A/N:This is what I going to call a bookend for Chuck Versus The Moment. Same time, same place but now from Sarah's POV. I don't believe it makes any difference whether you read one or the other first or at all. Each can stand on its own as a complete one-shot.
If you've read my other stories, especially Crosswalk and Fork, you'll notice I enjoy exploring both sides of Chuck & Sarah's reactions to the same situation. This continues in that same vein.
So if you like that, please read both the Moment stories. They're pretty short after all.
As all my stories, this is canonical without being canon, with events and situations from later seasons, even though the feel I'm going for is early first season.
In light of one reader's kind observation, I reworked this story to make it flow better, to make it less choppy. Some errors crept in during this which I've since corrected. (I hope.)
Disclaimer:Don't own Chuck, etc.
SARAH VERSUS THE MOMENT
The mission was a complete and unmitigated disaster, the worst they'd experienced. It was bad enough that a key Fulcrum leader, one they'd been tracking for weeks, had avoided apprehension. Sarah knows this is a serious loss, that their battle against this insidious organization has been seriously set back by their failure. Be that as it may, at this moment, Sarah couldn't care less about his escape.
Right now the only thing occupying her mind is the young woman who'd been innocently caught in the middle of what should have been a simple mission. A mission that had so rapidly and so unpredictably spun out of control. And how, in the resulting brief and brutal gunfight, she had paid the ultimate price for Sarah's inability to anticipate and contain the situation.
When Casey tried in his gruff manner to make her understand that it wasn't her fault, that no one could have predicted that events would take that course, she'd harshly brushed him off. When it'd appeared that Chuck was about to speak, almost certainly to back up Casey's opinion, she'd simply stared him down, daring him to say a word. He'd shut his mouth, with an almost audible snap.
She is team lead. It is her job to make sure things like this don't happen. So even though she fervently believes it was not her bullets that had taken the woman's life, she takes full responsibility for the botched and tragic outcome. While both her partners receive a share of the blame, visibly wincing under the brutal tongue lashing the General delivers, in the end, it is Sarah who stands between them taking upon herself the full recompense for this utter fiasco. Beckman never raises her voice and this tells Sarah, so used to the General's moods, just how absolutely furious the woman is. She almost believes she can feel the heat of Beckman's anger radiating from the monitor.
Sarah puts on her game face. The one that tells everyone she's fine. The one that demonstrates complete control of her emotions. The one she shows the world when her heart is breaking when her anguish is almost overwhelming. In other words, the one she uses when she's lying.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Chuck glancing at her, his puzzled expression clearly showing he doesn't understand her, how she can be this way.
When the gunfire had so abruptly and unexpectedly flared up, Sarah had dragged both Chuck and the young woman behind the heavy oak desk. Chuck had wisely stayed there, blindly firing his tranq pistol around the corner of that desk. But the woman was terrified, panicky. Sarah had tried to calm her, urging her to stay in cover, that she'd be OK. Thinking she had convinced her to keep her head down, Sarah had then popped up briefly to return fire. However, as she did so, she'd felt movement at her side as the woman jumped up and ran for the door, passing directly between them and the shooters at the far side of the office.
It was like watching one of those overused slow-motion action movie sequences. She hadn't taken more than a few steps when she was hit, crumpling to the floor, lying still. Sarah was momentarily stunned by this so sudden turn of events, to the point that she had stopped firing for a few seconds. Then her instincts and training had kicked back in and she had continued to pull the trigger.
Later, she'd thought that since her brief inaction had coincided with Casey reloading, the small gap in their return fire may have allowed their quarry to escape. She'll never know for sure, but in the absence of evidence to the contrary, hugs the blame to herself.
A few minutes later, as the smoke cleared, she'd seen both Casey and Chuck standing mutely over the body. She knows Casey well enough to see that he was deeply, if not obviously, saddened. With Chuck, of course, it was easy to see how he felt, the tears leaking out, running down his cheeks. As always, wearing his heart on his sleeve.
When Sarah had joined them, it had taken all her strength to not scream out her rage, her frustration, her pain. And when she'd visualized, just for a moment, that a tall, curly-haired man lay there instead, she'd had to quickly turn away and busy herself with the cleanup of this awful mess. If she hadn't, it's likely she wouldn't have been able to stop herself from letting them see that side of her which she shows to no one. One so deeply hidden, that those who know her would never guess it exists.
Beckman appears to finally run out of ways to voice her fury, so with a curt admonition that this isn't over yet, terminates the connection. All three of them stand there for a few seconds, silently absorbing the brutal reprimand they'd just been handed.
Sarah understands Chuck's nature well enough to know how much he needs to talk about this, to try and make sense of it all. But right now she can't give him what he wants. After all, how can she be expected to comfort and reassure him when she isn't able to do the same for herself? So before he has a chance to say anything, she turns, and without a word, leaves the briefing room. She catches the startled look on Chuck's face, senses his disappointment but pushes it out of her mind.
Over and over again, life has taught Sarah that it is only in solitude she will find any real solace. She's learned the hard lesson that she can't look to anyone else to give her that. That if she leans on another person for comfort she'll only be disappointed, disillusioned.
On the occasions that some of her father's cons had gone south, as a little girl she had always blamed herself, innocently naive in the belief her father couldn't make mistakes. But when she'd gone to him, desperately needing his consolation and absolution, he would already be halfway through his hip flask and in no state to be concerned with what were, to him, childish problems. Then, when the flask was empty, he would head to the nearest bar, leaving her in some crappy motel room to fend for herself. The next day, or once, the day after that, he would come back, full of plans for his next con, completely oblivious to how she had cried herself to sleep, hugging her pillow as she wept. And when she was a teenager, trying to find her way through all the angst and heartbreak that so often entails (especially when you're awkward and unattractive as she was then), when she needed him so badly, more often than not, he'd be gone, off swindling some Arabian prince. Or he'd be there but not really, too busy scheming his next con to really pay her any attention. He'd always find a way to avoid the uncomfortable conversations, pat her on the shoulder, tell her she was smart, strong, could figure it out on her own.
With Bryce, the story really didn't change that much. While he was always willing and eager to spend time with her as they enjoyed their many successes, it was another story when it came to their intermittent failures. When she had needed him, when she had once again taken more than her fair share of the blame, he would instead sulk in his seldom used room, playing video games to all hours of the morning. Clearly indicating he was only concerned about how matters personally affected him. And those times in the night when she'd try to confide to him how she felt about their job, the terrible things it required of them, he'd tell her he was tired, that they would talk about it in the morning.
But they never did.
And Sarah, still dealing with the leftovers from her childhood baggage, would be shut out once again. Left, as always, alone, forced to sort things out by herself. Eventually, at some point, she had simply given up on the idea of others being there for her. Had accepted the truth that during times of distress she can only turn inward. Today certainly being one of those times.
By now, Sarah has reached the supply closet, one of the few places in Castle that she can be free of prying eyes, human or electronic. One of the few places where she can have the privacy she requires. The door is barely closed behind her when the tears start. At first, there's just a few escaping to run down her cheeks. But by the time she reaches the far end of the small space, they're flowing freely. As she continues to cry, her head is cushioned on her left arm, leaning against the wall. Her right hand, fist clenched, rhythmically strikes the surface above her head, pounding out her rage, her frustration, her sorrow, her regrets.
It says something marvelous (even though she wouldn't think that true) about Sarah Walker, that despite the fact she's been shown so little empathy and fellow feeling in her life, she still can, does, intensely feel those emotions for others.
The fact that she's accepted the loneliness of her life doesn't mean she likes being this way, that she doesn't sometimes wish for someone who cared enough to be with her in times like these, willing to accept the bad with the good. With that thought, Sarah is suddenly aware there just may be a someone. In the few months that she's known him, she can't remember just how many times in his fumbling, shy way has Chuck attempted to be there for her. However, she does remember that every time she has turned him away, convincing herself that she doesn't need him. Even today, when he had tried to offer words of sympathy and encouragement, she'd shot him down again and this shames her.
Has it really come to this, so afraid she'll eventually be hurt, that she pushes people away without even giving them a chance? It scares her to think that this is what she's become, what she may remain if she doesn't find the courage to change. Sarah is well aware that walls many years in the making are not going to fall with a single kind word or gesture, but if there's going to be any change, even a little one, it has to start somewhere.
But she honestly doesn't know if she's strong enough to let herself be weak. Weak enough to let another person see her in times like these. Weak enough to accept the comfort another person may offer. Sarah knows how much of a risk it would be to let anyone close again. Still, if she's going to do that she can't think there could be anyone better than Chuck Bartowski with whom to try.
And of course, as if on cue, it's at that exact moment she hears him softly call her name, quietly closing the closet door behind him. She immediately tenses up, realizing how deep she was in her emotional turmoil, shocked he got this close without her noticing.
Fortunately, her back is turned, so he's unable to see the state she's in, may not realize how much of a mess she is. Sarah's instinctive, immediate reaction is to get control of herself, tell him she's fine and suggest he be elsewhere.
Yet, she stops herself, for, in a sudden flash of clarity, Sarah realizes that right now is one of those pivotal moments in her life. That she's been presented with an opportunity to choose the course she will take, to choose what kind of person she wants to be.
She vaguely remembers a poem from school about two roads diverging in the woods and the choice the traveler had to make. For as long as she can remember, Sarah has had little or no choice in the direction of her life. As a young girl, what could she do but follow the lead of her father? She knows she could have theoretically refused the CIA, but in reality, there were almost no viable options for an eighteen-year-old all on her own. One who'd been backed into a corner by the implied threat in Graham's offer, that if she refused she would likely wind up the same as her father. Since then she's obeyed orders, her personal choices almost always relinquished to the cause of the greater good.
Now, for perhaps the first time in her life, she truly understands the decision that faced the person in the poem. She can choose to keep going down that well-traveled road, the one she's comfortable with, pretending, showing everyone that she's immune to the pain and suffering so common in her world. Remaining as she is, an apparently heartless, efficient machine.
The tenseness in her body evaporates as she makes her choice, turns to him.
It's easy to tell he's surprised, perhaps even shocked to see her this way. Sarah imagines how she must look, eyes red, tears streaming down her cheeks, her nose running, which she, without caring, uses her sleeve to wipe.
Sarah sees his eyes quickly well up with tears, presumably in sympathy for her miserable state. But it seems that's all he has to give her, for he just stands there, so far away, seemingly unable or perhaps unwilling to close the distance that separates them.
For an instant or two, Sarah thinks she's made a terrible mistake, that she's allowed herself to once more believe in someone only to be bitterly disappointed anew. That she was so foolish to think he was different, somehow able to give her what no one has before.
Then he opens his arms wide and steps toward her. Sarah has no conscious awareness of what happens next. One second there's this awful gap between them and then there isn't. One second she's alone and then she isn't.
As she wraps her arms around him, her hands opening and closing as she clutches at his back, she feels his left arm tenderly pull her closer to him. His right hand softly, soothingly strokes her hair as she buries her face in his chest, feeling his chin resting lightly on the top of her head. Secure, feeling cherished in his arms, Sarah knows the only real mistake she made was to doubt him. To think even for an instant that he could not or would not do everything in his power to be what she needs. She knows he'll never intentionally hurt or betray or abandon her.
She trusts Chuck Bartowski. It startles, amazes her when she fully realizes just how much she does and just how long she has done so. And because she does, she no longer needs to pretend. She starts to sob. The quiet, choking, gasping, convulsive, wetting-his-shirtfront-with-her-tears kind of sobbing.
Sarah doesn't want to be patted on the shoulder, be told everything's alright, that it wasn't her fault, that nothing different could have been done. Because it's not alright, it is her fault and there's so much she would have done differently. No, she just wants him to hold her. Which is exactly what he continues to do. His embrace is gentle and yet so firm, giving her the assurance that he'll hold her as long as she wants, won't let go until she chooses to do so.
It's surprising that he does this all without saying a single word. Surprising because, unlike her, Chuck likes to talk, is almost compelled to do so, especially under stressful situations such as this. But not this time.
In her heart, there's a sudden surge of affection for this man, one who somehow knew exactly what she needed. He's come through for her in a way that no one else has ever previously managed, and Sarah is so very grateful for the gift he's given her.
She has no exact idea of how much time passes as they stand together. She supposes it is only a few minutes but it seems much longer. Eventually, her tears wind down but he still holds her, gives no indication of pulling away, doesn't ask if she's OK now.
Sarah hears Casey calling out their names, obviously looking for them, sounding a little irritated. She can tell Chuck recognizes the need to make themselves known, so she starts to loosen her hold. But as he steps back, he quickly leans in and kisses her softly, so briefly, on her forehead.
It's just so…Chuck. Sarah wouldn't have minded if he had given her a proper kiss right then, but this action somehow seems even more intimate. She blushes and notices he does as well.
He appears a little nervous, perhaps wondering if he's gone too far. He quickly tells her that he'll distract Casey so she can reach the bathroom unnoticed. He doesn't tell her she looks awful, that she probably doesn't want Casey to see her this way, but the implication is clear. Just another bit of Chuck Bartowski thoughtfulness. She smiles at him, a little shyly, thankful for this last and all that preceded it. As he leaves the closet, he turns to look at her again, his tender expression sending a surge of warmth through her.
As was their wont in the early days, (even though the incident was to have a profound effect on them both) neither speak of it. But Sarah never really forgets those minutes in the supply closet, even though the agent part of her tries to do so.
It's only years later that it's brought to light again. On their fifth wedding anniversary, Sarah and Chuck are out to dinner with her sister and brother in law when during the course of a very enjoyable evening, the topic, "What was that moment when you first knew you really loved your mate?" comes up. The two of them, first of all, listen to Ellie's tender and then Devon's humorous story, fully engaged as they hear of some of the good and occasionally not so good things they went through. As Devon concludes, Sarah knows it's their turn. It appears that Chuck is willing to go first and she's grateful for that, for she needs more time to think of what she will say. It's not that she can't think of anything. No, the problem lies in that there are so many moments, that she's not sure which one could be considered as the defining one.
When he starts by saying it occurred in Castle's supply closet (and hears Devon's oh so predictable response), for a second she thinks that he, like Devon, has decided to go for a lighter, more humorous approach. Maybe he'll tell them about the time Casey caught them necking. However, as he looks at her, asking in that silent way of his for her permission to continue, she knows exactly of which moment he'll speak.
There was a time she would have said no, that she wouldn't have been willing to divulge those events to anyone else. But Sarah isn't the same person she was then. While still a quiet person, not given to overt displays of emotion or feelings, (at least not with anyone other than Chuck and occasionally Ellie) she's an open, emotional chatterbox compared to the woman who came to Burbank to retrieve the Intersect all those years ago. So she gives him her assent, nodding, albeit a little hesitantly.
As he launches into his story, Sarah finds herself captivated by his soft voice, his gentle words. She hears him tell of his immediate attraction, how it grew day by day to the point he was almost certain he was in love with her. But then he goes on how, in the aftermath of one failed mission, he was suddenly plagued with doubts. Deeply troubled that he was perhaps giving his heart to a heartless person, someone who seemed so unaffected by the loss of an innocent life. He's quiet as he speaks of letting her go, tearing himself from her if she proves to be that.
Sarah's hand covers her mouth, her eyes locked on his face as she pays rapt attention to his words. And when he reaches the part where he finds her in the supply closet, she holds her breath, tears gathering at the corners of her eyes. He pauses for a second or two before telling them he knew that this was the moment that everything hinged on. How what she did right then was either going to be the end or a beginning.
Even though Sarah knows the result, she still finds herself anxiously awaiting the outcome. And when she spares a quick glance for Ellie and Devon, she can tell they're equally tense, totally involved in his tale. When he reveals to them how she'd demonstrated his fears were groundless, all three collectively let out their breath.
He finishes by telling them that this was the moment he knew that loving Sarah Walker was the smartest and best thing he could ever do.
By this time, the tears run freely down Sarah's cheeks as she looks across the table at this lovely, lovely man. It's clear to her now that this was the same moment she had started to love Chuck Bartowski, even though it had taken another year to admit it to herself. And another, before she admitted it to him, before they finally came together.
She's angry that her stubbornness had deprived them of those many months when they could have been happy, together. But she puts that out of her mind, thinks instead of the many wonderful years they've had since. How he's proven over and over and over that she was so right to trust him, to depend on him, to love him.
Sarah can't really speak right now, and even if she could, she knows she wouldn't be able to express herself as well as he has done. So, instead of words, she stands and crosses to Chuck's side of the table. Turning, she lowers herself across his lap, wraps her arms around his neck and smiling through her tears, gently kisses him, trusting he'll decipher what she's saying without words.
And when she opens her eyes and sees his expression, Sarah knows she was right.
A/N:Thanks for reading. Hope you liked this little exploration of "The Moment."
As always, thanks for reading and all the kind reviews.