summary: Looking for a fresh start after some tough times, Sarah and her three-year-old daughter move to LA. When they find a sweet curly-haired nerd who lives next door, though, Sarah realizes they might just find more happiness than they'd ever imagined, if only her past doesn't catch up to her first. AU.
a/n: And now Thanksgiving in July. Anyone for turkey? Thanks for all your reviews and stuff thus far, I'm glad you're enjoying this story still and that nobody was too put off by the twist and by Bryce's showing up. Ah, Bryce, how I love to hate you. As I said, he's more or less served his purpose for this story, showing up and shaking them up and telling Sarah about Caria, too. Remember when I mentioned those bumps in the road, though? There's a couple more ahead. This show was such a rollercoaster at times, I thought it would be unrealistic for this story to be all a smooth ride. I hope you'll stick with it, though, I felt these conversations and events were necessary for these three to keep moving forward, rather than staying ambiguous and undefined forever. And sometimes, to move forward, you have to move back first. As I've said before, though, my main goal in this story is to just keep Chuck, Sarah, and Amy, fine and happy. We'll get there in time. As always, please leave a review on your way out! Enjoy.
disclaimer: I don't own Chuck, various Thanksgiving movies, marshmallows, or handholding.
She looks down at the pie in her hands, covered in foil, and wonders when the damn thing will stop making her nervous. It survived the trip in the car, Amy having one protective little hand on it as it sat next to her in the back seat, and a quick check had told Sarah it looks fine, but it's still unnerving. Because she'd had to make it last night, after leaving the comfort and safety of Chuck's apartment and returning to her own, the place where she learned Danny Caria had been freed from prison by a rogue agent of the CIA. The place where she'd been told to keep her guard up, keep one eye behind her at all times, just in case. For her 'safety'. Left alone, without Chuck there to distract her, and once Amy had gone to sleep, left without her little girl too, Sarah had had way too much time to think. On everything, on this giant disaster slowly mounting. And now a pie, of all things, is making her anxious, because here she is, about to spend the day relaxing with friends and family and being thankful, and she knows she won't be able to do that, relax, one bit. She couldn't pull out of the plans just the day before, but she almost wishes she had done. Because she knows, Ellie, Devon, Morgan, and Chuck, she'll be risking them all, just by being here.
Just as she found people, people she truly likes, truly cares about, people who want her in their lives, she has to step back. Because she took Danny Caria away from his family, and she destroyed his family in turn. And if he's escaped, if he comes looking for her which she knows is very likely, she knows exactly what he'll do to hurt her, what his perfect revenge would be. He'll destroy her family, too.
And so she knows, she has to keep her distance. Because if she doesn't, if she lets them all in, then Caria could hurt any one of them.
"Mommy? You haf'ta knock." Amy says smartly, and Sarah chuckles, squeezing her little girl's hand briefly before letting go, finally rapping her knuckles against the door. She absentmindedly hopes this is the right house, but she knows it is, she'd checked and triple-checked the address Ellie had sent her several times. This ridiculously pretty courtyard, in a nice neighborhood, and this beautiful looking apartment, is Ellie and Devon's place, the place Chuck had lived before moving into Sarah's building.
The sound of laughter rises in the house, getting nearer to them, the peal familiar of that of Ellie Bartowski. The door opens, and sure enough, there the doctor stands, smiling widely.
"Hey, guys!" she greets warmly, stepping aside, and where Sarah just smiles Amy squeals, bouncing up and down.
Ellie crouches down, grins.
"Hi, Miss Amy. I like your dress," she says, and Amy giggles, engulfing Ellie in a hug while the other woman chuckles lightly. When she stands, she turns to Sarah, smiling a little smaller, knowingly, and stepping forward to hug her. "Chuck told me about your ex showing up. Everything okay?" she murmurs, almost a whisper, and Sarah tenses as she pulls away.
"Yeah. It's okay now, it's dealt with," she says, looking for any spark of additional anger in Ellie's eyes, but she just sees sympathy, sadness. Which tells Sarah one thing: Chuck didn't say it was Bryce. Chuck didn't say he'd met his ex-best friend along with Sarah's ex-boyfriend yesterday evening, that they were one and the same. He'd kept that from his sister. So Ellie can't know that, where Sarah is hurting, Chuck must be hurting just as much too. Ellie looks down, sees the foil-covered dish in Sarah's hands, and Sarah latches onto the change in conversation. "Oh! It's dessert, Amy and I made it."
"Thank you, I'll put it in the fridge,"
"Did someone say dessert?" says a voice, one Sarah knows very well.
"Chuck!" Amy calls, happily running into the apartment, and as Ellie steps away and heads up to the kitchen, Sarah sees Chuck standing by the couch in front of them, smiling their way. He looks like their Chuck, warm and normal, and for a second Sarah wonders if he's gotten over Bryce's appearance quicker than she'd thought.
"Hey, there's my favorite bug!" he says, once more sounding just like he always does as he scoops Amy up into a hug, and she giggles as she hugs him back. When he turns to Sarah, though, his happiness fades a little, and his smile gets tenser, tighter. And she knows he's still dealing with whatever Bryce said to him as much as she is. "Hi. You- you okay?"
She musters up a smile, tries to look as normal as possible, for everyone's sake.
"Yeah. Yeah, I'm fine," Since he's holding Amy, she just raises a hand, rests it on Chuck's arm a moment, squeezing it briefly. "How are you?"
He nods, but says nothing more, and she watches him worriedly for a second, biting her lip. He just turns back to Amy, grinning at her.
"D'you wanna say hi to Captain Awesome?"
Amy giggles, looking excited, and Sarah wonders if they'll need to explain once more that Devon isn't a superhero, though he may look like one, and does save lives on a daily basis. Chuck sends her another look, a much warmer one this time, and she smiles back instinctively before he turns around and carries Amy across to the kitchen, where Devon and Morgan stand. Sarah's struck, suddenly, by just how comfortable he looks, carrying Amy, just how happy Amy looks in his arms, like she always does, always has done. How normal it all seems. He's fitted into their lives almost effortlessly, and she loves it, frankly. But she knows she can't be having those thoughts- she didn't want to before, but now she just can't. There's enough to worry about with Amy- if Caria wants to hurt Sarah he'd go after her child, she knows. She can't let more people in, let anyone else be at risk. She just knows that keeping her distance is going to be incredibly, incredibly difficult.
As the little girl greets both guys again, sending waves, Ellie walks up to Sarah once more.
"D'you want some wine?" She smiles, knowing but mischievous glint in her eye.
It's early, still, they'd come here right after the parade, but Sarah nods.
Ellie grins, heading up to the counter and grabbing a bottle of red, pouring Sarah a generous glass, and by the time she heads back, Chuck and Amy are following her, re-introductions done with. After Chuck sets her down to stand on the floor, Amy hops up on the couch, patting the corner next to her as she looks up at Sarah, and with a chuckle she sits down. Amy immediately snuggles into Sarah's side, and Sarah finds, as she keeps finding since yesterday, that she doesn't want to let her go. Cuddling her little girl back, she smiles at Ellie as she takes her wine, and Chuck sits on the other side of the couch.
"Did you like the parade, Amy?" he asks, and the three-year-old giggles.
"Yeah, it was fun," She grins, and Sarah smiles, thinking of the event they'd seen this morning.
"You liked the Sesame Street float, didn't you, baby?" she prompts, and Amy nods enthusiastically.
"Yeah, they were singing! Everybody was real cold, though."
Chuck laughs softly, looking bemused, and Sarah shrugs. Evidently, the thick knitwear the cast and characters were wearing assured Amy that New York is still very cold.
Ellie joins them, her own glass of wine now in her hand as she slips into an armchair, and Sarah turns to her, smiles, trying to think of topics of conversation just to keep her from thinking about everything.
"I love your apartment, Ellie," she says, truthfully in that. "It's beautiful. And the courtyard outside, too,"
"Thanks, it is. I love the courtyard, it's especially good for parties,"
"You have parties?" Amy asks, eyes wide, awed, and Sarah smirks. As if her excitement at Chuck's party wasn't enough to demonstrate it, Amy really loves parties. Sarah can't help but feel a little regretful that, since moving from New York, the little girl hasn't really been to any events like that. She'd always been invited to cute little celebrations by kids at the mom's group, the kind of parties where the children just eat a lot of cake and leave with a goody bag and some of the parents end up drinking too much Champagne. Though Amy has friends at her daycare here, though, she hasn't been invited to any parties yet, and since Sarah just turns up to drop off or pick up Amy, she rarely gets a chance to speak to any of the other parents there. Her main friends here are all in this room, so Chuck's party has been the highlight, so far.
"Yeah, a lot of parties," Ellie says, grinning. "Halloween, New Year's, sometimes ones just when I want to," She chuckles, and Amy gasps yet again.
"Indeed!" Devon says, voice booming, as he walks through from the kitchen, Morgan following, and Sarah holds back a smirk.
Eventually, everyone settles into a chair, or in Morgan's case the floor, all chatting, Amy joining in. Sarah notices, though, that Chuck is decidedly quieter than usual, only speaking occasionally, laughing just when necessary, and she tries not to sigh at just how much destruction Bryce has caused without even knowing, probably. Being so unthinking as to turn up the day before Thanksgiving, drop a bombshell, and then leave. And Chuck doesn't even know why the other man was here, what happened, what she and Bryce had talked about. Maybe he's been thinking on it, but he hasn't asked her, and she hasn't asked him what he'd talked about with Bryce for fifteen minutes. Because Bryce has impacted both their lives in very different ways, and it's a strange coincidence that they've both met, now, after he'd destroyed their lives and futures and plans through various means. He'd gotten Chuck expelled, landed him at the Buy More, downtrodden and living in this very apartment with Ellie and Devon for so long, and he'd betrayed Sarah's trust, endangered her and Amy for almost a year, mixing the job with his own indulgences, own desires, risking being found out at any time, and then leaving New York as a bitter betraying memory for her.
She sighs, sipping her wine and holding Amy closer, feeling as she keeps cuddling in close.
"Okay, I need to start cooking things if we're gonna get to the turkey for lunch." Ellie says, as the conversations wrap up a little.
As the doctor heads through to the kitchen, Morgan hums happily, looking a little dreamily lost.
"D'you have my favorite number two side-dish?"
"I brought the marshmallows this morning, buddy," Chuck says, to which Morgan nods sagely. Sarah's not quite sure why marshmallows are so important, but to the bearded man, they must be. Chuck laughs, then looks around, specifically at Amy. "Anyone wanna watch a movie?"
"Ooh! Me, me!" the little girl says, raising her hand and bouncing on the couch cushions hard enough Sarah has to cover the top of her wine glass with her hand to stop the drink from spilling. She reaches out, taps Amy's shoulder.
"Calm a little, baby, okay?"
"Oh." She pauses, blinks. "Sorry."
Sarah smiles, tickling her side and watching as Amy squirms and giggles.
"It's okay." she says, and with a smile Chuck stands and heads toward the TV, where stacks of DVDs sit.
"D'you wanna choose the movie, bug? We've got a couple good Thanksgiving ones,"
"Not You've Got Mail! I wanna watch that later!" Ellie calls from the kitchen, and Chuck rolls his eyes.
"I was thinking kids movies, El, you know that."
After hopping off the couch and looking through some DVDs with Chuck, Amy picks A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving. As they settle back and the movie begins, Amy clambers back up, but Sarah watches as, instead of leaning next to her mother like she usually does, she shuffles next to Chuck, blinking up at him.
"What is it, bug?" he whispers, and Amy just smiles.
"Nothin'." Resting back against his arm, cuddling into his side and watching the movie with wide eyes, she says nothing more, but Chuck just looks over at Sarah, raises an eyebrow. Though terror rises in her suddenly at the sight before her, her daughter and Chuck so close, both people Caria could hurt to get to her, something about the two of them also makes the panic ebb a little. Taking a last sip of her wine, she sits back and wills herself to let the fear, the anxiety, go just for now, and she makes herself just enjoy being surrounded by friends, her daughter, and the man who's a very big part of their lives. She may have to keep looking over her shoulder, especially after today, but moments like these, she knows she can never try to stop.
When Ellie declares it's a half hour to turkey time, they wrap up the next movie they'd started, and while Amy does some Thanksgiving-themed coloring on the coffee table, Devon sets the dining table, and Morgan helps in the kitchen, walking around and offering to taste anything Ellie is cooking, stirring various pots. Sarah realizes, though, that she and Chuck have found themselves without much to do. They could just stay lounging about, killing time, but with Amy having stayed cuddling Chuck's arm during the various movies, then shifting around so her feet were in Sarah's lap while her head rested on Chuck's shoulder, and with the tension Sarah knows the two of them are still feeling, she makes a decision.
"Hey," she says, and he looks up from the comic book he's reading—or is just pretending to read, she thinks, since he hasn't changed the page in a solid ten minutes-, raising his eyebrows in answer. "Can we, uh, can we talk?"
"Here?" She shakes her head a little, flicks her eyes to Amy, and he nods. "Uh, sure, the guest room's free, I guess," He stands, and she leans forward, ruffling Amy's hair briefly.
"Ames, Chuck and I are just gonna go talk, we'll be right back, okay?"
Amy hums and nods, curls bouncing as she colors a turkey more.
Standing and looking at Chuck, Sarah sees him take a deep breath as he nods his head to the hall behind him and starts to walk. She follows him, wondering how on earth to broach this topic.
"Devon, we're just gonna..." Chuck murmurs, and Devon nods wordlessly, still distracted by trying to lay out various items of cutlery and shuffling around centrepieces at Ellie's instruction.
They round the corner past the kitchen, and Chuck pushes open a door, stepping inside, waiting for Sarah to follow. Inside is a nice, bright room, surprisingly with a few framed posters on the wall, a case of DVDs inside an empty corner fireplace. There are a few nerdy touches, though, the posters especially, a couple of Comic-Con flyers on the pinboard, and she smiles knowingly.
"Was this your room?"
He nods, smiling a little wryly.
"Yeah. I didn't have enough space for the Dune poster in my new place," His smile falls, though, and she closes the door, eyes him with concern.
"Chuck, what's wrong? I know seeing Bryce would've shaken you up, but this seems like it's more." He darts his gaze away, and she frowns. "Was it something he said, or, I don't know, is it something else?" Is it her? Does he think of her differently, now, knowing she dated Bryce? Knowing the kind of bad choices she's made? She doubts he'd judge her, though, she's always trusted him to be better than that.
He sighs, runs a hand through his hair.
"It's kinda just everything. Knowing that Bryce is the guy that hurt you, back then, I-I can't believe he'd do all that to you. He was an ass to me, sure, he ruined my life for a little bit, but I didn't have a child in the mix. I just keep thinking, how selfish has he gotta be to do that? And- and you and Amy are so great, I mean..."
She shakes her head.
"I... It's complicated," she says, not defending Bryce but trying to explain what she can't, all of the CIA problems that entwine themselves with their former relationship. "He apologized, yesterday, but he thinks his reasons were justified."
Chuck snorts, bitter.
"He said that to me, about what he did at Stanford. I'd say he was lying, but when I mentioned Jill, he... I could tell he honestly had no idea what I was talking about, him being with Jill."
She raises an eyebrow.
"They weren't together?"
"Apparently not, no." he mutters, and Sarah blinks. Well, that's a strange development, certainly. But if Chuck is re-examining that aspect of his life, re-examining an old relationship, she understands why he's been a little distant today. "That sorta just makes it even worse if she made it up to get me off her back, I must've really been annoying." He shrugs, self-deprecatingly, and Sarah scoffs, distaste for a woman she's never even met increasing.
"Chuck, I don't believe that for a second-"
"That's not what's bothering me, though," he interrupts, raising a hand. "I wasted enough time thinking about Jill, I honestly just don't care about her anymore. She's not what's important."
He leaves the next part unsaid, but Sarah can put the pieces together by the way he looks at her, gaze so open, eyes so soft. It makes her heart skip a beat. She's some of what's important to him, Amy too. And with the news she learnt just yesterday, she's glad he hasn't just said that, didn't put it out there.
She hates that just when she's found someone she could fall into, she desperately can't. For his own safety. And god, she hates being this conflicted, this torn. Ever since she met Chuck Bartowski it's like she can't think straight, anymore. And now Bryce has just made that even worse.
She takes a deep breath, nods.
"So what is it? Ellie and Devon and Morgan might not have noticed, but I have. Something's wrong." She steps forward, tugs on his arm, and his face crumples, eyes closing tight. "Chuck,"
"It's nothing, it's just Bryce being an ass-"
It's not nothing, she knows that, although she does trust the idea that Bryce was an asshole. She just can't work out what he would've said that got to Chuck like this.
"What did he say? Was it about me? Amy?"
He winces, pulls away, and Sarah knows she's getting close to the answer.
"It's not important, it's-"
"Chuck, please." she murmurs, and an anguished look falls upon his features.
"He said I should stay away. From you, and- and from Amy. He said that would be for the best."
Much like Bryce had said kicking Chuck out of Stanford was for the best. She's sure he believes that, truly, that his actions were for the best, and when he'd been talking yesterday he'd said Chuck was a good guy, no sarcasm, no lies. Sarah thinks he genuinely must have thought his actions were just protecting his friend, that they really weren't meant to hurt him as much as they did, especially if Jill had hurt Chuck without Bryce's involvement. And in this case, he's right. If Chuck were to just stop being in Sarah and Amy's lives, if he were to step back, that would mean he would be safer from Caria, and so would Ellie and Devon and Morgan and everyone else too.
Bryce was right. And Sarah knows, from a former-spy's point of view, she should back him up, reinforce what he's said.
But she just can't. She knows she can't. Can't push Chuck away that much, can't hurt him, can't hurt herself and then Amy too. Because, dammit, she likes him so much, likes the happiness he's brought, the light, the friendship, the laughter. The feeling of home. Even when things in New York with Bryce had felt good, they'd never felt this good. This warm, this happy, this perfect. This much like a home. And she and Chuck aren't even...
She nods, clearing her throat. She won't push him herself, but if Chuck wants to do as Bryce said and stay away from them and step back, she'll have to let him.
"Bryce says a lot of stuff, you know that." she murmurs, and he frowns, probably noticing she didn't exactly tell him to ignore his old friend.
"God, Sarah, you know I don't want to, you know I'm not gonna?" His tone is insistent, and she just shakes her head.
"I-I don't know. I'd hope not, but you've been like this today when we've been here with your family, and that's because Bryce turned up, and he was only there because of me, so-"
"No, no, I mean, he's in my head a little, but, no."
"Okay." She smiles, small, not bugging him on it anymore. She has no demands of him, no real expectations. He's his own person, with his own life, and he owes them nothing at all.
He looks at her, expression stunned, a fire in his eyes that makes something inside her stir.
"Seriously." he says, like he knows she's still not certain of this. He seems to be, though, and she blinks as he frowns. "I don't want to stay away, I mean- Sarah, I..." He shakes his head, and she just shrugs again, believing him but not sure what to say.
Before she can think, he's striding toward her, pulling her to him, and her heart suddenly starts pounding in her chest as he looks at her, gaze burning dark, breath fanning over her face. She blinks, slow, not moving, and then just like that, he's kissing her.
The moment their lips meet, she knows she has never, ever, felt anything like this before. The kiss is furious, intense, deep from the start, their lips moving together, his tongue exploring her mouth. She groans as he pulls her closer, hands roaming her back. She kisses him back just as hard, hands holding his head, slipping down to his chest, clutching his shirt in her fist, tasting him, pressing up against him, rising on her toes to meet him even closer, easier, letting the feel of him wash over her, drown her. It's as good as she thought it would be, with him, the way he makes her feel with just a look, the way their skin seems to spark every time it meets. In fact, it's better. It's incredible. It's just on the best verge of being overwhelming, being too much.
And she knows, from just this kiss, that she could never grow tired of this. Of him.
She jerks back at the muffled sound, tearing her lips from Chuck's, gasping as cold air somehow fills the space that hadn't been between them. Peeling open her eyes, she takes in Chuck's disheveled appearance, hair messy, cheeks flushed, and when his eyes open slowly, she sees the anguish there. The regret.
His forehead drops to her shoulder, his arms around her waist slowly loosening.
"I'm sorry." he says, and she blinks. What?
She clears her throat, and he stands up, steps back. She turns to the door, seeing it still closed, Amy evidently still out in the hall, much to Sarah's relief. If Amy had seen them kiss, explaining that would be... awkward. And confusing. Knowing she should answer before her daughter gets impatient enough to try and open the door, she swallows.
"I'm in here, baby, I'll be right out,"
"Okay," Amy calls, upbeat, oblivious to the tension filling the room her mother and Chuck are currently in.
Sarah turns back, tries to think of something to say, but she just finds herself staring at Chuck, mouth a little agape. She can still taste his lips, feel the heat of him pressed up against her, she can't get it out of her mind. He runs his hands over his face.
"I'm sorry," he repeats. "I shouldn't have done that."
She tries to get her breathing under control, wondering why he's apologizing when she returned his kiss just as intensely as he offered it. And it was, intense.
"It's okay." she says, because god, it was more than okay. Misreading her, though, he shakes his head.
"It won't happen again. I know you and Amy are good by yourself, you don't need this- me making things complicated."
Oh, god, the sweet man. The sweet, stupid, clueless man. Without even knowing it, he's offered her the perfect way out. The perfect solution.
"Okay," she breathes, even as a voice inside her says, Coward. Coward to let him think she believes that, coward to let him think she doesn't like him just as much as he seems to like her. Coward to let him think things would still be best just her and Amy. Coward to stay away from him.
But this way, he'll be safe. If this had happened yesterday, or any day before Bryce had sprung that news on her last night, she knows she wouldn't be doing this, wouldn't be pushing Chuck away. Because despite her holding back until now, thinking she didn't need someone else, thinking she and Amy were fine just the two of them, she knows, if Chuck had kissed her before today, before last night, she would've fallen, into him, for him. She knows that now, as surely as she knows herself. With that kiss, certainly not, but not with this man, the one she likes so much, the one she can only now somehow admit that about- she knows she could never have really stayed away. But now, she has a reason to hold back. And he's given her the perfect excuse, put the words into her mouth. This way she doesn't put him at more risk with Danny Caria.
Even if, as Bryce had so helpfully explained, Caria maybe isn't a risk at all. But she just can't take that chance. Not with Chuck.
This way is best. But that doesn't mean it doesn't break her heart to see him nod in front of her. His face crumples a little, brow furrowed in pain, and she bites her lip.
"Chuck, it's not that I…" God, she thinks, what can she even say? Because she wants this, wants him, after that kiss but before it, even, but right now she has absolutely no idea how to solve this, how to fix her future, when an extremely dangerous man is on the loose and probably looking for her. "I just, I can't," she murmurs, pulse thumping in her ears, voice strained. She hasn't lied to him, but the reason as to why she can't, definitely isn't what he's thinking.
Controlled, not a sign of frustration or anger at her- how is this man so kind, she wonders, so forgiving?- he just nods again.
"You should, um, probably get to Amy. I'll be right out." He sits on the bed, running his hands through his hair again, and Sarah has to use all of her willpower to not go to him, hold him, kiss him again because oh, she knows she wants to. She swallows, desperate to run but knowing she has to say something, get something through to him.
"Please don't... shut down. Please, Amy loves spending time with you." It's not just Amy, not at all. But she can hardly say that, hardly go back on herself now. "This doesn't have to change anything."
"It won't." He shakes his head. "I promise. I don't wanna ruin this, Sarah,"
She nods, heart still breaking, chest aching, trying to get everything under control and ordered in her mind enough to see her daughter. And, with a deep breath, she turns to the door, pulling it open. Amy, evidently having heard the door open, comes around the corner from the kitchen, running up to her happily. Sarah can't help but smile.
"Hey, bug," she says, and Amy runs into her legs, Sarah bending to lift her up, settling her on her hip.
"Hiya, Mommy." She grins. "Where's Chuck?"
"I'm here, Ames," he says, voice low, but when Sarah looks around, he's smiling, looking completely composed. It's alarming, almost, and Sarah would be worried if she didn't feel the ghost of his touch on her back before he pulls away immediately, sending her an awkward look.
"Hi!" Amy reaches out, hugging him while still in Sarah's arms, like she's missed them both in the five minutes they've been away. It was one hell of five minutes, though. He chuckles when he pulls back, ruffles her hair, and Sarah is struck, suddenly, by just how easily her daughter can make everything feel normal again.
"Guys, we uh, we were gonna take some photos before the food, if you wanna come through?" Ellie says, smiling from the kitchen, looking totally composed despite the various things in the oven, plates laid out, utensils and bowls stacking up in the sink.
Sarah blinks. Nobody had mentioned photographs, but she wished if they had, they could've taken them before she'd made out with Chuck, messed up his hair and probably smudged the lip gloss she'd had on.
"Oh. Um, could you just give me two minutes?"
Ellie nods and smiles, and Sarah takes a step toward the bathroom, before realizing she's still carrying Amy. Quickly setting her down, she smooths down the little girl's dress, flattening out any creases, checking for random stains that may have appeared, then promptly sorts her hair, adjusting the slightly squiggly parting Amy has somehow gained since this morning, smoothing out a knot with her fingers, and then booping Amy's nose, making her giggle.
"Okay, d'you wanna go with Chuck? Mommy'll be through in a minute,"
"Okay!" She reaches up, instantly grabbing Chuck's hand, and he sends her a remarkably normal smile before stepping away, heading down the hall with Amy in tow.
Sarah slips into the bathroom, locks the door, rests against it, and slumps down to sit on the floor, head in her hands.
"Stupid, stupid, stupid," she mutters, cursing everything, cursing Bryce Larkin and cursing Danny Caria and cursing Langston Graham and especially cursing Chuck Bartowski for being so wonderful and so incredibly clueless.
But mostly cursing herself. For thinking she and Chuck could ever hold out, could ever not... what just happened. Kiss, that explosively, give in, that intensely. Not with the way she'd seen him look at her, not with the way seeing that had made her feel. Not with the way his smile always makes her want to smile, not with how much she trusts him with Amy, not with just how good he is with the little girl always making Sarah ache, yearn. Privately wonder if they could have it all, even if she's so often put those thoughts aside, refused to acknowledge them. Now, she can't ignore them.
She sighs, leaning her head back against the door. Everything had been going so well, it felt like, since they'd moved to LA. And now, with Bryce turning up again, it's all gone to hell. Only ever Bryce, Sarah thinks mirthlessly.
Standing, sighing again, she heads to the mirror, checking her appearance. She looks fine, really, no smudges of makeup, no obvious signs that she just made out with someone. But she did. And damn, it was good, even if it may have ruined the best relationship she has in her life. Simply smoothing down some flyaway hairs and running her thumbs under her eyes to wipe up the tiny amount of transferred eyeliner, natural throughout the day anyway, she brushes down her shirt, nods at herself, and closes her eyes.
If she tries, it's easy to revert to before she had Amy. Easy to get into Agent Walker's headspace, even if this morning Agent Walker attempted to make pancakes in the shape of a unicorn for her three-and-a-half year old, and last week pretended to be in need of saving by her Bug Princess daughter (Amy had worn part of her Halloween costume with a crown on this time).
But when cool easy calm comes over her, and her surroundings sharpen, her awareness of every noise and detail becomes clearer, she opens her eyes again. She just has to fall into a cover, here, like she used to do on a daily basis.
"Okay." she says, to herself. And with that, she opens the bathroom door, heads back into the apartment, seeing Ellie ordering people into positions in front of the fireplace. She clears her throat, and Ellie turns around, grinning.
"Just in time. You're next to Chuck, in between him and Morgan."
Nodding, she takes her orders, moving around to the group and slipping in between the two men. She makes herself send a grin to Chuck, which he returns, then faces forward.
"Shouldn't Morgan be in the front, next to Amy, if he's the smallest?" Devon asks, and Ellie rolls her eyes at the suggestion.
"Devon, you know that makes no sense, the heights are all off."
"Not by much," the doctor jokes, and Chuck snorts by Sarah's side, reaching out and across and ruffling Morgan's hair. Ellie starts muttering to herself, then nods.
"Okay, nobody move," she orders, then heads down the hall, probably to her room.
Indeed, nobody even shifts for a bit, and Sarah blinks in confusion.
Amy, just standing and watching, leans in, tugs on Morgan's sleeve.
"Mr Morgan? What's hap'ning?"
Morgan chuckles, Devon too.
"Good question, Amy. Ellie's just in Thanksgiving mode."
"Oh." Amy says solemnly, nodding seriously. "I see,"
Sarah chokes back a laugh, having absolutely no idea where Amy got that expression from, the language so different from her usual vocabulary. Chuck giggles by her side, too, and when she sends him a smile this time, it's not as false as the one from before, not as dredged up from operative training all those years ago. Leaning down, she scoops Amy up, once more adjusting her little dress so it sits properly.
Ellie comes back, tripod in hand, and looks at Sarah in relief.
"Oh, good, you picked her up. Morgan, scooch a little, Devon, move in next to him." She sets up the tripod quickly, presses some buttons on the camera, then hurries around next to Devon. "It's gonna take three in a row, five seconds between each, so just, I don't know, keep smiling."
A light begins to flash on the camera, counting down, and Sarah feels Morgan move in.
"When the light stops flashing, Amy, then it takes a picture," he says, trying to be helpful, but Sarah feels Amy twist in her arms, turn to look at the bearded man.
"I know, Mr Morgan. Mommy does this lots." Her tone isn't rude, or dismissive, but something about her words, so matter-of-fact, makes Sarah chuckle, and she hears Chuck laughing softly behind her, too. Amy twists back just in time for the camera to take the first photograph, smiling normally, pose perfect, and Sarah just laughs even more. Ellie and Devon soon join in, Morgan too, and when the camera clicks a second time she's sure they're all in the middle of laughs.
"Nice job, bug," Chuck says, still laughing, and Sarah turns to him with a smirk as Amy giggles happily, looking up at him. The camera clicks a third time.
"Well, that went great," Ellie says with a chuckle, and Sarah grins, squeezes Amy in her arms a little.
He waves a hand.
"It's okay. You sure showed me, kid," he says to Amy, offering up a fist, and she bumps it with her own tiny hand, giggling again.
Ellie moves toward the camera, clicking it free of the tripod, and Sarah frowns.
"I'm pretty sure we were laughing in those, should we not take more?"
"No, I mean, not unless you want to. They'll be cute pictures, and way less weird than three of us all smiling the same." She shrugs, holds the camera up. "But now, groups. Would you mind...?" She gestures to it, and Sarah shakes her head with a smile, setting Amy on the ground and stepping forward, taking the camera from Ellie.
"Just a warning, she's pretty thorough in her planning," Chuck murmurs, voice low and near Sarah's ear, and she forces a chuckle as she ignores the shudder he sends down her spine, all good.
She soon finds out he's right, though. Ellie keeps rotating people, first so it's her and Devon, then her, Devon, and Chuck, then them plus Morgan, then Morgan and Devon being moved out so it's just the Bartowski siblings, then Morgan and Chuck... Until Ellie finally steps forward, takes the camera from Sarah with a grateful grin.
"Thank you. You're up." She must see Sarah's confusion, for she smiles. "You and Amy. We might as well when we've got the camera out,"
Amy perks up from her seat on the sofa, and Sarah nods, her child having made up her mind for her. But as she walks up to the fireplace, lifts Amy again, she can't help but think just how close to this family she's become. It's hardly much by most people's standard, she supposes, but for Ellie to just naturally include them in the holiday pictures, by themselves, just her and Amy, and to not even blink at the idea, shows Sarah that Ellie must think of them both as some part of the family, in a way. She presses away the strange, somehow uneasy thoughts in light of yesterday's news, as she cuddles Amy close, and Ellie takes a few snaps of them grinning at the lens. Amy looks up at her mother, asking a question, and Sarah hears the click of the camera again, Ellie evidently taking advantage of the candid shot.
When all the photos seem to have been taken, though, and Ellie still hesitates, Sarah knows why. And it would be easier, after today's events just minutes earlier, to ignore it and thank Ellie and sit back down, but she can't be unfair to Chuck. She said she didn't want what happened to change them, and it wouldn't be right to ask that of Chuck but not uphold it herself. And, if he hadn't kissed her today, she'd likely do exactly what she's about to.
"Chuck?" He looks across from the couch. "D'you wanna... get in for a couple?"
When he pauses, Sarah tugs on Amy's dress, and she nods.
"Chuck! I want pictures with you!"
He chuckles, standing from the couch, but when he passes his sister and only Sarah and Amy can see him, he raises an eyebrow, gaze questioning.
"Things shouldn't change," Sarah murmurs. "She wants this. And I'd like it."
Because no matter how strange things are right now, between them, she would like a picture of them with Chuck. For all the talk of photographs they've had in the past, for all the pictures she's seen and the ones he'd taken of them, they haven't got one with him, yet. And it feels like they should get one, have a memento, memory, of the light he's brought them, the friendship. Even if Sarah knows she's a lot past friendship with Chuck.
He nods, smiling slowly, and turns to face Ellie, looking down at Amy and tickling her tummy.
She giggles, and Sarah smiles.
They take a few posed pictures, and thankfully, an oven timer beeps, and Ellie snaps back into host mode.
Morgan cheers, and Amy joins in, and Sarah tries not to chuckle at the bearded man having so much in common with her three-year-old.
And so, ten minutes later, Sarah finds herself seated at the dining room table, the biggest spread of food she's ever seen laid out in front of her, all looking and smelling divine. There's turkey, stuffing, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes with marshmallows (that, Sarah discovers, is Morgan's favorite number two side dish), vegetables, gravy, more potatoes, rolls, the works. Amy is sat excitedly to her right, sitting on some throw pillows to boost her up, and Chuck is sat to Sarah's left. She can't help but like it.
They dig in, Sarah dealing with Amy's plate first and getting her a little of everything, cutting up the bigger pieces of turkey and vegetables before letting her help herself, then gets her own food, and when everyone's a few bites down, Devon clears his throat.
"So, Thanksgiving. I think it's customary to go around the table and say what we're thankful for,"
"What's that?" Amy asks, luckily without her mouth full, and everyone smiles. When all around the one table, Sarah's keenly aware of the effect her daughter has on everyone here- every single person around this table is wrapped around Amy's little finger. And she's probably none the wiser.
Sarah ruffles her hair.
"Thankful is when you're happy you have something."
"Ohhh." She nods, then takes a huge bite of stuffing.
"Okay, I'll go first. I'm thankful for my family, for my friends. And for the most amazing woman, who has made the most amazing meal, for being my girlfriend," Ellie awws, even as Morgan scoffs a little and Chuck shifts a little awkwardly, sweetly, in his seat.
"That was sweet, honey. I'm thankful for my boyfriend, and my family, and my friends, old," She looks at Morgan, begrudgingly as ever. "And newer." She nods at Sarah, who finds herself taking a sip of wine and trying not to blush. She doesn't know when, but Agent Walker has slipped away now. It was probably when Chuck had murmured in her ear before the photos, but she's not sure.
Since they're going round the table, Morgan is next, and he grabs another spoonful of his favorite side dish as he speaks.
"I'm thankful for my family, my mom, my best friend. And for Ellie Bartowski... making this dish even better this year." A somewhat childish speech, Sarah thinks, with a pause that was way too long, but she's coming to expect that from Morgan.
And then, next, is Chuck. He clears his throat.
"I am thankful for... getting over stuff, this past year." he starts.
Ellie raises her glass at that, as does Devon.
Chuck smirks, continues.
"And I'm thankful for new places, and new directions I'm taking. And new people. Even- even if I'm not always great at making the best decisions, and even if I have a habit of messing things up. A lot. I'm grateful for forgiveness," He looks up at Sarah at that, but doesn't pause, doesn't clue anyone else in, and she feels the way her heart tugs. "And I'm thankful for some of the best things I've ever known happening. I'm… so thankful, that I get to know those. And I'm thankful that- that not everything has to change."
She wants to process it, think, let his words settle over her and truly realize what he means, because his eyes are locked on hers, gaze strong, intense as ever, and she knows so much of that was about her, but she also knows if she doesn't keep going, the others will question Chuck's words, too. They'll wonder why Sarah can't look away from him, wonder what they're missing. And since this is entirely her fault, she won't make Chuck be subject to any kind of questions about them from his family.
And so she looks away, smiles.
"I'm thankful for my daughter, like always," Amy grins at her, and she smiles back, looking around the table. "And I'm thankful for you guys. I had no idea what moving here would be like, what we'd find... And we found you." She looks at Chuck, since he is reason she found all that, all this. "So I'm thankful, for moving here and finding friends, who I can call, and trust, and rely on. I'm thankful for some of the best people I've met. This is—this is the happiest, the best, we've ever been. So thank you, all of you."
Ellie's smiling at her, Devon is grinning, and when she looks to Chuck he's looking stunned, like he hadn't expected her to say that. It strikes her, suddenly, that with her pushing him away after their kiss, he may well think that she doesn't view the two of them, and him, the same way he views her. The importance, the significance, just how much he means to her. Which is just strange for her to even imagine, really, that he might think she doesn't appreciate this more than anything. Slowly, so slowly, she reaches out her hand under the table, hidden by the table cloth, reaching for him. He must see it, for after a beat his fingers curl round hers, palm slipping against her own. She might've hurt him and pushed him away earlier, but right now, she needs this, and needs him to see it, feel it. Right now, it outweighs the risk. She squeezes his hand tight as she turns to Amy.
"D'you wanna try, baby?"
Amy nods, swallows her mouthful of food, and sits up a little.
"I'm... thankful..." She pauses, checking the word, and Sarah nods encouragingly. "For Mommy... and Chuck..." There's a moment where she stops, and Sarah's kinda terrified that'll be it, and if the way Chuck's hand tightens around hers is any indication, so is he. "And Dr Ellie... and Mr Morgan, and Dr Captain Awesome... and Grandma, and Dog..."
Oh, thank god. She's just listing everything she knows.
Sarah chuckles softly, stroking Amy's back with her free hand, stopping her before her she can continue too much.
"Nice job, Ames,"
She beams, proud of herself, then dives back into dinner. With a laugh, Sarah does the same, and everyone starts returning to their own conversations, some across a few people, some the whole table. And Sarah keeps her hand in Chuck's until they have to let go.
After the meal, and dessert, everyone moves to the couch again, decidedly much more full than they'd been before. But with all six of them sitting down to watch a movie, there's a lot less space than there had been earlier. Ellie takes the armchair, Sarah and Amy return to the corner of the couch, Morgan takes the floor, but Devon sits on the other side of the couch, near Ellie, leaving Chuck in the middle of the sofa, close by Sarah's side. He's warm, soft, his arm brushing hers, and she's glad Amy is dozing in her lap to keep her mind occupied.
"Is she asleep?" Chuck asks, a couple minutes into You've Got Mail, voice quiet.
Sarah looks up, finding him a lot closer than she'd expected. It steals her breath for a second, memories of that kiss not so long ago flooding her, but she manages to look back down, seeing Amy leaning against her, eyes closed. She grins.
"Yeah. She slept a lot last night so I thought she might not be too tired today, but I think having so much food knocked her out,"
Chuck breathes a laugh, reaches out and brushes a curl off Amy's forehead. She doesn't even shift, blissfully asleep, and Sarah smiles softly as she leans back against the couch. Her head brushes Chuck's shoulder, accidentally, but when he doesn't tense at the movement, she rests her temple on his arm, watching the movie at an angle. She's seen it before, anyway, and she quickly discovers Chuck is a very comfortable pillow. If her eyes slip shut much like her daughter's, she's sure nobody minds.
When Amy stirs, near the end of the movie, Sarah decides it's time to head home, much to the little girl's displeasure. But with the big meal finished with, many movies watched, and Chuck back to being understandably a little awkward after Sarah fell asleep on his shoulder, she thinks it's time. The fact that Amy's a little cranky after her nap only helps matters.
"You're sure you gotta go?" Chuck asks, standing by the door as they get ready to leave.
"Yeah," Sarah says, helping Amy into her coat, doing up the zipper, even as the little girl scowls somewhat. "I think someone's a little overtired,"
"Am not!" Amy says, huffing, and Sarah sees Chuck send her a smirk.
Ellie chuckles softly from where she leans against the couch, looking at them as Sarah stands up and Amy sighs.
"I understand, though I'm sorry you couldn't stay later. We've got so much food left over,"
"Ooh, leftover dinner tomorrow!" Morgan says excitedly, wandering through to the kitchen, apparently snacky again, and Sarah tries not to gape at the sight. The man must have a bottomless stomach or something, because Sarah can't really think about eating tomorrow yet, let alone more today.
"I'm sorry too, but it's best I get this one home," She ruffles Amy's hair, and Ellie smiles again.
"Oh- do you want to get the rest of the pie you made?"
"No, it's okay, you keep it. Morgan can have some tomorrow," She chuckles, then scoops up Amy, cuddling her to try and make the little girl less sad about leaving. She kisses her head, but she still just sighs.
Thankfully, Ellie moves in, hugging Sarah first and then giving Amy a brief squeeze.
"I'll see you soon, little one," she says, and Amy hums. Devon moves in for fistbumps again, and Morgan waves from the kitchen, mouth full. Which then just leaves Chuck. For some reason, Ellie and Devon step away as he walks up, and it leaves them relatively alone.
"You sure you're not just leaving because of me?" he murmurs, wincing a little, and she shakes her head, making herself smile even as her insides churn at making him feel this bad. Yet again, there's this wonderful man in front of her, and she's pushing him away, making him awkward and embarrassed. Only now, it's for an entirely different reason to before. Now, she isn't scared he'll hurt her, she's scared she'll get him hurt.
"I'm not. It's just time, I'll leave you with your family." she says, but he shrugs.
"I see them a lot, y'know, it's okay,"
She just sighs, reaching out and slipping an arm around him, hugging him.
"We'll see you for movie night next week?" she murmurs, and his arm gently moves around her waist, holding her back. Just like always, it feels right, being this close to him, it feels comforting.
"Of course," He nods against her shoulder. Since they'd seen each other today they'd agreed to skip tomorrow's, but next week they're back to normal. "I wouldn't miss it,"
When she pulls back, she smiles, and he sends one back that just about reaches his eyes. She shifts Amy on her hip, and when the little girl leans over for a hug, she just keeps going, and Sarah passes her over to Chuck.
"Are you coming home with us, Chuck?" Amy asks, nuzzling into him.
He laughs softly.
"No, bug, I'm gonna stay here with Ellie and Awesome and Morgan a little while."
"Oh." She frowns as she pulls back from the hug to look at him, tilting her head. "I'll miss you,"
Sarah's heart tugs and Chuck grins, as Amy throws herself forward for another hug.
"I'll miss you too, Amy. I'll see you soon though."
"Okay." She nods against his neck, and Sarah sees as Chuck squeezes her again before passing her back. Amy resists a little, not wanting to let go, which is a first, and he smiles sadly as he keeps moving Amy over. Sarah squeezes her little girl close when she's back in her arms, and Amy nuzzles her neck in comfort. Smiling, she looks away from her daughter, back up at the man she keeps pushing away.
"See you later, Chuck," He sends her a look, all open again, every emotion in his eyes, and she strokes his arm briefly before she turns around to smile and wave at Ellie and Devon. "Thank you, again, guys,"
"No problem." Ellie says with a smile. "Safe journey home."
With another smile, and a slight nudge to make Amy wave, she leaves, making her way out to her car and slowly driving home.
It's when she's back in their apartment, on her own couch, watching TV by herself as Amy does some coloring in her room, that Sarah wishes she'd stayed longer. She hadn't been truthful with Chuck- he had been the reason she'd left early. But he'd also been the reason she wanted to stay. Because she hadn't left due to what he'd thought; not the awkward feeling between them now, not any discomfort. No, that's entirely her fault, but she'd never take things out on him that way, especially not with Amy having to go, too. Instead, she'd left because she realized that she enjoys his presence a lot more than she'd thought. A lot, more. Even after their kiss, even when everything between them felt a mess, when she was sitting at the table, his hand in hers, she'd felt content. Safe. Secure. And of course, she shouldn't feel that, she needs to try and stay away, for his own sake. And so, she'd had to go.
Because if she'd stayed any longer, she's not sure she'd ever have wanted to leave.
a/n 2: Oof. Curse those bumps in the road. The course of Chuck Thanksgivings never did run smooth... Yell at me etc at me if you wish, but I only ask you to trust me. Sometimes these characters are human, and screw up, and don't share their feelings all that well, but this is far from the end, and far from where we're going to stay. Hopefully there was enough sweetness in this chapter to not make any of you think I'm gonna drag these two through much angst for no reason, or keep them distanced and emotionless with no resolution. That's not my style, but it also wouldn't be very fun, and would be super mean to Chuck and Sarah. Again, you just gotta go through some stuff to grow, at times. But if anyone seriously wants to know why I'm taking Chuck and Sarah this way, feel free to leave a review or message me and I'll ramble all my Chuck and Sarah thoughts at you. Next up, Christmas! Another holiday this show did so well. And with the holidays, comes some thinking, so I'll see you guys in a couple days for Chapter 9, 'The Gift'.