Cartoon Balloons


AUTHOR: Missy
EMAIL: HIMH@aol.com
CATEGORY: Romance, Slice-of-life (SL/Other -Chuck-)
RATING: PG (Mild Language)
SPOILERS: Uses Freefall canon, partial "Get Carter" Spoilers
DISCLAIMER: All characters owned and created by various parties, NBC, Amblin, Constant C.
AUTHOR'S NOTES: Lyrics from Elton John's "Levon", written by Bernie Taupin. Used without permission, no infringements meant.
SUMMARY: Chuck comes home early from a shift to an unexpected surprise



He shuffled toward his apartment like a man who had recently had his back flayed open. True enough, though he wanted to pretend that Susan had backed off on breaking up with him because of his magnetic personality.

That personality wasn't winning him any friends today. The second he answered his page the other medics had noticed his hunched stance and the unusual shuffle of his feet. They wouldn't let him bored, even after he had tried to tell them to chill out about it. Somehow it slipped out that he had only been out of bed for the previous two days he had been sent home, with instructions to wait until the incisions had healed fully.

He rifled through the mail, separating his from Susan's. Not being one to pry, he only noticed furtively that there was a letter from Chloe. The infamous Chloe, whom he had only heard about in whispered nighttime conversations with his girlfriend. As though Little Suzie's mom was a nightmare figure emerging from deep within Susan's psyche.

Observant eyes noticed the door was slightly ajar. The sound of a television blaring Bugs Bunny's hyper kinetic theme from within confirmed that someone was in the apartment, and it wasn't Susan.

Chuck searched his immediate area for a small shield, a bit of protection. He settled for grabbing the welcome mat and carefully peeling the door open.

At first glance, nothing in the apartment was amiss. A quart of milk and a box of cereal sat, open, on the counter. His burglars wanted a light afternoon snack?

Then he saw it; a small figure, watching Loony Tunes on the couch. It took him a moment to put two and two together, to drop the welcome mat.

He smiled awkwardly at the little girl in overalls. "Hi."

"Hi." She smiled, then shoveled more of the cereal into her mouth.

"Uh - my name is Chuck. Do Miss Lewis or I know your parents?"

"Yes."

He wracked his brain in search of the girl's name, her face, but came up blank. "What's your mom and dad's last name? Do they know you're up here?"

"Uh-huh."

He was tempted to reach over and turn off the TV, but it was Bugs Bunny, and no one turned off Bugs. "What's your first name, sweetie?"

Her blue eyes regarded him with confusion. "The same as Miss Lewis'."

Clarity came to Chuck, delivered as sharply as a frying pan to Wilie Coyote's head. "You're Little Suzie."

She nodded her head, bright as a penny.

"My name's Chuck." He offered her a palm that dwarfed hers.

"Oh, you're Aunt Susan's boyfriend."

He supposed, technically, that was what he was. Swiping aside his ego, he moved on, "Yeah, and I'm in charge until she comes home." Susan had been called two hours before he had been, and to his disappointment she would probably be working long after he went to bed.

"Okay," she said, in the most affable way. As though this happened to her all the time. "What do you do for fun?"

Chuck thought for a moment. The first thought that floated into his mind was that Susan would kill him if she knew that he'd let the girl go without a decent dinner.

"We eat Spaghetti-O's!"

Her eyes lit up, and he said a silent thank-you prayer to whichever deity that had sent him into the canned food aisle the week before. Spaghetti-O's were emergency food, not Susan's favorite, but a comfort staple from his childhood that had gotten him through his teenage years.

"Okay, while I make some, why don't you..." His eyes fell to a Hello Kitty backpack sitting beside her. "Do your homework?"

"All finished." She said. The kid was in first grade, so he wasn't shocked it was done; he didn't even want to know how long she had been sitting in the apartment by herself.

"Uh, do you have any coloring books?"

"Coloring books are for babies."

"Crayons?"

"Yup, and paper."

"If you come sit at the kitchen table, you can draw and I can make you dinner."

He was more relieved than happy when she jumped off the couch, dragging her backpack behind.

***

Chuck judiciously watched the dinosaur-shaped noodles bubble, stirring with a plastic spoon to try and evenly spread the heat.

He kept a close eye on Little Suzie, whose bowed head never seemed to lift from the plain white sheets set before her. He wondered how often the little girl was left alone at her parent's home. She seemed inordinately able to entertain herself in complete silence, and he could only compare it to his own childhood, which had been filled with yelling and running and jumping.

He turned the heat off, then spooned the pasta into a bowl before rinsing out the pan. He and Susan had a rule; whenever one of them was alone in the apartment, they cleaned up after themselves. A good system; it avoided the sudden stench of moldy dishes and rotting garbage. He turned to Suzie with a full bowl.

The process of drawing had absorbed her attention, and when he leaned over he noticed objects that were almost recognizable; violet-shaded lumps, light red strands, and four figures standing at the base of those strands.

"That's cute, Suzie. Those are...mountains?" He hoped to God they were.

"Yep! And this is the Golden Gate Bridge. I grew up in San Francisco." She explained, very patiently.

"I know. Your Aunt Susan told me that." He said, with gravity in return. She had also told him quite a few things that were far less pleasant. "And that's your dad...and that's your mom...and that's you...is that Susan?"

She nodded, seemingly relieved to be understood. "Do you draw?"

"Yeah, when I was a kid like you."

"Do you do it anymore?"

He couldn't say that he had tried it in awhile, but he guessed that one never outdrew playing with crayons. "I will if you say so."

"Okay, come draw with me."

He sat the bowl down and picked up a black crayon. It felt odd between his fingers, as though somehow crayons had shrunken since his own childhood.

"Susie," he said suddenly. "Did your mommy say why she was bringing you here?"

She nodded. "Grandma's sick."

He deduced that this was Chloe's husband's mother, and returned to his drawing.

***

Chuck mused to himself that eating cold Spaghetti-O's couldn't be too bad for a child. He made himself a ham sandwich, making the day's regression into childhood complete.

He ate on the couch while she read from one of the Laura Ingles Wilder books. Chuck's experiences with Mrs. Wilder were entirely influenced by force; of being in second grade and required to give a report on one of the volumes. He had been muleheaded at that age, and had refused to do so with such adminance that he had gotten detention for a week. He was still somewhat proud of having stuck to his guns; Wilder's world had been so focused so on cooking and cleaning as it was, he was unable to relate to it.

"What are you up to?"

"The bear part."

Bear part? He'd forgotten the bear part. "What about the bears?"

She sighed indulgently, but read it to him anyway. The words were so fascinating that he quickly forgot his old prejudice.

***

Susan Lewis checked her watch as she turned the lock. It was only midnight, far earlier than she was expected. Morning sickness had a way of cleaning the room...afternoon sickness, too.

When she opened the door, she was struck by the unmistakable sound of Chuck's voice.

"Levon wears his war wound like a crown...He calls his child Jesus...'Cause he likes the name..."

Singing?

Again?

She followed the sound of his voice to the couch.

"And he sends him to the finest school in town..."

Confusion beset her. He was singing very softly, and rocking someone...something? In his lap. She peered in the darkness of the room. She couldn't mistake the soft head of hair, nor the gentleness of Chuck's tone.

"Levon, Levon likes his money...He makes a lot they say" He turned his head, careful not to move Little Susie's slack weight from his chest.

"How long?" She mouthed.

He glanced at his watch. "Six hours." He mouthed back, then turned back to Suzie and continued the song.

Susan's eyes widened, mind flying to Chloe, wondering what the hell could be happening to her sister this time.

Damn her! That knack she had for wrecking Suan's fortitude, her sense of security, held true.

"Spend his days counting...In a garage by the motorway..."

Chuck's voice, however, was making it impossible for her to be very mad. He even pronounced 'garage' like Sir Elton did on the record.

"Table." He mouthed, and she noticed the pile of mail. Chloe's excuse was probably there. She imagined Chloe's panicked flight and even began to feel guilty. Probably a family emergency, she reasoned.

He noticed her gaze and shook his head, pointing to another spot on the table. She focused on two pieces of paper; one held a drawing of a little girl standing under a bridge.

The other was a man with red hair holding a blonde-haired woman, surrounded by red hearts.

Warmth flooded into Susan's cold night. She knew, now, that she had made the right decision.

She would just wait a day to tell him.

She brushed aside the ruddy locks framing his forehead and pressed a kiss to the soft ridges there.

He seemed surprised. "What was that for?" He whispered.

"You're going to be a great dad."

He smirked. "Someday, Sooz."

His observant eyes, honed to steeliness after years of searching for pulses and signs of life, picked over her face. She seemed different today, in a wonderful way. Radiant. He couldn't quite describe it.

She carefully sat at Susie's feet, stroking the face of the sleeping child. Her peace was as fragile as a rubber surface, and one little pin could send it apart. Wasn't it justice that she had Chuck to help her sing along?

"He was born a pauper to a pawn...on a Christmas day...When the New York Times said God is dead And the war's begun...Alvin Tostig has a son today...And he shall be Levon...And he shall be a good man..."




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