Title: Surprise Visit
Characters: Laurie, Dan, Walter, OC
Warnings: None, really. A little smut, a little angst and a bit of mush
Summary: No matter how old you get or how big a bad-ass you become, there are certain situations that reduce us all to the same common condition, wherein one can immediately and painfully recall what it's like to be a five-year-old with your hand firmly caught in the cookie jar.
Laurie woke from a sound sleep to the awareness that someone was moving around the bedroom. She opened her eyelids just enough to register pale, crack-of-dawn-way-too-goddamn-early-to-b
A dark shape was moving past the foot of the bed, barely outlined in the dim light. She couldn't see details, but it was bulky enough around the shoulders that it almost certainly had to be a man, and it looked like he was undressing; pulling a shirt off over his head. At that point, the trained part of her mind slapped her mostly awake. Laurie shifted lazily again, as if moving restlessly in her sleep, getting herself into the best position from which to launch herself off the bed and ram her fist into the most vulnerable part of the intruder's anatomy that she could reach; namely, his crotch.
But just before she put her attack plan into action, the rational part of her mind finished waking up and joined the party. She realized, after taking a careful second look, that the silhouette was a; pulling his shirt on, not off, and b; looked very familiar. Laurie relaxed and muttered, her voice croaky and clogged with sleep, "Dan? Where the hell are you going?"
Unaware of the recent peril to his privates, Dan responded to the grouchy interrogative by quickly moving to Laurie's side of the bed. He stooped down to land a gentle kiss on her cheek and murmured in her ear, "Sorry, honey. I didn't mean to wake you up. Nothing's wrong, I'm just going up to the roof and bird for a while. Go back to sleep."
As Dan finished whispering, Laurie heard the sheets rustle and felt movement at her back. The bed's other occupant spoke up, his voice even rustier (and grouchier) than Laurie's. "Hrrrn. Daniel? What's wrong?"
"Shit." Dan sounded chagrined. He quickly moved around to the other side of the bed. Laurie rolled over and watched Dan's silhouette lean down to nuzzle Walter's neck. Dan then whispered something apologetic-sounding in Walter's ear before dropping a quick kiss in the general vicinity of his mouth. Then he straightened up and tiptoed out the door, closing it quietly behind him.
Usually after being woken up, Walter was wide-awake and ready for mayhem, and would never, ever consider going back to sleep. This time, however, he simply watched Dan leave, then rolled over and burrowed back under the tangled mess of sheets and blankets, like an irritated ginger grizzly bear woken too early from hibernation. In less than a minute he was snoring lightly, once more dead to the world.
Rubbing sleep out of her eyes, Laurie eyed Walter's blanket-shrouded form and shook her head, smirking. She chalked up his current semi-coma as a definite testament to her bartending skills. And to the sneaky potency of the fruit and rum concoction she'd served up last night as part of their celebration of finally bringing in a particularly annoying druglord who they'd been pursuing for almost half a year.
As flushed with victory as his partners for once, Walter hadn't put up much of a struggle when Laurie and Dan cajoled him to join in and toast their success with a tall glass of Laurie's special victory rum punch. (Which, unbeknownst to either man, contained several other components (all alcoholic) in addition to rum and fruit punch.)
Walter had actually ended up drinking more of the sweetly lethal concoction than Dan, so Laurie wasn't really surprised that he was still sleeping it off. Walter really wasn't a drinker, and honestly Dan wasn't much of one either. Actually, it was pretty amazing that Dan was up and about this early. She supposed that part of his goal in going up to the roof at such an ungodly hour was not to watch birds, but to clear his head in the cold morning air.
For her part, Laurie felt great. As she thoughtfully regarded the snoring mound of bedding next to her, Laurie sent up a silent thanks to whatever mystery ancestor had bequeathed her an Olympian tolerance for alcohol. She had no idea, really, which side of the family she'd inherited it from; but the fact remained that Laurie could drink many heavier people under the table and almost never suffered from hangovers.
Where this ability had come from was a complete mystery to her; she was pretty sure that she hadn't gotten it directly from either of her parents. Sally was actually a bit of a lightweight in that department and Laurie just couldn't picture one-cocktail-a-party Larry as secretly having the ability to outdrink anything bigger than a housecat.
It had kind of backfired on her last night, though. Her brilliantly sneaky plan had been to get both Dan and Walter (well, mostly Walter--Dan was usually up for pretty much anything) hammered enough that they'd agree to participate in some kinky holiday-themed roleplay. But that had fallen through when, about ten minutes into the preliminary fondling, first Walter and then Dan had simply passed out, sprawled boneless and unconscious across Dan's huge bed. Laurie hadn't even gotten a chance to get the Salvation Army uniform and tambourine out of the closet, let alone put any of it on. So here she was the morning after, wide awake and still a bit horny, with one partner off birding his hangover away and her other partner unconscious beside her.
Laurie considered her options. She reached under the covers and put a hand on Walter's bare hip, giving it an experimental shake. The result was a faint growl and a feeble half-kick that came nowhere near landing, but the intent behind it was clear. Still buried under the covers, Walter snarled something muffled and unintelligible and moved away from the unwanted contact, stopping only when he reached the far edge of the bed. Laurie was pretty sure he hadn't actually woken up during any of this activity.
Well. So much for an early morning pornfest to make up for last night, Laurel Jane. You have got to figure out what the happy medium is for getting him loose enough that he agrees to something a little weird, but not so loose that he just passes out. Shit. Well, since nookie's out and I'm wide awake, guess I'll go for the obvious substitute; food.
She crawled out of bed, washed up and got dressed. Today would be a good opportunity to finish up on her Christmas-slash-Hanukkah shopping. Maybe when she returned, the Nite Owl/Rorschach team would be fully recovered and feeling a little livelier.
Downstairs in the kitchen, Laurie made a pot of coffee (first things first) and was disgruntled to find that there was only about a half-inch of milk left in the carton. Well, blah, no cereal then. I really don't feel like cooking anything...no fruit left in the bowl...fuck, we're out of bread, too? Guess we've all been too busy lately to buy groceries. What else is in the fridge besides two gulps of milk?
She opened the refrigerator door again and peeked in. Ugh, cottage cheese, yogurt, raw eggs, half a stick of butter, no thanks...what is it with Dan and those fucking cocktail onions, anyway? That's it, I guess I'm eating out. Laurie's hungry gaze swept the countertop. Her expression brightened when she spied the white pastry box. Aha! Donuts, yum.
There were four donuts left in the box. She poured herself a cup of coffee and quickly scarfed down two of them. Still hungry, it only took a few seconds for Laurie to convince herself that Dan would probably cook eggs and other much more savory things for his breakfast anyway, when he finally came down from the roof. She ate another donut.
Well, there it was. One lonely little donut left all by itself. Laurie's original resolve to leave the one glazed donut for Walter and his sweet tooth began to shrivel under the realization that she was still hungry and there were no witnesses. She drummed her fingers on the kitchen tabletop and eyed the open donut box, thinking. Then she shrugged and reached for the box. Fuck it. Dry cereal's much better for hangovers anyway. I'm pretty sure I read that somewhere.
The fourth donut went the way of the first three, and was just as delicious as its three brethren had been. Finally sated, Laurie was about to get up and scrawl a note on the chalkboard to let Dan and Walter know she'd gone shopping when she heard shuffling footsteps in the hallway. A few moments later, she was treated to the sight of Walter standing in the kitchen doorway, fully dressed and looking un-fetchingly scruffy.
Yawning and scratching his stomach through his wrinkled dress shirt, Walter slouched into the kitchen. He stopped a few feet away from Laurie and glared at her with squinty, bloodshot eyes. She raised her coffee mug and grinned at him. "Morning, Red. How're you feeling?"
Walter grunted in response and fixed her with an accusatory glare that said 'My suffering is your fault, dipsomaniac temptress' before making a beeline for the coffee pot. He poured himself a cup, then shuffled to the table and dropped into the chair across from Laurie with considerably less than his usual controlled animal grace. Wincing, he took a sip of coffee and closed his eyes. After a few more swigs of the hot, overly sugared beverage, he cracked one eye open and said, "My head hurts. Drank too much last night."
"No kidding. You guys both crashed on the runway. It was pretty disappointing."
Normally, that would have earned her an embarrassed look and complete avoidance of the topic. This time, Walter just chuffed in irritation and growled at her. "Maybe you should reconsider the strategy of half-poisoning us before initiating debauchery, then. What was in that drink?" Laurie shrugged and grinned at him. "Ancient Chinese secret, sweetie. Sorry."
Walter's eyes narrowed, but he said nothing. Laurie assumed he was making a mental note to never again let her mix anything alcoholic without watching her do it. A few moments later, Walter sighed and reached for the donut box that she'd left sitting in the middle of the table. When he opened it and saw the empty interior, occupied by only a few crumbs, the fresh stinkeye he leveled her way put the previous one to shame. He got up and pointedly tossed the empty box in the trash, the expression on his face plainly saying, 'This is your fault too, gluttonous dipsomaniac temptress'.
With a truly heroic effort, Laurie kept from bursting out laughing. Instead, she settled for turning a contented, well-fed smile toward her partner. "Hey, Dan's got to be almost cold enough to come down from the roof by now. He'll make something good for you, there's still some eggs in the fridge. I think there's some bacon left, too."
Walter dropped back into his chair and resumed sipping his coffee, wearing the closest thing she'd ever seen to a sulky expression on his face. Starting to feel a little remorseful, Laurie got up and kissed the top of his head. She graciously ignored the way he ducked partially out from under it, like an irritated cat that didn't want to be petted just now, thank you.
"Hey, come on. Tell you what, I'm going out this morning to do some Christmas shopping. Why don't we all go out to breakfast? My treat. I'll get you a huge obnoxious cheese Danish to soak up what's left of that alcohol, okay?"
Walter looked at her, obviously reluctant to be bought off by the bribe of mere food. He hrmphed and said, "Should think you'd be full by now."
Laurie laughed. "I can probably find an empty corner or two. Or maybe I'll just have coffee." Walter held out for a few more moments, then he sighed and nodded, finally looking a little mollified. Laurie kissed him again (this time, he didn't duck out from under it) and said, "Great! I'll go get Dan."
On her way out of the kitchen, Laurie stopped when she spotted the case of cornflakes that had been sitting in one corner of the kitchen for the last two weeks. "Hey, Walter!"
He looked up at her and she pointed toward the heavy cardboard box. "While I'm thinking about it, I want to put those away before that box sits there for another couple of weeks. Give me a hand, will you?"
He shrugged and then nodded, getting up from the table. Laurie grabbed the small stepladder from its designated corner of the kitchen and unfolded it by the cabinet above the counter where Dan stored extra dry goods. She climbed the few steps to the top, the better to reach the top shelf of the cupboard, then looked down at Walter and gestured at him. "Okay, start handing them up to me."
Walter took several boxes out of the case. Halfway to handing her the first one, he stopped to read the information on the front of the cereal box, his face grave. As Laurie watched in confusion, he then cocked his head and looked at the stepladder. After a few moments of watching Walter study the ladder, her patience gave out. "Well come on then, hand it over!"
Walter shook his head, looking solemn. "Can't do it, Laurel. Unsafe."
She scowled at him, confused, hoping this wasn't some new-found paranoia of his about mind-control chemicals being slipped into breakfast cereal at the Kelloggs processing plant. "What are you talking about? How, in God's name, is it unsafe?"
He pointed at the cereal box, then at the warning label pasted on the side of the stepladder. "Says the weight limit for that ladder is two hundred pounds."
Dan came down from the roof feeling chilled, but much better. The icy fresh air had been just the thing to clear out the cobwebs and tame his headache. Now, all he needed was some coffee and a little breakfast.
In the hallway he stopped as he heard the sound of a light scuffle coming from the kitchen. Then something hit the kitchen floor with a clang and he heard Laurie say, "You asshole!"
It wasn't the first time Dan had heard Laurie address Walter so, and he sighed, readying himself to barge in there and keep them from killing each other. Then he realized that Laurie was laughing and Dan relaxed, breathing a sigh of relief. He really hadn't wanted to deal with a Laurie vs. Walter argument this early in the morning. In the kitchen doorway, Dan stopped and took in the scene, eyes widening.
A box of cereal with a big cartoon rooster emblazoned on it lay torn in two on the kitchen floor. Two more squashed and dented similar boxes were close by, looking like they'd been trampled. The kitchen stepladder lay on its side and cornflakes were strewn across the countertop and all over the linoleum floor. Pressed tight up against the counter next to the kicked-over stepladder were Dan's partners, making out like a couple of teenagers.
As he watched Laurie grab Walter's ass with both hands and pull him in, grinding against him, the throaty moan that came out of Walter sent every available drop of blood straight to Dan's groin. He tossed his notebooks to one side and went to them, cereal crunching under his shoes as he crossed the kitchen floor.
"Mmm. Hey, you two." Dan picked a few cornflakes out of Walter's disheveled hair and said, his voice unsteady, "So, uh, you're both making sacrifices to Ceres now?"
Laurie smiled brilliantly at him over Walter's bowed head, her eyes bright with affection and arousal. Dan stepped in and embraced Walter from behind, running a hand over his partner's chest and reaching out with his other hand to caress the side of Laurie's face. Walter stopped nuzzling against Laurie's breasts and leaned back into Dan, placing his hand over Dan's and interlacing their fingers. Then he spoke, his voice dark and smoky with lust, "Morning, Daniel."
The sensation of Walter pressing himself against his groin, combined with his rumbled greeting (and Dan had to admit that it was the unleashed intensity in Walter's deep, cracked voice that got to him more than anything else), spun itself into an arousal that lit up all of his nerves. Dan twitched his hips, thrusting against his partner's hard body before sucking in a deep breath and getting a rein on himself. He groaned as Walter and Laurie moved apart to draw him into the middle of the embrace, surrounding him in a soft welter of kisses and hands and eager welcome.
As Laurie started unbuttoning his shirt and Walter placed little nipping bites across his back, teeth plucking at the shirt fabric at the end of each bite, Dan closed his eyes and reflected that he was indeed the luckiest man on the face of the planet.
Eager to make up for all she'd missed out on last night, Laurie purred and eased herself into the middle of the clinch, wallowing in the sensation of being eagerly caressed from both sides. As she luxuriated, however, an unwelcome thought suddenly occurred to her. She grimaced, remembering that with all the excitement of finally closing in on the resolution of their case, one of the things she'd been forgetting to do lately (in addition to reminding Dan to order groceries) was remember to take her birth control. Laurie was positive that she'd skipped at least two or three pills during the last week or so.
Fuck, fuckity fuck! Ahh, shit. I better go put it in, damn it. She reluctantly extricated herself from of her partners' dual embrace. "Sorry boys, I have to run upstairs for something, I'll be right back." Walter just nodded abstractedly. Dan looked confused for a moment, then shrugged and said. "Okay."
Halfway to the kitchen doorway, Laurie looked back and eyed her intertwined partners who were continuing ably in her absence. "You two had better not finish without me. I'd hate to have to kill you both." Dan looked at Walter's flushed face and half-closed eyes and grinned at her. "You'd better hurry up, then."
Upstairs in the bedroom, Laurie paused for a moment, then yanked open the drawer of the bedside table on Dan's side. Ah, screw putting in the diaphragm, it'll take too long. Fuck it, they'll both just have to wear raincoats. She grabbed an optimistically large handful of condom packages out of the drawer and pattered back downstairs.
Barging back into the kitchen, she observed with satisfaction that while things had gotten pretty far along in her absence--pants were completely off on both sides and there was much panting and groaning going on--they'd both held back from the finish line to wait for her. Laurie handed each of them a condom, saying, "Sorry boys, I missed a few Pills last week. Get 'em on before we go any further."
She shucked off her already-unfastened dress and stood in her underwear, biting the back of one knuckle and savoring the salty taste of her own skin as she watched them unwrap the prophylactics, her eyes feral and intense. Laurie was just about to dive back into the pool when she glanced toward the kitchen window and noticed that the blinds were up and the curtains wide open.
Laurie sighed. It was pretty unlikely that anyone might be lurking in the alleyway between Dan's house and the neighbor's just waiting for the opportunity to peep in Dan's kitchen window, but you never knew. It was New York, after all. Besides, if Walter noticed, he'd flip out and things would screech to a halt until the blinds were closed, anyway.
Better take care of it now, she thought, and padded across to the window. Before pulling down the blinds, Laurie automatically glanced out the window. She froze, cord clutched in her hand, staring at the narrow view of the street afforded by the generous space between Dan's house and the neighboring brownstone.
A taxi was parked at the curb in front of Dan's front steps. A woman in a dark fur coat was getting out of the vehicle and handing money to the taxi driver. Laurie spun around and hissed, "Hey! Dan!"
Engrossed in assisting Walter with getting his rubber on, Dan completely ignored her. Normally, the sight of this would have riveted Laurie to the spot, but what was happening in front of the brownstone right now seemed like something Dan really ought to be made aware of, right now.
"Dan!! Goddamnit, let go of him and get over here! Someone's here, you need to take a look at this."
Her words finally penetrated the fog of lust surrounding Dan's brain, and he walked over to join her at the window, looking equally puzzled and annoyed. "Laurie, what are you talking about?" She pointed out the window. "Take a look and tell me if you recognize that lady. Please tell me you have no idea who she is, and that she's got the wrong house."
Frowning, Dan looked out the window and froze, his mouth hanging open in horror. As Laurie watched, the blood drained out of his face, leaving it ashen. Shaken, she grabbed his arm and said, "Jesus Christ, Dan, who is it? Do I need to go get my gun?"
Immediately responding to Laurie's words and Dan's obvious distress, Walter came up and put a protective hand on Dan's shoulder. His face darkened as he craned around Dan to get a look at whatever it was that had put such an expression of terror on Daniel's face. "Daniel? What is it? Who's that woman?"
Dan swallowed and turned stunned eyes toward them. "It's my mother."
No one moved. Time suspended itself for a few long, long moments as Laurie and Walter absorbed this. Then the doorbell rang, and the storm broke.
Instinctively, Laurie looked toward Walter, because Rorschach was always the first one to react in an emergency; instantly devising the cleverest and best strategy for responding to any situation. She quickly realized, however, that in this case Rorschach's resourcefulness wasn't going to be coming to their aid. The moment Dan had said "my mother", Walter had gone even whiter than Dan and, if possible, looked even more terrified. Laurie could see that the poor man was using all of his energy just to keep from passing out. She then looked to Dan, but he just stood there too, looking equally poleaxed.
"Shit!" Laurie realized that, as weird as it was, it was going to have to be Laurie To The Rescue this time, because the Nite Owl/Rorschach team had gone completely off the rails. And it was at this point that the part of her nature that secretly fucking loved sudden chaos like this stepped forward, and her head cleared. She took a deep breath and asked Dan the most important, truly critical question of the moment. "Dan. Dan! Does she have a key to the house?"
Dan thought for a moment, then said "Yes!," in a strangled voice. He looked down at his pants-less state, then looked wildly around the cornflake-and-clothing-strewn kitchen and started saying "Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit" in a faint voice. Walter finally made a sound, a tiny asthmatic wheeze, and continued to stand there like a statue.
Well, fuck. Letting the doorbell ring until they were good and ready to answer it was out, then. Laurie realized that there was no time to say any of the things she'd normally say at this point, such as 'Christ, Dan, isn't she still supposed to be running around Europe?' or 'Babe, you're thirty-four years old and a masked vigilante with a basement full of secret high-tech crap; why the fuck does your mother have a key to your house?'
Smothering a crazy urge to grin, Laurie slapped both of them sharply on the shoulder to get their attention, then shoved them toward where their clothing lay crumpled on the floor, snarling, "Get fucking dressed, both of you! Now!"
There was no time for a flight-of-the-bumblebee dash around the house to sanitize it of any mask-related evidence; the best they could hope for at this point was to have all their clothes on by the time Dan's mother got tired of ringing the doorbell and let herself in. Laurie snatched her dress up off the floor and shimmied into it, then pulled on her pantyhose, cursing as she tore a run in one leg during her haste to wrestle them on.
Finally galvanized into action, Dan and Walter launched themselves into an awkward, frenzied struggle to get their own clothing back on. The grace and smooth dexterity that both men always displayed in battle was completely gone; Laurie watched, bemused, as Dan tripped while trying to get his pants pulled up and fell into Walter, sending them both sprawling ungracefully to the floor.
The doorbell rang again. When it did, Walter's nerve broke. He yanked his pants the rest of the way on, then scrambled up off the floor and bolted for the pantry door, obviously forgetting that it was, as always, locked from this side (and that his key was upstairs in his uniform). Unfortunately for Walter, Dan also jumped up off the floor in a fresh panic at the sound of the bell and tried to bolt in the opposite direction. He slammed into Walter mid-flight, knocking them both back down to the floor. Laurie's mind uncharitably supplied a Three Stooges "bonk!" sound effect as she watched the comedy of errors unfold before her wondering eyes.
"Jesus Christ, you two." Laurie had never seen grown men panic like this. She was starting to wonder if Dan had neglected, somewhere along the line, to tell her that his mother was a trained assassin who hated short, homely ginger men and women who smoked and wore a lot of yellow. "Get it together! Finish getting dressed and get up, now!" She jammed her feet into her boots, then grabbed the broom out of its corner and started making an effort to sweep up the crushed boxes and scattered cornflakes.
While she swept, the two men finally got their pants up, zipped, and belts buckled. As Laurie watched them frantically button up their shirts, a selfish little voice inside her piped up and snarled, "Goddamn it! I'm never going to get laid today, am I?"
Finally dressed, they all stood and stared at each other, panting. Laurie bit her lip and looked her men over, relieved to see that they were both rumpled but presentable. Well, whew. Guess there's nothing like your mother showing up in the middle of a steamy session to make a guy lose his hard-on, pronto. Thank God; this is going to be weird enough as it is.
The doorbell rang a third time, then Laurie heard the front door unlock. She grimaced, thinking that of all the ways she ever wanted to meet Dan's mother, this was probably dead last on her list. A woman's voice called from the front hall. "Dan? Dan, are you home? Hello!"
Dan brightened, and Laurie could see that despite all of the panicky drama in the kitchen, he was genuinely elated to hear his mother's voice. He jogged out into the front hall and she heard Dan say, his voice breathless and just a little too high, "Mom! Holy cow, what a surprise! It's great to see you!"
Laurie exchanged looks with Walter and was a little taken aback by the expression on his face; he no longer looked panicked, but instead looked a bit sad. She elbowed him lightly and pointed at the table, muttering, "Sit down and look casual, for crying out loud."
The thoughtful, almost melancholy look vanished and Walter looked at her, annoyed. But he obeyed and took a seat. Laurie poured a fresh cup of coffee for both of them and sat herself down next to Walter. A few moments later, Dan came back into the kitchen, his mother in tow.
Looking Dan's mother over, the first thing that occurred to Laurie was the fact that while you'd never know to look at him that Dan was rich, the same could not be said for his mother. Laurie had known for a long time that Dan was wealthy and that he came from a very well-off family, but as she looked at Mrs. Dreiberg it struck her for the first time that Dan came from old money.
During her time with Jon, Laurie had gone to many high-end functions and met more than her share of dignitaries' wives and the blue-blooded matrons and daughters of old and wealthy families of the type that invested in government affairs. Dan's mother gave off the same rarified aura of unstudied graciousness and refinement that was usually the product of a high-class finishing-school and many years of practice (and several generations' worth of money). Laurie stared, trying to reconcile this immaculate society matron with the warm, motherly figure she'd built up in her head from Dan's fond descriptions. She shot a glance at Walter, who looked equally flummoxed. Evidently he'd been expecting something different, too.
Dan's mother pulled off her gloves and shucked off her coat (which Laurie now recognized as Russian sable), then reached up to pat her elegantly coiffed chestnut hair into place with a manicured hand. Then she saw Laurie and Walter sitting at the table and stopped, looking surprised. She turned to Dan and said, "Oh, sweetheart, I'm sorry. I'm on my way up to Boston to spend Hanukkah with Alan and Greta, and I just thought I'd drop by and surprise you. It was stupid of me not to think that you might have company."
Mrs. Dreiberg looked around the kitchen, quietly taking in the general disarray and looking quizzically at the cereal which, despite Laurie's efforts with the broom, was still scattered across the kitchen floor. Dan followed her gaze and looked embarrassed. "I'm sorry, mom. The place is kind of a mess. Here, let me introduce you. These are my...my friends, Walter and Laurie."
Walter surprised Laurie by automatically rising from the table before nodding shyly and saying, "Pleased to meet you, Mrs. Dreiberg." She smiled back at him and said, "Please call me Dorie, Walter. Nice to meet you. And you too, Laurie."
Her voice was pleasant enough, but Laurie thought she could see wheels turning behind the gracious manner. What kind of wheels, she wasn't sure, but it made her a little nervous. Looking a bit anxious himself, Dan moved to the counter. "Mom, please, sit down. Can I, uh, get you a cup of coffee?"
"Yes, dear, please." Dorie draped her coat across the back of a chair and tossed her gloves onto the counter. Then she stooped and picked something up off of the floor. Laurie cringed when she saw what it was. Ah, fuck!
Dan's mother regarded the opened condom wrappers with a mild expression. Dan turned around, cup of coffee in hand, and froze when he saw his mother thoughtfully studying the colorful foil packets, each of which bore the legend "Fiesta Magnums. Ribbed, for Her Pleasure! Laurie resisted the urge to smack herself sharply on the forehead. Beside her, Walter stiffened in his chair and made a tiny, horrified noise.
Dan, who had recovered most of his color at this point, looked mortified and went pale again. In counterpoint, Walter's face flamed red and he ducked his head, looking like his dearest wish in the world right now was to borrow Jon's ability to teleport. He looked exactly the way Laurie imagined a deer frozen in headlights might look just before meeting eternity via the front grille of a Mack truck.
Without a word, Dorie tossed the wrappers onto the countertop. One of her eyebrows lifted as she noticed the handful of unopened prophylactics already sitting there. She turned back to Dan and smiled at her son. "Well, it looks like I really should have called ahead, dear. I apologize." Dan's witty response was an eloquent, "Uh, oh. I, uhh--Mom, I don't, uh..."
Dorie's gaze, considerably cooler this time, swept back across Laurie and the cringing Walter. Laurie decided to make a valiant effort to save the ship before it ran completely aground and splintered on the rocks. She said brightly, "Oh! I'm awfully sorry, Mrs. Dreiberg, those belong to me and--"
Dan's mother held up a hand and cut her off, smiling, "Oh no, dear. Please, call me Dorie! I insist. You're obviously a close friend of Dan's, and it just makes me feel old when my son's friends call me Mrs. Dreiberg."
Laurie knew that she wasn't always the most perceptive girl in the room, but this time her imagination had no trouble reading between the lines and translating the pleasant request as, "Please, dear, you're obviously fucking both my son and that seedy lowlife sitting next to you. You might as well call me Dorie, you gold-digging shiksa tramp. Now pardon me while I think of the best way to get you and this other pervert out of my son's life." Laurie was usually capable of brazening through any situation, but this was new territory, even for her. Quelled, she subsided, for once at a loss for words.
Dorie turned smoothly back toward Dan. "I really don't want to put you out, dear. I'm going back to my hotel. Why don't I meet you for lunch later on today?"
Looking even more upset now, Dan shook his head, but obviously had no idea what to say next. At that point, Laurie took pity on Dan and spoke up again. "Mrs. Dreiberg--ah, sorry, Dorie; don't be silly. Walter and I were going to head home soon anyway, weren't we, honey?" She looked at Walter expectantly. Obviously still in shock, it took him a few moments to respond, at which point he nodded at her mechanically. Laurie continued, "We wouldn't dream of getting in the way of you visiting with Dan when you haven't seen him for so long." She stood up, grabbing Walter's sleeve and hauling him up with her. "Dan, we'll see you later, all right?"
She locked eyes with Dan's mother and for the first time saw a tiny bit of Dan in the keen sharpness that flickered in Dorie's eyes behind the bland, gracious façade from which she studied Laurie. In that moment, she reminded Laurie strongly of the way Dan looked when he spotted a problem in Archie's engine, or a particularly troublesome and elusive clue. And Laurie thought to herself that she and Dorie were probably thinking exactly the same thing right this second; "This bitch is going to be trouble".
Trying to not feel like too much of a coward, Laurie grabbed her coat and Walter's from the front hall closet and fled into the chilly December morning, dragging Walter with her.
Dan watched them go, then turned to his mother and sighed. "Mom, I--"
She held up her hand. "Daniel, it's all right. I'm not upset. But we do need to have a long talk. There are a few things I want to discuss with you. Let's go in the living room, shall we?"
Dan drooped and followed his mother to the living room, looking much a condemned man on his march to the gallows. In the hallway, he spared a brief glance toward the front door, wishing that he could have fled along with Walter and Laurie.
They shopped until late in the afternoon (well, Laurie shopped. Walter helped carry packages), at which point Laurie threw in the towel and took pity on her companion who had been trailing silently after her the entire time, looking miserable.
"Okay, I've had all the shopping I can take. What do you say we go check into a hotel room for a while? I don't know about you, but I could use a place to put my feet up and get some rest while Dorie's at the house." Walter nodded. "Fine, Laurel." She frowned at his unresponsive manner, but decided to let it go until they were someplace private.
They checked into the Federal Hotel. It was fairly expensive, but not quite as high-end as, say, the Waldorf or the Plaza. (Not that Laurie was opposed to staying at either of those, but she figured that they were far more likely to be the type of place at which Dan's mother might stay. And she really didn't want to cross paths with Dorie again today; Walter looked unhappy enough.
As it was, the Federal was fancy enough that Walter simply stood looking lost in the elegant front lobby, obviously aware of how out of place he was there, while Laurie took care of checking them in. Laurie was surprised at how out of place she felt herself, despite her years of accompanying Jon to functions in hotels just like this, and reflected on how much she'd changed since then.
The room itself was sumptuously appointed, and Laurie beamed as she looked into the spacious bathroom and saw a Jacuzzi tub. She took the opportunity to wash her face and hands. As she finished washing up, she realized that she hadn't heard Walter utter even a token grumble about the unnecessary decadence and disgusting opulence of the accommodations yet, and became concerned. She emerged from the bathroom to see Walter standing and scowling at one of the pictures that hung on the wall. Curious, she came over to have a look at the painting.
It was a rather abstract picture of what looked like a pool of water. In one corner was a small outline of a frog under a few leaves; in the other corner was a mass of what she guessed were supposed to be tadpoles, but bore an unfortunate resemblance to something else. Looking at the bunch of ovoid shapes with long, thin tails, Laurie threw an arm around Walter's shoulders and said, "Huh. You know, if I'd wanted to see sperm on my hotel room walls, I would have booked us into the Chelsea."
Walter shot her a stern look, then snorted and shook his head. Laurie was delighted to see a little quirk appear at the corner of his mouth, which was as good as a full-out belly laugh for Walter. Grinning in triumph at finally getting him to rise out of his funk at least for a moment, she continued. "Hey, do you want me to get us a better room? I bet if I call the manager up here and rant a bit about the obscene wall art, I can get us a free upgrade to an executive suite if I'm obnoxious enough."
He huffed, and hastily said, "No, Laurel. This room is fine. More than adequate."
She shrugged. "Okay. Just thought I'd ask."
Walter picked up the phone and called Dan (after a brief confusion at having to go through the hotel switchboard, at which point Laurie realized that this was probably the first hotel Walter had ever stayed at in his life). After a short conversation that was cryptic enough for Laurie to assume that Dan's mother must be in the room with Dan, Walter told Dan where they were and gave him the room number. Then he hung up, looking gloomy. Laurie came to sit crosslegged beside him on the bed. "His mother's still there, huh?"
Walter nodded and Laurie shrugged, continuing, "Well, so what? At least she didn't just rip his head off and leave; maybe they're actually talking things out. And anyway, even if she does get terminally offended and flounce off back to Europe, who cares? What's she going to do, disown him and cut him out of her will? Dan has his own money from all those patents, you know that. It'll be a shame if it happens, I'd rather not see Dan on the outs with his mother, but if it happens it won't be the end of the world. Look at me--it's been years since I had a conversation with my mother that didn't end in a shouting match."
Walter stared at her as if he couldn't believe she was so naïve. "Laurel, this is completely different. Daniel holds his mother in very high regard. He listens to her."
Laurie threw up her hands. "Walter, what do you think is going to happen? She's going to order him to stop all this foolishness, dump us, and move back to Boston?" When he didn't immediately deny it, she groaned in disbelief. "Honey, Dan's not some teenager. He's a grown man and I doubt he's that much of a mama's boy. He's not going to let Dorie order him around. And if she tries, I bet she's going to get a great big fat surprise."
She started twisting her hair up into a knot, unsure if she wanted to continue, then shrugged mentally and forged ahead. "Look, I know you get very weird whenever the topic of anyone's mother comes up--"
As she spoke, Laurie saw Walter's spine visibly stiffen. His eyes dulled and she could see the shutters come down behind them as his face turned tight-lipped and wary. "Laurel."
It was a warning, and she quickly held up her hand. "Relax! I'm not going to ask you about your family, I know better. All I'm saying is that you really don't have to worry about Dan. I know that you've known him a lot longer than I have, and in a lot of ways you know him better than I do; but trust me. This time, I know better than you. Dan's probably having a really uncomfortable visit with his mother, but he's not going to leave us and retire in a fit of shame just to please her. And besides, you idiot, I'm not going anywhere. Even if Dan was ever dumb enough to do something like that, I know that between the two of us, we could change his mind and get him back."
Walter sighed then and looked so defeated that Laurie just couldn't feel annoyed with him. Her impulse to just scoff at his concerns died away as Walter looked at the floor, avoiding her gaze. He shook his head. "Just don't think I can go back to the way I lived before, Laurel. Can't be alone like that anymore. You don't know what it was like."
And Laurie finally got what was going on here. She realized that Walter was so used to thinking in black and white, and still so full of deep-seated self-loathing, and still so goddamned inexperienced with handling affection that he probably did think it was only a matter of time until Dan and Laurie realized their mistake, and that the right thing for them to do was marry and leave Walter behind like some temporary insanity.
Laurie wanted to say something right then, wanted to tell him to knock it off and stop being crazy, and that Walter was an idiot if he didn't realize that Dan would rather cut off his arm than lose him (and so would she); to reassure him and let him know that that he didn't need to continue any further with this train of thought. But she held her tongue, sensing that this was something Walter needed to say and that he might not be able to say it twice.
After a long pause, during which Walter seemed to casting around for the right words he finally continued, still not looking at her. "Like being cold for a long, long time, having frostbite, then finally finding someplace warm. Hurts at first, burns while blood starts to circulate again through cold flesh. Then the pain dies down and you can feel. That's what it feels like, having Daniel care for me. Having him love me." He ducked his head further down and murmured his next words so quietly that Laurie almost missed them. "You too, Laurel. Thought at first that you would turn out to be a lie, like every other soft thing I've ever seen in women. But I was wrong."
And then he lifted his head and met her eyes. And it there it was, the thing that Laurie hadn't even realized was missing between them up until that moment. He was finally, finally, looking at her with simple, open need in his eyes; with a want that wasn't spurred into being by alcohol or fueled by adrenaline or annoyance, and didn't require Dan there as a bridge or safety valve. Laurie knew that at that moment, he just wanted her. She found her throat closing up as a swell of sheer affection expanded inside her chest, making her feel like she had swallowed coals that burned but didn't hurt.
Laurie leaned forward and pulled Walter into a fierce hug, and right at that moment she would have cheerfully died for him. Because no one, not Jon, not even Dan, had ever needed her the way Walter needed Dan, and now her, too. She pulled back and looked at him, blinking back sudden tears. "You have no idea how amazing you are, do you?" And of course he just looked back at her in confusion, unwilling or afraid to take her meaning.
So she proceeded to show him, as best she could, that she thought him every bit as worthy as Dan of praise, and love, and anything else good that she could muster the skill and sincerity to give him.
Some time later, they roused themselves from exhausted sleep and showered. There was a new ease between them now, and afterward they sat comfortably on the bed together, knees touching, and discussed whether they should leave now to go on patrol, or wait for Dan just a little while longer.
There was a knock at the door. Laurie peeped through the spyhole and grinned over her shoulder at Walter, saying, "Told you." She swung the door open to reveal Dan standing in the hallway, looking tired but smiling. In one arm he held an impressive and fragrant bouquet of plush velvety-red roses. In the other arm he held a huge box of imported chocolates. Laurie stepped back and ushered him in.
"Flowers and candy? Holy shit, you're breaking up with both of us to marry some inbred blueblooded Boston bimbo from Wellesley College that your mother picked out, aren't you?"
Dan blinked at her. "Wow, you spent some time on that one, didn't you?" She nodded at him, grinning. He kissed her and handed her the roses, then strode across the room and tossed the candy onto the bed before falling onto Walter, who wrapped himself around Dan like he'd been gone for a year.
Laurie shut and locked the door, then waltzed over to the bed. She crawled onto it and ducked under one of Dan's arms to lay her head on his chest. As she did, something inside of her that she'd barely realized was out of order clicked back into place and she purred. Walter arranged himself on Dan's other side, soaking in his warmth and radiating an equal contentment. After a few moments, though, Walter raised his head, concern flickering in his eyes. "Daniel. What happened with your mother?"
Dan moved to prop himself up against the headboard so that he could look them both in the face. "Well, it turned out okay, really."
"Really!" said Laurie, disbelieving. "You mean that you somehow convinced her that the three of us aren't an item together?"
"What? Oh no, no. That came out about five minutes into our talk. She knows you both live there with me, too."
Laurie raised her eyebrows. "Wow, she figured it all out that fast, huh? I guess the Christmas tree in the living room was kind of a giveaway."
The corner of his mouth quirking slightly, Walter growled, "You mean you caved in and confessed like a twelve year old punk caught shoplifting in Macy's."
Dan laughed, then grinned at them affectionately. "Actually, it was a little bit of both. I'll admit, it got awkward at first and I was worried. But my mother's got a very Continental outlook, you know. Before my father met her and they got married, she grew up in Germany, in the old Weimar Republic. So she had a pretty liberal upbringing. I honestly don't think she was all that shocked."
He let them absorb that for a moment, then sighed and added, "It also turns out that she had her own bomb to drop. One of the other reasons she came by to visit was to tell me that she just got engaged."
Laurie slapped his stomach lightly, delighted. "Your mother's getting married again? Dan, that's great! I know you were worried about her living over in Europe all alone." And, Laurie added to herself, it means that she'll probably head right back to Europe after the holidays are over. Problem solved!
Walter, however, was more sensitive than Laurie to the buried nuances in Dan's voice. Eyes troubled, he raised himself up on one elbow to look directly into Dan's face. "Daniel? What's wrong?"
Dan sighed and smoothed a bit of Walter's bright hair back into place. "Well, this guy she's marrying? He's a 20 year old Italian art student."
Walter just stared. Laurie blinked at Dan and said, "You're kidding." Dan shook his head, looking rueful. "I wish I was."
Laurie knew that now was the time she should say something sympathetic and supportive, but Dan's hangdog expression and the dumfounded look on Walter's face did her in. She knew it was terrible, but she just couldn't help it; she collapsed back onto the bed, roaring laughter.
"Dan! Just think, you can help him out with his homework!" The half-exasperated, half-horrified look he gave her, combined with the appalled look on Walter's face just set her off again and she was seized by a fresh fit of laughter. "Laurel!" Walter scowled, giving her a reprimanding look.
"Okay, okay. I'm sorry Dan, I just...okay, I'll stop now." Her laughter died down to fitful chuckles and snorts until Dan said, "I told her that I'm not going to call him Dad." That set her off again and she laughed until she cried. When she finally got herself under control again, she wiped her streaming eyes and kissed Dan, saying "Sorry."
Surprisingly, Dan didn't look the least bit upset with her. He smiled at her and said mildly, "I'm glad you think it's so funny. Because my mother wants to me to bring both of you to dinner at the Waldorf tomorrow night, so we can meet Armanno and she can get to know the two of you a little better."
The pronouncement doused Laurie's mirth like a splash of ice water in the face, and she gaped at Dan. Walter sat up, looking like he might panic all over again. Dan gave them both a stern look. "Get any ideas you might have about disappearing for the next few days out of your head right now, both of you. I've had a really long day, and we're going to dinner tomorrow, all three of us, and that's that."
After a moment, Walter evidently resigned himself to his fate and settled back down, hiding his face against Dan's side. Laurie flopped back down too, with a dramatic sigh.
"Oh, God. Well, boys, we have the rest of the night in this very nice room before we have to go face the firing squad tomorrow night, so let's make the best of it. If you two want to go out and patrol later on tonight, that's fine, too. But first, let's all go have a nice soak in the lovely Jacuzzi that came with this very nice room."
She grinned. "Come on, I'll tell you all about what I had planned for last night before you two slugs passed out on me. I can't really do it justice without the props, of course, but I'll do my best to walk you through it. What do you say, guys?"
As she led the way to the bath, Laurie found herself thinking that it was damned complicated, this three-person waltz of theirs. But it was oh, so very much worth it.