It seemed a depressingly common theme in John Doggett's recent life was that of losing the people to whom he grew closest.
Trudging through the parking lot to his waiting truck and trying not to think of who- or what- he had just turned his back on, the memories swelled unbidden into Doggett's mind, and he sifted through them with the clinical categorization that he frequently utilized for the cases to which he was assigned. This time, however, the analysis usually reserved for criminal motives was applied to his past and people who now populated it.
Barbara. She hadn't really been the first to go, but vague warning signs were there- not that he had noticed at the time. All the memories of potential coolness, of crossed arms and sharp words, faded in comparison to those of pleasure- of her smile that seemed to fill the room with sunlight, of her silky hands clasped around his neck and her black lingerie and the curve of her belly when she was expecting. Of course they had their occasional fights, but he'd always assumed every pair of lovers went through similar tiffs, and ultimately the good outweighed the bad. What it came down to was that Barbara was the only person who got to see Doggett's "true" self- or what she would call his true self- a warmer, more humorous and less self-conscious person than how he ordinarily defined himself. And when Luke was born, there had been two people to share that personality with.
Luke. Doggett came back to reality to find that he was sitting behind the wheel of his truck, gazing distantly into the dark parking lot. Shaking himself, he shoved his key into the ignition and brought the car to life, but let the engine idle for a moment as familiar thoughts tumbled through his brain. It really wasn't fair for a father's last memory of their child to be that of a cold and lifeless, battered body. But try as he might to conjure up the memories of Luke alive, to remember the peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches he would pack for his school lunch every day or the feeling of Luke's small hand enclosed in his larger one as they walked to the playground together, the happy images would always disappear and surrender to the greater power of that last vision, the one that was imprinted on his brain... of reading the truth on Monica's face before seeing the body, but still unwilling to believe... of his motionless son dissolving into a form of ashes right before his eyes...
That was the moment that kept repeating on him, those slender minutes among the cool green trees with his murdered child lying at his feet.
Once again Doggett returned from the enveloping memories and peered out through the windshield. The rumble of the truck's engine beneath him brought him fully back to the present, and he swore under his breath. What are you trying to do, waste gas? Swiftly he shifted the gear into drive and sped off, shoving all further flashbacks from his mind. If he dared to go over this one more time with himself, and invite the pain back, he might never make it home.
It was no wonder that Barbara had been the next to fade from his life, Doggett mused emotionlessly as he headed for home. Nothing had been the same between them after the murder, as if Luke's presence had been the glue that held their relationship together. One of her more common accusations to him was that he didn't feel the same emotions that she was feeling- although she described it as the emotions he should be feeling- and that he hd grown too frozen and distant, too preoccupied with the past and how it could be set to rights. "You're not the man I married, John-" yes, that had been one of her cliché sentiments. Her leaving made little impact on Doggett's life, mostly because she was right. He was no longer the man who would openly present his "true self." Though he didn't regret shutting down in the relationship, he still wished that Barbara could understand the necessity of his actions. He couldn't allow himself to feel what she had felt, even if it lay just below the surface. But for her sake, he had tried, goddammit- he had covered the guilt and attempted to move on. It was the last thing he ever did for her.
Presently the truck stopped and pulled into the driveway of the Doggett household. Doggett got out of his vehicle and let himself in, hoping that tonight would be the first night in a while that he could catch a few hours of undisturbed sleep. However, his mind wasn't done with him yet. Fresh memories cluttered every footstep as Doggett went up to bed, and even as he tried to ignore them he couldn't help but stop dead in the doorframe. Here. Here was where she had saved him.
At the beginning of their work together he had never expected his regard for Agent Scully to mutate into... into whatever it was now. He was more than happy to let her propose those crazy theories that made the x-files the X-Files, while he concerned himself only with nabbing the ones who had done it. It seemed a stable dynamic, and he hadn't given either his partner or his work much thought. But that had been before he became acquainted with the negative way.
Traveling over to his bedside, Doggett couldn't stop himself from picturing the scene all over again. Here was where Scully had knelt and called his name. Here was where she had woken him from his deepest, all-too-real nightmare. Here was where she had prevented the axe blade from falling, where he had stated that she saved his life and she had rejected the idea- "I just woke you up, Agent Doggett."
Now talk about cliché. The act of coming to... to love someone (if it could be called love) out of gratitude for their saving one's life was too much for Doggett to want to believe. He didn't fall prey to those sappy romantic tropes. And it was true that even after that, though his respect for Scully had been kicked up a notch, his feelings had remained latent for some time. But later, after seeing Scully break down after a particularly nasty case, after hearing her berate herself for not being as good as the missing Mulder, he couldn't brush off the way he regarded her any longer. The emotions came crashing into him full force as he drove Scully back to the hotel that night, pausing every now and then to wrench his eyes from the road and gaze over at her asleep in the passenger's seat, her face still streaked with dried tears. He'd caught himself wondering if he should have said more to her, used more comforting tones... if he should have dared to take her hand... And just for a fleeting second he had wished for Scully to shift ever so slightly so that her head would fall on his shoulder.
"Hey, I never met Mulder, but it looks to me like you're doing a good job of filling his shoes. I'd have been lost on this case if it hadn't been for you, Agent Scul- Dana. Hell, I'd be lost at the X-Files all together. You're better than you think you are, Dana- you don't have to doubt yourself." But these words remained spoken only in his mind.
Doggett slowly turned to his dresser and began to search for sleepwear as Scully's face continued to flash in his mind. Even after that night, he had gotten the sense that pursuing these feelings would be hopeless. He should have seen it coming after Mulder's death. Scully had been distraught for weeks, and even as the weeks turned into months and she gained control over herself, she hadn't thrown herself as energetically into her work and still grew upset out of the blue. And Doggett had to watch from afar as Scully became lost in the midst of grief, grief that he knew only too well, wishing desperately that she would turn to his open arms one day when she needed to. He hadn't realized at the time that the only arms to which she wanted to run were folded over the chest of a man buried six feet in the ground. He longed to open his barbed, toughened heart to her, to take a chance at severing their professional bond forever, even though the most he could hope for was a rejection.
It was only when Mulder was unexpectedly resurrected that chinks of doubt began to appear in Doggett's façade, all leading up to the moment when he had opened the door to Mulder's hospital room and found Scully hunched over Mulder's woken body, embracing him in an unmeasurable amount of relief. The look she shared with Doggett was brief, but it was telling. It clearly stated that he was not welcome in the room. Hastily Doggett had closed the door, eager to leave the two alone, as if they had been caught in a display of passion. Only a few seconds in their presence had introduced him to the palpable sense of togetherness they radiated- and suddenly Scully seemed less like a damsel in distress and more like a whole human being.
It was because of Mulder that Doggett had stayed in Scully's room for so long, repeatedly entering even after the nurse had told him to get out one time too many. It was because of him that he had gazed upon her sleeping face and remembered how Luke had been lost. And finally, it was because of Mulder that he had stepped back and let himself lose Scully too.
A long sigh rattled Doggett's chest as he sunk heavily into bed and slid beneath the covers. Closing his eyes, he addressed his last waking thought to Barbara- You wanted me to be more open, and this is what I got. Slowly sleep claimed a hold on him, and he dreamed of nothing, his mind free from all that he had lost only in the deepest rest.