Disclaimer: I don't own "Chuck." (But I do own a spiffy new Nerd Herd t-shirt. :D)
Neither do I own "Bones." (Viewers of the show will recognize a certain . . . accessory from it, lol.)
A/N: There's been a lot of Cole-hate going on around here, which makes me sad. So this is for all the Cole-lovers, though we are few in number. :)
Also, I wanted to get this up before "Lethal Weapon" because of the timeline. In my head, this story takes place after both of Cole's episodes, either a day or so after "Lethal Weapon" or a few weeks or months, when he just pops into Burbank out of the blue (kind of like Carina did last season!). I hope that helps.
"I don't know," Chuck wavers as he stares at his reflection in the store mirror. He's dressed in black slacks and a white oxford shirt, two buttons open around the collar. He looks over at Cole, standing beside him with a grin on his face, and realizes that they're dressed almost exactly alike, except Cole's shirt is a light blue.
Cole pats him on the shoulder. "Don't be ridiculous," he booms. "You look fantastic."
Chuck purses his mouth and takes another scrutinizing look at his reflection. The shirt, though it doesn't look much different than his Buy More uniform other than being long-sleeved, feels much nicer, the material heavier and better made. It just feels odd without a tie . . . and undershirt. His chest hair is peeking out in a very unsettling way. Cole's chest hair looks manly. His, on the other hand, just looks silly.
"Relax, Chuck," Cole says with his easy smile, and Chuck can't help but trust him.
He doesn't know why the MI-6 agent is doing this, why he's so eager to help him out, but it's easier to trust him than it was when he first met him. He can't deny that the guy's growing on him.
"You've just got to have confidence," Cole continues. "Here." Narrowing his eyes, he smoothes the fabric of Chuck's shirt and then slides a jet black sport jacket around his shoulders.
He has to admit the jacket feels good, fits better, tighter, around his shoulders than his jackets usually do.
Cole nods, a grin on his face. "Good, right?"
Chuck stretches his arms, testing the length of the sleeves and the maneuverability of his shoulders. "Yeah. It fits nicely."
"That's because it's well-made."
The force of the throw-away comment strikes him suddenly, knocking the air from his lungs. He gulps. How is he going to pay for all of this? And the fact that Cole's so nonchalant about all this only serves to illuminate the differences in their lifestyles.
The thought flies from his mind, though, as Cole takes his arms and forces him to make eye contact.
"Stay here. I'll be right back," he says emphatically, the words slurring off his tongue gracefully in his British accent.
As the MI-6 agent walks away, Chuck rolls his eyes and frowns. Casting another glance in the mirror, he doesn't know whether to curse his own awkwardness or Cole's excessive charm.
It's only a few minutes before the other man returns, his hands full of colorful fabric and a belt.
"If I teach you anything, Chuck," Cole begins with a toothy smile, "it's how to accessorize." He holds his burdened arms out for show, then dumps everything on a nearby chair. "Now, first thing's first," he begins as he picks up a black belt with a square, silver buckle, and Chuck's struck by how similar it is to the one Cole was wearing the night they first met. "The belt. Never wear a suit without one."
Chuck's starting to feel overwhelmed. "Why, uh, why not?"
He begins to lace the belt through the loops of Chuck's pants, but Chuck stops him before he can get very far.
"I think I can take care of this myself, thank you," he protests, embarrassed. "And why is that?"
Cole shrugs. "They're great for seduction. If you've got the right buckle, it pulls your mark's gaze downward." He gestures to his own buckle, a shiny red and silver monstrosity with the word "Cocky" emblazoned on it. "Never a bad thing, my friend," he continues. "Also, you've already seen what else it can do: provide a compartment if you need to transfer something small but important, serve as a makeshift restraint in case you run into trouble, which seems to happen to you often."
Chuck would normally be offended by a comment like that, no matter whom it came from, but the friendly look in Cole's eye offsets the unkindness of the words. He gets the belt laced through his pant loops and buckled, and he has to admit, it looks good with his suit. Cole really does know how to dress.
His approval must show on his face, because Cole laughs. "Yeah, I told you. Next thing: the tie."
Chuck raises his eyebrows. "I thought you said I didn't need a tie."
"You don't. Not for a night out. But you still need to know the proper way to tie them. Watch closely." Cole pops his collar and drapes a black tie with silver pinstripes around his neck, his hands moving slowly but swiftly as he knots the silk fabric. "That," he says as he tightens the knot, "is a Windsor. Think you got it?"
He stares. No, he hasn't got it at all. He sticks with the simple four-in-hand for his Buy More tie, and Sarah usually ties his tie for him when he doesn't get stuck with a clip-on for missions.
"It's all right," Cole chuckles as he takes off his tie and unclasps the top two buttons of his shirt. "It's not that important tonight. But we'll work on it again next time. Now," he announces, brandishing up a piece of square yellow fabric and handing Chuck a green one, "the tie is important for dates, but when you're going casual, the handkerchief serves the same function."
Chuck nods, finding himself actually caring, and mimics Cole's movements as he folds the handkerchief and tucks it into the left pocket of his jacket.
"Remember, Chuck," the MI-6 agent says as the two of them turn to face the mirrors, "handkerchief, left breast pocket. And it always gets matched to your date's dress. Think you can handle that?"
"Yep," he nods. And he can. The truth is that he's actually starting to get the hang of this, and, more surprisingly, that he's starting to kind of enjoy hanging around with a guy like Cole.
Cole turns to size him up, his eyes running quickly down his form and stopping on . . . his feet. Chuck's eyebrows rise involuntarily.
"You always wear those shoes?" Cole asks as he points at the well-used and well-loved black Converse All-Stars.
Chuck shrugs. "Pretty much."
Cole glances down at his own leather plazas and back at Chuck's chucks, an expression of surprised approval on his face. "Good," he smiles, slapping Chuck on the shoulder. "Keep them. Women love individuality. They're something to remember you by."
The supportive smile suddenly gone, the agent crosses his arms over his chest and strokes his stubbly chin with one hand. Chuck taps his toes, the slightly uncomfortable object of such a direct gaze.
"Something's still missing," asserts Cole, causing Chuck to give himself yet another once-over to check for anything out of place.
There's a miniscule piece of lint attached to his elbow, but that's the only thing he can find and it's disposed of quickly. Cole's still grimacing at him, though, his eyes narrowed to observe him closely.
As Chuck reaches a hand up to fix an unruly piece of hair, the light bulb seems to go off, and Cole exclaims, "Ah! Your hair!"
An hour later, Chuck finds himself standing at the entrance of a downtown bar, unable to keep his fingers out of his newly-shorn hair. He hasn't had it this short since high school, and even then it was just on a dare. Ellie had always liked his curls, which disappear when his hair is this short, and he likes to keep it at a good length to make her happy. It's the least he can do.
He shoots a glance at his companion and lets out a chuckle. Thanks to his haircut, they could pass as brothers. Okay, maybe half-brothers. All he needs now is a British accent and some suave spy moves.
Cole grins, his gaze flickering over. "Remember, Chuck, left hand, trouser pocket." Chuck nods and imitates Cole's easy-going posture. "The right hand is for greeting people – handshakes, handkisses, hugs, whatever." He takes a deep breath, and his smile widens as he focuses on the scene in front of them, the crowd, the music, the lights. "This world is yours, Chuck," he continues emphatically. "They're all just players in it."
Cole's eyes turn toward him intensely. "Act like you own it."
He runs his hands through his hair again as he follows Cole to a corner booth. Cole flops into the seat with abandon, looking the picture of a careless bachelor.
Draping an elbow over the back of the booth and resting his right ankle on his left knee, Cole looks at Chuck and questions, "What are you drinking?"
"Uh," he stammers. He hadn't given it much thought. "Mai Tai?"
Cole's look betrays his confusion. "Never had one. Are they any good?"
"Delicious. My college buddies and I used to get them all the time on our trips to Vegas."
"It's settled then." He gestures to a nearby server and holds up two fingers. "Waiter, two Mai Tais, please." Looking back at Chuck with a smile, he says, "Stop playing with your hair. It'll grow back. Besides, it looks fantastic."
Chuck frowns. "I look like you."
Cole shoots him a look as if to say, And how is that a bad thing?, but instead leans forward and replies, "Relax, Chuck. You're still yourself. Just a better groomed version." He leans back against the cushions, inhaling deeply. "So you're an analyst," he begins, and Chuck clears his throat, starting to relax.
"Yeah, that's right."
"You must be intelligent," Cole replies, approval washing over his features. "After all, you cracked that chip pretty easily."
"A lot of good it did me." Chuck can't suppress a derisive snort.
Cole shrugs, a rare display of regret in his eyes. "For what it's worth, I am sorry. I didn't realize you could do that."
"No," he dismisses the words with a wave, "it was my handlers. They were the ones who didn't trust me."
Cole pops him on the shoulder. "Don't worry. They will next time." The waiter returns with their drinks. "Thanks. Put them on a tab, please?" Turning back to Chuck, he asks, "So what do you do for fun?"
He shrugs slightly. "Well, I don't have much free time any more, but mostly watch movies or play video games."
The MI-6 agent whistles softly. "You were right: this is delicious. What kinds of games?"
"You know, Halo, Call of Duty, Rock Band. My best friend and I will play anything really."
"That's good. That's really good."
He shakes his head like he's thinking it over, and Chuck doesn't really understand what's so good about it.
"Why's, why's that?" he asks, almost nervous.
Cole studies him for a moment, taking a swig from his Mai Tai. Finally, he says, "There are two things that matter in a spy's life, Chuck: girls, and guns. We're taking care of the girls tonight. And it won't be so hard to teach you about guns if you already have some experience, even if it's just from video games."
Chuck expression, wide eyes and raised brows, betrays his shock. "You're going to teach me about guns? When?"
"Next time I drop by Burbank."
Chuck chokes on his Mai Tai. "Why?"
Cole looks over intently. "Because you've got potential. You could be very useful to England if you ever needed a change of scenery. But as I can't foresee your government letting you go anytime soon, nor do I anticipate them training you, I figured I'd offer my services."
"That's very . . . altruistic of you."
Cole grins. "Don't go telling everyone what a nice guy I am, now. It'll ruin my reputation."
Chuck's reply is cut off by the tinkling sound of his cell phone ringing. He retrieves it from his right pocket to check the caller ID, and his eyes bug out when he sees Sarah's picture.
"Uh . . . it's Sarah. What do I do?"
Swallowing nervously, he answers the call and holds the phone up to his ear. "Hello?"
"Chuck? Where are you? Your shift ended hours ago."
Her voice betrays her worry, and his heart constricts at the thought of her anxiously pacing around the basement of the Orange Orange as she searches for him.
He sighs. "I'm just . . . out, okay? I didn't realize you were keeping such a close watch on me."
"I just want to know if you're all right," she protests. "Where are you?"
Grimacing, he asks rather angrily, "Can't you just track me? Isn't that what my watch is for?" He glances up to see Cole offering silent encouragement and checks his tone before adding in a softer voice, "Look, I'm okay. I'll be home later. You don't have to worry about me."
"Fine, Chuck," Sarah replies resignedly. "But we need to talk about this."
He pauses, contemplating hanging up without a goodbye. But he can't do that to Sarah, no matter how mad he is at her. "Fine. I'll see you later." The resentment lingers on his face as he contemplates the phone in his hand before returning it to his pocket.
"Relationship problems?" Cole asks, and Chuck's surprised to hear genuine concern in his voice.
He chuckles mirthlessly. "Funny that the problems are real enough when the relationship is fake."
The toothy smile that's been on Cole's face most of the night is absent when he says, "I wish I could help you there, but, as the past has proven, I could never understand Sarah as well as you do. If you want me to say something about how it'll get better, I will, but I don't think that's what you need right now." He takes another swig of his drink, swirling it around his mouth before swallowing.
"What do I need?"
Cole's grin returns, this time paired with a wicked gleam in his eyes. "A diversion."
Chuck inhales deeply, his nostrils flaring. "Maybe I do," he finally says. "But can I ask you something first? Why are you doing this?"
It feels so odd to be sitting next to a man who should be his rival, who instead has chosen to take him under his wing and show him the ropes. After being neglected by his handlers for so long, at least in terms of training and spy knowledge, he welcomes the chance to relax. At the same time, his ears and eyes are constantly open, constantly soaking up the information pouring out of Cole, at least the useful information.
"Trust me," Cole replies. "Tonight you'll have all the women fawning over you."
The thought makes him chuckle, because he's only ever had one girl fawn over him, and he's still not even sure how much of that was real. But the chuckle dies from his lips as his thoughts turn to another woman, one even more enigmatic and frustrating and passionate than the first.
"I don't want all the women," he admits softly.
"I know," Cole smiles. "But you have to learn how to get them all before you can get the one you want." He swirls his drink and gestures around the room with a tilt of his head. "See anyone interesting?"
"What, you mean like, . . . oh." Chuck scans the room once he realizes what Cole means, his eyes alighting on a brunette and an auburn-haired woman sitting at a table near the opposite wall. He indicates the pair. "What about them?"
"Funny. I pegged you for a blonde guy."
Chuck, finishing off his Mai Tai, lets the comment slide as he watches Cole rise, stretch his back, and strut across the room towards the girls. He engages them in conversation, no doubt utilizing his British charm, and within a few moments, all three are heading back towards the booth.
"Chuck," Cole says with a grin, his arms around the girls, "this is Jessica and Rebecca." He indicates each by inclining his head, then looks back at Chuck and continues, "Ladies, this is my good friend Chuck."
Jessica, the one hanging on Cole's left arm, giggles and asks, "Do you have an accent, too?"
Chuck gulps. He's really not cut out for this flirting thing. But Cole shoots him a look of encouragement and he replies, "I can if you want me to."
Jessica laughs again, and Rebecca, the brunette, detaches herself from Cole to take a seat next to Chuck. Cole sits with Jessica on his other side and orders another round of drinks.
"So, Chuck," Rebecca begins softly. Her voice is sweet, almost musical. "What do you do for a living?"
Cole shoots him a look. Remembering his earlier advice, he goes with a simple answer. "I work in computers."
"That sounds interesting," she says politely, smiling and putting her hand on his forearm.
His heart rate skyrockets, but before he can answer, Cole steps in.
"Chuck's a very interesting guy. Smart, too," he says.
Chuck smiles, suddenly at ease. Relaxing, he leans back as the two women join in the conversation. This might not be such a bad night after all.
Chuck can't remember the last time he stayed out this late. It's nearly four in the morning, and he and Cole, having bid the girls goodnight and handed them into a cab ("Baby steps, after all," as Cole had said), are just piling into their own. He's a bit too tipsy for his liking, but he's on his way to a soft bed and a good night's sleep, and that's really the only thing on his mind right now – that and a little bit of pride over the fact that he didn't come off as a complete nerd tonight.
Chuck takes a deep breath as he leans his head against the seat of the cab. He glances over at Cole, who has his eyes closed.
The past few weeks, the past few years, flash through his mind, and there's suddenly so much he wants to know.
"Is it anything like tonight?" he asks. "Seduction, I mean."
Cole opens his eyes, scratches his eyebrow, and peers at him. "Mostly. It's a bit harder, though, because you can't get caught up in the woman's charms. You've got to stay focused on the goal."
"Have you done that a lot? Seduced women for the job?"
"It comes with the territory." He shrugs like it's no big deal, but Chuck gets the distinct feeling that he's not proud of that particular aspect of his career.
"Does it get any easier?"
Cole pauses, his lips pursed. "You get used to it."
Chuck studies him. "I never realized how lonely you, and Sarah and Casey, must be."
Cole doesn't answer, and his silence gives Chuck insight into his motives tonight. After all, even a guy like Cole Barker needs a friend.
A few moments go by in silence and Chuck's forgotten the thread of the conversation when Cole says, "You lied to me about her, you know."
Chuck turns to look out the window, knowing exactly what he's talking about but not feeling inclined to answer. After a moment, he says, "No, I didn't. We work together and it'd be unprofessional." He sighs. "She's made that abundantly clear."
Cole chuckles sleepily. "You've only got one side of the story, my friend."
Glancing over, his eyebrows raised, Chuck asks, "And you have the other side?"
The MI-6 agent smiles. "Just be patient, Chuck. And trust her."
At the sound of the front door opening, Sarah shoots straight up in bed. She's been tossing and turning for over three hours, unable to catch even a wink of sleep because her thoughts are wrapped up in him. A few moments later, Chuck comes shuffling into the bedroom, stopping when he sees her awake and alert.
Her heart tightens in her chest as she stares at him in the doorway, gasping softly when she notices that he's lopped off all his curls, and she can only relax when he breaks the gaze and stumbles inside to kick off his shoes.
He rubs his eyes and asks in a tired voice, "Why are you still awake?"
"I've been worried about you. Where have you been?"
Shrugging off her concern, he sheds his socks and belt. "I told you I was fine. You didn't need to stay up."
Sarah draws her knees towards her chest, unsure of how to respond. She's sick of telling these half-truths about her feelings for him and waiting for him to read between the lines. "Fine," she replies, her voice low but severe. "I won't do it again. But just remember that when you do need someone to be there for you at four-thirty in the morning, don't call me." She shoves the covers off and makes to leave the room, intending to head to the kitchen for a glass of water to cool down, but Chuck grabs her by the arm and spins her around before she can move more than a few feet.
"No," he says in a heated whisper, "you don't get to play that card anymore, Sarah. You may have moved in here, but you've made it very clear that our relationship is nothing more than a cover."
Sarah can barely breathe. She resents the accusation, resents everything that's forced them into this impossibly complicated situation, resents all the forces that prevent her from rectifying it. She wants to argue, wants desperately to tell him that this is way more than just a cover relationship, but he's invaded her personal space, his face hovering only inches from hers. His breath is warm on her chin, and the scent of alcohol assaults her nostrils. His presence overwhelms her, threatens her rationality.
And for a moment, one passionate, reason-defying moment, she really believes he's going to kiss her.
But sense overcomes feeling in both of them, and Sarah swallows hard in a bid to drive the blush from her cheeks. "I'm sorry, Chuck," she says quietly.
It's a line she's used before, over and over really, an excuse for the drama of their lives. Unable to tell him how she truly feels for him, she settles for telling him how sorry she is and hopes he can catch everything left unspoken.
But Chuck only frowns and releases his grip on her wrist. She takes her opening, walking out of the room and away from his expressive eyes. In the kitchen, to collect herself, she grabs a glass of water and perches on the counter, her heels banging against the lower cabinets. She watches him into and out of the bathroom, and still she doesn't move.
She sits, and she sips, and she waits. The kitchen is dark and quiet, and Sarah finds comfort in the solitude.
But she can't stay in the kitchen all night, especially not wearing only a "Firefly" t-shirt she grabbed from Chuck's dresser.
With a sigh, Sarah hops down from the counter, puts her glass into the dishwasher, and heads back down the hallway. She pushes the door open slowly, nervously, only to find Chuck already asleep, his chest rising up and down in a peaceful rhythm.
At the sight of him – lying on his back, still in his slacks and button-down, his limbs all akimbo – the doubt and anxiety drain from her heart, and all that's left is tranquility.
A tentative smile on her face, Sarah climbs back under the covers and sidles up against him. Thankfully, he doesn't stir. His proximity is much less threatening than it was fifteen minutes ago, his warmth much more tempting. Boldly, she reaches out to examine his hair, her heart saddening at the loss of his curls, before cautiously caressing his cheek. Her fingers continue to descend, running slowly along the collar of his shirt and downward until they glance over the light dusting of hair on his chest.
"It's not just a cover," she whispers. "It hasn't been for a long time."
Her palm resting on his chest, partly on his shirt and partly on his skin, Sarah closes her eyes, and there's a smile on her face as she drifts to sleep.
The first thing Chuck notices when he wakes up is not the splitting headache he has, or how much the light streaming in through the window hurts his eyes. It's the slight pressure against his chest, the feeling of a hand which he's able to discern even with his eyes closed. And the thought of whom the hand belongs to brings a smile to his face.
Taking a breath, he opens his eyes and sees her sleeping peacefully, her blonde hair cascading against the pillow. Overwhelmed, he leans down to place a kiss on the top of her head.
Sarah stirs. She inhales deeply and snuggles into the pillow, a shy smile lighting up her face, but her hand never moves from his chest. He's prepared to apologize for acting like a royal jerk last night, but one look in her eyes, those eloquent eyes as blue as the Pacific, tells him a spoken apology is unnecessary. Verbal communication seems to get them in so much trouble anyways.
So he offers her a smile, and she accepts it, stretching to brush her lips against his cheek.
In that moment, with his cheek still tingling from her kiss, Chuck realizes the importance of what Cole was trying to teach him all along: patience.