Three chapters in three days! It must be Christmas Break. Thank you all so much for your encouragement. This is it! The last chapter.
Chuck gazed up at the sky. He was not in the most comfortable position; but sprawled out on the concrete with is head leaned back against the fountain was currently the most practical way for him to admire the heavens. Sitting unsupported with his head strained back put his aching body under too much strain. Instead he opted for the less painful approach, albeit more comical, of gingerly lowering himself down to the ground and leaning back against fountain outside the apartment. He wasn't sure exactly what had prompted his spur of the moment need to be out of doors, but right now he was glad he had followed it.
The cool wind caused a slight shiver to pass through him. The air had a damp quality. Staring up at the clouded sky, Chuck guessed that it might soon rain. He probably should have grabbed a jacket. Sitting in a pair of sweat pants and a tee-shirt, Chuck felt chilled but he lacked the energy to return inside to grab something warmer. Besides if he went back inside and Ellie spotted him there would be no way she would let him return.
Chuck had scarcely been out of Ellie's sight in the weeks following the gunshot. She had taken the "crazy-doctor-sister" thing to new heights. Not that Chuck could really blame her. He had almost died, but her constant hovering presence had been part of what had driven him outside this afternoon.
Mostly though, it was the need to see the sky. He recalled how bleeding on the floor of the Buy More he had thought it would never see it again. That he would die being crushed beneath the tiles of mediocrity. Suddenly, the need to see it had become so strong while he lay on the couch flipping through the channels that he couldn't ignore it. Ellie had mentioned something about taking a shower a few minutes before hand. Impulsively he had quietly rushed, more like hobbled, out the door to where he currently sat staring.
He needed to see the sky. He needed to see that is was still there. He needed to know that he was still there despite how close to death he had been. He couldn't even see the sun, it was too overcast for that, but staring up at the expanse of sky before him he knew that there was more to life even if he couldn't see its center.
Chuck closed his eyes and breathed deeply forgetting his damaged lung. He felt a tickle deep in his chest and silently willed it away unsuccessfully. He coughed raggedly and uncontrollably. His whole body shook as he tried to regain control and take in air. His vision grayed out a bit and Chuck tried uselessly calm his coughing and breathe in again.
Perhaps years of honing her protective skills alerted Elli's senses to pick up on Chuck being in trouble no matter where she was. Ellie appeared with wet hair at the door and quickly came to his aid. Chuck tried to wave her off as he regained control but Ellie was anything but insistent.
"Breathe, Chuck." Ellie spoke into his ear while rubbing circles on his back. "You're okay. Just relax." She repeated in a calming mantra.
Chuck nodded and shakily sucked in air. He hated this. However this was much better than the alternative of being dead from a gunshot wound.
"What are you doing outside?" Ellie demanded as though he was some wayward child. She helped pull him to his feet and hastily ushered him back indoors. She sat him down on the couch, plopped a blanket over him, and stepped back with her hands squarely on her hips.
"What were you thinking Chuck?" She demanded.
I just wanted to go outside." He answered as innocently as possible.
"You were shot, Chuck! You had collapsed lung and nearly bled out on the table. Then had pneumonia for God's sake. Do you know what that means? What effect that has on your body?" She cried out, waving emphatically.
"Well, I did experience it all..." Chuck trailed off, nervous and unprepared for this outburst.
"I can't let you out of my sight for a minute! You were at work and you nearly died at the Buy More. I've lost everyone else in my life, I can't loose you too!" Her voice ended in a choked sob. Tears were now flowing freely down her face.
Ellie collapsed on the couch beside him and Chuck took her into his arms. She cried into his shoulder, a deep weeping cry. Chuck simply held her tears spilling from his eyes as well and offered the support he could hoping his presence alone could convince her that he was still there. Still breathing. Still living. He was not the only person who had suffered.
Finally, Ellie's sobbing quieted. She pulled away from Chuck's embrace and placed both her hands along side his face. "Don't do that again. You're the only little brother I've got."
Chuck placed his hands on Ellie's and drew her in for a gentle hug. "I'm not going anywhere." He promised before letting her go.
Ellie stood up wiping her eyes. "I've got to get ready for work. You don't leave this couch." She gently scolded.
"Understood." Chuck nodded and lay back on the couch. He closed his eyes suddenly feeling exhausted from his trip outdoors.
He'd barely nodded off when Ellie stormed back in the room in a panic.
"Devon just called. He has to stay in late. I was supposed to go in but I can't leave you here alone yet." She told him pacing the floor in front of the couch.
"Ellie, I think I'll be okay for a few hours."
Ellie stopped him with a pointed glare. She was about to add something to the conversation when a knock sounded at the door.
"You. Stay put." She said pointing at him before hurrying to the door.
Sarah stood at the doorway, seeming unsure of herself. Ellie didn't seem to notice, immediately wrapping her in an embrace and dragging her to the living room.
"Sarah! I'm so glad you're here. You wouldn't mid staying with Chuck for a few hours until Devon gets home?" Ellie asked.
Sarah seemed a bit stunned before she answered, glancing between Chuck who shrugged his shoulders and Ellie's expecting gaze.
"Uh, sure," she answered.
"Perfect. You're a life saver!" Ellie exclaimed oblivious to the slight wince on Sarah's face and once again wrapped her in a hug. She quickly went through Chuck's list of medications, restrictions and how to reach her and Devon if anything should happen. Under no circumstances was Chuck to go anywhere besides to bed or to the bathroom. Sarah stood a bit stunned nodding her head throughout the directions. Chuck's face flushed with embarrassment at the idea of Sarah babysitting him but there was no stopping Ellie once she started.
Ellie left for work with a quick hug for Chuck and firm reminder to keep his wanderings to a minimum.
That left him alone with Sarah for the first time in weeks.
"Do you want to sit down?" He asked as nonchalantly as possible gesturing towards the space beside him on the couch. He shifted his legs across the coffee table to make room.
"Sure," she said sitting down beside him.
There was a pregnant pause, both unsure what to say. Sarah looked ahead for a moment before turning to Chuck.
"Chuck-" They both started at the same time and then laughed nervously.
"Sorry," Chuck said, "ladies first."
Sarah flashed him a small smile again before divulging what was on her mind.
"Chuck, I'm really sorry I haven't been around."
"You don't have to apologize."
"No, actually I do." Sarah insisted. "It's pretty bad when Casey is the one telling me to get my head together."
Chuck smirked, shrugging his shoulders, "Casey has been giving some pretty solid advice lately." He replied remembering his last conversation with the man.
This seemed to put Sarah more at ease. "I was just so worried that you would blame me."
"You know that's not true." Chuck assured her.
"I know. I know I was really just angry with myself for letting this happen. I'm supposed to keep you safe because…" She trailed off.
"Because it's your job." Chuck finished for her.
Sarah shook her head. "Because I care about you." She said finally meeting his gaze. "A lot more than I should. I don't deserve someone as good as you"
For the first time in weeks Chuck felt completely pain free. Sarah's absence suddenly made sense to him. She wasn't avoiding him because she didn't want to work with him. A warmth spread through his chest dulling the constant ache.
"I think you know the feeling is mutual. And that last piece is completely ridiculous. Anyone could tell that you're way out of my league."
Sarah's smile was practically beaming. She surprised him by tentatively reaching out to hug him. The embrace was gentle, as though she was a afraid that he would break.
"I really missed you." She whispered in his ear.
When the hug finally ended, Sarah clutched his hand sliding her shoulder next to his. Chuck tried to ignore the tears in her eyes because he was pretty sure he looked the same.
"So what now?" Sarah asked him.
"Well, before you got here I was thinking Lord of the Rings marathon." He answered with a smile.
"That's not what I meant." She said.
Chuck looked down at their entwined fingers. They fit together so perfectly, each making the other half whole. For the first time in weeks he felt like was exactly where he needed to be. He was so worried that this gunshot wound was the end, the end of him or the end of his time with Sarah. Only sitting next to Sarah with her head lightly resting on his shoulder he realized that without endings there would be no beginnings. And right now Chuck was willing to see where this story was going.
I know people were a bit upset with Sarah the last chapter so hopefully she redeemed herself with this. This was all a big change for her. Thank you again to everyone who has taken the time to read and review this story. I know it took me a long time to finish but hopefully it was worth it!