Echo Park and Buy More
Chuck slept alone that night, but he slept well knowing Sarah was safe on his couch. She didn't want to come home with him at first, but when he prodded her to admit she had given up her room at Maison 23, she really couldn't turn down the offer of the couch or Morgan's old bedroom. Actually, if he could have lured her into their bedroom, he would have, but only to show her how gentlemanly he could be. Maybe if he went to bed fully clothed like he did back when their relationship was just a cover, it would spark a memory. But perhaps that was asking too much, too soon.
At least she had let him tell her about their past and she hadn't totally spurned him. It was incredible that Sarah Walker had fallen for him once. He knew it was a tall order to expect the miracle to repeat itself. It wasn't that he was unwilling to try to win her again. He completely was. However, luck and extraordinary circumstances had played a part the first time, and if she couldn't remember all those quirky little incidents, he wasn't sure he could duplicate their effects.
How much of Sarah's affection derived from the fact she had initially seen him as an innocent victim, some little lost mutt who wouldn't stay in the car? Would that first real kiss have ever happened if they hadn't been sure they were about to die?
Okay, so the kiss on the beach had been real. She had fully consented and she kissed him back, but it wasn't the same. She was still guarded and uncertain. How scary was it to suddenly be married to a giant nerd you didn't remember meeting and falling for? He would just have to keep working on her memory.
When he woke and pattered out to the kitchen, the couch was empty. He checked the bathroom and called for her, but Sarah was gone. Panic descended faster than the last cheese ball from an upturned plastic tub. Was that the end? Was she gone forever?
He tried to calm down. They'd made so much progress. She wouldn't just run off, unless... No, he wasn't going to freak out. There could be any number of reasonable explanations. She'd laughed with him, kissed him, and snuggled on the beach with him. There was no reason to believe she had been anything but genuine. Maybe she just went jogging.
He wouldn't let her catch him fretting and moping. Time to be strong and supportive. He showered and dressed for work. Purely out of habit, he threw on a Nerd Herd white shirt, gray tie, and his trusty pocket protector. Looking in the mirror, he realized he no longer needed to pretend to work at the Buy More, but he still had to use the home theater entrance to Castle, so it wouldn't hurt to blend in. He was planning to figure out what Sarah could do for the restructured Carmichael Industries so he would be prepared to give her a better answer the next time she brought it up.
Before he left the bedroom, he tied his Chuck Taylors and slipped on the Governor watch his dad had made him. He wasn't sure his present Intersect needed it. Perhaps the Key and the chip Quinn stole from Beckman's medal accomplished the same thing as the Governor had, but after Morgan's and Sarah's bad experiences with their brain-melting Intersects, Chuck wasn't taking any chances.
The apartment was still empty. If Sarah had gone jogging, she should have been back by now. He wasn't worried for her safety like most men would be. Sarah had always been more than capable of taking care of herself. She could wear a short tennis skirt and jog in the toughest neighborhood around, and Chuck would be more afraid for anyone stupid enough to try anything than he would be for her. No, he was more concerned for himself and the possibility of losing her. Stop spiraling, Chuck. Funny how the chiding voice of his conscience sounded just like Sarah. He heeded the advice and locked up the apartment.
His cheerful wing-man, Morgan, met him in the courtyard. "Hey, Chuck, how'd it go with Sarah? You found her, right?"
"Yeah, I found her, buddy. We had a great talk and we tried the kiss, but," he placed his hand atop his best friend's shoulder, "no Disney magic. She still doesn't remember."
"Aww, I'm sorry, man." The bearded one gazed up at him. "I'm glad you're taking it so well."
Chuck shrugged. "We're talking. That's something, right?" Morgan nodded. They both started walking out of the complex. "And she slept on my couch—uh, our couch."
Chuck didn't dare turn his head or his best friend would surely see right through his artificial smile. He tried to sound enthused. "In our apartment." He pointed at himself and then an imaginary Sarah on his other side. "Under the same roof. Co-habiting—habitating? Me 'n' the wife. Both of us, right here in our apartment." It was awkward now. He pressed his lips together and stopped talking.
They walked a few moments in silence. Chuck was too tense to take the quiet. "So how are you and Alex?"
"Me and Alex? We're fine. Great, actually. Just she misses her dad, ya know?"
Casey? Chuck slipped quite naturally into intel-gathering mode. "Did he say where he was going?"
"He didn't actually say, but we both think he went after..." Morgan coughed. "...uh, Gertrude."
Casey and Verbanski were a couple of star-crossed gun fanatics, and they definitely had some kind of thing for each other, but Chuck wouldn't begin to know what to call it. The closest Casey had ever got to talking about romance was when he gave Chuck advice on how to propose to Sarah. After several failed attempts, it was Casey's idea to quit trying to arrange a perfect moment or a super romantic atmosphere. All you need is the girl, he'd said. In that, he'd been absolutely right.
Chuck could not picture Casey holding Verbanski's hand while they strolled through the exhibits at Weap-Con. Nor did he see them picking out curtains or having a heart-to-heart chat about their feelings. For one thing, Casey mainly just grunted, but for another, Verbanski didn't seem the listening type. Chuck had gotten very odd vibes off Verbanski when she hired Carmichael Industries for her little Aegis deal in South Beach. Chuck was never sure whether his opinions arose from Verbanski being their biggest competitor, or from the way she treated Casey, or possibly something entirely unrelated. In any case, something didn't sit quite right.
Still, Casey deserved to find happiness and if Gertrude made him happy, well, he should be with her. "Good for him. You tell him I said hi if he checks in, okay?"
"You bet I will," Morgan promised.
They were outside the Buy More now. The parking lot was a lot more crowded ever since the new owners put a Subway inside the store. Chuck was kind of sorry he and Sarah had sold it. At least they hadn't included Castle in the deal. They could take their time moving all their equipment to new office space, and then lock up the underground facility forever.
Although he'd walked most of the way to work without turning to look at his tall friend, Morgan looked at him now. "Hey, Chuck, can I ask a favor?"
"Sure. Anything, buddy."
"I mean, I hate to ask, but the Nerd Herd is way behind without Jeff and Lester. You think you could do a quick offsite or two, help us out? Pretty please?"
For anyone else, the answer would have been no. Like, hell, no. However, he owed Morgan a lot. Getting out into the normal world would be good for getting his mind off Sarah. Plus, he was already wearing the uniform. He gave a closed-lip smile and touched his friend's chest with his index finger. "You got it."
"Thanks. Big Mike thinks I engineered the Pacific Concert Hall thing to get Jeffster discovered. I think he's just mad they didn't hire him as their manager." So he could relive his youth when he was the Rain of "Earth, Wind, Fire, and Rain". Morgan didn't say that part, but he didn't need to.
"You did do a kick-ass baton with the orchestra."
Morgan grinned. "Yeah, it was fun, wasn't it?"
'Fun' was not a word Chuck would ever have used to describe that day. He'd had to load the Intersect to his own head so he could disarm the bomb under General Beckman's seat. If he hadn't been forced to use the glasses, Ellie could have programmed them to give back Sarah's memories. Yes, they'd saved a huge concert hall full of people, but the cost was so high, he could never count it a true victory.
Chuck only hesitated a second, but Morgan caught it right away. "Oh. Sorry. No, not fun for you. You were doing all the hard stuff, disarming a bomb and fighting Quinn and all that." He slapped Chuck lightly on the back. "Stupid of me. Sorry."
Chuck waved off the apology. "No problem. Don't mention it, buddy."
They walked through the automatic glass doors. The Buy More was bright and clean—both new and strangely familiar at the same time. The Nerd Herd desk had a sleeker, modern shape, with a polished black granite top and chrome trim. The front still sported the red, white, and black briefcase runner logo. A large portion of the old selling floor had been dedicated to giving the Subway patrons a comfortable dining experience. The breakfast crowd was currently chattering away and munching on delicious food. The scent of bread baking in the ovens filled the entire store.
Chuck was still taking it all in when Sarah stormed out of the home theater, looking distracted. "Sarah?" he called, heading toward her.
She cringed, obviously not expecting to see him. Her facial expression quickly altered, becoming more neutral, but definitely not happy. She maneuvered into an evasive course that would ensure they didn't get too close. "Not right now, Chuck. I need to go."
Chuck held back the considerable temptation to grab her by the hand. Instead, he offered a smile. "Does 'not now' imply there will be a later?"
"Yeah. Sure." It sounded a bit too much like the tone she used when manipulating someone she was interrogating. Say anything to get them to spill the beans.
He decided to sweeten the deal to make it harder for her to avoid later, if indeed that was her intention. "Dinner out? Your pick."
"I don't know any restaurants here. I still feel like I was living in D.C. last week."
He adopted his Charles Carmichael voice. "Then allow me to astound and amaze you with Burbank's finest cuisine." He waggled a brow for effect.
That earned him a chuckle.
"There's that beautiful smile on my beautiful wife."
Her smile evaporated as if she were disappointed in herself for having slipped. She took another step toward the door. "I really do have to go."
"Where are you going? Maybe I could go with?" He'd shuffle the Nerd Herd stuff if he had to. Morgan would understand. His phone vibrated with a text notification, but he didn't break eye contact with Sarah. She needed to know she was his priority. Everything else could wait.
"Dinner sounds great. I'll see you later, Chuck." She leaned in like she was planning to deposit a peck on his cheek.
He moved his head so their lips met instead. Something like surprise or annoyance flashed in her eyes, but she banished it instantly and kissed him back. It wasn't like the kiss on the beach, but to be fair, she was distracted right now and this was the Buy More. The fact she avoided telling him where she was going bothered him more than a little, but he was trying hard not push her. They could talk at dinner.
He waved goodbye and then pulled his phone from his pocket. General Beckman's face was the background of the text message: Meet me at Castle. She was still in Los Angeles? Great! This saved him from leaving twelve messages and playing phone tag. He hurried down through the home theater's hidden trap door. Maybe he could get a little of his research started while he waited for the general.