A/N the First: So I wrote That Which is Greater, which right now is embroiled in lots of distrust and fighting, which is just the nature of the beast. I literally cannot let my characters skip growth just because it's easier to write it the other way. However, I also wrote Greater to have a good time writing it (which I do), and to have a good time letting others read it (which I hope they do). So even though they're fighting right now, I'm imagining scenes down the road that I really want to write.
And so I said, the other night at work when this idea hit me, "Screw it, I'm going to write it anyway." If you want a story that doesn't jump around, I have What Fates Impose. :) Which I will hopefully update soon.
This is from an unspecified date in the future of Greater.
That Which is Greater:
The Happiest Place on Earth
"I'm fine," Sarah said again, shooting a look at Chuck.
He reached in through the open driver's window and gently pried one of her hands from the steering wheel. When he laughed, she narrowed her eyes. "We're not leaving for another hour, you know. Vi's not even awake yet, let alone dressed and ready to go. You can get out of the car."
If she got out of the minivan, Sarah thought, she was probably never getting into it again. "I'm fine," she said a third time.
"Suit yourself." Chuck shrugged.
Sarah sighed and reluctantly let go, nodding her thanks when Chuck held the door open for her. "The guys at the office said it's the safest model they have," she said, brushing her hands dry on her jeans. "It holds up to eight, since the seat in the middle folds down."
"Excellent. C'mon in, I'll get you some coffee."
They headed up the driveway to Chuck's place, waving to Casey as he headed into the Spy Casa. Casey had driven her to the base to pick up the minivan—the one he should have been driving, since he'd originally lost the rock-paper-scissors game. Apparently, fate, a case of tonsillitis, and Ellie's work schedule didn't believe in the outcome of rock-paper-scissors, though.
"Vi's not up yet?" Sarah asked as Chuck held open the front door for her. "Last time I saw her, she was—"
"Bouncing-off-the-walls excited? Yeah. That tends to lead to a pretty hard crash. She's been out like a light since early." Chuck yawned as he poured two cups of coffee.
"And what time did you get to sleep?"
"I got about six hours, I'll be fine."
"Okay. Because if you end up crashing and leaving me alone with all of those kids in the middle of Disneyland, I swear to God—"
"Don't you, like, regularly jump out of planes and storm beaches and stuff?"
"You've mixed me up with the Navy SEALs again."
"There are four of them," Sarah said, her voice flat. "And only two of us."
"They're small. They don't count as much." Chuck's grin blossomed as he sipped his coffee. "Also, easily portable. If I didn't know better, I'd say the great Sarah Walker was scared."
"Not scared. Cautious, and reasonably so. This enemy is unpredictable and cannot be reasoned or bargained with."
"Clearly you've never tried to bribe a five-year-old. Also: enemy? You've been spending too much time around Casey."
Sarah narrowed her eyes yet again and opened her mouth to reply, but the sound of footsteps on the stairs made both of them look over. Violet stumbled in, dragging Bun-Bun by one of his little platypus feet. The stuffed animal suffered the indignity with aplomb, even when he was whacked against the edge of the kitchen island.
Vi's eyes lit up when she saw Sarah. "Hi!" As had become her habit, she launched herself into a running leap. Sarah caught the five-year-old. Chuck caught the toy. "What're you doing here so early? Are you going to stay? Can we have French toast?" Evidently trusting that Sarah wouldn't drop her, she arched back to look at her father—upside down. "Can we, Daddy?"
"I don't know," Chuck said while Sarah grinned and shifted her grip. "Do you want French toast, or do you want Disneyland? You can't have both."
Vi's eyes went wide. "Disneyland!" she breathed, as though she had totally forgotten. She began to bounce, and Sarah laughed as she deposited the smallest Bartowski on the ground, where Vi promptly began to spin in circles. "Disneyland, Disneyland, Disneyland!"
"Tell us how you really feel." Chuck grinned. "C'mon, let's go get you dressed while Sarah makes us breakfast, huh?"
"Oh, I'm making breakfast?" Sarah raised an eyebrow.
"Bartowski rules, Sarah. Everybody pulls their weight." Chuck stuck his tongue out at her, laughing when she shoved at his arm.
Since Vi was still running around the kitchen with that insane amount of energy only small children and nuclear reactors seemed to possess, Sarah figured she was getting the easy end of the deal. Still, that didn't stop her from snatching Vi up on the next lap. "Good morning, Miss Violet," she said, and deposited the squirming bundle into Chuck's arms. "There. Got my good morning hug. Now, you two go get ready. I'll, uh, whip something up."
"There's eggs in the fridge," Chuck offered helpfully over his shoulder as he hauled the five-year-old out of the kitchen.
"Does Ellie buy egg whites?" Sarah called after him.
"Ew!" was the reply from both father and daughter.
"Guess not. Hello, cholesterol." Sarah rolled her sleeves up and dove in. They'd be walking a lot today, so they'd need the protein, she reminded herself. She had been up half the night worrying, but the other half had been spent studying maps of Disneyland that she had downloaded from headquarters. Disneyland was huge, she'd discovered. It had taken awhile to locate strategic exit points, spots that she could safely stash Chuck and the others if something were to go wrong, routes that would provide lots of cover if it came down to that. She had programmed all of these into her phone and was carrying—along with a bottle of sunscreen—a miniature first aid kit with extra band-aids, the numbers to every hospital within 50 miles of Anaheim, special plastic-compound knives that wouldn't alert the scanners, extra water bottles, bobby-pins, emergency cash, a digital camera, a back-up battery for her cell phone, and Tic-Tacs.
Even so, she felt oddly vulnerable without her gun. She didn't like that feeling, even though escorting around five- and six-year-olds while armed to the teeth probably wasn't the wisest idea.
"Okay, so run-down on the kids," Chuck said, coming back into the kitchen alone while Sarah finished up breakfast. He stopped and stared. "What is that?"
"Egg in a basket."
Chuck gaped. "What have you done to that poor, innocent toast?"
"Shut up, you'll like it."
"You've killed the toast. Megabyte, Sarah has murdered the toast." Chuck gave his daughter a scandalized look as she wandered in.
Vi pulled herself up onto one of the island stools and leaned forward on her elbows to get a good look at the frying pan. "What'd you do to it?"
"It's called egg in a basket," Sarah said. "It's toast with eggs in the middle of it. And it's really good, I promise." This last was aimed at the drama queen currently pretending to mourn the rest of the loaf of bread on the counter. "You like eggs, right?"
"Yeah, I guess so."
"You'll like this." Sarah gave Chuck the stink-eye. "And you'll eat it, Chuck Bartowski."
"Oh, man, she's starting to sound like Aunt Ellie." Chuck grinned conspiratorially at his daughter. "Better listen up when she talks like that."
"Or we'll go to Disneyland without you," Sarah said.
This time, Chuck put both hands over his heart, as though she'd shot him, obviously overacting for Vi's benefit. "You'd really do that to me?" he asked, and Vi giggled. He pretended to glare at her. "Did I ask for comments from the peanut gallery, squirt?"
Vi giggled harder. Sarah lifted an eyebrow. "I'm the one driving, aren't I?"
"Oh. Well, in that case, guess I'll go watch a movie or something. Have a good time at Disneyland, ladies." Chuck waved on his way out.
"No!" The protest was made by both Vi and Sarah, one a little more panicked than the other. Vi bounced on the stool. "C'mon, Daddy, you promised me you'd take me on the Teacups! You have to go! We'll eat the baskets, won't we?"
"What she's saying is 'don't leave me alone with Sarah,'" Sarah said dryly, her initial panic subsiding when Chuck peeked around the corner, grinning.
"Nuh-uh," Violet told her. "I like you. You're fun, and you look like Tink."
Again, Sarah wondered who the hell this Tink was, but she wasn't going to reveal that she wasn't cool enough to know. "Thanks. I like you, too." She hooked an arm around Vi's neck and gave her a one-armed hug as she set a plate in front of her. "Now eat up. And no more comments from this peanut gallery." The latter was said to Chuck, who had sidled up onto the far stool, leaving the middle for Sarah.
He murmured another eulogy for the toast, but seemed to dig in with a real appetite. Apparently, even the prospect of Disneyland brought out his inner goofball.
"So, as I was saying before the toast was disemboweled," Chuck said, "a brief run-down on the kids. You've met Moniqua, of course."
"Best friend extraordinaire, bit of a picky eater so that will make mealtimes interesting, but she's not allergic to anything we have to worry about today."
"And she likes Ariel," Violet added. "That's her favorite princess."
"Oh. Uh, which one's yours?" It was probably best to know these things, though Sarah didn't really have the first clue who Ariel was.
"Cinderella," Violet said, and bounced again. "Lily likes her best, too. She has yellow hair."
"That would mean Cinderella's a blonde, not Lily," Chuck explained in an undertone.
Sarah ran a hand through her hair and nodded. "Okay. And Lily's one of the others going with us?"
"Right. Lily of the younger brother with Tonsillitis. Which means that Lily's other brother, Landon will be joining us today. And Cynthia sends her thank-yous, by the way, for being willing to go along on this crazy jaunt."
"Lily and Landon's mom."
"Lucas has a sore throat," Violet put in. "Lily can't go 'less we take Landon, too."
"And that would be, if I'm remembering this right, no strawberries for Landon, and we'll have to carry an inhaler for Lily."
"Check. I've got my bag in the car."
"I have of course prepared an iPod road trip mix that will blow all of your socks off," Chuck went on, scraping his plate clean before going for seconds. "We'll be working on the music education of these young minds, molding them to perfection." He reached around Sarah to give Violet a mini-noogie.
She giggled. "Did you put Taylor Swift on there, Daddy?"
"Much to my dismay, I did."
Sarah glanced at Chuck. "New country artist that Ellie likes," he said. "Thankfully, she's not bad, since she's Vi's favorite and we listen to her every single time we go anywhere." He heaved a dramatic sigh.
Violet gave him the prim five-year-old look she did so well. "Not every time. Just most times. I like 'Our Song.'"
"Awesome. All done?"
"Yup. Can I say good-bye to Sir before we go?"
"I'll walk you over," Sarah said when Chuck looked uncertain. "I need to double-check and make sure I haven't forgotten anything, anyway. Meet you out at the van in five minutes?"
Something closer to ten minutes later—saying good-bye to Sir always took a bit—they were in the van, on the way to pick up the other kids, and after that, to Disneyland. It might have been called the Happiest Place on Earth, but Sarah couldn't help but think it might be one of the scariest, too.