by Shan

Title: Debriefing
Author: Shan
Feedback to:
Author's Website:
Date Archived: 03/23/02
Category: Drama  
Pairing: Skinner/Doggett      
Rating: PG-13
Spoilers: One Breath, John Doe
Permission to Archive: Sure, just let me know.
Series or Sequel/Prequel:
Notes: Thank you Josan for my first virginal beta!
Warnings: No sex, some violent images.
Disclaimer: Standard XF Boilerplate. Don't own 'em. Don't make a penny, peso, drachma, ruble, yen, euro or pobblebead off 'em.
Summary: Immediately following the events in John Doe. Older memories surface.

The tying up of loose ends in Mexico had proved to be extremely tedious and trying. Just the task of getting out of Mexico jurisdiction itself had been tortuous, NAFTA aside, and it had taken all of Skinner's and Reyes' combined linguistic and diplomatic prowess to get Doggett and the body of Hollis Rice back to Texas. All those events seemed to move in a blur for Doggett, still numb from the recently accumulated memories that had come at him in a rush, in all their agony and joy.

The happiness and pain of the recovered memory of his son Luke, John found himself lost for long moments, sitting quietly while the memories washed over him. On occasion, he could hear Monica's voice, switching effortlessly between urgent English and frustrated Spanish, as she dealt with the tediousness of jurisdictional transfers and the business of returning the body of Hollis Rice to his family. He felt hugely grateful to her; for her persistence, her directness, her kindness.

Looming in the background, the deep voice of AD Skinner, attending to other details, the extradition of the cartel don, the coroners' reports of the two dead bodies, and dealing with an obviously displeased Kersh. John listened, somewhat distracted, to the patiently explained justifications of the actions of Agents Reyes and Scully, balanced evenly against the retrieval of one of their own. A hint, here and there, of the possible media ramifications, straining diplomatic relations between the two countries and golfing-buddy presidents.

"I'm so sorry, about Luke." Monica had said outside the cantina. "About your having to relive that."

Leaning against the dusty hood of the car, still reeling under the fresh assault of memories, Dogget had replied: "I'll take the bad. As long as I can remember the good."

In the relative cool of the San Antonio FBI field office, as John sat alone in the debriefing room, he suddenly wasn't so sure...

Bone-rattling concussion. Choking dust, a deep rumbling underground. Panic. Deafening silence. Everywhere, there is a sudden and unexplained bedlam. Something bright and white is flashing with blurred ferocity, blinding him. He could feel its raw heat on his skin. Screams that are his and not his. The sky falling in -

He remembered vaguely stumbling down the hall, and then the institutional bathroom tile slammed up against his knees, and if he hadn't been gripping the sink, he would have hit his head on it. His breath heaved in his chest, and he was shaking uncontrollably.

The rest of the past was coming at him like a freight train.

Walter Skinner had finally hung up the phone with Legal for the umpteenth time, and stood up and stretched. Most of the logistics had been taken care of, and the details ironed out. He knew they were going to have problems with the extradition of the cartel don; he suspected it was a fight they were either going to lose, or they would end up with a dead man. He drew some satisfaction from the fact that Pan American Mercantile, Hollis Rice's company, had been effectively shutdown for investigation into money laundering. And a missing field agent had been recovered. Not a bad day's work, all in all.

By that evening, the San Antonio field office was pretty deserted. Scully and Reyes had returned to Washington ahead of them, and offices had hollowed out per Kersh's earlier orders to scale back.

Which was when he turned his attention to Agent Doggett. He was overdue for a debriefing, and so he wandered down the hall to the meeting room where he'd last seen him. It was empty. He tried the other rooms, and, becoming a little concerned, he headed for the men's room.

He found Doggett with his elbows on the sink, his face still damp from the water splashed on it, his breathing ragged.

"Agent Doggett? Are you all right?" Skinner moved to stand beside him.

Slowly, the younger man straightened his arms, still leaning heavily. His face was bruised and cut, and even though he had been cleaned up, he still looked haggard and tired. But when he lifted his gaze to meet Skinner's, there was a look of anguish and pain that was shocking in its depth.


Doggett's knees seemed in danger of collapsing, so Skinner slipped a hand under his arm and, taking some of his weight, began to guide him out of the men's room. He got him into the nearest debriefing room, and sat him down. He stepped away briefly and returned with a couple of plastic cups filled with cold water. Doggett tossed back the first cup in a couple of gulps, coughed a little, and started on the second a little more slowly.

The coughing deepened, and turned into choking. Skinner fished the cup out of Doggett's shaky hand and set it aside. Doggett leaned back, blinking rapidly and squinting as if trying to peer through smoke. His arms suddenly flailed, protecting his head from an unseen object. It occurred to Skinner that wherever his agent was, it was not in the debriefing room in the San Antonio field office.

Skinner bent over the seated man, grabbed him by the arms.

"Agent Doggett!"

The eyes flickered upwards, unfocused, unseeing, agonized.

"John! Come back!"

Rapid blinking, almost a deep REM movement, thought Skinner distractedly. He shook him, yelled his name at him again. The blue eyes seemed to become more centered, to focus better. Doggett drew a deep shuddering breath.

"The BLT's gone!" he rasped, hoarsely. He coughed again. "The whole building -- it's gone!"

"What's the BLT?" Skinner didn't release his arms.

Doggett seemed to fold into himself, but Skinner shook him, harder.

"John! Tell me what happened."

"Battalion Landing Team -" tears were bright in his eyes, "Headquarters Building."

Skinner was mystified. "John, where the hell are you?"

Doggett tried to shrug himself free of Skinner's grip, then plucked at the left sleeve of his grimy t-shirt. Skinner pushed up the sleeve and looked at the tattoo that had been the big break in finding Doggett in Mexico.

"The 24th Marine Amphibious Unit." Skinner shifted his gaze back to the younger man. He struggled a moment, trying to remember the recent history. And then several things fell into place. "Oh god, John. Beirut. Were you in the Battalion headquarters when the bomb hit?"

Newsflash: 0622, Sunday, October 23, 1983. Beirut.

A yellow Mercedes truck, loaded with 12,000 pounds of high explosives wrapped in canisters of flammable gas, barreled its way into the atrium lobby of the Battalion Landing Team Headquarters Building. It detonated in the largest non-nuclear explosion ever recorded on the face of the earth, leveling the four-story concrete-and-steel building, killing 241 Marines, mostly from the 24th Marine Amphibious Unit from Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Choking dust. Falling concrete. Black smoke. Bright white sky.

Sgt. John Doggett, age 20, is awake and lacing his boots on the 3rd deck of the headquarters building at 0622 when the concussion throws him across the room against the window. He is still struggling to orient himself when the four floors of the BLT collapses in on itself, in a roiling sickening cascade of heaving concrete. Debris and shrapnel rain down on Doggett, who scrambles out the window and is able to find his way to the ground that is suddenly much closer that he remembered. In the chaos of flying debris and rocking ground, he manages to put some distance between him and the building before turning around.

Behind him, a huge shifting pile of rubble amid the thick black smoke and choking dust. Above him, where a 4-story building had once stood - sky.

Screams and cries break the silence. Growing.

Unsteady on his feet, Sgt Doggett looks around and sees other dazed Marines, most of them only half dressed. Behind them, coming at them at a dead run, other Marines who had been further away.

For a moment, they all pause, staring unbelievingly at the pile of shifting rubble.

The screams from within the destruction become louder, as the initial ringing from the blast fades a little. Galvanized into action, Doggett shuffles forward.

From a hill 4 kilometers away, a photographer takes a picture of the billowing black mushroom cloud.

...John Doggett scrambles alongside other Marines, trying to lift slabs of concrete that have pinned a man from his hips down. He's screaming in agony.

...Flames, fanned by swirling breezes, burn in the armory. Doggett ducks instinctively, along with the other men, as live ammunition is heated to deadly explosiveness, firing wild sniper rounds. a huge effort, four men lift a concrete slab, while John and a few others pull an officer free from the dirt. The man's lower left leg is hanging by a thin sinew of lacerated flesh.

...Doggett stumbles out from ground zero, gasping for air, retching at the smell of gunpowder, cordite and blood. He looks up for a moment, and sees a Marine, still in his sleeping bag, impaled through his chest on the twisted fender of a mangled jeep. Doggett turns away.

...two men are carrying a bloodied and screaming Marine past Doggett as he points towards the triage area set up beyond the perimeter.

...John Doggett climbs up into the rubble. He squeezes under a pylon and scrambles down the other side. He looks around and moves further in, armed with a shovel. Wires are still sparking erratically, and there are still small fires everywhere. He pushes further in.

The next void is filled with a surreal stillness and silence. John Doggett comes to a complete stop. As the smoke clears, the curving ground is littered with -- dismembered limbs. Arms and legs, blackened and bloodied, strangely angled, are strewn everywhere, smeared with dust and congealed blood. As though they were broken toy parts thrown about by feral insane children.

It is eerily silent in here, and Doggett is alone. Everything has a dusty gray coating, but bits of human hair and pieces of singed flesh are discernible. Doggett pales, looking sick, as he steps forward without volition. In the whitish grey, something dark attracts his attention. He moves towards it.

In the middle of the space, at the lowest point of the cavity, a growing dark stain. Doggett squints through the smoke, and tries to see more clearly.

A shallow pool of blood, being fed by steady dark drips falling from above.

He looks up and sees a couple of concrete slabs crushed together. Seeping from between the grey stone is the blood from an unseen body.

John Doggett turns and flees.

Assistant Director Skinner leaned back against the wall, his shirtsleeves rolled up, and touched the shoulder of the man who was curled into the tight ball on the floor beside him. It was late and the FBI field offices were empty save for them. He stroked the trembling shoulder and said nothing.

Eventually, the shivers subsided, and Doggett moved, beginning to straighten out. He struggled into a sitting position, leaning back against the wall next to the AD. He scrubbed his hands over his face.

"It's been so long," he murmured, distractedly. "I haven't recalled it this clearly in years."

Skinner said, "Didn't you say that the cartel messed with people's memories?"

"Yeah. That's what happened to Hollis Rice." Doggett stretched his shoulders and neck. "There've been people never got their memories back. I guess I'm lucky."

Skinner didn't miss the irony in Doggett's voice. "But you never really dealt with Beirut in '83, did you?"

Doggett shrugged. "They got us the usual psych-counseling. They weren't as sophisticated about PTSD in those days." He ran a shaky hand through his spiky hair.

"I hadn't thought about that room since that day."

There was a silence, and the two men sat there in the gloom, memories pressing in from the periphery.

"I lost a lot of friends in the BLT," Doggett finally said, his voice unsteady. "Sparky and Joe were in the second deck, asleep. They were crushed to death. Micky had to be pieced together by his DNA, and Rico - he was trapped in the concrete for hours. They couldn't lift slabs off him in time. He - he went into shock eventually, and died there." Doggett stopped, cleared his throat and ploughed on relentlessly. "Minola was medivaced out to the Iwo Jima, with massive injuries. He didn't make it."

Doggett suddenly dropped his head. A chuckle emerged from his chest, but it was dead and mirthless. "I musta dug for 36 hours straight. Couldn't sleep. Barely ate. They wanted to give me a commendation.' He looked directly up at Skinner now. "Can you believe a commendation? For what? For doing the only thing I could possibly do --"

A helpless unreasoning anger, still fresh after all these years. He was surprised at the intensity of it, and he dropped his gaze, shamefaced.

Skinner's voice was gentle. "It's survivor guilt talking, John, is all."

"Yeah, I guess," he mumbled. "But I told them they could keep their damned commendation."

A shadow passed over Skinner's eyes that went unseen by John Doggett, the brown eyes fixed on the past. The two ex-Marines sat side by side for a time, when the Assistant Director finally shifted a little, refocusing in the present. His eyes averted, his voice was almost a whisper when he spoke.

"I wish I'd turned down the commendation," said Skinner softly.

"Sir?" Doggett turned to him.

Skinner shrugged. "For Vietnam."

"You got a commendation, sir?" Doggett was suddenly aware of how little he knew of the Assistant Director's military service.

"Yes," answered the AD. "A Bronze Star."

Dogget frowned. "I don't get it - "

Something like a sigh passed through the big man's body. "In Da Nang. A ten-year-old boy walked into the camp, covered with grenades. Walked right over to the sleeping tents where a bunch of guys were off-duty. You could tell the kid was just doing what he was told. He had no idea..."


"He smiled."

Doggett turned stunned eyes at Skinner, who continued. 'The kid smiled. He was reaching for the first pin when I shot him. Took his head off from a distance of ten yards."

Skinner's words hung in the air, as Doggett dropped his gaze.

"It was for saving the lives of the men in those tents." He continued. His mouth thinned into a bitter line. "Most of them were killed in an ambush a couple of weeks later."

"But you did save lives," Doggett began. "You made a tough choice."

Skinner's voice was distant. "The commendation wasn't for saving lives." He was silent for a moment before looking up to meet the younger man's gaze. His brown eyes were full of pain.

"They awarded me a Bronze Star for killing a child."

"No, sir," said Doggett. He reached out and touched Skinner on the arm. "It was for doing something difficult to save those lives."

Skinner seemed to absorb this, finally dipping his head slightly in acknowledgement. In the quiet, with the office lights dimmed, Doggett could still clearly see the deep sadness etched in the older man's face. Skinner took off his glasses, rubbing the bridge of his nose reflexively, and swiping cursorily at the lenses. Not for the first time, Doggett wondered at the man behind the desk, the office, the formality. With his glasses off, Skinner looked much younger, and Doggett could almost see the 18-year-old that had set off across the ocean with his honor and his ideals and his innocence intact.

Both men sat quietly shoulder to shoulder against the wall, memories thick in the air, each one wrapped up in his own deep losses. Doggett absently stroked his tattooed left arm, then lifted the battered sleeve. Both men glanced at the Marine Corp symbol at the same time. Doggett was the first to break, looking at his superior.

"Semper fi, sir."

For the dead, and for the blessed memories that kept them alive.

"Semper fi, Agent Doggett."

All descriptions of the bombing disaster of the 1983 Battalion Landing Team headquarters building were based on eyewitness accounts of the survivors and rescuers. The Iwo Jima was the helicopter gunship stationed in the Mediterranean, and housed medical response team that received most of the wounded from the bombing.

Semper fidelis - always faithful.

Source -- The Root: The Marines in Beirut, August 1982-February 1984, by Eric Hammel. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers. Copyright (c) 1985, by Eric M. Hammel.

If you enjoyed this story, please send feedback to Shan