Heh. Be warned: No Charah visible on the horizon yet for this fic.
Life in Disguise- The Slip
Disclaimer: I can barely be bothered to feed myself, let alone sort out the hate mail from Charah fans on a weekly basis.
Life in Disguise.
Well the world is only a stage
And I'm just a man
With a sound caught in his throat
And a pick in his hand
But when the song comes tumbling out you understand
There's no great demand
Ah, wedded bliss, Chuck Bartowski thought as he rustled the newspaper again, intentionally, hoping to get any expression - he'd settle for even annoyance at this point, from his wife.
He almost felt like shouting in triumph as she stared at his reflection through the mirror, still struggling to get her earrings on. It was the most he had been able to get out of her for awhile.
"What?" She asked bluntly, her tone indicating clearly that she didn't expect, or want an answer.
Leaning back into the plump pillows of their bed, he crossed his ankles dejectedly as he simply watched her annoyance morph into cool indifference.
Chuck sighed quietly. When it looked like no response or comment would be forthcoming, he couldn't help himself when he added, "I think you look beautiful."
His heart sunk when she simply bent down to tug her heels on, somehow managing to look graceful with her long limbs. The room was dimly lit by the single light on top of the dresser, but the crimson of her cocktail dress burnt through the semi-darkness, into his retinas, onwards to permanently etch itself onto his mind. Her hair was curly, tumbling in loose, casual waves onto her shoulders. He noted offhandedly that it was a nice change- how the lighting cast shadows onto her face, highlighting contours of her chin and eyes: it softened her features.
She was every inch as lovely as when he had first seen her.
The silence in the room was deafening… at least to him. He could hear his stomach squirming uncomfortably in the tension, but she looked perfectly unruffled and unfazed, her face a mask of impassiveness.
At her non-reply, the chasm between them felt even wider than it had yesterday, as if it opened its mouth two centimeters more each day that went by with each word unspoken between them. The golden light seemed colder now when he looked at it again; instead, the shadows it made were black and grey, cold, lonely- like his marriage.
He wished he'd seen the signs: the way they'd just stopped going out, her business trips taking weeks instead of days, how they never just went out anymore; he couldn't remember the last time they had breakfast together. When had her kisses start feeling so unemotional? The way they seemed to be living together, but not living it together.
From the start, he had wondered, every day, why she had been willing to come back for a second date, third, fourth. He could not justify to himself why she had accepted his proposal, despite knowing full well that he didn't make enough for anything more than this two bedroom-lounge-kitchen apartment on the eighth floor, the only distinguishing factor it had from the other hundreds of rooms; the gleaming silver number that sat on their plain brown door, looking happy on the outside… like them.
Chuck knew he was average, he had an average life, and he was not an exciting man. At the time, catching someone like Sarah Walker was an amazing achievement that he had pursued with the utmost enthusiasm. Now he had the woman, but it was much less than he had imagined it being in his fantasies of their ideal future he'd had when they had exchanged vows.
He knew he couldn't afford to treat her the way she ought to be treated, the way he longed to treat her. She deserved better than him- deserved what he could not give her.
Now all that was left was echoes of laughter and fading memories, forgotten in the midst of this quietness between them.
He wondered where in the track it had started, was it the way he left constantly, assigned to war-torn countries months at a time, leaving Sarah by herself? Or had it been festering from the start, hidden under infatuation and affectionate teasing?
As he stared at her back helplessly, she spoke, and his eyes snapped up to her in the mirror. She wasn't looking at him as she checked herself over again, tugging on her dress to make it sit right.
With a lump stuck in his windpipe, holding his breath, he tried not to look too shocked at her omission. A bubble of hope fizzled in his chest.
Clearing his throat, he stood up; tossing the unread paper onto the chair positioned randomly against the wall beside the en-suite bathroom door.
"I'll go and warm up the car," He said quietly, glancing back briefly as he made his way to the garage.
He watched her get into the car, the door thumping solidly closed as she slid into the seat beside him.
She returned his gaze, impatient. Looking away, he put his hand on the clutch, watching dispassionately as the garage door rolled up slowly, exposing the outside world where they were Mr. and Mrs. Chuck Bartowski- young, happily married couple of two years.
Hearing the click of her seat-belt, and with nothing to distract him from her presence, he clenched his icy hand a few times, stopping abruptly when he remembered the times she used to hold onto it, warming it up herself. With jerky movements, he adjusted the rear view mirror unnecessarily before returning his hand to the gearbox, tracing the BMW logo on the knob, as the fingers of his other hand tapped the wheel in a frantic beat.
Sarah was looking out of the window on her side, and Chuck was almost relieved. As long as she pretended to be interested in something outside, he wouldn't feel the urge to babble to fill the frozen stillness.
Desperate, he reached for the radio, wincing at the scratching that emanated from the speakers. Tuning it, he flipped between stations as he slowly let the car roll out on the long driveway.
"...your body is a wonderland..."
James Morrison's voice crooned through the speakers, and Chuck winced. He remembered this song, his body humming to the gentle falls and rises in the music as his lips moved to the lyrics.
But as he kept singing, hands draped casually over the steering wheel, it was too much, and in his haste, he nearly mangled the stereo.
As he fiddled with the buttons, he kept an eye on the road, his melancholy increasing as the streetlights flickered quickly past.
The station was left to blare out music as his attention was pulled away to the approaching traffic lights.
"..It only hurts when I'm breathing, my heart only breaks when it's beating,"
Chuck let out a slow breath, almost managing to smile when he thought of Morgan's obsession over 'Canada's greatest gift' of Shania Twain. Her wistful voice twisted its way around his heart, squeezing painfully as she continued to sing through the radio, resonating through the car, her clear voice seeming to penetrate his thoughts.
"My dreams only die when I'm dreaming, so I hold my breath to forget,"
He almost forgot about the woman beside him as he murmured the words under his breath, "don't think I'm lying around, crying at night, there's no need to worry, I'm really alright, I've never looked back as a matter of fact,"
Even his mind was quiet, absorbing the lyrics as if a kind of balm to his soul, words needless as he let the song reflect his thoughts of this past year. Chuck thought he rather liked this kind of denial.
Suddenly, Sarah slammed her palm into the little black box, and it died with a sizzle, the music abruptly cutting off as the suffocating silence in the car became nearly unbearable again.
Well it's there under your breath, behind your eyes
And you don't have to say nothing cause I realize
That everything somehow in someway eventually dies
It's life in disguise
"Chuck!" A brunette woman called as she opened the door, "Sarah!"
Ellie rushed over the threshold, clasping both of them tightly to her body as she shook them in her excitement.
"It's nice to see you too, sis," Chuck said, his beam stretching from one side of his face to the other, holding tightly to her hand as if it were a lifeline, coincidentally no hands spare to hold Sarah's.
"Hi Ellie," Sarah said warmly, and Chuck almost looked at her in surprise; he would have if this was the first time he had seen her change her mood completely in front of his sister. Her normal frigid, almost condescending voice no where in sight, as if it were a new woman beside him… or the former Sarah Walker he had fallen in love with, who now finally made an appearance after an extended vacation. Her jaw was relaxed, not clenched tight as it tended to be whenever she was forced to speak to him alone at home.
"Sarah!" Ellie repeated again fondly, as if looking at a favourite protégé. "How's my baby brother been looking after you?"
There was a pause before Sarah answered, smiling, "Oh, we've stayed out of each others way for the most part."
Yeah, she wasn't kidding.
Ellie laughed, pulling her into the house to greet the host, "Well, that's how a successful marriage works!" She said, rolling her eyes, "That's the best way to avoid fights."
Was it ever.
Left alone, Chuck closed the door slowly, resting his forehead against it for a second before turning around.
"Carina!" He cried as he stepped back, straight into the door, knocking the back of his head against it.
She grinned like a mischievous cat. "Hi Chuckles."
Smiling forcefully, Chuck chuckled nervously, "Hi," After a pause, Carina standing there unmoving, he continued, "Uh, could you... you know..."
Carina nodded knowingly, "Of course," She agreed, stepping forward even more, pinning him to the door.
Chuck edged away, finally freeing himself as he circled her, leaving her the one against the door.
"What are you doing here?" Chuck asked, eying her skin tight pants dubiously. She looked down at herself too, seeming unaffected that she was the odd one out in this group of well-dressed couples.
A little seriousness crept into her eyes, but she answered, "I'm Sarah's friend, remember?"
"You don't even know the host," Chuck answered, rolling his eyes.
Carina grinned, shrugging. "Fine. I'm here for Sarah. The boss wants her to go on another trip."
Chuck's heart sank. There went another chance to spend time with his wife. She'd only been back three weeks or so from India. She never discussed the details of any of these trips. At the beginning, she'd placated him with the excuse that it was too complicated and it'd take too long to explain, systematically taking his mind off the subject by distracting him with a kiss. Now, she merely ignored his questions, simply sending him a warning look that instantly halted his questions.
With a tired sigh, he responded, "Business?"
"Business." Carina confirmed with a nod.
Quietly he commented to himself, "It always is." Louder, he says, "Where to this time?"
She waved her hands around lethargically as if pointing to an imaginary map spread between them, "Oh you know..."
"No, I don't," Chuck says harshly, trying to contain the swell of disappointment that rose.
Carina looked at him sharply, an odd look for someone like her. Her features softened to resemble something like sympathy when she caught his unspoken apology. "Berlin. Somewhere near there anyway."
Chuck set his shoulders firmly, determined to close his emotions off from Carina's observant eyes. She'd always been oddly perceptive about his emotions.
"Hasn't she been there already?" He asked, trying to mitigate the bitterness in his tone. Does she even know Russian? He knew his wife had a wide knowledge of languages, one of her majors being language, but he had never figured exactly how many she knew.
Looking supremely unconcerned, she shrugged, "Apparently she was very... convincing. Her clients want to do another deal."
Seeing Carina peer at him closely under the guise of picking at her fingernail, he rearranged his features, forcing a smile onto his face, "That's good," He said, but changed the subject, "Are you going to be my babysitter, then?"
Carina laughed, "Only if you want me to be, Charles," She said with a saucy wink. Chuck shook his head. Carina always turned up extra frequently whenever Sarah was away; her only excuse being that Sarah demanded her to keep an eye on him while she was busy. Chuck could hardly believe Sarah would bother with such a thing. He was never able to get through to her phone when she was on these overseas trips. Not even when he made sure he got the time zones right, and rung at a time he was sure she wouldn't be busy with work.
"But I'm going to be away too," She said, "So I'm sorry, we won't be able to have fun while Sarah's away this time."
Chuck's spirits raised an iota, as he couldn't help a little chuckle.
A huge hand clapped his shoulder before he could answer, making him lurch forward.
"Chuck, bro!" Devon boomed behind him, "You're making people suspicious with your little rendezvous with this pretty lady here," He said smirking good-naturedly.
As his brother-in-law steered him away, Carina waved at him. "I'd better be going," She said before slipping soundlessly out the door.
The level of noise increased the closer they approached the main party, and they turned the corner to see Ellie and Sarah sitting in a group of animated women.
"So, Chuck!" Amy called as he came into view with Awesome's arm still slung over his shoulder. "When are you and Sarah going to pop us a kid to play with?"
Chuck froze under the Captain's grip. Involuntarily, his eyes met Sarah's. For the first time in a long time, there was emotion in her eyes as she stared back like a deer caught in headlights. The rest of the women tittered encouragingly as they looked from one to the other. Sarah looked very uncomfortable, hemmed in on both sides by one pregnant woman, and one very overweight one.
Luckily Ellie came to the rescue, despite looking disappointed. She had been bugging him and Sarah to give her baby someone to play with ever since she found out she was pregnant five months ago.
"Don't worry," She assured the other women, winking at Chuck, and nudging Sarah playfully in the ribs, "They will. It's New Years Eve tomorrow night!"
Devon squeezed Chuck painfully as he added boisterously, "Way to herald in the New Year!" He said cheerfully.
Chuck only laughed nervously. He was pretty sure baby-making involved two people, and one possibly would be en route to Berlin before the New Year could even come to pass.
It's your room and your board and your fireside
It's a shell that's been washed by a million tides
And if you're there you can see just how bright it shines
When there's nobody left in your heart, left in your head
When the whole world has packed up in shadows and left you for dead
When you can't fake a smile and you just can't get out of your bed
Ah HA! FL has finally managed to write something that doesn't involve tomato sauce, sappiness and Charah! And I managed to do that without making it introspective, which is a feat in itself :)
It's 1.44am but I've got a day off tomorrow for study leave… that I'm supposed to use to study.
Well, I had this insane plot in my head, so this is me trying to get rid of it. I've only got one chapter written so far. I wonder how long my inspiration for this will last. Oh and the title is temporary till I find a better substitute.
Anyway, what do you think?
…let me start it off for you: "I think it's AWESOME, and…"