Actions

Work Header

A Weekend In The Heartland

Chapter Text

They fell in the door Thursday night, exhausted, but still in a good mood after ten hours in the car, talking and laughing and singing. Getting lost, at least until Frohike had insisted on driving. "Goddamn, Mulder," he'd snarled at one point, "I can't believe a man your age can't read a roadmap."

"I usually let Scully tell me where to go," Mulder'd said dismissively. This had led to even more sophomoric humor.

Now, nearly midnight, Frohike's eyes widened as he looked around the room. It was dark and high-tech, the furniture gleaming dully and sharply geometric in garish shades of violet and yellow and maroon. And black. Plenty of black. Discreet lights flashed red here and there, reflected in oddly angled mirrors, and shadows loitered against the walls in the dim light from the sconces. Stalactites hung here and there, casting even creepier shadows. "Weirdness," he said in quiet awe.

Mulder laughed. "C'mon, Fro. You'll love it."

Frohike's eyes narrowed, and he gazed at his companion suspiciously. "You've been here before?"

Mulder waved one hand in the air and laughed again. "I don't see a ring, pal. You don't own me. It's none of your business if I've been here before."

Frohike shrugged. "I'd hate to have to marry you to get a few straight answers."

A snort. "I think at that point I wouldn't have any."

Frohike shook his head. "Anyhow, I don't have to marry you—which is a good thing, because you squeeze the toothpaste from the wrong end—to find out. We have our ways, Mulder. You should know that by now."

Mulder moved close to him. "Hey, if you'd enjoy the story, I'm sure we can schedule some time later, and I'll tell you all about it."

Frohike thought about it. "Does it involve…" he hesitated, and dropped his voice reverentially, "the lovely Agent Scully?"

"Nope."

Frohike sighed, and the tension left him. "Damn." He shrugged again and looked around. "This is…"

"Weirdness?" Mulder teased.

"Cool. Totally cool, Mulder. I expected crepe paper Halloween bats on the ceiling and drab black walls. It's just like the Batcave in here."

"With a bed," Mulder added with a surprisingly efficient obscene gesture.

"This is so cool, Mulder," Frohike continued, ignoring it. "The guys are never going to get over this. I gotta take some pictures."

Mulder stepped closer still and put an arm around him. "Later, Frohike. Let me show you… everything."

"That's cheesy as hell," Frohike complained. "I can't believe you ever get laid with lines like that."

Mulder sulked beautifully. "Does that mean I'm not going to tonight?"

Frohike watched the lower lip with fascination, and it took all of his self-control to keep his hands to himself. He strove for casual. "I'm exhausted. We drove all damned day. And you have a talk at the conference tomorrow."

"I could give that talk in my sleep," Mulder protested. "It's CUFOIN, not SETI. Indiana CUFOIN, even. Anyway, I'm not the one who insisted on driving. We could have flown."

"Yeah, but I loved making the Feds pay for that cute little teal Geo. Which reminds me, I want your expense accounts for our next story on government fraud and waste." He pulled himself away from Mulder's arm and threw himself down on the bed. Waterbed, he noted with tired pleasure. Mulder sat down beside him, and he closed his eyes and pretended to ignore the agent.

Mulder regarded him for a while. "Is this a no for real, or are you playing hard to get?"

Frohike's lips twitched. He cracked an eye open and looked at Mulder. "Depends. How much of the work do I have to do?"

Mulder laughed. "That's very romantic."

"Surroundings aside, Mulder, this is a convention, not a honeymoon."

Mulder leaned in close and whispered in his ear, "It could be. Let's have a little fun. I'll show you the Batcave."

Frohike snickered. "Okay. I'll do you." Mulder's eyes lit up. "Under one condition."

"What's that?"

"No more cheesy innuendo. I don't think I can stand it."

"Done," Mulder agreed cheerfully.

"I'll believe that when I hear it. Or don't hear it, anyhow." He rolled off the bed and stood up, stretching. "Why don't you show me the shower, Big Guy."

Mulder followed him into the bathroom.

Ten minutes later, Mulder had him leaning against the glossy purple tiles lining the shower stall, and was giving him one of the world's truly great backrubs, which would lead, Frohike thought complacently, to one of the world's truly great blowjobs. The man was orally fixated.

Frohike braced his forearm against the cool tiles, keeping up a steady stream of partially-coherent encouragements. Mulder liked to talk during sex, Frohike had discovered early on, and letting him control the conversation was—ill-advised. The first time they'd found themselves in bed together (Actually, it was on Mulder's couch, and three years later they still had yet to get anywhere near Mulder's bed.) Mulder had managed a disconcertingly detailed monologue on the subject of spontaneous human combustion among ministers.

Frohike wasn't exactly a prude, but he felt very strongly that if you needed to talk during sex, it should be strictly limited to just a few topics, like sex and maybe, maybe, the baseball scores. Not the greasy piles of human ashes Mulder had investigated over the years and condemnations of the Manchester studies.

Mulder really couldn't help himself, though, so Frohike had learned to manage the discussion himself, and to resign himself to listening to stories about rains of sailfish and the measurable emotions of tomato plants while he sucked Mulder off. These weren't subjects Frohike himself was ignorant of or uninterested in, indeed, he could discourse quite knowledgeably on many of them, but they were subjects he cared a lot less about while he was naked.

When Mulder pulled him around, slammed him against the wall, and went onto his knees, Frohike took a couple of deep breaths, knowing it was safe to shut up and enjoy things for a while. Loquacious seduction style or not, Mulder tended toward a purity of focus once his lips were wrapped around something.

He looked down at the bobbing head and buried his fingers in the silky, thick hair. The garish tiles with their frieze of little bats suddenly made him giggle, and Mulder broke off and looked up. "What?"

Frohike snickered and gestured up. "There's a mirror on the ceiling of the shower."

Mulder rested his face against Frohike's belly, still vibrating with laughter. "I know," he said. "You've gotta see the one over the tub." He put an arm around Frohike's waist. "In fact, let's go do that now."

Frohike laughed again. "C'mon, Mulder. We have all weekend. Do we have to try everything out tonight?"

"Mm, no. Hey, I've got a really kinky idea."

Frohike shuddered. "I do not want to hear it, Mulder. Not after last time."

Mulder nuzzled gently and licked slowly and Frohike wavered. "Well… How kinky?"

"Really," Mulder breathed against his wet skin, "really kinky. Astonishingly perverse. Something we've never tried before."

Frohike stared down at him with dread. "Mulder, if this involves livestock of any kind…"

Mulder laughed and stood up, turned off the water. "It's much worse than that, Fro. But you'll love it."

Frohike snorted.

"When am I ever wrong?" Mulder asked his ear from a hairsbreadth away.

"Oh, God. Okay, okay. Whatever you want."

Mulder grinned and tongued Frohike's ear for a few seconds.

"Mulder." One last-ditch attempt at sanity. "Promise me it isn't illegal."

"Fro, we're in Indiana. We haven't done anything legal since we registered."

"Right." Mulder grabbed a couple of towels. They were dark gray, with crimson bats and gold crescent moons embroidered on them. Frohike laughed. "Now, that's attention to detail."

"Just wait till you see the remote control."

"The towels have remote controls?"

He followed Mulder somewhat apprehensively into the bedroom. If kinky was a feather, and perverted was a chicken, they'd have to make up a whole new word for some of Mulder's weirder ideas. Frohike wasn't naive, though. He knew damned well that one of the things that made them such great fuckbuddies was the fact that Mulder could talk him into anything at least once, and sometimes a lot more often than that.

But he'd helped get the bags out of the car, and he concluded that Mulder couldn't have packed anything too worrisome. Nothing that made noise, anyhow, or needed airholes.

"Are you ready?" Mulder whispered seductively, letting his towel drop a little.

Frohike shrugged. "Not really."

Mulder leaned in and down and started nibbling at Frohike's neck again. "Let's," he said breathlessly, and paused long enough for Frohike to grab his head and pull him up.

"What the hell do you want, Mulder?"

"Let's fuck on a bed." Mulder snorted and broke into laughter.

Frohike let go of him immediately. "You're a real asshole, Mulder."

Mulder couldn't stop laughing. "I really had you worried."

Frohike pushed him suddenly onto the ebony bedspread and then was right on top of him, a somewhat illusory restraint, but a hell of a distraction. "You're really sick, you know that?" he said flatly.

Mulder managed to restrain himself to snickering. "Oh, come on. It was funny."

Frohike reached down and shoved his hand in Mulder's mouth. "I can't believe you think that's funny. Fucking on an actual bed? You're even sicker than I thought."

Mulder's eyes widened.

"Gotcha." He started laughing himself. Mulder bit his hand. "Damn, Mulder! I'm not sure I'm in the mood anymore." He rolled onto his back and stared at the ceiling. "Mulder."

"Yeah?"

"There are bats on the ceiling."

Mulder laughed. "They're not real."

"Oh, well, thank God for that. I thought they kept real bats in this hotel, and they nested or roosted or whatever they do over the bed. I was worried about the mess they must make."

Mulder raised his eyebrows. "Is that sarcasm?"

"Probably not if you couldn't tell."

"You sure you're not in the mood anymore?"

"Yep."

Mulder rolled onto his side and started playing with Frohike's chest hair. "Sure?"

Frohike didn't say anything for a few moments, and then he sighed. "I may be starting to recapture the mood."

Mulder grinned and moved in with teeth and tongue.

"Ow! Damn."

"Sorry."

"What are you, trying to floss with my chest hair?"

Mulder laughed. The ripples of it went straight down Frohike's spine. Mulder had a great laugh.

"Sorry." Less teeth, more tongue. Frohike relaxed. Most of Frohike relaxed.

"I am not," Frohike said absently, "going to ask you how you even found this place."

"You should see the Area 51 room," Mulder told his nipple.

"I'm going to pretend you made that up. If you didn't, don't tell me."

"It was already booked. Besides, I have fond memories of the Batcave," Mulder explained.

Frohike thought about that for a moment. "I don't believe I want to know." He could feel Mulder's grin against his chest.

"Suit yourself. I intend to have a few more before we leave."

Mulder moved lower. Frohike shivered. "I'm game."

"That's one of the things I like best about you, Frohike."

Anything Frohike might have been going to say was pre-empted by the wet heat of Mulder's mouth on his cock. Mulder started slowly this time, kissing and licking, and Frohike settled for a groan. When Mulder swallowed him, he tried not to yell, and tried not to grab the younger man's head too tightly, and tried not to look at the bats. He was mildly successful with two out of three.

"God, Mulder…"

When Mulder's deep-throated laugh resonated around him, he clutched Mulder's head and fucked his mouth hard before he came. Looking up at the damned bats.

Mulder slid up his still-heaving chest and kissed him insistently. Frohike settled into it contentedly, hands roaming over the other man's body until he could feel Mulder moaning helplessly into his mouth. He decided some action was called for and gathered himself, rolling them both over suddenly with the motion of the waterbed, and ending up on top. Mulder didn't quite manage to laugh, and that was fine with him.

Eventually, he pulled away a little. "Mulder."

"Yeah."

"I may live to regret this, but what do you want to do?"

Mulder flung his arms up over his head and wriggled invitingly. "Fuck me, Mel."

"On a bed." Frohike thought about the long day, and how much he'd been looking forward to just sleeping, and how they did have a whole weekend, and how Mulder was moving under him, Jesus Christ, how Mulder was moving under him. "Good plan."

He climbed out of the bed abruptly and rummaged through one of his bags for condoms and lube. He walked back to the bed, to Mulder lying there stroking himself gently and whispering God-knows-what to himself, and felt himself stirring again already. Only Mulder.

He stretched out next to Mulder and grabbed his hand, stilling it. Mulder whimpered and shut up and opened his eyes.

"Just trying to get your attention."

Mulder looked him over and grinned. "You've got it."

"Sure. That's why you were reminiscing about that damned John Mack book."

"Just doing my homework for tomorrow. I'm not convinced of the usefulness of HIRT cards."

Frohike let go of his hand and moved the backs of his fingers over Mulder's ribs. "Whatever. But I don't want to hear any anal-probe jokes."

He stopped Mulder's laugh with a well-placed tongue, but when he came up for air, Mulder said seriously, "The Just Cause archivist just sent me their documentation on the cards. I was looking it over and I thought—"

"Mulder, shut up," Frohike told him, exasperated. "We're having sex, not an episode of Booknotes. There are times when I wonder if you're enjoying this at all."

"Inconsiderate of me."

"Yes."

Mulder managed to stay quiet for almost three minutes. When Frohike slipped the first finger inside him, he groaned softly, but nothing else. Frohike glanced up, and saw him chewing on that full, sexy lower lip. Frohike decided it was safe and broke off his stream-of-consciousness commentary on Mulder's reactions long enough to lap at the leaking head of Mulder's perfect dick. Mulder shuddered, grunted, sighed, and miraculously kept his mouth closed.

Once Frohike was fully preoccupied, however, Mulder started in again. He managed to distract Mulder twice from his intent dissection of the Keel Roswell theories (Frohike had not previously heard the words "polished rice paper" in any sort of nude context. Sex with Mulder was often a surreal experience.) before the younger man grabbed his shoulders, pulled him up, and broke off a sentence with a demanding kiss.

When Mulder let go, Frohike chuckled. "So you'll pay attention now?"

"I always pay attention when you do that."

"Hard to tell."

"Do it again. I'll prove it."

Frohike raised his eyebrows and gazed at Mulder. One hand moved idly on Mulder's balls, the other played with a nipple. "Maybe we need to review the agenda. Do you want me to fuck you, or suck you?"

Mulder closed his eyes and gave it some concerted thought. He opened his mouth and Frohike interrupted. "Multiple choice, Mulder. It's not an essay question."

Mulder laughed. "Fuck me."

The sheets were florid yellow satin. The pillowcases were a loud plum. The bed sloshed gently and Frohike was too tired to remember to talk. Mulder was singing the praises of the Northeast Bat Working Group when he came.

Afterwards, they cleaned up a little and set the alarm clock (inky black, with far too many stylish red lights), and Mulder curled himself affectionately around Frohike, and the Desmodus rotundus were forgiven.

Chapter Text

"First in the shower," Frohike mumbled when the alarm went off.

"Can't we shower together?"

Frohike slapped the roaming hand away. "No. I'd like to actually get clean this time."

Mulder sighed theatrically. "Fine. I'll order us breakfast."

"Ooh! Room service!" Frohike pretended to swoon. "You sure do know how to treat a guy."

Mulder's hands were creeping over him again. "Well, the way to a man's heart…"

Frohike snorted. "Just as long as you're not actually doing the cooking, Mulder." He climbed out of bed and gazed around the room again. The thick curtains, purple velvet of course, blocked out most of the sunlight, but a few more details were revealed. There was a large console across from the bed with large jet panels he suspected concealed a TV. They'd undoubtedly check out the in-house movie channel later this evening.

He staggered into the bathroom, confronted with faux-slate tiles, rough and irregular under his feet. Last night he'd assumed he was hallucinating, but the toilet was indeed the same glossy violet as the shower stall and the tub. So was the sink. Weirdness.

The soap had bat logos embossed on it. He'd have to remember to bring some back for Langly. Over breakfast, they got out the advance materials for the conference and planned their day. There were, just aside from the contact he was attending at the behest of, about a dozen people Frohike needed to spend a little time with.

There were also several seminars he wanted to attend, though not Mulder's, since he'd already heard the talk before, and a Q&A panel discussion he'd agreed to participate in. It was a working holiday, but hopefully by Sunday he'd have a chance to check out the rest of the sellers and dig up some new stuff for the next issue.

Mulder was giving one talk today, one tomorrow, and doing a few panel discussions over the weekend, so he'd be pretty busy too, and he was already cursing himself for having agreed to attend this one.

**

"What the hell are we doing in Indiana, Frohike?"

Frohike just shrugged, having run out of smartass answers to that before they'd even left the hotel. "Just don't get lost, or we'll be in Indiana a lot longer."

"Well, I'm pretty sure this is the exit."

"Pretty sure, Mulder?"

"Pretty sure."

It wasn't.

They arrived an hour later than they'd planned, and stood in the already long line at the registration table. Frohike was gazing at a small knot of people near a book signing. "You know," he said seriously, "I don't think real Men In Black wear 'Hello-My-Name-Is' tags."

Mulder snorted.

Frohike disdained his own nametag and immediately dived into the crowd to find his contact. Mulder wandered around for a couple of hours, chatting with cereologist and selectee alike.

When they crossed paths, they pretended to not know each other. It wouldn't do Frohike's reputation any good to be seen hanging with the Feds. ("Are you ashamed of me, Fro?" Mulder had asked at one similar occasion a year or so ago. "Yes. Go talk to someone else in a suit," Frohike had laughed.)

Mulder scattered cards around like Mardi Gras beads, and signed a couple of bras for self-proclaimed abductees, in what he later explained to Frohike was a weird but increasingly common occurrence in his career. Frohike snickered rudely and reminded him of the killer cockroaches, and demanded to know exactly how Mulder defined lingerie as weird.

Mulder sidled up to Frohike around one. Frohike was negotiating the purchase of what the seller claimed were actual classified Project Grudge documents, which were so heavily censored they looked like an industrial-size freezer with a half-dozen magnetic poetry pieces scattered randomly across it.

"We've gotten some decent stories out of this kind of thing," Frohike told Mulder defensively.

The agent wasn't paying attention, though. He stood with his back slightly to Frohike, darting anxious looks about the hall. "I'll meet you out in the lobby when you're done here, and we can go get lunch, okay?"

Frohike raised puzzled eyebrows. "Let me guess. ORL wants to have a chat with you about your sun-dog theory."

"No." Mulder looked embarrassed. "The, uh, the Stupendous Yappi is here."

Frohike laughed. "Maybe you can borrow some shades from the MIB over there."

Mulder wasn't amused.

When Frohike got to the lobby, blacked-out documents safely concealed, Mulder was standing against a wall, looking nervous.

"What the hell is that noise?" Frohike asked.

Mulder shrugged. "We're being picketed by Klingons."

Frohike stepped over and gazed out a window. "Now there's something you don't see every day," he said conversationally. "The universe's most warlike race, with hand-made protest signs, singing We Shall Overcome."

Mulder snickered. "It does seem a little—pacifist. But hats off to whoever translated the words."

Frohike feigned shock. "I thought the original was in Klingon."

"God, I hope not. It doesn't exactly scan."

"What, precisely, do you figure they're protesting?"

"Well, I did see a sign that said 'LGM are for Halloween'. Maybe they're here for you."

Frohike didn't bother to rise to the bait. "They're making fun of CUFOIN? Believers?"

Mulder laughed. "Maybe they think CUFOIN is giving Trekkies a bad name."

Frohike wasn't convinced. "I don't know. That's pretty weird. I mean, I know the science fiction people and the UFO people don't always get along, but you sure don't expect snide 'Little Green Men' comments. Gotta be more to it than that."

"Well," Mulder said with a courtly gesture, "I guess we'll find out. Let's go get lunch."

Frohike shrugged. They didn't stop to chat, but they did slow down enough to accept badly-printed screeds from the Klingons. Mulder was reading one of them as they walked the next couple of blocks. "They're mad they weren't invited, I guess. It looks like CUFOIN wouldn't give them a table for the KLI."

"Figures," Frohike said, more interested in lunch. "They have a hard enough time maintaining any credibility in the larger society without being associated with guys in Spock ears. Where do you want to eat?"

"That's the other thing," Mulder said. "They maintain the Alliance of Non-Human Persons is backing this protest. Klingons, Romulans, Vulcans. No mention of Bajorans, Betazoids, or Borg."

Frohike came to an abrupt halt. "I can't decide if We Shall Overcome is redundant or paradoxical for the Borg."

"I'm sure that's why they weren't included," Mulder snickered.

"I don't suppose they're part of the Alliance of, what was it, Non-Human Persons?"

"Yep."

"I guess I just don't see the Borg as all that clubby."

"But you're fine with the Klingons?"

Frohike thought about it. "Let's get lunch, have a couple of beers. Then I'll be fine with it."

Over lunch, they continued to discuss the protest, and Frohike looked through the information they'd been handed. "'Whereas we have too long been denied a seat at the table… Whereas we have been too long ignored as fictional persons…'" he read aloud. He grunted and threw it onto the table. "This is awful," he declared. "These guys should be ashamed to print stuff like this. It doesn't make any sense, it's badly designed, and it's not even spelled right."

Mulder casually attempted to toss his parsley onto Frohike's plate. The older man blocked it with a reflexive fork. "English is not their first language, remember."

Frohike shook his head. "There's no excuse for that kind of thing. Someone ought to turn the photon torpedoes on them. Are you going to eat all your fries?"

"Probably. Did you find your contact?"

"Yeah," Frohike said unenthusiastically, not elaborating.

Mulder tried again. "Who is this guy, anyway? Pretty important?"

Frohike sighed heavily. "Mulder, we've been over this before. I'm a journalist. I don't reveal my sources. I sure as hell don't dime them to the Feebs."

"I'll let you have my fries."

"You have no respect for me at all," Frohike complained. "I'm not selling my ethics for a handful of greasy potato. What kind of cheap whore do you think I am?"

Mulder laughed. "I'm hoping to find out later."

The Kirlian lecture was, Frohike freely admitted, a bust. "The guy didn't even have slides, for God's sake. How the hell do you plan a lecture about Kirlian photography and decide you don't need visuals?"

Mulder commiserated. "Why'd you even go to that? You know more about Kirlian abductee aura than any eight people at the conference."

Frohike shrugged. "Always something new to learn. How'd your talk go?"

"Great," Mulder said. He went on at some length, and Frohike flicked his parsley at the agent's plate. Mulder absently checked it with a hand, still talking. Frohike grinned, appreciating the economy of the move.

"So did you manage to dodge Yappi?"

Mulder made a face. "He spotted me before I spotted him. I didn't even know he was going to be at this thing. He cornered me in front of a bunch of people and lectured me on ley lines."

"Were you polite, or did you tell him to fuck off?"

Mulder shrugged. "It was in front of the Iowa chapter of Inner Light. I didn't want to scandalize them."

Frohike nodded. "They're a nice enough bunch of old gals. Yappi's target audience, actually, I bet."

"I told him I'd had no idea he was such an expert on leys."

Frohike snickered. "Did he get it?"

"Yappi? No. He just sneered at me, you know that look he has, and told me he'd 'studied with the best'."

Frohike laughed. "Well, I haven't fucked him. You?"

Mulder shook his head. "Not even with somebody else's dick."

Frohike snorted into his beer. "Then he hasn't been anywhere near the best."

"No wonder he's so repressed."

"The poor man," Frohike agreed, making another stealthy attempt at parsley transference. Mulder's water glass was suddenly in the way. Mulder grinned as it rebounded limply onto Frohike's plate. "Damn."

"Scully won't play," Mulder told him with disappointment. "We should do this more often."

"What, throw garnish at each other?"

"Nah. The convention thing. I ditch Scully, you abandon the boys… Did they gripe at all?"

"Nah. They were glad to have me out of the place for the weekend. They're probably fucking each other silly on my desk even as we speak."

Mulder laughed. "You always say no when I want to."

"Well, it's not like I gave them permission or anything. What's Scully up to this weekend?"

Mulder sobered. "Mel, you're a good friend. And it hurts like hell to have to tell you this, but I think you need to know."

Frohike sighed. "She's got a date."

"He plays hockey," Mulder elaborated.

"Son of a bitch. Has he got all his teeth?"

Mulder shrugged. "Dunno. Haven't seen him. I teased her some, and she said he had an IQ of a hundred fifty-two."

"Height?"

"Five-ten."

"Figures. I suppose he…"

"Full head of blond hair."

"Story of my life," Frohike grumbled. "Don't tell me anything else she said, okay?"

"His name is Lance."

Frohike thumped his head backwards against the wall of the booth. "That's just adding insult to injury, Mulder."

Mulder tried not to laugh. "He's Canadian."

"What's his last name?"

"Why?"

"He's about to run afoul of the INS."

Mulder snickered. He dropped some cash on the table and stood up, pounding Frohike affectionately on the shoulder. "You've still got me, buddy."

"We'll always have the Batcave," Frohike said solemnly.

"Come on. I have idiotic questions to answer."

"Mock them relentlessly, would you?"

"Why?"

"So they'll be too scared to ask me idiotic questions tomorrow."

**

The Klingons had been joined by a silent group of Vulcans with vigil candles. Mulder snickered. They ran the gauntlet again, collecting more Starfleet propaganda.

Frohike shrugged mildly. "At least the Vulcans know how to spell check. Can't say much for their layout, though."

"You're a purist."

"I'll see you later, Mulder. I've got an AFIS guy to see, and you'd make him nervous."

"Should he be nervous?"

"Nah. I'm just getting his opinion on where the field's headed. Nothing classified."

"Would you tell me if it was?"

"Nope."

"Why'd I ask?"

"'Cause you're an optimist." Frohike straightened the agent's tie and clucked like a mother hen. "Go answer your idiotic questions, G-Man."

"Oh boy, oh boy," Mulder offered in a joyless monotone.

Frohike laughed and disappeared into the crowd again. He found his contact in short order, a ferrety little guy who was actually with APRO, not the Air Force. Frohike was aware of the dangers of sleeping with the enemy, so to speak, and lied freely to Mulder about contacts and sources. It was only fair: Mulder did the same to him.

Trust was one thing, but they were still on opposite sides of the fence, even if they were leaning across it necking.

The guy gave him a couple of quotes on deep background, and confirmed a rumor or two. Frohike was pleased. Byers would be pleased. At least he was getting some work done here, even if the talks were a waste of time.

He attended a useless two hour CERES lecture on crop circles, and ducked out after twenty minutes when it became apparent the speaker was a Hollow Earth ITE proponent. He ran into Mulder in the hallway. Mulder took one look at his expression and laughed.

"Not worth the time?"

"Intraterrestrials," Frohike said wearily.

"The-Universe-Is-A-Friendly-Place?"

Frohike nodded. "'Electromagnetohydrodynamical Vortex Communications from Colonized-Core Spirit Guides'," he recited. "Those people give crackpots a bad name."

The younger man laughed. "Hey, there's a guy you have to meet."

"Who?" Frohike asked suspiciously. "Where?"

Mulder sighed. "Just come with me, okay?"

Frohike looked him over. "At least lose the tie and jacket, can you? You have no idea what the Suit look does to people who see us together."

"Is that why Byers doesn't go to these things very often?" He took off his tie and stuffed it in his pocket, unbuttoned his collar.

"Nah. They know about Byers. He gets a lot of ribbing, but everyone knows he's trustworthy. He just doesn't like the UFO cons. Too zooish."

Mulder nodded. "What do you want me to do with my jacket?"

"You can leave it with the CAUS booth. I know the guy working there, he's more reliable than most of 'em."

Mulder shrugged. "Whatever."

Frohike narrowed his eyes at the agent. "You still scream Feebie. It's gotta be the shoes."

"For God's sake, Frohike. We're going to be seen by more people standing here talking about my suit than we would if you just followed me."

"Okay. Lead on, Fed-Boy."

A brief detour by Citizens Against UFO Secrecy. Frohike made introductions.

"Whoa. The Agent Mulder. Wow. Can I get an autograph?"

Mulder swallowed a laugh and signed the guy's program.

"You really think Tunguska was a craft?" he demanded.

"Of some sort," Mulder said mildly. "I know what Van Allen says, but…"

"I know Van Allen. He's a smart guy."

"He can't account for the cesium 137, though," Mulder commented.

"That's never been conclusively proven. Anyway, what about the fact that even a craft couldn't maneuver the way the witnesses said?"

Mulder settled in, much to Frohike's disgust. "Well, that's assuming the technology is not advanced beyond our own grasp of physics."

"Physics is physics, Agent Mulder."

"Our understanding of physics may be flawed, though."

"Like how?"

Frohike interrupted. "This is fascinating, but can you do it later? I thought you had something to show me."

"Oh yeah." Mulder and the table-minder exchanged cards and promised to get back to each other. Mulder led Frohike to a table covered with bootleg DVDs. Most of them said "Roswell" somewhere on the box. Frohike looked them over.

"Roswell, Roswell, Crittenden, Socorro, Kinross, Ubatuba… Mulder, there's nothing new here," Frohike groused.

"Allende," Mulder said, handing an overlooked box to him.

Frohike turned it over. "I've got this one. It's a complete buy-in. And this is pirated." He glanced sideways at Mulder. "Wonder if it has an FBI Warning."

"Agent Mulder! Back already? And who's your friend?" The table was suddenly manned by an extremely fey older gentleman in a "Project Twinkle" t-shirt. Frohike tried not to laugh.

"Frohike, Lone Gunman Group," Mulder gestured.

"Magic Bullet?"

"That's the one," Frohike nodded.

"Your series on the Gehlen Organization was one of the best I've seen."

"Thanks."

"Frohike, this is Ebben." He turned to the man. "He wants to see your private stock," Mulder explained.

Ebben gave Mulder a look. "How private? I've got a Mantell documentary, the Lubbock Lights footage, some rare Condon Committee stuff."

Mulder grinned. "The other private stock."

"Oh." Ebben grinned back knowingly. "Come into my parlor," he said wolfishly. "Mind the store, Agent Mulder?"

Mulder shrugged. "Sure, if you don't think you'll lose business."

"Fuck it. Maybe there's some guys out there just dying to get a bootleg Meeker County vid straight from The Man. If they're hunky, tell them you need their phone numbers for my records."

Mulder laughed.

Frohike glanced at Mulder, but followed Ebben into the back of the booth. Ebben leaned just a little too close as he pulled the curtain shut. "Okay. The private stock." He opened a smaller box and started taking DVD cases out. "Why do you think they tried to hide Olson's CIA affiliation, anyway? It's not like it wasn't going to come out."

Frohike didn't hear him. He was blinking at the titles. "Oh my God. I've never even seen a copy of this! How'd you get it?"

Ebben looked. "I know… a guy." He grinned again, and Frohike started to feel a little warm. "I know… a lot of guys, actually."

Frohike turned a box over. "And you… know… Agent Mulder?"

"I wish," Ebben laughed. "No, he just comes to me with requests. I'm like Booksearch."

"Are you the one who found him Plan 69 from Outer Space?"

"That one took a lot of looking. He show it to you?" He rested his hand a little too familiarly on Frohike's arm.

Frohike glanced at him. "We watched it together."

Ebben withdrew his hand. "Shame. I was hoping I could get to… know you, over dinner."

Frohike smiled. "Nothing personal. I've got a date."

Ebben peered out the curtain at Mulder. "If I had one like that to come home to, I wouldn't step out, either." He turned back to Frohike. "You wanna see the really special stuff?"

Frohike read the blurb on the back of Mission to Lars. "More special than this?"

Ebben lowered his voice reverentially. "I've got Men in Back II."

"You're kidding!"

Ebben waved a hand and produced the box like a magic trick.

"How much?"

"Any friend of Mulder's is a friend of mine. I'll let it go for fifty."

"Done."

"I've also got Project Blue Balls."

Frohike stopped breathing for a moment. "Nineteen eighty-four, or seventy-three?"

"The eighty-four. I've never even seen a seventy-three."

"It's a classic. I'll give you thirty for the eighty-four."

"Deal. You've seen the seventy-three? Watched it?"

"Once."

"Can I just shake your hand?"

Frohike grinned. "Which hand?"

"The one."

Frohike laughed and held out his right hand. Ebben took it firmly. "Is that, like, your Mulder hand, too?"

Frohike snickered. "Everything I've got is Mulder."

"I can't tell you how jealous I am. See anything else you like?" Ebben licked his lips.

Frohike laughed and patted his arm. "I'll take Star Whores, too."

Ebben sighed. "You can have that one for ten. Just because I'm a subscriber and you're a great man."

"Thanks." Frohike found his wallet.

"Can I get some cards from you? Do you have cards?"

"Sure. Pass 'em around."

"Thank you." He peered out the curtain again. "You'd better not leave that one alone for too long. He's got a smile like flypaper."

Frohike grinned. "Eyes like a bug zapper."

"I put my card in there too," Ebben said, holding out the bag. "It's got my site on it, you can look over my catalogue. If there's anything you want that isn't listed, ask. If I don't have it, I can probably find it. You're not a Roswell Incident kind of guy, I can tell that. But the Condon stuff is good." He hesitated. "Ask Mulder what he got from me earlier. You'll love it. If he doesn't share, let me know. I'll put his sales records on my site."

Frohike was still laughing when he collected Mulder, and they departed from Ebben with a wink and a leer.

"What are you doing next, Fro?"

"'FOIA Handling', with Strange News."

Mulder shrugged. "Why are you bothering? What was the last FOIA scoop Strange News had?"

"Those missing Gulf War Chemical Incident Logs. Anyhow, I heard a rumor ParaScope was sending some of their hitters."

Mulder thought about it for a second. "They're the guys with the Request-O-Matic webpage, right?"

Frohike nodded. "Byers helped with some of those. They're pretty useful, really. Citizen muckraking is hard to break into, for novices. They've got a lot of information."

"You're such an idealist, Fro."

"I'm a cynic. Byers is our idealist."

"Which is why you're going to listen to Strange News."

Frohike shrugged. "Always something new to learn, Mulder."

"Yeah," Mulder said suddenly, too cheerfully for Frohike's sense of peace. "We should talk about that later."

Frohike stopped. "Okay, what'd you get?"

"Tell you later."

Frohike sighed as the agent disappeared into the crowd.

ParaScope failed to materialize, and Frohike wandered from lecture to lecture for a couple of hours. The StarBorn seminar was briefly interrupted by a group of singing Romulans. Frohike just shook his head and gave up on the talks. He spent an hour browsing the tables and talking to people he knew, barely knew, and didn't know at all but who just had to tell him their secrets. He smiled politely and nodded and took notes, or, more often, pretended to take notes.

He was finishing a purchase at the CUFOIN host table when Mulder returned to his side, re-suited.

"You do everything you needed to today?" Mulder gazed at a point across the hall.

"Yep. Let's get dinner." He turned around. "Yappi?"

Mulder grimaced. "Still dodging him."

"Better you than me."

They headed out. "What'd you get?"

"A couple of the books Byers wanted. One of the logo paperweights for him. I thought about getting him a 'Field Investigator' cap, but I couldn't take the tension while he searched for something nice to say about it."

Mulder laughed. "Some day he's just going to tell you to go to hell."

Frohike put his hand over his heart. "Good God, Byers? I'm not sure he'd know where to start."

"He's saving it all up. The man's a Vesuvius. Some day he'll erupt."

Frohike snorted. "To hear Langly tell it…"

Mulder covered his ears, but not too tightly. "I don't need to know this, Fro."

Frohike laughed. "Sure. You're an innocent and I'm corrupting you. What the fuck is that smell?"

Mulder sniffed cautiously. "Uh-oh."

"What?"

Mulder glanced ahead of them, his taller form giving him an advantage over the milling people. "The Klingons seem to be having a potluck."

Frohike froze. "Good God."

"Klingon Buffet. I wonder if that's even legal in Indiana."

"They have animal sacrifice laws in Miami, maybe it's legal there. But I doubt Klingon cookery is legal anywhere else in the country. Is it…" he swallowed, "moving?"

"There's nothing worse than half-dead racht, you know that. But, no, I think it's gummi worms."

"Thank God for that."

A Klingon female stepped up to Mulder. She said, "reH nay'meylIjyIn Dujablu'jaj," and held out a plate of nothing Frohike could (or wanted to) identify. Whatever it was, it smelled revolting. They exchanged glances.

Mulder bared his teeth at her and asked, "Dochvam vISop net pIH'a?"

The woman laughed.

"DaHjaj jaj QaQ Daghajjaj," Frohike said politely and elbowed past her.

Mulder grinned. "What's that one?"

"'Have a nice day'," Frohike told him. "I looked it up earlier."

Mulder laughed. "I'm pretty sure she was suggesting all my meals should wriggle."

"What'd you say to her?"

Mulder bared his teeth at him, too. "'Am I supposed to eat this?'"

"Damn, Mulder. You remember the weirdest things."

"Did you see the Romulans got tossed this afternoon?"

"They came into the StarBorn seminar. I don't know exactly what they were singing, but it was to the tune of Give Peace a Chance."

"That's beautiful."

"Who tossed 'em?"

Mulder shrugged. "CUFOIN bouncers, I guess. What the hell were you doing at the StarBorn seminar?"

Frohike grinned. "Some of those hybrid chicks are hot."

"Figures. Come on, I'll buy you dinner."

Over dinner, Frohike showed Mulder the rest of his souvenirs. "I got the 'Very Large Array' shirt for Langly."

Mulder snickered. "Oh, please don't give it to him unless I'm there. I want to see the look on Byers' face."

Frohike grinned. "It's got a picture of the Magdalena Radio Laboratory on the back. Plus I got him a Drake's Equation t-shirt." He looked a little embarrassed as he pulled something else from his pack. "I got this for Scully. You think she'll like it?"

Mulder blinked at the object in Frohike's hand. It was a CUFOIN logo snowglobe depicting a pancake-with-fins-variant disc UFO over the Mount Palomar Observatory. Frohike shook it slightly and a cloud of glitter plumed up and scattered over the scene.

Mulder laughed. "I'm sure she'll love it. I got her a coffee mug."

"I saw those. But this was pretty. I thought she might like it."

Talk turned to the panels. The questions were more idiotic than they'd any right to be, Mulder explained, in great detail. "If I get asked one more damned question about ufocals and lenticular formations, I'm going to start making answers up."

"That bad?"

Mulder muttered something under his breath.

"You get a lot of Gulf Breeze?"

"Brace yourself, yeah. I cut those off after only about a million questions, so they'll probably ask you the other million tomorrow."

"Thanks. How many panelists?"

"Seven, plus me. Two pie-plates, one clouds, three disinformation. One I-Know-Ed-Walters-He's-A-Standup-Guy."

"Nice. I can't believe people still buy that disinformation thing on that one. Totally pie-plates."

"You guys did a story, right?"

"Years ago. Walters had been doing the talk shows. Just after The Gulf Breeze Sightings came out. All those authenticated light-blasted photos and 'artist's conceptions'." He laughed.

"I made a couple of Whitley Streiber jokes."

Frohike snickered. "Komodo dragons."

Mulder shook his head. "We nearly had a fistfight in the back of the room over that stupid Berlitz Roswell book."

"I can't wait," Frohike said without enthusiasm.

Heading back to the Batcave, Mulder glanced sideways at the journalist. "I could use a backrub."

"You're insatiable."

"Just a backrub, I said."

"I want that in writing."

They drove in silence for a couple of minutes. Then Mulder said, "Do you?"

Frohike chuckled. "Nah. Tell you what, we can even do it on the bed again, if you want."

"How about the tub?"

"Sure, why not. Does the Batcave have a DVD player, by any chance?"

"It's the Batcave. It's probably Blu-Ray."

Frohike snorted.

"Just kidding. Yeah, it does. I'll show you the remote control."

"You mentioned that before."

"It's huge. You could launch a Stealth Bomber with this thing."

"Size isn't everything, Mulder."

Mulder gave him a once-over. "True. What'd you get from Ebben?"

Frohike laughed. "Not what you're thinking."

"You weren't back there that long. Anyway, he's a screamer."

Frohike raised an eyebrow.

"I've heard," Mulder amended. "What'd you buy, then?"

"I'll show you mine if you show me yours."

Mulder grinned. "Fist Contact."

There was a moment of silence. "You're sick, Mulder."

"So you don't want to see it?"

"It's a cultural legend. I owe it to perverts everywhere to see it if I have a chance."

Chapter Text

Saturday morning, they ran into the maid in the corridor. She took one look at them and put her hand over her mouth, eyes wide. "Oh, my God! It is you! Oh, my God! I'm such a fan!"

Mulder grinned a little and she stepped past him. "Oh, God. You're really Melvin Frohike!"

Frohike blinked. The woman had a nose ring and vivid purple hair. He wondered if she'd disappear if she stood in front of the Batcave curtains.

She rushed back to her cart and dug around, coming up with a copy of the paper. "I'm a subscriber! I saw you guys in the hall yesterday, and I thought, but then the room is registered to a Mr. Mulder, and, oh my God. This is just so incredible." She broke off abruptly, glancing up and down the hallway. "Are… Are the others here?"

Frohike laughed. "Nope. Just me, this trip."

"That's okay. That's awesome. That's just so totally awesome. Are you enjoying the conference? I went for a couple of hours yesterday evening, but all the good talks were already over, and I'm working all weekend, and I spent more time just trying to get past the Starfleet guys so I could get registered than I did at the con…" She shook her head, purple ponytail flying. "This is so totally awesome. I was bummed because Glenn Campbell, you know, the Groom Lake Desert Rat, is in the Area 51 suite, and that's not on my row, but this is so much better, it's so great to meet you."

She held out her copy of the paper. "Could you—sign it? For me?"

Frohike tried not to laugh and took it from her. "Sure. What's your name?"

"Why does that matter?" she demanded suspiciously.

Mulder snickered.

"Well, I wanted to know who to make it out to," Frohike explained without a trace of irony.

"Oh!" She looked embarrassed. "Well, but you don't really have to know my real name, right?"

Mulder stepped in. "Look, it's got your name on the mailing label, right?"

Frohike cleared his throat. "No. We went to subscriber numbers last year."

Mulder shook his head. "Okay, but you're on the mailing list, right? So he already has your name."

She blinked at Frohike. "Of course he doesn't. Do you really think I subscribed with my real name?"

Frohike laughed and the woman rolled her eyes.

Mulder sighed dramatically. "Okay, let's try it this way. If we called the desk, what would they say your name was?" he asked with exaggerated patience.

She laughed nervously. "My nametag says Cat." They glanced at her uniform. "I don't wear it."

"Cat?" Frohike asked. "Like…?"

"C-A-T, yes."

He grinned. "I bet that's not your real name, either."

"Um, no. I've been here longer than almost all the staff. No one really remembers my name. And then I had it legally changed. Well, a couple of times, really. They'd have to look it up, like on my paychecks and stuff. Cat is fine, really."

Frohike laughed and signed, and handed it back to her. She stared at it.

He held out his hand. "Nice to meet you, Cat."

"Oh…" she looked flustered. "I can't shake hands, I've got, like, cleaner and stuff on them…"

He withdrew his hand. "Makes sense. Still nice to meet you."

"This is so totally awesome. Thank you. Um, would you like some extra pillows or towels or anything?"

"No, thanks." He paused. "Actually, could I get some extra soap and stuff? Langly and Byers would love it."

Her eyes widened. "Oh, my God. Help yourself. You're going to give it to them? Really? Put it in their hands?"

He laughed. "Sure."

She blinked again. "Take whatever you want. This is so awesome. Thank you so much. It's just super to meet you, Mr. Frohike. I love the way you write. I love the way you write."

"Thanks," he laughed.

She grinned at him. "Give 'em hell."

The elevator door closed between them, and Mulder collapsed, laughing, against the wall. "I had no idea you had groupies, Fro."

He shook his head. "Neither did I."

"I thought she was going to ask you to sign her bra." He snickered. "You could probably write your next editorial on her bra."

Frohike sniffed. "Don't talk that way about our subscribers. You're just jealous because she thought you were an idiot."

Mulder laughed. "What the hell is a Desert Rat, anyway?"

Frohike shook his head. "The competition. They mostly do the regional UFO stories."

"Ah."

"I'm having lunch with some colleagues, but we can do dinner if you're not busy."

Mulder looked mildly disappointed. "I suppose I'd be an embarrassment."

"Well, I don't think The Smoking Gun would mind, but the Apple Cart guys are pretty nervous around the Feds."

"They don't have government sources? How do they get any stories?"

"Honestly? They don't, much. They've had one really big story since they started up fifteen years ago, and they got that document diving."

"What was the story?"

"EM surveillance."

"Sounds exciting."

"Well, from a civil liberties point of view, it was. Anyway, the editor of Flap will be there, too, and I don't feel like sitting and listening to him quiz you for an hour about everything under the sun. You're my source, remember."

Mulder grinned. "Why, Frohike, are you jealous?"

"Just protecting my interests. Watching my… assets, so to speak."

"You keep doing that thing you did last night, and you've got nothing to worry about."

Frohike gave him a smug look. "Enjoyed that, did you?"

"Exceptionally."

"Which is why you were going on about vampires and obsessive/compulsive disorders the whole time."

Mulder nearly blushed. "It was the bats."

"I figured, yeah."

"You should feel flattered," Mulder said petulantly. "That was one of my better lectures. I was—inspired."

Frohike grinned. "I was just trying to keep things interesting. I know how you hate being bored."

Mulder laughed. "Call it whatever you want, Fro, just promise me you'll do it again tonight."

"We'll see. So what do you suppose our Non-Human friends will be up to today?"

Mulder shrugged. "Sit-ins? Petition drives? Hunger strike?"

"If they actually ate any of that last night, I imagine a hunger strike is a given. It was like dinner with Langly or something."

"He's really that bad?"

"Put it this way, Mulder. I'd rather eat your cooking."

**

CUFOIN had managed to dig up security for the day. Large men in tight "Staff" t-shirts. Mulder looked a little too long.

Frohike elbowed him, hard, in the ribs. "Focus, Mulder. We're not here for the scenery."

"Doesn't mean I can't enjoy it."

The older man grinned. "How many of these guys do you think could—"

"Good point." Mulder averted his eyes.

"I think they need to work on their polemics," Frohike observed. "Protesting in a language no one understands isn't exactly useful."

"What bothers me is the lack of coordination. I mean, there's a guy with a sign that says 'Non-Humans are People Too', and one over there that says 'Klingons are Aliens Too'. Do they want to be people, or aliens?"

Frohike shrugged. "Both? I've got stuff to do. See you later, Mulder."

The first thing Frohike did was head for the host table. "Can you tell me who's in charge here?" he asked politely.

A harried heavyset woman looked up. "What do you need?"

Frohike gave her his million-watt smile. "I was hoping we could talk about the situation outside."

She looked him over and sighed. "You don't look like a Trekkie."

"I'm a journalist."

She shook her head. "You and half the people here. I'm not giving interviews."

He took a step away, forcing her to follow. "I don't want a story. I wanted to see if I could help."

She stared at him. "You don't want a story? What kind of a journalist are you?"

He handed her a card. She glanced at it. "Oh. A crusader."

He turned up the wattage. She glanced at the card again and snapped her fingers. "You guys broke the Mackerle Expedition story."

"That's us. Mel Frohike, Lone Gunman. Mongolian Death Worms a specialty."

She smiled, finally. "A skink? Really?"

"Mackerle thinks so."

"There aren't any venomous skinks."

Frohike shrugged, still smiling brilliantly at her. She had a wedding ring, so he flirted shamelessly. "Twenty years ago, there weren't chemosynthetic tubeworms, either, though you're far too young to remember that."

Her eyes sparkled at the obvious lie. "Off the record?"

"Completely. This isn't our kind of story."

"What's your interest, then?"

"Soft spot for the underdog. Anyhow, nobody needs the publicity if things get out of hand and the cops turn up."

"All right, Mr. Frohike, you've got my attention. I can give you four minutes. Would you like to join me in my luxurious private office?"

"Lead the way," he said gallantly. He followed her to a large storage room filled with pamphlets and signs and all the usual flotsam of a conference. She hastily cleared a chair for him.

"So how can you help?" she asked, perching on the edge of her makeshift desk.

He overtly eyed her ankles, which were lovely. She grinned. "Or is this just some clumsy seduction attempt?"

He pretended to be offended. "Clumsy?"

She laughed and held out her hand. "I'm Sarah Randall. With two As, two Ls. No relation."

Frohike took her hand and kissed it lightly. She blushed. "Call me Mel. You get asked that a lot, I imagine."

"Yep. Especially in this line of work. So how can you help, Mel? Do you speak The Warrior's Tongue?"

He laughed. "Not really. Can you tell me why the security?"

It took her a couple of seconds to hide the grin. "We, uh, had an incident last night. This is off the record."

"Yep."

"Don't toy with me, buddy. I can get you banned from all CUFOIN events."

"I promise, really."

She grinned sheepishly. "Well, all Indiana CUFOIN events. And I've got strong ties with Missouri CUFOIN, too. And Kansas."

He gave her an admiring smile. "You're a real heavy hitter, aren't you."

Randall laughed. "Okay, that's out of the way. The incident last night, uh, one of our guests got, well, a cream pie. In the face. He's threatening to sue."

"That's pretty frivolous."

"He says he suffered lasting emotional trauma."

Frohike shook his head. "It happened last night?" She nodded. "How does he know it's lasting?"

She gazed noncommittally at the wall. "He says he can foresee it."

"Ah." Comprehension dawned. "This wouldn't be The Stupendous Yappi, by any chance?"

She snickered. "You know the gentleman?"

"Better than I want to."

Randall broke into open laughter. "It is frivolous, yes. I'm not worried about the lawsuit. But we don't really want things to escalate."

Frohike shook his head again. "Still, that's gotta hurt. A cream-pie in the face from a Klingon."

"I believe it was a Vulcan," she managed.

"That's even worse."

"It is, yes. I think he was actually more upset about his turtleneck than anything else. Off the record, of course."

"Of course."

"I was the one who got the original request for the KLI table. I approved it, tentatively. I have no problems with Starfleet." She smiled, then sobered abruptly. "But then the chapter president called State, and they said no. They feel it lends a circus atmosphere."

Frohike snickered. "And the pickets don't?"

She shook her head ruefully. "Believe me, I know. I would have preferred to not go with the security, even, but Yappi was… insistent."

"He usually is."

"So," she continued, "they feel lied to. I suppose I should be grateful: I expect the cream pie had my name on it." She laughed, and Frohike joined her.

"And State won't reconsider?"

She shrugged helplessly. "They're not here. They don't care. And as far as they're concerned, any publicity is good publicity. I almost wonder if that's why they said no in the first place, but I do tend to see conspiracies everywhere."

"Nothing wrong with that," Frohike said, rubbing his hands together. "State—do you have a list of the people who are empowered to change their minds?"

"Sure," she said, jotting some things down on a sheet of scrap paper. "State president, state vice-president, the board. And National, of course."

He looked her list over. "I thought so," he said, grinning. "Mark Ray."

She looked questioningly at him. "What do you have in mind?"

"Let's see if we can't convince them that not all publicity is good. Look," he said, glancing at his watch. "I've got a panel in about twenty minutes, and I know you're busy. But I'll get to work on this, and we'll see what we can do about arranging a little," he grinned, "rojmab."

She blinked. "I don't know why I'm trusting you."

"Because I'm afraid to screw you over. I don't want to get banned from all Indiana CUFOIN events."

She laughed. "And Missouri and Kansas. Just let me know what you're going to do before you do it. I'm one of the few paid people in this organization, and I'd hate to have to get a real job."

He glanced about the stacks of paperwork and laughed. "Oh, sure. You're a dilettante."

She shuffled through some papers and finally gave up. "What's the panel?"

"Eldridge Bug-Tech."

"Pardon?"

"'Non-Earth Technology in the Philadelphia Experiment'," he recited.

"Oh, you poor man. They roped you into that one?"

He grinned. "They begged. And offered exclusives."

She laughed. "You definitely are a reporter, then. Can we meet in a couple of hours? If you can't find me here, my staff will know where I am."

"No problem."

"Off the record," she pleaded again.

"I promise, Sarah."

"Good. I don't want to sound like I couldn't use the help, because I could. But I'm hoping for damage control at this point."

"Discretion is my middle name."

"Unusual for a reporter."

He laughed.

**

He managed to find a private alcove and started with a call to HQ. Langly answered. "How's it goin', Frohike?" he asked, sounding suspiciously breathless.

"You two aren't fucking on my desk, are you?"

Langly laughed. "Not right now."

Frohike sighed. "Just clean it up afterwards, will you? Try not to get my stuff sticky."

More laughter. "You didn't call to play Emily Post at us. What's up?"

"Mark Ray. CUFOIN, State. Indiana. What do you know?"

"Just a sec."

He heard the question repeated to Byers, and then Byers was saying into the phone, "CUFOIN State president Mark Ray?"

"That's the one. I need dirt."

"There was something several years back. I think he was arrested for drunk driving."

"I never trusted a guy with two first names. No conviction?"

"Not that I remember. Langly's looking."

Mel made a hmm noise. "What else?"

"What do you need, exactly?"

"Something I can blackmail him with."

"I didn't hear that."

"Whatever. But it has to be something that's not already well-known, obviously."

"Well, he's got some interesting hobbies, as I recall."

Frohike waited.

"What's this about?"

"We've got a, uh, intergalactic rumble brewing here."

"I didn't hear that."

"It's not that bad—"

"No… I mean, I didn't hear that. What are you talking about?"

Frohike explained about the Klingons and the Alliance and the KLI.

Byers laughed incredulously, repeating bits of it to Langly. "So how does this involve you?"

Frohike explained how he'd offered to help Randall. "No relation, she said."

"I'm looking at her files here, no. A-L-L."

"That's the one."

"So you're looking for some information to use to get Ray to reconsider?"

"Yep."

"Well, let me think about it for a little while. We'll see what we can come up with. But I don't know anything just off-hand that'd be suitable." Byers didn't bother to ask why Frohike had decided to help. Just another crusade, large or small. And funnier than most. "How's the conference going?"

"The organized events are pretty useless so far. You can't really get the best people to spend a weekend in Indiana. Mulder says it's a Gulf-Breeze-A-Thon."

Byers chuckled. "Enjoy that."

"Yeah, I can't wait. Hey, an old friend is here."

"Fro, it's CUFOIN. A lot of old friends are there."

"Yappi."

There was a pause. "The Stupendous Yappi?"

"Is there any other?"

"I hope not. What's he doing there?"

"Apparently," Frohike laughed a little under his breath, "getting dessert."

"What?"

"One of the Vulcans cream-pied him, right in the kisser."

Byers burst into laughter. "That's perfect. Find out the Vulcan's name. We'll send him a card."

"Yeah, sure. He's suing for lasting emotional trauma."

"Lasting—? Oh, never mind. He foresees it, right?"

"That's the man."

"You want us to see what we can do about that?"

"If you get a chance. It's not a high priority. I can't see Indiana judges being too sympathetic about that. But—"

Byers waited.

"Could you get the police incident reports on that one? I promised Sarah it was off the record, but Mulder would love it, and it's fair for him to find out that way. They're public record, after all."

"Okay. They've been playing nicely?"

Frohike snorted. "Yeah, right."

"Sounds like you're having a good time. Did you come up with anything?"

"Yeah, but I don't want to talk about it now. You and the hippie stay off my desk."

He could hear Byers blushing. "Mel!"

"Hey, I don't care what the two of you do, just don't do it on my desk."

"Right. How's… the hotel?"

Frohike laughed. "I've got pictures. Of the room. The kid's a bad influence on you, you know that?"

Byers chuckled. "We'll get right on it."

"You better not," Frohike growled, and disconnected, smirking.

He took a deep breath and plunged into the meeting room set aside for the Philadelphia Experiment discussion. He was almost on time, but it didn't matter. Only the panelists and the moderator had shown up so far. He slid into his chair next to the tech beat guy from Top Secret, and said in a low voice, "This looks lively. Who've we got here?"

"Mel! How'd they sucker ya into this one?"

Frohike grinned. "Nice seein' ya again, Tarrance. Any more Flapjack leads you're sitting on?"

Tarrance laughed. It was an old joke between them. "Like I'd tell you." He glanced down the table. "Well, let's see. We got a cub from Powder Keg, think they sent him here to cut his teeth. He's here alone. The cheap pricks didn't bother to send a real journalist with him."

Frohike shook his head in disgust. "Sounds just like them."

"Yeah. Catch any of them dead in Indiana. And we have the gals from Fortean Times, you remember."

Frohike grinned. "Sure do. Bets and Darcy Patterson. They're still together?"

"Yep. Still writin' all day, still drinkin' all night." He snickered. "Among other things."

Mel leaned down the table a bit and waved at the women. "Nice to see you two. How's everything over at the Fort Fort?"

They grinned in unison, showing more teeth than a hungry shark. "Mel, baby!" the blonde, Bets, said. "What'd they promise you? Tarrance bit for free membership for two years."

Frohike laughed. "Tarrance, you sucker. I get three years and two exclusives."

The redhead, Darcy, smiled. "We got four exclusives and the book club. And we're hosting a disinformation session tomorrow."

Frohike shook his head. "Damn. How'd you like to negotiate my next contract?"

Darcy giggled. "You're still working that rag?"

Frohike smiled amiably. "It doesn't pay well, but I like my independence."

Bets grinned and nudged her partner. "Yeah, that's what he said when I asked him to marry me a few years back. You're still with those boys, aren't you?"

"You bet. We'll be together till the MIB haul us away."

Tarrance laughed. "They won't never get you, Mel. You're too wily. You got anything good goin'?"

"Well now," Frohike drawled, playing the wise old man to the hilt, "I just might have something about the Cardwell Bible Study."

Tarrance blinked. "Holy cow."

"Then again," Frohike continued, "I might not."

"Spill it, Mel. You know who?"

"Sure, Tarrance. And while we're at it, why don't I let you dig through my underwear drawer, too."

The Pattersons laughed. "Is that an open invitation?" Bets leered.

Frohike snickered. "You girls are such teases. I know damn well I'm not your type."

Darcy grinned. "You're closer to it than Tarrance here."

Frohike laughed. "I think I may have just been insulted."

Tarrance joined in. "Or me. I can't tell."

"Who's the nervous-looking kid down at the end there? He looks like a fourteen-year-old in a new suit."

Bets, sitting next to the kid, slammed her hand down flat on the table in front of him. He jumped, startled, and set down his notebook. She laughed. "J. Wayne, meet Mel Frohike, Lone Gunman. Mel, this is J. Wayne Arthur. The Third."

Frohike swallowed a laugh and stood to reach out a hand. The young man shook it hesitantly. "You're with Powder Keg, J. Wayne?"

"Just started," the man forced the words out quickly. "It's just Wayne. My editor liked the initial for my byline."

Frohike smiled. "Nice to meet you."

Tarrance nudged Frohike. "Ask him what the J. stands for."

J. Wayne blushed and didn't say anything.

"Well?" Frohike asked, amused.

"Jay." Tarrance snorted.

Darcy glared at Tarrance. "Don't pick on the kid. I remember when you were a cubby."

"Oh, yeah, and you the grand ol' dame of necronauts at twenty-four."

"I'm still the leading authority on necronauts," Darcy retorted good-naturedly.

Frohike laughed. "You may well be the only authority on necronauts, Darce."

She grinned. "I like a small field."

Frohike was looking around the room. A trio of twenty-something guys had come in and were sitting in the back of the room. Which was otherwise empty, so he couldn't quite see the point. "Who's our moderator? I don't recognize him."

"Efram Rhinehart," Bets said. Frohike laughed under his breath. "Don't laugh, it's really his name. It's a coincidence, I'm sure. He's with Lobster."

Frohike shook his head. "Damn. Lobster. What's he doing here?"

Tarrance shrugged. Bets elaborated. "He's been here three months researching the Deep Freeze/Push angle. They snared him, and I guess they didn't tell him," she grinned, "how big an interest there was in Eldridge here."

Tarrance looked at the three guys in the back and laughed. "Maybe we should invite Starfleet in. They're probably more interested in Project Invisibility than the rest of these UFO Yahoos."

Bets snickered. "That's quite an attitude you've got there, Mr. 'Cutler-Twining Memo Revealed Hoax'."

Tarrance grunted in embarrassment. "Okay, so I got screwed on that source. But Cutler-Twining is a hoax. All those damned commas."

"Anyone who counts commas has Cave Fever," Bets declared with a smirk.

Tarrance gave her the finger. "That's what I'd expect from a chick with a 'Klass is an Ass' t-shirt."

"Children, children," Frohike said mildly. "Let's remember we're all friends here."

Rhinehart looked around the room and stood up, clearing his throat. Bets and Darcy smothered giggles and tried to look serious. Rhinehart, looking less than delighted with the turnout, risen now to six, attempted to imbue his prefatory remarks with a certain amount of dignity. The English accent helped, but not by a lot, Frohike thought.

Tarrance nudged him and handed him a slip of notebook paper that had apparently originated with J. Wayne. "Who's Class?" the paper said. Frohike swallowed a laugh. He scribbled on the back of it: "Philip Klass, UFO debunker", and slid it back. Tarrance snickered and elbowed him again. Frohike shrugged. No point in being mean to the kid.

J. Wayne read the note and gave Frohike a hesitant, brief smile. "Thanks," he mouthed. Frohike nodded.

The session itself, Lobster presence aside, was not what Frohike would have considered productive. Rhinehart and the panel kicked the ball around for a while, and the spectators did more spectating than speculating. After about an hour, it became obvious no one else had anything new, really, much to Rhinehart's visible disappointment.

The session broke up, and Frohike wandered over to meet the man. They chatted for several minutes, and exchanged cards. Frohike came away with some disturbing notions.

J. Wayne stopped him in the hallway. "I just wanted to say thanks. I'm new to all this, and, well, the UFO stuff is not my field. I was just included for the high-energy angle."

Frohike nodded. "You did pretty good. Element 117 is obscure. What's your interest really?"

"Covert ops. Specifically magnetic and microwave emissions, mostly thought control, but the general effects."

Frohike whistled. "Tough field, J. Wayne."

He blushed. "It's just Wayne."

Frohike laughed. "Not after the Pattersons get through with you."

J. Wayne looked faintly puzzled. "Are they, uh, sisters? They don't look like it, but…"

Frohike smiled. "They're partners." He watched the kid blink. "As in, domestic partners."

"Oh, okay. That makes sense, I guess. They didn't look anything alike."

"Bets had her last name legally changed, and it does confuse folks some."

J. Wayne nodded and smiled. "Got it. Who's the other guy?"

"Ed Tarrance. Don't mind him. He's been MJ-12-fixated since I met him, and I imagine long before. Look," he surprised himself by saying, "I've got some calls to make, but if you'd like to get together later, we could. Sometime this afternoon or tomorrow. I've got some microwave questions you might be able to help me with, and I can fill you in on some of our colleagues."

The kid amused him, a lot more than Tarrance did, frankly. The MJ-12 stuff was hinkey, but Tarrance was self-righteous and closed-minded.

J. Wayne looked unreasonably pleased. "Thanks, I'd like that. I barely know anyone yet."

"First conference, right?"

The younger man was chagrined. "It shows?"

Frohike laughed. "Don't worry about it. You're doing fine." They traded cards. J. Wayne's was the standard generic "investigator" version, his name and contact information hand-written, Frohike noticed. Powder Keg was a sweatshop for novices, really. It figured they'd sent the poor kid to Indiana. He slapped him lightly on the back. "I'll talk to you later, J. Wayne."

**

Langly and Byers had come through.

"It seems he cheats on his wife," Byers said, trying not to laugh.

Frohike was disappointed. "Is that all?"

Langly's voice, snickering: "Ask him who the dude cheats with."

"Or what," Byers said, and then couldn't stop laughing.

Frohike waited a moment. "You boys wanna clue me in?" he asked patiently. "Or did the hippie make brownies again."

Byers made an attempt to sound serious. "He, uh, has a long-time ladyfriend, and, uh, he's…"

Frohike sighed. "Langly? Want to give it a try?"

"Your dude's into role-playing, man. Costumes. He likes her to dress up."

"Weird, but not what I'd call great blackmail material."

Byers cleared his throat. "She told her sister he likes to have her dress up as, well, farm animals. Cows, goats, sheep. Buffalo."

Langly laughed some more. "'Goat Ropers Need Love Too', man. He's got an udder thing, looks like. Total perv."

Byers chuckled and Frohike heard him say, "You're just biased against cow love, Ri."

Frohike shook his head and ignored it. "I'm not asking how you know what she told her sister. She goes along with this stuff?"

"He bought her a condo."

"Now we're getting somewhere."

"Yes, uh—" Byers coughed a little. "Almost a hundred thousand. He did a good job concealing it, but it's a fairly direct trail from the CUFOIN books."

"Not a good enough job, apparently," Frohike observed.

"Johnny spotted it right away," Langly said fondly. "My boy's a fuckin' genius."

"Ri, shut up." Protest from Byers, cut off suspiciously abruptly.

Frohike shook his head tolerantly. "Thanks, boys. They've got a fax here, I know. Give me a few minutes and I'll get you the number. Hey, Byers, that microwave radiation thing you're working on? Do you have some questions, specific questions?"

"There are a few I haven't been able to dig up answers to yet."

"I met a kid here, J. Wayne Arthur, his name is. The Third."

Langly laughed. "Well, I'm impressed."

Frohike chortled. "He's a bright kid. He's a cub with Powder Keg, it's his field."

"Poor kid. I can fax you the questions I have, while we're sending the other information. I have them written out."

"Okay. Not sure when I'm seeing him again."

"It's not urgent, Fro. It's probably a couple months from publishing."

"Okay." He read the number for them.

"Got it," Langly said. "Johnny, where's the—oh, thanks. We're sending the Yappi stuff, too."

"Fast work. Thanks a lot."

Langly snorted. "Piece of cake. How'd the Philadelphia thing go?"

"Six Gen-X-ers in bad goatees asking Independence Day questions."

Langly snickered. "Sucks."

"Wasn't all bad. The moderator was a guy from Lobster. Efram Rhinehart."

Byers laughed. "Rhinehart?"

"Yep. Hey, Byers, can you do something else for me?"

"What do you need?"

"See what you can dig up on Deep Freeze/Push."

There was a moment of silence while they racked their memories. Then Byers said, "The Invisibility men who came back with the temporal effects?"

"Yeah. I got the impression, well… We can talk about it Monday. But there might be a story."

"Frohike, it's old news. All the Deep Freeze/Push victims are dead," Byers said, puzzled, while Langly clattered across a keyboard in the background.

"The Invisibility ones, yeah."

It took a few seconds for that to sink in.

"Holy shit," Langly said into a shocked silence.

Byers swallowed: Frohike could hear it. "Needless to say, that would definitely be a significant story… More than significant, really…"

"Just an impression. Get looking on that, and I'll fill you in later."

They were still silent, thinking about the implications.

"Rhinehart?" Byers eventually said.

"Nothing explicit. Just an impression."

"Jesus," Langly said.

"Well, I, for one, hope you're wrong," Byers said a little faintly. "I remember the footage of those men—that bulkhead—no one needs a story that badly."

"As it happens, I agree with you, Byers," Frohike replied calmly. "The go-ahead on Invisibility was obscenely irresponsible. But if it's happening again, maybe we can stop it before it gets any further."

Byers swallowed again, cleared his throat. "We'll find out what we can."

"We'll talk about it later. Thanks for the material on Ray."

Byers said, distractedly, "I'd say it's about six months from breaking. The misappropriation story. They've got another audit in three months."

"It's fine, Byers. As long as it doesn't break before the end of the day, it'll do."

Langly snickered. "As long as he doesn't get caught in a petting zoo or anything, you should be good to go."

"Langly!" Byers sounded appalled.

Frohike laughed. "Just as long as he doesn't do it before Monday."

Byers mumbled something to Langly, and then said for Frohike's ears, "He's got a birthday party today, for his daughter. She's fifteen, so I think we can rule out trips to the zoo. He'll be at home. We've included the number, and his cell."

"Thanks, boys. I'll bring you some glow-in-the-dark clipboards or something."

Langly snorted. "Can hardly wait. See you Monday, Mel."

Once the fax came through, he went to find Randall. She was hovering around the host table, looking irritated. He smiled politely. "Can you give me a few minutes, Ms. Randall?"

She dropped a pile of papers in front of a young woman. "Hold down the fort, Carla. All right, Mr. Frohike. You've got seven minutes. Start now."

He laughed and followed her back to her office. "Getting worse?"

She shook her head in exasperation. "State wants us to have them arrested. Can you imagine how that'd look?"

"Hey, I'm a journalist. I'd put the pictures above the fold, banner. Probably a snide headline."

She winced. "That's what I'm afraid of."

"Well, let's see if we can't spare you that." He handed her Byers' notes, and then the documentation.

"Cows," she said flatly, disbelievingly.

"Cows and condos."

"Son of a bitch. So you intend to, what, blackmail him with this?"

"I'd rather call it coercion."

She laughed a bit. "Can you keep me out of it?"

"You bet. I'm a crusader, right? We've been working on this story for several months, but we have a soft spot for Non-Humans. Including cows, goats, sheep…"

"Have you really been working on this for months?"

"Nah. My crack research staff dug it up twenty minutes ago. But we don't want him to know someone else could stumble across it tomorrow, do we?"

She laughed. "Well, I hope this works."

"So I can go ahead?"

She handed the papers back. "Give it a try, Mel. I can't imagine the bad press from having Vulcans dragged away in handcuffs."

He laughed and winked at her. "Consider it taken care of. Frankly, letting them in just isn't that big a deal. He'd probably fold on a lot more. You need a raise or anything?"

"Leave me out of it. Please. And I hope you're right. Come find me when you know something, okay?"

"You bet."

She headed back to the host table and the dozen other disasters she had ended up dealing with.

He closed the door behind her, and pulled out his cell. "Mark Ray, please." He grinned to himself. "Tell him it's the IRS."

Ray came on, loud and assured. "I don't know who you are, buster, but you're sure not the IRS, not on a Saturday. What the hell do you want."

"You're right, I'm not the IRS, but it's just a matter of time." He let the threat hang for a couple of seconds.

"Who the hell are you?"

"I'm your girlfriend's realtor."

"You—What!" the man spluttered.

"I'm here at the Indiana conference. I'm sure you know about the situation we have here, with the protestors."

"I've taken care of that," Ray said pompously. "I've given instructions to have them arrested."

"What an idea," Frohike said, with heavy irony. "You're going to cancel those instructions."

"What! Why the hell would I do that?"

"You have a pen, some paper?"

"Why?" he demanded suspiciously.

"I've got some numbers here you might be interested in," Frohike said casually, enjoying himself.

**

Frohike found Randall talking rapidly into her phone. He gave her a high-sign, and she grinned at him in relief, motioning at the phone. He found a seat and waited.

She disconnected and beamed at her staff. "Can we find some tables for Starfleet?"

A cheer went up, and they sprang into action.

She grabbed Frohike. "Come on, Mel. Let's go have ourselves a Federation summit."

**

The Klingon Language Institute and the Alliance of Non-Humans were settled in before noon, at three tables Randall had kept open for them in the hopes State would change its mind. He congratulated her on her foresight. She congratulated him on the success of his plan. "Thank your crack staff for me. They really saved us here."

He laughed. "They'll be thrilled, both of them."

"Both of them?"

"We're a small organization."

"Well, there's only the four names on your masthead, but I assumed that was just publishers."

"Publishers, writers, editors, reporters, investigators, copy. The whole deal."

"Good Lord. How'd you manage to break Mackerle?"

"Friend of a friend."

She shook her head. "Impressive." She sobered. "You're really going to sit on this story?"

He smiled winningly. "We could, if we wanted. My crack staff says it'll break in six months at the outside, anyhow. But I don't have to. I never gave him my name. Anyone could have made that call. And I never promised him I'd keep his secret. I just said it definitely would go public if he didn't change his mind."

"I suppose I shouldn't approve, but damn. A hundred thousand. When I think of what we could have done with that money…"

"It's just the edge of it, my crack staff says. His books are totally cooked." Frohike grinned. "And now, so's his goose. Thanks for putting us onto the story, by the way."

"Thank you. I hope he resigns. No, I hope he gets prosecuted. The bastard." She shook her head. "Are you busy for lunch?"

Frohike frowned and nodded. "Sorry, yeah."

"How about dinner? I'd love to have the chance to discuss cryptozoology with you."

He considered it for a moment, and decided Mulder wouldn't mind. "I've got plans with a friend, but would you like to join us?"

"I wouldn't want to crash your party."

He laughed. "He's the friend of Mackerle's."

Her eyes widened. "You're serious?"

"Sure. He's got a lot of info on cryptids. Seen a few in his day. Wanna join us?"

"Oh, I'd love to. Thank you! Come find me when you're ready to leave. I'd love to meet your friend."

"We'll get him drunk, and he'll tell you the Jersey Devil story."

"I can't wait. Thank you, really."

"Probably around eight," he said. "Is that too early?"

She glanced at her papers. "I'll make it work. It isn't every day you get to have dinner with the guys who broke the Alghoi Khorkhoi Expedition."

"You can hope not," he laughed.

She dashed off to take care of something else, and Frohike realized he was late for lunch.

Chapter Text

On the way to the lobby, Frohike ran into, literally, J. Wayne.

"Hi, J. Wayne."

J. Wayne smiled. "Just Wayne, really."

"You've gotta stop that, J. Wayne. Look at it this way: the best way to break into subculture journalism is to be a character. Now, if we ditch the suits and replace the tie with a bowtie, you'll have a real hook. Three years from now, Powder Keg won't be able to get close enough to you to beg you for a syndicated piece."

J. Wayne laughed a little.

"But you keep up the 'Just Wayne' thing," Frohike continued, "you're destined to answer that question for the rest of your life."

"What question?" J. Wayne looked puzzled.

"'Does the J. stand for Just?'" Frohike grinned. "Do you really want people calling you 'Just Wayne' for the rest of your career?"

The younger man thought about it. "Good point, I guess."

"What are you doing for lunch, J. Wayne?"

He shrugged. "I haven't thought about it yet. Is there a good place around? Somewhere that does salads or something?"

Frohike shook his head. "J. Wayne, you may not even need the bowtie. Tell me you're not a vegetarian."

"Well…"

"Vegan?"

"Vegetarian."

Frohike rolled his eyes. "C'mon, kid. I'm having lunch with Apple Cart and The Smoking Gun and Flap. You can be my guest."

"That's very kind of you, Mr. Frohike."

"Mel. And I've got an ulterior motive." He dug through his pack and came up with the pages Byers had sent. "Look these over, would you?"

J. Wayne followed him to the lobby and was introduced to the group. "J. Wayne Arthur. He's tagging along with me for the day," Frohike explained. "They stuck him on the Philadelphia Experiment Q&A with me, the poor kid. J. Wayne does the covert ops boys and high energy fields."

"Just starting out," J. Wayne said. "Still learning."

Allen and Rosenberg from Apple Cart showed off their guest. "This is Pete, he's our copy." Chuck Allen grinned at the cubs. "That's reporter for Ain't-Gettin'-Paid." The reporters laughed, but the cubs looked a little nervous. "Pete's thing is hoaxes. Tell 'em about Frdynia, Pete," Allen instructed.

"Well, there's really a lot—" Pete started.

Allen cut him off. "Thanks, Pete." The journalists laughed.

"Thank God you haven't changed, Allen. You're still a jerk," said the Flap editor.

"That's why they put me with Rosenberg here. I piss 'em off, and he breaks 'em open."

Josh Rosenberg grinned. "Good reporter/bad reporter. Who've you got there, Steve?" he asked Flap.

"LaSalle. If she's got a first name, I've never seen it."

LaSalle blinked a couple of times. "Letisha."

Rosenberg laughed. "You don't pay her either?"

Steve Helder snorted. "Hey, I'm feeding her, aren't I? LaSalle does SETI and IS travel tech. She's got science degrees you could choke an ET Bigfoot on."

Frohike laughed. "You've been in Arkansas too long, Steve. You're just getting Too Folksy For Words."

Helder raised an eyebrow and affected a drawl. "I been practisin'. I jist don' think I'm folksy enough."

Rosenberg looked to the older man who was shepherding the six person party from one of the bigger magazines, The Smoking Gun. "Drose, who are your new kids this year?"

"We brought most of the department," Ian Drose said. "The advantages of a big budget. And a small department. Most of you boys know Masashi Katahira, crop circles. Bill A. Kahn, Roswell and recovered bodies. This is Marvel," he said indulgently, gesturing to a tall man in a fedora and wingtips. "No known legal name," he grinned. "Marvel does abductees, selectees, contactees, channelers, experiencers, hybrids, StarBorns, Walk-Ins, and Crawl-Ins."

The journalists laughed, and the kids looked confused again. "Crawl-Ins are reincarnated EBEs born in human bodies. Hereditary Walk-Ins," Katahira explained. The kids smiled at him and nodded, looking relieved at the explanation.

"Last and least, of course," Drose continued with a wink, "our cubs here. This lovely young woman is Benji Hamlin, theoretical xenobiology. She's only with us for the summer, then she's back to Stanford. I don't believe we've changed her mind about that so far, although we are still trying. And this is Nick Trebaczewski, who has finished his schooling for the moment, so we get to keep him. And don't any of you try to lure him away. He's one of the best writers I've seen in quite a while. He's hoaxes and non-ET explanations, also. You and Pete might compare notes," Drose said to Trebaczewski.

"Just remember," Allen said, grinning, to Pete, "no sharing confidential information or sources. Got it? You can talk history and published theories. But we own your theories, boys. As well as your bodies, your spare time, if any, and your souls."

There was another round of laughter, and the cubs looked a little unnerved again.

"Smoking Gun isn't just UFOlogy," Rosenberg told them. "But this is the best part of their UFO department here. Drose is the UFO editor, and resident mutilations expert. He knows more about dissected livestock than any of us will ever let him tell us."

Drose chuckled. "They expect me to keep quiet and pay for lunch," he observed affably. "Weak stomachs, the lot of them. All right then, chaps. Where shall we eat?"

Marvel grinned. "You're picking up the check, so you pick."

Drose cuffed him affectionately. "I can still take away your press pass, Marvel."

"I hid it. You can look, if you want," Marvel offered with a humorously obscene gesture.

Drose shook his head. "No, thank you, really. Not here. I'll just have your creds revoked."

Allen snorted. "That shouldn't be hard."

"Lay off my reporters, Allen. Or I'll tell Pete about your Vegas Crash story."

Allen held his hands up in playful surrender. "My bad."

Drose winked at Pete. "Perhaps I was thinking of someone else. Do you by any chance have a last name, Pete?"

"Pete Dodden," Rosenberg said with a smile. "We stopped expecting Allen to know more than half of anyone's name years ago."

"The cubs, at least," Allen smirked. "What's that you got there, J. Wayne?"

J. Wayne looked nervously at Frohike, who answered for him. "Some microwave theory stuff. I'm picking the kid's brains."

LaSalle edged over to Hamlin and Trebaczewski and introduced herself. Dodden and J. Wayne joined them as they all left the center.

"So, boys, do we want food and drink, or drink and food?" Kahn asked.

"What kind of question is that?" Allen demanded.

Drose held up a hand for attention. "I'll pay the food, but everyone picks up their own bar bill, gents." There were the traditional good-humored groans and protests amidst the laughter. "You children, don't you worry about it. We may not pay you, but at least we can get you drunk."

"I've got you, J. Wayne," Frohike said with a nod. "You can be my cub for the day."

J. Wayne smiled faintly, a totally Byers expression. "That's not necessary, really."

"Expense account," he joked. He looked the kid over. "Let me guess, you don't drink."

"Uh, no. I, uh…"

Frohike laughed. "You're gonna have to learn if you want to get along in this crowd. But at least you're a cheap date."

Allen suggested "Hooters", to the embarrassment of LaSalle, Trebaczewski, and J. Wayne. Hamlin and Dodden ignored it.

Frohike stepped in and addressed the journalists. "J. Wayne here is a vegetarian. Buffalo wings won't do it. I saw a place around the corner last night that does sandwiches and stout. How's it sound?"

There was general approval, and Drose, the acknowledged elder statesman, motioned for Frohike to lead the way.

The waiters shoved a couple of tables together and the journalists held rowdy court for a while, drinking, joking, catching up. Leads weren't shared, and sources weren't mentioned in any identifiable way, but past work was freely discussed.

J. Wayne was persuaded to try a lite beer, and received a certain amount of taunting. Frohike noticed he only drank a few sips of it, and grinned to himself. Even Byers drank when the press corps went out on the town.

Eventually the cubs loosened up a little and started talking and asking questions. Basic lore was explained for them, and they were offered a rambling, half-soused overview of non-UFO subjects, as well as a highly defamatory and entertaining who's-who of the corps. Specialties were elaborated on, and the cubs were quizzed on education and experience.

J. Wayne was revealed to have a good dose of non-UFO paranoia, and a detailed knowledge of the covert ops boys. When they discovered that J. Wayne wasn't actually Frohike's cub, the bunch of them took turns telling him stories about Frohike and the Lone Gunmen. Frohike protested that the kid was only cub-for-the-day and didn't need to know it all, but finally gave up in the face of overwhelming opposition.

After a couple of hours, the party broke up when Allen and Rosenberg stood up and announced that they had a Gulf Breeze presentation to put on. There was general laughter from the journalists. Allen handed his briefcase to Dodden. "Okay, Pete. Let's go explain why civilizations capable of interstellar travel are unlikely to be astonished by irrigation technology."

Helder laughed. "Biddle-liddle, lip," he told Dodden.

Dodden grinned. "In sleep you know, Zehaas," he said solemnly, as if offering a benediction.

Rosenberg chortled. "After we initiate him, he gets his Power Ring."

Kahn snorted. "You guys are so going to get banned from CUFOIN conferences. I can't believe they're even letting you do this."

Allen smirked. "FUROR will be there to explain why we're ignorant tools of the disinformation-mongers. I saw their boys earlier, and they're armed for bear. If me and Rosenberg and Pete don't survive, I expect you guys to avenge us."

The journalists laughed some more.

Rosenberg leaned over the table for a moment. "Hey, Mel. I hear a rumor you helped with the Starfleet detente."

Frohike laughed. "Some journalist you are, believing everything you're told."

"So you had nothing to do with it?" Rosenberg was serious now.

Frohike tossed some money on the table and stood up abruptly. "Gotta scoot, boys. Calls to make, quotes to take, and hands to shake." He glanced at J. Wayne. "I'll find you later when you've had a chance to think about the MR stuff."

J. Wayne stood up, took a step away from the table, and said, "Do you mind if I walk back to the center with you? I'm not sure I know how to find it. And I've got some thoughts already, we could talk about them on the way."

Frohike cracked a smile. "Sure. C'mon, kiddo. Tell me what you think about that potassium theory."

J. Wayne went on about it for a few minutes, and then stopped to ask, "What's the, uh, Zehaas stuff about?"

Frohike laughed. "I'll find you the books. The Gulf Breeze abductions were a guy named Ed Walters, his wife Frances. Walters said the aliens called him 'Zehaas'. The other thing, is just something he says they said to him. No one really knows what the hell it means. There's a lot of inconsistencies in the Gulf Breeze stuff. And a lot of photos of stuff that looks exactly like pie plates. You can see the strings in some of them. Supporters, and CUFOIN is a big one, say the obviously-hoaxed pictures are disinformation passed by Men In Black, to discredit the real pictures."

"Thanks." J. Wayne shook his head. "UFOs are pretty contentious, I guess."

"Some of them more than others," Frohike said with a grin. He was starting to take a shine to the kid. He was bright, and had the crusading spark. It didn't hurt that he was cute, in a wholesome kind of way. Frohike didn't know if the kid was gay, and it didn't really matter. He was just—window shopping. Besides, the kid's theories were good, really good. J. Wayne was going places, and it could only help to cultivate a friendship.

"Who came up with this, anyway?" J. Wayne asked, flapping the folded papers slightly. "I thought I knew most of the people in the field."

"Byers, they mentioned him. He's a generalist, really. A conspiracy Renaissance Man. I'm glad you understand the questions, 'cause he's been driving us nuts with them for a while. I couldn't understand any six words he put together on that."

"He's got a real grasp of the fundamentals. And some ideas I wouldn't have considered. The genetic angles," he elaborated.

Frohike nodded. "If you could write down some of your answers? So I make sure I get them to him right? We'd owe you."

J. Wayne looked uncomfortable. "No need. You already fed me."

"That was just cub-care, J. Wayne," the older man laughed. "Everybody does that. Story help is repaid with story help."

That got a smile. "I may need it, actually. I could, um, email him. If that'd help? In case he has other questions? I'd really like to hear some of his thoughts."

Frohike grinned and dug out one of Byers' cards. "Thanks. I'm sure he'd appreciate it. What'd they tell you to come back with?"

"Powder Keg?"

"Yep."

"Eight hundred words. And they'll cut it to three, my editor said. If they use it at all."

Frohike shrugged. "They're real bastards over there. Who's your editor?"

"Zev Allansu."

Frohike clucked sympathetically. "You poor kid. Is Zev still as big an asshole as he used to be?"

J. Wayne laughed a bit. "I think he's been practicing."

"Sounds like him. I've got some stuff to do, J. Wayne, but I'll see you later. Okay?"

"Sure. I need to schedule some interviews and get some quotes. For the story they won't bother to print." He didn't seem depressed about it, just sort of bemused.

Frohike patted him on the shoulder and moved off into the crowd.

He was still a little high from the chummy shop-talk lunch when he strolled back in to the conference. Mulder bumped into him near an information table, Frohike figured deliberately, from the brief hand on his ass. Very casual. Frohike tried hard not to laugh.

"How was lunch?"

"Pretty good. What'd you do?"

"Ebben."

Frohike laughed. "And is he a screamer?"

Mulder sulked a little. "I mean we had lunch together, okay?"

"Sure, sure. What'd you have? The… kielbasa?"

Mulder snorted and picked up a pamphlet from a group that was lobbying to have a fifth category added to the Hynek Encounter Classification System. "Burgers and beer. They think EBE treaties should be counted separate from contact."

"How does that work?" Frohike asked, puzzled.

"I dunno." He counted them off on his fingers. "Close look, physical trace, occupants, abduction, government cover-up?"

"Well, you'd know."

"Very funny. How'd your Q&A go?"

"What if they gave an interdimensional insectoid alien invasion and nobody came?"

More laughter. "Bust, huh."

"Not totally. Lobster moderated."

Mulder gave a low whistle. "How'd they manage that?"

"Near as I can figure, they lied to him."

Mulder snickered. He glanced around again, and seemed to spot someone. "See you later, Fro," he said suddenly, and loped off.

Frohike handily tracked down copies of UFO Abductions in Gulf Breeze and The Gulf Breeze Sightings, adding for the hell of it a copy of Howard Blum's Out There and Peter Knight's Conspiracy Culture. He laughed at, and declined, UFOs for Dummies. The seller assured him it virtually flew off the table.

"Does it hum?" Frohike asked.

The seller, a young woman in a t-shirt bearing the legend "Order of the Dolphins" grinned. "Hovers and beeps."

He tucked his purchases away and headed off to check out the Starfleet tables, feeling a little proprietary towards them. He was offered a hero's welcome, which made him laugh.

"So you're not upset they said no to the food?" he asked an unusually short Romulan babe.

She laughed. "Hell no. Klingon cooking is not an indoor thing."

Frohike gathered some quotes. It was pretty much just a matter of habit, even if he wasn't involved, it wasn't their kind of story. He did manage to identify the Vulcan who had thrown the pie. The man was good for a couple of quotes, and assured Frohike that, no, he hadn't actually been arrested. The Stupendous Yappi couldn't tell a Vulcan from a Romulan, and had been unable to describe his assailant.

"He couldn't even say male or female," Frohike laughed, and showed him the incident reports.

"That's not really what happened," the man told him, shaking his head. "He was just begging for a pie. I didn't even know who he was."

"You couldn't have pied a more deserving asshole," Frohike said.

The Vulcans declared him an honorary diplomat, and he was offered his pick of the protest signs. He laughed and settled for photos of it all.

**

It happened as he was walking down a hallway to find the Hudson Valley slide show. An arm reached out of nowhere and grabbed him, pulled him into a room. Shoved him against a door in total blackness and held him there. He heard the click of a lock. He hoped it was a lock, anyhow.

He swallowed. So it'd finally happened, after all the years and all the stories. He knew being Mulder's friend provided them with a little extra protection, but he and the other Gunmen knew that odds were good someday someone would decide they were more trouble than could be tolerated.

It helped, some, to know that Mulder would probably raise hell to find out what had happened.

Frohike's biggest regret was they still hadn't watched the eighty-four version of Project Blue Balls.

This last thought straightened his spine. He was not going to die in a closet in Indiana. He lashed out with a swift knee and heard a muffled grunt when he connected. Still in the murky darkness, he rammed his elbow into where he was hoping his assailant's ribs were. From the cursing, it was clear he'd succeeded. Something else also became clear.

"Mulder, you are a fucking asshole!" he hissed in disgust.

Mulder laughed a little painfully. "I thought you'd know it was me."

Frohike muttered something virulently obscene under his breath. "If I'd known it was you, I'd have hit you harder. You are a total fucking asshole. What the fuck were you thinking?"

Mulder snickered and leaned heavily against the older man. "I was thinking about sex. But I don't think I am anymore."

"You're an asshole, Mulder, and you just took ten years off my life."

"Yeah, but do you still want to be my Valentine?"

Frohike snorted. "Asshole."

"Are you feeling deprived? Even after last night? I can fix that. If you give me a couple of minutes for my testicles to descend, anyway."

He sighed. "Where'd I hit you?"

"Ribs. And, uh, let's call it upper thigh."

Frohike relented. "Sorry. I really didn't know it was you. Are there lights in here? Where is here, anyhow?"

"Nope. Just a closet. You couldn't tell by the seductive aroma of Windex?" Mulder's words came from a spot way too close to Frohike's face.

"Not really, no. The slightly less seductive aroma of several Sam Adams is overpowering it. How many'd you have, Mulder?"

"Who cares. Hey, Fro," Mulder said breathily. "I'm starting to remember what I was thinking about when I pulled you in here."

Frohike almost laughed. "What's it take to turn you off, for God's sake?"

Mulder did laugh. "Probably a stake through the heart. Anyway, you missed. The important stuff, that is."

Frohike shook his head, knowing Mulder could sense it. "For some reason, being assaulted puts me completely out of the mood. Maybe later, when we're not standing in a dark supply closet, you can show me your bruises."

Mulder's hands were moving down Frohike's body. "I sort of like this closet, Fro. It's… cozy."

"If you touch my belt, I'm going to start yelling 'rape'."

Mulder laughed. "Really?" Frohike could feel him lean in and down and he brushed his lips across the older man's cheek.

A frisson of desire. "Oh, God. Maybe not. I've got a few minutes, I think." He bucked into Mulder's hand. "Fuck!"

"It's a little too cozy for that. Where were you going, anyway? Am I making you late for a meeting with someone… important?"

"Hudson Valley—" Frohike gasped. "Not important. Not important at all." He shrugged his pack off his shoulder and it dropped to the floor. His pants followed, and then Mulder did too.

"Let me show you some bright lights, Frohike."

His mind barely registered the cheesiness of the line. He was—preoccupied with what Mulder did next. Tormenting touches, soft and wet, across his cock. He groaned, trying to keep it quiet.

"Talk to me, Fro," Mulder mumbled, frustrated.

"Mulder—We're in a goddamned closet—God!—at a goddamned conference—do that again!—I don't think we need," he gasped, "an audience. Fuck, fuck, fuck. You're oversexed, Mulder."

Mulder laughed and it rippled through Frohike's body. "I'm prepared to shoot anyone who tries to get in here."

"Oh God. Keep that up," Frohike panted, "gonna be piles of… bodies in the hall. Shit, Mulder. Can't believe we're doing this."

Mulder lightly nibbled the length of his shaft. "I'm a closet case," he snickered.

Frohike braced himself as best he could against the wall with one hand and guided Mulder's mouth helpfully with the other. "Less banter."

Mulder took the hint. He engulfed Frohike entirely, sweeping waves of fever down his spine and curling fingers and toes. "Mulder… Mulder… God." So hot, so rough. So… enthusiastic. He wished he could see the younger man. The darkness started to close in on Frohike, and he pressed against the door behind him. Mulder slid his hands up and held him by the hips.

Frohike whimpered at the firm grip that prevented him from thrusting into the wet heat. Mulder's thumb dug into his hipbone and his mouth was like the heart of a dying star. Frohike swore weakly and could feel Mulder's chuckles as currents rushed over him.

"Fuck…" He bit hard into his hand and his orgasm surged through him. He did see the promised bright lights, briefly.

Mulder rested his head on Frohike's belly, still holding him up. The soft hair tingled against his hypersensitized skin. Frohike was still coming down when Mulder said, "Hudson Valley—Did you ever see UFO Coverup Live?"

Frohike shook his head and tried to get enough breath to laugh. "Mulder. I'm half-naked in a closet. Can we just skip, for the moment, the denunciations of Bill Moore?"

He felt Mulder grin against him. "Sorry."

"S'okay."

Mulder pulled his pants back from around his ankles, and Frohike somewhat unsteadily did them up. "What did you do with my belt, Mulder?"

Mulder pressed it into his hand, and he felt the air move and heard a rustle as Mulder stood. Frohike pulled him close. "Sorry I hit you."

"You can kiss my bruises later."

Frohike laughed quietly. "Deal." He breathed deeply for a few minutes. "If there's a bunch of people waiting for us in the hallway when we open this door—"

"I've got a spare clip."

"You wouldn't have to defend my virtue if you hadn't ambushed me."

"Sorry I did?"

He leaned against Mulder. "No. It was just a slide show."

After a moment, Mulder carefully cracked the door and looked out. "Clear," he said professionally.

Frohike laughed. "Thank God for that. How do I look?"

Mulder grinned. "Sated. Me?"

"Smug."

"Good. No one will be able to tell we've been doing anything unusual."

Frohike pushed him back into the closet suddenly, kissed him hard, lapping at his chin.

"You're welcome," Mulder snickered, when he let go.

Frohike moved back. "I think the come on your face would've given us away."

Still snickering. "Possibly."

They eased back into the empty hallway. "Why were you going to a Hudson Valley slide show?" Mulder insisted.

"Meeting someone there."

Mulder sighed dramatically. "There's always someone trying to come between us, isn't there, Fro."

Frohike laughed. "I'm not touching that." He glanced down. "Forgot my pack." He ducked back into the closet and came out rummaging around in it. "I got you something."

"I hope it's aspirin."

"Shit, Mulder," Frohike paused, looking up. "Did I hit you that bad?"

"No, no. It's okay. I'm joking."

"Sorry, buddy." He came up with the Yappi incident reports. "This should make you feel better."

It took the agent a couple of seconds to assimilate what he was reading, and then he slumped against the wall, laughing till tears ran down his face. Frohike waited.

"Is this for real?"

"Yep."

"How'd you hear about this, Mel?"

"I have my sources," Frohike said evasively, grinning.

Still laughing. "This… this…" He couldn't find the words and settled for "Fuck."

"Hey, I invited the conference coordinator to dinner with us, is that okay?"

Mulder blinked at him. "Is he cute?"

"You have a one track mind, Mulder. It's a she. She's into cryptozoology. She'd love to talk with you about Mackerle, the rest of it."

He shrugged. "I guess it's okay. I was kind of hoping we could be alone, but…"

"We still have the Batcave, Mulder."

Mulder gave him a fast smile. "Maybe I'll bring Ebben, too."

"Ebben would love the Batcave."

"I meant to dinner." Mulder sulked briefly.

"Sure, why not?" Frohike said with post-coital easy agreeability. "Let's make it a party." He thumped Mulder lightly on the back. "I'll see you around seven-thirty, how about? By the host table." He stopped and turned back. "Mulder?"

"Yeah?"

"Not that I'm not grateful, but… don't ever do that again, okay?"

Mulder just laughed.

**

Frohike snagged J. Wayne as he wrapped up an interview with a Vulcan.

"J. Wayne, what've you got planned for tonight?"

The young man was startled. "Well, I was going to work on my story—"

"Dinner?"

"There's a sub shop near my hotel—"

"C'mon, kiddo. Let's go find food."

"Really, Mr. Frohike, that's not necessary—"

"Loosen up, J. Wayne. It's Mel, I already said. I'm meeting a few people for dinner. Come with us. It'll be good for you."

J. Wayne blinked. "All right, I guess. You know, I was talking to the people here—"

"There's a guy you have to meet. Or, at least, he has to meet you." Frohike grinned and dragged the kid along behind him like an erratic moon.

"They were telling me you—"

"J. Wayne, you're gonna have to learn not to believe everything you're told."

"Why are you—"

Frohike stopped suddenly and turned around. J. Wayne plowed into him. "Look, kid. It was just—something that had to be done. Okay? Simple as that. We get enough crap from the rest of the world without them snickering over footage of cops arresting goddamned Klingons, okay?"

He turned away abruptly and started walking again. "Come on," he said, knowing the kid was still standing there staring at him. When J. Wayne caught up with him, he said casually, "Anyhow, I've been arrested. Nobody needs that. For exercising their right to assemble? I don't think so. But the cops bite off more than they can chew, and you get a dozen people stuck overnight in some roach-infested cell, and fingerprinted. Fingerprinted," he said contemptuously. "Even if they're never prosecuted, they're still in the damned system by then. For the First Amendment. It's a crummy system sometimes, J. Wayne, when it's run by crummy people. That's why we're here, to keep 'em honest. That's all I did. That's the damned point, J. Wayne."

He heard the kid softly say, "Oh," and glanced over. J. Wayne was staring at him.

Frohike sighed. "Powder Keg won't print it, anyhow. Don't start your career on a note like that, okay? You've got a good future ahead of you, but Powder Keg won't give you much more than one chance, if they even give you that. So forget about that one. You need to talk to people about the somatic effects of covert microwave radiation. That's a story. It'll make you look good, and it needs covering."

Frohike sighed again. "Sorry for the rant, J. Wayne."

"No, you're right. That's exactly why I got into this. To do the stories that help people." He hesitated. "What makes you do it, Mel? It's… personal for you, it shows."

Frohike shrugged a little, not looking at him. "Another time, maybe. That's the guy I want you to meet. The one in the suit, with the gawdawful tie."

J. Wayne found Mulder and stared. "Oh, wow," he said.

Frohike tried not to laugh. For his part, Mulder stopped his conversation with Randall abruptly when he saw who Frohike had with him. The traces of sulk Frohike had come to know so well in the agent completely disappeared.

Frohike made the introductions, on the verge of hysterics. "Sarah Randall, your conference coordinator. J. Wayne, he's a new boy with Powder Keg. Agent Mulder of the FBI. Where's Ebben, Mulder?" he hissed while Randall and J. Wayne shook hands.

Mulder sighed and went back to the pout. "Full dance card."

Frohike nodded sympathetically. "Too bad. I hope you don't mind me bringing the kid."

Mulder gave him a look. "How old's the kid?"

"If you gotta ask, Mulder…" He turned back to the others. "Well, Sarah, since it's your town, where's a good place to eat?"

"There's a fantastic burger place a few blocks from here."

"J. Wayne's vegetarian," Frohike said.

Randall hardly blinked. "They have a really great portobello mushroom sandwich."

"Sounds fine to me," J. Wayne said. "What about you, Agent Mulder?"

"Perfect," Mulder said, all charm and straight teeth.

Frohike had to look away while he got himself under control. He wondered what would happen if the two of them shook hands. Some kind of flirtational black hole, maybe.

"Lead the way, then," Frohike said to Randall. "How was the afternoon? Fewer crises?"

She smiled. "Thanks to you, yes. One of the local papers showed up, too late to see anything interesting. They were disappointed."

"What'd you tell them?"

"I made them register and suggested they try Jim Collins' Great Falls Movie lecture. I assured them it was very popular this year."

Frohike and Mulder laughed.

"How did you spend your day, Agent Mulder?" Randall asked. She didn't notice the smirk and continued blithely on. "I understand you were involved in several lectures and panels?"

Frohike gave him a fast look. "I thought just the two."

Mulder shrugged elaborately. "I sat in on the 'Reporting your Experience' and 'Field Guide to Sightings' discussions, too."

Frohike tried not to laugh. The tone told him he was going to hear plenty about it on the drive home. "That must have been a ball."

"I'm grateful you did," Randall said to Mulder. She turned to the others. "Vicente Ramos, from TREAT, was supposed to come, but he spent last week in Alamogordo, and seems to have come down with something. We wish him well, of course," she said quickly, "but it did complicate matters. Agent Mulder and a couple of others stepped in, and we only had to cancel the 'Anomalous Trauma' session."

J. Wayne started to ask, and Mulder explained, an odd glint in his eyes. "Post Abduction Traumatic Stress. TREAT is the accepted authority on the subject."

Frohike raised an eyebrow at him. "I would have thought you could handle that, too."

Mulder coughed. "I was busy. Meeting someone at the Hudson Valley slide show."

Frohike nearly managed to keep a straight face. "Get anything good?"

"Very good, actually. We can talk about it later." He changed the subject smoothly. "How are they treating you at Powder Keg, Wayne?"

J. Wayne looked delighted at not having to correct Mulder about his name. Frohike, knowing damned well Mulder was assuming "Wayne" was the kid's last name, almost laughed again. It was going to be a hell of an evening.

"Hey, J. Wayne, I found you some books," Frohike said, interrupting the Looks. He rummaged around and came up with his collection of primers.

Mulder intercepted them. "This is a piece of crap," he said dismissively, looking at the top book, Conspiracy Culture. "Sightings? Abductions? For God's sake, Frohike. You want him reading Gulf Breeze? Why don't you just give him The Roswell Incident and pin a 'Dupe' sign on his back?"

Frohike snickered and retrieved his prizes. "I almost picked up UFOs for Dummies too. Relax, Mulder, he's a smart kid. He'll get it. He's been warned about the Walters and Moore. I'm sure you can continue to condemn Moore over dinner."

J. Wayne looked like he'd be positively enraptured to hear about it. He accepted the books with the Byers smile again and said, "You really didn't have to, Mr. Frohike. But thank you."

"I've told you before, it's Mel. Just Mel. Okay?"

"Sorry."

**

The restaurant was crowded and noisy and offered a variety of alcoholic drinks in addition to an elaborate array of burgers and salads.

Frohike and Mulder went for cheeseburgers. Randall had a chicken sandwich of some kind, and Frohike stepped heavily on Mulder's foot before he could tell the Chaco Chicken story.

Randall wanted to know all about Mackerle, so J. Wayne listened attentively as the three of them discussed it. "This thing is real?" he asked eventually. "This Death Worm thing?"

Frohike shrugged. "Nobody's ever gotten pictures. But who knows. Mackerle thinks it's a skink."

"Skinks have legs," Mulder pointed out.

"Caecilians don't," Frohike commented.

"Caecilians are amphibians," Mulder said.

"There are also legless lizards. The slow worm, the glass lizard."

"Skinks don't have venom," Randall observed. "Neither do the worm lizards."

Frohike shrugged again. "Well, it's gotta be a new species, right? There are venomous lizards."

"Two," Mulder noted, with his instant recollection of any obscure fact. "The gila monster and the beaded lizard."

"If there's two, there may be others."

J. Wayne thought about it. "What about the Komodo dragon thing?"

"Good point," Mulder said. "Mackerle proposed that it might be septic bacteria instead of actual venom."

"How did you meet Mackerle, Agent Mulder?" Randall asked.

"Just Mulder. He came to see me after a report I filed on an ice worm."

"Ice worm?"

"Well, sort of…" Mulder explained about the Antarctic expedition and its bizarre results.

When the waiter returned with their food, he asked if anyone wanted another drink. Mulder glanced at Frohike.

"Go ahead. I'm driving," Frohike told him.

Mulder nodded.

"What about Faciphaga emasculata?" J. Wayne asked Mulder.

Mulder blinked at him.

"Freedom of Information Act," J. Wayne explained. "I came across that a year or so ago, and spent some time since looking into the X-Files. I never imagined I'd meet you."

Frohike snorted. Mulder at a loss for words was a rare and precious sight.

Eventually Mulder shrugged slightly. "I don't know that I'd call that cryptozoology."

They discussed it for a minute or so, and then Frohike said, "J. Wayne, I know you're vegetarian, and Mulder, you're too weird to be grossed out by anything, but, damn, boys. Sarah and I are trying to eat here."

Mulder laughed and apologized. J. Wayne blushed.

Randall spoke up. "Mel says you've seen the Jersey Devil, Agent Mulder?"

"Call me Mulder. Years ago…" and he was off again.

Dinner went like that. Randall or J. Wayne would ask a question, and Mulder would tell a slightly rambling version of the story. The stories got more rambling as the night went on, and Mulder had a few more beers.

Frohike hid his face behind his hand and grinned. Randall and Frohike had switched to colas after two beers, and J. Wayne stuck with coffee all night. After about an hour, Mulder had even forgotten he was flirting with J. Wayne (to J. Wayne's evident disappointment) and eased his hand onto Frohike's knee under the table. Frohike smothered another laugh.

When Mulder started to tell them what Frohike recognized as the story about Mostow and the gargoyles, Frohike cut him off and declared the party at an end. Mulder was headed for maudlin drunk, he knew from experience. He wasn't slurring his words, and he didn't look drunk, but Frohike knew that was because he was concentrating hard at it. Time to get him home and—cheer him up, and put him to bed.

"Thank you," Randall said to Mulder as they all left, "for a fabulous evening. And thank you," she turned to Frohike, "for helping out today. I was afraid we'd be the lead story in the local news today. We don't need that kind of attention."

Frohike smiled. "Think nothing of it." He closed her car door for her and waited until she drove away. When he turned around, both J. Wayne and Mulder were gazing at him. "What?"

"What'd you do?" Mulder asked. "The Klingons?"

J. Wayne grinned; it looked good on the kid. "Yeah. They didn't know how, and Sarah's not telling, but the Starfleet guys told me Mel saved the day." He glanced slyly at Mulder. "If you get the story out of him, I'd love to hear it. He won't tell me, but I suspect he'll tell you."

Frohike snorted. "He'll be lucky to remember anything tomorrow."

J. Wayne laughed. "Just so you don't forget, then," and he handed Mulder a card.

Mulder dug out one of his own. "Get in touch with me, Wayne. I'd love to discuss energy fields. Frohike was impressed with you, and he doesn't get impressed."

J. Wayne blushed, visible even in the dark parking lot. "Thanks. I guess I'll see you guys tomorrow, then."

"Sure thing," Frohike said, steering Mulder to the car.

Halfway home, Mulder said, "Cute kid."

"And smart."

"He seems smitten."

"He's just overwhelmed with the G-Man mystique."

Mulder blinked. "With you. I mean."

Frohike laughed. "Oh, sure. Anyhow, I've got my hands full with you, Mulder."

"Speaking of which…"

"You're totally insatiable, Mulder."

"Yeah, but I've got a great ass."

Frohike glanced over. "Well, that's true. You think you can stay awake long enough to watch a movie, or should we save that for tomorrow?"

Mulder considered it. "I think," he said with the seriousness of the fairly drunk, "that I could stay awake, if someone gave me a reason to stay awake."

Frohike grinned. "Okay, but I'm not doing all the work."

"Deal," Mulder said.

Chapter Text

"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."