A/N: (Mrs. Doubtfire voice) HeelllLLLOOOOOOOO!
So I've been accepting and answering a lot of Chuck fic prompts in the past few weeks, and this one was sent by an anonymous donor: Sarah is a scuba instructor. Chuck is on her boat to go scuba diving but is afraid of the water because of something that happened when he was little.
This is the result.
I also want to give you all a heads up. This is a one shot for now, but that doesn't mean it isn't liable to change. This was a lot of fun for me to write and I really enjoy this universe. So you never know! I might add to it. I just might. ;)
I really hope you all enjoy this fic! Happy reading!
Chuck Versus the Dive
"Ellie, I can't. I just can't."
He heard a heavy sigh on the other end of the line. "Chuck, we've been through this."
"Yes. Yes, I know. But that doesn't change the fact that I'm not doing it."
"You are doing it."
"Nope. No, I am not."
There was the sound of a struggle on Ellie's side of the conversation, and then he heard Captain Awesome's muffled voice saying, "I got this, babe. I got it, just lemme talk to him. Lemme—Hey, Chuck. Sup, bro."
"Hi! Awesome. You're probably not the person I want to talk to right now because you're fearless and a bad ass and…Captain Awesome," Chuck said, trying to be pleasant with his sister's boyfriend. It was hard not to be, though. He was just a sincerely sweet guy, in spite of all of the things that could make another guy want to hate him. Perfect body, dazzling smile, athleticism spilling out of his ears, and an M.D. after his name. Captain Awesome, M.D. I should hang that on his office door. Ellie would kill me. If I survive this.
Chuck's gaze moved to the boat floating in front of him and felt a little green just looking at it.
"Nooo, no, no. Chuck, I'm afraid of things, too."
"Really? Like what?" Chuck waited to hear Devon Woodcomb's answer. And waited. And waited. And then he heard Devon say something to his sister.
Something that sounded a lot like "Hey El. Can you think of something I'm afraid of?" And then his voice returned to the phone. "Your sister, man. And the look she's giving me right now. Okay, well…I can see that I'm not helping much here, so lemme just say one last thing before your sister kills me. Be brave, bro. Be brave. Trust me, whatever you end up seeing out there might change your life, okay?"
Ellie must've yanked the phone from her boyfriend then because she was back.
"Chuck, do it for yourself, okay? You're on vacation. Take a risk. It'll be worth it, I promise. And there are licensed scuba instructors, right?"
"I have to go," he finally said after mulling it over.
"Go, as in…you're getting on the boat?"
"I haven't decided."
"Chuck! Do it for me if you won't do it for yourself! Devon and I bought that scuba lesson for your birthday, and if you don't go, we'll be out a lot of money. Remember that house we wanna buy together someday…?"
Chuck groaned. "That's not fair. Don't guilt trip me about your Woodtowski house!"
"Well, I wasn't going to. But you left me no choice. It was always Plan B." She laughed a little and sighed. "Come on, Chuck. Do it."
"I have to go," he said again.
"Tell me how it goes later, huh? Call me tonight. Or tomorrow, actually. I'm working the overnight shift."
Chuck sighed. "Alright, then. Tomorrow."
"Dooo iiiit," she said in a sing-songy voice. He heard Awesome joining in behind her voice, and he finally hung up and rolled his eyes, before staring at the boat again. People were crowding him now. All of them, like him, had taken a written test earlier to make sure they'd read up on the safety features and the proper way to breathe and never wander from your partner…yadda yadda.
Chuck had passed with flying colors.
He retained information well. That's how he got into Stanford and that's how he graduated in less than four years. Passing a written test was so easy it was laughable. But this part…the getting on the boat part and leaving solid, dry land…and then having to bob around out there where there was so…much…water…
Chuck swallowed thickly. He wasn't the sort to get seasick. That wasn't the problem. But he was terrified of the ocean. He'd seen what it could do to a person. He'd experienced it firsthand.
"You gettin' on, kid?"
"What? He's just standin' there. Don't worry, kid. No sharks on the boat."Chuck gave the guy behind him a bit of a glare, then noticed how much bigger and meaner he looked, so he decided not to pursue anything further, and instead he moved up with the group of people spreading onto different boats.
As he climbed onto the boat, Chuck counted ten other people besides him. Including the grump and his wife or girlfriend or whoever the dark haired woman standing next to him was.
Just standing on the boat, feeling the water smack the sides of it, almost able to feel it underneath him, in spite of there being cabins down there or whatever else came with a large-ish boat like this. He was surrounded by water.
There was still time to get off. He could go sit on the beach like a lot of people did while on vacation in Hawaii. That was safe. He only had to fear a sunburn. But the hotel let you rent umbrellas for cheap. Win win win win win how could he get off this damn thing?
The grumpy guy was blocking the plank.
He didn't want to have to go through the grumpy guy. Not at all.
And he couldn't lie to Ellie. He'd always been horrible at it, and he also didn't want to. It wasn't worth it.
"Okay, are you my people?"
Chuck turned to look at the woman coming up the plank as John the Grump moved aside to let her onto the boat. She was taking a headcount, her eyes flashing over him for just a moment as she counted him.
"Looks like everybody," she said, smiling in a friendly way, tucking her clipboard under her arm and clasping her hands together in front of her.
Her eyes were incredibly blue. And he felt stupid for staring at her like this, but he couldn't look away from just how blue they were. Especially in the bright Hawaiian sunlight.
An older man came up the plank behind her and clapped her on the shoulder, before he took over. The pair introduced themselves, then began going through the rules, making sure everyone confirmed that they'd signed the papers necessary, and finally went through safety measures. Everybody needed to have a buddy, no one was to wander off alone, even if they were experienced, et cetera.
And then the older man, Alexei, pointed to the wheelhouse and made his way through the clump of vacationers to power the boat up, a brilliant grin on his face. He reminded Chuck of an older James Bond, like if Bond reached a certain age, retired, and decided to become a scuba instructor in Hawaii. As long as they didn't end up being shot at…
While everyone else found a spot to settle, Chuck stood rigid, aware that this was his last chance to bolt before they left the dock.
"Hey." He spun to find Sarah, the first instructor who'd stepped onto the boat, standing there. She gave him a bit of a look. "Don't do it."
He frowned a little in confusion. "Huh?"
"Don't get off. I mean, you can. If you want to. I can stop Alexei. But stay."
"Sorry, I wasn't…Hi. I'm…" He stopped and let out a breath. So maybe he wasn't getting off after all. He couldn't let her make it into a huge deal, get Alexei to stop…And then Chuck would have to walk past everyone and it would be so mortifying. Grumpy John would make fun of him or something. Crap. "Sorry, I'm—I'm here," he said, pointing to the deck he stood on.
"It's okay. You just…might wanna sit down. You might fly over the side once he guns it, standing here like this."
"Right! Right, I'll…I'll go sit." He looked around to see if there was any seating, but then she put a hand on his shoulder and pointed over by the wheelhouse.
He followed her, wondering if she knew she was playing with fire here. The second she took him under her wing, he'd be following her around the boat like a lost kid. He was totally vulnerable out here. Defenseless. Terrified.
She sat on a small seat that jutted out from the side of the wheelhouse and he sat on the one next to her, nervously pushing his hands down his swim trunks and clearing his throat.
The boat lurched away from the dock after a short rumble and Chuck grabbed the railing and held on tight, aware of how ridiculous he probably looked to the woman who made trips like this all the time. She was probably fearless. And so tan and gorgeous, to boot. With unbelievably magnificent muscles and stunning blond hair. Wow, how had he missed that?
Probably because he was freaking out when she first stepped on the boat. On the verge of a nervous breakdown.
"What's your name?" she asked, and he knew she was purposefully ignoring his obvious terror at being on a boat that was currently taking him far away from solid land.
"Uhh, Chuck. I'm Chuck. And you're Sarah."
They shook hands.
"I know that because you…you…introduced yourself. Earlier." He looked away and winced, even as he heard her giggle quietly. He'd almost missed it over the roar of the engine.
"What're you doing out here, Chuck?" she asked.
"That is a really good question."
That made her laugh. "So I take it you don't want to be out here."
Chuck wanted to deny it for half a second. But he realized she must've gotten dopes like him nearly every day on these scuba trips. Dopes trying to beat their fear of the ocean. And she'd see right through him. He'd only look like a fool.
So he shrugged. "Nope."
"Then why do it? …If you don't mind me asking," she tacked on the end politely.
He turned to look at her, resting his chin on his bicep as he still held onto the railing in front of him with both hands. "Uhhhh…Well. My sister and her boyfriend bought me this lesson for my birthday."
"Is it your birthday?" She tilted her head, and with the way the wind was whipping at the hairs that escaped her ponytail, she was quite possibly the nicest thing he'd ever laid eyes on in his life.
"Uhh, no. No, not now. But it, uh, it was a week ago. So…this was their gift. To me."
"Nice gift." He scoffed and she made a face. "Okay, so…bad gift?"
And then he realized this was her career and he was probably being extremely disrespectful about something she obviously loved, so he spun to face her quickly, letting go of the railing and holding his hands up. "No, it's—it's not that. This is really nice. It's a nice gift, but for me it isn't…I'm just…not a big…" He sighed deeply. "I don't do…ocean. It was a big deal just getting me onto an island."
She chuckled. "Really? I mean, it's a pretty big island."
"Yeah. I mean, it isn't…um…I can't think of a tiny island right now. You know, the islands in cartoons with the one palm tree and it's only like…this big." He spread his arms out and found himself smiling when she laughed, rocking to the side a little.
"Right. One of those."
"You know what I mean."
"I do," she said, still smiling wide. "Well, what if I told you that getting on this boat is the best decision you're gonna make during your time here?"
"I wouldn't believe you. Honestly."
"Well, thanks for being honest." She chuckled again and he realized she was setting him at ease more than the phone call with Ellie and Awesome had, at least. "But I mean it. You're going to see some amazing things down there." She shook her head. "I wouldn't be doing this if it wasn't great every single time I dive."
He watched her for a moment, then bit his lip, wrinkling his nose at her in a bit of a wince at the question he was about to ask. "Has anyone ever died down there. Like…drowned? Suffocated?"
Sarah's eyes widened. "Wow. Getting right to the hard-hitting questions. Okay. Um…Well, not on my watch. Maybe someone…somewhere has. Because they're with an instructor who isn't licensed or trained." She leaned close. "That's not gonna happen. That isn't how we do business."
"Right." He sighed. "Sorry. I'm just…"
"Absolutely terrified out of my wits."
The instructor chuckled again and kept smiling at him, setting a hand on his shoulder. "I'd tell you not to be, but that never seems to help. You just gotta tough it out until we get down there. I'll take you down myself." She raised her eyebrows and ducked her chin, looking through her lashes at him and all he could do was smile back and nod.
It took awhile for them to get out to the diving spot, and most of it was spent with Sarah moving back and forth between Chuck and answering questions that the others asked, while Alexei steered. The kind instructor provided the terrified nerd with enough distraction, however, that he was able to enjoy the feeling of the spray against his face.
Yes, the ocean was terrifying. But it was also pretty as the sunlight danced on its surface. Sort of. Mostly, though, it was just terrifying. Cruel and terrifying.
They dropped anchor and Alexei joined them as everyone pulled their wetsuits and flippers on. Chuck didn't particularly enjoy the look one of the guys was throwing Sarah as she stripped down to a bikini before pulling her wetsuit on, but he quickly told himself to grow up. She was an adult and she probably dealt with that sort of thing every day. It was none of his business.
"Okay, everybody have your partner?" Sarah turned to Alexei and gestured to Chuck subtly, upon which the middle aged man gave Chuck an encouraging thumbs up before taking over the instructions. Sarah wandered over to where Chuck stood, feeling clownish in his wetsuit and massive bright orange slippers.
"Is it customary for scuba divers to look and feel like penguins before they dive?" he asked, because making jokes was one of his coping mechanisms. Just one of them.
Sarah just gave him a flat look. "Yes, actually. You need the flippers to swim and the wetsuit makes the air tank comfortable. Not to mention the water might be freezing without it. Should I go on?"
Chuck gaped for a second, then made a popping sound with his lips. "Nope. No, I'm good, thanks."
She giggled and helped him shrug his tank on, making sure it was secure, before going through some of the other students to make sure they were set. She and Alexei went through breathing exercises for a few minutes with everyone, and then it was time.
A few couples had already done it before and went off on their own, while Alexei helped the others who were newbies like Chuck. Sarah guided the last four into the water, waved Alexei off, and moved to straddle the railing with her goggles in place.
Chuck, however, stood still as a statue on the deck, his goggles propped on top of his head, his messy curls going every which way around them. And he just stared at the slowly descending dark figures of the rest of the team.
"Chuck? You okay?"
He jolted a little. "Yeah, I'm—You know what? You go ahead. Don't worry about me. I think I'm gonna sit this one out."
She just stared at him for awhile…long enough to make him squirm a bit uncomfortably. Was she judging him for wimping out? He didn't care. He couldn't do this. He'd promised himself he would never do anything in the ocean again and he'd meant it, damn it.
But then she swung her leg back over and walked up to him, moving her goggles back up to the top of her head, revealing those stunning eyes of hers to him again. He felt a little dizzy, and he wondered if it was from fear, or maybe from breathing too much of that tank air.
"What happened, Chuck? What made you so terrified of the ocean?"
"It's not—It isn't important. I-I'll go. I just need a second to, uh, to prepare—"
"Hey, it's okay," she interrupted. "They're gonna be down there for awhile. We've got the time."
"But don't you have to help the others?"
"Alexei's got it. He's done groups of fifteen by himself. Let it out, Chuck. It might help." She shrugged one shoulder adorably.
Chuck sighed, then pulled his bottom lip between his teeth and furrowed his brow. Her hand was on his wrist and she was looking at him in a certain way, one that made him feel like his insides were melting. Or something equally…warmifying.
And he started in, well aware that this was the first time he talked about it with anyone aside from his immediate family—Ellie, Devon, Morgan…Nobody else. Part of him feared how much Sarah would see, if he'd let his emotions get the better of him. He felt reassured that she wouldn't judge or pity him.
"When I was fifteen, I went out on my friend's dad's sailboat. It was me, my buddy, his brother, his dad. Spring break. We were on spring break up in Seattle where their extended family lived." She nodded. "We went pretty far out there, and it was totally fine. We were having a blast, fishing and swimming. Then a storm came. Totally out of nowhere. Nothing in the weather reports. The waves got insane and we almost capsized a few times. My friend's brother got hit with the…boom thingy." Chuck let his eyes drop away from her face. "He was going over and I saw it happening in slow motion almost. I barely grabbed him but he was a lot bigger than me so we both…" He gestured flipping over the railing with his hands and then rubbed the back of his neck. He couldn't look at her because he was legitimately trying to fight back the lump in his throat. He felt the sting of tears and held them at bay, remembering it all so vividly that his heart was racing.
"Oh my God. You fell in?" Her voice was quiet, breathless, and he still couldn't look.
"My friend's dad got us back on. I managed to grab onto the rope when he threw it and I got Victor over my shoulder. They pulled us both up but by then Victor's head wound was bad and there was a lot of water that he'd swallowed…" He pointed to his chest and pressed his lips together. "Anyway, he didn't make it."
He suddenly had to look, and he was just in time to see Sarah's face crumble in disbelief and sadness, and he was glad to see a lack of pity or sympathy. Just sadness, and he saw that she was even a little unsure about what to say. "That's terrible. I'm so sorry," she finally said. And her hand was comforting and warm against his bicep when she laid it there.
"Nah, it's—I'm not gonna say it's okay, because obviously it's not." He gestured to himself, then to the water. "It's just…ever since then, I haven't set foot on a boat and I don't go further into the ocean than up to my waist. I just…I have this memory of the ocean opening up and sucking me under. That…pull. Like it was alive or something. Like it wanted to drown me."
Chuck shook his head, trying to laugh at himself, even though the lump still hadn't gone away as the memories of that day assailed him. The pain of the icy water around him and in his lungs. The terror of seeing those clouds come in and watching the waves grow bigger and bigger with every second that passed. And the horror on his friend's dad's face. The numerous times he'd thought he would die.
And then the debilitating anguish when he realized Victor had died. The numbing loneliness of not knowing what to say or do as a family that wasn't his own mourned an incredible loss.
"It's okay, Chuck. It's good to get it out there. I think. That's what people usually say, isn't it?"
He chuckled, finding her incredibly charming and sweet at the moment. "Sounds about right."
"Yeah." She wrinkled her nose and patted his chest. "So, here's the deal. This boat is thoroughly anchored right where it is. It isn't going anywhere." Chuck looked down and nodded, before looking back into her calming gaze. "And I'm pretty good at weather stuff. Call it a sixth sense or something, but I know there's no storm anywhere around here. Look, there's that one teeny tiny puff of cloud. And it's white. If a storm does start to roll in, we'll be back on land before it hits. We're not so far out that we can't get home safely."
Chuck thought that if anybody else was saying these things, he'd feel like he was being patronized or mocked. But he could tell she was sincerely trying to reassure him. And he smiled a little.
"Like I said before, I won't let you out of my sight." And then she took his hand, squeezing it comfortingly. "If you want, I can even hold your hand. If it'll help." She seemed to add that as an afterthought, and she looked down at their hands for a long moment before pulling away. "What d'ya say? Ready to go down there with me?"
He took a deep breath, then looked "down there". It looked so dark. Bottomless.
"Come on," she said softly, wrinkling her nose. And when he didn't respond right away, she tilted her head adorably and drawled a teasing, "Pleeease?"
He nodded, grinning wildly as she giggled and smacked his chest with both hands.
"That's the spirit! Come on, do what I do."
In spite of the icy terror flowing through his veins, he followed her into the water, submerged in the Pacific Ocean for the first time since he was fifteen years old and sure he'd breathed his last breath. He nearly hyperventilated, in spite of the mouth piece that was giving him oxygen.
He thrashed a little bit, his heart pounding, and the mouth piece came out of his mouth. He nearly gasped, but stopped himself just in time.
And then she was there, her blue eyes reassuring behind the goggles as she took him by the shoulders and held him steady. And then she pointed to her mouth, taking the mouth piece out and pushing it between his lips. She mimed taking some deep breaths, then gestured again and took it back, putting it in her mouth and taking some deep breaths.
They did that for awhile until he started getting the hang of it, and then she took his own mouth piece and had him put it back between his lips. She made the okay sign with her fingers and he followed suit, and then she took his hand and pulled him along.
She didn't take him very deep. And she didn't have to, because the fish skirting the surface were the most stunning creatures he'd ever seen in his life. He even laughed when one made a figure-eight around his legs, tickling him a little.
Sarah's face lit up behind her mouth piece and goggles at that. Then she guided him along again until they reached a rock formation. There was something of a cave there and a few of the other divers had just disappeared inside of it.
But where did it lead, he wondered? They were insane! He'd never—Oh no. No no no.
He shook his head emphatically and made a NO WAY signal, slicing his hands through the water. He was not going in there, even though she gestured for him to follow. But then she went without him, swimming down to the entrance, her body moving the way he imagined a mermaid would move underwater if they existed. Or maybe this was like Splash and he was Tom Hanks and she was his Daryl Hannah. Sarah had blond hair. And she was stunning—like, model on magazine covers stunning.
And now she was looking up at him, gesturing for him to follow. He didn't, shaking his head again. This would not be the day he died, a'thank you. Not because some unbelievably cute, seriously kind scuba instructor asked him to go into a deep potentially endless cave that he ended up getting lost in and drowning in. Yeah, she had the bluest eyes and a smile that wouldn't quit. But that wasn't enough for him to risk his life. Hell no.
Sarah swam back up and floated in front him, simply looking at him for a few seconds, as if sizing him up, and then she moved closer and put her hand over his heart. She pointed to him with the other hand, and then covered her own heart and pointed to herself. Then she pulled her mouth piece out, mouthing what looked like "Trust me" around the bubbles the spilled through her lips.
She put the mouthpiece back in and took his hand, squeezing it tightly and tilting her head.
So maybe he did die today. At least he wouldn't be disappointing this one of a kind woman who seemed to believe in him for whatever reason. Rolling his eyes at himself, he swam after her, stalling at the mouth of the cave as he looked inside.
She pulled a flashlight from her belt and thumped it against her palm a few times, before a beam of light exploded from the end of it and she pointed it into the cave. A flurry of fish burst from the mouth of the cave and made Chuck yelp so loudly, Sarah turned and gave him a wide-eyed look before laughing around the mouth piece, needing to reach up and fix it.
He gave her a glare and smirked to himself as she pulled him into the cave.
It took only a moment of swimming in terror for him to realize that it wasn't a cave at all. Instead it was a tunnel. There was another side. He could see the light from it. And so many creatures lived in the nooks and crannies of the tunnel, along with beautiful coral and plants that he'd never thought he'd ever see in person in his entire life.
He tried not to let it take his breath away, since breathing seemed to be rather important in his current situation, but it was almost too much for him to handle.
It was life-changing.
A part of the world that most people never got to see was spread out right in front of him, there for him to reach out and touch. But he kept his hand in Sarah's as she slowly guided him through the tunnel.
They spent a long time in there together, and Chuck found that he'd never been so at peace in his life. The water was completely silent, and everything around him floated so gently, so comfortingly. The light beginning to grace them as they neared the end of the tunnel was making everything look like it was part of a dream.
He wondered just for a moment if this was a dream.
An angelic woman taking him down beneath the surface of the ocean to show him the most beautiful sights he'd ever seen in his life…It had to be a dream.
But it wasn't. Her grip on his hand was too real. And even in the coolness of the water, her palm was so warm against his. He watched her for awhile, without her knowing, as she pointed things out to him, her lips turning up in a smile as she looked back at him.
Could he stay down here forever, he wondered?
Just the two of them and the fish and the peacefulness that touched every last corner of life down here. It sounded like heaven.
They explored for what felt like hours, still holding hands. And she allowed him to touch things here and there, feel the smoothness or the sliminess of it. And once, there was a moment when his hand draped over hers and she neglected to pull her hand out right away like she'd done all the times before. Instead they'd stayed that way, and she'd turned to look at him, their faces so close. Chuck looked straight into her eyes for what must have been a few minutes. Or maybe it was only a few seconds. He didn't know. All he knew was that his heart was racing and that it was the best moment of his life.
When they finally broke surface awhile later, Sarah reached out to pull the mouth piece out from his lips, doing the same for herself and leading him back to the boat. It was almost like a spell had been broken as they climbed back onto the boat to join everyone else. Alexei announced that they were the last ones, giving Chuck a massive grin and an excited thumbs up. The man must have recognized his terror at the beginning, and put the pieces together that Chuck staying down there with Sarah for such a long time meant the experience had been a good one.
That was an understatement.
He gave Alexei a thumbs up in return, before pulling his goggles off and wincing when they got caught in his hair. Sarah was there again, miraculously down to just her wetsuit, the tank and flippers gone, along with the safety belt she'd been wearing, the suit's zipper undone all the way to her bellybutton.
Chuck didn't look, instead shutting his eyes to be safe as she painlessly extracted the goggles from his curls and helped him shrug the tank back off, setting it to the side.
She patted him on the shoulder wordlessly and moved to take her spot in the wheelhouse as Alexei weighed anchor, before they powered up and turned around, headed back towards land. Chuck tried not to stare at Sarah as she concentrated on steering, but he was just…thunderstruck. Or something.
Did this happen to everyone she took down there? He imagined it might. How many lives did she change on a weekly basis? And he needed to rein himself in before he started seeing her as some sort of sexy version of Mother Theresa. He didn't know anything about this woman.
But she had changed his life. And wasn't that enough?
How many other people had thought the same thing about her?
He turned away and leaned against the railing, turning to look forward, letting the wind hit him right in the face and smiling a bit dreamily. Everything that he'd just experienced down there was…
It was miraculous.
And he felt an ache in his heart as he thought about it. All of the fear and anger he'd kept inside of him for the past ten years had somehow been muted when he was down there. And now that he was back up here again, it all seemed so…pointless. Hating the ocean, hating how it had traumatized him, how it had killed a boy who'd been planning to go to med school, how it had ruined a family, broken it apart piece by piece…All of that had been inside of him for ten years.
Today he'd seen another part of it. A gentler, more peaceful part.
Today, he'd been shown that the ocean was almost human in its fickleness. But so much better, at the same time. So much more beautiful, even in its fury.
He thought about what he would tell Ellie, and he knew that he wouldn't be able to stop himself from crying when he called her tomorrow. Just thinking about it now, trying to describe the way the anger and tension left him, trying to describe what he'd seen, how calm it was…how beautiful it all was…he blinked at the tears gathering in his eyes, feeling them drip down his cheek.
The wind whipping at his face pushed them back into his hair before they made it very far, but he rubbed his cheeks with his fingers anyway, and he stood that way the rest of the journey back to land.
Everyone had moved away from the dock, including Alexei, who gave Chuck's hand a hearty shake before getting into the small jeep and driving the supplies back up to the office on top of the hill. Sarah stayed at the boat, tugging on the rope to make sure it was tied securely in place, and then swinging a backpack onto her shoulder.
Chuck stood a few feet away, still not moving, just staring down at the wood beneath his feet. Part of him was screaming to just walk away as the others did. She was a scuba instructor. She did this for people every day, probably. He was nothing special. And yet, she couldn't even possibly know how special she was to him now, after the change he'd gone through down there. How he'd grown up so much.
He wondered if he was being too intense.
Or maybe she'd felt it, too. Or he was just seeing what he wanted to see.
But before he could listen to the part of him that told him to run and not look back, she turned to glance over her shoulder. It was apparent by her smile that she'd known he was still there all along, and she straightened up to face him.
"Uhhhh…" He shrugged.
"That's it? Really?" She spread her arms out and raised her eyebrows.
He chuckled and held up a hand, walking closer. "No, no. I just don't really know if there are words that can properly convey how I feel about—about what…" Chuck took a deep breath. "…happened down there. To me."
Sarah softened significantly as she looked up at him. "So it was good?"
"It was very good. Um, miraculous. That was the word I decided on while I was down there." And then he stepped closer, cutting off whatever she might say in response. "I want to thank you, Sarah. You didn't let me just bow out and stay on the boat by myself. You didn't let me stay back when I was afraid to go into that tunnel, no matter how adamant I was. And because of that, I experienced something…" He couldn't find the words again and he shook his head. "God, it was just…something. And it—it changed my life."
She took a long, slow breath, her features so warm and gorgeously sun-kissed. But she didn't say anything, so he continued.
"I know you do this every day. For so many different people. And you've probably taken people down there who were just as affected by it all as I was…as I am. Still. Standing right here. Honestly, I think I'll remember that feeling down there for the rest of my life. Seriously. When I'm back home in LA stuck in traffic and road rage comes over me, that feeling is what I'll think about to get my calm center back."
Her giggle bubbled out of her like she just couldn't keep it in if she tried.
"I know…I know there are a lot of people you do this for. And I'm just…one of the many. But you need to know, I'm extremely grateful. And this has so far been the best day…ever."
She beamed. "Wow." And he shrugged at that, fiddling with the hem of his T-shirt. Nervously. Considering what he was about to ask. "You know, Chuck…I'm really not sure anybody has ever really seemed to see it like you…" She shook her head. "I could feel it changing you. When we were down there. I could see it in your face."
"Oh, does this do something for you?" He puffed his cheeks out and held his fingers up to his eyes to mimic wearing goggles, earning a laugh from her.
"I'm a scuba instructor, Chuck. Maybe it does." The look she sent him made him drop the act and just watch her for a moment. Was she flirting? Because he felt like she was. In fact, she definitely was. "And I maybe caught a glimpse of something on the boat after, while I was steering us home." She pursed her lips and twisted them to the side, looking a little shy all of a sudden.
"Oh no." He winced. "Did you see the…?" He pointed to his eyes.
"I maybe caught a tear or two."
Chuck groaned dramatically, using humor to cover the fact that he was actually incredibly embarrassed that she'd seen him that raw. But then her hands were on his biceps as she rushed to reassure him. "Noo, no. Please don't be embarrassed!" Sarah waited for him to look down at her again before she continued. "It was nice having someone on my boat who really gets what I see when I'm down there. What I feel."
"Like it's the quietest, most peaceful place in the entire world? Untouched by man, not corrupted by anything," he breathed. And she nodded slowly, smiling. "Which leads me to my next…I'm just gonna go for it, damn it. Being down there has given me this new…purpose in life, so I'm just gonna go ahead and do this. Do you wanna have dinner with me tonight? If you aren't busy."
She dropped her hands to her side and pulled her chin back a little, smiling and looking up at him through her lashes. "Conquer one fear and all of a sudden you're asking girls out to dinner, Chuck? Huh."
Chuck knew she was ribbing him, but he still had to fight to keep from blushing. "I owe you. Big time."
Sarah looked a bit wary at that, so he clarified quickly.
"Not just that, though. Obviously. Obviously, I do owe you something. More than just the fee my sister and her boyfriend paid to get me in. But I actually just want to eat dinner with you. I don't want to walk away without at least that much. Just…a little more time."
He wasn't completely stupid. He knew he'd be leaving Hawaii in twenty-two days, going back home to Los Angeles, back to his company, and away from her again. This wasn't something that would last for years and years. But he'd regret it forever if he walked away without at least knowing a little more about her.
"If you don't want to, I get it. I get that. Totally understand. You probably get guys like me asking you to dinner all the time. But I had to ask. It's just we were down there and I kinda thought…maybe there was—"
"There was," she said quickly, her voice strong and sure. Chuck blinked, not expecting that. And so quick, too. "And yes."
"To the dinner invitation. But I, uh…I want to clean up first. If that's okay with you."
"So okay! Yes! I—I smell like ocean."
She snorted a little and it was the cutest thing he'd ever heard. "Right, and we don't want that, since you aren't much of a fan of the ocean."
"Ehhhh, I'm kinda okay with it, now. It's growing on me," he drawled, smiling slowly. "So yes on dinner?"
"Mhm." She nodded, and she seemed a little shy again. He was all about Sarah the Scuba Instructor and that sweet smile of hers. "What about seven o'clock? I'll pick you up."
"I know." She held up a hand. "You invited me. But I know this place a lot better than you do. And I have a car. I'll pick you up. Seven good?"
"Perfect," he breathed, and he knew he sounded a little goofy, his smile crooked and dreamy.
As she walked away from him slowly, still facing him as she backed up, she smirked. "And by the way, I saw on our sign-up sheet which hotel you're staying at. So don't worry, I'll let you pay."
He laughed as she grinned cheekily and practically sashayed away from him to the steps that led up the hill towards the office. And he stayed there watching her go, glad when she turned to wave at him one last time.
It took everything in him not jump into the air and punch his fist above his head like a cartoon character Or maybe walk away and punch his fist above his head like the ending of The Breakfast Club.
Instead, he calmly walked back to the main street and strolled along the sidewalk, knowing he wouldn't be able to stop smiling for the rest of the night.
A/N: Sometimes as a writer you just need to take a deep breath, and write something that you want to write. Something for yourself. Something that you know will lift your spirits and make you feel good. I think this is that story for me right now. Like I said, don't be surprised if there's more at some point!
And I urge any of you out there who are writers to take some time out for yourself and just write something for yourself every once in awhile. You work hard. You deserve it. (thumbs up)
Thanks to everyone still sticking with me, even 3 years after the show's season finale aired! You're all the greatest fans, and my favorite readers! See you all again soon! ;)