A/N the First: I wish I had the ability to put into words how awesome mxpw is, but since I'm not a writer, I'll just have to speak from the dictionary:
1. inspiring awe: an awesome sight.
2. showing or characterized by awe.
3. Slang. very impressive: That new white convertible is totally awesome.
4. Devon Woodcomb, Captain of.
5. mxpw, the world's best beta reader, a fantastic friend, the guy who listens to me even though he know something random is bound to confuse him within the next ten seconds, a wonderful writer, and just an all around cool dude.
See? It's right there, right in the dictionary! Don't believe me! Look it up. But, ah, send me your dictionary first, and when you get it back, try to ignore the fact that the last entry might be, um, handwritten. The printers ran out of ink that day! With just your dictionary. Everybody else's has it type-written all prettily, and it's not my fault you bought the faulty copy. :)
Happy birthday, mxpw.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears, and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open and show riches
Ready to drop upon me that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again.
- William Shakespeare, The Tempest
Sleeping on the Job
27 SEPTEMBER 2007
10 KM NORTH OF RADOMSKO, POLAND
This was a bad idea.
No, this wasn't a bad idea. This was an awful idea. This was an idea on the scale of things like the Hindenburg, and New Coke, and a thousand other historical and pop culture references that Sarah Walker's tired brain was too muddled and sleep-deprived to provide. She and Chuck had only one thing on their side right now, and that was the element of speed. By the time the higher-ups in Washington got their thumbs out of their collective asses and realized exactly what had gone down with Bryce Larkin and the Intersect at the DNI, she and Chuck would have already vanished into the wind, to lie low until she was dead certain it was safe for either of them to come out again. Or just dead.
Of course, the only way they were actually going to vanish was if they kept moving, which definitely wasn't going to happen if they kept taking nap breaks and messing with her admittedly-tenuous plans.
She'd made her damned bed the instant she had asked Digital Dave to cover up knowledge of the email transmission to a bunker in Siberia. And that bed, she thought now with a sigh as she hauled herself the last couple of rungs of a ladder that had seen better days and dumped the things she had brought with her onto the floor, was now a musty hayloft in an abandoned barn in the middle of Poland.
She'd slept in stranger places. She wasn't sure she'd slept with stranger people, though.
This was a bad, bad idea.
Down the ladder, she could hear Chuck fiddling with the little blue plastic pieces, the perimeter alert. Smart, she couldn't help but think. Handy, too, and she wasn't entirely thinking about the perimeter alarm. Chuck had been a better help that she had expected throughout their long, hellacious journey. He hadn't whined at all, for one thing. She had ripped him from a world he had known for three years—five years total, if she was counting this other mysterious bunker—and he hadn't made a single complaint about that, even though she could see the terror and the panic regularly sneaking up on him.
He was holding it together.
She had made her bed.
This was a bad idea.
She broke out the satchel that Jean-Claude had packed in the plane for them, sustenance for a couple of days "just in case." The plan had been to eat on the mood, trotting to their next destination, as she hadn't been able to arrange for the car to be delivered to a barn in the middle of nowhere without drawing suspicious attention. And the less attention she drew right now, the better. The longer she could keep Chuck safe.
It was rude not to wait for him to eat, but it had been forever since her last meal. So she wolfed down a sandwich, and set one aside for him. It wasn't enough, but she could eat later, after she woke.
Holy hell, she was tired.
She'd been tired before, downright exhausted, actually. The point of the Farm was to break operatives any way they could, and sleep deprivation had been one of the preferred methods. Sleep deprivation was easy to achieve, and it had the bonus of not leaving any marks that could get the CIA in trouble later. Because of that and her extensive time in the field, Sarah knew precisely how long she could stay awake, how long her body could function before her brain started falling asleep on her even in waking state.
She had at least twelve hours left in the can, which was why this was a bad idea.
From downstairs came a wrenching, groaning noise. Sarah reached halfway for her gun before she realized it was Chuck shutting the barn door.
"Sarah?" His voice was rusty, like he didn't use it all that often, and she figured that was the case.
It also sounded really, really good rusty.
"Up here!" she called.
It was a bad idea to listen to him, to stop and rest even the four grudging hours she had given them both. Even though the dark circles beneath Chuck's eyes were so stark they looked like he'd been punched in the face. Even though her body was so tired and weary that she was constantly in danger of simply melting to the floor in a gooey puddle. They needed to keep moving. If they stopped for too long, the government would catch up to them. The gravity of what Sarah had done would catch up to both of them, and it would crush them flat.
She had signed her death warrant the minute she had taken Chuck from that bunker.
If she was dead, it meant she couldn't protect Chuck, and that would mean bad things for him. Already, she could see him struggling, the way he had turned to her more and more often throughout their mad lam together, seeking reassurance and somehow confident she could give him that. She'd wanted to tell him to look somewhere else: she was Sarah Walker, she was a mess herself, she had no business being reassuring to anything.
But he had nobody else. And ever since Bryce had blown up that godforsaken Intersect room, neither did she.
Chuck scrambled up off of the ladder and into the hayloft, his head automatically turning while his eyes scanned the room for egress points and surprises in the corners. He had a habit of doing that, she had noticed, probably because he had been in such a small, regimented space for so many years. Now, he had a need to know where everything was.
It was a little spooky how formulaic he could be about it, though.
Wordlessly, she held out his sandwich. He took it and smiled at her, and she once again thought about what a bad idea this was.
Also, about his shoulders.
Because hot damn, she had not been expecting that.
The man was built. She'd interrupted his exercise routine what now felt like years ago (but was really only something like two days), but she hadn't put it together what the result of that exercise might be. Why the hell had she ever thought he might've enjoyed too many cupcakes? That damn parka had definitely been hiding quite a bit.
"Here," Chuck said, tossing over a small piece of plastic about the size of a credit card. She'd watched him unfold it into a speaker/clip-on ensemble earlier with nothing short of amazement. "You're probably better off with that."
She had no idea why, as she wasn't sure how to work it and there didn't seem to be any buttons or anything to the device. But she resisted the urge to shrug and said, "Thanks." That didn't seem like enough. Idiotically, she added, "Handy," as she clipped it to the vest Jean-Claude had picked out for her. At least the vest would keep her warm. Nights in this part of the country could get cold, especially this late in September.
Yeah, Sarah chided herself. That was pretty lame after all.
When Chuck began yanking out handfuls from the hay bale next to him, she grabbed his arm without thinking about it, and then had to not think about just how toned that arm was under her hand.
What the hell is up with you, Walker? Focus!
"We're going to have to rough it," she said, apologetic. She'd already hauled him out of his bunker, nearly assaulted him on a train, introduced him to an international forger, and spent the last three hours ogling him whenever he wasn't looking. And now she was going to cap off the perfect day by making the poor guy sleep on the floor.
She was kind of amazed he hadn't run away from her screaming by this point.
"No making it look like two people crashed up here. Here. You can use that for a pillow." She was grateful she'd at least remembered to grab his parka, just in case he got cold. There, she wasn't a total bitch.
But Chuck didn't seem particularly upset. "Gotcha," he said. "What are you going to use?"
She hadn't been planning to use anything. She actually slept better without a pillow these days. "This isn't the first time I've slept on a barn floor, Chuck," Sarah said before she could stop to think of how that might sound. Way to rub it in his face, Walker, that you've been all around the world while he's been stuck in a bunker. She sighed at herself as she changed the subject by simply lying down on the spot and setting her watch. "I set my watch, so—four hours."
There was a pause. She didn't dare look to see what Chuck was thinking, though. Instead, she waited him out, and eventually he lay down so close to her she could almost feel the body heat radiating off of him. Realistically, he was about a third of a meter away. It was entirely her imagination at work, just as that same imagination had been clocking overtime ever since she had turned around in the plane and seen just how well that sweater and jeans had emphasized things that the parka had hidden from her view.
God, now she was no longer a fifteen-year-old with a crush. She was one precarious evolutionary step away from a steaming pile of lust.
Sarah resisted the urge to pound the back of her head into the hayloft floor. Doing so would wake Chuck, and she could tell by his steady breathing that he had gone right to sleep, the lucky jerk.
What a foolish, idiotic idea this was. Sarah slowly, daringly turned her head. The hayloft wasn't entirely dark, just gloomy from the evening light that filtered in through holes in the wall, so she could make out details about Chuck in the dimness. As she studied him, lying on his stomach with his face buried in the crook of his elbow, she couldn't help but wonder, had he had those shoulders two years ago? Because hot damn. Even her (somewhat rare yet very vivid) dreams hadn't even dared to sculpt shoulders like that.
Before she knew it, Sarah fell asleep.
27 SEPTEMBER 2007
10 KM NORTH OF RADOMSKO, POLAND
Something was beeping.
And good lord almighty, Sarah Walker was going to kill it. She'd gone through eight different alarm clocks during her days at Harvard, six of those alone in the year after she had taken precision knife throwing lessons at the Farm. Now, groggy in her half-asleep state, she fumbled for the knife-sheath she kept on her leg, intending to add alarm clock number nine to the list of the damned.
Her hand hit something warm. Something warm and that had some give, like flesh.
Instantly, every part of Sarah woke. Situational awareness, they called it. Knowing every detail about everything about the nearby surroundings, no matter how minuscule. Ambient temperature, spatial relations, positioning of one's body both inwardly and outwardly, both subtle and overt differences in all, how to assess a situation in under five seconds. Keeping her body still so that she wouldn't alert anybody else that she was awake, just in case danger had showed up while her guard was down, Sarah slit open one eye and then the next. It took a moment to make out detail in the darkness.
She'd fallen asleep on her back, over a foot away from Chuck, and she wasn't the type to shift around in her sleep. Once she was out, she usually stayed put. So there was no possible explanation as to why she had not only moved in her sleep, but had also migrated. And she was no longer on her back.
No, she was on her stomach. Well, kind of on her stomach, Sarah thought, forcing herself to be honest. Partially on her side, mostly on her stomach, but almost all the way on top of Chuck Bartowski. And they were cuddled up just like a couple of puppies. Hell, she even had a leg over his, as if she could burrow as deeply as she could into his warmth.
It terrified her to shift her eyes up toward his face, which she could see without any effort thanks to the fact that she was using his shoulder as a pillow. And she nearly blew it by letting out an "Oh, thank God!" out of relief when she saw that his eyes were closed, those fascinatingly long eyelashes dark against his cheek.
Of course, of course, he opened his eyes.
She had spoken way too damn soon, hadn't she?
Instantly, confusion reigned over his face. "Uh," he said, as Sarah froze. But instead of commenting on the fact that she was pretty much smothering him, he looked even more puzzled. "Something's beeping."
"What?" Sarah asked before she could stop herself. She jolted. "Oh. Right. That's my watch."
"Oh." Chuck's eyebrows drew low over his eyes as he thought about this. "Why is your watch beeping?"
"Because it's time to get up."
"Four hours, and then we have to move, remember?"
"Oh," Chuck said again. He gave her a confused look. "I feel like this may have been burying the lead, but why are you on top of me, again?"
Sarah barely suppressed the groan, though she knew it had been ridiculous to hope he wouldn't ask. She attempted to slide off of Chuck, only to discover, much to her horror, that she was literally stuck.
Chuck apparently took that as a cue. He shifted a little bit, pushing his arms underneath him so that he could prop himself up onto his elbows, his forearms crossed beneath his chest. "I guess it makes sense," he said, mostly to himself. "After all, I've got to be more comfortable than this floor, which, now that I'm thinking about it, is really and incredibly disgusting. And hey, I'm a very cuddly person. I guess you just couldn't resist."
Since that was more or less what had happened, thanks to her damned stupid subconscious, Sarah had to suppress not only a second groan but a flush as well as she tried to figure out exactly why she couldn't get free of Chuck. Her voice as guttural as she said, "Shut up, Chuck."
He ignored her. He'd already started to develop that habit, which could be a problem. "Are you stuck?" he asked, twisting a little bit (and taking Sarah with him). "What are you stuck on? My belt loop?"
Embarrassingly enough, she was. The sensor receiver had somehow become pinned between them, and it had snagged, surely enough, on the belt loop of Chuck's jeans. "Looks like," she said, trying to work the receiver free.
"Here," Chuck said, reaching back.
Sarah barely resisted the urge to slap his hand away, and as she did so, her hand brushed right over his ass. Now it was Chuck's turn to freeze. "I got it."
"If you just—"
"I said I've got it."
"Seriously, if you really—"
She was approaching hysteria. "Chuck! I said I can handle it!"
"I know you can, but…" Chuck actually smiled at her, which made her stop and fumble long enough for him to reach over and unclip the receiver from her vest. He immediately worked the receiver free of his belt loop and smiled at her again.
Sarah wondered if it was possible to die of embarrassment. She slid off of Chuck and immediately busied herself with gathering up the satchel and the sandwich wrappers. She looked up to see Chuck smiling at her a bit drowsily. "What?" she asked, more sharply than she had intended.
He either didn't hear her tone or he just ignored it. "You're a cuddler, aren't you?"
Well, that was rather forward for the same guy that had flushed bright red when her shirt had ridden up on the train, exposing maybe an inch of midriff. Sarah nearly gaped at him.
"I mean, it's understandable, given that I am, as I claimed earlier, a very cuddly person," Chuck went on. "But it's still surprising."
"Body heat," Sarah said through gritted teeth.
"What was that?"
Where was the convenient lightning bolt from the sky to kill her when she needed it? "I was using you for body heat," she said, not looking at him. "That's all it was."
Because she refused to look up from her ministrations with clearing up evidence of their time in the hayloft, she didn't see his grin. But oh, she heard it. "It's okay, Sarah, you can admit it."
Sarah peeked at him now from under her eyelashes. "Admit what?"
"That you're a cuddler."
"I am not! I was using you for body heat."
"Sure. Uh-huh." Chuck's grin broadened.
"I don't want to talk about this anymore," Sarah decided. If they kept talking about it, she might do something like explode or act on all of the adrenaline and fear that was still pushing her. And Chuck was in no way mentally prepared to handle being the outlet for that sort of outburst. She slung the satchel over her shoulder and crawled over to the ladder. Her body was still screaming for sleep, and for more warmth since the air was almost frigid after being surrounded by Chuck's body heat. "We need to get moving."
"What? Okay, sure." Chuck picked up his parka pillow and stuffed it under his shoulder so that he could follow her down the ladder. He watched her as she carefully climbed onto the first rung. She in no way trusted the ladder not to kill one or both of them, but she didn't actually have any other choices to get into the hayloft. At least she didn't have a fear of heights.
"Hey, Sarah?" Chuck asked.
She paused. "Yeah?" Was that nervousness in his voice? Was he on the verge of another attack? She'd seen three threaten and pass as Chuck worked to calm himself, and it was rather impressive that he was holding on this well, but she had to keep an eye on him for signs of a larger episode.
But Chuck didn't look particularly freaked out now, since he was grinning at her. "Just wondering, but can I be the big spoon next time?"
For one tempting, devilish moment, Sarah considering just telling him the truth, that he was more than welcome to do far more than spoon her. She didn't want shock erasing that grin, even if it was smirk-y and aimed at her, though. So she just gave Chuck a level look. "Let's go."
Chuck's laughter followed her all the way down the ladder.
A/N the Second: This was originally just supposed to be from when they woke up onward but so many people voted for it that I gave you a little taste of the neurosis that was Sarah during their entire time on the lam together. Geez. It's a wonder Chuck doesn't look at her one day and she simply explodes with lust. By god, woman! Also, thank you to everybody who participated in the poll! That was kind of humbling and awe-inspiring to see Bungalow and Hayloft duke it out.
Disclaimer: I don't own it and please don't sue me. The owners of Chuck are awesome, awesome people! I'm just sorta okay to the one side and oh, yeah, penniless.