CHAPTER FIFTEEN
Continued from
Chapter Fourteen

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

Mulder and Scully petroglyphDon’t cry...don’t cry...

Mulder struggled to hold back his tears. He bit his lip...so hard he reopened the wound there. Tasting blood, he focused on its bleak tang and waited for Scully to fall asleep.

As soon as he was certain he could rise from the furs without waking her, he stood and staggered out of the shelter, wanting to release his anguish where she couldn’t overhear him.

Stifling his emotions while making love had proven almost unbearable. It had been torment to feel her hands on him and not respond the way his body and his heart were demanding. He’d wanted to fill her with more than his fingers. Jesus, he wanted to drive his cock into her, replace Dzeh’s essence with his own, reclaim her as his.

Fucking son-of-a-bitch had no right to touch her. She was *his*, God damn it! His!

Lurching toward the river, he let his tears come. Stinging and fiery, they spiraled down his cheeks and became lost in his beard. Unable to see through their blur he followed the river’s fluid sound, aiming for the starburst of moonlight on its rippled surface. The reflection appeared shattered, like his pride, and muddled, like his heart.

Although Scully claimed she hadn’t been hurt by Dzeh’s manhandling, Mulder didn’t believe her. The way she’d recoiled when he reached out for her proved she was more shaken than she was willing to admit.

“God damn Neanderthal,” he muttered, “God damn this whole fucking place.”

It struck him that if God were to damn anything or anyone, He should damn him...for bringing Scully here, for allowing Dzeh to bed her, for being such a fool and a coward.

At the river’s edge, his legs buckled and he collapsed onto hands and knees in the shallows, soaking his pants legs. A moan vibrated in his throat and he tried to swallow it, tamping down an urge to scream. He was still too close to the shelter. Even over the tumult of rushing water, Scully would hear his cries and come looking for him. He couldn’t let her find him this way.

His throat tightened and a sob hitched painfully in his chest, feeling like a punch to the gut. He scrambled to his feet and jogged downstream. Although sharp stones bit into the flesh of his bare feet, he ignored them, intent only on getting as far from Scully as possible before he let loose his outrage.

Impatient to shed his frustration and sorrow, he began to strip off his pants as he ran. He fumbled with the zipper, pushed his jeans from his hips, down his thighs, slowing his stride only long enough to tear the pants hastily from his legs. It never occurred to him that they were already wet, that it would make no difference if he plowed into the water with them on. White-hot panic drove him to disrobe and leave his clothes crumpled on the shore to wade naked into the river.

Icy water enveloped his ankles, calves and thighs, contracting his muscles with its chill. He hissed when it reached his genitals, so goddamn painfully cold, but apt punishment for his sins against Scully.

Hypocrite. Fraud. Liar. She deserved better.

She’d trusted him, goddammit, and he’d let her down. He’d allowed another man to touch her, to make love to her. It was intolerable.

Swamped with self-loathing, he dove beneath the surface and bellowed into the murky water. His scream churned past his face, a stream of frenzied bubbles, the sound muted, too weak for the agony it carried. Lungs emptied, he burrowed down through the bitter current, swimming deeper, to the riverbed’s weedy bottom.

When he could go no further, he stopped his thrashing and let himself sink into the wafting kelp. His arms and legs were so numbed with cold he barely felt its soft tug. He waited there in the gloom, letting his awful anger dissipate like sweat in a cool breeze.

Inexorably the river brought relief.

Thank God.

A shining memory insinuated itself into his anguish. A moment five years ago, in Scully’s bathroom, after he’d handcuffed Eugene Tooms to her tub. Scully briefly sought solace in Mulder’s embrace. All these years later, he could still feel her cradled in his arms, her pulse slowing, her fear ebbing as she caught her breath. It had been the first time he’d saved her life. He’d been her hero, come to her rescue like a white knight on a steed.

He would give anything to be that man again.

Pushing away from the river bottom, lungs aching for oxygen, he promised to reconcile his past mistakes. Two powerful strokes and his face punched through the river’s surface. He gasped, filling his chest with the soft night air. Water clung to his lashes, his brows, streamed from his beard and hair. He blinked at the stars, bringing them into sharp focus.

The constellation of Hercules loomed straight overhead, his club lifted high, everlastingly prepared to battle Ophiuchus and his dreadful Serpent. The snake’s triangular head blocked Hercules from Virgo, who reclined on her back along the ecliptic.

Mimicking the virgin’s defenseless posture, Mulder rolled to face the stars and floated with arms and legs spread wide.

Scully had been similarly exposed, he recalled, when she climaxed against the palm of his hand. Jesus, he’d wanted to climb inside her at that moment, become part of her, know her thoughts, share her ecstasy. He’d wanted to be thawed by her passion, and wash away her fearsome memories while purging his own anguish. In an ultimate act of love, he’d wanted to embed himself between her legs, nudge her womb and weep for joy.

More tears came now, silently this time. He let them fall in scalding rivulets past his temples into the icy river.

High above him, the night sky teemed with menacing creatures: the Dragon, the Lizard, the Lion and the Great Bear. At the center stood Hercules, and Mulder wished for the legendary hero’s lionskin armor, to make him impervious to fear, too, able to face his own demons.

He located the cluster of stars that marked Hercules’ head, halfway between Vega and Gemma. It was faint, even on this crystal clear night.

Suddenly the stars shifted east to west and the entire sky appeared to turn watery. At first Mulder attributed the distortion to his tears. But blinking failed to clear the intensifying blur.

The sky was bucking, folding and unfolding in an astonishing fashion, corrugating like a paper fan.

The sky was bucking, folding and unfolding in an astonishing fashion, corrugating like a paper fan. Startled, he righted himself in the river, treading water, toes searching for solid ground. A strange vibrating current wobbled him and he instinctively began to swim for shore. But the riverbank appeared as uneven as the sky, ribbed with unexpected peaks and grooves. It undulated, shuddered, grew soft and hazy.

Was this an earthquake? No, a quake wouldn’t explain the sky. This was some other phenomenon. Something unnatural. Something paranormal. Fearing for Scully’s safety, he was about to call her name, when a reverse memory inundated his senses and sent him spiraling backward in his mind.

Fiery pain in his thigh. The smell of antiseptic and bleach.

Noitatiplap no 76 si erusserp doolb,” a woman’s voice said, garbled and unintelligible.

Where was Scully?

There. At his feet. She was backing away toward the emergency room exit. He shook, coughed. Paramedics and nurses surrounded him. Feeling nauseous, he was afraid he was going to vomit into his oxygen mask.

What was happening?

Suddenly inside an ambulance, he felt like a kid on a merry-go-round, spinning backward, tugged by centrifugal force. From the ambulance he was lifted to the ground where he was left to lie, wet and cold. Scully dragged her coat from his chest, leaving him exposed and shivering. She shouted, “Nwod reciffo!”

It made no sense!

Now he was falling skyward, yet somehow he managed to land on his feet. Hearing a gunshot, he inhaled a scream. Fire drilled his leg from back to front. The astonishing pain vanished just before he yelled, “Tnega laredef!”

What the hell was going on?

As quickly as the topsy-turvy event had begun, it was over. The sky smoothed, returning to normal, a curved velvet dome, jet black, glittering with all its familiar constellations. The river flowed south as before. Its banks lay flat and tranquil.

With his heart pounding, Mulder swam quickly for shore. Once there he found his legs were quaking so violently they wouldn’t support his weight, so he crawled from the river on hands and knees, and hunkered on the grassy bank to wait for his trembling to subside.

He’d just experienced some sort of time anomaly, he realized. Maybe similar to the one that had brought them here. Was it a way home? Hope coursed through him, only to be ousted by fear when it occurred to him that he could have been sucked back to the future -- or to some other time -- without Scully.

Was she still here?

Frantically, he rubbed his thighs, trying to bring feeling back into them so that he could run to her and assure himself that she was still asleep in the shelter where he’d left her. When his palm grazed the location of his old gunshot wound he noticed it was no longer there. Like the scar on his shoulder, it had disappeared.

The time distortion...it must have taken him back to the Boggs case, to the moment when Lucas Henry shot him in the leg. Only...everything had happened in reverse with people speaking backward. Somehow he’d slipped into the past, and now he was once again where he’d started...only younger, somehow, and missing the scar from Lucas Henry’s bullet.

A sense of urgency propelled him to his feet. He and Scully needed to find a way home, before time separated them permanently. Was she still here in the Pleistocene? Locating his pants, he ran, desperate to find her.

Retracing his steps, he careened past several ghostly shelters, their bony supports luminous in the moonlight.

Where was she?

Then he spotted her, cradled in the hut’s giant, skeletal fist, asleep and looking like a resplendent angel. He slowed his running, stopping just outside the shelter, hot with relief, each sandpaper gasp scouring his throat and tightening his chest. She was okay. She was still with him.

He went to her and crouched on shaky legs, while she blurred beyond the curtain of his tears. Hugging his aching ribs, he thanked God he hadn’t lost her.

*     *     *

Hill Air Force Base
Computer Lab, Hangar 19
May 14, 1998
7:29 a.m.

Jason rapidly typed a string of commands on his keyboard.

“What are you doing?” Lisa asked, hanging over his shoulder.

He wished she would back away. Her scent, her heat, the whisper of her breath against his ear...everything about her was distracting.

“Creating a graphical exemplar of the warp during last night’s test. It should show us any structural anomalies in the continuum.”

A three-dimensional model began to take shape on the monitor. Time rippled in predictable waves from the EE Nodule at the model’s epicenter, like the surface of a pond disturbed by the toss of a pebble.

“Ground zero.” Nichols pinpointed the Nodule with his index finger.

Lisa’s head bobbed, causing her long hair to sweep his shoulder. Its tickle evoked yesterday’s lovemaking, when he had buried his face in those dark, curling tresses, feeling both desperate and relieved at the same time. Growing hard at the memory, he struggled to ignore her physical proximity by focusing on his computer screen.

Another keystroke set the computer model into motion. Time pulsed, stretched. Waves crested like whitecaps on a wind-tossed sea. Unanticipated bubbles formed on the curve of each wave, small at first, but soon ballooning and drifting off course. Two expansive bubbles collided and burst.

“Shit.” Jason gaped at the image.

More bubbles erupted, causing pinprick holes to develop in the fabric of time. Tiny perforations grew larger, then merged with others, until the entire model appeared pocked and roiling.

“Someone went into that?” Lisa asked, sounding aghast.

If Jason’s suspicions turned out to be true, not only was someone lost in that caldron, they might be the catalyst for time’s continued disintegration.

“We have to tell Beck,” Lisa said.

“No!” If Beck saw this data, he might suspect Jason had sabotaged the test, and no one must learn about that, not even Lisa, not yet. He couldn’t risk being removed from the Project. Not until he had assured its failure. “Lisa, listen to me. It’s too early to tell Beck anything. We need to figure out what went wrong before we go to him.”

“Jason, you said yourself that someone might be trapped in there.”

“I didn’t say trapped. If anyone traveled back, they can be returned.”

“How? We’ve never seen anything like this.”

“And neither has Beck, so telling him won’t help. He’ll only get in our way. Let’s rerun the model. As soon as we figure out what happened, we’ll go to Beck...I promise.”

She stared at the monitor, brows drawn together. “I don’t know, Jason. This is the Colonel’s project.”

“It’s *our* project. We--”

The lab door suddenly swung inward, putting an end to their argument. Captain Linden stood at the entrance, eyes narrowed, lips pressed into an angry line.

*     *     *

Ant Clan’s Autumn Camp
A-Chi Stream
Season of the Mastodon Feast
Early Afternoon

Concealed by stalks of pasture roses, Gini crouched on all fours to watch Dzeh and Lin search the abandoned village at the bottom of the hill. Painful thorns pricked her bare knees, but the thicket provided good cover. Surrounded by fluttering, pink blossoms and dense, glossy leaves, she was well hidden from her brother and his uncle, as well as from Chal and Wol-la-chee, should they suddenly appear from the north.

Surrounded by fluttering, pink blossoms and dense, glossy leaves, she was well hidden from her brother and his uncle.

Glancing over her shoulder, she looked for them again, expecting to find them hiking down the hill, following after her and the others. She was certain they must have discovered she’d backtracked at the swamp, and unless they stopped to hunt or eat, they couldn’t be far behind. But the grassy slope at her back remained empty. She breathed a quiet sigh of relief and returned her attention to the village in the glade below.

This was Ant Clan territory; she recognized their autumn camp by the gooseneck bend in the river, marked by an ancient sycamore and a rock formation that resembled a mastodon mother with her baby. Klizzie had told her a story about those massive stone boulders when they were here last year.

In the story, the mother mastodon and her baby were drinking at the river when a pack of hungry wolves surrounded them. The frightened baby hid between its mother’s legs and cried for help, while the mother trumpeted angrily at her attackers.

Driven by their hunger, the wolves closed in on the mastodons. They licked their muzzles in anticipation.

The wolves bared their teeth and growled low in their throats, while the mother lashed out at them with her tusks. She kept the wolves at bay all afternoon, throughout the night and into the next day. Eventually, however, she grew exhausted and weak.

When the greedy wolves saw the mother was near death, two of the more daring ones -- a pair of silver-furred sisters -- approached the mother from behind while the others kept her distracted with howls and barks. The silver sisters darted between the mother’s hind legs and pounced on her baby. Their sharp jaws clamped around his wobbly legs, and he released a pitiful wail. The distraught mother used her last dying breath to send up one final trumpeting prayer to the Spirits, begging them to intercede and save her baby from being devoured by the wolves.

The Spirits heard the mother’s cry and answered her prayer, turning both the mother and the baby into stone. The wolves were left with nothing but broken teeth and empty bellies.

Gini hadn’t liked the story very much. It seemed unfair to her that the wolves were allowed to go free, punished only with a few broken teeth, while the mastodons were transformed forever into stone. When she complained to Klizzie about it, she was told, “We cannot always understand the actions of Spirits, Little Chick, but it is good to know they are willing to answer a frightened mother’s prayer.”

“But what if the wolves had prayed to the Spirits, too?” she asked. “Which prayers would the Spirits answer?”

“I do not know. Perhaps it is possible to answer all prayers.”

Gini doubted this could be true. “Then why do people go hungry or get sick, even when they pray?”

“Maybe they are not praying earnestly enough.”

Not earnestly enough? What was enough? Sometimes the Spirits seemed very hard to please.

She decided she would rather have broken teeth and an empty belly than be turned to stone.

No sooner had she thought about her empty stomach when it rumbled from hunger. She could smell Dzeh and Lin’s mid-day meal cooking over their campfire. A large armadillo was roasting in the coals, while the men paced around the huts, going back and forth to the river and gesturing in all directions. Although Gini was too far away to hear their conversation, she suspected they were discussing Muhl-dar and Day-nuh’s footprints. They’d been following the strangers’ clear trail all day, through highland meadows, reconnecting with A-Chi Stream around mid-morning, and now here to Ant Clan’s sparsely treed lands.

Gini had mixed feelings about returning to A-Chi Stream. It meant that Muhl-dar and Day-nuh would now have plenty of fresh drinking water as they traveled, which was good. It also meant Dzeh could simply follow the stream to find them.

Not that he was having any difficulty tracking them.

Hopefully Muhl-dar and Day-nuh had not stopped anywhere to rest for very long, and now were far, far to the south, forever beyond Dzeh’s reach.

Glancing once again behind her and seeing no sign of Chal and Wol-la-chee, Gini settled down to pick ants from the rose blossoms to appease her hungry belly. Smelling the delicious roasting armadillo, she crushed insects between her thumb and forefinger and popped one after the next into her mouth. They had almost no flavor and it would take a lot of them to silence her empty stomach.

*     *     *

Drawn south by the river, Scully and Mulder hiked through a stony valley of scrub brush and stunted hardwoods. Jagged hills rose on either side of them. Deep red canyons snaked between tree-studded peaks, shadowy and mysterious, making Scully feel like a mouse in a maze. It surprised her how radically the terrain changed each day, mountaintops to lowland swamps to open grassland to this notched and ragged place.

The ground underfoot was relatively flat, although striated with rocky outcroppings. Sandy soil and weedy vegetation filled the spaces around the islands of stone. Recent rockslides littered the canyon’s edges and redirected the flow of the river with colorful slabs of sandstone. In some places entire cliff-sides had fallen away, exposing striped layers of earth and uprooted trees. It was as if the land were a living, breathing beast, shedding its skin to reveal a more brilliantly hued creature beneath.

The river ran deep and rapid here. Jammed with boulders and fallen logs, it zigzagged noisily through the valley.

Scully raised her voice to be heard above its monotonous chug.

“It’s myth, Mulder. Urban legend.”

“Maybe.”

Mulder had been uncharacteristically quiet all day. He claimed to be fine, although he’d obviously spent at least part of the night crying. She’d woken to find him shivering and wet, sitting beside her on the furs with his legs drawn up, hugging his knees. “River water,” he explained when she asked about his bloodshot, red-rimmed eyes. “I took a bath.”

“Before dawn?”

He shrugged and kept his face turned away after that.

Wouldn’t you know, she thought. She was finally feeling better about their relationship and now he was in a funk.

Not that she could blame him. Making love must have been as difficult for him as it had been for her.

A pang of guilt stung her. The decision to participate in the mate exchange had been hers, not his.

In retrospect she realized Mulder had been right about leaving. They should have gone before agreeing to the tribe’s repugnant custom. She’d been wrong to talk him into staying. An altercation with the tribe was inevitable given their extreme cultural differences.

And given Mulder’s predictable disregard for rules.

To her surprise, she found herself wishing she were more like him. She actually admired his ability to go his own way and damn the consequences. He followed his heart without questioning it.

Where had her prudence gotten her all these years?

This time it had landed her in a stranger’s bed.

What a fool she’d been. Like the Ourobourus on her back, she was going in circles, plodding along a familiar, yet fruitless, path of logic while denying herself Mulder’s more satisfying, if less predictable, extreme possibilities.

She vowed to do things differently if given the opportunity. She would throw caution to the wind, go where her heart led without trying to second-guess it, the way he did.

The way she had finally done last night.

Giving in to her emotions and making love to Mulder had been cathartic for her. She’d opened herself up in a way she never had before, and today she felt better for it...calmer, closer to him than ever.

She’d hoped he would feel the same way, but evidently their lovemaking had affected him differently, closing him off instead of opening him up.

Unable to wrestle any real communication from him all morning, she reluctantly fell back on their old habit of discussing case files instead of personal issues. Debating the paranormal seemed better than saying nothing at all, if only a little.

At least it helped pass the time as they traveled.

How many miles had they hiked since leaving the tribe? And when would enough be enough? Surely no one was still following them.

A herd of spindly-legged gazelles grazed peacefully on the riverbank thirty yards downstream, where grass fringed the shore, growing lush beneath a row of slanting elms. Pestered by flies, the animals tossed their heads and flicked their tails.

Beyond the gazelles, a fallen log had created a swell in the river and a flock of stilted egrets fished for minnows in the relatively calm shallows. The noon sun flashed brightly off the birds’ snowy feathers as they plucked silvery fish from the water and swallowed them whole.

Scully’s empty belly growled. There was no smoked meat left in the pack. The only thing they carried now was the worn fur blanket from the abandoned camp.

“It’s the Pookie Johnson story all over again,” she said, determined to disregard her stomach while whittling away Mulder’s reticence.

“Who’s Pookie Johnson?”

He tossed a pebble into the river, startling the egrets. They cawed and flapped their wings, edging downstream but not flying away.

“There was an alleged case in a Cincinnati hospital’s ICU where patients always died in the same bed on Sunday nights at about 9:00 p.m., regardless of their medical conditions.”

“A vengeful ghost?”

“Hardly. A team of experts was assembled to investigate the cause. The following Sunday, a few minutes before 9:00, they waited outside the ward to see what would happen.”

“What did happen?” He tossed another stone. It ricocheted off a boulder with a tinny ping. “I’d put my money on Aquiel, the Demon of Sunday.”

“You’d lose, betting man. When the clock struck 9:00, Pookie Johnson, the night custodian, entered the ward and unplugged the life support system so that he could use the vacuum cleaner.”

“Nooooo! Say it ain’t so.”

She felt a surge of triumph. Not only had she told her joke without him guessing the punch line, she’d also managed to lure him out of his circumspection.

“It ain’t so, which is exactly my point, Mulder. That story’s been told so many times it’s become folklore.”

“Spoilsport.”

She chuckled. “The Demon of Sunday? Where do you come up with these things?”

“I--”

Suddenly Mulder stumbled. He managed to remain upright, but was now standing in a rocky indentation approximately two and a half feet long by about six inches deep. The “hole” was an animal track with three enormous, talon-tipped toes.

Mulder’s face brightened for the first time all day. “Wow!”

Although she was glad to see him smile, she didn’t share his enthusiasm; any beast that could leave an imprint like that was a monster. “What is it?”

“Allosaurus.” He squatted to run his hand over the stony print.

“Allosaurus?”

“A theropod. Biggest, meanest predator in North America during the late Jurassic.

“A dinosaur?” Jesus, were they traveling further back in time?

“Relax, Scully. This is a fossilized track. Look, there’s another.”

He stood and loped to the next track, which was about three yards away. He jumped into it with all the enthusiasm of a six-year-old in a mud puddle. Looking back at her, he whooped with delight. “Is this great or what?”

She didn’t share his enthusiasm. “How do you know so much about dinosaurs?”

“All boys know about dinosaurs.” He began following the trail of prints, hopping excitedly into each one.

“They do?” she asked, more to herself than to Mulder. Bill and Charlie had never shown an interest in anything but military jets and submarines.

She hurried to catch up.

“When I was nine, Dad took me to the American Museum of Natural History in New York to see the diplodocus skeleton,” he said. “It was 72 feet long, 22 feet high, and was estimated to weigh between 50 and 70 tons. Can you imagine a creature like that? It would dwarf even the biggest Ice Age beast.”

“I guess I should be thankful we didn’t wind up in the Jurassic.” She eyed the prints nervously. “Are you sure these tracks are fossilized?”

Her question brought an indulgent smile to his lips. “Yes, I’m sure.”

For the next hour, he followed dinosaur tracks while she followed him and listened to his excited descriptions of various gargantuan beasts. Diplodocus, apatosaurus, stegosaurus, camarasaurus, and so many others she began to lose count.

“These could be over 135 million years old!” he said, tearing his eyes away from another set of stony prints only long enough to grin at her. “Lower Cretaceous, maybe. Did you know that there are more than 1600 fossilized dinosaur bones at Dinosaur National Monument?”

Dinosaur National Monument...why did that sound familiar?

“Where?” she asked.

“It’s a graveyard of fossilized bones in Vernal, Utah. That’s about...uhhh...well, I don’t know how many miles from here, but it’s in the eastern part of the state.

That sparked her memory.

“Melissa sent me a postcard from there once,” she said, picturing the photo on the card...enormous brown bones protruding from rock cliffs, happy tourists standing nearby. In her note Missy had seemed as enthralled as Mulder, although not for the same reasons. It wasn’t the dinosaurs that excited her. Apparently she’d met a park employee named Craig, who convinced her to stay in Utah for most of the month of October. Their relationship remained strictly platonic, she claimed. Craig was allegedly a cosmic sibling.

The fossilized tracks finally petered out as the rocky canyon widened into a verdant basin of grassland and deciduous trees. Red rock cliffs more than three stories high cradled the lowland paradise, where herds of animals grazed along the broad river’s curving shores. Water buffalo, camels, more gazelles, all seemingly unconcerned by the approach of humans. Flocks of birds waded and fished in the rapids. Enormous turtles sunned themselves on fallen logs.

The air smelled as fecund as a greenhouse. Constant bird song blurred with the babble of the river, filling Scully with wonder, drawing her forward with her head tilted skyward, sniffing the soft breeze and listening to the harmonious melody of nature.

Mulder seemed to grow calmer, too, as he led them more deeply into the tranquil basin. Eyes wide, lips quirked in a half-smile, he wore an expression of enchanted incredulity.

His outward delight and disbelief matched hers as they approached a herd of horses, eventually coming close enough to smell the ponies’ dusty hides, without scaring them away. Twelve mares grazed peaceably in the shade of widely spaced trees, taking almost no notice of the dumbfounded humans who walked among them.

“They aren’t afraid of us,” she said, keeping her voice low.

“I noticed that.”

She chanced touching one as she passed, just lightly, on its sun-warmed rump. The pony nickered and kicked at the ground making a dull, hollow-sounding thud before plodding two steps away. It bent its head to tear another mouthful of bright grass from the dirt.

“Why aren’t they running?”

“Maybe they can see we aren’t carrying any weapons.”

The pony swatted its rust-colored tail, inadvertently slapping Scully’s arm as it swished flies. She flinched and gasped from the whip-like sting, causing the horse to gaze back at her. Its large eye rolled, assessing the threat. Flies tormented its ears and it waggled them, nodding and snorting in an effort to find momentary relief. When it trotted away, Scully wasn’t certain if it was trying to escape her or the bugs.

None of the horses were very large, not by modern standards. But they all had fat bellies and muscular legs. A lot of protein on the hoof, she realized, and her stomach rumbled again.

“Just one of these animals would feed us for three or four days,” she said, eyeing the horse that had struck her with its tail. She pictured it cut into T-bones and tenderloins, and her mouth began to water.

“Perhaps you didn’t hear me when I said we have no weapons.”

“You have a knife.”

He chuckled. “You want me to take down a horse with my pocketknife?”

“Okay, maybe not your knife. But we’re smart people. We should be able to apply a little 20th Century ingenuity to solving our food problem.”

“Such as?”

“I don’t know. But we need to eat and there must be a gazillion calories of fresh meat in this valley.”

Mulder’s head swiveled and a curious expression replaced his smile as he looked around.

“Weird. The place where we stayed last night had no game at all. I didn’t see so much as an anorexic squirrel. Nothing but a few ants.”

It was a contrast. This valley was like a Garden of Eden, flourishing with robust animals, lush vegetation and crystal-clear water. Its serenity and abundance soothed Scully’s frayed nerves. She felt relaxed here. This was the most peaceful place they’d encountered since coming to the Pleistocene.

“Look at that.” Mulder pointed to the eastern cliffs where the late afternoon sun spotlighted a shadowy cave in the crimson-colored rock. The cleft curved like a frowning mouth, its lower lip jutting beyond the arching roof, approximately thirty feet above the valley floor.

He dug his binoculars from his pocket and raised them to his eyes. “I think our luck is finally changing...for the better. Feel like spending the night with a roof over your head?”

“It’s not occupied is it?”

“Look for yourself.”

He passed her the binoculars

She peered through the glasses at the cave. Nothing moved inside its shady opening. A shallow incline of boulders, overgrown with shrubs, saplings and groundcovers, connected the cave to the valley floor like a living staircase. At the base of those lush steps, a large, ragged beaver dam slowed the river’s current, creating a sizable pond. Cattails and purple flowers grew in profusion along its southern shore. More birds fluttered in the rushes.

It was beautiful.

“Come on, let’s go,” Mulder urged, taking her hand and pulling her forward.

*     *     *

Hill Air Force Base
Computer Lab, Hangar 19
May 14, 1998
7:47 a.m.

“Captain Linden!” Lisa Ianelli wore the startled expression of an airman caught jerking off on night patrol. She stood beside Nichols, who was seated with his back to the door at a computer terminal at the rear of the lab.

Linden stepped into the room as Nichols swiveled in his chair to face him. The young scientist’s hand slid from his keyboard to his lap and the monitor behind him went dark.

Two stone-faced airmen flanked Linden and he motioned them to wait outside the door, which he left open. Crossing the lab, he passed several unoccupied stations to stand directly in front of Ianelli and Nichols.

“Something wrong?” Nichols asked.

“You tell me.”

“Sorry.” Nichols looked up at him with mock regret. A contemptuous smirk twitched the corners of his mouth. “I’m not authorized to discuss the Project with anyone but Colonel Beck. Damn those pesky orders, huh, *sir*?”

Impudent little fuck. Linden was sick to death of Nichol’s “I know something you don’t” attitude. He was a goddamn smart-ass and, worse yet, a civilian working on a classified military project...a very risky combination. Linden didn’t know the details of Beck’s pet project, but it was his job to ensure the security of this base and his gut was screaming at him to distrust Nichols and his jittery girlfriend, especially after discovering a connection this morning between them and the two elusive intruders.

“I’m not here to talk about the Project,” Linden said.

“No? Then why are you here?” Nichols leaned back in his chair, loose-limbed and cocky.

“To hear you explain why two Federal agents tried to sneak onto this base last night.”

Nichols looked genuinely surprised. “I don’t know anything about that.”

“I think you do.” Linden paced around Nichols to rest his hand on top of the computer monitor. What had these two been looking at a moment ago and why didn’t they want him to see it? “You ever hear of an Agent Fox Mulder?”

“Yes, I met him last year.” Nichols took off his glasses to clean them on the hem of his faded T-shirt. “At the Bio-Med Research Station at MIT. Was he one of the Federal agents who slipped past your security?”

“Technically you met him at the police station.”

“Mulder arranged for my bail, yes. And since you’ve obviously checked my records, you already know I was acquitted of Lucas Menand’s murder.”

“So the BPD said. They also said you disappeared for a period of several days after a fire broke out in the Bio Lab’s computer center.”

Nichols fitted his glasses back over his ears and sighed. “So what? I needed to get away. I’d just lost several years worth of work, not to mention my very good friend Lucas. Is it a crime to grieve?”

“That depends.”

“Depends on what?” Ianelli asked, flipping her long hair behind her shoulders. A nervous habit, Linden guessed, more than a challenge. Her lips were frayed from biting them. Her nails chewed to the nub. She looked like she hadn’t slept in a week. “What’s this really about?” she asked. “Why would Agent Mulder try to sneak onto this base?”

“My guess is he was planning to meet someone here. Someone who was in a position to leak classified information.”

Ianelli’s eyes rounded. “You think we’re spies?”

“That’s preposterous.” Nichols threw up his hands in disbelief. Anger darkened his face. He pinned Linden with a cold stare. “Is that what he told you?”

Linden shrugged. He had no intention of letting them know the intruders hadn’t been found yet.

“This is my life’s work, Captain,” Nichols said. “Why would I do anything to jeopardize it?”

“Sorry, I’m not authorized to discuss that with anyone but Colonel Beck.” Now it was Linden’s turn to smirk. He drew away and headed to the door; at the threshold he turned to look back at them. “But I am putting you both under 24-hour guard until further notice. Damn those pesky orders, huh, *Mister* Nichols?”

*     *     *

Late Pleistocene
June 28, 6:59 p.m.

While Scully was bathing in the river, Mulder gathered tinder for a fire. He planned to ignite it using the sun’s rays and his binoculars. The idea had come to him earlier when Scully passed the glasses back to him, causing sunlight to ricochet off the lenses and spotlight the red rock outside the cave. Why he hadn’t thought to try this days ago, he wasn’t sure. Must have been distracted by saber-toothed tigers and angry Cro-Magnons.

Dried grass? Check. Cedar shavings? Check. Small twigs and branches? Check. Larger branches and driftwood? Check.

One threadbare animal skin next to the fire for making love? He waggled his brows at no one in particular. Check!

He had arranged the combustibles near the mouth of the cave, where late afternoon sunlight still washed across the stony floor. The cave was dry and roomy, about twelve feet high at its mid-point and nearly twice as wide. It curved into the hillside for about ten yards before narrowing and finally dead-ending. Nothing seemed to be living in it, other than a small colony of bats that hung from fissures in the roof at the back.

It wasn’t the Watergate, but in many ways, it was more comfortable than some of the hotels they’d stayed in over the years.

Just in case he was unsuccessful at starting a fire, he hadn’t divulged his plans to Scully. No sense getting her hopes up over nothing if all he managed to create was a little smoke. Besides, it would be great to surprise her with a roaring fire when she returned from her bath.

Tilting the binoculars toward the sun, he focused its rays through one the lenses, creating a small circle of light on his pile of wood shavings. A minor adjustment of distance shrank the circle to a dime-sized dot. He wondered how long this might take...assuming it worked at all.

Would staring at the dot blind him? He averted his eyes, glancing back only often enough to make sure the light was still aimed at the kindling and not on the stone floor of the cave, or worse, at his leg or foot.

In less than a minute a wisp of smoke wafted up from the tinder. Could it really be that easy? A curled cedar chip smoldered.

It was working!

He blew gently on the ember. It glowed brightly, but didn’t ignite. He blew again, a little more forcefully.

A tiny flame appeared.

Yes! He was making a fire! Just an itsy-bitsy one, but an honest-to-goodness fire nonetheless.

He set down the binoculars and fed a few bits of grass into the tenuous flame, all the while trying to still his shaky hands. It wouldn’t do to get overexcited and suffocate the fledging fire.

The grass sizzled and ignited.

“Now we’re cookin’.”

He added a few more cedar shavings. They crackled and snapped, and sent up a pleasant aroma. A few thin, dry twigs ensured the fire was going to keep burning.

“Woo hoooo!” he bellowed.

He’d made a fire! A *fire*! Without matches. Now they could cook food...uh, assuming they could find some. And even if they couldn’t, they’d be warm tonight, which was something.

He placed a branch very carefully onto the flames and it started to burn.

“You built a fire?” Scully stood at the lip of the cave, hair dripping wet, brows raised, and looking for all the world as if she didn’t believe what her own eyes were seeing.

He grinned up at her. “I did.”

“How?”

“A little 20th Century ingenuity.” He hefted the binoculars and waved them at the setting sun.

She nodded. “Handsome *and* smart. Every cave girl’s dream.”

“You’re just sayin’ that because I’m the only guy around who’s willing to wear a necktie to work or use a napkin at the dinner table.”

“Can’t argue with that. Speaking of dinner...” She brought her hands out from behind her back and held up a fistful of bullfrogs. They dangled wetly by their long webbed feet, hind legs stretching to at least eighteen inches and each one with a belly as thick as Mulder’s forearm. She smiled proudly.

“Whoa. Look what croaked.

“You aren’t squeamish, are you, Fire Man?”

“Not at all. Whaddaya say I cut a couple of sharp sticks and we roast ‘em like weenies?”

*     *     *

Dzeh’s eyes widened at the sight of the giant three-taloned track. He had heard about such things, but had never seen one for himself. This print was as long as a man’s stride and was pressed deeply into the stone. Whatever creature had created it was monstrous.

“We must turn back,” Lin urged. “This is Ye-tsan Basin.”

“That is only a legend.”

“You can see for yourself it is real. What animal can make a track like that?”

Dzeh knew Lin was right. His uncle was not a man who was easily frightened. He’d lived many hard winters and single-handedly battled ferocious bears, wolves and saber-toothed cats. Dzeh had once seen him stand his ground against a charging bull mastodon, killing it by driving his spear into its furious eye. And yet Lin’s face was pale and his hands trembling as he stared down at the gigantic tracks.

“It is a trick. Perhaps Muhl-dar conjured these tracks to frighten us away.” Dzeh’s desire to continue after his enemy was greater than his fear of ancient legends.

“We have heard the tales all our lives, Nephew.”

“Doubtless Muhl-dar has heard them, too.”

“These were not created by a man, not even one as cunning as Muhl-dar.”

Did massive serpents really live here, creatures bigger than the largest mastodon, fiercer than a wounded she-bear? Dzeh scanned the land to the south for any glimpse of the giants. He saw nothing but more impossible tracks, and A-Chi Stream, grown fat and wild, snaking south through a verdant lowland.

“Muhl-dar will die here,” he said, feeling relieved. 

It was commonly believed that Endless Lake lay at the southern-most end of the Basin, too broad to be crossed and too wide to be hiked around. To the east and west, tall red cliffs, impossible to climb, squeezed the valley. Ye-tsan was a trap. Only a desperate man would enter a place that was blocked on three sides and teamed with colossal serpents. Muhl-dar would perish as surely as a fly in a pitcher plant.

Two faint sets of prints -- Muhl-dar’s and Day-nuh’s -- disturbed the dust beyond the giant lizard’s stony tracks. The sight lightened Dzeh’s aching spirit. The strangers deserved whatever dreadful fate they would meet in this fearsome place.

As if able to see his thoughts, Lin said, “They are already dead, Nephew. Let us go home before we meet the same fate. Surely Wol-la-chee and Chal have already returned to Turkey Lake with Gini.”

A shiver of doubt tickled Dzeh’s spine, but he shook it off and turned away from the terrible lowland. He was finally done with the strangers and was grateful he would never set eyes on them again.

*     *     *

The sun appeared to be balanced on the rim of Ye-tsan Basin; its crimson glow painted the cliff-sides the color of blood. Gini emerged from her hiding place behind a thorny locust tree as soon as Dzeh and Lin were out of sight.

They were returning home...without her.

She wasn’t sure how she felt about that. She had expected to be relieved, but as it turned out, she was sad and a little panicky. Watching Dzeh disappear into the sparse, darkening woods was more difficult than she had anticipated. She would never, ever see him again, she realized. Or Klizzie either.

Imaginary knives jabbed her heart as she considered living without them. Klizzie had been her mother for four years -- half her life -- taking care of her whenever she was sick and teaching her important lessons, like how to scrape hides and smoke meat and make pemmican. She showed her which plants were safe to eat and which were not. She braided her hair and gave her gifts and treats, like honeyballs and spruce gum and necklaces and soft, pretty tunics.

Even Dzeh was *usually* nice. He had carved her many little dolls, far more than her friend Jeha ever had. And he told her stories and sometimes took her hunting even though girls were not supposed to hunt with men.

Lots of nights Dzeh and Klizzie let her climb into bed with them when she woke up afraid, scared by a nightmare or the howl of wolves. Klizzie would hold her in her arms and stroke her hair, while Dzeh told stories, keeping his voice low so as not to wake the others in the lodge.

Dzeh had a nice voice. Deep and comforting, at times as soft as goose down on a spring wind. It was pleasant to listen to him tell tales of successful hunts or happy feasts, while Klizzie kissed her cheeks and called her “Little Chick,” until she fell asleep between them.

Tears filled her eyes at such fine memories, blurring the red sky and the dark silhouettes of trees, making the world look like the inside of a gutted carcass.

Wiping away her tears, she was determined not to cry. It had been many moon cycles since shed gone to her brother or Klizzie for comfort. Certainly not since Dzeh decided she must take a mate.

She would not go back to the Clan. If she must live with strangers, she would decide who. Dzeh would no longer tell her what to do. She would live with Muhl-dar and Day-nuh and that was the end of it.

Unfortunately Muhl-dar and Day-nuh had gone into Ye-tsan Basin...the place of monsters.

She turned to face the lowland. There in the growing gloom, pressed deeply into the stone, were the frightful footprints of giant lizards.

Fighting the urge to chase after Dzeh, she headed into the valley.

“Please don’t eat me, Serpent Monsters,” she whispered to the shadows. “I do not want to die.”

*     *     *

Mulder’s lips nudged Scully’s. He didn’t press, didn’t open his mouth, didn’t seek to invade her with his tongue. His kiss was chaste, tentative, a gentle exploration of her mood.

They stood at the entrance of the cave, the fire separating them from the black night outside. His arms loosely encircled her silky shoulders; her hands rested on his bare chest. He wore his jeans and nothing else. She wore hers, too, and her camisole, which reflected the flames in its lustrous fabric. Their feet were bare and the stone floor of the cave felt cool on his soles.

Drawing back an inch or two, he asked, “Everything okay?”

She nodded shyly. The glistening tip of her tongue darted across her lower lip, as if tasting the love he’d left for her there. “Yes...everything’s fine.”

Would she recoil in horror if he touched her breasts? He really wanted to touch them, imagining the eggshell-smooth skin, the nipples puckered from her bath in the chilly river. They tented the silk of her camisole, creating attractive shadows in the firelight, tempting his twitchy hands and hungry mouth.

Instead of satisfying his craving, however, he brushed her inner arm with the backs of his fingers.

Goosebumps sprouted beneath his caress. She didn’t withdraw from him and he felt a prickle of triumph.

Were there certain things he shouldn’t do? Certain positions that would frighten her? Things she’d done with Dzeh?

The idea of Scully making love to that Neanderthal repulsed him, no matter how they’d gone about it. He certainly didn’t want to remind her of it by approaching her the same way.

Yet, he wanted to make love to her. He longed for the intimacy of intercourse. He wasn’t expecting anything so sublime, or unlikely, as simultaneous orgasms -- he wasn’t that optimistic -- but he needed to be with her, *in* her, this time when she climaxed.

*If* she climaxed, he corrected himself. It was possible she wouldn’t be comfortable enough to reach orgasm.

The memory of her coming against his hand made his cock stiffen.

“Scully...” He barely recognized his own raspy voice. “I want to make love to you, but I... I’m not sure...” He paused to swallow. “What do you want?”

There was little doubt she was as nervous as he was. Her brows were peaked with worry, her mouth taut, jaws clenched. But she nodded, setting her hair swinging. “I want you,” she said.

Her answer brought relief, but it wasn’t enough. He ventured a smile. “I need more to go on than that. I don’t want to mess this up.”

“It’ll be fine,” she reassured him, although she looked far from confident.

“Is there anything...I shouldn’t do?”

She bit her lip and thought for a moment. Finally she said, “Don’t hurry.”

“All right.” He slipped a finger beneath the delicate strap of her camisole and tugged playfully. “How about we start by taking this off?”

“You need to undress, too,” she said, looking at him through lowered lashes.

He’d never wanted her more. Stepping away from her was agony, but he did it, reluctantly, to remove his pants.

The night air sifted across his naked erection, surprising him with its chill. His hand automatically closed around himself and he was rewarded with a familiar tingle of pleasure.

When she lifted her camisole up and over her head, exposing her breasts and making them bobble in a most attractive way, he tightened his grip on his cock, increasing his enjoyment. He was staring at her, making her self-conscious, he knew, yet he couldn’t pull his eyes away from the dark circles of her nipples.

Not until she unfastened and lowered her pants and panties.

His focus dropped to the triangle of hair at the apex of her legs. Rust-colored curls beckoned him and he took an unsteady step closer. He felt somewhat narcissistic holding onto himself, so he let go. His cock bobbed between them and made him think briefly of divining rods and dowsing for water with the way it aimed at the cleft beneath her curls in search of her humid depths.

She glanced down at him, and much to his dismay, appeared to grow a little green around the gills.

“Scully, if you’re not sure...”

“No, I’m...I’m fine.”

He bridled at the familiar phrase and felt some of the rigidity leave his cock.

“Honestly,” she assured him and took hold of his flagging penis with her right hand.

His knees nearly buckled. The pressure and warmth of her touch felt so damn good and he began to grow hard once again. 

He wrapped his arms around her, and she nuzzled his bearded chin with her lips, coaxing his mouth to hers. When their lips met, he slipped his tongue between her teeth, swirling into her mouth, exploring her taste and wetness and heat.

A moan vibrated from his lungs into hers. She shivered in response and he hoped it was from desire, not cold or fear. She still gripped him and he pressed against her, trapping her hand and himself between their hips.

It felt good, but he ached for more.

Cradling the back of her head in his palm, he increased the ardor of his kiss. Her jaw went slack, her lips more pliant, and when her tongue prodded his in a swiftly won skirmish to access his mouth, he welcomed it and sucked her in.

Connect, merge, unite...these words didn’t begin to describe the compelling desire he had to join with her.

Without thinking, without breaking their kiss, he swept her up into his arms, causing her to release her hold on him. Engorged to the point of pain, he immediately missed her touch.

His kisses became more desperate. Jesus, Jesus, if he wasn’t in her soon his heart was surely going to burst. Dragging his mouth from her lips, he nipped at her chin and nose, lapped her neck and cheeks, and dipped his tongue back into her mouth. He carried her to the fur blanket, where he knelt, feeling clumsy and unbalanced, but keeping her in his arms, in his lap, for just a moment longer, enjoying the warm press of her weight against his swollen groin. He continued to kiss her, on the lips, the cheeks, the forehead, more gently this time, trying to slow the frantic pace of his desire.

“God, Scully,” he gasped when she bit his neck, trapping the thin skin above his Adam’s apple between her teeth. “I want you...so...much.”

She released her hold to look up at him, lips swollen and parted, chest heaving in little panting breaths. The pupils of her eyes were as black and beautiful as the night sky. He swore he could see Hercules coalesce with Virgo in their glittering firmament.

Tenderly, he lifted her from his lap onto the furs. Then he moved over her, nipping at her collarbone in a gentle pantomime of her passionate bite. Slowly, he lowered his body on top of hers.

He lowered his body slowly on top of hers.

Her knees parted to cradle him between her thighs. Her arms encircled his neck and drew him down. She was sun-warmed silk beneath him, welcoming and enchanting. He fitted himself to her, pressing his hips between her splayed legs. His hard cock found her entrance and he hitched forward, nudging into her softly split form.

He pushed...and met resistance.

She gasped and winced.

“Wait,” she said. “I’m not...I’m not ready.”

He immediately halted his forward thrust. “Sorry. Maybe we shouldn’t--”

“No. No, it’ll be okay. Just...uh...give me a minute.”

Propping himself on his elbows, he shifted his weight so that he no longer pressed so heavily onto her.

“Take whatever time you need.” He stroked her hair. “How about if we swap positions?”

She nodded at the suggestion, so he slid off her, rolling as he went and taking her with him. He ended up on his back with her sprawled on top of him.

Smiling up at her, he said, “Whenever you’re ready. Or not. Whatever you want to do.”

A look of determination replaced the watery worry in her eyes. “Maybe if you talk to me. It might help.”

Talk to...? Really? “You mean...like phone sex?”

“Not quite. I just want to hear your voice. I find it soothing.”

Ah, so she didn’t want to hear “Oooo, yeah, fuck me, baby.” A poem maybe? He sifted through several possibilities before settling on: “‘Let me but glimpse you and I can no longer utter a word. No voice comes; my tongue is thick. Fire runs beneath my flesh.’”

She raised an eyebrow. “Continue.”

“‘My eyes cannot see, my ears are filled with humming that stuns, sweat streams down me...’”

She smiled. “More, please.” 

He recited the last line: “‘My body trembles. I turn greener than grass, so faint I believe I shall die.’”

“That was beautiful. Who wrote it?”

“Sappho. 600 B.C., give or take.”

“I like it.”

“Yeah? Well, I figured it was better than, ‘Down go the britches, in goes the little thing about six inches.’”

She laughed at his joke, which pleased him. “Where the hell did you come up with that?”

“It’s an Ozark square-dance call.”

“You’re kidding.”

“I never kid about square-dancing.”

Again she chuckled and he enjoyed the vibration of her body against his.

“Talk to me some more,” she urged, laying her head on his shoulder. “I love your voice. Especially here, in the dark.”

She smelled wonderful, fresh like the river water, but with an underlying hint of her own natural fragrance, that delightful “eau de Scully” that complemented any of the soaps, shampoos or perfumes she used back home. He loved her aroma, most detectable at the end of a long stakeout, when the artificial scent of her toiletries gave way to her body’s unmasked, musky perfume.

He buried his nose into her hair and inhaled deeply, grateful for this opportunity to sniff her without pretense. Moaning his appreciation, he tried to think of something else “soothing” to say.

“Know what the Pleistocene tribesmen call this?” He raised his hips, nudging her pubic bone with his erection. As soon as the words left his mouth, he regretted saying them. Would his question remind her of Dzeh and the mate exchange?

She was quiet for a moment, giving him ample time to worry.

Finally she lifted her head from his shoulder to grin at him. “Umm, impressive?” she asked.

Thank God, she wasn’t upset. And she’d just complimented his equipment. Maybe this talking idea was a good one after all.

“Aww, thanks, Scully. But no, it’s a ‘be-zonz.’”

“Be-zonz? What does that mean?”

“*This*.” He poked her again. “Penis. Cock. Dick. Schlo--”

“I get the point.”

“Know what they call the female genitalia?”

She stared at him, eyes wide with disbelief.

“Ah-toh,” he said, answering his own question.

“Mulder, how did this come up in everyday conversation?”

“Oh, you know, just a bunch of guys, hangin’ out in the prayer hut, talkin’ guy talk.”

“Hm.”

“What do you call it, Scully?” He wouldn’t mind hearing a little “soothing” talk himself.

“It?”

“Your...uh, ah-toh.”

“I call it a vagina.”

“That’s kinda clinical.”

“So?”

“Not very sex...er, soothing.” He ground against her and gave her ass a playful pinch. “Can I give it a nickname?”

“No. And don’t tell me you’ve got a nickname for your...your...”

“My what?”

“Your be-zonz.”

“You mean ‘Godzilla’?”

Now it was her turn to pinch him. She tweaked his ribs and then reached down between them to grab hold of Godzilla.

She squeezed him...*hard*.

“Mmmmmm,” he groaned, feeling like he could explode in her hand.

She closed her eyes to mere slits, licked her lower lip and said, “I think I’m ready.”

That was it? A poem and a little friendly banter and she was good to go?

She stroked him and he decided not to question it.

“You’ve got your hand on the stick shift, Scully. Feel free to take me for a test drive.”

She rose to a sitting position and guided him to her entrance. It took all his willpower not to push into her. Instead, he let her sink down on top of him.

Ready indeed. She was more than ready. Slick with desire, she settled onto him...over him...around him. Jesus, she felt good.

He looked up at her sitting above him, her thighs straddling his hips, hands anchored to his chest, the unrestrained corona of her hair illuminated from the side by the fire. She was half light, half shadow, simultaneously exposed and hidden. A secret and an answered prayer, all in one.

Her eyes glittered with tears, bringing a lump to his throat and a pang to his chest.

“You okay?” he asked in a whisper.

She answered him with a faint smile and an almost imperceptible nod. Then she rose up on her knees, stroking his hardened flesh with her inner walls. The satisfying friction drew his attention away from everything, everything but their joining.

“I’m fine, Mulder. ‘Greener than grass, so faint I believe I shall die,’” she quoted his poem and eased back down on him. “Make love to me.”

“I thought that’s what I was doing.”

“No, you’re treating me like glass. I want you to treat me like a lover.”

“But...I don’t...I--”

“You’re inside me. Make love to me.” Again she rose up.

It was too much. With her blessing, his self-control abandoned him. Driven by an urge as ancient as life, he grasped her hips and pushed into her. The reward was instantaneous. Pleasure zigzagged along his spine, promising bliss should he empty himself into her. Every nerve in his body yearned to fill her with the fertile slurry of his seed. Meeting her downward stroke, thrusting back into her, again and again, he became every rutting deer, every mating hawk, every spawning salmon. He was the very first spark of life adrift in the vast primordial sea, struggling against all odds to become more than itself alone.

And yet, this act was greater than any biological urge or even a Divine command to go forth and multiply. This was making love in the truest sense, becoming one with a soul mate. Putting together two imperfect halves in order to create one perfect whole.

His recompense came too soon, too soon, in waves, salty breakers upon her feminine shores. He threw his head back and, with gritted teeth, climaxed into her. Each rush of semen was sheer bliss. Each concluding thrust, perfection.

Scully...

Scully...

*She* was perfection.

Never had a woman overwhelmed him with passion the way this one did. Never had he felt more at home than inside her. He belonged to her. It was unimaginable to consider his life without her.

Still joined, she leaned forward, lowering herself onto his chest, gasping and overheated. Like him. Their two hearts thundered against one another, not quite in sync but complementary.

“Sorry,” he apologized. He had rushed to his own fervent release, failing to bring her along with him. “You didn’t--”

“Shhhh. I’m fine, Mulder. Really. That was...that was beautiful.” She lifted her head to study him. Her eyes shone with what must certainly be love. “*You* were beautiful.”

“Jesus...” He stroked her face. “Evidently I’ve fallen for a crazy woman.”

“Not crazy. Just happy.”

Happy? Here?

“You mean for once being in the wrong place at the wrong time isn’t a bad thing?”

He was feeling pretty happy himself, he realized. It was mind-boggling. Their situation couldn’t be more precarious and yet he did feel happy. Crazy, insanely happy.

Greener than grass, he thought, so faint I believe I shall die.

She shifted on top of him, causing his diminishing erection to slide out of her. Sated by his dinner and warmed by the fire and his love for her, he felt sleepy. Drowsiness weighted his limbs. His eyes closed and his thoughts began to drift, languid and content.

“Wake me in fifteen,” he mumbled, his words rolling like smooth stones in his mouth. “I’ll finish you then.”

“It’s a deal,” she said, laughing quietly. She stroked his chest with a rhythmic, hypnotizing caress.

Just before sleep snagged him, he thought he heard her say, “I love you, sweetheart,” but maybe it was only wishful thinking.

*     *     *

“More wo-chi!” Klesh flung his empty bowl at Klizzie. It hit her arm and bounced away.

She set down her sewing, giving up on trying to untangle the knot of sinew in her kit. Rubbing the pain from her elbow, she frowned and said, “You have had enough.”

They sat on opposite sides of the hearth in the hut where she had laid with Muhl-dar on the night of the mate exchange. The Clan had allowed Klesh to remain at Turkey Lake to mourn Tse-e’s death with his kin, just as he had predicted they would.

“Do not tell me what I will and will not drink,” he growled, slurring his words. His beard was clotted with a mixture of spilled wo-chi and the traditional pale, clay face-paint of someone in mourning. His whitewashed lips curled into a nasty sneer. “I will have as much as I like. Bring me more. Now!”

“There is none left,” she lied, tasting the clay-of-death on her own lips. “You drank it all.”

She didn’t want him to have another bowlful. The powerful drink was already making him bad-tempered, more so than usual.

He suddenly laughed out loud, an angry barking sound that made Klizzie jump.

“You...are a liar, my cousin,” he said when he finished laughing. “Maybe you should have a sip or two of wo-chi yourself. It might make you friendlier.”

He shifted onto hands and knees and crawled around the fire to sit beside her. She glanced down at her sewing supplies, strewn about the floor at her feet, and noted the location of her stone knife among the needles and knotted sinew. She would use it if forced.

“Remember the last time we drank wo-chi together?” His voice purred like a saber-toothed cat, sated on the blood of its most recent kill. He reached out a gnarled finger to caress her cheek.

She batted his hand away. Yes, she remembered. Of course she remembered. If she lived to be a gray-haired old woman, she would not be able to forget that dreadful night.

“Do not touch me,” she warned.

He chuckled at her discomfort. “You said it burned your throat,” he reminded her.

Indeed, the wo-chi had burned. It caused her stomach to buck and ache at first, but after a few more swallows, it enveloped her in its mysterious warmth. And by the time she’d finished an entire bowlful Klesh no longer seemed so unattractive. His scars had grown faint, almost invisible. He appeared as handsome as he had been before his disfigurement.

As if able to see her thoughts, he said, “You did not always find me so ugly.”

No, he had not always been deformed and he had not always been so mean. At fifteen, his skin had been as smooth and unmarked as any boy’s. And he laughed often, even when teased about his father, who was a lazy man and a poor gambler, or about his mother, who was said to have shared her sleeping skins with many men in exchange for meat and hides. Gossips claimed she sometimes traded herself for pieces of jewelry, even a...a hair ornament.

Klizzie flushed with shame. Four summers ago, warmed by wo-chi and dazzled by a silly hair comb, she had done exactly what Klesh’s mother was said to have done; she gave herself to a man in exchange for a pretty trinket.

Her decision seemed foolish now. So obviously wrong. But at the time...Klesh had appeared transformed into the boy he had once been, the courageous 15-year-old who had saved her frightened brother’s life by stepping into the path of a charging saber-toothed cat. Klesh had nearly died from the awful wounds he received on Tse-e’s behalf. No doubt he often regretted his selfless act, or wished he had perished in the fight instead of living. The physical pain he endured must have been excruciating.

His scars and his sacrifice earned him no honor, it turned out. He was tormented ruthlessly about his deformity, maybe because his father and mother were so unworthy of respect that the Clan’s loathing for them spilled over onto their son. Only Tse-e remained loyal to his scarred cousin. When Klesh was banished, Tse-e refused to turn his back on the man who had once saved his life, and went with him.

If she had been more compassionate and less selfish, she would have gone, too.

It seemed she was always misjudging the right thing to do. She felt confounded by the choices the Spirits placed in her path, unlike Dzeh, who knew what was proper and what was not. To her, decisions were often as knotted as the sinew in her sewing kit.

Well, she had learned one lesson at least. Telling Dzeh the truth about Klesh had been better than more lies. Now her cousin could not slit her throat with the knife of her own deceit.

“I will bring you some food,” she said, rising to her feet. It would be better to fill his belly with mastodon meat than more drink. And it would give her an excuse to go to the smokehouse and get away from him for a while. Maybe if she stayed away long enough, he would be asleep when she returned.

“Don’t go.” He grabbed her wrist and leered at her. “I am not hungry for food.”

She twisted her arm free. “Then I will visit the Shaman instead. The Spirits are poking spears into my stomach.”

Without waiting for his permission, she turned her back on him and walked out of the hut.

*     *     *

Mulder jabbed at the fire with a stick, sending a flurry of sparks spiraling into the night sky. The landscape was jet black beyond the hearth’s glow. Only the silver moon and its rippled reflection on the river appeared beyond the yawning mouth of the cave. Inside, light and shadow skirmished on the rock walls. The fire provided welcome heat and real protection, along with a sense of security that had been rare here in the Pleistocene. Sitting inside its circle of light, Mulder felt safer and more contented than he’d felt in weeks.

“You’re awfully quiet,” Scully said. She sat next to him, knees drawn up, eyes focused on the flames. “Did I wear you out?”

He chuckled. True to her word, she’d woken him after a short nap, and they had made love a second time. He’d given her that promised orgasm, times two.

Tossing his stick into the fire, he caused it to crackle and hiss. Cedar-scented smoke curled skyward from the green wood.

I’m just sittin’ and thinkin’.”

“About what?”

“Making love. Uh... not tonight...just now...but last night. It...uh...it wasn’t easy for me,” he confessed.

“I know. It wasn’t easy for me either.”

“Hmm,” he hummed his acknowledgement. Of course it wasn’t; it couldn’t have been. “I didn’t mean to imply--”

“I didn’t mean to minimize your discomfort either,” she interrupted. “I’m sorry.”

“Me, too.”

She was radiant in the firelight. Lustrous, smooth, perfect. She had put on her black panties and bra after making love and now her satiny bra reflected the fire, drawing his eyes.

He was still naked, loathe to dress again in his filthy clothes. Maybe tomorrow he could wash them in the river, and take a long bath, too, to cleanse away the blood and grime and unpleasant memories of the last few days.

She caught him staring at her chest, and he glanced quickly away, not wanting her to think he expected another round of lovemaking, although he would bed her again in a heartbeat.

To avoid looking at her underwear, he focused instead on her bare feet and her pretty little toes, curling and uncurling, delightfully small, especially compared to his. He loved everything about her compact body. Her diminutive size made him feel substantial, physically powerful, and protective, characteristics he relished when he was with her. It filled him with masculine pride to think she might occasionally depend on his larger size and greater strength, to overpower a murderer or to spear a Pleistocene sloth.

Or simply to hold her in his arms at night, keeping the cold at bay.

He reached out to stroke her hair and she leaned into his caress, rubbing against his fingers like a cat. The strands slipped between his fingers, feather soft and shimmery, its silkiness and shine bringing a pleasant ache to his heart.

To his surprise, he saw tears glittering along her lower lashes. His breath caught in his throat when she raised her eyes and he saw they were glossed with melancholy...not the same raw contentment he was feeling.

“I keep thinking about you and Klizzie,” she said.

“Klizzie?” His hand dropped away and he blinked at her.

“Yes. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this, but I’m...I’m jealous of her.”

“Scully...”

Tell her, he urged himself, don’t make her suffer thinking something happened when it didn’t. Tell her. Tell her now--

“I was married once,” he blurted.

Shit! Where the hell had that come from? That wasn’t what he’d meant to say. Could he take it back? Would it be possible to divert her attention, maybe switch back to the topic of Klizzie? Or would that just make things worse?

She stared at him. Shock, maybe anger, rounded her eyes. “What...?”

“Did I say that out loud?”

She didn’t smile at his joke. To the contrary, her frown grew deeper.

“I, uh, probably should have told you that a long time ago.”

“You were married?”

She sounded hurt. Damn it, this was exactly as he’d feared.

He shrugged, afraid to say more.

“Why didn’t you tell me before now?” she asked, her voice sounding faint and vulnerable.

“Because...it was a disaster, not something I’m particularly proud of.”

“What happened?”

“I was an idiot, of course. I didn’t...I couldn’t agree to her terms.”

“Terms?”

If he told her the truth, would she leave him the same way Diana had? It was his greatest fear.

At the same time, he couldn’t bring himself to lie to her any longer.

He decided to take a chance and come clean.

“She wanted children. I didn’t.”

Scully appeared to be corralling her emotions. She nodded and asked, “And what was...what *is* your objection to having children?”

“Scully...can’t we just say you and I disagree on this subject?”

“No, Mulder, we can’t. One day, you and I are going to be parents, *together*. We’re going to have a son--”

He hissed in disbelief.

“I saw it, Mulder.”

“In your vision.”

“Yes, in my vision.”

He tried to steady his own emotions. “Have you asked yourself why you believe that vision, Scully? You’ve doubted and questioned every paranormal event we’ve ever encountered...except this one. Why do you think that is? Could it be because you’re seeing exactly what you want to see?”

“That’s not it.”

“No? A happy family? The perfect future?”

“Are those such terrible things to want?”

“For you, no. For me...they’re impossible.”

“Why? Why impossible for you?”

“Because I have commitments, to the X-Files, to my sister...”

These were old arguments, the same ones he’d used dozens of times with Diana. During their last fight she’d countered by accusing him of acting like a child, with only the responsibility of a child...to his “dreams,” his “fantasies.”

Just before she walked out of his life forever, she’d said it was time for him to let go of his past. She asserted that his search for Sam was fueled by a subconscious desire for an ideal “family wholeness,” and until he realized this and became a parent himself he would never know the true meaning of commitment or happiness.

He had disagreed, of course. Then and now. He believed he wanted Sam back because he cared about her -- not in an abstract sense, but as a living, breathing, little girl who was enduring who knew what because he’d been too frozen by fear to save her. He was responsible for her disappearance. He’d done nothing to help her when they’d come to take her away. And it scared the hell out of him to think he might one day react with the same fear and cowardice, jeopardizing the lives of his own children.

Just as he had jeopardized Scully during the exchange...by doing nothing to prevent it.

He had to make her understand.

“Scully, someone once told me I would never experience true joy unless I planted my feet in the world,” he said, swallowing his anger...at himself, at his past, at the current circumstances. “Trouble is, my feet are always running. Toward the truth, away from liars who want to shut me down. We both know what I’m up against. It’s a fight I can’t win unless I give it my undivided attention. And I think it’s worth my undivided attention. Don’t you?”

Her expression hardened. “It’s *our* fight, Mulder, not just yours. It hasn’t been yours alone for a very long time.”

“You know what I mean. I can’t just slip into domestic bliss. I need to find my sister. You’ve known that from the start, since our very first case together.”

“Having a child doesn’t mean giving up on your sister. It doesn’t mean giving up the X-Files.”

No? How could it not? Having a family took time; it took emotional commitment. Time was slipping away faster than he could comprehend; the twenty-five years since Sam’s abduction had vanished in a heartbeat. He had nothing to show for it.

He also had neither the skill nor the fortitude to handle the emotional responsibility of parenthood. He wasn’t the father type. He had nothing to give a child. No way to protect it. He’d proven that with Sam.

“No, I don’t feel... I can’t...” His temper flared; he balled his fists as a familiar tide of incompetence welled up inside him, swamping him with his failures and shortcomings. “*No*! No children, Diana!”

Scully flinched as if slapped. Blinking back tears, she asked, “Her...her name was Diana?”

Blinking back tears, she asked, "Her...her name was Diana?"

Oh, fuck. He’d called her Diana. “I-I’m sorry, Scully, I didn’t mean...”

He reached out to stroke her hair again, but this time she pulled away, and her withdrawal was a knife to his heart. Clearly he would have to tell her the truth now. All of it.

“Scully, I’m sorry. Yes. Her name was Diana.”

“Diana Fowley...your colleague on the X-Files who left for an assignment in Europe?”

How was she able to remain so calm? Why wasn’t she arguing, striking out at him, slugging him in the jaw?

“Yes. We met when I first got out of the Academy...in ’86. We were married in ’89. It lasted 18 months.”

She considered this new information. Although obviously hurt, she didn’t appear particularly angry.

“Mulder, why did it take falling into a time warp for you to finally tell me this?”

Tell her. Tell her the truth.

“I was afraid.”

“Afraid to be honest with me?”

“No. Afraid you’d leave me, just like she did, for the same reasons, because I’m not the man you want or need me to be.” He picked up another stick and tossed it into the fire, sending sparks churning through the dark. “What I don’t understand is why you stay with me at all. It’s a question I hate to ask, but why *haven’t* you left me before now?”

“Why should I leave you?”

“Why not? You’ve lost so much because of me...everything really.”

“Not everything. Not so much, really.”

“No?”

“No. And how would leaving you now change any of that?”

He shrugged, unable to bring himself to say the words he was thinking, that she would be happier, safer without him.

She reached out and caressed the back of his hand. “Besides, what makes you think I hold you responsible for the things that’ve happened?”

“Because...I caused them.” He drew his hand away.

“You didn’t.”

“Yes...I did.” Why didn’t she just admit it and have done with it? It was so goddamn obvious. “Scully, I’d like to think I would die before letting anyone or anything harm you, but good intentions only go so far. The truth is I ignore you and manipulate you and use you for my own purposes at your expense.”

“You don’t.”

“Yes, I do. I sit idly by while you suffer. I’ve done it for years. We go my way and you get hurt.”

She shook her head vehemently. “Mulder, you’re acting as if I have no free will. As if I haven’t made my own choices, when the fact is I follow you because I want to. I believe in our cause. *Our* cause. Yes, the costs have been high, but from where I sit, our purpose is worth a risk. Any risk. Don’t you think that, too?”

No, he didn’t. Nothing was worth ultimately losing her the way he’d lost Diana.

He reached around behind him, fumbling for his pants. When he found them, he dug into the pocket and took out his knife. “Maybe she was right,” he muttered, rising to his feet.

“Excuse me?”

He went to one of the rock walls where the firelight flickered warmly over its smooth surface. He selected a relatively flat area and started to gouge into the stone with his knife.

“Have you noticed there are no petroglyphs here?” he asked, etching an eight-inch-tall stickman. “No evidence of any human habitation. Don’t you find that strange?”

To the left of his stickman, he carved a stickwoman, making her a head shorter than her partner and giving her round breasts and triangular hips. He joined their hands. When he was finished, he took a step back to study his picture. Something was missing. He wanted to show the man protecting the woman, providing for her, being the sort of man she needed, the man he wanted to be for her. A heroic man. He carved a long spear in the stickman’s hand.

Satisfied, he returned to Scully and sat down beside her.

“What’s that all about?” she asked, nodding at the figures.

Tell her, he repeated to himself. Answer her question truthfully.

“Scully, I can’t be without you,” he admitted. He tried to smile, hoping to make the words come easier, but a wave of panic drew his brows together and his desire to smile vanished. “I...I think I knew that before we came here, but now I’m certain of it. So...so if you want a family, whether it’s by IVF or whatever, I’m willing to be part of that.”

Instead of being ecstatic, as he’d expected her to be, she scowled at him. “You’re agreeing to become a father? Just like that?”

Was there something wrong with the decision?

“Yeah...just like that.”

“Don’t, Mulder.” She shook her head. “Don’t do this for the wrong reasons.”

“I-I’m not.”

He loved her. He didn’t want to lose her. He wanted to make her happy. Weren’t those good reasons?

He knew his perception of family life was skewed compared to most, that his divorce echoed his parents’ break-up. He’d lost far more than he’d gained in marriage. And even earlier there had been the loss of Sam. Life seemed to be constantly snatching his family away in bits, like buzzards picking at a carcass.

But, dammit, he wasn’t going to let it happen any more.

She didn’t look as convinced as he felt.

“It’s etched in stone, Scully.” He pointed at the petroglyph. “You can’t get more committed than that. Give me the chance and I’ll prove it to you.”

Mulder and Scully petroglyph


Continued in Chapter Sixteen

Special thanks to mimic117 and jeri for beta of Chapter 15.

Happy Birthday, tarras!

Congratulations, Tali and Mr. Tali!
Joy and blessings to you and your brand new daughter. 
Welcome to the world, Maia!
You've made 75 MastoAunties very happy today! 

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