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A Weekend In The Heartland

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"Mornin', Sunshine," Frohike said, and pulled the blankets off Mulder.

Mulder whimpered and moaned. "Already?"

"'Fraid so. Go take a shower."

Mulder sighed, staggered to his feet, and nearly fell over.

"Here's some aspirin."

Mulder took it, pathetically grateful. "Why'd you let me drink so much last night?"

"It's easier to talk you into incredibly kinky things when you're boiled."

Mulder blinked. "Like what?"

"Now, now," Frohike reproved. "You can wait for the pictures like everybody else."

Mulder mumbled something that didn't entirely sound like "What a terrific idea" and managed to wend his way into the bathroom. Frohike sat down and went over his notes and plans for the day while Mulder went about emptying the city's aquifer.

Mulder was in a much better mood when he finished. He sauntered back into the bedroom almost wearing a gray towel and leaned over, dripping water onto Frohike's papers.

"Asshole," Frohike muttered, but without heat.

"Where's breakfast?"

"Get dressed, and I'll buy you a Grand Slam."

"You are a true connoisseur, Frohike."

Frohike laughed. "And a great humanitarian. I'm not screwing with room service again. If I wanted food poisoning, I'd've stayed home."

Mulder snickered and wandered off to find some clothes, half-singing half of something half-under his breath. Frohike tried not to listen, but it was like an air-raid siren, really. The human brain just isn't equipped to block out certain noises. He eventually managed to identify it as Johnny Cash, "Ring of Fire". He was torn between laughter and disgust.

"For God's sake, Mulder, there's only three lines to that damned song. How can you possibly have forgotten two of them?"

"In fact," Mulder huffed, "there are four lines, and I've forgotten three of them."

"My mistake."

"Damn right." He emerged from the bathroom straightening his tie.

"You're going to have to start letting Scully help you pick out ties, Mulder. That's just awful."

"Little alien heads? I thought it was… thematically appropriate. Anyway, that's all you know. Scully gave me this tie."

"As a joke?"

"Possibly," Mulder admitted. "She did laugh pretty hard when I wore it the first time."

"What have you done to her to make her such a bitter woman?"

He shrugged. "Could be anything."

Frohike shook his head and collected his keycard. "Let's roll."

**

"How is it possible for you to get lost looking for a convention center and a freeway, and yet manage to unerringly find a Denny's in a town you've never been to before?"

Mulder grinned. "Homing instinct."

"You should be an X-File, Mulder."

"If I had a nickel for every time someone had told me that…"

"I wouldn't be paying for breakfast. What do you have on the agenda for today?"

"I agreed to another lecture for your friend Sarah."

"What's this one?"

"'UFOcals of the US'."

Frohike raised an ironic eyebrow. "You giving out maps?"

Mulder shrugged. "TREAT planned this one, too. Ramos has a lot to answer for."

"Isn't pointing people to UFOcals a conflict of interest for TREAT?"

Mulder shrugged again. "Drumming up business, maybe. Send people to high-incident areas."

"How does that work? 'Here are some places to go if you want to be abducted, and by the way, take some of our promotional materials?'"

"Something like that, I imagine."

"How many times do you figure the black mailbox will be mentioned?"

Mulder laughed. "I'm regretting I agreed to this already."

"You should be. I thought you were sick of Gulf Breeze. You're just begging for it with this one."

"It's Sunday. And it's an hour long. How bad can it be?"

"I'll remind you you said that when you whimper at me about it later."

"I do not whimper."

Frohike addressed the air with a fork. "How quickly they forget."

Mulder grinned. "Special circumstances. What're you up to today?"

"Lunch with some of the guys."

"I thought the big drunk lunch was yesterday."

"Yeah. This is just some of us watchdog press guys. Muck and Rainbow. And yours truly."

"Rainbow," Mulder mused. "Len Tasche? Convinced the CIA has a stable of trained telekinetics?"

"That's the guy."

"Did he ever tell you about the New Haven thing?"

"Only every time your name is mentioned. He is not a fan of yours."

"I'm heartbroken."

"Tasche didn't come to this one. He'd rather have his eyes gouged out with a melon baller than appear in the state of Indiana."

Mulder grinned. "If that's a fantasy of his, I could help him with it."

"There's that helpful, generous spirit I love you for."

"I thought it was my unconventional fashion sense."

"And your great ass."

"That too. How can you eat key lime pie for breakfast?"

"How can you eat anything that greasy? I hate to think what your cholesterol count looks like."

Mulder shrugged. "Are there rules about kale?"

"Never feed it after midnight and don't get it wet?"

"Very funny. I think the parsley game needs a subset of rules for other garnishes. Like kale."

"Keep your damned kale to yourself, Mulder. I need the car after lunch for a while. I'll come find you in the lobby around four. Okay?"

"Sure. What's up?"

"Meeting a strange man alone in a park."

Mulder raised an eyebrow. "Why?"

"He claims to have a story. If I don't make it back alive, tell Yves I buried twenty-five thousand dollars in a suitcase under the warehouse floor. She'll need a jackhammer."

"You buried…?"

"Of course not. But I owe that girl, and as I'm bleeding out from a gunshot wound to the torso, the image of her looking will make my final moments worthwhile."

Mulder laughed. "Can I have your video collection?"

"Only if you promise to tell the boys to stay off my desk."

The agent snickered. "So assuming you're not exsanguinating in a park somewhere, what do you want to do for dinner?"

Frohike shrugged. "It's eight-thirty in the morning, Mulder, and I may be dead before the afternoon is over. Strangely enough, I haven't really thought as far as dinner."

"Good. I've got plans."

"Ebben?"

"Nope. I plan to be sharing a pizza, no anchovies, with a good friend, and then heading back to the Batcave for some hot, sticky sex."

Frohike snorted. "Ebben would probably enjoy that."

"Fuck Ebben. I'm prepared to yield on the issue of anchovies, if you'll compromise with me about the green peppers."

Frohike pretended to think it over. "Well, if nothing better presents itself…"

Mulder threw a sugar packet at him.

**

They separated in the lobby again, where Frohike muttered the word "ufocals" before disappearing into the crowd. Mulder sighed faintly and squared his shoulders and went to answer some exceptionally stupid questions about high activity locations.

Most of the chairs were full, which didn't bode well. He walked to the front of the room and introduced himself, and then he threw down the gauntlet.

"There have been several Gulf Breeze events this weekend. I hope you all had a chance to attend at least one of them." He paused. "This is not one. I'm not answering any Gulf Breeze questions, so don't ask." He raised his voice slightly to be heard over the murmur. "Gulf Breeze is less a UFOcal than a high-traffic Frisbee airspace."

There was some laughter over the protests, and Mulder was sincerely relieved. He gave them a brilliant smile. "So. Let's talk about Dreamland, shall we?"

**

Frohike headed off to attend a lecture on "Biochemical Traumatology in CEIII". Not really his idea of a good time, but he'd promised Byers he'd record it. The speaker was from Journal of Scientific Exploration, and it turned out to be a surprisingly well-explained and concise overview of an obscure topic.

Afterwards Frohike hung around and chatted with the speaker, a relaxed-looking professorial type. They exchanged theories and cards, and Frohike left, delighted, with a new subscription. That made three for the weekend. Another one, and he figured he'd cover the cost of the trip, which made the three years' membership in CUFOIN a nice bonus.

Armed with a list from an early-morning call to HQ, Frohike checked out the seller tables, picking up a few more items the boys wanted, and lucking into some "Moon Dust" documents. He had some fun at the Black Vault table. Among the more serious wares, they were selling a variety of novelty items, and he got a "UFOs Exist—The Air Force Doesn't" bumper sticker for the bus, an alien-in-a-bottle keychain for Langly, and a "This Document Officially Does Not Exist" rubber stamp for Byers. He shrugged mentally and added an "Area 51 Tour Guide" sweatshirt for Jimmy.

Drose's cattle mutilations discussion was sidetracked early on by questions about black helicopters, and Frohike gave up. The questioners were clearly clueless, having gleaned the total of their knowledge on the subject, as far as Frohike could tell, from all those poorly-produced militia-style videos. He gave Drose a sympathetic smile on his way out the door, and wandered off to find the Patterson disinformation panel. Another Gulf Breeze fest, and he tried not to laugh as Bets became increasingly irritated and sarcastic.

Sooner or later, even the UFO community would become disenchanted with Gulf Breeze. It couldn't happen soon enough for most of the speakers at this conference, he figured with amusement.

**

Chad Lessek from Muck, and Werner Struzyna and Jeremy Tuperan from Rainbow were already in the lobby having an animated discussion of the government's current level of Zero Point technology.

Frohike grinned. "You boys don't still buy that old line of bullshit, do you?"

"There's new evidence…" Lessek started.

"Oh, sure there is," Frohike said. "Only, let's talk about it over lunch." He jabbed Struzyna. "If we don't feed Slim, here, he may provide us with a demonstration of anti-gravity."

Struzyna smiled tolerantly. "I'll just hold onto Chad."

Lessek scowled while the others laughed. "Okay, okay. Where are we eating?"

"We leave it in your more-than-capable hands, Chad," Frohike told him.

"There's an Italian place that looks promising… I took the liberty of making reservations." A round of nods. "Let's designate a driver."

"I'll drive," Tuperan said. "We rented a minivan."

"Wow, I'm impressed," snickered Lessek.

"Hard not to be. How's the ball-and-chain?" Frohike asked Tuperan.

"Don't know. Haven't seen her in weeks."

"You two aren't getting along?"

"We're fine," Tuperan smiled. "It's just between my job, and her job, we barely have time to email each other."

"You have to slow down, Jer. You're not going to save the world by yourself."

Struzyna raised politely disbelieving eyebrows. "Interesting advice, coming from you, Mel."

Frohike grinned. "There's a reason I'm not married."

Lessek hooted. "You're gonna blame that on long hours?"

"Did I say that?"

"It was implied."

Tuperan laughed. "Shame on you, Chad. You should know better than to make assumptions on ambiguous statements from sources with things to hide."

Frohike tried for offended. "Do I have something to hide?"

Tuperan smirked. "We're the alternative press. We've all got plenty to hide."

"C'mon, Mel. You're still hanging out with that little red-headed Fibbie?" Lessek leered. "Not like I could blame you. She's a sweet one."

"Don't talk that way about her. She could break you in two with one hand." He appraised the overweight journalist with great seriousness. "She could probably break you into eight, actually."

Lessek snorted. "Screw you, Mel."

"Maybe later. But let's get lunch first. Where's this minivan?"

**

The reservations were in the name of the "Oswald Party", and this caused some adolescent snickering.

"What, no code word?" Frohike asked in mock surprise.

"That's right, Mel, go ahead and laugh," Lessek told him. "I've never had a gun pointed at me."

Frohike grimaced. "Well, it's not like it's an every day thing for me, either," he said, embarrassed.

Struzyna came to the rescue. "And that's why you never get the big stories, Chad. Not enough risk-taking."

"Right. And that's why you almost got your partner killed four years ago on that Colombia thing."

Tuperan smiled serenely. "We got the story."

"And you were in the hospital for six days, with pretty much every bone that could be, broken," Lessek retorted.

"We got the story," Tuperan repeated. "And I wouldn't have met Ellen if it hadn't happened."

Struzyna clapped him on the shoulder. "I love this man, did I ever mention that? Never met a more optimistic paranoid in my life."

The food came and talk turned to the lighter side of recent controversies, with Lessek offering a scathingly ironic indictment of the anti-drugs kids campaign from the CIA, mistimed to coincide with the publication of the Cockburn/St. Clair expose Whiteout.

Struzyna admitted he had just acquired an "Air America" baseball cap. "I'm just trying to throw the fascists off the track," he grinned.

This, of course, led to a cheerful recap of the LHJ story about McCarthy's morphine. Frohike got some compliments on the recently expanded "Bushy Knoll" series, where they offered solid evidence against the "Lone Gunman" theory of the Reagan assassination attempt.

"Hey, the Woodruff report was there in living color, guys. It wasn't just Hinckley and his Magic Bullet," Frohike declared.

"Right, the vanishing Secret Service agent," Tuperan commented. "Hell of a coincidence."

"The Edward Richardson thing is what put us onto it."

"The doppelganger, right? Hinckley's—other—evil twin?" Struzyna laughed.

"Yeah, the Jodie Foster letters. We accidentally got some of those when we were looking for the Hinckley stuff, and from there on…"

"The Scott Hinckley and Neil Bush dinner thing?" Lessek wanted to know. "You can back that up?"

"Yep." Frohike tried not to look smug. "We've got documentation. And photos of the 'Barbara' in action."

"Bay of Pigs?" Frohike nodded. "Damn, Mel." Struzyna was impressed. "Why wasn't that in your series?"

"Priorities. The CIA thing was more important. It's a complicated story, and we didn't want to spend too long belaboring every detail."

"Is that why you ignored the Skull and Bones angle?" Tuperan asked.

"Prurient." Frohike dismissed it. "Nothing real there. If it wasn't for that stupid initiation thing, they'd just be Shriners without the funny hats and little cars."

"The Voice of Reason has spoken," intoned Lessek. "The Hoover Briefing Memo is now irrelevant."

"Thank you and good night," Frohike deadpanned as the others laughed. "You've been a terrific audience, really."

As Lessek took a bite of veal, Tuperan grinned at Struzyna and said, "So, Chad, that Mad Cow Disease story you guys did was pretty interesting."

Frohike snickered. "The ruminant-to-ruminant feeding?"

"Yeah, and the failings of the inspection system," Tuperan commented. "Shocking, really."

"What shocked me," Frohike said, "was the percentage of Alzheimer's cases that were revealed as CJD at autopsy."

"What about that Downer Cow thing?" Struzyna put in. "And I didn't realize that incinerating infected livestock only led to airborne prions…"

"Well, you can't kill those little brain-rotting bugs," Frohike observed. "But of course we're all grateful to the hard work you put in on it, Chad, especially the ten year cover-up and the memos. Think of all the people you've saved from protracted spongiform deaths."

Lessek sighed and put his fork down. "You guys are bastards. Total bastards, every one of you."

The three of them burst into laughter as he glared.

"Just trying to keep you alive and healthy, Chad," Struzyna managed. "Without you, your whole damned paper'd fold."

Lessek muttered something under his breath. "Swell. Now tell me which of you wise-asses is paying for my entree."

They laughed harder.

"That'd be me," Tuperan said. "I'll expense account it. It'll go down as 'saving honest journalism from itself'."

Lessek sighed again and summoned the waitress. "I need another beer."

Tuperan grinned. "Anyone know any good stories about beer?"

"Bastards," Lessek said.

**

Mulder's one-hour discussion of UFOcals stretched into one-and-a-half, then two hours. Eventually he lost track of how many times he had to drag it back from Gulf Breeze.

A familiar-looking man in the back slowly monopolized the conversation with a series of questions about Occupant Sightings in Malaysia. The man was armed with recent reports from CENMYUFOS, and he and Mulder spent some time devising alternate theories for the proliferation of all those tiny aliens. The conversation was interesting, the unknown man was witty, and best of all, it irritated the Gulf Breeze gang into leaving. The man acknowledged this with a faint grin, and Mulder stifled a laugh. The most stubborn (and obnoxious) of them left when the talk turned from indigenous lizards to "mutant ants", and Mulder's remaining audience laughed a little in relief.

The unknown man asked a couple more questions about the Terengganu sightings in 1991 of "hundreds" of six-centimeter beings, and pronounced himself relatively satisfied with Mulder's comments.

Mulder gave him an appreciative grin and fielded a stray Lubbock question.

When they were chased out of the room, finally, by a Copley Woods movie and discussion, Mulder was stopped in the hall by the man he still couldn't place.

"Agent Mulder," he held out his hand.

Mulder took it. "I'm sorry, have we met?"

The man laughed. "About eight years ago, but you won't remember. Aaron Mills. You were giving a speech on hypnosis in abductee trauma…"

Mulder snapped his fingers. "You had all the questions about the psychosociological characteristics of abductees."

"That was me, yes. I'd heard your memory was phenomenal." Mills smiled. "Do you have plans for lunch?"

"Not really."

"I'd love to hear your thoughts on some things."

"Place around the corner does burgers and beer. You in?"

"Sounds good. Let's talk Snowflake."

They headed out. "Travis Walton?"

"Kind of a statistical anomaly, wasn't he? You know he has a web site?"

"I've seen it, yes. He doesn't mention the Jeff Wells article."

Mills laughed. "Would you expect him to?"

"Skeptical Inquirer isn't likely to be part of 'the crumbling cake that is the American mind'," Mulder quoted.

"So you believe Wells?"

"It's hard to say. He's authoritative enough, but when it comes down to it, he's the only one telling the story that way."

"If it wasn't abductee stress, what do you think the kid's problem was?"

Mulder laughed. "You should ask my partner about that. She's usually got plenty of answers to that one."

"Is she here?"

"Nope. She finds these events a little… credulous."

Mills thought about that. "What's she doing on the X-Files?"

Mulder laughed again. "Good science. It's a long story, really."

**

Frohike's source had some things he wanted to get off his chest. He wanted to meet in the middle of a large park so he could see anyone approaching them. He'd carefully explained that Frohike would know who he was because he'd be holding the current issue of New Republic.

When Frohike arrived at the park, he sighed a little. The magazine was clearly apparent, but then, it wasn't really necessary. He was standing, stiff and anxious, alone in the middle of an empty area the size of a tennis court. Frohike faintly wondered why the man hadn't bothered to instruct him to look for the guy in the bowler. The Groucho glasses were kind of a giveaway, too.

Frohike arranged his face into the neutral expression that worked best with the weirdest ones. Byers had that look down naturally, though Frohike had to practice in front of mirrors. But Bill Gates would be dancing a flamenco at "Lilith Fair" long before Langly ever mastered any sort of bland response to idiocy.

He'd insisted Frohike leave his cell phone in the car, because the UN could use it to listen to them, and he didn't want that. Frohike had shrugged and gone along with it. They'd gotten a couple of stories from this kind of thing, to the point where they'd learned not to automatically dismiss even the most absurdly paranoid contacts.

Besides, Frohike had a hunch about this one. The email had piqued his curiosity, and Langly had agreed. Byers thought it was a waste of time, but as the man on the spot, Frohike had decided to give it a couple of hours. The conference sure wasn't compelling his full attention.

The man, who gave his name only as "Smith", didn't disappoint, at least in terms of entertainment. After explaining how he'd been tailed by bike couriers for the last month and a half, Smith slowly revealed the outlines of "Operation Garden Plot", which he claimed was an emergency plan by the UN to take over the US and place "dissidents" into detention camps in the wake of a large scale biological epidemic in urban centers. Smith implied that the "biological event" would likely be deliberate, and would be unleashed by UN terrorists, if not by secret factions inside the US government itself.

He talked about a coding system, TACMARS, on the backs of road signs that gave directions to civilian facilities with large parking lots, like malls and churches, that could be used as helipads in the airlifting of UN Peacekeeping forces or dissidents and contaminated or contagious victims.

When Frohike repeated the DOT contention that the stickers were there to "date" the signs so they could be replaced in a timely fashion, Smith shut up for a moment and wildly scanned the surrounding area, which was deserted. Then he insisted on patting Frohike down to make sure he wasn't wired.

Frohike sighed and consented. It wasn't exactly a new demand, nor was the cell phone thing. Though the bike couriers were a novel touch. Usually their contacts were just being followed by the NSA, or aliens, or both. For his part, Frohike just wished these guys would watch a little less TV, or at least watch where their hands were going. He was absolutely not, this time, going to pull down his shorts to demonstrate that he was, indeed, all Frohike. But at least this time, the guys weren't nearby in the bus, cameras rolling.

Frisky patdown accomplished, Smith spoke briefly about "red teams". Frohike could tell the man was ready to bolt, so he asked a few important questions, quickly.

"Why wouldn't they use GPS?"

"EMP," Smith explained succinctly.

"Stickers have dating code on them."

"Upside-down? Sideways? I've never seen a date code marked. And why are they reflective? DOT doesn't work at night. It's so the helicopters can read them."

Frohike nodded solemnly. "The black helicopters?"

Smith stared at him like he was an imbecile. "Powder blue. UN. This isn't a US military plan."

Frohike apologized, trying hard to sound sincere.

Smith handed him a sealed envelope containing maps of the Strategic Highway Network, STRAHNET, and then he insisted Frohike count to a hundred before he left the park.

Frohike closed his eyes and started counting, feeling a little stupid. Smith hadn't instructed him to close his eyes, but he figured it couldn't hurt. That was a pretty common request from sources, too. He did a little basic math on the speed of the guy's pace and the momentum of his paranoia and stopped counting at forty-seven. Smith was nowhere in sight.

He glanced at the envelope in his hand. First things first. He tucked the envelope under one arm and pulled from his pocket the slim notebook he'd known revealing would have shut Smith up. He scribbled down everything Smith had said, before he forgot it. Then he walked deliberately back to the car, and opened the envelope. Then he slammed his head against the steering wheel and said aloud the four most obscene words he knew.

After that, he put the maps back into the envelope and tossed it into the back seat, and went to find Mulder. Stuckey's placemats. Well, if Mulder managed to somehow get them into Tennessee, at least they'd be able to find food.

**

Mulder was waiting for him in the lobby. "'Operation Garden Plot'," Frohike said, watching his face closely. He caught the telltale half-blink, hastily aborted. Maybe there was something there after all.

"Project Open-Sun."

Frohike was caught off guard himself. "What's that?"

Mulder grinned. "I thought we were doing word-association."

"We're not. What's Project Open-Sun?"

"Nothing, so far's I know. What's Operation Garden Plot? Tomatoes? Cucumbers? Radishes?"

Frohike let it go. "I had no idea you could even name three vegetables, Mulder."

"Hey, just because I don't eat them doesn't mean I don't know what they're called. Anyway, I'm pretty sure they put tomatoes into pizza sauce."

"Speaking of which…"

"Oh, please don't tell me you have other plans. I've been thinking about dinner-and-a-movie all day."

"The talks must have gone great."

Mulder made a face as they headed for the car. "Gulf Breeze, Gulf Breeze, Gulf Breeze…"

Frohike laughed.

"Do you know an Aaron Mills?"

Frohike thought about it. "Hard Truth Aaron Mills?"

"That's the one. He rescued me from the Gulf-Breezers."

"Your hero," Frohike snickered.

"He's an interesting guy."

"Mulder, we're the fringe press. We're all interesting guys."

"Some of you more than others," Mulder said with a leer. "Am I driving?"

"Sure. I'm not that hungry. I'll give you a couple hours to get lost and find a place. What'd you and Mills talk about?" he asked, sliding into the passenger seat.

"Snowflake."

"You didn't give him anything good, did you?"

Mulder was silent as he maneuvered the car out of the parking lot. Frohike glanced across and saw smugness in the agent's profile. "Of course not. I'm your source, remember?"

"I remember. I was just wondering if you did. Where are we headed?"

"Well, we have a couple of choices. Your friend Sarah suggested we check out the home of President Benjamin Harrison. Apparently, they're having a 'Find Ben' week."

"What the fuck is a 'Find Ben Week', Mulder?"

Mulder shrugged. "A scavenger hunt of some sort. This afternoon is the closing festivities of the 'Find Ben' event. Evidently they'll have a Civil War re-enactment. It's a shame, but we missed 'The Wicket World of Croquet' last week."

"I assume you only mention this as revenge for last night."

Mulder gave him a split-second glance. "What the hell happened last night?"

Frohike painstakingly adjusted his expression for maximum innocence. "You don't remember?"

"No."

"Then I guess nothing happened. Until the pictures are developed, anyhow."

Mulder breathed a faint sigh of relief. "You had me going."

Frohike tried for politely questioning. "I don't know what you mean."

Mulder looked at him again for another bare second. "Until the pictures are developed, Frohike? You've got your digital camera."

"Damn, that's right. Damn." He started laughing, he couldn't help it.

"So what did happen last night?"

"That's really hard on a guy's ego, Mulder. I can't believe you don't remember."

Mulder was silent for several moments. "Just tell me this: did I have fun?"

Frohike snickered. "It sure sounded like it to me."

"Sounded?"

"Only perverts have sex with the lights on, Mulder."

"Exactly. Sounded?"

"You kept getting distracted by the decor. I turned the lights out once you started telling me statistics on rabies transmission from bats."

"Sorry."

"You should be." Frohike grinned. "That wasn't even the worst of it. You spent some time theorizing that the Zambian Kongomato that attacked Ivan Sanderson was actually a diseased giant bat instead of a pterodactyl or even a shoebill stork."

Mulder stared briefly. "That's weird, even for me."

"I'm glad we can agree on that. What else is there to do in this one-horse town?"

Mulder considered that. "I don't think I've even seen one horse here. Although they apparently have a racetrack nearby."

"No. What else is there?"

"Monster truck rally?"

Frohike snorted. "Don't think so."

"If we hurry, we might be able to catch the Conner Prairie Museum's 'Barn Yesterday' exhibit."

"'Barn'—" Frohike breathed. "Mulder, tell me you made that up."

"I made that up."

Frohike thought about it for a minute or so. "This brings up the always-timely question, 'If you know you're being humored, does it work?'"

Mulder just grinned at him. "There's a train museum. And the Green Corn Celebration."

"Did the FBI second you to the Indiana Chamber of Commerce for the weekend?"

"Nah. I'm moonlighting."

Mulder pulled into a lot. Frohike looked around a little blankly and then sighed heavily. "You can't be serious, Mulder."

"Come on, it'll be fun. We'll work up an appetite."

"Mulder, this is the stupidest thing you've ever wanted to do."

The younger man grinned. "Really?"

Frohike thought about it. "Okay, I guess this doesn't even make the list of the stupidest things you've ever wanted to do, but still…"

Mulder leaned in close and made his voice low and breathy. "C'mon, Fro. I'll show you how well I can… handle balls."

Frohike thumped his head on the dashboard. He was really starting to worry. It was getting to where bad puns made him horny. Yet another preposterous side-effect of Mulderlove.

On the other hand, damn the man was hot. "UFO Putt-Putt Hockey," he said resignedly.

"Your friend Sarah said it was a must-see."

"Nine holes," Frohike begged, head in his hands. "Only nine."

"Sure," Mulder agreed, way too easily.

"UFO Putt-Putt Hockey."

"You said that already."

"I'm just trying to get used to the idea."

Mulder unfolded himself from the car. "Let's go. You can get used to it on the course."

"UFO Putt-Putt Hockey."

The concept was simple enough. Eighteen mini-golf-style holes, using modified hockey sticks, and a "puck" that was shaped like a flying saucer. The puck had a well-polished metal cap on the bottom, and slid easily along the smooth curves and grades of the course. Each hole was graced with a sign that explained the event or circumstances behind the obstacles, and the owner assured them that pictures were perfectly acceptable.

"Been thinking pretty serious about getting some ashtrays and postcards made up, stuff like that, but haven't done it yet, so you can take pictures all you want."

The first hole was a par two up the side of a half-cushion-style ship, and into the cockpit. It was easy enough, and no one's ego suffered unduly. The sign noted that the UFO in question had hovered briefly over the UN in 1966.

The third hole required a shot through a slowly rotating discoid-with-legs craft of the type reported at Tronstad, Norway. Mulder bounced his flying saucer off the legs twice before finally managing to finish the hole at one over par.

They navigated with some care under the Comprehend Flying Spindle UFOs, and between squadrons of the Hudson Valley boomerang ships, and past wobbling cigar-shaped crafts.

By the fifth hole, Mulder was well over par, with Frohike two strokes under. Frohike offered to trade pucks, but it didn't seem to help.

"The Illuminati are thwarting you, Mulder."

"Is that what's going on. I thought it was the Men in Black at the second hole."

"It'd take more than a couple of MIB to thwart you."

"I'd be better at UFO basketball, I think."

"Sure, but then you wouldn't be impressing me with how well you hold your stick."

Mulder completely missed the puck and turned to glare at Frohike.

"Not so much with that one, actually," the journalist said consideringly.

"You did that on purpose," Mulder accused.

"Golf is a mental game too," Frohike said, lining up his shot. "So is, I guess, whatever the hell it is we're playing here."

Mulder sulked for a couple of moments, which was in itself extremely distracting. Frohike slammed his puck against Hangar 18 and sighed. When he glanced up again, Mulder was grinning.

"It's the pout, isn't it. My secret weapon."

Frohike just shook his head. "I don't want to discuss it. Not again. Not in public, Mulder."

Mulder looked around innocently. "What public? No one can see us. Hey, Fro, have you ever wanted to have sex in a UFO hot spot?"

"Oddly enough, Mulder, no," he said dryly as he tried again. This time he succeeded. He turned to see Mulder frowning thoughtfully at him.

"I think it's the gloves. You should take them off."

Frohike snorted. "Isn't it usually 'Put them on'?"

Mulder grinned. "Different context."

Frohike snickered. "Balls, sticks, holes… What's different?"

"It's a puck."

"Semantics," Frohike said dismissively.

At the eighth hole, gloves having been removed, Frohike was three under par. Mulder was seven over, having taken a penalty stroke for bypassing the very steep path up a St. Petersburg flying wedge with bright yellow glowing edges. Frohike had threatened to assess him a couple more penalty strokes for "language unbecoming an FBI agent". Mulder had suggested he do something anatomically improbable, and Frohike had speculated on it for a few moments, eventually concluding he was willing to give it a try once they returned to the Batcave, if Mulder was willing to… lend a hand.

Frohike elaborated as Mulder, who'd been on the verge of demanding they play the last nine, hastily hacked his puck through the squadrons of Grays on the ninth hole and declared the game over.

Frohike stood and laughed. And then he insisted they walk through the rest of the course anyway, just to take pictures. Mulder was practically whimpering by the time Frohike decided he was ready to go.

Frohike elbowed him hard. "Hey, this was your idea."

"Yeah, and so is the Batcave thing."

"I wonder if that guy will sell us one of these UFO things."

Mulder groaned. "You're a sadist."

"Yeah, and you love it."

The owner, when questioned, eventually agreed to let a puck go for the princely sum of forty-five dollars. "Well, it's alien technology, see? Proprietary," he said, passing over a hastily-drafted non-disclosure agreement.

Frohike reapplied the neutral expression to his face and signed with great seriousness, and a false name. Mulder signed, also with a false name, snickering.

"'Nick Soapdish'?" the man asked, skeptically. "I can spot a fake name when I see one, son. Lemme see your ID," he said to Mulder.

Frohike did his best not to laugh. "Busted."

Mulder shrugged with resigned humor and pulled out his ID.

The man scrutinized it. "This's even worse. You expect me to believe your name is really 'Fox'?"

Frohike couldn't stop the hysteria. "It really is," he managed.

Mulder sighed. "I really hate this, you know?" His FBI credentials were declared "phony-looking", and he eventually managed to appease the man with a library card.

Frohike was still laughing as they bore their prize to the car.

"If you mention this to anyone, I swear to God, Mel…"

Frohike slid behind the wheel and made an attempt at seriousness. It was no use. "Nick Soapdish?" His renewed laughter was abruptly curtailed by the pout.

"It worked on The Tick," Mulder said.

Frohike grinned, watching the younger man's profile closely. "No it didn't. I saw that episode. Did you have a place you wanted to go for dinner?"

"Fro, forget dinner."

"Hey, you wanted pizza. And I've worked up an appetite. Isn't that what you said?"

"I hate you."

"Oh, sure. That's why you can't wait to get back to the Batcave so you can have your wicked way with me."

"Room service."

"Don't fuck with me, pal. I can make you regret you have a tongue."

Mulder snickered. "I doubt that."

Frohike glared. "I swear to God, Mulder, if you make me eat that room service food again, I'll get Langly to cook you dinner. He's got a new recipe he's been dying to try out on someone. He can't even talk Byers into it."

Mulder swallowed nervously. "I don't want to know."

"Bologna and Cheez-Whiz Quiche with Crushed Ritz Cracker Crust."

"Christ." Mulder turned away. "That's revolting."

"He offered to put catsup on it."

Mulder made a gagging noise.

"Pizza."

Mulder immediately reeled off the address of a pizza place. Frohike gave him a smug look and put the car in gear.

"That's such a low blow, Mel."

Frohike just laughed.

**

The second Frohike closed the Batcave door behind them, Mulder pressed himself against him. Door, dark, Sam Adams, Mulder… Deja vu, Frohike thought in amusement. At least there was no Windex, and he didn't have to worry about tripping over a mop.

He shrugged his pack off and then managed to turn around to lock the door, and found Mulder's mouth suddenly pressed down against the back of his ear. He leaned into the welcoming heat with the familiar excitement tingling across his skin. He moved his head to the side to give Mulder better access. "You're crazed," he managed faintly.

"Can't help it," Mulder mumbled against him. "The way you smell…"

"Leather and sweat?"

"Mmm. Spicy… salty… Male. Just totally male."

Frohike turned around. "That's just the motor oil you're smelling."

Mulder nuzzled his way down and across Frohike's face. "On you, it works."

Frohike's laugh was stopped by Mulder's tongue. He made a soft noise deep in his throat and Mulder followed the stubbled skin downward to suck gently at his Adam's apple. Frohike sighed again and Mulder chuckled against him, hands busy with their clothes.

"Woody," Mulder mumbled.

"You should talk," Frohike snorted.

"No, I mean the way you smell," Mulder insisted. "It's woody. Like, I don't know. Hickory, maybe. Chestnut."

"You know you're obsessed?"

Mulder laughed against him. A great laugh. "You mind?"

Long, clever fingers creeping lower, talented tongue blazing a trail along his collarbone. "Oh, Christ. Not when you do that, no. Fuck, Mulder, do it again."

More laughter as Mulder obliged. "Spicy, almost. Piñon, maybe. Damn, Fro, what is that?"

"Beer and pizza. You have to get past this thing where you analyze everything to death, Mulder."

"Is it a new aftershave?"

Frohike deliberately ground his stubble against the younger man's face. "That seems likely," he said dryly as Mulder yelped.

Mulder relaxed a little, and Frohike kissed him. Mulder relaxed even more, but he also straightened up, and Frohike sighed, not entirely from contentment. "This is killing my neck."

"Oh, sorry." Mulder leaned down and kissed his neck. They moved, together, slowly, toward the bed, losing the rest of their clothes as they went, never entirely out of contact with each other. It wasn't just lust, and it wasn't just affection, but it wasn't something they discussed, either. It was just—how well they fit together, as friends, as lovers, as colleagues and conspirators.

Somehow the search for the Truth had led to the discovery of a truth: as weird as it was, they complemented each other perfectly. Two candied pineapple bits on the fruitcake that was the paranoia subculture.

Mulder, meanwhile, was apparently seeking fruitcake status on his own. Frohike pulled the covers down, with Mulder plastered insistently against his back, nose buried in his hair.

And mouth open. "Almost smoky," he said, voice low and seductive.

Frohike sighed. "I guess this is better than the bat thing, but it's still a pretty weird form of foreplay."

"Vetivert?"

He shook his head. "I don't even know what that is, Mulder."

"Did you know albino animals lack a sense of smell?"

Frohike let himself be pushed onto the bed. "I was just gonna mention that," he snickered.

"And olfactory neurons are unmyelinated, so the sense of smell is the slowest. Impressions of odors persist longer than any other kind of stimulus."

"Stimulus. That sounds good. Let's try that."

Mulder's voice was becoming slightly hoarse. "It's also the strongest sense."

Frohike stroked his hands across Mulder's back, watching his face closely in the dim lighting.

Mulder shivered at the feel of the gloves. "I may have to rethink that."

"Maybe."

"Olfactory memory lasts longer than any other type, too. I'm already starting to forget how that felt, Fro. Do it again."

Frohike laughed. He occasionally wondered if this was Mulder's way of impressing his partners, the constant barrage of largely irrelevant facts. It wasn't like Mulder had anything to be insecure about, he thought vaguely as Mulder rocked their hips together.

"Studies show yellow pine chipmunks find their food by smell," Mulder continued breathily.

"Mulder," Frohike snapped. "I do not want to hear about chipmunks right now."

Mulder considered, hands moving with increasing pressure across Frohike's chest. "Hamsters? Liquid diets seem to prevent them from—"

"No. Absolutely not. No small mammals of any kind. If you mention gerbils, I'm locking myself in the can."

Mulder laughed. "You're no fun. I have some great studies about free-tail bat nurturing."

"I'm going to gag you with your damned tie, Mulder," Frohike threatened as he squirmed out from under the agent and stood up.

Mulder's mouth slammed shut, and he watched Frohike with exaggerated apprehension. Frohike pulled off glasses and a glove as he pawed through his duffel. He returned with lube and condoms, and Mulder relaxed. Frohike saw it. "The tie is still an option," he said menacingly.

Mulder laughed. "Okay, no small mammals. I assume also, no birds?"

Frohike sighed. "No birds. No fish. No reptiles. No anything, okay?"

"Can I talk about humans?"

"If you must." He pushed Mulder flat onto the gently rolling bed and ran his own nose through Mulder's hair. "You changed shampoos?"

Mulder chuckled a little into the pillows. "See? It's got grapefruit and mint essential oils or something."

"Can't argue with the results," Frohike mumbled as he moved on to Mulder's neck, gently licking and nibbling.

"Pheromones probably—Ohhh—come from human apocrine glands," Mulder said, shuddering from his attentions. "Mmm. Nice, Fro." He wriggled encouragingly. "Apocrine glands are concentrated around body hair… Ooh! That's cold," he complained as Frohike began to spread gel across his thighs and ass with his bare hand.

"Getting your attention."

Mulder was silent for a moment, waiting for the first slide of fingers across his opening. Frohike moved slowly, prolonging the torment. "Tease," Mulder groaned.

Frohike laughed quietly. "Patience, Mulder." He stroked a finger gently into the other man, watching his whole body quiver and tighten in response.

"Mmm, yeah…" He relaxed as Frohike traced his spine with tongue and palm. "Where was I?"

"You know the rule, Mulder. I may have to listen, but I'm not going to help, dammit."

"You're the one who distracted me."

"Well, at least I'm on the scoreboard this time." He shifted his fingers slightly, searching. The deep groan told him when he found Mulder's pleasure spot. His entire body jolted and he arched his back up, pushing hard onto Frohike's fingers. Frohike gave a low laugh and put the gloved heel of his free hand against the base of Mulder's spine, moving him back down to lay half on his side.

Mulder whimpered as Frohike pulled away, shoving Mulder's left leg up as he straddled the other. The gloved hand moved up Mulder's spine, sliding across a shoulder blade and leaving them both trembling.

"Fro—Fuck, just, ohhhh…"

Frohike wrapped his arm around the younger man's leg and spread him widely, pushing himself into Mulder's trembling body. Mulder shoved his face into the pillows, muffling his cries as Frohike buried himself entirely in Mulder's heat, gloved palm still stroking the sweat-slicked planes of his back.

Frohike pulled out some, and Mulder tried to arrange himself so he could see his face. Eyes closed, Frohike thrust back even deeper into the unresisting body, scraping his fingernails down Mulder's spine. Mulder moaned at the conflicting sensations.

"Oh, God, Mel…" he gasped. "Please…"

"Touch yourself," Frohike panted. "Wanna watch you…" He grabbed Mulder's free hand with his own and guided it to his weeping cock. Mulder grasped himself and closed his eyes with a low sob. "So hot," Frohike muttered. "Jesus, Mulder… "

Mulder found a counter-rhythm to Frohike's deliberate strokes, pushing himself against Frohike with each swell and eddy of the bed.

"The olfactory system…" he managed, "is part of what determines the reactions of the archipallium, the reptile brain. It reacts to—mmm—specific stimuli in reflex responses… attack—flight—sex…"

"…I knew there was a point to this…"

"And the sense of smell… That's so distracting—"

"You want me to stop," Frohike asked, a little distracted himself, "so you can continue your lecture?"

"No!" A particularly deep thrust, and he forgot what he was saying. "God, harder—oh—" Mulder's hand moved roughly across his own cock, breathing unsteady, almost there…

Frohike let the fire race through him and came, thrusting frantically into Mulder. His inarticulate cry interrupted—whatever—Mulder was saying, and he jerked himself once more and came with a shout of his own.

Frohike collapsed onto him. It was a couple of moments before Mulder could get enough breath back to protest being in the wet spot. Frohike laughed weakly and managed to stand up somehow.

When he staggered back from the bathroom with a damp cloth, Mulder had staked an expansive claim to the other half of the bed. Frohike tossed the cloth on him, enjoying the surprised yelp, and went to turn off the lights. Grumbling, he shoved Mulder aside enough to make room for himself.

Mulder put his head on Frohike's shoulder and sighed in contentment.

Frohike silently counted: one… two… three… four…

"You know, there's a place…"

The older man chuckled.

"What?"

"Nothing. You were saying?"

"When do you have to be back, Fro?"

He shrugged. "If I'm not back in a year, maybe they'll give my desk away. Or they might give my computer away and keep the desk."

Mulder laughed. "Someday I want to use your desk, Fro."

Frohike raised a mildly enquiring eyebrow. "With Langly? Or Byers?" He snickered. "Or both. It's not that big a desk, Mulder."

"None of the above. I was thinking more along the lines of showing your desk who its real owner is."

"'Who's your papa, baby?'" Frohike snorted. He pondered it for a moment. "When the hell did my desk become the office bordello, anyhow?"

Mulder laughed. "It's about the perfect height."

Frohike smacked him, hard. "Just for that, you can sleep on the floor."

Mulder nuzzled his neck with lazy companionship. "Let me make it up to you."

"Jesus Christ, Mulder. Keep that up and you definitely are sleeping on the floor. Are you trying to kill me?"

"Of course not. Nobody else would put up with me."

"That's true. So what were you saying about tomorrow?"

Mulder yawned. "I was thinking we could check out Indiana's Favorite Son."

Frohike shuddered. "Mulder, I don't want to hear what I'm pretty sure you're about to say."

"The Dan Quayle Museum."

Frohike closed his eyes. "I was right. I didn't want to hear it."

"They have the green curtains from his first apartment."

"Mulder…" Frohike said warningly.

"Evidently they have his third grade report card, too. And his law diploma, what's left of it."

It was like a toothache. Frohike couldn't keep himself from jabbing at it to see how much worse it would get. "What's left of it," he repeated in tones of iron dread.

"The family dog ate it."

Frohike sighed. "The family dog ate it."

"Barnaby."

"Barnaby," Frohike repeated with dull horror. "Barnaby the family dog."

"Yep," Mulder said cheerfully. "It's two floors, Fro. They've got six thousand exhibits! And two large screen video presentations! And we can go visit his Boyhood Home! There's a self-guided tour!"

"Mulder."

"They have a gift shop."

Frohike tried again. "Mulder."

"The playing cards are a must-have, I was told. And the golf towel," Mulder continued with creepy eagerness.

"Mulder."

Mulder prattled on. "Byers would love an autographed poster, don't you think? And they have t-shirts! You could get one for Langly!"

"Mulder," Frohike said with dark intensity.

The younger man blinked innocently. "What's wrong?"

"You have a choice."

Mulder waited. "Yes?"

"You can shut the hell up, or I can kill you, dispose of the body, and tell people you were abducted by aliens."