Sarah couldn't take it anymore. She was fed up. She'd been acting like a "good girl" for so long, it was no longer an act. She always did what she was told. She always did what she was supposed to do. Join the CIA, protect the world, sleep with this mark, protect the Intersect, lie to this person, kill that person, change your name again, do this, be that. She was sick and tired of it. What about what she wanted? What about her thoughts and needs and desires? What about fun and a future and being able to relax? What about the person who was not a CIA agent, who was not confined to what some bureaucrat had decided was right? Why didn't she get a voice?
It was hardly the first time she'd harbored such thoughts – treasonous thoughts she knew they would be called by others. And, she admitted to herself, ones she had called treasonous in others more than once. But were they really? Or were they all, the whole lot of them, the whole CIA, being bound by some sense of honor or decorum or bravado, and they all struggled with inner demons?
Those earlier times, those crises of conscience, had passed quickly. The mission was so obviously important, so obviously right, that concerns about the person she was could be shoved back into its box, labeled as interesting and something to maybe deal with later. Or they came at times when the time to examine them simply didn't exist. It's quite impossible to be philosophical when bullets are whining around you, or you're working on hour 43 with no food nor sleep. But none of those were the case, now.
Now, the mission was stupid. Her assignment was stupid. And not only was it hurting her, it was hurting someone she … someone she …. Why couldn't she voice the thought, even in her own mind? She'd heard the word a million times – heard it professed to her, even. Once, the person expressing it may even have been telling the truth. But she'd never felt that way. Sure, she'd had good physical relationships in the past, but even then, the sex was more like exercise – a fun way to get sweaty with somebody else. It never meant more than that. Killing a previous sex partner was no more or less difficult than killing any other enemy. Taking a life just rarely hurt any more. Not much really felt, anymore, good or bad.
What she was craving wasn't sex. She knew she could get that. It was easy to get picked up. She could go to any bar in any town in America and leave with just about anyone she wanted. Leaving with just a body, just a sex partner, that would be child's play. But it wouldn't fill the hole inside her. It wouldn't erase the guilt. It wouldn't be doing what she really wanted to do. What she knew, deep down, was the right thing to do. She didn't want "just sex", she wanted to make …, wanted to have more than simple sex.
How had she stopped doing the right thing? When was it that she started doing the easy thing? Being the obedient agent, even when it was wrong? She couldn't remember. But it stopped tonight.
She stood up abruptly, removing the headphones. She was abandoning her post – it wasn't proper, it wasn't kosher, and it might put him into danger. But she knew what she had to do. And it wasn't something she could do over a phone. If she was going to torpedo her career and risk her life, she wanted to see his face when she did it. Even if he didn't understand what she was doing when she did it.
It all came back to him, didn't it. Protect the Intersect. Protect Chuck. Where did one end and the other begin? How could she be asked, told, demanded to protect the Intersect and told, in almost the same breath, to damage Chuck? Without him, there was no Intersect, no magic computer to recognize hidden details and complex patterns, was there? They didn't just need the Intersect, they needed Chuck.
Well, she needed him, anyway. Needed him unlike anything else she'd needed in a long time. It wasn't like a sleep after a hard day. It wasn't like food. It wasn't some itch she could ignore while maintaining complete physical control. It was an all-consuming wave. No matter how high she built the dams, no matter how carefully she patrolled for incursions, no matter how cold she tried to make herself, nothing mattered. Nothing helped. He was a constant presence – the image behind her eyes when she shut them, the focus of her tormented dreams, the lingering scent she had hunted down after he'd left – so many times he'd left and she'd hunted.
She'd tried to push him away. She'd been a tease, as much as she could. She'd worked every angle on both of them to not let this happen. She'd let him get so close that she, herself, intentionally letting it go "too far" had barely been able to muster the force of will necessary to stop them from going on. She'd seen the hurt in his eyes. She'd fostered it, intentionally, trying to prevent him from being so damn perfect. But he'd borne it. Borne it like a soldier, though she'd heard him crying himself to sleep, those nights when Casey couldn't cover the surveillances. She hated herself at those times. Hated how she was trying to drive a wedge between them.
But it hadn't. He hadn't let it. He'd always come back for more. Always believed her lame excuses about the job or who might be listening or lipstick or whatever she'd used. And he never stopped caring, really caring for her. She never remembered feeling so completely adored. And sometimes it wasn't a tease. The first kiss, when she'd thought they were going to die. What she thought was going to be the only kiss. How could she regret that? And with Roan ordering them to cooperate – she'd needed to fix more than her make-up after that kiss.
She hadn't even noticed the walk to the car. She was sitting behind the wheel. How long had she been there? It didn't matter. She had a job to do. Not a job for the government. Not a job she'd been ordered to do. A job for herself. Her one act of defiance and personal heroism. Her path to redemption for herself. She put her Porsche into gear and revved too much, too quickly, roaring out of the parking spot, and racing forward. She enjoyed the feel of the car under her. It made her feel dangerous.
And did she ever feel the danger tonight. It was a whole new kind of danger. She'd gotten almost immune to the adrenaline rush of combat, whether hand-to-hand or behind impersonal weapons. But this danger, this was new. This was present. This was fresh. This was real. And how important it was to be real. She was so rarely real. She hid herself, hid from herself. But that self was not to be denied tonight, whatever the eventual cost. Any danger, any concern was worth it.
She needed to seize the moment. Too many moments had been passed by, left to decay in the prospect of some moment in the future. No longer. Not now. Now, she was going to seize this moment of self-awareness, seize the chance to do what she hadn't let herself know that she'd wanted to do for months.
She was going to be honest. She was going to tell him … tell him everything. Tell him about the CIA plans. Tell him about herself. Lay it all out there for him. Then she would … then she would … Well, hell with then. She'd always worried about 'then'. Then then then. NOW was on her mind. Now was what she was all about. Then could take care of itself then. She was going to take care of now. And take care of herself now.
"SHIT!" She swore out loud. Not NOW! Why, of all the times, now? She glanced down at the speedometer. 97? How the hell had she let that happen? She normally didn't have to pay any attention to be legal – speeding records were a way to be tracked. She was so meticulous. But not tonight, she realized. Tonight, she wasn't herself. Or, maybe, she was herself, for the first time in a long time. That feeling was so unusual, everything was off.
She looked in the mirror again. Yeah, those lights were definitely behind her. She could outrun it, she knew. The plates rotated easily and the numbers weren't registered anywhere with anything. It would be so easy to just disappear into the night. No city cop could keep up with her.
But it would distract her from her purpose. If she was going to become real, going to become the person she didn't know, herself, she was going to start now. She was going to pay the consequences of her actions, like normal people did. Her foot eased off the accelerator and she looked for a place to pull off the road. The delay was inexcusable, but any other action was worse.
The police car came up right behind, quelling any potential doubt as to his target. He flipped the siren on briefly, to drive home the point.
"I know, I know," Sarah muttered out loud – mad at herself, mad at the policeman, mad at the situations her life kept thrusting her into, mad she hadn't taken control earlier. And still adrenaline filled her veins, keeping her skin crawling, like an outfit that she'd worn just too long.
Some small part of her brain had catalogued the road ahead and she knew exactly where she was going to stop. It was the safest place for both her and the officer. It wasn't really his fault, she knew. He was just doing his job. Like she had so often done her job. And probably hurt others, just like he was now hurting her. The wait, every second, every millisecond, was excruciating. She could feel her resolve crumbling out from under her. If she didn't talk to him, tell him soon, she might never have the chance. No, she might never take the chance, take the risk, again.
The policeman … no, police woman – how did she miss that? Sarah trembled. She really was not feeling like herself tonight. And then she corrected herself again. No, she was feeling more like herself than she had in forever.
"In a hurry?" The policewoman's voice pierced into Sarah. It wasn't his voice. That was the only voice she wanted to hear.
"Yes, I am." She saw no sense in lying. It wouldn't make any difference.
"Worth risking your life over?" Now, there was a question she'd answered. She was risking everything. She was risking more than her life on tonight. She planned to put herself out there. Death would be much easier to take than this.
"Honestly? Yeah, I think it is." Sarah was surprised to hear her voice say those things. She didn't normally go on like that. She couldn't help herself. She mentally reviewed all the food and drink she'd had in the last 24 hours, wondering what might have held a drug or anything abnormal. She catalogued her body's feelings and reactions. The latter were definitely atypical, but she wasn't feeling normal. She couldn't trace it to any possible drug, though.
She realized the police officer was just standing there, looking down at her. Sarah just started ahead. That's where he was. Where he was waiting for her. Or not waiting. But that's where he was. That's all that mattered. He was there. So she was going to get there. It was that simple.
Still the officer stood there. Sarah turned her head every so slightly. "Please, can we get on with this? I just want to go. Now." She heard a whine and a desperation in her voice that she wasn't familiar with. More new stuff. It was coming so fast. And it felt so good to just be herself. Not CIA agent Sarah Walker. Just who she was, regardless of the name attached. Just be her.
The officer squatted down and talked to her on her level. "Are you sure he's worth it?"
Sarah sniffled in surprise. "How'd …." It probably was that obvious, yes. What else could it be? Her shoulders sagged. She could feel herself deflate – she was probably in more trouble than she realized. "Yes, he is. And I've wasted it."
Why was she pouring out her heart to some stranger on the road? Was she really that desperate to be understood? To be validated? Or was it something else? Why did she need to say that she'd wasted it? Wasted their time. Wasted his affection. Waited too long. Hid behind a job. Hid behind a mask she knew how to wear. Ignored his feelings. Hell, ignored her feelings. She didn't want to ignore them anymore. It was just too hard.
The officer looked at her gently. "Will you promise to drive more slowly?"
"I can promise to try. I didn't realize I was driving this fast, before." If I had, though, would I have slowed down? Or sped up? Come on, just give me the ticket. It's only money. 97 isn't fast enough to get taken in, is it? What would I do then? It'd be so easy to take out the officer, but Sarah didn't want to run forever. Cops are so protective of their own.
The officer said something. But it didn't register with Sarah. "I'm sorry, what did you say?"
The officer smiled. "I said, you seem like an honest person. I'm going to let you go with a verbal warning and a stern command to slow down."
Honest? Her? Sarah? The secret agent who was just now going to tell the man she … the man she … the man she wanted to be with, how she felt? To finally tell him the truth about something? The irony made her smile in spite of herself.
"Oh, thank you. I'll do my best." She again surprised herself. Obsequious? Her? What was going on? Was she sure she wanted to go through with this? Maybe she should just sit on the side of the road and think. Or go back to the office and do her job and let her mind wander.
No! she mentally yelled at herself. Too much thinking was the enemy. She was feeling. Thinking led to following orders and folding herself back into a mold she no longer wanted to fit. Thinking wasn't good. She could think later. Now, she wanted to feel. She wanted to feel him against her. Wanted to hear him tell her that he … that he felt the same way about her that she did about him.
Not that she had any doubts. Well, not any real ones. The way he looked at her. The way he kept doggedly turning aside her efforts to divert him. Those couldn't be lies, could they? But the way he had kissed that Jill woman – that woman who had hurt him so deeply. Maybe he no longer cared for her. Maybe he never did. Maybe she was just being stupid.
Oh well. If she was being stupid, she was being stupid. She felt freer than she could ever remember. Only a few more minutes and she would tell him. Tell him all about the plan to use Jill as bait. Tell him how she felt, how stupid she'd been. Tell him how much she wished him happiness.
The apartment complex was coming up. Suddenly, she was nervous. What if she was wrong about how he felt? What if she just made a fool of herself? What good could this possibly do? Was a moment of insanity (or was it a moment of sanity?) worth all she'd built up? How would he react? What would he say?
It was too late to change her mind. She was out of the car and on her way to the apartment. She was committed – or about to be committed, she couldn't tell. But she had to tell him – had to tell him. Tell him everything.
Ellie opened the door – honest, trusting, real Ellie. Maybe that could have been Sarah, in another universe. Intelligent, beautiful, competent, and real. Honest. True. Genuine. Authentic. Sincere. Words that never really seemed to apply to her. But they would, she vowed. They would, tonight, at least.
"I need to talk to Chuck." The surprise and disappointment on Ellie's face was visible. She was confused, and a little terrified.
"I thought you were already here. He said you were coming in the Morgan door…. Who's in there?" Ellie knew the answer, already, of course. The shock and pain of it was visible on her face. She didn't need to tap phones to know the truth. She just needed to really know a person. Like Sarah wished he could – would – know her.
"Please, just let me talk to him." Sarah was desperate. She didn't want to hurt Ellie, but nothing was going to stand between her and her destiny. Not tonight.
"Of course." Ellie moved aside quickly. "If there's anything I can do …. You know I'm rooting for you, right?"
Ellie had always been so supportive, so graceful, so awesome. Sarah would certainly not mind having her for a sister-in-law… First things first, she silently reminded herself. Throwing an appreciative smile at Chuck's sister, Sarah moved purposefully to the door.
Resisting the urge to just throw it open, she knocked. "Chuck, it's me. I need to talk to you."
A muttered "Oh, no. Not now…" was barely audible through the door, but the mere sound of his voice sent a thrill coursing through her body. It started at the base of her spine and ran up to her neck, around to her face. It coursed back down her arms and legs, and settled in her fingers and toes, starting them tingling, like they'd been asleep. She'd never felt as alive as she did at that moment.
The door opened and there he was. His hair was mussed. He was a little out of breath and flushed. She recognized the signs. She'd interrupted a make-out session. Hardly an ideal time to confess her …, her …, her feelings for him. Too bad. The universe was going to have to wait. She was on a mission.
"Chuck, I need to tell you some things. A bunch of things. This is really important. And I don't care if Jill hears." The words came rushing out. She normally evaluated every word she said before it reached her mouth – testing it for probable reaction, for compromises to her cover, for so many things that used to seem so important. Now, the words couldn't get out fast enough.
"O … ummm … are you sure …" Seeing the look on her face, he exhaled fully. "OK."
Sarah stepped into the room, carefully avoiding Jill's questioning eyes and disheveled appearance. This was about him – about him and her, not about anybody else. Mostly, it was about Sarah, though. It was about her, and she reveled in that feeling.
"Chuck, I can't take it any more. I can't take the lies. The loneliness. The pain. Here's the thing. Beckman ordered Casey and me to … well, to use Jill as bait for Fulcrum. And explicitly to not tell you. But I'm tired of lying to you. I'm not going to do it anymore." She studied Chuck's face, waiting for the reaction. Jill might as well have not been there. She could feel the very air between them crackling. She wondered – hoped – prayed – that he felt it too.
"Since I'm going to be reassigned, or … or fired, for telling you that, there are a million other things I need to tell you." She was going to do it. She could feel it. It felt like winning a marathon, a triathlon, an endurance course of huge magnitude. But it was coming to a close. She was going to do it. "Chuck," she said, losing herself in the luminescent brown of his eyes, "I love you. I have loved you for a long time. I've tried to fight it, tried to hide from it, tried to make it go away. I can't. It's too strong. It's too real – real like nothing has been real to me for as long as I can remember."
She felt hot wetness on her cheeks. When had she decided to cry? Tears were a ploy, an act, a way to control others' thoughts and emotions. Tears weren't part of the plan. Where had they come from? Brushing aside the thought, she continued, "I just can't do this anymore. Pretend that I am who I'm not. Pretend that I'm OK being just a friend." The words continued to rush out, but she didn't know where she was going. And the words were taking the fire and heat out of her. Each word drained her more than she imagined possible.
"I love you Chuck. I want you to be happy. I want you to be happy with me, but…" But what? What the hell was she doing? Stop it. Don't let the words out. But she couldn't stop. Not now. Her heart had finally taken control and it wasn't about to relinquish it so quickly. "But I know this is probably good-bye" she finished sadly. "There's no way the CIA will let me keep working here now. I probably couldn't protect you the way I should anyway. I just love you too much. But I had to tell you. Had to tell you before anything happened. Had to let you know."
She blinked away the tears that continued to form, trying to focus on his face. It wasn't what she'd hoped for. There was no immediate professing of his love. No impassioned kiss. No plea to stay. Nothing quick enough for her to see as returning her outpouring of love. The heat continued to escape her body and mind and soul. "I know I'm probably too late. It's too late for us. Jill gives you the normalcy you wanted. Don't let her be bait. And, when you think back on me, don't … don't hate me!"
She couldn't see at all anymore. She fled out of the room back to her Porsche. Her ears were as full as her eyes, so she didn't hear anything behind her. How could she have been so stupid? And why was she so cold and empty? What had happened? Why did she let herself do that? She angrily put the car in gear and pulled away, the lights of other cars still blurred almost beyond recognition.