Hot water sluiced off his head and swirled into the drain at his feet. As he fumbled with the knobs, vainly trying to make the hot water even hotter, he could feel something black and evil welling up inside him. Something that burst from the depths of his soul, and was filled with every nightmare he ever had. It rose up into his throat, making him retch and spasm. Sobbing and physically spent, he slid slowly down the cold tile to the shower floor and finally faced the fear that threatened to overwhelm him. What if he wasn't HER Chuck anymore? What if when Sarah awoke, she realized what kind of man he really was, one that was somehow changed? That he was the kind of man that could shoot Daniel Shaw without hesitation. What if after such a short time, he finally lost everything that mattered? He couldn't lose her, not now, not after all he had been through.
His mind raced back to the moments just after Shaw drug her into the darkness toward the river, toward death. The punch Shaw delivered should have knocked him out; it should have been the end. Instead, he fought through the the darkness, through the disorientation, and focused on the pistol left lying forgotten beneath the café table. The deadly, black automatic that represented everything Chuck was against. Everything he abhorred about this entire game he had been forced to play. He was never happier to see a gun in his life. He scooped it up and stumbled into the night, chasing after the only person in the universe that mattered.
As he rushed blindly across the ancient cobblestones, and slowly regained his balance and stride, he had found his mind leaping to moments from the previous days. Sitting on the floor in his boxers, brain still swirling from the scotch and ice cream cocktail in which he had tried to drown his sorrows. A lifetime…less than 48 hours ago, she had said yes. Yes. Yes, she loved him! Yes had suddenly become the most beautiful word he had ever heard. Looking into those eyes, watching her lips as she spoke, was a moment captured in his mind forever. Yes.
His heart soared, and he felt as though it would burst out of him when she said "Chuck, I fell for you a long time ago, right after you fixed my phone, and before you started defusing bombs with internet viruses."
She had kissed him then, and he could recall everything about the way she leaned toward him. Her eyes shone with a deep blue intensity, and as always he fell, fell into her very soul. He felt her fingers curl into his hair. The way she couldn't help but smile that simple, happy smile and peer out from beneath those dark, curling lashes as she said almost demurely, "you haven't changed, you're still Chuck, and you're still MY Chuck…"
As he ran, already panting, desperately trying to catch a glimpse of them, he was trying to hold onto the idea that this was all a mistake. Maybe Shaw had some other motive. He was a master spy. It's possible he was running a secret mission. Maybe he was using Sarah to draw out the Ring. What if Chuck messed that up? What if Beckman fired him (again) for it? He hated himself for second guessing, he hated himself for not being able to Flash when it was truly needed, and mostly, he hated that he hadn't seen through Shaw's machinations. He KNEW Shaw had to be affected by the shattering knowledge that it had been Sarah that killed his wife! He should have pushed harder, pushed everyone; Beckman, Sarah, he should have convinced them all! All of this was his fault, and now he was going to lose her because of it.
"Chuck! Stow the lady feelings and DO something dammit!" Chuck whipped his head around looking for Casey, only to realize, Casey was 3 blocks away, mopping up Ring agents and hopefully nabbing the Director. He realized the voice he heard was coming from inside him somewhere, somewhere with a clenched jaw and a sub-human growl. "Have you checked the pistol moron? Is it even loaded?" Stopping for just a second beneath a street light, Chuck racked the slide of the compact 9 mm like he had been trained, then checked the safety. For a second of breathless fear, he couldn't tell if the safety was on or off, then he spied the tiny orange indicator that told him it was off. Still panting from the effects of the adrenaline pumping through his system, he clicked the safety to the "on" position. Now, with the hammer at half-cock and finger safely along the slide, outside of the trigger guard, he should be ok.
"I don't really want to shoot myself, now do I?" Taking a deep breath and sending a word of thanks to his "inner Casey", he took off again into the night.
Sitting on the floor of the shower, shivering now, even though the water was almost scalding, Chuck couldn't help but pay for the roller coaster ride of emotions he had been on the last 2 days. From abject embarrassment at his over-zealous "rescue attempt", to misery at finally realizing that Sarah was leaving with Shaw, to complete utter joy when she told him that she did indeed love him. She did tell him that, right? Thinking back, in the throes of his ever downward spiral, he just couldn't recall her saying that she loved him. Maybe he misunderstood. But no, they had talked about being together, telling Shaw, concerned with his reaction. They had planned to tell him together. Why was something that was so clear and wonderful just hours ago be so muddled and confusing now? He was just so afraid. He had never been this terrified in his entire life. Sarah had been willing to walk away after his supposed "Red Test", so why wouldn't she walk away now? What was different? How could he convince her that he had to kill Shaw?
As he ran through the wet Parisian streets, the shots behind him became fewer and fewer, and farther and farther away. He could hear the hollow roar of water as it rolled beneath the looming bridge. Why couldn't he see them? Where had they gone? Chuck had heard Shaw tell Sarah, "I want to show you how beautiful the river is at night". Chuck had to fight down the rising panic that threatened to shut him down. He began to fear that he had missed them. What if Shaw had pulled her into one of the numerous dark alleys that he had already passed. What if she were already dead? What if Shaw slipped away? What if…
He didn't recognize the growl that seemed erupt from his chest as he finally caught sight of Shaw, half carrying, half dragging Sarah across the riverfront avenue towards the bridge. It was a guttural, primal sound that he had no idea he could make. It was every savage emotion that he had no idea that he possessed. It was a raw, hot rage that terrified him. Shaw had HIS Sarah! Suddenly an image of his best friend Morgan flashed in front of him, "This will NOT stand!" And while Morgan had only been referencing the greatest slacker movie of all time, Chuck thought to himself, "No little buddy, it will not," as he ran toward the figures ahead.
Slowly he began to focus on the water as it swirled across the old-fashioned bathroom tiles and down the drain. Rubbing his raw, red-rimmed eyes again, he looked around as if he wasn't aware of where he was.
"Don't freak out Chuck, get yourself together" he muttered. As he stood, he checked his watch and realized he had been in the shower for way too long, he was. He had to get out of his funk, Sarah was going to need him when she awoke. At least until she decided what she had to do. He struggled again to push back the fear and anguish that threatened to overwhelm him. He couldn't stop his brain from replaying Shaw's death, over and over. Like one of the looped surveillance tapes they used on missions, only this felt like a punch in the chest every time it flashed on through his thoughts. It literally took his breath every time he realized that HE had pulled the trigger.
He faintly remembered the mantra he had been repeating as he struggled in slow motion toward the bridge. He felt as though HE had been drugged, that he was running in quicksand. He was struggling to run and kept repeating over and over, "Whatever it takes Chuck…"
"STOP!" He had shouted as he skidded to a stop on the bridge's unfamiliar surface, gun extended in a modified shooter's crouch, thumb snapping the safety off, just as he had been trained, only 25 feet from where Shaw held Sarah.
Shaw immediately swung his own gun around to bear on Chuck.
"Please, it doesn't have to be like this" Chuck pleaded. "This isn't you Shaw, you can't do this." He had dropped the barrel of the gun slightly, just to give Shaw an opportunity to de-escalate. For an agonizing few seconds because he was still Chuck and still saw the good in everyone, he thought "this may just work." He watched as Shaw considered the opening that he had been given, but then Chuck saw the insanity return to his gaze.
"No Chuck, I can… you can't" Shaw said almost casually, as his grip tightened on his own pistol, knuckles whitening slightly as he increased his grip.
Chuck took all of this in. It seemed as though time had virtually stopped. He saw Sarah, leaning against the rail, looking weak and disoriented. He saw Shaw's shoulders tense, and his forearms flex in preparation for the shot he was about to squeeze off. He saw cars a hundred yards beyond them, frozen in the moment, passengers completely unaware of the life and death struggle taking place on the bridge. He even heard Casey's familiar footsteps far behind him, too far to help him this time. But this time there would be no hesitation. This time he was protecting his Sarah.
When Chuck saw Shaw's jaw clench, and the rage and hate appear so raw and bright in his eyes, there was no hesitation. There was no thought.
He doesn't even remember squeezing the trigger, let alone twice, or even hearing the shots. Still feeling like everything was happening in slow motion, he just sees the eruptions in Shaws chest, and the red blossoms appear on the travel rumpled shirt. Still in his adrenaline pumped state, he looked at the gun in disbelief, then at Shaw slowly arching backward over the railing. It didn't seem real to Chuck that Shaw, with his dying effort, had grabbed Sarah's wrist in an attempt to pull her into the black water below.
"SARAH!" Chuck screamed as he ran toward them. Reaching for her coat just as Shaw rolled over the edge, he felt the dead weight pull at Sarah's arm. Wrapping an arm around her slim waist, he tried to make sense of what was happening. Looking across her and over the rail, he saw Shaw desperately hanging from her hand, his doll-like, dying eyes boring into his . Watching him at that moment, Chuck could relate to the intense emotions that had driven Shaw to such depths. If anyone had hurt Sarah, he wasn't so sure that he wouldn't be driven into the same deep dark place that Daniel had been pulled into. Chuck's feet by this time were scrabbling for grip to hold onto Sarah when mercifully, Shaw released his hold on her and plunged into the icy, black waters of the Seine. Daniel Shaw was dead.
He turned off the shower, and fumbled for one of the blindingly white towels rolled on the rack just outside the door. As he slowly toweled off, he realized there was nothing he could do but wait. He cracked the bathroom door until a sliver of light fell across her still peaceful face.
"God, you are sooo beautiful" he whispered. He never grew tired of watching her sleep. As much as he loved all of her expressions and mannerisms, how she would cock her head, or pout her soft lips, then either freeze you with an icy blast from suddenly stormy gray eyes or melt you with those deep blue pools of blue, he thought just watching her sleep made everything ok. He watched those dark, delicate lashes curl against her cheek, peaceful for the time being, no hint of the nightmare of the past few hours…
Chuck had gently turned her away from the railing, checking for damage, wounds, anything. Seeming to be ok other than the residual effect of the toxin, he pulled her to him, wrapping her in his arms, and feeling her finally respond. He felt her grasp at him weakly, her gaze still unfocused and wavering. He had just pulled her in tighter and tucked her face into his neck, when he heard Casey's footsteps thundering up behind them. Turning, he saw the look of disbelief in Casey's eyes. Casey looked from Chuck to the gun, to the railing, and back to the gun again.
Skidding to a stop, he glanced at Sarah, grunted, and said, "Wouldn't have believed it if I hadn't seen it with my own eyes. I never liked that bastard anyway!"
Chuck looked at Casey, then down at the smooth, black waters of the Seine. "Casey, help me get her out of here before the gendarmes show up." They could both hear the eerie wailing of the local police force finally responding. Checking his watch, Chuck realized that only a few minutes had elapsed since he had first confronted Shaw at the café.
"I've got help waiting. Gimme her other arm," Casey growled as he got his arm around her waist. Together the half carried, half dragged her toward what seemed to be a pastry delivery van parked in the shadows beyond the bridge. He began to wonder where Casey had found a van (or help for that matter), but thought, "I don't care, as long as it gets us out of here."
Chuck finished dressing, the ambient glow from "The City of Lights" giving him just enough reflection to see her still sleeping peacefully. Standing at the window, he couldn't help but marvel at how little he cared right now about Paris or the Eiffel Tower, or any of it. After so many years of anticipation, he was finally living his dream, but without her it was nothing. Without Sarah, nothing would ever be what it should have been, what it could have been. Listening to the traffic below, rushing along the Avenue de la Bourdonnais just outside the hotel window, he resisted the urge to call Ellie. He wanted nothing more at this moment than to talk to her about his fears, but was afraid that the sound of her voice would break him down completely. A cloud of depression and trepidation hung over him as he waited through the longest night of his life, afraid that he had broken her, like he had broken his mother. Forcing Sarah to leave him too.
The rear door of the pastry van swung open as they approached, and a pair of hands reached to help pull her inside. When Chuck climbed into the van, he first noticed the Director slumped against the wheel housing, zip ties securing hands and feet while duct tape covered his mouth. All of that seemed to be a precaution however, because the Director was currently unconscious, and considering the tranq darts still dangling from his neck, looked to remain that way for a while. The driver was pulling the van into gear even as the doors swung shut.
"Chuck, this is "Patrice", of the DGSI, France's internal security service. I drug his ass out of a crack in the 'Stan a couple years back. He's almost as good as me, and has had some medic training. Let him check her out, see if we need to find a secure clinic."
Patrice was a dark featured man of considerably less stature physically than Casey, but seemed to have a competent presence none the less. He cast an eye toward Casey, squinting against the smoke of a Galois cigarette that dangled from the corner of his mouth, then back down at Sarah as he quickly flashed a penlight across her eyes. Seemingly satisfied with her pupil reaction, her gently found her pulse and timed it with his wristwatch held up to catch the dashboard lights. "Hmmm," he spoke quietly, and with a subdued accent, "Let me check her blood pressure, but I think la belle femme just needs some sleep."
Throwing a blanket over her, Patrice glanced back at Casey, "Almost as good, mon ami?" he said with a quick smile, "I think you forget! You too needed a hand after things went sideways in Somalia my friend!"
Casey just grunted, but nodded his head in agreement, "Yeah, that was you, wasn't it? Hunhhh,That was a little close, wasn't it?'
"Close? My friend, any closer and you would have had a star on that famous wall of yours!" he said with a somber smile.
"That's the CIA, we don't have a wall!" Casey growled, but didn't argue the point.
The van driver spoke quietly, "Patrice, where to?"
Chuck finally slumped into a chair, head in his hands, part of him wanting to wake her up, and the other part wanting her to stay asleep. At least, he thought, while she was asleep she couldn't look at him in horror and disgust. This never ending night was full of contradictions. His stomach had been growling terribly when he emerged from the bathroom, but just a small bite of a pear from the complimentary fruit basket had seemed to get bigger the more he chewed. A bottle of water had been the only thing he could even begin to keep down, and not much of that.
He also felt like he hadn't slept in weeks, his eyes were grainy and raw, but every time he closed them, he saw Shaw dragging Sarah into the darkness. He thought it was possible that he may never sleep again, no matter the waves of exhaustion that kept crashing over him. He shifted again and again trying to get comfortable, but nothing helped. Checking the clock beside the bed revealed it had been 4 minutes since the last time he had looked.
"God, will this ever end?" he thought morosely…
The pastry van had pulled into the loading area behind the hotel that Casey had arranged, just another delivery van among several others in queue. Gendarmes could still be seen in the distance, crisscrossing side streets, lights flashing, on the hunt for the perpetrators of the chaos that had spilled into the early morning streets. Patrice touched the driver's shoulder and pointed to a spot to the side, out of the glare of the loading dock lights. As the emergency brake ratcheted on, Casey turned to Chuck and growled, "We're gonna carry her up just like we got her in the van. If anyone asks, she's had a little too much champagne, and I'm helping you get her tucked in. We're all just having a big night in gay Paree'. DO NOT look at anyone! DO NOT speak to anyone! I'll do the talking! Your only concern is with your girlfriend and getting her in bed! Do you understand?"
"Sure, but what about…?" Chuck stammered.
"Hey moron, Sarah is your ONLY concern, got it?"
"Yeah, yeah, sure, sorry…" Chuck stammered. As he climbed out of the van he turned to thank Patrice and the driver, but Patrice had already turned and was checking the condition of the zip ties on the Director, and Casey turned him roughly to support Sarah.
With Sarah's right arm over his shoulder, and Casey holding her left, they began to shuffle toward the side entrance. Casey mumbled, "Smile idiot! We're having a good time!" Although part of Chuck's brain understood the concept, most of him was still in a state of semi-shock and was having a tough time putting the pieces together. Fortunately, probably due to the late hour, no one even noticed them.
"Ok Chuck, I have business to attend to," Casey said after helping to stretch her out on the bed. "Patrice thinks this stuff will wear off in a few hours, so just watch her, but call me first if there's any change. Got that?" Casey said as he stepped to the door.
"Yeah, I got it. And Casey?...Thanks, thanks for everything" Chuck offered.
"Hnhhh…" was all he got as the door closed with a quiet "click".
He started awake, not really conscious, not even sure where he was. He faintly remembered a car horn blowing in the traffic outside, and realized not only was dawn beginning to break, but Sarah was still asleep. She had turned at some point, and her face was partially covered by a mass of golden hair that had tumbled across her brow. Her hands were clenched to her chest, and she had curled up into herself at some point. Chuck stood and stretched quietly, all of the turmoil of the night suddenly gone with the new day. He tip toed into the bathroom, intent on splashing some water on his face. Looking at his reflection in the mirror as he toweled dry, he saw an entirely different Chuck from the wreck of the previous night. This Chuck would do whatever SHE needed to get past the horror of not only the things Shaw had done, but why he had done them. It was not going to be easy.
"Whatever she decides, I did what I had to," he thought. Suddenly even though he was still very anxious about the coming hours and minutes, he knew that HE had saved her. He had beaten Shaw when Shaw was intent on his revenge. He had done all he could do. It would have to be enough.
He walked softly across the thick, luxurious carpet toward the bed where she lay. Ever so gently, he brushed the hair back out of her eyes, tucking it behind one perfect ear, and wondered again just how he had gotten to spend even one minute with her. She was just so…perfect. Asleep, she looked so peaceful, he wished it could be like that for her forever.
Stepping back, tempted to touch her again, and afraid he would awaken her, he eased back into the chair. As the sun began to brighten the room, Chuck picked up his laptop and began scanning the local online news, searching for any word that would indicate that they had been identified. Using the Intersect to translate from the French, he saw vague references to some "disturbances" and also some "random gunshots', but no mention of who or why, and no mention of a body being found downriver. Maybe Beckman would have some clearer information. He was sure she would be in his immediate future in some way.
Satisfied he had all of the local info we could glean from the daily news outlets, he opened his "action log" and began to update the events of last night. It was very slow going, as it all seemed to be a blur in his memory. He had to pick each item out of the murk, like untangling a mare's nest of fishing line. Wading through the events in his mind, he bagan to worry again what she was going to…
Suddenly, he saw her begin to move a bit, eyes fluttering, feet rustling beneath the gold brocade of the duvet. Moving toward her, he called softly,"Hey.." Sitting softly on the edge of the mattress he asked "How're you feeling?" Relief that she seemed to be suffering no immediate after-effects of the toxin that Shaw had dosed her with quickly gave way to the icy ball of fear resting deep in his heart.
As she slowly pushed herself to a more upright position, she asked "What happened?"
This was the moment he had dreaded since he watched Shaw slip beneath the surface of the cold, black water. Gathering his nerve, he said quietly, "Everything's ok now."
She looked confused momentarily, then asked, "What about Shaw?"
What he thought would be fear of that very question, fear that it would destroy him in her eyes, turned into concern for how she would take the news of Shaw's death. He wished there was another way…
As gently as he could, Chuck looked into her wide blue eyes and softly said, "He's dead."
She stared at him still not comprehending what he had told her, "I'm sorry" he said, still in as gentle a tone as he could.
"Wait," she said softly, images slowly returning to her. He watched as she put the pieces together, a sense of dread building as she seemed to be putting things together in her mind.
"There was a café…and a bridge…and he tried to kill me and…" suddenly the memory of what happened flared into her eyes "Oh my God, you shot him!"
He had to explain, she had to understand why he did what he did, "I couldn't let him hurt you Sarah."
She watched him now, seeing the deep concern in his hazel eyes, her emotions turbulent as she remembered the café, the river, the shots…
"Trust me, I did what I had to do," he pleaded with quiet desperation, "but I'm still the same guy, I'm still Chuck, I promise."
Chuck felt a sudden moment of the timelessness from the night before. Everything hinged on the next few seconds, everything he ever wanted. For what seemed to be eons, he watched as she processed her memories with the words he was saying. Slowly, ever so slowly, he saw her face relax, her eyes soften, her lips turn up just a tiny bit…
"You saved me," she whispered…
Suddenly she leaned forward, reaching for him, pulling his lips to hers, curling her fingers into his hair. He could feel the relief wash over him, like a sudden spring rain. It brought life back to the parts of him that had died with Daniel Shaw, the parts of him that he was willing to sacrifice for her. To keep her safe. He would always choose to protect her, above everything else.