A/N – This idea hit me right after Suburbs aired, but once again life got in the way and I couldn't get it finished until today. I was inspired by the look on Yvonne's face right before she closed the door at the end of the episode; I felt like Sarah was seeing everything she was giving up and it nearly killed her. Great acting.
This story shows Sarah through the cleanup process. As she goes through the house, she sees flashes of another life. Hopefully the structure makes sense. If not, I apologize in advance for your headache.
I wanted to get this posted tonight (if I don't Heaven knows when I'll finish it) and no betas were available, so all mistakes are my own. And as always, I own nothing.
Let me know what you think!
* * * * * * * * * *
Sarah vs. the Closed Door
Sarah stood in the driveway of the former Carmichael residence, wishing she could be anywhere else. She had come straight from the Orange Orange, and Chuck's repossessed wedding ring was still in her pocket. The briefing with Beckman had left her with no options; she had to play it straight with Chuck now, no matter what she might feel or want. So she'd turned down his very tempting offer to spend another night on the cul-de-sac and taken back his fake wedding ring, and she even managed not to lose her nerve as he looked at her and then walked out without saying a word. But the scene was still stinging, like a bandage torn off too quickly, and the last thing she wanted to do right now was go into this house full of ersatz pictures of the happy couple, Charles and Sarah Carmichael. She could at least appreciate the irony of her situation; she was to be the official CIA witness to the dismantling of the life that such a big part of her wanted. The gold ring in her pocket, a tangible reminder of that irony, suddenly felt much heavier than it should.
She really didn't need to be here. Casey was already on site to ride herd over the team of NSA "movers" that had just piled out of a large truck. She was here simply because she was CIA, and even though the Intersect was supposed to be a warm and fuzzy joint venture, neither agency would allow the other to go unsupervised. Even a simple cleanup operation had to be watched over by both, and her sole function today was to go behind the NSA team and certify that each room was indeed clean.
Pointless. She mentioned that to Casey when he walked over.
"If you're saying that I don't need your help, Walker, then I certainly agree with you. But rules are rules, no matter how little sense they make." He headed into the house after his team, but stopped just short of the door and turned back towards Sarah.
"Think of it this way, Walker. Maybe the powers that be just wanted a woman to supervise the housework." With a satisfied grunt, he disappeared inside.
* * * * * * * * * *
Efficient as always, the NSA team had decided to clear the house from top to bottom. Waiting for a room to inspect, Sarah was standing in the foyer, studying the pictures of the Carmichaels and fighting the irrational urge to palm one of them. Some were obvious photoshop jobs done in a rush, but there were a few that were very realistic.
Realistic enough that it hurt to look at them. Like everything else in this house, they reminded her of a life she wanted but couldn't have.
Sarah was looking at one such picture of the Carmichaels hiking in the hills when Casey called down from upstairs.
"Agent Walker, I hate to interrupt your Total Recall trip down Memory Lane, but we're finished with the first bedroom up here. We'd be ever so happy if you'd take a look."
Figuring that it might be bad for morale to kick Casey's ass in front of an entire house full of NSA agents, Sarah went upstairs. The movers were heading into the master suite now, and Casey pointed her in the other direction.
"It's the small one at the end of the hall."
Sarah opened the door to the little bedroom and saw...
Purple is what happens when you let a six year old girl choose the color of her room.
It was all Chuck's fault, Sarah thought. He always insisted on being fair with the kids, and Evan had gotten to redecorate his room when he'd turned six. That had been a no-brainer, though. Evan loved baseball, and anyone who knew him at all could have guessed that his new room would be covered in Dodgers gear. But Janey?
Janey chose purple. Not lilac or lavender or some other tolerable shade, but deep royal, Barney-the-friggin'-Dinosaur purple.
Sarah had offered other suggestions, naming in quick succession a number of decorating ideas that a six year old girl might like. Disney Princesses, Barbie, American Girl, even (in a moment of pure desperation) Hannah Montana. And one by one, Janey refused them all. She was only six but she was far from stupid, and she quickly realized what Mommy was trying to do. She liked purple, and that was it. She set her jaw in determination, and once Sarah saw that look, she knew that it was over. She'd seen that same look in her own mirror. Shoulders sagging, Sarah exhaled loudly in complete surrender.
"Okay, Janey. Purple it is. Go get Daddy and Evan, and we'll go to the paint store." Sarah was immediately rewarded with an impossibly big and bright smile, and for just that moment, purple didn't seem so bad.
Ten minutes later, though, Sarah was looking daggers at Chuck as they piled into the car for the trip to Home Depot. Chuck, however, thought that the whole thing was absolutely hilarious, and he was going to ride it for all it was worth.
"Okay, guys, let's sing some songs on the way to the store! "I love you, you love me, we're a happy family..."
Sarah groaned. She couldn't kill Chuck after having his children, but she did start thinking of ways to make him suffer.
* * * * * * * * * *
Sarah slowly closed the door to the not-purple bedroom, willing the little girl with the curly brown hair and bright blue eyes to stay inside. This seemingly easy task was getting harder by the minute, and she needed to finish it as soon as possible. She turned and headed toward the master suite at the other end of the hall. One of the NSA "movers" was just leaving it carrying a large box, and when he saw Sarah, he paused for a moment.
"Master bedroom's clear, Agent Walker. Would you check it out for us?" Sarah just nodded and went in as the agent headed downstairs.
She liked the master bedroom. It wasn't huge, but it was definitely warm and cozy, windows perfectly positioned to catch the morning sun. Its best feature, however, wasn't in the bedroom; it was in the master bath.
A sunken jacuzzi tub.
They – she – hadn't had a chance to try it out during their brief stay, but it looked...well, decadent. Sarah wandered over towards it and her mind wandered off...
It was Valentine's Day, and Sarah snuck out of the office a bit early to try to surprise Chuck. The note on the front door told her that she was too late.
The kids have other plans tonight. Come inside, and follow the trail.
Sarah loved that after eleven years of marriage, her husband was still a romantic. Biting her bottom lip in anticipation, she opened the door, and found a pool of red, white, and pink rose petals at her feet. A trail of the same petals led up the stairs and, her heart beating a little faster, Sarah followed her instructions.
She had only reached the foot of the stairs, however, when she heard a high pitched yell that was unmistakably Chuck. It had come from their bedroom. She took off like a shot, bounding up the stairs, rose petals flying everywhere. She entered the bedroom to find it empty, but a second's pause brought to her the mingled sounds of running water and muffled cursing.
Sarah took a couple of deep breaths to calm herself, feeling her body come down off of high alert and marveling that even after a decade of office work, her field agent's reflexes were still functioning. She walked over to the master bath, half amused and half afraid. She opened the door...
...and stepped into a washing machine. There were suds everywhere.
Chuck hadn't even seen her come in. Wearing only a pair of black silk boxers with little red hearts, he was standing in the middle of the tub, frantically trying to both turn off the faucet and pick something up out of the water. He wasn't having much luck with either.
Fighting back laughter, Sarah stepped to the tub and turned off the water. Chuck had just managed to pick up a plastic bottle, but his surprise at seeing Sarah caused him to drop it again.
"Sarah! I didn't hear...you're home...too early...oh, boy. I was trying to run a bubble bath, I poured in some soap and went in the bedroom to get undressed, I came back in and the suds were too high so I tried to shut off the water but I knocked the bottle in and the suds got worse and..."
Sarah stopped the torrent of words with a soft kiss. "Happy Valentine's Day, sweetie." She picked the bottle out of the suds and sat it on the sink. "Now, take a deep breath and try again, okay?"
Sarah's kiss had the desired effect, and Chuck calmed down noticeably. He sighed in frustration. "I just wanted to do something romantic for Valentine's Day. Looks like I messed it up, huh?"
Sarah looked at her husband. His boxers were soaked, he was covered in suds, and his crooked little half-smile told her that he was trying not to show how disappointed he felt. He looked so adorable that it made her heart ache.
"No, Chuck. You didn't mess up anything at all."
His eyes widened in disbelief. "But the bubbles, they're everywhere..."
"It's a tile floor, Chuck. The hot water and bubbles won't hurt it at all." She moved towards him, unbuttoning her blouse. "The worst they might do is make it warm and slippery."
After extensive testing, Chuck and Sarah found that to be exactly the case.
* * * * * * * * * *
"Agent Walker? Is everything okay in here?"
One of the NSA guys was standing behind her, a slightly puzzled look on his face. A quick glance at her watch told her why; she had been in the master bath for over ten minutes.
"Yes, everything is fine. I was just...thinking."
If her vague answer was unsatisfying in any way, the NSA agent didn't show it. "Of course, ma'am. I didn't meat to intrude, but Agent Casey asked me to find you. We're making good progress downstairs and should be wrapping up soon. You can start your sweep if you like." With that, he turned and left.
Sarah wandered back downstairs. The living room was now empty, and the sounds drifting down the hall told her that the team was clearing the kitchen. She drifted toward the noise and looked around the corner just in time to see a toaster go into a cardboard box...
The entire house was wired. Chuck had hooked every electronic gadget up to some sort of remote control. The computers (there was one in just about every room) were all networked, the home theater was all rigged to a custom touch-screen remote that was smarter than anyone in the house, and the front door even had a small, motion activated camera that sent to every monitor the image of anyone who came to the door. But it was never enough; he was always looking for the next thing to connect. Sarah teased him about it mercilessly.
"Chuck, what else can you do? At this point, the only electrical thing in the house without a remote control is the toaster." Chuck looked at her for a moment, and his face broke into a grin.
A few weeks later, Mother's Day rolled around again. Chuck told Sarah to stay in bed, that he and the kids would take care of breakfast and call her when it was ready. Warm sunlight was filtering in through the blinds of their bedroom, and she'd been only too happy to comply. She lay in a blissful half-doze, blankets pulled up to her chin, enjoying the peace and solitude. But it gradually dawned on her that things were taking a bit longer than they should, and even in her semi-conscious state she had noticed a few distinctly non-breakfast sounding knocks and bangs coming from downstairs. Her relaxation slowly being replaced with dread (eggs did not go "clang"), she was about to get out of bed when the door burst open. Evan and Janey shot through it and headed towards her at top speed, a couple of Mom-seeking missiles with huge smiles on their faces, and Chuck strolled in after them. If anything, the smile on his face was even bigger.
"Push the button, Mommy."
Janey had climbed onto the bed and was holding out her little hand. Resting in its palm was a small black rectangular box with one big, red button. Sarah sat up against the headboard and looked expectantly at Chuck, but his smile gave away nothing. There was no way for Sarah to avoid what came next.
She pushed the button. And what happened was...nothing.
She was happy when there was no explosion. But somehow, the lack of, well, anything was even scarier. Sarah was puzzled.
Her only thought was that it might have been some sort of kid-repeller, because Evan and Janey flew out of the room faster than they'd come in, Chuck almost having to dive out of their way. She heard them thundering down the stairs like stampeding cattle, and she hoped that neither one was trampled to death. Laughing now, Chuck came over and sat next to Sarah on the bed. He stared into her blue eyes, something he apparently still loved to do after all this time, then kissed her briefly but sweetly.
"Happy Mother's Day, honey. Grab your robe and come on down in a minute. We'll be waiting." Knowing that they were up to something, she gave them a few extra minutes to prepare, then headed down to the kitchen.
The smell hit her before she got halfway down the stairs. Burned toast. VERY burned toast, to be more specific.
She walked into the kitchen and found all three of them huddled over something on the counter, backs to her and deep in conversation. They looked like a team of NASA engineers discussing a failed launch. When they realized she was there and stepped away, she found out just how accurate that image was.
Janey started walking over to her, but Sarah couldn't take her eyes off of the mechanical monstrosity on her kitchen counter. It might have once been a toaster, but she couldn't be sure. It had some sort of black box stuck to the side, complete with blinking red light. On the back was a wire rack holding an entire loaf of bread, and at the bottom of the rack was a metal lever that reminded her of the mechanical arm of a pitching machine. She knew in an instant was this contraption was.
A remote controlled toaster.
Well, she had practically dared him to do it.
Unfortunately, the FrankenToaster didn't seem to be working too well. It had only managed to turn out a few charcoal briquettes, and Dr. Chuckenstein and his two little accomplices had been trying to get it working. Evan was especially frantic; he had inherited his dad's technological skill, and he took it personally when something didn't work. He was staring at the toaster so hard that Sarah thought the poor thing might melt. She decided to take pity on the engineering crew and provide a graceful way out.
"You know what, gang? It's Mother's Day, and I'm in the mood for pancakes. Let's go to IHOP!"
Janey squealed in delight and rushed back up the stairs to get dressed. But Evan was as perceptive as he was smart, and he knew that he and Dad were being bailed out. "Thanks, Mom. We were having a little problem with the ejection system on the toaster." He gave Sarah a hug. "Happy Mother's Day, Mom. And don't worry – I'll have the toaster fixed in time for next year!"
He sprinted from the room too quickly to see the pained expression on his mother's face.
* * * * * * * * * *
Sarah was standing in the foyer by the front door as the NSA team packed out the last few remaining items. She had taken refuge here several times today, near the exit, hoping to escape the phantoms she'd seen everywhere else. An inspection of the backyard found her in the middle of a picnic with Ellie's family, Chuck again on the grill and Awesome yelling that it was her turn to pitch the wiffle ball to the kids. The family room was hosting a movie night, with everyone cuddled up on the couch eating buttered popcorn, watching Toy Story 4 on Chuck's gigantic TV. Even the mantle had four Christmas stockings hanging from it, complete with hand-stitched names. It was possibly the most exquisite torture she had ever suffered, and by this point in the day it was taking every bit of strength she possessed not to run away crying from the shades of a life never to be.
She looked up to see Casey walking towards her, heading for the door. He must have seen something in her expression, because he stopped for just a moment. Suppressing his normal inclination towards a smart-assed comment, he opted for a simple question.
"Agent Walker? You get everything you need?"
A second of silence. "Yeah."
Casey let it go at that. After a quick look back into the house and a nod to her, he was out the door, businesslike as always. The house had served its purpose and was now clean, so he was done with it. Sarah, however, was finding it a little harder to leave.
She looked down at the ring on her finger, the last remaining piece of the illusion. She slowly pulled it off, but somehow the image in her mind was of Chuck in a tuxedo, a huge smile on his face, sliding that same ring onto that same finger. She looked back into the house, and the flood of sights and sounds washed over her one last time. The voices of her would-be husband and children were clear in her mind, asking her to stay.
But she couldn't.
Knowing that each second she stood here would hurt more than the last, Sarah finally turned to leave.
She could have been happy here. It would have been a nice life.
After one last, lingering look around the house, Sarah stepped outside and closed the door on it.