A/N Last chapter was the setup, and this chapter is...not the resolution. Sarah's journey is just getting started.
"Peso for your thoughts."
"That's what she said!"
"Your wait staff is certainly efficient."
"Why CIA plants?"
"Sarah, wake up."
Sarah's eyes opened and she gasped. Chuck held her as she looked around wildly. No, not wildly. She was seeking targets. The morning light illuminated their bedroom, carefully arranged to minimize the number of possible hiding places for enemy commandos, and she sagged against him as she verified their safety. "Bad dream?" he asked gently, as if he didn't already know the answer.
The label steadied her. She nodded.
"A memory?" She had far too many of those.
She couldn't shake her head, not in that position. "Nuh-uh."
"Tell me about it?" He'd held her through many bad nights in their time together, but he usually didn't have to call her out of them. A simple hug, or speaking her name, was enough most times. He couldn't imagine what she could dream up that would be worse than the horrors she'd already gone through.
She hugged him tightly, but didn't say a word.
"Sarah." What would Dr. Dreyfus say? Something slow, steady, and calming, sure, but Chuck didn't feel any of those things right now, and less so with every second of her silence. "Sarah?" Lub-dub-lub-dublubdublubdub–
"We had children."
Lubdublubdub-lub-dub-lub-dub– "Doesn't sound like a nightmare to me."
"I ended up taking a water pistol to a firefight."
Chuck's brain froze. "Oh."
She pushed herself up and stared at him. "That's all you've got to say? 'Oh'?"
He forced a smile on his face. "I…remember I was threatened by a man with a water pistol once."
She sagged, but not all the way back down. "Chuck–"
"You remember him, that wacko genius Laszlo, tried to blow up the Santa Monica pier with a nerd herder?"
She took a deep breath, letting her forehead settle down against his. "What about him, Chuck?" she asked, not up for this particular puzzle right now.
"I'm just saying that Laszlo, crazy psychopathic genius parts notwithstanding, was a pretty outside-the-box thinker. Sometimes a water pistol is the right answer. Although for the life of me I can't figure out why he put water in it."
She snorted, a puff of air against his skin. "So what's the question?"
She gripped his hair and pulled him to a stop. "You better not call me a grasshopper."
His brown eyes stared into her blue ones, not quite wincing. "There's nothing else that goes with 'little' that isn't derogatory."
She let go. "That's because 'little' is derogatory all by itself."
"Not if whatever you're talking about's supposed to be little."
"If it's supposed to be little, then it's just right, isn't it?"
"No it isn't."
"Yes it is."
"Well look, this isn't an argument."
"Yes, it–wait, what?" She must be tired.
He gave her a smug grin. "Exactly."
She settled back down to wait out the alarm. "You're such a goof."
"Who's a bigger goof, the goof or the goof who follows him?"
*Yawn* "What a terrible thing to say about Morgan," she mumbled.
He smiled, pressing 1-2-1-2 against her back. Mission accomplished. "Good night, wife."
Sarah sat in the breakfast nook, eating her reheated scalloped potatoes and ham for breakfast and staring at her suitcase by the door. She should have unpacked it by now but something made her keep her distance. Her husband was showering and singing and that thing wasn't letting her enjoy it.
Finally she got up and took it outside again, throwing it into the back seat of her car. Then she went back inside and finished her breakfast in peace.
Casey was getting ready for another day of being ready. His evening with Alex went about as well as he could have expected. He had to work at being accepted into her life, but he was the only 'family' she had out here, and their respective professions gave them some common interests. Even Grimes was helpful, in his unique, back-handed, unhelpful way.
He noticed his phone light blinking, which it hadn't been when he got in. Someone had called in the middle of the night. Someone had left a message.
Talk about unhelpful.
Ellie was smiling as he came in the door of her lab area. "You're looking cheerful, sis," said Chuck.
"Well, I hate to say it, Chuck, but I'm glad to be at work and not at home, right now." She traded in the smile for a frown. "I mean, I love Devon to death but he treats me like I'm made of spun glass. I can't take another twenty-seven weeks of that."
Chuck plopped himself down on his usual chair automatically. "Did you give him your 'caves and fields' speech?"
She started with her usual biometrics. "I don't think that would help, Chuck. He's already bought and assembled two bassinets, and three white noise machines. He's coming unwrapped."
"The only thing he's coming unwrapped from is your little finger, El. Don't be Pregnant You, just be You. And remember that the Buy More needs the receipt to give you a full refund."
"Now aren't you glad I didn't shoot you?" asked Sarah into the air near her speaker phone, after their rather depressing briefing ended. At least she could get her breakfast dishes done.
"I just can't believe she played us like that." Carina flung a knife at her dartboard. Bulls-eye, of course. Not what she'd rather be doing with a suddenly-unnecessary morning, but Davis was on duty.
"I can't believe we didn't see it coming." Sarah paused for the next thunk! before continuing. "The most obvious trick in the world is to separate the lock from the key and we missed it."
"We didn't miss it, we didn't even know it could be done." Carina crossed to her board and snatched the knives out. "Who makes bullets in sections, anyway? Isn't that like, the whole point of a bullet?"
"I think you're really talking about cartridges, and technically speaking a bullet is just a part of a cartridge, so congratulations. You've just managed to be both right and wrong at the same time."
"Is Chuck still there?" Carina was suspicious. That was Chuck-snark, not Sarah-snark.
"You know he's not. He's at work early, supporting Interpol looking for a master arms merchant and smuggler last seen in Milan."
Thunk! "You don't think she still is?"
Water rings on the counter. I don't think so. "Would you be?"
Carina laughed. Thunk! "I'd be packed up and way the hell out of–out of–"
No thunk. "Packed."
Sarah scraped at something with a fingernail. "What?"
"Packed. She was packed."
She needed something stronger, and took a knife out of the drying rack. "If you call one dress packed." Actually, Carina would call 'one dress' packed.
"But why that dress? A closet full of clothes and she saves the one she's just been seen in?"
The knife edge popped it off, something small, circular, and crystalline. "Sequins," said Sarah.
"What better way to slip some chips through Customs? As part of a collection from a fashion show."
"She's still in Milan." Until tomorrow night, when the event ended and all the participants scattered to the winds.
"I hope you're still packed."
Suddenly Sarah felt right for the first time that day. She threw the knife into the message board thunk! and watched it quiver. "You have to ask?"
The young doorman pulled open the heavy door for the two beautiful Americans with every sign of pleasure in the task.
Carina smiled at him, pulling a feather from her skirt and handing it to him as they passed through. "About time," she muttered to her companion.
"Please, you're griping about having to open three doors?"
"You owe me two."
"I told you–"
"Did you know, you used to be a con artist as a young woman?" Not that she took much on faith anyway. Carina looked around the packed ballroom, with all its various entrances. "Which collection?"
"My spy senses tell me it's that one," said Sarah, pointing at an arch with two burly thugs in front of it.
"You want to get this one too?"
Sarah smiled sharply. "I've got it. Those are the two I owe you."
Carina watched as Sarah sauntered over to the two men, allowed them to slobber all over her hands, and then…chatted.
"I really am sorry to have misled you two gentleman," said Sarah, dropping her accent and removing her glasses. "I'm not really a model, but I do need to get through that door behind you, so I do hope you'll do me a favor and let me by." The two men didn't change expression as the both crumpled into thuggish heaps at her feet.
"Thank you so much."
Carina joined her as she drew the curtains on the mess. "Okay, spill."
Sarah held up her hands. "Chuck added some false fingerprints to the FRODO, with a coating of tranq juice on the outside." She went down the short hall.
"Clever," said Carina. "But next time I may not be here to open every door for your Highness, so tell him to put them in some gloves or something." She pointed at the knob. "After you."
Bags of clothes, racks of bags, hideously expensive and expensively hideous, destined to be worn once, twice if they were lucky, then auctioned off for charity and bartered progressively downward thereafter. The two agents worked their way through the collection quickly.
"Ah-ha," shouted Carina. "Here we go!"
"Good." Sarah stripped off her coat and pulled on the dress, but they weren't about to walk out there. Someone discovered the fallen guards and there weren't too many places to look.
"Quick," said Carina, "Through that door." No matter what, the chips had to be recovered.
Sarah went out as a small army came in, one of the smallest armies around, maybe five men. Four more than Carina, though.
"Carina!" shouted Sarah as the shooting started. A hammer cocked behind her, and she raised her hands.
"You look like the sort to buy off the rack," said Sofia.
The small army was very good, with dozens of kill shots scored in that tiny room. Unfortunately all of them were on the mannequins. The noise was absorbed by the dresses, and Carina knew no one would hear it over the sound of all the electro-pop music in the main ballroom.
She helped herself to the bar, a bo of metal that made quick work of four of the men, in her expert hands. The fifth, her giant bodyguard from the closet, had been watching, and snatched it away from her. He came closer, looming like the mountain he was. "You messed things up with Miss–" He stopped, blinking a bit. "Biss–" His face screwed up, making him even uglier than he already was. Carina dodged, as he sneezed right where her face would have been.
"You really should think about trading up," said Carina. "She's a pretty cold fish, if you ask me."
He came after her a second time. "You can't talk that way about by–Biss–" He stopped again, unable to see or to breathe, several sneezes forcing their way out of his mouth before Carina put him out of his misery. He snuffled a lot, but he was still breathing. She would save the real beating for her couturiere, he told her the ostrich feathers were fake! PETA would eat them alive.
Then the screaming started. Sarah!
Carina clambered over the men and debris, but the door wouldn't open, some stray bullet had hit the lock. So she clambered back over the men and debris, to get to the first door. She raced down the short hall, tripping over the two guards and plunging head first through the curtains into the well-lit hall, filled with paparazzi and their entourages.
No one noticed her.
Everyone was looking at the runway, and the two tall blondes in a life-or-death struggle on it. Sofia must have gotten in a few hits early, Carina noticed, but she wasn't getting any in now. No one had turned off the music and no one was going to as the two divas strutted their stuff. Even unarmed against her enemy's short knife, Sarah was dancing, and Sarah loved to dance.
A kick left Sofia Stefanova teetering on the brink, and Sarah moved in for the kill. Carina watched as Sarah screamed and leaped, only without the screaming, smiting her enemy with one blow. Silence fell over the room.
A camera flashed. Then another.
They sat at the table, Sarah holding a bag of ice to her eye as General Beckman started a slide show of images from their mission in Milan. Well, technically, after their mission in Milan. Some had photos of a wild-eyed, snarling, bloody-faced blonde on them, but the face of Miss Stefanova's enemy was obscured by long yellow hair and some blood. Most of the photos and headlines were focused on Miss Stefanova, a giant in her field, but not a popular one. Only a few shots caught Sarah, but that was from behind, as she limped from the runway with Carina's support. The final image was a cover, focused more on Carina's retreating bottom than on Sarah, one of the few with an English cover banner: 'Ostrich. The Next Big Thing?'
"Excellent work in Milan, ladies, although next time I see I'll have to send Carina to keep Sarah off the runway." The slide show ended, and the screen returned to Beckman's smiling face. "You recovered the chips, the bullets, and the seller. You've dealt Volkoff a major blow, and saved the world of good taste from high fashion for another year, all while managing to preserve your cover. Sarah, I hope to see you looking better very soon."
The second the screen went black Carina burst out laughing. "What?" said Sarah.
"'She's mine, bitch'?"
"I had to say something. And what are you complaining about?" asked Sarah, sounding snuffly, but not from allergies, to ostrich or anything else. "Would you rather they were going on about 'Combat Chic' all over Europe?"
"What, like my fashion victory wouldn't have happened without you?" Carina stood up. "I'm almost tempted not to go shopping on your behalf, but I will anyway, to demonstrate my generosity of spirit."
"You promised not to cheer me up anymore."
Carina paused as she opened the door. "I lied."
Sarah opened her suitcase, and stared at the assortment of clothing crumpled up inside. Cover clothes for cover roles, but she couldn't tell which were which any more.
"Need some help?" asked Chuck, watching from the door.
She turned the case over, dumping everything out in a big messy heap. "Nope." She turned it back over again.
At the bottom a fold of cloth flapped open. Chuck pointed, as if the she wouldn't have noticed otherwise. "Hey, it's ripped."
"No, it's not." Sarah snuck two fingers inside and teased out a piece of paper stuck way back in the lining.
He came over to smile at the picture of them during a real moment in the middle of a cover moment. "That's amazing."
"No it's not," said Sarah. "I may not use the glasses anymore but that doesn't mean I don't like to have you near me. You're my home, Chuck." She stepped up and draped her arms around his neck.
"I know, and I'm glad," he said, putting a little kiss on the tip of her nose. "I'm just surprised, that's all. I had to marry you to get your real name out of you, and now here you are, carrying us into battle. You're getting to be more like a real warrior princess every day." He put another kiss on her forehead. "I've never been so glad to see Morgan proven wrong, I mean, I'm usually glad when Morgan's wrong, but–"
"Wrong about what?"
"About us," said Chuck, "About marriage, about life. He has this weird idea about relationships and Achilles Heels, that you find the weak spot just when you think you're at your strongest." He picked up the picture. "But not us." He tucked it up safely in the case, and left the room to continue whatever he'd been doing.
She took it back out again, staring at it for a long time.
A/N2 A bit more ambiguous than the show's ending. That's intentional.