Where the Boys Are

by ML

October 26,2004
Title: Where the Boys Are
Author: ML
Email: msnsc21@aol.com (feedback always welcome!) Distribution: Yes to Ephemeral and Gossamer, or if you've archived me before. If you haven't, please drop me a line and let me know, and leave headers, etc. attached. Thank you! Rating: PG
Spoilers: Various S9 eps through The Truth Classification: Vignette
Keywords: Lone Gunmen
Summary: "So what do you want to do today?"

Note: This story is either AU or not. It depends on whether you accept what happened in "Jump the Shark." I'd prefer that JtS had never happened, but for the purposes of this story, it did.

Disclaimer: All the characters named in this story belong to Chris Carter, Ten Thirteen Productions, and FOX. I mean no infringement, and I'm not making any money.


Where the Boys Are
by ML

"Gentlemen, it appears we are at leisure," Byers said, as their surroundings morphed into the familiar surroundings of the Magic Bullet headquarters.

"So what do you want to do today?" Frohike asked, examining a loose thread on his sleeve.

"What we do every day," Langly said. "World domination."

"That's the other guys, not us," Frohike replied. "I have questions. For instance, where are we?"

Byers looked around him. "It appears we're home."

"Yeah, but most of the stuff that's here we'd sold off," Langly objected. "Who would have put it back?"

"More to the point, how did we get here?" Byers asked. "A few minutes ago, we were beside a desert highway, talking to Mulder."

"Hell, I don't even know how we got there," said Frohike. "Do you remember where we were before that?"

Byers shook his head. "Nothing's very clear. I feel like I've been dreaming. Was Mulder on trial for something? Were we there? I remember Mulder being gone." He shook his head again, trying to clear it. "Some of it seems more like a dream."

"Do you remember seeing Jimmy and Yves?" Frohike asked.

Byers thought some more. "We were investigating..." His dismayed look might have been comical, except it wasn't. "Oh..."

"Yeah," said Langly. "Not a dream, Byers."

Byers looked shaken. "So it really did happen."

"Looks like it," Frohike said. "You gotta stay with us, man."

"Yeah," Langly said. "It's a drag having to explain it all to you each time. It's not something I wanna remember, either."

"You're the logical one, Byers," Frohike said with a hard look at Langly. "Maybe that's why you keep `forgetting' what happened. I never heard of a ghost in denial."

"Didn't you ever see `Sixth Sense'? Langly asked. "It was full of ghosts in denial."

"Is that what we are?" Byers asked.

"Hard to tell," said Frohike. "Maybe we've just developed super powers."

"Oh ha," said Langly. "If that's the case, we should be able to do anything."

"Not really, Comic-Book Boy," said Frohike. "Most super heroes have specific powers. There are restrictions on what they can do. They have vulnerabilities. Didn't you ever see `Unbreakable?'"

"Okay," Langly said. "So try something. Fly around the room. Go invisible. Read my mind."

"Read this," Frohike said, holding up his middle finger.

Byers stepped between them. "Now now, gentlemen," he said. "Whatever we are, we should figure out what we're here for, and what we can and cannot do."

"What would you do if you could do anything?" Frohike asked.

"I'm not sure. Go find Susanne, maybe?"

"And do what?" Langly asked. "Haunt her?"

"Put a sock in it, Langly," Frohike warned.

Byers blushed. "I'd just like to know if she's okay. Do you suppose we'd know if she was, uh, a ghost, too?"

Frohike shrugged. "Dunno, man. I haven't seen any other ghostly manifestations. You?"

Langly blurted out, "I'd see if Esther Nairn really is in cyberspace."

"Yeah, you'd make a great ghost in the machine, man," said Frohike. "I shudder to think. But I say we try whatever we can. Doesn't look like anyone's going to actually tell us what we can do or not do."

"Not that we'd believe them anyway," Langly muttered.

x-x-x-x

After Langly tried with no success to will himself into the hard drive of his old computer, and Byers had assumed a meditative pose for who knows how long, they came to the conclusion that their abilities were, in fact, limited.

"Maybe we can't go anywhere that we haven't already been," Byers theorized.

"Or we can't go until someone needs us?" Frohike suggested.

"Why? Where did you try to go?" Langly asked.

"Nowhere. I was watching you guys," Frohike replied. "If we can only go places we've been, how does that explain the desert? Have you guys ever been before?"

The other two shook their heads.

"Well, let's try going somewhere where someone needs us," Frohike said.

x-x-x-x

The office was so quiet it might have been empty, except they could see the man at his desk, his head in his hands.

A knock at the outer door startled all of them.

"Come," barked Skinner, straightening his spine.

The Gunmen looked around frantically for a place to hide, then realized no one could see them.

Skinner's assistant opened the door. "Sir, I'm getting ready to leave. Is there anything you need?"

"No," Skinner said, his voice sounding rusty. He cleared his throat. "Thank you, Kim. I'll see you tomorrow."

"Yes Sir," she said. "The draft of the eulogy is in a folder on my desk. Do you want it?"

Skinner shook his head. "Later."

"Good night, Sir," she said softly, and shut the door with a quiet click.

"Whose eulogy?" Byers whispered.

"Whose do you think?" Frohike hissed back.

"Should we tell him?" Byers asked.

"Can we tell him?" Frohike countered.

"Why are you whispering?" Langly asked in a normal tone. "Hey Skinner!" he yelled. There was no reaction from the man at the desk. "He obviously can't hear us."

They regarded the silent man staring at the papers before him.

"He looks kind of gray," Byers remarked.

"Yeah, did you notice that his secretary did, too?" Frohike said.

"Maybe everyone looks like that to us," Byers said.

"Mulder didn't," Frohike pointed out.

"Maybe all this has something to do with Mulder," Byers continued.

"Well, that's a big duh," Langly said. "We just don't know what."

Frohike stood beside Skinner at his desk, peering at the papers before him. "Shit, he's retiring!"

"Can't blame him," Langly said.

"We've got to find a way to tell him about Mulder and Scully," Byers said urgently.

"Do you think it'll make a difference to him?" Langly asked.

"Of course it will!" said Frohike.

Byers and Langly joined Frohike behind the desk, surrounding Skinner.

"Skinner," Frohike said.

"Mister Skinner," added Byers.

"Hey Skinman," Langly bellowed.

Skinner seemed to flinch just a fraction.

The other two looked at Langly.

"What?" he said. "We want his attention, don't we?"

"Okay, on three," Frohike said. "One, two, three..."

"Skinner!" "Mr. Skinner!" "Hey Skinman!" The three voices chorused behind Walter Skinner.

He stood up, suddenly alert. The three men stepped back, though they felt no impact from the chair skidding through them.

"Mr. Skinner, if you can hear this, you're not dreaming," Byers said.

Skinner stood very still. He appeared to be listening.

"Skinner, they're not dead," Frohike added.

"Yeah, and I bet we could find them for you," Langly boasted.

Skinner didn't move. Curious, Frohike went to the front of the desk. "I think he thinks he heard something," he said. "He doesn't look like he's lost his last friend, anyway."

Skinner reached for the phone, hesitated, then pulled a cell phone from his pocket. "John? I think we need to talk."

The Gunmen strained to hear John Doggett's low tones but couldn't.

"No, not official business. Yes, bring Agent Re -- Monica, too." He listened some more. "No, I have a place in mind," he said. "I'll call you on the way." He hung up and shrugged his jacket on, sweeping the papers on his desk into his briefcase.

"Bet I know where he's going," Frohike said.

"You think?" Langly asked.

"Let's meet him there," said Byers.

x-x-x-x

The reality of their former headquarters was much more bleak than their remembered construct.

"Do you think we still own the building?" Byers asked. They'd purchased it during the short, happy days of their video game profits.

"It's Mulder's," Frohike reminded him. "We left it to him."

Police tape still fluttered around the door frame, but Skinner let himself in with keys, handling all the locks with a deftness that spoke of practice.

Inside there were still a few dusty pieces of equipment and furnishings. Also some things that were familiar, but not theirs.

"Hey, that's Mulder's couch," Langly pointed out.

"I think Scully moved this stuff here," Byers said. "I sort of remember something." He remembered fleeting moments he'd rather not: Scully's grief, her breakdown alone in this warehouse after losing her lover, her son, and her friends, all in less than the span of a year. Then she'd squared her shoulders, dried her eyes, and went on.

"Looks like Skinner's the caretaker now," said Frohike.

Skinner looked around at a knock on the door. It opened to reveal John Doggett and Monica Reyes.

"I hope he's better at security than it looks," Langly muttered.

"How you doing, Sir?" Doggett asked. "Something up?"

Skinner didn't look quite as determined as he had a moment before. "Come in, you two," he said. "Not much to offer in the way of hospitality, I'm afraid."

"Guess I shoulda brought a six pack," Doggett said, trying for a light tone. "I'd be kinda afraid to look in the fridge here. Too many science experiments gone wrong, I bet."

Langly bristled. "What the hell does he know? I kept a clean kitchen."

"Down boy," Frohike said. "He's just making conversation."

"Have you heard something, Sir?" Monica Reyes asked.

Skinner faltered a little. "I'm not sure. Tell me again what you saw in the canyon."

"Well, there was a huge explosion and it came from where we last saw Mulder and Scully," Doggett said. "It pretty much destroyed everything. There wasn't much to recover. Not enough to do a positive ID, anyway."

"It's been weeks, Sir," Monica said softly. "Don't you think we'd have heard something if they were still alive?"

"Weeks?" Byers said to Frohike. "I thought--"

"I don't think time means much to us any more," Frohike replied.

"What have you heard?" Doggett asked.

"This will sound strange," Skinner said. "It's more of a feeling."

"Strange to John, maybe," Monica said, making her own attempt at lightness.

"I was alone in my office this evening, and I had the strongest feeling that someone was trying to tell me something."

"Not Mulder? Not Scully?" Monica prompted.

"No. Somehow I think I'd know if it was either of them. But I got the very strong feeling that they aren't dead."

Frohike mimed high-fives with Langly and Byers.

"So what're we gonna do about it?" Doggett asked. No protest, no quibbling about what Skinner might or might not have felt. Monica just looked smug, like she'd known all along.

"There's hope for him yet," Frohike stage-whispered in Monica's ear. She made no sign that she heard him.

"Nothing yet," Skinner said. "I'm going ahead with my plans for now."

Both Doggett and Reyes looked a question at Skinner.

"I'm retiring from the FBI," he explained. "I'm going to go fishing. But the location and the catch might be different."

"What if they don't want to be found?" Doggett asked.

"You might be followed You might endanger them even more," Monica said.

"I have thought of that," Skinner said with a trace of impatience. "That's why I think it's important at this point to go about our business. There's still a lot we don't know."

"Are you going to try and bring them back?"

"Not if they don't want to come. And the way things stand now, I'm sure they wouldn't. I've been fighting for a posthumous pardon for Mulder so he could be `buried' with honor. If I can swing that, at least any official danger will be taken care of."

"But they'll still be in danger," Doggett pointed out.

"So are you and Reyes. So am I. We all are, every day of our lives," Skinner growled. "That's how we know we're alive."

"What is he, some kind of adrenaline junkie?" Langly snickered.

Byers elbowed him. "Have some respect," he hissed.

"Why? He can't hear us," Langly said.

"But he can feel us," Frohike reminded him.

Skinner went on, oblivious to the argument around him. "As long as you two are on the X-Files, you've still got a lot of license to check out whatever you need to, including threats."

"Yeah," Doggett said. "I still can't figure out Kersh's change of heart."

"Maybe it's as simple as finding a way to fight these guys," Monica said. "Having someone explode in your office is quite a wake-up call."

Skinner shook his head. "That was too close for comfort. Whoever planted the magnetite in there --" he shook his head. "I guess we'll never know."

"You sure you shouldn't stay inside the FBI?" Doggett asked.

"You and Agent Reyes will have to be the ones inside," said Skinner. "With Kersh's help, I hope."

"I still don't know about Kersh," repeated Doggett. "I feel like he could go one way or the other, you know?"

"I think he's still a by-the-book guy," Skinner continued. "If you don't try to piss him off all the time the way Mulder did, you should be okay."

"I don't think anyone could beat Mulder in that department," Doggett replied.

Frohike swaggered over to Skinner and clapped a hand on his back. "Louie," he said in his best Bogart, which wasn't very good, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

Skinner looked momentarily startled.

"You okay, Sir?" Doggett asked.

"Yeah," said Skinman. "Just a funny feeling."

"Goose walked over your grave?"

"No," he said slowly. "Not like that. Different feeling." He half smiled.

"You're not gonna go all Monica on me, are you?" Doggett asked.

"What's that supposed to mean?" Monica asked indignantly.

"Maybe just that you're more optimistic than he is," Skinner said. "I think that's what this is. It's been a while since I've felt anything like it."

Monica smiled, and Doggett just looked bemused.

Byers smiled, too.

"What are you so happy about?" Langly asked.

Byers said, "Gentlemen, I think we might have discovered another reason for hanging around."

end.

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