Title: In the Spirit

Authors: Spookykat and Scully3776

Rating: R (language)

Legal Crap: If you're on a site like this, you're probably smart enough to know the difference between the characters who belong to me, and the characters through which I live vicariously, wishing they didn't belong to the ever-tasteful Fox-network, the never-consistent 1013 Productions, and all that jazz.

Summary: What drove Special Agent John Doggett to enter into a career of public service, and how did that drive shape his choices in life? And how do all these choices fit into the redemption of the Holiday season?

Authors' note: We plan to be consistent with the real plot, but all of this is speculation, and I refuse to read spoilers. If there are new developments within the life of Doggett, well, then, *blows virtual raspberry*

In the Spirit

by Spookykat & Scully3776

 

 

J. Edgar Hoover Bldg.

Dec. 21, 2001, 3:01pm

"John," Reyes said across her desk, tone trying to disguise a certain note of pity. "I'm gonna type this case report up and then head out, unless you've got something else you want me to do. I've got a flight scheduled out to Texas in about 3 hours and airports are gonna be hell."

"You uh...go ahead and go, Mon." He mumbled over his computer. "The airports are gonna be hell."

"John, if you need to talk--." she said softly

"The security's gonna be tougher to pass through than The Cowboy's Defense. Get going."

"John...you know you're welcome in Texas if you need a place to spend Christmas." She offered, trying unsuccessfully to sound like she didn't feel sorry for him.

"No...just got work to finish up..." He lied. "I've got plans to spend Christmas Eve with my brothers and sister back in Georgia."

"Make sure to bring the mistletoe. I'm sure your sis misses some puppy-love." Reyes chided with an evil grin spreading across her face. "Call if you need anything." Unlike most people, she said it like she really meant it. Deciding to abandon the issue, she turned and left, wishing him a Merry Christmas as she closed the door behind her.

Doggett was only half-aware that she was gone. His attention was preoccupied with the email he was reading. The only the shrill phone knocked him back into the present.

"John," the woman on the other line hesitated, emitting a shaky sigh.

"Mel," Doggett growled, messaging his eyelids, "I don't have time for this crap."

"Park's dead, John." She said tearily. "He had AIDS...but I don't think that's what killed him."

"What makes you say that?" He already knew the answer, but he somehow needed verification.

"You know they hated him John. I think...something happened."'

"I'm on my way." He finally said, hung up the phone, grabbed his coat, sighed heavily, and locked the Basement office for the weekend.

***

Two hours later.

O'Hare National Airport.

*******************

Reyes' prediction had been right.

The airport was hell.

The last full business day of Christmas had ushered in hoards upon hoards of people, leaving haggard baggage attendants almost resembling a paper bag that had been blowing against a cold, wet, deserted street-gutter. Check-in normally took fifteen-minutes tops took an hour and a half

And the shit that beat it all was that he actually hadda take off his shoes because some damn idiot decided to plant bombs in his sneakers...

He hoped they would at least let him carry his briefcase onto the plane. After she called, she had forwarded a .Zip file to him with a fax of the police report and newspaper clippings.

"Is nothing fucking sacred these days?" He sighed as he slipped his FBI-Approved loafers.

He hadn't wanted to go home for Christmas this year. His friends and family back home were so different from the life he had made for himself...so normal...like life is supposed to be.

They would probably resurrect the subjects that thorned him the most...the complete families that waited him there were only bitter, constant reminders of a failed attempt at a normal, happy, well-adjusted, American-dream-ish life...the murder of his boy...the divorce...

But his sister's frantic plea on the other end of the line had worried him. Melanie Doggett Davis was a very trusting woman who, unlike his co-workers, wasn't prone to paranoia. The e-mail she had sent him and his resulting distraction had probably confused the hell out of Monica, and he admonished himself the whole way back to his apartment for keeping personal business out of the office.

He only hoped that as her brother, Melanie would forgive him if he couldn't prove he was murdered.

And, he wished flippantly, a flight without a terrorist attack wouldn't hurt, either.

**

American Airlines Flight 689

En Route from Newark

*****************************

Connector flights made absolutely no sense to Doggett. A flight that started in Washington landing in Newark to go to Atlanta... nope...didn't seem any part of logical at all. It was like getting around to somebody's ass by their elbows.

So, Doggett resigned himself to the briefcase that the grouchy stewardess had stingily allowed him to keep, and tried to stop being Doggett and prepare for being John again...to stop being senior officer assigned to the x-files in a job that made absolutely no sense to him most of the time and prepare for being Big Brother/Little Brother John again in a family that barely made sense to him all of the time.

Terminator2 showing on the in-flight movie seemed like a friendlier option.

And it was a small comfort that logic or no, he had a place there...a purpose...a fight. Something that was somewhat absent from his current employment. But since when was a job a crusade?

They were all gone. He didn't know how he got off the plane, but he must have, because they were gone.

The strangers sitting on either side of him in his Coach-class seat in closer proximity than he personally preferred, the sour-faced, overweight stewardesses acting more liked they belonged in a rude greasy New York Diner out of Seinfeld as opposed to plane-full of demanding, antsy passengers were replaced by people who looked vaguely familiar...slurping down beer cans...driving a rebuilt Chevy.

"C'mon Dex! Let's go by that diner the cocksucker works at and teach that queer a lesson! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Doggett's mind was reeling through the possibilities...Dexter Gillroy was killed in 'Nam last he heard. <How the fuck is a dead guy driving a rebuilt Chevy that got hauled off to a junk mill>

"Cy, ain't that his pick-up passin' us?" Someone else slurred.

"Boys, I think we got us a homohunt. Gotta rid this God-fearin' country of all the sick-o's. Raht J.D.?"

"I think you guys need to walk it off..." Doggett said feebly.

"The HELL we gonna walk it off," Dex yelled, "Dat Parker fucker's gonna go to BURN tonight!"

"What is WITH you tonight, JD?" Cy demanded. "You're his bitch aintchya?"

Doggett glowered at him and curled his lower lip threateningly, and tightened his jaw. "Cy..." his voice was all low and gravely and was almost reminiscent of thunder. "If you don't let me the hell out of this car right now, you are gonna be MY bitch in two seconds...GOT IT?"

The tires screeched, and the dark pavement burned with engine sparks, glass busted, and the pick-up truck in front of them careened off the guardrail.

<Time warp...that's the only answer I can think of> Doggett puzzled. Then he mumbled under his breath, "It's just a jump to the left..." as he saw Parker Davis climb out from underneath the wreckage.

The young man's small frame turned to face Doggett. "You think you can get Mel and get me to a hospital?" He shouted from the bottom of the hill. "I'm having a hard time keeping focus..."

John finally hitched a ride that night from a bartender coming home from closing his bar on his way home and woke up the whole house trying to get home that night.

Parker Davis went from 17 to 37 that night. For the first time in his life, John Doggett wanted to be away from where he was. He would have rather been anywhere but that Marietta hospital.

"You know, John," Parker had said while they were waiting for Parker's older sister to come sign the papers for treatment, "I didn't know that being a pimple-faced virgin made you a target."

"It's not the pimple-faced virgin shit those dumb-asses came after ya for tonight." John had said with a sigh. Parker gave him an imploring look in reply. "They're scared outta their asses that you're contagious."

"Mr. Parker," John and Parker had both exchanged incredulous glances, and what annoyed Parker even more, was that the intern speaking to them "you sustained quite a lot of internal bleeding, we're going to hafta give you a transfusion, and then you'll be ready to go home." A tired intern said, not even looking at his patient.

"Yay." Parker said, rolling his eyes. "Just how I wanted to spend my weekend! Hooked up to an IV with a big-ass needle at the end of it. I HATE hospitals...I hate needles..." his voice trailed off."

"John...What the HELL is going on here!" Parker's depressed reverie was rudely, albeit gratefully, slapped out of him.

"And the charming young lady is my sister, Melanie." John introduced dryly.

"What the fuck did I tell ya 'bout rahdin' around with Cy and all theyum idiots." The same way most people say 'What'd the doctor say.' A frustrated sigh emitted from the Melanie, and then when she saw the situation, her voice softened. "Stevie got me up to get you back home...come on John..." Melanie had a natural talent for changing the subject in mid-sentence. "I--I know you from school, don't I?" She directed to Parker.

"Yeah, I'm the local pimple-faced-eternal-virgin-turned-fag." Melanie hadn't even blinked at his answer. "But don't worry, I'm not as advertised."

That night was the beginning and the end for Melanie and Parker. If he had gotten there moments before...maybe AIDS didn't have to be the finishing line for them...

But enough of maybes and what-ifs. They didn't help what happened.

And as Doggett's plane descended into the Hartsfield International Airport in Atlanta, the desperation of needing to get out of Atlanta suffocated him again--the same suffocation that nearly made it impossible to breathe that night in Hartfield medical hospital wasn't going to go away without a fight.

**********************************************************

John snaked his way through crowds of people and didn't have to crane his head to see his sister waiting at his gate.

"Sorry the flights late, Mel." John apologized less than sincerely. "The weather stalled us in Newark."

"Checked in anything?" She stated more than asked, and tried not to make contact. "Come on, wait here, and I'll go get the truck."

"Melanie, I'm sorry..."

"John, you have nothing to be sorry *for* you did what you could for him...for us...Merry Christmas, by the way. You gonna let us stand here on the sidewalk forever or you wanna let me get the truck? I hadda park out in the boonies."

It was a seasonable 40 degrees standing on the sidewalk in front of the airport, which was definitely something Doggett had missed in D.C. It wasn't long before Melanie pulled her F350 to the curb. There was enough room in the back for his suitcase, so he dumped it unceremoniously back behind him.

They headed out for I-75 toward Merrietta in uncomfortable silence. Melanie had the radio on, and it was several minutes of Christmas Carols and really loud car commercials before Melanie finally spoke so she could stay awake.

"How's Sarah?" She asked politely enough.

"It's over...almost two years now..." Doggett didn't even have to contain his bitterness. It wasn't there. "She may have been the one to actually cheat...but I had just as much to do with the marriage going to shit as she was. After Luke...we just felt a part. Caught her with a grad student..." He trailed off.

"If you need to talk..." She began tenderly, but the clinch of his jaw out of the corner of her eye told her it was wiser to leave it alone.

"Leave the past buried, ok?" He defended. Then softer, when he saw her glance over with a worried eyebrow raised, he told her "I'm alright with it."

"John, if you were alright with it you would've moved on to another girl by now." She persisted.

"You're the grieving widow here, Mel..." John insisted. Then as an excuse, he added "I've gotta get my luggage."

"Right." There was an uncomfortable silence that unsettled them until they had been on the highway for an hour.

Melanie, unable to be hypnotized by the deserted two-lane state highway, finally broke the silence. "I've been doing research since it happened...if we can't nail those dickheads for murder, then we can sure as hell sue their asses off for grievances, funeral costs, and medical care. It's the new millennium, isn't it? People understand now about that kinda thing."

"Don't they?" John grumbled. "Melanie...you're forgetting. I was in the truck with them that night. If you sue them...the defendants are gonna call me up and put me at the scene...they could just as easily call me on his injuries."

"How do you like D.C.?"

"Better'n New York, that's for damn sure." John snorted. "You can see the sky there. Where I live just outside in Virginia, feels almost like home...but it's crazy as hell. What I'm doin' in the FBI there...that's fucked up shit."

"You kiss mama with that mouth, John?" Melanie teased.

"Melanie...if you knew half the stuff I've seen this year...I think you'd understand that fucked up shit is the ONLY way to describe my caseload. Whatchya pullin' over for?"

"Gotta get gas..."

"John..." Melanie began as soon as they were headed back on I-16 bound for Atlanta, "you may be able to sidestep your Marine buddies, your cop buddies, and your new partners at the FBI...but if you think you can get off so easy as all that, you need to tell me where the hell my baby brother is. You've barely said a word the whole way...I know you...you were the same way when Daddy died. Now spill it, or I'm pulling the truck over till you decide to tell me."

"That's extortion." John grumbled.

"No, it's not extortion. I believe the correct term is blackmail. You're stalling..." now in a gentler tone of voice, and her own ice-crystal blue eyes met her brother's. "John...you can't just keep it all bottled up."

He let out a sigh as if releasing some of the air would make the words come out easier.

"After what happened with Luke...I kept seeing him in her." He turned away, looking deliberately out of his passenger window, realizing that Luke's blue eyes were staring back at him again. "I kept seeing his nose, his smile..." His gravely voice was now hoarse. "I just couldn't face her...and I think she needed someone to lean on then without her son's eyes."

"John...with or without Luke's eyes...ever think she might have wanted YOUR help to pick her up the pieces?" Melanie wondered aloud.

"That's the thing, Melanie...when Luke was missing, I'd find her in his room after coming home from work, and she wouldn't come out unless she had appointments or had to make appearances. I thought work would save me--save us." His voice was shaky now. The words were labored and emotionless. "Once I found the bastard who killed him, it'd be over and we could go back to normal. We went to those fucking church counselors and the grieving parents classes...but really it was just going through the motions. Pretty soon, we barely said anything...'cept for the kinda things you say to be polite. Then I spent more and more time at work...and I think I barely noticed some guy ravaging her on the couch. I think that was just the breaking point."

"And the FBI chick who helped in the New York investigation with Luke? She didn't have anything to do with it?"

"No!" He fired back, too immediately for it to be a lie. "I was married for Christ's sake."

"You're a MAN for Christ's sake! I'm not blind, John. I was up there when she came by your house that day."

"Oh come on! Just because the equipment's all there doesn't mean I turn it on every time it lights up." He said a little too defensively for Melanie's liking. "I thought...that if I kept my vows, I wouldn't hurt her." He raked his right hand across his forehead. "Guess it wasn't enough..."

"That's enough John..." she said softly, and then with deliberation. "We're here. Get your suitcase and I'll show you where you'll be sleeping."

The house hadn't changed since he saw it the last time. He brought Sarah there with his son. It was a few seconds before he could muster the cheer to go in.

"Last Christmas Luke had was here, Mel..." he said thoughtfully.

"So was Daddy's...so was Grandmama's..." Melanie pointed out.

"When's Parker's funeral?"

"Day after Christmas, John..." Melanie said softly, glad he wasn't able to read her expression. "You did right by him, ya know. He never blamed you for what happened. We never blamed you." Then she opened his mother's front door. "Look who the cat dragged in!"

"John, glad you're home son." His mother greeted him coolly. Now climbing the 80's, she had always been Victorian in her emotions, but when she *did* tell you what she felt, it was taken to heart.

As soon as his feet hit the brady-bunch green linoleum, on the kitchen, he was bombarded by outstretched arms "Johnny Angel! Merry Christmas, big brother!"

"Merry Christmas to you, Chris." He tried his best to at least pretend to be happy for their sake.

Just then, a girl with long dark curls wrapped herself around his knee. "How's my favorite niece?" He said, hoisting her up.

"A lot better if mom would let me stay up later tonight."

"Nothin' doin', Laura." Chris scolded.

"Tomorrow, you gotta stay up and wait for the sound of bells and reindeer..." Laura gave him a scrutinizing look. You know, I'm a federal agent...I'm pretty good at negotiatin'...maybe your mom 'n me can work somethin' out."

"Uncle John, you sound like those guys on NYPD blue now." She whined.

"You're mom lets you watch that at your age?" She giggled mischievously. "Yeah...that's what they tell me in D.C. too. I think it'll clear up."

A younger man stood back and observed the warm greetings. "Good to see ya home, Brother John."

"Hey Steve" He said, going up to him and giving a firm handshake. "How's the store?" Steven, the oldest son, had been the natural heir to Doggett Motors, the auto parts and repair shop. "Chains are givin' us a helluva lotta heat." They weren't in dire straights, but they weren't out of debt.

"Not everybody can be a service man, John." He answered, friendly enough.

"Not tonight, Steve..." Melanie mumbled just in his earshot. "Let him be, and for Christ's sake, don't cuss in front of a ten year old!"

"Mike says hello." Chris said, coming up to them. She had dyed her hair Nicole-Kidman-red, but she still looked about fifteen years older than she actually was. "He wanted to be here, but you know how mills can get." Then she turned to her daughter. "Look at you, Laura. It's so past your bed time...it's past MY bed time. Go to bed you!" She said and gave her a kiss.

"I can't believe how big she's gotten." John said with a note of bitterness. Melanie and Chris both exchanged knowing glances. "It's great watchin' her grow up, Chris. You're doin' a great job with her."

"Nice one, Baby Brother." Steve scolded as soon as Chris and Melanie both headed upstairs. "Coming to Parker Davis' funeral and not Dad's. You shouldda been there."

"Steve, I hated not bein' there...but it wouldn't have done any damn good to Pop...funerals aren't for the dead."

"No...they're for family." Steve growled, storming out to the kitchen.

As if on cue, Chris came downstairs. "Mamma and Mel are doing charity work in the morning at the kiddie hospital downtown, so they're headin' to sleep. You wanna go say g'night to Laura?"

"Yeah...I'd like that." He said with a labored smile, grabbed his suitcase, and headed up the stairs.

John walked upstairs, laying his suitcase down on the floor next to the room he would be staying in. "Laura, honey, ok if I come say goodnight?" He knocked softly on the door.

"Yeah, sure."

"You think you made the A List this year?" John teased. He missed being able to pretend to believe in that capacity with little kids. "Coz if you didn't, one phone call, and I can getchya on there in a heartbeat, kiddo." He promised with a sly grin.

"I think so." She paused thoughtfully. "You think they get presents?" she was almost afraid to ask.

"You think who gets presents?"

"The angels. You think Santa makes it up to Heaven?"

"You don't need toys up in Heaven, Laura." He forgot about the hard questions kids ask. "Angels...spirits...don't need'em."

"I hate sleeping in this room, Uncle John." she said tremulously, "It smells of Grandpa...like that pipe he used to smoke and something else that smells icky...like Grandma's rum-balls. When the lights are out, I keep my eyes closed as much as I can so I don't see anything bad. I tried to tell Grandma and mama, but they look at me like I'm crazy."

"Seeing Grandpa's not bad, honey..." he sugar-coated, "just means he's watching over ya. That's what Angels do because they don't have any toys or games to play with." After all, what harm did a little lie do to help the kid fall asleep.

She was silent for a little while, and Doggett thought she had finally gone to sleep. He got up from the chair by her bed, and then she spoke softly as he reached to open the door.

"Uncle Steve says bad people get what they deserve. Did Uncle Parker?" she asked.

"Parker wasn't bad, honey. He got sick. Kinda like how Grandpa got sick. Nobody's fault. Nobody deserves that."

"Mommy said it was a bad man who made Luke go away. Is the bad man watching us too?"

He turned to face her, the normally steel-stern Special Agent John Doggett was finding it hard to keep his composure in front of his niece. "That's hard to say, honey." he said shakily. "He's gone away too, now. He can't hurt anybody anymore. You better go to sleep before your Mommy finds out I let you stay up so late." He tried to smile, and then gave her a soft peck on her forehead as she cacooned herself under the covers and turned out the lamp on the bedstand.

He left the door open just a crack and stood outside her door carefully so she wouldn't notice him watching her. He jumped when the door blew shut.

"This house has always been drafty." Steve said coming up the stairs, and placed a firm, friendly hand on his shoulder. "See ya in the mornin'." John nodded goodnight, then walked down the hall to his room, which hadn't changed much since he was 16.

A signed pictures of The Eagles, Ray Charles, Reba McEntire, Charlie Daniels, James Brown, and Ted Williams, high school football team awards, framed boy scout commendations and high school diploma, double bed covered in blue pin-striped plaid, and even his old Playboy stash was still where he hid it underneath the bed.

The memory of bringing his new bride from New York City back to meet his parents for the first time flooded to the forefront of his thoughts. And the awkward, exciting challenge of making love in your childhood bedroom. Making love to her there was like some giant Oedipean complex--he was completely grossed out by and completely turned on to the idea at the same time.

The train of thought was stopped by the sudden, irrepressible urge to check on his niece. Suddenly, honeymoonish memories were pushed back by a completely unrelated, protective impulse. He grabbed an old baseball bat and stealthily crept down the darkened hallway towards her room.

In front of her door, the sight of his own blue eyes and Sarah's nose rendered him frozen.

John wanted to move. He wanted desperately some sort of verification that what he was seeing was real, but it was as though his feet were glued to the ground.

"Luke?" He managed to gasp finally, but it was too late, he was gone.

He looked in on his niece, apparently oblivious to everything going on around her. He went to the bathroom, needing to feel the cold tiles on his feet, a splash of water. Some hard proof that he wasn't in some sort of dream.

Deciding it was useless now to sleep, he made his way down the stairs. Parker's wake was going to be tomorrow. Then Christmas Eve Service. It would be a very long day.

It had seemed like a century since he climbed down those stairs. Nothing had changed. The smell of wood-cleaners, his dad's pipe and cologne, his mother's perfume still lingered toward the great room.

He remembered walking in on his mother setting up Christmas presents in the morning after hearing some wrestling downstairs the Christmas before he left for the USMC.

"Mom, I think we're all pretty well aware that Santa Claus is just a fairy tale. Chris is old enough to know how to drive a car next year, she's old enough to know the truth."

"John, some free advice." she said frankly, "In this world, most of what's worth believing in has no hard proof to back it up with. People need the pretty lies to wrap themselves around more than they need the ugly truth starring them in the face."

"Santa Claus is a story for retail stores, Mom."

"Yeah, and when she knows I don't care about Santa Claus anymore... what's next? God? Our family?"

"Sooner she knows the truth, the better, Mom."

"You mean the sooner she knows the truth, the better for you."

He went past the old inherited secretary in the family room to head to the kitchen. A businessly folded envelope was open in the front to the bank with his Dad's shopheading on it. He would wait till tomorrow to glance over it, and stuffed into his pocket for the time being.

Right then, though...he needed something to straighten his nerves.

***********************************

He searched through the kitchen, careful not to make any clinks or creeks to stir anybody. He knew Steve or Melanie had to have booze stashed someplace. He really didn't wanna see anyone at that moment, and he certainly didn't wanna be caught getting lit.

He was a grown man, yes. And old enough to But at 1121 Palmetto Drive, he may as well have been sixteen. His 80 year old mother half his height still had more muscle over him than the Deputy Director of the FBI. With the kitchen lights turned off, he managed to find a bottle of Jack, and the glasses were in easy reach.

Jack Daniels went flying up to his chin when the kitchen lights turned on.

"What the hell are you still doing up?" His older sister demanded from the doorway.

"Mel, don't sneak up on a detective like that! We're trained to be jumpy."

"You ok? You look a little...thin..." she observed, getting a glass for herself, and pouring herself a double.

At a questioning eyebrow, she answered "What!? I've got my husband's wake to go to in the morning, I got an excuse."

"They're gonna question me tomorrow, aren't they?" He said softly, taking a long gulp of his JD.

"When I wrote you that letter before you got wounded in Samolia that they still thought you were a suspect, I thought you were an idiot to come back with Sarah and Luke." She took another long sip. "Don't ruin your career, John."

"Mel...I may be a fed, but as far as the bureau's concerned, my career's already ruined. I'm pretty much as good as a janitor with the cases I'm workin' on. And you know...I think I *WAS* just as guilty as Cy and those boys that night. They wuddna cared if he died twenty years ago or two days ago...just as long as he could keep quiet. If I thought I was innocent, I wouldda stayed here instead of moved to New York after the Marines."

"Then make it right, John. Make it right with Parker by finding the truth."

"Truth ain't always what people wanna here, Mel."

"Truth is NEVER what people wanna here. But we need those lines drawn to make sense of things. You know that better than anyone." She rinsed her glass out and put it in the sink. "I got a long day in the morning, John. See ya tomorrow."

*********************************************************************

"When I wrote you that letter before you got wounded in Lebanon that they still thought you were a suspect, I thought you were an idiot to come back with Barbara and Luke." She took another long sip. "Don't ruin your career, John."

"Mel...I may be a fed, but as far as the bureau's concerned, my career's already ruined. I'm pretty much as good as a janitor with the cases I'm workin' on. And you know...I think I *WAS* just as guilty as Cy and those boys that night. They wuddna cared if he died twenty years ago or two days ago...just as long as he could keep quiet. If I thought I was innocent, I wouldda stayed here instead of moved to New York after the Marines."

"Then make it right, John. Make it right with Parker by finding the truth."

"Truth ain't always what people wanna hear, Mel."

"Truth is NEVER what people wanna here. But we need those lines drawn to make sense of things. You know that better than anyone." She rinsed her glass out and put it in the sink. "I got a long day in the morning, John. See ya tomorrow."

"See ya," he said lifelessly.

Melanie paused at the door. She turned around and walked back to her "little" brother, the "little" brother who towered over her. "Hey," she said softly. "what's wrong, Dumbo?" she affectionately reached out and tugged on one of his prolific ears. But her face was lined with worry. "This is more than just Parker."

He shook his head, looking at his glass, muttering "Nuthin'," his Southern accent becoming more and more pronounced even in those few hours he spent down in Georgia.

"Liar. Johnny... talk to me..."

"Tired of funerals s'all," he finally mumbled out, draining his glass. "Been to too many of them..."

Melanie pulled out a chair again and sat down beside him. She reached for his hand and squeezed it tightly. "I'm glad you're here," she said simply. "I've missed you..." her eyes teared up.

"Aw, Mel," Doggett felt his face getting hot. He looked at the floor, but he still clung to his sister's hand. Remembering all the times as a little boy he reached for Melanie's hand when Daddy said he was too big to be hanging on Mama all the time. It was Melanie that held his hand when they went trick-or-treating. When they crossed a busy intersection. When they went to the recruiting office to sign him up for the Marines. When they drove to the crematorium after Luke's funeral. "I'm not much use to anyone right now."

"Tell me you don't really believe that and you're just wallowing in a pity party," the widow admonished him. "John?"

"I'm going to bed," he said abruptly, getting up.

"Johnny, wait-"

"Mel, it ain't 'bout me! It's 'bout you and Parker...and... oh, the hell with it. Good night, Mel."

"John, got-dammit, wait," Mel snapped at him. "Don't you dare walk off like that. What is with you? What HAPPENED to you?"

Doggett's shoulders slumped. "Mellie," he said, resignation in his voice. "Let me find out what happened to Parker. Maybe...maybe if I can do one damn thing right... everything else will fall into place... I've got a... um... friend, back in DC. She's a doctor. Maybe she can give us some insight as to what happened if I can fax her the medical records."

"Is this your friend Dr. Scully?" Melanie asked.

"No," Doggett said bluntly, turning his back on her and leaving her to stand alone in the kitchen to wonder.

**

Meanwhile...

Dr. Jerilyn Starkweather's apartment

Washington DC

"OW! GOD DAMMIT!" she yelped as she stubbed her toe again on another moving box. "Son-of-a-bitch," Jerilyn Starkweather grumbled as she sat down on her coffee table and began to massage her foot.

Caesar, a very orange and very ornery feline lifted his head up from off his paws to disdainfully regard his clumsy owner.

"Fuck off," she snapped at him. Caesar gave her a look that said "Whatever," and placed his head back on his paws, falling back asleep.

Her phone rang. Starkweather looked at her watch, then at the phone. "I don't think so," she muttered to herself darkly as she reached for a figurine that was sitting on her coffee table and began to wrap it in newspaper.

Her machine clicked on. "Doc? Hey, it's me. Are ya there screening calls or asleep... Look... I know it's late and I'm sorry, but if you're there, can you pick up? Or gimme a call tomorrow first thing in the morning. I'd really apprecia-"

"I'm here," she said breathlessly after bolting up from the coffee table and hurtling over moving boxes to get to her phone. "I'm here, sorry. I currently have my own obstacle course in my living room. How's home treating you?

"Fine," Doggett tried to talk as quietly as he could. He was on the phone in his father's study. He remembered how thin the damn walls in this house were. He didn't want to wake anyone else up.

"Liar."

"Second time I've been called that tonight."

"Papa John, if everything was fine, you would NOT be calling me at this ungodly hour begging me to pick up or to call you first thing in the morning."

"Did I wake you?"

Guiltily, Starkweather glanced over at the unopened bottle of prescription sleeping pills on her coffee table next to a collection of whatnots and knickknacks. "No... I've been packing."

"HAVE you been sleeping?"

"God dammit, Doggett, did you call me to check up on me?" she lashed back at him. "How many times do I need to fucking tell you and Mulder to back the hell off? I am FINE, dammit!"

Doggett squeezed his eyes shut and rubbed his forehead, feeling a headache sneaking up on him. "No. I didn't call to check up on you, I was..." he sighed. This was going to be extremely awkward. "My sister... I need some information. Medical information."

"That could not have waited until the morning?" she bitched.

<<Great, she's fucking pissed off now. Probably still thinks this is a half-assed excuse to check up on her... which it is...>> "No, it really couldn't. It's important Doc. I wouldn't have called if it wasn't," he snapped back at her. <<God damn it Jerilyn, I'm sorry your life is fucked up right now, but don't you start taking it out on me...>>

A pause. A dreadful awkward pause. Then a sigh from her end. "Okay, okay... what do you need to know about?" She still sounded bent out of shape. Typical.

"AIDS."

"What?"

"I need to know beyond the public service announcements. I everything under the sun about AIDS and the HIV virus." Doggett told her solemnly, sitting down at his father's desk.

"About AIDS?"

"Yeah..."

"Just wanted to make sure I heard you right... you're awfully quiet, I can hardly hear you."

"Don't wanna wake up the house."

"Seriously, how is home treating you?" She sounded contrite. She must finally realized what a bitch she had acted like a few minutes ago.

"It could be better," he admitted gruffly.

"I'm sorry," she sounded sincere.

"I wish you were here," he blurted out and instantly wished he could take those words and stuff them back in his mouth.

"Yeah... well..." Starkweather looked at the one picture still hanging on her wall. Her wedding portrait. "I... " she stood up and took the photograph down and put in the first available open box. Closing the lid. "Maybe next year will be better, right?"

"Yeah..." Doggett decided to try and quickly save face. "Anyway... about the AIDS virus?"

"Gimme a second," she grumbled, pinching the bridge of her nose together tightly. "It IS a little after midnight. My brain starts to shut down right about this time."

"Whatever," Doggett said dryly, envisioning his partner pacing around in her shambles of her apartment. He guessed she was probably bumming around in a pair of jeans she salvaged from the Goodwill and a sweatshirt she found on a clearance rack in the mall. Shoes off, socks off, glasses on. Long pretty blond hair tied back in a sloppy ponytail or messy bun.

He was ninety-eight percent accurate with his guess for her hair was actually in a loose French braid and she was not wearing her reading glasses. She didn't need to. She wasn't consulting her old medical textbooks or WebMD. She was consultin her own powerful photographic memory.

"'Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome aka AIDS was first reported in the United States in 1981 and has since become a major worldwide epidemic. AIDS is caused by the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). By killing or impairing cells of the immune system, HIV progressively destroys the body's ability to fight infections and certain cancers. Individuals diagnosed with AIDS are susceptible to life-threatening diseases called opportunistic infections, which are caused by microbes that usually do not cause illness in healthy people.'"

She sounded like a god damned robot.

"'More than 600,000 cases of AIDS have been reported in the United States since 1981, and as many as 900,000 Americans may be infected with HIV. The epidemic is growing most rapidly among minority populations and is a leading killer of African-American males. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the prevalence of AIDS is six times higher in African-Americans and three times higher among Hispanics than among whites.'"

<<Atlanta...>> Doggett rubbed his stiff neck as he listened to his partner drone on. <<Maybe I can sneak into Atlanta for a day...>>

Starkweather continued, "'HIV is spread most commonly by sexual contact with an infected partner. The virus can enter the body through the lining of the vagina, vulva, penis, rectum or mouth during sex. HIV also is spread through contact with infected blood. Prior to the screening of blood for evidence of HIV infection and before the introduction in 1985 of heat-treating techniques to destroy HIV in blood products, HIV was transmitted through transfusions of contaminated blood or blood components. Today, because of blood screening and heat treatment, the risk of acquiring HIV from such transfusions is extremely sma-'"

"What year was that again?" Doggett suddenly interrupted.

She paused. "Year?? Before we started screening blood? 1985."

Doggett's shoulders slumped. Parker's accident had been long before 1985. They were still kids. High schoolers. Before Melanie helped him run away to join the Marines.

"Why?"

"Um... just makin' sure I heard ya right."

"You're drawling much more than usual. Am I going to have to reintroduce you to 'Hooked on Phonics?'"

"Thought that was s'ppose to help you read, not talk."

"I'm tired," she said defensively. "The one-liners don't coming that quickly after midnight." She sighed. "Look... can I just email this to you? Or don't you have internet access?"

"Yeah, my brother's got a computer."

"Brother? I didn't know you had a brother."

"One brother, two sisters." Doggett loosen his tie. Then looked down at himself. He was still in the same suit he had put one before going to J. Edgar today. And now it was all travel stained and crumpled.

He looked up and saw the shadow of a man standing in front of him.

"Steve, that you?"

"Doggett?" Starkweather pressed the phone closer to her ear. "Who are you talking to?"

Doggett forgot about the phone in his hand as he stared wordlessly at the shadow in front of him. Realizing that there was no light and no solid object in the room to create the shadow.

"My God..."

"Doggett... you're really starting to spook me..." Starkweather shivered involuntarily. "What's going on?"

Doggett blinked. The shadow was gone. "I'm losing it..."

"Papa John?"

"Huh? Oh..." Doggett squeezed his eyes tightly shut. "I'm overtired, I'm seein' things."

"SEEING things??? You??? Is there a piece of hell freezing over?"

"Not like ghosts or shit, I'm... my mind's playin' tricks on me. Seeing things..." he trailed off, thinking of the image of the little boy who inherited his eyes and Barbara's nose. "Wanting to see something so bad, that I'm actually seein' it when I know it's not real," he finished. "Like I said... I'm losing it."

Starkweather lifted her left hand. Examined the diamond solitaire set on a simple soldered golden band. "Trust me... I can relate."

"What are you doin' for Christmas?" he went fishing. Wanted to be sure she wasn't going to be sitting by herself.

"Jenny," her stepmother, "invited me over to her house for Christmas Eve and Scully and Mulder pretty much ordered me to be at Scully's place for Christmas Day. The Gunmen are going to be over too... God help me..." she whimpered. "If Langly tries to corral me by the mistletoe, I swear to God, I'll shoot him. I really will."

Doggett chuckled. "I think Scully and Mul-duh will protect you from Langly," he reassured her.

"And remember," she added. "We agreed. No Christmas presents."

"I didn't buy you anything," he said innocently.

"Better not have," she grumbled. "Do you want me to go on with the AIDS lecture or can I email or fax something to you?"

"My brother's got a computer in his shop, I can get my email from there." <<As long as Steve's not there>> Doggett rolled his eyes. He pulled his tie completely off now. He ached all over, his body cried out for sleep.

"Okay, I'll send it to your AO-hell account," she said. "When are you heading back to DC?"

"Don't know," he said truthfully. "Maybe after the New Year."

"Okay."

"Get some sleep. Else I'll sick Langly on ya."

"Ugh. Are you TRYING to give me nightmares?"

"I'll see you when I get back home, Doc."

"Okay... I'll email you first thing in the morning."

"Alright."

"Talk to you later."

"Bye Doc."

The dial tone took the place of her husky voice. Doggett held the phone in his hand for a moment and then hung it up carefully.

He looked up and jumped at the shadow looming in front of him now.

But this shadow was created by a living breathing entity. "So?" Melanie slid into the darkened study. "Who's this 'Doc'?"

"Jesus, Mel," Doggett burst out, hand on chest. "That's the second time tonight you scared the piss outta me."

"I'll be sure to walk around the puddle," she said dryly as she walked over to the desk, reaching out to turn on the lamp. Doggett rubbed his eyes when the room brightened up. "So," Melanie asked again, settling on the battered love seat by the window. "Who's 'Doc'?" A wicked little smile curled her lips.

Doggett looked at the floor. "A friend."

"A friend that you wish was here?"

"Goddamn, Melanie, how long have you been eavesdroppin'?" Doggett jerked his head up to glare at her. "She's having a rough time right now. I invited her to come home with me so she wouldn't have to spend Christmas alone. That's all."

"How nice of you," Melanie demurred. "So, does Doc have a real name?"

"Jerilyn."

"That's... different."

"She's a different kind of girl," Doggett mumbled, looking at the floor again.

"Different how?"

"Mel, let it go."

"No way," Melanie smirked. "I haven't seen you this riled up about a girl since that prissy little bitch Lindsay Amos asked you to take her to the prom."

"It's. Not. Like. That."

"Bullshit," Melanie taunted him. "Your ears are bright pink." She hugged a pillow to herself. "So that's why you got so defensive when I asked about Reyes. You've got your sights set on someone else." Instantly, Melanie began bombarding him with questions. "What's she like?" When Doggett refused to answer, she persisted. "Oh, come on, Johnny. Sleep's pretty much a lost cause for the both of us. And I'm so happy you've found another girl-"

"Mel-" Doggett tried to butt in but his sister was on a roll.

"So tell me, what she like? Is she nice?"

"Nice??!?!?!?!?!" He snorted. "She is the biggest bitch to grace God's green earth."

"And yet you ran to her to help with Parker," Melanie challenged him.

"Well... she's smart as hell. I mean. Really fucking smart. I feel stupid half the time she opens her mouth. And I didn't RUN to her."

"How did you meet her?"

"She's my partner at the Bureau. We've been workin' together since April."

Realization dawned on Melanie. "Then... she was that woman that was with you on September 11. Parker and I taped that interview of the both of you on MSNBC."

"Yes," Doggett said softly. "That's her. She lost her father in the Pentagon attack."

Melanie looked stricken. "And she's married..."

Doggett shook his head. "Not anymore... her..." he closed his eyes, remembering how he found her in the chapel, her pretty cream suit coated with blood.

**Doggett, please, just go away...**

"Her older brother used to work in the FBI too. But he was kicked out after workin' a case with me last year. He's the Deputy Mayor of Washington DC now. But he still ain't a real popular guy and he pisses off the wrong people. There was an assassination attempt on him... but... Ben... her husband... was in the wrong place at the wrong time and he... was killed in the crossfire. Three weeks ago."

"Oh God..." Melanie whispered, turning white. "At least I had time to prepare for Parker's..." she looked down at her lap, holding the pillow closer to herself.

Doggett got up and crossed over to Melanie, sitting beside her. "That's why I really didn't want to talk about Jerilyn," he whispered as he embraced his sister. "I didn't want to rub salt into fresh wounds, Mel."

Melanie snuffled into his dress blouse. "It just... oh God, John, he was doing so well, he was taking his drugs, he was healthy, then... all of a sudden... we only knew that he had AIDS for a few months, John. One day he was fine, the next he had AIDS. He was still fine, and now... his wake's tomorrow," she burst out into full blown sobs.

Doggett held Melanie tighter to him, unsure of what to say.

After a while, Melanie composed herself. "I'm sorry."

"S'all right," Doggett told her. "I'm here, Sis."

She nodded. "I know," her voice cracked. "And you'll get justice for Park. One way or another." She wiped her tears off her face with the back of her hand as she got up. "I'm going to try and go to bed."

"'Kay." Doggett watched her leave.

Only to watch her pop her head back into the room. "And don't you think that you're off the hook about this Jerilyn-girl for one second, mister. Because I don't buy that "there's nothing between us" bullshit story at all."

Doggett shook his head. "Really. Mel. There's nothing."

"Then why are your ears still red?" She smiled affectionately at him and left him alone with all the spirits that torment him. His invisible ghosts and demons and longings for distant angels.

**

December 22, 2001

5:35 AM Eastern Standard Time

Laura opened her eyes. With a big yawn, she sat up, rubbing her eyes. She leaned over the side of the bed to see if there were monsters underneath of it. "Darn," she muttered in disappointment when she didn't see any.

Slipping out of bed, she put on her gaudy pink fuzzy slippers that Grandma bought her for her birthday last year. Her mama had nearly gone into hysterics but Laura loved them.

Silent as a cat, she crept around the house, snooping until she found her Uncle John's room. She scampered across the hardwood floor and stood beside his bed.

Laura frowned. Uncle John was still dressed in the same suit he was wearing last night. Why wasn't he in pajamas?

"Whaddya want Laura?" he asked softly, not even opening his eyes. Amazing how his "kid-radar" was still fine-tuned as ever even though he had been childless for nearly seven-going-on-eight years now.

"Monster huntin'," Laura said solemnly. "Wan'ed to see if you were up so you could come with me."

Doggett rolled his head over and opened his eyes. "Huh?"

"Mama says you hunt monsters for a livin'. I was hopin' you wan'ed to go with me to hunt monsters this mornin'."

<<Thanks Chris>> Doggett thought with a groan. Then he grinned. The child had been petrified by the idea of her grandfather's ghost last night but this morning, wanted to track down monsters. Kids. "Why do you wanna hunt monsters, baby?"

"'Cause."

"'Cause why?" Doggett felt himself falling into the dreaded 'Because-why-because' trap that kids were so good about setting.

Laura scrunched her face up in thought. "'Cause playin' with monsters is funner than playin' with Barbies."

<<Good answer>> Doggett's grin grew. "Baby, all the monsters are sleepin' right now," he told her. "They only come out at night."

"Oh." Laura mulled this over and tucked that bit of information away. "So... how come you're sleepin' in your clothes? Didja forget your pajamas?"

<<Oh damn>> "I was so tired last night, I forgot completely to change my clothes," he told her. He felt extremely uncomfortable having slept in his clothes, but then again, it wasn't necessarily the first time he had done so.

"Mama gets mad at me if I don't change into MY pajamas. Is Grandma gonna get mad at you 'cause you didn't change into your pajamas?"

"She won't if we don't tell her," Doggett gave her a conspiratorís wink. Then he yawned. "Now scoot. It's early."

"Can I sleep in here?" she asked. "It still stinks like Grandpa in that room." She turned her little-girl charm on him full-force. "I'll be good. I'll be quiet. I'll sleep on the floor."

Doggett shook his head. Kids. "You don't have to sleep on the flo- OOF!" Doggett grunted as Laura bounced into bed, clambering over his chest and snuggling into the crook of his arm.

"Daddy says I'm too big to do this no more," she mumbled sleepily as she dozed back off.

Doggett rested his head against the pillow. <<I wonder what it would have been like to have a daughter?>> he couldn't help but wonder. Then felt a stab of disloyalty to the son he lost.

He closed he eyes and tried to relax enough to catch at least an hour or two of sleep before the day began in earnest.

Later that morning...

7:55 AM Eastern Time

"Mornin' Mama," Doggett said bending down to kiss his mother's wrinkled cheek as she finished up frying the bacon for breakfast.

"Don't they feed you up in DC?" she scolded him, shooing him away. "You're skin and bones, son."

Doggett grinned as he walked over to the coffeepot and poured himself a cup. "Ah, Mama, you worry too much."

"I'm your mother," she informed him primly. "That's my job."

Doggett looked at the table and knew that Scully would have a nervous breakdown if she would have seen what was on the table. Every bit of food except for the toast, was dripping with grease or coated with sugar. Doggett wondered if he would have any stomach lining left after his stay with his mother but as the aroma teased his olfactory nerves, he decided that he didn't care. Bring on the fried food. Bring on the coronary.

"Sorry it's not very much," Mrs. Doggett apologized, "but Mel and I have to get to the children's hospital this morning and then we've got the wake this evening so you'll have to fend for yourself."

Doggett, who was used to a cold Pop Tart and black coffee to start his day, told her "It's fine, Mama, I'm used to fending for m'self."

Mrs. Doggett looked up at her son, opened her mouth, then closed it firmly. She put her hand to his cheek and told him sternly. "Behave yourself," while lovingly caressing his cheek. His mother was a woman of few words and an ornate dignity. John may be the spitting image of his deceased father, but he was his mother's son. Both wrapped their hurts and secrets up in the wrapping of silence and tucked those packages away to be opened later on. Alone.

"Okay," he teased her. "No wild parties. No girls."

"And stay out of the whiskey," she frowned at him as she turned away to get her purse, calling out, "Mel?? Melanie, are you ready?"

Doggett shook his head in wonder as his mother left the kitchen and Chris, being dragged in by Laura entered. "Hi Uncle John!" Laura chirped. "What're we doin' today???"

Doggett looked up at Chris in panic.

"Could you baby-sit Laura for me?" Chris pleaded. "I have to go to town and get some last-minute stuff done for the holidays."

<<Shit>> he thought. <<How'm I s'pposed to look into Parker's death while keeping an eye on Laura???>>

"I've got runnin' around to do too," he told Chris. "D'ya mind if I bring her 'long then?"

Laura beamed. Chris did not. "What KIND of things?"

Doggett sighed. "Just errands. Stuff I need to pick up that I forgot when packing yesterday. Gonna go down to the shop to borrow Steve's computer to check email."

"Laura, baby," Chris asked, stroking her child's pretty dark curls. "Before you eat your Corn Pops, can you do me a favor?"

"Sure Mama."

"Go upstairs and get Mama's purse. I forgot it."

"'Kay."

The minute Laura disappeared from the kitchen, Chris hissed at her brother. "Johnny, you are not helping Melanie get over Parker by feedin' into her delusions."

"I AIN'T feedin' into her delusions!" Doggett snapped back at her.

"Johnny, you know and I know," her voice was shaking now. "That it's just best to let things go."

Doggett leaned back in his chair. Surveyed his sister with her faux fiery hair. Chris fidgeted nervously with her charm bracelet, an early Christmas present from her husband. She didn't like how piercing his eyes were. So blue. So clear. So like their mother's.

"You really believe that Christen?" he asked her lightly, but using her full name instead of the familiar diminutive to ensure he had her full attention.

She squirmed. "I want to believe," she whispered, looking at the floor.

"Honey, I'm not gonna do anything that's gonna hurt Mel," he said. "If there's even the slightest chance that Park was murdered, then me pokin' 'round will improve the odds of the killer bein' found by that little bit. If it's proven without a doubt that he died naturally... well... then Mel will have the answers she needs to stop puttin' off gettin' on with her life." <<I am such a hypocrite>> he thought as he continued to stare his little sister down.

"It's just that... John, this has been hellish enough already. You haven't been here... you don't live here. You were in New York when things were really bad between Daddy and Mellie and Park and..." she shook her end. "I just..."

"Mama!" Laura burst back in. "Found it!"

"Thank you baby." Chris took the battered purse from her daughter.

"D'ya mind if Laura tags along with me today then?" Doggett asked her smoothly as Laura plunked down in her chair and started to add fresh strawberries to her soggy cereal. "It's nothing big, nothing earth-shattering, I promise." <<For today>> he thought darkly.

Laura beamed at him. "Can we go to the library?"

"Yeah..." Doggett became enthusiastic at the idea. <<Because libraries have computers... I won't have to deal with Steve at the shop.>> "Yeah, actually, the library's one of the places I gotta go."

"Mama? That okay?"

Relief relaxed Chris' normally tense face. "No. That's fine."

She counted on her fantasy-prone daughter to keep John so occupied that he wouldn't have time to chase after his own imaginary monsters.

 

**

Later that morning...

Chatham-Effingham-Liberty Regional Library

Savannah Georgia

"I don't believe it," Doggett moaned under his breath. "They charge for Internet service," he griped.

Laura looked up from her book. She was successful in her battle in snagging the library's last copy of 'Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.' "Whatcha lookin' for?"

"I'm not looking for anything Laura," he told her. "I need to get my email. I'm expecting an important message from someone."

"Your girlfriend?"

"What????"

"Mama and Auntie Mel were talkin' before we left for the library," Laura informed him solemnly. "Auntie Mel said your ears turned really red after she caught you on the phone with a lady and Mama said she must've been your girlfriend if your ears got red... hey... cool! They really do turn red! How do you do that??"

Doggett wished his family lived in Alaska so he could wear ear muffs.

"Your Mama and your Auntie Mel-" <<are gonna get hurt>> "-made a mistake honey. I was talkin' on the phone last night with a lady, but she's not my girlfriend. She's my friend. We work together."

"You guys catch monsters together?"

"We try to." He looked at her book. "Like Harry Potter huh?"

"Oh yeah!" Laura grinned, losing interest in her uncles' telltale ears. "It's really cool, but it's gonna be hard to wait for the next book to come out. It's not done bein' written yet."

"Well, while you're waiting for the next book to come out, you could read another series... it's kinda like Harry Potter... well, I mean, it's got magic and stuff." Doggett had never been much of a reader, but he had always been enchanted by the works of CS Lewis. He remembered reading "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" to his son even as Barbara admonished him that Luke was too little to hear stories like that. He needed to be protected from violence, not subjected to it.

**Ah, Barb, relax. It's just a story**

"C'mon," he told Laura, getting up. "We'll ask the librarian where it is... and maybe we'll go do something else today too..."

"Like what?"

"Whatever you want, sweetie. Movie, park, zoo..."

"Can we go to the zoo??"

"Sure."

Anything to postpone going to his brother's auto repair shop and asking to use his computer

**

Later on that afternoon...

Doggett's Auto Repair and Parts

"Why'd we hafta come here?" Laura's voice was etched with disappointment as the family auto repair and parts store loomed in the horizon. "We were havin' fun."

Doggett was asking himself the very same question. He had spent the day totally spoiling Laura rotten. Mostly because his spirited little niece charmed him utterly. But partially, also to get back at Chris for asking him to baby-sit.

He took her to her favorite restaurant and let her order whatever she wanted, then they wandered around the zoo for most of the afternoon. While walking around, Doggett found his mind wandering back to Melanie's request, to find out the true nature of Parker's death. Several times, Laura had to poke him to get his attention. But then an attraction, the monkey house, the lions' den, the sweets vendor, would catch her eye and she would forget about her uncle's inattentiveness.

"Well, honey, I still have to check my email," he told her. "And Grandma doesn't have a computer." Doggett regretted not taking his own FBI issued notebook computer with him. But he didn't want to deal with the hassle of security inspecting the bag he carried the computer and docking port in. Hell, they made him take off his shoes, for Christ's sake.

Now the security at the airport seemed like a picnic compared to asking his dour older brother to borrow the computer, even for five minutes. Ten maybe, depending on how much shit Jerilyn sent him.

The oldest of the family, Stephen Doggett had been the popular one, the good looking one, the one the girls flocked around in high school. Three years younger than him and two years younger than Mel, Doggett hadn't really cared... much. In high school, he had been so shy around girls anyways. Stevie had been so cool, so blasé about it. It seemed like he had a different girlfriend every week. Lindsay Amos, blond, blue-eyed, a cheerleader and two years his senior had to ask HIM to the prom. John barely had composure enough to stammer out an "okay", half-afraid that it was all a bad joke.

Now, fast forward, twenty-five years later. Stevie was bald, pudgy and alone. Even more so than John. He had never gone to college. He had never traveled. He had never married. He had never had children. He had dedicated his life to continuing his father's business.

A business that was steadily declining.

And Steve still lived with his mother.

Doggett didn't care how shitty his life was, didn't care that his chances for advancement in the FBI had a snowball's chance on Mars. He had served his nation and earned a college degree. He had his own house, he had an interesting job, he had good friends and he had a wonderful albeit infuriating partner. And for seven years, he had the honor of being the father to, in his biased opinion, the best little boy in the entire world and he wouldn't trade that for anything.

As he got out of the car, Doggett surveyed the building. The paint was peeling badly. One of the 'G's on the sign had fallen off. The garbage in the dumpster was overflowing and smelled terrible. Doggett, as he waited for Laura to run around the vehicle to join him, toyed with the idea of offering Steve to tidy the place up a little bit while he was in town. Then dismissed the idea immediately. Steve would perceive the offer as either charity or pity or both. And refuse his help. Rudely.

As Doggett and Laura walked up the cracked sidewalk to the garage, Stevie came out the door, wiping grease off his hands with a dirty rag. "What are you doin' here?" he asked his brother coolly. Then glanced down at Laura, who looked up at her other uncle warily. "And what'n the hell did you bring her here for?"

Laura's eyes filled with tears.

"Because she's keepin' me company today and I don't think Chris'll 'preciate you talkin' about her daughter that way," Doggett said just as calmly, feeling Laura reaching for his hand.

Stevie just snorted. "So, what'd you want?"

"I need to check my email. I'm expecting correspondence from my partner about a case." Not quite the truth. Not quite the lie.

**

Steve snorted slightly, his flaring nostrils reminding Doggett of that ridiculous bull that Bugs Bunny told to "stop steaming up my tail!" But instead of lowing his head and running towards him in a blind rage, he merely turned around and mumbled, "Well, hurry up then. Don't got all day."

Doggett looked down and grinned at Laura, who still appeared distraught. "Think Uncle Stevie's havin' a bad day," he whispered to her, squeezing her small hand.

"Uncle Stevie ALWAYS has a bad day when I'm 'round," Laura said petulantly, head hanging down.

Doggett felt a very adolescent urge to slap Steve upside the head.

The urge became a compulsion when he stepped inside the shop. It was filthy and unkempt. Granted, auto mechanic shops weren't exactly supposed to be Martha Stewart-neat. But there was no excuse for the trash cans to be overflowing with Coke cans and McDonald's bags. Or broken tools and pieces of scrap metal laying on top of the filing cabinet. Or to have spiders merrily spinning their webs in the corners. Doggett, always a clean-freak by nature, shuddered.

Plus, he remembered as a boy how neat his father had kept the shop. You could almost eat off the office floor.

Doggett wondered if Steve was subconsciously sabotaging the business to get back at his father postmortem for tying him down to the shop. But decided it wasn't his place to hazard a guess. Who knew what went through Stevie's mind anymore and John did not study psychology. That was Mulder and Starkweather's department. Profiling.

"Computer's on the desk," Steve said as if Doggett was too dense to notice the ancient machine on top of the filthy desk.

"Thanks," Doggett said while groaning to himself <<Aw, Christ, it's a Mac. God damn it...>>

Doggett pulled out the chair and sat down. Laura flopped down on the cracked vinyl couch and crossed her arms, looking bored. Stevie positioned himself right behind Doggett, looking over his shoulder.

"D'ya mind?" Doggett asked irritably.

"Yeah, I mind," Stevie responded, equally irritated. "I mind a lot."

"This is confidential," Doggett said through gritted teeth.

"It's my computer," Steve replied sullenly.

"Aw for Christ's sake, I'm not gonna be downloadin' porn or anything!"

"Yeah, but how do I know you're not adding a virus to my computer if you open anything? All my business' financial records are on the hard drive."

"It's from the FBI! It's from my god-damned partner!" Doggett said hotly, forgetting about the little ears sitting on the couch across the room. "She's not gonna send an infected file to me!"

"Not on purpose."

"Steve, if you didn't want me to use this, why don'cha just say so and quit wastin' my time."

"Hey, this is my livelihood you wanna dink 'round with, boy. And I'll be damned if I lose all my records 'cause you were playin' Cops and Robbers over the holidays."

"My job is not a game."

"Bullsh-"

"Boys," a quietly forceful, feminine voice cut throw the air.

John and Steve looked up from their argument and saw their mother and their sister Melanie standing there.

**

*********************************************************************

"He started it!" Steve burst out childishly.

Doggett retorted, "Did not!" The minute the words were out of his mouth, he felt like a horse's ass.

Mrs. Doggett skewered the two great big grown men with her piercing eyes. "It doesn't matter who started it," she snapped at them as if they were eight and six again and bickering over a toy. "It matters that you act your ages and end it like gentlemen. Now." She crossed her arms and waiting, still glaring at them.

Laura bolted up from the couch and ran to her mother's side. Chris wrapped her arms around Laura's shoulders.

"Fine," Steve muttered. "Fine." He stepped away from his brother. "Go 'head," he gestured vaguely towards the computer. "I gotta run some errands 'fore the wake anyway. Lock up the shop when you get done>"

"Stephen," Mrs. Doggett said threateningly.

"Mama, I gotta go," he mumbled, snatching his ball cap and jacket off of the old coat tree and stomped out of the shop.

Doggett looked up at his mother, shaking his head. "It's never gonna be good 'tween us, Mama," he said quietly. "It's no use."

Mrs. Doggett said in a sniffy voice, "That's the credo of the mediocre, son."

"But Mama-"

"Don't you 'but Mama' me," Mrs. Doggett said loftily. "Y'all can try to get along for my sake. And if not for me, then at least for Mellie. God only knows how much she's hurtin' right now." She shed her steely demeanor, let her small shoulders slouch a little. "You gonna be long, son?"

"Shouldn't be. I'll try not to be. I don't wanna be late for the wake," Doggett promised her.

"Alright then," Mrs. Doggett nodded. "Come on Chris," she said solemnly. "Let's go." Then she smiled down at her granddaughter. "And you young lady, need to tell Grandma all about your day."

The women and the little girl left Doggett in peace. First thing he did was raid Steve's desk for anything that could combat a raging headache. He found a dusty bottle of Bayer aspirin and dry-swallowed three white pills. Then he logged onto the Internet, cursing out Steve's slow slow service.

Finally, after what felt like the passing of an eon or two, he was able to access his email.

"TO: JJDoggett4460@AOL.COM

FROM: Jeribs@AOL.COM

RE: AIDS/HIV

Papa John-

B/c I am lazy as fuck, I've just c&ped a link to WebMD for you. It'll tell you everything you need to know about AIDS and then some. Need clarification, call me. Will have cell on. Will kill you if you call at midnight again though. Hope home is treating you better today than last night. Sorry I was bitchy last night, was really tired when you called - Santa's probably going to skip my house this year b/c of that, the fat old bastard. Talk you when you're back in DC.

-Doc

PS: So, how many hours did you waste dreaming up your screen name anyway? Just curious. hee hee"

He grinned after reading her snotty little message.

The grin faded after he clicked on the hyperlink and started reading about the disease that Parker supposedly died from.

**

Doggett squinted at the screen as he began to silently read. <<I hope this print just looks blurry because I'm tired and not because I need glasses>> he thought as he leaned in closer to the monitor:

"Frequently Asked Questions on HIV/AIDS: Transmission and Prevention

Myths and facts about how HIV is transmitted -- and how it can be prevented. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Reviewed By Dr. Tonja Wynn Hampton

How is HIV passed from one person to another?: HIV transmission can occur when blood, semen (including pre-seminal fluid, or "pre-cum"), vaginal fluid, or breast milk from an infected person enters the body of an uninfected person. HIV can enter the body through a vein (e.g., injection drug use), the anus or rectum, the vagina, the penis, the mouth, other mucous membranes (e.g., eyes or inside of the nose), or cuts and sores. Intact, healthy skin is an excellent barrier against HIV and other viruses and bacteria. These are the most common ways that HIV is transmitted from one person to another:

by having sexual intercourse (anal, vaginal, or oral sex) with an HIV-infected person

by sharing needles or injection equipment with an injection drug user who is infected with HIV

from HIV-infected women to babies before or during birth, or through breast-feeding after birth. HIV also can be transmitted through transfusions of infected blood or blood clotting factors. However, since 1985, all donated blood in the United States has been tested for HIV. Therefore, the risk of infection through transfusion of blood or blood products is extremely low. The U.S. blood supply is considered to be among the safest in the world. Some health-care workers have become infected after being stuck with needles containing HIV-infected blood or, less frequently, after infected blood contact with the worker's open cut or through splashes into the worker's eyes or inside their nose. There has been only one instance of patients being infected by an HIV-infected health care worker. This involved HIV transmission from an infected dentist to six patients.

Can I get HIV from kissing on the cheek?: HIV is not casually transmitted, so kissing on the cheek is very safe. Even if the other person has the virus, your unbroken skin is a good barrier. No one has become infected from such ordinary social contact as dry kisses, hugs, and handshakes.

Can I get HIV from open-mouth kissing?: Open-mouth kissing is considered a very low-risk activity for the transmission of HIV. However, prolonged open-mouth kissing could damage the mouth or lips and allow HIV to pass from an infected person to a partner and then enter the body through cuts or sores in the mouth. Because of this possible risk, the CDC recommends against open-mouth kissing with an infected partner. One case suggests that a woman became infected with HIV from her sex partner through exposure to contaminated blood during open-mouth kissing. The July 11, 1997, Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report contains an article on this case.

Can I get HIV from performing oral sex?: Yes, it is possible for you to become infected with HIV through performing oral sex. There have been a few cases of HIV transmission from performing oral sex on a person infected with HIV. While no one knows exactly what the degree of risk is, evidence suggests that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex. Blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, and vaginal fluid all may contain the virus. Cells in the mucous lining of the mouth may carry HIV into the lymph nodes or the bloodstream. The risk increases if you have cuts or sores around or in your mouth or throat;

if your partner ejaculates in your mouth; or

if your partner has another sexually transmitted disease (STD).

If you choose to have oral sex, and your partner is male, use a latex condom on the penis; or

if you or your partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms can be used.

Research has shown the effectiveness of latex condoms used on the penis to prevent the transmission of HIV. Condoms are not risk-free, but they greatly reduce your risk of becoming HIV-infected if your partner has the virus. If you choose to have oral sex, and your partner is female, use a latex barrier (such as a dental dam or a cut-open condom that makes a square) between your mouth and the vagina. Plastic food wrap also can be used as a barrier..."

"What?????" Doggett blurted out after reading that part. "No fricking way..." A very uncomfortable mental picture of Saran Wrap flew through his mind. He shook his head to clear it. "I remember when sex was easy," he muttered to himself as he continued to read:

"... The barrier reduces the risk of blood or vaginal fluids entering your mouth. If you have additional questions or are concerned about personal behaviors that may have put you at risk, call the CDC National AIDS Hotline at 1-800-342-2437 (English), 1-800-344-7432 (Spanish), or 1-800-243-7889 (TTY).

Can I get HIV from someone performing oral sex on me?: Yes, it is possible for you to become infected with HIV through receiving oral sex. If your partner has HIV, blood from their mouth may enter the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis), the vagina, the anus, or directly into the body through small cuts or open sores. While no one knows exactly what the degree of risk is, evidence suggests that the risk is less than that of unprotected anal or vaginal sex. If you choose to have oral sex, use a latex condom on the penis; or

if you or your partner is allergic to latex, a plastic (polyurethane) condom can be used. Research has shown the effectiveness of latex condoms used on the penis for preventing the transmission of HIV. Condoms are not risk-free, but they greatly reduce your risk of becoming HIV-infected if your partner has the virus. If you choose to have oral sex and you are female, use a latex barrier (such as a cut-open condom that makes a square or a dental dam) between their mouth and the vagina. Plastic food wrap (here Doggett winced again) can also be used as a barrier. The barrier reduces the risk of blood entering the body through the vagina..."

Can I get HIV from having vaginal sex?: Yes, it is possible to become infected with HIV through vaginal intercourse. In fact, it is the most common way the virus is transmitted in much of the world. HIV can be found in the blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, or vaginal fluid of a person infected with the virus. The lining of the vagina can tear and possibly allow HIV to enter the body. Direct absorption of HIV through the mucous membranes that line the vagina also is a possibility. The male may be at less risk for HIV transmission than the female through vaginal intercourse. However, HIV can enter the body of the male through his urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) or through small cuts or open sores on the penis. Risk for HIV infection increases if you or a partner has a sexually transmitted disease (STD). If you choose to have vaginal intercourse, use a latex condom to help protect both you and your partner from the risk of HIV and other STDs. Studies have shown that latex condoms are very effective, though not perfect, in preventing HIV transmission when used correctly and consistently. If either partner is allergic to latex, plastic (polyurethane) condoms for either the male or female can be used.

Can I get HIV from anal sex? (Here Doggett, hard-core Marine man all the way, cringed and wondered "Why???????") Yes, it is possible for either sex partner to become infected with HIV during anal sex. HIV can be found in the blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, or vaginal fluid of a person infected with the virus. In general, the person receiving the semen is at greater risk of getting HIV because the lining of the rectum is thin and may allow the virus to enter the body during anal sex. However, a person who inserts his penis into an infected partner also is at risk because HIV can enter through the urethra (the opening at the tip of the penis) or through small cuts, abrasions, or open sores on the penis. Having unprotected (without a condom) anal sex is considered to be a very risky behavior. If people choose to have anal sex, they should use a latex condom. Most of the time, condoms work well. However, condoms are more likely to break during anal sex than during vaginal sex. Thus, even with a condom, anal sex can be risky. A person should use a water-based lubricant in addition to the condom to reduce the chances of the condom breaking.

How effective are latex condoms in preventing HIV?: Studies have shown that latex condoms are highly effective in preventing HIV transmission when used consistently and correctly. These studies looked at uninfected people considered to be at very high risk of infection because they were involved in sexual relationships with HIV-infected people. The studies found that even with repeated sexual contact, 98-100 percent of those people who used latex condoms correctly and consistently did not become infected.

Is there a connection between HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases?: Yes. Having a sexually transmitted disease (STD) can increase a person's risk of becoming infected with HIV, whether the STD causes open sores or breaks in the skin (e.g., syphilis, herpes, chancroid) or does not cause breaks in the skin (e.g., chlamydia, gonorrhea). If the STD infection causes irritation of the skin, breaks or sores may make it easier for HIV to enter the body during sexual contact. Even when the STD causes no breaks or open sores, the infection can stimulate an immune response in the genital area that can make HIV transmission more likely. In addition, if an HIV-infected person also is infected with another STD, that person is three to five times more likely than other HIV-infected persons to transmit HIV through sexual contact. Not having (abstaining from) sexual intercourse is the most effective way to avoid STDs, including HIV. For those who choose to be sexually active, the following HIV prevention activities are highly effective:

Engaging in sex that does not involve vaginal, anal, or oral sex

Having intercourse with only one uninfected partner

Using latex condoms every time you have sex

If you have additional questions about STDs, or have personal concerns, call the CDC National STD Hotline at 1-800-227-8922.

Why is injecting drugs a risk for HIV?: At the start of every intravenous injection, blood is introduced into needles and syringes. HIV can be found in the blood of a person infected with the virus. The reuse of a blood-contaminated needle or syringe by another drug injector (sometimes called "direct syringe sharing") carries a high risk of HIV transmission because infected blood can be injected directly into the bloodstream. In addition, sharing drug equipment (or "works") can be a risk for spreading HIV. Infected blood can be introduced into drug solutions by using blood-contaminated syringes to prepare drugs; reusing water; reusing bottle caps, spoons, or other containers ("spoons" and "cookers") used to dissolve drugs in water and to heat drug solutions; or reusing small pieces of cotton or cigarette filters ("cottons") used to filter out particles that could block the needle. "Street sellers" of syringes may repackage used syringes and sell them as sterile syringes. For this reason, people who continue to inject drugs should obtain syringes from reliable sources of sterile syringes, such as pharmacies. It is important to know that sharing a needle or syringe for any use, including skin popping and injecting steroids, can put one at risk for HIV and other blood-borne infections.

How can people who use injection drugs reduce their risk for HIV infection?: The CDC recommends that people who inject drugs should be regularly counseled to stop using and injecting drugs.

enter and complete substance abuse treatment, including relapse prevention. For injection drug users who cannot or will not stop injecting drugs, the following steps may be taken to reduce personal and public health risks: Never reuse or "share" syringes, water, or drug preparation equipment. Only use syringes obtained from a reliable source (such as pharmacies or needle exchange programs).

Use a new, sterile syringe to prepare and inject drugs. If possible, use sterile water to prepare drugs; otherwise, use clean water from a reliable source (such as fresh tap water). Use a new or disinfected container ("cooker") and a new filter ("cotton") to prepare drugs.

Clean the injection site prior to injection with a new alcohol swab. Safely dispose of syringes after one use. If new, sterile syringes and other drug preparation and injection equipment are not available, then previously used equipment should be boiled in water or disinfected with bleach before reuse. Injection drug users and their sex partners also should take precautions, such as using condoms consistently and correctly, to reduce risks of sexual transmission of HIV. Persons who continue to inject drugs should periodically be tested for HIV..."

"Can I get HIV from getting a tattoo or through body piercing?..."

Doggett frowned, he never thought of that. He rolled up the sleeve of his shirt and touched the "We Will Never Forget" tattoo on his upper arm. He had been half-drunk when he got it done with the rest of the survivors of his unit. The risks never even crossed his mind.

"...A risk of HIV transmission does exist if instruments contaminated with blood are either not sterilized or disinfected or are used inappropriately between clients. CDC recommends that instruments that are intended to penetrate the skin be used once, then disposed of or thoroughly cleaned and sterilized. Personal service workers who do tattooing or body piercing should be educated about how HIV is transmitted and take precautions to prevent transmission of HIV and other blood-borne infections in their settings. If you are considering getting a tattoo or having your body pierced, ask staff at the establishment what procedures they use to prevent the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections, such as hepatitis B virus. You also may call the local health department to find out what sterilization procedures are in place in the local area for these types of establishments.

Are health care workers at risk of getting HIV on the job? :The risk of health care workers getting HIV on the job is very low, especially if they carefully follow universal precautions (i.e., using protective practices and personal protective equipment to prevent HIV and other blood-borne infections). It is important to remember that casual, everyday contact with an HIV-infected person does not expose health care workers or anyone else to HIV. For health care workers on the job, the main risk of HIV transmission is through accidental injuries from needles and other sharp instruments that may be contaminated with the virus. Even this risk is small, however. Scientists estimate that the risk of infection from a needle jab is less than 1 percent, a figure based on the findings of several studies of health care workers who received punctures from HIV-contaminated needles or were otherwise exposed to HIV-contaminated blood. For more information on universal precautions or occupational risks of HIV exposure, call the CDC National Prevention Information Network (operators of the National AIDS Clearinghouse) at 1-800-458-5231..."

"Are patients in a dentist's or doctor's office at risk of getting HIV?: Although HIV transmission is possible in health care settings, it is extremely rare. Medical experts emphasize that the careful practice of infection control procedures, including universal precautions, protects patients as well as health care providers from possible HIV infection in medical and dental offices. In 1990, the CDC reported on an HIV-infected dentist in Florida who apparently infected some of his patients while doing dental work. Studies of viral DNA sequences linked the dentist to six of his patients who were also HIV-infected. The CDC has as yet been unable to establish how the transmission took place. Further studies of more than 22,000 patients of 63 health care providers who were HIV-infected have found no further evidence of transmission from provider to patient in health care settings.

Should I be concerned about getting infected with HIV while playing sports?: There are no documented cases of HIV being transmitted during participation in sports. The very low risk of transmission during sports participation would involve sports with direct body contact in which bleeding might be expected to occur. If someone is bleeding, their participation in the sport should be interrupted until the wound stops bleeding and is both antiseptically cleaned and securely bandaged. There is no risk of HIV transmission through sports activities where bleeding does not occur.

Can I get HIV from casual contact (shaking hands, hugging, using a toilet, drinking from the same glass, or the sneezing and coughing of an infected person)?: No. HIV is not transmitted by day-to-day contact in the workplace, schools, or social settings. HIV is not transmitted through shaking hands, hugging, or a casual kiss. You cannot become infected from a toilet seat, a drinking fountain, a door knob, dishes, drinking glasses, food, or pets. A small number of cases of transmission have been reported in which a person became infected with HIV as a result of contact with blood or other body secretions from an HIV-infected person in the household. Although contact with blood and other body substances can occur in households, transmission of HIV is rare in this setting. However, persons infected with HIV and persons providing home care for those who are HIV-infected should be fully educated and trained regarding appropriate infection-control techniques. HIV is not an airborne or food-borne virus, and it does not live long outside the body. HIV can be found in the blood, semen, or vaginal fluid of an infected person. The three main ways HIV is transmitted are through having sex (anal, vaginal, or oral) with someone infected with HIV.

through sharing needles and syringes with someone who has HIV.

through exposure (in the case of infants) to HIV before or during birth, or through breast feeding.

For more information about providing home care or living with a person who is HIV-infected, call the CDC National Prevention Information Network (operators of the National AIDS Clearinghouse) at 1-800-458-5231 and ask for the publication "Caring for Someone with AIDS: Information for Friends, Relatives, Household Members, and Others Who Care for a Person With AIDS at Home."

Can I get infected with HIV from mosquitoes?

No. From the start of the HIV epidemic there has been concern about HIV transmission of the virus by biting and bloodsucking insects, such as mosquitoes. However, studies conducted by the CDC and elsewhere have shown no evidence of HIV transmission through mosquitoes or any other insects -- even in areas where there are many cases of AIDS and large populations of mosquitoes. Lack of such outbreaks, despite intense efforts to detect them, supports the conclusion that HIV is not transmitted by insects. The results of experiments and observations of insect biting behavior indicate that when an insect bites a person, it does not inject its own or a previously bitten person's or animal's blood into the next person bitten. Rather, it injects saliva, which acts as a lubricant so the insect can feed efficiently. Diseases such as yellow fever and malaria are transmitted through the saliva of specific species of mosquitoes. However, HIV lives for only a short time inside an insect and, unlike organisms that are transmitted via insect bites, HIV does not reproduce (and does not survive) in insects. Thus, even if the virus enters a mosquito or another insect, the insect does not become infected and cannot transmit HIV to the next human it bites. There also is no reason to fear that a mosquito or other insect could transmit HIV from one person to another through HIV-infected blood left on its mouth parts. Several reasons help explain why this is so. First, infected people do not have constantly high levels of HIV in their blood streams. Second, insect mouth parts retain only very small amounts of blood on their surfaces. Finally, scientists who study insects have determined that biting insects normally do not travel from one person to the next immediately after ingesting blood. Rather, they fly to a resting place to digest the blood meal."

Doggett leaned back into the chair, his forehead creased in thought.

(All AIDS/HIV information courtesy of WebMD)

<<Okay, great, just got the crash course on AIDS, thankyouverymuch Jerilyn>> he rubbed his eyes in frustration. <<Now what?>>

If Parker had been deliberately infected, the problem was trying to figure out when. Parker had always been healthy as a horse. The only time Parker had been in the hospital, had been at risk for catching the HIV virus was during the time when AIDS didn't even exist. When they were high-school kids. After those rednecked pieces of shit used Parker as their quarry in their "homo hunt" and therefore causing the accident. Doggett re-read the information and tried to think of how someone could have "slipped" Parker the virus. It just didn't seem possible. Parker HAD to have contracted the disease the normal way, but that didn't seem possible either. Parker was not into drugs. Was not a health care worker. Was not an athlete. Was not into anything "weird" such as tattoos. Doggett touched his arm again and shivered. He knew he was clean because the FBI screened all their agents regularly and thoroughly (and how Mulder survived at the Bureau as long as he did with the traces of the LSD in his spinal fluid was beyond him.) But still, he had opened himself up to the risk without even realizing it. A damn scary thought.

Another scary thought slammed into him. Parker definitely was not a homosexual, he had been in too much love with Melanie. In fact, Doggett knew that Parker and Melanie were perfectly justified in wearing white at their wedding. <<So did Parker get a little something on the side? I can't see him cheating on Mel, just like I can't see Mel cheating on him...>>

"Oh Jesus," Doggett burst out, feeling his heart dropping into his shoes.

Melanie.

What if Melanie was infected?

"Oh God, oh God no," Doggett whispered, squeezing his eyes tightly shut. Forced himself to breathe. Resisted the urge to pick up the phone and call Jerilyn. Calmed himself down. Realized that he would have to talk to Melanie some more. Get her to draw a better picture of what happened before he could put it into a frame.

Feeling better that he had a marginal game plan mapped out, Doggett stood to leave when he spied a re-writable CD in a blue jewel case half-hidden by a mountain of old invoices. A boyishly naughty grin popped on his face. Whistling innocently, he slid the CD from out underneath the papers and put the disk into the CD-R drive. Discovered that the disk was empty.

Doggett opened the desk drawer where he found the aspirin and saw several CDs with homemade labels inside. Glanced up at the monitor and noticed the Napster icon on the desktop.

"'All the billings are on the hard-drive' my ass," Doggett muttered as he cheerfully began to download music.

**

Later that night...

St. John's Baptist Church

522-528 Hartridge Street

Savannah Georgia 310401

7:45 PM Eastern

Doggett decided whoever said that funerals where for the living rather than the dead was full of shit.

<<Or maybe I've just been to too many of them>> he thought miserably, sitting like a coward a few pews away from the casket, watching Melanie hovering by her husband's body, greeting the straggling mourners. Even more cowardly, Doggett averted his eyes from the coffin and stared at the floor.

The wake was almost over, but for God's sake, there was still the funeral and that was being postponed until after the day after Christmas. Because Melanie wanted a full autopsy performed before burial. The wake tonight was so that the body could be viewed. After the kind of autopsy Melanie was demanding, it would have to be closed-casket. Doggett sighed and wondered again if he really was helping Melanie. Or if Chris was right and he was just feeding into her delusions, her denial.

"Speak of the devil," he said softly as his little sister sat down beside him.

"Johnny Angel," Chris said softly, rubbing his back. "You look awful."

"Aw gee, Chris, you always say the nicest things."

"Thank you for watching Laura today."

"She's a nice kid."

"Thanks, we think we'll keep her," Chris quipped.

"Where is Laura?"

"At home with her father. I think the wake and the funeral would be too much for a little girl. She'll come to the funeral though. She needs closure, just like every one else. But I don't want to overdo it. She's only ten, you know." She sighed, looking up at Melanie who was alone by the casket now, praying over her husband's body. "At first I thought it was a shame they never had children," Chris said quietly. "But now..." she shook her head, unable to continue.

"Chris..." Doggett started, stopped then forced himself to start again. "Melanie... is she.. um... she's not..."

"We don't know," Chris still, suddenly digging into her purse. "Nobody's asked her if she was infected and she hasn't volunteered the information." She pulled out a wad of Kleenex and dabbed her eyes. "I gotta get going, Johnny. Mike and Laura are waitin' for me."

"I'll see you day after tomorrow."

"You're not gonna be around tomorrow?"

Doggett shook his head. "I gotta go to Atlanta."

"Why?"

"Honey, don't ask me questions you don't want answers to."

Doggett could see that his response infuriated his baby sister to no end. "If I wasn't in church right now," she hissed. "I would dog-cuss you out so bad Johnny..."

"Our Father," Doggett said piously, "who art in heaven..."

She scowled at him and stormed off just as Melanie said goodnight to the last mourner. "What bug crawled up her butt?" Melanie asked as she sat down besides him. She opened her purse and took out a compact. Examined her tear-streaked face.

"You look fine, Mellie," Doggett felt a huge lump in his throat. "You look... just... fine..." he looked at the floor again.

Melanie closed the compact and slipped it back into her purse. She reached for her brother's hand and whispered, "Can you drive me to Mama's house?"

"Okay," he whispered back, carefully cupping her tiny fingers with his big hand. "Let's go."

Hand in hand, they slipped out a slide door and into the church parking lot, towards Melanie's car. Doggett could feel her entire body trembling. "You okay, sis?" he asked her, scared of what her answer might be. <<Please God, just don't let her be sick, just don't let her be sick. I've buried enough people already. My own kid, I buried my own kid, don't make me bury my sister too.>>

"I'm not feeling very well."

Doggett wanted to cry.

"What's the matter?" he asked her innocently.

"Oh... just under the weather," she said vaguely. "Any luck with finding out who did this to Parker?" she squeezed his hand as they stood beside her car.

He gave her an FBI-approved bullshit response. "I'm makin' progress," he said gravely. "I'm goin' to Atlanta tomorrow to talk to someone at the CDC... and then I'll talk to the mortician who's handlin' the autopsy and maybe I'll get my partner or my other colleague in the X-Files, Dana Scully, to take a look at the results... actually, it'd probably be better if Agent Scully looked at 'em... Starkweather's a little overloaded right now."

"Star- what?"

"Stawk-weddah... my partner... Jerilyn. Her last name is Starkweather. We don't call each other by our first names."

Melanie smiled and shook her head as she let go of his hand. "You FBI types are odd ducks," she proclaimed as she stood on her tiptoes to kiss his cheek. "Thank you for believing me." She got into the car.

Doggett shut the car door for her and walked around the car, head hanging.

Problem was, he didn't believe her.

His gut told him that Parker died from natural causes.

And now Melanie may succumb to the same fate.

He didn't want to imagine a world without his big sister. Having to exist in a world without his son was bad enough.

And later still that night...

After bringing Melanie back to their mother's house, Doggett could barely keep his eyes open. Ignoring Chris and Stevie's baleful glares, he made his excuses to everyone and went to bed early. Of course, the minute he laid down on his childhood twin bed, his mind refused to shut down for the night even though his body screamed for it. He tossed and turned fitfully to the point of exhaustion where he couldn't get to sleep. <<Maybe>> he thought desperately <<maybe I can at least get some rest if not sleep. Maybe if I just lay here with my eyes closed...>>

A childish giggle interrupted his sleep deprivation.

"Laura, honey, I'm really tired..."

"Daddy..."

Doggett's eyes popped wide open. He rolled his head over. Saw his little boy, with his tousled blond hair and big blue eyes, standing by the side of the bed, grinning.

"I'm dreaming..." Doggett said out loud. "This is a dream," he reached out his hand to touch Luke's face. Knowing that his hand would pass through the child as if he was made of mist. <<I'll touch him and I'll wake up...>>

His big fingers brushed Luke's face, feeling his puppyfat cheeks and small upturned nose.

"Luke..." Doggett bolted up, heart pounding as Luke rushed the bed, grabbing his arm. Doggett could feel those little hands grabbing at him.

"Dad, I got somethin' to show you, come see..."

<<What is it son? It's early... can it wait?>>

"Luke, no... son... wait... stay here..." Doggett got out of bed and dropped to his knees, clutching at the boy. His child.

"Come on!" Luke playfully squirmed out of his grasp and ran towards the door. "Da-aa-- ad... hurry up!"

"No, Luke, wait, Daddy wants to talk to you..."

"Come on!"

Luke had already darted out the door.

"Wait..." Doggett whispered as he rose to his feet to follow.

He followed the sound of his son's laughter. "Luke... wait," he said, groping for the wall in the dark hallway. "I can't see..."

His hand brushed a light switch. He flicked it on.

The bright light blinded him at first. Once his eyes adjusted, he perceived he was home, but not home. John Doggett had grown up in Savannah, but he was born in a small town called Democratic Hot Springs. A town that was driven to extinction due to poor location and even poorer economy. His mother had grown up there and his father had grudgingly moved there after they were married. However, after three children, and a fourth on the way and tired of breaking his back as a hired field hand with nothing to show for it at the end of the day, Jay Stephen Doggett convinced a bank to loan him enough money to start the auto repair shop in Savannah. They had lived in a hovel for a year and a half until the business took off and his parents had been able to buy the house his indomitable mother was still living in today.

But Doggett, although the shack they rented from a Savannah slum lord was blurry in his mind, could recall the small house he lived in as a very small boy. He had actually sent Scully and Reyes there to hide Scully and the unborn William from the creatures hunting them. The combination kitchen and living room. The one bedroom, his parents' room, off to the side. The very cramped upstairs, almost attic-like, where all three children shared one room. How he had to wait for Stevie to outgrow something before he could have anything "new." How he was barefoot most of the time. How hard his mother would work. Keeping up the house and garden. And also feeding and cleaning three energetic children while carrying a fourth as she also did laundry for her neighbors for a pittance. How he never saw his father except at night, when he'd come home from the cattle farm and collapse in the armchair and Mama ordering the children to leave him alone because Daddy was tired and not in the mood for any foolishness right now. And how he would sit there all night. Not read the newspaper or books or talk to his family. Just sit and stare.

Just like how he was sitting there right now.

"Daddy..." the childish diminutive slipped from Doggett's lips before he even realized it. He hadn't call his father that in years, not since he was Luke's age.

His father stared at him dispassionately. "Well?" he rumbled. His voice sounded alien to Doggett's ears. He hadn't spoken to his father in so long, he had almost forgotten what he sounded like.

His father sounded just like him.

"Well... what?" Doggett said hesitantly.

His father raised his arm and pointed out the door. "Aren't you going out there?"

"Out where?"

"Where the truth is. The truth is out there, son."

"Now I know I'm dreaming," Doggett grumbled.

His father snorted. "Always hidin'," he scolded him. "Never wanting to admit what was right in front your face. If it wasn't your mama shieldin' you, it was Mellie. Then it was the Marines, then Barb and Luke. Who's your savior now, son? The FBI? That little girl they teamed you up with?" He snorted again in disgust.

Doggett folded his lips tightly together. "I remember why I stopped talking to you," he said coldly.

"And I never lost any sleep over it John," his father responded just as frostily. "You might as well go," he pointed out the door again. "You belong out there, not here. You don't want to be in here anyway, I can see it in your eyes, son. You're dyin' to get out of here. You're dyin' to run away again."

Doggett stalked past his father, but as he walked out the front door, his father commented, "I just wonder when you're gonna stop dyin' and start livin' John."

"I started livin'," Doggett growled, "when I stopped being your son."

He walked out the door.

Doggett blinked again he stepped into the bright sunshine. And discovered he was in another location. New York. Long Island to be exact. He turned around, bewildered. The house he had just walked out of was not his boyhood home in Georgia. But the house he and Barb had bought and produce a child in.

"Dad! Over here!"

Doggett whipped his head around. Saw Luke standing in the doorway. "It's in here, c'mon, hurry up!" the child insisted as he turned and ran back inside the house.

Doggett ran back inside. Saw the familiar furnishings of his former home he helped create with his wife and son. The toys on the floor. The mail on the kitchen table. The houseplants everywhere. "Luke... where are you?" Doggett called out desperately. <<I don't care if this is a dream, please... just let me see him one more time, let me touch his face again...>> "Luke?"

"In here!"

Doggett followed the child's voice into the living room. But Luke was no where to be found. Instead of his son, there was a stranger standing in front of the fireplace, his back to Doggett. All Doggett could see was that the man had neatly cut brown hair and a long black dress coat, appropriate for wintertime.

"Who'n the hell are you?" Doggett demanded. "Where's my son."

The stranger turned around. And upon seeing the piercing green eyes and the blood soaked business suit, Doggett could not suppress his cry of surprise and horror. "Oh God! Oh my God..."

"Hello Doggett," Benjamin Starkweather said pleasantly enough, putting his hands in the pockets of the winter coat Jerilyn had gotten him two years ago for Christmas. "It's been a while..."

Doggett closed his eyes, trying to block out the horrifying image of Ben Starkweather's bullet-ridden body standing before him. "I want to wake up now," Doggett said aloud. "I'd really like to wake up now.."

Ben snorted. "You sure you're asleep?"

<<I'm not sure if I'm awake...>>

"I'm **not** awake," Doggett retorted.

Then he opened his eyes. Looked around, completely disconcerted. He was back in his mother's house in Savannah, in his boyhood bedroom. Ben Starkweather, only a foot away from him. Ben Starkweather, a Midwesterner uprooted and transplanted to a harsh East Coast town. Ben Starkweather, the brilliant legal mind, the Lawfirm of Carter, Spangle and Adam's darling. Ben Starkweather, Jerilyn's patently jealous husband. Ben Starkweather, dead at age thirty, hit by bullets meant for Mulder. "I can't be awake..."

"Look," Ben took a step closer. It took all of Doggett's courage to keep himself from backing away from the corpse. "I don't exactly have a whole lot of time. We've been trying to get your attention ever since Melanie called about Parker's death. But as usual, you're not exactly being very open to the extreme possibilities, as my brother-in-law likes to put it."

"Since when have YOU of all people been open to 'the extreme possibilities'?"

"Since I bought the farm," Ben retorted.

"Oh yeah," Doggett mumbled, having forgotten for a moment he was talking to a dead man.

"And your closed-mindedness is NOT going to help find Parker's killer." When Doggett's mouth dropped open in shock, Ben nodded. "Yes, that's right, Agent Doggett. Your good brother-in-law was murdered just as I was. Only it wasn't a bullet that killed him. And Parker's death was premeditated. Me..." he laughed bitterly. "I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"But how?" Doggett asked. "That's what's gettin' me, how could someone have injected Parker with the virus? On purpose?"

"The answer," Ben said smoothly. "Is in your own rednecked roots."

"Some help you are," Doggett grumbled.

"What do I look like? Clarence?" Ben rolled his eyes impatiently. "This murder will be solved a whole lot faster if you stop thinking in a linear fashion and start thinking outside the box. Using 'X' as the variable."

Doggett frowned. "'X' as the... this ain't an X-File..."

"What do all X-Files have in common?"

"That Mulder is damned lucky he's not dead."

"From May 19, 1999 to current date, of all documented X-Files, Agent Mulder was not the agent-of-record..."

"... because I was..." Doggett said faintly. Thought of all the baffling cases he presided over. Mulder's disappearance and resurrection. The little boy that had been missing for years and yet was returned, not aged a day. The man that could see through walls. The man made of metal. The creature that consumed disease and death. The killer dreams. The butt-genie thing. The whole "evil-is-a-disease" and Elvis in a potato chip concept. The lizard man. The Jesus-slug. The oil rig. Mulder and Scully's child. The downed fighter jet in Scotland. Time travel. The haunted radio station. La Luna Blanca. The Eden Project.

"Nothing is as it seems," he finally said. "Nothing is what you think it's gonna be..." he looked up at Ben. "Parker never had AIDS, did he? Something... or someone else killed him."

"And that someone is working very hard to cover that up," Ben said.

"But why?" Doggett now eyed Ben suspiciously. "And why'n the hell are YOU telling me this? I saw my father and I saw my son. Why'm I seein' you and not Parker?"

"Parker is kind of busy now trying to comfort Melanie," Ben informed him piously. Then, in a humbled voice, he added. "And this is what Jerilyn would have wanted."

"So, if this bullshit dream is 'real', Park's spirit is comfortin' Mellie, but you're here with me instead of bein' with YOUR widow?"

"Helping YOU," Ben crossed his bloody arms. "Is how I am comforting my widow. Believe it or not, John Doggett," Ben made a move towards the door. "I loved her. I love her still. I'll always love her. But I couldn't keep her. I would have been better off trying to lasso a hurricane. But I'm with her. Always. Just as," Ben opened the door to reveal Luke standing there, grinning ear to ear. "He'll always be here. In the spirit, anyway."

Ben glided out as Luke ran in. Luke wrapped his arms around Doggett's legs. Trembling, Doggett knelt again to the boy's level. "Hey there," Doggett whispered, reaching out to tousle his child's blond hair.

"Dad," Luke said as petulantly as he did when he used to call Doggett's old police station when he was working late one some case or other. "When are you comin' home?"

"Um... I don't know," Doggett admitted brokenly. "I have work to do here first, son."

Luke crinkled his nose, the nose that was exactly like Barbara's. "Can't you hurry up? Or do it tomorrow? I wanna see you."

Doggett couldn't stop the tears now. "I wish I could," he wiped the traitorous tears off his face with the back of his hand. "But it's not up to me."

Distraught, Luke whimpered. "Daddy, what's wrong? Why're you cryin'? Did I do somethin' wrong?"

"No..." Doggett sobbed. "No... you didn't. I just... I just miss you, son," he whispered as he held the boy close to him. "That's all. I just really miss you."

"But I'm right here..."

"I know... I know..."

***************************************************

A soft thump woke her. Melanie thought it was the door being blown shut, but then heard John muttering in his sleep so she pulled her robe on. Slipping out of the giant pink, lavender and white room she had to share with Chris through her girlhood, she crossed over to John's room across the hallway.

She never thought it was fair that the boys had their own rooms when she had to share with Chris, who was a slob and stole her clothes.

Quietly, she pushed open the door and found him sprawled out on the bed, covers kicked off. He looked to be trapped in a bad dream. Guided by only the moonlight she tiptoed over to the bed. Even in that weak light, she could see the tear-streaks on his cheeks. He was still talking in his sleep.

"I just miss you, son.... that's all. I just really miss you..."

"Oh Johnny," she sighed as she pulled the sheets and quilts over him. She sat down beside his unconscious form and wiped his tears away with her thumb. "It's okay, I'm here," she whispered as she smoothed his hair, trying to smooth away the nightmares plaguing him. "I'm right here..."

Strange that how, moments like this, she felt Parker's presence the most. As if he was standing behind him.

If she hadn't been concentrating on her beloved brother's distress, if she would have turned around, she would have seen her husband's spirit, beside her and behind her.

 

**

December 23, 2001

Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

Savannah, Georgia

6:45 AM Eastern Standard Time

"Thank you ma'am," Doggett drawled as he handed a ten to the nice little old lady working the register at the Starbucks.

She handed him a five, three ones and fifteen cents back. "Thank you, sir. Have a nice Christmas, now."

"Thanks," Doggett said again, carrying his coffee to the nearest little table so he could sip at his coffee in peace while waiting for his flight. With a sigh, he sat down, placing his briefcase, newspaper and cell phone on top of the table.

He stared at the cell phone.

<<If you call her this early, she will kill you>> he told himself sternly as he sipped the scalding hot house blend.

<<Wait a minute, John, you dumb sonfabitch. She carries a Nokia and has the same cell service like the rest of the feds. Text message her.>>

So he typed into his phone: CALL WHEN HAVE CHANCE. THX and sent the message. To his surprise, by the time he had set the phone down and leaned back into his chair to read the sports page, his phone rang.

"John Doggett."

"Agent Doggett, it's me."

"Agent Scully," Doggett said formally, although the addition of their professional titles was more of a playful joke between the friends rather than following protocol. "I wasn't expecting you to call back until later."

**

"It's alright, I'm up," Scully huffed into the cell, seeing her breath crystallize and then vaporize in the crisp DC winter air. Next to her, Starkweather, dressed similar to Scully, turtleneck, sweatshirt, slicky pants, two pairs of socks and sneakers, ran in place to keep warm. The only clothing difference between Scully and Starkweather was that Starkweather was wearing a baseball cap and had a gray scarf wound around her neck and Scully had earmuffs and a purple fuzzy scarf knotted at her throat. "What's going on?"

"Dana, I'm sorry, I hate to butt into your Christmas like this."

"It's not a problem, what can I do?"

"If I had autopsy reports faxed over to you, could you take a look and lemme know what you think?"

"Mmmm. Christmas cookies, autopsy reports and eggnog, sounds like the perfect holiday mix to me," Scully said dryly. "What am I looking for, Agent Doggett?"

"Well... it's hard to explain without goin' into a lot of details... but... um... the deceased... was... um..."

"John?" Scully looked at Starkweather, eyebrows raised high. Starkweather only shrugged and returned the "What-the-fuck?" look back to her.

"He was... well, he's family, Dana. And his wife, my sister, doesn't think he died of natural causes. She thinks he was murdered."

"Then why aren't the police opening an investigation?

"Because as of right now, cause of death is listed as complications related to AIDS."

Scully frowned. "I see."

"If it wasn't family, Dana, I wouldn't even bother. I think the answer is pretty black and white. But she asked me to look into it. And she hardly ever asks anything of anybody."

A heavy sigh. "I'll take a look, John, but I can't promise anything. And it's going to be hard for me to determine anything without actually viewing the body."

Doggett winced at Scully's clinically detached manner of referring Parker as 'the body.' "I really 'preciate this, Dana."

"Just remember this when Mulder and I need a sitter for Will."

Doggett grinned. He had a soft spot for William, or "Boo" as the Gunmen christened him after Mulder and Scully threatened a triple castration if they kept calling him "Spooky Jr." "Oh, gee, anything but that," he said in mock-horror.

"If it's possible, have the coroner attach the reports as a Word Document to an email and send it to my home email address. If not, then have them fax the report to Mulder's office at City Hall. I'm sure he won't care." There was an unspoken rule with the X-Files agents that sensitive information was never to be faxed directly to the basement office or emailed to their FBI email accounts. Too many things had mysteriously vanished.

"Thank you Dana."

"Enjoy your Christmas, John."

"You too."

Scully shook her head as she hung up her phone. "Weird..."

"Damn weird," Starkweather agreed as the women started to jog again. This time towards a cafe where hot coffee waited. "What the hell WAS that all about?"

"Have you spoken to John since he left for Savannah?" Scully's teeth were chattering. She was dying for a tall de-caf vanilla latte with skim milk. And a doughnut. A chocolate doughnut. With sprinkles.

"He called late the other night but we didn't talk long because I was half-pissed he called in the first place. I got the vibe he was checking up on me and tried to cover his tracks by asking me some off-the-wall medical question. Why?"

"He wants me to verify the cause of death of his brother-in-law. To see if he died from AIDS or not."

"Brother-in-law???? Death??? Wh.. what?"

"I didn't know he had any other family."

"I didn't either... until the other night..." Starkweather trailed off, pausing in front of "Coffee Is My Friend" Cafe. A delightful little coffeehouse close enough to Georgetown to attract all the college students but far enough away to give it a Washington DC address. "Oh shit."

"What is it, Jerilyn?" Scully's hand was on the door handle. Shivering, she asked "What's wrong?"

Starkweather closed her eyes. "Oh nothing. I have to go to the ER."

"The ER???? Why????"

"To see if they can do an emergency foot-from-mouth removal surgery. While I'm gone, can you do me a favor, Scully?"

"What?"

"When Doggett forwards those reports to you, send them to me?"

"Sure... but Jerilyn, what is it?" Now Scully's eyes narrowed suspiciously as Starkweather began to backpedal from her. "What are you up to?"

"Me???? Up to anything??? That hurts my feelings."

"You don't have feelings," Scully reminded her.

"Oh yeah," Starkweather grinned as she turned around and trotted off. "See ya later, Scully!" she hollered out, waving as she began to jog back to Scully's apartment to retrieve her car.

Scully stared and shook her head.

She would have thought Starkweather's behavior as strange, if she hadn't been her half-brother's FBI partner for the last eight years of her life. "Mulder-genes," she mumbled as she went instead the nice warm coffee shop and ordered her coffee and breakfast treat.

 

**

US Center for Disease Control and Prevention

Atlanta, Georgia

12:55 PM Eastern Standard Time

Doggett realized that he watched way too much Nick-at-Nite on his downtime.

He came to that realization because he had just decided that the irritating little man sitting at the desk in front of him looked like Boss Hogg from "The Dukes of Hazard" but sounded like Frank Burns from "M*A*S*H". Two legendary and incredibly unlikeable characters.

"Well... uh... Mister Doug-it..."

"Dog-gett," Doggett automatically corrected him for the umpteenth time during the interview.

"Um... yeah, sure, okay," mumbled Heathcliff Routledge, assistant to the Director of the CDC. "I... uh... dunno know what else to tell you... Mister DOG-gett."

"Like I said sir," Doggett repeated himself with a patience he didn't even realize he had. "I am on a fact finding mission. I am researching AIDS. And I am curious if there are any diseases out there that are similar to AIDS that could be contracted in any other way. OR if there had been any documented cases of AIDS victims being purposely infected. It would only take maybe ten, fifteen minutes of the Director's time," he finished pleasantly enough. Inside, he was seething. <<Murder is wrong, murder is wrong, murder is wrong...>> he gritted his teeth and managed to produce a polite smile.

"Yeah... well..." Routledge scooted his chair over towards his computer and clicked open some application or another. Put his flabby face very close to the screen. "The Director is gonna be out from now until after the New Year. Wouldja like to make an appointment for next year then?"

"I was under the impression," Doggett fought the urge to jump over the desk and throttle the fat man in front of him. "That I would be able to speak to the Director today."

"Well... um..." Routledge shook his head. "Dunno who would give you that impression, certainly wasn't me. The Director's out for the holidays... so... I dunno know what I can tell you Mr. Doug-it."

"Doggett and never mind," Doggett sighed, standing up. "Is there someone else who can maybe help me instead of the Director?" Because Doggett had also been under the impression that the Director could help open files on AIDS patients, therefore opening the door and maybe a murder investigation into the death of Parker Davis.

"Most people are out for the holidays..."

"Great," Doggett mumbled.

He had flown from Savannah to Atlanta for a fat lot of nothing.

<<So much for thinking outside of the box>> he griped to himself as he left the CDC building.

**

About an hour later...

Atlanta Underground

50 Upper Alabama Street

Atlanta, Georgia

Still in a sulk, Doggett stormed around the mall. He figured that even though he had wasted his time at the CDC, he could at least get his last minute Christmas shopping done. And that maybe the theory of "'Tis better to give than receive" would help improve his mood.

It was a good theory. Too bad he forgot that it was two days before Christmas.

The mall was packed. And it seemed that everyone, shoppers and retailers alike were in an even fouler mood than Doggett was. People were jostling and bumping into each other without so much as an "Excuse me." The air was thick with complaints. Complaints about how much this or that was. Complaints about how busy the mall was. Complaints about how rude everyone was. Complaints about how they wished Christmas was over and done with.

It was so bad that Doggett had even gotten into a shouting match with a rotund woman over the last giant plush 'Tigger' doll at the Disney Store. He ended up letting the woman have the damn thing. Mostly because he was afraid she was going to hit him. Then he was going to have to arrest her for assaulting a federal agent. And he just didn't want to deal with the extra paperwork.

So as the fat cow pranced off with the 'Tigger, without even looking, Doggett grabbed the first plush toy he could lay his hands on and stalked to the register. After he had paid for it, he took a good look at the big blue furry thing he had just purchased. "What'n the hell did I just buy????" he had moaned outside of the store. Granted he wasn't exactly up to speed on Disney movies anymore, but this thing sure didn't look like Eeyore or Pooh-bear. "Chris is gonna kill me," he had sighed as he pushed his way through the hordes of shoppers to find a special gift for Melanie.

**

Doggett ducked into a shop that was a little too cutesy for his taste, but it was right up Melanie's alley. She liked figurines and jewelry. The more feminine, the better. Chris had always been the little tomboy, running with Stevie and Johnny. Mellie was the lady, the surrogate mother when Mama was too busy tending to the house or tending to their father. Doggett frowned as he looked up, staring at a collection of 'Wizard of Oz' figurines. Melanie had loved that movie as a kid. So had Luke. Barb had dressed him up one year as the 'Cowardly Lion' for Halloween.

"Can I help you sir?" a sales associate asked him politely, breaking into his reverie.

"No thanks," Doggett said, reaching for a 'Glenda the Good Witch' figurine on the top shelf. "Found what I was lookin' for."

"Would you like me to wrap that for you then, if that's all you're needing today?"

"Yeah... that'd be great, thanks," Doggett mumbled as he followed the girl to the register.

After Doggett handed the sales associate his credit card, he felt something sharp prod him in the back. "Ow!" he yelped out, turning around, fully intending to say something nasty to whoever poked him with their umbrella.

But words failed him when he saw who it was.

"Oh my God," Lindsay Buckle nee Amos nearly dropped her purse, shopping bags and decorative parasol she had just bought. "JD? Is that really you?"

**

Meanwhile...

Mrs. Doggett's house

Savannah, Georgia

Mrs. Doggett was just pouring coffee for herself and her daughters when the doorbell rang. "I'll get it!" Laura announced, scooting off of the kitchen chair and running towards the front door.

"Who in the world could THAT be?" Mrs. Doggett frowned, looking at the clock. "I'm not expecting company. Are either one of you girls?"

As Chris and Melanie shook their heads, Laura came running back to the kitchen. "Mama, Grandma, Auntie Mel, there's a strange lady at the door. She talks funny. She askin' if Uncle John's here."

The adult women stared at each other, confused. "Did she say her name, honey?" Chris asked her daughter.

"Yeah... it was... um... Sta... Sta... I dunno. It was a funny last name."

"Starkweather?" Melanie asked.

"Howja know?" Laura was awestruck at her aunt's telepathic abilities.

Melanie smiled at Laura as Chris admonished her to finish her homework. As Laura sat back down at the kitchen table to write her book report, Melanie said to Mrs. Doggett and Chris, "I'll go talk to her."

"Who is this Starkweather-person?" Mrs. Doggett demanded.

"The lady that makes Uncle John's ears turn pink," Laura explained.

"Laura. Homework. Now," Chris said sternly as Melanie left the room.

Before letting her in though, Melanie, feeling like a chicken, peeped through the lacy curtains to get a look at her. <<Oh John>> she sighed to herself even as she smiled. <<How did I know she was going to be a blond?>>

Besides masses of shiny blond hair, neatly pulled back into a perfect bun at the nape of her neck, Melanie thought that this mystery girl was fairly unremarkable in appearance. Short but trim, physically fit. She wore neatly pressed black slacks and a matching lightweight black blazer over a deep red blouse. Her winter coat, necessary back home but useless here, was draped over her right arm. Her left hand held a black briefcase. Melanie saw the twinkle of a diamond on her left ring finger.

Melanie pulled herself away from the window and went to the front door. "May I help you?" Melanie asked as she observed the heart-shaped face, pouty lips, perfect eye-brows and hazel eyes that radiated intelligence, arrogance and control. And kindness. And an extreme sadness. <<Maybe she isn't as homely as I thought>> Melanie thought.

Actually, she was quite pretty, on second look.

"I'm sorry to bother you ma'am," the woman said politely enough as she reached into her blazer's pocket. Fished out an FBI ID and held it up for Melanie to read. "My name is Dr. Jerilyn Starkweather, I'm a federal agent with the FBI. I'm looking for either John Doggett or Melanie Doggett Davis."

"I'm Melanie," Melanie beckoned Starkweather inside. "I'm sorry but John's not here... are you here to help with Parker?"

"Yes I am, Mrs. Davis," one widow said to the other. "Or I'm going to at least try to anyway."

**

Meanwhile

Back at the Atlanta Underground...

"Haven't been called that since high school," Doggett admitted as he signed the sales receipt and then accepting his credit card back. "Thanks," he told the sales associate as she handed him the shopping bag. Turning back to Lindsay, he asked "How're you doin'?"

She looked like she was doing fabulous. Dressed to the nines in a Christian Dior suit and Gucci shoes. She looked older, granted. Just like he knew he did. She had a few crow's feet by her big cornflower eyes. Her complexion wasn't as peachy or creamy as it had been in high school. But she was still tall, blond and lovely, reminding him of a Hollywood actress. Heather Locklear maybe.

"Oh you know. Busy. What about you JD? We missed you at the last class reunion." She beamed at him.

"Well," he said mildly. "Ever since I got transferred to DC, I don't get down here much anymore."

"What brings you to Atlanta? I thought most of your family was still in Savannah?"

"They are," Doggett said, amazed how an intelligent, mature, borderline boring man like himself could feel like a blithering idiot when in the presence of an old flame. "I'm in town for a case," a polite white lie, "and I thought I'd finish up some Christmas shopping 'fore I flew back to Savannah."

"For anyone special?" she interrogated lightly, eyeing the very feminine packages.

He grinned. "My niece and my older sister."

"Oh," she breathed, nodding as she tried to be inconspicuous while eyeing his left hand, searching for that telltale flash of gold on his ring finger. "When do you have to go back to Savannah?"

"Tonight."

"Do you have any other pressing appointments this afternoon?"

"Lindsay," he grinned. "You were never good at bein' subtle."

She turned a soft shade of pink. "That's why I was a cheerleader in high school and lawyer now," she smiled. "If you don't have any plans, I would love it if you spent the rest of the afternoon with me. I haven't seen you in so long..." her voice trailed off.

"Okay," he said softly, taking her heavy shopping bags from her. "That would be... nice," he finished lamely with a sheepish grin.

Which made Lindsay burst out in merry laughter. "Oh bless your heart, JD, I forgot how sweet you are when you get flustered," she chuckled as she companionably took his free arm and together they walked out of the store. "Your ears still turn red."

Doggett could feel the rest of his face changing colors to match his ears.

**

Meanwhile

Back at the Atlanta Underground...

"Haven't been called that since high school," Doggett admitted as he signed the sales receipt and then accepting his credit card back. "Thanks," he told the sales associate as she handed him the shopping bag. Turning back to Lindsay, he asked "How're you doin'?"

She looked like she was doing fabulous. Dressed to the nines in a Christian Dior suit and Gucci shoes. She looked older, granted. Just like he knew he did. She had a few crow's feet by her big cornflower eyes. Her complexion wasn't as peachy or creamy as it had been in high school. But she was still tall, blond and lovely, reminding him of a Hollywood actress. Heather Locklear maybe.

"Oh you know. Busy. What about you JD? We missed you at the last class reunion." She beamed at him.

"Well," he said mildly. "Ever since I got transferred to DC, I don't get down here much anymore."

"What brings you to Atlanta? I thought most of your family was still in Savannah?"

"They are," Doggett said, amazed how an intelligent, mature, borderline boring man like himself could feel like a blithering idiot when in the presence of an old flame. "I'm in town for a case," a polite white lie, "and I thought I'd finish up some Christmas shopping 'fore I flew back to Savannah."

"For anyone special?" she interrogated lightly, eyeing the very feminine packages.

He grinned. "My niece and my older sister."

"Oh," she breathed, nodding as she tried to be inconspicuous while eyeing his left hand, searching for that telltale flash of gold on his ring finger. "When do you have to go back to Savannah?"

"Tonight."

"Do you have any other pressing appointments this afternoon?"

"Lindsay," he grinned. "You were never good at bein' subtle."

She turned a soft shade of pink. "That's why I was a cheerleader in high school and lawyer now," she smiled. "If you don't have any plans, I would love it if you spent the rest of the afternoon with me. I haven't seen you in so long..." her voice trailed off.

"Okay," he said softly, taking her heavy shopping bags from her. "That would be... nice," he finished lamely with a sheepish grin.

Which made Lindsay burst out in merry laughter. "Oh bless your heart, JD, I forgot how sweet you are when you get flustered," she chuckled as she companionably took his free arm and together they walked out of the store. "Your ears still turn red."

Doggett could feel the rest of his face changing colors to match his ears.

**

Melanie was reading a magazine in the waiting room when Agent Starkweather burst in.

John Doggett wasn't the only one in the family who was good at reading people's facial expressions. In fact, it would almost be safe to say Melanie was the one who taught him how.

"What is it?" she asked Starkweather breathlessly, hand to her thought.

The blond agent was very pale except for two unattractive pink blotches on her cheeks. Her lips were folded tight. Her eyes were also narrowed and for one weird moment, Melanie thought her eye color was changing to match her mood <<But that's silly, Mellie. Eye color doesn't change. They're brown. They just look green in this lighting.>> An evil, angry, poisonous green. John's partner was definitely not happy.

"Mrs. Davis," Starkweather said, sitting beside her on the ugly hospital waiting room furniture. "Back at your mother's house, when you were telling me about Parker's medical history, you said he had no allergies whatsoever."

"Right."

"You sure? You absolutely positively sure?"

"Of course I'm sure. I'm the one with allergies. I can't have shellfish. Whenever we'd go out to eat, he'd always order seafood because it's the one thing I couldn't cook for him. I break out in hives if I even touch it. And if I eat it, my throat swells shut."

"No known allergies to any medications? Antibiotics?"

"No... the doctor would always give antibiotics. Parker didn't get sick often, but sometimes he'd come down with a bad sinus infection."

"Always? Amoxicillin? Ampicillin? Clarithromycin?"

"I... I dunno. I'd just get the prescription and have it filled. I never really paid attention. But I know it'd be an antibiotic. Why?"

"Do you remember what medicines the doctors were giving him to treat his ARC pneumonia?"

"Um..." Melanie tried to think. Starkweather chewed on her thumbnail. "I can't remember, Agent Starkweather."

"Penicillin? TMP and SMX? Uh... Tetracyclines? Macrolides?" Starkweather then rattled off the brand names of the same drugs as opposed to the generic titles. "Amoxil? Bactrim? Minocin? Biaxin? Are any of these ringing any bells?"

"No, I'm sorry."

"Mrs. Davis... there's one thing that I'm confused about that we haven't talked about yet.... WHY was your husband tested for HIV?"

"Because we were updatin' our life insurance policies," Melanie answered. "Our policies from our jobs weren't good enough, so we decided to buy individual policies. And the type of policy we wanted, required us to sign a consent to test for HIV form, a blood test and a urine test. And Parker's tests came back positive." She laughed hollowly. "And of course Parker's policy was denied. And the policy from work will barely cover funeral expenses." She looked drained.

Starkweather felt a pang of sympathy. "I'm sorry to keep pushing like this..."

"That's alright. After John's description of you, I wouldn't expect any less."

<<What the hell has he been saying about me?>> Starkweather wondered but did not ask. She asked instead: "But you came back negative?"

"Yes."

"What's the name of the insurance company you applied for?"

"Stesson and Doyle Insurance Wholesalers Inc. SDIW."

"Do you have a card for them?"

Melanie dug into her big purse and pulled out her day runner. She opened the zipper on the front and pulled out the insurance company's business card. "Agent Starkweather... I'm not sure if I follow you line of thinking."

"I'm thinking I want to get my hands on Parker's medical history," Starkweather said grimly, getting up to go to Medical Records.

Melanie followed, heart pounding.

**

A little later on...

Phoenix Brewing Company

5600 Roswell Road

Atlanta Georgia

"I thought this place might suit you better than anything else," Lindsay said as she gracefully slid into the booth.

Doggett grinned. "Aw, c'mon, Lindsay, I ain't that much of a redneck that I can't go into the fancier restaurants with the cloth napkins."

"Oh I know," she lightly quipped. "But I also know how much the Bureau pays their fine agents."

"Hey, we did get a three percent raise this year... or was that a three cent raise??" Doggett pretended to ponder over that as Lindsay giggled and shook her head.

"Still a smart ass."

"Better'n than a dumb ass. Now, you were promisin' to show me some pictures once we sat down?"

"Oh, yes, I didn't forget," Lindsay said just as a waitress came to take their order. When she left again, Lindsay pulled out a sleek leather wallet from her expensive purse and opened it up. Took out two photographs and handed them over to Doggett.

"Now, that's my oldest daughter Kirsten. She'll be thirteen in March, God help us," She laughed lightly. "And the youngest is Brittany. She's nine. Just had a birthday."

Doggett examined the school pictures. Kirsten had short curly blond hair while Brittany's golden hair was long and straight. They both had their mother's cerulean eyes. "They take after you," he told her politely as he handed the pictures back. "How's Warren?"

"Busy," she said a little too brightly as she put the pictures back in her wallet. "When my father-in-law died last spring, Warren took over the family business." She sighed. "I've been meanin' to tell you... I heard about Parker Davis... I keep in touch with a few of my girlfriends back home. I'm so sorry. I sent Mellie a card."

"I'm sure she appreciated it," Doggett mumbled as the waitress returned with their drinks.

"You know," she said thoughtful, swirling her drink around with the little cocktail straw. "I never believed the 'official' story that went 'round high school, that Parker got hurt in a car wreck. I always figured those rednecked idiots Dexter Gillory and Cy Lewis had something to do with it. They picked on Parker horribly." She smiled gently at Doggett. "I always thought it was nice of you to stand up for Parker. You were like his shadow until you went away to the military. 'Course," she laughed again. "Some said you were only nice to 'im 'cause Mellie told you to be."

Doggett felt extremely uncomfortable and extremely guilty. "Mellie had nothing to do with that," he said softly. "Parker was a decent guy. Just nobody at school would give him a chance. And those bast- um... those jerks Dex and Cy always went after the runts. I know Dex got killed in Lebanon a few years back-" the ultimate irony. Doggett, after being honorably discharged from the Marines after being wounded in Lebanon, had found out that Dex Gillroy had been stationed there too with the Army. And had died in the conflict. "- but what 'bout Cy? Whatever happened to him?"

"That idiot," Lindsay spat out angrily. "He's in jail."

"In jail? For what??"

"Murder. Got drunk, shot off his mouth. Picked a fight and killed a man. He should have gotten life, but he plea-bargained and is doing thirty years instead, eligible for parole in ten... which I think is coming up soon." She shook her head. "Idiot. He was just a purebred idiot. I still remember those boys strutting 'round school, thinking they were God's gift 'cause they were football players. Cy and Dex and your brother Stevie. Carl Betton. Austin Taylor. And Dex's little sister Delilah was always taggin' 'long... of course, we all thought she had a thing for Cy. Child never was quite right in the head. And then," she looked up at him. "There was you."

"Yeah... there was me."

"You were never like the others. I said that to that reporter who was doin' that story on you and your FBI partner bein' at the World Trade Center on September 11. You were never like the others. You were the peacemaker. You never paid attention to who's daddy made how much money or if they were white or black or whatever. You were different from the rest of the boys. That's what I remember most about you, JD."

Doggett squirmed under her soft, gentle gaze. "Sounds like you're readin' my eulogy, Lindsay," he tried to quip.

**

Lindsay looked up at him, her blue eyes devoid of guile. "When you left for the Marines, you might as well have died," she looked down at the table again. "When you left... You disappeared off the face of the earth." She sounded wounded.

"I wrote when I could, Linz," he replied, softly. And a little defensively.

"It was just too hard," she whispered. She took a sip of her vodka sweet-and-sour, felt the liquid courage enter her mouth, go down her throat and into her stomach. "I mean, after all," she laughed without a trace of humor. "I caught quite a bit of flack for datin' you. Me bein' a cradle-robbin' senior, takin' a sophmore boy to the prom."

"Funny," Doggett said dryly. "I remember thinkin' that you only asked me because Stevie pissed you off."

"Well, he did piss me off!" she spouted off indignantly. "He asked me if he could take me to the prom, then that cheap little slut Aimee Clark up and asks him. So he dumps me to take HER??? Ooh that made me so mad!" Then, embarrassed, she admitted. "And I knew askin' you would send him through the roof." She sighed. "It was petty and it was cruel. And childish... Twenty-twenty hindsight." She took another drink. "But it turned out alright in the end, I think..."

They were silent as the waitress brought them their entrees. When she went away, Doggett mumbled, "I wish it could have been different, Linz. I... I dunno know what else to say."

Ironically, it was Parker and Melanie that helped him chose the road that would lead him away from Lindsay and Savannah and towards Barbara and New York. And Luke.

**

Tybee Island aka Savannah Beach

Savannah Georgia

June 10, 1976

The waves rolled in from the distant blue of the Atlantic and wiped away the trail of footprints two teenagers left behind they as they walked alone the shore line.

The tall, skinny boy had thick, wavy hair, brown like the sand he walked on. The thick wavy hair camouflaged his prolific ears and the bump on the back of his head he earned when he was pushed down a flight of stairs. But it was still tender to the touch. His sky blue eyes were clouded by the black and purple bruises around them. His lips, never before owning that pouty rock-star quality young girls swooned over as they gathered to listen to their latest LPs, were still puffy. He walked not like a carefree sixteen year old boy, but like an old man. Stiff. Sore. Uncomplaining about the bruises his t-shirt covered up. He carried his tennis shoes as well as her sandals.

The girl next to him had a deep dark tan and eyes blue like the distant Atlantic. Her long hair, neatly parted down the middle, was the color of the sun and hung well below her dererrie. She wore white hiphuggers and a pink halter top. An outfit her parents would rail at if they had known she was wearing it. Her baby face belied her age of eighteen although she had the body of a supple twenty-five year old.

Strangers observing the couple from the distance thought that it was a pair of nice kids enjoying all the freedoms summer had to offer. If they would have ventured closer, they would have seen the tears running down the girl's cheeks.

"Why can't you tell me who did this to you, JD?" Lindsay Amos whimpered as the waves crashed over her feet. "Was it Cy or Dex? You know my daddy's a lawyer. Even if Sheriff Gillroy's Dex's father, we could still get them. They've been nothin' but trouble but the first day that they drew breath."

"Linz, it wasn't them," John told her again.

"How long have you been stayin' with Park? Aren't your folks worried?"

"I've been with them for almost a week." He did not tell her that most of that week, he had been as good as unconscious.

"When are you goin' home? JD, you can't... your folks won't allow for it," Lindsay said, horrified that "a good boy" like Johnny Doggett could be so rebellious as to run away from home. It was unheard of.

"Um... I'll be goin' home soon, but I won't be stayin' there for long..."

"Why? Where are you goin'?"

"Away..."

Lindsay stopped him. It was getting dark but it was still very warm outside. Still, she shivered. "Where's away?"

"I'm gonna join the Marines."

"But that's when you graduate from high school... oh my God... you're leaving????? Now?!?!?!?! But I thought you had to be eighteen!"

**

"There's ways 'round that," John mumbled.

"How??"

"Park's uncle's a recruiter... he helped sign me up. He's gonna help me get my GED..." John closed his eyes, hearing his friend and his sister's voices in his ears...

**"We can take him up to Atlanta tomorrow... Tony's a good guy... he'll help out. He can bend the rules for us. Hell, if worse comes to worse, we can forge your mama or daddy's signature on a form that lets minors join the service. We'll get 'im outta here, Mellie..."**

**Park... I ain't gonna leave Mellie and Mama and Chris behind... not after all of this... I'm not doin' that to 'em..."**

**"Johnny... what'n the hell are we gonna do if he kills you? We'll be fine... but you can't stay..."**

"But why?" Lindsay wept. "Why are you leaving? I know I'm going to college this fall, but I'm staying here in Savannah for school. So I'm gonna still be here... I just don't understand...."

**"Mellie, he ain't gonna kill me..."**

**"Johnny, I've never seen Daddy this mad before..."**

**"JD, you helped me out... you saved my ass from Dex and Cy... lemme do the same for you..."**

"Because I can't stay," John blurted out, feeling dangerously close to tears himself. "I got into a fight with my father and I can't stay..." he hung his head, squeezing his eyes tight.

He heard Lindsay gasp. "He did this??? Your father... oh God..."

He felt her arms wrap around his neck. Felt her soft body pressed up against his, shaking as she sobbed. Felt her tears dampening her t-shirt. Heard her sobbing. "Don't go, oh don't go. Stay with us. My folks will understand. Or maybe you could stay with one of my uncles... or something, just don't go..."

"I already signed the paperwork." He could barely get the words out.

Lindsay clung to him tighter now. "When do you leave?" she choked out.

"First of August," he reached up with his free hand to stroke her hair. "Linz, I'm sorry..."

She broke away from him just enough so she could stand up and kiss him full on the mouth. John winced a little, just because his lips were still tender from where his father had hit him, but when he felt her tongue slip between his teeth, he disregarded the slight pain.

"This isn't fair," she whispered when they broke apart again. She stroked his face and pushed his hair out of his eyes. "This isn't fair... We just... I just... and... and you're leavin'..."

"I'll write you," he promised.

"I'll write you too," she stood on her toes to kiss him again. When that kiss finally ended, she whispered brokenly. "I love you."

"I love you too, Lindsay."

And the boy learned what a broken heart really felt like, even as they slipped away from the beach, towards Lindsay's grandparents' house. Which both kids knew damn well was sitting empty as Lindsay's grandparents spent most of their summers in Florida.

**

Back to the present...

Doggett mumbled, "I wish it could have been different, Linz. I... I dunno know what else to say... I mean... we were kids and... I just don't know..."

"It's alright. Lookin' back with twenty-twenty hindsight... it probably wouldn't have worked anyway." Lindsay said faintly, picking half-heartedly at her meal. "I'm sorry," she said huskily.

"Me too," Doggett said.

"When do you have to be at the airport?" Lindsay asked.

"I should go pretty soon."

She nodded.

She reached across the small table and ran her fingers down his face, slowly, gently, all the way to his throat, lingering for a moment.

He closed his eyes and felt an involuntary shiver go down his spine.

His voice was more graveled that usual when he told her as gently as possible. "I can't stay Lindsay."

"I know," she lowered her head.

"I have to go soon."

"Would you like a ride to the airport?"

"No... I'll take a cab, thanks."

Her eyes misted over. "It was good seeing you again, John."

She finally caught on. He wasn't the sixteen year old boy she had been infatuated with twenty-five years ago.

"It was good seein' you too, Lindsay." And she definitely was no longer the sweet fresh-face girl he had carried a torch for all this time.

"Thanks," she said as she slid out of the booth. She pulled her wallet out of her purse and pulled out two crisp twenties and a ten and laid them on the table.

"Aw, Linz, you don't have to-"

"I want to. It's okay, really." She smiled sardonically. "See I chose to marry for money. Surely you remember what they called me in high school. 'The Prissy Princess'?" She smiled. "Consider it my Christmas present to you." She placed her manicured hands on his shoulder. "Don't be stranger, okay?"

"Alright," he said, smiling up at her. "Take care of yourself, Linz."

"Give Mellie my condolences," she said, giving his shoulder a squeeze. Before walking away, she whispered "Park was lucky to have a friend like you."

Doggett watched her leave. Then pulled out his cell phone to call a cab.

And saw he had two missed calls. One from Melanie.

One from Starkweather.

**

Later...

United Airlines Flight 42

On the runway of Hartsfield International Airport

Atlanta Georgia

8:30 PM Eastern Standard Time

Doggett had chosen to fly back and forth from Savannah to Atlanta to save time. It was a four hour drive in between the cities, could be five or six, depending on rush hour traffic.

Ironically, his flight had been delayed for three and a half hours. Just as he was about to pitch in the towel and go find a car rental, the announcement came that the flight was ready for take off.

So, feeling cramped by the laughably small airline seats, Doggett stared out of the window as the plane taxied itself out of the boarding area and moved down the runway, gaining speed for it's beginning ascent.

He looked at his phone as the plane rose into the pitch black sky. He had been playing phone tag with Melanie and Starkweather all night. He looked out the window again, seeing the lights of Atlanta below, twinkling like little stars.

He wonder what bug crawled up Starkweather's ass and died this time.

He hoped Melanie got his message about his flight being delayed and that someone would be there to pick him up.

He then thought about what Lindsay had said. <<"Park was lucky to have a friend like you.">>

"Bullshit," he mumbled, putting the phone back in his coat pocket.

Doggett felt it was the other way around.

And he still hadn't done jack shit as to discovering how Parker was infected with HIV. Which turned into AIDS. Which left him defenseless to the cold which turned into pneumonia. Which killed him.

Closing his eyes, feeling a bone-aching weariness come over him, Doggett leaned his head back against the seat. Thought about Park and Mellie. Remembered how happy they had been. How well-suited they were for each other, even though they were polar opposites. Parker being somewhat shy and Melanie, anything but. Parker was sort of a slob, Melanie, organized to the point of anal-retentive. Parker with his dark hair and eyes. Melanie, fair-haired and blue-eyed. Parker and his numerous cats he'd adopted over the years. Melanie and her faithful greyhounds she had rescued over the years when the racetracks tired of them when they were too old to run.

Parker and Melanie had pets because they couldn't have children.

Luke's death had devastated Park and Mellie as much as it had John and Barb. Now Doggett could feel Melanie's loss.

He recalled the dream from the night before and shuddered. He didn't know what part of it was worse. Seeing his father or seeing Ben Starkweather.

He pushed the ghosts out of his mind and tried to think about Park's death. But seeing Lindsay today unnerved him and he couldn't help thinking about that. Thinking about her. And others.

**

Not that he had ever had much success with other women. In fact, he could count on one hand how many women had had been with in the Biblical sense.

There was Lindsay, of course. Who relieved him of his virginity in the murky hours between the dance and the after-hours party on Prom Night. And of course, for so many teenagers, then and now, it had been anticlimactic. After all, he had been sixteen and had no idea what the hell he was doing. And she didn't have much of clue either, since most of her knowledge of sex at that time had come from her other pure-as-the-driven-snow girlfriends and cheesy Harlequin romance novels.

Despite the supreme embarrassment of their mutual first time, or perhaps because of it, they stuck together. And by and by, managed to get the hang of it. And comprehend what all the fuss was about. Because Lindsay was the first one to catch on. She stopped posing and posturing and trying to do it how it was displayed on the movies and portrayed in novels. Once she let instinct guide her, guide her hands and lips and mouth, the sex improved tenfold. And he, the eager learner, followed her lead.

Absently Doggett touched his throat as he continued to stare out the tiny airplane window. Remembering the crazy month and a half before he left for training, how he would sneak away to meet Lindsay in her grandparents' empty house. How on the day he told her he was leaving, she cried when he took off his shirt and she saw all the bruises up and down his chest and back. How she kissed each bruise until tears came to his eyes.

But it wouldn't have worked. Like Doggett said, they were just kids. Hormone-ridden kids. And like Lindsay said, she chose to marry for money. She had never known what it was like to live without money. And Doggett, as much as he had cared for her when she was a girl, as much as he was still attracted to her now, knew she would not have been happy as a poor man's wife. She would have divorced him faster than what Barb did.

Then there was Deeandra Johnson, the woman who almost became Mrs. John Doggett instead of Barbara. They met just when he moved to New York to be a cop. She was a waitress at a bar a lot of the police cadets like to congregate at whenever they had nonexistent free time. Doggett remembered that he liked talking to her because she wasn't as skanky as the other waitresses. That she had a pretty face and laughed easily. And was very down to earth. And shy. And sweet. She was working her way through college. She wanted to be a journalist, preferably a television anchor. Things were great the two years that they were together. She eventually moved in with him. They talked about the future while laying in bed together. Doggett remembered even canvassing the jewelry stores, starting to look at diamond rings in a whole new light.

Then, a few short months later, he looked at her in a new light. He thought it was just the flu. She said it was just the flu. Then she said she was going to spend the weekend at a girlfriend's house in upstate New York.

It was his friend and partner with the NYPD who told him about the abortion. Doggett could still clearly remember Officer Jason Mick's normally round happy face looking so morose. "Johnny... I hate to be the one who gotta tell ya... but I gotta tell ya..."

It was the closest he had ever come to hitting a woman he loved.

She had begged for him to understand. She said she wasn't ready for children. She said she would have to drop out of college to care for a baby, that she would lose any and all opportunities in the mass media field. She said she was afraid of his reaction. That he would leave her. That he would marry her and decide it was a mistake, then leave her. She said she thought she did the right thing.

It wasn't the fact that she terminated the pregnancy that infuriated him. It was the fact that she lied to him about it. Their relationship couldn't stand a blow like that. It disintegrated completely after that. Doggett had no idea where Deeandra went after she moved out and truth be told, he didn't care.

Because after Deeandra, was Barbara.

But he didn't want to think about Barbara. Because thinking of Barbara meant he had to think about not only Luke but of his friends Jason and Minerva Mick. Minerva, Jason's spirited wife who lived for three things, her family, corporate law and matchmaking. She was the one who introduced Barb to him. Minerva, sweet Minni, who had been raising three girls by herself ever since September 11.

So he thought about Reyes instead.

To this day, he will never understand this "thing" with Reyes. She said they met the day his son was found in that field in South Carolina. That whole day was a blur to him. He was too consumed in trying to figure out why his little boy was laying dead in a field so far from home. He had been oblivious to everything, everyone else.

He couldn't pinpoint when he and Reyes started to speak on a regular basis. She was definitely different. She would go for long stretches of time without talking to him, then she would randomly call out of the blue. To see how he was. How he was doing. And she always seemed to know exactly when to call.

So they became friends. Met for drinks. Talked on the phone from time to time. Sometimes caught a ball game together. It was so easy to talk to her. Granted, she was a little... weird at times. Spacey... flaky almost. And there. Always there.

Naturally it had been Reyes he turned to when he discovered that Barb had started sleeping with someone else. After Luke's death, Doggett and Barb took separate roads of grieving. Doggett became very introverted. Barb on the other hand.... did not.

He wasn't sure when he and Reyes crossed that line from platonic to not-so-platonic. Maybe it was the night he signed the final divorce papers and she had run into his drunk ass at the bar. He wasn't sure. But one day, he was sleeping on her couch. The next, next to her in her bed. It was disorientating. And intoxicating. Because he wasn't blind. She was a beautiful woman. With her velvet brown eyes, long legs, raven hair and golden heart.

But she had that thing for that son-of-bitch Follmer. He didn't understand why. She was so depressed when he was transferred to Minneapolis even though she said it was better that he was gone. Then the bastard came back to New York, crooked his little finger and Reyes had gone to him like a shot.

Doggett sighed.

What the hell, love was blind.

Still, what amazed him was that he and Reyes were still friends. Good friends. Granted, there were little moments of awkwardness here and there. He knew she still cared for him a little "in that way." He still found her very attractive. But usually the awkwardness were only little flare ups and dissipated quickly.

Doggett leaned his head back in his seat. That was it. Lindsay. Deeandra. Barbara. And Monica.

And guiltily he thought <<Oh yeah... and that one girl>> That one girl, that one stupid, stupid night when he was still in the service. When he and a bunch of his Marine buddies had been on R&R in Okinawa and gotten drunk as skunks. And he had met this girl who said she was in the Air National Guard and was doing her two-week tour of duty that the Guard required. And how they ended up going back to his room. And she left the following morning before he woke up. He had been so drunk, he couldn't even remember her name. And had been absolutely mortified.

Now, with the wisdom accrued with age, he realized how damn lucky he was. That Lindsay didn't become pregnant because they sure as hell didn't do anything to prevent a baby. She just never conceived one. And that he didn't pick up some horrible disease from any of the other women, especially the one-night stand girl. He closed his eyes.

It wasn't fair. It just wasn't fucking fair. He was the one that had been stupid. He had been incredibly stupid as a kid. He had a drunken fling and an unfaithful wife. He had a tattoo. Yet it was Parker, clean cut and straight and narrow Parker who contracted AIDS. It was Parker that had died.

Doggett crossed his arms and bowed his head, remembering the remnants of that horrifying dream from the night before.

The answer was in his past, his roots.

He remembered Lindsay's words: <<I never believed that rumor that went around...>>

Doggett's eyes popped open. If Lindsay believed that Dex and Cy caused the accident.... who else possibly did?

And would that belief give someone motive enough to try to avenge Dex and Cy's pathetic lives? To get back at Parker for Dex and Cy's bad life choices?

But who else would know?

His cell phone rang.

"John Doggett."

"Pap-" Static. "-ohn. It's me. Wher-" Static, "-re you?"

"Doc???" Doggett put one finger into his ear. "That you?"

"Naw, i-" Static. "-ood fairy."

"Where are you? The connection is terrible."

"I'm on m-" Static. "-tico. I ne-" Static. "-alk to-" Static. "-portant. I think I fo-" Static. Then dial tone.

"Doc? Starkweather?? Aw great," he muttered. He hit the speed dial and got an annoying edit from US Cellular how there was no service to his phone. "Dammit."

Speaking of women, there's another one that just baffled him.

She definitely was not the easiest woman in the world to deal with. Or the easier human being to deal with for that matter. Realistically speaking, there were so many reasons to dislike her. Her superiority complex. Her foul mouth. Her even fouler temper.

He really thought it was too bad that she had such a chip on her shoulder. That she presented to the world this harder-than-diamonds persona. That she acted like she was untouchable and that she didn't care. Granted, she really didn't give a damn what people thought of her. She was not devious, she did not play games or engage in duplicity... unless the field assignment called for it, of course. He grinned as he remembered her little stint in undercover as a college student. She was the only one in their division who looked youthful enough to pull it off. Still, she made it crystally clear how unhappy she was to be placed in that position <<"I will get each and everyone of you for this...">> and yet she did her job and did it remarkably well, despite the stress she was under at that time due to her tumultuous personal life.

She was far from deceptive. Far from elusive and yet still managed to remain such a mystery. Get on her bad side and she will be more than happy to let you know. Get on her good side and you have a friend for life. Ask her a question and she will give you her honest-to-God opinion, but still, you walk away wondering what's really going on behind those feline eyes of her. She was such a bundle of contradictions, it was impossible to sum up what it felt like to be in the presence of her forceful personality in a word or two. Professional, yet a rebel. A daydreaming musician and a skeptical scientist. Did not want to be a mother, yet was tender to all who needed mothering. Especially her nephew William when Scully couldn't be there for him. And to her damn cat.

She embraced the traditional role of a wife while driven to be the best in her position at the FBI. She possessed a wicked tongue and a good heart. Brilliantly intelligent and hopelessly naive. A fiercely hot temper and cold, lonely tears. She looked fragile but Doggett was beginning to believe she was unbreakable.

<<Maybe...>> he mused as he felt himself nodding off. <<Maybe that's why she's different from all the others... Because despite all the shit she's been through... she's still her. She's still Starkweather. She's hurting and as prideful as she is, she's not going to admit to anyone but herself for a while how bad she feels. But she's healing. She's not letting everything get to her. Sure, she sad and angry and cranky and moody right now. Worse than usual. But Jesus, after all that, who wouldn't be? But she's able to release it and get it out of her system and still be Starkweather. She's doing what I couldn't... can't...

... won't...

... and I admire her for that...>>

He fell asleep.

No sooner had he fallen asleep, he felt someone tugging on his coat sleeve. "Sir? Sir, wake up."

"Huh?" Doggett cracked his eyes open and looked up. One of the flight attendants, pretty face, soft, short blond hair, but a bit on the plump side smiled down at him.

"You're going to miss the movie," she told him and walked away.

His jaw dropped in disbelief. Movie?? On a short flight like this? Irritated, he snapped at her, "I don't want to watch the damn movie."

Angelically, she replied "Yes you do," and pointed to the screen.

Scowling, Doggett turned his attention towards the square screen.

The film began to roll. It looked like an old home movie.

But whoever created this movie had a sense for filming because the picture didn't shake or jiggle. The picture zoomed into a group of boys sitting on a porch in springtime. Azaleas, hydrangeas and jasmine were blooming everywhere. There was a big dogwood tree in the front year. An elderly woman was toiling her in garden, babying her day lilies and amaryllis while the boys lounged on the porch, drinking sweet tea.

Doggett could feel the blood draining out of his face. He recognized that old Victorian style house, painted white with black trim. He recognized the gallant little lady with the battered straw hat. He recognized all four boys, especially the tall skinny one with the blue eyes. And the longish hair popular for boys to have in the late Seventies, covering up ears that stuck out.

"Oh my God..." he whispered, sinking into his seat. "Turn it off," he demanded, turning towards the flight attendant. "Turn it off NOW." He didn't want the entire flight to see his life history.

But that problem was solved when he realized that he was the only one on the plane now.

<<This is fucking creepy>> he thought in dread as he turned his attention towards the movie again. <<I hope just I'm dreaming again... Jesus, I need to transfer out of the X-Files... shit's gettin' to me...>> he thought, clutching the armrests of his seat.

In the film, the four boys all turned their head as a dumpy sixteen year old girl with long tangled dishwater blond hair burst out the front door. She was clutching an ugly purse, a school bag and a brown paper sack. Head down, she walked by the boys very quickly, avoiding their eyes. She was dressed in the ugly pinstriped uniform of a candy-striper. Her glasses were sliding down her pimpled nose.

Dexter Gillroy, merciless to anyone he perceived as "weak" sneered at his sister, "Hey!" Dex called after her. She didn't turn. "Hey! Look everybody, it's the incredible half-girl half-dog. Save yourself the trouble next time, bitch, and wear a paper sack over yer head next time you come through here so's you can put us outta our misery."

"Jesus, Dex," Doggett heard his sixteen year old self say while watching Delilah Gilroy rush past them. "Lay off already."

"Why? You hot for her?" Dex asked in a low voice so not to attract the attention of his overbearing grandmother. Who was now interrogating Delilah.

"And you're goin' STRAIGHT home after you get done with work?"

"Yes, Grandma Lo, I already told Mama and Daddy. I gotta go.. I'm gonna be late..."

"Naw," Dex's best friend Cy Lewis drawled, draining the rest of his sweet tea in one gulp. "He's doin' that prissy princess Lindsay Amos, the lucky sumbitch. Still haven't figured out how a pissant like you pulled THAT off. That girl's a stone fox and she's with a scrawny shit like you?"

Doggett watched as a younger version of his older brother, snort in derision and suddenly get up. This Stevie was tall and lean. Full head of wavy brown hair. Flat belly and well-defined arms. Next to him, sixteen year old John looked like the quintessential ninety-nine pound weakling. "Gotta go," Stevie muttered.

"Huh? Why?" Cy asked while Dex groaned at his friend's stupidity.

"Promised Pop I'da help 'round the shop." Stevie grumbled as he stalked off.

"Cy, you fucking idiot," Dex snapped at him when Stevie was gone.

"What?" Then the dim little light bulb clicked on above his head. "Shit. Sorry." Cy muttered darkly. "Guess he's still pissed at you for that whole Lindsay thing."

"Apparently," sixteen year old John already had his dry sense of humor well entrenched in his personality.

"Still... you and Lindsay... lucky bastard. Wish I could get into her pants."

"I ain't in her pants," Doggett heard his sixteen year old self lie.

"Anyway," Dex drawled, looking back over at Cy. "Since Johnny's busy with Lindsay, that means Delilah's free for ya."

"Aw shit," Cy grumbled. "No thanks."

"What's wrong with Delilah other'n the fact she's fat, ugly and got the social skills of a snail?" Dex chuckled at his own wit.

Doggett watched his teenaged self squirming, trying to think of an escape route. He remembered how he never thought of these two boys as friends. They were just guys he hung out with. Because Stevie thought of them as friends. And before things got bad between the brothers, they used to do stuff together a lot.

Well, it was more like Stevie would decide to go do something and John would end up tagging along because he had nothing better to do.

But he was never a pest like Delilah was. Delilah had nothing better to do either, but she was so moody. One minute, she'd be completely manic, all giggly and coy and hyper. And annoying as hell. The next, cranky and bitter, consumed with a lassitude that was not natural to a teenager. When she wasn't hanging around Dexter's gang, trying to attract the attention of Cy, she was locked in her room, reading some thick boring book. Or working at the nursing home. No one really liked Delilah.

Still, Doggett remembered how he hated to see Dex pick on her.

Actually he hated to see Dex pick on anybody.

And he was the only one who got away with telling Dex to quit it for the simple fact that he was Johnny Doggett aka JD. The Doggett brother that everyone liked. Not as popular as Stevie, granted. But popularity was fickle. Respect was forever. Even at that tender age, John Doggett knew that instinctively. No one taught him that. It felt like he was born with that knowledge.

"Maybe Delilah wouldna be so bad if you weren't such an ass to her," JD told Dex.

Dex shrugged. "Well, shit man, we all can't have sisters like you. Maybe if Delilah was as cool as Mel or Chris..." he shrugged again.

"Yeah... Mel's... she's..." Cy fumbled for the right words. "She's alright. Mel."

Doggett's eyes widened.

He had forgotten. He had totally, absolutely, one-hundred percent forgotten all about that.

Cy Lewis had a massive crush on Melanie.

Doggett leaned forward to continue to watch the movie.

 

"Yeah, like you gotta chance'n hell with Melanie Doggett," Dex guffawed.

"Well, why not?" Cy pleaded while looking at JD for help.

"'Cause," Dex said patiently, "if you touch either Mel or Chrissy, if Stevie doesn't pound you inta dust, JD will."

Doggett grinned as he watched his sixteen year old self produce an beautific grin for Cy.

"I'm bored," Dex suddenly announced. "Let's go do somethin'."

"I should get home," young John mumbled.

"Ah, Johnny, don't be a passy like Stevie. C'mon..." Dex beckoned him as he and Cy stood up. "It's summer, man... I don't wanna sit around here at Grandma Lo's all day."

"Okay, okay... who's drivin'?"

"Me," Cy's eyes twinkled as he held up the keys, jingling them. "We can stop at my house for beers. My daddy won't notice."

**Say no, say no!** Doggett silently screamed at his teenaged self. **Dammit, you are smarter than that, say no! Go home!**

"Okay," the teenaged John replied with a bored sigh. "So what else we gonna do? Are we gonna go to the beach then?"

"I got a better idea," Dex had an evil glint in his eye.

Doggett wondered what kind of man Dexter would have become if he had lived beyond Lebanon.

Doggett watched the boys leave the porch and stop and say goodbye to the elderly lady tending her flowers. "Bye, Grandma Lo," Dexter said, bending down to kiss her crepe like cheek.

"Stay outta trouble," Grandma Lo frowned at them. But no interrogation for them like there had been for Delilah. They were boys. Boys couldn't get in "trouble" like a girl could.

Doggett watched the boys pile into a 1971 Impala which now ran impeccably but was in dire need of the cosmetic touches. He watched the boys stop at Cy's house and make off with a case of beer. He watched in dread at three idiot boys, drinking and driving. Three idiot boys, cruising the streets of Savannah, bored out of their gourds and begging for trouble...

"Know what? I outta go beat the shit outta that fuck Davis tonight."

"Aw, for cripe's sake, Cy, you still can't be mad at Davis for what he said 'bout your car?" young JD protested.

"Piece of shit, my ass," Cy muttered, crushing a beer can. "Fag. Wouldn't know a muscle car if it came and bitch-slapped him 'cross the face. Fucking queer boy."

"If he's as queer as y'all say he is, he prolly likes to get bitch-slapped," Dex drawled lazily, reaching for another beer. "Don't worry Cy... 'Vengeance is mine, sayeth the Lord...'... shit... a sheriff for a daddy, a preacher for a grandpa... I can't do shit in this town without somebody knowin' 'bout it..."

Doggett felt his mouth go dry as he watched his young face on the movie screen become ashen. "Dex... whattaya got planned?"

"Why..." Dex said innocently. "We're just goin' to the diner. Gotta build our strength." In a bad Elmer Fudd voice, he said "Shhh... be wevy wevy qui-yet. We're huntin' faggots.... hahahahahhaha."

Cy crowed in triumph. "C'mon Dex! Let's go by that diner the cocksucker works at and teach that queer a lesson! WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Dex looked in the rearview mirror and grinned. "Cy, ain't that his pick-up passin' us?" he slurred

<<He knew...>> Doggett realized. <<He knew when Park's schedule was. He planned this... the whole time... it wasn't a drunken impulse. Even if he was sober, he was gonna be on the road same time as Park>>

"Boys, I think we got us a homohunt. Gotta rid this God-fearin' country of all the sick-o's. Raht J.D.?"

"I think you guys need to walk it off..." young John said feebly.

"The HELL we gonna walk it off," Dex yelled, "Dat Parker fucker's gonna go to BURN tonight!"

"What is WITH you tonight, JD?" Cy demanded. "You're his bitch aintchya?"

Young John Doggett glowered at him. Curled his lower lip threateningly and tightened his jaw. "Cy..." he softened his voice and yet still managed to sound like thunder. It did not crack or lapse into the childish cadences. It was a premonition of his future graveled baritone. "If you don't let me the hell out of this car right now, you are gonna be MY bitch in two seconds...GOT IT?"

"Sure..." Cy drawled out, drunker than the other boys and driving. "We'll let you out... after this..."

"Jesus, Cy, what the fuck you doin'!" Dex screamed as Cy sped up.

Doggett closed his eyes. It was the part he couldn't remember... or wouldn't let himself remember. Until now.

The Impala gained speed on the pick-up. The front end of the Impala smashed into the truck. The tires screeched, and the dark pavement burned with engine sparks, glass busted, and the pick-up truck in front of them careened off the guard rail. Doggett remembered now, he had hit his head hard on the seat in front of him. "Lemme out," young John said thickly when Cy's car came to a stop. "Lemme out, NOW."

"JD..."

"Fuck you both, lemme out NOW."

They let him out. They backed up and peeled away, tires squealing again. His head was pounding. Weaving, JD stumbled towards the flipped over pickup. "Park??? Parker? It's me. John Doggett."

A slender body slide out of the passenger side window of the turned over truck. A boy, borderline pretty, pulled himself to his feet. He was covered in blood and bruises. The young man's small frame turned to face JD as he made his way down the hill towards him. "You think you can get Mel and get me to a hospital?" He shouted from the bottom of the hill. "I'm having a hard time keeping focus..."

"Yeah... yeah..." the young John panted as he made his way down the hill. "I'll get Mel... howdaya know Mel?"

"She's my sister," Parker looked at John like he was nuts. "Melinda? She was in Stevie's class? She's home from Tulane. She won't raise a fuss like Mama and Daddy will."

"Sorry, misunderstood," John grunted as he went to support Parker during their long walk to... whatever was fated to bring them home. "I thought you were talking about MY Mel. My sister Melanie."

Feeling sadder and older by the minute, Doggett watched the two boys hobble until they got to that bar where the burly bartender gave them a ride after shutting down the bar. He also gave Parker a shot of straight Jack Daniels. Parker almost threw up on the bar.

Doggett watched again, the confusion in the emergency. Parker Davis, aging from 17 to 37 that night as he clutched his stomach, claiming the pain came from the whiskey the generous bartender gave him and the doctors frowning. A police officer, a friend of Dex Gillroy's daddy, showing up and asking them how the accident happened and how in the hell did Johnny Doggett wind up there, carless and friendless. Doggett listened to the boys mutter their lies. Out of fear of repercussion. Out of weariness. Out of immaturity.

He listened to their conversation as they waited for Parker's older sister to come to sign the papers for treatment. "You know, John, I didn't know that being a pimple-faced virgin made you a target."

"It's not the pimple-faced virgin shit those dumb-asses came after ya for tonight." John sighed. Parker gave him an imploring look in reply. "They're scared outta their asses that you're contagious."

Doggett watched as his young self paced in the waiting room while waiting for not just Parker's older sister Melinda, but his own older sister. Melanie. Come get me. I got into an accident... only Mel could he tell the truth. He saw Park, paler than before, being wheeled out in a gurney, from the examination room, towards a hospital room. Doggett watched himself tail after him. Listened to that arrogant intern talk down to them, without even granting them the courtesy of looking at them: "Mr. Parker, you sustained quite a lot of internal bleeding, we're going to hafta give you a transfusion, and then you'll be ready to go home."

"Yay." Parker said, rolling his eyes. "Just how I wanted to spend my weekend! Hooked up to an IV with a big-ass needle at the end of it. I HATE hospitals...I hate needles..." his voice trailed off."

"John...What the HELL is going on here!"

"And the charming young lady is MY sister, Melanie."

"What the fuck did I tell ya 'bout rahdin' around with Cy and all theyum idiots." Melanie only swore when she was extremely high-strung and worried. "Stevie got me up to get you back home...come on John..." Melanie had a natural talent for changing the subject in mid-sentence. "I--I know you from school, don't I?" She directed to Parker.

"Yeah, I'm the local pimple-faced-eternal-virgin-turned-fag." Melanie hadn't even blinked at his answer. "But don't worry, I'm not as advertised."

A movement caught young John and Special Agent Doggett's eye. The hospital door had opened, then shut again. Neither Melanie or Parker noticed, they were too busy getting to know each other. But young John saw and promptly forgot about it until twenty-five years later.

A chunky candy-striper with glasses slipping down her nose had poked her head into the room, then left just as quickly.

Delilah.

The answers were in his roots...

<<Did she have something to do with this?>> Doggett pondered as the screen faded to black.

Believe the lie...

<<Can't be... she wasn't there, she couldn't have known about the accident, we told nobody...>>

The truth was out there...

Doggett felt someone tugging at his shirt sleeve. Bleary eyed he looked up.

"Sir?" a flight attendant, this one tall and slender with mocha brown skin, neatly plaited hair and a generous smile. "Sir, we're landing, you need to get your seat back in the upright position and buckle up."

"Oh," Doggett mumbled stupidly, "thanks."

"Have a good holiday," she said sweetly as she continued her rounds before the airplane started it's landing sequence. "Enjoy your stay in Savannah."

Doggett put the seat back up in it's correct position and snapped on his seatbelt. His neck and shoulders hurt. He rubbed his forehead, feeling another sleep-deprivation induced headache coming on.

**Have a good holiday**

God, tomorrow was Christmas Eve.

He pictured his colleagues, his friends. Monica Reyes was in Texas. A big family reunion. Family from all over coming. California. Mexico. Chicago. A traditional Navidad Mexcana at her uncle's massive home. Pinatas. Spanish guitars. O noche santa... las estrellas están brillando brillantemente...

... AD Skinner. Doggett knew that he had been invited along with the rest of the FBI's senior staff to some exclusive gala party at Capitol Hill on Christmas Eve. He knew just because he overheard Skinner bitching to Kimberly about having to get a tux for the event. He wondered what the man was going to do on Christmas Day. There so little anyone knew about him. Doggett guessed he'd probably spend the day quietly at him with his dog...

... Mulder and Scully... Doggett smiled. This would be their son's first Christmas. Scully, raised Catholic, would probably take William to meet her mother Margaret for Midnight Mass, buying Mulder time to assemble the last few toys that needed to be put together before Christmas morning. When Scully got back, Mulder would take the boy to bed, telling him about Santa Claus and his magical flying reindeer. Then Scully would get hacked off, telling Mulder not to fill the boy's head with such fanciful fluff because there is no such thing as Santa and Mulder would retort that there was nothing wrong with believing in Santa because a child's got to believe in something... Doggett shook his head. He could just see them bickering as Scully would be trying to pick up the apartment for Starkweather and the Lone Gunmen who were coming over on Christmas Day. And Mulder trying to still put together an intricate toy for William. He could almost hear Mulder whining: "I'm an Oxford educated man, I should be smart enough to put together this damned thing for my kid!!"

<<No man is smart enough to put together those damned things>> Doggett thought, recalling the hours he spent trying to put Luke's bike together before giving it to him. A lot of swearing went on during that time.

Luke loved that bike. Luke vanished riding that bike.

Doggett pushed the thought of out his head. Felt the plane descending, heading towards the run way.

<<What are you doin' John?>> he asked himself as the plane's massive wheels touched the pavement and locked as the plane came to a halt. <<What good is it gonna do to chase this ghosts?>>

**

Savannah/Hilton Head Internation Airport

Baggage Claims

9:55 PM Eastern Standard Time

Doggett snagged his bag. He left with only carry-on, but he bought a medium sized duffel bag to hide the Christmas presents he bought for Melanie and Laura.

As he walked out of baggage claims, he looked around. Trying to find Melanie.

He saw Stevie instead.

"Where's Mel?"

Stevie folded up the newspaper. Looked up at his younger brother, disgust in his eyes. "She couldn't come. She was too upset."

"Upset? Why?"

"You damn well know why, FBI," Stevie snapped at him. "This damn snipe hunt of yours. It's not helpin' her."

"This is not my snipe hunt, Steve," Doggett said calmly. "Melanie asked me to look into Park's death."

"You shoulda said no."

"Since when have you cared what happens to Mel?" Doggett finally yelled. Then, in a softer, angrier voice, he added. "Or Chris?"

Stevie only glowered at him. Doggett didn't even bat an eye. "You shouldn't of come," Stevie muttered darkly. "You don't belong here anymore."

"What?" Doggett said dryly. "Savannah ain't big enough for the both of us?"

"You shoulda stayed in DC," Stevie took no notice of Doggett's jibe. "Or gone back to New York."

"And miss all this quality time?" Doggett drawled.

Doggett's cell phone rang. He looked down at the caller ID. "Steve, I gotta take this call."

"You wanna a ride, be out front in five minutes. Else call a cab," Stevie said bitterly as he stalked away.

Doggett answered the phone. "Agent Scully?"

"Agent Doggett, I wasn't expecting you. I was expecting voice mail."

Doggett grinned. "I'm experiencing deja vu."

"John, I received the prelim autopsy reports."

"And?" he prodded her.

"Truth be told, I only skimmed them. I haven't had time to read them thoroughly. I'm sorry."

"That's okay."

"So I forwarded them on to Jerilyn."

"Aw, Christ, Dana, I didn't want to bother her. Not with all the BS she's goin' through right now..."

"She insisted on it."

"Huh?"

"She insisted I send her the reports. She's been trying to get a hold of you all night... John... like I said... I skimmed through the reports... something's not right."

"Whataya mean?"

"I think I was sent fakes."

"What?"

"I think this case file was falsified, John. Someone is working very hard on a campaign of misinformation."

"What tipped you off that it's fake?"

"Well, you see... platelet, white blood cell count and red blood cell count and protime are all related..."

"What's protime?"

"Prothrombinetime, which is the rate at which your blood clots."

"Okay..." Doggett started walking towards the exit Stevie gone through. "And?"

"And... Starkweather found something that made her question the autopsy's blood profile."

"What??"

In the background, a baby's cry. Then a grown man's cry. "Scu - lay!"

"Dammit, I have to go," Scully sighed. "William has been a brat all evening."

"Sounds like Mul-duh hasn't been much better."

She snickered. "Call Starkweather, she's been trying to get in touch with you."

"Thanks Dana."

"Merry Christmas."

**

Little later on...

Mrs. Doggett's house

Savannah, Georgia

10:55 PM Eastern Standard Time

The house was completely dark when they got home. No one had waited up for them. For this small mercy, Doggett was infinitely grateful.

As Stevie stormed upstairs to go to bed, Doggett again slipped into the kitchen to pour himself a shot of Jack Daniels. Feeling the burning whiskey going down his throat, into his stomach and then being dispersed throughout his body, he finally felt his tense muscles relax. A little.

Shedding his suit and tie in the laughably small upstairs bathroom, Doggett showered, toweled off and put on a white t-shirt and a pair of black cotton pajamas pants he only hauled out when decorum called for it. Normally, he slept in just his boxers. He doubted his mother or his sister would appreciate him running around in his skivvies.

Quietly, carrying his clothes in one hand, he slipped out the bathroom. He peeked into Melanie's room. Listened to her breath. Deep. Regular. Drug-induced.

<<Maybe Steve's right>> Doggett did not fight the wave of despair that crashed over him. <<Maybe I should have told Mellie 'no'. Maybe that would have helped her get on with her life... but God... Mel never asks for anything... how could I say no?>>

He shut the door and went into his room. Only turned on the lamp on the nightstand. Flopped down on the twin bed with a groan. Wanted, craved sleep. Needed sleep.

But he had one more thing to do.

He reached for his cell phone. And dialed.

"Starkweather."

"Doc, it's me. Sorry 'bout callin' so late bu-"

"It doesn't matter," she cut him off. Doggett frowned at the tone of her voice and sat up. "I need to talk to you."

"What's wrong?"

"Your brother-in-law? Parker? The one that just died?"

She could be so blunt sometimes. "Yeah..."

"Had AIDS?"

"Yeah?"

"You sure?"

"What?"

"You absolutely sure that Parker had AIDS."

"Melanie said he did..."

"Melanie was TOLD he was. Doggett, your sister has a major malpractice lawsuit on her hands. Not to mention there's a doctor on the loose who sure as hell doesn't know what he's doing. Or maybe..." she shuddered, walking towards the chair she had draped her blazer over. But she was not fool enough to attribute the shiver to the chill of the laboratory. "Or maybe this doctor knows EXACTLY what he'd doing."

Spinning. The room, the world was spinning. "I think you need to start at the beginnin'," Doggett said, getting out of bed to go to his old desk. Sitting down, he opened the top drawer and found paper and pencils still there. "And use small words."

Doggett took notes as she spoke. "This nightmare begins back the beginning of June, this year. After re-evaluating their assets, their house, their cars, their stocks and bonds, 401ks and Roth IRAs. Their possessions, their pets, her jewelry, his DVD collection, they realized that their current life insurance policies were insufficient. So they decided to get seek individual policies that carried a bigger benefit. No big deal. People do that every day. All life insurance is, is to prevent an economic loss to the people that you leave behind when your body gives up the ghost. The survivor is not supposed to profit from the policy's benefit, but continue their standard of living. For awhile anyway.

"So Parker and Melanie sought out an insurance agent and he sold them a policy that required them to give a urine sample and a blood sample for the company to evaluate before deciding to cover them. Again, really, no big deal. Ben and I had to do that when we decided we needed a better life insurance policy when I entered the Bureau. Plus, to be blunt, it protects the insurance company. I mean, generally, you know and I know that most people... um, let me rephrase... the normal people who have absolutely nothing to do with an X-File are relatively honest," Doggett snickered for a moment at her smartassed comment. "Well, seriously. They are. But there's still some snakes out there. Like, let's pretend there's this guy who's smoked everyday of his life and have developed interesting little polyps on his lungs and at night hacks up gobs of lung butter-"

"Yum," Doggett said dryly.

"- but still he smokes. With me so far?"

"Uh-huh..."

"Well, funny, now he's having trouble breathing, but he's got a house, a wife and three kids. So he gets scared for them because if he drops dead, they're screwed. But he's not stupid, he knows if he admits to smoking, he'll probably either get denied or have to pay outrageous rates. Ben smoked a pack a day, at least. We had to shell out an ungodly amount for his policy alone."

"Holy shit."

"Not that my premium was by means small either. Yeah, I'm a non-smoker but I have a hazardous occupation. In other words, people like to try and kill me so insurance companies don't exactly leap to cover me either. Anyway, the point that I'm driving at though, is that the big red flags for insurance companies are Cancer, Cardiac problems and Smoking. Those are the big three that shorten lives and why in their right mind, would they want to insure someone who's gonna drop dead in less than a year? Yeah, it sounds heartless, but they have to protect themselves financially because it's still a business. Not a charity.

"And they have to protect themselves from big fat liars like Mr. Smoker here who takes out a million dollar policy... I'm exaggerating for effect so go with me..."

"Okay..."

"Okay, a million dollars is A LOT of money. NO company. Not insurance, not soda pop, not computer, not clothing, hell not even a Mafia drug cartel is just going to go 'Okay' and hand over a million dollars. So, to have the million dollars, the guy's gotta consent some sort of screening. A pee test or blood being drawn or a doctor's exam.

"So, Mr. Smoker, thinking he can beat the system, goes ahead and voids a urine sample. But, gee... nicotine can linger for weeks in bodily fluids. And if he has to go to a doctor for an exam and the doctor hears the rattling around in his tar-encrusted lungs, by law, he has to disclose that to the insurance company. Following along?"

"I get the gist. Just hope there ain't a quiz later."

"Make a big note of this. Imagine how many insurance companies are out there. Imagine how many of them ask for their clients for samples and exams. Imagine how many files are floating around."

"Okay..."

"When I was in Savannah today, I asked Melanie when Parker was diagnosed and she told me-"

"Whoa, wait a minute, you were in Savannah? Today??????"

"Oh, for a little bit," she said blithely. As if she had just hopped into her car and drove from downtown DC to Falls Church.

"Where are you now?"

"Quantico," she said, walking back to one of the lab table where she had all her faxes, printed-out emails, lab notes and speciums neatly spread out. "Analyzing the shit I got."

"What shit?"

"That I had the labs sent me... but hold that thought, I'm getting ahead of myself. See, Melanie told me that Parker was denied because his blood profile came back positive for the HIV virus. So they wrote the insurance company, had the lab results sent to their personal physician. Who referred them to a specialist. And here's when things start to get fucked up beyond all recognition."

Doggett steeled himself for the worse. "Okay."

"First of all, the lab that processed Parker's blood profile screwed up. Royally."

"How so?"

"They put the wrong results with the wrong Parker Davis."

"What? How? Parker Davis is NOT that common of a name."

"Neither is Jeri Starkweather, but I know for a fact there are at least two other people in this country floating around with the same name. Their names popped up when the FBI was doing their initial background check on me when I was applying at Quantico."

"Melanie and I went to the hospital to get Parker's records. First thing I checked was the labwork from the labs that processed the blood profile. Sure enough, wrong freakin' social security number, wrong address, wrong phone number."

"How did Melanie miss that? How did Park????"

"Because they never saw them, Doggett. Because they instructed that paperwork be sent directly to their personal physician. And with the volume of patients most practicing doctors see on a daily basis, chances of the doctor remembering a patient's social is slim to none.

"Anyway... their personal doctor, um..." Doggett heard the shuffling of paper. "Dr. Adam Kats, ordered another HIV test to be performed, just in case and gave them a name of an AIDS specialist. A Doctor Loki Kullervo. Dr. Kullervo told the lab to send Parker's results directly to her. And she told them that they were definitely positive."

"But that was wrong."

"Yes."

"Then how... he was sick... he..." He exhaled noisily. "It don't make sense, Doc. He died."

Gently, the doctor told him. "Any disease left untreated is fatal. I... Jesus... I... I ... um, God, Papa John, I really don't know how to tell you this part."

"Subtlety is not one of your strengths, Doc. Just tell me."

"Parker was sick, Doggett. But it could have been treated and cured." When the silence got to be too long, she asked softly. "Still there?"

Faintly he replied. "Yeah... I'm here. What'd he have?"

"Hepatitis A."

"Hepa-what? How'n the hell did Park get that??"

"Unfortunately, I can't determine that. I mean, I can make an educated guess. And I hope you haven't eaten or planning on it because hepatitis A is generally transmitted fecal-orally."

"Aw, that's just sick."

"Oh, I'm not talking about people taking a shit in someone else's mouth! Usually what happens is that someone goes to the bathroom and then doesn't wash their hands after doing number two. That's why in most fast food restaurants you see all those signs reminding their employees to wash their hands. Because that nasty little virus can jump from a dirty hand to your food."

"Thanks. I never want to eat out again."

"You have no sense of adventure."

"Sorry, my adventurous streak dissolved when I heard 'bout slobs with shit on there hands preparin' my Big Mac."

"ANYWAY, that's one guess I have. My other guess would actually be more plausible."

"And that is?"

"Seafood. Specifically shellfish. From polluted waters. See... if Melanie and Parker would have eaten at a place where, as you so elegantly put it 'slobs with shit on there hands' making the food, Melanie would have gotten sick too. However, Melanie is allergic to shellfish. So if she and Parker went out to dinner and Parker ordered mussels or oyster or whatever... Parker would get sick because he ate the tainted shellfish and Melanie did not. And the bitch of this is hepatitis A can linger in your system for over six months with no symptoms present. But once the symptoms show, they make you sick in a hurry. Fever. Fatigue. Loss of appetite. Nausea. Abdominal pain. Dark urine. Jaundice. Hepatitis A is not as serious as her ugly stepsisters B and C, but needs to be taken seriously because the virus still attacks your liver, making it swell. A swollen liver is an unhappy liver. And you need a happy liver because a happy liver takes care of all sorts of things. Like it removes toxins from your blood. It helps stop bleeding. It stores energy. And write this one down, Doggett...

... a healthy liver fights infection."

"It aids the immune system?"

"Ding ding ding."

"So..." Doggett murmured, tapping the tip of the pencil against his pad of paper. "If he wasn't able to fight off infection, no one would think of the wiser because everyone thought he had AIDS."

"Exactly."

"But he didn't die of liver problems. He died of pneumonia related to AIDS complications."

"No. He died of pneumonia due to malpractice."

"How?"

"Dr. Loki Kullervo had to go out of town for conferences last week. So while she was gone, she referred her to Dr. Juliette Joel, another specialist at the hospital Parker was at. While speaking to her, I learned that Dr. Joel was under the impression that Parker was allergic to any and all antibiotics. I went back to Melanie and asked her about it. She swore up and down that Parker was not allergic to antibiotics. She said the few times Parker would get sick with a sinus infection or something, their doctor would prescribe an antibiotic. So I called Dr. Kats back. And he concurred that according to his records, Parker had no allergies to antibiotics. Doggett," she sounded strangled. "He could have been saved. An antibiotic would have knocked not only the pneumonia, but also the hepatitis A out of his system. Whoever falsified his records knew that they were going to kill him if he got any type of a upper respiratory infection."

Thickly, he muttered "Do you have any other physical proof... somethin' that would stand up in court?"

"Yes," she said swiftly. "A blood sample."

"How did you get a blood sample."

"One of my last stops before going back to DC was at the morgue where the autopsy was being performed."

A bell went off in Doggett's ear but it wasn't because some damn angel was getting his wings. "Doc... you didn't take Melanie with you to the morgue, did you?"

"She insisted," Starkweather retorted. "I told her I could find the damn place by myself but she said she was coming along whether I liked it or not. Stubbornness definitely runs in your family, bud."

"Yeah, well... I think it was too much for her. I was told she took some sleeping aid and is out like a light."

"She took a sleeping aid because this doctor wrote her a prescription for Librium to help her get some rest. This doctor also recommended to her that if she did not take the medication tonight and get some sleep, the same doctor was gonna jump on the first plane to Savannah and personally put a boot up her ass because she's going to make herself sick with worry and grief if she doesn't."

"I'm sure Mel took that well."

"She told me she understood why I was a federal agent. Something about having no social skills and that my bedside manner was beyond appalling."

"What'd you say?"

"Asked her if she would prefer some sugarcoated FDA-approved bullshit about how she needs to rest instead of the truth."

"And what did she say?"

"Um..." Starkweather lost some of her fire. Then it rekindled. "Did you by chance tell her about Ben?"

"Uh, yeah..."

"Ah. That explains it... she asked me how much Librium **I** was taking... then she said 'pot meet kettle' when I didn't answer," she meekly admitted. Anxiously, she hurried to ask, "But she's asleep? She took the tranquilizer?"

"Yeah, she's out cold."

"Good." A sigh of relief.

Doggett cleared his throat. "So this blood sample?"

"Turns out, the county coroner turned Parker's autopsy over to one of his underlings. Which worked to our advantage."

"How?"

"Oh, a peon isn't going to object to quickly if an FBI agent asked for a blood sample. Especially if the same FBI agent is a medical doctor. And especially if the deceased's spouse authorizes it." Starkweather reached up and examined the vial of blood. "He had just finished the Y-incision when I walked in. I sweet-talked him-"

"Uh-huh."

"I can be perfectly charming when necessary, you asshole. And actually, I did the kid a favor because he was doing his internship, poor thing, at the hospital morgue. He asked me if I could spot him while he drew the blood from the pericardial sac, he had only done it a couple of times and that under supervision. And, before you freak out and envision your brother-in-law being mutilated by some deranged Dr. Frankenstein Jr... the kid did a nice job. He's a rookie, but he knows what he's doing. He just needs more practice. But that made me start thinking... WHY this **kid** was by himself autopsying a man that supposedly died of AIDS? That was another tip off to me that all was not right with this scenario. You don't pawn off a AIDS case to a novice. Even if the patient is deceased.

"So after getting my blood samples, Mel and I made a trip up to the coroner's office and we couldn't talk to him for nothing. The man had a receptionist from hell. She looked like a bulldog and told me pointblank that if I didn't have an appointment, he could not be disturbed. When I explained the nature of the case, the bitch said "I know about the Davis case. Dr. Tiffleton is already faxing the case file to an FBI agent in Washington. Although why such a damn fuss is being made about this is beyond me... I think that's when Melanie started to buckle under the strain... and where she figured out that I have no social skills."

Doggett cringed. "What did you say?"

"Before or after calling her a fucking dumb bitch from the lowest bowel of hell?"

"Nevermind, I don't wanna know."

"Well, then after our little... um... heart-to-heart, I guess, I brought Melanie to the nearest pharmacy so she could get the tranks I prescribed for her, drove back to the airport and grabbed the first flight to DC that I could, then drove to Quantico so I could analyze in peace. Before I left, I had asked Scully to forward the case file to me. I read that first before analyzing the other stuff. Then I checked out the blood. Not only was it HIV free, but it was B positive."

"So?"

"According to the case file, Parker is B negative."

"A typo?"

"I thought so at first too. Then I started to read the case history from when he was first diagnosed as HIV positive from the lab when he got tested for insurance to the last bit of labwork done in his final days. All of it says B negative."

"I'm confused."

"The other Parker Davis... the one who REALLY is infected with HIV is B negative. This Parker, your brother-in-law, is B positive. Basically, this Tiffleton dickhead went along with this cover-up campaign. That Parker was misdiagnosed, mistreated and died due to gross malpractice. And I am MORE than happy to go on the stand and testify to that."

"Testify against who??" Doggett asked. "WHO fucking did this??"

"I... I don't know... I can't... I can make guesses, but... I'm sorry," she finished lamely.

Mollified, he said "S'ok, you dug up lot more than what I would have." He put the pencil down to rub his tired face, then picked up the pencil again, saying "Alright, gimme your guesses."

"Well," Starkweather put down the vial and walked over to the desk where she had put her purse and briefcase. Next to the feminine luggage was a mug of coffee. It had been boiling hot when Doggett first called. Starkweather sipped it. Lukewarm. She made a face but drank it anyway. She craved the caffeine. "The lab that processed the urine and blood for the insurance policy is out. I feel that was an honest mistake. There are too many samples, too many files and not enough people. I believe the root of the problem--"

**The answer is in your roots**

Doggett squeezed his eyes to block out the voice of dreams and concentrated on the voice of the doctor.

"--stems from the hospital. I believe someone fucked up, fucked up royally and decided instead of heeding to the Hippocratic Oath, to Pledge Alliance to Saving Thine Ass." After another silence, Starkweather said "You don't agree with me."

"It makes sense, Doc. It really does. And it's probably what happened... just a stupid, stupid mistake and now the doctors are trying to hide that they screwed up."

"But you don't believe that, do you?" She was prodding him now and he resented it. When he sullenly refused to answer, she said "I can't help you if you don't tell me what's going on in between those big ears of yours."

"I think... this was deliberate."

"Well, yeah, the cover up was deliberate. I mean, if it got out that the doctor screwed up this bad AND the coroner went along with it, the lawsuit Melanie could launch, my God. It could be a multimillion dollar lawsuit. It could very well shut down the hospital."

"No. I think..."

<<No, I don't, it's impossible...>>

**The answer is in your roots**

<<Bullshit. It happened the way Doc said it did...>>

**The answer is in your roots**

<<My mind doesn't work that way...>>

"... I think this information fell into someone's hands... someone that was out to get Parker and orchestrated this whole charade to kill him," he said dully.

"Mulder?" Starkweather said. "Is that you? Where did Doggett go?"

"That was low," he grumbled.

"Do you realize how paranoid you sounded just now?"

"Yeah."

"I mean, the Lone Gunmen would welcome you as one of their own if they had just heard you a second ago."

"But is that possible?"

"The Lone Gunmen welcoming you? Well... three's company, four's a crowd..."

"No, you brat! My theory."

"Oh. Well. Um. Well... yeah, I guess. But this would have to be someone with access to the hospital and records and... Jesus. This person would have to have a pretty big ax to grind. And dying from pneumonia's no little thing! You suffocate. You can't breath. It's a horrible nasty painful way to die. I'm sorry, I'm being blunt. But who could possibly have motive enough to be THAT vindictive to watch someone DIE like that, KNOWING that that he could be cured? That person would have to be a real sick puppy." After another silence, she asked. "What makes you think someone was out to get your brother-in-law?"

"I just do," he said mulishly.

"Bullshit," she snapped. "You never **just** think anything. Look," she said, exasperated now, putting down the coffee cup to take off her reading glasses to rub her eyes. "I know you're not... I understand that... crap. Okay, look, you don't like to talk about yourself and your personal life very much and that's fine. Okay? There's shit I don't tell you because quite frankly, it's none of your business. But if there's reason, if something happened that makes you think this is a homicide case and not negligence... you've got to tell me. Because I can't help you if I don't know what's going on. And you can't help Melanie figure out exactly what happened to her husband."

Doggett rested his forehead on his palm, unconsciously imitating Rodin's "Thinker." His head pounded. He closed his eyes.

"When I was sixteen years old, I used hang out with these two guys from the football team. Dex Gillroy and Cy Lewis. They were more Stevie's friends than mine, but I'd go do stuff with 'em sometimes. I didn't have like, I don't know, a best friend or anything. I got 'long with most everyone at my high school and if someone asked me to go do somethin' with 'im, I'd go. I didn't give a shit...

But Dex was a dick. A bully and Cy was his cliched stupid sidekick. They were also the reason why the South still looks bad. They hated anyone and anything that wasn't white, Anglo-Saxon and Protestant."

"Which, you know, makes a WHOLE lot of sense since Savannah is predominately Catholic."

"Thank you Queen of Useless Information."

"Sorry, I'll shut up now."

"Cy would get in trouble from time to time, but not Dex. Dex's grandpa was a popular hellfire and brimstone preacher in town. The kind that would have their own TV show today. And his daddy was the chief of police, although we all called 'im 'the sheriff'. And Dex was a football hero so shit couldn't stick on him. He... he did shit and because his family had not just religion and the law, but money, most of the time, the adults would just look the other way."

"Dex and Cy's favorite target was Parker. Back in high school people though Park was 'funny' 'cause he didn't go out and do the stuff 'real boys' do. He didn't get stinking drunk. He didn't play sports. He was tall and skinny and had a high pitched voice. Some damn rumor started that he was gay and Dex an' Cy took that and ran with it. They used to corner him and beat the tar outta 'im. 'Course, didn't help that he had a mouth on 'im that wouldn't quit but that's not the point. It wasn't even that they thought he was gay was the reason why they'd pick on 'im. It was because they could.

"Cy got this Impala and he thought he was just King Shit. Cy was goin' on and on, boring me and some others stupid 'bout this car and Park comes 'long and... Jesus, I can hardly remember... it was so long ago, Doc. 'Bout twenty-five years... anyway, Cy started yelling shit to Park and Park fired off this insult 'bout Cy's car and Cy went ballistic because he had spent hours restoring this car. I remember I had to hold 'im back and yell at Park to get the hell outta there 'cause Cy was gonna kill 'im.

"A few weeks later, I was hanging out with my brother and Dex and Cy at Dex's grandmother's house. Stevie had to leave earlier, so it was just me and Dex and Cy and Cy suggests we go for a ride..."

"So we went to Cy's house and stole beer from his father and then we just went ridin' 'round. Me, bein' the dumb ass, didn't realize 'til too late that Cy and Dex had plans to go to the little diner where Park worked and wait for him so they could... well... I don't know what...

**Dat Parker's gonna BURN**

"... exactly they had in mind for 'im, but they were drunk. And I liked Park. Always did. Didn't have nothin' 'gainst him. Always thought he was a good guy... I just didn't..."

Starkweather felt her eyes well up when she heard her friend's voice crack over the phone. She swallowed the lump in her throat, closed her eyes and waited for him to compose himself.

"... get why they had it in for 'im. I told Cy I didn't wanna be part of this. That I wanted to get outta the car. Park had just passed us in his pickup truck, late for work. Cy gained speed... and rammed Park's truck. The truck went outta control, flipped over the guardrail and rolled into the ditch."

"Oh my God..." Starkweather breathed. "Oh my God, what a fucking bastard... what did the cops say?"

Doggett paused. "We never told the police. We never told anybody."

"What?"

"The only people who knew what really happened is Park and Mel. Me. Cy and Dex. And you."

"Why didn't you tell anyone before?????"

"'Cause at the time, we were just two scared kids. Scared we were gonna get in trouble with our folks. Park just totaled his father's truck. I was only sixteen and I'd been drinkin' that night. And we were scared what Dex and Cy would do if we ratted on 'im. Me, I knew I could hold my own, but I was scared they would really go after Park the next time. Or Mel or Chris. They didn't discriminate. They attacked anyone that they thought were weaker."

"Did they? Ever try to threaten you two or your sisters....?"

"There were a few skirmishes 'tween me and Dex, but then, he up and joined the military and Cy kinda just drifted away... but... Doc, I can't explain okay? I finally know why Mulder feels so Got-damned paranoid all the time... but my gut is tellin' me that those two rednecked motherfu...sorry."

"Oh no, my virgin ears," she droned. "You know you don't have to sanitize your language around me."

"I've been 'round my mother too long," he said with a small grin. "Anyway... Stawk-weddah, I know it doesn't make sense. But my gut instinct is tellin' me that Dex and Cy had something to do with Parker's death."

"Is this the same gut instinct that has saved our collective X-File asses on several occasions?"

"Yeah..."

"Then go with your gut, Papa John. It hasn't led us wrong yet."

"As crazy as it sounds?"

"Welcome to Mulder-Leap 101."

"I don't like leaps," he grumbled.

"No kidding," she said dryly. "So, where are these two princes amongst men now? Would they have access to Parker?"

"That's the problem Doc. That's why I think I'm crazy for thinkin' the way I am. Cy's in prison. Killed someone in a drunken brawl, doin' time for manslaughter. And Dex is dead."

"Dead? Aw gee," she deadpanned. "That's too bad."

"Yeah, because that narrows my list of suspects down to zilch."

"But you still believe that those two had something, directly or indirectly had to do with Parker's death?"

Doggett had to force himself to say "Yeah."

"Hm," he heard her say over the phone. "Well, shit, Doggett I don't know what to tel-" her sentence was abruptly punctuated by a startled scream. Her scream. Doggett also heard the sound of something shattering on the floor.

He bolted out of his chair. "Doc? Doc? Starkweather... are you there?"

Starkweather, standing in a puddle of coffee and ceramic shards, had her hands over her mouth, staring at a cute little tow-headed blond boy with big sparkly aquamarine eyes. He seemed to glow, as if he was constructed from starlight instead of flesh and bone.

She recognized the child from a framed photograph on a desk. She thought she would only see this child in photographs.

"Oh Jesus fucking Christ," she whispered, shaking head to toe.

"Jerilyn???"

She squeezed her eyes tightly shut. Opened them.

Nothing there except a broken coffee mug and splattered java all over the linoleum floor.

Meanwhile, Doggett was about climbing the walls in worry. "Jerilyn?? Are you there??"

"Sorry," he finally heard her mutter. "Thought I saw something..." she rubbed her eyes. "You're not the only one who's losing it." He heard her take a deep cleansing breath. Then another. Then muttered to herself, "Girl, get it together." She looked at the floor, at the mess. And groaned. "I saw something out of the corner of my eye and though it was... I don't know. My eyes played a nasty trick on me. I'm fine. Just... fucking tired."

"Jerilyn, please go home. You've done enough. I didn't wanna bother you with this in the first place."

She grinned to herself as she knelt down to pick up the remains of the mug. "Then why did you call asking about AIDS information in the first place? Come on Doggett, you know I'm at my best when I've got a challenge ahead of me." Soberly she added. "Not like the challenge in front of you though."

Sitting back down, Doggett ran his big fingers through his still damp hair. "Don't I know it," he muttered.

He then heard a *clunk* from the other end and a distant "Damn." Not even three seconds later, her voice was near his ear again instead of far away. "Sorry, I dropped the phone. I was trying to mop up a mess I made," she groused.

"What'd ya do?"

He heard her groan. "Knocked my mug over. Dumped coffee everywhere. So I'm mopping it up. I feel like I'm back in med school, doing all the shit work," she bitched. "But if I know Bill Wilder," referring to one of the forensics instructors at Quantico," and he finds one speck of dirt in his pretty, pretty lab, he'll go ballistic."

Doggett froze. "Say that again."

"Knocked my mug over???"

"No. The part 'bout doin' shit work at the hospital."

"Okay. I feel like I'm back in med school, doing all the shit work."

"There IS someone who knew about the accident."

"Who???"

"Delilah, Dex's little sister," he said grimly. "I saw her. She looked in the room when Mel came to take me home. She worked as a candy striper at the hospital I took Park to."

"Okay... so... she might know... what's her motive?"

He sighed. Another dead end. No pun intended.

"No clue. Dex was mean to her too."

"How did Dex die?"

"He was in Lebanon. I didn't even know he was there until I found he was dead. He was in the Army."

"Are you sure he wasn't killed by 'friendly fire'? On purpose?"

"Pretty sure," he responded on auto-pilot but he was miles away...

... back in Atlanta, drinking in Lindsay's beautiful face, feeling intoxicated by her huge blue eyes and her cultured lilting voice, reminiscing about a time where a pimple or being dateless for the prom were life-shattering tragedies.

<<I still remember those boys strutting 'round school, thinking they were God's gift 'cause they were football players. Cy and Dex and your brother Stevie. Carl Betton. Austin Taylor. And Dex's little sister Delilah was always taggin' 'long... of course, we all thought she had a thing for Cy. Child never was quite right in the head. And then... There was you.>>

<<Child was never right in the head.>>

"Hey Doc?"

"Yeah?"

"Can I talk to you later 'bout this? I'm beat. And," he added sternly, "you need to go home too, Agent Starkweather."

"Actually, I'm going to go to Annapolis and just get a hotel room. I'm too tired to drive back to DC. Can I say one little thing before you go though?"

"Sure."

"When you start questioning the medical staff at the hospital, don't waste your time dealing with the peons. Go straight to the top. Ask for that specialist, Dr. Loki Kullervo."

"Okay," Doggett said, jotting down the name. "Drive careful, Doc."

"Good night." Starkweather switched off her cell phone and leaned against the table, staring into the empty space where the spirit had lingered for a moment before. She didn't want to admit that the vision frightened her. Any more than she wanted to admit how much her heart hurt her right now as she fumbled around hopelessly, trying to figure out the best way to grieve for her losses.

Alone in the lab, she put her hands to her face and began to sob quietly but convulsively. The clock ticked loudly, time slowly moving towards a new day, a new beginning. The end of Advent. Christmas Eve.

Meanwhile, her partner shut off the light in his childhood bedroom and crawled into the twin bed that was almost too small for him. Physical fatigue made his eyelids droop almost immediately. A mental breakthrough made them fly back open.

"Oh my God..." he breathed aloud. He sat up and reached for the cell phone. But decided against calling her. He didn't want trouble her anymore than he already had.

And he ended up laying awake all night.

**

December 24, 2002, Christmas Eve

Mrs. Doggett's house

Savannah, Georgia

8:30 AM Eastern Standard Time

A morning person even when she was a small girl wearing knee socks and pigtails, Melanie woke up, blinking her eyes in confusion. Not completely understanding why her room was flooded with sunlight. Normally she was awake before the dawn. Then, groggily, she remembered the two little tablets she had choked down with a big glass of water. And then, oblivion. <<I must have needed the sleep badly>> she thought as she rose out of bed, still feeling the foggy after-effects of the drug-induced sleep.

She reached for her robe and wrapped it around her body. Knotting the terry cloth belt with a jerk, she stepped out into the hallway. She could hear her brother in his old bedroom, talking to someone on the phone. <<Must have his cell phone>> she thought, poising her hand to knock on the door.

But she froze when she heard what he was saying.

"No I'm still here... that's alright, ma'am, wasn't the first time I've been left on hold. My name is Fox Mulder...uh-huh, Fox... just like the animal... M- U- L- D- E- R. Anyway... I'm callin' because I'm doin' some research... see... it's kinda personal and would prefer to speak to Dr. Kullervo in private... I understand... I know it's Christmas Eve and I'm sorry to be a bother ma'am but I'm only gonna be in Savannah for today and tomorrow and I'd rather speak to her today than tomorrow... no, it won't take long. Oh, I'd appreciate it so much... that's fine, I can get there by then. Thank you so much. Uh-huh.... yeah... okay, thanks. Bye."

The door swung open. Melanie backed up just in time.

Except for the traitorous blue sacs beneath his eyes, no one could have known that he had not slept a wink last night. And those smudges actually increased the solemn authoritative expression on his face. As did the jet black suit with the perfect creases, the crisp white dress shirt, the shiny black shoes and the FBI-approved boring tie.

Melanie realized she was not looking at her little brother Johnny.

This was Special Agent John Doggett. And he was on a mission.

"Does this have to do with Parker?" Melanie asked breathlessly.

"I'll talk to you 'bout it later," Doggett promised her brusquely. "I have to go now." He quickly squeezed her shoulder affectionately as he brushed past her.

"Who's Fox Mulder?" she called after him.

He turned his head, a devilish little grin lightening his somber face. "A friend," he said angelically as he went downstairs.

**

Later on that morning

St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital

5353 Reynolds Street

Savannah Georgia

Outside of Dr. Kullervo's office

9:45 AM Eastern Standard Time

Doggett knocked on the door as he let himself. The receptionist, a plump middle-aged woman with a big, moon shaped face looked up at him. "May I help you sir?" she drawled in a sing-song voice. Her matronly goodness looked out of place seated behind the expensive Art Deco desk. Matching objets d'art were tastefully arranged in the small reception area outside of the doctor's office. Doggett strongly suspected that the furniture and the artwork he looked upon was worth more than his house, his truck and his life combined.

"Yes'm," he said, smiling at her. "We spoke on the phone earlier this morning. My name is Fox Mulder. I'm here for Dr. Kullervo."

"Oh yes!" she twittered, consulting the massive leather-bound appointment book. "You're lucky I was able to squeeze you in," she winked at him while standing up. "Dr. Kullervo said to go ahead and let you wait in her office, if you were early."

"Thank you," he mustered all the charm he could as he allowed the nice receptionist to lead him into the doctor's inner sanctuary.

The office was more impressive than Kersh's office at the Bureau. The furniture was all upholstered in creamy white leather to match the walls and the soft thick carpeting. The doctor's desk was an exact duplicate of the one out in the waiting room, only bigger. Expensive but small pieces of modern art, elegantly framed in cedar and gilt trim. All the pricey Tiffany lamps matched the artwork perfectly. A as if the artist had consulted the coloring of each piece of stained glass before dipping his brush into the paints. Fresh flowers filled the vases. Doggett felt like the proverbial bull in the china shop.

"Make yourself at home," the cheerful secretary chirped as she shut the door behind herself.

Doggett roamed around the office, examining the artwork. "Hm," he murmured, staring intently at a blank space of wall next to one of the paintings. Observed that the paint didn't appear to be as faded as the rest of the wall.

Putting his hands in his pockets, he meandered around to the beautiful desk, his sharp blue eyes taking careful inventory.

His eyes flicked over to the long glass shelf behind the desk. Photographs, framed in silver, overpowered the table. "Hm," he said, bending over slightly to look at each one carefully.

Most of them were photographs of what appeared to be friends and colleagues. Candid shots of Christmas parties and lavish charity balls. Several pictures of what he assumed was the same cat. Photographs documenting one feline's progress from cute fluffy little kitten to fat, haughty Persian.

Doggett noticed a photograph that was almost, but not quite, hidden behind two other pictures, one being of cat and the other a group of women with big wild poufy hairdos mugging the camera while on vacation somewhere on a beach, sometime in the late Eighties when bad hair was okay.

But Doggett didn't care about the fricking cat or the bevy of drunken women. He cared deeply about the small framed picture behind those photographs.

"Gotcha," he breathed, a bitter smile on his lips.

He burst out of the office minutes after that. "I'm sorry," he apologized effusively. "Something's come up, an emergency. A family emergency, I have to go. Tell Dr. Kullervo I'm sorry."

Without waiting for a reply, Doggett was out the door.

**

Later on that morning...

Dr. and Mrs. Tiffleton's residence

Some fancy suburb of Savannah...

11:22 AM Eastern Standard Time

"DAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!!!"

Dr. Niles Tiffleton winced and rubbed his temples. He hated it when the kids weren't in school. "What?" he snapped, extremely irritated.

All he wanted to do one his day off was lay on the couch, drink his coffee and watch "The Price Is Right." Was that REALLY so much to ask for??? He didn't think so.

"THERE'S SOMEBODY HERE FOR YA! SAYS HE WANTS TO TALK TO YA!"

He almost wished he would have gone into work today.

Dead people are quiet people.

Dr. Tiffleton put his cup down on the ugly coffee table that his wife picked out. With a sigh he got off the sofa. And walked into the hallway where he almost ran into his daughter, talking a mile a minute on her cell phone. "Tiffany?"

"Omigod, Babs, like hold on a second, my dad wants me," she put the phone down. "Like, yeah? What?"

"Go see who's at the door."

"Why? Don't we have a maid or some junk to do that?"

"It's her day off," Dr. Tiffleton said between gritted teeth. "Go see who's at the door. Now. And tell him to go away."

"Like, okay, okay. Gawd," she rolled her heavily made up eyes as she walked towards the front door. "Yeah, like Dad's losing it, okay? He's making ME answer the door..." her voice drifted away.

Too soon, she came back. Her face, or what skin on her face that was visible underneath all the makeup, was ashen. "It's a FBI agent," she said without any sass or attitude. "He wants to talk to you."

FBI? What the hell? Although this agent had to be some sort of character to be able to scare his mouthy little spoiled bitch daughter to death.

He liked this guy already.

He ambled towards the door. His son, a tub of a child, was still staring at the tall man in the perfectly pressed suit, sporting a pair of Ray-Ban wannabe sunglasses. "Dr. Tiffleton?" the stranger drawled politely.

For one weird moment, Dr. Tiffleton thought he was in that one movie "Terminator 2, Judgement Day", facing down the evil shape-shifting cyborg. However, when the stranger took off his sunglasses and reached inside his jacket to pull out his FBI identification, he knew his was in a worse predicament.

T-1000 actually looked a lot friendlier than this guy.

"Sir," the agent said coolly, "My name is Special Agent John Doggett. Could I have a word with you?" His icy eyes flicked down to the chubby, insolent boy. "Alone?"

"Derick, go play your Sega upstairs, okay?"

"Daaaa-ad, it's NOT Sega, it'a a PlayStatio-"

"Whatever. Go."

Derick waddled off.

"Yes, Agent Doggett," the doctor said calmly. "How can I help you?"

"You can help me," Doggett smiled, a thin, cruel little smile. "By explainin' to me why you helped Dr. Kullervo get away with murder..." Doggett took a step closer and whispered "I would recommend leniency..."

**

Tiffleton pressed his lips tightly together. "I see," he said haughtily. "Dr. Kullervo? A respected member of our community and a leader in the AIDS research field, a murderer?" He scoffed, "Nonsense, Special Agent. You must have made a mistake. Now, if you'll excuse me, it IS Christmas Eve and I get to spend precious little time with my family..."

But Doggett didn't back off, although he did take a step back. "Nice house," he told the doctor as he looked up at the Tudor style brick home. "Nice cars too," he nodded his head, acknowledging cars he had parked the rental Ford Taurus behind. A cherry red 2001 Honda Civic and a 1999 silvery Mercedes-Benz.

"I always had a thing 'bout cars," Doggett said fondly, appreciating the vehicles that he couldn't afford in this lifetime or the next. "My father owned an auto repair shop. I loved spendin' Saturdays there as a kid... watchin' him fix up cars, then him teachin' me how to fix up cars... the flashier the better. But my father always told me to buy American. And I have a Dodge Ram..."

Tiffleton began to lose some of his fear and regain his irritation. He was missing "The Price is Right" dammit.

"... but I dunno... somethin' 'bout a foreign car... they last longer, they don't seem to break down as much..." here Doggett produced a grin, "and they go faster, don't they? Betcha you got quite a few speedin' tickets with that Civic, huh?"

"The Civic's my daughter's car," he said, a little defensive. "The Mercedes belongs to my wife."

"So, what d'ya have?"

"A Porsche."

"No kiddin'? Man..." Doggett sounded envious. "I'm in the wrong field. I'd love to have a Porsche... probably could afford the car, but the insurance... I dunno... I'd have to find a way to get some extra money comin' in..."

Then out of nowhere, Doggett innocently asked, "Isn't Oglethorp Speedway Park near here?" As the blood drained out of the coroner's face, Doggett asked him, "So is that how you started backin' NASCAR races? To pay for these fancy cars? Or 'cause you live so close to the race track?" Doggett took another step closer. "Doesn't matter how it started Tiffleton 'cause what matters it that you're in the hole. Big time." When Tiffleton started to complain about invasion of privacy, Doggett informed him sweetly "Income is public domain. You can't hide your finances from the IRS... well... guess you could... but they really don't like it when you do."

He took another step closer to the doctor. "Truth is, Dr. Tiffleton, this nice house, those nice cars, your bratty kids' nice education could be gone in a second 'cause you're $75,000 in the hole. And that's just your gamblin' problem. The total comes up to well over a hundred thousand when you figure in all the money you lost when the stock markets went to shit after September 11."

He went for the jugular now, "Or you were. Until your good friend Dr. Kullervo lent you just enough to get the creditors off you back and maintain your facade of wealth. And she didn't want you to pay her off in cash. Oh no...

"... she wanted a favor. A BIG favor. Like falsifyin' an autopsy case file. Your intern was so kind as to forward that file to my partner, who just happens to be a medical doctor."

"I'll go to prison," the coroner squeaked.

"Probably," Doggett agreed. "But there's a difference between a few months in a country club prison for white collar crime and 25 years to life in a federal pen. Would you like to call your lawyer and discuss this with him?" Doggett asked sweetly.

"I do need to speak to my lawyer," Tiffleton whispered. "But I will cooperate..." he hung his head. "You're talking about the Parker Davis case, aren't you?"

"Yeah," Doggett glared at the top of the little man's head. "I am. Let's get your lawyer, as you are entitled to have, then take a trip down to the police station."

**

Later on that day...

St. Joseph's/Candler Hospital

5353 Reynolds Street

Savannah Georgia

Outside of Dr. Kullervo's office

1:30 PM Eastern Standard Time

Dr. Loki Kullervo liked to walk. She always purposefully parked her car two, sometimes three blocks away from her destination so she could have a nice stroll before entering.

Also, it kept the pesky pounds from creeping up on her.

The day was going well. When she came to the hospital early in the morning, she discovered with pleasure that one of the pediatric AIDS patients was responding favorably to the latest treatment available. She then had a guest lecture at an AIDS awareness fund-raiser at the local library, which went extremely well. She had an unexpected appointment and an unexpected cancellation. Much as that irritated her, she had learned that in her profession, those kinds of things were to be expected. She had her receptionist file the name away in case he ever reappeared. <<Fox Mulder... I know I've heard that name SOMEWHERE...>> She dismissed the cancellee, focusing her energies on the work that needed to be done for the rest of the afternoon. She was planning on spending most of the day in the lab.

Dr. Kullervo, known for her precision and her diligence, ruthlessly monitored every aspect of her life. From her spotless apartment, to her svelte figure, to her impeccable makeup, hairstyling and wardrobe, to her care of her patients and her research into the AIDS research, everything was at her command.

As she crossed the street, picking an imaginary piece of fluff off of her deep brown suit jacket, she recalled the conversation she had with one of the senior doctors during their lunch meeting today. He had commended her on her continuing dedication in fighting the disease. Since he had known her for a few years now, he asked her, why, a person like herself, so consumed with order, would want to engage in such a messy, orderless disease such as AIDS.

"Because," she had said thoughtfully. "I want to control it. It is a monster that is bent on destruction. And I wish to kill the monster. And if I can't kill it, at least tame it and bend it to my will."

And the other doctors had nodded. It made sense.

That mentality had sustained Dr. Kullervo most of her adult life.

Which was why she felt a surge of irritation when her receptionist met her halfway down the hallway before she even got to her office.

"Dr. Kullervo," she blubbered, "I'm sorry, I couldn't stop them. They have a search warrant..."

"A search warrant!" Dr. Kullervo exploded. "For what????" She handed her purse and briefcase to the hapless secretary and stormed into her domain. There was a flurry of action in the reception area and men in police uniforms and wind-breakers that said 'FBI' in bright yellow letters going in and out of her office. Pulling drawers out and tipping them over, spilling paper all over. Taking her precious books off the wall, thumbing through them and then dropping them on the floor. "I demand to know what in the hell is going on here," she cried out in a fury.

"Step out into the hall, doctor," a graveled voice said unpleasantly. "And I'll explain it to you."

Startled, she looked for the source of the voice. Scared because it sounded familiar.

She realized the voice's source came from a man leaning against the wall. She stared at him in confusion. He was the only one there in a suit and tie. His arms were crossed. He was staring at her like he knew her. She felt flutterings of fear, she didn't know this man... didn't know any tall men with light brown, almost blond hair. With ears that stuck out just slightly. With cold blue eyes surrounded by crow's feet. Cold blue eyes chilling her...

... and then she recognized him. "JD..." she hissed.

"Special Agent Doggett to you," he said, pushing himself off the wall and stalking towards her. Grabbing her by the arm, he said "Let's go Delilah," and escorted her out of the room.

Alone in the hallway, Dr. Kullervo struggled to yank her arm out of Doggett's grip. "Get your hands off me."

"Gladly," and Doggett let her go as if she some repulsive creature.

She tossed her mahogany hair over her shoulder and assessed him as if he was an insignificant specium on a glass slide. "On top of harassment and invasion of privacy, I should also sue you for police brutality."

"I'm a federal agent, not a cop," he reminded her. "Besides, once we're done with you, your word isn't going to mean shit."

"What are you implying?"

"I ain't implyin'. I'm flat out saying that you, in pre-meditated, cold-blood, killed one of you patients. Parker Davis."

"Of course... Melanie... I should have known..." she hissed. "JD, hate to tell you, but your sister is delusional with grief. I tried recommending her to a grief-counselor but she was too proud. She rather run to her baby brother to assume the role of the great white knight once more," she sneered at him.

"Do you think," Doggett asked her sweetly, "that maybe Melanie would have taken your advise if you had disclosed to her that not only you're Dex's baby sister, but that you've also been in and out of mental hospitals for most of your adult life?"

"You white-trash motherfucker," she lashed out at him.

Doggett was unimpressed. "Such language from a lady."

She ignored his sally. "I don't know what you're trying to prove but rest assured my lawyers are going to have a field day nailing your ass to the wall."

"Before you do, let me tell you a little story, if you don't mind," Doggett requested politely. "Most of it you already know, so if you could fill in the blanks, I'd 'preciate it."

"I don't have time for this," Dr. Kullervo tried to walk away, but Doggett grabbed her again.

"You'll make time for this, Delilah," he growled at her.

Dr. Kullervo folded her lips tightly and crossed her arms as Doggett began to talk.

"Besides your weight, your glasses and everything else, 'nother thing Dex liked to harass you 'bout was your first name. Because your mother, to placate her battle-ax of a mother-in-law, named you "Loki" after her. But that didn't work with Grandma Lo, did it? Fact is, she still didn't like your mother and she really didn't like you much either. Not that it's much of a loss, your Grandma Lo wasn't that nice of a person. How could she? With a verbally abusive hypocrite of a husband? Preachin' 'bout Thou Shalt Love Thy Brother... as long as he was white and wealthy and took the writings of the Apostle Paul literally. Especially the parts 'bout women bein' submissive to their husbands. Since Grandma Lo couldn't fight against her husband, she attacked weaker targets to vent her rage. Maybe that's where Dex learned how to be a bully...

"... but sorry... I'm ramblin'," Doggett apologized as Dr. Kullervo folded her lips tightly together and clenched her fists as Doggett went on. "Although, I could never figure out where'n the hell 'Loki' came from anyway. It sure as hell ain't a Southern name..."

"It's the name of a Norse god," Dr. Kullervo said tensely. "Grandma Lo's ancestors had Viking blood in them."

"That's nice," Doggett said blandly. "Anyway, I remember Dex teasing you something fierce about your name when we were kids...

"But you were dyin' to get away from it all. That's why you went to college up North 'stead of 'round here. That's why you started tellin' people your name was Loki Gillroy 'stead of Delilah Gillroy. You wanted to get away from that fat bullied girl in Savannah as fast as you could. You had never had any say in your life 'til then. Your mama and daddy pushed you around. The Preacher and Grandma Lo bossed you around. Dex bullied you to tears. You wanted to have total say over your life. That's why, 'gainst the family's wishes, you did your pre-Med and medical school in New York. That's why you married a Yankee named Tobin Kullervo. That's why you've been treated several times for bulimia." He eyed her slender body. She frowned back at him. "It was all 'bout control..."

"... course, it doesn't help when you have a chemical imbalance that's beyond your control, does it?"

"Hypocrite," she spat at him. "You joined the Marines when you were sixteen to get away from your father. Instead of going back to Georgia, you moved up to New York after bein' discharged. You married a Yankee too."

"Been keepin' tabs on me Delilah?" Doggett asked lightly. She shut up.

She wished he wouldn't stare at her as he spoke. His pale blue eyes unnerved her. She didn't like feeling so out of control.

"Yeah... maybe I ran away from home too... but I didn't deliberately plot someone's death..."

"You'll have to prove that," she said smugly, regaining control. Or so she thought. "All I see is a bunch of men in my office. Running around like trained monkeys. I'm sure they're really pleased you're interrupting their Christmas Eve."

Doggett ignored her. "Last summer, you received a call from one of your colleagues. A Dr. Adam Kats. Hey Loki, he says, can ya see this guy? He's one of my regular patients, but he just tested positive for HIV but he's not sure how he could have gotten it. He says he's straight and is faithful to his wife. Wife says she's faithful to him. Plus she tested negative. He don't do drugs. Don't work in a medical facility where he could be in contact with tainted blood. The only possibility is a transfusion he received back in Seventy-Six, after a car accident. But that was over twenty-five years ago and the virus usually rears it's ugly head after ten, fifteen years of hibernation.

"You're interested. Of course you're interested. You've always liked studyin' and researchin'. That's another thing Dex made fun of you about. Bein' such a bookworm.

"So he gives you the name of the patient. Parker Davis. That name rang a bell. 'Course it did. Parker was one of Dex and Cy's favorite targets. But was it the same Parker Davis? You realized it was when you saw the name of the spouse, Melanie Doggett Davis.

"Still intrigued, you called for the lab work from the second HIV test to be sent directly to you. You also called the lab that processed the first blood test for the insurance company. And compared notes. The second blood draw was negative for HIV, but positive for hepatitis A. Upon further research, you figured out the first lab screwed up and sent the wrong results to the insurance company. Yeah, Parker Davis is HIV positive, but not THIS Parker Davis. I think these things are called 'twists of fate'?

"Maybe you were lookin' at your reflection in the mirror while you were contemplatin' this, Delilah. Maybe you were lookin' at your now pimple-free skin after puttin' your contact lenses in. Maybe you were at the beauty pallor, gettin' your hair dyed that pretty dark color 'stead of sportin' your natural dishwater blond hair. Maybe you were even at the mall, buying that pretty suit you've got on. I dunno what you were doing when you got the idea. After getting sick of watching you bounce in and out of the nut house plus bingeing and purging, your less than sympathetic husband divorced you. Prompting you to move back home. But you didn't take back your maiden name. Hell no. You don't even talk to what's left of your family.

"Point I'm makin' is that you took a big chance that Park and Mel wouldn't recognize you when they came in for their consultation. If they did, well, so much for that... but if they didn't... if they didn't...

"And they didn't, did they? Hell, I didn't even recognize you at first either. Did you get some plastic surgery done too? Your nose? Your tummy? Chest?"

"You pig," she seethed.

Doggett leaned against the wall, crossing his arms again, appraising her coolly. "Even though you don't look a thing like you did in high school, you took a few other preparations to ensure that the Davises wouldn't recall you. You took your diploma off the wall."

"I never hung my diploma on the wall."

"Then why is there a part of your wall discolored in the exact shape of a framed diploma? A framed diploma was found in your bottom drawer? A framed diploma that says 'Loki Delilah Gillroy'?" When she failed to retort, he went on. "And you put that photograph of you and Dex and Cy hanging out at Tybee Island behind some other pictures on that fancy table behind your desk. Couldn't bear to put that away, it meant too much to you. But your clients wouldn't be able to see it from where they would be sitting.

"You could have been a hero the day that Parker and Melanie came to see you. You could have told them that it was all a big mix-up and Parker was fine. You would have been their angel.

"But you liked your idea better... let'm suffer, right? Suffer. Hell. Let him die. Let the hepatitis A take over. Let his liver get swollen Let his immune system really get impaired. Let him be denied treatment for an upper respiratory infection he couldn't fight off. Let Melanie cry for him over Christmas..."

He looked at her in disgust. "You bitch," he said softly.

Now the doctor smiled. An ugly smile on a face shaped into beauty by cosmetics and cosmetic alterations. "A frightening story indeed, good agent. But a story is all it will remain until you provide some incriminating evidence." She tilted her head, still smiling. "Is that the blank you wanted me to fill in? Give you the smoking gun? That would be a lovely Christmas present for you, wouldn't it?

"It would pull you out of that basement office, wouldn't it?" Laughing at him now, she nodded. "Oh yes, Special Agent John Doggett, I've been keeping tabs on you. Not rigorously. But I pay attention whenever your name crops up.

"And my, my, who DID you piss off at the Bureau to get demoted... literally?" The ugliness of her smile increased. "Hate to tell you JD, but in this world, it's true. Nice guys finish last. You'll never get to be where you want to be by being nice. And that's all you're doing here. You're just trying to be nice to Melanie. Cushion the blow that somehow, some way, her beloved Parker contracted AIDS." She spread her hands out wide. "I did what I could."

"By tellin' everyone that he was allergic to antibiotics when he really wasn't?" Doggett asked her dryly. "By changin' records to show that Parker had B negative blood instead of B positive?"

"Again," she said, shaking her head at him. As if she was a kindergarten teacher catching one of her students telling a whopper of a story to impress his little friends. "You have no proof to back up those allegations. You haven't told me anything that scares me yet."

"How 'bout a blood profile?"

"Where would you get a blood sample to study??"

"How 'bout from Parker Davis's heart? During the autopsy my sister ordered? Yeah," he said smugly as he watched the color disappear from Dr. Kullervo's cheeks. "That's right. The intern that was unknowingly doin' Tiffleton's dirty work for 'im that day most graciously gave my FBI partner a sample which she took back to Quantico to study herself. And she's far from... how'd you put it... a trained monkey?"

When Kullervo opened her mouth to protest his partner's credentials, Doggett added, "And when I say 'Doctor' Starkweather, I mean Doctor Starkweather **MD** not, **Ph.D.** And oh yeah, speakin' of Tiffleton? He's with his lawyer and the DA, trying to cut a deal so he don't have to spend a minute longer in jail than he has to. Although his medical license is good as gone."

Now he was the one with the ugly smile. He took a step closer to her.

"Scared yet?"

"He's lying!" Dr. Kullervo said, a tinge of desperation coloring her normally clinically-cool-and-calm voice. "He... he's a gambler! He's lost a lot of money at the race tracks! And in the stock market! He... he tried... he making up this wild tale because I wouldn't give him anymore money. I lent him a great deal of money so he could squeak by until Christmas. Didn't want to ruin things for his kids."

"Maybe Tiffleton is lying," Doggett nodded his head. "But does a blood sample lie?" Tired of the games, Doggett said "Look, I don't care how you did it. We know you did it. It's only a matter of time before the cops and the feds find something here. And the guys here don't find something, maybe the guys tossin' your house will.

"What I wanna know is WHY, Delilah? What... possessed you to... to be so Got-damned heartless? To watch a man die... fucking suffocate on his own bodily fluids, knowing you could save him but didn't? What the hell Parker Davis did to you that made you hate him, that much, that you could be as vindictive...

"Or maybe," he dropped his voice to a whisper, taking another step towards her as she took more steps away. Her back was against the wall. She really did look scared now. "Maybe it was never Parker you hated... Maybe it was Melanie."

"Melanie?" she laughed, a nervous hiccup of a laugh.

"Sure. Makes sense. Makes perfect sense. 'Cause I remember another thing your sonuvabitch brother used to tease you 'bout was your crush on Cy. Oh, you had puppy love for him BAD, Delilah. Real bad. And Dex wasn't the only one who teased you. The entire school knew. I remember one time someone wrote a Valentine for you and signed it "Love Cy" and put it on your locker. And how Cy laughed in your face when you went to thank him.

"But see, it also wasn't a secret that Cy had the hots for my sister. He used to beg me and Stevie to set him up with her. Neither Stevie and I would. Neither one of would mostly 'cause we liked breathin' too much. Melanie would have killed us if we would have tried to fix her up with that dumbass.

"But maybe, you didn't know that. You didn't know that Melanie that Cy was an ignorant rednecked fool. You didn't know that Melanie didn't like him 'cause Melanie was nice to everybody. Even to the people she hated with a passion. Maybe you blamed Melanie for Cy not wanting you because he wanted Melanie...

"'Course now, he'd probably take you over Melanie, seein' how fine you grew up. Seein' that he's in jail for murder right now may make the whole dating thing difficult but once we bust your ass for killin' Parker, maybe we can get you an ajoining cel-"

"I didn't do it because of Melanie!" she burst out.

"Oh really," Doggett said innocently. "Then why?"

"I want my lawyer," she whispered, looking at the floor.

He shrugged. "Go ahead," he said, reaching into his suit's pocket and drawing out his cellphone, holding it out for her. "Call your lawyer."

She didn't take the phone though. "Are you wired, Special Agent Doggett?" she asked in a breathy voice. When he did not answer, she chuckled. "No... 'course not. That would be entrapment, wouldn't it? And I'm not under arrest yet, am I? And it's just you and me here... no witnesses?" She laughed.

But her laugh sounded wrong. Seemed out of tune to Doggett. After years of investigations and interrogations, Doggett had an ear for madness like a piano tuner for pitch. <<Careful John careful>> he told himself as he rearranged his face to be poker-straight. <<She's startin' to get unglued...>> His eyes darted around quickly to make sure there were no sharp or blunt objects around that could do him grievous harm. He didn't like the fact she had taken a ball-point pen out of her pocket and was clicking it over and over rapidly. She laughed again, shaking her head.

"I heard about your son," she said with another diabolical cackle. "Seven years old and dead. And not even just 'dead'. Kidnapped and murdered. His little life snuffed out as he cried for his daddy, wondering why he didn't come save him..."

Doggett fought hard to control the murderous rage brewing inside his heart and seeping through his bloodstream.

"... He was just a little boy. A baby." She fluttered her eyelashes at Doggett. "You didn't even get to know him. See him grow up...

"But... what I wonder... if what if that had never happened. If your son hadn't died. And grew up. Grew up with a limp wrist and talking with a lisp. Liking make-up and dresses instead of football? Would you still love your son with the reverence you hold for him right now? Special Agent John Doggett? Would you? I'm asking you a question, JD. If you son was-"

"Yes," he interrupted her softly. "I would continue to love him. I wouldn't like it. But that wouldn't stop him from being my son."

"Or so you say," she said archly. "Easy to be pious when the subject matter is dead, isn't it?" she spat at him. She went on as Doggett clenched his fists. "And speaking of dead, do you know how many fucking fags continue spread AIDS on a yearly basis??"

"AIDS has been continued to be spread by straight men and women as well," he said quietly, beginning to see which way the wind was blowing. "Through unprotected sex, through shared needles and through mother-to-child in utero. But you're the expert, you should know this," he said, trying to remain calm and not act like the vigilante he wanted to be.

He would love to just bypass the whole habeas corpus thing and choke her right here and now.

"You have no idea," she seethed. "No idea how insidious this disease is. You think the way you lost your kid was painful? You have no idea what pain is until you take care of a peds AIDS case. Trying to explain to a little girl why you can't take the pain away. Why she's not going to get better and go home.

"And then, the bastards spreading this shit, march in parades, flaunting rainbows and dressing in drag, demanding to have 'rights' and to be treated like everyone else. While we're left behind to take care of the kids dying of the disease THEY started."

<<She believes that>> Doggett thought in disbelief. <<She's a medically trained doctor and... shit, I'm not a doctor and even **I** know better'n than that...>>>

**Child never was right in the head**

"I hate this Got-damned disease, JD, you have no idea. You have no idea how many kids I get to see on a yearly basis die. Too many. Too damn many. You... poor you, you lost one kid. Big fucking deal. Every child that dies in that ward feels like one of my own. So far, this year, I've lost fifteen children. And each one cuts like a fucking razor because they didn't have to die. And with every kid that dies, I swear to myself that I will stop this damned disease or at least control it, in any way possible."

She looked up at Doggett, smiling her ugly little smile again.

The whir of the air conditioning kicking on filled the hallway but that's not why Doggett suddenly felt cold.

<<Parker wasn't the only one. Parker wasn't the only patient this crazy bitch killed...>>

Who was it who had said just recently "Don't piss off doctors, we know 10,000 different ways to kill someone and 20,000 ways to get away with it,"?

With an inward sigh, he remembered who.

Starkweather, of course.

"Bet seein' Parker brought up some bad memories," Doggett drawled, hoping to squeeze more specific information from her. "Like deja vu maybe? Like when you saw 'em in the hospital... hearin' 'bout me and Mellie talkin' 'bout the accident?"

She snorted. "The one time in my life that I thought I could do something right. The one time I thought I could do good. Do right by someone. I didn't do it 'cause I like Park or y'all. I did it to get back at Dex, finally..."

"I got off from work and went straight home. Told Daddy everything. Daddy was fit to be tied. He was even more pissed when one of his underlings came to him with a report about a car accident Park Davis was in and that Jay Doggett's youngest son had been there too, but he can't figure out how or why that boy'd be there. He told my daddy that he thought you and Park were lying about the accident. How it really happened...

"Well, it was an election year and Daddy couldn't risk any scandal. He could lose his job if the wrong guy gets elected wherever and he didn't want to piss anyone off. Or give the impression that his family was trash. So the next morning he woke Dex up and read him the riot act. Told him he had two choices. To either get out of his house and try and make it on his own. Or join the Army. Kind of a 'out of sight, out of mind.' Dex picked the Army." She abruptly stopped.

"And then he was killed?" Doggett prodded her along.

Her eyes narrowed. "I always wondered how you survived, but no Dex. Why Dex? Why not you? When we got word that Dex had died, Mama looked at me and told me if I would have kept my mouth shut about Dex and Cy causing that car accident, Dex wouldn't have died. She asked me why'n the hell was I protecting Parker Davis in the first place?"

"But you weren't protecting Parker, you were protecting yourself. Only now, you blamed yourself," Doggett said.

"I didn't blame myself one bit," she said a bit too quickly. "Dex can burn in hell for all I care. He was a mean son-of-a-bitch. Know why he was so mean?" Her eyes twinkled madly. "Know what secret he carried to his grave? Why he lashed out at Park so much?"

Doggett's mouth dropped open. "No fricking way..."

**"You know, John, I didn't know that being a pimple-faced virgin made you a target."**

**"It's not the pimple-faced virgin shit those dumb-asses came after ya for tonight. They're scared outta their asses that you're contagious."**

Dr. Kullervo still had that hideous smile on her face. "That's right, Johnny. Dex didn't like girls."

**

Much much much much much much later...

Mrs. Doggett's house

Savannah Georgia...

"Chris," Mrs. Doggett finally said, looking up at the clock. "Let's not hold up supper anymore. It's getting late. Could you set the table please?" With a heavy sigh, she began to slice up the vegetables for the salad.

"I gotta go call Laura first," Chris rose from the kitchen table just as Doggett opened the kitchen door.

"Where've you been, son?" Mrs. Doggett asked him coolly, as if he was a teenager again, breaking curfew.

"Where's Melanie, Mama?" Doggett asked, exhausted now. Instead of going home like he wanted, he had been held up at the police station. Giving his statement. Showing the Savannah PD and the Georgian agents how he pieced it together that Parker Davis did not die of AIDS complications but due to a complicated, premeditated plan to kill him. He ached all over from stress, fatigue and out-and-out burnout. He didn't even want to eat, he just wanted to collapse.

But he had to talk to Melanie first. Had to.

Before Mrs. Doggett could reply, Stevie invaded the kitchen. He had heard the tail end of the conversation. "Where were you today? We coulda used your help around here," Stevie accused him.

"I had work to do," Doggett said, trying to rein in the temper that had threatened to run rampant all day.

"Work," he snorted. "Work my... yeah. Work, whatever. Well, 'bout time you graced us with your presence," Stevie thundered. "What ghost.. 'scuse me, WORK have you been chasin' this time?"

"Stevie-" Chris said timidly, but Doggett overlapped her.

"Where's Mel, Steve?"

"Damn it John, haven't you done enough? Just leave her alone! Stop tryin' to make it easier for her, that's not gonna help her-"

"She's in the living room, John," Mrs. Doggett said quietly.

"Aw Mama, not you too!" Stevie groaned as Doggett started to move towards the living room. Stevie grabbed Doggett's coat sleeve. "I swear to God, John, if you keep feedin' into Mel's delusions so help me, little brother, I'm gonna-"

"Stevie, let go," Doggett shook him off and continued to walk towards the living room.

Stevie reached out and grabbed Doggett by the collar. As if they were boys again, scuffling. But they were not boys and Stevie had forgotten which one was the stronger and taller one.

Doggett fought his way out of Stevie's choke hold easily enough and pushed him away. "Steve, fuck off," Doggett bellowed as he stormed away, through the door, towards his sister.

Stevie balled his hand into a fist and set off to go after him again, but to his surprise, and his mother, it was his shy baby sister who stopped him.

"Stevie," Chris said in a trembling voice. "He just cussed in front of Mama. Leave him alone."

Stevie opened his mouth but his mother interjected before he could speak. "Stevie, if you and your brother can not get along, at least do me a favor and pretend to during what's left of my lifetime."

Stevie opened and shut his mouth like a fish. Turned on his heel and left the house, slamming the door.

Meanwhile, Doggett had found his sister on the sofa, pretending to read a magazine. "Mel?" he said softly. "Melanie, it's me..."

She looked up at him. Her eyes welled up. He looked so tired. And sad. And yet... and yet... triumphant? No. Not the right word. Victorious? No. Not right either.

Heroic. That was it.

He walked over to her. Knelt in front of her. Took the magazine she was flipping through and clutched her hands. He could barely get the words out.

"It's over Mellie. You were right. Park was murdered."

She stared at him, not comprehending at first. Then a convulsive sob rippled through her entire body and she leaned over, clinging to him as her little brother held her tight.

"We got her Mel," he whispered to her. "We got the bitch who killed him and she's in jail now, Mellie. It's over, sweetheart, it's all over now..."

Melanie just buried her head into John's shoulder and cried hard. From the doorway, Mrs. Doggett and Chris watched silently as tears poured down Chris' face. Mrs. Doggett eventually lowered her head and left the room.

 

**

December 25, 2001, Christmas Day

Deputy Mayor Fox Mulder's apartment

Arlington, Virginia

7:25 AM Eastern Standard Time

Starkweather pounded on Door Number 42 again. When that elicited no response, she muttered, "Dammit, we're going to be late," and pounded on the door again. "Mulder if you stayed over at Scully's and didn't tell me, I'm gonna fuckin-"

The door opened wide.

He had a bit of stubble and his hair was still damp to from his shower, but to Starkweather's relief, he was more or less correctly dressed, in a dark green V-necked sweater with a gray t-shirt underneath, dark blue jeans and brown hiking boots.

Hell, the fact he was awake made her heart sing.

"Joy to the world," Mulder droned. "All the boys and girls..."

"Die."

"Gee, wonder who got a lump of coal for Christmas this year?" Mulder moved aside so she could come inside. "I've got a couple of things I need to take care of before we can go," he told her, ushering her inside his unkempt apartment. He went to feed his fish as Starkweather peeled off her black leather gloves and unzipped her heavy winter coat, showing off the startling feminine sweater she wore. Angora. Turtlenecked. Pearly pink. Mulder deduced that her stepmother, a wealthy Senator, must have given it to her. "Make yourself at home." he told her as he walked over to the coffee table.

"I need a vat of Pine Sol and a stun gun to knock out the dust bunnies before I can do that," Starkweather said with a shudder of disgust at Mulder's filthy ways. She took off her ridiculous stocking cap. Smoothing her hair, she watched Mulder take the few brightly wrapped packages from underneath the sad little one foot tall Christmas tree on his coffee table and put them in a laundry basket. With a wicked little grin on her heart-shaped face, she mercilessly imitated her brother's monotone. "Which one's mine?"

"None," he responded, looking up with a grin. "But I got your cat something."

"You bought Caesar something?" she said skeptically. "What?"

"Cat nip seasoned with rat poisoning," Mulder said, lifting the laundry basket. "Hope he likes it."

"I'm sure he'll like it as much as William will like the talking Barney the Dinosaur doll I bought him," Starkweather retorted sweetly, opening the door for him.

"You did not."

"Joy to the world, the Lord is come, let earth receive her King," Starkweather said in her beautiful lilting voice as she held the door open for her brother.

Starkweather kindly held open all the doors as Mulder maneuvered through the halls, into the elevator and out the front door of his apartment building towards Starkweather's car.

Once the gifts were safely settled in the trunk and the passengers traveling down the slippery roads, Mulder a moment of manners. "Thanks for comin' to get me," he said to the driver.

"Well, it's not like you live all that far from me."

"And just think, in a few days, you'll be living even closer to me."

Starkweather was moving out of the DC apartment she had shared a few short months with her husband to a small studio in a restored Victorian house in Arlington four blocks away from Mulder.

"Good. I'll wake you up at oh-five-hundred hours to go for a run."

"I'll break your legs if you do." He pulled out a bag of David's Sunflower Seeds from his coat pocket and opened it.

"Oh come on tubby," she leaned over and poked him in his belly. "Like it would kill you to run."

He slapped her hand away. "Maybe I'm not so fast anymore," Mulder grumbled, sensitive about the "office gut" he was developing due to too much politics and not enough X-Files. "But I can still kick your ass."

"Probably, but you would have to catch me first. And I can still outrun you, pork chop."

"Bitch," Mulder grumbled as he leaned over to fiddle with the radio.

"What are you doing?"

"Trying to find a station so I can turn it up really really loud and drown it out."

"Radio's broken. You can only get AM stations."

"Your point?" Mulder asked as he turned up the volume.

"...says other lay-offs could be possible," the dull radioesed baritone droned out of Starkweather's radio speakers. "In Savannah, Georgia today... more evidence reveals that the new 'Doctor Death' may have killed others in her care... Prominent AIDS researcher... Dr. Loki Kullervo has been charged in the deaths of three more of her patients. Based on evidence discovered by Savannah police this morning... allegedly Dr. Kullervo purposely denied certain patients critical medical treatments due to their sexual orientation, says Officer Hunter Ceehaycee of the Savannah Police Department..."

Mercifully, the announcer's boring voice went away as the sound bite of the arresting officer came on.

"Apparently she has a deep prejudice against the homosexual community and was using her knowledge of HIV and AIDS to kill them instead of help them. But she was clever. If it hadn't been for Agent Doggett, we would have never caught o-"

"WHAT??" Mulder nearly choked on a sunflower seed.

"Shut up!" Starkweather yelped. "Turn it up!"

"Is it OUR Doggett though?" Mulder asked.

"How many Special Agent Doggetts in Savannah can there be??"

"Well, with inbreeding and all..."

"Mulder, shut the fuck up!"

Mr. Boring was back announcing the rest of the story. "... Special Agent John Doggett declined to comment...

"Figures," Starkweather and Mulder groused in unison.

"... However Attorney Catherine Queens says that justice will be swift and severe while Dr. Kullervo's attorney, Lester Nelson says his client needs treatment not punishment..."

A sniveling weaselly voice took the place of Mr. Boring.

"Dr. Kullervo has been suffering undue strain because of the enormous responsibility she shoulders. Her mind is not where it should be-"

"Most minds should not be up in asses," Mulder snarled.

"-however I am confident that the court will give proper closure to this case by giving this brilliant yet sadly troubled woman the help she is desperately crying out for."

"Barf," Starkweather blurted out. "Barf, gag, puke, vomit... ack."

The lawyer's voice was replaced by the boring announcer again. "The Georgia Bureau of Investigation says that they anticipate more victims to be discovered... in local news-"

Mulder switched off the radio. "I'll be damned."

"Yeah..." Starkweather said thoughtfully. "I'll be damned."

A moment of silence.

"Poor guy," Mulder said simply.

His sister echoed him faintly. "Yeah... poor guy."

Mulder reached over and clumsily, affectionately patted her shoulder. Starkweather looked up at him briefly, grinned, then put her attention back to the road.

**

Later on that day

Mrs. Doggett's house

Savannah, Georgia

3:15 PM Eastern Standard Time

His boyhood home always seemed so big to Doggett.

Until all the relatives came over.

Aunts, uncles, cousins, second-cousins, second-cousins-once-removed, great aunts and great uncles all dominated the house, up and down stairs. Women gossiped in the kitchen, Men lounged around the living room, watching football. Kids were everywhere.

The house was definitely over it's maximum occupancy limit.

Doggett felt like he was on a see-saw all day. His emotions teeter-tottered up and down between depressed isolation and nervous claustrophobia. Some of his cousins had crowded him, pushing him for details of Parker's murder, clapping him on the back, calling him a hero. Some of the other cousins avoided him as if he was Parker's murderer. All of his uncles tried to coax him into the manly after-Christmas-dinner tradition of drinking beer, smoking cigars and playing cards. Some of the older aunts tried to fuss over him, mother him and smother him. Some of the other old aunts were shooing the children away from him, mistakenly thinking the sight of kids would arouse memories of his lost little boy.

The last one made him almost want to laugh. The blue sky evoked memories of his son. Try and hide that.

As for as his immediate family, they were cocooned by relatives as well. Which was a good thing for Stevie and Doggett. As if the relations could smell the animosity burning in the air, the brothers were kept separated. Coincidence or not, Doggett wasn't sure. But didn't care. Because of the swarm of family buzzing around the both of them, Doggett didn't have to deal with Stevie. And that was just fine with him.

But the same swarm also separated him from his mother and sisters and that wasn't so fine with him. But his mother was busy in the kitchen, Melanie busy being freshly comforted by the awestruck aunts and cousins, leaving Chris to try and protect the house from the horde of children on a sugar-high and Christmas-toy-rush.

He managed to escape his extended family long enough to go upstairs to the bathroom. After nature's called had been answered, he washed and dried his hands and just as he turned off the lights, he heard childish bickering in the room next door.

"Is not!"

"Is too!"

"Ow! That's mine! Let go!"

"I just wanna see!"

"No!" Then the sound of a little girl sobbing.

Doggett had opened the door just in time to see a boy enough to know better trying to beat feet down the hall, carrying a great big blue fuzzy... thing. Doggett stepped out in front of him. "Who's doll is that Theo?" he asked, knowing damn well who the stuffed... thing's rightful owner was.

Theo looked down at his expensive Nikes shoes and muttered "Laura's."

"Didja ask her nicely if you could see that?"

"Yeah," Theo said defensively.

"Theo..."

"Okay, okay."

"Go give it back."

"Fine," Theo muttered. He stomped off and Doggett could hear the boy snap "Here's your damn monster back," and stomp back out of the room where Laura had been playing.

Before Theo could storm downstairs, Doggett grabbed his shoulder. "Watch your mouth, else I'll be havin' words with your Mama," he used that infamous tone of voice to make sure the boy knew there was going to be no tolerance for his bratty behavior.

"Okay, fine."

"I mean it," Doggett let him go. But he called after him, "And you shouldn't hit little girls either, Theo."

"I di-" Theo started to protest, then gave up.

As Theo sulkily went back down stairs, Doggett went to check on Laura.

Laura was sitting on the edge of Chris' old bed, smoothing down the fake blue fur of the creature Doggett gave her for Christmas. Politely ignoring the tear streaks down her pink cheeks, he sat down and said "I don't think he'll be bothering you anymore, baby."

Laura looked up at him. "Didja yell at him?"

"I always yell at bullies," Doggett said with a faint smile.

Always had. Always will.

"Someday, I'm gonna kick his butt by myself," Laura said hotly. "I'm gonna ask Mama if I can take karate lessons or-or-or boxing or wrestlin' or somethin' instead of dumb ballet lessons next year." She hugged her toy closer to her. "Or maybe I can do both... Uncle John?"

"What sweetheart?"

"Do I have to go to Uncle Parker's funeral?"

Oh boy. From boxing and ballet lessons straight to life-and-death questions. No neat segues. "Well, I think that's something you need to ask your Mama and Daddy, Laura."

"But maybe if you told them I didn't wanna go," she looked up at him hopefully.

"Honey, why don't you wanna tell them yourself?"

"'Cause," her eyes dropped guiltily down.

"'Cause why baby?"

"'Cause... I'm scared," she admitted.

"About what?"

"Ghosts," she whispered. "I'm scared of seein' Uncle Park's ghost."

Doggett opened his mouth to tell her there was no such thing as ghosts. Then closed it. Thought for a minute. Then, slowly said, "Can I ask ya something honey?"

"Okay..."

"Did Uncle Parker ever do anything to hurt you or scare you when he was still with us?"

"No..."

"Then why would his ghost do anything to hurt you or scare you?"

"I don't know... I just thought ghosts were bad."

"But Uncle Park wasn't a bad person, baby, so I don't think his ghost would be bad either." <<I can't believe I'm havin' this conversation>> Doggett stifled a sigh. Reyes or Mulder have done a better job explaining the mysteries of the afterlife.

"So... is a ghost kinda like a soul then?"

That worked. "Kinda." While Laura pondered this, Doggett asked her, "Besides honey, if you're not scared of monsters, why would you be scared of ghosts."

Her round little face produce a big smile. "Oh Uncle John," she chided him. "I'm not scared of monsters 'cause there's no such thing as monsters."

"Oh..." Doggett kept his face perfectly straight. "Speakin' of monsters do you like...uh... what I gave ya?" He reached out to pat the big blue cuddly plush toy from the Disney movie "Monsters Inc."

"Oh yes!" Laura hugged Sulley closer to her. "It's my favoritest Christmas present." Then she whispered. "But don't tell Mama 'cause I don't wanna hurt her feelings."

"It will be our secret," Doggett said solemnly.

"Promise?"

"Promise."

She spit in her hand and held it out to him. "To make sure," she said as he grimaced.

Reluctantly, he followed suit and they shook hands. As Doggett wiped his palm on his jeans, Laura wiped hers on the bedspread. "Can you set up the DVD player in Grandpa's office so we can watch a movie?"

"Sure," he said, getting up. "Let's go, kiddo."

Laura slid off the bed, clutching Sulley with one hand and her uncle's hand with her other.

**

Later that night...

As the dishwasher began to whir, the last guest finally left the house. "Chris, don't worry 'bout the clean-up," Mrs. Doggett said, swallowing a yawn. "We can do that in the morning before the funeral."

"It's okay Mama," Chris said. "I don't mind."

"Me neither," Doggett said softly as he entered the kitchen. "Go up to bed, Mama. Please."

Mrs. Doggett looked at her two youngest children and shook her head with a half-smile. "Guess I'm outnumbered," she said, drying her soapy hands with a pink dishtowel. Relinquishing the dishes to her daughter, she said, "Good night."

Brother and sister murmured good night as Mrs. Doggett went upstairs.

As Chris scrubbed the pans that wouldn't fit in the dishwasher, Doggett said, "I'm gonna go straighten up the livin' room... unless there's something you need done in here?"

She shook her head. "I've got the kitchen under control. It's the rest of the house that's scary."

"I've seen scarier," Doggett said dryly. "Trust me."

"Thank you for dealing with Theo today," Chris said softly before Doggett left. "And for talking to her about Park."

"Been eavesdroppin' again?"

She squirmed. When they were much younger, Stevie, John and Melanie had always ganged up on Chris for listening in on conversations that had nothing to do with her. "Well... kinda... but thank you." Then she grinned. "Even though I'm going to cry all night now because she likes your Christmas present better'n mine."

Doggett grinned back at her and left to repair the wreckage left behind the Mistletoe Monsoon.

As he picked up scraps of wrapping paper, golden bows and strands of tinsel off the floor, he discovered Melanie seated at the couch.

"How can you see in here?" he asked her.

"It's peaceful here," she said. "In the dark." She patted the couch cushion next to her. "Come sit with me."

Doggett put the tattered remains of silver bows and red and white tissue paper and put them on a pile on an in-table next to an overstuffed chair. He walked over to the couch and as sat down by her, Melanie asked "Where's Mama?"

"Told her to go to bed. Chris is pickin' up the kitchen... don't know where Stevie ran off too..." <<and I don't care>> Doggett added to himself bitterly. "What 'bout you? How come you're still up? I thought you would have crashed a long time ago."

"I could say the same for you," she said lightly.

"Ah, I'll be okay," Doggett lied. "Whatta 'bout you? How are you doin'?" His face was crinkled with concern.

Melanie shifted a little, turned to look out the window. "I'm fine," she said softly. She frowned, thinking about her answer. "I'll be fine. It's still... I mean..." she shook her head. "I just KNEW I was right... but still, to hear the truth... but... at least... I know."

Doggett felt a slight surge of unreasonable jealousy. Before the surge could cause a short circuit, Melanie added in an even softer voice, "And I can't imagine what you must feel what happened with your son. After what you did for me and Parker... I wish... I wish I knew... the right way to..." Melanie folded her lips, struggling for the right words.

"You can't," Doggett said quietly. "I wouldn't let you."

Melanie closed her eyes. Doggett was afraid she was going to burst into tears again. Although her voice cracked a little, she did not weep. "You are so Got-damned stubborn," she croaked out.

"Runs in the family," he replied, taking her hand. "You know," he scolded her gently. "You scared the shit outta me. When we all still thought that Park had AIDS. We thought... I thought... that you coulda had been HIV positive too."

"Oh," she reddened a bit. "I'm sorry, Johnny. I didn't even think. I was so wrapped up with Parker, I didn't even think to tell anyone that I was okay." She gripped his hand tighter. "And I'm going to be okay. I think tomorrow is going to be the worse part. When I actually have to say goodbye."

"I hate funerals," Doggett said bluntly.

That's why Luke's ashes were still on a shelf in his closet.

Melanie stayed silent after his last remark. She waited for Doggett to break the silence.

"Mellie, you've got to be prepared for the damn media tomorrow."

"Why?"

There are gonna be photographers and TV crews. All whoring for a shot of the widow payin' her last respects to the first known victim of Doctor Death." He shuddered at the new nickname Delilah had earned for herself. "It's gonna be ugly Mellie. And there's not a damned thing I can do 'bout it. They're gonna be on this like stink on shit."

Melanie made a tut-tut-tutting noise with her tongue. "Now where did you learn how to cuss like that, John Jay Doggett?"

"New York," he said oh-so-innocently.

"Damn Yankees," she giggled a little. "And speakin' of Yankees..." She got up and crossed over to the Christmas, so forlorn now without the massive piles of Christmas presents surrounding it. She got on her hands and knees and reached behind the plastic tree trunk. Smoothing her long denim skirt out, she stood up, holding a small box, wrapped in cheap red and green wrapping paper. "I got your partner something. I wanted to get it to you to give to her before I forgot." She sat down on the couch again. "I hope she likes it. I kind of had to go off on a wing and a prayer for her. Wasn't exactly sure what kind of things she likes."

She handed him the gift. Doggett smiled, holding the package carefully, as if it contained frankincense, gold and myrrh. "That was nice of you, Mel. And she'll like it." He added, "Else I'll kick her ass."

"I would," Melanie drawled, "put my money on her rather you."

"I'm bigger'n her though," Doggett whined in a wounded voice.

"She'd play dirty though."

"Yeah, she'd kick me below the belt and run."

"No," Melanie said. "She'd tell you how much she cares 'bout you and you'd just melt away." Confident that her little brother's ears were bright pink, she stood up and said. "I need to get to bed. And don't worry so much 'bout me, Johnny," she smoothed his hair. "I'm going to be fine. And I'm not scared 'bout the media. Let 'em come. Let 'em show Savannah what Delilah did to me and my family," she said bravely. Her smile trembled. "Thank you for believing me, Johnny," she told him. "You were the only one. I was so afraid you wouldn't. That you would be like everyone else."

"I was afraid I wouldn't believe you either, sis," Doggett admitted. "But... I just knew... no matter how much my common sense disputed it... I just knew..."

"Knew what?"

"That the truth was out there."

Melanie leaned over and hugged him. "Merry Christmas, Johnny," she whispered fiercely.

Doggett kissed her cheek and hugged her back just as tightly. "Merry Christmas sis."

**

December 26, 2002

Bonaventure Cemetery

330 Bonaventure Road

Savannah Georgia

11:23 AM Eastern Standard Time

Doggett never read the book, but he saw the movie and in his opinion, the only thing "Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil" got right was the cemetery. Centennial oak trees, timeless Spanish moss and quirky headstones here and there. Johnny Mercer and Conrad Aiken. And the gracious Stranger's Tomb. The infamous "Bird Girl" statue, harassed by hordes of tourists, clutching their paperbacks with her image embossed on the cover, was now absent. Protected by glass walls, fluorescent lights and rent-a-cop security guards at a museum.

Doggett sat perfectly still, as if the metal fold-out chairs were the most comfortable thing in the world to be sitting on. He pretended to be listening to the minister reading Psalm 23 while staring straight ahead at the polished oak casket. The box carrying Parker Davis' remains were awash with the flowers of the South. Jasmine. Magnolia. Amaryllis. Hydrangeas and day lilies.

Mr. and Mrs. Davis sat in the first two seats. Mrs. Davis, in a God-awful black straw hat, kept her face buried in a white handkerchief as her husband held his arm stiffly over her shoulders. His face, a mix of horror, grief and disbelief. Doggett emphasized with the man completely.

A parent is never supposed to outlive the child, no matter how old the child may be.

Next to Mrs. Davis, sat Melanie. Her short brown hair had been lightly ruffled by the morning's breeze. In one hand, she clutched the impromptu bouquet of flowers someone well-meaning plucked off the coffin and gave to her. In her other hand, she clutched her brother's hand. He gently squeezed it as the minister continued to read and she turned her head to smile at him.

On the other side of Doggett was his mother. Who, as if they were still rotten children prone to misbehaving in church, sat between him and his brother. Stevie, in a cheap suit he bought back in the early Eighties, stared at the ground. Mrs. Doggett kept her head facing the minister, but her sharp aquamarine eyes kept flicking back and forth between her two sons.

Doggett heard a sniffle behind him. Chris and Mike were sitting behind them. Laura was sitting in between her parents, in a grown-up dress, trying not to cry. Doggett heard his other sister whisper to her, "Baby, it's okay to feel sad. That's why we're here. We're all sad about what happened to Uncle Park."

Then Doggett heard the sniffle turn into full-force little-girl sobbing and the whisper of fabric moving as Chris put her arms around her daughter.

With the exception of Park's sister Melinda, aka "His" Mel, Doggett really didn't know anyone else at the funeral.

The media had indeed surrounded the church but by some tactic understanding, mercifully did not follow the family and friends into Bonaventure Cemetery.

"Even though I walk in the valley of the shadow

I fear no evil; for You are at my side..."

Perhaps the spirits of the dearly departed from long ago kept them at bay.

**

The minister closed his Bible and said the trite, useless remarks expected at funerals. The minister's words went in Doggett's ear and out the other.

"... and before we lay our beloved Parker Davis to his final rest, as requested, one final song..."

Doggett cringed. He didn't think he could handle one more badly sung hymn. Behind him, Laura continued to whimper.

The minister nodded at one of Parker's relations. He turned on the little boombox he brought with him and turned the volume up.

Melanie bowed her head when her wedding song began to play. Only then did she start to cry softly. Doggett put his arms around her and rocked her slightly. She dropped her makeshift bouquet to the ground, never to be picked up again. Later, it would be crushed under the feet of the men who would commit Parker to the earth.

"The sun and moon every day

Day and night mark my play

See the future in the past

Try to change or make it last

Go for broke don't regret

Get your hands dirty get you feet wet

Take your place use me well

I'm in your hands so make me tell

A broken dream seems unkind

But I can help for I am time

I can heal you

It's not a matter of slight

Only of sound

Let me... feel for you

Feel for yourself

The love all around

I can... lead you

Is you soul afraid

Of what you've made

Do you know the way

the spirit goes

All around on the wind

Distant whispers of what I bring

In the day in the night

Locked in the words of lovers delight

If I'm lost or mislaid

Just keep looking don't be afraid

In the eye on the mind

I'm everything and yours to find

I'm not far just discover

I'm in you for I am love

I can heal you

It's not a matter of slight

Only of sound

Let me... feel for you

Feel for yourself

The love all around

I can... lead you

Is you soul afraid

Of what you've made

Do you know the way

the spirit goes..."

**

Later...

Melanie stood at the coffin, arms crossed tightly. Doggett stayed seated in his chair, watching his sister. There almost no one left.

"Melanie?"

Doggett and Melanie turned their heads to look at their mother. Stevie stood by her side like an angry underpaid bodyguard.

"Yes Mama?" Melanie replied, turning to look at the coffin again.

"It's time," Mrs. Doggett said firmly yet gently.

Melanie nodded. Inhaled. Closed her eyes. Reached out to touch the casket one last time. Feeling the polished wood and the prickly greenery surrounding the flowers. She bent over and whispered something that only Parker would be able to hear. Then she straightened herself up and walked over to her mother and other brother. "Are you gonna ride with us, Mama?" Melanie asked as she took another Kleenex out of her purse to dab her eyes.

Doggett got off his chair and joined his family.

"No," Mrs. Doggett told her. "I'm going to ride with John." When Stevie frowned, Mrs. Doggett, tiny, frail and gray-haired, glared at her oldest child and snapped "You take care of your sister now."

"Yes'm," Stevie said sullenly as he took Melanie by the arm. Melanie politely shrugged him off, but walked with him to the waiting funeral limo. She knew damn well her mother wanted to have a private word with John and this was probably going to be the only opportunity for her to do so.

Mother and son stood, surrounded by statues of beautiful marble women leaning on crosses, tall shady trees and uncomfortable silence.

"Walk with me for a bit," Mrs. Doggett said.

Doggett grinned. It wasn't a request. "Now what did I do?" he quipped, walking closer to her. He crooked his arm and felt his mother's hand gripping the crook of his elbow. He was surprised that she actually needed his support walking. He always thought of her as invincible.

Well, her body may be weakening, but not her mind.

"First of all, I should wash your mouth out with soap for using such filthy language in my house."

"Knew that I wasn't going last long about that one," Doggett sighed.

"And I'm proud of you," she added quietly. Doggett looked down at her, completely surprised at the sentiment.

As Doggett wrestled within himself for the right response, his mother stumbled a little on a stone she did not see. "Careful, Mama," Doggett said as he steadied her.

"I'm fine," she assured him. "It's you I worry about."

<<Here we go>> Doggett thought dismally. "Don't. I'm fine."

"I'm your mother," she reminded him primly. "It's in the job description."

"Mama, please," he groaned. "Don't worry over me. Okay? It's Melanie who needs it. I'm okay."

"Worryin' is like lovin'. It can multiply so that there is plenty to go around," Mrs. Doggett replied. "I'll have plenty of concern and care to give to Melanie and still have enough to give to you and Chris and Stevie." With an aggravated sigh, she added. "John, you're a grown man, I'm not telling you how to run your life. I just worry. I think the last few years have really taken a lot of the spirit out of you and I just hate to see that."

"Work takes a lot outta me right now," Doggett admitted. "I'm... I'm just really tired, Mama."

"You should go home," she said, nodding her head.

"Yeah, we're almost to the car."

"No," she said quietly. "I mean you should go home to Washington. Tonight."

"You don't want me here anymore?" Doggett asked, subdued.

Hearing the hurt in his voice, she rushed to placate him. "I would love it if you came back to Savannah... I would love if even if you came back to Atlanta or Macon or... but... **I** would love it. And Melanie and Chris would love it." She tactfully did not mention Stevie. She said instead: "You wouldn't. You would not be happy livin' here. Your life is in DC with your job and your friends... I met that lady you work with. Miss Starkweather?"

"It's Mrs. Starkweather," Doggett flatly corrected her.

"Mrs. Starkweather," Mrs. Doggett corrected herself. "Little thing like her? An FBI agent? Just like you?"

"Uh-huh," Doggett nodded his head. "Little thing like her..."

"How does her husband feel about that?"

"He didn't like it much."

"Past tense, son?"

"He's dead, Mama. He was killed in a drive-by shooting a few weeks ago." Recalling a fragment from his haunted dreams, he added. "He was in the wrong place at the wrong time."

"I see," Mrs. Doggett said. "She seems to be holding up well." When Doggett snorted, she asked "You don't believe her?"

"I dunno..." Doggett mumbled. "She really hasn't talked to me much about it. What happened."

"I see," Mrs. Doggett repeated herself. "She is taking some time off of work though, isn't she?"

"They've granted her a bereavement leave."

"So that's how she was able to come from Washington to Savannah on a spur of moment notice."

"I didn't ask her to come down..."

"But she did."

"Well... yeah..."

"She must have been extremely concerned about you to come here."

"She's my partner. We watch out for each other. We have too. Someday, my life may depend on her and vice versa." When Mrs. Doggett looked up at him, her eyebrows rising in question, he added. "And we're friends. We do stuff for each other... underneath all the... she's a nice girl and she was just checkin' up on me."

"Then don't you think you should extend that same courtesy to her and go back to Washington to see how she is?"

Doggett knew he lost this argument. Still, his loyalty dictated that he persist. "What about you and Melanie?"

"There's still phone lines and mail service to and from Washington and Savannah, isn't there?" Mrs. Doggett pointed out to him. "Plus, Laura has asked me several times to let her teach me how to work this Internet-thing, so maybe once I get it figured out, I can start sending you B-mails."

"E-mail, Mama," Doggett corrected, forcing himself to keep his face straight.

"Whatever," Mrs. Doggett grumbled. "John, for some of us, Savannah is home and we'll never leave. For the rest, it's a wonderful place to visit. And you need to visit more," she scolded him. "Lots more. But you also need to go home."

Another fragment of a dream wormed its way up from his subconscious to the front of his mind:

**"And I never lost any sleep over it John... You might as well go... You belong out there, not here. You don't want to be in here anyway, I can see it in your eyes, son. You're dyin' to get out of here. You're dyin' to run away again."**

"It just feels like I'm runnin' away again and leaving y'all when you need me," Doggett admitted, embarrassed at how arrogant and how weak he managed to sound all at the same time.

Mrs. Doggett looked at him sternly. "What about that girl, your partner up in Washington? Are you just going to forget about her or are you going to master bein' in two places at once?" She softened her voice. "If we need you to come back, we will call. I want you to be happy John. That's all I ever wanted for my children. Son, do you know why I'm so proud of you? Especially today?"

Doggett didn't trust himself to speak so he only shook his head.

"Because you always do what's right, even when it's not easy. And it would be easy for you to stay in Savannah... but it wouldn't be right. You need to get home. You need to visit us more often, but you need to go home now. Back up to your friend."

"Because she needs me," Doggett sighed, feeling another burden being added onto his shoulders.

"No," Mrs. Doggett shook her head. "Because you need her."

**

Later on...

En route to Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

6:35 PM Eastern Standard Time

Mrs. Doggett had prepared a light, early supper so Doggett could eat something before flying back to DC.

"It's a miracle I got a flight from Savannah to DC last minute," Doggett commented as he watched the low country zip by as Melanie maneuvered her aged Blazer through traffic. "There were no flights to Savannah left from Dulles or Ronald Reagan when I was trying to come down here."

"I was wonderin' why you flew into Atlanta," Melanie murmured as she merged into interstate traffic.

"Yeah, but I get to fly to Chicago first, then Boston, then DC," he grumbled. "And I have to switch flights at O'Hare."

"Hope you aren't attached to you luggage," Melanie quipped.

"Shit, I just hope they don't make me take off my shoes again."

"What?"

"Never mind." Doggett looked at Melanie and blurted out. "Are you okay with me goin' home? I can stay, nobody is expectin' me back in DC until after the New Yea-"

"John," Melanie cut him off kindly. "It's okay. Really. Chris and Mike hafta go back to work tomorrow. I'm gonna be busy with the lawyers with the lawsuits and all..." she sighed.

Most of the afternoon had been spent discussing whether or not Melanie should launch a civil suit against Dr. Kullervo and the hospital. Melanie had no qualms about suing Dr. Kullervo but was unsure about suing the hospital as well.

It was Chris' husband that had tipped the scales. "Look, Melanie," Mike had told her. "Kullervo, you're not gonna see a dime from that bitch. She'll claim insanity or keep appealing or something. The hospital... well, they'll probably settle outta court just to keep the scandal to a minimum. And face it Mel, you've got to be practical. You've got bills to pay and half of your income is gone. I don't mean to be disrespectful, but you have to be able to take care of yourself. I don't want to see you lose your house and your car and everything else. Losin' Park because of that bitch was enough."

So Melanie agreed to file suit against the hospital as well. "After all, Mel," Doggett had told her, "the investigation is just startin'. If Tiffleton was in on it, who knows who else was helpin' her kill these people. Whether the Senior Staff and Administration likes it or not, they're responsible for Parker's death too. And the others."

The death toll by Dr. Kullervo's hand was now up to nine people.

Melanie was still talking, "... so that would leave just you and Stevie and Mama and I think Mama's tired of playin' referee 'tween you two."

"Well, when Stevie grows the fuck up, then Mama won't hafta be the ref anymore," Doggett snapped.

"Johnny, you know he's just jealous because you left and he got stuck bein' Daddy's whippin' boy for the rest of his life."

"That's his fuckin' decision. To stay in Savannah. Not my fault."

Melanie shook her head. "It's never gonna be good between you two, is it?"

Doggett folded his lips. There were still some secrets he kept. Even from Melanie. "No."

Melanie sighed and gave up on that topic. But she had a sinking feeling that the bitterness between the brothers would not abate. That it would have to erupt and burn everything and everyone in it's path before either one of them could achieve resolution.

And absolution.

For now, she left the topic of Stephen and John severely alone. What will come will come. There was no point in begging for trouble.

"Speakin' of movin'," she said, tactfully changing the subject. "Could I ask you something? And be honest."

"Sure."

"I am forty-three years old," she said quietly, concentrating on the road. "Parker and I got married when he was eighteen and I was nineteen. And, with the exception of the occasional vacation to Florida or up to New York to visit you when you were still livin' there, I have never left Georgia."

She took a quavery breath. "Every thing 'bout Savannah reminds me Park. I love him, we had a happy life. But it hurts so bad. Bein' here without him. And now knowing that..." she gulped. "I know I'll forgive Delilah eventually. But not now. It's too hard, it's too new to forgive right now..."

Only Melanie could talk about forgiveness. Her husband was killed and she had to be convinced to sue the hospital. Doggett's son was killed and Doggett wanted vindication. Almost a decade later, he still longed for that. An eye for an eye. A death for a death.

"I just... I don't want to be in Savannah anymore. I don't want to stay here. I love this city. I don't wanna start hatin' it because I am alone in it. Chris and Mike may be moving back to Atlanta in a year or two, his boss is making noises about a promotion and transfer. And if that happens... well, Mama's gettin' 'long in years, she's been talkin' about sellin' the house and movin' in with her sister in Atlanta..." she snickered. "Which means Stevie would be out on his butt..."

"Poor baby," Doggett said without a trace of sympathy.

"So if Mike and Chris move, Mama probably will too..." Melanie concentrated on the road. They were nearing the airport. "So what I wanted to ask... do you... do you think I would like Washington DC?" she asked hopefully.

"You would hate DC," Doggett told her truthfully. "But you would love Falls Church."

**

Just outside of Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport

7:15 PM Eastern Standard Time

"Got everything?" Melanie asked him before she sat the car door.

"If not, Mama'll send it to me," Doggett said, clutching his suitcase and briefcase. "I better hurry up so I can stand in line for two hours," he said as Melanie walked closer to him. He put his bags down so his arms could be free for the bear hug she was going to give him.

"Take care of yourself, Mellie," Doggett told her.

"You too," she replied. "Don't stay away from home so long next time, Johnny. Especially since there might not be any of left in Savannah for you to come home to."

"I'll visit when I can," Doggett promised. "You know I'm at the mercy of the Bureau and the X-Files, but when I can, I'll come. And if you're serious... 'bout movin' to DC..."

"I'll let you know. It won't be tomorrow or anything. It probably wouldn't even be six months. I'd have to sell the house, find a job. Plus with startin' up the lawsuit... but I'll let you know. I'll need somebody to carry all the heavy shit."

"Gee, thanks."

"You're stallin'," Melanie admonished her brother.

"You know how **cold** it is in DC??"

"You didn't mention anything about cold..."

"If you move to DC, you may wanna invest in mittens."

"Mittens? What are those?" she teased him.

"Call me if you need anything," he told her. "Or even if you don't."

One last hug, then Doggett picked up his suitcase and briefcase. "'Bye sis," he told her, kissing her cheek, then making himself walk away.

Melanie hugged herself as she watched her "little" brother disappear into the airport. She closed her eyes and felt fat tears slowly begin to trickle down her cheeks. "'Bye Johnny," she whispered.

With his all of his careers, soldier, police officer and now federal agent, she was always scared that every time she saw him, was going to be the last. She sometimes had nightmares of getting that dreaded phone call: "Melanie... it's Mama... you need to come over... something's happened to John..."

How bitterly ironic it was the man she had taken for granted, had assumed she was going to grow old with was the one taken away.

And yet, he was with her still.

In the spirit, anyway.

**

December 27, 2001

Washington DC

4:45 PM Eastern Standard Time

Doggett maneuvered his truck through the slushy streets. Spoiled by Savannah's wonderful weather, he shivered as he turned the heat up another notch. No ocean breezes or jasmine here. Only icy winds, grey streets and national monuments. Testimonies to man's illusion of greatness.

Drumming his fingers along with the radio on his steering wheel, he slowed his truck down as Pennsylvania Avenue melded into Washington DC Residential. Humming along to the song without even realizing it.

"I go out walkin after midnight,

Out in the moonlight, just like we used to do,

I'm always walkin after midnight searchin for you..."

<<I'm just gonna stop in quick, give 'er her present, make sure she's okay and go home>> he told himself. <<No big deal. I won't stay long...>> He peered through his windshield. "What'n the hel- oh, Christ, almighty..." he grumbled, slowing his truck down even more for the blond woman in a dorky stocking cap, a block ahead of him.

"...I go out walkin after midnight,

Out in the moonlight, just hopin you may be

Somewhere a-walkin after midnight searchin for me!"

She looked like a pack mule as she trudged through the snow toting her big black knapsack on her back. Doggett had recognized the knapsack before he recognized her. When the weather was nice enough to take the motorcycle to work, she carried the knapsack instead of her briefcase.

"... Today's Best County, 98.7 WMZQ," the way too happy afternoon drivetime personality chirped. "And by request, that was a classic from the great Patsy Cline, 'Walkin' After Midnight. More great country on the wa-" Doggett clicked off the radio as he rolled the truck to a stop. Hitting the down button on the power windows, he called out "What'n the hell are you doing?????"

Starkweather jumped, her FBI trained hand instinctively moving to the inside of her coat. "Jesus God, Doggett! Don't sneak up on me like that!"

"I'm in a big blue Dodge Ram, how can I sneak up on you? And that doesn't answer my question what the hell you're doin' walkin' in the snow at this time of day," he glared at her as she put her hands to her mouth, blowing on them. "And where are your gloves??"

"I lost them," she said nonchalantly. "So are you gonna yell at me until I freeze or are you gonna give me a ride home?"

"Get in," he leaned over to open the truck door for her.

Starkweather slung off her backpack and tossed it inside the nice warm truck. As she struggled to pull herself up, she griped "This Monster Truck is not friendly to short people!" Doggett held out his hand and helped her inside. She rubbed her purpling hands together and held them to the heater vents.

"Put your seatbelt on," Doggett told her as he put the truck into drive again.

"Yes Dad," Starkweather said obediently as she buckled up. "So what are you doing back in DC? I thought you said you were stayin' until after the New Year?"

"Change of plans," Doggett told her. "What about you? What possess you to walk out in weather like this?"

"It's thirty degrees."

"Below zero."

"Wuss." She pulled off her stocking cap. Strands of her blond hair stood up erratically, frazzled by static electricity. Smoothing her hair she added, "Besides, it's not like I ran a marathon. I just walked to the Wal-Greens that's like a block away. I was running out of some stuff like milk and cat food and I didn't want to do real grocery shopping since I'm moving in a day or two. Plus the car is making this interesting thumping noise under the hood so y'know, I thought I'd just take a brisk walk."

"Are you nuts?"

"No, I'm Jerilyn Starkweather."

"Pain in the ass."

"So what brings you to MY part of town, Special Agent Doggett?" Starkweather leaned back in her seat, her wicked eyes sparkling.

"I just happened to be passin' through," Doggett said innocently.

Starkweather lifted her feet. "It's getting deep in here."

"And I wanted to tell you 'bout what happened with my brother-in-law Parker," he added on a somber note.

She nodded and put her feet down. "Yeah. I heard part of it on the news. But considering the fact that my ass is probably going to get hauled in to testify, I'd like some more details."

**

A little later

Jerilyn Starkweather's apartment

"Damn," Doggett said, looking at the neat stacks of boxes. "Looks like you're ready to go."

"Yeah," Starkweather said, shrugging off her coat and laying it on another stack of boxes next to the armchair. "This is what I get to be doing on New Year's Eve. Lucky me."

Doggett noticed a cardboard box filled with opened Christmas presents. "So was Santa good to you?" he said, being a snoop and poking around the box.

"I told you the fat old bastard skipped my house this year. Those are all from Mulder and Scully and the Lone Gunmen."

Doggett held up a t-shirt that said "UFOS Exist. The Air Force is Fake" and drawled "Ya don't say?"

"Yeah, take a wild guess who THAT was from," she rolled her eyes. Then she grinned like a naughty little kid. "But... huh, funny. He didn't really like the shirt I gave him."

"Which was?"

"It had a picture of President Nixon and Elvis on the front with the caption 'We're Dead' underneath. On the back, it said 'Really really dead'." She disappeared into the kitchen.

"Kittykittykittykittykitty!" she called out.

Caesar Dictator, like the autocrat his namesake was, leapt off a tower of boxes onto the coffee table. He licked one paw, looked up, saw Doggett, hissed at him, tail twitching.

"You even think of bitin' me..." Doggett growled.

"Be nice to my cat."

"I AM bein' nice to your cat," Doggett retorted, still glaring at the tabby cat as he took his coat off.

Caesar lifted his tail and daintily leapt off the table and pranced to the kitchen. Doggett heard the whir of a can opened. Heard her being sickeningly sweet to the Spawn of Satan. "Hey, there's my kitten-critter! Hi baby! Worship me, I went out in the snow to get you canned cat food. Who's your mama?"

He reached into his coat pocket and took out the gift Melanie got for Starkweather. He was holding it when Starkweather came out of the kitchen. "So anyway, what happened wit-" Her eyes widened and then narrowed when she saw the present. "I could choke you right now," she fumed. "We agreed we weren't going to buy pres-"

"This isn't from me," Doggett told her, holding it out to her. "It's from my sister, Melanie."

"Oh," Starkweather said sheepishly, accepting the gift. "I knew that."

"Uh-huh."

"She didn't have to get me anything," Starkweather said, tearing open the tissue paper and opening the box. As she pulled out Bushy, the yellow and orange too-cute-for-words Beanie Baby, Starkweather mumbled, "She REALLY didnít' have to get me anything..."

Doggett shook with suppressed laughter as he watched Starkweather struggling to be nice about Melanie's gift. "She said she wasn't sure what to get you," he managed to get out. "I had no idea she was getting you something."

"It's... cute."

"Doc, if you don't like it, it's okay. I'm not gonna tell her."

"Well, he does kind of look like Caesar. With the orange and yellow and all..." She looked at the little toy again and then up at Doggett. "I just don't get Beanie Babies. They're bean bags with feet and faces." She looked at it again. "I'll have to find a good place to put this so Caesar doesn't tear it apart. I have a shadowbox. When I unpack it, I'll stick this guy in there. Hopefully, Mr. Destruction won't be able to get his paws on it." She looked up at Doggett again. "Tell her thank you. This was really nice of her."

"Okay."

"How is she doing?"

"Best she can under the circumstances."

"I like her," Starkweather said, looking down at the toy again. "She's a nice person." She looked up at Doggett with a fey grin. "And stubborn as a mule."

"Hm. Pot, kettle, black...?"

"Oh shut up," Starkweather shook her head and turned her back to open a box on the overstuffed chair to put the stuffed lion inside. As she was doing so, Doggett pulled out a slender CD jewel case, wrapped in garish holiday wrapping, from his back jeans pocket and set it quickly on the coffee table. He assumed his innocent face as Starkweather turned around again. "So," she said, pushing her long untethered hair out of her face. "Tell me ab-" her hazel eyes flicked down to the red and green package sitting on her coffee table. "You son-of-a-bitch," she scowled.

"Aren't you gonna open it?"

"Tell me," she groaned as she leaned down to pick up the present. "Why I'm not killing you now?" When Doggett chuckled, she snarled. "I'm serious! I thought we said no presents."

"A," Doggett pointed out to her. "YOU said no presents. B, you said no BUYING each other presents. And I didn't buy that," he said as Starkweather removed the wrapping paper and opened the CD jewel case. "I downloaded it from the Internet."

"You bought the CD-R though," Starkweather said sweetly.

"No I didn't," Doggett retorted just as sweet.

"Where did you get it, then?"

"Stole it from my brother."

Starkweather's mouth dropped open. Then she covered it with her hand. "Oh my God," she said and started to laugh.

It was the first real laugh he heard from her in a long time.

"Wow," Starkweather said, "I'm special. A two-CD set," She pulled on of the CDs out and read the label out loud. "'Loud and Angry Music'," then the label of the CD still inside the case. "'Not so Loud and Angry Music.' Nice... real nice."

"Thought you'd like that," Doggett said.

"Well, at least I didn't pack the stereo yet, that's tomorrow's job." She turned and maneuvered around the boxes to the entertainment center. Opening the glass door, she turned the CD player on. As she slipped the 'Not so Loud and Angry Music' CD in, she said, "You know, this really makes me look bad.

"Why?"

"Because I really didn't get you anything."

"I wasn't expectin' anything."

"Doing anything tonight?"

"Um... no..."

"Good. Because I'm buying dinner. So sit down and make yourself comfortable."

"Aw, Doc, you don't have to-"

"Sit."

Doggett sat down on the sofa.

Starkweather looked over her shoulder. "You are trainable," she purred as she hit play.

"Kiss my ass."

"Chinese, Mexican or pizza?" she asked, reaching for the cellphone that hung on her belt clip.

"Can we get pizza with thick crust?"

"I don't like thick crust," she whined.

"Okay, fine. Chinese."

Starkweather smiled as she hit one of her speed dial buttons. "Dominos? Yeah, hi, I'd like to order a large, THICK," she paused long enough to stick out her tongue at her partner, "crust pizza for delivery... toppings??? Oh shit, you had to complicate things didn't you..."

**

Later that night...

"Caesar, no," Starkweather said, pushing the inquisitive cat away from the pizza box. "Shoo." As Starkweather closed the pizza box lid and put two empty beer bottles on top of it, Caesar flattened his ears and skulked off. Picking up her half-full, still cold beer bottle, she leaned back into the couch. Resting her cheek against the cushion, feet tucked underneath her, she asked her partner, "So now what happens?"

"Well," Doggett took a swig of Bud Light before continuing. "Melanie's gonna sue. Kullervo and the hospital."

"How much?"

"Kullervo, as much as she's worth. The hospital, only seventy-thousand."

"Why only that? She could get millions."

"She could, but she doesn't wanna deal with all the bullshit to get it. And besides, Park, he loved his job and was good at it, but he didn't make that much. And you know she ain't gonna see a dime from Kullervo. And the hospital will probably agree to settle out of court for somewhere in between forty and fifty. Even if she gets forty, with the job she has now, forty will take care of her for at least two years or until she sells the house."

"Still..."

"Yeah, I know. It sucks. But... I think Mel thinks it wouldn't be right to profit from Park's death."

Starkweather shook her head. "Goddammit," she said softly. "If we only knew earlier." She released a ragged breath. Looked up at Doggett. Frustrated, she said, "You know Kullervo's gonna walk. I've been reading her medical history. Bi-polar. Manic depressive. Bulimic. Self-esteem issues. Emotionally abused. Plus she was self-medicating herself for depression. She's gonna claim temporary insanity and walk. Maybe the judge will order her to an institution, but... God, this pisses me off."

"I know... but at least her medical license is gone."

"Crappy consolation prize. I'd rather see the bitch locked up. Or drawn and quartered. Or buried up to her neck in a pit of fire ants."

"Well, we'll see how her trial goes. Who knows," Doggett settled into the couch more and stretched out his long legs. His eyelids felt heavy. He felt very warm, very comfortable and slightly drunk. <<I gotta be tired if the beer's hittin' me this hard>> he thought <<I've only had... three? I think...>> "Maybe hell'll freeze over and she'll get jail time."

"That would be a nice change... I just... I mean... Jiminy fucking Christmas, Doggett... WHY didn't Melanie tell you Parker was sick sooner?"

In a tight voice, he said. "Because Parker told her not to. Because he didn't wanna bother me."

"Bother you????"

"'Cause he started to get sick mid-September. Right after-"

"Nine-eleven," Starkweather covered her face. "Awwwwwwww fuck," she groaned, kicking the coffee table leg in frustration. She dropped her hands. "I'm sorry, Papa John," she said sincerely.

"S'ok, Doc. At least we know what happened. We've got the truth now. And Delilah can't do this bullshit to anyone else."

"I guess," Starkweather muttered as she leaned down to scratch the returning Caesar's ears. "Yeah... you're right. It's a good thing. And it'll be best for Melanie in the long run. She's been through a hell. She deserves closure."

"Speakin' of hell," Doggett said softly as Starkweather picked up the cat and placed him in her lap. "How are you doin'? And," he said, interrupting her before she could speak. "Yes I'm checkin' up on you. Deal with it."

"Like I have a choice," she said, absently petting her cat. After thinking for a moment, she asked quietly, "If I tell you I'm fine, you're going to think I'm full of shit, right?"

"Right."

She tickled underneath Caesar's chin. Caesar purred loudly as she spoke. "I miss him. For four years, he was big part of my life. Granted, the two years we were married sucked but... some days, it feels weird. Like he's just working late at the office. Or that he's visiting his parents in Minnesota. Other days... like yesterday, he was very very dead." Delicately, with her finger, she stroked the bridge of Caesar's nose. "He loved Christmas. That was his holiday. The first Christmas we were married, we drove all around Minneapolis and Saint Paul, looking at Christmas lights. And it was snowing and we stopped at this park and..." she smiled at the memory.

"We were acting so stupid. It was a kid's park so we were running around the monkey bars and the swings and going down this slide and we got into a snowball fight and it was three in the God damn morning and we both had to get up early but we didn't care.... and it's that kind of stuff I miss. Just the dumb stuff we used to together." She smiled, remembering. "He wasn't always... he was fun. He was spontaneous. And we liked so much of the same stuff. Movies and music and books. And cats," she petted Caesar again. "He got me this monster instead of an engagement ring because he couldn't afford a diamond at that time. And he loved photography. One time, after we were both done with our obligation to the Air Guard for the weekend, he told me to get into the car and we drove out to see the Bridges of Madison County. And he took pictures and we had a picnic and... I don't know, he and I used always do shit like that before we got married. He was like my best friend. You only saw the bad shit. The shit that made me draw up those divorce papers. You never saw when it was good between us...

Starkweather looked up at Doggett. "But the part that gets me the most... is that... all the stuff I miss about Ben..." she blinked a few times and swallowed, pausing. Thinking. She started again in a hushed voice. "All the things I miss about Ben, I was missing while he was still alive." She dropped her head. "Does that make any sense?"

"Yeah," he told her, scooting closer. "It does."

"Sorry," she mumbled. "Don't mean to... dump this all on you."

"I asked."

"I should have said I was fine."

"And I would have said bullshit." Doggett reached out to try and pet Caesar. Caesar swiped at him. "Ow! Fucking cat," he grumbled, putting his abused fingers in his mouth.

"Need a bandage?"

"No, but I need cat gut to string my violin."

"You don't play violin."

"I can learn..." he glared at the cat sitting smugly in Starkweather's lap. Serious again, he said. "And yeah... Ben was... um... Ben was... uh..."

"A prick," Starkweather finished for him. "You can say it."

"A prick," Doggett said. "But he had one redeemin'trait you get to keep with you forever."

"What's that?"

"He loved you," he said gently as she swiftly looked down at her cat again. "I dunno... maybe it's different with you and Ben... but that's what gets me through sometimes when I think about my son." Surprised, Starkweather looked up at him, her eyes warmed to a golden brown color by sympathy. He so rarely discussed his son with anyone. "I mean... I dunno, maybe I'm bein' stupid. Maybe I don't wanna let go. But... he loved me. And nothin' can take that from me."

"I don't think that's stupid," she whispered, closing her eyes to trap the tears. Eyes still closed, she shook her head. "That's not stupid." She opened her eyes. "Do you want some coffee?" she asked hoarsely, swiftly changing the subject.

"Yeah," he said faintly. "If you're gonna make some."

"I'll be right back," she pushed Caesar off of her and bolted into the kitchen.

Doggett leaned back onto the couch and closed his eyes.

**

Starkweather leaned against the fridge for a minute, pressing the pads of her thumb and pointer finger to her eyes. <<Come on Jerilyn>> she told herself. <<Gotta get over this crying bullshit. It's not going to fix anything. It's not going to bring Ben or Mom or Dad or anyone else back. Get your shit together.>> She blinked her eyes a couple of times, then grabbed the coffee carafe and began filling it with water.

As the aroma of Folgers filled the kitchen, she invented tasks for herself to complete to give herself time to stop feeling so emotional. Before getting the coffee cups, she peeked at her reflection in the toaster. Using her pinkies, she wiped away the smudged eyeliner. Then she poured coffee into two blue mugs, heaping loads of sugar into hers while leaving his black.

"I left yours black like you like it," Starkweather started to say as she left the kitchen. Then she stopped stock still in the doorway. "Oh..."

Doggett's head was tilted forward, his eyes closed, mouth slightly open. His arms lay limply at his sides. His chest rose and fell with every breath. Caesar was laying on his lap, tail curled up around his fluffy body.

"Cat," Starkweather whispered as she retreated back into the kitchen. "Why can't you be nice to him when he's awake?"

After dumping Doggett's coffee down the drain, she reached into the cardboard box that was holding the contents of the liquor cabinet. Felt around until she felt the squat bottle of Bailey's Irish Creme Liquor. She decanted it and poured a heavy dollop into her already sweetened coffee. Carrying only her coffee out, she returned to the living room. Doggett was still out for the count, now starting to snore slightly. "Damn," Starkweather murmured to herself as she sipped her spiked coffee. In a slightly louder voice, she said, "Doggett." She repeated herself. "Doggett." Then she tried what she thought would be guaranteed to get his attention. "John. John, wake up."

Nothing. His lights were out.

"Dammit," she muttered, standing there debating.

<<I should go over there and shake him and send him home. He's had a bad couple of days. Okay, beyond bad. He needs to get real sleep.>>

She stood there.

<<Jerilyn, with all the bullshit going on right now in the X-Files, him staying here looks REALLY bad. REALLY REALLY bad.>>

She stood there.

She looked heavenwards. "Fuck you, Ben," she said softly, setting her mug on the coffee table.

Creeping around the coffee table, she tried to coax her cat to get off of her friend. "Here kitty, kitty," she whispered. "Come here baby." Caesar lifted his head, stared at her. Bored, he dropped his head to his paws and began to nap again.

"Fucking cat," she seethed as she reached for him. Caesar yowled a loud complaint, but Doggett didn't even move. "Go away," Starkweather hissed at her pet as she put him on the floor. Caesar promptly trotted off to Starkweather's bedroom where he coughed up a hairball in of her favorite high heels.

Meanwhile, careful not to wake him, she wrapped her small hands around his ankles and lifted his leg onto the coffee table. After repeating the same action with the other leg, she unlaced his ugly brown hiking boots he had gotten in deferment to Washington's miserable winter weather. She watched him in apprehension as she slowly pulled the first boot off. His face relaxed and his shoulders slumped a little more. A soft sigh of contentment escaped from him as his head lolled to one side.

Starkweather retreated to her bedroom to rummage through some more moving boxes and came back out bearing a hideous golden yellow and black afghan she had acquired while a med student at the University of Iowa. It smelled like mothballs. Despite this, she threw the blanket over her friend. She reached for a throw pillow and tucked it behind his head. Pausing, she stood there, regarding him. She smiled and cupped the side of his face with her hand. "Yeah...." she said affectionately as she traced his cheekbone with her thumb. "You're alright." She smoothed his hair, just as Melanie had done a few nights ago but she leaned over and kissed his brow.

She backed away, letting him sleep. She sat down decorously at the other end of the couch and reached for a thick FBI casefile that she had borrowed from the X-Files and her mug. She balanced the mug on the arm of the couch and opened the file. Pulling her wire-rimmed reading glasses out of her shirt pocket, she looked over at Doggett again before putting them on. She smiled, shook her head again, slipped on her glasses and started reading as music continued to quietly filter out of the stereo speakers.

**

Later still...

"... Pieces of us die everyday

As though our flesh were hell

Such injustice, as children we are told

That from God we fell..."

He stirred. Heard music. Guitar. A woman singing passionately and sorrowfully and angrily all at the same time. Opened his eyes. Closed them again since the room was still fairly dark.

"...Where are my angels?

Where's my golden one?

Where's my hope

now that my heroes have gone?..."

He had already downloaded three-quarters of the song before he remembered she hated Jewel.

"...Some are being beaten

Some are being born.

And some can't tell the difference anymore..."

He opened his eyes again. "Aw shit," he muttered under his breath, pulling his arm from underneath the blanket to rub his eyes. He blinked his eyes in hopes of forcing them to adjust to the dim lighting of the room.

"... Amen

Hallelujah

Hallelujah."

Doggett pushed the blankets off of himself. Turned his head and saw her sitting on the other end of the couch. She had bundled her hair up in it's usual bun. But this bun was sloppy, held in place by a pen. Her glasses were sliding off her nose. So was the case file on her lap. Her arms were crossed tightly. Her head was bobbing like those obnoxious car ornaments with the oversized heads.

Doggett looked at his watch. It was a quarter to eleven.

He ran his hand over his face again, trying to wake up. It was so tempting to crawl back underneath the quilt and fall back asleep.

It was so tempting to...

<<You should wake her up and tell her to get her butt to bed and then get your own ass home>> Doggett thought as watched her sleep.

His feet suddenly felt cold. He looked down and saw that she had taken off his boots. He looked at his black socks and grimaced when he saw a tiny hole in the one of the toes.

As he pushed up the sleeves of his sweater and stood up, the next song came on. He frowned as he bent over her to take off her glasses. She must have put it on 'repeat'.

"Spring sweet rhythm dance in my head

Slip into my lover's hands

Kiss me oh won't you kiss me now

And sleep I would inside your mouth..."

He folded them up and placed them on the coffee table. He took the case file from her and set them next to her glasses.

"Don't be us too shy

Knowing it's no big surprise

That I will wait for you

I will wait for no one but you..."

He gently tugged at the pen until it was out of that knot of hair. He didn't notice the half-an-inch of dark brown roots, as her blond tresses fell around her heart-shaped face. She needed her bangs trimmed but didn't have time so she had pushed them to the side of her face. He skimmed his fingers over a small crescent moon shaped scar on her forehead. He had been with her, sitting right next to her when she got that cut. Their first case together. She had bled on him.

"...Look please lover lay down

Spend this time with me

Together share this smile

Lover lay down..."

He didn't recognize the song or the artist. He had meant to download 'The Space Between' by the Dave Matthews Band. He wasn't a big DMB fan himself. Thought his voice was grating. But he had heard her singing it one day when she thought she was in the office by herself. And he had teased her to death about it the rest of the day after she admitted she would "do Dave in a heartbeat."

It was rare when he got the verbal upper hand with her.

"Walk with me, walk with you

Hold my hand your hands

So much we have dreamed

And you were so much younger

Hard to explain that we are stronger..."

He cautiously slid his hands underneath her upper legs while wrapping his other arm around her back. Lifting her was not a problem, she only had to be one-ten, one-fifteen tops. Making sure she stayed asleep on the other hand, could be a problem. Or could have been, but for once, she was sound asleep. Normally, a light sleeper, the nightmare days and sleepless nights had finally caught up with her.

As with him.

"A million reasons life to deny

Let's toss them away

See you and me we

Lay down look see

She and he

By my lover's side

Together share this smile

Each other's tears to cry

Together share this smile

Lover lay down..."

He sat down again on the couch and stretched out his arm for the afghan. He jumped a little when he heard her mutter something in her sleep and curl around him more. Her face was pressed against his chest. Not an entirely unpleasant sensation. One of her arms loosely embraced his waist. He could feel her breathing.

He wrapped the quilt around each other and reached over to the small table next to couch and switched off the light.

The noise of the lamp switch woke her briefly. She bolted straight up, disoriented. Doggett said quickly, seeing that she wasn't one-hundred percent awake; scared and confused. "It's okay, Doc. Look, please. Lay down," he tried to calm her. She was shaking from whatever torment her subconscious had given her. "Just lay down and go back to sleep, okay? Please?"

"Oh please

Look please lover lay down

Oh please lover lay down

And you weep

Lover lay down

Cause it's over

Lover lay down

Say lover, say lover, say lover, say lover, say lover..."

"Oh..." she said groggily, overtired and a more than just a little intoxicated from the beers earlier and her spiked coffee afterwards. Her hand was on his chest" Okay..." Sleepily, she brushed her lips across his before settling back into his arms. "Love you..." he thought he heard her say as she yawned. He thought. Maybe. Maybe she said "Olive juice." He wasn't sure. "G'night..." she mumbled before sinking back into deep sleep.

"Could I love you

Could you love me..."

Doggett on the other hand, fought sleep but couldn't. For once in his life, he wasn't sure if dreams would be better than reality.

And he wondered if her photographic memory had powered down for the night or would she have total recall in the morning.

"Darling it's

All the same...

'Til we dance away..."

And would she tell him if she remembered.

"Chasing me all around

Leading me all around

Leading me all around in circles...

Say..."

He stroked her hair until he fell back asleep. "Love you too..." he slurred, also still drunk off of alcohol and insomnia.

The agents thought they were alone in each other's arms.

They should have known better even though both were technically rookies still in the basement that would always be Mulder's domain.

As they slept, both had strange dreams. Dreams that they would brush off once the sun rose on their intertwined bodies. Dreams they would try and disregard as they muttered their excuses and apologies for something that did not feel wrong.

Dreams about the dead, walking with them and talking with each other.

Dreams about Benjamin Starkweather, materializing in his old living room, looking down at his wife's face, so calm, so peaceful in another man's arms. The man she swore up and down was just her 'friend'.

But Ben did not show any rage as he did in life. Only a sad acceptance of the inevitable.

A man's voice came from behind Ben. A high, slightly effeminate voice. Ben turned away from the painful image of Jerilyn looking so comfortable in her partner's embrace and saw the spirit of a tall slender man with mocha eyes and straight black hair. "You okay?" He had a lush, slurring Southern accent.

"Yeah, you bet," Ben morosely lapsed into 'Minnesotan', the dialect of his childhood. "I'll be okay. 'Bout you?"

"I worry 'bout Mel... but, other'n that, I'm gonna fine." Parker Davis nodded. "Thank you for helpin'. You didn't have to..."

"Yeah, I did," Ben said, turning back to Jerilyn. "I owed her at least that."

"I gotta go," Parker said, almost apologetically. "Melanie..."

"Go," Ben tried to smile. "It'll be okay."

Ben thought he had been left alone again. Left alone to stare at her, stare at the moonlight glinting off the holy medal of Saint Christopher around her neck. Stare at him. Wishing he had the energy to hate him still, but couldn't. Wondered what was going to become of him, this limbo he had been thrust in when the bullets meant for Mulder ripped through his body.

"Mister?"

Ben looked down and saw a little boy with a button nose, aquamarine eyes and tousled blond hair looking up at him. "Yeah?"

"Who's that lady with my daddy?"

Ben knelt to the child's level. "Um... she's a very good friend of your daddy's."

"Where's my mom?"

"I... I don't know." Ben felt something he thought had been denied to him due to Jerilyn's stubbornness and ambition. "But I bet we can find her. And see her."

"Is my daddy with that lady now and not my mom?"

"Yeah," Ben said truthfully. "I'm sorry. But she's a really nice lady... What's your name?"

"Luke John Doggett," the boy said politely. "Do you know when my dad's coming home?"

"It's gonna be awhile."

"I want him to come home now."

"I know, but he's got work to do here, still."

"Can you stay with me until he comes?"

Ben took the child's hand. "Yes. I will," Ben said.

Finally, he got to be a father.

In the spirit anyway.

**THE END**

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