A/N: Hi. If you've stumbled onto this story and you've never read anything by me, don't worry. It's a companion piece to What Fates Impose, which is a look at what would have happened to Chuck if Bryce hadn't got him kicked out of Stanford. Essentially, as far as the story's revealed so far, Chuck joined the CIA, shipped off to Officer Candidate School, and got thrown in a bunker in the middle of Siberia. He got visited by his buddy, Bryce, and Bryce's partner, Sarah, in 2005. To Resist Both Wind and Tide is Sarah's version of that story.
Yes, this was written on a bet. mxpw bet me that I couldn't write a chapter less than 5,000 words. I sort of proved him wrong by writing a chapter that was EXACTLY 5,000 words long, which means that I have to post "The Sarah Bunker Story," and he has to write any alternate scene I dictate from his fantastic story Chuck Vs. the Double Agent. I told him he has to write Chuck and Carina's one time "doing it" because I'm twelve, and Wepdiggy really wanted to see that scene.
I also owe mxpw a lot of gratitude for not only encouraging me during the entire writing process, but by stepping up and knocking it out of the park as a beta reader. You have no idea how awesome he is until you spend three hours debating the finer points of Sarah's character with him. So, thanks, dude! And thanks to all of the readers who are still with me, and still giving great feedback! Y'all rock!
Disclaimer: I don't own Sarah Walker, Chuck Bartowski, Bryce Larkin, my own parachute, a C-130, or snowshoes. Though I wish had a pair of the last. They're fun. Anyway, no money is being made here, and please don't sue me.
Let me embrace thee, sour adversity,
for wise men say it is the wisest course.
- William Shakespeare, King Henry VI, Part III
To Resist Both Wind and Tide
The Wisest Course
17 NOVEMBER 2005
OVER SIBERIA, UNDISCLOSED COORDINATES
Above Sarah Walker's head, the light turned red.
She didn't look up to acknowledge. That would require glancing across the small plane—the small, unregistered plane, as they didn't exactly have overt permission to fly through Russian airspace, but the pilot was apparently a friend—and meeting Bryce Larkin's eyes. Since she was currently nursing a nice fury toward him, and he had an uncanny ability to defuse her temper, she had spent most of the long, grueling journey staring at a fixed point and ignoring everything around her. This was Bryce's folly. Let him deal with the damned details.
She should be in Cabo right now. There should be a blood orange margarita in her hand, she should be wearing the new bikini she'd bought special for the trip, and for once, not thinking about whatever it was Uncle Sam wanted her to think about. It had been two damn long years since she'd had a proper vacation. She should be on one now.
Instead, she huddled into a new parka that rubbed the wrong way against her neck, waiting to skydive into the wilds of Siberia, of all places.
And why the hell was that? Bryce wanted to visit an old college buddy.
She considered not speaking to him ever again, except for work. Apparently, the incident in Barcelona, after they'd taken out the corrupt oil magnate, and the incredibly hot, steamy interlude in the shower after he'd almost been killed by a zealot warlord in the Congo meant absolutely nothing, if he was willing to blow off a trip to Cabo—and all of the implications that went with said trip—for visiting an old classmate, of all things.
He'd tried to talk the guy up during the first flight. All the way to Amsterdam, it had been, "Chuck's a great guy, you'll really like him," and "Did I tell you about the time Chuck and I built a robot that could…"
Great guy or not, this Chuck was getting in the way of Sarah Walker's first vacation in a long, long time. A vacation with sex. Great sex, to boot.
She hated Chuck Bartowski already, and she hadn't even laid eyes on him.
Something nudged her foot. Sarah kept her body under rigid control at all times, so she didn't react. Inwardly, she just cursed her annoyance for getting in the way of her need to be alert, and rose to her feet. Bryce, across from her, did the same thing. Though they'd never had a problem maneuvering together in close environments before, Sarah shut him down with a look when she felt he was moving in too close to her personal space. He flashed her an unrepentant grin as he held both hands up in surrender.
"We're almost there!" he called over the engine noise. "Want to go first?"
"You should, you have a better idea where the damned bunker is."
Sarah shoved away the little voice in the back of her head that wondered why one of Bryce's college buddies would even be in a bunker. That voice was something she listened to only when she felt in danger, as it had saved her quite a few times before. And since she wasn't in danger right now, she'd ignore it and focus on being angry.
Bryce moved up to the position by the door. "Are you sure you're going to jump? You're not going to stay in the plane and just leave me hanging, are you?"
"If I said I'll jump, I'm going to jump, damn it. I've already come this far, haven't I?" She clipped her words intentionally, hoping that they might give him frostbite if she could infuse as much icy anger into them as possible.
No such luck. Bryce was good at ignoring her moods. It made him a great partner and a damned irritation at the same time.
Since she couldn't shoot him in Russian airspace without paperwork, Sarah decided she'd just not notice the laughing grin he gave her. She focused on one last check of her gear—a pared down version of what they usually preferred to jump with, as they likely weren't facing any hostiles on this trip (why Bryce would carry an extra pack, she had no idea)—before turning to buddy-check Bryce without meeting his gaze. He did the same thing.
"It's a pretty narrow jump window," he explained, for the second time. Inwardly, Sarah rolled her eyes. She had a damned near photographic memory, didn't she? Why did Bryce continually forget that? "So stay right on my ass."
Sarah ignored all of the things she'd been hoping to do to Bryce's ass in Cabo in order to bring up the currently more preferable image of kicking said ass. She gave Bryce a smile that had bite. "Uh-huh. Heard you the first time."
She gave him a silent nod.
"You'll really like Chuck, I promise. He's a good guy. One of the best."
She couldn't care less.
When the jump light over their heads turned green, Bryce didn't pause to give her his usual pre-jump grin, the one that always made her silly heart kick up a notch. He simply launched himself out into the cold open.
Sarah took a deep breath and followed.
Like most agents, she enjoyed skydiving into assignments. You didn't go into field work because you had a decent, stable home-life waiting for you to clock out at five o'clock and pick up dinner on the way home. In fact, only a government title separated most agents from those they were supposed to arrest. And field agents were the worst: adrenaline junkies, pure and simple. The good ones were just luckier or had noticed that one small detail during a mission or in everyday life, no matter how obscure, that could save their lives. Sarah hoped she would be one of the good ones.
She studied the landscape as she fell, letting the excitement and terror and sheer brilliance of the freefall course through her. Her mind automatically categorized anything that might be helpful at some point: landmarks like any nearby towns, streams, lakes, the terrain, temperature (bitterly cold, which only made her more annoyed at being cheated of Cabo). She knew parts of Siberia were supposed to be beautiful, but what they dropped over now was completely bleak.
The little voice wondered what sort of assignment Bryce's friend had pulled, that he would be stuck in this sort of thankless environment all the time?
Slightly below her, to her left, Bryce opened his chute.
Sarah silenced the voice and deliberately relaxed her body before she yanked the cord. The jerk still caught her, but not as hard, as the chute opened with a whoomph. The pilot hadn't been able to get them right over the bunker—something about airspace restrictions that she hadn't paid a lick of attention to—so they would have to make the final leg of the trip on snowshoe. She was already exhausted—the lowered oxygen in flight would always do her in—but she'd worked with worse. She'd trekked miles through the desert with two fractured ribs, hadn't she? Carina hadn't been much help on that particular assignment, as she'd been too busy trying to get them both killed, but they'd made it in the end, against all expectations. A few kilometers on snowshoe with travel fatigue was nothing compared to that.
She followed Bryce down, guiding her parachute with the ease of practice and repetition. Jumping inevitably made her think of those hellish weeks in Georgia, even though she'd only done two jumps with the steerable chute. She'd been Sandra then, Lieutenant Sandra Williamson, open, charming, fresh out of ROTC from a school nobody had heard of in Missouri, and an instant hit during the nightly poker games. Sarah had quite liked being Sandra, despite the long, grueling days of training in the soupy Georgia humidity.
Of course, Sandra Williamson had vanished off of the face of the earth when Sarah Walker, jump wings shiny and stored in a safety deposit box in Wyoming that nobody but herself knew about, had returned from "vacation."
The ground rushed at her, of course. It always seemed so distant until the last hundred feet or so, once she'd cleared the trees. At that moment, training took over. She loosened her body, tucking and rolling just as she'd been taught. It was more or less a textbook maneuver, softened by the snow. About two hundred feet away, Bryce executed a perfect landing, just like always. Sarah scanned the landscape as she yanked the parachute in, stuffing quickly. The area was so desolate that rapidly policing their drop zone probably didn't hold as much importance as it would have in a hot zone, but they both raced through the motions, even hip-deep in snow. Sarah unsnapped her snowshoes, stepped into them, and yanked the retractable ski-poles from her pack in one smooth motion.
She jogged the distance to Bryce, adjusting her balance to compensate for the snowshoes within only a few strides. It had been too long since that brief jaunt to Switzerland.
Together, they hurried for the trees.
It took less than a minute to vanish fully from sight. Once they were under cover, they paused momentarily to set up their gear, clipping the dormant beacons into their parkas, adjusting their facemasks and goggles. Though it pained her to run with so much covering her visibility, the cold had seeped in already—only a brisk pace would really push it back. So Sarah was prepared to keep up pace.
Bryce locked his GPS watch just under his parka cuff. "It's about eleven klicks and change," he said, frowning at the read-out. "Will you be all right with that?"
What was eleven kilometers through heavy snow when she could be sipping a damned margarita on a beach chair and listening to the waves crash? Sarah checked to make sure her S&W was tucked deep into her vest, where her body heat would keep it warm. She doubted the temperature around them was cold enough to cause problems during such a short exposure, but as an unwelcome presence in a friendly-yet-uncertain territory, she wasn't willing to risk a thing. Maybe she should just shoot Bryce right now, trek to the nearest train station, and go to Cabo anyway.
"I'll be fine," she said instead, adjusting the wrist straps for her ski poles. "What time is your friend expecting us?"
Bryce pulled his goggles on, adjusting the strap so that it fit over his ski-cap. "Ah, yeah. About that…"
Sarah glared. "You mean, you didn't even tell your friend we're just randomly dropping in on him?"
"It's supposed to be a surprise."
"Some surprise," Sarah muttered under her breath. "Maybe you should've just had him meet us. In Cabo!"
Of course, she wasn't sure how she'd feel about one of Bryce's old college buddies crashing what was supposed to be an exclusive vacation, one filled with a lot of foreplay and a lot more of what followed. And dammit, she had been looking forward to what followed. No dangerous situations, no shaky-kneed-Thank-God-We-Didn't-Die-Now-Let's-Screw urgency. Just two hard-bodied spies, a bunch of lazy hours on a beach towel, in a bed, hell, even in the Jacuzzi if they preferred.
"I barely got permission to go visit him," Bryce told her, drawing her thoughts back to the blistering cold reality of present. "C'mon, Sarah, he's stuck in a bunker doing government work. Let's go give the guy a thrill, okay?"
Sarah gave one final thought to a sex-and-sun-filled-trip, and sighed. "Fine. Lay on, Macduff."
"Oh, Shakespeare," Bryce said, laughing as they set out. "Nice. Sure you're still blonde under that hood?"
Sarah muttered something under her breath. If it sounded like "Thou poisonous bunch-back'd toad," well, she could always claim coincidence. Thankfully, Bryce didn't seem to hear her. He was too busy struggling with the snow. Even with their speed snowshoes, crafted to be lightweight and good for most any type of snow, it was going to be a long, cold walk to Chuck Bartowski.
17 NOVEMBER 2005
.8 KLICKS FROM BUNKER 77142135
"That's odd." Sarah forgot she currently wasn't speaking to her partner. When they were alone, and they noticed something off, it was a requirement to speak up. That was just the way it was.
He glanced back from where he was studying the horizon for trouble. "What is?"
"The sensor. You're sure it's the only one?"
"That's what the schematics Digital Dave gave me said. Why do you ask?"
"I don't know." Sarah sat back on her haunches, her snowshoes crunching a little on the snow as she did so. It hadn't taken her long to deactivate the sensor in a way that wouldn't alert the bunker's occupant. Bryce had insisted. He wanted the whole thing to be a surprise, and if they tripped the sensor, the surprise might be all theirs, as Chuck might be waiting for them with a gun. Sarah was personally of the opinion that there was going to be gunplay involved either way, unless this friend of Bryce's really didn't care about security at all.
"It feels off," she said, indicating the sensor panel. She'd dismantled it easily, which spoke more of the unit's shoddiness rather than her own skill. "Too easy to tamper with. We should stay alert—I probably missed something."
Though she doubted it. She was Sarah Walker, Langston Graham's pet pupil. She might not have been the brightest (though she came close), the fastest, or the best, but she was thorough, and she had a memory that could put geniuses to shame. She hadn't missed anything.
Bryce, for once, seemed to remember that. He nodded, dubiously. "All right. We'll work from there. If not, well, Chuck's a nice guy. I doubt he's going to ambush us. I'll go first, just to make sure that doesn't happen."
"My hero," Sarah muttered, sarcasm dripping.
She pushed off the exhaustion as they set out again, the level of alertness raised by the fact that they might be walking into an ambush. A little jetlag on top of a broken sleep pattern was nothing compared to what the top agents usually handled, even if it was so cold that she felt the few millimeters of exposed skin between her goggles and her facemask were going to blister. She really shouldn't have bitched so much about going into the desert all the time. She knew that memories faded pain and discomfort, but any place on the planet would be better than this mind-numbing cold. So she focused on not slobbering on her facemask, and keeping up with Bryce's pace. The cold, of course, made her hate Bryce Larkin and Chuck Bartowski all over again.
She'd never known hatred could be so comforting.
When the bunker came into sight, just a flat, unassuming building (very small building, she noted), Bryce glanced over his shoulder to grin at her. She rolled her eyes in reply.
The entrance into the bunker turned out to face the east, an overhang that kept snow from overwhelming the tunnel. It led downward at a sharp angle, telling Sarah that most of the bunker existed underground. They paused at the mouth to strip out of the snowshoes and facemasks, stowing everything neatly in their packs. Sarah surreptitiously checked her gun. Chuck might be a friend of Bryce's, but she had no idea what sort of effect such complete isolation would have on him.
She hoped it hadn't driven the guy crazy. She'd really hate to put a bullet in her partner's friend.
"Your friend better have hot cocoa in there," she warned Bryce as they shouldered their packs once more. After hours on snowshoes, it took a moment of adjustment to walk in her snow boots.
"And coffee," Bryce agreed, insanely cheerful after having moved over eleven kilometers of heavy snow. "Hold on just a second, I have to make a call."
He pulled out a satellite phone and stepped out of hearing range. Sarah frowned after him. What was going on now? Was this some sort of elaborate prank?
But when Bryce came back a couple of minutes later, he had no explanation. He just jerked his head to indicate that Sarah should follow him to the bunker door, and knocked. He had to knock twice more.
"Chuck!" Bryce called when there was no answer. He shot Sarah a confused look; she shrugged and tried to hide her aggravation. If they'd come all this way for nothing, well, she could always just steal Bryce's satellite phone to get back after she severed three major arteries and left him bleeding in the snow. Bryce pounded on the door again, obviously unaware of his partner's murderous bent. "C'mon, Chuck! Open up!"
Sarah's ears picked up the hesitant sound of boots on concrete. Then slap of somebody running, and the hurried motions of a door being unlocked. It opened with a groan. "Bryce!"
Though it wasn't terribly bright in the tunnel, the man in the bunker immediately threw up a hand over his eyes, blocking most of his face, from Sarah's view. She picked up other details in a heartbeat, though. He was tall—taller than Bryce and herself, and she was pretty tall for a woman. In fact, he was so tall that he stooped forward automatically to avoid hitting his head on the bunker ceiling. Sarah got a better look at his face when he hugged Bryce.
Her eyebrows went up as Bryce greeted his friend. He was bunker pale, yes, but she'd expected an unkempt, ragged appearance, rather than the clean-shaven visage presented to her. He'd even cut his hair into a military buzz-cut.
He still hadn't noticed her, which was okay. That gave her a moment more to categorize build—a build that didn't match the face, which was on the thin side—mannerisms, and even the way Bryce's body language changed completely. A real friend, Sarah realized.
"Yeah, like two minutes ago," Chuck Bartowski told Bryce, answering his question. "How did you—you pulled some strings, didn't you?" He didn't sound surprised in the slightest by that, which meant he had more than some familiarity with Bryce Larkin's inherent superpowers. "Come in, come in, it's cold out there!"
She saw the exact instant he noticed her. Because her eyes were much better adjusted to the light levels, she saw the dilation of his pupils, the way he straightened his shoulders, the shift in his stance. It was probably, the cynical side of her pointed out, the first time he'd seen a woman in forever. That explained the severity of the reaction.
It wasn't personal.
"Oh," was all he said. She raised an eyebrow as she brushed by, eager to get into the bunker and out of the cold.
It wasn't all that much warmer inside. And "confined" didn't even begin to describe it. Sarah took a deep breath, calming herself before the inevitable claustrophobia could start in. She wouldn't call it an outright phobia, her dislike of small spaces, but the lack of room immediately pressed against her mind, added to the dimmed lighting, and the concrete décor.
It was going to be a long forty-eight hours. Again, she thought of Cabo. This time, however, she just wished that Chuck had been able to get away from this place and join them there. Nobody should be put through this.
He, however, didn't seem at all bothered by the small space. "How'd you two get by the perimeter? The alarm never went off."
Because it was a piece of crap, Sarah thought, fighting the urge to yawn. The travel fatigue was catching up to her already? Maybe the tight space and dim lighting were weighing on her.
"That was all Sarah," Bryce said, as was custom. He liked deflecting all of the praise to Sarah and taking all of the blame, which was fine and good and all until the reality of having a martyr for a partner began to drag on you. "Sarah, this is Chuck Bartowski, the best wingman a guy could have. Chuck, my partner, Sarah."
"It's nice to meet you," Chuck said. He extended a hand around Bryce.
She had to move her bag back to shake his hand. Her hand was clammy and frozen from all of those hours in the cold, which meant that Chuck's hand felt gloriously warm when it wrapped briefly around hers. Beneath her parka and the four layers below it, something shivered down her spine. She dropped his hand quickly and stuck hers back in her pocket. "Likewise."
Had Bryce noticed her reaction? She hadn't hidden it as well as she'd have liked. So she covered, her voice intentionally dispassionate, "Um, is there somewhere we can put our bags? It's been a long day."
Bryce lifted an eyebrow. Sarah glared at him. She was cold, damnit. That was all.
"Right," Chuck said, clearing his throat. He gave them both a sheepish look. "Good point. Let me give you the tour, show you where you can drop your stuff. Though I warn you, it'll be a short tour."
He wasn't lying, Sarah saw very, very quickly. This was his entire world? She let Bryce and Chuck's conversation drift over her as she studied the area, automatically marking distances and spatial relationships in her head just in case they would come in handy later. Yeah, right, Sarah, when ninjas attack the bunker, she heard Bryce tease in her head. She chose to ignore that and glared at him when Chuck asked how long they were planning to stay.
Given the choice between Cabo and a throwback to Cold War, she'd still take Cabo, after all.
When Chuck asked about possible claustrophobia, she bit her lip, surprised when she wanted to actually answer that question with any modicum of honestly. What the hell?
Okay, so maybe she felt bad for the guy. He'd obviously drawn the short straw in government duty. He must be a whiz at Russian to be stuck out here, in the middle of nowhere, like the government's greatest secret.
The government's greatest secret also apparently had the diet of a five-year-old. Sarah wanted to roll her eyes when Bryce finally revealed the contents of the mystery pack. He'd come bearing gifts for his friend: a heart attack in a can. Spaghetti-Os? Really, Bryce? She asked the last question silently as she stowed her pack underneath the bunk next to Bryce's in the confined space.
Because the idiot always seemed to know her thoughts, whether he acknowledged it or not, Bryce just grinned over at her.
They ended up in the kitchen, the roomiest area in the entire bunker (although the bunk room was the only room where Chuck Bartowski could stand without stooping). Sarah tried not to sag back in her chair, holding herself upright only by sheer force of will. Maybe the journey had taken more out of her than she had thought, but it felt unusual to be this tired when she hadn't been in a gunfight, knife-fight (her favorite), or even a hand-to-hand battle. Of course, the fact that they had parachuted in, followed by a not-so-easy jog through eleven kilometers of waist-deep snow, after hours of planes, trains, and automobiles—added together, it more than explained her weariness. But she'd thought she had more gas in the tank, so to speak.
So she let Bryce do most of the talking. Besides, she wasn't even sure they were even using English. She could converse in as many dialects as she put her mind to, but the way the two nerds in the kitchen with her were tossing around words like "Yoda" and "Yoshi," "Dalek," and "Harkonnen," maybe it was just better to let it go. She sipped the powdered cocoa Chuck had made and focused on keeping her eyes open.
When Chuck demanded stories of their adventures, Sarah shared a brief look with Bryce, but continued to let him do the talking. He always made their adventures sound more exciting, anyway. Whenever she told a story, Bryce claimed it sounded like a post-op briefing. But damn it, at least she could tell that post-op briefing comfortably in five languages, and competently in three more. She'd like to see Wonder Boy Bryce do that.
A couple of times during his stories—his edited and exaggerated stories—Bryce nudged her with a foot, and she realized that her eyelids were starting to droop. She felt bad. Chuck was pretty much the perfect audience for Bryce. He was joking and attentive by turns, hanging onto every word spoken with an enthusiasm she didn't see much anymore. And even when Bryce exaggerated her own abilities into the realms of unrealism, Chuck didn't once give her a disbelieving look. He just accepted that she could single-handedly take out a cabal of renegades that had pinned her and Bryce down in South America. Not once did he scoff, demand "Her? Really?" or even crack a blonde joke.
Okay, so maybe she didn't hate Chuck Bartowski after all.
When Bryce launched into his rendition of the Paraguay story, Sarah rolled her eyes. They'd had reports from Graham that new recruits still told this story around the mess tables at the Farm, though thankfully Sarah's name had been removed early on. That poor, stupid goat. Their first mission in South America and not only had Bryce missed a drop-point thanks to tequila with the amigos, but she'd had the pleasure of escaping naked from an armed manor, and in the end, using only livestock to protect her assets. It was all Bryce's fault.
Though she had gotten to take down quite a few armed men with nothing more than Krav Maga and her wits. So there was something to be learned from the situation. Even a naked Sarah Walker is a badass Sarah Walker? Men certainly seemed to think so.
And Chuck rather adorably hung onto every word, even if Bryce edited the story somewhat, giving her at least an over-shirt in this tale. She sipped her cocoa and parsed his words. Maybe some unspoken rivalry between the two of them? Chuck seemed open and engaging despite his time underground, and very quick-witted. The type, Sarah realized, that wouldn't quite get just how charming and intelligent he could be. His unassuming air next to Bryce's calculated charisma had probably set up an ingrained competition during their time at college. Though, given the frequency and intensity of Chuck's smiles, she had to wonder if he knew about it at all.
"They kicked you out of the country?" Chuck demanded, and Sarah hid a jolt as that brought her crashing back into the conversation. She didn't normally let her thoughts wander this much, even when she was this logy. Maybe it was time to just let the two friends catch up without the awkward fifth wheel around. She was about to suggest that, but Chuck had turned that slightly awestruck gaze toward her. Just playing the good host and making sure all of his guests were having a good time.
"It was recommended that we leave," she said, her voice a bit rusty from disuse. "Recommended strongly."
Through a bullhorn, from the top of a tank. By a platoon of soldiers bearing M16 assault rifles.
"With guns," Bryce said, stating the obvious.
Chuck's awestruck look turned to sheer adoration. "You two live the coolest life. You really took out six guys by yourself, Sarah?"
She couldn't recall the exact number. She'd been fighting off interrogation drugs and had been more concerned about her state of undress than anything. Praise the gods that two years of seduction missions had cleared up the potential for any future embarrassment right up. Even so, with Chuck staring at her like that, with something akin to hero worship, she felt a little…uncomfortable. So she crossed her arms. "It was more like eight," came out of her mouth, though she had no idea why.
"Eight?" And there it was: puppy love.
Oh, great. She should probably nip that in the bud, no matter if it started a strange tingle at the back of her neck or not.
Definitely time to clear the room. Let Bryce work on his friend's idolizing. "Just another day's work," she said, and stood up. Her knees popped, and her body protested, but she kept herself upright. "I'm kind of tired." Understatement of the year. "Do you gentlemen mind if I take a nap?"
Apparently, that sent Chuck into babble mode. Somebody had drilled etiquette into him early on, she determined as he surged to his feet. Did he do that every time a woman came into and left a room? That was a rare bit of chivalry she never saw these days.
She didn't look at Bryce as she left. She didn't want to know what he thought of Chuck Bartowski's chivalry. Probably something snarky, which would only ruin the moment. So she just thanked Chuck and ducked into the bunk room, shutting the door firmly behind her. The temptation to stay at the door and listen lingered only for a few seconds.
Out of sight of the boys, she let her shoulders sag. She gave in to the tiredness for a moment, leaning against the bunk before she hunkered down to drag out her pack. Digging out clothes seemed to take up most of her energy reserves, so she staggered to the showering tube in the corner—and blinked.
"Creative little soldier, aren't you?" she said aloud, and nearly blushed. She wasn't the type to talk to herself. Ever. Maybe Bryce and Chuck's verbal back-and-forth was affecting her more strongly because of the exhaustion.
The setup that Chuck had rigged in the confined heat tube was just genius. He'd woven some kind of netting together, maybe out of old regulation uniforms, and had strung it up against one narrow wall of the heat tube, with pegs to make it easy to flip around so that only one half of the net was under the water spray. A pocket had been sewn into it to hold laundry soap, and there were clothespins to hang laundry from. An ingenious and efficient system.
She stripped down, hanging her clothes neatly on pegs that were protected from the water spray by a plastic curtain, and stepped under the spray.
The warm water made her go weak at the knees.
She didn't bother with her own soap, choosing to use what was readily available. She'd lived with worse than government body wash and shampoo. And the shower felt glorious, the hard spray clearing away some of the fatigue, leaving her to puzzle at its source. She prided herself on knowing her body, her limits, hell, even her mind well. So why the blitz of feebleness?
Oh well, she'd give the boys some privacy and take a nap anyway. It couldn't hurt to sleep while she could.
She spent an extra few minutes toweling her hair off. Thankfully, all the wispy blonde dried quickly. If she'd been born with thick hair, she'd probably have a miserable time in the bunker, as it would never dry and she hadn't felt that a hairdryer was exactly a good addition to a pack during a HALO jump. No wonder Chuck kept his hair in a buzz-cut.
Dressed, parka in hand, she practically sprinted across the bunk room and dove into the bunk. The sooner she got into the sleeping bag and tucked in, the sooner it would warm up. She huddled down into the bag so that only her forehead would be visible to anybody in the bunk room. It smelled…pleasant, she decided. Since the agent lifestyle included both five star hotels and dung-heap hovels, she could sleep through any sort of odor, reek, or stench. But Chuck hadn't been lying when he'd claimed he showered daily.
Surrounded by warmth and the comforting scent, she was out in minutes.
17 NOVEMBER 2005
She stirred when the bunk door opened, and shot to full wakefulness at the sound of footsteps, automatically reaching for the gun she'd stashed under the pillow.
"It's just me." She couldn't see Bryce's smile in the dimness, but she could hear it in his voice. "Relax, go back to sleep."
She blinked away grogginess. Because her mind had engaged itself automatically, sleep wouldn't come back quickly. She should've packed a sleep mask. Grumbling, she moved her watch into the narrow beam of light the door let in and read the time. "Where's Chuck?"
"He noticed that I was trying to nose-dive into the table, and insisted I get some shut-eye. I'm gonna take a shower. Get some more sleep."
It was a useless thing to say. While he was moving about the room, she'd just doze. They both knew it. She yawned and stretched, keeping her eyes closed while he rummaged around his pack and disappeared into the heat tube. The door muffled the sound of water somewhat, but not enough for her to get back to sleep, so she dug around in her pack one-handed until she found the small book she'd allowed herself to carry. Just four extra ounces, and somehow, extremely vital. She flipped to the dog-eared page and began to read, though she'd memorized all of the words years before, how they looked, how the ink had bled with age and the porosity of the pages.
Damn near photographic memory, indeed.
When Bryce came out, freshly shaved and showered, she had her fingers crossed behind her head and was studying the underside of the bunk above. The book lay facedown on her chest. "How does he do it, do you think?"
"Hmm?" Bryce, of course, neatly began to fold and stow all of his dirty laundry into his pack. He'd beaten her scores at Fort Benning and Brandon Lear had made more friends there than Sandra Williamson. It was one of their many competitions.
Right now, Sarah didn't care. "How does he exist in such a cramped space? And still find ways to be cheerful?"
"That's Chuck Bartowski for you." Bryce's hands slowed as he packed the clothing away. Sarah noticed. "He and his sister, they're both that way. Damned affable, and can take anything life throws at them, which is a lot."
So another CIA member with an actual family somewhere, just like Bryce. "Does he see his sister at all?"
"I'm sure he does."
That was a lie, Sarah decided, but she'd let Bryce have it. For now.
"Is it bothering you?" Bryce asked as he zipped his pack up.
Sarah didn't have to ask what he meant. They'd had to develop something scarily akin to telepathy to survive as much as they had together. She moved a shoulder. "I'm fine."
"The lack of space isn't—"
"Bryce, I'm fine." She edged just enough annoyance into her words to remind him that he wasn't quite off the hook about Cabo yet, charming college friend or not. When he shrugged back at her and started to climb into the top bunk, she levered herself up onto her elbows. "What are you doing?"
"Getting some sleep."
"What? There's only two bunks in here. Where's Chuck going to sleep?"
Bryce, on the top bunk now, leaned over so that she could see his face, hanging upside down, over her bunk. "He said he's going to sleep in his desk chair. He wanted to get some work in on a gadget."
"He shouldn't have to sleep in his desk chair."
"That's Chuck Bartowski for you. Besides," and Bryce's grin turned devilish, "if he can't sleep, he can just crawl in with one of us. It'll probably be you. Poor guy hasn't seen a woman in months. It's really the least you could do."
"Or you can get your ass down here and get in the damn sleeping bag with me, so that we're not literally kicking the poor guy out of his bed."
"Sarah, is now really the time? I mean, wouldn't that just be rubbing it in the poor guy's face?"
Sarah shut him down with one extremely icy look. "Oh, you think you're actually going to get sex from me in the next six months? Cabo, Bryce Christopher Larkin. I bought a new bikini and everything, which I honestly don't think I'm going to get to use here." She blew out a puff of air, her breath condensing briefly in the cold.
"Oh, I don't know, I think the cold would make you look rather fetch—" Bryce, perhaps finally sensing the homicidal flavor to her icy stare, abruptly stopped. "Okay, never mind. I'm sorry about Cabo, Sarah."
"But Chuck'll be fine. The guy can sleep anywhere. You should've seen him back at Stanford. He's like a chiropractor's worst nightmare." Bryce's head vanished. She heard him yawn, and it seemed genuine. "Seriously, if it bugs him, tell him to crawl in with you. One of us guys should get lucky while we're here, and why not Chuck Bartowski, right?"
Why not Chuck Bartowski? Sarah rolled her eyes, but kept her fingers away from her knives just in case temper overtook her. It wouldn't do to put a hole in one of Chuck's bunks—or her partner, either, though admittedly she'd feel a little less bad about that.
She carefully replaced her book in her pack and burrowed into the sleeping bag again.
She blamed both the scent and Bryce's lewd comments for the dreams that followed.
A/N The Second: Perhaps proving mxpw's point, I couldn't squeeze all of the fun Sarah story into one chapter, so To Resist Wind and Tide: The Bunker Years will be three chapters long. Not sure when the next chapter is coming out, but I'll have a better definite date when I post What Fates Impose Chapter 19: The Many Faces of Chuck and Sarah on Saturday. Speaking of which, here are some spoilers from that!
"Did you just say neck in the library?"
A snicker. "Well, why not? You've already seen me naked."
Chuck made a noise that was somewhere between a yelp and a "meep."
Awesome, meanwhile, chuckled. "I love how you can do that. It's like you have a database in your head."
Chuck and Sarah stared at him.
"What is it?" Awesome glanced behind him, possibly searching for the ghost that had evidently made Chuck pale.
"Something's up with Ellie," he said as he and Sarah headed for the concession stand. "She's suspicious about something."
"Probably just worried that her upstanding little brother is boffing his secretary."
Chuck choked on nothing but air.
"Ohmigod," said a voice, a voice that sounded absurdly like the illegal crossbreed between Sarah Walker and a Valley Girl. Chuck blinked foggily at his companion, who had shifted from the somewhat-reserved secret agent he knew and adored to something from the planet Malibu.