Disclaimer: Does anything even need to be said here? I mean, duh, it is FANfiction.
Spoilers: If you haven't watched all the episodes of The X-Files by now, what is stopping you?
Dedication: This story is really Nuria's. She had the idea for it, the timeframes, the facts. I just merged them all together.
Author's notes: The story is set one year after the death of Luke, in assumption that this would be a plausible time for emotions to have developed and the reality of the situation to have fully sunk in. The story switches from John's POV to Monica's POV throughout the story. I have tried to make it clear as early as possible in each paragraph who is speaking so I hope it isn't too confusing.
I patiently sat on the living room floor of John's apartment, reviewing the contents of the folders that lay strewn across the table. We had only just begun sorting through the information when John realised that he had left several of the files back in his office at work. He had sworn at himself, then apologised for his language when he caught me looking at him. I was hardly offended by his outburst; after all, I was surrounded by male agents for the majority of the day, so it was hardly anything new to me. I was more worried by the fact that, lately, his fuse seemed to be a lot shorter than normal.
A statement by an inmate who had recently been incarcerated on trafficking charges had presented another lead in the case of John's son, which accounted for the sleep deprivation John had been enduring. He had been working tirelessly for the last few days, trying to gather as much information as quickly as possible. And I was helping him whenever I could, as well as trying to ensure he wasn't going to get too run down by focusing on the case to the exclusion of the basics required for a person to keep functioning. I even cooked him dinner the previous night to at least give his body a reprieve from the numerous takeaway meals he had consumed. But it was difficult; I still had to honour my obligation to the FBI with the other cases I was currently assigned to. The reality was that a case that was a year old did not have priority over more current, active investigations in the eyes of the Bureau. And I know we had been warned not to get personally involved in cases, but I was far beyond the point of giving any credence to that advice.
And that was why I was now sitting cross-legged, arms resting on the cold glass of the coffee table as I re-read witness statements and police interview transcripts in the vain hope that some small piece of information may jump out at me while I waited for John to return from the station with the other files. I was still absorbed in my thoughts when I heard the twist of the lock and the door slowly creak open.
"Hey John, have you read this statement from..." I began as I turned to face the door, but I never finished the sentence. Barbara was standing in the doorway, her hand still grasping the key as it sat in the lock, a look of surprise on her face. We stared at each other in stunned silence for a few more moments before I decided to say something; anything would be better than the current awkwardness.
"I'm sorry, I thought you were John getting back." It was probably a redundant statement after my previous comment, but I couldn't come up with anything better at short notice.
"I did knock," she assured me. "I just thought no-one was here when John didn't answer."
I gave her an apologetic look. "I must have been concentrating a little too much, I didn't hear you." I then realised that it still didn't explain why I was sitting alone in her husband's apartment. "John just had to go back to the office to grab some files about the case." I didn't specify which case. She knew what I was referring to, I could see it in her eyes.
I had only met Barbara on a few occasions, but even those brief meetings were enough to see how her life had been destroyed. The first time I saw her was at Luke's funeral. I didn't even talk to her or John that day. They stood together, hands clasped between them as Barbara's tears ran freely down her cheeks while John stared blankly at the small, white coffin. Some nights I still wake from nightmares, the image of it fading in my mind; they should never have to make coffins that small.
I was standing to one side with a few of the other agents and police officers who had been involved in the case. I know that the purpose of a funeral is to celebrate the life of the person who has passed on, but throughout the service, all I could think of was the unfairness of how little time Luke had been given. But the tears that I shed were as much for the parents who had suddenly been left childless, as for the boy who now rested in that coffin.
As the service ended I walked forward, and as I placed a single white rose on the coffin, I looked in their direction and caught John's eye through my still blurred vision; his crystal blue eyes were lifeless as they stared back at me. It broke my heart to see him so defeated, and I nodded my head ever so slightly to let him know that I wasn't just there out of respect or duty; I was there as a friend, and I would not relent in my support. His nod of acknowledgement was almost imperceptible, but I saw the hint of understanding and gratefulness pass through his expression before Barbara whispered something in his ear and he turned his attention back to her, wrapping his arms around her protectively.
The other times I had seen Barbara, I had always been with John. Sometimes it made me feel guilty that John and I spent so much time together so soon after the loss of his son while his wife was alone at home grieving, even if it was only because we were trying to find closure. But whenever she talked to me, she always seemed respectful of the fact that I was trying to help them. However, as the time progressed, I could see the strain the relationship was taking, until they finally separated a few months later.
"I just needed to drop some things off for John," she told me as she cautiously walked over to the dining table and placed something on it. She looked as exhausted as John had recently. I knew that he still kept her informed of what was going on in the case but I think it only pained her more to be reminded of Luke's death.
"He should be back soon," I told her, as she stood there looking very alone.
She gave me a sad smile. "It's alright, I don't need to see him. Just let him know I dropped by and left this for him."
I tried to give her a look of understanding as she stood by the table. "Are you going OK?" I couldn't help but feel concerned for her; it seemed that her life was in a constant state of turmoil.
She looked down at the carpet, shrugging her shoulders non-commitally. "I think I'm doing better than John." She looked me straight in the eye then, with a look of sincerity. "He's really doing it tough at the moment...but I guess you know that," she said, sounding defeated.
I tried to read her expression, but the sorrow she felt masked anything else that may be hidden beneath it. "Yeah," I agreed despondently. "Hopefully the latest lead will give us a break this time." It felt surreal, having this conversation with her, as though expressing our concern for John may somehow avoid the need to confront our own feelings about everything that had happened.
"Well, I'd better get going." She started to walk towards the front door, before pausing slightly. "Just make sure John isn't too hard on himself. He seems to be going through his cycle of blaming himself again and I can't convince him otherwise."
"I will," I promised, trying to put forth a reassuring composure.
She slowly opened the door and nodded slightly before sighing deeply. "He needs someone like you, Monica." And then she left, the clunk of the door echoing in the quietness of the room.
I scanned through the files in my hands as I waited for the lift to reach my floor. A loud pinging sound alerted me that the door was about to open and I automatically stepped out into the hallway and turned towards my apartment, my eyes still skimming over the information. I was so lost in my own thoughts that I almost ran straight into her.
"Hello, John." I could hear the exhaustion in her voice as she stared at me with tired eyes.
"Hi Barb." I lowered the files, until they hung limply by my side. I looked further up the hall to my door, then turned back to her. "Did you want to come in?"
She shook her head slowly, and as she spoke, I could feel the regret emanating from her words. "There's no need. I left the stuff on the table for you."
I could only manage to nod my response, resenting the fact that our relationship had evolved to the point that we were speaking to each other with minimal emotion, as though we had used up all our reserves in the past year and had none to spare. In reality, I was more to blame, and even though I knew it was true, I couldn't help it. Barb had tried to assure me that I had done everything humanly possible to save Luke but it was never enough to quell my feelings of guilt. And sometimes I wondered if that indirectly made our separation my fault as well; I spent so much time blaming myself and reliving the past that I had drained Barb in the process. We still cared for each other, and I somehow knew that there would always be that connection, but things we could never go back to what we once had.
"I'll talk to you later," she said, then hugged me briefly before disappearing into the elevator.
I slumped against the wall, took a few deep breaths and stared absently down at the files clutched in my hand before heading to my door. Maybe this time something would come of it; I needed to retain some glimmer of hope.
I hadn't seen John in the last three weeks. The lead we had been following had culminated in yet another dead-end and without a defined direction, we didn't really have an excuse to see each other. It seemed that our contact was becoming less frequent. It wasn't that everything we did revolved around work; it was impossible to be so closely associated with someone for that amount of time and not build a friendship. And the one we had was becoming stronger, or so I liked to think, which only made our current situation more difficult to endure. It wasn't as though we saw each other every week, but this was the longest gap since the tragedy which had mercilessly thrown us together. Although most of the time we spent together was because, officially, we were working the same case, we both knew that the undertone of our meetings had a much deeper purpose. It was the constant in our lives, the overt reminder that we were actively doing something to make sure Luke's memory would not fade; that we weren't going to give up until we found justice. But each time we crossed out another avenue of investigation, the colder the case was becoming and we were already forced into cramming our work on the case between other obligations.
I felt it almost as much as John did: the sorrow, the frustration, the helplessness; because I had been there, every step of the way. Not that I could ever truly feel it as strongly as he did, but I had invested so much time and emotion into the case that sometimes I found it difficult to remember what life was like before all this happened. And now I was worried that maybe the latest set-back had been too much for him to withstand and he was trying to shut me out. It could have just been coincidental, but the few times that I had managed to get in contact with him, he would say that he was busy. And whenever I asked him if there was anything I could do, he would always say that he was fine dealing with his problems on his own.
I knew I had to try to break him out of his depression somehow, even if only to distract him for a while. I picked up the phone and dialled his office number. I waited anxiously, but I knew he was more likely to answer the phone at work; he didn't have the option of letting the call go to the machine like I am sure he had been doing at home. It only took a few rings for him to answer.
"Hi John, it's me." I didn't want to give him too much time to come up with excuses, so I quickly continued. "A few of the guys from work are going out for drinks tonight. You should come."
"Look, Monica, I'm just not really in the mood for goin' out at the moment. Maybe next time, OK?"
I didn't know how much longer he could continue on his path of self-destruction, and I didn't know how much longer I could watch him do it either. But I didn't want things to sour between us by pressuring him too much and I understood that being out in public was probably the last thing he wanted right now.
"Sure. I just wanted to check in, see how you were going." I tried to sound cheerful but I doubted it would make much difference.
"I'm doin' fine. I just need some time to think things over." He couldn't hide the sadness in his voice and I could tell he wanted to end the conversation. "Anyway, I got a stack of paperwork to get through so I'd better go."
"I'll talk to you later then." I heard the phone click at his end.
I didn't end up going out that night; I decided I wasn't really in the mood either. And as I drove home, I tried thinking back over the last few weeks; it just seemed like there was something else contributing to John's current demeanour. I knew he was a master at avoiding showing his true feelings, but it was always easier to do when he had the option of hanging up on me. If I wanted to find out if he really was coping, I had to face him in person. I realised that he would try to disregard my concern but I knew it had to be done, because unless he was forced to confront his feelings, he would try to bury the pain and deal with it himself, and I was worried that he couldn't endure it much longer. I don't even know if he realised he was also breaking those around him in the process. I was almost home when I decided that I didn't want to waste any more time; I would only sit at home and dwell over the idea of going to see him. So I turned down the next street and headed towards his apartment.
As soon as the door opened, I could tell John was having one of his bad days. He hadn't even bothered to change out of his work clothes; his heavily creased cotton shirt had been untucked and his tie had been half-heartedly loosened, as though removing it all together took too much effort. There was a faint smell of whiskey, and even though I often considered it a scent that suited him, when it was in combination with his current appearance, it added up to a dangerous mix.
He held onto the door-frame as he spoke. "I should have known you wouldn't listen to me." He didn't sound angry, or joking, or grateful. In fact, he was speaking as though it was only because something needed to be said, and that adding emotion was too draining.
"Well, by the looks of it, I think maybe it was a good idea I didn't take any notice." I looked at him questioningly, trying to urge him to reveal his concerns.
He sighed as he ran a hand through his untidy hair then looked at me still standing in the hallway, his mind slowly registering that it was a less than ideal location to be having a conversation. "Sorry Mon, come in," he said as he opened the door a little wider and I cautiously squeezed past into his apartment. "You want a drink?"
"Sure," I replied.
"The whiskey is fine," I told him, indicating to the bottle that sat open on the coffee table. It wasn't really my beverage of choice, but at this point I didn't really care; all I was focused on was finding out what was troubling him. And in John's world, drinking meant talking. I could see that a third of the bottle had already gone. John could certainly hold his drink, and even now he was still acting fairly normally; the only indication he had been drinking was a slight delay in his reactions. He grabbed a glass and threw a couple of ice cubes into it before heading over to sit on the couch. I sat near him as he carefully poured a double nip into my glass, then slid it across the cold glass of the table-top. I took a tentative swig, the searing burn that ran down my throat seemed fitting for the current situation. I placed my drink on the table, the harsh sound of glass on glass slicing through the awkward silence. I turned towards him then but he remained unmoved, staring into his Jack Daniel's as though it was his licence to forget.
"It's over, Mon." I didn't respond, just waited patiently for him to expand on the statement. I could see from his defeated stare that he was willing to divulge everything. "My marriage, it's over."
It wasn't exactly an Earth-shattering revelation; Barbara and he had been separated for ages, so I was confused. "John...were you expecting things to get better between the two of you?" I asked hesitantly.
"No," he stated plainly. "I just mean it is over for real." He turned to me then with a look of finality. "We signed the divorce papers this week."
So that was what had triggered his behaviour. I felt awful for not picking up on it earlier; that must have been what Barbara brought to his apartment that day. I could imagine what it must feel like for him, the final closure on the chapter of his life as part of a family, an official reminder that the death of his son had resulted in the painful relationship that he and his now ex-wife had developed. I struggled to think of how I could comfort him in his state of hopelessness so I reached for the hand that wasn't clutched around the glass of whiskey and squeezed it reassuringly. He didn't resist the action, just accepted the gesture.
"I can understand how difficult this is for you, John, even if you knew it was going to get to this point at some stage."
He gulped down the remainder of his drink before placing his glass down. He sighed deeply then leant back and rested his head on the couch, closing his eyes. I was pleased that he hadn't attempted to release the grip on my hand; he seemed calmed by the contact. I leant back too, staring up at the ceiling as I waited for him to gather his thoughts. For once, the silence seemed appropriate as we sat beside each other, our clasped hands resting in the gap between us.
"Are you going to be OK, John?" I didn't open my eyes because I could hear the concern in her voice, and I knew that if I looked at her, my resolve would crumble. The whiskey was affecting me enough to somewhat dull the pain, but not enough to over-ride everything I was feeling.
"Yeah," I murmured. And it was true; it was just that the harsh slap of reality in making the decision official affected me more than I had anticipated. The main problem was that Barbara and I had never been able to see each other in the same way after Luke died, we each saw the other as the link to the son that no longer existed. And the initial comfort we tried to provide each other soon disappeared, replaced by emptiness of life without our only child. It wasn't entirely our fault that our bond slowly disintegrated, because we really had tried to make things work for a while, but being together only presented cruel reminders of what we had lost. And in some ways I felt comforted that Barb was free of me; free to move on.
"It's just that when I signed those papers, it felt like I was finally admitting that a whole stage of my life is over." I let go of her hand then so I could cover my face. Even though Monica had seen me at my most vulnerable on several occasions, I still found it hard to let go completely. But at that moment, I was too absorbed in my sense of loneliness that I no longer cared. I couldn't help but reflect over my life. "I had everything," I mumbled from beneath my hands. "And now I have nothing."
I could see his chest filling more deeply as he took larger breaths, trying to hold back tears. I didn't know what to say to him and it upset me to watch his suffering, even though I had done it countless times before; it never got easier. I could feel that familiar lump in my throat forming as I looked at the image of a broken John Doggett as he was once again forced to face his demons. His hands slowly fell from his face and into his lap as he leaned forward, hanging his head as he stared at the floor.
"I just feel so alone." His voice sounded distant, as though he was trapped in his own little world of pity. I couldn't watch anymore. I knew that I had to be cautious with John when it came to affection, but seeing him so helpless tore at me until it was unbearable. I slid towards him and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, pulling him gently towards me but he resisted, not moving from his position.
"John, you aren't alone," I whispered in his ear. "Whenever you need me, I'll be here." For a moment, I wondered if he had even heard what I had said. But I finally felt his shoulders relax and he allowed himself to be pulled towards me, accepting my promise. He rested his head in the crook of my neck and I brought my other hand up, running soothing fingers through his hair as I felt his silent tears dampen my shirt.
I must have fallen asleep, but I wasn't sure for how long. I awoke to find my head resting on Monica's chest, rising slightly each time she took a breath. I could feel one of her arms draped over my back, her fingers softly caressing my neck. She must have shifted position when I had fallen asleep because she was now lying along the length of the couch with her head propped against the cushions at the end, allowing me to sleep some of my exhaustion away without disturbing me by moving too much. The constant throb of her heartbeat was comforting; I could tell from the slower rate that she had fallen asleep too. I didn't want to move. It felt so peaceful lying there with her, the arm that had previously been actively embracing me now resting limply across my back, as though even while she slept she was doing her best to protect me from my pain. But I knew the weight of me half on top of her must have been quite significant, so I tried to move as cautiously as possible until I could squeeze into the gap beside her. Despite the subtlety of my actions, I saw her eyelids peek open and a sleepy smile emerge.
I propped myself up on my elbow as I looked down at her; I could see the darker spots on her shirt where my tears where yet to dry. I could feel the stickiness of the dried salt on the edges of my eyelids and there were still the last remnants of the alcohol buzzing in my brain, so I guessed we couldn't have been asleep for too long.
"I'm sorry if I squashed you." I felt a little ashamed that I may have put her in an awkward position, both literally and emotionally, and I hoped that she wasn't feeling uncomfortable with the whole situation.
I could feel her fingers gently moving behind my head, causing the fine hairs on the back of my neck to tingle as she looked at me sincerely. "It was not feeling your weight that woke me up, John."
I looked deep into her eyes after she said that; those eyes that promised solace and comfort. And in them I saw all those times that she had been there for me, all those moments of loyal companionship squashed into this very moment. She didn't make a move, she just searched my face to see if I understood what she was really saying; that it was when we were apart that we suffered the most.
I could feel her breath on my cheek as I looked down at her and I slowly dipped my head towards her, waiting to confirm that we were both thinking the same thing. Her gaze shifted from my eyes to my lips and as I closed the gap, I felt the pressure of her hand on the back of my neck, pulling me closer while also allowing her to lift her head from the cushion to meet me halfway. The softness of her lips was incredible as we cautiously moved against each other, reveling in the feeling of closeness the contact provided. I felt her strength weakening as she let her head fall back into the cushion, but she ensured the kiss wasn't broken by pulling me down with her. I could feel the tip of her tongue tentatively graze my bottom lip and I responded by mirroring her action before deepening the kiss. Her free hand slide under my shirt, making its way up my spine before moving over the muscles of my back and pulling downwards, helping gravity merge our bodies closer together. I wasn't even sure how she hadn't passed out from lack of oxygen - between our kisses and my weight squashing her ribcage - but she didn't stop until I pulled back slightly to give her a chance to breathe.
We were both a little breathless by that stage, and I took my weight on my elbows, blanketing her body with my shadow. Even in half-darkness, I could see the honesty in her features, and realised she was the only thing in the world that mattered to me. I moved my head down until my lips brushed along her ear as I spoke. "I wish we could always be this close."
I felt her nails lightly scrape their way from my back to my side, before her hand snaked between our bodies to touch the muscles of my stomach and I involuntarily flinched at the sensation. "You know what?" she whispered as her hand made its way up my chest. "We could be a lot closer."
I could see the desire in her eyes, and I knew she saw the same in mine. I bent down again for another long kiss then started to get up from the couch, pulling her with me. Both her arms remained draped around my neck as we continued kissing while I slowly walked backwards, leading her to the bedroom. When we reached the side of the bed, I hooked one finger in a gap between the buttons of her shirt as I lay down, pulling her with me. She landed on top of me, her dark hair framing her face as it draped down to cocoon me. We held our positions for a moment, staring at each other intently as though we existed in our own private world, one in which we were making the right decision.
My eyes sprung open and my breaths were coming in short bursts, a thin veil of sweat covering my body. It took a few moments for my brain to register my surroundings and as I looked towards the other side of the bed, I saw Monica sleeping soundly, oblivious to the gut-wrenching nightmare that had awoken me.
This is all so wrong.
I couldn't believe how quickly my emotions had been thrown from elation to regret. My son was dead, and here I was, sleeping with the person who had stood beside me as we had gazed upon his lifeless body. The person I would never even have met if my son hadn't gone missing in the first place. Such a short time ago, I had been moving against her, consumed by her, as though nothing else held any importance, lost in the intoxicating feel of her fingers as they explored my body, desperately trying to ebb away my pain and help me forget. And it had worked. I thought of nothing else except her: the tenderness of her lips merging with mine, the silkiness of her skin as my hands covered every inch of her, the dulcet tones that carried words of comfort amongst the urgency. And I tried to honour the unwavering gift of loyalty she had shown me ever since we had met as I held her perfect body tightly against me while I moved inside her, trying to express how her support had saved me so many times.
But I now realised we shouldn't have let it happen; at least not now. The last image I remember seeing before I had woken was Luke's small eyes, boring into mine with the innocence of youth, pleading with me not to forget him.
But I had.
For that short time, he had been erased from my consciousness. And now my mind was racing with jumbled flashes of memories and twisted images my subconscious had created in my nightmares. The paleness of Luke's still body, flashes of a charred corpse, nameless faces whispering words of sympathy as they moved away to let me get closer to my son. And interspersed throughout the onslaught of torturous images was the one constant: Monica, tangled irreversibly with the painful memories.
My eyes followed the path of the white sheet as it gracefully contoured to the curves of her naked body, ending when they saw the calmness of her sleeping face. The thought of having to face her tomorrow, to try and rationally explain the way I was feeling was compounding my already tumultuous emotions. I hoped she would understand. She deserved more, deserved to be with someone who was solely focused on her. And although I desperately wished I could be that person, I knew that it would never be possible until I ensured justice over Luke's death was served; until his soul could finally be at peace. Until I could finally be at peace.
I sat up and let the sheet fall to my waist, allowing the night air to draw the excess heat from my body as my heart rate began to slow towards normal. I concentrated on slowing my breathing; I was used to having to deal with the after-effects of nightmares all too often. And I thought I had almost regained my composure, until a glint of moonlight bouncing off a silver frame caught my attention, and as I focused more closely on the picture, I couldn't help the feeling of loss that once again overcame me.
I woke at some stage during the night. Time had no relevance; all I knew was that it was still well into the hours of darkness, only the thin sliver of the waning moon cutting through the blackness of the night. I didn't know whether it was his movements that had stirred me from sleep, or the cool breeze that now brushed over my upper body because the sheet had pulled away slightly. But as my eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light, I could see his silhouette framed in the pale moonlight. He sat at the edge of the bed, looking towards a small yet prominent frame that contained the never-changing image of his son. His happy, healthy, living son. But the moonlight drained the tones in the photo, leaving the boy with a ghostly glow; an ominous reminder of reality.
The light from the moon splintered as it passed through the tears which precariously sat on John's lower eyelids. I could feel my own eyes start stinging but I resisted my sorrow developing any further. He was so close...all I had to do was reach over those last few inches to remind him that I was still here for him; that what we had been through tonight shouldn't change things, or make him feel guilty. But even now he still grieved, and it was not my place to rob him of that emotion. I ached inside as I watched his head dip, a single tear from each eye finally succumbing to gravity and gently dropping into his hands as they came up to cradle his face, his chest slowly rising and falling with each breath. I wanted to slide over and comfort him; hold him close and try to absorb some of his pain. But I didn't want my acknowledgement of his hurt make him retract further into seclusion. Despite all we had shared, he still thought that emotion was a sign of weakness.
An involuntary shiver coursed through my body, and in the stillness of the night, the muffled sound it caused against the sheet was enough for John's trained ears to discern. I closed my eyes just as he began turning, adamant that I wouldn't let him discover I had been watching him. Not that I considered it something he should be ashamed of...but I knew that was the way he would feel. I could hear him sigh, then felt the subtle movement of the mattress as he shifted position and lay back down. There was a slight rustling before I felt the softness of his fingers as they just barely grazed my skin, pulling the sheet back over my body. I wasn't sure how long it was after that, but I waited until I heard his breathing become more even. I opened my eyes and looked at his face. He was a little more relaxed, but the ever-present hint of sadness still marred his features. And it was at that point I realised that tonight actually had changed everything. In those blissful moments that we had shared, he was living in the present, not dwelling on the past. And now his mind was going to taunt him with that fact. It was breaking my heart, that my presence was putting doubt in his; as though choosing to love me meant disregarding the love for his son. I knew that it was irrational for him to think those feelings were mutually exclusive. But I also knew that, at the moment, that was what he believed. So I made it easy for him; made sure he wouldn't have to make the decision.
I left with the hope that one day our circumstances would change, and maybe then we would get another chance.