Part 1
The Needs of the Many

The end of one road is sometimes
the beginning of another.

SPOILERS: post-ep for Jump the Shark
DISCLAIMER: Not mine; they belong to FOX, CC, etc.

Notes: This story is intended as the beginning of a series that rewrites the end of season 9 and then branches off in its own direction. Each part is meant as a stand-alone piece, without any cliff-hangers between parts. There's no guarantee, however, how often I will post or how soon the series will be finished. So, if that qualifies as a WIP to you, read at your own risk. But I prefer to think of it as a series, not a WIP (a fine distinction, I know).

Thanks to Obfusc8er for the helpful feedback.

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The three comrades stood there for a long moment, gazing their final goodbyes to their friends on the other side of the glass. As one, they slowly turned back toward the spectacle across the enclosed space to face their fate. The noxious fumes emanating from the disintegrating carrier were already making them lightheaded, and without vocalizing it, each understood that the end was near. Although the three had not often displayed physical affection with each other, loathe to fuel rumors that the roommates were anything more than business partners, Frohike reached out a hand to each of his buddies. Clinging tightly to one another for courage, one by one they lost consciousness, their hands finally slipping from one another's grasp as they slumped to the floor, their bodies awaiting retrieval by the hazmat team that now stood assembled on the other side of the airtight divider.

* * *

"Wake up."

Frohike knew that gruff voice was somehow familiar, although he couldn't quite place it. After a few blinks to clear his vision, even without his glasses he could discern the face that now hovered over him.

Closing his eyes again, he sighed. "It's worse than I thought. We're in hell."

The black man in the lab coat only sneered at him as he tossed a set of scrubs at Frohike and then moved on to wake Langly, who was still unconscious in the next bed over. "We haven't got time for this. You need to get moving as soon as possible."

When, in turn, Byers had finally been awakened by the "doctor," it was clear he was just as puzzled as the other two at their situation. "Deputy Director Kersh? What are you doing here? Better yet, what are we doing here? Shouldn't we all be dead?"

"You will be soon enough if you don't get dressed and get out of here. We only have five minutes before the security system will be back online. I'll explain everything to you once we're outside."

After hesitant glances were shared among the threesome, they silently agreed to set aside their modesty and doubts and not look this gift horse in the mouth just yet. Within a minute, they were ready to go and joined the anxious "Dr." Kersh at the door. Sprinting down hallways with cautious glances at each junction, he didn't bother to look back to see if they were keeping up with him. Finally, the party made it out a side door into the darkness of the night and made one last sprint for a gap in the fence that surrounded this mysterious complex. Now shielded by heavy brush, Kersh slowed their pace to a brisk walk, and they soon emerged at a clearing housing a black SUV.

Expecting his escapees to follow him, Kersh unlocked the vehicle and climbed into the driver's seat. But the three hesitated; Kersh rolled down the window on the passenger side to hiss at them, "Get inside! We're not in the clear yet!"

Instead of complying, Frohike leaned into the window, his casual stance asserting their position. "Not so fast, there, G-Man. We have no idea where you're taking us. Don't you think it's about time you explained a few things?"

Kersh took a deep breath, trying to rein in his anger. "There's no time! Get inside and I'll explain it to you on the way!"

With a look at his two compadres, Frohike nodded, and they all piled into the vehicle, which sped off into the night before they even managed to close their doors. Once they were inside, their driver couldn't help but fire his parting shot. "Now I can see why you and Mulder were such good friends."

The interior of the vehicle remained silent as they jostled along through the brush and finally emerged onto a side road. Kersh kept an eye on the rearview mirror, but there was no evidence yet that they had been followed.

Feeling he could now risk dividing their driver's attention, Byers spoke up. "With all due respect, sir, we still have no idea--"

"You're not in hell, as your friend there so astutely concluded. As you can tell, the toxin you were exposed to was not fatal. The virus was engineered to kill only its carrier--but he was supposed to be alone, where he could easily be retrieved. You three bumbling idiots stumbled into the scenario, but you couldn't be allowed to bear witness to what you saw. The hazmat team retrieved you after you passed out from the fumes, or just plain fainted, for all I know."

Frohike interrupted. "It was a test, wasn't it? By our government. They were testing a means of transporting a bioweapon so it could be used on foreign soil."

Kersh didn't confirm his assumptions, nor did he correct them. "To ensure your silence on the matter, you were pronounced dead, victims of the virus that was otherwise contained before taking further lives. If it's any consolation, you died heroes. However, your lives must remain forfeit. If you were to be discovered alive, they would not hesitate to kill you on sight."

Langly piped up. "If we're supposed to be dead, why did they bother to let us live in the first place?"

Frohike answered before Kersh could respond. "To be lab rats, you ninny. Why waste good bodies when you have fatal diseases to test out?"

"What I don't understand, sir, is why you're helping us."

Kersh met Byers' eyes in the mirror before answering him. "You can't be a player in this game without controlling part of the board. Let's just say I got tired of being someone else's pawn."

The passengers felt the vehicle come to a stop and looked out to see that they were in the parking lot for a commuter rail stop. Kersh put the SUV in park and then got out and walked around to the back of the vehicle. The threesome took this as their cue, realizing this was their final destination, and joined him outside. As they met around the back, Kersh was pulling out a black duffel bag, which he handed to Byers.

"Inside you'll find nondescript clothing, some cash, and new identities. This will get you started, but where you go from here and how you get by is entirely up to you. I know all about you three and your inclination to be government watchdogs, but I strongly suggest that you not pursue this case any further or try to go public with what you think you know about this biotoxin. As long as you remain in hiding, you will be left alone. However, if you go public, you'll be hunted down like dogs. Besides, no one will believe your story except for those who are already inclined to believe, and they need no proof. So you'd be wasting your lives for nothing, which means that I would be wasting my time, and I don't like wasting my time. Do you understand me?"

Only Langly looked intimidated, but all three nodded in acquiescence, if only to acknowledge that they did indeed understand his message. With no further words, Kersh closed the back of the SUV, walked around to the front, and drove away. The former Lone Gunmen stood there in the silence of the night, their entire futures resting in a single duffel bag.

* * *

It was the middle of morning rush hour by the time the three arrived at the Greyhound station in Baltimore, but the eddying crowd allowed them greater anonymity as Byers approached locker 143. As nonchalantly as possible, he retrieved its contents and strolled over to the men's bathroom, soon followed by his two buddies, who had been standing watch from separate posts across the room.

Once the bathroom had momentarily cleared, the three slipped into the handicapped stall and distributed their goods.

Byers opened the briefcase he had retrieved and doled out a set of identities to each of them, consisting of drivers' licenses, passports, social security cards, and credit cards. While it was true that they had exhausted almost all of their financial resources for the newsletter, they had long ago agreed that the "emergency fund" could never be touched, even if they had to go bankrupt. It now appeared that their decision had paid off.

The briefcase contained some additional papers and a few mustaches and beards to be used for disguises, but they would have to make do with their current clothing until they could buy some more. The best that could be said for their current attire was that it bore no resemblance to the normal wardrobes of each, but Byers clearly looked the least comfortable, even though he was the most respectably dressed, in a polo shirt and a pair of khakis.

"Where to first?" Langly liberated his golden locks from the baseball cap he had been wearing all morning.

"I think we should put some more distance between us and Washington, and then send up the flare to Mulder," Frohike replied.

"Do you think he's still checking the message board?" Byers queried. "We set up that plan before he left, but all bets were off after the incident with the train. Even Scully doesn't seem to know how to contact him now."

"It's our best option," Frohike countered. "If he doesn't reply, I say we go looking for him."

Langly looked doubtful. "But where? If Mulder's gone low tech, there's no way to track him."

"I've got a few ideas where he might be hiding out," Frohike said. "Besides, you got any better suggestions?"

Unpersuaded, Langly prodded, "Why are you so sure we can trust this Kersh guy, anyway? For all we know, he's just using us to lead him to Mulder."

Frohike shot back, "What's the matter, Blondie? You don't think we can outsmart a few men in black? I don't know about you, but I don't plan on being followed."

Byers cleared his throat, interrupting the squabble. "Actually, there's somewhere else I need to go."

"Where?" Langly and Frohike said together, with matching puzzled expressions.

"Bakersfield, California."

When he didn't elaborate, Frohike prompted him. "What's in Bakersfield?"

"Holly Johnson."

Frohike nodded in recognition. "Suzanne Modeski. You've kept in touch with her this whole time, haven't you?"

"No, we haven't actually corresponded, but I've kept an eye on her--for her own safety, of course."

"Uh huh." Frohike didn't sound convinced.

"I have to find her. If our deaths made national news, which they very well may have, then she'll think we're dead. I have to let her know that I'm okay. I owe her that much."

The bathroom door opened, admitting a pair of men engrossed in conversation. The trio in the stall moved closer to the corner, hoping their feet could not be seen, and then Frohike returned his attention to his friend. He spoke softly to avoid detection, but also in empathy. "You're still in love with her, aren't you?"

Byers didn't answer directly but dropped his eyes self-consciously. Frohike responded with a friendly slap on the shoulder. "Why is it that we always fall in love with the women we can't have? Best of luck, my friend. Just don't forget about us old bachelors--"

"Who are you calling old, Hickey? You're the one who's over the hill."

"Keep a lid on it, Langly, or I'll turn you in to the feds myself." He turned back to Byers. "As I was saying, don't forget about us. If things don't work out with your chickadee, come find us. Or, hell, even if they do work out. We wouldn't mind seeing her again either."

"Speak for yourself," Langly mumbled.

Frohike rolled his eyes but continued to address Byers. "You're not really going to leave me alone with him, are you?"

"Sorry, but this is something I have to do."

The increased buzz in the room indicated the rise in traffic. It was inevitable that they could not remain concealed for much longer, so it was only to be expected when their farewells were interrupted by a pounding on the stall door.

"Hey, buddy, you need a laxative or something? Quit hogging the stall. Some of us have got buses to catch!"

"Keep your shorts on!" Langly yelled in annoyance.

Frohike turned from the distraction and extended his hand to Byers. "Good luck, man. I hope our paths cross again soon." But he shortly released the hand and said, "Oh, hell," surprising his buddy with a warm hug instead.

The two soon pulled apart, leaving Langly feeling obligated to give a comparable farewell. Once Byers and Langly shared a brief, awkward embrace, they found Frohike hastily attaching a fake mustache, signaling that it was time to go. After Langly donned his cap and all three gathered up their belongings, Frohike opened the door and led the way out of the stall.

"Well, it's about time," huffed a burly man in a business suit, preparing to push his way into the stall as soon as its tenant exited. His impatience quickly turned into surprise, and then suspicion, as he watched a second and then a third man exit the stall.

All conversation in the restroom ended while everyone watched the three men file out of a single stall and then out of the room. No one was brave enough to enter the stall after them.

* * *

"What makes you think he's here?" Langly asked wearily as they trudged down the road from the bus stop.

"I dunno. I just have a feeling." Frohike readjusted his bag on his shoulder as he plodded along a full pace ahead of his companion, despite his shorter legs.

"Yeah, that's what you said about the last three places."

Frohike stopped and turned, allowing Langly to catch up with him. "Let's put it this way. If he's not here, I have no idea where else to look, so either way, I have a feeling this is the end of the road."

"Well, I'd sure like to find the end of *this* road. Why'd they have to put the bus stop so far away from the town?"

"Because the bus only runs along the main highway. We were lucky it even stopped there. Besides, we'd get there a lot faster if you'd stop dragging your feet."

Langly turned at the sound of a vehicle approaching from behind. "Walk if you want. I'm gonna catch a ride." He stuck out an upturned thumb toward the rundown truck, hoping for the best.

The truck slowed but rumbled past, and Langly dropped his hand in dejection. As Frohike turned to keep walking, however, he saw the truck come to stop a few yards away and then back up to meet them.

A young Native American man called to them through the open passenger side window: "You two need a ride into town?"

Langly heard his buddy murmur behind him, "He probably stopped because of the long, blond hair. It's a good thing you didn't flash him any leg." But he chose to ignore the comment and reached for the door handle.

Once they were on their way, the driver commented to his passengers, "Well, I can tell you guys aren't from around here. You looking for somebody?"

The two companions shared a look, and then Frohike decided to make use of the opportunity. "Uh, we were hoping to find the Hosteens. You know any of them?"

The young man shot them a sideways glance and then returned his attention to the road. "Maybe. You friends of the family?"

"Friends of a friend, actually. It's our friend that we're looking for. We thought maybe they might have news of him."

"What makes you think your friend wants to be found?"

That response certainly caught Frohike's attention. After a beat, he replied, "The same reason that we don't."

Their driver nodded his head thoughtfully but didn't answer. They were now within sight of the loose cluster of buildings that constituted the main part of town, and he slowed and pulled to a stop in front of a small grocery store.

"Wait here."

Frohike and Langly watched with curiosity while the young man got out and disappeared into the building, but neither spoke yet. After a short wait, he reemerged, climbed back in the truck, and started the engine. He clearly had a destination in mind, so they rode along in expectation, eager to see where this promising lead might take them.

When they again pulled to a stop, this time in front of a trailer beyond the edge of town, their driver disembarked without a word to his passengers, so they watched from the vehicle as he approached the front door. Before he reached the steps, the door opened slightly, but not yet enough for the inhabitant to be seen. A moment later, however, the door opened fully, and a familiar face was staring straight at the two men, his broad smile indicating that he had already spotted and recognized them.

They had finally found Mulder.

Now sporting a beard and looking a little grayer around the edges than they remembered, their old friend quickly descended the steps and paused for a word of thanks to the young man on his way to greet them. Having emerged from the truck as soon as they caught sight of him, the pair met him halfway. Frohike made no hesitation to pull Mulder into a hug, which was warmly returned. Mulder soon reached over to pat Langly on the back in greeting, and then he and Frohike pulled apart.

"Aren't you guys a sight for sore eyes!" Looking past them, he noticed for the first time their incomplete number. "Where's Byers?"

"He had a woman to go find." Frohike knew if anyone would understand, it would be Mulder.

Nodding in comprehension, Mulder followed the train of thought to the next logical question. "What about Scully and William? Are they okay?"

"They miss you." It was an understatement, but it was the most adequate description of Scully's state of mind when Frohike last saw her.

"Well, as glad as I am to see you guys, I have to admit you're not the pair I was hoping to see drive up to my door. What the hell are you doing here anyway?" He asked it good-naturedly, his thoughts only now turning to the most obvious question.

"It's a long story, and I'm sure we'll have plenty of time to tell it."

Mulder turned for a moment to wave to the young man as he called out his good-bye and got into his truck. Returning his attention to his friends, he proclaimed, "Well, welcome to New Mexico, boys." He stretched out a hand in invitation toward his trailer. "I'm afraid this place isn't much, but for now, it's home."

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Part 2