Chapter 8

Team Bartowski vs Love Park

"Let's get you two kids together! Shouldn't be difficult, huh?" Devon Woodcomb

"Everything is not gonna be cool" – Laszlo Mahnovski


Philadelphia Pennsylvania

The Four Seasons Hotel

One Logan Circle
Room 208

On Friday, July 4th, Gertrude and Casey woke early-ish, and slightly after they did, Casey's cell phone gave off its incoming message alarm – the trilling trumpets from the movie "Patton".

Woodcomb D: Sarah and Ellie are hitting the spa 9. I'm hitting the weight room. Anyone care to join?

"Huh", Casey frowned. "Did you know they had had a weight room here?"

Emerging from the bathroom, clad in her terrycloth robe, and toweling off her hair, Gertrude smiled. "Of course, John. Nice hotels sometimes have nice amenities. If you took advantage of my expense account a bit more often, you'd know that."

"Used to rolling on the taxpayers' nickel. They don't pay for nice hotels. Nor should they. Anyways …" He held up his phone. "Devon's checking out the weight room in about an hour. Want to join him? Or walk around and see what we can see?"

"Mmmm." Gertrude pondered. "What's the phrase? Why don't we walk around a bit and when 9:00 rolls around make it a 'game time decision'?"

In short order, Gertrude and Casey were dressed and outside the hotel. Gertrude stopped to admire the statue of Thaddeus Kosciusko that Chuck and Sarah had noticed the day before.

Casey noticed the statue, but even more so noticed Gertrude's worshipful stare at it. "Kosciusko. I've heard the name before, but I don't know why he's a big shot." Casey was used to associating generals with their successful campaigns. Washington had Trenton and Yorktown; Grant had Fort Donaldson and Vicksburg; Meade had Gettysburg; Patton had the Battle of the Bulge, Schwatzkopf had Dessert Storm, Beckman had Operation Bartowski. Slightly frustratingly, Casey couldn't associate Kosciusko with any fight and thus didn't entire understand Gertrude's fascination.

"Well, Gertrude began "Americans know him as an engineer. He didn't lead soldiers in any one fight, but the was behind the scenes at a great many actions, including Saratoga and Fort Ninety Six.. He also had a behind the scenes role in a spy drama. I'm a bit surprised you didn't know it."

"He was a spy?" Casey said, confused.

"No. But spies were interested in his work. He planned and designed the forts around West Point – the very same forts that Benedict Arnold …"
"… tried to sell out to the British." Casey supplied as the connection dawned on him. "Figures," he nodded at the statue of the engineer-general. "The math and science nerds like the engineers know all the secrets and every spy in the world wants to know what they know. I've heard that story before."

Gertrude gestured to the statue. "What's funny is that when that statue was made. Kosciusko was a hero to two countries. But when the Soviet Union broke up. Belarus and Lithuania also claimed him as their own. He's a hero to four, now."

"Hmmm"" Casey said, his arm around Gertrude. "Things change I guess. I've heard that's a good thing." Change indeed. Before long I'll be walking my daughter down the aisle.


Philadelphia Pennsylvania

The Four Seasons Hotel

One Logan Circle
Room 714

Chuck would have preferred to lounge about in bed with Sarah for a while, but she reminded him that she had a spa date with Ellie. Thus they were both dressed by nine, although Chuck was a bit more casual than Sarah in shorts and a t-shirt.

Sarah was just about to put in a request that Chuck shave, when a came a knock at the door … except it wasn't the hall way door, but the connector room door from Ellie Devon and Clara's suite.

"I know who that is!" Sarah declared, and opened up to reveal Ellie, a grinning Clara, and a silent Sir Carmichael. Once more the toddler was fascinated by the concept of the connecting rooms.

"We" Ellie began "were wondering if Uncle Chuck might want to hang out with Clara for an hour for two while mommy and Aunt Sarah go get pretty together." Ellie cast a somewhat apologetic look Chuck's way and explained "They have a really nice gym here, and Devon wanted to check it out. Do you mind babysitting?"

"Not even a little bit." Chuck grinned and came down to peck his niece.

But Clara recoiled in discomfort and revulsion at the touch of Chuck's unshaven face with a sour "Ngggggggg"

Both Ellie and Sarah grinned. "I think that makes it unanimous, Chuck." Ellie gloated. "Never try to grow a beard again. There's not a girl in the world who thinks it works for you."

Chuck was about to open his mouth to protest the point, but was cut off by Sarah. "She's right", she said.

"Really?" Chuck asked in mock horror and shock.

"Really" Sarah said.

"Really?" he asked Ellie.

"Really" Ellie responded.

Turning to Clara, he pouted his bottom lip and asked in a sympathy seeking voice "Really?"

But Clara was in no mood to spare his feelings on this. "Wealwy" she firmly informed him.

"Okay, then I guess I'll shave." Chuck said, rubbing his hand over his stubble. Turning to his wife, he weakly argued "I had about two days' worth coming out of Paris four years ago! You didn't complain then!"

Nonplussed, Sarah simply folded her arms and shrugged once. "Just because I wasn't in the mood to complain then didn't mean I was a fan of it."

Slinging her purse over her shoulder, she bent down to kiss her niece. "Now Clara, I want you to keep an eye on Uncle Chuck. Make sure he doesn't wander off and get himself into trouble. He does that when Aunt Sarah's not around."

"Okay!" Clara grinned, delighted at the idea that she and Sir Carmichael were looking out for Chuck, and not the other way around.

"Great!" Chuck announced. "And I have exactly the movie we could watch. Setting up his laptop, then rummaging through his suitcase, he triumphantly produced … "The History of the Computer Age; Volume 1".

Clara's mouth dropped in shock and disapproval, as Ellie came to the rescue by bopping Chuck on the head with her own DVD. "How's Tangled grab you?"

"Well, okay. I'll set up the Fortress of Clara-tude. You ladies have fun."

Sarah grinned widely as she watched her Chuck rearranged the chairs and table over by the window, and with artful placement of the pillows and the few bath-towels, built a white booth for Clara to sit in while she watched her movie. Chuck could peek in as well, over it.

After Ellie kissed Clara goodbye, the two women strode down the hall, eager to explore the house spa.

As they arrived at the elevators, they were met by Alex. "G'morning!" she smiled cheerily. "I'd thought I'd come down with you girls and see how badly overpriced the manis/pedis were around here."

"Get prepared for some sticker shock," Ellie warned.

Before long, the elevator dinged for the lobby, and the troika of ladies made their way to Eden Indulgence. As the entered, a sudden wave of concern hit Sarah, and she looked in concern at Alex who for the moment was in blissful ignorance of her pregnancy. Sarah took a step or two away from her. "Um, Ellie?" she said with a note of concern.

Glancing back at Sarah, Ellie noticed that her sister in law was subtly drumming her fingers on abdomen, clandestinely informing Ellie that it just dawned on her whether or not a spa treatment was good or bad for an expectant mother.

Ellie noticed the signal for what it was and, mindful of Sarah and Chuck's decision to keep Alex in the dark about it for the time being, slid up to Sarah and whispered into her ear. "Don't worry Sarah – they actually have a mommy-to-be package. Just tell them you're pregnant and they'll scratch a few items off the menu for you, like anything sauna related."

"Thanks Ellie," Sarah whispered back.

Alex continued to busy herself examining the menus as Sarah and Ellie checked in. The attendant than turned her attention to Alex, whose eyes were popping wide at the pricing. "And for you today, miss?"

As politely as possible, Alex smiled and said "Oh, no thank you. I was just scouting prices. I might be back in an hour for a manicure after I get my piggy bank. And possibly for a French wax after I rob an armored truck." Waving good bye to Sarah and Ellie, Ale said "see you in time for the parade?"

"Right!" Ellie agreed, as she and Sarah disappeared into the dressing room. "Logan Square, north side – it's the one with the fountain."

"Great!" Alex chirped. "See you two when you get out!" The dressing room door closed on her friends, and with a gleeful smirk, Alex turned on her heel and charged out of Eden Indulgence.

She suppressed a laugh as she made it to the elevators, as the technicalities of her situation dawned on her – she was happy that one of her best girlfriends was going to be occupied for a while, so that she could sneak up to that girlfriend's hotel room to spend time with that woman's husband. The description made Alex sound a bit sleazier that she actually was, but was technically true.

Not only that, but her current plan was to access the hotel rooms of both of her friends' husbands. Drawing her iPhone from her purse, she quickly detached the plastic protective shell from around it. Decorated with cartoon polar bears, the shell essentially identified Alex's phone as her own. Without the shell, her phone looked the same as any other iPhone.

The elevator dinged for the seventh floor, and Alex perfected her innocent friendly grin as she passed by room 714, and came upon 716, Ellie Devon and Clara's room. Either Devon would fall for her bluff or he wouldn't … Alex decided that it really didn't matter. Although she preferred to confront Chuck while he was by himself, she was confident she could get the truth from him even if Devon were in the room. She knocked on the door to 716.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Chuck felt himself in compliance with the generally accepted rules and regulations of minding a toddler. Clara was safe and content in the pillow and sheet encapsulated Fortress of Clara-tude. There were no heavy objects in the room that Clara was in danger of pulling down upon herself. Sarah's gun was locked up in the safe in hotel room.

There were only two ways Clara could escape from the room. One was through the main door to the hotel hallway – but Chuck had secured that with the chain that was five feet up the edge of the door. The three foot tall Clara couldn't defeat it even if she wanted to. The other possible escape route was the connector door to Elle, Devon, and Clara's suite. But that was a double door, and in order for Clara to use it, both doors would have to be open. There was no way that the wee toddler would be able to muscle both doors without raising all sorts of noise.

Thus, with his niece properly secured, content and watching Tangled, Chuck stepped into the bathroom to shave. He left the bathroom door open just a crack and an ear out for any alarming noises from his niece, and got to work.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-

Devon, dressed in gym attire answered Alex's knock. "Hey Alex! Your dad and Gertrude might be meeting me at the gym! Care to join?"

Flashing her best smile, Alex said, "Thanks, but no. I'm actually on a mission from Sarah." She held up her now generic looking, cover less iPhone. "She brought her phone down with her and was texting Chuck whole way. I swear those two text like pre-teens sometimes. It wasn't 'till she got to the spa that she remembered there's no place for her to put it while she's getting massaged. So she asked if I could run it back to her room. I knocked, but I think either Chuck was in the bathroom, or away from the door, and watching TV with Morgan or …"

"He's babysitting Clara- and Clara can be a bit of a pint sized drama queen. She'll make sure that Chuck's attention is on her and her teddy bear, and whatever movie they're watching."

"Figures." Alex pretended to huff. "I was thinking I could sneak in through the connector door and drop it off."

"Yeah! No prob." Devon volunteered. He went to the sleeping area and swung open the first door of the connecting portal.

"Shhh!" Alex hissed, "I'll surprise him." She pushed in Chuck and Sarah's door, and to her delight found that it was open.

"Okay," Devon said. "I'll lock mine up behind you"

"Have fun at the gym!" Alex chirped.

With feline grace, Alex silently slid into Chuck and Sarah's room. From the bathroom slightly behind her, she could hear the soft scraping sounds of Chuck's shaving, followed by the running of the water. Clara, from her Fortress of Clara-tude, perked up from watching Tangled and smiled at Alex. "Hi!" she waved.

Chuck, having heard, emerged from the bathroom, his vision blocked by the hand towel he was using to dry his face. Alex turned to face him, with her hands on her hips and a confident smile on her face.

"Hey Sarah! Did you forget something? Or did they not let you take your phone into the - - woah! Alex! " Chuck jumped as he brought the towel from his face and the identity of his guest became obvious.

"Hello Chuck" Alex purred smoothly.

Recovering, Chuck deployed his extensive knowledge of music. "I thought you were Sarah. But I say to myself, 'This is not my beautiful wife!'"

Having arrived at the Point of No Return, Alex McHugh committed to getting intel from Chuck Bartowski. "No" she said. "I'm your best friend's beautiful wife-to-be!" Ales worked hard to put on a poker face as she watched for a reaction. Her love's best friend didn't disappoint.

"What!?" Chuck explained in delight. "He proposed!? Alex that's great! I didn't know he was going to do it first thing in the morning!" Quite involuntarily, Chuck looked down at Alex's left hand and then – only then- did he realize that he'd just fallen into a trap that would have made Admiral Akbar howl in despair. Alex's left ring finger was quite empty, and on her pretty face she had the look of a Wheel of Fortune contestant who'd found all she needed to solve the puzzle.

Chuck made an attempt to recover and to play things cool, even though he realized that he'd pretty much given away the whole game. "Hey!" he pouted. "You tried to trick me"

Alex scoffed at his attempt to salvage a stalemate from her victory. "I did trick you. And now that I know 90% of the big secret, I'm here for the rest of it. I want your intel, Chuck."

"Oh?" Chuck replied innocently … "Like what?"

"I know almost everything, Chuck. I know you and Sarah went to the jewelry store to pick up the ring. I know that Morgan left me in the pool yesterday in order to get the ring from you. Don't feel bad Chuck. I figured all this out without you. All you did is confirm it. I'd just like to know when and where."

"Wellllllll what if I say 'no'? What if I want to help my best friend surprise you?"

Alex folded her arms and pouted … it was only slightly an exaggerated expression, as her words had a nucleus of sincerity, and a basis in fact.

"A few things, Chuc-k…" Alex began, emphasizing the k in his name.

A shiver began to wiggle its way up Chuck's spine. Sarah would often pop the k in Chuck's name anytime she was in a confrontational mood and was interested in extracting information or agreements from him. Ellie had been doing the same thing since he was ten years old. Wait a minute … who taught Alex to do that?

"… One. Morgan's horrible at surprises and secrets. His instincts are all wrong. He only knows how to deliver terrible surprises and keep awful secrets, and the nicer secrets he can't keep at all. He's either a success at keeping secrets he shouldn't keep, or not so good at keeping secrets he should. The first time he tried to surprise me was when he cooked for me on that double date with you and Sarah. He said I'd never guess what he was making, even though when I arrived at your place I could smell the homemade sizzling shrimp all over the house."

"That was a fun double date. It was only the second time Sarah met you. She's been a big fan of you and Morgan ever since." If Chuck had any hope of deflecting Alex's verbal onslaught, using Sarah to butter Alex up seemed like a sensible route to go. Besides, the compliment had the advantage of being true.

"It was nice." Alex paused briefly for a smile, but was quickly back to business "My second Morgan surprise was when both he and my dad hid the fact that my dad had just gotten shot from me. I swing by to drop off soup thinking my dad had the sniffles, and he's in a wheelchair! And then the next Morgan-surprise I got was when Sarah's slutty friends came over to visit and that awful Carina woman had her forepaws all over him"

"Wait a minute" Chuck defended. "Sarah's friends aren't slu… well" he paused in thought. "I guess what I mean to say is that I don't know that much about Zondra and Amy to call them 'slutty'." He finished weakly.

"Now credit where credit is due" Alex continued –"One secret that Morgan was able to keep from me was the fun fact that when he you and Sarah were living together my dad was able to come into your house and collect you pretty much at will. Does Valentine's Day 2011 ring a bell? If my dad had come in about five minutes later, he'd have gotten an even bigger eyeful than he did. And trust me Chuck, no woman wants her dad to know that she's just gotten a bikini wax. I'm pretty sure dads don't want to know that stuff either."

"Gah! Ack!" Chuck croaked at the detail. The last time anybody had made Chuck blush this severely this quickly, Sarah was the culprit, and Hawaii was the setting. As he felt the temperature rise from his neck he stumbled weakly. "I think it's really important that I not know things like that too!"

Alex went on "Morgan then surprised me by breaking up with me via text, and I don't think anything else needs to be said about that. Suffice it to say. Morgan's no good at surprises and secrets. If we let him go for absolute surprise on me Morgan Grimes-style, I'm likely to end up hit by a car, poisoned, chopped up into a million pieces, flattened by a 1/2 ton falling safe, or some other horrible Itchy & Scratchy fate."

Chuck briefly considered that Alex was being slightly over dramatic, but he had to admit that Alex's recounting of Morgan's history was generally accurate. His oldest and best friend had many strong qualities, chiefly among them were bravery, loyalty, and an off-the-wall way of thinking, which sometimes came in handy as it was almost by definition outside the box. Morgan had a good heart, and he was one of the best things in Chuck's life.

But critical thinking, taking in the big picture, and discovering the virtues of planning had never been his strong suits. Morgan approached every puzzle and problem with a devil-may-care attitude, and only had three styles of planning- he either over planned, under planned or didn't plan at all. The clever Star Trek II codes they'd come up the current mission was simply more of Morgan being fascinated with cool sounding code names then actual security.

Still, Chuck was nothing if not stubborn, and only 24 hours ago, both he and Sarah were confident that Operation: AlexRing was going smoothly. It seemed to be pretty well planned. It was only the gross misfortune of being nearly robbed and making the news that had spilled the beans to Alex- or so Chuck thought. "Now hold on a second." Chuck protested. "This one was going along pretty well until the news came on last night!"

"It was sweet, and parts of it were well thought out " Alex allowed. "But the part that involved him leaving me at the pool to come meet you guys was amateur hour." Alex grinned. "Normally Morgan can't keep his eyes off of me when I've bought a new bathing suit. That was his big oopise."

Obstinately, Chuck folded his arms and asked "So then. Where does that leave us?"

"Well," Alex said confidently, her hands once more on her hips. "I say we can do things the easy way or the hard way. The easy way goes like this: You tell me everything you know about the rest of Morgan's plan. I spend the next few hours perfecting my happy surprised face. He proposes, I say yes. He makes you best man, I make Sarah a bridesmaid, we lose Jeff and Lester's invitations in the mail, and we all grow old, senile and die without Morgan ever learning that this conversation took place. Doesn't that sound nice?"

"Hmm. Not thrilled about that first part where I tell you everything." Chuck said glumly "What did you have in mind for the hard way?"

"Oh, don't worry." Alex continued her smile "You still come out of it smelling like a rose. The hard way is I go down and confront Morgan myself. I tell him how much I already know, and hint that he might as well propose right there in our room. I also tell him that you didn't break, so he stays very proud of you, even if he's a little bummed out that the secret's out."

A LITTLE bummed out? Chuck's jaw dropped in horror. "Alex that's SO mean! You wouldn't do that. In fact I say you're bluffing."

"Oh no I'm not." Alex held his stare. "And c'mon Chuck, gimmie a little credit. I'll make it painless for him. In fact … if you don't want to play ball, I'll go down there, hang out the Do Not Disturb sign, and seduce the living hell out of him. In two minutes he'll tell me everything, and I'll spend the next hour making him happy he did. We'll be late to the parade with big smiles on our faces, and me with the ring on."

"Well why are you calling that the 'hard' way? If you're so hell bent on spoiling the surprise, you can just do that." Chuck challenged.

Alex allowed a thoughtful smile "Because I think it'd be nice to let Morgan have the illusion that his sweet romantic plan worked. Morgan's not anywhere near the secret keeper that he thinks he is, but trust me- he's every bit the romantic sweetie pie that he thinks he is."

Chuck sighed. There seemed to be very little he could do to prevent Alex from having her way. Sitting down on the bed in defeat, he said "You know he really is good at the romantic stuff. He's even better than me. He helped me plan the perfect proposal for Sarah … twice. The fact that they both got messed up wasn't his fault. Or mine. It would be nice to let him think a proposal plan came together for a change."

Sensing decisive victory, Alex turned on the sweetness. "Of course it would , Chuck. And we're going to make it happen for him. Now tell me when and where he was planning."

Giving up all hopes and attempts to dissuade Alex, Chuck just shrugged. "Okay. Yeah, Sarah and I picked up the ring yesterday. Morgan has it now. When he left you at the pool, that was him coming down to pick up the ring so he could show your dad and ask for his blessing."

"Oh did he now?" Alex arched an eyebrow.

Chuck couldn't tell if her expression was amused or annoyed, so his answer covered for both. "Yes he did, and you are not allowed to give him a hard time over that, by the way. It doesn't matter how old fashioned it seems, but if a guy wants to ask the guys in his wife-to-be's family for their support, that's his call. Devon did it when he wanted to ask Ellie, and Big Mike did it when he asked Bolonia. It's tough enough asking a girl to marry you in every event, so it's nice to know what you're dealing when it comes to how the guys are going to react to the news."

"Huh, so when I break the news to everyone, my dad already has the heads up." Alex groused a little.

"Yes. In fact you're going promise me that you're never going to give Morgan grief over that, or no more juicy tidbits from me."

"Okay, fine. Morgan's off that little hook. I promise." Alex said. "Now you were saying something about juicy tidbits."

"Okay so Morgan has the ring, and your dad's blessing. Now all he's been thinking about is the right time and place. The place is something I've been helping him work on. Now, yesterday, Sarah and I discovered this place called Love Park. It's got this funny sculpture of the word "LOVE", a fountain, and a view of the Ben Franklin Parkway. Sarah took a selfie of the two of us yesterday. Morgan has a few other ideas of cool places in town, but a lot of them are going to have a parade marching through them tomorrow, so Love Park is probably the best option. In fact …" Chuck leaned over to the night table and grabbed his iPhone. "Here's what it looks like" he swiped through to his and Sarah's Love Park selfie. "I showed it to him last night and he thought it was great. It might be the big winner."

Alex smiled broadly. "Oh that does look nice! Where is this place?"

"Just two blocks or so down the parkway. It's like a five minute walk from this hotel"

"Oh wow. That does look perfect. Any idea of when he plans on asking?"

""Now that … he didn't tell me" Chuck admitted. "The best bet is probably before the parade starts, since the schedule goes parade – concert- fireworks. And of course the fireworks are at night."

A look of concern passed over Alex's face. "Does he know the schedule? It'd be a shame if he wanted to wait for the fireworks and then found out it was too dark to do anything."

Chuck nodded to Clara, as content as ever watching Tangled. "I sent it to him this morning right after I set Clara up over there. And that's pretty much all I've been let in on. Sarah and my big job was to grab the ring so that you wouldn't have to see him near a jewelry store. Most of the rest is in Morgan's hands."

Alex clapped once in glee. "Oh thank you Chuck! You're so sweet. Not just for telling me but for all of this- helping Morgan with his proposal plan. It's really sweet and romantic. Sarah's such a lucky woman." Alex threw her arms around Chuck's neck and kissed him on the cheek.

"Don't tell Sarah I did that" she said once she'd broken off the kiss. "I don't want to make her jealous – and I know she has a jealous streak. I don't blame her. I'd be jealous too. But do tell her that at the wedding she's going to have to share you a little, jealous streak or no. Me and all my bridesmaids are going to want to dance with the tallest groomsman at least once."

"Well, Chuck said, rising from the bed. "I don't tell if you don't tell Morgan. I don't want to make him jealous. He and I never fought over a girl, and I don't want to start now.

"I won't!" Alex promised. "I probably better go. Morgan might be up by now."

"Good idea" Chuck said. "And Alex – take good care of Morgan. He's been my best friend since we were six, and he's just as much a brother to me as Devon is."

"Oh I will!" Alex said. "I promise!"

Flushed with success, Alex practically bounded down the hallway to the elevator, and was on cloud nine as she made her way to her and Morgan's hotel room. Sure enough, Morgan had arisen, and sleepily mumbled "How was the spa?"

"Oh, I only walked Sarah and Ellie down." Alex corrected. "I so can't afford those kinds of prices to get pretty."

"Heyyyyyy" Morgan said, wrapping her in his arms. "You don't need no spa to be the most beautiful girl in town."

"Awwww, you're sweet," Alex smiled. "But I think we all know who collects all the attention when Ellie or Sarah are in the house."

"Mmmmmm. Not from me they don't." Morgan said sincerely.

Alex kissed Morgan, reveling in the fact that it'd be among the last times she'd kiss him as "girlfriend" – and mentally began planning a stroll down the Parkway to Love Park where she could accept her hard won promotion to "fiance".

The end of Tangled coincided with the return of Ellie and Sarah. Chuck kissed his wife … somewhat awkwardly. He loved it when Sarah went to the spa – it was one of her favorite things – but he was never too sure whether or not he should complement her appearance afterwards or not. Fortunately Sarah's body language told him that she was indeed expecting a compliment. He stepped back and noticed that her makeup was perfect. "Oh they did your eyes! You look beautiful! Clara!" he called over to his niece. "Don't your mommy and Aunt Sarah look pretty?"

Ellie had by now scooped up Clara from the Fortress of Claratude and was holding her. Clara looked at both women and passed her judgments. "AnSawah pwetty! Mommy ahsome!"

It earned laughs from both Chuck and Sarah and a smile from Ellie. "I have no idea where she picks up these words" she protested.

"Yeah yeah" Chuck grinned. "It's an impenetrable riddle""

Clara in arms, Ellie stepped next to her little brother, and pecked his cheek. "Sarah spilled it last night! I can't wait to be an aunt! And Clara doesn't know it yet, but she's going to be the best big cousin ever!"

Sarah was smiling but serious. "Remember, we don't tell anybody until tomorrow. Today's all about Morgan and Alex."

"It's okay. Secret's safe. " Ellie said – just as there was a knock through the connecting doors.

"Yoooo! Lobby in 20 minutes?" came Devon's voice "It's almost parade time!"

The three conspirators grinned in excitement, thrilled for Morgan and Alex, and excited that the parade's start meant that the clock was indeed ticking.


Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Logan Square

With the exception of the odd police motorcycle and or police bicycle, The Ben Franklin Parkway around Logan square was cleared for the parade, and the gigantic crowd of parade-watchers were finding their places. There had to be hundreds of thousands of people lining the mile long parkway, chatting on their phones, getting their cameras ready, posing for pictures amongst the parkways many statues and monuments, patronizing the hot dog and soft pretzel stands, and generally enjoying the hot summer day.

Devon, Clara and Sir Carmichael formed a an almost 9 foot tall tower of adult, toddler, and teddy bear as Devon held Clara on his shoulders, while Clara mimicked the stance with Sir Carmichael. Ellie held the family camera and snapped a few pictures of Devon and Clara, and also of Chuck and Sarah as they posed by the Swann fountain in the center of Logan Square. When Casey and Gertrude arrived, Ellie offered to take pictures of them as well. Gertrude agreed, and Casey. .. while not enthused, made no protest.

Sarah relaxed and held Chuck's hand – a holiday parade was something so wonderful, so calm, s normal, and spending it with her now-growing family was a perfect example of what she had been missing as she grew up, had been missing as she worked in the CIA, and now had all for herself forever. Warm and content, she pecked Chuck's cheek.

"Mmm." Chuck said appreciatively. "What brought that on?"

"No reason" she lied.

"Ohhh!" Chuck's attention snapped across the square by the hotel's entrance. "Bogies outbound!"

Despite the crowd, Chuck and Sarah could pick out Morgan and Alex. Devon waved his arm to get Morgan's attention. "Clara! Wave for Uncle Morgan!" Devon insisted.

"Um, Devon" Sarah interrupted. "Alex and Morgan know where to find us. I think they might want to take a little walk first." She shared a conspiratorial hand squeeze with Chuck, as sure enough, Morgan held Alex by the hand and softly tugged her to the southeast – down the Parkway and towards Love Park, some two blocks distant.

With a delighted, almost mischievous smile, Sarah cocked her head and asked "you wanna?"

With a twinkle in his own eyes, Chuck asked "You mean … be spies again?"

"Absolutely" Sarah declared, tugging gently on Chuck's hand and led him down the Parkway, following, but on the opposite side f the roadway, the better to stay out of sight from Morgan and Alex. Not, Chuck supposed, that they'd truly need to put much effort in remaining unobserved – Morgan and Alex would surely have more important things to think about.

Indeed it was true, Chuck saw to his dismay. Considerably taller than Morgan, Alex, or even Sarah, Chuck was able to see the obstacle that would demolish Morgan's plan before any of the other three.

"Oh, no." he groaned to Sarah.


Philadelphia Pennsylvania

Ben Franklin Parkway, just NW of Love Park

All of Alex's energies were directed into maintaining the illusion of serenity. They were heading towards Love Park, just as Chuck said they would, and Morgan's palm was sweaty. Alex was beginning to wonder if satisfying her curiosities and insisting on learning about Morgan's proposal plan was now really worth the stress involved in hiding her mounting excitement. But still, there truly was something to be said before being forewarned, and knowing what would be at the end of this little trip. Her left ring finger was practically tingling in anticipation.

As they approached Love Park, the crowds got larger and thicker, and neither Morgan or Alex were particularly tall. They didn't have the optimal view of where they were headed, and so what they encountered next was an awful surprise.

Morgan arrived at the curb along 16th street, the western boundary of Love Park/JFK Plaza when he found his and Alex's pathway blocked by two Philadelphia Police officers, clad in their yellow bike shirts and blue helmets, and using their bicycles as four foot wide roadblocks. They weren't alone either – an entire detachment of PPD officers, clearly on crowd control duty, lined all the way up 16th street. Police cars with their emergency lights flickering made it quite clear that 16ht street - and Love Park behind it was closed for business.

Morgan's jaw dropped in horror. Just across the street, he could see Love Park – he couldn't see the sculpture, but he could see the fountain that showed up in Chuck's picture. They were so close and yet so far.

Hoping against hope, Morgan approached the officer nearest him "Excuse me, sir, but is the park closed for some reason."

The officer shook his head with forced politeness, as one who had answered the same question over and over again would be wont to do. "I'm sorry, sir, but the park is off limits to anyone not in the parade. It's the staging ground and muster point."

Morgan leaned to the side to try to see past the policeman, Indeed Love Park was full and busy. High school marching bands were forming up, and balloons were inflating. Reinactors from every major era in US military history were falling into formation.

With a pathetically congenial smile, Morgan asked the officer "We can't sneak in there for just a picture?"

"I'm sorry sir, I can't let you do that." The officer said his tone neither cold or unfriendly, nor overly sympathetic.

"Any idea when we can get into the park?"

"Tough to say," the cop responded. "It's closed from now until the end of the parade. Probably for the concert too – a lot of the power for the lights is going to be back there."

Morgan slumped his shoulders, and looked helplessly at the part of the Love Park fountain water spray that he could see. Love Park was clearly the staging ground for the parade. A look up and down 16th street confirmed it – there simply was no accessible way to the park through the blue and yellow wall of Philadelphia police.

The alternative possibilities promenaded through Morgan's mind – only to die quick painless deaths on entry. The Franklin institute was out- it was on the parade route. The Swann fountain was too crowded. The Art Museum was where the parade ended. All good possibilities were now disqualified – the right place was simply not available.

Thank heaven Alex didn't know anything about the proposal plan, or she'd be just as disappointed as he was.

"Well," Morgan said. "I guess we should go back to see the parade" putting on a brave face.

"Um … yeah" Alex said, gamely trying to hide her disappointment. It was both difficult and awkward trying to hold her disappointment in for the cancellation of an event she wasn't even supposed to know about. She took two deep breaths, and allowed Morgan to tug her by the hand back up the Ben Franklin Parkway.

"Ugh!" Chuck groaned in dismay. "Morgan's plan's messed up!"

By now Sarah could also see the police blockade around Love Park. She wasn't overly concerned though. "Oh. Poor Morgan. Maybe he and Alex can sneak back tomorrow after the parade."

"Uh, Sarah. That wouldn't be so bad … except that Alex kind of, sort of knows that Morgan's going to propose. She was in our room when you and El were at the spa. And she kind of got everything out of me."

"She did what?" Sarah cried out in alarm before turning her head across the street. Sure enough, Morgan and Alex were in full retreat from the park, both their shoulders slumped in disappointment. "Chuck- how much does she know?"

"Pretty much everything." At the appalled look Sarah shot him next, "What? She came in and threatened to get the info out of Morgan!" He suddenly got slightly defensive "Hey, it's not like Ellie wasn't able to get a secret out of you when she wanted."

Sarah huffed. "Poor Alex. Now that she knows what was supposed to happen, she's going to be devastated."

"Ugh." Chuck said. "Morg's plan was perfect. The perfect time … the perfect spot …" and then immediately a torrent of memories flooded him, as surely as if he flashed. "I know what Morgan needs."

"What?" Sarah asked, still looking across the street at her two upset friends.

"A new plan." Chuck said, withdrawing his cell phone. "A Morgan plan. That is to say, no plan at all."

Morgan glumly wondered where the day's catastrophe meant to the proposal plan. He had really wanted this parade and fireworks show to be his and Alex's first event as an engaged couple. Casey and Gertrude would be there, Ellie and Devon, Chuck and Sarah – having all his friends around seemed so right and natural. Oh, he'd pull off a decent proposal … but the timing for today was shot to pieces. He sighed for what felt like the hundredth time since leaving 16th street.

Just then his phone vibrated in his pocket. Grateful for something, anything to take his mind off of the problem, he pulled out the phone.

RedShirtCB:

You don't need the perfect time. You don't need the perfect spot. All you need is ALEX! DO IT NOW! You can do this. You got this.

Morgan's breath caught in his throat. His best friend was right. If the most important thing was making Alex his fiancé today, before the parade started, then it didn't matter where. And it didn't matter exactly when.

Alex had perfected her brave face and was, she felt, successful at hiding her disappointment. They were now back near the Four Seasons, just across from Logan Square and the Swann fountain, and at the foot of the Thaddeus Koskuisko statue when Alex felt a strong tug on her hand.

Morgan whirled Alex around to face him and said "Alex. I can't hold this in anymore. I love you. I'm in love with you. I want to marry you and I want today to be our first holiday together as an engaged couple."

Alex's mouth flew open in absolute shock. Speechless, she looked into her boyfriend's eyes, wet and shiny with sincerity. His right hand holding onto hers … but his left hand held a small crimson jewelry box. "Morgan …"" Alex gasped out. What are you saying? was the thought she had wanted to continue- but the words simply failed her, and her throat closed up with emotion. The only feeble sounds he could croak out were "Morgan … wha ?"

But Morgan was already sinking down to his right knee, and bringing his ring box holding hand out in front of her. With a dexterous snap of his thumb, Morgan opened the box so that Alex could see it in all its sparkly glory.

"Alex, I love you. Will you marry me?" Whereas yesterday, when he spoke with Casey, Morgan could feel his fortitude draining away like water from a bathtub, now Morgan felt nothing but brave in asking Alex for her love. The look on her face was something he knew he'd always treasure, a look of shock, a winded gasp, and a warm glow of adoration. Maybe this is the perfect surprise after all.

In contrast, for Alex, the clock was quickly ticking on her composure. Everything besides her and Morgan seemed to fade away into blackness, and for the moment nothing else mattered, not the heat of the noonday sun, not the crowd of strangers around them- a few of whom were appreciating the romantic spectacle in front of them-, not the fact that Morgan's proposal was entirely different from what she had been led to expect from Chuck, and not the fact that they were on a small concrete island with a larger then-life-statue of a Revolutionary War officer. There was Morgan –her Morgan - looking up at her with a worshipful gaze, asking her to be his forever. The tears began leaking from her eyes as she said "Yes."

Morgan was up on his feet like a shot, and the pair embraced right there by the Kosciusko statue, sharing their first engaged kiss, to a smattering of applause from the few strangers who noticed the proposal, while the majority of the crowed craned their necks for the start of the parade.

It was Morgan who broke the spell. "We better cross the street and find everyone else!" This they did, with only moments to spare before the parade commenced, which would have sealed off the parkway to street crossing traffic.

There, at Logan Square the engaged couple collected hugs, kisses and high fives from Ellie, Devon, Casey Gertrude, and Chuck and Sarah, who had just rejoined the throng. Clara and Sir Carmichael were only mildly interested, and from their perch on Devon's shoulders were the first ones to see the first float of the parade trundle by.

The Fourth of July Parade was all of the excitement, style and history one could expect from the city where the US was invented. There were detachments from the Philadelphia Fire Department, and the Philly Police, their respective commissioners riding in old fashioned vehicles for the occasion. The governor of Pennsylvania and the mayor of Philadelphia promenaded in top hats and ceremonial sashes. The reigning Miss Pennsylvania and Miss Philadelphia had a float all to themselves, and legions of high school marching bands belted out patriotic songs and marched snappily to their cadencies. The Air Force scheduled a fly-by by from a C-5 Galaxy that was so gigantic it cast its shadow along every parade marcher. All manner of patriotic and public service groups from the Chamber of Commerce to the Veterans of Foreign Wars to the USO to the Red Cross all had their place in the parade. Reinactors in all sorts of uniforms from every era of US history marched up the Parkway towards the Art Museum.

After a parade, a lengthy concert began as the sun sank and the air cooled. The shadows began to lengthen and the day turned to twilight as the concert wrapped up. The fireworks began and lit up the sky for 20 minutes … and Chuck, Sarah Ellie and Devon were impressed by the fact that Clara was thrilled, not frightened by the explosions, even the really loud ones. Chuck and Sarah, as well as Morgan and Alex stole many kisses during both the concert and the fireworks.

Afterwards as the … nine (not including unborns and teddybears) made their way back to the Four Seasons, Alex and Morgan had their first engaged squabble, albeit a very tame one.

"I gotta admit Morgan, you really came through on the surprise. I was sure you were going to do it in Love Park" Alex purred to her fiancé.

"What? You knew?! Argh!" Morgan growled. "I was working so hard on the surprise!"

"Mor-gan" Alex gently demanded, putting her hands on Morgan's cheeks. "My daddy's a spy, one of my best friends is a spy, who's married to another spy, and my amazing fiancé's a spy. What made you think I didn't pick up any spy skills?" A soft peck on his lips mollified most of Morgan's anger. "I'll be in our room, on the phone with a bunch of my girlfriends!" she chirped as she skipped ahead.

Morgan watched his fiancé skip ahead of him, and hung back for the rest of his friends to catch up. Devon and Ellie got there first, followed swiftly by Sarah and Chuck.

"It's a good thing" Morgan began "that my plan got shot to pieces – Alex seemed to have figured it all out. I don't get it! We had it all planned out! It was perfect! We even came up with Star Trek II code names!"

It was Devon who reassured him first "Dude, at the end of the day you're marrying a gal that's a little bit smarter than you. Take it from one who knows, that's a good thing. We'll score this a good day." That earned him a hug from behind from Ellie.

"Two who know" Chuck reinforced. "Besides – you're not supposed to be all that good at keeping secrets from Alex anyway."

That earned Chuck a slap on the behind from Sarah. "Now you've figured it out" she purred. Drawing close along Chuck's side, Sarah whispered into Chuck's ear. "Let's put some thought as to when we want to tell everyone our news. Sometime tomorrow? Lunch? Dinner?"

Meanwhile, Devon embraced Ellie from behind and whispered into her ear, holding Clara's hand in one of his "So you were in on the whole thing" he affectionately growled at her. "So that's why we're sitting on our good news." Moving his hand down to Ellie's tummy, he asked "Does that mean we have the green light to make our announcement sometime tomorrow?"

Ellie grinned, deliberately slowing a step so that she leaned back in Devon's embrace. Glancing at Sarah, the other mommy-to-be in the family, she said "Mmmm, we'll have to see exactly when. But definitely sometime tomorrow, I want everyone around when we tell this time."

Starting with Alex, the team of twelve – Alex, Morgan, Chuck, Sarah, Casey, Gertrude, Ellie, Devon, Clara, Sir Carmichael, and the tiny Bartowski and Woodcomb to-be-named later, made their way back into the Four Seasons. Tomorrow would bring Honey and Woodrow's party in Rittenhouse Square as well as several key announcements. As the doors to the Four Seasons swished open, Philadelphia's cleanup crews began their work along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The End


A/N: Well that was first multi-chapter story that I actually completed. When the idea first struck me around the Fourth of July I was convinced that it was going to be a nice short piece of fluff done a little bit after the Fourth—it ended up being a much larger piece of fluff that took me until the day after Halloween! Thank you to all my followers who encouraged me. If you've enjoyed, please don't forget to review. If you've never written a story, you'd probably be surprised to know how very much it means to we writers. Like Morgan said in "Chuck vs. The Suitcase" – A little acknowledgement goes a long way!