I'm not my father. But I'd known all my life that my father and I had a lot in common. And just as, looking back on my life, I always found it hard to imagine how Dad ever survived without Mom, I don't know how I would've ever survived without my Ruth. And I prayed I would never have to find out.
It was because of Ruth that I was standing here, staring uncomfortably at the stranger who invaded our lives the day of my father's funeral. A very big part of me would've much rather just kept hating him. Hating him for taking Mom's hand at the funeral and never letting it go. Hating him for the way the two of them disappeared for hours at the reception afterwards. Hating him for calling himself Luke Doggett when there was no way in hell he could expect me to believe that, having known most of my life what happened to Luke Doggett. But most of all I wanted to hate him forever for the way he seemed to have stolen Mom's heart so easily, only weeks after she offered to trade her own eternal life for Dad's rather than go on without him. Why else would she cling to him like she did, as if he were the only familiar thing in the world?
I wanted to hate him, but Ruth asked me to come here today. And if there's one thing I'd known about the woman who would become my wife since the day she was old enough to talk, it was that she knew me better than I did. So, for her sake, I was here.
I just hoped to God she was right this time.
"Hey," he held up two tickets. "Got 'em for the visitors' side. I'm hopin' that's okay--I took a chance that taste in baseball teams might be genetic."
I tried to shake the feeling that I knew this man. I knew why it was--there was no denying the resemblance to Mom's second partner on the X-Files, who left when I was two years old--but I didn't want to feel anything that might turn into sympathy.
"Look, if this is all so you can ask my permission to marry my sister, I can save us both a lot of time by just saying no right now." One thing about the Mulder genes--they carry an irrepressible urge to deal out anger as sarcasm.
He laughed with what sounded like irony. "You think I'd waste a pair of perfectly good Yankees tickets to get your permission to ask a question I already know the answer to? You 'n I both know Dana better than that."
My stomach lurched upward in surprise. God--she told him her secret! Who the hell was this man and how the hell had he earned her trust so quickly?
"Doggett" was still watching me, his eyes studying me with a sharpness I recognized from a life growing up around law enforcement agents. "I did this," he explained more quietly, "'Cause your wife is right. You deserve to know the truth, and I'm the one that owes it to you. I picked the game for one thing 'cause nobody around us is gonna care what we're talkin' about, and because I know your dad woulda liked it. Even though it beats the hell outta me how a guy who grew up in Massachusetts became a Yankees fan."
The Truth. If there was one bait no one in my family has ever been able to resist, that was it. I accepted the ticket--okay, I snatched it out of his hand--and started for the gate. "This better be good."
I heard him mutter, "like father like son," behind me as he followed me into the stadium. Biting my tongue, I waited until we found our seats to speak again, still feeling like a kid being courted by a potential stepfather.
"All right. You promised the truth. Who the hell are you and why are you calling yourself Luke Doggett?"
If my mom's name on his lips shocked me, it was nothing to the transformation that came over him when I spoke the name he'd been using since I met him. It was almost like for a moment he collapsed in on himself.
"Because it was a name I knew I'd never forget." His words were quiet, saturated with the kind of sadness I hadn't heard since Mom called to tell me Dad was dead. He stared at me then, a piercing, eerie look so full of memory it was almost frightening. "You never forget your own son."
"Y'know, that sounds pretty damned funny comin' from a Mulder," he laughed harshly. "'Specially one whose mother looks exactly the same as she did forty years ago."
"You're telling me you're John Doggett." Hey, I was half Mulder, but I was half Scully too. I had a right to be skeptical every once in a while.
"Yeah, J. Edgar Junior, that's exactly what I'm tellin' you."
I felt the cold start to spread from my abdomen outwards. J. Edgar Junior--I hadn't been called that in years. In fact, I couldn't even remember the last time someone called me that. I just knew that someone had once, long ago.
"All right. How many people know that you were born in Democrat Hot Springs, Georgia, same as me? That you were delivered by Special Agent Monica Reyes, the woman who would later become your mother-in-law? Or that your birth was witnessed by about two dozen plus human-alien hybrids who'd been tryin' to kidnap you 'bout since they first found out you were gonna exist because they thought you were the answer to some prophecy of their defeat? Aliens that walked away when they realized you were just an ordinary kid?"
No one knew, outside of Mom and Dad's closest circle. But I still fought it. "John Doggett didn't believe in aliens."
"John Doggett didn't believe in soul eaters either 'til he got chewed up dead and regurgitated back up alive by one," he retorted. "And he didn't believe in immortality until he looked in the mirror one day and realized he hadn't aged a goddamned day in ten years and still didn't live in Hollywood."
"But unlike a certain Dana Scully," he continued, "John Doggett never denied what was right in front of his eyes. He didn't believe in aliens 'cause he'd never seen anything that couldn't be somethin' else, not even himself on a TV monitor in a room he'd never entered. And after forty years of bein' a fuckin' X-File...hell, even John Doggett--even I--got the message. The damned shit may be crazy, but it's real."
It wasn't fair. Dear God, it wasn't fair. John Doggett was Mom's partner for less than a year. From what I was told he was a true and loyal friend to her until the day he walked away when I was two years old. But God...Dad was her partner for seven years, her husband for forty, and the man she loved more than her own life. Why the hell wasn't he the one given this gift?
"I know what you're thinkin'. It shoulda been Mulder. And you're right." A frown drew his thin features together, making his whole face seem small and weary. "Believe me, Will, if I could trade places with your dad right now I'd do it, 'cause I'm sick and tired of havin' to watch Dana live with losin' him. Again. But I can't and I don't know if I ever could've."
Part of me still wanted to hate him. But I knew too much about John Doggett to believe that he wasn't telling me the gospel truth.
"All I can do is be her friend. And that's all I'm tryin' to do. It's just hard--for both of us--to have to sit here watchin' time go by and leave us behind. If I thought I could die, I'd say findin' out I wasn't the only one saved my life. It sure as hell saved my sanity."
Suddenly I heard what he wasn't saying. He was giving me back my parents' love story. Telling me that Mom hadn't thrown Dad out the window for the first man to walk into her life after he died. She'd just found a kindred spirit at a time when she needed one.
For that gift, I guess I could think about forgiving him. Hell, maybe I could even make him a friend--someday. I'm my father's son: it would've gone against my genes to forgive that easily.
"So," I reached for a peanut from the bag sitting precariously in the empty cup holder between us, which Doggett had purchased on our way in. Cracking the shell with my teeth the way Dad used to with sunflower seeds, I spit it out and started to chew on the nut. "Tell me about this soul eater."