She is relentless.
Her determination shows in the exhaustive way she haunts me, making herself known to me at every turn without showing her face a single time. She exists in every emptied account, every cancelled contract, every former contact whose face now flashes with fear at the sight of my approach. It is not me that they fear.
She is brilliant.
She takes her time, dismantling my life slowly and in sequence. First my money, then my jobs, then my places of refuge until after eight months I am well and truly on my own. There is the occasional hidden reserve of cash that she clearly allows me to keep, in order to keep my flight from her active. I do my best to remain entertaining. It is the one reason I am still alive.
She is angry.
This, I of course know. But there is a deeply personal element to what she is doing to my life that becomes clearer every day. This is not the cool detachment I've grown used to in my career, where names are given with envelopes and account numbers and lives end without feeling or remorse. This is intimate, a result of thorough examination into every corner of my life. The information is used in the most creative and effective ways possible. She toys with me, lets me become just barely comfortable in a life and location before nudging me out with a target painted in burned apartments and clipped brake lines.
She is coming.
It will be today. I can feel it.
One year to the day after I pulled a trigger for the last time in my life, I have sense enough to go as far underground as I can. Scraping together the last bits of my funds, I fly under one of my remaining good aliases to Tijuana, then a bus to Ensenada, and finally the bed of a pickup truck to San Quintin. I pay cash for a tiny room with a kitchenette, and when I open the door she is there.
Chuck vs the Last Request
She'll Find You
Closing the door behind me, I set my duffel bag on the floor. She sits, casually, at the kitchen table. We stare at each other for a long moment. It's a strange end to the last year, a year during which I've run to the best of my ability and yet it seems she's barely had to chase.
"He said you were beautiful," I finally force out.
She silences me with a hand held up, palm to me. "Not yet. We'll get to that. Sit down." She gestures to a chair next to the bed. I do as I'm told.
"You know why I'm here." It's not a question.
"All right, then. Tell me why I'm here."
"You're here to kill me."
She cocks her head, purses her lips a bit. Disappointment. "Eventually," she says. "It's going to take a long time. We're not going to start yet. Soon."
And all at once, every hopeful thought I'd stored away over the past year – every delusion that there would be some sort of mercy, a judgment that the months of agony have been punishment enough, or even a quick and painless end – disintegrates and crumbles to make way for the harsh reality of what now awaits me.
"It's funny. I almost didn't want to do this today. The whole 'one year to the day' thing," she says, gesturing vaguely. "It's so maudlin. But to be honest, you were starting to bore me." She sets a leather case on the kitchen table. It doesn't take much imagination to guess what is inside.
"I wasn't supposed to love him," she says, matter-of-factly. It throws me, the way she says it. She runs her fingers lazily along the edge of the leather case as her voice softens.
"I was only supposed to watch over him, but I loved him instead. We sat on a picnic table one night," she says, "not too long after we first met. Ate birthday cake." She smiles a bit at the memory and is lost in it for a moment. "He wasn't supposed to know a single real thing about me, but I couldn't help telling him one night that the next day was my birthday. He dragged me to a store so he could buy a cake and candles. Dragged me to a park so I could make a wish at midnight. And I wished for us to be together, and we ate birthday cake, and eventually the wish came true."
Her voice goes hard, as she looks at me pointedly. "For a while."
I open my mouth to say something, but no words come out. Nothing useful comes to mind. "Now you tell me a story," she says, almost cheerily. But her tone darkens immediately. "Tell me about Agioritika."
The name falls easily from her lips. And I understand immediately what she means, what she wants from me.
"I'd made it to Greece. Had a contact there who swore he'd help me in exchange for… some work. I had one last account that hadn't been emptied yet. I thought if I could just make it to Tripoli, get this job done, that I could start building my life up again. I figured it was my last chance. That things were about to get very bad otherwise."
She nods, as if very interested in my story, as if she doesn't know how it ends. "And how did it go?"
"My contact in Tripoli wasn't in his apartment. Just blood everywhere. One of my rifles, one that had gone missing a few weeks before, was in the bedroom."
"Oh. That must have been troublesome."
"The police had the building surrounded. They'd been called already."
"I had to jump to the next roof, then down to the ground. Fractured my ankle. There was a car with the keys in the ignition right next to me, though."
"Imagine the luck."
"I was able to slip away in the car, and made it to Agioritika. Small enough little village that I figured the police wouldn't look for me. Paid off the locals to help me, put me up in an abandoned house, get an old doctor to put a cast on my ankle."
"Well, it sounds like it turned out just fine, then," she says brightly. "Did it? Turn out fine, I mean?"
"For a while."
She leans in, as if enthralled. "What happened?"
A lump rises in my throat. "The car I'd used… started to smell. The locals… they opened the trunk."
She covers her mouth, exaggeratedly. "What on earth was in the trunk?"
"My contact from Tripoli."
"Ooh. That is unfortunate."
"I spent a week in a jail in Athens. They tried to beat a confession out of me."
"But you stayed strong, didn't you? Didn't give in. Tough little soldier."
"No. I confessed. But the night before my trial one of the guards dragged me out in a laundry bag and stuffed me into a trunk. I woke up at the seaport."
"And slipped away into the night," she says, nodding. "Amazing story of endurance. And how long ago was that?"
"Wow," she says. "I can only imagine what's happened since."
She, of course, knows. This was only one of so many stories. She has been the architect of every kind of pain in my life for a year, and the force which has lifted me from one bad situation only to place me into another. Now, at the end, I can only think of one thing.
"Before all that, there was a man who came to see me," I say. "In Belize. He said if I begged he'd-"
"Oh, we had a conversation about that, he and I."
She says it like a mother whose son has misbehaved in school, but I can only imagine how violent that "conversation" had been.
"I told him that I didn't want to die. He said I'd change my mind."
She cocks her head, genuinely interested.
It's the question I've asked myself countless times in the months since that night.
"I don't want to die," I finally answer, "but I can't live like this anymore. So I'm begging you, like he wanted me to beg him. I'll do anything. Please, please, don't do this. Please don't kill me. Your man - he was a good man. He was gentile and caring, from everything you've told me. And he loved you so much. He wouldn't want you to do this, would he?"
Her expression shifts, almost undetectably. But I can see it - I'm getting though to her.
"Ask yourself what he'd do," I continue, down the right track. "Ask yourself, if he was standing right here next to you, would he want you to kill me."
She blinks, straightens a bit. Her eyebrows furrow. This is working. This is right.
"I will never... ever harm another living being again, I swear to you. And you would know, wouldn't you? I haven't done a single thing this past year that's escaped your attention. I'll stop. I'll do good from now on. I'll do anything you want me to do if you just let me live. That's what he'd do, isn't it? He'd let me live if he knew I'd really change."
And at that, her face softens. I can't believe it. I'm going to convince her.
"He was a good man," I whisper. "A great man, I can see now. And I never would have taken him away from you if I'd known that. I'd have turned the job down. But I didn't know. He was just a name on a piece of paper. It wasn't personal."
As soon as the words are out of my mouth, I know. I've just made the second biggest mistake of my life. The last mistake of my life.
Her eyes flash with anger, and like magic a blade appears in her hand. Her arm lashes out, and before I can even feel it I know she's sliced a line into my cheek. I clasp my hands together to keep them still. I can't fight back. I don't dare fight back.
"But it is personal," she hisses, leaning in close. "It's the single most personal thing one human being can do to another. You took everything from him. His life, his dreams, his future are all gone because of you." She grabs my throat, squeezing just enough so that I can barely breathe. "We were going to have a child. We were so close-" She squeezes harder, just for a moment, to punctuate the word, and black seeps in from the corners of my vision. "Just another month, maybe, and I'd have our baby inside me. A little piece of him, a future that included him in some way."
She finally releases my throat, and I gasp for air. "Another month, and maybe I'd have had something to fill the space in my life. But I don't even have that. All I have left," she says, dragging the blade gently down the bridge of my nose, "is you."
She runs the blade across my lips, lifting it a bit under my chin, nudging my head up so that I'm looking up at her. "And now I'm done with you."
Try as I might, I can't stop the tears from pooling in my eyes. If she notices, she doesn't show it. Her face is once more an impenetrable mask. My moment is gone, and there is no point in trying again. I'll only make it worse.
"To be fair, you're right," she says. "Chuck Bartowski wouldn't have wanted to kill you. Chuck would have seen the good, no matter how tiny, in you. The value to your life. He would have begged me to let you live."
She grabs my face with her hand, and squeezes hard.
"And if he was here, I'd listen."
A flick of her wrist, and my other cheek opens up. My arms flinch reflexively, but I force them back down. I shouldn't move. If I move she'll make it worse.
"Now Sarah Walker, on the other hand," she says, letting go of me and crossing the room to the kitchen table, "Sarah Walker very much wants to kill you. Slowly. Painfully." She takes a series of blades out of the leather case and sets them on the table. "You can tell me now."
For a moment I'm thrown, but then I remember what I was first trying to tell her. "He said you were beautiful. And dangerous." She closes her eyes, as if she's listening to a beautiful melody. "Said he'd do it all again, even dying the way he did, for just another moment with you. That his time with you was the happiest in his life." A tiny smile appears on her lips, and I see why he loved her so much. I see now what was lost. "And just before... Before he..."
Her eyes open, her expression cross at my hesitation, and she quirks an eyebrow expectantly.
"The last thing he said was that you'd find me."
She laughs - laughs - at that, and wipes a tear from her eye. "Yeah," she says, "that's my Chuck." She shakes her head, twirls a blade in her hand, and looks at me.
"Well," she says, crossing the room. "Let's get started."
I try to give her everything she wants. I cry, and scream, and shriek with every cut. I shake and convulse as she works. I reach deep down inside myself to feel everything she's doing to me, to convey it to her as best I can on the tiniest chance that it will satisfy her, that it will give her incentive to let me live. There will be no more begging, no more reasoning with her, I know; so I can only hope beyond hope that my suffering becomes enough for her to stop short of taking my life. In the end, however...
In the end it is not.
This concludes the "Last Request" story. This was uncharacteristically dark for me, so now that I've gotten it out of my system you can count on something fluffier than a stuffed bunny coming your way soon.
Extra observant readers will notice that I've borrowed Sarah's story about her birthday from waaay back in 2008's "Of Stars and Spies and Birthday Wishes" by the remarkable brickroad16. It was the very first Chuck story I ever read on this site, so I wanted to give it a special place here.
PS: Rob M – if you're going to write a review that complimentary, do it from an account so I can thank you. Anyway, thank you.