Chuck Bartowski had always thought it would be fun to visit New York City. He had made plans to go several times – with Bryce, with Jill, with Ellie – but they had always fallen through. Nonetheless, New York had always held this place of mythic wonder in Chuck's mind.
THAT was no longer the case. Not since being deployed on this mission of utter sucktitude. "Team Chuck" had been sent to New York City because the CIA thought that maybe a group of Russian smugglers was trying to bring drugs in through the Port of New York.
And so, Chuck, Casey, and Sarah had spent the last three days watching the docks. That was it. Chuck was itching to go see the sights. He could see everything from the docks – but he didn't actually get to GO to anything.
He grumbled about it all the way back to the Morgan Hotel (he thought the name somewhat amusing), until Casey told him to put a sock in it. Fortunately, Casey had his own room, while Chuck and Sarah were sharing a suite.
"Gotta keep the cover up," Casey had insisted.
Nonetheless, the powers that be had given them permission to take Sunday off – mostly because there were no ships scheduled to come into port from ANYWHERE that the smugglers had connections to. And so, Chuck stood in the shower, letting the tension bleed away, looking forward to a good night's sleep.
That's why when he exited the bathroom in a t-shirt and shorts, he was rather surprised to see Sarah dressed as if she was planning on going somewhere. "Get dressed," she said simply.
Chuck shook his head. "Come on," he complained. "Graham and Beckman told us that we were done for the weekend."
Sarah looked up at him in surprise. "This has nothing to do with the mission," she told him. "Now get dressed."
"Huh?" Chuck asked, confused. "What's going on?"
Sarah just smiled a coy little smile and said nothing. NOW Chuck's curiosity was piqued.
He quickly changed into an Alienware t-shirt, a pair of jeans, and his usual Converse high-tops, and followed Sarah out the door. Down they went, down to the lobby, and out onto Madison Avenue. They turned left at Thirty-Eighth Street, and went west till they reached Broadway.
Sarah clearly knew where she was going, so Chuck simply followed her as she turned right on Broadway. Up Broadway she went to Forty-First Street, where she turned west again. A block later, she stopped.
Chuck looked around. They were in front of a shabby theatre that proclaimed "NEDERLANDER". About twenty people sat on the sidewalk outside.
"We're here!" Sarah announced.
Chuck looked at her in disbelief. "You're kidding. We're going to hang out with some weird-looking people outside a crappy-looking theatre?"
Sarah smiled. "It'll be hundreds of people by the time the sun comes up," she replied.
"Wow," Chuck deadpanned. "EXACTLY what I wanted to do with my time in New York City."
"Chuck Bartowski," Sarah reprimanded him. "Do you have ANY idea what this is about?"
Chuck shrugged. "About me not being in a nice, comfortable king size bed?"
Sarah narrowed her eyes. "This theatre is where the musical Rent has been playing for the last twelve and a half years. Tomorrow is its last show on Broadway, and I'll be DAMNED if it's going to close without me seeing it."
Chuck stepped back and crossed his arms. "Really?" he asked. "Since when are you a musical theatre person?"
The smile returned to Sarah's face. "One of those many things that you didn't know about me, Chuck."
He raised an eyebrow. She had him there – he had just found out something REAL about her with no prompting whatsoever.
Sarah staked out a piece of sidewalk against the side of the building, almost within spitting distance of the box office. "We want to be close to the front of the line, because it seems like those are the lottery tickets that always get chosen," she told Chuck.
His jaw dropped. "WAIT A MINUTE," he objected. "You're telling me we're gonna wait here ALL NIGHT, and we might NOT get in?!"
Sarah smiled weakly. "Yeah…"
"Crap," Chuck groaned. "And what's the likelihood of BOTH of us getting chosen?"
Sarah shook her head. "Don't worry about that," she replied. "Only one of us has to get chosen – you get two tickets."
Chuck rolled his eyes. "Well, THAT makes spending all night on the sidewalk with only the possibility of getting in worth it."
Now Sarah was starting to look hurt. "You know, if that's the attitude you're gonna have, you're welcome to go back to the hotel," she told him. "I will happily see Rent by myself, thank you very much."
Chuck sighed. "I'm sorry," he replied. "I… I guess I can understand how much this means to you – I would do the same thing for certain things at Comic-Con. It's just that this time in New York has been so friggin' frustrating…"
"I know," Sarah said. "But this will be worth it. I promise."
"Okay," Chuck replied. "Now, I am gonna try to get a little bit of shut-eye."
He leaned back against the brick wall of the Nederlander Theatre. It was just about as far from comfortable as he could get. Nonetheless, he was so tired that after a while, he began to doze off –
– Chuck's eyes snapped open. He looked down – Sarah was curled up against his side, his arm around her. Gingerly, he looked at his watch – 1:42 AM. They had been there for three hours.
"Hey," he heard her say softly. "You're awake."
"As, apparently, are you," he replied.
"I never went to sleep," Sarah said. "I figured you'd be pissed if you woke up minus your iPhone."
Chuck's eyebrows shot up. He hadn't even thought about that.
"Hey," Sarah continued. "Since you're awake, would you mind giving me a neck rub? My neck and shoulders are killing me."
"Sure," Chuck agreed. "Just… move wherever you need to."
Sarah maneuvered herself around so that she was sitting between Chuck's legs, practically right up against him. He tried to ignore just how close she was… and he DESPERATELY tried to ignore the fact that her proximity was causing a certain body part to wake up with alacrity.
Chuck took a deep breath, and gently placed his hands on Sarah's shoulders. He squeezed softly – and was taken aback at just how knotted the muscles in her shoulders were.
"Holy crap," he muttered. "You've got enough tension that you'd think you were a spy or something."
"Shhh," Sarah admonished him, but she laughed softly nonetheless. Chuck continued with gentle squeezes and rubbing, trying to work some of the pent-up tension out of Sarah's shoulders. Every so often she would make a little contented noise, which made Chuck smile just a little bit.
After a while, she began to lean back against him, and then Chuck felt her body go limp. Sarah Walker had fallen asleep.
With a sigh, Chuck adjusted himself so that Sarah's head leaned against his shoulder, and then wrapped his arms around her to keep her upright. If she was asleep, he was going to have to stay awake.
After about a half hour, the man sitting next to him gently tapped his shoulder. "Hey, buddy," he said with a thick New Jersey accent. "I'm assumin' that since your girlfriend there's asleep, you're keepin' watch?"
"Yeah," Chuck replied.
"Well, I'm gonna run down the street to the 7-Eleven," Jersey said. "What say I grab you a coffee, you hold my place in line?"
"You got a deal," Chuck answered.
Jersey returned with Chuck's coffee ten minutes later. A very grateful Chuck tried to pay him, but he was waved off, with the guy from New Jersey insisting that holding his place in line was worth way more than a cup of coffee.
Chuck slowly drank the coffee, nursing it to make sure it kept him awake. He finished it just as the edge of the sky was beginning to go from black to grey.
Just after six o'clock, he could feel Sarah beginning to stir. He knew she was awake when she yawned and then quietly said, "Good morning."
He smiled, and loosened his grip on her, letting her move away a little bit. "Good morning to you, too," he replied.
"Have you been up all night?" she asked sleepily.
Chuck nodded. "Had the assistance of a cup of coffee around three o'clock," he said, "but it hasn't been too bad."
"Well, it'll be another couple of hours before they start handing out the lottery tickets," Sarah told him. "If you want to try to sleep a little…"
"Gladly," Chuck replied. Sarah smiled and moved so that she was sitting against the wall, and then indicated that Chuck should lay his head down in her lap – "It'll be softer than the sidewalk," she insisted.
It felt like his eyes had barely closed when Sarah's hand was on his shoulder, shaking him awake. He cracked his eyes, saw the ticket agent in front of him, reached up, took his ticket, and fell promptly back asleep. Again, though, it seemed that no sooner had he done that when she shook him awake again. "They're starting the drawing."
Chuck shook the cobwebs from his head and sat up. "So, how many tickets do they hand out again?" he asked, squinting against the bright morning sunlight.
"Forty," Sarah replied.
"Forty?!" Chuck exclaimed. "There's something like five hundred people here!"
"I know," Sarah said. "Cross your fingers."
And so Chuck did. The tickets started to go, and neither of them got called. Thirty left. Twenty. The guy from Jersey's number was called, and he practically did a jig in the middle of Forty-First Street. Twelve. Ten. Eight. Six. Four. Two.
Sarah looked like she was on the verge of tears. "Hey," Chuck said softly, "it'll be alright."
She shook her head. "I've wanted to see Rent here since it opened," she sniffled, "and today's the last day."
Chuck's eyes widened. "That's me!"
Sarah's jaw dropped, and her visage instantly went from sad to ecstatic as Chuck pulled the ticket from his pocket. He double-checked – yep, he was number 57!
Sarah threw her arms around Chuck's neck. "YES!" she cried.
Chuck just smiled, and extricated himself from her grip, heading toward the box office.
Five minutes later, they had two tickets to see that evening's show. "Now what?" Chuck asked.
"Now we friggin' go back to the hotel and SLEEP," Sarah replied.
Seven hours later, they were back at the Nederlander Theatre. "I can't BELIEVE these seats!" Chuck exclaimed.
The seats were in the second row, center orchestra. "They always reserve these seats for the lottery tickets," Sarah replied. "This is where the real rentheads sit."
"Rentheads," Sarah said with a smile. "People obsessed with Rent."
"Oh dear God," Chuck groaned. "You're telling me that I'm going to be surrounded by people singing poorly and off-key along with the songs."
Sarah's smile got even bigger. "And I'm going to be the loudest one of all."
For a few minutes, Chuck was concerned, especially as people sang along with what the Playbill proclaimed was "Tune-Up #1." However, just as he was about to lose hope, the opening riff from the show's theme song, "Rent", crashed into his eardrums.
Chuck's eyes flew open, and he realized that he wasn't going to hear ANY of the people around him – not with the band that loud!
As the show progressed, Chuck got more and more into it. He had never seen Rent – just snippets of the movie version when Ellie had rented it a couple of years before. But the more he watched, the more he realized just how great it was.
By the end of the show, Chuck was hooked. In fact, it was completely subconscious when during the final song, he found himself belting out, "NO DAY BUT TODAY!" just as loud as Sarah.
With it being the final show, the standing ovation lasted a solid fifteen minutes, prompting the cast to do an impromptu encore of "Seasons of Love". Chuck felt like his face was going to split from the huge smile across it.
Finally, the show ended, and the lights went down for the last time. With a feeling of nostalgia that was decidedly odd, seeing as how Chuck had never given the show a second thought until twenty-four hours before, he and Sarah left the theatre.
As they exited onto Broadway, Sarah turned left. "Let's go to Times Square!"
Chuck looked at her. "Uh… do you think that's a good plan?"
She smiled and tugged at his hand. "Come on, Chuck, no day but today!"
Times Square was less than a block from the theatre. Chuck looked around in awe – he was FINALLY in the center of it all. He took several pictures of Sarah with his iPhone, and then they kept walking – and they kept going north, further and further away from the hotel.
When they reached Columbus Circle, Chuck froze. "Wait a second…" he said. "That's Central Park!"
Sarah smiled. "So it is, Chuck. You want to go in?"
Chuck shrugged. "Why not."
The park was dark, and few people were there, as late at night as it was. But the full moon and the lights of the city illuminated it just enough to set a perfect mood as Chuck ever-so-gingerly slipped his hand into Sarah's.
She didn't pull away, as he had been afraid she would – rather, she squeezed his hand and left hers in his. They kept walking, and then Chuck brought them to a stop when they reached the edge of the Pond.
Sarah wasn't sure why Chuck had stopped, and turned toward him – just in time for him to reach his arm behind her back, pull her to him, and kiss her. She froze for a second, and then let herself relax into the kiss, closing her eyes.
It lasted for what seemed like an eternity, but as Chuck's watch would attest, was actually about forty seconds. When they broke apart, Chuck's eyes slowly opened, but Sarah's remained closed.
"Chuck…" Her voice came out as a whisper. "I'm not sure this is a good –"
Chuck cut her off by kissing her again. This time, it lasted quite a bit longer. Finally, when they broke apart again, Chuck leaned forward.
"It might not be a good idea," he whispered into her ear. "But you know what, Sarah Walker?"
He pulled back, and she opened her eyes, looking into his.
Chuck smiled. "No day but today."
Author's note: Rent did indeed close after the evening show on Sunday, September 7th, 2008, after twelve and a half years at the Nederlander Theatre. Though I did get to see the show when the national tour was in Phoenix six and a half years ago, I do truly regret that I never got to see it at the theatre that Jonathan Larson hand-picked for his last, and greatest, work of theatrical art.