A Regret and a Promise

by CCL

This story was written as part of the AoVD Lyric Wheel Project. The theme for the wheel was "Sooner or later, a man who wears two faces, forgets which one is real." Lyrics were provided by Pinky.

Dedications: To Lady Elaine, who found the lost idea for me and helped me get back on track today after I got distracted by a pesky husband and child. To Shiv, who patient thing that he is, sat on AIM with me and read bits and pieces as I fed them to him while telling me I am the greatest. He lies so pretty but I truly love him because of it! And to f16-katt, who went and read No Promises just so she could beta this for me. I also should thank Pinky for giving me great lyrics and the cable company cuz with my net connection down for a few hours, I had no choice but stare at the blank page until something started to trickle out of my brain. I caught most of it but be careful of spills.

Warnings: Ummm…don't put metal in the microwave? Pretty light show but you usually have to call the fire department. Or so I've heard. ::notices the stares:: HONEST!

Now, for those of you that don't know, I wrote a little story last year after 9/11 when Ardath posted a call for escapist fanfic. I had a cold, no sleep, and was totally zonked on cold meds and diet pills. The result of that produced my first completed fanfic entitled "No Promises" and it is in the archives here at AoVD. This is sequel of sorts. The first received such lovely reviews but I had no clue as to how to follow it up. When I saw the lyrics I thought of Chris. Here is the result. Enjoy.

Now, on with the fic!

He tugged at the collar of his jacket, pulling it up around his neck as a barrier against the chilling breeze. When he reached the crosswalk, he paused and stared across the street, eyes seeking out the bright blue neon sign of his destination. Cappy's. He smiled and took a deep breath, glancing up and finally walking across when the traffic light changed in his favor.

From the sidewalk outside, he could see handfuls of patrons clustered around tiny tables and booths inside the pub. A few regulars were scattered along the heavy wooden bar and the jukebox churned out a varied mix of music to suit the eclectic tastes presented by the clientele.

Brown eyes scanned the different waitresses, seeking out one in particular. The one. Out of a back corner, she appeared, smiling and laughing with a pencil stabbed through a sloppy French twist that was steadly losing bits of hair. Warmth flooded him and he smiled again, fingering something in his pocket. Another deep breath for courage and he approached the door, swinging it open.

The bell above him announced his arrival, drawing the attention of the waitresses and bartender. Shyly, he smiled, meeting several gazes before moving his eyes to her. Giving a nod of his head as he moved through the smoke and perfume filled air he headed for familiar territory. The booth in the back. His booth. Lonely and solitary and rarely used except by him, he'd been told once. And only one waitress ever covered it.

The vinyl was cracked with age. In the bar's heyday it had been a nice hideout for lovers seeking privacy to steal kisses and touches. The wooden table and seatback were well carved with initials, names, dates and even the occasional message. As he slid into the seat, his fingers sought out the rough texture, tracing the lines while he waited. He didn't have to wait long.

"Now what's a pretty boy like you doing in a place like this, huh?"

Tilting his head so that he could cut his eyes up at the source of that voice, Chris' smile widened and he shrugged.

"Dunno. Guess I just got lost."

An ice cold Icehouse thumped down on the table before she slid down into the seat opposite him. The perfect arc of her eyebrow rose and a matching smile tugged at her mouth.

"Lost, huh? How'd you do that? Not much around these parts. Were you looking for something in particular?"

He reached for the beer, blushing and nodding as his chuckle rumbled quietly in the secluded space they occupied. He took a small sip from the bottle, rotating it in circles and leaving tracks of moisture on the table in the bottle's wake.

"Blushing. How sweet. So tell me, handsome, what exactly was it you were looking for? Maybe I can help."

Finally hearing the words he'd been waiting for, Chris looked up, his face a mask of seriousness.

"Oh, I don't know. See, I've been feeling like there was something I missed. And I'm just now realizing it's been in front of me all along."

As he watched, the smile faltered a bit. Her lips pursed together and she dropped her eyes down in her lap, picking at a cigarette burn in the plastic edge of the seat.

"Those are pretty strong words to say about a bottle of Icehouse. Don't tell me you've turned into some sort of hard drinker since I saw you last?"

The playful, teasing voice shifted subtly. The words were meant to keep things light but Chris knew all to well that there was concern hidden behind them. He'd poured out some heavy secrets that last time. Given voice to his worries and fears in the confessional of her arms and her bed. And as always she'd soothed the hurt. Hadn't passed judgment on him but instead taken the pain into herself. His repayment was to leave. Like always.

Oh, he never saw the pain outright, but Chris knew it was there. It lurked in her eyes behind the excitement of seeing him again. But again and again she welcomed him. And this time, he could hear it in her voice as well. It warred with hope and made her look impossibly sad to him. Silently he wondered if too much time had passed or if the damage he'd done this last time could ever be undone by a few carefully chosen words and the startling realization he'd been dealing with since that night almost a year ago.

"You know me better than that, Michaela. And you know that I'm not talking about the beer either."

She sighed and the smile vanished all together. The lids on her eyes slid closed and remained that way for a long time. Chris sat in silence, holding his breath and waiting for her next move. He nearly gasped aloud when they finally lifted to reveal the blue swimming in a sea of tears.

"Chris. I…I don't think I can do this again."

He swallowed hard, letting the pain of her words flicker across his face. He'd been afraid of this. Of her final rejection. Of the moment when she could no longer live with the unspoken arrangement that they had shared. Chris wasn't sure that the last time had been her breaking point, but obviously it had. His leaving made more difficult by the whispered words he'd uttered with every ounce of sincerity he possessed. And now to fix it. To build up that relationship again and put right the things he'd so carelessly destroyed and tossed aside in the past.

Large hands pushed the bottle aside and reached out to her, palm up as his eyes begged for her touch just once more in this small way. He watched her struggle with the request for a brief second before sliding one into his and squeezing it slightly, the apology of not being able to give him more at this time written all over her slumped posture.

"Michaela, sooner or later a man who wears two faces forgets which one is real. And for a long time I lived a double life. I pretended to be somebody I'm not and never will be. That person did an awful thing to you. He used you to feel better. About himself and about the life he was living."

He sighed and shifted his tentative hold on her hand to cradle it between both of his, staring and rubbing the back of it in easy circles while he summoned another shot of courage to keep going.

"A year ago that other life got taken away from me. I lost everything I thought was important and I came crawling back here to you so I could lick my wounds. And you smiled at me and let me do just that. When I left that morning, I was so confused. About me, about you…hell about everything."

Chris lifted his eyes up to rest on her face, smiling when he noticed her lower lip trapped between her teeth and gently reached out to free it, brushing a strand of hair back before returning his hand to its resting place. His rough voice softened with his next words and he swallowed several times before managing to force them all out.

"But now it's all so clear. This is clear. I don't want all the money I made and freedom seems so cheap. It's empty, you know? I've been walking around for months trying to figure it out. And then I realized that the problem wasn't what happened with the firm or even feeling guilty when I managed to stay out of it all. It was just me, being alone."

He watched as a single tear slid down her cheek and was reaching out to brush it away when her hand intercepted him, pushing him away even as she withdrew the other from his grasp.

"Chris, I told you. I can't do this. I've never told you no but I just can't okay? At first, I thought it was just gonna be that one time. Because I did love you, ya know? I loved you so much and I figured it was the only way I could ever have you. To give you an easy out. Keep it stress free without the attachments. But it hurt. Waking up alone and not knowing when I'd see you again. Wondering about you. I gave you that out but I didn't expect you to take advantage of it."

More hair slipped free, framing her face in golden brown as she shook her head. She sniffed softly and began to rummage in her pockets before pulling out a crumpled tissue and dabbing at her eyes. Chris ached to move across to her and pull her in his arms, ease this hurt for her the way she had eased his in times past. But the contact would be unwelcome now so instead he watched her suffer from his seat, letting her speak her piece before trying to interrupt.

"And then you had to say it. You said it! And you left anyway! The same thing happening all over again. It made it seem cheap and I hated you for it. How could you say it and still leave like that?"

The tearful question hung in the air between them and Chris' own voice seemed to not want to respond. He screwed his eyes shut, unable to look at the tears sliding unchecked down her face. With his heart in his throat, he choked out his response, begging forgiveness with each hoarse tremble of sound escaping his lips.

"Michaela, I wish I could take back all the things I said or did to make you feel like that. I never meant to hurt you. Especially not by saying that. I meant it then and I still mean it. See, I realized that with everything I had, everything I've still got. It doesn't mean anything to me. I just feel empty. I'm alone and I feel completely empty because of it. That's why I came here. I don't want to be empty any more."

That voice that he'd only heard in soft, dulcet tones seemed to harden and sharpen. It cut across his wounded soul, slicing open the parts of himself he was laying bare to her. He deserved it, he knew. But the surprise and shock of it still stung painfully.

"So you figured you'd come back to me, and I'd take you in, make it all better and you could go on your merry way? I told you I'm not doing that again. You were wrong to come here again, Chris. What we had is over, finished. I don't want to see you any more."

She stood quickly, bumping the table and nearly sending the bottle over in her haste to leave. Chris quickly righted the bottle and shot out a hand to snag her arm. Tugging firmly but gently as he slid over in the seat, pulling her back down and in next to him, shaking his head.

"No, that's not what I wanted. Well, okay maybe it was. But not the way you're thinking. Just hear me out, okay? What I was saying before was that with everything I have, I don't have the one thing that will make that emptiness go away. And that something is you."

He turned sideways in the booth as best he could, pulling her body around so he could sit face to face with her. When she studiously avoided his gaze, Chris reached out to raise her chin with a knuckle and stare deeply into her eyes, his voice quiet but strong.

"I realized that I'd give it all away. Everything I've managed to salvage from that other life. Just to have somewhere to go to. Some one to come home to. And to be honest, Michaela. You've always felt like home to me."

"That other life, it was killing me. I was drowning in it. Becoming so cold and heartless and that's not who I am. Or at least that's not who I wanted to be. I was becoming that other person and now I'm so glad that he's gone. I swear it was like I died and was reborn. And now that I've got that second chance, I want to do it right."

He reached a hand into the pocket of his jacket and pulled out the tiny box, using his free hand to lift one of hers up, sliding the box into it and squeezing.

"I love you. It might have taken me years to get here, Michaela, but damn it I don't want to waste anymore. Give me somewhere to go to at night. Please? Give me someone to come home to? Say yes?"

He pulled back and watched as her eyes widened in shock before trembling hands fumbled to open the box. The inhaled breath made him hold his own again as he patiently waited and watched while she ran her fingers reverently over the snow, white velvet holding the nestled diamond.

When she finally looked up at him with fresh tears and a smile, Chris turned the box slightly and lifted the tiny gold circle with the twinkling gem from its confines. He raised her hand to his lips, placing the smallest kiss there before sliding the ring home and looking up at her.

"Be my wife, Michaela. Help me be the man I've always wanted to be. Your husband."

The whisper seemed so loud to his ears. It echoed and rattled around inside him while the fear of rejection built to impossible heights. And just when he thought that perhaps it was too late…


The Song

My December
Performed by Linkin Park

This is my December, This is my time of the year.
This is my December, This is all so clear.
This is my December, This is my snow covered home.
This is my December, This is me alone.

And I...
Just wish that I didn't feel like there was something I missed.
And I...
Take back all the things I said to make you feel like that.
And I...
Just wish that I didn't feel like there was something I missed.
And I...
Take back all the things that I said to you.

And I'd, Give it all away, Just to have somewhere to go to.
Give it all away, To have someone to come home to.

This is my December, This is my snow covered tree.
This is me pretending, This is all I need.

And I...
Just wish that I didn't feel like there was something I missed.
And I...
Take back all the things that I said to make you feel like that.
And I...
Just wish that I didn't feel like there was something I missed.
And I...
Take back all the things that I said to you.

And I'd, give it all away, Just to have somewhere to go to.
Give it all away, To have someone to come home to.

This is my December, This is my time of the year.
This is my December, This is all so clear.

Give it all away, Just to have somewhere to go to.
Give it all away, To have someone to come home to.
Give it all away, Just to have somewhere to go to.
Give it all away, To have someone to come home to.