She leaves the appointment fairly certain her Impassive Clinical Face is still on, but it’s a little hard to see more than a few feet in front of her. They’d advised her to have someone with her, who could also drive her home, but she’d ignored that, and right now, she’s profoundly glad for it. Neither her mother nor Mulder could’ve handled what she just heard, and she will fall apart at the atomic level if she has to see either of them at this moment.
The tumor’s not shrinking, it’s growing. None of the treatments have helped, desperately sick as they’ve made her. She’s not eligible for any drug trials, there aren’t any surgical options, her cache of miracles seems to have been used up.
She has several different hospice pamphlets in her briefcase; she’d thought it would be a little dramatic to let them just fall to the floor when the care coordinator had tried to hand them to her.
She sits in her car, a fortress of blessed silence, in the hospital’s parking garage. She told Mulder she’d be back by two; she can’t remember why she’d said that. She’d known how this meeting was going to go. But where else could she even go right now? What did she have to do? Her brain keeps skipping around in loops, touching on now-pointless and irrelevant things, not letting her settle into any kind of actual substantial thought.
She concentrates on her heartbeat, wondering with a kind of morbid detachment how many beats were left. She’s cold, but whether that’s from the external temperature or her thinness and lowered metabolic rate she has no idea.
Despite the damage to her olfactory nerve, she can smell the hospital on herself — the scents of disinfectant, failing bodies, despair. Suddenly she feels like throwing up, but she can’t, she can.not.
A thought comes to her in this underground concrete bunker: the sea.
She needs to get out of this city, be near water, watch the waves, feel the wind on her face and in her hair. The ocean is as close to eternal as anything gets on earth; it will help her, ground her, give her perspective to deal with … this.
Before she’s even thought of where, exactly, she’s headed, she’s turned the key in the ignition and run a mental inventory — she’s got toiletries and a change of clothes in the go-bag she keeps in the trunk, she’s got cash and her credit cards, Mulder’s not expecting her back for another hour and a half — it’s enough to get her pretty far down the highway before he even thinks anything is off, and she can call him from her first stop on the road to make up some plausible lie about where she is and why.
She got Mulder’s voicemail, which made things infinitely easier; the short speech she’d rehearsed in the car about not feeling well and taking the rest of the day off after all — see you Monday, I’m going to lie low for the weekend — came out smoothly, if a bit mechanically. She can’t imagine he’ll notice.
She’d been driving south and east at a crawl in traffic, past two different accidents, straight into a gathering rainstorm, wanting to end up on the coast. About two hours in, she thought of Rehoboth Beach; in summer, she’d never find a room, but at this time of year there’ll be any number of places to stay. Sure enough, as she cruises through the town proper in the lowering dark, rain falling now in earnest, there are VACANCY signs all over. The same instinct that sent her here makes her decide to go out of the populated area, and it’s a few miles down the beach that she finds a decent but empty-looking beachfront guesthouse. Ten minutes later, she’s dropping her bag and purse on an armchair in the corner unit, feeling nothing but weariness.
It’s cold in here. She turns up the heat, but it doesn’t seem to be working all that well, so she pulls on the chunky cream-colored J. Crew sweater she’d ordered from the catalog and forgotten about in her trunk, still in the box. She realizes she didn’t bring anything to read, but she doesn’t think she could concentrate on a book anyway, and the thought of bothering with a case file or medical journal seems shockingly futile right now. She flicks around the channels on the crummy TV, and turns it off — actually physically gagging — when she comes across a showing of Love Story.
She’s still cold, so she takes a long shower, long enough that the hot water runs out and then she’s cold again.
The idea of food never even crosses her mind. She brushes her teeth, lies down with wet hair on the pillow in the dark chill. Her mind is unquiet, never lighting on one thing for more than a minute before flashing to something else; the thought that this is her new normal — not merely the panicked response to this afternoon’s news — sends a tremor of horror through her. She listens to the rain and the waves pounding on the beach, wide awake and lonelier than she’s ever felt in her life.
Toward dawn, she dozes, strange unsettling dreams of loss and regret floating like gauze through her mind. The beach, she thinks during one of her more lucid interludes. The beach. I’ll go for a walk on the beach at first light.
She opens her eyes, noting dully that it does at last seem to be morning. The rain has stopped, but bruisey-looking clouds blot out the sun entirely and the crash and hiss of the stirred-up ocean is as loud as it was before.
There was a pair of jeans in the go-bag, she doesn’t remember why. She drags them on, deeming them better for a frigid beach prowl than the suit trousers carefully rolled with their matching jacket. Her long pajama top will do as a layer underneath the sweater, and she doesn’t need shoes to walk in sand.
Her eye falls on the guesthouse’s welcome brochure — Full breakfast in the dining room, served family-style, 6:00 a.m. - 8:30 a.m. — and she shudders with revulsion. The glass of tepid tap water she’d drunk after brushing her teeth was enough. It’s not because of the chemo, either — she just doesn’t seem to be hungry, and the longer she goes without eating, the lighter and more pure she seems to feel; it’s clarifying, somehow.
She leaves her room with only the key stuffed in her pocket, hair still damp in its natural curls, and picks her way down the boardwalk to the sandy beach. She plans to walk for miles; nothing else to do, after all, and the exercise might help focus her thoughts. It’s why she’s here.
But she only makes it about a hundred yards down the deserted expanse before she slows, then stops. Her mind has ceased its skipping around. A feeling of peace settles over her as she turns away from the shore, toward the grey horizon.
It won’t hurt, the waves whisper in their secret eternal language.
Not like the way it’s going to if the cancer wins, anyway.
It wouldn’t hurt. She can just
It’ll be shockingly cold on her toes, her ankles, her shins. But she’ll be numb by the time she’s up to her hips; it will feel almost warm.
Dad. Melissa, she thinks with a terrific surge of longing.
Her clothes will weigh her down, especially the sweater. But that won’t matter for too long, and it might even make things easier, all things considered.
She’ll wade out just past where she can touch the bottom, and then she’ll swim as far toward the horizon as she can, feeling warmer, feeling welcome, embraced. She’ll be tossed some, in these stormy swells — she might be scared, briefly, when she swallows her first big mouthful of briny water but
The salt of the sea is like the salt of the womb, pulsing, a world unto itself, burgeoning with life, echoing within in tones inaudible to those without. She’ll just be … returning, going back to the place from whence she came. Home, she whispers, the word caught by the wind and flung out over the water, half prayer and half question.
It’s troubling indeed to think that her swim may take her out beyond redemption, or so the Church tells her. Then again, “By ways known to him alone, God can provide the opportunity for salutary repentance.” And if He’s brought her here, and He knows her heart — then isn’t this part of His plan?
Jonah was saved from the belly of a whale, her mind supplies, sifting through childhood Bible stories and coming up with an answer. It would be within His power.
Her shoulders relax. She doesn’t need to be redeemed. She’s being called.
Mom. I’m so sorry. Grief upon grief. Her eyes fill with sudden tears, moisture that the wind whisks away, leaving only the salt on her cheeks. A thin sliver of doubt shivers through her, tries to wedge open her heart.
Then there’s a liquid warmth on her upper lip; she draws the sleeve of her sweater over it, and notes with an utter lack of surprise the gory red streak seeping permanently into the wool. It’s a vivid reminder of the killer within, and she stares at it with a certain grim satisfaction — night cometh — before returning her gaze to the deep blue distance.
Mulder. It’s only the stiffness of her muscles, held unmoving in this stance for so long in the gelid half-light, that keeps her from sinking to her knees in the sand. She squeezes her stinging eyes shut, overwhelmed by the image of his face, impossibly dear, impossibly distant in every sense of the word. He’ll blame himself.
He will anyway, and at least this way
it won’t hurt.
She won’t have to fight the monsters — human or otherwise — who did this to her; she still has the power to deprive them of whatever they get out of watching her struggle.
No hospital beds, no overheated room in her mother’s house, quiet voices murmuring, pitying faces looming in and out of view as she waits for the inevitable, no painkillers robbing her mind and stealing her last moments of coherent thought.
It won’t hurt. She’ll swim free, out of their grip — swim until she can’t, and then let the sea rock her to sleep.
She glances around — it wouldn’t do to have someone misunderstand the situation and try to save her. She’s already been redeemed, she doesn’t need saving.
A stroke of luck — nobody is on the beach.
She turns to face the waves, her body unconsciously swaying ever so slightly in time to their rhythm. It’s hypnotic, and so soothing; inside, her blood fairly sings to join with its primordial source.
She steps forward, feeling both pulled and pushed.
She ignores her brain’s nonsensical suggestion that someone’s calling her name — no one’s coming for her, no one even knows she’s here — and keeps walking slowly toward the water. Step, pause. Step, pause. Like walking down the aisle to meet her future.
Closer, familiar, with a strange pitch of desperation.
How did he find her? She stops, shuts her eyes, drops her chin to her chest.
Go away, she thinks forlornly. You don’t understand. Do not do this to me.
She turns and there he is, twenty yards away from her, closing the distance with long strides. Even from here, she can see the fear and torment in his eyes, and in an instant the chilled numbness that’s held her together for days is forced out by a radiating heat — lungs expanding, blood reaching her extremities. It hurts fiercely, a needling agony throughout her body from scalp to toes, like coming back too quickly from near-frostbite conditions; she can’t help the gasp it wrenches out of her. He springs forward, gathering her into an embrace she doesn’t have the strength to resist.
“Scully … oh, Scully … why are you out here? Why did you leave? Why did you leave?”
The anguish in his voice breaks her.
It’s as if every unshed tear since her diagnosis is coming out all at once. In sync with her at last, his chest heaves with sobs; he clutches her as if to keep her from sailing away — and, at that, he almost has.
“Don’t leave, please don’t leave me,” he chokes out, face buried in her hair, long arms wrapped tightly around her, her whole body pressed hard against him.
“I won’t,” she vows thickly, weeping harder in anticipation of the work and the pain still to come — and knowing she can’t keep her promise, not for long.
I can’t stay — oh, Mulder, I can’t stay.
I can’t stay, but I won’t leave.
I won’t leave.