A/N1 Well, here we are, at the end. Let me thank everybody for reading the story and for so many kind and thoughtful responses. Please drop me a line and share your final thoughts or reactions—a review or a PM as we part would be nice.
I need to doff my cap and bow to michaelfmx for yeoman's work on this story. He made it not just more readable, but better. Thanks, michaelfmx!
Don't own Chuck. No money made.
Monday morning, September 4, 2017 (Labor Day)
Boca Raton, Florida
"I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do." Henry David Thoreau
CHAPTER 9 Infernal Weenie Roast
Chuck woke up just before dawn. Sarah was sleeping against him, but she had begun to thrash about. She moaned as if in pain. She woke up—at least a little. She realized what she had been doing and saw Chuck's concerned look. She tensed and rolled away from him. He put his hand on her back and rubbed it in small gentle circles. He felt the tension in her back ease. A moment later, she had rolled back over to him, allowing him to see her welling eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. She nestled against him.
"What is it, Sarah?" Chuck's question was tender, free of demand.
"Bad dreams. Very bad dreams. A tax that spies like me pay. No matter how often you tell yourself you're ok with what you've done, it turns out that you aren't—not really, not deep down. Even taking a life in self-defense sets deep things inside you into motion. More…questionable…life-taking sets even deeper things into motion. I guess we have a natural piety for life, especially for other human lives, and taking human life always registers as natural impiety, as profane. Anyone who doesn't feel that is a sociopath—or on her way to being one.
"You've…stirred things deep inside of me, Chuck. That is a good thing, a very good thing. But it also means that I…that we…will have to face…my demons. Because they have been stirred too. Even as demons go, they're an…unpleasant lot." Her blue eyes pleaded with him in a way that her tone did not, although her tone was one of entreaty. "It's a lot to ask…"
"Asked and answered, Sarah. I'm here for you. They're our demons, now. You can count on me."
She nestled her head back into his chest and allowed herself to close her eyes again. Chuck held her, seeing tears escape her eyelids. After a while, she wiped her eyes and peered up at him.
"Thank you, Chuck."
She kissed him slowly and gently. He kissed her back slowly and gently…and then they made love slowly and gently. They fell back to sleep.
Chuck got out of bed first and began to work, boiling potatoes to make potato salad. Sarah got up a few minutes later and watched him work while she drank coffee, then she got out a knife and a cutting board and made a massive green salad.
Chuck hand-pattied the burgers and made sure that there were enough hot dogs and vegetables to grill. They put beer, soft drinks and bottled water in a cooler and set out a few bottles of wine. All the foodstuff that needed to be kept cold went back into the refrigerator.
Chuck had the bag of charcoal on the porch. He had double-checked the grill. He got a spatula for the burgers and a weenie fork for the hot dogs.
He and Sarah sat down and reviewed how he planned to handle Graham.
Folks were supposed to begin dropping in at around 4 pm. Casey was due to arrive first. Everything was ready.
Late in the day, Casey arrived in Sarah's Mazda. Gertrude and Tina were due to show up later. Casey could tell as soon as he entered the house that Walker and Bartowski were together. The question was—how were they together? Handler/asset or as a real couple? He could tell what Bartowski thought. Bartowski thought they were a couple. But what about Walker?
They sat down at the picnic table on the back porch. Chuck got Casey a beer and Casey lit a cigar. Casey sat and watched Walker and Bartowski as they sat across from him. Bartowski slipped his arm around Walker's waist and she leaned further into him. The cause of her reaction was Bartowski's action—not any conscious recognition of it on her part, not any decision about how to react. Nothing in Sarah's mind got between Chuck's bodily action and her bodily reaction.
Casey had enough experience to understand that even the best of spies knew that they were playing a role when they were playing a role. That knowledge always inserted itself, maybe briefly and subtly, but always, between the action of an asset and the handler's reaction. It was incredibly hard to pretend self-consciously to do something un-self-consciously. But what Walker did was not self-conscious. Chuck acted and she reacted—as if they were one body, not two. Casey grunted internally. Good for them. Very good for them.
Casey could see that they fit together, and not just physically. They needed each other in complex ways.
Casey looked at Walker. "Glad to see you got what you asked for." She nodded, and then she smiled.
Sarah asked Casey if there had been any more incidents with Chuck's lab or on campus.
"No, nothing. It's like it never happened. Very strange. Why go to all that trouble just to give up?"
Sarah looked at Chuck and then back at Casey. "We know the answer and we're willing to tell you, but we don't want to put you in a difficult position. The…person behind this is powerful and—if not evil, ruthless in many ways. So, knowing could rebound on you. You have a good life here and a family…"
"Right. Right. Look, I appreciate it. But whoever did this, did it on my campus, on my beat, to my people. I want to know."
"Ok." Sarah sighed. "It was my former boss, Langston Graham."
"That ass that directs the spook show?" Casey looked like he might turn his head and spit.
"Yeah, that ass," Chuck confirmed. "He was trying to scare me, intimidate me into giving him the Vortex and the project. He arranged the break-in and the SUVs. That was one half of his plan."
"One half?" Casey was puzzled for a second, then he saw Walker's face. "So, you were under orders all along?" His tone took on a sharp edge. Both Chuck and Sarah sat up straighter. Chuck waited for Sarah to speak.
"No, at least not in the way you think. Maybe it would be better to say that I was Plan B, not the other half of the plan.
"Anyway, Graham sent me an email note asking me for a…favor. He wanted me to push Chuck toward giving Graham what he wanted. He sent it to me around the time of his 'attack'—the lab break-in and the SUVs. I didn't see the email until Saturday at a coffee shop."
Chuck was looking at Casey and nodding as Sarah continued.
"We've told Graham that Chuck will give him what he wants but that he has to come here today—he is due in an hour or so—to get it. It would be a help to us if you could keep everyone outside while we talk to him in here. Chuck has a plan. We're going to give him a small dose of what he wants to inoculate him against wanting more."
"Chuck's plan? Should be good," Casey grinned. "Yeah, I'll do the crowd control. Let me know if you need anything else. I have your backs. The only thing I like less than spooks," he looked at Sarah, "present company excluded, is spook bureaucrats."
Casey's face then took on a strange look. It took Sarah a minute to recognize it as reluctance. "Is there something you want to ask me, Casey?"
He nodded almost imperceptibly. "Are you the Ice Queen?" His voice was quiet, even though no one else was around.
Sarah felt herself blush. She glanced nervously at Chuck, who had turned to her, clearly curious to hear her answer, see her answer. She could see that he had heard the name before—obviously from Casey. Sarah dropped her voice as she answered, matching her volume to Casey's. "Yes. I was the Ice Queen."
Casey looked at her appraisingly—with an obvious note of respect but also of worry. He then turned his appraisal on Chuck. "Have you gotten any clearer on what that means, Chuck? Do you really understand who you're holding?" Casey's voice was gentle—for him.
Chuck sighed before he answered. As he spoke, he underlined each word.
"Sarah's told me some things. I have…um, recently read about others. I know, Casey; I understand. Here's the thing, Casey, those missions, the things Sarah has done, they're not reasons for me to fear or mistrust her. They are part of the past of the woman I'm presently with and that I…hope to be with…in the future. They are part of the past of the woman I trust with…my life." Now, Chuck glanced nervously at her. She smiled at him—a smile she felt well up from deep in her heart. He smiled back and she settled even more completely into his embrace, into his arm around her waist.
Casey sat for a moment and gazed at them. He grinned and shook his head. "Tron and the Ice Queen. Electronics and espionage. Java and espresso. Who'd a-thunk it?" His voice was merry.
Chuck started to laugh—then looked at Casey closely. "Wait. 'Java and espresso': was that a twisty double Italian coffee-computer pun?" Sarah was lost for a second, then caught up. She saw Casey's grin widen. All three began to chuckle.
Casey helped Chuck fire up the grill. Casey seemed to know a lot about grills and grilling, and he was happy to share his vast knowledge with Chuck. Chuck listened to it all with a grin.
Morgan and Alex arrived carrying a huge pan of baked beans and a large thermos of cold brew coffee. Chuck ran into Morgan at the coffee shop a few times, it turned out, but they'd never really talked. Sarah was pleased to see Chuck and Morgan talking more seriously. Morgan knew who Chuck was, but was intimidated by him. But with Sarah introducing them and telling him about Chuck, they fell into immediate conversation about computers, video games, and movies. Within ten minutes, they were running through the entire Cantina scene from Star Wars, including all the alien beeps and noises.
Alex walked to Sarah, rolling her eyes at the strange cacophony arising from the two men.
"Sarah, we're so glad you asked us to come over. You know you're one of our favorite customers," she leaned in to whisper to Sarah, "and…Chuck…wow! He's great. Morgan is a huge fan. He's talked about little else since Commonwealth hired him. I've enjoyed getting to know him when he's come into the shop. He's a good guy. But Morgan hid every time he came in. I think he has a really serious man-crush—a hetero life partners kind of crush."
Hurricane Carina made landfall with a luau in her wake. She had on a revealing tank top and a pair of cut off denim shorts. She also had on a small apron emblazoned with the word, "ReJoyce!" over a picture of Joyce himself.
"Here comes everybody," she yelled to everyone and no one as she came in. She had a bottle of single malt scotch in her hand. She wasn't really watching where she was going and she bumped into Morgan—who had gotten up so that she could have his seat.
They went down in a heap of his beard and her long legs. Carina managed to save the scotch. As they tried to extricate themselves from one another, Alex stood over them, glaring. Morgan noticed her and tried to get up as quickly as possible. Carina hadn't expected him to move so fast, and she was still partially bent over as he stood. They bumped heads hard. Each stumbled away from the other, hand on forehead.
Alex chuffed a bit at the sight, then moved to tend to her wounded husband. Sarah got Carina into a chair and poured her some of the single malt in a paper cup. Carina took a sip, rubbed her forehead one last time, and then looked at Sarah questioningly. "Say, isn't that the coffee gnome?" Sarah glared at Carina and Carina dropped her voice as she finished. "Yes," Sarah whispered, "he owns the campus coffee shop—and he's my friend, so play nice." At the word, 'friend', Carina's eyes narrowed. Then she saw Chuck standing tall over the grill, in a t-shirt and shorts.
"Yum, Sarah, yum. Good for you, girl. That man can take a dip in my stream of consciousness any time he wants and swim there for as long as he wants…" Carina looked at Sarah expecting a smile but saw only warning lights in Sarah's eyes. "Oh. Oh, I see. Chuck's not just your…Labor Day picnic. Oh. Well, I'll shut my mouth then. Really good for you, girl." The warning lights dimmed and Sarah smiled at her friend. Carina poured Sarah some single malt in another cup and toasted, motioning to Sarah and then to Chuck. They each drank to that.
Sarah heard the doorbell ring and walked to the door to answer it. There stood Langston Graham, grinning at her. On each side of him was a mountainous agent. Sarah stepped back and Graham entered, scanning the room for Chuck. Not seeing him, he turned to Sarah.
"Thanks for your help, Agent Walker."
"Professor Walker, or, if you must, Sarah." The words came out slow and cold, a sheet of ice off her tongue. Graham visibly winced. His expression became wary.
"Well, where is our package? You seem to be…entertaining…so we can take it and leave."
Graham was clearly caught off-guard by the smell of burgers and the sound of music and laughter from outside. Through the backdoor, Sarah knew he could see Casey dancing with Gertrude, and Morgan with Alex. Carina was laughing at something Chuck had said. They were watching the dancers and talking about her Joyce class with Tina listening in.
Graham glared at Sarah. She knew she hadn't responded or moved. She was happy just standing and watching Chuck and her friends interact. But she knew Graham had to be handled.
"Have a seat, Langston." His head snapped at that. She had never used his first name before. He didn't like it.
She waited until he seated himself at the table. He gestured at the two large men. "This is Mr. Smith and this is Mr. Smith." One moved toward the front door. The other toward the back door.
Sarah got Chuck's attention. He saw Graham. Chuck took a couple of minutes to grab three plates and fill them with food before he came into the kitchen. He placed one plate in front of Graham. He handed one to each of the Mr. Smiths, and each seemed pleased to be included in the party in a small way.
Graham looked at his plate—a hot dog with mustard and slaw, a generous helping of potato salad and some baked beans. Chuck and Sarah were seated at her small kitchen table with him. Each of the two Mr. Smiths had his hotdog in his hand, half consumed in one bite, chewing in obvious enjoyment. Graham pushed his plate away. He preferred French food, haute cuisine. He couldn't believe that Sarah, a tasteful veteran of cuisines the world over, could have choked any of this down. Weenies! Bartowski gave him a weenie.
But the choker was that his golden girl was obviously smitten with the computer engineer. How was that possible? They were together. How could she have chosen this circuit board clown? OK, admittedly, he was smart. Smarter than anyone Graham had on the research side of the CIA. Much smarter. Still, he was…well, him. She was her. Maybe she really had burnt out; maybe this was the special hell for burnouts—yoked to brainy nerds in fetid, swampy Florida. Boca Goddamn Raton. What was Langston Graham doing in Boca Raton?
Graham pushed the plate away. "Alright, Bartowski, enough of this stupid charade. I don't know what you two think you're doing. Are you going to give me what I want?" Without waiting, he turned a sneer to Sarah. "Frankly, Walker, for you to be with this…man boggles my mind. He is beneath you."
"No, Graham, he's not. He's not the type you think is my type. It turns out my type is tall, lanky, thoroughly good computer geniuses. Admittedly, not an easy type to find—but so worth it when you do." She smiled at Chuck and he smiled back with a touch of embarrassment. He then turned his attention to Graham.
"What do we think we are doing? Well, Langston, I brought you here so that I could say this to your face. I appreciate that you would like to have the project and the Vector and even me, but the answer on all three is: 'Sorry, but no, thank you.'"
"Bartowski, I asked—but I'm not really asking. I'm the Director of the CIA, and you will…give me what I want." Graham said this with perfect matter-of-factness, perfect assurance.
"No, I won't. This is the last time I say no, Graham."
"Well, it's the last time I pretend to ask. Give me the project and the Vector and I'll let you stay here in this outdoor sweatshop instead of throwing your skinny ass into a bunker."
"Tell me something, Graham. How did you come to know about the project and the Vector? Maybe we can trade. But you have to start."
Graham bared his teeth in a silent snarl—but then he began to talk. He believed the situation was now his to control.
"Fine, I may as well tell you. It will amuse me to tell you, and I'm curious how it will strike Walker. A few weeks ago, a long-running CIA operation finished. The target was Lazlo Mahnovski." Graham paused, watching for Chuck's reaction. Chuck's eyes widened just a bit.
"Yes, your former student. He never forgave you for being smarter than him, Bartowski. Hell hath no fury like an academic outsmarted. He was attempting to sell weapons to a foreign power. The woman working for him, the woman who brokered the deal, was his right-hand woman, a gifted con artist, a mistress of disguises, named Jill Roberts. I think you knew her as your fiancée, Janet Sanders." Graham's teeth showed again, another snarl. But he seemed disappointed that neither Chuck nor Sarah seemed rattled by the Saunders revelation. "We captured her, and we captured her best friend and partner in crime, Erin Suzeman. I think you knew her as Tamara."
"Roberts, Suzeman—neither of their real names means anything to me, Graham. Of course, Mahnovski's name means something to me. People at Stanford called him 'the poor man's Bartowski'. It drove him crazy. I tried to tell him that it was nonsense—that he was brilliant, and that research was not a competition with other researchers, but a battle against ignorance. He wouldn't listen. He bolted for the private sector. I knew he was making huge amounts of money. But I really didn't keep up with him."
"Well, he kept up with you. He stole minor designs from you. I guess you didn't care or just didn't pay much attention." Graham shook his head at Bartowski's carelessness or obtuseness.
"He sent Jill to you to find out about the project. He had been watching you when he was at Stanford and knew you were working on something big, but he also knew you kept an eye on him and he was never able to figure it out what you were up to. So, later, when he met Jill and found out about her skills, he sent her to you to steal anything she could, but especially to find out about the project. I suspect he also wanted to use her to hurt you—and I gather he succeeded." Graham radiated gleeful malice.
"So, Roberts was to find out about the project and she did, at least a little—and she found out about the Vector too. But Mahnovski wasn't good enough—no one he had available to him was good enough—to take the information she gave Mahnovski and recreate your project. Mahnovski thought he could build a Vortex himself, and he wasted a lot of time on that. He should have just stolen the one you left with the Hintos. But his ego demanded he do it himself. He was going to beat you at last. I guess that will be my job now. My pleasure, rather.
"She told me all of this to get us to go easy on her. She gave up Mahnovski and Suzeman."
"So, once Roberts told you all of this, you decided to scare me into giving you the project and the Vector?" Graham saw Walker's vulnerable glance at Bartowski and his reassuring smile. Graham began to wonder if he really did have control of the situation. He'd never seen Walker open, vulnerable in that way. He wasn't sure he recognized her. He didn't think it…possible. An unsettled feeling passed over him.
"Well, Graham, in exchange for that bit of information, I offer you a bit of information. I've used the Vortex to gain access to, and make copies of, the operations you've authorized while you have been Director of the CIA. I must admit, you've cut quite a swath across many countries. I've distributed copies of those files to dozens of electronic data banks around the world. Hard copies in sealed envelopes are also on their way to various law offices around the world, with strict instructions for when they should be opened and what should be done with the contents. If any of a variety of events occur, involving me, Sarah, my family or friends or hers, then those files will be sent to various newspapers, television stations, government agencies, and even a few tabloids."
Graham felt a sliver of ice enter his spine. "You've done what, Bartowski?"
"Exactly what I said." Bartowski got up and walked to the refrigerator. He reached up to the top of it and retrieved a folder. He came back to the table and pushed the folder to Graham. He then looked at Graham's plate. "Are you going to eat that?" He gestured to the hot dog. Graham shook his head.
Bartowski shrugged and grabbed it, taking a large bite. He chewed while Graham glanced inside the file. Graham peeked up and noticed that Bartowski had a speck of mustard on the corner of his mouth, but then he saw Walker pick up a napkin and smilingly wipe the mustard away. She leaned in for a kiss. Graham became increasingly sure he was trapped in a Twilight Zone episode. Sarah Walker did not dote fondly—not on anyone.
Shaking his head, Graham returned his attention to the folder. In it were printouts of highly classified documents, ones that Graham had taken to be forever hidden. There were only a few, but Graham knew they stood for so many more. Any of them would ruin him, reveal just how far he had pushed—abused—his power, how often he had used his power to further augment his power, how often he had used Walker and other agents to advance his own private agenda.
"You see, Graham, I knew how to look and Sarah knew where to look. So last night we did a little electronic spelunking, some copying, and some mailing. I'd say we found buried treasure."
Graham was too furious and too frightened to respond clearly. He heard himself grunt out a "Damn you" at Bartowski and Walker.
Bartowski grinned at Graham. He was completely calm. He was in control of the situation.
"Look, Langston, I realize that all this is cliché. Any number of spy stories end like this, with the bad guy—or in your case, the power-hungry bureaucrat—blackmailed into submission.
"Think of this as a malicious sort of celebrity roast. Do you remember those from TV? People get together and give someone a hard time about his or her life? No? Oh, well.
"I admit it: this ain't original. But that makes me like it more—the Director of the CIA done in by a hacker using a hackneyed plot device. Original or not, you can see the threat here is real. I have no desire to make good on it—but I will if you force me. Why don't we leave with this a comedy, not a tragedy, Langston?
"You are Washington's creation; Washington can have you. I'm not interested in bringing you down, just in getting you to leave me alone. And that's what I want—never to hear from you again," Bartowski took Walker's hand and she turned to face Graham, "and Sarah never wants to hear from you again. Just. Leave. Us. Alone. There's a sheet in the folder that outlines the things you might do that will result in the dispersal of that information—but you understand: Leave us and everyone we care about alone."
Graham considered his options. Bartowski's project would have been nice. It would have put Graham in a position of remarkable power. But he was already powerful as it was, and he was holding similar threats to the one Bartowski was now holding over his head over the heads of any number of powerful people in Washington. All in all, it was disappointing and annoying to lose to Bartowski, the project, and Walker, but he could live with it—if he had to. He was a pragmatist, after all. The greater good.
"So, what will you do with the project, Bartowski?"
"Kill it. It was a bad idea, I realize, even with the failsafe I had planned. You folks in the intelligence community will have to muddle through without my skeleton key, without the project. No one knows about this but you, me, Roberts and Mahnovski. You should be able to keep a lid on it and on them. If you don't, well, that's one of the things listed on the sheet in the file. I'll never finish the project. And I have new things to think about these days, things…outside…the lab." He winked at Walker and she winked back. She got up and went outside.
Graham felt mildly sickened by the innuendo and the winking. Walker with Bartowski, Walker teaching at Commonwealth College—it was like taking the finest surgical scalpel and using it to open packing crates. What a waste! Still, the Farm brought in fresh faces all the time. Maybe he'd never find another Ice Queen—but there'd eventually be an Ice Princess, or an Ice Duchess. Someone icy.
Graham picked up the file and headed for the door. The Mr. Smith from the backdoor put his plate on the table and thanked Chuck. The other from the front door did the same. Graham rolled his eyes. Then they followed Graham out the door.
Sarah came in from outside just as they left through the front door. She had her arm behind her back and she whisked past Chuck and out the front door after Graham. Chuck saw what she was holding, and, after a couple of moment's shock during which he stood still while he processed what he saw, he followed her.
Sarah followed Graham to his car. She looked back over her shoulder. Chuck hadn't followed her, not yet anyway. When Graham got to the rear door of his car, Mr. Smith leaned down to open it. He clicked the handle and pulled the door toward his great barreled chest, holding it for Graham. Sarah had the weenie fork from the grill behind her back, but both Mr. Smiths seemed to think the ordeal was over; they had relaxed. They just looked at her.
Sarah spun into the air and brought her foot up and around, exploding into the head of the Mr. Smith standing beside her. He crumpled to the sidewalk, out cold. Before the Mr. Smith holding the door could react, she had landed from her kick and was able to shoot out a fist, drilling him in the throat. He made a gurgling, gagging sound and began sucking for air, bending over instinctively to try to catch his breath. She whipped her knee up into his head as he bent down, and he too crumpled to the sidewalk. She heard the screen door behind her close.
Graham was frozen in place—unable to process what had just happened, staggered by the quick and decisive violence. Graham had created her in many ways, created this weapon, but he had only seen its effects. He had never really witnessed it cause those effects, seen his Enforcer…enforce. He was—he realized—staring down the double blue barrels of the blonde gun he had fashioned.
His fear was complete. It had been years since he had been in the field, and he had been a mediocre field agent at best. He had known it, which was why he'd taken to a desk so early. He was happy enough to order violence—but he was unable to face it, on either the giving or receiving end.
Sarah's eyes were the blue of a welder's arc flash. For Graham to stare into them was for him to risk burning his retinas. He closed his eyes as hers focused on his face. He felt the tines of the weenie fork press into the soft flesh of his throat, one of them piercing it just slightly.
He opened his eyes. Sarah was smiling at him. It was the most frightening sight of his life. He was glad he hadn't eaten anything.
"Graham," she said, breathing only a little hard, "you understand, don't you, what my boyfriend can do to your career. He can—and if you push him, he will—bomb your career into a crater. You've no way to stop that if you make any move against him or against me. But I want you to understand what my boyfriend's girlfriend—that'd be me, just in case the math eludes you—can do to you.
"I don't think you've ever thought that through. But you know my relevant skill set better than anyone. Do you think there's anywhere you can hide from me? Do you think there is anywhere I can't find you, any street you can walk down on which I can't find a rooftop vantage point, any bathroom you can visit where I might not be waiting? Do you? Are you prepared to have me as your mortal enemy?"
Graham shook his head—gently, so as not to drive the weenie fork tine further into his flesh.
"You've sent me into the inferno more than once, and yet here I stand, Graham. I've no desire to hurt you any more than I'm hurting you right now; I want this part of my life to be over. And it will be, so long as you leave us alone. But if you so much as breathe a threat against the new life I am building here or the man I am hoping to build it with, you'll not breathe for long. I'm your worst nightmare, Graham, a two-edged sword you forged and can't now control."
Sarah relaxed her hand and the weenie fork lost contact with Graham's throat. He felt a tiny rivulet of sweat—or of blood—or of a tear—run down his throat and onto his chest. He tried to smile and produced instead a wild-looking grimace. The two Mr. Smiths were coming around.
"Take your boys and go back to DC. You can trust my boyfriend. You can also trust me. Have a good flight."
Graham dived into the backseat of his car, yelling for the two Mr. Smiths to get in and go. Sarah stood on the sidewalk for a moment, watching the black SUV disappear into the humidity of Boca. She knew Graham. He was terrified—for his career and for his person. He would leave them alone.
Chuck stepped to her and put his arm around her. She glanced at him anxiously.
"I heard the screen door shut. How much of that did you see and hear?"
The blue eyes that asked the question were soft, exposed, electric. "I never want you to see or hear me like that again, Chuck."
He leaned down and kissed her. He could feel her tremble against his arm, and he could feel heat rolling off her—the aftershocks and after-effects of her encounter with Graham. She looked into his eyes with a tentative smile, but couldn't hold his gaze. He kissed her again, softly.
"Are you sure what you just witnessed didn't mess things up for us, Chuck, didn't mess us up?" She still could not quite look at him steadily.
"We're good, Sarah. You're good."
"What I just did and said…Your feelings…for me…they won't change, they haven't changed?"
"Well, a little, I guess…"
Sarah dropped her eyes and her shoulders slumped.
Chuck continued, spiraling a little. "No, no, What I mean is that I think I'm falling in love with you—oh, and I was right, I knew it: You are a kick-ass ninja. And I think I am falling head over heels in love with you." I am in love with you.
She brightened, not just her eyes. She brightened. She smiled as she lifted her face to him. He saw her try to speak in response and saw that the words were there but that she could not yet speak them. He leaned in and kissed her again.
"No hurry, Sarah. No rush. I didn't and I'll never say something like that to you quid pro quo. It'll always be a gift, always be yours for free."
She brightened even more. She finally spoke. "So, you think you're falling in love with me? You aren't sure?"
"Well, to be honest, no. I worry that I might just be blinded by my newly developed desire to play Dr. Bartowski's Show and Tell. It sounds like…uh…quite a game."
Sarah leaned in close to Chuck's ear and in a raw, breathy whisper, she said, "After everyone leaves, how about I show and you tell? I could hear all that again—but with us both in a different…posture." I am in love with you.
They kissed and Chuck took Sarah's hand. They started back inside. She still had the weenie fork in her other hand. She stopped them and handed the fork to Chuck. He accepted it from her, taking a moment to brandish it like a cutlass. They both laughed and then they joined the party.
A/N2 Happy Valentine's Day!