Title: THE TRIP UP
Part 10 of the EATING series
Author: Josan, aided and abetted by Maldrake.
Beta: Solan, who thankfully ignores my muttering.
Summary: Walter and Alex on the way to Vermont
Archive: Archive/X (Thanks, Iain, for all the time spent archiving our writing!), Ratlover, Gossamer. Any others if you ask: just so I know where this is travelling to.
DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013. So, okay, since when is the World Series as important as the first episode of X-Files?
THE TRIP UP
The trip to the airport began with a Friday traffic jam on the Beltway. That set them a good hour behind. It also meant that they now had to be rerouted through New York for Burlington, rather than fly directly out.
Then there was the storm. Heavy rain, winds that meant that their flight -- the plane was a DC9 -- out of New York was delayed for safety reasons.
The car that Walter had rented had long left the lot. By the time they landed in Burlington past midnight, there was only one car left, one of those compact things that meant Walter would be driving with his chin on his knees.
Oh, and of course, just to add to the entire fiasco, on the road to Middlebury, Walter swerved to avoid a deer, ended up at a tilt on the soft shoulder. Five minutes of spinning only sank the wheels deeper into the sodden ground.
And to top that off, his cell phone had just enough power left for him to contact the emergency number, give their location, ask for a tow. At least an hour, came the staticky answer, before the phone faded and died.
By this time, they should have long ago pulled into the driveway at his mother's. Instead, Walter and Alex were sitting in a car tilted nose down in a ditch, watching the last of the lightning show the storm was putting on, just for them.
Alex knew that Walter was not looking forward to this visit with his mother. He'd been absentminded, tense since the phone call. Alex had kept silent, not wanting to add to his lover's stress. Still, now that they sat here, in the dark, in the wanning storm, he broached the one question he'd been wanting to ask.
"Hm?" Walter was looking out the window, lost in thought.
"I understand why you didn't tell you mother about me, about us."
Walter's attention shifted to Alex.
"But why didn't you tell her about leaving the Bureau?" Alex slouched his back into the door, sitting sideways, left knee lying on the seat.
Walter said nothing.
"It's okay. It isn't any of my business," said Alex softly.
Walter sighed. "Actually, I don't know, Alex. I guess I just wanted some time to get used to the idea."
"If it's taken you seven months to get used to it, maybe it wasn't a good idea," offered Alex.
Walter moved, shifted his body, trying to find a comfortable position. He'd have been fine if the steering wheel had suddenly disappeared. Finally, he lowered the back of his seat, managed to sit awkwardly, but more comfortably, facing Alex. He stretched his legs out over the seat to rest on Alex's thighs.
"No," he finally said, "it was a good idea. I couldn't have stayed on and kept sane. I told you that before, and I haven't changed my mind.
"Besides, I like what I do now. I like determining the validity of those reports. I like the fact that my opinion is valued. That the people who work at Wilson-Jones come from varied backgrounds, bring different experiences to meetings. That those meetings actually accomplish something.
"That I don't have to hide the fact that I have a lover and that my lover is a man."
He smiled at Alex. "No, I don't regret leaving the Bureau. My ulcer rarely bothers me. I sleep well," he grinned, "when I'm allowed to sleep."
Alex grinned back.
"No, all in all, I think my life is much for the better these days."
"So, then, why haven't you told your family?"
Walter shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. It's...it's as if I had a secret and I didn't want to share it. I wanted to keep it to myself. I've never had that kind of secret before.
"Even when I was a kid, people used to confide in me. They knew I would keep my mouth shut. But *I* never seemed to have those kinds of secrets. On the whole, come to think of it, I was a pretty dull kid."
Alex snorted. "I doubt that."
"No. It's true. I'm the eldest and my parents depended on me quite a bit. To keep an eye on my brother and sister. To be good at school. Not to cause trouble. To do what was expected of me."
He thought a bit in silence. Alex just watched him work his way through this evaluation of himself.
"I went for football because my father loved the sport - not that I don't either - and the coaches expected a kid my size to play football. I went into the Marines because my father's father had been in the Marines. I went to Vietnam because my father expected me to do my duty towards my country.
"I went into policing because my father was a cop. The only time I think I disappointed him was when I choose to go to college in Texas rather than Chicago. But after Vietnam, I wanted to be somewhere where being a vet wasn't a capital offense and Texas was very pro the war. It made things easier for me, too, at that particular time to be far from the rest of the family.
"By then my sister Louisa had run off with the blue grass musician. And Gene had informed my father that he had no intention of serving in any military establishment and had gone off to do a stint with the Peace Corps in Africa. My father was pretty sure all those organizations were covers for the communists.
"See, I told you my life was pretty dull. I went into the FBI directly after college. Got married to a nice girl that my parents approved of and loved. My father got to see me become Assistant Director before he died.
"The only unexpected thing I ever did until recently was divorce Sharon. And she and my mother still talk on the phone every now and then."
A car driving by slowed down. Walter lowered his window, told the driver they were okay, that help was on the way from Middlebury.
"That'll be the Labonty boys," said the man. "I drive by their place. I'll get them to hurry on up."
Walter thanked him politely. "The nice thing about small towns is that everybody knows everybody else."
"And," continued Alex, "the worse thing about small towns is that everybody knows everybody else."
Walter chuckled. "Yeah. But my mother likes it. After my father died, she moved here to be near Gene and his family. She was never that fond of the Midwest."
"Gene is the one teaching at Middlebury College?"
"Yes. Politics. And it's convenient for Louisa and her boy. New York City is just far enough away for her to have a life of her own, close enough to visit every couple of months. My mother likes keeping in touch with her grandchildren."
"So, why haven't you told her about the new job?"
"Maybe because it would have worried her. She's used to worrying about the others, not about me. I'm the responsible one. And I guess this move from the Bureau doesn't look, at first glance, to be very responsible."
"And then there's me," added Alex. "Definitely not responsible behaviour."
Walter leaned forward, stroked his hand across the stubble on Alex's cheek. "God, no," he grinned. "What was it Sharon called you? My mid-life crisis."
He leaned back and examined Alex by what little light there was. "Maybe that was part of it as well. Maybe I couldn't tell her any of it until I was certain of you. Because, let's face it, Alex, for a while there, there were mornings I was afraid I'd wake up and find you gone."
Alex nodded. "There were mornings you were right to think that."
"So what made you decide to stay, Alex?" Walter reached out his hand and Alex took it. Held onto it while he tried to put his thoughts into words.
"Lots of things I guess," he finally said. "There was the fact that no matter what people said about me, you stood by me. That had never happened to me before. I felt that if I left, I was betraying your trust.
"And then there was the fact that you picked me up every day at the Bureau. Like you expected me to be there. I thought if I took off from the Bureau, you'd lose face and I didn't want to do that to you.
"Then Sharon asked me if I was going to run out on you. And I told her no, that I wasn't going anywhere. I realized that I had no good reason to. That I believed you when you said you loved me. And I finally had to admit to myself that I did love you. And I wanted this to work."
Alex leaned over and met Walter half way. The kiss began as a gentle commitment, became gradually more intense. The headlights pulling up behind them broke them apart. "Then," said Alex with a glint, "there's the incredible sex."
Walter was laughing as he went out to meet the Labonty boys and their tow truck.
The Labonty "boys" would never see retirement age again. They were also tipsy. They evaluated the situation all the while nipping at an unlabelled bottle of colourless liquid. Walter worried about that a bit until it became obvious that the two old men knew what they were doing. He and Alex watched from the sidelines as the tow chain was attached, the car lifted with a squish sound from the mud, and arefully moved back onto the highway.
Then, of course, there was the careful questioning that led them to connect Walter Skinner to that Nadia Skinner who had bought the Adams place over on College Street. They plowed her driveway in the winter. Not her son's: he lived too far out of town for them to bother. Didn't the Duprey boy do his?
All the time, nipping happily away, politely offering the bottle to the two men they had rescued once they were certain of the local connection. Walter knew they would be insulted if he refused, so he brought the bottle to his lips, pretended to drink. And was glad that was all he did: the stuff had to be 100 proof!
Alex was less successful with his ploy: the bottle slipped out of the old man's hand and, as he reached to save it, the contents splashed out onto the sleeve of his jacket.
When the car finally pulled up in the darkened driveway of the darkened house, it was after two in the morning, some four hours after they had been expected. Walter rang the doorbell, wishing he had stood firm on their travelling on Saturday. It crossed his mind that maybe this was a sign of how the whole weekend was going to go.
Will Walter's mother answer the door this late? Will our boys have to spend the rest of the night in the car?
How would *your* mother handle this?