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Close Encounters of the Blue Kind

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[Imagine, if you like, “ I Ain’t Got Nothing But The Blues ” playing as we approach an apartment high above Park Avenue.]

That’s not ectoplasm.”

Frank Doyle, slowly returning to consciousness from the comfort of his own bed, regarded the floor of the bedroom he and Sadie typically shared. There were his discarded clothes, a few more pieces than usual. There were a number of empty bottles, strewn about in ways that didn’t seem exactly typical, but were hardly unexpected. And there were a few puddles of something unusual which Frank couldn’t identify, which he hoped wasn’t the start of a new mystery, when he was only just waking up.

The bedside drinks cart was also more disheveled than usual. On it was a note, in boldly perfect cursive. Dear Frank, I do so look forward to seeing you after my week-end of adventuring and your week-end of non-adventuring. Love, Sadie. She had left the note where he would see it, deliberately, in case of one of his frequent lapses of memory. He didn’t forget things as much as he used to, Frank thought. Or did he?

Frank was aging spectacularly, if he did say so himself. (Sadie even more so, but that almost went without saying.) Several years after the actual defeat of the Nightmare Clown (which had caused any fear-induced white in his hair to disappear), Frank was beginning to go a stately threaded silver, the rest of him still smooth and strong and agile. As always, he was reluctant to fight anything, but he still could . Sadie liked that.

Something was touching Frank’s bare back. The touch was neither warm nor cold, neither smooth nor rough. It was not unpleasant, but it was impossible to identify. Frank turned over slowly, in the direction of the sensation, and saw that the hand slipping up his arm was blue, and the being whose arm it was attached to was also blue, with large, black eyes whose clear lids were slowly blinking awake. A vibrant, deeper-than-sky blue with flecks of something else in it. Frank appreciated the aesthetics of it.

“I’m sorry,” Frank started, unsure of what to say next. “Did we --? Have I --? ...I’m having a drink, would you like one?”

“Ugh,” the creature grunted. “By my calculation, I have consumed enough alcoholic beverages to kill a moderately sized human youngling. Fortunately, advances in Nah Nohtek have upgraded my filtration system.” He pinched something sac-like from his hip, and tossed it over Frank, in the direction of the nearest mystery puddle, where it burst and was absorbed into the rest of the goo. “Hah! Lucky shot.”

The creature’s voice was low and resonant, and Frank found it pleasant. Better than pleasant. It sounded good . “And you are…?”

“You do not recall, Frank Multiple Middle Designations Doyle?”

Frank couldn't read the creature’s lack of a facial expression, but he didn't seem angry. It was a pretty good face regardless. Frank thought about how if Sadie were here, she would boop her finger on the creature’s lack of a nose, and bop her forehead on his bobbling antennae.

“It seems I don’t,” Frank admitted. “Sorry about that. Bad form on my part, manners-wise.”

“I am Croach the Tracker, denizen of G’loot-Praktaw, which you designate -- “

“Mars, right.” That much sounded inexplicably familiar. “Croach, do you happen to know how you arrived --”

Croach interrupted with a sound that could nearly be described as a squee . “Human designated Frank Doyle, you have again pronounced my name correctly with your single tongue.”

“Single tongue? As opposed to?”

“Ha! That is the same inquiry you made last night.” Croach didn’t have eyebrows, but he may have been waggling his antennae. “Which you do not remember.”

Frank fought the impulse to take a broadly comic look under his bedsheet at his body. He already knew he wasn’t wearing any clothes. He suspected Croach wasn’t either, but could only see as far as the Martian’s impressively defined abdominal muscles, which he was also curious about. “Croach -- forgive me, sport -- but did we engage in any activities which would be of consequence to either you or I?”

 “I do not take your meaning.”

Really ?”

“No. I was attempting to deliberately deceive you for humorous effect.” He sounded proud of himself. “But I do not believe that I am fertilized. I believe that you fertilized multiple prophylactic coverings over the course of the evening, and possibly your own fist.”

Not bad , Frank thought. “Backing up, then. How did you come to be here, and not on your planet?”

As Croach spoke, his speech got sloppier. “Your marital partner -- you asked me to specify marital partner, not onal partner -- your marital partner thought it would be fun. My marital partner thought it would be funny.” He paused, briefly, in reflection. “Those ideas are distinct.”

“Do you remember what they did ?”

“I do. I will recount.”

 

TWO DAYS AGO

“Grandaddy was a Time Secessionist,” Sadie explained with a flourish. “Daring and dangerous. He even had affiliations with the Connecticut Yankees who gave King Arthur a hard time. And since we’ve found his time-hole blasting device, and in blowing the dust off the label unintentionally activated it, it’d be a shame not to see where it leads.”

“Even if that place is an unidentified desert dimension,” Frank mused.

“It’s Mars,” the Red Plains Rider said flatly. “It’s just Mars. Sometime in your future. Which -- I don’t even know when your ‘now’ is.”

Red and Croach were standing in the Doyle’s living room, the time-hole glittering behind them. Red looked wary. Croach looked curious. Frank and Sadie looked drunk, and at each other.

“Neither do we!” Sadie exclaimed, sloshing her cup in the air (but carefully, so nothing spilled out).

“Trust us, it’s never mattered,” Frank said cheerfully. “Care for some Scotch?”

Croach knew of Frank and Sadie Doyle. “I have heard tell of you, human matrimonial partners designated Frank and Sadie Doyle. I even told tell of you, in one instance.”

“Well, we are headliners on the society pages,” Frank said, pouring himself an extra drink given his guests’ non-answer.

Sadie had an elaborate explanation of time-hole logistics, based on her knowledge of her grandfather’s diary. Croach understood it. Frank did not, and took the opportunity to pour himself another drink. Sadie proposed that she take a brief adventure to explore what lay on the other side.

“I’ve always wanted to be in a Western,” Sadie said, dreamily. “Oh, just think of it! Me, in an establishment that provides the townfolk with alcohol, in some dusty cowboy boots, facing off against the shadowy figure who’s taken it upon himself to steal all of our gold , which he doesn’t know is fool’s gold, really, and while the bar is certainly big enough for the two of us I shall tell him it isn’t!”

“Lady, it is dangerous,” Red warned.

“So am I,” Sadie said in a low voice, waggling her eyebrows at Red.

“Why don’t you take that weekend on your own, love,” Frank said. “Sadie understands how I feel about deserts. Or beaches. Or sand, really. Can’t stand it.”

Red took Frank in a subtle aside that wasn’t that subtle. “Doyle, you sure you’re all right with this? Cuz she is --” Red nodded at Sadie, who was playing with her own hair, and seemed as though she was moments away from playing with Red’s. “She is lookin’ for it.”

Frank gave half a chuckle, not quite expending the effort for a full one. “So I’m given to understand you’re a very talented, fairly dangerous crack shot, with a dry sense of humor and strong sense of personal style,” Frank observed. “I can see what she sees in you.”

Red snorted. “All right.”

“I propose that I stay behind as well,” Croach announced. “I am curious about the place designated Manhattan and the time designated ‘whenever.’”

“Croach, you don’t gotta leave us alone. I mean, it’d sure be nice, but you don’t gotta.”

“Oh that’s adorable!” Sadie exclaimed. “Frank and Croach can go out on the town together.”

“Oh that is -- that is funny,” Red said. “Croach just hangin’ around with the biggest drunks of all.”

“My upgrades in Nah Nohtek are better calibrated to handle alcohol consumption than in previous cycles,” Croach reported.

“It still makes you goofy.” Red turned to Frank and Sadie. “He gets goofy. And it still messes up his healin’ powers, so he better not get stabbed or shot, which he ain’t gonna, right?”

“Well, he’s a guest, and we have manners,” Frank said, without excitement. “And allowing a guest to be stabbed or shot on one’s watch is poor form, which we would endeavor to avoid.”

“The human designated Frank Doyle disapproves of my sartorial choices,” Croach announced.

“That’s very perceptive.”

“When your marital partner proposed us going ‘out on the town,’ you whispered ‘not in that, you aren’t’ under your breath, which I detected with four of my senses.”

“Fascinating.” Frank’s deadpan was half sincere.

“Oh I’m sure we can fix that,” Sadie said. “Frank, he is nearly your size.”

“Yes, well, as long as we’re going where the drinks are,” Frank conceded. “Some of them are here! Martini?”

 

THE PRESENT, WHENEVER THAT IS

“That was on your day designated Friday evening. It is now likely a Sunday, but I am not certain.” The drunken burble became evident in Croach’s voice again. “It is difficult to detect time signals from this location!”

“Ah, well, we had help,” Frank said, motioning to clink his glass, pausing, wondering if that action was all right, and then realizing Croach didn't have a glass and thus it didn't matter. “And we don't appear to have gotten into any sort of bar-related altercations, as promised --”

“That is because we did not go to any bars.”

“Really!” Frank downed the rest of his drink, to help him process this. “Aha! Did we not go outside at all?

“That is accurate.” Croach nearly launched back into narrative mode, but Frank stopped him.

“Hang on, just let me get ready to listen,” Frank said, pouring himself three martinis in quick succession.

“Frank Doyle, the increased consumption of alcohol appears to be your response to all potential situations.”

“Quite. And I don't normally say this, but since your story appears to include one of my favorite -- well, second favorite characters, I encourage you to continue it.”

“Frank Doyle, do you make reference to yourself ?”

“Indeed I do. Please continue.”

 

ONE AND ONE-HALF DAYS AGO

“I enjoy the availability and quantity of your alcoholic beverages,” Croach slurred. In place of his previous loincloth, he was wearing a pair of Frank’s pants, properly fastened, a shirt of Frank’s, unfastened, and an untied bow tie which wasn’t even trying.

“Well, it is what we’re known for,” Frank said shortly. He was making slightly more of an effort to dress himself than Croach was, although that consisted of holding two shirts up to himself in a mirror while he wasn’t wearing either one. He kept getting distracted -- Croach would complain about the intricacy of human clothing, which Frank was skeptical of, although the amount Croach had imbibed probably had something to do with it -- then Frank would forget why Croach was in his room in the first place, followed by a vague but certain recollection that Sadie said it was ok.

Croach appeared to be having genuine trouble. “These buttons were optimized for human fingers,” Croach said. “Ha, buttons. That word is humorous. Butt...tons.”

Frank sighed, and stepped over to help. He pulled the sides of Croach’s shirt taut, lining up the buttonholes. He couldn’t help but notice how well it fit, that Croach’s lanky, defined build was similar to his own. He also couldn’t help but notice the blue sheen of Croach’s chest as he closed the buttons over it. “There,” Frank said, straightening the collar. “I do enjoy a good suit.” As counterintuitive as it was for Frank to be needlessly generous, he liked the results.

Then Frank glanced down, and was confused. “Did you put the pants on over your shoes? We have plenty of others, the outfit doesn’t exactly match your -- would you say moccasins?”

“Space moccasins. And I cannot accept.”

“Some sort of ancient Martian taboo against wearing another’s shoes?”

Croach took a long drink. Frank would describe it as the way amateurs drank when they were gearing up to do something difficult. “I am unable to show my feet unless my egg sacs are manually stimulated.”

“And these egg sacs are --”

“Roughly analogous in placement to human genitals.”

Frank looked at Croach -- really looked, this time -- and noted the shape of his body, the vibration of his voice, the sharp cheekbones. He noted a slender neck, a feature he was already inclined to like. Croach was strange, certainly, but not un-handsome.

“I was anticipating that you would say ‘gross,’” Croach said. “You did not.”

“You may not have heard,” Frank said, placing a hand on Croach’s shoulder, “but I am characteristically unflappable.”

“I am uncertain of the emotion behind the words I am detecting.”

“Fairly subtle amusement. Curiosity, even, which isn’t my usual thing. And as for hitting on me, I don’t blame you, I’d do the same thing in your position, albeit a little more gracefully.”

“That was not my intention."

“Croach, Sport, Old Blue Balls -- I presume they’re blue -- you wouldn’t prefer to be a little more stimulated?”

“My prior experience with a human male seems to have had components described as ‘very awkward.’”

“Well, then, I won’t be him,” Frank said. “Lucky for us, it seems I am already someone else entirely.”

“I would be under onus to you for your attention.”

“Onus?” Frank furrowed his brow as Croach explained. “Ah, see, I’m a fan of reciprocity, but not of obligation. You see, I’m a romantic.” Frank put a hand to the side of Croach’s chin and tilted it toward him. Croach, lowering his clear eyelids, assented. “And as a romantic who knows a few ten-dollar words, as you do, I’d propose we osculate a bit before stimulating anything. Would you like that, Croach?”

“Frank Indeterminate Middle Designation Doyle,” Croach said, his deep voice full of barely-contained joy, “I like how you say my name.”

“Ah, yes, well. Talent.”

Croach motioned to pull Frank to him. “C’mere, Ginger B--”

 “Nope! Try again.”

Croach paused to down another drink, and his voice wobbled its way to something like flirtation. “Happy to see me, Dry Martini?”

“Quite,” Frank said, and pressed his lips to where Croach’s lips would be.

He wasn’t warm, like a human would be, and he wasn’t cold either. He was almost soft, but with a firm resistance. Croach started to moan almost immediately, softly at first, as though he were afraid of being heard. Frank pushed back harder, pulling Croach closer to him, to draw out the sound. He pushed into Croach’s mouth, and the sensation temporarily overwhelmed him -- two tongues curled around his, spiraling up and down. A moan may have escaped Frank too, and he stifled it. He didn’t want to lose control just yet.

They separated, briefly, and Croach looked apologetic. “I am...easily stimulated.”

“No need to apologize,” Frank said, hooking his hand into the pants Croach was wearing. “That’s how I know you’re enjoying yourself.”

Frank’s wandering fingers found a pair of stiff ridges, labia-like, on Croach’s lower torso. Between the ridges was softer skin, more delicate than the rest of him, more responsive to touch. Croach moaned in response to the light brush of Frank’s fingers. So that was it. Frank began to massage between the ridges, feeling for the familiar in the unfamiliar, and Croach’s sighs were heavy, evocative, satisfying to hear.

Croach’s soft tissue began to balloon outward, pushing the ridges further apart. Unusual, Frank thought, but not unheard of. It gave Frank an idea -- because he didn’t want Croach’s unmistakeable sounds of pleasure to stop, because pushing him even further seemed like a fun challenge, and because Frank had a great deal of confidence in what he could do with his mouth.

Frank unfastened Croach’s pants and knelt, putting his lips to the base of the soft tissue, running his tongue along the bottom edge, holding the weight of Croach’s firm thighs with his hands. He liked the weight on his face, and he liked the deep staccato sounds Croach was making. He especially liked how Croach’s sounds became louder and breathier when he massaged the underside with his mouth, until Croach cried out in that unfamiliar-but-familiar way (the pop of Croach’s feet emerging was vaguely unfamiliar, but took place somewhere he could safely ignore), until his breathing became heavy but still.

Frank stood up and kissed Croach on his slender neck, which Frank decided he liked regardless of what he could compare it to. He pushed aside the shirt Croach had been barely wearing, running his hands over Croach’s bare shoulders. Frank noticed that the slight resistance of Croach’s skin left a sheen, a silver-gold trail over the blue which faded after a few seconds. 

“That is bioluminescence,” Croach said by way of explanation, using the odd ten-dollar word that Frank didn’t think he had heard before. “It is likely a combined effect of the alcohol and...overstimulation. My dermal cells themselves are overstimulated.”

“It’s beautiful,” Frank said, surprising himself as he said it. “You have literal afterglow.” 

“True, my body is glorious.” Croach’s tone was playful, not self-deprecating. “Is that why I detect human male arousal with seven of my twenty-eight senses?”

Frank’s firmer hands had turned Croach around, and he was looking at the muscled shoulders, the planes of his back. Croach’s words made Frank hyper-aware of the hair-trigger response of his own body, that his teeth were on edge, that he wanted to sink them into Croach’s shoulder. Whatever Croach’s body was, Frank was, by all accounts, really into it.

“Sure,” Frank said, admittedly unsure exactly what to do about said human male arousal. “Is that pleasing? To your senses?”

Frank could have been sarcastic, but he wasn’t. Instead he kissed the base of Croach’s neck, leaving a fleeting silvery mark.

Croach hiccupped. “Dry Martini is happy to see me.”

Frank rubbed his hands down Croach’s back -- almost smooth, as expected. But below the waist, the skin -- was it still skin? -- wasn’t.

“Croach, sport, I hope this isn’t alarming,” Frank said, “but is your backside supposed to be melting?”

“It is a side effect of my complex systems,” Croach said. He sounded like he was bragging. “You can put your hands in it.”

Frank decided to ditch his pants before things got any messier. He then slipped his hands just under the surface of the not-quite-skin, and felt small spouts and craters of a miniature landscape beneath. Croach made small breaths of appreciation, but no full-scale moans.

“If you explore the topmost medial orifice it allows for posterior stimulation of my egg sac tissue,” Croach continued. “The Red Plains Rider and I put phallic objects in there frequently.”

Again with the bragging, Frank thought.

Frank slipped a finger where a finger seemed to fit. It went in easily, thanks to quite a bit of natural lubrication. “There?”

Frank pushed a little further and pressed into something soft. It pushed a deeper, involuntary sound out of Croach.

“So,” Frank said. “There.”

“If you stimulate my posterior tissue with your human phallus the mutual pleasure derived would put us in onal balance --”

“Dammit, Croach, you're allowed to ask for it.”

“What is your preferred method of verbalized sexual expression.”

“My preferred expression goes ‘Frank Doyle, I would like you to fuck me.’”

Croach paused long enough to let the words sit. “That would be pleasurable.”

“I'll bet.”

“I request that you utilize human prophylactics designed to prevent fertilization.” 

“I've got you covered there, buddy.” Frank tore open a small packet with his teeth, and manipulated the contents one-handed. “Actually, I've got me covered.”

Frank put his free hand to Croach’s hip, and gave his occupied finger some rough, twisting thrusts. Croach sounded like he enjoyed that too, which was promising. Frank supposed he was ready for that jelly.

Croach’s sigh as Frank entered him was deep and luxuriating. Frank felt it resonate within his own chest, which felt good . Being inside Croach wasn’t exactly like any other earthly thing. Croach’s  insides rippled and burbled from unexpected angles, pulling him in deeper. The sensation was intense, and gratifying. Frank grabbed Croach’s hips with both hands and thrust, a little rough on purpose. Croach bent over slightly, leaning into it. They fucked against the cherry armoire with the sticky hinge, until it wobbled such that it seemed like a bad idea. Frank gave Croach several good plows up against the wall, and then pushed Croach’s body into the soft of the bed. Croach didn’t have any hair to grab, so  Frank dug his fingers into Croach’s shoulders as he sped up his thrusts, leaning into Croach’s long, satisfied moan until he came in the midst of it, heart unexpectedly racing, Croach’s body pulsing back at him.

Something escaped Croach through one of his side-spouts. Part of it shot out, and part of it dribbled. Croach moved as though he was about to explain. “No need,” Frank said, cutting him off, not wanting to know which fluids they were roughly analogous to, preferring to assume the best. “Happens to the best of us.”

They relaxed on the bed for a long several minutes. Somehow this turned into Croach spooning Frank instead of the other way around, but he was all right with this. 

“I'd offer you a cigarette,” Frank finally said, “but, you know. It’s all booze here.”

Croach’s voice was thick with amusement. “It appears that you enjoy it when your receptive partner vocalizes with increasing intensity.”

Frank thought of Sadie’s unabashed shouting when she and Frank found a position they liked. Considering that image, Frank reflexively winced at “receptive partner.” “Not my choice of words, but you aren’t wrong.”

“If you are in possession of a wearable phallic facsimile, I could return the favor,” Croach mused. 

“We are, but it’s Sadie’s, and I don’t go borrowing her toys without her permission,” Frank explained. “Plus I’m not really in the mood.”

“The Red Plains Rider and I have a technologically advanced phallic facsimile which I selected for optimal mutual satisfaction. Many cycles ago I thought we were physiologically incompatible. That was foolish.” Croach noticed Frank’s face. “You appear entertained.”

“You’ve given me an idea of what Sadie’s likely up to,” Frank said. He imitated her speech pattern without changing his pitch. “Well aren’t you an adorable ten-speed robo-cock with all your bells and whistles.”

Croach frowned, thinking. “They would need to make a determination regarding who would be the receptive partner.”

“Ha! It’s really a toss-up, isn’t it.”

“They could play Space Rocks, Space Paper, Space Scissors,” Croach suggested.

“Indeed they could! Sadie would love that." 

They fell silent for another long few minutes.

“You miss her, don’t you,” they said, almost together. (Except Croach said “do you not.”)

“Obviously,” said Frank.

“I am unable to track the Red Plains Rider across the space-time dimensional rift,” said Croach. “I have not felt her absence in a very long time. It is unsettling.”

“I only have two suggestions, and it’s possible that you’re full up on the first.”

 “What do you recommend besides alcohol consumption.”

“Now, note that I usually recommend this in addition to alcohol consumption, but I could hold you.”

“Are you sure you wish to engage in the human ritual of cuddling?”

“Like I said, I’m a romantic. And you're a long way from home.”

Another long few minutes went by. Possibly hours, or an evening. They may or may not have slept.

“I am detecting further signs of human male arousal.”

“Am I awake? Is it time to start drinking? Trick question, it always is.”

“It is possible that I am under onus to you for calling attention to it.” 

“I don’t deal in onus, Croach.” He took a bottle of gin from the nightstand. “Breakfast?”

“In fact,” Croach reasoned, “since our initial sexual interaction was focused on my own satisfaction and our second interaction was mutual, I am clearly under an onus to you that I ought to resolve.”

“Croach,” Frank said, taking a serious tone, “if you didn’t have a complex system of rules of perceived debts, would you be drawing similar conclusions?”

“I do not perceive the utility of the question.” 

“Would you want to if you didn’t have to.”

“I will join you in your alcoholic breaking of fast.”

Three pint glasses later, Croach’s conclusions had altered slightly. “Your entire physical form is pleasing to my senses,” Croach slurred, “and I have an advantage which I infrequently have opportunity to explore with human males.”

“Does it involve your tongue?”

“It involves my tongue!” Croach interrupted, crowing. “I can stimulate your egg sac equivalents.” He waggled his antennae. 

“The boys are a bit shy today, thanks. But --”

“But it would cause you excessively pleasurable physical sensations were I to explore your human genitals with my bifurcated tongue.” 

“That’s exceptionally intimate. But you’re not wrong.”

“More intimate than you exploring my posterior receptive pouch with your human phallus?”

“Yes, actually.” At least, as it was something Sadie teased often but only fully took on every once in a while, it felt exceptionally intimate to Frank.

“Is there anything I can do to assist in your comfort?”

Frank had an idea. It was unusual how much Croach struck his curiosity, which wasn’t often struck. But said curiosity was almost entirely self-serving, so it wasn’t too unusual.

“You said that my entire physical form was pleasing to your senses.”

“I orally produced those exact semantic units.”

“So you’re unlikely to, say, decide that some bits are worse than others.” Frank drained a glass he’d forgotten he was holding. “Croach, I’m going to make a suggestion, and I’m also going to ask that you avoid the word ‘onus’ or words that sound like onus.”

“What is your suggestion?”

“Start at the back.”

“You wish me to lingually explore your lower orifice.”

“Sure. Orifice . Sure.”

As Frank turned over onto his stomach, he could almost hear Sadie’s voice saying Frank, you are spoiled -- which was fair. He opted to let his body go slack, to let the strange, pleasant sensation of whatever Croach’s tongues were doing overtake him. And sure, it was an oddly intimate gesture, but something about it made his toes tingle in a way they hadn’t before. He wasn’t as loud as Croach had been, not nearly, but let himself be surprised at how much sound came out of him, half-muffled into a pillow.

Croach asked Frank a technical-sounding question that he didn’t quite catch, partially because Croach’s face was still awfully close to his arse, and the vibrations of Croach’s voice there were also a new and interesting sensation. So Frank asked him to repeat it a few more times, and then nodded along to whatever it was Croach had been saying.  

It was something about what Croach did next, which was turn Frank over (keeping a few of his padded fingertips against Frank’s arse, which Frank thought was very thoughtful), apply a prophylactic with his mouth (something about limiting fertilization exposure in Croach’s system, which Frank also didn’t care enough to understand the mechanics of), and start spiraling his tongues at the base of Frank's cock. The boys weren’t that shy after all, and Croach worked a free hand around the tensing, grooved skin, firmly but not too firmly. So thoughtful, this one.

As Croach’s tongues traveled up Frank’s shaft, he almost fought back, bracing against the anticipation that the sensation would become too intense. Instead, he felt his mind go blank, devoid of words or protests, and let it wash over him, let the orgasm be pulled in and up and out of him, while his mind floated far and away. He passed out. 

When Frank came to, Croach was in an incredible mood. Frank could have sworn he was singing to himself.

“Croach, are you happy because I’m happy?”

Croach didn’t respond. Frank had another thought.

“Croach, would you happen to be using your system of rules as a means to obscure a deep, driving need to make someone else happy?”

“That is an interesting observation.” 

“Take it easy, sport. I’m the same way.”

 

THE TIME DESIGNATED THE PRESENT

“So that is what transpired,” Croach finished.

“Funny, for a story you ostensibly told, it seemed to have quite a number of my internal thoughts in it.”

“That would suggest, Frank Doyle, that you hear what you want to hear.”

“Fair enough.” Frank scanned the room again. “Do you think we ought to put on pants?” 

A great, gusting twirl of something began to form on the other side of the bedroom, with lights sparkling beyond it. So the time-hole was re-opening.

“On second thought, guess we’re too late.”

Red and Sadie strolled through the time-hole, slightly more than arm-in-arm, Sadie’s head resting on Red’s shoulder. Sadie was wearing a bright red dress that one might associate with a ‘saloon girl,’ boots, and a giant cowboy hat. “Frank, we went to a saloon! And the proprietor said he didn’t want noooo trouble in his place! But we were ! And there were unsavory characters and we told 'em what-for!” 

“That ain’t all,” Red said dryly.

“Of course not,” Sadie said, kissing Red on the cheek.

Sadie looked at Frank and Croach and began to giggle, and then guffaw.

“At what is your human laughter directed?” Croach said, apparently startled. 

“They did go to town,” Sadie cackled. “On each other!” 

Sadie caught her breath, sighing. “It’s all right, darling, we thought you’d have your finger in a few puddings.”

“More than a finger,” Frank admitted.

“Croach, baby, you all right?” Red went to Croach’s side of the bed. “You look fucked up .”

“I am. In multiple senses.”

Frank took the bedsheet and wrapped it around himself (figuring that exposing Croach to Red was somewhat acceptable, whereas exposing himself to a lady-guest was not) and hunted around for a fluid-free pair of pants. “We were -- and are! -- perpetually inebriated, and I’m admittedly unsure what one does to be less so. There’s ice in the kitchen which I’ve heard tell can be turned into water and also drunk?” Frank slipped on a pair of something promising, and held up another pair of his pants, which Croach had been wearing. “You can keep these, if you like.” 

Croach looked very pleased at the prospect. “I would be under onus --” Croach paused, in realization. “Oh! Frank Doyle desired that I did not say the word anus .”

“Well, good to know that moment’s thoroughly ruined, then.”

“Baby,” Red said carefully, “how ‘bout you wash your hands before we go.”

“Frank I need a drink!” Sadie practically cheered.

“So do I!” Frank declared, sweeping up two glasses and handing one to Sadie. “What a coincidence.”

Clink

Sadie had a seat on a high, fabric-covered furnishing which they kept in the bedroom for times when Sadie would want to be seated slightly above Frank. “Frank, my feet are tired.”

Years of being together had imbued Sadie’s signals -- the seat, the offering of a foot, her posture, the twinkle in her eye -- with clear meaning. She was asking to command him, for the sake of doing it, for the sake of showing he was hers. Frank noted that their guests were now in the bathroom, splashing Croach’s slightly off-color face with water, and would likely need a moment to themselves. 

Frank knelt, and lifted off the boots Sadie had been wearing. He took one of her stockinged feet and massaged it lightly, and then the other. “You must have had a long walk.”

“Yes, but it was terribly exciting -- one never knows what sort of outlaws and beepy-boopy robots one might encounter.” She offered her legs one by one, and Frank rolled down her stockings, kissing the skin as he uncovered it.

Red and a very-slightly-sobered Croach poked their heads out of the master bathroom, and were transfixed. “Shit,” Red said, watching Frank kiss the bottoms of each of Sadie’s toes, and then her playfully pressing the ball of her foot to his cheek, and him kissing it away. “She is so fuckin’ pretty.” 

“I pleasure my onal partner similarly,” Croach said in the Doyle’s direction, apparently trying to make conversation. 

“Croach. They ain't gonna hear you, dummy. They're busy .” Red helped Croach stand up -- he still needed help standing up all the way -- and walk toward the time-hole. “C’mon, lets get in before it shuts off.” 

“He likes me,” Croach burbled. “She liked you too.”

“Sure did. Baby, c’mon, I'll tell you on the ride home.”