He stood outside her door.
He had been pacing back and forth in front of it for nearly twenty minutes. In fact, he was quite certain that if there were any security cameras in the hall, he had maybe five more minutes before the Los Angeles Police Department showed up and arrested him for being a weirdo of some sort.
He took a deep breath, made a face, and blew his breath out again. Raising his hand, he knocked on the light green door – once, twice, three times.
There was no sound for a moment, and then three clicks – one recognizable as the sound of a security chain being drawn back, one clearly a deadbolt, and one most definitely the slide of a Colt 1911 handgun being engaged.
He would never mistake the last sound for anything else ever again – it had been permanently etched on his eardrums four hours before.
She looked surprised, if pleasantly so, to see him. "Chuck," she said, the surprise evident in her voice. "What are you doing here?"
Chuck shrugged. "I… well… we need to talk, Sarah," he said quietly.
Sarah nodded her head, ever so slightly. "Uh… okay…"
Chuck looked at her, then down at the floor. "Where did you say Lieutenant Mauser was going again?"
Sarah gave him a strange look. "Uh, a secure facility, Chuck."
He nodded and sighed. "Are you sure?"
Sarah's eyes widened, and her heartbeat sped up a little. Oh my God, she thought. He knows. But she shook the thought off – it was irrational. How could he know?
"Of course, Chuck," she insisted. "I promise you, he's not going to be able to come after you."
"I'm sure he's not," Chuck replied, his voice taking on an odd tone.
And with that, Sarah knew that he knew. She didn't know how he could possibly know, but she could tell that he did. "Chuck," she started tentatively. "Sometimes… um… sometimes we have to do certain things that aren't necessarily good, but are for good."
Sarah gritted her teeth and mentally smacked herself. Aren't necessarily good, but are for good? Her mind raged at how stupid she sounded.
Apparently Chuck agreed. "Does that, perchance, including putting a bullet in the chest of a man who is kneeling in front of you?" he asked, his voice losing all its warmth.
Shit, Sarah thought. "Chuck, I had to," she said. "He never would've given up. He would've kept coming after you, over and over. It never would've ended. I had to end it, right there."
"And I get that," Chuck replied. "As twisted as it is, that's really not what bothers me. What bothers me is the fact that not ten minutes later, you walked up to me in the Buy More and told me a bold-faced lie."
Sarah felt like her body was draining of warmth. "Chuck, you don't understand," she said, a note of desperation entering her voice. "I did that… I did it because I didn't want you to think –"
"That you're a killer?" Chuck asked. "I knew that already, Sarah. If you think that neither Casey nor Bryce ever clued me in to that…"
He stopped. "It doesn't matter. The fact of the matter is that I have no idea how I'm supposed to be able to trust you if you can so easily lie to me without even skipping a beat."
Sarah's eyes widened. "Chuck," she said, "I – you – you can trust me! I care about you, I really do!"
Chuck cocked his head and regarded Sarah with an almost condescending smile, and then shook his head. "You know," he said, almost pleasantly, but with an underlying nastiness, "if I didn't know where you'd been trained, who you've trained with, I'd almost believe you."
"No – no!" Sarah replied, horror creeping into her voice. "Chuck, this isn't me the agent speaking, this is me, your friend!"
"Is there a difference?" Chuck asked, shrugging. "Because I'm not sure I can see the line anymore."
Sarah's head felt like it was starting to spin. "Chuck – there has to be – what can I do?"
What he said next hit Sarah like a left hook. "You can give me my mom's bracelet back."
Sarah gasped involuntarily. "What – no! Chuck, please, don't do this –"
He shook his head. "I'm sorry, Sarah," he replied, a grim finality to his voice. "But you started this."
Her eyes beginning to fill with tears, Sarah reached for her wrist, fumbling for the clasp. As she undid the bracelet, it fell to the floor.
When she bent down to pick it up, though, Chuck's hand reached it before hers. He swept it up, turned, and without a word or a backward glance, marched off down the hallway, leaving Sarah standing in her doorway.
She stood there for nearly ten minutes, feeling like she couldn't move, feeling like something – somebody – had reached inside and scooped out her soul. Finally, she moved, speaking to herself.
"No," she whispered. "No. I'm not giving up that easily."
Retrieving her jacket and her car keys, she headed downstairs to her Porsche. It took her less than ten minutes to get to Echo Park – but nearly another ten to steel herself to go inside.
At last, she opened the door, stepping out of the car into the brisk Los Angeles night. Shivering slightly, she headed across the courtyard, trying to form the words to say.
Gingerly, she knocked on the front door of the Bartowski apartment. A moment later, it was opened by Ellie Bartowski.
"Sarah!" the brunette exclaimed, clearly surprised to see Sarah. "Hi! We weren't expecting –"
She stopped, looking closely at Sarah's face. "Are you alright?"
Sarah shrugged. "Just, uh, an argument that Chuck and I had," she replied, trying to sound upbeat and failing.
Ellie's face took on a look of concern. "Are you sure you want to talk to him, then?"
Sarah nodded. "I need to."
Placing a hand on Sarah's back, Ellie guided her into the apartment, closing the door behind her. The two women walked down the hallway to Chuck's bedroom, where Ellie knocked on the door. "Chuck?"
"Yeah!" they heard from within.
"Chuck, can you come out here a moment?"
Ellie narrowed her eyes. "Chuck, Sarah's here, and she really wants to talk to you."
"Yeah, sure she does," was the sarcastic reply, and it was all Sarah could do to hold the tears back.
"Charles Irving Bartowski!" Ellie snapped, horrified at her brother's callousness.
"No, Ellie, it's okay," Sarah said softly, trying desperately to keep her voice from cracking. "He might just not be ready to talk to me."
Ellie sighed, clearly not pleased with the current state of affairs. "Alright," she said, clearly not convinced. "But you'll be over tomorrow, right?"
Sarah shrugged. "Ellie… I'm not sure it's a good idea."
Ellie's face took on a perturbed expression. "That must've been some argument."
Sarah shook her head. "It was stupid."
Ellie let Sarah out of the apartment, and closed the door behind her. Ellie sighed, and turned to Devon. "What the hell could've happened?"
"Who knows, babe," Devon said. "Sometimes couples have problems. Chuck and Sarah aren't any different from the rest of us."
EIGHT HOURS LATER
Chuck Bartowski was nestled all snug in his bed, while visions of Playstations danced in his head. Wearing neither a kerchief, nor a stupid hat, he had spent all night in a long winter's nap –
When a pitcher of ice cold water was dumped on his face, dragging him headfirst into the wee hours of Christmas Day.
Spluttering, he fell out of his bed onto the floor, trying desperately to figure out why he had instantaneously gone from being on a beach in Jamaica with Sarah Shahi to being soaked, freezing, and wrestling with an equally soaked blanket.
"You are some kind of bastard, you know that?!"
Chuck froze. He had never, ever in his entire life heard his sister's voice as it was at that moment.
Ellie rolled him over and bent down close to him. "This," she hissed, holding up the charm bracelet in front of his face. "What could Sarah have POSSIBLY said to inspire you to be such an overwhelming jackass?"
"Uh…" Chuck's mind froze. He couldn't tell Ellie the truth – could he? No. He couldn't. That would be bad.
Ellie looked at him with a curious mix of outrage and disbelief. "I just don't get it, Chuck!" she exclaimed. "I mean, Sarah, it seems like she's always so wonderful to you, and you always seem to be head over heels for her – what the hell happened? You wouldn't talk to her last night, and you made her give the bracelet back?!"
She narrowed her eyes. "Who the hell are you, and what have you done with my brother?"
"Ellie –" Chuck sighed. "I can explain."
His sister folded her arms. "Bullcrap," she spat. "What you can do is get your ass out of my apartment, and not come back until you have thrown yourself at Sarah's feet and begged for her mercy and forgiveness."
"You can't be serious," Chuck replied in disbelief. "What?!"
"I'll even be so generous as to let you take my car," Ellie deadpanned. "You are going to fix this, Chuck. You WILL fix this."
"Ellie, you don't understand," Chuck tried.
"Don't even bother!" Ellie shot back incredulously. "I don't care what your reasoning is! I've seen the look on her face, Chuck! She's completely in love with you, and I cannot imagine what could've inspired you to treat her like this!"
At the word "love", Chuck froze. Was she? Was she in love with him? Was he in love with Sarah?
His sister had always been a pretty good judge of this sort of thing, and in fact, he knew that if anybody could get around CIA-trained bullshit, it was Ellie.
And as he considered that, uncertainty began to gnaw at the resolve he had built the night before. Maybe he had been wrong. Maybe Sarah didn't try to deceive him at every turn –
But it was so hard to be sure. Chuck shook his head, trying to ward off the mental battle. "Fine," he said quietly. "Give me a couple of minutes to get dressed."
"Don't forget the bracelet," Ellie admonished him.
Five minutes later, Chuck had exited the apartment and was heading for Ellie's car, when an unseen force suddenly grabbed him by the ear and dragged him into John Casey's apartment.
"Ow!" Chuck objected, rubbing his ear as Casey released it and slammed the door shut.
"What the HELL did you do, Bartowski?!" Casey demanded.
"What are you talking about?!" Chuck shot back, equally demanding.
Casey half laughed, half snorted. "Bartowski, I've got Walker's place bugged," Casey said. "And let me tell you something – that little spat the two of you had last night? Well, it ended up with her crying herself to sleep."
And with that, Chuck's resolve melted entirely. "Oh God," he said, dread entering his voice. "What have I done?"
Casey shook his head. "I am NOT a therapist, Bartowski," he grumbled. "But I'm telling you right this instant, if you don't get your ass over to Walker's and fix this, I will personally put you in the bunker. I'm not gonna put up with this crap."
"Loud and clear, Casey," Chuck sighed, heading back out the door.
Chuck's stomach felt like it tied itself in a knot as he got into Ellie's Pontiac, and the knot simply tightened the closer he got to Sarah's hotel. By the time he reached the floor her room was on, he felt like a gigantic ball of twine had come to rest in his gut.
Once again, he spent nearly fifteen minutes pacing up and down outside her door before he finally brought himself to knock – once, twice, three times.
A moment of silence, and then, he heard a noise from within – but there was only one click this time, the click of the slide on the handgun.
"What do you want?" he heard her voice say from within.
"I… I want to apologize," he said quietly.
"So apologize." Sarah's voice sounded tired, wooden.
"Sarah, I'm sorry," he said quietly. "I mean, I guess, yeah, I was mad about what happened, but we could've talked about it like adults – I, I shouldn't have exploded and gone off on you."
There was silence. "Sarah?"
"How do I know you're really sorry?"
Chuck couldn't believe what he was hearing. "What?!"
"How do I know this isn't just some act, something to make me think you're sorry?"
Chuck shook his head. "You can't possibly think that I would do…" Chuck's voice trailed off as he realized what he was saying.
"Doesn't feel so good when you're the one being called a liar, does it, Chuck?" The pitch of Sarah's voice rose, fury starting to color it.
"Sarah, I'm serious!" Chuck said in desperation. "I really didn't mean it! I'm so sorry!"
"Just go away, Chuck."
"Sarah –" Chuck felt like his soul was draining out of his body through his feet. "Sarah, I love you."
There was no sound for a moment, and then Chuck heard two more clicks – the sound of the chain, the sound of the deadbolt. Sarah's tear-stained, pale face looked out at him, a mixture of disbelief and wonder on her face. "What?"
"I… I love you, Sarah."
Sarah looked at Chuck, then sighed, and looked down. "You pick the most inconvenient times to say things like that," she nearly whispered. "I don't even know what to say."
Chuck had a couple of ideas as to what she could say, but he didn't expect to hear any of them come out of her mouth at that moment. Instead, he said, "I'm really sorry, Sarah. I never wanted to hurt you. I was a jerk. We could've talked about it. And you mean so much to me, and I –"
He stopped, and reached into his pocket. "Here," he said, thrusting the bracelet out toward her. "I want you to have it, I really do. I don't know what I was thinking last night."
Sarah looked from Chuck to the bracelet, and then back to Chuck. "We make a really screwed-up couple sometimes, don't we?" she asked quietly, allowing the tiniest note of humor to slip into her voice.
A wave of relief swept over Chuck, and a small smile appeared on his face. "That we do," he said. Stepping into Sarah's apartment, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her into his embrace. And Sarah, despite still feeling anger and resentment over what Chuck had said and done, nonetheless allowed herself to melt into his arms, wrapping hers around his waist.
"Merry Christmas, Sarah," he said quietly.
She sighed. I love you, Chuck. "Merry Christmas."