Someone else was sitting with Scully.
Samantha stepped carefully through the open door of the hospital room, pausing for a moment to study the woman who sat poised in the plastic bucket seat by the bed. She was leaning forwards, her chin resting on her interlocked hands. Under the fluorescent lights of the windowless room and against the flat green of the walls, her hair was an unnatural coppery color, a perfect echo of the woman who lay motionless in the bed.
So close together, their faces were pale--one with grief, the other with death only narrowly forestalled. Death was still waiting, with a tangible presence that made Samantha's heart clutch in her chest, just as it had been for the three days since her partner was returned to her. Poised between two worlds, and recognizing neither.
It could have been a painting or a tableau. No woman in a coma should have looked so beautiful. The enormity of grief should not have been so perfect.
Still leaning against the door frame, Samantha realized that her hands were clenched, short nails digging into her palms. One more step into the room and she would have accepted what was happening. She did not want to accept it. Every day she felt the same struggle, wavering, burning with the injustice of life, as bright and bitter as the candle flame of her partner's hair.
Ahead of her was serenity and peace, but it was a serenity that floated in the embrace of sleep, forgetfulness and death, brought back from the netherworld where Samantha's brother had long ago been taken. Suspended, she watched the slow unnatural rise and fall of her partner's chest under the thin cotton of her hospital gown. So many times in Samantha's life the world should have crumbled, and yet it just kept on turning.
Stepping across the threshold, Samantha finally found her voice.
"How is she?"
Slowly Melissa swallowed.
"The doctors haven't come yet. It's still early, I think."
Outside the day was still grey and unformed. Samantha would still have been at home drowsing in her bed if her partner were not so far from her own.
"I just flew in from California," Melissa offered. "Mom doesn't know I'm here--yet--"
The pause spoke volumes. Dana had talked to Samantha about Melissa's half-estrangement from her family, but never said the reason. Not in so many words.
Something in Samantha's eyes must have signaled that she understood. Melissa got to her feet, unfolding herself in one weary, graceful motion. She was almost as tall as Samantha, more willowy than her sister.
"You must be Samantha Mulder," she said. "Dana has--she's said so much about you."
"And you. Melissa."
Their hands touched, the grasp of one woman helping another across a stepping stone. They gazed at one another, each looking for something of Dana in the other. The fragments that she had left behind.
Reluctantly Samantha released the other woman's hand.
"Please, Samantha, sit down."
Melissa gestured towards the second chair, hidden in a corner of the room like an afterthought. The hours of Samantha's vigil had not been the same as Mrs. Scully's; their paths had crossed rarely, and for that she was just as glad. Until now she had preferred to be alone with her partner.
Samantha took the chair from the corner and moved it closer to the bed, wincing at the harsh scrape of metal on the tiled floor. But she didn't sit.
"Do you pray?" asked Melissa suddenly.
"I--I'm not Catholic," Samantha replied, caught off-balance.
"Neither am I. Not anymore." Melissa's voice was low and measured. "But I believe that the spiritual world is very close, especially at a time like this. She's here with us, even if we can't recognize it yet."
"It's been three days," Samantha said. "She's been like this ever since they brought her in. The doctors don't know--they can't say--"
Her voice caught, almost angry, adrift in this world for which her partner had always provided meaning and order. Now Dana had gone away and left her here alone to wait, lying serene and untroubled while Samantha cried at her side.
"If she were--wouldn't we know? Wouldn't she find some way to show us?"
"She's here," repeated Melissa, laying her hand in her sister's blank and open palm. "We just need to learn how to listen."
Samantha blinked back tears, envying this cool acceptance, this faith that knew no boundaries. It shamed her, surpassed her. She would have given anything for the familiarity of Dana's doubt. And she stood there watching, numb and distant.
"Why don't you join me?" said Melissa quietly.
Together, sister and partner, they held their hands over her, silently praying. For faith, for salvation, for a miracle. For anything. For just a touch.
They spent the day in uneasy sympathy, sitting together in the silent hospital room. Long hours rolled past with little to show for them. Samantha spoke with the doctors. (No news.) Melissa brushed her sister's hair. Mrs. Scully came, embracing her eldest daughter with a mix of distance and intimacy that seemed very familar to Samantha, and then left again.
Melissa and Samantha drank terrible coffee together in the echoing, fluorescent-lit cafeteria. They gazed at each other steadily, too parched even for words.
"Do you have somewhere to stay?" asked Samantha finally. The place was so empty that she could hear the ticking of the wall clock.
"Mom would let me stay if I asked. But Baltimore is a long way and..."
And the tone of Melissa's voice suggested that she would never ask. She shrugged with elaborate carelessness, brushed a smoothing hand across her red hair.
"I thought I'd just stay here," she continued. "I can sleep in a chair, or in the lounge. I can sleep anywhere, really."
"My apartment isn't far. You should come back with me."
Melissa tilted her head to the side, weighing. "I don't want to impose," she said in her calm voice.
"I stayed here for the first two nights." Samantha bit her lip. "It wasn't any good. I started thinking, if Dana were here, she'd tell me to go home. And she is here, but she never told me--"
She stopped, her eyes filling with tears.
"I'll come," said Melissa, laying her hand on Samantha's arm.
Neither of them wanted to go to sleep. From a colorfully embroidered duffle bag that she had brought with her from the hospital, Melissa took a long, romantically ruffled nightgown. Wearing it was not enough to bring sleep closer. She wandered restlessly around the small apartment, the nightgown's lacy hem brushing her bare feet. She paused in front of the window for only a moment, the streetlight outside casting slanting shadows across her face
Samantha was in a T-shirt and sweatpants. She perched on a corner of the couch, watching Melissa pace, her legs tucked awkwardly up underneath her. Her feet were tingling with pins and needles but she didn't care.
Not too long before midnight she decided to open a bottle of wine that someone gave her for Christmas two years ago. She hardly ever drank. She didn't celebrate Christmas either. Somehow the irony seemed suitable for the occasion. It was a wake and Dana was still alive.
"Napa Valley," said Melissa, turning the bottle in her hands. She takes a seat on the couch next to Samantha. "I used to live there once."
"Did you?" echoed Samantha dully.
"Only for three months."
Samantha wondered whether Melissa stayed anywhere longer than that. The idea of it seemed painfully tempting. To leave with no forwarding address; no word from her bosses at the FBI, no word from the hospital. No one but herself, floating in the sea somewhere off of the California coast, drifting up and down the West Coast with the tide. Watching the lights in the sky and never stopping to ask where or what they were.
She didn't say anything. It would be too easy to go if Melissa suggested it. It would be too easy to go with Melissa at her side.
She shook her head and poured herself more wine, a second glass already. Melissa sat gazing over the rim of her glass as if she were gazing past a crystal ball, her eyes brimming with unshed tears.
"My little sister," she said slowly. "I remember when she was born. I remember when she was five and got lost at the mall. We were in Japan, when my father was stationed there. And I was sure, so sure, that it was my fault...."
"I'm always the one who gets left behind," said Samantha, who never would be anything but a little sister. "Always, always."
Melissa shifted her position. Echoing Samantha, she pulled her leg up under her, the nightgown sliding away from her pale calf. Her look was questioning.
"My brother was abducted when I was eight." It was the old story, made new and raw again by grief. "Or he ran away. No one would ever tell me which. And we don't know--I still don't have the first idea what happened. He vanished into thin air."
"I'm so sorry," said Melissa simply. It was not pity; it was not a false attempt at understanding. It was that rare thing, sympathy that was really sympathy.
"I was too young, I thought. It wasn't fair. Some sort of grand adventure and I wasn't invited. I grew up and I didn't believe that anymore. But now--but now--Dana's gone and left me too." She choked on the words, half a sob, unable to swallow the bitterness that consumed her. "Everyone leaves me in the end."
Melissa reached out to lay a steadying hand on Samantha's shoulder. Her hand was warm.
It seemed like ages since Samantha had told Dana the story. Only Dana hadn't touched her. Dana never touched her.
Slowly, welcoming the chance to feel anything but numb, she leaned into Melissa's embrace.
In the morning there was sun slanting into Samantha's bedroom, and Melissa's red-gold curls were spread out across the pillow.
Melissa opened her blue eyes and gazed at Samantha. There was a moment before Samantha remembered. But only a moment.
"You love her, don't you?" said Melissa softly.