The world doesn't end, doesn't come crashing down when she kisses down on his lips so hard, she almost tastes the sweet lace of blood on her tongue.
But she's getting ahead of herself here.
There has always been that fear, the one that filters itself into her dreams and turns them into nightmares, the one where she imagines she'd have to walk across the courtyard, knock on the door and tell Ellie I'm sorry, so sorry, but there has been an accident and Chuck –
She usually stops herself right there.
In another world, Sarah Walker wouldn't be Sarah Walker, she wouldn't be Katie O'Connell or Rebecca Franco or Jenny Burton or any of those people with made-up pasts, woven together like some kind of messed up choose your own adventure book. In another world, she could be – oh, she doesn't know, maybe a teacher of some sort, maybe an architect, a lawyer, a news anchor, definitely not a cook. She could be married, could have a husband and a baby; she could be normal. Real.
What she won't be, in this world: Mrs. Hector Calderon.
(Chuck made sure of that, he walked away and buried her deep, without knowing her. She had been ready to give up everything, her whole life, everything she's ever known, for him, and all that she's gotten back in kind is a smarting slap in the face.
But if she doesn't think about it, then it's okay. She's okay.)
There's a low guttural sound, and it's coming from Chuck.
Sarah turns her head to the side to look at him.
"I'm not flashing, maybe – maybe there's nothing to flash on," he tries, throwing the surveillance photos down on the table, the furrow of his brows not gone unnoticed by her.
"It's okay, Chuck."
"It's just – there's something there, I know there is. I just can't get the information to surface."
"It's okay, Chuck," she repeats, fixing her gaze at him. "We'll figure something out."
There's something in his eyes that she can't quite read. It's not a feeling she enjoys, but it's increasingly common nowadays, like because he's a spy now means he's got to take the same bricks and lay up a wall. She settles for a little smile, and even that disappears once he turns his attention from her.
Shaw, as it turns out, wants them to go in, flash or no flash. There's sufficient intel here, he argues – a location, an item. That's enough. There will be more operatives standing guard this time, so he sends both Chuck and Sarah.
He pulls Sarah aside. "Remember: Don't coddle him. Don't cover for him more than you would any other agent. This is the only way he'll learn and grow to be an efficient agent."
He folds his arms and awaits her answer.
And so Sarah just bores her eyes at him, no other expression on her face as she nods curtly and turns away.
At the CIA, they teach you to never let it become personal, to never expose your vulnerabilities to anyone. They teach you to put aside everything for the greater good: your life, your dreams, your morality. You see the worst in people in the job. Not just the bad guys – everyone's a sinner; it's rarely as simple as black and white. Everyone has something to hide, and it takes a skillful agent to find out what it is.
And Chuck – Chuck is not that guy. Chuck can never become that guy, he of his single-minded grandiose view of espionage, of protecting the world. Bryce had been right: Chuck is too good for this world of lies upon lies, too good for the tangled webs of deceit the people of this world spin.
Chuck's too good for her world, the world she had been so willing to give up, and there isn't a day when the bitter echo doesn't resonate in her brain, and it goes like but Chuck chose this, Chuck chose this life over a life with you and it doesn't matter his reason, he still did it.
But for all his faults and hers, for all she had risked for him to have a shot at a normal life, he is a hero, and like many heroes before him, he has to choose something to give up.
It's just unpleasant when logic as she knows it plays out.
"Sarah," he starts, and she recognizes that voice as his 'we need to talk, really talk' voice.
She juts her head at the surveillance equipment in the van as a response, shaking her head just a little; her brows knitted together.
"It's okay, I might have kind of turned it off on the other side remotely."
Schooling her expression into a neutral one, she half dreads what he wants to say, half terrified. (He has that effect on her and he doesn't even know it, and it's just – how can someone be so smart, and so clueless all the time?)
"Look, Sarah." He scrunches his face a little, searching for the right words to say. "I just want to talk about some things. Between us, for us." She's about to protest right off the bat when he cuts in before she gets a word in. "And before you say anything –"
She sighs and does it anyway. "We're on a mission, Chuck."
His face breaks into a grin, familiar territory if there is any.
"I knew you were going to say that. See, I think we're covered by a technicality, because we're on the way to a mission, but we're not quite at the mission yet. Unless you mean this 'cover friends who don't play video games and hang out casually on Fridays because we're not there yet', but we'll never get to, then yes, we are on a mission. But we'll always be on that mission and I won't ever get the chance to say what's on my mind."
Then maybe you should keep those thoughts to yourself is what she should say. Instead, "What's on your mind?" comes out.
A brief look of disbelief crosses Chuck's face, like he can't believe she's allowing him to progress that far. She takes a couple of seconds to look away from the road and at him instead, before turning her attention back. This could turn out to be fine, maybe.
"This friends thing," he answers, finger quotes in place. "It's not really working out, is it?"
That pleasant feeling she felt moments ago is completely dissipated, as she grips the steering wheel hard, feeling the uneven surface of the rubber digging into her palms.
"We're barely seeing each other, or enjoying each other's company, and I mean what I said before: I miss you. I miss us, just hanging out and talking, and when it doesn't feel forced or awkward just to be in the same place."
"Chuck. We're fine."
"I just feel like we ought to talk about it." He's relentless. "I don't know about you, but it's like there's this big sucking vortex where our interactions used to be, after – after Prague."
She has to give him credit for looking chastised, still.
"I'm not sure what you've been expecting," she finally concedes, each word tugging at her. For a moment she sees something flicker in his eyes, so she bites her lower lip, and continues. "But if you want to, we can talk. After."
Chuck gives her that smile, the one that she knows is all hers, and she pencils down in her mental list one more mistake she's making with him.
The first sign of danger should have been when they sneaked through the rows of warehouses completely undetected, even after obtaining the standard-issue non-descript briefcase. More specifically, on hindsight, that should be the first sign of danger.
"Chuck," she whispers, and she can feel him tense. "Do you have a gun?"
(She does, of course.)
"No, of course not," he whispers back, but pats his pockets with the hand that isn't carrying the briefcase. "I have two knives. Well, actually three, I also have a Swiss Army knife."
"Okay. Keep them in your reach. Let's keep going."
They're walking briskly but carefully; the entire place just being too quiet for her liking, especially with the lack of security. Almost as if the Ring's anticipating this move from the CIA, and Sarah isn't liking –
She freezes in her tracks, her arm holding Chuck back, palm resting on his chest. Someone's approaching, she just doesn't know from where yet. Reaching her hand behind to rest on the butt of the gun, Sarah quirks her eyebrows towards the side of a warehouse where there are a few big boxes that could hopefully be big enough to let them stay hidden.
That plan is foiled, however, when an operative turns into their path and yells, drawing his gun at them at an impressive speed. But if there's only one of the Ring and two of them, Sarah figures that they have a good enough chance to knock this one out and run to the car. Her own gun is trained at the enemy,
"Uh, Sarah," she hears him say, and she turns at his voice. That's a mistake, because before her mind registers that there are at least half a dozen agents behind them now, one of them with a gun pointed at Chuck, the first man they ran into has disarmed her of her gun.
She holds her hands up, wanting to wait before deciding what their next move should be. But the agent still has his gun trained at Chuck, and she feels a big lump in her throat. Don't get emotional, think, the efficient agent in her screams.
"You have something important to us," the one holding the gun at Chuck says, gesturing at the briefcase in his hand. "If you hand it back to us, we'll go easy with the torture later."
When neither Chuck nor Sarah moves, another agent points his gun straight at Sarah.
"Or my team and I can kill the both of you and the CIA won't even know where to look for your bodies."
There's a look that passes over Chuck's face, and she knows that he's flashed. With that knowledge in mind, she gives him a perceptible nod. He's all a flurry of limbs and kicks and punches, so Sarah concentrates on taking on the agents closer to her too. She's not fast enough to dodge a bullet that whizzes past her shoulder, grazing it; it's a good thing that same agent isn't as good a shot as he is with speed.
With a re-energized bout of adrenaline, Sarah engages in hand-to-hand combat after kicking the gun out of his hand, landing solid punches and kicks before connecting her fist at his jaw, and he goes down like a sack of potatoes. There's no time to catch her breath, when another agent gets her in a headlock, and she struggles against him.
Chuck's taken care of all but one of the other operatives, but a misappropriation of attention makes him careless, even with the Intersect, and as Sarah struggles with the built guy currently strangling the life out of her with one arm, terror shot at her heart and it isn't for herself. She musters enough strength, just enough to use the back of her head to stun her attacker, and as he recovers from the shock she kicks at his big, fat head and the man groans, before passing out all the same like the other.
But she's still a fraction of a second too late, she whips around and
Lunging herself forward with all her might, she hears the loud bang of the gun go off, and her heart catches in her throat.
Chuck stares at the bullet hole in the wall of a warehouse, less than an eighth of an inch away from where his head was, his mouth dropping in shock. She wastes no time in picking up a discarded gun on the ground and pressing the trigger with almost trembling hands, and the last man goes down.
Breathing heavily, she looks at him, feeling the relief course through her veins, feeling her heart pound fast against her chest all the same. And her mind goes into overdrive; she almost lost him today, again, and she's in way too deep, and oh god, she wants to throw up she almost lost him and he could have died and it would have been really real and then what the fuck is she supposed to do and, just.
She forces herself to take another deep breath, calming herself down. Trying to, at the very least, while Chuck gapes at her, the look on his face rolling confusion with terror and adrenaline and doubt in a myriad all at once.
She pulls him along quickly, urgently, and they run.
He has that same look on his face, but Sarah's determined, her mind connecting remarkably quickly during the short drive back. This whole feelings, talking about it thing, she's not so good at, but actions, actions she can do. It isn't the smoothest way, or the best way, or even logical (and her brain keeps telling her to stop being impulsive, stop making this mistake, you said you won't do this again, why do you keep doing this, you're going to destroy everything –
She pushes these thoughts deep under, when she takes his hand and pulls them both inside her hotel room. It's plenty dark in there but it doesn't matter.
Chuck looks at her. "Sarah, your arm. We should get back to Castle or something."
She shakes her head at him, said arm wrapping itself around his neck as she moves closer, tilting her head so that their foreheads are touching for a moment before she stares at his lips.
The world doesn't end, doesn't come crashing down when she kisses down on his lips so hard, she almost tastes the sweet lace of blood on her tongue.
"What are we –"
"Shh," she says, sucking in a quick breath, her hands working deftly on his belt buckle. The arm throbs numbly, but it isn't something she can't handle. "Don't."
But Chuck, far from being the smooth operative he wants to be, just stares at her in confusion. Not that he's stopping her either, as she unloops his belt and tosses it on the floor, before continuing with the lip lock, tongue/mouth exploring, catch and release thing they had going on. (That pants tugging thing, well, that's new now from him.)
She guides him forward; he stumbles back a little and finds his bearings on the mattress.
"Sarah," he breathes out, breaking away for as long to do so. "If we do this…"
"If we do this," she echoes, her eyes shining. "We can do anything. Trust me."
He only takes a microsecond to think that over.
If she doesn't know things, she might think that it's the Intersect that's making Chuck do the things he's doing to her, the way he knows exactly where to place his hands and lips and tongue, things that would make a grown woman blush just thinking about them. But she has her post-rehearsal dinner, full service Chuck Bartowski experience to draw from, and Sarah knows that 2.0 or not, Chuck is Chuck, one hundred percent, complete, total. Real. Alive. Hers, at the moment.
Not that she's too shabby herself, not with the way Chuck moans as she rolls the condom expertly on him, dropping the wrapper swiftly on the floor. His fingers press against her back and when she meets her mouth against his and sucked at his tongue again, Chuck pushes her body closer, and she can feel just how hard he is.
"There's no turning back, is there," he asks, not even bothering to intone it like it's a question and Sarah feels a small sardonic smile growing on her face, her hand trailing down his length. He shudders.
"We could," she starts, almost a gleam in her eye, "Stop this right now and go back to our designated cover."
"No. God, no, please don't."
Sarah can feel the flush on her face as Chuck rolls his thumb and forefinger against her nipple, before moving them down past her stomach, flicking gently at his final intended location, and a sound slips from her throat. She reciprocates in kind, pushing her hips and grinding against his, and she can hear him sucking in a breath. Chuck's fingernails dig into her back bluntly, punctuated only by the series of kisses he leaves on her neck down her collarbone, some of them hard enough to leave tiny bruises.
She wraps her legs around him as he thrusts into her, whispering her name over and over. She's arching back and lets herself get lost in the moment, just a moment, before yanking herself back, panting as she does so; he buries his face into her neck. But she pulls him back, meeting her swollen mouth with his again in an attempt to mute the noises coming from her, and she murmurs his name against his mouth ever so lightly, her body trembling as she gets close.
And then he's gone too, and she curls her fingers around his neck and kisses him one more time, before rolling herself off; laying their hot, sticky bodies by their sides, as she breathes heavily.
He does the same, and meets his forearm on his head. Sarah observes from a side-glance appreciatively just how defined his muscles are, his biceps tightening as he bends his elbow and his pecs, glistening with the sweat as his chest rises and falls; he's inhaling hard to catch his breath.
There are at least thirty seconds of silence, comfortable as they are. She feels her heartbeat gradually going back to normalcy, and is about to say something, anything, almost hearing the unasked questions in the air.
But Chuck beats her to it (of course he does); he turns around and faces her, his brown eyes just burning with such intensity that it takes her breath away.
"Is that – was that closure, or something resembling a beginning?" He wants to know, and she can hear the hope clinging on to the words.
She sighs, looks up at the ceiling. When she doesn't immediately answer, he continues.
"Or, or is it something you do, after a dangerous mission? I mean, I'll like to know. Brace myself, if you will. For the future. If that's a future, for us."
"Chuck." He talks too much, way too much, she thinks. But she shifts her body, careful not to lean on her injury, and faces him.
"When you said that if we do this, we can do anything – that's something you said just to get things along, isn't-"
She cuts him off, mid-inquiry. "Do you trust me?"
"You know I do." This time, there's no preamble, no hesitation. It's clear as crystal.
She leans closer, smiles into the kiss. "Then we'll make it work."