A/N: Just some silly, spooky fun for Halloween. I figured that with the latest installment of "A Collection of Dates," I should post something a little lighter, too. I hope you enjoy the finished result!
Disclaimer: Chuck belongs to NBC. The wacky mind belongs to Mikki13.
Thunder crashes overhead, lightning streaks across the jet black sky, and thick drops of rain splash upon the roof of the tiny Nerd Herder. Huddling over the dashboard, Sarah relishes the feeling of heat radiating from the vent even as the muscles in her shoulders knot from suppressed tension and her mouth aches from being held in a firm, tight line. The mockery of their training session is still clear within her mind, the way Chuck fumbled through his moves still fresh within her memory. Gritting her teeth, she attempts to ignore the fact that he's sitting in the driver's seat; attempts to pretend like he isn't even there. Unfortunately, it's easier said than done, especially when his coffee brown eyes continuously glance toward her tense form.
"Don't," she snaps, gripping her hands so tightly that her knuckles turn white.
"No," she returns, glaring through the windshield. The frustration in his voice causes a slight prickle of guilt to trickle through her veins, but she pushes the feeling aside. "I don't want to hear it, Chuck."
"I'm trying, Sarah," he says softly. "I'm just not very good at –"
"You're not trying," she flares, then takes a deep breath when she realizes just how loud she's getting. "No one told you to upload the Intersect, Chuck," she states firmly. "You made that choice on your own."
"I know that," he says quietly, his forehead creasing.
"Then why aren't you even trying to learn how to protect yourself?" He opens his mouth to respond, perhaps to argue his case, but she plunges ahead. "I can't protect you from this, Chuck. I can't keep you safe if you won't help me." She can hear her voice crack slightly on the last sentence, and she balls her hands into fists against the onslaught of emotions welling within her chest.
"It doesn't work that way, Sarah!" Chuck exclaims, dodging a particularly large puddle just as the sky turns bright with lightning. "It only works when –"
"When you're in a life or death situation and that thing inside your head flashes," she states through clenched teeth. "But that's not good enough." That's not going to keep you safe. That's not going to keep you from dying. That's not going to keep me from losing you. Because even though they haven't been together since that morning in Barstow, even though she's tried to keep him at arm's length, the fact is that she cares more about him than she's ever cared about anyone in her life. And the thought of losing him causes a sharp pain to pierce her chest, so poignant and so acute that it knocks the breath from her lungs.
"What do you want me to say?" Chuck pleads, desperation mingling with the frustration within his voice. "I'm doing everything that I can, Sarah."
Sarah's chest tightens at the proclamation, her fists aching on her lap. "You need to do more, Chuck," she returns, swiveling to fix him with her glare. "You need to try harder. You need to –" But what Chuck needs to do dies upon her lips, the words fading into the stormy night. Because before Sarah can finish her sentence, before she can voice her thoughts, an exclamation of surprise emanates from Chuck's mouth and the Nerd Herder suddenly slows down. "What –" Sarah begins, her eyes narrowing in confusion when Chuck slams on the breaks and swerves to the side of the road.
Her question is quickly answered when he pulls the car up alongside a straggling woman. "Chuck, what are you doing?" she hisses, her entire body slipping into defense mode as her hand moves to the knife concealed within her boot.
"It's raining," he says simply, shrugging. "She might need help."
"Chuck –" comes Sarah's warning tone.
Unfortunately, the computer nerd is already rolling down the window and shielding his eyes against the rain. "Hi," he chirps, attempting to keep his voice light. "Is everything okay?"
The woman suddenly stops in her tracks, turning to Chuck with raised eyebrows. Almost immediately, Sarah notices that she has the palest face she's ever seen, nearly porcelain against the jet black night. Her long black hair frames her face in curly waves, her deep red lips stand out in stark contrast to the ivory of her skin, her frilly white dress flutters around her body as the rain cascades down her face. Something about the sight, about the woman's personage causes Sarah's senses to go on alert. "Careful, Chuck," she warns, her face tightening.
But clearly, Chuck's much less apprehensive than she. Peering at the woman in concern, he allows his mouth to curve into a gentle smile. "Do you need help?" he asks.
The woman stares at him for a moment, and Sarah has to suppress a shudder under her penetrating gaze. And when she finally opens her mouth to speak, when words finally emerge from her ruby red mouth, goose bumps break out onto the spy's arms and a chill races up her spine. "My car broke down a little ways up the road," she says, giving Chuck the ghost of a smile. "Would you mind giving me a ride home?"
Sarah almost tells her that she'll call a taxi, but Chuck's already leaning around and popping open the back door. "Sure," he says easily, the red numbers of the car's clock leaving a glow upon his cheek. 9:14 pm. "Not a problem." And even though Sarah shoots him a look, he's too busy pulling off the side of the road to notice.
"Thank you for your kindness," the woman says. She leans forward to place a hand onto Sarah's arm, causing the blonde to shiver slightly from the chill of her touch. Instinctively, she moves closer to the heater.
"Any time," Chuck replies, grinning his infamous grin. "We couldn't just leave you stranded on the side of the highway. So where are we going?"
The woman immediately directs Chuck away from the main highway and down a dark side road nearly concealed by a long tent of pine trees, and Sarah feels her stomach knot. Even so, she tries to remain calm, tries to remain collected. If this woman isn't what she appears to be, then she needs to be prepared to protect them both. "What happened to your car?" Sarah finds herself asking, attempting to keep things civil.
"I'm not sure," the woman replies, and Sarah notices that her words sound rusty, and almost out of tune. "There were many lights and a loud clatter, and suddenly it just came to a stop. I'm so glad you've found me."
"Did you try to call a tow truck?" Sarah asks tightly, glancing at the woman in the rearview mirror.
"There were no phones," she explains, and when her eyes lock upon Sarah's, the spy once again has the uncanny sensation that she's seeing right through her.
"Not one for cell phones, huh?" Chuck asks cheerfully, for once noticing the tension between Sarah and their unexpected guest. When the woman doesn't answer, he allows the question to drop and places his own hand on Sarah's arm, shooting her a hesitant smile.
His touch is warm and gentle, in direct contrast to the icy chill that had flowed from their passenger's hand. Unbidden, she leans toward his solid frame, her heart skipping a beat as a soft smile spreads across her face. And as he runs thumb and forefinger in concentric circles over her bare skin, she can't help but allow a tenderness to enter her eyes. She opens her mouth to say something, perhaps even to apologize for their fight, when the woman speaks up once more.
"It's nice to be with a couple so much in love," she says, causing a jolt of surprise to spring through Sarah's slender frame. The blonde blinks at the computer nerd, a hint of panic joining the tenderness upon her face. Chuck swallows hard, his Adam's Apple bobbing nervously, and she knows that the statement has jarred him just as much as it's jarred her. She feels a fleeting desire to look away, to tear her gaze from his own, but finds that she cannot move. And as the car travels down the darkened highway, as the rain beats upon its roof, she suddenly realizes that her pulse is racing quickly through her veins.
It's only when the woman points at a brightly illuminated house that the moment is finally broken. "That's my home," she says, her mournful tone cutting through the heavy silence.
"Oh," Chuck replies, clearing his throat and redirecting his sight back to the road. "That was quick."
"Not really," the woman responds, and the statement causes the hair to prickle on the back of Sarah's neck. Her heart still beating erratically, she quickly averts her own gaze so that she's looking out the side window. Nevertheless, she continues to feel Chuck's presence by her side.
"Thank you for the ride," their passenger intones as the car comes to a stop. Reaching her pale hand to the handle, she pops open the door and slowly steps outside. "Your time is very much appreciated."
"It's really no problem," Chuck replies, smiling a little uneasily. "Will you be okay getting inside?"
But the woman doesn't answer. Instead, she glides slowly across her lawn, the rain falling heavily upon her damp black hair. Chuck turns to lock the back door, and when he glances back at the house, he finds that she's already disappeared from sight. "Where did she go?" he wonders aloud.
"She must have gone in through a side entrance," Sarah says, furrowing her brow. And then, when a clap of thunder reverberates through the rainy night and droplets of water patter even more loudly upon the roof of the car, she takes a deep breath and turns to the man sitting by her side. "Chuck, listen –"
"Sarah, I'm –" he begins at the same time. When they realize their faux pax, soft peals of laughter bubble up from their throats as slow grins spread across their faces. "You first," Chuck says, gesturing to the blonde.
Sighing, Sarah studies him for a moment. "I'm sorry if I was a little rough with you earlier," she says quietly, a half mask emerging upon her face. She considers her next words carefully, then: "I just don't want to see you get hurt."
"It's okay," he says, reaching over and taking her hand. "I'm sorry if I'm not trying hard enough. This is just all new to me, you know?"
She nods as a slight thrill courses up her spine at his touch, the mask wavering upon her face. And as the rain falls through the night and the thunder claps overhead, the woman's words echo back to her, seemingly as if she's still sitting in the car. It's nice to be with a couple so much in love.
The statement causes Sarah's chest to clench, her stomach to knot. But as she gazes into Chuck's eyes, her breath catching in her throat, she can't help but wonder how close the woman came to the truth. She can't help but wonder if she has fallen for Chuck Bartowski, if he really has penetrated her defenses so thoroughly that she's fallen in love. And along with the questions comes the memories of the morning in Barstow, and the wedding on the beach, and the dance they shared just before everything changed.
Before she can stop herself, before she can even really understand her actions, she finds herself leaning slowly toward his parted mouth. "I just don't want to lose you," she says, so faintly that she isn't even sure he's heard. But when he sucks in a breath, she knows that he has.
"You won't," he whispers, his free hand rising to stroke her cheek. "I promise."
It's a promise she isn't sure he can keep, but she pushes that thought from her mind. It's something she can think about later, something they can work through another time. For now, his touch is too warm, his presence too intoxicating. And as she leans into his touch, the panic welling within her chest is quickly replaced by a rush of deep affection. Suddenly, she closes the distance between them and captures his mouth in a tender, heated kiss.
And as their lips move together and she pushes her tongue into his eager mouth, she doesn't even register the distant sound of sirens blaring through the stormy night.
Crunch. Slurp. Rustle. Crunch.
Working his mouth around a large bite of cereal, Chuck thumbs through the newspaper, his mind still focused on the night before. A soft smile plays along the corners of his mouth as he thinks of the way Sarah kissed him, of the way she let him hold her, of the look in her eyes when he finally took her home. He's not sure what it all means; he's not sure where they'll go from here. But at least he knows that she cares about him as much as he cares about her.
It's something that he's wanted for a long time, and something that he'll spend the rest of his life striving to keep.
So caught up is he in his thoughts that he almost misses the story screaming at him from the front page of the Los Angeles Times: "Seventeen Killed in Tragic Crash". For some reason, the headline causes goose bumps to break out onto his arms, and he drops his spoon into his bowl, leaning forward on his elbows as he absorbs the story.
"At approximately 9:15 last night, October 31, a tragic accident took the lives of seventeen people when a truck overturned on a California highway . . ."
Chuck's jaw drops as he quickly scans the rest of the story, his heart freezing in his chest. 9:15 last night. A tragic accident. Seventeen lives. And on the exact same highway he would have been traveling if he hadn't picked up the mysterious stranger . . .
His chair clatters onto the floor as Chuck jumps from the table and grabs his keys, rushing from the house.
The drive down the twisty highway seems much longer than the night before, even with the sun shining brightly through the furry pine trees. His free foot bounces against the floor board, his stomach knotted with tension, and he realizes that his breathing is emerging in slightly ragged gasps. So when he pulls into the front yard of the woman's house, he has to take several deep breaths before he exits his car.
He's not quite sure why he's back here; he's not quite sure what made him return. But when he steps out onto the gravel drive and begins the long walk up to the house, he instinctively knows that there's a reason he's here now. There's something he has to know. And so he raises a sweaty hand to knock, swallowing hard when the solid oak front door flies open before his fist can connect with the surface.
"Can I help you?" a kindly old man peeks outside, gazing at Chuck over his spectacles.
"Hi," Chuck replies, his tone semi-high pitched as a shaky smile forms upon his lips. "I just wanted to make sure –" he pauses here, realizing that he never thought to ask the woman her name, "I wanted to make sure the young woman got home safely last night," he finishes lamely, feeling a prickle of apprehension when he sees a shadow flit across the man's face.
"You've seen her, too," the elder says matter-of-factly, leaning heavily against the door frame.
"What do you mean?" Chuck asks, his throat going dry. Somehow, he doesn't have to ask. Somehow, he instinctively knows. Even so, he needs to hear it firsthand.
"That was my daughter," the man replies, gazing at Chuck through concerned brown eyes. "My Sophie. I'm sorry to tell you this, young man, but she died about twenty years ago last night."
Chuck's unable to stop the low gasp which tears from his throat, and he has to grip the door for support. "I'm sorry?" he stutters, slightly dizzy. The statement is crazy, ludicrous, but somehow it smacks of truth.
"Sophie died in a car wreck on the highway twenty years ago," the man elaborates. "Witnesses say she was having a fight with the man she loved. I always suspected that they were meant for each other, but Sophie was always too afraid to tell Ned her true feelings. By the time she died, it was too late."
The weight of the man's words hits Chuck like a sledge hammer, nearly knocking his knees out from under him. "I –" he stutters, not quite sure what to say. "I, well, thank you for the information."
The man leans forward, peering closely at Chuck's pale face. "Would you like a glass of water, sonny?"
Gulping visibly, Chuck forces his smile back into place and shakes his head. "No, that's okay," he replies. "But thank you." He pauses for a moment, shifting his thoughts within his mind. Finally: "Your daughter may not have been able to tell Ned how she felt, but I think she might have saved my life. And the life of someone that I really care about." Someone who finally knows how I feel.
The statement brings a proud grin to the man's face. "Glad to hear it," he replies, yet Chuck notices that he doesn't look quite surprised. He feels a fleeting desire to ask if this has ever happened before, but thinks better of it. And when the man doesn't offer anything else, he finally bids him goodbye and heads back to his car.
But when he gets behind the wheel, when he turns his keys in the ignition, when he hears the engine roar to life, he instinctively feels the presence sitting behind him. Glancing in the rearview mirror, his jaw drops in shock when he sees the woman positioned in his passenger seat, her lips curled into a radiant smile. Blinking quickly, rubbing his eyes, he adjusts his mirror and takes a deep breath. But when he looks into the mirror again, and even when he cranes his head to look into the backseat, he finds that she's not really there at all.
Shaking his head, he stomps on the gas and heads quickly away from the house and the weirdest experience of his life. Somehow, he has a feeling that Sarah's never going to believe him when he tells her the truth.