CHAPTER SEVEN
Continued from
Chapter Six

["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Chapter 7 contains an illustration that exhibits full male nudity. Discretion is advised.]

Mulder and Scully petroglyphIt’s not here, Mulder said, his fingers searching for the old, familiar scar on his shoulder.

“Where did it go?” Scully sat up on the sleeping skins. 

The fire had burned down to a few cherry-red coals, making it difficult to see in the dark hut.

Mulder crawled from the bed, located his jacket, and dug into the pocket for his flashlight. Light in hand, he aimed its beam at his chest, high and to the left, where Scully’s gunshot had marked him -- presumably for life.

Not a trace of his scar remained.

“What happened to it?” she asked.

Shaking his head, he shined the light on his left thigh, where Lucas Henry’s bullet had pierced him four years ago. A quarter-sized scar still puckered his skin. “That one’s there.” He crooked his knee and inspected the exit wound. “Front and back.”

Scully crawled closer and ran her fingers over his now unblemished shoulder. “This is impossible.”

“Maybe not.”

His paranormal radar was picking up a signal the way it always did when they encountered an X-File. He reached around Scully and probed the back of her neck, feeling for the telltale bump of her implanted chip.

It was there. Strange. He’d expected it to be missing. Okay, so maybe his radar was off today.

Then again...

“Turn around,” he ordered.

“Why? What’s the matter?” She did as he asked and presented him with her bare back.

He lifted her hair and ran his light over the tiny scar on her nape, then down her spine to her tattoo. “Um...Scully? Your tattoo...”

“What about it?” She craned to see over her shoulder. “It’s there, isn’t it?”

“It’s there.” He traced it with his finger. “Sort of.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It appears to be...”  -- he leaned in for a closer look -- “faded.”

“Faded?”

“Mm hm.”

She pivoted to face him and he found himself unexpectedly spotlighting her bare breasts. He clicked off his light.

“Sorry.”

She drew a sleeping skin over her lap to cover herself. “Mulder, any number of factors can cause a tattoo to lose pigment: substandard inking practices, improper follow-up care, overexposure to the sun--”

“Have you been sunbathing in the nude, Scully?”

Her frown told him she was in no mood for jokes. “Skin types vary. Some don’t hold ink. The fact that my tattoo is fading means nothing in and of itself. It certainly doesn’t mean we were physically altered by the...the...time travel thing.”

“Thing?”

“Event, phenomenon, whatever.”

“Then how do you explain the disappearance of my scar?”

“Scar tissue can lighten with age.”

“Scully, it’s completely gone!” He turned the flashlight on it again. Satisfied it truly wasn’t there, he said, “I’ve got a theory, if you’d like to hear it.”

She took a deep breath, as if steeling herself. “I’m listening.”

“I think we’re regressing.”

“Regressing?”

“Growing younger.” He held up a palm to stall her certain objection. “My scar and your tattoo are the most recent marks on us respectively. Now they’re gone -- or almost gone in your case -- suggesting a shift to an earlier version of ourselves.”

She raised an eyebrow. “One missing scar and a faded tattoo are your proof that we’re growing younger?”

“Suppose time travel isn’t like stepping through a door, where you’re either on one side or the other.”

“Then where are we?”

“In the broadest sense, we may still be *in* the door. In what’s known as Flux Space.”

“Flux...? Mulder, my undergrad work was in physics. Yet I’ve never heard of Flux Space.”

“It’s a bit...mystical.”

“Ahh.” Her expression told him she was translating that to mean “paranormal bunk.”

“Flux Space isn’t a portal, per se, but is thought to be an inter-dimension that could serve as one. It doesn’t conform to conventional physics.”

“Why am I not surprised?”

“Believers in the phenomenon claim it can be reached by way of technologically-created dimensional portals, or through naturally occurring sub-space anomalies like worm holes.

“And what do these believers say is inside ‘Flux Space’?”

“That’s just it...nobody knows for sure. But proponents of the theory hypothesize that it’s not a physical 3-D space or even a 4-D space-time.”

Her tongue skated across her lower lip as she considered such a possibility. “Fifth dimensional.”

“Exactly. But here’s the 64-thousand dollar question: Is the fifth dimension a spatial dimension or a time-related dimension?”

“Time has only one dimension.”

“Does it? A second dimension might explain how we could have traveled here to the Pleistocene where we’re moving forward in time while concurrently experiencing a secondary physical regression, which is out of sync with the first.”

“You’re saying we traveled backward 12,000 years...and are now moving simultaneously forward and backward in time?”

“That’s what I’m saying. We’re traveling along two time continuums at once.”

Although she continued to frown, he could tell she was evaluating his premise, picking through it for reasonable details while casting aside those that would contradict logic.

“All right. Let’s suppose for the sake of argument that Flux Space exists and is responsible for putting us here in the Pleistocene, where we are moving forward in time, interacting with the locals, while also regressing, going back to younger versions of ourselves...” She looked into his eyes. “Regression? Really?”

“Kinda makes your head ache to think about it, huh?”

She didn’t smile. If anything, her expression became more serious. “Where will it stop, Mulder? Will we regress to infancy? Conception? Past lives?”

He was certain there was a Shirley MacLaine joke in there somewhere, but at the moment he was drawing a blank. “I don’t know. You shot me in ’95. Lucas Henry shot me in ’94. If we’re growing younger, the scar on my leg should be the next to go. The amount of time it takes for that to happen should tell us when to expect additional changes.”

Like the disappearance of his fillings and his vaccination scar, or the reappearance of his tonsils and his... He glanced down between his legs at his circumcised penis.

“Hopefully, we’ll find a way back home before the process goes too far,” he said.

He noticed Scully was staring at his penis, too, with an odd expression on her face.

“What?” he asked, suddenly feeling self-conscious.

“I was just thinking about my...um...infertility.”

Now his eyes fell to her lap.

If his Flux Space theory proved correct, then at some point she’d regain her ability to bear children.

He wasn’t sure how he felt about that.

Back in their own time, he’d have been happy for her -- especially after what had happened to Emily -- but here in the Ice Age... Panic fluttered in his gut at the idea of getting her pregnant. He didnt want to have children...anywhere. Here it would be a mistake of gargantuan proportions. Giant snakes, saber-toothed cats, killer cavemen -- danger seemed to be lurking behind every damn Pleistocene tree. How the hell do you keep a kid safe in a place like this?

Add to the mix the threat of regression...well, it would be downright irresponsible to bring a child into this world.

They’d have to be careful. Watch for signs that Scully might be regressing back to a time when she was still fertile. The chip in her neck -- when it disappeared, then no more sex...it was as simple as that.

Christ, who the hell was he kidding? No more sex? Fuck.

This had to be the cruelest cosmic joke of all time. Make love once and God tosses a ticking time bomb into their laps. Literally. Hope you’re having yourself a mastodon-sized laugh up there, Big Guy.

For the first time ever, Mulder began hoping Scully would prove him wrong.

Noticing his stare, Scully hugged the sleeping skin to her body. “Mulder, there’s an aspect of your theory that doesn’t track.”

Yes! Argue me down, Scully! “Only one?”

Her wry smile told him she believed his theory was in fact riddled with holes but she was willing to limit herself to just one for now. “My tattoo is only a little over a year old, much more recent than the scar on your shoulder. Yet it’s still visible, whereas your scar has completely vanished.”

Good point. “Maybe we’re regressing at different rates. Some people age faster than others. Doesn’t it make sense we might regress differently, too?”

“It doesn’t make sense that we would regress at all.” Her brow furrowed. “Mulder, you do remember being shot by me, don’t you?”

“How could I forget?”

“If you’re growing younger, shouldn’t your mind be regressing along with your body?”

“Losing memories at the same rate as years.” Another good point. “I dunno, Scully, but there’s some relief in knowing we won’t be acting like children, even if we end up looking like them.”

She cocked an eyebrow.

“Okay, so *you* won’t,” he said with a chuckle. “Maybe I’m already there.”

She reached across the furs to retrieve her clothes. “Let’s continue this conversation after we have something definitive to go on. Right now, I’d like to clean up. You could use a bath, too.”

He looked down at himself, at his thighs, his penis, the fingers on his right hand, all smeared with traces of her menstrual blood. It made him feel marked by her and he almost hated to wash off this tangible proof of their intimate act so soon.

Patting the furs, he waggled his brows. “How ‘bout a quickie before we get dressed?”

“No, thank you.” She was already pulling her camisole over her head. “I’ll make breakfast when we get back.”

Food? Several days of unplanned fasting, followed by an equally unplanned but considerably more appreciated sexual encounter, had left him feeling famished. “You’re going to cook?”

“Yes, I’m going to cook.”

He scrambled to his knees and began rummaging through the furs for his boxers. “Which way to the bath house?”

*   *   *

Pretending to busy herself with the knot on her fur skirt, Scully surreptitiously watched Mulder dress. No two ways about it, he was a good-looking man. Long-limbed and graceful, body fleeced with a smattering of springy dark hair, muscles toned from miles of running. Whether dressed in a suit or buck-naked like now, he was tempting.

She remembered once describing him as “cute” to one of her girlfriends. An understatement, to say the least. She’d ended the conversation by bemoaning the fact that Mulder was excessively devoted to his work and all his good looks were going to waste.

In truth, she didn’t know that they were wasted. She really had no idea what Mulder did in his off hours. It was entirely possible, even plausible, that some other woman, or several women, enjoyed his company when he wasn’t chasing mutants and EBEs with her. Just because he didn’t come on to her in any serious way didn’t mean he was living the life of a monk.

To assume he was having no sex because she was having no sex was projecting. She was the one who had made a conscious decision to devote her life to their work and ultimately to him, not the other way around.

His love life -- past and present -- remained as mysterious as Flux Space to her.

Not that she’d shared any intimate details of her past romances. He knew only a little about Jack, and nothing at all about Daniel. He’d made some assumptions about Ed Jerse.

The fact of the matter was she and Mulder rarely talked about their personal lives.

She hoped that might change after this morning. Making love with him had been wonderful, satisfying on both a physical and emotional level. Lying beneath him, having him inside her, had felt--

“Santa must be in town,” Mulder said, nodding toward two bulging backpacks that sat just inside the hut’s closed entrance.

His legs disappeared into his jeans. When he zipped his fly, Scully found herself suppressing a sigh. God, he was clueless about his effect on her.

Next to the two packs was an odd stack of fist-sized stones, piled one on top of the other, looking like a small, granite snowman.

Scully went to examine the packs while Mulder scrounged through the furs for his shirt.

“Klizzie must have left these.” She pulled a carved comb from the first container and recognized it as the one Klizzie had used two nights ago at the lake.

Mulder located and sniffed his shirt. Wrinkling his nose in disgust, he discarded it and searched for his jacket instead. “Did she leave any food?”

There was a basket of strawberries in the second pack. Scully still associated their smell with Mulder’s near-death experience, so she gladly passed them on to him. “Help yourself.”

He showed no similar distaste and ate greedily while she explored the contents of the packs.

As she removed each item, she held it up for him to see. “Flint, presumably for starting fires. Several razor-like tools...” These appeared very sharp. She touched a finger to one, testing its edge. “You might be able to shave with it.”

“I’m willing if you’re willing,” he said, talking around a mouthful of berries.

The idea of unshaved legs and underarms didn’t thrill her, but these Pleistocene razors looked a little too risky. She set them aside, deciding they must have some purpose other than hair removal. “What do you suppose this is for?” She held up what appeared to be the bladder of a rather large animal.

“Wine skin?”

“Or water bag.” She set it aside. “Three bone hooks, two fur blankets--”

“And a partridge in a pear tree,” Mulder sang. When she frowned at him, he shrugged and said, “We’re opening presents.”

She uncoiled a roll of stiff twine. “Catgut...I think.” She dug deeper. “A couple of spear points. And two soap roots--”

“Those things are soap?”

“Yep. Oh, look!” She held up a buttery-soft piece of deerskin. “A change of clothes for you.”

He inspected the garment through squinted eyes. “I’m supposed to wear that?”

“It’s the latest in Pleistocene fashion.” She tossed him the loincloth before unpacking a wad of cattails.

“What are those for?” Finished with the last of the berries, he passed back the empty basket. “You didn’t want any of those, did you?”

“No, thank you.” She took the basket and ignored his cattail question. Sex partner or not, she didn’t feel like discussing the finer points of feminine hygiene with him. Instead she listed the contents of the second pack: “Dried meat, nuts...and four dead squirrels.”

Using his best Homer Simpson impersonation, he hummed, “Mmmmm, squirrel.” Then he indicated the odd stack of stones with a wave. “What do you suppose those are for? Pass the nuts, please.”

She slid the nuts his way and studied the stones. Their presence was clearly no accident. Somebody -- most likely Klizzie -- had placed them there on purpose. Although their meaning was unclear, it was obvious Klizzie wanted to help them, and her generosity was touching.

“Let’s get cleaned up,” she said, collecting the soap roots and comb, planning to take with them with her to the lake. Almost as an afterthought, she grabbed the water bag.

Mulder tossed one last nut into his mouth, wiped his hands on his pants and rose to follow her out of the shelter.

Outside, they were surprised to find the village was completely deserted. All that remained were half a dozen large semi-circles of mastodon bones -- jawbones from the look of them, interlocked and stacked to form the underlying supports for the abandoned huts. Stripped of their hides, the shelters were now roofless. Not a spear or basket or fur blanket remained in any of them.

The campsite must be seasonal, she realized. Hunter-gatherers were nomadic people who pursued migrating game. They followed their food source, rather than staying put and raising their own stock and crops. Agricultural societies wouldn’t evolve until much later in history.

She pivoted, wondering which direction the tribe had taken. “How are we going to find them?”

“Who says we should?”

“Mulder, we need this group’s help. They know how to survive here; we don’t.”

Concern creased his brow and she guessed he was thinking about how close he’d come to dying a few days ago.

“Look at that.” He pointed to another pile of fist-sized stones on the far side of the clearing. “Someone left us a trail of bread crumbs.”

God bless Klizzie, she was showing them the way.

*   *   *

Hiking through a foggy, lowland swale, Klizzie and Gini followed the Clan northeast toward the next range of hills. The group moved slowly, every member laden with heavy packs. The ground smelled pungent and peaty, and countless irises dotted the surrounding marshland with bright, purple flowers. Dragonflies the size of Klizzie’s hand darted around the travelers’ heads. When the Clan passed too close to a flock of nesting geese, the birds rose up from the reeds in a frenzy of flapping wings and raucous calls.

Klizzie stopped to collect several fist-sized stones, which she stacked one on top of the other. Then she placed three more in a line upon the ground, pointing in the direction of Tabaha Lodge.

Gini watched her arrange the stones. “Will Muhl-dar and Day-nuh find us?”

“You have asked me that question more times than a goose hen hides her eggs. My answer is still the same: I do...not...know.” Although Klizzie loved Gini like a daughter, the girl’s constant pestering was beginning to exhaust her patience. “If Muhl-dar and Day-nuh are meant to find us, then the Spirits will guide them.”

“With the help of your stones.” Gini grinned at her.

Klizzie returned the girl’s smile. “Yes, with the help of my stones.”

Turkey Lake was several days hike from Toh-ta Lodge, and it would be lucky indeed if the newcomers could find their way, even with the help of Spirits and stone markers.

“They might return to their own clan, you know,” Klizzie said.

Gini frowned at the idea, her young brow puckering with worry. She looked so much like her brother Dzeh that Klizzie’s impatience melted at the sight of her.

“They will miss the Mastodon Feast,” Gini said, clearly disappointed.

“Perhaps Eel Clan has a Mastodon Feast of its own.”

“With food and gifts and competitions?”

“Why not? Owl Clan is not the only clan to have feasts with races and dances and--”

“Blanket toss!”

The girl’s eyes shone with excitement. Blanket toss was the highlight of most Mastodon Feasts. To play, thirty or more Clan members took their places in a circle, grasping the rolled edges of a large blanket made from the skins of mastodons. The object of the game was to use the blanket to toss a person as high into the air as possible, while the player tried to keep his balance. Skilled players did flips and, while in the air, they threw out trinkets of ivory, tobacco and other gifts to the onlookers. As soon as a player lost his footing, another would climb onto the blanket to take his place until everyone -- men, women and all but the youngest children -- had had a chance to participate.

Blanket toss was not the only fun to be had at a Feast. There were cord pulling contests, spear-throwing competitions, long distance races, sprints, betting games, storytelling, jokes, songs...

And lots of food!

Last spring, Turtle Clan had hosted an impressive event. This year, Klizzie’s kin from Badger Clan were waiting at Turkey Lake to host the Feast.

Klizzie felt enthusiasm blossoming in her breast at the thought of the upcoming celebration. She was eager to see her Aunt Ho-Ya and her many cousins. Oh, there would be hugs and happy-crying and plenty of opportunities to talk.

She rose to her feet, retrieved her pack, and began walking again.

Gini hurried after her. “Klizzie, what is it like to lay with a man?” she asked.

Where in the Spirit World had *that* question come from? Evidently, Gini was growing up faster than Klizzie realized; she tended to think of her as the little four-year-old girl she’d met soon after becoming Dzeh’s mate. But in truth, the child was nearly old enough to have a mate of her own. In just two or three summers, Gini would be Joined and move away from Owl Clan. Her going was sure to leave an aching emptiness in Klizzie’s chest. She had taken care of this small orphan ever since Gini and Dzeh’s mother had died. Saying goodbye to the girl would bring many tears.

“If you love a man, there is nothing better than to lay with him on his sleeping skins,” Klizzie explained, giving Gini a mother’s advice. “He can fill you in a way that is hard to imagine. It is very pleasant.”

Gini didn’t appear convinced. “You love my brother this way?”

Klizzie glanced ahead to where Dzeh was walking and joking with several of his cousins. He carried an enormous pack on his back and a long spear in his fist. He was muscular and confident. It made Klizzie’s heart light to look upon him. “Yes, Gini, I love him. I love him very much.”

*   *   *

Trailing Scully through the woods, Mulder suddenly burst into song. “Who’s the black private dick who’s a sex machine with all the chicks?

“Shaft?” she asked, playing along but not going so far as to actually sing. She picked her way between tree trunks and giant ferns toward the lake, while he hung back and watched her hips sway.

That cute ass is mine, he thought. “Can you dig it?”

“You’re in a good mood.”

Yes, he was in a good mood. Correction -- he was in a *great* mood. Sex in general had a positive effect on his disposition, but sex with Scully had turned out to be the ultimate attitude adjuster. The memory of their joining displaced any and all concerns about time travel, congested lungs or fading tattoos.

At the moment, the one and only question that nagged him was “When are we gonna do it again?”

“So, Scully, when are we gonna do it again?” he said, cutting to the chase.

“So, Scully, when are we gonna do it again?” he asked, cutting to the chase.

She glanced over her shoulder at him. “You might want to give yourself a little time to recover, G-Man. Your respiratory system is compromised. Having sex after an injury like yours...well, you’re lucky the parasympathetic and sympathetic outpouring didn’t kill you this morning.

*Kill* him? He tagged her shoulder. “Can you think of a better way to die?”

She humored him with a tiny smile before continuing along the path.

He smiled, too, as his eyes drifted once again to her curvy backside. Her hips were wrapped in animal fur and her gun was tucked into her skirt at the small of her back. On top she wore her clingy, black camisole. Her legs and feet were bare and, sweet Jesus, she looked sexy!

“They say this cat Shaft is a bad mother. Shut your mouth! Talkin’ ‘bout Shaft.”

Scully led them to the lake shore and stopped at a sun-bleached log, spiky with long-armed branches, where she set down her things -- two soap roots, Klizzie’s comb, and the odd water bag.

Mulder had brought his dirty turtleneck with him, intending to soak it clean in the lake along with his other clothes while he bathed. He also carried the loincloth Klizzie had left, to wear while his clothes dried. Dropping his shirt on the ground, he draped the loincloth over the tree, and then began to strip out of his clothes. He hung his jacket and belt with holster and gun on the branch next to the loincloth, then added his pants and boxers to his pile of dirty clothes. He decided to keep Dzeh’s necklace on. It looked manly, he thought, and made him want to beat his chest like a gorilla.

Must be the sex that had him so puffed with pride today.

“Shaft! Right on.”

He turned to face the lake, naked, hands on hips, feeling like the king of the jungle as he surveyed his territory.

Off to his left, a heron high-stepped cautiously along the shore, eyes trained on the water as it hunted for fish. A bullfrog hid in the nearby reeds, harrumphing the hollow notes of a bass cello. Crickets whined and peepers chirped. Birds squawked, cackled, and trilled from every tree branch.

To his right, an enormous beaver lodge created a spiky island in the lake about thirty yards out. Lily pads clotted the cove in front of it, where dragonflies the size of hummingbirds hovered like helicopters. The sun was just beginning to peek above the treetops.

The sky was clear, the air smelled sweet, and life was damn good.

Particularly since Scully was undressing right in front of him. His eyes slid to watch her carefully remove her clothes, taking her good ol’ sweet time like she was performing a slow motion strip-tease.

She caught him looking. “Don’t you have clothes to wash?”

Reluctantly, he gathered his laundry, palmed one of the soap roots and strode to the water’s edge, where he waded in up to his ankles.

“Bomb’s away!” he said, releasing the clothes. They landed with a slap in the lake beside his feet, and then inch-by-inch sank beneath the surface as air burbled through the fabric. He gave the pile a quick swish with his left foot before abandoning it and splashing into the water up to his thighs.

“Shee-it!” he hissed, surprised by the lake’s cold temperature. Goosebumps sprouted across his shoulders and arms. Wasting no time, he dove headfirst beneath the surface.

He’d always loved swimming in the ocean off Martha’s Vineyard. He and Sam often spent entire afternoons in the water, there or at Quonochontaug, practicing underwater handstands and somersaults, competing in breath-holding contests, or just letting the waves carry them along, their laughter lost in the sound of surf. Their mom lovingly called them “my two sea monsters” when they returned home, pruney and sun-kissed from their day at the beach. By September their lean bodies were as brown as pennies.

Mulder surfaced for air and rolled onto his back to float. His muscles relaxed as the water buoyed him. The lake was chilly, but felt silky smooth, and the morning sun beat down on him, warming his face and chest.

Through half-closed eyes, he watched Scully bathe near the shore. Sitting waist deep in the water, she soaped her hands and then lathered her chest, neck and arms. Foam floated away from her in lazy spirals as she rinsed, and her wet skin gleamed in the early morning sun, confounding his eyes and overwhelming his heart with its shimmery beauty.

Jesus. Just yesterday, she’d been Scully, his partner and friend; today she was Scully, his lover...her body no longer off limits.

Halle-fucking-lujah.

All too soon she was finished with her bath and rose from the water, naked and dripping. The sight kindled a fire in his veins and awakened his slumbering penis. As she waded from the shore to the log, he let his legs sink below the lake’s surface to hide his growing erection. Treading water, he watched while she combed her wet hair.

When are we gonna do it again, Scully?

“I’ll fix breakfast while you soak,” she called out to him. She quickly put on and adjusted the odd belt Klizzie had given her for her menstrual flow, and then wrapped her fur skirt around her hips.

“More strawberries?” he asked, hopeful.

She pulled her camisole over her head. “Sure. More strawberries,” she said before tucking her gun at the small of her back and leaving him to finish his bath.

*   *   *

They are splitting up,” Klesh said, watching Red Hair and her companion from the far shore. Tse-e stood beside him in the shadows of a shagbark tree. “You follow Li-chi Tse-Gah and bring her back; I will take care of her mate.”

“No, she is a Spirit, Klesh. I am not going after her.” Tse-e tucked his wounded hand beneath his arm. Fear burned as brightly as fever in his eyes and he shivered like a frightened rabbit at the sight of the red-haired woman.

“Then *I* will go after her. You take care of her chindi companion,” Klesh sneered. “Do you think you can handle him?”

“Y-yes.” Tse-e nodded with uncertainty. “Do...do you want me to kill him?”

“Yes!” Klesh hissed. “Of course I want you to kill him. Bring his head to me. I want to see for myself that he is dead.” A nasty smile deepened the scar on his left cheek. “Then Li-chi Tse-Gah will be my mate and tend my hearth.”

*   *   *

Mulder’s heart thrummed in his water-filled ears. He closed his eyes and let himself drift in the lake, feeling much the way he had earlier this morning after making love.

God, he had wanted to lay with Scully forever...

Basking.

He had never “basked” with anyone before, not even when he’d been married to Diana. Their pre- and post-coital activities had consisted primarily of rushing off to find the next paranormal anomaly. Sex was a wham-bam-I-heard-there-was-a-UFO-sighting-in-Phoenix-let’s-go kind of activity. It was performed in hotel rooms and rental cars, while they waited for lab results, autopsy reports or returned phone calls. Who had time to bask when there were cow mutilations or Bigfoot sightings to investigate?

Not that the sex hadn’t been passionate. It had. Sex with Diana had relieved the stress of the job, and for a while, it relieved Mulder’s loneliness, too. She was warm and beautiful and it was pleasant to have her in his bed, fending off his insomnia and his nightmares. With Diana in his arms, he found he could sleep without dreaming...for a while, at least.

He had believed he was in love at the time because he had wanted to be in love.

As it turned out, she had loved the idea of love, too, albeit for different reasons than his own. She was hoping for a normal kind of life -- a house, kids, dog -- none of which meshed with their endless pursuit of of the truth. It took him a while to figure out that their quest had actually been only his and not hers. And although procreation topped her wish list, having kids never made it onto his at all. He believed he possessed neither the skill nor the fortitude to raise children. Not after what had happened to Sam.

When Diana began pressing him to start a family, he balked, which made her dig in her heels. At an impasse, she finally left him.

THWACK! The slap of a beaver’s tail startled him from his reverie. He righted himself and glanced around. Nothing appeared of the ordinary...except the beaver, which was about three times the size of its modern day descendants. Fortunately, it was swimming away.

Deciding to wash up, Mulder headed to shallower water where he stood knee deep and began rubbing the soap root between his palms.

Deciding it was time to wash up, Mulder headed to shallower water where he stood knee deep and began rubbing the soap root between his palms.

“Whaddaya know? This stuff actually works.”

Lather overflowed his hands and he used it to slather his chest, neck, and arms. It felt good to scrub away several days worth of sweat and grime. Scully’s blood vanished from the creases of his knuckles as he dug black dirt from beneath his caked fingernails. Jesus, how had she been able to stand him? He must’ve smelled funkier than a three-day stakeout.

Wanting to remedy the situation, he went to work, scouring his scalp, his face, his armpits. Lather corkscrewed down his limbs, dripped into the water where it drifted in foamy mountains around his knees. When he was finished sudsing, he squatted and ducked his head beneath the surface to rinse his hair.

He was underwater when the attack occurred. Out of nowhere, it seemed, someone leapt onto his back and tightened a brawny arm around his neck. Startled, he rose up, lifting his assailant with him. He tried to dislodge the man by falling backward, sinking them both to the bottom.

The maneuver worked and the other man released his hold. Mulder turned on him and grabbed his wrist. The man struggled to get free, thrashing his arms and legs, churning the weeds. Bubbles jetted from his nose as he managed to loosen himself from Mulder’s grip. He surged to the surface. Mulder popped up beside him. Both men filled their lungs with air.

Mulder recognized the small man. He was one of the two Neanderthals who had abducted Scully back in the ravine.

“Son of a b--” Mulder’s fist shot out and connected with Little Big Man’s jaw. 

The caveman’s teeth clacked together and blood spurted from his lips. Mulder struck again, this time a left that clipped the Neanderthal’s nose.

More blood darkened the lake. Little Big Man howled, then torpedoed into Mulder, ramming the top of his skull at Mulder’s throat. Mulder gasped for air and sank. He back-peddled underwater, fighting his way toward the shallows, where he managed to get his feet under him and stand. Little Big Man bulldozed him again and caught him in a crushing bear hug. Both men grappled for an advantage. Unable to free himself, Mulder rolled to his left, dragging the caveman down with him.

In retaliation, the determined Cro-Magnon sank his teeth into Mulder’s right shoulder.

A well-placed elbow dislodged him, but not without a price. Mulder’s skin tore painfully from the bite. “Motherfucker!” he shouted. He seized the caveman by the wrist, twisted his arm into a hammerlock, and pressed his thumb hard into the gunshot wound in his palm.

Little Big Man shrieked and his knees buckled. Mulder pressed harder, hauling him out of the water and up the beach. He kept the man’s arm twisted behind his back and continued to squeeze his injured hand until they reached the driftwood log. Blood poured from the Neanderthal’s open mouth as he yammered and bawled.

Mulder dug his handcuffs from his jacket pocket and hooked one of the bracelets around Little Big Man’s wrist. Then he hauled him to a nearby tree, where he twisted his arms behind the trunk and locked him in place with the other half of the cuffs.

“Where’s your fucking buddy?” Mulder growled, not really expecting an answer and already guessing Conan had gone after Scully.

The small man spat a mouthful of blood at him.

“Suit yourself.” Mulder quickly gathered his gun and abandoned the blubbering caveman to find Scully.

*   *   *

The strawberry field stretched from the lake and its fringe of forest all the way up to the top of the western hills where Scully and Mulder had spent the night of the fire. The slope was long and gradual and dotted with stone outcroppings that rose like islands from a sea of windblown grass. Sweet-smelling clover perfumed the air, while butterflies fought the breeze in search of nectar, their wings winking shut whenever they managed to grab hold of a bobbing flower blossom.

About a third of the way up the slope, a herd of fifty or more mastodons were gathered around a brand new baby. They formed a living bastion as solid as any stone fortress, their brawn belying their familial instincts and gentle sense of community.

One enormous female watched over them. Ten feet tall from shoulder to ground, she appeared insuperable. It seemed beyond possibility that a human hunter could bring down such a beast with little more than a stone spear and his cunning.

Only the leader seemed interested as Scully stepped cautiously out from under the trees into the field. It kept an eye turned her way, but didn’t stray from the herd.

Watching to be sure the mastodons remained undisturbed, Scully hiked slowly uphill until she came to a patch of strawberries, where she knelt and began to fill her pack. After several minutes, she relaxed a little. Bees buzzed lazily around her. Plump, ripe berries stained her fingers as she picked. The mastodons seemed unconcerned by her presence and her mind soon wandered to other concerns.

Like her tattoo.

Although she wasn’t ready yet to concede to Mulder’s theory of Flux Space, she did find the disappearance of her tattoo apropos, since her reason for getting it in the first place was fading, too. She no longer saw herself as the same person she’d once been -- the rebellious woman, trying to assert her autonomy...to the point of foolhardiness.

Ironic she’d been so eager to defy Mulder back then, given the current state of their relationship. Only a year ago, she’d felt stifled by him, and fearful she might lose her direction while blinded by his passion for the truth. Resistance had seemed the only option at the time.

The Ourobourus once symbolized her desire to move forward with her life. Now, the image struck her as absurdly self-absorbed, arrogant in its overt exclusiveness. What she once perceived as a representation of continual progression, now gave her the impression of being unattached to anything or anyone, self-contained and intersecting with nothing but itself.

Fingers blood-red and her pack weighted with fresh fruit, she turned her efforts to picking greens. The only type she could identify as safely edible were dandelions. The others didn’t look a thing like the variety Klizzie had brought to them while Mulder was recovering.

She missed Klizzie’s expertise. The tribe obviously possessed extensive knowledge about their environment: food, medicinal herbs, predators...both animal and human. She and Mulder would need the group’s collective wisdom if they were to survive for any length of time here. Without their generosity and the medicine man’s competence, Mulder would surely be dead.

The memory of Mulder’s near-death brought a lump to Scully’s throat and tears to her eyes. Finding Klizzie and the others had been a godsend and it was paramount she and Mulder rejoin them as soon as he was strong enough to travel.

A sudden trumpet from one of the mastodons startled her and she looked up to see the females closing ranks around the baby. The leader tossed her enormous head and delivered a second loud warning.

Scully reached behind her back for her gun, in case they headed her way. She was stopped by the grip of strong fingers on her wrist and a menacing growl in her ear.

“Li-chi Tse-Gah,” a man’s voice rasped, before he yanked her to her feet. He twisted her arm and forced her to face him.

It was the scarred man.

She glared up at him. Had his weasely companion gone after Mulder?

He wrestled the gun from her hand. She responded by punching him hard in the groin.

When he howled and doubled over, she struck him again, this time in the face. The blow knocked him sideways and sent her gun spinning from his fist. It landed with a thud several yards away in the weeds.

She lunged for it, but found herself falling when he latched onto her leg. His grip held and she hit the ground hard. The gun remained just beyond her reach. She kicked at him, inched closer to the gun and managed to snag it with outstretched fingers.

Scarface crawled on top of her and pinned her in place. His giant hand clamped over hers and tore the gun from her grasp. He sat up, straddling her and weighting her to the ground. She lashed out, caught hold of the gun, struggled to pull it from his hands.

The gun discharged, firing at the sky and missing his right ear by millimeters. He jumped, astonished. Still holding the gun, he stared at it in disbelief. His expression transformed into one of panic. Eyes bulging, he hurled the weapon into the woods.

“Dammit!” she shouted, watching the gun vanish into the nearby trees.

She was trapped beneath him, pinned by his muscular thighs. He was panting; unconstrained fury darkened his face.

“Chindi!” he barked at her, then grabbed her by the hair. He bent over her until their noses almost touched. “Chindiiiii!!” he roared, spraying her with his spit.

Struggling to free herself, she felt the ground start to vibrate beneath her. Scarface sat bolt upright, evidently feeling it, too. Silence hung in the air for one empty second before the thunderous crash of stampeding mastodons brought them both scrambling to their feet.

The enormous female was charging straight at them. Several more followed, heads bowed, tusks thrust forward. Their speed was astonishing.

Scully’s legs went numb at the sight. Should she run? Stand still? Every instinct urged her to get out of their way, but her feet seemed to have rooted themselves to the ground.

Scarface bolted for the woods. The mastodons kept on coming. The ground shook, rattling Scully’s teeth. God, she was going to be trampled.

She began to recite the Lord’s Prayer.

“Our Father, who art in heaven...”

The air churned with dust and panic.

“Hallowed be thy name.”

She could smell them, musty and fierce and hell-bent on protecting their own.

“Thy kingdom come...”

Jesus, Jesus, Jesus, they were right on her, around her, a thundering wall of reddish-brown, broken only by a blur of polished ivory and the ferocious glares of a dozen protective mothers. Their running jolted her spine, quaked the ground, shook her faith...

“Thy will be done...” Thy will... Thy will be...

The noise was deafening! Warning trumpets, pounding feet, the crash of underbrush as mastodons bulldozed around her, heading into the forest. Vegetation exploded, branches cracked, whole trees fell. The animals razed an alley several yards wide as they continued their forward charge.

Scully stood staring after them for several minutes, too astonished to move, even after they were no longer in sight.

“Thy will be done...”

She looked behind her, upland across the field. The herd and the baby were gone. Only zigzagging trails and the tart smell of trampled grass remained.

“Sculleee!” It was Mulder, calling to her from the woods.

She turned toward his voice, but couldn’t find her own to cry out to him.

It didn’t matter. He was walking out of the forest, completely naked, one muscled arm hooked around the scarred man’s neck.

Scully’s legs finally gave way and she dropped to her knees.

*   *   *

I say we leave them right where they are.” Mulder picked a hunk of squirrel meat from between his teeth before grabbing another diminutive drumstick. The food tasted good, but four itsy-bitsy squirrels were not going to fill him. He sucked the tiny bone clean.

Conan and Little Big Man sat sullen and silent a few yards away. They were handcuffed to an enormous mastodon skull and to each other. Mulder had looped the cuffs through one of its eye sockets, using the skull as a sort of Pleistocene ball and chain.

Conan sported a nasty looking shiner where Mulder had walloped him “just because.” Little Big Man was in worse shape, although his mouth was no longer bleeding. Mulder was pretty sure he’d broken the bastard’s nose, as well as his teeth, since both his eyes were swelling shut and he whistled whenever he inhaled.

Scully removed the last squirrel from its spit, trying not to singe her fingers. “They could die if we leave them like that.”

“So? What do you think they intended to do to us?” He tossed a bone into the fire and reached for a third helping of strawberries. “Besides, if they work at it, they can break free...eventually.”

“That could take them days. They’ll need food and water.”

“Awww. Let ’em drag their sorry asses down to the lake when they get thirsty. Any greens left?”

She passed him the pack.

“Mulder, I just don’t think--”

“Scully, a few days ago they tried to rape you,” he reminded her. The memory made him want to blacken Conan’s other eye. “They’ve tried to kill me twice.”

“So...we should do the same? We’re living by the law of the jungle now, is that it? Kill or be killed? Since when did we turn into  them?”

“When they held you to the ground and--” He stopped himself. His anger was meant for them, not her. He lowered his tone. “There’s no due process here. What do you want to do?”

“If you’re well enough, I’d like to go after Klizzie and the others.”

I’m good to go right now. And unless you let me kill these two, I have no intention of staying another day here.” Seeing her shocked expression, he added, “That was a joke. Sort of.”

She split the last squirrel in two and gave him the bigger half. “You really think they can free themselves?”

“If they’re resourceful. It’ll take them some time, but that’ll give us a head start.” He could tell she didn’t like the idea. Finished with his meal, he wiped his hands on his bare thighs. “It’s not like we have a lot of options.”

“No, I guess not.” 

“Come on then. I’ll help you pack.”

“Where are your clothes?”

“Still in the lake. I have to go back to fill the water bag anyway.”

Mulder rose stiffly and walked over to the two prisoners.

He bent low enough to smell Conan’s sour breath. Keeping his voice dead calm, he whispered, “If you ever touch her again,” -- he paused to stare directly into the scarred man’s eyes -- “I’ll rip your fuckin’ head off.”

*   *   *

Klizzie settled beside Dzeh on the sleeping skins. They were camped in the open under a clear, starry sky. She loved this time of night, hearing the sounds of the Clan all around her, some already snoring, others talking in low voices or singing lullabies to their children. She felt safe when surrounded by her family, especially with Dzeh by her side.

He was lying on his back, his muscled arm pillowing her head.

“The stars are bright tonight,” he said, studying the sky.

She looked up, too, content to watch the stars as he lightly stroked her bare shoulder.

“Gini asked me earlier today what it is like to lay with a man,” she said.

Dzeh turned to look at her with surprise. “She did?”

“Mm hm.”

“What did you tell her?”

Klizzie laughed. “My answer was for women’s ears only,” she teased.

“Women? Gini is only eight Mastodon Feasts old. She is no woman. Not yet.”

“She will be soon, Dzeh. Some girls begin their Moon Time as early as nine.”

He grunted, pretending to be offended. “I do not want to hear such talk. That is for ‘women’s ears only.’”

Again Klizzie laughed and then poked him gently in the ribs. “Seriously, it is time for you to start inquiries about a mate for her.”

“No, my sister is still a little girl...a baby.”

“She is not. Not if she is asking questions about laying with men.”

Now he chuckled, a gravelly sound deep within his chest that loosened the muscles in Klizzie’s legs and filled her abdomen with fire.

“Fine,” he said, “I will make inquiries at the Feast. I think your Aunt ‘A-Chin’ might have a son about Gini’s age.”

She slapped his arm. “My Aunt’s name is not ‘Nose.’ It is ‘Ho-Ya’ -- ‘Smart.’”

He shrugged. “Well, she has a big nose. And she is not so very smart, as I recall.”

It was true. Ho-Ya seemed to have no common sense whatsoever. She could get turned around in her own lodge. And she had made Badger Clan ill on more than one occasion when she added bad mushrooms to the evening meal. But she did have a good spirit and several sons with more sense than their mother. Perhaps one of them would be suitable for Gini.

Klizzie scanned the starry sky, as if she might find a mate for Gini there. “Tell me the story of Ant Clan,” she asked, never tired of hearing about the Spirits and their heavenly world.

“Ant Clan? Klizzie, I have told you that story more times than I can count.”

“Please, Dzeh? The Mastodon’s Eye is visible tonight.”

The Mastodon’s hazy eye was little more than a faint smudge in the sky, visible only on the clearest nights.

“So it is.”

“Tell the story,” she urged.

Keeping his voice low so as not to disturb the others, he began. “Long before the days of Owl Clan, Badger Clan, Beaver Clan and all the other clans we know today, there was only one clan and it had no name because its people did not worship animal spirits. They killed and ate whichever beasts they desired without asking permission or sending up prayers of thanks. One day they speared and butchered a baby mastodon, and after eating their fill, these wasteful people fell asleep, leaving the remainder of the carcass for the buzzards.” Dzeh traced a lazy circle around Klizzie’s right breast, bringing her nipple to a point. He whispered into her ear, “I can think of better ways to pass this night than the telling of old tales.”

“Finish the story,” she said, her voice made faint by his caress.

He drew a second circle around her left breast. “The Mastodon Spirit became angry at the clan for their carelessness. So, first taking the form of a mortal man, he sneaked into their camp while they slept and lay with the mate of the clan’s leader. After planting a child in her womb, he returned to his place in the heavens. Nine moons later, the woman gave birth to a son who eventually grew up to be a powerful shaman.” Dzeh tickled her inner thigh. “Are you sure you want me to continue the story?”

“Yes.”

He edged his hand up under her skirt. “One night, the powerful shaman had a dream, and in his dream his real father, the Mastodon Spirit, took him up to heaven and showed him the world of Spirits. He told his earthly son, ‘Teach the clan to respect the Spirits. If not, they will be forever cursed.’ So the shaman did as he was told and returned to the clan the next morning to tell them they must pray and give thanks to the spirits. The clan was lazy and refused to do as they were asked. Again they killed a mastodon and left its carcass for the buzzards, making the Mastodon Spirit angry. Sssoooo...” Dzeh’s thumb brushed the curls at her groin.

She felt wetness flow from her womanhood. “Dzeehhh...”

“The Mastodon Spirit turned the people of the clan into ants and his son, the shaman, into a giant armadillo and he put them all in the sky where he could keep his eye on them.”

Much to Klizzie’s disappointment, Dzeh removed his hand from between her thighs and pointed at the sky.

“And there they are still,” he said, “in the northeastern sky. To the east of the Steadfast Star, the Mastodon Spirit waits for the clearest nights to open his eye and watch the cursed Ant Clan crawl like a white river across the heavens while his armadillo son waits to devour them.”

The legend was a warning. The ways of the Spirits must be followed or there would be a price to pay.

Klizzie had heard gossips in Owl Clan say that she was barren because angry Spirits willed it. They claimed her childlessness was a reprisal for her role in Dzeh and Klesh’s falling out four summers ago.

In the years before Klizzie became Dzeh’s mate, Dzeh had been Trading Partners with her cousin Klesh. The men’s partnership created a necessary alliance between Owl Clan and Badger Clan, which had been enemies for many generations.

Unlike Hunting Partners, who were almost always kin, and Joking Partners, who were usually cross-cousins, Trading Partners were not related by blood. The purpose of their partnership was to create a bond between two clans that had no family ties, ensuring inter-clan cooperation during periods of peace, and tempering the amount of killing in times of war. A clan’s survival often depended on the benevolence of its non-kin partners.

To reinforce such affiliations, Trading Partners exchanged protection, food, goods and even their mates. Everybody agreed the tradition of exchange -- mate-exchange in particular -- was essential to the alliance, ensuring an intimate bond nearly as strong as blood between partners, their co-mates, and their respective clans. Ritual mate-exchange and the security it offered to clans benefited everyone.

The waters had been muddied, however, when Klizzie and Dzeh became mates because she was Klesh’s first cousin. Yes, it was custom for Trading Partners to exchange mates, but it was also taboo for Klizzie to be co-mate to her own kin. So of course Dzeh had to insist his partnership with Klesh be dissolved.

Klesh had become angry and refused to recognize the breaking of the partnership. He went so far as to demand Klizzie lay as his co-mate during the Mastodon Feast, ignoring the fact that she was his cousin.

She had been only fourteen at the time, but that was no excuse. She knew she shared responsibility for what happened. Shame burned her cheeks at the memory of her transgressions against Owl and Badger Clans, against Dzeh.

Lying beside Dzeh now, looking up at the stars, Klizzie reminded herself it was pointless to relive those old days in her head. They were “fish down the river,” as the elders would say. Klesh had been banished and his partnership with Dzeh ended. All Klizzie could do now was pray to the Spirits for the same forgiveness she had received from Dzeh and Owl Clan.

“Were you marking our trail today, Klizzie?” Dzeh asked, returning his hand to her leg.

She nodded. “Yes.”

“For Muhl-dar and Day-nuh?”

Would he chastise her for her actions? Her eyes went to the strange bracelet he wore on his wrist, Muhl-dar’s bracelet. She wanted to touch it, but kept her hands still for now.

“Yes, I left the markers for them.”

“Klizzie...” He leaned over to kiss her nose. “You are a kind woman and I am hopeful the Spirits will reward you for it with a child this season. Then perhaps you will no longer feel the need to take care of orphans.”

His words stung her, despite his good intentions. One of the orphans he was referring to was his own sister. “I pray every day,” she said.

“Good.” He cupped her cheek in his palm. “Maybe tonight the Spirits will listen,” he said, before lowering his lips to her mouth.

He rolled on top of her and she accepted his kiss. Parting her knees, she offered a silent prayer to the Spirits: Please keep Owl Clan safe; help the newcomers, Day-nuh and Muhl-dar, find their way to Turkey Lake; and please, please, bless me with a child.

*   *   *

Somewhere in the distance a mastodon trumpeted, waking Mulder from a nightmare about Scully and a four-toed Cro-Magnon. He cocked an ear to listen. Crickets. Frogs. Owls. Nothing treacherous, yet he curled protectively around Scully, who was lying beside him on a fur blanket under the open sky.

They were camped on a grassy hill next to one of Klizzie’s stone markers. This was the fifth such marker they’d found before he had become too tired to go further. He’d fallen asleep almost immediately after finishing their evening meal and had slept soundly until just moments ago.

“Scully. Scully, are you awake?” he whispered into her ear.

“M’now. Whassamatter?”

“I heard a noise.”

This roused her. “What noise?”

“A voice. It said, ‘Wake Scully up.’”

Laughter chuffed from her nose. “And why would this voice tell you a crazy thing like that?”

“Musta been feelin’ lonely.” He gave her hip an inviting caress.

She rolled onto her back within the circle of his arms and kissed him tenderly on the lips.

He wanted to make love to her again. Oh, God, how he wanted to make love to her.

She disappointed him by breaking their kiss to stare up at the midnight sky. “The stars are beautiful here.”

“Mmm. No city lights to spoil the view.”

“Look, you can see the Andromeda Nebula.” She pointed to a hazy spot east of the Pole Star.

It was true. The faint smudge that marked Andromeda’s knee was visible tonight. “That galaxy is the most distant object that can be seen by the unaided human eye,” he said, rolling onto his back, too. He kept one arm tucked beneath her, cushioning her head. “It contains more than one hundred billion stars that are more than two million light years away from here. Did you know that?”

“I did.”

“You did?”

“Don’t sound so surprised.” A smile quirked her lips. “I studied astronomy as an undergrad, you know.”

“Astronomy, anthropology, physics...wow. Frohike was right -- you are hot.”

Her tiny smile widened into an all-out grin. “I know Greek, too.”

“Then you know the myth?”

“Of Andromeda? Sure. Cassiopeia and Cepheus had a daughter--”

“See them there? Cassiopeia and Cepheus? Between Andromeda and the Little Dipper?”

“I see them. Cassiopeia boasted about Andromeda’s beauty, so much so, she angered the sea nymphs who prevailed upon the god Poseidon to dispatch a sea monster--”

“A whale.”

“Right, a whale, to ravage the coast of Ethiopia. To appease the whale, Cepheus chained Andromeda to a rock to be devoured by the monster.”

Awful thing to do to your own daughter, Mulder thought. An image of Sam and his dad intruded on his thoughts, making him wince. Back-peddling from the unwelcome association, he focused instead on Scully’s voice.

“Fortunately Perseus happened by and killed the whale,” Scully continued. “He liberated and married Andromeda, and the two of them rode off on Perseus’ winged horse, Pegasus.”

“To live happily ever after?”

“Presumably.”

God, did life ever actually turn out that way?

His eyes scoured the heavens while his imagination fleshed out the constellations. Pegasus, Hercules, Ophiuchus holding the two ends of the Serpent. That image seemed more representative of life than Andromeda and Perseus riding off into the sunset. It also reminded Mulder in a free association sort of way of the mark Scully wore on her back.

“Scully, why the Ourobourus?”

“Excuse me?”

“Your tattoo.”

“Oh, Mulder, I don’t... Why is that important now?”

“Wasn’t it always important? I mean, a tattoo is forever...at least, it’s supposed to be. It must have meant something to you when you chose it.”

“Yes, but I’m not sure I can explain it. I was in a different frame of mind at the time.”

“Different how?” He honestly wanted to know.

“I was feeling as if my life was at a standstill. I guess I saw the Ourobourus as a symbol of movement.”

And what about Ed Jerse? What had he symbolized?

Mulder flushed with unexpected jealousy at the thought of that man’s hands on Scully. Inappropriate and irrational, he knew. He and Scully hadn’t been romantically involved at the time, although, admittedly, he’d always felt a tad territorial about her, long before her sojourn in Philadelphia. Truth be told, he’d assumed an air of proprietorship the day she walked into his office, considering her part and parcel of the X-Files, and therefore “his.”

God, he could be such an ass sometimes.

“Did you sleep with Jerse?” he asked, surprising himself. It was none of his damn business and he hadn’t meant to say the words out loud, despite the fact that he’d been wondering if she had or hadn’t ever since he’d been called to St. John’s Hospital to bring her back from Philadelphia. Christ, it had scared the hell out of him to discover she’d exposed herself to both ergot and a homicidal maniac. Seeing her in that hospital room, pale as the bed linens...fear and jealousy had sucker-punched him. Then when she couldn’t even look him in the eye, he’d been convinced she’d done it, gone to bed with the cold-blooded killer.

It had taken every ounce of his strength to hide his fury. Hell, he was having a hard time controlling it right now.

Scully frowned. “Is it relevant anymore?”

“No. I just wondered what it was about him that you found so alluring.”

She didn’t even hesitate before replying. “He listened to me, Mulder. Never underestimate the charm of a man who truly listens.”

“I don’t listen?”

Of course he knew he didn’t, not always anyway. Shit, if anyone was to blame for Scully’s rebellious romp in Philadelphia, he was. He’d practically pushed her into Jerse’s tattooed arms.

“Mulder, I got my tattoo as a reminder to move forward with my life.”

He took a deep breath, trying to cool his unwarranted pique. It was water under the bridge and shouldn’t bother him like this. “Have you?” he asked, his voice calm, belying his true resentment. “Since then, I mean? Moved forward with your life?”

“I think so.” Her gentle smile helped mollify his jealousy. She snaked her arms around his neck.

He tightened his hold on her. “So...” He murmured into her ear, “when are we gonna, you know, do it again?”

She surprised him by rolling on top of him. “Right now, Mulder,” she said, her voice muddled with longing. “Right...now.”

She surprised him by rolling on top of him and drawing him into a tight embrace.


Continued in Chapter Eight

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

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