Heya! So I know I keep saying "one-shot" and then coming back with more after I wrote "The Heart of the Matter" and "Do the Right Thing." But I feel that these pieces stand better on their own even though they're basically, for all intents and purposes, a series. So here's what's happening: This piece directly follows THOM and DORT, and is from Sarah's perspective. Later this week, I'll post a piece from Chuck's perspective, which will follow this one chronologically. In each piece, the protaganist will get to the point where s/he is ready to move forward in season 4; basically, together they'll cover what I see as the first episode (ie, the tiny reset to get everything back to a modified status quo for the rest of the season). The title from this piece and the next one together form the first line of Aqualung's "Easier to Lie."
And yes, I'm still working on Ties that Bind. Update by the end of the week I swear! In the meanwhile, I'm updating the already-posted chapters so that the piece basically goes AU after S3.
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck. Or Aqualung.
Please read and review!
Neither of them speaks on the 40-minute drive to Encino. It's almost midnight, after all, and it's been an absolutely draining few days. Stephen Bartowski had died on Thursday, and it's only Sunday night. Neither has to work the next morning, obviously, so they could sleep in, but Sarah nevertheless fights to stay awake.
Chuck parks in the driveway of an empty-looking house obviously built in the mid-1970s. The way he enters — confidently dodging a loose brick, stepping around a rickety step — makes her realize he's been here recently. The way he stares at the house makes her realize that it's not just any old house.
"Is this where you grew up?" she asks as he enters a code via the doorbell.
"Yeah," he says, opening the door to reveal furniture draped in white sheets and dust. "Dad left when I was a junior in high school; Ellie was a sophomore in college. She got temporary custody of me and commuted the rest of the year, but after I graduated we decided to sell the house. It sold really quickly, in like a day, to a lawyer representing a family that was moving out to LA but couldn't come out, or so we were told. We got a ton of money for it, way over what we'd put it up for, all upfront, and they told us to leave the furniture in it. We bought the condo and used the rest to cover school. Now I realize my dad probably bought the house."
"Your dad?" she asks, her eyebrows rising involuntarily.
"Yeah," he says. "I … got a text, right before dinner, and it led me to a video message was programmed to send if … anything happened to him." He steps over to a light switch, flicks it in a sort of Morse code. "Ok, don't freak out." She waits patiently. She's just told him, after all, that he needs to let her in and trust her, and it wouldn't look great if she freaked out about whatever the hell Stephen Bartowski has left him.
She has to admit, though, that she isn't expecting an underground lair with a high-tech security system and a secret entrance right in front of the stone hearth.
"What is this place?" she stares at a row of boxes with meticulous labels. "Ted Roark?" she stops at this one to pop the lid and peek inside. No such luck — the box, while innocuous enough, is latched securely. Chuck backtracks to her, flips the label down to reveal a tiny control panel, and enters a code. The lid magically loosens and she's able to discern papers, photos, and several CDs and drives.
"There's so much crazy-cool technology that Dad invented down here," Chuck says, his voice laced with reverence.
"Why, um, why did your dad put all this together?" she asks, careful to keep her voice neutral. Stephen Bartowski had been sweet and charming and unfailingly kind, but she also knew that her first impression — him doddering around that ridiculous trailer and insisting he was being watched — held more than a touch of truth that Chuck would rather ignore.
From his pocket, Chuck fishes out a small charm and holds it up. She takes it, scrutinizing it closely. It's a little-boy charm from one of those mother's love necklaces that were so popular when she was a child. Briefly, she flashes back to her own mother's necklace — three little skirts dancing in a row. She closes her eyes. This isn't the time.
"This is half of a necklace that I broke about three days before our mom left," he says. He points to another locked file box. "I think — I haven't listened to everything yet, but I think my dad wants me to find my mom. He said — he said, he did it all for her."
If possible, her eyebrows scoot up even more. "He wants you to find your mom?"
"Yeah," he breathes, before moving to an Orion laptop and clicking open several files. "My mom — she was a neuroscientist. Worked at USC. She … wasn't as eccentric as him. I — I remember her being pretty demanding, actually. Goal-oriented. We always figured she got fed up with everything and just left. But that makes no sense. She loved her work, and the research mattered way too much for her just to abandon it when she got sick of Dad and of us."
She notices a box labeled Missing: Mary Elizabeth Bartowski, right by the computer. "So you think she was kidnapped?" That makes little sense, either. Unless … "What kind of research was she doing?"
He grins, delighted that she's caught up to him. "My dad had been working for the CIA at this point, out of his lab at CalTech and our house. He'd been working on the Intersect for almost 10 years with them. But … it hit me today, the computer requires a pretty in-depth understanding of neurobiology. And my dad probably took some bio and psych, but his degrees were in engineering, physics and computational science and he mostly worked in theoretical microcomputing." Her eyes dart back and forth involuntarily, signaling that she has no clue what any of this means, and he corrects with a, "Right. So, basically, he couldn't have built the Intersect himself. And that's where my mom comes in. A few of her research papers are uploaded here — she studied neural networks, and image retention, basically just computational neuroscience."
She rolls her eyes again. "So she could have provided the knowledge your dad lacked?"
"I didn't get a chance to dig through everything, but it definitely looks like she did," he says. He's got a box open on the table, and he points to it. "These are the first schematics for the Intersect. They've got two sets of handwriting on them. Later drafts only have my dad's."
"So what happened? And what does your dad want you to do? What has he been doing since your mom disappeared?"
"Well, from what I can tell — and it's going to take a while to figure everything out," she inhales deeply, unsure where this is going, "he was with the CIA until he purged his files and disappeared when I was 17. But he didn't trust the CIA after she left because they said they couldn't find her, so he's spent the last several years tracking down privatized intelligence cabals, similar to the Ring and Fulcrum, as well as trying to find her on his own. He didn't think the CIA could actually track these groups properly."
"He thinks an operation like the Ring tracked her down?"
"Actually, it seems …" his voice trails off.
"What, Chuck?" she demands.
"It kind of … That's one option that he was pursuing. But the other one … It seems like what he thinks happened is the CIA decided they were getting too close and the project was actually too dangerous for implementation into humans. Mom absolutely didn't want them to stop, so they kidnapped her, ensuring that the implementation side couldn't be developed but the data collection and mining could be." He bites his lip, clearly waiting for her to answer.
She wants to believe him, she does. But it makes no sense — "Why would the CIA kidnap her? And how would that actually stop anything, if they had her and access to what your father was creating? Wouldn't it be more likely that some rogue group snatched her?"
"Yes, but there wasn't a ransom, and if they wanted to build an Intersect, they would need both of them. We never even moved. Someone would know how to snatch him if they took her. That's why he thought it was the CIA. They didn't want the technology. They would want to stop the technology from falling into the wrong hands. He … it looks like he'd never been a huge fan of the human Intersect and its implications, but he finished it because she wanted it so much." That fit, a little too well, with Stephen Bartowski's ambivalence when he found out his son's occupation, she thinks grimly.
"Is there any chance she might have gone off-grid? Any threats against you and Ellie that would make her want to stay away to protect you?" she asks, desperately.
"Not as far as my dad could tell, apparently," he shakes his head. "I don't really know what all's here yet, or what exactly happened. And he definitely wasn't positive, based on the leads it looks like he was following. I've just got a lot of different boxes here, and a lot of notes, and it sounds like my dad wants me to … finish this."
"Finish what? Orion's spy-cowboy missions?" She emphasizes Orion so that he might get how … vigilante the statement sounds. Besides, "Chuck, you just quit spying. Freelancing is ten times more dangerous than working with the CIA. Ellie will kill you, you know." After I do.
"If our mom's out there, and didn't just walk away from us, Ellie will want to know," he replies resolutely. It's true, she knows. The Bartowskis always put family first. "And I don't know if it's just finding our mom or doing something bigger, all I know is I just inherited a Batcave with a lot of intel on some very bad people."
"At least if you're with the CIA you won't get charged for treason when you're tracking these groups. Chuck, this is incredibly dangerous! And you can't do this alone!" Her pitch rises higher as she thinks, wildly, about what could happen to him, to her — to them — if the CIA finds out about this.
"I was thinking that I'd just start with seeing if I can find out anything about what happened to our mom. Or at least whether or not the CIA had anything to do with it. The rogue groups … let's wait on those." At her pained, skeptical look, he adds, "I'm not asking you to believe me, I'm just asking you to trust me. Hell, I'm not sure if I believe myself yet."
She doesn't know if he realizes he's throwing her words back at her, but it makes her pause and inhale deeply. "All right. Thank you for showing me this." They need to work their ways out of this, as a team, as a couple, and getting angry and letting her temper rise won't work.
"Thank you for not calling Beckman or killing me the second I flipped that light switch," his lips curl upwards before he starts shifting from one foot to the next. "Next, I kind of wanted to ask you if you'd help me with this. I promise we'll get a week in St. Tropez or Bali or wherever, but if you've got three months…"
She hesitates. All she wants to do is say yes, but there are so many potential flaws in that plan. "Chuck, this is a long-term rogue operation. If I help, and don't clear this and someone finds out, I go to jail for treason. We both do. Your father went totally off-grid to do this. We can't. We have Ellie, and Awesome, and Casey, and Morgan. Every time we've thought about running, all the reasons we haven't? They're still in play, just with even higher stakes." She thinks fleetingly of the normal, quiet life she'd allowed herself to envision earlier that night, and quashes it.
"He was doing this independently for 20 years! Who says we can't?"
"Me quitting, us going off-grid — that would look too suspicious! Besides," and she knows she's going for the jugular, "you can't lie to Ellie again. And if I do, I'm pretty sure she'd kill me."
"Sarah Walker, are you scared of Ellie Bartowski?" he asks wryly, clearly desperate for some levity.
She looks him dead in the eye. "Yes. I've put you in danger multiple times over the past few years, and that cannot sit well with her. Besides, right now, it kind of looks like I was just … using you."
"Sarah Walker, I promise to protect you from the wrath of Ellie Bartowski," Chuck intones. "And I give you permission to use me in any way that you want from here on out."
She laughs a little, but rolls her eyes. "Come on, Chuck. You're scared of Ellie — you agreed to quit, no questions asked, no talking with me, when she told you to." She hadn't meant to say the 'no talking with me' part but she figures it's important now, with the whole honesty bit. "Sorry," she recants quickly.
"No, you're right, it was rash," he says, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Okay, maybe that won't work," he looks at her hopefully. "Any other ideas? Sarah, I know I quit but I … can't just let this stuff sit here."
"I know, I know, that's not you," she muses. She's stumped, though. They're honestly pretty stuck.
Then, though —"What if we negotiate?" Sarah says, a smile slowly growing on her face. "We can let the CIA know we have all this intel. We get Beckman to create a task force to chase these leads down, have the protection of the CIA but work … so deep that we operate independently. Given the amount of data we're offering on these groups —" she scans the labels, recognizing a few of them, knows that they're so enormous and so hush-hush that it can work. "If they catch us digging into your mom, we can just pass it off as an obsession of your dad's."
Chuck looks like he really wants to go for it, but then adds, "But in his message, Dad says the stuff he was doing was stuff that governments were scared to do."
"We have leverage that your dad didn't, though. Beckman owes us — owes you. She let you go but she'll still want you back. I'm a problem because she doesn't want to lose me but knows I won't leave LA. Plus, she trusts us. She knows we won't misappropriate it. We'll get the protection of the CIA and control of the intel and the operations." Yes. This will work. She thinks of Daniel, and Bryce, and how they both operated with near-free rein and still had the protection of the government. Obviously, she's not about to offer up those comparisons, but they are good examples.
But more importantly, this plan has to work. It's a dangerous solution, much too dangerous for Ellie's liking, and it will expose them to people and groups more dangerous than the Ring or Fulcrum. But this admittedly an optimistic plan is the only way she sees them preserving what's important and having a chance in hell of staying in LA (and, god, if Carina could hear that statement, she would die).
As he realizes the potential brilliance of this simple plan, he scoops her up and even twirls her before kissing her. "I've mentioned you're incredible before, right?" he asks breathlessly, before planting another one on her.
"Not lately," she says, and it's good to see him happy again. "A few things, first, though."
"Well, first, I would like that vacation. We book tickets tomorrow, to somewhere you can get some rest and all I need to pack is some sunscreen and 10 bathing suits."
"So done," he murmurs, peppering kisses over the bridge of her nose before settling on her mouth.
"Second," she leans out of the kiss, "we tell Ellie. Before we leave."
He sighs, twirls a strand of her hair. "Alright."
"Third," she says, struggling on how to phrase this. "We're in this together. We re-evaluate at least once a year. We tell each other how we're feeling. If it's too dangerous, if one of us wants out — we quit and we stick to it. And we do quit deep-cover eventually, OK? I do not want to be the Turners."
"Deal," he says. "That's a good one, by the way. Nobody's going to believe us if we keep saying we quit and don't."
"Thanks," she smiles. "Fourth," she loops her hands around his shoulders and links them, scratches the hair on the nape of his neck, "if we do this — go through all this information, work through these leads — there are going to be answers that you might not like. Are you OK with that? Will you be ready?" This is the most important question, the one that worries her the most.
He pauses, and she knows that he hasn't completely thought this through, that he's being Chuck, with his heart on his sleeve.
He exhales slowly. "Yeah. I am. Are you?" She nods mutely, and he kisses her forehead. "Well. That's settled."
"Good. I love you."
"Love you too."
They spend several hours poring through files before crashing in Chuck's tiny twin bed from his childhood. It's tight — his legs basically fuse to hers, and he grabs her with a death-grip so she doesn't topple off — but she knows she would much rather sleep under the musty plaid covers in a room plastered with decades-old sci-fi posters than in Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski's old bedroom. When she wakes up, he is practically on top of her, his face nestled in the crook of her neck.
"Umph, Chuck, move," she mumbles, shifting him off her but knowing he won't wake up (she is always the first one up). He rolls off her with a grunt and burrows back under the sheets. Smiling, she gets up, checks her reflection in the dusty mirror surrounded by comic strips tacked up by Chuck in 1995 (the humidity has made her natural waves, which she always tries so hard to wrestle into something presentable, spring up messily) and heads into the kitchen on the off chance that there might be food. There's nothing, of course, but she finds some cleaning supplies and begins tidying up. Unnerved by the silence, she grabs Chuck's laptop and starts playing the Beach Boys, one of the few groups she actually knows.
"Whoa," Chuck says, sleepily entering the kitchen a half-hour later. "Cleaning and listening to music? Who are you and what have you done with my girlfriend?"
She smiles and folds the laptop shut. "Morning, sleepyhead," she leans up for a closemouthed kiss. "Let's please go home?"
He grins at the word 'home' and, really, he is too easy to read.
It's a busy day — she books tickets for Hawaii, departing the next day, because it's the nearest real getaway. Impulsively, she books them to D.C. for two days at the end of the trip, figuring this conversation with Beckman should be face-to-face. He arranges dinner with Devon and Ellie before starting to organize of his dad's files. She packs for both of them, a kind-of-difficult task, considering that he's working in the same space. She wonders idly if they should get a bigger place, or at least reclaim Morgan's room. That, however, is not a battle she's going to start. She goes on a run and decides to do takeout instead of cooking because she is not emotionally ready to have her cooking judged by Ellie.
"After dinner, I was thinking we should go over and talk to Casey," Chuck says as they're setting the table for the Thai.
"Good idea," she replies, straightening the tablecloth. The doorbell rings. "OK. You're sure about all this?" She's not. She's tired and she's nervous and she doesn't want to do dinner and she's pretty sure she doesn't want to do this … project either. So she can only hope that he is. Give and take.
"Yep," he kisses her briefly. "We can do this."
They let Ellie and Devon in, and Ellie's got a bottle of wine, because that's who Ellie is. They check to make sure everyone's coping well enough, and Ellie, as they're finishing the meal, thanks them for having people over two nights in a row.
"Well, sis, we do have a bit of an ulterior motive," Chuck says, setting down his wine glass. Sarah, who's just been pushing food around for the last 15 minutes, sets her hands in her lap. "Well — so first, just a head's up, but we're going to Hawaii and then D.C. tomorrow, and we'll be back in about 10 days."
"D.C.?" Ellie asks, her eyes narrowing slightly.
"I still have an apartment there," Sarah says. "I haven't been there much in the past three years, and I want to get a few things." This is technically true.
"And — and I know you're going to want to kill me, Ellie — we need to talk to General Beckman face-to-face. It's about … it's about what Dad left me."
"Left you, Chuck?" Ellie demands, and Sarah knows this isn't going to be pleasant. She tops off her wine glass.
"I got a message prerecorded by Dad," Chuck says, looking directly at his sister, speaking in that confident, no-nonsense agent voice that she is used to, but Ellie is not. "It was programmed to send if something happened to him. It led me to the basement of our house in Encino, where Dad had installed a … Batcave," she rolls her eyes, but the name is obviously sticking. "Dad was a spy for most of his life, Ellie. He didn't trust the CIA, though, and when he left us he left them, too. What's in that basement is what he's been working on. And he … left it for me."
"Chuck, you just told me that you quit. Yesterday! Can't you two just turn it over to someone else?" Ellie clangs her fork on her plate, accidentally, but it adds a nice emphasis.
"Ellie, some of this information … is about why Mom left. I can't let someone else do that."
"Why is information about why our mother walked out on us in our dead father's super-secret spy lair?" Ellie insists, near-tears.
And suddenly Sarah realizes that Ellie has no idea why Chuck became a spy, or what the Intersect is, and dinner feels infinitely longer. "Chuck," she says nervously, scratching the side of her lip and taking another sip of wine. "I don't think … I don't think we've told Ellie why we met."
Comprehension floods Chuck's face, and he closes his eyes momentarily. "Devon told me you were an agent first, Sarah, and that you met when Chuck was recruited," Ellie says irritably.
"That's not why we met," Chuck says. "Or not exactly." Sarah takes another long drink. "What we tell you can't leave the room," Ellie starts stroking her forehead like she can feel a headache coming on; truthfully, Sarah already has one. Chuck leans forward and looks at his sister with a scared, hopeful gaze. "Seriously. This is so top-secret I'm not sure the president knows about it."
"No, he knows," Sarah feels compelled to point out. "But the only living, non-incarcerated, non-governmental civilians are … well, Morgan. And now you two."
"Right, so that's what we're working with. But, please don't freak out," Chuck swallows before finally spilling it all. "We can't tell you everything, but, Ellie, on my 26th birthday Bryce Larkin sent me an e-mail containing all the files from a computer called the Intersect. He was a CIA agent. The files contained all the CIA's and NSA's secrets, and I accidentally downloaded them into my brain. What I downloaded causes me to "flash" when I look at something — sometimes it's a face, other times it's a license plate or a voice or something — and provides me with information. At first Sarah and Casey were here to protect me; about a year ago, I started seriously training and they led that too. When we found Dad, Sarah and Casey and I discovered that Dad had actually designed the original Intersect. What Sarah and I found in the old house was that Mom may have been working on the Intersect as well and that might, somehow, have been a factor in her leaving us," he pauses, waiting for her reaction. Here, have more wine."
Stunned, Ellie asks, "So, what? Mom was kidnapped? And you have a computer in your head? And Bryce Larkin from Connecticut was a spy?"
"Yeah. And I know the computer-in-the-head is a little much," Chuck said, and Sarah reached out to take his hand. He squeezes her fingers gently. "But, see, Ellie, this is why I have to do this. That's why these stakes are so high. Why I — we — have to be the ones tracking down these groups. If Mom's out there, and didn't just … abandon us, I have to know. I want to know. I want you to know."
"Chuck, you promised you would quit. Promised."
"I did quit," he says. "But I need to do this, El."
"So, what, you're just going to play Sherlock Holmes and go through these files and track her down? What if she's with terrorists?"
"Then we'll get her back. Or at the very least get answers," Chuck replies simply. "Ellie, I can do this. Sarah and I can do this. This … You have to take it on faith that I'm really good at this. And Sarah's even better."
"I saw her take down Casey once," Awesome cracks, and Sarah tries not to smile.
"You two are just a regular Mr. and Mrs. Smith," Ellie mutters, taking her wine glass again. "Neither of you think this is dangerous? At all?"
Sarah decides that Ellie will never, ever find out about the guns in the sofa. "We think it is dangerous," she says. "But we think this is worth it."
"Worth getting killed?" Ellie challenges, tears threatening to overwhelm her again.
They exchange a look. "Ellie, neither of us wants to die, or plans on dying anytime soon. But if we've got this information and a way to find Mom we need to use it."
"I don't suppose you'll quit when you find her?"
"We … I think we both want to settle down eventually and just have barbeques with you guys and … whatever," barbeques sound super-normal, at least to Sarah. "And finding your mom is a priority right now. But we don't know what our timetable on everything is. Once we talk to our boss, we're probably going to just work with the stuff your dad left us, not … not any new stuff. We're just finishing what he started."
"Well that makes me feel so much better," Ellie huffs. "Excuse me, I'm just going to go … process this … outside." She grabs her wine glass and swings out of the room.
The room is silent after she leaves. Chuck slumps in his chair. "I should go after her," Awesome says.
"No, I should," Chuck says, halfheartedly standing.
"Let me," Sarah says, summoning the courage she used to use to fight Afghani nationals.
"Sarah, are you sure?"
"Yes. She's worried that you're in danger and I'm the only one who can actually try and convince her you're not."
Chuck nods, visibly relieved (wimp), and hands her her glass of wine. He then tops it off for her. "There you go," he says, kissing her cheek. She rolls her eyes.
Ellie's sitting at the fountain, staring at the water. She doesn't look up when Sarah walks out. "He's really good at what he does, you know."
Ellie finally looks up. "He could be the world's greatest con man, but that doesn't mean I'd be happy with his choice of occupation." Sarah flinches. "How do you do this on a day-to-day basis? I thought you made fro-yo, for God's sake! It was a little weird because you seemed too smart, but Chuck was at a BuyMore, for crying out loud, so I thought, hey. Whatever. A little weirdness is the norm around here."
"I needed to be close to the BuyMore, so I got a low-maintenance job in the strip mall," she admits. "I actually went to Harvard." What? It was a point of pride.
Ellie laughs a little and shakes her head. "How do you not see this as dangerous? You say you love Chuck, how can you two both be OK with just getting in car chases and shoot offs and … everything."
She looks hard at Ellie. "Because he loves it, and he's good at it, and he feels he has a purpose and he's helping people. And I'm not going to stay in the way of him doing that, especially if he thinks he can find your mom."
Ellie stares at her, realization breaking across her face. "I realize I'm probably over-reacting," she starts.
"I don't think you are," Sarah insists. "But I think you don't know what Chuck can do, how well he handles himself in the field. He's saved me more than once."
"Actually saved-your-life saved you?" Ellie asks, closing her eyes.
Sarah nods and takes another gulp of wine. "And Casey and I always have his back in the field. We're all as safe as possible."
"You mean, as safe as possible given that you're shooting people?" Ellie briefly composes herself. "Sorry. Over-reaction again."
"I know you're upset that he couldn't tell you …"
"Didn't," Ellie corrects. "Devon and Morgan both are on the need-to-know list, apparently."
"They found out accidentally," she says. "But the point is, I know that you're upset, and you're worried that he's in danger. And I was … When Chuck decided to actually become a spy last year, I worried that he would change, that he wasn't ready, that it would destroy him, that … I couldn't protect him," she looks down. "But he's still Chuck. Just a better Chuck, honestly. All those changes to him over the past few years, the ones that you always say were because of me? They weren't. They were because he found this; he found something he was really good at. I know … that morality is relative for spies, but Chuck's the best person I've ever met, spy or not. And he does this because he loves you, and Morgan and Devon, so much."
"And you?" Ellie cocks an eyebrow.
"And me," Sarah acknowledges. "I know it sounds ridiculous and there's been so much to process lately, but I swear, Ellie, Chuck's the most cautious agent out there. And he wants to do this … That's the most important thing, isn't it?"
Ellie smiles a little. "When we were little, my dad made me promise I'd always protect him. And this is just … so beyond anything I imagined."
"Ellie, when I was brought here my entire job revolved around protecting Chuck. And it was just … mildly terrifying every time he got out of the car, because I knew that if anything happened to him … I wouldn't be OK. Casey says I'm still hyper-vigilant on missions. But he's as safe as he can be out there. And, for what it's worth," she bites her lip, "I'm looking out for him. And he's looking out for me."
"Well, if anyone is going to make sure he's OK out there, I'm very glad it's you," Ellie says, pulling her legs up and very clearly switching into Girl Talk Mode. "So this is why you two were always "complicated"? The CIA? That makes so much more sense than Chuck being flaky and you being a commitment-phobe."
Sarah sighs, taking a large drink. "It was a little more than that." She knows she probably shouldn't tell Ellie all this, but dammit, she wants to. She has not done a girl talk in ages; the only person she's had them with is Carina, so she's probably never done it right anyways, but she needs to set things straight with Ellie. Off Ellie's confused look, she confesses, "We weren't … official until right before you left for Africa. It started just as a cover — we needed an explanation about why I was suddenly around, why Chuck was gone so much. But we … liked each other from the start, which complicated things, because it was very explicitly forbidden. We couldn't really act on or say what we were feeling. It led to a lot of crossed signals. So sometimes, we didn't know how to handle everything — the cover, the non-cover, when our cover was 'having trouble' but we were friends, when we weren't great but the cover was supposed to be smooth, other people — "
"Oh, my god, Sarah, stop. This is worse than Friends. Have a drink," Ellie says, entranced and overwhelmed. "That sounds … miserable." Ellie puts a reassuring hand on her arm.
"It wasn't fun," she admits, taking a long, slow drink of wine. Staring at the glass, she wonders how many she's had, exactly, that night. "Anyways, we really did get into a big fight last summer, and then I couldn't do a cover relationship anymore because I was so mad at him, so we tried being friends and dating other people but … what can I say? He's tough to give up on."
"Well, thank you for being there for him," Ellie says. "I'm never going to be happy with this lifestyle, you know."
"I do," Sarah replies. "Just please don't worry about him too much. He's not alone. And … I'm sorry. For lying to you for the past three years, and forcing Chuck to lie. It was necessary, but I haven't been happy about it for a long time."
"I suppose there's going to be more of the same now?"
Sarah hesitates. "We're going to tell you as little as possible. But if we have to … yes. The only person I don't lie to is Chuck. And please, trust me when I say it's better for your peace of mind if it's just don't ask, don't tell."
There's a very long silence as Ellie evaluates her. "OK," she finally says. "But — are you two are really going to Hawaii? Or is that a secret mission thing?"
"It's really a vacation. I need a beach and for Chuck to recuperate from last week," she swears. "D.C. is because I'd like to show Chuck around and we need to talk to our boss about the inheritance."
Ellie beams. "Sister hug?"
"Of … of course," Sarah says, a little surprised.
"You know, I really am glad Chuck has you," Ellie says as they break apart.
Devon comes out of the apartment then, hands shoved in his pockets. "Hey, ladies," he says, "Chuck snuck over to Casey's a bit earlier, he wanted you to join them, Sarah, when you two are done. El, ready to go home?"
"Yeah," Ellie says, standing and stretching. "Wow, today has been exhausting. Sarah," she opens her arms again and hugs her. "Thank you. For … everything."
"Anytime," she says, enjoying the easy feeling of family. Devon spreads his arms, too, so she hugs him. "Thank you guys, for, you know …" being there. Being everything. "Being … so awesome," she finishes.
After another round of hugs, she watches them cross the tiny courtyard and enter their condo. Smiling, she raps on Casey's door before entering. For the first time in four days, she thinks things might actually turn out OK.