Memories are tricky things, Sarah Walker Bartowski discovers. There’s no rhyme or reason to what she remembers. Things come out of order; she remembers their second first date before she remembers meeting him. And mixed in with all the moments that she knows are important (their first meeting, the French train trip, his proposal, their wedding) are ones that don’t really seem so important. Not at first.
x x x
smelling old grease
Sarah leans over the fryer, muttering under her breath. “Why would anyone want to eat a hot dog covered in corn batter and fried in day-old grease?”
She keeps messing up batches, and the pipsqueak dictator that manages the Wienerlicious keeps taking the burnt corn dogs out of her paycheck. Not that it really matters, since she still has her CIA salary, but . . . she’s Sarah Walker. She should be able to fry a corn dog. Even if the only time she’s ever used a deep fryer was on a Colombian drug lord.
The cheery ding of the bell over the door draws her attention from the fryer, and she turns to see her asset amble in, a big smile on his face. “Hey, Sarah!” He sniffs the air appreciatively. “Something smells good.”
Sarah rolls her eyes. “You’re a terrible liar, Chuck.” She can’t help a small smile. Because it’s true--Chuck Bartowski really can’t lie. He’s too obvious in showing whatever he’s feeling. After years of working with other spies, it’s . . . disconcerting.
Chuck leans forward against the counter, peering back towards the fryer. He frowns. “You’re right. I think I smell something burning.”
“Damn it!” Sarah mutters as she turns to the fryer. She yanks the basket up and dumps the blackened corn dogs out. She tosses the basket aside with a groan of frustration.
“So I guess CIA doesn’t stand for Culinary Institute of America,” Chuck says dryly, even as a large smile spreads across his face.
She looks around quickly, making sure they’re alone. “I’ve used fryers before. Just . . . just not for food.”
“Oooh-kay, well, there’s not much call for that nontraditional use of a deep fryer here in Burbank,” Chuck says, blanching a little. “For which I’m grateful. Move over.” He walks around the counter and tries to move past her.
“Chuck, what are you doing?” she asks, knowing that she sounds peevish, perhaps even downright bitchy. But she’s feeling embarrassed, because she’s found something she can’t do and that brings up too many memories of high school, of being mocked when anyone even noticed her.
“I worked at a Carl Junior’s one summer. There’s no fryer I can’t tackle,” Chuck says, gently and carefully navigating around her to get to the appliance. He’s very careful to not brush against her, unlike almost any other man in the situation.
She bites her lip, trying to figure out how to tell him that there’s no way he could come work at the Weinerlicious with her. “It’s nice of you to offer, Chuck, but your cover’s established at the Buy More . . .”
He looks at her in surprise. “What? Do you think I’m going to come work at the Weinerlicious? Wow, would Ellie love that. If you think she doesn’t like me working at the Buy More, she’d hate me working here. In the ‘a nuclear explosion was only a little bomb’ kind of way. I mean, the Weinerlicious!” He seems like he’s going to say more, only to suddenly realize that he’s insulting her cover job. He shuts his mouth so completely, Sarah’s sure she hears his jaws clack together.
Sarah bites her lip again, this time to hold back her laughter. But it’s futile, and she leans forward, laughing harder than she has in a long time.
Chuck looks sheepish, then joins in. “So clearly, the Intersect doesn’t stop me from opening mouth and inserting foot.”
She grins at him. “Guess not. We’ll have to include that in the next briefing.”
He mock-shudders. “I think Director Graham and General Beckman already know plenty about my shortcomings.”
What was it about him that made her want to laugh at him and hug him at the same time?
Chuck straightens up. “Okay, since we’ve established that the Wienerlicious is worse than the Buy More, I’m not going to submit an application as fry cook. But I can teach you how to use the fryer. So bring on your corn dogs, Fraulein.”
His eyes are dancing with enthusiasm at the chance to teach her something. And even though she knows she should turn him down, tell him she’s perfectly capable of using a deep fryer and send him on his way, she pulls out another bag of corn dogs and watches how he fries them.
And she never burns another corn dog.
stumbling into a brick wall
This is when she wishes Chuck was a bit shorter. Because running in heels is tough, especially when it’s real, legitimate “run for your life” running. But she likes being able to look in his eyes, so she always chooses the highest heels for these undercover missions.
She holds Chuck’s hand as they run, and by the way he’s panting, he’s going to need a break and soon. She sucks in a breath, scanning the area for any place that would be safe for a few minutes. An alley with a broken streetlight would have to do.
“Chuck, Chuck, this way!” she says quietly, pulling him into the alley. “Casey!” she hisses into her watch. “What’s your location?”
His response in her ear is full of static. “Two klicks south-southwest of your position. I’ve got company to deal with before I can get with you.”
Sarah glances over at Chuck, who’s leaning over and breathing hard. “Understood. We’ll circle around and meet you halfway.” She drops her wrist to her side and takes a few deep breaths.
Chuck straightens up, his breathing still a bit fast but relatively normal. “Okay, I really should have taken you up on all those offers to go jogging together.”
“One of the less glamorous aspects of being a spy, Chuck. You’ve got to work out, a lot.” Sarah lets herself lean back against the dirty brick wall for a moment as she rotates each foot in turn.
“And wear really uncomfortable shoes. Those must be killers,” he says, crouching down to take a closer look.
“I’ve had worse,” she says, looking down at him. It’s strange to be looking down, getting a new perspective on him. His head is bent as he examines her shoes, his curls a bit more tamed than they were yesterday. She idly thinks that he must have gotten a haircut before she saw him today, since there’s none of those funny animal shapes that Ellie doesn’t like.
A shame, really.
The thought jerks her out of her complacency. “Stand up, Chuck, and get ready to run,” she says, her voice definitely brusque. He straightens up, questions in his eyes but with enough awareness to keep quiet. She glances out of the alley, and takes one step, before suddenly, she finds herself with her back against the wall of the alley, the bricks digging into the skin left revealed by the dress she’s wearing.
And Chuck is pressing her against that wall.
She gapes at him in surprise, especially when he brings his face against her neck. His breath washes over her skin, and Sarah presses her hands back against the wall, immediately calculating how to push him away while a tiny part of her mind wonders what in the hell has gotten into him.
“Fulcrum,” he whispers quickly in her ear, acting like he’s nuzzling her. “I just flashed on a map of the area, complete with sniper positions.”
She takes a deep breath. “They must have lead us here.”
Chuck nods and moves his head to the other side of her neck, his voice worried. “If you had gone two steps further, they’d have a clear line of sight. If we act like a normal couple, they might think they’ve got the wrong people.”
Oh. So pressing her against the wall, it was about protecting her.
Well, that was all rather . . . spy-like.
And incredibly foolish, because he’s not the one who’s supposed to be doing the protecting here. She prepares to tell him that, but he glances at her and the reminder dies on her lips.
Sarah swallows and moves her hands to his hips. It’s to sell the moment they’re going to create in a minute. That’s all it is.
In a low whisper, she instructs him to mess up her hair and undo his bow tie (and she really needs to get him to stop wearing them, since they do nothing for him) and she tugs part of his shirt from his tuxedo pants and breaks off one of her heels.
“You’ll need to support me. And to sell this,” she says. “Ready?”
He nods, looking focused if nervous, and she marvels at how he’s not babbling or hesitating. She’s not quite sure where this resourcefulness has come from. Was he too worried to be scared? Was it a product of his talks with Cole Barker? Had he been quietly learning and just waiting for a chance to show it?
She closes her eyes for a moment to push aside these stray thoughts, then takes his arm in both of hers, stumbling due to one shoe being five inches shorter than the other. Chuck walks them slowly out of the alley and take a few steps, then he speaks out of the corner of his mouth.
“Sarah? Don’t hurt me for doing this.”
She laughs loudly, hoping it makes her appear drunk. She whispers quickly, “Doing what?” only for Chuck to pull her up on his back to give her a piggyback ride. He lets out a loud grunt and mutters at the top of his voice how heavy she is. He gives her a quick wink, and she can’t help grinning a little. She wraps her arms around his shoulders, holding on as he carries her through the streets towards the rendezvous point.
And neither of them let go until they reach Casey and the van.
having cold feet in bed
Why did he have to open the damn window? And why do these train cars have beds with such skimpy blankets? Given the cost of this compartment, you’d expect a fluffy white duvet, not this thin cream-colored blanket.
Sarah rubs her feet together, trying to warm them up. Chuck had left the window partially open when he had left the compartment, and even though it was now closed, there was still plenty of chilly French--or was it Swiss by now?--air filling the compartment.
And her boyfriend--really, it was amazing she was finally able to call Chuck that--was next to her, dead to the world.
Sarah rolls onto her side and gazed at Chuck’s face, slack and soft in sleep. There’s a small smile on his face, as if he was having happy dreams. And she feels a smile grow on her face at the thought that maybe he was dreaming about her.
She moves closer to him, bringing her head to rest on his shoulder. He was so warm, she had yet to wear anything more than panties and a camisole in bed. The best part was, he was so appreciative of getting to look his fill, his eyes roaming over her and making her feel like melting wax, that the body heat was just a perk.
Perhaps because of her movements, he stirs, a low rumbling sound coming from his chest. Sleepily, he wraps an arm around her. “Hey, baby,” he says softly, his voice low and a bit raspy.
It really wasn’t fair that just his voice affected her, setting off a fluttering in her stomach. She reaches out and rubbed his side. “Hey.”
“You still awake?” He twists to see the clock. “‘S late.”
She shrugs. “Couldn’t sleep.”
This makes him wake up the rest of the way. “Is everything okay? Do you need anything?”
She can’t help smiling at him. “I’m fine. Just . . . thinking.”
“Thinking?” His smile is lopsided and much too charming. “How are you able to think after . . . ?”
The thought of their activities earlier in the evening, after they had agreed to take on one last mission, causes her to smile brightly at him even as she feels her cheeks heat up. She nudges him gently. “That’s part of what I’m thinking about.”
Chuck props himself up on one arm, his other arm wrapped around her firmly. “You wanna talk about it? I know I talk all the time, but I can listen, too.”
Sarah bites her lower lip, feeling the flutter of nerves. This was part of being in a relationship: talking about her feelings. But since she’s never been in a real relationship, the thought of opening up to anyone, even Chuck . . . it takes a moment to remind herself that she’s safe with him.
Her words come slowly, with fits and starts, and she stumbles and doesn’t make much sense. But Chuck doesn’t mind: he listens closely, his eyes soft and his smiles gentle, as she works through her fears. And when she finishes, he pulls her in and kisses her delicately, like she’s made of glass and he’s scared of breaking her.
He’s so much stronger than she is when it comes to emotions. She wants to learn how to be like him. She wants him to teach her how.
Like he said, it’s late, and though the thought of more lovemaking is very tempting, she finds she just wants to be close to him. She stretches out along his side, her head on his chest as he slowly strokes her hair. Her eyelids are drooping when she feels something touch her feet.
“Yowch, Sarah. You’ve got ice blocks at the end of your legs.”
She can’t help a small yawn before she replies. “I always have cold feet. Sorry.”
She intends to move her feet away, but instead of letting her do that, he somehow twists his legs so his feet are covering hers. Sarah lets out a blissful sigh.
Chuck’s voice is amused. “Feels good?”
She nods, burrowing against his side a little. “Uh-huh.” She can feel sleep falling over her like a blanket, surrounded in delicious warmth from head to toe.
And her feet are never cold again.
seeing a garment bag in the back of their closet
This is an emergency. So even though Sarah knows Ellie is dealing with a newborn and probably hasn’t gotten any sleep and might not be very sympathetic to this problem, Sarah knocks urgently on the door to the Woodcombes’ apartment.
After a moment, Ellie opens the door, looking more disheveled than Sarah’s ever seen her. Her hair forms a fuzzy halo around her head, her t-shirt features some stains that Sarah doesn’t want to contemplate, and her sweatpants are huge and baggy enough to probably be Devon’s.
Sarah feels a pang of remorse. “I . . . you know what, Ellie, never mind . . .”
“What? No, no, come in!” Ellie says, grabbing Sarah’s wrist with surprising strength and yanking her inside. “I haven’t seen an adult other than Devon in days.”
Before Sarah really knows what’s happened, she’s sitting with Ellie at the dining room table, sipping coffee. “So!” Chuck’s sister says eagerly, “What’s going on? How are things with the wedding?”
“That’s why I’m here,” Sarah says, feeling her disappointment reawaken inside her. “Remember how I told you I had picked out my wedding dress?” At Ellie’s nod, Sarah continues. “The dress I picked, though . . . it’s not available in any other store, and the sample I tried on, I can’t wear in the wedding.” Due to a few bullet holes, Sarah thinks to herself.
“Oh, Sarah, that’s too bad!” Ellie says, properly concerned. “But I’m sure you can find something else--with your figure, you could probably go to a bridal shop and buy a sample size.”
“I’ve tried,” Sarah says, hearing the frustration in her voice. “I’ve gone to six different shops, and none of them have the right dress. And I have to have the right dress.”
“It might seem that way,” Ellie says sympathetically, “but--”
“I know what you’re going to say,” Sarah interrupts. “That it’s not about the dress or the flowers or the cake, it’s about me and Chuck. But . . . but everything needs to be perfect. I want this day to be perfect for Chuck.”
Ellie wrinkles her nose, looking confused. “I don’t understand.”
Sarah’s foot taps against the floor, full of nervous energy like the rest of her. She gets up and starts pacing around the table. “Chuck spent two years convincing me to love him, and then after we hit that rough patch, he was the one who pulled out all the stops, made the big romantic gestures.”
“Because that’s Chuck,” Ellie comments. “When he loves someone, he goes a bit overboard.”
“And he deserves someone who’ll do that for him. And our wedding, it’s the perfect time for me to show him how much I love him, by giving him the perfect wedding.”
Sarah knows that she’s on the verge of becoming a bridezilla, but it’s not for her. She desperately wants to be the perfect bride for Chuck. She’s Sarah Walker: she can cut a path of destruction through Thailand to find Chuck, but in the little everyday moments, she feels like she could be better. More observant, more sensitive to his moods and feelings. She knows how much he’s excited about their wedding, and she wants to live up to those expectations, to exceed them, to make it the happiest day of his life.
“Sarah, Sarah, sit down. You’re making me dizzy,” Ellie says, pushing out the chair next to hers. “And you’re making yourself crazy.”
She sits down with a sigh. “I know, I know.” Sarah wraps her hands around her coffee mug tightly. “I know I’m being ridiculous, but . . . but I can’t seem to stop it.”
Ellie pries one of Sarah’s hands off the mug and holds it. “You probably think that everyone can see how much Chuck loves you, and you’re worried that people look at you and don’t see the same thing. And I admit, when you first started dating . . . I didn’t get it.”
Sarah frowns and looks down. She hates thinking back on those days, when the time she spent with Chuck around Ellie was just about the cover. When she wouldn’t let herself love Chuck openly, even though she loved him in her heart.
“But now,” Ellie continues, “there’s no doubt. You love my brother. Anyone with eyes can see that, Sarah. And Chuck sees it, too. He knows.”
“There’s always going to be a kernel of doubt. That’s just who Chuck is,” Sarah says softly, feeling small and vulnerable. “I just thought . . . if our wedding day was perfect, he . . . he’d have something when times were bad. Something to hold on to.”
Ellie squeezes Sarah’s hand. “Maybe you’re right. Or maybe you need to stop trying for the perfect romantic gesture. Chuck doesn’t need perfect. He just needs you. And since all you need is Chuck, then everything’s going to work out.”
Her future sister-in-law gives Sarah a gentle smile, then stands up. “Give me twenty minutes to shower and we can go.”
Sarah’s mind, still whirling from Ellie’s simple-sounding advice, takes a minute to catch up. “Go? Go where?”
The trademark Bartowski grin doesn’t appear on Ellie’s face very often, but it’s there now. “To find you a wedding dress.”
Sarah finds herself grinning back at Ellie. She leans back in her chair, sipping her coffee and going over what Ellie has said.
And the dress they find, like the whole wedding, turns out to be perfect.
scrunching her toes into the sand
Sarah Walker Bartowski might not be a CIA agent anymore, but that doesn’t mean her values have changed. And Sarah Walker Bartowski does not like traitors.
She doesn’t like them at all.
And that means trouble for one Morgan Guillermo Grimes.
He’s sweating, which is both gratifying and a bit worrying. They’ve reached the point where they’re friends, joined by their common love for Chuck. It’s a love that’s expressed differently by each of them, but it’s love nevertheless. But he’s the Intersect now, and normally he’d be all bluster at this point. He must realize just how much he’s messed up.
Sarah walks around Morgan’s chair, her arms folded over her chest. Her voice is very calm and very measured as she speaks. “Morgan, just how long have you been a double agent?”
“D-double agent?!? What are you talking--Sarah, I’ve never been a double agent!” he protests, his eyes wide.
“I beg to differ,” Sarah says. “It all started with a certain mission . . . one that had a certain sub-mission. Involving a winery that had a balcony overlooking the French countryside?” She leans down, whispering in Morgan’s ear. “You remember that sub-mission, don’t you, Morgan?”
He jumps when he hears his voice in her ear, then starts babbling. “Oh! That! Yes, yes, I--I do recall that sub-mission. I . . . I thought I was a double agent only for that, though.”
Sarah walks around and stands in front of him. “Oh, no. If I recruit a double agent, it’s for the long-term. So, Morgan . . .” She steps closer to him as she speaks. “Tell me why you didn’t pass along your intel on Operation Toes in the Sand.”
And just like that, he cracks like an egg.
By the end of Morgan’s debriefing, which is lengthy and involves several beers, they’re sitting on the couch as Sarah mulls over this new info. “He was really going to try and keep this a secret from me?”
“Not--not like that, Sarah,” Morgan says, clearly trying to be reassuring. “Not like how you’re thinking. He’s just . . . he wants to give you what you want. He wants to make you happy. He knows how much it hurt, getting kicked out of the CIA and having Decker after you guys and now that he doesn’t have the Intersect . . .” Morgan looks at Sarah, then continues. “He wanted you to know that your lives were moving forward, in spite of all that stuff.”
Sarah sighs softly, looking down at the label on her beer bottle. “I do know that. He . . . he really doesn’t have to do these big moments, though. I didn’t fall in love with him because of them.”
“Oh, he knows,” Morgan says confidently.
She looks at him, arching an eyebrow. “Oh, he does?”
Morgan nods. “Yep. The big moments, yeah, they’re important. But it’s the little things that make love really last. And you two, you’re all about the small moments.”
At his words, Sarah feels her worries fade. Morgan’s right. The life that Chuck and she have built together, there’s plenty of important, noteworthy memories. The things that they reminisce about when they’re curled up together or when they’re spending time with their family.
But it’s all the other times, the minutes and hours where they’re having dinner or talking in bed or working, that really matter. The big moments are the bricks of their relationship, but the little things, they’re the cement keeping everything in place.
Sarah can’t help grinning at her metaphor. Clearly, being on her fourth beer has affected her. She drinks the last of the beer she’s been nursing for a while, then stands up.
“Going so soon?” Morgan asks, looking a bit crestfallen. “Alex is at some spa weekend with her mom, and Chuck had said you guys were busy, but with you coming over here I thought maybe . . .”
“Sorry, Morgan,” she says, really meaning it. “But I want to go home to my husband.” She grins a little at him. “I’m a bit tipsy.”
Morgan smirks a little, obviously thinking that his best friend is going to get lucky. “Ah, say no more. Have a good night, Sarah.”
She nods and waves to him as she walks out of his apartment.
And she goes home to Chuck.
x x x
She’s sitting with Casey on the front porch. Chuck had found a new dream home for them, one that has a large covered porch that they love to spend time in. It’s Casey’s first trip back to Burbank since he left, and the two of them have been catching up. Getting comfortable together.
Casey blows out some smoke from his cigar. “You’ve got all your memories back?”
“Most of them,” she says. “Not that it really mattered.”
He looks at her, his expression seemingly torn between asking her for more and not wanting to get too much into her lady feelings. She smiles a little.
“It only took five memories for me to realize I love Chuck.”
He grunts softly. “Proposal, wedding, things like that.”
Sarah shakes her head. “Actually, no. It wasn’t those moments that convinced me.” She looks over her shoulder towards the house, the house that has the cozy living room where Chuck, Morgan, Alex and Gertrude are talking together. The room that has the center of her world.
Her voice is soft when she says, “It was the little things.”