The artificial day of the kitchen dimmed the grey-pink dawn creeping around the windows of the little white house. Skinner shivered a little, dressed only in boxers, as he put a pot of water on, then made coffee. It felt good to be up so early and have the whole day ahead of him, no plans, just time to himself and later time with Daniel.
The water boiled and he put in the eggs. Dropping to the linoleum, he began a set of push-ups. One...two...three...his arms pumped easily, raising and lowering his body. Fifty...still not much of an effort, but focusing on the lino pattern was trance-inducing. 100...his breathing speeded up and became audible...the coffee smelled wonderful. 150...his arms burned and sweat prickled along his back. 200...he got up and took the eggs off the stove. They were perfect.
After a shower, he repaired to the bedroom to dress. The sunlight struggled harder to be visible and he could just see without turning on a lamp. While he slid into jeans, tee, and sweatshirt, he watched Daniel sleep.
Sheets twisted and roiled around Pendrell's waist and the blankets were heaped in a drift at the foot of the bed. Sprawled over more of the mattress than should have been possible for a man his size, he was peacefully drooling onto Walter's pillow.
Skinner sighed and made a mental note to change the sheets later. Gathering the covers, he pulled them up around Pendrell's shoulders and ran a gentle hand through the sandy hair. He was rewarded with a dreamy smile and a muttered phrase.
Leaning in, he whispered, "What, Daniel?"
"Watermelon gum on the frog's nose."
No response required, obviously, so he dropped a kiss on the sleep-flushed cheek and left the room.
Lucy wanted out and Skinner sent her into the back yard as he headed for the park, shrugging into his light jacket as he walked. Red, green, and gold leaves clung stubbornly to the trees and the cold nipped at the end of his nose. A few more weeks and he'd need a hat on long walks. Probably Pendrell had a bobbly stocking cap from his knitting grandmother stashed away in a closet, some tasteful affair in purple, yellow, and green.
Skinner made a brisk circuit of the park, then took a leisurely one. A solitary walk on a crisp fall morning was sweetness indeed. A vendor under a red awning sold him a large coffee and a granola bar. Settling down on a bench with his snack, he pulled a paperback out of his jacket pocket and lost himself in Le Carre. He didn't get up until he had finished the novel.
Strolling home, he passed a convenience store and, on impulse, picked up two packs of watermelon gum.
Lucy waited for him outside the house, tail flicking pointedly. She pushed passed him as soon as he had the door open, disappearing quickly down the hall. Taking off his jacket, Skinner pondered what to make for lunch--a hot soup seemed appropriate to a lazy fall day. Some of those multi-grain rolls, and maybe a salad.
He found Pendrell in the living room, slumping on the couch in fuzzy pyjamas, a bowl of cereal balanced on his stomach, eating distractedly as he watched Big Bird and Snuffleupagus. The Corn Flakes box and milk carton both stood open on the coffee table, precariously close to Pendrell's feet.
"Hey Walter!" Pendrell spooned up the last of his cereal, then tipped up the bowl to drain the milk. Sitting up and licking his milky lips, he set the empty bowl on the table. "Have a good walk?"
"Heads up." Skinner tossed the gum. Pendrell fumbled and caught one pack, losing the other in the corner of the couch. Fishing it out, he read the label and broke into a grin.
"I haven't had this in so long--years. It was my favourite when I was a kid." He smelled the closed package. "I was just craving some." His brow wrinkled slightly. "How did you know?"
Skinner put on his best enigmatic look. "You tell me, Professor."
"You were the grouchy guy who worked at the store where I bought my gum in junior high school?"
"Not even close." Skinner closed the milk carton and began to gather the things up from the table.
"Walter--c'mon, stop that."
Skinner frowned and moved back a bit. "Sorry, was I in front of the TV?"
Pendrell puffed up his cheeks, then blew out. "No, you were clearing up my lunch."
"I thought you were done." He set the milk back down.
"Well, I might be but I'm not sure. And when I'm done, I'll put the stuff away." His face creased up for a moment and, taking the remote, he muted the TV. "Sit down. For you I'm missing Monsterpiece Theatre."
Puzzled and vaguely annoyed, Skinner sat, hands in his lap, face carefully neutral. Pendrell leaned over and kissed him gently, all morning breath and milk and stubble.
"Walter, you know I love you. And the watermelon gum proves we're soul mates." He smiled. "I just don't understand why, when you're here--and I love it when you stay over--you're always picking up after me. You're not my mother. And you're not the maid. And I'm hardly a slob."
"I didn't say you were a slob."
"All I'm saying is try to relax a bit when you're here. It's OK if the cereal and milk sit on the table for another half hour. The milk won't go bad. And if I spill the Corn Flakes, I'll vacuum. But later."
Why did this bother Daniel? It seemed so minor. "I'll try. But you'll have to remind me. I don't always realise I'm doing it."
Fingers walked up Skinner's thigh. "You know, Walter, if you want to be the maid, I'm sure we could get a little outfit for you. A short black skirt and a white apron, some fishnet stockings...you dust the rooms, I do a white glove test..."
"Daniel." Skinner glared.
"Why are you wearing pyjamas?"
"It's a holiday--I don't have to get dressed at least until the afternoon." Pendrell leaned forward and poured himself another bowl of cereal.
"But you didn't wear any pyjamas to bed. You got up and put them on? Why not just get dressed?"
"When you spend a holiday morning eating cereal and watching Sesame Street, you have to do it in your jammies. There are formalities to be observed." He added the milk and sat back, turning the sound up. Holding the bowl in one hand, he draped his arm around Skinner's neck and pulled him down to plant a kiss on the top of his head. Some milk sloshed over the edge of the bowl onto Pendrell.
When he was released, Skinner reached over and ruffled Pendrell's hair. Lucy came in and jumped on the couch between them, walking over Pendrell, then turning and settling in Skinner's lap. He stroked her absently as he watched the show. Sesame Street wasn't part of his era and without children, he'd never really seen it much. Daniel seemed to love it.
"Want a bite?" Pendrell held the cereal bowl out to Skinner.
"No, thank you."
"Go on, taste it." He pushed it closer.
Pendrell seemed to want the weirdest things. Skinner allowed himself one tiny sigh and, taking the bowl, scooped out a moderate bite. Cloying sweetness crunched between his teeth. Abruptly, he handed the bowl back.
"Since when are Corn Flakes so sweet, Daniel? That's awful!"
"Isn't it cool? I've been trying for a while to make my own Frosted Flakes by coating Corn Flakes with a sugar solution and this week I finally perfected the formula."
"Wouldn't it have been easier to just buy Frosted Flakes?"
Pendrell stared at him. "You just don't get it, Skipper. Where's the fun in that?"
"I yield the point."
After a self-satisfied smile, Pendrell finished his cereal and opened a pack of gum. "Want some, Walter?"
"I don't chew gum."
"I hope you'll still go with boys who do." Pendrell chewed up two pieces and blew a huge, fragrant bubble that popped wetly. He sucked it back in and leaned against Skinner's shoulder.
On the screen, Bob showed Big Bird a lemon, an apple, a pear, and a carrot. "One of these things is not like the others," he sang. Pendrell hummed along, badly.
"Come on, Walter, which one is it?"
Skinner said nothing.
"You don't know--that must be it. I'll give you a remedial lesson in fruits and vegetables next time we go shopping." He started to sing in a wavery tenor, "It is I, Captain Vegetable! With my carrot, and my celery."
Waves of affection and irritation washed over Skinner. Putting his arm around Pendrell, he rubbed his cheek across the reddish hair. "You drive me crazy, did you know that?"
Pendrell turned towards him, all innocent wickedness. "I do."
Skinner kissed him once, swiftly, then stood up, dumping Lucy to the floor. "I'm going to go make myself some lunch. Maybe this afternoon we can pursue some adult activities?"
"Oh, I have some very adult activities planned for you." Another bubble swelled, then deflated. "After Flintstones."
A massive amount of willpower controlled Skinner's desire to laugh. He walked towards the door.
Skinner stopped and looked back.
"You forgot the dishes."
Skinner fixed Pendrell with a Look of Death. Deliberately, he stuck out his tongue, then turned and stalked to the kitchen, laughter ringing behind him all the way.