CHAPTER TWO
Continued from Chapter One

Mulder and Scully petroglyphMulder hadn’t slept a wink. And it had been a helluva long night. Ass aching, he shifted a bit on his tree branch in an unsuccessful effort to find a more comfortable position without waking Scully. Miraculously, she was asleep, wedged between him and the trunk of the tree, her head resting on his shoulder. The sun was still hidden behind the mountains, but the eastern sky was beginning to lighten above the craggy peaks, and a blond strip of clouds had developed along the horizon.

The saber-toothed tiger was gone. It had abandoned its night-long vigil more than an hour ago when a herd of small horses passed close by, skirting the edge of the woods, heading toward the river. The cat followed the ponies. Several minutes later, Mulder was startled by the pitiful bleat of an animal in its death throes. The noise woke Scully from her sleep, and Mulder reassured her, convincing her to settle back against his shoulder. Apparently exhausted, she laid her head on him without argument and dozed off again.

The cat was probably up on the hill right now, filling its belly with fresh meat. Mulder’s stomach growled. He hadn’t had a bite to eat since the day before yesterday when he’d downed two bacon double-cheeseburgers, a pistachio flavored milkshake -- extra large -- and a side order of jumbo onion rings. Shoulda super-sized it, he thought. Damn, he was hungry; the bark on this tree was beginning to look good enough to eat.

He was thirsty again, too.

And he had to pee.

Badly.

Looking down at the ground, he estimated they were sitting about twenty feet up. Hmm. If he peed from here, he might be able to hit that pinecone on the second branch from the bottom. He tried to gauge the necessary trajectory. The lack of wind would help his aim, but he wasn’t altogether sure he could piss sitting down. And suppose Scully woke up before he was finished. How embarrassing would that be?

On the other hand, his bladder felt ready to bust. He had to do *something* -- now.

“Scully?” He reached over and traced her jaw from earlobe to chin with his index finger.

She stirred and slowly opened her eyes. “Time z’it?” she asked, stifling a yawn.

“Sunrise. Almost.”

She blinked sleepily at the still-dark sky. “No it isn’t.”

“Yeah...well...I gotta whiz, so good morning, sunshine.” He slid off the branch and lowered his feet to the limb below him.

“No chance you could wait until it’s actually light out? The tiger--”

“Scully, when a man says he’s gotta go, he’s gotta go.” He pivoted so that he could help her down. “Besides, the tiger left.”

She gripped his shoulders while he guided her hips off her perch. After setting her feet on the branch beside his, he acted as a spotter while she got herself turned around.

“You want me to climb down first?” he asked.

“No, I’ll go...if you’re sure the tiger is gone.”

“You can see for yourself it’s not there.”

“Yes, but where is it?”

Telling her it killed and ate a horse seemed counterproductive to getting her out of the tree, so he dodged the truth by saying, “It’s probably peeing.”

She rolled her eyes, then began to slowly inch her way down to the next branch. Then the next. He stood above her, rocking from foot to foot, his bladder aching.

“Any chance you could speed things up a little, Scully?”

“I’m going as fast as I can.”

“Well, you’re gonna need an umbrella if you don’t pick up the pace,” he warned, looking down at the top of her head. “Raindrops keep fallin’ on your head--”

“All right already.” She began to descend more quickly, either out of sympathy or because she was now closing in on terra firma. He followed her down, just a step or two above her head. When she reached the bottom branch, she jumped to the ground.

“Little girls’ room is around back,” she said, circling the tree. “Don’t even think about peeking.”

“I’ve got something else on my mind, Scully.” He jumped the last few feet to the ground, too. “And it has nothing to do with looking at you.” He spun to face the trunk, and unzipped his pants...just in the nick of time. Ahhh! Holy Jesus, Joseph and Mary.

His head began to clear as his bladder emptied.

When he finished, he called to her, “You done?”

“Yes.”

Zipping his fly, he waited another moment or two, just in case. Didn’t want to catch her with her pants down -- literally. When he did finally step around the tree, he found that she was standing several paces away, her back to him, pants up, shirt tucked in. She was looking out through the drape of evergreen branches at the distant mountain peaks, where clouds the color of nickel split the morning sun into finger-like rays.

Without taking her eyes from the prehistoric dawn, she began to recite a poem: “Way back in the days when the grass was still green, and the pond was still wet and the clouds were still clean...”

The verse sounded familiar. Edna St. Vincent Millay?

She continued the verse, “And the song of the Swomee-Swans rang out in space, one morning, I came to this glorious place.”

Not Millay. Dr. Seuss.

Honestly, he had expected her to be...well, less than enthusiastic about their circumstances. Yet here she was quoting Dr. Seuss, extolling the beauty of the landscape.

A gentle wind wafted through the branches. It carried the scent of pine and it fluttered her hair. He sidled up next to her.

God, she was beautiful.

Kiss her, his body urged. And although he’d experienced the impulse many times in the past, familiarity didn’t keep his desire from sucker-punching the breath from his lungs or turning the bones of his legs to Jell-o. Without even touching her, he could feel their imaginary kiss. Her lips, soft beneath his. Her breath, hot on his mouth. The wetness of her tongue.

Stop it! If she suspected what was on his mind, she would knee him in the nugs. Five years as partners, he knew she didn’t think of him in a sexual way. Never had and probably never would. No sense fantasizing about things that weren’t going to happen. Besides, he owed her more respect than that.

To prevent himself from acting on his impulse, he lowered his head, and whispered the last line of Seuss’ verse into her ear: “The bright-colored tufts of the Truffula Trees, mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.”

She turned to smile up at him. God, her lips were so close. If he leaned in juuust a little more...

God, her lips were so close.

“Pleistocene air seems to agree with you,” he whispered.

“Not at all. I’ve simply come to the conclusion that this is all a figment of my imagination, a hallucination caused by the blow to my head. I’m going to wake up any minute at Hill Air Force Base.”

“Scully, we’re in the Ice Age.”

“So you say. But until I see proof, I’m sticking to my hallucination theory. It’s more plausible than your time travel idea.”

“What does it take, Scully? A saber-toothed tiger to bite you on the ass?” Please, not this old song and dance, their perpetual pas de deux. “You saw the cat. We both saw it.”

“I was tired and dizzy and it was dark. I’m not sure what I saw--”

Groaning with frustration, he closed his eyes and threw back his head.

It wasn’t that he minded debating theories with her. As a matter of fact, he rather enjoyed the way she challenged him. She kept him on his toes, honed his investigative skills, prevented him from becoming analytically lazy. However, it irritated him to hear her refute what she’d seen with her own eyes, or rationalize irrational events by forcing them into more commonly held perspectives. Being rigorous was one thing, but denying the truth was unacceptable.

He knew the only way to sway her, however, was to do it logically, and that would take some time.

Scully squinted at the sunrise. “I admit I don’t know where we are or how we got here, but I can’t accept that we’re not still in the 20th Century.”

It was true, the landscape looked nothing like modern day Utah.

He bent and plucked a flower from a scraggly patch at his feet. “Something happened on that Air Base. Something that sent us back tens of thousands of years.”

“People can’t travel through time,” she maintained.

As usual she was going to make him work to prove his point.

“Physicists like Stephen Hawking have hypothesized the existence of wormholes and closed time loops -- actual portals through which matter can travel backward through time.”

“Mulder, phenomena like extreme heat and gravity would make the trip lethal for any organism.”

“Maybe not. Three years ago, Jason Nichols was working on a catalyst for a self-sustaining endothermic reaction that would render those factors inconsequential.” He held the flower under her nose.

She sniffed it. “Sweet,” she said, before continuing her argument. “Jason died before he actually created his rapid freezing agent.”

“We saw it, Scully. And Lisa Ianelli saw it, too. Suppose she finished Jason’s work?” Mulder tucked the flower behind his ear.

“Let me repeat what I said yesterday: We were never frozen.”

“Suppose Lisa discovered another way...”

She raised a questioning eyebrow. “To withstand a trip through a wormhole?”

“Yes, making time travel possible.”

“Mulder, Lisa never administered any compound.”

“Yeah, but suppose the catalyst isn’t a compound, but a set of circumstances.”

“Caused by...?”

“Something mechanical, not biological.”

“That kind of technology doesn’t exist.”

“Unless it’s extraterrestrial.”

She smiled. “You sound like Max Fenig, you know.”

He supposed he did sound like Max.

“I mean it, Mulder. I can see your future crystal clear, and unfortunately, I see myself right there with you.” Her expression changed to one of concern. “Mark my words: we’re going to end up as two card-carrying MUFON members, wearing matching tinfoil caps to protect our minds from the imaginary rays of extraterrestrial thought-control devices, while we travel from one UFO hotspot to the next shouting to anyone who’ll listen ‘they’re here, they’re here,’ ad infinitum.”

“Imaginary rays?”

“Don’t you ever worry about driving everyone away, all of your friends, your family, winding up old and lonely because you were -- you *are* -- obsessed with things that the rest of the world considers...well, insane, frankly?”

“I’ll always have you. Won’t I?” He nudged her arm until she nodded in agreement. “Scully, I don’t care what the rest of the world thinks. Most people have their heads up their asses.”

She glanced at him. “You really believe that?”

“Seeing is believing, isn’t it?”  He placed his hand on the small of her back, turned her around and steered her out from under the tree branches, intending to head back to the river for a drink. “If it’s right in front of your eyes, it must be--”

The river wound like a silver ribbon through the valley below. Animals crowded its banks. Lots of animals. Lots and lots of animals.

“Oh, my God,” Scully gasped. Her voice rose in pitch. “Are those...?”

Yes indeedy. Mastodons. At least two dozen of them. And a herd of small horses. And bison, and something that looked like camels, and a few unrecognizable things. The landscape was a scene out of an African documentary, only these animals weren’t zebras or elephants or water buffalo. They were...

“Mastodons.”

*   *   *

“My God,” Scully repeated, unable to believe her eyes. 

The behemoths certainly looked like illustrations she’d seen of mastodons. She’d taken enough anthropology courses at the University of Maryland to recognize the difference between Ice Age proboscideans and their modern day cousins, and these were definitely not elephants escaped from a zoo.

Whatever they were, at least two-dozen of them had gathered in the valley along the riverbanks. The mature ones stood about ten feet tall -- somewhat shorter than modern day African and Asian elephants. Their ears were relatively small, and their tusks were straight and parallel to the ground.

Scully tried to recall more details from Dr. Diamond’s classes. He’d described a wide variety of Pleistocene megafauna, including mastodons, which had ranged across North America from Alaska to central Mexico. Archeologists had discovered mastodon bones alongside prehistoric spear points and stone cutting tools, leading to the assumption that early humans -- Clovis and Folsom cultures, the Paleo-Indians of ancient North America -- had hunted and eaten the giant mammals.

If memory served, all genera of megafaunal mammals, like the musk oxen, giant bison, and camels she could see drinking alongside the mastodons at the river below, had died out sometime prior to 11,000 B.P.

Which could only mean... 

Impossible. This had to be a hallucination. She and Mulder were *not* in the Ice Age.

She needed to sit. Sinking onto her heels in the grass at the edge of the meadow, she continued to stare at the prehistoric scene in the valley below.

Mulder sat, too, and scanned the riverbanks through his binoculars. “Looks like you gotta get up pretty early in the morning to beat the breakfast crowd. Shall we cut the line?”

Was he insane? “N-no. We’re staying right here until they’re gone.”

“That could be quite a wait.” He offered her the binoculars, but she shook her head. She didn’t think she was ready to look at the gargantuans up close...not yet.

Ten minutes later, the mastodons began migrating slowly downstream toward the forest. A group of camels moved in to take their place. Camels...in northwestern Utah? It boggled the mind. Oversized bison stood shoulder-deep in the river. A variety of unfamiliar birds dotted both banks of the river, looking like crumpled Kleenex from this distance. Horses, deer, and some kind of big-horned sheep shared the watering hole in cautious harmony.

Mulder plucked a blade of grass from the field and stuck it in his mouth. He chewed on it for a minute or two before asking, “Is there any significant difference between a mastodon and a mammoth?”

Mulder plucked a blade of grass from the field and stuck it between his teeth.

“Their teeth,” she answered numbly, wondering why he cared.

“Thier teeth?”

“Yes…the word ‘mastodon’ is derived from the Greek ‘mastos,’ meaning breast, and ‘odont,’ meaning tooth. It translates literally to ‘breast tooth.’”

“Breast...?” A smile nudged his cheek. “That’s interesting.”

“Yes, well...mastodons fed on spruce, primarily. So their teeth had crowns consisting of distinct rounded cusps, which helped them chew tough foliage. Mammoths, on the other hand, grazed on grasses, so their teeth are...uh, *were* dissimilar. Mammoths were also generally bigger than mastodons, with wider heads, and curving tusks. Those...” -- she nodded at the retreating behemoths -- “look like mastodons.”

God, was she seriously considering the possibility that they had traveled ten or twelve thousand years back in time? Her hope that this was all a hallucination began to dwindle with each new Pleistocene animal she spotted along the riverbank. Faced with such a preponderance of evidence, she felt compelled to acknowledge Mulder’s theory of time travel as a possible explanation for their present predicament.

“I guess I owe you an apology, Mulder.”

He nodded his acceptance.

That was one of the things she liked most about Mulder. He wasn’t an I-told-you-so kind of guy. He didn’t gloat.

“We’ve got to find a way back,” she said.

He chewed his blade of grass with as much zeal as he crunched sunflower seeds. “That might be a problem.”

If they couldn’t find a way back, they were in serious trouble. 20th Century city slickers lost in an Ice Age landscape, with no survival skills to speak of. They were FBI trained, and could catch your average murderer or mutant easily enough, but what good were handcuffs on saber-toothed tigers? The Pleistocene world was full of larger-than-life threats. And they carried only three guns between them. Ten rounds per automatic plus the six rounds in Mulder’s .38. That wasn’t going to last long here. Every single bullet would be essential for protection *and* food.

Food. She was hungry right now. Mulder must be, too. It’d been almost two days since their last meal.

She looked again at the excess of wildlife lining the shore. Tons of protein on the hoof and no way to butcher or cook it.

They were without knives, matches, or anything that could hold water. For that matter, they had no shelter, no sunscreen, no insect repellent. No compass, either, or first aid kit. Not even an aspirin. And already she missed the more commonplace comforts of modern life -- like toilet paper.

They weren’t prepared to last two days let alone...

Jesus, how long would they be here? Her heart began to hammer at the thought of a week, a month, a--

“Empty your pockets, Mulder.”

“Excuse me?”

“Inventory. I want to know what we’ve got to work with.”

He shoved a fist into his right jacket pocket and pulled out his flashlight and car and house keys, which he laid on the ground beside the binoculars.

“And in here...” He pawed through his left coat pocket and produced handcuffs, cell phone, a pair of latex gloves--

Wait! Her cell phone.

She snatched her own phone from her pocket, and dialed the local FBI field office. “Why didn’t I think of this sooner?”

“That’s not gonna work.”

“We’ll see--”

The display window was lit, but blank.

She turned off the phone and tossed it onto the growing pile of useless modern day junk.

“Anything else?” she asked, hopeful.

A newspaper clipping about UFO sightings at Hill Air Force Base. FBI badge. Pack of sunflower seeds -- empty. That seemed to disappoint Mulder more than anything so far. Dry cleaning receipt. Car rental agreement. A pocketknife. The knife was small, but serviceable.

“Wait.” He held up a finger and dug into his pants pocket. Handkerchief. Wallet. Comb. “Except for my gun, that’s it,” he announced.

“Don’t you mean *guns*?”

“No, I brought only one.”

“But you always carry two guns.”

“Well...not this trip.”

Of all the times-- “Twenty rounds. That’s all the protection we’ve got.”

“I’m pretty sure I have two condoms in my wallet.” He grinned at her.

“Oh, that’s helpful.”

“Not really. I think they expired in ’95.” He leaned back on his elbows. “How about you, Scully? You packin’ anything useful?”

She emptied her pockets. Handcuffs. Latex gloves. Small pad of paper and pen. House keys. Badge. Wallet. Oh! Breath mints! She unwrapped the foil roll, popped one into her mouth and then offered the rest to Mulder. She continued to pull items from her jacket. Emery board. Freebie hotel sewing kit. Compact. Lipstick. Was lipstick edible?

“That’s all,” she said, disappointed.

“Know what I’m wishing?” Mulder asked. He removed the flower from behind his ear and tossed it to the ground.

“For a time machine?”

“No, but that’s not a bad idea.” He gave her a wry smile. “I was wishing I’d been a bigger MacGyver fan.” He began to pocket his possessions. “That way I could build a time machine out of our cell phones and my empty packet of sunflower seeds.” He waved the cellophane bag at her.

“You think MacGyver would need both phones?” She returned her belongings to her pockets, too, and then rose to her feet.

“Where are you going?” he asked.

“Back to the field where we first arrived. If there’s a way to get home, it has to be there.”

Mulder stood, too, concern creasing his brow. “Not necessarily. We have no idea how we got here -- a wormhole, time loop, something else. The portal may be closed, or located elsewhere, or it may not exist at all.”

“We came through it once, we have to assume we can go back the same way.” She began hiking upland, determined to get away from the river with all its strange creatures and frightening implications. There had to be a portal of some kind back in the field. There just had to be.

They hiked for about ten minutes, heading east, when Scully suddenly slowed her pace. She realized she didn’t know the way since she’d been unconscious when Mulder carried her to the river last night.

“Straight ahead,” he said, in response to her confused look. “It’s not much further.”

She pushed on, moving upland into the wind, which was picking up. Clouds were gathering and the air felt considerably cooler than it had yesterday.

They hadn’t gone far when Mulder pointed to an area of trampled grass thirty yards ahead.

She jogged to it. “Here?”

“This is the place.” He joined her at its center.

The spot looked entirely unremarkable. No obvious portals, no distortions in space and time, no shimmering doorways to the future. This couldn’t be it.

“You’re sure?” she asked.

He pointed to a stain of dried blood in the grass. “That’s where you were laying.”

Okay...the portal must be here then. They just needed to look harder. She walked a tight circle around him, searching the ground for any anomalous signs, waving her arms in front of her, hoping to feel an inconsistent air current or an abnormal gravitational pull. When she found nothing out of the ordinary, she frantically widened her search.

There had to be a way out. They would find it; they had to. Just keep looking. She circled him again. And again. Her head throbbed where she’d been injured, and the pain made her stomach queasy.

Mulder remained standing over the bloodstain, watching her spiral outward around him. She thoroughly searched the ground, the sky and everything in between.

“Scully...”

“It’s here, Mulder.”

“Scul--”

“It’s here, I know it!”

It had to be...it had to be! They weren’t equipped for the Pleistocene. She didn’t want to be stuck tens of thousands of years in the past. Her family and her life were in 1998. She liked living there. She wanted to go home. She didn’t belong here. Neither of them belonged here. Why wasn’t Mulder looking? Why was he just standing there?

“Help me, Mulder!”

Three strides and he was in front of her, blocking her search. He took hold of her arms just as she collapsed against him. She felt angry and frightened, and her head hurt so damn much. When she buried her face against his chest, it was all she could do to hold in her tears.

He stroked her back and said nothing. His soothing caress and the soft kisses he pressed against the crown of her head helped calm her pounding heart. He felt solid and real beneath her fingers. She breathed him in. Felt his pulse drum beneath her cheek.

When he cocooned her in his arms, she began to cry in earnest, because she knew his embrace offered only an illusion of safety.

He sank to his knees, taking her with him, cradling her against his chest.

“Shhh,” he whispered into her hair, and let her cry herself out.

“Shhh,” he whispered into her hair, and then let her cry herself out.

*   *   *

For several minutes after Scully's tears stopped, Mulder kept his arms looped around her and smoothed her wind-whipped hair. 

“Sorry,” she sniffled.

He shrugged off her apology.

“No, really,” she insisted. “I’m embarrassed.”

He wiped tears from her flushed cheeks. The jagged slash at her hairline looked inflamed and painful. Her skin felt fiery beneath his hand. “You’re sick, Scully.”

She stiffened in his arms. “I’m fine.”

Yeah, right. He’d heard that damn phrase more times than he cared to count.

Fuck fine. No one knew better than he did how hard Scully worked to hide her vulnerability -- from the good ol’ boys at the Bureau, from her family, from him.

Especially from him.

The word vulnerable was an insult to her. Yet despite her tough-as-nails demeanor, he’d seen her crack on occasion, allowing him the rare opportunity to play hero. It was a role he simultaneously loathed and aspired to. Loathed because it necessarily meant she was in harm’s way. Aspired to because he wanted to be brave when it counted most, stopping at nothing to protect her, trading his life for hers without a moment’s hesitation.

Truth was she almost never needed his help. She was able to take care of herself and him, too.

He made no further comment about her injuries because he knew it would make her uncomfortable, but he planned to keep a close eye on her, whether she liked it or not.

A roll of thunder battered the surrounding hills. Storm clouds packed the sky to the east.

“Looks like we’re in for some bad weather,” he said. “We need to find cover.”

And food. Christ, he felt as hungry as a liver-eating mutant coming off a 30-year hibernation.

Another clap of thunder vibrated the air. Closer this time. His decision was made. Shelter first, then food. Rising to his feet, he hauled Scully up after him. All the color drained from her face as she tried to balance on unsteady legs.

“Can you walk?” he asked, securing her in the crook of his arm.

“Yeah. I’m just a little shaky.”

Food momentarily vied for the top spot on their To Do list. Scully’s condition wasn’t going to improve if she didn’t get some nourishment into her.

“Come on.” He steered her toward the forest, which he hoped would provide both food and shelter.

Slate-gray clouds blotted out the daylight. Thunder crept closer each time it resounded. Mulder quickened his pace when the first fat raindrop slapped his cheek. He towed Scully across the wind-flogged meadow toward a gnarled evergreen that protruded high above the surrounding pines. Its upper trunk was corkscrewed in an odd s-shape, which he took as a good sign. The deformity was testimony to its stamina and survival. It had endured hardship, but in the end stood tall.

A lightning bolt sizzled through the dark sky, followed immediately by a heart-stopping crack of thunder. The storm was upon them and it was going to be a whopper.

“You okay?” he shouted, keeping his course. Her answer was lost in the next explosion of thunder. With less than twenty feet to go before they reached the tree, the sky opened, deluging them with cold rain.

By the time they ducked beneath the branches, they were soaked to the skin.

“Jesus!” she said, shivering.

A fork of lightning brightened the sky behind them, and thunder crashed on the heels of the strike. Wind and rain penetrated the boughs. They would need to move deeper into the forest to find adequate cover.

“Mulder, look.” She pointed overhead, up the trunk of the tree.

Near the top was an ancient scorch mark just below the s-shaped trunk.

“Lightning?”

“Maybe.”

“Let’s get out of here.”

He snagged her hand and tugged her away from the tree, heading for lower ground and denser cover. Lightning flared again and the sharp odor of ozone fell with the rain.

The trees were enormous here, with broad old-growth trunks. Giant ferns filled the understory. When a blowdown the size of a tanker truck blocked their path, they detoured along the rocky edge of a ravine.

“Watch your step,” he warned. Hopping from one wet, moss-covered stone to the next, he tried to avoid tripping on tree roots that were as thick as his upper thigh. Off to his left, a swift-moving stream ran north-south in a gully thirty feet down. The banks were steep. Slippery pine needles and a layer of last year’s rotting leaves made walking hazardous. A fall would be long and painful.

“You doing okay?” He glanced back at Scully. Rain had plastered her hair to her head and her teeth were chattering nonstop. Her chalky pallor shocked him. She stared back at him with dull, red-rimmed eyes, the left one entirely surrounded by the ugly bruise on her temple.

“I think I need to sit for a minute,” she admitted.

“Just a little further,” he urged, pulling her forward. Her hands were ice cold. Her lips blue. He had to get her out of the rain.

A densely needled evergreen up ahead looked like it might provide some cover. It wasn’t tall enough to attract lightning, but might be thick enough to keep out most of the rain. He stepped forward, heading for it, when the stones beneath his feet rolled and gave way.

“Shit!” He struggled to keep his balance, but the ground dropped out from under him and he stumbled over the edge into the ravine, hitting his hip and shoulder hard as he fell.

Rolling and skidding, he grasped frantically for a handhold. Gravity hauled him toward the stream. The wind was knocked from his lungs when his ribs hit an outcropping of stone. He somersaulted several more yards through mud and leaves, until he landed with a splash in the water-filled gully.

God damn, the water was cold.

Gasping for a breath of air, he struggled to his knees and scanned the trees on the upper embankment for Scully.

Fuck. Where the hell was she?

“Mulder!”

He followed the sound of her voice, and spotted her scrambling down to him. She half-jogged, half-slid between boulders and fallen branches.

Getting his feet under him, he staggered from the water. Now his teeth were chattering, too, and he imagined his lips were as blue as hers.

“Mulder...?” She made it safely down the embankment and rushed to steady him. Eyes rounded with fear, she patted his arms and legs, presumably checking for broken bones. Then she combed through his rain-soaked hair, no doubt trying to rule out head injury.

“I’m fine, Scully. Really.” He looked down at his mud-streaked, waterlogged clothes. “Just...wet.”

His words didn’t reassure her; she continued to feel him, squeeze his arms, stroke his cheeks. Her hands were shaking, he realized. Apparently his fall had scared her more than it had him.

“I’m okay,” he said again, capturing her nervous hands between his palms. He brought her trembling fingertips to his lips and kissed them. “Honest.”

Tears filled her eyes. She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out, so she simply nodded, letting him know she believed him.

“Let’s find a dry place to sit...relatively speaking.” He scanned the ravine, looking for any sort of shelter where they might rest and catch their breath.

An outcropping caught his eye about a third of the way up the embankment. Tucked beneath its overhang was a shallow notch that looked big enough to hold them both and provide a modicum of protection from the rain.

Gathering Scully beneath one wet arm, he helped her climb. The notch turned out to be wider and deeper than he’d first thought, roomy enough for the two of them to sit side by side. With their knees drawn up, they would be completely out of the rain.

Water sluiced over the outcropping above it, but the floor of the little cave was bone dry. Moss softened the hard edges of the stone floor and walls. He climbed in first, then offered a hand to her. She allowed him to tug her in beside him, and once they were seated, they backed as far into the cleft as they could.

“Comfy?” he asked.

“Mm-hm.” She slumped against the wall.

Lightning continued to flash outside, while thunder vibrated through the ravine. Rain pounded the forest floor, cutting visibility to no more than twenty or thirty feet. He could barely see the stream from where they sat.

“Thirsty?” he asked.

“Yeah.”

He leaned forward and cupped his hands beneath the spout of water that was pouring from the rocks above. He managed to hold onto a small amount, which he offered to her. She drank eagerly from the well of his hands. “More?” he asked.

“Please.”

He reached again for the waterfall.

“Mulder! Don’t move!”

He froze, arms outstretched.

“What is it?”

“Snake.”

“Bad snake?”

“Is there a good kind?”

He heard something slither above his head to his left. Then he caught sight of it out of the corner of his eye. Jesus, it was enormous.

It oozed out of a hole in the rocks, dropping its head to his eye level. He held his breath while it dangled there, flicking its tongue at him. Christ, the thing’s head was as big as a housecat’s and its body was as thick as his arm.

Shit, when it rains, it fucking pours.

 


Continued in Chapter Three

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