Title: Nebraska

Author: Emma Brightman

emmabrightman1013@yahoo.com

Disclaimer: Not mine

Classification: VA

Rating: PG

Spoilers: The Truth

Feedback: Yes, please. emmabrightman1013@yahoo.com Summary: A late night diner trip provides Doggett with some unexpected clarity.

Deepest thanks to JET for battling tetchy computers and office craziness in order to provide invaluable advice, and to Lilydale for being the most patient and encouraging sounding board imaginable. I'm very grateful to you both, as always.

- - -

The bell tied to the handle jingled as Doggett pulled the front door of The Cornhusker open, letting in a blast of icy air. Another mom and pop diner in another rural Midwestern town; they were all beginning to look the same to him now, eight months into the assignment that had him and Monica constantly on the road, following leads on suspected terrorist activity. Farmers stockpiling chemicals, background checks on anyone who owned a crop duster -- unusual happenings of any kind, and the two of them were on a plane to check things out.

It was a far cry from what he'd been doing just a year ago, before the X-Files office had been shut down. Budget cuts and the need to focus on domestic security instead of a bunch of alien mumbo jumbo, according to the higher-ups. Funny, there was a time when Doggett would've agreed completely with that assessment, but that time wasn't now. He was growing tired of traipsing around the country, following tips sent in by paranoid soybean farmers. Not that the work wasn't important. It just seemed somehow less significant and exciting than the work he'd done on the X-Files with Scully and, later, with Monica. He could hardly believe the day had come when he'd rather investigate manbats and supersoldiers than solve tangible, mainstream cases.

The diner was nearly empty at this time of night. A big man in a long-sleeved flannel shirt and worn Kruger Truck Line cap sat at a table near the front door, finishing a dinner of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and coffee, undoubtedly preparing himself for another long haul. The only other customers were a man and woman who sat at a dark booth near the back of the restaurant. Their heads were close together as they leaned across the table to whisper to each other. Newlyweds, Doggett imagined, or a couple of farm-grown lovers out for a night on the town.

Doggett looked away from them and approached the counter, his eyes darting to the nearly empty pie case behind it. Lemon meringue, Monica had instructed as she shooed him out of her motel room. The waitress who had served him and Monica dinner a few hours before sat slumped on a stool with her elbows on the counter, looking sleepy and more than ready to call it a day.

"Back so soon?" she asked, perking up when she saw him. She stood, smoothing the stained apron she wore over her wide, pink-uniformed hips. "I bet you're ready for some more of that apple cobbler you had a while ago. I could tell you liked it."

The waitress -- Martha, according to the nametag pinned to her cardigan -- patted the teased pile of frosted blonde hair on her head, then plucked a pencil and notepad from her apron pocket as if preparing to take down a complicated order. Her eyes twinkled a little too much as she waited for his response. He guessed it wasn't every day that a man from the big city entered the diner; the suit he'd been wearing earlier had been commented on at length when she'd waited on him and Monica.

"I did like the cobbler," he answered, giving her a polite smile. "But I was actually hoping for a slice of lemon meringue pie. It's for my partner."

Martha's face fell slightly, but she smiled. "No more lemon meringue, I'm afraid. Key lime instead?"

"That'll be fine, thanks. I'll take it to go."

"There's a fresh pie in the fridge," she chirped. "Back in a sec."

As Martha headed into the kitchen, Doggett turned around and leaned back on the counter, taking in the rustic surroundings. A few decorative plates hung on the walls, the kind his mother used to order from ads in Reader's Digest. Elvis decked out in his Vegas regalia. Princess Diana, complete with diamond tiara. A cloyingly cozy village scene by Thomas Kinkade. There were a few paintings of broken down barns and rickety windmills in the middle of fields of tall prairie grass, some of them with price tags attached -- the ventures of local artists, Doggett figured.

The Kruger truck driver tossed back the last of his coffee and stretched his arms overhead before pushing out of his chair and heading for the restroom. Doggett chuckled, wondering how many times he'd have to pull his rig over that night so he could take a piss. Quite a few if the empty coffee pot on the table was any indication.

The trucker had to pass the whispering couple on his way to the restroom, and as he lumbered by Doggett noticed that the man looked up almost suspiciously. Doggett couldn't see the woman's face since her back was to him, but he noticed that she jumped at the truck driver's heavy footsteps. The man reached across the table for the woman's hand, kissed it tenderly, and continued holding it after he placed it back on the table.

Doggett squinted at the man. Thanks to a burned out strip of fluorescent lighting the back corner of the diner was dim, but still, something about him seemed strangely familiar. Something about his gesture toward the woman and the way he sat, slumped but somehow graceful, rang a bell. When the trucker exited the restroom, walking past the couple and out the front door, the man took it as his cue to use the facilities himself. He squeezed the woman's hand before sliding out from behind the table.

It was then, watching the man unfold himself from his seat and stretch to his full height, that Doggett could finally see clearly enough to realize who he was looking at. He felt his stomach drop to his feet and his jaw follow suit. Of all the diners in all the towns in all the world...

Doggett shook himself and swallowed hard. If that was Mulder, then the woman had to be Scully.

"Here's your pie, hon. You need anything else?"

Martha's voice broke in on his reverie, and this time it was his turn to jump. He turned around to see the waitress proffering a see-through plastic container containing a generous slice of key lime pie, a few napkins, and two plastic forks.

"There's enough for two, so you be sure to steal a few bites from your girlfriend, okay?" Martha said.

Doggett nodded distractedly. "Thanks a lot," he said, fishing his wallet out of the back pocket of his jeans and handing her a five. "Keep the change."

Without giving Martha another glance, Doggett headed toward the booth where Scully now sat alone. He could see one of her pale hands resting on the table where Mulder had left it, slowly turning a half-empty glass of milk around and around. As he approached she tucked a strand of dark hair behind her ear in a gesture he remembered well, and at last he could see her distinctive profile.

"Come here often?" Doggett asked when he reached her side. It was so good to see her alive and well that he couldn't help smiling.

Scully flinched once again and looked up at him. Her mouth fell open and she gave a little gasp of surprise.

"Agent Doggett?" she almost hissed. Sitting up taller in her seat, she twisted her body around to look behind her, scanning the diner as if expecting a horde of FBI agents, policemen, or supersoldiers to swarm in and drag her away. "What's wrong? What are you doing here?"

Doggett felt his smile fade. Of course she would be apprehensive at seeing him. He slid into the seat Mulder had occupied, placing Monica's pie on the table. Scully crossed her arms in front of her and leaned forward, apparently eager to keep their conversation quiet even though Martha was now the only stranger around.

"It's okay, nothing's wrong. Monica and I are here on a case, staying at the motel across the road." He smiled again. "She sent me out for pie."

A little of the tension drained from Scully's face, and she shook her head disbelievingly. "It's so strange to see you again. And here of all places."

"I know," he said. "Monica's going to be sorry she didn't come back here with me."

Scully sighed. "How is she? How are you? Still with the Bureau, obviously."

"Yeah, they couldn't find a way to boot us completely so they stuck us with the crappiest detail they could find. Out here in the boondocks checking out farmers who've bought unusually large quantities of fertilizer."

"Big piles of manure," she said, smiling in a way that managed to seem both wry and wistful.

Doggett laughed. "Yeah," he said. "Exactly."

"So, no more X-Files?"

"No more X-Files. They were officially shut down around the time you and Mulder...died."

"Right," Scully said. "I guess that's no surprise."

Doggett felt himself redden with frustration and embarrassment. When Scully had left the X-Files to have William, he'd promised himself he'd keep them open somehow, for her sake, even if he didn't understand half the cases they pursued.

"I did fight to keep them open," he said. "Monica did too, and Skinner. But it was no use, not with all the changes in Bureau priorities right now. The DOJ had the perfect excuse to shut us down and they took it."

"It doesn't really matter now, anyway," she said, shrugging.

"I'm not so sure there's much any of us can do to stop..."

She trailed off, shaking her head sharply as if trying to rid herself of an unpleasant thought. There was something she wasn't telling him, clearly, something she knew that disturbed her. Doggett wondered what she and Mulder had discovered during their months on the run. One thing he knew for certain was that Fox Mulder wouldn't give up the search for his beloved Truth. On the lam or not, Doggett was sure that he and Scully had been busy digging into things that could get them killed.

"You said Skinner," she finally continued, breaking into his thoughts. "He's okay? And Monica?"

"Monica's great," he said, smiling at the memory of her as he'd left her a few minutes ago, sitting in the middle of her bed wearing a pair of ratty sweats, surrounded by files. "She helps keep me going out here on this shit detail when I want to quit."

"And Skinner?" Scully prodded.

He hesitated for a moment before speaking, but knew that Scully wouldn't give up until he told her the truth. "Skinner was encouraged to resign from the FBI before he was forced out. I don't think he could've handled staying much longer anyway, as disgusted as he was by the things he knew. I don't see him much these days."

Doggett saw the sadness in Scully's eyes and decided not to tell her that the last place he saw Skinner was a smoky bar in Arlington, where his former boss was drowning his problems in a bottle of Jack Daniels. Some truths were better left unsaid.

Doggett heard the bathroom door open with a squeak and then Mulder's familiar voice as he approached the table. "Ready for another slice of cake, birthday gir--"

Mulder stopped dead in his tracks when he saw that Scully wasn't alone, reaching behind his back for a weapon he no longer carried. His jaw clenched, the muscle there twitching with tension.

"What's going on?" he said tightly. "What the hell is he doing here?"

"Nice to see you again too, Mulder," Doggett muttered.

"It's okay," Scully said quickly. She reached out for Mulder's hand and he took it, sliding into the seat beside her but still eyeing Doggett warily. "Agent Doggett's out here on a case. It's just a weird coincidence."

"If coincidences are just coincidences, why do they always feel so contrived?" he mumbled. Scully chuffed an unexpected laugh at that, and Mulder seemed to relax.

"Sorry," he said, reaching across the table to shake Doggett's hand. "It was a little nerve-wracking to find you sitting there, but it's good to see you again."

"You too," Doggett replied. "I was just filling Scully in on what's going on in D.C., but the real question is how the two of you are doing. We've all wondered. And worried."

Mulder and Scully glanced at each other, some silent communication passing between them the way it always had before. Monica would say that they were psychically linked, that they could read each other's thoughts, or some shit like that. At last Scully answered him.

"We're fine," she said, not a surprising answer coming from her. "It's not always easy, but we're fine."

Mulder's gaze was intent upon Scully as she spoke, and Doggett saw him reach beneath the table to squeeze her knee.

"That's good," Doggett said, though he wasn't quite sure he believed her. "If there's anything you need. Money--"

Mulder pulled his eyes away from Scully long enough to look at Doggett and give him a small, grateful smile. "We're really okay, but thanks for the offer."

Doggett nodded. He watched the two of them, trying to make his own judgments about their well-being from their appearances. Clearly he wasn't going to get a straight answer from either of them; they were as tight-lipped and clannish as usual.

Other than a close-cropped salt and pepper beard, Mulder looked much the same as he had the last time Doggett saw him. A few more wrinkles, perhaps, but his eyes still had that smartass gleam Doggett had hated so much when he'd first met the man.

Scully was the one who really looked different. Her long hair was dyed a nondescript brown and hung in wavy tendrils around her face, wilder than the severe, straight style she'd worn when he worked with her. She also looked like she'd gained a few pounds -- her face was a little fuller, but she was still beautiful. Her eyes contained the deep pools of sadness he'd always known, but there was something else there, too, something almost like peace and hope, especially when Mulder was speaking to her, as he was now.

"We should probably get going soon," he said. She nodded in response and gave Doggett a sad smile.

Mulder stood up from the table, grabbing the two coats that were slung over the back of their seat. "I'll go pay the bill," he said to Scully, then turned toward Doggett, once again extending his hand. "Take care of yourself."

"You too," Doggett replied. "And if you ever do need anything, even if it's just a place to stay..."

"I'll remember that," Mulder said quietly. "Thank you. And listen, you can't tell anyone that you saw us here today. I mean, no one at all, not even--"

"Of course," Doggett interrupted impatiently. It was understandable that Mulder would be paranoid, but it still rankled to think that the man believed he was some kind of idiot.

Mulder placed a mollifying hand on Doggett's shoulder, evidently sensing his irritation. "Goodbye, Agent Doggett." He looked at Scully. "I'll just pay the bill. We can go whenever you're ready."

Scully nodded and watched him walk away.

"Well, I guess I'd better get going, too," Doggett said, taking the container of pie off the table. "Monica'll wonder what happened to me."

"You'll tell her I said hello, won't you?" Scully asked. "I know what Mulder said about not telling anyone, but Monica already knows we're both alive and hiding out and...I miss her. I miss all of you."

Scully blushed and shook her head, almost as if she were embarrassed and chiding herself for feeling lonely for those she left behind.

"Of course I'll tell her. She'll be glad to know you're all right. You are all right, aren't you?" He had to ask just once more, before she walked out of his life again, most likely forever this time.

"I'm fine, I truly am," she replied. Her gaze wandered over to the counter, where Mulder was responding to Martha's flirtation in a way that had the middle-aged waitress giggling like a schoolgirl.

"It's not the life I imagined for myself," Scully continued, looking back at Doggett and smiling. "But it's where I need to be."

"I'm glad then," Doggett said. He made a move to stand up, but Scully stopped him with a light hand on his forearm.

"There's just one more thing," she said, taking her hand back. She plucked a scrunched up paper napkin off the table, smoothed it out, and began to fold it methodically. "One favor I need to ask you."

"Of course."

She looked up from her folding and sighed. "I was hoping you could...I know it's a lot to ask, especially since you don't really even know her, but--"

"You mother's fine," Doggett said.

Scully's eyes welled up with tears and she looked down, folding the napkin again.

"That's who you were going to ask about, isn't it?" he asked gently.

"Yes. I was hoping you could keep an eye out for her. We weren't on the best terms when I left, because of...I just worry about her a lot."

Doggett covered Scully's hands with one of his, stilling them. "She does think that you and Mulder are dead, I'm sorry. That seemed like the safest thing for her, all things considered. We assumed that's what you'd want."

Scully nodded, pulling one hand out from under his to swipe tears from her cheeks.

"I know that she's all right, though. Your brothers are around a lot these days, and I check in now and then. She has a soft spot for military men."

At that Scully made a sound somewhere between a laugh and a sob.

"Yes," she said, wiping her eyes with the napkin. "That she does."

They sat in silence for a moment, then Scully took a deep breath and glanced over at Mulder. He was beginning to shoot her imploring looks as Martha continued plying him with to-go boxes of pie and her special version of Nebraskan charm.

"I'd better go," she said.

"Me too," Doggett replied.

They both moved to slide out of their seats, Scully seeming to struggle to get out of the narrow space behind the table. Doggett rose quickly and reached for her arm to help her out. The moment she was standing beside him, he realized the reason she needed help, the reason for her fuller figure, the reason for the spark of happiness and hope he'd seen in her eyes before.

Scully smoothed her blue sweater over the small swell of her belly, lifting her eyes to his with a look that was a strange mixture of pride, embarrassment, and defiance.

"You're pregnant?" he blurted. "Dana--"

"Five months," she said, nervously running her tongue over her lips. "That's why Mulder was so concerned about making sure you didn't tell anyone you saw us. We don't have just ourselves to think about now, and we don't know if it's going to be the same as it was with William."

Doggett felt a sharp flash of anger, thinking that the two of them were about to bring another helpless child into the endless, miserable crap that was their life. He wanted to snap at her about birth control, about responsibility.

It reminded him of Barbara, who'd wanted to have another baby the year after Luke's murder, and of the bitter arguments they'd had as he swore to her that he'd never bring another child of his into a world where children could be in so much danger. How could Mulder put Scully and another baby in the line of fire again?

His thoughts were interrupted when Scully spoke. "Life is so unpredictable, John." She took her hand from her belly and clasped his hand, squeezing gently. "There are things we want so dearly that for whatever reason we can never have, while other things, things we never wished for, come to us like unexpected gifts. I'm just living one day at a time, trying to be as happy as I can."

Looking into the depths of her blue eyes, Doggett felt himself soften toward her again, as he always did. There was some part of him that would always care deeply for Scully, almost long for her, in spite of everything. He knew that she was talking about her children -- the one she'd been forced to give away, and the one she was carrying now -- but he couldn't help wondering if she realized that she could just as easily have been speaking of his feelings about her and Monica. Another gentle squeeze of his hand and he knew. Of course she realized. Scully had always chosen her words so carefully.

"Goodbye," she whispered, reaching up to draw him into a hug. Doggett hugged her in return, savoring the softness of her arms around him, the firmness of her round stomach against his.

"Goodbye, Dana. Happy Birthday."

"Thank you." She gently pulled away. "Seeing you was a wonderful present."

"Be safe, okay?" he said. "All of you."

"You too. Now go take Monica her pie," she said, giving him a small smile as she walked away.

Mulder whispered into Scully's ear when she reached him, gently tucking a loose strand of her unruly brown hair behind it and smiling when she nodded. He helped her put on her coat before bending over to talk to her belly. "Are you okay, too?" he asked. Laughing, Scully told him to stop embarrassing her. Mulder took her hand and they walked out of the diner together, the bell jingling in their wake.

Neither one looked back.

- - -

Monica lay on her stomach in bed, reading a file in preparation for the next day's visit to check out a crop dusting company. The half-eaten slice of pie was beside her, and she occasionally took a bite, moaning with pleasure at how good it tasted. Doggett sat in the room's only chair, watching her.

"I still can't believe Dana's pregnant again," she whispered, as if suspicious that her motel room might be bugged. She was getting to be as paranoid as Mulder.

"Life's full of surprises," Doggett replied, standing up and walking over to the bed. He took the file from Monica's hand and placed it, along with the pie, on the nightstand.

"I thought you wanted to go over the information for tomorrow," she said, looking over her shoulder to eye her dessert with longing.

Doggett shook his head and laid down next to her, gently rolling her over onto her back. He propped himself up on one elbow, brushing the hair out of her face. Her eyes were such a beautiful brown, sparkling up at him.

"What are you doing?" she asked, smiling bemusedly.

Doggett smiled in return. "Just living one day at a time," he murmured as he kissed her.

end




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