Neither Chuck nor Sarah moved for a long moment.
Chuck wasn't often at a loss for words these days, but this was definitely one of those times. He did a quick calculation in his head; it had been a little over three years since the night they had spent together.
She looked the same. She looked absolutely the same.
Sarah finally continued her greeting. "Is it even 'Chuck'? Or should I say, 'Professor Bartowski'."
Chuck grinned, a bit sheepishly. "It is a bit of a mouthful." He smiled. "You can call me Chuck," he said a bit teasingly.
Her eyebrow and sarcastic smile. "Oh, really? I suppose I should feel honored. Not just anybody gets to use your first name, I imagine."
"Nope. Just Morgan. And, Ellie and Devon, of course. And the other professors here. And all my students, and…"
"All right, all right, I get it." She laughed. After a pause, she added, "It's good to see you."
His face, having crinkled into a mocking grin, grew more serious. "It's good to be seen." It somehow seemed more appropriate to say that, given that he'd been 'seeing' her using his flashes. He was about to say as much, but she spoke first.
"Looks like you've done well for yourself," she said, walking across the room. She ran a hand along an antique bookcase on the side wall before glancing back at him.
It was an odd thing for her to say. He realized that part of what she was doing: she was deliberately keeping herself distant after one of her self-defense mechanisms kicked in.
"So, what name should I call you?" he asked, trying to make things a little more intimate.
She looked at him curiously. "What, you don't know?"
"My last upload was a few months back. The neuroscientists are getting concerned that repeated uploads are creating too much strain, so I'm limited to two a year now. Maybe less."
She gave him a concerned look.
He tried to assuage her fears. "I'm fine. But you didn't answer my question."
Hesitantly, she walked over towards him and offered her hand. "Hi, I'm Sarah. Sarah Jennings."
He laughed. He reached out and took her hand. "Good to meet you, Sarah."
Their handshake lingered; the touch of her hand heightened the ache in his heart.
She stared at him for a long moment, before her eyes widened slightly and she pulled her hand away. Looking to one side, she said, "I needed a new alias." She looked back at him. "But I really wanted to be 'Sarah' again."
Her eyes added so much meaning to those words. Still, she was still like a nervous deer, threatening to bolt given the slightest reason.
He stared at her with gentle eyes. He was suddenly swept back to the night that they had a similar conversation.
There was a question that he never got to ask her before she left. "Sarah, do you trust me?"
Her eyes grew anguished. "I'm scared," she confessed in a whisper, suddenly unable to look at him.
He forced himself not to laugh. The indomitable secret agent was scared of him?
He slid a half-step closer to her. "There's no reason to be scared," he said in a deliberate parallel to a conversation they once had. "Just answer my question: do you trust me no matter what?"
She didn't react at first. She looked down at the floor, unable to look directly at him.
Then, time ground to a halt as she shook her head.
The smile slowly faded from Chuck's face. "Wha…?"
She shook her head again as if coming out of a daze. She straightened. "No, Chuck, I don't trust you."
Chuck was utterly crushed. Suddenly he was the one who couldn't look at the other. He forced himself through it, staring disbelievingly at her, trying to discern if she were lying.
She looked back at him with hopeless eyes. She was telling the truth.
This made no sense. Why did she seek him out? Some sense that she owed him closure? Some new assignment?
After discovering her secret messages to him, he spent a number of nights re-analyzing what she was asking for when she asked if he trusted her. He still believed that she was reassuring him that in the end he could trust her to keep her safe, as well as asking him if he trusted her enough to understand how things had to be.
But he had believed that, after he said yes, their night together had been a promise: a promise that she would return to him when she could. But now…
He couldn't stand it any more. It was the same roller coaster all over again. Maybe her years as an agent made it impossible for her to love another. Whatever the reason, he really didn't care: it was wrong. After keeping hope alive for three long years, it was just wrong. And her guilty expression told him that she knew that.
That just made it all the worse.
He looked at the clock; the hands on the clock read 3:40. Humorlessly, he said, "Well, my office hours are over. If you'll excuse me." He picked up his computer bag and, with a vacant stare, he headed for the door, deliberately walking around her. She didn't move as he passed.
It took forever for Chuck to cover the four paces past her to the door. He needed to get out of there.
From behind him, her voice came. "Chuck, I love you."
He stopped dead in his tracks in the doorway. He slowly turned around; she faced him, her posture pleading and frightened. "I love you," she repeated a bit more quietly, a desperate look on her face.
What the hell? "God, I don't get it, Sarah. You…"
"Chuck, you once told me that you trusted me no matter what. That you would always trust me. I won't violate that trust by telling you that I trust you. That would be a lie."
"I don't trust you. I never have. I've been an undercover agent for the past twelve years. There isn't a single person in the world that I trust right now. Not Director Graham, not my mother, and not you."
She never took her eyes off of him. "But I really want to learn how to trust you. If you can be patient. If you'll let me."
He dropped his bag to the floor. It took him far less time to cover the four paces back to her. Suddenly, she was in his arms, and he was complete.
She buried her face into his chest, her elbows near his waist and her hands searching for purchase on his upper back, pulling herself closer to him.
He turned his face so he could inhale the scent of her hair, his arms surrounding her upper back and holding her tight.
They stayed that way for a long, long time. Reluctantly, he loosened his grip on her, but only so she could pull back far enough that he could look into her eyes. Those beautiful, intense, emotional eyes.
Even in this moment, Chuck couldn't help himself. "So, when do I get to meet your mom?"
She laughed, and a fair bit of the tension in the room was suddenly gone. "I could never slip anything real past you." Her look turned more serious. "But I would argue that we've got more important things to attend to first."
As she put a hand in his hair and guided his lips to hers, he found it difficult to disagree with her.
Chuck's alarm clock squawked at him. He groaned as he semiconsciously reached over and smacked the snooze button.
It was Sunday. Why the hell did he leave his alarm on?
He rolled onto his back, gently forcing his eyes open. He stared at the ceiling for a long moment. Was there something he had forgotten about today? Something tickled the back of his brain. Something important.
Memories of last night came flooding back. His eyes widened for a brief moment before he snapped them shut.
He had no idea whether she would be lying next to him.
Her messages told him that she always intended to come back to him in the end, whenever she could. What he didn't know was whether that time was now, or whether last night was just a brief respite in their separation.
He hadn't really had a chance to ask; there hadn't been much in the way of talking. Last night he hadn't been one to complain; he was just content to drink her in and have her close.
Still, now he regretted not asking the question.
He shook himself. He was being silly. She wouldn't have come back and talked of learning to trust him if she just needed to turn around and leave. Would she?
It was his turn to be scared.
He took a deep breath to try to gather his courage. All he had to do was open his eyes, and he would see her peacefully slumbering next to her.
Rolling onto his side, he faced her side of the bed. He counted in his head, 1 … 2 … 3. He opened his eyes.
He reached out with a disbelieving hand. Her side of the bed was cold and empty.
Oh, no. His heart sank. He really had expected to see her lying there.
Gentle footfalls entered the room behind him; he quickly turned. Sarah was walking in, wearing only one of his T-shirts and carrying a glass of orange juice in her hand.
"Sorry," she said, registering his expression and what he must have been thinking. "Jet lag."
A slightly sheepish grin crossed his face; her face told him that she understood.
He scooted over slightly to make room for her. She set her glass on his nightstand, sliding under the sheets next to him. She gratefully pressed her back to his chest, nestling in close and pulling his arm around her waist. He savored the feeling of her warmth against him.
As he sleepily put his nose close to her neck, breathing in her scent and placing a gentle kiss that caused her to arch her head slightly, she quietly offered, "Don't worry; I'm not going anywhere."
She intertwined the fingers of one of her hands with the hand that pinned her body to his.
Ed. Note - There was a lot I could have done with this one ... heck, there was a lot I wanted to do. But I liked the feel of the story this way; I think the pacing was really good, and dragging things out any longer would have just been superfluous. This told the story I wanted to tell: Sarah and Chuck found a way to make things work while being true to themselves.
I consider the story pretty much done, although I may get tempted to write an epilogue or two one day.
At some point, I'll probably also do a similar version where Casey and Sarah get called away to new assignments, leaving Chuck to sink or swim without his sidekicks. That would probably be a series of stories.
Right now, I want to get back and finish "Chuck vs the Strange Bedfellows" and continue that series. There's still a long way to go there.
Hope you enjoyed the story.