Title: THE VISIT
Part 11 of the EATING series
Author: Josan, aided, abetted and beta'ed by Solan and Maldrake.
Summary: You're always a child to your mother.
Rating: PG: Hey, get real! They're in Walter's mother's house!
Archive: Archive/X (which will be seriously missed!), 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. I don't care: baseball is nowhere near as interesting as the last season's premier. And aren't the umpires due to go out on strike anyway?
Nadia Skinner checked at the living room window before she opened the door to her eldest born and his... friend. She was fraught with worry, what with the storm, the fact that Walter hadn't contacted her. She had had visions of her son lying dead in some field in a plane crash. Or somewhere on the road. She should never have insisted that he... that they come up at night.
But here they were, late, both smelling of the local brew, the friend more than Walter. She greeted them coldly, angry at having been worried, for nothing it
Walter caught on right away from his mother's expression that he was in hot water. Shit! He was fifty, not sixteen. Still, all it took was *that* look and he was back to being a high school kid, caught sneaking in after curfew.
Alex had little experience with these undercurrents. He put on his most charming smile at Walter's introduction, held out his hand politely. Only to be ignored.
Nadia Skinner turned her back on both of them, led the way upstairs. "I'm sure that you're both tired. It being this late and all."
Walter winced. He knew that tone. His hopes for the weekend were quickly going down the drain.
Alex followed, not knowing what to do. He was really out of his depth here. All he could hope for was that Walter would toss him a life line.
At the top of the stairs, Nadia pointed down the hallway. "Walter, I've put you in the back bedroom."
She turned to Alex. "Mr. Krycek, you're in this room. She pointed to the doorway at the other end of the hallway. "It has its own bathroom."
Walter got all those messages. He would have to go past his mother's bedroom if he wanted to see Alex, and Alex would have no reason to leave his bedroom. She had effectively isolated them.
Alex nodded his thanks, glanced at Walter who shrugged behind his mother's back.
"Walter." Nadia stood in the doorway of her bedroom, waiting for her son to move. "We'll talk in the morning," she said as he walked past her. She waited patiently until the two men had entered their respective bedrooms, closed their doors before closing her own.
Alex turned on the light in the room that had been assigned to him. His knapsack and jaw hit the floor at the same time. He was stunned into immobility.
The room was pink.
The walls were pink. The blinds and the vanced chiffon curtains were pink. The large area rug by the bed was starkly pink on the golden wood floor.
The furniture was in the French Provincial style, white with gilt trim. But the canopy over the bed, a twin in size, was pink with flounces. The bedspread was white and pink with a pink ballerina balancing on one toe.
Gingerly, Alex moved to inspect the small bathroom. More pink, except for the white porcelain fixtures. More ballerinas on the shower curtain. Only the deep purple towels broke the colour scheme.
Wary, he went to check the sheets in the bed. Yep, more pink and ballerinas.
He sat down on the bed. The first good thing: the mattress was a firm one. Even if the bed was too small for a man of his size.
Jesus! he thought. He couldn't sleep in this room: he'd have nightmares. He tried turning off the light. Even the darkness didn't effectively hide the colour, the flounces, the ballerina.
He found himself wondering if Walter's mother was sending him a message here. Apart from the fact that she wanted to keep him away from her son.
He turned on the ballerina lamp by the bed, went to see if there was anything he could use in the closet. Ah, a *blue* blanket. Okay, pale blue, but still not pink.
He began by stripping the bedspread, then the sheets off the bed. Folded them carefully. Stashed them on the pink upholstered armchair in the corner.
He used the bathroom, stripped to t-shirt and shorts, wrapped the blue blanket around him, and lay on the bed. As long as he stayed still, he shouldn't fall off, he thought. He reached out and turned off the light.
In his bedroom, Walter settled comfortably in the extra-long queensize bed. Between the dark green and blue sheets. That matched the bedroom's decor. And with a sigh, decided that things would go better in the morning.
Not surprisingly, Alex was the first one up.
He'd taken a shower in the too small stall, ignoring the pink perfumed soap for the bar he still had in his travel kit. He checked his clothes for the smell of home brew: he'd understood the sniff Nadia Skinner had made when he had passed by her.
Carefully, he used old skills to make his way soundlessly downstairs. To scan the lay out of the floor.
Large living room to the left which opened into an even larger dining room. Good sized pieces of furniture, nothing delicate like in his bedroom.
From what he'd seen of Nadia Skinner last night, Walter came by his height naturally. She had to be close to 5' 11", large-boned. Her grey hair had been braided in a long, thick plait. He had noticed that Walter had her eyes, that they had looked at him as Walter had that night on the balcony.
The kitchen in the back was also huge, obviously the most lived-in room in the house. There was a large quaker table in the middle of the place, standing on a braided rug of various hues. A rocking chair in one corner next to a small wood store. There was a box of split wood by the door that led out to the back enclosed porch.
The rest of the appliances were modern, up to date. A microwave took up one corner of the counter. He assumed the wood stove was there for nostalgic purposes, or maybe even to provide heat if the electricity went off.
Ah, a coffee maker. And ready to be turned on. Alex hoped that Walter had gotten his love of good coffee from his mother. He had. That first cup made him feel maybe this wouldn't be such a fiasco after all. Last night had been an endless list of misadventures. Walter had a sense of humour. Surely, he must have gotten that from one of his parents. Hopefully from his mother.
"I see that you've made yourself quite at home."
Alex turned from his contemplation of the back yard. Nope, he thought. Must have gotten that from his father.
Nadia Skinner entered her kitchen. She *had* expected to find it empty. She had heard the shower go on in the bedroom next to hers, but hadn't heard the man come down. The wooden floor usually creaked at the landing, as did the third step down. But there had been no sounds.
Alex looked her over in the early morning light. She was wearing navy slacks with a grey-blue sweater. Her hair was done up in a braided chignon. She turned and caught him checking her out. So she returned the favour, silently sipping at her first coffee of the day.
He wasn't what she had expected. Though she really couldn't say what she *had* been expecting. Certainly not something so male. Certainly not compared to Teddy Burston and his partner who ran the antique store. But then, she should have known that Walter wouldn't behave in any stereotypical way.
And the man was interesting looking. Especially with that fake arm of his which he made no pretence of hiding. You had to have a certain confidence in yourself to handle it that way. To handle her obvious examination of him.
She had to give him the eyes. Green. With eyelashes that long. Why was it that boys ended up with eyelashes like that?
She had been worried that Walter was going to show up with something young. Most men went for younger models when they hit Walter's age. This one was certainly not young. He had the look of someone who had faced life, found it hard, shrugged and gotten on with it.
He looked, she had to admit to herself, dangerous. In spite of his attempt to look inoffensive. So, she thought, a little insecurity there. Not a bad thing.
Walter stepped into the deep freeze that was his mother's kitchen. He had wanted to be the first one up, had wanted time alone with his mother before Alex came down. As with everything else so far this weekend, those plans were a waste of time.
Alex was sitting in a chair at one end of the table, coffee in hand, looking out into the yard, that closed-in look on his face. The one that meant he was expecting the worse. The one he hadn't seen on his lover for some time.
His mother was sitting at the other end, elbows propped up on the table, cup held in her hands. She seemed very interested in the contents of that cup.
Walter filled a mug with coffee, bent and kissed his mother's cheek as he passed her to sit next to Alex.
Clearly drawing up the lines.
"Sorry about last night," he started. "It was a comedy of errors from the beginning." He ignored her raised eyebrow at his use of the word "comedy", explained what had happened, including the dead cell phone.
Nadia resisted the urge to ask if there had been no phones at any of the airports. She just nodded her acceptance of his explanation.
Walter took a deep breath, plunged in. "So," he said, "who told you about us? About my leaving the Bureau? I didn't think anyone from around here would know me well enough to pick me out of a police line."
"They wouldn't." In a tone that told Walter his mother felt he hadn't visited her enough. She looked from him to Alex. Didn't add anything else.
"Mom," Walter spoke softly, in a carefully firm but not impolite way, "whatever you want to say to me you can say it in front of Alex. I'll only tell him anyway." And while he was at it, "Look. I know you're not comfortable with this situation. I'm not looking for your blessing, Mom. Or your approval. Your acceptance will be enough."
"Ellie Crankshaw." Nadia decided to ignore the rest of his little speech.
"Who?" Walter really didn't know. "Who is Ellie Crankshaw?"
"You'll probably remember her better as Ellie Davis. She married John Crankshaw, just after graduation." And watched as her son mentally went through a list of
people from his past.
"Ellie Davis?" And then he had it. "Are we talking about Snoopy Davis? From high school?" Walter was incredulous. "What the... " he caught himself: his mother had never allowed swearing under her roof. He tried again. "How... " But he was flabbergasted.
Nadia felt just a bit of pleasure at seeing her son flustered. Alex just looked surprised.
"Seems she was chaperoning a school trip to DC. Her youngest has just started high school. They were in front of the Hoover Building when she recognized you. On a motorcycle. Said you were looking quite rough. And that you kissed a man right there, in public. Right in front of everybody. Quite passionately. She was scandalized. There were after all impressionable children in the area."
Walter glanced over at Alex who met the look with studied innocence. Nadia understood that neither of them was embarrassed at having been seen.
"So, Ellie Crankshaw was so upset by your behaviour, that she called FBI Headquarters, asking to speak to you. I think she intended to give you a piece of her
"She never had a piece to spare," muttered Walter.
"Well, she informed me, she wasn't all that surprised to hear you weren't *with* the Bureau any more. Considering your behaviour and all. And she had been told by one of the guides that there had been a whole lot of changes at the FBI, among other departments, lately. It didn't surprise her. That she knew morals in the Capital were just ever so loose." Nadia did a very good imitation of Ellie Davis Crankshaw. "But she had never thought that any son of mine would be involved in such things."
Nadia watched her son swear to himself. Of all her children, he was the one who respected her rules the best.
"She was very sympathetic." In a tone that indicated Ellie had been anything but. "She hoped that no one in Middlebury would find out about the disgrace my son had brought upon his nation."
Alex couldn't believe that line, snickered. Choked on it when Nadia turned *that* look onto him.
"I'm sure," she continued, "that hasn't stopped her from telling anyone who will listen to her back home."
There was dead silence in the kitchen.
Walter rubbed his face with his hands. He fought an overwhelming urge to go beat up Snoopy Ellie Davis Crankshaw.
"She also said that she has a cousin who lives in DC. Who just co-incidentally works for the Department of Justice. Who had no trouble finding out just who this man you kissed in public was."
She now had Alex's full attention along with Walter's. And was suddenly very happy that Ellie Crankshaw was safely located in the Midwest.
"Alex Krycek, it seems, has quite a dubious reputation. Unfortunately for Ellie, that's all her cousin would tell her. Something about secrecy."
Nadia held Alex's eyes. She had brought up two sons and a daughter, been married for 43 years to one of those cold-eyed Sheriffs: all of whom she could stare down.
"So, Mr. Krycek, just how did you meet my son?"
"Mom," Walter started, but Alex and Nadia just ignored him.
"Since this family is so keen on football," Alex hadn't missed all the photos in the hallway downstairs of Walter, another youth in football uniforms, a girl in a cheerleading one, "you could say I was on the visiting team. Walter and I got to beat each other up a few times."
"Is that what happened to your arm?"
"No, Walter had nothing to do with that. Just my own stupidity. I trusted someone I shouldn't have."
"So, just how did you and my son come to be... a couple?"
Alex's expression turned feral. Nadia nearly let his eyes go but held on. "I killed him."
"Alex." Only to be ignored. This battle was between Alex and Nadia and neither of them acted as if Walter was even in the room.
"Is that what you do, Mr. Krycek? You kill people?" She thought he was lying.
"Yes. Among other things. That's what I *used* to do."
She understood that he wasn't. She found her heart was pounding: what was Walter, *her* Walter doing with such an animal?
"You certainly couldn't be very good at it," she sneered. "Walter seems to be here in this room, hale and hearty."
"Oh, but it's just because I *am* so good at it that he is."
Walter couldn't believe this conversation.
"Really? Just how so?"
*That* was enough. "Alex!" Walter's voice snapped like a whip. "No!"
The whip cut the line of contact between the two combatants. Alex turned his head slightly towards Walter. Walter reached out, placed his hand on Alex's fisted one. "No," again, softly.
Nadia watched her son and his lover. Watched as the danger drained out of the man who was fighting her for her son. As his fist loosened, his hand turning to clutch the fingers resting on it. As their hands linked together.
Whatever was in their past, it had forged a bond between these two. She could ignore it and lose her son: she had no illusions whom Walter would pick if she forced him into a choice. Or, she could accept that Alex Krycek, whatever he was, was an integral part of her son's life. As Walter had said, all he was looking for from her was acceptance. Not approval. Not her blessing.
Alex turned to face her. "Sorry." His mouth softened into a smile. "He's bigger than I am." Hand still in Walter's, he stood up. "Look, it would be better if the two of you spoke without me here. I'll go for a walk."
Nadia also stood up. "Sit down, please. Alex." She waited until he did. She went over to the fridge, took out a pan, placed several large cinnamon and raisin rolls on a plate, popped it into the microwave. She started making a fresh pot of coffee. Walter got up, went to get plates and cutlery, butter to put on the table.
"We should never have started this on empty stomachs," said Nadia. She pulled eggs and several containers out of the fridge, began putting together scrambled eggs. Alex wisely stayed put, and quiet.
When everyone had been served, had begun eating, Nadia explained, "She called me Naddy."
Alex didn't understand, but Walter did. And groaned.
"I *hate* being called Naddy." Nadia explained to Alex. He nodded. Not that he ever would have thought of calling her that.
She looked at Walter. "This is all Louisa's fault, you realize. Don't you remember, that cartoon Ouisa drew of the yearbook people?"
Walter shrugged no. Alex kept on stuffing his mouth with eggs: Walter had picked up his cooking skills from his mother. He wondered if the recipe for the rolls was a secret.
"She drew her as an anteater. You know, with the long nose. I mean, it was bad enough that neither you nor Gene picked up on the fact that she wanted you. Either one," she addressed Alex, ignoring Walter's surprise - sometimes her children were incredibly thick - "she didn't care which. But to have that cartoon make the rounds through school, even after the principal had refused to allow it to be used in the yearbook. Well, I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised when she called."
She took a sip of coffee. "So, Alex, what is it that you do these days?"
As Alex brought his mother up to date on his new career, Walter let go the tension that had been building up in him. As a kid, whenever he had brought a new friend home to meet his mother's approval, he could tell by the tone of her questions whether or not that friend would ever be welcomed again. Somehow Alex had passed that test. Nadia was sincerely interested in the work Alex was doing.
And Alex was politely answering all the little questions she was sneaking in as to his intentions, his ability to pay his share, the usual questions his mother snuck in whenever one of them had brought home a potential mate for parental inspection. It suddenly struck Walter how much his mother had been in charge of the household and family even though his father had supposedly been the Head.
When they had finished cleaning up, Alex put on his jacket, informed them that he wanted to check out the neighbourhood. Nadia asked him if he would mind picking up the papers at the bookstore, gave him the directions when he said no, not at all.
Alone with her son, she directed him back into the kitchen where she made him submit to an interrogation that would have done the FBI proud. She had him squirming a few times - well, that was a mother's job, no matter how old her children got to be.
In the end, after playing the guilt line "Did you not think I would understand, Walter?" followed by a touch of "I would think by now that you would know all I ever wanted for you, for any of my children, was to be happy", she finally took pity on her son, seriously agreed with his decision to leave the stress and strains of the FBI behind for the equally respectable work at Wilson-Jones.
She even accepted his explanation about why he hadn't told her about Alex. Well, she thought to herself, watching his expression carefully as he talked about his lover, at least he's in love. Listening to him she realized that he also had very few illusions about his choice. But that was who he wanted. Well, his relationship with Sharon had lasted seventeen years. This one had as good a chance of lasting as long.
That didn't mean she was going to let Alex go without having a little talk with him. In fact, this afternoon would be ideal. Gene wanted to talk to Walter alone about this. Because, of course, Ellie had contacted him as well. That anteater picture had been far too kind.
Gene, in fact, put a bit of a damper on her plans: he showed up at the house just as they finished lunch. He was thinner than Walter, didn't have the same shoulders, had the same hair line. He shook hands with Alex, greeted his brother with a questioning shrug, announced that he wanted Walter's advice about some lumber he wanted to buy and took his brother away, leaving Alex alone with Nadia.
They looked at each other, each waiting for the other to make the first move.
Nadia sighed. Alex watched, that look from before breakfast on his face again.
"I just have a couple of questions I want to ask," she said. "Do you love him?"
"Yes." Nothing more.
Nadia found she didn't doubt his sincerity.
"Are you going to hurt him?"
"God, I hope not." He shrugged. "Look, I'm new at this. I don't know. You're the one with the experience. Am I going to hurt him?"
Nadia had to give him his honesty. "Are you asking me that as Walter's mother, or as someone who spent most of her life in love with one man?"
Alex thought before answering. "As both."
"Yes. As both. But you'll be hurt, too. It's unavoidable in a relationship. It's how you deal with it that makes the difference."
Nadia smiled at her new... what should she call him, her son-in-law? Alex recognized that smile from Walter: it meant someone was in for it. "Would you like to look at some photos I have of Walter?"
Alex wondered if it were really that easy to be accepted. "Is there one of him on a bear rug?" he smiled back.
Nadia laughed. "As a matter of fact... and he just *hates* it."