Hey all! Here's the follow-up/companion/second half/final act (I'm really not sure what to call it) to "To Bear the Weight," which followed the pair "The Heart of the Matter" and "Do the Right Thing." This one's from Chuck's POV, and, just a warning, it's again all sprawly and vague and moderately uplifting at the end. This takes us right up to the start of season 4. Please let me know what you think! Thanks again for all the support during this mini-series, and please leave a review!
Chuck Bartowski is on a beach. He is on a beach, and there is a Mai Tai in his right hand, and his eyes are closed behind sunglasses, but he is not really asleep. Suddenly though his glasses he senses a shadow cross him, and he refuses to open his eye, even though he knows that his girlfriend, his wonderful, currently-living-in-a-series-of-bikinis girlfriend, is expecting it. Finally, he senses her sit down, impatiently, on his lawn chair, and she leans over him, dripping a little chilly saltwater, and whispers, "Chuck? I lost my bikini top in the ocean. What should I do?" in that perfect teasing voice that will hopefully be driving him nuts until he is 102 years old.
Poke. Poke. "Chuck?" Sarah says, a little too loudly in his right ear, and he jolts awake from his perfect beach-set dream. "Chuck, we're about to land. I don't want you to pop out your ears. Again."
"What? Oh, thanks," he says, scooting up in his seat and cracking his neck. "God, it's early." It's 7 a.m. Washington time which means it's … 1 a.m. island time.
"Yeah," she yawns, too. "Do you need a nap?"
"I'm good, you?" He shakes his head to wake up a little more.
"Completely fine," she says, rolling her eyes. "Just wish we were still in Hawaii, already."
Chuck looks out the window. Welcome to D.C. He takes a deep breath. This is it. "What time's our meeting with Beckman?"
"It's 9 tomorrow," she reminds him. "Today I figure we can just sight-see and pack. Casey gets in on the red-eye tomorrow morning." After a conversation where they'd laid out the Bartowski Batcave (unsurprisingly, he'd reacted way better than Ellie), Casey had offered to join them in D.C. to talk to Beckman, which they'd gratefully accepted.
They're mostly quiet as they collect their luggage, filled, Chuck notes wistfully, with all their beach clothing. It's not chilly in D.C. by any means — in fact, it's awful and humid and 85 degrees — but it is not Hawaii, and the vacation was basically perfect. He misses it already. Sarah tiredly hails a cab and tells the cabbie 7th and Pennsylvania, SE.
The place they end up at is a little whitewash-sploshed row house, slightly nicer than he was expecting. Whistling lowly, he asks, "You've seriously been paying rent on a place you haven't slept in for three years?"
"Well," she says, "we bought it outright, so only utilities. And it's not like I was paying rent in LA. Most months I forgot about it, but it was nice to know I had a place when I came to Langley." She pushes the door open. "I haven't been here in over a year, though, and I'm not sure if — Carina!"
"Sarah. Chucky," Carina, wandering into the hallway from the kitchen area, a container of yogurt in hand, says. She's wearing black jeans, a loose black tank top with silver stitching, heavy eyeliner and an unperturbed expression. "I wasn't expecting you here this week."
"I didn't know you were in D.C. either," Sarah replies, dropping her duffel to hug Carina.
"Just wrapped up in Thailand, here through Friday for reports and evaluations," Carina shrugged. "Then, Sao Paolo. You two finally flee Burbank? Though I've heard it's significantly more interesting these days, isn't it, Chuckles?"
She's got this insane, knowing smirk on her face, and Chuck opens his mouth but Sarah beats him to it. "Yes, it is, but we're still in LA," she smiles. "We have a meeting with Beckman tomorrow, plus I wanted to get a few things and show Chuck around D.C." Chuck suddenly processes Carina lives here too.
"You two are roommates?"
"Well, we both have bedrooms here, yes," Carina says coolly, eating a scoopful of yogurt but keeping the spoon in her mouth semi-seductively. Chuck peeks around into the kitchen/living room area and notices there's a single photo in the room, of the two of them, looking much younger but very dressed up, in a silver frame on the kitchen counter. All the furniture in the living room is white, with bold blocks of blue and green pillows on the couch to break up the monotony. There's a glass-topped coffee table whose base looks like a weird Swedish sculpture, and a tiny patio and backyard, too. The countertops are slick gray granite and the cabinets are glassed-in. It's not very lived in, but definitely nice.
"I don't think we've both been here at the same time in five years," Sarah says.
"Mainly because you haven't left LA in the last three years," Carina replies, arranging her face into what Chuck can only assume is a pout. "Lucky I caught you one last time."
"I told you, I'm still keeping this place. It's useful for when we have to visit Langley. I just have a few prints and things I want to ship to LA. That chest, too, things like that."
He cocks his head. "Are we redecorating?"
"Not really," she hedges. "You know I love yo- our place," she amends. "But I just wanted to bring a few more things over. We can decide together where it goes."
Carina rolls her eyes. "Well, this domesticity is adorable and everything, but I need to get going." She walks back into the kitchen and puts her yogurt in the sink.
"Dinner tonight, maybe?" Sarah calls, still standing on the stairs.
"Can't. I'm meeting the vice-president of a Brazilian mineral company to establish a contact. Drinks later, maybe?"
"Sounds good," Sarah replies, trekking up the stairs. "I'm glad you're here."
He's not sure what he's expecting from Sarah's bedroom, but somehow, the wine-red walls, geometric espresso furniture, Japanese leaf prints, and rich cream-and-rose silk comforter isn't what he had in mind, nor are the print- and faux-flower-laden hallways leading to the room, which is on the third floor.
"You guys own this place?"
"Well, we were going to be traveling a lot and didn't want to deal with landlords and neighbors. Carina had a trust fund and I had a bunch of cash from my dad." Sarah shrugs and flips over a pillow, finds some hidden zipper, and pulls out a handful of notes. "Whenever we stop by, we leave our contact info." She scoops up three years' worth of paper scraps lets them float to the comforter. They're all written in the same scrawl, and most simply have a date, a name, and a country. One of them has a bit more, though, and he picks it up. W — are you ever leaving Burbank? Would love to know. Please at least sleep with him for your own sake. I promise I won't tease him too much — too prudish for my liking. His eyes widen a bit at that one.
He's never been to D.C., and Sarah barely knows the city, despite having lived there, so they soon head to the monuments and then the International Spy Museum, which she scoffs at at first but he can tell by the end that she loves it, despite the fact that she won't let them use any exhibit with a fingerprint machine.
"That was kind of fun," she admits, kissing the underside of his jaw, as they head back to the Metro. "Next time we should even bring Morgan."
"Only if Casey comes along," he jokes, and she laughs harder.
They head back, and Sarah starts packing the things she wants to ship — a weird sculpture that is basically an elaborate vase; a trunk that's in the extra bedroom and has cool knobbed drawers; a few of the framed prints; a rug Carina hates; a few kitchen appliances that they just don't have in their place but could be useful (food processer, ice-cream maker); two shelves' worth of books, most of them read at least once, also stored in the guest room. "Where do you want to put these in the apartment?" he asks as he contemplates how to package the vase.
"I'm not sure," she confesses. "I just wanted to bring out a few options and see where they work. Sometimes our place feels like a little too … bachelor pad, I guess. There's so many games, posters, videogames. I just want some more …"
"Grown-up?" he suggests, smiling wryly. He bites back a Sarah Walker, real girl, comment, because they always lead to her socking him "playfully" and leaving bruises.
"Not grown-up," she insists. "Chuck, I love the apartment. Just something that's more … balanced."
"You know, the bedroom could probably use some new paint," he says. "I refuse to go this red though." Smiling, she Frisbees a roll of tape at his midsection.
Since it's their last night of vacation, he insists on taking her out to a nice dinner, and two seconds of research and 10 minutes of his best Charles Carmichael cajoling later, he's got an eight p.m. table at Citronelle. Sarah rolls her eyes and tells him he's ridiculous, but it's pretty obvious she's pleased. After dinner she leads them to the riverfront, and it's stunning and gorgeous and pretty much perfect.
Hours later, he wakes up thirsty and anxious. Truthfully, he's still not entirely sold on Sarah's plan and the dinner and planning has done nothing to quell his unrest. He's pretty sure the CIA does have something to do with his mother's disappearance, and he's pretty sure that involving Beckman and the DNI will only mean they'll get caught committing treason that much sooner. Carefully untangling his limbs from Sarah's, he slips on boxers and heads to the kitchen for a drink. He takes a few deep breaths, runs through what they're saying to Beckman, even pulls out his iPad to slide through everything they'd brought with them and practice what they were going to say to Beckman (he'd had to do something professional on it, just to prove to Sarah it wasn't completely a toy). They really should have waited until they had a better handle on the material, he thinks, but Sarah thinks it will work.
There's suddenly a scraping in the lock. Scrambling, he realizes that, for some reason, there are no knives easily accessible in the kitchen, which is so not Carina or Sarah. He jerks a drawer open and thankfully sees (and flashes on) a shish kebab skewer. Not his preference, but it will do. Then —
"Whoa, Charlie," Carina says from the doorway. "Easy now, it's just me." She tilts her head. "Nice pecs, by the way. Better than I would have expected. Maybe Sarah's not insane."
He sheepishly sets down the makeshift weapon, crossing his arms uncomfortably. "Sorry. Didn't know where you keep the guns around here, and wasn't expecting you to come in at —" he flicks a glance at the clock, "2 a.m."
She raises an eyebrow. "The couch. That's always the best place to keep guns. Thirty-foot-rule, remember?" Of course. "And coming in at 2 a.m. is what most people would call a good date, Dad."
"Most people don't call establishing a work contact as a date," he counters.
She looks directly at him, and he has to admit, her heavy-lidded gaze freaks him out a little. "All fun people do," she says, tossing her clutch on the counter. "So what are your intentions with Walker, Bartowski?"
He's taken aback. "My intentions? Who's being dadlike now?" He tries to keep it lighthearted, but mentioning dad inevitably makes him twinge a bit.
"You think this is funny, Chucky? I've known Sarah since she was 17. I'm not worried about her changing or some crap like that, because I don't think people actually change much, and if she quits that honestly just means more plum assignments for me. But she's going to greater lengths for you than I've ever seen her go for anyone, and I'm concerned that she's doing a lot of these things to make you happy. So I'm warning you that if you pull some jackassy … stunt, that I will personally come after your balls."
"What do you mean, jackassy moves?" he asks, uncertain, and wonders if he should grab that shish-kabob skewer again.
"You think I don't know what Bryce did to her?" Carina gestures incredulously. "What you did to her in Prague? I spent hours prying those facts out of her. I had to detour on my way from St. Tropez to Thailand just to sit in that sterile hotel room and … talk. The thing about Sarah is she pretends to be all perfect and everything, but she's not; she's petrified of her personal life most of the time. And she's a total idiot when it comes to handling men. So if she wants to stay in Burbank to be with you and wear an apron and stand by her man, great. If boring makes her happy, great. But if you're going to screw her over in the end — even if it's by being noble — just know that I will kill you. I will."
He's not sure where Carina's perceptiveness — or fierceness — comes from, but he knows he has to take them completely seriously. "My intention with Sarah, Carina? Is to marry her. Sooner, rather than later, if that's possible. Whatever I'm doing, wherever I am, in 10 years, in 20, in 30, in 50, I want her to be there. If my only mission for the rest of my life were to make her happy, I would take it. My intentions are completely honorable." It's the first time he's actually said the specific word marry out loud, and it's less scary than he'd imagined it would be.
She's still got her arms crossed, but says, "Good." Then, "I like you Chucky," and she vanishes. He's not entirely sure they just had a conversation. Sighing, he sets his glass down in the sink. It can be a signal to early-morning Chuck that the conversation actually took place.
When he slips back into bed he inadvertently nudges Sarah awake. "What time's'it?" she mumbles. "Do we need to get up?"
"Way too early, even to grab Casey. Shh," he soothes, and she folds back into him and falls asleep.
He wakes a few hours later to the muffled screech of Sarah blow-drying her hair in the tiny bathroom. He hops in the shower; unsurprisingly, she's still trying to wrestle her hair into place as he picks up his toothbrush. "Where'd you sneak off to last night?" she asks, yanking the plug from the socket and walking back into the bedroom. "I got cold."
"Couldn't sleep," he replies. "Went to look over the stuff we're presenting today. Ran into Carina, we had a nice talk."
Sarah raises her eyebrows, clearly trying — and failing — to reserve judgment. "Oh? What did she do to you?"
"Hey, I could have "done" something to her…" he protests, but quiets as Sarah's knowing look. "OK, fine. But … she really cares about you. I didn't realize Carina had that capability, honestly."
Sarah rolls her eyes. "Carina's a little overprotective, she thinks being a year older equals being wiser."
"She said she's known you since you were 17? How did you two meet?"
"CIA introduced us."
"I know you were recruited young, but 17?" That seems almost inhuman.
She shrugs. "My dad accidentally enrolled me in fifth grade, not fourth, and Graham recruited me spring of senior year. I was almost to college just … not yet."
It still seems wrong, somehow, that Graham got her that early, but she clearly doesn't want to talk so he lets it slide. "Hey, so you're not that much older than me then," he teases. Not that it had concerned him, but he knew she graduated high school a year ahead of him, and he had always been the youngest because of his late birthday. Not that age was anything more than a number, of course. Really.
"February 3, 1981, mister. Still seven months," she smirks. "Come on, we have to get Casey."
Three hours later they're all waiting outside Beckman's office, watching the three ruthlessly efficient assistants roll calls and type memos. Casey had been predictably unhappy that they were 10 minutes late to Reagan, but Sarah's proffered gift of black and bitter coffee helped. He's on the other side of Sarah in a suit that, despite the 6-hour flight, is so pressed it could probably stand on its own. Sarah's in one of her super-severe black skirt-suit outfits, with beige heels so high she's almost as tall as him and a belt she stole from Carina's closet. Chuck is pretty sure he looks like a mess — Casey had told him as much — even though Sarah ironed his suit. He spends his time nervously flicking between slides on the iPad.
"Colonel Casey. Agent Walker. … Mr. Bartowski. I must say I was surprised to hear from you three so quickly," General Beckman says from the doorway to her office, standing aside so they could walk in. "I expected you three to at least wait out Agent Walker's requested leave of absence."
"You've missed us, haven't you?" Chuck can't resist needling her a bit. "We missed you too, General."
"Truth be told, Bartowski, I'm quite surprised to see you. I actually believed you when you said you were resigning. Silly me," her tone is, of course, droll, and he smiles despite himself.
"I know," he admits. "And I was. But then I found out what exactly I'd inherited from my father."
Beckman's face remains impassive but he can sense a mild change behind her eyes. "Well, I can't wait to hear this," she finally says, sitting behind her desk.
Chuck's about to start in a nice, mirror-tested spiel, but Sarah quickly starts first. "General, Chuck's father was involved in a bit of … independent spywork in his last few years," she says. "He collected a significant amount of information on several intelligence cabals that, while we haven't corroborated yet with DNI files, is probably much more than what the CIA has." Chuck flips the iPad around to show a few generic photos of the Encino basement.
The general purses her lips. "The Fornax Group?' she asks.
"We've got several files on them," Sarah informs her. "Particularly concerning their work on biological-weapon acquisition and development within the United States. And we've got intel on Triangulariam, which has been growing for years and is poised to be an extremely dangerous internal strike to the CIA, but about which virtually nothing is known." She lists a few more groups, some of what that Casey had gathered on them, what they knew Dad had had on them.
Beckman's thoughts are impenetrable. "What are you three saying?"
Sarah hesitates. "Mr. Bartowski collected a significant amount of intelligence that the CIA would probably consider of highest clearance, however, given that it was collected through private means and passed down to his next of kin, it's not actually property of the U.S. government. But given that he was operating outside the intelligence community, combining the resources of the CIA with his work would actually lead to us gaining ground and taking down some of these groups."
"So you three want authorization to use American resources to track down and infiltrate these groups? Unfiltered access to our networks so that you can amplify your knowledge? A task force based out of Los Angeles?"
"Yes," Chuck says, more than a little gobsmacked that she'd caught on this early in the presentation. "Exactly! You're pretty quick on the uptake this early in the morning, General." The exasperated general cocks her head to the side, her really, Bartowski? Unspoken but completely communicated.
"General, the three of us have a proven track record of tracking and eliminating exactly these types of groups!" Sarah exclaims. "Not only are we the only agents in the entire intelligence community with these resources, but we would otherwise be the agents that you would want most to handle this assignment. We brought down both the Ring and Fulcrum. That type of experience is unparalleled within the agency — we're ready for this mission."
"That's precisely it, Agent Walker," the General says, tapping her glasses on her desk and looking at Sarah sternly. "You, Mr. Bartowski, quit because your sister asked you to. Not a leave of absence to deal with the death of your father, you quit. And you, Agent Walker and Colonel Casey, you both requested indefinite leaves of absences. You're not ready."
"Whoa, you're on leave?" he turns to Casey, who grunts a little, just out of the side of his mouth.
"Yes, apparently even Colonel Casey needs time to evaluate his life now, despite having blackmailed his way back into his job." The General deflates a little after this snappy comment. "I'm not saying that I don't trust you three to lead a deep-cover, long-term, virtually independent project. I trust the three of you more than I have probably ever trusted any agents or team, for better or for worse. But right now I don't think you have the stamina, nor the energy, for me to authorize this type of indefinite assignment. I'm not doing this to punish you, but to let you go forward with this, in your current states, would be detrimental to national security," she looks at them all sympathetically, almost maternally.
"What are you saying, General?" Chuck asks impatiently.
"What I'm saying, Mr. Bartowski, is let this be your permission to quit. Go. Settle. Live your lives. I know you're trying to honor your father's legacy, Mr. Bartowski, but the one fact your father made abundantly clear is that he wants his family out of this business. Given his generous definition of the term, I am positive he would consider Colonel Casey and Agent Walker under that mantel as well." She purses her lips, and Chuck is momentarily stunned at her speech. "Now, that being said, I'd like to arrange a transportation of that intelligence to a CIA facility where it can be properly analyzed. Whatever is in there is surely worth our consideration."
Her statement galvanizes him. "General, I'm sorry, but no," he says firmly. "I know I quit because I was doing right by my father. But this — this is his life's work. He was convinced that these groups were after his family, that they knew what happened to my mother — which, just FYI, he kind of thought the CIA might know something about, too."
"Chuck," Sarah hisses.
"The point is, General, this is what my father wants me to do. And I don't care if I'm tired, or if it's dangerous, but this is what he wanted me to do, so this is what I'm doing. And the three of us — well, I couldn't do anything without these two. We've already discussed this, as a team, and we want to do this. We don't care how long this takes us. Now, we can do this our way, where we combine resources and clear out these groups pretty quick, and then the three of us can get back to resting and recuperating and pretending we don't know what the CIA is. Or we're going to do this the way you appear to want us to, which is us operating on our own for a while, then hitting some security net of yours, getting hauled in here and threatened with jail before you agree to combine resources. We'll do it that way if we have to. But I really think we've come up with a better way of handling this." He pauses, a little surprised at that speech.
"Are you quite finished, Mr. Bartowski?" the General asks icily, and Sarah tugs his sleeve harshly, basically pulling him down.
"More or less, yes," he says, then realizes he should apologize. "Look, General, I'm sorry for yelling but my point is — we can do this. We want to do this. We're the best at this, and if you'll just —" At this point, Sarah actually leans over and grinds her heel into his big toe, which would have been much more effective if they'd been videoconferencing and a table could have disguises the move. At the General's raised eyebrow, Sarah rearranges her face impassively before looking down.
"What Bartowski means to say," Casey says, finally speaking, "is that we're well aware of our current team strength and we've assessed it, and we believe that, given the freedom to do so, we can and will bring down these groups. And … just ignore the part about Bartowski's mommy issues."
"What Colonel Casey and Mr. Bartowski mean to say," Sarah jumps in, her always-latent temper beginning to spark again, "is that we bring a unique skill set and years of experience, as well as access to this information — which, again, is Chuck's property — and that makes us the best team for going up against these groups." An anxious look crosses her face, like she's going to regret what she's about to say, but she continues. "We worked with Bryce Larkin when he was the point-man on Fulcrum. We worked with Daniel Shaw before he was burned and he was the expert on the Ring. We're the CIA and NSA's best shot here, and we're completely trustworthy. You know we can do this."
The General doesn't speak. Chuck sits back, more worried now than ever. Dealing with Beckman involves a fair bit of playing her game — her tacitly acknowledging that she knows they're playing her, her turning a blind eye to the more questionable aspects of their method — and his outburst probably blew it.
An interminable pause later, the General sets her glasses down. "This will require significantly more forethought and free-thinking than any of your previous projects and missions have entailed. You'll have to strategize and plan effectively, and a great deal of the job will be analysis, which requires much more sitting around, which you've all been openly disdainful of in the past. You'd also often have to design your own missions, using your own initiative and discretion, sometimes without my involvement, even my protection." She lets the implications sink in: Basically, they're going to get killed. And the CIA won't say anything.
But that means — "General, you're going to back this?" She rolls her eyes, and he immediately knows he shouldn't have asked directly. "Right. Sorry," he apologizes.
She shakes her head. "You three have a way of continually putting me in a with-us-or-against-us positions, don't you?" He grins.
"One more thing, General," he adds. At her look, he continues, "Jeff and Lester — they're still on the run, I think, because of …"
"It will be taken care of, Chuck," she waves her hand aside.
They spend a few more minutes discussing logistics — basically, he's reinstated, their clearance shoots way up, and they're going to spend the next three months familiarizing themselves with the intel while Beckman builds them a new base of operations. In September, they're all back in Washington to officially map out the project. Finally, they're back in the blinding, unfriendly D.C. sun.
"Cut it a little close in there, Bartowski," Casey says, adjusting his sunglasses. "Yelling at a three-star general? Really smooth."
"Well it worked in the end," Sarah cuts in, mostly to shut Casey up, because her you should have listened to me is completely unspoken but entirely understood.
He looks at the two of them — Sarah's looking anxious and Casey just looks exhausted — and feels compelled to say something leaderly, considering he pulled them into this mess. "Thanks, guys," he finally comes up with. "This is really important to me, and I couldn't do this — any of it — without either of you." He takes Sarah's fingers and squeezes gently.
It's only 10, and their flight's not for 12 hours, so they've got plenty of time to do nothing. At Sarah's "suggestion," he and Casey take the boxes to the post office as she joins Carina for kickboxing and coffee ("It's either that, or you can hang out with Carina as Chuck and I take stuff to the post office," she points out icily to Casey when he balks).
Casey's pretty quiet on the trip, which at first he attributes to Casey being Casey and preferring grunts to words, but then he starts to get concerned, remembering the General's comment about Casey's almost-leave of absence. "How's Alex?" he finally asks, once they're back at the row house.
"Far, far away from your grubby-fingered friend," Casey snarks back.
"Ah, come on, you've got a soft spot for the little bearded man."
"Not soft enough to let him near my daughter."
"So you and Alex — you're OK? Have you seen her since that dinner?"
Casey grinds his teeth, but finally says, "We all had dinner a few nights ago. Me, her, Kathleen."
"Oh?" Come on, Casey. Come on. Remember our emotional growth.
"Kathleen made tacos."
"Who doesn't love a tasty taco?" Chuck asks.
"Spit it out, Bartowski. Walker and Carina are only going to be at the gym for two hours. What do you want?"
"You asked for a leave of absence, Casey. I've seen you in the field before the drugs have worn off post-surgery to remove bullets. You blackmailed Beckman into giving you your job back. Is everything OK?" when Casey doesn't answer, he prods, "Come on, you know you wanna talk to me. Is it Alex? Kathleen?"
He shifts, a little annoyed. "I made my choice. It was the right one at the time. I was never the softball-coach dad, which I've told you already. I took a leave of absence to go back to the Marines. It's … It's not my game anymore, that's all."
"What's not your game?"
He clenches his jaw. "Beckman once told me the 80s were over. She's right. It used to be the Commies were bastards; we were good. Except now every damn Commie's been routed, and what do we have? People stealing codes, intelligence, data, computers? Look at your mother — who knows what happened there. That's not why I joined up. There aren't any lines any more. I feel like a damned mercenary every time I make a kill. It used to mean something … bigger."
"Casey, if you don't want to help on this project — "
"Don't be an idiot," he cuts in brusquely. "Your father served this country with honor. He's one of the last who actually felt he was doing his job to do good in espionage. And you … if you want to, you deserve to get to finish what your dad started. Helping you do that — that's big enough for me."
"Are you sure?"
"Sure," he shrugs. "Once this is done in a few years, I can ship out to the Middle East, round up some insurgents, and I'll be good as new." Off Chuck's skeptical look, he presses, "Don't worry about me, Bartowski. Between your sister and Walker you've got plenty of chick problems, plus you need your head on straight for this, you hear me? And there's a pretty good chance you'll be attending your best friend's funeral this year."
"Just for the record, I am Switzerland in that situation, OK?" Chuck cracks, trying to bring some levity. "Just … let me know if you need anything, OK?"
"Hey guys," Sarah calls from behind them. "How's it going?"
"Hey, honey," he says, spooked that he didn't hear them come in. "How was the gym?"
"Good," she says, a little suspicious. "Everything alright here? You all packed?"
"Yep," he says, which is a lie. At her cocked eyebrow, he says, "OK, fine. But close."
The rest of the day's a blur. Carina actually drives everyone to the airport after an early dinner, and hugs Sarah tightly before saying goodbye. Sarah's nerves from the meeting with Beckman have subsided, and her usual sureness and Sarah-style sereneness have returned, which he doesn't question. At any rate, she's able to sleep on the plane, which is something she can't do when she's agitated. Casey's out too, of course, and he spends the flight staring out the window and being careful not to disturb Sarah. Their flight lands at a quarter till one LA time; Ellie, Awesome, and Morgan surprise them by picking them up.
The next morning, for probably the fourth time since they started dating, he's up before her. It's nice, because he gets a second to watch her sleep. He knows that she's not going to get a lot of peace in the next few months, certainly not as much as she'd let herself hope for, and that's his fault.
As he's taking a mental inventory of his wall art and trying to gauge what he'll be able to part with (Dune can be moved out of the bedroom, ComicCon and the bulletin boards can probably be retired, Tron can be his one compromise), he notices Devon and Ellie drinking coffee in the courtyard. Grabbing a sweatshirt, he flicks on their coffee machine before joining them.
"Morning, Chuck. How was Hawaii? We didn't get a chance to hear any stories last night," Devon says, reaching up for a high-five.
"It — it was really great. Exactly what we both needed. She made me do one volcano hike and that was it. Thanks for the hotel rec, by the way."
"How did D.C. go?" Ellie asks tentatively, her arms crossed over her knees as she perched on the fountain's ledge.
"It — well. We got a green light," he finally says. Ellie looks like she's about to burst with questions, but she doesn't say anything.
Sarah comes out then, dressed in shorts, a tank top, and his bathrobe, which she'd re-appropriated about two seconds after moving in, and holding two mugs of coffee. "Morning," she greets tiredly. She's barefoot. She's beautiful.
"Morning. You're so tan, Sarah, I'm jealous," Ellie smiles, and the two of them start talking snorkeling and beaches and restaurants. It's nice to see them girl-talk. He turns to Awesome, who catches him up on the Lakers and suggests going to the first championship game in a few days. Pretty soon the girls disappear, only to emerge from Ellie's a few minutes later with bagels, muffins, and fruit. Casey and Morgan show up (Morgan in his bunny slippers), though Casey declines food and just puffs on a cigar until Ellie's stares make him uncomfortable. "Seriously, John? Didn't you just brush your teeth?" she huffs, and Chuck smiles.
Their little brunch breaks up shortly before nine. He lets Sarah take first shower, because he's a considerate boyfriend, and flops down on the bed to stare at the Dune and Tron posters again. Yeah, definitely the right choice.
"Hey," she says, walking in, wrapped in a towel, and rubbing out her ears with another one. "Everything OK? You were pretty quiet at breakfast."
"Yeah — no — I'm great. Just thinking that I wanna move Dune and the bulletin boards out after we paint, but will you concede to keeping Tron around?"
"Chuck, of course. I don't want you to make you take down anything."
"I want to," he replies, and he does. He's afraid he's been making too many decisions, directing things, because of his family, because of the Intersect, and he needs to remember to share. It's so much better that way, the Bartowski way.
"OK, seriously, Chuck, what's bothering you?" she sits down next to him expectantly, uses that no-nonsense voice that always makes Morgan crack like a fresh egg.
"Nothing," he says, which is true, really. "Just — I'm glad you're here, alright?"
She smiles. "Get used to it."
"I'm not sure that's ever going to be possible. In fact, if it happens, and I start taking you, this, us, for granted, feel free to go all secret-agent on my ass, OK?"
She leans forward and kisses him. "Deal," she scrutinizes him a bit more. "As long as you also remember that I'm choosing to be here and I chose to be with you, and don't start feeling guilty." He laughs and leans forward, kissing her again, because that's the truth too, and it's uncanny and great that she can get that. "Now, you need to go hop in the shower. We need to get out to Encino. I have a feeling it's going to be a big day." She tosses him the second towel to take back to the bathroom.
He smiles back, feeling weirdly like he just got the spring back in his step. "First of many," he murmurs as he walks down the hallway. "First of many." He begins to whistle.