A/N I like dream sequences, although perhaps these aren't exactly dreams. The interaction of the Intersect with Chuck's subconscious was an idea never properly explored. Like so many other great ideas in Chuck, it was used and discarded.
"Devon, they've got Chuck."
"What have you done with my husband?"
"Ellie's plane is not where it's supposed to be."
"The antidote is my price. Do you understand me?"
"I'm sorry, Vivian, darling," said Alexei Volkoff, "But a unique business opportunity has just presented itself, which will require my full attention. Can I have a rain check on our lunch date?"
Vivian bit her lip, glad her father couldn't see her. Not even one full day. Was even one day of her father's time too much to hope for?
"Of course, Father."
"I will make it up to you, I promise," said Volkoff, "But for now I'll have to deputize Mr. Riley to squire you around town."
Vivian settled down. Her father was a very important, very busy man, but she was his only daughter, his only child. There would be other days.
Today, somewhere in Thailand…
Sarah looked at her hands, her fingers, striped with red. Hands wrapped in rope, battering rams, rather than the precision instruments she'd made of them. Another time or place, that might have been a problem.
They'd taught her to fight in a lot of different ways, back in her previous life, with hands and feet and whatever was around. He should have expected the snake. She should have expected the sand.
She shouldn't have given him the chance to throw the sand. What the hell was wrong with her? That was no way to get her husband back.
Frost poured peroxide over Sarah's raw fingers. The cords made it possible for the wearer to strike harder, but they delivered their punishments in both directions. "You didn't have to do that."
They were in the way. Sarah stared at the blood on her hands. "I told him to drop the knife." So much blood. "He didn't listen, and neither did you. I'm different without Chuck, and I don't like it."
Somewhere else in Thailand, on a river…
Casey checked his tracker. "According to this she's ten meters ahead of us."
"That puts her in the river," said Carina.
"The miracles of modern technology." He put the tracker away. "Ellie?"
Up ahead on the river's edge, some leaves moved. A small flame, like a lighter, flicked twice. Facing that way they could see it, but no one on the other side of the river would notice such a small light.
They crept down the road, two little shadows against a larger backdrop of shadow, with a touch of midnight thrown in. "What do we got?" whispered Casey.
"It's a boat," said Carina as softly.
With nothing more than a whisper of leaves against leaves the two shadows left the dark. Once under cover they used their low-intensity lights.
"I was wondering when you two would show up," said Ellie, sitting in the captain's chair.
The sun was shining. The birds were chirping.
Chuck opened his eyes, took a cautious look around. He sat in a chair, surrounded by blinking and beeping equipment of all sorts. No scientists, no lab techs. No guards.
He stepped out of the chair, adjusting the fit of his tuxedo for maximum elegance, and went to the window. It opened onto jungle, as expected. This heat and humidity could mean nothing else.
Now he saw guards, but they were walking away from his position. Perfect. He stepped through the window and quickly strode into the jungle. He was almost in the clear when his phone went off. Ellie's ringtone. "Hey, sis, guess where I am."
"At a guess, I'd have to say jungle. Tropical rainforest, maybe, it's not like we don't have you tracked," said Ellie impatiently. "Agent Charles, I just got off the phone with Sarah, she's very upset."
He stopped in a stand of bamboo. "Doesn't it bother you that I've been kidnapped and could be tortured at any moment?"
Ellie didn't sound all that interested. "Look, Agent Charles, just because you and Sarah are having marital difficulties is no reason to keep getting yourself captured all the time."
"We're…we're not having marital difficulties."
"Oh, no? What do you call this 'Chuck' nonsense?"
"It's not nonsense, it's me, sis."
"See, that's exactly what I'm talking about," said Ellie. "Calling you Chuck is like calling a Lamborghini a car. She married a hero, Agent Charles. You have to be one for her."
"Hold on, let me put Sarah on the phone."
Somewhere on a road in Thailand…
Frost handed Sarah a semi-clean cloth as they drove through the night. "I don't know if it helps, but you managed to save one life at least."
Sarah started rubbing at her wounds. How could she tell? "Whose?"
"Anand Chanarong, the Belgian's paid protector here. Once my men showed him the coordinates you'd gotten, he stopped being so resistant."
Probably just hoping for a quick finish. "How did that save his life?"
"Well, it wouldn't have, not by itself, but I convinced Alexei that knowing someone we could buy, who would stay bought, was worth a little forbearance. Chanarong will wake up tomorrow in a hospital, after a terrible car accident he won't remember. It'll only take a few more injuries to make him look the part."
Sarah started digging through the box for anything that looked like it might be a disinfectant. "Beckman will blow right past him, and she'll have the coordinates too."
"All true," said Frost. "But she'll still need diplomatic permission. The Belgian will be expecting Chanaraong to keep him informed, so he'll be waiting for that while we do what we came here to do."
"Save Chuck," said Sarah. "Take him home."
Frost slammed the med-kit shut, narrowly missing Sarah's fingers. "Send him home," she corrected. "You made a deal."
Elsewhere, on a river…
"You expected us?" said Carina. "You even had Beckman scrambling."
"Good," said Ellie. "Then no one will doubt that this all caught her by surprise."
Casey grunted a denial. "Except for the orders, putting the plane and pilot under your command."
"Blame Dad for those, you will anyway," said Ellie. "And this time you'll even be right."
That got her a chuckle from Carina. "Did he arrange the boat, too? Looks a bit low-tech for him."
Ellie shook her head. "I made a friend in a bar. He got me upriver, and I poled with the current after that until we were secure here."
Casey checked all points. "Where is this…friend now?"
"You're standing on him," said Ellie, casually.
They looked down, spotting the outline of the hatch easily, even in the dark. "Not much of a smuggler's hold," said Carina.
Casey opened it, played the light over the man inside. "Not much of a smuggler." He noted the mask on the man's face. "You gave him the toxin?"
"A low-dose injection," said Ellie, nodding. "Enough that he wouldn't give me too much of an argument. I promised him the antidote when we got here."
"I'm surprised he didn't kill you," said Carina, noticing the extensive scarring all over his body. "Or worse."
"I may have forgotten to mention the chloroform."
Casey gave an appreciative chuckle, and lowered the hatch. "You seem to have the situation under control," he said with some degree of pride. "So what now? We're tasked with bringing you out safely."
Ellie looked him in the eye. "I'm not leaving without him."
Casey grunted his assent.
"And neither are we," said Carina. "I've even got a plan for this."
A lot of water, a bunch of guys, and Carina. Gee, let me think…"I know just what to call it," said Casey. "Operation Wet T-Shirt."
Carina whacked him on the arm. "Wear my new T-shirt into that water? Are you nuts?"
Ellie tried to forget the visual that inspired. "I guess we're all lucky, then, that you got here just a few minutes too late," said Ellie, reaching down. "I'm already on a log, paddling myself across the river." She even had the oars, right there in her hand.
"Where?" said Casey.
Ellie pointed at the scummy water. "Right there, don't you see me? Perhaps if you got out these oars and paddled silently across the river yourselves, you could cut me off before I blunder into that camp of armed guards and get myself in trouble."
"You're very impatient," said Casey, shaking his head.
"I know," said Ellie sadly.
"Come on, partner," said Carina, taking an oar. No skinny-dipping tonight. "Let's go save her from herself."
Meanwhile, in Chuck's mind…
"Agent Charles," said Sarah, and Chuck turned around. "You have nothing to be modest about," she said, stepping through the undergrowth in her wedding dress. She practically glowed in the sunlight. "You are that guy, Agent Charles, even Ellie has to say so. The one who has to apologize is me. I want to keep you safe, when putting your safety over that of others is exactly the opposite of who you are. So thank you, for not being what I want you to be."
His angel. So bright, so beautiful. He could barely stand to look at her. "But I don't want to be Charles Carmichael."
"Soon you will be no one else, Chuck," said a heavily-accented voice behind him. Chuck turned, to see a tall, ugly man in a lab coat standing behind him. "If you will not listen to her then listen to me."
Chuck looked quickly, but Sarah was gone.
"My name is Dr. Mueller, Chuck," said the tall man. "I am a fairly standard evil scientist, just like all the others who have plagued your life these last few years trying to steal the Intersect. I and my colleagues have foolishly discussed our plans right in front of you, thinking you unconscious, so now you are becoming aware of what we plan to do. I almost feel sorry for you, Chuck. If you don't become Charles Carmichael you will die. If you do become Charles Carmichael we will win."
Meanwhile, outside of Chuck's mind…
Suddenly the man in the chair moved his head. Mueller immediately checked his measurements.
"No…don't want to be…" mumbled Chuck.
"Anything?" asked De Smet.
"No," said Mueller, disappointed. "I am at my absolute limit, but still he somehow finds a way to resist me." He wheeled his chair over to a bank of switches covered with red caps, and lifted the caps. "Initiating phase three now."
Strangely, the beginning of the process that would end his life seemed to calm their victim. De Smet watched Chuck curiously. While he'd killed every victim he'd ever had, he'd done so quickly, painlessly. He'd never had a chance to watch a life go so slowly before. He would repay Mueller with a quick death, for this unique opportunity. "What do you think it feels like, to watch your life disappear?"
"It would feel like nothing," said Mueller. "As his mind goes, he loses his ability to comprehend that his mind is going." He pointed at the screens, the spreading regions of color. "You see there–?"
The Belgian sighed. Somebody should be aware that their life was ebbing, and maybe that someone should be Mueller after all.
Meanwhile, back in Chuck's mind…
Earthquake! The jungle floor rocked, and Chuck fell to his knees on the hard tile. Pain shot up his leg This was a really painful dream.
"It's not a dream, Chuck," said a voice to his left. He looked up. Jeff's oversized face loomed over him from one of the large monitors, the kind with the really big commission. "Me being on TV, that's a dream, but for you it's all real."
The Buy More shook, and something crashed behind Chuck. "My cord has improved your voice."
No way that was Sean Connery. He turned around, and no, it wasn't Sean Connery. It was him, lying on the ground, making snarky comments to…him.
"Hey, Chuck, can I get out of here?" asked Jeff.
Chuck-on-the-floor swept Chuck-standing-up's legs, and ran off while the other Chuck was down. Huh?
"Let me out!" shout Jeff in panic.
Chuck turned back to the screen. Casey's face glared at him. "What's the matter, Bartowski? Don't you love your country?"
The store shook, something crashed behind him, and Chuck clutched his head in pain.
"You played a good game, Chuck," said Daniel Shaw's voice. Chuck looked up, and saw Shaw, his DIC looped around his neck, staring solemnly down at him. "But now it's time to come in from the cold. You have to save your wife, Chuck."
Chuck turned, watching as he fought himself. I have to save Sarah.
"Chuck," said Orion's gentle voice.
Chuck looked up to his father. "Dad?"
"Don't let my mistakes be yours too, son. You have great power." The destruction of the Buy More behind Chuck underscored those words. "With great power comes great responsibility."
Lights went out, the screens went blank.
The only light came from behind him, and Chuck turned again. "My name is not Charles Carmichael," said Chuck–in-the-bathrobe.
Chuck watched as he advanced on himself, and whispered, "My name is not Charles Carmichael." His hands itched, and he looked down. Light bloomed there. Great power.
"I am not a CIA Agent," said Chuck–in-the-bathrobe, his light dimming. The other Chuck fell to the floor, his light extinguished.
Great responsibility. "I am a CIA agent," said Chuck.
"Initiate upload!" said Bathrobe-Chuck.
No! shouted the newly-minted CIA agent in his own head, but he was too late. The monitors were already flickering, Carmichael was already moving. Chuck ran to catch himself.
The monitor on the Nerd Herd desk lit up, with Carina's face. "Fine, be that way. You want the code, I'll give you the damn code. Orange, orange, green, red, orange, red."
The screens flashed, a giant white hole that swallowed up his former self, and Chuck leapt into it after him.
Someone had been courteous enough to clear a space in the jungle large enough for a helicopter to land. Frost abandoned the truck on the edge of it, pulled out her phone and pressed her thumb on an app. "We have eight minutes."
Sarah was already running.
Falling. Agent Chuck was falling. Something smacked him in the face, held there by wind. He clawed it away. A pocket protector, with the name Carmichael on it. He looked down. Carmichael was falling, trailing little specks and pieces of himself like ash. "Carmichael!"
Chuck's alter-ego looked up. He held out his hands as they dissolved. "You're too late, Bartowski."
It can't be too late! "I need you!"
Carmichael shook his head. "You've never needed me. You just need this!" He spread-eagled his body in the air.
I need you now. Releasing the nerdish accessory, Agent Chuck shifted his position, aligned himself with the air streaming past him, and went into a power dive. He arrowed straight into where Carmichael's heart should have been, but there was nothing there. The impact pulverized Carmichael's body, leaving Agent Chuck blinded and tangled in his doppelganger's clothing. He spun in the wind, dragging at the cloth that seemed determined to strangle him before he could crash.
Suddenly the air that had conspired to kill him became his friend, and the cloth that pressed against his face popped out, catching the wind. The remains of Carmichael like hard rain pelted the impromptu parachute, and Agent Chuck looked up, then down as the pocket protector fell past his nose.
Beneath him, the ground bloomed yellow. He aimed for it, as best he could. As good a place as any to be smashed flat.
Elsewhere, on the other side of the river…
Armed men loitered by the fire, drawn together instinctively for comfort and peace of mind, although any one of them would shoot the first person who suggested it. Even out in the dark they'd been hearing the rumors, terrified whispers of a hugely dangerous, unstoppable force bearing down on them from the west, leaving nothing alive in its wake. A frightened few patrolled the woods, but those were far more silent in their wood craft than the person who came stumbling over tree roots into their encampment. She moved and she was female, that drew all eyes to her like a magnet.
Ellie pulled a much-folded map from her pocket, and pointed to the Quonset hut behind some trees. "Uh, Doctors Without Borders?"
Out in the jungle…
Argo was a very experienced man, careful, thorough. He never missed a check-in. Until tonight.
Tomas was detailed to check up on Argo. He never reported back either. The man who heard his choking, strangled gurgle ran the other way.
It didn't help.
The Blonde was everywhere.
Agent Chuck sat up in a field of yellow flowers, not smashed flat. He put his hand down on the pocket protector, and he absently tucked it into the pocket of his Nerd Herd uniform as he looked around. Flowers everywhere. He sniffed at one–Old Man kata–and sneezed at the vile smell. The petals blew off the flower, but somehow curled back against the force of his sneeze to settle on his arm. And stuck.
He tapped at a petal, but it hardened, and trying to peel it back was like trying to peel back his own fingernails.
Another flower moved towards his face, with another rank fragrance–Naihanchi One–and he sneezed again. When the petals came back to him he tried to waft them away, but they clung to his hand in neat little rows, and hardened. Like scales.
"I don't need you," he muttered to himself. "I need this."
One after another he grabbed the flowers and sniffed at them–Mandarin Chinese, bricklaying, cake decorating, surgery–throwing the blossoms in the air to let the petals fall where they would. Two at a time, clumps, handfuls. He gathered up an armful of yellow, inhaled the foul odor and threw the blossoms in the air, standing in a yellow rain.
Finally there were only three petals remaining, but his body– his whole body, he checked–was layered, and they had nowhere to go. Still they twisted in the air expectantly. "What?"
A petal slipped into his mouth, settled on his tongue. The other two moved towards his eyes as if blown, and he jerked his head back, closing his eyes instinctively. For a second he was blinded, but then he could see again. He looked down at himself, but all the petals had gone.
He was just…Chuck.
"You can come on out, Ellie.'
Ellie got up from her position, crouching behind a tree with her hands over her ears. She'd been expecting the screams, but only after Casey made noise with his guns, and she hadn't heard any noise. She tripped a second time over the same damned tree-root, but this time no one pointed a gun at her. Only one guy from the other team was still there, and he was unconscious. "The Giant Blonde what?" she asked Carina.
"Don't ask me," said the agent, wringing water from her clearly non-blonde hair. "You think I should have lost the pants too?"
"Oh, God," groaned Casey, his eyes carefully fixed away from the river. "Just give her her shirt already."
With the screaming guards as a distraction out front, Sarah and Frost broke in through the back. The Belgian made a bad investment, taking Sarah's husband. That miscalculation earned him a knife to the throat and cost him everything else.
Frost was a bit more talkative. "Hello, Mueller. I told you not to pursue the Carmichael option."
Sarah ignored them both to run to Chuck's side.
"There's nothing you can do," said Mueller. "He's almost completely gone."
"Now why don't I believe you?" said Frost, before clubbing him down.
"Chuck! Chuck, listen to me, I'm here. I'm here, Chuck." Sarah was busily removing the leads from Mueller's machine, tears in her eyes.
The ground split open and Agent Chuck fell again, to find himself in his Fortress of Solitude. The monitors were blank, everything was dark. No, not everything. One alert still flashed, one sensor that always worked when nothing else was right.
Sarah was nearby.
He had to open his monitors. Barehanded, he ripped off the panels. He stripped wires with his teeth and recoded the system through three different busses, using protocols that were never meant to communicate with each other.
Chuck opened his eyes.
Sarah pulled his face around to look at her, said something she knew he'd want to hear more than anything else. "Chuck, please stay with me. I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Without you, I'm nobody. I'm nothing but a spy. Come back to me, Chuck. I need to be your wife."
Agent Chuck's hands glowed. Great power. He reached into his panel and pushed that power into the system, trying to do something.
"Chuck!" she cried, pressing her lips to his.
The system overloaded. The Fortress went dark.
"Chuck?" said Sarah, as he sagged in her arms.
Frost kept her distance, unwilling, or unable, to offer comfort. She looked out the window instead. Touching as this reunion was, they had to get moving. The chopper wouldn't wait for them, and getting Chuck to it looked like a more difficult job than she–What are they doing here?
"We have to go," said Frost. "Now!"
"But Chuck–?" Sarah started fumbling with the straps.
"Leave him. Friendly forces are on their way. We can't be seen here."
Frost aimed her sidearm. "You made a deal," she said. "You will move now or I will kill you right here."
Sarah jumped on Chuck, gave him a quick kiss that he'd never feel, and ran out of the room, Frost hard on her heels.
Casey stood over the crumpled body of some guy in a lab coat. Carina was checking the dead guy by the window, while Ellie gave her brother the once-over.
"What the hell happened here?"
"Casey!" shouted the two women simultaneously. Carina held up a knife, Ellie held up a ring. "Sarah!"
To Sarah, the doors seemed to open in slow motion. Frost had three guards on her this time. Now that she had her husband home safe, Sarah was no longer to be trusted.
Volkoff stood up, his multinational criminal empire left to run itself for the moment. "Agent Walker," he said with some surprise. "Love the hair."
Sarah loved it too. It wasn't her usual blonde. It was as far from blonde as it could get, short of shaving her head entirely. Sarah Bartowski was blonde. Sarah Bartowski was married. Until she got back home to Chuck, Sarah Bartowski couldn't be allowed to exist. Alexei Volkoff could not be allowed to touch that.
Volkoff gestured to one side. "I believe you've met my daughter?"
Vivian Volkoff nodded, her eyes flint-hard. "Miss Walker. Welcome to Volkoff Industries."
A/N2 I find myself wondering if there would be any merit in rereleasing all the chapters of nine2five as a single story. It would certainly be easier to find them all. I'm also thinking of combining Chuck vs the Epilog and the later parts of Not This Time into a single story. Not This Time assumes that the reader has already read the Epilog, which may not be the case, as some commenters discovered the hard way.