A/N:First of a all, a big thank you to all of you who read my first story. Especially to those who reviewed it. It was your kindness and encouragement that spurred me on to write this one.
As in that first story, I see this set early, sort of second season, although I don't pay strict attention to timelines. As before, I've incorporated some events from the show and ignored others in order to fit my plot. So in that way the story is canonical without actually being canon.
This is a one shot and complete. I've decided that I won't release my stories in chapters. I've read way too many fanfics that were very enjoyable only to be left hanging. I understand why this happens and I know that I might do this as well. So stories will always be one big lump. (Although there are chapters within this story.)
I realize that due to this this choice there may a long wait between writings. Hope all of you who like what I'm doing will be patient with me.
My interpretation of the characters and their world is a somewhat kinder, gentler one although not totally free from angst and sorrows. I know this is not to everyone's taste.
As well, my descriptions, situations, and language will never be overly graphic. Nothing outside the T rating. Just so you know.
I felt this story needed to be told in a non-linear fashion. The dates at the start of each chapter will tell you where you are (all in the same year) However, to avoid any possible confusion, Chapters 1 and 5 are present day, 2 and 4 are two weeks prior, and 3 (the big one) is two months prior to that.
Hope that helps.
As always I truly appreciate your constructive reviews, comments. etc.
Hope you enjoy!
Don't own Chuck or any of the other characters. Just get an immense enjoyment writing about them for free.
CHUCK VERSUS THE PLAN
Castle, June 16th., 08:08 Hours
The tension in the room is nearly a perfect example of the knife cutting variety.
Of the three people in Castle's briefing area, two are seated as far apart as possible while still remaining in the view of the redheaded, irascible woman whose face is displayed on a large monitor.
The third, sitting equidistant between the two, is currently engaged in replying to the pointed question being directed at him by this same woman.
"Major Casey, before I ask the others, could you please give me your opinion as to how such a simple mission went so wrong? All we required from Agent Walker and Mister Bartowski was basic reconnaissance of what we thought could be a Fulcrum related establishment."
"General, even from my position at the bar, it was clear that the two of them were unable to carry off the act of being a couple. Their lack of rapport was very evident. As a consequence they came under scrutiny almost immediately and were unable to remove themselves from the party, even for the short time needed to reconnoitre the house. After some time had elapsed without any improvement in the situation, I decided to abort."
Beckman considers this for a few moments and then brings her attention to the blonde sitting at the briefing table.
"Agent Walker, for the last few missions you and Mr. Bartowski have had no difficulty in passing yourselves off as a couple, even as being married the last mission." Beckman pauses and then asks, somewhat puzzled, obviously irritated, "Could you tell me what is going on?"
Sarah doesn't answer for a moment but when she does, it is in a firm, no nonsense tone of voice. "General, I apologize for my part in disrupting the mission but I feel that Mr. Bartowski has lost sight of the fact that our relationship is nothing more than a cover. In the past few weeks, I've felt uncomfortable with his constant pressure to take things beyond that limit. I found those continued attentions at the party, to be cloying, and quite frankly, very annoying."
"General, I feel the asset has lost his ability to separate fact from what is his self created fiction."
From the other end of the table, Chuck angrily jumps in, "Sarah,-"
She cuts him off abruptly, "Please address me as Agent Walker when we are not in a cover situation."
"Thank you for that update, Agent Walker," Chuck replies, sarcastically. "Perhaps if you could learn to let your guard down a little and stop acting like some freaking emotionless robot, we wouldn't be having this problem."
"It's not my fault! You're the one who overstepped the boundaries that were set at the beginning of our cover relationship."
"I was simply trying to be your friend. Perhaps you find it difficult to grasp that a man could want just that. Apparently you believe that every man who comes in contact with the Beautiful Agent Walker must naturally fall in love with her."
"I believe no such thing!"
"Enough!" Beckman's voice and the sound of her hand slapping on the desk cuts through their bickering, "Both of you, be quiet! I can't remember the last time I witnessed such juvenile, unprofessional behavior."
Both have the grace to appear a little chagrined, but neither soften their angry looks towards each other.
She continues, furious, "This kind of conduct is intolerable. I've broken up teams for less. I'm very tempted to do the same here."
After thinking for a few moments, she curtly says, "Agent Walker. Mr Bartowski. Please leave us. I need to consult with Major Casey."
That she says please doesn't disguise that this is, in fact, an order.
Both stand, and while pointedly staying as far from each other as possible, exit the room. Each heads to a different part of Castle, their indignation screamingly evident in their body language.
"Major Casey, thank you for alerting me to this issue. I had noticed some earlier tension between the two of them. However, I hadn't realized it was quite this serious."
"Yes, Ma'am. The last couple of weeks have been increasingly difficult. But I didn't think it would come to a head this way. They've always managed to accomplish the mission goals before, even when they weren't getting along."
"Well, Major, if they had to botch a mission it was just as well it was this one. But it certainly wasn't the result I expected."
She's quiet, pondering, "What do you think is the problem between them?"
Casey ponders for a moment himself, and then replies, "I believe there's some truth in both of their views on the matter. Agent Walker is very attractive and is used to most men wanting to be more than just friends. After the Larkin incident she has become more wary, less trusting, that is, if I'm correctly reading between the lines of her file."
"However, I also believe she feels a small attraction to the asset. She knows that kind of relationship is unacceptable, so is perhaps a little overzealous in her rejection of his offers of friendship."
Beckman nods at this, "Do you feel she has compromised herself in any way?"
Casey responds unblinkingly, "No, ma'am.
"And what of Mr. Bartowski?
"I believe the asset is deceiving himself as regards the nature of his feelings towards Agent Walker. It's possible he honestly feels he's just offering friendship, but his end game is a relationship with her."
"Interesting observations, Major. What do you suggest we do with the two of them?"
"General, I checked and came across several somewhat similar situations. They were handled in an unusual, but ultimately effective way." He then proceeded to tell her the information he had gathered.
"Now that you mention it, I do have some vague recollections of some of those cases. Those involved two agents though, not an agent and an asset. Why do you feel this approach would be appropriate?"
"Ma'am, in reality, Bartowski is much closer to being an agent than a asset. His involvement in missions is very much different than what would normally be expected of someone in his position. Due to this, I feel this approach is suitable."
"I tend to agree with you, Major. One further question about Agent Walker. If we go through with this she may be asked to perform actions with which she appears to be uncomfortable. Do you feel she will be able to carry them out?"
"General, Walker is the consummate professional. I believe she will follow her orders both for the sake of the team and the good we accomplish." He pauses, "I strongly believe this team warrants the effort. On everyone's part."
"Thank you for your input. Please instruct Agent Walker and the asset to return to the briefing room in fifteen minutes. I will make my decision known at that time."
"Thank you, General."
Some minutes later, Sarah and Chuck happen to arrive at the entrance to the briefing area at the same time.
Chuck immediately backs off a few paces and with exaggerated politeness says, "After you, Agent Walker. I wouldn't want you to feel uncomfortable by being too close to me. After all, someone might think that we're friends."
Sarah says nothing, ignores him as she walks back to her chair. He follows a second or two later, a sarcastic smirk on his face. He pays her no further attention as he resumes his seat.
Casey is already sitting, waiting for Beckman to reestablish the connection.
She does so and without any preamble says, "As I mentioned earlier, I am appalled by your lack of professionalism in last night's mission. I was very tempted to dissolve this team."
She stares back and forth between the two of them for a few moments, before continuing, "However, your success warrants the chance to rectify these issues."
"Agent Walker. Mr. Bartowski. This is what is going to happen. We maintain a safe house in Malibu. You two will spend the next week there. There will be no surveillance, electronic or otherwise, while you occupy the premises or on any excursions you may choose."
"Without having to be looking over your shoulder, so to speak, I expect you willwork out whatever issues currently exist between the two of you. At the end of the week, you will attend a to be specified social function together. By then you will demonstrate at least the pretense of getting along with one another. Am I clear on this?"
They both reluctantly nod their heads.
"Agent Walker. After this, you and Mr. Bartowski will move in together to further your cover. You will then assume all monitoring duties for the asset. Since you will be on site, there will be no further need for remote surveillance. Major Casey has been performing this job long enough."
"General, that's completely unfair. You're ordering me to give up any semblance of a private life."
"You should have thought of that before you demonstrated your inability to handle the asset properly."
"Mr. Bartowski, wipe that grin off your face. Don't assume that just because I am ordering you and Agent Walker to behave as a couple, that you actually are now or will ever be such."
"However, I do expect that the both of you will, in all public situations, mission related or otherwise, be able to portray yourselves as an actual twosome. On the other hand, if you choose to ignore or actively dislike each other in your private time, that is of no concern to me."
"Is all of this completely clear to the both of you?"
They nod again, their expressions a mixture of anger and submission.
"I didn't hear you. Is everything clear?"
"In that case, Major Casey, Mr. Bartowski, you are dismissed. I would speak with Agent Walker for a few minutes in private. Please excuse us."
As the two of them leave the room, Chuck turns to Casey and asks, "What do you think Beckman wants to say to Sarah that she couldn't say to us all?"
"She's probably giving her the 'Whatever Means Necessary' speech."
"This team has been so successful that Beckman wants to make sure it stays together. She's likely telling Walker to do whatever is needed to make sure you cooperate."
"I'm not sure what that means."
"You're not a total idiot, Bartowski. Figure it out."
Chuck appears puzzled for a moment but then the light goes on, "Including seduction?"
An angry look on his face, Chuck replies, "I resent that they believe I'm stupid enough to fall for that."
"I doubt you're the first man Walker has worked on who has believed that. She can be very persuasive."
"I deserve to be treated better than this. I can and will do my job without it having to come to that." His outrage is etched in his face and tone of voice.
Chuck pauses and then, somewhat tentatively, says, "Casey, I've guess you've noticed things have been tense between Sarah and me the past couple of weeks."
He grunts his assent.
"We've fought before, but it's never interfered with a mission until last night. Sometimes I find Sarah's distrustful attitude almost insufferable. It's like she won't let anyone get close to her, not even as a friend. I'll do my best to make this team work because we accomplish a lot of good, but it won't be easy working with her."
Casey replies, "Remember we're taught to not really trust anyone. It shouldn't be surprising that she's that way."
"I agree it's not surprising, but she still makes me angry."
Five minutes later, Sarah storms out of the briefing room, her features set in a mask of poorly concealed fury.
As she passes the area where Chuck is waiting, she briefly glances his way and spits out, "We're going. We'll head to my apartment first. Then we'll go and get your stuff."
Without waiting for an acknowledgement, she climbs the stairs towards the exit, two at a time. As she reaches the top, she turns to see that Chuck, apparently being stubborn, still hasn't followed. She glares at him and this finally gets his feet moving.
After seeing this, she exits without waiting for him.
As Chuck slowly goes up the stairs, he looks back at Casey and trying to lighten the mood, jokingly says, "I'll do my best to defuse things but if you don't hear from me after the week, you should send a search party to find where she buried my body."
This falls flat because Casey appears to take his request seriously. Seeing this, Chuck almost stops moving but after a moment continues on his way.
Sarah is sitting rigidly behind the wheel of her Porsche as Chuck approaches, her eyes straight ahead, the engine already running.
As he sits in the passenger seat and closes the door, she puts the car in motion even before he has time to buckle up. As they head to her hotel, he glances at her a couple of times, but she never looks his way, not even for a second. Not a word is spoken the entire trip.
When they pull into the parking lot and stop, she finally speaks, tersely, almost ordering, "I'll need your help with some of my stuff."
And with that, she is out of the car, again not waiting for any reply from him. By the time he's out his door, she's already twenty feet ahead of him, heading to the lobby.
He rushes to catch up and does so just she reaches the elevators. It takes a minute or so before one arrives. They spend the entire time in silence, looking anywhere but at each other. When a car does come, they enter and gravitate to opposite corners. Just before the doors close, an elderly grey haired woman enters. She smiles at them both but quickly seems to sense the palpable tension. Her look passes back and forth between them, then she gives her head a sorrowful little shake.
When the elevator reaches her floor, she starts to exit but then stops and turns to face them, holding the door with her hand.
"I know it's none of my business, but one of the few advantages of being old is you can say pretty much whatever you want."
"You two love each other."
When they both start to make sounds of protest, she continues, "Don't bother denying it. I can see it plainly. Right now something is wrong between you. My advice to you is fix it. Now. Don't waste your life over what might have beens."
With that she turns, and as the door closes, walks away.
Neither say a word and both look down, unable to meet the other's eyes.
Sarah enters the room first, Chuck following a few steps behind.
When he shuts the door and locks it, she stops and turns to face him.
"Freaking emotionless robot? Really?"
"It seemed appropriate at the time."
She snorts at his reply.
"What's with the 'Address me as Agent Walker' thing?"
"I thought it would help to convince Beckman that I'd reached my limit, that I didn't want to spend anymore time with you than was absolutely necessary."
"It was a good touch. You almost had me believing it."
"Who says it isn't the truth?"
"What?! Agent Walker, you wound me." He places his hand dramatically over his heart and with an exaggerated sad expression on his face, he says, "I guess I'm doomed to go through life alone, with no one to care for me." He pretends to wipe a tear from his eye, "If you need me for anything, not that I think you will, I will be aimlessly wandering the streets, weeping-"
Then she's in his arms, her legs around his waist, a blonde dynamo. She's so energetic that they're thrown hard against the closed door.
But neither of them care as they kiss laughingly, joyously.
After what seems to be a delightful eternity, she pulls her head back a little, that radiant smile lighting up the room, "Well, Mr. Bartowski, did you ever believe our plan was going to work as well as that?"
"No. I must admit, Mrs. Bartowski, the results exceeded my expectations by a mile."
Sarah's Hotel, May 31st., 23:32 Hours.
"I hate this."
Sarah looks up, startled. With her head nestled against his shoulder, his arms around her, she has almost fallen asleep when his words come out of nowhere.
She lives for this intimacy, this emotional and physical closeness. Before Chuck, she'd never known how much she needed it. Had not even been aware that there was an emptiness waiting to be filled.
Just one of the many differences between the Sarah now and the Sarah who was.
In the past few month's, she's come to look at her life as being of two distinct parts:
Before Chuck...With Chuck
The With is so very much better than the Before. Even the best of what she had then, pales in comparison to what she has now. Which includes his being with her, holding her this way.
So his bitter sounding words of discontent catch her off guard, surprising and shocking her to full wakefulness. She wonders what has happened to anger him so suddenly. Worried that unknowingly she's done something to hurt him. Or them.
"Chuck, what's wrong? I thought you loved this as much as I…" She chokes on her words, unable to finish.
He looks at her for a second before he realizes how much he has unwittingly upset her by his out of context statement. Then his words tumble out in an apologetic rush, "Sarah, I'm so sorry. What I said wasn't about this. Being with you, having you near, is the best part of my life."
He stops to kiss away her escaped tears.
The sudden heaviness in her heart lifts and she is able to smile, albeit somewhat weakly.
"What I do hate is how little time we have together. We couldn't even have a proper honeymoon. Just that one short," he stops for a moment, a faraway look in his eyes, "but admittedly incredible night. We've been married for two months today and we have only been able to stay with each other five times. Really only four and a half if we count the time we were called out halfway through the night for that emergency mission."
"Chuck, I'm frustrated too. But we knew it was going to be very difficult for us to be together as much as we would like. There's only a certain amount of times we can use the 'reinforcing the cover' excuse."
"Yeah, I know," is his dejected reply.
Realizing how whiny he sounds, he puts a deliberate note of gratitude into his voice, "Sarah, I know you've done your best to create as many of 'it's for the cover situations as possible." He smiles as he touches her cheek softly, "And I thank you for each and every time."
She smiles back, "You're welcome. You do realize that I'm not being totally unselfish in this, that I want to be here, this way, just as much as you want it."
Looking around he sees her dress hastily draped over a chair and the components of his tuxedo scattered about.
He smirks, "Yes, you somehow have managed to convince me of that."
"I especially thank you for making last night one of our cover situations. You were gorgeous, stunning in that red dress. You were certainly the most beautiful woman at Von Hayes' party."
"Thank you, but I do believe that you're a bit biased. By the way, you were looking particularly handsome yourself."
"I have to agree that the tux was a big step up from that waiter's outfit. Although I thought Bryce pulled it off pretty well."
Sarah laughs at that, "Yes, he did. He was obviously annoyed his part in the mission was downgraded."
"Sarah, let's be real. Most of his anger came from the fact that, instead of him, I got to dance with you.
He leans closer and gently kisses her lips, "And he was also angry that I got to do that instead of him."
"I appreciate that you and Casey managed to talk Beckman into changing our roles but I am still a little surprised it happened."
"Well, Casey helped. He really, really doesn't like Bryce. And as you know, Mr. Bartowski, I can be very persuasive."
He looks at her appreciatively, "Yes, you can. In so many ways."
"Like in Las Vegas."
Las Vegas, March 30th., 17:39 Hours
The three of them are frustrated. Despite two days of intense investigation, they are no closer to finding the arms trafficking ring that intel had indicated was currently operating in the city.
They're grabbing an early dinner, trying to think of further strategies. They know that the plug will need to be pulled soon if they don't come up with something.
"Walker, you got any ideas?"
Sarah sadly shakes her head in reply to Casey's inquiry.
"How about you, Bartowski?" The fact that Casey even asks Chuck directly is a sign of his desperation.
"Nope. I've got nothing."
The team is unused to failure, so when it occasionally does happen, their depressed reaction is rather disproportional to the actual extent of their shortcoming.
They sit quietly for a few more minutes, none of them, not even Chuck, paying much attention to their meals.
Finally, Sarah brings her head up and looks at her teammates, "I think it's time to throw in the towel. As team lead it's my job to tell Beckman. I'll call her now unless you have any further thoughts. Anything?"
They both shake their heads, a little unwilling to meet her eyes.
"OK then." She opens her purse and takes out her phone.
Chuck turns his head to take a drink of his water, mostly so he won't have to see Sarah's face when she has to admit to Beckman that they've failed. In the months since she came into his life, he's come to know that Sarah Walker hates to fail, even more than Casey.
When it does happen, she only winds up pushing herself even harder, driven by the belief that if she's just a little bit smarter, a little bit faster, a little bit tougher, there won't be a next time.
As demanding as she can be of both Casey and him, in the end she's so much more demanding of herself. Chuck has come to realize that it's not because she wants to be better than other agents, although she is.
The truth is that she wants to be better than herself, to try to reach what she perhaps has yet to realize may be a truly unattainable level.
And yet, a few months ago he saw a little change. Around the turn of the year, a minor mission went south. When things like this had happened previously, she had normally taken out her frustration on the heavy bag in her apartment. Or spent hours on the shooting range. Or read the mission reports over and over, trying to find out where it had gone wrong.
Despite knowing her likely response, he had taken the chance and asked her to go to the pier with him, hoping to help take her mind off it.
She had unexpectedly agreed to spending the beautiful, warm day with him. When she'd said yes, Chuck could sense that she was almost as surprised as he was.
They'd had a great time. After some initial caution, she'd let herself relax. They played games, a few of which she was quite good at, the shooting, dancing and driving ones not surprisingly topping the list.
She laughed at the outrageous stories that Chuck would make up about the people passing by their bench. He discovered he liked her genuine, unrestrained laugh very much.
He'd also discovered that despite her generally healthy diet, Sarah Walker had an Achilles Heel.
Cheeseburgers. With extra pickles.
As he sat across from her, he'd been amazed how quickly her massive one had disappeared. He was only partway through his when she finished. He'd noticed she was trying hard not to look at the half still sitting on his plate. After a minute or so of seeing her unsuccessful attempts, he had simply pushed it over to her.
The slightly embarrassed look of gratitude on her face had made the small sacrifice well worth while.
They'd finished the day by watching the sun go down. She'd given a little shiver as the wind picked up and he'd daringly put his arm around her shoulders to warm her a bit. She hadn't pulled away, in fact had rested her head on his shoulder.
When they arrived back at his place, rather than just dropping him off and driving away as she usually did, she'd walked in and sat beside him at the fountain. They'd talked and laughed well into the evening. As she got up to leave, she'd given him a quick, almost shy peck on the cheek and thanked him for a great day.
When she'd driven away, Chuck realized that this was only the second time Sarah had expressed affection that had nothing to do with their cover. And while it was pretty minimal compared to that impassioned kiss on the docks, he still felt like he was on cloud nine.
She had never again mentioned it. It seems it's as if she's trying to forget it, and sometimes he wonders if she actually has managed to do so. Most likely she feels she overstepped some boundary or other.
This verbal lack of acknowledgement confuses him, because he can see that since that day, she often looks at him very differently. On those rare occasions when he catches Sarah off guard, her expression is often pensive, occasionally puzzled, sometimes a little dreamy. But then she sees his glance and she's all business once again.
He wonders, after this failed mission, which Sarah would appear:The one who once allowed him to be there for her, or the one who would spurn his offer and try to do it all on her own.
He hopes for the former but realistically expects it to be the latter.
Out of the corner of his eye he sees Sarah about to press the call button. As he raises his glass to his lips, he observes two men enter from the restaurant's parking lot.
The flash is immediate and intense. He covers it by pretending to choke on his water. As Sarah pats his back, the phone temporarily forgotten, he mutters, "Russian gun runners. Just walked in."
Chuck has to hand it to his partners. Even though neither of them give any outward sign, he knows their attention immediately focuses on the two men.
They walk by, down to the far end of the window booths and sit down. After Chuck "recovers", he quietly gives Sarah and Casey more details on the pair.
Sarah asks, "What do you think, Casey? Should we try to follow them or plant a tracker on their car?"
Casey considers for a few moments before answering, "Traffic's a little light today. They might spot us. I think the tracker is our best bet."
Chuck interjects, "How do you know which car is theirs?"
They both give him "The Look", with Sarah's being a little kinder.
"Of course. How could I have forgotten the spy maxim: 'Always be aware of what's going on around you.' " Even though he avoids the gesture, the air quotes are very evident in his tone of voice.
Sarah pats his hand as a small gesture of approval.
"Walker, give me two minutes to get the tracker from the car. When you see me coming back, I'll need you to distract them for a minute."
"OK, Casey. When you see me get up from the table, get ready to go."
With that, Casey slips out from their booth, surprisingly unobtrusive for such a big man.
As Casey exits, Sarah surreptitiously removes her Smith & Wesson from her purse and passes it to Chuck under the table.
Quietly, she asks, "Here. Please hold on to this for a minute." When he flinches, she adds quickly, "Don't worry, the safety is on."
As he hides it under his coat on the seat, the "why" is obvious in his expression.
Sarah softly replies, "You'll see."
Using Chuck to shield her from the view of the Russians, she quickly unfastens two of the top buttons on her white blouse.
Chuck immediately averts his eyes but not before catching a flash of white lace. He looks out the window, trying to appear nonchalant. Suddenly his face feels a bit warm.
Sarah just smiles and shakes her head a little. He is so unlike the vast majority of men she has known in her life. He's seen her in outfits that revealed much more than this. That purple negligee. Skimpy bikinis. He'd seemed to handle those situations alright, had been the gentleman, keeping his eyes (mostly) on her face. And yet here, he's obviously embarrassed.
Some of it is shyness, she knows. But there is more to it than that. Respect for her. Perhaps an unconscious desire to show her he's not like most men. Or a dislike of the actions she sometimes must take for the job. Probably a combination of all those reasons.
She finds it a little puzzling but also finds it kind of adorable, a word that she has only really started to use since she met him.
As she glances out the window, she sees that Casey is in position. Giving him a slight nod, she picks up her purse, stands and walks towards the restrooms. As she does so, Chuck slides over in their booth so he can see how she'll divert the attention of the two men.
Just as she goes by the table of the two Russians, she appears to stumble, dropping her purse. It's contents spill noisily onto the hardwood floor. As she crouches down to retrieve the items she looks up and gives the two men an embarrassed little smile.
"Sorry. I'm just so clumsy sometimes. I'll clean this up in a minute."
One of them speaks up, his voice mildly accented, "It is not any problem. Take as much time as you require."
Considering the view they are currently getting of the strikingly beautiful blonde with the tight fitting jeans and partially open blouse, they obviously wouldn't care if she ever moved. Their eyes never leave her the whole time she spends gathering her stuff.
When she finishes, she slowly raises herself up and flashes them her best smile, "Thanks for your patience. Hope you enjoy your dinner. Bye." She then continues on to the restroom.
Chuck has been so fixated on the little drama that he doesn't even notice Casey slide back into the booth. It startles him a little when he turns his head to see the man beside him.
"Ca-Casey, you're back." Chuck stammers out, surprised.
Casey sarcastically replies, "Well, the tracker is planted and I couldn't very well hang around their car, now could I? Sooner or later the two of them were are going to notice something other than Walker."
"I didn't even see you do it." Chuck shakes his head in disbelief.
"Obviously. I think I'm the only man in the area who didn't have his eyes glued on her."
Chuck nods somewhat abstractedly, agreeing with Casey.
She walks back a few minutes later and again the eyes of most of the men, including the two arms dealers, follow her back to their booth.
She looks at Casey as she raises an eyebrow. He just nods briefly back at her.
"Alright then. We'll go in a few more minutes and wait for them in that mall parking lot across the street. Casey, whats the range of the tracker you planted?"
"We'll give them a mile and then follow. Do you have everything we need in the Crown Vic?"
He just looks at her without replying.
"Sorry, dumb question."
Sarah catches Chuck glancing towards her blouse. She deliberately does the two buttons back up. After gesturing downwards with her eyes, she tilts her head and raises one eyebrow as if to ask, "More comfortable now?"
Ironically, he's embarrassed again, knowing she saw right through his earlier reaction.
She thinks to herself, he's so easy.
An hour or so later finds them parked on a dusty street in an industrial part of the city. Casey and Sarah are in the front seat using their binoculars to observe a building a block away from their position. The GPS tracker tells them the car is stopped near the somewhat disreputable looking structure.
"What do you think, Walker? Warehouse of some kind?"
"Looks like it. Pretty old though. I guess that could make for better cover."
"Almost looks abandoned. Might help to deflect any suspicion about any illegal activities, especially if they worked under the cover of darkness."
"And being here right on the edge of town would help as well. Not too many people around."
"We'll have to be careful. The joke would be on us if this turns out to be some innocent business."
"If it is legitimate, it would be a riddle as to why those Russians are here."
Chuck is looking incredulously back and forth between his partners, literally biting his lower lip to keep himself under control. Do they have any idea who they sound like? He thinks not, as it's very unlikely that either of them are familiar with campy TV shows from the sixties, but the tropes in their dialogue along with the stilted delivery is so reminiscent it's uncanny. And to top it all off, they're sitting in a black car filled with all sorts of gadgets and weapons.
It's funny. So funny. He bites his lip even harder. He just wishes Morgan was here.
When Casey floats the possibility of climbing to the building's roof for recon purposes, Chuck can no longer contain himself.
He jumps out of the car with a hurried "Excuse me", and runs toward a nearby dumpster. Casey and Sarah quickly turn around, surprised at his rapid departure. They see him disappear behind the trash container, followed immediately by a series of hard to identify noises.
Sarah thinks that nerves have gotten to him for some reason and he's feeling a little sick. Although, he's never shown this kind of reaction before.
She turns to her partner, "Casey, I don't want you making fun of him when he gets back to the car. Remember, he's not trained to handle stress like us. So go easy on him, OK?"
Casey appears a little reluctant to agree, but after a moment nods curtly.
A couple of minutes later, Chuck returns to the car, red faced with the remnants of tears in his eyes.
Sarah looks at him, concerned, and kindly asks, "You OK, Chuck?"
"I'm fine now, Sarah. Thanks for asking." He glances towards Casey expecting some sort of cutting remark, but all he gets is an unintelligible grunt as the man continues to watch the warehouse.
Sarah adds, "I'm glad you're feeling better. Did your dinner not agree with you?"
He can see she's trying to give him an easy way out, probably thinking he's been sick because of stress or nerves. And even though she's unknowingly way off the mark, her genuine consideration for his feelings touches him and he's very grateful.
"Yes, maybe that's what it was. I really appreciate your concern."
"It's nothing. We're all part of the team and we need to look out for each other. Isn't that right, Casey?"
Casey appears to be caught a little by surprise when Sarah brings him into the conversation. He doesn't say anything for a second or two, but them mumbles, gruffly, "Glad you're feeling better, Bartowski."
Chuck immediately knows even this limited amount of concern comes from Sarah's urgings. He's again grateful that she took the trouble.
He looks at Casey and says, "Thank you." He says nothing more because he knows Casey doesn't like to be put on the spot anymore than he is right now.
"Sure," is his monosyllabic reply, given without even turning his head.
Chuck sees a small smile pass over Sarah's face, but she quickly looks away. Seeing the darkening surroundings, she asks, "Casey, when's sunset?"
Chucks tempted to ask how he knew that, but stops himself, knowing he'll just get "The Look" again.
She checks her watch, "OK. That's in fifteen minutes.19:30 should be dark enough to go in."
She turns to Chuck, "You'll be coming in with us. We'll probably need your help with the security system, assuming there is one. As well, you may be able to help us identify what they have in there."
She gives him a stern look but there's also a trace of humor evident in her eyes. "Besides, if we leave you in the car you probably won't stay here anyways. At least this way I can keep an eye on you." She pauses, "You are going to stay close to me, right?"
He grins a little at the accuracy of her observation, and nods his head.
"Walker, we've got a truck."
At this from Casey, she turns from Chuck and grabbing her binoculars, rejoins the surveillance.
Even with the unaided eye and in the failing light, Chuck can clearly see the large "ICE" emblazoned on the side of the sizeable panel truck. As it moves toward the warehouse he notices a illustration below the word. He can't quite make it out but as the truck passes under one of the few functioning streetlights in the area, it clicks in:Stylized penguins standing on floating blocks of ice.
This is so unfair. He's just regained his equilibrium and now this. Before he can stop it, a guffaw escapes his lips but he quickly turns it into a small coughing fit.
Sarah briefly glances over her shoulder, but he just waves her off and nods his OK.
The truck is moving fairly slowly as it approaches the warehouse. It hits a large pothole and they can tell by it's reaction the truck is heavily loaded. A man opens the warehouse vehicle doors and Sarah comments, "It's one of the Russians."
She gives them both a wry look. "It seems unlikely they could be doing anything in there that requires that much ice."
Chuck nods while Casey grunts his assent.
They watch until darkness sets in but don't see any further activity.
"It's time we got into our mission gear. Chuck, you and Casey can change behind the car. I'll change in the back seat."
As he exits, she's already climbing over into the back. Chuck walks to the rear of the Crown Vic and watches as Casey opens the trunk. Three bags are marked with their names. Chuck picks up Sarah's and takes it to the rear door. When he opens the door to hand it to her, she's just taking off her jeans. He catches a startling, inadvertent glimpse of her long legs.
Blushing furiously, he quickly turns his head and blindly hands her the bag.
He embarrassedly mumbles something incoherent in return. As he closes the door, he's sure he can hear her chuckling.
As he rounds the car to get his bag he comes across Casey already down to his boxers and undershirt.
Great. I get to be embarrassed by both of my half naked partners today.
He has to admit though, that the first incident was much more pleasant than the second.
He turns his back and starts to remove his outer clothes. The trunk lid is fortunately still up, so Sarah shouldn't be able to see him changing. Thank goodness for that. It's already intimidating enough to have to do so in front of Casey.
A few minutes later finds them all in their dark mission garb, bulletproof vests and equipment in place.
As they approach the building, they're careful to keep under cover as much as possible. Even though they hadn't, in their earlier surveillance, seen any external cameras, there's always a chance they missed one.
As they near a side door, Chuck notices a new security keypad which definitely looks out of place with the rest of the building. After flashing on it, he deactivates the alarm. Sarah then uses her lock picking skills and they quickly move inside. Gun in hand, she takes the lead with Casey as rear guard.
Numerous crates and cases of many different sizes and shapes are everywhere in the dimly lit, cavernous building. Chuck stops to look at one of the containers and then flashes on the serial number on it's exterior.
He whispers, "Sarah, Casey, this crate has two Russian 9K38 Igla MANPAD missile launchers."
Casey replies, "They're older but still very effective."
Sarah nods, her face grim.
At every turn they discover the massive extent of the weaponry contained in the building.
Chuck is starting to get a headache from the constant flashes when Sarah speaks up, "OK. We've got enough. Time to leave and call in the Tactical Team." As she says this, she again takes the lead as they head back to the side door.
As she rounds the corner of one particularly large crate, Sarah is thrown to the ground by a sudden and completely unexpected gunshot. The round hits the bulletproof vest at the abdomen and the wind is violently knocked out of her. But to Chuck, she appears to be convulsing, her chest heaving, perhaps badly wounded.
Both men are momentarily stunned by the abruptness of the violence, but it's Chuck, not the trained agent, who reacts first.
"Sarah!" he cries out, and before Casey can stop him, he lunges toward her.
This initiates a veritable barrage of gunfire from the direction of the first shot. As he reaches her, Chuck is completely exposed. Casey, instantly realizing it's the only way he can help, starts to lay down cover fire.
As Chuck grabs the collar of Sarah's vest and starts dragging her to safety, a bullet impacts his own vest. It's probably a ricochet as the jolt is comparatively minimal. Just before he gets behind the crate, a bullet grazes his right arm near the shoulder. The blood starts flowing immediately but he notices neither this or the pain, focused as he is on the woman who by this time is in his arms.
In anguish he pleads to her, "Sarah, Sarah are you OK? Please tell me you're OK." He tries to see if she's bleeding, but it's hard to do with his tears almost blinding him
For a moment there is no response, and he's certain she's dying. But then she opens her eyes and nods weakly.
For a few seconds more, he lets an overwhelming sense of relief wash over him. Then this is abruptly replaced by an emotion he has never truly experienced.
Chuck had been angry when his parents left, furious with Bryce's treachery, and irate at Jill's betrayal.
But this, this is new to him.
Complete, utter, unadulterated, murderous rage.
He carefully releases her, letting her head rest gently on the floor. Before she can react, he takes the pistol from her hand.
Casey, still exchanging gunfire, doesn't notice Chuck until he stands straight up and screams, "You bastards!" He then starts wildly shooting in the general direction of the incoming fire until the slide locks on the empty magazine.
The audacity or possibly the absurdity of a six foot three man disdaining the protection offered by the four foot high crate seems to momentarily stun everyone else, including Casey, into inactivity.
Not a shot, other than Chuck's, is fired for a few moments. Then Casey roughly drags him down behind the crate and the shooting from the bad guys begins anew. This particular container must contain something very solid because none of the rounds are penetrating to their side.
"Bartowski, you moron! Are you trying to get yourself shot? Walker will kill me if that happens on my watch!"
Now that the adrenaline driven, temporary rage has passed, he starts to shake. But it's only for a moment until he realizes Sarah might still need his help. Keeping well down he crawls over to her.
Sarah is already sitting up, having finally regained her breath. She has just finished replacing the radio on her belt when he reaches her. She holds out her hand and Chuck somewhat sheepishly gives her gun back. She inserts a new magazine and releases the slide to chamber a round.
Sarah gives him a stern look and simply says, "Later."
As she joins Casey on the firing line she tells him the Tactical Team is on the way.
Within a few minutes, said team arrives and the situation is brought rapidly under control. As the five restrained bad guys are led out it becomes obvious that despite the massive amount of bullets expended the only people hit are Sarah and Chuck.
The medic is dressing Chuck's arm as the gun runners file past. Chuck's relief is apparent as he says, "I'm glad I didn't hurt anyone."
"Fat chance that could happen with the way you were shooting, Bartowski," is Casey's predictable observation.
"Hey, I seem to recall that I wasn't the only person who was firing at them!" is Chuck's unpredicted response.
This seems to catch Casey off guard, so his sarcastic rejoinder dies on his lips and he just grunts instead.
Sarah, in some pain but otherwise fully recovered, observes this interaction and smiles.
At their hotel, later that evening, she hears a hesitant knock from the connecting door to Chuck's room. After all the commotion had died down, she had asked him to come over to talk about what had happened.
The door opens slowly, and he reluctantly walks into the room. It's apparent by his body
language and facial expression that he expects to be chewed out.
She knows that's exactly what she should do, but finds she just doesn't have the heart to chastise him.
After she was hit, she had been only dimly aware of someone dragging her to safety. When she had opened her eyes and saw Chuck's face only a few inches from hers, she had been overwhelmed by the expression in his eyes and the tears running down his cheeks.
It wasn't concern for a friend and partner.
It was love, expressed more profoundly than words.
She had always strongly suspected, who was she fooling, known, he felt that way towards her but he'd never made it so clear as at that moment.
Right then she was so proud of him, so grateful.
But then he had stood up and done something so appallingly reckless that she feels ill, terrified, even now.
She's torn between the two sides of his behaviour. In the end the pride and gratefulness has won out.
She pats the bed beside her, indicating for him to sit. Sarah, having just showered and dried her hair, is waiting for him there, in sweat pants and a tee shirt. He's dressed similarly, the wound bandage just visible under his right sleeve.
He sits down, staying at least two feet away. Sarah smiles to herself about this.
After a few moments, she turns to him and says quietly, but very firmly, "Don't ever do anything like that again."
He looks at her surprised, having apparently expected her to shout her disapproval.
A few seconds later he asks, "Which are you referring to? Pulling you behind the crate or shooting at the bad guys?"
"OK on the shooting part. I agree it was idiotic. I'm sorry for that." His shoulders slump as he admits to his stupidity.
But then he straightens up before continuing, "However, it's a definite no on the other."
"You heard me."
"You could've been killed!"
"If I'd left you there, you would have died for sure."
He cuts her off sharply, something he rarely ever does. "No, Sarah. I don't care what you're going to say to me. You'll never convince me that I should have done otherwise."
Sarah is momentarily speechless. She can't recall seeing him as forceful as this.
He pauses as if to gather his thoughts, and quietly, firmly goes on, "There's something you need to know. I often think about us, how we may wind up, how this all could end. I want you to know how I feel so you can understand why I acted the way I did tonight. You shouldn't have to guess about something this important."
"One way, is you leaving." She starts to protest but after he gently shushes her, he says, "Please, let me finish."
"Whether you leave by choice or by orders, I know it would be a body blow and would take a very, very long time to recover from it. However, I believe what would carry me through is the hope that wherever you are, you're happy…and loved." The last two words are almost whispered.
While he's saying this the gap between them somehow disappears. As he speaks, his gaze is locked on a spot somewhere near his feet.
"So much worse, so very much worse, is that you die while doing your job, whether in Burbank or somewhere halfway around the world. There are no words to adequately describe this situation. Knowing that Sarah Walker is no longer in the world would make my life barely worth living."
By this point they're holding hands, both seemingly unaware of it.
"But the worst…the worst of all, is seeing you die in front of me without me doing everything, absolutely everything in my power to try to stop that from happening. Even if that means expending myself in the attempt."
He turns his head to look at her, "Sarah, if I simply stood by and let you die, what point would there be in me going on?"
"Now, do you understand why I said no?"
Sarah is barely able to nod, stunned, unable to say anything in reply.
She's astounded by his words that so precisely define how she feels about him, about the excruciating possibility of losing him. She's never even articulated those words in her own mind, so to hear them out loud is shocking, almost like he has read her innermost, unspoken thoughts.
If the situation had been reversed, she knows nothing, no one could have stopped her from going to him.
And like him, duty or friendship would not have been the prime motivation.
Sarah actually shivers when she remembers how death had come within inches for the both of them this night. She is acutely aware that it really would have taken only a single accurately aimed bullet to truly end the lives of two people.
Grasping all this puts everything in perspective. Denying her feelings for him, hiding behind the stupid rules, looking for what she needs in someone other than him, is such a colossal waste of emotional energy and precious time.
Time that almost ran out tonight.
But then the full import of how he apparently feels hits her. It seems all he envisions is doom and gloom for them. It would be so bitterly ironic that, if at the moment she's finally ready for them, he no longer thinks it's possible, that he's given up.
It would almost be laughable if it wasn't so damned tragic.
She has to find out if she's too late, if she's missed her opportunity.
She leans forward a little and turns her head so she can look into his eyes as she asks, "Chuck, don't you see anything good for you and me?"
He looks a little embarrassed as he turns his gaze away from her's, his head down. He doesn't reply.
After a few moments more of silence, she quietly pleads, "Please, Chuck. You've told me some of your deepest fears. I can only imagine how difficult that was for you. Aren't there some hopes as well?"
A few seconds pass, and she thinks he may not answer. But then his downcast eyes come up as he looks her square in the face.
"Yes, Sarah, I do have hopes…dreams." Here he pauses, perhaps to muster up his courage.
Quietly, he continues, "I see myself waking up beside you each and every morning. I see a ring on your finger. I see a home, children. I see the life I've always wanted and see you wanting it as well."
He grasps her hand more firmly, "I see you in love with me." He says this last defiantly, almost as if he expects to be rebuked for harboring such foolishness.
An invisible weight lifts from her heart. Sarah now knows exactly what she has to do.
What she wants, needs to do.
She stands up, "Chuck, please get dressed. There's someplace we need to go.
He looks confused, bewildered by the sudden change in mood.
"Please trust me. Can you do that?"
He regards her for a second or two and then nods slowly, the look in his eyes affirming the movement of his head, "Always."
"Good. I'll change quickly and then we'll go. And leave your watch in your room. No one else needs to know where we're heading."
Puzzled even more now, he obediently walks through the connecting door. As he leaves, she takes out her phone and after searching through the contact list, makes a call. After speaking for less than a minute she disconnects.
Walking to her suitcase she grabs a pair of jeans and a black tee shirt. She quickly shucks off her sleep wear and puts these on. She also retrieves a couple of small items from a secret compartment. Just as she finishes tying her shoes, she hears Chuck come back into her room. As she stands and looks his way, she can't help but laugh as she sees his outfit.
Black tee shirt and jeans. The only difference is that his Chucks are high tops and her's are low.
He, too, obviously sees the humor as he laughs, "People will probably think we're part of a cult or something."
She chuckles back, "Got a jacket? Could be chilly out."
He answers by holding it up for her to see. Even that looks a bit like the one she's just putting on.
Shaking her head, she takes his hand and they leave the room.
As they drive, it's clear that he's curious as to their destination, but he stays quiet, only looking in her direction a couple of times. After a few miles, she stops her Porsche in the back parking lot of a somewhat rundown looking building in the northwestern side of the city. His curiosity appears to go up another notch but he still refrains from asking. They both get out of the car and start walking towards the front, hands held tightly.
As they near the entrance, a small flickering neon sign catches Chuck's attention.
Stopping suddenly, he turns to her, clearly puzzled, and asks, "Wedding Chapel?"
"Chuck, the simple truth is that we can't have all we want right now." Even though she puts no special emphasis on the two uses of "we", it's clear he notices. A smile starts to spread on his face.
She goes on, encouraged by his response, "But I want to give you everything I can." She gestures to the sign, "Including this." She adds, hesitantly, almost shyly, "If that's what you want."
He's appears speechless. Sarah wonders if she's gone too far, too quickly.
Just when she's about to speak again, Chuck closes the gap between them, takes her in his arms and with their faces only inches apart, quietly asks, "Sarah Walker, is there an offer of marriage somewhere in there or am I just dreaming?"
"Chuck Bartowski, is there a yes in there somewhere or am I just hearing what I want?"
"Well, let me think about this for a moment. Hmm, the most beautiful, most exciting woman in the whole world, who appears to be madly in love with me (even though she hasn't actually said the words), wants, for some inexplicable reason, to marry me and make me deliriously happy." He pauses, as if in deep thought, "Nope. I'm just not seeing it. I think I'll just have to wait and see if someone better comes along."
He looks around as if he expects that woman to walk by at any moment.
She pretends exasperation. "Fine. I love you. I'm crazy, mad in love with you. Are you happy now?"
That slow smile spreads across his face, "Not as happy as I will be in about ten minutes, but yeah, pretty happy."
"Speaking of which, Mr. Bartowski, I'm not sure I've heard an exact declaration of undying love from you either."
"You haven't? That's surprising, since I've said the words about a thousand times in my head."
He pulls her a little closer and in all seriousness says, "Sarah Walker, I've loved you pretty much since the first day I saw you. And if you'll have me, I will spend the rest of my life showing you how much you mean to me."
"How was that?"
With her head against his chest, Sarah tries but fails to hold back her tears. She's unable to answer for a moment, but after clearing her throat, finally manages to say, "Not bad. Not bad at all."
Sarah can feel her heart and hear his heart rapidly beating as he holds her close. It's almost as if the two are in sync. She thinks to herself, don't be foolish.
Of course they're in sync.
And as much as she loves being held by him, there's something else she would love even more at this moment.
She looks up into his face, "Chuck, I think this is the part where you're supposed to kiss me."
"I thought that's when the person who marries you says 'You may kiss the bride', although I've always wondered why you needed permission considering she's already agreed to mar-"
Gently cutting him off by putting her fingers on his mouth, smiling at his rambling, she says "Chuck, now would be good."
He seems to be more unnerved about the kiss than the prospect of marrying her only a few minutes from now. Considering this will only be the second time they've really kissed, and the first time he is to initiate it, perhaps his apprehension is understandable.
Their first had been unexpected, intense, urgent, and had caught both of them unprepared for the emotional turmoil it had generated.
It had also been fantastic, breathtaking.
Sarah wonders, if like her, he has speculated as to whether a second real kiss could possibly be as good.
As he leans into her and their lips meet, Sarah quickly realizes her worries are completely unfounded.
Whereas the first kiss was a frenzied, clinging, frantic, desperate hello/goodbye, this one is the deliberate, yet still intensely passionate, promise of a future. Of oaths made to be kept. Of Chuck and Sarah.
Her arms encircle his neck to bring him close as possible. His right hand at her back, the left in her hair, he pulls her in tight, hard. When she moans and parts her lips, he eagerly accepts the offer, gladly reciprocating.
Their kiss presumes nothing but demands everything, that they give their absolute best to each other, now and into what stretches ahead.
Sarah has a vague awareness of what sounds like a carload of teenagers driving by, hooting and shouting about them getting a room. It's only vague because she once again quickly loses appreciation for anything but him, so close to her, his lips soft, hard against hers.
A little while later, they're both breathing heavily, their foreheads touching.
After a few more moments, Chuck asks, concern in his voice, "Sarah, how is this going to work? Are we going to use fake names? If we use our real ones won't they pick up on that?"
"I thought we might have to use the false identities I keep with me, but I came up with a better idea."
"Wait. Sarah, you have false identities for both of us? Why?"
"I've had them since the new year, in case we needed to run."
A look of comprehension passes across Chuck's face, and he pauses for a few seconds before saying, "Sarah, I was wrong earlier when I said you hadn't told me how you feel about me. You did tell me, sometime ago. I simply wasn't listening well enough."
Sarah caught unaware at his words, is about to mildly object to his assumption, when she abruptly realizes that he is absolutely correct.
When she had made all the provisions to run, if needed, she had felt it was simply because she felt angry, guilty, for what the government had done and was maybe going to do to him. She'd thought that this was her way of trying to compensate for the callous cruelty of her superiors. She had believed that there was nothing personal about her actions, that she would have altruistically done the same for anyone under her protection.
What a load of rubbish!
She loves Chuck Bartowski.
For that love, she has done and will do all she can, will risk everything, to keep him from harm, to keep him at her side.
What if the incident at the warehouse hadn't happened the way it did, if he hadn't revealed his feelings afterward? How much longer would it have taken for her to realize how much she loved him? Needed him?
Her ineptitude in matters of the heart almost causes her to shake her head in disbelief. For someone who can size up a tactical situation in seconds, she's truly lousy at seeing what's right in front of her.
"You're right, Chuck. I have loved you for quite sometime. Can you forgive me for not saying it sooner?"
"Sarah, there is nothing to forgive. You've said it a hundred different ways in a hundred different actions but I wasn't listening. I'm the one who should be asking for forgiveness. I should have told you how much you mean to me long before tonight."
She kisses him quickly. "Hey, don't worry. I sorta figured that out a long time ago. Your actions speak too, you know? Kind of like how you probably saved my life tonight."
Looking intently into his beautiful eyes, she says, "Words seem inadequate, but I do thank you."
"What's that? About eighty seven to one in your favor? But you're welcome."
After another long kiss, she pulls back a bit and cheekily says, "As I was saying, before someone kept interrupting me." He pretends to be puzzled, while pointing at himself and mouthing "Me?"
"Yes, you. I had a better idea than using those identities. Our director of festivities tonight is an old acquaintance of my dad. Once when I was about fourteen, my father lent me out for a con that this man was running. Seemed he needed a daughter figure for a quick job."
Chuck looks concerned, angry and Sarah thinks how good it is to have someone who's looking out for you, someone who wants to keep you safe. It's such a nice change to be the protectee rather than the protector.
"Don't worry. He was a perfect gentleman, almost like a nice uncle. Anyway, he still owes me for that. Last time I saw my dad he happened to mention that Sam was running a wedding chapel in Vegas. I'm not sure what his angle is but this part, at least, is legit. So I called him and set this up for us. He doesn't know it yet but he's going to marry us and then lose the paperwork for the time being, until I can find some way to make it completely legal down the road."
She looks into his eyes again as she says, "I know this isn't the way you would like this to happen but it's the best I can do for now. It'll be tough. We won't be able to spend as much time together as we would like. We won't be able to tell anyone, not even Ellie or Devon and especially not Morgan. At least not until I can figure out how to get this by Beckman."
She's tentative as she asks, "Is that going to be OK with you?"
He looks at her, his appreciation and admiration evident in his expression, "Sarah, I told you earlier what I want and someday I hope we'll have all those things. But it all starts with you. I want you. This, this is more than I honestly ever expected to happen. As long as I can be with you, the rest of it can wait for as long as needed."
Blinking back her tears, she kisses him yet again. "Thank you for being such a wonderful man."
"Just part of the irresistible Bartowski charm."
She pats him lightly on the chest, "Along with your natural modesty, right?"
"Goes without saying."
She laughs. "OK, Chuck. Let's get this show on the road."
She digs into her jeans pocket and brings out two gold wedding bands.
"These are part of our run identity kits. We won't be able to wear them later but I would still like to use them tonight."
"Why, Sarah, even in our fake life you had us married. I think there could be something Freudian in that."
She starts to laugh but suddenly stops as a contemplative expression comes over her face, "You know, you may be right. I never really thought about it that way."
As they start to walk towards the door, she abruptly realizes he's not beside her. She turns to see him down on one knee, a diamond ring held in his fingers.
"Speaking of rings, I think I better make this official. And even though I know the answer, I still want to ask. Sarah Walker, will you marry me?"
"What? How?" She almost stammers, surprised, confused.
"It was my mother's. When she disappeared, she left it for Ellie. Remember that day we spent at the pier?"
Chuck's heart soars when she nods with a happy smile on her face. She did remember!
"That night was the best conversation we'd ever had. You aren't normally the most talkative person," he grins at her embarrassment, "so even though you didn't reveal any really personal stuff, I still came away knowing you better than ever before. That night has taken on even more meaning since I know now that this was about the time you made your provisions in case we needed to run."
"I'm curious, did you set up our run identities after or before that night?"
She thinks for a moment, and then with wonder and realization evident in her expression, replies, "I started the next morning."
They're both silent for a moment or two as they appreciate what this means.
Chuck continues, "Well, Ellie saw us and when I went in, she could see how happy I was. Next morning she gave me the ring. She told me that I needed to be prepared for 'The Moment.' I thought she was being presumptuous. I loved you but didn't truly believe you felt anything close to that for me. I tried to give it back but she insisted I keep it. She was supremely confident that the right time would come. She basically gave me no choice and so I've been carrying it with me every day since then, transferring it from jeans to work pants and back again."
He looks intently into her eyes, "It seems as if tonight is the right time." She nods happily, her complete agreement evident.
"I know you won't be able to wear it after tonight, but I still want you to have it. Just knowing that will remind me of what we do have and strengthen my hope for the rest."
"Your sister is a very wise woman. And to make it official, the answer is yes. And the ring is beautiful. Until I can wear it openly, I will keep it as close as I can."
She holds out her hand and as he slides it on her finger, a huge grin splits his face, quickly echoed on hers.
This time she grabs his right hand to make sure he's with her as they head to the door. But just as they're about to enter he stops walking and raises his arm so he can see her watch.
He holds up his other hand, palm outward as he says, "Hold on for a moment."
"What's the matter? Got cold feet, mister?"
His answering grin assures her that it's nothing of the sort.
Still looking at her watch, he says, "Nope." A few more seconds pass and then, as he lowers his arm, says, "OK. We're good now."
"What was that all about?"
"It just passed midnight. When our kids ask us about this, I want to be able to honestly tell them that we weren't engaged and married on the same day. I would like them to think we had at least a modicum of self control."
His seemingly offhand statement about their future catches her off guard. Sarah is suddenly hit by the magnitude of the commitment she is about to make. She knows she should be terrified. The Sarah of a few years ago certainly would have been. Who's she kidding? Even the Sarah of a few months ago would have run away screaming.
But not this Sarah. Not Chuck's Sarah.
While she certainly can't face it yet with complete equanimity, at least that destiny he describes so confidently doesn't have her gibbering in fear. She honestly finds a strong appeal in the thought of someday being able to tell their children about how they met and their very unusual lives. For a moment, she even imagines the expression on their faces when they learn their seemingly stodgy (at least to them) parents were actually spies.
But first things first.
She turns to him, "You ready?"
He nods, "Absolutely."
"Oh! One more thing. As much as I love the shy, bashful, sometimes-can't-look-at-me-without-blushing Chuck, he's going to be taking the rest of the night off, right?"
Of course he blushes as her meaning sinks in. She just smiles a little at his discomfort.
"Yes. Definitely. This is the last of him you're gonna see for a while."
She gives him a quick kiss, "Good. So long as we're clear on that."
She takes his hand and they walk through the entrance together.
Castle, June 1st., 08:45 Hours.
"Well done, team. Thank you for your verbal reports. It's very gratifying that the mission to recover the stolen data from Mr. Von Hayes was accomplished with maximum effectiveness and speed. I look forward to your written reports."
"Major Casey, Agent Walker, in retrospect I can see you were right in suggesting that Mr. Bartowski pose as the husband rather than using Agent Larkin in the role. By the way he sends his apologies. He left last night. Apparently he has some sudden, urgent personal matters that need attending. Since his role last night was operationally minimal, I didn't require his attendance this morning."
"Agent Walker, you and Mr. Bartowski were very effective as a married couple. I congratulate you both on your acting abilities."
Looking at Chuck, she continues, "Especially you, Mr. Bartowski. From what I have seen of the surveillance videos as well as Major Casey's observations, you were especially convincing as the loving husband. Well done."
"Thank you, General. However, Sarah deserves most of the credit. Her ability to fool others into thinking that she was the devoted wife was well demonstrated."
"Well, either way, a very good job. Another opportunity to use this cover will be in two weeks time. We will want you to infiltrate a party at a suspected Fulcrum location. The files with the preliminary intel are in front of you. When we get closer to the actual operation, we will have a briefing along with any needed updates."
"Unless there are any other matters that you need to draw to my attention?" Seeing no indications from the team, her next words are, "Beckman out."
Sarah turns to her teammates, "Since we're all on late shift today, I suggest we could have a breakfast meeting to discuss this upcoming mission."
Casey shakes his head as he says, "There's a lot of work to do in the armory. You two go ahead. You can fill me in later." With that he walks out of the briefing room.
"Well, Chuck, I guess it's just the two of us. Unless you have plans as well?"
"No, I'm free. Where did you want to go?"
"We can head back to my place. I'll order some room service and we can go over the intel together."
As they head up the stairs, they can see Casey hard at work already. They wave a goodbye but he doesn't notice.
Chuck grins, "That man is dedicated to his weapons."
"No surprise there. One of the first things a soldier is taught," Sarah replies.
As they exit the Orange Orange, he turns his head to face her, and quietly says, "That was clever of you. Making sure the mikes picked up your suggestion for a breakfast meeting. How did you know Casey wouldn't want to join us?"
"He hates that sort of thing, especially this far in advance of the actual op." She shrugs her shoulders, "But if he had agreed, we would simply have had a real meeting instead of what is going to happen now."
"And what is actually going to happen now, Mrs. Bartowski?" He asks, an innocent look on his face.
"If you haven't figured out that one yet, Mr. Bartowski, I'm obviously not doing a good enough job of the 'devoted wife'."
"I believe I've caught your drift. I guess I need to make sure I also fulfill my role as the 'loving husband.' But it would also be nice to have breakfast with you later."
"I'm sure that can be arranged. Although it might have to be more of a brunch."
Sitting up in bed, leaning against the headboard, he asks once again, "Sarah, I hate to be the bad guy here, but don't you think we should at least look at the file?"
Sarah, snuggled up against him, arm across his abdomen, her head on his chest, seems to be disinclined to do anything except stay close to him.
Not that he would mind that, but knowing Beckman it's certain she'll be asking some questions about the upcoming mission. And this was supposed to be a meeting for that purpose, after all. He doesn't want Beckman or Casey to have any suspicions about anything going on between the two of them.
Besides, they both need to be at work by one o'clock.
"Alright, if you insist. With a pretended huff, she sits up against the headboard.
"Sarah. Sheet, please."
"Oops! Didn't notice it'd slipped." She glances down and then smiles at him, as if she's embarrassed. However, she makes no move to correct matters. He knows for some reason she gets a somewhat perverse pleasure in messing with him. Not that he really minds, of course.
Even though they've spent relatively few hours together as a married couple, that time has been sufficient to cure him of at least some of his natural shyness around her. He continues to be stunned, amazed by her beauty but at least he can look at her in her current state and not blush. Well, at least not very much.
Looking deliberately into her eyes, he dryly says, "I'm sure you didn't. But you well know I won't be able to concentrate on anything else if you stay in that condition."
"Spoilsport," she pouts. She does, however, pull the sheet back up to a modest height.
He passes over her copy of the file folder and then opens his. The both read for a while in silence, taking in all the aspects of the mission, objectives, time, date, location-hold on what's this?
"Sarah, there's something odd here."
She quickly picks up on his serious tone, "What is it, Chuck?"
"Before the briefing this morning, I happened to come up behind Casey when he had a file open on one of the workstations. Normally he would have sensed I was there, but for some reason he didn't this time. Even though I wasn't intentionally snooping, I flashed on the data just before he noticed me and quickly turned off the monitor."
Sarah, used to his roundabout way of explaining matters, waits patiently for him to get to the point. She nods to indicate she's following.
"The file was part of a list of CIA, NSA, and DEA safe houses and other properties owned and used by these agencies."
He pauses, "Sarah, this house, this address was on the screen before Casey shut it down. It's owned and run by the DEA."
"What?! Are you sure?"
"Unless the file was wrong, yes, I'm certain."
"Chuck, can we get a street view of this place on your phone?"
He grabs it off the night stand and opens the appropriate mapping app. He inputs the address and a few seconds later they're virtually in front of the house.
Sarah studies it for a few seconds. "Yes, you're right. I happen to recognize it. Carina and I ran a sting out of there a few years ago. I'm annoyed I didn't remember the address."
Chuck can see she's genuinely upset with herself over that. "Hey, don't be so hard on yourself. You're the smartest person I know, aside from myself of course."
This gets a chuckle and a smile out of her, as he had hoped.
"Well Mr. Smarty-pants. What do you think this all means?"
He looks at her, smiles and says, "That, I am going to leave up to a mind much more devious than my own."
She sounds a little dubious in her reply, "I guess I'll take that as a compliment."
"You should. I did mean it in the best possible sense."
"I'm not entirely certain there is a best possible sense for that word."
"Maybe I should have said convoluted. Is that better?"
"A little. I see what you're getting at. This does have me thinking along some twisted paths."
She pauses and Chuck can see she's racking her brain.
"There's something at the back of my mind. I just can't quite recall what it is."
"Sarah, sometimes when I was taking a test, I would skip a question I couldn't answer and come back to it later. Maybe-"
"That's it!" She gives him a smacking kiss, "It's a test!"
He's a little confused, "What is a test?"
"The whole mission. You know that anytime a superior is concerned about an agents mental state or capabilities they can order a psych test."
He nods, "Did they order you to have one after Vegas? You obviously must have been a little crazy to marry me and I figure that must have been evident in some way or other."
"Very funny. I'll have you know that marrying you was the sanest thing I've ever done."
She looks into his eyes and smiles, "And don't you ever doubt that, mister."
Chuck can sense the steel behind the smile and teasing words. It's a kind, but firm warning that this is not a subject for continued jest. It sends a chill through him as he hears the absolute conviction in her voice, her total certainty about the rightness of them. He'd be a fool to go on joking about that.
She continues, "Evaluations are ordered from time to time. But there are rare times when an agent or agents are put into a situation where they don't know they're being evaluated. In those cases a scenario is set up at a controlled location and the unknowing agent is informed that it's a mission. It's felt that this can sometimes give a more accurate indication of the agents abilities or lack thereof. I've only known of this happening a couple of times."
"Sarah, why would you think they're doing this for us?"
"I'm not sure. We've only recently started going on missions as a couple so it could be that Beckman wants to be sure of us. Perhaps they'll introduce some wrinkle in the mission and see how we adapt, whether we can handle the pressure. All I know is that everyone at that party is going to be secretly watching us."
"Well, Sarah, this is a test we won't have any trouble acing. We make a fantastic couple, a great team, if I say so myself."
She smiles at his confidence, both in them and their abilities. She gently touches his cheek, "Yes, we do. In so many ways."
Just as she finishes speaking a sudden idea hits her.
"Chuck, I think we should fail this test."
"Why would we possibly want to do that?"
"Bryce and I went through a situation a few years ago. What happened then could help us now." As she mentions the name of her ex-partner she looks at Chuck's face, thinking how proud she is of him.
When Bryce had popped back into their lives for the last few days, Sarah had been a little concerned with Chuck's reaction. She knew the whole Bryce-Jill/Bryce-Sarah mess had caused him endless hours of pain, frustration and jealousy.
While Bryce was here, Sarah had done everything she could to allay any residual fears Chuck may have had. Whenever they'd had a moment of privacy, sometime just a few seconds or a minute, she'd reassured him by a touch, a kind word or a quick kiss. When the three of them were together, she had made sure that Chuck saw her firm rejection of even the slightest advance on Bryce's part.
Sarah could tell that Bryce was puzzled by her conduct. Perhaps he been expecting a renewal of their previous relationship, at least to some degree. When she made it clear to him that wasn't going to happen, he'd just shaken his head as if he couldn't understand her.
She thinks he may have finally understood during the briefing that had seen both her and Casey do their best to make sure Bryce was delegated to a secondary role. She suspected this realization was at least partially responsible for his hasty departure.
Sarah would've loved so much to have been able to tell him that Chuck and her are together. That she is with someone who truly cares for her, who understands her and is willing to put her needs ahead of his own. In other words, someone the exact opposite of Bryce.
But of course, she couldn't do that.
She'd been delighted with the way Chuck had acted during the entire time. Even when he had come to her hotel and unexpectedly found Bryce there, he hadn't been upset or jealous, not even in the slightest.
Last night, while she lay beside him, she had told him how she felt about the way he'd handled the whole scenario.
"Sarah, since we've been together you've never given me any reason, not even the smallest possible one, to make me doubt your love for me, or your total commitment to us. So having Bryce Larkin parachute back into our lives didn't concern me at all. I was never worried about him coming in here and sweeping you off your feet, not because I'm arrogantly assuming you couldn't find someone better than me, because I know you could." He'd gently silenced her sound of protest at that, "It's because I trust you completely."
"So all the effort I made to show you that I felt nothing towards Bryce was unnecessary?"
"Yes. I knew what you were doing the whole time."
"Why didn't you tell me?"
"What? And stop a gorgeous woman from paying me extra attentions, giving me secret kisses? What kind of fool do you take me for?"
"A stinker is what I take you for." She had tried to say this angrily but her smile had given her away.
Suddenly becoming serious, Chuck had continued, "Sarah, Bryce Larkin doesn't scare me. The only person who truly frightens me is myself. In the past few weeks I've twice had dreams, nightmares really, where my behavior has been so unacceptable that I was no longer worthy of your love and respect. I wake up, reach for you and of course you're not there because you can't be, and just for a moment, I think it's true." He'd turned away as he said this, eyes locked on the ceiling.
Sarah, shocked, distressed by his words, had quickly raised herself up so she could look into his face.
She had placed her hand on his cheek and gently turned his face towards her, "Chuck, please look at me."
When he did, she had softly but firmly said, "You know that's never going to happen, don't you? You aren't Bryce, you aren't like any other man I've known. You're not capable of doing anything that could stop me from loving you. If anything, I should be the one who's worried."
He had smiled thinly at that, "You giving me the 'It's not you, it's me' speech, Walker?"
"First of all, when we're alone, it's Bartowski, not Walker. And secondly, yes I am. What if one day you wake up and you're suddenly hit by all of the things I've had to do for this job? That you realize you made a horrible mistake being with a person like me, loving a person like me."
She'd waited, her eyes had locked with his, a little apprehensively, for his response.
"Sarah, I know you've had to carry out disturbing, difficult orders, do things you often wish could have been done differently. But I could always tell, even at the beginning, that you were never wanton or cruel in the actions you took. You never became, and never will become like those agents who secretly enjoy that part of their jobs. Those orders carried out, those actions done, don't define Sarah Walker, definitely not to me, as they shouldn't to you."
She'd blinked back the tears as she'd listened intently to his words, the depth of his understanding, his caring
"Sarah, I've never been blinded, at least not completely, by your physical charms, considerable though they may be. However, I am a man and therefore at least a little shallow, so I admit that those charms were the first things I noticed," She had playfully swatted him on the chest at this.
"But that's not who I fell in love with. We hadn't really known each other for more than a few hours when I started to appreciate the person inside. And as I got to know you better, as difficult as you made that," here he'd paused and smiled at her, "I came to see that contained within that beautiful exterior was a even more beautiful person. The woman I fell in love with."
"And the woman I will stay in love with for the rest of my life."
"What kind of situation?"
"We'd been together about six months and had been very successful, very effective in all our missions. However, under the surface we really weren't getting along."
"Why was that?"
"First of all, we're both pretty stubborn." She expects him to make some sort of cute, sarcastic remark here, but Chuck only nods to show he is following. She can see he's wondering where this is going.
"Bryce was a little arrogant, kind of condescending. He almost always felt his ideas and plans were superior to my own. He was pretty full of himself."
Chuck observes, "In other words, a lot like he is now."
Sarah chuckles, "Trust me. He was much worse then."
She continues with a rueful smile, "Well, you know me," He nods, grinning. "I wouldn't put up with that for too long. We had some doozies of arguments about mission planning and execution but we were able to get through it and do the job. Until one particular operation."
"We were assigned a grab and go, an arms trafficker. We were to pick him up at a party. Bryce and I went separately. I lured the mark out into the gardens where Bryce nabbed him. We cuffed and gagged him and were going to move him to the van when it happened. I'd told him earlier I didn't like the planned route to the van but as usual he overrode my objections. It appeared to me that extra security had been placed in the area he wanted to use. So I suggested a different choice. He disagreed and to make a long story short, we were seen by security while we argued. We had to leave the mark behind and run for it, bullets flying."
"Later, at the briefing, we were told that due to our previous effectiveness, they weren't going to break us up. However, we were ordered to fix our issues. We were sent to a safe house for four or five days and were told that during that time we would be free to use whatever measures we needed to work things out. To further that end, there was to be no surveillance of any type while we were there. They didn't care what we did as long as we figured out how to get along well enough for the missions."
"Obviously, you worked things out."
"Yes," was her terse reply. When she went on, her voice was quiet, almost apologetic, her eyes averted, "Chuck, I think you can guess how we did that. That's when we became a couple. I would be lying if I told you I did it solely for the job, for the sake of national security."
For a moment she hesitates, then quietly goes on, "I liked him, even thought I loved him."
"Sarah, you don't have to explain. And you especially don't have to apologize."
"Yes, Chuck, I do. I need to do this."
She gathers her thoughts before going on, "The life we had together was thrilling, glamorous. Bryce was exciting and charming." She glances quickly at his face, not sure what his reaction will be to this admission. After all, she has never really told him how she used to feel about Bryce. To her immense relief and pleasure, there's no anger, no jealousy, no hurt in his eyes. Just patient attention and interest.
"For the first time in my life I felt I was truly happy, fulfilled. We worked so well together, played so well together. I believed that this was going to be my incredible life from now on. With him."
Here she paused, "And there were vague stirrings of something more, somewhere down the road. I know only now I was thinking about the possibility of a home…a family."
Sarah looks closely at his face trying to see if she has hurt him. She knows how much this means to him, to them. She's a little ashamed to admit she had ever even thought of having this with someone else.
"The truth is, Chuck, I didn't recognize those feelings for what they actually were. There were just a longing I couldn't put in word or thought. Until you helped me understand them."
She kisses him quickly, "And I thank you so much."
He answers solemnly, "You're very welcome." He says nothing else, knowing she has more to add.
"However, even before the whole mess happened that led me to you," she looks in his eyes and smiles, "I could tell there was something missing, a piece that wasn't there. I finally saw that all the charm, the excitement, the glamour had hidden the truth from me, had hidden the real Bryce Larkin from me."
"I came to realize that I was telling my heart I loved him, rather than my heart telling me."
"When I finally saw him, really saw him, I was angry. So angry. I thought 'How can you make me want so much and at the same time be the wrong man to make it happen?' I felt betrayed. Cheated of the future I'd so foolishly visualized."
"So, when I came here, I was determined to make sure that didn't happen again. Not let anyone dangle hope before me and then snatch it away."
Nodding his head, he quietly says, "I can understand that. Thank you for telling me. Now I know at least part of why you were so reluctant at first. About you and me."
She nods back, "Yes. I was hesitant. Afraid."
He can see in her eyes a fleeting remembrance of a different time, a different Sarah.
But then, smiling, she says, "But you, Chuck Bartowski, have a way of getting under a person's skin. Your goofy smile, your dumb jokes," she feels him chuckle at this, as she continues in a more serious tone, "your kindness, your patience, your understanding…your love, eventually wore me down. I started to hope again. Trust again."
"I guess I'm just irresistible."
She earnestly replies, "Yes, you are."
"Chuck, I have a little secret to confess." She goes on, feeling a little embarrassed, "Long before Vegas, I had started thinking of you as adorable."
He laughs, "You mean like a basketful of kittens or something?"
She grins at him, "Don't laugh. It was a big thing for me. I don't believe I'd ever used that word before I met you."
"Well, Sarah, I'm glad I was able to help you expand your vocabulary."
"You did help, more than you know. You made me see that by adorable I really meant lovable. And love had never truly been part of my vocabulary either."
Pausing, she brings her gaze to his, "Until I met you."
Chuck had fought to keep his emotions in check during her whole confession, but at this a few tears began to leak out. Not that he was alone in this. Or would be alone again in anything.
He continues to be astonished by her. He's mortified, ashamed to admit that he ever, even for a second, thought that she really was what she so often portrayed to the world: cold, emotionally detached, ruthlessly efficient.
Each day with her makes it clear just how immensely privileged he is, that of all the people in the world, he's the one she chose. The one to whom she reveals her real self, that secret person of the heart.
There's a renewal of his determination to make sure he never takes this for granted, that he never disrespects this amazing gift she has given him.
He gives her a soft, quick kiss, "Sarah, honey, I know Bryce was a big part of your life. I don't think I can truly express how much it means to me that you're comfortable enough to tell me about the two of you. I thank you so much for trusting me with this."
"At one time, I would have been jealous, envious. But I would have been wrong to be that way then and even more so now. Much more so. For me to be jealous over things that happened before we even met would be the height of selfishness and insensitivity."
"Sarah, you have nothing to apologize for, and I don't want you to ever again think that you do."
He reaches down and touches her left hand, the arm draped over his stomach, the ring she wears only when they're together evident, "All I care about is what this ring represents. You and me. Together. Now. Our future."
By this time her head is resting on his chest. Then her arms move around him, clutching him tightly. He can feel her tears sliding down his torso, wetting the sheet. He tightens his arms around her as more of his own tears come, his face buried in her hair.
A few minutes later, with a small sniffle, she asks, "So, do you understand why I think we should fail this test?"
He clears his throat, then replies, "You believe that if we fail this mission by pretending we aren't getting along, they may do the same with us as they did with you and Bryce. Right?"
She nods, gratified he has got it. "We've both been so unhappy with the current state of affairs, and this way we would at least get the honeymoon we didn't have. As well, l'm fairly certain Beckman will also order us to expand our cover situations in some way or other, to further convince people we're a couple. The good part is that no matter what happens, we wouldn't be blowing a actual mission, unlike Bryce and me."
"But, Sarah, what if they simply decide to break up the team instead?"
She can hear the note of panic in his voice at this prospect.
She looks into his eyes again, reassuringly says, "Chuck, I wouldn't suggest this if I thought there was any chance of that happening. We have been so incredibly effective since we've been together that Beckman will want to do everything possible to make sure we remain a team."
He looks somewhat relieved but persists, "But what if for some reason we don't know about, she decides to break us up?"
"Then we run."
This succinct, calmly stated promise does more to quell his fears than any of her previous words. He's willing to try this, almost anything, as long as he knows she'll be with him.
He returns her gaze and nods firmly. "OK, let's do it."
She nods in turn, pleased to see his confidence and trust in her.
He goes on, "Correct me if I'm wrong, but it seems that over the next two weeks we're going to have to set this up by showing Beckman and Casey, but especially Casey, that we're having trouble getting along. Is that right?"
"Yes. If our blowup comes out of the blue they might be suspicious, so we need to display some gradually escalating issues. I feel we should start as soon as possible."
Nodding thoughtfully, he says, "Sarah, I believe the best approach would be that you feel I'm pushing the envelope of our cover relationship. Maybe that after we posed as husband and wife last night, you think that I've got ideas that we could have a real relationship. I on the other hand am going to act like you're getting a little full of yourself and all I want is to be friends."
"I agree. That would be a good way to go." She ponders for a moment, "I will have to show everyone that you're out of line and your attentions are irritating me."
"Sounds good. However, I do think you're going to have a problem carrying that off." He says this last a little smugly.
"And why, pray tell, would I have any difficulty in doing that, Mr. Bartowski?"
"I'm so adorable, I suspect you'll have trouble even pretending to be mad at me."
As she swatted playfully at him, the sheet slipped down once again.
This time, Chuck didn't object.
Sarah's Hotel, June 16th., 10:07 Hours
"No. I must admit, Mrs. Bartowski, the results exceeded my expectations by a mile."
Neither are able to contain their joy over the unexpected outcome. Laughing between kisses, she stays wrapped around him.
Sarah chuckles, "I'm glad that lady in the elevator wasn't at the briefing. This thing would have fallen apart if she had been."
Chuck nods, "How do you think she knew?"
"Well, it's so obvious that you're completely smitten with me, I suspect anyone with an ounce of sense can see it."
"Me?! You're the one making goo goo eyes all the time. It's positively embarrassing."
"I don't make goo goo eyes!"
"Sure you don't. If it's not goo goos, it's bedroom eyes. Have you no self-control, woman?"
"Keep talking like that and tonight I'll self-control myself right into some flannel pajamas." She leans back a little, raises one eyebrow and archly asks, "Is that what you really want, sweetie?"
With a contrite look, he replies, "Come to think of it, it was obviously me who gave us away."
"I thought you might see it that way."
Sarah still feeling mischievous, realizes she has a further opportunity to mess with him. Considering she still has her arms around his neck and her legs about his waist, his arms are in the most natural position to support her.
She looks down, over her shoulder, then gives him a mock glare, "Mr. Bartowski, is that really an appropriate place for your hands?"
He's so open she can read his face clearly. First of all puzzlement. Then embarrassment as he realizes what she means.
She'd wager good money, that in his mind, he has just used the word 'posterior'.
He hurriedly starts to let her down, but she stops him with a kiss, then whispers in his ear, "Don't worry. I really don't mind. In fact, I kinda like it."
When she pulls her head back, she's sees he's blushing furiously. Just as expected.
She's beginning to understand why she gets so much pleasure in teasing him. It's most likely because the men she has known for her job (and most of those in her personal life as well) have never been this way around her. Those men were confident, assured, convinced that their looks, their money, their power, entitled them to whomever or whatever they wanted.
They would never blush at anything. Anything she did or said as part of her character, was simply accepted as what was rightfully due to them.
Sarah has no real idea of how many times she's had to play the part of a woman "honored" by such men. How often she has pretended to be pleased, thrilled by their words, looks and touches, knowing all the while their one goal.
(She does remember how it pleased her when she was able to use that very egotism to obtain what she needed from them. She also recalls with pleasure the look on their faces when she would always find a way to extricate herself before the situation got out of hand.)
Chuck is so different. His openness, his honesty, his humility, his transparent affection, would in the eyes of these, make him weak, vulnerable.
But in reality, it is these "character flaws" that make him so much stronger, better than they are. Not one of them on his best day is half the man Chuck is on his worst. No, not even close.
When she teases him, she is reminded by his reactions just how good a man he really is. How fortunate she is to have the love of someone like him.
Aside from all this, it's a hell of a lotta fun. He's so damn cute every time she gets him.
Recently, she has noticed it's becoming a little harder to do so. She supposes that even the degree of married life they do have has allowed him to get used to at least some of her ploys. That makes this one all the more enjoyable.
She can see by his expression he has heard the unspoken "gotcha".
"Sarah, one of these days I'm going to return the favor. Sometime when you least expect it."
"Fat chance of that, Bartwoski." Removing one hand from around his neck, she points at herself, "Professional spy, remember? I always know what's coming. You can't sneak anything up on me."
"You're on. Just wait."
He gives her a quick kiss and then finally does let her stand on her own.
"By the way, Sarah, did you think it was really necessary to carry on the act even in the car?"
"Probably not, but I wasn't taking any chances. The only place I know that's completely secure is right here. We've gotten so much more than expected that I wasn't going to ruin it by something they might possibly overhear. I'll check the car before we leave. I also have some handy devices which will make sure Beckman is telling us the truth about the place we're going."
"Do you believe she's lying about the surveillance?'
"No, but you can't be too paranoid."
"Another spy maxim?"
"Yep." She pecks his lips, and then pats his cheek, "Smart boy."
"I should start packing my things. Come and help me choose what I should bring."
He follows her to the walk-in closet, a place he's never been before. He stops for a second, dumbfounded. "I had no idea you had so many clothes! It's no wonder I never seem to see you twice in the same outfit." He walks to end of the closet and back, trying to comprehend the huge variety of style and color.
She smiles at his amazement, "The CIA is very generous with our clothing allowance, especially for the female agents. Never know what we might need for mission."
He looks at her shoe rack, "What have you got there, fifty pairs?"
"Sixty-three to be precise."
He shakes his head, "I've got like five, six pairs."
"Well, I like your Chucks with almost everything you wear, so you really don't need much else. I, on the other hand, have outfits that need to match."
"Well, well, even Sarah Wal…" seeing her look, he corrects himself, "…Bartowski can sometimes be a girly girl. Who'd have thunk it?"
"I never seem to hear any complaints when I dress up for you."
"And you never will. But you're just as beautiful to me in jeans and a sweatshirt."
She gives him a quick peck and smiling, says, "You really know how to charm a girl, don't you?"
"Only the one I'm married to."
That earns him a deeper kiss.
"OK, what should I bring?" she thinks out loud, walking back and forth.
She starts pulling clothes out and holding them in front of her, asking his opinion.
After everything she shows him earns his enthusiastic approval, she gives him an exasperated look, "Chuck, you're no help at all! How am I supposed to choose when every piece I show you is, 'Fantastic' or 'Incredible' or 'Amazing'."
"The problem is that you're just way too attractive. If you can find some way of toning that down a notch or two, I might find a couple of the items less than stellar."
He smacks himself in the forehead, "That's the word I was searching for!"
He looks at her and says, "That blue cocktail dress was stellar."
She just smiles and shakes her head.
"Whatever you bring, I'll like. One request, though. Could you please bring the red dress you wore at Von Hayes' party? I know it may mean breaking the never-wear-the same-thing-twice rule, but I think you look spectacular in it."
"And I know I haven't used spectacular to describe anything today."
Laughing, she says, "OK. I will for you. But I wouldn't do it for just anyone." As she says this, she knows she really means it. She finds it hard to refuse him anything. Even when it's for his own safety, it pains her a little to say no.
"Thank you. When you wear it to that 'to be specified social function', I'm certain you will be the most beautiful woman there once again."
That earns him yet another kiss.
"As for the time between now and then, I believe I've solved your 'What should I bring?' dilemma."
He walks over to the far end of the closet and removes one of the items hanging there.
When he turns, she sees that he's holding a sheer, black, three piece lingerie set.
There's a slightly lascivious, smoldering look in his eyes as he confidently says, "Since this is effectively going to be our honeymoon, I don't believe you're going to need more than this."
Sarah, a little shocked, a little flustered, a little thrilled by his uncharacteristic boldness, can't stop herself from blushing. She's not even sure what to say to this.
He takes a few steps closer until his face is only inches from hers.
His eyes close and she follows suit as he bridges the last remaining distance.
Sarah can suddenly feel her pulse pounding a little faster.
Just when their lips are about to touch, she hears him softly say, "Sarah."
"Yes, Chuck?", she replies a little breathlessly.
"What?!" Her eyes snap open and she sees a huge grin explode onto his face.
"You, you..." She's virtually speechless as she realizes what he has just done.
A few moments later, he's laughing, fleeing the area, expertly thrown shoes bouncing off his back and arm covered head.
Fortunately, he's safely out of range before she is able to grab any of her stiletto heels.
Castle, June 16th., 10:33 Hours
John Casey is sitting in the armory, mechanically going through the motions of reassembling his custom SIG-Sauer P229. The smell of gun oil is in the air, something that Casey often likens in his thoughts to the smell of freedom.
Today, though, his mind is elsewhere.
Everything went far better today than he had expected. When he had started to implement his plan, he didn't realistically believe the results would be this close to the ideal.
Fooling all three of them had been a delicate task. And John Casey is well aware that he isn't the dictionary definition of delicate.
Right from the formation of this highly unconventional team, he had seen the potential for trouble. At first, he really he didn't care if that led to a dictated breakup. Walker was a loose cannon, not the kind of agent he liked working with. And Bartowski, well, he was just a moron, a very irritating moron.
But very quickly his opinion changed. Success followed success. The lives of hundreds of American citizens were saved. Lots of bad guys were put out of circulation.
When he saw these kind of results, he knew this group needed to stay together, for the good of the country.
But something else happened as well, something unexpected.
They'd become his friends, without him being truly aware it was happening. And one thing John Casey didn't have lot of, was friends.
Of course, he didn't tell either of them that. Expressing "lady feelings" was to be left to others.
Even though Walker could still push his buttons, he came to realize he'd never had a better partner. He knew she would always have his back, no matter what. She was often infuriatingly stubborn but, in all fairness, he knew he was the same. Sometimes that led to tense situations, where neither would back down. But after a rocky start, they'd always found their way.
Bartowski still irritated the hell out of him sometimes. Even so, he appreciated how well the kid had dealt with the situation he had been forced into. With almost no training, this self proclaimed coward had saved both Casey's and Walker's life more times than he could count. And in his own, often weird, unorthodox way, his contributions had enabled them to accomplish things beyond the even most optimistic expectations.
So Casey had his good reasons to keep the team together. But it was easy to see how events could transpire that would lead to that opposite, undesirable outcome.
Right off the bat, Casey could see that the asset had fallen for his handler.
She's blond, exciting, tall, intelligent, beautiful. Pretty much every nerd's dream. Also the type of woman that normally wouldn't give a guy like him a second look. So it was no surprise that when they were thrown together, often in somewhat intimate cover or work situations, that the kid would develop strong feelings for her.
Casey knew that his superiors would have no real problem with this. For all he knew, she may have been instructed to make sure this happened. To make sure the intersect cooperated.
Very early on, however, Casey realized that if she had been told to do this, she'd disobeyed her orders. He knew that if she'd put her mind to it she could have seduced him in five minutes.
But she didn't and he knows why. It's because against all the rules, and even, he's fairly certain, against her own initial inclinations, she's fallen in love with Chuck Bartowski.
And this is the problem. The one that worries him.
Casey is almost positive she had no conscious idea of what had happened to her. That she'd hidden her feelings, even from herself, under the guise of duty or obligation.
However, when you spend as much time together as this team does, to miss the signs you'd have to be be blind.
And Casey is definitely not that. Even if those signs had been few and far between at first, he'd noticed. And he'd also noticed when they became more numerous and intervals began to shorten.
He'd watched her face as Bartowski would come into the room, saw the light in her eyes, the way she looked at him when she thought he didn't notice.
He'd seen how she let her touch linger as she adjusted his tie.
He'd witnessed her constant concern for Chuck's well being, her fretting over the even minor scrapes and bruises he picked up during the missions.
He'd come to see that she was a softer, kinder, happier person when Chuck was near and how that started to fade, at least a little, when he wasn't around for a while.
It was coming to the point that Casey was worried that Beckman would catch on, that she would see that Walker was, in fact, compromised.
He knew where that would lead. Come hell or high water, John Casey was determined to do everything he could to prevent it.
He'd gone so far as to subtly editing the surveillance videos, eliminating or at least minimizing, anything that could reveal the true state of Walker's real feelings toward the asset.
In his reports, verbal and written, he'd constantly but carefully emphasized Walker's commitment to the job. Had glossed over anything potentially compromising.
And he done a good job over the past months. He was certain Beckman had no real idea of what was really going on. Things were going smoothly.
But then came the mission to Las Vegas.
When Walker was hit, he'd been amazed how quickly the kid had reacted. And he'd also been amazed by his courage.
Never leave a man behind.
He was damned proud of him.
Then, of course, the moron had needlessly exposed himself to enemy fire. It was a miracle he wasn't killed. He still didn't quite understand why no one shot at the idiot.
Even though he'd later berated him for his poor aim, he was secretly glad that Bartowski hadn't hit anyone. He wasn't cut out for what went along with that.
Later that night, Casey had decided he'd earned a Scotch. Rather than calling room service he decided to take a little walk to the liquor store he'd seen down the block.
Just as was returning to the hotel he'd seen Walker and Bartowski, hand in hand, walk to her Porsche and drive away.
Except for cover situations, he'd never seen them holding hands. He knew something was up. He always had his keys, so he was able to quickly get behind the wheel of the Crown Vic and follow them as they left the parking lot.
As soon as he'd seen where they'd stopped, he knew it was big trouble. Through his binoculars, he'd seen their intimate conversation, their kiss, the kid down on one knee. It was obvious what was about to happen.
For a moment, he'd been tempted to rush in and stop them. To make them understand how much they were risking by this rash, impetuous act.
But he hadn't, because he'd quickly realized it was neither rash or impetuous.
It would only seem such to someone who didn't know them so well. Who hadn't spent months in close contact with them. Who hadn't seen them in situations which occasionally did reveal their ignominious imperfections but so much more often showed their sublime strengths.
It would only seem such to someone who didn't know how much these two, somewhat broken, damaged people truly loved each other. Needed each other.
And John Casey did know all this. He may not have articulated these exact words in his mind but certainly knew it in his heart, the heart that most wouldn't have thought he possessed.
So he'd let them go through with it, even though he knew there'd be all sorts of hell to pay if Beckman ever found out.
Casey had almost started to regret this decision, until he saw them exit the wedding chapel.
He had taken her in his arms, and spun her exuberantly, laughingly, ecstatically. The look of pure, unadulterated joy on their faces at that moment is something Casey knew then he would never forget.
Although he would never let on, it was then he started to think of them more often as Chuck and Sarah, rather than Bartowski and Walker.
He'd known from then on he would have to work even harder to protect them from Beckman's scrutiny. It was now much more likely that the two of them would somehow give themselves away. Their natural desire to be with each other, to express affection, might somehow become evident despite their best efforts.
As Casey had driven back to the hotel, he was glad he had the unopened bottle of Scotch. He was positive this was more than a one drink problem.
From the day they returned to Burbank, Casey had worked on his plan. He'd thought long and hard about how he could help them spend as much time together without arousing any suspicions.
When there were minor matters that need attending to outside of Castle, he'd always tried to find a legitimate reason to stay at the base and allow the two of them to go on the job alone.
A couple of times, with extreme care and tact, he'd supported Sarah's apparently reluctant observations that she and Mr. Bartowski needed to have more occasions to reinforce their cover.
Casey had to admit that the couples performance had been very convincing. While he could see their love expressed in so many little ways, he was sure that to others they appeared simply as colleagues.
When the Von Hayes situation had developed, Casey had taken great joy in seeing Larkin demoted to a secondary role. Alongside Sarah, he'd strenuously argued for Chuck to take the role of the husband instead. This really made much more sense than the original mission plan. Beckman had agreed.
Of course this had allowed the two to have a great night together. Not only at the party but also later, as Beckman had also agreed this would be a very good time to add some strength to their cover.
The added benefit was that it had annoyed the hell out of Larkin. In Casey's books, that's was a gold star.
All of this had been well and good, but Casey kept looking for the opportunity to carry it further.
That opportunity had come along right after the Von Hayes party.
Up, as usual, at 05:30, Casey had received a private video call from the General only five minutes later. She obviously knew his routine.
"Major Casey. Both Agent Walker and Mr. Bartowski did an excellent job last night."
"Yes Ma'am. I fully agree." He'd replied while wondering where this was going.
"However, they are relatively new to this, portraying themselves as a couple, I feel they should be more thoroughly evaluated. Perhaps this was just a fluke."
He didn't agree, but wisely said nothing and waited for her to go on.
"I have therefore arranged for a 38-A."
"I'm sorry but I'm not familiar with that, General," Casey had admitted.
"Don't feel bad, Major. It's not a protocol we use with any frequency. I'm sending you a brief synopsis. I'll wait while you read it."
It was only a page long so Casey had quickly returned his attention to the General.
"I see, Ma'am. Am I correct in understanding that you'll use this occasion to test them, to evaluate their performance when things don't go according to plan?"
"Yes, Major, that is correct. How do you feel about the idea?"
Casey had, at first, thought the whole idea a waste of time and resources. Given what he knew, Chuck and Sarah would easily pass this test. But as he was about to respond to her question, he was struck by the germ of a bold, possibly crazy idea. One that could lead to very good things for his partners.
So his response had changed to one of agreement.
"Good, Major. I'm sending you the operation plan. The DEA has kindly allowed us the use of one of their safe houses, so the information about that location will be included. I'll bring the operation up at this mornings briefing. You'll need, of course, to pretend you know nothing about the 38-A."
"We'll speak again at 08:30. Beckman out."
Casey had been left staring at the seal on the screen, his mind going. He had less then three hours to set this thing up.
The first thing Casey had done was to reread Sarah's file. He'd quickly found the section he was looking for, the one that he'd vaguely remembered. The part where Walker and Larkin had blown an op and how it was subsequently handled.
He'd just hoped she remembered it as well or this whole thing was going nowhere.
The next step he'd known, would be to somehow have Chuck "inadvertently" flash on the info for the safe house.
If they could put two and two together, the last step would be to carefully convince Beckman as to the best course to take.
Casey had realized that all he could do was get the ball rolling and hope it rolled the direction he wanted.
And today, it had.
And because he was alone and not in the view of the cameras, he smiled.
Enjoy your wedding present, guys.
General Beckman's Office. June 16th., 13:37 Hours (Local Time)
Diane Beckman is smiling, something that she doesn't do all that often, especially when she is at work. However, she's by herself right now and today has been a great day, so she isn't holding back.
Her plan had gone according to...well, plan.
She actually finds it quite amusing that the three of them believed they've pulled the wool over her eyes.
After that mission in Las Vegas, it had been so obvious that Chuck and Sarah (as she referred to them in her private thoughts) had committed to each other in some way. She thought it even possible that they'd run off and gotten secretly married.
Diane hadn't been surprised at all. She'd seen the signs brewing for months. The one thing that did surprise her, is how long it took Sarah to see them herself.
The General knows she is required to live by the rules and regulations. That her obligation is to take notice of this situation and deal with it appropriately.
But she didn't then and she's not going to do it now. The truth is that Diane has developed a strong, unforeseen affinity for this group.
She had known John (again only in her private thoughts) for some time before the formation of the team and and always appreciated his steadfast loyalty and patriotism. She had respected him, but hadn't really liked him.
His transparent (at least to her) efforts to protect his teammates, his friends, from their own actions, had changed her feelings toward the man. For perhaps the first time in his life, he let his personal feelings of loyalty override his rigid sense of duty.
And he is a better man, a more likeable person because of that.
She had, of course, known of Sarah Walker prior to this assignment. Pretty much everyone in the intelligence community did.
What Diane had initially seen of her had done nothing to change her preconceived opinion of the agent. She was brilliant, overwhelmingly competent, almost chameleon-like in the roles she assumed.
Her virtually spotless service record backed up the anecdotal evidence of her cold-blooded effectiveness, fierce dedication and whole souled commitment to putting the greater good ahead of her own personal needs.
The General had been very happy to have her on the team, but Diane had disliked her from the moment they met.
She's honest enough to recognize that some of that dislike stemmed from petty jealousy. Sarah, is after all, tall, young, blond and beautiful. Pretty much the antithesis of Diane Beckman.
Although, she does remember being blond in Berlin back in 1989.
However, the rest of it was from the way Sarah had came across. She'd seemed determined to prove that she is the best of the best. To not let anyone or anything stand in her way.
And apparently that included not letting anyone get close to her, to distract her from her chosen path. Shutting off or at least minimizing what would be normal amounts of compassion and empathy.
It was only a few months in when she saw a different side of Sarah. Chuck had suffered a minor head wound during a data retrieval mission. During the following briefing she could clearly see the concern Sarah showed. She had sat much nearer to Chuck than she normally would have. Had asked at least twice if he was OK. And when she had seen the wince after an incautious head movement, without being prompted, had brought a glass of water and some painkillers. She'd even gone so far as to ask if the briefing could be cut a little short so Chuck could go home and get some rest.
Diane hadn't let on she noticed anything odd but rather simply agreed to the request.
From then on it had become more and more apparent that Sarah Walker was changing, or perhaps more accurately, revealing who she truly was, who she could be. While still very good at her job, Beckman could see she was, at least in some ways, kinder, softer, more aware of the needs of other people. Not just to Chuck, but certainly first of all with him.
Diane Beckman came to understand that the Sarah Walker whom she first knew, was a well cultivated facade, a facade so strongly developed, that even Sarah believed it to be real.
And as for the woman who'd emerged, Diane liked her very much.
That leaves of course, Chuck Bartowski. The unlikely catalyst behind the changes in two of the best agents in the business.
At first, Beckman thought that someone up there really hated her. To have to work with this bumbling fool, this irritating moron was almost more than she could bear.
So often, just the thought of dealing with another one of his messes, had made her sigh heavily before reluctantly activating their video conference.
Then she'd started to take real notice of how successful the team was, due in no small part to Chuck's unorthodox methods. Even though she would often wince over the series of events that lead to their successes, that didn't detract from the fact they were the most effective team she had.
Chuck is the binding force, the improbable glue, that made them such. They weren't just colleagues, they were friends. Each brought their own unique strengths. Strengths they used to unselfishly compensate for the other's unique weaknesses
What is was in Chuck that had awakened this response in Sarah and John, she wasn't quite sure. Perhaps they had been so used to dealing with cunning, callous and cruel individuals, that Chuck was a breath of fresh air.
So different from those that would stab them in the back, either literally or professionally.
In so many ways, he's innocent, almost naive. A reminder of how good people can truly be. Perhaps a reminder of how good they can be. A reminder of why they were doing this whole thing in the first place.
Diane Beckman has to admit that even she's fallen a little under his spell.
So despite him often being a massive pain, she's come to care for Chuck Bartowski.
It suddenly hits her that she's old enough to the be the mother of the two younger team members. It frightens her for a moment, drives home the point that she's no longer young herself.
She wonders if she made the right choice, forgoing family for country? Is there some long dormant maternal instinct at work in her? Driving her to do her best to make sure Chuck and Sarah can have what she doesn't?
She's not certain of all that motivates her but that has no effect on her determination to carry through with the rest of her plan.
It was clear how frustrated the two of them were, being unable to freely express their feelings. She could see how much they needed each other.
Of course, she couldn't openly acknowledge this, so she had set up the evaluation mission with express intent of getting Chuck and Sarah together.
First of all, she'd had to depend on John to recognize the opportunity being presented. The man was much more intelligent than his gruff exterior tended to indicate. She'd known that confidence wasn't misplaced when she'd abruptly seen him change his mind about the test mission.
It was almost as if a lightbulb popped up over this head.
She'd had to work hard to stop her smile.
Diane had, of course, known about the Bryce & Sarah blown mission and it's aftermath. She had counted on John to know as well and use it to get the everything in motion.
She had also counted on the smarts of Sarah and Chuck. Counted on them to seize the opportunity.
Diane had known how she would handle a similar situation, given the need. So when she saw the escalating tension between the two she wasn't surprised at all.
Who did they think they were fooling? She'd been playing the game when the two them were still in grade school.
When everything had gone pretty much as she thought it would, she'd let herself be reluctantly persuaded to give the two of them the chance to fix things.
Now that General Beckman had ordered the two to act like a couple in all public situations, it would be easier for her to ignore any apparent breaches in protocol.
After all, they were just doing what they were told, weren't they?
She thought the touch of having them move in together was a good one. It seemed a plausible consequence for their actions. And it would obviously remove the need for remote surveillance.
No sense wasting government resources.
Down the road, perhaps in five or six months, she would find a way to suddenly "discover" Chuck and Sarah's real relationship. Then after a period of outrage on her part, she would legitimize their situation by making Chuck a Special Analyst for the team.
All the while, she would of course indicate she was only doing so because they had done so much good for the country. That part is actually true. However, Diane knows they wouldn't be nearly so effective if the team dynamics weren't there. If Chuck and Sarah weren't together.
She's just happy that her duty can, for once, mesh so well with her personal desires.
Malibu Safe House, June 16th., 20:12 Hours.
The waves are softly lapping at the beach below them. Sarah, as usual, is nestled closely against Chuck's side as they sit together on the oversized chaise lounge.
The view from the balcony of the safe house is fantastic. While drinking their wine, they'd comfortably, quietly watched the sun go down. The bluish afterglow in the sky is calm, peaceful, a contrast to the riotous oranges and reds of just a few minutes ago.
"Chuck, that chicken pepperoni was delicious. Where did you learn to cook?"
"Ellie taught me that one. She told me I had to know at least one dinner dish if I wanted to impress the girls."
"Well, it worked. I'm impressed."
"I'm happy to find out Ellie was right."
She looks up at him, surprised, "What, you never did it for anyone else?"
"Nope. Your the first girl who was worth the effort. The first one I thought would appreciate it. I don't slave over a hot stove for just anyone, you know."
Her face flushes at this, a tingle running through her. She likes the thought that this is something he has done only for her.
She's is, however, curious, "Not even Jill?" The fact she even can ask this, is a sign of their growing maturity, the acceptance of each other's past.
"Not even Jill."
"Looking back, I'm not really certain. Somehow I got the vibe that she wouldn't think it was good enough. I just felt...inadequate."
She is instantly furious. Sarah hopes she never runs into Jill again. If she does, against Chuck's wishes, someone's going to wind up in the hospital and it's certainly not going to be herself.
But then, her rage subsides as she's suddenly reminded of her own past actions. She's a little afraid to ask, "Chuck, have I ever made you feel that way?"
He looks at her as if she's temporarily taken leave of her senses, "How could you ever think that?"
"When I was first sent here, I was hard on you, pushed you, was angry at you..."
"Sarah. Stop right there. Your motives were completely different. You were here to protect me, sometimes even from myself. When I did stupid things, I deserved your wrath. And yes, you were hard on me but even then I knew I merited it. And knowing now what was behind it, how you felt, feel, about me, I understand the why.
He stops for moment and kisses the top of her head, "As far as pushing me, it was only to help me realize I could be better. I could make a difference."
He angles himself so he can see her face, "Sarah, and then when I did do something right, you encouraged me, praised me. You never made me feel that the things I was good at, were somehow still not good enough."
He asks kindly, "Do you believe me when I tell you that you're nothing like her?"
She nods, heart-warmed, her head again against his chest.
"As far as any feelings of inadequacy, me and the other 99.9% of the world are in the same boat there. You're the most incredible, extraordinary person I know, so I am bound to feel a little inferior sometimes. However, that's my issue. Not your fault."
Sarah sits up straighter, and takes his face in her hands, "Chuck, you don't realize how extraordinary you are." He starts to shake his head, as if to deny her words.
"Stop. You are, and I will keep on telling you this until you believe it. I'm the one who feels inadequate when I see how good you are at the really important things. Friends. Family. Love."
"You've taught me so much and I am eternally in your debt, Chuck Bartowski."
He looks into her eyes, a suspicion of wetness in his, "Well, I guess we're just two extraordinary people, aren't we?"
She nods, tearfully, and just before they kiss, she says, "Yep, that we are."
A few minutes later, Sarah is wrapped firmly in his arms, her head on his chest, arms about his torso.
"Sarah, where do we go from here?"
"What do you mean?"
"How do we act when we're on missions, at Castle?"
"Well, unless the mission calls for something different, we act as colleagues. We support each other and basically do what we've always done. You'll need to listen to me and follow my direction."
"When this week is over, we'll have to show them we've come to a somewhat grudging, mutual understanding. However, in Castle, we need to make sure we don't display any overt signs of affection in front of Casey or Beckman. Or the cameras. Don't forget the cameras."
"That going to be hard."
"Hard for me too."
"However, here's the good part. There will be missions where we'll be a couple, so affection will need to be shown. You OK with that?" She asks, the smirk evident in her voice.
"I guess, I can muddle through."
"And we've been ordered to be affectionate in all public situations, so I also guess you're good with that."
She can feel his enthusiastic nod.
"And the best part is that we've been ordered to live together, with no one watching. That means plenty of private affection."
"That's the part the floors me. It's almost as if she was granting us a wish. Aside from being able to be completely open, that's the best we could have hoped for."
"I agree. But as good as this is going to be, down the road we're going to find a way to shed all the pretense. Everyone will know just how truly happy you've made me. We just have to be patient."
"I've got no problem with that, especially since Ellie, Devon and Morgan will see we're together, that we're happy. Even though we can't tell them everything yet, it makes me feel good that we're not lying, that this isn't a cover. And I know they'll understand about the elopement thing later."
They sit quietly for a few minutes, watching the waves break on the shore.
Chuck turns his body towards hers, breaks the silence, "Sarah, there's something I forgot to ask earlier. What did Beckman say to you when Casey and I left the briefing room?"
Even in the faint light, Chuck can see she is blushing a bit, apparently a little uncomfortable.
She's silent for a few seconds more, "Well, after chewing me out, she ordered me to do whatever was needed to make sure you cooperated. Even if I was personally uncomfortable with the actions needed."
"Yes. But you know that I would have never followed through on that. Even if our situation was different than it is."
"Yes, Sarah, I do know." Giving her a cheeky grin, he goes on, "But given that we're pretending to follow her directions, I really feel you should obey your orders. In fact, I insist."
She blurts out, "But I really don't need to-" then abruptly cuts herself off.
With an affronted expression, he says, "Sarah Bartowski. Are you saying you don't even have to make an effort in order to have your way with me? Are you implying that your husband," he gasps theatrically, "is easy?"
She's fighting a smile as she looks at him, "Sweetie, I almost hate to say it, but the truth is, you kinda are."
"Well, I never-"
She jumps in, "I beg to differ!"
Working very hard to control his laughter, he manages to say, "I'll have you know, Missy, I am immune to your feminine wiles."
"Chuck, for pity's sake, two hours ago you couldn't keep your hands off me when I was buttoning up my blouse."
"Can I help it if you're a beguiling buttoner?" He looks thoughtful, "Or should it be Buttonitrix? Buttonress? Bu-"
She leans in and stops his rambling with a quick kiss.
"If memory serves, it appears I'm also beguiling when," she starts counting on her fingers, "flossing. Taking out the trash. Eating scrambled eggs. Typing. Scratching my forehead."
She looks at him, head tilted to one side, "Shall I go on, sweetie, or are you starting to sense a pattern here?"
"Nonsense! That is clearly all part of your fevered imagination. I understand that women who are madly in love sometimes have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality."
Sarah just shakes her head indulgently. Sometimes he can be such an idiot.
But he's her idiot, and she wouldn't have it any other way.
"Before we adjourn to our nuptial chamber, (she figures he's started reading the Jane Austen novel she leant him) I expect you to pull out all the stops. Nothing less than the complete seduction package."
He tries to look stern as he says this, arms folded in front of his chest.
Without a word, Sarah stands up, and smiling that little smile, the one reserved just for him, simply holds out her hand.
With no conscious thought, he's standing, accepting her offer. For the briefest of moments, Chuck wonders if he'll ever have the needed willpower to resist those eyes, that smile…her.
Hold on. Why on earth would I ever want to do that? Why would I ever want to say no to this incredible woman?
Chuck has a sudden realization of how this life is so far from the traditional, normal one he had always envisaged having.
Here he is, married to the most beautiful, amazing woman in the whole world, a woman he loves more than life itself. And against all the odds, seemingly even against logic, she loves him right back.
That she's a CIA spy and he has this massive database in his head, doesn't even seem strange anymore.
The fact that they risk their lives on a regular basis, has just become an accepted part of his life.
It doesn't even faze him (although it hurts his brain a little) that they've been ordered by the head of the NSA to find a way to make their secretly real, but outwardly fake relationship, appear to be more real, so they can be more convincing in their fake relationship.
Which is actually real.
Chuck has come to understand that normalcy is relative. Being with her, even in the middle of all this craziness, is his new normal.
And it has never felt more right.
However, there is one traditional thing he can do.
He releases her hand, bends quickly and with a surprisingly graceful move, scoops her effortlessly into his arms.
She lets out a high pitched, surprised, "Oh!", wrapping both arms around his neck.
"I believe the threshold awaits, milady."
Her delighted laughter continues until he brings his face closer and her lips become otherwise occupied.
A/N:Thank you for reading. I really hope you enjoyed it. Again reviews are really appreciated.
Hope the Batman TV show reference wasn't too obscure.
Commas are the bane of my existence. Too many? Too few? Wrong place? Argh!
Working on my next idea.