The Trapped Assassin
Author's Note: I'm still here.
Disclaimer: I do not own CHUCK. I'm not making any money from this.
One thing was for sure.
Agent Sarah Walker, assassin with the CIA, couldn't continue to indulge in this romance. Not before she made her decision. Decision Day was tomorrow. In less than 24 hours, in fact.
She drowned the sinking feeling with a large gulp from her second piña colada, ignoring anyone else who stepped up to the small cabana bar by the hotel pool, instead staring down at the counter and staying entrapped in her own thoughts.
She knew she was being melodramatic. She felt it.
And she did nothing to stop herself.
Instead she indulged in the melodrama. How often in her career—how often in her life—had she ever allowed herself to be melodramatic? She always had to be on task about everything, take the punches and move on, survive.
Today she would sulk.
Because, in all likelihood, she'd walked away from Chuck Bartowski for the last time.
This time tomorrow, she might be on a plane headed for some far off place. And she couldn't afford to do now what she did last night. The continued indulgence. Indulging in melodrama was fine. She wasn't harming anybody else doing that.
But her repeated inability to deny herself that incredibly kind, warm-hearted, funny, and unfairly sexy man would have consequences. And some of those consequences involved him. It wasn't fair to him to keep doing this.
And it wouldn't do her any good to keep spending time with him, to let him continue to get deeper and deeper inside of her. Chuck would end up being the biggest reason why she made her decision and that was a very bad thing. The rest of her life couldn't hinge on a man she'd only met a little over a week ago. Because when she changed her mind about him, or he changed his about her, whenever that would be in the future, she might step back and realize how much she missed the spy world, her job that she was so good at and she would resent him.
Sarah hated the idea of Chuck being the main recipient of that behavior.
She drained the rest of her piña colada and thunked the cup down on the bar top.
As much as she knew she should regret staying in his suite, in his bed, overnight, she just couldn't. And she hated herself for not being able to bow out and do the right thing. She needed to let him be.
It was just that she wanted it so much—the feeling that she got this morning when he brushed her hair from her face, that early-morning comfy look of him, the way he looked at her with the wrinkle between his brow like he thought she was beautiful, even in her own early-morning state.
Nothing felt better than being wrapped around that man.
And she hadn't wanted to walk away from it last night. Just one more taste of that forbidden fruit…
She sighed and let her shoulders sag, biting her lip to keep it from quivering. She couldn't let her sulking and melodrama turn into self-pity, however. She didn't pity herself. She was well aware of just how little she deserved the man she'd spent so much time with over this last week.
And that was why she walked away this morning with every intention of not going back.
She heard a splash and a loud squeal behind her, followed by laughter, and she glanced over her shoulder. A stereotypical family was perched at the edge of the pool, the child's hair braided with barrettes that matched her orange floaties, and the dad carefully easing himself into the pool next to her. The woman stayed on the cement, peering down at who Sarah assumed were her child and was such a normal thing, a dad teaching his daughter to enjoy the water, a mom making her child and husband laugh by making faces. This child would grow up having good feelings about water, about the pool, about her parents.
And then Sarah was plunged headfirst into a memory of her own.
Sitting in a motel room for hours while her dad followed one of his marks. When he had promised her he'd take her swimming. She'd struggled to pull on her bright green, one piece bathing suit and padded out by herself to the pool. It had already been dark by then, and nobody had seen her. So when she slipped on a puddle some swimmer had left earlier and toppled into the water, she'd been sure nobody had seen that, either.
Someone had, though. A teenager who'd been working part time in the motel's laundry room had been walking past when he saw the neon bathing suit disappear into the pool and he'd reached down and plucked her up before she got too much water in her lungs.
The hotel staff had threatened to call the police once her dad returned, but he'd sweet talked them, quickly packed up their things, and they moved on again, switching the license plates just in case. She'd gotten yelled at in the car, she remembered. She'd thought it was her fault and she'd sobbed. And then he'd made her better with a lollipop and a promise that he'd buy her a pony with the prize daddy scored.
What in the hell was she thinking?
Her shoulders slumped even more as she gestured to the bartender and signaled for a third drink. He didn't question, he didn't look at her funny, he just nodded and set to making another.
She wanted to know if she could live a normal life…
Of course she couldn't.
Not with fucked up stories like that. And that wasn't even the worst of it. There were things she'd done herself that were so much worse than what her father had done. The sweet family at the pool was a bit of normalcy she would never achieve—more than that, it wasn't anything she could ever deserve. There weren't enough years left in her life to make amends for what she'd done in her first 26.
The bartender put her third piña colada down in front of her then and she pulled it closer, taking a long sip that gave her a brain freeze. She winced and pressed her fingers to the bridge of her nose, feeling the alcohol catching up to her now. Good.
Or maybe not good.
Because as she glanced over her shoulder, she saw the man she'd left a few hours ago push open the gate to the pool area and walk in. Luckily he turned away to hold it open for a couple who were exiting, grinning as they thanked him. It gave her time to turn to the bartender and gesture madly for him to clear away the two empty glasses. He rushed over and grabbed them as she turned to watch Chuck again. He started along the cement path around the pool and his gaze lifted to meet hers. There was a hitch in his step. Then a wide smile swept over his face and he quickened his pace.
"Wow. Fancy meeting you here," he said as he neared her.
She felt dizzy. She was flooded with relief, but also regret. She was so glad to see him, after she'd thought maybe she might never see him again, and at the same time, she knew how much easier it would've been if he hadn't seen her at all.
"Yeah, uh…bit of a midday colada. You know." She took a subtle but deep breath, fighting the buzz in her head, forcing herself to stay focused. Focus was key.
"Smart, smart. Since the sun is out."
Sarah was aching. She could've gotten drunk on good old fashioned wine in her own damn suite. It would've been cheaper. And she wouldn't be standing here with him. But she was so glad she was standing here with him.
She was so confused, trying so hard to stay God damn focused.
"I was actually just going to call you, as a matter of fact," he said, leaning against the bar next to her.
"Oh?" Would she have been strong enough to watch his name pop up on her phone and not answer it? Or would she have caved and picked up? She didn't know.
"Yeah, um…I, uh…" He huffed and ducked his head, his smile more of a wince than anything. "I did something you might not like."
It was on the tip of her tongue to tell him she couldn't think of anything he might do that she wouldn't like. But that was too much innuendo for public and for this situation, so she stayed quiet and instead tilted her head in question.
"I…" He fully winced. "I told Ellie. About you." He braced himself for her disdain.
Shit. Shit shit shit. She thought she was in too deep before, but the water had just risen above her head. She was drowning. She was in deep trouble. She dug into her bag of spy tricks and kept her face immovable, however.
"I couldn't keep it from her anymore," he continued when she didn't respond. "I mean, me and El, we don't—We don't keep secrets from each other. And this morning, I was such an idiot. I mean, I hid you in the shower when she knocked on the door." Sarah noticed out of the corner of her eye that the bartender turned to give them a look at that and she sent him a subtle glare that made him spin back to the sink as Chuck continued talking. "That was ridiculous behavior. Inexcusable. I just…I felt like crap lying to her. And having her be that close to finding out about you…I just know that she'd be really upset if I was seeing someone and she found out about it in any other capacity than my telling her." He huffed again, looking almost upset. "I hope you're not mad at me."
"Chuck, no!" She wasn't mad at him. She didn't blame him. She couldn't. He had nothing to hide, and he didn't know who she was—what she was. Why should he feel like it was necessary to keep her a secret from his sister, especially with how close they apparently were?
But she was upset. Not at him. Just…in general. She'd let this go for too long. This was proof.
"I'm not mad at you," she continued, putting a hand on his arm. "I understand. She had to know eventually. Better you tell her than she…" Sarah leaned in a bit closer, not wanting the bartender eavesdropping. "…walks in on us."
Chuck turned magenta. "Uh…ex-exactly. That would be…" He shook his head and shivered. "God, that'd be awful. She'd be so pissed at me. I mean, we're talking my sister. Anytime she hears I've met with a woman in any way, shape or form, Ellie practically puts on a parade."
That made Sarah laugh. "So she's like that, is she?"
"Very. Don't get me wrong, I know she's just doing it because she loves me, but she and I don't have the same…dating DNA." The assassin raised an eyebrow. "I mean, she is a very different dater than I am. She went through a lot of guys in high school, and I don't mean that in a disrespectful way. I just mean, she was never all that serious about any of them. She liked having fun, meeting a lot of people…Until she met Awesome. Obviously."
"Well, he is Awesome."
"He is. Which…ahem, segue," he said in a sing-songy voice. "You might get to see for yourself, should you agree to my proposition." He narrowed his eyes and clenched his teeth in yet another wince as Sarah felt her eyes widen. "Well, Ellie's proposition, more like."
"Ellie was so excited to hear I was…erm…seeing someone here…She invited you to dinner tonight."
"Like a…double date?" Sarah asked, her chest aching with nerves. Her fingers tingled, and she was sure it wasn't the drinks.
"You really don't have to if you think it's a little…a little intense. I completely understand. I get it totally. And Ellie would totally understand, too. She proposed dinner and then immediately was like, 'Oh if she doesn't feel comfortable, tell her it's totally fine!' So we're all—I mean, it's so up to you…"
This was a terrible, no-good, God awful idea. Dinner with Ellie and Captain Awesome? First of all, she was scared to meet the woman who meant so much to Chuck, the woman who had practically raised him if she'd understood his story correctly. Secondly, she didn't want to have Ellie counting on her to bring her brother ultimate happiness. That was such a huge expectation, a huge weight on her shoulders. And if Ellie was as intense as she sounded…
But she wanted to meet her, didn't she? And she wanted to meet the sincerely happy, kind guy Chuck called Captain Awesome.
She just couldn't. She couldn't. She had to say no.
But Chuck was still talking. He wouldn't stop.
"I just think that…that in spite of Ellie being a little…much, sometimes, I am, too. I can be a little much myself. If anything, she's even more socially acceptable than I am. Not that that's saying much—"
Sarah moved to her tip toes and slid her hands up to cup his face, leaning in to kiss him and…Well, she needed him to stop talking. And this was the nicest way she could think to do it.
But just as their lips brushed, there was a loud clearing of the throat behind Chuck.
He froze, and Sarah froze along with him.
And then he spun around. "Ellie! Uh…Hey."
"Sorry, Chuck. I didn't mean to interrupt…" Sarah stepped to the side a little so that she could see Ellie, spotting the wince on the brunette's face. And then the woman's green eyes flicked over to the side and the wince became a wide-eyed look, almost like she was startled, "Oh my God!"
Sarah jumped at that.
"I'm so sorry!" Ellie put her hands out placatingly, chuckling and shaking her head at herself. "I didn't mean to yell, I'm just—Dear God, Chuck, you did not do her justice." Sarah felt Chuck bristle next to her as she stepped forward, her arm brushing his. "Oh, no! No, I didn't mean it like—He actually said you were like Vicki Vale but a lot more beautiful, which is a really nice thing to say. You're just that gorgeous that I don't think his description did you justice."
Sarah blushed sincerely and ducked her head, laughing. She was incredibly amused and flattered, but also embarrassed by the other woman's gushing.
The more she spoke, the more Sarah saw in her face that she was actively despising herself for the way it was all coming out.
Like brother, like sister.
"Ellie…" Chuck interrupted softly. "Maybe, um, tone it down."
"I'm toned down. I'm good. I'm so sorry," she finished in an embarrassed hiss, mostly at Chuck, who shut his eyes in mortification and pressed his lips together. But then Ellie pat his chest with a barely subdued grin. "I'm so proud of you," she said out of the corner of her mouth, as though Sarah couldn't hear it. And Chuck looked like he wanted the ground to open up and swallow him whole.
"I'm Ellie," she said, outstretching her hand.
"Sarah. Nice to meet you." Sarah took the hand and squeezed it.
"Oh, you have no idea. I mean, nice to meet you, too." Ellie pulled back again, looking liable to burst. "So, uh…are we…doing dinner tonight?" The sister sent her brother a meaningful look, one Sarah was sure she wasn't supposed to see. But she was a spy. She saw it loud and clear.
Chuck was silent for too long, and the silence was too much for Sarah to bear…
"Yes. We are."
Oh Sarah, a voice in her head clucked in disappointment, You stupid, stupid girl.
Chuck turned to look at her, his eyebrows lifting a little in surprise. But he was smiling, too, and she clung to that pleased smile and told her inner voice to go fuck itself. She had to at least get past this conversation. And she was slightly drunk, for God's sake.
Well, she was downright glowing.
"Oh, good. He asked. I was afraid he wouldn't ask, and then he would tell me he did and that you said no."
"What?" Chuck clipped, giving her a thoroughly annoyed look. Sarah was trying so hard not to laugh. She definitely liked Ellie Bartowski, even if this was a highly uncomfortable conversation.
"What? That is something you'd do. Don't lie."
Suddenly Sarah felt someone behind her. Before she could react, a man even taller than Chuck wearing board shorts and a polo swept around her shoulder. "Hey, Chuckster! Glad you're out here, man, I was just about to get us beers."
"Hi, Devon," Chuck drawled, wincing. Like he knew what was coming.
"Oh, good. Devon." Ellie grabbed at her fiancé's shirt and pulled him into her side. "Devon. Sweetie." She pat his chest, barely restraining her glee. "Devon, this is Sarah. The Sarah I told you about."
His blue eyes fell to the assassin and widened significantly. And then his teeth, white as the purest snow, shone in the biggest smile Sarah thought she'd ever seen in her life. Like his face might break any moment. "CHUCK, YOU DEVIL, I NEVER DOUBTED YOU!" he boomed.
"Oh, God," she heard Chuck murmur. He sounded like he was in agony, and as bad as she felt for him, Sarah was on the verge of sincerely hard laughter.
"I mean, holy shit, bro." He moved from Ellie's side and swept Sarah up in a tight, strong hug. She didn't think she'd ever met anyone stronger than this guy. His arms were pure muscle. He stepped back and grinned hard again. "Hi, I'm Devon. Bro's soon to be bro-in-law. Sure you've heard about me."
"I have, yes. Hi," she chuckled, shaking his hand. Hug first, handshake second? Interesting. But she wasn't entirely put off by it. "Sarah."
"Oh, I know. Yes. Wow. Dude. Chuck. Yes." He pointed at him and fixed him with an I'm Proud Of You look.
Chuck was pink all over. It was adorable.
And because she could be cruel sometimes, Sarah folded her hands behind her back and cutely bounced up onto her toes. "I've heard I'm actually kinda nice, too. On top of…well, this." She swiveled her pointer finger in a circle around her face.
Devon burst into laughter, rocking forward and pointing at Sarah. "I like you already. I like her already," he said, turning to Ellie. Then he turned back to Sarah. "You have to be nice to have our boy Chuck this googly."
"Really, Awesome? Man, c'mon."
Devon shrugged at Chuck with an innocent and silent, 'What?'
"Okay. Okay, I think, uh, I think maybe we should move on now. Get some sun while it's out. Let you two…do whatever…it is…you two…do," Ellie said. The look on Devon's face was entirely too cheeky to be appropriate but Sarah didn't care. She was enjoying this too much. "See you tonight?"
"Yes," Chuck droned, his body tense, face set in a permanent wince. When Ellie teasingly pat him on the cheek and wrinkled her nose cutely, he grinned and shook his head. The affection between them was real. And it made her ache in both a good and a bad way. Envy was a terrible thing.
"C'mon, Dev." Ellie gave her fiancé's arm a little tug and started moving away.
"Sarah, nice to see you—meet you. Nice to meet you. Ha ha. Bro…" He made a power fist.
"Devon!" came the stern warning from Ellie who was already walking away.
The handsome—unfairly handsome—man rushed after her, properly chastised, throwing them one last wave over his shoulder.
"Jesus. H. Christ."
Sarah giggled and turned to see Chuck standing there with his hands over his face. "They were worse than I imagined."
"I like 'em," she chirped. "I think they're great."
He sent her a flat look. "Glad you were so amused by all of this."
"I really was. Not at your expense."
"Yeah, not totally at my expense, but a little bit," he said with an amused glare.
Her only response was to hold up her hand with her thumb and pointer finger close together.
He merely laughed and shook his head, asking the bartender for one of what she was having.
She'd been drunk.
That was the only explanation.
Sarah swept her gaze forward to look at the other couple walking arm in arm through the Mediterranean night, the breeze playing at the hem of Ellie's black dress which stopped just above her knees.
How had she gotten herself into this? Alcohol. That was how. She was about ready to give up alcohol altogether.
If she hadn't been on her third piña colada when she'd been asked to go on a double dinner date with Chuck and his sister and future brother-in-law, she wouldn't be here.
It had made her gutsy. Stupid. Her sense had made way for desire. She'd really wanted to say yes. She knew she had to tell Chuck she couldn't. That maybe it was a little intense. Maybe meeting Ellie was a bad idea.
It would have hurt him, but at least she wouldn't be in deep shit right now.
And she was in deep shit, she realized as Devon held the door to the restaurant open and chirped a friendly, "After you."
They all filed in.
Ellie took charge, having made the reservation.
Even the appreciative look she'd gotten from Chuck when he glanced up to see her approach in the hotel lobby earlier hadn't tempered her nerves for long.
This was a mistake.
How many times had she told herself that in the last week about different things, all of them having to do with the nerd she was admittedly attached to? And yet, she kept doing this crap. Dear God.
Because she liked him. There was no denying it. And she wanted to know more about him. About his family.
Once they were seated at the table and the menus were distributed, Ellie beamed and looked about ready to say something, start the small talk, whatever it was. But Sarah quickly spoke up.
"I'm sorry. Please excuse me. The-The, uh, restroom."
Chuck smiled at her as she slid out of her chair that was next to his. She grabbed her strap purse and moving away from the table with a polite smile in Ellie's direction. The woman was watching her a bit too closely as she walked away, and Sarah felt her eyes on her for a few seconds as she made her way to the hallway that led to the bathroom.
As Sarah stepped inside, she held the door open for the woman walking out, and as it snapped shut behind her, she realized she was alone in the five stall, black marble bathroom.
She immediately went to one of the sinks and stared in the mirror. If this were a movie, she'd splash her face with water, let out a dramatic sigh. Instead she just took her own face in, studying every last nuance of it. It was the face of a liar. A manipulator. A con woman. A murderer.
And here she was out there trying to converse and hobnob with people who were none of those things, people who were legitimately good. A man who'd programmed a game for one of his old classmates and named it after him when he'd died. A neurosurgeon. A heart surgeon.
These were great people. They were sweet, down to earth…funny. And smart. She hadn't spent much time with Ellie yet, but she could already tell the woman's brain was always going a mile a minute.
It was nerve-wracking.
And she felt so freaking stupid, being nervous about meeting Chuck's sister. She felt even more stupid for wanting the woman's approval. She sincerely wanted Ellie Bartowski to like her. Even with how much worse all of this would be in the end. The thought of Ellie changing a once good opinion about her, even hating her, for whatever ended up happening with Chuck made Sarah feel like a pit opened up in her stomach.
She swallowed the sick feeling and huffed.
To think she'd been so close to just not meeting them in the lobby. She'd had enough time to pack up and move to another hotel between parting ways with Chuck before meeting Ellie and Devon for dinner.
But thinking about how hurt Chuck would be, whether he'd blame himself, whether Ellie would blame herself for perhaps coming on so strong, or the idea that they'd all hate her for being such a coward…She had no choice but to put on her navy blue party dress, her black pumps, and fixing her hair in a way she thought might impress Ellie.
It was dysfunctional just how hard Sarah had worked on the character study of Ellie as she sat in her room. She'd listed personal attributes that she'd noticed in the woman so far, and she decided to try to tailor herself to be someone she'd like.
Ellie was smart, a do-gooder. She was a neurosurgeon. She was gorgeous and she seemed kind. She was kind enough and caring enough to bring her brother up without the help of their parents, and Sarah imagined Ellie had probably done much to guard Chuck from the worst of their trials. She still seemed a bit protective of him.
Sarah strove to be modest, but not so modest that she came off as insincere. She was aware she was pretty. Beautiful even. She'd worked her ass off for it. For the job. But she didn't feel superior because of it. It was merely a tool in her spy arsenal.
The assassin rolled her eyes in disgust at herself and turned away from the mirror, crossing her arms, and then she turned back again. She needed to stop treating Chuck's family as marks. They weren't marks. But she also didn't want them liking her so much that they remembered her when she was gone. She was afraid she'd already gone way too far with Chuck. But she could be proactive with Ellie and Devon.
The door swung open and a head of dark brown hair and green eyes peeked around the door. Ellie's rosebud lips smiled tentatively and she stepped inside. "Hi, Sarah."
"Hi." Sarah beamed, and then she toned it down a little, afraid it would look fake. It was fake. Did Ellie follow her in here for a reason? Dear God, what could be the reason? Was this what panic attacks felt like for people who had panic attacks?
"Sorry, I know what this looks like." Ellie winced. "Like I followed you in here to give you some kind of 'Don't hurt him or I'll hurt you' talk. I've watched movies." She rolled her eyes. "Chuck's my brother, of course I have."
Sarah let out an amused huff and nodded, turning to face the woman rather than looking at her in the mirror. Ellie closed the distance and started twisting her hands in front of her.
"I'm not doing that. I don't believe in butting in like that. Even though Chuck might think otherwise." She snorted. "You should've seen the look he gave me when I excused myself to join you."
Sarah didn't know what to say, so she just stayed quiet.
"The thing is, Chuck's been working so hard since…Well, since he was a kid. He's never taken trips. At least, not big ones like this. He's never allowed himself the time. Which is why he's as successful as he is now." She shrugged and sighed, leaning against the counter and going into her purse to pull lipstick out, playing with it in her hands, rolling it up and then back down again. "You have to make sacrifices sometimes."
"Yeah," Sarah murmured. "You do." She understood that more than anyone. She hated herself for the sacrifices she'd made. The dents in her moral compass, for instance. The wounds to her soul.
"I literally had to drag him here. I almost threatened him. I was so close to threatening not inviting Morgan to my wedding; I'm sure he's told you about Morgan." Sarah nodded. "I know, it's super mean. Conniving." She wrinkled her nose and it was rather cute. "But the best way to take my brother out is to go after his best friend."
She chuckled a little and finally turned to look in the mirror and reapply her lipstick, smacking her lips once and putting it away again.
"Luckily, Devon was key in persuading him. But—" She shook her head at herself. "The reason I cornered you in the bathroom—and I'm realizing now how awful I am for doing this, I'm so sorry, but I'm just gonna keep going 'cause we're already in here—is that by the look of it, you've been monumental in getting him to just fucking relax." She winced. "Sorry. Language."
"Oh, no. Please. Don't apologize for that," she drawled, pointing at herself.
Sarah felt her chest puff out a little at the subtle look of approval that got her.
"Seriously, I've never seen Chuck so eager to chill." She must've made a face because Ellie rushed on. "Not that he isn't chill. He comes across as super laid back, and he really is. It's hard to ruffle his feathers. He's patient and tolerant. But he gets so lost in work that he…Well, he's a workaholic. And it gets to be a lot. Almost to a worrisome degree. So…" She shrugged. "Thank you. Thanks for giving him a reason not to have his eyes glued to the computer, coding and programming and emailing. I wonder if you aren't the only thing that could do it." She shook her head. "You're seriously pretty. My gushing earlier today aside. Just ignore that. Pretend it didn't happen. For all of our sakes."
Sarah laughed, feeling a lot better about this conversation, even though her heart was aching terribly. "I make no promises. It was funny as hell."
Ellie snorted and shook her head. "Fine. But you're a weirdo." She paused. "I like weirdos, I think. I'm marrying one, so I'd better. Pft."That got another laugh out of the assassin. And then, for just a moment, Sarah was awash with the realization that this might be the last and only time she'd have the woman to herself, without anyone else listening in. And maybe…just maybe…there were things Chuck's older sister needed to hear.
"You know…Ellie. Chuck told me about your parents. Just-just cursory stuff, nothing too detailed or…personal. We haven't known each other very long, after all. But I do know you had a hand in the way he is, and judging by the way he is—how good he is," she said sincerely, almost reaching out to put a hand on Ellie's arm but resisting at the last second. She felt awkward. Shy. "You must be pretty awesome yourself. Which makes sense, because Chuck calls your fiancé Captain Awesome, and you two work really well. I mean, it looks like you do."
"We do." There was no small amount of warmth emanating from Ellie as she smiled quietly at Sarah. "And thank you for saying that. It was very sweet."
"Chuck's rubbed off on me." She shrugged one shoulder cutely. "And, honestly, he's made my vacation a lot more relaxed than it would normally be. You have…no idea," she finished, widening her eyes, knowing the full meaning would be lost on the other woman.
Ellie let out a one syllable giggle and gestured toward the door. "Let's go back, huh? We haven't even ordered yet. And I'm fucking starving." She winked as she cursed and Sarah beamed.
She really liked this woman.
"Say hello to my little frennn'!"
Ellie squeaked and jumped back as her fiancé thrust his hand out from where he'd had it behind his back, a crab clutched between his fingers.
"What the hell is wrong with you, Devon? Put it back."
He and Chuck were chortling, they were laughing so hard. But Devon laughed a little less hard when the brunette's hand made contact with the back of his head. "C'mon, El. It's a souvenir."
"It's a living thing. Put it back."
Sarah beamed at the lot of them, sitting on a rock off to the side, her pumps dangling from her fingertips as she dug her toes in the sand at her feet.
Chuck stood off to the side, staring up at the cloudless sky dotted with stars. One of his pant legs was gathered up at his knee, and the other had fallen down a little to his mid calf. It was cute. She wanted to fix it. But that was a bit too intimate.
And she was lazy.
After dinner, they'd gone bar and club hopping, drinking and essentially "tearing the city up", as Ellie had put it before she'd sobered up.
She was sober now as she let the waves roll over her bare toes, smiling out at the French Riviera.
And as the night had progressed, so had Sarah's affection for these people. These wonderful, too-good-to-be-true people.
But that was just it, wasn't it? They were true. Chuck was real. His sister was real. And Devon 'Captain Awesome' was real. These were real people. She was sure they all had faults…somewhere. Faults that she'd probably get to know well if she spent enough time with them. But faults or not, they were just…marvelous. This little family that anybody would be lucky to be a part of.
And she wanted to be the type of person who felt good, and thought about how much better off the world was that these people existed, that they cared for each other as much as they so obviously did.
But she wasn't a good person. So instead, she felt that stab of envy again. This was something she'd never be a part of. There was no pity. It was just a fact.
These people should be out on the town with someone who was inherently good. Some girl who didn't lie or manipulate. A girl who didn't make character profile for Chuck's sister as if she was a mark to bend to her will. Someone who hadn't murdered people.
The more time she'd spent with them over the last few hours, the more she'd grown to like them. And the more she'd grown to like them, the more important it was that she protected them. These were the people she worked for. These were the people she made sacrifices for.
She struggled and suffered to protect people like this.
And that made her feel good about what she did for the first time in…God…years.
"This shell totally looks like George Washington," Ellie said, picking it up off the beach and eyeing it in the moonlight.
"Rad. I wanna see." Chuck scrambled over to look at it with her. "Eh. More like Einstein."
Sarah giggled quietly, then frowned again.
This had been good.
A phenomenal night, so much fun, and she'd enjoyed herself more than she had any right to. And that was exactly the point. She had no right. It was clearer now than it had ever been. As hard as it would be, she thought she was ready for tomorrow. And it was because of this double date.
She'd done good, saying yes.
Then why did she feel so empty?
"Hey. What's up?"
Chuck shuffled closer to her. She hadn't heard him coming because Ellie and Devon were laughing and wrestling each other towards the water.
"Hm?" She smiled widely at him, but he merely furrowed his brow. "What?" she drawled.
"Nothin'. You just seem…Well, you were frowning."
"I wasn't frowning. What have I to frown about?" So much. So very much.
"I don't know." He shrugged. "Are you okay?"
"Of course." Sarah brushed off his concern with a quick wave of her hand. "I'm probably just tired. You know, I um…didn't get all that much sleep last night."
How in the hell had Devon crept up without her seeing him? Ellie spun around where she was wiping wet sand off of her leg. "What? What happened?"
"Nothing," Devon chirped, but Sarah clearly read his lips as he mouthed, "I'll tell you later" to his future wife. Ellie rolled her eyes and went back to cleaning her leg off.
"Hey," Devon said, inching closer, "if you're tired, Sarah, maybe we should head in, ya know? It is getting kinda late and I didn't sleep much, either—"
Sarah laughed as Chuck shook his head and covered his ears with his hands. And then he chuckled and reached down to help her down from her perch on the rock. "We should head in I think. I'm pretty tired, too, actually."
"Takes two to tango, bro." Devon thrust his fist out for Chuck to pound, but he was ignored thoroughly. Sarah felt bad for him so she moved her fist around to bump the side of his. "I'll take it. Thank you, Sarah." He shook his fist at Chuck's back as the younger man started towards the steps that led up to the boardwalk.
They shared a taxi back to the hotel, piling out as Chuck took care of the driver, and then they strolled into the lobby. Sarah had tried so hard to come up with a reason for them to stay out on the beach, to continue enjoying the night breeze and the sound of the ocean…So that she could continue enjoying this for as long as possible.
"Anybody want to stop in the bar for a night cap?"
Had she said that? Had that just come out of her mouth?
No, everybody was looking at Ellie. Ellie had said it.
"Yes. That sounds nice," she said. Chuck turned to give Sarah a look. He seemed a little confused, and she didn't blame him, after all of their "I'm tired" talk on the beach.
But they all filed into the bar anyway.
Chuck bought a bottle of petite sirrah and the bartender lined up four glasses on the bar, filling each one with the bottle, nodding politely, and wandering off to continue working.
"To Nice," Devon announced, lifting his glass. Everyone parroted him and they clinked glasses before sipping.
"I think I've taken more alcohol into my system tonight than the rest of the trip so far combined," Ellie admitted.
She turned to look at her fiancé, her hand on her hip. "What no?"
"Uh…That night we went to the clubs, you definitely drank more."
"Oh. I, uh, I forgot," she laughed.
"Yeah, no wonder."
They spent a half hour at the bar, chatting. Ellie told Sarah about some of her patients, while Chuck and Devon both rolled their eyes as though these were stories they'd heard plenty of times before.
Eventually, Devon took Ellie by the hand and led her out onto the floor as the jazz band in the corner played a soft, gentle tune. It made Sarah feel sleepy, comfortable. And when Chuck pulled her out there as well, she found it easy to just fold into his chest and shut her eyes, letting him slowly lead her around the floor.
"I hope you don't think my sister's some kind of drunk after tonight."
Sarah giggled, pulling back to look at him. "I don't. She's good at having fun."
"She really is. Which is a very good thing, because she didn't used to be. We've almost, like, switched places in a way."
"What d'you mean?" She tilted her head in curiosity.
"Uhhh." He narrowed his eyes thoughtfully. She thought about telling him he didn't have to talk about it if he didn't want to. He looked a little uncomfortable. But she wanted to know, so she waited.
"I, uh, I told you about the whole thing with my parents. It meant Ellie had to grow up a lot faster than most pre-teens. On top of school, she had to learn to cook, she took care of the bills, she did my dad's taxes for him. Can you imagine?" He shook his head with a smile of awe. "A 13 year old doing taxes."
Sarah swallowed the lump in her throat.
"But, I mean, she had to take care of both of us and that meant taking babysitting jobs and then switching to retail when she turned 16, all on top of school work, driving me to water polo practice. I mean, she never had fun. She had friends but she only saw 'em at school. I seriously don't remember her ever being like 'See ya, Chuck. Going to the movies with my friends.' She went on dates with guys here and there, but…" He shrugged. "Keeping us afloat was literally all she did. And there I was, not really comprehending everything that she was going through."
He shook his head a little.
"Not that I wasn't grateful. And, I mean, I took babysitting gigs and worked two jobs at 16 and did what I could to help out, cleaning the house and stuff, but she sort of created this safe bubble around me in a way…"
His eyes got a little cloudy as he looked away, and she could practically see the memories swelling in his features. "She made me feel like my life was more normal than I think it really was. So I was the one doing fun things: basketball and water polo, spending hours online playing video games with my buddies while she paid bills, listening to my dad's vinyls with Morgan while she was in the other room making phone calls to keep our power on."
Sarah just watched him quietly. She could see regret in him. She imagined he looked back on that time with a mixture of gratefulness and anger at himself for not seeing how tough things were for Ellie. The assassin had just met the woman today, but she was good at reading people. She'd made that character profile about her, hadn't she? And she imagined Ellie Bartowski had to have cared so much about her little brother, wanted to protect him so much, that she slipped a happy face on no matter what was going wrong. It made sense.
Sarah's dad had done the same thing, and probably for the same reason. His reasons just weren't even slightly as selfless or thoughtful as Ellie's must have been. His happy mask was to fool people, to fool her. And Ellie's was to safeguard her brother's happiness.
No wonder Chuck Bartowski was such a sincerely optimistic and positive person. The most optimistic person she'd ever met.
"So yeah. We switched now. Now she's the one who likes to go out and have fun and enjoy herself." He teasingly lifted his hand and mimicked drinking, his eyes crossing and his tongue hanging out. She laughed and swatted his arm lightly, causing him to chuckle. "Just kidding. I tease her about being an alcoholic, but she is one." Sarah burst into laughter. "Just kidding. She's not."
"She would probably kill you if she heard you say that."
"Naaaah," then he wrinkled his nose and tilted his head. "I mean, yeah, she would."
"So now you're the workaholic who never does anything fun?" she asked.
"Guilty." He winced. "Those two go on vacation whenever they can. Ellie says she wants to go places and see and do things before they start a family which makes sense." He shrugged. "I just have so much work to do. So much I want to build and invent. I want to expand SOLO, you know? I want to create something that's never been done before. Games that appeal to people from everywhere. I don't want to stop 'til I get there."
"Well…" Sarah sighed, looking down thoughtfully. "You don't have to stop. But maybe a pause here and there is good for you."
He smiled at her, then nodded once, emphatically. "You're right. If I hadn't paused to come on this trip…"
He didn't seem to want to finish that, and she didn't want him to, either. She didn't want some intimate comment about how he never would have met her.
"You never would have discovered how great a quiche can be."
Chuck laughed, and there was something in his eyes as she smiled up at him, pleased to hear that sincere, lovely sound come from him because of something she said. She ignored that something, even as it crept deep into her heart without her knowing. Something she might think about later…when it resurfaced.
As they slid into the elevator, the night slowly creeping into the morning hours, Sarah watched Chuck press the numbers for their floors. Ellie and Devon's floor. And then his floor.
It seemed completely automatic. Like he hadn't even considered pressing the button for her floor.
And it wasn't until he folded into the railing next to her that she felt his body tense. He must have realized what he'd done. And in front of his sister and future brother-in-law.
An awkward silence fell over the foursome, and Sarah, biting her cheek to keep from smiling and/or laughing at the situation, glanced subtly over at both Ellie and Devon. Ellie was looking at the ceiling, her upper lip clenched between her teeth and her eyes wide, as though she was keeping in…Well, Sarah assumed Ellie was trying to keep from bursting and embarrassing her brother. And Devon stared at the elevator doors, his mouth stretched into a toothy grin that clearly said 'This is the best night ever, I can't believe how great this night is, I will remind Chuck of it every day for the rest of his life'.
It all made it that much harder for her not to laugh.
She was sure that when Chuck told his sister at brunch that he was seeing a woman here while on vacation, he didn't say anything about them sleeping together. With how silly he acted about his sister and her almost-husband being intimate, how much of it was teasing she had no idea, she didn't imagine Chuck said anything close to, "Oh, and we're having sex."
He didn't have to say it now.
Ellie and Devon were well aware.
And for a moment, this incredibly awkward situation flooded Sarah with a warmth she'd never felt before. This was probably the most normal thing that had ever happened to her. An incredibly uncomfortable moment, tense silence in the elevator, a brother mortified by the fact that he'd just wordlessly revealed to his sister that he's having sex with the other woman in the elevator…
The assassin reveled in this moment.
She told herself she was going to remember it forever. And how strange was she that this moment—of all of the moments in the past week—would be the one she'd cling to the hardest on the bad days. On the worst days. When she felt the emptiest, and the world seemed truly bleak, she'd remember how purely awkward this minute and a half in the elevator was. She'd remember Ellie's face of sincere glee that she tried to hold back for her brother's comfort. And Devon not even bothering to cloak how proud he was that his future brother-in-law was getting action. And Chuck mortified by all of it.
The door slid open as they stopped on Ellie and Devon's floor.
"Well, goodnight!" Ellie chirped. She turned and stopped in the threshold, holding the elevator door open. "Sarah, it was really nice meeting you."
She said it as though she was sure she'd see her again soon. She even seemed a little excited about it. Like she was looking forward to it.
"God. Yes. It was great meeting you too, Ellie." And for a moment, Sarah wanted to hug Chuck's. Because she liked her. But also because the woman deserved one. Everything Sarah had witnessed, the slightly uncomfortable but still sweet chat in the bathroom, what Chuck told her about how hard Ellie worked to protect him when they were young…God, the woman deserved the best hug. And Sarah wanted it, too.
But instead of stepping forward, she stepped back, dropping her hand on the railing behind her. "G'night, Ellie. Devon."
Devon stepped out after his wife and held up both hands. "Night, you two." He winked pointedly at Chuck, then grinned at Sarah. And just before the doors slid shut, he boomed, "GO FORTH, MY SON!"
Sarah heard Ellie's, "Devon! Seriously!" and then the doors sealed shut.
She couldn't hold it in. In spite of the emptiness she was feeling at the night coming to an end, Sarah laughed, hunching forward, putting a hand on her forehead.
"Oh my God, I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry, I wasn't thinking. I don't know what the hell I was…God."
"Go forth, my son!" Sarah bellowed, saluting.
That got Chuck laughing. "He's such a fuckin' weirdo, man. No tact."
"Nope." She shook her head. "I like it. It's refreshing."
"It's less refreshing when you live with it every day for, like, almost 10 years."
The doors opened on Chuck's floor and he held them opened for her. She paused only for a moment, not enough for him to notice. And in that moment, she considered not doing this.
She didn't deserve this night. And she didn't deserve an ending to this night that included taking even more from this man than she already had.
There was such a heavy weight on her shoulders as she smiled and walked out of the elevator past him, leading the way to his suite.
She couldn't stop. Even if she wanted to. She couldn't plead fatigue and go back to her room. If she left now…
She just couldn't.
And as she slid her fingers around his once they stepped inside of his suite, slowly walking backwards and leading him towards the bedroom, not looking away from his eyes even once, Agent Walker decided she still had something left to give him. Something she'd never given anyone else. Ever.
As they stood beside the bed, she tenderly put her hands on either side of his face, and she leaned up and kissed him. She didn't pull away for quite some time, her eyes shut so tightly, her whole body aching.
They undressed quietly, slowly. And she took the time to stroke her hands over him, caress his body, press her lips to every bit of skin she could reach.
And when they climbed into bed, she gently pushed him onto his back. She'd given her body before. For release. For a distraction. Because it felt good. Because she wanted to.
It had never been more than physical. Never anything more than sex—whether it was good or bad.
He deserved so much better than her physical self. He deserved more than just sex. This was her chance—perhaps her last chance—to give herself to someone. To give…her whole self.
Not just her flesh, but the woman deep inside, the heart that beat inside of her chest, the soul that flowed through her veins and rarely showed itself through the mask she always kept in place for her protection.
She wasn't protecting herself was her silent promise.
Sarah buried her face under his chin as she sank onto his erection. She felt his sharp intake of breath, the way his fingers dug into her skin at her hips.
But then she braced her hands on the mattress next to his shoulders and looked down into his face as she began to gyrate into his lap. She met his gaze, and she let him in. All the way.
The walls came toppling down. Her mask fell away. Anything she'd learned at the Farm, and in the years after about being a spy, about concealing instead of feeling, hiding, dodging…She pushed it all aside.
She broke his passionate gaze and draped herself over him, dragging her body over his with each long, slow thrust, pushing her face into his hair and cupping his jaw in both hands. He breathed her name in her ear, and she thought no name had ever sounded more like her name. No name ever would again.
His voice had etched the name onto her heart. She'd always be Sarah in quiet moments when she was alone, when nobody could see her. When she cooked for herself or sat in the park reading a mystery novel, before she stepped inside the doors of the CIA headquarters in Langley…she'd be Sarah.
She gasped, barely keeping it from becoming a sob as she realized what was happening. Every time she'd sat astride him, moving in his lap, arching her back, whimpering, doing her best to pleasure him the way he was pleasuring her, she'd thought she'd been losing herself. Losing herself in the sex, in him. But that wasn't it at all.
She lost herself when she set off a bomb on a yacht, when she slipped poison into someone's drink, when she pulled the trigger.
Here was where she'd found herself.
In his arms. In the light of his smile.
Every time she gave into her desire, into her passion, and let him see all of her, feel all of her…she was finding herself again. She knew what she really was. Who she really was. Before everything had happened, before she'd learned corruption and death. Before she'd given in to her work, lost herself in the job. Her discovery was too late.
But she wouldn't throw in the towel until she made love to this man.
Sarah swept her hips back and forth more swiftly, tensing her body with each thrust, pulling him in, clinging to whatever part of him she could wrap her hands around.
He sat up then and strung his arms about her torso, kissing her neck, arching himself up to meet the swinging stroke of her hips.
Sarah cried out into his hair and threaded her fingers in his hair, rocking even faster in his lap.
Their sighs filled the room, dotted with moans and whimpers.
And then he turned them over and held her close, cradling her body as he took over, his thrusts long and hard.
She let out a harsh breath, whispering his name into his ear, shutting her eyes tightly, her brow furrowed in passion.
They made love that way for awhile, Sarah falling over the peak over and over again, but never slowing down, even in the height of her ecstasy.
Sarah and Chuck rolled every which way on the bed, shifting the mattress a bit on its frame, each of them making use of the headboard depending on who was on top.
And the longer it went, the more Sarah began to lose her grip on everything. The more realizations about what was coming later on in the day, about what it all meant, started creeping into her thoughts.
She started losing herself again, and tears began to threaten.
No. She wasn't doing this. She was vulnerable. She had no protection here. Not against the tears. But she fought as hard as she could, starting to make her riding thrusts harder and faster.
The love-making was growing rougher and rougher with each passing second as she fought to keep him from realizing she was trying not to cry. If he knew that, he would stop this, he would cradle her, he'd look right into her eyes, into her soul, and he'd ask what was wrong. She'd have to tell him. As defenseless as she was in this moment, with no walls or safeguards around her, she'd blab everything.
So she shoved her face into his hair with a ragged moan and bucked in his lap.
Chuck groaned, his voice drifting off in a supremely pleasured chuckle, obviously in awe of how good she was making him feel. Her own body felt as though it was lit on fire, the tingling more of a relentless, delicious buzz.
She held onto the physical sensations and continued making love to him.
"Oh my God," he panted, holding her hips as she bucked almost wildly. "Oh my God!"
She squeezed his name out between her lips, her voice tight and filled with emotion she'd never heard in her own voice before. Everything was threatening to boil over. She was a volcano, the lava slowly rising to the peak, dangerously close to spilling over.
Sarah was saved as she tipped over the edge again, crying out raggedly with climax, pushing herself up to tower over him, her head falling back, hair sweeping over heaving shoulders.
Chuck's hand closed over her breast and she mewed. It was almost a pitiful sound. She just wanted so much more than this. She wanted this to last…
In more than just her memories…
She couldn't forget.
She moved harder against him, the bed creaking under her strength as she grabbed the headboard in a fierce grip, looking down at the unbridled awe and ecstasy in his face as he stared up at the ceiling past her shoulder, his eyes hazy in pleasure.
She had to do whatever she could to make sure she didn't forget. And she lowered her hands to his chest, jerking her hips in wild, quick thrusts, her movements so graceful and erotic.
He came inside of her with little warning, his voice strangled in his throat as he panted her name, his desperate fingers grappling for her waist, hips, ass, breasts…
He arched up from the bed with an almost animalistic growl, and then he flopped back down again, breathing hard, his chest heaving, even as she felt him still releasing his seed, his hips gyrating up into her in gentle, shallow thrusts.
Sarah draped herself over him again, kissing his face, his jaw, his throat, his collarbone. She carefully slid his shaft out of her and dragged her lips down his lithe form damp with sweat. Lower, lower…even lower.
She stayed under the sheets for awhile, tasting him, memorizing the taste, memorizing the way her true name sounded in one of Chuck's whimpers. She would remember the way his fists twisted in the sheets on either side of his hips, the whiteness of his knuckles, the sound of his pleasured chuckle.
And when he was hard again, he tugged her back up so that their faces were aligned, pushed her onto her back, and knelt over her, continuing their lovemaking as he towered over her.
Eventually, he fell asleep, and she watched, their bodies tangled, faces close. Her heart raced against her chest when his eyelids finally shuttered closed, his head slumped to the side a little, and his breathing evened out.
But his grip on her didn't loosen even a little bit. If anything, it seemed like it had tightened in his sleep. She forced herself not to succumb to exhaustion in spite of the room beginning to slowly lose its darkness as the sun made its way to their side of the world.
She let her fingers play over his face, the sweet subtle kink at the end of his nose, the slight pout of his lips in sleep, the handsome indent between his bottom lip and his chin. She felt his hair, made messy by her fingers when she'd made love to him.
The next thing she knew, the sun was up—she felt its warmth on her naked skin—and she was still trapped in his arms.
But she had fallen asleep. She'd tried so hard not to. She'd promised herself she wouldn't.
But she had.
How many hours had she wasted with sleep? These last hours…
Hours she couldn't have back…
She needed to do more to make sure she never forgot…
But instead, she clamped her lips together and held her breath to keep the emotions from overtaking her, her face twisting in agony as she gently peeled his fingers away from her body.
She turned her face away and let a long breath out through pursed lips, resisting the sniff that threatened, ignoring the single tear that rested at the corner of her right eye.
She finally untangled herself from his strength, from his warmth, from the safe feeling being in his arms gave her. And she very carefully rolled away from him, swinging her legs out of the sheets and slowly easing herself to her feet to stand next to his bed.
She silently and efficiently got dressed again, glancing over at him every so often, taking him in, watching the rise and fall of his chest.
She stood there motionless, her heels dangling from her fingers, just looking at him.
And then she walked around the bed to the side he was sprawled out on and she leaned down, holding her hair behind her neck to keep it from brushing against his face. She pressed her lips to his temple, raising her walls again, suppressing her emotions, doing what she could to hold everything back. She lifted her face just an inch. "Thank you," she whispered.
She pressed one more kiss to his brow, shutting her eyes tight, feeling tears start. And then she left the bedroom, forcing herself not to look, and then hating herself when she did. Just one last time.
As she stepped out into the hallway, shutting the door with a quiet click behind her, she let out one aching sob. A gasp. And then she shoved her hand to her mouth and shook her head.
Everything hurt. Everywhere hurt.
But she kept walking.
She had to keep walking.
Please review. Keeps me healthy. Thanks, everyone.