Chapter 1: My Eyes Are Bifocal
"A living weapon."
Alexei Volkoff circles the chair where his new toy is seated, a grin on his face. He's gleeful. He's proud of himself. The CIA's most prized possession. The Intersect project; and it's his latest weapon of choice. His best. His new favorite.
"Isn't he magnificent? A twenty-four hour stream of Laudenol injected into his system, and he feels nothing. No pain, no fear, no love. He is so dazed from the drug he does exactly what I say. He slaughtered fifty men yesterday in under five minutes, one after the other like they were nothing. It was truly a sight to see."
Mary Bartowski, Agent Frost to those in Volkoff's organization, stares into the deadened brown eyes of her son. She wants to believe so badly that the little boy she tucked in the night before she left is still in there somewhere, but she knows better than that.
It's not until a CIA agent claiming to be Chuck's old college roommate and Chuck's NSA handler show up to bust him out that she thinks there's any hope.
She always thought it would be harder to let go of her cover, but watching some of the life return to her son's eyes after they unhook the drug stream makes it so much simpler.
"Colonel Casey. Status report."
Casey pauses for a moment and closes his eyes before opening them and speaking up again into his phone. "Things are going as well as can be expected under current circumstances. The withdrawal symptoms are as bad as the squints thought they would be."
"Bartowski will make it through this." Beckman's voice is almost gentle, for the first time Casey has ever heard. "You, Agent Frost and Agent Larkin are to be commended for a successful extraction."
"Thank you," Casey strains out.
"I expect daily updates."
He hangs up and looks down at the phone. His faith in his country and his duty has never wavered. But sometimes he wonders why they don't just wipe every other country with a vendetta against them off the map.
"You should have seen him, Bryce. He was perfect. The perfect weapon. A machine. It was amazing."
It's snowing in St. Petersburg, and they're circling each other, both waiting for the other to strike. She's followed them from Moscow; of course she has. You don't just waltz out with Alexei Volkoff's best girl and favorite toy without somebody tailing your ass.
He knew Jill was bad. Bryce knew that all along. He just didn't know how bad until now.
"He's not a weapon, Jill, he's a man. A good one. He loved you, once, you know."
"He was so much better, Bryce. None of the hand-wringing, none of the doubt or the whining. He was decisive and swift."
"Liquid Laudenol is highly addictive, and the side effects outweigh all of the positives, unless you're trying to eventually kill your subject. On top of that, Volkoff got it through the black market, which means god knows what it was laced with. So excuse me if I don't care how much 'better' you think he was."
"Please, he's still alive."
Bryce stared at her. "If you ever come near him again, I will kill you."
Jill laughs. "Oh, Bryce. You're so sweet. Still in love with him after all this time."
His gun is out in a second, aim steady, right at her head.
"I know you know where she is," Mary says when Bryce walks back into the hotel room.
"How is he?" he asks, as he pulls of his coat and takes the gun carefully from his pants.
"Sleeping," Mary says shortly. "Not well. But sleeping at least."
"Someone should be sitting with him."
"I know you know where Sarah is," Mary says again. "I know you have her contact information, and I don't want you to use it."
Bryce doesn't reply, clenching his jaw.
"She left him, Bryce."
"For a job," Bryce snaps. "They're spies, Frost. Just like you and me and Casey, they're spies and they know what they signed up for so yes. She left for a job, and he got that."
"She should have been there."
Bryce shakes his head. "Don't you blame her for this, not when you should be blaming yourself."
Mary narrows her eyes.
"You've been working Volkoff for twenty years, Frost," Bryce hisses. "Twenty years, and you coulda had him free and clear in less than twenty-four hours."
She looks away. She knows he's right.
"But you waited for somebody from the agency to show up and get the ball rolling." He glowers at her. "Would you have ever gotten him out if we hadn't shown up? Or would you have just let your darling Alexei keep playing with your son like a damn tinker toy?"
"You wanna play the blame game, Bryce?" Mary says, her voice raising. "Who sent Chuck the Intersect to begin with? If you had let him stay a regular, normal guy, we wouldn't be here now, would we?"
It's Casey, grunting at them from the doorway of the bedroom Chuck's been in since they got him out. He's been in and out of consciousness, between passing out and heaving up the meager contents of his stomach. The shakes and the sweats and the chills all at once. Classic withdrawal symptoms. Normal, but still terrifying to the people taking care of him.
"You two don't knock it off, I'm taking the door off its hinges and beating the both of you with it. The kid looks like he's at death's door and if he doesn't get some more sleep, we're gonna have to answer a whole lot of real uncomfortable questions in an emergency room."
It takes two months to get Chuck cleaned up enough to haul him onto a plane and back to Burbank.
The flight is miserable, and the homecoming is even worse.
Ellie cries, and then she yells.
"How could you let this happen, Mom? He was supposed to be out of that world! He promised me!"
Chuck rubs his eyes. "Sittin' right here, Sis."
"You shut up! I can't be mad at you, you look like a zombie." She turns back on Mary and the fighting continues.
Bryce slips out the door in the middle of it all, and Chuck notices; follows him.
"Little loud in there, huh?"
"I have my new assignment. I have to go."
Chuck fidgets. It's nothing new, but it's more pronounced now than it ever was; more noticeable, like a tic instead of a habit.
Bryce grips his shoulder gently. "Just take care, Chuck. Okay?"
Chuck nods, and watches him go.
Chapter 2: My Hands Are Sub Jointed
General Alistair Lethbridge-Stewart is a jolly, portly old man. UNIT's finest who's worked with anyone and everyone including Casey himself. So meeting the man for a quiet drink isn't strange.
What's strange is Roan Montgomery's presence when Casey gets there.
"Now, now," Stewart says. "We're all friends here, and we're all here for the same reason."
"We are?" Casey grunts as he takes a seat.
"We're here to discuss Charles," Roan says. "First, and really, foremost, how is he?"
"Still in recovery," Casey replies as he orders himself a beer. "But able to work as of last week. He's been training his ass off with me."
"No word from Sarah, then," Roan asks regretfully. It's not really a question. He knows.
Roan tilts his head. "You don't think she'll come back, do you?"
Casey merely grunts.
"Any way you look at it," Alistair says gently, "the boy could use a change. A bit of fresh air."
"That's why I called," Casey says. "He's a good fit for UNIT, and you could use the Intersect. The CIA and the NSA have agreed to a long-term loan."
"And if...when Agent Walker comes back?" Roan asks.
"Morgan and Ellie'll still be here," Casey replies, sipping the beer that's just been set down in front of him. "I've been offered a job at Torchwood and if Bartowski agrees to join UNIT, I'm taking it."
"Thus the end of Operation Bartowski," Roan sighs, sipping his martini. "It's really too bad. You three really were the best."
Casey takes another long pull from his beer and sets it down. "Yeah."
He sits Morgan and Ellie down and almost automatically breaks down.
He hates to admit it, but he's still having a hard time controlling his emotions. His system either overshoots a response or sometimes has no response at all.
Ellie looks terrified. "Chuck, what is it?"
He pulls himself together, taking deep breaths and looking at these people he loves; these people who would never hurt him.
"I...I've been offered a job with the United Nations Intelligence Taskforce. In London."
They say "London!" at the same time, both shocked. Ellie looks ecstatic, but Morgan looks heartbroken.
Chuck nods, hands fidgeting. Even after months, he's still doing that. "They want me there next month on long term loan. Casey thinks I'm ready. He recommended me."
"Oh, Chuck!" Ellie cries. She gets up and hugs him tightly and for the first time since he's been back he wraps his arms around her on reflex. "That's so amazing!"
Morgan frowns. "But...Buddy...you're leaving me?"
Ellie pulls away and sits down again, letting the boys face each other.
"Morgan..." Chuck takes a deep breath. "Morgan I'm a mess and I...I gotta get better. This is a real chance to start over. To make a go at getting back to myself. To the way I was or close to it, and...and you can visit. And I'll visit, I just..."
"What about Sarah?" Morgan asks quietly.
Chuck shifts and looks down. "What about Sarah? She's so deep under cover she hasn't contacted at all. She couldn't even tell me where she was going..."
"This is a good thing," Ellie says softly. "We'll all miss you, but...you need space. Something new."
Nervously, after a moment, reluctantly, Morgan nods. "And...and you'll call, right? And email?"
"Of course," Chuck says. He means it, too.
The month goes fast. Dinners with Ellie and Devon. Video games with Morgan. More training with Casey, and training with a UNIT rep who briefs him on aliens, ghosts and demons and all those things that Chuck has always suspected exist but never had any real confirmation until now.
On top of all that, he's in intense rehab not only for his emotional trauma, but to get him back to a healthy, normal body weight. It's tough. The therapy leaves him feeling five again, and wanting to hide under his bed, and they put him on a strict diet with a rigid set of calories per day. No junk food. No alcohol. Lots of roughage, lots of protein.
He notices that if he winds up underneath the calorie count for a few days, he drops weight scarily fast, and worse, Ellie notices it too, and threatens to fit him with a feeding tube if he doesn't stick to his diet.
He's better, though. Feeling stronger and a little more like himself.
There's no going away party the night before he leaves. Just a quiet dinner, just him and Ellie, just like it used to be when they were kids.
They talk about life and Devon and Morgan; their parents and spies and Sarah.
After dinner they sit curled up on the couch, his head on her shoulder, in a position eerily like the one they were in the day their mother left them.
"You have to promise to be safe."
"And that if you need help you'll ask for it."
"And if you need me, you'll call, no matter what."
"I promise, El. I promise."
Alex, Ellie and Morgan see them off at the airport, and when they get to Heathrow, there are two separate cars waiting to take them to two separate places.
"This is it, Bartowski," Casey says. "Still got my number?"
Chuck nods. "And...you can call, y'know...if you need your computer fixed or something."
Casey grins just a little. "You can take the nerd from the herd..."
"Yeah," Chuck says. He holds out a hand for a shake and Casey looks at it.
"Hell." He pulls the kid in for a short, tight embrace, complete with a slap on the back. When he pulls away he's got a hand on the back of Chuck's head, warm and brotherly. "Take care, Chuck."
"You, too, John," Chuck says quietly.
They head to their separate cars, grim to be leaving each other, but ready for whatever is next.
Chapter 3: I Live In the Future
He's picked up by two of his new teammates. Christopher James and Leora Barrington.
Christopher is a lot like Captain Awesome; a little more cultured, but just as charming, talented, friendly and good-looking. He's the team's archaeologist, who has all the makings of a very posh Indiana Jones. His shiny blond hair and shiny smile and shiny blue eyes make him seem almost unreal.
Leora is also blonde (not really, though), and tall and pretty; Her eyes dark and almond shaped (her biological parents are from Tibet, she tells him), and a little mischievous. She looks more like an old Hollywood movie star than the spy she purports to be. She doesn't exude warriorness like Sarah. Leora is all glamour. Her hair is curly and a little short, and her smile is wide, like she's always ready for a camera to take her photo.
They're both friendly and excited to meet him, and instead of taking him to UNIT HQ, or his new apartment (flat), they take him to the pub.
He's not supposed to drink but he does anyways. He gets so wasted that he's not sure what he's doing anymore. He really doesn't know what he's doing when he lets a pretty brunette he's never met shove him into the bathroom and go down on him.
Christopher and Leora cut him off after that, and haul him out.
He goes home with Leora and sleeps it off on the couch. He wakes up to her handing him a cup of coffee.
The way she gazes at him reminds him a little of Ellie, and it's kind of comforting.
"I'm so sorry about last night," he says, his voice thick with hangover, and regret and embarrassment. "I don't...I'm not usually...that's not really me."
"Everyone has bad nights, Darling," Leora replies smoothly as she sips her coffee. "And you've been having a time of it, so I hear."
He looks down, realizing she's probably read his file.
She pats his arm gently. "No one is shaming you here, Charles," she says.
"Thank you for the couch."
The flat is nice. Fully furnished and there's even some food in the fridge.
After Leora leaves him to it, he looks for a good place for his Tron poster, but nothing seems right.
As he looks at the poster he realizes that the man who gave it to him wouldn't really like the man Chuck's become, and so he puts the poster in the hall closet and goes about unpacking his clothes.
His other teammates are pretty great.
Eliot Spencer is a former black ops, and a fellow expat, and a lot like Casey, except short and a little more emotionally available. It's like working with Wolverine, and since he and Leora have a...thing, and Leora has unofficially adopted Chuck as her baby brother, they end up hanging out some, when Eliot is in town. He's only part time at UNIT and spends the other portion of it in Boston. He never talks about what's there.
Eliot says Chuck reminds him of someone and that it's a good thing.
Miranda Tyler is their translator; a small woman with red hair who flushes with embarrassment even more than Chuck does. She's nice and really, really smart, and she knows it. Rumor is that she's part alien herself, but nobody knows for sure. She dates a demon hunter, which Chuck is wildly curious about, but too afraid to ask. Chuck talks with her about books and politics and electronics and it's nice to have someone who's nerdy in some of the ways he is.
The only team member that Chuck isn't so keen on is Jason Barrington. He's Leora's younger brother, Miranda's ex and their legal expert. He's smarmy, snooty, and Chuck finds himself hiding from the man often.
He'd rather go to lunch with Eliot and Miranda than spend time with Jason. Or watch "The Footie" with Christopher and Leora.
Or get a root canal, really.
Their handler is an older man named Gerald Price. He expects the best from his team and the words "downtime," "vacation" and "sick leave" aren't in his vocabulary.
That's fine with Chuck. Whatever keeps him busy.
Some days he wakes up feeling nothing.
He's just not all there. He showers and dresses and eats a little and drives to work on complete autopilot like the Laudenol never left his system.
When the feelings come back and he snaps out of it, it's like a flood gate opens, and he has to hole himself up in the bathroom to get things under control.
Sometimes he cries and doesn't realize it until Miranda is gently handing him a tissue.
He knows he won't ever be the old Chuck. That goofy nerd that Sarah seemed to love so much.
It scares the hell out of him.
Morgan visits and it's awkward. Chuck still hasn't decorated and while he's got some movies and games, he no longer knows what to do with his friend.
Morgan notices things other people don't. He notices that there are times when Chuck plays with his food more than he eats it, and that Chuck doesn't sleep very much. He notices that there are precious few reminders of Chuck's old life and that Chuck is much quieter than he was.
"Come home," Morgan says as they watch King Kong. "Come back to Burbank. We'll look for Sarah. I'll help you, I can help you."
"You said this, moving here, you said it would help you, but nothing's changed!"
"It's only been a month and a half, Morgan. It's gonna take more time."
Morgan shakes his head. "You're not facing up to your problems, Buddy. You need to."
"I can't go back."
Chuck starts to lose it. He gets to his feet and paces. "Because everything reminds me of her! Everything! And if she wanted to be found, we'd know it by now!"
"You don't know that."
"I'm not coming back, Morgan, I'm not ready."
Morgan goes home early, and when Chuck drops him off at the airport, he hits his head against the steering wheel of the car.
"Aces, Charles. Aces."
Ellie comes by herself a few weeks after Morgan. She's two months pregnant, and Chuck tries to be excited for her, but it falls flat.
She's worried, obviously, about him. She's even more worried when she sees his flat.
"It's a nice place," she says. "But it doesn't seem like you."
It takes him a minute to answer. "I'm not sure who that is anymore."
Ellie's smile is kind and sad and understanding. "That's what I'm here for, dummy. Because I know." She looks around for a moment, before opening up the hall closet and pulling out the Tron poster. "So did Dad."
He watches her hunt around and find the things she's looking for easily (she knows him that well), and soon she's hanging the poster up in the hall right outside his bedroom door, so he'll see it as he walks out every morning.
He'd never thought of that place before. Leave it to Ellie to think of the things he never does.
He spends the rest of her visit taking her to his favorite places and showing her the sights.
The night before she leave he introduces her to the team, and she looks genuinely relieved that these people seem to have his back.
He drops her at the airport the next morning and kisses her cheek.
"Aces, Charles." She ruffles his hair and walks toward the terminal.
Chapter 4: In My Prewar Apartment
Things get a little better after that.
Work is good, and he emails regularly with Ellie. A little with Morgan, but it's harder.
Saturday mornings are spent with his team at the gym. Eliot is teaching him to box (without the Intersect), and the others come to watch. The sense of camaraderie is grounding and these people become friends rather than merely coworkers. They're not worried about what he was like before the Laudenol because they didn't know him then. They know this Chuck, and they don't want to change him into anything he can't be.
Casey visits the gym one Saturday and Chuck watches his old NSA handler and the current muscle on his new team prowl around each other and strike like caged, wild animals. It's amazing, and after Leora gets bored and declares their fight a draw, they all go out to breakfast.
Chuck feels more on equal footing with Casey than he ever has before.
Bryce shows up on his doorstep one night. He needs Chuck's help with a child slavery ring, and so Chuck gets dressed and leaves a voicemail for Leora and hops on a plane.
It's an odd feeling after everything that's happened, to feel comfortable with Bryce, but the guy did save his life.
"I never got a chance to thank you," Chuck says.
"You don't have to," Bryce replies. "I'm just glad you're okay."
the mission is terrible.
They pose as a couple, which goes all wrong. Chuck can't get into the part no matter how many times Bryce brings up the fact that this should be old hand.
"You're not helping-"
Bryce cuts him off with a kiss (it's their cover! Really!) and Chuck is suddenly twenty again, being passed back and forth between Bryce and Jill and feeling confused and clumsy and awkward and nervous with people who clearly have more experience than he does.
Bryce startles Chuck by getting a little too handsy; goes just a little too far and it gets them caught.
"Jill was at Volkoff," Chuck says quickly as the bad guys light the room on fire. He's not sure why he's bringing this up now. Maybe he just wants to discuss loose ends before he dies in a fire. "I let her escape and she joined Volkoff."
"I know," Bryce says. He's so calm. So, so very calm. "But right now we have a more immediate problem."
They deal with said problem, bring down the slavery ring, get the kids into law enforcement custody and then head back to London.
There's roof access in Chuck's building and they drag sleeping bags up there to spend the night under the stars.
They talk ("You got thrown from a roof?") and argue ("You ruined my life!") and laugh ("And then I gave him a wedgie! He was so surprised! Wedgied by Special Agent Larkin!") and cry ("I just...I just can't... Sometimes I wake up and there's just...nothing. For hours. It's like a big black hole. I should be terrified but...but I don't know if I have that in me anymore...") and it's weird to feel like friends again but it's good.
In the morning, Chuck watches Bryce adjust a harness so that he can jump off the building. Show off.
"See ya, Chuck."
"We're never gonna talk about that kiss, are we?"
Bryce squints at him in the sunlight. "Do we really need to?"
Chuck grins wryly and sighs. "No, I guess not."
Chuck gets loaned out to Torchwood and he and Casey wind up working together.
The Torchwood team bickers a lot more than Chuck's and they make much harder choices than UNIT. Captain Jack thinks Chuck is hot, which makes Chuck super uncomfortable, but the rest of the team think he's adorable. Gwen, Donna, Rose and Martha are like the grandma brigade that can beat you senseless, and then tell you to eat your vegetables while sewing up your wounds.
Nothing's changed in the way Chuck and Casey work together. They still move like clockwork around each other; well oiled gears, but it's clear there's a piece missing from their machine.
Neither of them have heard from Sarah and they've both dug in places they know they shouldn't try to.
After their mission is done they have a quiet drink, the silence filling in the cracks.
"Does it get any easier?" Chuck asks softly, gazing down at his glass of ginger ale.
Casey sips from his own glass of scotch. "When you're not looking."
Nanda Parbat is miserable in July.
He's sure that the Nanda Parbot in Pakistan is hot, but the mountains surrounding the one deep within Tibet is freezing.
"Come on, team, we're almost there," Christopher grits out in the wind and snow.
"It's not supposed to be like this!" Eliot growls as they keep moving forward toward the city. "Tibet in July is not like this!"
"We're heading to a city that no one thought existed!" Leora yells. "Of course the weather is barmy! Just keep moving!"
Chuck grabs Leora's arm when she almost slips and keeps her up.
"Thanks!" she says.
"No problem!" he says, keeping a hold of her arm. "Wouldn't do to lose my Ellie 2.0 off a cliff!" He grins and looks around as they keep moving. "Why would the League of Assassins come here?"
"Their leader is obsessed with eternal life!" Christopher calls out. "There's supposed to be something in the city called the Fountain of Essence that grants rejuvenation! Eternal youth!"
"I'd say that sounds crazy," Chuck mutters to himself. "But considering where I am right now, that would just be silly."
"Just keep moving, and be glad we didn't bring Miranda!" Eliot says over the wind. "Lord love her, but one of us would be carrying her by now!"
"You think she'd be bad, just think of Jason!" Christopher laughs as they keep moving. He slips a little but Eliot grabs him roughly. "Ooh! Ta, mate."
"Eliot woulda just tossed him off the mountain by now," Chuck says. It's his turn to slip and both Leora and Eliot grab onto him. He scrambles a little to get his footing.
"Ooh!" he cries "I think I just threw up in my mouth a little!"
Chapter 5: And I Count All My Blessings
Burbank is dry and warm and sunny in August, and it feels strange to be without a brolly ("What is a-" "Umbrella. Sorry.").
It feels so familiar; so much the same and yet Chuck feels like a stranger. He and Burbank are two pieces of the same jigsaw puzzle that no longer fit together. Echo Park feels like an odd, picturesque place, and when he walks into the Buy More, he feels like a Stranger in a Strange Land.
Big Mike greets him warmly (it takes the man a minute to really recognize Chuck. He hadn't realized he'd changed that much), but Jeff, Lester and the rest of the employees are unimpressed with his reappearances.
"So? Is this just a visit?" Big Mike asks eagerly. "Or are you stickin' around for a while? Because you know, I've had a hard time replacing my Nerd Herd supervisor."
Chuck smiles politely and pats the man's shoulder. "Sorry, Big Mike. I'm just visiting."
"Oh. Well, it's good to see you, anyways, Bartowski. You look good. Like you been hittin' the gym once every few hours."
Chuck frowns as the other man walks away and looks down at himself before turning to Morgan. "I'm that different?"
"Gone is our scrawny Chuck," Morgan teases him. "Instead, we get Secret Agent Bartowski. Ready to beat the crap out of anything that moves at any second."
"I'm still me, though," Chuck assures his friend, but the look on Morgan's face tells him all he needs to know.
He mentions it to Ellie later.
"Coming back here was a mistake."
"I resent that you know," she tells him as she waddles out from the kitchen. "You came here to see me, not try and fit in with your old Buy More buddies. I'm about to pop! I need my brother!"
"And he's here," Chuck assures her. "Ready and willing to...hold hands or...boil water, whatever you need, Sis, you know that."
"I'm really that different."
"Everybody changes, Chuck," Ellie tells him. "Me, Devon, you, Morgan. Everybody changes, whether we like it or not. You've just changed more than we have. You've been through a lot and you have a very dangerous job and you moved England and now you're all...muscled and slightly British sounding."
"I am?" His eyes widen. "I am!"
She laughs harder and sits down carefully next to him. "You are still you, though. You're still Chuck. I promise."
He grins at her and leans back.
She watches him carefully. "Thinking about Sarah?"
"When am I ever not?"
They sit quietly for a long time, before Ellie speaks up again.
"You're doing a lot better."
"I feel a lot better. I have days sometimes, but they're becoming less and less frequent."
"Have you thought about...maybe...getting back out there?"
Chuck's eyes widen. "You mean...with...girls? Dating?"
"Hear me out."
"Nope!" Chuck replies, getting to his feet. "We're not having this discussion."
"It's been a long time, Chuck," Ellie says gently. "She might not be coming back."
"I don't want to talk about this."
"I don't want you to be lonely," she tells him. "I don't want you to be dad."
He looks down and shakes his head, trying to measure his response; to not fly off the handle, or go overboard.
"I-" he takes a deep breath. "I'm not ready, El. I'm not ready to let her go, I'm not- I'm not ready."
Ellie sighs and shifts to her feet. She wraps her arms around him tightly.
He closes his eyes and rests his head on her shoulder. "I love her too much."
They both hear the front door open and close.
"Hey! Group hug!"
Devon's arms wrap around them both, and Chuck laughs at the symmetry.
"Devon, honey, there's only two of us," Ellie points out.
"Three, with the baby," Devon replies. He kisses her temple and pats Chuck on the shoulder. "Chuck, Bro, you wanna go on a ten mile run with me tomorrow morning?"
"Not at all," Chuck replies, smiling at his brother-in-law as the hug breaks up.
Sadly, the next day finds him getting roped into taking over a shift at the Buy More.
"I wasn't even supposed to be here today, you know," he says to Morgan playfully. His old Nerd Herd uniform is much more fitted than it used to be, but it doesn't feel as awkward as he thought it would to put on the pocket protector and the name tag and dole out service with a smile.
Four different women give him their phone numbers and he leaves them in the wastebasket behind the counter.
At the end of his shift, he loosens his tie and stops when he spots the back of a tall blonde woman looking at the Ipod speakers. His breath catches, his heart thunders in his chest and he takes shaky steps toward her.
It's gotta be her.
The woman turns around and her face is too long. Her eyes green instead of blue, and the eyebrow piercing glints in the fluorescent lights above them.
He's sure now that he'll fully recover from the Laudenol. Because he feels his heart crack in two in a way that he never thought he would again.
He gapes at Roan Montgomery. "You did what?"
"Please, Charles. Take advantage of my generosity."
"Your-" Chuck fumes for a moment from behind the Nerd Herd counter. "You turned into Lester Patel overnight. I can't believe you did this!"
"It's only for one night. Take advantage of it."
"Your sister mentioned that you were having a hard time getting over Agent Walker. I thought a professional might help you ease your way past all that."
Chuck snorts. "The oldest profession..."
"Do not scoff at sex workers, they are an important part of our culture. And this one often does work for the Agency. She's very nice."
Chuck crosses his arms tightly, obviously uncomfortable.
Roan hands him a small card of paper. "Meet her at the Grand Ambassador at nine."
Chuck watches him leave and slumps against the counter.
But he does when Roan says and at nine, he's waiting in the bar of the Grand Ambassador, nursing a a tonic water.
He turns around and the woman standing in front of him is tall with short, brown hair and big green eyes. Her dress is pink and tastefully shimmery. "Y-yeah. Yes. Hi. Hi."
She smiles and holds a hand out. "Serena. Roan set us up."
"Right. Of course. Yes."
Serena looks him over, but what she's looking for Chuck has no idea. Possibly his nerve. Or his vocabulary.
He tries to find it. "Do you...can I get you a drink?"
"I would love one," Serena says, taking the stool next to him daintily. "What are you having?"
She quirks an eyebrow. "Not so adventurous, are you?"
"Well, I'm here," Chuck shrugs. "I'm...I'm not supposed to drink."
"Then tonic water it is," Serena says.
Chuck grins a little. "Barkeep! A tonic water for the lady."
Serena grins politely at the bartender and sips her tonic water. "So. Chuck."
He purses his lips and widens his eyes in a silly way. He's trying to stay loose; trying to pretend that he's just there to have a drink with someone who seems like a nice person to have a drink with.
And then it hits him.
He is there just to have a drink with someone who seems like a nice person to have a drink with.
He really doesn't want anything else from this person.
The tonic water gets refilled a couple of times, and they talk, mostly about how ridiculous a person Roan Montgomery is. They laugh and Serena catches on fairly quickly that Chuck's not really interested in sleeping with her.
"He didn't pay me, you know," Serena says.
Chuck tilts his head.
She smiles. "I owe him a favor. He saved my life in Belize last year, after things went south with a mark. He called it in by showing me your picture, and asking me to show you a nice time."
Chuck nods and plays with his now empty glass. "This is...this is a weird situation for me. I turned my sister's car on and off ten times before I finally decided to come here. I felt like Cameron Frye on his way to Ferris Bueller's house."
Serena laughs a little and puts her hand over his. "You're cute. And you seem like a really nice guy."
"But you're not interested?" he replies jokingly. "You see me as more of a little brother and you just want to be friends?"
"Oh, I'm interested," Serena tells him. "But I don't think you are."
"It's not you. It's me."
He watches her purse her lips, obviously trying not to laugh.
Chuck laughs softly and sets his glass down. "There's this...woman. That I fell in love with. Things...Things are complicated, and Roan meant well with setting us up, but..."
Serena smiles and leans over, kissing his cheek. "Thanks for the drink, Chuck."
He nods and grins sheepishly. "Have a good night, Serena. Nice to meet you."
When he gets home that night, he finds Morgan playing Call of Duty on Awesome and Ellie's couch.
"Oh. Hey, Morgan."
"Hey, Chuck. How was your hot date?"
He doesn't seem too bothered by the details of said "hot date" which is surprising, but Chuck rolls with it. He's tired of being not-quite-best-friends with Morgan.
"Eh. We had a drink, and then she had to go."
Morgan pauses his game and looks up at his friend. "In other words, she picked up on the fact that you can't stop thinking about Sarah."
Chuck nods. "Pretty much." He shoves his hands into his pockets and looks away. "I've been thinking about her more and more since I've been back here. Everything reminds me of her."
"Have you even been lookin' for her, man?"
He sighs. "I did everything I could think of. I did things that would get me fired, killed...both. But I couldn't find her and now...Maybe..." Chuck takes a deep breath, and looks at his best friend with heartbreak in his eyes. "Maybe Ellie's right. Maybe it's time to just move on."
"Oh, that's not the Chuck Bartowski I know," Morgan says. "And don't give me that 'I'm not that guy anymore' crap, Chuck. Because I know you. And that guy will always be in there. That guy never gives up."
Chuck stares at him for a long moment and then gets to his feet, loosening his tie and plopping down next to Morgan on the couch.
"It's not over between the two of you," Morgan tells him. "There's still story there. Meaty, angsty story."
Chuck can't help a grin. "So in your head, are we...Nightwing and Oracle? Green Arrow and Black Canary? Superboy and Wondergirl maybe?"
"Eh. Cyclops and the White Queen, more like."
"Low blow, Buddy," Chuck mutters as he picks up a controller. "Seriously low blow. One that you will pay for."
Morgan picks his back up. "We'll see about that."
Ellie gives birth the night Volkoff comes for Chuck and Mary.
It goes badly.
Not the giving birth part, that went fine.
Volkoff seems to think that he has the upper hand over Chuck, but luring the damn maniac away from his family, facing off in his father's old cabin, it's a close thing.
Not because Volkoff can win; that won't happen.
It's a close thing because Chuck nearly beats him to death.
He's so angry.
He's never felt so angry in his whole entire life. The rage building from the moment he'd been informed Volkoff was in Burbank had finally burst in that old cabin, plagued by the memories of being drugged; being forced to do whatever this man wanted and having no feelings or power of his own, and the knowledge of what it's done to him since pushes Chuck over the edge.
He punches the older man until his fists turn black and blue. His knuckles are aching and he keeps swinging. There's a ringing in his ears, and he feels his heart racing; blooding pumping. Volkoff's splatters on the floor next to his face and Chuck listens to the man's grunts of pain.
Things slow down. The room is dark, and chilly (for California), and it takes him too long to stop himself. His hands are shaking with anger, and his vision is blurred but he realizes that though the man is bleeding, his face a mess of swelling bruises...
Chuck takes a couple of deep breaths, and then gets to his feet. He takes one long look at Alexei Volkoff and then swings a long leg, kicking the man in the gut hard before walking away and getting a better grip on himself.
"Oh my god," he mutters to himself as he looks down at his hands. Did he really just do this? Was that him?
He's still marveling at the fact that he can be so intensely angry and then somehow manage to pull himself back from it when he digs his phone out and calls Beckman. When she arrives (with a task force big enough to take down the Galactic Empire), she looks around, stunned.
"Agent Bartowski. You had no back-up?"
"You took down Alexei Volkoff by yourself?"
"I...I guess so," Chuck replies, looking around. He's still coming down from his anger, still amazed. "I didn't mean to hurt him so badly. I got..." He huffs. "I got carried away."
Beckman watches him carefully. "Good work, Agent."
"Thank you, Ge-" His phone buzzes and he pulls it out with an apologetic looks to the General before reading the text. His eyes widen. "Oh. Oh! Uh...m-my sister is having a baby right now. I have to go I have to get to the hospital, I was supposed to...I promised boiled water and-" He takes a deep breath. "Can I borrow a car?"
Beckman tilts her head. "Agent Bartowski, you just single-handedly took down the world's most notorious arms dealer." She then turns to one of the troops next to her. "Get this man a chopper!"
He's sitting in the waiting room by himself, having sent his mother into the delivery room as the extra family member aside from Devon in the delivery room.
In another universe, in another life, he wouldn't be alone. Sarah would be here. Maybe Casey, and Morgan would be, too.
But Chuck sits by himself, tapping a foot, thinking about the way his fists connected with Volkoff's face; thinking about how it felt to have the man who had tried to turn him into a killing machine's blood on his hands.
He wonders if Alexei Volkoff has succeeded in turning him into the living weapon he'd so wanted, but when Chuck is dragged off to the window of the nursery room by Devon, he knows it's not true.
Chuck looks at baby Clara and chokes up.
That's his niece in there, and she's beautiful.
It fills him with a hope he hasn't felt in a long time, and he turns to Devon, hugging him.
Chapter 6: I Have Friends In High Places
"Mail call, Bro!"
Chuck looks up from the book he's reading. It's a week after Clara's birth, and the Bartowski clan plus Morgan has done little else but coo over how adorable their new addition is, and lend Ellie and Devon a helping hand around the house while they get used to the baby.
Chuck frowns and takes the small envelope. "I've lived in London for seven months, you'd think people would stop sending post here."
"Yeah the- oh the mail," Chuck says quickly. "Right, right, it's still funny that Chuck says British things instead of American things. Don't you have a diaper to change or something?"
Devon smirks and walks off, but not before giving Chuck's shoulder a teasing shove.
He shakes his head and pops the envelope open, pulling out the only thing inside: a napkin with a circular green and brown logo with a steaming coffee cup in the center, and the words "Herrlich Kleiner Kaffee" arched above it.
"What is that?" Mary asks over Chuck's shoulder as she leans on the back of the couch.
"A napkin," Chuck mutters, narrowing his eyes at the logo.
"I can see that," Mary says. "That translates to Small Wonderful Coffee. It's German. Have you been there?"
"I...maybe. I don't...I don't really remember." He looks at the envelope, which is blank aside for his name and the Echo Park address. He looks back at the napkin and attempts to flash on it but nothing happens. "It looks familiar."
"I remember that place," Morgan says, as he plops down next to Chuck. "That was the little coffee shop in Switzerland. Casey and I tracked you down on that train and you and Sarah tried to run away from the spy life together, and then you came back because you knew that Casey and I were in trouble, and you guys...you guys kicked some serious butt. I mean, you were a hell of a team. Remember? You sent that cute little scooter right through the window of that place! It was awesome!"
Realization dawns on Chuck and his eyes widen, staring at Morgan and then the napkin.
"That's...oh my god you're right. You're right! That's the coffee shop!"
Mary shakes her head. "That...sounds like quite a story."
"Okay!" Morgan says excitedly, turning to his best friend's mother. "So there was this guy named Shaw, and-"
"It's a long story," Chuck cuts in quickly. He doesn't want to relive that. He doesn't want to go back to that; to how relieved and how elated he was at Sarah wanting to be with him. He doesn't want to. He can't. He's terrified he'll fall apart.
Morgan looks at him and gets it quick. "So...so who woulda sent you a napkin from that place?"
Chuck swallows hard, gripping the napkin.
Castle is relatively empty. The government has taken back most of their equipment, probably transferred it to another operation that needs the tech now that Operation Bartowski is officially no more.
It's been a long time since he's been down here. He tries not to think about how long.
Chuck hooks his phone up to the video screen (just about the only thing left in the place) and dials up General Beckman's video line. She's obviously confused when she sees him.
"Agent Bartowski? Are you in Castle?"
"I need information on Agent Walker's whereabouts."
The General narrows her eyes. "Agent Walker's current mission is classified, Agent Bartowski. I can't discuss that with you."
"Please, General Beckman," Chuck persists quickly. "I think she sent me something, a keepsake, and if I could just talk to her-"
"I'm sorry, Chuck. The answer is no."
His jaw and fists clench.
"I know you've gone through some...unsavory channels to try and find her, but it's best right now-"
"Yeah, of course," he cuts her off. "Right. It's for the best. It was for the best that when I was trying to bounce back from a month of being Alexei Volkoff's plaything and two more months of crippling Laudenol withdrawal the love of my life was nowhere to be found. It was for the best that when I went into rigorous rehab so that I could be a functional field agent, she was completely absent from my life. Never mind that having Sarah around would have made reconnecting with the life I knew so much easier. Never mind that her presence probably would have nixed a lot of sleepless nights of wondering if I should just end it all."
Beckman's face sours. "May I remind you, Agent Bartowski, that you are the one who went rogue from you reconnaissance mission at Volkoff Industries to save your mother."
"With all due respect, General, you sent me in knowing that she was there!" Chuck cries incredulously. "What the hell did you expect that I was going to do? Shrug it off?"
"Yes!" Beckman bellows. "Yes! Because that's what spies do, Chuck! They get put into difficult situations and they shrug them off! That is their job! That is your job!"
"Man, I am so glad I don't work for you anymore."
"The feeling is entirely mutual," Beckman snaps. "An asset as difficult to control as you is not particularly worth all of the aggravation."
"Oh hey!" Chuck laughs. "That must be why you tried to have Casey kill me like forty times!"
Beckman has never given him such a sour look and that's really saying something. She disconnects them and Chuck is left standing in the empty Castle, alone.
Fighting with General Beckman galvanizes him.
He's gonna find Sarah, one way or another.
He turns the Tron Poster in his flat over once again and places Sarah's photo in the middle, along with everything he knows about her. Jobs, family members, the envelope and napkin from Herrlich Kleiner Kaffee.
It's not much to go on and Sarah just isn't one to leave a trail, but he has to start somewhere.
A lead is a lead and he takes a day trip to Miami Beach to meet with Sarah's father.
"She did tell you I'm not her actual father, right?"
Chuck gapes at Jack Burton. "Wh...but..."
"It's a cover, kid. I do some work for the Agency, they stay off my back, keep the cops and the feds at a distance..."
"Sorry, Chuck. I haven't heard from her."
He really is at a dead end. There is no place to start. Sarah Walker is a ghost, Samantha Lisa is not much of a name to go on if that really is her real name, and most of his information pertains to nearly four years spent in Burbank where she apparently mostly lied to him.
Chuck sighs heavily and slumps down on his bed, staring at the desktop computer.
"I'm so gonna get fired."
Hacking into the CIA database is easy and yields no real results; a couple of files about Project Bartowski and a couple of missions with Bryce.
He stares sourly at the computer screen before pulling out his phone. "Hey, Gerald. It's Chuck. I'm gonna need a couple days. I'm just not feeling well, I don't think I'll be much use in the field."
He gets to Reagan National Airport and gets a hotel room mostly to plan the break-in.
The knock on the door makes him grab for his tranq gun, but he lets it fall when he looks through the peephole.
Casey steps in when Chuck swings the door open.
"Casey, Casey who told you I was here?"
Chuck stares. "Beckman? What? Beckman knows I'm here?"
"Course she does, Moron. The United States watches your every move, you're the Intersect."
"So you're here to stop me."
He grunts and sets a briefcase down, opening it up to reveal weapons and equipment. "Actually I'm here to help you. Beckman doesn't want you to get caught. Frankly, neither do I."
Chuck nods and sits down, slumping back on his chair.
"What is it that you think you're gonna find?" Casey asks, glancing at him.
Chuck shrugs. "A lead. A clue. Something. There's gotta be something."
Casey just grunts. "Let's get to work."
The CIA raid proves successful and fruitful.
Sarah Walker's file is enormous, filled with names, dates, places; it even has her birth certificate.
"Sarah Lorraine Singer," Chuck reads quietly. "Born May fourteen nineteen-eighty. in Sioux Falls, South Dakota to Robert and Karen Singer. They might know where she is."
"Could be," Casey says. "Let me know if you find her."
"Wait...wait! Casey you...come on, Buddy I need your help on this."
"No can do," he says, heading for the door. "You've got my number if things go too far south."
Casey grips his shoulder. "You're a good spy, Bartowski. The second best I've ever worked with. Now stop bein' an idiot and go find the first."
Chuck watches him head for the door.
"Oh, and just in case it slipped your notice, according to those files, we've always known Walker's real name." Casey gives him an almost evil grin. "She lied to Shaw."
Chuck can't help the slightly smug look he knows he's wearing. "See ya, Casey."
Chapter 7: And I'm Upgraded Daily
Sioux Falls, South Dakota is exactly like Chuck pictured it would be.
Small, and a little rustic, but not too outside of the rest of the world.
It has a sheriff, one that hangs out in the one local diner.
"Excuse me," he says across the counter after swallowing his eggs down. "Excuse me, hi." He waves to the sheriff, and she looks at him like he's nuts.
"Can I help you with something?" she asks, tilting her head.
"Uhm...hi. Yes. Hi. I...uh...I'm looking the Singer's place."
Her eyebrows raise higher. "Bobby Singer? The crazy old man that lives outside of town?"
"Outside of town, interesting, and...and which way outside of town would that be?"
"Look, you seem alright," she says. "So let me give you a piece of advice: leave that crackpot alone."
Chuck takes a deep breath and gets to his feet, leaving a tip for his waitress. "Y'know that's okay. I've got GPS on my phone. He owns a salvage place, right? I can find it myself. Thanks."
It's not hard to find Singer Salvage; the big rusty sign gives it away.
When he parks the car he takes a moment to look around. It honestly looks like a haunted house. What was once clearly a beautiful home is now covered in dirt and dust. Chuck wonders how long it's looked like this; if Sarah grew up with it looking like this and the thought makes his heart ache for her.
The screen door squeals as he pulls it open, and knocks on the old wooden door. He clears his throat and squares his shoulders. He's not certain what to expect, but he figures coming out of the gate looking like someone who knows what they're doing would be a good thing.
Slowly, the door opens, revealing a short man with graying brown hair under an old trucker cap. He's wearing a plaid shirt and jeans, and he looks utterly and completely confused at Chuck's presence.
And of course he flashes. Robert Singer. Bobby to his friends. Demon hunter with a record as long as Chuck's impressively long legs.
Chuck clears his throat, pulling himself together and gets his CIA badge out. "Agent Charles Carmichael. I'm looking for Sarah Walker."
The older man gives him an eye roll and slams the door in his face.
Chuck stands there, staring for a good long moment.
That went badly.
He puts the badge away clumsily and knocks on the door again. "Mr. Singer? Mr. Singer please open the door, I really do need to talk to you. Please?"
The door reopens and there's Mr. Singer holding a shotgun.
Chuck immediately takes a step back. "Oh! Oh! Okay! You...you are armed, sir. You are...Okay. Let's all just..."
"What do you want with Sarah Walker?"
He opens his mouth and closes it again. He's not sure how to respond.
"Mostly I'd like to give her a hug," he blurts out without thinking, and then mentally kicks himself.
The gun lowers, and Mr. Singer narrows his eyes in confusion. "The hell?"
Chuck feels his ears warm as they turn red and he looks down. "That was...that was not exactly what I hoped would come out of my mouth just then."
The inside of the house is cluttered with old books and empty bottles. It's a dim place, even in mid-day. The kitchen, like the living room off of the front door seems to be more for work and research than eating. There's a group of telephones on the far wall, labeled with strips of masking tape, with words like "police" and "FBI" scribbled neatly on each. The computer that looks older than Chuck himself is what interests him most. He loves oldies like that, and he can't wait to make friends with this man so he can play with it and upgrade it.
Bobby hands him a beer and Chuck fiddles with it.
"I shouldn't really drink. I tend to make poor life choices when I drink."
"One beer won't kill ya," Bobby grumbles, sipping his own.
Chuck realizes that Bobby's watching him suspiciously, and so he takes a sip of the beer, swallowing hard.
"So you're the boyfriend."
"Well...I was. I guess it's debatable whether or not that's still true at this point," Chuck admits. "But I think...I think she sent me something. I mean I think she did, I can't...I don't know of anybody else who would send it."
Bobby sits down across from him. "What'd she send ya?"
Chuck digs into his pocket and pulls out the napkin, which he hands over.
The older man looks it over, and then looks at Chuck. "Kid. This is a napkin."
"From a coffee shop we once went to in Switzerland on a...a relatively romantic few days."
Bobby takes a deep breath and another swig of his beer, handing the napkin back. "She's been under deep cover for over a year. You know that. Chances are, she's just feelin' sentimental..."
Chuck shakes his head. "You probably know her better than I do. Does it sound like Sarah to send something like this unless something was going on?"
There's silence, and Bobby grimaces.
"She never was one for the mushy stuff."
Silence fills the kitchen as the two men look at each other. For the first time, it really hits Chuck; really dawns on him that there's something wrong. Something is going on, and Sarah's probably in a lot of trouble.
"Help me find her," Chuck says. "Please."
Bobby takes yet another chug from his bottle and puts it down. He gets up and turns on his computer, waiting waiting waiting for it to come to life.
"486's are pains," Chuck commiserates.
"Your computer," Chuck tells him. "It's an IBM 486 and it's slow, because it's old, and the technology is ancient."
"Watch your mouth."
They wait a little longer and the computer comes to life. They wait some more for the email program to load up and Bobby clicks on a message that says "Hello from!" in the subject heading.
Chuck squints. "'Weather is beautiful, wish you were here. L'amour Sarah'- L'amour? L'a-" Chuck stops. "The napkin. The napkin and the email and I am such a jack-ass she's in Paris! How long ago did she send this?"
Bobby stares him like he's nuts. "Bout two weeks ago."
Chuck nods and grabs his stuff; his jacket and the napkin. "I have to...I have to go I have to go to Paris she's...she was or still is in Paris!" He heads for the door, and stumbles out, just in time to bump into someone on the lawn.
"Wh...Bryce?" Chuck asks, shocked and confused.
Bryce smiles in a way he's never seen before; malicious. Bloodthirsty. Like he would love nothing more than to tear both Chuck and Bobby limb from limb.
Chuck narrows his eyes and flashes. The images are intense; terrifying, like something out of a horror movie. Bodies bathed in blood, and screaming. So much screaming. When the flash ends, he realizes that Bryce isn't really Bryce at this point in time, especially not with those inky-black eyes.
"Oh balls," Bobby growls. "Chuck. Chuck, get in the damn house."
"So you're Chuck," Bryce (Bizarro Bryce, Chuck thinks. Possessed Bryce) says pleasantly surprised. "Just the nerd I was looking for."
It happens fast. Bobby yells obscenities and a name (Meg?), and a thick black smoke pours violently from Bryce's mouth.
He sees Bryce hit the ground in a heap just as the smoke forces itself past his own lips.
He tastes bile before his brain goes into overdrive. He flashes again, hard, on whatever's forced its way inside him, and it feels like getting electrocuted.
After that, things go black.
"Charles...Charles. Chuck. Son, wake up."
His eyes open and start to focus. The room is white and familiar and the man standing above him is supposed to be dead.
Stephen Bartowski gives him a regretful grin. "In a way."
Chuck sits up and looks around. "This...this is the Intersect room."
"Actually no," Stephen says, gripping Chuck's hand and helping him to his feet. "This is the Intersect. The one in your head."
Chuck's eyes widen as he stares at his father.
"I'm a construct. The embodiment of the Intersect itself."
"So...we're in my head?"
"Yes. Yes we are."
"No offense, Dad, but...but I always hoped the Intersect would look like Sarah."
"Hey, don't look at me," Stephen shrugs. "It's your brain."
Chuck frowns again. "What happened to me?"
Stephen dashes over to the computer in the center of the room. "You were possessed by a demon."
Chuck swallows hard. "Oh. Oh, that...that black smoke that came out of Bryce's mouth...that...they taught me that before I joined UNIT..."
"That can't be good."
"You're lucky," Stephen says, typing away. "You instinctively flashed once it happened. Flashing internally on what was in side you integrated everything the demon knew into the Intersect. Shocked it so bad it had to leave your body, but it also shocked you. Short-circuited your brain a little."
"Short...are you saying I'm a vegetable?" Chuck cries, panicked. He rushes over to Stephen and the computer.
"Temporarily," Stephen tells him. "I just have to give you a system reboot. By accessing your Governor."
"But...but but- I'm gonna be fine right? I'm not gonna be brain damaged or anything."
"No, no brain damage. You might wanna take it easy for a few hours though."
Chuck shakes his head. "I can't I can't I have to find Sarah. She's missing, Dad."
"Does...the...does the Intersect know where she is?"
"It's your head," Stephen reminds him again. "Find out."
Chuck walks over to a wall; stark white just like the room where he'd taken in the 2.0. He concentrates hard on Sarah and on all the information he's learned about her.
It comes surprisingly easily.
A motel in Michigan.
He frowns. "Michigan. Michigan? Really?"
He keeps digging, clumsily sifting through computer files in his own mind.
"Paris was a fake," Chuck mutters. "Whatever's going on, she's trying to keep me away."
"Well, that means you've got two choices, Charles," his father says.
When he comes too, Bobby and Bryce's faces swim in to focus.
"Chuck? Buddy?" Bryce grips his shoulder and Chuck can feel the worry in his hand.
"Michigan," Chuck mutters. He sits up. "Haveta go to Michigan."
"Whoa, whoa...you're not going anywhere," Bryce says.
"Sarah..." He looks at Bryce with wide eyes. "Sarah's in Michigan."
Bryce frowns, his brow furrowing. "No, she's not. Sarah's in Paris."
Bobby sighs behind them. "Balls..."
Bryce looks back at the older man and then at Chuck. "Michigan?"
"Damn Meg," Bobby grumbles. "Yeah. Sarah's in Michigan. Meg possessed you probably to take you there. Screw with her head, throw her off her game. What the hell happened? How'd you shake her off like that?"
Chuck scratches the back of his head. "Mind over matter?"
They get escorted (read: kicked) out of Bobby's house with anti-possession charms as parting gifts, and Chuck shoves Bryce.
"You knew she was in Paris?"
Bryce stumbles. "She wasn't in Paris! She lied to me too!"
Chuck's hands start shaking and he tries to make them stop but to no avail.
Bryce approaches him slowly, his hands raised. "It's okay, Chuck. You know where she is now. You can find her."
"She doesn't want me to," Chuck stammers. "She lied to keep everyone away. No wonder Beckman was so pissed at me for asking questions, she probably doesn't even know where Sarah is."
They stare at each other for a long moment and Bryce takes him by the shoulders again.
"Go find her, Chuck. Even if it's just to say goodbye. Go find her."
Chapter 8: I Am Part of a Composite
She isn't in Michigan anymore. He feels like he should have know she wouldn't be.
"You Carmichael?" the desk clerk asks.
Chuck narrows his eyes. "Yes. Yes I'm Charles Carmichael."
"She left something for you."
It's an invitation. An ornate one, with thick black paper stock engraved with silver script.
"The pleasure of your company is requested at the annual Volkoff Industries masquerade gala..." Chuck reads, eyes narrowed. Is that where she's been this whole time? Undercover at Volkoff like his mother had been? Like he had been? And without Alexei there to spearhead the organization, how is it still running?
He flips the invitation and finds a little white post-it that says "be my date?" in Sarah's neat script.
It hits him then for the first time that Sarah has absolutely no idea what's happened to him. That she really has had no contact with anyone that would have told her about the Laudenol. It occurs to him that she probably only knows that he's looking for her and that if he's going through so much trouble it must be important.
The party is in London which is perfect because all of his formal wear is there at his flat.
He catches the next available flight, clutching the invitation in his hand the whole way. It's the closest he's come to speaking to her in a year and a half.
"But Charles you can't go," Leora says as she sifts through the walk-in closet in his flat, looking at the suits and waistcoats. "The people at Volkoff know exactly who you are. They'll kill you, and that's if you're lucky."
"It's a masquerade," Chuck says as he watches her from his seat on the bed. "I'll be wearing a mask. A good one. "
"Gonna need more than that," Eliot comments loudly from the kitchen. "You need a cover."
"A good one" Miranda says, poking her head into the bedroom. "Chuck are you certain you're ready to face all this. After everything that's happened?"
"What is this, a mission intervention?" Chuck asks, laughing a little.
"A bit yes" Miranda admits.
"We quite like you," Christopher points out, as he looks at the array of watches (Governors) in their case. "It'd be brilliant if you didn't die."
"You guys, I'll be fine."
"We know," Eliot grunts as he walks in with a plate filled with grilled cheese sandwiches. "We're gonna make sure of it."
Chuck's eyes widen. "What? No, no, no you are not coming with me. This is a date. I'm seeing Sarah again for the first time in over a year and a half. I don't need a chaperone and I really don't need four of them."
"Has it crossed your mind that this might be a trap?" Leora asks. "If Sarah is looking not to blow her cover within Volkoff, and they know who she is to you, they'll use that."
"She would have sent a warning," Chuck snapped defensively.
"You ever think she already did?" Eliot asks, taking a bite out of one of the sandwiches. "Throwin' you off, making you think she's in Paris?"
"Having her father lie to you," Miranda adds. "Lying to Bryce."
"Stroke of genius, that," Christopher mutters. "Making the bloody control freak think he knows what's going on, so he won't try and find out the truth."
"Yeah, I talked to him the other day," Chuck says, taking one of the sandwiches. "He's really pissed. He wants to come to the masquerade too, but I told him not to."
"You really think he's going to listen?" Leora scoffs as she walks out, carrying a black suit, along with a black and silver tie. "Please. That man is as stubborn as he is manipulative."
Chuck frowns as he chews. "What's with all the Bryce hate?"
"He is a bit of a git," Miranda says sympathetically. "And honestly, who gets possessed by a demon in our line of work?"
Chuck's ears turn red and he looks down. That would not only be Bryce, but himself that was possessed.
"Oh, darling, you're still new to this end of the business," Leora says soothingly. "Bryce is old hand, he should know better."
"You both got very lucky," Miranda tells him. "Demons have done far, far worse to others."
Chuck sighs and turns to look at his team. "I still don't know why I got possessed."
"To get to Sarah," Christopher says. "Her father is Bobby Singer, he's a very well-known demon hunter."
"But how did it even know to come after me?" Chuck asks.
Miranda looks worried at that. "That's the real question, isn't it?"
Chuck has never been to such an elaborate party. Everyone in tuxes and elegant gowns with their masks firmly in place; a sea of anonymous party goers and servers. Classical music plays softly from a small corner stage, and the entire ballroom is lit with soft chandelier lighting.
It's a little too Eyes Wide Shut for him.
He is sporting a black mask with gold details. "it'll bring out your eyes," Leora had promised and he wears the ensemble she'd chosen for him the night before.
Leora and Miranda sport corresponding devil and angel masks that hide their eyes but not their wide, over-the-top smiles. They're posing as sisters, even though they look nothing alike, while Chuck, Eliot and Christopher pose as their security.
"How am I ever gonna find her in all this?" Chuck mutters, looking around again.
"Start at one location and work your way through the room," Eliot says under his breath. "Be organized about it."
"The bar is usually a jolly good place to start," Christopher suggests.
Miranda obviously picks up on their conversation and snaps a finger. "You three shoo! Fetch some refreshment for us!" Chuck does his best not to laugh as he follows the other two men. "She's really getting into this whole Heiress thing."
"Yeah, she does that," Eliot replies as they move towards the bar.
"It's not often she gets to go undercover," Christopher says. "Let her enjoy it."
Chuck keeps looking around, hoping to get lucky; to be able to pick Sarah out of the enormous crowd, but no dice.
When they get to the bar, there are two people tending, and not much action around it.
One, Chuck realizes instantly, is Bryce Larkin.
They lock eyes and it's weird, but it's the same as it ever was. They argue silently about what Bryce is doing here and why he didn't tell Chuck he was coming. Before Chuck can get a word out, Bryce gives a subtle nod and Chuck glances next to flashes on the other body behind the bar and shakes his head a little.
He takes a deep breath and watches Bryce's eyes shift across the bar to where two women sit.
One is Sarah Walker, and Chuck feels his mouth go dry.
The other is-
The other is intensely repulsive. Inhuman; a rotting, maggot-covered face and eyes of deep inky black.
He automatically takes a step back and Eliot grabs his arm.
"What? What is it?"
"Howdy, Chuck," the creature next to Sarah says with a grin. "Remember me?"
He does. He knows that voice. That's the voice of the demon that possessed him. Meg.
Christopher sighs deeply. "Trap."
Two armed guards lead Miranda and Leora over forcefully and shove them in with Chuck, Eliot and Christopher.
"So nice of you all to come to my party," Vivian smiles. "And here I thought it would be terrible dull. But I see you got my invitation!"
Chapter 9: Hooked Into Machine
"I'm so sorry."
Sarah's voice is quiet and ragged, and while she's dressed beautifully, her hair up in intricate curls, she looks pale and worn down.
Chuck tries to go to her, but one of Vivian's goons grabs him.
He flashes instantly and twists the man's arm, breaking it and letting him slump to the floor.
"Very nice, Bartowski," Vivian says as she gives him a golf clap. "You've still got it."
Sarah gives him a confused stare and Chuck swallows.
"What do you want, Vivian?"
"You dead and my father out of jail," she chirps pleasantly. "But since killing you won't get him out, I'll settle for having his favorite play toy back."
"That's not going to happen," Leora snaps.
Vivian sighs. "Take those four out back and kill them."
The guards begin to move but she stops them at the last minute.
"On second thought, leave them alive." Vivian smiles. "That is, unless you cooperate. Come willingly and we'll let them go."
Chuck swallows, trying not to show her that he's terrified. "Sarah, too?"
"Oh, I'm afraid not," Vivian says, mock regret in her voice. "No she's not only been under deep cover here as one of my most trusted guards for over a year, she's also a hunter, and my special demon friend here has an axe to grind with her father. Isn't the right, Meg? Or is it Jill?"
The demon grins and Chuck sees rotten teeth.
"The info I planted about Michigan must have left a dent. He's not seeing the ex-girlfriend I'm squatting in, he's seeing my true form."
"You...you're in Jill?" Chuck asks, confused.
"That's right," Meg drawls. "But don't worry. She's long dead thanks to your boyfriend here."
Chuck turns a shocked look on Bryce who struggles a little.
"She tried to kill me too," he snaps. "I'm just a better shot."
"Speaking of shots," Vivian says with a smile. "That gives me a great idea!" She pulls an unlabeled bottle filled with a gray liquid out and pours some into a shot glass.
Chuck swallows. He knows what it is. "No."
"Drink up, or I'll kill them both," Vivian says. "They'll die slowly. And then I'll let Meg loose on everyone at this party."
"What is that?" Sarah asks, hesitantly.
"Liquid Laudenol," Bryce says quietly. "It's Laudenol."
Sarah's eyes widen.
Chuck's hand reaches for the shot.
"Don't," Bryce says harshly. "Don't Chuck."
Vivian pulls a knife out and stabs through Bryce's hand, embedding the tip of the blade into the wood of the bar.
He yells in pain and Chuck grabs the shot and knocks it back quickly with his eyes closed.
When he opens them again his vision is blurred and he can feel all of his fear and anger and dread start to slip away, little by little.
Vivian refills the shot and Chuck stares at it.
"I'm so sorry," Sarah says again, brokenly. "I'm so sorry, Chuck. I...I got caught sending you that napkin and then-"
He looks at her and holds onto the feeling of seeing her again, finally, for dear life. She's so beautiful, and he's...missed...he's missed her.
The Laudenol make it hard to talk, and so he reaches out and takes her hand.
"Enjoy that while it lasts," Vivian snorts. "A few more shots and he'll be breaking your fingers, Walker."
Sarah shakes her head. "Please, Chuck. Please. It's not worth it."
He picks up the shot and downs it slower this time, and as the Laudenol slides down his throat, his world starts to go gray.
Vivian refills the glass and he stares at it again.
It's a different sensation than before. It's not as potent as having it injected into his bloodstream and while his mind is cloudy, it's not gone.
Not yet, anyways.
He looks from the shot glass to Vivian. Her smile is smug and her fingers tap the wood of the bar top gently.
"We're all waiting, Chuck," she tells him casually, as she reaches out and twists the knife in Bryce's hand.
He groans and starts to reel a fist back to punch Vivian in the head, but one of her guards grabs him.
Chuck lifts the third shot and knocks it back. His taste buds are going numb just like everything else.
Everything except his extreme curiosity.
He's not foolish. He knows what's going to happen. Vivian Volkoff is going to feed him a few more shots and then turn him loose on the room; on Bryce and on Sarah.
It'd be so easy, so simple, to kill all these people. To feel Sarah's neck snap under his hands; to take the knife out of Bryce's hand and plunge it into his heart, give it a good twist.
It'd be easy. Miranda's so tiny he could snap her like a twig. Eliot would put up more of a fight, but he could win. Christopher and Leora would be easy, too.
It'd all be easy.
He can still feel Sarah's hand on his; warm where his is getting clammy and cold and her fingers are slender and it feels...
Well, it doesn't. It doesn't feel like anything. Nothing feels like anything and he remembers what Vivian said before; that he'd be breaking Sarah's fingers.
But he doesn't. He doesn't want to break her fingers.
Vivian has helpfully poured more into his shot glass, and he only realizes he's been staring at Sarah when he looks to Vivian.
His head swims a little as he stares at her and she presents a new challenge. A new curiosity. The girl with the bottle and the big smile. She's slender, and while she obviously calls all of the shots for Volkoff Industries now, she's not imposing like Alexei; she's also dumb enough to let him sit there without any restraints.
It's all so easy.
He downs the latest shot and gets to his feet.
The guards ready themselves but he's so much faster; he's so efficient. They're all down in seconds, and then his hand grabs a fistful of Vivian's hair and he slams her head against the bar, hard.
In his peripheral vision, he sees Sarah get to her feet, and he can almost hear her call his name, but the sound is muddy. He vaguely observes Bryce wrenching the knife from his hand and he can sort of hear screams from the other party guests around and behind him but his attention, his complete focus is on Vivian.
He lifts her head and stares her in the eyes. Her lip and nose are bleeding, and she seems angry. She claws at him but he flashes and then uses his free hand to break her wrist. She screams and he yanks her over the bar and to the floor.
Chuck kneels down and stares at her appraisingly. People are so fragile.
Sound still rages around him; Bryce and Sarah's shouts, Meg's laughing now, watching, and there are more panicked cries from around him.
Vivian looks angry and terrified and she kicks at him but it does no good.
Slowly, carefully, experimentally, he closes his hands around her neck and starts to add pressure.
The voice rings out clear as a bell and while he doesn't move his hands, he does stop squeezing. He blinks rapidly and looks up.
Sarah is staring back at him with tears in her eyes, and a bottle in her hand.
He feels the bottle make contact with the back of his head, and while he can't feel any pain, he blacks out anyways.
Chapter 10: I Collect My Moments
He wakes with a start and tries to shoot upright but can't.
He struggles and finally cracks his eyes open and realizes two things.
One: He's in a hospital somewhere.
And two: His hands and feet are cuffed to his hospital bed.
An involuntary whimper escapes his lips as he tries to remember what happened; how he got here, and why he feels so slow and confused.
Chuck closes his eyes and feels...gray. Murky, thick gray coating his mouth and tongue.
That would be the multiple shots of Laudenol he downed in not a whole lot of time.
He starts to breathe heavily; starts to panic, his mind racing fast. His eyes dart around the room, and he takes it all in. The cuffs, the IV hooked to his arm, the television playing the news.
He squints at it, and though his vision is still a little blurry, he sees the date.
His eyes nearly fall out of his head. "A week? A week? what? I was...I was out for a-"
And that's when he realizes that there's shouting outside the door.
"How could you do this? Why didn't you contact me?"
"Oh my god, even if I had, you weren't where you told me you'd be! So what does it even matter?"
"At that point in time I WAS where I said that I would be!"
"And what would you have done, huh, Sarah? Broken cover, left your post? The Agency would have had your ass on a platter!"
"Alexei Volkoff was using my boyfriend as a toy soldier, you better believe I would have broken cover to get him out!"
"I got him out! Me and Casey, we got him out as fast as we could."
"Two months later?"
"Hey! We did the best we could with the resources we had! You wanna be mad at somebody? Go be mad at Frost! She was on the inside the whole time and didn't bother to help her son until we showed up!"
"Yeah, crap! You missed a lot."
"I was under cover! And the one time I tried to contact Chuck-"
"To throw him off of your location-"
"I got caught!"
Chuck hears Sarah's voice break and he's had enough. He tugs on the cuffs, and while they're soft against his wrists, they're secure.
"Oh. I really don't wanna break my thumbs," he mutters.
His head hurts and so he doesn't want to flash and there's nothing in his reach he can use to pick the locks.
At this point, Bryce and Sarah are going around in one big circle. Neither of them are at fault for what's happened. If anything, Chuck blames himself. Beckman was right, he's the one who went into Volkoff Industries after his mother. He's also the one who started hunting for Sarah, and on top of all that, he's the one who walked into an obvious trap to see Sarah in that ballroom, and he'd dragged his UNIT team down with him.
The last year and a half had been nothing but one stupid rookie mistake after another, and after this latest flub, he's fully expecting to get fired.
Maybe that's a good thing.
He thinks maybe it's time to call it quits; maybe Bryce was right all those years ago at Stanford, and he's not just not cut out for field work.
The yelling gets a little louder and Chuck groans.
"Hey, guys?" he calls loudly. "I know you can break your thumbs to get out of cuffs, but what about foot cuffs? Would you have to break your ankle? Because that sounds unpleasant!"
The door swings open hard and hits the wall, revealing Sarah and Bryce in the doorway, looking surprised and relieved and still a little pissed at each other.
"Hey," Chuck says softly. "Little help?"
Bryce shakes his head. "I'm gonna let you deal with that."
Chuck watches Bryce leave, and then turns his full attention to Sarah.
She's so close. She's right there. Her hair is longer than he remembers but still blonde, and she seems less pale than she did in the ballroom...not that he remembers much.
Her jeans are soft-looking and her tank top is a plain, dark cranberry.
She steps over to him and carefully uncuffs his hands but not his feet.
He swallows. "Little assist on the bottom?"
"I'm sorry, Chuck, I can't," she says softly, sitting in the chair next to him. "The doctors want you on bedrest a few more days, and they don't want you getting up for any reason."
"Why...why was I cuffed up in the first place?" he asks, sitting back against his pillows, rubbing his wrists.
He watches Sarah swallow and tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. "We...you put up a fight the first time you woke up. You were still..."
Chuck nods slowly. "I was still gone."
She nods back, not meeting his eyes. "Half of the people who were at that masquerade. Most of them were weapons dealers...some drug pushers...a couple of wanted terrorists..."
"That's some final mission," he says softly.
Sarah looks up, obviously confused.
"Oh, come on," Chuck scoffs. "I'm...I'm cuffed to a hospital bed! I put my entire UNIT team in danger. Speaking of, they're okay, right?"
"They broke loose before we did and got reinforcements. What are you saying, Chuck?"
"I..." he takes a deep breath. "I'm saying...I'm saying it's not so crazy to think that after everything that's happened...the Laudenol and the killing and the demons and the...the everything, maybe it's time to throw in the towel and admit that the spy life just isn't for me."
Her eyes go sad suddenly. "Killing."
He freezes and instantly feels his hands start to clam up.
They stare at each other for a long moment, the only noise in the room coming from the television.
He feels lost. He's spent so long wanting to see Sarah; dreamed of this moment so many times, and now that he's here, now that she's here...he just doesn't know where to start; doesn't know what to tell her.
Does she know now? Everything that's happened to him? And what's happened to her? Where has she been all this time? Inside Volkoff Industries? And what if he explains everything and she decides he's not her Chuck anymore?
His brain is going too fast and he knows it. It's part of the Laudenol wearing off. Emotions come at him like a freight train and as he gazes at Sarah's beautiful face, he feels tears threaten him.
Her voice is soft and sad and she shifts from her chair to the bed, climbing in and wrapping her arms around him tightly.
He doesn't hug her back, merely lets his head rest heavily on her shoulder. He takes a deep, uneasy breath. "Did I hurt anybody? Did I...?"
Her fingers lightly play with his hair and he feels his eyes drift shut.
"You didn't kill anyone," she tells him softly, stroking his cheek.
He swallows and pulls back to look at her. "What happened? After I got knocked out, what...what happened?"
Sarah closes her eyes and then opens them again. "Uhm...Vivian tried to have Meg attack us."
Chuck frowns deeply. How did they fend off a demon so quickly?
"But...but instead, Meg snapped Vivian's neck."
He feels the color drain from his face as he stares in shock. "What...but...but they were...they were working together. Meg and Vivian they were-"
"Meg is a demon," Sarah says. She takes his hands. "Chuck, Meg doesn't have allegiances to anyone or anything. She has no soul, no good in her. She is evil and she is self-serving. That's what I've been doing undercover this whole time. Volkoff and other agencies like it were using demons to get their work done. Making deals, using them as muscle. I've been trying to stop them, and Vivian Volkoff was the worst offender."
He nods and swallows. His mouth is dry.
"I'm...I'm in a unique position," Sarah tells him. "I grew up with...my dad is...my real dad..."
"I know," Chuck says. "I went to see him. He wanted to shoot me."
She looks a little amused. "He wants to shoot everybody. It's kind of his thing."
"You lied to me a lot."
"I know," Sarah says quietly. "And I'm sorry, Chuck. I'm sorry for all the lies. I'm...I'm so used to not telling people, because who would believe me?"
"Me. I would believe you. Especially after all this...working with UNIT, getting possessed by Meg..."
Sarah stares, shocked. "Meg possessed you? Oh, she's dead."
She's surprised at that. "Wow. He should know better."
They sit in silence for a long moment before Sarah speaks up again.
"So...you went undercover inside of Volkoff Industries when Alexei was still running it..."
"To do recon. See what I flashed on."
"What went wrong?"
Chuck blows out a breath. "You mean the most unprofessional moment of my life? Where I saw my mother, cornered her and had the worst family reunion and then I got caught?"
She squeezes his hand sympathetically. "Beckman's here. She showed me the file..."
Chuck swallows hard. "Look...Sarah, I'm...I'm not the same person I was when you first left."
"I know," she tells him quietly, playing with his fingers. "But you haven't changed as much as you think you have."
He's about to argue with her; about to list off all the ways that he's so much different than he was before, but she stops him.
"Nobody else would have done what you did at that party, Chuck," Sarah says softly. "Nobody would have downed those shots. And anybody else would have let those two months in Russia ruin their life."
She rubs his neck and he lets his eyes drift shut. It feels so good. So like he's finally where he's supposed to be.
"You're still my Chuck," she whispers.
Something inside him snaps then, and all his calm dissolves. Suddenly he's doubled over and Sarah is holding him as he babbles, begging her to stay; to tell him all this is over.
Her fingers stroke his arms and back and hair as she whispers promises in his ear.
SIX MONTHS LATER
He blinks and shakes his head out, looking up at Morgan from his spot underneath the bedroom window in his and Sarah's apartment.
"Oh. Sorry, buddy. I was miles away."
Morgan grins. "I could tell. It's too bad this place isn't on the first floor."
"It's New York," Chuck says. "I don't think there are any first floor apartments."
"Still. I miss our traditional game of Escape Chuck's Birthday Party."
Chuck laughs softly and rests his head on his knee.
Morgan smiles triumphantly. "Ready to come out? Some of your new S.H.I.E.L.D buddies are here and let me tell ya, they do not get along with your old UNIT crew. Something about acronyms."
Chuck nods and grins. "I'll be out in a minute."
"Okay but hurry up!" Morgan calls as she dashes away from the doorway.
Chuck closes his eyes and breathes in; breathes in the changes and the freedom of feeling almost like a whole person again.
He feels more than hears Sarah standing in the doorway.
"You're missing your own birthday."
He hears her smile. "The natives are getting restless."
"They might not if they tear apart my nice new apartment."
Sarah's voice is teasing and gentle and when he hears her footsteps coming closer, Chuck opens his eyes and gazes up at her.
It hadn't been exactly easy to dive back into their relationship. They did a lot of fighting between leaving the hospital and moving into Chuck's London flat together and then moving out of London in favor of New York. But it had all been worth it to get to this place and this time; to be these people and to have this life together.
And working together again, though their new jobs are a little nuts, is also worth it.
She reaches down and takes his hands, pulling him to his feet, and he purposefully stumbles forward and slumps against her.
Sarah gives a short, soft laugh, and he gives something akin to a purr, which surprises him, and he stops, feeling a little confused.
"What was that?" Sarah asks with another laugh.
"I don't know. The sound of happy I guess."
She smiles and kisses him softly. "Come on, birthday boy."
When she turns to leave he pulls her back in and kisses her again; soft and slow and when she pulls away, she's a little flushed and clinging to the sleeve of his shirt.
Chuck takes a deep breath and grins.
"Okay," he says. "Now I'm ready."
The Title and Chapter Titles are taken from Regina Spektor's "Machine"