[identity profile] empressearwig.livejournal.com posting in [community profile] earwigficmirror
Title: when you're sleeping in the passenger seat
Author: [livejournal.com profile] empressearwig
Pairing/Fandom: American Idol RPF; David Cook/Carrie Underwood
Rating: R
Word Count: 4191
Disclaimer: I own nothing, this is all for fun. This hasn't happened. Yet. Etc.
Summary: Carrie gets divorced. David provides a shoulder to lean on.
Author's Notes: This is the fic that would not be written. I've been working on this since March, so anything that doesn't line up with things that have happened since, please feel free to blame my very uncooperative brain. Many thanks to both [livejournal.com profile] normative_jean and [livejournal.com profile] irishmizzy who looked at this on and off for the entire nine months. Rest assured, this would not have ever been completed without both of your help. Title is from the song "Broken Headlights" by Joey Ryan.


The day that Mike's trade to Nashville is announced, Carrie gets a text from David: trouble in paradise already???, it reads, and she knows without question that David meant it as a joke.

The only trouble is that Carrie's not laughing.

***

The problem that they have is the same problem that they have always had: Mike doesn't want to be Mr. Carrie Underwood and Carrie will never be Mrs. Mike Fisher.

Carrie thought marriage would solve the problem, but eight months worth of fights later and she is willing to admit that it has only made things worse. When the Senators offer Mike a trade to Nashville, she grabs onto it like a lifeline. If they can just be in the same place, she thinks, living the same life, then they make things work. Mike disagrees; he thinks that it will only ruin what they have left, because Nashville will always be the place that she most overshadows him, but Carrie is adamant. She issues an ultimatum: take the trade, or our marriage is over.

Mike takes the trade. A month later, their marriage ends anyway.

Carrie flees to Los Angeles. She checks into the Beverly Hills Hilton and she tries to hide. She stays in her room, and she watches daytime talk shows that she has no interest in, and she tries to convince herself that it isn't her fault that she's just another Hollywood statistic. She fails at that, too.

When Carrie's been there for a week, David calls. She doesn't know why she answers the call; she's been ignoring everyone's calls and that includes the ones from her mom. But she does answer, and the minute she does, she's glad that she did.

"A little birdie told me you were in town," David says. "I'm sort of hurt that I had to find out from Perez Hilton."

She laughs, just a little, but it's the first time in weeks that she's managed that much. "Why are you reading Perez Hilton?" she demands. "Don't you know better by now?"

"Oh, you know Neal," he says. "Hopeless celebrity stalker."

"Right," she says, trying to imagine it. "Neal."

"Neal," David says again. "But you know, if you're trying to hide -- and I get the impression that you are -- I'm not sure that staying at a hotel in Beverly Hills is the way to go about it."

He has a point. "Did you have another suggestion in mind?" she asks, curious despite herself.

"Casa de Cook," he says promptly. "I know the owner, he's a good guy. Free room and board, and all the beer and cheetos you could ever want." He pauses, as if debating whether to say more. "A shoulder to cry on if needed."

"David," she says, a little helplessly. She doesn't know what she's supposed to say to that.

"Don't decide now," he says. "Just, the offer is open if you want it. For however long you want, okay?"

She nods, though he can't see her. "Okay."

"Alright," he says. "I have to go. There's about to be a water balloon fight in my backyard and I don't want to miss out."

She laughs again, and this time it sounds like she means it. "Have fun."

"I will," he says. "Bye, Carrie."

"Bye, David."

He hangs up and Carrie stares at her phone. She wants to say yes. Being around David sounds like exactly what she needs right now. He's fun and it's not complicated and he understands her life in a way that Mike never did. She doesn't know why she didn't say yes.

Carrie picks up the phone and calls him back.

"Hello?" he answers, sounding out of breath. "Carrie?"

"Would now be too soon?" she asks, and she swears that she can hear a grin break out on his face.

"What took you so long?" is all he asks. Carrie checks out of the hotel an hour later.

***

Carrie's not sure what she expected staying with David to be like, maybe some bizarre combination of Animal House and a bordello, but for the first week that she's there, all the occupants of the house (right down to the dog) walk on eggshells around her. They're polite and they do their dishes instead of piling them in the sink and they don't leave beer bottles on the coffee table and Neal doesn't try to smoke inside even once. She's visited David's house before. She knows that they do all these things.

That they're not doing them is weird, and Carrie doesn't like it at all. So she does what any self-respecting woman would do: she kicks their asses at Wii baseball, and then turns around to face their open mouths and says, "Now will you stop treating me like I'm going to break or something?"

David nods. Andrew looks at her with something akin to awe on his face. And Neal, he just gives her a coolly appraising stare.

She decides to be satisfied with that, and spins on her heel to leave.

"Hey, Carrie," David calls out after her, stopping her in her tracks. She looks back over her shoulder and raises an eyebrow at him. He grins at her like the over grown child that he is. "Does this mean we can watch porn in here?"

"No," she says, and this time she really leaves, the sound of David's laughter chasing her down the hall. It makes her smile. She's missed the sound of laughter in her life.

When Carrie comes downstairs in the morning, there's a pizza box on the counter with a half-eaten pizza inside, and a beer can pyramid is on the coffee table.

This time, Carrie is the one who laughs.

***

Without realizing, Carrie falls into routines. She runs with David, early in the morning, hours before she'd ever imagined him being awake. Sometimes, when she's trying to stop herself from laughing as they jog down his street, she wonders if it's for her benefit, or if this is something she never knew about him. She wonders what else she doesn't know.

She plays Wii with Andrew, who demands that she teach him her tricks at baseball. She doesn't, but she lets him beat her at Mario Kart, so that he feels better about himself.

And Neal -- Neal is the one that she watches Star Trek with, late at night when she can't sleep. There are more of those nights then she wants there to be. There are less of them than when she arrived.

She's been there for almost three weeks before she even realizes it's been that long, and it's a sunny, spring afternoon, the kind you want after winter, even if it was a Los Angeles winter. They're all out in David's backyard, and he's standing over the grill that she knows that he cleaned and that she knows has a veggie burger cooking on there, just for her. He looks up and catches her staring, and he grins.

Carrie feels her cheeks get hot, and there's a fluttering low in her stomach that feels like interest but can't be. She would know if she were interested in David, wouldn't she? It has to be hunger, she decides. That's all. She tugs the Royals cap she borrowed from David lower on her forehead and crosses the patio to stand next to him. "We going to eat soon?" she asks, nudging him with her elbow. "Some of us are hungry, you know."

"Some of you are thieves," David corrects, flicking at the brim of the cap. "Isn't that mine?"

She gives him an impish grin. "You said I was supposed to treat your house as my own."

"I didn't mean that you should make off with my belongings."

She shrugs her shoulders. "You should have included that in the house rules."

"Don't think I won't next time," he says, and then he laughs.

The fluttering is back in her stomach, but Carrie ignores it. "Food?" she demands.

"Five minutes," David answers, flipping over burgers one by one. "I never knew you were so demanding, Underwood."

"A girl doesn't like to give away all her secrets, Cook."

"Touché," he says. "Hold that plate, would you?"

She picks it up and holds it steady as he piles burgers high onto it, laughing as she sees just how many he cooked. "David," she says, "just how many people do you think that you're feeding here?"

"Hey, you never know when a guy's going to want a half dozen burgers," he says, and he reaches over to take the plate from her. Their hands brush against each other, and her stomach flutters again. He starts back toward the house, but Carrie doesn't follow. One flutter she could ignore, maybe even two. But three?

Three has to mean something. She doesn't want to think about what that something is.

"Coming?" David calls back over his shoulder, and Carrie forces a smile onto her face.

"Of course, I am," she says. She makes sure she doesn't touch him for the rest of the night.

***

Carrie notices things now. She doesn't know if they've always been there and she was just blind, or if things are different. If she's different. Maybe it's both, she doesn't know that either, but she does know that it doesn't really matter which it is.

What matters is the way that that David looks for her the minute that he steps into a room. The way that there's always soy milk in his fridge for her, even though she knows that he thinks it's disgusting. It matters that the sound of his laugh makes her smile, and that whenever she washes the dishes, he always offers to dry. He knows what kind of pizza is her favorite, and he leaves the Sudoku puzzles for her after he does the crossword without her ever having to ask.

These things matter, and she never saw them before. She doesn't know how she never saw them.

Now that she sees them, she doesn't know what to do with them.

***

A month and a half after she moved into David's guest room, and two months after they agreed it was over, Mike serves her with divorce papers. It's the worst afternoon of her life. Without the papers it wasn't real, there was a chance that somehow, someway they'd make it work, even though there was never any chance of that. They used up their chances long ago. But the papers make it official. The papers make her a stupid Hollywood statistic.

Carrie grew up wanting a marriage like her parents had, the kind that would last forever. She got the kind that falls apart in less than a year.

The afternoon that she gets the papers, she gets well and truly drunk.

She's alone in the house, because the boys are off doing last minute album prep things, and Carrie's almost glad about that. Glad because if he was here, David would want her to talk and he'd be sweet and she'd end up crying, and that's not what she wants. She wants to get drunk enough that she forgets just how much this hurts for one night. That's all she wants. One night without pain. So she opens one beer and then another, until there are bottles lined up on the patio railing next to her, and that's how David finds her.

"Carrie?" he asks, turning her name into a question.

She doesn't have any answers anymore. "Yep," she says, bobbing her head up and down. "That's me."

He steps closer, and she imagines him counting the beer bottles, his eyes going wide with shock and concern. "Is everything okay?"

She shakes her head.

"What's wrong?" he asks, his hand landing warmly on her shoulder, big and strong, and it would be so easy to lean back into it. To let him take some of the weight. "Seriously, Carrie, tell me."

She looks out into the setting sun, and says it. "I got my divorce papers today."

David makes a noise, it might be sympathy, and his arms wrap around her from behind. "Why didn't you call me?" he asks, his breath warm against her ear. "I would have come home so you didn't have to be alone."

She shakes her head, covering his hands with one of her own. "I wanted to be."

"Why?" he asks, sounding truly baffled by this. "I could have --"

"You could have what?" she asks, cutting him off and turning herself around so that she's facing him. He stands between her legs, close enough to touch if she'd just let herself, but she doesn't. She can't. "You could have made it better? Fixed it? I don't think this can be fixed, David."

"I could have helped," he says, reaching out to touch her cheek. "I just want to help and you won't let me."

She looks at him and he looks at her, and the words hang between them. Her heart is beating too fast, and his is in his eyes, and it's far too late for it not to happen. She brings her hands up to grasp at his t-shirt, pulling him closer.

"Carrie," he says, but then she brings his head down to kiss him, and he doesn't say anything at all.

***

She wakes in the dark, in an unfamiliar bed. Her mouth is dry and it hurts when she tries to raise her head. She winces, holding the sheet to her chest as she struggles to sit up. She deserves this, she does, but right now all she wants is to die.

"Where're you going?" a voice slurs from beside her, muffled by a pillow and heavy with sleep.

Her eyes close. David.

"Go back to sleep," she says, hoping that he's asleep enough to do what she says without any fight.

Of course he's not.

His arm wraps around her and pulls her back down next to him. "Headache?" he asks, and she nods and then winces in pain. How can that little movement hurt? "Stay here," he says, kissing her temple. "I'll get you some Advil."

She does what he says, figuring that he has more experience than she does with such things. He's back before she can even miss his body heat, with three pills and a bottle of water. He passes them to her and she sits up just enough so that she can take them.

"Drink all of it," he says. It's not something she needs to be told. Right now, in this instant, the cool water is the best thing she's ever tasted. "Slowly. If you drink too fast you'll throw up."

She gives him a death look, but slows down. She has no desire to humiliate herself further. She drains the bottle and hands it back to him. "Now what?"

"Now we go back to sleep," he says, curling himself around her again. "It'll feel better when you wake up again. I promise."

"Yeah?" she asks, her eyes falling closed as she rests her head against his chest.

He whispers his answer in her ear. "Yeah."

It does.

***

They don't talk about the fact that they had sex.

A week goes by, and they dance around each other, both of them attempting to ask like nothing happened. They fail miserably at it, of course. It's only because most of David's friends are completely oblivious they get away with it at all. But Neal notices, and Carrie can feel him watching them, silently assessing in the indomitable way that he has, and it makes her even crazier than David was already making her.

She waits until everyone else has gone to bed, when Neal's the only one still awake to confront him. She finds him in the media room, watching a Next Generation episode on DVD like he was waiting for her, which maybe he was.

"You know," she says from the doorway, arms crossed over her chest. She's nervous about this, and she doesn't know why. She knows why.

"Yep," he says, not bothering to turn around. "Dave's got a pretty obvious 'just got laid face', and you're not much better."

She frowns. Obvious is not something she wants to be. "Then why doesn't anyone else --"

"Because." He looks back over his shoulder. "Are you planning on standing there for the rest of this conversation?"

"Maybe," she grumbles, but she pushes off the door frame and sits on the opposite end of the couch. She draws her knees up to her chest, wrapping her arms around them. "Well?"

"Well, what?" he asks, raising an eyebrow at her.

Of course he would make her work for this. "You must have an opinion."

"Nope," he says. "No opinions here."

She snorts. "Liar."

"And what if I am?" he asks, grabbing the remote from the coffee table and pausing the DVD. "I'm not hurting anyone."

And suddenly everything becomes clear. "I don't plan on hurting anyone, either."

He raises his eyebrow again, and she wants to punch him in the face. "Yeah?"

"Yeah. And if I am hurting anyone, I'd really appreciate it if someone would tell me so that I can stop. But that would be too simple, wouldn't it?" she fumes, dropping her legs to the floor and standing. "It's so much easier to condescend and be superior and --"

Neal puts his hand around her wrist. "Sit down."

She yanks her arm away. "No."

He stands, too, towering over her. "He's in love with you, you have to know that."

She sits down. Well, it's more like she crumbles to the couch. Because no, she didn't know that. Suspected, maybe, but she'd never thought it had gone that far, that it was that real. She looks up at Neal. "Are you sure?"

He nods, his face implacable once more.

Her mind is racing a mile a minute and she just wants it to slow down so she can think straight for five seconds and none of this makes any sense and --

"Fuck," she says.

"That pretty much sums it up," Neal agrees. "So what are you going to do about it?"

He leaves her there alone, his question hanging in the air, with only the bouncing logo on the television screen for company. She stares at it until the DVD player shuts itself down, the room falling dark.

In the morning, she still doesn't have the answer.

***

It’s a coward’s move, but Carrie runs. She books a plane ticket to Oklahoma and leaves David a note on the kitchen counter that simply reads I’m sorry.

Her dad picks her up from the airport and if he’s surprised by her crying all over the front of his flannel shirt the minute she sees him, well, he doesn’t ask what the tears are for. It’s just as well, since Carrie’s no longer sure either.

She mopes around her parents house for a week. Half the time is spent mourning the end of her marriage and the other half is remembering her time with David. His hands on her skin and the way he made her laugh and how he took care of her, even when she didn’t want him to. The way David made her happy.

Carrie was happy there, happy with him. She wishes she believed that she deserved it.

When a week threatens to turn into two, her mother does what mothers do and interferes. Without Carrie realizing, she clears the house so that it’s just the two of them. She settles Carrie at the kitchen table, a bowl full of beans that need snapping between them, and just looks at Carrie in the way that only a mother can.

"So," her mom says, and Carrie crumbles.

"Mom," she says, and she can already feel the tears welling up in her eyes.

Her mom nudges the bowl of beans closer. "Work on these," she orders, and Carrie obeys without question. "Now tell me what’s going on. This isn’t all about Mike."

Carrie shakes her head, her hands falling into rhythm without her even realizing. "No," she says. "It’s not."

"David?" her mother asks, and Carrie’s eyes fly to her face, utterly shocked. She didn’t know her mother knew. She didn’t know that anyone knew. How can her mother know when it took Carrie so long to see? Carrie expects to see judgment in her mother’s eyes, the same judgment that Carrie feels that she deserves, but there’s none to be found. There’s understanding and acceptance, and it makes Carrie want to cry all over again.

Carrie nods, unable to do anything else.

"Do you love him?" her mother asks, and Carrie’s hands falter.

That is the question, isn’t it? Is what she feels love or is it friendship or is it both of those things at once? Carrie loved Mike. She knows that whatever happened between them, that the love they shared was real. But it’s nothing like what she feels for David, like nothing she’s ever felt before. With David, there’s an easiness that’s never been present in any of her relationships. Sometimes Carrie thinks he understands her better than she understands herself. She wants to make him happy.

If all of that’s not love, what is?

"I might," Carrie says, after an interminable pause. "I think so. I don’t know." She looks at her mother helplessly. "I can’t. Can I?"

Her mother pushes the bowl of beans aside and covers Carrie’s hands with her own. She looks Carrie straight in the eye. "He makes you happy?" It’s asked like a question, but they both know it’s not.

Carrie nods.

"Then you can," her mother says, in a tone that says that she won’t accept any nonsense from Carrie. "You will."

For the first time in more than a week, Carrie feels her lips turn up in a smile.

***

Carrie takes the first available flight back to Los Angeles. When she pulls into David’s driveway the house is dark and she worries that he’s off doing pre-album press in New York, but then she remembers that it’s poker night at Andy and Jennie’s. She lets herself in anyway, and settles in on the back porch to wait.

She doesn’t have to wait as long as she expects. It’s less than an hour later, when she hears a car drive up and the clatter of keys in the front door and steps in the hall. She thinks she hears the moment that he spots the bags that she left piled at the foot of the stairs and the change of direction his footsteps take as he heads towards her.

She doesn’t hear the door open behind her.

"Carrie?"

She turns to face him, her hands twisted into knots in front of her. She’s more nervous than she can remember ever being before. If he doesn’t love her, if he doesn’t want to, Carrie doesn’t know what she’ll do.

"I’m sorry," she blurts out, taking a step closer to him.

"For what?" he asks, his voice neutral and his face blank. But his hands are fisted at his sides, and it soothes something inside her. This isn’t easy for him either. It helps to know that.

"For leaving," she says, stepping closer still. "I shouldn’t have done that."

He shakes his head. "No." His hand reaches out for her before he jerks it back. He doesn’t take his eyes off her face. "Why did you?"

She takes a breath, exhales. "I was scared."

"Of me?"

Carrie shakes her head, closes the gap between them so that she’s standing right in front of him. She reaches out for his hand and he lets her take it, twining their fingers together. She looks him straight in the eye when she speaks. "Of us."

He exhales, heavily. He brings his hand up to push her hair back from her face. "Is there an us?"

"Yes," she says, and then his mouth seals over hers and she can’t say anything at all. Her free hand comes up to wrap itself in the soft cotton of his t-shirt and she tugs him closer, wanting his body pressed against her own. She needs the heat that he offers. She needs him.

He tears his mouth away, a look of desperation in his eyes. "Be sure," he demands, his voice thick with wanting her.

"I am," she says, and she doesn’t recognize the sound of her own voice. She kisses his throat and he shudders against her.

He tilts her face up so that she’s looking at him. "If we do this, that’s it. We can’t go back."

"I don’t want to," she says, and it’s all the answer that he needs.

David’s mouth comes down on hers once more, and there is no more time for talking.

***

It’s not until the morning that Carrie says the words. They are still in bed, facing one another, her hand tracing absent patterns on his chest.

"I love you," she says, the words coming out almost shyly.

David grins and says, "I know."

Date: 2012-01-03 11:30 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] otherbella.livejournal.com
ohhhhhh, this is FANTASTIC.

I love the picture you painted, of Carrie and the boys and their house and the refuge, and all the FEELINGS running through it all. I like how it hurts, how it's not easy, how it's all from her point of view.

I don't read a ton of this pairing, I don't know why, but this is gorgeous. Thank you so much for posting it!

Date: 2012-01-04 02:25 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] irishmizzy.livejournal.com
AAAAAAHHHH YOU FINISHED IT!!! IT'S SO GOOD, ACHEY BUT IN THE BEST KIND OF WAY. Oh god, now I'm going to fall back down the rabbit hole of this pairing AND IT'S ALL YOUR FAULT.

"It'll feel better when you wake up again. I promise."

Auuuuuuugh, I don't know why, but that line killed me the most. MY HEART.

Date: 2012-01-04 02:36 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] abvj.livejournal.com
This was so good. I really enjoyed the slow burn, the subtle realization that what she needed was right in front of her the entire time.

Date: 2012-01-04 02:37 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sonni89.livejournal.com
Right, so I've never followed either of their lives or know anything about them beyond David's season of Idol and a few of Carrie's songs, but this was FANTASTIC. I loved the domesticity of this and the way she realized how she felt about him and a talk with her mother and FEELINGS and fdlgjdlkfg I'm such a sucker for RPF, even when I know next to nothing about the people it's about. Congratulations, you just made me ship them. :)

Date: 2012-01-04 04:44 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dudski.livejournal.com
AAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHH I'M SORRY IF I'M EXPECTED TO SPEAK WORDS ABOUT THIS BECAUSE I JUST CAN'T. Sometimes I hate you for making me into a person who was GENUINELY SAD when I saw a tabloid cover saying she'd married that dude, but THEN YOU GO AND BRING THINGS LIKE THIS INTO THE WORLD AND I JUST CAN'T STAY MAD AT YOU.

Date: 2012-01-04 05:15 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] asweetdownfall.livejournal.com
♥_______________________♥ This is stunning. Heartwrenching, and really beautifully written.

I've missed your Undercook, seriously. And the ending is perfect. OH AND YOUR CARRIE IS STELLAR. My heart. <3

Date: 2012-01-04 08:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] smiley-b.livejournal.com
This was FANTASTIC.

Date: 2012-01-04 12:59 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jehane-writes.livejournal.com
Loved this, bb. ♥

Date: 2012-01-04 09:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] chemicalwonder.livejournal.com
I was thinking literally yesterday that I should reread all your Undercook fics, not even kidding. :D And now I got a new one! And it was gorgeous. <3 Love how she gradually realized her feelings for him, and of course how good they are together, however that might be. Love it. Thank you for this!

Date: 2012-01-05 12:46 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] poppetawoppet.livejournal.com
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

:D

Date: 2012-01-05 01:13 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] joseishijin.livejournal.com
I am a pile of goo after reading this. PILE OF GOO!

Lovely, beautifully written, and spot on characterizations. Thank you for sharing!

Date: 2012-01-05 05:54 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] james-padfoot.livejournal.com
there are not enough words in the tongues of men, elves, orcs, ents or wizards to describe how lovely this is.
(deleted comment)

Date: 2012-02-23 08:34 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] summerstorm.livejournal.com
Oh, god, I started reading this all casual-like, because it's been in my bookmarks since you posted it, and the beginning was great and I was into it and then Cook offered her a shoulder to cry on and SUDDEN FEELINGS. Cook feelings mostly. And then I got to "Would now be too soon?"/"What took you so long?" and the Cook/Carrie feelings kicked in. I love the pacing here and how steady it is, how consistent the mood and feel of the story is. The domesticity is wonderful and I just love how he's always there for her but he never pushes her and how she flees twice and in the end comes home to him and ugh, my heart. So good.

Date: 2012-12-27 05:11 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] jeanos53.livejournal.com
I love this fic. It's so sweet and I felt all of the feelings. You write them so well!

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