A/N: I feel like I've grown more as a writer over the last month than in the last, well, let's just say a lot of years. I've wanted to be a writer since I was in high school but could never figure out how to get the stories in my head out into the physical world. All of the other Chuck FF writers I've read recently helped me do that and I thank all of you, with a special shout-out to Steampunk Chuckster.
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck. :(
Sarah heard movement nearby and almost started to reach under the pillow for her knife when she realized where she was. She was lying naked, sprawled half on top of Chuck while he lay on his back, his arm draped over her, his fingers doing their absentminded doodling on her left butt cheek, which meant he was awake. The were in his bedroom and the noises she heard must have been Ellie or Awesome using the bathroom across the hall from Chucks room.
"Good morning, Chuck Bartowski's hand." She groaned into his chest as she stretched lavishly.
"Good morning, Sarah Walkers ass." He said, sleepily, giving it a playful squeeze.
"Mmm. Better watch it mister. Hands have been known to get broken doing that." She said with a giggle.
"Yes, but the difference here is that I have sought and received prior approval for that specific action." He said as he squeezed again, this time gentler, with a noticeable caress added in. She could hear the grin in his voice.
"You've got approval to do a hell of a lot more than that, Chuck." She said as she started kissing his chest and running her hand down his side. She felt his body stiffen up.
"Somebody is using the bathroom right outside my door!" He whispered firmly.
"You should have thought of that before you started caressing my ass and woke the beast, huh?" She said quietly. She reached under the covers to see if he was ready and a lascivious grin spread across her face. She sat up slowly and stretched across him, intentionally dragging her breasts across his mouth as she reached for a condom, her eyelids fluttering as he tongued her nipples. She sat back looking at him as she put a corner of the wrapper in her mouth and tore it open excruciatingly slowly, watching his face, his eyes, his mouth. She wanted to give him every opportunity to say no, which she knew he wouldn't do, especially once she started rolling it down him. She straddled him quickly, pinning his arms down above his head and forced a quiet but powerful exhale to replace her moan as the now familiar sensation of him filling every last corner of her being nearly overwhelmed her. She looked in his eyes and found that shockingly intimate contact with him as she made it her mission to get him to cry out. Sarah Walker had never once failed a mission and she certainly wasn't going to start now. She herself had to use every ounce of focus to translate her moans of ecstasy into deep, long, soul searing breaths that somehow resonated with her body and intensified her pleasure. During one of those intensely powerful breaths, he couldn't take it any longer, turned his head to the side and bit down into his pillow as he cried out his orgasm, his body spasming under her, lifting her off the bed as she cried out involuntarily as well.
She fell on top of him, immensely pleased with herself, sure that even muffled by the pillow, his cry of pleasure had traveled far beyond the confines of his bedroom. Perhaps beyond the confines of the apartment.
He wrapped his arms around her and whispered softly, "I don't care if they heard that on the ISS. That was magnificent. You are so magnificent." At that moment, his radio alarm went off startling both of them enough that they jumped, which in turn set them both to giggling intensely.
"Somebody has to get up and get ready for work." She said catching her breath.
"Yeah, I know I said I don't care who heard that, but now I have to get up and go out there." Chuck whispered as he got out of bed, blushing.
"Man up, Bartowski!" She said, slapping his ass, making him jump and yelp, which started her giggling again.
He pulled on a robe and unexpectedly moved to open his door, which made her yelp as she scrambled to pull the sheet up and cover herself, giving him a narrow eyed stare. As he opened the door, she saw a disembodied fist hanging in mid-air and realized that Awesome was standing in the hallway waiting for a fist-bump. Chuck grinned and blushed as he bumped fists with Awesome, then she saw Awesome walk quietly toward the kitchen in his pajamas. She laughed to herself. How long was he standing there waiting for a fist-bump?
Sarah got up and pulled on her underwear and one of his Chuck's big dress shirts and a pair of his boxers as she grabbed her toiletries kit. It would have to do until it was her turn to use the one bathroom. She made a mental note that she wanted an apartment with two bathrooms.
She wandered down the hall to the kitchen in search of coffee. Ellie was at the table in a robe, drinking coffee and looking at a medical journal. Awesome was in the kitchen pouring a cup of coffee, which he handed to her. "The sugar is there," he said pointing. "And there is half & half or milk in the fridge."
"Oh, God, thank you so much!" She said smiling.
She stood there, preparing her coffee to her tastes and studiously ignored Awesome as he stared at her with a grin. "Yeah, it takes practice to learn the pillow trick." He said suddenly as she started walking to the dining area. Sarah had to focus on her heart-rate to prevent herself from blushing and it worked, but just barely.
"Devon!" Ellie exclaimed. "Would you be nice! Again, Sarah, excuse the giant man-child." She said as Sarah walked up to the table.
Sarah scoffed sitting down as Awesome walked over by Ellie, still grinning. "I'm sure I have no idea what he's talking about. Chuck stubbed his toe getting out of bed." She said completely dead-pan, causing Ellie and Awesome to burst out laughing. Try as she might, she couldn't help joining them.
While they were laughing, Chuck came out of the bathroom in his robe looking freshly shaved and scrubbed. Devon asked, "Chuck, how's you're toe buddy?" And his look of confusion set them all to laughing even harder.
"Is it my turn for the bathroom?" Sarah asked sweetly, standing up and walking towards him. When Chuck realized what she was wearing, his eyes widened as a smile spread across his face. She looked down at herself and asked, "This is ok, right?" While giving him a little pose, hips turned to the side, one arm up and the other down. She gave him a suggestive smile as she stretched up to kiss his cheek.
"It's so ok, I'm thinking that's how you should always dress around the apartment, or life in general." He said grinning.
Sarah came into Chuck's room a few minutes later feeling refreshed, face washed, teeth and hair brushed with the latter pulled back in a casual ponytail. He was pulling his ridiculous grey polyester tie on over his head and she noticed that it was a little lopsided. "Do you ever undo this thing and retie it or do you just send it through the wash like this?" She asked as she walked up to him. She casually pulled his shirt she was wearing over her head and dropped it on the bed as she walked up to him. She slapped his hands away from the tie, undid it and started retying for him. He made no effort to mask his hungry ogling of her bare torso while she grinned at him. She may have messed up with the tie and had to start over. Several times. The third time around he grabbed her waist, pulling her to him, kissing her passionately, which she returned in kind.
He finally pulled away, groaning. "I'm rethinking the whole being able to pretend I don't know you thing today."
She put her hands on her hips, arching her back ever so slightly and gave him a stern look. "Now, Chuck. You can't mess this up." She said firmly. She felt a yawn coming on, so she exaggerated it, stretching her arms up extravagantly while his jaw fell completely open.
"You are a cruel, cruel woman, Sarah Walker." He said lustfully.
"What?" She asked innocently. "I'm just a little sleepy, Chuck. Someone kept me up half the night." She glanced at the clock on his nightstand and was startled to see that if they didn't leave in the next few minutes, he would be late for work. "Oh, crap, where did the last half-hour go, Chuck!" She exclaimed quickly grabbing her clothes and getting dressed in a flurry of fabrics and buttons and zippers.
Chuck watched her with fascination. "Ok, it's great that you can get dressed by whirling around like a dervish and look like you stepped off a Paris runway, but I'm standing here with an untied tie and an uncomfortable erection, thank you very much." Chuck said amusedly.
She cackled with laughter. "Uhg, you can tie that ridiculous thing in the car and as to the second issue, I mean we had amazing sex like 40 minutes ago. What are you, sixteen? C'mon, you're going to be late."
"What's wrong with my Nerd Herd tie?" He asked quietly, mock offended.
While Sarah was driving him to work, his cell phone ran. The caller ID showed "Federal Bureau of Investigation" and they looked at each other knowingly. He answered it on speaker phone. "Hello?"
"Yes, may I speak to Mr. Charles Bartowski please." An officious voice said.
"This is." Chuck said simply.
"Mr. Bartowski, my name is Richard Bachman. I'm an attorney with the Los Angeles field office of the FBI. There is a matter which requires your attention at our office this afternoon."
"What's this about Mr. Bachman? Am I in some kind of trouble?" He asked, sounding uneasy.
"Oh, no sir. This is related to a concern which has come up regarding your expulsion from Stanford University." He said.
"Oh, ok. Um, which office do I need to go to and what time." Chuck asked.
"Can you receive texts at this number Mr. Bartowski?" The lawyer asked.
"I will send the information over immediately. As an attorney for the FBI, I should tell you that you are of course within your rights to bring your own council with you this afternoon, however given the circumstances and the nature of the meeting, I do not believe that will be necessary."
"Can you give me any more information at all. Mr. Bachman? Stanford was a long time ago, and it represents some painful memories." Chuck said honestly.
"Yes, well I can't go into any detail, but I can say that I would be surprised if some of those memories were not rather successfully resolved this afternoon."
"Well, that sounds interesting, Mr. Bachman. Send me the information and I will be there."
"Excellent Mr. Bartowski. We'll see you this afternoon." The lawyer said, then disconnected the call. Chuck received the text with the details in less than a minute.
When Chuck didn't say anything for a few minutes, Sarah asked, "Are you ok, Chuck?" And put her hand on his leg.
He was startled out of deep thought. "Huh? Oh, yeah, I'm ok. I guess I was just going deep there for a minute. Everything you told me yesterday is just starting to come back to me and I kind of find myself wishing there was a way you could drive me to this meeting and like hold my hand, but I know that's childish and I feel silly saying it so I'll just stop talking now." He laughed to himself.
"Chuck, I gave you like four different mind-blowing pieces of information yesterday. It only makes sense that you're a little freaked out. This is a life changing event. I'd be worried if you weren't freaked out. Hell, I'm a little freaked out by all this." Sarah said candidly. "And while I can't go with you and hold your hand, I'll definitely be there, Ok?"
He smiled at her. "Yeah, I'll be ok. It's just so crazy to think that at this time a week ago, you and I were still snuggled into each other after our first completely amazing night together." He chuffed out a laugh. "It's seriously like we stepped into our own version of the Twilight Zone, only one of the really happy ones, which were honestly pretty rare."
"Twilight Zone?" She asked confused. "Isn't that an old science fiction show from like the early 60's"
"Uh, yeah, a totally awesome scifi show from the 60's." He said enthusiastically. "I have all of them on DVD."
She laughed. "You're telling me that you bought all the episodes on DVD so can re-watch a bunch of old black and white shows that you've seen umpteen times before?"
"Ah'yup. It's awesome." He said keenly.
"You realize the only reason I know about that show is because my dad would sometimes leave me alone at hotels and I would have nothing else to do but watch TV, right?" She said candidly. "Like, other than to occasionally wind down, I don't really watch TV all that much."
"Sarah, some of them are so freaking good. Like creepy but also thoughtful and intriguing."
"If you say so." She said doubtfully.
"No, it's true. The show was way ahead of its time." He said earnestly. "We'll have a date night at home and watch a few of them, you'll see."
"Will you rub my feet?" She asked.
"Of course. Try and stop me." He said giving her one of those smiles she couldn't get enough of.
She dropped him off at work, giving him a long, deep kiss. As she pulled back, she said, "Hey." And waited for their eyes to click. "I love you." She said smiling deeply.
A grin exploded across his face. "Oh my God, I love you, too! So fucking much!" He yelled causing her to laugh spontaneously.
On the way back to her apartment she called the legal department at Stanford.
"Yes, this is Sarah Walker with the Tanaka Foundation. There is a meeting scheduled today at the LA field office of the FBI. I need to speak to the in-house council who is handling that meeting." She said to the receptionist who answered the phone.
"Yes, that would be Mr. Anzio. Please hold just a moment Ms. Walker." Sarah heard the Stanford Radio station as hold music.
"This is Tony Anzio." A voice said a few moments later.
"Mr. Anzio, hello. My name is Sarah Walker and I represent the Tanaka Foundation as it pertains to the settlement hearing this afternoon."
"Yes, of course, Ms. Walker. How can I help you?" He asked politely.
"It has been requested by my supervisor that I attend the settlement hearing this afternoon. Many upcoming projects are dependent on the outcome of this hearing and they feel my presence there will help make sure everything runs smoothly. Please understand, they don't mean this as any insult to you or your department. Japanese businessmen just tend to take a different view on these things."
"Of course, Ms. Walker. Seeing as how the Tanaka Foundation is providing the funding for the settlement, I don't see any reason why you shouldn't be there." Mr. Anzio said politely.
"That's great, Mr. Anzio, thank you." Sarah replied. "Can you walk me through the current negotiation plan?"
"Well, I've actually been instructed by Dean Johnson to simply offer the full amount as the first and final offer. So, from our perspective, there isn't really a negotiation prepared. Either Mr. Bartowski will take the settlement offer, or he won't."
Sarah was surprised. "Well, that should make the meeting go quickly if nothing else. Is a cashiers check being prepared in advance?"
"I actually already have the check in my possession." He said happily.
"Thank you very much, Mr. Anzio. This should expedite things nicely. I appreciate your time and I'll see you this afternoon."
"Certainly." He said, then disconnected.
Sarah had to admit that she was impressed with Dean Johnson. Once Sarah had indicated that any remaining funds be earmarked by Tanaka, the Dean had decided it wasn't worth the hassle of oversight. It would be easier to simply provide the full funding to the settlement and move on. It was a pragmatic approach that Sarah could appreciate. She continued on to her hotel room so she could take a proper shower and change for the hearing.
After she showered, she found herself wanting to dress up a little for Chuck, but she also needed to project the conservative image appropriate for the Tanaka Corporation she was supposed to represent. She chose a sleek pantsuit and jacket that was very conservative at first blush, but when combined with the blouse and boots she was going to wear, it could quickly become a sexy clubbing outfit by simply ditching the jacket. The blouse she chose was a very sheer blue satin and she could clearly see her lacy blue bra through the material once the jacket was removed. The high-heeled boots were black leather that blended cleanly with the pants but laced nearly to the knee and had large eyelets running up the back that would be mostly invisible with the black pants on under the boots. And on her athletic frame, she had to admit that the stretchy material of the pants was very flattering and quite form fitting. They weren't as tight as yoga pants, but they weren't far off either. She knew Chuck would appreciate it. Of course she also knew that Chuck would appreciate her in old sweats and a t-shirt.
It occurred to Sarah that she and Chuck hadn't really discussed his plans as it pertained to working at the Buy More after this. He would have to work there 40 years earn a million dollars. She also knew that he wanted to call Joe and get together with him next week. She found herself wondering if she should encourage him to quit the Buy More. She supposed she should if he didn't show signs of doing it himself soon, but she felt like he would before she needed to. And she also realized that she needed to have the conversation with him about Piranha.
Sarah was pretty much convinced that he was in fact the hacker she'd been briefed on, and if that were the case, he could be making an absolute fortune as a cyber-security consultant. Joe should have mentioned something like that while they were talking last Monday night given that he had firsthand knowledge of Chuck's hacking skills. Sarah knew enough about hacking from her time on various cyber-terrorism task forces to know that the really good ones had an amazing array of computer skills, both hardware and software. They had to be amazing coders, they had to have deep knowledge of computer networking which included dealing with various types of internet routers. They had to know the various root or administrator level commands of several different types of operating systems. It was a widely varied skill that took incredible intelligence to even understand, much less perform.
Her relationship with Chuck was still so new but had so much depth, she found herself wondering how far she could go with when she talked about these things with him. She didn't care what he'd done in terms of systems he'd broken into. She already knew from the briefing that Piranha wasn't a thief or mischief maker but what they called a White Hat hacker. Someone who broke into a system, then left information behind on how he'd done it to help the admins make their systems more secure. It was still incredibly illegal, but White Hats had garnered a lot of respect in the intelligence community. The NSA had often caught Black Hat hackers then hung the threat of prosecution over them for the rest of their lives to get them to work for the government for what amounted to minimum wage. To flip a White Hat was a rare event because they tended to be that much better than Black Hats.
Sarah knew could walk into any NSA office and have a job as a consultant making over six figures within an hour of showing those kinds of skills. He'd want to avoid ever using the name Piranha in front of another government agent though because they'd still charge him in an instant if they knew that's who he was. Ultimately Sarah didn't care what kind of job he had, or how much money he made, as long as it was something he found fulfillment in, and she knew that definitely was not the Buy More.
When she finished getting ready for the afternoon meeting she went to her office for a few hours and spent time culling data the NSA and the CIA had compiled regarding Piranha to create her own dossier. She didn't codename anything or assign a case file name so the information she put together wouldn't set off any alarms or trigger any follow up. It seemed the NSA thought the most likely scenario for the disappearance of Piranha was that he'd been killed or incarcerated. The theory that he'd simply quit hacking was discarded as the least likely scenario because it was believed that White Hats lived for the takedown; to break into that next unbreakable system, like it was an addiction. That may have been true for some, but apparently had not been the case for Chuck.
The NSA also seemed to think that Piranha was based out of Southeast Asia as a back-trace program he hadn't detected in time traced him there. He'd cut the connection before they could confirm however, so this was just their best guess. Sarah looked to see if the back-trace program had a specific name, but this one was just had an identifier based on how it worked. It was called a packet skip-back passive trace program. Once it was triggered, it would passively jump backwards to the next internet router that the hacker sent commands from. It was one of the best because it was nearly impossible to detect and as long as a hacker kept sending commands, it would eventually skip-back to the first router in the path, thus leading them to the exact location of the hacker, down to GPS coordinates. The problem is that it took a skilled coder to create a skip-back trace program and they needed to be tailored to the type of hack that was occurring.
Sarah had no idea what any of that meant and reading it made her want to take a nap, but she memorized the basic phrasing. Once she was done, she transferred the data to an encrypted storage location she could access later. By that time, she needed to leave to get to Chuck's settlement hearing. She called him from a different burner phone while she was on the way and hearing him pick up made her smile.
"Hey lover boy!" She said grinning.
"Hey Vicky Vale." He said back and she could hear his smile through the phone.
"I wanted to give you a heads up. I'm headed over to the hearing now, so I get there a little early. Chuck, they're not going to negotiate, they're just going to offer you the full amount right up front." She said quickly.
"Oh… wow." He said quietly.
"Yeah, it's actually pretty impressive. I gotta hand it to Dean Johnson, she's handling this smart, not greedy."
"Well, I told Big Mike that I have to take the afternoon off. I had to show him my caller ID from the call I received from the FBI this morning. Can you believe he didn't believe me when I told him? Who would lie about something like that?" He said, affronted.
"Well, keep in mind the kind of people that Big Mike deals with on a daily basis. I don't think many of your colleagues would hesitate to use that line if they thought he wouldn't question it."
Chuck grunted. "Yeah, I guess, but it was me! Kinda hurt my feelings, I gotta say."
Sarah caught herself before she said anything about it not being that much longer before he didn't have to deal with the Buy More any longer, and instead said, "How about I take you out for a late lunch after the hearing and commiserate with you?"
"That sounds great. We're so backed up here I haven't had a chance to eat yet. I just wish these guys would do their damn jobs without me having to constantly threaten their lives." He moaned. "And considering what I'm walking out of that meeting with, I think I can pick up lunch this time around.
The thought that the more those idiots pushed him, the quicker he'd leave made Sarah smile. Those morons so did not deserve him. "I suppose I can let you get lunch. Hang in there another half-hour, Chuck. I'll see you soon, ok?"
"Ok. I love you!" He said suddenly.
"I love you, too!" She said with her own grin.
She parked in a garage a few blocks down from the federal building and texted him the location so that she and Chuck could meet at her car after the meeting without anyone seeing them leave together. She had to show her credentials to get through security with her weapons. The security guards eyes got wide as he saw her walk in and then nearly fell out of his head when he saw her CIA IG Credentials. As she was heading to the elevators, she heard someone call her name. "Walker!" She turned, her hand going instinctively to the small of her back where she was wearing the small Walther pistol. She saw a tall, thickly-built man in his middle forties wearing a nondescript dark blue suit walking towards her. He may as well have had FBI tattooed on his forehead. She thought she recognized his voice as well.
"Special Agent Coburn." She looked around to make sure there wasn't anyone else around and waited until he was close to her to speak again, her voice lowered. "I'm here undercover Coburn." She said.
He nodded. "I get it. I just wanted to have you look me up when you're done here today. I got a message from Graham. He and I sort of go back and he mentioned to me that you might have some time on your hands over the next few months."
Sarah was a little taken aback. "Ok, the implications of that sentence are kind of a lot to take in at the moment."
"Take it easy, Walker, I'm not here to ask you to go steady." He grunted "Graham just mentioned that you're taking some time off – leave pending review and all that – and you're more than likely going to be staying local to LA for a while."
"Yes, that's true." She said warily.
"Ok, then. Like I said, just look me up when you're done here. I think maybe we can help each other."
Sarah thought about it for a moment and decided the best way to play Coburn was to play it straight. "Agent Coburn, I appreciate the offer. And I think I might actually be interested, which I find more surprising than I care to admit right now." She sighed looking around again and checked her watch. "But in about an hour my boyfriend is going to walk out of this building with his degree and a check for a million dollars." Coburn grunted and his eyebrows went up. "With that in mind, can I meet with you Monday morning, 9am?"
He gave one of his amused grunts and she thought she saw the corner of his lip twitch up a fraction. Probably the equivalent of hysterical laughter from anyone else. "Yeah, I guess it can wait until Monday. Don't spend it all in one weekend, Walker." He gave another amused grunt and walked away.
She thought if she was going to spend any time with Coburn, she'd have to start cataloging his grunts. It was practically it's own language. As she rode the elevator up to the floor where the hearing was scheduled, she thought about the implications of what Coburn had said. Graham had specifically reached out to Coburn about her. Were they friends? Coburn said they went back a ways, but she thought Graham was about ten or fifteen years older than Coburn. She knew that Graham transferred to the CIA as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Marine Corp. She also realized, if ever a man walked who had been in the Marine Corp, it was agent Coburn. She hadn't seen his file but the man practically reeked Marines. He probably bled camouflage.
She strongly suspected that Graham had been Coburn's C.O. at some point in history. One of the things Graham had said might be open to her would be a cross-agency transfer. She'd picked up on it when he mentioned it but hadn't been in a place to really think about it at the time. She wondered about it now, transferring to the FBI. The CIA and the FBI actually had a pretty good relationship, and transfers between them were not terribly uncommon. Or even what were referred to as "long-term cross-agency assignments". She'd been loaned out to the DEA and worked with Carina for several months at one point. It had been a good assignment, a successful one, but she'd been glad to get back to the field where she had more autonomy.
She had to admit that her life was so much different now than it had been, even a month earlier. Unrecognizably different. The past week had been truly life-altering in so many ways it made her head spin a little to think about it. Given her concerns about being a field agent for the CIA meant that the rules and structures of the FBI might be more… amenable to her now. It tended to be something of a boys club, but maybe that could work to her advantage. Coming in as a relatively young woman, with her depth of experience, she could advance up the ranks quickly. Was that idea appealing to her? It would require honing her people skills, playing a more subtle political game than she was necessarily used to. The idea wasn't immediately unappealing, and she knew a year ago, it would have been. It was something to think about. She wondered what Chuck would think about it and smiled. He would love it.
Another interesting aspect of it was that it would be relatively easy to build a cover story for how she suddenly became an FBI agent. Her proven martial arts skills along with her foreign language skills and a degree from Harvard would make her an excellent candidate. And a lot of FBI agents were actually law school graduates who didn't join until they were just a couple of years younger than she was. The more she thought about it, the more the idea seemed to resonate in her head, which was really something. Carina would have a fit if she even suspected this was on Sarah's radar, and that thought made her smile, too. The DEA and the FBI had a more contentious relationship with each other than either did with the CIA. Because the CIA wasn't legally allowed to run operations in the US, they never had issues with jurisdiction and it took some of the strain off working with domestic law enforcement.
As she stepped off the elevator she realized she needed to focus on the task at hand. She could almost feel Graham trying to manipulate the situation and it pissed her off a little bit. He'd told her to take the six months, and now he's calling Coburn and trying to get him to rope her into something. She'd shut this down for now and talk to Coburn on Monday. Right now she needed to get into character.
This floor was just a series of of separate conference rooms, managed by a receptionist. "I'm Sarah Walker. I'm here for the Stanford/Bartowski hearing?"
The woman smiled and checked her computer. "Yes, that's conference room 64E, down the hall to your right, fifth door on the left. Mr. Anzio is already in there and Mr. Bachman should be here shortly." She said efficiently. Sarah put on her game face as a no nonsense Tanaka Foundation representative. The hearing was scheduled to start in about 20 minutes and could conceivably be over in as few as 10. It sort of depended on Chuck. She walked into the room and a handsome if portly man in his middle fifties stood up to greet her. "You must be Ms. Walker. I'm Tony Anzio, it's a pleasure to meet you." He said, extending his hand.
"Thank you, Mr. Anzio. Yes, I'm Sarah Walker. It's nice to meet you as well." She was pleased to note that he had a firm but pleasant handshake. He wasn't a limp fish or a bone crusher. Sarah often found that first impressions had a lot to do with handshakes, and so far Mr. Anzio was setting an excellent tone with her. "So, Mr. Anzio, based on your knowledge of this particular case, do you anticipate any hiccups?"
He smiled as he sat down and looked at some of his notes. "I think everything will be ok. It really depends on Mr. Bartowski, but I've gone back and looked at his transcripts and read some of the notes from his professors, TA's and such. It seems Mr. Bartowski was an extraordinarily well liked individual. Not just well liked, but also respected. I honestly couldn't find one negative thing anyone had to say about him accept maybe that they were jealous of his intelligence. I even found a number of letters in his file that classmates and fraternity brothers had written in decrying his expulsion as nothing less than extreme malfeasance, which I guess we now know is true."
"This Mr. Bartowski sounds like an interesting man." She said smiling.
Mr. Anzio laughed softly. "From his file he sounds like a saint, which makes this mystery accuser so much stranger than it otherwise would."
"What do you mean?" Sarah asked, cautiously. Uh oh.
"Well, Dr. Fleming stated that this accuser was adamant – those were his words – adamant that Mr. Bartowski was cheating. To be 'adamant' about something is fine, but for a student with a record as pristine as Mr. Bartowski's, 'adamant' just doesn't cut it. You'd need nothing short of a smoking gun, and Dr. Fleming should have - no, would have known that. And when you add in Dr. Fleming's strange refusal to disclose the name of the accuser, well…" Mr. Anzio trailed off
"Please, finish your thought." Sarah asked.
Mr. Anzio sighed uncomfortably. "Ultimately, Ms. Walker, none of this will have any bearing on today's hearing, but I just find it very strange that an educator with Dr. Fleming's credentials, experience and background would put himself in such a tenuous position with an accuser who was merely 'adamant'." Mr. Anzio paused thoughtfully. "And as I understand it, the way he was able to get Mr. Bartowski to agree to leave, by making a veiled threat against his sister? Against her career as a Doctor? Well, this is all outside my purview of course, but that's just extraordinarily… cruel is the only word I can think of. Dr. Fleming was intentionally cruel to Mr. Bartowski, and it sort of defies explanation. I mean, there's no question Dr. Fleming did these things. It just feels… coerced. Mind you, he's given no indication that this is the case, and it wouldn't really matter if he did, as it pertains to these proceedings today." Mr. Anzio looked at her and just shrugged a little. "Rest assured, Ms. Walker, none of this will have any bearing on this settlement hearing." They heard a knock at the door and looked up to see a balding middle-aged man in a nondescript dark grey suit that may as well have had an FBI patch on the shoulder. Sarah stood up
"Mr. Bachman I presume?" Sarah said smiling.
He smiled back. "You presume correctly, Ms. Walker?" he asked in return.
"Yes, and this is Mr. Anzio, in-house counsel for Stanford University." And one hell of a smart, intuitive guy. Fucking dangerously so.
"Yes, well, the stenographer should be here momentarily. As I understand it, this settlement hearing is expected to go quite smoothly?" He asked as he pulled out a chair and took a seat at the head of the table.
Mr. Anzio answered. "That is the hope yes. For our part, there will be no negotiation. Our offer as it stands is the only one we are prepared to make. So, the meeting should go quickly. If Mr. Bartowski declines our offer, it will move to the courts. If he accepts, it's just a matter of him reading the parameters of the agreement and his signing them."
After a few moments, the heard a noise in the hallway and the phone intercom beeped. "Mr. Bartowski is on his way down." The receptionist informed them.
Sarah stood up, walked out in the hallway and saw Chuck helping an older, overweight woman pulling an ancient steno machine on a rolling cart that appeared to be broken. Sarah couldn't help but smile when she saw him. "Is everything ok?" She asked, directing her question to the stenographer.
"Oh, it will be when I finally get a new cart for this stupid machine. Or when I join the 20th century and just get a computer." She laughed. "This nice young man was helping me carry it into the conference room as it seems we're both going to the same place."
A smile bloomed on Chuck's face as he saw her, and she saw his eyes look her up and down. "Yeah, I saw she was having some difficulty at the front desk and heard her say the same conference room number I was going to. I thought it would be rude to just leave her there." He said shyly.
"You're Mr. Bartowski?" She said smiling.
"Uh, yeah, Chuck." He said smiling at her. "Everyone just calls me Chuck. Chuck Bartowski."
"Ma'am, do you need more help getting your machine setup?"
"Oh, no, just help getting it in there."
Chuck jumped in. "You know, I can just pick it up and carry it for you." He grabbed the cart and carried it physically into the conference room.
"Oh, thank you Chuck!" She said gratefully.
While the stenographer was setting up her machine, Chuck was able to temporarily repair the broken wheel on the cart. "That won't last long, so you'll need to get a new cart soon. Or maybe a steno machine that's smaller than a 64 Beetle." He said to everyone's amusement.
After everyone was settled, Mr. Bachman kicked off the proceedings. "Mr. Bartowski, I want to thank you for being here today on such short notice. As I mentioned on the phone, this is regarding your expulsion from Stanford University five years ago. I am acting in the role of arbitrator for this settlement hearing. The gentlemen to my left is Mr. Tony Anzio, in-house counsel for Stanford University." Chuck stood up and shook his hand, "To his left is Ms. Walker, also here as a representative of Stanford University."
"Is that Mrs. Walker or Miss. Walker?" Chuck asked smiling at her.
You cheeky nerd. "It's Mizz, traditionally used when the marital status of a woman is unknown." She said smiling at him.
He smiled right back. "Yes, I know. I was actually asking for that exact clarification." Sarah saw Mr. Anzio hide a smile behind his hand.
"I tell you what, Chuck, you said?" He nodded. "Chuck, you can call me Sarah." She said as she shook his hand.
"Sarah it is then." He sat down and looked at the stenographer. "And this is Marjorie, whom I presume will be documenting this meeting for… posterity I suppose." Chuck said, garnering another chuckle from the other attendees.
He's being freaking charming.
Mr. Bachman spoke up. "Yes, so on to the matter at hand. Mr. Bartowski, at some point this past week, an agent with the FBI was doing routine follow up on internal reports that are filed with the FBI from various state agencies. While performing this task, the agent in question stumbled upon a report submitted approximately 5 years ago from Professor George Fleming of Stanford University. The report had been misfiled which is why it took so long for anyone to follow on it. The agent began an investigation and was able to very quickly determine that the report was false. The report was part of a state requirement relating to students who are accused of cheating while attending a university under a scholarship."
"I'm guessing this false report was related to my expulsion for cheating." Chuck said.
"That is correct. Do you have any questions regarding how this situation all came to light?" Mr. Bachman asked.
"Well, it's all very strange. I have a number of questions, but I think they can wait until I hear from Mr. Anzio." Chuck said carefully.
"That's fine. At this point, I will let Mr. Anzio explain the particulars of this matter as it relates to Stanford University." He said gesturing to Mr. Anzio.
"Chuck, please. Everyone should just call me Chuck from here on out. You say Mr. Bartowski and I look around for my dad." More laughter.
"Chuck, certainly. As Mr. Bachman has stated, it has come to our attention, based on the information provided by Mr. Bachman, that the accusation made against you five years ago for cheating at Stanford, was in fact false. When the FBI contacted Stanford, the Dean immediately confronted Professor Fleming. Upon being confronted, Dr. Fleming took full responsibility for the act and submitted his resignation, with a complete outline describing his actions. He insists he was merely attempting to protect you, Mr. Bartowski, from the unpleasant consequences of cheating while on a scholarship. He gave this as the reason that he did not follow the state mandated rules for this process. If he had, it would have been determined at that time that the accusation was without merit, and you would not have been expelled."
Chuck's mouth had fallen open. "So, you're saying I should never have been expelled, I should have been allowed to graduate?" Sarah thought he seemed genuinely surprised.
"That is correct, Mr. Bar- er, Chuck. But unfortunately, that is not what happened. Stanford recognizes this fact, but we also recognize that the intervening years would have created an income discrepancy. So not only did you not obtain your degree, you did not obtain a salary that would be commensurate with a degree from Stanford. We are here to day to hopefully rectify that miscarriage of justice."
Chuck really looked like he was having a hard time believing what he was hearing. He looked genuinely confused and shocked.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I want to make sure I understand what you're saying. You're saying that Stanford recognizes that I was kicked out of school unjustly, and they want to make it right?"
Mr. Anzio replied, "Yes, Chuck. That's correct. We are here to make you this one time offer today. I understand that these types of settlements are often viewed as back and forth negotiations, but I must be clear on this point. While Stanford University recognizes that a fraud was committed against you, this offer I make to you today is our once and final offer. Should you refuse, the matter will adjourn to the courts."
"You're saying this is a take it or leave it thing." Chuck said. "Don't look at the offer and then ask for something more."
"That's right, Chuck. This is our offer, in its entirety."
"Ok." Chuck said simply.
Mr. Anzio lifted a box from the floor and placed it on the table. Upon opening the box, he pulled out a leather folder with gold script on the front and the Stanford University crest and seal embossed cleanly into the front. When opened, everyone could see that it contained the degree that Chuck had worked so hard for four years to obtain. Also in the box were a plaque with his Summa Cum Laude distinction, a medal hanging on a gold silk ribbon and a gold tassel that would have been worn on his graduation cap, the colors denoting the special distinction. "I apologize that this is so late in it's delivery, Chuck, but I've looked at your transcripts from your tenure, and I can say without hesitation that we are not giving you anything. You earned this degree from Stanford University."
Chuck picked it up and looked at it and Sarah thought she saw tears in his eyes, but he blinked and looked away so she couldn't be sure. She definitely heard him say quietly. "A piece of paper with fancy calligraphy. Oh, how I missed you." He stared at the degree for a long moment, then finally closed it and set it aside, setting the plaque and other items on top. "Thank you, Mr. Anzio. That actually feels really great."
"You're welcome, Chuck. But keep in mind, that's the first part of the settlement agreement. In order to take that degree with you today, you must agree to the settlement in its entirety." Mr. Anzio clarified.
Chuck nodded. "Yes, I understand."
"Chuck, the second part of our settlement offer is a one time cash payment. The amount was factored using a number of different points of information from your file with Stanford as well as information available about the expected salary ranges of Stanford graduates, across a range of fields. It cannot be denied, what with your Summa Cum Laude distinction, that you were one of the best and brightest of your class. So, we took our salary factor for a median student, and then we doubled it. Then we multiplied that number by five, which represents the intervening years. This check is more or less a representation of the number we came to." Mr. Anzio pulled an envelope out of his briefcase and slid it across the table to Chuck. He reached for it, then hesitated ever so slightly before picking it up. He slid the check out of the envelope, looked at it, and Sarah once again saw the blood drain from his face. She spoke urgently, "Catch him, catch him!" But, the others were too slow, and she was too far away to prevent his face from crashing into the table as he passed out.
Chuck had landed perfectly on his nose, and a few moments later had his head tilted back with tissues helping to stop the flow of blood. There were several long drops of bright red down the front of his white nerd herd shirt and on his ridiculous grey polyester tie. Sarah was just happy she hadn't heard a crunching sound when is head hit the table, indicating a broken nose. She checked to be sure, but while he winced when she touched it, she was certain it wasn't broken. With his head tilted back, looking into Sarah's eyes as she checked his nose, he said, "Sarah, has anyone ever told you that you have the most remarkable blue eyes they've ever seen? I would be surprised but very pleased to be the first." He said smoothly, even with bloody tissues hanging out of his nose.
She couldn't stop the smile that spread across her face. "Thank you, Chuck. That was very sweet. I'll say this; you're the first person to tell me that today."
"That's still surprising." He replied. He turned his attention to the others in the room. "I'm sorry for passing out like that." Chuck said nasally. "I just was a little shocked. Stanford must think very highly of their graduates."
"It is I who owe you an apology, Chuck. It's not every day someone receives such a windfall, no matter how well deserved. We should have been more prepared for a reaction." Mr. Anzio said obviously amused with Chuck's obvious flirting with the normally standoffish Ms. Walker.
"Mr. Anzio, I accept Stanford's settlement offer. I presume I have a number of documents to sign to finalize the agreement?" Chuck said, still with the nasal quality, as Sarah unconsciously brushed imaginary lint off his shoulder before returning to her seat.
"Yes, you are correct." Mr. Anzio said, pulling the documents out of his briefcase. "I'll just walk you through them, which should only take a few minutes. We should probably make sure your nose has stopped bleeding first. We don't want people thinking that Stanford makes people sign contracts in blood." Chuck snorted laughter at that.
It didn't take long for the bleeding to stop so they could go through the fine print of the various agreements, of which their were three. The first one being that Chuck acknowledged that Stanford University did not directly or indirectly commit fraud against him in any way, shape or form and that this settlement was in no way admitting to any wrongdoing. That although the fraud was committed by a Professor and Senior Associate Dean, it was his sole act. Also, as part of the agreement, both Stanford and Chuck waived the possibility of any future action against that Professor as it related to his actions in this case. It was also requested that Chuck refrain from openly discussing the specifics of the settlement. Chuck then accepted the terms of the settlement, including the cash payout and his degree, fully registered with the University and the State of California.
"So, can anyone tell me what my tax liability will be for this?" Chuck asked, once the paperwork was officially signed.
Mr. Anzio answered as he started putting papers away into his briefcase. "Well, you should absolutely consult with a qualified tax accountant, Chuck. However, since this settlement falls under a "personal injury" provision, I can tell you with no small amount of authority that it is exempt from state or federal taxes." He said simply. Chuck's mouth fell open again.
"Oh." He cleared his throat. "Thanks."
Mr. Bachman spoke up for the first time since he'd started the meeting. "Chuck, that's all we need from you. You're free to go at this point. Just keep in mind the non-disclosure aspects of the agreement. It is expected that you would tell those closest to you of the settlement, of course. We mainly just ask that you don't broadcast it in any way or put it in any form of writing."
"I understand completely." He stood up and offered his hand to Mr. Bachman. "Mr. Bachman, thank you for calling me this morning."
"Of course, Chuck. It's a pleasure to have a meeting such as this, your little incident notwithstanding." He indicated the blood on Chuck's shirt. "One where past wrongs are finally rectified, as it were." He added with a smile.
Chuck nodded and turned to Mr. Anzio. "Mr. Anzio, it was a pleasure meeting you this morning. Please give my regards to Stanford." Chuck said with a grin.
"Thank you, Chuck. I will." He said, shaking Chuck's hand.
Chuck skipped over Sarah and went to Marjorie the stenographer. "Marjorie, you need to donate that thing to the Smithsonian and give me a call. I can help you find one much smaller and easier to carry around with you. One that doesn't require its own tow dolly." Chuck said with a smile. He actually gave her one of his prized Nerd Herd Supervisor business cards, flipping it deftly between his fingers.
Marjorie actually blushed as she laughed and took the card, saying, "Thank you very much, Chuck! And thank you for fixing the wheel on my cart, at least temporarily."
He nodded to her, then finally moved so he was facing Sarah across the table as she smiled at him. "And Miss. Walker." He said, drawing out the Miss just a little. "I'm sorry, Sarah. Would you be interested in having dinner tonight with a recent Stanford graduate? I promise to change my shirt and tie beforehand." He said, giving her one of his best grins. The other three people in the room couldn't help but watch the exchange with open enjoyment and Sarah couldn't help but laugh. Oh my God, did he somehow go to fucking Charm School today? Even with blood all over his shirt, he's so freaking beautiful.
"I think I would like that, Chuck." She said honestly, giving him one of her fake cards with the Tanaka Foundation logo on it.
His grin deepened as he shamelessly tucked the card into his pocket protector. As he reached the door, he turned and nodded to them, "Gentlemen, ladies, it has been my honest pleasure meeting all of you. Sarah, until later." He said as he walked confidently out of the room.
Mr. Anzio was looking at Sarah with amusement sparkling in his eyes. "What? You saw him!" She exclaimed motioning towards the door. "He was adorable, even with blood all over his shirt and tie. And it is 'Miss Walker' after all." Sarah said, a little defensively.
Mr. Anzio put his hands up in mock surrender. "Not at all, Miss Walker. I agree completely. Mr. Chuck Bartowski is perhaps one of the most genuinely charming young men I have ever encountered. You just seemed so coolly efficient earlier. I don't know what impressed me more, that Mr. Bartowski – Chuck – was able to get through your professional demeanor, or that you let him. I guess what I'm saying Miss Walker, is… well, good for you!" He said with a smile.
Marjorie spoke up. "I tell you, if I was half as old and weighed half as much, I'd have asked that young man out myself. He's cuter than mice having a tea party." This drew surprised laughter from the rest of them as she blushed again.
Sarah found Chuck waiting by her car and she couldn't help running up to him, jumping into his arms, wrapping her legs around his and kissing him passionately. She was not at all surprised that he held her easily. "Chuck, you incorrigible flirt! You did so well up there! You had me worried this morning that you were going to lose the plot!" She said breathlessly as she pulled out of the kiss.
He looked at her with shock on his face. "Sarah, I passed out!" He exclaimed. "I bled all over the place! I thought I looked like a giant jackass!"
"Chuck, someone had just handed you a check for a million dollars. Like Anzio said, they should have been expecting something like that. I would have been, but I thought you knowing before hand would take some of the shock out of it. But then you even handled passing out so well, being charming as all hell!" She couldn't resist, she started kissing him again.
He smiled at her as she pulled away. "I have to admit, once I calmed down and got out of my head, that really was a lot of fun. Once they gave me my degree, I realized it was more important than I was admitting to myself and from there, I was able to just take a breath and roll with it." He leaned up to kiss her this time. He pulled back after a moment. "Sarah, I can't tell you how much it means to me that you were there for this." He said earnestly. "I really think that's why I was able to relax and be in the moment. And asking you out was so much damn fun. I felt like such a stud because I knew you'd say yes." He grinned at her.
"Ugh, you still don't get it! I said yes because you are a stud!" She exclaimed, kissing him even harder. She abruptly pushed off of him, landing gracefully on her feet. "Get in the car, Chuck. I'm starving and after lunch we're going back to my hotel."
"Yes, ma'am!" He said, opening the door and climbing in quickly.
A couple of hours later, Sarah was lying on her side, her head propped up on one arm while she casually ran her fingers through the soft hair on Chuck's chest as he lay on the bed next to her.
"What's next, Chuck?" Sarah asked softly, obviously thinking intently about things.
"Hmm? What do you mean?" He asked quietly.
"Well, it's really strange. I feel like there's all these unrealized opportunities out there. Not just for you, but for me as well."
"Really?" He asked as he rolled over and mirrored her position so he could look at her. "Are you referring to something specific?"
"Yeah, sort of." She said. "But I'm a little conflicted. I'm in such a different head space that I was even just a couple of weeks ago."
"Ok, walk me through it." He said, taking her hand and rubbing his thumb along her knuckles.
She looked at him. "So yesterday I told you that I talked to my boss. Well, before I gave him the CIA equivalent of 'I want to quit', I told him that I'd met someone. I sort of had to because that was the spark that burned down Fleming and led to today. After we were done going through everything is when I told him about quitting, but he pushed back immediately. He insisted on giving me six months leave to figure things out. He even said that if I need it, there's another six months on the back end but I don't think he expects me to take that if I'm still committed to the idea of leaving. Take the six months and if I still want out, fine, but if I take that additional six months it means I'm committed to staying on, even if it's in a different role."
"Sure, that makes sense. Like an unspoken agreement between you." Chuck offered.
"Right. So anyway, as part of putting all this together yesterday, one of the calls I had to make was to the FBI. I actually spoke to the SAC of the LA field office, a really gruff, old-school guy named Coburn."
"What's a SAC?" Chuck asked amused.
Sarah smacked him, smiling. "Don't be juvenile. It means Special Agent in Charge. He's basically the boss of the LA field office of the FBI. So, I called him as part of burning down Flemings cover story and he was, like I said, gruff, but also really straight forward. A no-nonsense kind of guy; don't bullshit me and I won't bullshit you. I actually kind of liked dealing with him. It was refreshing. He immediately picked up that I was doing this as a personal vendetta for my boyfriend, but he didn't care. All that mattered to him was, 'is this in the interest of justice' and since it was, and it was all legal and valid, done, no further input required. He even kind of made a joke about it, he said, 'Good on you for looking out for yours, Walker'."
Chuck smiled. "Sounds like an interesting guy."
Sarah shrugged. "I guess, but I got side-tracked there. So, I spoke to Coburn yesterday, explained everything and he started the ball rolling. And today when I came into the building, Coburn was there waiting for me. He said that he and my boss actually go back a ways. I'd bet just about anything that my boss was Coburn's commanding officer in the Marines a couple decades ago. Anyway, he said my boss called him and told him I was going to be in LA for a while and that I might have time on my hands. Coburn said that we might be able to help each other out. I have a meeting with him on Monday."
Chuck's eyes got wide and a boyish grin settled on his face. "Are you telling me that you might become an FBI agent?"
"No… Maybe… I don't know, Chuck!" Sarah said, flustered. "I mean I didn't even have a day to settle into the idea of some time off and my boss is back-channeling me to the freaking Feds. I mean, I appreciate that he's looking out for me, but I'm a little pissed he's not backing off like he said he would."
"Well, I don't know what kind of guy your boss is, but is it possible he's not really back-channeling you, but just kind of making sure you're really aware of your options? I mean, how common is it for various government agents to move across to other agencies like that?" Chuck asked genuinely interested.
"It's not terribly uncommon, especially for CIA/FBI. We often work closely together with them on overseas stuff, which is where our mandate really is. The CIA isn't supposed to operate domestically so, we work with them on stuff inside US borders. To answer your question, yeah it happens."
"But for you, is it something you would have ever considered?"
Sarah looked at the question for a moment, turning it over in her mind. "Honestly, no. Up until the last year or so, I liked the autonomy I had. That's not how the FBI operates, they're much more regimented. I didn't give it a single thought until Coburn approached me today. I was always so gung-ho for the CIA that I never really understood those kinds of transfers, at least among field agents. I mean what they do and how they operate is completely different. The rule of law is sacrosanct over there, but the CIA gives two shits about the laws they may or may not be breaking overseas, as long as the mission parameters are met." Sarah winced. "I didn't just say that. You didn't hear me say that. I'll deny ever having said that." She said with a grimace.
Chuck smiled and rubbed her knuckles. "Say what? I have no idea what you're talking about."
She looked at him appreciatively. "Anyway, the FBI these days is mostly accountants and lawyers. Don't get me wrong, they're accountants and lawyers who can kick your ass. They just learned a long time ago that the easiest way to catch bad guys is to follow the money."
"So, I take it that's not how the CIA catches bad guys?" He asked, curios.
"It's a little bit of follow the money, but that's just the tip of the iceberg for us. After that it's not about prosecuting them, it's about getting as much information as possible about what they're planning, what their friends are planning. Who wants to hurt us, how are they going to try and how do we stop them."
"Ok, but you said it's not something you would have ever considered and maybe your boss just wants to put these kinds of ideas in front of you before you have a chance to, I dunno, open a Pizza-Hut in Redondo Beach or something."
Sarah couldn't help laughing. "That is so random, where did that even come from!"
"I have no idea, the crap that falls out of my brain sometimes surprises even me." He said. "The point is, did he rescind his offer of six months off? Or did Coburn imply you couldn't have it today?"
"No, he just said maybe we could help each other. He wanted me to come in to see him today, but I point-blank told him that my boyfriend was going to be leaving with a million dollar check and could it maybe wait until Monday. I think he thought that was funny but it's like wondering if a brick thought something was funny."
"So, there you go." Chuck said simply, falling back down on his back.
"What do you mean there you go?" Sarah asked, confused.
"Your boss isn't trying to take your time away or manipulate you. It sounds like he's using kid gloves a little bit, just kind of subtly showing you something he probably knows you would never have considered otherwise."
Sarah was obviously skeptical. "But-"
Chuck interrupted her. "Trust me. I bet you take this meeting with Coburn and all he wants is to just have you come in and consult with them occasionally. Maybe do some things for him that he can't have his internal people doing. Someone outside the loop." He sat back up and looked at her again. "I'm betting what your boss really doesn't want – the thing he's trying to avoid at all costs - is letting you get away from some kind of law enforcement service. Letting you take all your years of experience and start some mundane civilian job. Like at least he'll feel better knowing someone as ass-kickingly amazing as you are is still out there trying to take down bad guys, even if it's not for the CIA. I think that's what he's trying to get in front of by having Coburn follow up with you so fast."
Sarah was suddenly able to look at this from Graham's perspective and she immediately realized that Chuck was right on the money. Graham didn't want to lose her from the CIA, that much was clear, but if he was going to lose her, he sure as shit wasn't going to let her be a fucking realtor or whatever. It's why he was so insistent on the six months. So, he would have time to ply her with options from the background. It was devious and just exactly the kind of thing Graham would do.
"Holy shit, Chuck." She said, stunned at his casual insight.
"What?" He asked.
"You're absolutely right. Like, bam, hammer meet nail right on the head. I'm just a little dazed at how quickly and easily you came up with that. I hand you this difficult mental and emotional challenge I'm faced with and you proceed to wrap it up nicely and put a bow on it." She said, looking at him the way he often looked at her.
He rolled over again, bunching up a pillow under his head. "Not that I would ever intentionally want to make you stop looking at me like that, cause I really dig it, but the only reason this situation was so difficult for you is because it was about you. That shit's impossible to figure out because we're always in our own way."
She looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. "I guess, but still. That was some remarkable analysis you did there, Chuck." She said impressed.
"You're welcome. And just so you know, I think it would be cool as shit if you transferred to the FBI, but my primary concern is that whatever you're doing, you enjoy it, you get fulfillment from it." He said sincerely. "But I have to admit, I just can't see you as a random worker bee."
She sighed. "I tend to agree with that assessment." She looked at him intently. "Can we flip this around for a minute?"
He smiled. "I know where this is going. I'm planning on giving Big Mike my notice tomorrow. But I don't want it to just be like hey in two weeks, I'm out of here. The poor guy might have a stroke. I think I should stay on until we find my replacement, which might be a challenge so I'm also afraid of how long that could take."
Sarah's eyes got wide at that news. "Oh, Chuck, that's great!" She leaned in and kissed him. "I promised myself I wouldn't pressure you, I just kinda wanted to hear your thoughts. See if what Joe said at the fish-fry last Monday had stuck with you at all."
"Yeah, I was already planning on getting out there and finding something else. I knew I couldn't be with you and just be a Nerd Herd Supervisor long term. I know I have more to offer than that and I couldn't be with you without working to live up to my potential. But, after what you did for me..." Chuck shook his head disbelievingly and his eyes got suddenly shiny and full. "Sarah, I could live to be a thousand years old and never repay you for what you did for me these past two days, or how you've helped me this past week. The feeling of gratitude I have is indescribable. There are literally no words. And I don't just mean my degree and the money. I mean telling me about Bryce and Jill and Professor Fleming and that whole situation. Knowing about it has made it so much easier to deal with. I truly understand the word 'closure' because I feel it in me. I can close the door on all that and move forward with my life. With you." He reached up with one hand and ran a fingertip along her jawline. "I love you, Sarah."
Sarah used the edge of the sheet to dab at the tears that rolled down his face, her own tears wavering at the corners of her eyes. "I love you, too, Chuck."
A/N: This might feel like an ending, and while it maybe is, it is not the end. I'm not going to be marking this story complete any time soon. I feel like this is more of an intermission for this story. I have plans for this AU yet.
I started writing this in early June and it's just been pouring out of me ever since. I don't know if over 100k words is a lot in a month, but it sure feels like a lot. Thank you to everyone for all the amazing feedback you've given me, it has been sincerely, deeply appreciated.
I also have to thank my wife again, not just for her help with editing, but also her amazing patience as I regurgitated the crazy in my head onto these binary pages. I love you, Tracey. You're my Vicky Vale.