[A/N: The following are two drabbles I did for the Google Group Round-Robin, where individual posters interleaved their efforts to create a short improvisational story. They were written between April 9 and April 11, 2009, after the airing of “Chuck vs. the Dream Job” but before “Chuck vs. the First Kill”.]
“It’s just… I don’t know how to stay here without… without the mission.” Sarah explained, her eyes downcast.
“Maybe you could talk to Beckman,” Chuck suggested, “have her look into a L.A. area assignment?”
Sarah gave him a disapproving stare. “We talked about this before, Chuck. CIA officers don’t get to choose their own assignments. Plus…” she added, looking downward again, “…we haven’t exactly been giving Beckman a lot of reasons lately to do us any favors.”
Chuck had to reluctantly agree with this point. It was one thing to break the rules, but now they were off-grid, together, hunting down his father in flagrant disobedience to a direct order. He couldn’t imagine what Beckman was going to do if and when they ever got back. Or if they got caught. But he was sure it wasn’t going to be good. His chin dropped to his chest, the two becoming mirrors of each other in their troubled contemplation.
Outside, the soft rustle of grass in the wind heralded the lateness of the hour. Soon it would be dark and they’d be on the move. Chuck winced at the thought of another night on the road, both of them lost in their own thoughts. Both of them afraid to say what they were thinking or feeling because it might lead to the same dead end. The same unsolvable dilemma.
But there’s not much time left, a voice in his head said. And he knew it was true. Soon, one way or the other, the mission as they all knew it would be over. Either they’d achieve a successful rescue of his father and government control of Intersect 2.0, or some or all of them would be… well, gone. If he was going to change things between himself and Sarah, like he’d changed so many other things in his life as of late, he’d have to seize the opportunities when they came. Like right now. He turned, slowly, and drifted over to the cabin window, looking out at the leaves aglow in the orange light. His stomach began to knot, but he ignored the feeling. He swallowed and took a deep breath.
“Sarah,” Chuck said quietly, “do you love me?” He didn’t turn, but he sensed her head jerk towards him – he could feel her stare on his neck. It took every bit of strength he possessed to keep facing away from her. But he had to give her space – and time to think. If he faced her now she’d revert to the party line, it was what she always did. He held his breath, waiting.
“Wh-what?” she stammered. She was rooted to the floor, her heartbeat thundering in her ears. In the back of her mind, a plan for escape was hurriedly being assembled.
“It’s just that… you know, I’ve never just asked you how you felt. I just assumed you’d tell me when, well, when you were ready.” Chuck paused, giving her more time. He knew her mind would be racing, trying to find the appropriate response that fit all needs, like she always did. He bit his lip – something he’d begun to do lately to control his urge to babble. He couldn’t give her an out – not this time. This time he had to endure the silence, however uncomfortable, and force her to an answer. C’mon, Sarah, don’t miss what this is.
Inside Sarah, a war raged. She felt the weight of the events leading to this instant in time. That the lines of their lives crossed right where she stood. This was probably the moment. But how could she tell him? What could she possibly say to describe the tangled mess in her head? How could she tell him what she felt, encourage him to trust her, and not know what she was going to do at mission’s end? If she chose to leave, wouldn’t that make the betrayal of his trust a million times worse? But could she really leave? She’d tried just weeks before and had found an excuse to stay. Who knew what lay beyond that decision? An impulsive return flight from D.C.? An emotional breakdown in her next mission? Or just sad acceptance and a continuation of her life as it had been before. Before…
Through her head, a montage of every moment she’d spent with Chuck flashed by in a dizzying blur. Her plea for his trust on the beach. His thoughtful efforts to learn what she liked. Their second ‘first date’. The look on his face when she gave him his diploma. His Christmas present to her. The thought led her to lift her right arm so she could see the silver chain on her wrist. As she spun it abstractedly, each charm sparkled as it caught the outside light from the window. She kept spinning it. Around and around. Finally, she sighed and looked up at him, resigned to the fate that awaited her next word.
Steve Bartowski turned a wheel on the platform that slowly moved it under the electron microscope. On the screen he could see the small, telltale discolorations that showed where electron migration had forged new pathways on the die, ruining the chip.
“Those idiots,” he said out loud. “Too much voltage, too much heat.”
His breathing grew more rapid and he clenched his teeth. Disgusted, he yanked the carrier out of the platform and threw it at the table, where it ricocheted off a thick binder full of notes and clattered to a stop near the edge. He put both hands on the table’s edge and hung his head, exhaling loudly. More rework for him to do. So many mistakes to correct. Had Roark not put any good engineers on this project? He didn’t have time for this crap. Fuming, he let his eyes wander over the tiny dots in the floor tile. Taking in their randomness, their resemblance to the night sky – but inverted of course. He continued his inspection as he paced his breathing. It was unexpectedly soothing.
As the heat of the moment evaporated, he furtively looked around to see who had borne witness to his pitiful act of defiance, but there was no one there. He smirked and shook his head. Even if there had been someone around they’d have had to have been within ten feet or they wouldn’t have heard a thing – the deep thrum and turbine-like whine coming from the nearby cooling system obliterated all other sounds in the room. It sang its own throaty song, holding pitch for awhile then changing up, down… rising and falling like a guitar being tuned. It must be responding to the heat changes in the core, he thought – or maybe it was just malfunctioning like nearly everything else in this misbegotten excuse for a lab.
Steve snickered to himself and turned to retrieve the carrier – and that’s when he saw him: Roark, talking to someone behind an equipment cabinet halfway across the room. Roark made eye contact with him for a moment, his mouth twisting into a knowing grin, then he turned back to his companion. How long had they been there? As he stared at his old partner with contempt, the other individual shifted their position, coming partially into view. It was a woman. She faced away, towards Roark, engrossed in their conversation. She wore what looked like a severe business suit, almost a uniform of sorts. It was hard to tell from the back. She had dark hair, pulled back severely into a bun and was uncommonly tall. Every few seconds, Roark looked up at Steve, like… like they were talking about him. He wanted – no, he needed to hear that conversation.
Nonchalantly, Steve walked around the table and out to the opening between the cabinets. If he was careful, he could get pretty close before they’d be able to see him. He took a few more steps. Then a few more. He could hear some of their words now, their voices raised to be heard above the room noise. Roark was saying something about “the schedule”, he picked out the words “timetable” and “milestone”. And the woman was responding sternly, almost angrily with demands, “must have” and “cannot tolerate”. Her voice reminded him… Steve stopped in his tracks and his eyes grew wide. No. It can’t be. With a sudden impulse, he crossed the final row of cabinets and rounded the corner beside them. They turned at his approach, Roark with a smirk and the woman with a sharp but familiar glare.
The roar from the cooling system grew impossibly loud in his ears as he returned her stare with all the indignation he could muster.
[A/N: This part has a soundtrack, click the play button below now: http://www.sendspace.com/file/g32ivv
(Matt Pond PA – “Amazing Life”)
Just imagine that it’s playing over the car radio. :)]
Chuck woke in the passenger seat of the Challenger with a start, the keening wail of the engine and the whistling of the wind outside his open window playing a dramatic soundtrack to the glimpses of desert caught in the headlights. Sarah was pouring it on, pushing the big V8 on the crests of hills, causing the car to lift off its suspension and hunch back down on the swells. He looked over at her, her face illuminated in the dash light, her blonde hair flying crazily around her face in the eighty mile-per-hour windstorm. Her concentration was total, her movements precise. It was amazing to watch her this way. She was so amazing. And oh so totally beautiful.
As if she sensed his thoughts, she turned briefly to him, saw he was awake and smiled. A big warm smile which he couldn’t help but return in kind. “Hey,” she yelled over the wind noise, “did you have a good nap?”
“Yeah,“ he tried to say, but choked. Chuck tried to clear his throat, but it was dry and parched from the desert air. It was also quite possible, he considered, that he’d been snoring as well.
Sarah reached down between the seats and handed him a bottle of water, all while steering the car around a shallow bend. Chuck grabbed the bottle with a little more franticness than he wanted just so she could devote her attention back to the road. Not that it looked like she needed it. He took a couple of big swigs from the water bottle. Better.
“Thanks,” he told her, still not quite loud enough. But she nodded and he knew she understood.
“We’ll be there in about two hours,” she continued. “It’d be less but we have to pull off the road in half an hour to miss a satellite over flight. It’s only for 20 minutes though, so we should still be there before dawn.” She kept looking over at him every few seconds, her eyes reading his face, trying to see if he was listening. Gauging if he was awake enough to understand what she was telling him. The expression on his face had her bemused but unsure. What was he thinking about?
Chuck couldn’t help it. The night, the wind, the sounds and Sarah – it was all so… surreal. And powerful. He couldn’t help but grin at the spectacle of it all.
She couldn’t help but grin back.
[A/N: Interesting trivia: I wrote this part for the round robin after ‘Dream Job’ aired but before ‘First Kill’ and ‘Colonel’. That Chuck and Sarah went on the run to save Chuck’s father was known from an NBC press release for ‘Colonel’, but the only clue that the pair swapped Sarah’s Porsche for a vintage Dodge Challenger was a few frames of video on a promo of coming episodes. I just guessed the car wasn’t in the scene by accident and took a deductive leap. Luckily I was right. 🙂
For some reason, the vision I have of this last, tiny scene grips me to this day. There’s something about the loneliness of it, the desperation and nobility of their purpose, set against a vista of stark emptiness (but great beauty). It’s just the two of them against the world. One sacrificing everything she’s worked for because she couldn’t swallow one more injustice, especially to the man she secretly loves. The other going forward with little confidence in his own abilities but unwilling to stand idly by while a family member was at risk. I think it’s just romantic as hell, even though I didn’t expand the scene far enough to really bring that out.
I really wish that the show had been able to put an episode between ‘First Kill’ and ‘Colonel’ that took Chuck and Sarah on the road to Barstow and ramped up the level of unresolved sexual tension between them, letting it explode in that hotel room in ‘Colonel’. Maybe that would have made the I.O.U. treachery even harder to take, but at least there would have been space for my little scene!
I included the soundtrack link here because even back when I wrote this, I posted (separately) that the music had inspired the visuals in the scene. I find “Amazing Life”, with its poignant melody and theme of lost innocence, goes along very well with Chuck and Sarah’s heroic but imperiled quest for his father. When I listen to it, I can see the center line of the highway blurring rapidly in the Challenger’s headlights as the car picks up speed. Uncovered in the night. I can hear the engine’s plaintive song trying to overcome the roar of the wind past the open windows and I can feel the buffeting blast of cold desert air on my face. To see our hearts, to risk breaking our necks. I can see the small circle of light cast by the dash, illuminating Sarah’s pensive expression and the nervous fidget of her thumb on the steering wheel. To open up, to see what happens next. And I can smile at the two of them, with past and present troubles, hurtling down a desert road trying to solve them, at last, together. To follow there against, so we’ll be young again.]