Title: No More Running
Characters/Pairings: Chuck, Ellie, Stephen, Clara, a brief OC, Chuck/Sarah, Ellie/Devon
Disclaimer: Not mine. Don't sue.
Spoilers: Season 3 and 4, Takes place in the same universe as my "Five Babysitters" fic
Summary: Stephen Bartowski never thought about being a grandparent...though he supposes he should have at some point...
Stephen J. Bartowski never considered the idea of being a grandparent.
Even before the Intersect and Agent X and Losing Mary and Hartley and leaving Ellie and Chuck, it just never crossed his mind.
But now, watching his two grown children walking around the farmers market in Burbank each with a little girl holding tight to them, Stephen supposes he should have thought about it at some point.
His Intersect, though an older model, is freshly updated, and he flashes on each little girl. The blonde holding Ellie's hand, tugging her along, is six years old, tall for her age; Clara Woodcomb. The tiny girl with dark, curly locks perched on Chuck's hip, looking around at all the people and gripping her hand into Chuck's sleeve, is four, and her name is Willow Bartowski.
They are perfect, and that's not in the Intersect, that's just Stephen's own wildly biased opinion. Ellie and Chuck look great; so natural with kids. Not like he was. Not so awkward and hapless.
He was always a scientist first, a husband second, and a father when he could figure out how to be. It wasn't often, and he feels guilty for it, but it's far too late to change anything.
Especially since, as far as these people are concerned, he's dead.
But Chuck looks so comfortable, picking up a package of blueberries, waving them a little and smiling affectionately down at Willow, who clings to him.
And Ellie's clearly the superhero of moms. She tugs on Clara's hand, twirling her in a little dance and laughing.
"They look good, don't they?"
Stephen turns and his eyes widen. "Hartley."
He looks much older, but it's definitely Stephen's old friend, and not the murderous psychopath that ruled the arms trade with an iron fist.
"Hello, old friend."
"Are you nuts? You shouldn't be here," Stephen hisses, a little panicked.
"Wisdom dictates that neither should you," Hartley comments. "But here you are."
Stephen glances at Chuck and Ellie and their daughters again, watching them move along. Clara is now holding Willow by the hand, walking ahead of Ellie and Chuck. The siblings walk side by side, chatting happily and both are keeping an eye on the girls in front of them.
"How's Vivian?" Stephen asks, turning back to Hartley, hesitant to look away from his family.
"Oh, fine," Hartley replies, waving the question off. "We're passing through, and I came here for a snack. Instead I find you."
Stephen grins and closes his eyes. "Funny, that."
"Indeed," Hartley nods. "Does Mary know?"
"I assume so," Stephen shrugs. "She usually does."
"It's better this way," Stephen says. "I make messes. Look at them, they don't need that."
"It's a little presumptuous of you to decide what your grown children need or don't need," Hartley comments. "On top of that, you're their father. They'll always miss you."
"I should go," Stephen tells him. It's not that he's not listening to what Hartley is saying. He is. But it's not what he wants to hear. He wants to hear that he should just disappear, even though he knows that no matter who he talks to, no one will tell him that.
"Or," Chuck's voice says from behind him. "Or you could stick around. Maybe snag a cup of coffee...meet your granddaughters."
Stephen turns slowly and finds his son behind him. Up close, Chuck looks much different from the last time Stephen saw him. He's a little more muscular; certainly he holds himself with more confidence and his hair is much shorter.
A short distance away, he sees Ellie waiting with the girls. She's smiling, a little teary-eyed.
Chuck grins sadly, his hands shoved into the pockets of his jeans. "Come on, Dad. You think I wouldn't eventually find out that you weren't dead? I'm a better spy than that, I think."
He doesn't really need to ask how Chuck found out. It's not all that important, and clearly Hartley, and possibly Mary had something to do with it.
"You two have a lot of catching up to do," Hartley says fondly. "And I promised Vivian a funnel cake."
Chuck moves past Stephen and gives Hartley a hug, patting his back. "Take care."
"And you!" Hartley chuckles. "I'm glad I got to see Willow. She's absolutely gorgeous."
"Yeah, she's just like her mom that way," Chuck grins. "But the poor girl has my hair."
"It looks good on her," Stephen says quietly, and Chuck turns back to him, giving Hartley his opening to step back into the ebb and flow of the crowd around them, disappearing.
"So how about that coffee, huh?" Chuck asks, wrapping an arm around his father. "Sarah makes a mean cup of joe. Those years undercover at the Orange Orange really paid off in terms of coffee making prowess, although she'll argue that that wasn't really the point of being assigned here...and you wouldn't think that they'd serve coffee at a yogurt place, but..."
He keeps chatting lightly, as if they don't have a lot to talk about; as if it hasn't been six and a half years since they've spoke, and they walk ever closer to Ellie and Clara and Willow.
There's no going back, Stephen realizes. Once he's introduced to these two small girls and they start calling him "Grampa," that'll be that. No more running.
The realization feels a little like relief.