Maintaining the Cover
When she grabbed him and kissed him in the middle of a crowded ballroom, it didn’t cause shock or surprise. From the bar, Casey was entirely unconcerned by the display of affection taking place not twenty feet from him. Other guests were similarly disinterested in where her tongue was now probing and sliding and tasting. Even Chuck, the guy who used to be left with a goofy grin and/or look of awe seemed completely unfazed as he slipped his arms tightly around her waist and pulled her body flush against his, sucking her tongue into his mouth and giving as good as he was getting.
Surprise, it seemed, was saved only for Sarah.
It was silly, she knew, to question her plan of action once she’d already decided on and employed it. The mark had been eyeing them suspiciously all night, clearly unconvinced by their cover, especially given the way Sarah had been keeping Chuck at a distance ever since they’d arrived. Hell, ever since Prague, really. She’d been downright nasty to him a few times, but somehow he always forgave her; always showed up to work with a smile and a gung-ho attitude, ready to save the world.
So Sarah knew that their routine as a couple was unconvincing because of her own doing, not Chuck’s. If anything, he appeared even more doting than usual, offering to buy her drinks and hold her purse, and laughing at all of her bad jokes during conversations with party-goers. If she didn’t know better, she’d think he was becoming a better spy than she was.
It didn’t help that he was the first to notice the scepticism on the mark’s face as he watched the ‘couple’ mingle over the course of the evening, chatting up various members of his inner circle and asking light, if not particularly probing questions about the host of this particular soirée.
“Parker hasn’t taken his eyes off of us since we walked in the room,” Chuck whispered in her ear. Sarah knew he didn’t mean to blow his warm breath over the skin there. She knew he didn’t mean to make her flesh tingle; but that didn’t make it any less affecting. She shifted slightly away from him, giving him a curt nod, indicating that she’d noticed the same thing. She hadn’t. Not really. She’d been too focused on the warmth of his body next to her, and the coarse sleeve of his tuxedo jacket every so often brushing against her bare arm and tantalizing her.
She couldn’t let this thing with Chuck distract her from the mission any more than it already had. Her mind had been so preoccupied by the proximity of the Nerd Herder that she’d barely even focused on the answers they were getting from Parker’s friends as they discussed his successes in the field of biomolecular neurotechnology.
Sarah steeled herself after Chuck’s observation and took him by the hand, fixing him with a smile that was just a touch too radiant to be real.
“Dance with me, Chuck,” she more demanded than asked. She saw his eyes darken slightly, despite the matching smile that graced his lips.
Damn, he was getting good at this whole Spy/Cover thing.
“My pleasure,” he said coolly, offering her his arm and leading her out into the sea of dancing couples. A slow Jazz piece was playing from the DJ’s station, making the whole scene a lot more romantic than she would have chosen if she’d had even a semblance of control over the situation.
She realized as she sunk into his embrace that whatever control she might have had, she left in Prague. That pissed her off.
Chuck must have sensed her ambivalence, because he took that opportunity to lean down and whisper in her ear again, unknowingly causing her even more discomfort.
“Relax, Sarah. He’s already sceptical about us.” She heaved a heavy sigh and rolled her eyes behind closed lids. To the world she looked serene, but on the inside she was boiling over.
Chuck was right, and it made her more angry than she wanted to admit. Parker clearly knew something was up, and if he didn’t, he would soon realize it if she didn’t calm down and start playing her part with even a modicum of the finesse she usually applied in situations such as these.
Sarah peeked over Chuck’s shoulder as he slowly spun her in circles, and spotted Parker still side-eyeing them even as they danced like all of the other happy, loving couples in the room. Steeling herself, Sarah decided it was time to sell this cover, for better or for worse. She pulled away slightly, offering herself just enough distance to look up and meet Chuck’s gaze. His eyes were filled with a tenderness that was all too familiar coming from him – the kind of tenderness that almost made Sarah feel bad for harbouring such anger after being rejected by him. Almost.
She shook that away, and allowed a small, sad smile to appear on her lips.
“You’ve gotten better at this,” she said softly. Chuck’s brow furrowed.
“At dancing?” She shook her head.
“At pretending.” Chuck frowned slightly, and Sarah knew that it was because the only pretending he was doing was whenever he acted like he didn’t want her. She knew he did – it was written all over his face. Hell, it had been written all over his face even as he was dumping her on the platform of a train station. She took a deep breath and met his eyes again.
“Not now, Chuck,” she said quickly, stopping whatever ideas he might be getting in their tracks. He sealed his lips tightly, though she could see the small downward tug at the corners that still remained. “You’re right; Parker’s onto us.” As she said this, she slowly eased her hands from his shoulders to the back of his neck, caressing as she went along. She could see recognition in Chuck’s face as to her plans, and noted his small nod of approval before he dipped just as she surged forward, their lips meeting in the middle.
It was slow at first. Slow, and just sensual enough to assure those in attendance that their love was real. Sarah’s original intention to pull away and surreptitiously check for Parker’s reaction was ripped from her mind as soon as Chuck pulled her a little tighter and ended one kiss before seamlessly slipping into another. Her first thought was surprise that she was letting this go on. Her second was nothing but red, as she firmed up her grip on the back of his neck with one hand and the back of his head with the other, fusing his mouth to hers and tonguing the seam his lips, seeking the entrance she hadn’t experienced since that morning in Barstow all those months ago.
If Chuck had any objections to her activities, he showed none of them, reinforcing his grip on her body and opening his mouth to allow her sensual invasion. She could feel the small moan that emanated from the back of his throat surge through her whole body, ringing her like a bell, and she pulled him even closer, the closest he could possibly be, fully unwilling to let this moment of absolute insanity go.
Thoughts of the mission, thoughts of Prague, thoughts of their partner at the bar slipped away as the seconds turned to minutes between them, tongues licking, mouths sucking, teeth every so often clanging together in desperate attempts to devour as much of one another as they could.
“I think you’ve made your point,” voice buzzed in her right ear. She knew Chuck heard it too, because he quickly tensed, before reluctantly pulling away. He brought his left hand up to scratch his right ear and mumbled into the receiver on his watch, “Did he buy it?”
“You’re in the clear. He’s moved onto another group of people. Time to find the software.”
As Casey assured them of her plan’s success, Sarah found it difficult to focus on anything but the tingling that started in her lips and coursed through her entire body. Chuck, looking thoroughly kissed, seemed completely at ease despite the intensity of the moment they’d just shared. She wasn’t sure if she should be impressed or infuriated at how easily he seemed able to turn it off. Chuck had never possessed that skill before.
“Ready?” Chuck asked, pulling her out of her stupor. She offered him a small nod, allowing him to take her hand and lead her from the ballroom toward the bowels of the mansion.
As the pair wandered through the halls in search of Parker’s office, Sarah tried to shake off the remnants of the kiss that clouded her thoughts. They had a mission, and she was allowing herself to be compromised by... what? A boy? A kiss?
A man. Love.
She shuddered inwardly. Chuck had left her, not the other way around. She was not allowed to let him impact her like this. She repeated that internal scolding a few more times before they came to the door of the office.
She stood back, letting Chuck do the heavy lifting as he picked the lock. She saw his eyes go slightly unfocused as the Intersect kicked in, showing him how to enter the locked room and bypass whatever security they may run into. Though she’d seen him do this a number of times at this point, it still surprised her every time, the speed and accuracy with which he could get through barriers. She briefly allowed her mind to wander to the Chuck of the Intersect 1.0 – brilliant, but ultimately incapable of protecting himself. She was unnerved by the small thrill that ran through her as she let her mind flit to their most recent scrap in which he’d busted out his newfound martial arts skills. Despite zero training, Chuck’s form was impeccable, and he was able to dispense of half a dozen men without breaking a sweat. She didn’t want to admit being so shallow, but his new physical prowess made him all the more sexy in her eyes.
“And, we’re in,” Chuck said in a low voice, once again dragging her from her thoughts. She scolded herself again: ‘You are not allowed to let him do this to you!’ before sliding past him into the room lit only by the faint glow of the moon.
“Alright, if I was a jump drive, where would I be?” Chuck asked aloud, clearly more to himself than to her. She slipped behind the desk and began opening drawers and rifling through their contents, while Chuck stepped past her and knelt down to take a peek at the PC on the floor beneath the desk.
“Okay, I know this guy is old school, but this computer is massive! It looks like it should be housed in a warehouse and called ‘Watson’,” Chuck joked. Sarah rolled her eyes at his nerd humour, but couldn’t help the hint of a smile that crossed her lips.
“Is ‘Watson’ in possession of the drive?” she asked.
“Nope,” Chuck said with a little sigh, pulling himself from the space beneath the desk. Unfortunately for him, he misjudged the height of the desk versus the size of his head, because as he was pulling back, a *thunk* could be heard that even made Sarah wince. “Ouch! Crap,” Chuck cursed through clenched teeth, pulling himself upright.
“You okay?” Sarah asked, genuinely concerned for a moment. Chuck grasped the back of his head in his hand, and nodded with a pained expression.
“Totally fine,” he lied. Sarah couldn’t help a small grin at his declaration.
“Any blood?” she asked. He shook his head.
“No, I don’t think so.” She reached her hand out to touch the back of his head
“Let me feel,” she told him. He offered a small eye roll that one might save for their overbearing mother, but complied, removing his own hand and hiding a wince as Sarah gently ran her fingers over the lump that had begun to swell on the back of his head. She didn’t miss it when he wobbled a bit on his feet. “Alright,” she sighed. “You sit down while I find the drive. We’ll ice it when we get back to Castle.”
“Sarah, I’m fine...” Chuck attempted. She gave him a stern look.
“Fine, fine,” he said, putting his hands up in a gesture of submission. He staggered slightly as he backed into the desk chair, half-falling into its padded leather seat. Sarah waited until he was safely down before pulling open the next drawer and digging through it.
It took another few moments, but she did eventually find the jump drive in question, slipping it into her purse just as Casey’s voice rang through their ears.
“Parker’s on the move. Time’s up, get out of there,” e ordered. Sarah turned back to Chuck.
“You going to be okay getting out of here?” she asked. Chuck offered a slightly amused grin.
“What if I say no?” She shrugged.
“Then I guess I’d just have to leave you here for Parker to find. I hear he has Dobermans,” she teased lightly. Chuck chuckled.
“Well then I guess I’ll be fine then,” he said, pushing himself up from the chair, unsteady as he rose to his feet. Sarah slipped herself into his side, allowing him to lean against her as they quickly made their exit.
Finding their way out of the office and back to the ballroom proved to be fairly simple for Chuck and Sarah, despite his swaying every now and then. Of course, making it out of the ballroom and past their new ‘friends’ without questions about Chuck’s injury proved to be impossible. Sarah had concocted a story about him tripping over his own feet, but it was clear from the knowing smiles that folks didn’t believe them. She fought not to snap at them over their assumptions that she and Chuck had been engaged in something rather salacious. Of course that would be their conclusion; it only made sense after the heated kiss they’d shared in the middle of the dance floor. Still, it bothered her, more than she cared to admit.
The van ride back to Castle was silent, as neither Casey nor Chuck seemed terribly interested in discussing the mission, and Sarah even less so. She took the time and silence to sink into her thoughts – this being a far more appropriate time to do so than in the middle of a mission.
Chuck had been good tonight. Really good. If Sarah was being perfectly honest, he’d been even better than she was at the whole ‘spy’ thing, keeping an eye on their mark and maintaining their cover even when she was slipping up at every turn. Thankfully, neither Chuck nor Casey had mentioned her lack of attention to detail throughout the evening. Both knew she still had sore feelings about the whole ‘Prague’ thing, and both had been far more appeasing than they needed to be – probably more appeasing than she would have been, if the situations were reversed.
As the streetlights flew by, Sarah allowed herself to consider why it was, exactly, that she was still so angry with Chuck. She groaned inwardly at the idea that ‘love’ might have something to do with it. Love wasn’t something spies did, and it most certainly wasn’t something Sarah Walker did. So why did it feel so much like her heart was breaking every time she remembered the events on that platform? Why couldn’t she just let it go, already? She’d broken up with guys before. Hell, she’d had sexual relationships that had less of an impact on her than her several near-misses with the curly haired nerd. There really didn’t seem to be many other conclusions she could draw, besides love. Stupid, inconvenient love.
She allowed herself a small huff of irritation as they pulled into the parking lot shared by the Buy More and Orange Orange, before jumping out and following the pair into the latter building. She noticed the way Chuck used walls and countertops to steady himself as he wandered ahead toward Castle, and couldn’t help the small pang of worry she felt. Sure, it was inherently funny whenever someone smacked their head on a table just out of sheer clumsiness, but she was concerned that maybe his injury was more severe than he had let on before. She made a mental note to check it out properly before letting him drive home.
Casey didn’t stick around for long after they’d secured the jump drive in the Castle safe and checked in with Beckman, though he had given Sarah a bit of a sympathetic look before taking his leave. Well, as sympathetic as Casey was capable of being, which would have been about a 2 out of 10 on any normal person’s scale. He knew that Sarah was still struggling, and in the weeks that the team had been back together, he’d helped her out by making sure she wasn’t alone with Chuck for any great lengths of time. Tonight, Sarah knew that he expected them to leave shortly after he did, which she assumed was the only reason he left so soon.
Once Casey had gone, Sarah returned to the conference table where Chuck was still seated, holding an ice pack against the back of his head that Sarah had given to him as soon as they arrived.
“How’s the head?” Sarah asked casually while cleaning up some files that had been left on the table.
“Swell,” Chuck said. “Ing, that is. It’s swelling.” Sarah couldn’t help a small giggle at the terrible joke. She also couldn’t help the bundle of nerves that stirred up in her stomach at his responding grin.
"Well, it sounds like your sense of humour is still intact,” she teased, leaning forward across the table to take a look in his eyes. “How’s your vision? Clear?”
“It’s clear,” Chuck responded.
“And your thoughts? Clear? Fuzzy?”
“Clear again.” She held out a finger in front of his face.
“Follow my finger,” she instructed.
“Sarah, you don’t have to...”
“Do as you’re told,” she said firmly. Chuck sighed and leaned back in his chair, but did as she said, following her finger with his eyes easily.
“Okay, good. It doesn’t seem like you have a concussion,” she determined. She wandered around the table to behind his chair and pulled the icepack away to look at the bump. “Looks like you’ve got a decent war wound though. I’ll never understand how you can walk out of a gun fight without a scratch, but one low desk puts you out of commission.” Chuck chuckled at that.
“I just like to keep you on your toes,” he teased. She grinned and replaced the icepack, waiting for his hand to come up to hold it in place before pulling hers away. She attempted to hide her reaction to their fingers touching during the hand-off, without much success.
She could feel Chuck’s eyes on her as she resumed tidying up the folders, putting them in a neat pile before picking them up. She was about to escape the room when he spoke again.
“We should probably talk about what happened tonight.” Sarah frowned, and although her back was to him, she knew he could sense it.
“Chuck, that kiss was just for the cover,” she attempted.
“I’m not talking about the kiss,” he said firmly. “I’m talking about everything else.” She sighed and turned back to him, holding the folders to her chest like a shield.
“Look, Sarah,” he interrupted, pulling himself up from his seat. Sarah noticed that the wobble was still present, though far less than it had been. “I know this is tough for you. It’s tough for me too – you know that. But if this is going to work, we both need to, I don’t know... get used to it, I guess.” Sarah was surprised at his sentiment, not having expected him to be so businesslike about the whole ordeal.
“I am getting used to it,” she said, noticeable irritation in her tone. “I’m sorry if I’m not as adaptable as you are.” Chuck sighed.
“I didn’t mean it that way,” he defended weakly. She set the folders back down on the table and crossed her arms, eyeing him harshly.
“Then what did you mean? Because it sounds like you’re telling me to just get over it, when we both know that would be a lot easier to do if you didn’t reinsert yourself into my team.” Chuck attempted to cut in, but she continued on, ignoring him. “You know maybe I would have liked some time to get over it, Chuck. Maybe I already would be over it, if you had just respected my space after dumping me in Prague.”
“Sarah, you have to know why I did that,” he said, a small hitch in his voice that Sarah chose to overlook.
“Of course I know: you wanted to be a real spy,” she said, mocking evident in her tone. “You wanted to show everybody how great you are, and save the world. Well congratulations, Chuck. You’re doing it.”
“You really think that’s what this is all about?” he questioned. Sarah offered an irritated, if non-committal shrug of her shoulders. “Sarah, I chose to finish my training because I knew that without it, I would never be good enough for you.” She shot him a sceptical look.
“Oh, I see, you broke up with me so we could be together,” she said with a huff. Chuck let out an irritated sigh and dropped the ice pack on the table with a thunk just loud enough to jolt Sarah out of her angry haze.
“Not just that,” he said, his voice now much firmer than it had been. “Come on, Sarah. Can you honestly tell me that you would be happy now if we had quit and run away together? That you could be happy living your life away from the CIA?”
“I had already made my decision, Chuck,” she argued.
“Yes, but you didn’t make that decision because you wanted to, you made it because you thought you had to. I knew the moment you suggested running away together that you weren’t ready to leave all of this behind.”
“That’s because did have to! You know as well as I do that we can’t be together if I’m your handler.”
“Exactly!” he exclaimed, louder than intended. “Sarah, we can’t be together if you’re my handler, but w can e together if we’re partners; if I’m a full-fledged agent like Bryce or Cole.”
“I don’t want Bryce or Cole, Chuck, I want you!” she exclaimed before she could stop herself. Her admission stopped them both in their tracks, each staring at each other, slightly winded from the adrenaline that had built up in their chests over the past several moments.
“You can have me, Sarah,” Chuck said after a long moment. “We can be together now, the way we both want to be.” She watched him with ambivalence for another moment.
“Why should I trust you?” she questioned.
“Because if there’s one thing you know about me, it’s that I would never lie to you, Sarah. I do some stupid things sometimes. God knows I’ve made lot of crappy choices in the time that you’ve known me, but I’ve never lied to you. Not once.” She eyed him sceptically, although a hint of amusement was evident as well.
“I can name, like, three different occasions where you’ve lied to me,” she deadpanned. Chuck furrowed his brow, thinking about that for a moment.
“Okay, other women notwithstanding.”
“A-ha,” she said, although both noticed the tension seemed to have lifted slightly. Chuck offered a half-grin, which Sarah mimicked for a moment before letting it slip away.
“I need time, Chuck,” she said quietly. “But I appreciate you explaining this to me. It does help.” Chuck let out a long breath through his nose, a small frown tugging at the corners of his lips, but nodded his consent.
“I’ll give you all the time you need, Sarah. Just don’t give up on me. Please.” She offered a small nod before shifting gears.
“Are you ready to head out?”
“Yeah, I think I’m probably fine to drive now,” he said, picking up the icepack from the table, intending to take it back to the freezer. She shook her head.
“No, I’ll give you a ride home.”
“You don’t have to,” he attempted. She gave him a stern look, to which he relented. “Yes, Mom,” he droned out. Sarah rolled her eyes, but couldn’t help but huff a small laugh.
“Watch who you’re calling ‘Mom’, Charlie,” she teased. Chuck laughed, a newfound lightness in his tone, and followed Sarah as she made her way out of Castle.
Despite her misgivings about Chuck – many of which still existed, Sarah had to admit that her chat with him did make her feel slightly better about the whole situation. With a new perspective, she decided to try and let go of her anger. At the very least, she could use the new peace to improve her performance on missions, and maybe even be able to call Chuck a friend. Perhaps in time, she’d call him something more than that, too.
Not willing to get ahead of herself, Sarah helped Chuck out to the car. Another mission down; Operation Bartowski still a success.