A/N: For Wepdiggy on the Day of 'Diggy. Happy birthday to one of the greatest people I've never met. I said I'd write this for you, and I did!
(It's not actually Wep's birthday-that was back in April-but we decided on the midpoint between our birthdays we were going to exchange fics, and he specifically requested this scene.)
Disclaimer: I don't own the Apostles. Or Chuck.
"Ay, there's the rub."
Hamlet (III, i, 68)
To Sleep, Perchance to Scream
Matt had baseball practice at four. She had to remember that, or else his coach would give her the stink-eye again, and after that whole incident with throwing down with the mom on the opposing team the week before, Sarah really couldn't afford to be in hot water with the Mission Hills Little League Association. She'd have to pull Luca from ballet practice ten minutes early, and even then it would be a tight fit, but if she dropped J.J. off at his friend Colin's right after school, she could probably squeeze it in. Possibly, assuming that her two thirty at work didn't run late.
She frowned at the possibility as she moved down the hall, high heels dangling from a finger and a laundry basket balanced between her hand and hip. She plucked up Matt's blue jeans—it was almost time to shop for new jeans for the twins and Luca, at least, as J.J. was still waiting on his growth spurt—and Mark's lucky Raiders shirt, and tossed them in the basket on the way downstairs. Only Luca had inherited her tidiness, but that wasn't surprising. Luca had inherited everything from her: the looks that would wallflower for now, but that she would grow into around eighteen, the personality, the chilling blue eyes, and from the way she was going through new shoes, her hands and feet, too.
It was true what they said. Opposites attract, alikes set sparks. Sarah knew the dreaded teenaged years were approaching far faster than she liked for all of her children, but with Luca, it would hit the hardest. It was a bit unfair. She felt like she'd just survived the Terrible Twos.
"Mark! Math homework!" she called as she hit the bottom landing of the stairs. "And what have I said about leaving your clothes in the hallway?"
"Don't do it," her kids all said in a ragged chorus, but they rolled their eyes perfectly in unison.
She'd raised four smartasses. She was almost proud.
"Math worksheet," she told Mark. Because he was closest to the end of the table and because it was fun, she gently bopped Matt on the head with a rolled up pair of tube socks from the laundry basket on the way by.
He ducked, scowling, and adjusted his hair back to its original funky shape. His twin, next to him, would never have that problem, as Mark's hair had been buzzed from the age of three. She'd been begging him to grow it out just a little longer, but so far, no dice. Maybe, as a teenager, he'd care more about his hair like Matt did.
She tossed the basket at the dryer in the laundry room off the kitchen—she'd deal with that later—and headed back into the kitchen. J.J. had already helped himself to cereal, and had slopped milk all over the counter as usual, but the others were waiting on breakfast.
Without needing to ask, she got down the pancake mix. "Where's your father?"
"Out in the shed," Matt said, not looking up from his handheld game console.
"He's working on," was the only bit of J.J.'s words that Sarah could understand around the cereal.
"Don't talk with your mouth full," she said automatically. She'd gotten that lesson down with three of them, just the one to go.
J.J. just grinned at her, milk dribbling out of the corners of his mouth. He had such a charming grin, his baby blues twinkling and his dirty-blond hair askew, that she had to smile back even as she leaned over to wipe the milk off his chin. He returned to his Sugar Ohs without any ado.
Wait a second, she thought as she turned back to the griddle. Blue eyes? Both Luca and J.J. had them, but…she sneaked a glance at the twins out of the corner of her eye, using her almost-forgotten spy training. Mark, bent over his worksheet, didn't look up, but Matt glanced over, checking out the window, confirming it: the twins had blue eyes, too.
She had four children with blue eyes? That was odd, considering that it was a recessive gene and their father had brown eyes.
Had she adopted her children? No, that wasn't possible. Luca, sitting at the corner of the table with her cell phone in front of her and her thumbs a blur, was simply too much of a mini-Sarah to be adopted.
Well, Chuck had always said he liked her eyes, so maybe he was pleased that all four of their children had gotten them. She loved Chuck's eyes. Maybe she should talk him into another kid so that the eyes would go on to a new generation. A baby with Chuck's eyes and curls would be the most adorable baby on the planet, apart from her other four babies who were almost teenagers and—
Wait just a damn second.
Where were the curls?
Now, that was really unfair. Luca, at the very least, should have gotten the curls, as they would look adorable on an eight-year-old with sandy blond hair. But her hair, currently growing into her eyes yet again, was stick-straight.
Something at the base of Sarah's stomach began to roil.
Why did none of her kids look like Chuck Bartowski? Not a single one of them had gotten the nose, or his chin, or his forehead or eyes, all attributes that Sarah herself had spent hours studying on the original owner. Sure, all four were lanky for their respective ages, even the sturdy J.J., but they could have gotten that attribute from her. She'd been a gangly kid, like Luca and the twins were now, knobby knees, sharp elbows, the whole package. The twins actually had thin faces and ears that stuck out a little at the top, now that she was really studying them. As she watched, Mark frowned, a crease appearing in his chin, as he beat his pencil eraser against the table.
Matt looked up from his game and gave an identical frown. "Mom!"
"What? What is it?" She recovered herself just in time and lamely added, "Sweetie?"
"You're burning the pancakes!"
She jolted and swore. Indeed, the mess at the griddle was a blackened mass of soot more appropriate for the side of a chimney than for the diet of a preteen. Still swearing, she dumped the mess in the sink and grabbed the batter bowl to start a new batch.
She turned to find all four of her children giving her wide-eyed looks. "Oh, I'm sorry, kids, I really shouldn't swear in front of you."
Matt gave her a weird look. "What? Dad swears in front of us all the time."
"Oh." Well, that was certainly an odd habit Chuck had picked up over the last…she gauged the twins' age, added a two-year buffer just to be safe…thirteen years. "Right. Then why are you staring at me?"
Luca popped her gum, her eyes still wide. "Because you burned the pancakes! Duh, Mom."
"Yes," Sarah said, focusing all of her attention on pouring the batter and hoping that none of the kids noticed her shaking hands. "That was rather silly of me, wasn't it?"
"Silly?" Mark rolled his eyes at the word.
And then it happened: J.J. grunted.
The noise was so familiar that Sarah bobbled the bowl and slopped batter everywhere, spattering the griddle and her blouse. She didn't even have the presence of mind to swear in frustration as her next two golden pancakes were ruined by the onslaught of batter.
All four at the kitchen table were staring at her again. Luca even set down her cell phone. "Mom?" she asked slowly, half-rising out of her seat. "Are you okay? You're acting really weird."
"I, ah…it's nothing."
But it wasn't nothing. She'd recognized that grunt. Oh, yes. It was quite a bit higher-pitched and coming from the seven-year-old with his face half-buried in cereal, but she knew that grunt by heart. Chuck called it the number seven: the "that's weird" grunt.
And it hit her just then that her children's names were Matthew, Mark, Luca, and…
Her husband walked in through the back door.
Sarah Casey stared at her husband of thirteen years, busy putting his gun-cleaning kit on its hook by the door, and did the only thing that seemed sane at the moment: she passed out.
"Sarah. Hey, Sarah. Time to wake up."
Good, that was Chuck's voice. Though she wanted to listen to him, to open her eyes and let this nightmare end, she wanted to lie there for a minute longer. Everything about her dragged wearily, as though she might actually melt into the floor. She could probably sleep for a year or a dozen more.
Chuck's voice, however, persisted. "Seriously, you're starting to scare us. Open those eyes of yours, will you?"
That didn't actually sound much like Chuck. Sure, it was his voice—she recognized the timber and cadence—but it lacked the quality that always made her want to smile far too broadly than was appropriate for an agent in the Central Intelligence Agency. Cautious, Sarah slitted one eye open and tried to gather in as many details as she could before Chuck noticed that she was actually awake.
She wasn't very successful. Immediately, Chuck said, "Ah. She wakes," and leaned back in relief. Sarah opened both eyes and blinked. She didn't hurt anywhere, which was odd, given that her times spent passing out usually involved trauma to the head. Had they given her drugs? If so, those were some seriously good ones.
"Where am I?" she asked, surprised that her throat wasn't dry and crackly like it always was after bouts of unconsciousness.
"Your kitchen." Chuck smiled down at her. After her nightmare with the Caseys, she finally understood the phrase "Sight for sore eyes." He looked fantastic. "Feel like sitting up?"
"Uh, sure. I have to tell you, I had the strangest dream." Slowly, taking in her surroundings as she did so, Sarah pushed herself so that she could sit up and lean her back against the counter by the sink. She looked around said kitchen in confusion. It always took her a little while to get used to a new cover house, but she usually had a meticulous eye for detail…
She spotted a glob of what looked like dried pancake batter, and two thoughts occurred to her.
One, that would be a bitch to clean.
Two, it hadn't been a dream. She was still Sarah Casey.
She was sitting in Sarah Casey's kitchen, which was normally immaculate, except that she had spilled pancake batter everywhere (including all over her blouse) when she had passed out, and none of her children had bothered to clean up the kitchen table after breakfast. But Sarah Casey's frosted-glass cupboards were still all neatly lined up, the counters clean and shipshape, the tiles she'd been lying on gleaming and smelling lightly of Pine Sol.
And there was Chuck Bartowski, looking oddly neat in a polo shirt and blue jeans.
He should have belonged there. Oddly, he didn't. And…her eyes cut back to the empty table.
"Casey took the kids to school," Chuck explained before she could ask. "You were pretty set on staying passed out, so he took the kids since I don't have enough room in my car, and he still won't let me drive the Crown Vic. Now, let's talk about you. What's up?"
"Huh?" She gave him a confused look.
"I mean, any idea why you'd pass out because you burned some pancakes?"
"I didn't—I mean—" Sarah pushed her hands against her forehead and winced when she just smeared pancake batter across her face. She scowled and rose unsteadily to her feet. Why the hell didn't anything make sense? Why had she married Casey and not Chuck? Had she been in some sort of drug-induced haze for thirteen years?
It didn't make any damned sense. She lo—liked Chuck. Not Casey.
"I don't know," she finally settled on saying. "Didn't get enough water or something this morning."
"Mm-hmm." Chuck leaned back against the counter with his arms crossed, watching her. Now that she had more of her wits about her, she could see gray sprinkled through his hair, adding something professorial to that intelligent look he always carried around with him. And she could see some dreaded wrinkles feathering her forehead and around her eyes when she glanced in the mirror over the oven. She filled up a glass of water in the sink and drank deeply.
They'd make a good-looking couple growing old together, so why weren't they?
"Are you sure you're not just pregnant?" Chuck asked, and Sarah dropped her water glass.
"Wh-what?" she asked him, ignoring the water that gushed over her stockings.
He gave her an odd look as he stooped to pick up the dropped glass. "Remember? You passed out left and right when you were pregnant with J.J. We used to call you Crash Casey."
"Oh, God," Sarah said, and felt vaguely like passing out again. She looked down at her abdomen, and her knees went so jittery that she had to grab the edge of the sink to keep from actually toppling onto the tiles again. That abdomen had carried four Caseys. She had gestated and birthed four of John Casey's spawn, which meant that John Casey had impregnated her three times and—
She'd slept with Casey. Multiple times.
Forget pass out, Sarah thought as she rushed to the bathroom. She was going to throw up.
She made it to the toilet just in time. After a couple of seconds of heaving, she felt warm hands on the back of her neck, pulling her hair out of danger. She curled her fingers around the toilet seat and hung her head miserably.
Half of the warmth on the back of her neck vanished, and a few seconds later, something nudged against the side of her hand. "Time to hydrate." Chuck sounded pretty damned cheerful for somebody who'd just witnessed regurgitation in its finest form. He coaxed, nudged, and outright bullied Sarah until she drank the water, although all she wanted to do was curl up in a small ball on the floor and pray for everything to go away.
She would miss her kids if that happened. Caseys or not, she loved them.
Chuck forced her to sit down at the breakfast table, amid the spills from J.J.'s Sugar Ohs and Matt's game console, which he wasn't allowed to bring to school. "So that whole episode in the bathroom really isn't helping your case."
"That you're not pregnant. I think once Casey gets back, we should take you in to see Ellie. Maybe we'll get you an Acts or an Actsia after all."
Acts? Actsia? Oh, right, Matthew, Mark, Luca, and John. She'd given birth to the Apostles. Casey had to have been the one to pick those names, as she'd always been fond of the name Charles.
Belated, she remembered that Matt was actually Matthew Charles Casey. It made her feel marginally better.
Except for the part where she was married to Casey and had no idea why.
Desperate, she grabbed Chuck's wrist. He jumped and gave her a startled look, edging away slightly. Touching must be off-limits in whatever bizarre-o universe she'd found herself in, but she didn't let go. "Chuck," she said, "tell me something."
"What? Sure, anything."
Chuck frowned, clearly confused. "This morning? The kids say you burned some pancakes and then you passed out when Casey came in. Matt said you toppled over like a building. Mark thought it looked pretty cool."
"Was J.J. okay?"
"Casey told him you were going to be fine." Chuck gave her the reassuring variety of his grin and gently peeled her hand off of his wrist. "And you know how those kids feel about their daddy. His word is law."
"R-right." Sarah shook her head to get back on track. "But that's not what I meant."
"Oh. What'd you mean?"
"What happened here?" Sarah waved a hand to encompass the whole house, with its comfortable clutter of kids' toys lying about the kitchen, dining room, and living room, all of which opened into each other. "How did I get to this…place?"
"What do you mean? Wait, are you suffering from amnesia right now? Holy crap, I'm going to call Ellie." Chuck rose out of his chair in alarm, but Sarah ignored the no-touching rule to grab the back of his polo and haul him back to his chair. For a woman that had passed out and puked in just the course of a morning, she still had an absurd amount of strength.
"No, no, it's nothing like that. I'm just…a little dizzy, and—humor me, okay? I'm fine, I promise."
Chuck sat down slowly, giving her an uncertain look as he did so. "I don't know if I believe you."
"Humor me," Sarah said again, using the flat tone that had always gotten Chuck to do her bidding in the past.
It apparently still worked in this universe. Chuck scrubbed both hands over his hair and sighed. "What do you want to know?"
"Casey," Sarah said, still in the flat voice. "How'd that happen?"
This time, Chuck didn't misunderstand. "Oh, you mean how'd you come to be the Caseys? That's easy. You were a cover relationship. You mean, you don't remember this at all? He proposed while we were fighting that Fulcrum cell with Bryce, almost fourteen years ago."
With Bryce. Why hadn't it occurred to her that the father of her children could have been Bryce, too?
That was apparently a nightmare for another day, since Chuck was still going.
"You've gotta hand it to the guy, Sarah," Chuck said, "he's pretty romantic when he wants to be. I still have no idea how much he paid a whole strings orchestra to accompany us into battle so that he could serenade you with backup."
Sarah opened her mouth to reply how horrifying that must have been, but it occurred to her that she would actually pay good money to see Casey serenade somebody with a full band accompaniment…provided that someone wasn't her. Since it was, though, all she felt was mildly ill.
"And the ceremony?" she forced herself to ask.
Chuck shrugged. "Orders from Beckman. You and Casey didn't feel like waiting, so we went to the courthouse right then, still in our mission gear and everything. You were even holding a shotgun, if I remember right. We'd have to get out the pictures to check for sure, though. I was the Best Man."
Sarah stared at the water glass Chuck had refilled for her. There were actually wedding pictures of her holding a shotgun? What on earth did the kids think of that? Here's Mommy and Daddy, kids. Mommy's a dead-eye and Daddy thinks the greatest thing on earth is an M-134 mini-gun.
Come to think of it, it was a miracle that Mark's middle name was Irving and not Bitchin' Betty, the name of Casey's M-134.
That was not how a wedding was supposed to go. It was supposed to be small and tasteful, yes, but she was supposed to walk down the aisle in a killer dress, and Casey was supposed to be the Best Man and Chuck the Groom, not vice versa! Sarah felt like she should have had a headache, but there was an odd amount of painlessness as she stared at Chuck, horror growing.
"If this is a cover relationship," she said, dread roiling through her once again, "why do I have four kids?"
"Maybe five," Chuck pointed out. "I don't know. Something sparked pretty early on between the two of you, and after I got married to Jill, you started having kids like crazy."
Sarah's heart actually stopped. It didn't stutter, it didn't jolt or jump or even skitter. It just stopped, completely and wholly. One moment, it had been pumping in overdrive, pounding, even, and then…nothing.
"I—I beg your pardon?" she managed, nearly knocking over her glass.
Chuck caught it before she could send the glass flying and gave her a queer look. "You're really working the Crash Casey nickname today," he observed. "But you remember, right? Matt and Mark were born nine months to the day after I married Jill. You stood up for us as a bridesmaid, and Casey likes to joke they were conceived on all the champagne you two had at the wedding."
The wedding. Between Jill and Chuck.
Oh, dear God.
"Heh," Chuck went on, apparently missing the fact that Sarah had gone roughly the same shade as her lacy white curtains on the kitchen windows. "Just think, if you hadn't told me to stop stalking and start talking, Jill and I would never be where we are today. Want to see the latest sonogram?"
Sarah was spared the gargantuan task of searching her fuzzy brain for an answer, any sort of answer to that sledge hammer to the solar plexus, by the fact that the back door opened for the second time that day. Before she knew it, Sarah was on her feet, her eyes widened in horror as she prepared to face…her husband.
What could she possibly say to him? They barely tolerated each other as partners. In fact, the only time they ever seemed to get along was when they agreed on something about Chuck, and that was rarer than a gamer in sunlight. He reported to his boss, she reported to hers, and whenever Chuck wasn't in danger, they were just fine and dandy ignoring each other.
Except now they were married. And they shared not only four kids—four bright, brilliant, precocious kids—but a bed between them.
Sweet mother of pearl. She'd married a man fifteen years her senior. Her husband was almost eligible for a senior citizen's discount.
Although, you couldn't tell that by looking at him. Casey came in the back door, automatically setting his light jacket up on the hook. He looked every bit the same he did as he had in 2007, her last memories, save that his hair had gone to salt and pepper gray. That same boyish face remained, and his shoulders were still as broad as ever. He even wore the same polo shirts she remembered from their time on Operation Prometheus.
He stopped just inside the doorway and looked her up and down, just the once. He'd seen her naked before, Sarah knew, but he didn't seem impressed with what he saw now. Maybe it was the pancake batter on her blouse. Then those blue eyes settled on hers. They didn't seem particularly warm or…husband-y.
Finally, he spoke. "You okay?"
That was all? His wife had passed out on the kitchen floor, and all she got was a "You okay?" By God, Chuck would have been freaking out and calling every doctor in the state.
"I—I'm fine," Sarah said. "Chuck thinks I might be pregnant." It was offered timidly. She really had, she found, no clue what to even say to Casey at any given point in time. How had she been married to him for thirteen years?
Casey gave her an odd look. "That'd be a scientific miracle. You got your tubes tied after John Jr."
"Oh. Uh, right." Sarah glanced at Chuck, but he was too busy thumbing through his phone, looking for the picture of that—that sonogram, no doubt. "I forgot. I probably didn't hydrate enough this morning, which is why I passed out, I think. Did the—did the kids get off to school all right?"
"Mm-hmm. Mark forgot his lunch, so I gave him some money. You'll need to take it out of his allowance."
"Okay." Was this what a normal day married to Casey was like?
"Well, I'm going to go get a shower, and then get to work on teaching the boys down at the shooting range a lesson or two in how to work a proper laser sight. Chuck." Casey nodded to the other man as he left the kitchen.
"Casey," Chuck said absently, even though Casey had gone.
Apparently, Sarah thought, that was exactly what being married to Casey was like.
She turned to Chuck in desperation. "What about you?"
"What about me, what? Ah-ha! Found it." Chuck waggled the phone and passed it to her. "Check it out. Twenty-two weeks, and already as pretty as her mama. See?"
Sarah most decidedly did not want to look at a sonogram of a baby belonging to Chuck and some other woman, but she forced herself to give it a cursory glance. It looked a bit like a squirrel, which wasn't an insult. All sonograms always looked a bit like squirrels to her.
She handed the phone back. "What about you? What's your story? You're not still the Intersect, are you?"
"What?" Chuck laughed. "God, no. I got that crap out of my head years ago." He paused to squint at her. "Sarah, are you sure you're okay? I know you said you don't have amnesia, but these questions are starting to freak me out a little."
Now, Sarah paused to consider her options. She was desperately curious to figure out why she had ended up here when she was supposed to be back in 2007, back with a Chuck who definitely wasn't this calm or this self-assured. She had a duty to that Chuck and she needed to get back there, but every good agent knew that doing as much recon as possible was always the wisest course. Except in this case, she had to be careful not to land in a mental hospital, as it would be hard to get Matt to his baseball practice and Luca to ballet lessons on time if she were forced to get herself out of a straightjacket and break out of an asylum today. And J.J. really had been looking forward to his time at his friend Colin's house.
"You're right, I'm sorry," she said, pacing her words carefully. "I just, with the passing out, I'm a little shaken up and wanted to make sure all of my memories are right."
"That's it," Chuck said, frowning. "I'm calling Ellie. Did you hit your head when you passed out?" He reached forward to check for a knot on the back of Sarah's head.
She leaned back out of his reach. "I said I'm fine."
Chuck's frown deepened. "You really should go see Ellie."
"I don't want to go see Ellie!" Sarah shoved herself off of the chair and backed away from him. "What happened to us, Chuck?"
"This morning? I came over because I live next door and I wanted to see if Mark's managed to beat my record on disassembling the SIG, you burned some pancakes, passed out, and apparently had a psychotic break with reality."
"No, that's not what I meant!" Though the thought that either Mark or Chuck was playing with a SIG was certainly worrisome—and also something to be tabled for a later freak-out. Sarah continued backing away until her shoulder blades hit the refrigerator, knocking aside the class pictures of the kids from the year before and sending a couple of J.J.'s magnetic letters to the floor. "I meant, what happened to us? What happened to you? You're not sweating, or looking at the windows, or even acting like they stuck you away in a bunker for years!"
"Oh, the bunker?" Chuck's forehead smoothed and cleared as it always did when he relaxed. He even laughed as he pushed away from the table. She noticed that even though his body language was relaxed, he'd still deliberately put himself between her and the exit. "I haven't thought about it—I got over that place years ago. Why are you even bringing it up?"
"Because if you're over the bunker, then why the hell aren't we together?"
That one tripped Chuck up. She saw the idea land and splatter through him, the very concept that they could even be together as a couple, the way she wanted, the way she'd wanted for far too long for it to be remotely healthy. But instead of giving her the stunned look of epiphany she'd hoped for daily, Chuck merely frowned.
"We've been over this," he said, no longer advancing on her. He crossed his arms over his chest. "Even if I were interested, which I'm not…"
Sarah's heart hit her knees and threatened to shatter.
"There's no way I can trust you, Sarah. You know that."
Oh, God. She was going to cry. She had pancake batter dried stiff and sticky all over her blouse and skirt, her kitchen was a mess, Chuck was scowling, Casey was her husband, and Sarah Wal—no, Casey—was going to cry. She was going to sink down her refrigerator with its drawings and its pictures, and she was going to sob.
This was just truly pathetic.
Before she could, however, Casey came back into the kitchen from upstairs. She nearly squeaked when she saw that he was wearing nothing but a shower cap and a towel, though some very small, very female part of her did appreciate the fact that her husband—creepy as hell or not—had indeed been hiding quite a bit under those dark polo shirts.
He nudged her aside without a word to grab the orange juice carton out of the fridge. "What're you still doing here?" he asked.
She wasn't sure if he'd been addressing her or Chuck. "Sorry?" Sarah asked.
"Don't you have work?"
"To be fair," Chuck said, leaning back against the counter and still scowling, "she did pass out on the floor. They'd be inclined to give her a little leeway for that, don't you think?"
"You'd better change your blouse," Casey told Sarah before he frowned at Chuck. "What's with the stick up the ass, Bartowski?"
Chuck's face took on a mutinous expression that was eerily familiar, though she had no idea why. "Your wife's hitting on me," he said, but the accusatory note in his voice was aimed at Casey rather than Sarah.
Oh, God, Sarah thought. This is where the shit hits the fan. Not only was she married to John Casey, but within an hour of being fully cognizant of the fact, she was trying to cheat on the man.
But Casey just set the orange juice carton back in the refrigerator and grunted. "Must be Tuesday," he said.
That was it? Sarah's mouth dropped open.
Apparently, though, Casey hadn't finished. He headed out of the kitchen, calling over his shoulder, "Just don't let the kids know that their mother is a slut."
For the first time, anger, real anger, flared red all through her. Sarah reached for one of her throwing knives, ready to commit spousalcide.
Her hand came up empty. Confused, she looked down to where her thigh-holster should have been, with its three tempered steel blades that she could throw with 99.3% accuracy according to the statisticians at the Farm. There was absolutely nothing there, just smooth thigh that was surprisingly in shape given that she had four active kids and a full-time job.
Sarah Casey stared at her thigh for a full five seconds before it hit her.
Her knives were gone.
This was clearly a nightmare.
12 NOVEMBER 2007
Sarah Walker went from reclining in her chair to sitting up ramrod straight with a gasping, sucking noise not commonly heard outside of bathtub drains, both hands automatically flying up into a defensive position. She'd almost attacked an invisible foe before she fully took in her surroundings. The overpowering hum of rushing air and engines convinced her first: she was no longer in the Casey household in Mission Hills with a husband that didn't seem to care what she did as long as the kids were fine. She was on a plane, wearing a tacky tourist T-shirt because she'd spilled on her nice blouse, and it was 2007, and she was flying back from DC to update her team about Fulcrum, to offer her roommate a job, and just to see her teammates again. Chuck…and Casey.
She actually groaned aloud, breaking all protocol for being Sarah Walker. The nightmare slammed into her sideways and knocked her off her proverbial, emotional, and psychological feet., and she began to shake. "Damn you, Chuck."
Sarah crumpled back against her seat. Thankfully, the gentleman next to her still had his sleep mask on, and the engine noise had mostly blanketed the sounds of a full-on post-nightmare freak-out. It also muffled most of the vicious swearing.
This really was Chuck's fault.
What had he said to her at the Stanford game, just two days before?
Hey, you could fake date Casey! Just think about it. You and Casey could use your cover dates to keep Castle's armory inventory squeaky clean, and after an appropriate amount of time has passed, he'll get down on one knee and fake-propose in the middle of a combat zone, and you'll have a shotgun wedding at the courthouse…
And now she could see that whole life in her mind, with its house in the suburbs, the four brilliant, incorrigible children—okay, that part might not have been so bad, provided she liked the father a lot more—a less-than-loving husband, Chuck as her neighbor…married to Jill…
She was going to kill him for planting that little seed in her head.
Assuming, Sarah thought as her eyes fell on the briefcase she'd stowed under her seat, the briefcase that contained her orders to offer one Dr. Eleanor F. Bartowski a position on Operation Prometheus, he didn't kill her first. When he'd offered to come pick her up at the airport, she'd wanted to shout yes and no at the same time. She wanted to get this over with. She never wanted him to know.
But most of all, she wanted the government to butt out and quit making Chuck's life hell.
"Ma'am?" A pleasant voice at her elbow nearly made her jump. Sarah schooled her expression back into something approaching normal—for her, anyway—and turned slowly. The flight attendant she'd talked to at the beginning of the flight was kneeling by her seat.
"Yes?" she asked, hoping that her obvious unease wasn't showing as clearly as she figured it was.
Either way, the flight attendant didn't ask. Instead, she extended a Styrofoam container toward Sarah. "You asked me to put this in the refrigerator for the flight? We're about to land here in twenty minutes, and I didn't want either of us to forget it."
Sarah stared in bafflement at the container as she took it.
"For your friend, right?" The flight attendant, a pretty-if-otherwise-ordinary woman, smiled at her. "He must be special if you're going out of your way to fly soft-shelled crab across the country for him."
That didn't make sense, Sarah thought, frowning as she tried to put all the pieces together with a shell-shocked brain. Chuck's file stated that he didn't like shellfish all that much, so why would he ask her to—
Oh, my God, Sarah thought.
Special friend indeed.
"Are you all right, ma'am?" The flight attendant had started to rise, but the expression on Sarah's face must have made her change her mind.
It took a mammoth effort, but Sarah pushed her discomfort behind the shifting, shiftless mask that accompanied the Sarah Walker name. "I'm fine," she said. The flight attendant—whose nametag read Shirley, Sarah realized belatedly—nodded uncertainly, still looking a bit concerned. Maybe she wasn't hiding it as well as she thought, Sarah realized. She'd have to do something about that. "Actually, is it too late to get one of those little whiskey bottles?"
Shirley's uncertainty increased, but Sarah hadn't been a CIA agent for years without a few tricks. She played up the vulnerability and just used the one word she knew would work. "Please?"
It was a success. Shirley's body language told Sarah she was going to relent before Shirley herself did. In less than a minute, the flight attendant was back with a little bottle, a friendly smile, and a pat on the arm.
Sarah looked down at the soft-shelled crab sandwich she'd picked up for Casey on the way to the airport, and downed the Jack Daniels in one swallow. Overhead, the pilot came on over the loudspeaker to thank everybody for flying Oceanic Air, and that the plane was on its final descent into LAX. Sarah swallowed hard. Less than half an hour to go before she had to face Chuck…and Casey.
She should have asked for more alcohol. She'd escaped from maximum security situations, sometimes with only a goat to protect her modesty, faced down terrorists, drug lords, the crazed and the sane, coked-up idiots with guns, and on one notable occasion, an actual ninja, but nothing the CIA had given her would ever prepare her to do battle with the most terrifying thing of all: her subconscious.
A/N the Second: So the story behind this story is that Wepdiggy requested a scene in which Sarah has a nightmare about Chuck's cover story from Chapter Nineteen of What Fates Impose. And even better for Wep, the Gamecocks won the College World Series! Yay!
So now people are asking if Fates is a Chuck/Sarah story. Well, so far I've presented possibilities of Chuck/Sarah, Sarah/Ellie, Casey/Sarah, and Chuck/Jill. And remember, I've never outright SAID Fates is a Charah story, so…uh-oh.
Last bit of Sarah perspective we'll see for awhile, though mxpw's birthday is approaching, so who knows what'll happen then?
Next chapter of What Fates Impose (Asking for Trouble) coming tomorrow, by the way! I'll be traveling all day, but I'll post it before I leave and y'all (no, I'm not Truthie) can enjoy it while I'm on my flight daydreaming about seeing my dogs again. Win-Win!