Line Drive to Center
Summary: Chuck and Sarah take in a baseball game. It might be about the cover or it might be about something else. Set early season two; if you want something more specific, say post-Chuck versus Tom Sawyer.
Disclaimer: I don't own Chuck. No copyright infringement intended.
Author's Note: Just a little something that popped into my head, when I needed a break from working on Building Rome. Hope you enjoy!
I did make one change: the game that Sarah and Chuck attend actually did feature the same teams and scoreline on September 16, 2008, only it was in Pittsburgh, not Los Angeles. I changed the location to make it work in this story.
At the sound of the key in the door, Sarah immediately shoved the files she was reviewing under the sofa cushions and scooted down the couch, curling up against him and laying her head on his shoulder.
Chuck draped his arm around her shoulders, trying to act like this was how they had been sitting for the last hour. He was pretty sure they were the only couple in the world that got closer when someone interrupted them, instead of separating.
Ellie swept into the apartment, smiling brightly at them as she juggled the mail, her keys, and her gym bag. "Hey, guys. How's the movie?"
"Pretty boring," Chuck said honestly. Neither of them had paid much attention to the movie; Sarah had worked on paperwork while he had played his DS. This date was more about looking like a real couple for Ellie than anything else.
He'd learned his lesson during the mission at Sarah's high school reunion. Seeing how she reacted his attempts to learn about her past, he'd done his best to back off. Tried not to ask her the questions he had about her, tried not to push her. He was still trying to make his peace with never having the relationship he really wanted with Sarah. If he couldn't have that, he wanted to at least be her friend.
Sarah nodded in agreement. "Yeah, but I wanted to see this, so Chuck was nice enough to put up with it." She looked up at him and gave him a small, contented smile.
"Well, anything for my girl," he said, trying to sound natural. Like she really was his girl.
"You two are adorable," Ellie said, perching on the arm of the chair next to the couch, flipping through the mail. "Oh, Chuck, your Dodger tickets came." She passed him an envelope.
"Dodger tickets?" Sarah asked, leaning forward to look at the envelope. "I didn't know you were going to a game."
"Yeah, I go every year around my birthday," Chuck said, feeling a flush of embarrassment. He was hoping that Ellie wouldn't tell-
"You haven't told Sarah?" Ellie asked, sounding surprised. She turned towards Sarah. "Chuck won those tickets."
Sarah sat up, looking surprised. "You did?"
Chuck could feel his ears go red. "It's not a big deal . . ."
Ellie shook her head. "So modest." She smiled and ruffled his hair.
He pulled his head back and sighed. "You're gonna make me tell the whole story, aren't you?"
"Yep," Ellie said, grinning.
"Fine," Chuck said, huffing out a breath. He looked at Sarah, who looked even more curious. "When I was a kid, I played Little League. I was okay at my position, but I was a pretty lousy batter."
"You weren't that bad," Ellie commented.
"There were pitchers who did better than me, El," he said, able now to grin about his lack of batting ability.
"What position did you play?" Sarah asked.
"First base," Chuck said, turning back to her. "I worked really hard to get better, but I never put all the pieces together."
"So the year Chuck was ten, all the different Little League teams in Southern California were invited to participate in this essay contest," Ellie said, obviously wanting to move things along. "The winner-the kid who wrote the best essay-would get a pair of Dodgers tickets every year for as long as the winner lived in California."
Sarah listened closely, appearing like the perfect girlfriend. Chuck was too embarrassed by Ellie's story to look at Sarah head-on. Her voice was soft as she spoke. "You won?"
Chuck nodded, feeling shy. "Yeah, I did. Since my birthday is in September, they usually send me tickets for a home game at that time of year."
Ellie smiled proudly. "His essay was amazing. Even fourteen-year-old me, who thought Chuck was the most annoying little brother on the planet, thought so."
He couldn't help laughing a little. "Thanks, Ellie."
She grinned and got up, heading into the kitchen.
"What was your essay about?" Sarah asked, looking at him with an expression of interest and pride on her face.
If she was doing this for their cover, she was really selling it, Chuck thought distractedly. "Um, it was about Sandy Koufax. About how it took him a few years to become a good pitcher and how his example inspired me to try harder and become a better hitter."
Sarah smiled. "That does sound like a good essay."
"Chuck? Why don't you go to the game with Sarah?" Ellie called out.
"What?" he spluttered.
"You've gone with Morgan every year since you left Stanford," Ellie said, coming over with a glass of juice. "Sarah's your girlfriend, of course you should take her."
"Oh . . ." he said, turning to look at Sarah. He didn't want to pressure her into going, not if she didn't want to. But from Ellie's perspective, not taking his girlfriend to the game would seem very strange.
Sarah seemed to read his mind, in that freaky spy way of hers. "I'd love to go, but if you and Morgan always go, I wouldn't want to break up a tradition."
She wanted to go? Chuck didn't know if she was just saying that or if she meant it. And he knew he shouldn't be thinking about this-that he should be like Sarah and consider what would sell their fake relationship to his sister. But he always found himself hoping when it came to Sarah, even when he told himself that it was hopeless. Even after telling Sarah that he didn't want a relationship with her, which was so ridiculous that he'd stopped trying to believe it.
"If you really want to go . . ." he said slowly, looking at Sarah.
"I really want to go," Sarah said, smiling at him. "It'll be fun."
Ellie clapped her hands. "Great!"
"Great!" Chuck echoed, feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Sarah took his hand and gave it a squeeze. "It'll be a lot of fun."
"Chuck knows everything about baseball," Ellie said, standing up. "He'll talk your ear off the whole game. Sarah, do you want to stay for dinner?"
"Oh, thank you, Ellie, but I should get back to my place. I have a long day tomorrow."
Ellie looked a bit disappointed, but she nodded and smiled. "I understand. It was great to see you."
After she gathered her things, Sarah walked towards the door, Chuck following her. He lowered his voice. "I'm sorry about springing the game on you, but I didn't know Ellie would get so worked up about it."
Sarah looked up at him. "Chuck, it's really okay." She patted his shoulder. "We'll talk more about it tomorrow, okay?" She reached up and pecked his lips quickly. "Have a good night."
He nodded. "Right. Right. So . . . bye."
She gave him a small smile. "Bye."
Once she stepped out of the apartment, heading towards her car, Chuck closed the door and then leaned his forehead against it. Would he ever understand Sarah Walker?
When he opened the door to the apartment on the day of the game, Sarah looked at him and blinked. "Wow. You really are a fan."
Chuck adjusted his Dodgers hat, then looked down at himself. He was wearing his typical game day outfit: Chucks, jeans, and his replica Orel Hershiser jersey. "Um, yeah, I am."
Sarah let out a soft laugh. "I suppose that was a dumb thing to say. I just thought that nerds didn't do sports."
He couldn't help smiling. "Ah, but see, baseball is the nerdiest sport there is."
"Is that so?" she asked, looking doubtful.
"Oh, yeah," he said, pulling the door to the apartment closed behind him. "Baseball is all about statistics. Averages and regression to the mean and Pythagorean formulas! It's nothing but stats."
"So is that why you like baseball?" she asked as they walked towards her car. When they had made the arrangements to attend the game, Sarah had offered to drive.
"No way," Chuck said. "I'm a baseball fan because of the 1988 World Series."
"Let me guess: featuring the Dodgers?"
Chuck grinned at her. "Yep. I had just turned seven and while most of my friends weren't allowed to stay up, my parents let me. So I was the only one who saw Kirk Gibson hit his walk-off homer in Game 1." Chuck let himself get lost in his memories, feeling a wave of nostalgia. After a moment, he shook his head and smiled at her. "The Dodgers won in five games, after no one had given them a chance at winning."
Sarah opened the doors to her Porsche and Chuck folded himself into the passenger seat. He watched her slide behind the wheel and found himself speaking without thinking. "You'll need a hat."
"What?" Sarah asked. She looked down at her clothes quickly, then back at Chuck.
"You're dressed fine," Chuck said quickly. "More than fine, of course," he added, taking in her outfit of jeans, heeled sandals and pale pink top. "But with no hat, the sun will get in your eyes."
"I'm sure I'll be fine, Chuck," Sarah said, smiling at him as she started the car.
"Have you ever been to a baseball game?"
She took a small breath as she navigated through the streets, heading towards Dodger Stadium. "Well, since you asked, no, I haven't ever been to a baseball game."
"Then I think I'll buy you a hat," Chuck said. "To commemorate your first game."
"You don't have to do that," she said, looking over him with a wry smile.
"I want to," he said. "This is part of my birthday celebration, so it's like today is my birthday, even though it's not for another two days. And on my birthday, I want everyone, but especially the people in my life, to be happy. So . . ."
"If you ever claim you're not stubborn, I will laugh in your face," Sarah said, huffing out a breath. "Fine, Chuck. You can buy me a hat."
Chuck grinned and leaned back in his seat, feeling pleased. It wasn't often that he was able to convince Sarah to let him do something for her. Usually it took a lot more nagging than this and involved Sarah giving in by saying that it would support their cover. So even though he was waiting for her to say that, he was going to take this win.
"So who's playing today?" Sarah asked, glancing at him.
"Dodgers and the Pirates. The Pirates aren't doing too great this year, but the Dodgers are looking good."
"Like win the World Series good?"
"Noooo, don't say that!" Chuck said quickly.
Sarah jumped, her hands clenching the wheel. "What did I say?"
"Don't jinx things like that," he complained. "It's way too early to be thinking about the playoffs, let alone the World Series."
"Oh, I see," Sarah said. "You're one of those types."
"One of what types?" he asked, looking at her.
She smiled widely at him. "A paranoid fan."
Chuck folded his arms over his chest. "No, I'm not."
As Sarah teased him the rest of the way to the stadium, Chuck continued to defend his position. But at the same time, he couldn't help thinking how nice this was. Getting to spend time with Sarah, seeing her loosen up and relax, was a rare treat. He wasn't quite sure why she was letting herself have fun with him, but he wasn't going to overanalyze this. He wasn't going to question it.
In two days, he would be twenty-seven. It was the twentieth anniversary of the Dodgers winning the World Series. Maybe there was another miracle in the making for the Dodgers. And maybe, just maybe, some of the magic might rub off on him.
As they walked up to the stadium from the parking lot, Sarah couldn't help looking around, trying to take it all in. Because it was true, what she had told Chuck. She'd never been to a baseball game.
But that didn't mean she wasn't a fan.
Growing up, traveling all over with her father while he performed cons, one of the constants of those times in the car had been baseball games on the radio. Her father found that talking sports was an easy way to make a connection with his marks. If the local team was doing well, there were offers to buy a beer to celebrate or long discussions about whether this year's team could go all the way. If the team was bad, there were offers to buy a beer to drown their sorrows and contemplation that next year would be better.
At first, it had just been noise in the background to her. But over time, she got interested. Those times in the car, listening to games and soaking in the atmosphere, were one of the few good memories she had of her childhood. Her father didn't like watching baseball on television. "Better to use your imagination and picture the game in your mind. That'll come in handy later on, darlin'."
Her father was right. But instead of using that skill to con people, she used it as a spy.
Sarah watched Chuck. He had been to lots of games, obviously. Once they were inside the stadium, he easily navigated through the maze underneath the stands, showing her where their seats were, the location of the best hot dog stand, pointing out the spot where he had nearly caught a foul ball once. Yet even with all his experience, there was a big smile on his face. His excitement was plain to see. And it was more than just excitement. He seemed to be full of joy at getting to see his team play and sharing the time with his fellow fans. When someone lifted their hand in a high-five to him, Chuck had enthusiastically slapped the other fan's hand, grinning widely.
He was so infectious. Her earlier reservations about going to the game, letting him buy her a hat, had quickly faded away. And this was why she tried to be careful in how much time she spent with him, especially when it was just the two of them. Because there was something about Chuck that let him worm past all her barriers and blockades, engaging her in ways that she'd never planned for.
His voice broke into her thoughts and she made herself focus on the current moment. "Yes, Chuck?"
"Time to get you a hat," he said, grinning at her. "C'mon!"
Taking her hand, he pulled her into a team store, full of hats and t-shirts and souvenir baseballs among other merchandise. Chuck made a beeline for the hat display, quickly plucking up the same hat as he wore. He turned and plopped it on her head, then smiled. "Perfect."
If she had spent a lot of time on her hair, she might be upset about the hat. But today she had chosen a simple ponytail, not wanting to look too dressy for a baseball game. Sarah smiled back and took the hat off. "Thank you, Chuck."
He took the hat from her. "You're welcome. Now you have something to remember me by, when you're someplace like Abu Dhabi. It'll really come in handy there, since it's so sunny," he said, babbling a little before pressing his lips together. He gave her a sheepish smile and headed towards the cash register.
Sarah watched him, wishing that she could keep the hat. Because when she finished this assignment, anything that could tie her to Los Angeles or Chuck Bartowski would go into storage, if she was able to persuade the CIA that she should be allowed to keep it. Otherwise, the cap would be destroyed.
Suddenly, she wanted to make sure that she could keep the hat. She had asked so little of the CIA throughout the years; surely they wouldn't begrudge her a hat, would they? She wouldn't let them. Spies weren't supposed to have souvenirs. But this one time, this one item, she would keep.
Chuck walked up to her, swinging the hat. "Okay, let's get this broken in." He took the cap and started folding it in half lengthwise, doing that particularly male routine they did with a new baseball hat. After a few moments, he was satisfied and handed it to her. "Try it on."
"Why do men do that to baseball caps?" she asked, half-rhetorically, as she pulled her ponytail through the hat's opening and settled it on her head. She looked up at him. "How does it look?"
His smile was big and happy. "Perfect. Are you hungry? Let's get some hot dogs."
Normally, she'd keep him at a distance. Make her smiles be a touch cooler than she wanted, let her laughter be slightly more muted than she felt. But today, those rules didn't seem to make much sense. Maybe she should just . . . let herself go.
As soon as she thought that, Sarah shook her head. That was impossible. Letting herself go would mean letting her guard down. Chuck was her asset and she was responsible for him. She had to keep him safe, from any and all threats. And if that meant always staying that little bit removed from him, it was worth it.
Chuck's face fell. "Oh, right. Of course. You probably wouldn't dream of eating hot dogs, full of all those nitrates and preservatives."
Sarah frowned. "What?"
He spoke hesitantly. "I asked if you wanted to get some hot dogs, and you shook your head."
"I did?" she asked, then realized that the situation had happened just as he described it. "Oh, no! I'm sorry, I was thinking about something." She looked up at him, wanting to set his mind at ease. Wanting him to keep enjoying this day. So although he was somewhat right, she smiled at him. "I'd love a hot dog. Let's go to the stand you said was the best one."
His forehead smoothed and his smile returned. "Morgan always says I'm crazy. That all the hot dog stands are the same. But he did admit that there was a slight difference, the year I made him do a blind taste test."
Even though the chances of them running into someone who knew Chuck seemed extremely slim, Sarah acted like a girlfriend and tucked her hand into Chuck's elbow. "A blind taste test? Really?"
If Chuck was thrown by her display of affection, he didn't let it show. "I really did," he said, laughing. "It all started during a bad loss to the Giants . . ."
As he told her the story, Sarah made up her mind. Things between them had been so up-and-down lately. There were days when she thought Chuck was going to grab her and kiss her and never let her go. And then there were days when she wasn't even sure if he liked her that much. She wanted to get off this roller coaster and get back on level ground. Although she was sure Casey would disagree with her, the feelings she had for Chuck made her better at her job. She would protect Chuck with every fiber of her being.
While the CIA intended her to only care about his physical safety, she cared about more than that. And she was slowly discovering that a happy Chuck was safer, more protected and in less danger. And although a happy Chuck was a greater threat to herself, she had to put him first.
So for today only, she would try to enjoy this experience without letting her spy self take over. Soak up her first live baseball game, act like the little girl she had never really been. She would keep Chuck safe, both physically and emotionally.
And she would have fun. Because that would make Chuck happy.
With a happy sigh, Sarah draped her legs over the seat in front of her, enjoying the chance to stretch out her legs. To her secret, carefully-hidden delight, Chuck was a great person to watch a baseball game with. He paid attention to the game, just like she wanted to do, yet he was happy to get up and go for more food or another beer with her. He applauded good plays by both teams and ribbed the umpires in a good-natured fashion.
His good humor was partly due to the Dodgers being ahead for nearly the whole game, she was sure. It was the middle of the sixth inning and the score was 5-1 to the Dodgers. The Pirates didn't look like they were capable of overtaking the home team, but Sarah knew that any game could be lost when it looked like it had been won.
She munched on some popcorn, then took a sip from her second beer. She had only planned to drink one, but Chuck had come back with a second drink for her during the last inning. Mentally, she told herself that she shouldn't have too much-not if she wanted to be able to drive them home, as well as keeping alert to any threats.
"So who's Hershiser?" she asked, having wanted to ask him that ever since she saw the name on the back of his jersey. No player of that name was listed in the program, so she guessed it was someone who didn't currently play for the Dodgers.
Chuck grinned at her. "Orel Hershiser, pitcher for the '88 Dodgers. He's the reason they won the World Series. He just totally dominated that year-won the Cy Young, was the MVP in the league championship series and the World Series, and pitched a complete game in the final game of the Series."
"You liked him because he was a winner?" Sarah asked, sliding down in her seat a little as she stretched her legs one more time before sitting upright and pulling her legs back.
"No, I liked him because he was tall and skinny," he said. "Back then, I didn't know I'd be this tall, but I knew I'd always be skinny. Plus, he was a smart pitcher. He knew how and where to throw his pitches so the hitters would be completely fooled."
Sarah smiled. Of course Chuck would admire someone who was brainy and not physically imposing. "He sounds like your kind of player."
He chuckled. "Yeah, hence the jersey." The crack of ball against bat drew his attention, and Chuck jumped to his feet to cheer a Dodger hit. Sarah stood up as well and cheered along with him.
Growing up, she never had a team to root for, not really. It was always about whatever team was local to where she was. But after today, she suspected that she might have a soft spot for the Dodgers.
Sitting back down, Sarah turned to look at Chuck. "You were right about the hat, you know."
Chuck's smile was fast as quicksilver and twice as bright. "Told you," he said, with barely a hint of smugness. "There are things I'm an expert at, you know."
She let her eyes stay locked on his as she answered. "Yeah, I know."
His smile softened, becoming a bit shy. "So your first real baseball game. What do you think of it?"
It was an easy question to answer. "I love it. I'm having a lot of fun."
As she hoped, her answer made him brighten up. "I'm glad, Sarah. You should have more fun."
Sarah shrugged her shoulders. "Days like these make it easy to forget the grind."
Chuck looked thoughtful for a moment. "That's true. I guess everyone has a different ratio for how much down time they need in their lives."
"More stats," she said, putting a melodramatic tone in her voice even as she smiled at him. Chuck had spent the first inning explaining all kind of sabermetric measures and baseball statistics to her, until she had confessed that she had grown up listening to ball games. To her shock, Chuck hadn't pressed her for any details. He'd only smiled and nodded, then told her that he'd cut back on the stats for the rest of the game.
He really was adorable, Sarah thought to herself. All smiles and bright eyes and smooth, tan skin. And he was such a good kisser . . .
When she realized the direction her thoughts had taken-and that her eyes had fallen to his lips-it was like a bucket of cold water falling over her. She couldn't be thinking about that here. Looking down at her beer, she saw that half of it was gone. She held it out to Chuck, trying to act natural. "Here, take the rest of my beer. I can't drink any more or I'll fall asleep."
With a smile, Chuck took her beer. "There's something about drinking beer out in the open air that I love. I almost always drink more here than I mean to. Morgan one time nearly had to carry me out of here, but that was mostly because I hadn't eaten enough."
Even in the middle of shaking off a fantasy about her asset, Sarah could see the humor in the situation that Chuck was describing. She laughed and leaned back in her seat, turning her attention back to the game. That was what she should focus on: the game. Not Chuck.
A hand on his shoulder, shaking him, drew Chuck out of his doze. Blinking, he looked at Sarah and winced. "Sorry-I didn't mean to fall asleep." He rubbed at his eyes, straightening up in his seat.
She gave him a small smile. "Don't be. You had two and a half beers in the middle of the afternoon. It was bound to make you sleepy."
He looked around and realized they were in Echo Park, outside his apartment building. Chuck felt a pang of sadness. That meant this special day was over. He knew that Sarah had felt somewhat uneasy at different moments. She was probably worrying about keeping him safe while not being on super-spy high alert. But once she had found her balance, she had really seemed to enjoy herself for the most part. Discovering anything about Sarah was normally very hard work, but today, she had easily volunteered that she liked baseball, had grown up listening to games and had a good understanding of the game.
But now that he was home, it meant that they were back to the same old roles. He was the asset and she was the handler, and while she would kiss him if other people were around, when it was just them she kept plenty of space between them. Today she had inched her way closer to him, metaphorically speaking. Not enough to act like a girlfriend; that would have been too much to hope for. But she'd been a friend to him today, and if Chuck Bartowski knew one thing, it was that true friends were few and far between. If the only thing he could ever call Sarah was a friend, he'd take that.
Chuck gave her a small smile and climbed out of the car. He leaned down and rested his arms on top of the door. "Thanks again for the ride. I hope you had a good time today."
Her smile was somewhat reserved, but her eyes gave her away. They sparkled, which really was a ridiculous way of describing someone's eyes, but that was what they looked like to him. "I did. Thank you for inviting me. And for the hat," she said with a soft laugh, flicking the brim of her Dodgers cap.
"Anytime, Sarah," he said, smiling back. "Drive safe. I'll see you tomorrow." He straightened up, stepping back so she could drive off. To his surprise, she didn't, and he leaned down again. "Everything okay?"
She gazed at him for a long moment. "You know why I didn't want you to buy me a hat at first, Chuck?"
Her voice sounded dead serious and Chuck felt a strange sense of anticipation. Like he was about to hear something that he had waited a long time for, something that might change everything.
He swallowed, his mouth feeling dry. "Why not, Sarah?"
It took a moment for her to respond, and when she did her voice was soft. "Because I won't need a souvenir to remember today." She looked at him for a moment longer, then moved her hand to the gearshift. "Good night, Chuck."
Stepping back, he said, "Good night, Sarah," but he doubted she heard him as she pulled away from the curb quickly. As he watched her go, Chuck thought over her words. He had always liked souvenirs, those tangible reminders of places you had gone and sights you had seen. But maybe, for a spy, your souvenirs had to be on the inside.
Chuck turned and slowly walked towards the door of his apartment. One thing was true: this baseball game had been unforgettable. Not because the Dodgers had won by a score of 6-2 or because it was nearly his birthday.
It was the company that made today's game one that he would never forget.