A/N:Here we go. The last chapter. I said there would be some angst in this story and here it is. Fear not. Only happy stuff in the end.
As I've mentioned in my other author's notes, I don't always pay strict attention to timelines and story lines from the canon. I pick and choose what I want or like and leave out what I don't. So the references here are canonical without being actual canon. So please don't get upset if things don't go exactly as they did in the episode upon which I based a large part of this chapter.
Don't own Chuck or any of the characters. Having fun with them though.
Chapter Four:The Bow Tie, the Blonde and the Boyfriend
For a man who is supposedly dead, Bryce Larkin has the most annoying habit of being resurrected back into Chuck's life at the worst possible times.
As he approaches Sarah's room he is comforted (though he's quite sure that's not the best word) by the thought that at least this time he isn't going to be surprised by Bryce being behind her door.
The last time he'd walked towards her room his mood had been cautiously optimistic, hopeful. There had even been a little skip in his step.
It had seemed like there was something between him and Sarah. Some little spark, that if carefully nurtured, could maybe, just maybe, lead to something bigger, something real.
He hadn't realistically expected that the Montgomery thing would cause her to swoon into his arms. (Although, in a brief moment of self-indulgent fantasy, he'd pictured just that.) No, he'd just hoped she might find it a least a little romantic. Possibly that it might put her in the mood to laugh, talk a little, to spend some time together.
Real laughter, real talk, real time. Not for the cover.
Then Sarah had answered the door, clearly uncomfortable, Bryce unexpectedly appearing behind her.
And just like that, everything was back to square one. Negative square one if that was possible.
Chuck's mood deflated so quickly it was like someone had dumped him out of an airlock.
In retrospect, dumped seemed a very appropriate way of putting it.
Over the next day, he'd seen how she'd looked at Bryce, acted around him. Though Chuck desperately hoped he was wrong, it appeared that she was delighted, charmed by Bryce's suave words and confident actions.
And good looks. Let's not forget good looks.
It all showed, so clearly, the gulf between his foolish hopes and the harsh reality he now faces.
How could he expect to compete with Bryce Larkin? Even ignoring his many other pluses, just the fact that he and Sarah had this history was enough to give him an enormous advantage.
Chuck thinks about what he and Sarah actually had. That kiss on the docks, some conversations, a few laughs, some faked dates and some shared dangers. Nothing compared to the exciting, thrilling, romantic escapades that she and Bryce must have experienced.
And now to put the icing on the cake, Beckman had decided that Bryce should portray Sarah's husband in tonight's op. Chuck would get to play the waiter.
When he'd first heard Beckman's words he'd thought that this plan made no sense. After all if someone is going to explore the house, shouldn't it be him, the one who could actually flash on anything they found? At first he'd believed that his desire to be with Sarah had clouded his judgement in this matter. But later, upon further thought realized his first idea was, in fact, correct.
So Bryce gets to be with Sarah. Playing her husband. Showing her affection. All this at a party, so dancing as well.
And Chuck gets to be a waiter.
Thank you, General. So much.
As he nears that green door Chuck can't help but compare what he's feeling now as contrasted to last night.
Instead, soul-crushing, bitter disappointment.
With Bryce, for so casually dropping in and ruining his life. Again.
With himself, for stupidly getting his hopes up. Again.
And truth be told, with Sarah, for her part in building up those very hopes only to see her tear them down. Again.
So much anger.
Lots and lots of that.
He's far more jealous about Bryce with Sarah than he ever was during the whole mess with Jill. Which, when he thinks of it, doesn't make a lot of sense. He'd actually had a relationship with Jill. She had been his actual girlfriend, not this nebulous, indeterminate, whatever this is, he has, or maybe now, had, with Sarah.
Yet, he feels this much more keenly. Every time he sees Bryce with her it feels like someone has punched him in the gut. And every time Sarah responds to Bryce's overtures, even just a little bit, it's like someone has knifed him in that same gut.
The loss of what might have been with Sarah is far more devastating than what he actually lost with Jill. And to lose that potential future to Bryce makes him almost physically sick with envy.
Way, way too much of that.
Chuck at his core is a logical man. Analytical to a fault. Able to see both sides of every equation.
It's both a blessing and a curse.
He knows he really has no right to demand anything from her. That no matter what he's tried to read into their situation, that she's never truly made any type of commitment to him.
To therefore expect her to be faithful to something that doesn't exist is pure selfishness on his part.
But that self-centred part of him still expects, even demands, her to be just that.
Thus, the guilt.
Chuck is well aware that he's only been thinking of himself in all this. That he's never stopped and asked himself, "What does Sarah want?"
Who is he to try to stop her being with Bryce if that's what she needs? If that's what would make her happy?
And what right does he have to be angry with this woman who has risked her life over and over again to protect him? This person who has put her life on hold to take care of an often whiny, selfish, irritating computer nerd? Who through all of this has given him her friendship?
No, that is one thing he will not do. When he goes into her room tonight, he will not be angry with Sarah. She deserves better than that.
He knocks. Bryce opens the door with a flippant remark about Chuck not bringing him a rose this time.
Chuck isn't surprised. This is Bryce after all.
As they ready themselves, standing in front of the mirror, Chuck is again reminded of that massive disparity between him and Bryce.
Bryce ties his own bow tie.
Chuck has a clip on.
That seemingly simple contrast says so much. Demonstrates so succinctly his inferiority.
There's a brutally painful stab of jealousy as he notices Bryce's open suitcase on the chair. And even though Bryce assures him its only for the cover and he so wants to believe it, that ugly part of him can't help but imagine for a moment what might have happened earlier in this room.
When Bryce implies that Chuck has fallen for her, he lies. He will not admit to this man how deeply he cares. Will not let him know how much of his heart she occupies.
He will not give Bryce the satisfaction of knowing that he has so callously crushed Chuck's hopes once more.
So when Sarah steps out of the bathroom, asking how she looks, he knows he can't tell her the truth.
That she is stunningly, unbelievably beautiful. That her dress is incredible, amazing. That it feels like someone had removed all the oxygen in the room at the moment she walked in.
That every time he sees her, he falls in love just a little bit more.
No, instead of saying what he truly feels, damn whatever Bryce thinks, he goes on stupidly, childishly about not really being into red.
As Chuck leaves the room, he knows that he has taken the coward's way out.
And he's ashamed.
Chuck only knows she's crying because his shirt is suddenly damp at the point where her head rests on his chest.
"Sarah, what is it? Are you OK? What have I done?"
She looks up to his face, her eyes shining with tears.
She swallows before answering, "Besides loving someone who doesn't deserve you, nothing, nothing at all."
"What do you mean?"
"Chuck, I know that I've treated you badly in the past. But until right now I didn't really know how deeply I'd hurt you. How did you ever forgive me, find a way to keep on loving me?"
"Sarah, I didn't tell you that story with the intent of making you feel bad. Please believe me."
She nods. "I do. But, Chuck, you need to know that nothing went on between Bryce and me. I told him that we needed to keep it to just a cover and we did. I only wish now I'd told you that then. I'm so sorry that our actions caused you so much heartache. I thought, wrongly, that you could tell it was just an act."
She chuckles a little ruefully, her eyes still wet, "I guess I should be more careful about making speeches about not assuming anything."
"Sarah, you don't need to defend yourself to me. It's my insecurities, my actions that are the issue here. And even if something had gone on, you wouldn't have been in the wrong. I didn't have any hold on you."
"And that's where you're wrong, Chuck Bartowski. You did have a hold on me. I just didn't realize it at the time. I know now that you were the reason I told Bryce to keep it professional. All because of you."
Chuck is suddenly very glad there isn't an occupied table close to them. He's not really one for tears in public. Considering the trouble he has in holding them in right now, it's just as well that no one except Sarah can see the evidence on his face.
"Sarah, I know I was an idiot, blinded by jealousy and anger." She starts to protest but he cuts her off, "No, I was. No excuses. I'm ashamed to think of it now. I'll be honest, that was the closest I ever came to just giving up. The only thing I can say in my defense is that when a couple of people helped me to see how stupid I was being, I stopped going down that road. Turned around."
"Who helped you? Ellie? Devon? Morgan?"
"No. It was first of all you."
"When was that?"
"After the Von Hayes party, when you were in the hospital after saving my life...again. By the way did I ever thank you for that time? You've done the same so many times that I can't always recall the specifics."
"Don't worry, Chuck. While I appreciate the words, I don't need them every time. I can always tell when you're grateful."
"You know me that well, do you?"
He pulls her a little closer before going on, "Well, when I brought you the gardenias and saw the massive display of flowers from Bryce, I felt sorry for myself again and said I'd always come in second to him. But then you said-"
"Not always," she jumps in.
"Yes. And when you said those two simple words you gave me hope again. Just like that, I felt like this weight was starting to lift."
He kisses her hair again, "I know I haven't thanked you for that, so here is my belated, 'Thank You.'"
"Chuck, you said there was another person who helped you get over your issues, but if it wasn't Ellie or the others, I can't think who it could be. Wait, it wasn't Casey was it?"
He laughs, "No. There's about as much chance of Casey discussing 'lady feelings' as having pork in the treetops. No, strangely enough it was Bryce himself who steered me in the right direction."
"Bryce?! How did he do that?"
"I'm sure it was quite unintentional on his part. He kept going on about how your having feelings for me was dangerous. About how you lived in a merciless world where those feelings could get you hurt or worse. He did his best to convince me that I had to do the right thing in order to keep you safe."
He feels her tense up as she spits out, "Selfish bastard!"
It's rare for Sarah to use expletives, even during the most stressful situations they've faced. So he's surprised when this even relatively mild one comes from her mouth.
She sits up straight and turns so she can look at him. He can tell she's angry.
He jokingly says, "You are talking about Bryce, right?"
Sarah gives him her don't mess with me glare.
He gulps, "Gotcha. Bryce it is."
"Chuck, you know what he was trying to do don't you? He's told me numerous times that he wanted us to be a team again. To have things back the way they were between us. He knew you were an obstacle to that. So he tried to manipulate you, to use your unselfish nature against you."
"Yes, I did figure that out...eventually. But at first, what he said seemed to make sense."
Still fuming, she says, "It would. Remember, he's well trained."
"Well, telling me you were in danger because of me certainly pushed all the right buttons. My first instinct was to trust his judgement. To trust he was only concerned for your welfare."
He brings his face a little closer to hers, softly says, "Sarah, you know I will do whatever is necessary, whatever I can, to keep you safe."
She's tender in her reply, "Yes, Chuck. I do know that. You proved that often enough by not staying in the car."
There's anger again as she goes on, "The problem is that Bryce knew that as well and he used it."
"Yes, he did. But he did it so well that I ignored all the other signs that were there because of my concern for you. Do you remember the night after that party? When we talked beside the fountain?"
"Yes. It was nice to just be able to wind down after all that had happened. It was fun, relaxing, comforting. Like it usually is with you."
"Yes, it was a great evening." He's reluctant but pushes on, "But, Sarah, you need to know that when you walked into the courtyard that night, I was planning to break up with you. To break off whatever it was that we he had going on behind the cover."
"What?! Why would you have done that?"
"Because Bryce had me convinced that was the right thing to do. The best way to protect you."
There's fire in her eyes, "I swear. The next time I see Bryce Larkin, someone's getting their butt kicked and it's sure as hell not gonna be me!"
He grins at her fervor, "Can I help?"
Sarah briefly chuckles but then is silent for a few seconds, reflective, "Chuck, I know I hadn't fully resolved my feelings for you then. That was my bad." She looks into his eyes, "Even so, if you had pushed me away like that, I know it would have broken my heart. I'm not sure if I would have had the courage to stay around long enough to ever acknowledge how I really felt. We likely would never have had today."
He chokes a little at the thought of this, "Then it's just as well that I finally figured out what Bryce was doing before I did something so unbelievably stupid."
She leans in to quickly kiss him, "Yes. It definitely was."
Encouraged by that, he continues, "When I was sitting there, waiting for you, mulling over Bryce's advice, it finally clicked in how blind I had been. He was jealous of you and me. I think he saw what we did have and recognized it could turn into even more. Suddenly everything was clear. All his 'concern' was just a smokescreen for what he really wanted. You. I knew I had been a fool, reading a lot into things that weren't there. Don't get me wrong here. It wasn't as if I was suddenly able to rise above it all. I was still jealous of what you and Bryce had before, but at least this situation didn't bother me anymore."
"And I wasn't going to let him spoil our chances by meekly going in the direction he'd pushed me. I wasn't going to give up on us."
She nods, her agreement and approval evident in her expression.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere, she blurts out, "Chuck, you're my fork!"
"Er, Thanks? Never been likened to cutlery before." He looks at her a little dubiously, "To be honest, Sarah, as a pet name that one kinda sucks."
She smacks him gently on the back of his head, "It's not a pet name, you goof. Remember when I told you the fork was my reminder to keep fighting, to never give in to despair, even if the odds are against you?"
He nods, "Of course."
"So when I need to be reminded of that in the future, I'm going to think of you. How you kept fighting for me, for us, even when it seemed there was almost no hope."
She grins, "Never give up. Never surrender. And you didn't. So now you're my fork."
He grins back, "OK. When you put it that way, I like the sound of it. However, you need to promise me that you'll think of me as a manly type of fork, not one of those fancy, dainty ones women use at tea parties."
"Never been to a tea party, but I think I've got the idea." She pats him on the cheek, "Don't worry, you'll always be a manly fork kind of guy to me."
"I appreciate that.
She studies his face for a few seconds, "Chuck, you were right about the term 'massive disparity'. There is certainly that between you and Bryce."
"Gee, thanks." He's not really upset because he knows enough of her by now to realize there is no hurtful intent behind the words. He tries to sound sarcastic but doubts he pulls it off, "It's so kind of you to remind me of that."
"Hey, don't be cheeky, mister. You know what I mean. For example, if the situation was reversed and you were in Bryce's place, how would you have handled all of this?"
"Well, first of all, I hope I wouldn't have been so idiotic as to lose someone as incredible as you in the first place."
She tilts her head, looks at him, smiling, "You really are a charmer, aren't you?
"Not really. The words just seem to come out when I'm with you. Only with you."
"Keep it that way and I've got no problem. But back to the matter under discussion. In this case we're assuming you've already been an idiot and we're no longer together. What would you do?"
"Before today I'm not sure how firm my answer would have been. I think I wouldn't have been very assertive. But now, after even this small taste of what it's really like to be with you, I would have absolutely no doubts. I'd fight to get you back. As hard as I could, for as long as I could. The only way I would back off is if you were unequivocal in rejecting me. Then, as hard as that would be, I would respect your decision. Because I love you too much to put you through all the grief that comes with that kind of undesirable attention."
"And if there was another guy hanging around, what would you do?"
"I would tell him how I felt and that I was going to try to get you back. Give him fair warning."
"And there it is. That 'massive disparity' between you and Bryce. You wouldn't manipulate that other guy or lie to him in order to get him out of the way. As well, you would respect my choice. Honor my decision to be with someone else."
"And Chuck, sweetie, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Don't you see how vastly superior you are to Bryce?"
Caught unawares by both her praise and her first real term of endearment, Chuck can't find the words to reply.
It's just too much. He shakes his head.
Perhaps she sees this as disagreement or uncertainty, so goes on, "Despite the fact that you're no longer jealous of Bryce it seems to me you still believe that you are somehow inferior to him. That you've got this 'disparity' thing the wrong way around. Am I right in this?"
His lack of response combined with his downcast eyes is apparently all the answer she needs.
This time it's Sarah who takes his chin with her hand, gently turns his face towards her, "Chuck Bartowski, you are a better man than Bryce Larkin ever was or ever will be. On his very best day, he is not even close to being as good as you are on your very worst."
"While I hope that this is the last time I need to tell you this, I am prepared to keep on doing so if necessary." She smiles, then echoes his earlier words, "Until you're convinced it's the truth. Don't worry, it's no burden for me to do so."
"You got that, sweetie?"
He just nods numbly, momentarily overcome by her amazingly accurate perception of his self-doubts.
And those words.
Right now he feels like he could fly. That nothing is beyond his reach as long as she's here beside him, saying things like that.
Better than I'd ever dreamed.
It appears it's finally starting to sink in. That he's starting to realize there's no real comparison between him and Bryce.
Despite her stated hopes, Sarah is doubtful that this is the last time she'll need to reassure him. But that's OK. Look how many times he's done the same for her. However, it's not as if she does it because she feels she has to, as if she's keeping score.
No, she simply can't stop herself.
When she sees him plagued by his insecurities, it tears at her heart. Especially when she is to blame, at least partially, for many of them.
No, it's the love she feels that drives her, compels her, to do whatever she can to comfort him, help him to heal his wounds.
A year ago, Sarah knows she would have scoffed at the idea of feeling this way towards someone under her protection. Certainly there were past instances where she'd had to care for the emotional needs of an asset. However, it was all pretense, simply done for expediency, with little thought given to the damage being done to the recipient of her duplicitous words.
It was during times like this that she'd occasionally asked herself (usually on those nights when she couldn't sleep) if the normal emotions of empathy and compassion and love had been beaten out of her.
And at one of her lowest points, just after burning an asset, she'd wondered if those feelings had ever really been there in the first place. That perhaps she is nothing but an efficient machine, devoid of those human qualities which would serve to differentiate her from nature's unfeeling predators.
Where would she be, what would she be, if it hadn't been for the people this mission had brought into her life, the ones she's come to know and love?
Morgan. Devon. Ellie. Even Casey.
And Chuck. It always comes back to Chuck.
All of them had, each in their own unique way, helped to bring her back from the brink.
She owes so, so much to them all, but of course, most of all to him. It's a debt she doubts she can ever fully repay.
But she's going to try her damnedest. Starting right now. This second.
This man deserves a thank you, the kind of thank you kiss Sarah wonders for a second if she can give him in public.
Just go for it, Sarah. No more holding back. Remember?
Planting her feet, she raises herself from her chair, swings around and scoots across him so that she winds up sitting across his lap. She throws her arms around his neck and closes the small gap between their lips in a rush.
Sarah puts everything she has into her kiss. All her gratitude, all her devotion, all her love.
And so much else that she hasn't yet put into words.
She can tell he's surprised by her ardor. She smiles even as she continues to kiss him. He doesn't respond for a second or two but one thing Chuck has shown today is that he's a quick study. He wraps his arms firmly around her and eagerly reciprocates, apparently not much concerned with an excessive public display.
For not the first time today, Sarah is aware of nothing but him.
The smattering of applause and good natured laughter from the other patrons brings them back to reality, but only after what seems like a considerable while.
Touching her forehead gently against his, she quietly says, "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
"You're certainly welcome. That kind of thanks is always appreciated. However, I'm a little puzzled as to what it is that you're grateful for?"
"Everything. For being you. For loving me. For saving me. Just…everything."
He looks at her for a few long seconds before smiling and gently saying, "Everything, huh? That's a tall order to fill, but incentives like that will certainly motivate me to keep doing my very best."
Sarah has no doubt he'll keep doing just that, not solely (in spite of his words) for the reward, but rather because he's the only man who has come to genuinely and unselfishly put her needs and her protection ahead of his own.
And in doing so, has made her aware that she's capable of doing the same for him.
Not that there was ever any problem with the physically protective part. Right from the start Sarah had demonstrated her absolute, single-minded ferocity towards any and all that had tried to harm him. All this while still denying her feelings, telling herself he was just another asset.
And now that they're actually together...
Suffice it to say, that anyone at this point even contemplating the slightest injury to Chuck Bartowski (or those close to him) should instead give serious thought to leaving the state. Better still, the country. Or maybe the continent.
No, it was in the matter of his heart that she had fallen down. That heart that she'd not only failed to protect, but had instead damaged over and again.
This day is their real beginning . A fantastic first step, admittedly, but still just that.
Just the first step.
It's what she does from this point forward that really matters.
Can she truly put his feelings first? Take care of his emotional needs as well as she's safeguarded his physical body? She's never done that for anyone before. The challenge of doing so worries at her, making her wonder if someone like her is capable of being that kind of person.
But then she looks at him again and knows he is worth all her effort. She'll do whatever it takes.
This is her most important mission yet. One that she will not fail.
Because she loves him. And she trusts him. Like no one else before him.
Sarah knows that when she does let him down in some way (and she will) he'll always be there to hold her and tell her it's OK.
And when he does let her down in some way (and he will) she'll always be there to hold him and tell him it's OK.
It's an amazing feeling, to have that absolute confidence in not just him, but herself as well.
There is still so much more she needs to tell him. But she's a little tired. She finds it hard to believe that this happened so quickly, so unexpectedly.
All of this, this intensity, has brought her close to an emotional overload.
And while she wouldn't trade a single moment of it, she needs some time to quietly process it all. And judging from Chuck's silence over the last few minutes, she thinks he needs the same.
So for right now, all she wants is to silently revel in their closeness. Still sitting across his lap, she lays her head on his shoulder and closes her eyes.
Abruptly, her happiness is pushed aside by an overpowering sense of déjà vu. She has been in this physical position before, with some forgotten mark, on some forgotten mission. Sudden, unreasoning panic starts her mind racing.
What if she's just imagined this whole thing? What if Chuck has been taken from her? What if this man with his arms around her is just another mark in a long succession of such? What if this is just another mission that will leave her cold and alone when it's over?
What if, what if…
Please, don't let it all be a dream.
Sarah is so very much afraid it is just that. Despite all his reassurances, a part of her still believes a person like her doesn't really deserve such happiness.
She is consciously aware that she's in the grip of a foolish, irrational terror. Nonetheless, it's power is such that it holds her back from taking even that simplest of actions needed to allay her fears. And the longer she delays the more difficult it becomes.
Then Sarah does something. Something, that, in a day filled with so many courageous acts, may just be the bravest one of all.
She opens her eyes.
And looks right into Chuck's kind, gentle brown ones, those she's loved from that first moment, so very close to hers.
It's at this instant that Sarah finally, genuinely grasps that she is not alone anymore.
Her apprehensions banished, she smiles, again closes her eyes and nestles even closer into the warm security of his embrace.
After a lifetime of wandering, Sarah Walker has found her home.
A/N:I hope you've enjoyed my take on our two favorite characters. When I started this, I'd visualized something in the order of a 5-6,000 word supplement to Crosswalk. Seems like things got a little out of hand.
The "pork in the treetops" is from the movie "The Lion in Winter". In other words when pigs fly.
Not sure what or when I'll write next. I have come to understand I'm not going to be a prolific author as it's taken some months to write what many could turn out in just weeks or days. And really good stuff at that.
Thanks for reading. Thanks for all the kind reviews. Looking forward to more of those.