Title: EATING (1/1)

Author: Josan

Date: July 22, 1999

Summary: Skinner has an encounter

Rating: No sex, only some naughty language. Archive: ArchiveX, Gossamer. Any others if you ask:

just so I know where this is travelling to. Comments: jmann@mondenet.com

With thanks to Solan who always finds the weak spots and pushes me to fix them.

DISCLAIMER: These are the property of CC, Fox and 1013, but let's not forget that imitation is the greatest form of flattery.




It didn't look like anything much. A shack in the middle of nowhere.

Not really in the middle of nowhere. Just so off the beaten path that it felt like that.

And not really a shack either. Just one large open room with a smaller one behind it. Wood construction. Paint only a distant faint memory. Tin roof. Sawdust on the floor.

The home of Beryl's Ribs.

The best ribs in the whole wide world.

One of the best kept secrets in the whole wide world.

And Walter Skinner knew this secret.

Once a year he came down to this neck of the woods for a little spring fly-fishing, peace, quiet. A replenishing of the soul.

And for a plateful, or two, of Beryl's ribs. Where he forgot all those manners his mother had pounded into him and ate with his fingers. And like a pig. Stuffing himself to the point of over-satiation on ribs, cole slaw, pecan pie and ice cream. Nourishment for the soul.

The place never changed. Trucks, beaten up and dust coloured, sat side by side in the front lot with a very few fancy city cars. Beryl, it was rumoured, was very fussy about whom she fed.

Of course, Beryl to Skinner was a rumour also: he had never seen the woman herself. Assumed she was just a name painted on the old Coke boardsign that hung just under the sagging porch roof.

He'd been promising himself this treat as reward for forcing himself to return to DC and his desk.

The fishing this week had been perfect. The weather neither too cool nor too hot. The bugs there but not the horrendous nuisance that they could be some years. All in all the perfect week's vacation that had been so needed to re-balance his psyche.

At the door, he forced himself *not* to remove his baseball cap: no one else here did. Not considered to be bad manners. His mother would have thrown her wooden spoon at him. Not that she would have recognized him.

The impeccable, well tailored, sharply creased AD Walter S. Skinner was nowhere to be seen.

Instead, the man who stood at the door, waiting for his eyes to adjust to the diminished light (Beryl, it was rumoured, didn't believe in wasting money on high wattage to light the place: everyone knew what he was eating and who he was with.), looked like someone his mother's cat wouldn't have condescended to drag in.

He was wearing a red flannel lumberjack shirt open over a tight dark t-shirt, worn dirty jeans with a hole on one knee, loosely tied workman boots. He was bearded, since he hadn't bothered to shave in the last six days. Looked rough because even though he was camped by the fish stream, the water coming down from the mountains was snow run-off. Too cold to bathe in. Voluntarily. And he hadn't.

He scanned the room out of habit, taking the time to clean his glasses on the tail end of his flannel shirt.

The room was still pretty much empty. Skinner had skipped lunch in anticipation of this meal and so had gotten here early.

He noticed the young couple in the preppy clothing at one table: must be the ones with the BMW in the lot. Local boy makes good?

There were the usual old men who would have arrived first and be among the last to leave. They were settled in the middle of the place: the better to see the traffic. And to comment on it. They nodded at him and he nodded back. He was camping on the property of one of the oldsters, a man who knew what he was and had agreed with him, the first time that he had come out, that it was nobody's business but Skinner's what he did for a living. Skinner appreciated the anonymity.

He went to take a place in the back area when he noticed that the far end corner table was already taken. And by someone he recognized.

Someone who had no bloody business being here.

Like a bull moose in rut, Skinner felt his blood pressure rise at this perceived invasion of his personal territory. All the tension he had managed to eliminate over the past week was back with a vengeance.

He actually saw red for a moment before he went on the attack.

"Krycek!" His voice cracked like a bull whip against the back corner.

Alex Krycek looked up from the decades old TIME magazine that he'd found on the chair in the corner. His expression moved from startled to disbelieving to annoyed to, when he realized how enraged Skinner was, ready to battle.

He tossed the magazine onto the table as he rose to meet Skinner face to face, almost nose to nose.

"Just what the fuck are *you* doing here, Krycek?" growled Skinner.

"Same question to *you*," snapped Krycek.

Skinner grabbed the younger man by the front of his leather jacket. "How the hell did you find me here? No one knows I'm here."

Krycek didn't try to shake off the bulldog holding him. He just reached behind under his jacket for the knife he carried in the small of his back.

"What the fuck makes you think I was following you, asshole?"

"Is there something wrong here, boys?" a new, totally unexpected voice gravelled in.

Both men turned to attack whoever had the balls to interrupt them. And stopped the words before they left their mouths.

Standing, very calmly, in front of them was one of the largest women either had ever seen. She had to be an easy six foot six: Skinner had to look up at her. Large. At least two of Skinner. Hard, not fat. Coffee black skin. Steel coloured hair. Not a happy person by the look on her face.

She carried a very large cleaver in her hands.

"I don't put up with trouble in my place, boys." She glared at them.

Krycek's knife disappeared quickly back into its sheath. Skinner released Krycek, turned to face who had to be Beryl and her very large cleaver.

"Ma'am," he began.

She ignored him. "Boys," she continued in that rumbling voice of hers, "I don't care what your troubles are with each other outside of here. You leave them there. We all got enough troubles of our own without importing yours."

Her tone re-activated Skinner's AD voice. "Ma'am," he spoke in the full authority tones he used when he was dealing with a situation he didn't like.

Beryl turned just enough to meet his eyes. "Don't sass me, boy. This is *my* place and I will just remind the both of you *once* that I can ban the two of you" delighted gasps of horror from their audience "*per...man...ent...ly* from under my roof. Is *that* understood? Boys."

From the chatter that quickly surrounded them, it was obvious that this threat was rarely used and if put into effect was indeed permanent.

Skinner and Krycek exchanged angry looks but kept their mouths shut. They faced Beryl and both nodded.

"Good. Now the two of you will just sit yourselves down and Ellie will come out and serve you in a minute. And just where do you think you're going?" she addressed Skinner. "No, boy. You sit yourself down here at this table. This is the only table free for you boys tonight. That is if you still want to eat here tonight. Or any other night."

Skinner and Krycek looked around the room. True a few more of the tables had filled, but the place was still at least half empty. And their smirking audience was certainly appreciating the show they'd been putting on.

"Don't push me, boys. I don't like leaving my kitchen and I don't appreciate the two of you scaring my little sister, Ellie."

Both men looked toward the kitchen door to see the "frightened" Ellie, just under six foot and built like Skinner, nod shyly at them. Krycek sent a "Sorry, Ellie," in that direction. Skinner tipped the bill of his cap.

"Now," smiled Beryl, "that's better. Sit down, both of you. And all I want to hear coming from this table for the rest of the evening is moans of pleasure, lips smacking, and the sound of fingers being licked. By the time the two of you finish putting away what you usually do, the pecan pie will be cool enough so the ice cream won't soup around it."

She turned and ambled like a large tank back to her kitchen.

Skinner glared at Krycek, "Dickhead, this is *my*..."

"I'll pretend I didn't hear that language, boy," Beryl tossed over her shoulder as she stepped into her domain.

Skinner and Krycek sat down at the small table. Krycek had his back to the actual corner, Skinner pulled the chair so that his back was to the wall, facing the entrance. Not the best position for two men with long legs to claim space under a small table, but a position they would put up with for the ribs that Ellie was carrying over.

Ellie placed a large platter that was mountained with hot, sauce slattered, perfectly barbecued ribs. It took up most of the table. On the free space, she plunked down a two-pound plastic pail of home-made cole slaw with two forks in it. A young teenager stepped out from behind her and placed two beer mugs and a jug of brew on the last of the free space and dashed back behind the counter for safety. Ellie smirked at them, said nothing and ambled back to pick up another platter of ribs from the kitchen.

Skinner decided that the best solution to the Krycek problem was to ignore him. Krycek was *not* going to deprive him of this treat. He angled his chair so that the man was no longer in his line of vision, reached for the first rib.

His taste buds thought that they had died and gone to heaven. He couldn't keep his eyes open. His mouth watered around the tender meat, reacting to the spicy sweet hotness of the sauce that was almost caramelized over the rib.

"Oh, thank you, God."

Skinner hadn't realized he'd spoken. He hadn't. That "grace" had come from his enforced companion of the evening.

Skinner opened his eyes just enough to see that Krycek also had his eyes closed, was filling his mouth as reverently as his thanks had suggested.

"I didn't know," Skinner spoke with his mouth full, "that you believed in God."

"Only in times like these," answered Krycek around his rib.

"Amen." Skinner picked up another and stripped the meat off the bone he held in his hands.

It was then that he noticed that Krycek was only using one hand to hold the long rib to his mouth. "Messier that way, isn't it?" he commented. Krycek's cheeks were already stained with sauce.

Krycek nodded. "Yeah," he agreed, "but it's a bitch trying to get the sauce and grease off the prosthesis."

Skinner had nothing to say to that, so he grabbed another rib.

The two men ate companionably and silently until the first edge was off their appetite.

Krycek licked his fingers, wiped his hand on the thigh of his jeans, picked up his beer and gulped it down. The action brought Skinner's attention to the strong throat muscles, the slightly bobbing adams apple.

Skinner took a mouthful of cole slaw, savouring the vinegary tartness that cleaned the palate and sort of soothed the spicy burn in his mouth. The fork was difficult to grip in a greasy hand. He followed Krycek's example and wiped his hand on his jeans.

"You've got sauce all over your beard," offered Krycek.

Skinner passed his hand over, only spreading the sticky substance more over his face. He shrugged. "Don't see why we bother: it's only going to get worse."

Krycek nodded, blissfully attacking another rib. "What are you doing around here, Skinner? Didn't know you guys were in the area."

"*We're* not. I am. I go fishing around here every year at this time. Have been for the last seven. Cyrus over there at the centre table told me about this place. So how did *you* find out about it?"

Krycek wiped his mouth on the back of his hand, looked at it for a moment, then licked the sauce off it. "Heard about it in Sarajevo a couple or three years ago. You remember that peace-keeping thing the Administration decided would be good PR? Heard some soldier describing his great-grandaunt's ribs, decided that they couldn't be as good as they sounded."

"But they are." Both men spoke as one. Suddenly grinned at each other.

"You ever tell anyone about the place?" Krycek asked.

"No." Skinner shook his head. "You?"

Krycek also shook his head. "There are some things that were never meant for sharing."

Skinner was surprised to hear himself laugh. Christ sake, this was *Alex Krycek* he was sharing a table with. Talking with. Laughing with.

Krycek must have felt the same way because he too looked a bit surprised at the laughter that had come out of his mouth. But he was a bit more willing to gamble on their truce. "Why fly-fishing, Skinner?"

So Skinner found himself expanding on the pleasure of fly fishing while Krycek ate and listened. Then Skinner asked Krycek a few innocuous questions about Sarajevo and the damage the war had brought to it. And listened with something that not quite resembled surprise as Krycek showed he had a very subtle understanding of the personality of the Balkans.

Gradually the platter filled up with cleaned off bones, the cole slaw pail was reduced to dregs, the beer jug had been emptied, refilled and emptied again.

Krycek slouched against the back of his chair, hand gesturing to support a point he was making. Skinner had tipped his chair back, balanced it on its two back legs, nodding in agreement with Krycek's point.

Skinner realized with a part of himself that his blood pressure was back to what it had been when he'd entered the eatery. That he was actually enjoying himself, listening to some long involved convoluted story Krycek was telling him, which he knew, from the gleam in those eyes, was going to end up in some corny pun or line that he should see coming but hadn't the will to.

Krycek, he noticed, was also relaxed, so much so that when Ellie showed up with two hot, wet towels, he hadn't seen her coming.

They used the towels to wash their faces, hands. Krycek scrubbed the part of his jeans he'd been using as a napkin. Skinner did the same while Ellie cleared off the table, gave it a quick wipe-down. The teenager brought two large mugs, almost the size of the beer mugs, to the table, filled them with coffee from the big pot he carried in the other hand. Offered to get them sugar and cream if they didn't take it black.

Ellie reappeared and plunked two large plates, each with its own huge piece of pecan pie, a mound of vanilla ice cream.

"Every time," said Krycek, "I come here, I swear I won't be able to get this much food down, let alone eat dessert."

"But you do," grinned Skinner, as he scooped up some ice cream onto a forkful of pie. The ice cream was home-made vanilla, the pecans were fresh, the custard not too sweet, the pie crust rich. Krycek made a purring sound at the back of his throat. Skinner's was more of a growl.

Over coffee that was so strong that normally Skinner would have known he'd be getting no sleep that night but which seemed the perfect ending to this perfect meal, he asked, "Where are you staying, Krycek?"

Krycek stretched his body, angling his chair, knowing that sleep would be easy to find after that meal. "I've got a small tent with me in the truck. I'll find a field somewhere and set it up. With luck the owner won't show up with a shotgun until I've had a chance to sleep this off."

Skinner looked into his coffee mug, then up at Krycek. "My tent's already up. It's big enough for four to sleep in. Room for you if you want."

Hell, he was on vacation. Sounded like Krycek was too. Even in the fiercest of wars truces were called.

Krycek watched Skinner wondering if the man would bleed green. But, after some consideration, he decided the offer was a sincere one. And he was tired. Putting up a tent, even a small one, with only one hand was no picnic.

"Thank you. I'd like that."

The two men stood up, reached into their pockets for money. Neither offered to treat the other: there were limits to truces and they really weren't friends.

From the door of her kitchen, Beryl watched the two men leave together. And smiled.