The Mountain Man by aka "Jake"

Chapter 15

According to leading medical experts, hysteria was a disease suffered by women of an excitable disposition, not by men, who were generally considered to be more practical and levelheaded. Dana prided herself on being as practical and levelheaded as anyone, male or female, yet last night she had given herself to a man who was not her husband. A man who was her opposite in most, if not all, ways. Who ignored convention and lived life on his own terms. He made enemies of good men, and friends of questionable ones. He believed in Calling Stones, wolf-men, blood clots that turned into babies, and supernatural beings called wakens. Yet despite all this, she had bedded him without a moment’s hesitation. And felt no remorse for her recklessness! Was this not proof she suffered from a mental defect?

Her mother would think so.

Her mother... Dana cringed at the thought of Maggie’s outrage should she learn of this irresponsible liaison. She would wring her hands, rant about God and sin, weep over her baby girl’s lost virginity. Then she would insist Dana marry the man who had despoiled her. The man Cap reviled as a traitor.

And her father? Would he disown her? Wipe her from the slate of his life as if she had never existed? Worse yet, would he seek revenge and hang Mr. Mulder for reasons more personal than treason?

Dawn seeped through the cabin’s dusty windows, illuminating all but the darkest corners. Dana lay on her side in the narrow bed, facing the hearth. The coals had turned gray hours ago. A spider hung from the mantle on a thread painted silver by the morning light.

Mr. Mulder slept at her back, his body spooned to hers, an arm slung warmly around her waist. A weighty buffalo robe covered them both. He snored softly into her hair.

She should feel regret and shame for what they had done, but suffered neither. Their lovemaking had been nothing short of every sense of the word. It was with both joy and gratitude she recalled his rapt expression, her voracious hunger, the grappling and discovery, force and surrender.

And her blissful, blissful release.

Her sex still throbbed from the battering it endured, but, oh, what a delightful mistreatment it had been! The clinical descriptions of coitus and the precisely labeled illustrations of reproductive organs in her medical texts had not prepared her for the act itself. No written word, no black-and-white drawings could capture the intensity and fervor, the delight. Taking a man into her body, being taken by him -- it generated a feeling of freedom, deep contentment, and a wholeness she had not expected or experienced before.

After their union, Mr. Mulder had treated her with the utmost tenderness, cradling her in his arms until her heart ceased its galloping and he grew soft inside her.

She gasped when he withdrew from her body. Friction on raw flesh, the extraction smarted. Her insides smoldered. The bones in her legs seemed to have turned to jelly.

“Are you all right?” he asked, his voice husky with concern as he eased her feet to the floor.

Words failed her. Their separation now felt as foreign as their joining had seemed just minutes ago. Swallowing past a flood of emotion, she simply nodded.

He misread her inability to speak. “I’ve hurt you.”

“No.” But when she tried to take a step, pain speared her womb. “Maybe a little.”

He looked stricken.

“Only a little,” she assured, wanting to erase his unease.

He pressed his forehead to hers. “You’re sure?”

“Yes, but I think...” A hot, sticky concoction of blood and semen oozed out of her, slicking her inner thighs. “I need to clean up.”

“Oh.” Were his cheeks pink from exertion or was he blushing? If the latter, what was the cause? Guilt? Manly pride? His eyes held no shame, that much was evident. They shone with appreciation, almost reverence. He hastily adjusted his trousers. “Come with me.”

He took her hand and guided her across the room, past the bed, to the corner that served as a kitchen, where he handed her a cool, wet cloth to sponge her thighs and soothe the fire between her legs. He provided her with a shirt to sleep in and politely turned his back while she hastily changed out of her clothes. Oversized for her small frame, the shirt hung to her knees. He rolled up the sleeves, exposing her hands, then kissed each fingertip before leading her to the bed, where they slept, made love again, and slept some more.

Relishing the memory, she rolled over to face him.

He stirred. Opened his eyes. The gleam of reverence was still there.

“Everything all right?” He smiled softly as he stroked her back with the palm of his hand.

“More than all right.” She felt unimaginably happy. “And you?”

“Me? I’m...great!”

“No regrets?”

His smile withered, making her wish she had not asked the question. She did not want him to analyze what they had done if doing so would lead him to doubts or disappointment.

“D-do you have regrets?” he asked tentatively, turning the question back on her.

Did she? There had been no admission of undying love from either of them last night. No talk of marriage. Unlike every other man in her life, save Charlie, Mr. Mulder had placed no demands on her whatsoever, for which she had been grateful.

But what now? What was she to him? And he to her? Their coming together had been unexpected. It began without deliberation or plan. There had been no time to weigh her motives. Or his.

“No regrets,” she declared and nestled her cheek against his bare chest. “Except...”


“I fear I’ve made things worse for you with my father.”

A humorless laugh barked from his throat. “Impossible. Your father has disliked me for a very long time.”

“You supply guns to the enemy.” She tried not to sound accusatory.

“Whose enemy?” he challenged.

“Ours. Well, not yours. The Army’s. The United States government.”

“Manifest destiny,” he chuffed, his distaste obvious. “Indians are blocking the country’s progress, so kill them off, is that it?”

“The Indians attack and kill settlers. My father is here to protect them,” she argued in Cap’s defense.

“No, he’s protecting the government’s interests, at the Indians’ expense. Innocent women and children are no threat to the Army, yet they are murdered every day. Ask yourself why.”

“They are casualties of war.” She parroted her father’s excuse, although she suspected it was not as simple as that.

“They’re killed because they wear feathers in their hair and pray to Haokah or White Buffalo Woman instead of a Christian god. And that frightens a lot of people, your father included.” The bitterness in his voice contradicted the gentle way he caressed her back and buttocks. “He doesn’t just turn a blind eye to these murders -- and they are murders -- he leads the campaign. What he’s doing is wrong.”

“It’s not just him.”

“Yes, and that’s the problem.”

“Is what you do -- helping Indians kill whites -- so very different?”

“The deaths of professional soldiers can hardly be compared to those of innocent women and children.” His heart thudded beneath her ear. “The Army started this war and will continue it until the boundaries of government extend from coast to coast and every Indian is either driven from their land or dead. I won’t sit idly by and watch it happen. I can’t.”

“You’re only one man.”

“So was David when he faced Goliath.”

She clung to him, admiring his courage and determination, even if she did not understand his motives. He was trying to make a difference, a desire she did understand, all too well. She had intended to do very much the same, before she had let her father dissuade her. “Helping the Indians -- is that what brought you out here?”

“No, it was...something else.”

“Tell me,” she urged, wanting to know more about this driven, compassionate man. Her lover.

He hesitated, as if gauging whether or not he could trust her. When he finally spoke, his words were soft, his expression sad. “I came looking for my sister.”

Samantha, the pigtailed girl in the tintype on the mantle. He had mentioned not knowing where she was. Dana assumed they were estranged, that his desire to live life on his own terms had cost him his family as well as his military career. Clearly there was much about him she had yet to learn.

“What happened to her?” She propped herself on one elbow to get a better look at his face.

“She went missing. I was twelve when it happened. She was eight.”

“She ran away?”

“I believe she was taken.”

“By who?”

“I ask myself that question every day.” He stared up at the ceiling's log rafters as if he might find an answer carved in the cobwebbed beams. “It tore my family apart. No one would talk about it. There were no facts to confirm, nothing to offer any hope.”

“Do you think you’ll find her? After all this time?”

“I don’t know. For years I thought I could bring her back with a silly ritual. I’d close my eyes before walking into my bedroom because I thought...I hoped...that when I opened them, she would be there, sitting on the floor playing with my tin soldiers, as if nothing had ever happened.” He squeezed his eyes shut now, seemingly wishing his sister back into existence once again. “I can’t stop looking for her. It’s my fault she’s gone.”

“Your fault? How can that be?”

“I was with her the night she disappeared. I was supposed to be watching over her, keeping her safe.”

No wonder he wanted so desperately to believe in fate. The existence of a power that predetermined the course of events would absolve him of the responsibility for his sister’s disappearance, and maybe return her to him.

But there was another more obvious, less metaphysical reason he should not feel guilty.

“You were just a boy.”

He shook his head and opened troubled eyes. “Three years later I was a soldier.”

“At fifteen?”

“I lied about my age. At the time, running off to fight the Mexicans seemed preferable to living another miserable year with my mother’s grief or my father’s censure.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be.” He trailed a finger down her arm. “If I hadn’t left and eventually moved here, I might never have met you.”

She nodded. It was almost enough to make her believe in fate, too.

“I’m at a loss as to what to call you now,” she said, glancing shyly at his bare, muscled chest. He wore nothing at all beneath the buffalo robe. “‘Mr. Mulder’ seems too formal, given the circumstances. Should I use your Christian name?”

He winced at the suggestion. “God, no. Please don’t.”

Why? she wondered. Did it remind him too much of his cruel nickname, Crazy Fox?

“Call me Mulder.” He squeezed her arm. “Just...Mulder.”

“And do you plan to call me ‘Scully’?” she joked.

“Why not?” He sat up, taking her with him. Kissing her ear, he whispered the name, trying it out. “Scully.”

Coming from him, it sounded almost like an endearment.

“Say it again,” she breathed.

“Scully.” He nudged her nose with his own.


“Scully.” He purred against her cheek.


“Scully.” His mouth covered hers.

The kiss was soft, but insistent. A contradiction, like him. His hand searched out the vee of her legs.

“Honor me again, Scully,” he murmured.

“Your stamina is impressive, sir.” She melted into his embrace and let him ease her back on the bed. Anticipation shimmered through her veins, like sunlight in water, as he moved over her. She parted her knees, inviting the weight of his hips.

A loud knock at the door startled them both.

“Son of a--” Mulder rolled off her. “You expecting someone, Scully?”

A man shouted from outside, “Dana, are you in there?”

“It’s Charlie.” She sat up.

Mulder rose and pulled on his trousers. The bandage on his calf, then the puckered wound on his thigh disappeared beneath dark wool. Leaving his fly half unbuttoned, he limped across the room and opened the door.

“I--” Charlie took in Mulder’s bare chest and open trousers. “I’m looking for my sister.”

Mulder waved him inside.

Charlie’s mouth gaped when he saw Dana sitting on the bed, wearing nothing but Mulder’s borrowed shirt. His expression left no doubt he understood the situation perfectly. To his credit, he managed to quickly rein in his astonishment and regain his composure. Charlie never had been one to judge. Given his own trespasses, he tended to leave the casting of stones to others.

“There’s been an Indian attack,” he said. “You’re needed at the infirmary.”

She abandoned the bed and began to collect her castoff clothing. Charlie politely turned his back.

“How many are hurt?” she asked.

Skirt, shirtwaist, shoes. Where was her corset and bloomers? She plucked her garters and one balled stocking from the hearth. Spotted its mate next to the bed.

“I’m not sure. A dozen or more. At least as many dead.”

“Was Walter hurt?” She hugged her clothes to her chest.

“I don’t know. They were just beginning to arrive when Father sent me to find you.”

She turned to Mulder. “Will you be all right here on your own?”

“I’ll be fine.”

She crossed to him, regret crushing her heart. “I’m sorry.”

He grazed her cheek with a light kiss. “We’ll wait outside while you dress.”

*     *     *

Skinner shivered, chilled to the bone by the atrocity before him.

Charred circles marked where tipis once stood. Smoke rose like ghosts through the misty dawn. From the wooded bluff to Miin Creek and beyond, corpses littered the blood-soaked earth, their faces frozen in rigid agony.

More than a thousand Cree warriors had swarmed the village at sunset last night, their attack taking both the Blackfoot and cavalry by surprise. High-pitched war cries sent women and children scurrying for their lives. Blackfoot braves took up knives and bows against their long-time foes. Skinner shouted orders to his men, organizing them into a defensive position along the banks of the creek. He sent a messenger back to the fort for reinforcements. Without cannon and additional troops, defeat was almost assured.

The ensuing battle was both hard-fought and brutal. War clubs crushed men’s skulls like eggshells. Knives gouged eyes and steel-bladed tomahawks severed hands. Lances pinned men to the ground, where they continued to wriggle helplessly while bleeding out.

The soldiers had the advantage of pistols and rifles, but the Cree outnumbered them sixteen to one. On horseback, they overran the soldiers, screeching with triumph whenever a uniformed man fell. Some took the time to dismount and scalp their victims. They stuck the grisly human pelts onto their spears and held them aloft like victory flags. Each mutilation took less than half a minute.

Skinner was thrown from his saddle when an arrow struck his horse, causing it to rear and buck. He hit the ground hard, but managed to hang onto his rifle. He aimed it at the brave who bore down on him -- a fierce warrior, face painted half black, half red, hair greased and spiked to stand on end like porcupine quills. The warrior nocked another arrow to his bow. Drew back.

Skinner blasted him from his horse.

The dwindling number of soldiers held their ground until Bill Scully finally arrived with the field artillery. The Cree retreated at the sight of fresh soldiers and mounted Napoleon cannons. But by then, the Blackfoot village lay in ruins.

Throughout the long night, Skinner and Bill Scully canvassed the battleground with lanterns, counting bodies, overseeing the transportation of injured soldiers back to Culbertson. The number of casualties was high. Eighteen U.S. soldiers wounded. Twenty-one dead.

The Blackfoot had fared even worse. More than one hundred men, women, and children lost their lives, including Chief Kicking Horse. The others had scattered to the four winds.

Captain Scully arrived at dawn to inspect the carnage and listen to Skinner’s report. He seemed suitably humbled by the Army’s losses, yet did not fault Skinner’s strategy.

He crossed the battleground to stand beside a long row of dead soldiers, laid out on their backs by the creek, awaiting transportation to Culbertson. Skinner followed him, bile sliding up his throat at the sight of all the mutilated bodies. Flies buzzed and crawled over the mangled flesh, feeding on the congealing blood.

With an angry swipe of his hat, Skinner shooed a cloud of insects away from the nearest corpse -- Lewis Strum, the remorseful private who had saddled Dana’s horse the day of her accident. A pipe tomahawk protruded from his chest. Bells and fringe adorned the haft, which was polished smooth, inlaid with colorful stones, and decorated with rawhide. The soldier’s scalp was missing; the exposed bone of his skull shone pinkish-gray in the early light.

Captain Scully spat into the dust. “Must they do that?”

“They believe scalping the dead will prevent their ghosts from returning to seek revenge.”

“Another of their ridiculous, heathen notions.”

“It makes sense to them. Sir.”

The captain scowled. “Take care, Lieutenant. You’re beginning to sound like Fox Mulder. I hope you're not turning into a sympathizer.”

“No, sir,” he lied.

“Good.” Captain Scully surveyed the camp through satisfied eyes. “Be sure to commend your men on their victory, Lieutenant.”

Victory? Skinner nearly choked. There had been no victory here.

Only varying degrees of loss.

In the past he had believed he could best help the Indians by supplying intelligence and weapons through an intermediary -- through Mulder -- from his own position within the military. But playing both sides had made him loyal to neither and resulted in more harm than good. The proof lay all around him.

Mulder was right to quit long ago. His choice showed integrity. A quality that seemed to elude Skinner.

Digging into his pocket, he withdrew the Jefferson peace medal he had taken from Mulder’s saddlebag. He tossed it onto the ground at Strum’s feet. “Commend them yourself, sir. I’m resigning my commission. You’ll have my paperwork by the end of the day.”

Captain Scully blinked in surprise. “You can’t mean it. I won’t allow it,” he sputtered. “How will you support my daughter?”

How indeed?

Skinner shook his head and, without another word, walked away.

He expected Captain Scully to order him back, but the captain remained uncharacteristically silent. Skinner breathed deeply. His stride grew longer. He drew his sword and hurled it into Miin Creek. His hat followed.

A brisk wind billowed out of the east, carrying off the stench of death and replacing it with the fresh scent of prairie grass. Birds trilled in the pines atop the bluff. Skinner felt like a free man for the first time in decades.

*     *     *

Time –- a surgeon’s worst enemy. It seemed to simultaneously race and stand still in the operating room. An interesting phenomenon, Dana thought as she prepared for her next patient. She tucked the observation away, intending to bring it up to Mulder later, and selected a saw from the array of instruments. Another amputation. Leg this time, crushed beyond repair beneath a horse’s hooves. She placed the saw in a basin of water and spirits to clean it.

“What’s your name, Private?” she asked the pale young man on the table.

“Pruitt, miss.” His words were slurred by two shots of anesthetizing whiskey. “Thomas Pruitt. Am I gonna die?”

“Not if I can help it.”

She double-checked his tourniquet, the pad of which she had applied two-thirds of the way down his thigh, where the femoral artery perforated the tendon of the triceps muscle. Satisfied with both its position and pressure, she took up a scalpel.

“Hold him firmly,” she ordered her two assistants, wishing they had not run out of chloroform several patients earlier.

Carter and Spellman, faces pinched with dread, pinned Mr. Pruitt to the table, one at his head, one at the injured limb. The good leg was fastened to the table with a sturdy, leather strap.

Out in the ward, a soldier screamed. Dana glanced through the open door and caught a glimpse of Beckett removing a spear from the young man's belly.

The human body was a fragile thing compared to the crush of war clubs, the slash of knives. Dana was well acquainted with its various vulnerabilities, yet she had also witnessed its amazing restorative powers. Earlier, the sight of an arrow jutting from the eye socket of a still-lucid private threatened to buckle her knees, but she had saved his life. For now.

She sliced into Mr. Pruitt’s skin four inches below the patella and, in one deft stroke, cut all the way around the injured limb. Ignoring the patient’s frantic jerking and gurgling cries, she peeled the skin upward toward the thigh, then traded her scalpel for a long, narrow, double-edged catling, which she used to cut through the muscles. The calf she left attached, to be used later to cover the stump. She worked swiftly, but carefully, dividing the fasciculus. She protected the soft tissues with a linen retractor made of three tails, one of which she drew through the space between the tibia and fibula. She tied off the three principal arteries -- the anterior and posterior tibial and the peroneal -- with ligatures.

“Hold him still,” she urged Carter, “but not so forcefully as to risk splintering the bone.”

“Yes, miss.”

Trading knife for saw, she hacked through the lower leg bones.

The patient passed out and the room grew silent, save for the panting breaths of her assistants.

Bones severed and largest vessels tied off, she slackened the tourniquet to check for hemorrhage. There was none, so she sponged the entire surface with water, then repositioned muscle and skin over the stump. She quickly stitched the wound closed.

The entire operation had taken only minutes. Dressing the stump with adhesive plaster took only slightly longer.

“Please carry Mr. Pruitt to the ward,” she said, when she had finished binding the wound.

Spellman and Carter’s gore-spattered boots skidded and slipped on the bloody floor as they trundled the amputee out of the room.

“Next patient!” she shouted to the stretcher bearers in the ward. She tossed her instruments into a basin and removed the severed limb to a bucket in the room’s corner.

“This is the last,” said Corporal Beckett, as he and another soldier hoisted the final patient onto the operating table.

She looked up from wiping blood off her hands to find Sergeant Phillips laid out on the table. He bristled with broken arrows. She counted twelve, two lodged in his gut, bringing to mind Corporal Beckett’s dire warnings about abdominal wounds. Mortality was practically guaranteed, he had said. But as bad as these injuries were, it was the mutilation to his scalp that brought tears to her eyes. Phillips’ lightly fuzzed head had been sliced at the hairline from brow to ear, the flap stripped back to expose his bone-white skull. Mud and grass caked the ghastly wound.

“It don’t hurt so bad, Doc.” Phillips grunted the words.

“Damn it, why didn’t you bring him in earlier?” she growled at Beckett.

“Not his fault,” Phillips insisted through gritted teeth, before Beckett could answer. Blood oozed from the corners of his mouth. “I tol’ him not to. I’m gonna die anyways, Doc. Might’s well take them other fellers ahead of me. They got a fightin' chance.”

“So do you, Sergeant. I didn’t cure you of mumps to let you die now.”

A wet cough wracked the sergeant.

“You’re going to live,” she insisted. “Do you hear me?”

Phillips moaned. His eyes closed and he lost consciousness.

She reached for a clean scalpel. “Assist me, Corporal Beckett. We’ll start at the abdomen.”

*     *     *

Hours later, Dana sat at her desk documenting her patients’ progress in the record book. Her neat script blurred as she tried to stay awake. She blinked. Yawned. Closing her eyes, she promised herself, “only a few minutes.”

“Hey, Sis.”

Charlie’s voice and the pleasant aroma of hot tea roused her from dreams of dying men and Mulder’s tight embrace.

The light in the room had changed. Morning had become late afternoon. She shifted, stretched her stiffened muscles, popped the bones of her neck. “Hi.”

“Tea?” He set down a cup in front of her, then took a flask from the breast pocket of his plaid suit coat and took a swig. “How are you holding up?”

She reached out a hand for the flask.

“That well?” He laughed and passed her the whiskey.

It burned her throat when she took a swallow. “Good stuff,” she gasped, then added a splash to her teacup before handing back the flask.

Laughing again, Charlie made himself at home on the corner of her desk. “I heard you saved them all, Dana. Even Sergeant Phillips. Congratulations.”

“Hold your congratulations. They aren’t out of danger yet.” She sipped her whiskey-laced tea. It was true that Phillips and the others had survived their surgeries, but they were far from being recovered. It was unlikely they would all escape infection. Especially Phillips. His chance of survival was precarious at best.

“Have you seen Father since the battle?” Charlie asked.

“He came in early this morning to check on the men.”

“He must be proud of your success.”

“He didn’t say. But he did let me know Walter's all right. I’d been worried about him. When he didn’t show up with the others, I thought... Well, it turns out he’s fine, thank God.”

“I heard he resigned his commission.”

“Walter? I don’t believe it.”

“It’s true. Bill told me last night when I ran into him at the saloon.”

“Bill was at the saloon?”

“You should’ve seen him, Dana. Drunker than a boiled owl, with two buxom dance girls on his lap.”

“Saint Bill, our older brother?”

“One and the same.” Charlie grinned and offered her another drink from the flask.

She waved him off. “Does father know?”

“If he does, he didn’t hear it from me. Bill threatened to bash in my head if I told anyone.”

Tucking away his flask, Charlie rose from the desk and crossed the room to examine the texts on the bookcase. He pulled Samuel Cooper’s “The Practice of Surgery” from the shelf.

Dana fingered her teacup. “Does Father know you found me at Mulder’s cabin?”

“I didn’t tell him anything.” Charlie paged absently through the book.

“Do you plan to?”

“Of course not. You’re a grown woman, Dana. You can do whatever you please.”

“Can I?”

“Yes. Obviously.” His tone carried no judgment. “Will you marry him?”

“Mulder? He hasn’t asked me.”

“But he will.”

“There’s no reason to think so.”

“But he--” Charlie stopped himself. He had not lectured her even once during the long ride from Nine Pipe Ridge to Culbertson, for which she had been thankful. He had not uttered one condescending word, not asked a single probing question.

“Our affair was my choice, Charlie.”

“Maybe so, but I imagine he didn’t object to the idea. When a man takes liberties--”

“You’re a fine one to talk. Do you propose to every woman you bed?”

“I might, if the law permitted me to marry more than one.” He smiled and winked. When she raised a brow, he grew serious again. “I’m no saint, Dana. I know that.”

“Perhaps Mr. Mulder is no saint either.”

“Perhaps not. But...”


Concern furrowed his brow. “Suppose there’s a child.”

“I’ve...considered the possibility.”


“And, I have no idea.” It was the truth. “I don’t know what I’ll do, Charlie. I really don’t.”

“Do you love him?”

“Does it matter, if he doesn’t love me?”

“Is that the case? For a fact?”

“He didn’t say one way or the other.”

“Well, you should find out. You can’t raise a child on your own.”

“I may have no choice.”

“Dana...a child without a father will be labeled a bastard.” He slammed the book shut and shoved it back into its place on the shelf. “You’ll be called worse.”

“I don’t know that I’m pregnant.”

“Then accept Skinner’s proposal while you still can.”

“I was intimate with another man, Charlie!”

“Does Skinner have to know?”

“Of course. I won’t lie to him.”

“No, I don’t suppose you would.” Charlie returned to her desk. He snagged her hand and drew her out of her chair. “Skinner loves you, Dana. It’s as clear as crystal. He’d marry you in a heartbeat, pregnant or not.”

Would he? She felt the tug of a normal life.

The pursuit of personal freedom had cost her more than she had ever imagined. Her refusal to bow to her father’s demands and society’s expectations had alienated her from both her parents. Was independence worth such a high price? Was it not time she shed her rebellious persona, leave it behind the way a snake leaves its skin in the rocks and weeds? Marrying Walter could mend the rift between her and Cap. And make her respectable in the eyes of society, too.

“You really think I should accept his proposal?”

“I think,” -- Charlie pulled the flask from his coat again -- “you should listen to your heart, Dana. Decide what you want, regardless of whether it’ll disappoint Mother or Father, Skinner or Mulder. Choose the course that suits you.”

She had told Mulder she believed in free will, in setting her own course. This would be the time to prove it.

“To hell with propriety?” she asked, repeating the words she had uttered to Charlie seemingly ages ago aboard the Dauntless.

“Hear, hear!” He grinned and saluted her with the flask. “To hell with propriety!”

She rose on tiptoe and kissed his cheek. “Thank you, sweet brother.”

Finally, she knew with certainty what she must do.

Continued in the Epilogue