It's a Wonderful Cover Life
A/N: Merry Christmas! Thanks to Nervert who beta'd parts of this a long time ago. The final draft was a bit of a rush job, so all mistakes are mine. Be gentle, I haven't written in quite some time *wink*. Hope you're all having a fab holiday season and a well-deserved rest. And all the best for 2017.
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck.
Previously on It's a Wonderful Cover Life:
Chuck recovered his ability of speech first. "Sarah, I am so sorry. I didn't know you were naked…home. I didn't know you were home –" He trailed off as his gaze did the same.
"Chuck," she said, snapping her fingers at him to get his attention and then pointing two at her face. "Eyes up here."
"There was a spider." Chuck waved in the direction of the door behind him, mentally adding another bad karma point to the tally in head. "A really, really big spider. In the bathroom. That's where Kitty is. In the bathroom. Na…not in here."
"Did you catch it?" Maggie asked, bobbing excitedly on the spot. "Can I keep it? Please, Daddy, please? It can live my dollhouse."
"I guess we'll have to wait and see if Kitty caught it," Ellie said, sending him a pointed look. "You left Sarah in there to deal with it? That's not very manly, little brother."
"She's a big girl," he said, which was clearly the wrong thing to say, on so many levels. "She's okay," he amended. He turned his head, mainly to avoid his sister's glare, and raised his voice. "Are you okay in there, honey?"
The bathroom door opened and Sarah stepped out, busy tucking one end of the towel into the top wrapped tightly across her chest.
"That's real nice, Chuck. Sweet talk me now, after you've seen – " She cut herself short when she spotted Ellie who slipped her hand over Maggie's eyes. "Uh, hi!" Sarah cleared her throat, probably because she sounded like a teenage girl at a Bieber concert. "Excuse me," she said, backtracking into the bathroom and closing the door almost all the way.
"Is Daddy gonna kiss Kitty again?" Maggie asked.
Ellie turned her niece by the shoulders, pointing her in the direction of the door. "I don't know what Daddy and Kitty are doing," she said as she marched the little girl out of the room, "but I do know that we probably shouldn't ask."
101. Spiders and Moles
"It's not that bad."
It was the fourth time Chuck had said that since they'd left the bedroom, and they hadn't even reached the stairs yet.
"That's easy for you to say. You had all your clothes on." Sarah resisted the urge to pull at the turtleneck that felt itchy against the skin of her throat, wishing that just once she could face Ellie without having made a fool of herself first.
"Sarah, I'm really sorry." He'd said that about twelve times.
"Can we please stop talking about it? It happened."
"It's not that bad."
"You're still talking about it." Apparently if it were up to Chuck the subject would never be changed, and she was trying very hard not to think about the events that had led up to Ellie storming in on the two of them while she'd been donning only a towel. "Why is Ellie here anyway?"
"Maggie wanted to show off her room and Ellie needs to talk to you about Christmas dinner. You texted that Beckman would be out for the night, so I figured it'd be okay. I didn't count on walking in on you…your favorite Christmas food. What's your favorite Christmas food?"
The abrupt segue way nearly gave her whiplash, even though she'd been advocating for it. "I don't have one," she answered without thinking.
"Everyone has a favorite."
"I don't celebrate Christmas." The words rushed from her mouth and she picked up the pace, hoping he'd dropped that subject too. But instead he took her arm and she was forced to stop.
Sarah swallowed a sigh. "Christmas at the Walker house meant a string of elaborate cocktail parties, which were not really a kid's thing. And after my mother left, my dad was…I don't know, preoccupied, I guess. Then I grew up and I never gave Christmas a second thought."
"So you've never had a family Christmas dinner, or hot chocolate by the fire, or –"
"Look around you, Chuck. I had everything a little girl could want, and more."
From the middle of the staircase they had a pretty good view of the interior of the front part of the mansion, speaking of the luxuries she'd grown up with, but his eyes remained firmly on hers. "That's not what Christmas is about."
"What's it about then?" It wasn't as if she didn't know. She'd watched Christmas movies as a kid, and as uncomfortable as this topic made her, knowing her life wasn't exactly normal, she found it easy to confide in him.
Chuck pursed his lips, staring pensively at her. "You know what," he said, "I'm not going to tell you. I am going to show you. Prepared to be heart warmed, Sarah Walker." Then he reached for her hand and, linking their fingers together, started down the stairs again.
"Didn't we play enough show and tell for today?"
It got several degrees warmer under her red sweater when her brain caught up with her mouth. Chuck nearly took a header when he missed a step. She got a hold of his arm with her free hand and pulled him back. With the help of the bannister he managed to regain his balance. If she could only regain her brain to mouth filter, she thought, they'd be all set.
"Sweet potato pie with little marshmallows on top," he said as if nothing out of the ordinary had happened.
Sarah blinked. "What?"
"It's your favorite Christmas dish." He took another step down, more carefully this time. "Ellie is going to ask, so if you're not comfortable telling her what you'd just told me...then, sweet potato pie with little marshmallows."
She squeezed his fingers in silent appreciation. Chuck was a very considerate guy, even though she suspected that he kept bringing up food to distract himself from mentioning 'the incident'. Luckily the thought stayed in her head this time as they entered the living room.
Maggie was on her feet, racing towards them the second they came into view. Sarah let go of Chuck's hand to catch her, but at the last moment the little girl changed direction and ran full circle around them before stopping and looking up.
"Did you catch the spider?" she asked. "Where's the spider?"
"It got away," Chuck said. "Sorry, Boo."
"Aw." Maggie's face fell.
"What about a fish?" Chuck asked. "Wouldn't you like a goldfish instead?"
"No. You can't hug a goldfish."
"Right, but you can hug a spider?"
"Uh-huh. A spider's got eight arms." She stretched her own out at her sides. "It can hug you this big."
"That's a good point," Chuck said, "but can a spider do this?" He scooped her up to blow a raspberry against her neck, causing Maggie to shriek as she squirmed against him in an effort to get away. "Or this?" He wriggled his fingers in her side, getting the same response.
Sarah was completely lost, and not only in terms of the context of their conversation. She must have stared a fraction too long at the father-daughter antics, because the next minute Ellie spoke next to her and she nearly jumped.
"At least she's not asking for a P-U-P-P-Y." Ellie kept her voice low, probably so Maggie wouldn't hear, but the little girl had ears like a bat.
She shook her head, still giggling. "I don't have to go potty."
Chuck burst out laughing while Ellie snorted into the back of her hand, but Sarah bit the inside of her cheek when she saw Maggie looking at her dad and aunt like someone who didn't get the joke and suspected that she was the butt of it. Spotting the act of solidarity Maggie reached her arms out for Sarah to take her. No sooner had Chuck handed her over when she wrapped her arms tightly around Sarah's neck.
"I'm thirsty," Maggie whispered in her ear.
"Would you like some juice?" Sarah asked.
"Yes please." The little girl pulled back and nodded, grinning at her.
Sarah shifted Maggie around to her hip as they made their way to the kitchen, leaving the two grown-up Bartowskis behind to get a hold of themselves.
Lou was already preparing dinner, adding a pinch of spice to the pot on the stove while stirring the sauce. Sarah was about to clear her throat to announce their presence, not wanting give a Lou a fright and have her potentially burn herself, but then she noticed the phone pinned between the cook's ear and shoulder.
"I don't know, babe. It's too risky."
Sarah automatically pressed a finger to her lips, indicating for Maggie to be quiet. She'd explain to the little girl later that it was impolite to eavesdrop on people's conversations, but an uneasy fluttering in the pit of her stomach told her that she needed to listen to this one.
"There's no way to pull it off," Lou told the person on the other end of the line. "She's a smart kid. Once the ransom is paid and we return her, she'll tell the cops I was the one who took her, and I love you, Bryce, but I'm not going to prison for you."
Sarah retreated quietly, albeit on shaky legs, having heard more than enough. When she was out of earshot, but still had a visual on Lou, she bent down and lowered Maggie to her feet. "Sweetie," she whispered, "Go tell your dad to call uncle Casey and meet me in the kitchen. Then you need to stay with aunt Ellie in the living room. Can you do that for me?"
Maggie nodded, then frowned and cocked her head to the side. "What about my juice?"
"I'll bring it out in a second. Now, go get your dad for me like I asked and stay with aunt Ellie. Don't come back to the kitchen, okay?"
"Is it a surprise?" Maggie asked in a whisper.
A hell of a surprise, Sarah thought, but she simply nodded.
The little girl grinned and took off. Sarah straightened, hoping that Maggie would remember all of that, or at least relay a version Chuck would understand. It would've been easier to go herself, but she didn't want to let Lou out of her sight. It all made sense now – Bryce showing up at the most opportune time, for him anyway, and how he knew about the scam to begin with. She couldn't believe that in the three months Lou had been in her employ, she'd never let on that she was involved with Bryce Larkin, but that was the point, she supposed. Trying to extort money from her was one thing, but using Maggie to do so was completely unacceptable.
Sarah waited until Lou slipped her phone into her apron before reentering, going straight for the refrigerator. Lou's head turned and a look of alarm crossed her face before she managed to school her features.
"Do you want me to set an extra place for Chuck's sister?" she asked.
Sarah grabbed a juice box and closed the door before walking up to Lou. She'd never confronted a real life criminal before, but Lou didn't seem that intimidating. It didn't matter though, as she had enough adrenaline pumping through her veins to take on someone twice her size. Sarah reached between the cook and the stove and flipped the burner off.
"No need," she said when her eyes fell on the meat cleaver lying in the sink, "we'll order in."
102. Knife Fight! (In a Manner of Speaking)
"If she wants to know if the milk's off, you're tasting it."
"I hardly think that's a two person job, Casey."
Chuck had no idea why Sarah wanted to see the both of them, or if she wanted to see the both of them. Maybe he'd misunderstood Maggie. He hoped not. Casey had not been impressed when he had interrupted his Scotch and World War II documentary on the word of a four-year-old. Chuck fell back a step, letting Casey into the kitchen first. He gave the butler a wide berth and veered to his right, stopping in his tracks as he took in the scene in front of him.
"Uh, Casey, I think the milk's fine." Chuck couldn't take his eyes of the two women circling each other. It was the second to last thing he would've expected to have seen today. "Sarah," he said, taking a slow step towards her, "maybe you should put that down. It looks really sharp."
"Nah," Casey said. "My money is on Lou. She's small, but I bet she's scrappy."
"Not the time, Casey." Chuck ventured another step forward, unsure of how to proceed. Without warning, Lou swung the non-stick frying pan, but Sarah deftly deflected it with the back of the meat cleaver. The clang of metal striking metal hung in the air as both women took up their positions again, ready to strike. If either of them had noticed that they had company, they didn't let on. Chuck knew he had to do something before someone lost an eye. Or an arm.
He threw a quick glance at Casey, who had apparently decided that this was an opportune moment to make a phone call, leaving Chuck no choice but to intervene himself. "Sarah," he said, "this is not how you deal with problems in the workplace."
"Depends on the problem," she replied.
"It's just a misunderstanding," Lou added. "And I'm just defending myself here."
"You took the first swing," Chuck pointed out. Lou flicked a withering glance at him, making it clear that his conflict resolution skills needed some polishing. "Okay," he said, "how about this – you both put your…uh…utensils down on the count of three, and then we talk this out?" Neither woman reacted to the suggestion, but he counted down anyway. Three came and went.
He was probably going to regret his next move, he thought as he dropped to the ground, but appealing to their rational sides didn't seem to be getting him anywhere. He crawled under the table and emerged on the other side, pushing to his feet between the two feuding women, facing Lou. With his hands in the air he hoped that he could convince her to surrender her weapon, and perhaps Sarah would follow, but the next moment Lou took another swing and he ducked just in time for the edge of the pan to slice through his curls. Lucky for him he'd missed his last haircut appointment.
Sarah growled and lunged at Lou, but Chuck managed to spin around on his knees, grabbing her by the waist and holding her back. He braced himself the best he could as Sarah was strong, which didn't surprise him, given how toned she was. He forced himself to stay focused on the situation instead of the way her abs moved against his cheek. She looked down at him with narrowed eyes. "Chuck, what are you doing?"
"Keeping you out of prison because dropping by your cell to tell you who the President is is not really my idea of an ideal first date."
Sarah arched an eyebrow. "First date?"
"Second first date," he amended, curious as to what she'd regarded as their first date – lunch in the cage or tequila and kissing at the club. Either way, they needed a do-over. He could do better, something more romantic, perhaps starting with drinks at –
Casey derailed his train of thought. "Spare me the lady feelings," he grunted, stepping up behind Lou. He wrangled the pan from her hand and held it above his head, out of her reach.
Deeming it safe, Chuck pushed to his feet and gingerly took the cleaver from Sarah's hand. Judging from the murderous look she shot Lou, he'd disarmed her in the nick of time.
Casey must have noticed too. "What did you cook?"
"A plot to kidnap Maggie," Sarah said.
It took a few seconds for Chuck to make sense of what she'd said, but when he realized the implications of Sarah's statement, his stomach went oily and he spun around.
"Is that true? Why would you do that?"
"No." Lou kept her eyes glued to the meat cleaver now being brandished by Chuck and took a step back, only to bounce off Casey's chest. "It was Bryce's idea, but I talked him out of it. I swear. Like I said, it's all a misunderstanding."
Somehow Chuck wasn't surprised that Bryce was involved. He should've known their victory of the night before had been just too easy.
"How sure are you that your boyfriend even listened to you?" Sarah asked.
"Fiancé," Lou amended.
Chuck's head snapped around to Sarah. "You hired Bryce's fiancé?"
"I did," Casey said. "Her references checked out and her pastrami sandwiches are delicious." That earned him a glare from the couple across from him. "Okay, okay," he said, "full background checks from now on." He pulled Lou's apron loose with one tug and pushed her down onto the nearest chair before tying her hands behind her back with the strings.
Normally Chuck would have objected to such heavy handed behavior, but he was starting to regret that he had intervened at all. As a parent he had a lot of concerns when it came to his daughter, but being kidnapped by someone he knew had never registered on his radar. He had to admit though that he didn't really know any of the people he was currently surrounded by, and he really should be a little less trusting. Except for Sarah. She was fierce when it came to protecting Maggie. The cold steel in his hand was proof of that. He opened the closest drawer, dropped the cleaver in and closed it, making sure to block it with his body. It was for both their sakes, he told himself, his and Sarah's. He was on the verge of freaking out and the sight of blood would push him right over the edge. He took several deep breaths, trying not to think about how many times they'd left Maggie alone with Lou. She had plenty of opportunities to – He purposely shut down the thought. Maggie was safe, Lou had been found out and he had Sarah on his side, willing to inflict grievous bodily harm to anyone who threatened his daughter's well-being.
"What do we do now?" he asked.
"We chuck her in the basement for a couple of days," Casey said, standing guard behind Lou in case she tried to escape her bounds. "If she's still alive when Beckman leaves we hand her over to the authorities. If not, I'll go dump her body in the ocean and let the sharks take care of it. No corpse, no crime."
Lou looked up at Casey, her eyes wide in terror. "You can't do that!"
"It seems reasonable to me," Sarah said. "You wanted to kidnap our child."
Chuck's eyes ping-ponged between Casey and Sarah. He wanted to point out everything that was wrong with Casey's plan, starting with unlawful detention and murder, but he was thrown for a loop by Sarah's slip. He didn't have time to ponder it though as a juice box came flying towards his face. He plucked it out of the air with ease, thanks to thousands of hours behind his gaming consoles honing his hand-eye coordination.
"Get rid of your sister," Casey, the juice box thrower, said. "The fewer people involved in this, the better."
"Just to be clear," Chuck said, "when you say 'get rid of' you mean 'send home', right?" The sarcasm was probably uncalled for, but he couldn't tell whether or not Casey had been serious about the consequences for Lou, and the way this night was shaping up he kind of expected that someone might very well end up digging a shallow grave in the backyard.
103. Secrets and Lies
"I hate lying to Ellie. And what am I supposed to tell her anyway? That we caught Lou stealing the good spoons?"
Sarah stopped and spun around, so abruptly that Chuck nearly crashed into her. "I'll do it. I'll tell her that we caught Lou stealing and need to defuse the situation before Beckman comes back from her date, and if she's free tomorrow we can swing by her apartment to discuss the Christmas menu." She found it a little disturbing, how easily she could come up with a lie when the situation called for it, but what was even more unsettling was that with every untruth she told she risked chipping away at the trust Chuck had shown in her. That concern had to take a number though.
"What's wrong?" Chuck asked.
"It's three days before Christmas and we don't have a cook."
"Of course she's fired." That was the easy part, and though finding an extra pair of hands on such short notice would probably be nearly impossible, they had a bigger problem. What they were going to do with Lou until after Beckman left, Sarah had no idea.
"Do you believe her when she says she wasn't planning on going through with the kidnapping?"
Sarah nodded. "I overheard her. She made it clear to Bryce that there was no way they wouldn't get caught. He'd be an idiot to not listen. Besides, without his partner on the inside, he won't be able to pull it off."
"I don't get why he wanted to in the first place. Bryce still thinks you're paying him the blackmail money, so why this? Does he want more?"
"I don't know, Chuck. Hopefully Lou can tell us. But first I need to speak to Ellie."
She turned to do just that, but Chuck stopped her with a hand on her wrist. "I'll talk to Ellie, and I'm telling her what's really going on. She can handle it, and I need someone I trust to keep an eye on Maggie while we sort this out."
Sarah's first instinct was to protest, but she had to agree that Chuck made a fair point. She would have entrusted Maggie to Gertrude, but she was Chuck's daughter, and given how much the entire thing had shaken her, he'd be feeling it ten times worse. If he needed his sister's support, she couldn't fault him for that.
"Okay," she said, "but perhaps it's best not to tell Ellie about Bryce's involvement, not while you're –" She wasn't sure how to phrase it without making Chuck feel worse, but she needn't have worried.
"I know." Chuck ran a hand across his face and Sarah couldn't help but notice how exhausted he looked. With three days to go until Christmas, the Buy More must have been busier than usual and the last thing he needed was the extra stress. She slipped her hand into his and she gave it a reassuring squeeze.
"We'll work this out."
"Without wielding meat cleavers?" he asked.
Sarah felt the color rise in her cheeks. "I overreacted." Hearing it out loud, she realized she had, and it scared her a little, not knowing anymore where her boundaries were. "Maybe you can skip over telling Ellie that part too?" She could do without having Chuck's sister pegging her as a half-dressed knife-wielding madwoman.
Bringing Ellie up to speed had not gone as Chuck had expected – she had freaked out. He couldn't blame her as he was still a bit freaked out himself. He'd been tempted to follow his sister's suggestion to pack up and tell Sarah that the deal was off, but he couldn't bring himself to do that just yet. Maggie's safety was his main concern, and somehow he felt that she was safer in the Walker mansion at the moment than at their apartment at Echo Park, should Bryce decide to make his move anyway, if only out of spite. Personally though, he wanted to call the authorities. He understood Sarah's reluctance, but he had to draw the line somewhere. He decided that he hear her and Casey's plan first, and if he didn't feel comfortable with it, he'd put his foot down. With Ellie backing him up, he could hold his own against John Casey.
Chuck entered the kitchen where Lou, still tied up, appeared to be singing like the proverbial canary.
"That was never part of the plan. Look, Bryce and I need money to get out of the country and start our lives together and he said there was an easy way to get some. If I had known that it would come to this, I never would've gone along with it."
"You took this job hoping to find some dirt on Sarah that Bryce could exploit," Casey said. He was standing opposite Lou with his hands on the table in front of him, like cops usually did in movies. Behind him Sarah leaned against the counter, arms folded over her chest. Chuck took up residence beside her, making sure Lou could see that she was outnumbered.
Lou nodded. "When Carina told us about Mrs. Beckman's visit and the ruse you had planned, Bryce reckoned we hit the jackpot."
"I already agreed to pay him," Sarah said. "So why this?"
Chuck knew that technically that wasn't the truth, but Bryce and Lou had no idea.
"Bryce is desperate. I didn't even know how much trouble he was in until Tommy showed up and threatened to break his kneecaps if he didn't pay up, and the deadline is tomorrow. I know Tommy. He doesn't make idle threats."
"Who's Tommy and why does Bryce owe him money?" Casey didn't seem pleased that Chuck had jumped into the interrogation, but he didn't let that deter him. "Who's Tommy?" he asked again when Lou didn't answer right away.
"Tommy Delgado," came a thick British accent from behind him. Chuck's head whipped around and standing in the doorway was the third last thing he'd expected to see today – James Bond himself.
Next time on It's a Wonderful Cover Life:
104. Barker, Cole Barker
She needed to have a stern word with John Casey, Sarah decided. He seemed to be slacking off in the security department if anyone could just walk in, or get hired because he liked her sandwiches. As if reading her thoughts, the stranger approached. He retrieved a leather pouch from his inside pocket and flipped it open to reveal his gold shield.
"Detective Cole Barker," he said. "LAPD."
Apparently Casey had problems following orders as well. She'd explicitly told him why they could no longer get the cops involved in dealing with Bryce. Reluctant as she was to admit it, though, the stakes had been raised with her latest discovery of the level Bryce was prepared to sink to, and it was probably wise to approach the authorities. She'd just have to deal with the fallout if and when it happened.
"Who is Tommy Delgado?" Chuck asked for the third time when Detective Barker didn't seem to detect anything in the room other than Sarah.
She'd noticed too, and tucked her hair behind her ear, making sure her wedding rings were on display. It felt like she'd discovered a new superpower when Barker cleared his throat, barely hiding the disappointment that flashed across his face. He tore his attention away from her.
To be continued…