Pairing: Sam/Brooke… in a manner of speaking
A/N: This is a set in the future kind of piece. I'd call it an uber, but it doesn't really fit the genre. Its not long and its not happy, but we all need a little angst sometime. So, enjoy. Its un-beta'd, so as per usual, please forgive my mistakes. Feedback is always appreciated. Thanks.
If there was one person that I didn't expect to see in this place, it's her. What little light that snakes through the blanket of fog surrounding the place reflects off her golden hair, marking her much as would a beacon, drawing attention to the fact that she's undeniably out of place. I don't know what else to do but watch her walk toward me. A primal need for self-protection urges me to run, but I refuse to give into it. Cowardice is what brought me here, and I refuse to succumb to its grip anymore.
I'm a regular here, as familiar to the people that line the darkness as they are to me. We don't know much about one another, other than the fact that we all have something, some demon in our past, that drives us here. They know me as I am now, in faded and frayed jeans, battered cowboy boots and the comfortable old sweater that make up my usual garb. Its almost like armor to me, the essence of who I am stripped bare of the cloying disguise forced on me by the real world. Business suits and tailored slacks have no place in my den of self-pity. They make me appear to be something that I'm not, well… not here. Their fabrics are the skin that my other self wears, and I shed it easily. It is not permanent, and this is.
It's been a long time, I realize idly. Too many nights spent sitting here at this bar, the scarred countertop and the too tired bartender my only company. Aside from a bottle of Glenlivet, that is. If I'm going to slowly drink myself to death, I'm not going to do it with house brand, that's for sure.
I didn't used to be like this… afraid, a shell. I used to take risks, used to have a fire that you could see burning in my eyes at a glance. Sometimes I think that that fire slowly died, that it faded away over time, but I know the truth. It went out in an instant.
She's standing in front of me, and I don't know what to say. How do you begin a conversation with a reminder of your past? Normal platitudes seem inane, awkward, out of place. I want nothing more than to turn back around to the bartender, to order another drink and to forget that she's here, that she's looking at me with questions in her eyes that I can't answer.
"It's been a long time," she says, and I nod. Every conversation, wanted or not, must have a beginning and this is apparently the opening foray of ours.
"It has." I wonder how I look to her. She is older, but still beautiful. The passage of time since our parting has been kind to her. It hasn't been nearly so kind to me. She doesn't speak, and though I want to fill up the silence with words, want to demand an explanation from her, want to make her tell me how she could have done the things she's done, instead, in some masochistic fit, I find myself wanting only to make the cut a little deeper.
"How's Harrison?" The words come out more strained than I had intended, and I reach quickly for my drink only to find it empty. A quick gesture to Gus, the barkeep, refills my glass and with a motion, Brooke requests that he make it two.
"We're divorced." Her tone is stark as she continues on, eyes glazed as she looks inward, searching for the words to tell the story. "It was never right in the first place, and in the end, bitterness and resentment were all we had. He resented me because I had had what he really wanted and I'd thrown it away. I resented him because he never was what I wanted, just something that I'd settled for." It was like a kick in the gut, and the pain was so swift and severe that I almost laughed. The sum total of my miserable existence was wrapped up in that pitiful story.
"And Callie?" I forced myself to ask.
"She's fine. Actually, probably much happier now." She sounds tired, and suddenly I notice the slump in her shoulders that hides beneath the exquisite cut of her long cashmere trench. Silence stretches between us once more, and I make no move to break it, though I desperately wonder why she is here, why she has found me.
There had been a time when I felt like I had it all. The world was big and scary and the future uncertain, but with Brooke by my side I knew it would all work out. We were seniors in high school, new to each other as lovers just as much as we were new to the concept of this kind of love. It was a first for both of us, the heretofore illicit and elusive appreciation of the female form, but possible labels didn't bother me. I was young, I was in love, and I was loved in return. Or, at least I thought I was. For three extraordinary months, the outside world didn't matter. We inhabited that blissfully unaware space that belongs exclusively to beginning lovers, seeing only each other and the newness and wonder of our relationship.
It was inevitable that the real world would intrude on our Eden, but I didn't worry about it too much. Rather naïve of me, I suppose, when I look at it through the corrected vision of hindsight. People found out and she dropped me so fast that you could count the skid marks up my back. Public perception of who she was supposed to be didn't quite jive with who she actually was, and instead of giving up status, she gave up me. Initially I told myself that it was all she knew, that it was only to be expected that she would choose something concrete, something stable. In time, I imagined that public opinion of her would grow less persuasive, that she would come to the decision that I mattered more. She didn't.
At first, I thought it was some cosmic plan to get back at me. I'd spurned Harrison, she'd spurned me, and now they were together. The one who loved me had the one I loved. Even as I told myself that it could never last, they stayed together longer than she and I had. And as I told myself that they would come to their senses, that they wouldn't go through with it, they got engaged. After that, I stopped talking to myself altogether. I went to the wedding, but I didn't go back. The only contact I'd ever had with my niece was through the occasional birthday card, sent from me to her, or news from my mother. I didn't want to see her, innocent that she was, any more than I wanted to see her mother.
Family gatherings consisted of the newly formed families… Mom, Mike and McKenzie and Brooke, Harrison and Callie. I had school, or I had work, or I had a thousand other excuses at my disposal until finally I didn't need excuses anymore. They knew that I wasn't coming back. I moved to a new city, found a job to pay the bills, and enjoyed some measure of success. Writing didn't hold the interest for me that it once had, but I could still do it, even without the fire. So I did, and when the writing was finished for the day, I came here. There was no place else to go, no significant other or even not-so-significant other waiting for me somewhere. I had nothing but an apartment devoid of life… a life devoid of life.
"Aren't you going to say anything?" The words startled me. Wrapped up in thought, I could almost forget she was there… almost.
"What do you want me to say?"
"Something… anything." There was anger in her tone now, and some small spark of the fire that I had once tended so carefully flashed through me. What right did she have to be angry with me? I hadn't deceived myself, hadn't caused any of this.
"You shouldn't have come here," was all I said instead, ignoring the festering pain just beneath the surface that demanded I ask for more.
"Maybe I shouldn't have." Her words were clipped and I could see the ragged corners of her self-control being pulled in. She seemed to grow, her back straightening and her shoulders squaring as if preparing for battle. Perhaps she was.
I said nothing, taking another sip of my liquor, vaguely aware that the sharp taste no longer even seemed to register with me, but not particularly concerned about it.
"I had thought to come here and beg for forgiveness, to see if we could work things out," she said raggedly, and I almost choked on my drink.
"Working things out implies that there's something wrong that you can fix. You left me ten years ago. You married someone else. There is no us, there is no we, and there's nothing here that the imaginary we can work to fix." God, I sounded so bitter. I was bitter though, and I supposed it that was only natural that I couldn't hide that.
"There could be again," she said softly, wistfully and for a second, I believed her.
"I'm not the same person you once knew," I told her, and it was true. "Ten years ago, there was an us. For three months, there was an us, and then you decided that there wouldn't be an us any longer. I didn't see how you could mean it, how you could throw away everything that we had because of what other people thought, but you did. Maybe I should have fought a little bit harder, but it hurt too much and didn't really seem to matter anyway. Your mind was already made up. You left me and moved on, and when you did, you shattered any us that might ever have been. Ten years is a long time, Brooke. Maybe you did finally figure out that what you settled for wasn't what you want, but what you want is no longer available."
"You're right," she said, and I was perversely pleased to hear that she was just as bitter as I was. "I don't know you, and you're not the same girl that I fell in love with, that I still love. Just in case you haven't noticed, I'm not the same either, and I didn't come looking for the girl I knew ten years ago. I came looking for you, and all I'm asking for is a chance. If you want to keep on living like you have, with no one for company but a stool and a bottle, then fine. Don't say no without even trying, though. Give me that, at least."
I heard the rustle of papers, the click of a pen, and then she was gone. A white rectangle of paper sits on the bar beside her untouched drink, seven numbers taunting me, and I pick it up, running my fingers over the smooth edges. With a sigh, I lay it back down on the scarred wooden counter, sliding her glass over and tossing back the fiery liquid inside. Gus is there in an instant with a refill, but I wave him away, unable to do anything more than stare at the hauntingly familiar handwriting and wonder.