A/N the First: Don't know where this came from. Received a prompt to write a 500-word story about a picture of a pumpkin patch, and this happened. It takes place between Greater original flavor and Greater Turkey Day, making Violet four years old (almost five). I surpassed the 500 word limit, uh, really early and just kept going. I hope you enjoy. Thanks to my pre-readers...and just a warning, this hasn't been beta'd.
Disclaimer: Don't own any of it, making no money.
That Which is Greater
Violet and the Great Pumpkin Patch
Sarah Walker was rapidly discovering was that with small children, you didn't "do" things. You "made a day of" things. A single event with a child involved required more planning and gear than the most detailed spy mission. In theory, it was possible to simply snatch the kid, put her in her car seat, and go somewhere unplanned. Reality proved to be quite different.
So when Chuck, shuffling his feet like he did whenever he brought up things that had to do with their cover, asked her if she would maybe be interested in going to the pumpkin patch with him and Vi, Sarah agreed—it would be something Chuck's real girlfriend would tag along for—and gamely cleared that day from her schedule. If she didn't sleep much the night before, well, that was between her and Maybelline.
She dressed for the occasion: jeans, lightweight scarf, shirt she didn't mind getting stained in case of a repeat of the grape juice incident. When she saw what her fellow adventurers were wearing, one eyebrow rose.
"Morgan bought them," Chuck said even before Violet had launched herself at Sarah with that wordless squeal the girl did well. "Megabyte wanted to dress like her new hero."
"Do you think Major Casey Sir will like them?" Violet asked, spinning to show off her camouflage pants.
Casey wasn't a fan of the color pink, but Sarah figured the lie that of course Major Casey Sir would love them wasn't going to end her stuck firmly in hell. Besides, it was worth it to see the way the corner of Chuck's mouth twitched.
"Are you sure he can't go? Like absolutely, positively sure?"
"I'm sorry, sweetie, but he had to work. But he wants us to get the biggest pumpkin we can find."
Violet's eyes widened. "What if it's bigger than Daddy's car?" she asked in a stage whisper. "What will we do then?"
Sarah glanced at Chuck. The corner of his mouth was twitching again. "That's, um, that's a big pumpkin," she said.
"Yes, but think of the pies." Chuck's eyes glazed over a little. "And the pastries. And I bet we could even make pumpkin spice lattes with that awesome espresso machine Awesome's parents bought Ellie and Awesome for Christmas last year."
"What's a latte?"
"Given your regular energy output levels, something we hope you don't discover for at least twenty years. Ready to go, Sarah?"
Sarah, realizing she was still standing in the open doorway of the Spy Casa, stepped forward and locked the door after her. "Sure," she said, pocketing her keys. "Uh, can't wait."
It was only a partial lie. She'd never gone to a pumpkin patch before as the spy life didn't exactly lend itself to things like holidays. She couldn't help but be curious to see if there was something she was missing. Given how excited both Violet and Chuck were, perhaps there was.
"Excellent. In the car, Megabyte."
"Shotgun!" Violet pelted toward the Bartowski driveway as fast as her legs would carry her.
The adults followed at a more leisurely pace. Sarah covered a laugh at Violet—who had reached the car and was twirling in place, clearly pleased with herself—with a cough that made Chuck look over and grin. "How are you today?" he asked.
"Oh, you know, same old, same old."
"Excited for the Bartowski-Walker Pumpkin Hunting Expedition of 2007?"
"I'm beside myself with anticipation," Sarah said in a dry voice as they reached the car, and Chuck laughed.
"Nice try, but you have to be this tall to ride in the front," he told his daughter as he held open the back door for her to scramble into her car seat.
"Thank you." Violet nodded, a queen to her subject.
It was a bit of a drive to the pumpkin patch, but Sarah—who had scoped it out using an NSA satellite on loan from the NGA—had known that ahead of time. Besides, Violet was more than happy to fill the silence with chatter. By the time they were halfway there, Sarah knew about all about Green Eggs and Ham Day, and how they had gone to recess, and when they had come back, there were real green eggs and ham waiting for them.
"It's a book," Chuck said under his breath when there was a pause in the story.
Sarah bit her lip, wondering if she should say something—a book with a character named Sam had obviously been her own favorite as a five-year-old, for reasons obvious only to her—and decided to let it pass. "Were they more delicious than yellow eggs and ham?" she asked Violet.
"Uh-huh and my tongue turned green and Dad said I clearly had a disease and was going to die, but I'm still here." Violet thought about it. "Aunt Ellie yelled at him, but I thought it was funny."
"I didn't say you were going to die!" Chuck said, laughing in protest as Sarah turned to give him a startled look. "I said you were turning into Greedo!"
"But Greedo died because Han shot first, right, Daddy?"
"I…" Chuck seemed to shrink into himself, and Sarah realized she was giving him a scandalized look. She schooled her face back into polite amusement, and Chuck straightened. "That's right, Megabyte. Han shot first. But next time I'll pick something else green, okay?"
"'Kay," Violet said. "Ooh! Pumpkins!"
Sarah turned to look when Violet pointed. Even though she'd done recon, she still wasn't expecting quite so many pumpkins. They dotted the fields in clumps, orange punctuation marks among the brown grass. The fields spread for miles in seemingly all directions. There were other pumpkin hunters trooping through the fields, mostly small families by Sarah's estimation, though there were solitary pumpkin pickers as well.
Chuck pulled the car into a small dirt parking lot by a sign that bore a hand-painted picture of pumpkins. They had some kind of a check-out stand, but it looked like nothing more than a folding table and a cashbox next to a weigh station for pumpkins. There was a tractor pulling a cart covered in hay bales beside the station. Sarah realized it was meant for transportation only because there were a couple of families already seated on it.
"What do you think?" Chuck asked under his breath, nodding toward the tractor.
Sarah really didn't want to be that far from the car in case they were called back in the event of an emergency. But Violet let out a gasp and a squeal that sounded like the words "hay ride." She shrugged. "We've got all day."
Sarah didn't share her theory about making a full day of any event involving a small child, and instead bought them cups of cider to drink on the hayride. Since it was nearly eighty degrees, it was chilled, thankfully.
"What do you say?" Chuck asked once they'd all settled in on the bales of hay—which were not comfortable at all—with their cider.
"Mm," Violet said, nose buried in her cider cup.
Chuck nudged her.
"Oh! Thank you for the cider, Miss Sarah." Violet took an extra-loud slurp. "It's delicious."
"I'm glad you think so."
"Yes, thank you, Miss Sarah." Chuck took a sip of his own cider and his face twitched once more, though this time it wasn't amusement. Sarah didn't blame him. She'd taken one sip of the powdery, tasteless cider. The rest of it was about to discretely make its way over the side of the cart when the others weren't looking.
Violet, however, drank greedily until Chuck took the cup away. When the tractor started up, she gasped; Sarah grabbed her by the belt loops to hold her down in her seat. Across the cart, a woman looked up from wrangling two young boys to smile at Sarah in sympathy, and it made Sarah jolt, to know how their little trio must look to the others on the hay ride.
And, of course Violet proved herself once again unable to read Sarah's unease. She announced that the hay was making her itch and promptly crawled into Sarah's lap.
Sarah, who went stiff, gave Chuck a look that clearly told him just how much of a traitor he was for laughing. When he reached for Violet, however, the girl scrambled so that she was up on her knees in Sarah's lap, practically draping herself over Sarah's shoulder so that she could look at the pumpkins. "There's one!" she said, as Sarah wrapped her arms around her to brace the child.
"Which one?" Chuck asked, turning.
"That one! It looks like Uncle Morgan's beard."
Sarah turned slightly to get a look, but she couldn't figure out which pumpkin Violet had indicated.
"But Uncle Morgan's beard isn't orange," Chuck said.
"He could make it orange! For Halloween!" Violet turned around and bounced back into Sarah's lap, landing almost hard enough to bruise. Sarah hid her wince—the girl's tailbone was sharper than most of her knives—and adjusted her grip. "What are you going to be, Miss Sarah?"
"Uh..." Absolutely nothing came to mind.
"Daddy says I can be Princess Leia and he'll be Threepio. You could be Luke, except you're a girl."
Sarah had no idea who any of these people were. "Uh," she said again. "I was just going to be a…" She'd dressed up for Halloween before, but those had usually been on missions and those outfits had involved costumes that were in no way decent enough to wear around a four—no, she'd be five by then—five-year-old. She searched through every occupation in her brain. "Nurse?"
Chuck made a choking noise.
"What's the matter, Daddy?"
"N-nothing," Chuck said, looking away very quickly when both Sarah and Violet gave him funny looks. "Sorry, drank my cider wrong. That's all."
"Can I have some more cider?"
"What do you say?"
"Please? Please can I have more cider?"
"Since you asked nicely…" Chuck held out Violet's cup. "Drink it slowly."
She did, but some of it dribbled onto Sarah's shirt anyway. Sarah gave a shrug when Chuck winced; she'd planned ahead, at least.
The tractor let them off in an adjacent field with the promise that there would be another one along in about twenty minutes. Chuck disembarked first and lifted Violet down; automatically reaching up to help Sarah down afterward. She saw him freeze when he realized what he was doing, but she took his hand anyway. Best to maintain the cover.
"How many pumpkins are we getting?" Sarah asked.
"Four. One for each of us, and for Morgan. Ellie and Awesome already have pumpkins."
"They went to the store and bought them, which isn't like going and picking your own," Violet said, clearly scornful of the idea. She raced up ahead, flitting from pumpkin to pumpkin while the adults followed at a slower pace.
"She says that like she wasn't jealous of the pumpkins all night," Chuck said under his breath. "They're sitting on the table and she named them and made up stories about them. It was cute."
"Oh, hey, while she's distracted—"
"Yes?" Sarah asked, wary now.
"Ellie's wanting to know if you and Casey are coming to her birthday party next week." Chuck looked down, scuffing the ground with the toe of his Converse sneaker as he walked. "I know it's not exactly the common milieu of your everyday spy, surrounded by sugar-high five-year-olds and their parents, but…"
"The cover," Sarah said. She took a deep breath. Chuck's description sounded like her version of hell, but then, so did the suburbs and while she wasn't entirely comfortable there, she was learning to live with it. "I'll be there, yes. Provided there's not a mission."
"Oh. Right. Missions." Chuck scowled, but sighed. "Yeah. And Casey?"
"He'll be there, too."
Chuck's eyebrows shot into his hairline. "You can guarantee that?"
"I can get Beckman to make it an order."
"Wow, what'd he do to you?"
"He ate the last of the bacon and didn't get more," Sarah said, and Chuck laughed.
Violet sprinted back with an annoyed look on her face. "You guys aren't even looking," she said.
"So sorry, Your Majesty. Have you found one?"
"No, but…" Violet grabbed Chuck's hand, the one closest to Sarah, and turned to look at the blonde with a mutinous look on her face. Sarah recognized the look well—she'd given it to so many of the women Jack Burton had talked to when she was small, no matter that part of her had known he was just conning those women. Relief warred briefly with concern. Finally, here was a part of Violet she understood. But on the other hand, if Violet was expressing that kind of jealousy, the cover was working.
And that would not end well for any of them.
"Well, here," Chuck said, as he'd apparently missed the angry look. "Maybe you'll see better this way."
He plucked Violet from the ground and held her upside down until she giggled. When he dropped her back on her feet and took off running, she gave chase. Sarah, again, followed at a slower pace.
Half-heartedly, Sarah began to poke through the pumpkins, which were gathered in clusters. It looked like most of these had been picked over, as there were only smallish pumpkins left. She'd done some research and the websites recommended larger pumpkins for carving, so it looked like a bit of walking lay in her immediate future. Up ahead, Chuck and Violet chased each other back and forth, kicking up dust as they zigzagged in and out of the pumpkin clusters.
Sarah saw it happening in slow motion. She was just catching up to them when Chuck made a giant leap over a group of pumpkins, probably expecting Violet would run around it like she had been doing all along. But Sarah caught the determined squint on Violet's face a split second before she started to run.
Sarah wasn't actually aware of moving. One second, she'd been about to kneel and inspect a pumpkin, the next, she was snatching Violet from the air. She got a glimpse of the sharp edges on the pumpkin stumps before she turned away, setting Violet safely on the ground.
"Wow!" Violet's eyes were, of course, comically wide. She grabbed onto Sarah's wrists with both hands, looking up at her with shining adoration. "How'd you do that?"
"I…" Sarah glanced at Chuck, who was distinctly paler than he'd been a second ago. "I eat my vegetables."
"Even the peas?" Violet's nose scrunched up.
"Especially the peas."
"Can we have peas for dinner, Daddy?"
"Sure," Chuck said, and Violet, not fazed in the slightest by her near-catastrophe, trotted off to inspect another round of pumpkins.
Sarah waited until she was out of hearing range and hit him in the shoulder, not hard. She was angrier than she had expected, though. "You know she does whatever you do!" she said.
"I know. I just..." Chuck held up his hand so that Sarah could see it trembling. "That was stupid on my part. Nice catch."
"Thanks." Sarah blew out a long breath. "Let's go find some pumpkins."
Later, they made it back to the tractor with three medium-sized pumpkins between the adults, Violet carrying her own smaller pumpkin. There had been no more mishaps, much to Sarah's relief. Who knew that a pumpkin patch could become the emotional equivalent of a minefield? Violet, who was growing sleepy by that point, settled up against Chuck, her legs in Sarah's lap.
The same woman and the two boys from their ride out climbed onto the wagon, the two boys pushing at each other as they did so. The woman gave Sarah a look as she passed. "Be glad you only have the one," she said, and Sarah froze.
Chuck began coughing. The minute the woman was out of hearing range, he turned to her.
"I don't want to talk about it," Sarah said.
"Can we get more cider?" Violet asked as the tractor started up, hauling the hay wagon forward with a jerk.
"Why don't we stop on the way home and get some lunch instead?"
"That sounds good, too."
"What do you think, Miss Sarah?" Chuck asked, looking at her over Violet's head. It was a peace offering of sorts: a chance to get out of spending more time with her asset and his child if she wanted to escape.
She thought about it. It was tempting; she didn't want to drive a wedge between Violet and Chuck at all (not that she ever could), and truth be told, her nerves were beginning to fray at the edges. No matter how many times Chuck assured her that how she interacted with Violet was perfectly fine, Sarah just wasn't used to small children. There was that ever-present fear that she was going to do the wrong thing or say the wrong thing and suddenly, Violet's therapy bills for the rest of her life would be Sarah's fault. She frankly did not want to be even partially responsible for something so pure.
But on the other hand, she had decided to make a day of it. And Sarah Walker wasn't a coward who backed out of her promises.
"I could eat," she said, and Chuck's smile blossomed.