Chapter 32 – Business as Usual? (Chuck's POV)
Mom, Ellie, and Casey welcomed the real Sarah back, but after a few hours, they all caught transports for Chicago and Burbank. Casey really needed to get home to Alex. Ellie had to get back to Clara and Devon. Chuck had a couple of days to talk to Sarah while he was still stuck as a patient. The doctors let him walk around on crutches, while Sarah pushed his IV-hanging stand along beside him.
When they weren't walking or talking, Sarah managed to find room on the tiny single bed to lay beside or partway on top of him. The doctors and nurses all frowned and told them it 'probably wasn't a good idea' to crowd the patient while Chuck was yet to fully recover, but Sarah told anyone who made a comment that it 'probably wasn't a good idea' to suggest she leave him.
He told her what had happened while she was not herself, but it was a much different experience than when he told her their story on the beach that day. He didn't lie about anything, but he didn't bother to tell her every little sordid detail either. If she asked or if she needed to know something in order to move forward, he mentioned it, but otherwise, Mom was right; it was just a bad dream. Best forgotten.
However, bad dreams didn't normally affect one's ability to have children. That was the hardest thing he had to explain, that they had both been exposed to radiation and very likely forfeited a future family.
Their luggage got forwarded from the hotel locker in Des Moines to the classified location where they were currently staying. Sarah found the drawing he'd done on the bullet train. "So what do we do about this?" she asked.
"I don't know. How much do you still want all that? We can save for the house. We can adopt a baby..." He cringed a little. "Although, I'm having some second thoughts on the baby idea after having Clara sleep-over a couple nights." He made finger quotes on sleep-over. "Maybe we should go stay with Ellie and Devon for a week or two and see how you feel then." Did she not remember why they volunteered for the Morocco rescue?
She shrugged. "I'm more worried about the fact I joined the CIA. Why didn't you stop me?"
Chuck laughed. "I tried. Let's just say I had little to no influence with that alternate-reality-Sarah."
She smiled. "Well, you have plenty of influence with me." She punctuated her declaration with a well-placed kiss.
He sighed contentedly. "Why did we not want to rejoin the CIA, again? Was it the danger? Because I learned something when I was free-falling over that cornfield—"
"You did what? Did I throw you out of a plane?"
"No, no, honey. I did that because Casey had a new net gun he wanted to try out on me." He smiled that you know I'm kidding look at her. "It was an accident. The point is: I discovered I wasn't nearly as afraid of dying as I was of living without you. If there won't be any children to leave as orphans, then..."
"What are you saying?"
Back it up and take this logically. "I have the Intersect again. If I give it up, my dad's legacy is lost forever, not to mention, I'd be putting my sister out of a job I think she's really good at." He paused, gauging her reaction. She didn't look ready to bite his head off, so he ventured a little more. "I know we talked about getting out of the spy business and going all anti-cyber-terrorism instead. I love computers, but I realized it would be a lot of sitting, guzzling on chardonnay, and staring at screens until my vision blurs. That's fine for every once in a while, but to never do anything else? When I have all these skills and data in my head..."
"It's a waste."
He nodded. "Sarah, I know one thing for sure: I will do anything for us. I want you more than I want the Intersect or any job or anything in this world. I'll do whatever I have to, to make you happy."
"But you want it, don't you? You want to be a spy again."
"Yeah, I think I do, but I also know I can't do it alone. I need you and Casey and I think we all need Morgan. He's been awesome since he accepted he's no longer going in the field. He even stood up to Beckman to make sure you and Mom got decent parachutes."
"I'm already back in the CIA, so you don't need to convince me."
"Yes, I do. If you want out, Beckman will have to let you quit or she loses her precious Intersect as a consultant." He tapped his temple. Beckman said he could keep the Intersect without being in the CIA at all, but he knew she really wanted it in her arsenal. He wasn't above a little incentivizing the good general.
Sarah's brow furrowed in contemplation. "Did I get my re-sign bonus yet? Maybe we could buy that house after all."
He liked what he thought she was implying, but he wasn't going to assume. "Forget the money and forget what I want for a minute. What do you want?"
"I—I think I was just so disappointed by that pregnancy test that I was trying to remove the obstacles between us and the family we wanted." She reached over and grabbed a pencil from the table and gently erased the baby and the part of her arm that had been posed to hold it. The result looked like the Sarah in the drawing simply held one arm behind her back. A young couple in love, standing in front of their dream house. "Chuck, we already are a family, just you and me, but I think Casey and Morgan are part of our family too."
She shifted to face him squarely. "Maybe this is my Intersect-melted brain talking, but I honestly can't remember what I was thinking when I said I wanted to quit the spy business. You know how crazy I get if I'm not going on missions. I'm not saying I never want children, but I'm not going to sit around doing a desk job because I may get pregnant. Especially now, when we know that might never happen."
"So what if we ask Beckman to hold our re-sign bonuses in return for an easy-out clause? If we manage to conceive even with the odds against us, then we get to walk immediately. Both of us."
"You think she'll go for it?"
"Why wouldn't she? She wants us back and the gamble is in her favor. If she says no, we turn our backs and she gets nothing."
"I'm going to see if they have a way for us to call her," Sarah said, slipping off the edge of his bed. There was an electronic jammer that stopped normal communication here, but surely they had a line out for official calls to Washington.
She was back in ten minutes, helped him stand and get his crutches, then wheeled his IV stand down the hall to a video-conferencing room. Sarah copied the number from her cell phone and programmed an encrypted line out.
Beckman's face looked as surprised as they'd ever seen her. "Bartowski? Walker? I didn't expect to hear from you for a few days." She squinted at her screen. "Is that a hospital gown?"
Chuck looked down. "Yes it is, General. We're still at the hospital. We wanted to talk to you about—"
She held up her hand in a halting gesture. "If this is about Walker's premature re-joining, you can stop right there. After consulting with Dr. Woodcomb, Dr. Dreyfus declared your contract null and void because of a... how did he put it?" She faked a cough. "...a rare multiple personality disorder present at the time which rendered you psychologically unfit to sign. It is therefore not binding." She peered over her glasses at them, her face unreadable but clearly waiting.
So she had already talked to Ellie. Good. Was she as hungry to get them as Chuck had hoped if she gave up Sarah that easily?
Sarah grinned. "Well then, General, we've got a proposition for you."
Beckman's brow shot up. "I'm listening."
Chuck repeated the plan he'd outlined moments before with Sarah.
The general smirked in that this is highly irregular look of hers. "And I suppose Grimes and Colonel Casey would be part of the deal?"
Sarah answered, "They may not care about the exit clause, but yes ma'am, I think we've proven we work well together."
"The colonel had a deal like Chuck's for Des Moines. A one-time shot with no strings attached, brokered by Grimes, actually. He mentioned to me afterward that he was interested in re-joining the NSA, but he would only come out of retirement if he could live in Burbank and work with the two of you. Seems he's been spoiled for anything but the best." She said it was a straight face, but she couldn't suppress the smile that dawned when she finished. "Welcome back, team."
"Thank you, General," Chuck said.
"I've already started the paperwork for buying back Castle and the Buy More. Grimes had some good ideas about what to do for new covers. I'll let him fill you in when you get back to Burbank."
Chuck and Sarah exchanged glances. Morgan was working out their covers? They looked back at the screen, but the general had terminated the call.
"Chuck, I just thought of something," Sarah said. "We own Castle right now and we sold the Buy More just before all this. We can use that money to make the down payment on the house."
He grinned. "You're right! I canceled the contract for the above-ground office building when Casey left and everything fell apart. We'll be getting a refund."
Forty-eight hours after their friends left, Chuck was finally discharged. He had a feeling the doctors had been uh, compelled by a rather persuasive female operative who wanted her husband back at home. He said nothing to discourage the intimidation of the poor reclusive nuclear medics who were clearly out of their league.
Morgan and Alex picked them up at the airport in Casey's Crown Vic. Morgan smoothed over the re-introduction of Alex to Sarah and the two women sat in the back seat, reacquainting themselves on the ride home.
Chuck told Morgan about their call to Beckman and not even his thick beard could hide the grin on his face as he listened. "So what's this I hear about a new cover story?" Chuck asked.
Morgan kept his eyes on the road for the most part, no doubt knowing Casey would kill him if he allowed so much as a scratch on the car. "Well, I've been getting a lot of pressure from corporate..." No need to explain he meant Buy More corporate; they all knew.
"See, in order to compete with online businesses, they're encouraging—uh better make that demanding—that each store have a specialty to draw in customers. Beverley Hills is playing on Hollywood. They're selling amateur movie-making equipment—you know, big lights, really expensive video cameras, boom mics, stuff like that. They hired some film school students to work their little 'Movie More' section, showing folks what to do with stuff. Their sales are going through the roof.
"The Vail Buy More added a big 'Ski More' section with even more ski stuff than they had before. They no longer have a home theater room. They have a room tricked out to pimp the new 360 degree Virtual Ski Experience equipment. It's kind of like Star Tours at Disneyland, but everything is Hoth."
Morgan glanced in the rear-view mirror, no doubt to confirm he'd lost the ladies with his geeky reference. He waved his free hand in a nevermind fashion. "Since we already told Jeff and Lester we were spies, I was thinking rather than change our story now, we'd just run with it. We could make the Burbank specialty section a 'Spy More' and sell amateur listening devices and cheap infrared goggles, you know, the kind of stuff Jeff bought to stock his stalking van."
Sarah interjected from behind, "Hiding in plain sight. Morgan, that's brilliant."
The bearded one grinned. "The general thought so too. We're going to openly tell customers we are spies, play it up to the hilt. Carmichael Industries will live on in the fictional sales pitches we espouse on a daily basis, presumed by everyone to exist only to sell our spy merchandise. I thought we'd even stage some not-so-covert 'missions', like Awesome staged, just to make it look good. Then let them catch us playing a super-secret game of Cataan or something. Of course, Sarah, you can go back to your cover at the Orange Orange if you'd rather."
"And miss the fun? I want in on this, Morgan. Ooo, we have to sell that buzzer thing we saw at ComiCon, what was it, Chuck?"
Chuck was so glad she could remember something from last summer that it took him a few seconds to recall what she meant. Someone had taken the hand-buzzer idea from the old joke handshake bit to making the trigger in the fingertips of gloves. "The Black Widow shocker gloves?" He chuckled. "Isn't that a little beneath you? You know Black Widow has nothing on you, babe."
"I know. But why should comic book actresses have all the fun? Morgan, find out who sells them. The licensed ones. No rip-offs. I'll buy a pair and get the rest of the costume too. I bet I can sell it for you." Such a 'modeling' position was even easier to leave on a moment's notice. No locking up. No leaving a business closed at times any other yogurt shop would be open. Yes, it was a perfect cover.
Morgan chuckled, nodding his head. "I bet you'll sell thousands of them. You may single-handedly save the Burbank Buy More for another year."
Chuck wondered whether she might use that black wig she used for the Volkoff takedown mission or whether she was considering going redhead, but the thought of her in that tight leather catsuit was taking over his imagination and making it difficult to sit in the car.
"Morgan, can you turn here?" Chuck asked. He wanted to swing by the dream home and get the real estate agent's number again. He'd purposely destroyed her card after he told her they couldn't afford the house. She'd had a crush on him and it felt wrong to keep her number after semi-exploiting that fact to get her to let him throw a picnic in the empty house.
Sarah paused in her conversation with Alex. She remembered this street too.
Chuck had intended to point out their future residence to Morgan and Alex, but he wasn't prepared for the sight that met their eyes. The "For Sale" sign out front had a large plaque placed diagonally across it reading "Sold". Sarah gasped.
"Oh, you heard then?" Morgan glanced over at his best friend.
Chuck tried to keep disappointment from entering his voice. "Heard what, buddy?"
"This is Ellie and Awesome's new place. Devon gave notice at that hospital in Chicago when Ellie got offered the fellowship at USC again. I think Beckman arranged it, but it's not like Ellie didn't earn it the first time. Ellie knew you couldn't afford this place, so she's keeping it in the family. She said something about 'nobody better ever dare try to remove the carving in the door frame' because it was some kind of sacred shrine or something." He shook his head like he had no idea what that was about.
Chuck looked over his shoulder at his wife. Sarah no doubt remembered carving their names in the door frame, but not how it had saved his life. He whispered to her: "If we still want the house, I know Ellie and Devon would sell it to us."
Sarah smiled, serene and pure. "No, I think your sister should have it. Raise Clara here and put a swing on the tree in the backyard. We don't need all the maintenance headaches that go with a house right now. If we're ever ready to move in, they'll probably have four kids and be looking for something bigger."
"Well, I don't know about a swing," Morgan said, "but they did say they were going to install a swimming pool. You know what that means."
Chuck and Morgan chorused together, "Pool parties!"
Yeah, this could be mighty sweet. They'd be visiting for dinner and birthdays and pool parties and who knew what else. Best of all, Ellie would be close again, so he could come over and talk whenever he needed some big sis time.
It was so good to be coming home again. Alex and Morgan next door...wait a second. "Alex, has your dad said where he's going to live now?" Surely it was way too awkward for Casey to live with his daughter and her boyfriend.
"People across the courtyard took the Woodcomb's old place because it was bigger. They left their studio empty and Dad took it. He'll be close, but not too close."
Morgan shuddered visibly. "Yeah, I got serious flashbacks to when Big Mike moved in with my mom, only from the other side. I am not going there again."
Chuck gave him a I don't blame you look, but said nothing.
It wasn't long before they were back at the Echo Park Apartments. Morgan helped carry luggage, since Chuck was still on crutches. He and Sarah thanked them for the ride and accepted a dinner invitation for later that evening. But then Alex and Mogan departed and left them alone in their own apartment.
"Well, we're home, honey," Chuck declared.
Sarah threw her arms around his neck and whispered, "You're my home, Chuck. You always have been." And then she pressed her soft lips to his for a long, passionate kiss.