as a result. And she had no one to blame but herself.

Klizzie hoped beyond hope that he could forgive her. Silently she promised the Spirits she would break no more rules and she would tell no more lies from this moment on if Dzeh would pardon her offenses.

Ho-Ya finally handed her the goose eggs and asked, “How did it go with Dzeh’s new Trading Partner last night?”

The question stole her breath away. She and Muhl-dar had not completed the ritual, which meant the partnership was invalid.

Would Dzeh find out? Muhl-dar might spill the truth, putting her in worse trouble.

She had to try to convince him to remain silent.

“It is over,” she lied to Ho-Ya. “Dzeh and Muhl-dar are Partners now.”

Ho-Ya nodded with serious approval. “That is good.”

Klizzie thanked her for the eggs and hurried away to prepare Muhl-dar’s breakfast.

Her stomach was buzzing with bees as she pushed through Muhl-dar’s door, carrying her tray of food.

She paused just inside the entrance, allowing her eyes to adjust to the dark. The fire had burned out. She could see a shadowy mound beneath the furs and heard a quiet masculine snore.

“I have food,” she said again, more quietly this time. “Muhl-dar?”

He stirred, lifted his head, and blinked sleepily at her. “Scully?” he asked.

“No, it is me...Klizzie.” She held out the tray. “I brought food.”

“Oh.” Sitting up, he glanced around the hut. “Where’s Scully...uh...I mean, where’s Dana?”

She shook her head, unsure what he was asking. She carried the tray to the bed and set it on the ground. “Are you hungry?” she asked. Kneeling beside him, she lifted a plate of meat for him to see.

It was impolite to remain here with him; custom demanded she bring the food and then leave him on his own. But first she needed to find out if he intended to tell anyone the truth about last night. Maybe he’d already spoken of it and she was too late to dissuade him. Or maybe he had said nothing yet, but planned to complain to Dzeh later on. She had to find out, to help her predict Dzeh’s next actions.

“Muhl-dar, I must ask you something but I do not know how,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady.

On the inside she was quaking like an aspen tree in a windstorm. She worried that Day-nuh might suddenly return and interrupt her questions, or that Muhl-dar might think her inquiries rude and become angry with her for her impudence. It was possible, too, that he was embarrassed about the incomplete ritual. She didn’t really know why he had not finished the rite. She’d assumed he was dissatisfied with her in some way, but it was possible he had not been physically capable of carrying out his duty. His male part was marked by a strange scar; perhaps it no longer worked the way it was supposed to.

Their lack of common language and the delicate nature of the conversation made asking questions almost impossible.

“Muhl-dar, last night we did not conclude our obligation,” she said, pointing first to his lap and then to hers. “This is a breach of custom.” She looked up at his face to see if he understood any of what she was saying.

His jaw clenched and worry shadowed his eyes. Again she gestured toward their laps. When he nodded, she continued, “You will be cast out of the Clan if Dzeh discovers the truth. I may be exiled, too. I am afraid for both of us.”

She could no longer control the quaver of her voice. Tears filled her eyes.

He reached out and put a finger to her trembling lips.

He reached out and put a finger to her trembling lips. “Shhhhh,” he said. He continued to talk, his tone sincere, gentle and urgent. He shook his head several times, repeating her gesture at their laps. Several times, he held his finger to his lips and to hers, making his hushing sound. It seemed he was eager to keep their secret, too, although his reasons eluded her.

“Did you tell Day-nuh?” she asked. She used the hand signal for “making talk.” Several repetitions, combined with more pointing at their laps seemed to convey her question.

He shook his head. “No one knows,” he said. “It’ll be our secret.”

“See-kret?”

Again he held his finger to his lips and nodded. “Have you told Dzeh?”

“Dzeh? No, no. Dzeh must not find out. He is very angry with me...about something else...something awful. Knowledge of an additional deceit will cause more trouble. He must never learn of it. Never.”

In this halting way they made a pact to remain silent. Thank the Spirits, she had not been too late. Relief surged through her and on an impulse she embraced Mulder for his willingness to keep quiet. He returned her embrace, as if equally satisfied by their arrangement.

*   *   *

Tormented with worry, Dzeh brought his yea-go stick and tool kit to the butternut tree at the edge of the village. He did his best thinking while working with his hands, so he decided to repair the stick’s worn leather basket while giving careful consideration to Klizzie’s shocking confession.

Setting down his tools, he sat cross-legged beneath the tree’s broad limbs. This spot gave him an unobstructed view of the camp, and he wanted to keep an eye out for Klizzie. No doubt she would soon be joining the group of women who were cutting meat beside the smoke house a stone’s throw away.

Dzeh upended his tool kit, allowing its contents to spill into his lap. Two unfinished carvings fell from the leather pouch: fertility idols, intended as offerings to Hare Spirit in hope of getting Klizzie pregnant. Dzeh pushed them aside, too distressed to look at them. Klizzie’s transgressions were like knives in his flesh.

She had broken the strictest Clan law and then lied to cover it up, remaining silent while her cousin and brother were exiled. Dzeh had no doubt Klesh deserved to be banished; he was an unrelenting bully and a known thief. He frequently cheated at gambling games and refused to observe the necessary rituals or give prayers. He was an angry man who had made many enemies. Only Tse-e had stuck by him, leaving the Clan along with his exiled cousin. 

Both men were probably dead, he supposed. Two alone without the help of kin were doomed.

Their blood was on Klizzie’s hands. No wonder the Spirits had denied her a child all these years. Dzeh had been a fool to beg for a baby on her behalf.

Hands shaking, he took a small strip of leather from his pile of supplies and trimmed it to fit the loop on his yea-go stick. He then searched for lashing material and a stout needle.

He kept an eye on the women by the smokehouse while he unwound a length of rawhide cord. Klizzie would arrive shortly, he was certain, to help them with their chore of cutting and preserving the meat from yesterday’s hunt. He wasn’t sure what he would say or do when she appeared. He had no plan. He only hoped that seeing her would help him decide the right course of action.

About twenty women of various ages hunkered beside the smokehouse, chatting amicably while they cut chunks of fat from meat. Dzeh was too far away to overhear their conversation, but he caught their excited, happy tones. No doubt they were discussing Turtle Clan’s anticipated arrival later today, as well as other details of the upcoming Feast.

He watched them pile fat into gourds to render later. For now they concentrated on slicing the meat into thin, even strips, which would dry quickly over the fires in the smokehouse.

His previous mate had been very adept at preparing meat in this fashion. She’d taken great care to carve all trace of fat from the meat before drying it, thus preventing it from going rancid. Mixing the rendered fat with pulverized dried meat, she made the smoothest pemmican he had ever eaten. She often flavored it with tasty herbs, too...a welcome change of pace from an otherwise bland winter diet.

It had been a long while since he had thought of Chuo’s cooking skills, perhaps because Klizzie was equally proficient at preserving and cooking food.

Chuo had been a beautiful woman, several years older than Dzeh and already the mother of one young son and pregnant with her second when she agreed to become his mate. The father of Chuo’s children had been killed in a winter hunting accident. He’d been an elder from Moose Clan, a skilled toolmaker and a knowledgeable tracker. His loss was keenly felt by his mate and his clan.

Five springs after Chuo became Dzeh’s mate she announced she was pregnant again. It was the happiest day of Dzeh’s life. He looked forward to the birth of his first child and he walked around camp puffed with pride. Although he loved Chuo’s sons very much, he was thrilled at the prospect of giving her a child from his body.

His joy was short-lived, however. Two moons later when the Clan was on its way to summer camp at So-a-la-ih Lodge at Star Lake, summer rains brought floods. Dzeh lost his beloved Chuo and his unborn child when they tried to cross Toh-ni-lih River. Chuo slipped while wading through the swift rapids and was quickly swept away in the fast-moving current. Dzeh and Lin had plunged into the icy water to try to save her. Several of the other men had run along the bank, hoping to grab her as she passed by. But by the time she was pulled from the white water, she had drowned.

After Chuo’s death, her sons were given to Moose Clan to live with their uncle. Dzeh missed them. They’d been clever, well-behaved boys. But they were not of Owl Clan; they rightly belonged with their kin. He saw them only once after they left, at a Winter Feast two years ago. The youngest no longer recognized him.

Dzeh sighed and knotted the lashing on his stick. The basket was repaired, but Klizzie had not arrived at the smokehouse.

He felt caught in a pit of indecision. He couldn’t ignore her confession; it was too serious to let pass. The proper thing would be to bring her misdeeds to the attention of the elders because her punishment was not his alone to make.

Her offense was not a minor one. It wasn’t as if she’d refused to cook his dinner or share his sleeping skins. These sorts of misbehaviors were his responsibility to handle however he saw fit. But mating with her cousin was an abomination that concerned the entire Clan.

He knew what they would do to her when they found out. They would bind her to a tree and stone her to death. His beautiful, loving Klizzie. It made his stomach clench to think of it, and for a moment he thought he might vomit.

Damn the Spirits, what should he do? Keeping her secret would certainly anger the Spirits, bringing hardship, maybe death, to the entire Clan.

And yet he couldn’t watch her die.

Confused and afraid, he packed up his tools. The last items to go into his kit were the two unfinished fertility idols. He held the small carvings for a moment in his palm. Looking at them, he felt hope drain from his heart like blood from a mortal wound.

*   *   *

Scully and Gini walked from the lake through the village. The girl still clung to the binoculars. She tested them on everything she passed, obviously impressed by their power to make objects appear only an arm’s length away. Over and over again she put out a hand to touch something that was well beyond her short reach.

Scully felt better after her bath. The word games with Gini had gone a long way to lift her spirits, pushing her experience with Dzeh to the back of her mind.

“Atsah,” Gini said, binoculars aimed straight up at the overcast sky. An eagle flew in circles a hundred feet above their heads.

“Eagle,” Scully gave Gini the English translation.

“Atsah, ee-guhl,” Gini repeated.

The girl’s wet hair dripped down her back, sticking in ropey tendrils to her narrow shoulders. Gini had insisted Scully remove her braids after she had finished combing out her own. They then shampooed and bathed before hurrying from the lake feeling chilled but clean.

Scully paused when they arrived at her own hut. On the far side of the campground an excited cry drew her attention. A group of women who had been cutting meat were leaping to their feet.

“Chay-da-gahi Din-neh-ih!” they shouted, waving their arms and rushing to the expanse of open grassland to the south.

Men and women throughout the camp abandoned various chores to hurry to the field where a group of about thirty travel-weary tribesmen were hiking toward the village.

“What’s going on?” she asked. “Who’re they?” 

“Chay-da-gahi Din-neh-ih,” Gini replied.

“Chay-da-gahi?”

Gini drew her shoulders up next to her ears.

“I don’t understand,” Scully said. “What is this?” She mimicked the girl’s strange posture.

Gini dropped to her knees and began to sketch a simple outline of a turtle in the dirt with her finger. “Chay-da-gahi,” she said when she was finished.

“Turtle? Those people are turtles?” That didn’t make any sense.

“Lahn. Yes,” Gini said. She pointed back and forth between the approaching strangers and her sketch. “Chay-da-gahi Din-neh-ih.”

“Well, if those people are Chay-da-gahi, what are you?” Scully used pointing gestures to clarify her question.

“Ne-ahs-jah Din-neh-ih,” Gini said with pride in her voice. “Woo-woo.” She reproduced the sound of an owl perfectly.

“Owl?” Scully asked.

“Ouwwhull.” Gini tried to wrap her tongue around the foreign word.

Scully guessed that each tribe must be named for a species of animal, most likely as a way to differentiate familial lineages.

“If they are Chay-da-gahi and you are Ne-ahs-jah, then what am I?” Scully pointed at herself.

“Tkoh-klesh,” Gini said, looking up at Scully with a big grin.

“Tkoh-klesh? What is Tkoh-klesh?”

Again Gini drew a picture in the dirt.

“A worm? A snake?” Scully guessed.

Gini added a few wavy lines around the snake.

“A water snake?” Scully shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

Gini jumped to her feet and stroked Scully’s leather jacket with her palm. “Tkoh-klesh,” she repeated.

A black leather water snake? Scully’s knowledge of various snake species was limited to the symptoms and treatment of their bites. She gave Gini a confused look.

Using hand signals, Gini tried again to make herself understood. She held her right hand palm down and waggled it to indicate water. She plunged her left hand below it.

An underwater snake? Suddenly it came to her -- the girl was describing an eel! Evidently her and Mulder’s black leather coats reminded her of eel skin.

“Tkoh-klesh means eel,” she said, satisfied she had guessed the girl’s meaning.

“Eee-ul.” Gini tried out the new word several times before turning her attention back to the distant field. Lifting the binoculars to her eyes for a closer look, she watched as the people from Owl Clan embraced those from Turtle Clan.

“Coming inside?” Scully asked, corralling her with one arm and nodding toward her hut.

“Lahn. Yes,” she said, lowering the glasses and letting Scully steer her through the door.

Inside Scully found Mulder sitting on the bed embracing Klizzie. A lightning bolt of surprise and jealousy sizzled beneath her breastbone before she could find her voice.

“Mulder? What’s going on?”

“Scully!” He released his hold and backed away.

Klizzie’s eyes rounded. She scrambled to her feet.

“She made breakfast,” Mulder blurted, pointing at a tray of food beside the bed.

“And what are you doing? Thanking her?”

“No, I-- We-- Are you hungry?”

Tears stung her eyes, surprising her almost as much as finding Klizzie in his arms.

“Tehi,” Klizzie said to Gini.

Gini began to protest, but Klizzie took hold of her arm and quickly ushered her from the shelter.

As soon as they were gone, Scully asked, “What was that all about?”

“Uh...dunno.” He gave her an innocent shrug before plucking a gooseberry from the platter and popping it into his mouth.

She wasn’t in the mood for his evasiveness. On the other hand, she wasn’t prepared for the truth either. Her experience with Dzeh had left her nerves too raw to deal with Mulder’s obvious betrayal or her own budding jealousy. She wished she were back at the lake, trading words with Gini, or for that matter, she wished she were back home.

“Scully, I... It was nothing,” he said, his expression serious and sad.

Feeling dizzy, self-control ebbing, she sank to her knees just inside the door. She let her tears flow and her show of grief seemed to shock Mulder.

He went to her and took her gently in his arms.

“Scully, please...I’m sorry.”

Misery engulfed her. She crumpled against him, her arms hanging heavily at her sides. Wounded by his apparent indiscretion, she refused to cling to him. He was her best friend, her lover, which was why his infidelity hurt so damn much.

The urge to retaliate was strong. “Didn’t you get enough last night?” she asked, giving in to her animosity.

“It wasn’t like that”

His steady, reassuring tone increased her indignation. He was patronizing her, God damn it.

“For a man who claims to be searching for the truth, you seem pretty adept at sidestepping it when you need to.”

His arms dropped away and he blinked against an onrush of tears. She knew she’d wounded him, deeply, but he remained silent, apparently unwilling to let her goad him with hurtful accusations.

Was she being unfair? Maybe the error in judgment was hers, not his.

“You... It’s just...” she stammered, unsure where she wanted to take this conversation. “Can we not talk about this?”

“Whatever you want,” he said, not a trace of rancor in his voice.

She closed her eyes against his tender, pleading stare. “Mulder, I’m--”

“It’s okay.” He reached for her again.

This time, she wrapped her arms around him, too, and buried her face in his neck, muffling her next words. “No, Mulder, I shouldn’t have--”

“Shhh, don’t, please.”

He tightened his hold on her and she concentrated on his fierce grip and thundering pulse and the urgent tenor of his voice. Reducing her focus to these three things, she was able to push aside her suspicions about him and Klizzie, crowding them into that part of her mind where she buried all the unpleasant aspects of life.

*   *   *

Blustery and overcast, it wasn’t the best day for a yea-go match, but at least the rain was holding off.

A flat expanse of grassland between the village and the southern woodlands provided a serviceable playing field. The view from the sloping meadow at the base of Crouching Cat Mountain was perfect for spectators. Already several families were toting food and blankets to the choicest locations overlooking center field. They also brought items for wagering. Hide scrapers and hair ornaments for the women, knives, hand axes and earrings for the men. Services, such as sewing or tattooing, would be gambled here today, too.

Prizes for the winning players were laid out on the grass at the foot of the hill for all to see. Mastodon blankets, fox furs, unworked chert, jerky, tanned hides, embroidered tunics, jewelry, and spearpoints were among the goods that would be distributed to the kin of the winning team. Players who scored goals during the game would take home the most valuable prizes. Several days of trading would ensue, with items going round and round the camp. Some might even make it back to their original owners.

Clans took great pride in donating the most sought after goods. Skillfully crafted tools were particularly popular. But the most prized item of all was the large gourd of honey, brought by Owl Clan. It contained enough pure, sweet honey to make a winter’s worth of wo-chi...if the children could be kept out of it.

At the northern and southern ends of the playing field, several men were wrestling stout goal posts into the ground. Each post was as big around as a woman’s waist and stood as tall as the shoulder of a bull mastodon. Cutting the posts had been no easy feat. Badger Clan dulled several stone axes while felling the two requisite trees before the arrival of the other clans.

The chore of digging postholes was assigned to the last clan to arrive at the summer camp. No one enjoyed this laborious task, chiseling into rocky soil and backfilling with gravel, which had to be carried by the sack-full from the lake. The men of Turtle Clan endured good-natured jibes from the other clans as they lugged stones across the field.

While the posts were being set, Dzeh practiced lobbing a ball to his teammates. Using his favorite stick, he tossed the ball high into the air, relishing the way it felt when it slid from its basket. A smooth stone the size of a duck egg was at the core of the ball. This was wrapped in leather and laced with a rawhide cord. When tossed with force, it could fly far and fast, drawing blood if it impacted a player’s unprotected flesh.

Dzeh’s yea-go stick was the finest he’d ever owned. He’d made it three seasons ago out of a straight, young hickory tree, free of knots. He’d stripped the bark and smoothed the wood with a draw-knife, thinning one end until it was flexible enough to be doubled back on itself, producing a loop as long and broad as his hand. He used bark strips to secure the loop in place. Then he lashed a piece of rawhide across it to create a basket that was large enough to hold the ball. The process took several days, but was worth it. This particular stick had proven lucky for him, winning many matches.

“Hey, Dzeh! Na-e-lahi!” his cousin Wol-la-chee shouted, tossing the ball.

Gauging the trajectory, Dzeh jogged a few steps to position himself in its path. Then he thrust out his stick, catching the ball neatly in the basket. Without pause, he spun and hurled it further up the court to the next player. It soothed his temper to be gripping the familiar stick. A strenuous game of yea-go would be just what he needed to distract himself from the sting of bees in his stomach and the growing ache in his chest. Dodging, tackling, blocking shots would occupy his mind and help burn off his anger.

He glanced up at the crowd of spectators and was saddened when he couldn’t find Klizzie among them. He hadn’t seen her since their argument and knew he wouldn’t come to a proper decision without talking to her first. She was the hearth-fire of his spirit and the prospect of losing her was making his thoughts howl like wind in winter. He promised himself to seek her out as soon as the game was over. Maybe together they could come to some sort of acceptable solution.

This afternoon’s match was the first of several and it pitted Owl Clan against Badger Clan. Members of both teams were stripped down to their loincloths, their bodies painted in the designs of their clans. There would be no mistaking one player for another. Badger Clan’s bold black and white patterns and tall spiky hair set them apart from the reddish-brown circular designs and braided hair of Owl Clan.

Wol-la-chee jogged to Dzeh and hooked a friendly arm around his cousin’s shoulders. “Where is your new Trading Partner?” he asked with a grin. “Is he playing today or did Klizzie tire him out?”

Dzeh shook off the younger man’s arm. “I have not seen him.”

“Ooohhh-ho! He is not still with her, is he?” Wol-la-chee scanned the horizon as if hunting for the wayward couple.

“Stop it, Wol-la-chee.” Dzeh felt a knot of annoyance squeeze his throat. “The business of my Trading Partner is of no concern to--”

“There he is...” -- Wol-la-chee nodded his head toward the village -- “with his own mate and your sister.”

Sure enough, young Gini was leading the newcomers by the hand toward the ball field. Dzeh cursed under his breath; Muhl-dar’s presence would be like a thorn in the sole of his foot, a constant reminder of the problems that came with Trading Partners. Dzeh knew it was unfair to compare him to Klesh, but his worries about Klizzie prevented him from separating the two in his mind. 

“Are you going to invite him to play?” Wol-la-chee asked. “We could use another swift runner.”

“He does not look like a swift runner to me,” Dzeh said, hoping to discourage his cousin.

“What are you talking about? He is tall and lean. Surely he can run.”

“I think maybe he is *too* lean. A hummingbird could knock him on his ass.”

Wol-la-chee chuckled and shook his head. “He has got to be more skilled than Ghaw-jih.”

Both men turned to look at Wol-la-chee’s undersized nephew. The boy had gotten himself trampled in last year’s game, which led to a loss during the final match...to the chindis from Ant Clan. A year later, the defeat still rankled.

“Fine. I will ask Muhl-dar to play,” Dzeh said. “*You* tell your nephew he is out until someone is injured.”

Wol-la-chee seemed satisfied with this arrangement. He loped off to give his nephew the news while Dzeh called to Muhl-dar.

Gini and Day-nuh glanced in his direction, then moved uphill to join the crowd of onlookers. Muhl-dar squared his shoulders and came forward to meet him halfway.

The game is about to start,” he said. “We need a runner to play third attack. What do you say?”

Muhl-dar’s eyes fell to his stick. “Lacrosse?” he asked.

Dzeh didn’t know the word. “Yea-go,” he said, holding out the stick.

Muhl-dar hesitated before taking it, his body tense. He wore a storm-cloud expression and his eyes burned with animosity. But as soon as the stick lay in his hands, his taut muscles appeared to relax a little and his expression softened. He tested the stick’s weight and balance, gave it a practice swing, and then offered it back.

“Keep it,” Dzeh said, determined to put his anger aside, at least for the afternoon. A victory today would bring tools and goods to the Clan. He needed to do whatever was necessary to ensure a win. “Let’s get you ready,” he said, pointing to the sidelines where the rest of his team was getting marked with paint.

*   *   *

The last thing Mulder felt like doing was playing lacrosse with Dzeh and his Neanderthal buddies. If he’d had his way, he and Scully would still be in their hut. But Gini had arrived and convinced Scully to attend the afternoon game.

“We can’t hide in here forever, Mulder,” Scully had said in her commonsensical way.

“Why not?”

“That would negate our reasons for going along with the...the exchange.”

*Your* reasons, he thought, but rose from the sleeping furs to follow her outside.

He’d intended to join the spectators, not play the game. But holding Dzeh’s stick made him rethink the idea. A quarter or two of lacrosse might burn off some of his excess anger. And if it didn’t, he could always use the crosse to beat in a Neanderthal skull or two.

Dzeh led him to the sidelines where he was instructed to strip out of his clothes. He was handed a red loincloth that matched Dzeh’s. Too pissed to feel self-conscious, he undressed right there in front of seventy or eighty curious onlookers and donned the teams’ uniform. Then he held out his arms while two men slathered him with cold, red and brown paint.

It had been a long time since he’d last played lacrosse. He doubted these cave people went by the same rules as his Oxford squad, but he assumed any version of the game would require approximately the same skills. Dzeh’s crosse resembled a modern one in size and shape. It was heavier, but not unwieldy.

Mulder had played second attack for the Blues when he was an undergrad, and remembered feeling beaten and winded after four quarters against squads from Hillcroft and Birmingham. Although the Blues took possession on almost every face-off, their opponents had high-class shooters and long-reaching defensemen. Mulder recalled his final match with disgust; in truth the game had been over after the first half, but the Blue’s agonizing defeat stretched on for two more humiliating quarters and eight unanswered Hillcroft goals.

Looking across the field at the goal posts, he wondered where the boundaries were. No center or end lines marked the field or the goal creases. Worse than that, none of the players were wearing helmets or pads. This could get rough, he realized.

Dzeh rattled through the rules as he steered Mulder onto the field, which he referred to as the “clo-dih.” Mulder grasped the meaning of several other words, like “tsa-zhin” for “ball” and “bi-ne-yei” for “goal.” He tried to get Dzeh to explain some of the technical fouls, but after a few confused looks and a shake of the head, he came to the uneasy conclusion there might not be any technical fouls in this version of the game.

He sized up the brawny men who were gathering at mid-field. Every one had muscled arms the size of Mulder’s thighs. Their painted chests looked as solid as beer kegs.

Shit, he was fucked.

Twenty-four players, twelve per team, arranged themselves in two facing lines. Each man carried a crosse. Mulder stood to Dzeh’s right, while the squads’ apparent leaders extended their crosses toward one another, keeping them vertical and touching, with the ball caught between them.

“Das-teh-do,” shouted a man on the sidelines, signaling the start.

A violent struggle ensued with each of the two leaders exerting all his strength to overcome the pressure of his opponent’s crosse. Owl Clan prevailed and sent the ball hurtling toward the goal.

That’s when all hell broke loose. The man facing Mulder bulldozed forward, knocking the wind from his lungs. Mulder tumbled backward and hit the ground hard. Gasping for air, he wondered how long each quarter was going to last. Then he ducked just in time to avoid a blow to the head from Tractor Man’s swinging crosse.

Jesus fucking Christ, these guys were playing for keeps!

The whole troop then turned to pursue the ball, whooping and running at top speed. They darted down field, bounding after the ball, sweeping it up in their crosses, tossing it off before being tackled. Despite several bone-crunching hits, the men kept their tempers. As a matter of fact, they seemed to relish the hard-hitting play.

Mulder scrambled to his feet and hurried to join the melee. He nearly tripped over a prostrate player in the non-existent goal crease, but managed to get his crosse into position and catch the ball.

The Black and White defense turned on him.

“Muhl-dar!” Dzeh shouted, crosse held high.

Mulder lobbed the ball in Dzeh’s direction just before he was plowed over by an onrush of charging Cro-Magnons. He hoped his throw was accurate; he couldn’t see a thing, buried as he was beneath a pile of pounding fists and flailing sticks.

A loud thwack brought the players to their feet. Evidently Dzeh had hit the goal post. Jesus, the noise echoed like a lightning strike against the surrounding hills. Mulder blinked in surprise as his teammates raced toward the goal where the goalie was struggling for an outlet to clear the ball. He found a slot and the game resumed.

Mulder soon learned there were no fouls, substitutions or breaks in Caveman Lacrosse. Only when a man was seriously injured was a new player brought in to take his place.

Fast-paced play continued throughout the afternoon, going back and forth between zones. The Black and White Team answered Red Teams’ score almost immediately. Red Team one-upped them just minutes later. A hard-fought half hour passed before the next goal was made. Two-one, Red. Their lead didn’t last. Black and White scored three consecutive points.

By late afternoon, Mulder felt like he’d been hit by a car. His ribs ached and he was covered with welts on his shins and thighs. One well-placed wallop to his left biceps had sliced open a nasty wound that was bleeding buckets. So far he’d managed to protect his head, but he wasn’t certain how long he could hold out.

He hoped this show of his athletic fortitude was turning Scully on, if nothing else.

Play became more intense, not less, as the afternoon wore on. Mulder hoped this meant the game was nearing an end, not that tempers were running short. Red Team was down by one and his teammates began to play as if their lives depended on it. Maybe they did, he realized. Could be the winners killed and ate the losers.

“Nahl-kihd!” shouted the Red Team leader. He signaled with his crosse, positioning the men for offense.

This was the first bit of strategy that Mulder recognized. The rest of the game had seemed a goddamn free-for-all. But then maybe he’d been too busy getting steamrolled to notice the subtler aspects of the game.

The ball was lobbed into play and Mulder caught it in his crosse. The Red Team leader barked at him, “Yo-lailh! Yo-lailh!”

Too bad he didn’t know what the fuck that meant.

Half a dozen Black and White brutes headed straight at him. He decided to run with the ball.

He covered more than sixty yards before a defenseman took his legs out from under him. The ball bounced from his crosse. He scrambled for it, but missed. Dzeh appeared out of nowhere, scooped it up, and pitched it at the goal.

THWACK! The ball ricocheted off the post.

Yes! They were tied up!

Mulder staggered to his feet, prepared to launch into the next play, only to find Dzeh wasn’t celebrating. As a matter of fact, the entire Red Team looked pissed while the Black and White Team were clapping themselves on the backs, laughing and hollering. Shit, the game was over. It must have ended *before* Dzeh made his shot. The Black and White Team had won the match.

Damn it...after all that work...it was like Hillcroft all over again.

Mulder’s strength gave out and he collapsed to his knees. He let go of his crosse and, with effort, unfolded his fingers enough to place his palm over his bleeding left arm.

Dzeh limped across the field to stand beside him.

The caveman looked beat. A large bruise shadowed his right cheek. Blood and dirt streaked his chest. He was crisscrossed with cuts and scrapes.

“Ut-zah,” he said, breathing hard. He leaned down and offered Mulder a hand. “Tehi.”

Mulder stared at Dzeh’s outstretched hand. This was a chance to set aside their differences, to make peace. Life would be so much easier if he would just accept Dzeh’s generosity.

“No thanks,” he said, rising on unsteady legs. He could never forgive this man for what he’d done to Scully. “I don’t need your help.”

Mulder turned and walked off the field, leaving Dzeh’s yea-go stick lying where he’d dropped it on the ground.

*   *   *

Shortly after sunset, the men, women and children of four clans gathered to watch Jeha become joined with Moasi. Mulder and Scully watched, too, from a respectable distance. Neither felt comfortable standing shoulder-to-shoulder with the crowd. Dressed in their 20th Century clothes, they received plenty of stares. Some of the tribesmen seemed only mildly curious, others suspicious, a few downright hostile.

Mulder glared right back at them and held on tight to Scully’s hand, wanting everyone in the camp -- especially Dzeh -- to see that she was with him.

Speaking of Dzeh, where the hell was the bastard anyway? Mulder wondered. He scanned the crowd, but didn’t find him among the dozens of bearded faces.

“Mulder, you’re hurting me.”

“Sorry.” He loosened his grip on her hand, but drew her closer. Putting his lips to her ear he asked, “You don’t usually cry at weddings, do you, Scully?”

She arched an eyebrow. “No.”

“Good, ‘cause I do and we have only one handkerchief between us.” He patted the pocket of his leather jacket. Inside he could feel the hard lump of the carved idol. Instinctively he closed his hand around it and wondered again about its possible powers.

Could he get it to work for him the way it seemed to work for Scully?

The tribespeople were standing in front of a small domed hut, which was situated at the outer edge of the village away from the other huts, presumably for privacy. Its roof had been decorated with pleasant smelling mint leaves and flower blossoms. Fresh pine boughs covered the threshold like a welcome mat. The skin door was fastened open with a rawhide cord. Inside, Mulder could see a fire burning in a small hearth. A bed of furs waited beyond the fire and trays of sumptuous-looking food had been arranged around the bed.

The honeymoon suite, he thought.

A stocky man with a broad, friendly grin waited beside the groom just outside the hut’s door. Mulder recognized him from the communal “apres lacrosse” bath he and the other men had taken in the lake following the match. This guy had been on the Black and White Team, a fast runner who’d played hard. No longer covered with paint, he was impressively dressed in a beaded robe, decorated on the hem and sleeves with striking, colorful feathers. His ears were studded with bone ornaments and his hair had been oiled and combed straight up from his brow, giving him the appearance of a surprised porcupine. Pride and pleasure radiated from his round, tattooed face.

A gangly, big-nosed woman stood beside him with tears in her eyes and a smile on her elongated face. She was dressed to the nines in a spotted fur cape, arms banded by dozens of rattling bracelets, and hair done up with beads, bangles, feathers and flowers. Mulder guessed she was the groom’s mother.

Looking down at his own unwashed jeans and muddy boots, he whispered into Scully’s ear, “I feel a tad underdressed. Do you?”

She licked her thumb and gently scrubbed something from his cheek, before giving him a “be quiet” look.

“Did I miss a spot?” he asked.

“You missed a lot of spots. Now shhhh.”

He returned his focus to the wedding party.

The groom -- a kid who’d also played in the afternoon’s match -- seemed far too young to be tying the knot. Mulder pegged him to be only about fifteen or sixteen. Despite his youth, the boy had shown real grit in the game; he’d played with the enthusiasm of a seasoned athlete and had received a fresh black eye for his commendable efforts. He was a long-limbed, muscular kid with a proud stance and, at this moment, a nervous, albeit eager, expression.

The groom’s oiled, black hair hung in waist-length braids down the center of his back. Closer cropped on the crown, it stood on end like his father’s. An array of striped feathers added height and color. Half a dozen heavy bear claws dangled from each of his pierced ears. The upper half of his face was painted with white pigment in angular patterns. His chin was shadowed by a patchy short beard. He rocked from foot to foot, evidently anxious to finish the formalities.

Mulder thought back to his own wedding day, a blustery, wet Wednesday in late November. He hadn’t had time to feel nervous. He and Diana had raced over to City Hall on their lunch hour, taking a cab and talking the whole way about thought transference and extra sensory perception because they were knee deep in an investigation about hospitalized psychiatric patients who claimed be misdiagnosed psychics. 

Ten minutes with a dour JP made it all legal; they returned to the office as husband and wife, presumably for life, although they hadn’t exchanged any long-winded vows. They hadn’t felt the need. They’d signed the necessary paperwork, donned matching wedding bands, and presumed their signatures and rings were testament enough. Neither of them truly believed in undying love anyway. They were both children of divorced parents; Diana’s mom had been married three times.

At the time, Mulder thought he knew everything Diana was thinking; whether the subject was parascience or romance; words were seldom necessary between them. They were so much alike back then, agreeing on everything, reading each other’s minds as easily as the clairvoyants they were testing in several of the psychiatric hospitals. He believed they were soul mates, destined to be together.

Diana had proposed to him, not the other way around. A dare, almost, after a breathless bout of lovemaking in her apartment on another lunch hour several weeks prior to their wedding day. She had looked gorgeous...tousled and flushed from their intimacy, a mischievous smile in her dark, sparkling eyes. He loved her so much at that moment it was only a small surprise when he heard himself answer yes.

She told him she didn’t want an overblown, traditional lace-and-flowers type wedding, which suited him fine. She also said she didn’t care about going away on a honeymoon; it would take too much time away from their work and they could celebrate their newly wedded status at home. He agreed, promising to take her somewhere romantic, like Groom Lake, on their tenth anniversary.

“Fox, everyone goes to Groom Lake on their anniversary,” she teased. “How about something more out of the mainstream, like the Oregon Vortex or Spook Hill in Lake Wales.

“I hear the Wonder Spot in Wisconsin is a paranormal Poconos.”

Of course, they never did travel to the Wonder Spot, or remain married long enough to celebrate their tenth anniversary; as a matter of fact, they split after only eighteen months. But on that November day when he signed his name below hers on the marriage license, he had truly hoped they might beat the odds.

Mulder squeezed Scully’s hand now. If he were ever to get married again, he would do it up right. Traditional wedding, proper honeymoon, the whole nine yards. And he would pop the question this time. Get down on bended knee in the most romantic setting he could find.

The sound of drummers brought him out of his musings. Several men began chanting, and a group of women joined them, singing in high-pitched voices, weaving their meandering rhythm into that of the men’s. The music served as a signal for the bride to step forward, flanked by her kin. Mother, cousins, uncles, and siblings marched together like a phalanx of solemn soldiers. Nearly lost in their midst was young Jeha, dressed in a snow white deer-hide tunic, smiling shyly and trembling a little as she walk to her future husband.

Jesus, the girl looked too damn young to be a bride, Mulder thought. Twelve or thirteen maybe, if that? No wonder she was shaking. She was just a little girl. If she were living in the 20th Century, she would be years away from mature responsibilities like marriage. Here, however, she’d probably be a mother in a year’s time.

A petulant cry from the outer edges of the crowd turned everyone’s attention away from the wedding party. Mulder rose up on his toes to look over their heads to see what was going on.

“What is it?” Scully asked, too short to see over the crowd.

“It’s Gini and Dzeh,” Mulder said when he spotted them.

Dzeh was strong-arming the little girl toward the gathering and she was none too pleased about it. The more she argued, the fiercer he frowned and the tighter he gripped her wrist.

Mulder didn’t like the way he was dragging her against her will. Stepping forward, he felt the tug of Scully’s hand on his arm.

“Mulder, don’t,” she murmured. “It’s none of our business.”

By now everyone was watching Gini’s tantrum. Mulder couldn’t understand her words, but clearly she didn’t want to be here. Dzeh remained silent but insistent. He looked embarrassed as he held the girl in place and tried to ignore her outrage.

Mulder wondered where Klizzie was and why she didn’t come forward to intervene on Gini’s behalf.

“Scully, I don’t like this.” He took another step in Dzeh’s direction.

Gini yelled something that brought gasps from the onlookers. Dzeh’s face darkened. He spoke harshly to her, but she paid no attention and continued her tearful shouts, tugging against his grip. When she couldn’t break free she screamed, bringing disapproving frowns from all the bystanders. Dzeh raised his hand and struck her across the cheek, silencing her and drawing grunts of appreciation from the crowd.

Mulder’s temper flared. He pictured Dzeh hustling Scully into her hut last night, hand planted firmly on the small of her back...the same goddamn hand that was holding Gini against her will right now. He regretted allowing Dzeh to take Scully, regretted it with every fiber of his being, and he was goddamned if he’d let the motherfucker bully this little girl, too.

“That’s it,” he said, shaking loose from Scully.

He walked straight to Dzeh. When they stood toe-to-toe, he growled through clenched teeth, “Let her go.”

Dzeh’s eyes narrowed. He didn’t release Gini. Leaning forward, he sternly rebuked Mulder for interfering.

Mulder balled his fists and straightened to his full height. “I said, let...her...go.”

Dzeh was not intimidated. Glaring at Mulder, he shoved Gini out of the way, pushing her with such force he sent her sprawling into the dirt.

That was all the excuse Mulder needed. His fist shot out and caught Dzeh square on the chin. Dzeh grunted from the impact, then threw a jarring uppercut that cracked Mulder’s teeth together and sent him stumbling backward.

Regaining his balance, Mulder plowed head first into Dzeh’s stomach. The two men toppled and rolled. The spectators backed away, giving them more room.

Mulder found himself straddling Dzeh. He didn’t waste the advantage. Fury escalating, he pummeled his head with a rain of blows. He’d been wanting to do this all day and it felt damn good to be pounding the shit out of this mother-fucker. Dzeh tried to block the blows with his arms. Twisting his body, he rolled out from under Mulder, knocking him sideways as he went. 

Dzeh staggered to his feet. Without pause, he grabbed Mulder by the front of his coat and lifted him into a standing position. He roared something unintelligible. 

Mulder roared right back.

“This is for Gini!” He drove his fist into Dzeh’s nose. “And this...” -- he struck Dzeh again, using his left -- “is for fucking *my* partner!”

Blood exploded from Dzeh’s nose, spraying them both. He howled. Mulder pressed forward, but before he could pull another punch, Dzeh locked him in a crushing bear hug and wrestled him backward toward the newlywed’s hut. Mulder crashed against the covering, stopped short by the bony supports inside.

Backhanding Mulder in the head, Dzeh sent him spinning. He landed face down on the ground, the wind knocked from him. Unable to catch his breath, he covered his head in anticipation of Dzeh’s next blow. When it didn’t come, he cautiously lifted his head to look back at Dzeh.

Dzeh remained frozen in place, eyes targeting something to Mulder’s right. His expression had changed from rage to disbelief and horror. The crowd surged closer, their mouths gaping in similar shock. Mulder followed their stares to the small, carved idol he’d taken from the cave. It must have fallen out of his pocket onto the ground during the fight.

And evidently he was in a shit-load of trouble for having it.

 


Continued in Chapter Thirteen

Special thanks to mimic117 for beta of Chapter 12. Thanks, too, to xdksfan for pointing out a few typos. Corrections are always welcome!

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

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