It's been a very long time since I've seen him like this: drowning in air like a landed fish, only his stubborn dignity keeping his legs from buckling beneath him. Years ago, I saw this look on his face as he stared down at the body of a boy he'd failed...at least in his mind. I saw his eyes emptied of every emotion except despair, as I know they must be now although his back is turned to me. Then, my presence, my touch, could do nothing to ease his anguish. And while part of me wishes otherwise, I know this time will be no different.
"You knew this day would come."
He turns, not surprised to see me.
I was right. The eyes I fell into the first time I saw him are both full and emptied. His voice when he answers me is soft, as if this fearless soldier fears the echoes that would fall in the empty room around us if he spoke aloud.
"Yeah. I knew." There is a wistful longing in his voice that I know too well. I've felt it ever since the day I first saw him with her.
"You've always known."
Here he shakes his head. "No. The day I found his apartment like this...that was the day I knew." There is a sigh--of resignation, of despair, of thwarted desire--lurking behind his words, but he doesn't release it. "But every day that passed I let myself believe a little more that maybe, just maybe..."
"She'd decide to stay. With you."
His laugh is rough, self-deprecating. "Pretty damn stupid of me, huh?"
"No. Only human."
He snorts. And then he drifts into silence, his eyes slowly circling the empty floor. There is nothing left of her, not even pristine indentations in a microscopic layer of dust to mark where her furniture stood. No, even vacated, Dana Scully would not leave a room so untidy.
"What do I do now?"
I almost don't hear his meek plea, it's so quiet and uncharacteristic. As it is, the words shock me to the core. I step closer to him, reaching out. For a second he almost flinches. Instead, he leans just slightly into my touch, so little that if there were anyone else in the room, they would not see the movement.
"Do you trust me?"
Like the gaze he lifted to me from that fallen child so many years ago, these eyes are helpless and confused. Confused by their own helplessness, for these are not eyes that are used to being without any power to change the world they see.
"I don't know who to trust anymore."
I know what I am about to do is selfish. I have wanted him as long as I have known him, and there could be no worse time than this to act on that longing. But I tell myself just maybe it will give him some comfort. Some respite, however brief, from the loss.
"Then trust this."
At first, I feel him answering my kiss. I feel a hunger that matches my own and I know it is not me his mind sees. But I don't care. Let him pretend I'm her. For everything I've seen and touched and been in the years since we first met, I'm still a woman in love who would give anything to have this man at her side again.
So when I feel his honor step in and remind him of who he is, when I feel him pull away from me, and when I open my eyes to see a new resolve in his, I am disappointed in spite of myself.
"No." He takes my hands away from his face and clasps them between his own as he places the distance back between us. Then he smiles, a sad expression full of regret for all the grief that could have been avoided if we'd never let this thing between us wither and die for lack of tending. "I gave you all of me back in Bravo Company. Even if you wanted to, I wouldn't let you settle for less now."
He is still the man who won me over that long ago day in Lebanon, bending over the body of only one of many young men who didn't walk out of the rubble. The wound his body sustained that day earned him a discharge, but it was the wound his heart sustained that has never healed, for fate keeps tearing it open again. It could have made him bitter and hard, a man who will snatch what pleasure he can from life without regard for others, but it didn't. As much as I want to give him my body to salve his soul, he still has the strength to turn me away. And I love and hate him for it.
"No. I'm sorry. I'm sorry it can't be like it was before." A devilish grin spreads across his face, banishing a little of the despair. "'Specially if you're as 'enhanced' as you say, McMahon. Sorrier than you'll ever know."
I laugh, hard. Now that's the John Doggett I remember--all gentleman, but still all man.
"Then how about I drink you under the table instead?"
Unconsciously he imitates her, lifting one incredulous eyebrow. "You? It's been a long time, but I still remember you could never hold your liquor." He grins again.
I smile. Oh, Devil Dog, if you only knew...
Finally this earns a chuckle out of him. "You're on, but I'm buyin.'"
I'm buoyed on hope until he looks back at me as he steps to the door to open it. Then I see the truth, the shadow still lurking in his eyes.
You knew this time would be no different, I remind myself with a silent sigh. That nothing you could do would ease his heart. You knew.
You've always known.