A/N: Well, we've come to the end of this story. I am truly amazed and honored at the response it has received. Thank you for the reviews, PMs, tweets, etc. I ask just one more time to let me know what you thought of this and if you would like to see more of this family in new adventures.
Once again, I need to thank AgentInWaiting who has been with me on this journey from the very start, guiding, correcting, suggesting, helping. You have no idea how critical he was to this project. And give the man some love! He was up really late last night beta'ing this chapter so we could post it today.
Thank you to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II for their timeless music and lyrics. Thank you, also, to Josh Schwartz and Chris Fedak for creating the wonderful show and characters that we all love so much.
Finally, I want to thank Maria von Trapp for sharing her story with the world.
As Saturday morning arrived, there were no glorious sun rays streaming in through windows, bathing the house with bright shafts of warming light. Rather, as the sun rose, the world around the Bartowski estate slowly lightened from darkness to gray. And it was snowing. Hard. The graupel that fell when the storm first began around midnight swiftly gave way to large, rapidly falling snowflakes.
By the time Chuck and Sarah had made their way down the stairs together, there was already six inches of snow on the ground and the storm showed no signs of letting up anytime soon. The house was quiet except for the occasional snapping and popping of the wood burning in the fireplace. The children were still asleep, taking advantage of the snowy Saturday morning. The newlyweds would have still been asleep, too, if they hadn't just returned from Florida where they managed to adjust to the new time zone the day they left to return home.
Wearing sweatpants and sweatshirts, they sat snuggled together on the couch under a knitted afghan. Their feet, clad in fleece lined boots, were propped up on the coffee table. In honor of the snow, they had changed up their normal morning routine. Rather than coffee, they sipped hot cocoa.
"As much as I enjoy sitting out on the balcony having coffee with you in the mornings, this is nice, too," Sarah said softly. She took a sip of cocoa and enjoyed the feeling of the rich, chocolately concoction sliding down her throat and warming her from the inside.
"I'm glad you like this, honey, because it might be awhile before we can sit outside again in the mornings," Chuck replied in a low voice. He looked out the window and watched the snow fall. "And by the looks of things now, we're definitely not going anywhere soon."
"That's okay. I wanted to stay in anyway and have a nice quiet Saturday."
He looked at her, his eyebrows raised. "Quiet? Have you forgotten, Mrs. Bartowski, that we have seven children?"
She shoved him with her shoulder. "You know what I mean. No errands, no running around town. No wedding stuff to do. Just staying home."
"Well, we don't have a choice about that until Fred, Curtis and I clear the driveway." He sipped his cocoa and added, "I have to warn you, though, that the kids will want to go out and play in the snow."
Her brow furrowed. Playing in the snow sounds kind of fun. "What's wrong with that?"
"Oh, nothing," he chuckled. "It's just that it takes less work to prepare to invade a small country than it does to get seven kids in snow gear. And their coming in from the outside is even more challenging. Let's just say there's a reason why the room just off the garage is called the 'mud room.'"
Unfazed, she shrugged. "It'll be fine. What are you doing today?"
"Besides wrangling seven snowbound children and refereeing over who gets to drive the snow thrower first? I was planning on reviewing the results of the preliminary tests I ran while we were gone last week."
"Good," she said quietly. "We need to give Graham and Beckman an update as soon as possible. They're going to get really antsy for the software to get finished now that the wedding and honeymoon are over."
"Who said the honeymoon is over?" he teased.
Rolling her eyes, she snickered and kissed his cheek.
"What are your plans for today?" he asked in return.
"Besides wrangling seven snowbound children and getting to drive the snow thrower first?"
She grinned when he nearly did a spit take as he sipped his cocoa.
"I want to start a tradition of having a family Saturday breakfast together," she stated.
"That sounds wonderful."
"I'm glad you think so." She sat up a little straighter and explained, "Once the Fulcrum threat is gone, the kids will want to start doing more after school activities and it'll get harder and harder for all of us to get together for dinner. It's important that we eat as a family as often as we can."
His eyebrows darted upwards. "Wow, Dr. Phil. Did you read that in Nannying for Dummies?"
"Very funny," she shot back, giving him an amused glare. "For your information, it was the kids' idea," she admitted, starting to chuckle. "That first morning I was here? You remember when you came in and the kitchen was a mess?"
His eyes danced at the memory of the flour on her face.
"The kids were still 'testing' me as you called it and conned me into making them whatever they wanted for breakfast. They said you did it all the time for them because it was 'family bonding time.'"
"What?" he laughed. "Those little…"
"Hey, don't be too mad," she said, jumping to the kids' defense. She gave him a shy look and added, "If I recall correctly, that's the moment you fell in love with me."
He brushed the imaginary flour away from her forehead and then kissed it. "Mm-hmm. But if I didn't fall in love with you then, I would have probably fallen in love with you thirty seconds later, with or without the flour."
"Fated to happen, huh?"
"Destiny. No escaping it." He smiled and kissed her gently on the lips. "I'm sure the kids will love your breakfast tradition." He looked past her and added, "And here comes one of them now."
She turned her head and watched Megan, her blonde hair a tangled mess, stumble sleepily into the living room and walk directly over to where Chuck and she sat. She stood in front of them, staring at the couple, heavy-lidded. Sarah quickly got the hint and lifted up the end of the afghan, inviting the little girl to join them. Climbing up onto the couch, Megan snuggled in next to Sarah and announced, "It's snowing."
"Yup," Chuck replied quietly.
They sat together, silently watching the fire burn and the snow fall when Martie wandered in and nestled next to Chuck under the warm covering. One by one, each still in a sleepy haze, the kids found their way to the living room and settled down in a warm place. The afghan was now stretched to the limit of coverage as Bridget had squeezed under it next to Megan. Lisa and Curtis lay on the floor directly in front of the fire and Lizzie burrowed into the back cushions of a chair, the hood of her sweatshirt pulled up over her head. Fred was the last to join the group. Looking a little like a freezing refugee, he shuffled into the room with a blanket up over his head and pulled close so that only his face was visible.
"I'm hungry," he announced to the room.
"Looks like you're up," Chuck whispered to Sarah.
"Mm-hmm." Sitting up a little straighter, she started, "I'd like to start a new family tradition." That statement was met with furtive glances and dubious looks.
"Oh, come on," she snickered. "It's not like I'm asking for you to do a family sing-along. I just want us to have a big family breakfast together on Saturdays. I believe you called it 'family bonding time' that first morning I was here."
The older kids winced and looked sheepishly at each other. Megan and Martie giggled.
"Relax," Sarah laughed. "Even though you were pulling a fast one on me that time, I want to do it for real."
"That's really not necessary, Aunt Sarah," Lizzie told her. "We're okay with just cereal." Her siblings nodded.
"Oh, come on," she chided them good naturedly. "You have cereal every morning before school."
The kids glanced and shrugged at each other. "Okay," they all responded simultaneously.
"What are we having this morning, Miss Sarah – I mean, Aunt Sarah?" Bridget asked.
"Well," she smiled, "today I want to make you the breakfasts you asked for the first morning I was here."
"Cool! I had-" Lizzie started, but stopped when Sarah said, "I remember. You had blueberry muffins. Fred and Curtis, you both had pancakes. A lot of pancakes. With bananas and chocolate chips." The boys chuckled. She nudged Megan sitting next to her and continued, "Megan had a waffle, extra syrup on the side." She looked to the other three girls and said, "Then there were the 'egg' girls. Lisa had an omelet with diced tomatoes, green peppers and melted cheese, Martie had scrambled and Bridget had fried."
Astonished, they all stared at her. "What?" She smirked at their reactions. "I'm trained to remember details." She threw the afghan off, stood and headed for the kitchen. Chuck jumped up, too, and started out after his wife with Fred immediately taking the spot they had just vacated.
"That's a lot of work, Sarah," Chuck said once they entered the kitchen. He took her hand and pulled her into an embrace. "Are you sure you want to do all this?"
"Yes, Chuck, I'm sure." She gave him a seductive look. "Although I wouldn't turn down help if you offered."
"Help my gorgeous wife make breakfast for my seven wonderful, albeit slightly devious, kids? I think I can do that."
Once again, every bowl and appliance in the kitchen was used as they prepared breakfast. The kids, hearing Chuck and Sarah have so much fun working in the kitchen together, wandered in and sat at the table and watched their uncle and aunt interact. The noise level rose as the laughter increased. This had apparently awakened Morgan who soon strolled into the room just as the children finished devouring their food.
"What'll be, buddy?" Chuck asked, standing over the electric griddle with a spatula in hand as he was in charge of making pancakes and waffles. "Muffins, waffles, pancakes or eggs?"
"Um, all of the above?" he answered, sitting down at the table.
"Pancakes it is," Chuck proclaimed, pouring yet more batter onto the griddle.
"Uncle Morgan," Fred said, "do we need to practice Call of Duty today to get ready for the tournament next weekend? It might be a good idea to do that especially now that Uncle Chuck and Aunt Sarah are back." There was a rustle and a thunk under the table. Grabbing his shin, Fred grimaced and cried out, "Ow!" He glared over at Lisa and growled, "Why did you kick… Oh." He looked back at Morgan, who had paled slightly, and whispered, "Oops."
Standing at the sink rinsing a frying pan, Sarah saw Chuck stiffen as he looked at Morgan. She quickly turned off the water, sidled over to Chuck and gently removed the spatula in his hand. It was evident to her that Chuck now had something on his mind other than flipping pancakes.
"Morgan," Chuck began in a measured and controlled voice, "what did you do?"
"Well, Chuck, you see, I, um…"
"Morgan, did you enter us in that Call of Duty tournament?" Chuck asked, eyeing him. "The one I never agreed to?"
Without heads turning, seven pairs of eyes shifted back and forth between Chuck and Morgan. Feeling the tension in the room, all seven kids leaped from their chairs and fled the kitchen.
"Well, now, to be fair, Chuck, you never came out and said 'no'," Morgan tried.
"I never said 'yes', though, either," Chuck reminded him.
Morgan attempted to sit up straight and look Chuck in the eye, but then slouched in defeat and stared at the table. "Okay, Chuck. Yes, I signed you up for the tournament."
"Morgan," his friend sighed with exasperation, "you can't do stuff like that without our permission. The kids shouldn't be distracted from their school work with video games. I was pretty clear on that."
"I know, dude, but here's the thing," Morgan said, chancing a glance at Chuck. He sighed and nervously explained, "The only reason my bosses have allowed me to stay here with you as long as I have is because I…" he paused, screwed up his courage and blurted, "I promised them that the 'Bartowski Family Gamers', sponsored by the Buy More, would play in the tournament."
At that pronouncement, both Chuck and Sarah looked at him in surprise.
"I told them how great the kids are at the game and they're excited about getting some good publicity from it."
Sarah flipped the now close-to-burning pancakes.
"Besides, I thought you were okay with it when you had that second game system installed," Morgan added.
"I did that because I thought it would be fun for us to play together as a family."
"And Casey and I made sure that they never played until all their homework was done," the bearded man added hopefully.
"You should have told us about your job, Morgan," Chuck said. "We never would have asked you to stay so long if it meant trouble for you."
"I know, buddy. I'm sorry." Brightening, Morgan said, "Hey! We've already got uniforms and everything – green Buy More polo shirts with the store logo on the front and 'Bartowski Family Gamers' on the back. They're pretty cool."
Chuck smiled ruefully, unconvinced that green Buy More polo shirts would be considered cool by the kids. "Let me talk this over with Sarah and we'll get back to you." He looked at the kitchen clock. "And I need to go check on my testing." With that, he left the room, shaking his head.
Sarah piled the pancakes onto a plate and placed the stack in front of a dejected Morgan.
"Sarah, please make him see how great this would be for us all," he pleaded.
Shrugging, she responded, "I can't make him do something if he doesn't think it's right for the kids." She watched him pour syrup over his pancakes and then said, giving him a wink, "But for my wedding planner, I'll talk to him. Okay?"
He grinned back and then attacked the pile of food in front of him. Apparently, the misunderstanding with Chuck had done nothing to diminish his appetite.
Sarah gave her husband a few minutes alone while she cleaned up the kitchen. She took the time to think about how she felt about the tournament and all it would entail. In the end, she realized they really did need to talk it over before a decision could be made.
Tossing a wet towel onto the counter, she left the kitchen in search of Chuck. She found him in his office, motionless in front of his computer screen, save the slightest movements of his right hand as he moved his mouse and clicked.
"Hey," she said quietly, entering the room and sitting down in what was now designated as "her" chair.
"Hey," he echoed softly.
"How did your tests go?"
He shrugged. "So far they look good. There are some minor modifications I need to do to the software, but overall I'm pretty happy with the results. I'll need to retest after the changes. That will take several more days."
"I'm sure Graham and Beckman will be glad to hear that."
Without looking away from the screen, he asked, "Was I too hard on Morgan?"
She released something that was a cross between a chuckle and a sigh. "No. He was out of line, even if his intentions were good." Seeing the unsure look on his face, she added, "I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on that."
He swiveled in his chair and looked at her. She was surprised to see a gleam in his eye. "What is that look?" she asked.
"Is it wrong that I really want to play in this tournament?" he inquired, the sudden excitement on his face making him look like a little kid just before Christmas.
She laughed. "Ah! The truth comes out." Smirking, she asked, "What about the kids' grades? Wasn't that the biggest roadblock to them playing in the tournament?"
"That was the primary one, yes." He spun back toward his computer. Placing his hand over the mouse, he clicked open a browser, typed, clicked and typed again. "I looked at the kids' grades online and they're all doing really well."
She stood from her chair and moved directly behind him, leaning over so that her head was right next to his and her arms loosely around his neck. Scanning the screen, she saw he was right.
"So your concern about their grades isn't really an issue," she pointed out.
"I guess not." He sounded hopeful when he asked, "What do you think?"
She hesitated, "Well, as their aunt, I have no qualms about it. However, as their government provided protector, I'm not too sure. As for you going, I'm definitely not sure."
She felt his shoulders sag in disappointment.
"Sarah, you've done a fantastic job of keeping us safe when we've gone out in public and I know you would do it again. Besides, you'll be right there with us." He turned his head toward her and dropped his voice, "You are on the team, you know. And Casey, too."
Sighing, she thought about the conversation she and Casey had the day before. Although they had narrowed down the field of potential mole suspects, they didn't have enough information to move on any of them. Chuck was right in that both she and Casey would be present at the tournament, as would the rest of the security detail. She had to admit to herself that, other than the information about when the bomb was planted, nothing had changed recently and she really didn't have a compelling reason to keep them from playing. They had been out in public many times with no incidents with the mole always seeming to target the house.
He reached up and put his hands on her forearms which were still draped around him. "You were just saying on the airplane how you don't want the kids to miss out on things that would enrich their lives."
"Oh, so you're going to throw my own words back at me," she teased.
"Well, what you said is true."
She kissed his cheek. "The kids' grades might be good, but your work isn't finished, buster, and I don't think the higher ups would be very happy to hear you're at a video game tournament when our nation's security is on the line."
"Laying it on a bit thick, aren't we Agent Walker?" he kidded as he spun his chair and so that she ended up sitting on his lap.
She smiled her approval of his nifty chair move. "Maybe a little, but you know I'm right about Graham and Beckman."
"Yeah, you are," he said dejectedly. "But you know, honey, we need to keep living our lives. We need to enjoy every day because we don't know what the next day will bring."
Sarah sighed. Someday I'm going to have to learn to say "no" to him. "How about this? Do you think you can get Project Sun Ray finished this week?"
"You finish the software and as a reward, you can be in the tournament."
"Really?" He grinned and said, "You're a harsh taskmaster, by the way."
"And since when are you the boss of me?" he asked in a husky voice.
She leaned in and kissed him. When she pulled back he eyed her appraisingly. "The minute you stepped into the house for the first time," he stated, answering his own question.
She nodded and kissed him again.
By the time the snow stopped falling late that afternoon, a large snowman replete with carrot nose had been fashioned, two snow forts had been erected and used extensively during the ensuing snowball war, turns had been taken driving the snow thrower (after Sarah had commandeered the first ride) and at least a gallon of hot chocolate had been consumed. Sarah realized that Chuck wasn't kidding when he warned her about what the mud room would look like after the kids came back inside. Melted snow dripped from the mountain of wet snow gear, causing puddles to spread across the floor. The kids, who were seasoned pros at dealing with the snow mess, covered the floor with old towels, hung up their gear to dry and changed into dry clothes.
Sunday went much like Saturday and consisted of playing in the snow, homework, hot chocolate and Chuck keeping an eye on Sun Ray's test results. The kids had been told by Sarah that if they continued to work hard on their schoolwork during the week and if Chuck finished Sun Ray in time, they would be allowed to play in the tournament that coming weekend. Morgan was both relieved and overjoyed at the news.
The snow started to melt away as the week began and was nearly gone by the time Thursday arrived. It was that late Thursday afternoon, with the kids working diligently at their school assignments, when Chuck emerged from his office, held his hands up over his head in victory and triumphantly declared to no one in particular, "It works! It's done! The software works and is done."
Sarah, who had been sitting on the living room couch writing a report for Graham and Beckman, jumped up, went to Chuck and gave him a congratulatory hug and kiss. The kids, scattered throughout the house, heard Chuck and all headed his way to congratulate him and also to hopefully receive a positive verdict on the tournament.
Assuming that Chuck would finish the software in time for the tournament, Sarah and Casey had spent most of the week reconnoitering the hotel in nearby Vail and the ballroom where the tournament would be held. They had also met with the other agents on Chuck's security detail. If they indeed attend the tournament, Agents Cole and Barker would remain in the van outside the house since the now completed Project Sun Ray was secured in the safe in Chuck's office. Agents Vegas and Barstow would be at the hotel, one positioned outside the building and one inside the ballroom. Now, as her family looked expectantly to her as the final arbiter regarding the tournament, she sighed. Realizing everyone else had lived up to their end of the bargain, it was time for her to live up to hers.
She wanted to pause for dramatic effect, but they all looked like they were going to explode, including her adorable husband, so she said, "Yes, we can play in the tournament."
The explosion of jubilant noise that followed her announcement nearly knocked her over. As the kids, and Morgan jumped around and high fived each other, Sarah's legs went a bit wobbly at the slow, sexy smile that crept across Chuck's face. There's that smile again. He took her hand and pulled her close so he could talk to her into her ear and be heard over the noisy celebration.
"Are you sure about this?"
She nodded. She turned, and into his ear replied, "You're always saying we have to keep living our lives, so that's what we're going to do."
It was Friday morning and Sarah was, for the first time in awhile, glad to be standing before the monitor which showed the faces of Director Graham and General Beckman.
She grinned when Chuck, who stood to her left, announced, "Director, Project Sun Ray is finished."
"That's wonderful news, Mr. Bartowski," Director Graham boomed.
"Congratulations on a job well done," General Beckman added, obviously pleased with the team.
"Even if it did take longer than it should have," Graham grumbled under his breath.
Sarah's eyes narrowed slightly at his comment, but said nothing. Casey, who stood to her right, grunted quietly.
"We're pleased that software is finished, but it still needs to be delivered to us here in Washington. Obviously, something of this highly sensitive nature cannot be trusted to be sent electronically, even over secure channels, since we don't know how far Fulcrum has infiltrated into our departments. Therefore, it will be necessary for it to be brought here to Washington in person." Graham looked to Sarah and then Casey and said, "Agent Walker, Major Casey, you are to bring the software here." Then addressing Chuck, he added, "Mr. Bartowski, you need to accompany your wife and Major Casey and give a demonstration to the heads of our different intelligence agencies showing what the software is capable of doing. We'll arrange for a military transport plane to fly you here, so you need to make your way to Peterson Air Force Base first thing Monday morning."
"Well, Director, I…" Chuck started and looked to Sarah and then Casey for help.
Sarah jumped in. "Director, I'm sure you are aware that there is still one outstanding component to this mission that has not yet been resolved and that is the ongoing threat to my husband and our children. Until the identity of the mole is ascertained and the threat is eliminated, I'm unwilling to leave the children here unprotected. And Chuck certainly isn't going anywhere without me. The only way this works is if Major Casey stays with the children like he did during our honeymoon."
"No," Graham said immediately. "I must have my two lead agents escorting the asset and the software in transport." The director growled unhappily, "Agent Walker, we seem to be in a quandary."
"What if we deliver the software after the mole is neutralized?" Chuck tried.
"At the rate your wife and Major Casey are going in finding this mole, it will be years before the software is delivered," Graham scoffed.
Sarah stiffened but said nothing. She didn't want to admit it, but he was right. They still didn't know who the mole was, nor did it seem like they ever would.
"Director, I might have a solution," Beckman said, looking at him over her shoulder. To the camera, she instructed, "One moment, team," and cut the video feed.
The three of them were left standing in Chuck's office daring not to move or even utter a word. They could only glance at each other and wait.
It was a good two minutes before the monitor flickered back to life.
General Beckman leaned a bit closer to the camera and said, "We understand how important your children are to you." Turning her head slightly toward Graham, she said pointedly, "I especially understand having personally met them and know firsthand what a wonderful group of kids they are." Graham rolled his eyes and harrumphed but the general continued, ignoring him. "We have a proposal we would like for you to consider."
"Yes, ma'am?" Sarah asked warily.
"How would you feel if the children travelled to Washington with you next week?" The general smiled and added, "You would, of course, fly in something other than a C-130."
"Wow, General, I… um… the kids have school, but… Sarah?" Chuck looked at her, dumbfounded.
Before Sarah could say anything, the general informed them, "I think we can ensure that the children's trip to Washington will be an educational one. I can personally make phone calls to their teachers and administrators as needed."
Sarah voiced a concern, "I, we, appreciate the offer, General, but won't bringing the kids along cause the need for more security?"
"Yes, of course," the general replied. "Agents Barstow and Vegas will accompany you all as additional protection."
Casey gave a small rumble of approval of the plan.
"It seems as if you've thought of everything, ma'am," Sarah said with a slight nod. I can't wait to see Megan's face when we go inside the main building in Langley.
"We accept, General," Chuck confirmed, smiling and taking Sarah's hand. "Thank you, ma'am."
"Excellent," Graham said, regaining control of the briefing. "We'll see you bright and early Tuesday morning."
"Yes, sir," the three replied in unison.
The next day was tournament day. It was fair to say that when Chuck and Sarah's family entered the ballroom where the tournament was being held, they were noticed by all the other teams for a number of reasons. While most of the other teams consisted mostly of teenage boys and young men in their twenties, the majority of the Bartowski Family Gamers were kids under the age of sixteen, bringing snorts of derision from the other players. The snorting, of course, was interspersed with the staring, since there were also females on the team, one of which was possibly the most beautiful woman any of them had ever seen. Ever. While the twenty-somethings stared at Sarah, the teenagers stared first at Sarah, then at Lizzie, and then back to Sarah and so on.
In addition, no one could help but notice the girls since they all, including Sarah, wore their hair in ponytails. This was done at Bridget's insistence when she argued that if the girls were going to have to wear those unflattering and ill-fitting green Buy More polo shirts, the least they could do was something fun with their hair. The fashionista had even found green and yellow ribbons for them to use to tie up their ponytails.
"Bad news, guys," Chuck said when he returned to the group after checking in the team at the registration table. "They're being really strict about the number of players on a team." He picked up Megan and looked down at Martie and continued, "They won't let you two be spotters." At that pronouncement, both Martie and Megan scowled.
"That's not fair!" Megan pouted.
"It is, squirt," Chuck replied. "It's not fair to the other teams if we have ten on our team and they only have eight."
Martie understood and her frown faded quickly. Megan was still not happy about being left out and her face clearly showed it.
"Hey, munchkin," Morgan said, "I'm not playing either. So you and Martie can sit with me and be the cheering section. Plus, I don't want to sit by myself," he finished with mock sadness.
Megan gave him a dubious look.
"And…" he thought for a moment and then his face brightened, "and we can eat licorice while they're playing. They can't do that 'cause their hands are busy with the controllers."
The pout disappeared.
"And we can make trips to the concession stand to get food and drinks for the team while they're playing," Morgan said proudly.
Curtis nodded, adding, "That's the most important job. You know how I'm hungry all the time and get grumpy if I don't eat."
Martie looked up to Megan and said solemnly, "It's true. He does get grumpy. We have a job to do."
Megan returned her sister's gaze and nodded, suddenly taking on an air of importance.
The adults and older kids all shared amused glances at the two littlest ones' earnestness.
"Great!" Chuck exclaimed, setting Megan back on her feet and giving Morgan a grateful smile. Looking down at the paperwork he received from the registration table, he informed them, "We're to play at station twelve."
They surveyed the room, quickly spotted their station and moved to set up and practice a little before the tournament started. As they walked toward their appointed area, Lizzie abruptly turned her face away from one of the other gaming teams and muttered, "Oh, crap."
Concerned, Sarah said, "Lizzie, what's up?"
Her eldest niece groaned, "Wolf's here. He's with that team over there," she indicated with a nod of her head.
Sarah glanced around and sure enough, there was Wolf with several other teen boys, setting up for the tournament. Nearly hanging on Wolf was a teenage girl who wore too much makeup and not enough clothes.
"Great," Lizzie groused, sneaking a peek. "Amber's with him."
Peering over her shoulder, Lisa looked at Amber and then quickly turned back around and snorted, "She's such a skank."
"That's what I hear," Sarah chuckled.
Wolf and Amber, having seen Lizzie and her family, made a beeline to the Bartowski area.
"Hi, Lizzie," Wolf called out as he and Amber approached.
"Hi Wolf, hi Amber," Lizzie greeted them through a clenched jaw. "I didn't know you were entered in this tournament, Wolf."
"Oh, yeah. That's my team over there," he said, waving in their general direction. "Our team's called 'The Exterminators'," he said proudly. "What's yours?"
"We're called the Bartowski Family Gamers," Lizzie stated, turning slightly and showing the name emblazoned on the back of her shirt.
"Nice shirts," Amber snarked.
When Sarah saw Lizzie's face pink at Amber's comment, she wanted to go all "Agent Walker" on the rude teen, but knew better so she tried to look busy while listening intently.
Stepping in to defend his sister, Fred crowed, "Aren't they cool? Our Uncle Morgan works for Buy More and sponsored us for this tournament."
"Oh, well that's too bad that you couldn't afford to pay for the entry fees yourself," Amber said sweetly.
Sarah bristled. Enough of this crap. She turned around, smiled her most brilliant smile and said, "Lizzie, I'd like to meet your friends."
Lizzie stood a little straighter and a genuine smile formed when she saw the perturbed look on Amber's face when Wolf stared, jaw hanging, at Sarah.
Amber jabbed her elbow into Wolf's midsection eliciting an, "Oof!"
Now grinning, Lizzie said, "Wolf, Amber, this is my Aunt Sarah."
"Your aunt?" Amber asked, shocked. "Is she your dad's sister or something?"
"What? No! She's married to our Uncle Chuck."
Amber leaned into Wolf and asked in a whisper, "She's married to the dork?"
Sarah's eyes slitted just as Chuck walked up and threw an arm over Sarah's shoulders, drawing her firmly to him.
"Hey, guys!" Chuck called out jovially. Extending his hand he said, "I'm Mr. Bartowski, all these kids' uncle. I see you've met their awesome aunt, Mrs. Bartowski."
"Nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski," Wolf said, shaking first Chuck's hand and then Sarah's. Amber frowned at him when he held onto it for longer than strictly necessary. The frown turned into a glare when he asked, "So, uh, Lizzie. When are you guys going to be ordering pizza again?"
"Oh, I don't know, Wolf," Lizzie replied, her eyes gleaming. "I think our tastes have changed. Right guys?"
Her brothers were quick to back their sister up, "Oh yeah, more discerning. We need something less limp. And less soggy."
Wolf took Amber's hand and backed away from the family, suddenly feeling outnumbered. Pointing back toward his group of friends, he said, "We better get back to our team." As they walked away, he called back to them, "Hey, maybe we'll meet you in the finals since we're in opposite sides of the brackets." And with that, they were gone.
Casey, who had been a distance away but still close enough to hear what had just been uttered, moved next to Lizzie and said to her in an impassioned voice, "Revenge is a dish best served cold."
"What does that mean, Mr. Casey?" Fred asked.
Casey's blue eyes flashed when he growled, "It means we beat the pants off those poseurs and win this thing."
That set off a round of cheers and high fives. Chuck then moved off to help the kids finish getting ready to start the first round, leaving Casey and Sarah alone.
"Interesting that Wolf is here today," Sarah said quietly.
"Yeah, I don't like it," Casey responded, obviously unhappy about the pizza delivery kid's presence. "We need to keep an eye on him. You got your earwig in?"
Rolling her eyes, she gave him a look like he had just asked the stupidest question in the world.
Chuck caught her eye and waved to her and Casey to join them as the tournament was about to start.
Waving back to her husband, she said, "Okay, Major Casey, let's go capture that flag."
The tournament was single elimination with the team winning two out of three games in a round in order to move on to the next. The first game played in each round would always be 'Capture the Flag', the second would be 'Team Deathmatch' and the third game, if needed, would be determined by a flip of a coin. The first round of play had been difficult for Chuck and Sarah's team as they won the first game and lost the second. They hadn't realized how much they relied on Martie and Megan to be their spotters and had to quickly adjust. By the time they were playing the third game, they were able to make the necessary changes and won the game and the round.
Surprisingly, the second round was much easier for the team and they won it in two straight games. Taking advantage of some down time while the other matches continued, they all ate lunch.
Despite the extra work in planning the security for the day, Sarah was glad they came to the tournament. Just seeing Chuck have so much fun was worth it all. She glanced over to him and waved as he and Morgan stood off by themselves, happily munching on hot dogs. Seeing her wave, Chuck smiled and gestured back at her with his food.
"Hey, Morgan, how come you chose the green shirts for us to wear instead of the Nerd Herd uniforms? At least they have a little more style with the ties and such."
Morgan shook his head vigorously. "No, dude. Have you seen how short the skirts are for the women? I didn't want our girls wearing short skirts like that."
"Yeah, buddy, you're right." He glanced at Sarah again and his brain was instantly inundated with images of her sauntering toward him, wearing a short black skirt, a tight white dress shirt with only the most necessary buttons fastened and a necktie, the knot of which rested nowhere near her neck.
Sarah noticed her husband's unfocused eyes resting on her and his silly half-grin and quickly realized that he was in his happy place. I wonder what I'm wearing this time, she thought, pleased at the effect she had on her husband. Smiling and staring back at him, she thought, One of these days he's going to have to tell me about his little trips. Maybe I can go, too…
The sound of her name being called snapped her back to reality. "Aunt Sarah," Bridget called. "It's time to start the next round."
She took a deep breath to clear her head and grinned, having thoroughly enjoyed her very first trip to her newfound happy place.
The Bartowski Family Gamers won the next round and found themselves in the championship match, pitted against none other than Wolf and his Exterminators.
Before the first game of the match, Sarah pulled Lizzie off to the side and said quietly, "Are you going to be okay playing against Wolf?"
Lizzie's eyes flashed with determination. "Don't worry about me, Aunt Sarah." Glaring Wolf's direction, she growled, "Wolf's not gonna be a problem for any of us. I'll make sure of that. He's mine."
Involuntarily, one of Sarah's eyebrows arched. "Okay, then. We'll let you take care of him."
And she did. Sarah, Lizzie, Lisa and Bridget had worked up a strategy before the first game which would allow them to take Wolf out right away and their plan worked flawlessly. However, despite the absence of Wolf, they lost the game. During the second game, the Exterminators figured out the female contingent of the Bartowski Family Gamers strategy for eliminating Wolf, so they protected him and Lizzie was unable to get their leader. It was Chuck who took out Wolf in that game, his delight shown by the size of the grin on his face. The grin appeared again when the team won the second game.
Tied at one game each, the championship came down to one final game of "Team Deathmatch." Lizzie played like a woman possessed. She cut a swath of carnage through the enemy, taking out anyone who crossed her path, including Wolf, whom she dispatched with a grenade without a second look. It was annihilation on an epic scale and every teenage boy watching her play couldn't help but stare at her with fear, awe and admiration. Even Casey couldn't help but let out a few low whistles at the cataclysmic destruction the sweet-faced girl was wreaking.
When the game was over, it was clear who was victorious. The head of the tournament went over to them and announced, "And the champions are the Bartowski Family Gamers!"
A great cheer for their team rose up from everyone in the ballroom. Even the Exterminators gave begrudging applause to the winners. Chuck's team celebrated by hugging, high fives, jumping around and pats on the back.
Finally, the revelry wound down. It would still be a few minutes before the awards ceremony would take place, so Sarah and Casey began to pick up their belongings as they prepared to go home. She directed the kids to do the same. Speaking quietly into her comm, she also instructed Agent Barstow to go outside and meet up with Agent Vegas to make sure it was clear for the family to return to the van as soon as they finished giving out the trophies.
After speaking with the tournament organizers for a few minutes, Chuck hurried over to Sarah and whispered urgently into her ear, "Sweetie, I really need to use the little boys' room. I'll be back in a minute."
He's like one of the kids. "Can't you wait until we get home?"
He shook his head energetically.
"Fine. But Casey's going with you," she stated.
"I can go to the bathroom by myself."
"I know that," she chuckled, kissing his cheek. "But it's down the hall and you're still under our protection. So Casey goes with you."
He capitulated when her face told him she was not kidding around.
"Casey, come on," Chuck called. "You have to come with me."
"What? You've got the bladder the size of a walnut, Bartowski," Casey complained. "I won't need to go again for another three or four hours."
"That's called 'too much information', Casey. And I can't help it. Martie and Megan kept bringing me drinks. What was I supposed to do?"
Casey huffed and growled, "Come on."
"Be back in a minute," Chuck said to Sarah, giving her a quick kiss on the lips before he headed out the ballroom doors with Casey.
While they were gone, Sarah checked around the area, making sure they had all of their belongings together before they left.
When a few minutes had passed, she began to glance over to the ballroom doors, expecting Chuck and Casey walk through. After the fifth time she looked that way, she became a little concerned.
"Casey," she said quietly into her comm, "what's going on? How come you and Chuck aren't back yet?"
Her call was met with silence.
"Casey?" she said much louder this time, fighting to keep the panic from her voice.
Don't freak out. "Morgan, stay here with the kids," she ordered. He nodded, no questions asked. "Fred, come with me." Sarah walked quickly toward the ballroom doors and Fred fell in step next to her.
The children's eyes widened and they looked at each other with concern.
"Aunt Sarah, what's the matter?" Fred asked, the worry obvious in his voice as they hurried down the hallway.
"Your uncle and Casey went to the men's room and now I can't get Casey on my comm." Stopping outside the men's room door, she ordered, "Stay here. I'm going to pop in and see what's going on."
"Okay," he replied as Sarah drew her gun and threw open the door. Taking a deep breath, she stepped into the room. A couple seconds later, she yelled, "Fred! Get in here!"
He barreled into the men's room. His aunt was standing beside Casey who was lying on the tile floor, flat on his back, unmoving. Sarah didn't see any obvious wounds and was relieved when she knelt next to him and felt the steady pulse in his neck. Glancing around wildly, she shouted, "Chuck!" but knew there would be no answer. "Stay with him!" she told Fred and then sprinted out the door and ran down the hall toward the front entrance, hoping to catch a glimpse of her husband. "Barstow!" she shouted into her comm. "Casey's unconscious in the men's room. I need you there! Now!"
"Vegas!" she shouted. "Do you copy?"
Coming to a stop in the hallway, she quickly considered her options. It had been too long. Chuck was gone. Spinning around, she ran back toward the men's room. She'd have to find out what happened to Barstow and Vegas later. Right now, she had to get Casey on his feet so they could find Chuck.
When she re-entered the men's room, she was relieved to see Casey sitting up, holding a wet paper towel to the back of his head. His face and the front of his shirt were wet.
"I threw some water on him and he woke up," Fred answered her unspoken question.
"Good man," she replied. Kneeling next to Casey, she asked in a tumble of questions, "Who did this? Who's the mole? Where's Chuck?"
Grimacing, he growled, "I don't know. They were hiding in the stall. Saw a blur jump out. That's the last I remember. Sorry, Walker."
It was as if a switch had clicked inside her. She needed to find and save Chuck, wherever he was. She couldn't be the 'googly-eyed' girl Casey had teased her about becoming. Now was the time for her to be Graham's best agent, the steely eyed huntress she knew she needed to be to recover her asset, the most important person to her in the world.
"Can you walk?" she asked him.
She and Fred helped him stand. He was a little unsteady at first, but quickly regained his equilibrium and followed them out of the men's room.
Charging down the hall, she informed him, "Vegas and Barstow aren't answering their comms and Cole and Barker are outside the house. Even if we call them now, they're twenty minutes from here, fifteen at the very least."
"And that would leave the software unprotected, which might be exactly what the mole wants," Casey reasoned.
"Forget the software, Casey!" she snarled at him. "We have to save Chuck!"
Casey stopped dead in his tracks and stared at her, hard. "We will save Chuck. We don't need Cole and Barker. They stay at the house."
She blew out a frustrated breath and nodded, knowing he was right.
"We'll help, too, Aunt Sarah," Fred said as they entered the ballroom and hurried toward the rest of the family.
"I know, sweetie. Thank you."
As they approached the kids, she looked into their expectant and worried faces. Crap! What am I going to tell them? And what do we do with them?
In a low voice, she said as much to herself as to the kids, "Don't freak out, but your uncle's been kidnapped. We don't know where he is, but we'll find him and save him."
Their gasps made her stomach clench.
Megan stepped forward and pulled her phone from her pocket. Her littlest niece fiddled with it for a few seconds and then tugged on Sarah's pant leg. Sarah looked down to see Megan holding the screen and pointing to a red dot. "There he is."
Relieved grins broke out on everyone's faces. Sarah caressed Megan's cheek and said, her voice catching, "That's my girl."
All at once, everyone had their phones out, looking at their screens. "He's moving. They're headed west," Lizzie noted.
Curtis nodded. "Looking at the rate the dot is moving my guess is they're on the interstate."
"They've got a ten minute head start now," Sarah grumbled. "Are they on their way back to the house?" she asked, turning to Casey.
"That would be my guess," Casey replied.
"Okay. We'll call Cole and Barstow and let them know that they need to be on the lookout. We'll do that while we're on the move," Sarah said in a clipped voice. "We need get out of here."
"Should we leave the kids here with Morgan?" Casey asked.
She shook her head. "They would be unprotected. I need you with me. We all need to stay together. Kids, you're with me in the van. Casey, are you okay to drive?"
He frowned and grumbled, "Yeah Walker, I'm okay to drive."
"Then you and Morgan follow us in your car."
In less than a minute, they were rushing down the hallway toward the front of the hotel and parking lot. As they hurried out the front door, they spotted Agents Vegas and Barstow sitting on the sidewalk, leaning up against a brick planter, holding the back of their heads much like Casey had been doing only a few minutes earlier.
"You okay?" Sarah shouted at them. They remained silent but waved to her signaling that they were, indeed, okay.
"Lizzie, I need you to ride shotgun. You're my navigator. Copy?"
"Copy," the teen responded, her face set with determination.
When they reached their vehicles, Sarah threw open the van's side door and the kids clambered in and buckled up. In one swift motion, she jumped into the driver's seat, put on her seatbelt and turned over the engine. She didn't even bother to see what Casey and Morgan were doing as she slammed the car into gear and stomped on the accelerator. The van's tires chirped as the vehicle peeled out of the parking lot and onto the road.
In another minute, they were flying down the interstate. Sarah glanced in her rearview mirror to ensure Casey was behind her and indeed he was. At the same time, she noticed the looks on the kids' faces. They all looked apprehensive and were obviously concerned about their uncle's safety. But there was no crying, no hysteria. They were surprisingly calm. And quiet.
"You okay back there?" she called to anyone who would answer.
"Yes!" came the simultaneous replies.
"Sorry, but I have to drive fast," she said for reasons she couldn't really put her finger on. Maybe she was just trying to distract her mind from the millions of impossibly bad outcomes her brain was trying to force into her consciousness.
"It's okay, Aunt Sarah," Martie called. "You drove really fast that other time. We trust you."
"It would be okay with Curtis and me if you want to go even faster!" Fred said from the very back of the van.
She smiled despite herself.
Lizzie had been staring intently at her phone. "They've stopped." Checking and rechecking the screen she added, "They've been in the same place for a couple minutes now."
That news didn't ease Sarah's mind at all.
After another moment of closely examining the phone screen, Lizzie informed her, "They're a little south of us."
"South?" Their house was due west of their current position. "Really? They're not at the house?" This new twist surprised her.
"No, I'm sure of it," Lizzie replied.
Six voices called out from behind her their assent to Lizzie's assessment of Chuck's whereabouts.
Sarah's navigator looked up from her phone and watched the exit signs along the interstate. Pointing suddenly, she cried, "There! Highway 24 in a half mile! That heads south toward Minturn." Looking at her screen again, Lizzie ordered, "Take it."
"Copy," Sarah replied.
They were upon the exit in no time. The van, and Casey's car which followed closely behind it, quickly made the transition onto Highway 24. It was now completely dark outside and the road they traveled was not as well illuminated as the interstate. For safety's sake, Sarah had no choice but to slow the van down considerably, much to her displeasure.
Stealing a glance at the clock on the van's dashboard, she calculated that Chuck and his abductor had been in that same position for about five minutes. At least they would catch up to them soon.
She slowed the van down even more as Highway 24 turned into the main street of the small town of Minturn, a sign proclaiming its population of one thousand.
"We're getting close," Lizzie advised as they slowly drove through downtown.
"What in the world are they doing here?" Sarah grumbled under her breath.
"Turn left at the next block," Lizzie instructed which Sarah did. The road they turned on to took them over a river and then veered to the right so that they drove parallel to it. They curved left, crossed a set of railroad tracks and the road bent to the right again.
"Stop!" Lizzie ordered and pointed, "Uncle Chuck is right over there."
Sarah swallowed the lump in her throat as her blood ran cold. "Lizzie, this is a cemetery," she whispered.
In the dark, she could see the determined look in her niece's eyes. "It's going to be okay, Aunt Sarah." She heard Lizzie audibly gulp as the girl reached over and grasped Sarah's forearm. "It has to be."
Sarah took a deep breath and blew it out slowly.
"Now, go save your husband," Lizzie said quietly but with a fierceness that helped focus Sarah on the task before her.
Turning in her seat, she said firmly to the kids, "You. Stay in the van!" Reaching up, she flipped a switch so that the interior overhead lights wouldn't come on when she opened her door. After pulling her Smith & Wesson and a small flashlight from her bag and sticking the flashlight in her back pocket, she quietly opened the door. Just as she slipped out of the van, Morgan hurried up from behind.
"Casey told me to come over here and stay with the kids," Morgan reported. "He also told me you're a spy! Sarah, that is so cool! My best friend and his wife, working for the CIA," he took the stance like he was going to do some cheesy kung fu. "I could totally be a spy."
She barely kept a groan from escaping. Instead, she managed, "Morgan, just get in the van."
He climbed up into the driver's seat and looked back at her expectantly. Just before she gently closed the van door, she said in a low yet adamant voice, "Lock the doors. And stay in the van!"
Now that the sun was down, it was cold. Patches of hardened snow crunched under her boots as Sarah dashed over to Casey standing next to his car. Having just checked a clip, he slammed it back into his Sig Sauer, "What the hell is this?" Casey snarled.
"I don't know. It doesn't make any sense to me, either." She pushed down the panic that was lurking, waiting to completely incapacitate her.
Focus, Walker. "Graham called you his best agent," Chuck had reminded her of that on the airplane on the way to their honeymoon. He needs me to be that agent now. She squeezed the pistol grip in her hand harder. The tension in her whole body flowed down her arm, through her hand and into the gun. It seemed to fuse to her hand and became an extension of her being. Her nostrils flared and her senses heightened. This is it. It was time to end this and kill the son of a bitch who had taken her husband from her.
They stood on the edge of a small cemetery. Surveying the area, the two agents took in a clump of trees to their left. Straight ahead were rows of upright headstones. To their right was a mostly open grassy area, dotted intermittently with fewer grave markers.
Sarah took the phone from her pocket and checked the screen. "He's that way," she said, pointing at the trees to their left. In the dark, she couldn't make out if there was anything beyond them, but that was the direction they needed to go.
She ran to one of the trees and stopped behind it. Casey copied her, also stopping behind a nearby tree. They ghosted from tree to tree, Sarah checking her GPS app once to ensure they were on the right path toward Chuck's location, which seemed to be in the back left corner of the cemetery.
A few yards beyond the last of the trees she spotted a small granite mausoleum. They ran to it and pressed their backs against it. Cold radiated off the granite and the idea of what was inside the building made Sarah involuntarily shiver. She could see her panting breath leave her mouth in clouds of vapor that quickly rose and disappeared.
Casey slowly slid along the side of the mausoleum toward its opening. "Flashlight," he mouthed. Sarah nodded, took her flashlight from her pocket, turned it on and pointed it toward the ground. Casey did the same with his. When they reached the corner, Casey fingered, "One, two, three!"
They swiftly moved into the entry of the granite structure and raised their pistols and flashlights, illuminating its interior. They moved the beams of light around, only to find the mausoleum vacant of life. Their flashlights fell only upon several plaques attached to the walls at random intervals which indicated whose remains lay behind. Metal holders affixed next to each plaque held dusty plastic flowers.
"Crap," she whispered under her breath, angry and frustrated that Chuck wasn't there. She pulled out her phone and checked the GPS again. "Casey, he's really close!" she whispered loudly.
Casey put his index finger to his lips and then placed it behind his ear, gesturing for her to listen. She cocked her head. Voices! Muffled, yes, but she could tell they were close by. She and her partner peered out the entrance of the mausoleum and peeked around the corner. Just beyond their current position was a small outbuilding. A couple of pickup trucks were parked off to the left.
In the dark it was hard to make out the features of the building and they didn't dare point their flashlights toward it fearing they might give themselves away. However, the strip of weak yellow light glowing near the ground indicated the location of a door.
Sarah signaled that she would move to the left of the door and that Casey should go to the right. They both silently sprinted to their new positions and stood on either side of the entrance, listening again to the voices inside.
Sarah's knees nearly buckled under her when she recognized one of the voices as Chuck's, although his sounded especially muffled. Thank God he's okay! Now she and Casey just had to save him and finish off the damned mole. At least they had the element of surprise. There was a chance the door was locked and, not wanting to give up their advantage of getting the drop on the mole by the jiggling of a knob, Casey moved his body so that he stood just in front of the entrance.
"All right, Bartowski, no more games!" the voice said loudly from inside the shed.
Sarah gave her partner one quick nod indicating her readiness. He raised his foot, pulled his knee toward his chest and then rammed the heel of his boot into the door just above the doorknob. The violence of the kick sent pieces of wood from the door and its frame spinning away.
The door flew open. Guns raised, Casey invaded the room first and moved to his left. Just behind him, Sarah rushed in and stepped to the right. Her gun was trained on the person who had captured her husband, but her eyes went straight to Chuck. He sat in the middle of the room in an old wooden chair. Facing them, his wrists were bound to the armrests and his ankles tied to the front two legs of the chair with rope. A handkerchief was stuffed in his mouth. As soon as he saw her, he tried to speak, but all he could do was make noises through the gag.
"Hi, honey," was all she said.
In the ten seconds she had been in the room, she had already processed the situation. Chuck was being held in a shed where the landscaping equipment used for the upkeep of the cemetery was stored. There was a riding mower, a couple of push mowers, several hoes, rakes, saws, bags of fertilizer and other varieties of equipment. Above Chuck's head, a single bare light bulb hung from an electrical wire.
"Casey," Sarah whispered, her voice nearly giving out.
"Yeah, I see it," Casey responded quietly.
Under Chuck's chair was a bomb, exactly like the one that had been removed from outside his office window a few weeks before.
Tearing her eyes away from the explosive device, she finally looked into the eyes of her enemy.
"Dan? You're the Fulcrum mole?" Sarah asked her voice filled with surprise.
"Daniel, if you please. Daniel Shaw. And yes, I am," he said proudly, showing them the dead man switch in his hand. "I was recruited by Fulcrum when they found out Bartowski here was writing some important software and that I already worked for him as one of his gardeners." He looked at them smugly and continued, "Our government has turned soft and doesn't have the guts to do what's necessary to keep us safe. We live a dangerous world, and I want to do something about it."
Whatever, you ass. "So you threaten to kill innocent people and blow things up?" Sarah growled in a disgusted voice. Looking around the room again, she asked, "Why are we here?"
"I work here at the cemetery, too, maintaining the grounds. I thought this shed would be a nice, out-of-the-way place for us to meet. I knew you would track us here."
He's so arrogant! I'd put one in him right now if it wasn't for that damned dead man switch.
"I also know that you, Mrs. Bartowski, are the famous CIA agent Sarah Walker and that your intrepid sidekick, here, is Major John Casey, NSA."
"Fine!" she spat. "We all know each other now. Let's dispense with any further pleasantries." She looked back to Chuck whose eyes bored into hers. "Why is Chuck gagged?" she snarled.
"Standard Fulcrum operating procedure is to give him truth serum to get useful information out of him." Shaw scowled. "But all he talked about was how much he loves you and some incoherent ramblings about socks. Then he started on about how you were going to kick my ass." He grimaced. "I had to shut him up after five minutes." He eyed Sarah curiously, "Your husband finds the oddest things sexy."
She was livid. "He's not an agent, you idiot! He writes software! What kind of information did you think you would get from him?" What a tool!
"I did manage to find out the software is on a thumb drive in his safe. And watch that anger, Agent Walker. You don't want me to drop this switch."
"You do it, Shaw and you blow up, too," Casey reminded him.
"So true, Major Casey. But a true patriot is always willing to give his life for the cause. And since my hand is getting tired, let's get down to business. But first, drop your weapons. I can't negotiate when guns are pointing at me."
They had no choice but to comply. After bending down and placing their guns on the floor, they kicked them a few feet away. Sarah's Smith & Wesson slid until it ended up next to a large bottle of weed killer.
"And now that you're here, let's see if you can't get your husband to cooperate," Shaw said cheerfully, taking the handkerchief out of Chuck's mouth.
"You came for me," Chuck rasped.
"I'll always come for you, sweetie," she replied.
He twisted his body to face Shaw. "See? I told you!" he said in a singsong voice. "And now she's going to kick your aaassssss. And Casey's here, too! Look at him! Did you know his jaw was chiseled by Michelangelo himself?"
Casey let out an annoyed grunt.
"Focus Bartowski," Shaw snarled, "or your wife gets blown to bits along with you. What's the combination to your safe?"
Chuck struggled but it was obvious he was going to blurt out the information at any moment.
"Bartowski!" Casey interrupted, an odd, reluctant tone coloring his bark. "How much do you love Sarah?" A wince appeared on his face.
Chuck, a huge grin spreading across his countenance, launched into a spiel. "I love her more than anything else in this world," he said, his eyes gazing at her adoringly. Then he looked scandalized by his own words. "Oh, I love the kids, too, so very much. But I love Sarah in a veeeerrry different way."
"Bartowski!" Shaw interjected.
Chuck took no notice and continued on. "There are so many things I love about my wife," he breathed. "She's warm and caring and loving. And she smells really good, too." He spun his head toward Shaw and said, "You'd be surprised at how she smells good aaalll the time." He turned back toward Sarah and asked, "How do you do that, sweetheart?" He looked at her lasciviously. "I mean, you even smell good after working out when you're all sweaty and – "
"Bartowski!" Shaw repeated, almost desperately.
Having lost that train of thought, he picked up another. "And, boy, get her in bed and she just turns into a tigress. I mean, she does this one thing where she puts her – " Any other information Chuck wanted to share with the group was stopped when Shaw could take no more and roughly shoved the gag back into his mouth.
"This isn't working. I'm going to give him the antidote." He waved the dead man's switch at them. "No funny business." Working swiftly, Shaw produced a needle and injected a green liquid into Chuck's arm. As the antidote obviously began to affect him, Shaw once again removed the gag from Chuck's mouth.
"I love you, Sarah," Chuck offered, his head lolling to the side.
She tried to smile, but their current predicament kept it from happening. "I love you, too, Chuck."
"Kick his ass," he slurred as his head dropped to his chest.
I don't know how, but I'm gonna kill that son of a –
"It'll take a moment for him to recover. When he does, the first thing out of his mouth better be the combination or else…" Shaw gestured with the switch again.
Casey ventured to take a half a step closer to Shaw. "Come on, Shaw," Casey said, quietly. "You're better than this. Giving the software to Fulcrum would destroy this country." He took another step closer. "How can you live with that?"
"Don't come any nearer!" Shaw warned him.
"You don't want to kill innocent people, do you?" Casey said in as soothing voice as he could muster. He took another step. "Because that's what would happen if Fulcrum gets a hold of Chuck's software. Thousands and thousands of deaths on your head. More than were ever killed by terrorists." Casey could almost touch Shaw now, whose eyes were transfixed on Casey. "For what? Some murky ideals?"
For the first time, Shaw seemed unsure. His eyes shifted back and forth between Sarah and Casey. Sarah held her breath, waiting to see what Casey was going to do. They were all at a standstill.
Then, from a distance, like a clarion, a small but insistent voice yelled, "AUNT SARAH! I HAVE TO GO TO THE BATHROOM!"
Surprised by the voice, Shaw lost focus, turned his head and looked to the door. "What the – " he started. That was all the distraction they needed. Casey reached out and clamped his big hand over the hand that held the dead man switch. He ripped the contraption out of Shaw's grasp, all the while ensuring that the trigger remained depressed. With the switch safely in his possession, Casey balled his other hand into a fist, reared back and punched Shaw in the face, causing him to stagger backward.
At the same time Casey worked to relieve Shaw of the bomb's trigger, Sarah rushed over to where her gun lay. She picked it up and pointed at Shaw just as he took Casey's blow. The three stumbling steps Shaw took as he fell backward cleared him from both Chuck and Casey but put Casey's gun within reach. Without hesitation, Sarah squeezed the trigger, rapidly and repeatedly, putting three bullets into Shaw's chest. Just in case he was wearing a vest, she planted another one between his eyes. Shaw was propelled into a rack of yard implements, dark red blood coloring his shirt and dribbling from the hole in his forehead.
Still pointing her gun at Shaw, there was a part of Sarah that wanted to empty her clip into him. Concern for her husband and family took over so she lowered her weapon, put on the safety and stuck it in her waistband at the small of her back.
"Casey! You good with the trigger?" she asked as she rushed over to Chuck.
"Yeah, I'm good. Get Bartowski out of here and call the bomb squad again, would ya?"
"Copy." She knelt next to Chuck. The sound of the gunshots had roused him from his stupor and he lifted his head. His eyes were a bit clearer now as he looked at her and smiled. Her hands shook slightly as she took his face in her hands and kissed him. Reluctantly, she ended the kiss when she remembered he was still sitting on top of a bomb. I'll show him how relieved I am a little later.
She lifted her pant leg and removed a knife from the holster strapped around her calf. The knife easily cut through the ropes which Sarah tossed to the side of the room.
Chuck turned his head and glanced at Shaw's body. Then he turned back to Sarah, his face white.
"Chuck, are you ok?" she asked sharply.
He didn't meet her eyes, and instead looked back to the body.
"Chuck, I had to do it." A note of pleading entered her voice, "You said you understood. You said it didn't matter."
The distress in his wife's voice caused Chuck to snap out of his trance. "What? No! No, sweetheart, no. It's just that… Seeing someone killed in front of you… But, you were amazing. You saved me. And a lot of innocent people. I always knew you would do something like this only for the right reasons."
She squeezed the tears from her eyes as she kissed him again.
"Let's get out of here," she said quietly as she helped Chuck stand. She put one arm around his waist and pulled one of his arms over her shoulders. She made a short call to the bomb squad as they walked out of the shed together into the cold night air. Casey followed them out, but needed to stay closer to the shed so as not to accidentally set off the bomb if communication between the switch's transmitter and the bomb's receiver was lost.
Chuck's steps became steadier as the cold air brought him fully back to his senses. They walked a good distance away from the shed and then she stopped and launched herself into his arms. She kissed him, deeper this time as relief washed through her. He returned her kiss with equal passion, his own relief evident. Hugging him tightly, she whispered with tears stinging her eyes, "It's over, Chuck. You're finally safe."
Pressing her body to his, he chuckled, "I was always safe with you, Sarah."
"And the kids are safe, too." The thought hit her like a ton of bricks. The kids!
She ran back toward the shed and Casey, Chuck right next to her. "Guys! I know you're out here!" she shouted. "It's safe to come out! Where are you?"
"We're over here!" she heard Lizzie shout from behind the mausoleum. Racing over to it, she found all seven kids and Morgan, huddled together against the far mausoleum wall. The kids stood and encircled Sarah and Chuck in one giant group hug.
"What are guys doing out here? I told you to stay in the van!" Sarah admonished them.
"Aunt Sarah," Fred began, "there's no way we weren't going to be here in case you needed our help."
All of the kids nodded their agreement with their brother's statement.
"Seven kids. One Morgan. You do the math," Morgan quickly replied as her gaze fell upon him.
Sarah bent down and picked up her youngest niece and held her so they could talk face-to-face. "Why do I think it was your voice I heard yelling that you had to go to the bathroom?"
Without hesitation, Megan answered, "Because it was me, Aunt Sarah."
"Do you have to go?" Sarah asked, confused.
Even in the darkness, she could see Megan's blue eyes grow wide as she shook her head. "Oh, no. I don't need to go."
"Then why did you call out like that?" Sarah asked.
Megan put her hands on Sarah's cheeks and stared directly into her eyes. "Aunt Sarah! Haven't you ever heard of 'The Magnet'?"
Sarah wanted to stay with Casey until the bomb squad and cleanup crews arrived, but he insisted that she go home with her family. They struck a compromise where Sarah stayed until Agents Vegas and Barstow, who had recovered sufficiently from being knocked out by Shaw, made it to the cemetery.
She was also hesitant to leave because she wanted Chuck to be checked over by an agency doctor, but he insisted he was fine and that the drugs Shaw had given him had worn off to no ill after effects. At first she was skeptical, but then he proved it to her when he whispered into her ear and lied by telling her all the things he did not want to do with her when they were alone together later. Blushing in the dark, she announced to all that Chuck was indeed fit and that it was time for them to go home.
Later, everyone was subdued as they sat together in the living room. It didn't seem real that the threat they had lived under for all these months was finally removed. No one seemed to know what to say.
One-by-one, Sarah gazed into the faces of the kids, her kids, and marveled at how her life had changed so dramatically in just a few short months. When she began this assignment, she was petrified at the idea of taking care of seven children. Now she couldn't imagine her life without them.
Had this been like any other mission, she would have been gone by now, winging her way back to DC and her empty apartment, waiting for the next mission to come along. Now she was home, really home, with a family that needed her as much as she needed them.
"So what happens now?" Chuck finally asked, his arm firmly around Sarah's shoulders as they sat next to each other on the couch.
Sarah shrugged, absently fingering the charms of her bracelet. "We deliver the software to Washington next week. I'll have a meeting with Graham about my job with the agency." She sighed and looked around at them. "We'll just see what happens and go from there."
"What if they won't let you be a spy anymore?" Lisa asked.
Sarah smiled at her niece. "It won't be the end of the world. I've got my family now and that's all I really need."
Grins appeared and sighs of relief were heard from all the kids.
They sat in silence for another minute, with Sarah still fingering the charms, this time paying closer attention to them. "Chuck, about these charms…" Holding a shoe charm between her thumb and forefinger, she said, "I get that the chuck charm is for you, but what about these other ones. They don't make any sense to me." She rotated the bracelet and took a charm that looked like a sun between her fingers. "Like this one. It's a sun. Who's that for?"
Chuck smiled and looked at the kids. "Anyone want to field that question?"
Bridget spoke up. "The name 'Eleanor' comes from the Greek 'Elinor'. It means 'sun ray' or 'shining light'."
Sarah's breath caught in her throat. She looked into Chuck's brown eyes. "Project Sun Ray. Ellie," she breathed.
He simply gave her a small smile.
She swiped at the wetness under her eyes and took a deep breath. Looking back down at the bracelet again, she said, "What about these other two? One is a silvery snowflake and the other looks like three stars joined together."
Chuck nodded and said, "Yeah, those two are a little harder to figure out. They represent the nicknames my parents had for each other. Sometimes, my mom called my dad, 'Orion' and he called her 'Frost.'" He shrugged and declared, "I don't know why. Never asked before they disappeared."
Sarah's stomach dropped. She'd heard those names before. They were legendary in the agency. "Sweetie, I can tell you why." She couldn't believe the words she was about to utter to her husband. She looked him in the eyes again and said, "Those were their code names. They were CIA agents, specializing in undercover work. Only the very top brass knows their real names. Your mom went on a mission and never returned. Your dad went looking for her. No one knows what happened to them."
He laughed at first, but his amusement quickly died away when he saw the look on her face and realized she wasn't kidding. "Sarah, you're joking, right?"
Her countenance remained thoughtful.
"You're not joking."
Grabbing his hands in hers, she pressed her lips together and shook her head a couple of times.
"No one knows what happened to them?" he asked, his voice stricken.
She shook her head again. "It wasn't for lack of trying," she added quickly. "The agency looked for them for years. But after awhile, they had to stop… They'd been gone for so long…"
Shifting forward in his seat, he said softly, "Sarah, I need to find out what happened to my parents. Will you…?"
"Of course, Chuck," she replied.
Turning, Chuck and Sarah looked into the faces of their children and said, "Kids, we have a new mission…"
Hunt Every Bad Guy (reprise) (Sung to the tune "Climb Every Mountain")
She found the bad guy
She shot the mole
He went one step too far
His head now has a hole.
She found the bad guy
Shaw was the spy
Put a gleaming bullet
Right between his eyes.
She now loves a guy
And he's known as her Chuck
Every day of the year
They are going to…love.
Climb every mountain
Ford every stream
Follow every rainbow
Till you find your dream.