Disclaimer: Dialogue and plot points taken from the amazingly emotional episode Chuck vs. the Bullet Train, written by Nicholas Wootton. No copyright infringement is intended, only admiration and awe-after all, imitation is the highest form of flattery!
The windows to the bullet train frame the countryside that whizzes past too fast for any details to emerge. Not that I would notice them even were we going slowly. My eyes are locked on the window, but I am conscious only of the woman sitting across from me. The comfortable chair is much more welcoming now that I'm not cuffed to it, and yet it seems too small to contain my nervous excitement.
I can't help but dart glances at Sarah, closing my mouth tightly over the words clamoring to be let out. I clench my hands into fists inside my pockets and try to stop my knees from jiggling. Curiosity consumes me, along with a certain amount of concern for her, only understandable since this version of the Intersect almost stole my best friend from me.
And yet…Sarah is so strong. And she's only had it for three days.
And I want, so badly, to know what she thinks of the Intersect. To know what she thinks of containing the abilities necessary to become a superhero. To know if she even notices any difference from what she feels all the time. To know whether she understands why I miss it so much even as I hate what it has done to the people in my life.
I fidget a moment more, but what little self-control I manage to gather and apply is banished by the realization that Sarah seems almost as unsure as I am. Her sidelong glances to me, her tiny shifts in position, her half-breath as if she starts to say something but stops herself…I can no longer keep silent.
My hands leap from my pockets as quickly as the words fly from my mouth, releasing the torrent of truths I've been trying to deny to myself and everyone else since I lost the Intersect almost a year ago. "It's the coolest thing in the world, isn't it?" I blurt out.
She leans forward to match me, and I am captivated by the excitement sparkling from her eyes like indigo diamonds. "The coolest ever," she agrees, and my heart leaps within me.
The Intersect had yanked me into a life I never would have known I'd want, thrusting me into danger and intrigue that at times seemed enough to ruin everything it touched, yet it had also given me abilities and confidence and worth I had never had before. Or never thought I had, anyway. Maybe it made me a hero, or maybe it only gave me the opportunity to become one as Ellie believes, but either way, I've missed it more than I ever thought I would back when I could only think how much I wanted to be rid of it.
"Did you do any parkour?" I ask, leaning forward to better bask in the light of her exhilaration, to enjoy her slowly growing animation, to let her know that I don't blame her in the least for downloading the Intersect, that I don't hold her possession of it against her. After all, it's almost impossible for me to be mad at Sarah in the first place, let alone when she only makes such a dangerous move to save my life.
"Off a bridge, onto a moving truck, and then onto a car going the opposite direction," she replies, her hands moving in illustration, brushing against mine and sending tingles of warmth through me.
I can see Sarah performing these feats in my mind's eye and can't help but exclaim, "Ohh, awesome!" I feel a sudden, irrational urge to leap to my feet and twirl Sarah around, as if this simple moment of connection between us in something so pivotal to my life—both in its presence and its absence—can make all our troubles disappear and our future, already so potentially bright, even brighter.
"You know," Sarah confides, the slightest hesitance to her confession almost completely buried beneath her surprised revelation. "I've been a spy for so long, and I've never felt this powerful in my entire life—it's incredible!"
There is a wistfulness to her tone that I hear and recognize because I have heard it in my own voice more often than I'd like to admit. I had, in a way, lost the Intersect because of Sarah, but I never wanted her to think I regretted the trade—because I didn't. I don't. Sarah is worth a thousand Intersects, every super-ability in the world, any job with the CIA, and I never want her to think otherwise. So I pretended it didn't matter that I had lost most of what allowed me to survive in the spy world, ignored how much I missed how easy everything had been with the Intersect, tried to forget how unsure I became without it backing me up.
But pretending, ignoring, forgetting—none of those work to rewrite reality, no matter how much I often wish they did. And the wistfulness in her voice prompts a sharp twinge within me, a slight pressure on my heart. Because it's hard enough to believe that Sarah's willing to give up her spy life in exchange for a future with me—hard to believe she doesn't hold her expulsion from the CIA against me—almost impossible to believe that she can give up something as amazing and empowering as the Intersect and go back to a normal—well, relatively normal—life with me.
But this is a fear I've fought for years, practically since I met her. It's a fear that became obsolete the moment Sarah ran away with me in Europe, the moment I woke from a nightmare-made-real to see her, bruised and battered and terrified, leaning over me and begging me to wake up and come back to her so she could marry me, the moment she gave me her personalized vows and became my wife. It's a fear that no longer has any place in the life we've made, together.
Still, I never want her to hold any regrets, so I sober and ask her, "Ready to say goodbye to all of it? The guns, the bullets, the parkour?"
Her hesitation, slight though it is, almost makes my heart stop. But I have always read too much into the smallest of things, and when she speaks, her voice is sincere and unforced, her eyes intent on mine, earnest and transparent. "I don't want to live my life in danger anymore." She places her hand, cool and soft, on mine, the feel of it reminding me of the fateful moment, almost five years before, when she rang the bell at the Nerd Herd desk and I touched her for the very first time, fingering her hand as if it were a mystery. "I'm ready to retire and start a family."
I smile at her, unable to do anything else at the sound of her speaking so easily and naturally of a family, at the immediate thoughts and dreams of what that family might look like in a year's time, in five years, ten years, a whole lifetime of years unrolling before me. Before us.
Us. We. I think those are my favorite words in any language in the world. Perfect for all they represent, almost magical in how they touch and influence and better my life. Our life.
She smiles back at me, and the world seems that much brighter, the future that much nearer, my life that much greater. "Our future is exciting enough." Reassurance and determination mingle together in her voice, and all the tension I hadn't even realized I felt turns into liquid and drains away.
"Mm." Mischief imbues me, flavored with relief, and I raise an eyebrow as my lips tilt lopsidedly upward. "You know, we still have a good bit of time before we get to Yamashira. And starting a family's not something you can just, you know, jump right into."
Her features reshape themselves into a demure expression, one that's much too innocent to be true. I marvel again at how well I can read her now, the ambiguity and second-guessing of our first years relegated to the past, replaced by comfort, familiarity, intimate knowledge, complete acceptance. "Yeah, well, uh, we—we, uh, need some practice."
There's that wonderful word again—we.
After our parents left, it had always been Ellie and me, just us two against the world, but we had had such different goals and pursuits. After Stanford, I was trapped within myself, isolated by my pain and sense of betrayal. And after Bryce's email…well, then, I had thought I was more alone than ever before, stuck in limbo between my old life and the spy life. But Sarah…Sarah banished my isolation and my pain and my uncertainty. She reached inside me, became as necessary to my continued survival as my oxygen or my very heart. She completed me, filling in all the blank spaces within myself and bettering everything already there.
And now…now there is no life without her, no life apart from us and we and our.
Mrs. Charles Bartowski. I tease her about the name, but I've always done that—hidden the strength of my emotions behind a veneer of humor. Because the truth is that every time I consider all that Sarah is to me, I all but explode with everything that I feel within me. For someone as alone as I was, having someone so amazing and complete and there is more than a dream come true—it's magic, pure and unbridled magic, like an everyday miracle.
I never would have guessed, at that first meeting or even on our first date, that Sarah would grow to encompass so much of my life. I never could have known at that hotel in Bristow that one day we'd be waking up together every morning. I'd never dared to dream, during those bleak days after Prague, that Sarah would eventually be my wife.
Wife. Almost as good as—or better than—the other words I treasure so greatly.
"Lots and lots of practice," I agree with a grin that probably ventures into the realm of suggestive goofiness. "Allow me to just hit the mute."
Her soft smile of anticipation calms the fear gnawing at the back of my mind that any moment now she'll start forgetting me. My mind is only halfway focused on the panel near the door of the cabin, and the Japanese symbols throw me off.
"I have no idea what any of this means. Is that a chicken button? Does a chicken come out when you hit the button?"
Impatiently, Sarah moves me aside. Instantly, the whole of my attention is on her as she flinches back a bit from the flood of images and knowledge the Intersect flashes through her mind. I'm much more used to being on the other side of the flash, but I take an instant to triumphantly conclude that it looks nothing at all like the expression she showed me while coaching me on how to fake a flash. I would mention that aloud, but in response to Sarah's touch, a door slides open from the wall like in a Star Trek episode and reveals a small compartment with a bed.
"Hmm. Hey, well done!" I comment, fighting back another searing bout of terror that Sarah will be affected by these flashes as badly as Morgan was. But when I look back at her, there is nothing of a stranger in her eyes. It's my wife looking back at me, stripping herself of her jacket and smiling alluringly at me. Who would have guessed that the spy who smiled so rarely could have so many different types of smiles—all beguiling and beautiful—hidden within her?
She says nothing, but she doesn't have to. It's all in her actions, in her looks, in her touches. It's in her presence here, unhesitatingly making sacrifices and traveling halfway around the world to rescue me from anything and everything. It's in the ring on her left ring finger and the love shining apparent from indigo eyes. It's in the story we've already made and the chapters we've yet to fill.
"Domo arigato, Mrs. Bartowski," I murmur aloud, happiness burbling up from deep within me, and I reach out to pull her against me. The jacket falls unheeded to the floor as I silence all my fears and concerns and worries, drowning them in the feel of her against me and the taste of her lips and the murmur of her voice saying my name as she always has. Soothing her fear and apprehension and uncertainty by holding her close to my warmth and kissing away the minute shivers running through her and whispering sweet nothings in her ear.
This—us and we and Mrs. Charles Bartowski—is real and forever and safe and perfect and magical. I doubt the Intersect removal will be as uncomplicated as Sarah wants me to think just because nothing ever goes that easily for us, yet no matter what comes, I know that my love for Sarah and hers for me will endure and grow and strengthen. Because together, we're all that we need. Together, we're enough.
Because a spy learned to trust a nerd.
Because a handler began to love an asset.
Because an agent didn't leave her partner.
Because a woman said yes to a regular guy.
Because my wife will always come for her husband.
And I know that no matter what happens, no matter how many obstacles we encounter, no matter how many more times the Intersect or kidnappings or bad guys enter our lives—no matter all of that, I will never leave Sarah. I will, with every breath and word and deed, be the man she can count on. Because Sarah—by any name—is the love of my life.
And I know—with unwavering conviction, with unstinting faith, with unmarred trust—that nothing will ever change that.
A/N: Thanks for taking this retrospective journey through the years with me-hope you all enjoyed it! I'd love to hear what you thought!