CHAPTER FOUR
Continued from Chapte
r Three

["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Chapter 4 contains passages that some readers may find disturbing or offensive. Reader discretion is advised.] 

Mulder and Scully petroglyphThe stream rushed through the ravine like blood through the veins of a hunted beast. Mist shrouded the entire gorge and pointed firs lined the upper embankment like rows of colossal shark’s teeth. The scarred man followed the flow of water, hauling Scully by the hair along a swampy, overgrown path, while his companion trotted a few paces behind, lugging the packs, spears, Scully’s clothes and her gun. Briars clawed their bare legs and bit into Scully’s unprotected feet.

Kicking, cursing, throwing punches, she tried to free herself, but the scarred man ignored her blows and maintained his tight grip on her hair. She dug in her heels at every opportunity, flailed her fists, scratched his arms and face, drawing blood...along with what was undoubtedly a string of caveman curses.

She swore back at him. “Bastard! Let me go, you son of a bitch!”

They continued on that way for more than three quarters of a mile, with Scully struggling and arguing. Physically she was no match for the scarred man, but even so she was prepared to be as contrary as she needed to be to slow his progress and give Mulder a chance to catch up with them.

From somewhere far behind them he called her name again. She returned his shout, screaming at the top of her lungs. Her cry earned her a wallop; the scarred man struck her hard in the mouth, splitting her lower lip. Blood spattered her chest, her arms, the ground, and she hissed with pain.

Scarface drew back his fist to strike again, daring her to defy him.

Damn Neanderthal. She had no intention of giving in to his bullying. Eight million years out of Africa, and she was being hauled off by the hair? This fucking caveman was pissing her off!

Glowering at him, she shouted, “MULLL--”

Knuckles plowed into her jaw, causing an explosion of pain that dropped her to her knees. The grip on her hair was the only thing that kept her from falling flat on the ground.

The scarred man must have sensed her next scream coming, because he jerked her to her feet and pressed his huge palm tightly over her bruised lips, locking her jaw with granite fingers so that she could neither scream nor bite.

Son of a bitch must have done this before.

“Tehi,” he growled into her ear, securing her with the crook of his arm. He steered her roughly toward the stream. “Kut.”

She reached up to dig at his eyes, but he dodged her scraping nails and tightened his hold, towing her into the water, hand still clamped over her mouth. Her bare feet slipped and stumbled on the wet stones. Her toes went numb almost instantly in the ice-cold water. Trying to pull away from his one-armed bear hug, she repeatedly punched him -- in the stomach, in the chest. He ignored her blows...until she aimed for his groin. Catching hold of her swinging fist with his free hand, he held it firmly in place.

“Nil-ta,” he said, chuckling.

His companion laughed, too. “A-nah-ne-dzin.”

They continued wading downstream. The water was picking up speed, sucking at Scully’s legs with every step. A waterfall thrummed somewhere up ahead.

About a hundred yards short of the falls, the scarred man dragged her to shore. His hand still held her jaw, and her split lip throbbed beneath his palm. Blood filled her mouth. Unable to spit it out, she swallowed it.

Scarface manhandled her to the edge of a cliff where the falls tumbled eighty feet or more into a valley. At the bottom, the land flattened out into a floodplain of dense forest and interlocked ponds. The valley appeared trapped in the embrace of two, jagged mountain ranges. Scully looked out across acres of treetops. Pools of wind-scuffed water peeked through the canopy like the glittering eyes of predatory animals, skulking beneath the murky foliage.

Without warning, the scarred man seized her around the waist, hoisted her off her feet, and slung her over one shoulder. Jaw finally freed from his iron grip, blood poured from her mouth and she began to shout at the top of her lungs.

“Muldermuldermul--”

A knife pricked the back of her bare thigh as her captor pressed its sharp stone blade to her leg, silencing her once and for all. He continued to hold the weapon against her as he lugged her down the cliff, where twisted tree roots and slanted stone outcroppings served as steps. Obviously born to this terrain, both men climbed with the natural skill of mountain goats. The added burden of her weight seemed to have little effect on the scarred man; he wasn’t even breathing hard when he reached the bottom.

“Lit.” He pivoted to look back up the hill, raising his nose in the air and sniffing.

The smaller man turned and sniffed, too. He rattled off a sentence or two that brought a frown to the other mans face.

Concern darkened their eyes and they slipped into the forest’s shadows, with Scully still draped over the bigger man’s broad shoulder.

*   *   *

Sculleeee!

Clutching her camisole tightly in his fist, Mulder careened toward the sound of her voice. Her tracks disappeared into the stream along with those of the men. Now he had to rely on his FBI training, eyeballing both banks for any sign that she or her kidnappers might have left the water for higher ground.

Why wasn’t she wearing her boots? Or her camisole? The silky undergarment slapped his thigh with every stride, conjuring up a picture of her with no shirt, no shoes, and two Ice Age Don Juannabees doing things he’d rather not think about.

If those bastards harmed her...

He pumped his legs faster, taking longer strides. Images of past threats floated unbidden through his mind: Warren Dupre, Donnie Pfaster, Gerry Schnauz. Scully’s life was in danger. Again. Adrenaline flooded his body, hammered his chest and thundered in his ears, making him deaf to everything except the memory of Scully’s faint cry for help.

A dark, shiny blotch on the bank up ahead caught his eye. He waded through briars, ignoring their pull and his god-awful fear. In three strides, he reached the stain, and crouched over it. It was blood. Lots of blood. On the stones, the leaves, the mud. Was it Scully’s?

Damn it. He would kill those sons of bitches.

The men’s footprints were clearly visible in the mud. Scully’s prints, however, had vanished.

One of the men must be carrying her.

A spotty trail of fresh blood revealed the kidnappers had taken a path down a near-vertical hillside, where the stream thundered into a valley below. Stuffing Scully’s camisole into his jacket pocket, Mulder descended after them. The steep path wound around boulders, over narrow, stone ledges, between trees that clung precariously to the embankment, their twisted roots providing meager footholds. His boots slipped in the mud, skidded over loose gravel. Tangled vines snagged his toes. He was constantly on the brink of losing his balance.

Halfway to the bottom, he caught a whiff of woodsmoke. His first thought was that Scully’s captors had decided to camp somewhere down below and were preparing a cook fire, until he realized the odor was coming from above, to the south.

It was possible there were other men in the area. And they weren’t apt to be any friendlier than the two he was following.

Mulder scanned the surrounding hillside for more blood. The spots were smaller here and spaced farther apart: on a rock to his left and several feet further down on the bark of a fallen tree. He scrambled past it, his sense of urgency ballooning.

*   *   *

Jogging through the forest along a nearly invisible trail, the scarred man kept his knife pressed to Scully’s thigh. Its blade scraped painfully with every jouncing stride, reminding her to keep silent and still. The second man followed only a pace or two behind the first.

Scully tried to memorize the route they were taking, but the trees all looked alike and her upside-down view was confusing. Tree roots, ferns, her captors’ running feet...she could see little else. The men’s bare feet were heavily calloused, their legs tanned and crisscrossed with scrapes and fine scars. Quiet as cats, they made almost no noise as they navigated through the lowland forest.

Scully’s jaw throbbed where she’d been struck, but her lip was no longer bleeding. That wasn’t necessarily a good thing. No blood meant no trail for Mulder to follow.

Her hope of being released or rescued grew dimmer with each new path her captors took. They veered off in yet another direction, where the trees became sparser and the terrain more flat and sandy. It was here that the men finally slowed to a walk and exchanged a few words -- the first they’d uttered since the waterfall. Their tones sounded almost casual now, as if they were confident they had lost Mulder.

The smaller man bounded around his bigger companion like an excited child, asking questions, laughing a lot. Too much, evidently. Scarface soon became irritated and growled at the smaller man, effectively shutting him up.

They stopped when they reached a clearing where the forest gave way to a view of a small lake. A ratty tent-like structure sat near the shore. It was made of animal hides that had been loosely lashed together and draped over some sort of curving supports, giving the shelter a dome-like shape.

Scully was unceremoniously dumped onto the pebbly beach, where she fell hard on her backside, her dignity jarred along with her tailbone. She landed between the tent and the remains of a cooking fire. Traces of smoke still sifted up from the ashes.

Small Man tossed his gear, along with Scully’s clothes and gun, behind the tent. She desperately wanted to get to the gun, but Scarface was already squatting in front of her, blocking her way. The smaller man tended the fire.

“Li-chi tse-gah,” the scarred man said, his eyes focused on her hair. She recognized his words from before, back at the pool. 

He reached for her and combed his thick fingers through her hair. Then his attention dipped to the cross at her neck. With the tip of one ragged finger, he traced its delicate chain down to her cleavage.

“Don’t touch me.” She shoved his hand away.

He scowled. “Ha-gade!” He reached for the necklace again and, this time, yanked it off her, breaking its chain and raising a razor-thin welt on the back of her neck. “Ha-gade,” he repeated, shaking it in his fist.

“Give that back.” She grabbed for it, but he quickly tucked it away inside a small pouch he wore around his neck.

She loathed the way his glittering eyes studied her. Sitting with her knees drawn up, she tried to hide as much of her body from his curious stare as possible.

Nostrils flaring, he leaned forward and sniffed her: her neck, her lips, her shoulder...her cleavage. Suddenly he grabbed her knees, forcefully spread her legs apart, and inhaled deeply.

“Stop it!” She scrambled backward.

He laughed and grabbed hold of her ankles. She fought him as he dragged her back toward him. The smaller man stopped tending the fire to watch them.

“Nih-tsa-goh-al-neh.” The scarred man licked his lips and then opened the skins at his waist to reveal his swollen penis.

No, she wasn’t going to let this happen. She kicked at him. Grabbed a fistful of stones and hurled them at his face. The stones bounced off his upraised arm.

He signaled to the smaller man, who rose from the fire to stand behind her. Evidently they had no intention of letting her escape. The scarred man took hold of her upper arms and drew her to him. She pummeled him with her fists, boxed his head and ears, but more quickly than she would have thought possible, he flipped her over onto her hands and knees and then pushed his own knees between her legs, spreading her thighs with his own. He leaned over her back and pressed her head to the ground with his left hand, while he steadied her hips with his right. She struggled to escape, but he held her head firmly and pinned her legs in place by pressing his knees onto her calves. Bent over, she could see nothing but the muddy, calloused feet of the smaller man, who silently waited his turn.

“Leave me alone! Get off me, you damn son of a bitch!”

The scarred man yanked her panties down, exposing her backside. Anger and embarrassment raged through her. No, no, no! *Please*, no. She held her breath against the stink of her assailant’s sweat. Felt the tickle of his beard on her shoulders as he draped himself over her. His engorged penis prodded the backs of her legs.

“NOOOOOO!”

*   *   *

Get the hell away from her! Mulder bellowed from the edge of the woods. Seeing Scully dressed in nothing but her panties and bra and mounted from behind by a hulking Neanderthal filled him with unimaginable rage. It didn’t occur to him to pull his gun; the only thing he could think to do was wring the fucker’s neck with his bare hands.

He launched himself at Scully’s assailant, screaming at the top of his lungs as he crossed the clearing. The startled caveman had no time to react before Mulder plowed into him full force, shoulder to ribs, toppling him from Scully’s back. He grunted from the impact and they both rolled toward the blazing campfire.

Mulder scrambled to his feet. The Neanderthal did the same, rising like a mountain in front of him.

The brute was thickset, as muscular as Conan the Barbarian, his limbs, chest and face streaked with deep battle scars. He balled his fists, puffed his chest, and locked eyes with Mulder.

The angry caveman balled his fists, puffed his chest, and locked eyes with Mulder.

Mulder straightened to his full height, a satisfying inch or two taller than his brawny opponent.

“You okay, Scully?” he called, not taking his eyes off Conan.

When she didn’t immediately answer, he chanced a quick glance over his shoulder and discovered the smaller man had her in a hammerlock. She was struggling to free herself, clawing at his arms and elbowing his ribs.

“Scull--”

Granite knuckles plowed into Mulder’s jaw, rocking him back on his heels. He regained his balance and struck back. Missed. Threw a second punch and, this time, connected. Jesus, it felt like he’d hit stone.

Conan appeared unfazed by the blow. He sneered and raised his fists...fists that had held Scully hostage only moments ago, fists that had pushed her head to the ground --

Mulder missiled at him, skull to gut. A satisfying yowl exploded from Conan’s lungs as he was knocked backward. Mulder pressed his advantage. He threw a haymaker that failed to connect when the other man ducked. Conan responded with a punch of his own. It hit Mulder with astonishing force and sent him tumbling. He landed on the ground with a spine-jarring jolt.

Conan wasted no time coming after him. He leapt on top of him, wrapped thick fingers around his throat and pressed forceful thumbs into his larynx. Mulder thrashed and bucked as the pressure on his throat intensified. His lungs hitched for oxygen. Desperate, he clapped the heels of his hands against Conan’s ears. The impact knocked the man back.

Gulping for air, Mulder scrambled to his feet. “Scully?” he gasped, not daring to take his eyes off the scarred bastard long enough to look for her. He could hear the scuffle of feet several yards behind him, the dull thud of a punch, a low, masculine grunt.

“I’m...” -- another grunt from her attacker -- “I’m okay, Mulder.”

Conan growled and charged, bulldozing Mulder across the campsite toward the shelter, where an uppercut sent him pinwheeling onto the tent. The skins collapsed beneath his weight. Conan leapt on him and began pummeling him in the ribs. Mulder responded by kneeing the Neanderthal in the groin. Conan yelped, curled into a ball, and rolled off him to lie on the ground, moaning, hands clamped over his genitals. 

Mulder staggered to his feet to help Scully, who was being dragged off into the woods by Little Big Man.

Before he could take a step, Conan grabbed his ankle and yanked his legs out from under him. Mulder toppled and hit the ground hard. He twisted onto his back. Conan scrambled to his feet, took hold of his right leg and began dragging him down the beach toward the lake.

Mulder grappled for a handhold and craned to get a glimpse of Scully. He was shocked to discover she was no longer on the beach. Little Big Man was gone, too. Fuck, where were they? Desperate to free himself, he fumbled for his gun, chiding himself for not remembering it sooner. He drew the weapon. Aimed--

Conan jerked on his leg and the gun bounced from his hand. It landed with a metallic thud just out of reach. He frantically tried to retrieve it, but Conan pulled him into the water. Jesus, his leg felt like it was being ripped from the socket.

Once in the lake, Conan dove on top of him and sank him to the bottom. Mulder tried to keep his head above the surface, but the scarred man pressed his shoulders into the mud. Waves closed over his face. He peered up through a blur of silt and bubbles and churning water to see the bastard was grinning at him. Conan had him pinned in place and was enjoying his escalating panic.

Or maybe he was already thinking about what he was going to do to Scully as soon as Mulder was out of the picture.

Did he plan to finish what he started? Or was it going to be a repeat performance? Had Mulder been too late? Had the bastard already raped her? And what about the other guy? Was he taking his turn right now?

Outraged, Mulder dug down for every ounce of strength in him. He rose up out of the water and shoved Conan back. Bone to muscle, he bullied him toward shore, where he threw his entire six-foot frame at the mother-fucker’s goddamned, sorry ass. Nothing, *nothing* was going to stop him until this son of a bitch was dead.

He pushed and pushed and pushed, maneuvering the scarred man up the beach, connecting every punch, relishing the surprised look on Conan’s bug-eyed face.

He landed three more hard hits. Knocked Conan onto his back beside the fire. Lunging, he body-slammed his startled opponent, and pinned him to the ground.

They lay nose to nose. Mulder could smell the man’s sour breath, the sharp odor of his sweat, the tang of his anger. Conan’s eyes fell to half-mast as he studied Mulder’s bloodied nose. Suddenly he broke into a satisfied grin.

What the hell?

Mulder glanced over his shoulder just in time to see Little Big Man swing a charred stick of driftwood at his skull. He ducked and raised an arm, deflecting the blow. The upper end of the club glowed with fire. Smoke and sparks spewed in an outward arc when Little Big Man swung again, clubbing Mulder in the shoulder and dislodging him from the scarred man’s chest.

“Two against one? That’s not fair.” Mulder somersaulted out of the way as the club came down a third time. “Guess that’s how you cave guys like to operate, huh?”

Little Big Man drew back for another strike. He swung the weapon like a Louisville Slugger, connecting this time with Mulder’s ribs.

Mulder folded in pain. 

The men laughed and moved in on him. Little Big Man aimed the club at Mulder’s bowed head, but was stopped in mid-swing when a blast from Scully’s gun bored a hole through his right hand and blew the stick from his grasp. The man’s eyes rounded at the sound of the gun and the sudden appearance of the wound. He howled in pain.

Conan turned to gape at Scully, who stood twenty feet away, dressed in nothing but her black, silk underwear, her Smith & Wesson now aimed at his chest.

The wounded man was the first to run. The other blinked in astonishment, seemingly undecided what to do. When he finally made up his mind, he aimed hateful eyes at Mulder, snarled menacingly and bolted for the woods.

“Why do I get the feeling we haven’t seen the last of those two?” Mulder rubbed his aching ribs and stiffly retrieved his lost gun.

Scully remained where she was, hands shaking, mouth pressed into a tight line, eyes filling with tears.

“Scully...?” He limped toward her.

Trembling all over, she lowered her gun and sank slowly to her knees.

*   *   *

She hurt all over: her jaw, her neck, her calves. Mulder crouched beside her and gathered her into his arms. He held her tenderly, and she responded by leaning into the welcome curve of his over-heated body. She only half-listened as he repeated, “You’re okay, you’re okay.” She concentrated on the rapid thud-thud-thud of his heart beneath her cheek, feeling safe in his embrace, momentarily protected from the evils of the Pleistocene world.

Oh God, if he hadn’t arrived in time...

She bit down on her swollen lip and held back her tears.

She wanted to explain to him what had happened while he was fighting with the scarred man. How the smaller man had dragged her into the woods, tied her up with a strip of rawhide so that he could go back to help his friend. She’d managed to loosen the bindings and find her gun. She’d intended to kill the small man when she saw him swing that awful burning log at Mulder’s head, but her shot missed its mark.

The words wouldn’t come, not without tears, and she refused to cry. Mulder was right -- she was okay. He was okay. They would be fine.

She felt drained of every ounce of energy, so spent that when Mulder pulled her into his lap, she let him. When he slipped one arm beneath her knees and the other behind her back, lifting her up as he stood, she allowed that, too. And she didn’t object when he carried her to the shore and into the water.

Gilded by a setting sun, the lakes surface shimmered as he plowed through it. He waded out until he stood thigh deep, then he carefully, slowly lowered himself to his knees, dipping her beneath the waves as he sank. The water was chilly, but it took the sting out of her scratched, bruised skin. And the heat of his legs, chest and arms radiated into her numbed limbs, cushioning her with their warmth. He eased back on his haunches and cradled her in his lap.

Wetting one hand, he began to gently wash blood from her cheek.

“Too cold?” he asked when she shivered.

“No.” Her shiver was a reaction to his tender caress, not the temperature of the water.

His left arm buoyed her while he scooped clean water over her injuries. Her shoulders, her arms, her fingers. He gave special attention to each scraped knuckle, loosening the dirt and dried blood. He didn’t speak as he caressed her raw flesh.

She surrendered to his care, allowing him to wash the filth from her body and hair. Again and again his fingers swirled over her, his touch displacing theirs, washing away their ugly intentions. Her blood tinted the water pink around them.

She needed him to do this, she realized. She needed him to cleanse away their brutality.

His thumb grazed her breast and she gasped. 

Sorry. He stopped his ministrations.

A streak of mud in the shape of a large handprint stained her cleavage. He stared at it and waited, apparently unwilling to wipe it away without permission.

“It’s okay,” she said.

Still, he didn’t move. Eyes glossed with uncertainty, he searched her face, her eyes, as if trying to decipher her true feelings.

“Really, Mulder. It’s okay,” she assured him, and to prove it, she took his hand and placed it on her breast. 

He swallowed hard. A sigh stuttered from his lungs. Then he began to slowly wash her.

“Where’s your cross?” he asked, his voice tighter than she ever remembered hearing it. He massaged the mud from her skin, sliding his wet thumb over the smooth mound of her breast, dipping, just barely, beneath the satin of her black bra. Although his touch was gentle, she could feel emotion boiling beneath his controlled caress, anger toward the men who did this to her, regret that he hadn’t arrived sooner.

“He took it,” she answered. “The scarred man took it.”

Mulder shook his head; anger hissed from his nose. A muscle twitched along his jaw and the veins in his neck bulged. He tried to hide his rage beneath lowered lashes, his attention focused on his task, but his breathing was shallow and too fast, and his nostrils flared with every exhalation.

As a doctor, she knew he was experiencing a sustained, involuntary physiological reaction to the threat against them. His heart rate, pulse, respiration still soared. Blood sugar, lactic acid, the cortisol that had readied his body to fight still dilated his eyes, quickened his impulses, intensified his awareness.

“Scully...did they--” His voice cracked and stalled.

“No, Mulder. I’m okay.”

Two tears slipped from beneath his lowered lashes to drizzle down his flushed cheeks. His mouth opened, but no words came. The sound of swallowed grief hummed faintly, briefly, in the back of his throat.

*   *   *

They had no right... No right to touch her...

He would have killed them if she hadn’t intervened. He wanted to kill them still, for putting their hands on her, hurting her, trying to... 

Fuck!

She was *his*, God damn it! His! He loved her. He had loved her for years, wanted her for years, but had waited, curbed his urges, because he believed he should win her heart before yielding to his physical desires.

Now he felt cuckolded by a couple of fucking Neanderthals.

His hand lingered on her breast. He couldn’t bear to remove it, yet he couldn’t bear touching her either. Jesus, he wanted her so damn much!

More than anything, more than *everything*, he wanted to pin her to the ground and fuck the bejesus out of her. Right now. In spite of what happened, or maybe because of what happened. He wanted to plunge into her, possess her, mark his territory. Claim her as his, forever and ever. He wanted to assure himself she was alive and safe, belonging only to him. The relief of having her beneath him, around him, would feel so...God...damn...good.

He felt himself grow hard and his arousal disgusted him even as it excited him. Avoiding her eyes, he preferred not to know if she felt his desire poking her in the backside.

To his surprise, her arms snaked around his neck and her bruised lips brushed his cheek, kissing the stream of his tears. “I want you, too,” she whispered. When her swollen mouth slid over his, oh God, he was lost.

He gathered her in his arms, rose to his feet, and carried her from the water. Mouth fused to hers, he ached to be inside her. Water streamed from them both, leaving a wet trail up the beach to the shelter.

She broke their kiss and shook her head. “Not here.”

He worried she was changing her mind, refusing him. Maybe she was angry at his presumption and audacity. Hell, he was no better than the men who had assaulted her, wanting her for his own pleasure, disregarding her desires. He loathed his actions, wanted to crawl out of his own skin.

But she smiled at him, stroked his face, reassuring him, forgiving him. “The skins smell like them,” she said. She nodded at the forest. “Take me beneath the trees.”

A layer of pine needles carpeted the ground below the evergreen boughs. They smelled spicy, clean, nothing like the sweat of strangers. He laid her there. Kissed her nose, her chin, and, ever so gently, her split, swollen lip. Then he gingerly lowered himself on top of her.

Then he gingerly lowered himself on top of her.

“You’re sure?” he asked. His timing seemed lousy. His reasons even worse. Their first time together should be inspired by love, not an overdose of testosterone and masculine pride. This was wrong.

Scully’s fingers careened into his hair and she pulled his face down to hers. “Yes. Please.”

A beautiful flush crept up her neck into her cheeks, making her the most desirable woman he’d ever seen. Her motives stymied him, but his body didn’t seem to need or want explanations. He realized he was grinding his hips into her pubic bone, and his own cheeks blazed. What must she think of him?

“Take off your wet clothes,” she urged.

No. This wasn’t right. As much as he wanted her, it couldn’t be now. Reluctantly, summoning every ounce of his diminishing willpower, he rolled off her and got to his feet.

*   *   *

Mulder? What the hell was he doing? Why was he walking away? “It’s okay. Really.”

“No. No it’s not. This...” -- he gestured at his crotch -- “makes me no better than them.”

How could he think that? How could he compare himself to those animals? He was nothing like them. *Nothing*. He was respectful and tender and compassionate. She trusted him with her life.

And she was willing to trust him with her body.

“You’re not like them, Mulder. This isn’t the same.”

“No? What’s the difference? I wanted--” He turned, paced away to face the lake and the setting sun, fists clenched, back stiff. The western sky blazed with fiery reds and yellows, and the lake shimmered beneath the lustrous clouds. Mulder became an impenetrable shadow against the dramatic Pleistocene backdrop.

Scully sat up, drew up her knees and hugged her bare legs. It seemed Mulder had stolen the heat from her body when he walked away, because now she felt suddenly cold. And absolutely alone. She wanted him, yearned for him in a way she never had before. Her craving was elemental, almost more than she could bear. “Maybe it’s something in the air,” she whispered.

Still in silhouette, he spun to face her, hands on his hips. “What?”

“I said maybe there’s something in the air.”

“Why...what makes you say that?”

“It was a joke.” Only it wasn’t. Not really. To be honest, she couldn’t remember ever wanting him so much. Sure, she’d thought about him in sexual ways before, had had fantasies. He was a sexy guy. But never in five years had her desire for him overwhelmed her this way.

Gravel crunched beneath his boots as he returned to her. He sat and dovetailed his fingers with hers. The setting sun gilded his hair like a halo. “Have you been feeling, um...kinda primal...since we came here?” The depth of his voice caused a pleasant loosening of the organs in her abdomen, as if her womb were melting.

“P-primal?” She felt absolutely out of control.

“You know. Aroused. Horny.”

That’s exactly how she’d been feeling. For a couple of days now. Earlier today, she’d blamed it on the raw snake meat. “Maybe. A little. Uh...more than a little.”

He remained quiet for a moment. The warmth of his hand singed her entire body.

“That’s interesting,” he said.

“Why is it interesting?”

“Suppose...we were somehow changed when we traveled back in time.”

“In what way?”

“Stripped of whatever it is that makes us civilized.”

“Mulder, civilized behavior is learned, not inherited.”

“Is it? Psychologists have been arguing the case of nature versus nurture for years.” His eyes locked with hers, and in them she saw his familiar I’ve-got-a-theory-so-hear-me-out look. Clearly, he wasn’t going to make love to her, at least not anytime soon. She was surprised at how disappointed that made her feel.

“Genetic determinism. I’ve heard the argument before, Mulder, but scientific evidence doesn’t support the claim that our genes are solely responsible for our behavior. We’re a product of our biology *and* our experiences. Besides, even if it were true that our behavior was genetically determined, the fact remains: you and I were ‘civilized’ as recently as two days ago. It doesn’t track that we would suddenly be uncivilized today.”

“Maybe traveling back in time turned back the clock on our genes, too, reducing our evolved behaviors to basic animal instincts.”

“That theory doesn’t hold a drop of water. It flies in the face of at least a dozen scientific principles.”

“Who said anything about science?”

“Mulder, if what you’re positing were true, why was it I didn’t want sex with them, too? Why just you?”

“I cant explain that.”

“Well, I can. Not everything is an X-File.”

He smiled softly. “No?”

“I admit it’s tempting to think we’re no more than the sum of our genes. It absolves us of responsibility for our actions. Instead of blaming ourselves, we can blame our genetic heritage. It gives us an excuse for lack of self-control.”

His tiny smile vanished and he released her hand. “Is that what you think? That I just wanted to fuck you and now I’m looking for a way to defend myself?”

“Are you denying you wanted to have sex?”

“No...I did...I *do*...but not by force. Never by force. You have to believe that, Scully.”

She reclaimed his hand. “I do I believe you. But I think the reason for your actions...and mine...have nothing to do with genetic manipulation or time travel.”

“Then what?”

“We’re under a lot of stress here--”

“It’s *not* stress, Scully. We’ve both been under stress before -- plenty of times -- and I’ve never...overreacted...this way.”

“You’ve never seen two men sexually assault me before either.” The memory made her blush and she was grateful for the low light. She didn’t want Mulder to see her embarrassment. She felt foolish for going off on her own back at the cave, putting herself in unnecessary danger. Putting him in danger, too. It was irresponsible. The fault was wholly hers and she didn’t want him shouldering the blame. He had nothing to feel guilty about. “Mulder, you didn’t force yourself on me.”

“No? Then why does it feel that way?”

“I wanted you, too, every bit as much as you wanted me.” She took a deep breath. “I still do.”

He narrowed his eyes. “Why now? Why here? Why not back home, or in Home, Pennsylvania, for that matter, or Chicago during the Pincus case, or the Apalachicola National Forest?

Why not Florida indeed? If memory served, she’d been more than willing to consort with Mulder in his hotel room that night, but he was the one who had shied away in favor of a mutant hunt.

“The Pincus case? Mulder, you wound up in hospital restraints during that case. That’s a bit kinky for a first time, don’t you think?” she joked, trying to lighten his mood.

“You know what I mean.” He offered her another small smile. “My point is we’ve had plenty of opportunity, but seemingly no motive...until now.”

“I’m not sure I agree, but leaving that argument for later, I think your motives in this case may have been more generous than you think.”

Disbelief chuffed from his nose. “In what way?”

“I think you wanted to assuage the actions of my assailants with your own, for my sake. I wanted the same thing, but my reasons were purely selfish.”

“You give me too much credit--” He stopped and sniffed the air. “Do you smell that?”

She inhaled. “Smoke.”

“Get dressed.” He rose to his feet and pulled her up after him.

“What is it?”

“I’m not sure.” Walking to the shore where the view was unobstructed by trees, he dug his binoculars from his jacket and held them up to his eyes.

“Mulder?” She quickly gathered her clothes, pulled on her pants, her socks, her boots.

“Forest fire,” he said.

She yanked her turtleneck over her head. Slipped into her jacket. “Headed this way?” 

“Uh-huh.”

“How far off is it?”

“In the ravine. By the waterfall. I don’t think we have a lot of time.”

She hurried to join him on the beach. Jesus. The entire southern horizon was ablaze with orange-yellow flames.

 


Continued in Chapter Five...

Happy Birthday, Inya (XFMA #1)! Sorry I'm a day late.

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