A/N: Oh shit, Chuck Versus the Dive is back!
Thanks to all you shiny happy faces out there eating this story up, even though it's such a slowly updated rag. Love you kids. I really do.
Disclaimer: Aw come on, I know I don't own any of this, but do ya gotta rub it in? (pout)
"What's the timing on this?"
Chuck took a deep breath and pulled up his laptop calendar, flicking through it. "We're shooting for a July release."
"Next year?" Lamar Lenton, BarTech's head marketing specialist asked.
"Okay, friend to friend, do you really think you can get this product out in July? I promise I don't have any of your programmers sitting next to me and I'm not broadcasting this convo on speaker phone."
BarTech's CEO laughed and scratched the back of his head, looking out at the Kauai view and grinning. "I'm feeling really confident about it, Lamar. Seriously. We've got some good freaking programmers, artists, and writers in our employ."
"All I'm saying is it seems like not enough time."
"Well, if it makes you feel better, and I'd prefer to go forward with this with all of my staff feeling perfectly comfortable and ready, we'll wait on announcing the date for a bit, see how the pieces fit together, how long it takes… And if I need to change it, I can, without public losing their damn minds. Deal?"
"That would make me feel a whole lot better, man."
He chuckled and downsized his calendar after adding a question mark next to the date. "Thanks for checking in. Everyone's surviving without me, right?"
"It's almost like we don't need you at all, Boss Man."
Lamar laughed. "Nah, Chuck. Seriously, we're just fine. You enjoy your vacation. It's more than deserved. All of us are of the same mind. We like it when you're here, but we'd prefer you to be here and relaxed, not here and a rampaging zombie."
"I am never a rampaging zombie when I'm there!"
His friend laughed again. "I'm just messin' with you, man! But sometimes you're super unhealthy and sleep-deprived so I hope you're getting some sleep over on that island."
Chuck just shook his head and shut his laptop altogether. "I am. Hey, just a sec, Lamar." He lowered his phone as the bartender stooped under his umbrella and set his drink in front of him on the table. Chuck gave her a big tip and thanked her, then picked up the mango margarita and licked the salt from the rim, taking a long drink. When he lifted the phone to his ear again, he was still humming in delight.
He laughed. "Sorry. Bartender brought me my mango margarita. It is goooooood."
"Oh, hell no. I'm not listening to this shit while I'm in my office working hard for your vacationing ass."
Chuck laughed even harder. "You're fired."
"Try and fire me, I'll bring all one hundred of the people you have working on 'Goddess Rising' with me."
"Oh, okay. Well, then we'll see where you get the money to pay all of them what BarTech pays them, dude."
His phone buzzed then and he frowned a bit, pulling it back to look at it. Sarah was calling him. "Oh shit," he breathed. "Oh shit oh shit." He put the phone back to his ear. "Hey, I've got to take this other call, man. You mind?"
"Nah, go ahead. I'll text you if anything else comes up."
"Great. Thanks, Lamar."
Without listening for a response, he switched the call over as fast as he could, hoping he didn't lose her. "Hello? Sarah? Sarah, you there?"
"Jesus," he heard her amused voice drawl, and he slumped in his chair with relief. "That's quite the greeting."
"No, I—I'm sorry. I had my head of marketing on the phone and I was afraid I wouldn't be able to pick up your call in time."
"You hung up on a work call for me? That seems kind of serious, Chuck."
He didn't quite know what to say until she giggled. Admittedly, he'd been a bit unsure about whether she was teasing him or not. But now that he knew, he chuckled.
She couldn't know he'd spent a lot of hours wondering if he was being too intense, if he was giving off vibes that were too serious for her. After she calmed him down the other night, being mercifully honest and real with him, that incessant self-doubting voice had been muffled, though not altogether muted.
"I don't get phone calls from women who aren't my sister or my employees, so getting a call from you is kind of a big deal."
She laughed this time. "You need to get out more, maybe."
"I'm on an island, like, two-thousand miles away from my home right now, Sarah," he exclaimed, grinning and shaking his head, taking a long enough sip from his margarita that he gave himself a brain freeze. He hissed and pressed the heel of his palm against his forehead.
"Around two-thousand six-hundred miles, actually."
"How—How do you know that off-hand?"
She was quiet for a moment. And then, "I guess I just do. Hey, so the reason why I called…" Chuck was still dwelling on why she knew that information as she continued. "Are you doing anything tonight?"
"Um, yes actually," he said, "See, there's this other woman I met during this other diving class I took and she's invited me out—Of course I'm free," he laughed as he heard her make an annoyed sound on the other end of the phone.
"I'm done. Never mind. Invitation rescinded."
Chuck laughed again. "No, please don't rescind the invitation before I even know what it is!"
He could hear the smile in her voice as she spoke. "A few of the Scuba Shack crew are going out for drinking and dancing—" He felt his stomach do a nosedive at that last word. "Sort of a team building thing," she said with a giggle that told him it definitely wasn't team building and they just wanted to get some drinks and go dancing. "Figured I'd bring a date this time around and I thought maybe I'd ask you instead of the cute guy who sells tamales at the farmer's market I always go to."
Chuck sat up straighter. "Are they good tamales?"
She laughed hard. "Really? That's what that gets? You ask about the tamales and not the cute guy?"
"Don't take this the wrong way. But tamales are incredibly important, and if he makes bad tamales, it doesn't matter whether he's cute or not."
"Well, I haven't sampled his tamales but I've walked past his tent enough times to know he's cute enough that I don't care what the tamales taste like. How's that?"
He couldn't help but feel a stab of jealousy at that, even though he knew she was teasing him, goading him. He deserved it. "You're actively trying to make me jealous now, and I'm at the point where I'm wondering if this cute tamale guy is even real."
"Oh, he's real. Come to my place tomorrow morning and I'll take you to see him."
"You going to stand us next to each other to figure out which one is better?"
She laughed. "I don't need to," she finally said. "That's why I'm talking to you right now and not the cute tamale guy. See, this isn't even fair. On the beach the other night, you told me all about that cute sandwich girl, and you got to watch me be a little jealous, and now my cute tamale guy doesn't even get the smallest bit of jealousy. This actively sucks."
Chuck was beaming as he swiped at the rim of his margarita and put his salt-covered finger in his mouth. Because Sarah had definitely just admitted that she'd been "a little jealous" of Lou. He felt the need to extend a peace offering, throw her a bone, so to speak. "I wouldn't say that," he confessed. "You couldn't see my face when you mentioned the cute tamale guy, but if you had, you'd feel a lot better right now, lemme tell ya."
There was a bit of a pause. "So you're saying I did make you jealous?" she asked tentatively.
"That's what I'm saying, yes."
She did a celebratory, "Yessssss!" then continued. "Okay, invitation back on. What d'ya say? Want to come drinking and dancing? I know it's…I mean, I don't know if you want to. All of these scuba diving crazies, my friends and coworkers…"
"Yes," he said. "Of course I'll come. I want to know if the other scuba instructors are also super hot or if you and Alexei are hot outliers."
Sarah barked out a laugh. "First of all, you make me blush. Secondly, did you just call Alexei hot? He's, like, in his sixties. I can put in a good word for you. He'll be there tonight…"
"Stop it," he laughed. "He's an objectively good-looking older man."
"He is," she giggled. "I'm just impressed you're secure enough that you willingly talk about how attractive another man is."
"Listen, I have a million and one insecurities. My sexuality is not one of them."
"Oh, I, uh…know. From firsthand experience," she flirted, and Chuck turned burgundy.
"That—Erm, that wasn't what I meant."
"I know that, too. But it is what I meant. There's a place called Kai Serenity…It's only four or five blocks from your hotel, actually, now that I'm thinking about it. People are gathering there around eight-thirty or nine. Will I see you there?"
Chuck drew a circle in the condensation on the side of his margarita glass with the tip of his finger. "You will see me there. When, uh, when are you planning on arriving? Eight-thirty or nine?"
She giggled. "You don't want to be there with my friends unless I'm there, huh?"
"I'm not saying I don't want to be. Just that, uh, I'm…" He cleared his throat. "I'm going to stop talking. I'll be fine either way."
She let out another giggle. "Knowing me, probably closer to nine."
He was going to make a teasing dig about her using traffic again as an excuse for why she'd be later, but he held it in. He had to remember he had only been out with her three times, technically, and he'd met her less than five days ago. As comfortable as he felt teasing her, as good as the banter was between them, he needed to watch his step still. He really didn't want to mess up, in spite of her telling him she wasn't going to run away screaming if he misstepped.
"I will see you then, Sarah."
"Good." He heard her smile again. "Have a good rest of your day, Chuck."
"Oh I absolutely will. I'm already drinking so I can already tell it's gonna be a great day. And I get to see you tonight, so that's a plus."
Her response was slow and quiet, and it made him feel extra warm suddenly. "Yeah. I can't wait."
He checked his watch. It was almost one o'clock in the afternoon. He still had about eight hours until he'd see her.
"I'll text you the address to the bar where we're meeting."
They said their goodbyes and Chuck hung up, unable to keep from sinking in his chair, a satisfied smile on his face. She'd actively called him to invite him out to meet her coworkers and friends. And if there was one thing he prided himself on, it was his ability to handle social situations. He loved meeting people. He loved talking to people. He was confident he'd enjoy the outing.
The only thing was—and he frowned as he realized it—she said dancing. Dancing wasn't exactly a strong suit for him. He could slow dance easy enough. He knew how to hold a woman and sway. But his confidence would be swept out the window if that music sped up. Maybe they'd be packed in on the dance floor and nobody would notice his dismal lack of dancing talent.
He'd started a company that produced video games and other tech. He could hack in and out of just about anything put in front of him. And he knew the languages of coding and programming better than most homegrown Americans knew English, for God's sake. He just couldn't dance.
For Sarah Walker, he'd suck it up.
He thought perhaps he'd suffer through just about anything for the scuba instructor. Just about anything.
Chuck heard Kai Serenity before he saw it.
Sarah'd been right about it being close to his hotel, so he'd walked the four blocks to the bar, and before he'd even turned the corner, he'd heard the music blasting from it, the loud voices…
And as he came up to the place, he saw that even though the music was blasting, people were spilling out onto its patio with heat lamps, and a few raucous younger guys in muscle-shirts, board shorts, and flip-flops play-wrestling off to the side, the place seemed pretty low-key. It definitely wasn't like the music venues he and Morgan went to every so often, and it wasn't like the dance club Ellie and Devon had forced him to take one of Devon's nurse friends to on a double date a while back, either.
He stopped at the waist-high railing that surrounded the patio area before following the well-tread carpet to the entrance and glanced around. He didn't see Sarah, though she might have already gone inside with her friends. Checking his phone, just in case she'd texted him an update, or told him where to meet everyone, he jumped at the feeling of a hand clamping down on his shoulder.
"Oh good, it's you!"
He blinked at the owner of the Scuba Shack as the older man walked around to face him, squeezing his shoulder a bit harder and shaking him in a friendly but rather fierce sort of way.
"H-Hi, Mr. Volkoff. It's good to see you again, sir."
"Good to see you, too. I thought it might be you, uh…Carlton, was it? No, no, no. Charles. I'm sorry. I've got it now."
Chuck decided not to correct him. Charles was good enough. "That's right."
"Sarah mentioned she'd be inviting a guest."
"Well, it was me or the tamale guy and thankfully for me, the coin landed in my favor."
Volkoff laughed and thumped him on the shoulder one more time before mercifully taking his hand away. "I like you. You're funny. Come with me, come over here. Everyone's right here. Come."
He allowed the man to lead him into the bar then. While the lighting was a bit darker, it wasn't the usual cave-like atmosphere, and the music was loud, but not anything you had to shout over. The decor was beachy, but without being corny like some of the Hawaii-themed places he'd been to back in Southern California. There was wood everywhere, water-color paintings of the island on the wall, and a fish tank in the back corner away from the dance floor and tables, which was smart placement, he thought to himself.
"We have our own table," Volkoff said over his shoulder, gesturing past the bar. Chuck followed behind him, glancing over the other man's head, and he spotted a large booth with five people crammed into it, three women, and two men.
And when they stopped next to it, Volkoff was kind enough to make the introductions. "Everyone, this is Charles. Sarah invited him to join us tonight. Charles, this is Gina, another instructor at the Shack. And her girlfriend, Liz." Chuck shook hands with the young, dark-skinned woman and her redheaded girlfriend. "Zeki is our surf instructor," Volkoff continued, and Chuck shook hands with the jolly Hawaiian who looked like he was maybe old enough to actually be in this bar.
"This is my girlfriend, Chloe," Zeki said, draping his arm over the tan blonde next to him's shoulders.
"Nice to meet you, Chloe."
Everyone chuckled at that.
"And my partner-in-crime and best friend on the planet, Kai," Volkoff said, gesturing to the man on Chloe's other side. He had jet black hair that was starting to grey at the temples and he was built like Captain Awesome. And when Kai reached up to give him a fist pound, letting out an incredible friendly, "Righteous, my good man," Chuck thought this man could be Devon Woodcomb's brother, if Devon wasof Hawaiian descent.
"So how ya know Sarah?" Gina asked as Volkoff scurried to the corner and grabbed two chairs from an empty table, and tucked them up against the booth.
"Oh. Uh. She actually…Er, that is, she—"
"Charles was one of our students the other day," Volkoff provided as he plopped down in his chair.
"Thanks for the chair," Chuck said as he sat in the chair he'd been given. "Uh, what he said. I was lucky enough to get diving lessons the other day."
Gina exchanged a look with her girlfriend, and they both must have realized it was less than subtle and seemed a bit sorry for it. "Hey, we've never had one of our students at our weekly chill nights before. You're the first, Charles."
"Well, I'm honored. Thanks."
He chuckled and watched as the group resumed their conversation. They were polite and pulled him in on it, making sure he wasn't left out even slightly, and finally Volkoff nudged him with his arm.
"How about a drink, Charles? It's on me."
"You don't drink?" There was no judgment in it, Chuck found, and it was refreshing.
"Oh, I drink. I definitely drink. I mean, I'm not…an alcoholic. The way that sounded when it came out sounded a bit like I drink a lot. It's not—I mean, I can pack 'em in. It's in my blood."
"You have a ski name, don't you? I seem to remember from when you signed the waver the other day."
"Good memory, yeah! Bartowski, actually."
"Ah yes! Polish?"
"Maybe. I, uh, I don't really know my family history unfortunately. Never really had the time to figure that kind of thing out." He never talked to his dad about it, or his mom, for that matter. It had never felt important once they'd both left. He'd rather know other things…like why they'd left, for instance. And why they'd both felt it appropriate to leave two kids, young teens, alone to fend for themselves.
"I know exactly what you mean. What do you drink? I mean it. On me."
"No, really. You don't have to—"
"Charles…" The man lowered his chin in warning.
"You better let him buy you a drink, Charles," Kai said. "He's not good at hearing the word 'no'."
"Yeah, most men aren't," Gina snarked, and she got a laugh from Liz and Chloe with that.
"All right, all right." He put both hands up in surrender. "Whiskey on the rocks?"
"A whiskey man! Noted!" Volkoff tapped his temple and got up from his chair.
As he dashed away, Gina leaned across the table towards Chuck. "He thinks he can tell a lot about people based on what they drink."
"Should I be worried?"
She laughed, pushing her shoulder length, curly hair behind her shoulder. "No, I think you're good."
"So you a tourist, Charles? On vacation?" Kai asked.
"Chuck. Please. Uh, and yeah. Yeah, I'm here for a few weeks then back home to Los Angeles."
"No way! You live in LA? We got an LA guy in our midst! Can I call you Hollywood, dude?" Zeki asked.
"Hey, why not?" Chuck responded with an amused grin. "I mean, I live near West Hollywood, though it's not technically part of West Hollywood."
"I'll call you just Hollywood, dude. West Hollywood is too much," Zeki said.
Chuck laughed and nodded. "Perfect. I like it."
"Well, you made an impression on Sarah already," Gina said then, dropping her hand on top of her girlfriend's on the table.
"Really? Did I?" He unconsciously scooted his chair closer and sat up straighter. "H-How can you, uh, tell that?"
Liz smirked at Gina, then turned back to him, leaning in.
"Ladies, please. Let the woman handle her own business," Kai interrupted, grinning crookedly and shaking his head.
Liz sat back again, rolling her eyes good-naturedly.
"No, I mean…If you want to tell me, that's okay," Chuck said, making the others laugh. He felt a little embarrassed, but Sarah wasn't here yet, and these people knew her. They'd been her coworkers and friends for a few months at the very least. They knew more than he did, and he'd take any bit of help they could provide.
Placated, Liz leaned in again. "I've never seen this girl with a guy. Like, seriously, I was starting to think maybe she was one of us," she gestured between her and Gina.
"Liz, holy shit!" Gina laughed and smacked her girlfriend's shoulder with the back of her hand. "Just because she doesn't flaunt her love life like the rest of us do…"
"Well, I'm just saying. We've never met or even heard about people she's been dating and here we have one sitting right in front of us. That feels kind of like a big deal. Am I alone here?"
"Jesus, the guy is sitting right there!" Chloe said, gesturing at Chuck with her palm facing upwards.
But he was on too much of a high to do anything but smile with half of his mouth and lift a hand in an awkward wave. "Uh, yeah. Hi. Um."
"Sorry. I have a big mouth," Liz said.
"She's a bit blunt," Gina said, sending her girlfriend a flat look, earning a sheepish shrug in return.
"No, that's okay," he chuckled, shaking his head. "You're good, Liz. It's all good. Yeah, no. Me and Sarah, we're…um…"
"I mean, you totally just assumed this is romantic," Kai interrupted, looking at Liz. "I mean, you and Sarah could be friends, right, Chuck?"
"I…" He huffed. "I'm going to be honest with you folks. I really don't know how to answer that."
Gina bark-laughed, throwing her head back. Then she pointed at him, a pleased look on her face. "I see it now. I get it. I get why she brought you here. I like you."
He didn't know what to say, so he just shrugged, grinning stupidly.
Zeki was about to say something but then Gina elbowed him in the bicep with a "SH!" And they all lifted their gazes to something over Chuck's shoulder. Gina waved, a large smile on her face. "Sarah's here!"
Oh, thank GOD.
"I wasn't even gonna say anything about the romance thing, though. I was just going to ask about Hollywood," Zeki whined, rubbing his arm.
"Shut up!" Gina hissed.
Chuck spun around in his chair to watch Sarah approach and not for the first time, he felt insanely lucky. A voice in his head reminded him she wasn't his, that she'd most likely never really be his. He was on vacation. She lived here. She worked here. She had friends here. But for right now, this jaw-droppingly stunning woman was his date. And he was damn lucky.
She caught his eye and her smile widened into a grin. He also noticed the way the scuba instructor had gotten a little more dressed up than her friends had. She wore black pants with a skinny leg, heeled boots, a flowey white top, and a black blazer over it. And her long blond hair had those beachey waves in it, half of it pulled up behind her head and the rest flowing down over her shoulders.
He almost felt dizzy as he sprang to his feet. Her hand landed on his bicep as she swept past him and gave Liz and Gina kisses on their cheeks over the table. She waved at the others who weren't as easy to reach, and then she turned back and wrapped her arms around Chuck's shoulders and hugged him in greeting.
Chuck did his best not to look too…something… as he hugged her back, smelling a subtle flowery scent in her hair. That made it all the harder. But everyone was definitely looking at his face, trying to read into it he knew, figure this thing out, so he pressed his lips together hard, and finally pulled back.
"Hi. Sorry I'm so late," she said, having to look up at him even with her tall heels she had on. "I caught an Uber here and he took a few extra turns." She rolled her eyes.
"Oh. Everything okay?"
"Yeah," she huffed and dismissed his concern with a hand gesture. "Definitely gave him a bad rating for asking personal questions and staring at me in the rearview mirror too much."
"Should I go out there and kick his ass?"
"Definitely not just friends."
Sarah turned to look at her friends over her shoulder. "What?"
"Nothing," Gina chirped. "We were just getting to know Chuck!"
"I'm calling him Hollywood!" Zeki added, throwing up the shaka sign with his free hand, his other arm still draped over Chloe's shoulders.
Sarah lifted an eyebrow at Chuck. "And you're encouraging this?"
He just chuckled and shrugged. "It's kinda cool."
"See? Dude, Hollywood, you're the raddest."
"You're the raddest."
Chuck reached over the table to pound Zeki's fist.
"Our eighth has finally arrived!" Volkoff pronounced, then, as he came over to the table with a tray of drinks. "Sarah, what can I bring you to drink?"
"Oh, that's okay, Alexei. Uh, actually, Chuck, do you want to come with me to get a drink?"
"I already got Charles a—" Chuck didn't see whatever look Sarah flashed her boss that made him stop dead in his tracks and clear his throat. "You know what? This is Zeki's whiskey on the rocks. I forgot yours, Charles." He quickly moved the whiskey on the rocks in front of Zeki.
"What? I hate whiskey." Chloe turned and glared at him and he slumped. "Oh. Yeah. My whiskey."
Chuck bit down on his cheek to keep from laughing as Sarah chirped a "be right back!" and put a hand on his back, half-pushing him away from her friends towards the bar. As they moved through the place, she wrapped her other hand around his bicep and moved up close to his ear.
"I'm seriously so sorry I was late. I actually left my house at an appropriate time, but that stupid driver—"
"Nah, it's okay," he said, shaking his head. "I mean, that driver isn't okay. What I mean is, I can make sure that driver isn't okay. If you want me to."
She cocked an eyebrow. "This protective side is a little surprising, but I'm not altogether upset about it." She paused. "And that's a lot surprising."
Chuck frowned a bit in confusion.
"Don't worry about it," she said, shaking her head in amusement. "I was really trying to get here so that you wouldn't have to hang out with them alone." She looked legitimately frustrated so as they sidled up to the bar, he signaled to the bartender with one hand and put the other on her shoulder to reassure her.
"Hey, it's fine."
"They can be a lot for new people. I mean, probably. We don't get a lot of new people in the group. Just us Scuba Shackers. There are a few of us who aren't here. Myrna has night school and a four-year-old, and…I'm sorry I wasn't here. Really."
"Listen, the second he recognized me, Mr. Volkoff—" She smirked at that and he didn't really know why. "—greeted me and sort of grabbed me…a bit forcefully…which must be a thing with him?" She nodded. "Okay, it's a thing with him, good. I feel better. And he did all of the introductions. And then we sat and shot the shit for a few minutos and it was great."
She gave him a dubious look but before she could say anything, the bartender came over.
"What'll you have?" he asked his blond companion.
"Gin and tonic, please? A bit more gin with the tonic, if you don't mind."
"Got it," the bartender said.
"And a whiskey on the rocks for me."
"Comin' right up." She moved away from them again and got to work.
"I really like your friends, Sarah," he said then, and she turned to meet his gaze. There was a slow burn there for a few seconds and then she took a deep breath.
"I'm glad. They're really good people."
"Must be such a great place to work, that Scuba Shack. With all those fun people."
"Best job I've ever had. Easily. And I've had a loooot of jobs," she said with a snort. Then she nibbled on her lip a little. "Did they…I mean, they didn't ask you a bunch of personal stuff, did they?"
"Uh, about you, but did they ask about us?" She looked half-startled.
Chuck shook his head vehemently and put a hand out. "No. But I'm pretty sure they…I mean…I don't know. They might be aware of the fact that this is—I mean, that we're…"
He felt like maybe shutting up was the best thing to do. Because he'd known this woman for maybe five days and this counted as a fourth date or meet-up or whatever it was they were doing. Were they dating? Seeing each other? God, words and definitions were so hard and stupid and he wished he could be light and breezy and just go with the flow without stressing about labels.
"Yeah, they're probably confused because they've never met any other guy I've gone out with." The bartender put her drink in front of her. "Thanks."
Chuck stopped her from going into her bag. "Wait, it's my turn I think."
She smirked a little at him as he took his wallet out and paid for the drinks. "Keep the change."
Sarah took her drink and made to move away from the bar and go back to the group, but Chuck reached out and put a hand on her arm. "Wait, not just yet." He pulled his hand away when she looked down at it and back up at him. "Sorry, I just…" He cleared his throat as she smiled patiently. "You said they've never met anyone else you've gone out with."
She giggled. "Sorry to say, Chuck, but I've been out with other guys before you got here."
"No. I know that, thank you," he said sarcastically, chuckling at her as she grinned cheekily. "I mean, they haven't met anyone else?"
"These are our one night a week chill get-togethers we treat ourselves to. Connecting and having fun and, if we're in the mood, getting crazy." She let out a one-note giggle, glancing back at the group, and then up at him again. "It's important. I'm not just gonna drag some whatever guy I went on a date with or slept with."
Chuck felt his whiskey go down extra hard as he swallowed and he coughed a bit.
Sarah smirked, rather pleased with herself, he thought.
"But you brought me?"
"Mhm. Let's go back before they think we snuck into the bathroom to get our rocks off."
"Wha—?" He let her pull him back towards the table. "Is that something that happens often here?" he hissed near her ear.
She laughed. "I never did it but if Zeki and Chloe disappear for longer than, like, twenty minutes…"
"Gross! In a public bathroom?"
"What, in a public bathroom?" Volkoff asked, looking up from his chair as they got to the table again. Sarah gave Chuck a you're on your own look and he made a face at her.
"Bringing your drink into the bathroom," he said. "Lots of germs. It's gross."
Sarah slipped him an impressed look and he grabbed the chair he'd been sitting in, pushing it towards her. "Here. Have my chair, I can stand," he said. The place had since gained a lot more clientele and there weren't any extra chairs left.
But then Gina and Liz scooted closer together, making room for Sarah to sit flush against the latter's side, and Chuck smiled, taking a seat in the chair himself.
They all sat there until they finished their drinks, and then Kai checked his text and waggled his phone, announcing a nearby dance club was offering fifty percent off shots for the next half hour for groups of more than six.
They hastened around the corner to the club then and Chuck felt a bit nervous as the place loomed at the end of the block. At least it sounded like they were playing nineteen-eighties tunes, which he could definitely get into. But the headway he felt he'd been making with Sarah's friends—with Sarah herself—might be somewhat lost once they saw his awkward weight shifting dance, or the weird bouncing thing he did.
"Oh an eighties-themed club! Original!" Gina said as they approached. Everyone else groaned at her.
There was a line of fifteen people or so to get in.
"Just…wait here. Wait a minute." Volkoff winked and strode towards the front of the line as they waited in the back.
"Oh, Christ. Is he doing the thing?" Sarah sighed and made a face at her friends, who returned it in kind.
"What, uh…What thing?"
Kai casually put an arm around Chuck's shoulders and squeezed. "My old friend Alexei has some connections. He's a string puller. And sometimes he likes to boast a little about it and get us all perks when we're out and about."
"Ah, cool. What is he, some Hawaii mob boss?" He chuckled. "But instead of singing with the voice of an angel like Frank, he scuba dives with the flippers of a dolphin."
Everyone laughed at that.
Volkoff came back then and winked again, gesturing them to follow him. "Just so happens my old friend Simon would love for us to go in and see him. He's got a private booth and everything."
As everyone else followed after their boss and friend, Chuck sidled up close to Sarah and moved his lips near her ear so no one else could hear him say, "You weren't kidding about the connections."
She smiled up at him, raised her eyebrows, and shook her head.
They got inside and Tears for Fears assailed his eardrums. It was quite the flashback as they weaved through people on the dance floor, as some of the dancers were dressed as though they had just come straight out of the eighties to dance here.
Sarah slipped her hand into his and gave him a bit of a tug, and he realized he was probably getting a bit separated from the group, as distracted as he was by the colorful interior of the club.
Volkoff led them to a roped off booth with plenty of seating, and Chuck felt like he was in a movie for a moment. Clubs with roped off areas for the club owner, his girlfriend, his friends. And big beefy bodyguards standing in front of it to make sure no one bothered the VIPs.
Was he about to get to sit in there? Like he was super rich and famous?
Would he get kicked out of it for being a horrific dancer? Did clubs do that? It hadn't happened to him yet. And it probably never would. But he really didn't want to embarrass Sarah in front of her friends. Was there a way to get out of the dancing part? Maybe he'd be safe in this VIP area that sequestered them off from the rest of the club.
A silver-haired man who looked like he'd come straight out of an episode of Mad Men stood up from where he sat in the corner of a booth and stepped over the low coffee table in front of him to walk into Volkoff's embrace.
When they pulled back, Volkoff turned and presented the rest of his party. "These are my friends and employees at the Scuba Shack, Simon. Everyone? Meet Simon Popov. We went to…"
"School together," Simon finished for him, squeezing his shoulder and grinning happily. "Those were the days."
Chuck couldn't help wondering how he was now in the presence of two successful, good-looking British men with Russian last names, both in their mid-sixties…What was going on with that?
Volkoff went down the line, introducing everyone as Simon Popov lunged forward to shake their hands. When Volkoff got to Chuck, he paused. Oh, no. Ohhhh, boy.
"This is Chuck, my date," Sarah rushed out, wrapping her hands around his bicep.
Smooth like butter.
He was so relieved she had her wits about her enough to save that moment. But he'd frozen completely.
Simon grinned and clasped Chuck on the shoulder, then he took a long look at him, squinting in the dark club lighting. "You are familiar. I can't put my finger on it."
"Tall white guy with curly hair. We're a dime a dozen." He laughed at himself.
"You're a very handsome boy, Charles. Don't sell yourself short like that." Volkoff gave him another painful thump on the shoulder Simon wasn't holding onto, and he suddenly felt only a little uncomfortable in this situation.
"Everyone in. Come join my friends." Simon ushered everyone in as the bouncer held the rope open for them, and their host reached over Gina's head to snap for one of his waiter's to come over. "At the Lynx, my friends pay half price."
Chuck practically clung to Sarah's hand like it was his lifeline as they walked in. He felt a little out of his depth, suddenly. He let Sarah sit in the plush chair in the corner of the VIP space, but she pulled him down to share the chair with her. It was a little tight, but he just had to readjust his angle and sling an arm between her back and the chair for it to be comfortable. Very comfortable, actually. Half of her back was leaning into his chest and it was at the point where he might even classify this as…cuddling.
But then Simon managed to finagle his way into space on the couch that was next to them so that he could lean over towards Chuck once they ordered their drinks. "Really, though. You are familiar. What's your last name, Charles? If you don't mind my asking."
These British guys with the Russian last names.
"No, not at all. It's Bartowski."
"Bartowski…Barrrrtowski." Simon made a show of looking up at the ceiling in thought. "What do you do?"
"I, um, I run a tech company."
Simon immediately reached out and grabbed him by his wrist, eyes wide. "Bartowski…tech company. I've got it now. You're BarTech, aren't you?"
Chuck widened his eyes. "Yeah, actually. That's my company."
"Very impressive! That's very impressive, indeed. Are you here on business?"
"Pleasure." It felt strange saying it that way, with Sarah pressed so cozily against him, and he squirmed a little in the chair. "I-I mean, I'm here on vacation, actually."
"Much needed, I'm sure. I hear BarTech is becoming a monster in its own right." He poked Chuck in the chest. "In a good way, what?" he said with a laugh.
"Oh. Yeah, I dunno about that, but we're slowly making that climb, on the ascension, as it were."
Simon leaned forward to get Sarah's attention. "You've brought quite the tech mogul into my club, Sarah! I feel almost honored. Bet you didn't know what kind of a date you snagged, eh?" He nudged Chuck and laughed again.
"Oh, I'm aware," she said, and her hand landed on his knee. He didn't miss the little look she threw his way. He could tell she was amused by his discomfort at being praised so vehemently by Volkoff's friend. But there was also a little flash of something else there, almost like she was extra impressed now that someone else had recognized him and his company. "How, er, how'd you recognize Chuck's face, though?" She smirked and swiveled a little against him to put her hand on his chest. "Do you put your face on your products, Chuck? Like Jimmy Dean sausage?"
Chuck cracked up at that. "No, I do not."
Simon snorted and shook his head. "I've seen his TED Talk. I'm very interested in technology. I would love to talk about it with you, Charles, but we're in a setting that doesn't make that very viable, aren't we? If we meet again, perhaps…"
"Of course," he said, surprised by the older man's admission. His TED Talk was on the lower end of viewership, so to meet someone who'd actually sat through it was…well, it was rare. "I'd love that, Mr. Popov."
"Simon!" the man corrected, and then he was pulled into another conversation just as the waitress brought their drinks.
Chuck accepted it gratefully and took a big gulp of it, making Sarah laugh.
"Are you that uncomfortable talking about your company?" she asked, sipping her own drink.
He shook his head. "I'm really not, usually. I-I don't know what's different about tonight. Maybe I just wasn't prepared," he chuckled.
"I just think that if you start something like this—I mean, tackling the creation of a tech company and actually getting it to a point where it's producing and successful—I don't know, if I were you I'd be a lot less modest about it. That's an incredible accomplishment. I wouldn't really even blame you if you were kind of a self-centered jerk." She narrowed her eyes. "But you're not. You blush and get all tongue-tied when people praise you. You're blushing now. The lighting sucks in here but I can see it."
He shook his head and let out a self-deprecating chuckle. "I told you before, it's—it's something I have to work on," Chuck said with a wince.
She smirked and leaned in to kiss his cheek.
"PDA! PDA! I caught you!" Zeki yelled, pointing.
Sarah groaned and rolled her eyes, pulling away from Chuck as he just spun and stared at the surf instructor with wide eyes. "That's not even fair. Chuck's a newcomer. He doesn't know the rules."
"You aren't new and you know the rules. You initiated it!" Zeki said, still pointing.
"Uh ooooh. PDA means next round is on you two!" Gina explained, clapping. "That's good, too, because I was thinking one of those real expensive fancy blue drinks."
Chuck just blinked and glanced at Sarah as she laughed.
"Don't worry, I'll get the next round. You don't have to pay for these assholes." She sent them all a dirty look, then turned back to him. "We have this rule for our nights out. If you're caught participating in PDA, you have to buy the next round of drinks." She rolled her eyes. "It's dumb and shouldn't count for someone new to the group."
"Lady, we established this. You aren't new to the group! Don't even try it!" Liz piped up.
"I'll get the next round," Chuck said then with a shrug. Yes, maybe he was trying to buy the Scuba Shack employees' love, but it was worth the money if it worked.
"Chuck, no. Come on. That's not f—"
He didn't know what came over him, but he grabbed her face and dove in to kiss her, muffling the rest of what she meant to say. It wasn't a long kiss by any means, but it was emphatic. And as he pulled back from it, he turned towards everyone else and shrugged. "Guess I'm paying, after all."
"OOOHHHH SHIT, HOLLYWOOOOOD!" Zeki yelled, throwing his arms up.
Everyone clapped and laughed, and as Chuck snuck a quick look at Sarah, he saw that she'd pulled her lips between her teeth, her eyes bright, and he thought he detected a blush, as well.
Chuck did pay for that next round, in spite of Sarah's protests, in spite of even the rest of the Shack crew's protests that they were teasing him.
After the fourth round of the night was distributed and ingested, Chloe, Zeki, Gina, and Liz decided to go out onto the dance floor together.
Sarah slipped her hand into his and he felt her lips against his ear. "Wanna dance? I love this song."
He paid attention to the music for the first time in a few hours and heard The GoGos' "Our Lips Are Sealed". The nerves he'd felt upon hearing they'd be heading to a dance club hours earlier weren't as pronounced after all of the drinks he'd had, and Sarah didn't have any trouble pulling him up from the chair and leading him towards the exit of the VIP area.
He chirped a happy "Thank you!" at the bouncer as he unhooked the rope and let them out, receiving a raised eyebrow and a smirk.
And then they were on the dance floor with everyone else, thankfully in the middle of the group. Better yet, it was a pretty crowded dance floor, which meant there wasn't a lot of room. Chuck bounced on his toes with his arms down at his sides, bobbing his head back and forth. Sarah and Gina knew all the words and they half sang, half growled them at one another.
Another song passed, then another, and Chuck found himself loosening up on the dance floor, pulling his arms away from his body, doing more than just bouncing.
He stopped worrying about the way he might look to Sarah, to her friends.
He didn't even know how much time had passed, but he started feeling a bit lightheaded from the booze and the heavy air on the dance floor. Sarah's arms were slung over his shoulders as they danced, her head tilted back as she grinned and mouthed the words to the Talking Heads' "Road to Nowhere". He grinned back and leaned in, pressing his lips to her ear so she would hear him over the music.
"I'm gonna grab some water from the bar. Need anything?"
He pulled back and she shook her head. "Need me to come with?"
"No, enjoy the song."
Sarah beamed at him as he excused himself to the others, not that they were paying much attention, and scooted his way through the throngs of hot, sweaty patrons. God, it was really hot and he wondered how he'd even been breathing while dancing in the middle of that.
The bartender passed him a large plastic cup of ice water after a few minutes of waiting, and he immediately walked it out to the patio that was off to the side from the entrance, a few tables and chairs pressed against the building with space heaters. There was a railing opposite the tables and chairs that went to his mid-chest, and he hastened over to it, glad for the fresh air and the nice view of the ocean in the space between the two restaurants across the street. It was glinting in the moonlight, dancing in the distance, and in spite of the music from inside still blaring, this felt so much more peaceful.
Not that he hadn't been enjoying himself. It had been a long, long time since he'd had fun while dancing. Besides just stupid stuff alone in his room or fooling around with his family or close friends. But it had also been a long time since he'd been on a dance floor with a woman in his arms. He had a feeling it was less about the fact that he'd been dancing with awoman, though, and more about who that woman was. Because he discovered that Sarah was an attentive dancer. There was no other way to put it. Hands on his chest, arms around him, hand holding, fists clenched in his shirt at his back, tucked under his jacket. At one point, he'd even felt her curl her fingers around his belt at his hips and tug him closer.
If he could stay in that situation forever, with her flirting and grinning, singing with her friends, rarely taking her eyes off of him, he absolutely would.
But the heat of the room and the five strong drinks he'd had caught up to him, and it was about time for him to start hydrating. The time for him to hydrate had since passed, actually, but he hadn't wanted to pull away from her or her friends.
By the time Chuck finished half of the large glass of ice water, he already felt better, and much more sober. Not that he was really drunk in the first place. It took a lot to get him there. Zeki and Liz, however, looked to both be getting to almost messy levels of intoxicated, though neither seemed to be annoying drunks at least.
He heard the soft clicking of heels against the wooden plank ground behind him then and he glanced over his shoulder to see Sarah tentatively approaching.
"Hey," she breathed, looking up through her eyelashes.
"Hi! Sorry. I was coming back soon. Just needed to guzzle this and get some fresh air," he said, turning to face her as she closed the distance and stopped in front of him.
"No, that's okay. You just didn't come back and I wanted to make sure you were okay." She paused, twisting her mouth to the side a bit shyly. "Are you okay?"
"I'm great, yeah!"
She smiled. "Are you kinda done for the night?" she asked, giggling quietly.
"What? No. Oh, no no. That's not why I'm out here. I've been having a blast in there." He let a slow grin stretch across his face. "With you," he added. She smiled back at him. "Nah, it's just super hot in there. And I got all dressed up in this blazer and it's freakin' lined."
She laughed, reaching in to pull his blazer away from his torso and feeling the inner lining. "Yeah, that's pretty thick. I dunno what you were thinking."
He let out a chuckle and thumped himself in the forehead with the heel of his palm. "I was tryin' to look good, but really I should've just tossed on a Hawaiian shirt, some board shorts, and flip flops."
Sarah snorted and shook her head, but then she sobered up and got a particular look on her face. "Who, um…who were you trying to look good for, exactly?"
"I plead the fifth."
She cracked up. "Oh, whatever."
"No, it's you," he said with another chuckle. "Definitely you."
"You succeeded," she said, a cute, pleased look on her face. She gave his button-up a flirtatious tug.
"And honestly, I can't make fun of you too hard, since I wore almost the same thing as you. Plus heels. So I'm even worse."
"I was thinking about heels, too, but…"
She cackled and hunched over the railing. When they both sobered up enough, she gestured to his cup. "Mind if I get some of that in me? 'Cause you're right; it's super hot. And once you weren't there to distract me from it, I felt like I was breathing underwater in there."
"Right? How are those people even conscious still?"
She smirked and took a long drink of his water, handing it back with a thank you. She opened her mouth to say something else then but her phone beeped inside her clutch she'd attached to her wrist. "Just a sec. Sorry," she breathed. "Might be one of them looking for us."
"Don't want them thinking we've ducked inside the bathroom to get our rocks off," he said with a wink, and she giggled, shaking her head and narrowing her eyes as she plucked her phone out of the small black clutch, unlocking it.
"Gina wants to know if we're still in the club and if we're ready to go." She peeked up at him. "Ready?"
He didn't want the night to end. He really, really didn't. But everyone else was leaving, so he nodded wordlessly. "Sure, if you are."
"Yeah, I think I am."
He followed her towards the door that led back inside but stopped short and caught her hand. She turned back to face him, curiosity furrowing her brow, and he leaned in and pressed his lips to hers in a kiss, using his free hand to pull her closer. He felt her slide her hand, cool from holding the water glass, over the back of his neck and he hummed at how good it felt.
She pulled back, biting the inside of her cheek, he noticed. Was she trying to keep from smiling too hard? "Careful. They might see and make us pay for more drinks."
Chuck winced. And then he felt a bit of a mischievous spark in him and shrugged. "Worth it." He kissed her again, loving the way she giggled against his lips.
A/N: You're all lovely. They're lovely. They're lovely and you're lovely. And this story makes me smile 'cause it's just lovely. LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE LOVE leave a review LOVE LOVE LOVE. Thanks, you lambs!