Title: EATING II
Date: July 26, 1999
Summary: Back at Beryl's
Rating: PG. (Just hang on, *it's* coming.)
Archive: ArchiveX, Gossamer. Any others if you ask: just so I know where this is travelling to.
EXPLANATION: Wasn't supposed to be a series, but so far it goes EATING, MAIL, THE CONFERENCE, THE CONFRONTATION.
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but let's not forget that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.
In a world wroth with change, Beryl's went against the grain and didn't.
The same large room, the same tables and chairs. Fresh sawdust on the floor.
Time seemed to have stood still here. And Skinner's spirit appreciated it.
No Consortium hearings. No dealings with the bodies that kept on showing up to be bagged or arrested. No sneering disavowals of alleged deals with even more scorned alleged Aliens. No cover-ups.
The last year had been hell on wheels. Eighteen to twenty hour days, often seven days a week, dealing with the fallout engendered by those supposedly anonymously sent packages, e-mail dumps, locker keys.
Mulder, Scully and himself had been the main recipients of these bounties, had been the ones on the first line of attack (both leading and receiving) that had changed many a life, many a point of view.
Mulder was no longer in the basement. No longer at the FBI for that matter. He was heading his own think tank financed investigation into the genetic tampering so disavowed by the Administration.
Scully had taken off for Quantico. Teaching. She would probably leave too one day when she got over having to do autopsies on bodies with green blood.
As for him, well, he had been reluctantly offered - reluctantly because he was the one indirectly responsible for the vacancies that needed to be filled - a promotion to the level of Deputy Director. In return for his keeping quiet about the reasons for so many of the internal changes at the FBI and in other organizations. A position that would enable him to collect a huge salary for just sitting at a desk, not even having to do that much on a daily basis.
An offer that had been rescinded by the new Director. Jana Cassidy understood just how insulted he had been by that offer, how it had eroded the little bit of loyalty he had left to the Bureau.
She had called him into her office, still her old one of Deputy Director since her appointment was so new, and informed him he was taking a month off. That if he showed his face in the place one minute before then she would have him escorted off the premises. And that when the month was over, if he still wanted the promotion, it was his, but that she did not expect him to sit on his ass and do nothing.
Was *that* understood?
And that if he didn't want the promotion, he was still Assistant Director. If he still wanted the job. If he wanted to stay with the Bureau.
Jana Cassidy was no idiot, but even an idiot would have been able to see just how tired, how weary, how disillusioned Walter Skinner was. If he were to stay with the Bureau, he would need to find that dedication that he had somehow lost over the last while.
So, though the season was not at its best, here he was, back at the fishing spot, letting the absence of voices, ringing cell phones, artificial tones of PR spin doctors fade from his hearing. Letting his body get used to sun and fresh air again instead of track lighting, reprocessed air. To being able to hear his own thoughts.
After a week of eating canned food - fishing was more an exercise in practising his casting rather than actual catching - here he was, standing in the doorway at Beryl's, amazed that nothing had changed in the two years since his last visit.
Ellie was still at the counter, looking like a hurricane wouldn't move her. There was the usual table of old timers, Cyrus his temporary landlord among them. One or two of those who had been born and raised in the area but had gone on to the big time in the city.
Skinner took off his baseball cap, passed a hand over his scalp, put the cap back on. He nodded to the table of old timers on his way to the back. Yap, nothing had changed since his last visit.
Including the man who sat in the shadowed back corner. A man who shouldn't have been there.
Skinner stopped dead in his tracks.
Krycek had his head down, was playing with something on the table top with his finger. A quick once over and it was obvious that the man had lost weight, looked as tired as he, Skinner, felt.
Skinner made his way quietly to the back table.
Krycek was stunned to see him. His head went back as if bracing for a blow. Slowly he got to his feet. "Didn't think you'd be here. This is later than your usual visits." His voice sounded rough, as if he had a sore throat. Skinner noticed a new scar at the left side of his neck: someone had gotten a little too close.
"Things have been hectic at the office. But you would know about that." Some of Skinner's irritation made itself known in his tone. Their "anonymous" source reacted to it with a tightening of his face.
"Sorry." The sarcasm in his voice cancelled out the apology. He went to walk around Skinner.
"Where are you going?" Skinner snapped. He hadn't meant to snap, but had done nothing but in recent months and the habit slipped out.
Krycek stilled. "Look, this is your place. I'm leaving you to it."
"Sit down. I have something to say to you." Skinner couldn't have stopped the belligerent tone even if he had heard it. Krycek did and decided to keep on walking. Skinner made the mistake of grabbing him. Found himself with a knife at his throat.
"What is it with you two? Can't you boys ever come in here without fighting? You've got Ellie all worried again. All this stress isn't good for her."
Beryl stood with her hands on her hips, looking like she was ready to grab the two of them by the scruff of the neck and give them a good shaking. The anger and tension radiating off the two men didn't seem to frazzle her at all.
"You're making my customers nervous, boys." She watched the two men release each other, the knife disappear. She shook her head at them, sighing. "You two come with me." And turned, fully expecting them to follow.
Which, probably because she was expecting it of them, they did.
Through the dining hall, into the kitchen and out back. To a veranda that sat up-wind of the kitchen. She stopped at the end where there were a couple of very wide rocking chairs, a cut down barrel being used as a table. She pointed to two flattened cushions on the floor by the edge and glared at the her two customers.
Neither man spoke a word of protest at her silent chastisement. They each took a cushion, sat. The roof supports were right there, providing a back to these "seats".
Krycek rested his head against his, closed his eyes. He had been hoping for some peace, maybe a meal that would ease the sights of the last year. God, he was tired! He wasn't ready to deal with Skinner. He doubted that he had anything left to deal with anybody. But certainly not Skinner.
Skinner sat, one leg dangling over the edge of the veranda, the other crossed in front of him. He looked over the back yard, not seeing it. Damn! He hadn't meant to snap at Krycek, to grab him that way. He had just wanted to talk to the man, had only managed to alienate him further.
Beryl shook her head in disgust. "Benjy!"
Benjy was another of her great-grand nephews. Or was it great-great? It was hard keeping track of all these kids. But Benjy was one of the bright ones. He handed her the small crock jug and two small juice glasses. She smiled her thanks at the lad.
"Seems to me the two of you need some perking up." She filled one glass, handed it to Cyrus's FBI man. Filled the other, handed it to the one armed man who was plenty quick with that knife of his.
"Well, what are you wanting for? Looking at the stuff won't get it in you." Watched with a hint of a smile as the two tossed back their drinks.
Her smile grew broader as the faces froze. Tears appeared in the eyes of the FBI man. The other just held his breath for a moment, blinked. The FBI man coughed, the other took a deep breath. They both looked up at her. She grinned. Nice to know they would both be able to hold their liquor.
She gestured for the glasses, refilled them. "Now then, that should put an edge on your appetites, boys. And behave yourselves. Benjy will be out in a bit with your food." She was quietly snickering to herself as she ambled back to her cooking.
The silence she left behind was slowly tensing.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have grabbed you that way." Skinner was concentrating on the glass he was slowly rotating in his hand. "I'm tired these days and I acted without thinking."
Krycek took a sip of his glass, appreciating the way the moonshine heated a path down to his stomach. Lately all he'd felt was cold. Or nothing.
Skinner went on. "And I'm sorry about the way I reacted the time you came to see me. I was upset. I can't say that I like what you did to me." Krycek stiffened, brought his head up like a boxer about to hit. Skinner met his eyes, held them. "But I think I understand why you did it."
Krycek didn't react for a bit. Then he looked into his glass, spoke as if to himself. "I didn't know what else to do. If I hadn't taken the offer, they would have found someone else to do it. To kill you. I didn't want that."
Skinner leaned back against the post. "Yeah, well, I would have hated missing fishing season this year."
They sipped their drinks in silence.
"Still using the reel?" Krycek found something interesting to examine on the floor by his knee.
Krycek looked up. "I'm surprised you didn't throw it out."
"Honestly, I never thought about it. I haven't been fishing for over a year. By the time I got here, as I said, I had figured a few things out."
Benjy placed a tray of ribs on the barrel top, came back with a bucket of cole slaw and then a jug of beer and two mugs. "Beryl said to remind you not to feed the dogs too much. They getting pretty fat."
From under the veranda crawled two hound mixtures, one the size of a small pony (how the hell had it fit in the space under the floor?), and a regular sized dog. Both of them lay facing the two men, heads dropped mournfully on their front paws, ready to patiently wait for any bounty that came their way.
Krycek broke down first. He tossed a partially cleared bone to the smaller of the dogs. Skinner sighed resentfully but tossed a rib to the big dog. Each had made a friend for life. Or until the next bone anyway.
Neither man had been very hungry until they had started eating. Krycek suddenly became aware of just how long it had been since he'd eaten anything that he actually tasted. Skinner found himself remembering just why he came here every year. How much he had missed this.
There was no conversation during the meal. By the time Benjy took the debris away, replaced it with coffee and dessert, the tension and anger was gone as if the feelings engendered by the food overwhelmed all other emotions.
The dogs soon realized that the meat part of the meal was done, rose stretching, ambled off, the large dog following the smaller.
Krycek watched the dogs leave, decided it was time to follow their example. He cradled the mug of coffee in his hand, found he really didn't have the energy to move. The sky was cloudless. Maybe he'd take the chance of sleeping in the back of the truck tonight instead of setting up the tent. Maybe, if he asked nicely, Beryl would let him park in the back yard for the night.
Skinner found himself surreptitiously watching the man sitting in front of him. He recognized exhaustion when he saw it. Knew that Krycek was beginning to fight off sleep. Wouldn't do anyone any good if he got behind the wheel of a vehicle and killed himself or some other driver.
It was early yet: Beryl's kept country hours, not city ones.
"You got a tent somewhere?" Skinner finally broke the silence.
Krycek roused himself, put his mug down on the table. "No. It's still early. I should get in a few miles."
Skinner frowned, looked over to the dogs now lying in the shade under the large pecan tree. "You in a hurry to get somewhere?"
"No." No, there wasn't anywhere he needed to get to these days.
Skinner put his mug down, stood pulling out his wallet. "My tent still has room for another. If you're interested." He concentrated on carefully taking out the money to pay for the meal.
Krycek rested his head back on the post. "Sure you can tolerate having me around?"
Skinner looked up, thought about it again, nodded. Krycek pushed himself off the floor, took out his wallet.
Benjy appeared out of the kitchen with a mason jar of clear liquid. "Beryl said to take this with you." Skinner and Krycek exchanged glances. A hint of a smile tugged at Krycek's mouth. Skinner quirked an eyebrow, sighed but accepted the jar. Considering the condition they were both in, there was enough moonshine in that thing to ensure a week's sleep.
Benjy took their money, watched the two men walk slowly around the back of the building to the front lot and their trucks.
The dogs ignored the whole thing.