Title: Best Intentions
Author: J.S. Michel
Completed: June 2001
Classification: S
Keywords: Scully/Doggett friendship, implied MSR, William, future.
Spoilers: Existence
Rating: R for language
Archive: Sure, just let me know and include this header.
Disclaimer: I don't own 'em.
Feedback: Yes please.

Summary: Ten years after Existence.


As a baby his ears had stuck out a little and his parents, worried about his appearance, had taped them to his head. His father had always been self-conscious about his own ears; wanted to spare his son if he could help it.

For three years he'd put up with it, until one night, without warning, he'd rebelled against the bedtime ritual; after a week of his protesting his parents had had the good sense to finally put away the tape, fabric Elastoplast stuff that his mom had snipped into little strips with her sewing scissors; "more expensive than Band-Aids but it lets your skin breathe, John."

They'd concluded they'd done what they could, and that completely streamlined ears just weren't worth hassling him so much.

Years later, inspired by his wife's playful ear-nibbling, he'd recounted the story of his Ears' Formative Years. Snuggled together in their darkened New York apartment, his parents' actions sounded so ridiculously neurotic.

"Didn't even do much good, did it?" she'd mumbled affectionately.

He'd chuckled, breathing in her intoxicating warmth as his mind drifted briefly to their four-year-old, sound asleep in the next room. Jesus, the stuff well-intentioned parents did sometimes. He was glad he could find it funny; knew his folks had meant well.


"Yeah," he mumbled sleepily into the handset.

"Meet me at the Gunmen's right away."

John turned on the lamp and squinted at his watch on the night- table. Four-fuckin-thirty. "Good mornin' to you too, Mulder. What's up?"

"Pack a bag. Hot weather."

Click. Dial tone.

Shit.

He stumbled to the closet and pulled out his duffel bag. Threw in some clothes, pulled on clean jeans and a T-shirt. Hoped Scully was doing okay.

"When the hell is it all going to end?" he'd once asked Mulder.

"I don't know. Maybe it doesn't..."


"Open up, Langly." One of these days he was gonna wake up and find himself too old for this bullshit.

The door slid open, then closed behind him. Langly and Byers were clucking over their surveillance equipment like a couple of mother hens. A large duffel bag sat by the door. John immediately looked for Scully, caught a glimpse of her off in a corner talking softly with Mulder, his hands on her shoulders. She didn't look happy. Will was here too, hunkered over a computer keyboard beside Frohike -- probably learning all about how to punch through the CIA's firewalls.

Langly announced him: "What took you so long, Dog Dude?"

Scully looked up from her quiet conversation, met his eyes from across the equipment-cluttered room. Mulder glanced up too, followed her gaze.

"What's goin' on?" John frowned at them, though he could make a pretty good guess.

"You got gas in your tank?" Mulder asked him tersely.

"Yeah." Here we go. He glanced at Scully as Mulder went to Will.

"What's this one do?" Will was asking Frohike.

"Whoa, not that one," Frohike shook his head. "Your mom'll kill me!"

"Will," Mulder interrupted gently before Frohike could corrupt the boy further. Will sighed and slid off the gas-lift chair. The ten- year-old shoved his hands in his pockets, staring moodily at the floor.

Mulder crouched so they were eye-level; or would've been eye-level, if Will had looked up. "You listen to your mom, all right? And Agent Doggett too. Remember, don't draw any attention to yourself. Got it, Bud?"

Will shrugged. John could almost feel the boy tense as Mulder pulled him into a quick hug.

"See you soon, okay?" Mulder added, his face falling slightly at Will's indifferent response. John looked away uncomfortably, focusing on a broken floor tile, suddenly wishing he hadn't been programmed to document everything so goddamn closely.

With a final squeeze of Will's shoulder Mulder stood up, pulling a thick envelope from his jacket and handing it over discreetly. John took it without a word and slipped it in an inside pocket.

"Scully'll fill you in," Mulder said simply, nodding towards the door. Scully was there beside him now.

He watched Mulder squeeze Scully's hand for about half a second and felt vaguely voyeuristic about it; it was about as intimate as they ever got in public. Old habits died hard, presumably.

Scully was picking up the duffel bag with one hand, her other hand on Will's shoulder now as Langly released the door for them.

The reality of the situation hit him -- what fuckin' reality, John? -- and he reached to relieve her of the duuffel. Found himself leading the way up the maze of stairs to his pickup, wondering where the hell they were going this time as he heard Langly's computerized door snick shut behind them.


New Mexico. After an hour of driving it was all he'd learned, and only after she'd wordlessly pointed to it on the map.

"Why?" he finally asked. They'd never had to go so far before.

She glanced over her shoulder at Will, who was strapped into the back seat engrossed in his Game Boy. "Later," she cautioned quietly.

He studied the road ahead. Nodded. Okay then. Just relax and enjoy the drive, huh?

Remembered a trip down to Georgia, different truck, different lifetime. Luke, a few years younger than Will was now, similarly glued to some electronic game in the back seat. The love of his life in the passenger seat beside him, humming softly to the radio.

Don't do this to yourself. Don't.

He switched on the radio.

Static. He scanned up and down for a minute, finally gave up and took a stab at the CD, wondering what the hell he'd left in there.

The sound of "Dixie" filled the cab. Scully raised an eyebrow that made him feel like he'd just pulled a banjo from under the seat and yelled 'Yee-Haw'...

"Civil War soundtrack," he mumbled. Damn good but maybe not quite what he'd had in mind.

"Turn it off," Will grumbled from behind.

"William," Scully reprimanded her son sharply.

He turned it off. Bad idea anyway.

The first day was always the hardest, he'd learned.


Lunch. Gotta eat. He pulled into a road-stop Taco Bell and thumbed quickly through Mulder's envelope. "Lotta fajitas," he mumbled. He remembered reading those files that long-ago week-end, had wondered how much of Mulder's rumored Vineyard inheritance had already been spent on chartered Norwegian boats and flights to Antarctica.

But apparently there'd been lots to spare. He wondered what the hell Mulder had planned for them this time, a hop on the Concord?

He split the wad into two roughly-even piles, slid one across the seat to Scully. She shook her head. "I'm okay." Patted her breast pocket.

Jesus. How much cash did they have between the two of them? He re- divided the wad up into six, distributed the money in various pockets, saving a few dozen of the smaller bills for his wallet.

"You two okay stayin' here?"

She nodded, her hand moving to the bulge of her holster.

He didn't like leaving them, would have preferred a drive-through but that would mean getting off the highway and wandering around the nearest small town, something they wanted to avoid.

"What can I getcha, Will?" he called over the headrest. "Taco? Burrito?"

"I hate Taco Bell," the boy grumbled without looking up from his game.

Okay...

"What about you?" John asked her. "Salad?"

"Salad," she nodded, just repeating what he'd said, her mind somewhere else. He knew it probably didn't matter what the hell he got her. She rarely ate anything those first couple of days.

"Keep the doors locked," he cautioned as he stepped out of the pickup.

He waded through the parking lot full of happy families on holiday, waded back with two sackfuls of food, hoping there'd be something in there that somebody'd like.

Ended up dumping most of it, of course, after watching Scully push cucumber and tomato wedges around a plastic tray for twenty minutes. But Will had eaten a soft tortilla and a side of rice, a definite minor victory, after which he escorted the boy to the men's room, still wondering what he was supposed to be looking out for while Will muttered something about privacy.

They walked back to the pickup truck together.

"Skinner says you're a real good shot." It was the first complete sentence Will had spoken since they'd left D.C.

John shrugged. "I'm okay. Why?"

"Maybe you can teach me to shoot sometime."

"Sure," John nodded, "when you're older, if your folks say it's okay."

Will seemed to consider this. "How old were you when you got your first gun, Agent Doggett?"

"Uh, I was eight. But it was my dad's old hunting rifle. An' I lived in the country." Well, sort of. Like it really made a goddamn difference. He'd also had a BB gun when he was five.

But since then he'd encountered twelve-year-old sentries in West Beirut, seen two of them caught by an explosion on Wafik Al Tibi Street and the image of a kid Will's age firing a gun evoked bewildered brown eyes in baby faces and the stench of burning flesh, the front of the building crumpling in an endless slow-motion second; his own eyes reddened and watery the rest of the day, presumably from the acrid clouds of disinfectant sprayed over the rubble from a passing truck. Small sneakers had smoldered in the ashes 'til nightfall, eight-year-olds being trained out in the camps to fill them, learning to leap bonfires while brandishing rifles half their size...

He glanced over at Will. "Why're you interested?"

"I dunno," the boy shrugged. "It'd be pretty cool, and maybe then everybody'd stop worryin' about me."

Christ. It was so he could take a leak in private.


Five hundred miles, three escorted bathroom breaks and one untouched salad later they reached their valhalla for the night: pink neon blinking through ragged yellow and brown drapes. Travel Lodge Motel Cable Vacancy.

Arby's had been Will's suggestion, so supper had gone over slightly better than lunch, though John was convinced the boy had hated Arby's on their previous trip.

"Shower time, Will."

"We're watching the game. I'll shower in the morning." He glanced to John for support.

John looked over at Scully. She looked like he felt: dusty and exhausted. "Do like your mom says," he nodded to Will. "I'll keep you posted if anything happens."

Will hauled a sneaker-clad foot onto the dingy motel bedspread, plucked at the laces for a few minutes, his attention still riveted on the Yankees.

"William..." Scully warned.

"I'm just taking my shoes off," he protested.

Finally he complied, and in less than three minutes was again sitting next to John, hair dripping into his eyes, catching the end of the game while Scully took her turn in the shower.

"So where we going, anyway?" the boy asked with what John suspected was feigned indifference.

"I dunno all the details yet." The truth, unfortunately.

Will gave him a humorless laugh, glanced at him skeptically. "That's just great. So we're all just runnin' around blindly following Mulder's secret plan?" He stared back at the TV. "I was supposed to pitch this afternoon, you know." His voice was flat, refusing to betray emotion. "My team was counting on me."

John sighed. That explained part of the moodiness, at least. "You're dad's just lookin' out for you."

"He's a nutcase."

"Hey, I don't wanna hear that B.S.," he frowned. Jesus, like he hadn't thought that about Mulder a hundred times himself. "And since when do you call him 'Mulder', anyway?".

"Better'n 'Spooky'," Will mumbled under his breath.

John felt a sharp pang of sympathy for Mulder, remembering how proud Luke had been of his dad the policeman. It was one of the things he'd clung to, that Luke had been proud of him, had believed in him. He clung to it still, even though he knew it intensified the feeling that he'd somehow let his son down.

Luke had been younger, though; Will's strained relationship with Mulder was a recent thing. Just a few years ago they'd had to listen to three hundred miles of "Where's dad?" from the back seat. Maybe by high school a father who was a cop would've been about as cool as one whose nickname was Spooky.

He studied the boy, trying to figure out what the hell to say. "You know, your dad saved my life more'n a few times. I gotta lotta respect for him." Will stared at the TV, unmoved. "Why're you so mad at him, Will?"

"He drives me crazy."

"Everybody's parents drive 'em crazy."

Will looked away from the screen at last. "Yeah, well, when you were a kid, d'your old man go on about alien invasions?" John saw an angry spark in his eyes. "Did he make you keep a packed knapsack under your bed? Just in case? Practice twenty different ways to sneak outta the house, make you memorize pages of emergency scenarios? People and airports and bus lines and a whole other load o' crap? Just in case? Did your dad check the back o' your baseball coach's neck, just in fuckin' case?"

John recognized fear and insecurity just under the bitterness. "No," he had to admit. "Nothin' like that. But... every night he taped my ears to my head so they wouldn't stick out so much."

Will was caught off guard; frowned at him suspiciously. "You're kidding."

"You think I'd make that up?"

Will peered at him with a hint of amusement now. "Didn't do much good, did it..."

"Yeah, I heard that one," John shrugged mildly, relieved to see some of the boy's anger defused. His wife's soft laughter echoed in his mind as it had in their tiny apartment so long ago, and he wondered if Will and his future wife would laugh like that some day over Mulder's paranoia.

They watched the game in silence.

"D'you believe that stuff he says?" Will asked after a minute, his tone more subdued now.

John shifted uncomfortably. "I believe he's doin' what he thinks is best for you."

"Yeah, but d'you *believe* him?"

You're way out of your territory here, John. He glanced at the bathroom door, partly wishing Scully'd come and bail him out, partly relieved she couldn't hear. "Your dad's seen a lotta stuff I don't think I'll ever understand," he said quietly. "This isn't about what I believe. This is about respect, an' I respect your dad."

He saw Will nod in bitter satisfaction. He felt like he'd just stabbed Mulder in the back, but he couldn't lie to the boy.

They watched the Yankees for a minute.

"Agent Doggett, you sure I wasn't adopted?"

John stared hard at his profile. "Damn sure," he sighed.

"You're first on the list, d'you know that?" Will volunteered softly, his eyes fixed on the game. "My list of emergency contacts. Right ahead o' Skin Man and Agent Reyes."

"Yeah?" Wondered, feeling vaguely flattered, which one of them had made up that particular goddamn list.


"Mulder thinks someone's looking into his medical history."

"Any idea who?"

They sat at the foot of the second bed, the muted TV flashing frantic disembodied news bites at them. Will was asleep; or so they hoped. John wouldn't put it past the kid to be faking it -- could hardly have blamed him for it either. A good way to learn stuff, he remembered from his own childhood.

She shook her head. "We don't know. There was a break-in at the pediatrician's office yesterday. Monica and Skinner are looking into it. Looked like a simple B&E, computer equipment missing, but Will's files haven't turned up in the mess. He just had bloodwork done last week, and it seems those samples have been misplaced from the lab."

He frowned, knew how much she clung to the hope that all that shit surrounding Will's birth had just been a bunch of science-fiction. The boy seemed normal enough, all things considered. But every once in a while something like this would happen and John would be assigned bodyguard duty, the three of them lying low somewhere while Mulder, Skinner and Monica checked things out: a few days, a few weeks. Occasionally longer.

The fact that none of the scares had panned into anything almost made the whole damn situation worse. A lifetime of living on a time bomb that might turn out, in retrospect, to be nothing more than over-protective paranoia.

How many more ball games would this kid miss out on?

"So what's in New Mexico?" he asked.

"Friends who helped me out when... when Mulder was shot -- a long time ago. Farmington, a Navajo reservation."

He nodded, recalling now. She'd shot Mulder for his own protection. Damn but this family had a weird way of looking after one another. "I remember the case. The code talker, isn't that right?"

Scully nodded.

"You're not worried anybody else who remembers him might think to look for you there?" he asked.

"The code talker is long dead. I doubt anybody will look there again. Besides," she shrugged tiredly, "we're running out of new places to go."

Yeah. This was, what, the eighth scare in three years now?

"Will's been doing some homework, John. He's starting to realize this isn't exactly normal..."

No kidding. "How much d'you figure he knows?"

"I don't know," she shook her head. "Probably a lot more than he lets on."

John nodded. The boy was no dolt. Between the brains he'd inherited from his parents and the stuff he'd been gleaning from the Gunmen he was pretty well set up to find out a whole lot of information. Dollars to donuts that "Spooky" reference was only the tip of the iceberg.

He leaned over to open the mini-bar and grabbed two beers from the door. He sat back on the bed, handing her one of the cans as she watched him quizzically.

"Happy anniversary," he mumbled, popping the tab on his own can. Her surprise was obvious. "Not the evening you'd planned, I'm sure..." he apologized.

She smiled faintly. "We've almost given up on planning these things," she sighed. She opened the beer he'd given her, tapped her can to his. "I can't believe you even remembered."

"Well, I was there," he shrugged, recalling the small civil ceremony, Margaret Scully rocking a crying Will while Mulder and Scully exchanged their vows. He'd been checking into the motel this evening when he'd noticed the date, which, for reasons best left unexplored, was somehow etched in his mind.

"Nine years, what is that? Wood? Plastic?" he continued casually. "I've never gotten those things straight, but I'm pretty damn sure it isn't beer, I remember that much."

"The beer'll do just fine," she smiled, raising the can to her lips.

He unmuted the TV and they watched the news for a while, a five- second brawl in Belfast interrupted by a quick insurrection in Indonesia, miraculously cut short by every friggin' nation's ultimate desire to sport the brightest brites.

People around the world risking their lives for something they believed in, only to get trivialized on national news as filler between laundry detergent commercials...

Singing potato chips danced across the screen, and he hit the mute button again in quiet annoyance.

She seemed lost in thought, and he guessed she was thinking about Mulder. He studied his beer, trying not to dwell on the strangeness of the situation. His whole life had become so goddamn weird since he'd met her.

After a minute he felt her eyes on him and looked up. "How many years were you married?" she asked gently.

"Uh, fifteen. But separated for most o' the last two."

She sipped her beer. "Would you ever consider it again?"

He thought for a moment. Couldn't help wonder why she was asking. "Yeah," he answered truthfully. "I would." He glanced over at her. "It was, you know, it was nice. We were happy." Still would be, he suspected, if life had dealt them a kinder hand.

He could see the sorrow in her eyes. "Anyway," he shrugged, "it's kinda moot. Takes two, an' my dance card ain't what it used to be."

She raised an eyebrow at that, gave him an amused look he couldn't quite decipher before she looked down to stare at her beer. "The X- Files aren't exactly conducive to that kind of thing, are they..." she sighed.

He threw her a mischievous glance. "Only rarely. And we can't all be shaggin' our partners now, can we?"

Jesus, she was actually blushing. Three points, John. A renegade part of his brain wondered how her mouth would taste, in a world less complicated.

She watched the silent TV screen in embarrassment, then looked over at him. "Thank you," she said softly. "Not just for this," she glanced at the beer, "but... for everything. For sticking through this."

He shrugged dismissively and concentrated on the TV; took another swallow of beer. Yeah, you're a regular goddamn Boy Scout, John.

His wife's words, late one night, early in their marriage when he'd been on leave for a week. She'd asked him if he'd considered leaving the Corps, said she was tired of worrying, tired of missing him so much. So he'd mentioned his interest in the FBI, or a local PD. Maybe highway patrol. "Jesus, John, you're a regular goddamned Boy Scout," she'd grumbled. "Can't you come up with something less noble that'd let me sleep at night?" So he'd shrugged and suggested Produce Clerk, the job he'd had in high school. Told her he'd nearly sliced his thumb off trimming lettuce once, but maybe she could manage to sleep with that and he could probably bring home bruised fruits under the table.

She'd stared at him wordlessly. He'd grinned and pulled her closer and she'd sighed, exasperated, before kissing him in affectionate defeat.

A year later he'd been wounded, and after the long rehab and a few years at Syracuse he'd applied to the NYPD. At least she'd see him every day, he'd reassured her.

She'd allowed it. They both knew he was born for this type of work, and she had been willing to put up with it for him.

God, he'd loved her.

He drained his beer, glanced over at Scully who was staring at the scrolling national forecasts.

Nine years, he thought. You happy, Agent Scully?

He'd wondered for some time now, though he wasn't sure what the hell he'd do with the answer if he ever decided to ask her; like he'd told Will, he really did respect Mulder. He couldn't help but respect someone who'd be true to his beliefs even when the whole world yelled 'loony' from the bleachers.

But he also knew Mulder pushed people pretty hard, knew even Scully's astounding patience with the guy was tested time and time again. About a year ago she and Will had spent nearly a month at her mother's. Not the first time, either. But somehow she and Mulder always managed to patch things up, managed to give it another go.

He knew she loved the man. That much had always been clear. But was she happy...?

New Mexico scrolled by. Hot and sunny. No shit. Scully yawned sleepily, and John turned off the TV and tossed out the two empties.

They'd reached a comfort level which permitted them to brush their teeth over a shared motel sink to save time, synchronizing their foamy rinses like an old married couple. Except afterwards he watched her slip between the sheets next to a softly-snoring Will, while he turned out the night-table lamp and crawled into the other bed.

The motel room flickered every few seconds, pink neon winking at him through those shit-colored curtains.

Despite the day's long drive sleep wouldn't come. He propped himself up on one elbow and watched her for a moment, just an arm's reach away, her hair fanned out softly against the white pillowcase.

Her reading was on the night-table between them. It was a book he recognized from previous journeys: Lao Tzu's Tao Te Ching. He reached for it, flipped through it idly, curious to know what comfort she found in these pages.

Words of wisdom, bathed in neon pink: "Be empty. Watch everything just come and go. This is enlightenment."

Enlightenment, John.

Shit, a decade on the X-Files, he had to be one of the most goddamned enlightened people around.


Another trek through a parking lot, returning with coffee, orange juice and two artery-clogging country-deluxe breakfasts. And a cranberry muffin for Dr. Scully's dissecting pleasure.

The morning had dawned steamy and overcast. In contrast Will had woken up cheerful until the moment he'd found out John had forgotten to pack his glove. A time-honored tradition on these excursions: a few minutes of catch before breakfast, Scully somehow buying the excuse that he -- John -- needed to burn off a bit of steam before another day on the road.

He'd offered to play despite the missing mitt but Will had ignored him, sulking in front of the TV. It wouldn't have been the same, they both knew. The kid was developing quite an arm.

As he crossed the asphalt he caught a glimpse of a man outside their door. John frowned and quickened his pace, skirting the row of parked cars, but the man had already wandered over to the neighboring room and inserted his key. Just another confused tourist. Too much paranoia in the air.

John reached their own door and let himself in, setting down the breakfast stuff. The room was empty, the blaring TV unattended. From the bathroom he heard the sound of water running.

He knocked loudly on the bathroom door. "Where's Will?"

She opened the door immediately, concern flooding her face. "He was watching TV."

Dammit.

He rushed out, gun drawn, Scully close behind him. Pounded on the neighboring door where he'd seen the suspicious man go in. "Federal Agent! Open up!"

Scared the man shitless. No sign of Will.

"Call the front desk," he told Scully. "I'll check outside."

He checked the pickup truck, scanned the parking lot. Nothing.

He ran towards the diner, went around the far side of the building, blood pummeling his ears as he scanned the dark recesses between the garbage bins.

Voices from around the side. Will's voice.

He raced to the corner, skidded to a stop at the sight of the kids.

Baseball. Jesus Christ. "Hey!" he yelled.

Will's pitch went wild. The two other boys froze, staring wide-eyed at the gun in John's hand.

"Get your friggin' butt over here!" he hollered to Will. "What the hell you thinkin'?" The freckle-faced batter dropped his Louisville Slugger and raised his arms in surrender.

Will's mortified look cut John to the bone.

He re-holstered his service weapon, took a breath, ran a hand through his hair. Took Will by the shoulder and marched him back to find Scully, feeling like a goddamned asshole truant officer.

Christ, he hoped Will could laugh about this one day.


"Good thing you didn't make a scene," Will had grumbled accusingly, not looking at him. "Wouldn't wanna draw attention to ourselves." It was the last time he'd spoken to either of them all day after Scully had chewed him out.

What bothered John most was that the kid was right. And in a few days they'd be contacting Mulder, probably find out the whole pediatrician thing had been a badly-timed combination of lab error, clerical blunder and unrelated computer theft. Get called back to D.C., where Will would have to tell his teammates he'd had a fuckin' runny nose, sorry guys, I'll try to make it next time.

Different bedspread, same damn musty motel smell mingling with the remains of their pizza. Scully, apparently revitalized by two veggie slices which hopefully marked the end of her fast, was now intent on reorganizing the contents of her duffel bag. Will was in the shower, a long one tonight. Still sulking.

"How'd I get picked for this assignment, anyway?" John sighed, sprawled tiredly in the room's only armchair.

Scully glanced up at him sympathetically. "Because Monica can't accompany him to the men's room."

Great. He had a dick. "An' to think I busted my butt in college," he grumbled. She gazed at him with amusement and he smiled back faintly. She'd finally caved in to the heat. Scully in cut-offs and a tank-top was a rare sight but always damn-well worth the wait.

"Skinner and Monica aren't... used to kids," she explained, looking down at the duffel bag now.

He watched her fold a T-shirt. She added it to the neat pile sitting next to Will's worn baseball cap, and the image brought back a stack of small shirts on a half-emptied dresser, a small Yankees cap resting beside an open box marked Goodwill as he'd tried to decide whether he could bear to think of another boy wearing that hat; as he'd tried to decide, sitting alone in an empty apartment, how much good will he still possessed.

"Will likes you," she went on. "He looks up to you. And Mulder trusts you."

Right. He closed his eyes wearily and stretched his legs. He sure as hell hadn't scored any points with Will today. And Mulder's trust -- shit, he didn't even want to think about that one too hard. Knew Mulder's trust didn't come easy.

He opened his eyes. "I don't ever remember Will bein' so pissed off."

"It isn't really you he's angry with," she reassured him.

He considered this; nodded. Hesitated a moment, then plunged in. "He's gettin' older, you realize. In a few years he's gonna be in high school, be captain of the baseball team, have a girlfriend or somethin', some damn good teen-aged reason not to wanna drop everything at a moment's notice to go farting across the country with his mom and some old G-man. Don't you think one of these days he's just gonna say 'enough'?"

It wasn't really any of his business, he knew.

But there were seven-year-olds in New York City who would never play ball again, whose mothers attended their graves instead of their games, while not so far away kids who'd had the fortune to make it to eight were being trained in guerrilla warfare, baby-faced kids who'd been taught that the future depended on how well they could leap bonfires with rifle in hand...

He owed it to Will not to just stand by in silence.

"I know that, John. God, I know that." She put down the shirt she'd been folding, looked over at him with concerned blue eyes. "But it would kill Mulder to think he hadn't done everything he could. After Samantha..." she shook her head.

He nodded, knew he couldn't really fault Mulder for this. How overprotective would they've been of Luke if they'd had a suspicion of what was to come?

"Maybe I'd do the same in Mulder's shoes, I dunno," he admitted quietly. "But it still doesn't make it right. How many years you been livin' like this now? Don'tcha think you deserve..." he looked around the shabby room, "...more'n this?"

"I could ask you the same thing," she countered. "How many years have you been living like this, John?"

He blinked, caught off guard at the conversation's sudden turn. "This isn't about me," he said carefully. "I'm just doin' my job."

"And you do it very well," she nodded. He saw the corner of her mouth twitch with a hint of amusement. Like any of this stuff was on some job description somewhere. "But eleven years on the X-Files is a long time. You don't owe me anything. Or Mulder."

"Still hopin' to get rid of me, huh," he deflected mildly.

"No," she met his gaze with a small smile. "Just making sure you know that you could do a lot better than..." she sighed and looked around the room as he'd done a minute ago, "...better than this."

He shook his head, chuckled softly. "I been in worse places." He looked down, stared at a stain on the carpet for a long moment.

When he looked back up she was still watching him. What the hell, John, just goddamn ask her. "You and Mulder," he ventured quietly. "You happy?"

Oddly she didn't seem surprised at the question. "We're, uh, we're working on it." She sounded weary. "Trying to make it work. I don't know, some days are better than others, and we keep hoping..." she trailed off, shrugging almost apologetically.

He had to respect that, was grateful she'd given him an honest answer.

He could sympathize, knew what it was like not to want to give up on something you'd poured your whole life into. He'd never forget that year he and his wife had tried so hard to salvage their marriage; remembered feeling like everything he'd ever cherished was just slipping away despite their best efforts, until finally, painful as it had been to admit, they'd both realized they were doing themselves an injustice.

"It's not somethin' you wanna give up on without givin' it your best shot," he agreed quietly. But if it turned out it wasn't ever going to work, he sure as hell hoped she realized it sooner rather than later.

She studied him thoughtfully and he looked away in self-defense, wondering how transparent he was. Wondering how much she already suspected. Monica had figured it out a long time ago, had gently called him on it and then been decent enough to keep it to herself.

The noise of the shower stopped suddenly; their sound-proofing was trickling down the drain, signaling the end of Adult Conversation.

By the time Will emerged from the bathroom Scully had finished her organizing, transferring neat piles of clothing into the duffel bag now. Will turned on the TV, still ignoring them both.

John hauled himself out of the armchair. He reached into his duffel bag and pulled out a worn baseball glove. "Hey," he called softly to Will.

Will glanced back. "Where'd you get it?" he asked with his patented indifference. But there was a spark in his eye.

John shrugged. "Found it in the parking lot."

"Wait a second," Scully interjected. "He's supposed to be grounded, John. Plus it's already dark out and -- and you've already showered, Will."

John and Will exchanged long-suffering glances. She frowned in turn from one to the other, then finally sighed in defeat, protesting only when Will scattered her neatly folded clothes in search of his own mitt and ball.

"You found it in the parking lot?" she repeated softly, more than a little skeptically, as John was about to follow Will out the door.

He stopped, glanced back at her sheepishly.

"C'mon, Agent Doggett," Will's impatient voice sounded from outside.

She dismissed him with a wave of her hand. "Never mind. I'll deal with you later, Agent Doggett," she grumbled.

He gave her a contrite smile and headed out after Will.

Will threw the ball to him from the far side of the lamp-lit parking lot, a strong, accurate shot that landed right in the center of his glove; John could see the look of satisfaction in the boy's face. As he got ready to return the ball he spotted the curtain moving in their window, knew she was watching them. Making sure Will didn't get kidnapped, or beamed away or something.

Or maybe she was just watching them play.

He'd spotted the glove sitting on a suitcase as he'd been walking back from the motel lobby this evening. The tourist unloading the Toyota had thought he was a kook even after some hard cash had materialized, but John didn't give a shit. If the guy had had a football he would've bought that off him too. Put a little of Mulder's inheritance to good use for a change.

He threw the ball back to Will, crickets chirping all around them in the evening air.

Part of him had to admit he'd miss these friggin' road trips when they eventually ended. He often wondered, more than a little regretfully, if it might be the closest he'd ever get to family life again.

His wife's amused voice echoed softly: You're a goddamn Boy Scout, John.

But he knew he'd have made a terrible Produce Clerk.


Author's notes:

Because many otherwise-healthy marriages simply don't survive the death of a child, I've chosen to assume that Doggett is divorced rather than widowed and that up until his son's murder his marriage had been a strong and loving one.

My dad actually taped my ears to my head until I was three (you think I'd make that up? :) Though my dad had better results than Doggett's dad, I still always thought it was weird until one day I heard George Lucas' dad had done the same thing to him, and I then decided I belonged to a warped but privileged circle.

The Lao Tzu lines are from the Timothy Freke interpretation, the Lebanon memories were based on descriptions from Rosenblatt's Children of War, and the Ken Burns Civil War soundtrack just cries out "Doggett" (though "Dixie" is track six, not one; Doggett must've hit shuffle by mistake :).

Thanks for reading. Feedback, as well as grammar/typos, appreciated as always.

J.S. Michel


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