by Audrey Roget
Relevant episodes: Takes place between "Field Trip" and "Biogenesis," references to "Three of a Kind," "Arcadia" and "Two Fathers/One Son"
Rating: Young teens +
Keywords: MSR, Lone Gunmen, 3rd-party POV
Summary: There's no such thing as a friendly game.
Author's Notes: Thanks to Blackwood, Mish, Diana Battis, Cameo and mountainphile for eagle-eyed and ego-boosting beta. Come with me back to the summer of 1999 (when this story was begun)...
Undisclosed location - Washington DC metro area
"Just answer the question, dildo breath." His lip curls in a nasty little sneer. He knows he's got me.
"You gonna make me, sissy-geek?" I challenge, injecting all the menace I can muster.
This goddamn heat wave has us all on edge lately. We've been sleeping in three-hour shifts for the last four days in case the District decides to power down and wipe out our server. Oh, they'll call it a brown-out, just an energy conservation measure.
"Gentlemen, there's no need to resort to name calling or threats," soothes the clear-headed member of our triumvirate.
I give a conciliatory grunt and mumble, "What was the question again?"
"Who did the Miracle Mets defeat to win the 1969 World Series?"
Fuck if I know. Baseball's never been my game. I throw up a hand in self-disgust. "Giants?"
Langly snaps his tongue against his teeth. "Dude, the Giants are *National League.* Try Orioles."
And, once again, the orange wedge eludes me. The last piece I need before making a triumphal march back to the center of the wheel. Langly's missing blue and brown, while Byers is down pink, yellow, and orange.
I sigh loudly and mop my head with an already-damp handkerchief. We've got the a/c cranked up as far as it'll go, but the machines eat up most of the cool.
"It's just a friendly game, remember?" Byers' attempt to console me earns him a sarcastic snort.
"Yeah, *right*," I grumble. Jesus H. Christ, man, how can you wear a dress shirt and tie and never break a sweat? That just pisses me off.
"There's no such thing, man," Langly tosses his head, "no such thing."
Langly blows on the dice like we were at a friggin' craps table and throws. The security buzzer sounds. Byers jumps up to check it out. Meanwhile, Blondie skips around the board, bouncing from one Roll Again to the next, and eventually comes to rest on the coveted blue wedge.
I draw a card out of the center of the deck, keeping an ear half-cocked for who our nocturnal visitor might be. I read the question absently - "What are the residents of Lesbos called?" - not doubting that he'll get it right and put us in a tie.
His one-word answer is drawn out with sleazy gusto, but my brain is focused on the familiar voice coming from the entryway.
Ringo drops a plastic wedgie into an open slot, drawling, "Lezzzzzbians."
"Intellectual discourse at its finest. I knew I wouldn't be disappointed," lilts the delectable Agent Scully as she saunters into our midst. Following at some distance, Byers is paler and more constipated-looking than usual. Last we heard, Mulder's partner was out to kick some collective Gunmen ass.
"What brings the delightful Agent Scully to our humble neighborhood at this hour?" I inquire. "Come to collect our sorry hides?"
She cocks her head and shakes it once. "Ah, that...trust me, fellas, I'm over it."
Melvin's Rules About Chicks, No. 84: Never trust a woman when she says she's 'over' something.
She straightens up and juts her chin to its accustomed angle. "There is, however, a little favor I've come to ask."
Like she even has to ask.
She shrugs out of her jacket and Byers offers her some iced tea. Glancing at the stout bottles scattered around the table, she simply says, "I'll have what they're having." So it's like that. Ten to one, this 'favor' has something to do with one Special Agent Diana Fowley.
Scully takes an envelope from her jacket pocket before slinging it across the back of a chair. Sitting, she finally notices our game in progress. Her pretty blue eyes shadow out for a second and she mumbles a sheepish apology for the interruption.
"No harm," I assure her. "Langly's glad for the break - I was just about to mop up the board with him."
Byers returns with Scully's ale. As she takes a healthy pull, I ask again what brings her around.
Flipping the envelope onto the table, she says, "I'd like you to see what you can find out about this man."
Retrieving the packet, Byers unfolds a few printouts, one of which is a grainy scanned photo. "Dr. Alvin Barnes, American University. Head of the biology department," he reads. Confused looks all around. Maybe there's no Fowley business here after all.
"So what's the dude's story?" I ask, taking the pages from Byers and flipping through them.
"I don't know, exactly," Scully pauses a moment before dropping the other pricey Italian shoe, "but he's connected somehow to Diana Fowley." She flashes a challenging glance at our motley crew, daring us to decline her request for help. "Look, I've appreciated your help in the past, but if you feel...you can't or don't want to get involved...tell me now."
In the veiled language of Special Agent Dana Scully, FBI, that means, "If you're worried about pissing off Mulder, I'll understand and seek kung fu elsewhere." But our kung fu is the best, and she knows it. What she doesn't understand, not yet, is that our loyalties don't lie with Mulder, exactly, but with his search for the truth. And if he's gone spelunking up his ass, we still have to stay on the right path. Right now, Scully's the scoutmaster, and she's got the flashlight.
Finally, after a silent three-way conversation, I say, "Maybe you'd better back up."
She nods and takes another swig before launching into her tale. "I was asked by a colleague to make some comments at a pre-med convocation at American University last week. Near the end of the Q and A, a figure at the back of the auditorium rose to leave. It was Agent Fowley. She turned back to hear the rest of my response, then ducked out the door. Call me paranoid," she chuffs sarcastically, "but it seemed at the time that she wanted to make sure I was aware of her presence."
The hamsters turning the wheels in my brain are working overtime, processing things. "What do you mean by 'at the time'?"
"The lecture hall where I was speaking is located next to the building that houses the university's anthro-biology labs. As I was leaving campus, I caught sight of Agent Fowley entering that building…and...I followed her."
"And you believe now that she was baiting you?" questions Byers.
"I can't be sure. The trail ended at the office door of Dr. Barnes there," she cocks her head toward the folder in Byers' hands. "From his faculty website, I gleaned that he's been researching primates on the western coast of Africa. But his curriculum vitae shows that he also did unspecified research in Tunisia between 1988 and 1994."
"Tunisia's a long way from west Africa," observes Langly.
"Yes. It is," she agrees. "One more interesting detail: Apparently, he has served for the last decade as scientific advisor to the Department of State."
A brief silence follows this last bit of information, and I can hear the collective humming of our brains.
"So, what if Fowley was leading you to this guy's door?" I eventually ask.
"I'm not concerned with Agent Fowley's motives - at the moment," she replies, admirably keeping the bitterness in her expression to a minimum. "Not until we get this guy checked out."
I'm getting freaky vibes from her tonight. Usually, I like freaky, but. Oh, Christ. She means to keep this from Mulder. Taking our silence as acquiescence, she rises to leave, thanking us for our help and the drink.
She sighs and looks to me for understanding. "I'm...I'm just worried about Mulder. The last couple of months have been pretty peaceful, all in all, but I have an uneasy feeling about this." A small, faraway smile passes her lips, and then her face clouds again.
As she's gathering her jacket, the buzzer sounds again, followed by impatient pounding.
"C'mon, guys!" Mulder's voice rattles over the speaker, "I know you're up, I can smell Frohike's famous nachos!"
Scully's eyelids slam shut and her lips form a single syllable. She drops back into her chair. I scurry over and throw the locks, opening the door about six inches.
"Hey, man," I say nervously, "what brings you by?"
He shrugs. "Do I *need* a reason? I had a sudden craving, and I thought maybe you'd wanna go get some cheesesteaks-"
"Maybe another time, guy. It's...uh...it's gettin' kinda late. We were just closing up shop." I try to shut the door, but he ducks past me.
"You're gonna think I'm crazy, but I swear I saw Scully's car parked down the street," he tries for a light tone, but his eyes can't carry it off.
Smooth man, real smooth. What - did you follow her, asshole?
"Oh - oh yeah?" I stammer, having no freakin' idea where to go with this. And then a voice from heaven calls.
"Mulder? That you?"
I can feel the blood draining from my face as Mulder pushes on past toward the kitchen table.
"Guess I'm not so crazy after all," he throws a shit-eating grin back over his shoulder.
"Funny meeting you here, Mulder," she says dryly.
"Funny 'ha ha' or...never mind," he returns. "What're you up to here at Chez Paranoia?"
Cool as a cucumber smoothie, Scully replies, "Oh, I just came by for the results of some tests I asked the guys to run on the Appalachian fungus..."
"Yeah?" he says too perkily, "What did you find, boys?"
"Nothing conclusive yet," Byers leaps into the fray.
"...and then I got pulled into a friendly game of Trivial Pursuit."
"Friendly, huh?" Mulder snorts. "Who's winning?"
"I am," Langly and I chorus. I glance down and notice my game piece is missing.
"Yeah, me and Frohike versus Scully and Byers," Langly rebounds, "and we're kickin' ass, too."
Scully throws him a glare that is part gratitude, part warning. I notice her closed fist passing surreptitiously into her pants pocket and hear a faint plastic rattle.
"So it's not too late to get in on the action," he states, pulling my stool over and making himself at home.
"You're pretty far behind, Mulder," Scully tries to dissuade him. "Langly and Frohike pretty much have this one sewn up."
"Ah, Scully..." he says, searching for a rationale, "you know how I love a challenge."
Mulder's gaining, like we all knew he would.
I push my specs back on my sweat-lubed nose and read a history question for Scully: "What day of the week was John F. Kennedy assassinated on?"
Byers looks stricken and jumps in before she can get her mouth open. "I thought we agreed to take that one out of the deck?"
"Oh, Jeez," I remember, feeling weirdly guilty, like I've farted at a funeral. "Sorry about that." There's a respectful silence as I rip up the card and slide a new one from the box. "Do-over."
All tied up at five wedgies apiece.
Fuckin' Mulder. He probably read through the cards at some point and memorized the answers, the bastard. I like him - hell, I love the guy - and I know he's got more than the average dude's sack of shit to carry around. But there is also a shatterproof plastic core of smug self-satisfaction that runs through him. It gets buried pretty deep sometimes, and at others - like now, when he's pounded back a few and there's an adoring redhead licking her lips at him – that streak makes him pretty friggin' close to insufferable.
"What does the male praying mantis lose to the female after mating?" Langly reads in his slightly drunken Alex Trebek tone.
"His head," Byers intones sympathetically, "he loses his head. Can I get anybody else another beer?" he asks, not missing a beat. I raise my empty and he takes it, shuffling off toward the fridge.
In a good-hearted but ultimately dorky attempt to lighten Byers' mood, Mulder pipes up. "Hey, have you ever noticed how the head of a praying mantis resembles that of an alien?"
"Yes," we respond in a bored unison.
Byers misses his next question, so it's Mulder's turn. "What company published The Fantastic Four, The Incredible Hulk and The Mighty Thor?" Langly asks, squirming in his seat, dying to answer without even having to look at the key on the back.
"Pffff..." snorts Scully. It's not a ladylike sound, but from her it's alluring. "Sorry," she holds up a hand, "that just doesn't sound like Mulder's usual reading material....though he probably knows the publishers of Hustler, Penthouse and Built Biker Babes." Her icy blues turn fiery with challenge, and combined with the lingering smirk, she is hotter than I've ever seen her up close and oh-so-personal.
Without batting an eye, Mulder picks up the gauntlet. "Larry Flynt, Bob Guccione and Sal 'Boom- Boom' Brkowski." He turns back to me with a disinterested shrug.
"Marvel comics!" Langly explodes.
The wheel goes round and round. Or we go around it. Fuck if I know anymore. Our pies are all bricked in, and we're circling each other in one endless, brain-shriveling stalemate. And then it happens. Mulder rolls a six, lands in the center and chooses his poison. Pink.
"Jesus," Scully groans, and reads the question as though she's just swallowed something nasty. "What couple lived at 148 Bonnie Meadow Road, New Rochelle, New York?" Disgustedly, she Frisbees the card back to the table.
A wicked gleam shines from Mulder's eye, aimed at no one but his partner. He mumbles something under his breath that sounds like, get this, "Little baby cats."
I've seen that look before, and plainly, pussy is on his mind. Uh…Hello? We're definitely missing an inside joke here. Is there some Dick Van Dyke sex cult that I don't know about? The lovely Agent Scully rolls her eyes in disgust, most likely not for the last time this evening.
Mulder celebrates his victory with typical restraint, arms flung over his head, his wide-open yap hissing crowd noises. The rest of us are just glad the game's finally over. Meanwhile, Byers makes like a good hostess and starts tidying up, folding the board and dropping the die into its hermetically sealed pouch. He rubs his beard nervously as he sees Scully slip her hand oh-so-non-chalant into her pocket, then silently reaches out to take the game pieces she hid away hours ago.
"Well," I groan, peeling my ass away from the leatherette stool where I parked it sometime last month, "it's been real, my friends."
"It's always nice to see you, Mulder, Scully." Byers nods and begins clearing away empties.
"Yeah," Blondie bobs his beak, "this was way more fun than the last time you guys were here together."
Scully grins a tight-ass grin that says she hasn't heard what's just been said and nobody mentions how *that* little soiree ended.
For about three seconds, until Mulder's mouth wins out over his brain.
"Yeah, these little gatherings just keep getting better." Mulder slices a wicked smirk at Red. "Do us all a favor, huh fellas? Next time Scully has some secret mission for the three of you, send up the bat signal and I'll bring the salsa."
Scully's eyes stay on the floor, but she snorts a quiet warning his way.
"And next time, let's make it charades," he continues like a grade-A fool. "You've obviously gotten in some practice tonight, but I have to say, I preferred the blatant confrontation over this little…," he waves his hand around in a collective shaming, "…community theater production."
That finally draws his partner's ire. "Do we have to talk about this right now?" Scully demands, jerking her head in our direction.
And then they trade the same look Mom and Pop Frohike used to just before one of them nodded toward me and the twins and hissed, 'Not in front of the kids!'
Mulder heaves a put-upon sigh. "Fine, whatever. Tell me later. Or don't tell me at all." No stranger to drama himself, he struts toward the door like friggin' Errol Flynn.
Scully's eyes slam shut as she yanks her jacket on, trying like hell to pack in her fury.
That's it. Without thinking, I jump ass-first into the fray. "Come on, now, nobody's leaving 'til you two kiss and make up." I take what feels like a manly stand, feet apart and arms barring my chest.
The big guy's look darkens, his jaw working and a question in his eyes for me.
Red's forehead wrinkles as her brow goes arctic, and she flicks him the glare of a woman betrayed.
At first, I mean it just as a little comic relief, but seeing their reactions plants a determined seed in my fertile imagination. I grab each of them by the elbow and try to cajole them together. Scully rolls her eyes and tries to yank her arm back. I hold fast to the both of them, noticing that Mulder's not trying as hard as Red is to get away. She gives me a look that says she's gonna kick my ass after all, just for fun, then casts her gaze finally up to Mulder. And in the split second it takes for her eyes to travel six, okay, ten inches, the look in them changes completely.
There's some residual irritation there, sure, and a little worry in those limpid depths, but mostly there is...I hesitate to use the word "horny" to describe the elegant blossom of womanhood that is Dana Scully...but crude a term as it might be, it's also freakin' apropos. I don't think I've ever had a woman look at me that way, and if I ever did, I'd renounce every belief I ever had, if she asked me to. Not that someone like Scully would ever ask the man she loved to do that. And not that she'd ever look my way to begin with. And Mulder, the poor sack-o-shit, is looking back at her, like the earth just gave way under his feet.
"Oh brother," Scully mutters under her breath, looking like she's gonna move in, then abruptly yanks away from me, grumbling, "I don't have time for this crap." Mulder lets out a relieved whoosh as Scully grabs her jacket off of the chair back and heads for the door. These two think they've cornered the market on stubborn, but they don't know that I'm even tireder of all this 'is they is or is they ain't' shit than they are.
I race to the door, blocking her way. Not a graceful move, but effective. My petite flower narrows her eyes for a second, contemplating drawing heat on me, I'm sure, but decides to play it cool. Her shoulders relax artificially, and she shifts into low gear. "Thanks for the help, Frohike, give me a call when you guys have anything new for me," she says, reaching for the door.
I slide the deadbolt into place with a resounding *thunk* and lean back against the door, crossing my arms over my chest. "Where d'ya think you're going?" Her eyes widen in disbelief, like she's been stopped by the ogre under the bridge demanding payment before she can flee to safety.
We war silently for a half a minute or so before she rolls those baby-blues once again. "Okay, ha ha, it's been a lovely evening, but the game's over and I've got an early day..." and again she tries to move past me, even as I splay myself spread-eagle against a quarter-ton of security steel.
"Let her go." I hear Mulder mumble from across the room.
"Nothin' doin'" I insist in my most petulant grumble. Now Scully, Byers and Langly are all staring my way, jaws flapping in the breeze.
Mulder slides off the stool he was leaning on and stalks toward me. I poke my chin out at him...yeah, as if I were challenging him to a friggin' duel...and stand my ground. To my relieved surprise, the defiant gesture brings him up short. The dynamic in the room shifts. He pleads – swear to Odin, pleads – with his eyes: Don't. I'm this far from relenting when, of all people, Langly speaks up.
"Look, I know to you guys we're just these paranoid geeks who don't know anything about les affaires du coeur." For a Canuck, the dweeb has the worst French accent I've ever heard. "But we understand a lot more than you think we do, a lot better than either of you do, that's for sure. I mean, get over it," he shrugs, "you're among friends." Oration complete, Langly tosses his hair back and sinks his hands into the front pockets of his jeans.
Our favorite Fibbies glance around the room, stunned like steer in a slaughterhouse. Scully regards Byers solemnly for a minute. Poor schmuck, he's been wearing that pathetic face since Vegas. With a little nod, she turns to face her partner. Her smile is, a quick, bright, awkward one as she addresses Mulder. "You know how I hate to admit this," the corners of that tantalizing mouth tug upward again, "but they're right."
They move toward each other infinitesimally, then stop. Some sort of non-verbal dialogue ensues. Neither one turns a head as they command in unison, "Turn around."
Langly, Byers and I just shrug at each other and follow orders.
Much as I hold personal privacy on a pedestal, the voyeur in me can't resist sneaking a peek over my shoulder. Holy Liplock. Somebody get the hose. Next time I get Mulder alone, he's gonna have some major explaining to do, 'cause I can tell this is *not* the first time they've done this, the sneaky little...I swivel my head back around a split-second before I hear telltale sighs and smacking sounds.
"Are you *done* yet?" Langly moans sarcastically, followed by the sound of Byers swatting him on the shoulder.
Mulder clears his throat loudly. "Uh, yeah...that seems to cover it," he croaks.
The three of us turn around to hear that seductive Scullyvoice, meant only for Mulder. "You know, it's still early...if you want to go for two out of three..." Scully tosses her red mane, indicating the abandoned game board.
Jesus H. Christ, woman. That ain't where he wants to go.
Byers yawns and stretches strategically, if not subtly, saying, "Goodness, look at the time. I think we'll have to ask you agents to continue your...game...somewhere else."
"Yeah, yeah," Langly agrees immediately, and drifts down the hall. "I'm gonna catch some zzzs."
"Hey, Frohike, I thought you had a hot tip from Bill Richardson's pool man to follow up on in the morning?" Byers hints when I don't make my excuses and head off to bed, too.
I grimace at him and nod, "Just gotta let these two out and do the shut-down routine."
I clunk the door shut behind them, and I'm entering the 18-digit security code when I notice they're still just outside, heads together in conference. Suddenly, Mulder looks straight into the camera and quirks his brows. His voice hisses out over the speaker. "This one's for you, Melvin." He lifts Scully off her feet and twirls her around. They kiss like high school sweethearts at homecoming.
It hurts my chest to watch. How can a heart swell and shatter at the same time?
One of these days, I'll have to show them the tape.