Author's Note: It's the start of a new story! This is a wondrous time, full of excitement and adventure. Or whatever. This story is straight up AU and when I say AU I mean it's reeeeeally AU. Please, for all that is holy, remember that this is AU! So if situations or characters seem different, that's why. Now I know there are a lot of people out there that don't like alternate universe stories, and that's cool, I'm not always a fan of them either, so I'm not really expecting much of a response. That said, if anyone out there fancies themself a beta, please let me know, I've got the next four chapters of this thing already written and they could use a look-see.
Things may seem a little confusing at first, but stuff will gradually be explained as the story unfolds. This story represents quite a departure for me, as I've never really written a piece that depends so heavily on romance. Frankly, I think it sucks, but I've wanted to write this idea for a long time, so I'm doing it anyway even if there are a lot better Charah writers than me out there. I'm really just writing this to make the thoughts in my head stop and to get over a massive case of writer's block for my other big Chuck fic, Chuck vs. Project Omaha.
Hope you find it at least partially interesting.
She was naked.
Her skin felt like she'd been dumped in an ant hill.
She had no idea when she had last slept.
Every joint felt dislocated and every muscle overworked.
Her ribs still throbbed with ebbing pain.
Her eyes were starched dry and burned from too much exposure.
And she was hungry.
The door in front of her rang open with a protest. Her ears, so used to only hearing her own irregular, labored breathing, rang as if beaten by a gong at the sudden whine. Her eyes closed automatically at the unexpected brightness in her hole, and pain cascaded down her face to settle in her jaw. She forced her eyes open; it was simply too painful to keep them closed, like sandpaper being ran across a sunburn.
She peered closely at the man that stepped into her hole. She had never seen him before.
Curly, unkempt brown hair that danced across his head like the animals in a circus.
That was what struck her first, once her eyes adjusted to the light. That's what she noticed before anything else. He had kind eyes. They were large and seemed to have no end. The most beautiful shade of brown she'd ever seen, which immediately struck her as an odd and inappropriate thought. They were the eyes of a man that was unguarded and innocent. Not the kind of man she had ever expected to visit her in her hole.
The man dragged a metal chair into the room and placed it across from her. He settled onto the utilitarian seat and crossed his legs. He studied her wordlessly, and she looked away. She hated his scrutiny, hated how vulnerable she must look, hated how his eyes seemingly caressed her skin with their soft understanding and unwanted pity. Hated most of all that she was naked and like every man before him, he simply saw her as nothing more than her outward appearance.
Who was this man that thought he could stare at her?
Who did he think he was?
Why wouldn't he stop?
Then he did something not altogether unexpected: he began unbuttoning his simple white shirt.
Fear settled in her abdomen. So it had finally come to this. She had wondered how long it would be before somebody came to visit her once they stripped her of her clothes. She was surprised by this man though, he didn't seem the type. It only emphasized what she had learned long ago: appearances were always deceiving.
He was wearing a stark white wife beater under his shirt. It glowed like the beacon of a lighthouse in the dark. She was amazed at the body he hid under his ill-fitting and simple clothes. He was lean but not slight, with highly defined shoulders and arms, and a chest that hinted at surprising strength.
He stood above her, looking down. It was too dark to see his face clearly, but she knew that those damn eyes of his were still glued to her. A large hand brushed against her uninjured cheek and she sucked in a shaky breath at the unexpected tenderness encompassed in the gesture. She almost cried.
She had to choke back a stuttered sob, her eyes shutting despite the pain. It was the first bit of human kindness she had felt since she took up residence in her hole. More than the beatings, the questioning, the sleep deprivation, the drugs, it was the simple brush of his fingers that almost undid her and made her confess all her sins.
He brushed a lock of flat blonde hair behind her ear.
He leaned down and murmured quietly into her ear: I'm sorry.
Then he wrapped his shirt around her shoulders and carefully buttoned it up. He could not button it completely because her hands were still tied behind her, but he did the best he could to cover her chest.
She had never thought in her life that the feel of a slightly warm cotton shirt against her rough skin would be one of the most pleasurable experiences of her life. The man stepped away, smiled at her softly, and then sat back down.
She didn't know what to say. That was the last thing she had ever expected the man to do. Maybe she had not misjudged him after all. But if not, then what was he doing here?
"My apologies," he said and semi-bowed his head. "I should have introduced myself before doing that." He actually looked chagrined, with a flush obvious even in the dim room coloring his cheeks. "My name is Carmichael," he said.
She nodded her head, but didn't say a word. The name immediately leapt out to her as familiar, but she could not place where she had heard it before. Her thoughts were too jumbled to organize them coherently. It took too much concentration just to stay silent. She had not really spoken to anyone who had come to visit her, save the rare smartass remark. She refused to. They would not get any information from her.
"This is where you are supposed to offer your name in return," he said. His eyes twinkled with amusement and he was still smiling.
It unnerved her.
It was wrong.
She wished that he had been smiling at her like that her whole life.
She wished that he would just stop.
"Let me guess, you must be the good cop," she said. Her eyes widened and she shut her mouth with a fierce suddenness like the snap of a mousetrap. Her voice was hoarse, husky, not like herself. She couldn't believe she'd actually said anything. For days she had maintained her silence, but all it took was a brush of her cheek and a shirt and a simple smile and she had apparently lost all her willpower.
Carmichael laughed softly. "Something like that."
"What took them so long?"
The man looked confused, and he frowned slightly.
She didn't like his frown. She much preferred him when he was smiling. He was uncomfortably handsome while smiling.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"Usually you start out with the good cop," she said.
"The bad cop only comes out when the subject has proved uncooperative," she added.
It was like a plug being pulled, the words just tumbled out of her mouth now. She couldn't stop. She wasn't even sure if she wanted to stop. She had been silent for so long that she had forgotten what it was like just to engage in conversation with somebody.
"And have you been uncooperative?" he asked.
She didn't think that even deserved a response. She didn't like it when people acted coy or cute. She didn't like smarm.
Carmichael nodded his head. "Like I said earlier, I'm sorry I wasn't here sooner. How you've been treated so far is deplorable."
"Who are you?" she asked plaintively.
"I told you, my name is Carmichael."
"No, I mean, are you CIA? NSA? FBI?"
He just smiled. She relaxed slightly; she couldn't help it, it was an involuntary reaction. "None of the above," he said.
"I don't understand."
He leaned forward slightly and she found herself leaning forward as well. Her arms strained at the pressure she was putting on them, but she didn't care. "I'm what you might call a…independent contractor."
"What does that even mean?"
"It means that I work for the government, but I do so largely on my own terms."
She frowned. "You enjoy interrogating random naked women for fun?"
"I'm not here to interrogate you. That's so not my thing," he protested with what looked to her like a very distasteful look on his face.
"Then why are you here?"
Again he shrugged. He gave her the most endearing, lopsided smile she'd ever seen. "Share, don't share, I'm not just here to get information from you." His smile gradually faded from his face to be replaced by a look of intense sincerity. "I guess you could say that I'm here to be your friend."
She laughed, or at least tried to. Her throat was so dry it was more like a series of coughs. She wheezed for a bit, the laughing having jarred her ribs painfully. When she was back in control of her body again, she said as disdainfully as she could, "I have no friends."
"I could be your friend if you let me."
She actually believed he meant what he said. Who was this guy?
Did he not realize what she was doing here?
Did he not understand that she was not a guest in her hole by choice?
Did he not know that she was not a nice person?
None of this made any sense. She couldn't see the angle. She couldn't figure out what game they were trying to play. They couldn't actually think that this guy's 'aw shucks' persona would actually work on her. He was a great actor, she would give him that, but she was the best. She was better. She would not let him break her with his smiling and beautiful eyes and kindness.
"I don't need any friends. Especially not people like you," she said.
"Everybody needs friends," Carmichael said.
"I don't. I never have," she said.
Carmichael nodded like he understood. "You'll change your tune." He grinned crookedly, "Nobody can resist my charming personality for long."
"I like my chances," she said as defiantly as she could, but even she could admit that his sincerity was already starting to weaken her defenses.
He looked at her so intently she was afraid he could actually see inside her head. She was terrified that he might see how difficult it was for her to hold on, how close she was to telling this strange man everything she knew.
"Everybody talks eventually," he said with sudden seriousness. Then he shrugged with complete nonchalance, like her eventual breaking was nothing more than an insignificant speck of lint on his shirt. He stood up and grabbed his chair. The door opened and he stepped into the doorway. He turned back to smile at her one last time and she already found herself missing him. She didn't want to go back to the oppressing loneliness.
"I'll see you around, Ms. Walker."
And then he was gone.
Next chapter: Familiar Faces - We delve into Mr. Carmichael's view and get a little better understanding of just what is going on and why. Things may not be as you expect.