CHAPTER NINE
Continued from
Chapter Eight

["The Mastodon Diaries" is rated NC-17 for Violence, Language, and Graphic Sexual Content. Chapter 9 contains explicit descriptions of consensual sex between adults. Reader discretion is advised.] 

Mulder and Scully petroglyphScully closes her eyes against the pain that is slicing through her abdomen. Searing white light flashes behind her closed lids. The cave disappears; Mulder’s embrace disintegrates.

A vast Pleistocene plateau separates them. He is almost indiscernible on the distant horizon, but only for an instant. Just as suddenly, he is back with her...in their basement office.

Splashes of light and dark mottle the wall. Mulder is showing slides, crime scene photos of baby killers, murderers posing as Santa Claus and insurance salesmen. Image after image fills Scully’s field of vision in a seemingly endless progression. None of the cases look familiar.

“Focus, please,” Scully tells Mulder, her voice strident. This close-up view of nothing is getting on her nerves.

“Can’t. Seems to be broken.” He fiddles with the lens. Jiggles the carousel. The picture becomes blurrier, if that’s possible. He hisses, surrenders by turning off the projector.

She sighs with relief when the fan stops spinning.

Blinking, she finds they are no longer in the basement; they’re riding in a rental car. The light from the projector has been replaced by twin highbeams piercing the desert night. She feels disoriented by the sudden change of scene.

Mulder appears unconcerned as he concentrates on acres of emptiness beyond the windshield. He’s driving, as usual. “What is your point?” he asks, tone curious, with no trace of judgment.

Although she has no idea what her point was or is, she hears herself ask, “Don’t you ever just want to stop?” Her tone is petulant, almost whiny. “Get out of the damn car? Settle down and live something approaching a normal life?” She realizes she’s wanted to ask him this for a long time, ever since Emily.

She also wants to roll down her window and let the night air blast her hair away from her face, but she doesn’t.

Where are they and why are they here? The car’s AC has brought the aroma of sage and sand into the vehicle, and she is reminded of the desert that surrounds Hill Air Force Base in Box Elder County, Utah.

Another wild goose chase that led nowhere.

Still looking out a window, she is no longer in the car, but in Mulder’s apartment. It’s night outside and snow is falling in ghostly clumps. She wonders how life can turn on a dime when you’re standing still.

“You didn’t want to be there?” Mulder asks. She doesn’t know to what he’s referring. His brow furrows as he considers his own question, and he appears disappointed, conciliatory. “Oh, that’s, um...that’s self-righteous and narcissistic of me to say, isn’t it?”

Is it? She doesn’t understand what he means; she can’t make sense of any of this, but hears herself reply, “No, I mean...maybe I did want to be out there with you.”

Confused, she gapes at him for a moment without speaking. She has no idea where they’ve been, or why she would or wouldn’t want to be there, or even how they got into Mulder’s apartment.

But she is glad to be with him, not because he is giving her a brightly wrapped Christmas gift but because he’s smiling shyly, like he has a secret to share but doesn’t quite know where to start. He’s speaking in his most gentle voice, the one he reserves for the rare occasions when he’s being extraordinarily tender with her, like the time she woke up in a hospital after being abducted by Duane Barry.

She has a gift for Mulder, too, and his eyes light up as he takes it from her. His eyelashes look so soft; she wants to reach out, feel their tickle against the pad of her index finger.

But that’s impossible because he is no longer in the room, which is a doctor’s examination room now, not Mulder’s apartment. The doctor stands a few feet away beside a sink and removes his latex gloves. Scully sits with her back to a wall, wearing a paper gown, feeling exposed, skin crawling with irritation.

“It’ll take at least two more sessions to get all the pigment out,” the doctor says. A sympathetic smile warms his face.

“Getting rid of it hurts more than getting it in the first place,” she says, knowing from the sting on her back she must be referring to her tattoo.

“A lot of patients tell me that. You can get dressed now.” He tosses his gloves into the medical waste bin before leaving the room.

Why is she having her tattoo removed?

She’s beginning to suspect this is a dream, but doesn’t remember falling asleep. Wasn’t she in a cave? With Mulder? Perhaps this is a hallucination.

Rising from the exam table, she casts off her paper gown and dresses in business clothes, planning to return to the office for another hour or two. Mulder wanted to go over a case about...about...

She can’t remember. It seems the mutants are all beginning to look alike, running one into another, countless genetic freaks strung like mismatched beads on a necklace of abnormal DNA.

Emily was such a mutation, she remembers. A miracle that was never meant to be.

Mulder is once again with her in his apartment and he’s crying over the loss of someone close to him. Her heart goes out to him; she understands bereavement, has felt its miserable ache.

Somehow she knows his mother has died of Paget’s Carcinoma. She can picture Teena Mulder, split open on an autopsy table, her insides exposed. Heart, lungs...the womb that once cradled Mulder and his sister.

She tries to embrace Mulder, but her arms close around nothing. It’s night. She is standing on the doorstep of a house she’s never seen before; a man she doesn’t recognize stands to her left. Mulder waits back at the car. Scully is facing a screen door and an elderly woman is on the other side looking out at her, curious.

Scully asks her, “Are you the same Arbutus Ray who worked as a nurse at the Dominic Savio Memorial Hospital in 1979?”

“Yes, I am she.”

Gooseflesh dots Scully’s arms. Mulder’s sister is dead. She died at age fourteen.

God, can that be true? Can any of this be true?

Mulder stands beside her, looking up at the stars.

“You know, I never stop to think that the light is billions of years old by the time we see it. From the beginning of time right past us into the future,” he says. “Nothing is ancient in the universe.”

She follows his line of vision only to find she’s now in an unfamiliar apartment where there are cameras on every shelf. The room smells of chemicals, like a darkroom. A stranger is loading film.

He tells her “You’re very lucky, you know that?”

He barely finishes speaking when a bullet pierces her abdomen. The pain is a shock, buckling her knees, sliding her to the floor.

Mulder! Help me, please!

What the hell is going on? This is all too much. She feels queasy from the shifts in place and time. She looks down at her hurting stomach and sees blood staining her blouse.

Pain rips through her abdomen. Oh, God, oh, God!

The apartment vanishes. The blood disappears. Scully is once again in the cave with Mulder. Everything is back at the beginning. And everything hurts.

“Mulder...” she groans. “Help me.”

*   *   *

“Scully...?” Not knowing what else to do, Mulder sat on the ground and embraced her, petted her hair, repeated her name. She clung to him, her nails drawing blood as they dug at the nape of his neck. She moaned and he thought he had never heard such a godawful sound. It stripped him of reason, set him on the edge of panic. “Fuck!” he finally shouted, at wit’s end.

She didn’t respond. A bad sign in itself.

So he rocked her, waiting, helpless, biting his lip against another outburst. She didn’t need his fear. She was battling her own demons, trying to ride out her pain, probably trying to diagnose it even as it overwhelmed her.

So he rocked her, waiting, helpless, biting his lip against another outburst.

What the hell was happening to her? Food poisoning? Could last night’s miserable meal have made her sick? It seemed unlikely -- he’d eaten twice as many of those awful snail-things as she had and he felt fine. Maybe she’d contracted a disease...or was bitten by a poisonous insect. It couldn’t be her cancer, could it?

When her nails finally relaxed their grip in his neck and her trembling eased, he continued to soothe her by rubbing her back and whispering, “Shhh, it’s okay, it’s okay,” trying to persuade himself as much as her.

She’d been talking through gritted teeth for the last ten or fifteen minutes -- an eternity under the circumstances. Her conversation was disjointed. One-sided. She didn’t respond to any of his questions, but seemed to be speaking with someone else. She mentioned several familiar names -- his mother, Emily, Duane Barry. And a name he didn’t recognize: Arbutus Ray. Who the hell was that?

“Scully?” He tried to look at her face, but she buried her nose deeply into the crease of his neck. “Are you still in pain?”

She tightened her grip and shook her head.

“What happened?” he persisted. “Come on, Scully. Say something.”

Air shuddered audibly from her lungs as she slid out of his arms and rose to her feet. She stood with shoulders hunched and head hanging so that her hair veiled her eyes.

He stood, too, and she stepped away from him, putting several feet between them. Her eyes roamed the cave; she looked everywhere but at him.

“Scully, talk to me.”

“I... It felt like I’d been shot.” Her hand moved to shield her stomach. “I saw things.”

“What things?”

“Images. Just flashes really.”

“Can you remember any of them?”

Again she avoided looking at him. “Nothing made any sense,” she insisted. “It was just a bunch of jumbled, unconnected pictures.”

“Caused by what?”

She shrugged, turned away, shielding her eyes and her expression. “A perceptual disturbance of some kind, like hypnagogic or hypnopompic imagery. It’s not uncommon for people to see strange images, or find themselves temporarily unable to move or speak, while in a state between sleep and wakefulness.”

“Scully, this happened while you were wide awake.” He took a step forward and tagged her hand. “You were talking the entire time.”

“Was I?” Worry creased her brow.

“You mentioned Duane Barry. Do you remember that?”

Her eyes searched the ground and finally came to rest on the tiny carved idol. He followed her gaze and focused on it, too. His paranormal radar was picking up a signal, loud and clear. The idol was connected in some way to her sudden collapse, to the images she was refusing to discuss. He could feel it as surely as a tap on his shoulder.

“Scully, who is Arbutus Ray?”

“I don’t know. The name isn’t familiar.” She straightened and finally looked him in the eyes. “We should cut up that sloth.”

Shouldering past him and out of the cave, she gave him little choice but to follow.

*   *   *

Klizzie stood on the uppermost ridge of Crouching Cat Mountain, overlooking a broad valley that cradled Turkey Lake. Gray as stone beneath the low overcast, the big lake stretched all the way to the Traveling Camels, a range of hills named for their rounded, evenly spaced peaks. Dense forest bordered the lake to the northeast, grassland to the southwest. On the nearest shore were the domed shelters of Badger Clan.

Klizzie’s heart felt lighter than dandelion seeds on a summer breeze. She squeezed the pouch that hung between her breasts and offered a quick prayer of thanks to the Spirits for delivering Owl Clan safely to their destination.

The hike down to Tabaha Lodge would be easy, the slope gradual across open meadow. The sky appeared unwilling to release its rain just yet. And although the wind was cool, it wasn’t biting.

Already a group of children were running ahead, laughing, wanting to be first to reach the lakeside village. The men followed behind them, gathered in knots according to kinships, discussing upcoming events. Dzeh walked with his Uncle Lin and the Shaman, his head bent as he listened to the older men. Klizzie guessed they were reviewing the many upcoming ceremonies and scheduling the rituals.

The women brought up the rear, traveling in clusters of three or four. They chatted while they lugged infants and supplies. Occasionally one would shout to the older children whenever they ran too far ahead. Everyone appeared happy and relaxed despite their long trip.

Klizzie smiled, too. Tonight she would be sitting at the hearth of her first family. She would embrace her aunts and her cousins. The clans would trade gifts, food and stories. She would learn who had died and who had been born since her last visit.

Additional shelters would be constructed tomorrow. She and Dzeh would once again sleep beneath a roof shared by his closest kin. She would miss the stars, but not the chill and the damp and the mosquitoes.

In a few days, Turtle Clan would arrive from the south and Otter Clan from the east, and then the Mastodon Feast would officially begin.

Klizzie gathered several fist-sized stones and stacked them one on top of the other. This would be her last marker. If Day-nuh and Muhl-dar traveled this far, they could not miss the summer camp below.

Stones set in place, Klizzie hurried to catch up with her family.

*   *   *

Jogging with an awkward sidestep down the steep mountain path, arms held wide for balance, Mulder kept his eyes glued to Scully’s retreating back. Her hair bounced with a determined rhythm as she hurried down the slope. He sped up to catch her.

More than a decade as a professional profiler and he still found it impossible to figure out what was on her mind. She had him feeling clueless. Which just made him want to try harder to ferret out her secrets. If history repeated itself she would remain inscrutable, an enigma despite his best efforts.

Scully was Mulder’s blind spot. There was no seeing into her unless she let him.

She was nearing the stream where they’d left the sloth when she suddenly stopped and held up a cautionary hand. He slowed, drew his gun, and stepped carefully, quietly to her side.

At first he couldn’t see them hidden behind the sloth’s bulky carcass. But he could hear them growling, tearing at flesh.

Then a pair of silvery heads appeared over the top of the sloth’s rounded belly. Pointed ears, blue-white eyes, fangs, muzzles dripping with fresh blood.

Wolves.

Eating *his* sloth. Fuck.

He brushed past Scully and strode downhill, arms waving. “Get the hell outta here! Goddammit!”

A third wolf peered over the carcass. Then a fourth and fifth.

Shit.

Mulder slowed his steps.

The first wolf barred its teeth and growled. Mulder’s stomach growled back. He was hungry. He hadn’t eaten since last night and that was only a handful of berries and a bunch of bitter slug-things. No way was he going to let a bunch of mangy wolves steal his hard-earned supper.

“Sorry, boys, no cutting the line. We were here first.” He aimed his gun into the trees and fired. The blast startled and scattered the wolves. It also unsettled a bunch of buzzards that had been skulking in the branches overhead, waiting their turn for leftovers. The wolves disappeared into the woods.

“That was a waste of a bullet.” Scully frowned and marched past Mulder toward the sloth. She examined the dead animal from several angles, fists on her hips.

“They didn’t look like the sharing types, Scully.”

“We agreed to use the gun only in life-and-death situations.”

“I don’t know about you, but I happen to be starving to death.”

“We could have tried chasing them off first.”

He opened his mouth to argue, but then gave up the idea. He was tired of fighting with her, of being at odds this way.

He dug his knife from his pocket and held it out to her. “Why don’t you cut up the meat while I build a fire? We can camp in the cave tonight.”

She took the knife.

“Take this, too.” He offered his gun.

“Mulder, I didn’t mean...” She shook her head. “I trust your judgment. Really, I do.”

“I’m glad. But the wolves might come back and I’ll be up in the cave.” He resisted saying, “Of course, you could try chasing them off.” Instead, he placed the gun in her palm. “Take it.”

Before she could object, he grabbed the pack with the flint in it and headed back up the hill.

*   *   *

Gini searched for colorful snail shells at the water’s edge. Wading ankle deep into the lake, she closed her ears to the laughter and talk coming from the camp behind her. So many people! And all of them saying, “How big you have grown!” and “This cannot be little Gini, can it?” Her poor scalp ached from all the yanking on her braids. 

“They are just being friendly,” Klizzie had said before falling into the arms of another cousin.

Maybe so, but their tugs hurt just the same.

Of course, Jeha and her aunts went immediately to visit the hearth of Moasi’s uncle. They were eager to catch a glimpse of Jeha’s mate-to-be before the upcoming ceremony. Jeha and Moasi would be officially introduced at tonight’s First Night Feast. A few days from now, four clans would celebrate their Joining Ceremony.

And sometime during the next several moons, Dzeh would make arrangements for Gini’s future mating. She gripped her aching stomach; it hurt almost as much as her scalp.

“Who are you?” asked a voice behind her.

She peered over her shoulder. A boy stood several paces away, fists on his hips. He appeared to be about eleven or twelve Mastodon Feasts old and he wore his hair in the style of Badger Clan -- cut short along the part and then greased with bear fat to make it stand up like porcupine quills. He wore a fringed loincloth with a knife tucked into his belt. A pair of bear claws hung from his pierced ears and he sported a new tattoo on his right shoulder -- a prickly Badger Clan design. His freshly scabbed skin looked red and sore.

“My name is Gini. Who are you?”

Chal,” he said, swaggering closer. “Why are you not with the others?”

She crouched to pick up a snail and pretended to examine it. “My head hurts.”

A bored expression settled over the boy’s features. He had almond-shaped eyes the color of hazelnuts and his skin was a shade darker than Gini’s. He was long-legged and big-nosed, reminding her of a stork. “Are all Owl Clan girls as ugly as you are?” he asked.

She glared at him. “Are all Badger Clan boys so rude?”

His eyes rounded and he laughed out loud. “You are calling *me* rude?”

It was a mean thing for her to say and she was usually not so impolite. “Sorry,” she mumbled, hunching over her knees. She wished he would go away and leave her alone.

Instead he walked closer and squatted beside her. He looked at her face and proclaimed, “You are Dzeh’s sister.”

“How did you know that?”

“You look as he does. Your mouth and eyes.”

She didn’t like him staring so hard at her.

He went on, “Klizzie is my cousin. My mother is her aunt.”

“Almost everyone here is Klizzie’s cousin or aunt.”

“My mother is Ho-Ya. You will be eating at our hearth tonight.”

Oh great, she would not be rid of him soon.

“You frown too much,” he said, rising to his feet. “I think you might be prettier if you smiled.”

Tears sprang to her eyes. He apparently didn’t see them or was ignoring them because he ambled slowly away, heading for a group of boys who played wrestling games in the field beyond the camp. She waited until he was all the way to the field before letting her tears fall.

*   *   *

“Mulder, come to bed,” Scully urged. She lay on the furs, stripped down to her camisole and panties. She and Mulder were back in the cave. Sunset had been hours ago and she was eager to go to sleep and forget her earlier nightmare...hallucination...vision -- whatever the hell it’d been. She felt sated from their supper of roasted sloth meat, but sleep was proving impossible with Mulder wide awake and jabbing at the fire only a few feet away.

He was frustrated, she knew, by her reluctance to talk about what had happened earlier. But what was there to say? The images she’d seen were confusing and probably meaningless, and she had no explanation for them.

Crouched by the fire, Mulder prodded the coals with a stick, sending sparks into the air. He was shirtless and the blaze painted his chest gold while casting his back in shadow; dark and light stumbled over the muscles of his arms, wrestled across his face.

“I’m not tired,” he mumbled.

“Just come and lay with me then.”

His back stiffened. He gave the embers a final poke before tossing his stick into the flames. Rising to his feet, he glanced at her, uncertainty shading his eyes. The stitches on his cheek bristled like barbed wire above the dark line of his whiskers.

He crossed to the furs and sat down. A sigh -- weighted with fatigue, worry, and frustration -- chuffed from his lungs as he slowly untied his boots. He tugged them from his feet, exposing inflamed skin and broken blisters.

“Mulder...your feet...” Scully sat up for a closer look. Grasping his ankle, she held him immobile while she examined the lesions by firelight. “You should wash these.”

“Tomorrow.”

“They’re becoming infected.”

“They’ve been like this for days. A few more hours won’t matter.”

Days? Why hadn’t she noticed? Guilt flushed her face. She’d been too immersed in her own worries to see that he’d been suffering.

He set his boots aside and lay down on his back on top of the furs, keeping his pants on and taking care not to touch her. Just an inch or two separated them, but the space felt impossibly wide to Scully.

Pillowing his head in his hands, he stared at the painted rock wall, eyes focused on the Serpent Holder.

“It looks alien, don’t you think?” he asked.

She had to admit it did. Two horns curled antennae-like out of the top of its head. Round, hollow objects that resembled spaceships floated near its shoulders. It had enormous, blank eyes, and no mouth or nose.

“Yes, it does.”

Her answer evidently surprised him because he twisted to look at her. The distance between them seemed to shrink a little.

He was right there, close enough to embrace if she let herself. She breathed him in -- musky, male, edgy. His scent aroused in her an almost crushing desire to take him into her body, give herself over to him while he filled her, spilled into her, bathed her with caresses and sighs. He hadn’t touched her in days, other than to comfort her earlier when she’d been gripped by pain, and now she longed to turn the clock back...before today, before Mulder’s nightmare a week ago, before their silent arguments. She wanted to go back to the night they’d slept together in the tribe’s skin hut, surrounded by the aroma of mint and the scent of their passion, when he had brought her to orgasm and then rode out his own. That night she had been free of all doubts. That night, for the first time in her life, the act of joining with another person had felt unequivocally right.

Mulder propped himself on one elbow and searched her face. “Scully, what was it like...your first time?”

There were moments, like this one, when he seemed able to see straight into her.

Or perhaps she’d tipped her hand, revealing her lust through body language, dilated pupils, a rush of pheromones.

“My first time? You mean--?”

“Sex. What was it like?” He leaned closer.

She recognized his invasive posture for what it was -- a technique he’d perfected over their years together. He was corralling her without making any actual physical contact. Early on, his crowding had irritated her, made her feel awkward and nervous; she’d interpreted it as aggressive, purposefully intimidating. Then when she figured out he wasn’t bullying her but was in fact trying to connect with her, get her to focus, dig deeper for her answers, she no longer objected to his looming. She grew to expect it...and even to appreciate it.

“What was it like?” she repeated, thinking back. “Predictably dismal, I guess.” Age eighteen. First year at college. Jimmy Pendleton, upper classman. A molecular biology major with grades so high he was already being recruited by Merck Frosst, Nanogen *and* the U.S. Department of Energy. “Well, not dismal, really, but not great either. A little painful.” And scary, disappointing, exciting, mysterious, over too soon but not soon enough. “You?”

He took a moment before answering, thoughtfully gnawing at the inside of his lower lip. Then a grin nudged his cheek and his eyes sparkled with the golden light of the fire. “It was...intense. Beautiful.” His tone made her curious, and a little jealous. “Don’t laugh, Scully, but I felt like crying when it was over. I desperately wanted to be back inside her. I guess I was afraid the opportunity wasn’t going to present itself again.”

“Did it present itself again? With her, I mean?” she blurted, not certain she wanted to know the details of his earliest sexual encounters.

He smiled, looking both shy and smug. “Yeah. It did. But...” His smile faded. “As sublime as it was, the act of separating always educed a feeling of unspeakable loss. It terrified me to think I might never experience that closeness again.”

His unexpected candor left her with additional questions. Was sex that way for him still -- a few blissful moments of human contact in an otherwise solitary existence? How alone did he feel?

He stared directly into her eyes, evidently trying to tell her something she wasn’t hearing, not about his past, but about the present, about her.

“Scully, what’s your greatest regret?”

Jesus, he was in a peculiar mood. He never talked this way. Neither of them did.

He moved his hand toward her, bumping the tips of her fingers with his. A light touch, seemingly accidental, but she’d learned a long time ago that nothing was unintentional with Mulder.

“Losing Emily,” she said without needing to think.

He frowned and shook his head. “Doesn’t count. You didn’t cause Emily’s death.”

That was debatable. Scully knew she wouldn’t have treated her daughter even if she’d known how, and that made Emily’s death a calculated choice in her book. “I could have done more for her.”

“No. Pick something else -- something for which you were wholly responsible. What would you most like to go back and undo if you could?”

Where was he going with these questions?

“I regret a lot of things,” she said, hedging. “The loss of my gun, for instance.”

His hand slid away from hers, breaking their hard-won contact. He said nothing.

“Mulder, I don’t know what you want to hear.”

“The truth, Scully. Only the truth.”

“I don’t have any life-altering regrets. I really don’t.”

“None?” He sounded incredulous. “You’ve never made a decision you wanted to reverse?”

“No, not really.” Her eyes searched the cave as if her wily regrets were hidden somewhere in its crevices.

She focused on the Serpent Holder, which glared back at her through its empty eyes. The way it gripped its twisted snake appeared threatening. Scully suddenly missed her apartment with its tidy rooms, everything in its place. She wanted to be there, not here, preparing for bed, soaking in her tub, sipping wine while reading the latest edition of the NEJM. The steam from her bath would smell like jasmine and the radio would be playing Bach.

The fire snapped, sending a flare of sparks toward the cave’s roof. Scully felt out of control here, vulnerable, and she hated the way her blood was pulsing too loudly in her ears.

“What about you, Mulder? What do you most regret?”

Sadness welled in his eyes. “Lots of things, but the one that tops my list happened years ago...”

“What was it?”

“I broke Samantha’s trust.”

Samantha’s trust? This wasn’t at all what Scully was expecting him to say. An image of Arbutus Ray returned to her, along with an inexplicable certainty that Mulder’s sister had died at age fourteen.

She tried to blink it away. “What happened?”

Mulder rolled onto his back and spoke to the shadows in the cave’s roof, his voice tight and subdued, as muted as wind in a bottle. “We were playing Hide and Seek. Her idea. I hadn’t really wanted to -- I felt much too mature to be playing games with my kid sister. But she pleaded and I relented. I hid first, in an obvious spot -- I wanted to hurry the game along. She quickly found me, just as I knew she would, and then it was her turn to hide. As soon as she was out of sight, I took off to spend the afternoon at a friend’s house. I figured Sam would wait a few minutes, get bored and give up the game. I should have known better.” He paused, grief glittering in his eyes. His lower lip trembled when he began to speak again. “When I came home for supper that night, Mom was livid. She told me she’d found Sam hiding in the garage behind the lawnmower, where she’d been waiting for more than three hours for me to find her. Three hours! When Sam learned I wasn’t even looking for her--” Again he stopped, tried to control the emotion in his voice. The fire crackled and hissed. “Sam cried herself to sleep...inconsolable. She gave me the silent treatment for days -- which I deserved. I tried everything to make it up to her. Let her use my telescope. Told her to punch me in the nose. Finally I won her over with a trip to the movies. But things weren’t the same and I felt like such a stupid--”

“Mulder, you were just a kid. It was a childish lapse of judgment. That’s all. You can’t blame yourself for that.”

“She was abducted three weeks later.”

Oh God. No wonder he refused to give up on her now.

//“Are you the same Arbutus Ray who worked as a nurse at the Dominic Savio Memorial Hospital in 1979?”//

Sam was dead. Scully felt it as surely as she felt her own heartbeat.

Mulder continued speaking. “After she went missing, I kept thinking...I *keep* thinking still, she’s out there somewhere, believing I’ve given up on her.”

“Mulder...” Scully reached for him and wrapped her arms around him. He slid into her embrace, silken-skinned and over-heated, his whiskers scouring her shoulder as his fingers pressed hard into her back.

His weight softened her, unknotted her muscles, and tempered her worries while thawing her resolve. She felt foolish for the times she kept him at arm’s length. None of her carefully considered reasons made sense right now.

It was impossible to keep her perspective when he caused such desire to blossom in her.

She snaked an arm between them, intending to end this conversation, put aside her doubts, and ignore their individual and collective heartaches, if only for the time being. But when she tried to unfasten his fly, he stopped her by loosely securing her wrist in the circle of his fingers.

He drew back to look into her eyes and she lost herself in his glistening pupils, bottomless wells of patience grown large with passion.

“Tell me what you want, Scully,” he murmured.

“I’d rather show you.” Again she tried for his zipper.

And again he stopped her, grasping her more firmly this time.

“Tell me...what you want.”

She wanted to make love, not conversation. “Mulder...not now.” Her voice escalated to a weak, desperate whimper.

“*Tell*...me,” he insisted. Clearly he wasn’t going to let her off the hook.

“I want a kiss.”

He nodded but didn’t move, so she leaned in and gently kissed him on the mouth. His lips felt warm and pliant beneath hers, but he didn’t deepen the kiss and he didn’t allow her access to his mouth when she tried to slide her tongue between his teeth.

Stymied, she retreated.

“What else?” he asked.

She took his hand and placed it on her breast.

He removed it. “Tell me.”

“Damn it, Mulder, what is this about?”

“I want you to talk to me.”

“Talking dirty turns you on?”

“I didn’t say that.”

What then? Did they really have to play this game? “I want you to put your hand on my breast.”

He returned his hand to her breast, gently cupped her, but didn’t stroke or squeeze her. Even so, the warm weight of his fingers caused her nipple to harden.

There was no way for him to miss the transformation, yet his hand remained motionless.

“Mulder, why are you acting this way?”

“If you don’t talk to me, Scully, I can’t know what you want.”

Ah, so that was it. As usual, Mulder was taking the long way to his point. This holding back, his questions about her first time and greatest regrets -- these were strategies intended to open her up. Like his looming. Well, she didn’t feel like having a heart-to-heart. She found introspection and revelation difficult in the best of times and this was definitely not the best of times. Right now she needed him to love her without explanations, without reason.

“Scully, you hold all the cards here.”

“Do I?” He was lying to himself if he believed that. The recent wedge of unease between them had begun with his nightmare, not hers. “Are you sure there isn’t something you need to say to me?”

His mouth opened and then closed. He gave a single nod, conceding her point without argument, and then met her halfway, his lips pressing into hers as fervently as hers pressed his. This time, he allowed her to explore his mouth with her tongue. This time he didn’t stop her when she reached between them to unfasten his pants. He leaned into her, onto her, pushed her camisole up, bared her right breast and clutched it in his left fist.

He gave her a single nod, conceding her point without argument, and then met her halfway, his lips pressing into hers as fervently as hers pressed his.

We are both in denial, she thought. We are co-conspirators dodging the truths in our hearts. There is no blame for it, beyond our cowardice and false hopes. You want to believe, Mulder, and so do I -- in a future that allows for your devotion and my love, a future in which neither of us must forfeit our happiness.

She unzipped his pants, burrowed into his boxers and grabbed hold of him, semi-erect and growing more rigid as his ardor overtook him. She liked the firmness of him in her palm, his heat, his smoothness; she curled her fingers around him, squeezed him, tugged him closer to the V of her legs.

He needed no coaxing, and scrambled on top of her, sliding his pants down past his hips as he settled between her spread thighs.

Only when he tried to enter her did he discover she was still wearing her panties.

“Shit,” he said, rising to his knees.

With his help, she wriggled out of her underwear. He tossed the silky, black garment aside and repositioned himself between her legs.

His erection, fully engorged now, pressed hard against her pubic bone. He kissed her neck, her lips, her brow. His hands traveled up her sides, over her shoulders. He plowed his fingers into her hair; plunged his tongue into her mouth. Oh, God, she loved the weight of him on her. And although she was only able to take in half-breaths, it was him, not air, that she craved. She wanted to inhale him, swallow him, draw him into her. She wanted to feel his pulse vibrate in her veins, invade her bones, renew her soul. She wanted him whole -- to make her whole.

“Mulder, I want--”

Her words stalled when he lifted his hips and pushed into her. She spread her knees wide to accommodate him.

When he filled her, she cried out.

“Shhh, it’s okay,” he breathed into her ear.

She shut her eyes against the sudden tide of emotion and tears his soft words inspired. She felt an extraordinary mix of want and satisfaction. Remarkable, perplexing.

He rocked against her, fitting his body more tightly into hers. The pressure both alleviated and increased her restless yearning. Her juices slicked her inner thighs with each of his thrusts, allowing him to glide smoothly, lovingly in and out of her.

Hugging him to her, she felt his heartbeat. Rapid. Earnest. It rattled her ribs. Set her own heart pounding.

She began to meet his thrusts with raised hips. Her timing encouraged him to pick up his pace and she liked the new rhythm. Relentless, forceful. He was breathing more rapidly now. Sweat glistened on his neck and chest, dripped from his chin onto her cheek. Each pounding down-stroke drove the air from her lungs.

She dug her nails into his back as she felt her orgasm approach. Heat radiated out from her center. Pressure blossomed in her abdomen, making her feel swollen, explosive. Tingly. Warm. Chest, arms, nipples, fingers, thighs...gone numb. Face flushed. She would come in four strokes, three, two--

When it hit, the world seemed to vanish. She heard nothing but a crash of blood in her ears. She felt nothing but the hammer of her heart. No breath, no voice, no strength, no memory or thought. Only now, only him. Mulder. Filling her, pushing her over an edge. Out of herself. Into bliss.

She floated in that place of euphoria, beyond sensation, swaddled in cottony nothingness. Safe. Sated.

And then she gasped, drawing air and reality back into her lungs. She felt Mulder’s solid weight on her, heard his labored breathing. Sensation returned to her fingers and toes. She gripped his back and whispered, “Now, Mulder. Come inside me.”

That was all it took. He pressed as far into her as he could go and roared with his pleasure. She embraced him as he emptied into her. The intimacy awed her, brought tears to her eyes.

He pressed as far into her as he could go and roared with his pleasure.

This was their most perfect moment.

Waiting for his muscles to relax, she lay unhurried and unmoving beneath him, allowing him time to catch his breath, return to reality, just as she had done moments ago. Although the press of him inside her was already diminishing, he remained where he was, spent but evidently unwilling to withdraw just yet.

She drew lazy circles on his back with her fingertips. His heart slowed. He sighed.

Then he heaved himself off her, slowly, as if reluctant to leave her. Before he could turn away, she glimpsed the look of fear and loss in his eyes.

“The opportunity will present itself again,” she promised.

“Will it, Scully? Are we going to be alright?”

Was there any way to know the future? “I’m not ready to give up. Are you?”

He shook his head, took her into his arms and hugged her fiercely. “You know me better than that.”

*   *   *

Klizzie woke to find Gini crawling into her bed. Dzeh had not yet returned from the Prayer Lodge where he and the other men were planning the Mastodon ceremonies, smoking their pipes and drinking wo-chi. It was possible they would spend the entire night there.

Tonight Klizzie and Gini were staying at the hearth of her Aunt Ho-Ya. Soft snores came from the skins of her cousin’s sleeping sons, worn out from their afternoon games. A fire burned low in the center of the hut and eight beds surrounded it, filled with the sons, some uncles and aunts, a cousin or two. Ho-Ya slept by herself, an arm’s length from Klizzie. Her mate was at the Prayer Lodge, too.

Klizzie made room for Gini, who snuggled beneath the furs.

“What are you doing in my bed, Little Chick?”

“I cannot sleep.”

“What keeps you awake?” Klizzie pulled the furs over the girl’s shoulders and tucked her in.

“My stomach hurts.”

“Still? Did you not drink the tea the Shaman gave you?”

“Yes. But there are bees buzzing in me.” Gini buried her face against Klizzie’s shoulder.

Klizzie stroked her hair. “What is causing these bees to buzz?”

Gini shrugged.

Evidently, she needed some coaxing. Kissing the top of the girl’s head, Klizzie whispered into her hair, “Usually bees buzz in my stomach when I am afraid.”

“What makes you afraid?”

“Oh, the usual things. Saber-toothed cats. Winters without food. Being left alone while Dzeh travels to faraway clans for supplies.” This had happened last winter when Owl Clan had run dangerously low on meat. Dzeh and two cousins set out for Bear Clan. They were gone many days and returned frostbitten and tired, but with enough dried meat, mastodon fat and pine nuts to last until the spring migrations. “What is frightening you?”

Gini clutched Klizzie around the waist and hugged her tightly. “Do I...must I be mated?”

Ahh, so that was it. Gini was not so grownup after all.

“No, but I told you how pleasant it is. And you know how hard life can be for a woman without a mate.”

“I know.”

“But...?”

“I am scared.”

Klizzie pulled back to look Gini in the eyes. The light from the fire showed the girl’s face was swollen from crying and dried tears had left tracks on her cheeks. “Tell me what scares you.”

Gini frowned. Her eyes became more serious. “Jeha told me babies come from men. That they crawl through his be-zonz when he mates. Is that true?”

Klizzie could not stop her smile. “Yes, that is true.”

“Then why do you pray to the Spirits for a baby?”

“Because the Spirits control all things. Even the crawling of small babies from men into women.”

“These babies must be very, very small, right?” Worry peaked Gini’s soft brows, which curved so exactly like Dzeh’s.

Klizzie loved this young sister of her mate. She hugged the girl and said, “Yes, they are very, very small.”

“And they do not hurt when they are put in you?”

“No, they do not hurt.”

“Then why...?” Gini blushed as pink as a stalk of fireweed.

“Why what?”

The girl lowered her voice to a whisper. “Why do women sometimes cry out when they lay with their mates?”

Klizzie smiled again and pinched Gini’s blushing cheek. “It is not a cry of pain. It is a cry of passion.”

Now Gini blushed even more. Her cheeks looked like two plump strawberries.

“Do you have more questions?” Klizzie asked.

Gini shook her head, then nodded.

“Is that a no or a yes?”

“A yes.” Gini burrowed into Klizzie’s embrace, hiding her face beneath the furs. When she spoke, her voice was muffled by the skins. “Does a man’s be-zonz grow as big as a stallion’s when he mates?”

This made Klizzie laugh out loud. “No, my Chick, not that big. It is no wonder you have had bees buzzing in your stomach if you are thinking such a thing. Rest assured, a man grows only big enough to fill a woman and no more. You have no reason to fear this.”

“Klizzie, can we go home? I do not like it here.”

“I thought you were looking forward to the Mastodon Feast and the games and music and dancing.”

“I am. But...can I sleep in your bed with you tonight?”

“You are welcome to stay in my bed, at least until Dzeh returns. Then you will have to be a big girl and return to your own bed. Agreed?”

“Agreed.” Gini kissed Klizzie on the cheek. “I love you, Klizzie.”

“I love you, too, Little Chick. Now go to sleep. We have much to do tomorrow.”

*   *   *

Mulder sat at the mouth of the cave, elbows propped on his knees, eyes aimed at the stars. It was a little after midnight and the sky was velvety black and cloudless. The Milky Way flowed overhead like a river of cut diamonds. The tilted moon inched closer to the western horizon and from somewhere in the valley below, a wolf howled. The sound raised goosebumps on his bare arms. Rubbing them away with his palms, he scanned the heavens for communication satellites and, finding none, wondered how he and Scully were ever going to get back home. When a meteorite suddenly plummeted earthward, he followed its fiery trail until it fizzled and vanished. Would wishing on a falling star help?

Mulder sat at the mouth of the cave, elbows propped on his knees, eyes aimed at the stars.

God, he felt restless. Instead of alleviating his insomnia, making love with Scully had had the exact opposite effect, leaving him wide awake and apprehensive. They shouldn’t have done it, not without checking for her chip first. But in the heat of the moment he hadn’t thought. Foolish. If he got her pregnant--

“Mulder?” Scully’s voice came from behind him.

He glanced over his shoulder to look up at her. She hugged one of the sleeping skins around her naked shoulders. Concern creased her brow.

“Sorry, did I wake you?” he asked.

She sat down beside him. “No. I thought I heard wolves.”

He nodded. They listened to the crickets whine for a few minutes. The air smelled like pine and woodsmoke, reminding Mulder of Memorial Day weekends at Quonochontaug when the foggy ocean breeze would blow in across the bay through the evergreens, making it chilly enough to light a fire in the fireplace. Sam would beg for s’mores and his mom indulged them, as long as he helped his sister toast the marshmallows.

Mulder’s eyes returned to the stars.

“They’re ancient, you know. The stars, I mean. Their light is billions of years old by the time we see it.”

Scully shivered. Wrapping the fur more tightly around her shoulders, she asked, “What made you say that?”

“I don’t know. Just thinking about time travel, I guess. Why?”

She bit her lip, shook her head.

“What’s wrong?” His gut clenched at the thought of her earlier seizure.

“You said something very similar in my...vision.”

So she was calling it a vision now, not a “perceptual disturbance.” And the details evidently weren’t as vague as she’d led him to believe.

“Did I?”

“Mmm.” She busied herself readjusting the blanket. “I’ve been thinking about your Flux Space theory.”

“What about it?”

“Suppose...” She stopped, cleared her throat, stared straight into the black night. “Suppose time isn’t two-dimensional, the way you described it, but is...three-dimensional.”

3-D? Like space? Where was she going with this? “Based on...?”

“It fits the current evidence.”

He wasn’t sure what evidence she was referring to, but guessed it had something to do with her “visions.”

“You’re saying time doesn’t exist linearly?”

“I’m suggesting it might extend in more than two directions.”

Forward, backward and... “Go on.”

“Imagine time not as a line but as a sphere on which we can move forward, backward, sideways, in a line, an arch, a loop.”

He pictured two ants crawling across a baseball, their paths meandering, occasionally intersecting. Then he pictured the baseball as a bowling ball with its three holes. One of his imaginary ants teetered on the edge of a hole and fell in. “Hm. It might be even more complicated than that.”

“Right. We may be able to travel into the sphere, maybe pass all the way through it.”

He nodded, thinking of the unfortunate ant.

“Mulder, it gets worse.”

One ant is inside the ball, while the other is still crawling on the surface. “You and I aren’t necessarily in the same time at the same place, so to speak.”

“Exactly. If time is three-dimensional and we’re moving around on and through it independently of one another, you might wake up tomorrow as a teenager, while I might be an old woman.”

Jesus, no wonder she looked so worried. “Does this theory of yours have anything to do with the...uh...visions you had earlier?”

She took a deep breath. “In part. I saw some things that felt very real, although I know they haven’t happened...yet.”

“What things?”

“I was shot in the stomach.”

This startled him. “By who?”

“Another FBI agent, as far as I could tell. I didn’t recognize the man or the location.”

“Couldn’t it have just been a very, very realistic dream?”

“That sounds like something I would argue.” She gave him a rueful smile. “There were other things, too, things that jibe with our experience here. I saw myself having my tattoo removed.”

“You think that explains why it’s fading now?”

“It might.”

Was she moving forward into her future while he traveled backward into his past? 

Then it struck him. If her future included events in the 20th Century that hadn’t occurred yet, that must mean they make it back to their own time. And it was possible her visions held clues to their eventual return.

“Scully, who is Arbutus Ray?”

“Mulder...”

“Who is she?”

Scully looked directly at him and frowned. “A woman who worked as a nurse at the Dominic Savio Memorial Hospital in 1979.”

“And...?”

“She claimed your sister died there.”

Her words felt like a slap and he recoiled from them as if he’d actually been hit. “In ’79? That’s impossible. Sam would have been only fourteen years old. We’ve seen her as an adult.” She couldn’t be dead. She couldn’t be.

“We’ve seen her clone. And clones can be engineered years after someone’s death.”

“No. I can’t-- Did you see her body? In your vision, did you actually see Sam dead?”

“No, I just felt it was true.”

“Felt it...?” Scully had never believed in premonitions before. Why now? “I-I can’t accept that, Scully. You...you had a dream, a hallucination, not a prophecy.”

“Mulder, we both know what’s possible, what can be done when men are given the necessary science and lack of conscience. My cancer, Emily’s conception. Is it so farfetched to imagine Sam’s fate is part of the same agenda?”

He’d thought exactly that for quite some time, but never imagined Sam as dead. It hollowed him to think she might have died years ago, that he would never see her again, that he’d never be able to make up for--

He rose and stalked into the cave, only to walk right back out again when the air seemed too stuffy and the fire too hot. Scoured by doubt, his skin crawled with annoyance. He wanted to throw or kick something, to scream at the stars at the top of his lungs.

Scully remained where she was, unmoving, waiting out his disbelief.

“You have no proof,” he argued, his voice thick with dread. Jesus, was it possible he’d spent his entire adult life chasing a ghost?

“I’ve said those words to you more times than I can count, Mulder, but I’m saying to you now that I believe what I saw was true. I believe it was our future.”

He crouched beside her and tried his best to reign in his temper. It was because her words were so uncharacteristic that he knew he had to listen to them. If she was leaning toward a paranormal explanation for her experience, she must have satisfied her own heavy-handed skepticism with a convincing reason.

“Earlier today you dismissed these visions of yours. What changed your mind? What makes you so sure now?” he asked.

“This.” She opened the animal skin that blanketed her shoulders, exposing her bare stomach. There above her navel was the unmistakable scar of a recent gunshot wound. “I found it a few minutes ago.”

 


Continued in Chapter Ten

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

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