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The ECG beeps continued, the only sound in the room, but the bank of IC monitors only confirmed for Scully what she already knew. Terminally ill Penny Northern had been wavering on the edge, wandering in and out of consciousness, and steadily weakening. After several hours the crossover to coma had finally came. Hard as it was to face, Scullyís bedside vigil was now a deathwatch, but she was determined not to leave this womanís side until the end.

There was nothing Scully could do for Penny except be here for her, and with that awful knowledge came a dramatic increase in emotional stress. Why was it like this? Penny should be surrounded by family and friends, comforted by love and respect in her final hours. Surely her family hadnít abandoned her? This was a notion Scully simply couldnít conceive. There had to be another reason. Something or someone had prevented them from attending, she told herself, and she instantly laid the blame on those nameless men responsible for the abductions who proved to have far-reaching, powerful and destructive influences; the secret organisation which held the key to everything.

Pennyís face suddenly became deathly white as deep black lines formed under her eyes. Medical intervention was needed, but out of the question. Penny had asked not to prolong the agony with the aid of life support, and Scully couldnít blame her. Somehow she felt Penny had come to terms with her demons and was prepared for the end. Her spirit, while never broken, had weakened to a point that she had confessed in a moment of exhausted reflection that she was so incredibly tired and that her time had come.

It was a far cry from their first meeting at Betsy Hagopianís house in Allentown. Mrs Penny Northern had been a tall, strongly built woman with bright, light blue eyes and long blonde hair pinned up in a manageable style that revealed a fresh, serious face.

She had been resolute and unbowed in her battle against God knows what kind of red tape and bureaucratic indifference, armed only with whatever documented evidence she could muster. Together with Lottie Holloway and others they fought for their rights and those of the group of MUFON women.

Scullyís introduction to these purported abductees had been difficult in the extreme. She didnít believe their story even as they forced her to look for confirmation of it within herself. She was fazed, even spooked and troubled by the increasing recognition and familiarity she received from Penny Northern and that she had immediately rejected at the time.

Scully didnít want to reminded of memories she did not need. It was bad enough already to have to try to deal with disjointed fragments that often made no sense at all. They came as unwanted nightmares, and bad dreams she couldnít shake off. But as soon as she heard Pennyís voice something - some link reconnected. She didnít understand why, really, but Penny somehow projected safety and protection.

For nearly a year Scully avoided the issue. As she concentrated on the search for other truths, a truth she had already discovered she continued to deny. She was deluding herself. She knew in her heart that truth had been found at the Allentown Medical Centre Oncology ICU in the tragic fate of Betsy HagopianÖ

The confrontation had been painful, more painful than she could possibly have imagined. It was much easier to refuse than to accept. She turned on her heel and walked out of the ICU abruptly. Penny and Lottie exchanged worried glances. "Iíll talk to her," Penny explained. Lottie nodded and urged her to do so.

Penny found Scully standing alone in the small waiting area outside the ICU. Her back was turned. She had one hand on her hip, the other rubbing a nervous hand over her brow. Penny stood beside her without intrusion, and waited. Finally, after some time, Scully turned to her, the hurt showing.

"I know youíre frightened and bewildered Dana," Penny spoke quietly, gently, before Scully could speak. "But we were all like you when we first learned the truth." She paused to emphasise the point. "We arenít just members of MUFON, weíre a self-help group. We lean on each other and help each other to cope. We can help you, too."

"I donít need help." Scully snapped and walked several steps away. There was anger. Why did she feel as if they were trying to bring her back into the fold? She didnít know these people!

Penny wasnít offended, on the contrary she became even more sympathetic. "I know youíre strong, that you feel you can cope, but why try to deal with this thing alone when you donít have to?"

"I am coping." Denial now, still an underlying hint that difficulties did existed.

Penny stood in front of her. "I think you know that youíre not." Scullyís darting eyes told Penny she was right so she pressed on. "The nightmares and flashbacks are the worst, arenít they?" Not a question, she spoke from experience. "You canít sleep and then you worry because you canít sleep. After a while youíre not sure whether youíve slept or not, so you learn to make do." Penny paused a moment, allowing the words to sink in even to sting if necessary. "When itís really bad you take the pills, but they donít seem to help, so you learn to live with the exhaustion and the anxiety. At times youíre dead on your feet, but you donít want to let anybody down and you carry on. Some how you manage to hide it from everyone, especially yourself."

Scully turned to Penny candidly, her guard now so thin it seemed transparent and Penny got a glimpse of the tired, haunted and abused woman she really was. For a moment Penny thought she was going to unburden herself and let it all out.

"IímÖ" there was a quiver in Scullyís voice, but even as she opened her mouth to speak, she checked herself in a heavy reassessment, followed by a deep frown and force of will reinforced those defensive barriers again.

She swung away. "Iím all right." The reply was edged and dismissive.

Penny shook her head, her voice more insistent. "Dana, I know the look of fatigue in your eyes."

Scully swung to her sharply and spread her hands. "How? How do you know?"

Penny smiled and when she spoke, her voice flowed with tenderness, caring, even love. "Because I held you and comforted you in the place, after the tests."

Scully caught her breath and drew back. Penny reached out a hand to steady her. Scully stood there awkwardly, shocked, her gaze fixed on the taller woman, until she said, "Iím sorry, I have to go." She couldnít face this!

Penny nodded, the compassion plain in her face. "I understand. You go. Weíll make our own way back."

Scully walked past her, her movements betraying the terrible stress she was experiencing, but she turned back to Penny with an expression of apology. "Iím sorry," she said again.

"Itís okay. Itíll be all right."

Scully hesitated, strangely drawn to this woman. She was certain she had never seen her before but aware of some connection, even more aware of a tremendous debt of gratitude.

Pennyís brow creased momentarily as she experienced some difficulty.

"Itís all right. Itíll be all right." Scully whispered and used gentle fingers to sooth the scowl. She instinctively echoed words so familiar to her now, that came as a subliminal voice she carried with her and which seemed to surface to comfort in the times of greatest fear and loneliness. She had always attributed it to a self defence mechanism in her subconscious that helped her to cope. And yet the voice had never sounded like her own. She knew now it was Penny Northernís.

That last time, before Pennyís final downturn, a dominant, overriding feeling of deja vu gave Scully back what had been so clinically taken away. She had remembered Pennyís mothering embraces and healing words. The unmistakable voice, and the sympathetic face. The same comforting touch she experienced once again as she had emerged from the awful chemo-therapy fog of bad dreams and nausea. Scully latched on, held on, as if dear life depended on the simple union.

Penny encouraged her to try to understand, to try to make sense of it; doing so would help her through the pain.

Once again Scully had eased considerably in Pennyís company, closing her eyes to rest, but wasnít able to. She was too troubled and too ill. When she opened them again Pennyís expression was one of query.

Scully frowned. "Make sense of it?" she asked.


"How can you make sense of the incomprehensible?"

"By accepting the situation as it is. Once youíve done that then you can begin to face the fear. Itís too easy to let the pain overwhelm you, but you have to regard the pain as a friend. The pain is a reminder that youíre still alive."

"Iím afraid."

Penny felt her shudder and heard the hopelessness in a whispered confession clearly not given easily even after the strengthened embrace of trust.

"I know."

"All I see is darkness." Scully couldnít prevent the tears, but fought not to cry.

"Then you must concentrate on the light."

Scullyís eyes became wide as she became more alarmed."But thereís light in nightmares too, blinding light," she explained quickly.

Penny understood the nature of her fears. "Back at the place, several times, you had called for your father. Make him the light."

The thought of her father brought an adverse reaction that Penny read as guilt, and Scully stifled a sob. "I canít. Itís the pain. Thereís so much pain."

Penny squeezed Danaís hand hard. "Then focus on this. Thatís all that matters."

Scully sighed heavily and Penny felt her tremble. "The future is not all bleak, Dana. As black as it seems, it will be there. Be certain your father is still watching over you."

Scully searched her eyes. "And you?"

Penny only smiled, a sad smile. "Sleep now. Itís all right."

"I donít want you to go." Scully tightened her grip as if to reassure herself that Penny would not disappear.

Penny leaned closer. "I promise, Iíll stay with you for as long as I can."

That promise had been kept, but no amount of time would ever have been enough, and Scully felt cheated. Penny was the only one who knew what she was going through. She had found her again, only to lose her!

Penny should have been ventilated. A bluish hue had formed on her lips as the lack of oxygen was beginning to reveal its effects. Even as Scully watched Pennyís features sagged until she resembled an old, old woman. She began to gasp in bursts and their came a bubbling noise from her chest. The ECG indicated sporadic murmurs and gallops. Her mouth was open as she dragged in oxygen, her respiration deep and rapid. Scully checked her pupils to find dollís eyes. Pennyís brain had been shutting down function by function until only the basic mechanisms were left. Soon these, too, would be gone. The process had begun.

Scully noted that the peripheral circulation was failing quickly now and Pennyís skin cooled considerably. Thankfully she saw no evidence of pain - Pennyís face remained serene.

She was dying.

Her own face was a mask of grief. Scully fought against the tears, stifling sobs with clenched jaw determination. Months ago she would have prayed for her. But God had abandoned Penny to the darkness; abandoned them both. He had cast them aside and condemned them to die. She had been brought up to believe God had his reasons. What reasons could justify this? Her abandonment of faith, however, came at a price. Scully felt so terribly alone.

Was she seeing herself at the inevitable end? A shadow of how she once had been, broken body, spirit reduced to the lowest ebbs, actively seeking death as a merciful release?

As she waited the last moments the burden became too much. Scully started to fall apart, not only emotionally but physically as well. She felt shaky, sick to her stomach, her heart pounding painfully in her chest. It would have been so easy to leave the room, leave the grief, but she had a job to do. She held in doggedly, gamely accepting the task nevertheless struggling with it. Then, suddenly she felt warm as if a blanket had been placed around her shoulders by someone else in the room followed by a pronounced calming. For an instant she imagined her father standing beside her, his arm around her shoulders reassuring her and she was able to regain her composure. While she did not see him again she knew he was there.

Scully felt Pennyís pulse. It was barely discernible. Her blood pressure would have dropped to its lowest level. The bubbling from Pennyís lungs turned to a rattle and then a last agonised draw of breath. The ECG skipped several beats fibrillated and then went into flat line.

She was gone.

Scully laced Pennyís lifeless fingers through her own, clasped her hands tightly together and brought her hands to her forehead. She finally surrendered to her emotions and the flood gates opened. She cried unabashedly for lost friendship and the cruel injustice of it all.

After a while Scully sighed heavily and slowly lowered her hands. Enmeshed in a heartbreaking sadness, unconsciously rocking back and forth as a result, she studied Pennyís face with sharp intent, examining every line of the expression of death she knew so well. That Penny was finally at peace gave little comfort and yet solace did come, eventually, in the knowledge that she had died the way she faced this monumental crisis, with courage and above all else, dignity.

Scully felt privileged to be here, to have known this woman, humbled by the gift so unselfishly given and which she could never repay.

Penny Northern had also bequeathed her a legacy, one Scully willingly accepted. It was up to her now. They were not going to win. She would not, could not let them. Scully owed it to herself, her family and above all else to Penny to continue the fight, to do whatever was needed in order to beat this thing. She hadnít, wouldnít give up hope.

Scully finally let Pennyís hand go. She wiped her eyes and pressed the buzzer before standing. Moments later the nurse rushed into the room. Scully stood back for one last look as she turned to exit and closed the door firmly behind her. She would not to walk to same dark path. Somehow, enamoured with Pennyís memory, she would find the right course between the blinding light and the terrible darkness.

--end of file--

C L Goodwin 1999